Monday, May 31, 2004

Leonardo's Dream Machines

This show screened on SBS and was fairly interesting. Though I was bugged by what I think were unfair comparisons between the Da Vinci glider and the Wright brothers' flyer. The Wright flyer was a powered vehicle that managed to fly 120 feet in 12 seconds (their first flight, their best was 24.5 miles in 39 minutes). A 30 second, 100 yard hang glider flight down a hill isn't really comparable. I'm sure there were a few hang-glider/kite style unpowered flights before the Wright brothers' that would have been a better match up.


Background Briefing on Sunday the 30th May (RealAudio, transcipt) had an interesting look into the "Jakarta lobby" and the Lance Collins affair.

Historically Australia and the US backed Suharto (or Sukarno?) as they were worried that Indonesia would "Balkanize" and some of the resulting states may turn communist. This presumably explains why Australia was so keen to appease Indonesia at all costs -- even to the extent of angering the US by withholding intelligence information. It's been a while since communism was a threat though, so you would presume that a group of third-world islands fighting amongst themselves would be less threat to Australia than a militaristic nation with 500,000,000 citizens.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Nanotechnology and GI Joe

Nothing like a war to get those scientiests going. For an article on the use of nanotechnology for personal armour see here. Also interesting is Israels "future infantry warrior" program and this article on Personal UAV's (unmanned air vehicle) for ground soldiers.

Was our universe created by design?

Michael said this better than I could:

Lightweight description of the "chaotic inflation" theory of the universe's origin, which apparently has the implication that the universe could have been created as an experiment, and with few resources, and now be so small that the experimenter has lost it...

The article mentions various ways that the creator could attempt to communicate with his creation, non of them seem to permit him decreeing that gay marriages are a sin, for example.

More reasons to stay away from antibiotics

Not only will taking too many antibiotics breed superbugs, it could give you asthma and allergies, according to this article. So eating dirt is no longer the only way to avoid getting asthma...

Maybe it wasn't just a bad movie...

New Scientist reports that "a US medical team has requested permission to perform the world's first face transplant." Supposedly the face won't look like either the person's original face or the donor's face due to the underlying skull and muscle structure (and hideous scaring I'd imagine...)

Guide to Springfield, USA

This site has lots of information about Springfield and a map, gleaned by watching The Simpsons a little too closely I suspect.

A Neat Camera Phone Application

This software lets you use a camera phone as wireless "mouse" or keyboard. Very nifty idea, the camera is used to detect the motion of the phone through the air. Must kill the batteries though...


Lisp syntax ("lots of silly parentheses") (or more accurately, it's lack of syntax) is beginning to look good! Perl 6 is going to have a lot of operators, nicely displayed in this periodic table.

Thursday, May 27, 2004


In Darfur, a region in southern Sudan approximately the size of Texas, over a million people are threatened with torture and death at the hands of marauding militia and a complicit government. Imagine a militia that forces parents to choose whether their children will be burned alive or shot to death. Imagine that in the very same month the world remembers the genocides of Cambodia and Rwanda, the unfolding news of another in Sudan is barely heard and largely ignored. The Passion of the present is a new blog to encourage more coverage of this unfolding tragedy.

Fucking computer crashes...

My computer crashed just before posting the following links. Originally there were nice blurbs.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Toyota Personal Mobility Concept Car

This nifty little concept car has some nice ideas. It's a single person "drive by wire" electric "car" with hubless motors and variable wheel base. This gives it very good manueverability and the ability to recline during high-speed travel and "stand up" to get in and out.

The best bit though, is that they can talk to each other, so you can have one person driving a small train of these cars.

Oil Producing Bacteria and Space Elevators

  • Physicists at the University of New Hampshire have found bacteria capable of producing "biodiesel". This reminds me of a small town (on the way to South Australia somewhere...) where they thought they'd discovered oil only to discover it was merely a bacteria that produced an oil like sludge. It's still cheaper to not use oil though...
  • JP Aerospace have developed what could be a practical "Space elevator" consisting of a large blimp at a low earth-orbit and other blimps that will carry payloads up to it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Various Tuesday offerings

Monday, May 24, 2004

Evolution and Action Figures

  • New Scientist reports that Archaeopteryx (the first "bird") may have had four "wings" and glided (like a sugar-glider) rather than flown. Makes sense.
  • These guys in the homebrew Atari 2600 scene are doing some pretty amazing things -- it's amazing that people were ever attracted to computer games, when that was all that was on offer.
  • Need a GeekMan action-figure?

Saturday, May 22, 2004

The First Prince of the Theocratic States of America

This is a long and somewhat spooky essay and a review of it. The main thesis seems to be that there is a group of christian fundamentalists that are slowly taking over the high court and the white house. I do not know enough to comment on the quality of the essay or to be able to judge wether its a good essay or hysterical propaganda. I decided to post it anyway because if its true its quite scary and because I'm curious about your opinion.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Blogosphere Ecosystem

Blogosphere Ecosystem is an application which scans weblogs once daily and generates a list of weblogs ranked by the number of incoming links they receive from other weblogs on the list. The top are all American but some of my favorite UK based blogs such as normblog, harry's place, and crooked timber make it to the top three category

A game with very good graphics only 96k?!

Admittedly its got too many bugs, but how on earth did they do this

A History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations

"If truth is not to be found on the shelves of the British Museum, where, I asked myself, picking up a notebook and a pencil, is truth?"

An excellent short story by the one and only Kim Stanley Robinson

How do we perceive light?

Some simple explanations on how primary colours "combine" and light waves are perceived by our eyes. Also contains this nice point:

People sometimes speculate about extraterrestrials picking up TV signals from Earth and watching our soap operas. But what is transmitted is so finely tuned to the peculiarities of the human ocular and perceptual system that aliens would struggle to make any sense of it.

The Infant Island of Surtsey, Iceland

Interesting that plants started growing on this island before the volcano even finished erupting.

Computerised Grading, um...

Some interesting comments to this Slashdot story:

If grading is intended as a motivator to encourage each student to perform his/her best, then more effort should yield a higher grade. Likewise, if grading is intended to reflect the student's ability to perform in a real-world situation, effort should probably yield a higher grade: folks who work hard tend to do better than folks who are marginally smarter but don't work hard, in real-life situations. But if grading is intended to reflect only the quality of the work that was submitted, then sure -- effort shouldn't count at all.
Cool idea. Imagine high school students re-writing their essays until the grader software gives them an A+.
This was exactly what we could do in one of my programming classes and it was excellent. We had a deadline, but could make as many submissions as we liked until we were happy with the grade. A nice subversive suggestion in there too:
it would have been my goal to make the most wrong essay I could that would still generate a good grade from the system.

Reading List

Some sites we like:

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Is free Heroin, the best way to slash crime

Johann Hari Britain's Young Journalist of the Year discusses the legalisation of Heroin

Keep up the good fight!

Jose Ramos Horta on Iraq (From The Australian):

"As a Nobel Peace laureate, I, like most people, agonise over the use of force. But when it comes to rescuing an innocent people from tyranny or genocide, I've never questioned the justification for resorting to force."

see the rest here

Next Generation Airships

This New Scientist interview with Hokan Colting talks about airships being used as telecommunication relay towers, much cheaper and easier to install than satellites (with less signal delay too) and with very large coverage areas due to their height.

Quotations on simplicity in software design

There are two ways of constructing a software design. One way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies. And the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies. -- C.A.R. Hoare

A friendly drink in a time of war

Paul Berman writer of Terror and Liberalism explains in Dissent magazine why the current war is an anti-facist war and why large sections of the left just don't see this.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

France and the Hijab

On November 17, 2003, the President of the French Republic announced on TV that, having heard the report of the Stasi Commission that was appointed some months ago, he would propose a law on secularism that will forbid any sign of religious or political affiliation in schools and public administration.

In the web site of the WLUML (Women living under Muslim law) progressive Muslim women explain why they supported the law.

Corporate welfare

Hack had an interview with Clive Hamilton of the Australia Institute on Monday about the potential $85 million bail-out of Mitsubishi that touched on the issue of "corporate welfare" (The plant hires 3,000 employees with 14,000 in "spin-off" jobs and there was a meeting on Monday.)

Australia spends $16 bilion a year on subsidies (rent relief, tax breaks etc), which is 3% of our GDP. For example, the aluminium industry apparently receives subsidised electricity that works out to be about $40-50,000 per year per worker!

The economics of online gaming

EverQuest players have an average wage of US$3.42/hr, the game is ranked the 77th richest country in the world (with 450,000 "citizens") and it's currency is supposedly rated higher than the Yen and Lira (Virtual Worlds: A First-Hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian Frontier). That is presumably if everyone "cashed in" for real money, and that probably neglects the labour "imported" from the real world.

This article includes the story of a kid who was bought a $500 level 50 character by his parents and then kept getting killed because he didn't know how play -- the time needed to gain level 50 obviously isn't entirely wasted, as you at least learn how to play the game.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Al Qaeda's fantasy ideology

Lee Harris explains in Policy review how the world looks from a fundamentalist point of view

A curiously unfortunate career

Thomas Midgley had the dubious honour of having invented both leaded petrol and CFCs.