Thursday, 3 May 2007

Do Not Call Register

This is funny:

This morning I got into work at 8:00-ish, logged onto email and Google Reader to get my morning news fix (hey, I have work-related feeds!) and found this little gem. Australia will finally get an operational, Federally managed Do Not Call Register to defend against Telemarketers. What kept you?? Yes, there have been private numbers (not always a defence, trust me on this) and an industry voluntary do-not-call register (not every company is a member), but what kept you??

But notice something about that article: No contact information. At all. Okay, so from today you can sign up. How???

So I googled. And found a result for a page on the website of the federal Department for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Which didn't respond. I think it's been slashdotted by an overwhelming response.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

What I want from a mobile phone

We have finally reached the point where a mobile phone can replace a laptop. No, really, I mean it. It's now possible. Honest.

3G telecommunications technologies including HSDPA and EDGE make mobile broadband finally worthy of the name. Windows Mobile might actually be worth buying (and I say that with great reluctance), Symbian continues to evolve and Motorola is cautiously selling phone-PDAs running a Linux system. J2ME turns mobiles with a non-sophisticated OS into platforms almost as powerful. On my mobile I have Opera Mini, GMail, Google Earth (I'm not kidding), a very swish ebook reader and I would have a J2ME application to synchronise my calendar with my Google Calendar, but I can't install it because it complains about security certificates. Which I can't update. Bad Samsung, bad!

So this is my list of what my next mobile will contain. Most of it is already available for the same price I paid for my current non-PDA phone less than six months ago, although not all at once:

A proper PDA OS. This can be one designed for a mobile, or adapted for a mobile, I don't care. If I'm going to put this much thought into this useful a device, I don't want to try and cobble all the extra functionality on using J2ME, as good as that is. I am willing to consider (shudder) Windows Mobile, but if it comes to a tie I will buy Symbian on the strength of being Symbian, and descended from my favourite PDA company, Psion.

Broadband networking. This is a no-brainer: If it can't access, through whatever carrier I will be using, really fast downloads, there's no point in having most of the rest.

WiFi. I have, sitting at home, a wireless broadband router that services my partner's laptop very well from anywhere in the house (as the house is a 19th-Century Queenslander with thin wooden walls, this is not surprising). I also, at home, have basically no mobile reception and certainly not enough to be able to download any data more complicated than a scratchy voice signal. I want to be able to connect to the Internet via the broadband landline connection I'm already paying for, and check email or download ebooks or find out movie times without paying my mobile carrier for the privilege and without worrying about the signal dropping out halfway through. The ability to use Google Docs properly will also make this essential. I am baffled as to why
Sony-Ericsson's intriguing but ultimately incomplete M600i lacks WiFi and believe everyone else is as well.

The ability to use Google Docs through whatever the built-in browser is.

Which will preferably be Opera.
I use Opera on my current phone even when I know that it has to exit and hand over functionality to the built-in Access Netwave browser to download files. It's just better.

Touchscreen.This much power almost requires a touchscreen to be useful. Scrolling through complicated web pages a link at a time will convince you of this if nothing else will. Admittedly, Opera has got this half-sorted. I still want a touchscreen.

A QWERTY keyboard. There are three hundred different ways of doing this, some of them hideously ugly and inconvenient-looking, but consensus seems to be settling on tiny keys in a classic candy-bar one-piece layout, with a phone that doesn't even have to be much wider than the one I've got now, or a slide-out or fold-out landscape-mode wider keyboard which may or may not be easier to use. I've written large tracts of text on a Psion Revo QWERTY keyboard that people with small hands can touch-type on (I have seen this happen) and even on the distinctly thumb-only keyboard of my Sharp Zaurus SL-5500, which is not much bigger, and certainly no wider, than current offerings from Palm and Blackberry. At this point, I'm willing to consider options. I don't want the Blackberry Pearl system of two letters per key and predictive software to guess which letter I meant. If I'm going to do that, I'll just use T9 on a conventional number pad. I'm prepared to consider the two letters per rocker key arrangement on the M600i (it at least shows ingenuity)
, but not on that phone as it currently stands.

Hardware number and navigation keys. PDA-style phones that have a huge touch-screen and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard are all very well and good, but I want to be able to use it like a mobile. It's convenient, it works, it can be done one-handed.

The ability to slip into my pocket. This is difficult to reconcile with the above, and with a screen wide enough to comfortably display things like Google Docs: Witness current high-end Blackberries and Nokia's non-fold QWERTY phones. But the only people who need to hang things off their belts are soldiers, police officers, tradesmen and executives with defensive, gadget-based self-esteems. I will also accept iPod users who need to have the controls and earpiece cord easily accessible. If the mobile needs to use tricky engineering to make the keyboard fold out, good. If that makes it thicker than my wallet, bad. I would live with using a jacket pocket but I live in Brisbane and wearing a jacket is, to say the least, unusual. This is another reason I'm annoyed at how incomplete the M600i is, and why the drool-inducingly potent P990i just won't, much as it pains me to say this, cut it for me.

SyncML/OpenML. I'm serious. This is an industry-standard, open synchronisation framework which allowed me to not only back up my previous Sony-Ericsson T630 to my Linux desktop, but manipulate it and send SMS message from the computer as well. When that phone died it did so at such short notice that I didn't have time to examine my options as closely as I would have liked and didn't check this on my ultimate replacement, the otherwise extremely nice Samsung A701, assuming that it would be installed. Big mistake. No SyncML, no sale.

Once upon a time I scoffed at this, but the convenience value of having it available means that you may as well. Strike two against the M600i.

Media player.
My current phone serves me well for MP3s, given how little I feel the need to listen to them (and, working on the phone for a large portion of the day, the time). I'm not even sure if it's possible to buy a phone that can't, these days.

JSR75. This is only if the phone has J2ME installed (which is also almost a given). JSR75 is a package of optional functionality for J2ME which includes file-system access, PIM apps access and camera access. On my mobile it's there (sort of) but, well, buggy. I don't feel like using a great technology if it's been crippled by leaving stuff out.

GPS. Well, why not? This is optional, but nice. I can already use Google Earth, why not a proper GPS system? Nokia (among others) will already sell you a phone that will do this, and eagle-eyed watchers of the recent Casino Royale will have noticed Daniel Craig getting directions from his product-placed Sony-Ericsson. Pity he took his eyes off the road to do it. (N.B.: The M600i I keep mentioning was the white phone used by Vesper Lynd).

So what do I like? I like what Palm have done with modifying Windows Mobile, I like the M600i if only it had better navigation controls, a camera, WiFi and I could use the keypad. I'm also interested in the Samsung Blackjack but, after how much my current Samsung annoys me with its incompleteness, I may not be in the mood to give them a second chance.

That's a disturbingly short list at the moment. On the other hand, each of my previous phones have lasted me two years, so I've still got a year and a half for the marketplace to improve. As a bonus the M600i is now selling for less than I paid for my current merely clever phone, although the Samsung Blackjack only barely tiptoes under the four-figure mark. I've got another year. I'm confident.

Monday, 30 April 2007

Water Recycling

There's something I have yet to understand about the water recycling debate, something which highlights in a way that more mundane matters can't the absurd lengths to which the human mind is capable of going in selective perception and self-deception.

The "ew, gross!" factor.

Drinking recycled sewerage? Ew, gross!

Let's think about this for a minute: Where does your tap water come from? From a dam. With a thriving ecosystem in it, consisting of plants, microorganisms flaural, faunal, bacterial and viral, and fish and smaller animals which eat, defecate and breed well enough to keep fishermen happy. That water then flows, sometimes directly and sometimes via a river, into the mouth of a pumping station which carries it off to a treatment plant which, when it's done with the water, pumps it off towards your home.

Now let's consider where sewerage goes. From your house it gets pumped (or flows, or oozes) to the sewerage treatment plant which, after doing somewhere between the bare minimum of filtration and drinking-quality treatment, pumps it by a more or less roundabout route into the sea. Where it mixes with the water that's already there. Then evaporates, into clouds. Then falls as rain, onto land, where it flows into the dams that release their water into the treatment plant which sends it to your kitchen tap.

There is, short of a large-scale application of simple physical chemistry, no such thing as water that hasn't been recycled. It just takes longer if you don't think about it too much and let nature do most of the treatment for you.

Or, in the case of large parts of Australia at the moment, it doesn't happen at all. Which is why we are attempting to short-cut the whole sewerage-sea-evaporation-clouds-rain cycle by desalinating seawater and purifying waste water. Which will, in either case, get pumped into the dam where it gets to sit, being part of a thriving ecosystem, until it gets pumped into the treatment plant...

You're drinking recycled sewerage already. Deal with it. All that a waste-water treatment plant is doing is testing the rainfall before it goes into the dam.

What's this pretentious wank of a title then?

Renee Descartes was both a drunken fart (according to Eric Idle, anyway) and a Christian philosopher. I don't have the time (or, to be perfectly frank, the comprehension) to go into why his Christianity was such a core part of his philosophy of dualism, but my rejection of it may become apparent.

Descarte's philosophy of dualism - the mind and the body are distinct, the brain and mind separate - has become a core belief of Western life, to the extent that the medical model of mental health had a hard time convincing people that biology might have anything to do with behaviour - witness the early success of Freud, whose psychoanalysis relied upon biology being, at least, irrelevant (sadly, when the medical model did triumph it forgot about the mind in its focus on the brain, and keeps putting pills into people whose life is going to continue to suck no matter how happy they become about it).

I have studied psychology but, more importantly, I work with people who have acquired neurological damage - a brain injury. And I have this to say about Cartesian Dualism: It's a load of bollocks. If alcohol does not convince you that the brain and the mind are inseparable, then the survivor of a bad stroke will.

I have therefore rearranged the full version of Descarte's famous quote "Dubito ergo cogito; cogito ergo sum", which translates as "I doubt, therefore I think; I think, therefore I am" into a dictum I can accept: "Sum ergo cogito; cogito ergo dubito" - I am, therefore I think; I think, therefore I doubt. To be human is to think. To think is to doubt - otherwise you're just parroting what you're told, and that's not thought at all.

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