Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Ukraine in Crisis, Part II: The Crimean Referendum

Part I | Part II | Part III

Counter protests appeared in Eastern Ukraine and particularly in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Eventually this led to a referendum to determine the status of Crimea. Due to Crimea’s recent complicated political history this was a little bit difficult. The questions on the ballot paper were not a simple yes no.

Choice 1: Do you support the reunification of Crimea with Russia with all the rights of the federal subject of the Russian Federation?

Choice 2: Do you support the restoration of the Constitution of the Republic of Crimea in 1992 and the status of the Crimea as part of Ukraine?

Some commentators say that whatever way the Crimean people voted they would have independence from Ukraine. If the ballot paper had said something like:

Do you support the reunification of Crimea with Russia with all the rights of a federal subject of the Russian Federation?

Choice 1: Yes

Choice 2: No

If the referendum had been a simple yes/no I really do not think this crisis would have dragged on in the way it has. My understanding of international law is that an autonomous Republic has a right to self-determination - nothing for the international community to be upset about.

Part I | Part II | Part III

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Ukraine in Crisis, Part I: The New World Order

Part I | Part II | Part III


The Ukraine situation is continuing and could possibly to degenerate into civil war. Now, I usually love to write about things like this. I do my research and take the time to write an article that explains everything. But, Ukraine? Well, that situation changes so rapidly that any article I write is out of date by the time I post it.

Two of the characters in this story have very similar names so I will give them middle names so you can tell them apart.

Enough with the perfectionism I will just have to write it anyway. Ukrainian politics has been quite tempestuous over the past two decades after breaking away from the USSR in 1991. In Ukraine there seems to be two forces at play one pulling them towards the Russian Federation and another pulling them towards the west. There appears to be animosity between Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine and Ukrainian speakers in the west.

The roots of this crisis began in September 2004 when Viktor "Uki" Yushchenko was nearly killed by dioxin poisoning possibly given to him by Russian agents. In November that year the pro-Russian Viktor "Rusky" Yanukovych won the election. The result was disputed by the opposition candidates, the scarred but alive Viktor “Uki” Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko. There were large protests that finally resulted in the Ukrainian Supreme Court annulling the November election results - an event now called the orange revolution. After a second poll in December a coalition of Viktor “Uki” Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko was victorious.

There was a falling out between Viktor "Uki" Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko splitting their coalition. This resulted in Viktor "Rusky" Yanukovych winning the 2010 election - Yulia Tymoshenko was sent to jail soon after.

With such brutal political scheming it is no surprise that everything fell apart in November 2013. The Ukrainian government still refused to release Yulia Tymoshenko. The Ukrainian cabinet also ditched a trade agreement with the EU. This outraged many in western Ukraine provoking very large protests. The pro-Russian Ukrainian cabinet made the stupid decision to use extreme violence against the protesters.

This only generated more outrage and pretty soon Viktor "Rusky" Yanukovych disappeared only to reappear in Russia a couple of days later.

Part I | Part II | Part III

Friday, 25 April 2014

The Studio

About a month ago I ran into an old friend of mine, Evan Lorden, at the Park Orchards Farmers Market. He mentioned that he was almost finished creating a recording studio at his place. I was curious so I invited myself over to have a look.

Evan and his twin brother Murray have been collecting sound equipment for years. Everything from electric guitars, organs to vintage solid state and valve equipment from the 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's and into the modern era. There is even an old reed organ in the corner. As Evan said, "I think there is a fairly broad appreciation these days for bands who want to get some of the character of the older equipment into their recordings."
I forgot my camera on the day but luckily Evan had lots of photos on Facebook. The studio is located in the peaceful surrounds of Park Orchards which has all benefits of a rural area but is only 30 to 40 minutes away from the Melbourne CBD. The studio has already seen use, but the appointment book is still pretty empty.
You can contact Evan on:

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Smart Twin

When we were going through high school people often referred to me as the smart twin as I would often get better marks. Over the years we both took different directions. I started blogging and writing, Nick got interested in robots – building, programming and designing them. I gradually lost the title of smart twin.

Nick is now the smart twin, but I aim to try and get it back. I have recently got back into computer programming. My new button box that Nick helped make for me as a Christmas present uses an Arduino Leonardo to interface with the computer. If I wish to change what the button box does I have to alter a program in the Arduino IDE and uploaded it - all very easy.

Then I discovered it is possible for a PC to communicate directly with an Arduino using the Microsoft .NET framework. I can write programs in C# to make the micro controller do things. This could be controlling a robot arm or rover - I don’t really know yet, but it is going to be fun screwing around with this.

I am also currently in the process of creating a website for a business that I am starting. Originally I started creating an original WordPress theme, but I ditched that idea and just created a plain HTML/PHP site. I think I will eventually get back into creating a WordPress theme as eventually I will need to have a blog on the website.

Anyway, these are my plans to win back the title of smart twin - don’t tell Nick.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Stella Young - Very Funny

The other night I went to see Stella Young in "Tales From the Crip" at the Northcote town hall for the Melbourne Comedy Festival. She was really fucking funny. Stella has a bit of an unfair advantage over the majority of comedians as she has brittle bones. This means she is a dwarf and a cripple who drives an electric wheelchair - awesome. Stella uses her disability as leverage to make her comedy that much funnier.

The show shatters stereotypes about disability. As disabled people we have to cope with a lot of shit from people who are mostly trying to be nice but failing spectacularly. While being funny this show could also be very educational for those who are ignorant of disability.

Her shows have ended this year, but if you ever have an opportunity to see her definitely do so and there is always next year.

5 out of 5

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Enough With the Royal Obsession!

Whenever I turn on the TV or listen to the radio all I hear is: the Royal baby, William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge even on SBS and the ABC. I am sick to fucking death of it! I really do think this obsession is bordering on a psychiatric diagnosis. It’s not healthy to worship somebody like this - for the worshipper or the worshipped.

This family has not actually done anything to deserve such adulation. They just happened to be part of a family that 1000 years ago managed to become the rulers of England. Over the years there was so much blood spilt in competition for this throne. Through luck, raging ambition and murderous brutality this family finally made it to the top and stayed there. Yet we celebrate the fact that these people are related to butchers.

I’m not saying they should be strung up for the crimes of their predecessors. This family does play a role as the head of state of Britain, Australia and other countries. The Queen is a figurehead with no real power and I think it would be a bit pointless to replace the Royal family with a democratically elected president. Somebody has to be head of state why not the head of the Royal family?

The Royal family is simply part of the mechanism that runs the state. They do not deserve our praise and adulation simply our respect as human beings. I’m sure it is quite irritating for this family to be under the media spotlight in the way they are.

Other European royal families are far more down to earth. Filling their constitutional roles, but not having the heavy burden of public expectations.

So, royally obsessed people please remember William, Kate and George are just human beings. Calm down and take a Valium. Ponder this song by a royally obsessed teenager from New Zealand:

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Playing the Cripple Card

A couple of months ago there was a Change petition that I signed. 15-year-old Isabella Curtis who attends Brighton Secondary College was prevented from going on a school trip to Africa because she had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. The petition succeeded with 25,114 signatures and the school reversed its decision.

Now the story should end here, but some people still have some resentment over this affair. With this comment left on her sisters Facebook page.

“It frustrates me how people want to have their children accepted into society and think it is OK to pick and choose when to play their child's disability to their advantage.”

Yes in 2014 there are still that think like this. Sad and incredibly stupid… Actually, fuck it. The person who left this comment is a stupid, disrespectful, fucking douche bag who deserves crucifixion (thanks Jesus).

Okay, now that we have got that out of our systems we can continue…

Having a disability or syndrome can suck. Now, you can make your life liveable by having a positive attitude - we are normal people and deserve to be treated as such. There are lots of negatives to disability and there are not many positives - but there are positives. One positive is what my brother and I call the Cripple Card.

We discovered the Cripple Card many years ago when strangers would come up to us and just hand us $50.00 for no reason that we could discern. Then we thought, maybe they feel sorry for us? So we would spend the next 10 minutes trying to give the money back with a 0% success rate. This happened so often that we eventually decided that being disabled, while it sucks, also has some quite bizarre advantages. Over the years we gradually became less cute and awareness of disability became commonplace so people stopped giving us money for no reason.

Luckily the Cripple Card has many other uses. Its primary use is for defending oneself against discrimination or harassment on the basis of your disability. Is someone trying to bully you because you are disabled? Most people have an irrational hatred of everybody that would dare tease a cripple. Tell the right people and the bullying will soon stop… violently. Another use is to defend those who can’t defend themselves. We were friends with this guy at high school who was repeatedly the victim of a particular bully. One day he broke every pencil, pen and ruler in his pencil case in half. I yelled at the Bully and rammed him with my electric wheelchair.

His response, “you’re only doing this because you know I won’t hit somebody in a wheelchair.” He was right. My response, “I use every advantage I can get.” That is my, consider that a divorce, moment.

Use number three is used for fighting institutional harassment. This is where a group, business or organisation creates rules or make plans that discriminate against disabled people. This is rarely done out of malice, but mostly out of ignorance, stupidity and commonly thoughtlessness. Many of these organisations will not immediately take measures to change their rules instead sticking to the rules because “they are the rules”. An example of this was when we were in year 11 it was time for us to do the debutant ball. The school picked a reception centre that had stairs. Now, I chose not to do the deb that year because it was a silly tradition, but what if I had thought differently?

Many years ago discrimination against people with disabilities was commonplace. They were kept in an institutions - sterilised and otherwise mistreated. They were segregated from the community lest they disturb the children. A karmic view of disability was prevalent where people thought that disability was punishment for their mother’s sin or for evils done in previous lives. This meant it was okay to mistreat the disabled. Even today, there are still people around who don’t give disabled people the respect that everybody deserves.

My brother and I realise that most people don’t have Cripple Cards and that is sad, but those people also aren’t disabled, so in my book they are still the winner. You may feel resentful when the Cripple Card is played, but remember it is our God given right as disabled people to play this card. It is the one advantage that cripples have and you will never take it away from us.

This is the way the world is now - get used to it.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Getting My Stories Published

A couple of months ago Nick was pestering me to try to get some of my short stories published. He found out that Amazon had a program that allows authors to submit stories to be published and distributed electronically through the amazon website.

I had a look into it and discovered that if you are outside the US it is very difficult to actually earn any money from publishing through Amazon. You had to apply for an American tax file number and get an American bank account. Then there were a number of taxes you had to pay. To sum it up it was just not worth the bother.

Meanwhile over at Google they have a similar system but allow you to be paid in your own currency into your own bank account and you don’t have to bother about all those pesky US taxes.

Before I am able to get my book published there are a number of things I have to do. One of them is apply for an international standard book number or ISBN. This is the number represented by the barcode on the back of books it is also quoted on the copyright page. This number identifies a unique edition of a book from one specific publisher, it also allows your book to be found by the book global supply chain. You have to buy ISBNs in Australia from Thorpe-Bowker the only ISBN an agency in this country.

You can also apply for what is called a Catalogue in Publication this you get from the National Library in your country. This adds your book to their catalogue before it is even published. This allows anybody to search for your book, it is used by libraries and booksellers to place advance orders of your book.

One of the things I don’t have to do is find a publisher for my book. Because, I choose to publish the book in electronic format means it hardly costs anything to publish the book. I will not need a publisher to print and distribute my book. I will need to advertise it myself, but I get a larger percentage of the royalties by publishing the book myself.

Now, all I need to do is get somebody to design a great looking front cover for the book and to get all my stories into a publishable condition.

Friday, 11 April 2014

The Morality of Chris: Part II, Universal Morality

Part I | Part II

I believe there can be a universal morality. All humans have an inbuilt sense of right and wrong that I don’t think is totally a result of culture. Almost all societies have laws against murder and stealing for example. Although, we can’t just trust human feelings to give us our moral values.

A simple way to determine right and wrong is to look at the harm that a particular action causes or might cause. The harm being done needs to be quantifiable. That is measurable harm against individuals. You also can’t harm to abstractions such as “society” - if you can’t show actual harm being done to actual individuals it is not covered by this moral code. Choice is also part of this moral code. Women who by choice wear a buka potentially resulting in vitamin D deficiency and social isolation should not be forced to stop. People who choose to hurt themselves without hurting others should be allowed to continue within reason. It is also important to remember that sometimes you will do more harm trying to stop somebody committing harmful acts to themselves than the act itself.

Now let’s give this idea a test run. Opponents of gay marriage are continuously saying how it devalues marriage, that it could damage society or it will confuse children. No opponent of gay marriage has ever been able to show that any physical or psychological harm has ever been done to an individual because of the passage of gay marriage legislation. On the other hand gay people who have got married are very pleased that they were able to do so. According to my moral code gay marriage is okay.

Another example could be female genital mutilation. This practice has one thing going for it – it’s an ancient cultural practice. Girls don’t choose to have this done to them it is extremely painful and results in permanent damage. No choice, permanent harm and in all likelihood it would not start a civil war if it was forcibly stopped. My moral code says this is wrong and should be stopped ASAP.

The so called anti-headscarf legislation in France prevents students in French public schools from wearing conspicuous religious symbols. Many people accuse this law as unfairly targeting girls of the Muslim faith as headscarfs are particularly conspicuous. Others have also accused it of being sexist and/or racist, but these are just really labels. The real problem with this law is that it infringes the choice of people to wear what they like. Headscarfs are not obscene or offensive - no one has ever been damaged by seeing a women in a headscarf. You can predict what my moral code says about this one.

Some people might like to think that all these examples conveniently fit into a particular political view, but let us consider…the invasion of Afghanistan by NATO. America’s excuse for going to war with Afghanistan was because the Taliban were harbouring Osama Bin Laden and refused to give him up - a very poor reason to go to war. The steadily worsening situation in Afghanistan had been all over the media for many years before September 11, 2001. Public executions were commonplace women were prevented from attending education and receiving medical treatment from male doctors. Women that attempted to receive an education were severely beaten, killed or had acid splashed in their faces. Technology was forcibly stripped from Afghanistan sending it back to the Stone Age. A civil war had also been raging for over 25 years.

Afghanistan was already at war its citizens were being tortured, killed and had zero rights. I had personally been hoping for years that somebody would step in and prevent what was happening. Many of the people of Afghanistan had no say in what was going on the country. It was completely devastated and an invasion would probably not make things that much worse. I believe an invasion with humanitarian goals was justified in this case - well that’s what my moral code says anyway.

Afghanistan still isn’t perfect, but I think it is on the mend as this latest democratic vote helps to prove.

This moral code can be applied in almost any situation. The most important part of this is the harm must be measurable - if you don’t have this information you should not be making a moral decision. Sometimes things are just grey and we all have to find a way to live with that.

Part I | Part II

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Morality of Chris: Part I, Moral Relativism

Part I | Part II

Much to my irritation sometimes, I have a very clear sense of what is right and wrong - most of us do. The issue is, our environment is very complex and the most of the moral decisions we make are not black and white. Unfortunately, our moral landscape is a very grey one. It can sometimes be very difficult to work out exactly what is right and what is wrong.

Some people say that our morality is just part of the culture that we were brought up in. They say there is no universal morality and that we can’t judge other cultures by our own values. This view is known as moral relativism.

I think moral relativism is one of the craziest ideas ever invented. I believe it was created by academics who felt that important indigenous cultures were being lost because of colonisation immigration and religious conversion. The intention of this idea is to protect culture from the deliberate or inadvertent contamination by other cultures. It is much harder to study cultures that don’t exist anymore.

I once had an argument with a women who said that female genital mutilation was okay because that was their culture and we should accept it because all cultures are equal.

I also believe there is a dangerous assumption underlying moral relativism and that is that cultures don’t change over time. Indigenous cultures belong in a glass case so they can be preserved forever unchanging - even if it condemns them to a life of suffering. Meanwhile, our own culture is constantly changing, improving and evolving.

We try to make the world a better place and this usually involves changing our culture in some way. We gave women equal rights, made bigotry unacceptable, we stopped living under the rule of monarchs and created Parliamentary Democracy.

New technology such as the Internet means that our culture is changing faster than it ever has - we are smarter and more connected than we have ever been before. It’s unfair that some people get left behind simply because we want to preserve their culture.

Part I | Part II

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Games I Play: Part 2

Part I | Part II

Path of Exile: This is a free to play role-playing game with MMO elements. You can choose to play this game solo or choose to play with friends which is easy to do unlike some similar games. There are multiple classes that all share one enormous skill tree. The micro transaction system is a little too unobtrusive this is a good thing I just hope it doesn’t threaten the economic viability of this game.

Diablo III: An expensive Triple-A quality game and the latest sequel of the Diablo series. The biggest problem with this game is it was way to short and too easy. They tried to make up for this by making it so you had to finish the game once to go up a difficulty level and then go back and start and play again. This is not the sort of thing that we should expect from triple-A titles. They should have delayed it and added extra content. That being said I did have a lot of fun playing this game and it is very high quality.

SimCity: A reboot of the SimCity franchise that had the worst release of any game I have seen. They should have taken a leaf out of the blizzard and delayed it for 12 months. It was a good city simulator - it didn’t just force you to always be connected to the Internet but it was necessary for the game to work properly as you had to connect to other cities. This could have worked if they had the network infrastructure necessary, but they didn’t. This is a potentially good game forever tainted by a bad launch.

Sins of a Solar Empire Rebellion: Not really a sequel, but a mild improvement on the original. Still it is a decent 4X strategy game that doesn’t take days to finish a game making it suitable for multiplayer. For a game of this price you would expect there to be some sort of signal player campaign but this game is purely multiplayer although you can choose to play an AI opponent. Great game but a bit pricey.

Shadowrun Returns: This is a Kickstarter project by the creator of the Shadow Run pen and paper role-playing game. It also inherits much of its style and gameplay from the SNES and the Sega Genesis title Shadow Run games. It suffers with a bit of nostalgia. Just because you are trying to create a game that harks back some ancient original does not mean you can ignore everything that’s happened in game design after. It is a bit of a balancing act with a game like this but I think this gets the balance a little wrong unlike The Banner Saga which gets the balance perfect.

Evochron Mercenary: A team of one person created this game is the latest sequel in the Star Wrath series. It is a space flight simulator similar to the Wing Commander games. It doesn’t look great but I think it has a number of things going for it. Unlike almost all of games like this planets are in our actual real objects in the universe that you can land on. The combat is fun. It’s not just about fighting you can be a racer, miner or a privateer that does a little or all of these things. After the disaster that was X: Rebirth, this could be a great game to play while waiting for Star Citizen to come out.

Part I | Part II

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Games I Play: Part I

Part I | Part II

I can’t think of anything to write for my blog today so I will just list all the games that I have played over the last year and give them a one paragraph review. I won’t bother to rate them, but I will put them in order of good to bad.

League of Legends: Great game although the people that play it suck a great big bag of dicks. It is a team game with five people per side based on defence of the ancients. It’s free with a fair and unobtrusive micro payments transaction system.

Planetary Annihilation: One of the coolest things to come out of kickstarter. It is a modern day interpretation of an old classic total annihilation. The battles take place on spherical maps called “planets”. It is possible to shift some planets in their orbits by building massive rockets on the surface, you can then slam planets into each other. It is a real-time strategy game with very deep strategy. There is no unit limit and there is a huge range of viable play styles. The game isn’t finished yet and is expensive, so buyer beware.

Fallout: New Vegas This game was published by Bethesda Softworks and developed by Obsidian Entertainment - and thank God for that. It is built on the foundation of Fallout 3 and the gameplay is almost exactly the same, but with none of the fun destroying bugs that plagued the original. Great game great story and it is cheap.

StarDrive: The spiritual successor to Master of Orion. This is a space based 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit,and eXterminate ) strategy game. It gets rid of turn based strategy and instead has a clock that is always running although you can alter the speed and pause it. Also it is possible to zoom right in to a planet or zoom right out to get an overview of your Empire - all on one map. Space battles can happen anywhere on the map and you can simply zoom in to watch the mayhem as your ships engage the enemy.

Europa Universalis IV: This is a very complex FX strategy game that is brutally difficult. It also has a very steep learning curve, but I believe it is very worthwhile to play. The game starts in the mid 15th century. You can play as any country that existed at the time and from the time starts the world will be very different. What would happen if Europe fell to the Ottoman Empire? Or if the Mongol Hoards had conquered China? Play this game and you could find out.

Banished: This Is a charming and deceptively simple city building game. You start with 20 people who have been banished from some mediaeval land. Their resources are few, but can you guide them to success? I feel it is better than SimCity in a lot of respects and much cheaper only 20 bucks through Steam at the time of writing.

That is a lot of games, it’s actually a bit embarrassing. And that isn’t all of them - I split it into two parts.

Part I | Part II