Friday, 20 June 2008

Oooooh.... Pretty.....

I love optical illusions, but I'm a bit sick of the "which line is longest" and "hey cool, it looks like it's spinning!" ones.

I have just stumbled across (cheers, Gizmodo) a hole new class of coolness. Most 3D illusions rely upon feeding each eye a different image, through colour filters or one feed direct to each eye through lenses, or something like this. These images demonstrates that it's possible to get a 3D effect by throwing the two images at both eyes, but alternating them and confusing the brain into thinking that it's seeing an object with depth.

Joshua Heineman
( has simply taken the photo sets used in old stereogram goggles and built an animation which rapidly flicks between the images. The technique is not unique or even particularly new, but I think there needs to be more of it.

Unfortunately, the migraine you're liable to get while watching this would make the creation of a full 3D movie out of the question.

Apparently, I live in a textual world

Interesting revelation. Where "interesting" has a value somewhere between "so what?" and "now that says a lot about personal usage patterns and deserves investigating!" depending upon whether you work for Nokia or don't even know who they are.

I have just gone to pay my monthly mobile bill and, as is my habit, downloaded the complete usage pattern for that month so that I could throw it into a spreadsheet and see if I'm actually getting value (I know, I'm a geek).

This is the interesting part: There were four voice calls listed. Just four. A couple of Retrieve Voicemail, a few Deliver Voicemail (which I don't get charged for anyway, so I don't know why they were there), but the rest were TXT or PKT, which is "packet data" - mobile internet. I just don't call people from mobile. If I'm at home I use the landline, if I need to contact someone with a mobile I send a text in case they're busy or driving or something.

The "phone" part of "mobile phone" really is getting subsumed in the "portable computer that does really cool stuff" part.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Vrrrrrooooommm! (Edited for silly mistake)

I have been known, in the past, to comment that I demand my mobiles, from now henceforth, to have 3G and, since it's available, there's no excuse to not use HSDPA, aka 3.5G. But I hadn't really appreciated just how good that can be.

Ironically (or not), I avoid using mobile Internet where possible, due to the cost of the thing and Vodafone's reactionary, out-of-touch, idiotic, backwards, insulting practice of charging for modern-day data usage in 5-minute blocks, not data downloaded.

But, I am paying for $350 worth of credit every month and calls and texts don't break into tripple figures, so what the hell... And I downloaded the ShoZu client (I won't link, the home page is far too gaggingly bright and chirpy for me to send any more random clicks their way) and it was a nearly 1MB download, and Sweet Yeti of the Serengeti, that's fast!

I was expecting to put the phone down and pick it up some time later, and instead I got zoom-zoom! Done, thank you for playing!

It seems that we really do have V12 mobile Internet, and this is only the measly HSDPAv1 version, not the HSDPAv2 6.0HE version!

(P.S.: I leave all the television and automobile references as an exercise to the reader :) )

Over the fence and far away, you pale bastard

(Posted from Blogger in Draft, just to see what will happen)

I used to rather like the phrase "Beyond the pale". It has a nice ring to it. It nicely encompasses an iambic rhythm and an expression of moderately stern disapproval.

Now, I'm not so sure. While typing up my last post, I did a spot of googling to check that it wasn't actually "beyond the pail", and found the Wikipedia entry for the single word pale.

I quote:

"The word pale derives ultimately from the Latin word palus, meaning stake. (Palisade and impale are derived from the same root.) In this case it literally refers to a stake (or pole) that forms part of a protective fence around a settlement. From this came the figurative meaning of 'boundary', and the concept of a pale as an area within which local laws were valid.[2]
The phrase "beyond the pale", meaning to go beyond the limits of law or decency, was in use by the mid-17th century. The phrase is possibly a reference to the general sense of boundary, not to any of the particular pales that bore that name,[3] although in the Atlantic Isles it is popularly understood to be a reference to the Pale in Ireland. To 'Go Beyond the Pale' in that context is to leave the civilized (English) world behind and enter the uncivilized (Irish) world. It therefore has strong racist anti-Irish overtones."


"Are you SURE you're human?" "Yes, now give me your credit card number"

Captchas. They're those "Enter the characters in the box below" tests that websites use to try and ensure that people registering are actually people and not robots. Apart from making life hell for the visually impaired, they tend to make life hell for the visually fine as well. In order to bypass Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, the characters in the image file are usually distorted and have lines drawn through them to such an extent that it becomes more a matter of guessing than reading.

Admittedly, there have been some cool captcha systems, particularly the one which presents two scanned words from Project Gutenberg texts, the first of which is known to the computer and the second of which isn't. You enter both and the first is used to verify your (alleged) humanity while the second is sent off to the servers as an identified word. Sort of a massively slow and distributed OCR system.

But I have never before seen the system used by Shozu (if you can't work out what Shozu is for, don't worry - you don't need to know). First, you have to identify the symbols (not alphanumeric characters, symbols) and then you have to convert the symbols to alphanumerics using the key provided, and enter those characters.

I'm pretty sure that this is beyond the pale.

Your daily Windows FUCK OFF AND DIE

Network storage. Generally speaking, a Good Thing when you have multiple computers and want easy backups and even collaboration and centralised repositories.

Synchronised folders. Generally speaking, a Useful Thing for people who have to switch between computers that aren't (always) on the same network.

I have no problem with this. I have a long and merry history of keeping repositories on both my old Sharp Zaurus SL-5500 and my computer, and running unison to keep them in sync.

But the really, really important thing about that arrangement was that unison worked and, just as importantly, it was a clear and plain "I have two repositories, I synchronise them when I need to" arrangement. And with unison, which is intelligent enough to work bi-directionally, I don't even need to remember where I last did what provided I run it before I do anything (sorry about the syntax there...)

Now look at this arrangement: My workstation at work is hooked in to the local network via WiFi, there not being enough ethernet ports in the walls. And despite the fact that the computer is brand new it doesn't have a WiFi chip built-in and has a USB WiFi adapter, on the end of a USB extension lead and velcroed on to the top of the case. This gives me so much confidence...

The problem here is that the connection to the server is not reliable. Whether because of actual hiccoughs or because windows puts the connection to sleep when it doesn't do anything for 273 seconds, it occasionally falls over.

Even more entertainingly, it automatically switches from saving documents to the server, to saving them locally. And you might spot a tiny notification saying that this is okay, everything will be synchronised when you next have a connection (which shouldn't have fucking fallen over anyway), or you might spot the changed icon in the systray telling you basically the same thing. But if you don't, you may never realise that anything has happened. And you will most definitely have to kick synchronising into gear when you have a connection - it's not transparent - and you have to do this before talking to any part of the server and that means closing everything and faffing around over a process which, I humbly submit, I should not. Have. To. Do. Particularly not several times a day on a desktop computer!

And today I got given a message that there were Differences between the one on the server and the one I was working on (how?) and had to faff around with selecting which version I wanted to keep.

This is broken. Broken, and may possibly provoke an enraged, berserk knifing rampage.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Justice? Be damned!

Normally, I wouldn't even bother commenting if a couple of idiots racing each other on public roads killed another road user. It's not particularly novel, although the response from members of the public or parliament can usually be relied upon to be at least mildly risible.

So take it as an indication of how hard-done-by motorcyclists feel that I can't help myself expressing joy that the law has belted these dickheads so hard, even in the face of my views on the usefulness of jail.

Jail for death drivers who wiped out a motorcyclist. And please note that although only one car hit the bike, both drivers get the same punishment.

You don't have to be mad to be in here, but just try proving you're not!

One of the biggest problems facing psychiatry and related fields is, IMHO, the lack of definitive diagnostic tests. You can't take an X-Ray photo of someone's frontal cortex and say "Ah! Your self-control modulator is broken! You've got ADHD!" Although you can use an fMRI to record activity in someone's hypothalamus, you can't use that to diagnose depression. You can't draw off cerebro-spinal fluid and analyse it for schizophrenia, which in a way is lucky because a lumbar puncture really hurts.

These conditions, these disorders or illnesses, are behavioural and that means that diagnosis is behavioural. In fact, with increasing knowledge of behavioural effects of brain injury through trauma, illness, poisoning usw., the number of things which do cause behavioural changes has grown to the point where psychiatry has almost painted itself into a corner, all but declaring that if there's a reason for it, it's not a mental illness. I'm not joking here. After working with acquired bran injury for two years, where the co-morbidity of mental illness is conservatively estimated at 40%, I was driven almost to the point of apoplectic rage whenever a worker in a mental health facility said "Oh, that's a brain injury, that's not mental illness". Never mind if the mental illness existed before the injury or the symptoms didn't present for the first decade afterwards.

But I digress - that's a different rant.

Psychiatry has two big problems, and one is that at no point is it ever possible to find the one cause of a complaint, give it a treatment, and hey presto! Case solved! Now it's just a matter of keeping up treatment until either the cause or the patient has been dealt with! Treatment is, 9 times out of every 10, for life.

Problem two is quite simply one of simple diagnosis - one clinician's "Schizoaffective disorder" might be another's "Paranoid Schizophrenia with suspected substance abuse". Treatment is all too often a matter of seeing what works, and with psychiatric medications, where it may take weeks to build up to potency and weeks to taper off, this can be a long, slow, tedious and painful process.

More importantly, confusion over diagnosis can mean that presentation has far too great a part to play in swaying the clinician's mind. It can mean that reported history can be weighted far too highly. It can mean that inexperienced or over-confident clinicians can be conned by intelligent or simply highly manipulative patients who know how to play the game (read: Pretty much anyone with a personality disorder).

And once someone gets labelled, how hard can it be for the label to be changed?

Many years ago, while at Uni, I heard about a study where people with a clean bill of mental health were inserted into psychiatric hospitals to see how quickly they'd be released.

Now, The Lay Scientist has done an excellent write up of that very experiment, here.

My jaundiced take on it is: Being in a mental health ward means that you obviously have a mental health problem, so therefore you have a mental health problem. Out of 8 volunteers, the quickest exit was 7 days, the slowest an incredible 52 days, and all of them were given a diagnosis upon exit of "Schizophrenia in remission", not "sane to begin with, stop wasting our time".

There are two chilling parts about this 1972 study: One is the bald facts stated above, evidence that the hospitals failed to correctly diagnose sanity (whatever that may be...). Two is the most likely reason why: The staff didn't interact with the patients. The other patients detected the fraud quite well and early on, but not only did the volunteers not have much interaction with the staff, they couldn't even get a polite and reasonable question answered! I am horrified to think of what would have happened in the mental health drop-in centre I used to work in if the staff had been that dismissive. The term "bloody murder" springs irrevocably to mind.

I'd like to think that things had changed but... I'm not too hopeful.

Anyone want to start yet another interminable debate on psychiatry being used by the government to suppress people it doesn't like?

We do things differently here.

Centrelink thinks that "adult" begins at 16, not the actual legal age of responsibility (which is 18, for those who are not either Australian or keeping up).

Centrelink doesn't accept the authority given to Justices of the Peace to certify photocopies.

Centrelink thinks that it is possible to maintain privacy standards in an open-plan office.

Centrelink are supposed to be a "one-stop shop" for a range of Government services, which would imply that they're expected to be either consistent with everyone else, or setting the standards.

We're all doomed.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Apparently, travelling a long way costs more.

To quote:

"A new report has found a lack of public transport in Sydney's outer suburbs has led to homeowners suffering more under high fuel prices than their inner city counterparts." (ABC News).

I shall leave as an exercise for the reader the moment of "Huh?" implicit in the fact that this study needed to be done at all.

I, being a fringe dweller, am too busy laughing bitterly.

Search This Blog