Thursday, 31 July 2008

Ooh Shiny

I'm writing this on my shiny new laptop, which is now working after a bit of a worrisome start.

When I got it home last night, quite giddy with anticipation I was, so it was a little disappointing when it failed to boot up.

It turns out the extra memory stick I'd requested was faulty, and once I'd removed it we were good to go.

So here we are.

The first thing I noticed was the ridulous amount of pre-installed software clogging up the works. That's gonna have to go.

In fact, maybe I'll just wipe the hard drive and and reinstall Windows from scratch. Nice and tidy.

After all, if I wanted a machine crammed with a bunch of shit I'm never going to use, I would have bought a Mac.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008


It's just been announced that 61 of the 84 Starbucks outlets in Australia will be closing at the end of this week.

While it's tragic for the employees etc I just can't help feeling a little proud.

The quote from Starbucks boss Howard Schultz was that "no other international markets need to be addressed in this manner".

What I'm hearing is that Australians appreciate good coffee, have good coffee readily available, and really don't need some corporate behemoth doling out overpriced imitation coffee-like product.

But really, we could have told them that before they opened the first one here eight years ago.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Two weeks to Doomsday

In two weeks the Large Hadron Collider, a massive particle accelerator under the border of France and Switzerland, will go online.

Particle accelerators are nothing new, and the idea is simple . . . you smash particles together at insanely high speeds and see what happens.

But the LHC is so massive, and the collisions will be so violent, that apparently we risk generating a black hole, tearing the space-time continuum and destroying reality. Oooh.

Well, it just makes it that little bit more exciting, doesn't it? And hey, discovery is discovery. (I can see the debrief: "So that's how you destroy the universe. Huh.")

And anyway, so what if we tear a hole to another dimension? We've all seen Star Trek. We know how this works.

Sure it might be a dimension full of badass alien invaders intent on destroying our world and stealing our water.

But it's just as likely to be full of hot alien babes in silver jumpsuits desperate to understand this human emotion called "love".

And I for one am willing to take that chance.

Occam's Razor

I love this image. It makes the point so elegantly.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Estelle Getty

Actress Estelle Getty has passed away at the age of 84.

Condolences to her family.

And 16 points for Kate.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008


Awww . . . pwned.

My friendly local Professional Association has informed me that they'll be auditing my hours spent on Continuing Professional Development.

Like a lot of professions, it's no longer enough just to turn up to work every day and do your thing. Drones like myself must also spend forty hours per calendar year on officially sanctioned CPD activities.

These range from speaking at international conferences to helping underlings with their homework, so the definition is pretty broad. And as such, it's not a hugely difficult standard to meet.

Still, I must now submit a comprehensive list of all the wonderful self-improving activities I've undertaken in the last two years.

Oh, what larks.

I think a tax audit would be more fun. At least I've kept receipts for that stuff.

She said she'd never forget him . . .

Sue Jones-Davies, the actress who played Judith Iscariot in Monthy Python's 1979 classic The Life of Brian has been elected Mayor of the Welsh town of Aberystwyth.

One of her first acts as Mayor will be overturn the town's almost-30-year ban on, you guessed it, The Life of Brian.

I love this story, but there are two things about it that amaze me.

First, that there's somewhere in the Western world that still has a ban on this great movie, when all but the most one-eyed of religious leaders have conceded that it's not actually blasphemous, and

Second, that the citizens of this place, clearly a conservative backwater, have happily elected a woman as Mayor who's done a full-frontal nude scene.

But then again, maybe it's just because they haven't seen the movie.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

The Pope Apologises

Well, isn't that nice.

The pope has apologised to the people raped by members of his Catholic priesthood.

But let's remember that tomorrow, he and his followers will ritually cannibalise the dead flesh of the 2000-year-old zombie they worship.

So I'm not sure we should take anything he says too seriously.

Parlay Voo

This morning my lovely wife and I began French language classes.

For the next five weeks, four hours every Saturday morning (and part of the afternoon) will be spent conjugating verbs, trying to remember the right preposition, and desperately trying to pronounce the letter 'R' without spitting all over the desk.

This is all part of our ill-defined (at the moment) but nevertheless strong intention to move to Paris.

Someday. Hopefully soon.

The next part will be working out how to transport two cats, one terminally grumpy and the other morbidly obese, halfway across the world.

Compared to that, getting the language down will be the easy part.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The Day the Trailer Came Out

It might not be too bad. This trailer gives me some hope.

It's yet possible that choosing Keanu to play a lone freaked-out alien invader was inspired and not insane. And I could watch Jennifer Connelly sitting still in a chair for two hours.

I meant her, not me. Although I'd be sitting still in a chair too. Oh, never mind.

No sign of Gort but I'm assured he will be there. And in his original laser-shootin' metal-ass-kickin' form.

He better be. Or there'll be some 'splainin to do.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Why Intelligent Design is Not Science

Intelligent Design is the theory that life as we know it is too complex to have come about by random chance, and therefore implies the presence of a Designer.

Not surprisingly, it's a theory heavily promoted by groups with a religious agenda, who will then go on to say that the Designer is the God they happen to worship.

Attempts were made a few years ago to introduce Intelligent Design theory into science classes in the USA, to be taught alongside Evolution and Natural Selection as an explanation for the origins of life.

In late 2005 the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial found, quite rightly, that Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory, and therefore should not be taught in science classes.

But why, you may ask, is it not a scientific theory? It's a statement about our origins. Surely it's just as valid to say that it was God as to say that it was Evolution?

No, it isn't. And here's the difference:

A fundamental principal of the scientific investigation of nature is that nature is assumed to be a closed system.

That is, the only influences on the system that are to be considered are those that come from within the system itself.

Any supernatural influences, such as Intelligent Design's hypothesised Designer, are outside the system and hence outside the realms of science.

Supernatural = Not Science. QED.

There are two important points about this:

1. This is not the same as saying that there is no Designer. It merely means that the hypothesis that there is a Designer is not a scientific one. Christians are welcome to postulate a Designer all they like on their own time and in their own churches.

2. This definition of scientific investigation was not made up by atheistic scientists in an attempt to prove the non-existence of God.

This basis for scientific research actually dates back to the late 17th century and the very earliest days of the Enlightenment. It was put in place by people like Sir Isaac Newton, a man known as much for his piety as his science.

Separating the investigation of the natural from the supernatural was seen simply as the most efficient way to advance knowledge.

And history has clearly shown this to be the right approach. From that very point we have seen an explosion in our understanding of the world.

Passing Intelligent Design off as science is just a throwback to pre-Enlightenment thinking.

It's a throwback to a time when religious leaders controlled the state, when the masses of the world lived in fear and poverty and repression, and knowledge was restricted to that which would not offend the reigning dogma.

I don't think we want to go back there.

I want me one of these

From 2009 Savannah Cats will be available in Australia.

These little guys a great. Sleek and exotic and bred to look wild.

That's look wild, mind you. Not act wild. Not that that's clear from some of the stories doing the rounds.

In an insanely hysterical piece in the Brisbane Times on the weekend, the poor little buggers are being painted as nothing more than giant feral cats that would kill you and yours without a second thought.

And just look at that photo they chose . . . it's clearly a killer!

If you stick "savannah cats" into Google Images, then that one pops up on the front page.

But every other photo looks more like this:

Biased much ??

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Get Smart

Remaking classic TV shows as feature films can be a hit and miss affair. For every Charlie's Angels there's a raft of Speed Racers, Dukes of Hazzard and Starskies and Hutches.

The producers of Get Smart have managed to tap into the winning formula, which is to have enough references to the original show so as not to look like a simple rip-off, but enough plot and character development so as not to seem simply like a long episode of the show.

Basically, you've got to keep the old fans happy without alienating potential new ones. And in Get Smart they've managed to pull it off.

Steve Carell inhabits the classic character of Maxwell Smart without it ever feeling like an impersonation, and Anne Hathaway plays Agent 99 in a way that nicely combines the character's Bond-girl origins with some thoroughly modern moxie.

The plot is typical Get Smart fodder, best not examined too closely and mainly used as setup for some great pratfalls, spontaneous fist fights and truly ridiculous gadgets (exploding dental floss!)

Happily, the presence of original series creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry (credited as "consultants") is obvious, with the plot never getting very far before featuring some gutbusting comedy.

A great movie, and a great tribute to a great show.

4 out of 5

Ian Thorpe plays the Pronoun Game

Quoted in today's Sunday Telegraph, former Olympian Ian Thorpe has said: "there is someone special in my life, but they don't live in this country . . . " (emphasis added).

Should we be expecting a "shocking" announcement after the Olympics?

Stay tuned.

Au-Shi Au-Shi Au-Shi

Some information for Australian travellers heading to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics:

The word "Oi" sounds remarkably like "Oy", the Cantonese word for "love".

The word "Aussie" sounds remarkably like "Au-Shi", the Cantonese word for "shitting".

So if you're getting some strange sideways looks when chanting "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!", now you know why.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Once again, Bolt just doesn't get it

Last week Age arts critic Robert Nelson reopened the debate on the representation of children in art by publishing a naked picture of his daughter Olympia on the cover of Arts Monthly magazine.

Professional dyspeptic Andrew Bolt, in his new role as moral crusader (taking a break from his role as fingers-in-the-ears-antiscience-climate-change-denier) was obviously horrified.

On Thursday Bolt published on his blog an earlier piece by Nelson, in which Nelson talks about the ways in which images of children are sexual. Bolt describes Nelson's piece as "disturbing", but as is often the case, he's completely missed the point.

If what Nelson says about the images being sexual isn't true, then Bolt's own argument that the images shouldn't be seen . . . because they're sexual . . . make no sense!

Of course the pictures are sexual. But the point is that the pictures aren't sexualising the children. They're just bringing out, as Mr Nelson says, the latent sexuality that is already there.

You can't make a teapot sexual merely by photographing it naked.

Bolt and Nelson are actually in complete agreement on this point.

The only difference is that Nelson advocates the pictures' public display, while Bolt (along with Kevin Rudd and Hetty Johnston and all our other self-appointed moral nannies) wants them hidden away.

I have to agree with Robert Nelson. Let's bring it out into the open. Hiding our children away in dark corners does not keep them safe.

If we genuinely want to see a reduction in child abuse, then let's give our kids pride in themselves, pride in their strength and most importantly, ownership of their sexuality.

The problem with the current stampede of moral outrage is that it works completely counter to this goal. Kevin Rudd saying he "cannot stand" the picture of Olympia is a case in point.

Olympia was understandably offended by his statement because she's proud of her pictures, as she should be. And does Olympia sound like the sort of girl who would stand to be abused? Of course not.

A child with a healthy sense of his or her own worth is the child that will kick an abuser in the nuts and run away.

Surely that's what we want our kids to be.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Free Music Downloads!

But sadly not what you might think.

The International Music Score Library Project is a very cool website, where you can download public domain classical music scores.

What a truly amazing resource.

Naturally my first port of call was here, where I picked up a copy of the Allegretto movement from Beethoven's 7th Symphony.

That's easily my favourite piece of music.

Apart from maybe The Safety Dance.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Yet More Moral Outrageousness

A few weeks ago, when Bill Henson's pictures were quietly returned to the galleries from whence they'd been confiscated and our self-appointed moral guardians had been distracted by the next shiny controversy, I thought this little storm in a teacup was done.

It's obviously a slow news week though, because it's taken only the slightest of nudges to get it back on the front page.

In a protest against the ridiculous view that nudity = porn = bad, the publishers of Art Monthly have put a picture of a naked 6-year-old on the front cover of their latest issue.

Apparently this is what we're getting outraged about as a society now.

Millions are starving all over the world, we are on the verge of doing irreparable damage to our climate, and soon Australian Idol will be back on our screens.

And what's the biggest issue of the day? The thing that's threatening our society the most? A picture of a little nude girl. Seriously.

The reaction from our "leaders" has been sadly predictable. K-Rudd and Dr Nelson have fallen over themselves in a scramble to see who can appear the most apoplectically outraged. I think Nelson may have clinched it with his threat to call the cops.

In an interesting development the subject of the photograph, now 11 years old, has hit back saying she is proud of the picture and offended that K-Rudd said he hated it.

Take that, Kevin.

Now can we talk about something serious?

For goodness sake, Idol will be back any day now. If we really want to do something about child exploitation, then our efforts would be much better spent ridding the world of that abomination.

Scientology's New Digs

If you're a resident of Ascot Vale in Melbourne, you may be wondering what's been going on with the old Sisters of Mercy convent at 251 Mount Alexander Road.

It's surrounded by temporary fencing, security is tight and nondescript vans have been coming and going at all hours of the day and night.

Well, wonder no more. It's the new Melbourne headquarters of the Church of Scientology.

Apparently they'll be shutting up shop in their current location (Russell St in the city) and moving out to the burbs.

View Larger Map

On the weekend a friend approached and spoke to a security guard by one of the gates. The guard was somewhat reticent to talk about it, but it's not really a big secret.

Here is the agenda of the Moonee Valley Council planning meeting on 7 August 2007, in which the application was discussed. The minutes of the same meeting are here. Unfortunately, most of it's about car parking. Yawn.

What's interesting, although not really surprising, is that the Scientologists have set up shop in an old convent. Like their logo featuring a crucifix, they're latching on to the iconography of existing religions in a bid to appear . . . what? More accessible? Less threatening, maybe?

Well, why not? Christians used exactly the same strategy back in the day . . . co-opting the popular pagan festivals and changing the names on statues.

And it certainly worked out well for them.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

A Farewell

After gracing us with his presence for the past few months, our favourite Canadian Patrick is leaving us.

He takes with him our love, our best wishes, an appreciation of Australian culture, and the words 'fortnight', 'heaps' and 'scrag'.

Patrick, it's been great. And we'll be seeing you again in Ottawa. Or Paris. Or New York. Or Amsterdam. We'll see who wins out on that one.

We hope you enjoyed the cake . . .

. . . and from all of us, have a great trip home!

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Much More Coarse

In my dual life as amateur blogger and corporate drone, the corporate side occasionally intrudes alarmingly.

In August I'm being sent off Pevensie-child-style to the mysterious land of Mount Eliza to attend a week-long course on Business Leadership. I'm trying to see this as part of my ongoing quest to wring as many freebies as possible out of my otherwise soul-crushing corporate existence, but it's a little tricky.

Does a week of subjecting yourself to introspective self-analysis with a group of people possibly (gack!) serious about this stuff fall onto the credit or debit side of the spiritual ledger?

God, I can't believe I'm even thinking about it in those terms. Maybe it's already too late.

It's not even clear to me if there's WiFi access available. There better be. If I'm not able to vent my (no-doubt after 24 hours) ridiculously pressure-clamped spleen here in the blogosphere, I may just implode.

But there is one saving grace. One white horse heralding the cavalry on the horizon. One lone detail that may serve to make the week bearable.

Apparently there's free beer. I'll be looking to that to get me through it.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

PZ Says It Best

Science writer and outspoken atheist PZ Myers has written some incisive commentary on this interview with theologian Karl Giberson, about Giberson's book Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution.

I love PZ's writing. His sandblasting style is a wonderful antidote to the waffling treatment science tends to get in mainstream journalism. Having said that, I can understand how his passionate embrace of atheism and belligerent disdain for any sort of faith-based belief can put some people offside.

You might recall he was the one who got kicked out of a screening of Intelligent Design propaganda film Expelled earlier in the year, while Richard Dawkins was happily let in. If you read both of them, that's not hugely surprising.

In this latest analysis, PZ has written one paragraph which is simply one of the best summaries I've yet to read on why so many of us unquestioningly believe in religion.
Look at the bible as a pastiche, a collection of mutually and often internally inconsistent fragments slapped together for crude reasons of politics and art and priestly self-promotion and sometimes beauty and a lot of chest-thumping tribalism, and through that lens, it makes a lot of sense.

It does tell us something important…about us, not some fantastic mythological being. It tells us that we are fractious, arrogant, scrappy people who sometimes accomplish great things and more often cause grief and pain to one another.

We want to be special in a universe that is uncaring and cold, and in which the nature of our existence is a transient flicker, so we invent these strange stories of grand beginnings, like every orphan dreaming that they are the children of kings who will one day ride up on a white horse and take them away to a beautiful palace and a rich and healthy family that will love them forever.

We are not princes of the earth, we are the descendants of worms, and any nobility must be earned.

That chill you're feeling is the cold shower of reality. Sweet, isn't it?

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Where's WALL-E?

I'm shocked and more than a little offended.

Pixar's latest film WALL-E is easily one of the most anticipated films of 2008, and it was released in the US this past weekend.

It has garnered universal praise from critics, hit No. 1 at the box office and as I write this, is already sitting at number 6 in's user-voted Top 250, snuggled between Pulp Fiction and Schindler's List.

And when is this masterpiece being released in Australia?

September. That's right. September.

What the hell is going on, Australian distributors? Just who do you think we are?

You'll happily feed us dross like The Love Guru and Meet Dave within a week of its US release, but good cinema? Quality cinema? Oh no, you have have to wait for that.

With a delay like this it'll be available on Region 1 DVD before it even gets to cinema screens here. Did you think of that?

But hey . . . this is just one more nail in the coffin of the current ridiculous cinema distribution model. Too many links in an endless distribution chain, with too many people who know nothing about film beyond target demographics and opening weekend takes.

I can only take comfort in the belief that in 5 years' time, this article will seem ridiculously archaic.

"What . . . you mean someone else would decide when you could watch a movie? Ga-Blergh!"

Bring on the revolution, man.

The Red Room Gets Redder

Today's a big day for the Australian punter, although most probably won't notice.

After four years of domination in the Senate, the Coalition has lost their majority. (That sound you hear is the collective sigh of relief from everyone with a social conscience).

It's also the first time in thirty years that the Democrats will have no Senate presence whatsoever. Although that probably won't be noticed by anyone.

It's not all small-l liberal flowers and gay-whale-loving, though. From today, the balance of power will be held by the Greens, Steve Fielding of Family First, and Independent Nick Xenophon. That'll lead to some interesting back-room discussions.

You can bet the Left will have had a bunch of stuff sitting on the backburner, waiting for the Right to leave the building as it were, so we can expect a minor flurry of legislative changes over the next couple of weeks.

Also today, those tax cuts discussed endlessly during last year's election will kick in.

Watch as K-Rudd takes credit for helping his "working families", Nelson points out that it was Coalition policy in the first place, and both actively avoid the question about what it'll do to inflation and interest rates.