Archive for the 'And furthermore…' Category

Taking over the world

April 12th, 2011

I occasionally hear people, particularly SF readers, speculating on whether the internet will ever become sentient as has been the case in several SF works. In extreme cases it has been known to take over the world.

I have tried to explain that, the way it works today, this ain’t going to happen but to little avail.

For these people, therefore, I have recorded a typical machine conversation. Only the hostnames have been changed to protect the innocent…

Fred: are you still there George?
George: yes, I’m here. how about you Fred?
Fred: yes, I’m here
<pause>
Fred: are you still there, George?
George: yes, I’m here. how about you Fred?
Fred: yes, I’m here
<pause>
Fred: I’ve got a packet here for Bruce
George: give it here. I’ll pass it on to Ralph – he can deliver it
<pause>
Fred: are you still there George?
George: yes, I’m here. how about you Fred?
Fred: yes, I’m here
<pause>
George: Bruce said his packet never arrived
Fred: I’ll ask Charlie to send it again.
George: Ralph must have dropped it
Fred: again! he’s not very reliable
George: next time I’ll give it to Charlie to deliver
<pause>
Fred: are you still there George?
George: yes, I’m here. how about you Fred?
Fred: yes, I’m here
<pause>
Fred: I’ve got a packet here for Bruce
George: give it here. I’ll pass it on to Charlie – he can deliver it
<pause>
Fred: are you still there George?
George: yes, I’m here. how about you Fred?
Fred: yes, I’m here
<etc>

Frankly, I don’t think we have much to worry about.

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Strange Business Model

February 15th, 2011

Sometimes I just don’t understand the way people run their businesses. Let me explain.

Usually I catch the train into work but, just occasionally, I need to drive in. Parking is hard to find but I discovered an abandoned building site – at least, it has been advertising new office space for years and nothing has happened – where you could just drive in and park. The ground was rough but it was free.

A couple of months ago, someone erected a small shed and started to charge people to get in. Either the owners had finally caught on or else it was a brilliant piece of private enterprise. Regardless, it was fair enough. At eight dollars it was still cheaper than the council-provided spaces.

In fact, the money was pretty irrelevant. What mattered was that, although the place was always nearly full there was nevertheless always room for one more. This was immensely valuable to someone who tends to get in a little late when all the public spots are full.

So. Last week, I was driving in and pulled up at the little shed with eight dollars in my hand. Sorry, says the man on the gate, we’re not allowing casual parking anymore. You have to pay for an entire month.

I will confess to having boggled. The huge area that was normally covered in cars was nearly empty as the following photo shows. Obviously they had been turning us away in droves at vast expense to themselves.

I think it was the stupidity of the whole thing that really got to me. If they had come up with some scathingly brilliant idea which involved my being turned away I would have been forced to admire it.

As it was, they are costing themselves well over one thousand dollars a day and absolutely everyone is worse off. Even the council didn’t make any more out of it because all their spots were already full. I ended up parking miles away.

I have been caught by this sort of thing before. I try and plan my life around everyone acting in their own best interests and sometimes people just insist on shooting themselves in the foot. Sigh.

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Grow Down

March 8th, 2010

I got this fabulous present for Christmas, which consisted of about 300 paper airplanes. Each day you get the instructions for building a plane, plus a sheet of paper printed with the appropriate markings. I have taken the kit to work and produce planes daily.

Some fly better than others; some are tricky to make; some are very odd shapes; and some are just beautiful. The one at the bottom left, called Moth, is one of my favourites but others include jets, bi-planes and spaceships. I don’t peek ahead so I have no idea what new designs are still to come.

Here are the first 30 examples:



click on the image for a larger version

The only problem I have, and I still have trouble believing this, is that none of my cow-orkers have any interest in playing with them. I mean, how can anyone just sit there when these terrific-looking planes are being thrown? It’s weird.

One of them even said something along the lines of, if your son was here he would tell you to grow up. I’m proud to say that Robert would do nothing of the sort and would be throwing planes around as fast as he possibly could.

It is a very bad sign for a software group when no-one is prepared to play anymore. I mean, what’s the point of being a programmer if life has stopped being fun? I am already looking around for another job.

Anyway, I have just one thing to say to these people:

Grow down! Look where growing up has got you.

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Are we having fun yet?

December 13th, 2009

It is about four in the afternoon and the works Christmas party is well under way. Our offices belong to a “campus” with six office buildings around a central open area. We have lawns, trees, a couple of ponds and a little waterfall.

Currently it has been decorated in a sort of seaside theme (although we are nowhere near the sea) with lots of beach umbrellas, beach balls and a couple of fake bathing huts. Coloured banners are flapping on the flagpoles. Various food facilities and bars have been set up under canvas and there is a portable stage with band.

I should have brought my camera, or at least got a phone with a decent camera and memory card on it. So we’ll have to make do with word pictures instead. It certainly is an uplifting sight.

There is bunting and some of the beachballs are hanging like lanterns from the trees. It is a warm day but a breeze is blowing so it’s not too uncomfortable. Oh yes, and there is one little ride thingie which has a mechanical surfboard in it. You balance on it and it moves up and down, faster and slower. Doesn’t look much fun to me but then I’m not a surfer.

Crowds are milling. Admittedly at the moment they are mostly queuing for food and/or drink but undoubtedly they will mill more effectively in an hour or so. I believe the party is scheduled to go on into the evening. Special buses and wheelbarrows are being provided for the incapacitated.

So I have to ask myself, why am I sitting in the first floor lounge of Building F, overlooking everything through large sheets of tinted glass rather than being out there having a good time?

The question contains the answer. I do not regard it as being a good time. It is sad, perhaps, but I never have. While I love socialising with friends at dinner parties, gaming sessions or just chilling out I dislike crowds of people, particularly people I am quite happy to interact with at work but about whom I desire no further knowledge. I could claim to be recovering from a virus (which is true) so I might be more willing to play along if I wasn’t feeling so stuffed but I suspect not. Call me a curmudgeon. No, go on. Feel free.

I know I’m not the only one. Various people are still at their desks, working or pretending to do so. However most of these are people with whom I do not wish to be identified. Surely I’m not as weird and asocial as they are?

So I have compromised. I have left my desk and am almost part of the crowd, albeit behind a window about four metres above it. My chair is comfortable, there is just enough party noise to make me feel I am vaguely part of things and it is quite cool. Every so often someone that I am keen to avoid walks past outside, re-inforcing how sensible my choice has been.

If this joy of avoiding parties (there must be a word for it in some language) was a recent development I might be worried and take a trip to the doctor. Alas, it is a chronic condition which has been with me as long as I can remember.

The worrying thing is, I like being safely behind tinted glass. It feels like being at the zoo although I’m not sure whether I’m outside the cage or inside.

In a little while, people will start getting drunk and unpleasant and I will take the opportunity to go home. Pathetic really.

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Kindling

August 20th, 2009

In principle, I have nothing against e-books. Much as I like the paper version I can accept that things must change. However, there are certain features I insist on and these are not all available yet:

  1. It shall not cost more than $200
  2. It must have a capacity of at least 1,000 books
  3. It must have a battery life of at least 24 hours
  4. Contrast and glare must be at least equivalent to black print on white paper
  5. It must be readable in all circumstances that paper is readable (e.g. in bright sunlight)
  6. It must also be readable at night
  7. It supports all major document formats (including Word, Open Office, PDF, ASCII)
  8. I can freely upload any document which is out of copyright in the country where I am at the time
  9. Purchasing of copyrighted documents is easy from a large range
  10. If there is DRM then there should be a standard that everyone supports
  11. Authors are compensated to at least the level they are compensated for printed works
  12. Books are at least 50% cheaper than the printed version
  13. No third party can delete documents without my consent

As you can see, there is a way to go yet. Battery technology isn’t up to it; contrast/glare/readability is getting a lot better but still isn’t as good as paper; there don’t seem to be any DRM standards yet. There are probably other requirements I haven’t listed such as the ability to search text or the ability to move my files to a different device, not necessarily produced by the company from which I bought the first device.

The proximate cause of this rant, however, is a recent action involving Amazon and Kindle. Apparently, Amazon had obtained the right to 1984 from someone who didn’t actually have those rights. So they refunded their customers and automatically deleted the documents from user’s Kindles, without even telling them.

There are two significant points here:

  1. Deleting the documents, as well as not being part of the terms of agreement, violates #13.
  2. 1984 is out of copyright in various countries; just because the US keeps extending copyright so that Disney can hang on to Mickey Mouse is no reason for the rest of the world to have to follow, thereby violating #8.

I have been told, although I find it hard to believe, that Amazon charges people for loading non-copyright material onto their Kindles. I’m prepared to accept that this is a vicious rumour.

Anyway, even if technology improves such that all the rest of my requirements are met, there is no way I am buying one of these Kindle things. Anyone who believes they have the right to delete stuff from one of my devices without my consent is never going to get a dollar out of me.

So there.

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New Kafka novel discovered

March 24th, 2009

We are pleased to present an extract from a previously undiscovered novel by Franz Kafka. It is entitled ‘The Hyperlink’ and seems remarkable prescient for its time.

ACMA: Mr Kafka, your website links to a site on the ACMA blacklist. Remove the link or you will be fined $11,000 per day.

Kafka: What list is that? Can I see it?

ACMA: No, Mr Kafka. The list is secret – we can’t tell anyone what’s on it.

Kafka: But my website only links to my wife’s Fluffy Toy Shop, my grandmother’s Stray Cat Welfare site and fifteen Federal Government websites.

ACMA: I’m afraid we can’t comment on any individual website, Mr Kafka.

Kafka: This is ridiculous. Oh very well. Which one do I have to remove?

ACMA: I’m sorry, Mr Kafka, but if we told you that we’d be telling you it was on the list and we’ve already told you that list is secret.

Kafka: So I have to remove all links from my website?

ACMA: Oh no sir. Just the one on the blacklist.

Kafka: Yes, but which one is it?

ACMA: I’m sorry sir, we can’t tell you that.

etc. etc.

Well, I never thought I’d say it, but I owe John Howard an apology. Sorry, John. I would have sworn that no other Australian government could have come up with the deceit and stupidity which characterised your time in power but I was wrong.

Senator Stephen Conroy, the Federal Communications minister, has come up with an internet filtering idea of which Franz Kafka would have been proud. The government will maintain a ‘blacklist’ of sites which ISPs must block. Even linking to one of these sites will be a criminal offence.

But, there is no way to find out what is on the list. Which means that there will be a sudden increase in the number of criminals in Australia – admittedly part of our proud tradition but we were doing fine anyway thank you very much. Revealing what is on the list is, in itself, a criminal offense.

Now, I’m completely in favour of prosecuting every child pornographer we can lay our hands on. I’m happy to fill Long Bay with them and if we accidentally lose the key it won’t affect my sleep. But, this is not the way to do it.

Ignoring for the moment the technical problems associated with filtering and the impossibility of dealing with secure, encrypted connections, there is simply no way we can both keep the list secret and guarantee that it only contains ‘bad’ sites.

For example, a recently leaked list shows that one Queensland site was on the list because the owner had committed the heinous crime of being a dentist. All right, none of us like going to the dentist but I don’t want to be prosecuted just because I link to his site. Especially given that I had no way of knowing (apart from his evil profession) that he was on the list in the first place.

While the technical problems have been exaggerated a little (Cisco make some very powerful and expensive hardware which can perform Deep Packet Inspection with very little loss of speed) this is not the point. It is (adjusts soapbox) a serious invasion of our rights. It is the classic totalitarian tactic of depriving the populace of information – in this case with the clever twist of making it illegal to try and find out what you are not being told in the first place.

However, we still live in a democracy. The fact that we put up with John Howard for more than ten years proves that. So, if the issue is seen to be sufficiently unpopular as to actually start costing votes, the pollies will take notice.

If we all make enough noise about it, Conroy will eventually get a tap on the shoulder and one of the party enforcers will have a little chat with him starting with the the dreadful words “Stephen, ma-a-a-a-ate…” and it will all be quietly dropped.

This is my little contribution. Please make yours. If nothing else, link to it – if you get told to remove the link we will at least know one item on the list.

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Frying Flute Flies

February 1st, 2009

Last night Pamela, Robert and I went to see the Flying Fruit Fly circus at the Parramatta Riverside Theater. Try saying Flying Fruit Flies three times quickly.

If you have never heard of them, they are a circus where all the performers are kids between 10 and 17. The FFF has a circus skills school and this is where they get to show off their skills.

They aren’t too bad at all. Occasionally you get a glitch where someone doesn’t quite manage the somersault through the two skipping ropes but they usually make it on the second try. This is fair enough for a mixed bunch of kids with different levels of skill.

Some of them are really good. My personal favourite was the guy upside down on a 30ft vertical pole who suddenly slides down the pole stopping himself by gripping with his legs just before his head hits the matting. His head wasn’t noticeably flat but he must have clobbered himself in practice once or twice.

So it was good but I have a serious complaint with regard to the way it connected with its audience, quite a lot of whom were young children. They wrapped a story around their skills (a perfectly legitimate and venerable device) but their choice of story was unsuited to their audience.

Basically it consisted of a young boy in the Outback. The first scene is his birthday party which is an excuse for some fun tumbling. However, then it all goes wrong, his father is killed in a bushfire and he ends up in the city – apparently with no-one to meet him off the train.

It takes off into fantasy at this point where he becomes a boy elephant trainer (whose father dies – this time of sickness) in a travelling circus. The circus is sold and he is the only one not taken on by the new owner. The circus people sneak him aboard the ship they are taking but the ship gets wrecked in a storm.

This was the first half. I’m not sure what happened in the second half because Robert couldn’t take it any more. He liked the circus bits but all this stuff about death of fathers and abandonment was more than he could handle and fair enough too. It wasn’t what any of us went to see.

I suspect the kids had a lot to do with writing the story. These are the sorts of concerns that interest adolescents and make good stories but they are not suitable for seven year-old kids – or at least not the subset of them to which Robert belongs.

It was a great pity. With a more cheerful story, Robert would have had a great time and gone home inspired to join a circus. Instead, we missed half the show and he had nightmares. I think I might have to write them a little note for next time.

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Trust me

August 18th, 2008

Here, for your edification, I present pi to 1,000 decimal places.

3.
1415926535 8979323846 2643383279 5028841971 6939937510
5820974944 5923078164 0628620899 8628034825 3421170679
8214808651 3282306647 0938446095 5058223172 5359408128
4811174502 8410270193 8521105559 6446229489 5493038196
4428810975 6659334461 2847564823 3786783165 2712019091
4564856692 3460348610 4543266482 1339360726 0249141273
7245870066 0631558817 4881520920 9628292540 9171536436
7892590360 0113305305 4882046652 1384146951 9415116094
3305727036 5759591953 0921861173 8193261179 3105118548
0744623799 6274956735 1885752724 8912279381 8301194912
9833673362 4406566430 8602139494 6395224737 1907021798
6094370277 0539217176 2931767523 8467481846 7669405132
0005681271 4526356082 7785771342 7577896091 7363717872
1468440901 2249534301 4654958537 1050792279 6892589235
4201995611 2129021960 8640344181 5981362977 4771309960
5187072113 4999999837 2978049951 0597317328 1609631859
5024459455 3469083026 4252230825 3344685035 2619311881
7101000313 7838752886 5875332083 8142061717 7669147303
5982534904 2875546873 1159562863 8823537875 9375195778
1857780532 1712268066 1300192787 6611195909 2164201989

A lot of people will recognise the first five or six digits depending on whatever approximate value they were taught at school. Since we all recognise these numbers there is a fair chance (ignoring the possibly of a mind-blowing world-wide physics-distorting conspiracy) that they are correct.

The question is, how do you know that the remaining numbers did not come from a random number generator? Or maybe I went and changed one digit just to be evil? Actually, I did change one digit. Or maybe I’m lying about that or maybe I changed it back. Indeed, even if I have genuinely included what I believe to be the correct number, I could be wrong.

Possibly you have the mathematical ability to calculate it yourself, perhaps bringing your personal computer into play. However, your pc is unlikely to be able to calculate pi to 1.25 million places and even if it could there comes a point beyond which you do not have the resources to go any further.

Wherever your boundaries are, at some point you have to trust that the answer is correct.

Why am I rabbiting on like this? There are two reasons. One: I thought it would be cool to have pi to 1,000 places in my blog. Two: I have been playing with Wikipedia and I’ve got interested in the “Wisdom of the Commons” idea.

The latter seems to come down to levels of verification. Ignoring for the moment solipsistic arguments about whether you are just a figment of your own imagination we have:

  1. Truths we can verify ourselves by simple observation – e.g. encountering concrete at terminal velocity will result in death
  2. Truths we can verify with moderate effort – e.g. 3.1416 is a good approximation of pi
  3. Truths which have been repeatedly verified by experts in the public domain – e.g. time dilation occurs at near-light velocities
  4. Truths which we are told are verifiable but which are difficult to verify – e.g. pi to 1,000 decimal places in this blog
  5. Truths which experts assure us are true but which might as well be black magic as far as we know – e.g. how you prove Fermat’s last theorem
  6. Truths which non-experts assure us are true because they read about it somewhere – e.g. Wikipedia

It gets even harder when you get into fuzzy areas such as history or anthropology. It is much harder to separate expert opinion from non-expert opinion, partly because a lot of the so-called expert opinion is a load of dingoes kidneys. While there are fine, rigorous thinkers in the fuzzy disciplines there are also a lot of screwballs because it is far easier to hide ignorance in obfustication. There is a spoof computer language called C+- which has an even if not operator. Its analogue is used far to frequently by the practitioners of certain disciplines.

Have I said anything useful here, he asked rhetorically. Well maybe not. It looks a load of waffle to me but that may be because I’m an expert. Or so I
claim. If all else fails you now have pi to 1,000 decimal places. Maybe.

There is an Arabic saying which covers it pretty well: Trust in God but tie your camel first.

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The Bard from Bengal

March 17th, 2008

On Saturday night, Pamela and I went to see a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Sydney Theatre Company. We are both Shakespeare fans so we try and get to productions when we can. (We both cursed that we couldn’t get down to Melbourne to see Ian McKellen play Lear – why can’t they bring these things to Sydney?).

The production had got rave reviews. It has an all-Indian cast and apparently started its run in Delhi before eventually moving to Stratford-on-Avon for a sell-out season followed by a world tour. It all sounded good.

And it was good. The set was really interesting and effective. Puck was excellent – an absolute pre-requisite for a good Midsummer Night’s produciton. Titania and Bottom were excellent and the supporting cast were good. There was some great set pieces including stick fighting by the fairies which worked remarkably well.

However…

There was one very strange element to the production. Shakespeare, as most people will know, was writing in English. This production was in a mixture of English, Tamil, Malayalan, Sinhalese, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi and Sanskrit. Except for English, these I know from nothing.

They kept enough bits in English that Pamela and I could follow it but we know the play quite well. We spoke to some people during the interval and they didn’t have a clue what was going on. Some other friends of theirs had just given up and left.

We were able to give them a plot outline which they said helped a bit but it wasn’t the full Shakespeare. When a speech comes up that you remember rolling in the aisles the last time you heard it and it is all in one of Tamil, Malayalan, Sinhalese, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi or Sanskrit the fact that the actor is successfully indicating that his speech is supposed to be funny is just not the same.

I can see why this mix of languages might be a good idea in Mumbai but why the hell do it in Sydney? The only person who really seemed to get it was the Indian gentleman in the 3rd row who was laughing at the bits we knew were funny in English.

In spite of all this is was a good evening and we enjoyed it. But it is frustrating to think that, had it all been in English, we would have gone away thinking it was just fabulous.

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Once more into the trousers

February 21st, 2008

I’ll keep this rant brief as I’m sure many have done it before me. It concerns the insidious influence of the spelling checker.

On the same day I have encountered the following:

1. The SMH refers to the US being keen to take advantage of Castro’s resignation by “reigning the island back into its sphere of influence”
2. A requirements document I was assessing referred to “breeches of regulatory requirements”
3. The same document refers to various systems as not being “effected” by the project

The concepts are not difficult.

1. reigns are for monarchs; reins are for horses. Despite American ambitions I think we can be clear the the metaphor here is referring to horses.
2. regulatory requirements do not wear trousers
3. effected/affected are best understood via their opposites. Consider the difference between ineffective and unaffected. We do not require our systems to be ineffective.

And while I am ranting, it is a spelling checker not a spell checker. The latter can be useful when reviewing necromantic incantations or demonic summonings (where the consequences of mistakes can be extreme) but they have no place in checking spelling.

Rant over.

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