Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

2008 is now bearing down on us with great haste and is only hours away. May the New Year (Year of the Rat) bring you all you wish for - and may we all have the courage and wisdom to know exactly what it is we should wish for. (Especially if it's blog #435 for 2007. Stopping now!)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Buzz Off

We've all seen the cartoons where an elephant shrieks and jumps on a stool when it sees a mouse. (Short pause for Google search of "are elephants afraid of mice?" and the answer seems to be no - but they are frightened by sudden, unexpected movements ... like a mouse running by.) But is there anything that does frighten elephants which could be used by African villagers trying to prevent elephants from munching through their crops. The answer on this one is yes. Bees. Oxford University researchers have shown that 94% of elephants exposed to recordings of angry bees move off, often at a run, as opposed to 20% of elephants who are played "white noise". Of course, this may not be as helpful as it seems. Your average African villager is not going to be able to afford the gear to be able to broadcast bee sounds, and even if they did, elephants are smart* and would soon work out that no real bees were involved. Option B is to have real bees, but this needs careful thought as African bees are apparently very aggressive, and cause painful stings which contain a pheromone that acts like a beacon/invitation for other bees.
* Elephants are apparently smart enough to be able to tell if a human is friend or foe by their scent and the colour of their clothing! They stay away from clothing worn by the Maasi who are known to demonstrate their virility by spearing elephants according to research by St Andrews University - but don't seem to mind clothing worn by Kamba folk who concentrate on agricultural, rather than elephant, pursuits.
Does anyone else think it odd that these two pieces of research into elephants have been conducted by universities in the UK where, to the best of knowledge, elephants are not native.

Doctor is IM

For a yearly fee of US$500 young urban artist-types in Brooklyn, New York (and others wanting to avail themselves of the service) can contract Dr Jay Parkinson to provide them with two house calls and unlimited consultations by instant messenger and email. If his patients need other services, he sources them at the best rate. On the bright side, if his patients are short of cash, he says he may "accept artwork" for his services. (This may have something to do with his being an amateur photographer.) Alas, his blog is no longer - are blogs really outdated now? - but he has moved on to something called tumblr.

Timely advice

Among the e-newsletters I receive is one from www.ineedmoretime.com (well worth a visit) and the latest issue has 5 Steps to an Organized 2008. They seem simple enough: use a planner and write everything down; make three lists - items you need to do; meals you plan to make in the next week; groceries/toiletries to buy; declutter - and tackle this one small area at a time; put efficient systems into place; organise four areas in your house - entry, closet, kitchen and office. Seems easy enough and definitely worth a go.

And speaking of "worth a go" - here is a HAIR UPDATE. The wash hair only with water experiment lasted one whole day. At that stage it was standing up on end and uncontrollable. Verdict: more research on Nigel Marsh's experience needed.

Fat lot of good

You have to admire the editorial crew on Wired. It is one of the publications I regularly "info-snack" on (ie read the RSS feeds without necessarily following up by reading the whole article) but sometimes even I have to have more of a look. The headline that got me today "Around the World in a Boat Fueled by Human Fat". Using some human fat as fuel in the Earthrace vessel which is circumnavigating the world is a deliberate ploy to secure headlines ... but it shows some determination by the three crew members who underwent liposuction to offer up 2.5 gallons of fat - which was coverted into almost two gallons of fuel - enough to power the vessel for 9 miles under optimum conditions. As the article said, perhaps a little tongue in cheek, this would make it the "ultimate renewal fuel".

Explicit material

I've previously blogged about The Brick Testament, back in March 2006, but I don't think it was called this then. It's worth another visit - because it now carries a Ratings Guide so you know if entries include Nudity, Sexual Content, Violence or Cursing. This is just as well, otherwise I would have been horrified by this. Although, admittedly, I would not have been as surprised as the father who bought his 10-year-old daughter an MP3 player for Christmas from Wal-Mart and found it came pre-loaded with porn and explicit songs. He is hanging onto the player, one of three he purchased for his children, but the only one that seems to have been a "return", until he talks to a lawyer.

Name that tune

Don't you hate it when you know you know a song but can't quite get it? We spent an hour or so trying to remember a song in a movie and finally, finally got enough of it to work out what we thought it was. (Thanks to D who we texted to see if she could think of it. Amazing how few people you think it's going to be okay to text to ask if they remember a song ...) Then we searched for the soundtrack on the net and found two versions of it ... which we could listen to an excerpt of. But then, tonight, as we stood in line at the Toowoomba Golf Club, waiting to order our meals, the band playing in the Lounge, close enough to hear but not close enough to be intrusive, started playing it. "You got it." And if we didn't already have it at that stage, we hope that would have been the Universe's way of putting us out of our misery.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Pained approach

The technology will no doubt have a military application before long, but while they're still conducting reviews, the manufacturers are seeking more, non-military applications for their "pain beam"! So if you're looking for a home protection system which would cause burning pain without injury - the Active Denial System may be for you. The system's microwaves penetrate a fraction of an inch of the skin of intruders who won't be able to cope with the beam for more than five seconds - regardless of what they're wearing. (I think I read somewhere that a full suit of amour - everyone has one don't they? - could be an effective safeguard.)

Brain Drain

Wired, the magazine, carried an item on whether the ready availability of online memory - with services such as Google, or mobile phones, was making our own brains less retentive. Why would we need to "remember" things if we can easily look them up? And according to research by neuroscientist Ian Robertson who polled 3000 people - we are less able to remember some things. I know this is so for me - I often forget my own mobile number and I certainly don't have even S's work phone number committed to memory. The lack of retention - or ever trying to remember/recall - is more pronounced in younger people.

Pinhead publishing

I know there's something in the Bible about camels passing through the eye of a needle (although this may have been a gateway into Jerusalem rather than a physical needle). At the other end of sharp, pointy things, researchers in Israel say they have put the entire Bible on a microchip smaller than a pinhead. 300,000 Hebrew words were inscribed on the chip using a particle beam. The next step is to photograph the Bible and display it on a giant wall at the Haifa Institute of Technology. And why are they doing this? Why to increase young people's interest in nanoscience and nanotechnology -although it may work the other way as well: what better way to get people interested in the Bible then by "packaging" it differently?

Fentem's Fentix

Andrew Fentem has moved from making missiles to making children's toys. It seems like a reasonable leap to make - especially since his toy involves accelerometers - more at home in the iPhone or Wii - and is already drawing much interest from toymakers. Of course, this kind of communication is new to Mr Fentem. Previous work incarnations have seen him in a Faraday Cage - which prevents any type of transmission in or out. So what is his "toy"? According to the BBC, it's the Fentix Cube - which plays some games and puzzles - of course it's more complex than that but you'll need to wait until one lands in your Xmas stocking next year to learn all about it (or perhaps Google it)!

Tech Talk 2007

As year end quickly approaches, it's good to reflect on what the year has had to offer. I am, of course, talking technology and I was surprised to see that I wasn't the only one doing it. The BBC Technology Team have been reflective too and each has outlined the technology they thought had had the biggest impact during the year. They picked Facebook (social networking), Facebook (still social networking), rich web applications (like Google's online and shareable calendar), Enum (telephone number mapping which will make it easier to call via Skype) and, my personal favourite ... Witricity - which is wireless electricity. It could mean the end of all those power adapters. Witricity would, when developed and working to capacity, be able to flood a room with electricity. The system was tested in July, after eight months in development and was able to light a 60W light bulls 7ft (2m) through wood and metal.

Surprise!

Christmas can be full of surprises. It certainly was for the Invercargill, NZ, woman who pulled on a Christmas cracker at lunch and won a half-decomposed (dead) mouse. "It ruined my appetite for the rest of the day" Betty Lawrence, the (un)lucky woman told the local newspaper The Southland Times.
On the brighter side, police in the US were called to a shopping center to investigate reports of two men handing out $100 notes. It was true and rather than causing a scene, it was an orderly event. The men, brothers, according to Reuters, do it every year, and wished to remain anonymous. (This reminds me of something I read recently about a Secret Santa who had done something similar, handing out money to people who seemed to need help. He had done it anonymously for years, but died recently. His work is being continued by others - not sure if the two mentioned above are part of that continuation).
Also on the surprise list - I was downloading some files from the motel where we are currently staying and reached a speed of 650Kb a second! Of course, the other surprise is that we are staying here in part for the air-conditioning - which we haven't yet had on - something to do with The Chronicle's headline: Cold snap takes the heat out of Chrsitmas. It has been described as "unseasonable weather".

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Air lines

Recent US research by the Harvard School of Public Health suggests there is no evidence that airport security (you know - those lines where you wait to have your hand luggage screened, and sometimes even take off your shoes and belt - depending on which airport you're at) actually makes flying any safer. While it may well do, eg the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported that more than 13 million items were seized in one year, there is no evidence that these items could have been used to harm aircraft or crew. There were also no comprehensive studies which evaluated the different forms of security nor testing accuracy.
But it would not do to "do away" with the methods, especially the explosives trace wand. I still have fond memories of S doing "trace wand tango" and of the story of a man who put out one arm, then a leg, and then his other arm - and was then told to make a noise as though he was a plane - much to the amusement of his girlfriend and mother who had come to the airport to see him off and were making suggestions to the man with the wand).

Contrarian

What a great word - especially as a career choice - as in "Celebrity pathologist Dr Cyril Wecht - a contrarian who challenged the findings that a lone gunman killed President Kennedy ..." and just to carry it on to the next level - why does "contrarian" on the Tablet PC's handwriting recognition come back as "barbarian"?

Left out?

It may not be in time for Masaru Hori (see Risky business) but car-maker Toyota is reported to be developing a car capable of helping older drivers not to make mistakes. Also working on the project is Prof. Ryuta Kawashima, who helped develop Nintendo's "Brain Age" games. As reported in The Sydney Morning Herald earlier this month "Ultimately, we hope to develop cars that stimulate brain activity, so that driving itself becomes a form of brain training," Kawashima said.
But for those of us who want to stat brain stimulation now as part of an anti-dementia strategy, word is that doing things with "your other hand" can help keep gray matter supple. (Your other hand = left if you're right-handed and right if you're left-handed.)

Battery rumour

Not sure if it's true (visit to Snopes.com coming up) but my mother told me that someone she knows received an email, complete with how-to photographs, which said/showed that a 6v battery is actually made up of 32 AA batteries which can easily be removed. Nope, apparently not - thanks Snopes.

Meat Meat

When you sat down to your lunch (or dinner) on Christmas Day, did you have cloned meat and if you did, did you know about it; does it matter? Some people think it does as America's two largest animal cloning companies are creating a registry of their animals. On reading that, I immediately thought "ah, they're making records of pets that have been cloned" but on reflection, I guess that may not have been their primary focus especially since the registry would, according to a report in Wired, also require that cloned meat be identified to customers. (I'm not sure I would want to know if I was eating cloned meat - or should that be "when"? May need to have a closer look at this engineered food field; the very structure of food may be changing.

All in good time

It's the stuff of science fiction - the spaceship nears its 2-year journey to Mars - just in time to see a huge meteorite strike the Red planet. Well, it could have happened that way (a) if the NASA mission to Mars hadn't been delayed again and (b) if the mission was due to arrive in Mars airspace next month. The telescope scanning the skies for evidence of heavenly bodies on collision course with Earth has found a meteorite that has a 1 in 75 chance of colliding with Mars in January. (Who knew there was a telescope scanning the skies...)

Walrus activity

Here in Sydney we have a group called the Bondi Icebergs who go swimming at the height of Winter. even throwing large blocks of ice into their pool. In Russia, according to a report on SBS News tonight, they have the Walruses who also swim at the height of Winter, but first they have to clear the ice off the top of and out of their pool. While they didn't emerge with ice hanging off their hair and extremities, they looked very cold. I felt sorry for the young boy who jumped into the pool at his father's (?) beckoning, and then "couldn't decide whether to swim or scream" - so he did a little of both before he was pushed fully under the water for a moment and then lifted out onto the ice-covered pool surround. Such was the example of the Russian walruses starting "young".

Clowning around

Given the choice, would you rather learn about God's message from a traditionally-attired clergy-person - or a clown? According to an Associated Press report, Kokomo the Clown and his cohorts, Kings Clowns, operate out of a church in the United States ... and believe people who don't talk to a preacher will talk to a clown. And Kokomo's alter-ego the Rev. Tom Rives may have a supportable insight as he's been using entertainment to promote religion for 35 years now. And he learned from the best - but it may not be who you think: it was at a workshop sponsored by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey clowns.

Gift for Jesus

So, what would you give a modern-day Jesus ... well, in Florida they're given a statue of the (or would that be "a") baby Jesus a GPS. The statue is part of a nativity scene and the GPS will help in case the statute suffers the fate of the previous one which went missing three weeks ago even though it had been "bolted down". Statues of the earthly parents are also expected to be fitted with the devices. And, just to be on the safe side, a plexiglass screen is also planned to be set up around the trio.

Hair Experiment

According to ABC Radio's Life Matters, "Nigel Marsh was a high flying advertising executive living the high life when at the age of 40, he was made redundant when his firm closed its Australian operations." So he took a year off to come to terms with "life" and wrote a book called Fat, Forty and Fired. I think it was on Life Matters that S heard Nigel talking about saving $100 a year by not using shampoo and his hair was okay when he just washed with water. In fact, if you do a search on Google on "Nigel Marsh shampoo" it will return various results with the phrase "Why shampoo is a con". So, I have decided to have a go at replicating the experiment to see what happens and if using water without shampoo will lead to fresh, clean hair (is my scepticism showing?). It was Day One today - and already I am not sure about this. My hair is unnaturally oily and as I pointed this out to my sister - although I think she observed it herself - she asked the question I should have thought to ask - what length was his hair - a No. 2 shave is certainly going to be much easier to maintain without shampoo - and is his hair naturally oily? (I'm saving the photo until at least Day 3 - if the experiment lasts that long. As S said, maybe it would be better to take this on at home, rather when we're on holiday visiting friends and family in non-familiar climes.)

Bull walk

After Christmas lunch we took a (much needed) walk to visit "The Three Amigos" - three miniature bulls who agist down the road from our friends’ place. I admit I was scared to go in their paddock, especially as I'd heard about them goring a horse and menacing other visitors. Another minus - that three of the four of us were wearing red pants - a colour which may "excite" bulls. But I did succumb to peer pressure - but only because a kind man on site gave the bulls hay to distract them (twice) - and we took a walk around the paddock, actually a track ... making sure that I always kept one eye on our big black friends. We all made it out in one piece.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas 2007

I'm suggesting this should be the face of Christmas 2007. (No correspondence will be entered into.)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Worst nightmare

I saw "Snakes on a Plane" (the movie) recently and that was bad enough but at least it was contained on the big screen - unlike the 700 snakes found on a Thai Airways flight from Indonesia to Vietnam last week. They were all in a container on board - not slithering free --but like their celluloid kin, they too did not survive. When no-one collected the snakes they were terminated - even though they had been identified as "live fish" in the accompanying paperwork.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Driver relief

On the 1000km drive north for Xmas we are making full use of the facilities offered at the Driver Reviver stations along the way. Funded by Bushells and staffed by volunteers it's a wonderful act of generosity to the travelling public.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Flight risk

A recent case in Sydney saw a man released from prison, fitted with an elecronic monitoring device - and gone a couple of hours later. That would be "gone" in the sense of absconded. So what good are electronic monitoring devices if they only tell you the person has left the premises - as opposed to tracking where the person is once they have left the premises?

Sleigh bells

It would be best for Santa to stay with his traditional sleigh if he wants to make it through this festive season in one piece. Word on the street is that he was using a helicopter to deliver presents recently in a slum area in Rio de Janeiro and the local drug lords (accepted controllers of the local slums) thought it was a raid - often conducted by the local police by helicopter and armored vehicles - and opened fire.
Santa escaped without injury and later returned to give out presents in a less conspicuous method of transport.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Time Tip

I subscribe to the "Time Tips" email from Don Whetmore at the Productivity Institute. There are occasional gems to be found here - although I'm not sure that today's Tip falls into that category:
"We all have too much to do. Almost everyone I speak with tells me they have more to do than time permits. This says a lot of good things about you. That you have too much to do means many have entrusted a lot to you. People who seldom have enough to keep them busy and are always looking for things to do may not have earned this level of confidence from others."
Now it could just be me but that seems just like another way of saying that we should be filled with excitement and get a warm glow inside when our "competency is punished" (alas, a regular occurrence in the corporate world)!

Photo test

Homer and the mouseIt's not always easy working from the home office. I try to take ergonomics into account - but when Homer (the cat) takes an interest in the mouse, there's not a lot of room to move! (This post is to test if I can blog with photo from mobile phone!)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Walk this way ...

... but don't get caught. Have you ever been waiting to cross the road and cars pull up in the way so you have to walk around them - sometimes in the path of oncoming traffic. Have you ever seriously considered other options - I know I have - like clambering through the vehicle (excuse me, sorry for the intrusion, won't be long, next time could you please stop more considerately next time) ... or perhaps climbing over the vehicle, as one gentleman did recently in Athens when he found the footpath he was using blocked by an illegally parked 4-wheel drive. Alas, as Mr Pouliasis walked over the vehicle, he left dents in it - and was promptly reported to the police by the vehicle's owner. "Now I will be tried for property damage but police did not even bother giving the car owner a parking ticket," Pouliasis is reported as saying. Showing, once again, that it seems that pedestrians have no rights.

Flight mode

Every holiday period you hear of long delays at airports in the US. It never occurred me to wonder why - except that there were a lot of people flying - and really, there are delays to US flights all the time. But I read today that there are plans to restrict the number of flights using JFK and Newark airports during peak periods.
The reason the government is calling for this - to cut delays. Makes sense doesn't it. Will be interesting to see how the airlines cope with this. Not sure if it will translate as a loss of business/revenue for them or more difficulty getting on a flight/higher fares for the travelling public.
And on the subject of airports, word has it that Sydney's airport will have one of its runways lengthened and while this maintenance is underway, some flights may need to be diverted to other cities. And they will be changing the flight path/s. I find the "will be" interesting because I have certainly noticed more aircraft traffic over our suburb already.

Flea trap

I knew there was a reason we were still using our vacuum cleaner around the house - rather than just sweeping and dust-panning. Turns out it's one of the best things for getting rid of fleas - and with two cats, that's something of which we are ever mindful. Researchers writing in the journal Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata suggested that vacuuming fleas kills 96% of adult fleas, and 100% of juvenile fleas. It seems the vacuum brushes wear away a waxy outer layer on the insects called the cuticle and without it they dry up and die.
The researchers had to conduct their experiments a number of times before they were confident with the results - not because they were borderline, but because vacuuming proved to be as effective as any poison and that reportedly came as something of a surprise to them.
Kind of just makes you wish for a flea epidemic so you can test it our for yourself! But you'd have to take your chance that you didn't fall victim to the plague and worms that fleas can spread. (Itchy now.)

Phraseology

Which would you prefer as a description: "Tasmanian backpacker" or "unemployed itinerant"? While both may be true of Scott Wright, who was allegedly* bitten by a shark off Bondi Beach last Friday night (don't panic, experts believe it wasn't a Great White or similar maneater), I can't help but think he may have preferred the backpacker description. (I checked the Slovoed definition of "itinerant" and it means "traveller" - although I think it has picked up a slightly less than desirable connotation over the years.)
Update 21/12/07: Well it seems that the "bitten by a shark" may not have been true. Seems Scott Wright's story may have been a little fishy (thank you Daily Telegraph): he has now been charged with several break-ins and it appears the "shark bite" may have been more a case of "broken window bite".

Rock on

The more I read The Daily Telegraph today, the more I'm certain that they've been hit with "Silly Season" way too early. However, it gets worse when you realize that they were reporting on a report in the New Scientist magazine for their article on the game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Do you know that most people are likely to lead with Rock, so an opponent will pick Paper (to wrap around Rock), so you should choose Scissors (to cut Paper). Of course, once this knowledge is leaked to the general public, everyone will lead off with Scissors - which means those in the know will still go with Rock - so nothing will really have changed (except I would have gotten one post closer to my blog quota for this year).
Rock, Paper, Scissors can apparently have implications for big business. The same report details Christie's and Sotherby's playing the game to secure the business of a wealthy Japanese art collector (his suggestion). After much consultation, Christie's went with the advice of one of their director's 11-year-old daughters, a regular player (of R,P,S) who said "everybody expects you to choose rock (as your opening move)". The deal was worth $25 million - which puts a completely different complexion on "sealing the deal with a handshake".

Heavy load

I thought it was just me but apparently lots of people are carrying too much - with a suggested 2.4kg each causing cases of "bag back" for some women. The trend to carry more is apparently linked to the current fashion of large handbags. The bigger the handbag - the more room - and the greater the temptation to put things in. (I'll just point out that I really do need to carry my 4+kg of stuff - computer, computer accessories, water, poncho, ipod, camera etc - but I have done better in recent months - now that my phone has internet access, I'm tending to take it and a keyboard rather than the laptop if I'm just planning to do blogging or non-spreadsheet work.)
The report in The Daily Telegraph listed 22 items carried by one woman - which fell into several categories: keys, glasses, phone, iPod, money holders, cosmetic accessories, and a camera. If I had been online I could have taken their suggestion to go to their website and "See the stars who started the big-bag trend" - but somehow I don't think that was ever going to happen.

'Tis the season

Waiting to cross the road in the CBD today, I had to smile as a "Christmas bus" swept by. You know a "Christmas bus" when you see one because it is festooned with tinsel and decorations throughout. I don't think there are that many of them around Sydney, but they certainly do fill one with the Christmas spirit.
I'm not sure if this piece of news will do the same. Parents can expect to pay out approximately $7,000 for Xmas gifts for each of their children from when they are born to when they turn 21. Given the season, and an impending rate rise in February next year, economists and consumer groups have come out warning parents not to spend more than they can afford - with at least one even suggesting that the internet is to blame for the increased cost of child satisfaction on Christmas morning - because it's making children more demanding from a younger age.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hospital food

It's amazing. One in three hospital patients is unhappy with the quality of food they receive in UK hospitals. What's even more amazing is that two out of three hospital patients ARE happy with the quality of food they received in UK hospitals. UK charity Which? surveyed 1,000 patients and a quarter of them said they needed to rely on others to bring food in for them. And the patients were not alone ... 21% of the staff questions said they didn't want to eat hospital food either. A Department of Health spokesperson said they were looking at how nutritional standards could be more fully implemented - and that it was recognised that good food was a priority issue - but perhaps not the their top focus as, according to the BBC report, the 2007 survey results were similar to the 2006 survey results.

Happy birthday "weblog"

17 December 1997 - John Barger talked of his web page Robot Wisdom and coined the term "weblog" - the logging of interesting web sites that he featured on his regularly updated journal. Today, Technorati is tracking more than 70 million web logs - or blogs as they've been known since 1999 - and this is one of them. Nice to be unique isn't it? This is up from 23 (yes, twenty-three) sites in 1998! Of course, blogs today aren't necessarily about what people find out there in cyberspace. For some it's about keeping people up to date with their movements (photographs from Safari) and their thoughts. And there's more of course ... the report I read on BBC News Online suggest that social network sites like MySpace and Facebook grew out of the blogging phenomenon.

Have you Googled yourself lately? If you have, you're not alone. According to recent research out of the US by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, almost half of all internet users there have conducted online searches about themselves - up from 22% in 2002.
Next question: do you Google yourself on a regular basis? (That would probably be a vanity search.) It seems that only 3% of users do it on a regular basis, while (and there it is again, wonder if it's the same) 22% search on themselves "every once in a while", and the vast majority of folk (74% - and that, ahem, would include me) have only checked their online presence once or twice (well, maybe a couple more), according to the report.
But perhaps one of the best things to come out of the report were the classifications about people and their level of concern about their personal information available online and whether they do anything to limit that data:
  • The Confident Creatives
  • The Concerned and Careful
  • The Worried by the Wayside
  • The Unfazed and Inactive
If you can't go another moment without knowing more, follow this link.

Get thee behind me ...

It was only a matter of time, wasn't it, before Google, along with all its other Gadgets for your home page, began offering a link to television stations so you could watch your favourite on-line? Don't they know I've got work to do here and that that would be a sure-fire recipe for distraction and lost hours? So positive of that am I that I'm not even going to test it out to see "how" it works, and if the programming is restricted to certain geographies. [Wishing for stronger willpower about now.]

Wise investors

It's sometimes good to be ahead of the crowd when it comes to investing, but I'm not sure that this one has been fully thought through. While it's impossible for governments to claim ownership of the moon under United Nations' treaties, a loophole may exist that allows individuals or firms to stake their claim (not literally of course although that would be kind of interesting and certainly give a boost to those seeking a reason to join Google's race to the moon). Enter lunar real estate agents who are doing a fairly good trade. A report by investment bank UBS suggests that Germans are the number one owners of moon property, followed by Swedes, English and Poles. Or are they? Until a ruling is made on whether they can legally lay claim to lunar property - and it appears this may be a way off because according to the United Nations, "lunar acres" are the same as "international waters" - they may just have invested in worthless bits of paper. Which is probably a bit like making a bad call with shares - but certainly more of a talking point.

Risky business

He was involved in a hit-and run-accident in August (licence revoked), hit an umbrella carried by a small child on Friday, and was involved in similar incident in November. But despite these incidents, 100-year-old Japanese man Masaru Hori wants to keep driving because it "helps me from going senile because it keeps me alert". Fortunately, the 7-year-old child in the latest incident escaped injury. Police are now urging the man's family to get rid of the car. For his part, Hori has promised that he won't be doing any more illegal driving. (The report on Reuters - Oddly Enough did not say if Hori's licence would be reinstated - ie if it was revoked for a certain period of time like it can be in some countries - following the hit-run accident.)

Passion (f)or work

There are some things that I really enjoy doing and I have sometimes thought (briefly) about doing them as a career, but I've always found myself resisting - but not quite being able to put the reason why succinctly into words. Reading the paper today, there was the story of a teacher who recently won $1 million in a poker tournament. When asked if he would give up teaching to play poker professionally, he said he had no plans to. "I love teaching. It's a passion. I love poker, it's a great hobby ... People can lose passion for their jobs and I don't want poker to become work." Nicely put.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Internet question

If your parents had named you @ to make sure you had a distinctive name, and because the letters A and T can be pronounced in a way that sounds like the phrase “Love him” in Mandarin, would that disadvantage you in later life? For example if your email address was based on your name eg @@somewhere.com, would most mail servers reject the double @ and hence not deliver your mail. Of course before this young Chinese child worries about that, the local police, who are the name gatekeepers, will first need to agree on this unorthodox, bizarre, name.

Pecha-Kucha Rules

Pecha-Kucha is a new presentation style which allows you to show 20 slides for 20 seconds each – and when that’s finished 6 minutes and 40 seconds later – so is your presentation. Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change to those ennui sessions where people read their on-screen slides and provide very little additional information. As Wired said of the medium: the result, in the hands of masters of the form, combines business meeting and poetry slam to transform corporate cliché into surprisingly compelling beat-the-clock performance art. I’d like to see that. I really would. But it might be a while before it hits the Conference Room because it seems Pecha-Kucha, invented by two Tokyo-based architects, Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein, is actually performance art – but they’re spreading so there are now pecha-nights in 80 cities around the world. Hopefully it will soon come to a city near me.

God's Number is up (or down)

Back in May I blogged about Rubik’s cube being solved in under 11 seconds. Since then more work has been done on solving it – but this time in determining what the smallest number of moves to “solve any disordered Rubik’s cube” aka “God’s Number” because only God would know the shortest, most efficient way to solve the cube. I’m not sure if this is an inference that God is a Russian. But back to the number … which is not 42 (which could have been fun) but 26. Fittingly, the answer was not deduced by mere mortals – rather it took a supercomputer 63 hours to produce the proof (or would that be evidence). The researchers, Mr Dunkle and Mr Cooperman announced their findings at the International Symposium on Symbolic and Algebraic Computation in Waterloo in August.

Getting the Chop

Surprisingly, it’s only just over 30 years since the guillotine was last used to executive someone. The date - September 10, 1977; the executed – Tunisian immigrant Hamida Djandoubi who killed his girlfriend (name not recorded in the report I read) because she had reported to the authorities that he had tried to force her into prostitution. But despite its place in France’s history, it appears that the guillotine was not native to there, and was certainly not the preferred method of execution before the Revolution. Prior to that it was “breaking on the wheel” which is gruesome enough that I’m not going to give details, but which you can find at Wikipedia if you’ve a mind (and stomach) to.

Invasion

As a NY psychiatrist in the film The Invasion it would have been more reasonable if Nicole Kidman’s character had thought that the woman who believed her husband had been “replaced” had at least entertained the idea of Capgras – rather than just deciding to prescribe another medication. Capgras is a syndrome where people are replaced by “inexact duplicates” – they look like the person but they are slightly different = for example they may have a bigger nose, or different coloured hair. Of course, in The Invasion they usually look exactly the same and concentrate on trying to give you something to eat or drink (sometimes in not the most hygienic manners) but the good Dr wasn’t to know that at first. (Expect to see this very reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers flick at a Australian cinema near you sometime next month.)

Prophylactic

So how do you prevent US prisons from becoming recruiting grounds for fundamentalistic terrorists? Why – you arrange for a systematic purge of all religious books and materials. Is it any wonder no-one has faith in the system anymore.
The system, the Standardized Chapel Library Project. grew out of the September 11 attacks and is a way to bar access to materials that could, in the words of the Office of the Inspector General in the Justice Department, “discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize.”
Not surprisingly some see it as a violation of their rights to the free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the US’ First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and have started class actions. Perhaps another example of losing freedoms to ensure freedom?

Cruel but maybe not that Unusual

(Be warned that I am going through my “blog” section on Palm – where I’ve put things that I wanted to blog about over the pat year but never quite got around to it – until now – when I am feverishly trying to meet my newly-assigned annual quota. This one is from September.)
A 31-year old Chinese woman is about to undergo several operations in an attempt to remove the first of 26 needles (or 23, depending on which reports you read) found embedded in her body. The theory is that they were placed there by her family, probably her grandparents, around the time of her birth because they were upset she was not a body.

The needles had not seemingly caused any distress to Luo Cuifen – until she sought treatment for blood in her urine. In the routine tests that followed, the needles were discovered. Some had penetrated vital organs – lungs, liver, kidney. They also found three pieces of one needle embedded in her brain.

So how to remove them? A team of 23 doctors was working on that - but it was considered that it would be a long, complicated procedure requiring a number of operations – the first of which would be provided free of charge by the hospital. It was estimated it would cost 170,000 yuan (equivalent at that time to US$22,500).

A search on Google revealed no follow-up to this story in the following months so there’s no news on whether Luo Cuifen is now needle-free.

Catch 22

Yahoo has reported on a claim by a forensic psychiatrist that a woman accused of cutting a baby from another woman's womb cannot be criminally insane because she has pleaded "guilty" thereby suggesting that she knew what she did was wrong, which would suggest that she knows the difference between right and wrong, and therefore can't be insane - criminally or otherwise.

At the movies

Two movies about to do the rounds are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
P.S. I Love You - tells of a "dead guy who cared enough to plan an entire year of his widow's life" after he is diagnosed with a brain tumour. The report I read suggested it looked at the concept of love after death with a "high ick factor".
The Diving Bell and The Butterfly is a story I thought would never make it to the screen - if only because of the problem of visually telling the story of a man who is left immobile - save for his left eye - following a stroke. Based on a true story, it portrays 43-year-old Jean-Dominique Bauby, previously editor of French Elle, compoing his memoir by blinking as a physiotherapist and then a transcriber read the letters off a chart. This would easily fit into the category of a labour of love.

Why smoking is bad for you ...

(among other reasons). Seems a Canadian father, and school teacher, has decided to educate his son on the dangers of smoking. On discovering him smoking pot, he decided the son did not deserve the rare Nintendo Wii game (Guitar Hero III) he had spent two weeks finding on the net. So the father auctioned it online - getting $10,420 from an Australian buyer. There was no mention if this represented a profit on the transaction, or if there were plans to split the proceeds with his son. But I guess that would depend on his notion of punishment ... is keeping the game from him the punishment? In which case it should be okay to share the money from the sale? Or is the "punishment" more far-reaching?
And still on the subject of cigarettes, a new advertising campaign by the NSW State Government is trying to get people to think about their "relationship" with cigarettes. "Imagine if smoking was a friend: they send you out in the middle of the night, keep you away from your mates, take a few hundred off you a month."

"All I want for Christmas ...

... is world domination." Wouldn't it be fun to be a Santa sitting in a shopping centre, listening to children telling you what they want for Christmas? (Let's not, for a moment, think about recent reports suggesting that said Santas are finding it more difficult to lift today's growing generation of children up on their knees.) So what do kids really want for Christmas? According to a report in today's Daily Telegraph, top of the list this year are telescopes, pogo sticks, Nintendo, coloured pencils, Lego and dirt. There was no mention of repeats of last year's requests for "everyone to be nice and kind to each other" or a call for "world domination" (a video game).

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Knol how

Google's got a new test project and for those in the know ... it's KNOL - which will bring together a collection of authoritative articles on various subjects. But it's not set to be a competitor or threat to the more well-known peer publisher - Wikipedia (yet). Mind you, Wikipedia has had its own share of headlines lately with news of ("suspicious and in at least one case, bizarre" according to the NY Times) changes to entries to the online encyclopaedia being traced to a military computer at the American naval base in Cuba.

Magic

One of the little pressies coming back from South Africa with me was "Magical Beans". While the packet proclaims "IT'S MAGIC" lets hope it's some advertising puff lest another of their claims also is true: "... become the BABY FIVE wild animals in warm water". That would be elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo and cheetah. Not exactly what you'd want all at once in your bath.
Of course, if neither of the claims is true, the whole experience could be a little short of exhilarating.

Copy | rename

It used to be that it would take hours (not literally, but it often seemed like that) to copy music to an MP3 player. A lot of that was time taken renaming the tracks so you had something beside Track# (with the # representing which number track on the CD any particular song was). Now, thanks to the marvellous of modern technology, particularly the miracle that is iTunes, when you start copying the CD via said iTunes, it goes off to check some database, and if it's found your CD there, it asks if you want to import the CD by name OR if it hasn't been able to find it, it says so, and asks if you want to import it anyway. I'm copying Christmas songs for the great trek north for the holiday season, and out of 7, the current one is the first I'll have to rename tracks on. Fantastic.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Help needed

"Do you think you can do anything for her" I tentatively asked the attendant. He looked my now greying partner up and down and, trying not to look like this was going to be a hard thing, said "yes". Which is how I come to be one of several people sitting in the carwash cafe (really, it seems to be the most popular place in Dulwich Hill this morning) waiting for a less-than-pristine (okay then: slightly neglected, once-white) vehicle to be returned to some semblance of its former glory. If they do a good job, the car and I may even become regulars (despite its name which is so close to "Slap Dash" it's disconcerting).

Stop Work

The company I work for has distributed a "Stop Work Authority" card to all employees. The aim? To give everyone the authority to stop unsafe behaviour when they see it. And being charged with that responsibility also tends to make one more aware of looking out for unsafe behaviour. And there is no shortage of it in the real world, let alone at work. Yesterday, I watched in horror as a man climbed a ladder to an awning, using one hand to hold on to the rungs, and the other to hold onto a tool box (a bit like a drill box only bigger) which was so full it was not closing properly. At one point he was leaning backwards, no hands on the ladder, trying to close the tool box enough to be able to hold it in one hand. So, was this- or the guy on the scaffoding half way up the church, swinging out over the side (to test its strength?) without a safety harness - more chilling? In both instances I debated stopping and saying something to them but didn't - because (a) I was not sure what their reaction would be and (b) the possibility of a defensive, cross person doing unsafe behaviour could be more of an accident in the making.

Viigo v.good

A little while ago I blogged about some new software - Viigo - for my mobile phone. Imagine my surprise, then, when a comment appeared on that blog from Jesse at Viigo offering to help me troubleshoot the issue. Well I took Jesse up on that and after a little more investigation on my part and some emails backwards and forwards with suggestions and feedback, Viigo is now running comfortably on my Palm Treo 750 smartphone. The problem: the application needs to be running in the background, silently doing its stuff, and I had been exiting the application after each use. Jesse suggested they might need to "work on our product messaging to make that more clear".
All in all, excellent work from the Viigo team. It's great to know there are software companies out there who take pride in making sure the application works, and works well, for the end user. Bravo Viigo! (Which sounds a bit like a aircraft call sign - but that's okay because I'm on a high from the experience.)
Of course, it doesn't end there. A new iteration of Viigo has just been released for my phone's platform and I'm eager to give that a go ... and yes, Deb, we still need to have that talk about getting Viigo on your Blackberry.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

What in the world?

Nikon's small world contest has some amazing images and the site is well worth a look. As Wired put it: "The winners ... create a beautiful collection of brain-teasing images. We bet you can't guess what they are without reading the captions." And they were right - except I almost got the first one, and the one with the camel ... oops, no, make that the eye of the needle.

Flu victim

Equine Influenza has claimed another victim - this time the horse competition events at the 2008 Royal Agricultural (Easter Show) held here in Sydney. The report I read did not suggest if non-competition horses would be attending - but hopefully they are, because the Show just wouldn't be the Show without them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Rock climbing

Traditional Aboriginal owners of Uluru (previously known as Ayers Rock) ask visitors not to climb the rock because of its spiritual significance. But tourists still do. But word from the Director of National Parks is that tourists will soon be banned from climbing Uluru - well, after 8am during January and February at least because of safety concerns from heat, wind and rain. Normal operating hours resume March 1 (30 minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset).

Flight plan

Make sure to be at your computer next Monday 6am AEST for the launch of a website showing plans for Santa's flight across Australia. The site, airservicesaustralia.com/santa07, will also include "important safety tips" in the lead-up to Santa's long-awaited (well, it has been 365 big sleeps since his last visit) visit. According to The Daily Telegraph the site will "help parents, pilots and children plan for his journey". Now, if that's the case, wouldn't it be good if pilots could actually access the web in-flight ... or maybe that's something they already do when they're sitting up the front and the plane is on auto-pilot.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Act of Kindness

I received an eCard today and as an act of kindness, even though I was re-directed to the webpage from which you can easily send these, I chose not to inflict it on folk I know. (Thank me later.)

"Cell" phone

This just in from one of our US colleagues (thanks C) showing, once again, what a remarkable thing is the English language:
"I will be in Jury Duty again tomorrow at 9:00AM. Please call my cell if you need anything."

Pick a name

With the proliferation of home wireless networks, it's a fun way to fill in a bus ride to check for nearby networks and see what they're called. I picked up these names in Sydney's inner west: bluey, Babelfish, Marta, Motorola2793, visuallink, minimac, Donald, herberts, hotel, this_wlan_is_monitored, Milo and ... assmuncher.

Life's work

Not sure where I copied this from but it's an interesting concept: "When an artist tattoos somebody, in their mind, they want their work on that body for the rest of that person's life." Interesting too, because a tattooist doesn't usually decide what that work will be. "Just give me something, anything - you decide!" isn't something any tattooist is likely to hear.

The stuff of heroes

What makes a hero? Is it simply doing what has to be done at the time? And are you more likely to do whatever that is if you think of yourself as part of a (or "the") team? Management-oriented journal, The Leadership Quarterly, went in search of an answer and quizzed over 500 World War II veterans, asking them to rate themselves on their leadership, loyalty, spontaneity and selflessness. All downplayed the term "heroism". "Every one of us was afraid" one is quoted as saying.
The study also made a distinction between heroes. Eager heroes enlisted; reluctant heroes were drafted (and were probably not the ones carrying out fragging cf a previous post). So what's the practical application? Apparently understanding the range of heroic qualities can be useful to people who recruit and train soldiers ... as well as firefighters and police - perhaps with the payoff being that you're more likely to end up with people who put the group first (? perhaps to their own detriment). As the article I read noted "A hand grenade falls on the floor and leads you to do something other than if you didn't know who these guys were and didn't have a commitment to them". (And if you're ever in that situation - and let's hope none of us ever is - remember that the Mythbusters have tested and support the hypothesis that the safest way to absorb the blast is to throw yourself - or, and they did not suggest this, someone else - on top of it!)

Wait and see

When is a review of the constitutionality of lethal injection in the judical system not a good thing? When you're on death row, not appealing your death sentence, and you're prepared to accept your death sentence "in order to be forgiven and obtain salvation". Such is the situation of Michael Rodriguez, on death-row for his part in the killing of a US patrolman while he, and others, were "on the run". At the time of the prison escape, Rodriguez was serving time for hiring a hit man to kill his wife. It is unlikely Rodriguez' execution date will be set before late next year because it's expected to take until then for the Supreme Court to make a ruling on whether the drug mix used to sedate and kill prisoners, and how it's administered, can cause pain severe enough to violate the constitutional ban on "cruel and unusual punishment.
In the meantime, all Rodriguez can do is continue to write letters pleading his case.

Bald truths

UK forensic archaeologist Dr Stuart Black has developed a technique which allows an amazing analysis of hair which allows you to tell how old the owner is and what geographical region they came from, and their diet at the time. This has practical applications in criminal investigations - for example, according to The Daily Telegraph, one of serial killer Ivan Milat's victims was found clutching a handful of hair which has been put aside "pending new science" as tests at the time (a) were non-conclusive as to the hair's owner and (b) destroyed the samples. (There are no reported plans at this stage to have the Milat hairs examined with the new process but Dr Black is reportedly prepared to help if approached.)

Privacy Rules

On January 8 2006, Carolyn Barin purchased a pair of Guess Jeans at a shop in Chatswood. How do I come to have this piece of information - and why is it important? Because it appeared in a newspaper report which in no way concerned Ms Barin - except that another woman claimed to have bought jeans in Chatswood on the same day, as part of her explanation of her own activities that day. Which is where Ms Barin's jeans and name come into it - and court - and the media - because hers were the only Guess jeans purchased there on the day.
It may well be that Ms Barin gave permission for her name to be used - but it perhaps raises the question about how private are any of our details. And do we have a true understanding of what "privacy" means in day-to-day life?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Work making you sick?

New research suggests that people who work at night - the so-called 'Graveyard Shift' - might be at risk of contracting breast and prostate cancer. So serious is the concern that next month, overnight shift work will be listed as a probable carcinogen with the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer.
That said, there is no proven link between cancer and night work. There may be other factors that shiftworkers have in common, like constant disruption of their body's biological clock - the circadian rhythm. As well, melatonin, the hormone which can suppress tumor development, is normally produced at night - and it may be that it can only be produced in the absence of light.
And it's not just shift workers who can be affected; it may be anyone whose light and dark schedule is often disrupted - including frequent long-haul travelers or insomniacs.
So, how to reduce the risk? Try not to flip between day and night shifts; sleep in a darkened room; and, if you can, work under lights with the color which seems to least affect melatonin production - red! (Red, incidentally, is the same colour they use for viewing nocturnal animals/birds, or for not disrupting views of the night sky.)

Christmas lights

Thanks for lighting up your house, the street and our lives D&P.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Hi(gh) Wi-Fi

It's like a dream come true - the ability to send email and instant messaging for free - while you're flying. The system is being trailled on some US Jetblue flights this week, and while you won't be able to download files because of bandwidth issues, and you won't be able to surf the net ... and you'll be restricted to Yahoo Inc. - you may feel as though you're still "connected". But if you're a crackberry - as long as your Blackberry has Wi-Fi - you'll be able to check other personal and work e-mail.
Other carriers are planning to test broader internet services in coming months - but you'll have to pay for the privilege.
And, the same as it is now, you won't be able to do any of this while taking off or landing!

Spit and hiss

Planning a trip to Kenya? You might just want to be on the watch-out for the recently discovered wildlife - a new species of giant spitting cobra.
The cobra measures nearly nine feet and has enough venom to kill 15 men. Naja Ashei, as the new species, with unique DNA, is known, is named after James Ashe, now deceased, who founded Bio-Ken snake farm and was the first to find the area's gigantic spitting cobras.
In announcing the new species, WildlifeDirect said the cobras were the world's largest. (The group's chairman is Kenyan environmentalist Richard Leakey ... also known for his archaelogical work including the 1978 find of an intact cranium of Homo Erectus and the later find of the skull of a new species, Australopithecus aethiopicus.)
The group is looking to the discovery of the new species as a way to excite people about the need for snake conservation. As Reuters were told by phone: "People don't care about saving snakes. They talk of saving dolphins or cats, but never snakes!"

Last man standing

It was the work Christmas party the other evening and it was most definitely a darker atmosphere from last year - and not just because of the change of venue. It has more to do with the re-organisation currently underway, with a 20%-30% downsizing across some parts of the business. Someone commented that snatches of overheard conversation were reminiscent of wartime: "How many did they lose?" "How hard were they hit?" "How many were left standing?" And that's how it felt in some ways because we knew that this group of colleagues would never be celebrating Christmas in this configuration again - especially knowing that the news of their future would be made known in the coming week (much to relief, you would have to think, of the staff who signed confidentiality/non-disclosure statement about the re-organisation some time ago).

Friday, December 07, 2007

Mistaken identity

What happens to a person who is wrongly accused and convicted of a crime - but the conviction is based on the confession of a man police knew "to be an alcoholic and a notorious liar". Such is the case of Michael McCormick who has spent more than 15 years on death row for the fatal shooting of a female pharmacist - supposedly to prevent her telling police of a robbery supposedly committed by her brother and McCormick. McCormick was not arrested until two years after the killing when an undercover sting was set up to secure a confession - his! But an appeal has held up that his word can't be trusted thanks to his reputation for lying! But don't just take their word for it - especially since DNA tests on a hair from the scene showed it wasn't McCormick's. A jury didn't take long to acquit. There was no mention of any compensation claim that Mr McCormick might make.

On the hop

Want to come to Australia to see a cute kangaroo? Good you're thinking of coming now and not 25 million years ago - when kangaroos were not quite the same. Fossil evidence suggests that those kangaroos galloped on all fours, had dog-like fangs, and may also have climbed trees. So at what stage did kangaroos become bi-pedal, and why did they "hop" rather "step"?

A quick poll

Who thinks that hotels should warn guests that abseiling window-washers are likely to drop by outside their room? Would it be that hard? Don't they realise that some may not like to share their morning face and PJs (or lack thereof) with the outside world? Sure it could be exciting but it's probably more a drag since you either (a) have to get dressed or (b) close the curtains.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Habitat help

The "real" Erin Brokovitch was on New Zealand television the other evening (well, the first week in November), advertising a NZ law firm (Noel Leeming). In the course of the ad, she mentioned her favourite film - which was not "Erin Brokovitch" but rather "Pay It Forward". It was fitting in the context of the ad because it wasn't blatant advertising ... it was promoting Habitat for Humanity initiative which, according to the web, is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing organization. There's a bit of this going around. In South Africa there are major offshore initiatives to help build houses to replace the dwellings in "townships" aka "informal settlements" aka "shanty towns".

Intelligence

According to the SlovoEd dictionary, intelligence is "the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations" or "the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one's environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests)". There's more of course, but that's the general idea. I was listening to something on a podcast a while back where it was suggested that: routine + ability to predict = intelligence. Which made a lot of sense - since intelligence is not just something that "happens". I'm going out on a limb here but it seems that we are not "born intelligent" but that we rather have the ability to become intelligent (more or less) based on our surroundings and experiences.

Innocent!

Phone, in the pocket, in the quarry. Not, it's not Cluedo, but the initial belief about a Korean man who was found dead earlier this week. Probable cause? Injuries sustained when his cell phone exploded.
But it seems the more likely scenario is: co-worker, accidentally, in the quarry, with a drilling vehicle. The theory is that the co-worker then set the man's mobile phone on fire and moved the vehicle to cover his tracks. It's good news for the phone's manufacturer who had been adamant from the outset that their phone was not the "culprit".
"(We) rigorously tests all the products not only for functionality and design, but safety as well," the company said in a statement.
We can all rest a little easier - safe in the knowledge that our phones won't hurt us!

Rumour

Be excited. Be very excited. And start saving. Now. Rumour has it that Apple are working on an ultraportable computing device! Wouldn't that be absolutely wonderful if it were true. But better to brace yourself in case it isn't. Apple has announced nought; but a manufacturer of LED screens has announced supply of 13" screens to Apple. So, if it's true - are they destined for a small MacBook or for a new ultraportable device? Either would be way cool!

Seen at an hotel

Not sure what to make of this but on a door opposite the lifts at the hotel of choice for this evening (post-work Xmas do) is a sign: Private Emergency Exit. I've heard of exclusivity but that may be taking it to a new level.

Out with a bang

You can only hope that a funeral befits the departed - and it seems Evel Knievel's will. While it's fairly incredible that Mr Knievel didn't depart this mortal realm as part of one of his spectacular stunts - his family plans to send him out with a bang - to be more precise, with a fireworks display. Evel's final performance will be presided over by televangelist Robert H. Schuller.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hold the phone

A customer service staff survey by Telstra (one of the national carriers here in Australia) has reportedly found that the most common excuse for a damaged mobile is that it was left on top of a car which had then driven off; followed closely (that would be reasons ... not the car) by water damage - including from dropping the phone in a toilet or talking in the rain. Dropping the phone (when throwing it to someone) or sitting on it also rated fairly well - with "the dog at it" also getting a mention.
The reason for the survey was unclear - although it's likely that it related to/damaged mobiles. It would have been interesting to know (a) the reason for the survey and (b) what phones were more accident-prone and (c) the number of phones that meet an untimely demise each year. (The design has probably improved over time but I remember a couple of years back just sitting a certain brand of phone near a whiff of water was enough to kill it.)

Viigo - to go

The Windows Mobile newsletter arrived in the Inbox yesterday and carried news of a free software called Viigo. It's an RSS aggregator for mobile devices (ahem ... it allows you to download short news items directly to your phone). Since it was free it was the right price - since I often try software, and then become disenchanted with it for one reason or another. It downloaded easily enough and it seemed that no registration key was required. But try as I might, once the initial download of news was done, there's no way it's updating the pre-loaded channels or allowing new channels to be added. Something about a "user profile". Frustrating and bordering on infuriating. But ... there may be hope yet. It seems (and I could be misreading it here) that Viigo was developed for Blackberry and they're still perfecting the version for Windows Mobile. Hope they get it sorted, because on first view, it's quite a good little program.

Sharing an interest

How do shares work? It's probably something everybody should know - especially as a lot of superannuation money these days is invested in shares (so I hear). But what makes a piece of paper either more or less valuable - and if there is no intrinsic value in the scrip itself - how does a sliding share price throw fear into the hearts of investors? And if I have shares in a company - and haven't checked the price for a while (since shares are a long-term investment?) why would the headline "Predators moving on as (insert name here) shares slide" pique my interest - especially given my lack of understanding of how the whole share-scene works - although, to be fair, I do understand the general supply/demand concept.

Identity question

"The Simpsons Movie" is out on DVD today and is the subject of much advertising in the media. But what of the actors who voice the various Simpsons and other characters - or any actor in fact - how much do they identify with their characters. When Dan Castellana ("Homer") looks at a picture of Homer - does he think of himself - or does he think of Homer the character? How much does "voicing it" make it real - for instance, when people do role plays of situations, that's to practice for real life. How much does acting/voicing differ? (More thought/investigation needed.)

Lighting up

It's Christmas - and time again for wonderful displays of exterior illumination. The discount shop on the high street (main shopping thoroughfare) is ablaze with colour and light - and in The Daily Telegraph today there's an item on John and Sheryne Kovacevic - a Hurstville (Sydney) couple who have spent $50,000 on decorating their house with Christmas lights - and that's only inside! Just kidding - but not about their "investment". This is the couple's 11th year - and 110,000 lights later it's amazing that their electricity bill only increases by $5. The couple's efforts last year raised $15,000 for charity. If you're in the area pop in - Hodge Street, Hurstville - their lights are on from 8-10.30 pm each night.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Quick thinking.

You'd have to give him an "A" for this one. After fleeing a traffic stop, a US man went home, changed his clothes, shaved off his moustache, and reported the truck he was driving as stolen. "Not bad, not bad at all." (Now if only I could remember what that's from. TV series? Movie?) Which would describe the police work that saw the man charged with drunken driving, escape and related charges.

Carolfest

It's that time again ... Carolfest at The University of Sydney. I arrived back in time to go to Sunday's performance - which can't have been terribly wonderful for the choir since by then I hadn't completely conquered my jet lag and I may have slipped into slumber once or twice.

But I did manage to get some pics - both inside, and outside.


And while we were waiting for the concert to start - we were there a little early - I tried out two of Chaim's inbuilt features - cropping and labeling - just a pity the beer bottle couldn't be erased though.

Surgical procedures

Rhode Island Hospital may not be the best place to be if you're in need of brain surgery. Three times this year different doctors have operated on the wrong side of patients' heads - in February (patient survived), August (patient didn't make it), and November (patient survived). The hospital has now issued a statement saying it was re-evaluating its training and policies, providing more oversight, and giving nursing staff the power to ensure procedures are followed, among other steps. As to why this wasn't thought of after the first or second incident wasn't immediately apparent in the report I read - which was titled "Hospital Learns That It Really Is Brain Surgery".

Cryptozoologists rejoice

A US film crew which travelled to Mt Everest to investigate claims by local Sherpas and farmers of sightings of BigFoot (aka Yeti aka The Abominable Snowman) have returned with casts from footprints they claim were made by the "animal". One of the casts, of an entire footprint, 13 inches long, clearly shows five toes - which may be a genetic throwback if the print is really that of a BigFoot - since locals insist that BigFoot only has four toes. While the casts may not be enough to prove the existence of the "mythical" creature but they will be provided for scientific examination in the US.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Hand dryers

I came across two impressive hand dryers in South Africa - one with such pressure that it reminded me of those pictures you see of people's faces when they're skydiving and their skin is flapping around (yes, charming image!) - and the other where you put your hands fully into the dryer - which stymied most people. It was interesting to see hands waving over the top of it, to the sides of it, hands timidly being inserted ... you get the idea. While it "did the job", it wasn't anything to write home about (but with 98 entries to go ... of course, it's worthy of a blog entry,)

Blogging goal

Just when you thought it was safe to go near the blog, word is that in order to maintain a personal sense of blogging achievement, the author of a certain blog wants to post more entries than last year - which means oh, 100 in the next 27 days. Should be a fun ride! (And I guess this means ... 99 to go.)

Memories

I make notes "on the run" because I know that once a thought escapes my brain, it is often gone for good. Going through my notebook (OK, I admit it, it's the Notebook application on the Palm TX) I found this: "...and then I remembered all the nightmares about large animals ramming the car" - which, quite surprisingly, was a mere 20 hours before I was 30 metres away from two rhinoceroses - in the passenger seat of the safari jeep - with the engine turned off and hearing the guide tell me "they've charged this vehicle before" - AND YOU'VE GOT THE ENGINE TURNED OFF? "You just watch them" she said, and took out the binoculars to scan the distance for buffalo.
Of course, I only screamed "and you've got the engine turned off" in my head because I didn't want to startle the rhino. It also occurred to me that this was one thought I would never have to write down in order to remember it. Which makes me wonder if terror/fear has the same effect for everyone - and how horrible that would be -to be able to so clearly remember exactly those things that you would most want to forget.

Future view

Reading an article "just now" (which in South Africa could mean anytime - or maybe not at all?) in Wired about Futurama (not the tv series) - the most memorable exhibit at the 1939 New York's World Fair. People stood in line for hours to experience the possibilities of life in the distant future (well, 1960 was a long way away for them then). As I read that, it occurred to me that when we speculate on "the future" now, it seems not to be a place as full of promise and hope. Yes, it may just be the media I'm plugged in to - but it seems that what we have to look forward to is continued struggles to "win the war on terrorism" or to beat "global warming" or to find a way to make the "global economy" work for everyone. The advances mooted now, eg GM food or stem cell medicine, are touched by controversy and uncertainty. Is this the way it used to be when people looked to the future? Or is it that we as a society have become jaded and/or more critical or so influenced by the world as it is, that we are unable to imagine it "better"? (I am prepared to accept at this point that it's just me but it seemed the question was worth asking.)

Meatspace

This just in from Wired, and I would paraphrase it, but it's a wonderful thing just as it is: "Meatspace represents the real world of physical space, where your pasty withered frame languishes in a drab cubicle." Or, put another way - where your body is when the rest of you is in cyberspace. Charming (and I fear in some cases, accurate) description on Wired's part though, don't you think?

Roadside service

After almost a month away, and no-one else driving it, it's not entirely surprising that the car refused to start this afternoon. I called the roadside service organization I use, the NRMA, from my mobile (cell) and had been some short while on hold when the line dropped out. D'oh. But at least I remembered 2 of the call system management numbers - so I didn't have to wait through that again. I finally got onto an operator and just after I'd given my contact details and told her the problem, the line dropped out again. D'oh. So I was getting the umbrella out and up (did I mention it was raining) to go inside to use the landline when the mobile rang. "NRMA." How wonderful is that for a customer service model? So, we finished off the details and I settled in for "anytime from now to 60 minutes" wait. Two minutes later, another call from NRMA, this time the mechanic with the service unit, confirming my exact location. Three minutes later he was here - confirming my diagnosis of a depleted battery. So within 8 minutes of logging the call, I'm sitting in the car, idling the engine for the next 15 minutes to build up the charge. Roadside service? You'd better believe it!