Friday, February 29, 2008

Women can do what now?

Is anyone else just learning that it is some sort of tradition that women are allowed to propose on February 29th during a leap year1?

I've been through many leap years and have never before been told of this.2 I wasn't aware there was any sort of restrictions on who was allowed to propose these days. I sort of had the idea that things had changed from the grand romantic gesture to more of a mutually agreed upon decision.3

And while this seems to be a minor gain in a battle I already thought won, it is somewhat undone by the fact that many women still expect the man to cough up for the engagement ring.

1) not that February 29th can occur in any other sort of year
2) I'm pretty sure this only got into the newspaper because today is February 29th.
3) Not that I'm opposed to grand romantic gestures, it's just they can put an awful lot of pressure on a person and can be rather make or break situations. But when done right, very impressive.

End Post
Writing time: 7 minutes
Time since last post: 15 minutes
Current media: still none (I should do something about that)

Hoisted upon their own petard

Most readers will no doubt be aware of what has been dubbed the sub-prime mortgage crisis. It seems a few years ago, a bunch of American financial institutions while seeking new ways to make money decided that it might be a good idea to give home loans to individuals with less than stellar credit histories. Now a lot of those individuals wanted to get a home loan, but couldn't afford the interest rates the banks would offer them. So, the banks, wanting to make a deal said, OK, we'll give you a cheap interest rate for the first few years then. The more astute individuals asked, but what happens when the interest goes back up. I still won't be able to pay the loan. To which the banks replied, No worries. The value of the home will go up, and you'll improve your credit history by paying off the mortgage, so before the interest rates go back up you can refinance. At which point many signed on the dotted line, and all were happy.

Well, almost everybody. Because the banks realised, hey, we've got a lot of loans with a high risk of default and we still haven't made that much money yet because we're giving them cheap interest for a few years, and we need cash to make more deals. What can we do?

We can sell our interest in the mortgages. Someone else gives us a bunch of cash now, and we give them a slow trickle of cash as people pay off their mortgages.

Great. Let's do it.

Oh, no one wants to buy these. How about a package deal? We give them 9 safe mortgages and 1 risky one as a bunch.

That worked. And so it went. Banks got into loan deals, wanted to get rid of the risk and sold off their interests in the loans. Some went bust and their loans were bought by other companies. There has all round been a lot of moving around bits and pieces so no one was stuck with the hot potato of a bad loan.

Recently, this caught up with a lot of people. The cheap interest rate periods were finishing, house prices hadn't risen, refinancing was as easy as people had been told, and foreclosures abounded.

Except for one man. One bulwark against the mighty tide of foreclosures. The man who had a secret that allowed him to stand against those who would take his home from him. And no, it was not pay in time.

The thing that makes Joe Lents stand apart from the crowd is this. No one seems to own his mortgage. He hasn't made a payment on his $1.5 million loan since 2002. Companies have tried to foreclose on him several times. And all he does is say "Prove it's you I owe the money to". And it works. In all the financial shenanigans and wheeling and dealing, something got lost along the way. In trying to hide themselves from the risk, the banks have hid themselves from the rights to collect on the debt.

And it looks like Joe is not alone. Judges aren't being so lenient about the matter any more, and more debtors are forcing their creditors to put up or shut up.

End Post
Writing time: 20 minutes
Time since last post: 30 minutes
Current media: None

Three Strikes Against Sharia

These are all a little bit old, but I would like to point these out. The following are a few items of Sharia law being applied in ways that should strike most people as being ridiculous. They are by no means the worst applications of sharia law, but still, the best way to get people to stop taking something seriously is to make them laugh at it (it's all well and good to say something is terrible, but when is the last time you took a clown seriously?).

The first item is about the unfortunate plight of a woman locked up in a Saudi jail. Her crime? Witchcraft. That's right. Witchcraft. Let's hope Emma Watson never goes to Saudi Arabia. And what vile act of witchcraft did she perform? Her accuser says she made him impotent.

Human rights groups have declaimed this conviction because of the undefined nature of the crime, the lack of representation for the woman in legal hearings, beatings by the police, forced confession and the extreme unfairness of a death sentence. It is a good point, and I thank them for making it. I wish to declaim this situation for the sheer stupidity of it. I mean really, witchcraft? This is the twenty-first century guys. This is the sort of thing that makes people look on the sharia as a backwards, middle ages code of laws. And rightly so in this case. Witchcraft is a backwards, middle ages idea. Witchcraft these days is for goths who want a bit of a ritual that may involve killing an animal and seeing real blood. It's for pagan wannabes. No one seriously thinks that there are women who make deals with the devil for power and go about bringing havoc on mankind (please tell me there is no one who seriously thinks this). Executing a woman for such a thing is ridiculous.

Next on our tour, Nigeria. Land of the scammer. Home of the 419-ers. The country full of people who die with no next of kin leaving behind only a pile of money and a less than scrupulous lawyer. And now, to top all of that, 18 cross dressing men. This group of men went out on the town in ladies clothes, and they were arrested. Originally they were going to be charged with sodomy, but the charges were dropped to indecent dressing and vagrancy. Much to the relief of the 18 men as sodomy is a capital offense in Nigeria (why can't they make fraud a capital offense? That would make the internet a much nicer place). Again, this is something most of the world has accepted is really no one's business but those involved, and so long as they do it in private, whatever floats their boat is OK (a few of the more conservative parts of America haven't got the memo yet, but it's in the post).

Lastly, we return to Saudi Arabia. In this case 57 men have been arrested for that most despicable crime of flirting. The men are accused of wearing indecent clothes, playing loud music and dancing in order to attract the attention of girls. Now honestly, you have to admire their audacity. I mean this is right up there with trying to move an immovable object. Trying to stop men trying to get women to be interested in them. Hell, even I've tried (and failed) to do that on occasion, and I am by no means the king of the lewd. If the music is ridiculously loud get them to turn it down. Arresting people for flirting is not so much out of date as just plain stupid. It will happen. No power on heaven or earth has a chance of stopping it.

So that's a look at the lighter side of the bad joke that is sharia law. It makes crimes out of that which is not a crime. It makes crimes out of that which is a natural part of being human. It imposes punishments that are severe out of proportion with the supposed crimes. It is old, it is out of date, and it needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century.

End Post
Writing time: 40 minutes
Time since last post: 3 days
Current media: None

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Money Cometh

I got some good mail today. A bunch of paperwork to claim my unpaid wages from Japan. I shall endeavor to have them sent back by the end of the week. Registered post. After making photocopies.

While this in general is good news, it isn't all great. The total unpaid wages are 430366 yen. Since it's a payment from the government for unpaid wages, they're only going to give me 80%. So that means 344292 yen (the bastards round a 0.8 yen down). Next is the bit I wasn't counting on. Since I'm no longer a resident of Japan (maybe) I have to pay 20% income tax. This is a bit shit since while I was there I only had to pay about 3-5% (I can't remember exactly, but it was a lot less than 20%). This brings the figure down to 275434.24 yen (I'm sure they'll round that down as well).

One thing I'm not sure of is if I still count as being a resident of Japan for the moment. My residency visa is still valid, and I never sort of went to city hall to inform them I'd be leaving Japan (I think I was meant to hand in my alien card if I did so, and I wanted to keep it as a souvenir, so I didn't).

I also have to decide where to send the money. The easiest is to just have them put the money in my Japanese bank account. They've already filled out the forms for this. I didn't close the bank account kind of for this reason. This of course means I'd have to make a trip back to Japan at some time. If I did this I think their chances of not charging me the income tax are slightly better, but not so good because someone knows I'm not living in Japan anymore (namely the people who sent me the documents). The other two options are to have the money sent here, or have it sent to Australia. Having it sent to Australia would probably be better, since no matter what, I'll be sending a lot of the money home to save (I've kind of already mentally written off the money, so anything I do get is kind of like money for nothing now). I'll probably use some of it to buy a digital camera over here (my korean phone is an ok camera, but the way it names photos is annoying. noname.jpg, then noname(1).jpg, etc, etc. and the bluetooth file transfer does not preserve the file creation data. This makes automatic renaming into my prefered photo filename format (yyyymmddnn.jpg, y - year, m - month, d - date, n - photo number for that day) quite frustrating. My japanese phone was much better in that regard). If I do go back to Japan, it would probably just be for an overnight trip one weekend and I think I'd just stay out all night rather than get a hostel room.

End Post
Writing time: 25 minutes
Time since last post: 4 days
Current media: None (I have been watching a lot of Red Dwarf lately though)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Scraping the Barrel (of Monkeys)

I have for some time now been lamenting the lack of quality original work in the cinematic arts. Nearly every movie that has been made, and most of those I've seen in the last few years has been a derivative of some other work (for example the Harry Potter movies, Serenity, Transformers, Stardust, Pirates of the Caribbean, X-Men, Ocean's 11-13, 300, Die Hard 4.0, Sweeney Todd, Doom, Sin City the list goes on and on). Long have I waited for an original work, not derived from a book, comic, tv show, another movie, or history.

Unfortunately it looks like I shall have to wait a while longer. For Hollywood has found another mine from which to dig up derivative works. Board games. Universal pictures has signed a deal with Hasbro to make movies based on board games. On the list are Monopoly, Battleship, Candyland and Ouija.

Just how useful is a board game as a base idea for a movie. I mean really, Battleships? Fine, a nautical action/battle movie. That would be fine. Will there be giant red cylinders falling out of the sky taking out ships? Will aircraft carriers unrealistically take 5 hits in different parts of the hull before sinking? Will ships stay in place while barraging each other with gunfire? Will the action take place on a square ocean? I think (and hope) the answer to all of these will be no. So why try and link it to a board game. Let's just make a naval action movie.

Same with Monopoly. There have been a number of finance, wheeler dealer type movies, and there are more to come. A hotel mogul is definitely an idea for a story, but does he really need to be building his hotels on the Boardwalk and the Strand to keep the vibrancy of the idea?

I guess this is just one more case of life imitating art.

End Post
Writing time: 38 minutes (it took a while to find a working link to the right Robot Chicken episode)
Time since last post: an hour or so
Current media: Pleasantville

More Good News

I actually just wanted to post some thought on the new Good News Week. Some are neutral and some are negative.

First, Paul's rendition of the theme song just doesn't seem the same. Bring back the old version.

Next, good god has Mikey Robbins gone grey. He has lost a fair bit of weight though, which is good.

Where is Julie McCrossin? It looks like she's too busy to come back to the fold. I hope she can make a guest appearance some time. I have yet to warm up to her replacement, Clare Hooper.

Also, I'm dubious about the amount of cross promotion that they're doing. It's cheap, tacky, obvious and cheapens the whole thing. And they should at least cross promote things the audience is going to be interested in. I may have been out of Australia for a while, but I really don't think that the people who watch GNW are likely to want to watch The Bold and the Beautiful. At least last week with Supernatural there was likely to be some sort of interest, although I went "who's he?" when they introduced the guy.

Other than that, they haven't changed the formula that much, and I hope to see some of the old regulars such as Adam Spencer, Natasha Stot Despoya, Rod Quantoc and others soon.

End Post
Writing time: 20 minutes
Time since last post: 32 minutes
Current media: Good News Week

Some Good News

Looks like I may be getting paid for September and October soon. Apparently the forms for claiming unpaid wages are finally being sent out to people.

End Post
Writing time: 1 minute
Time since last post: 3 days
Current media: Good News Week (rated M due to sexual references, drug references and adult themes)

Monday, February 18, 2008


The week before last I took a trip to Seoul. I had five days off that started on the Wednesday (6/2/08). The reason for the time off is that it is Chinese new year, which is a reasonably big holiday over here (more so than Japan at any rate). So the school was closed for three days (although the Korean teachers had to come in and teach on Saturday which is pretty bad for them).

I caught the bus to Seoul on Wednesday. I had planned to wake up at 7, pack and get ready until 9, then catch a taxi out to the bus station, and catch the first bus I could. Well, I woke up at 9, packed and got to the bus station at around 11. I bought a ticket for a bus at 12 o'clock. Well, I saw a bus to Seoul at around 11:55 and tried to get onto that, but the guy checking tickets said it was the wrong bus. After a bit more waiting and watching the departing buses, I realised that the buses were running 30-40 minutes late. Anyway, my bus left at around 12:40, and I got into Seoul a little after 5pm. Then I got my first taste of the Seoul subway.

Seen at the Seoul bus station.

The trains in Japan are better. Especially better are the ticket machines. Here the machines only take coins (100 or 500 won) when tickets are in the 1000-1500 won range and 1000 won is a note. In Japan, you could stick a 10,000 yen note in and it wouldn't complain about it (10000 yen is about 100 dollars). In Seoul, most of the time I just bought a ticket from the guy in the ticket booth. The subway is about as complex as the Tokyo subway.

I made it to my hostel and checked in, and then wandered around to try and find some dinner. Unfortunately since it was lunar new year, nearly everything was closed. I found some fried chicken place and got some chicken that tasted strangely like ham.

On Thursday I took a walking tour out of the lonely planet around one of the old palaces. Along the way I stopped into the Seoul museum of history and of course the palace itself. While in the palace, I got to watch what I presume is a traditional dance performance.

After that I went back to the hostel to warm up for a bit before heading out near Incheon airport to have dinner with Sandra, one of my old housemates. She was on her way to Kazakhstan (She never really answered my question of "Why?") and had a twenty-four hour stopover in Seoul. On Friday we did a tour from the airport to a small temple that had a bunch of snow still lying on the ground despite it having been ten days since it snowed. After the tour we hung around in a coffee shop at the airport until it was time for her flight.

Saturday was spent wandering around the two other big old palaces. One was just an open walk around by yourself place, but the other had more original buildings and I seem to recall it being world heritage listed and so you had to go as part of a group. Fortunately I got to this palace at a time which meant I only had wait for about 15 minutes until the next English tour which was lucky. That night I went to one of the casinos in town hoping to find a low stakes poker game I could try my luck at, but there were none. I ended up playing some blackjack instead, but nothing much came of it.

I checked out of my hostel at around 11 on Sunday, and headed back to the bus station. While navigating between the subway and the bus station I came across a book store which had a reasonable collection of English books at very reasonable prices. I ended up buying 4 books for about 35000 won ($40) before having lunch. I caught a bus at 1, and this time the trip was much better. I got back to Daegu at around 4:30, which was about an hour or so quicker than the trip to Seoul.

Overall, the one word to describe Seoul is cold. My hands were cold all the time, as was the rest of me. I wore my beanie most of the time (the one time I didn't my ears got really cold). There is still more I want to see (the DMZ for a start), so I'll probably be heading back some time.

End Post
Writing time: 5 minutes (I cribbed from an email I sent to my family describing my trip)
Time since last post: two weeks
Current media: jPod 1x06

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Ceci n'est pas un dialogue

Dramatis Personae
Frem - a nondescript individual
Merl - another nondescript individual
Jeway - a possibly omniscient observer

(Open on Frem, slightly left of centre stage, waist deep in a pool of mud.)

Frem: Oh woe is me for I cannot get up
But once when young fortune did fill my cup
My path stretched on for years and years to come
And I was sure that it was a good one
Alas it seems my path did not run true
And now I sit as though I were in glue
My legs though still are wont to run and walk
My mind has words but my tongue will not talk
The world has not the glory it once did
Now I see the walls that used to be hid

(Enter Merl from stage right)

Merl: I walk the world with no path in mind
No plan on hand I seek naught and thus find
things more wonderful than any one can
dream or hope to find in all his life's span
The journey of life is my goal you see
to succeed I do no more than just be

Frem: Hullo strange sir, who walks by me so free
Perchance you could stop to give aid to me
This path is not as clear as it once was
and has trapped this soul from the land of Oz

Merl: Well met, good sir, and let me have my say
and I do this with no thought of delay
If I thought that you were in any need
I would render you aid with all due speed
but I cannot see this predicament
that your words and deeds so loudly lament
do you not perceive the path before you,
that obstacles are not there to go through
but for you to experience all that is
life's path is not one that is straight and true
a fact that is only revealed to few
your peril is one of your own making
for you desire the woes of which you sing
the way out of your trap is easy seen
if you were to stand up of mud you'd be clean
and with your next step life's glory returns
with a brightness so like the sun that burns

Frem: Sir, your words in tone are both soft and kind
but they make me think thou hast lost thy mind
my woes, my pains are not of my making
but all are due to fortune forsaking
my side and leaving me to sink alone
into this wretched pool that chills my bone
I wish to leave this dire and morbid hole
and be free again to pursue my goal
but truth be told at this very moment
my thoughts as to what that is aren't cogent
once more I ask of you my friend with haste
do not let me sit and remain to waste

Merl: Stranger you sit and whine and waste your time
when if you were to stop this constant rhyme
you could pull yourself out of this deep hole
and walk free and sure and again be whole

Frem: Why do you still insist on blaming me
when it is circumstance that I'm not free

Merl: You tell me that it is fate that holds you
when all can see that it's plainly not true
the reason that you are in the hole still
is simply that you are lacking the will

Frem: If you are not willing to lend me aid
then leave me be to stay I'm not afraid
I'll wait for someone who is more inclined
to help one whose soul is very refined

Merl: I've tried to help you to see that your fate
is yours to discover you need not wait
but the path ahead you choose to ignore
but sit still on your Neptunian shore

(stage darkens. Jeway speaks, seemingly from everywhere)

Jeway: Look upon these mortals and hope to learn
from one who is free and one who does yearn
who share with each other their great folly
behind their words which might seem quite jolly
though verbose they don't speak to each other
they speak at a man and do not bother
to aid or help or do naught but be heard
the message is lost they don't hear a word
they can't make headway or progress at all
and so separated one day shall fall.

End Post
Writing time: about a week or so of thought. Maybe a few hours of writing in a notebook or typing actual words
Time since last post: less than a day
Current media: None

I have something to say

There is no god. The universe is a material thing. There is no supernatural. There is no higher being. Mankind is not special.

The universe has a set of rules. We do not yet know all of these rules, but we are working towards that goal.

A human being is a material being. It is made up of material components, and is a part of the universe. There is no supernatural component in a human being.

I wish to be quite clear. The universe has a set of rules. We may not know those rules, but there are rules. And every person, with no exception, is subject to those rules.

The rules are well understood. Humanity has expended much effort into understanding the universe, and has a long way to go still. The rules we have discovered, within their realms are incredibly accurate and precise.

But these rules are not the full story. We understand how to work with one particle. That is easy. We understand how to deal with two particles. This we can do exactly in almost every circumstance. Three particles is a different story. There we have to make approximations. We have to do mathematical tricks. We have to divide time into discrete chunks. We have to make approximations.

Everything we experience is a collection of billions upon billions of atoms. For some things, new approximations come into play, and again we can be exact. The motion of an object in the gravitational field of the earth can be described simply and elegantly by a mathematical equation. The behaviour of gases and other materials can be described by the rules of thermodynamics.

These rules are not derived from the behaviour of individual particles (although I would like to think that some general principles could be derived, and indeed may have already been derived from quantum theory), but are what are called emergent phenomena. One could study quantum mechanics for many lifetimes, but would not necessarily predict the phenomena of superconductivity. This is because superconductivity is a property of a collection of particles. No single particle by itself can superconduct. It is the collection of particles, interacting with each other, which creates this new, unpredictable phenomena.

And so it is with humanity. The human mind is a collection of particles, amazingly organised, which together exceeds the sum of its parts. The rules of the universe set the ways in which two particles interact, and these interactions are incredibly limited. There are merely four ways in which particles affect one another. But the rules describe the interactions between just two entities. And so, when a collection of particles interact and affect each other, the outcomes can be something which someone who studied the rules for millennia would never consider.

Emergent behaviour is something with which we are familiar. John Conway's Game of Life is a set of simple rules that apply to a two dimensional grid. Looking at just the rules, you could not predict the existence of patterns which not just sustain themselves, but produce other entities which endure in the universe of the Game. But such patterns exist.

And so it is with out universe. There is a set of rules by which all particles abide. But the behaviour of a collection of particles may follow those rules in ways no one could predict or expect.

And so it is. Without any intention of anthropomorphising, matter has found a way of organising itself which no longer believes itself bound by the rules of the universe. Human beings, and other creatures to a varying extent, are not just chunks of matter, but matter organised in such a way as to be self aware. To be able to think.

This is an awe inspiring thing. To consider that a set of rules that rigidly define the interactions of any two given particles, when applied to billions upon billions of particles acting upon each other gives rise to such amazing complexity and originality is mind boggling.

This is not something to be treated lightly. The ability to think, the awareness of one's self, the ability to weigh the consequences of ones actions and change them accordingly is a rare gift. It is something to be treasured.

The entire human condition is something of a contradiction. We are a material being, made up of material components which follow rigidly defined laws. But, the collective of matter displays properties which would never be predicted just by looking at the laws of nature. The Schroedinger equation, while being the fundamental underpinning of all the universe, does not answer all the questions.

But just because we are a collection of material parts, does not mean that humanity is not important. Actually, it does not mean that sentience, awareness is unimportant. The ability to think, to reason, to plan, to consider ones situation, to reflect on the past and hope for the future is a treasure.

It is not something to be thrown away lightly. Every human has these abilities to varying degrees, and different animals also have these capacities, although at the moment to a lesser degree than humans.

Intelligent life is precious. It is precious because it is able to recognise what it is, and to value itself. A rock can not do this. A plank of wood can not do this. At this time, a computer can not do this. But a human being can.

This capacity for thought, this behaviour which while following the rules of the universe, is not explicitly defined by the rules, is what is exceptional, is the thing which is to be treasured.

Life is precious. The idea that a collection of matter is able to arrange itself so as to be aware of itself, to think, to reason is extraordinary. It is to be revered. And so too is the universe which allowed such complexity to exist.

The universe is an amazing place. It is so full of wonder, of possibilities that the human mind reels away when considering the full grandness of it. When compared to the idea of a complex universe such as the one we live in, the idea of a supreme being tinkering with dials to make sure the universe is just right for humans seems small minded and self centred.

I will say this: Human beings are special. But so to is any creature who is aware of itself, who can reason and think, as would be shown by its actions. It is through this emergent behaviour, this going beyond the simple rules and finding new patterns of existence that can endure and spread that we rise above the simple rules that govern matter and become worthy of recognition.

Simply to be aware of oneself is a wondrous thing. Nowhere in the rules of the universe is such a thing described, but still it exists. It is a marvel of the universe that it can produce such things.

But, it is not a contradiction of the rules of the universe. The interactions of the particles in my mind, in any mind, follow the rules of the universe. By working together they can behave in complex, unpredictable ways, but each individual particle follows the rules of the universe.

I feel this has been somewhat of a rambling post, but let me summarise. The universe is purely material. The material universe follows a set of rules, which we do not as yet fully understand, but they do exist and we are trying to improve our knowledge of them of. The human mind is a collection of material components which exhibit behaviour that while not described in the rules, does not contradict the rules. Such entities which display such behaviour are rare, and deserve to be treated as special and important, despite the fact that they are merely a collection of matter.

End Post
Writing time: 1 hour 21 minutes (I'm not at my most coherent right now)
Time since last post: two hours ish
Current media: Pleasantville


It has been quite some time since I listened to them but the Doug Anthony All Stars are still fucking awesome.

Although hindsight it makes me question why I thought it was a good idea to play my copied tapes of them in the car with Mum on the way to and from home on the weekends when I was in high school. Songs about bestiality, BDSM, and transvestites are not to be listened to with ones mother. Sorry Mum. At the time my enthusiasm outweighed my rationality. I now understand why she would buy me MacDonalds in exchange for listening to something else on the 45 minute trip between Cairns and Babinda.

Twenty odd years has not diminished the goodness that is the Doug Anthony All Stars (It's not twenty years since I heard them but it's about twenty years since they performed.).

Fuck Yeah

End Post
Writing time: 6 minutes (I thought I was much more distracted than that)
Time since last post: 4 days
Current media: None (just the music in my head)