Tuesday, April 25, 2006

ANZAC thoughts

Today is ANZAC day, the day Australia remembers all those who have died while fighting in wars. Australia's military history only goes back a little over one hundred years, and mostly consists of us sending soldiers to help Britain, and later America with it's wars. The Boer War, World Wars I and II, Vietnam, and Gulf Wars I and II. It has also done a lot of aid and peacekeeping work in the region, for example East Timor, and more recently, the Solomon Islands. Aside from the fact that it's a public holiday, I don't really feel much for the day. I haven't gone in to watch the parade, or even watched it on TV.

I think Australia's military is not really needed for purely military purposes any more. The only time Australia's mainland has been approached by an enemy was during World War II when the Japanese bombed Darwin and had submarines traveling down the east coast. In modern days, I don't foresee any such actions being taken by any parties. The Gulf Wars have all maintained existing borders, and other recent conflicts have been civil wars. It seems that conflict over land territory has mostly gone away.

New Zealand seems to have already realized this and has decided that the three main aims of it's military is self defense, and to contribute to peacekeeping efforts around the world. It only spends about 1% of it's GDP on the military, and its navy has only 10 ships, of which only two are combat vessels. Australia in comparison spends almost 2% of our GDP on our military, and our navy has a fleet of about 70 ships, of which 32 are combat craft. In comparison, our population is only about 5 times that of New Zealand's, but I will admit our coastline is much larger than New Zealand's. Our army and air force is similarly much larger.

I think if we could convince other countries to take a similar approach, things would be better. For one thing, it would greatly reduce military spending, thus freeing up a lot of money for other uses. Plus when you don't have a big stick to whack others with, there's no temptation to use it. Unfortunately belligerent nations are less likely to do this, so there will still be some need for a military. Since most peacekeeping actions have been joint actions taken under the auspices of the United Nations, so perhaps they should have a standing force of their own that is independent of any member nation.

Anyway, none of this is meant to disparage those that have fought for their country, but more a hope that no more will have to.

End Post
Writing time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Time since last post: 5 days
Current media: The complete series of Dilbert

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Organization Pay Ratio Limitation

This week's idea is a socio-economic idea, not a political one. Here I'm looking at an idea to reduce the financial disparity in society. Today the majority of wealth in the world is concentrated in a relatively very small number of people. For example, Bill Gates has a net worth of 51 billion US dollars. I on the other hand have a net worth of maybe 3000 US dollars (and I'm counting on a good exchange rate to get that high). That's six orders of magnitude difference. The gap between the rich and the poor is expanding at a rapid rate, and those on the poor side are finding life harder and harder. Now I don't think I'm entitle to a share of Bill Gates bank account, but I do think that certain roles in society are being compensated much more generously than others.

Within a company, or indeed an organization, there are many people doing many different things. Some people do the menial jobs, some do more skilled work that varies with what sort of business it is, and then there is management. As you work your way up the ranks, the amount you earn increases, as do your responsibilities and the expectations upon you.

In many cases though, the amount of compensation that the highest ranked employees get seems excessive and that on top of a straight out pay packet, they get numerous other fringe benefits, stock options and other forms of equity, as well as generous severance packages that get paid regardless of their performance.

On the other end of the scale, the people who do the menial work are often paid at minimum wage levels, which in some countries is not sufficient to make ends meet. If missing work due to sickness means you can't pay your rent then you're not earning a living wage. Everyone should be able to find some means of employment that provides them enough money to live at a certain standard that includes essential health care, a livable home, sufficient food and clothing, and a few other basic essentials (power, phone, maybe minimal internet, etc).

So on to the idea. Establish a restriction on pay within a company or organization so that the highest paid person cannot earn more than a certain amount more than the lowest paid person, ie, the highest paid person can only earn up to 125 times as much as the lowest paid person. At the moment I doubt any company would meet this requirement, and so if it were to be enacted there are two ways a company can approach the restriction. First they could reduce the amount the highest paid people are paid. This is unlikely because of the people who'd be making the decision are going to be the highest paid people. So then there's option two, which is to increase the amount the lowest paid people are paid. It would probably be very expensive to just raise these payments, as there would need to be a wholesale restructuring so that there is still some motivation to be a qualified programmer over a cleaner or what not. So the more likely outcome is a compromise between the two, so that the highest payments go down and the lowest payments go up.

The exact ratio would take a bit of working out to get right, I just picked 125 because it sounded reasonable. I think the value should be between 100 and 1000, but I'm not sure where exactly. Perhaps there should be a scaling factor based on the size of the company.

Then there is the question of what should be taken into consideration when evaluating someone's income. I'm for any form of compensation, be it direct pay, fringe benefits, stocks all being taken into consideration. Another issue would be companies hiding payment details of the highest paid people, much as wealthy people now have tax minimization strategies, but that would then be financial fraud, and when found should be treated as such, and since publicly traded companies need to comply with numerous financial regulations, this would be another for them to work with.

Another issue could be with companies outsourcing certain aspects of running the business. Cleaners hired by the company would need to be paid more than a smaller company could charge the business to do the cleaning for them. Actually, that is a big loophole here, as a company could just insist that all employees actually become contractors with their own small businesses that are contracted to the main company for much less than they could pay someone.
Some might say that this is an unfair burden on corporations, and that they should not have to subsidize the poor, etc. But this is not subsidizing people that they are not involved with, this only affects how they treat the people working for them. It is similar in aim to minimum wage laws, and is only different in how it sets the minimum amount, allowing companies to decide
just how much they value the contributions of each level of it's staff.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A non-pervert for porn

Recently in Australian politics there have been calls for ISP level filtering of pornography and extreme violence on the internet. This is not the first time the idea has come up, and each time before it didn't go ahead. This time round it started out as a proposal from the Labor party, and the communications minister scoffed at it and said no. But then a Liberal senator, Guy Barnett, from Tasmania decided, hey this is a good idea, and now it's being taken more seriously by the government. At this stage nothing seems to be happening nationwide, but Senator Barnett has managed to organise a state wide trial in Tasmania, with only a few ISPs not taking place. Telstra and Optus, the two biggest ISPs are not taking place, which is promising.

There are many reasons why this is a bad thing, but one of the trickiest parts is that when you try and defend the right to get porn, you come off looking like a pervert. Now while I won't deny occasionally indulging, the type of content being filtered is irrelevant. To show this, consider all the arguments, but replace the word pornography with democracy. If you think this is being silly, or taking things to extremes, I invite you to consider China, where such filters are already in place. I think we all agree that China, for all its industriousness, is not the best role model for a country to follow.

As part of my plan to become more involved in things, I have so far sent two emails to Senator Barnett. The first put forward three reasons as to why such schemes are not a good idea. First it is an unnecessary and unreasonable extension of government powers, as the main motivation for this scheme, "The key objective will be to ensure every Australian has a right to access the internet free from pornography and extreme violence", according to Senator Barnett, is a parents responsibility, not a government one, and it is unfair to restrict others use of the internet to make things easier for others. Secondly, the free speech implications are horrible, for once such a system is put in place, what is to stop the government from expanding the material that is to be filtered. The third point is that such filtering will be inefficient, ineffective, intrusive and incomplete for a number of technical reasons.

My second email included a lot of questions regarding the trial in Tasmania, such as how it is to be operated, how it effectiveness is to be measured, under what circumstances will it be considered a success, and conversely when it might be considered a failure? How will the trial affect users. How will material that is restricted be seen by users. Will they be advised that the content has been blocked, or will it just appear as if it doesn't exist? Other than the fact that over half of Tasmania's internet users have their service diminished for three months, and which companies are involved, very little details of the trial have been disclosed. This has the potential to affect many people, and so we should be able to know what exactly is being done in this trial.

I'll also point out that I use the internet a lot. Much more than most people. And quite frankly I can't remember the last time I was bombarded with porn while innocently looking for something else. I've also managed to avoid a number of the other less pleasant of the internet. It isn't hard to do. If people do not take the steps to avoid seeing what the don't want to see, they shouldn't complain. And they should not place restrictions on what others do that has no affect on them so that they can stay in their state of blissful ignorance.

Finally to all those who think that this is a good idea, I again suggest you go through all the arguments for this and replace the word "pornography" with "democracy", or "traditional family values", or "free speech", or whatever is very important to your worldview. This isn't about what's being blocked. It's about blocking. The freedom to speak includes the freedom of others to listen. It also applies to people who say things we don't like. Freedom to say only the things approved by parliament is no true freedom.

I'll end with two quotes from Senator Barnett, which I feel highlights his brutal misunderstanding as to what fundamental rights are and how they should be applied (for those who don't get why this view is bad, see the end of this post).

"Every Australian has a fundamental right to access the internet free from pornography and extreme violence"

"The objective in the first instance is to protect children, before we consider the rights of adults."

End Post
Writing time: 1 hour
Time since last post: 3 days
Current media: Penny Arcade podcast

answers for the clueless re basic rights.
1) No fundamental right is limited to a specific medium
2) No fundamental right is conditional (ie you can use the internet, just don't worry about the naughty parts)
3) Protection of children, while important, does not trump an adults ability to exercise a basic right

Monday, April 17, 2006

Some quizes

While browsing the blogosphere (or at least the blogspot sector thereof) I came across a few quizes. Lacking much to write right now, I'm going to post the results.

What Power is Compatible With You?

Your power is: Clairvoyance

Explanation: Your power is that you can look into the future and see what is coming. How far and long you can look is all depending on your skill level. This can, as all powers, be used in both evil and good. Even if it may seem like a boring ability it is a huge responsibility for the carrier, becase they are constantly tempted with doing the wrongs deeds (e.g. cheat on a test). It takes high morals to not be brought down with it.
Therefor you fit with this power quite well. You take responsibility and do what is the right thing to do. This does not make you a saint, since you're only human after all. But it makes a trustworthy person and you are loyal to camrades and/or team mates. In school you were probably a good student. If you were social varies from person to person, but most clairvoyant people tend to prefer their own company or that of close friends and family. That is because you are wise and knows how to treasure the reliable in your life, since you know popularity can be a false element. You are also not that big on taking risks and prefer what is already explored. That is because you don't like suprises, they can turn out bad and then you won't be in control.
Negative aspects: Since you're always doing the right thing and being trustworthy all the time you can become frustrated. Also, all that you carry on your shoulders may stress you out. You need to relax to be in good mental shape.

Take this quiz!

How do you see life?

Life is all about balance. Darkness can't be without light, and light can't be without darkness. You see everything through different angeles to gain perspective over situations. You act rather rational and people can find you stiff and/or emotionless due to this. Life is not really that good to you, yet it's not so bad. Like everything else, you need to balance it in order to find peace.
Take this quiz!

What wise quote fits you?

Your wise quote is: "Reality bites with a variety of sizes of teeth"(-Tony Follari)
As a person, you think life is just plain painful, horrible and everything else you don't like. Happy people confuse you. Alot. I mean, why are they so happy anyway? You are depressed and perhaps utterly alone and live life rather montone. You feel there is no reason to really be here and feel helpless.
Take this quiz!
What Type of Killer Are You?

You are an assassin.
That means you are a proffessional and do your job without mixing any emotions in it. In your life you have probably been hurt many times and have gotten some mental scars. This results in you being distant from people. Though many think that you are evil, you are not. What you really are is a person, trying to forget your pain and past. You are the person who never seems to care and that is why being an assassin fits you good. Atleast, that's what people think. Even if you don't care that much for your victims, you still have the ability to care and to generally feel. It is not lost, just a little forgotten. In crowds you tend to not get to noticed, and dress in black or other discrete colours. You don't being in the spotlight and wish people would just leave you alone. But once you do get close to someone you have a hard time letting go and get real down if you loose him/her.

Main weapon: Sniper
Quote:"The walls we build around us to keep out the sadness also keep out the joy" -Jim Rohn
Facial expression: Narrowed eyes
Take this quiz!
What is your element?

Your element is Earth. You have your feet on the ground and are in touch with reality. Some may say you need to lighten up, but you are just not that way. It's not that you don't enjoy having fun, you only find it in more calmer activities such as writing or reading a book. But before you have your fun you always make sure your work is done. You are considered the reliable one among your friends, you would never betray anyone just like and are not influenced on peer-pressure. Friends and family can always come to you for guidance because you are wise and smart. You know what is right and what is wrong and you study hard to become something big in the future. The bad side is that your friend/s feel ignored when you spend more time with books and papers rather with them. You are not such a people person and are sometimes a question-mark on how to behave around them at certain times. Luckily it always works out, somehow. Love is not really desired in your world right now, maybe in the future when you've got a work and so on under control. After all, you are a perfectionist.
Take this quiz!
Why are you sad?

You are sad because of your grief
Take this quiz!
End Post
Writing time: 1 hour (mainly html tweaking
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: none
Technorati tags: not going to bother tonight
Edit Notes: removed excessive spacing due to annoying copy and pasted html code, no actual text removed

Saturday, April 15, 2006

One Small Change

For a long time I've bitched and made snide remarks and otherwise talked big while never putting up or shutting up. A lot of this is on the way things work, and how governments are no longer representing the people as they should be (although governments representing all the people is a relatively recent concept, it's not one we should lose). And I've had ideas on how to improve things, mainly wild crazy ones that involve a small change to the way things get done, but that should have many beneficial follow on effects.

So today I started another blog. This one is actually meant for people other than me. It's called One Small Change. My original title of fix the world was already taken on Blogspot (by a single post lamenting how the DMCA is unconstitutional because it denies liberty to people from more than two years ago), so I thought up a new name, and I think it works better. Now I just have the challenge of building up some sort of readership. This will be somewhat of a challenge, but we'll see what happens.

In other news my birthday wasn't as depressing as I thought it might be. A friend came over and we spent most the day talking and watching DVDs, and it turned out better than I expected.
I've been a bit worried in the past day or two regarding the references I've been asked to provide for the job I'm currently applying for. It seems the interviews have gone quite well (after the first in person one, they said it would probably be about a week before they decided who they'd progress to the next stage, and then I got a call the day after to organise the next interview), so I've kind of freaked out regarding them. But things seem slightly more in order now, and so we'll see how things progress.

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Writing time: 9 minutes
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: Stargate SG-1 season 5
Technorati tags: , ,

Rated Voting

I doubt I would be able to find many people who would argue that a system of government that is democratic is not the best option of the various kinds of governments. Nor am I going to argue that democracy is bad. However one of the requirements of a truly functional democracy is that the people are informed upon the issues that they make decisions on. This is not the case for a large number of citizens in many countries. The reasons for this numerous. Voter apathy, a feeling that an individuals vote doesn't count is part of it. Other demands on peoples' time means that they don't pay attention to the actions of government that don't affect them directly.

So how do we encourage the citizens to pay more attention to what is going on. The simple answer is to provide an incentive. Simple monetary compensation for such a thing is impractical, expensive, and is only rather limited a motivation. This also goes for other material considerations.

What I propose is to weight individuals votes. In addition to marking the relevant choices on the ballot, there would be a small test. For ease of processing the questions would be multiple choice, and there would be about 10. The questions would be on current affairs and the current political landscape. In Australia, for example, two of the questions could be who is the current Prime Minister and who is the leader of the opposition. There could also be some short term historical questions.

Every person would receive at least one vote, regardless of how or if they answer the questions. For each correct answer that persons vote would be worth an extra vote. Thus those that know what is going on and keep themselves informed would have a greater say in matters.

The questions, and indeed the elections as a whole, would be administered by a body independent of any political party or existing government body. The questions would be checked over and accepted by all candidates before being placed on the ballot, in much the same way as candidates scrutinise counting of ballots in many countries.

Now a look at some of the disadvantages of such a scheme. Firstly it will complicate tallying of votes, and thus increase the time and expense of the count, but the question of how much effort we are willing to put in to maintaining our government is not one on which we should scrimp. Second, it does abandon the principle of one person, one vote. But each person still has the same potential vote, but it is up to the individual to determine how much effort they wish to put into ensuring that they are able to participate to the fullest. Third is the potential for cheating on the test. This could be reduced by producing a number of sets of questions, and random ordering of the questions within the sets.

Another objection is that groups that have special interests could make special efforts to ensure that they're members are tutored on current events near an election to increase the voting power of their members. This is no different from groups encouraging their members to just get out and vote.

In conclusion, this small change is a way to encourage people to pay attention to what is going on, and so induce greater participation in democracy.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

9131 days and counting

First up, a bit of bitching. The interview on Tuesday went well, and now the people for the data analyst job have gotten to the last stage of the recruitment process, which is to check my references. In fact, they want three references. Unfortunately I've only got two references, and one of those I haven't talked to in about a year and a half. I asked one of my supervisors from when I was doing a PhD, and they said kind of sort of, but they didn't know how positive he could be. So now I need to find another reference, maybe two more. My team leader from my last job hasn't got back to me yet to let me know if she still is willing to give me a reference. So now I may have issues getting this really good job, because I haven't had that many jobs, and decided a while ago to burn a bridge to stop me going back to bad place. I'm not yet sure what I'm going to do. I'm going to call my former team leader tomorrow, but for he rest, I don't know.

Tomorrow is my 25th birthday. The last week or so I've kind of had mixed feelings about it. I've got the feeling I haven't done much with my life. I've never had a girlfriend. I've never kissed a girl. I've never had a real job (one that involved more than answering phones or cooking lots of chicken). I'm rapidly depleting my savings. I'm overweight and unfit. I've got very few friends. For the past month or two, I've rarely left my house except to go to the store, visit the gym or go out to play games.

So do I have anything to balance all that? I've completed an honours degree in physics, something most people would automatically assume meant I'm very, very smart. I'm the main author on a scientific paper, and a coauthor on another. I've traveled to several countries, America, Italy, France and Thailand, as well as passing through a few others en route. I've submitted a story to Slashdot (not that impressive, but I was pleased when I saw it on the main page). I can juggle three balls well enough that I wouldn't feel a fool if I were to try and busk. I got a best painted prize at a warhammer tournament. I can type while keeping my eyes closed (although I'm sure the spell checker will have a rougher time with this post).

These don't seem to quite outweigh the negatives I've listed.

I'm rather tired and it's getting late, so I'm going to do the following

to be continued...

End Post
Writing time: 40 minutes
Time since last post: 4 days
Current media: Firefly

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Missing post

I've just been playing with the settings in blogger, and found a post I thought I'd published but hadn't. I've put it up now, but it's where it was chronologically. so here is a link to that post.

That is all.

End Post
writing time: 1 minute
time since last post: 2 days
Current media: silence

edit notes: it helps if you include the link.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Interviewing some more

Today I had an interview for the data analyst job I discussed two posts ago. After the phone interview, which got postponed to a day later (I only got notified this half an hour after it should have started), I did some more testing. Some psychometrics, which I did from at home, and then I went into the recruitment company to do some verbal and mathematical problem solving tests, which were also done online with the same system as the psychometrics, but I guess they wanted to make sure that it was actually me doing the test.

The interview today consisted of a teleconference with the director of the division I'd be working in, which was the longest and toughest part, a shorter interview with the person who would be my immediate supervisor, who I had the phone interview with earlier, and a short session with the HR and IT managers.

I thought it went ok, some parts were tough, but others went well, so I was a bit concerned and anxious about finding out how I went, as they said it would take maybe a week to shortlist people for the next stage.

Since I started typing I've found out that it went better than I thought, and I am going onto the next stage, which will be a teleconference with one of the owners. They also asked me to get a police certificate showing that I don't have a criminal record. I'm going to sort this out on Monday.

On another topic, I'm actually becoming active in an online forum. It's a forum for a podcast I listen to, geeknights. I've done the classic just hang around thing, and slowly interact more and more. The people on the forum are from all over the place (mainly the US and Australia), but the number of shared interests are pretty impressive. Anyway, this is something new for me, as I don't really do the chat, bulletin board thing despite the amount of time I spend online. I remember when I first got an internet connection at home using ICQ to chat with random people, but stopped doing that during uni because my university provided account blocked chat programs.

Well that's it for now. I'm going to stick with the technorati tags, see if I can't get some readers.

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Writing time: 1 hour 31 minutes
Time since last post: 5 days

Sunday, April 02, 2006

V for lack of moral fortitude

Since opened in the cinemas here this week, I made the effort to read the , and then I went and saw it this afternoon. As with all of Alan Moore's work, it's quite impressive and very deep. The main idea of the comic is battle between the ideals of anarchy and fascism. In such a battle I of course side with anarchy, especially as V sees it, as not being the opposite of order, which is chaos, but as a true society of equals, with no-one placed above others.

Another facet is that the protagonist, while not what I'd call a villain, is definitely not a good guy. He kills many people, and blows up several buildings, but is brutally up front about it, and when asked about it makes no denials. He tortures the only character who can really be called an ally, albeit to bring about a change in her for the better.

This aspect of V I disagree with. I think that violence against people is wrong in any situation, with the sole exception of preventing someone else doing likewise in the immediate future (ie, stopping someone from punching someone else, not killing someone because they might shoot someone next week). Likewise the destruction of others in a violent manner also falls into the wrong category.

I also feel that an immediate wrong for a better future is not a justification for such actions. This belief is obviously more easy to keep when one lives in a participatory democracy with little restrictions on one's rights, but I feel that non-violent methods should be preferred.

One thing I do admire in V is his conviction in his beliefs. At the moment, I don't think there is anything I feel strongly enough to be willing to die for. I recently emailed a senator who was proposing a policy of mandatory blocking at the ISP level of objectionable material outlining how I felt it was a usurpation of parental responsibility and unconscionable restriction of peoples rights by the government, as well as being practically impossible to do in practice. I have never been to a rally or protest, but that is mainly because while I usually agree with the main point being protested, ie don't invade Iraq, the groups running such things tend to bring in a lot of other ideological baggage that I don't agree with and don't want to be associated with. I wonder if protest rallies would be more successful if they were solely about the issue at hand, and didn't try to become recruiting and marketing opportunities for all these groups. Sure their ideas can inform their decision to attend, and can illustrate some points of discussion, but if the rallies about Iraq, don't bring in the ailing welfare and health systems, aboriginal land rights and everything else.

While I admire V's conviction, I also see it as one of his flaws. Believe in anything too much, too passionately, and you start to put that thing above all else. Take anything to an extreme, and it becomes a bad thing. I feel a strong point of the story of V is that he does realise that his path has an end. He realises that while bringing down the old and opening the door for the new are things he can accomplish, he is not the one to build the new order, that is something for others. This is a realisation that while what he is doing is needed now, and can accomplish something, if taken too far will become just as bad as what he wanted to get rid of. This point is more blatant in the movie, but by doing so they have removed some of the self-realisation of Evey, and reduced the subtlety of what V told her.

The other main change the movie made from the comic was to make the Norsefire government a lot more sinister, in that they committed atrocities and manipulated the people to establish their control of the government, and to introduce their harsh regime. The actions of Norsefire have many parallels with the current American administration, which is the intention of the producers.

Having nothing more to say on this right now, and since I have to get up early for a meeting regarding a potential job, I'm going to finish here with an attempt at using some technorati tags.

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Writing time: 1 hour 3 minutes
time since last post: 10 days
current media: Bill Hicks
Technorati tags: , ,

PS: curious tidbit. Bloggers spell check came up with the suggestion degenerate for Technorati