Monday, 20 October 2008

Post#94 "Interview on Writing Fiction Books" - Dugg from CuteWriting

"Author Carol Denbow on virtual tour teaching how to write and publish a book."

From a post at CuteWriting by Lenin Nair which I Dugg.

read more | digg story

Post#93 Hire a Hall/Everything (It's Payback Time for the Liberal and National Coalition!)

Now that the dust is settling from the W.A. State election of September 6th, the outlines are emerging of where the new government is going to be staking its claim to power. In the West Australian newspaper a couple of days ago I read a report of the intention of some Liberal backbenchers to revisit the issue of compulsory balloting. Yeah, sure, backbenchers. Just bringing up a matter of personal concern. Just like those Dorothy Dixer questions that backbenchers ask all on their own initiative. One of these concerned fellows is the recently scraped-in new MLA for Riverton, Mr Mike Nahan, a thirty-year refugee from North America. He found a nice little niche advising Richard Court, former Liberal Premier of W.A. and then moved, after Court's ouster, to the Institute of Public Affairs. Here's a reader's comment copied from the PerthNow website where Nahan's election spiel was posted

Dr Mike Nahan was the Executive Director of the extreme right wing "privatise at all costs" Institute for Public Affairs for ten years. Mike chooses not to mention this in his CV. Why is that? He supports the "astroturf" environmental front group the Australian Environmental Foundation, which has a base case of denying climate change, whether it is human induced or not.

Can't find anything to disagree with in that. Nahan's mates at the IPA have a relentlessly Thatcherite view. It's free-market anarchy that they preach; their idea of economic Paradise is located at the point on the eternal wheel of ideas where the lunar left and the lunar right meet. Karl Marx wrote of the "withering away of the organs of the State". Nahan and Co. want to cut off those organs with chainsaws. They bleat like the brainwashed sheep from Animal Farm: "Private good! Government bad!" The facts of private ignorance, corruption, incompetence, indifference to the future and so forth are of no matter to them. It's not really surprising. They're hooked up to an umbilical that provides a steady supply of sustaining funds from the very interests they support and praise. Not a bad money-spinner really. You establish a "think-tank" that unflinchingly (and unthinkingly) sings the praises of the would-be plunderers and they pay you by the word.

So good ole Mike has come out in favour of non-compulsory voter registration and balloting. Just like in his former homeland. Of course, the idea is that the removal of compulsion would make life a lot harder for the Labor party; supposedly its lower-socioeconomic demographic would be less likely to register and turn out. The Labor party really only has itself to blame for this. Apart from the grossly cynical decision to call an early, self-serving election they tampered with the electoral system to give themselves an edge by pushing the specious "one vote, one value" principle. That was a dangerous precedent to set. They did it for no reason other than their own electoral advantage and now they will have to drag that baggage uphill if they fight the Tories on this one.

How is "one vote - one value" specious? It purports that there is an ubiquitous merit in having all representatives elected by the same numbers of electors, i.e. the same number of electors in each electoral district. Weighting votes by having some candidates elected by smaller numbers of constituents than others is supposed to be as heinous as gerrymandering. I heard Stephen Smith, our Foreign Minister and MHR for Perth, W.A., pushing this line on a TV panel show recently and was provoked by his simpleton surety on the matter. If Steve really believes it he's lost his marbles. The practice of weighting votes in the W.A. electoral system to allow smaller constituencies in the hinterland isn't unreasonable. It's petty compensation for the uphill battle that the bush fights against the eternal "flight to the cities" and the negative discrimination this brings. The indisputable fact is that the hinterland is where the main wealth of the State comes from. Cutting back the opportunities of those who choose to make a home there isn't really very clever. Can we really stuff Perth full of three or four million people and then run the entire non-metropolitan economy on a "fly-in, fly-out" system? I thought we had a water supply problem and a sewage treatment problem. And what about those famous housing costs everyone's been squawking about for the past twenty years? Did I imagine all that blarney about "decentralisation" and easing the pressure on urban resources?

Without representation out of proportion to the size of the population, those hinterland areas will suffer an acceleration of the process of withdrawal of services and consequent loss of population. There won't be a political incentive to resist the process. And why is this being done? Because the hinterland seats have consistently returned conservative members to the State Parliament. Simple as that. They kept the Labor party from controlling the Legislative Council for many years and returned Country/National Party members to the Assembly. Well, now the Labor party has had its win over them. But, oh...what happened on the 6th of September just passed? They lost the election! Yep, the new, "fair" system returned a conservative Coalition government and gave a new lease of life to the National party. And now the conservatives, with the likes of Nahan leading the charge will have their turn. With equal hypocrisy and self-serving falsity they will push the idea of voluntary registration and balloting. And they may have the numbers to get it through.

For the sake of attacking each other's support bases the main blocs are hacking away at what was an exemplary system. And here's something for the likes of Stephen Smith to think about: What if this "unbreachable principle" of "one vote, one value" was applied in the context of the Commonwealth electoral system? If disproportionate representation is such anathema, each province of the Commonwealth should have the number of House seats and Senators that its proportion of the nation's population would indicate. So, where would that put Stephen Smith's home state, Western Australia? Certainly not with 12 Senators. Perhaps 8. Would the ACT and NT still qualify for 2 Senators? And if the provision in the Constitution that all original States of the Federation are guaranteed at least 5 seats in the House was removed, Tasmania would be reduced from 5 to 2. As well as dropping from 12 senators to 3. South Australia would certainly lose at least 4 Senators. And the Big Three, New South Wales/Victoria/Queensland would collectively gain as many as were lost by the others.

Obviously, the Senators don't sit in provincial blocs, nor do they often vote across party lines to defend a provincial interest. This often leads to mockery of the Senate in response to its title "States' House" (although it should now be "States and Territories" , since they've received Senate representation). The omission in this viewpoint is that the existence of those Senate seats provides a motive for the parties to give consideration to provincial concerns from the less-populated provinces which would otherwise be neglected. They don't often clash within their party ranks in the Senate because all parties have a vested interest in going along with certain main trends in national policy. If some parts of the nation could be reduced in electoral importance the inhabitants thereof would begin to notice that the Senate we have now wasn't just a paper tiger for provincial interests. Unfortunately, some people will only cotton to that when they're actually being thoroughly treated like dirt by Canberra. And that's the risk being run by Western Australians like Stephen Smith when they throw away that protective principle in the State context. What will Steve say if the Premiers of the three largest States demand application of "one vote, one value" to the Commonwealth's Constitution? Not much of coherence or consequence I reckon.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Post#92 The New Mini E (lectric) - Emissions Free Car - from Digg

"The BMW Group is about to become the first manufacturer of premium automobiles to deploy a fleet of nearly 500 all electric vehicles for private use in daily traffic. Powered by a 150 kW (204 hp) electric motor and fed by a high-performance rechargeable lithium-ion battery, the vehicle will be nearly silent and emissions free."

A story from Digg.

read more | digg story

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Post#91 Hire a Hall / Everything (An enl-eye-tening discovery)

I was checking out some of my blogmarked sites at Blogexplosion (click the referral banner at the top of this page to check them out) and I discovered a post on a blog called "Eye See - Eye Talk" dealing with retinal detachment in platform divers. I found this pretty shocking and disheartening. I'd never heard of this and had never suspected that this was one of the hazards in the sport. I thought knocking your head on a board or platform (bad enough to be enough, I think) was the only peril its practitioners faced.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Post #90 A Science Experiment

I was in a store a few days ago and saw fire blankets for sale. They're non-flammable fabric squares which can be pulled from a package hanging on your wall and thrown over any fire involving the sort of fuels which don't respond well to application of water, e.g. cooking oil.

It triggered a memory from school days about the misguided efforts of a teacher to demonstrate the process known as "sublimation". This is the direct translation of a substance from a solid to a gaseous form. This could have been a difficult thing to demonstrate in the bare-boards science classroom that my high school featured; things that will turn from solid to gas at room temperature usually aren't lying around loose on shelves, for obvious reasons. However, an apparently fortuitous circumstance helped out the would-be demonstrator. In the classroom was a CO2 fire extinguisher. The enterprising teacher figured that he could show us the process by improvising with this device. He pulled the retainer pin from its trigger and blasted the extinguisher repeatedly against a blackboard. After several minutes of this a lump of solidified CO2 was sticking to the board. We were then exhorted to observe how it vaporised and disappeared into the air. For the benefit of those slow to catch on, or having trouble seeing from the back of the room, he put more of it in place with repeated furious blasts from the nozzle of the extinguisher. I didn't think this was all so amazing. Perhaps if a lump of solid metal had disappeared, it would have been worth the build-up, but this exercise just seemed to me to be showing the boring obvious and to be a waste of the contents of the extinguisher.

A week later when the great "sublimation" show was a fading memory, the same teacher was placing various items on the lab bench at the front of the room for an experiment when he spilled some kerosene on the bench top. He made a rapid grab at the flask he'd spilled it from and knocked over a Bunsen burner. The burner was operating and ignited the kerosene which was now spreading along the bench-top. The teacher thought he'd settle the burner down by pulling its supply hose from the gas tap at the end of the bench (The burner was lying in a spreading pool of burning kero by now). That stopped the burner fuelling the fire at its end of the hose but allowed gas to vent directly from the tap. The valve had a habit of sticking open and removing the hose plug hadn't popped the valve out to stop the gas flow. Of course the gas stream now ignited from the flames coming from the kero. It came out at full pressure, not the small flow the burner's outlet valve had been set to, and it was blazing a metre-long flame down the bench. One of my classmates was of Austrian ancestry and was a World War Two buff. He called out, delightedly, "Achtung! Flammenwaffe!!"

Now there's a dilemma: You've got burning kero spreading down the bench towards containers of volatile materials standing at its end (sulphur powder, acids, alcohol, other such goodies...). You've also got a gas flame a metre long that's doing God-knows-what to the gear on the bench top which is also surrounded by the burning kero. What do you do first, fight the kero fire or try to shut off the gas? I didn't know then and I still don't, but I guess there was a main tap near the bench or under it from which you could stop the gas. The teacher probably knew but he didn't seem to remember...anyway he decided that the kero was first priority. A reasonable decision; the gas flame was of finite length and coming from a fixed outlet, the kerosene was spreading fast along the four-metre long bench. He decided to give the kerosene the benefit of the trusty extinguisher's attention. In a smooth, commando-svelte motion he turned to the red cylinder of salvation resting in its wall bracket, hefted it, pulled the retaining pin (...close breech cover, draw back actuator lever...), pointed the uncompromising black metal nozzle at the kerosene fire and pulled the trigger lever. A blast of ice-cold fire-smothering CO2 jetted forth. For one second. Then, nowt but a feeble puff. Yes, he'd tested it to death. It was empty.

Now, you may be thinking, "What were the students doing while this..." Those of us at the front were taking a keen interest because the first students' bench was actually right up against the front of the lab bench. I was sitting at that bench with several others and was collecting my equipment and preparing to retreat from the kerosene which was burning only a few centimetres away. The others in the class were just watching, surprisingly, without laughing. There were about thirty of us in the room and no bastard, me included, was trying to help the guy. Anyway, there wasn't really a damn thing we could do. This is why the fire blankets in the shop triggered my memory of that day. They would have been just the thing to stop the progress of the fire. There weren't any in the lab. I don't believe there was one in the entire school.

Having discovered that his mate, the extinguisher, was extinct, the teacher cast about frantically for an alternative. Not having a suppressor blanket he applied his improvising talent again and seized upon a large cloth lying on a side table. Now that cloth had been hanging around the lab for years. It had done sterling service as a wiper-up of messes of all kinds and had collected within its fibres every chemical which had ever been used and spilled or dropped in that lab.

I once heard an American commentator on international affairs use a metaphor to describe errors in US foreign policy which was a story about a man walking through a perilous forest: "As he's walking along, in the gloomy light under the forest canopy, he sees a stick lying on the ground ahead him, a small curved branch that's fallen from a tree. In the poor light he mistakes the stick for a snake and panics. Casting about for something to hit the snake with, he sees something lying on the ground behind him which he wrongly believes is a stick...and he grabs it up..." That perfectly describes the situation of that fire-frightened teacher. That old cloth was probably the most flammable piece of textile product within the borders of the Commonwealth of Australia. And that's what he chose to beat the fire out with.

It caught in one millionth of a second and he was waving a blanket of fire as he spread the still-burning kerosene even further. I also remember that every speck of old spillage adhering to the bench-top was now igniting in this ideal fire environment. Little spurts of purple and yellow flame flickered into view for a fraction of a second as chemicals were liberated from the bench surface by the heat of the fire. Brilliant white sparkles showed where long-forgotten magnesium powder spills had occurred. At least it was getting a good clean-out.

As the cleaning-cloth was now beyond being held in a bare hand it was thrown to the floor and the teacher began futilely stamping on it. He had to give up and let it burn as the kero fire licked at the containers of combustibles standing at the end of the bench. He began grabbing them and transferring them to a waist-height shelf that was along the side of the room at right-angles to the lab bench. In this, at least, he succeeded.

Now he had a real inspiration. The lab bench had a metal sink. He decided to squeegee the burning kero into the sink using two large steel rulers that were on the blackboard shelf. He pushed the kero back, corralled between the rulers, and forced it over the rim of the sink. This required some suffering on his part because those rulers were excellent conductors of heat, but he'd beaten the fire at last. Most of the kero was in the sink, the little left on the bench was burning out. The burning cloth was now a smouldering, greasy black twist on the scorched wooden floor. That just left the flame-thrower gas tap. Picking up a piece of steel tube from under the bench, he advanced on the outlet, reached out and tapped it with the pipe. The valve popped out and shut off the gas.

There were some moments of silence as we all surveyed the now-quiescent scene. Then a burst of applause and sarcastic cheering. "All right, settle down, you blokes", said the teacher and proceeded to use some unburnt cloths to mop up the mess he'd made.

I always laugh at the memory of that episode but I knew from the moment it happened that it was nearly a catastrophe. I'm ever more amazed as the years pass at how ill-judged he was and how ill-equipped that place was. The thing that beats me most is how a man past thirty could be so foolish as to waste the contents of the fire extinguisher in the one room in the school where it was most likely to be needed. I have wondered if he had to tell the headmaster that he'd used up the CO2 in a dopey experiment. It's occurred to me that he may have said that he used it up in fighting the fire. Maybe he never said a word and just left the empty extinguisher for someone else to find out about the hard way. None of the students would have gone to talk about it with the headmaster. They were different days. There were lines you didn't cross. What happened at school stayed at school. What happened with a teacher might be discussed with other students but no-one would have crawled to the boss and informed about it. Today he'd be up to his neck in that burning kerosene.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Post #89 West African Scam "Babes"

Here are some pictures of some intriguing African ladies...a selection from the trophy room at the 419Eater site.

So why are they holding those signs? Because the anti-scammers at the site have set tasks for the scammers to perform and they have, in turn, enlisted their female friends or relatives to play the part of the character who is supposedly emailing the target of the attempted scam. Read all about it at the 419 site and learn about "mugus" and the incredible stunts they are led through on their chase for other people's money. I've made a small contribution to wearing them out and I'll post about it soon.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Post #88 Hire a Hall / Everything (The Extortionist's "Thong"*)

To clear this up for the American readers; this is what Australians call a "thong". The undergarment is known in Australia as a "G-string" or "V-string". You can peruse examples here.

The prompt for this post was my hearing a female opinionator on a radio programme talking about "corporate paedophilia" and the "sexualisation of young girls". I didn't find anything to quarrel with in her denunciation of the practice of cataloguing sexy underwear for the under-sixteen market. I did become exasperated with the way that the interview was led along the usual path in attacking the manufacturers and the retailers for producing and proffering the stuff.

Pleasing as the attacks are to my (apparently) socially conservative ears, I thought, as I do every time this yarn is rehashed, that every bastard is missing the most obvious point. Nobody seems to get past saying that it's wrong. The motives of the purveyors of this stuff are never examined in detail.

The garment industry (AKA "rag trade") is well-known to be a brutally cold-blooded business. At the production end it's about nothing but money and at the retail end it's about more money. Some designers may be indulging their aesthetic inclinations but the mass-produced material that makes it from drawing board to sales rack in real life is purely a product of commercial mathematics. So, is it really plausible that the money-grubbers are trying to "sexualise" anybody by way of their product? The real reason is egregiously obvious if you simply look at the prices charged for the products. Sexuality may be a lure to the purchaser but it's simply a vehicle for the real purpose: persuading people to pay disproportionate amounts for very small quantities of materials and labour.

I've had enough to do with tailoring to know that the cutting table is where the profitability of a garment business is decided. If a customer can be persuaded to pay x price for a piece of fabric and a certain amount of machinist's time which is half or one quarter of what might be required to make a larger garment sold for the same price, where's the smart money? The "string" garments and skimpy tops and short shorts aren't being cranked out to advance the rebuilding of Sodom and Gomorrah; they're just a logical commercial decision. Take a look at the ratios of prices in any supermarket catalogue. The skimpy stuff is sold for a price which approximates 80% of the price of full-form garments. If the retailer is in a particularly gouging mood you can find "string briefs", "medium briefs" and "full briefs" all at the same price per pack of however many. And it's not just women's/girls' clothing that's on this trend. Manufacturers have been offering samples of "G-strings for men" to the retailer's buyers for twenty years. Praise the gods, it hasn't caught on, at least not to the same degree.

I saw an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer takes the family to "Itchy and Scratchy World" and is offered a a chance to buy "Itchy and Scratchy Money". When he asks what it's about, the girl at the counter says "It's fun!!" and giggles. Homer responds "Give me a thousand bucks' worth!" He assumes, naturally, that's it's for use in the fun park; for making purchases. Inside he finds every shop with adamant signs stating "We don't take Itchy and Scratchy Money!" He's been had; his non-refundable play-money isn't worth a brass razoo. Substitute the skimpy gear for the play money and the words "It's sexy" for "It's fun" and you see the picture.

Should "the government do something"? Not this time. Let's just make a simple agreement to not be idiots. Don't buy that crap for your kids or let them spend money on it that you've gifted them. If they do and then wear it to make it non-returnable before you find out; send it to the tip in shreds. Best to explain this all before you set out upon this path, of course. Start by educating them as to what a rip-off is. And buy a DVD copy of the documentary "China Blue". They can see how a teenage Chinese girl works thirty hours straight to make garments for a pittance and thereby learn about the other end of the rip-off process. Oh yes...and don't buy it for yourself or any other adult person.

Sex may be the bait, but the hook is just exploitation of all concerned.

(*The title's meant to be a pun on "The Executioner's Song". If you had to read the asterisk...I guess it didn't work.)

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Post #87 Hire a hall / Everything (And yet again with the bale-out bail-out!!)

Perhaps I should take up psychicing! But then it was such an easy prediction that I made. The exact words are: "I'm just waiting for the first of those scum to take a pile of that public money to give themselves a golden parachute of several million dollars as they leave the burning wreck of the company they've put into a death-dive." It wasn't perfectly accurate, but the gist of it was fulfilled when I heard on ABC NewsRadio this morning that executives of American Insurance Group, an entity recently bailed out by the U.S. government, have spent US$400,000 on a corporate "love-in" at a resort hotel. And now the pundits are saying that the US$700,000,000,000 that's being offered ...won't be enough. Double that might do it, they murmur.

It's really very simple: Nothing will "do it" for the little guys. The worst is going to happen for them regardless. After all, they're just the ones who do the real work and create the real wealth. Still, they're tough. They can get used to living in vans and working three jobs. If they aren't already. Mmmh, I wonder what's on the menu in the dining rooms at the US Congress.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Post #86 Hire a Hall / Everything (Licensed Psychic)

A while ago I made some comments about psychics and their interventions in criminal cases.
The idea has been at the back of my mind for a long time to put the challenge issued by the Australian skeptics into a statutory form. It used to be unlawful to "pretend to tell a fortune". This law was removed from the statute books in Western Australia some years ago, perhaps because the legislators thought it was a nonsense to "pretend" to an act which was, to their minds, an impossibility. That hasn't stopped the pretenders. They've proliferated to a ludicrous degree. Every medium imaginable is now rife with their phony purports.

So here's my happy medium (okay, that's twice for the same pun..) solution. Let's not prohibit them; nor should we allow them to play free as they do now with the gullible. We should license them! Yep, let them be regulated like any other service provider. And to be very generous, we'll issue these licences free of charge. The only requirement (only!) will be to specify what type of psychic service is to be offered by the licensee and...prove competence in the field by passing a reasonable test of ability. There'll be a one-off fee for organising the test; that will depend on the nature of it and what resources are required. Mind readers can read minds, predictors of future events can make some predictions; each will be treated according to their claimed talent.Those who pass will receive a licence. Those who don't, won't. Can't be fairer than that.

This process can be administered by the Commonwealth department for Communications. I have a feeling they won't be issuing many licences but I'm open-minded. I don't reject all claims of the paranormal, I just want to see the evidence. If someone can do the business no-one should object to their providing their service for a fee.

In passing, I just remembered something that I read in Herodotus' histories about the punishment that an ancient people (I've forgotten their name) applied to false soothsayers. These fakes would be bound up and thrust into a cart filled with kindling. The kindling would be ignited and the oxen hauling the cart would be flogged to start them running. Of course, the flames would be fanned by the airstream and the kindling would begin to really fire up. The fire in turn would frighten the oxen who would run faster, fanning the flames more. Herodotus comments that in some cases the boom of the cart would burn through and the oxen would escape the fire they were dragging. On other occasions they'd be cooked, along with the false soothsayers. Herodotus was perhaps concerned for these creatures, as should any humane person be. (He doesn't waste a word of pity on the passengers in the cart.) I've thought, over the years since I first read this, that it might be a fine treatment for stockbrokers, economists and other such characters who now fill the niche once occupied by these ancient professional prophets. Now that I think of it, at least purported psychics can be tested in a definitive manner. The financial gurus have a line in bogosity that defies verification; their speculations are too nebulous for empirical certainties as to results. Recent events should stimulate us to ponder on this...

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Post #85 Science Friction

!. Here are the lyrics to the Divinyls' song "Science Fiction":

I thought that love was science fiction Until I saw you today Now that love is my addiction I’ve thrown all my books away When I was young I was so naive I didn’t believe no I didn’t believe I didn’t believe Never thought that we’d last this long Always thought that they’d dropped the bomb Drop the bomb (didn’t) I thought that love was science fiction Until I saw you today Now that love is my addiction I’ve thrown all my books away When I was young I was, so naive I didn’t believe no di' di'n't believe I didn’t believe I’ve been waiting for a man from space To come to earth to meet the human race The human race (didn’t) I thought that love was science fiction Until I saw you today Now that love is my addiction I’ve thrown all my books away

(Well, so much for that. I wouldn't want a speck of anybody that wanted me to throw all my books away. )

2. I've just read "The Dreaming Void" by Peter Hamilton. It's a continuation of the scenario used in the "Commonwealth Saga". I finished that wishing to read more about the characters and themes contained therein and I discovered, again, the truth of the caveat "Be careful what you wish for." It was a real letdown and it prompted me to consider how many series fall apart.

In the case of science fiction I've noticed it particularly happens when the technology becomes so far-fetched that it seems to stump the author as to how to progress the storyline with credible behaviour from the characters. The same thing happens when an author spreads their efforts over various scenarios. Alastair Reynolds is a good example of this. He writes his best stuff when the characters are recognisably human and not behind a semi-opaque technological curtain. Ultimately, it's the characters and the tension created in their lives that engages the reader. The technological conceits that provide the storylines can only be interesting to the extent that they affect characters that the readers care about. Who gives a damn about thoughtless robots bashing each other?