Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It's Puntastic

I don't think I need o explain why I like this link. It should be pretty self-explanatory.

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Writing time: 1 minute
Time since last post: a few days
Current media: None

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Limited Free Speech Doesn't Work

The General Assembly of the United Nations has once again passed a non binding resolution condemning religious discrimination while idly saying that freedom of speech may be subject to limitations. This is the fourth year in a row the General Assembly has passed such a resolution, this year with a reduced vote (actually it only got a plurality, not a majority this time around).

This resolution is mainly backed by Islamic states and opposed by western states. Not a surprising division on the issue. The Islamic states backing the resolution say they don't want to limit free speech, they just want to stop things like the Dutch Mohammed cartoons from a few years ago.

The cognitive dissonance in such a statement is amazing. They don't want to limit speech, they just want to limit speech that upsets them. It's almost as if they don't get the idea that freedom of speech includes speech that upsets them.

Freedoms like speech are one of the things I tend to get absolutist about. Individual liberties are the foundation on which the rest of society is built. If you undermine those, you undermine society.

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Writing time: a while
Time since last post: too long
Current media: None

Dignity is Optional

Some interesting pics from the Korean National Assembly. The ruling party, expecting the opposition to not be in favour of the free trade agreement with the US decided that the best way to deal with such opposition would be to lock them out of the building. Said opposition then decided the best way to make the governing party listen to them would be to smash down the doors. And the governments rebuttal of this was to spray the fire extinguishers in the oppositions face.

This does little to promote the dignity of the democratic process, and in no way enhances the respect politicians get. Both sides acted appallingly, and this sort of thing should not be accepted in any country.

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Writing time: a few minutes
Time since last post: a few hours
Current media: jPod

Friday, December 19, 2008


A rather unusual case has turned up in Britain. A baby was born with a foot inside his brain. Apparently it was kind of a twin, which started growing inside of him, but all that managed to grow was a foot. Fortunately it has been removed and the kid is doing well.

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Writing time: 1 minute
Time since last post: too long (I've had stuff that I've been thinking about, but haven't yet wanted to put up here for various reasons that should be coming soon)
Current media: none

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Financial Crisis Explained

Well, more properly, the sub-prime mortgage crisis explained.

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Writing time: 30 seconds
Time since last post: a while
Current media: None

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Quiz Time

I found a neat quiz today. Troy McClure Film or Actual Terrible Movie?

I'm happy with my score of 13 out of 15.

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Writing time: 1 minute
Time since last post: a while ago
Current media: House season 1

Friday, December 05, 2008

Inferno, Canto XXXIV, tercet 139

Last Saturday night I was out rather late (or more accurately, very early on Sunday), and I saw something that I have not seen very much of in Korea.

After the taxi ride back from downtown, I was walking down the street looking up at the sky and thought to myself "ah, there's Orion". It took me a few moments to realize the significance of this thought.

For the first time during my stay in Korea, the sky, while not full, contained many stars. I believe I may have even identified Polaris, a star that has not been visible to me during the greater number of my days.

Apparently it was a combination of the late hour and the cold evening that let me see that which is normally invisible here.

It really is quite depressing looking up at the night sky and seeing just black with only the moon to break things up. It makes the universe seem such a hollow and empty thing, lacking the glory and wonder I know it has.

I have occasionally thought what would science have been like if the night sky had always been like this. Geocentrism would have been a lot stronger, although it would have fallen eventually. Telescopes would still exist, but would anyone bother pointing them upwards. Astronomy would have been stunted at birth, although its evil twin astrology would have been still born. I think science on such a world would still get to where we are, but it would be a slower process and lack some of the wonder we get to experience.

That's all.

For those wondering about the title of this post, the line referenced reads "and we came out to see once more the stars."

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Writing time: 39 minutes (although I was distracted by Wikipedia partway through)
Time since last post: I guess two or three days.
Current media: None (soon to be rectfied).

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sad But True

Metallica used to be cool. Now they're doing shit like this.

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Writing time: 1 minute
Time since last post: a few days
Current media: The Daily Show

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Lucky Bastard

This guy is one lucky bastard. Getting paid to build lego models all day. Why isn't that my job?

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Writing time: 2 minutes (this isn't a very long post)
Time since last post: a day?
Current media: Stargate Continuum

Sunday, November 30, 2008

This Kids Going Places

This note was found in a hallway in a school somewhere. This kid has potential, if the authorities don't freak out when they find out who he actually is.

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Writing time: 2 minutes
Time since last post: one day
Current media: None (iTunes is updating)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

An Eye For An Eye Leaves Everyone Blind - Literally

It looks like Iran has reached a new high point in setting the standard for justice. The case in question involved a man who had blinded a woman with acid after she turned down his marriage proposal. Not a very nice act, and certainly something that needs to be dealt with by the justice system.

The punishment in this case though is a bit rough. Under the code of qias, or retribution, that is part of Islamic law in Iran, this man is to be blinded by acid himself, in part at the request of woman he attacked.

This is not justice, this is vengeance, and vengeance is only cool in stories. We've moved past it in the real world. Justice is about righting the wrong, and preventing other wrongs, not committing more wrongs.

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Writing time: I lost track but I did lots of other things while writing this up
Time since last post: A fair while
Current media: Stargate Atlantis

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In Ayr

I'm currently sitting around at Mum's place killing time. I renewed my drivers license today, wihtout having to do a test or go through the whole learners bit again, which is a good thing. I'll see if I can get an international one in the few day's I have left in Australia.

Tomorrow we're driving up to Innisfail where my Grandmother lives. Thursday will be the reason for coming back, and it looks like on Friday I'll be meeting wiht my father's family for the first time since the early nineties. That will be tricky. I think that for somethings, if they don't get changed after a while it becomes impossible to change. I know I definitely tend to stick with what has inertia, although when I do change, it does tend to be by big, sudden shifts.

Friday is also my sister's birthday, so for the second year running I'll be around for that.

Saturday I will fly back to Brisbane in the early evening. I'm not sure if anything will happen Saturday night (suggestions are welcome). Then on Sunday I fly back to Korea so that I'm back before my visa expires. And on Monday I'll probably have to go into work early to finalise my visa extension.

Monday, November 10, 2008

javascript:flink On The Range

Two convoys of Black SUVs arrived at the old rifle range about thirty minutes north of Langley. It had been a training facility back in World War II, and had been government property ever since, but had been bounced between departments without anyone finding any great use for it, and so it had become overgrown for many years. Now the CIA had claimed it for themselves and had restored it to its former glory as a rifle range, albeit one with large patches of burnt grass and trees all over the place.

The President and Vice-President got out of their respective SUVs and walked over to a group of men from the CIA.

"Mr President, Mr Vice-President, welcome to Tasty Fowl range," Bill Torum said. "I'm Bill Torum, agent in charge of this project. Let me introduce my team to you. This is Chris Rudd, Dave Donaldson, John Nakamura, our shooter, and Tony Sparrow," Bill said as he pointed to each man in turn.

"Good morning gentlemen," the President said to them. "What have you got to show me this morning?"

"If you'll come this way, Sir, we'll give you our demonstration," Bill said.

The group walked over towards the shelter at the end of the range. They stood behind a firing stall and Agent Nakamura stood in front of the group.

"Are you ready for this, Mr President?" Agent Nakamura asked.

"Ready when you are," the President replied.

Agent Nakamura turned to face downrange. "Itadekimasu" he shouted and a ball of fire about the size of a basketball appeared in front of him and moved down the range rapidly.

"The directon of the fire can be controlled with a pointing gesture, as can the fireballs speed," Bill explained, as Agent Nakamura demonstrated with a series of fireballs aimed at targets spread across the range. "The louder you say the word the larger the fireball. They can be as small as a baseball or up to about two feet across," Bill continued.

"How hard is it to do?" the President asked.

"The only tricky part is getting the pronunciation just right. If you're a little off it won't work," Bill answered. "Would you like to give it a try?"

"Is it safe?" the President asked, a little nervous at the prospect of doing this himself.

"The fireball always heads away from you in the direction you point, so the thrower is always safe," Agent Nakamura explained. "Just come up here and face down range."

The President did as he was instructed and aked "Now what?"

"Just point and say the word. Like this," he said, then pointed and called out "Itadekimasu".

"All right then," the President said, and steeled himself for what he was about to do.

"Eat-a-duck-I-must" he shouted and pointed emphatically down the range. Nothing happened.

"You need to say it a little bit quicker, Mr President, the middle section sounds more like 'deck-ee', not 'duck-eye', and there's no 't' at the end," Nakamura told the unsuccessful President. "It usually takes a few tries to get the pronunciation right," he reassured the statesman.

"Eat-a-deck-ee-mast" the President shouted, again with no effect.

"Try it one more time, like this 'ee-ta-dek-ki-mas'," Nakamura said, enunciating the magic word syllable by syllable.

"Itadekimasu" the President yelled, and a large fireball flew down the range.

"Jumping Jesus on a pogo-stick," the President exclaimed. "I did it," he continued disbelievingly. He was silent for a few moments while it sank in. "What do you guys need to keep working on this?"

"We need more agents to investigate reports of other supernatural activities. We need scientists and engineers to work out why magic is working now, when it hasn't for the last six thousand years, and how it works. We need facilities to work in, we need to be able to travel to where things happen and we need all of this quickly," Bill Torum replied in a smooth manner that only comes from lots of preparation.

"You've got it," the President told him.

"There's one other thing, Sir. We're going to have to go public with this pretty soon," Bill told him.

"Why on Earth would we do that?" The Vice-President asked incredulously. "If we do it will open up a gigantic can of worms. Not to mention it could start a new cold war, with magic instead of missiles."

"For a start, how else are we going to convice the Japanese to stop saying this word. It's their tradition. Second, other countries will probably have done exactly what we've done. You would know better than I if there have been any similar incidents at our foreign counterparts. And finally, the public will work this out soon enough anyway, and if we've been hiding, it will look like we're behind the curve. If we come out soon and announce it, we'll be ahead of the curve instead," Bill explained.

"That will get decided by people above your paygrade Bill, but we will definitely take those arguments under advisement," The President said. "Are we done here?"

"That was all we wanted to demonstrate today, Sir," Bill told him.

"Right then. Thank you gentleman, it's been a very interesting morning," the President said. He turned to his principal Secret Service Officer "Let's get back to Washington."

javascript:flink POTUS

The President of the United States of America was sitting on a sofa watching TV when the door opened and the Vice-President walked in.

"Have you read this thing?" the President asked, waving a briefing at the Vice-President.

"I've read it, but I think someone at Langley's has had a few screws loosened," the Vice-President replied. "To think saying 'ita-'"

"Don't say the damn word here," the President interrupted. "How do you think it would look if we blew up the White House?"

"So you believe it then?" The Vice-President queried.

"I was skeptical at first, but the video they showed was worrying," The President answered. "I'm going to their test site tomorrow morning to see for myself. Do you want to come along?"

"The President of the United States of America throwing fireballs around like Gandalf the Grey. Who wouldn't want to see that?" the Vice-President replied.

"Alright then. Tell the Secret Service guys when you head out. They'll sort out the details. Anything else?"

"No, just the crazy magic stuff. I'll see you tomorrow morning."

"Tomorrow morning then. Have a good night."

"You too," the Vice-President said and left the President to his TV shows.

javascript:flink Top Secret

Top Secret

Eyes Only

From: Alan Smithee, Deputy Director Office of International Incidents, Central Intelligence Agency


RE: Japan and Tasty Fowl

1) Introductory Remarks
As discussed in previous briefings from this office, Japan has been subject to what appears to be a massive bombing campaign. No one has claimed responsibility for these attacks. We have a new theory to explain these events.

2) Prior Intelligence
Pooling the data collected by sources from the CIA, NSA, Echelon, DIA, FBI, and their international counterparts from Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia, Saudi Arabia and other nations has revealed absolutely zero intelligence suggesting any attack on Japan prior to the incident.

3) Investigation
Japanese law enforcement, with assistance from several US agencies has been performing forensic investigations of the sites of many explosions. So far not a single explosive device has been found.

(Warning: Do not read the following sections aloud. This is quite important)

(Really, don't do it)

4) Survivor claims
A number of people who have survived the explosions have made a similar remarkable claim. They claim that fireballs appear out of thin air when they said "itadekimasu", a phrase traditionally said in Japan before eating a meal in Japan.

5) An Unlikely Lead
This claim is on the face of it quite unbelievable, but is sufficiently common that some analysts felt that it should be tested. Initial attempts to reproduce the phenomena were unsuccessful until the analysts recruited an agent fluent in Japanese. This agent can reliably create and direct fireballs by saying the phrase

6) Other Incidents
Police records show that since the explosions in Japan, a number of Japanese restaurants in other countries have also suffered from fires and explosions. 15 cases have been reported in the United States.

7) Strategic Implications
The impact of this capability on National security is currently hard to judge. It can provide both advantages and disadvantages. It will act as a superb concealable weapon for our agents, but will also do so for hostile entities. It will also open up a new range of possibilities for the construction of IEDs.

8) Other Capabilities
Having accepted a possibility that is seemingly impossible, it may be the case that other impossible feats are no longer impossible. Less reputable news agencies such as the Daily Enquirer have been reporting a higher rate of unusual incidents that more reputable news agencies typically dismiss out of hand. Incidents include individuals flying, transmutation of objects, premonitions, telekinesis, and more. These incidents bear further investigation.

9) Recommendations
It is vital that we learn the exact capabilities and limitations of the phrase "itadekimasu", and if other such capabilities exist. We have tentatively given the project the code name Tasty Fowl, and recommend that it be expanded significantly immediately. We must systematically test the limits of "itadekimasu" and develop the ability to use and defend against it.

Friday, November 07, 2008

You thought we had it bad

If you thought things looked bad for the internet in Australia, just be glad you're not in the United Kingdom. They're going for full on "log everything, find the crimes later" type internet monitoring system.

This is not good.

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Writing time:
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The Appropriate Size for a Fridge

Recent events have left me with a fridge of smaller dimension than I was previously used to. This has led me to realise that I do actually have standard for what size fridge is sufficient for my purposes.

A fridge should be large enough that you can lay a pizza box flat on a shelf and still close the door and have a bit of space next to the pizza box. The vertical dimension is more flexible but should be in the normal fridge proportions to the horizontal dimensions.


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Writing time: 3 minutes
Time since last post: A while
Current media: Drop the Hate by Fatboy Slim

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

javascript:flink Terrified Tokyo Torched

Terrified Tokyo Torched
by Tokyo correspondent Trish Takanawa
Tokyo and indeed the whole of Japan is reeling after a tsunami of explosions has devastated the island nation. The explosions have occurred in every town and city and seem to be focussed on restaurants and residential areas.

The first explosions occurred at 8:21pm yesterday at multiple locations throughout the country and many more have followed in their wake. The rate of explosions had dropped off late last night, but have picked up again this morning. The peak times for the explosions have coincided with the normal times for main meals, which would be when the most damage could be inflicted at restaurants.

No one has yet stepped forward to claim responsibility for this unparalleled act of terrorism. Some believe that Al-Queda has rearmed despite having laid down their arms last year. Others hypothesize that it is a local group, possibly an offshoot of the Aum Shinrikyo sect that was responsible for the 1995 sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo Subway system. Officials have yet to comment on who or what is responsible for teh explosions. Indeed the safety of the Prime Minister and other senior officials is unknown after an explosion at the Diet building center on the cafeteria.

One survivor of an explosion in a downtown Osaka restaurant claims that he saw several fireballs appear out of thin air as he and his coworkers were about to start eating their meal. He says these fireballs set the restaurant on fire and resulted in it burning to the ground.

javascript:flink Mr Bunny

Anthony Brandberg opened his front door and called out to his wife "Honey, I'm home." He knew it was a cliche but it had always felt right to him. He entered the house and walked down the hallway towards the living room. On the way he stopped to look in on his three year old son Edward.

Edward was on the floor babbling and playing with his favourite toy, a white stuffed rabbit named Mr Bunny. Anthony stood there watching his son for a minute before he noticed something was not quite right. His son was definitely playing with a rabbit, but Mr Bunny was nowhere in sight. His son was playing with a real rabbit with floppy ears and a constantly twitching nose.

A little surprised, Anthony headed to the kitchen where his wife Jill was beginning to prepare dinner for the family.

"Hello Darling. How was your day?" Jill asked as he entered the kitchen.

"You know. The same old stuff," Anthony replied. "And you?"

"I had a busy morning, but the afternoon was quiet. Edward has been playing nicely in his room for the last hour or so," Jill said.

"I just saw him now, and I was a little surprised," Anthony told his wife.

"Oh, what was he doing?" Jill queried, a hint of worry appearing in her voice.

"It's nothing he's done. It's just I thought we had decided we would wait until he was older before getting him a pet," Anthony said.

"Of course we did Darling. What does that have to do with anything?" Jill asked, unsure where Anthony was going with this.

"Well, I just looked in on Edward and he was playing with a rabbit," he explained.

"You know how much Edward loves Mr Bunny," Jill said.

"He wasn't playing with Mr Bunny. He was playing with a real rabbit," Anthony stated.

"He's what?" exclaimed Jill.

"He's playing with a real rabbit," Anthony reiterated.

"Well how on Earth did that happen?" Jill asked.

"That's what I'd like to know," Anthony told her. "I've just got home."

"Well, it wasn't me," Jill came back.

"And it wasn't me," Anthony said. "So how did it get here? Magic?"

javascript:flink Polaris Perplexes Physicists

Polaris Perplexes Physicists
By science correspondent Nigel Hawke
Two days after Polaris lit up the Northern skies astronomers are still struggling to explain the triple supernova. A supernova normally occurs at the end of a larger stars life, but the three stars making up the point of light we call Polaris were all too young and too small to go supernova.

"This is quite an event," states Andrew Tannen, the head of the astronomy division at Leeds University. "This has given us a lot of new information about the lives of stars that we'll be studying for a good while."

Some believe the triple supernova is not a natural phenomena. "All three stars of a triple star exploding at the exact same time is impossible. This has to be some sort of mega-engineering project by an extremely advanced extra-terrestrial civilization." is the claim of Aliens Now! spokesman Oliver Firth.

Whatever the cause, all agree the night sky has changed forever, and what was once a guiding light for generations of travelers and known as a symbol of faithfulness is now slowly fading from sight forever.

A + B = Why?

Here's another product I'm not sure how someone came up with the idea of. Lingerie with a built in GPS tracking system.

I'm not sure exactly what the application of such a combination is. Some women are calling it a modern chastity belt, but that seems a bit ridiculous given that the GPS device has a power switch, so it would only transmit when the lady wearing it chose to.

The design itself looks pretty good, but I'm reasonably sure having a chunk of plastic hanging off of one side would be slightly uncomfortable (I can't be completely sure, but I do know if my coat pockets are unevenly loaded it sits less well on my shoulders and the general principle should be the same).

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Writing time: 10 minutes
Time since last post: Does anyone care?
Current media: none

Monday, November 03, 2008

javascript:flink 1

John Smythe stood up from his desk and turned around. "I'm taking a break. I'll be back in ten," he told his coworker, Bill. "OK," Bill replied. John left the interior of the telescope and breathed in the cold night air. He leaned against the wall of the telescope and looked down the mountain. The bare rocky ground was a relaxing contrast to the stars he looked at all night long.

As his break ended John looked up at the sky. Like always he was amazed by the way it seemed like a permanent painting across the sky, a work of art to outlast any man. John was taking in the vastness of it all when his attention was drawn to one star in particular. Polaris, the North Star was growing brighter. Much brighter.

"Hey, Bill," he called. "Swing the telescope round North will you."

"I'm taking pictures of Canopus. Wait a sec, alright" Bill replied.

"Bill, do it now. Take a look at Polaris and bloody forget about Canopus," John called back into the telescope.

Bill did not reply, but when John heard the whine of the motors start turning the telescope he knew Bill had looked North and seen what he had seen.

javascript:flink Magic Spell

Magic Spell
taken from on October 1st 2010.

A Magic Spell is a form of magic whereby a magical effect is created by the recitation of a series of words and phrases. The spoken words may sometimes also require accompanying gestures. Throughout the ages many have claimed to be able to cast magic spells but to this day no reliable claims have ever been shown.

The idea of magic spells comes from the prayers and chants used in early religious ceremonies. Words and phrases originally gained their power from supplicating varies gods and deities but over time the power became associated with the words and phrases themselves.

Magic spells are claimed to be a reliable mechanism, depending only on the skill of the person speaking the spell. However, those who claim to use magic spells have been unable to teach others the skills, or perform under controlled trials.

As science and technology have developed, many of the effects attributed to magic such as spells have become commonplace and well understood, although a small minority still believe in the power of magic such as spells.

Cultural Influences
Numerous stories, books, films and television shows portray characters able to cast magic spells. Examples include Charmed, The Lord of the Rings, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Merlin, The Sword in the Stone, One Thousand and One Nights, and The Books of Magic. Many spell casters from these have become cultural icons in their own right. The potential of magic and the possibilities it opens for story tellers makes it an element frequently used by writers.

See Also
Rune smithing
Unexplained phenomena

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Writing with Cryptic Limits

Fans of A Void and Gadsby: Champion of Youth have another book to sink their teeth into. Eunoia is a new book that while not written in quite so strict a form as those other tomes I mentioned, has been written in such a way as to make you ask yourself "Why would anyone do that?"

Each chapter of the book is written using only one vowel.

The text is surprisingly readable, but I doubt I'll do more than read the samples the Beeb has provided. This is more something I'll give props for having done it, but I don't really want to go through the whole result.

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Writing time: 5 minutes
Time since last post: I don't think I actually care that much anymore, although I have been slack of late compared to earlier in the year.
Current media: None

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Sight For Sore Muscles

A rather unusual result from the Korean Constitutional Court has been delivered recently. The court has upheld a law that only allows people who are blind to be a licensed masseur.

This is rather unfair to all the sighted people who want to be masseurs, and there are about 200,000 of them while there are only around 7,100 licensed masseurs. A sighted person working as a masseur can face fines and prison (although I'm sure they avoid most such problems like the street food stands do. A few quite payments to the local police and a brief holiday during crackdown week (I've ranted previously about corruption here and my involvement thereof)).

While I can agree with the court for wanting to make sure that blind people have the ability to earn a living for themselves, I don't believe the way to do this is to give them a monopoly on an industry, especially one where there is sufficient demand for almost thirty times the number of practitioners. The way to do it is to ensure that blind people are able to enter any profession that they are capable of performing (I don't think it's wrong to not hire a blind person as a photographer for example) and that there is a sufficient set of social services available to support them as they do so.

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Writing time: 15 minutes (this one had a few paragraphs rewritten)
Time since last post: about an hour
Current media: still none

An Interesting Map

Via the Freakonomics blog I saw a rather interesting map today. The maps shows the progression of the results for each state in the presidential elections from 1840 to 2004. It's interesting to see some of the big changes that occur. The huge swing to the Democrats in 1932 is impressive to see, as is a similar swing to the Republicans post WWII. The magnitude of Nixon's second victory is huge.

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Writing time: 5 minutes
Time since last post: a while
Current media: None

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Damn PETA is Stupid

I've just read some of the latest idiocy from PETA. They're asking American ice cream giant Ben & Jerry's to stop using cow milk and replace it instead with human milk. This is a terrible idea for so many reasons.

First, there's the sheer scale of the endeavor. America alone eats six and a half billion liters of ice cream each year. With about 80 million women of milk producing age, each woman would need to produce 100 liters of milk a year. This is not an unreasonable rate of production given that a baby drinks about 750 ml a day when breastfeeding, but for most of the female population to do this all year round is not so feasible. Then of course we have the difficulties of collection and distribution, and of course we'll need a lot more breast milk to make all the cheese, yogurt, drinking milk and every other form of dairy produce. We also need to consider can human milk be made into tasty treats like cheese and ice cream (edit 25/2/2011 Apparently it can).

This idea is also blatantly biased towards protecting mammals, and does nothing to protect non-mammalian species. The recipe for vanilla ice cream I found in addition to four cups of cream called for three eggs and half a cup of honey. How many chickens must be sacrificed and how many bees must slave away flying from flower to flower for us to enjoy our breast milk ice cream?

But these are not the main problem with this whole scheme. The big problem with this idea is that PETA are suggesting that to stop the forced perpetual lactation of cows we instead implement the forced perpetual lactation of women. PETA's solution to stopping the difference in treatment between animals and humans is to treat humans as animals. The way to solve injustice is not to be unjust to all. It might be equal but it's still unjust.

PETA's credo that animals deserve the exact same rights and treatment as people is naive, ignores fundamental facts about nature and our society. The basic fact is, animals are not the same as people. I've dealt with people and I've dealt with a variety of animals, and there is no way to mistake the two, and you would never treat one exactly the same way as the other. I will agree with them that unnecessary cruelty to animals is wrong and should be prevented, but see nothing wrong with chowing down on a delicious steak. They could achieve more if they realized this and started trying to do sensible things. Comparing factory farming to the holocaust or a bus killing just make people think you're crazy. Their extremism makes it harder for them to achieve a more realistic and sensible outcome.

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Writing time: 1 hour 29 minutes (I got distracted watching something)
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: True Blood

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Last weekend I went to paintball. I found out about it from a group I found on facebook which is trying to build up a bit of a community here in Daegu. Anyway, onto the actual day. It started with all the people congregating in downtown Daegu. Here the organization could have been a little better. We ended up waiting around about an hour for some people who were late. We also got screwed over with the bus. The organizers booked a bus for 35 people and they turned up with a bus for 30 people. This was really bad since it meant two of the organizers had to miss out.

We eventually got to the paintball course where I was pleasantly surprised to find that the amount of gear provided was more than I expected. In addition to a mask and gun, we also got overalls, gloves and a padded vest. This meant I no longer had to worry about getting a lot of paint all over my own clothes.

After kitting up we had a brief introduction to how to use the guns which was translated from Korean. A few practice shots and we were sent into the field. The field was a small patch of scrub in between a highway and a marine base with a lot of barrels and walls placed around the place. We did six rounds with three different games, kill or be killed, capture the flag and kill the VIPs. Blue team won the first game, but we lost the rest.

In the first capture the flag I just hung back and guarded the flag, but in the second I was more aggressive, although I got screwed over by my gun. I went on a mad dash forward and stopped at one of the walls. I looked through the window and had a clear shot but my gun had jammed. As I ducked down and tried to reset it, I got shot by the guy on the other side. In the later games I also tended towards kamikaze runs near the end, since once you ran out of bullets, you were counted as dead. So, once I realized I only had half a dozen bullets left, I'd go for the mad charge towards the objective with my gun held high in front of my face so I was harder to hit. I never actually made it to a target, but it was fun to go charging through the scrub.

All in all it was a good day, and if another day of paintball is planned I'll definitely go along again.
Guarding the flag.

The Mighty Blues

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Writing time: 43 minutes
Time since last post: an hourish
Current media: No Heroics

Better Dining For All

Now I'll be the first to admit that my eating habits are less than ideal. This is mainly because making good healthy food is a bit of work and preparation which I'm usually reluctant to put in. Fortunately someone has realized my situation and given me a solution.

Prepared salad in a bag. So all I have to do is grab a handful or two of salad and add it to my plate when I make dinner. Sheer elegance in its simplicity. Hopefully this won't be another of the things I miss when I leave Korea.

Now if only I could find long life milk that tastes like real milk I could solve another of my dining problems. And decent tomatoes. And reasonably priced meat.

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Writing time: 14 minutes
Time since last post: a little bit more than 25 minutes
Current media: None again

Don't be this Lady

Just don't, OK.

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Writing time: 1 minute
Time since last post: too long
Current media: None, although I did watch five episodes of No Heroics last night, which was good enough to deserve a mention

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

If Only It Were This Easy

The Governator delivers a classic line. It's a little old, but it really suits the current times.

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Writing time: 1 minute
Time since last post: a few days
Current media: None

Monday, October 13, 2008

Some Interesting Pictures

I found some interesting pictures today. It's a collection of x-ray pictures of various unusual cases. Definitely worth a look.

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Writing time: 1 minute
Time since last post: ten days
Current media: None

Friday, October 03, 2008

A Point I Think Needs Making

First you need to watch this video.

For me, the answers given in this interview are completely and totally inadequate. I do not care what her personal position on the subject of abortion is, I do not care what she would advise someone in that situation to do. What I care about is what legislation she would endorse and advocate. This is what will affect people's lives, and on this matter she was silent and evasive.

The question was not about how she would advise someone in that situation, it was what sort of legislation she would pursue as vice-president. This sort of question is not complicated. It could be simply answered as a yes or no question. Not answering the question shows either a lack of comprehension or deception about the real answer, neither of which is a desirable trait in anyone running for office.

And while this may seem like me joining in on the Palin bashing, the fact is that this type of crap is spouted by most politicians. Palin just seems to be the most egregious case right now.

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Writing time: longer than you would expect
Time since last post: bleh
Current media: None

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Blast From The Past

For Google's tenth birthday they've put up a search of their old index from 2001 (it's not ten years ago, but it's the oldest they've got). It's interesting to have a look at how some thins have changed.

One of the big changes is the absence of Wikipedia. Today Wikipedia turns up in nearly every search you make, but was barely heard of back then. The same applies to IMDB.

Kevin Rudd has gone from being number 3 on the first page to being the whole first page. John Howard went from just being number one to being number one to five. Paris Hilton was apparently a hotel in France. An iPod was on of these. The "neil" was not Neil Armstrong but Neil Young1. Wow had an entirely different meaning. Podcast was a word in czech but not any other languages.

Many terms relating to TV shows have had their results change a lot (Battlestar is a good example).

blog only returned about 76400 results in 2001, but now gives more than 3770000000.

Anyway, have a look and play around with it.

1 To be the "name" is to be the top result in google when you search for just the first name. E.g. Neil Armstrong is the Neil (it used to be Neil Gaiman), Sarah Palin is now the Sarah , and Kevin Rudd is the Kevin.

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Writing time: longer than necessary
Time since last post: I think one day
Current media: The Hollowmen

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Ahead of his time

It would appear that Leonhard Euler has a number of papers up on This is doing pretty good for a guy who died in 1783, a good two hundred and some years before started.

The papers are actually in the history section, but it's still pretty cool that they are there. I haven't actually read any yet, but I may. We'll see if any of the titles sound particularly interesting.

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Writing time: 5 minutes
Time since last post: Good Question
Current media: None

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Little Suspicious

The results from the Belarus elections have come in and they are curious to say the least. All 110 seats contested were won by pro-government candidates. This sort of massive victory is the sort of thing Saddam managed to pull off and Mugabe wishes he could have.

The president is saying the elections were free and fair, but the opposition naturally rejects the claim. International observers are still evaluating the situation before declaring their opinion of the matter.

It seems the era of tin pot little dictatorships still has a while to go.

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How did this happen?

Recently there's been a few reports of modern day pirates, but recently there's been a group who've managed to do rather well for themselves. Somali pirates have managed to board and take a cargo ship carrying among other things 33 72-T tanks that are reported to be bound for the Kenyan military, though some have suggested other final destinations.

Now, since I've never really been put in charge of anything like this, I can't say I know all the ins and outs of organizing the transport of 33 tanks, but I'd definitely make sure to arrange some security for the damn boat, especially if I knew it would be traveling through waters known to be prone to pirates.

Fortunately the pirates don't seem too interested in the tanks (not that surprising giving the price of gas and the notorious fuel inefficiency of tanks), but are just holding the crew for ransom.

This has not gone unnoticed by the international community. Both the US and Russia have a warship following the pirates, as does a third country not identified. It seems some people want to keep an eye on the tanks.

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Writing time: a little bit of time.
Time since last post: Error+++Divide by cucumber error+++Reboot Universe and try again+++
Current media: None

One Tough Chick

I like to think that I have courage of my convictions, but I know that I am fortunate in that life has rarely tested me to any sort of extreme.

Malalai Kakar is the ideal I'd like to meet, but I know I fall short. She is a police officer in Afghanistan. She gets death threats delivered to her door, carries an AK-47 with her on the way to work, has gunfights with the Taliban, is raising six kids, and is an inspiration and leader for the small but growing group of female police in Afghanistan.

Malalai deserves recognition for her courage and dedication. She does a tough job in a place I'd be scared to visit, let alone live. The best word I can think of to use here is hero.

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Writing time: 22 minutes (I got a little distracted along the way)
Time since last post: two days
Current media: Robot Chicken

PS: I didn't think I'd ever link to an article by Marie Claire.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A wedding

Today I attended a wedding. This was the second wedding I've attended, the first being my Aunt's wedding way back in 88, about which I mainly remember that the reception was held at a vegetarian restaurant, and even at that age, I was not a fan of vegetarian food.

This wedding was of one of the Korean teachers from my school. About half a dozen of the foreign teachers went (all of us who'd been there for more than a two months). The ceremony was held in a big wedding complex. It was about four floors tall with halls on each floor and a timetable for each hall. The wedding was split into two parts. The first was a short ritual for the big crowd, which was followed by a private ceremony for just the family while the other guests went off to have a meal. The public ceremony was quite short, only about ten minutes, and then there was about half an hour of photos and videos. It was kind of a mix of Korean and western weddings. The hall seemed to have an anti camera field, as only a few of my photos turned out ok, and others had the same problem.

Photos of the event can be found here.

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Writing time: a little while
Time since last post: a not so little while
Current media: Star Trek Voyager

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I can't wait for this to be finished

Japan makes a lot of crazy shit, and a lot of the time it's just crazy. But sometimes the crazy stuff is actually just crazy awesome. This is a case of the latter.

Japan are planning to hold a conference to organise building a space elevator. If just the name isn't cool enough, the actual idea is. A massive cable attached to a satellite up in space with an elevator system attached, allowing us to move stuff to and from space at a fraction of a price it takes to send up a rocket.

It's not a new idea. A Russian came up with the idea in 1895. Arthur C Clarke was writing about it as science fiction in 1979. We just happen to be living in the time when it may just be feasible. We truly live in remarkable times.

The space elevator is one of those ideas that will change the world once it is realised. The new possibilities it will open up are amazing, and those are just the ones we can think of. Just like the wheel, fire, the assembly line, the computer, and all those other inventions that completely reshape the world we live in (can you imagine a world without fire?), so too will the space elevator.

This obviously won't be finished tomorrow, but it's exciting to see people seriously looking at this as something to do, and not just a nice idea for stories.

The one down side to the whole thing is the consequences if it falls down. Not a pretty scenario. I should hope that doesn't come to pass.

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Writing time: blah minutes
Time since last post: bleh time units
Current media: none

Any Fundamentalist is Bad

Today I read a story about a group of fundamentalists causing havoc in their city. People forcing women off buses because they weren't wearing sufficiently modest clothes. Preventing men and women from socializing, to the point where men and women walk on opposite sides of the street, self-proclaimed morality police who go so far as to prevent the sale of mp3 players, even assaulting women who had the audacity to divorce their husband.

The city in question is Jerusalem and the fundamentalists in question are Haredi Jews. I say this not to cast aspersions on Jews, but to point out that fundamentalists of all creeds tend towards the same means and ends. Violence and isolation aimed at preserving some idealized status quo.

Hopefully, such actions will be condemned as strongly as similar actions from those of other creeds have been, but I think further coverage will be minimal since Israel is on the nominal good side in the current scheme of things. This is a double standard which I don't foresee being dropped anytime soon.

Ideally it would be the forces of intolerance and fundamentalism would be the ones being put on notice regardless of which particular creed they followed. Unfortunately, that is not yet the world we live in.

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Writing time: n, where n is an integer greater than zero and measured in a yet to be specified unit
Time since last post: a n where a is a positive real number
Current media: Star Trek Voyager

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Extended Stay

Last week my boss asked me if I would extend my contract for two months for various recruitment related reasons that are a bit more convoluted than I particularly want to go into.

This caused me some serious thought as I was kind of looking forward to finishing my contract and going traveling. Some of my classes can be quite frustrating, while others I enjoy.

I was initially reluctant, having seen the hassles others have gone through to get a new visa.

One of the things that had me leaning towards renewing was my travel plans for after I finished, which had several rather cold countries at the start and traveling there during February is more appealing than doing so in December. Staying on will also give me a bit more money. Also, traveling alone for Christmas wasn't that appealing.

So now I'm going to work an extra two months and finish at the end of January. I think I'll stick around in Korea for a week or two after that to do some final sight seeing like the DMZ, and then take a ferry across to Russia and a long train ride to Moscow.

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Uganda Becomes Less Fun

Uganda's ethics and integrity minister has a new proposal to help his country cut down on traffic accidents. He's calling for a ban on miniskirts.

Apparently wearing a miniskirt is like walking around naked and Ugandan men are mentally weak and can't help looking at these women when they should concentrating on their driving.

Fortunately, this is just one of the evils the minister for ethics and integrity is dealing with.

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Writing time: 5 minutes
Time since last post: too long
Current media: The Hollowmen

Friday, September 12, 2008

I hope this doesn't set a precedent

The nation of Jordan has decided to get a little bit tricky when it comes to dealing with international critics of its state religion. Back in 2006 they amended their Justice Act to allow the prosecution of those who affect Jordanians by electronic means, even if those people aren't in Jordan themselves. Now, prosecutors are using this to go after people in other countries, by filing charges and getting warrants for these people, and the asking Interpol to extradite them to Jordan.

Fortunately, so far no one seems to be playing ball with Jordan, as the people they asked to be extradited are mostly from western democracies, who won't extradite someone for exercising their freedom of speech. But if any of those people go on holiday to the middle east, they might not be so lucky.

Another rather worrying aspect of this is that even though the amendment was made in 2006, they are going after people whose alleged crimes were in 2005. This is a rather worrisome retroactive application of a criminal law. Nullum crimen sine lege, nulla poena sine lege is a very old and very good legal maxim. No one should be punished for a crime if there was no law at the time the act was done.

This also raises again the rather complicated issue of who has jurisdiction over the internet. With this law Jordan is claiming that anything that can affect the people of Jordan electronically falls within its jurisdiction, which essentially means the whole of the internet is subject to their laws. This is all very good, but what does Jordan do if say Israel claims the same thing and starts prosecuting anti-Semites in Jordan (I'm reasonably sure there must be some who have internet access) and asking for their extradition. My prediction is Jordan would tell them to go to hell. The only sensible way to handle internet jurisdiction is that each country looks after those in its territory and leaves the rest of the world alone.

Were it otherwise anyone defamed by something on the internet could simply choose the country with the most advantageous defamation laws and bring their case there to their benefit. And can countries that guarantee freedom of speech keep that guarantee while allowing its citizens to be prosecuted by countries with strict restrictions on speech like China. Overlapping jurisdictions do not work.

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Writing time: 32 minutes
Time since last post: a few days
Current media: The Middleman

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Today at the start of one of my classes, one of the kids gave me a small box wrapped in black paper. This is not the first time something like this has happened, and as I usually do in this situation I thanked the student in Korean and put it aside to look at later. When I opened the box I found that it contained two pairs of socks. Certainly better than a kick in the pants.

Previous scores from students include some hankies from a student in Japan when the kids school was closing down, a box of tea from a student who recently went to China for a month (that's going to be shipped home to my mother and grandmother (I'm pretty sure my student won't find out)), various snacks and candy, and once an elaborate decorative egg bauble thingy, which again is something I doubt I'd ever get for myself, but in all of these cases it's more the sentiment of it than the actual item.

There's actually a teachers day over here, where students and parents used to give gifts to the teachers. It mainly applies to regular school teachers, but it does overflow a bit into the English academies. However, people went quite overboard in trying to get the teachers to give the most attention to their children (I've heard of cases of teachers getting new cars or huge amounts of cash) to the point where the Government has actually made teachers day a day off for school children, so they can't go to school and give their exorbitant gifts to their teachers (although why they can't give them a day later I don't quite get).

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Writing time: 12 minutes
Time since last post: an hour or so
Current media: Still Star Trek Voyager

Well what do you know, the world's still here.

Despite various doom and gloomers, the Large Hadron Collider, also known as the LHC, at CERN was activated today, and did not destroy the Earth by creating a new big bang or creating a micro black hole that would suck in the whole of the Earth.

The LHC is a massive feat of engineering, and will certain let us explore new aspects of our universe which have not been seen before. I really don't get those who think that these things are unwise or dangerous, especially those who think suing over the matter is the best way to resolve the uncertainties.

Anyway, well done to all those at CERN for a job well done.

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Writing time: blah
Time since last post: blah
Current media: Star Trek Voyager

Friday, September 05, 2008

Euler or Broke

Two weekends ago via XKCD I found out about Project Euler. It's a series of maths/computer programming problems to be solved. It's proved an interesting project to while away my hours. I don't think I've played Civilization IV since I started on the problems.

I think though I've now reached the point where I've got most of the low lying fruit. The first problems were easy enough, but now they're taking a lot longer to solve. It also seems to be a test of the strengths of your language of choice. So far I've been using a Matlab clone. On one problem it wasn't giving me the right answer despite everything I did to refine my code. When I put the same algorithm into Mathematica, it gave me the correct answer right away. That really annoyed me. I'm not sure if I make a full switch, since that'll take a fair bit of learning to get up to the same speed on Mathematica as I'm at with Matlab, although it seems to make a few things a lot easier. One problem can be done in one line of Mathematica that took me about 60 lines in Matlab. Admittedly it was a rather crude algorithm but still, that's a big change, and it ran a lot quicker too.

There is no doubt though that I will not complete all the problems any time soon. Problem #202 seems well beyond me (take a look for yourself if you think I'm wussing out), and there are more, tougher problems on the way.

I have learnt a few things along the way, and it's been good to flex the old maths muscles again.

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Writing time: 19 minutes
Time since last post: Too long
Current media: The Colbert Report

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Classy Town

I always knew Mt Isa was a classy town. This quote from the mayor just confirms it.
May I suggest if there are five blokes to every girl, we should find out where there are beauty-disadvantaged women and ask them to proceed to Mount Isa.
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Writing time: 2 minutes
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: None

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Last Friday I didn't have to work so I decided to do something that I messed up on the first attempt, and visited Haeinsa temple. Haeinsa is about a 90 minute bus ride from Daegu, for most of which due to crowding I had the small seat right at the front of the bus where the steps to get on are. Hence I managed to take a few photos of the landscape on the way that look similar to this one.
After arriving it was a slight walk to the temple (about 1.2km, so I'm not complaining. It was nothing compared to that damned mountain on Jeju) which is a reasonably large complex. There is at least a dozen buildings and two courtyards. In the first courtyard there was a sort of labyrinth, although I guess it was really more of a path to walk while meditating than an actual maze. Also in the main courtyard they had a big fire going. It looked like they were just burning paper, but at times ash would fall from the fire throughout the temple.

The highlight of Haeinsa temple though is the Tripitaka Koreana, a collection of over 80,000 hand carved wooden blocks containing the oldest and most comprehensive collection of Buddhist writing in Chinese characters. There are four buildings containing the wood blocks that were specially built centuries ago to house the blocks.When you look at it the sheer density of writing is amazing. It is like looking at a huge and ancient library. Well, it's not like looking at a huge and ancient library. It is looking at a huge and ancient library. I think if the Library of Alexandria were still around visiting that would be a similar experience. The Library of Congress might get there if it's still around in a few hundred years.

One curiosity I did notice was the special fire extinguishers they have. Obviously for something as precious as the wooden blocks your ordinary put out the flame and damn the consequences to the burning stuff type extinguisher won't quite make the grade with the guys looking after these. It was the first time I've seen a silver fire extinguisher. I've seen red and yellow before, but never silver.

After wandering around the temple for a while and taking pictures until the battery on my camera ran out (I hadn't charged it since before going to Jeju, and that was only the second time I'd charged it so it does all right, but I should have thought of it before) after which I took pictures with my phone instead. I had a look through the accompanying museum, but there wasn't much to read about the items on display. It was however while I was in the museum that the rain started, and didn't stop until almost an hour later. At one point while the rain was light I made a move for the bus stop, but it started getting heavy and ducked under the umbrella of an old lady selling fruit. I braved the heavy rain when the lady told me my bus had just turned up, but it was full to the brim so I spent another 20 odd minutes standing in the slight shelter the ticket booth provided until the rain stopped. Then it was another twenty minutes until the next bus arrived, and 90 minutes back to Daegu. All in all, a good trip.

I'll put a few more pictures up here, and there are more on my flickr page.The largest building in the temple
The wood blocks on their shelves
A stone thingy

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Writing time: 23 minutes
Time since last post: I don't really care about this bit any more. Does anyone notice or care about it?
Current media: None (I'm at work on a break)

Friday, August 15, 2008


This is why I'm not a foreign affairs correspondent in a war zone.

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Writing time: 1 minute
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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Adventures on Jejudo, or Why on Earth did I think climbing a mountain was a good idea?

A week and a bit ago I got four days off work and in celebration of this fact took a trip to Jeju Island, the closest thing Korea has to a tropical paradise. I spent four days on Jeju and enjoyed myself quite a bit. I went with a friend from work.
The first day I got up at the ridiculously early time of seven am in order to catch a 10:30 plane. After the flight we caught a bus to Seogwipo on the south side of the island where one of our hotels was. After checking in we went walking around town to see the local waterfalls. These were pretty good.

Next to one of the waterfalls was a huge rock with some writing on it, which according to local legend was written by an ancient Chinese general.

Day two we went on a submarine ride, for which I inconveniently forgot my camera and then proceeded to get seasick. Not enough to actually be sick, just enough to make the experience unpleasant enough for me to want to get off the sub as quick as I could. In the afternoon we went to a nearby beach, where I sat on a rented plastic chair under a rented umbrella and read some of Purgatory, while my friend went swimming but was yelled at by the lifeguard if he went out further than knee deep, as did anyone else who tried to actually swim instead of just getting their feet wet.

Day three we changed hotel and went from Seogwipo to Jeju-Shi via the Manjanggul lava tubes, one of the largest lava tube systems in the world. The total length is about 7 and a bit kilometers, but tourists can only walk through about two to three kilometers worth. This was pretty impressive, although I think it would have been better if there was a section of pitch black. One of the coolest things about the other caves I've been to is when they turn all the lights out and you get to see what pitch black really is. But to do that you really need a guide, which this place didn't have, just some guys at a ticket booth near the entrance. (Actually, nearly all natural landmarks on Jeju have a ticket booth.) After the lava tubes we continued onto Jeju-Shi where we checked in with a slight hick up that was quickly resolved.

The final day we spent climbing Mt Halla. In a certain sense, the entire island of Jeju is Mt Halla, wiht Mt Halla being the volcano that spewed up all the rocks and stuff that make up the island. Mt Halla is 1950m tall, but the trail we took starts at around 800m up, so we had a bit of a start. The trail starts out not to bad, but the incline keeps getting tougher as you approach the top. The first 7.6km took about two hours, after which we stopped at the main rest stop for lunch. The final 2.5km however involved climbing about 450m. This was a lot tougher, and I think I took more breaks on this section than I did.

The final climb from about 1800m was a set of stairs and near the end I was climbing in a daze, just putting one foot in front of the other, until I was surprised that there weren't any more ahead of me. The top was cloudy nearly the whole time, so I was unable to see the lake that is inside the crater, and after sitting up there for about half an hour started getting rather cold.

The hike down was a lot easier than the hike up. I managed the first 2.5km down without a single break, and then only a few more the rest of the way. Once I got down to the bottom (well, end of the trail) I saw you could get a medal saying "I climbed Mt Halla" and I tried to buy one, but I then found out you actually needed to buy a certificate before you started and there's a guy at the top who would sign it, and then you could buy the medal. I wish I'd know that before I started climbing. After that, I was too exhausted to do anything else, so it was an early night and got up early the next morning for flight back to Daegu.

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Writing time: 39 minutes
Time since last post: a day or so
Current media: The Daily Show

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I don't know what to make of this

I just found something on Wikipedia that has left me puzzled. While I certainly fall on the side of inclusiveness on Wikipedia, I can not for the life of me believe anyone is ever going to look for or need this specific piece of information. More worrying is that there are 18 distinct contributors to this article.

So without any further delay I present to you the 1987-88 United States network television schedule (Saturday morning).

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Writing time: 5 minutes
Time since last post: ?
Current media: iTunes Shuffle

Monday, August 11, 2008

Too Much of a Good Thing

In general I think the more of a good thing the better. I do however acknowledge that you do reach not just a point of diminishing returns (one pizza is good, two are better), but in some cases a negative impact from more of the good thing (21% oxygen in the air is pretty good, 100% is pretty deadly). This is the case for an unfortunate gentleman in Saudi Arabia lately.

So what was this chap overindulging in? Wives. He had not one, not two, not three, not the legally allowed maximum in Saudi Arabia of four, not five, but six wives. Apparently he was using a variant of an old trick to get away with this, since three of his wives live in Saudi Arabia and three live in nearby Yemen.

The particular bit which makes this go from just a bit odd to being a good dose of schadenfreude is the guys job. He was a member of the Saudi religious police, the bunch of wowsers who go around busting people for flirting. However, this is not an unprecedented act among those who police the sharia in Muslim countries.

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Writing time: 12 minutes
Time since last post: ?
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Sunday, August 10, 2008

You see, it's not really that hard

A group of Islamic groups in the UK have just announced a new nikah, or marriage contract, for British Muslims. This new contract brings Islamic marriages in the UK more in line with a standard marriage in the UK in terms of rights of each partner, but does include features which a simple civil ceremony does not impose.

The new nikah can be found here, and is an interesting read. The first few pages are preamble and then some general instructions on how to fill out the form. The most important page is the last one, where the rights and responsibilities of each partner are outlined. The responsibilities of both partners include: to not abuse their partner or children, to not be away from home for more than 60 days without prior permission, to not transmit diseases, to not have an affair and to not interfere with their partners property. I don't really think any of those should be too hard, particularly for a couple who care for each other. There are a few extra responsibilities for the husband including not withholding financial support to the family, not entering into a nikah with another woman, and the one I found most interesting, to procure a home away from his family and parents (not far away, but a place of their own).

These however are minor points. Probably the biggest change is that the nikah ceremony must be held by a registered marriage celebrant, or the couple must have had a civil ceremony beforehand, which makes the marriage official in a legal sense, and so the partners have a recourse to the British courts if things go pair shaped. While reading about this I learned that traditionally Islamic marriage is essentially a civil contract, and in some cases even just a verbal contract, which can make solving disputes tricky when there's no evidence of a marriage (although I wonder if such a marriage would count as a de facto relationship, which I think has some legal standing). This is a big step.

Another big change is that talaq al-tafwid is a standard clause. In the old contract, the husband could initiate divorce pretty much without cause, but if the wife did, she was liable to forfeit some of her property. Talaq al-tafwid is where the husband grants the wife the same right to divorce at will without loss.

The last big change is not an addition but a subtraction. The wife to be no longer needs the approval of her nearest male relative, or Wali, to get married. I have to admit, I do like the way they explain this one. The word is polite but firm.

Parents are responsible for the upbringing of their children. Out of respect and courtesy it is important that young people involve their parents or guardians throughout the process of marriage. However, parental or guardian’s legal role finishes when children reach adulthood. Thereafter their role is optional and complementary. Hence the Muslim Marriage Certificate does not require the approval of the parents.

This new marriage contract is, as the British like to say, a good thing. It shows that the ideals of Islam and the ideals of the West. Except for resolving disputes through a Sharia organization, for which I'd substitute something like a marriage counselor, and having an Imam sign the it, what this document outlines is almost the way I see the marriage relationship being. If I were to change anything it would be to make it so that the rights and responsibilities of both partners are exactly the same since the wife does get out of a few responsibilities the husband has to follow, and the bit about marriage being only between a man and a woman, but that would be it.

I hope that this new nikah gets widespread adoption within the Islamic community, and that the Muslims in other countries develop similar nikahs that show that Islamic ideals and Western ideals are not irrevocably different.

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Those Wacky Italians

Italy has come up with a rather curious way of dealing with what it considers its crime problems. It has decided to deploy its army in various cities throughout the country to assist the regular police in protecting the people. Around 2000 soldiers will be deployed in Rome, Naples, Milan, Turin and other locations.

I just want to say that I consider this to be a bad decision. Using the military as a police force is a dangerous idea that has a number of drawbacks. The biggest of which is the vast difference in the culture and procedures of the two different organizations. The police are intended to protect the people while the military is intended to protect the state. This difference in focus causes a great number of differences in how the two groups act. A soldier is trained to use their weapon as a standard procedure, while for the policeman a weapon is a last resort. Policemen are trained to deal with witnesses, suspects, crime scenes and due process, soldiers are not.

This plan is really just an attempt at a quick fix to solve a bigger problem. The ideal solution would be to improve the police force so that the soldiers aren't considered necessary, but that would be more expensive and take longer than putting soldiers on the streets.

There's a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people. - Commander Adama

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Writing time: 23 minutes (I got distracted looking for the quote at the end.)
Time since last post: ?
Current media: None

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Templar v Pope

The long line of ridiculous law suits just keeps growing. The fact that some of these drag on for years and years and years to the point where the idiots who started it go bankrupt and delay things even further doesn't help us get through these cases. But today I want to talk about a new law suit.

This one's in Spain, which is not quite as litigious as America (an honour it shares with every country except America). And perhaps will set new records for the oldest claim presented to a court. A group, claiming to be the successors to the Knights Templar, are suing the Vatican and the French Government for the defamation of the order and the treasures stolen during the early 1300s.

Quite frankly I can't really see it going anywhere. Any attempt to force a judgement on two sovereign nations is going nowhere fast. And any claim of being an actual successor of the Knights Templar is going to be a pretty hefty task. And since there have been a large number of changes in the governments of France since 1307 and now (at least three revolutions, two restorations, two empires) its hard to try and blame the current French government for the actions of Phillipe IV. The Vatican is the only party who has a reasonably solid trail down the ages but the idea of holding them responsible for something done 700 years ago.

I hope this gets thrown out quickly for many reasons and the claimants laughed on their way out.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

A gambit lost

It seems Starbucks have decided that their strategy of remorseless expansion into every nook and cranny where a coffee drinker might stick their head is not quite as good as they thought it was. Following announcements of closures of branches that rival NOVA in its death throes in America, Starbucks have announced that they are closing 61 out of the 84 Starbucks in Australia.

Apparently it's because Australians were already drinking decent coffee before Starbucks showed up and so their strategy of being everywhere with good coffee didn't work in a place where there was already good coffee everywhere. In America before Starbucks the pinacle of coffee in most places was filter coffee over a hot plate, so the idea of going somewhere for quality was sensible. But since the Italians brought their cafes and cappuccinos with them to Australia post WWII we were ahead of the curve. We were a crowded landscape where America was an open plain.

Now if only the Italians had brought good burgers with them as well, we might be able to get rid of MacDonalds.

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On The Wealth of Nations

I recently finished reading The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. A weighty tome that took about a month to get through (my reading rate has dropped since I don't have an almost hour long commute each way). I actually got it back in January, but my reading of it got preempted by some other books (some of which I'll write about later).

When thinking about The Wealth of Nations the best comparison I can think of is to Dracula. Both are great works which were groundbreaking when they came out, but nowadays lose a lot of their immediate impact simply because the ideas in them have become so much a part of the ingrained knowledge of society. Ideas such as the division of labour, free trade, supply and demand are part of the basis of modern society, but were significant topics in his day.

The first two parts are definitely the strongest, and the most timeless. This deals with the ideas of labour and stock. The latter parts are of more interest historically but don't apply quite so well to the modern day.

The last part is of the expenses and revenues of the sovereign (government) and in those days the government was a lot smaller and less sprawling than most governments today are and people expect a lot more from their government today than anyone would have dreamed of in the 1700s.

Also less relevant to today is the warnings on the pitfalls of foreign colonies and the diversions on the historical values of the price of corn over the centuries. These are interesting, but a modern writer would perhaps have put those at least as an appendix or a separate volume, not as a digression during the middle of the text.

Overall it's a solid text that is definitely worthy of its place in history, but a lot of its message has already reached the modern audience.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

And About Time, Too

One of the less pride inducing things done in Australia is going to be wound down. The mandatory detention of asylum seekers is going to be stopped1,2,3. And not a moment too soon, I might add.

I was surprised to see that the original implementer of this policy was not Howard, but in fact Keating. However, in my particular case I really don't recall much politics pre-Howard, and in general the idea has been associated with Howard more so than Keating for the inflexible way Howard stuck to the idea in the face of popular disapproval, human rights concerns from the United Nations, cock-ups like the Cornelia Rau incident.

The changes include no longer detaining children at detention centers and in general asylum seekers will be allowed to live in the community while their applications are processed. Some detention will still be allowed, but each case will be examined at least every three months and the onus will be on proving a need to keep the person detained.

Hopefully this will see a lot less people detained for a much shorter time.

The detention centers were a stain on Australia's national conscience, and it is good that finally something is being done to reform them. It really was an appalling way to treat people, and the extremes it drove some of the refugees to to get their voices heard were horrible. It is shaming to think that my government did that to people.

There are some people who would argue that such strict measures are necessary to protect our country from the refugees, as if the illegal immigrants would soon outnumber us if we didn't. The fact that the total capacity of the facilities built to house such immigrants is around a few thousand shows the problem with that argument4.

A number of years ago (around 2001) I generally took the position that since there was a legitimate method for acquiring a visa to Australia that these people didn't take, then yes they were here illegally, but the way they were dealt with was somewhat harsh. I don't think the idea that like any other lawbreaker they still deserved a trial with proper representation occurred to me at the time.

That changed a few years later. The thing that crystallized the change was talking to someone who had moved to Australia from another country. Hearing about all the things he had to do to get a visa was daunting. And he was a well educated person with a job lined up from England, and he still had a lot of hassles. Imagining how a poor, persecuted person living in a country where they were liable to be arrested for thinking of leaving would go about getting a visa made the idea farcical. So instead they'd pay all that they had and risk their lives to travel here illegally, since for them that was a much easier and safer option. Then when they got here, we stuck them in a prison that was much more like their home country than the country they were dreaming of.

This is another move the Rudd government has made to distance itself from the Howard years, and I think all of Australia will again benefit from this. It doesn't erase what went before, but we're now moving in the right direction.

1) Australia abandons asylum policy
2) Mandatory detention (sort of) scrapped
3) Tough asylum laws scrapped with comments
4) List of Australian immigration detention facilities, Wikipedia

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Before and After


As I have mentioned before, I recently acquired new glasses. This was a significant change for me because the last time I got new glasses was before I finished undergrad way back in 2001. At that point in time my motivation for getting new glasses was that I was no longer able to read the blackboard in lectures which is a pretty good reason to get new glasses. This time my vision had no declined quite so bad, although it had declined more than I thought it had.

This time the motivation for replacing my glasses was their near self destruction. The nose rest bits were slowly wearing away, the hook at the end of the left leg was coming apart and if I took the glasses off quickly would slide off and stay behind my ear, and the screw holding the rim around the right lens would come loose every now and then. They were dieing, but after 7 years of faithful service I couldn't really fault them for not doing enough. Especially when I'd had that pair for half of the total time I'd been wearing glasses and a quarter of my life.

Of course, getting new glasses was not without difficulty. When the right rim first came apart, I had a look in the glasses shop below where I work but couldn't find anything I liked. In Asia, narrow rectangular glasses are common, and while they look good on some people, I don't like them on me. So that narrowed down the selection.

There's also the fact that my glasses are now somewhat a part of the way I think I look. If I don't have my glasses on the only way I can see my face is if I'm a few inches away from the mirror. And after seven years, my old glasses had become one of the few permanent features of my life. In the time I've had them I've lived in five houses in three countries, graduated university, done honours, started and quit a PhD, five different jobs, and other stuff I can't quite recall but I'm sure has happened. There is definitely a reasonable number of people who have never seen me with a different pair of glasses (everyone who knew me in Japan is the easiest such group to define).

The actual shopping for the new pair was made easier by the assistance of my Mum and my sister. They provided an external viewpoint that could tell me how the glasses looked from a distance of more than 4 inches from the mirror. They also prompted and prodded me into making a decision. Even with that, it did take visiting about four glasses shops before I found a pair that I was happy with.

It has now been about three and a half weeks since I got the new glasses, and I'm still in the process of getting used to them. My nose has indentations where the nose rests of the old pair would lie on my nose, and the new pair rest differently on my nose. They sit more forward, and not exactly evenly. I also did not get this set tinted, mainly because I didn't want to bother getting the salesman to understand what I wanted, although his English was reasonably good. A consequence of this though is that the world is now awfully bright during the day, and I'm considering getting a set of sunglasses to make up for this. I think next week when I go on vacation I'll use my old set as sunglasses.

One surprising thing about the new glasses was the lack of notice they got at work. A few weeks before getting the new glasses I got a new haircut, which got a lot of comments, but it was a few days before anyone noticed, and only one or two comments. I guess this means that I succeeded in getting a pair that were similar to my old pair in appearance. I had at one point in the shopping process considered the idea of getting a new pair custom made based on the old pair, although that would have been ridiculously expensive, and I doubt if it could be done on my sort of financial status.

Well, I've run out of things to say about my new glasses, and have been quite distracted for the last ten or so minutes, so I'll post this and be done.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Seeing Red

The last time I saw my grandfather was in 1994, the first year I was in high school. My family had been doing something in the area where my father's side of my family lived, and the idea popped into someone's head to drop in and say high. It was a bit before milking time so we pulled the car up near the dairy. When I got out of the car he didn't immediately recognize me because that was the year I started wearing glasses, and he had never seen me with them. But the lack of recognition didn't last long, nor did the conversation. I think it was just mostly Hi, how are you, what are you up to and other things along those lines. It was a brief conversation, and then we got back into the car and continued driving home.

This is perhaps slightly better than the last time I saw my father, which was when I was working on the ticket gates at the Cairns show in 1998. A man walked past me and it took me a few seconds for the mental gears to click over and realize it was my dad. I don't know if he even noticed me.

There's a chance the story of the last time I saw my father might change in time. It's a slight chance, but it's there. However, the story of the last time I saw my grandfather is now set in stone. Last Friday he died. Apparently he'd been having blackouts for a while, and when he felt one coming on he'd lie down and let it happen. On Friday though, he blacked out and didn't wake up.

I've thought about calling my grandmother or my father to express my condolences, but that would be awkward enough without the added difficulty of explaining who the hell it is calling them from Korea. I'm not going to fly back for the funeral (odd thought that followed on from that one. There are probably only five people whose funeral I would fly back for.). If I was in Australia, I probably would have gone, but I'd have lurked at the back and not made myself known unless someone recognized me.

I generally treat my father's side of my family on an "Out of sight, out of mind" basis. It's been so long since I've had anything to do with them that most of the time they're off my radar. It's only times like these that they register on my consciousness.

At this point though, I don't really have much more to say so I'll finish with this:

Rest in Peace Granddad Red.

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A Christian Monopoly is Broken

I thought that the Christians had the monopoly on seeing religious icons in their food. It seems however that the Muslims are joining in on this bandwagon. In Nigeria people are swarming a restaurant where several pieces of meat have been found with the word "Allah" written in gristle. I can't really judge how good a depiction this is since I can't read Arabic.

It turns out the Muslims have been doing this for a while now, so it wasn't just the Christians who are crazy. It is interesting to note that while the Christians tend to find pictures of holy people, Muslims find holy words such as "Allah" or "Muhammad". I wonder what would happen if a Muslim found an object with a picture of Muhammad on it? Would it be considered a miracle or a blasphemy?

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