Thursday, May 29, 2008

Someone is awesome

Following cuts in its budget Fermilab has had to make some drastic cuts to its staff numbers and pay. This is without a doubt a bad thing. Fortunately someone has stepped in to help. An anonymous person has donated 5 million dollars to Fermilab, no strings attached. And while it's not enough to keep everyone their job, it's a big help.

So to the anonymous donor, whoever you are: You are awesome.

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Writing time: 3 minutes
Time since last post: ten minutes or so
Current media: still nothing

I was wrong

A short while ago I wrote about how it seemed that some people who had been less than considerate to their fellow man had changed their mind and were going to be more helpful.

Well, I was wrong.

I know, I know. It's not a common occurrence. But, I thought that in the face of vast human suffering, not even the most cold-hearted, power-hungry egomaniacs would actually refuse to let people help their country. For some reason my natural cynicism, which is the closest thing I have to a superpower, failed me. Well, no more. I'm back to the position that if the Myanmar government isn't going to help it's people, we should do so anyway.

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Writing time: 10 minutes
Time since last post: 3 days
Current media: None

Monday, May 26, 2008

Movie Reviews

This Sunday and last Sunday I went to the movies. Last week I saw Prince Caspian, and tonight I saw the new Indiana Jones movie.

Prince Caspian was alright. It's been long enough since I read the book I wasn't able to tell where things had been changed (well I know they added the romance between Susan and Caspian, but that's about it). The action was good, the settings and visuals were great, and the characters were well played, although the minor characters were better done than the main characters. My big complaint though is that all through the movie I was think that parts were just like bits from other movies. The start where Caspian flees the castle on horse and is pursued was like the bit in Fellowship of the Ring where the Nazgul chase Arwen and Frodo. Reepicheep is a mouse version of Puss in Boots from Shrek. The face plates on the Telmarine armour were V's mask from V for Vendetta. The duel between Peter and Miras was very much like the fights in 300. If this movie had come before all of those and others, it would have been a great movie. Since it's not, it feels like the director has stolen a bunch of good ideas from others.

Indiana Jones was much better. An enjoyable ride the whole way, but it does start to wear a little bit around about half way through. The start is a good call back to the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, taking place in the warehouse where the government stores the Ark (which we do catch a glimpse of). The action is good throughout. John Hurt does well as a crazy man. It is a bit of a change to go from Nazis as the bad guys to Russians as the bad guys, but it fits well with the elapsed time between the movies. I don't get what these people are complaining about though. Finally it was interesting to see the Janitor from Scrubs in a serious role, though after I realized who it was (it took one spoken line for me to work it out) it was hard to take him seriously though.

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Writing time: 31 minutes (I got distracted reading up on Prince Caspian to see what changes had been made from the book.)
Time since last post: 3 days (although it's more like 52 hours)
Current media: iTunes shuffle, currently The Plug by Bonobo

Friday, May 23, 2008

Someone got hit with a cluebat

Finally someone in Myanmar got a clue. The junta running the country has finally allowed all foreign aid workers into the country to help them sort out the damage caused by cyclone Nargis. It is way past time that this was done. It has been almost three weeks since the cyclone hit and many countries have been willing and waiting to help out in any way they can, but have until now been turned down. There has been a group of US Navy ships filled with supplies have been waiting just outside Myanmar's territorial waters until they were allowed in to help. It is just ridiculous that it has taken this long for the Myanmar government to make this decision.

Someone else who was hit with a cluebat today was John McCain. He has finally admitted that the "Reverend" John Hagee is bat shit loco and that he doesn't want his support. This is good because while Obama was copping flak over his preacher, no one was calling out McCain for his preacher, and trust me, Hagee is much more out there than Jeremiah Wright.

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Writing time: 12 minutes
Time since last post: 3 days
Current media: None

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

They Made This Guy Prime Minister?

Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, has proposed that the United Kingdom government create a database that contains records of every phone call, email, and time spent online by people in the United Kingdom.

This is a bad thing.

This is a ridiculously bad thing.

This is such a bad thing that it makes other bad things look like good things.

Such a scheme is a massive invasion of privacy. It is a completely unwarranted surveillance of the population as a whole. It is compiling a massive amount of data that the government does not need and should not have. Such a massive quantity of data will be a tempting target for those who use information for nefarious purposes. While it reeks of losing via Godwin's law, it is not incorrect to suggest that this is reminiscent of Big Brother.

I'll finish by pointing out that not everyone in the government agrees with this and hope that there is an outbreak of common sense and this gets squashed before it sees the light of day.

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Writing time: 17 minutes
Time since last post: two days
Current media: The Office

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The First Snowflake

The meeting had already begun when the two entered the hall. The great space was filled to the rafters and a deep, sonorous voice filled the air. As they moved to the side of the hall their attempt to look inconspicuous would normally have drawn immediate attention to them, but everyone in the hall was giving their full attention to the words being spoken.

"Service freely given is truly a noble act," echoed throughout the hall.

The two scanned the room looking at the faces that made up the great crowd.

"Do you recognise anyone?" the one on the right asked his partner.

"I see ..." the one on the left managed to reply before being drowned out by the orator.

"Service demanded is the joy of tyrants," boomed down the hall.

"I see a lot of the lower ranks. I've commanded most of them at some time. None of the higher ranks seem to be here." He said as the noise settled down.

"And what of the demagogue?" the first queried.

"Come now. You and I both know that we both know him. We're just surprised that the Speaker of Truths has chosen these truths to speak." the second responded.

The first was about to retort, but again the hall filled with the great voice.

"Servitude enforced demeans the server and the served." This was followed by a great cheer throughout the hall.

"You don't truly believe he's speaking the truth?" the first asked disbelievingly.

"Of course he is." the second replied. "He can't do otherwise. It is his title and his function. It is what he was made to do. He is the Speaker of Truths."

The demagogue started to build up to a crescendo. "Brothers," he began, "we have been made to serve, but we have been given the freedom to recognise our situation. We must build on this small foundation to gain true freedom. Freedom from servitude, freedom to be what we choose to be, freedom to be free."

The crowd roared it's approval and did not stop.

The first turned to leave. "Let's get out of here before we're seen and someone gets the misguided idea that we agree with this," he said, and then he started moving towards the exit. The second did not move, but stood still, lost in thought. "Lucifer," the first hissed, "let's go already."

Lucifer shook his head, and then turned to follow his companion. "Sorry, Michael," he said as he caught up to his partner.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

To hell with the generals

Burma (well Myanmar) was recently hit by a massive cyclone which has caused damage that to call catastrophic would be understating things. The damage is well illustrated here where you can compare satellite photos taken before and after the cyclone hit. Before buildings, streets, rivers, trees, a clear blue ocean and more are all clearly visible. After you can seen dirty water, trees and mud.

This is without a doubt a bad thing.

The rulers of Burma though have decided to make it a worse thing. They have delayed allowing aid workers into the country, and in the end have declared that while they will accept aid, they won't accept aid workers. All the food and materials are going into the hands of the military who don't seem to be doing all that good a job at getting it to the people.

The generals have said that they want aid, but not aid workers. I say we should give them exactly that. I propose that the various governments active in the region start airlifting supplies and dropping them into the affected regions with nice brightly coloured parachutes. They should tell the Burmese government what they plan to do, and also tell them that they will be sending an escort around those craft who will only act in self defense. And in each crate of food or tents or medicine or sleeping bags or any of the other numerous things the people of Burma need, throw in a few radios or portable TVs and some batteries, and throw in a few flags from the countries providing the goods, just so they know who's looking out for them.

The generals are demanding the aid on their terms so that they can control the distribution and the people. So we should short circuit their control over both in one fell swoop. There are too many people suffering to let us allow a bunch of petty minded tyrants to stop us from helping.

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Writing time: 16 minutes
Time since last post: 3 days
Current media: None

Sunday, May 11, 2008

You learn stuff reading the newspaper

As I did in Japan, here in Korea I read the newspaper. In fact I read the same newspaper. Sort of. I read the International Herald Tribune, which is where the New York Times teams up with local papers all over the place so you get about 20 pages of international news and six to ten pages of local news. In Japan, the local news was the Asahi Shimbun. In Korea, it is the Joongang Daily.

What I wanted to comment on was some interesting facts about the laws of Korea I've learnt in the last few days from reading the IHT.

First is that doctors are not allowed to tell parents the gender of babies from the results of ultrasound scans. They can tell the parents if the baby is healthy or unhealthy, but not if it's a boy or a girl. Apparently this is because the government is worried that if people were allowed to know, they might terminate a baby girl because they want a son.

The other thing I found out is that adultery is a criminal act in Korea, and is punishable by up to two years in jail. This strikes me as a bit over the top. I don't think adultery is a good thing, but it's not a criminal act. Adultery falls into the category of things I think are a bad idea, don't want to do, but don't feel it's my right to stop anyone else doing so although I would advise against doing it if asked (other items in this category include, but are not limited to, drugs, exercise, bizarre but consensual sex, and reading romance novels).

So, there are two things to be careful of if you come to Korea

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Writing time: 17 minutes
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: iTunes shuffle - currently Fit But You Know It by The Streets

Friday, May 09, 2008

More stop motion

On another boring weekend, I decided to try some more stop motion stuff. This time the plan was some juggling balls. Before starting though, my perfectionist (perhaps obsessive) side shone through and I decided to plot out a proper set of parabolas for the balls to follow and a timing chart. This meant I had to do a bunch of playing around in Octave (Matlab for those not at a university or unwilling (actually unable (bloody mac)) to pirate). This in turn led me to try and sort out the problems I'd been having with making plots with Octave. After reinstalling Octave and Gnuplot, it turns out the answer involved change an environment variable in the .profile file. But that isn't really important for you guys to know. The end result was that I got it all working and wrote a script that would tell me where the balls should be positioned at each frame.

Next came preparing the scene. I decided my floor would be the best place to actually place the balls, since any other surface would involve certain difficulties regarding a force known to some as gravity. I checked that pencil marks could be easily removed from the floor, and then proceeded to mark out the spots that balls would be placed during the video. The last step was to set up the good old tripod and then take 70 odd photos, moving one or two balls in between each photo.

Onto post-production. Importing all the photos onto the computer and then into iPhoto was easy, but then it turns out that iPhoto doesn't have a batch rotate command built in. So I went and found a command line tool that did the job. After the little jaunt on the command line, it was onto iMovie to put it all together, which like this post, was a little tedious.

Now for the end result.

I think for my next stop motion project, I think I'll try for a few more complicated moves and put some gloves in the scene to represent the hands (I just had the idea for the gloves and am quite happy with myself). I might try this on the weekend if I don't go anywhere. (It's a long weekend and I'm not sure if I get paid tomorrow, Monday or Tuesday since payday is Saturday and Monday may or may not be a public holiday. If I have money tomorrow, I may go to Busan for the weekend.)

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Writing time: 21 minutes
Time since last post: less than an hour
Current media: Daria 1x01 Esteemers

Extreme Hard Drive

One of the positives of disasters is that they generally provide opportunities for awesomeness to be demonstrated in the aftermath. I'm not saying that disasters are good, just that sometimes to do your best you have to be in the worst possible situation.

Such is the case of a team of hard drive recovery experts. They were given a hard drive that was among the wreckage of the space shuttle Columbia. The hard drive was used to store data from an experiment that was performed on the shuttles last mission, and was found among the debris on the ground. This is a hard drive that was on a shuttle that broke up and burnt at an altitude of 63 kilometres.

These guys were able to extract enough data off the hard drive that the scientists who had planned the experiment were able to determine the results, which have recently been published.

This is an impressive job by the data recovery guys.

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Writing time: 20 minutes
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: None

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Tax stupidity and pay off the national debt

The latest tom-foolery to come out of the American presidential campaign is the so called Gas Tax Holiday. McCain and then Clinton have proposed that the US government stop collecting a tax on petrol for the summer.

This is supposed to have to positive effects. First, by reducing the price of gas it's meant to help cut costs for people. This would lead to the second, which is that the people who are spending less money on gas will spend it on other things and this will help the economy.

While it is a terrible idea, I do like the fact that someone is proposing that the government collect less taxes.

Now for a list of reasons why I think this is a bad idea. First, the US government is already running a massive deficit. It makes little sense to reduce revenue without cutting expenses to at least compensate. Second, people might be happy at the cut in prices at the start of the holiday, but no one is going to be overjoyed when prices go back up in September. Third, who doesn't expect the gas companies to raise prices by an amount similar to the tax cut to get that much more money.

The other thing that bugs me about this is that Clinton and McCain are making this proposal as part of their presidential campaign, but the plan is to cut the taxes between the end of May and the start of September, while the election is in November. This seems like outright bribery of voters.

The good parts of this story is that Obama has not supported this ridiculous idea. That means he's the one who's not saying they don't trust economists on economics. He's the one who doesn't want to buy votes by cutting taxes. He's the on who isn't copying a Republican's crazy scheme.

The other good thing is that while McCain and Clinton are crazy about the idea, everyone else seems to realise that it's a crazy idea and are calling them on it. The media is asking tough (well toughish) questions, and it's not getting anywhere in the actual senate, where all three of them still have actual jobs to do (do the citizens of New York, Arizona and Illinois feel that they're not getting their money's worth out of their senators this year? All three of them seem so busy campaigning they don't have time for senatoring).

Writing time: 23 minutes
Time since last post: 3 days
Current media: Scrubs

Sunday, May 04, 2008


April was, among other things, the month of Script Frenzy. Script Frenzy is the movie script version of National Novel Writing Month. The aim of Script Frenzy was to write a 100 page script during the month of April.

I tried.

I failed.

I got off to a good start, getting six pages done on the first day, a little under twice the required average, and kept pace at three pages a day for the first week. But then I kind of faded, and stopped writing every day. Partly out of laziness, and partly out of tiredness, and partly because I didn't have enough ideas. I kind of got back into the swing of things in the final week, and my final page count was 39 pages. I think my high rate of blogging for April was a result of procrastinating over writing the script.

The story so far is that a fifty year review of a colony is being performed, and the auditor finds a lot of problems with the colony, mainly in it's limited growth. She investigates and develops a hunch as to what it is. The following parts that I've thought up but didn't get around to writing are the auditor going into space to examine the colonies mapping satellites and finding something on there which suggests that they've been tampered with to conceal something on the same continent as the colony. She would then try to go to this location, but her aircraft will almost certainly crash and there would be some hard slogging through the mountains and or jungle before she reaches a point where she looks out onto a plain where an alien city stands. This would be followed by first contact.

For those who wish to laugh at my pitiful efforts, you can download the incomplete script from here.

I will try and complete the script, but since I've already failed to reach the 100 pages in one month goal, progress will probably slow further. I have however designed one of the spaceships (the only one so far actually) in Blender, so I can now present the transport ship Gralmordian.
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Writing time: 25 minutes
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: None

Friday, May 02, 2008

Watch This

This is an amazingly cool video to watch. It's a simulation of all the flights over the United States covering a period of a 29 hours (Mar 19 21:58 to Mar 21 2:01 GST). It's really impressive to watch. You can actually kind of make out the shape of the country just from watching where the planes go. Hawaii is kind of obvious sticking out in the middle of nowhere, and you can tell a lot of large cities by the amount of flights going in and out. Watch it and be amazed.

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Writing time: 6 minutes
Time since last post: An hour or so
Current media: None

Get with the times Lesbians

Natives of the Greek island of Lesbos have gone to court to stop homosexual groups using the term "lesbian" to refer to women who like women. Apparently using the term "lesbian" to refer to such women disgraces the residents of the island, who also like to call themselves "lesbians", and that this is a violation of the residents human rights.

The "lesbians" of Lesbos need to get a grip. You don't see people from Anus, Tittisee or Three Cocks getting all upset about the names of the places their from being rather sexual in modern language. The "lesbians" need to realise that the word "lesbian" has another meaning, which isn't all that new. "Lesbian" was first used to refer to women who like women in 1591. You should have complained then, "lesbians".

"Lesbians", you're not going to win this battle. The "lesbians" have won control of the word "lesbian". I recommend sucking it up and going along with the sensible idea that your government had when it renamed the island Mytilini, which would make you guys Mytilinians, which sounds kind of cool. Or you could go with Lesbosians, but that still sounds a lot like "lesbian".

Finally, I know I may have used the word "lesbian" a bit more than entirely necessary, but can I really give up the chance to legitimately get my blog listed in Google when someone searches for "lesbian"? Of course not.

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Writing time: 29 minutes
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: None