Friday, 17 October 2008

Want more proof that conservatives can't stand public dissent?

Australian federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty (pronounced "Kelty") must be one of the more controversial figures in the Australian public service. He demands media blackouts and stumbles through poorly handled terrorism trials, yet he was on the right side of one of the two reasons why I feel disbelieving contempt verging on apopleptic rage for former Prime Minster of The White Picket Fence, John Howard.

The occasion was near the start of Australia's involvement on the absurdly not-even-wrong-ly named "War on Terror", when Keelty went on one of the discussion programs on TV to say something along the lines of "Well, if Australia's involvement might make us a target for terrorist activities, that's something that I have to take into account when considering public safety" and he got absolutely pilloried by Little Johnny for being alarmist. Now, as far as I'm concerned, I want the leaders of my federal police force to think "Hmm... Here's a major change in policy which, it has been suggested, might bring with it risks to the citizens of Australia. Let's look at that, shall we?" And when they do so, I stand behind every principle of openness that ever struggled to raise its head in a democracy, and demand that they let the public know that they're considering this and taking appropriate steps.

Strike one against John Howard.

Actually, strike two: strike one was when Little Johnny stormed out of a radio interview back when the GST election loomed, after saying that a question concerning the effect that the GST may have on the street price of Heroin was "I don't think that's a very appropriate question." Fuck you, Johnny. It was a question concerning a possible connection between your economic policy and a highly destructive and massively illegal substance. How is that not appropriate?

And now, this absolutely beautiful comment:

"A drugs educator says Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty would not have made remarks regarding the effectiveness of strategies to curb illegal drug demand under the previous federal government." - Keelty's drug demand comments amazing: educator (ABC News Online)

The synopsis is that Keelty has addressed a conference in which he said that the police can't rest on their laurels and point to statistics, but must find more appropriate and more effective strategies for countering demand for illegal substances.

If anybody is not cheering yet, you probably aren't the right audience for this blog.

The educator in question is Paul Dillon from Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia, who has spent a fair bit of time on Triple J as a guest over the years, and who was quoted as saying everything but "He wouldn't have dared say something progressive like that when John Howard was in power."

I almost like Mr Keelty. I definitely like Paul Dillon

Link to ABC New Online article; Keelty's drug demand comments amazing: educator

Open letter to



The ability to install Firefox on a USB memory stick and run it on any Windows computer (or Linux using Wine - works okay for me!) is one of the greatest and coolest things I have ever come across.

I have plugins for Google Bookmarks (personal) and (work - there are historical reasons for this) so that I can share bookmarks with my home FF on Linux, or access them if some prick of an IT officer tries to lock off the USB ports.

Thanks to full support for plugins I get crash restore, I get sensible handling of tabs, I get tab scrolling with the mouse wheel and tabs loading in the background.

I had forgotten quite how much I relied upon this as I shuttled between Uni and two different jobs until I forgot my keys, and left them hanging in the door at home when I slipped out without waking my partner, and therefore don't have my USB key.

I am now approximately five minutes, or one more IE7 crash, away from complete apoplectic rage, tantrum and going home. I have now seen more IE7 crashes than spam, all in one morning, and I've only been clocked on for 87 minutes so far. I haven't lost anything, or links, but it's been a close-run thing (and thank you to Blogger, too, for autosaving!)

Please,, don't give up or fade away. I don't care if portable FF never gets the ability to update itself safely and I have to download and install the full file every time, I forgive it. I don't even care if I never need to install any other app (although... Gimp might be handy...). So long as I have my FF with me at all times, with my settings and my plugins and working how I need it to in order to be productive, I will forgive a lot.

I will never, ever, forgive Microsoft for IE7.

Yours Sincerely,

The absolute coolest thing I have ever heard today

Dave McKean illustrated Heston Blumenthal's Big Fat Duck Cookbook.


Thursday, 16 October 2008

Learn to merge or roast in eternal damnation the like of which not even Dante could conceive of!

Yesterday, while driving home, two different people acted as though they wanted to run me off the road and kill me while merging. Over the past week, I have seen so many incompetent examples of what should be a basic driving or riding maneuver that I despair for the continued safety of any road user.

And yet it's not that hard. It
shouldn't be that hard.

Merging consists of a few basic principles:

  • Find out what other traffic is doing. This involves looking.
  • Let traffic know what you're trying to do. This means your indicators. You know about them? Orange flashing lights on the corners? Make a clicking sound?
  • Check that nobody else is in the space you need to move into.
  • Move.
There now, it wasn't that hard, was it?

And yet, there are a few groups of people who have no idea of how to merge or how to cope when somebody else does. These groups are:
  • People who refuse to be polite or let anyone else take their bit of road, and rush to block them. These people are assholes.
  • People who don't seem to realise that anything is happening, and sit there being an impedient because they can't be bothered to lift off the accelerator a bit. These people are drongos.
  • People who expect other people to move out of their way, and drive into the lane without warning or any thought of checking to see if they can. These people are pricks.
  • People who are so nervous that they will put their indicator on and then sit there while other people politely make way for them, because they expect you to rush past and block them. You can even flash your headlights at some of these people and they don't get it. This is especially annoying because you're never quite sure if they won't suddenly move just as you decide the hell with it and accelerate past them. These people are sheeple.
  • People who crowd together while on the slip lane, so that there is no room to make a nice zipper after-you, then-you affair. These people are just plain idiots.
  • People who leave it to the last possible minute before dropping back when you clearly have right of way by virtue of being half a car in front, so that you're not quite sure until it's happened whether or not they'll take your bumper off. Or your rear wheel right out from underneath you, if you're on a bike. These people are cock-heads.
  • People who only give one flick of the indicator as they are moving. This may be because they have been told they have to use the indicator but don't understand why, but the rapidity with which they move suggests that it is actually because they are worried that if they give warning, they will get blocked by assholes. These people are twats.
And the two people who tried to kill me belonged to another group, and I would label them but the only sufficient insult I can think of is a bit too impolite for me to use in general company, so I'll just call them incompetent, brainless, bullying fuck-heads and leave it at that.

Both of them were in the left hand lane as we sailed into the start of the merging dotted line, one was in a van and one in an oversized 4WD with bullbar, and both of them were sitting behind my bumper but accelerated forwards until their front bumper was level with my B-pillar until they realised that they had run out of road, were driving on the verge (and, in the first case, were parents park to collect their children) and dropped back only just
barely far enough to not take my bumper off, and sat there at speeds up to 70, not dropping any further back as though it was an affront to them personally that they had to give way at all, until one overtook me when the road split into two lanes again, and the other one I managed to leave behind uphill.

All I could think of was how much scarier it would have been if I had been riding (which I only wasn't because an incompetent pack of pricks in Victoria hadn't sent me my new sprockets yet), and it was the closest I have ever come to wanting to hunt one of them down and ask "Do you not know how to merge, or were you just being an incompetent, dangerous

And there you have it - gross stupidity causes road-rage in others.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

So near, and yet so far

I have a new protective case for my N95. The last one, $10 and plastic, cracked and the crack lengthened and my valiant attempts to halt the decline were eventually defeated.

So I bought a new one, off eBay, for $11 including postage (actually $1, and 10$ postage). It's brushed aluminium, lined with plastic to protect the phone, and it looks rather swish and all the cutouts for buttons and ports are perfectly placed.

There are just there problems.

It doesn't protect the screen. It has no little plastic sacrificial window in it. I thought protecting the screen was the whole
point of a protector, but never mind.

The power button doesn't work. Instead of being accessed via cutout, the already recessed power button on top of the phone is pressed by a plastic button hinged to the case. Which doesn't work, no matter how hard you press it. I suspect that the hinge makes the extra button press on the correct button at the wrong angle. I suspect I will remove the plastic button, and use a pen.

It's already broken. Less than 24 hours after putting the bloody thing on, the plastic lining on the slide's cover is already broken top and button where it clips around the ends of the slide. I discovered this when I slid it open and it caught. Now, I have no doubt that a dual slide mechanism is difficult on clips, but
come on. That was the first thing to go on the first protector, as well. Can't anybody get it right?

Advice for people thinking of buying an espresso machine

Stay away from Krups.


I'm sure they make very fine other appliances, and very good anti-balloon guns (really. During the Prussian siege of Paris in 1870, the French got messages out using hot-air balloons, and Krups built the first anti-aircraft weapon in history to shoot them down), but they really don't understand coffee.

Which is a pity, but there you are.

There's something the matter with Moto Guzzi

There really is.

Once upon a time they built the Daytona which is, and I will brook no argument here, one of the all-time best looking bikes of all time, ever.

Now, they have a couple of different bikes and an increasing number of variations upon the theme of Breva.

Norge: Great tourer, but basically a fully-dressed Breva. Which is fine. Sport: Bit more entertaining than a Breva, but only really has a couple of different components and a little flyscreen. Which is not fine.

Not at all.

This is the company that beat up all comers in international racing from the end of World War II to the fifties, when MV Agusta worked out how to build bikes properly.

This is the company that produced a string of Le Mans models that still have a passionate following and the Daytona, which had a hand built engine for deities' sake.

This is the company that was rescued from obsolesence by Aprilia, who got bought by the immense resources of Piagio, and who now have gearboxes that work (only one neutral, fancy that!) and good build standards, and haven't sacrificed the handling that marks them as a bit special.

So how come, now that their basics are so good, and even their WWII-vintage engine is maintaining its relevance through clever updates and sound basic engineering, they keep turning out new bikes which are, well, variations on a theme? You can't look at the Griso and Stelvio and argue that they can't do something new when needed.

But the latest Sport is, as Hell for Leather point out, massively disappointing.

It doesn't have their most powerful engine. The list of changes from the Breva can be listed in about five seconds. They still haven't realised that the Le Mans evolved, and handed reverently to the Daytona, one of the sexiest sportsbike fairings ever, and have gone with a naked bike with a little bit of plastic on the headlight which looks tacky on a Ducati Monster which costs many grand less.

Come on. Do it properly, Guzzi. Make us proud. Return to your routes. Make a road-going version of the MGS-01 and build a bike that's worthy of a name like 'Sport'.

Link to Hell for Leather commentary, with underwhelming photos.

Because pirates are actually cool

For those who need a flowchart to spot the fecking obvious:

This is not just music from stores like iTunes, this is games via Nokia for the NGage system, where it was initially thought that if you bought a new phone in six months, you'd lose the ability to play the games you had paid for, unless you bought the exact same software again. This is entire computer operating systems, which disable themselves if you change three pieces of hardware (new hard drive, upgraded DVD burner, new graphics card, new monitor *ZAP!*)

To all those who think that draconian locks will alter human behaviour in any way
against piracy:

Fuck you!

Monday, 13 October 2008

That's not answering the question at ALL

Time for another: Rant by Request! Also: Rant by Proxy!

Televised car ads.

These are so infuriating that a week ago my girlfriend, in lieu of throwing something at our two grand flatscreen, said "I will buy the first car that has an ad which tells you something!"

Car ads seem to come in three flavours:
  1. Nice music, fancy photography, no voice-over or text which tells you anything more informative than a.) the brand, and b.) the model, both of which you need, because it was shot in a way that made it extremely difficult to differentiate that car from any other, or make out the number of doors, or work out if they were advertising a car or the horse that keeps getting in the way of the camera.
  2. Voice-over which throws in a lot of what sounds like information, but is actually just either a.) obvious just from looking at the thing ("With a 4-wheel drive heritage") or b.) so much par for the course that only the opposite would be worth mentioning ("An optional diesel engine"), or b.) nonsense that only sounds like English but actually isn't ("Power for when you need it most")
  3. Voice-over which attempts to swamp you with information which, if you pay close attention, you will realise is about as useful and relevant as the phrase "Part of a complete diet" or "May help prevent cancer of the left middle finger, if you're an Aquarius".
My complaint against number 1 should be fairly obvious.

Ditto number 2, which has the added sins against its name of not being faintly entertaining as a piece of video art, and insulting my intelligence.

Number 3 goes beyond insulting my intelligence and goes into an incompetent rendition of the French Knight's taunting from
Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail.

The format essentially runs like this: "Our new Fred GS has more power than the Frankelhoffer GL, more airbags than the Dogrooter SX, more rear leg room than any of the Boxsters, a longer warranty than the Fishwife CSi...." And so on.

Which, I suppose, leads me to assume that every competitor not named in each category has a better rating, which puts the car you're advertising second last at everything, by default. And I'm hardly going to buy a car which is second last at everything important, am I?

No, if you go down the comparison route then you open yourself up to me staring at the screen and saying "Yes, but your car is ugly as

About the only "comparison" that's safe is when you win an award. Car Of The Year from anybody who has a decent reputation (
Wheels, the collected total of European magazines, that sort of thing). That says something. Not much, admittedly, because I doubt very much that Wheels applied the Wolfhound Test or had my attitude towards badly designed controls, but it says something.

No, I'm afraid that if you're going to say anything at all in a car ad, your options are quite limited:

  • Brand
  • Model
  • Engine choices
  • Price
  • Seating and space
  • Awards (but be careful. "Most likely to be stolen and used in a ram raid", for example, might not work in your favour.)
  • Performance, but if you go on about 0-60 times I really will switch off. Fuel economy is good, proof of handling and ride prowess is good, saying that you are .5seconds faster to the speed limit than anyone else is irrelevant.
And that's about it.

All a dick-size competition will reveal about you is that you're insecure and trying to hide something.

All a nicely shot piece of video art says is that spent money on the advertising that should have been spent on that nasty cheap-feeling bit of plastic that covers up the fuse-box.

That's not really answering the question, is it?

A basic principle of both justice and democracy is openness: Justice has to be seen to be done, and citizens of a democracy have to know what's going on in order to make informed decisions.

In fact this is so important that in Australia our only guarantee of freedom of speech is a High Court decision that any legislation which impinges against our access to, or participation in, the political process, is unconstitutional.

This principle underpins the whole concept of Freedom Of Information (FOI) laws, as well: Essentially, FOI laws give citizens the right to access government information, provided it doesn't breach another individual's privacy. Or it's under a special ministerial order. Or, they can't be fucked and they're going to charge you a quarter of a million to dig it up and photocopy it in the hope that you'll give up and go away. Or, they've managed to hide the fact that it exists at all.

Unfortunately, not all government departments appear to be aware of this. Have you ever tried to get meaningful statistics out of Queensland Health? It's a good exercise if you're ever feeling warm and fuzzy towards the government. It took me several hours to even find the right contact numbers for the statistics department who could, if they chose, charge me to type in an SQL query and email me the result.

In fact, the only Queensland government department who is really open and informative is, not surprisingly or surprisingly depending upon your attitudes, Justice.

The biggest problem with this whole openness principle, however, is just how badly people misuse or debase the power of the Internet to let them fulfill their obligations in this direction easily and cheaply. 

Take SEQWater. Once upon a time, you could find out the current south east Queensland dam levels, which are given out in the news and the newspapers and generally bandied about as a percentage of the whole, by going to their website and clicking on a nice prominent button. 

Now, if you go to their website, you click on a nice simple and easy-to-find menu bar entry, you get a much fancier system which gives you totals for each dam, a graph of each dam by percentage and a graph of each dam by total capacity (and it's a little scary to see just how much we rely on Wivenhoe), and you can even view by date. Very nice, very informative, but...

What happened to total percentage? It ain't there!

The single most meaningful and commonly used statistic to gauge the health of a fairly critical and more than a little sick component of civilisation as we know it in Queensland, and you can't get it anymore. 


What is the point of running email billing like this?

Phone companies.

Can't live without them, can't burn them in effigy with any real sense of satisfaction.

I have Vodafone for my mobile, and AAPT for my home phone. Each one has a billing cycle of the calendar month. And each one waits a full
week after the end of the billing cycle and making the bill available online, to tell me that my bill is available online. Which frequently means that I've paid at least one of them before they let me know about it.


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