Thursday, November 30, 2006
My main impression of Marbella was of a tourist strip unceremoniously dumped between a pleasant little town and the sea. English pubs and German tourists abounded.
I have a strong memory of a policeman saying "arriba, arriba", with wide sweeps of his arms (that was where the youth hostel was, up the hill). We also stopped at an art centre, which seemed to have some association with Picasso. I bought the pendant below, my Spanish Devil. It wasn't terribly expensive, and it's possibly made of brass. But it's memorable. Is it reminiscent of Picasso in any way? Or just some local artist's trinket?
From there, we got a wild and crazy ride to Algieciras (the bloke was probably both drunk and mad), then a ferry to Ceuta ("sway-ta"), a little-known Spanish enclave on the tip of Africa.
From there it was a border crossing to Morocco, which was a surreal experience. My friend got hassled because she had an unusual haircut (shaven at the sides!), and the guards simply wouldn't let us through.
Just as we were ready to give up, there was a sudden commotion, people yelling and rushing all over the place. I remember a bunch of matronly women in dark robes, running from Ceuta to Morocco. The guards gave some of the women a kick, but nothing really came of it. Except that we unobtrusively made our way through.
It was probably something to do with duty-free shopping/smuggling from Ceuta.
In Casablanca, we ended up locked up all day in a well-appointed flat, by a well-meaning middle-class gentleman who said he traded - what? - between Morocco and the Netherlands. He didn't want us to brave the Youth Hostel in Casablanca, and he wanted us to be safe, but not to make off with his worldly possessions. Hence the prison treatment.
For our troubles, he took us to a couple of good restaurants. He said he was Berber; the only language we had in common was French. We spent a very pleasant afternoon at a seafood restaurant overlooking the sea in Rabat. But the strain of practising my rusty French gave me quite a headache later.
Those are my main memories of that holiday (oh, and some food poisoning on the way back). I had a look for some photos to include here, but it was too long ago and far away.
All I have left, then, is the so-called Devil above. I'm keen to hear any comments on it.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
It's been announced for the Sydney CBD, and a few other urban centres in Sydney. My guess is it would include North Sydney, Chatswood, Paramatta, and possibly Hurstville or Liverpool.
It's a real winner for personal internet access. At the very least, you can sit in a public library with a wireless laptop, and you're away.
But in particular - and this is where it's coming from - it's a powerful business enabler.
Anybody can communicate/collaborate on the go, via PDA or laptop.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
There's more to come. Legal systems are factoring it in. The NSW Land and Environment court revoked approval for another coal mine on the grounds that the environmental assessment was invalid because it didn't factor in carbon emissions.
Another article points to the increased level of public awareness and concern - but the same article also reports CSIRO findings that carbon emissions are increasing at the rate of 2.5% per year - whereas emissions are only increasing at the rate of 1% per year in the 1990s.
China registered the biggest increase, although it's far behind others on per capita terms. China is responsible for 5% of emissions to date, whereas Europe and the US each account for 25%.
The current emission rate is at the high end of IPCC modelling; their worst case scenario is looking likely.
Monday, November 27, 2006
In a bubble economy, value is largely built on speculation. A commodity is overpriced (for its returns or intrinsic worth), but keeps selling and inflating in value. So if you wanted to safeguard your fortune, it would make sense to hedge, by diluting your holdings and parking some funds elsewhere. Because the price of the stock/commodity is rising all the time, the temptation is to keep your investment, but there's definite warning bells if the returns are paltry compared to the net "worth" of the company.
The article suggests most of the ruined entreprenurial players picked themselves up and built again on new ideas. However, I imagine there's a lot of more mundane outcomes, ranging from early retirement to waiting on tables.
Friday, November 24, 2006
"I travelled to the Alaskan coastal town of Barrow, the most northerly community in the US and past which ships travelling through Arctic sea routes would journey. There, senior members of the Inupiat community said that they had been aware of the change in the climate for the past 20 years - before the scientists' instruments had detected the shift.
At that time the sea ice should have been fixed in rigid sheets stretching towards the North Pole; instead it was forming far out at sea, 160 kilometres from the shore. 'We have been saying this for a number of years', said Eugene Brower, the local fire chief and captain of a whaler. 'In the fall, it takes longer for the ocean to freeze. By now there should be ice here.'
"The broader implications of this ice melt are extraordinary. Scientists have warned that the geography of the world's landmass could change as low-lying areas flood, that entire habitats could change and the lives of millions of people living in the most vulnerable places in the world could be threatened."
- North by north-west, by Andrew Buncombe; Good Weekend, Sydney, 11 November 2006.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Since Australia’s prime minister (John Howard) did an abrupt u-turn on climate change, he’s been suddenly, seriously, expounding nuclear [fission] power. It’s clean, it’s green and, due to global warming, it’s necessary.
Well, conventional nuclear power is none of those, given the exceedingly long half-life of the waste products and the propensity for disaster. There remains debate on whether fusion is clean and green(see this article for the power generation issues), but it’s certainly much safer – and has drastically shorter waste half-life – than fission.
Fusion is what the sun does. Energy is released through the fusion of lighter elements into heavier. Fission is the reverse: energy released through the breakup of heavier atoms into lighter. The break-even point sits around nickel or iron on the periodic table. For elements lighter than nickel, fusion releases energy while fission absorbs it. For heavier elements, it’s the other way around.
ITER is a consortium of major industrial nations’ search for fusion. Members are: the EU, US, Japan, Russia, China, India, and South Korea. They’ve just announced the facility will be situated in France, and take 30 years (!) to complete – 10 years for construction, and a further 20 years’ operation.
The membership of the consortium, and the timeframe, suggest it’s our best hope for fusion energy. Ideally, technological innovation would render solar power (and other renewable sources) sufficient for our energy needs.
As far as Australia goes, I see a four horse race: traditional, carbon intensive energy; conventional nuclear fission power, nuclear fusion power, and renewable sources (solar, wind, etc). All have their hurdles, with the best answers (the latter two) requiring further research and investment. But that’s where I’m putting my money. Renewable is a clear favourite, with fusion a dark horse at this point in our technological evolution.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Hot with a chance of late storm by The Glue Society. This melted ice cream van won the people's choice prize.
Also have a look at the winner of the site specific prize: cipher, by Konstantin Dimopoulos. It needed to be appreciated in motion, so I posted a video of cipher to YouTube.
And finally, details from atlas – shadow dance II by Frank Woo. Here's the base of same:
Monday, November 20, 2006
*** Warning: Major spoilers follow the next heading ***
The Prestige revolves around two Victorian-era magicians, and the lengths they will go to for their art. The film itself goes to some lengths to reflect this, down to the near-inscrutability of the plot.
Nolan hired Hugh Jackman because he wanted showmanship, which Jackman has ably demonstrated on Broadway. But he also needed someone who could display obsessiveness, at which Jackman was notably less successful.
Neither did I find it enormously helpful to cast Christian Bale as his antagonist. His character was meant to be, by turns, loving, obsessive and, well, changeable.
The best and the worst about this film was the plot, and how it was presented. There were at least three timelines displayed concurrently. Maybe more. Although there was some expositional logic to the ordering, clues and trickery drove the plot; red herrings abounded. And if the internet forums are an indicator, few people came out of the experience feeling they had untangled the knot.
It may be relatively straightforward. And I may – or may not – have most of it. But I missed something. There were scenes where people were wearing modern clothing. The original tale was bookended by a modern narration, but was it so with the film? I haven’t seen this explored on discussion forums. I'm reluctant to see it again - despite the many impressive flourishes - but I feel compelled to seek out the answers.
The existentialist quandary
Once I drafted a science fiction story that dealt with teleportation. The crux was that it had just been revealed that one’s original self was destroyed with every teleportation, and what was left was always a copy. The scenario would have been rich for someone who mulled over existential issues.
This film poses similar dilemmas. The biggest plot device is that Angier finds himself with a genuine duplication machine. The contraption creates a duplicate of himself, a few metres away. When Angier first duplicates himself, he places a gun nearby as a safety net. When he sees his own double, he kills him instantly. But was it the transported man who reached for the gun or the untransported one?
In fact, both were the genuine article - it's just there were two of them. But for the story to follow logically, it had to be the transported man who killed: “Oh, I’m transported, and I killed the poor sod who threw the switch. Thus, in my act I can kill my double who’s left behind.” Otherwise it would be: “Oh, I wasn’t transported, and I killed my transported copy. But if I put this into my stage act, I'll be the untransported one and die.” But Angier just wasn't that obsessive.
So the trick was, that in performing the trick, he unintentionally killed himself. Every time he performed it, the bloke who threw the switch would be dropped through a trapdoor and drowned. The transported man would then feel he had escaped free. The next time he performed the trick, the one who remained would realise he'd just signed his death warrant - a few instants before he drowned.
The quandary is that, by the logic in this film, both copies of the man are equally himself. So he’s never aware that he will kill himself next time he performs the trick.
Meanwhile, his rival's trick is that there is a twin: the pair spend alternate days in their shared 'real life', then swap over to a shadow existence. For the sake of their art, each twin is doomed to live a life half-lived. With that level of sacrifice, who are you in the end? And what would happen if the act came to an end: would the one life suddenly split in two and take divergent paths? (In fact, this was resolved in the death of one. Then how would the other respond to having to live a complete life with no off days?)
Two existences posing conundrums in different ways. For all of this, it remains a rather brutal film. But it is no mean reflection on Memento.
An interesting way to market their services. Time will tell how the business case stacks up. But it means that broadband is accessible to anyone with a wireless modem.
Although Canberra is the wealthiest per capita city in Australia, this makes broadband more available to the disadvantaged end of the community, which benefits the country as a whole.
To date, this is apparently replicated in only a few other cities in the world, with Singapore, San Francisco, Taipei and a few small US cities having access to (or plans for) this offer.
Spin plans to extend this offer to other parts of Australia, possibly with some branding [advertising] to enable an increase in the limit.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Two – linked – concepts mitigate against this: cataclysm, and punctuated equilibrium.
Mark Maddison explained to me punctuated equilibrium, whereupon I promptly suggested punctuated evolution would be more accurate. Little did I know about the equilibrium part of the equation.
Developed by Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould, Punctuated Equilibrium postulates that evolution happens largely in discrete bursts, separated by long periods of relatively little change. This accords in general with geological records – which Darwin noted, but ascribed to the incompleteness of research.
It’s rather at odds with the popular understanding of evolution as a battle for superiority that constantly forces change. It suggests ecosystems (local or global) on the whole tend more towards stability than antagonistic competition. [however, I would note that it describes evolution as happening rapidly at points of punctuation, but is less vocal on the rate of change at equilibrium - for example, to distinguish between stasis and slow change.]
Punctuated equilibrium still strikes me as somewhat counterintuitive. But it's easy to appreciate the role of cataclysm in the course of evolution. It’s generally accepted – and fairly widely understood – that the era of the dinosaurs came to an end when a meteor hit Yucatan (Mexico). It was more or less 10 kms wide, and caused mass extinction of many species.
This is an example of survival – and evolution – being due to a very specific event that is not intrinsic to the terrestrial environment. In effect, there could well have been species on a superior evolutionary path, but which simply couldn’t survive a given cataclysm. Note that ‘superior evolutionary path’ does not equate to ‘more evolved’. All we can say is we are, of course, the most evolved of species to date: the simple proof is that only significant human artifacts remain in the geological record. But who’s to say those extinguished species wouldn’t otherwise have evolved further or faster than us in the absence of cataclysm?
Thus singular events have wiped out a number of evolutionary paths, and one could say that we’re here by circumstance – last one standing – rather than being the undisputed peak of all prior evolutionary paths.
Still, we can take comfort that no species has evolved on earth further than us.
These thoughts are encouraging: the earth has weathered catastrophe in the past (and despite what I envisioned when younger, we don’t even have the ability to blow the planet apart). So whatever we do, life on this planet is likely to continue until the sun is dying. Puts it all into perspective.
I expect that many people - not just the strongly religious - would find this hard to accept because it’s insufficiently anthropocentric.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Other bloggers like Skype's click-to-call feature: click a phone number on a web site to call through to the person or company. Now that's integration.
But Luis likes the potential for Skype as an enterprise collaborative tool. This is because Skype has clambered aboard the hot trend of enabling (user-written) plugins. An example of a useful plugin from a business perspective is screen-sharing, for realtime collaboration.
Just as plugins can extend a browser such as Firefox to become an all-singing, -dancing complete internet intermediator, so can they extend another application which takes as its starting point person-to-person interactivity.
This year, all this may sound like a mess of buzzwords. The year after next, it may all be commonplace - that's how fast technology is evolving - and we may be wondering whether Skype is becoming Firefox, or Firefox becoming Skype.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
The Australian government is making quite a rapid U-turn on climate change – particularly on carbon trading. I expect the Stern review, coming as it did from a respectable establishment source, ultimately played no small part. Here’s an economic analyst’s view of that change, as well as on the Stern review.
A poll of voters flags the level of concern of the issue now. [However, polling voters is quite notorious for demonstrating people are a welter of contradictions, and consistently want their cake as well as eating it.]
[All this as the Sydney Morning Herald's pet "shock" columnist (Miranda Devine) trotted out her usual pet climate change sceptics - a fast vanishing breed! - as well as a superannuated politician from the far side of the world. The ice under her feet is vanishing daily.]
Meanwhile, ice loss from Antarctica is hitting 152 billion cubic kilometres per year; Greenland’s losing 112 billion per year – whereas in the 1990s it was in equilibrium in terms of losses and gains. This is where the headline problem lies.
...and what are you doing about it? We registered our concern [beyond the ballot box] at the International Day of Action recently:
Ironically, the day was drizzly, as you can see in the distance. The band was surprisingly good to these ears jaded by too many average bands. They're called Marching Room. A good family crowd overall, although my wife whisked away the kids under the pretext that the music was hurting their ears. You're never too young to rock, but much as she pretends otherwise, she's just not rock enough. Oops, strayed rather drastically off-topic here...
Monday, November 13, 2006
This quick note in a telecoms industry newsletter is a neat reminder of the mantra of the future: “bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth”.
Endless data dumps, video calls, video on demand, permanent streaming video on demand,…
The applications, the demand, will never slacken. It’s the commodity of the future – and the battleground, and the dividing line between the haves and have-nots. IP bandwidth demands will intrude on all other forms of information exchange.
Anyone for investing in dark fibre?
Sunday, November 12, 2006
In a nutshell, when the US first set up their provisional administration in Iraq, they poured billions - literally billions - of dollars into Baghdad. There were two sources: American money for reconstruction; and Iraq's own money - again billions - from oil sales. They distributed it absolutely freely, to Iraqis and to US construction contractors. Mostly without sufficient checks on the distribution, and most - nearly all - wasted.
Worse than wasted. The windfalls to American contractors - frequently without tenders - pales into insignificance. Much of it would have ended up in the hands of "insurgents" - and to fuel the civil war.
Bush sent over administrators pronto, upon the fall of Baghdad. But at the top, those he sent fulfilled two criteria: he knew them - or of them - and they were willing and able to go. That doesn't speak to the competence of those at the top in Iraq.
In fact, the financial administrator was an ex-submarine commander who in interview displayed absolutely blithe disregard to what happened to the Iraqi money in particular. "it doesn't matter. It was their money." Well, it was the people's money, which does not equate at all to it being the recipients' money.
Successive US governments have successively wasted their billions on military contractors. But never before have they channelled it so directly to the violence of others. And the result is an ongoing litany of carnage, which brutalises the whole world as news of the violence continues to reverberate.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Citizendium is a completely separate project from Wikipedia - but. It calls itself a "progressive fork", which means it sucks information from Wikipedia, then forks away. It's been set up by a former Wikipedia Editor-in-Chief, Larry Sanger.
Why? Response to the criticism (including from Citi's initiators) that Wikipedia is too free in its allowance of anybody to edit it. In contrast, Citizendium looks like it allows only named/registered users to add content, and it maintains a group of editors to oversee that content. It regularly refreshes from Wikipedia - where there is no Citi change.
Its thesis is that people will gravitate to it both to add content and to read it, as people appreciate its greater reliability.
I'm giving it oxygen, but I'm not 100% convinced, for several reasons:
1) It restricts the adding of content, compared to Wikipedia;
2) ...yet it will propagate what it sees as Wikipedia's errors;
3) Wikis in general work best when they reach a critical mass. Wikipedia's there now, but many other wikis aren't (eg ITToolbox: has a lot of good tech blogs, and attracts unofficial technical support from a number of vendors, yet their wiki effort is a dismal failure so far). It's hard to see people gravitate away from Wikipedia. (But it's certainly possible, if the product is good enough. That's what happened to google over Altavista, which used to be the top search engine.)
4) The differences between the wiki models is a bit subtle for most people, who are only looking for something consistent and reliable.
5) Wikis are a real balancing act, between freedom to add content, and the checks in place on that freedom. How many people will agree that removing the power of anonymous authorship will improve content by this much while reducing additions by only that much?
6) It could be just a grudge project. However, a fair bit of effort seems to have been put into it so far. Yet two managing editors have been announced so far, but each of them in turn pulled out.
8) It's not up. Yet. It says it plans to be up by the end of the year.
Still, the internet is a great democracy for ideas.
As we now know, that 2000 result was more significant to the pulse of the world than one simple presidential election. Why did Al Gore decline to pursue the disputed Florida results through the court? My take is that he accepted a concern that it would have been damaging to the fabric of the US constitutional system. But I think it will be some time before the full story is resolved.
Yes, there’s been a wave of change in the US. The House of Representatives has fallen to the Democrats, and the Senate is on a knife edge (1,729 votes), some saying the results won’t be known for three weeks. In a little irony, that final senate seat is defended by George (“macaca”) Allen, who has claimed he didn't use the “n” word.
Pundits are divided on how much of a change to America’s political climate this represents. However, they’re fairly universally toning down one aspect of the result. As I expected, the change masked an already-decided battle. Wars like this are fought on the front line, and behind the scenes. The latter battle – in primaries - was already settled: the Democrats to a surprising extent pitted conservative against conservative; liberal against liberal. So the political makeup has changed relatively little behind the scenes.
This may be borne out by the markets, anecdotally. I noticed a feed today said that although other countries' share markets were down, Dow Jones and Nasdaq were up on the previous day. Suggesting that although they were nervous overseas, US markets felt the result heralded no drastic change.
Note too, a lack of focus on one particular issue. Voters concerns centered around Iraq, terrorism, corruption and economy – but not climate change.
Yet there have been at least two significant effects already: the departure of Donald Rumsfeld (whose sole remaining defender seemed to be Bush), and the ascension of Nancy Pelosi into House of Representatives leadership. It's the highest post yet held in the US by a woman – third only after president and vice-president.
Interest in this is not attributable to prurience or cultural imperialism. This election has worldwide repercussions, as did the one in 2000.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
- Plagiarism: A regular critic of the site, Daniel Brandt, recently came up with an analysis of plagiarism in its content. In fact, the samples weren't all proven so, but some were. Wiki's defence (and legally a valid one) is to remove offending items where spotted.
- Privacy: Incidental to the above, it is evident that the model can be seen as an intrusion on privacy.
- Suceptibility to hacking: the German-language version was recently hacked, to lead readers to malware.
It's worth bearing these in mind when using that resource, although in mitigation it can be said that a) the offences are small in overall proportion; b) offences are removed when discovered - which can be sooner or later, depending on traffic and the amount of alerts people store for a given article.
There's also a list of miscellaneous complaints posted at SMH that's worth a read. Gives a tenor of the concerns people have.
I'm still finding it useful, though. As a quick reference, I tend to find it more lucid, accessible, and reliable than anywhere else. In the link above, several people opined that it was more reliable than the newspapers (and other media) that are widely taken as gospel and more frequently read.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Look on the web site for a few more images (under "Gallery Photo 2006") - I've also posted a second set here.
Japan’s Sharp Corporation* is investing in a sixfold increase in its production of photovoltaic (solar) cells.
The analysts reckon that corner of Sharp’s business is proving quite profitable. So why not bump it up? – renewable energy is undoubtedly going to be a significant growth area in the next few years.
Other (“second-tier”) electronics manufacturers are also moving in that direction, away from saturation-level consumer-targeted products such as LCD panels – even away from memory chips.
Buried in the report is a hint at spinoffs from increased takeup of a technology. As evident with mobile phones, a technology that experiences a significant surge in use has, down the track, unanticipated effects on the face of society.
Sharp is working to make photovoltaic cells ever thinner, which portends an increasing variety of potential applications. I don’t think we’ll be seeing every device flick out a solar panel that faces the sun, but perhaps flexible – even plastic – cells will proliferate. What about translucency – even transparent cells? One can but speculate.
*Sharp started out nearly a century back making pencils – hence the name.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
It’s the ideal point to join in an international day of action to solidify for governments that real level of concern.
My wife first mentioned it to me, but she’s adamant that she doesn’t want it to be an anti-government protest. I said “There is one simple intention behind this: to show to all decision-makers the weight of public opinion behind the issue. These things are necessary part of the process.”
In Sydney, there’s an assembly at Martin Place at 11am, for a short walk to Tarpeian Way (“next to Botanic Gardens”).
In London, there’s a march to the US embassy to ask that they ratify Kyoto (some action at the Australian embassy would be appreciated too!).
The international site has details for a large number of countries.
The kids will be happy to join in. After all, it’s about them more than us. We're only on this earth for a short while.
So what? Well, one of the possibilities they mentioned was for people who are actually at the match to watch the replays on their phones. For cricket tragics, this is not a bad thing at all, because replays are important here, and the big screen in the cricket ground is often woeful for this.
For non-cricket fans, so what? My feeling is that this is only the start of possible applications for multimedia via mobile phones. The widespread adoption of this consumer device has finally enabled video phone calls; live video help functions should not be too far away; etc etc.
The cricket service has gone down from $8 per month to $5 for unlimited use, indicative that pricing for such functionality is becoming more and more reachable for everyday usage.
My feeling is that video phone calls will be the prime application, though, in the immediate future. This technology represents a revolution in our understanding of communication.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
- Focused on the economics of climate change
- Sponsored by a major government that accepts its findings
- Written by an eminent economist
- Doesn’t have the need to argue the toss about the issue
It was commissioned by the UK government, and written by Sir Nicholas Stern, one-time Chief Economist at the World Bank.
The central conclusions:
- There is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, if we take
strong action now.
- Climate change could have very serious impacts on growth and development.
- The costs of stabilising the climate are significant but manageable; delay
would be dangerous and much more costly.
- Action on climate change is required across all countries, and it need not cap the aspirations for growth of rich or poor countries.
- A range of options exists to cut emissions; strong, deliberate policy action is required to motivate their take-up.
- Climate change demands an international response, based on a shared
understanding of long-term goals and agreement on frameworks for action.
The UK government’s website for the report has comments from leading economists. The report can be downloaded; the executive summary is also available (the ‘summary of conclusions’ is identical).