Thursday, April 24, 2008

Making your computer work better: SendTo on Vista

If you want to open a file with a particular program, you can right-click on it and either do an "Open with..." or a "Send To". I favour Send To myself, and I can add numerous things to that menu by putting shortcuts into the Send-To folder.

Well, I thought I could.

This is about some of the hassles you get with Windows Vista, and how to make that $%#%*& Send To work. It's not as obvious as it once was.

It's a matter of finding the Send To folder. On Vista, this has been moved around a bit. And there's a Trap: if you search for the Send To folder, Vista swears it is not there, although it is. Why is that so? Probably some simple explanation, but this is a good illustration of the many frustrations MicroSoft inflicts on the world.

The answer: the Send-To folder is located on the system disk (usually System (C:)), as follows:

Users> (username)> AppData> Roaming> Microsoft> Windows> Send To

- just in case you thought they might do something lucid!

(Microsoft's knowledge base articles on this differ (of course) between XP and Vista, so if you're caught reading a replication of the wrong instructions, there's double frustration. And even with the right version, MS goes the hard way, recommending Start > Search box > "shell:sendto" to get access to it. It puts this instruction in advance of the simpler approach, of course.)

Shaun Micallef vs. David and Margaret

Sean Micallef has a wonderful wit - absurdist and very dry.

His current programme is Newstopia, a satire on current events and news programmes. Like a lot of Micallef's work, it can be a bit hit and miss, but there are times when he's really on a roll. Such as last night - it had a lot of really great moments. Judge for yourself - the episode is available free at the above link for seven days.

It's a shame this programme always clashes with David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz's film review programme, At The Movies. Whether you agree with their opinions or not, they always give very useful insight into current films. Fortunately, episodes can be downloaded to be watched in full, at the above link. Unfortunately they seem to be available only a week in arrears.

so we're left with flicking between channels on a Wednesday at 10pm (with a later catch-up available as a fallback).

But in a good Micallef irony, he's now on SBS, when he used to be on ABC, whereas David and Margaret are on ABC but used to be on SBS. This can make channel-flicking quite confusing if you're not concentrating hard enough.

Micallef's done a fair bit of work; if you want to track it down, you can find on DVD a few series of his pogroms. Sic. (well after all, you try spelling Micallef. Even he sometimes gets it wrong.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Latest polls - bad for some... good for Australia

The latest Newspoll has some noteworthy points if it's read carefully.

First, primary voting intentions are fairly consistent with previous polls and elections, for third parties. The vote for the Greens in particular, always spikes down come election time; outside elections, people are happy to say they support the Greens. Two possible readings (not incompatible):
  • either people say what they think is right for polls, but at elections they have a panic attack and retreat to safe ground (despite the existence of preferential voting);
  • or major parties benefit from Green leaners, and so should heed green issues more.
Second: since January, people have come to know Kevin Rudd better, and are polarising on their opinion on his performance as Prime Minister. And the more they know, the more people like him.

Conversely, people have got to know Brendan Nelson better as Opposition leader and are again polarising - but to his detriment: the more they know the less they like.

Preferred Prime Minister looks more or less stable. Those few who prefer Nelson are probably the remnant rusted-on conservatives.

"Best Liberal Leader" is hard to read. Peter Costello is now on the list, but is that because he wasn't given as an option in December? Costello took a swathe from each other option by April, but it can't necessarily be said that Turnbull, for example, is less liked.

"Best Liberal Party Team" is a waste of space. Some of the options for leader/deputy just wouldn't happen, considering the people involved.

"Better Treasurer" can be misleading. Our actual treasurer, Wayne Swan, has had a much smaller profile to date than his opposite number, Malcolm Turnbull. And the uncommitted vote is higher than for any other question listed.
However, it may be worth noting that in the significant(ly economically active) 35 to 49 age group, Swan is slightly ahead of Turnbull. That would be within the margin of error, but it would give some indication.

In general, the signs do suggest that Rudd is embedded as Prime Minister well past the next election. And that, come next election, he will be facing off against Turnbull rather than Nelson.

Ya gotta laugh. Malcolm Turnbull is simply unable to properly shake himself of that arrogance that is the death knell for a politician. Much worse, fundamentally, than Keating ever was (methinks Keating's ultimate arrogance was more a product of his success, whereas Turnbull's is the stuff of bedrock). Not the sort of thing that could ever get him voted into office.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Food shortages

All this talk about global food crisis rather caught me unaware.

As an illustration, I heard from the BBC that in Haiti (more prone than most to the vaguaries of the global market since it imports so much of its food), the price of staple rice has doubled in the past year.

Various commentators have offered various reasons, from the giving over of arable land to biofuel production, to the prolonged drought in Australia (!), to the increased wealth (and subsequent demand) in the world's two most populous countries, China and India.

I rather doubt Australia contributes a significant amount to the global food market (bar a noticeable presence in wheat).

And I wouldn't have thought that biofuel production was so advanced or so earnest that it would have a global impact on food production. However, I heard some figures on [U.S.] National Public Radio just now that surprised me. It was estimated that only about 2% of European Union farmland was devoted to biofuel, but they went on to say that in the U.S., the figure is more like 20 - 30 percent!

To add perspective, the Herald quotes a UN estimate that 232 kilograms of corn is needed to fill a 50-litre car tank with ethanol - an amount that could feed a child for a year.

The abovementioned NPR piece suggested there was definite movement away from devoting primary production to biofuel, moving instead more towards utilising existing agricultural waste. Which is much more how it should be: a resource-greedy species such as us should be reducing as much as possible the amount of waste left over from industrial production.

Britain: a dinosaur melting pot?

News yesterday of a study that shows Britain to be home to one of the most diverse set of dinosaurs in the world.

It was a review study, which found 108 different species of dinosaurs had been discovered in Britain. Of course, It's not as if such a variety was intermingling all at once. The Mesozoic era (the dinosaur heyday) spanned 180 million years - although the article posits a 135 million year span for those dinosaurs identified in the review.

The originating article stresses that Britain was a final land bridge before North America finally separated from Europe (and Asia) - according to the article, that split happened at about the end of the Mesozoic (and the dinosaur) era.

Yet, as is pointed out, Britain has the longest history of research and exploration. Given global discoveries to date can only be scratching the surface of the extant fossil record, I imagine this contributes an amount of bias to the outcome of the study. However, that's not to deny the significance of a (relatively narrow) land bridge in the mixing of what could by then have been two rather distinct populations.

The work was published by the Geological Society of London, by academics at the University of Portsmouth. Of note, one of the authors is Darren Naish, who writes the always-interesting Tetrapod Zoology blog.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Germany's and Japan's past and future?

A photo in today's Herald had the caption:

"People queue at Berlin's Ostbahnhof station to visit a travelling exhibition on the child victims of the Nazi death camps. The train, filled with photos of children and their poignant last letters to loved ones, set off in November. It's journey will end at Auschwitz."

For this to be done in Germany, speaks to a higher aspect of the German character.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hard questions on help and homelessness

ABC tv screened a documentary on homelessness on Thursday: The Oasis: Australia's Homeless Youth.

It tracked two years of the Oasis homeless refuge in Surry Hills, and made quite a hero of Paul Moulds, the bloke who runs it and cares for those most people have already written off as crooks, nohopers and beggars.

It takes a huge amount of guts and patience to spend so much time and energy caring for people who are down, maybe headed further down, and in some cases might not survive their youth. A lot of hopelessness with few rewards.

The second aspect of the narrative that caught my attention was the nature of the youths' problems. Although most people might say their situation is entirely of their own making, that is not really so. The plights mostly had their origin in family breakdowns, frequently due to either lack of parental capability, or dysfunctional blended families, or family violence. That the homeless one turns to drugs, thievery, or (often) a combination of both, may reflect somewhat on the youth, but is arguably more fairly attributable to a lack of support for someone who is too young to have the wherewithall to rise above a situation not entirely of their own making.

Which brings me to the third theme of interest in this issue. An audience discussion afterwards turned to that issue of person responsibility. Beyond what point do you mandate the circumstances of a homeless young person? For example, sequestering allowances, forcing cold turkies, locking them up? There is some argument that Paul Moulds' example of constant care and help can turn their lives around - and in a positive way. Conversely, too much force and they will rebel - even if it is not in their interests.

Obviously, there is no one answer that fits all. But the programme ably demonstrated an important place exists for those who provide these youths with the care and support that had been lacking in their lives.

New results on relationships of phyla

Paleoblog reports on a Science paper that contends relationships between some of the major animal phyla (body types).

Amongst other results are:
- hypothesising a clade of moulting animals (previously defined as Ecdysozoa;
- relating lophophorates (three small marine phyla) to annelids and molluscs
- molecular confirmation of the monophyly of molluscs;
- supporting velvet worms rather than tardigrades as closes phylum to arthropods;
- hypothesising a clade uniting annelids, brachiopods, nemerteans and phoronids (mainly small marine phyla);
- ctenophores (comb jellyfish) as the earliest diverging multicellular animal of existing phyla.

This last result I find most interesting - that ctenophores diverged earlier than sponges, which were arguably closest in broad morphology to the ediacarans that preceded the Cambrian era from which emerged modern phyla. This newly attributed status of the comb jellyfish has filtered through to reportage in the mainstream press.

The authors analyse about 40 Mb of "expressed sequencing tags" from 21 phyla, including 11 for which the data had not previously been available. This is a form of molecular (genetic) analysis.

The pedigree of the sources is good. I am not sufficiently knowledgeable about the science, so I can only report the findings. There's a lot to digest.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mary Devenish 1923 - 2008

Mary was my wife's aunt, my mother-in-law's sister. She died on Saturday after a brief illness, a month shy of her 85th birthday.

Although she was at our wedding, I only got to know her gradually in the following years, as she also got to know and take delight in our young children.

She was a retired nurse, and lived by herself in a meticulously-maintained flat, never having married. I had been concerned that she was somewhat isolated there, but at a gathering today after her funeral, I found out otherwise. There were neighbours in her small apartment block that provided her with some of the necessary, more immediate human contact than we could provide.

Yet she was largely a self-contained person, as one might expect from her background. She was well-travelled, strong willed, and took an interest in politics, as well as reading - mysteries in particular - and bridge.

I was privileged to be able to spend some time with her at her bedside in the week before she died. She was pleased to see recent pictures of the kids, and expressed good feelings about the Prime Minister and acting Prime Minister: in particular, Kevin Rudd as a thoughtful and very hard-working man, and Julia Gillard being very intelligent.

I was very interested to see a number of photos of her that well pre-dated our acquaintance. It strongly brought home to me the life she had lived that I knew very little about. Photos that showed a lively young woman far removed from the gentle old lady I knew, yet with exactly the face and the look that I knew. A thoughtful and caring person; I am glad to have known her.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Multituberculates - early successful mammals

Multituberculates are an early order of mammals that was very successful - as mammals go - during the Mesozoic era (in the shadow of the dinosaurs), but became extinct in the Paleozoic, at a time when mammalian species were radiating to fill the gaps in environmental niches left vacant when the dinosaur-killing meteor hit at 65 million years ago.

Their molars each have rows of tubercles - cusps - hence the origin of the name. Teeth are frequently an important determinant of how and what any given species eats, and thus their longer-term survivability. Much analysis has been given over to this aspect of mammalian evolution. (Yet toothed names are sometimes given simply because teeth are all that are found of a given species).

Multituberculates (covering a variety of species and environmental niches) survived to the end of the Eocene (according to Kielan-Jarowowska), perhaps up to 34 milion years ago. Their niches were roughly those filled today by rodents, who are perhaps the most successful - and definitely the most species-numerous - modern mammals.

That might suggest that the Rodentia order actually crowded out the Multituberculata order, and was more fit in evolutionary terms. In fact, Kielan-Jarowowska reports a 1966 review (Van Valen and Sloan) that concluded their demise was due, successively, to condylarths (early placentals, now extinct), primates, then rodents.

As an older lineage, they were close to the monotremes (which are the most basal surviving lineage of mammals), but were slightly more derived ("modern"). Are Multituberculates egg-laying (oviparous) or live birth (viviparous)? Kielan-Jarowowska (from an older study) refers to them as viviparous with an "extremely small neonate". It lists this as a competitive inferiority, along with an abducted (or sprawled) limb angle. This latter would have made prolonged running more difficult than for its competitors.

Note that the New Zealand fossil, the SB mammal or "waddling mouse" had a 'somewhat abducted' posture. Yet that creature survived until 19 mya - isolated on an island chain that had no other mammalian competitors.

Kielan-Jaworowska Z, Cifelli R L, and Luo Z-X (2004): Mammals from the age of dinosaurs : origins, evolution, and structure. New York, Columbia University Press.
Worthy T, Tennyson A, Archer M et al (2006): Miocene mammal reveals a Mesozoic ghost lineage on insular New Zealand, southwest Pacific in PNAS vol 103 no 51.