Saturday, August 12, 2006

15 Minutes of Fame, Part 1

It was Mark Twain who said, “I don't care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right” - which is strange, because his name was actually spelled S…A…M…U…E…L…C…L…E…M…E…N…T…S. Andy Warhol said that in the future everyone would have 15 minutes of fame, and how true those words turned out to be in these days of text blogs, YouTube personal video posts, and forums. The guys at the Lux forums have got keen on the idea of reviewing maps themselves over the last day or two, an idea which, while meritorious, will probably soon fall by the wayside once the initial buzz wears off. Still it was gratifying to see that my 'Monopoluxy' map was the first one chosen for the 'treatment', even though I personally don't think it's anywhere near my best. To my mind it looks nice but plays too easily. So much for my 15 minutes of fame.

Lux member Blind Willie (his avatar is shown here - I'm no Optometrist but I think I might know his eyesight problem…) didn't like the background picture, which was fairly blurry. What I saw clearly as an ANZAC soldier, spitfire plane and naval destroyer, he saw as an 'out-of-focus hillbilly'. Ah the differences of perspective.

So today I'll probably fish out the original artwork for Monopoluxy and clear the background up a bit, but in the meantime, here's a link to the forum and the conversation, which got just a bit silly in the end (it is, after all, SillySoft!)

Lux MapLab - Monopoluxy Review

Friday, August 11, 2006

Hammer Blow

Video blogger Emma, one of the popular community members of YouTube, posted a video recently which tells a sad, sad story:

This morning I woke up to a call from my mother and father. I've only spoken to my father once since I moved out, and my mother not at all. So this phone call was a bit of a surpise. The phone call wasn't a pleasant one. I was told by my parents that they wanted me to stop dating James immediately. Why? Because he's black.
I was told that I have 'crossed the line'. That I am 'ruining my reputation'. Even that I will 'lose my family'.
Because I'm dating somebody whose skin is darker than mine.
I was told that I am a white woman and that I should be with a white man.
By my parents.
Basically they gave me a choice. My beliefs… or my family.
Now the only person in my family who I have a good relationship with is my sister Amanda. I either don't speak to, barely speak to, or don't get along with everyone else. But noentheless, they are my family and I have loved them my whole life.
I love my family.
But I cannot do that.

I was told that I live in an idealistic world, that there is a difference between the way the world should be and the way the world is.
You want to know what I think?
I think that it's sad that this is the way the world is. And I think it's sad that so many people are too weak, narrow-minded, ignorant, and cowardly to do something about it.
This is the way the world is, and I don't agree with it. And I won't give in to it.
I'm not going to sit back and let mine and other people's happiness be shattered. I'm going to do MY part in making this world a better place. An equal, fair, and beautiful place full of LOVE.
I am going to stand up for what I believe in.
I believe that love is love. That love knows no color or gender. Love is wonderful, and it is worth fighting for.
I will not sacrifice everything I stand for.
I will not be your puppet.
I will not be like you.
I love you.
But I am not you.

YouTubers, I hope you agree with me. If you do, I have a message for you:
Live in your idealistic worlds.
Live for what you believe in.
Live for what you know is right.
Live for a better world.

And don't ever give up who you are.
Peace & Love.

Those words need only one thing in front of them: “Brothers and Sisters, I have a dream…”. Martin Luther King would have been proud of you, Emma. Yes, everyone grows up at different times and so the world still retains some of its archaic, pathetic attitudes. Yes, people will be nice to your face and trash you behind your back. Yes, we all have to learn that's the way things are and will always be. And yes, if you believe in something, you should stand up for it, always, everywhere, to anyone, in love and peace, with understanding and humility but also with the strength that comes from having a just cause. Martin Luther King had a dream, and in far less time than he would have believed, that dream is close to fruition. It's not there yet, and the reality is it will never come 100% true. But his dream is closer than even he could have dreamed it being in so short a time. For that understanding and love which caused the world to change as much as it has, we, the world at large, should pat ourselves on the collective back. For allowing people like Emma's parents, who refuse to change, to continue in their misguided selfishness, we should be smacked.

I'll let Rap Star and Reverend M.C. Hammer take us out to the break (click on the picture for a larger view):

And just a quick link to explain why racism is wrong:
Where do races come from, and just how different are we all?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Islands in the Stream

Just a quick picture for all those on the Lux Map Lab forum to have a look at…

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Senseless Night

Yes, last night was Senseless Census Night in Australia, that exciting once-every-five-years night of nights where everyone in the country has to tell the government exactly who is in their house, why they are there, and what colour their underwear is. From this incredible deluge of information, statisticians can plan the future of Australian policy, public works budgets, education, and social welfare - which makes you really worry when you read things like this on the Australian Bureau of Statistics 'Census FAQ' web page:

What is the Census?
"measure the number of persons in Australia on Census Night, their key characteristics…" - They want me to describe all my keys!?
"The next Census is to be conducted on August 7, 2001… This page published 13 June 2002" - And they trust their own ability to deal with numbers?

What are the benefits of having a census?
"one of the few sources of detailed statistical information…" - Apart from the Tax Department, Centrelink, Dept of Transport, Telstra, Employers, …
"primarily for electoral purposes and the distribution of government funds…" - Proof positive that they bribe you into voting for them!

How does the ABS ensure my privacy?
"it is not concerned with information about individuals…" - That's why most of the questions are about individuals.
"provisions in the Census and Statistics Act 1905…" - another 100-year-old law in action.

How does the ABS ensure that all Australians are included in the Census count?
"the ABS has developed strategies to maximise the effectiveness of collecting information…" - Their names are Louie and Bruno.

Indigenous Australians
"Counting young males, children and visitors…" - What, aboriginal adults are exempt from the census?
"quality assurance, validation…" - In other words, we'd better have someone on hand to fill it in for them and make sure they understand the questions."

Cultural diversity
"ABS consults closely with migrant government and community organisations…" - But doesn't tell them anything while doing so, because of the privacy thing.
"communities where there may be reluctant to give personal information to a government agency…" - Like they would have had to do to get into Australia in the first place?

The homeless
"identify locations where homeless people might be found…" - So they can't escape Louie and Bruno by hiding in an alley all night.
"less intimidating question forms for homeless people with low literacy…" - Intimidating questions? These people are attacked by the forms!?"

Why does it take so long from the time of collection to release the data?
"collection, capture, coding, and validation of over 700 million responses…" - And given there are only 20 million people in Australia, are you guys sure you know how to add?
"capture, code and validate the responses…" - So if they don't like your answer, once they've caught your form out of the cage that is, they make up their own response?
"data and products produced from the 1996 Census were released earlier than for the 1991 Census…" - Four of five years before the 1996 census obviously.
"A release schedule similar to the 1996 Census will be implemented for 2001 Census output…" - So the 2001 census info will be released in 1997 at the same time as the 1996 info?

2001 Census and the question on religion
"religious organisations provide a range of services to the community, such as education, hospitals, and aged care facilities…" - So what's left for the government to pay for?
"For a group to be included in the ABS classification of religion, it would have to show that there was an underlying belief system or philosophy…" - So why complain that so many people wrote 'Jedi' last time?

Unpaid Work
"ABS estimates the value of unpaid work to be around $250 billion a year…" - Again, not to demean your mathematical abilities guys, but if its unpaid, its value is $0.00 a year.

What is the Centenary of Federation Census Time Capsule Project?
"disclose to people of the 22nd century a wealth of detail…" - If they can find it under all the rubble and the radiation hasn't decayed it.
"choice of having their names, addresses and Census form information retained by the National Archives of Australia and released for research purposes after 99 years…" - So if the status of Person 2 on census night in your house is 'casual root', remember to say 'No' to information release or else be hit with a paternity case when you're 125.

ABS FAQ page
Key National Indicators

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Bubble-Wrapped Kids

Never-satisfied Sue, a checkout-chick at a small-town supermarket, keeps complaining that my blog articles aren't intellectual enough, so tonight's will be a long one - and yes Sue, it will be another whinge.

A couple of weeks ago I was at a house on the east side of town (in case you didn't know, in almost every city of the world, the east side is the lower-class area - wind direction, industrial pollution, shade from hills, etc are the general cause), and I told my kids off for leaving a portable DVD player on the seat of the car outside, in full view of any passers-by "in an area like this". "Don't worry", interjected the lady of the house, a 21-year-old unmarried mother of 3, "we're the worst people in the street". Actually I don't believe her, but at least she was willing to admit her preceived faults, which shows more maturity than I expected. And then, when I commented that the wood heater, which was going flat-out, should have a screen in front of it so her toddlers don't burn themselves, she showed maturity once again: "They've all touched it once when it was going."

Now that might sound a very callous, cruel way of training children to you, but not to me. I remember a very similar situation with an ex of mine, Jen, preparing dinner. Her daughter Mary kept trying to climb up on the stove; Jen repeatedly told her not to, but she just kept doing it. After about the tenth time I stepped in and told Jen, "Stop shouting at her, just go over and get some ice from the freezer" Jen was horrified, but I insisted. Moments later, Mary put her hand on the stove, screamed and cried and had ice instantly applied to the burn, and never climbed onto the stove again.

There's an old saying, "sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind". Any parent who was brought up by good parents understands it. It hurts you more than it hurts the kids to stand back and let them make some mistakes, but you know you're doing it for their own good. Some lessons can only be learned through experience, not preaching. This doesn't excuse bashing or mental abuse, of course, but experience proves the Biblical saying "Spare the rod, and you'll spoil the child"… for the rest of their lives. You only get once shot at raising each child correctly, there's no room for trial and error, testing new theories or allowing the child to determine their own destiny. What is the point of all your experience if the kids can't benefit from it?

My kids were furious when we last when to St Mary's and found the playground there had had all its equipment removed, in case some kid hurt themselves. Schools are now banning tag, chasings, and any playground game that involves touching. Santa Claus has security cameras trained on him the whole time he's sitting in Walmart. Children are dragged off the counsellors at the first sign of shyness, openness, talking too much, being too quiet, not exercising enough, being obsessed with their weight. Every toy has to be retard-safe and every box have warning labels all over it. Schools are closed because someone poured rat poison on the floor. The kids spend too much time on the Playstation, but aren't allowed to play outdoors.

Society is raising a generation of wimps, of children who never get scratched or yelled at by the friends, who are molly-coddled and bubble-wrapped so badly they are suffering adult conditions like depression while still in junior school. Drugs are shoved down their throats instead of letting them learn how to deal with life's ups and downs. And then we wonder why they can't cope with life, after we took away every life-lesson which would have taught them to do so.

This is what it was like before Generation X, Y, ADD or whatever its called:

We survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes. After that trauma, our baby cribs were covered with bright colored lead-based paints. We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention the risks we took hitchhiking from home to our uncle's farm, where we built rickety treehouses in 50 foot pines and barns full of hay, chased the bull around the paddock, and drove tractors from age 7 or 8. We rode in cars with no seat belts or airbags. Riding in the back of a pickup was a special treat.

We drank water straight from the garden hose, not a bottle. We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle, and no-one actually died from this. We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank soda pop with sugar in it, but we weren't overweight because… WE WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING!! Yes, we weren't only allowed to, we were told to! We would leave home in the morning and play all day halfway across town in a playground, catch tadpoles in the creek or play soldiers in the forest; we were taught to be home before the streetlights came on. No-one knew where we were all day, and that was ok.

We would spend hours building go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes and ending up with blood pouring from our knees. We didn't have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-Boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, no videos, no surround sound, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or chat rooms… we had friends and we went outside and found them, then we would wander off somewhere and meet someone new and they would be our friends too then.

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents. We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms didn't live in us forever. We were given BB guns for our 10th birthday, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and although we were told it would happen, we didn't put out anyone's eye. We went to Scouts or Boys Brigade where we got hit in the mouth playing the stick-and-rag game and our front teeth went through our lower lip. No-one sued anyone for that either, it was just part of having fun! We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just yelled for them! Little League had tryouts; not everyone made the team, and those who didn't had to learn to deal with the disappointment!

The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law and told the local police to give us a good clip around the ear if we did something wrong! And the cops did!

And this generation has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever! The past few decades have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned how to deal with all of it!

When Kaitlyn was three years old she came inside crying because she'd fallen over and cut herself. She was sobbing hysterically, that heart-wrenching sob of misery and betrayal that a parent would willingly cut his own arms off to stop. "Why… did this… have to… happen… to me?". As I fixed her up, I said "Well, life has two choices. You can stay inside where its nice and safe and warm and you never get hurt, but you don't have very much fun… or you can play outside where there's lots to see and do, but sometimes you get hurt out there." She thought long and hard about those two options, and when I asked her which one she'd decided on, she replied "I guess I'll just have to be hurt sometimes."

Smart girl. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Is the world more dangerous now than when we were kids?
ABC Science & Society - Watching Your Kids Online
Dangerous playground games banned
School Rat Poison Scare

Monday, August 07, 2006

True Tales of Telstra

Last year Telstra, in a blaze of publicity, announced they were going to install high-speed fibre throughout Australia; they were going to make sure Australia had the fastest internet and the best phone network in the world, period. While everyone in the auditorium was cheering, I was laughing my head off. When it comes to internet speed, Tassie is the a%#e end of the internet, with the rest of Australia only slightly ahead. While politicians and company directors throw phrases like 'information superhighway' around, we're still waiting for the graders to come and start sealing the dirt track we're currently using. We wait… and wait… and wait… for pages to load, while 10-year-old American kids are busy watching 5 streaming full-screen movies and playing World of Warcraft online at the same time. And if this sounds like I'm complaining about slow internet, consider this: where I work we have consistently subscribed to the fastest possible internet option as and when they became available to us!

Today Telstra publicly announced they were putting their $4 billion dollar plan on hold, supposedly because of conflicts with the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) over pricing. This fibre rollout was never going to happen, it was always beyond Telstra's technical, financial and service abilities, and one suspects it's announcement might only ever have been a way to push Telstra share prices up at a time when large blocks were being made available to the public.

The selling-off of Telstra in the first place is fairly shonky practice. Australian taxpayers paid for Telstra during all the years of its establishment, then the government sold it as if it were the owner of the company. Did any of the money go back to the people who bought it in the first place? Well… no, far from it. In fact the government sold Telstra to the public, the very people who already owned it, one share at a time.

Now why would anyone want to buy into Telstra anyway? This is a company whose customer service is almost non-existent, as these examples show:

• Miss your bill? Too bad, because Telstra, despite announcing plans to build the world's best communication network, can only send bills through the mail. They cannot regularly email them to you, fax them, or ring you up and tell you your phone is about to be cut off.
• And that cutoff will cost you $57 to have reconnected, even though its about 5 seconds work.
• Line rentals and handset rentals from Telstra are plain ridiculously high. You can buy a new mobile (cell) phone, with included credit, every two months for the same cost as renting a Telstra line for that long.
• Every other phone company in Australia rents its lines off Telstra, and yet the majority of them can still charge less per call than Telstra.
• Forget consolidating all your Telstra bills into one manageable portfolio. Sure they've advertised it for years; in fact, we have called Telstra umpteen times in the last 4 years, and arranged for a Telstra Rep to come and go through our accounts and options. Despite making multiple appointments over that 4 years, we still haven't had one single Rep turn up.
• As shown on current affairs TV programs last week, Telstra sends people bills for 1¢ even though postage is currently about 45¢ in Australia. Telstra implied in the interview that this was an unusual error; not so. Many, many people have Telstra bills in their drawers somewhere for 1 or 2¢; mine was over 10 years ago.
• The vast majority of Internet Australia still doesn't have anything more than a 56k dial-up connection, despite those amazing fibre plans, and has very restrictive time and data limits on it. Telstra, according to its own literature, does not 'officially support' anything faster than a 28k connection!
• Forget calling Telstra's Customer Service with its voice recognition nightmares. Even if you are understood instantly, you'll have an average 6 questions or button pushes and 60-85 second wait, be asked a whole heap of identifying information, then told they can't help you in most cases because it isn't on the script in front of them, perhaps you'd like to be put through to another department? And another after that? And another…

Telstra sucks, bigtime. This is a company whose share prices will continue to fall and fall and fall, until it goes bankrupt. Announcements of non-existent impossible developments will delay it for some years, but the plain and simple fact is that Telstra is not a commercially viable company, and is too set in its self-righteousness to see themselves as the man in the street does. While the government and the taxpayer footed the bill, Telstra prospered, at least on paper. But the writing is on the wall, and it says 'Please hold…'

AUSSIES! Help me out here, post comments on this article about your own terrible experiences with Telstra, so our Yank readers can get some idea what they're like from people other than me!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Tourists Needed

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home. It doesn't matter how long you are away, or how enjoyable the trip, there's always that feeling when you get home - your own things, the pillows the way you like them, the predictability of your familiar shower, pictures on the walls you chose, and of course the best part of arriving home after a trip, being able to throw everything in a big pile in the lounge and leave it there until you can be bothered doing something about it. Tonight we arrived back from our weekend trip to Hobart, very tired from packing everything into a quick two day visit. There's plenty to see and do down the south end of the state, but a lot of it suffers from that very common Tasmanian disease, Overcharge-and-Underwhelm. Among a lot of Tasmanian tourist attractions the attitude seems to be that tourists have an absolute fortune and can't wait to spend it, and we're not going to interrupt our TV watching or talking to a mate on the phone for any longer than necessary, ie long enough to grab the money and point the way to the entrance. But not all family-friendly activities break the bank. Among those which the budget-careful tourist should take in are Salamanca Market, the Shot Tower at Taroona, Russell Falls and Mount Field National Park, and the imaginatively-named Putters Mini-Golf course.