Wednesday, 14 May 2008

A word about that Scarlet 'A' on the left.

It's the certified Richard Dawkins label of Say It Loud, Say It Proud Atheism.

For those who are reading this in a feed reader and can't see it, here it is again:

A is for AtheistNow, my attitude towards protestations of atheism is similar to that expressed by Douglas Adams (I hope I'm not misinterpreting him here) who, in an interview with American Atheist magazine, answered several questions in a baffled sort of way with answers along the lines of "That question isn't really relevant... It's just not important in England. Maybe it's because I only know atheists, but it's just not something that people care about..." In addition, although I have deeply negative thoughts about the brain-washing, progress-denying, crusade-promoting, deeply sexist and anti-thought organised religions we're expected to subsidise and share our society with, I really couldn't care about someone's personal beliefs or sense of spiritualism provided they don't cross the line into trying to make me care, through personal interaction or public policy.

Unfortunately, like Richard Dawkins I have been confronted with so much religion-sponsored idiocy that it's really starting to piss me off and I return to the violent rejection of religion that I used to entertain, then grew out of, then began pondering again, and now can't seem to be able to avoid.

I am therefore, despite hating the idea that it should be necessary for atheists - a group which should be identified only by not belonging to a group - to identify themselves, letting visitors to this blog know that I believe in critical thought and not the tooth fairy.

Motorbike technology: Pretty much anything can be bolted on.

Technology in motorbikes is not so much going ahead in leaps and bounds as completely running amok. It took ages for fuel injection to find its way onto two wheels, helped by the fact that it's insanely difficult to get injection to work on a two-stroke, and it took ABS even longer. But all of a sudden you can get ABS on budget bikes (Suzuki even lifted the ABS system on the Bandit from a fucking scooter, ferchrissakes) and now racing is working the kinks out of traction control.

And the cool part, the really cool part is that so much is available aftermarket, so that even if you can't afford a new BMW you can still slowly add the rest of it (not linkage forks, that would take some serious modding) as the budget allows. Including all sorts of luggage at way lower prices than Genuine and heated hand grips.

And now you can plug in traction control (story courtesy Hell For Leather Magazine). Now, I am of the opinion that if you need ABS you need to learn to a.) brake properly and b.) ride with more awareness and paranoia, and if you need traction control on the road you need to a.) learn to ride properly and b.) trade in for a more useful bike. But, to give them their due, Bazzazz Performance (I don't want to know where that name came from, I really don't) are selling this as race-track only. Yeah, right. This one works on limiting rev increases in each gear, avoiding the need for wheel sensors, so it's a pretty cool example of lateral thinking as well.

My absolute all-time favourite add-on, however, is a set of replacement tyre valves that not only have a right-angle bend in them (so that you can actually get at them with service station air hoses) but which are wireless temperature and pressure sensors. The unit which bolts onto your handlebars will tell you data for both tyres, flash warning lights at you if either one drops below preset limits, flash warning lights at you if the temperature drops below 3 degrees (very European thing this - warns you of potential ice on the road) and, because they're temperature sensors as well, tell sportsbike riders when their tyres are actually working properly! All this for less than $400, the batteries in the valves last for 3 years and I'd give you the website of particular brand I prefer if they had a decent presence on Google.

Question: At what point does adding on aftermarket extras leave you with a.) not enough space around the engine for proper cooling and b.) start to weigh so much that it slows you down?

God can't take credit for people falling in love, either

Albert Einstein, born Jewish (and offered the position of second president of Israel - what the fuck?) and known as much for being a kindly old man who said things like "Gravity can not be held responsible for people falling in love" as for introducing one of the biggest and most profound paradigm shifts in modern physics, let alone the most recognisable mathematics equation ever, has also been held up by many theists for having religious beliefs, ergo God exists.

Leaving aside the collosal logical and everything else fallacy of that argument, it was flat out wrong, and wrong in a way that is not only comprehensive but in actual fact beautiful. Einstein may have produced the best description of the bible I have ever heard (apart from "I would never read that book! It's full of sex, violence and salacious gossip!"):

"The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish."

Hear, hear. Author! Author!

In 1954 he wrote a letter to philosopher Eric Gutkind (which, interestingly enough, translates as Goodchild - aren't you glad you know that?) in which he said that and a lot more, and said it eloquently and unequivocally. Story from ABC News.

In other news, the Vatican is going on more we're-still-refusing-to-accept-that-we're-outdated arse-covering by saying that God may have created aliens, and they may still be in a loving relationship with God without having committed original sin but hey, if they're not, we need to infect them with Jesus too (Also from the ABC). Oh, just give up.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Does anyone at Microsoft use their own software?

In Microsoft Word, there is an extremely handy feature to insert a Table of Contents which will generate, and re-generate, itself based upon Heading levels, provided you use the provided styles properly.


But, and there is a head-scratching but:

By default, the provided TOC is not very useful for navigating, because you will still need to find an entry within the list, then navigate by hand to the provided page number. But you can get hyperlinks, allowing you to jump directly from the TOC to any heading at all, by ticking a box which says "Use hyperlinks instead of page numbers."

Except... It still puts page numbers in the table. The difference is that the whole line is a hyperlink, instead of just the page number itself.

I am sure that, given enough thought, I could work out a use case in which this choice makes sense, and it probably has something to do with exporting to HTML (which should never, ever happen from Word) or PDF (which is okay).

But I am equally sure that, even without thinking about it any further, the interface is fecked.

Random drug-related thoughts

These will be very quick, and in response to news items from the ABC:

Conference told drinking needs to be "denormalised". Apparently, society needs to change the way it views drinking before rates of binge drinking will be diminished. Umm... well, duh! But good luck in actually doing anything.

Drug expert supports proposed new liquor changes. The changes proposed are in Western Australia and will involve locking down night-clubs two hours before closing time so that once people have left, they can't go back in. This includes, I speak from experience, stepping out the door, remembering that you've left something in the cloak room and not being able to go back in and fetch it. The expert in question is a researcher from the National Drug Institute (is it really?) at Curtin University, and he says that ... Hang on, the article is a bit confusing about what he does say. It says that he says that drinking is a bigger problem than illicit drug use (which I agree with, just by the way), and that longer and longer trading hours are associated with an increase in violence, but we're not talking about reducing trading hours, are we? Two hours before closing time is not when people decide to go out. They're already in there and hammered by that time. The comment leading the article is not supported by the quotes within said article. Strike one for quality journalism. There is, however, a lot of quoting from the Australian Hotels Association, saying that the industry will be destroyed. This seems like a slightly overblown reaction to me, but I have two questions (well, one question and a suggestion):
  • Has it worked in Queensland. We have now had this in place for, oh, I don't know, a while now. Has it worked? Has there been less violence in pubs and clubs, outside pubs and clubs, on the street? There's enough police in Fortitude Valley every night of the week that surely they will have noticed a change, and arrest records are, after all, records. Has it worked?
  • Let's consider, as an alternative, and I don't want to be snide or facetious here, but let's just consider enforcing the laws about letting inebriated people buy more alcohol. I have no wish to walk in the shoes of bar-staff and I don't know what their experience is, but if they don't feel safe or able or obliged to cut people off, then there are serious problems with training, licencing or security staffing.

Coroner finds non-sniffable petrol caused boy's death. Ah, Opal. So-called "non-sniffable" petrol, with fewer aromatic substances so that it's harder to get high and cause seriously nasty lasting neurological damage. There are a few concerns here, including: What's it doing to your car's engine? What's it doing to your fuel-economy? Does it work? Why the fuck are we inconveniencing motorists instead of addressing the social issues? But now here we have a boy who tried so hard to get high by sniffing that he suffocated himself. To death. I'm sorry, I thought that wasn't supposed to be possible. Reality check: Opal is still a form of petrol. That means that it floats on water, is highly combustible (which is the point, after all) and is a really savage solvent. When the Coroner said that promoting Opal fuels as non-sniffable is "misleading" he was probably being diplomatic.

If you're going to replace an industry standard, do it PROPERLY

Those who know me will probably appreciate that I have no time for That's What Everyone Else Uses thinking. I chose my first mobile phone on the basis of not getting a Nokia because everyone else had one. I use Linux, and at my last job I actually preferred using the free PrimoPDF PDF creator to Adobe Acrobat which I also had installed.

But I am also a big fan of using technology that works the way it's supposed to (which is, indeed, a major factor in my using Linux over Windows). I am aiming at a Nokia for my next mobile because they're looking very much like the only people who can competently make a mobile phone. I use Adobe Acrobat Reader even on my Linux machine because it is (now, finally) smoother, faster and more powerful than xpdf, evince, kpdf, etc.

And speaking of PDFs...

I can not, for the life of me, understand why anybody would choose to buy PDF software from anybody except Adobe, when you can create PDFs from any Windows program using small, efficient utilities like PrimoPDF which plug themselves into the Windows printer queue, and Acrobat Reader is a free (if annoying) download. And yet my new employer has chosen to do exactly that, going with PDF Complete, a suite that falls short of providing even Reader functionality, let along full Acrobat creation functionality. And it just plain doesn't work well enough.

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that there is no text selection functionality, a pretty useful tool when doing research, I have just tried to access a document from the Disability Services Queensland website and found that, due to layers being used to display graphics for page backgrounds, PDF Complete was unable to correctly display the text in front of the graphics. Or print it. Which made it, quite simply, useless.

If DSQ hadn't also made a Word version of the file available (which answers the baffling question of why the hell they bother doing that anyway), I would have been unable to do my job properly.

As much as I dislike large, market-dominating corporations in general and Adobe in particular (among many others), sometimes you just have to go with "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." And if the fix broke, unfix it!

There's a reason that Christians need their own bookstores to sell anything

There is a second hand books-and-everything-else shop across the road from my new work, and I finally wandered in today to have a look.

It's fantastic. it's one of these shops run by a couple of little old ladies, where there are incredibly tacky antiques, the occasional good find and stacks, I mean literally, of old books. I wandered in, lingered over the Fantasy/SF section (no Bester, no Leiber, too much Larry Niven, one ratty old copy of Lord Of The Rings), and kept on drifting. I came to the self-help etc. section (oh look, there's a copy of Dianetics! That should be in Fantasy, just let me fix that...) and found a book that claimed to present a unique theory of blended personalities and how to understand this and maximise your life.

Nothing wrong with this so far: There are numerous theories of personality or temperament, and why not another one?

So I picked it up, and flicked vaguely through it, not really intending to read anything, when I found the steaming pile of dog turd in the middle; A diagram which claimed that "there are only three basic types of personality". The three could be loosely described as Wrong 1, Wrong 2 and Good. Wrong 1 was something like "Natural Man" and was angsty and nervous. Wrong 2 was something like "Aggressive Self-Promoter" and was all pushy and unable to appreciate life. Good was...

Wait for it...

Drum-roll please...

"Christ-Controlled Christian."

Fuck off and die, you superstitious, sanctimonious hack.


This is so ludicrous that I'm having serious trouble believing it.

The position I am currently occupying at work is brand new, and limited-term funding. As a result of which, there wasn't already a desk set up to take me. I was on an old grey desk, slightly too small, nicked from somewhere else and with a brand new computer that used a USB wireless adapter because there weren't enough network sockets in the wall.

Today, my new desk finally arrived. Which meant unplugging everything, packing up, transferring, plugging everything back in...

Being a modern new computer, the keyboard and mouse plugged in through USB, and the back of the very trim little business-type computer chassis had six USB ports available. Okay, one for the wireless adapter, one for the mouse, one for the keyboard, hit the power button...

Neither the mouse nor the keyboard worked. Non-functioning USB ports? No, there were lights on both peripherals. I waited, I tried jiggling everything, I tried swearing, I tried rebooting and then, not seriously expecting a response, I tried unplugging both devices, while the computer was still running, and swapping them. Not moving them to different ports, just swapping them.

Whereupon they both merrily decided to work.

Please, please don't tell me that either Windows XP or the BIOS has been set up to save time by assuming that devices plugged into the Universal Serial Bus, the one truly agnostic computer connector into which anything can be plugged including mug warmers, microscopes and frigging laser guided missile launchers, are always plugged into the same port? Because that would be, like, really stupid and insanely annoying.

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