Friday, 18 July 2008

"I recommend a nihilism cleanse"

One of my current favourite oddball social commentary web comics is Welcome To The Future, or WTTF.

This is one of the reasons why:

I love it.

P.S.: If you can't see the whole thing, click on it.

Dear Google,

I like the new Blogger in Draft, and use it as my default dashboard. But what happened, pray tell, to the spell-check option? It's not there any more.

Yours sincerely,
Annoyed User

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

I call "I told you so": Algae are really useful

Algae a possible saviour in climate change fight (ABC News Online)

So, right away a possible very cool development in industrial science has been highcapped by the media frenzy issue du jour, but let's be charitable and look past that and examine the article.

Which lists a number of possible uses being explored for algae, including starting as sinks directly on high-CO2 industrial gases, then one or several of carbon sequestration, high-yield biomass for feedback and biofuel, fertiliser...

I call "I told you so."

I don't expect you to believe me, but I've been wondering why they haven't been doing this for, oh, years now. In fact, Isaac Asimov proposed in one or several stories that we can (need to) feed the human race using yeast engineered for appropriate and complete carbohydrates/protein etc. It's efficient because you eat everything, there's no energy lost in maturing a large animal, and the turnover is practically instantaneous.

Ever heard how phosphates in sewerage and runoff frequently cause massive algal blooms and associated problems, including de-oxygenated water killing fish? Well, why not pump the sewarage into ponds containing beneficial algae (feedback, biomass for ethanol production since we're apparently committed to it...) and use all the fucking phosphates?

In recent weeks news reached us of e-coli (the biologist's swiss-army bacterium, because we've studied it backwards by now) engineered to produce hydrocarbons, thereby short-circuiting the take-biomass-and-turn-it-into-ethanol-using-extra-industrial-processes process, also possibly producing something which is better for engines and using as fuel than ethanol is. Which is very cool. Hell, what do you think fermenting alcohol is but using bio-organisms to do our dirty work for us?

I'm all for this, really I am. And I'm excited that it's now hit mass media, instead of just the science press with the odd weird science moment hitting the news media. I'm cynical about the "ground-breaking" language used in that report but hey - I'll give them a pass this time.

Link to ABC article.
Link to Weird Science on IMDB, just because I can.

They even made it look like an Aardman design

Meet The Robotic Lawn Mowing Sheep (Geeks are Sexy), which was designed in homage to Philip K Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which was bastardised, but effectively, for Blade Runner.

I don't really think I need to add to that.

Link to Geeks are Sexy article.
Link to Blade Runner on IMDB
Link to Androids on Amazon
Link to Wallace and Gromit official site (any excuse)

I am embarrassed to be a Queenslander. Again.

I'll keep this short:

Deputy premier, Paul Lucas, has complained to Google because the brand new Tugun bypass (which, incidentally, was opened behind schedule), doesn't yet show up on Google Maps. He's trying to suggest that they're behind the times because they can't keep up on development.

Inflated sense of importance of Queensland in the grand scheme of things? Prat who doesn't understand how much work it takes to build a road database of the entire planet? Idiot who's attempting to do a bit of government promotion at the expense of an organisation which is better-run and more productive than the one he's trying to promote?

I'll just settle for "idiot".

Link to the Courier Mail article. I won't give him the pleasure of linking to his media statement.

And you thought the Pope was conservative!

Introducing a new feature: Rants by request! Well, not really request, but since this was sent to me I can't help myself.

It concerns this news article from the always arrogantly named The Australian: George Pell tells the West to make babies.

Where do you start? Even without reading the article there are risible opportunities galore. Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, has a record on women's rights and responding to sexual abuse within the church that is even more draconic and reactionary than his religion usually is. For a proper take on just how much to loathe this man, go and look at his Wikipedia entry, the majority of which is in the section headed "Controversies". The man is an obnoxious, closed-minded, bigoted prat. Oh, that's right, he's a cardinal. Silly me for ever expecting anything different.

But let's look at the article, shall we?

Pell tells the West that we are facing a crisis of not enough people, because there is too much divorce, serial monogamy and promiscuity, and that there is damage being done to marriage and family life.

I would like to suggest that there is too much violence within relationships, inappropriate parenting by people not financially or psychologically equipped for the role, and too much damage done by sexual ignorance and insecurity fostered by demonstrable failures of public education like American's "abstinence only" sex education which resulted in a rise in rates of teen pregnancy. I would also like to point out that the potential damage to individuals and society that can be done by selfish and blinkered calls for fertility is neatly pointed out by the causal connection drawn between the availability of divorce in America in the 70s and the reduction of crime rates in the 90s.

Of course, being religious, he can't bear the thought that anyone can have any sort of satisfaction in life by following any sort of life other than the one he tells them to follow:

"Speaking a day after the arrival of the Pope, the leader of the Catholic Church in Australia said one of the biggest challenges for his church was "the Australian temptation to believe that you can have a good, happy life without God". "

Well, you can. Deal with it, you arrogant fascist.

And even the popular issue du jour, climate change: While the pope's talking about "responsibility to creation", George Pell has labelled himself a skeptic, which is always a nice way for people who don't know what that word means, or in any way qualify as one, to present themselves as being moderate and balanced and open to evidence.

We have the evidence. The evidence is in. Him talking about "I'm pretty certain if you look at the figures, the temperature dropped worldwide in the last 12months, but check that for yourself," is a combination of avoiding the issue, fudging, prevaricating, and demonstrating an appalling combination of ignorance of long-term trends and ignorance of science in someone who is publicly challenging mainstream scientific concensus. Idiot.

And then sexual abuse.

Having previously demonstrated that his handling of this issue, one which more than any other has demonstrated the hypocrisy and incompetence of the Catholic church in establishing and demonstrating any sort of prescribed lifestyle, is generally cack-handed, he continued in a similar vein by attempting to rapidly back out of any question on the issue. Although we can't know from this article what his complete comments were, and although he may have expressed an opinion that child sexual abuse by priests is, you know, bad or something, somehow I very much doubt it at this point in time. Plus, he has asked a committee to tell him how to respond.

If you needed any other reason to not be religious, the fact that men like this are put in charge should clinch it for you.

Link to article from The Australian.
Link to George Pell article on Wikipedia.
Link to the best resource I've found on climate change so far, just because more people need to read it.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

A quick note about Microsoft Office 2007

I don't like it.

Few things have better illustrated the difference between skilled artists backed by talented user interface designers, and crude imitators of bling, than the interface to the new Office products.

I came in to work this morning and found that I had been upgraded. First of all this meant that my shortcut to Outlook was missing, which was a minor annoyance. Then I found out that on this brand new computer, Outlook runs appreciably slower than the old version. Don't even try and argue that this is not a bad thing.

Then I had to open a Word document.

Oh, my, god.

I feel like I'm drowning in bubblegum. It's even worse than the default look in Gnome. There's a button up in the top left which keeps flashing at me, and is going to give me a migraine or invoke screaming rage (possibly both) the first time I need to do a lot of work. Oh, hang on, it's just flashing at me until I press it once. For why do I need to press you??

It gets worse. I try the menus.

Oh dear. Everything's in a sort of a tab bar, which changes by menu item, and nothing lists the hotkey combination. Which is ironic, because few things can induce me to spend the time and effort memorising hotkey combinations than that new menu setup.

I have, many times, used new interfaces with loathing and grown to like them. I have also seen new interfaces, joyously jumped in and been proven correct. I don't believe I want to grow to like this one. I believe I want to vomit on it.

Dear Officer Krupke, it ain't my fault

There is a basic principle (I'm not sure of what, perhaps science, perhaps just plain logic - let's call it philosophy) stating something along the lines of "Don't stop at the first thought." This can take several forms - "Never assume only one cause of damage" may be useful to forensic anthropologists (thank you Kathy Reichs for pointing that one out). The basic principle, however, remains sound in all areas of life. We can even paraphrase it as "Don't jump to conclusions".

Which leads me to this headline, from the ABC: New NT laws will see 'more Aboriginal people jailed'. Huh? A classic example of a headline which says just barely enough to force you to read the article in order to find out what the freck they're talking about. It's rather good, actually.

What it is about which they are talking, turns out to be mandatory sentencing laws. I hear echoes of a different racial complaint from New York... The gist of the story is that new laws are being proposed which would lead to mandatory jail time for anyone who commits a violent assault. The president of the Australian Council of Civil Liberties, one Terry O'Gorman (who seems to have been president for quite some time, if my recollections of his name are anything to go by) complains that this will result in more Aboriginal people being jailed.

Yes... So?

Let's take this statement in the spirit in which it appears to have been meant: As a bad thing. Let's look at the basic facts:
  1. The laws will jail people who commit violent offences.
  2. All arguments about the uselessness of jail as a reform tool aside, this is at least an internally consistent idea that holds together under shallow scrutiny.
  3. Evidence would, we assume, suggest that if Terry can claim that more Aboriginal people would be jailed, then more Aboriginal people currently commit violent offences.
  4. Terry O'Gorman's response to this is to complain about a law which seems to have something to do with public safety.

May I suggest that Terry O'Gorman do something useful and start talking about the cultural, social and economic environment which contributes to Aboriginal people being higher perpetrators of acts which society tends to find repugnant?

May I further suggest that this more than a little to do with the environment of touchy hostility on the one side and panicky fear on the other which sees hell raised when sexually abused children are removed from their community because this is "like another stolen generation" (No, it isn't) and sees people pilloried when they say things like "let's not give special dispensations to members of society based upon race, let's give everyone the same help based upon need".

May I, in closing, suggest that this country isn't going to be able to do anything useful for remote and crumbling communities any time soon until we drop the whole automatic guilt thing and start having a sensible debate starting from scratch, here and now, and beating people with the cluestick whenever they complain about past injustices unless they can guide the present debate by illustrating what hasn't worked or explaining why we're were we're at?

Link to ABC Online article.
Link to explain the title.

You know you're a motorcyclist when...

You see a photo of a woman in a string bikini riding pillion on a motorbike, and all you can think of is how much damage she is going to suffer if they crash.

Hint: At any meaningful speed, you'll lose skin, then muscle tissue, then bone.

Yes, I'm serious about that.

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