Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The way of the world

A few days ago, to try and solve a few problems I'd been having with my computer, I did a reinstall of Windows. Once this was done I realized that because windows gives programs so many different user spaces to store stuff, some of the things I would have liked to have backed up, I hadn't.

One of the things I hadn't backed up was the search engines used in the search bar in firefox. Those of you using internet explorer probably don't know the joys of the search box, but it is quite useful. Through it you can use any number of search engines without having to go to their actual page and the cumulative time saving is significant.

Anyway, while going through the steps to put back the extra search options I wanted (Google AU, Wikipedia and IMDB), I decided to have a look at the top 25 installed options. Among them are four different languages of Wikipedia (English 2, German 20, Swedish 21, and Spanish 25), and more impressively 5 torrent sites, including the now even more infamous

Given that firefox is the fastest growing browser in terms of market share, and has already taken a chunk out of internet explorer, it's worth noting that a fair number of these people use torrent sites so much that it's worthwhile making it easier to do so.

This also shows that groups like RIAA and MPAA are not succeeding when they try to stop this sort of copyright infringement. It also suggests that what people really want is easy and convenient media. But this is not a terribly original thought.

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Writing time: 30 minutes
Time since last post: 3 days
Current media: Absolute Power

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Rent A Me

So last week I actually managed to earn some money. I've started putting in tenders for work on Rent A Coder, a site that lets people do private contracting for computer based jobs (programming and web site stuff). The first job I did was just some proof reading some stuff for a guy. I did that real cheap because Rent A Coder has a reputation system, so I thought getting some cred was more important than getting some cash. The second job I did was helping a lady with the settings for her blog, which wasn't too complicated, and worked out ok. I got a bit more for that job, and she seemed quite happy as I got a bonus on top of the agreed upon fee.

I queried centrelink about how I should treat these small contracts with regard to my job searching requirements, and they said that I'd be better of with their paperwork just reporting regular jobs I've applied for. I'm going to compromise by just putting tenders I win on the forms. They also recommended I get an ABN, as they don't really like individuals essentially working for cash in hand. I've asked Mum about if it's worthwhile getting an ABN. I guess it would allow me to claim depreciation on my computer as an expense on my taxes, although I think there's a bit where you have to scale it with regards to how much is personal use and how much is business use.

One downside of Rent A Coder is that a lot of people wanting articles designed to do well in search engines and links to make their sites look more important, but I'm avoiding those sorts of jobs, and sticking with mostly technical stuff.

It's also made me want to add to my computer skills, to learn some PHP and mySQL stuff. I'm probably going to set up VMWare on my computer so that I can try that on a Linux machine without having to get another computer.

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Writing time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Time since last post: 4 days
Current media: Penn Radio

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

This morning I listened to the BBC world news' latest podcast, and I heard a bit about some suicides at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Three of the detainees committed suicide a few days ago, hanging themselves from sheets. The three had previously been involved in hunger strikes. One was apparently due to be released in a few days, but hadn't been told.

Now what really truly amazes me is the comments of the guy in charge of Guantanamo Bay. Navy Rear-Admiral Harry Harris made the following statement about the deaths

"They are smart; they are creative; they are committed. They have no regard for life, neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us."

This is a pretty messed up statement. Few suicides are acts of violence against others (suicide bombers are the obvious exception). These most definitely aren't. These are people who have been held against will, without trial, without charge, without even the chance to talk to the red cross unsupervised. Their deaths are not an act of aggression. They were acts of desperation by men who no longer had control of their fates.

An act of war is a very specific set of actions. Acts of war are done on a nation-state level. I, personally cannot make an act of war. I, as a person, cannot declare war. No person, acting on their own behalf can commit an act of war. A prisoner committing suicide is not an act of war.

Harry Harris really needs to have a long think about the job he does and the things he says. Surely he must know that the rest of the world is not impressed with the existence of Guantanamo Bay. This sort of aggressive bullshit with no empathy with those being held by the guy in charge is not going to improve the way people think about the place. Harry's bosses should seriously think about how he's doing his job (although given who his bosses are, they may not think he has much to answer to).

Sydney Morning Herald

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Writing time: 35 minutes
Time since last post: 1 day
Current media: Geeknights

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Smaller God

Story telling has always included gods. And for their parts, gods have always had stories. The Greek, Norse and Celtic all have their stories. The Judeo-Christian god has the Torah, the Bible and the Koran telling his story.

And since gods are such well known and impressive characters, writers have included them in their own stories. Douglas Adams' "The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul" deals with what life is like for the Norse gods in the modern day. Other novels look at similar themes with other gods. Robert Rankin's "Waiting for Goldaming" is about someone investigating the death of God.

One writer who has freely incorporated gods into his stories is Neil Gaiman. "American Gods" is all about gods. In The Sandman, a number of gods from various pantheons are encountered. And this brings me to the actual purpose of this writing. In The Sandman, one particular mythos is singled out as being different. In the Brief Lives arc, Gaiman describes the life cycle of gods. They are born in the dreams of men, move into the waking world, as belief wanes they return to dreams and eventually move onto realms about which the only thing known is that there is no return. It is possible to avoid this fate by ensuring that belief, no matter how little endures. Pharamond achieves this by becoming the embodiment of transportation, something that will never go away. Ishtar, a Babylonian love goddess ekes out a meager existence working at a strip club. The Japanese gods incorporate everything from Marilyn Monroe to astronauts into their pantheon so that there's always something in there being worshipped by people.

The main point though is that people came first and that they formed their gods in their image. Only one mythos is excepted from this rule. And not surprisingly it's the Judeo-Christian mythos. First, it is stated that his home realm, called the Silver City, is explicitly separate from the rest of the universe. This is not just the material universe, but non-material parts as well, such the Dreaming and Hell. This separates it from every other realm in the Sandman universe, such as the realms of Fairie, Asgard, Destiny's Garden and others. The Sandman, during The Wake arc, states that there is a power above the Endless, although does not explicitly name that power or link it to the God of the Silver City.

Second, the Silver City, God and the angels all existed before the rest of creation. The short story Murder Mystery (not a Sandman story, but set in the same universe) is set in this before time, when the angels are helping God in designing his universe, although given how events play out, it is clear that this is just another stage in God's design, and needs to be gone through to ensure that the creation works out right, by making Lucifer into who he is destined to be.

The spin off series Lucifer, while not being written by Gaiman, continues this them of God being the overall creator of everything, and other gods being part of that creation. When God leaves, everything falls apart, including the realms of other gods.

So God is treated differently to other gods. This is not surprising given that he is the divinity of the western worlds dominant religions, while other gods are not held with such reverence by modern readers. Part of it is surely not wanting to antagonise the reader. Few gods in the Sandman are shown as unflawed beings. The gods lie, manipulate, bribe, scheme and more, while God sits above it all, watching his creation.

That was pretty much my point. God gets treated differently to all the other gods. Not the most significant of thoughts, but it is interesting to note that a difference is present, and it is a major difference in the nature of and significance of the being known as God.

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Writing time: 6 hours, 10 minutes (I did leave the house for a few hours to play some chess, take about 4 hours off of that at least in reality)
Time since last post: 5 days
Current media: iTunes party shuffle

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The past rears its head

Back when life was simple and I was doing a PhD, one of the things I started was a little user guide for the program I was using to do the calculations. It was mostly just saying what the heck the major input and output files were, and a few example calculations. Some of the information in there was picked up from using the program, but a lot it I picked up by actually talking with the main guy who wrote it and making lots of notes.

Anyway on Monday I got an email from a girl at a university in the US who said she'd found the guide useful and wanted to know if I had any plans to complete it as some areas such as the introduction were just blank spaces. My brief reply just said that I was no longer working with NRLMOL and had no plans to complete it.

I felt a bit bad saying that, as it was a reminder of just another thing I didn't complete with my PhD. On the other hand, it was good to know that it had been helpful to others even in its partial form. I think on the whole it was more good than bad, as I've kind of got used a little to the emotions that get associated with the non-completion of post grad (I use the word emotions because neither guilt nor depression accurately describe it, but do encompass part of it).

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Writing time: 11 minutes
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: The Long Kiss Goodnight

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Improved Comms

A fair number of things have popped into my mind since my last post. I think I'll list them in reverse chronological order, as I know there are things I wanted to write about that are slipping my mind, so hopefully when I get to them I'll remember.

I bought a new mobile phone today. Still with the same company on the same sort of plan, just a new piece of hardware. It is also a cheap and clunky model, but it sends and receives phone calls and text messages, which is what I require from a phone. The impetus for me buying a new phone was the fact that my old one had a talk time of 30 seconds when not plugged into the charger, and so was not so much a mobile phone as a expensive home phone.

This morning was spent in a recruitment process. This is for a call center job, with a bit of sales involved, so we'll see how it goes. It involved an interview, some roleplays, some computer tests, some verbal and numerical reasoning and a team exercise. Most of it went ok, the roleplay I got a bit flustered on. The numerical reasoning test was simple, but they design it so that you have to really rush to get it all finished, so I missed the last two of 20 questions.

On a related note, as I left I was chatting with a girl who had also gone through the process, just some idle chit chat, but we split ways at an intersection, and in saying goodbye I didn't pay attention to where I was going and almost walked out in front of some oncoming traffic.

Also, I left my jacket behind, and so had to go and get it. Not sure if that is a winning move or not.

I found a online cartoon a few days ago that seems quite good. The art isn't the greatest, but the humor and maths references make it good. This one particularly resonates with me. Also the URL is quite original.

That seems about all for now.

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Writing time: 28 minutes
Time since last post: 12 days
Current media: Monty Python