Sunday, December 20, 2009

Some Last Words

Not from me of course. I'm sure I have many more words to come (the second half of 2009 not withstanding). The last words in question come from a subset of the population of Texas, namely those who were executed by the state.

I initially came across this while browsing through the Popular Items in Google Reader, and curious as to where it came from, followed the link and explored a bit, soon arriving at this page, which gives info on almost three decades of executees.

Going through such a collection may seem a bit grim or morbid, but also an interesting look into the state of mind of these people. The main thing that stands out amongst them all is the acceptance of imminent death. None I've read try and stop the execution, even those proclaiming their innocence. I'm not sure of how long before the execution they are told of the exact day that will be their last, the time on death row nonetheless gives plenty of time to come to terms with the idea. (While writing this I thought of perhaps a cruel way to schedule executions. Once the death sentence is confirmed, and all the appeals and such are done, apply some random chance (about 1 in 100 sounds like the right ball park. 1 in 10 is too low and 1 in 1000 is too high), and each day the prisoner either told "not today" or taken off to be executed. This could perhaps be calculated beforehand to aid in scheduling, so long as the actual day of execution is not communicated to the inmate)

Other themes that come through include remorse and denial, although these never come together. The remorseful seem genuine, and there's not much to be gained by them. The deniers are hard to judge just from the words, but knowing the statistics it seems likely that there were some innocent men in there.

I'm still not sure what exactly to make of the site. I'm pretty sure it's been put online purely as part of making public records more available, but such documents have more meaning than just that they exist. Capitol punishment is mostly something that happens in the distance, as an abstract thing. Few people see it as it happens, and fewer still would be there in circumstances of their choosing. So the chance to see that the people executed are real and to read their words brings it home that it is flesh and blood humans that are facing their end here, and that is something that should not be lost.

Monday, December 14, 2009

An Open and Shut Case

The religious types in Ashevile, North Carolina are raising a ruckus over a matter that they really can't expect to win. Recently an atheist (the horror) was elected to the Asheville city council, and people are claiming that he is barred from serving by the North Carolina constitution.

The specific section of the North Carolina constitution that they are referring to is Article 6, section 8 which is as follows:
The following persons shall be disqualified for office:
First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.
Second, with respect to any office that is filled by election by the people, any person who is not qualified to vote in an election for that office.
Third, any person who has been adjudged guilty of treason or any other felony against this State or the United States, or any person who has been adjudged guilty of a felony in another state that also would be a felony if it had been committed in this State, or any person who has been adjudged guilty of corruption or malpractice in any office, or any person who has been removed by impeachment from any office, and who has not been restored to the rights of citizenship in the manner prescribed by law.
Naturally, it is the first of those conditions that is being cited in this case.

The answer to this claim that an atheist is ineligible to serve comes in two parts and comes straight from the grand old US constitution.

First we have Article VI, Section 3 that states
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
It is pretty clear that under this section that requiring people to believe in any god to be able to get a job in any level of government, elected or otherwise, is not on.

So now we have to ask, given directly contradicting clauses between the US and North Carolina constitutions, who wins. The answer is again in the US constitution. Article VI, Section 2 states
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
Clearly, this states that the US Constitution beats the North Carolina Constitution.

And so it is now, and has been for many years (decades even), clear that yes an atheist can be an elected official (regardless of what a pesky state constitution might say), and so all that is left is to say "Well done, Cecil Bothwell, and make sure you do a good job."

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Thought on Tony Abbot

"I don't claim to have immersed myself deeply in all of these documents," Mr Abbott told Lateline host Tony Jones.

"I'm a politician ... I think I am as well-versed on these matters as your average politician needs to be."

These quotes are from Tony Abbott talking about his knowledge of important reports regarding climate change.

My response to these statements is pretty much as follows. "You're not an average politician any more. You're the god damned leader of the opposition and you need to know this shit or else you'll just look like an god damned idiot. You can do better, you should do better, and we deserve better."

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Dead Authors Society

Recently I've read two books in series started by an author now dead. One lived up to my expectations while the other I doubt I'll bother to include in the canon of that series.

First is And Another Thing by Eoin Colfer. This is part six in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. I had not previously read any of Colfer's work, but have heard good things about the Artemis Fowl series, so I didn't go in entirely pessimistic, but I can't say I was expecting greatness. Which is just as well, because Adams set a high bar, and unfortunately Colfer didn't reach the bar. The introduction was promising, but Colfer couldn't work Adams' style, and the voice of the piece felt off. The guide entries in particular did not work as well they did for Douglas Adams. Overall I though it was a story that might work OK, but didn't fit the characters and the world that it was grafted onto.

The second book I found did a much better job of things. The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brian Sanderson (Sanderson's name is about a quarter the size of Jordan's on the cover, which is not to unfair since Jordan did manage to write the previous eleven books on his own before passing). Sanderson's style, while distinct from Jordan's is a good fit and does shore up some of the weaknesses that Jordan had, the big one being the at times horrendously slow pacing. In The Gathering Storm things are always moving along, and for the first time in many years, you begin to feel like you may actually see the end of the road. Numerous plot threads were tied up in this volume, some of which have been dangling since the early books. All in all it is a much more satisfying read than And Another Thing.

I don't know if there will be another Hitchhiker's sequel (I'm not sure I'd read it if there was), but there are two more Wheel of Time books to go (I've heard rumours of some prequels as well, but nothing is happening there until after the series is finished) and I will definitely be reading them (I started reading the series a decade ago, a decade after the first book was published) as I do want to see the end. I just hope Brian Sanderson can keep doing such a good job.

Von Daniken is Wrong

After having failed to pick up a book from the library I'd put on hold due to having had it sent to the wrong library, I had a look at the new books that they had on display and one caught my eye. The title "History is Wrong" sounded intriguing, although upon seeing that the author was Erich von Daniken my expectations changed a bit. I still borrowed the book, more to see how hard it would be to find holes in the arguments it presented than to find out what historical facts I might have been wrong about.

As it turned out, finding holes in the arguments presented was pretty easy. The hard part turned out to be finding the arguments. Wild claims, check. Connections from out of nowhere, check. Hypotheses galore. Arguments and evidence, I'm still looking.

The book covers a few different topics. The first is the story of Enoch (Adam's great great great great grandson in case you didn't know) and the apocryphal Book of Enoch. Von Daniken claims that the Book of Enoch tells a story of a primitive man visiting a spaceship and bringing back books of knowledge beyond his time (and allegedly ours). He suggests that the Voynich Manuscript is one of these, and that others might be hidden in the great pyramid and a massive cave complex in South America.

Next we get the story of the cave complex in South America. This cave complex was said to contain a library written on gold plates, thousands of golden animals, and was miles deep and spanned the continent, if not the earth. Von Daniken wrote about this in a book decades ago, and was generally criticized for his coverage of it. This is I think where the book gets its title, as this section is really nothing more than von Daniken trying to clear his name. This doesn't work however. First he admits that when he wrote the chapter on the caves, he had not seen the caves nor any of the artifacts from the cave. He had only spoken to the man who claimed to have found the caves and his lawyer. The only evidence the provided were some photos taken at a cave entrance, and a letter on some official looking letter head written to the Ecuadorian government claiming the treasures contained in the caves. Apparently this was enough to convince von Daniken, as he offered to assist in setting up expeditions and so forth with the pair. And when he was pressed for evidence and asked the pair for some, they become hostile and refused further contact. Somehow I wasn't too surprised. Today von Daniken pins his belief in the caves to a different man who has his information from another man who went into the caves that are at a different location and saw all the stuff, but didn't bring any back and died a decade ago. Also, the mormons are involved since they got their special knowledge

The final few chapters then provide a bit of info about the Nazca plains.

Ultimately it must be concluded that it is not history that is wrong, but Erich von Daniken. While many of his claims are way out there, he does make a few specific claims that are easily proven, he has not done so, which only raises the question "why not?".

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

What's so great about this picture

As part of my end of month internet splurge (I try and somewhat moderate my internet usage during the month, so at the end of the month whatever's left gets blown in an outrageous fashion) I've been uploading a bunch of photos up to my flickr account. This has led to a surge in people looking at my photos, which is kind of to be expected since flickr shows people random recently uploaded photos, and I have it set up so that a message goes up on facebook when I upload photos.

Looking at the stats flickr provides though shows one anomaly, this picture:200905178752
Yesterday it got 237 views. This blows away the next best photo which currently sits at around 85 views and is of what I would consider to be a much more popular subject. In fact this photo beats the next 4 photos combined when it comes to views.

So I have to wonder, what's so great about this picture? It's a fire place with a statue above it in Cardiff Castle. It's not significantly better than any of my other pictures, nor is it significantly noteworthy in terms of content or style.

Any ideas readers?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bradfield By-election

I recently found via Toxic Custard (a blog from before blogs, this guy had a weekly email of his life and other stuff back when I was in high school) Antony Green's Blog (Antony Green is the ABC's elections guru) which is quite an interesting read. I've especially found interesting some of the posts about the Bradfield by-election.

This by-election will have a record equaling 22 candidates. This however doesn't mean that a significant diversity of views are represented by the candidates. 11 candidates are standing for the Christian Democratic Party (CDP) led by Fred Niles. This is generally seen as a publicity stunt, since there is no way they are likely to win, and splitting the vote 11 ways is not going to help with this. It will however increase the number of invalid votes, as with 22 boxes to be correctly numbered, the odds of innocent mistakes are going to be a lot higher than for the average election. Helping the CDP is the fact that one of their candidates is listed first on the ballot, so they will probably gain a bit from the donkey voters.

Also running in this by-election, although with only one candidate, is the Australian Sex Party. I was unaware of this party's existence, which is understandable since it is a rather new party. Having looked at their policies they seem pretty reasonable. The worst I can say of them is that some will depend on how they're implemented whether I think they're good or not. There are also a few which stray from the focus you'd expect the Australian Sex Party to have, but getting rid of tax exemptions for religious organizations is definitely something I support.

This is a stark contrast to my reaction to the CDP's policies. Deporting muslims who look at you funny, refusing to take action on the environment, web censorship, hiring the Fiji Navy to stop people smugglers, and more. The only one that almost sounds good is giving every Australian a free 4G mobile phone to use with no phone bills. The only problems are, 1 we'll still have to pay for this with taxes instead of just paying a bill, 2 we're still building the 3G network and a 4G network is a fair while off into the future.

Anyway, I won't go on any more, as no one I know has a vote in the electorate.

On another note, I will try to post at a more frequent rate in the coming weeks. I've been very slack this year.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What's been wasting my time

Several things have been conspiring to eat up my time when I have better things to do with it (or not as the case may be).

First, Google Reader has a delightful new time waster. In addition to all the stuff you've subscribed to, you can now read through a feed of all the popular stuff. I've found a fair bit of interesting stuff in there. My Life is Average has a bit of the feel of the long lost, but without the perversion and disgustingness. The feed of popular stuff also includes a bit of essentially duplicate content, with different sources covering news from different perspectives. YouTube also tends to show up a fair bit.

National Novel Writing Month should be eating up most of my time, but alas, it would seem that I am once again doomed to fail at getting 50,000 words written during the month of November. And I have a lovely leather bound notebook from Barcelona and a fountain pen from Notre Dame to do the writing with. (Fountain pens are not that easy to write with for someone used to ball point pens. The fact that the feather fell off and so the pen is about two inches long doesn't help, but mostly it's the very sharp tip that tends to get caught on the page on certain curves (Ys are particularly dangerous.))

Also taking up the hours is book 12 of the Wheel of Time series. This is a heavy tome, coming in at 766 pages. I've probably forgotten most of the minor characters (there are at least 11 main good guys, 9 major bad guys each with their own minions, and a bajillion minor ones, and it has been four years since the last book came out). I'm almost at 100 pages and as usual not much has happened yet.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Double Dose of Pratchett

Last Thursday I indulged in a greater than usual amount of the works of Terry Pratchett. I went to see the Brisbane Arts Theatre's production of Maskerade, and afterwards finished reading the latest Discworld novel, Unseen Academicals.

The Brisbane Arts Theatre has a bit of a regular thing putting on plays based on Terry Pratchett novels (one or two a year, at least), and this is the third one I've been to. I initially found out that this one was on through one of my coworkers during my short career as a telemarketer who had a small role in the play. The crowd was a lot smaller this time compared to previous ones, but it was a Thursday and I used to usually go on Friday evenings. There was around 15 or so people in the audience. The play was pretty good, not much suspense as I already knew the story, but the acting was good, especially the witches, and it's a very funny story, and seeing it acted out allowed for the introduction of a bit of physical comedy as well. All round a good night out.

Unseen Academicals however, was a bit of a let down. The Discworld novels all have a concept, an idea or a theme that forms the core of the story even though it's not always explicitly stated. Unseen Academicals however seems to be two almost ideas tacked together in a way that doesn't add up to one big idea. Each of the two ideas with a bit of work could have stood on it's own and been a better novel for it.

Actually, now that I think about it a bit more, the football side of the story seems to have been tacked on to the much better and deeper story of Nutt and co, and stole too much of the time and energy from that story. Even with this though, the themes of rising above misconceptions and getting along with different people has been done by Pratchett before.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Last Saturday I went and saw Surrogates. The initial plan was to take advantage of the Magnum Gold Class offer, but a few hours beforehand I checked online if there were still seats available, and alas Gold Class was already booked out (Before asking why I hadn't done that, with the offer you couldn't book online for that screening, but you could buy tickets on the day), so with a bit of texting and calling, we relocated to the Southbank cinema.

Surrogates has an interesting premise, although I did have a tough time accepting some of the changes to society that had happened as a reaction to the introduction of surrogates.

For those who haven't seen the movie (in other words, those who don't care that spoilers follow), a surrogate is a pretty life like robot that you can control remotely through a virtual reality interface. And since you get to choose what it looks like, there are no ugly people anymore. In the movie, almost no one goes outside in person, they just use their surrogates to go out and about in the real world. This is the first thing that's a bit hard to accept. The near universality of surrogates, and the high end ones at that does not seem likely. At one point the movie does show a cheap model that is a bit rough around the edges and still in the uncanny valley, but this is the only time you see such a model. Everyone else has a top of the line model that looks beautiful. I can understand vanity pushing people to spend more, but for something so widespread throughout society, surely there are going to be a lot of people who either won't or can't pay for the good looking models.

Of course these might have been the people who lived in the exclusion zones. These are quite frankly something that would never happen. In the world of Surrogates, there were people who didn't like the idea of surrogates and were aggressive about it, and so in most cities there were set up exclusion zones where surrogates weren't allowed in. I can kind of understand this, but they took it too far. Not only are surrogates not allowed in, the exclusion zones are essentially a lawless zone where police, in person or in surrogate, are not allowed in and they are essentially a separate nation (at one time in response to a policeman entering an exclusion zone, they threaten war). Set up the zone, sure, but it's still part of the country and the law still applies.

There were a few other holes in the story I won't go into, but I will say that the makeup on Bruce Willis was done very well, as when he was in his surrogate he looked just like his younger self. I would recommend seeing it as it is a good watch, even if you do leave debating about the ideas in it.

One cool point for Red Dwarf fans is the brand of Bruce Willis's refrigerator: Smeg.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Today I went to an event called Barcamp. And no, it wasn't all about drinking. It's bar as in foo, bar, baz and all those other funny words IT types use instead of nice and sensible x, y, z, and so on. The basic idea is different people contribute small talks on different topics in an ad hoc fashion. The schedule was a large sheet of paper with a bunch of post it notes on it.

The talks I listened to included a bit on Search Engine Optimisation, which since it went long nearly everyone left half way through to go to the Google Wave demonstration (if anyone reading this has an invite to Google Wave, I'd be grateful if you sent it my way), a brief run down of different corporate structures by an IT lawyer, a break for lunch, then more talks including one on a new engine for MySQL that stores data as a graph (a graph theory graph) rather than a table, a brief rundown on the different features of Amazon's web services, and then a more informal talk on a 3D printer intended to be able to produce copies of itself (in parts, but assembly isn't too difficult). One of the people there actually has the parts for one but has never had the time to build it, and there were a few others interested in getting together to build it, so I may get involved with that.

Overall it was a bit more professionally themed than I anticipated, but it may end up being one of the better things I've done in terms of job hunting. I met a few people there who were looking for people to work for them, and I was the first person who put my name on the job wanted sheet (and not the only one, I think there were about three people all up). I'll definitely be following up on a few things from today.

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1967 is calling, and they want their parochial attitudes back

So there's this guy in Louisiana who issues marriage licenses. And apparently he doesn't believe in mixed race marriages. This guys seems to be quite behind the times. The US Supreme court said this was OK in 1967, and quite frankly the debate has moved on since then. I'm sure back then that there were people like this guy who said that these marriages don't work, are immoral, against nature, etc, much like there are people today using these same arguments about gay marriage.

Fortunately, this guy has been called out on it this time.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


A group of Somali pirates have made a poor choice for their most recent victims. They attacked the Somme, the flagship of the French contingent patrolling the region. The pirates were a little surprised to find bullets flying back towards them. We need to see more of this sort of thing.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Preparation is Key

A successful political campaign, like all things, requires preparation, and these days the amount of time spent on preparation continues to grow to the point where politicians seem to be perpetually campaigning.

This seems to have been taken to heart in Kenya where the two main ethnic groups are already making preparations for the next presidential election, which is to be held in 2012. Given the disruptions that occurred following the last election, surely this can't be anything but good news.

Well, not really. They're buying up guns, and since both sides are saying that they're doing it because the other side is doing it, I can just see this escalating over the next three years. Election by tank does not sound like a recipe for fun.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Games of Gencon

This is just going to be a few brief notes on some of the new games I played at GenCon. I pretty much enjoyed most of the games I played there, but these are the ones that I hadn't played before that stand out in my memory.

On Thursday I played a few rounds of Khet with a guy called Jason. Khet has an Egyptian theme, and the aim is to use the mirrors on the pieces to shoot your laser beam onto the opponents pharaoh. Each turn you can move a piece one step or rotate it 90 degrees, and then you shoot your laser beam. If you hit a piece other than on the mirror, it gets removed. The advanced version which includes a beam splitter for each side makes it even more interesting.

On Friday I got to have a go at the Battlestar Galactica board game, which is a pretty well done game. It is for the most part a cooperative game, where all the players work together against the game itself, with the complication of that at some point some of the players will be working against the other players and be trying to destroy the ship. Each player takes the role of a character from the show, each of which has strengths and weaknesses appropriate to their character. In this game I played a pilot character, and so mostly worked on protecting the ship from the enemy, and was not able to contribute as much to the crisis portion of the game, where the group has to work to resolve a problem. In the end we did work out who was the cylon, and we managed to get away from the bad guys, making the game a win for the humans.

On Saturday I played Chaos in the Old World, a game based on the Warhammer fantasy world. This is an asymmetrical four player game, with each player representing one of the four chaos powers trying to corrupt the world. I played Khorne, who is good at combat, but not so good at corrupting or manipulating the world. Through spreading my forces thin and not caring whose guys I killed (for the most part, although there was some targeted attacks) I managed to raise my threat level to where I won the game, although it was a very close run thing as one of the other players also got to 50 points that turn, another possible victory condition, and it's only because the threat level victory has priority over the points victory that I got the win. The win was especialy close as I had a terrible battle round that turn and only killed something by the skin of my teeth.

On Sunday I played Red November. This is another cooperative game. In the game, the players are a bunch of drunk gnomes on a run down submarine trying to keep it afloat until rescuers arrive in 60 minutes. As the game progresses fires break out, sections flood, things break down, kraken squash the ship and more. It gets even more fun when a gnome passes out drunk and a bunch of stuff happens with fewer people left to fix it. This is a fun game with a good theme.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Most of last week I was doing something or other related to GenCon, which is a big gaming and media convention here in Brisbane (when I say big, I'm grading on a curve). I started out on Wednesday going in to help out with the setting up, but since a bunch of the stuff they needed didn't show up, I didn't do much more during the day then help unpack a truck and a few cars and push some trolleys around. I also got to see just how big the Brisbane Convention Centre is. At one point there was a semi trailer just driving around inside.

Thursday was a bit more organised as stuff was starting that day. Early on I was packing showbags which weren't exactly the greatest showbags of all time, as they contained one program, one catalog, and two business cards. Things like pens and dice and hats had to be bought. After lunch, sneakily provided unasked for by the convention centre and consumed before anyone realised the insane price charged for said lunch. After lunch I started on my main role there, helping out in the board game section. At the start there was just myself and another regular from Critical Mass on Fridays, so we hung around and as people wandered by started a few games of different things, and kept on playing games until it was time to pack stuff up at around 9:30.

Friday was again mostly board games after I got there around twoish as I had to deal with centrelink and pick up my repaired computer. I played one game of Battlestar Galactica which was quite good, and I got into character quite well, but I played things a little too straight for my own good if I'd turned out to be a cylon later on in the game. In the evening while walking around the exhibitor half of the hall I bought a Dread Pirate Roberts action figure and a print of an artist's rendition of the Serenity poster.

Saturday was an easier day with a few games. The days highlight was the Q & A with Robert Picardo, who was very entertaining. The lowlight was when I went across the river to the Myer centre to buy lunch for a reasonable price (the convention centre charges $4 for a bottle of softdrink) only to find out my credit card was missing. Fortunately, I had left it at the subway I'd gone to for dinner the last two nights and the guy recognised me and had the card there.

Sunday was the final day and I did a little more shopping and a little more gaming. I bought a copy of the Battlestar Galactica game for myself, as well as a copy of the new Iain Banks (no M) book. Finally as the con came to a close I helped pack up all the games into the car of the board game area coordinator, and then told to get out as no one gave me a safety jacket which was needed after the con closed.

All up it was a good 4(5) days and I'll definitely be involved next year in some form.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow is a book I've been aware of for some time but have only just got around to reading, and I really don't think it's that great. It's reputation is more born out of the authors position on copyright and the fact that the book is available under a creative commons license than on any great artistic merits.

The story relates a conflict between two groups with different philosphies on how Disneyworld should be run in a future world where money has been replaced by reputation and transferring memories to clones has brought about effective immortality for all. The bickering between the groups seems almost petty at times, although the characters would probably say that is just my quaint parochial mindset showing through.

The plot goes forward pretty straightforwardly, with a few diversions to look at how society got to where it is in the story. There are a few surprises along the way, but they are either easily predictable or not very significant to the story. The conclusion is a piece of deus ex machina and leaves the reader with a feeling of so what.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Gladiator

I picked up The Gladiator at the library while collecting a book I'd put on hold. The cover appealed to me with its soviet style artwork of a hand holding a D20. Being by Harry Turtledove also helped as I've enjoyed some of his previous works before. As with pretty much everything he writes, The Gladiator is a work alternate history story. It's an easy read and I managed to finish it that evening in about 5 or so hours of reading.

It's set in a world where America backed down over the Cuban missile crisis and so communism eventually won the day. Taking place in Italy about a hundred years from now, the main plot focuses on a group who have traveled from our world to this one and are trying to install capitalistic ideals by running game shops where people can play games that require capitalistic thinking. Things go haywire when the security forces crackdown, and the proprietor finds safety with the family of some of his customers. An escape is finally managed via a similar store in San Marino.

The story isn't really that deep, and the ideals the author favours are quite clearly those of our world. All of the main characters are shown to question the ruling ideology of their world, and those who have bought the communist kool-aid are mostly caricatures. The plot is pretty straight forward and there aren't any twists per se.

Overall it's an OK read, but aimed more at the young adult rather than the adult reader that Turtledove usually writes for. I doubt I'd have picked it up except for the gimmick of using games to subvert the communist regime.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


So as of Thursday I am once more employed. I do not say gainfully employed, as I don't really think it's a job that needs doing, and it's not one I feel particularly happy about doing. In fact it's something I don't like other people doing to me, and I feel less than stellar doing it.

The good thing about a crappy job is that it is even more motivation to find a bettter job, and it does pay about twice what Centrelink does, and will allow me to avoid a few hassles with them some recent events may cause.

I know I'm being a bit vague on the details, but that's because I really don't want to say exactly what the job is.

The one plus is that they are giving me Wednesday off which I had volunteered to help with the setting up of GenCon which with helping to run a few games over the weekend will score me a free ticket into the convention. This will be my first convention so I'm looking forward to it.


I've just posted the last entry of my travels from earlier this year. Given that I returned to Australia in early June and it is now early mid September, this has taken longer than I had hoped.

Early on most of the writing was done on trains between cities, just after I had left them. Since returning to Brisbane, pretty much all of my writing has been done at the Myer Centre Starbucks, so I guess a shout out to them is due.

All up I wrote 222 pages of travels plus another 20-30 pages of other materials. Coming up is a series of Cool and Not Cool for each country.

There is a certain amount of satisfaction in having completed this. It was a rather epic trip, and the tome in which I wrote it down will stay on my bookshelf for many years to come.

I am considering what to do with the rest of the space in the journal. The two options I can see is to keep it as a diary of sorts for everyday life, or to keep it for the next time I go a big trip. There's also the fact that I have been using the unruled section for various miscellania from life in Brisbane, which may come down on the everyday diary side of things, but now that I've thought about a next trip, that does seem like a nice idea.

On the topic of a next trip, since I've knocked a lot of stuff off my want to see list, a few new contenders are at the top. The top three would be in no particular order Egypt, China and South America. Other places that are on the list include Malta, North Korea, northern Europe, the rest of Australia, a pop-culture tour of America where I would try and see live all the things I like from America like The Colbert Report and Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me (New York or California would be a must).

The next trip is of course some time away, and I think that the next time I go on a big trip it would be good to have a travelling companion. While it was nice meeting lots of people along the way, there was also times where it got lonely, like the six days on a train as the only English speaker on the carriage.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Closing a few tabs

There's a couple of items I've had open for a few days intending to write something about them.

First, another sad story of a child who died because his parents went to a faith healer instead of a doctor. It's uncertain yet if the parents will be prosecuted for neglect.

Next was to be a link to a story about the continuing debate over a political movie about Hilary Clinton that got banned during the primaries in 2007, but the New York Times has decided you now need to subscribe to read the article, so there's no link.

In news I'm glad to see, Nozomu Sahashi, CEO of NOVA, has been sent to jail for three and a half years after being found guilty of embezzlement. About bloody time.

Finally is a business opportunity I should look into setting up over here in Australia. It's a company run by atheists that offers to look after the pets of Christians after the rapture. The Christians pay $110 dollars for ten years of protection. And if there's no rapture, there's no refunds. Pretty easy money I think.

Naughty North Korea

The Beeb has reported that the United Arab Emirates caught the North Korea sending a boat full of weapons to Iran. The ship claimed to simply be carrying "machine parts" but included machines such as rocket propelled grenades (a machine, sure, but not what one usually imagines when you hear the phrase machine parts).

This follows on from an aborted attempt to ship arms to Myanmar earlier this year (No one saw the arms in that case, but if it was the peaceful goods the two countries claimed it was, why turn back to avoid an inspection? If America had forced its way onto a ship and found nothing it would have been a big PR win).

I'm also rather glad that this ship didn't get to Iran given Iran's nuclear ambitions and North Korea's nuclear reality. I'm sure there was more on the boat than just the grenades that we haven't been told about.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mali Does a Good Thing

So Mali is planning to change its laws regarding marriage and a few other aspects of family life, and there are some parts of the Mali population who are not happy with the changes.

First, the change. The current law states that a wife must obey her husband. The new law states that once married husbands and wives owe each other loyalty, protection, help and assistance. Most people I know would chalk this up as a win for women's rights and the cause of equality.

Now alas, a some of the Muslim majority in Mali do not like this. They much prefer things the way they are, because that's the way things are. Not surprisingly, most of those opposed to the changes are men, but not all.

I do see a few good things in the situation. Mali's justice minister definitely gets things. He knows his country has a secular government, and acknowledges that to enshrine religious rules in law is a bad thing.

The other good point is the fact that the High Islamic Council has decided to use the soap box and the ballot box, rather than going straight for the ammo box. They are speaking out against the proposal, and encouraging Muslims to vote against parliamentarians who vote for the measure. They seem to be having some effect, because the President has sent the law back to the parliament for reconsideration. I hope they do the right thing and send it back to him.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Second Korea Fails to join the Space Race

A few days ago South Korea launched a rocket that was, in the words of the South Korean government, a partial success. The rocket, part Russian and part South Korean, was meant to place a satellite into orbit, but failed to do so.

Naturally this brings up comparisons with North Korea, whose own failed attempt to launch a satellite earlier this year caused concern around the world. The biggest difference is the reaction of the two countries to their failures. South Korea openly admitted that the launch failed to meet its aim of putting a satellite into low Earth orbit. North Korea is still insisting that their satellite is up their orbiting the Earth and broadcasting Korean songs despite the fact that the rest of the world watched it crash into the Pacific. The South Koreans definitely have the more mature approach.

It's good to see South Korea is keen on developing a space industry, and this is a big step following getting their first astronaut (or should it be cosmonaut since she went up with the Russians?) last year. I look forward to seeing further developments.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Interesting Legal Situation

An interesting situation has arisen in England in the past few days regarding the Video Classification Act of 1984. This is the act that requires videos to be classified before they can be sold and that you can't sell videos to people who are too young to watch them.

It seems that because the government at the time didn't follow all the procedures required for it to become a law, the law never actually came into effect. This in practice didn't cause many problems because everyone was acting as though the law was real, and movies got classified and most people didn't try to sell porn to children, so all went well.

Even now don't expect an apocalypse of unclassified movies being sold to anyone. Businesses have agreed to follow the laws requirements on a voluntary basis until new legislation is passed later this year.

The tricky part though is that a number of people have been prosecuted under this law and found guilty and punished. The government has dropped all current prosecutions, but is claiming that existing convictions under the act can not be challenged. This is where I strongly disagree with them. If there was no law, there can not have been a crime. While it is regrettable, if we are to have the rule of law, then the convictions should be overturned.

This is also a reminder that there should be more scrutiny of the process of lawmaking. This law is not exactly the most important of laws, and fixing the problems that have occurred won't be too difficult. But imagine if something big were to be found not to be a law. Like murder, or even worse, taxes. Imagine what it would do to the government if it were found out that there was no tax law for 25 years. Everyone would jump on that demanding their money back. The government would be so screwed.

There should also be more active review of laws. This mistake was picked up by the Digital Britain scheme, which is something to do with improving internet access in the UK. If there had of been someone regularly reviewing the existing laws it may have been picked up earlier.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

District 9

On Sunday I went and saw District 9 with some friends (bonus points for organising something social). I quite enjoyed the movie. It was not a feel good movie, but presented a harsh reality showing the depths people can sink to. It is not a movie to entertain, but a movie to make you think (although I've read a few things that show that some viewers didn't quite get that).

None of the human characters are particularly noble. Wikus is a bureaucrat who thinks he's doing something good does so through the eyes of petty racism, and does not question the things he does. He makes jokes about burning egg sacs, threatens kids to get the parents to sign eviction notices, and making fun of the poor conditions the aliens endure. The best that can be said is that he is not intentionally bad, he's just not thinking about what he does.

Others are not so nice. The higher ups at MultiNational United (really creative name there, although I had an interview today with a company owned by United Technologies Corporation, so perhaps it is art imitating life) are blatantly trying to exploit the aliens, and have no qualms using an alien as a target while trying out weapons, or dissecting Wikus to learn what has happened to him. This is made especially heartless given that the boss who orders this is Wikus' father-in-law.

The only noble character in the piece is Christopher Johnson, the main alien character. He has spent twenty years trying to get his people off Earth, and was almost ready when Wikus messed up his plans. He is willing to help Wikus when he sees what has happened to him. He also stands in contrast with pretty much all of the other aliens shown (except for his son and accomplice), who don't show much drive or sense. I wonder if he is perhaps a member of the leadership group that was speculated to have died out in the opening to explain why the aliens arrived in the condition they were in.

The action sequences are pretty good, and the weapons are awesome, though quite brutal. The conclusion is a bit ambiguous, but this works well with the whole making you think thing.

Knowing about the real life District 6 adds more to the understanding of the film.

District 9 is the second best movie I've seen this year (only Watchmen beats it) and is the closest to something not adapted from a previous work I've seen in a long time (it is based on a short film by the same production team so it's close enough for me).

After the movie we had dinner at a Turkish restaurant on Southbank which was really good (I really like Turkish food. It's a good combination of meat, simple salad, and some bread and some rice. Pretty much my ideal meal.) Overall it was a good evening out.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Some Thoughts on the American Heath Care Debate

The big issue in American politics right now is health care reform, and a lot of stuff is going on related to this. I want to comment on a few things that have happened.

First, is this little clipAll I can say is "Well done, Sir, well done." The level of hyperbole that has come up at some of these town hall meetings is huge, and some of these people need to just shut up rather than asking questions to score points and fear monger. They should also think before using words like Nazi, especially when asking a gay Jew why they support Nazi policies.

Next is people bringing guns to these meetings. Sure, it can be reassuring to have a gun, it can give you a feeling of power, but are you really that scared of rational debate and your fellow citizens? There have been several cases of people bringing guns along to town hall meetings held by Barack Obama. It's not clear if the people were allowed into the meeting with the guns, but they were definitely allowed into the area outside the venues. And Fox News then goes and puts these people with guns up on TV to show just how crazy some of them are. This also shows a big change from the previous administration. How do you think the Bush government would have reacted to people bringing guns to their events? Given how they reacted to signs and t-shirts, I wouldn't have wanted to find out for myself.

The whole "Death Panel" fiasco is another highlight for those who enjoy seeing stupidity run free. Starting with the woman who writes her own comedy bits, Sarah Palin, who recanted her claims the next day, but had unleashed a beast that just will not die. The relevant piece of the legislation merely allows for people to get reimbursed for talking to their doctor about options for family members who are in a fatal condition. It's just letting you talk to your doctor. No one but you is making the decisions. And in another piece of irony, this piece of the bill that is getting so many Republicans upset was introduced by a Republican. If I were a cynical, suspicious bastard I'd think it was introduced to provoke some outrage.

Finally, there is the reluctance from a great swath of the American people to even consider the idea of making sure everyone has adequate health care as something worth doing. Given the problems of the current system it seems clear that reform is needed, and yet they don't want to do it.

End Post
Writing time: 20 minutes
Time since last post: a week or so
Current media: Leverage

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Good Idea, Bad Idea

Good Idea: Take a basic premise of an old tv show, add depth, subtlety, great production values all round, and create a great new tv show.

Bad Idea: Riding on the coat tails of the previous, make a movie that ignores all the good stuff and goes back to the original.

This comes following the news that Glen Larson, the creator of the original series of Battlestar Galactica is going to make a new movie that will be another reimagining that more closely follows the original.

This I think is a bad idea. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see a Battlestar Galactica movie, but I want a new Battlestar Galactica movie. A movie following the original series is going to have some major problems. First, a lot of people will show up expecting the new show, not the old one, which will cause a lot of people to be disappointed. Second, both the new and the old show were products of their times. The ethos of the original series does not resonate today like it did thirty years ago. Finally, there is also the fact that this seems a blatant move to cash in on the new series. Without the new series, there is absolutely no chance that this movie would be considered. The new series has an incredible amount of popular support which will be squandered by this film.

Glen Larson may have the legal rights to make this film but that doesn't mean he should do so. The reasons above show why doing so will be detrimental to the franchise overall. Glen Larson and Bryan Singer might make a truckload of cash, but at a cost.

I've heard similar news about a possible Buffy movie that will be made without Joss Whedon, about which I'm also doubtful. The continuation of the franchise without the involvement of the creative heart behind it might make a buck, but it will disappoint the fans and lose some of the faith they have in the franchise. I'd like to see something that lives up to the high level of quality set by the series already, rather than something that shares the name and nothing else.

End Post
Writing time: 20 minutes
Time since last post: 1 day
Current media: South Park

Saturday, August 15, 2009

For the Future

This new train service from Islamabad to Istanbul via Iran (the Triple I perhaps) looks as though it could be a great train journey sometime in the future when things in that region are calmer all round. I'm also going to wait until the time it takes is less than the 14 days it's currently going to take.

End Post
Writing time: 5 minutes
Time since last post: almost a week
Current media: None

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ekka Time

Yesterday I went to the Ekka. This is the third or fourth time that I can recall going to the Ekka (twice as a kid I think, and once while at university). Being a poor unemployed slob though, my method of acquiring entry was not the usual payment of cash. As I am at the moment somewhat richer in time than money, I got a free ticket by volunteering at an ice cream stand raising funds for the Prince Charles Hospital.

My shift started at 5, but I arrived much earlier so as to have a chance to enjoy the show. I was however disappointed by the show. It was a lot smaller than I remember it being, and very little caught my interest. The food pavilion had a lot of stuff I don't like, and the one thing that caught my eye, some apple tea, did not taste anything like the apple tea I had in Turkey despite the vendor's claims. The animal displays were lame and not surprisingly reminded me of the smell of a farm. Sideshow alley has got all picky, with most games now having lots of rules like no leaning, no bank shots, etc, or being race type games where everyone pays and only one person wins a prize (and in the case of draws no one wins), and rides are no fun just on your own. Showbags, once objects of desire and full of awesome, now seem lame and horrendously overpriced.

After two or three hours of wandering around aimlessly, I found a spot in the stands and read for a while and wrote up some more of my travels, before having an expensive dinner. Working at the ice cream stand wasn't too bad, and I did get some free ice cream as well. I started out working the cream gun to finish up the ice creams (they have a pretty good assembly line going), but spent most of my time working out front selling the ice creams.

One good thing happened on my way out as well. While I was passing the krispy kreme donut stand a man leaving the stand yelled out they were giving out free donuts. I paused and asked the people at the stand if he was kidding. They said yes, and I accepted that and was about to move on, when they said I could have some donuts anyway, which I didn't turn down. I'm still not sure if he was kidding or not.

I caught the train home and got back just in time for the late showings of Buffy and Angel on Sci-fi, although I did miss Stargate SG-1.

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Writing time:
Time since last post:
Current media:

Sunday, August 02, 2009

A Question About Arrow's Impossibility Theorem

Arrow's Impossibility Theorem is a theorem about voting methods that says that any voting method devised cannot have all of the following properties
  • unanimity, if everyone prefers A over B, then A will be ranked higher than B.
  • independence of irrelevant alternatives, if everyone prefers A over B, if asked to choose between A, B, and C, A should still rank higher than B regardless of how C is ranked.
  • transitivity, if everyone prefers A over B and B over C, then A should be preferred over C.
  • non-dictatorship, there should be no individual whose choices determine the overall results for society.
Now, I certainly agree that the first three are essential for a good voting method, put I'm uncertain against the fourth. Obviously, having a voting system that just follows the choices of one voter is a bad idea, but this is not the way the criteria is generally considered. The proofs I've read through has shown that if one starts changing voters preferences in a systematic but arbitrary way, there will be some voter who when they change their vote, the final result will change as well, and this voter in fact acts as a dictator.

The existence of such a dictator does not seem to be such a big problem. This is not a dictator who gets to decide the outcome. This is a dictator who is the straw that breaks the camel's back. Also, it is impossible to determine beforehand which voter will be the dictator. Finally, in a real election, there will generally be many people whose vote matches the final outcome, but that does not mean that only their vote determined the result.

Given that I don't really see why the existence of such an arbitrary dictator is a big problem, it does detract from the significance of Arrow's Impossibility Theorem. It's interesting, but not really relevant to anything (admittedly true of much of maths on first sight). If I were to design a voting method, I'd be more concerned about the transitivity property, which is much more troublesome just on its own.

End Post
Writing time: too long (I got distracted by cartoons)
Time since last post: (also too long, I'm going to try and write more, do something constructive with my unemployed time, and also get around to finishing my travel stuff)
Current media: I just turned the TV off

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Another job application

Another experiment in doing something a bit different.

To Mark Gordon,
You need me for the Call Centre Operator position that you are looking to fill. Even a short look at what you want and what I can provide shows that I am exactly what you need.

*Excellent written and verbal communication skills - I am an author on two scientific papers while at university, have provided over the phone customer service to an uncountable number of people and have shared these skills with others while teaching English overseas

* Strong interpersonal skills - I am a genuinely friendly person, who while quiet, gets along well with pretty much everyone. I like to help out and make sure things go well for everyone.

* Previous customer service - I worked for over a year in an inbound call centre (on what was originally a six-week contract) where I consistently was the top of my group in providing high quality service while meeting key performance indicators such as average call time and adherence to schedule. Attention to detail, care for the customer and a quick mind were key to achieving this.

If you want me to solve your staffing problem by doing a great job, then call me straight away on xxxx xxxxxx and let me make your life just that little bit easier.

Yours sincerely,

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Abandoning God

The God came to our tribe when Man was still new on this world, as indeed it came to all the tribes of Man. And since the tribes of Man were young and not yet wise (there are some who would argue this is still the case), the God came to each tribe in the form they would be most receptive to.

The God never claimed to have created us. It was a traveler journeying between the stars, when it encountered Man for the first time. And when it saw Man, its heart was filled with joy and love and hope, for it saw in Man great potential, and because of its great love it bore for all beings, it chose to nurture Man, to help us grow in body, in mind, and in spirit.

The God was kind to the tribes of Man, and so when storms destroyed the crops of one tribe, the God made food appear from the sky to see them through the hard times until they could produce a new crop. The tribe was very grateful, and they praised the God. They kept praising the God throughout the harvest season, then the through the winter, then through the time of planting. They praised the God so much that they neglected to plant their crops that year, trusting in the God to look after them, and when their supplies ran low, they asked the God to provide them with more food.

The God, not wishing to see one of the tribes it loved suffer, once more gave them food for another year, and told them that they must once more plant their crops and provide for themselves. The tribe was grateful, and praised the God with even more zeal than ever. The whole tribe dedicated itself to building temples, monuments and statues in honour of the God, and in that year, not one grain of wheat was grown, not one sheep was herded, not one deer was hunted, nor one berry gathered.

And so the tribe once more ran out of food, and trusting in the God to continue looking after them. But by this time, the God had come to realise that by continuing to provide them with food it was causing them to neglect to look after themselves, and that they would not change their ways while it took care of all their needs. So, even though it broke the God's heart, the God did not give them any food. The people of the tribe cried out in despair, calling on the God to help them once more as it had done before. The God felt the pain of those who no longer had food for themselves or their children, but forced itself not to help them out.

The people of the tribe continued to call upon the God to help them, but their prayers were unanswered. Some believed that they had somehow upset the God, and called for greater praise of the God. Others in the tribe decided that the God had abandoned them, and set about scavenging whatever food they could from the nearby forests and plains, and traded some of the tribe's treasures for food from their neighbours. As time passed, more and more of the tribe who were able joined them, and when the time was right, they planted crops and tended to them. The God saw this and was glad that the tribe was once more self sufficient.

Things went well for the tribes of Man and the God for many years after this, until the tribe of Tralgan crossed the Sea of Baran and encountered the tribe of Sorthop. These two tribes were quite unusual in that both lived far from any other tribes, and neither tribe had met another tribe before this. When the two tribes met, they were initially wary, but contact between the two increased and they began to learn about each other. Things went sour however, when the two tribes learnt about each others beliefs. For although both tribes had been visited by the God, and had been blessed by its love, each tribe perceived it in a different way and could not see that the God that loved them was the same God that also loved the other tribe.

The conflict between the two tribes started out small, but each attack was returned with great viciousness and brutality, the kind that can only be carried out by those confident in the fact that a real and powerful God was on their side. After several months of escalation, the two tribes met at what should have been a great battle, but as the two tribes were about to engage in mortal combat, the God appeared between them as a gigantic being and spoke to the two tribes.

"This must stop," the God spoke, "Both the tribe of Tralgan and the tribe of Sorthop are precious to me. I have watched you grow with pride, and cared for you, but now you are about to make a great mistake. Each of you thought that I loved you only, and only you loved me, and you sought to spread my love by sword and spear and shield, which are never the instruments of love. Go back to your homes and know that I love all the tribes of Man, and am loved by all the tribes."

The two tribes went back to their homes, and there they found raised up a stone monolith, just as tribes all over the world found stone monoliths, all of them engraved with the last words the God gave to us.

"Know that while I love all of you, I can not remain with you while you are young. My presence among you disrupts your growth. I have become a source of division instead of union. I have sought to protect you from harm, but in doing so have harmed you more. No longer shall I walk with the tribes of man as I have in years before. I shall journey between the stars once more, but I shall continue to watch you, until you are ready to be with me again. Remember what I have taught you, and one day, when you are ready, we will be together again."

And that is how the God abandoned us, to let us find our own path, to grow and improve ourselves so that one day we will be worthy of the love the God has for us still. One day, we too will journey among the stars and there we will be with the God once more.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Funny Lady

"Her words suggest that she is by no means intelligent," the spokesman said, quoted by state news agency KCNA.

"Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping. Anyone making misstatements has to pay for them."

And just who is this rather unliked woman? Hillary Clinton.

Who doesn't like her (this time)? The North Koreans. The above quotes are from a North Korean spokesman a speech by Clinton in Thailand once again saying noone wants North Korea to have nuclear weapons.

This sort of ad hominem attack from North Korea isn't that surprising. There's not much else they can do.

And when even Burma is against you, you know you're unpopular.

End Post
Writing time: 10 minutes
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: Leverage 2x01

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Chemistry is fun

There are reasons certain bottles have warnings on them, although they obviously can't take into consideration all possibilities. I imagine few chemicals would warn you not to use them on an air mattress and then use an electric air pump to fill it the next day. But apparently some bottles do need this warning, because a guy in Germany has managed to blow up his apartment with some car tyre solvent, an inflatable mattress and an electric air pump.

I'm sure there are many other interesting combinations of household goods that can have similarly catastrophic consequences, but I'm not going to try.

End Post
Writing time: 5 minutes
Time since last post: longer than I'd like
Current media: Penny Arcade playing Dungeons and Dragons

Thursday, July 16, 2009

You can not make this shit up

We're all familiar with the grilled cheese toast Mary, the Mary tree stump, and the oh so delicious Mary on a pizza tray, but times are changing. Mary is getting some competition from none other than recently deceased Michael Jackson. Yes, Michael Jackson has turned up on a tree in Stockton. Despite the tree having been there for 22 years, the face has apparently just appeared. Or so claim the family whose property the tree is on. Personally, I don't see it.

End Post
Writing time: 10 minutes (I had to search for some Mary links)
Time since last post: three days I think
Current media: none (cable tv runs the same episodes around noon and 10 pm ish so I've already seen tonights Stargate SG-1)

Monday, July 13, 2009

This is not representative

To Aaron Davis,
I would like to apply for the Medical Typist position that you have advertised on (

I'm a proficient typist through regular use of computers in a number of roles such as customer service and data entry where accuracy and speed make life easier for you, and typing while talking and, more relevantly to this role, listening is an important skill.

Also while working in customer service it was important to comply with national privacy legislation, a requirement I took quite seriously.

I have a large vocabulary in which some of medical jargon has entered not through any formal study, but through more of a culture route, being a fan of medical shows such as Scrubs and House (I'm sure your workplace is just as fun). My knowledge of cardiology terminology is a bit limited, with words like ventricle, ocardial infarction, pulmonary embolism, and atherosclerosis being more tongue twisters than conversational terms.

I'm a bit of a jack of all trades looking for something new and this position caught my eye as a role where I can learn about a new field second hand (I like to know stuff, but I know I'm not going to become a doctor just by typing up their notes). I am a quick learner, especially when it comes to computers, which I have been using for almost as long as I can remember (my reliable memories go back to about 1987, the year I started school).

As with just about all human beings, I can work well on my own and in a group, although I do tend to prefer working on my own, which doesn't seem too much of a disadvantage for a typist.

Attached is a copy of my current resume, and references are available on request. I on call 24 hours at xxxx xxxxxx and I look forward to discussing this exciting opportunity with you soon.

Yours sincerely,

I have a rant

At the moment, since I'm job hunting, I'm sending a lot of emails to recruitment agencies. These are the companies that have taken over pretty much the whole hiring process (and in some cases the actual employment bit as well).

I tend to feel that these companies are a kind of leech, as they do a job that used to be done by people inside a company, but now they pay some outsider to do it for them. For a start this does not make much financial sense to me, as instead of paying an employee to do this, they pay another company to pay an employee to do this, and of course the other company has to make a bit of profit on the deal, so overall it should be a bit cheaper to hire yourself a good recruiter, make sure they know your company well, and get them to do your hiring for you.

But it is not this that has roused me to typing. Today I came across a whole new kind of beast in the recruitment industry. Recruitment for recruitment. Companies that recruit recruiters. Uber-vampires who suck blood from regular vampires.

Now, I may not be in the best place to say, but surely a company whose job it is to find employees for other companies should already be well set up to find good employees. I mean, if they can't find good people for themselves, why should I believe they can find good employees for me.

Now hopefully no recruiters find this and decide to completely blacklist me (although at times it seems they've already done this), but quite frankly they are at best an unnecessary evil

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Way to Go

I have previously written of how I don't want to leave this earth. This, however, seems a much better way to go. Death by chocolate (well, blunt trauma to the head, but close enough).

End Post
Writing time: 2 minutes
Time since last post: too long
Current media: none, although I have been rewatching season 9 and 10 of Stargate SG-1 (the Ben Browder years, or alternatively, the no-Macvyver years)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Dangerous Job

You wouldn't think that astrologer would be a job that would get you arrested, would you? Mocked, yes, scorned even, but arrested? But that is what has happened to Chandrasiri Bandara, one of the most popular astrologers in Sri Lanka.

And why was he arrested? He predicted that the president of Sri Lanka will be forced out of office in the next few months and published it in a major newspaper.

A bit of an over reaction on the part of the president, but if I were him I'd be wondering why my private astrologer, and he has one, hadn't brought this up. Surely two astrologers would read the stars and come to the same conclusion. I mean it's the same stars and planets.

Even if you don't take astrology seriously, it is problematic that the government of Sri Lanka feels it's OK to arrest people who state they think the government might be in trouble, even if the claim is based on something as unreliable as astrology. What happens to the political analysts who can see the writing on the wall, or journalists writing about the government in a less than positive manner?

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Writing time: 10 minutes
Time since last post: 20 minutes
Current media: none

Who would have thought it would be this easy?

Want some plutonium? Try here.

I will give them some credit for being honest (or at least being worried about law suits) as they carry this statement "Please note that any reference to a disease name does not indicate a treatment for this disease. Helios remedies are without therapeutic indications." And yet somehow people still buy stuff from them. Perhaps the plutonium collectors are keeping them afloat.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I'm Back

So I'm back in Brisbane. At the moment I'm holed up at my uncle's place, taking advantage of the free internet and cheap board. I've not gone out yet, as I'm hoarding my meager reserves of money ($150 in credit on my credit card and $30 in cash I've borrowed from my uncle).

I got in contact with Centrelink today to get on the dole. I have also been applying for quite a lot of jobs. In fact, I started before I left England, and had a phone interview today for a job with Flight Centre. It was rather brief, and they will contact me in a few days to let me know if I'm to go onto a real interview or not. I have to go into some pseudo-centrelink thing tomorrow and call them up again because their computer was broken today. I'll go into the city afterward and drop of some resumes at different places.

While in the city I'll try and pick up a new sim card for a phone I've come into possession of. I may also see if my library card still works.

I know I still haven't put all my travel stuff up yet, partly because I haven't written it yet, but it is on my list of things to do. I will however postdate stuff so that it turns up as though it were posted before this post. I hope that won't cause to many problems for those few regular readers.

End Post
Writing time: 15 minutes
Time since last post: who knows?
Current media: Doug Anthony All Stars - The Unlimited Uncollected Sterling Deluxe Edition

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Leaving London


Sunday after arriving back in London on my way from Canary Wharf to JP's place I stopped in at a kebab shop I'd been to a few times to get dinner, and walked into a loud dispute as a young punk kid was arguing with the owner. Neither party was entirely dignified, but the owner was in the right. The affair ended with the kid throwing a chair at the owner which bounced off the counter before nicking off. Sunday evening also involved some contingency planning , as after I had booked my flight for Wednesday around noon, the London underground decided to go on strike for 24 hours starting at 6pm on Tuesday. After looking into various options of public and not so public transport from Canary Wharf on the Wednesday, I decided that a 6 am bus was not worth it and booked a hostel near Paddington Station for Tuesday night.

On Monday I did two things I had kind of done on my first day in London. I started by watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. I found out that they pretty much play different songs every day, and I got to be there the day they played "Living La Vida Loca". I managed to get a reasonably good spot, only one person was between me and the fence, and they were short, so I was able to get my hands through the fence to take better photos. While I was watching, I had a few evil thoughts pass through my mind. The first was "I wonder what would happen if I threw a tennis ball in there?" and "Would I be able to be lost in the crowd?", and these evolved into "I wonder what would happen if I threw a tennis ball in there and yelled out 'Grenade'?" I'm pretty sure the results would not be good for me.

After the guards had been changed I walked through a park to Westminster Abbey. I was about to go in straight away, but noticed the last guided tour of the day was in about 45 minutes, so I decided to have a relaxed lunch and come back for the tour. For lunch I had some subway which I ate sitting up against one of the statues in Trafalgar Square. The tour of Westminster Abbey was led by a prior of the abbey (I think), and while not a priest, he wore a priest like robe. The tour showed off a number of famous dead people buried in the Abbey, including but not limited to, a few kinds and queens, scientists, military leaders, and writers. We also got to sit the choir seats near the Queen's special seat in the church, learnt a bit of the history of the building, and details of the coronation including how packed it was on the day.

On leaving the Abbey I passed the Houses of Parliament, and considered going in to see the house of commons, but after being told the line was about an hour long decided to leave it for tomorrow. I then read a newspaper in a park next door before crossing the Thams to find the Udderbelly to pick up some tickets for the show that night. After picking up the tickets I relaxed sitting on a park bench near the London Eye looking over the river at Big Ben.

This is where JP met me about an hour later. We had dinner at a place I'd noticed earlier that had a special on Mondays of half price meals and cheap cocktails. I had a nice grilled chicken breast and a Tennessee iced tea (like a Long Island iced tea but with Jack Daniel's instead of tequila) for a quite reasonable price for central London. The show we saw that night was Jimeoin, which was very funny, although there were more funny faces that I expected.

Tuesday was a bit of a disaster. I started out by packing my stuff and sorting out the things I'd just ship home. Then I went to buy a box to put that stuff in. The first map of Canary Wharf I passed said the post office was at one place, but after going there I simply found a newer map saying the post office was somewhere else. After finally finding the post office I bought a box, and went back to fill it up. I returned with the box and tried to post it, only to find that they wanted 80 pounds to ship it back to Australia. I felt that was a bit ridiculous, so decided to just carry most of the stuff on my person and hope I didn't hit the baggage limit at the airport. By the time I'd sorted all this out I figured it would be too late to head into Westminster to see the parliament and actually have some time to spend there, rather than in travelling there and back or waiting in line.

So I relaxed at JP's place until around 6ish, when we tried to catch the DLR to Andrea's place, but the line was closed due to a a fire so we caught a crowded bus instead. Not fun when you're wearing a huge coat and carrying a large backpack. We then drove from Andrea's place into town, and met Tyrone and Andrea in Leicester Square behind the national gallery. We had a nice dinner nearby, and then we drove Tyrone back to his place, before I got dropped off at the hostel, which was rather poorly marked from outside. I got checked in and sorted out and got some sleep.

When I woke up in the morning and prepared for a shower I realised I'd left my towel at JP's, but using a trick I'd picked up, used one of my sheets as a towel instead. After breakfast I walked down to Paddington station and caught a train out to Heathrow. I checked in without hassle (my bag was just under the wight limit), got an emergency row seat, and sat down to wait for my flight. I spent my last few pounds on some snacks and painkillers for the flight. No major hassles with customs except for a comment that I didn't really look like my picture, although that never seemed to be an issue entering the country. I sat next to some nice people on the first leg, and spent some time chatting with them further while we were waiting for our connection.

The only hasssle transferring was that I waited until the gate was announced before going to get a hot chocolate from Starbucks before heading for the gate, not realising that there was a security checkpoint between the Satrbucks and the gate. I had to show my receipt fo rthe drink and they insisted on x-raying it, and it spilt a bit inside the box, but I did get my drink through the checkpoint. I didn't get an emergency row seat on the second flight, but I did have an empty seat on one side and the aisle on the other. The flight as a whole was pretty empty. Australian customs was pretty easy, and once through there I met my uncle, with whom I've been staying since.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Grim Glasgow


In Glasgow I got a room in a large hostel (I'm pretty sure it used to be a hotel). I shared a room with another Australian, a Maltese guy, and a Malaysian. We talked for a while about life and traveling (the Maltese gentleman had been traveling for about 10 years). I left after an hour or two of this to get dinner and see Terminator Salvation. It was an OK movie, and I was a bit surprised to see Chekov again so soon. It would have been a lot better if the twist wasn't so well advertised, or indeed advertised at all, and Christian Bale was somewhat unnecessary for this film.

On Saturday I went out with the Malaysian I shared the room with to the transport museum. We walked there from the hostel and it was a bit further than we though, but we made it in the end, although we did make a stop at a cafe along the way when the weather got a bit wet. The museum had a large collection of trucks, trains, cars, motorcycles, model boats and more. They also had a crazy taxi machine, at which I had a go for nostalgia's sake.

Then we went to a nearby art gallery/museum which had a variety of displays and was not bad, but suffered from comparison to all the other similar places I'd been to that just massively outdid it. It did host another Doctor Who exhibit, and although it was supposed to have stuff that the Cardiff exhibit did not, I didn't feel it was worth going to this one as well. By that time it was getting late in the afternoon, so we caught a bus back to the hostel, stopping by at a KFC for lunch.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Elegant Edinburgh


Monday was an early start to get out to Victoria bus terminal to catch my bus to Edinburgh. The bus ride took about 9 hours, and there were no breaks along the way except to briefly let passengers on or off. My hostel in Edinburgh was pretty good, although I did have a few hassles with the swipe card to get into my room.

Tuesday started out with my favourite thing to do in a new city. I went on a free walking tour. It started about halfway along the Royal Mile in old Edinburgh, worked its way up past a big church, the town hall, a spot in the street that the locals spit on because way back when it was a toll booth, an ill fated statue of a king, past the writers museum, up to Edinburgh Castle, where they were already putting together the seats for the Tattoo, then down the hill to the local execution spot, where there are now a number of pubs and cafes. Probably because a woman who survived the scaffolds set up a pub nearby to taunt those about to get hung. We stopped here for lunch. I got a pork roll from a shop that only sells pork rolls (well drinks as well, but that's it). Each day the shop gets a whole roast pig and they usually sell it all. I got a roast pork roll with apples sauce and gravy, and washed it down with an IRN BRU, the local sugar water (emphasis on the sugar). It's a bright orange colour and tastes like old fashioned cola (not the coke kind).

After lunch we went to a graveyard, saw the statue of the dog who kept waiting for its dead owner for years, the cafe where JK Rowling started writing Harry Potter, then over the hill past the money museum to a park below Edinburgh Castle where the tour finished. After the tour I went to the Scottish National Gallery, which was OK, but didn't have any names I recall and was kind of tiny compared to the British National Gallery.

Next I went over to the Scott Monument, which resembles a gothic church spire all on its own. I climbed up the monument, and got some good views of the city and the castle from there. The steps were quite narrow though, and near the top I had to squeeze to get through.

In the evening I went on another walking tour (alas, not a free one), the ghost tour. This tour took us to another graveyard, across a bridge notorious for suicides, the hill where the doorway to the faerie realm is meant to be, the Scots attempt at a replica of the Parthenon which never got past one side, and would have finished with the graveyard next to Holyrood Abbey, but that was closed since a Royal was in town. The tour finished with a free drink at a pub that was having a karaoke night. I hung around and chatted with some German tourists before singing one song (I come from a land down under) and got a free shot of flavoured vodka for my efforts.

On Wednesday I walked along the Royal Mile, starting with the tartan factory up near the castle, and worked my way down taking in along the way the writers museum, the City of Edinburgh museum, the toy museum, St Giles Cathedral which houses the chapel of the Order of the Thistle, and finished up down at Holyrood Abbey and the Scottish Parliament. I went into the parliament and got to see government in action. (or is that inaction?)

I listened to a number of speeches regarding an extension of the hate crime act to include disabled people. While the speeches were being made there were perhaps 8-10 members present, all of them said something along the way. Then the time for the vote came, and suddenly all these extra people were present, although still onyl about two thirds of the chamber was full. There were a few votes on procedural matters, then a vote on the bill that was discussed, and then nearly everyone left again, leaving a few to talk about unpaid carers and their contributions to society. While I was listening to the parliament I decided to sketch the chamber, since photography was not allowed. As I got to the point where I would have had to decide if I was going to go to the extra effort of putting in lots of detail, one of the guards came up and told me I wasn't allowed to sketch in the chamber, which resolved that dilemma.

In the evening I got talking with the other guests in my room, and we ended up going out to a nearby pub to have dinner.

Thursday I spent most of my time in the Scottish History Museum, which covered the history of Scotland from prehistoric times, through Celtic, Roman, and Viking influences, then onto the Enlightenment, industrial revolution and onto the modern day. An interesting place by all accounts. That evening was quieter as all the people I'd gone out with the previous evening had left. I had begun to think I'd have the whole room to myself before someone else arrived around midnight.

Friday was to be my last day in Edinburgh and I started out with something a bit different. I went on the whiskey experience. It starts out a bit gimmicky, with a ghost train like ride, but instead of ghosts scaring you it was a "spirit" telling you how whiskey is made. After this it got better as next was a talk on the qualities of the different varieties of whiskey and how they depend on the region the whiskey comes from. They also had scented bottles to illustrate the smells of the different whiskeys. After smelling these I decided I wanted to try a lowland whiskey which was supposed to have a flowery taste and smell, as I had quite liked the smell of the relevant scented bottle. The actual smell however was the usual strong alcohol scent and nothing like the heather smell of the bottle.

Before the tasting though we moved from the presentation room into a vault in which the largest collection of whiskey in the world is kept, over three thousand unopened bottles going back over 100 years at least. The collection was given to the exhibit by an elderly Brazilian collector for whom it was a lifetime endeavour, and he was worried that his children would split it up, or worse drink it, after he died. The price of the collection is almost incalculable, but just the insurance bill is a ridiculous sum.

After the whiskey experience I went to the brass rubbing centre, and tried my hand at a rubbing of a pattern from the Book of Kells. My rubbing is a bit rough, as it took me a while to catch on to the symmetry of the pattern and so choose consistent colours for different bits. Finally I went to the Royal Bank of Scotland museum, which was samll, but it did clarify why there are three different types of Scottish bank notes.

After this I collected by bags from the hostel and caught a bus to Glasgow.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lively London


Tuesday was a bleh day due to my tooth and ear. I visited a doctor (well, nurse practitioner) who couldn't see any infections, but there was a lot of earwax. The rest of the day included doing laundry.

Wednesday I returned to the St Paul's area of London. My main plan for the day was a tour of the watchmakers guild museum led by the curator. I arrived well before the start time so I checked out a few other places to fill in the time. I started with the guild hall art gallery, which had a few nice pieces, and tucked away in the basement were the remains of the London colosseum, which were found when they were renovating the building. After the gallery I went into the guild church, which is small, and has some nice stain glass windows. Along one of the wall the stained glass was the coat of arms of various commonwealth nations.

I then walked a block or two to the London museum, and resumed my exploration with the Roman section, and then through the medieval section. This brought me to the time for the tour, so I walked back to the watchmakers guild museum.

The tour started out with about half a dozen people, and by the end there were about 15 people there. The museum was a tightly packed room full of cabinets interspersed with larger clocks. The collection of watches goes back several centuries, as does the collection itself, though not at that location. Initially the collection was kept in a trunk stored at the tavern the guild met at. The earliest acquisitions were from shortly after the guild was formed in 1631.

The curator was Sir someone or other, and I'm pretty sure this is the most contact I've had with someone who has been knighted.

Thursday was a big ticket item, the Tower of London. I bluffed my way through for a student discount, but it was still pricey at fourteen and a half pounds (not so expensive compared to most of Europe, but since so many things were free in London, it stands out). It was definitely well worth it though.

I entered the tower about 5 minutes before a demonstration of the different defenses used back in the day was about to begin. This was held on a grassy area that used to be the moat. It was quite entertaining. I got picked out by one of the presenters to be the lord of the crowd, which mostly involved crying "havoc" every now and then. I did not know the original significance of the word before then and now the line "Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war" has more meaning than just sounding cool. After the havoc section of the demonstration, there was a kind of trebuchet, but instead of having a big rock as a counterweight, there are a few ropes that people pull on to send things flying. I wanted to have a go, but since I'd already had some fun crying havoc, I thought I should let others have the fun. But not enough people volunteered, so I decided what the hell and volunteered. They had a few targets set up, but a dodgy batch of water balloons meant all we hit was the crowd as the balloons exploded in mid air.

After the fun with siege engines, I went on a tour led by a yeoman warder of the tower. The tour took in the main sections of the tower, but left the ones with interesting collections inside for later. The tour finished in the tower chapel, where there are many corpses buried that lack skulls.200905289166.JPG

After the tour I went into the building that houses the crown jewels. The first room contained seats for each of the kings and queens of England back to a bit before William the Conqueror. Each chair had the names and arms of a monarch in order. It was interesting to see the progression of how the arms changed over the centuries. The next few rooms showed videos detailing the various items that make up the crown jewels, and one showing them in use during the coronation of QEII. It was a bit surprising to me, as someone who has only known the queen as a nice old lady, to find out that she looked pretty good back in the day. Then it was onto the jewels which were in cases with travelators on both sides to stop people looking at them for too long. Then it was through the vault where the jewels are kept at night which has doors that are about a foot thick.

The next building I explored was a corner of the tower and contained a collection of lesser crowns, most those of queens over the last two hundred years. Then it was onto the exciting stuff, weapons. In the central keep there was a display of arms and armour that belonged to Henry VIII. The armour makes his girth as a function of time quite clear. His collection of swords and armour were quite impressive.

After this I made a circuit of complex visiting spots I wanted to see in the short time I had left before closing. This included the execution spot of VIPs like Mary, Queen of Scots, the tower ravens, the tower walls, and some other bits that just seemed old. I did like the metal sculptures of soldiers defending the walls spread around the place. I left the tower just before it closed for the day and crossed the road to the spot where public executions were held, which was next to the memorial for the merchant marine. To end the day I walked back along the Thames to Canary Wharf for the evening.200905289181.JPG

Friday I headed out to Greenwich, home of the Royal Observatory and home of Greenwich Mean Time. It was a short walk from the DLR station. I first explored the Maritime museum, which was interesting, but nothing outstanding. Then it was up to the observatory. I stood with my feet across the prime meridian, and then went into the museum. There were various observation rooms, and of course a collection of clocks, the highlight of which were the Harrison clocks which solved the longitude problem. Very impressive. The watchmakers guild museum had a few of Harrison's lesser pieces, but to see these was fantastic. There were also a few telescopes that were used by royal astronomers over the years, which were the basis for the different prime meridians over the years (the line itself is based on the location of the observatory's main telescope, and has shifted a few times as new telescopes were installed). The view from the hill the observatory is atop is rather nice.200905299222.JPG

I went back down the hill to an art gallery that is housed in a building that was originally a royal palace, and then became a school for orphans of sailors in the royal navy. The art, of course, had a maritime theme. The person at the front desk insisted that I get a ticket, despite the fact that admission was free.

On my way back I walked to where the Cutty Sark is, but due to restoration work I could not see it. I then walked along the Thames to Canary Wharf, but as I got close to my destination it became clear that I was on the wrong side of the river, and the nearest bridges were back at Greenwich or at the Tower of London, neither of which appealed too much. I instead headed to a nearby tube station , but along the way remembered with dread that the station was one of these along the closed east city line. I managed to catch a bus to a working tube station, and eventually made it back to Canary Wharf on the right side of the river.

Saturday was another road trip, though a much shorter one than the previous weekend. Andrea, JP and I went out to Salisbury. We got to the town around 1ish, and began by getting lunch. We then went in search of the tourist office to better plan things. Along the way we saw some street performers doing some sort of upper class twit act which was rather amusing. At the tourist office we found out that there was a festival going on, and we tried to get tickets to a show called "Daleks Stole My Doctor Who Scarf", but alas it was sold out. We then made our way to Salisbury Cathedral, which is the possessor of one of the tallest spires in England, a nice baptismal font, excellent stained glass windows, and a Magna Carta. I did try to read it, but the writing is incredibly small and styles have changed a bit since those days.

Then it was onto the reason why everyone goes to Salisbury, Stonehenge. It was a lot smaller than I expected. The audioguide was saying how difficult it was to build, and then said it was built at around the same time as the pyramids, which I think most would agree are much more impressive. We circled around the stones taking lots of photos. Near the heelstone, JP noticed something attached to the fence we thought was a geocache. After Stonehenge closed we walked along the fence to the object, and when there seemed to be little chance of being noticed, tried to take it off the fence. This was a bit tricky and at one stage involved the use of an umbrella after it was dropped and landed a little out of reach. The object was a slightly cut up beer can, and we were beguiled to find a piece of photographic paper inside it with some curves on it and what might have been stonehenge on a horizon. Later investigation led us to conclude that the contraption was a long exposure pin hole camera.200905309293.JPG

We then spent a little while playing with Andrea's remote controlled helicopter in a field across the road from Stonehenge, but there was too much wind for a controlled flight. On the way back to London we stopped in at Andrea's brother's place to drop off some stuff, and ended up playing some Wii Fit and MarioKart and getting Indian takeout for dinner that was pretty good.

Sunday was an easy going day. The morning was mostly spent planning a visit to Scotland. In the afternoon I visited Camden market which is an interesting place. I saw a lot of cool t-shirts, and had thought of buying one or two, but after buying some trick cards, a book (Godel, Escher, Bach) and Monty Python Fluxx, I decided my budget couldn't stand much more spending that afternoon. I also skipped the chance to buy some juggling clubs for much the same reason. Catching a train back was complicated by the fact that to reduce crowding, they don't let people catch the train at Camden Station on Sunday afternoons, so I had to walk to the next station to catch the train.