Sunday, 21 December 2014

The Chemical of Courage*

I admit I am a drug taker, my drug of choice – heroin! No not really. It’s really Prozac. I have suffered with depression for many years and it mainly manifested as being extremely unmotivated. I also had no balls at all; I let fear of failure and what other people think control me. I was in denial about all of this for at least 10 years.

I believe many people are in denial about being depressed. You must remember that we evolved in completely different circumstances to what we live in today. People like me used to simply die they never got the opportunity to get depressed. When living day-to-day you don’t get the opportunity to be depressed either. Unmotivated people just died.

But the world is different now. Life has no purpose other than what we give it. My primary purpose is to have fun in life. Worrying what other people think is frankly one of the stupidest things you can do. Don’t listen to the part of your mind that puts you down or tells you that you can’t do something.

Some people have these ridiculous beliefs that hold them back. They believe that to take a drug like Prozac for depression is shameful and should be avoided at all costs. Only pathetic cripples, ex junkies and recent divorcees take them. They think it is weak to take drugs like this.


If there is a drug that will make your life better that does not have adverse side-effects or any side-effects you would be an idiot not take it. I know, it is often that these sorts of drugs are over prescribed particularly to children. Parents that need to drug their children to keep them under control need to take a good hard look at themselves and maybe consider taking the drugs that you want to give to your child.

Many people are also mortified by failure or humiliation, particularly in public. All humans make mistakes - it's a fact. Virtually every other human on the planet recognises this fact, maybe not consciously, but they forget about your mistakes - as you should. You ask them a few days later about a mistake that you made, They will say, "what mistake?" If it is a particularly large mistake, they will forgive you and perhaps even laugh about it - just look at all those fail compilations on Youtube. Some of the greatest scientific discoveries have been made due to failed experiments - antibiotics being one of them.

I started taking Prozac in December 2013. Since that time I have blogged more, read more, learnt more, done more and played computer games a lot less. Before that date I was a useless meatbag that only played games all day.

Since then I have started Melbourne Eastern Suburbs Hackers or MESH. This is a group that is part of the broader maker and DIY movement. It is for people that like making things. Currently most of us are interested in computer programming, robotics, drones and all sorts of other nerdy stuff. We became an incorporated body late this year.

I have also started writing a book called, Future Shock, which, you guessed it, is about the future. I just wish that I had started taking this drug years ago, just imagine what I could have achieved.

So just ditch everything in your life that is holding you back - most of these will be inside your head. There is no limit to what a motivated person can achieve in this age. Nerds that would have died in the gutter a few centuries ago now can rule the world, think of Bill Gates, the Steves (Jobs and Wozniak), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google), Elon Musk (space X, PayPal and Tesla) and you. Although that second last one probably would survive in the Stone Age.

Some people can achieve the same results as drugs if they simply gave up fear of failure, the stupid belief that humans don't make mistakes, they should never apologise or not forgive people for their mistakes. Maybe if people thought a lot more about the way their mind works, go through your beliefs and opinions one by one analyse them using logic - give up denial. If it means taking a drug to get you there - who gives a flying fuck!

*If you got this reference, good on you - now take some drugs! You will need them if you ever saw this atrocity of a movie, even if it was over 20 years ago.

Friday, 19 December 2014

This Cowardice Has to Stop!

When Sony pictures cancelled the interview because North Korea threatened them it was both cowardice and betrayal. Freedom of speech is completely meaningless if some two bit dictator can censor whatever he likes from the other side of the world.

Since then a number of cinemas started to playing Team America World Police as a protest - guess what Paramount pictures ordered these cinemas to pull it. Cowards!

Sony got hacked a couple of months back and that has now been blamed on North Korea by the FBI. The US government has told Sony there is no credible threat against them or the cinemas, they yanked it regardless. Sony, ironically, has never had executives that understand technology. I don’t know how many MMOs they have developed that have failed miserably due to either early release, insufficient support or plain old greed.

It is so wrong for Sony and Paramount to do what they did, simply because it greatly endangers our freedom of speech not just in America, but throughout the world. Even if somehow North Korea managed to pull off an attack on thousands of cinemas simultaneously no one would actually die. Maybe North Korea found some information in its previous attack on Sony and is using that as leverage to blackmail Sony.

You may ask, “who cares it looked like a stupid movie anyway?” As Obama said, “What if it was a documentary revealing important information to the public or a news story?” When you cave in to bullies all you do is encourage further abuse. Now countries like Iran and Russia might start using these cyberwarfare tactics as well.

This whole episode could be a small sample of what we may face in the future. There will now be a cyber arms race, if there isn’t already one. If countries start to use tit-for-tat cyber attacks it could degenerate into an all-out cyberwar. It could destroy the Internet we know, or at least make it unusable, but who knows really? Our entire global civilisation now depends on computers and the Internet, it’s a big worry.

Sony, Paramount you are arseholes, please stop shiting on us! And I’m really not sure if you can call this terrorism…

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Relativity Bitches!

Recently to my horror there has been many science fiction novels, and in popular culture, that have absolutely no respect or understanding of the laws of physics.

One egregious example was in the novel that shall not be named (Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and someone else). In an early part of the book a person can’t go on a spacewalk because they are “travelling too fast”. I stopped reading at this point and went into a Nerdrage! Which involves a lot of exotic, sometimes invented, swear words.

Anyway, there is no air in space so it is not like going out onto the wing of an aircraft when it’s in supersonic flight. In fact the spacecraft will feel like it is going zero because in relation to the spacecraft you are anchored to you are in fact going zero relative to said spacecraft.

Yes there are micro meteorites throughout the solar system, but they are all in different orbits flying around all over the place. If a micro meteorite hits you and it is in an orbit very different to yours yes it could kill you, but whatever orbit you are in you are still going to have a similar chance of being hit by a micro meteorite.

So in the book they slow down to “zero” and make the repairs. But zero relative to what? According to the Monty Python Galaxy song:

Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving and revolving at nine hundred miles an hour, that's orbiting at ninety miles a second, so it's reckoned, a sun that is the source of all our power. The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see are moving at a million miles a day in an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour, of the galaxy we call the 'Milky Way'. …
Do you feel like you are moving right now? Of course, the answer is no you are sitting in a beanbag curled up reading your favourite blog with no sense of movement at all, unless of course said beanbag is on the back seat of a car and / or bus and / or you suffer from vertigo. The fact is you are travelling at a tremendous velocity with the Earth’s rotation and all the other things mentioned in the Monty Python song. You don’t feel like you are moving because everything around you is also travelling along with you. The exact same thing happens when you are on a spacecraft.

So back to this misunderstanding of physics in the book that shall not be named. That is one hell of a star drive that can slow to zero and then speed back up in a couple of hours. In fact this process is repeated pointlessly again and again all the way through the book. Can you imagine the amount of propellant mass they would have wasted - for absolutely no reason.

In one part of the book they do a “dangerous” rendezvous and docking between two ships at “great speed.” But again the ships were not going very fast relative to each other. It would be exactly, and I do mean exactly, the same as docking in Earth orbit - which is a slow relaxing and leisurely affair, most of the time.

What really set me off this morning was, ironically, the landing of the Rosetta Lander Philae on a comet. This is a fantastic achievement, but all these ridiculous reports, “it was like hitting a bullet with a bullet”, or it must have been “so hard” to land on an object going over 90 miles a second. It’s boneheaded stupidity. If you have an understanding of orbital mechanics and have a team of people behind you with software to help it is relatively easy to fly a spacecraft through the solar system.

The big worry is that one of those micro meteorites could damage the spacecraft, or maybe a software glitch could kill it. Its on-board computer could crash. Robotic spacecraft often have to be in space for a very long time as they build up speed and momentum using multiple gravity assists. Space is a harsh environment that could destroy a spacecraft before it has a chance to complete its mission.

Orbital mechanics is not hard. The speed you are going really doesn’t matter (unless of course you are going really really fast - a percentage of the speed of light). Docking or undocking a spacecraft is not like docking or undocking two aircraft at supersonic speeds in an atmosphere, that truly would be stupid and suicidal.

Another gripe is a small one about the game Wolfenstein: The New Order all round a very good game. But, in the moon level I thought it was a little strange how the gravity appeared to be Earth normal instead of 1/6 of the Earth’s gravity. I thought, whatever, but then I made a prediction to myself. I bet myself that’s the instant I walk out the airlock onto the moon’s surface the gravity will somehow revert to 1/6 of a G. Sure enough I was proved correct.

Maybe the Nazis had discovered how to control gravity, if that was the case, why was I launched to the moon on a chemical rocket? Or why didn't they make the whole area around the base Earth gravity as well? So obviously, in this fictional universe the Nazis haven't discovered how to control gravity. But how did the moon know to change the gravity the instant I stepped out of the base? Maybe the developers of the game believed that gravity is the result is of having air to breathe?

All these examples are incredibly stupid and increase the level of ignorance of the greater community - a great evil in my book. And it is a problem that never needs to happen. There are plenty of physicists and other scientists out there who would gladly advise the creators of these sorts of works. Many would probably do it for free. I myself have been asked to be a consultant for a science-fiction novel and I did for free.

Scientific principles and theories can be difficult for some people to comprehend simply because it is not their field. I studied science throughout high school and studied science at university, subscribed to New Scientist and tried to understand Einstein’s General theory of relativity. Alas, I am shit at maths so got into computer programming instead (the computers work out all the sums). And now I write.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Things That Drive Me Nuts - Bigots

When I see an example of bigotry I get psychotically angry - it ruins my day. It makes me truly ashamed to be a member of the human race (yes I know I said this at the end of my previous post). What’s set me off this morning was a ticker on ABC 24 that I sometimes watch in the morning. It said, “Company to remove halal certification due to pressure from social media.” (Halal is basically the Muslim version of the Jewish kosher.) This made me a bit angry so I immediately visited Professor Google and typed those words in.

Apparently a small business in South Australia, the Fleurieu Milk & Yoghurt Company, had many posts on their Facebook page and received a torrent of hateful emails accusing them of supporting terrorism because they paid $1000 to have their yoghurt products Halal certified. The bigots believe the racist spam-emails that get sent around saying that the money paid for Halal certification goes to support terrorists.

According to Halal Australia the organisation responsible for halal certification in Australia, “A one-off application processing fee of $110.00 (inclusive of GST) for the first site and $55.00 (inclusive of GST) for each additional site is payable regardless of the outcome, and that processing will not commence until such payment is received.” Also “The application processing fee stated above is separate to the costs for halal accreditation and certification, which will be estimated (with a quote provided)…” This separate fee according to various sources can be as high as $27,000 per month.

I have asked Halal Australia what exactly the fees are and is it true that they are up to the exorbitant fee of $27,000? And they got back to me immediately:

In regards to the fees and charges you have mentioned, we have heard about it but have no idea who does charge such as amount and why it is so. Without any first-hand knowledge we don't prefer to make any comment about it. Certainly we normally charge what is fair and reasonable and the companies are mostly happy about our fees structure. Which is basically similar to what the Kosher certification body would charge for the certification for the Jewish community.
The other oft quoted propaganda by anti-Muslim bigots is that the funds generated by Halal Australia go to fund terrorism. As you know funding terrorism is highly illegal in Australia with very long prison terms attached. Such a prominent group would not be able to get away with funding terrorism (if the AFP are on the ball). It would also greatly damage their reputation. Halal Australia has come out fighting strongly defending themselves and their own religion distancing themselves strongly with radical elements who call themselves Muslims. They even go so far as to say “Islamic” terrorists are actually against Islam.

Bigotry can be very dangerous and can result in hideous atrocities. What the Nazi regime did to Europe during the Second World War was purely evil. Many German people were made to believe that bigotry against Jews, foreigners, the disabled - it’s a very long list - was perfectly justified. Thousands of disabled people were “euthanized,” 6 million Jews along with Gypsies and homosexuals were sent to the gas chambers. This is what happens when bigots are not held to account.

Today bigotry has found a new outlet on social media. It allows us normal people to connect instantly with a global group of friends, but it can also be used by the tiny minority of people with extreme views to find each other, offer support and make their views very public, without the danger being verbally assaulted or run over by an angry cripple.

There are bigots who are in denial, frequently starting sentences with, “I’m not a racist but…” If you are one of these people - you are indeed a fucking bigot.

Now unfortunately there is an extremely scary “country” that has popped up calling itself the Islamic State. The fighters of this state have committed terrible atrocities mostly against other Muslims. They use indiscriminate tactics such as suicide bombing, mass public executions, televised executions, summary executions, crucifixion and the prominent display of severed heads. From my understanding of the Koran this sort of barbaric behaviour is downright un-Islamic and I have taken to calling the Islamic State, the Not So Islamic State. Just like the Nazis these people are the worst kind of scum, criminals who often kill for no apparent reason - this is profoundly against the Koran.

Real Muslims need our support in this very difficult time. Back home some of their relatives are suffering greatly. Bigoted and racist behaviour just makes the issue so much worse. Muslims are being physically and verbally assaulted on a daily basis. Shock jocks and tabloid newspapers try to inflame the situation to get more listeners and readership. Anti-halal campaigns, and the other stuff, make it more dangerous for all of us as disaffected young men of Muslim heritage, some of whom have probably never read the Koran, get their heads filled with bullshit from supporters of the Islamic State. They see the hate directed towards their communities, they get angry and want to do something.

By being a bigot you are not a patriotic Australian, in fact you are doing damage to our society and helping the Islamic State find recruits. We are lucky in Australia to have never suffered a large terrorist attack on our soil. Anti-Islamic bigots make it a whole lot more likely to happen.

In my book a bigot is basically a terrorist.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Things That Drive Me Nuts - The Human Race

I find it so difficult to believe that there are still climate sceptics around. It also scares and angers me. There seems to be a growing tide of scepticism of science and downright ignorance of it. Now this would not be such a bad thing - if it wasn’t killing people.

The anti-vaccine brigade started by the evil Andrew Wakefield has created epidemics of whooping cough and measles in many Western countries and some children die of these infections.

The ignorance and fear of the Ebola virus has made some politicians bring in some ridiculous policies such as forcing uninfected people to go into quarantine even though they show no symptoms. A person suffering with the Ebola virus is not infectious if they show no symptoms. Also it can only be transmitted by direct contact with bodily fluids.

This unsupportive environment is probably preventing many people from helping to control Ebola. The Abbott government continues to ignore pleas from health professionals and scientists to commit some of our resources to control Ebola.

I think the people that are the most dangerous are the climate sceptics. These people do not realise that we rely on this planet for everything - we need to look after it. The climate has already become one degree warmer and we are seeing increasingly wild weather. Any honest person that spends time outside will agree the weather now is different to what it was 10 years ago. Add two, three degrees the ice caps could collapse raising sea levels by three metres inundating large areas of the Earth’s surface displacing hundreds of millions of people. The gulf stream could stop making winters in Europe longer and harsher.

Climate denial scares me, because of the utter devastation that could be caused by human induced climate change. If the worst does happen it could completely change our world and not for the better. Millions of people could die, many will be displaced and it could also destroy the global economy. The knock-on effects could spark disease outbreaks, made worse by all the children who have not been vaccinated, and start wars further destroying the planet.

Part of me thinks, sure have your silly beliefs, but for God’s sake be logical about them. Be a climate sceptic, but still put solar panels on your roof because it saves you money. Stop investing your money with coal miners, because it’s dirty and pollutes the environment. Vaccinate your children because it’s what your doctor advises - they didn’t go through medical school for nothing. Governments send every resource you can to stop Ebola so it doesn’t arrive on our shores.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to happen. The current approach of simply repeating that global warming is a threat, that vaccines have saved more lives than any other medical intervention and that Ebola is not to be feared does not work.

I believe it is time to get nasty. Tell them they are stupid idiots endangering the planet - because it’s the truth. Politicians don’t shy away from calling ISIS fighters dickheads. I think climate sceptics and their ilk need to think twice about bringing their views up in public similar to the way we treat racism (yes I think it is potentially that bad). They aren’t going to change their views even if the Earth turns into a second Venus (That's a joke by the way is very unlikely that this will occur), so we need to limit the air these views get as much as we can.

Sometimes, I am ashamed to be a member of the human race.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Democracy 2.0

Many people are losing their faith in democracy these days with continuing corruption scandals plaguing Australian politics and the balance of power in the Senate being bought by Australian billionaire Clive Palmer.

In the late 19th and early 20th century when modern democracy was still getting going many European nations were still ruled by royalty and those that were democracies were only partially so with only certain ethnic groups, the landed gentry or males entitled to vote.

In this atmosphere it was not certain that democracy would become the dominant form of government throughout the world. German sociologist Robert Michels believed that all representative democracies would end up being an oligarchy. Oligarchy is defined as: “a small group of people having control of a country or organization.” Michels believed democracy was of a waste of time as the powerful would simply manipulate the democratic process and remain in power. Michels solution to this was to ditch democracy in favour of fascism - and we all know how that turned out.

After humanity’s failed experiment in fascist dictatorship Europe was being reconstructed and much of it was under control of another totalitarian regime the USSR. Spain after a bloody civil war remained under the control of fascist dictator Francisco Franco. It wasn’t till the 1980s that it became apparent that the USSR could not continue, by that time the remainder of Europe had transitioned to democracy, the Berlin wall came down and Germany was reunified.

For all its success modern parliamentary democracy still has that problem identified by Robert Michels. The election of Clive Palmer and the Palmer United Party in the Senate proves that a democracy can easily be turned into an oligarchy. The rich and powerful in almost all democracies have special access to politicians. Would it be easy or even possible for you to speak to the Prime Minister? Rupert Murdoch has dinner with the Prime Minister every time he visits the US. I bet Tony picks up the phone every time Rupert calls.

The oligarchic nature of our democracies is particularly apparent in the United States. Many people from the big Wall Street investment banks have been appointed to prominent positions such as the board of the US Reserve Bank. In 2008 when a ridiculous sub-prime mortgage bubble exploded taking down the majority of the world’s economy it was the criminal actions of Wall Street bankers that were to blame.

Not one of these people has been brought to justice - in fact many of them received multi-million dollar golden parachutes and bonuses and now live in the lap of luxury never having to work again. Meanwhile, the small-time mortgage brokers, who were bullied into obtaining fraudulent loans at threat of losing their job, are now in jail for what their superiors ordered them to do.

Why haven’t these people been brought to justice? Because, they are the real power behind the American government. With the American two-party system it is incredibly difficult for somebody to get elected without having huge amounts of monetary support from the military industrial complex and Wall Street. These large corporations spend billions of dollars supporting American politicians - and they want value for money. If those politicians don’t do what their benefactors wish they can forget about being elected next time.

This allows corporations to have an enormous amount of influence over, if not complete control, over the direction of American policy. In fact the whole sub-prime mortgage crisis was caused by insufficient regulation. This lack of regulation was introduced because of pressure from former executives now appointed bureaucrats, lobby groups and big business. When it all went bad, as many economists predicted it would, it wasn’t a problem for big business as the government just bailed them out and they continued getting their million-dollar bonuses.

Australian governments are similar to this but we do have some laws to keep money from influencing politics - with not much success look at Clive Palmer. The government listens way too much to big business. Just have a look at what is currently happening to the mining sector. There has been huge investment and huge government support for the mining boom over the past 20 years. Now many of these new iron ore and coal mines are coming online and starting to push the value of iron ore and coal down which in turn has caused the collapse of several small mining companies.

The mining boom has also inflated the price of the Australian dollar which has caused many manufacturing businesses to close or to move overseas. Car manufacturers also manipulated the Australian government into giving them greater and greater subsidies with the promise that they would continue to build cars in Australia. They took the money and then reneged on the promise to continue Australian operations.

So now Australia is faced with a collapsing mining sector and a manufacturing sector that is a shadow of its former self. The reason why we have got in this mess is because Australian Federal governments of both major parties have been more concerned about big business and the economy than the Australian people who elected them.

How can we fix this? For starters we need to take money out of politics. Ultimately, I think Robert Michels was probably accurate in his depiction of representative democracy. The solution is not totalitarianism and there are a number of things we can do to make the current system more “representative.”

Maybe we need to take the representative out of our democracies and create direct democracy systems that allow the general public to participate directly in politics. Parliamentary representative democracy is hundreds of years old - it’s time to update it.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Abbott Government’s Response to Ebola Is Evil

I believe it is the responsibility of every government of this planet to commit resources and people to fight Ebola in West Africa. By doing this they will save thousands of lives and prevent cases of Ebola in their own countries.

Tony Abbott’s excuse for not committing people to the fight against Ebola is that they will not be able to evacuate them if they catch the virus. This sounds reasonable when you don’t think about it, but what it is really saying is that somehow Australians are worth more than the Africans they are going to save.

There are lots of individuals going on their own to West Africa to help, but governments have far more resources than individuals. Many more people would voluntarily sign up for a mission to Africa if it was supported by the Australian government. If they got Ebola and couldn’t be evacuated well they would be treated in the same clinic they were working in.

The Australian government’s view on the Ebola crisis is stupid and shortsighted. This disease would be doing tremendous damage to the affected countries wreaking havoc worldwide.

Other countries are committed to fighting Ebola with the UK and the US sending thousands of people and setting up multiple treatment centres. Australia doesn’t have the resources of the US but they will understand if we send a smaller force. The world will remember Australia’s response and be less likely to help us when we need it.

Like it or not we are now a global society. The world is interconnected in a way it has never been before. We all have responsibilities as global citizens. Our governments also have global responsibilities.

Basically, ignoring Ebola like our government is doing borders on evil. It means that more people will die from Ebola. It also damages our reputation. Do we want to be seen as a petty and cruel country, only concerned about ourselves, valuing our citizens above any other, a country that lets people die when it could render aid?

I have signed a petition telling our Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop to send aid to Liberia.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Things That Drive Me Nuts - “Serious” Artists

I recently saw the trailer for the movie Whiplash which made me psychotically angry. This movie, according to the trailer, is about an aspiring jazz drummer and his drill sergeant Hartman like teacher.

Why did this trailer make me so angry? Well, go back several years to when I was at Boxhill Institute studying professional writing and editing. I was in a class to learn about the classics of literature from the Iliad to Shakespeare. Our teacher dragged us to a performance by the Bell Shakespeare company at a tiny theatre at Monash University in Clayton.

We were a little late, but my brother and I paid at the box office and were immediately refused entry even though they were letting other able-bodied people in through the rear door which gave access to a flight of stairs. Being in electric wheelchairs we needed to go around outside and gain access through a side door. We were told this would “flood the stage” with light and ruin the performance. Apparently the creator of the Bell Shakespeare company John Bell has certain requirements when performing at a venue one is complete control of that venue when his company is performing.

He was quite willing to discriminate against two disabled people for his “artistic vision”. What a cunt. Anyone else who did something like this would be raked over the coals, but it was just sort of accepted as being his right as an artist. He takes his art so seriously that he is willing to completely ignore the feelings of other human beings that get in his way. Where have we heard this sort of thing before? Oh that’s right Nazi Germany.

Yes I am calling John Bell a Nazi.

In a similar way the so-called teacher depicted in Whiplash is a rude son of a bitch browbeating and humiliating his students. But he is doing it for the student’s own good to bring out their best! This sort of behaviour is unacceptable, always has been and always will be. You don’t need to be brutal to get the best out of people. The best way is to support people with humour, compassion, imagination and equality. To give them the confidence to be who they want to be and to pursue their dreams. But that’s another story.

When it all boils down to it artists like John Bell are entertainers. They might try to believe what they are doing has tremendous artistic and cultural significance - pull your head out of your arse. Even if you do believe that, why can’t you have fun doing it? Why is art more important than people? What gives him the right to discriminate?

I hate humourless serious artists almost as much as I hate Nazis, as in a similar way they believe they are superior to the majority of human beings and that somehow they can behave in a way that would simply not be accepted in the wider community. I think it is about time they learnt how to behave themselves.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

A War We Can Win

There is a lot of talk about terrorism, the new Not So Islamic State and a particular obsession over exactly how many bombs Australian Super Hornets have / have not dropped on Iraq and/or Syria.

But haven’t we been here before? It seems whatever the West does in the Middle-East it just seems to get worse. It is a chaotic and unpredictable system with the many competing, and often contradictory, agendas of those involved.

When the "coalition of the willing" tried to recast the 2002 Iraq war as, “We didn’t find weapons of mass destruction, but who cares Saddam was evil anyway,” many said, "Yeah ok." But 12 years later, not many would argue that the average Iraqi was probably better off under Saddam.

The Not So Islamic State makes Saddam look like a kindergarten teacher, but it is still difficult to predict the long-term consequences of wiping them from the face of the earth.*

This begs the question. Is there such a thing as a just war? Yes there is!

In West Africa there is an enemy just as evil as IS that is capable of killing even more people in circumstances just as hideous. It spreads via bodily fluids that that flood out of the bleeding orifices of victims. When they die they become virus factories that take advantage of West African funeral practices to infect ever more victims. This enemy is called the Ebola virus.

This war isn’t complex, it won’t have unexpected future consequences and it is one we can win. So why isn’t the rest of the world putting in the needed resources to stop this virus in its tracks? Australia will probably spend $500 million on combat operations in Iraq and Syria but have only spent a measly couple of million to fight Ebola.

Our family has donated money to Doctors Without Borders to help fight the spread of Ebola and I believe it is our responsibility as human beings to help those in need, if we can. We can only do so much, but governments and multinational corporations have greater responsibilities due to their massive economic power.

World leaders need to get off their antiterrorism high horse and do something about a war they can actually do something to win.

When the fight against Ebola is finally won, there will still be work to do. In many West African countries the Doctor per capita ratio is ridiculously low. Consequently, many people in those countries are ignorant about basic sanitary behaviour and are even distrustful of Western medicine. In European countries our cultures evolved to cope with repeated deadly pandemics such as cholera and the plague. For example, a taboo developed against the touching of dead bodies. This never happened in this area of the world, meaning their culture is still very susceptible to diseases such as Ebola that would never gain traction in a Western environment.

So we should not abandon these people after the war against Ebola is won, but make great efforts to improve the medical deficit that allowed this problem to appear in the first place. The Western world should also be aware of the direct consequences of their skilled migrant programs, where a country such as Nigeria pays to train a doctor only to lose them to a Western country.

You can donate to Doctors Without Borders here: (Donations over $2 are tax deductible.)

*I'm not saying we should/shouldn't do something about IS, just that our resources might do more if directed elsewhere.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Problem with Patents

You will hear a lot of people complain about patents in the maker community. Meanwhile governments and especially big business are constantly telling us that patients are the foundation of our economy and that if we mess with them the economy will collapse and the sky will fall.

I personally think there is a huge problem with patents that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

A patent is given by a sovereign state to an inventor to give them exclusive rights to that invention, so they can profit from it. In exchange the inventor must publish a specification for public viewing. To be patentable an invention has to meet certain criteria such as novelty, non-obviousness and usefulness. A patent also needs to be of patentable subject matter. For example discoveries, scientific theories and computer code cannot be patented in most countries (although the latter can be protected by copyright). Generally patents last for 20 years. It is also possible for a patent to be given for an improvement of an already existing patented invention.

Patents were introduced to encourage innovation by protecting the rights of inventors by allowing them to profit by their inventions and allow the public to see the invention and potentially spur further invention and innovation. During the time of the industrial revolution inventing could be an expensive and time consuming endeavour. The industrialists of that time employed child labour and workers often toiled in conditions that sent many of them to an early grave. It isn’t that much of a stretch to say they wouldn’t have a problem with stealing someone’s invention if they could get away with it.

Even in the early days patents were misused. Some monarchs of this time used patents to bestow monopolies on their favourite courtiers. But over the past 400 years patents have been of great assistance in creating the world we live in today. Patents gave inventors the ability to keep inventing and not worry too much about somebody stealing their invention.

Yeah, patents sound great, but there are a few problems that have cropped up in the past 30 years. New information and biological technologies have appeared that the current patents system wasn’t designed to cope with. This means we have started to see discoveries being patented.

In February 2013 in the Federal Court of Australia Myriad Genetics won a court case over the patent of the BRCA1 “breast cancer” gene. In my mind this should not be a patent on two counts. 1. It is a naturally occurring gene and just like anything else in nature (e.g. the Moon) cannot be patented. 2. Really a gene is a piece of code that codes for a particular protein, sounds like a computer algorithm to me and we know how hard it is to make such patents stick. (It can’t be copyrighted either just as if you found a 2 million old rock that just happened to have an amazing science fiction novel chiselled into it (in English!) - it would still be plagiarism if you copied and disseminated your publication with profit in mind.)

This is rather disturbing. All of us are currently breaking patent law just living! Living organisms have cells which divide every division makes a new copy of the BRCA1 gene and any others that are patented. It’s bloody ridiculous.

Okay, I’m very angry, but this is only the start of it. The world has completely changed from when patents were first introduced. I believe the majority of patients are now holding us back. In our interconnected world it is no longer an advantage to lock your inventions up. The open source movement greatly accelerated the development of many hardware and software devices. When the patent dropped from 3D printing many businesses started creating 3D printers. Some of them did not patent or copyright their improvements to 3D printing technology but made them available to the general public. This resulted in an explosion of 3D printing ideas and 3D printers. The companies behind these machines could then use the ideas from the public for their next iteration of 3D printers. Yes, there was a minority of people creating their own printers from scratch, but this didn’t impact the bottom line too much as many of these makers were most prolific sharers of their ideas.

With the sum of human knowledge at our fingertips many ordinary people are becoming interested in what makes their gadgets work. It can be legally dubious to crack open something like an iPhone and play around with its insides. One of the worst things that a maker can hear is the P word, proprietary! Consider this fictitious example, a maker has just created an amazing robot, it just needs one little thingamewhatsit to make it work. It is a pretty basic thing that should only cost 50c. There is no open source gizmo that would do the job, so he has to import thingamewhatsits at $200 a piece.

So he imports the thingamewhatsit and finds out that it doesn’t quite work as expected, but with a couple of tweaks to its software it would work just fine. But the makers of the thingamewhatsit refuse to share the source code and only distribute it as a pre-compiled binary file. So our inventor puts his intervention on the shelf and waits for an open source equivalent that arrives surprisingly quickly. Meanwhile the inventor has been bagging out the makers of the thingamewhatsit on Twitter Facebook and Google Plus.

Some “open source” systems have integral parts that are protected by patents. Most of the time business will overlook the infraction, give permission or charge a fee, but it is theoretically possible they could yank the program or update it so no longer works on your open source system. The much loved Raspberry Pi contains proprietary hardware and software which has caused a number of heated debates on open source forums.

Tools that allow creativity to flow around the globe from brain to brain almost instantly has already changed the way world works. Couple that with, 3D design, 3D printing, hackerspaces and cheap electronics, Ideas can now turn into usable products in unbelievably short periods of time. Often patents are a roadblock to development which could sometimes damage the patent holder as much as it does the end user/developer.

If large patents holding Multinational corporations wish to stay relevant they need to be wiser when new technology starts upsetting their bottom line. With the blurred line between users and developers, corporations need to make their products hackable, provide a datasheet, code and maybe an API.

Western governments also need to be wiser as they are out manoeuvred by the swiftly developing economies in Africa and South America and the rising superpowers of India and China. Many of these countries do not respect patent law and their citizens may even be free to mine the publicly disclosed patents and steal them.

The world has changed and something needs to be done to either change the way patents work or ditch them entirely.

Friday, 5 September 2014

How Western Politics Makes the World More Dangerous for Everyone

I know that many people will probably disagree with some of the things that I am about to write. When you read this please read it from the perspective of a global citizen, a human being, not a Jew, Christian, Muslim, American, Australian, Black, White etc. We are all people and all our lives have equal value. We have so many more similarities than we have differences and 99.9% of us want a better world.

13 years after September 11, 2001 the world is a lot more dangerous than it was in 2001. The events of that day truly frightened a lot of us. It felt like a turning point much like the fall of the Berlin Wall 10 years previously.

But it wasn’t a true historical turning point it was a horrendous crime - but it was just that - a crime and should have been treated as such. Throw in George W. Bush who was lagging in the polls and a US Administration that had difficulty remembering their history the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq followed.

The president and his team forgot about American values, they ignored this: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

A very simple and powerful statement that still echoes through history.

Instead of standing up to these criminal terrorists they stooped down to their level. The Bush administration reinterpreted the US Constitution, the Geneva Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to allow torture, locking people up indefinitely without trial, assassination and more.

Now supporters of the war on terror will tell you that these terrorists are scum that don’t deserve to be treated as human beings. And to a certain extent I agree, anyone who commits an act of terror against civilians is scum.

The thing is. Who and what is a terrorist? Well a guy with a Turban and a beard carrying a gun - well that is certainly a terrorist. He is guarding his flock of goats from wild dog attacks, but yeah a terrorist. A terrorist isn’t going to come straight out and say they are a terrorist. It is almost impossible to tell the difference between somebody who has taken up arms to defend themselves and their family from someone who has more sinister objectives.

Take the example of Dilawar an Afghan taxi driver who was accused of transporting terrorists. He was arrested by Afghan militia men accused of firing rockets into a US army base and handed over to US authorities. Five days later he was dead. The autopsy revealed that he had been beaten to death and cause of death declared a homicide. His legs were so badly beaten that if he had lived they probably would have had to be amputated. He was also forced to stay awake standing with handcuffs attached to the ceiling. Years later it was shown that it was actually a local warlord who was firing rockets into the army base, then blaming and arresting locals in an effort to ingratiate himself to the Americans.

This happened in 2002 and many US leaders both military and civilian toured this facility knew what was going on and knew that it breached US law. This new culture of torturing suspected terrorists was exported to Iraq and eventually resulted in the Abu Ghraib torture and abuse scandal. If this wasn’t enough the Bush Administration opened Guantanamo Bay detention camp that was deliberately outside of US “jurisdiction” so they could deny inmates “certain unalienable rights.”

They also expanded the use of the CIA tactic of extraordinary rendition transferring prisoners to another country where torture is legal. They used tactics such as water boarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions and sensory deprivation. They would do this day after day absolutely destroying the person.

This is wrong because history has proven it to be so. There is there is a reason torture is forbidden. There is a reason why accused criminals have a right to a trial and are able to hear the evidence against them. There is a reason why assassination went out of style.

When people are denied rights, treated unfairly and have their friends and family victimised or killed they get angry. And it is often righteous anger that cannot be stopped. This is what happened in the American War of Independence. Americans were sick of being second class British subjects they paid tax but were unable to vote. The British are also used a number of tactics to humiliate and anger the American people many of whom would have been glad to remain British if they were given equal rights to citizens in the homeland.

So it was a trip back to the dark ages when the Bush administration started reinterpreting the Geneva Convention, misusing the term unlawful enemy combatants, finding a way to circumvent their own constitution - which apparently means that they can do anything to them. So they torture them eventually determine they no longer pose a risk and release them. Years later the prisoners eventually go home and many people hear about the way they were treated by the Americans. Social media is also used to make people intimately aware of exactly what happened to these people in custody and it goes viral. This angers and radicalises a large number of disaffected young males and they sign up for the global jihad.

Imagine you are a citizen of Afghanistan and you know of many people that have been arrested, abused and held without trial. Meanwhile photos and videos are uploaded to the Internet showing all these barbaric acts that American citizens have conducted. Wouldn’t you feel angry? Damn right you would. You may even take up arms and fight against this injustice.

All these excesses of the so-called war on terror only make us less safe. It makes it easy to tag our governments as evil as many of them are doing just that. The immense righteous anger that gets created by our governments ignoring their own constitutions and international law helps create a large number of converts to the jihadist cause.

Many western nations were formed in reaction to the excesses of totalitarian regimes. The reason why many of our countries stopped torture, stopped unfair imprisonment and made it so everyone was equal before the law, was because our brave ancestors stood up against the abuses of kings and queens and said we don’t want this to happen anymore. Our ancestors fought and died to give us the rights that we now have. I’m sure they would have thought that by 2014 everybody in the world would have similar rights.

Western leaders have forgotten what made us great. They are desecrating the memory of our ancestors and destroying their legacy. Once we lose our rights more people will have to die to get them back.

If our leaders continue down their current path we will lose more and more of our rights and we will not be any safer, in fact we may have a new enemy - our governments. All those tactics now used against terrorists will start to be used against citizens. How do I know this? History, I read it.

Ancient Rome went through a very similar degradation of rights. Gradually over hundreds of years Rome went from a republic with a leader who was the equal of a citizen to an empire with a God Emperor who could have any citizen executed on a whim. People stopped believing the empire was something good, corruption flourished, society stagnated and eventually it disintegrated. This similar pattern has been repeated many times throughout history.

When governments are given the right to do evil, eventually that evil gets visited on the citizens of that government. We need to stand up to our governments and make them realise that what they are doing is wrong and that it needs to stop.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Life, Death and Stupid Paradoxes

The other day I was talking about an old friend of mine who dead early. He was very much loved by his friends and family and it is one of the sadist funerals I’ve been to.

I’ve also had my own brush with death when my ventilator failed suddenly due to a brief power failure in the middle of the night and the backup battery did not come on like it was supposed to. When I woke up surprisingly I wasn’t as scared as I thought it would be. My primary concern was for others how sad my friends and family would be. I was quite shocked by this as I always thought I was an individualist deep down selfish as a two-year-old. Luckily my brother to heard my cries for help, was able to wake my parents and I survived.

Our society approaches life as an individual thing. You own your life and your own your death as well. Society gives us permission to abuse our bodies in any way we see fit from smoking and other drugs, to cosmetic surgery and climbing Mount Everest. But after my brush with death I feel that we actually do have a responsibility to look after ourselves not only because it is good for us, but our friends and family don’t have to see us die before our time.

I know this goes against the core tenets an individualist society but that’s how I feel.

There is one thing that is worse than seeing somebody die and that often is seeing somebody suffer. There is this bizarre paradox in the medical community which is the concept of withdrawal of treatment. For example it is perfectly legal for me to commit suicide. All I have to do is ask someone to switch my ventilator off. And I do know of people that have done just this.

You, most likely, don’t have the ability to commit suicide legally and you certainly can’t get somebody to help you. The paradox in this is: if you push someone off a cliff is it a homicide or is it simply removal of needed under foot support? How is this different from switching somebody’s ventilator off?

It’s legal to starve a peg fed person to death if that’s what they ask for, but not legal to allow someone who can eat normally to starve themselves to death. It’s completely ridiculous. Why aren’t we allowed to end people’s suffering in a reasonable way? It’s good enough for our pets? What makes us special?

The status quo just keeps going as people are frankly too scared to talk about death (its struggle for me to write this). Our outdated laws don’t affect the vast majority of us and many of our politicians put their religious beliefs ahead of what the majority of us want.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Israel You’re Doing it Wrong

It has been said that The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. This seems to be standard fare for the Israeli government these days, if you punish the evil doers they will eventually learn to treat you with respect. In a perfect world this makes complete sense, why would a small group attack a more powerful group? This is because people are not logical beings we fight back against seemingly impossible odds, it is human nature is what we do, it what we have always done and it is what we will always do. And sometimes David does beat Goliath.

If you don't learn from history you are doomed to repeat it. An example of this is the difference between what happened at the end of World War I compared to what happened at the end of World War II. (This is greatly simplified for the purposes of this article) At the end of World War I Germany was required to pay war reparations disarm and give up some of its territory. This made sense, they started the war so they should have to pay for it. However the resentment and humiliation suffered by the people of Germany led to the rise of fascism and to an even worse war only 27 years later.

This scenario has played out many times in history the aftermath of one war directly leads to the start of the next, there is even a term for it "Carthaginian peace", this cycle continues until, someone decides to do something differently.

At the end of World War II, things were done differently, the defeated powers of Germany and Japan were assisted to rebuild modern democratic economies. This was very successful Germany and Japan are now some of the most peaceful and economically powerful countries on earth.

The only way the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will end is when Palestinians are able to build a future for themselves with the assistance of their so-called enemies Israel. This may sound strange but it is the only way conflicts can be permanently resolved is to help each other not destroy each other.

I strongly believe that Israel will one day make peace with its neighbours, but between then and now how many people need to live in fear and die?

What I Have Been Up To

You may wonder why I haven’t been blogging lately. The reason for this is because I have been busy helping to set up a hacker space. I came up with the idea for creating a Hackerspace in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne several months ago. I had been doing lots of research talking to others (mainly Andy Gelme a founder of CCHS), but still didn’t really have an idea of how to achieve my goal. I heard good things about, so I thought screw it lets just make a group and see what happens.

So I started the group Eastern Suburbs Hackers Group. On the day after creating the group I had 20 people I now have 58. "I" had very much become "we". Obviously I had to hooked into a vibe - many people wanted a Hackerspace out this side of the city. A group member one of the first to join Peter O came up with a vastly better name Melbourne Eastern Suburbs Hackers which becomes an easily pronounceable acronym - MESH!

I also got very excited by the number of people who were involved so I decided to register a domain name. I tried several and then eventually found which was available at the bargain basement price of $4.95. I already have a web server so it does not cost me anything to host it.

I wanted to find a date from my first meeting and another member Lachlan (who has been indispensable) created this lovely graph that shows the best date and time for us to meet. This made it a no-brainer to have our first meeting on Sunday, 20 July 2014. My mother offered to cater to the meeting for free and the meeting went better than my wildest expectations. After this things happened very fast. But unfortunately I got sick - in fact my place was full of sickies. The second meeting was originally going to happen at my place again and I was seriously thinking about cancelling it. Thankfully, Lachlan got our second meeting at the Ringwood Trade Training Facility (RTTF) which is on the site of Ringwood high school - a perfect location for a hacker space.

Our second meeting was even better than the first. For us to continue meeting at the RTTF we really need to be an incorporated body. Being incorporated will also make it easier to apply for insurance and protect members from being personally liable is something goes wrong. An incorporated body is an entity in its own right - it can own property, have a bank account, etc. It is quite easy, and only $33.10, to become incorporated. Consumer Affairs Victoria provides generalised model rules that any aspiring incorporated body can adopt with only a few modifications. If an organisation wishes to seriously modify the rules it costs $192.00 as someone would need to read through it and check if it complies with regulation.

Anyway, this Sunday starting at 6:30 PM we will be meeting to officially become an incorporated body. All this is happening way faster than I ever thought it would.

This whole thing proves something to me. If you have a goal in life it could be creating a hacker space or making a robot or writing a novel, even if you don’t know how to reach your goal you just need to start. I think there is this myth in our society that there are born leaders - that great people always going to be great no matter what the circumstances. And that is takes a certain class of person to be a Mining Magnate, a Prime Minister, a Steve jobs or Bill Gates. That idea is the biggest pile of bullshit that has ever been dropped on the human race.

This is a truth that certain powerful people have done their best to hide throughout human history. The real truth is - we are all capable of greatness. It is just that some people through circumstance or through dogged determination actually go out there and do something. They don’t let society tell them their proper role in life and they don’t worry about failure.

I have one message to the 7 billion people on this planet - pull your head out of your arse and show the world what you are made of!

Monday, 4 August 2014

Moore’s Law IS NOT Ending Soon

There is a whole lot of talk and a lot of assumptions about the direction that technology is heading. One of the most irritating is: "Moore’s Law will be ending soon."

A prediction attributed to the co-founder of Intel Gordon E. Moore in the early 1960s - that the number of transistors on a single integrated circuit would double every 18 months - later this got rounded up to every two years. Going by this strict interpretation of Moore’s Law it probably has ended. But many people have avoided providing a strict definition of Moore’s Law. One reason for this, even though the number of transistors for a single integrated circuit has not gone up much lately, is we have many other methods of improving computer performance.

The latest processors have multiple cores enabling true multithreading. A computer can now do many things simultaneously, rather than just giving the illusion that was doing multiple things at once (multitasking). Say a computer has a huge calculation to do. Theoretically, it can split that calculation into, say, 12 chunks and complete it 12 times faster. In practice it isn’t quite like that, but as software developers start to make programs that take full advantage of multithreading our computers can become a hell of a lot more powerful without having an increasing number of transistors on a single integrated circuit.

Another thing that will make computers more powerful in the coming years is the development of more efficient software programs. Throughout the early 2000 when you were upgrading your computer the performance did not go up at all even though your computer had more grunt. That’s because software of that era, especially on the Windows platform, was becoming increasingly bloated. It probably took longer to boot a computer in 2005 than in 1995.

Since then, the trend has been in the opposite direction. This is because of the overwhelming abundance of embedded computing devices such as mobile phones and single board computers such as the Rasberry Pi and Beagle Bone Black. These devices are as powerful as the desktops we had in the early 2000s. People aren’t going to upgrade to a smartphone phone that takes five minutes to boot up an old Nokia brick would be a far better phone. This forced developers to pursue lightweight operating systems such as Linux and UNIX.

Apple OS X is built on top of both open source and closed source versions of UNIX. Android, the most popular mobile operating system, is a flavour of Linux. These lightweight operating systems are very friendly to developers as they are generally open source and work very well with a lot of the UNIX / Linux infrastructure that is already out there.

Many developers have started to developing multiplatform applications. This has two benefits, one that you don’t need to learn different programs that do the same thing on different platforms, the other is that developers need to account for systems that don’t have a lot of processing power. The result of this is slick programs that run well on any platform and even better on desktop PCs.

Improvements in computer systems architecture could also greatly increase the performance of computers. Once upon a time there was only soldering on only one side of a circuit board. Chips sat in rows of holes drilled into the board. Now many components are now surface mounted greatly reducing their size and reducing space requirements, while allowing circuits on both sides of the board. Instead of rows of holes CPU mounts are now an extremely accurate forest of electrodes. Circuit board manufacturers have mastered the two-dimensional and I believe eventually they will go up into three dimensions. Instead of looking like an extremely detailed miniature suburbia the inside of our computers will look more like the CBD of a large city.

Further on into the future we might start using optical components inside our computers. The speed of light is a lot faster than the speed that electrons take through a circuit. To begin with this new breed of computer will be a hybrid of optical and electronic computing, then maybe a complete optical computer. After that, who knows? Quantum computers maybe?

I think we still have a whole lot of latent power that we can bring out of our current technologies. Computers will continue getting faster the rate might slow or speed up, but overall, I believe that Moore’s Law will hold into the distant future provided something catastrophic doesn’t happen to the human race. Over this time the processing of and access to information will continue to get cheaper.

Extremely cheap information technology coupled with distributed sources of energy such as solar and wind will allow developing nations to bootstrap themselves up to our technology level and maybe even overtake us. Children in these places will have access to an essentially free education, learning at their own place and learning what they want. They will not have the legislative baggage such as copyright, patent law and an old slow, and human, bureaucracy.

The future will be an exciting place!

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Problem With Democracy

The recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict has for me highlighted a problem with democracy. We have Hamas, on one side firing ineffectual rockets at Israel and we have Israel fighting back with ruthless brutality with seemingly no to care for the lives lost.

Something does not quite add, up neither side wants this to happen, Israeli people do not want rockets fired at them and Gaza does not want to be bombed, the simple solution for anyone is to simply stop. But why isn’t this happening? I think the simple reason for this is the competitive nature of democracy, you may think this sounds ridiculous, but please hear me out.

Think about a criminal investigation, when a murder is committed, the first thing an investigator looks for is who benefits from this crime, if the victim has a large life insurance policy your immediate suspect would be the beneficiary’s ie. husband or wife. Now think about the Israel-Palestine conflict, who benefits? I would suggest the only group that gets any kind of benefit from this conflict is political parties that have power in the Gaza Strip and Israel. When a conflict first occurs the incumbent government always gets a popularity boost, think about George W Bush after September 11. If the conflict continues for too long the incumbent government will lose popularity, think Vietnam War. So short wars seemingly well justified are a good thing for a government’s popularity.

A sickness has spread in almost all democracies around the world and it is to win elections for winnings sake, politicians treat it like a game. We have seen it here with Tony Abbott’s 3 word slogans “stop the boats”, “scrap the tax”. Election campaigns are run like advertising campaigns, don’t say anything controversial, use catchy slogans, demonise minorities (boat people) and the best thing, make your product sound way better than it actually is. They use the most abhorrent of marketing tactics, manufacturing a problem and then offering the miracle solution. For example Tony Abbott's "budget emergency" (30% of GDP Japan is 200% USA 72%) and his promised miraculous ability to make money out of nothing. Tony Abbott lied about the budget emergency and then lied about being able to fix it - and he calls Julia Gillard a liar. Australians are about as satisfied with the Abbott government as those who purchased a NutriBullet.

I do not think it is even the politicians fault that this is happening. I think it is a fundamental weakness in a how parliamentary democracies work, it is human nature to try to win and it is also human nature to take the easiest path to victory. Couple this to an increasingly complex society, chuck in the 24 hour news cycle and you have 21st century democracy. It is far easier to develop an effective marketing campaign to sell your government than to develop real policies and win votes the old-fashioned way. As the world gets more complicated year by year policies become that much harder to develop, which makes running a marketing campaign instead of developing real policies increasingly tempting.

This is also the main reason why a conflict like the Israel-Palestine conflict continues, peace making is very risky politically, so politicians have very little to gain from peace negotiations and a lot to lose. There is no thought for what the country might lose or what other countries might lose, politicians are simply looking for their next victory not what is best for their people however unpopular it might be.

The politicians of the Gaza Strip and Israel are taking the easy path to victory and in the process screwing people they are meant to protect.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Platform War: II

Before I start this article I need to go into a bit of history. I didn't want to write a novel length piece so I have rushed through the history because there is a lot of it.

In 1984 Steve Jobs famously unveiled the Macintosh. Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak witnessed a "new" operating system idea, developed by Xerox PARC called a graphical user interface - mouse, keyboard and icons on a screen. Bill Gates was also aware of this technology and his company started to develop Windows. The platform war had started.

In the beginning everybody thought that Apple would win easily. Windows 1.0 was released after the Mac and was a bit of a joke. It was not even a true operating system being an extension of MS-DOS. The Mac was easier to use, looked nice, was reliable and its look and feel was consistent whether you were in a word processor or a game - it was very intuitive.

The only issue about the Mac was it didn’t have a broad range of games. Also it was difficult to take the cover off a Mac and modify it. Computer nerds of that time had already learned a large number of DOS commands - they didn’t need a GUI. Computer game developers were also already entrenched in writing games for DOS machines. There were games like the Wing Commander series, Kings Quest and many more.

Macintosh gradually lost out, Apple lost Steve Jobs and Bill Gates became supreme dictator of planet Earth.

Steve Jobs was down but not out - and he seemed to have an uncanny ability to predict the future. He started a new company called NeXT and they started to develop an operating system built on top of UNIX grabbing lots of good stuff from UNIX’s multiple flavours both proprietary and open source. When NeXT was acquired by Apple - Steve Jobs came with it. The operating system developed by NeXT laid the foundation for OS X.

Apple devices now had a consistent operating system right across the spectrum from handhelds to servers. The iPhone and iTunes saved Apple.

Now we are entering a new technological phase with the creepy name the Internet of things (IoT). There are all these embedded computer systems popping up such as the Rasberry Pi, Beagle Bone and the Intel Galileo, Arduino Yun not to mention a number of home entertainment systems. The vast majority of these devices have flavours of Linux installed. Your toaster may one day have a version of Linux installed.

Linux is the child of UNIX and OS X is its rich uncle. Many developers use Macintoshes these days as they are (mostly) compatible with the plethora of Linux and UNIX Systems. "UNIX like" - heard this phrase? Including Android, we can now say that most computers on this planet are now driven by UNIX derivatives.

Meanwhile Microsoft has had its head under a rock continuing to focus on big business and proprietary systems. Yes they have the Xbox and Windows phone, but they have lost a huge amount of territory and didn’t even bother fighting to protect it.

Now belatedly Microsoft has started to make a few fumbling steps in the right direction. There is the One Windows philosophy which aims to do for Microsoft what OS X did for Apple. Windows on PC, tablet or phone will share a single app store and the same development environment. And there is this: Windows Developer Program for IoT. I signed up but haven’t heard back.

It looks like Microsoft is trying to make up for lost time, but I can’t help thinking they are way too late. It’s going to be interesting to see if Microsoft can change their business model to compete with Linux and OS X. Microsoft needs to understand that somebody isn’t going to buy a Rasberry Pi for $50 and then spend $100 on a Windows operating system. People also will not buy a toaster that periodically suffers the blue screen of death.

Microsoft does have a couple of things going for it.
1. The support of big business.
2. The bewildering array of UNIX-like operating systems I feel is a hindrance to development, while Microsoft only needs to worry about one family of operating systems.
3. Inertia. There are large numbers of people like me who continue to use Windows.
4. Games. Although this is slipping a bit with some titles now being made cross platform.

The second platform war has started and there have already been casualties – think XNA. Microsoft was victorious in the last war, but this one will be a hell of a lot harder and I am doubtful that Microsoft will triumph. Steve Jobs may win from beyond the grave.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Chris' Rant About the Economy and Stupidity in Government

Having a global currency would simply not work. Take the example of the European Union and the global financial crisis. Economies sometimes require action by their central banks selling or buying government bonds to alter the interest rates and control the price of a currency versus other currencies. During the global financial crisis Greece was dire circumstances - their economy had collapsed but there was no way for its currency to drop and rescue the country through promoting investment because their currency was so cheap. Their currency can't go down because it is a shared currency.

Bitcoin or gold do not make good currencies as their prices fluctuate wildly and both tend to go up dramatically over a long period. What this causes is something called deflation which is pretty much the same as putting an economy through a blender. If you have a currency that is continuously going up in price, why would you buy something if you can buy more of it the next day? Nobody spends money and economies stagnate and collapse. Workers get sacked as you don't need to bother making money if your cash reserves are going up anyway.

People get very caught up in currencies and the financial sector - are they to blame for endangering our planet? It's not money that is evil it's what people do with it - or don't do. Money in government is the problem lobbyists, Industry and other vested interests just have too much pull in government. During the Howard era pissing taxpayers dollars up against the wall Introducing the baby bonus, the first home buyers grant, giving money to private schools that don't need it - we would have had so many more options when the global financial crisis hit. At the end of the Howard era and the beginning of Rudd / Gillard - allowing the mining sector to grow too large and too fast pushing up the dollar, creating competition for jobs, both helping to destroy the manufacturing sector.

Government after government both Liberal and Labour have failed to introduce necessary financial reform. One example, that I have mentioned on several occasions, failing to crack down on the negative gearing of investment properties. This led to a boom in the number of investment properties in our capital cities which helped to push up property prices. Then we had the first home buyers grant which brought even more people into the market pushing up prices still further.

Many of the problems we are facing now were predicted decades ago, but a combination of lobbyists, vested interests, disinformation and good old garden variety human stupidity have got in the way of fixing them before they became an issue.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

1st Meeting of Melbourne Eastern Suburbs Hackers

The first meeting of the Melbourne Eastern Suburbs Hackers went awesomely. We now have a solid foundation with many passionate and active members that will help make our dreams reality. We still have a lot of work to ahead of us, but with the support of CCHS, great people and organisations that we are yet to approach - we will do it.

A big thanks to everyone who turned up yesterday. Grant, Michael x 2, Peter x 2, Nick x 2, Kerri Lachlan, Andy, Bernd and a special thanks to Jenny Fryer who provided free catering.

We have a website and also a new Google forum:!forum/easthack

This is a public forum open to members and also the general public, so post away!

And the Meetup group:

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Mandelbrot Set - Simple Addition (or should that be multiplication?)

Yesterday my friend Alana posted some images to Facebook that were reminiscent of fractals, but she actually only used a piece of paper, a pencil and an iPhone. I asked her how she did it is expecting her to answer that she used some sort of computer program. This set me thinking maybe I can do a similar thing, but with C#.

Supposedly the Mandelbrot set is supposed to be really simple, but I don’t like maths (that’s why I got into computer programming (the computer does all the maths, you see?)) and I’m not very good at it. So simple to a mathematician and simple to me, well you would need to come up with another definition of simple.

Anyway, I did my research and tried to program my own Mandelbrot bitmap maker in C#. It was the roughest Mandelbrot set you have ever seen. If you tried to render a Mandelbrot set using only 10 pixels - that is what it looked like.

I’m not alone in trying to do this as there is a lot of cut and pasted code on the Internet. Most computer programmers have edited complex code that they don’t understand. It is surprisingly easy to get such code to work and I suspect it was the case with this.

I found some great code that worked, on this site: in my opinion the code was bit overcomplicated, so I rewrote it, simplified it and switched the way it works around a bit. The code still uses the complex numbers class in C# not that I really get complex numbers yet. After reverse engineering the code I can say that I now understand how the Mandelbrot set is rendered. Here are a few pics:

This first image is what it looks like with more detailed code.

The interesting thing about this algorithm is that the number of times it iterates. The greater the detail. If it is one iteration you get a circle, with three you get this.

And with 10...

In the future I will modify it to do all sorts of things like colours and eventually do something like this:

Here is the code. Just dump it in your visual studio project folder and un-zip.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Save the Renewable Energy Target

On Tuesday I watched Four Corners it was about renewable energy and how the Abbott government tearing up the carbon tax and the impending dismantling the 20% renewable energy target. I think the carbon tax will most likely go, but there is still a chance for the renewable energy target.

The rise of electricity prices wasn’t caused by the introduction of the carbon tax, but by stupid state governments that gave incentives for electricity producers to improve their networks to cater for an assumed, but ultimately fictitious, rise in electricity consumption.

The big problem for the Abbott government is that the 20% renewable energy target has actually been too effective with the rise of electricity prices actually leading, for the first time ever, to a reduction in electricity consumption. The people who created this target hardcoded a figure that had to be reached by 2020 with the assumption that electricity consumption would continue to go up. This means that this 20% target will end up being more like 25% or even 30%.

This is great news for the environment and probably better news for electricity prices as sunlight and wind don’t have to be dug out of the ground. Energy providers on the other hand are hurting. Many people have started to supply their own energy with solar panels on their roofs. Couple that with people using less electricity and solar energy being the cheapest form of energy during peak times - such as on a 30° plus day.

Some power plants have started down sizing and people are already starting to lose jobs. This was always going to happen, there had to be a consequence for switching to renewable energy. The government conveniently ignores all the jobs that are created in the renewable energy sector. With many renewable sources energy once the infrastructure has been built that’s it and power just keeps coming in. In the case of fixed angle solar panels there is almost zero maintenance besides cleaning them when they get dirty. (With my own experiments I discovered it is actually not worth the bother to track the sun with solar panels as a very similar benefit can be achieved simply by adding an extra panel to your array.)

It is probable that if we continue building more renewable capacity electricity prices will actually start to go down eventually to a fraction of what we pay now. The Abbott government is on a stupid crusade to demolish the renewable energy industry at the cost of jobs and the planets future. They could seriously jeopardise the economic future of our country. If we are competing with countries that have electricity prices that are 10% of ours we do not have a chance. If we keep polluting the atmosphere our country could face future economic sanctions.

I believe that nothing will stop the march towards renewable energy. Solar panels are just too cheap these days and continuing to get cheaper. It is probably too late for us to be world leaders in the field of renewable energy, but the government needs to get behind industries that will be huge in the future. We want renewable energy start-ups in Australia not exported overseas.

We want politicians with vision not those who are driven by the whims of big business supporting industries that simply won’t exist in the future. Coal has been great for Australia but just because it has provided relatively cheap electricity for generations does not mean that we can continue burning it, destroying the environment and the economy. As a country it’s time for us to move on. Coal’s time is over.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Booting the Beaglebone Black (BBB) from an SD Card and then Expanding the File System.

I recently acquired a BBB hoping it would be sort of a super Raspberry Pi and it is, but it is a bit different and I am a noob and can’t read instructions correctly. So here is the right way to get your BBB working properly with a massive filesystem so you can clog it up with all sorts of apt-get garbage.

The biggest difference between the BBB and the Rasberry Pi is that the BBB has approximately 3GB of eMMC on-board memory. When you consider that the preinstalled operating system takes up a good portion of that it is incredibly easy to fill the BBB to capacity - which is what I did five minutes after plugging it into my PC. Thankfully the BBB comes with a microSD card slot and is able to boot off that microSD card.

The first step is to flash the latest version of Bone Debian to the internal memory. Go to this page on the Beagle Board website and download the file that looks like: “Debian (BeagleBone Black - 2GB eMMC) 2014-05-14”. It’s under the heading: BeagleBone Black (eMMC flasher). Ångström linux will also work but its image hasn’t been updated since September of last year…

I usually use a Windows 7 PC so the following will be burning an image onto an SD card using Windows 7. There is a lot of software out there for burning images onto SD cards hard drives and any other storage medium. The software I like best is: Win 32 Disk Imager (it's Sourceforge, sorry). What’s good about this one is that it also allows you to read images from the SD card onto your hard drive, which means you can backup your SD card whenever you want to. Also remember to use the SD formatter if you need to format your SD card - if you use the Windows 7 format function it will take hours and when it is finished you will have a corrupted SD card.

You will also need to download 7z zip so you can unzip that image file. Extract the file to your chosen location. Put your micro SD card in a card reader and plug it in to PC. Load up Win 32 Disk Imager and click the blue folder icon next to the text box labelled image file, browse to and select the image file. There is a drop down box right labelled device next to it - make sure you select the correct device. You will see the read and write buttons are now active - make sure you click write. If you click read it will overwrite the image file you just download with the blank SD card image. In fact this is how you backup your SD card reading from the Linux image on an SD and writing to an image file on your hard disk.

This will take 5 to 10 minutes, after that pull the microSD out of your PC and stick it in the slot on the Beaglebone while it is powered down and disconnected from any power supply. This bit is a little bit tricky and some people will tell you to do it differently, but this is what I did and it worked. You hold down the USER/BOOT button and then plug your BBB into the power either using the USB cable that came with the board or a separate 5 V supply. The four LEDs at the other end of the board will start flashing wait a few seconds then you can let go of the button. It can take up to 40 minutes for the internal memory to be flashed, when it is finished the board will turn itself off (according to the documentation it’s not supposed to do this, but it is what mine did, others say it is finished when all four LEDs are on and have stopped flashing).

I would debate whether it is necessary to hold the USER/BOOT button because I applied power to my BBB forgetting to pull the SD card out and it reflashed the BBB again. If you are very frugal you can stop reading now and simply remove the SD card and go on your merry way. But if you are like me and want to install lots of crap keep reading.

I planned to use the same image to operate the BBB off the SD card, but it kept reflashing the internal memory everytime I rebooted it. If I knew more about Linux I probably could have found the flag or file that initiated the flashing and got rid of it. So, I downloaded another image off the Beagleboard site: “Debian (BeagleBone, BeagleBone Black - 2GB SD) 2014-05-14”. This one is under the heading: BeagleBone (Runs on BeagleBone Black as well without flashing the eMMC). I followed the same procedure as I did earlier this time burning that image onto the SD card.

And it worked. The only thing I needed to do next was to expand the file system. This can be a little bit tricky and counterintuitive to a Windows native, and I found a great tutorial that helped me to expand the filesystem.

Monday, 7 July 2014

The Eastern Suburbs Hackers Group

Ever since I went to the ConnectedCommunity Hacker Space (CCHS) in Hawthorn I have wished there was a hacker space in the eastern suburbs closer to where I live in Park Orchards. Stuff wishing I thought, why not create one?

A Hacker Space is a place where people who are interested in making things and sharing knowledge can work together to create cool gadgets such as robots or develop new technology. It’s a place where the community get access to equipment like 3-D printers, laser cutters or CNC machine tools. It is also a social place where nerds and geeks can hang out.

My first step was to create the Eastern Suburbs Hackers Group MeetUp on - a social networking site that is used to create real-world social groups such as a book club.

Our membership is open and I would like people from all walks of life to feel that they can join. There are no prerequisites or special knowledge needed. Even if you just have an idea without any clue how to make it a reality - the community can help.

Our first meeting will be at my house. The members of our group all need to meet each other and we can work out things like a group name and how our community will achieve our goal of creating a hacker space in the eastern suburbs.

Hacker Spaces are only a single element of a larger DIY/Maker Movement. The Maker Movement is the convergence of social media, the Internet, high technology, 3-D printing, free 3-D design packages, open source software, open source hardware, computer programming and more. It is now possible everyday people to create extraordinary gadgets. I also believe that the Maker Movement, and the corresponding explosion in information and computer aided design tools, is a great opportunity for disabled people to take their place as fully active members of the community.

Sign up!

The MeetUp group:

The website:

Facebook Group:

If you want more info or have any questions email me: or leave a comment.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

It Won't Happen Overnight...

Looks like Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories are at it again. I am a little bit sick of writing posts like this. What set it off this time was the kidnap and murder of three Israeli boys*. Horrific crimes unfortunately happen a lot all over the world. It’s a crime not an act of war. In any other part of the world it would be handed over to the police and hopefully solved.

But what is Israel’s response to this horrific crime? Revenge. Israel has destroyed the houses where some of the "suspects" lived. This is the sort of justice that a two-year-old might think of. You called me a smelly poo poo face so I am going to destroy your sand castle. Israel’s response is even more ridiculous because it punishes the entire family of the supposed perpetrator. So you are the mother/sister/brother/father/uncle of the scumbag that commits this crime so you lose your house. How, by any stretch of the imagination using whatever moral code you choose, is this the right thing to do?

Of course not. In fact it is a crime itself. Israel gets away with this because of the large Israel lobby that equates the criticism of Israel with racism. Criticising an institution cannot be called racist in this way. Am I racist because I think that Robert Mugabe and large portions of his government have destroyed the once prosperous Zimbabwe? Of course not, it would be absurd to suggest otherwise.

The rest of the world lets Israel get away with murder - literally. The response of many Western nations to the events of September 11, 2001 make it difficult for Western governments to criticise Israel. Many of the abuses that Israel has done over the past 50 years our nations are now willing to commit. I’m talking about drone strikes and targeted assassinations.

If you know anything about history you will know that revenge simply does not end conflict. There are only two things that end conflict: sitting down and talking or annihilation of one party or both. As much as I dislike what Israel has done in its recent past, I don’t believe that they are going to start nuking Palestinians any time soon. This leaves only one solution: talking.

The rest of the world needs to come down hard on Israel and hold them to the same standards as any other nation. We need to be willing to tolerate inaccurate accusations of racism. We should not let our collective guilt over the Holocaust contribute to a never ending conflict. I think the Palestinian leaders need to rethink their strategy implementing not-violent conflict techniques - and stop lobbing rockets over the border. To a certain degree Israel is correct that other nations would not tolerate rockets being Fired over the border from a neighbouring nation. It happens to South Korea for instance. In most parts of the world, if a nation discovered that its citizens were firing rockets on another nation they would put a stop to it - they are criminals and should be treated as such. But Hamas will not stop firing rockets if Israel keeps bombing and vice versa. One side or another needs to be the better country and turn the other cheek. If Israel stopped bombing pretty soon Hamas would not have a political motive to continue the bombardment. Alternatively, if Hamas stopped, Israel would have no motive to continue their attacks.

The fact is that no conflict lasts forever. Europe was once in a far worse position. One day there will be peace in the Middle East - that is one thing I am certain of.

*I can't find a balanced story. I am absolutely disgusted by the unbalanced reporting on this issue. It seems that almost everywhere in the Western media it is a crime to criticise Israel in any way. “The reason is that those letter writers realize that Israel will find the killers of the Arab boy and deal with him in a proper court of law. Hamas, on the other hand, praises their psychopaths and elevate them to the status of national heroes.”

But Israel's response wasn’t balanced they destroyed the perpetrators houses in what they call "collective punishment". If an entire people can be at fault they should have gassed 6 million Germans after World War II – no wait make that 60 million 85 to be safe - damn there just aren’t enough Germans to make this analogy work. Maybe I can convince Angela Merkel to introduce a baby bonus...