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26 February, 2007

Visiting Politicians Are A Nuisance And A Danger To Themselves

Police defend traffic closures” said the headline in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. [Photo: AP] To quote the article:

”’I'M NOT apologising to anyone,’ a senior police officer said yesterday, warning that the traffic closures that infuriated Sydneysiders during the visit of the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, could be worse in September [when the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit takes place in Sydney] … Twelve protesters were arrested and charged during Mr Cheney's visit.”

Now I’m not a protester by nature and even Dick Cheney’s right-wing politics, while offensive and stupid, are not enough to get me out into the streets throwing eggs. However, I do object to the way police departments will disrupt everybody’s lives so that puffed up little nobodies can drive their ‘motorcades’ around our cities.

Yes, I know it’s for their protection. People like Cheney, Howard, Blair, and so on have upset so many people so much that there are likely to be violent crowds wherever they go and these halfwit egomaniacs may well be attacked. I can understand how the police would need to consider their safety. But haven’t they got it all arse about face?

It is the presence of these dangerous, disruptive people (so-called ‘world leaders’) on our streets that is causing the problem. If they weren’t parading up and down the streets, people wouldn’t gather to shout insults at them. So the obvious solution would be to prevent them from moving around.

If, say, a holocaust denier wanted to visit Sydney, chances are the authorities would refuse to give him or her a visa – on the reasonable grounds that their presence would upset people and might provoke violence. So why not keep Dick Cheney out too? His presence clearly upsets people and provokes violence. He is clearly a menace to any city he visits and the cost and disruption for thousands of ordinary people when the police try to protect him is hugely out of proportion to the value of anything such a man could possibly have to say. Besides, what’s wrong with the telephone? A few long-distance calls could have saved the American tax-payers the cost of his silly little outing and the ‘infuriated Sydneysiders’ the cost of having their police tied up with this nonsense.

If the world’s politicians are so hated and reviled that people gather in crowds to abuse them whenever they appear, why not do the sensible thing and keep them all locked away indoors?

25 February, 2007

Australian TV Networks Suck

I get pretty indignant about the disgraceful state of broadband in Australia. My biggest complaint has been that I couldn’t get any broadband at all until a few days ago – even the miserably slow services on offer to some parts of the country. But other things about the Australian media industries are irritating too.

I read a news article yesterday about how the Australian TV networks impose an average of almost 17 months’ delay between overseas programs being aired in their own countries and them being aired over here. It isn’t surprising – the Australian TV networks are obviously run by people who are happy to provide a third-class service at a first-class price, and our third-class governments are happy to let them get away with it – but it is certainly annoying. The length of this delay has actually increased over the past two years – from 7.6 months then to 16.7 months now.

Anyone who watches Australian TV will know how amateurish and slipshod the programming is – with series being stopped mid-way through, programmes being arbitrarily re-scheduled all the time, series being cancelled with no notice and even, occasionally, the programmes in a series being shown in the wrong order! They will also have noticed how much advertising there is now compared to content. I haven’t clocked it but my guess is that it would be about 50:50 – possibly it’s worse than that. Even the pay TV services (that’s you, Foxtel!) are packed with ads. You wonder what the hell we’re paying for!

And then there’s the problem of the country’s shoddy infrastructure. The same reason I can’t get decent broadband – no underground cable network to my door – is the reason I have to have satellite TV – which is why, every time we have a few drops of rain, the TV dies! The one and only good thing about the drought is that it is improving the satellite TV reception!

Because the media business in Australia is a duopoly and because successive governments are the drooling lapdogs of their owners (I don’t know why – could it be there’s some money involved somewhere?) none of this is going to change. We will continue to lag behind the rest of the world, we will continue to have media policies that favour the corporations rather than the consumers, and things will continue to get worse and worse.

Until we all get sick of it.

24 February, 2007

Telstra Writes Shonky Software

Well, my wireless broadband modem arrived from Telstra on Tuesday - just four days late. You may recall, I had a bit of a job ordering it. I rushed over to Wifie’s Macintosh to install it, put the CD in the drive, clicked the start button and 2 minutes later was on the phone to Telstra technical support. At first, they thought they’d sent us the wrong installation disc. Then I was put on to someone who knew what they were talking about and they informed us that, while the modem would run with a Macintosh, the software for that hadn’t been written yet. It might be ready in March, they said, ‘but I wouldn’t hold your breath.’

So the Telstra sales chimp had lied to me. What a surprise. Still, since Telstra’s 3G network is the only way to get broadband here, I decided I would have to install it on my machine. Because of the relative expense of Apple versus PC components, it would have been a lot cheaper to serve the internet from Wifie’s machine but, hey, them’s the breaks.

It has been a busy week, so I didn’t get to try to install it on my own Windows PC until the next evening – Wednesday. It actually seemed to install fairly smoothly. I got a clutch of error messages about this and that but you get used to that with any Windows installation. The thing is, it seemed to work. I actually had broadband – for two hours. Then I went to get something to eat and when I got back, it wasn’t working anymore. I got straight on the phone to Telstra technical support and waited on hold. I gave up after 25 minutes of listening to really bad music and had a whinge at Wifie. Then I came back and tried again. This time my patience only lasted 20 minutes before I gave up and went to bed.

The next day, Thursday, my Internet connection still wasn’t working. I seemed to be able to connect to my new ISP (‘Big Pond – or Big Pondscum as I have come to think of them) but couldn’t load any web pages or get any email. I waited a mere 13 minutes to talk to a silly, giggly girl who, in the course of the next 40 minutes, failed to fix it. We left it that I would download a new installation program from the Pondscum site (using my old dial-up service) and try running that. As this program was 9.2 Mb large, it took an hour and a half to download. When I ran it, I still had all the old problems.

So I called again (only took a couple of minutes waiting this time!) and spoke to a techie who seemed to understand the problem. Nevertheless, it still took more than half an hour (including four reboots of the machine) to fix. The solution was to delete half a dozen files that the installation had put on my system and which were ‘probably causing the trouble’ (so why put them there?) and to change the settings on some system files - including resetting winsock to its defaults. I also had to reset the modem itself.

I did not trust Telstra to write a decent piece of software and I was right not to. The installation was clearly a shambles and the ‘Connection Manager’ that runs the connection to the ISP is so buggy that it barely stays running for 5 minutes at a time (it is ‘not responding’ as we speak). When I shut down my PC last night, I got error messages saying the Telstra software could not be closed properly.

Today, Friday, the broadband connection was working again – for 30 minutes! Then I had the same old problems. It would connect to Pondscum alright but it wouldn’t load any web pages. This time I knew what to do, so I did it and it is up and working again – and still running almost two hours later! Any minute now, a new record will be set. I've already set the record for how hard it was to buy and install a piece of software. Six sales chimps and four technical support persons - and it's still not working properly. Well done Telstra!

Oh, and the speed? Just over 500kbps (kilobits per second). The chimp promised between 500 kbps and 1500 kbps ("depending on signal strength"). Well, my signal strength is "excellent" (according to the Connection Manager - when it's working) which is the top of the scale. What do you reckon, Telstra? Am I a satisfied customer?

I’m just hoping the connection stays up long enough for me to post this.

22 February, 2007

Evil Bible?

Now here’s a website that deserves a little more publicity. It’s extreme, it’s pugnacious, and it is very confrontational but mostly all it is doing is quoting the Bible.

The author makes the point that most 'Christians' haven’t read much of the Bible and don’t really know what it says. They also say that most ‘Christians’ selectively ignore the great bulk of ‘the Good Book’ – particularly the Old Testament – much of which is violent, racist, and what we would these days call immoral: condoning slavery, infidelity, child sex, rape and genocide.

As someone who once took the trouble to read this turgid nonsense from cover to cover, I sympathise with this website a lot. I found the Bible a real eye-opener and very, very disturbing. In fact, most of it was nothing like the happy-clappy message of love and tolerance that ‘Christians’ like to think the Bible is about. Most of it was about punishment, vengeance, mass-murder and physical and sexual abuse. Thank human rationality we don’t live in times like that anymore!

There’s plenty of fun stuff in Evil Bible.com, though (I quite like the ‘Top Ten Signs You're a Fundamentalist Christian ' ) and some great quotes, like:

"When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property." (Exodus 21:20-21 NAB)

and;

"Happy those who seize your children and smash them against a rock." (Psalms 137:9 NAB)

or how about;

“But any prophet who claims to give a message from another god or who falsely claims to speak for me must die.” (Deuteronomy 18:20-22 NLT - So let's get on with it guys. You heard the man! Kill. kill kill!)

If you can’t stand hypocrisy (like that of some ‘Christians’ overheard the other day damning homosexuals because ‘it’s forbidden in the Bible’ – “Judge not lest ye be judged” guys!) or if you just get annoyed by pious idiots who don’t even know the tenets of their own mumbo jumbo, this site is definitely the one for you. In fact there’s a Biblical quotation in there for everyone. Here’s one for the politicians:

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5 NLT – see, it’s not just the Old Testament that has this kind of stuff in it.)

And one for Wifie: “You wives will submit to your husbands as you do to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of his body, the church; he gave his life to be her Saviour. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives must submit to your husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:22-24 NLT)

For the Bush war machine (and John Howard’s little cog in it): “Cursed be he who does the Lord’s work remissly, cursed he who holds back his sword from blood.” (Jeremiah 48:10 NAB)

And, my favourite, one for bald people who find small boys annoying: "From there Elisha went up to Bethel. While he was on his way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him. "Go up baldhead," they shouted, "go up baldhead!" The prophet turned and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty two of the children to pieces." (2 Kings 2:23-24 NAB)

Hey, don’t look at me. I didn’t write this stuff!

21 February, 2007

In Praise of the Hewlett-Packard Jornada 720

I got my first 'palmtop' computer in about 1993. It was a Psion 3a (see picture on left) and I loved it. I could carry it in my pocket and yet it had a 'clamshell' design - just like a full-grown laptop - with a screen and a keyboard. It ran a real word processor too as well as other useful applications. I took it everywhere with me and used it to satisfy my constant craving to write.

After it died, some years later, I got a Palm Pilot (see right). Very small and neat, very portable and easy to use but no keyboard. I taught myself to write on the screen using the special script it understood and, over a couple of years , wrote two whole novels that way. However, not having a keyboard was a big mistake. So, when it died, I went looking for something like my old Psion 3a.

By then Psion wasn't making clamshell palmtops anymore and, following the huge success of the Palm, all the manufacturers were making 'PDAs' that were Palm clones. There wasn't a keyboard in sight - untill I spotted an advert for a second-hand Jornada. This was perfect - essentially a tiny laptop - with word-processor, spreadsheet, email, web-browser, media player and so on - but still so small you could fit it into a large) pocket. And the keyboard was great - not a funny set of buttons like the old Psion but a real 3/4 size QWERTY keyboard! It came in a range of memory sizes and specifications (I picked the 720 as being perfect for what I needed) had a touch screen as well as the keyboard (very important) and it even looked pretty smart.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that HP was no longer making it!

At the time, HP had just been bought out by Compaq and they were merging their product lines. Compaq had a range of Palm clones and HP had its wonderful Jornadas. For some reason I will never understand, the newly-merged companies dumped the wonderful Jornadas and rebadged the Compaq Palm clones as their new Jornadas. The old Jornada was dead and nobody else - nobody! - made a small clamshell computer with a keyboard. So I bought my Jornada 720 from eBay and have had the great pleasure of using it for about 4 years now (two more novels, dozens of stories and almost all my blog postings).

That's my Jornada in the picture above, in its natural habitat - a street café. What I will do when it dies, I have no idea. There is still nothing like it on the market. But I won't be buying anything from Compaq - not until they see the error of their ways.

20 February, 2007

Welcome to My 100th Posting!!

Can you believe it? This is my 100th blog posting to Waving Not Drowning. Yes, 100 rants, raves, reviews and ramblings have passed before your eyes – and it is only mid-February! As my faithful reader will know, I started this little enterprise at the tail end of August last year. I had a vague notion at the time of joining in the global conversation and, if I had been tortured way back then, would have confessed that I suspected I’d have got it all off my chest by now and would be on to other things. So, for those of you who are mildly interested and have nothing better to do, here’s my state of the blog report for this rather odd milestone.

  • I’m averaging a little better than one posting every two days and have been since the beginning.
  • Almost 2,000 pages have been served in the past 5 months and the average number of pages served per month has gone up from 202 in September to 578 last month.
  • Similarly, the number of pages served per day (my daily readership, if you like) has risen from 7 in September to 21 this month. If it keeps tripling every five months, I’ll need more fingers to do the sums on.
  • Advertising income from those fascinating Google ads you all keep forgetting to click on peaked in December at about US$30 for the month and slumped in January to about US$15. Why there is not a linear relationship between ad revenue and pages served may forever be a mystery. Whatever is going on, I’m going to need about ten thousand times more readers before I get rich from this. So please mention me to your ten thousand closest friends.
  • The content is still all over the place. I had expected that I would start focusing in on a single topic by now but I see no sign of it. The stupidity of governments, the evils of capitalism, the insanities of religion, my own, continuing lack of broadband – along with a few random rants, raves, reviews and jokes – seem to be evenly distributed among the 100. Still, it’s early days.
  • And as for the global conversation, I’m still getting very few comments and almost all of those are from people I know. Even ‘xman’ whom I thought was a stranger, turned out to be a long-lost chum. And Technorati tells me that only two other blogs have linked to mine. Still, even two is quite good in my view – I’d have been happy with one.

But I’m still having lots of fun doing this. As well as satisfying my craving to write, I keep finding fun things to do with the blog itself – like adding those ‘Mark This Site’ buttons last month, or ‘branding’ the blog with the waving hand picture (my own arm, by the way) and my very own tag-line: ‘The blog about everything’. Talk about making a virtue out of a vice! And of course, this month I added my very own book shop. How cool is that? (Alright, so I’m easily amused. Would you rather I was out killing animals for fun – or ‘fishing’ as they call it?)

All in all, I think I’ll keep at it for a while longer.

19 February, 2007

Hanging At The Mall

‘Hanging’ at the mall is not really how I expected to spend my retirement, yet here I am, at 10:30 on a Monday morning, killing time until Wifie re-appears from the 'coffee morning' she's having with some lady friends. At least this particular mall has comfy leather sofas where a chap can sit and watch the happy shoppers go by - or , in my case, write his blog.

And the shoppers do, on the whole, appear, if not quite happy, then, at least, not unhappy. (You know, some people say I use too much punctuation. I, on the other hand, maintain that punctuation is there to ensure that sentences are read as the author intends and that, as long as it is use correctly and with the comprehension of the text in mind, there is no such thing as too much punctuation.)

You might expect a mall on a Monday morning to be full of women doing the shopping. After all, it is generally the women who still get stuck with this job in the modern Australian household and, although in roughly 90% of households where there are couples living, both partners are in work, it is still the woman who is most likely to be working part-time or not at all. Looking around me - and I can see about 50 or 60 people at any moment from where I am - I'd estimate that, indeed, 80% to 90% of them are women and that they are mostly in the 30 to 50 age group. The few men around are either young (probably students) old (my fellow retirees) or obviously businessmen using the mall as a meeting place. (I have spotted two chaps in their thirties with pushchairs, though.)

It's quite a pleasant environment, really – spacious and airy, air-conditioned and bright – but it's a little noisy for my taste. Generally, it is an unobtrusive kind of noise - a background rumble of escalators and conversation, with the occasional shriek of laughter or the scream of a child. However, I can see how you could get too much of it. (There is one little rug-rat who emits a high-pitched squeak about every thirty seconds. I am formulating plans for its assassination and the torture of its criminally stupid mother. If I stop posting to this blog suddenly, it will be because I've had to go on the run to avoid the police. It may be worth it though.)

In fact, the more I think about how tailored and managed this environment is, the more I think about the alternative. I could, for instance be sitting outside in one of the many street cafés around here. The rumble of the traffic (and the mall's gigantic air conditioners) would hardly be louder than the noise inside and there would be the compensating wonders of blue skies and bright sunshine. (Even though it is mid-February, we're having a very mild Summer and the temperature today is probably less than 30 degrees with a cool breeze. With any luck, it might even rain later. I've learned to appreciate rain since I came to Australia. Besides, the rain here is so much more exciting than the cold, grey drizzle they have in Northern Europe.)

That's it. I've convinced myself. I'm switching off my little palmtop computer and heading for the exit. I want sunshine and rain and cool breezes. Care to join me?

17 February, 2007

Broadband? We'll See...

Broadband is coming to the Brisbane suburbs after all. Telstra’s new G3 wireless network now serves my area. (Why can't they just lay a proper fibre-to-the-home network like a civilised country would?) In the past two weeks, I have been into three different Telstra shops to talk to their salespeople about it, and I have spoken three times on the phone to telemarketers. Each time I said to them, ‘I know what the service is, I’ve looked at your plans online, and I know what I want by way of a package. However, I have a couple of technical questions about how the service would work with the equipment I have at home. Do you have the technical background to talk to me about how the Telstra G3 modem will connect to a wireless local area network servicing a Mac and a Windows PC?’ Every single time, they said ‘Yes’ quite unequivocally and then went on to prove they had an almost total ignorance of computer networking.

God knows, I’m not exactly technically savvy myself, but I know when someone is talking rubbish: like the guy who confidently told me the Telstra modems can’t be used with a router and I’d have to buy a separate modem and a separate broadband service for each computer I wanted to use! Anyway, the sixth person I spoke to actually did seem to know something about it.

It’s true you can’t just plug a (fabulously expensive) Telstra modem into a router (Why the %$#% not? How stupid is that?) so I’ll have to set up one of our machines as a network server and then route the traffic from there. (Probably the Mac - it's always 50 times easier with a Mac.)Because Telstra’s 3G service costs twice what an equivalent ADSL (1) service would cost, we won’t be looking at generous download limits, and the speed (at between 500kbps and 1.5mbps, they say, ‘depending on the signal strength in your area’) is pathetic (but not so pathetic as the 16kbps to 24kbps I’m getting at the moment!) but I’m going for it anyway – if only so I can spare you all the agony of me whining on about not having broadband!

But, you know, I don’t hold out much hope for success. Putting a Mac and a PC together on a LAN has never been a simple matter – in fact, I’ve known IT experts reduced to tears just setting up a very ordinary, PC-only network at home. And those caveats about signal strength probably mean that we’ll be getting 100kbps speeds with endless drop-outs and spending hours on the phone to Telstra technical support people in India who haven’t got a clue what to do about it.

And it’s Telstra, of course, and they’re renowned for being useless, and their Big Pond ISP service is renowned for being flakey, and I had to talk to SIX of their untrained sales chimps before I found one that could answer a few simple questions!

Still, the deed is done. I ordered the modem last Thursday and I’m expecting it any time in the next few weeks (two days, the chimp said – but it’s been two days already). I’ll let you know how it all works out.

16 February, 2007

New Feature: The Book Shop of the Blog

Way down near the bottom of the right-hand column of this page, in that scruffy, information-dense thicket you never so much as glance at, you will see a section headed 'My Websites'. This is a list of (some of) the other websites I have built and maintain. At the top of that list is a link to my new Book Shop (or 'Book Store' in the vernacular of most English-speaking people - those who speak what Microsoft calls 'English (U.S.)' - in fact 'Bookstore' would be more correct these days I suppose, since, as we become increasingly like our computers, we are finding it harder and harder to deal with spaces between words.)

The thing is, I find I sometimes write about books I've been reading and in my never-ending quest to 'monetize' my every action, it seemed like a good idea to become a franchisee for Amazon (and anyone else who would have me). So, if I ever mention a book and I think it would be worth reading, I shall add it to my book shop (book store, bookstore) so there will be a convenient place to go to buy it. It's a wonderful, win-win, synergistic outcome for all stakeholders! I become rich, as you all empty your bank accounts into Amazon's, and you... er... become the proud owners of a motley miscellany of mail-order merchanise.

Sounds great, eh?

Now, if only I could find a way to make money by clicking the StumbleUpon button, my life would be complete.

15 February, 2007

The Continuum Concept

Before my daughter was born, her mother and I read quite a lot about what to do and why. We already knew a fair bit – we had both studied psychology at uni – and we already had the examples of our own parents and those of our friends and relatives to learn from but there was one book that stood head and shoulders above all the others. In fact, it was the only book that made any sense at all and it was the one whose advice we followed as best we could. The book was The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff.

If you have a child, if you’re about to have a child, if you know someone who has a child or is having a child or even vaguely thinking about it, drop everything and go out right now and buy this book. Throw away every other book you have about child rearing and stop listening to all the people – especially your parents – offering you advice. Read this book first and then, if you still think it's worthwhile, you can try the rest. But be warned, once you have read the book and understood how child rearing should be done, you will be appalled and dismayed at the awful job most people are making of raising their children.

The Continuum Concept is possibly the most important book ever written because it explains how to make your child a happy and well-balanced person. It takes a sensible, evolutionary perspective on child-care (and was written a long, long time before this was fashionable). It starts from the premise that if your child’s reasonable demands for comfort and attention are met in a practical but diligent way, he or she will grow up secure and happy and self-confident. The things the book suggests are not hard (we followed its advice punctiliously and, honestly, it was a pleasure) but the difference is astonishing.

My daughter was always so happy and cheerful as a baby that people constantly commented on it. She never grizzled or whined. She was never ‘naughty’ or attention-seeking. Despite quite extreme difficulties in her life, she grew up sweet and loving, happy and self-assured – one of the nicest people I have ever known.

It is so, so sad that people treat their children so badly and it is no consolation that, in return, they get the children they deserve.

Get the book. Read the book. Pass it on to everyone you know (I’ve been doing this for years). Go to the Continuum Concept Network website if you need more info. But for the sake of all of us, if you have a child in your care, do him or her the biggest favour you ever could and take Liedloff’s advice!

13 February, 2007

To Wifie With All My Love On Valentine's Day

It’s Valentine’s Day and, as much as the Inner Scrooge would like to give it the ‘bah, humbug’ treatment (after all, it was made up by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1382 as a way of schmoozing the king) I can’t help thinking the world needs a Day on which to celebrate Love – and not the soppy, drippy, ‘love for all humankind’ kind of love but the Real Thing; the kind of love that binds people and makes them commit to a lifetime together, and then fills that lifetime with genuine happiness.

I know, it’s rare. But it’s not so rare that you don’t see it from time to time and it isn’t so rare that it didn’t, eventually, happen to me.

So this blog posting is dedicated to my beloved Wifie, with all my heart.

A few years ago, I wrote Wifie a love poem – a sonnet, in fact. It was published and appeared in the Valentine 2000 issue of The Love Blender. And, for those of you who are still reading this (the women, I would guess) here it is.

Sonnet for Christine

Had you a dozen children, we both know
That not a one would but resemble you.
The essence of the woman I love so
Could not be conjured into someone new.
And if you were a genius of note
And penned your life for all to read and share,
The words, no matter with what skill you wrote,
Could not but hint at everything you were.
Your visage may outlive you even so,
Preserved as data, safe in cyberspace,
With all that made you wonderful to know,
Reduced to just the image of your face.
You will not live forever, nor will I,
So let us live in love until we die.


Happy Valentine’s Day to lovers everywhere!

10 February, 2007

Augmented Serendipity

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Don’t you just love it when it happens? Well, I’ve discovered a way to make it happen more often – on the Web at least.

Those of you with keen eyes and not much to do will have noticed the button, labelled ‘StumbleUpon’, down at the bottom of the right-hand column of this page. StumbleUpon is a Web service that allows you to find websites that might be of interest to you and to record the fact that you found a particular page interesting. Honestly, you should try this. Go to the StumbleUpon site and download the toolbar for your browser (only Internet Explorer and Firefox are supported, I believe – sorry, Safari users.) You will be asked to select a range of topics in which you are interested. Don’t be satisfied with the first lot offered but click the ‘more topics’ button and tick as many as you like.

When the StumbleUpon toolbar is installed, you will have a new set of buttons across the top of your browser. The leftmost of these is called ‘Stumble!’. Click this and it will pick a website, based on your preferences, that other StumbleUpon users have recommended. The very first time I clicked it, I got The Size of Our World which is a wonderful and disturbing page (or, to use Daughter's favourite word, it is 'awesome'). I clicked again, just now and found a site called Breathing Earth – which is just plain scary! (or 'awesome' as Daughter would say.) The point is, this service really works. It delivers the kind of pages I find really interesting.

Further along your new toolbar, you will see a 'thumbs up' button called ‘I like it!’ (It should be called 'Awesome!' really, I suppose.) Whenever you come across a page you like, just click this button. This then adds it to the pool of recommended pages for others to discover. (I’m hoping that kind and generous people will give my blog entries the thumbs up from time to time – it’s a kind of advertising, you see.) If StumbleUpon delivers a page that you don’t like, you can click the thumbs down button, to let it know – thus fine-tuning your preferences and helping serendipity along just a little more.

Augmented serendipity. Don’tcha just love the Web?

08 February, 2007

OpenID - One Login To Rule Them All

Yesterday I gave myself a URI. That’s a uniform resource identifier in case you’re wondering. You already know something about these, even if you don’t think you do, because the URLs we use as website addresses are a kind of URI (URL is short for uniform resource locator). Just as a URL uniquely identifies a page in a website (among other things) a URI uniquely identifies anything at all you might find on a computer network.

I gave myself a URI not because I am such a nerd I need a computer-readable tag to identify myself (although it might look cool on a T-shirt – only kidding) but because you need one to take part in a great new scheme called OpenID. OpenID is a free and vendor-independent system that allows each person to have their own user name and password for logging on to websites. Yes, I know you’ve all got plenty of these already (I probably have about 50 myself) but this one could one day replace all of those. Just imagine it, a single user name and password that can be used at any website that participates in the scheme. In addition, you can add a profile (or a set of different profiles – known as ‘personas’ (sic) in OpenID-speak) so that websites you are dealing with for various services can pick up the data they need about you without you having to type it again and again.

There have been many other schemes like this but OpenID has the benefit of being simple, free, and not tied to any particular vendor. It leaves you in complete control of your personal data and your identity does not reside on your PC (or Mac - sorry Wifie). It is relies only on you having an unique identifier – that’s what the URI is for – and that is maintained on a set of servers around the Web.

All of these good reasons won’t make anybody use it though unless some high-volume websites adopt it for login management. That’s why the recent announcement by Bill Gates, that Microsoft would be supporting OpenID – along with earlier announcements by Technorati, Symantec and AOL – give me some hope that this one will take off.

And the best way to help it along? Go to MyOpenID and get yourself a URI, a user name and a password. It takes about two minutes (even without broadband). Then look out for websites with the OpenID logon on them. Hopefully you will see more and more of these in the next year or two.

06 February, 2007

A Lie Told Often Enough...

Sorry to keep banging on about the Australian government but these people make me so angry sometimes.

What would you say the purpose of government was? I’d say it had the function of managing and distributing power to people who want it, in return for which they administer the law and distribute the resources for the rest of us. The function of democracy is to ensure that the people with the power have to consider the rest of us while they’re having their fun. That’s why it’s a Good Thing.

The trouble with democracy though, is that it works effectively only when the people doing the voting are well-educated and well-informed. So it has become one of the common tricks of governments to manipulate education and information so that they can get away with more.

In the past few years, we have seen this policy in action on a grander scale than usual with the Bush administration (mis)leading the people of the USA (and its lapdog allies) into an invasion of Iraq, and attempting to silence scientists attempting to warn us about global warming. Why did they really want to invade Iraq? Because they had the harebrained idea that they could democratize the Middle East by force. Why have they been trying to hide the evidence for climate change? Because the big energy corporations don’t want the American public voting for a government that might pull their snouts out of the trough.

If you want to find out more about what American foreign policy is all about, read Noam Chomsky. For the story behind how the American government has been gagging its own climate scientists, visit the sites of the Government Accountability Project and their joint report on this topic (PDF 2.5 MB).

And what has this to do with the Australian government? Well, today in parliament, Prime Minister John Howard said that the connection between human activity and global warming was ‘still unproven’.

Now why would the little weasel say that?

(PS The quotation in title of this piece is by Vladimir Lenin. The full quote is, "A lie told often enough becomes the truth. ")

05 February, 2007

Land of Hopeless Tories

Amanda Vanstone is an Australian politician who seems to have made a career out of being a henchperson for the right-wing 'Liberal' government. Seemingly unpleasant and, being a right-wing politician, obviously having the morality of a snake, she has never struck me as especially insane - until now.

It seems that, for the past six years, Ms Vanstone has been writing the words to an Australian version of 'Land of Hope and Glory' - because she felt that another song 'with gravitas' was needed to fill that awkward gap at ceremonies between singing the national anthem and tucking into your thousand-dollar meal. In itself, this statement shows how far outside normal reality she and her cohorts are living. Most Australians find the national anthem an embarrassing joke. Barely one in a hundred of them knows the words to even the first verse. The need for another piece of such bombastic nonsense - even set to the fine music of the Elgar - is not one you would feel unless you too lived in the puffed-up-egosphere of Planet Tory.

If you like your poetry pompous, ungrammatical, childish and hypocritical, you should take a look at it. It was published in yesterday's News.com (in a very odd article, without any comment from anyone but Vanstone). If you've just eaten, you should probably give it a miss. That a grown woman could take six years to write this drivel is quite astonishing. I imagine a class-full of six-year-olds set an exercise of writing a verse parody of Tory philosophy could have come up with something similar (using better English) in about half an hour.

On the other hand, it is possible that I am misinterpreting what is in fact an extremely clever piece of ironical humour - intended mainly for the amusement of her cynical colleagues. The part about sharing the country with the 'first Australians' must have given them all a chuckle. (Remember it was 'Australia Day' just last week - what the Aboriginals here refer to as the 'Day of Mourning' because it celebrates the start of the European invasion of what was once their country.) But the bits about being such a happy multicultural society would have had them rolling in the aisles. Vanstone's last job - one she did with extreme vigour - was Minister for Immigration, during which she presided over Australia's disgraceful internment policy: a policy that saw hundreds of legitimate refugees (including small children) detained without trial, sometimes for years, in onshore and offshore internment camps.

02 February, 2007

Looking For Brisbane

I needed to know the latitude of Brisbane, Australia today (as one does) and discovered that finding it was not so simple. My first shot was to type ‘latitude Brisbane’ into Google. This brought up lots of relevant sites – but they all gave different figures. Here is a selection:

And so on and so on.

It seems that this is not an uncommon problem but, like others, I am astounded at the magnitude of it.

Since each minute of latitude or longitude is about 1.85 kilometres on the Earth’s surface and we have a latitudinal spread of 7 minutes and a longitudinal spread of 8 minutes, this means the location of Brisbane is somewhere in a box measuring 13 by almost 15 kilometres! Since the entire Brisbane CBD will fit into two square kilometres, this is an enormous error margin. You could get 97 Brisbane CBDs in a box this big! Surely, in this age of GPS receivers, someone could go and stand outside the Post Office and tell the world the true location of the place!

So where is Brisbane? Does anybody really know?

01 February, 2007

Meeting Germaine Greer on the Road to Damascus

Another famous person whose birthday I’ve just missed is Germaine Greer. As of two days ago, Ms Greer is 67 years old. Happy birthday Germaine.

It was writing about Jane Fonda and Lewis Carroll that got me thinking about Greer. By the usual subterranean mental processes, I moved from the topic of “Australia Day”, via the recollection of 1970s radical females, to Greer’s comment that the Australian people are like the English working class with money. (Sorry but I can’t find a source for that. You’ll just have to trust me.) Having lived with the English working class for the first 20 years of my life and with Australians for the last 10, I’d say she was pretty spot on with that one. I think the things that really give it away are the fanatical obsession Australians have with sports, gambling and drinking; also their racism, sexism and an extremely strong anti-intellectualism. Just like the English working class. All of these things go from the very top to the very bottom of Australian society (i.e. from the workers all the way down to the thugs with money who run the country).

This doesn’t especially bother me. It’s like going back to my roots – but with money. (Actually, the politicians do bother me. I can’t get used to the idea that the kind of people I’d see at the local ‘working men’s club’ on my council estate back in Hull, are actually running the country here.) However, Greer seems to have disliked it quite a lot. Once she left Australia at the age of 25, she never did come back. What’s more, after her recent comments on the late Steve Irwin – who would now be Saint Steve if the locals had anything to do with it – she probably wouldn’t be welcome at too many barbies around here.

But I remember reading The Female Eunuch back in 1970 and the epiphany it brought on. In the sexist, misogynist, patriarchal, English working class culture in which I lived, that book might as well have come from Mars as from Warwick (where Greer was working). The ideas it contained were new and surprising – not at all the kind of thing I was used to. A veil was lifted. It set me thinking along paths that quite literally changed my life. I’m not saying I would never have noticed all that oppression going on without The Female Eunuch but I’m pretty sure it opened my eyes a lot sooner than would otherwise have been the case.

People often comment on Greer’s ranting tone, that she likes to shock people for the publicity, and that she doesn’t have good evidence for much of what she says. This may all be true but the fact remains that when I first read what she had to say, it resonated with what I was seeing in the word around me. And so much of what she has said since keeps on ringing true.

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