Sunday, December 31, 2006
Saturday, December 30, 2006
1. Climate change
Of course, the number one issue, thankfully. Awareness due in no small part to Al Gore and to the Stern Review. We will live to see global changes, and the only question is, how much political will we can generate, and how much we can ameliorate the change. I foresee a decrease in dithering, particularly once Bush exits. But the battle will always be there: how much action we are willing to take versus how much change we can put up with. Aside from the spoiler action of vested interests, the chief problem is that as humans, we discount the future too much - that is, we put high value on the present, and lower value on the future. At 50-odd years before we face a significantly different environment, adjusting those values is a big ask.
2. Middle east
The number two issue of the year is a clash of values between the extremes of Western and Muslim culture. The only way to bring the temperature down is to defuse the pressure points. And those are Palestine and Iraq. In that order. However, Israel's plans to build new settlements in the West Bank prove that they were never genuine in leaving Gaza: they were just regrouping. I can't see an easy solution, since Israel and its financier, the US, both have too much voter pressure to adjust their course. The tension ripples not just through the immediate region, but throughout the world.
For Iraq, it's hard to see any action that would halt the civil war. Perhaps if the US and allies left, it would stabilise faster, but not without much more violence.
3. Collaboration and the Internet
Largely covered in yesterday's post. Business is gearing up with Web 2.0; individuals are creating their own vision with MySpace and Blogs. And the two are crossing over - for example, companies (such as IBM) are seeing value in the virtual reality site, Second Life. A powerful force for global unity.
4. Economic giants wake, and shake the world
China and India, that is. Their increasing economic clout will change world dynamics.
5. US mid-term elections
This has brought about a change in the power balance within the US. The voters chiefly rebelled against corruption and the Iraq war - and ignored climate change. But without knowing the solution to either Iraq or "corruption" (hint: there are systemic issues), they simply voted out the incumbents [at the margins]. Likewise those in office (or aspiring) have no real answers. However - and this is again at the margins - the political character of the US has shifted somewhat, which will do something to ease international tensions.
6. Change at the helm in Australian politics
New opposition leader Kevin Rudd makes next year's federal election an open contest. As the election draws closer, we may see some amelioration of the worst of policies on industrial relations, health, education, and foreign affairs. Somewhat more change if the ALP wins.
(You might notice that I haven't nominated terrorism, Iran, or North Korea. However, you can see that there is some congruence between my list and that of US Associated Press editors. Sad to see that as proof that the US still doesn't really get it on climate change.)
Friday, December 29, 2006
My take on the tech year is notable for the following trends, for me an essential part of our technological future, and figuring large in 2006.
Knowledge base of the year: Wikipedia (and Google)Despite what some say, Wikipedia is for me what I had imagined for the internet over ten years ago - and couldn't find. That is, an answer to any question that occurs to me. Wikipedia doesn't do that, but on the whole it comes pretty close, and acts as an excellent primer (and often more) for any subject that is not too obscure or localised, and a large number that are. Proof: Wikipedia has entered the common lexicon, not just that of the technically literate. And if you don't think it presents every side of a given story, test it out. Add content yourself. Find out how disputed points are mediated.
Google, too, has been around for some years. Some are trying to trump it, but it certainly hasn't happened yet. Also a part of the modern lexicon.
Democratisation of the year: personal content creation, via blogs, Myspace and YouTube, Digg, and many others.
Promise of the year: web 2.0 collaboration. I really don't think we've scratched the surface of what the internet can foster in the way of collaboration. This is another of the grand visions for the internet that is only just beginning to come to fruition.
Device of the year: wireless laptop. No question. You don't know what it's like until you've tried it. Open up the computer, resume, and talk to someone, find the answers from Wikipedia, or upload the information and ideas yourself.
Infrastructure of the year: two essentials here: broadband and XML.
Broadband covers any number of sins, down to communication via a wet piece of string. But access to decent bandwidth is essential for information wealth.
XML has also been around for a while, but it's become hard to avoid tripping over it (save when it's hidden behind the scenes), as it's become a standard for the exchange of information. Store it as xml and you save the form, not just the content.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
1. Robert Altman
A tragic loss to film: an innovative director with an inspirational body of work. My favourite is Gosford Park (so lush!), followed by The Player, but special mention to significant others such as MASH, Nashville, and Prairie Home Companion.
2. Betty Friedan - very influential US feminist
3. Coretta Scott King – civil rights activist in her own right, and widow of Martin Luther King.
4. Ahmet Ertegün - US executive (Turkish origins) of Atlantic records. greatly influential in popular music from the 1950s onwards, his name is ubiquitous. Signed Ray Charles, Led Zeppelin and others, and put the Young into Crosby, Stills and Nash.
5. Ali Farka Touré – Mali guitarist. A sublime blend of US blues and authentic African traditions.
6. Grant McLennan – Australian musician/songwriter/singer. Although he’s well known as a leading light of the Go Betweens, his best work was with Snow Job, the second album from Jack Frost, a collaboration with Church stalwart Steve Kilbey. My comments here.
7. Harry Seidler – Australian architect, responsible for some hideous travesties such as Blues Point Tower and Australia Square (some 'experts' actually like it!), but a significant modernist force.
8. Steve Irwin – for his conservation work, and the money he directed to that cause. Not for his tv personality, which belies the sophistication that is Australia.
9. Augusto Pinochet – Mass murdering Chilean dictator. Should have died rotting in jail, but was still being chased by the justice system. Wrote a letter for posthumous release that sought exculpation, but strangely neglected to mention the deaths, disappearances, tortures and child stealings that he was responsible for.
10. PW Botha – penultimate white South African Prime Minister, unreconstructed racist, responsible for repression and death.
11. Saddam Hussein [update 30-December] - the butcher of Baghdad was executed. He deserved to rot in jail. But it would have exacerbated regional tensions, unless incarcerated in an absolutely neutral - and stable - country. There's no true justification for capital punishment.
Others of note:
Music: Syd Barrett, Wilson Pickett (his Hey Jude brought Duane Allman to Derek and the Dominoes, although Allman’s work on Boz Scaggs’ Loan Me A Dime was more significant), Lou Rawls (the sultry You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine), Gene Pitney, Elisabeth Swartzkopf (opera) , James Brown, Sam Neely
Literature: Stanislaw Lem (science fiction writer), Mickey Spillane (detective Hammett)
Politics: Alfred Stroessner (the villain of Paraguay) , Lloyd Bentsen, Gerald Ford, Caspar Weinburger, John Profumo
Film: Glen Ford, Jack Wild
TV: Joseph Barbera (Hanna Barbera cartoons), Aaron Spelling, Don Knotts (‘Barney’s in jail, Barney’s in jail’), Maureen Stapleton (more than All In The Family)
Australian: Peter Brock
A league of his own: Ivor Cutler
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
1. An Inconvenient Truth (USA, 2006)
At the top because it was both a riveting film, and a significant documentary. Not to mention the positive effect it had on the most important issue our era, climate change. My original comments here.
2. Thank You For Smoking (USA, 2006)
An excellent film all through. Well written, acted, directed, cast, and particularly funny. My comments here.
3. The Prestige (USA/UK, 2006)
Annoying the first time around, but ultimately very clever and challenging. You need to see it twice to understand the plot and the nuances, but it’s worth it. Rather grim in places. My comments here and later here.
4. Casino Royale (USA, 2006)
Definitely the best bond film. Had almost none of the cheesiness and cliché of the rest. Very engaging, great pace, rather violent. The only Hollywood "blockbuster" this year I really liked.
5. Children Of Men (UK/USA 2006)
A bleak but redemptive film of the near future. Some stunning scenes. Comments here.
6. Mullet (Australia, 2001)
Although small in scope, it’s a particularly good Australian film. Accept the small focus and appreciate the story. For my money, it’s better than the much-lauded Jindabyne, a similarly small-scope Australian film. Comments here.
7. Lady In The Water (USA, 2006)
A good modern fable, good storytelling from M Night Shyamalan, whose films are always unusual. Comments here.
8. Syriana (USA, 2005)
A powerful, very topical film about oil politics. And it had George Clooney, the most watchable actor of our times. Comments here.
9. Beat the Devil (USA, 1953)
Criminally underrated (albeit patchy) spoof of films like Casablanca, but the witty script is fast, so you have to listen carefully to catch it all. Get it on video to rewind as necessary. Comments here.
10. A Prairie Home Companion (USA, 2006)
Robert Altman's final film, although not perfect, was small in scope and big in heart. Some surprisingly good singing from Meryl Streep and others.
Close on the heels of the last film above were The Man With The Golden Arm (USA, 1955) and Play It Again Sam (USA, 1972).
Sunday, December 24, 2006
It took me a long time to realise that the awkward phrase ‘seasons greetings’ is meant to be a neutral holiday wish, an alternative to ‘merry christmas’. Now I’m bemused by the card we got from a Youth Off The Streets priest: seasons greetings on the outside and a Christian message on the inside.
I’m happy if everyone just embraces the spirit. Christians, by all means, can appreciate the special meaning for them; at the same time, everyone can enjoy the secular traditions of the christmas season.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
It's tempting to say that if the Americans don't like him, he must be doing well, but there's a little more to it than a glib backhander.
In fact, he comes across as a particularly intelligent, thoughtful person, as I found when I listened to an interview on BBC radio recently.
The position is that of a diplomat, first and foremost – and a very difficult position it is. He has no real muscle, and all the while must defend the UN from US agendas and the tendency of the US to treat the UN like a handbag.
He's been vocal constantly on issues of significant peril, such as Darfur and HIV/AIDS. And in his sunset days, he gave a pointed and strong message on global warming to the most recent climate change conference, in Nairobi.
But he can only attempt to persuade, not enact. And he bore on his shoulders the weight of a relatively weak organisation that can only achieve what its members want to achieve.
It's interesting to note that a survey of US political cartoons on the UN was almost entirely negative. The only distraction for the cartoonists was the clownish departing US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton.
Still, even the US remembers at times that there is nobody else for the job but the UN. Whether America approves of the results or not, it's clear a UN presence reduces bloodshed and ameliorates human disasters. Not to mention the various agencies at work on such issues as refugees and human rights.
Convenient for all when they are needed, ignored when they are not. It's a brave job that Annan took on. Let's home the new Secretary-General (Korea's Ban Ki-moon) has the same wisdom, compassion, and diplomacy as Annan.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Most analysts acknowledge you need a range of solutions to improve climate change outcomes. Most acknowledge that things will get appreciably worse before they stabilise. But few are willing to use recent unusual climatic phenomena as proof. For example, the following are not generally taken as proof:
Hurricane Katrina devastating New Orleans: yes, weather fluctuations will be more extreme, storms wilder, but this is not necessarily noticeable yet;
That mammoth iceberg off the coast of New Zealand was not taken as evidence. On the other hand, the Antarctic ice shelves are definitely breaking up
Australia is still in the midst of the longest and worst drought in recorded history. Still not evidence that weather patterns have already changed.
However, more easily acceptable evidence lies at the the cold regions of the planet. These areas will be – are – the first to experience permanent environmental change. This includes the thawing of the Russian tundra, the retreating of the snows of Kilimanjaro [predicted to be gone by about 2020: the local ecosystem and people rely on water from the seasonal melts], the retreating of glaciers, and the vanishing ice in the seas off Alaska.
It's important to get it in perspective, and avoid blaming everything on this phenomenon. But it's also important to recognise what will change, and the devastation of whole ecosystems, which is hiding behind the headlines. Yet every incremental step we take will achieve good.
Next time around, the last hungry mile of personal responsibility: carbon offsetting, and why it is proving so difficult at this early stage of action.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
At the large enterprise level, it's hard to get close to the ideal in a Data Warehouse. The task is positively Hurculean, to schedule feeds from a large number of data sources, cleanse the data, integrate it, and store it. The data integration task alone would be daunting, and could conceivably take forever. Why? Because if you do the right thing and involve all interested business units, it could be a neverending talkfest. Especially if there are competing interests. And much as people can talk about eliminating stovepipes (around the various business areas), there is always going to be competing interests, people concerned with building, maintaining, expanding their domains.
So I was unsurprised to hear there was a certain amount of descoping. Not enough, to my mind, to match the realities of a large business environment.
But on the positive side, ever business or technical issue I raised (on a broad level) was matched with a plan of action, or at least a firm awareness of the issue. So I'm happy to let them run with it – I'm not an enterprise architect.
But on the even more positive side, look what they were promising the data user! An array of different tools to access the DW, from (almost raw) SQL coding to (vanilla) data mining tools, and various options in between. But wait – that's not all. They were also offering the data user access to several levels of data, from modelled representations to raw tables, even as far as allowing access to the [ETL] staging area.
What does that mean? On one level, if the tool you're using doesn't give you the productivity you're after, you can go for something more gui-based. Conversely, if it doesn't give you the level of control you're after, you can go more towards SQL. And if you're not confident about the data you're receiving, you can drill behind the model, to the tables, then to the staging data.
What better access could you ask for? It's like wish fulfilment.
Prototypes are a matter of months away. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
Monday, December 18, 2006
This ethical issue popped up not so long ago in the US, distilled into the above Doonesbury cartoon by Garry Trudeau.
I'm not sure that the point is obvious enough, given the furore that generated this cartoon. Privilege will always try to get someone else to fight the battles.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Many people saw it as rather patchy, due to a variable pace and talkiness. But there is great enjoyment in the dry wit, and some truly superb delivery.
This is due in no small part to the script (John Huston, Truman Capote), and the presence of another hidden gem, Jennifer Jones. She delivers her lines with such charming verve that she stands out in a high calibre cast.
This cast includes Peter Lorre, Robert Morley, Gina Lollabrigida (as, well, Gina Lollobrigida) and Humphry Bogart just playing Bogart.
It was something of a parodic take on earlier Bogart films, although the “low-key nature of the comedy eluded many people”, including Bogart, who “doesn’t seem to get the joke”. He notably said “only the phonies liked it” – but it’s easy to tell the comedy doesn’t sit with him, and he delivers the lines like the dramatic adventure film it’s meant to spoof.
Lorre reprises his earlier character, while Morley substitutes for Sydney Greenstreet as seen in Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. Morley is easily the other standout, with a comedic delivery unmatched by anyone here except Jones. Marco Tulli rounds out the band of rogues (with Morley and Lorre) simply because his form adds great slapstick effect to the three of them trotting around together.
The combination of script, Jones and Morley make for a cracker of a film, and the cinematic candy of Bogart, Lorre and Lollobrigida round off a very worthwhile experience.
Chelm: Now look here, this boat is definitely, most definitely, scheduled to sail at 24 hundred hours.
Italian sailor: Scheduled, Mr Chelm, but not, I fear, destined to do so.
[Bogart]: Propeller gone, or is the captain drunk?
Italian sailor: Oh but of course the captain is drunk. But the real trouble is the oil pump…
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
It’s certainly momentous that we have Peter Garrett, ex-Midnight Oils singer, as the Opposition Environment spokesman. Despite the fact that he never wrote the Oil’s lyrics, he’s always been articulate and thoughtful, inclusive of a stint as head of the Australian Conservation Foundation. He was also a candidate for the Nuclear Disarmament Party, and is now at odds with his leader on uranium mining. But that’s quite normal in politics, despite the tabloid headlines.
Garrett will most certainly bump up the ALP vote. Yet under any other circumstance, he would have stayed on the backbenches forever. Although he was parachuted into the safe seat of Maroubra (my own electorate – yes, I get to vote directly for or against him), Garret is not aligned to any ALP faction, which is normally the kiss of death for a political career. But surprisingly, Rudd was able to break the factional stranglehold on the front bench, either through the momentum of his leadership win or because the ALP are desparate. In any case, both leadership contenders had been from the right, so it wasn’t that radical a change.
In demeanour, Rudd matches Howard’s conservatism, which should go down well with marginal voters. Yet Howard’s strength as a political player is equally his weakness as a statesman, as Rudd immediately identified: “his talents, skills and abilities are so focused on the arts and crafts of immediate political survival that he has lost sight of the nation's long-term needs, the nation's long-term prosperity”.
As the polls have indicated, next year’s election is now wide open. But as we’ve seen over the past ten years, the gap between now and the election is a lifetime in politics.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
***** Warning: Spoilers below! *****
1. The core motif is Obsession
When all is stripped back, the only thing left is obsession. The three main protagonists each face their moment of decision, and they ultimately cling to their obsession more than anything else. This is remarkably similar to Nolan's earlier film Memento, where the protagonist at a key juncture is so pissed off with a character that he writes himself a deliberately misleading note condemning that character.
2. Why Angier killed himself - several times
Angier was fully aware that each time he threw the switch on the duplication machine, he would be killing himself. Why was he unworried? Simply because Cutter [Michael Caine] had said earlier that a sailor claimed his near-death drowning experience was "like going home". He thought he wouldn't suffer. Yet, Caine was simply trying to comfort Angier over the death of his wife, and indicated as much later when he said that it was really agony.
3. Tesla was played by David Bowie
Having read later that Tesla was played by Bowie, I regarded the character's appearance with heightened interest the next time around. But even knowing it was he, I found it a struggle to recognise Bowie in the character. Maybe he was significantly older than when I last saw him; maybe Bowie was such a good actor, with good makeup.
4. Nearly every line in the film spoke to the secrets that were revealed later
There are some detective writers that give the reader the opportunity to work out the solution; others simply show how clever they are without giving the reader a chance. I contend that Nolan never intended sufficient clarity in his clues to discern the truth.
5. What knot did he tie?
"Part of me says one, part of me says the other." Every time Angier asked Borden how he tied up Angier's wife for that fatal trick, he was asking the Borden that didn't do it.
6. The little girl provides the only redemptive warmth in the film
It's a cold work - being so focused on obsession. The girl has her father in the end - and that's it. Caine was touched by this redemption (in fact, engineered it).
7. There wasn't any modern clothing
Contrary to my earlier recollection, there was no scene with modern-day clothing in it. The scene I recalled had relatively non-descript clothing, but it wasn't out of keeping with the time. In struggling with the hidden premise, I forged an assumption that some contemporary element was involved, but that wasn't the case.
8. It is thoroughly impossible to catch all the nuances of the film unless you see it twice
I was resisting the return trip, but there was simply too much I couldn't answer. It all fell in place the second time around. Yet I was pleasantly surprised that I could get enough out of the second viewing to consistently hold my attention.
9. It is worth seeing twice
It's a hard film, but rich and worth watching in many ways.
Monday, December 11, 2006
For the analysis and planning for implementation of technology, it really helps to have some understanding how take-up is going for that technology.
Well, that's all been cruelled by a recent survey from Nielsen Media Research. Inter alia, it found that nearly half Australia's mobile phone users think they're using 3G already! The sharpest increase in (perception of) 3G use was among Telstra users, up from 14% to over 40% in a single quarter.
Among Virgin Mobile users, 41% claimed to use 3G - yet Virgin don't even provide that service yet!
This is what happens when you market heavily to teenagers.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Ok computer is one of the best, possibly one of the most important, rock albums ever. It is dark, complex, emotional, innovative - and consistently ranks at or near the top in popular and critic polls.*
With music so moving, so captivating, I'm always keen to hear more, further mine the vein.
To Radiohead's great credit - unfortunately - they moved on immediately, so their later music sounds more electronic, less rock - and more impenetrable.
And now there's variations on the theme from the Easy Star Allstars: Radiodread, a reggae version of the full album Ok Computer.
This is a fine line to tread: you can alienate either those people seeking true faith with the album, or those who expect something more.
Yet it works, very well. It is faithful to the original - with a reggae beat. This sweetens, softens the original mood, but presents very creditable music, good guitar - and freshens the grooves the music has worn in my mind.
Why did they do it? Apparently due to wide acclaim for their previous project - a reggae version of Dark Side Of The Moon. Looking forward to it.
*See for example, Rate Your Music, and the recent poll of Australia's JJJ listeners.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
The idea is not new. In fact, it's older than Australia. We federated as a nation in 1901, with provision in the constitution for New Zealand to become part of the federation at a later time.
There is a certain inevitability about the suggestion. New Zealand is just too small to survive on its own in this modern world.
But it's undoubtedly unpopular in New Zealand, and will remain so. Simply, NZ would be swamped by Australia. And contrary to the cartoon above, it would be simply impractical to locate the capital in New Zealand. Sure, we'd like their water, but I believe they're in something of a drought themselves, if not to the length and depth of Australia's. Still, there are certain synergies. For example, we each have our notorious redneck politician. Our Pauline Hanson is much more vociferous and, well, stupid, but theirs, Winston Peters, is... wait for it... Foreign Minister!
Seriously, there is a lot of room to move, in terms of normalising regulatory regimes - much of which has already been done. And the European Union has demonstrated how political union can be achieved, in a practical sense. Much as the EU is distrusted in the UK, what the union has accomplished has revolutionised the global political landscape both as a trailblazer and in providing a counter to the moral, cultural and financial hegemony of the US.
Perversely, given the relative size of the project, I think it would take a lot longer to achieve something similar here.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
I can't believe it. How can anyone so comprehensively snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory?
Well, the poms can. Imagine declaring at 551, almost too late for a result, only to collapse for 129 in the second innings! Not only that, but they can't even contain a fast chase. They've proven they can bat, but Australia - significantly - does well at both batting and fielding. It's a bit of an ask to expect anyone to consistently match Australia's fielding ability which, on the whole, is in a class of its own.
I wasn't really expecting the poms to win the second test. It was always going to be a draw. But a loss!?
My mate celebrates every victory, no matter how humiliating. Me, I think Australia has been ahead of the game for so long, that it doesn't hurt to allow in a loss every now and then. The Ashes loss last year was never going to be a new spring for English cricket. Its ultimate result was to provide some cricket tragics with the illusion of real competition.
If it's any consolation, I look forward to the day when Warne is out of the picture permanently. Regardless of his cricketing ability, a man of that calibre shouldn't be on the team. And it gives Australia the opportunity to show how strong the side is all round.
Meanwhile, the poms can always beat New Zealand.
Trouble is, that bloke figured I was in computers, so I could help him. All I could do was tell him I’d been in the same boat myself. I’ve paid a few times to have a support bloke come in. One time they changed the modem – because the service call was cheaper if they did so. (Now I have a spare modem that may – or may not – still work.)
I suggested there’s a fair bit of money to be made in taking on full I.T. support for people. Somewhere between an insurance policy and a support company – except they would fix everything.
I’m not that bunny. But a New Zealand telco has something that must be a breath of fresh air. Telecom New Zealand is supplying its customers with a software tool (from a US company called Motive) that will work its way through “common internet problems”. If it ultimately can’t provide resolution, it provides codes that will allow actual support people to identify the issue – as opposed to playing 20 questions with the customer.
I’d like that.