Thursday, May 03, 2007

Don't Call Us…

Ah, its a dream come true... or is it? After years of complaints about telemarketing, the Federal Government has finally established a national 'Do Not Call' Register which allows phone subscribers to add their number to a list of banned numbers for telemarketers. If anyone does make a telemarketing call to you, and your number is on the list, they face fines of up to $1 million. But the service went up - and straight back down. It was swamped by people wanting to register, and crashed (see Do Not Call list swamped).

Telemarketers are just plain rude. Sure, we all acknowledge that the best time to catch you is at home in the evening, but does that really give them the right to ring you at 1:00 am? Or to ring back the very next week when you told them you weren't interested? And what about your instructions to them to remove your number from their list and never call again - why is it none of these companies will, on moral grounds alone, obey this simple request?

It's about time that a register like this existed. There already were a few, in fact, like the one run by ADMA, the Australian Direct Marketing Association, but they were voluntary and didn't have the legislative teeth that this new, government-run Register, has. Unfortunately, its not all as sweet as it appears. For starters, how will the Australian Government be able to fine overseas telemarketers, since they are subject to the laws of the country they are calling from, not ours? And secondly, the Do Not Call Register makes exemptions for political parties and their members, religious organisations, charities, polling companies and educational institutions. Between them, those groups would make up 75% of the nuisance calls anyway. So although its a step in the right direction, its certainly not what it should be. My phone is my own private line to the world, and no-one should be allowed to call it if I choose not to let them. That includes pollsters, pollies, and beggars. I pay the rental on it, so why should someone else benefit from my expenditure without my permission?

Put your phone number of the Do Not Call Register

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

42 Million Ways to Waste Money

42, as we know, is the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, but the big problem has always been - "but what is the question?" The Australian Government is about to spend $42 million on upgrading its website to allow users to create their own personal accounts and be able to log into them (see Feds to Spend $42m on website). It's an incredible amount of money, especially in an election year where the whole country's future hangs in a delicate balance. Big spending and overspending by governments is nothing new, but the sheer scale of this plan has me in awe.

For a start, let's get down to the basics - anyone with half a brain, PHP MyAdmin and a completely free webpage design program like iWeb can design and put online a website with personalised accounts. Add a couple of hundred dollars for web hosting and you've got everything the government just announced, for less than $1,000, including the time it took to do. That's $41,999,000 under-budget, and that's designing a site from scratch, not upgrading an existing one.

Let's look at the sort of hardware that kind of money could buy. For $42 million, you could buy:
93,541 500Gb hard drives.
352,941 ipod Nano's.
4,242,4242 music tracks from
28,000 top of the line PC's.
3,112 brand new Toyota Yaris cars.

You can never expect to get best value out of the tax you pay, but paying $42,000,000 for a job that should only cost $1,000? C'mon, Australia, and especially our politicians - WAKE UP.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

On Evil

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Evil prevails when good men fail to act. It has been made abundantly clear to me in recent times that the better the appearance of the man, the more evil he likely is. For a certain time of my life I daily hung out with druggies, thieves, alcoholics and whores; and never did one of them (nor I at the time, for I was one of them) consider what they did evil. The burglar setting out on a job was convinced in his heart that what he did was right, for no-one would be harmed, insurance would pay anyway, and it was only his right and just due for all the disadvantages that life had dealt him, though he would admit perhaps to being biased in his opinion. Reflecting back on that time, and seeing the events of recent weeks, I am caused to admit that some of the most worldly, rough and uncaring people in the world, were better men than some who stand upright and claim Christian virtue. When the unChristians are more honest than the Christians, we have cause to re-examine our whole world view.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Join the Army and Terrorize the World

Concerns have been raised over the mental health of soldiers serving in Australia's Armed Forces, with allegations that victims of post-traumatic stress syndrome are victimised, and that adequate counselling etc aren't available (read the ABC transcript). I've been hearing stories of psycho soldiers all my life, and certainly you can't even say the word "Vietnam" without the mental problems of veterans being raised next. Well pardon me if you disagree (as many of you will), but it all seems to me to be pointing out the bleeding obvious. You would have to be mentally unstable to the point of being insane to join the Armed Forces in the first place. Sure, all the advertising on tele makes it sound like you're signing up for the valuable leadership training, to discover your inner strengths, to learn new technology and be at the cutting edge of science, but the basic fact is that a soldier's job, fundamentally, is to commit murder, and to do it for no other reason than because someone else told you to. You train to kill people, and all the window dressing in every PR department doesn't change that simple fact. So before we go making too many accusations about the Army not providing counselling to its soldiers when they crack up, we should look at the simple fact that they weren't entirely sane when they joined up, either. Apparently though, the sort of violence and sadism which passes for "following orders" is excusable when you wear a uniform and get paid to murder people, whereas the psychotics in the general population, like the lunatic who gouged out his girlfriend's eye with a cattle prod or the sicko who tortured a 74 year old woman in her own home are condemned. He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword. Next time that ex-SAS veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq in the ABC story has a traumatic attack, he should stop and think of how many of his victims are suffering the same thing as a result of his actions.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Scotty Finally Beamed Up

James Doohan, Star Trek's "Scotty", has finally made it to space for real. He died in 2005 aged 85, but this week his ashes, along with those of Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper and about 200 others, were launched into space from Spaceport America, a commercial spaceport, which charged US$495 per... er... ex-person. Star Trek Creator Gene Rodenberry had his ashed launched into space in 1997.

Perhaps at this point its worth stopping and considering how much of the science fiction and fantasy that Star Trek showed, has actually become real in the 35 years or so since the show was first envisaged. Yesterday I downloaded the latest episode of a TV show from a world-wide computer network, transferred it to my pocket-size ipod device, and watched it on the bus on the way into town, pausing only to answer my cell phone (half the size of Kirk's communicator). When I bored of that, I listened to a few of the 8,000 music tracks on the device. I watched the show through a disposable plastic lens in my eye which corrects my poor vision, and when I got home I heated food in 2 minutes in a microwave, a device unthought of in original Star Trek time, and brushed my teeth with a motorized toothbrush. Then I turned on the wall-size-image video projector and watched the News that had been on half an hour earlier, and skimmed the entire world's News headlines on the computer on my desk (which has 80,000 times more storage than the entire State Education Department computer system had when I was at school), where I noticed a story about Scotty's ashes and commercial spaceports trying to out-compete each other for customers. Because I was moved by the story, I wrote a few paragraphs about it and seconds later, anyone anywhere in the world could read my comments.

When you've got an hour or two to spare, go and watch some of those early Star Trek episodes. Remember that most of what you see on the show was intended to show the amazing things of the future, even though they look laughably ancient to us now. See for yourself just how lucky we are, to live when we live.