Monday, 24 November 2003

A Cultural Treasury

Sometimes while surfing the net, looking for useful things, one serendipidously finds something completely useless that was long looked-for, but never found.

On a plain, unadorned site with the cryptic name SCBD, there's not one, nor two, nor even three such, but more.

First, the Top of the Flops : lyrics of the very worst songs of recent times, for example, the Chicken Song:
Hold a chicken in the air, stick a deckchair up your nose,
Buy a jumbo jet and then bury all your clothes,
Paint your left knee green, then extract your wisdom teeth,
Form a string quartet and pretend your name is Keith.

Skin yourself alive, learn to speak Arapaho,
Climb inside a dog and behead an Eskimo,
Eat a Renault 4, wear salami in your ears,
Casserole your gran, disembowel yourself with spears
Ah, they don't make songs like that any more. For which we can all be grateful. There's also old perennials like "It Was An Itsy-Bitsy Teeny-Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini" and modern Classics like "Green Grow My Nadgers Oh". And my favourite of all time, "Right Said Fred", whose lyrics I've been chasing since I first heard it in the early 60's.

Then there's the Stanley Unwin transcripts. Now who is Stanley Unwin, you may well ask. I didn't know either till I saw this site. But you may recognise his work, as I did:
...There was a great suffery. Not only this: the larder, foodage, all the fine things of the world was not enjoying by the peopload themselves on account of these rats doing a sniffy most (and the chew-chew and stuffle down their ratty grebes); because these were the fattest raps and also over-producey in this great lovely city which was otherwise... tsk tsk.
Then there's the Prisoner Transcripts.
Prisoner: I am not a number, I am a person.
Number 2: Six of one, a half a dozen of another!
And then there's a serious but eminently readable guide to the Greek Alphabet.

This is an intellectual smorgasbord, condimented with comedy, but salted with the surreal, sinister and serious.

Sunday, 23 November 2003

A Blast from the Past

Germany, late 1945Before March this year, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine, whose views are rather to the Left of my own, discussing Iraq and World War II. He was unable to see why the Pacifists and Anti-War movement in 1938 were so strong, or how anyone with 2 neurons to fire together could have been anything other than emphatically for a War to oust Hitler, the sooner, the better.

I on the other hand, was viewing all the arguments against involvement in Iraq, and showing that not merely did they have some justification, but that the same justification was also true in 1938. Yes, we certainly should have acted far sooner than we did then, but the matter was nowhere near as clear-cut as it looks 60+ years later. I've learnt more sympathy for the 1938 pacifists than I had ten years ago by living in similar times, and having to face similar unpleasant choices. I can now understand them, while not condoning their actions nor agreeing with them in the smallest iota.

My Leftist friend was - and still is - against the Iraqi war, while still condemning the people who were anti-war in 1938. I still believe most fervently that our only mistake in Iraq was not going in sooner, but am willing to grant that people of good will who disagree with me do so out of good intent, not stupidity or malice. At least, not always, and certainly not the majority.

With that in mind, please have a look at a recent article of mine on The Command Post, suggesting a suitable poster for the "Not In My Name" bunch to march behind. The people protesting against George Bush and Amerikkka are not Nazis - they just believe in many of the same things. Perhaps if the similarities between recent events and those of 60+ years ago are brought to their attention often enough, the penny may drop. Though I'm beginning to doubt it - people do not like facing up to the consequences of their actions, nor will they thank you for revealing unpleasant truths. And that applies to both sides of this debate.

(Clipping courtesy of The CounterRevolutionary blog)

Thursday, 20 November 2003

Rocket Science

Rocket Man has a remarkable article on the testing involved in making a booster - in this case, the Atlas-V.
The amount of engineering that goes into designing, building and testing a rocket is staggering. Since the cost of failure is so high, almost every part on a rocket is subjected to at least some testing before it is flown. The very first time a new design is going to be flown on a rocket, it is put through extensive testing that tries to simulate the exact loading it will see during flight. But even after a part has been flight certified, subsequent parts are still tested to verify that they were built properly.
The whole article's worth reading - then consider that these are single-use devices, all they have to do is work once, and that's it. It's OK for it to wear out quickly. Making stuff that can be re-used repeatedly is much harder, and requires even more outrageous design effort.

Space Software is comparatively easy: it can be run on simulators and repeatedly tested without wear-and-tear. But it has to run on hardware that's subject to all the stresses imposed by Vacuum, Radiation, and massive Thermal differences, due to being exposed to an unshielded fusion reactor, then plunged into deepest shadow, sometimes once every 100 minutes or so. And it's got to work, regardless of any minor problems with the hardware.

Consider how reliable your PC is, the one you're reading this on. Now, especially if you're a Windows user, consider how horribly unreliable the software is. It's possible to write code that won't crash (or even hiccup) for days, weeks, months and years. So why doesn't everyone do it?

Now you know why I, and "we happy few" people involved in making programs to control air traffic, railways, weapons systems and the like are engaged in doing Don Quixote impressions when it comes to Software Quality for the commercial world. Some of us are Australian, others English, others Swedish, American, German, French, Ukrainian, Russian, Chinese... In many cases our techniques are not just better, they're cheaper and faster too. They have to be, or, given the insanely exacting requirements, nothing would ever get delivered.

Life Cycle of a Project

There's been an old black-and-white cartoon of a tree swing that's been around for decades. According to one source, (presentation in pdf - see page 29) the original is pre-1970, and that's in accordance with my own recollection. According to another it is reputed to have been "First (?) seen in University of London Computer Centre Newsletter". There are many variants of the original.

But now someone's updated it in colour. Found while exploring Christoph Cemper's weblog.cemper.com.
Phases of a Project

Letter from a Marine Recruit

From Cynical Cyn, via G'day Mate comes a hilarious letter from a Marine Recruit from the sticks.
This next will kill Walt and Elmer with laughing. I keep getting medals for shooting. I don't know why. The bulls-eye is near as big as a chipmunk head and don't move. And it ain't shooting at you, like the Higgett boys at home. All you got to do is lie there all comfortable and hit it. You don't even load your own cartridges. They come in little metal boxes.
But the funniest thing is the punchline, which I won't spoil. For a good chuckle (or even a loud guffaw) please go read it

Wednesday, 19 November 2003

A Tip for those Interested in Designing Spacecraft

There's a link to the left called Spacecraft Design. It's Dr Christopher D.Hall's blog, which apart from imparting words of wit and wisdom about matters political, social, and general, also contains much of worth and merit re spacecraft design.

It should. He runs a course in it. One I wish I was in the right continent to take, or at least audit.

Chinese Space Programme Article

Mark Whittington has produced an excellent analysis of the Chinese Space Programme. He may be right, he may be wrong, but I agree with him.

Latest on Fedsat

In the news:Fedsat before launch
Little Aussie Battler Defies Space Storm
Fedsat is now the longest-lasting satellite built in Australia and the first in the world to demonstrate self-healing computers that repair themselves after being damaged by radiation.
The recent Solar Storms have been just exactly what we would have wished for, in order to get the very best data.
It is one of the most complex satellites of its size ever built and the first microsatellite to operate communications in the Ka-band of the radio spectrum.
Which will mean nothing to most people, but let's just say that it may allow broadband Internet connectivity on city streets without hunting for "Hotspots" and the like. It's a first step anyway, a proof-of-principle.

The best news in the report is that they've been given another $2.75 million to keep it operational till 2005. Without an injection of funds, we would have had a satellite, but no-one listening to it. Which would have been a shame. As it is, they might need to ask for more come 2005, it looks like exceeding its design lifetime by quite a bit. In the words of the classics, "Verily, I Gloat.".

The Fedsat Site (Warning : HUGE picture) has more on the code upload I reported on earlier
Fedsat has now been operating for almost 12 months and recently underwent a "maintenance service". This health check occurred over a 4 week period during September and October 2003. CRCSS staff are pleased with the results of the exercise and look forward to continuing the successful operation of the satellite. For example, some degradation had recently been noticed in a direction sensor. This was causing occasional minor wobbles in the satellite - the problem has now been bypassed by changing the control algorithm which uses that sensor. During the 4 week upgrade several "code patches" were sent to the FedSat computer to address this, and other, issues. Another excellent outcome was that new program code was successfully uploaded to the communications payload for the first time.
That probably means they've had to modify the program in the ACS (Attitude Control System). Full marks to the people at Dynacon in Canada (who made it) for doing their bit (consuming the new code that was stored and relayed to them by one of the modules I programmed). That's a neat little ACS for microsats they have there. Well-behaved. Reliable. Plays nice. Easy to fix if something goes wrong.

And it appears we've received some sort of award while my attention was averted elsewhere.

The Engineer has some nice things to say about the HPCE (High Performance Computing Experiment), just one of the payloads on board.

But the news is not all good: unlike the tiny, 50 Kilo Fedsat, which is about the size of a TV-set, the Winnebago-sized multitonne ADEOS-II that was launched with it as the primary payload has been abandoned as a total loss after only 10 months of service.

Tuesday, 18 November 2003

Well, I'm back.

Church SignAfter an examination so grueling it was positively Olivertwistian, I've finally finished the last test of the last module of my Master's of Information Technology. There was a question worth 2 marks out of 100 that I didn't have the complete answer for - an obscure one about format of a data log entry on a website - but I was able to make a decent attempt at the rest. Unlikely to get 10/10, but unlikely to get much below 6 either. It was certainly the hardest, but also one of the three most interesting courses I took at Charles Sturt University. Only one of the 8 modules was a dud, where I felt I'd done my dough. Four of them were good, workmanlike courses, well worth at least double what I paid for them, and three were outstanding.

BTW I've never actually been on any of the campusses (shouldn't that be Campi?) - this was all done via the internet, and correspondence. They give this course outside Australia as well as inside.

Oh, the sign on the right? Too good to be true, I'm afraid (though it paraphrases an exchange in the battle between St Barnabas and the Pub which I used to enjoy looking at every morning on my way to Uni in the 70's)

No, it's from the Church Sign Generator.

Monday, 17 November 2003

Inhuman Resources

I really should be studying for my exam (25 hours and 27 minutes to go, but who's counting). But for the last fortnight I've been utterly submerged in a task, no time to read anything, no time to watch TV, no time to blog, and worse, no time to surf the net and read other bloggers.
So while taking 10 minute breaks, I've been catching up on things. And on Silent Running, this story caught my eye.
On Sunday, Sept 28, I worked my shift as usual. The next morning, I was phoned at home by the boss, whom I shall call Mr A. He said: "Zenab, the sound of the World Service is changing, and you are not going to be a part of it. We won't be using you any more as an announcer."

"So - yesterday was my last day with Presentation? After three years of continuous work with you, that's it?" I asked, after a few seconds.

"Yes. Your voice is too clipped."

More stunned silence. Then finally: "But, six months ago, the senior announcer who ran my top-up training said you had personally selected me as part of the new sound. What's changed?"

"There's nothing else to say." Mr A put down the phone.
How not to do things. If there's a problem, the person concerned should be made aware of it, and whatever training or other corrective action required should be provided. Sometimes people don't work out in a job. Sometimes it's their own fault, sometimes it isn't. But it's only common human decency to let them know if there's a problem, and help them make every effort to correct it. You don't just suddenly fire them giving a flimsy and incomprehensible excuse...unless there's dirty work at the crossroads.
I had not been given even a hint that I was heading for the chop during my time at Bush House, the World Service HQ. In fact, the opposite: the announcer who gave me refresher training said I was seen to have promise.

Black newsroom colleagues told me how great it was to hear an Asian name on air. It showed that the World Service was moving away from its white, middle-class image, they said.

The Presentation people invested six months in bringing me up to the required standard and put me on air for almost three years. Then they took me off for sounding "clipped", which I take to be a euphemism for well-spoken. And it was only after my protests that I got severance pay to cover loss of earnings.
A dead giveaway, that last. This was personal.
The speed at which it all happened was breath-taking. I felt as if I was being treated like a security risk. Human resources immediately closed down my computer account, though I used the same log-in for work elsewhere in the BBC.
Another dead giveaway. This was planned by some Stalinist (method not politics) clique a long time ago, and the trap sprung. A similar thing almost happened to me once, I got out at about the third sign of it, probably a few weeks before the action was going to be taken. Others in that organisation haven't been so lucky since, so I've been informed. The section was closed down soon after they got rid of the last competent employee left.
Later that day, when I rang Mr A, (who is a "Mockney", incidentally), he told me I was not being given notice in case I "did a Dave Lee Travis". Seemingly, he was referring to the former Radio 1 DJ's anti-BBC rant on air the day he was dismissed.

So, apparently, I was too posh and a potential loose cannon to boot.

He told me he was looking for a warmer, richer sound. I was tempted to say that, as a single mother bringing up two children on my own, partly on state benefit, I cannot claim to be rich.

And as for warm - well, I started off that way but the BBC trained me to sound more authoritative.

The Director General, Greg Dyke, wants more people of colour working for the BBC. But perhaps I wasn't black enough; perhaps I needed to sound more Pakistani.

During the continuity shifts I did at Bush House, I used to read out an intro to "Write On", which features listeners' comments on the output.

Their letters often complained that they could not decipher the regional accents of some announcers. Not all that surprising, as for most World Service listeners, English is their second language.

However, I was frequently complimented on the distinctive clarity of my voice.
I can second that. The presenter - or rather, ex-presenter in question has a perfectly serviceable voice for world broadcasting. English, but not so coloured by local dielect that it's incomprehensible to foreigners (unlike some).

Finally, the clincher :
? The BBC said last night that its decision to cease employing Ms Ahmed "had nothing to do with her accent", adding: "The BBC aims to use as wide a range of voices on air as possible - including accents some may regard as 'posh'.

"We have invested a lot of time and effort in developing Ms Ahmed's skills. We regularly review announcers' abilities and performance and we retain those who meet our standards. We're sorry it didn't work out as we would have wished for all parties."
100% Pure, unadulterated Bullshit. It's not often i use scatology, but in this case, it's appropriate. Tried, Sentenced and Executed. But what was her crime? As far as I know, she's not Jewish - the usual victims of this kind of Kangaroo Court. Probably just office politics.

Memo to the BBC: Fire your Human resources people for gross incompetence and reckless disregard for human decency. Or someone one day will sue you for a fortune, and win. Oh yes, and as for the people who planned and executed this dirty piece of work, take the money out of their pay packets by sueing them in turn. They understand Fear, they use it every day as a tool to keep their lickspittles in line. So put some Fear into them, in the name of Justice.

Sorry, this one struck a personal chord in me. But I think such behaviour should be discouraged whenever it's found. Because it's a remarkably short step from this type of behaviour to sending people into the Gulags. The same mentality at work.

Talking about work, time I got back to it.

Normal Blogging Resumes on the 19th November

As to why posts have been nonexistant, let me just say:
It's not the 17-hour days that get you, it's the 120-hour weeks and 250-hour fortnights...

Wednesday, 5 November 2003

The Slashdot Effect

I work for a mob called Software Improvements.

On Monday, Salon wrote a rather complimentary article on our eVACS® electronic voting system, an article that was then picked up by Slashdot.

We got hit by the Slashdot Effect, which in our case amounted to 33,000 hits in a few hours. Fortunately, our ISP's server coped. It appears that we got more hits in the last 2 days than in the previous 2 years.

Tuesday, 4 November 2003

Normal Service will be resumed Shortly

I've got a hefty assignment to complete by the 15th, and an exam on the 18th to study for, then there's work, and my 2-year-old son, Andrew... so blogging will be very intermittent for the next 2 weeks.

But in the meantime, courtesy of Steve Jackson's Daily Illuminator, there's the Octodog. $16.95 plus postage.

From Samizdata.net there's Smallpox: A Musical, with the unforgettable refrain
The Halls are Awash, with the sound of Mucus"...

And from Jihad Watch, via LGF, the Pakistan Christian Post publishes an open letter from the "Grand Prior" of the Knights Templar to one Osama Bin Laden, challenging him to single combat.
We doubt that you really believe there are any Crusaders left, as we doubt that you really believe in God. You would not taunt Crusaders if you really believed in them, because you are a craven coward who cherishes his own flesh while admonishing your followers to blow themselves up. You are an infidel, because no one who truly believes in God would sanction the killing of innocent men, women, and children. Your actions show you to be both a coward and an infidel, because you ask your followers to do what you are afraid to do, and you don't believe there is a God who will condemn you for your vile actions against Islam and humanity.
[...]
.... to prove to the entire world that you are a coward and an infidel, this Knight Templar challenges you to single combat in the sands of Pakistan. I challenge you to meet me with scimitar or sword, to be pitted against myself and a holy sword consecrated to our Order-a sword that was forged to destroy evil.
If the Grand Prior is a member of the SCA, I'd lay 2:1 odds on him. 20:1 if armour and shield are allowed.

Sunday, 2 November 2003

Weathering the Storm

Fedsat booster separationBack in 2001, I had the pleasure to head the On-Board Software development team for FedSat, Australia's first Satellite for 30 years. The recent Solar Storms have caused all sorts of problems for many satellites, but FedSat is still humming along. In the days before the storms hit, a patched version of the software was uploaded to the satellite, ending in pass 4574 or thereabouts, when over a megabyte of data was transmitted to FedSat. Quite a bit more had been transmitted in the immediately previous passes. This corrected a minor problem with the transmission of program data to the Communications payload, and enabled the ground crew to successfully upload a new version of the software for the Comms payload experiment (theres quite a few separate computers on board, each prgrammable independently). I don't know what the problem was, but as the code upload worked perfectly for the other payloads, I suspect it was some duff parameters to do with where in the Comms payload's memory the data was supposed to be put.

Anyway, you can see a summary of the lastest data from Fedsat on the web. Battery voltage is still pretty good after nearly a year in orbit, better than expectations. You can see where the voltage drops due to the high power drain when communicating with the ground station. Our goal was 12 months of full functionality, another 2 years of almost-complete functionality, then maybe another 2 years of partial functionality. It looks as if we may get quite a bit longer.

I had an e-mail interview with a Journalist at the Age newspaper, and he did superb job of condensing my ramblings (and others) into a neat, tidy article. Here's a quote:
Only 58 centimetres square and weighing 50 kilograms, the tiny FedSat satellite is packed with five scientific experiments and all of the instruments required to communicate with Earth during its anticipated three-year life. At the heart of the satellite is a 10MHz ERC-32 processor - a SPARC-based 32-bit RISC processor developed for high-reliability space applications.

The ERC-32 sacrifices processing power for durability and reliability. It uses three chips to process a modest 10 million instructions per second and two million floating-point operations per second - less than 1 per cent of a Pentium 4's capabilities.

The pay-off is reliability: the ERC-32 uses concurrent error-detection to correct more than 95 per cent of errors.

Power-hungry microprocessors such as the Pentium 4, which runs a standard office PC bought off the shelf today, would be an intolerable burden on the solar-powered satellite. The ERC-32 consumes less than 2.25 watts at 5.5 volts.

Designed to survive extreme radiation bursts from solar flares, the ERC-32 can tolerate radiation doses up to 50,000 rad. This is 100 times the lethal dose for humans.

Low-Earth-orbit is "a cruel place to put a computer", says software engineer Alan Brain, who is responsible for FedSat's data-handling system.

It will orbit at about 803 kilometres above the Earth's surface and will circle the planet every 100 minutes.

"The radiation will cause random bit-flips and can even fry components," Brain says. "The vacuum boils the volatile gasses out of normal chips, making them useless and coating everything nearby with conductive gunk. In the Earth's shadow, temperatures make Antarctica look balmy, and in the sun's glare it's hotter than the Simpson Desert. On the way up, the vibration of the rocket would shake most normal circuit boards to pieces."

Spaceflight avionics software development is not for the faint-hearted either.

"The question for software developers is not, 'Are you paranoid?', the question is, 'Are you paranoid enough?' " Brain says. "Every software module, every function, procedure or method has to assume that information coming in may have been spoilt by a malfunction and be prepared for the worst. The system must be ductile - bending, not breaking - when things go wrong. In space no one can press Control/Alt/Delete."

A team of Australian programmers developed FedSat's onboard software, building on work done in Britain. It is written in Ada-95, a programming language designed for embedded systems and safety-critical software. All it has to work with is 16MB of RAM, 2MB of flash memory for storing the program, a 128K boot PROM (programmable read only memory) and 320MB of DRAM in place of a hard disk that would never survive the launch process. All essential data is stored in three physically different locations.

Along with controlling the satellite, this software must interface with the satellite's five experimental payloads. These are designed to study UHF and Ka-band transmission characteristics and coding methods, the Earth's magnetic field, Global Positioning System applications, high-performance computing and the stars.

Along with power restrictions, the main constraint on FedSat's designers is its limited contact with Earth.

The FedSat ground station will control the satellite via an S-Band bidirectional radio link using a dish on the roof of the Signal Processing Research Institute building at the University of South Australia's Mawson Lakes campus.

Owing to FedSat's orbit, the ground station will only be able to communicate with the satellite during two 20-minute periods each day.

As such, a large component of the software's work is logging data to be downloaded and storing commands to be executed while the satellite is out of contact.
The Unquiet SunPretty Cruel is right. As John Hohl told the BBC :
Commenting on the solar events of the past few days John Kohl of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the US, said: "It's like the Earth is looking right down the barrel of a giant gun pointed at us by the Sun...and it's taken two big shots at us."

"The Sun is really churned up. The timing of two very large X-class flares aimed directly at the Earth, occurring one right after another, is unprecedented.

"I have not seen anything like it in my entire career as a solar physicist. The probability of this happening is so low that it is a statistical anomaly."
And as I said, "The Question is not 'Are you paranoid?' but 'Are you paranoid enough?'. <gloat>I beefed up the memory error-checking and automatic correction way beyond the spec, just in case, and because with the design I'd come up with it was actually easier to go a bit overboard than restrict the checking to something less aggressive.</gloat>


Thursday, 30 October 2003

Enterprise at Mach 5

Actually Mach 5.2
Enterprise in Wind Tunnel
The good people at the University of Queensland's Laser Diagnostics centre ran a Fascinating Experiment to see how aerodynamic the NCC-1701A shape was. It turns out that it's surprisingly good.

Wednesday, 29 October 2003

Greetings, Visitors from Samizdata.Net

I usually navigate to Samizdata.Net via the long list of Anti-Idiotarians put out by LGF. Along with Lileks, Den Beste, Tim Blair, Silent Running and of course Instapundit, the site's on my daily scan list.

So yes, I'm chuffed to pieces to be mentioned by that site.

Some previous posts that may be of interest to you:

The Long-Term Chinese Space Programme
The Great Tolkein Society Putsch including a link to "Gollum Sings the Blues" (Student Politics in the 70's)
The Ethical Treatment of Animals
M.I.T's Open CourseWare (with Pork Brains and Milk Gravy)
Who Armed Saddam?
A little-known chapter of WW II : Operation Safari
Design your Own Hell
Short-Circuiting the Brain Part II
The Protocols of the Elders of Barnum
Short-Circuiting the Brain Part I
A Guide to the Australian Political Ecology

And along the way you'll see things like "Blue Suede Shoes" in Klingon, and articles on Cyborgs. Visit the whole archives to see more
"Intermittent postings from Canberra, Australia on Software Development, Space, Politics, and Interesting URLs.
And of course, Brains..."
Hope you have fun.


Computer Security

For the less-than-expert Computer User.

That's the challenge posed by an article in The Register.

Anyone connected to the Internet, especially if they have Broadband, and doubly especially if they're using a Microsoft Operating System (that is, "Windows" of any description), should have a Firewall. No exceptions.

But how do you explain what a Firewall is, and why it's needed, when your audience really doesn't care about their Computer except as a means to do things like surf the Net? My interest in cars is much the same - does it go from point A to point B, is it easy to park, does it have enough space inside for my usual needs, what's the fuel economy, is it reliable, is it easy to drive. I don't care if it has Electronic Fuel Injection, Macpherson struts and a double-overhead cam with shimmied flunge-sprockets. Or not.

From the article mentioned above :
We can't just ignore the problems with insecurity that our non-IT friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances have with their computers. If their machines are compromised, we feel the effects, whether we realize it or not.

We feel the effects when we end up spending several hours each week doing pro bono IT work at the homes of the people we know (I've tried sending my Mom a bill, but she never pays, the deadbeat).
Been there, done that.
We feel the effects when the Internet slows to a crawl due to a sudden explosion of traffic caused by a particularly-virulent virus or worm.

We feel the effects when we get even more spam, sent from compromised zombies to everyone else on the Net, or when those zombies are used in DDOS attacks on anti-spam Web sites.

We feel the effects when zombies owned by our unknowing friends and family are used to secretly host scams, or porn sites ... or worse.
The solution? Education.
...I can't teach my students everything, but I try to teach them something. Every security professional needs to do the same. We're at the forefront, like it or not, and it's up to us to help lessen the myriad of problems we see around us. Like it or not, we need to become educators - permanent educators - or we may find ourselves refloozling those hossenblobbets with tinklewickets one too many times.
I've already mentioned a free online Virus scanner in a previous post. And the Firewall I use is Zone Alarm.

I urge any reader who wants an explanation of what a Virus Scanner is, what a Firewall is, and why they're so important - and how to install them - to e-mail me.

Tuesday, 28 October 2003

A Contrast in Style, A Contrast in Substance

The most reviled form of Government in recent times has been National Socialism. With Good Reason. The two most famous - or infamous - National Socialist parties have been the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei - National Socialist German Workers' Party) AKA "Nazi" party, and the ANSP (Arab National Socialist Party) AKA "Ba'ath" Party.

But... a bad form of Government executed by Good People is better than a good form of Government executed by Bad People. therefore present for you a contrast in styles, of two "National Socialist" movements, though one of them didn't call itself that. Judge for yourself.

Flies and BombersNational Socialism often conveys Public Service messages in Militaristic terms, but not always.Signposts
Civilian Conservation CorpsA Favourite theme is the Heroic Industrial Superman, forging a new National Pride.You are the Front
NRA EagleThey seem to have a thing for Eagles as emblems. On Restaurants, on Posters for "World Peace"...Nazis For Peace
NRA RecoveryThey're good at showing how Decent, Normal Folk are on the way up from Misery and DespairWinter Relief
NRA EagleDid I mention about the Eagles? Oh, and the paperwork, the licencing, the bureaucracy...Nazi Eagle
Work Promotes ConfidenceOf course, not all National Socialist Regimes are created equal. Sometimes the differences are what is important, not the similarities.Arbeit Macht Frei
National Socialism per se is not what made the Nazis, and the Ba'athists, evil. It was their penchant for attacking neutral countries, and for engaging in the wholesale slaughter of innocents. Auschwitz would have been an abomination regardless of the political system that created it. Whether feeding the families of political opponents into shredders or into ovens, that's just a matter of style. What's important is the matters of Substance, like the very real differences that existed between the Franklin&Eleanor team and Adolf.
Did I mention about the Eagles?Iraqi Eagle

Monday, 27 October 2003

The Borg Hypothesis

The subtitle of this blog is
Intermittent postings from Canberra, Australia on Software Development, Space, Politics, and Interesting URLs.

And of course, Brains...
So it's interesting to see an Interesting URL which encompasses Software Development, Space, and Brains. A quote:
For long-duration space missions, we must approach Borgification from two directions:
  • Machines, as we know them today, must become more biological in certain respects. They must possess functionalities such as self-repair and self-defense, for example. (Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are already working on systems that can train themselves to become new circuits.) Not just when the machines are in use, but also as they are created and decommissioned, processes must be more biological -that is, more like growing and recycling than manufacturing and discarding.
  • Bodies, as we know them today, must become more machine-like in certain respects. We are already on that path, but taking it further, wouldn't it be nice, for example, to fix our bodies so that radiation and low gravity do less harm? Computational technology also holds great and perhaps more immediate promise, for instance, using artificial intelligence technologies inside us.
For long-duration space missions, we may have to put intelligent technologies inside of us. Brave new worlds are usually described in a context implying choice, choice of paths that might lead either to utopias or to hells. Perhaps humanity made its choice already, eons ago when creatures first began wondering at the stars.
One of my first posts on this blog was "Computer, Heal Thyself" (you'll have to scroll down to it). FedSat's High Performance Computing Experiment demonstrated exactly this biological-like "self-repair" capability when damaged by Radiation. This stuff is not too far away, we should be thinking about the ethical implications now.

Sunday, 26 October 2003

Weird Wide Web

The Iron ChefImagine, if you will, a TV program that is an unholy hybrid of Pokemon, The Galloping Gourmet, Pot Black, and Sumo Wrestling.

There you have "The Iron Chef", where each week a challanger gets to take on the Three Gods of Cooking, the Iron Chefs!

Who can forget when one of the usual Judges, Dr Hattori, took on the Master of the Japanese School, Iron Chef Michiba.

"Iron Chef Michiba, I choose you!"

Today's ingredient.... Truffles! An ingredient so subtle, so rare, that just a hint can make all the difference to a culinary masterpiece. So of course they provided a whole basketful of them. There was Truffle Ice-cream, sliced Truffle in Port Wine, Spring Rolls with Truffle Jelly...

From one of the many(!) Fan Sites :
Get ready for the seaweed and giant eels to start flying as Ultimate Fighting Champion meets Julia Child in this Japanese cult hit. After the surprise ingredient is revealed, the challenger and the Iron Chef face off in a frenetic culinary battle against each other and the clock. The guest panel judges the menus to determine who is victorious and who is vanquished.

If you haven't seen the show, Iron Chef is a Japanese variety/cooking show of sorts. Known in Japan as "Ryori no Tetsujin" (Cooking Iron Man), it is produced by Fuji International TV. It started airing in 1993 until 1999 when the show ended its run. 1 or 2 specials are still usually produced in a year.

The concept of the show is that a flamboyant gourmand, portrayed by Kaga Takeshi, lives in his castle with his "Iron Chefs." These Iron Chefs are the top chefs in the culinary fields of Japanese, Chinese, French and Italian cooking. Each week, Kaga will choose a challenger chef (from anywhere on the planet) to "do battle" against his Iron Chefs. Kaga will present a theme ingredient and each chef will then be charged with preparing a multi-course meal that utilizes the theme ingredient in each course.

The chefs have one hour to cook. Then, Kaga and four judges taste the food and pronounce winner. Sometimes there are ties and a cook-off battle will need to be held. The great appeal of the show is its meld of sports commentary with a cooking show. There is a sidelines announcer, Ota Shinichiro, who provides a play by play commentary on the dishes as they are prepared. There are also two announcers, Fukui Kenji, who provides most of the announcements and Hattori Yukio, who is the "color" man and fills in the viewers with tidbits of culinary knowledge.
ACME Earthquake PillsIn the Grand Tradition of all Talent shows, the Judging panel consists of one person who actually knows something about the subject, one bon-vivant/raconteur, and one brainless bimbo. The specimens of the latter genus appear in Kimonos, and have less evident intellect than most of the ingredients. Perhaps more than some of the asparagus spears, but certainly less than any of the vertebrates, or even shellfish. About even with the Cabbage.

If you've never heard of it, seek it out. The Universe is a stranger place than you can imagine.

And then there's the Original Catalogue of ACME products! Why wait? Make your own Earthquakes! Loads of Fun!



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