Thursday, 17 January 2008

How do you shit me, ABC? Let me count the ways.

Under the headline "New hearing test available over the phone", ABC News Online reports on a 24hour toll-free phone number that people can ring to take a hearing test in the privacy and cost-effectiveness of their own home, thanks to Australian Hearing.

But there's one massive flaw in the article, and I've griped about this before:

No URL to more information. No indication what the phone number is. No Link to Australian Hearing. Nothing.

For fuck's sake, are you trying to inform people or infuriate them?

For the sake of the intrigued: Australian Hearing is, and the phone number for the test is 1800 826 500. There now, that wasn't so difficult, was it?

This explains Barbi's proportions, then.

Oh, dear me. Over the past few years we've heard about how there is a mathematical formula for the perfect arse, how hip-waist-shoulder proportions have a precise best figure, and I'm pretty sure there was something about firm breasts being desirable because they're a sign of youth, not because men are obsessed with big knockers.

And now: Legs slightly longer than average are more attractive. This one, I have to say, doesn't really surprise me, although that may just be predilections, of course.

Do the Darwin Awards apply to soldiers? For being soldiers?

Oh, oh, oh, if only this turns out to be true!

Natural selection through military service.

If you can't climb stairs without needing help, why are you driving?

I can't say this enough: driving is a high-performance physical and mental exercise that requires your full concentration, and starts getting dangerous as soon as you're distracted or off your peak. Failing to recognise this is a primary cause of accidents.

And now this: Being obese can impair your performance sufficiently to make you a risk on the roads. In fact, the strongest predictor of crashing for younger drivers was body-mass index, along with regular consumption of alcohol (but not necessarily being pissed at the time). Not speed, but lard. Not the people who drink while driving, but the people who scarf hamburgers while driving.

Ironic, isn't it? The people most likely to jump in the car to go down to the corner shop for milk instead of walking are the people who are most dangerous while doing so.

Sum ergo cogito would like to remind people to pay attention to the road!!!

Out of the mouths of political cartoonists.

For all those who still needed convincing that our current legal systems just plain flat out don't work as deterrents for the majority, here's why.

Why don't diners get to pick their live chicken the way they pick their live lobster?

I don't like Jamie Oliver. He's a prat, basically. And while I recognise that it's my problem that his personality makes me want to fling something at the TV screen, I can't get over that and I'll continue to not like him as much as, say, Posh Nosh. Or the Hairy Bikers.

But this I have to applaud. After getting a licence to slaughter animals, the chubby combi-driving one slaughtered a live chicken on air in order to point out to people where their meat comes from, and that it's been produced in unacceptable conditions.

I enjoy meat, and particularly chicken, and I've resolved my guilt over causing other animals to die for my gratification, but I hate other animals being forced to suffer first. So good on you, Jamie.

This was pointed out by highly informative neurosciences blogger Jonah Lehrer of The Frontal Cortex, whose book I am going to have to buy sometime.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

How to know your brain is frazzling...

The only lolcat picture that ever made me laugh spontaneously. (Warning! Mythbusters knowledge required!)

Oh, except for the ones about the cat in that nursing home who predicted who would die next. Some of those were quite good.

First, engage brain. THEN type.

This had me scratching my head in baffled disbelief. Normally, I like ABC journalism. But some people just have to stray over the line and confuse everybody. This is what popped up in my RSS feeds this morning:

Under the title "Australia needs super-fast broadband: Expert" was the sentence:

"Imagine looking at a video clip on YouTube at a speed 3,000 times faster than what you can currently get."

I'm sorry? Watching a video at 3,000 times faster would make a real hash of the image and the sound would probably be above the hearing range of a bat. The opening paragraph actually goes on to talk about no more waiting for it to download (not a problem for me even on a 512k plan, incidentally), or grainy images or dropped frames.

But come on.

Incidentally, considering the whole discussion about fast broadband: Telstra currently offers ADSL, which goes up to (if you're prepared to sell your kidneys to pay for it) about 8Mbps. Optus, however, are rolling out ADSL2+ which is available for the heady speed of 20Mbps (through Optus or anyone else, who re-sell the service), but only if you live in about 2% of the geography of Australia. I, living on the outskirts of Brisbane instead of actually in Brisbane, cannot get this service. The university-to-university link being described in that article has a theoretical (please note that all network speeds have both a theoretical maximum speed and an actual speed, and they're not usually all that friendly with each other) of 1Gbps, or 1000Mbps. A decent jump indeed.

I have scratched my head in other conversations about why it is that Optus and not our so-called national telco and infrastructure-owner Telstra are the first with ADSL2+, and can only assume that Telstra got so worked up about rolling out the world's fastest mobile network (thanks to Ericsson, who supplied all the hardware) that they forgot about the wired Internet. Easy to do, after all, when your mobile data plan is on an account billed to the taxpayer.

As an addendum to this faintly amusing story, I checked the ADSL and ADSL2+ speeds by going to, my current and perhaps not-much-longer service provider, going to their Internet plans page and typing my post code into their "What speed can I get?" box. I did this because I know that they helpfully tell you what the result actually means, unlike some people I could mention.

What I actually got was: "Sorry, broadband is not available on that phone line." WTF? I am fucking using broadband on that phone line! Provided by you!

Gee, I'm glad I didn't do that before I started using ADSL nearly two years ago! I had in actual fact only jumped into broadband, not expecting much service out our way, after our neighbours got it working. See? I'm not a special case, and AAPT are full of shit.

Or rather: Australia Post are head-scratchingly ludicrous. My post-code is 4306. Which I thought was a reasonably small region on the north of Ipswich (4305). But no. It extends west and south of Ipswich, and up north past both dams and finishes north of Esk. You have got to be joking. No wonder a dumb database lookup got confused. There are probably fifteen different telephone exchanges in that one area.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Flash off and die

I dislike flash at the best of times. Although a very powerful technology for designing interactive websites, and product demonstrations for technology manufacturers, and does a great job for YouTube, it's usually used as a replacement for a keen sense of design, and a clever and informed use of powerful static elements.

But what really annoys me is the time it can take for Flash on a website to load, particularly when the website is Flash. Which it almost invariably doesn't need to be.

Here's a tip for all website designers out there: If you need to load a large Flash file in order for people to use your website, and you need to put up a notice saying "There's a lot to load, but it's worth the wait!" while this happens then you, sir (or madam), are an insensitive, incompetent, fashion-slave prick who should have been strangled at birth and you have failed as a website designer.

When can build an entire website in Flash in order to demonstrate a new interface paradigm, complete with exercises and documentation, and it takes less time to load than the front page of a website that could get by with nothing more obnoxious than an iframe because all it does is show information about mobile phones, you have cocked up enormously and need to be fed to distempered giant salmon with frigging laser beams on their heads.

Fuck off back to the lagoon you crawled out of, and may Rawhide And Bloody Bones find out where you live and eat your genitals.

And if anyone wants to complain that you can't do anything really cool without Flash because HTML is so limiting, all I have to say is: Your father was an orang-utan and your mother spent most of her life up against a wall with sailors, and you are as wrong as you can be.

I love ambiguous legal terminology

"The moral right of the author has been asserted". Presumably, this means that the author believes in women in the kitchen, fuzzy wuzzies in the jungle and God in his heaven.

Or is that political right?

Ignorance is not only potentially fatal, but highly annoying as well.

One of my recent pet peeves is that adults are let out into the big, wide, scary and manipulative and deceiptful world without the necessary cognitive skills to cope, resulting in pyramid schemes, Nigerian email scams and alternative medicine. Part two of this peeve is that a basic education in evaluating science would go a long way to fixing this, by teaching people about logical fallacies, thinking skills, burdens of evidence, signal-to-noise issues, etc. I am particularly annoyed that my own education didn't do a particularly good job at any of that, until it became my fault when I didn't pay enough attention to the boring bits in my Psychology degree (whoops).

Plus, along with the protective cognitive skills that a good education in the scientific method (or even just plain logic) would give, there is this:

Although not universally seen, education seems to help in a number of situations. Once people learn more about a subject, they begin to develop a grasp of how much they do not know." - The Arrogance of Ignorance.

Amen, brother. However, you need to learn a little more than just a little as Alexander Pope remarked:

A little learning is a dangerous thing ;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring :
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts ;
While from the bounded level of our mind
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind,
But, more advanced, behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise !
So pleased at first the towering Alps we try,
Mount o’er the vales, and seem to tread the sky ;
The eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last ;
But those attained, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of the lengthened way ;
The increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes,
Hill peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise !

As someone who hungers for a little knowledge about everything and impulsively dives into anything (evolutionary biology, most lately, thank you Dawkins), I am reminded, regularly, of just how much I don't know, and how shallow my knowledge can be. Luckily, I'm so used to this that it's not often I get into the trap of thinking that the knowledge I have gives me the intuition to figure out the knowledge I don't have. Not often.

I offer this comment for all those who think that they've spotted something obvious about medical procedures, or alternative therapies, or whatever: Some people have spent their lives studying this, and they're still arguing about. You'd better be prepared to defend yourself if you so much as think about wading into battle with them.

"If sir doesn't like it, I can bring sir a more expensive bottle" (a very excellent blog to track if you're at all interested in psychology or neurology) has posted an unsurprising but still faintly depressing report of a study into one of the finer things in life: Wine tasting. And it turns out (this is the unsurprising part) that people who pay more, enjoy more. A placebo effect for the palate.

The basis of the experiment was that volunteers were asked to taste five different, individually priced wines. Except that there were only three different wines, and two of them were tasted twice with widely different prices - $10 or $90. And guess what? They preferred the more expensive one! Which begs the question: Is Penfolds Grange Hermitage really ever tasted blind? Or is the $400/bottle price responsible for its ranking as the world's best red?

What fascinates me most, however, is the reason: Increased activity in those regions of the brain responsible for regulating emotions. So in other words the experience of taste was identical between the different-priced versions of the same plonk. But the experience of the experience differed.

Ah, emotions. They'll get you every time.

This does not, however, explain why restaurants charge so much for wine. That's a desperate attempt to make enough money to stay open.

Yes, I know, I'm sick. Deal with it.

Awwww, they're so cute.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Please make sure your answers use scripture, not logic

This is actually really scary.

You can make all the jokes you like about fundamentalist Christians, and flat-earthers, and red-neck, white-trash hicks from the caravan park, but the truly scary thing is that they're not all trailor trash, some of them can string coherent sentences together and they have raised self-blinding ignorance and targeted idiocy to an artform that would be fascinating to watch if it weren't for the blood-curdling thought that they're really out there!

Shifty spin-doctor speak for dummies

This from an email newsletter from a recently re-elected Liberal senator from Queensland, while talking about the last federal election where her party got spanked:

"It would be very foolish not to acknowledge the broadside aimed at our Government in the recent election: Work Choices was unpopular; we weren’t seen as properly acknowledging the challenges of Climate Change; and some aspects of welfare reform were not communicated well."

What the fuck?? "not communicated well"? What, in the name of Satan's Pit Bull Terrier, is that supposed to mean? She's okay saying "unpopular", tries to pull a fast one with "not seen as properly acknowledging the challenges of Climate Change" but then "not communicated well". How slimy is that? She could have admitted that some aspects of welfare reform were, also, unpopular. But apparently the reforms were fine, they just didn't sell them well enough!

Incidentally, I don't remember there being an opinion poll attached to the ballot paper. All of this is still speculation. Well founded speculation in parts, but still just speculation.

Hello Cthulhu!

Awww, isn't he cute?

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