Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I want these

Two cool items have recently popped up on Slashdot that I would like to acquire, but probably never will.

First up is the new rail gun the US Navy has acquired. It fires projectiles at up to Mach 8, but the electricity bill is likely to be the killer. The weapon requires 32MJ of energy, and can draw current at up to 3 million amps. That'll blow most fuses. It is also a prototype, so don't expect ships loaded up with this beast any time soon.

A bit more attainable is The Torch, and it definitely deserves the definite article. This illuminating device puts out a impressive amount of light. It can light cigarettes, ignite paper and even fry an egg. Battery life though is less than impressive, a mere 15 minutes. Maybe I could take the batteries from the rail gun and connect them up to the torch.

I'll finish with something I don't want. McDonalds in the United Kingdom is set to offer a employee training course that grants the completer the equivalent to completing high school. Sure give training, and make it worthwhile, but I don't want people dropping out to work at McDonalds instead.

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Writing time: 22 minutes
Time since last post: 1 day
Current media: Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me

Monday, January 28, 2008

The End is Nigh

Don't go making any plans for beyond two weeks from now. Apparently the Rapture is imminent.

The Rapture is of course that event in Christian Armageddon where all the virtuous and pious individuals are physically taken up into heaven leaving all the unbelievers here on Earth to deal with the forces of Satan. Of course the people preaching about the Rapture all say that it will be the true believers who are taken up into Heaven to be with God. And they always include themselves in the group who will be Raptured away.

Actually, this could be a good deal for us. All the die hard fundamentalist Christians go away, leaving the rest of the world a better place.

In fact, it looks like God might be jumping the gun a little on his rapture plans. The head of the Greek Orthodox and Mormon churches died today, and Heath Ledger predeceased them by less than a week.

February 11. Keep the calendar clear. Or not.

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Writing time: 12 minutes
Time since last post: 1 day
Current media: None

What is the sound of 100000 people saying "wop"?

A while ago I was reading Life, The Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams (again) and had an idea for a project.

The section that provided the inspiration for this project was the description of a Kricket warship. The noise it makes was described as being like the sound of 100000 people saying "wop". I began to wonder what such a noise would sound like, and how I might go about creating it.

At first I considered just recording my own voice and playing it over itself over and over again, but I realised that that wouldn't really work the way I wanted it to. Then I thought about somehow altering the recording in various ways before doing the superimposing, but that didn't seem right either.

I realised that the right way to do this would be to get 100000 people to record themselves saying "wop" and email it to me. And that's what I'm going to do. I've set up a website for the project, http://100000wops.googlepages.com, and a new gmail address to store what gets sent my way, 100000wops@gmail.com.

So to any readers out there with a computer and a microphone, record yourself saying "wop" (please include a few seconds silence before and after) and email it to 100000wops@gmail.com.


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Writing time: 26 minutes (I'm trying to use the dvorak keyboard layout, but it seems I have too much practice with qwerty)
Time since last post: 1 day
Current media: None

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Keeping Tabs

I currently have a bunch of tabs open in Firefox that I kind of want to comment on, but not really enough to make a full post. So, here, from left to right (which kind of matches up with oldest first), are the contents of those tabs.

First, a diatribe from the chaplain of the London Stock Exchange about how liberalism has gone too far. I do disagree with his opinion that secularism is a greater threat than international terrorism.

Next is a video about Fractional Reserve Banking. It's a bit long (47 minutes), but it has made me think a bit about the current money system. The system seems to be based on nothing, and the ideas behind it don't seem to actually work. There is a huge uncertainty in the whole system.

While I was reading up on Fractional Reserve Banking, I came across Islamic banking. Islamic banking is a system whereby financial institutions in Islamic countries organise financial deals so that they make money but don't technically charge interest, which is forbidden by Islam. They plan the deals out so that the amount of money they make is the same as if they pay interest, and that the actual situation is as close as possible to what most people would consider and interest bearing loan. It boils down to obeying the letter of the law but not the spirit. On the plus side, it should bring Christians and Muslims together, since the Christians did this in the middle ages.

Next is a troublesome story of a reporter in Afghanistan sentenced to death for blasphemy because of an article on his computer about women in the Koran which was actually written by someone else.

Finally two interesting blogs. One is based on the letters of a soldier during World War One. the letters are put on the blog 90 years after they were originally written. The other is a collection of strange maps.

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Writing time: 25 minutes
Time since last post: one day
Current media: The Colbert Report

Friday, January 25, 2008

Why won't other people do what I want

I recently paid for something over the internet. And as it happened, because two different groups didn't do what I wanted them to, it's ended up costing me 50% more. And right now, I feel like ranting.

The first troublesome group is paypal. I have a paypal account. I set it up when I first started buying a few items off of ebay. When I buy stuff on the internet, I use my credit card. One because it's easier, and two, the things I buy on the internet are usually luxuries, not essentials and my wants don't always mesh exactly with my pay cycle. Even when I use paypal, I want to use my credit card. This shouldn't be a problem, except I also have my bank account linked in to paypal. Why would I do this? Because I have occasionally been paid by people via paypal, and while you can send money through paypal by credit card, to get it out you need a bank account.

OK. I can handle that. Money goes out of paypal into my bank account and when I pay by paypal they take the money from my credit card. No Problem. But wait, if you have a bank account linked in the default payment method is they take the money from your bank account. If you want to use another payment method, then you have to choose it for every single purchase. While you have a bank account linked in, you can not change your default payment method (I wonder what happens if you link in two bank accounts. Surely you must be able to choose between bank accounts. Why not bank accounts and credit cards?).

So they took the money out of my bank account instead of my credit card. What's the big deal. Why am I so angry? Well, I don't live in the same country as my bank account and credit card. I mainly still have a bank account so I can pay the credit card easier. If other people could deposit money into my credit card and I could deposit funds from overseas into my credit card, I wouldn't use the bank account at all (Also, it will be handy having an existing bank account if and when I return to Australia). For the last year or so the typical balance of my bank account has been $0.

So, when paypal decided I wanted to pay from my bank account instead of my credit card, guess how much money was in my bank account. $0. Now what should happen when someone tries to take money out of a bank account with no money in it. They should tell them fuck off. Indeed, that's what I want my bank to do when I try to take money out of my bank account that I don't have (I have different expectations of my bank account and credit card. They are different beasts and should be treated differently.) What I don't want my bank to do is to is to give the people asking for money I don't have is to give it to them and then charge me a $40 fee for doing so.

So now I have to sort out what I'm going to do to avoid this problem in the first place. I think I shall take my bank account off of paypal (If I need it again in the future I'll set up a separate account for payments received), and Westpac is going to get an annoyed call demanding I have a $0 overdraft on my regular bank account.

God damn it.

End Post
Writing time: 34 minutes
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: Eurotrip (it has Michelle Trachtenberg in it)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Heath Ledger is dead. I'm sure everyone has heard this news.

This is an unfortunate event.

It is not important enough that more than half (32 out of 63) of the news articles in my RSS feeds are about it (news.com.au is mostly to blame).

The death is news. Kevin Rudd's reaction to the death is not news. Mel Gibson's reaction to the death is not news. How his family is grieving is not news. You get the idea.

Something happening to a celebrity is not automatically news.

Journalists please take note of that. I don't want to hear about Britney's latest fuck up or the new hairdo Jennifer Aniston got after breaking up with Brad Pitt (I know that's old but I don't pay attention to this shit). It's not news. Celebrities doing token charity work is not news. Ordinary people dedicating themselves to charity work is news.

Anyway, apologies to Heath Ledger for using his untimely death as an opportunity to rant about the news industries obsession with celebrity.

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Writing time: 10 minutes
Time since last post: 4 days
Current media: None

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Dilemma

Would you buy something really cool if you knew that the money would go to a group of people you strongly disagreed with? While the item in question is well out of my price range, I'm sure there are a number of groups pondering this question.

The item I'm talking about is a mastadon skull that has been put up for auction by Mt Blanco Fossil Museum, a creationist institute. Apparently they are running out of cash and are selling the skull, which is one of their prize artifacts, so that they can continue to operate.

I'm sure there are a number of universities and museums who would like to purchase this item. But I'm also sure that most of them would not want to support the Mt Blanco Fossil Museum, because quite frankly, they shouldn't be supported.

My recommendation, wait for bankruptcy, and then pick it up on the cheap.

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Writing time: 9 minutes
Time since last post: 1 day
Current media: None

Friday, January 18, 2008

Do not go to this college

Beware Bergen Community College in New Jersey. It was planning on requiring all students to sign a "civility code" in order to attend the college. It is now backing down on the idea due to bad publicity, but those behind it are still running the show. The code itself is interesting, and I would consider it an example of taking a good thing too far and turning it into a bad thing.

Before further discussion though, here is the "civility code" that was put forward.

In the full knowledge of the commitment that I am freely willing to undertake as a student, I promise to respect each and every member of the college community without regard to race, creed, political ideology, lifestyle orientation, gender, or social status sparing no effort to preserve the dignity of those I will come in contact with as a member of the college community. I promise to Bergen Community College that I will follow this code of responsibility.

1. Honesty, integrity, and respect for all will guide my personal conduct.
2. I will embrace and celebrate differing perspectives intellectually.
3. I will build an inclusive community enriched by diversity.
4. I am willing to respect and assist those individuals who are less fortunate.
5. I promise my commitment to civic engagement and to serve the needs of the community to the best of my ability.

So, starting with the intro. Some nice verbiage to make it sound more like a free choice affirmation than a statement of "I'm agreeing to this to get into the college." Next we have a list of things we cannot discriminate on the basis of. I agree with most of this list. Race, sexual orientation (seriously, what the hell is lifestyle orientation? It's the stupidest politically correct term since someone came up with the idea of calling short people vertically challenged.), gender, and social status should not form the basis of discrimination.

Religious creed and political ideology are a completely different ball game. If I met someone who espoused support for, as an example, a return to the white Australia policy, I will not respect that idea. I would oppose them and seek to discredit their arguments. If they were able to their position well, I might start to respect their abilities, but I still would not respect their ideas. The same goes for most religious beliefs. I oppose them, I think they are bad, and there is no force in the universe (save God actually turning up and talking to me) that would make me respect them.

I'll point out here this does not mean I think these people should be forced to give their ideas or beliefs. Just because I disagree doesn't mean they have to give them up. But if they disagree with me, it doesn't mean I have to agree with them, or like what they think, or like them. I don't have to support them in any way. I just shouldn't harm them personally. I will attack their ideas, but I won't attack the person. If they feel attacking their religious or political beliefs is attacking their person, then I can't help that, but they are two separate things.

As for the actual bullet points. 1 is pretty obvious and I agree with fully. 2 is a bit trickier. I will accept differing perspectives. I will tolerate differing perspectives (to a point. See this for an example of when I don't tolerate a differing perspective). When presented with new ideas or new perspectives, I will give them consideration, consider the evidence for and against, and will make my decisions based on the strength of the evidence. I will not embrace or celebrate for the sake of embracing and celebrating. I'm not sure if 3 is actually saying anything or not. 4 is charity, nothing objectionable there. 5 is a bit like 3 and sufficiently open to interpretation so as to not really place any obligations on a student.

The guys at South Park said it pretty well in the Lemmiwinks episode, there is a big difference between tolerating something and liking something. There are many things I think should be tolerated that I don't like. There are many things I think should be tolerated that I would prefer no one actually did, but I don't it isn't a matter that anyone other than the person or people involved with should be concerned with. I tolerate a lot more things than I like.

I think the people behind this code have mistaken tolerance for liking. Tolerating and accepting that people have different opinions is a good thing. Trying to like everyone's opinion is a recipe for schizophrenia.

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Writing time: 42 minutes
Time since last post: 7 hours
Current media: None

I like it

You've probably already read it, but the latest xkcd is pretty good.

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Writing time: 1 minute
Time since last post: two days
Current media: iPod

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I'm confused

Could somebody please explain to me why this product exists? I really don't get it.

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Writing time: 1 minute
Time since last post: 8 days
Current media: Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Oh, this is going to work

Problem: A global faith based organisation has had, and faces concerns that it still has a worrying large number of officials who have, on occasion, got their jollies from young children.

Solution: Perpetual prayer to cleanse the clergy by every diocese, parish, convent, monastery, and seminary.

That's right. The Roman Catholic Church's latest weapon to clean up its act after numerous allegations of paedophilia by priests is to have everyone pray for it to stop.

Because, as we all know, prayer works. It can cure the sick. It's been tested. Oh, wait. No, it didn't work. Actually those prayed for ended up getting worse. Perhaps we should pray for priests to become paedophiles (note: I'm not actually suggesting this), because apparently God digs reverse psychology.

I get the Church has a vested interest in promoting prayer. But on this matter, they really should be doing something a little bit more concrete.

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Writing time: 12 minutes
Time since last post: 3 days
Current media: None (I'm waiting for season 4 of Deep Space 9 to arrive)

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Naming Day

On Wednesday I got to name my first kids at work. After some consideration of where to get names from, I used the following two sources this time. The first were actors from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I figured this was better than characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The other source were people I knew in Japan. Finally, one student seemed to already have a name in English, so she obviously kept that. The list of names is as follows
Jully (The kid already with an English name. I'm guessing this is a misspelling of Julie)
Aly (Alyson Hannigan)
Emma (Emma Caulfield)
Mark (one of my housemates in Japan)
Karl (another housemate from Japan)
Dani (a coworker from Japan)
Vera (another coworker from Japan)
Kim (yet another coworker from Japan (sort of, she worked at a different branch to me) (It was only in hindsight that I thought perhaps Kim would not be a good English name since Kim is a common Korean name as well. Ah well))

The kids were pretty young and have very little knowledge of English, so trying to get across the idea that this is your English name was a little bit of a challenge, but after a little bit of time they started to get the idea. The lessons at this level are a bit hard to make last 40 minutes (learning table, chair and the letter B if not done carefully can go very quickly).

I think next time I may use people I knew from Australia, or actors from a Star Trek series.

edit: A new kid showed up the other day, so another name has been added to the list.

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Writing time: 35 minutes
Time since last post: an hour or so
Current media: still season 3 of Deep Space 9

There must be violence against women

I came across this rather unenlightened piece of writing from the Yemen Times the other day. Entitled "There must be violence against women", it is a collection of rationalisations, flawed arguments that to my mind completely fails to achieve what the author aimed to say. Rather than just comment on the article, I'm going to do a paragraph by paragraph commentary, copyright be damned.

There must be violence against women
Maged Thabet Al-Kholidy

This title may sound strange, but it’s actually not just a way to attract readers to the topic because I really do mean what it indicates. Violence is a broad term, especially when used regarding women. In this piece, I want to shed light on those instances where violence against women is a must.

Yes, the title is strange and will draw a crowd. The same sort of a crowd that stops to look at a car crash or some other disaster, but still, a crowd.

First, we should know the meaning of the word violence. Longman’s Dictionary of Contemporary English defines violence as “behavior that is intended to hurt other people physically.” However, the term violence mustn’t be confused with other concepts and terms such as gender inequality or absence of women rights.

This definition of violence seems to be a bit narrow, concentrating on only physical harm, but I'll let it slide. What I won't let slide is this idea that there is a confusion between violence, gender equality and the absence of women's rights. Violence can be used to continue the other two, and they can be used to justify violence, and all are deplorable, but few people would confuse them.

Occasionally – if not daily – we hear about events occurring in Islamic and Arab societies. Some human rights organizations recently have attacked violent acts against women, standing against any type of violence – even that between a father and daughter – and citing the cases of some women as examples.

Good on these organisations. Violence is wrong, and should be stood against in all circumstances. This includes man against woman, woman against man, woman against woman, man against man, etc, etc.

Consequently, they offer solutions such as complaining to the police, taking revenge or leaving them men, who are either their husbands, fathers or brothers – with no exceptions.

Of course, doing nothing and being beaten again and again is much better than any of these solutions. Wait. No, it's actually a pretty shit solution.

One such case involved a woman whose husband allegedly had beaten her. Without revealing the husband’s reasons for doing so, such human rights organizations immediately urged the wife to complain to the police and the courts, while at the same time generalizing the instance and other similar solutions to any type of violence.

I'm sorry. What reasons justify beating your wife? Let me see, I'm thinking, I'm thinking. No, none. Wife beating is wrong, and the wife is right to seek to prevent further beatings. And this does generalise to other types of violence. Violence is wrong, it should be prevented, victims should be protected and offenders punished.

If a man and woman are husband and wife, the Qur’an provides solutions, firstly reaffirming any logical and acceptable reasons for such punishment. These solutions are in gradual phases and not just for women, but for men also.

For men, it begins with abandoning the marital bed, by opting to sleep elsewhere in the house. After this, they may discuss the matter with any respected person for the husband’s or the wife’s family, who could be in a position to advise the wife. If this also does not work, then the husband yields to beating the wife slightly. They do this because of a misunderstanding in the Quran, as the word says Darban, which is commonly understood today as beating. However, in Classic Arabic it means to set examples or to announce and proclaim. The more accurate meaning of this last one is that the husband finally has to set forth, to make a clear statement or proclamation, and if these measures fail, then divorce is preferable.

So start by talking about things. Good idea. This works for me too. Talking I have found is actually pretty good at solving problems even if the solution isn't exactly to your liking. If direct communication doesn't work, getting the help of a trusted individual can also help. The next step however shouldn't be slightly beating your wife though.

The next bit though is a outstanding piece of work. Remember, the aim of this article is to show when violence against women is appropriate. And here we have the claim that the reason the next step is a beating is because most people have misread the Quran. The word that most people see as beating, actually means to proclaim. So the next step is actually that the husband tells his wife to "shape up or ship out." The important thing to note is that this means beating your wife is not a good thing. I'm glad we agree on something.

Similarly, wives may take actions such as abandoning the marital bed, following by leaving the husband’s home for that of their parents, brothers or any other relatives. They may do this more than once, but if such action fails, they may not continue to live with their husband and via their relatives, they may request a divorce.

Glad to see women have equal rights on this score. Now if only they didn't have to still live with a male relative after the divorce, or get lashes for adultery after being raped.

Despite such instructions, beating is considered a type of violence, according to human rights organizations, which urge women to complain to the police. I just wonder what kind of families our societies would have if Muslim women started doing this regarding their husbands.

Beatings are considered a type of violence by human rights organisations because they are a type of violence (those wacky human rights organisations and their crazy ideas. Whatever will they think of next? Freedom to choose your own faith?). And I too wonder what would happen to Muslim society if women actually stopped putting up with abuse from husbands, brothers and fathers.

Relationships between fathers and daughters or sisters and brothers also provoke argument from human rights organizations, which propose the suggested solutions for all relationships. Personally, I don’t think fathers or brothers would undertake such behavior unless there was a reason for it.

At the risk of repeating myself, there is no justification for violence. Whatever reason a father or brother may have for beating a woman, it is not a good reason.

Fathers are responsible for their daughters’ behavior, but human rights organizations deny this too. Brothers also should take action regarding their sisters’ behavior, especially if their parents are too old or dead. If a daughter or sister makes a mistake – especially a moral one – that negatively affects the entire family and its reputation, what’s the solution by such organizations?

Once a person is an adult, they and only they are responsible for their actions. While I want my sister to live a good and proper life (she does, but I'm making a point here), I am not responsible for her actions and have no right to tell her what to do or not do. And, if I were to disagree with her on a matter, discussion is the solution.

According to them, women should complain to the courts about any type of violence against them. Likewise, should fathers and brothers complain to police if their daughters or sisters violate moral, Islamic or social norms?

There is a significant difference between the harm caused by violence against a person and the harm caused by someone doing something you disagree with. The former is much, much worse than the latter.

Fathers should handle their daughters via any means that suits their mistake; thus, is it better to use violence to a certain limit or complain to the police? Shall such women then complain to the police against their fathers or brothers? It’s really amazing to hear this.

In some cases, violence is necessary, but there must be limits. Those “good human rights organizations” don’t make any exceptions in their solutions because their aim is to serve society. Will it be a better society once we see wives, mothers, sisters and daughters going from one police station and one court to another, complaining against their husbands, fathers, brothers and even sons?

It will be a better society when we see women who are not beaten by the men in their family.

As the proverb goes, “If the speaker is mad, the listener should be mindful.” This proverb is good advice for every man and woman not only to keep their ears open, but also to avoid the misleading propaganda of such organizations, whose surface aims hide other destructive ones to destroy society’s religious, social and moral norms. This matter requires consideration.

And I am indeed mindful of the words you have spoken. And I will be quite blunt. If a society's religious, social and moral norms condone beating and killing women then those norms should and must be destroyed.

Dear readers – especially women – don’t think that I hate or am against women; rather, I simply mean to preserve the morals and principles with which Islam has honored us.

I hope my message is clear, since it’s really quite relevant to the future of our societies, which must be protected from any kind of cultural invasion.

The message I have received from you is that you are a unenlightened little man trying to justify the unjustifiable, and trying to protect an outdated set of values that should be changed. You have not provided any specifics on when you believe violence is acceptable other than a rather vague notion of going against religious, social and moral norms, which quite frankly could be just about anything. You have not provided any justification for this claim that violence is necessary. In fact, you have provided arguments against violence in your piece.

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Writing time: 1 hour 55 minutes
Time since last post: 5 days
Current media: season three of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine