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Fri, 2005-Dec-30

Domain Change

Welcome to SoundAdvice.id.au. The move is complete. I apologise to Planet Humbug for the spam as entries were duplicated and pushed to the top of the list. Strangely, Planet Linux .au appears to have been completely unaffected.

soundavice.id.au will be the permanent home of this blog for as long as I can keep up the payments :) I suggest updating any links that are not automatically updated by the 301 responses back at members.optusnet.com.au.

Benjamin

Fri, 2005-Dec-23

Intelligent Design

Leon Brooks points to a commentary on America's judicary choosing not to allow Intelligent Design to be taught in Kentucky's science classes.

The author, Alexander George is described as a professor of philosophy. His opinions read to me like those of a philosopher rather than a scientist. Philosophy is to science as science is to engineering. Each specialises the former based on strict conventions. The Scientific Method is a strict convention that Alexander seems to choose not to understand. Instead of claiming that ID is not science he claims it is simply not good science. His definition of science leaves a lot to be desired.

Alexander defines science for the scope of his article as "any collection of assertions about the workings of the natural world". This frees him of having to make the argument about ID being scientific or unscientific. He then goes on to argue with no further basis that "[ID and astronomy] are poor accounts of the phenomena they seek to explain and both much improved upon by other available theories." He never states his basis, but I gather from his tone it is that credible scientists back other available theories rather than backing ID.

Science vs Non-Science

There is a scientific method. The boundary between science and non-science is not as arbitrary as Alexander claims. Again without further basis he says "No, there's no such method: Doing science is not like baking a cake.". He is right that doing science is not like baking a cake, but testing science is:

  1. Does this "science" take into consideration natural observations?
  2. Does it claim a clear hypothesis?
  3. Can the hypothesis make predictions that can be tested against further observation?

Some of the greatest cutting edge work in physics does not yet pass this test. It isn't science. Perhaps one day it will be, but for the moment it is not. I belive that ID (oh, let's drop this act... creationism) fails on the third point. It isn't being a stupid idea that prevents it from being science. It isn't being backed by non-credible people that prevents it from being science. It is only the failure to make predictions that can be tested against further observation. It doesn't put itself on the line, so it isn't science. It gets itself argued out at a political rather than a scientific level, so it isn't science. If scientists were working on it, actively hypothesising, and actively testing the hypothesis against further observations it would magically become science.

This is imporant to keep in mind. Although Alexander declares that creationism is science, the argument he chooses to make against creationism is baseless. The non-science argument is much more important.

A new religion

Alexander declares that creationism is a plain old bad hypothesis. I can see two ways he could support this unbacked claim. Either he could say that a great deal of scientists say it a bad hypothesis and is therefore bad, or that the evidence is so clear that a layperson can determine its truth or not. I would argue that a lay person cannot. Creationists have adapted over the years to track the progress of science, and have theories that to a lay person like myself are not unreasonable. Stating the backing of scientists for an alternate hypothesis isn't necessarily a good basis for "dissing" creationism either. Scientists have been wrong for all of history. It is their job to be wrong, and to constantly search out how they are wrong. Science is a process of adjusting theories to correct mistakes, not of believing that they have all of the answers today.

Before Darwin provided a basis for intellectually-fulfilled atheism our culture had a bias towards creationism of one form or another. Scientists had this bias and were good at explaining how the world worked from that perspective, from the perspective of intelligent design. Since that time the bias has swung to an assumption of no unnatural interference in the course of nature. This is natural in science for reasons I outlined in an earlier article on this subject. Evolutionary theory can be argued about between reasonable people, and reasonable people can come to a consensus on which of the available hypotheses are likely to be correct. The big bang can be argued. Creation of the universe by God through unnatural means cannot be argued. It can only be taken as a matter of faith or refused as a matter of faith. It makes a poor basis for scientific understanding because reasonable people cannot determine the likelyhood of its accuracy. Science can only be based on natural phenomenon, and on assumptions that things before are pretty much the same as things are now on some level or another. Science can only interrogate theories of creationism on a natural level. If God used natural processes that are similar to the processes that occur today in nature to create nature then science has a hope of understanding the natural part of if. Science must exclude the unnatural in its thinking and in its reasoning.

There are two ways to look at this. Either the unnatural does exist and science can only interrogate its natural subset, or there is only the natural and science will eventually discover everything. I should be clear here on a definition of the unnatural and the natural. The natural is all we can observe from our present viewpoint with our present tools. The unnatural is what we cannot observe from our present viewpoint with our present tools. It would also include anything beyond a horizon that may exist beyond which no amount of science will allow us to percieve. We presently have a horizon that includes knowledge of quantum physics, and a whole bunch of useful things above that scale. We think things like string theory may exist, but there is no science that can prove it yet. If we discover more it may then fall within our natural horizon. It would seem that God is by definition beyond our present natural horizon and may be beyond any perminent natural horizon. That is, if he exists.

During the transition of our wider non-scientific culture from an assumption of creationism to an assumption of big bangs and evolution there was at one time an idea that our natural horizon was finite. This idea has been slowly chipped away as science has found more. Things that were once thought to exist but have so far not appeared within our natural horizon now have an assumption tagged on them that they do not exist. Supernatural heeby jeevies like ghosts, werewolves and sea monsters have not appeared. They should have done so by now with so many eyes watching, so it seems reasonable to conclude they don't exist outside the horizon either. This conclusion is also applying to the supernatural we call the spiritual. A spiritual void necessity for the function of resoned science has become a religion in wider culture that is displacing the old, perhaps with good cause.

The real trouble with Creationism

So we religious types have been fighting back. What we know in our hearts and what is written in our books can't be wrong. We try to battle the cultural religion that mirrors current scientific thinking. To bring it to the cultrual phenomenon we bring a mirror of our own religious thinking into the scientific arena. Scientists scoff because the ideas were dismissed hundreds of years ago, and are clearly backed only by religious dogma. We fight on because we can't be wrong. If our book is not authorative when it speaks of nature, how can it be authorative when it speaks of that beyond our horizon? It must be authorative. I know Jesus loves me because the bible tells me so.

This dry reading of religion is not the only one possible. I could say that I know Jesus loves me because I see it day by day. Well, I do... but that is subjective. We were once able to turn to the bible as a source of objective statements. If not objective between religions, at least objective been individuals. We can agree more or less on what the bible says. The bible is called holy and used to convert new believers. No wonder that alongside the cultural demolition of our book that we see calling itself science we see an attack on another front. You see, the culture of sprituality has changed as well. More and more we see people who are or try to be spiritually fulfilled without the backing of any book. We see them finding their own way or their own path. The problem is that our book says Jesus is the only way to God, and if your path doesn't lead to God it leads to hell. We see the end times painted by Jesus himself in Matthew 24:24-25:

Fake Messiahs and lying preachers are going to pop up everywhere. Their impressive credentials and dazzling performances will pull the wool over the eyes of even those who ought to know better. But I've given you fair warning.

I'm sure every religion on earth carries pretty similar warnings. Things are going to get bad. People are going to turn from you, and it'll be your job to hold the line. This creationism as science is the product of good-willed people trying to hold a line.

I wouldn't mind seeing creationism explored more from a scientific perspective. Something tells me it won't go away any time soon given the political climate. When creationism is actual science with actual developed theories I'll be one of the people reading about it. The problem is that even the best science only pushes the natural horizon back a little. If that horizon is finite as it seems it must be for God to exist somewhere, then science will never "prove" any creation story. It can only ever be challenged by it, and the evidence will only convince those who understand the problems well enough. Science and religion will always be attacking different problems, and when once crosses over into the other inevitably it will do it in an unsophisticated and clumsy way. Here is what my bible dictionary has to say about wisdom, and by implication about science:

The apostle Paul declared that the message of the cross is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews. But to those who believe, said Paul, this "foolishness of God" is "the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:18-25).

Against the wisdom of God Paul contrasted "the wisdom of the world" (1 Cor. 1:20; 3:19), "human wisdom" (1 Cor. 2:4), "the wisdom of men" (1 Cor. 2:5), "the wisdom of the age" (1 Cor. 2:6), and "man's wisdom" (1 Cor. 2:13).

The biblical concept of wisdom, therefore is quite different from the classical view of wisdom, which sought through philosophy and man's rational thought to determine the mysteries of existence and the universe. The first principle of biblical wisdom is that man should humble himself before God in reverence and worship, obedient to His commands. This idea is found especially in the Wisdom Literature: the books of Job, Pslams, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes.

Benjamin

Sun, 2005-Dec-18

Carlyle Christmas Newsletter, 2005

2005 has been an action packed year. The biggest news is that if all goes to plan Michelle and I will be parents about three and half months after we hit our fifth wedding anniversary. Our firstborn is due to come into the world March 16. We have been starting to assemble bits and pieces. We have a pram. We have a cot. Hrrmm... car seat. Cloth nappies, and a few disposables. Possibly a change table. A plush sheep. I guess in practice we have a lot still to get done.

I'm a little worried that it will be like our wedding: Three or four months of thinking everything is pretty much planned an in place, plus two or three weeks of frenetic work getting everything we hadn't thought of done. With Michelle in her condition I don't think I'll be able to take too much of a break at that time, either.

Michelle herself is doing well. She isn't liking the heat at all, but medically she hasn't run into any trouble so far. She is really starting to balloon out (but is just as gorgeous as ever), and we are told that her waistline will continue to grow about one centimetre per week until the birth. We actually caught the last few minutes of "The Human Body" (an episode of the BBC series) last night. This was footage of actual childbirth, and I'm not sure Michelle really welcomed the spectre of things to come. We have only just attended our first Antenatal class, so undoubtably there is much more of this to come. Nevertheless we are currently planning on a natural birth, so it looks like we'll be in that position soon.

With all of the work-related things going on in our lives I don't think we've quite reached the level of anticipation mixed with dread that prospective first time parents should be at. We've been quietly hoping that things would just sort themselves out. I have been very busy trying to get a new release of the software I'm working on out the door. I've just gone on holidays so I won't know whether it officially makes it by Christmas until I return mid-January. I have three weeks of leave over Christmas, plus and additional four weeks planned for the birth. I imagine this set will be the more relaxing of the two :)

Michelle will be returning to work for only two weeks next year, and is planning on taking most of the year's remainder as maternity leave. Ideally she'll come back in a part-time capacity, and possibly work her way back into things after that. She has never been out of the work environment for long before, and when she has she has wanted to get back into things as quickly as possible. I think by June she'll be scratching at the doors to get out ;)

Luckily we have plenty of family living close by. My parents are walking distance away. My sister has just moved in to a place that is walking distance in the other direction. Michelle's mother is a short drive from here, as is her grandmother. I have an Aunt and cousins close by also. Between all of that, friends, and professional childcare arrangements we should be able to get some time to ourselves every so often. As to imposing on friends and relatives, well, I guess we'll just have to raise a child that everyone loves and wants to have around! No problem. I'm sure we won't have a child that screams from sun up to sun down like Michelle did as a baby. We surely won't have a child that spends his life seeing how much he can annoy the people around him before they give in to violent rage (I bet you can't guess who did that). At the moment we're just hoping for happy and healthy.

Oh well. I think I'll leave it at that for this year. For more information contact the usual suspects. I'll now return you to your regular tech blogging.

Benjamin

Sat, 2005-Nov-26

Responding to Small-mindedness with Small-mindedness

Steven Hanley paints a picture of creation where people come into being and sit around saying things like "Huh?" and "What?" when it comes to reproduction. Steven apparently can't imagine how these characatures could come to terms with their condition and imagines they may invented the inquisition several thousand years before the pope did. Hell, I know this is just blogging but baloney!

Steven, you speak of faith as a religious zealot speaks of science. While one side of the fence is worried about being related to scarey apes and monkeys, you seem afraid of being related to scarey god-lovers. Let's drop the preconceptions and look at what those you are rubbishing actually say, rather than what you want to believe they would say.

Let's have a look at Genesis 2. As with the Genesis 1 account of the creation of the entire universe, the detail is brushed over. Like the Genesis 1 account's focus on God's power over nature, Genesis 2 has a few simple points to make before getting on with living in the world that came out of this process. The main point of Genesis 2 is that God and people weren't separated at creation. God didn't create a race of naked people having casual sex on the weekend and wondering why their bellies grew. God created a people who he was in constant day to day contact with. Unlike today where we have to have some faith that he exists at all and see his influence primarily through physical and emotional phenomina, the bible is clear that God was in the face of his people. He was up close and personal.

The idea that people who are living this close to their creator would go crazy asking themselves what was happening to them is wastefuly arrogant. "He's right there. Why don't you go ask him?" The answer would be clear. Likewise, the presumption of violence as the basis of religion is one that has (comparatively) modern roots. If the biblical account of creation is to be taken seriously there was no violence, hatred, or bigotry to be had. Not until God and his people were separated.

Read on to Genesis 3. It too is simple, brushes over the details, and focuses on its core point: God and his people were separated by the desire of those people to become like God. It's a summary of the first half christian dogma in three chapters: We were once God's people, but we were separated by our own doing. The second half goes like this: We can be God's people once more, not by our own doing this time but by God's own doing.

Read into Genesis and other books of the bible what you like. There are certainly plenty of biases in there to pick up on. There are things in there that are telling in that they aren't said. Why did God put people in a position to be able to abandon him or try to replace him? Do we deserve the punishment we recieved for the actions of a few individuals? I suggest arguing the baselessness (if any) of religious creationism on foundations such as these. I suggest being clear on what you are arguing against, rather than coming up with ridiculous hypotheticals that you can point to and announce grandly how ridiculous they are.

Gensis is written in the style of a parable. It is abridged and moralistic and does not provide sufficient facts to support itself. I'm confident that creation stories from other religions will yield similar results. If you want to argue the ridiculousness of these stories be my guest. Personally I put about as much importance on these pages as the bible's own authors did. They're worth about three pages. As a fundamentalist I belive there is value in those pages, but fundamentally I think there are more valuable and interesting lessons to be learned than how old the earth can be calculated to be from a literal interpretation. What is important is that God is still in the garden waiting for our return.

Benjamin

Wed, 2005-Nov-23

I am the Antichrist

This is a story I've shared with a few people recently, and I thought a light note may be welcome to my readers. I am the Antichrist, or at least that's what a seventh day adventist once told me in the middle of Brisbane's Queen Street Mall.

When I was going to university I had a year-long bus pass. The mall was on my way home in a two-leg journey from St Lucia. A wait of half an hour was not uncommon so I tended to spend a fair amount of time in Queen Street.

I grew to like studying there. I found the constant but indistinct bustle kept my mind active but undistracted. Not that I minded the odd distraction, and that was where I found myself when two seventh day adventist evangelists walked up to me. One handed me a tract. We began to talk.

The seventh day adventists don't simply preach to the "unconverted" the "non-christians", but also to christians. They see themselves has having a purer christianity, bourne out of very literal interpretations of certain biblical verses. When I indicated that I was already a christian the young man who took the spearhead role wanted to know if I was the right kind of christian. He wanted to make sure that I knew the right things, and he had two points to convey.

  1. That God has a literal and physical face
  2. That hell is literally in the centre of the earth

He had bible verses to back him up. I don't recall the biblical references but I'll try to see if I can get close matches to my recollection. My recollection of the first verse is something like "the angels see his face every day". Perhaps he was quoting Matthew 18:10. He seemed to think he was being extra spiritual by telling me that from the original translation "face" could also mean "form".

The second verse was backed up by something like "your enemies will be trampled under your feet". Perhaps he is referring to Pslam 110:1 or one of the several times it is quoted in the new testament, such as Matthew 22:44 or Mark 12:36.

He had finished having his say, and I started. I said that I didn't believe that God was likely to be governed by his creation. I thought that God probably created the whole universe rather than simply our world, and that God is probably something outside our universe. I said that the angels may see his face because they too have a form outside of our universe. I hijacked his clarification, saying that if face can mean form then form can surely mean a non-coporeal form.

I suggested that his verse supporting the notion of Hell being in the centre of the earth seemed weak to me. Without hearing any more of the context of that verse it seemed to me that I was simply hearing a turn of phrase inspired by war. When your enemies are trampled under your feet it means that not only are your enemies dying, but that you are advancing. Surely this reference was nothing more, and not a reference to Hell after all.

What I didn't notice during my monologue is that my new friend was becoming more and more upset as I spoke. When I finally stopped he exploded:

You ANTICHRIST!

He tore his tract from my hand.

You DON'T DESERVE TO BE SAVED!

His friend tried to calm him.

I didn't hear you quote a bible verse ONCE!

That, my friends, is my story. I am the antichrist. I'm sorry for the harm I am destined to bring you all.

Benjamin

Sat, 2005-Nov-12

Evolutionary Theory vs Creationism

Now that I have my introductions in place, I think I can talk about evolution. Personally, I think it's scientifically plausable and on balance probably correct. My parents have been doing a little reading up on the issues involved. They now subscribe to Creation magazine, and I get to read through the articles from time to time when I visit them. The organisation behind Creation (formerly Creation ex nihilo, "Creation out of nothing") recently published a book summarising their position. I'm afraid I don't recall the title presently, but the main points of the book were that

Strangely, by my reckoning this collective theory makes no predictions that evolution would not also make. This is where the worlds of creationism (based on an assumption that evolution is wrong) and science (based on the scientific method) crash. The scientific method is simple:

  1. Form a theory
  2. Make predictions based on that theory
  3. Test your theory against observations
  4. Goto step 1

It doesn't matter if your theory is wrong. That's what science is all about. "It's only a theory" applies to all science, from evolution to e=mc2. In physics you can test by observation whenever you want. Testing evolutionary theory relies on waiting for more fossil evidence to be uncovered. In that respect evolutionary theory is less reliable, although it should become more reliable over time.

The problem with creation science is that no science is being done. A theory is formed based on the activist's interpretation of scripture, but it seems to me that the theory is never adequately tested. There is always the convenient back door of "Oh, God just made it like that to confuse us". That's reaching outside of science, because your theory isn't testable. It's philiosophy, theology, or metaphysics at best. You might be right, but there is no way for reasonable people to test whether you are right or not.

Evolutionary theory forms a much better basis for science. It can be tested. It can be argued by reasonable people. So far the arguments have lead to a theory of an earth much older than 6000 years. Chances are, the theory will stay that way for the forseeable future.

Getting back to the predictions that can be made out of creaton science's model... well first we have to take out the "God's confusing us line". If we assess the theory scientifically, then we can predict speciation will occur out of the model. We see that, but evolution predicts it as well. We can also predict that animals will become less viable over time. That they will become less genticially diverse. That conflicts with evolution's view, at least over the long term... however by stating that the world is only 6000 years old the time period is much too short to be able to make any determination.

It seems clear to me that people of good faith and intentions have been incrementally altering their theory of genesis until it is indistinguishable from the prevailing scientific viewpoint. This is an interpretation of the scientific method, but not a very satisfactory one. Instead of seeing droves of creation scientists going out there and challanging their own theories, we see their evolutionary scientist counterparts doing all the challanging. The creationists try to cherry-pick information and questions coming from the other camp and say "Aha! I can explain that!", but instead they should be saying "Here's what I can't explain. I need to formulate a theory which takes this into account".

So you see, my basic problem with creation scientists is the lack of credible application of science to their creationary theory. Evolutionary scientists and creation scientists are both packs of charlitains, but the debate and rigour applied to the evolutionists side of the debate keeps the process as a whole basically honest. There is too much scope for fooling oneself on the creationist side of the fence.

I do believe that God created the universe, the world, and ultimately us. How he did it isn't all that important to me. Why he did it is. The most important part of Genesis 1 is not where God says "how" he created the world (he doesn't, by the way). It's that he did which is important, and what he is capable of doing. Genesis goes on to explain how God and Man were separated by our sin, and also how man and man were separated. The theme of the rest of the bible is reconciliation. Of all the pages of the bible, the Genesis account of creation occupies two or three. This is also telling. The creation is important, but the most important part of the bible is our reconcillation to God and to each other.

Benjamin

Sat, 2005-Nov-12

Fundamentalism in the Christian Church

Anthony Towns touches on the ongoing debate about intelligent design that has recently struck a chord with media around the world. AJ is right when he says

It’s not really that interesting a debate, mostly being a rerun of the standard evolution versus creationism stuff with some new catchphrases

It is a continuation of the debate that has never ended. Fundamentalist christians tend to look on the debate through a single premise: "If the bible is wrong about this, it could be wrong about everything". They may project their fear that they may be living a lie into the argument. Alternatively, they may project their deep feeling and perhaps knowledge that their faith is based on truth into the debate. Either way, they start from the right hand side of this equation and deduce that evolution must be wrong. Starting from that point, the argument must be one that they win. They cannot declare defeat.

The Point of Fundamentalism

When I say "they", I really mean "me". I don't commit myself to the logic applied to this argument by other fundamentalists, but I do think of myself as a fundamentalist christian. I do believe that the bible is God breathed. Frankly, I don't see the point of any other view of christianity.

If we start to pick apart and arbitrarily decide what to believe and what not to believe from the scriptures we open ourselves up to several problems. If the reliability of the bible is variable, which parts are right? How do you know? If science is your guide, then I can suggest a few passages to rip out right away. Let's start with the immaculate conception of Jesus, or his resurrection. Christian belief is based on the supernatural, not the natural world that can be measured by science. To believe that God has limits (that he didn't create the universe, that he can't destroy it) is to make him simply an alien being bound by the same physical constants as we all are. Something to aspire to rather than worship.

The Feeling of Faith

These days it is popular to think of faith as a very personal thing. Especially, one that organised religion should not encroach on. There are good reasons for people to feel this way, as organised religion has its own sins. I think there has to be a limit, however. If your faith is simply personal, is it accountable? Are you just going through the motions of faith? Are you just feeling good about yourself and your spirituality without actually coming into contact with God? Are you fooling yourself?

I believe organisation is to some extent necessary. I have been meeting with a home group consisting mostly of members of my family over the last few months. We've used study guides, and kicked off the program with the excellent 40 days of purpose study. On the face of it, it sounds like a self-help program. It's about the meaning of life, and the meaning of community. Community with God, with your church, and with the rest of humanity. It's about more than that, though. It's about not fooling yourself into thinking you're spiritual and are doing the right things with your life. It's about challenging you to think about what God wants, and about whether you're really connecting to him and others.

The challenge to your faith that comes from sharing it is the most important driver of your spiritual maturity. It's easy to fool yourself that the feeling of faith and spirituality you have when you are alone means you're really growing and becoming spiritually fulfilled. Poppycock. Unless you are involved in interpersonal spirituality you're just treading water. Wake up.

Benjamin

Sun, 2005-Oct-30

The 2005 Formula 1 Season

Hugh Blemings, I think you've been out of touch for the entire F1 season. Michael didn't ever look like a chance. He (and Ferrari) won only the US grand prix, but even that was under special circumstances. During the early races the Ferrari media engine fairly succesfully pinned the blame on their Bridgestone tyres that proved to not at all give them the advtantage they had in 2004, perhaps because of the 2005 one tyre rule. Later in the season as Bridgestone seemed to improve it became clear that the car as a whole was underperforming in a field that included vastly improved Renault and MacLaren-Mercedes teams. Even the legendary Ferrari reliability seemed to fail them.

I made two predictions after the 2004 season finshed. I said that Michael and Ferrari would countinue their dominance in 2005. I was wrong about that, but I still think it was a fair call given the powerhouse that was Ferrari last year. The second was that Renault would win out over BAR-Honda, who they seemed to be racing last year. Honda was building mid-range cars with good horsepower. Renault were building mid-range cars with good mechanical grip. In 2004 it was clear that Renaults focus was starting to really pay off. They were starting to be able to drive around Hondas as they were coming out of corners, even though they couldn't match Honda's straight-line speed. I thought Honda wouldn't be able to follow Renault, and at least on that one I was right.

Between them, Renault and MacLaren took every first place other than that available for the US grand prix. Unfortunately Michelan had serious technical problems with their tyres that weekend which culminated in every Michelan-clad team refusing to start the race. The US ran with only three teams and six cars. Michael scored ten (10) points that day compared to Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen's zero. If that race's points are excluded Michael's ranking drops to number five in a field of twenty. If you also exclude the eight (8) points earned by his teammate Rubens Barrichello Ferrari drops below Toyota into fourth position out of ten on the constructors' championship.

Mark Webber's team BMW-Williams was also a much bigger force in last year's formual one than this time around. Twelve months earlier I think you would have heard derision at the idea that BAR-Honda could beat them. In fact, Williams didn't break out of the double figures in the drivers championship. I've heard some suggestion that Mark has been let down by a team that promised to be a lot better than it has been, but I've also seen something of a lack of subtlety to Mark's driving that doesn't put him in my highest regard. He seemed to end up with his and someone else's cars wrapped together a bit more often then I would expect of a such a promising driver. His passing moves seem more to me like pure aggression and hope rather than the skillfully executed manouvers of a clearly thinking sportsperson.

Overall I wasn't greatly impressed by the season. The aerodymanic rules were clearly not working. Race after race we saw faster cars packed up behind slower ones because they couldn't grip the road once they were close enough to try anything. Formula one is a form or motor racing that emphaises qualifying position and pit strategy over passing, however discouting the vehicle's engineering solution as deeply as these rules have done is ridiculous.

The 2005 tyre rules look like they'll be reversed for 2006. It think this is a good thing. The 2005 tyres seemed to wear well enough through a race, and that is a credit to both Bridgestone and Michelan engineering. I just felt that for a sport that is so focused on pit strategy that not having the option to use a new set of tyres on the way out of the pit meant the variation in strategy was poor. I think the racing will be more exciting once tyre changes are once again allowed.

I don't have any predictions for next year except that it will be even more political than this year and that the racing will be a little better. I can't pick who'll win. You have to back both Williams and Renault for their performance this year, but it would be foolish to discount a continually improving Toyota team or the money that could still be sunk into Ferrari or Williams. You can find 2005 was well as older results on the F1 website by racetrack, driver, or team.

Benjamin

Sat, 2005-Sep-10

Embryonic Nucleus Transplants

Jason Parker says "yay, science!" in regards to recent permission given to scientists in the UK to produce embryo with three genetic donors. I think the knowledge to do this sort of thing is valuable to science, and may lead to useful treatments for genetic defects in mitochondria. It is however not without ethical concerns. Reading Jason's post and some of the news articles available on the subject you may read this as being a technique to allow two women to have a baby together, each donating some part of their DNA to the mix. That is not the case. My understanding of this trial is that two embryo will be created with possibly two sets of parents (four individual donors). The nucleus of one embryo with its two genetic donors will be transplanted into the other embryo and its original nucleus discarded. The discarded nucleus contains DNA from both its donors, but the rest of the cell does not. The cruicial mitochondria that live outside the cell and act as power sources for all animal life are inherited from the mother only.

If you have moral objections to early term abortions, it would seem reasonable to have the same objections to this trial. Two embryos enter, one embryo (a combination of parts of the two) leaves. Views differ on this subject. Arguments range from "it is genetically human, so it is worth the same as a human life", to "it has the potential to be a human being, so is worth the same as a human life", to "it hasn't been implanted into anyone's womb, so doesn't really have the potential to be human life" to "it doesn't matter whether it has potential or not, it's just like any other cell or cluster of cells". Where you sit along that curve may guide your level of comfort or disquiet of the mechanics of the operation. Then there are the issues of what it is you are creating. These embryos will be discarded and will not implanted into a human womb. The end target of the research is clearly to make that happen using the same basic technique as they are attempting to master. Only if this happens will mitochondrial disease be cured.

Some ethicists would argue that it isn't "right" to alter human life at all. Francis Crick took an extreme alternative view and postulated that if humans don't seek to direct their own evolution then noone else would, so we would be foolish not to. Whichever way you lean it is probably reasonable from a neutral scientific viewpoint to say that despite the embryo continaing genetic material from three individuals that for all intents and purposes it still has a single mother and father. They are the donors who created the embryo who's nucleus was used in the transplant. Mitochondria is an essential building block of cell life but if functioning correctly does not contribute to hair colour, eye colour, intelligence, height, or any other trait that we could say defines a human in terms of its relations to the people around it. From this perspective the manipulation of mitochondrial DNA is a low hanging fruit both technically and ethically. It's easy to argue that only a part of the cell machinery and not the things which make a human human that are being replaced.

Genetic manipulation is technically and ethically a complex area of research. It is of untold value to understand genetics, but there are many mines to avoid tripping over along the way. What we accept today will be different from what our children will accept, and extrapolating one from the other is hard. If our children come to accept the creation and destruction of embryos without moral qualms and the manipulation of genetics as just a matter of recoding a computer program then they will see many technical benefits. The big questions of what is moral and whether slippery slopes exist in this area probably won't be answered until we have a more complete picture of what is actually possible and several lifetimes of experience in where the slopes lead.

Benjamin

Sat, 2005-Aug-20

1 Crest Avenue

It looks like Michael Ellerman has been visiting the town where I grew up. I lived in Nowra until I was about thirteen just here, right on the corner of that avenue. I'm fairly suspicious that isn't the house I grew up in. I recall a tin roof, which was flat. My family used to climb up there to watch the fireworks of the Norwa Show. The park I used to play in is just directly to the north, then further north across the road is my primary school. Still on my block and this time at the far western edge is the church my family attended, the Norwa church of christ. Because of its proximity to the school we had after-school care and outreach in the building for some time during the year.

Further south is the bushland I played in as a child. You can see the southern fork of Crest Avenue turn into a bit of a goat's track, then a path leading back west. I'm not sure (it might have been a little further north and not visible on this shot) but I suspect that is the path my siblings and I mostly kept to. There was a stream running across it at one point, quite a nice place to hang out when you're ten. One time I even found a path the headed further south and landed me on the golf course.

Within the school grounds is a marker for the highest point in the district. We were well clear of the floods that tended to cause a boat of some historical significance to float away from time to time. It was tied down near the swimming pool across the bridge.

I spent one year (year 7) at the local high school before my family headed north. Being in an agricultral area the school had a great little farm just to the north-east where we got to see lambs being castrated and grow our own vegitables. It was also involved in a state grants program and was on of the early "Technology" high schools. It seems they've since dropped the T from NTHS. It didn't mean too much, but every subject pretty much had to have some computing element to it. I remember for a school project I built a 3/4 scale model of my home PC out of cardboard and labelled all of the mock chips and isa cards. Unfortunately the thing never booted.

Here is the other pool in the area. This one was used by my primary school. The other was used by my high school. This is where I put my head underwater for the first time, somewhat of a trauma because I had previously had grommets in both ears and was most definately not permitted to do so when the other children learned such things. The field and building to the south were used for a carnival once, as I recall.

Nowra/Bommederry was and I believe still is the end of the train line from Sydney and through Wollongong. I may be wrong, but I think this is the train station. My recollection isn't quite strong enough to be certain but I'm about 80% sure I'm right based on following the roads and what I think is the train line itself. This was the way in and the way out, so there were lots of exciting trips launched and returned from. Anyway, as you can see I'm a bit of a country boy at heart so long as that country is well within reach of a computer. I miss the bush and the family atmosphere even now.

Benjamin

Wed, 2005-Aug-17

Computer Savvy

Well, I haven't followed a meme in a while, so:

My computer geek score is greater than 85% of all people in the world! How do you compare? Click here to find out!

Sun, 2005-Aug-07

Terrorism in the United Kingdom

I was recently in Crawley on business, away from my usual Australian haunt. I was only there breifly (I didn't have a weekend to go sightseeing), but I did get an interesting time slice of the local news and talk shows. My stay landed after the successful and failed bombings in the London Underground and bus systems and overlapped the ceassation of violence declaration by the Provisional Irish Republican Army.

I'll try to steer clear of discussing the exact politics, but I will say that the juxstaposition of sentiment was strange to watch. On one hand the IRA was to my mind being portrayed by the British press as a reasonable party that we can now do business with to sort out any remaining problems. At the same time the hard line was being pushed on any form of Islamic fundamentalism. On a television show I didn't catch the name audicence participation lead the flow of discussion. The question was posed specifically about whether the Brits should think about Al Qaeda the same way as they had now leared to think about the terrorism from Northern Ireland. The answer to me was telling. The panel expert said (and I can only paraphrase, my memory isn't perfect) that the two sources of terrorism were not the same and shouldn't be given the same kind of mindspace. They said that the Irish terrorists had a clear political objective behind their acts of violence, but that the Islamist terrorists had none. The Irish wanted Britain out of their back yard, but the Islamists only objective was to bring down the west and destroy our "values".

I get nervous when someone on television talks about values. The special hairs I reserve for propaganda detection start to spike up. These people in the middle east are supposedly so different to us that they share none of our values, even though many people with middle-eastern backgrounds and religions are able to live peacefully and happily in our countries. On the other hand the Irish terrorists held the same values was "we" do while continuing their thirty year campaign of resistance that lead to the loss of so many innocent lives. They uphold our values, while the Islamic threat is one of soul-less barbarism. I'm not sure I can quite see where the lines have to be drawn to make that picture make sense, myself.

So what are western values? If you take what was being said on that program literally you would have to assume that they are decadance and self-obsession. After all, according to those experts that is what they say that Osama Bin Laden wants to kill us all over. I don't believe I rate those values high on my list. My values are mostly built around minimising harm to others while living a reasonably happy life myself. I'd even throw in some faith-based values in there. I'm not sure that Osama's list of values would be very different from my own, although the order and intensity of some values may differ significantly.

So what benefit, terrorism?

While hearing the backlash against Islamist terror and the exitement about engagement with former Irish terrorists I was also privy to retrospectives of the last 30 years of the Irish conflict. I was fascinated to hear former British Prime Minister Sir John Major talk about what he was thinking during secret negotiations with the IRA during his term in office. A bomb killed two children while the negotiations were going on (I believe he was referring to the Warrington explosions in 1993), and in the interview he said that the only reason he stayed in the negotations was the thought of more children being killed.

Did I hear correctly that the threat of terrorism caused a government of the day to stay at the negotating table? It's a different message to the one they presently want to convey. The news services had more. They said that the Provisional IRA's recruiting base grew out of a protest movement for Catholic equal rights. They wanted equal participation in the work force, in the police force, and generally in society. In contrast to that expert on the discussion panel's view, it seems that that movement sprang not fundamentally out of a political goal to get the British out of Northern Ireland but out of inequity. Inequity shaped around a common rallying call.

When we look back towards the middle east, it seems clear that inequity does exist. Is this the source of terrorism, rather than the desire to bring down the west? Is bringing down the west more of a rallying call than the actual source of terrorism? As well as trying to apply a stick to the situation to root out the most violent and the most influential of the movement, wouldn't we be served by solving the inequity?

The final wind down of the Provisional IRA's history of violence on the BBC coverage included an observation. The IRA's involvement in the struggle didn't make the problem of Northern Irish politics easier to solve, but it did make it a more immediate problem. After first fighting the IRA the British came to accept the IRA and to deal with the IRA. It gives me cause to wonder whether something akin to the stages of greif that there are stages of dealing with a human threat. Perhaps after the fighting will come the negotiation, and perhaps after a combination of negotation and work to improve the underlying causes a resolution will eventually emerge.

Benjamin

Mon, 2005-Jul-11

Internet esoterica

I really feel part of the internet now that my blog has gotten a hit from a page that had been translated to talk like a pirate yarr.

Benjamin

Thu, 2005-Jul-07

I can see my house from here

While google maps don't yet have street maps for Australia, they do have satellite imagery.

Benjamin

Sun, 2005-Jun-26

Statistics is complicated

Mark Greenaway writes:

If there's a probability p that something will happen when doing something once, then the probability of it having happened after having done it n times is 1 - pn. So there's an exponentially decreasing chance that you'll evade the risk you've been taking, every time you take it.

While the maths may be sound, the conclusion is not.

When you toss a coin it is unlikely that the next two tosses will both result in heads: a 1 in 4 chance. It is less likely that that you will toss four heads in a row: 1 in 16 chance. This is where it gets complicated, though. If you've already tossed two heads, that sequence of four heads is back down to 1 in 4. You've already traversed several of the unlikely possibilities and made them certainties. You now only have to traverse two more tosses and three unfavourable possibilities.

Every time you toss an unweighted coin there is a 50% chance of a head, and a 50% chance of a tail. The coin doesn't have a memory. It doesn't say "well, we're about due for a tail now". Even after a million tails, you still have a 1 in 2 chance of getting another tail. The sequence overall is unlikely, but the final toss is not.

The upshot is that while you can predict someone's risky behaviour will end in pain should they continue and even calculate the odds, the act of surviving the activity does not mean their end is closer or more likely than it was before. Statistics isn't relevant when it comes to this sample size of one. This is balanced by the fact that when someone dies due to risky activity the chance of death becomes a certainty, just as a survivor's chance drops to zero. Everyone who lives gets a fresh slate.

Benjamin

Sun, 2005-Jun-26

Google: ccm how to print out all my working tasks continuus

Search link

I've been interested by the number of google hits I get to my site that aren't relevant. Every so often I take a look at recent queries. This section of my blog is a small attempt to improve relevance for people who are visiting my site for all the wrong reasons. I may or may not do this again, and I may or may not accept further inquiry via email.

This entry's query was "ccm how to print out all my working tasks continuus". I don't have either CCM or a CCM manual in front of my to verify my syntax, but I think I can still help. CCM has a fundamental model of objects and relationships that in some ways resembles the Resource Description Framework (RDF). Tasks are a type of object in the database, so can either be accessed by the general ccm query command or via the ccm task commands. For DCM-enabled databases, task object names take the form

task<task-number>,1:task:<dbid>

This form itself is derived from the general object form of

<object-name>,<object-version>:<object-type>:<object-instance>

Maybe URI-based scheme would have been better, perhaps "ccm:/<dbid>/task/<task-number>" and "ccm:/<dbid>/object/<object-name>/<object-instance>/<object-version>". Well, that's by the by.

The simplest answer in this case would have been something like

ccm task -query <somehthing-or-other>

but I don't use that form myself very much and don't remember the precise syntax. The form I would actually use is:

ccm query -t task -s working "assigned_to = '<me>'"

That should pretty much do it, assuming "working" is the right name for this task state. It will come out as an object list. You can use -u to drop the numbers, and -f "..." to format the output as you like. "ccm attr -l @<query-result-row-number>" will show you the attributes a particular task object has that you can use in the -f string.

Well, I hope that little snippet will be useful to someone :)

Benjamin

Sun, 2005-Jun-26

del.icio.us

I started to use del.icio.us a few weeks back to store my bookmarks. Most of what I bookmark is technical, and I don't feel any need to keep it secret. In fact, I have the vague hope that it be useful to people who read my blog.

At first I was put off by the pretty basic user interface. The worst UI crime, I think, was a page that I can't find now. It was a several-screen-length piece of prose presented to me as my registration completed that offered at least three apparently-equivalent methods for posting new links as well as going into far too much detail about what the site was about and how it should be run. I just wanted to store my bookmarks in there and I didn't need the aggravation.

That said, I've been quite happy with the effects of del.icio.us so far. Yesterday on IRC someone raised the question of whether you could do GUI programming with python. It was trivial to be able to point them at my PyGTK links. It's also easier to make sure that the bookmarks I have at home are available at work and vice versa.

The main joy for me is that once you're over the initial hump you don't have to deal with the actual web pages too much. The post link is a bit of javascript that jumps you from a page you're looking at to the delcious post with all field except the tags filled out for you. Tags themselves are easy to select from your own list of tags, or the list of suggested tags for the page. I've been struggling a little bit with the other side of things, though, the bookmark lookup.

That changed with the wonders of rss and mozilla. Here's the procedure:

  1. Open your del.icio.us page for a particular tag
  2. Notice the rss button in the lower-right-hand corner of your firefox window
  3. Select "Subscribe to 'RSS feed of ... boookmarks'" (not to tags). This opens a dialogue box.
  4. Cut the name down to something appropriate, say just the tag name
  5. Create in "Bookmarks Toolbar Folder"

Hey, presto you have your bookmarks back in your bookmark folder again. You can even use mozilla's "open in tabs" feature to get to your favourite reference material.

Woot

Benjamin

Tue, 2005-Jun-21

Indianapolis '05

Well, what a race.

It was pretty exciting seeing six cars circulating around the track. One was emitting smoke from the starting line, so we all hoped to see attrition. The two Ferraris almost took each other out at the end of the second round of pit stops. That was exciting. Seeing water bottles explode on formula1 tyres and marshalls scooting across the track to retreive beer cans was a hoot.

My favourite part of the grand prix was a Michelan ad. Its slogan "A better way forward" really seemed appropriate.

So, my take?

As far as the sporting side goes, if Michelan has been able to squeeze extra pace out of their cars and give their teams an advantage by undertaking a stragegy that risked this kind of situation then Bridgestone teams have the right to see a reward for their conservatism. As for the race, it should have gone ahead and everyone agrees on that. It's just that noone can agree on how it should have gone ahead.

You can't just add a chicane to a race track less than twelve hours before the event and after final qualifying. You can't allow the Michelan runners to take points after a failure of this magnatude, nor can you allow them to interfere with the Bridgestone cars. In that sense the actual outcome serves the sporting competition better than any alternative... but to have a six car race in such a senstive place in the world and in this day and age of F1 is crazy. Should the Michelan teams have been able to use new tyres and start from the pit, and be awarded no points for their effort? I don't know. In the end, I don't see the points awarded to Ferrari on Sunday as a farce. They were earned through a better tyre strategy than those of their competitors.

The man I feel most sorry for is Tiago Monteiro who placed third. He deserved to enjoy his first and probably only podium for the forseeable furture more than he was really permitted to by circumstances. As for the politics, I'm sure the americans are furious and not just the fans. I'm sure that the FIA and the rogue teams will continue sniping. It's unclear who will bear more of the brunt: The FIA for not putting on a show, or Michelan for not coming to the track ready to race. A 70% retirement rate on the formation lap just doesn't look good anywhere or at any time.

Benjamin

Sat, 2005-Jun-18

Max Sharam - A million year girl - (11) Learning to let go

Max Sharam
A million year girl
Track 11: Learning to let go

I want to think you're on my side.
The world's work hasn't begun to be done.

Some people hold on to life so tight
that they squeeze the life right out of it.
Some people hold on to love so tight
that they squeeze the love right out of it.

Is it true?
Is it a catch-22?
Do only the dying know when to let go?
Is it you?
Is it the wind whistling through?
Do only the dying know?

Some people hold on to life so tight
that they squeeze the life right out of it.
Some people hold on to love so tight
that they squeeze the love right out of it.

You know I cried so hard?
cried so hard?
cried so hard?
You know I tried so hard?
tried so hard?
tried so hard?
To let you go.
To let you go.
To let you go.
I'm learning to let go.
To let you go.
To let you go.
To let you go.
I'm learning to let go.

If only good things die young
dying to find out about it.
Did I love you too much?
Did I love you to death?
I'm dying to know.

You know I cried so hard?
cried so hard?
cried so hard?
I'm learing to let go.
You know I tried so hard?
tried so hard?
tried so hard?
I'm learing to let go.
to let you go.
to let you go.
to let you go.
I'm learning to let go.
to let you go.
to let you go.
to let you go.
I'm learning to let go.

Like a tiger running wild.
Like an infant on a swing.
I'm clean.

If you were loving me right I wouldn't hold on so tight.
If you were loving me right I wouldn't need to learn to let you go.

Sat, 2005-Jun-18

The Nature of Conscious Thought

Philosphers have wondered for millenia about the meaning and nature of conciousness, or specifically of concious thought. As a software developer with no practical experience in congnative science, I thought I'd scratch my own theory together.

The brain seems to be divided into regions that basically each have their own purpose. These regions are connected to each other through a variety of interesting busses and interconntects. Science has followed on the heels of philosophy, searching for the home of consciousness and coming up empty. No particual region of the brain seems to be the home of consciousness. The brain keeps on working just about no matter which parts you knock of out of commission.

There is a fundamental assumption, I think, in the approaches taken so far. They asssume that consciousness is a unit. One that serves the function of thinking, of reasoning. The bit of the brain that really represents "me". I take a different view. It aligns more closely with the idea of conciousness as an emergent phenomenom, but I think is a fair middle road between the two.

I see conscious thought as something we experience. Everything else we experience is a sense, so my reasoning leads me to see conscious thought not as a whole process of rational thought. Instead, I see it as a passive sensory input (for as much as sensory input is passive). I see consciousness as "the sense of what my brain is doing", or "my perception of what I'm thinking".

The sense has its tendrils everywhere. It seems to be connected to everything. Perhaps the connections are made directly, or perhaps it is emergent from the interactions of system busses and interconnects. If I were to guess, I would say that this sense is centralised in the frontal lobe. That's the part of the brain we traditionally associate with inhibition, but perhaps another way of thinking about it is to say that it is the home of the sense that tells our brain it is behaving badly.

When we are drunk, we become disinhibited. We get fuzzy. We become easily confused because we don't know what's going on in our brain. This can become so advanced that we end up with no memory of the night. I see this not as a loss of memory, but primarily as a loss of the sense that would be recorded into memory. We assume we're still conscious because we're still moving around. We're still carrying on conversation, and perhaps sophisticated physical activities. My theory is that the brain doesn't need consciousness to perform those activitites. Consciousness is what closes the loop and lets the brain understand itself, but it is still a passive process. The real thinking and reasoning and acting is an entirely unconscious activity.

We have long been aware of some kind of "sub-conscious". It is most obvious in the reptillian brain that controls our breathing and circulation. We're not aware of the processes. They aren't part of conscious processes. It is harder to define when it comes to sub-conscious thought. We see theories that essentially tell us we have two brains. One does a lot of hard work in the background. The other is the "us". One we train, the other is what does the training. We are arrogant to think that of the two "us"s that we are the thinking and reasoning part. In fact, if we are to divide ourselves into two it is the subconscious that more "us". It is the thinking and active part of our brain. What we have traditionally thought of as consciousness is the combination of our consciousness sense, and the parts of the rest of us that we have sensory "wires" into.

I think that we can have some influence over the connections that are made between the consciousness sense and the reasoning engine of our brain. I think that inhibition is the classic example. We can stop ourselves reasoning in certain ways, if we understand the evil of those ways. We can exercise self-restraint, up to self-censorship. I think that there are some connections we have little control over, though. To examine my own mental processes, I am completely unaware of most vocal processes until the words pop out of my mouth. I'm more of a visual thinker. I'm aware of the reasoning processes that go into the formation of thoughts for speech, but the formation of words I find disturbingly hard to observe of myself. That is not to say they aren't what I mean. Those parts of my brain are well trained, and I don't often find myself saying things I don't mean. I do, however, find myself up in front of a group of people waiting for the words to come. I can't think ahead about what I'm saying, even to the end of my current sentance.

Benjamin

Mon, 2005-Jun-06

Why Pimp my Blog?

Nicolai noticed my previous post and noted that his own blog seemed to get plenty of interest from web browsers, and that for him pimping is probably not required.

I used to be in that boat, but as I've indicated I haven't been entirely happy with the amount of feedback I had been getting[1]. I'm looking for less in the way of quantity and more in the way of a focused technical set reading what I write. Otherwise for me it's like writing software that only I use. I know the quality won't be what I really want, but my care factor and self-editing are reduced when my ramblings are only for myself :)

As I recall, it was Andrae who put me on to it, but for actual non-feed readers of my blog I do keep track using an icon down the left side of the page. It currently sits just below my blosxom credit and if you click on it you can get quite an interesting traffic breakdown. Thanks Extreme Tracking.

Presently, it shows that over the lifetime of my blog I have averaged eight (8) apparently-unique hits per day, or two hundred and twenty two (222) per month. It hardly puts me on the "A" list shared by folk like Tim Bray or Miguel de Icaza, but it does give me some encouragement to keep putting pen to paper.

Interesting statistics:

Benjamin

[1] zero :)

Sun, 2005-Jun-05

Pimp my blog

In an effort to gain a wider audience for my blog I have been pimping it a little lately. I've posted comments to a few popular blogs I read. I've made some in-links accessable from my blog. I've joined technorati. I've even gotten around to moving my bookmarks to del.icio.us as another marketing scam.

I recieved my first email in quite some time over the blog last night, regarding the possibility of using SRV DNS records to handle ad hoc services. On first glance the definition of service assumed in the RFC has a different emphasis to the definition I would use. It seems that they would call http a service, whereas I would tend to think of it as a protocol. I would see something like myname_sqlite as a service, in this case one to look through the files of user "myname" and treat them all as sqlite databases to support SQL query.

The difference in emphasis may be inconsequential, however, if I can work out how to use this kind of lookup in a URI. I would prefer to use "http://localhost:myname_sqlite/mydb?myquery" (which as I mentioned previously is not a valid URI because it has non-digit port content) over "myname_sqlite://localhost/mydb?myquery" for obvious reasons. I want clients to understand which protocol to speak when they get to the relevant port. So far in my brief browsing I haven't found a definitive resource. Does my URI become "http://_myname_sqlite._tcp.localhost/mydb?myquery"? I'll have to look into this further. If a defined relationship does exist this may reinvigourate DNS in the small network environment for me, where NIS and LDAP rule alongside their more literal /etc/hosts and /etc/services file counterparts. I'll also have to look into the libc apis for this again. At first glance, this port information does not appear to be available from getaddrinfo(3).

Anyway, back to the pimping. The gentleman who contacted me appears to be a SLUG member. I've put a planet SLUG entry into my liferea feeds list to see what other interesting folk I might stumble across. This lead me to also look into Linux Australia's planet and wonder if I might be advised to request membership.

Surprisingly to me, I found I was already a member :) I must have missed that memo, as all planet HUMBUG members seem to have made their way there. I'm pleased at the outcome but a little but put off by my lack of fore-knowledge.

Anyway, off to do more pimping...

Update:
On second reading of the gentleman's email, I notice that the URI scheme would just be a matter of host aliasing. My sample URIs above could be made to look like "http://sqlite.myname.localhost/mydb?myquery" in combination with the DNS record
_http._tcp.sqlite.myname.localhost. IN SRV 0 0 1717 localhost.
Very nice, indeed. With a dynamic edit of bind's configuration at application start-up it should be possible to access these ad hoc services in an entirely appropriate and convenient manner. Compliant clients would resolve their http URI to port 1717 of host 127.0.0.1. So long as the DNS changes can be propagated to relevant clients (and remember we're talking about a small network situation here) we should be able to access services fairly reliably.

Another link.

Benjamin

Sun, 2005-Jun-05

In Links

I've been fairly disillusioned with the blogging process of late through lack of interaction with my readers. These entries are basically notes to myself. I haven't been getting the kind of feedback on this blog that I initially envisioned, so I haven't found myself tailoring the content to any particular interest group. I haven't been polishing by entries at all, either. If I'm the one that will be reading it, it need not be for anyone else :) If you are a regular reader and feel you want to see the content reflect your own thought processes, do drop me a line and let me know your reactions. I don't support comments on this statically-rendered blog, but I would like to hear about any blog entries that are written in response to mine. There's a good chance I won't hear about them if you don't write to me.

I have been thinking about whether the use of google's link: search token could form part of the blog content. Perhaps each page could contain a link to the relevant google search for links to that page. I'm not sure I want to get into bloxsom that heavily, though :) Personlly I only use the RSS feed to view my blog (any anyone elses, for that matter).

(time passes)

Ok, here's what I've done to try and get more interactivity into the blog:

  1. I've added in-link links for google and technorati. You should see them at the bottom of each post (although not in the rss).
  2. I've created myself a technorati profile, and I'm now watching technorati for new links to my blog.

It was quite simple, actually, and technoratiy on the face of it looks like a decent RESTful interface. The GET side of it certainly is, where everything you create in terms of watchlists and the like becomes a URL you can link to. It would be nice if I could get the kind of rss-feed subscription to links to my blog from google that technorati provides.

Interestingly, the two datasets seem to intersect. Neither is a superset of the other. Google finds links from Adrian Sutton's blog regarding my criticism of exceptions back in October 2004, while technorati shows zilch. When I described the approach taken to describing RESTful web services in xml.com article as "damn foolish" techorati finds this link which I was previously not aware of but this time google folds, finding only the generic link from planet humbug. I suspect that Dwight Gunning's technorati membership resulted in better performance for this query.

How do HUMBUG bloggers rate when it comes to technorati membership?

Benjamin

Sat, 2005-Jan-29

Swastika ban

Since Prince Harry's gaffe of wearing nazi paraphanalia to a costume party the segments of the world population have been up in arms. Now we see attempts to ban nazi symbolism as part of the European Union's effort to stamp out racism.

It's an admiral goal, and an important one given Europe's history. Europe has long been a set of fractured nation states with racist tensions used to incite war and violence. If a united European people is to ever emerge they must not continue their internal hatreds. Ideally, at the same time, they would improve their view of all human peoples and everyone would live happily ever after in a humanist paradise. But how do we get there, again?

I'm no psychohistorian but I think that one method of stamping out behaviour that has proved ineffectual in the past is the use of a unilateral ban. Prohibition showed that a ban not supported by the people can't be forced onto the people. It's much more complicated than that, and requires generations of painstaking social manipulation.

Issues of freedom of speech aside, I think we need to be careful about what we're banning. If individuals identify themselves with a banned trait and feel that they can't be separated from that trait then the ban of the trait is a ban on the person. Be it christianity, communism, neonazism, or any other trait that identifies an individual as belonging to a group the ban is not going to stop that person being part of their group. More than likely it is going to make the community tighter-knit than before, and more exclusive. People can feel special when they as people are banned. They are outsiders. Noone understands them but their peers. They're unique together. It plays right into the teenage angst thing.

It makes me wonder if acts like that of Prince Harry are actually more of a solution than a problem. When we make the traits that identify someone as part of their clique generic we may go some way into breaking up the clique. When we take from someone the thing that made them unique they may have to adapt to become part of a wider society again. On the flipside, of course, is the danger that spreading their symbolism throughout society would make them bolder and more dangerous as a group. It may give them the impression they are more widely accepted than they really are or have a wider support-base than they really have.

The response to Harry's gaffe has been overwhelming (although much of it has come from the world media), reminding us that it is not just people in racist cliques that we need to think about when trying to solve the problem that racist symbolism stirs. We must also think of those who were damaged in the name of those symbols in the past. Many have suffered enough and there is no excuse for increasing their trauma. Sensitivity to those people dictates that the problem of the symbolism may not be able to be solved constructively or conclusively until they are gone. Their existence morally binds our hands in what we can express and limits the ways in which we can approach racism head-on.

Sat, 2005-Jan-08

I, Robot

When I first heard about this series of Isaac Asimov's short stories being adapted for the big screen I also heard about Will Smith's leading role. This didn't inpire me to watch it, and I felt I needed independent confirmation that I wouldn't cringe at some wild misintepreation of the three laws.

Having now seen the film myself, my educated opinion is that it is not a travesty. That point concluded I can now look at the film in its entirety.

Let's get this straight: We're looking at an action film. In fact, I would say that the three tiers of the film are action, Will Smith, and a hint of 1984's big brother and world gone mad with love for something broken. No, I haven't even read 1984. Slap me.

It's an interesting blend. I am not a Will Smith fan, but found the other aspects of the film enough to keep me engaged with the character he played. That character is Del Spooner, A policeman who hasn't trusted robots since a past tragic event. He doesn't trust how the robots think, and that mistrust is central to the plot of the film. A character from the book that should have been more useful than she actually was is Susan Calvin (played by Bridget Moynahan). She is a robot psychologist who really is a bit of a wet fish in this intepretation, although it is difficult to see how she could have been better used without giving away too much of the plot in the early stages of the film.

Atmosphericly, the tension builds nicely throughout to a high-flying and enjoyable climax. My biggest complaint overall within the first fifteen minutes of the film's end was that the resolution itself was a little too audience-friendly.

Ultimately, the link between this work of the theatre and Asimov's books is fleeting and subtle where the link can be made at all. The main points that do survive are the laws of robotics themselves, and a few points that come out late in Asmiov's Foundation series of books rather than in "I, Robot" itself. "I, Robot" is a series of short stories rather than a single narrative but the film adaptation is a nice summary of the different worlds that exist in these and other Asimov narratives.

I've been thinking about the connections a little since I saw the film on DVD come New Year's Eve (I'm a party animal). I may start tending towards spoilers at this point so tune out if you don't want any major plot points revealed.

Hmmm... now that I look up specific stories from the compendium I find that the stories prompted by scenes from the film actually have come from other Asimov stories. I believe they came from "Robot Dreams" and "Robot Visions". I don't seem to have either volume in my library at present but I can recall the following:

Anyway... I've spent far too much time rereading robot stories while pretending to write a review, so I'll sign off now. To round it out I'll leave you with this final link: be sure to read the fliers. Repeal the second law! Oh, and my final score? I'd give it an 8/10, but maybe that's my supressed Asimov fan-boy youth speaking.

Benjamin