Monday, 31 December 2012

New Year's Wish

Between reading news about Google developing cars that drive themselves and the American Army becoming more and more reliant on drones and such, I have a special wish in commemoration of the start of a new year (according to common contemporary calendars, as opposed to Mayan ones):
I wish to live to see AIs (Artificial Intelligences) receive what we commonly refer to as human rights.

There. Not much to ask for, is it?

Image: BioWare

Sunday, 30 December 2012

The Spare Room

We pulled our sleeves up and went sorting our spare room this weekend. With the biannual "having guests around" event coming up, the room now sports a brand new sofa bed.
Sure, given the frequency of us having guests over this is a major waste. I, however, like to think of it as an opportunity. First, the sofa makes the room that thus far held the boxes we didn't know what to do with into a decent part of the house. Second, the sofa renders the room a nice escape from the rest of the house; say, when the upstairs becomes too hot to bear. Looking forward into the future, in a decade or so my son may use the room for "homework" when he brings his girlfriends over.
Still, I hold the hope that some day my friends will take the leap and come over to see us now that they read this post and know they have a place to stay. The world is full of possibilities, and this might just be one of them!

P.S. Now that we have a proper guest room in the house, I would also like to add the following note. If your name happens to be Richard Dawkins, Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi or Liara T'Soni then mi casa es su casa.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Falling in Love with Chuck

I get this sensation every two years or so: I stumble on a TV series that is so good I just got to watch the next episode here and now. In between I find myself captivated by what I have seen thus far.
This time around the culprit is a rather strange one: a series called Chuck that aired between 2007 and January 2012. I find it amazing I was able to be completely oblivious to the series' existence for so long; on the positive side, I’m on it now and I seem to love everything about it.
As things do this past year, it all started with Mass Effect. During one of those bored moments of meaningless rumblings about the Internet I went looking to see what the people behind the game are doing. People like Yvonne Strahovski, who lent her [Aussie accented] voice and likeness to the character of Miranda. Like most of the other real actors behind the games she did lots of mundane stuff (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but I could not avoid noting she took part in a TV series that was dubbed as “science fiction”. A science fiction label means there may be some potential to the series; I gave it a go. The rest, as they say, is history.
I wouldn’t classify Chuck as science fiction myself. Sure, there are some fantastic elements to the series, but it’s more to do with geek culture than anything else. Indeed, it is not unlike The Big Bang Theory; the main difference is the addition of action to the comedy and the subtraction of the more hard core “science” elements.
We follow Chuck, a nerd/geek who lives with his sister, cannot for the life of him get into anything successful with the females of the species, and despite all of his potential works at a frustrating job in a Costco like shop called Buy More. How many elements for me to identify with have you picked up so far?
Chuck’s life changes when secret CIA computer data gets implanted in his head. Two secret agents are put in place to take care of this now important asset as well as utilise him in covert business: the beautiful Strahovski, who sets up a cover as Chuck’s girlfriend (as in, the beautiful girlfriend all men dream about but no one gets); and the no nonsense bully of an agent that is the exact opposite of Strahovski. Between the agents, his work and his colleagues at Buy More, and his sister with her ever so awesome boyfriend, the setup for the perfect TV series is complete.
And yes, I love it. I love the whole line of jokes on the Buy More culture (get me a Buy More mug for my birthday – hint hint). I love the geeky friends who remind me so much of my own (here’s looking at you, Mr Wolf). I love the one liners from the bad ass male agent. I love the smart jokes, like the Indian looking Buy More salesperson who threatens the shop manager whenever the latter says “merry Christmas” instead of “happy holidays”. I even love the music, with the Spotify playlist of the series dominating my listening at the moment (sure, there is some crap in there; but it’s well integrated). And sure, I love Strahovski too: I do think that hers is the weaker link in the series, in the sense of the series should not rely on her looks alone (the way it seems to be doing thus far) to advance that particular aspect of the plot; surely Strahovski has much more to offer. Let’s be honest, though: it is no wonder she was cast to play a perfect gened character in Mass Effect; women do not come any better looking than Strahovski (reminding me of that immortal line from the Mass Effect parody, “Liara the asari is hot, but I’ll take Miranda”).
I’m only at the beginning of my adventures with Chuck. I suspect there will be ups and downs along the way. I also suspect I will greatly enjoy the ride.

Images: NBC

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Bring Forth the Fourth iPhone

I have a new friend up my butt: a new iPhone 5 is now a permanent feature of my pockets, expected to grace my pants for the next two to three years.
This may come as a shock to regular readers of this blog. After all, it was only recently that I explained how the lack of fireworks from the iPhone 5’s direction convinced me to stick to my loyal yet archaeological iPhone 3GS. Even more recently I invested $50 in replacing the 3GS’ battery in an effort to help it last till the next iPhone iteration (or until Android finally crosses the threshold that keeps me inside Apple’s closed garden).
If that is the case, why was it then that I forked out almost a grand on a new smartphone? First, it was because the 3GS appeared to be faltering, occasionally resetting itself while performing tough or not so tough tasks. Second, the answer is with iOS 6: the more apps adapt themselves to the latest incarnation of Apple’s operating system, the more demanding they become; the more demanding they become, the more annoying they are to use on antique hardware. It came down to the 3GS calling attention to itself each and every time I used it to do something. That is not the way it should be; the phone itself should be transparent.
You may raise arguments along the lines of “you could have managed, after all I use a smartphone and I manage”. Yes you do; I will argue, though, that most smartphone users do not even begin to tickle the capabilities of their smartphones. A relative of mine bought himself a Samsung Galaxy S3 recently, a truly remarkable device by anyone’s standards; I’d be willing to put my house on him not scratching the surface of the functionality a device like that is able to deliver.
However, that is not the case with me. I look after my gadgets to make sure they last, but I suck them dry for they can deliver. I’m the type who is familiar with every setting on every app I use, optimizing setting to suit the way I like to do things. (To name but one example, I switched the iOS 6 advertising settings off long before the media told us how to find and disable this deliberately hidden “feature”.)
There is a lesson to be learned here about the rapid depreciation of gadgets and the false economy of spending money on older models. I have a problem with having to throw away gadgets every two years or so; this is the type of culture that has us ruining our planet fast. However, I am also unable to deny that by the time our gadgets are two years old they tend to become obsolete. To put it another way: The version of Microsoft Word I used back when I was a student does not seem to be that different to the current Microsoft Office package; both let one write documents. However, can you see yourself using the old Word while managing to keep your sanity? The world has a way of moving on, and while there is a price to be paid for catching up there is also a price to be paid for not. The latter tends to be worse in current terms: you either pay the price or you're thrown out of the race altogether.
Due to all of the above I reckoned the iPhone 5 is money well spent. After all, it is the future – at least until May.

A new phone is a disruption to normal life as we know it. Allegedly, migrating from one iPhone to the other should be easy; alas, that did not prove to be the case. Effectively, I had to rebuild my iPhone 5 from scratch (and I’m still not through).
Perhaps I should refer to it as my iPhone 4. After all, it is the fourth time I found myself having to rebuild my iPhone. Thanks, Apple!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas can suck!

Christmas SUCKS

As someone for whom Christmas was something that only happened in movies up until I got to live in Australia, I have absolutely no baggage - for better or worse - with regards to Christmas. This lack of baggage, or rather my general indifference towards Christmas, seems to be yet another UnAustralian feature of mine: the majority of the population seems to think that life without Christmas is a life not worth living. They comfortably forget that some four billion people on this planet are rather indifferent towards the holiday.
In contrast I have a friend - a proper Aussie one at that, not a bloody foreigner like yours truly - who dislikes Christmas. It's for personal reasons, and having heard her explanation I can say I totally sympathize.
The point I would like to make is that it's perfectly fine for Christmas to suck just like anything else can. Christmas is like raising children: we are told wherever we go that Christmas is magical and made of pure awesomeness, but most of the time we are busy changing nappies full of shit. Still, society's attitudes raise expectations, expectations that can never be fulfilled. The result: A Christmas that can, and is most likely to, suck.
The reason why I'm raising this matter up? Oh, there is the slight matter of spending the morning of my wife's and I second mutual Christmas day off work at the emergency room with our son. We're all alive and fine, more or less (thanks for asking), but you have to admit: emergency room do not make for a wonderful Christmas.
Christmas can suck, and for many (starting with the families of the nurses on duty) it will. And it is perfectly natural for that to be the case.

Image by cobra libre, Creative Commons license

Friday, 21 December 2012

The Graduate

An important landmark in our parental history was noted yesterday as we picked our son from kinder for the very last time. It was quite an emotional day, reminding us of our son's five year career through four childcare centers. In the morning we dropped him off at the same babies room we first brought him to some four and a half years ago when he was just beginning to crawl, and some of the carers that saw us off back then were there with us again. How could we avoid being emotional?
I have to add I consider ourselves lucky with our childcare escapades. For the bulk of my son's career he has been attending non for profit centers; the one he's been at during the past 4.5 years is a local council run center, with a relatively steady crew of carers that actually care - and it shows, and it makes a big difference. The sad reality, however, is that we are amongst the privileged; most parents and children do not enjoy such quality.

It almost goes without saying that the clearing of one set of challenges, those to do with childcare/kinder, has only paved the way to a brand new dawn of issues. At the core of it lies a huge problem: how are we, working parents, expected to look after our son during his school career? Where the hell do we get all the leave we need in order to be there during school holidays? And how are we to ensure he doesn't have such long days at school while we work that he returns home too exhausted to do anything, not to mention homework?
The first phase of our approach to this problem had me moving to a 48/52 regime. Basically, I'm going to buy an extra month of leave from work (or rather, I'm going to avoid getting paid for an entire month for the sake of being able not to work during that month). It is therefore clear that even if this scheme solves our school holiday problems it certainly adds stress to our finances.
Who says parenting is unrewarding?

Image: The Graduate movie

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Mac Review

By now I think I can safely refer to myself as a veteran Mac user.
With my Mac tailored the exact way I want it to, my user experience is vastly superior to Windows’; I only use the latter if I really can’t get away with it. The Mac experience is also superior to Ubuntu’s, but you can’t really blame the latter: Ubuntu has to work on PCs designed for other operating systems and will therefore always get second hand drivers and such. Couple that with the Mac’s richer application environment and you will understand why my main computer of choice is the Mac while Ubuntu has been mostly relegated to server duties (which, I have to say, it performs flawlessly).
It goes without saying I have a problem preferring the Mac over Linux, with Apple being the nasty company it is. The question is how far Apple would go in ruining its platform in order to further secure control over its platform. I don’t know, but for now I’m enjoying its products; and until Apple does something drastic, like blocking apps that don’t come from its own app store, it is clear my next computer would be a Mac. The main question is which: The Mac Mini for server duties? The iMac for the grunt and top notch screen? Or another Mac Air when my current one dies? At this stage I’m too broke to tell, although I definitely covet either of the former two.
With that in mind, I thought I would summarize my Mac experience by listing my favourite applications – the ones I wouldn’t go anywhere without (with some reservations, as you will see below). For the record, I am running Mountain Lion with all the latest updates. I hope you will find the list useful:
  • Evernote: Across many a platform, Evernote is by far the best note keeping tool out there. Their privacy policy isn’t bad, either.
  • VLC: No media player out there is better than this free one, period. I particularly enjoy it playing to my Apple TV while I remote control it via an iPhone/iPad app.
  • Dropbox: Great for distributing files across PCs and across friends, as well as simply backing them up. Dropbox has a bit of a checkered history when it comes to privacy and security; they improved it recently by introducing two way authentication but I still do not leave sensitive stuff with them.
  • Tweetdeck: It seems Twitter has done its best to ruin Tweetdeck since they purchased it, but I still like Tweetdeck (not on the iPhone, though; that version was truly killed by Twitter). For my rather elementary demands, which come down to easily following my Twitter lists, Tweetdeck does a great job.
  • Microsoft Office 2011: No, I am not about to recommend this product; I regret installing it on my Mac as its main feature is reminding me exactly what it is that I hate about Microsoft products. However, this product does allow me the benefit of doing office work on my Mac.
  • LibreOffice: When the choice is with me, this is my office software of choice. Open source, free and good!
  • Keynote: Apple's take on the PowerPoint presentation formula is much superior to Microsoft's as well as much easier to use (Apple fanboys would kill me for the first part of the former sentence...).
  • Pixelmator: Pixelmator is an easy to use graphic manipulation tool not unlike Photoshop but without the intimidating price tag, the steep learning curve, and photo manipulation photos. I find it great for conjuring an image out of nowhere type of work/fun.
  • Chrome and Firefox: These are my browsers of choice. I use them in tandem, each tailored for mildly different uses. Firefox is the browser I use while logged in to Google and Microsoft, who like to track and maintain records of what I do. Chrome, my top browser preference, is used for everything else (including Google searches, which in the absence of logging in are stored against my IP address but not against my personal Google account).
  • Tor Browser: To be honest, I never used the Tor network for anything other than testing my ability to use it. However, I like to know that if online anonymity is what I am after, I have the tools to help me achieve that target.
  • Sophos: By now Apple has silently stopped selling Macs under the guise of security invincibility. Apple does not, however, actively advise its users that they need to look after themselves even while using a Mac. For that we need companies like Sophos, whose free anti malware software runs smoothly and without annoying ads.
  • Skype: Much has been said about Microsoft’s latest spoiled toy, from eaves dropping on calls to deteriorating call quality. That said, Skype has the advantage of universality that still leaves it as my [compromised] choice for interstate/international calls and video conferencing.
  • AppCleaner: Being Unix based, Macs don’t have registries like Windows PCs do. This means that when you want to remove an application you need to manually find all the files it spread around and delete them. AppCleaner is not perfect, but it does the best job of that.
  • TCPBlock: The Mac’s built in firewall is rather crude. For example, it can block incoming traffic at the application level but not outgoing. TCPBlock addresses that and other issues to improve your Mac's security.
  • Texura: One of the more annoying “features” of the Mac environment is its incompatibility with Windows storage. Files saved on a drive formatted for Windows can be read but not written to on a Mac. Texura fixes the situation there.
  • PS3 Media Server: Although I prefer to use my Apple TV when it comes to broadcasting videos to my home theater setup, simply due to the comfort of its east of use, the PS3 Media Server open source tool allows me to achieve pretty much the same using DLNA technology and my PlayStation 3. Sound quality is better than on the Apple TV, too.
  • Audacity: An open source tool for editing sound. Good for turning your favorite music into your new ringtone!
  • Calibre: An open source tool for managing all my ebooks. If you ask it to, this application will also do a good job of removing their DRM.
  • Spotify: The PC/Mac version of Spotify offers extra features to the mobile versions, allowing the acquisitions of new playlists through apps and the management of my own playlists. It also allows me to sync local music to my mobile devices wirelessly, thus helping me avoid using the dreaded iTunes app.
  • WiTopia: This app from my VPN provider of choice (WiTopia) lets me easily choose the location I want my perceived IP address to have. It’s easy and quick to use, allowing me to switch from being an Aussie to a Brit or an American within seconds.
  • Hugin: An open source application for creating panoramas out of individual photos. Aside of being free, this application offers quite a lot of versatility when it comes to creating the panorama.
  • Colloquy: A user friendly IRC client for chatting purposes. I recommend the iPhone/iPad version, too.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Person of the Year

How will history books remember 2012 a century or a millennium from now? I have no idea; I don’t even know if there will be anything like history books by then (or anyone to read them, for that matter). However, if you were to ask me in the here and the now what 2012 is to be remembered by, my vote would go for it being the year journalism as we knew it officially died.
Sure, the journals of yonder still exist. But half if not more are controlled by a single person and those as well as many others act as the voices of their limited interest owners. Paywalls now encompass many of them, and not just the Murdochs. The Age, once at the forefront of Australian journalism, has shed most of its journalists and outsourced its editing. What was once one of the main sources of Australian journalism has turned into a rather pathetic public announcer of PR releases; exceptions, while they do still exist, are few and too far apart.
Thus traditional media, as we knew it, ceased to exist. It still tells us of the cat that got stuck up the tree or that incident on the train last night. It will even tell you what someone conjured to be your horoscope for the day. What it will not tell you, though, are the things that truly matter. The Internet had killed the institution of the big company supplying the masses with news.
Once the defeat of the old ways is accepted, the question then turns to where should one be looking for in order to keep one informed. Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire) already told us where to look in her zombie sci-fi Newsflesh trilogy, but it took me a while to see it for myself. Newspapers may still exist, and some may still do a decent job (e.g., The Guardian); however, the bearing of the torch has now passed to a new breed, the individual blogger. Particularly the blogger that covers the news, aggregates the news, and from time to time even becomes the news through their work. I like to refer to them as the blogger activist.
In this field of blogger activists there is one about whom I kept on hearing. It started with Wikileaks and progressed through the Occupy days, but through her Twitter account Asher Wolf evolved to become my number one source of news I need to know about but can’t find elsewhere. Thus Wolf had become the natural candidate for this blog’s person of the year.
There is a lot to be said in favor of Wolf. To start with, she does not blink in the face of adversity; she may not be able to visit the USA any time soon (through the fault and the loss of the latter), but she would still gladly take the big guns, be they international or Australian. And unlike, say, yours truly, who will gladly tweet about the injustices of this world from the comfort of his sofa, Wolf does not shy from acting. Through her initiative, crypto parties – where people of all nominations gather to learn how to use the Internet to their favor – have taken place all over the world. Wolf’s efforts on this front and others have been acknowledged by the likes of many, including Cory Doctorow.
It has to be said that all of this international activism is taking place in my backyard, almost literally. Asher Wold resides in Melbourne, which brings me to shamefully confess that despite numerous opportunities I am yet to meet her in person. I hope to unlock that achievement soon (hey, if I could do Richard Dawkins, I can do anyone), but regardless – to me, Asher Wolf is the embodiment of how information can be freed in these times we’re living at. And for that she fully deserves to be this blog’s person of the year.

Image: Asher Wolf

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The 2nd Visit

Moist Chocolate Cake

I’ll try and get to what I’m trying to say quickly, so excuse the next paragraph's laconic language:
This Saturday we had guests over (great!). One guest party brought a cake with them. At the end of it all, when everybody left, we noticed the cake was left untouched; we also noticed it was of a type the bringer of the cake likes the most. We jokingly SMSed them that they forgot their cake and they should help us eat it.
Guess what happened? Some quarter of an hour later they knocked on our door, again, and we all had some cake together (there were significant leftovers which we had to force ourselves to eat the next day).

I’ve enjoyed the cake, but more importantly I’ve enjoyed the unprecedented event that happened here.
We are living in an age where coordinating a meeting with friends requires weeks if not months of advance warnings. I shit you not: a month ago we tried to coordinate a play date for our five year old but were told the friend's weekend calendar is booked till after Christmas. Obviously, the more stakeholders involved, the more the merrier coordination becomes.
In contrast to culture of coordination and calendar appointments for social gatherings, I grew up in a culture where friends and relatives would just show up. They’d show up and we would love it. We didn’t have a choice because communications were vastly limited; the short distance between stakeholders meant mistakes did not cost much.
What has happened since? I put the blame on economics. We live in a society where if you’re not productive you’re nothing (check what we’re doing to the old and the disabled). True, we have more money these days, but we have much less time on our hands than my parents’ generation has had.
In contrast, that spontaneous revisit of our friend brought back some faith in hope for mankind. If people can still knock on our doors without an official invitation, letting us all have fun (and cake!) together, then perhaps all is not lost. Yet.

Image by, Creative Commons license

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Revolution at Home

Airplay mirroring (BBS)

The stars have aligned over Australia this year to enable a revolution in the way we consume our audio and visual entertainment media. I have discussed most of it on these pages already, but it was always from the point of view of the gadget or the app; now I want to look at it from the simple point of view of the consumption experience itself.
I like music; if it was up to me I would be listening to music most of my time. How do I go about listening to music today? It’s pretty simple, actually.
Let’s say I think of something I want to listen to. Say, the soundtrack from the movie The Dictator, which features high quality productions of famous songs sung in Arabic (highly recommended, by the way). I pick my phone or my tablet up, do a quick Internet search for the album, select where I want the music to play from, and… that’s it. About four seconds later, music starts bursting from my speakers of choice. Life is beautiful!
Now for the technical part – how does it work? I use Apple’s AirPlay technology. In our lounge are I use an Airport Express that’s connected to an old set of Creative computer speakers; the latter are not great on fidelity but do a decent job for background music, which is what we’re after when we have dinner. That Airport express is receiving the music to play through my wifi network, with my iPad/iPhone feeding the music coming off the Spotify app. Alternatively, I can choose to listen through my Apple TV equipped hi-fi, with the Apple TV performing the same duties as the Airport Express.
It’s all incredibly easy to set up and start running. At about $100 for an Airport Express / Apple TV, cost is not much of a factor either. That is, assuming you already have a tablet/smartphone and speakers to play music through. At $12 a month, a Spotify subscription isn’t penalizing either. And if you’re not an iPhone/iPad user then an iPod Touch will do.

If you think that’s the whole story, just wait. This whole thing that I have just described for audio can be replicated with video!
The magic comes of the Apple TV. That gadget can do two basic tricks: it can run its own apps to allow you to, say, watch YouTube videos directly on your TV; or it can mirror things playing on another Apple device. That is, it can play the music playing on your iPhone, and it can also play the image of the screen on your iPad or Mac.
Video mirroring is a hit & miss affair with the iPad, given the device’s resolution, but with the Mac? It’s glorious!
Essentially, the experience comes down to this: anything your Mountain Lion running Mac can play, which is pretty much everything on the Internet, can be played on your TV (and in my case, through the hi-fi). Sports, movies, TV stuff, the works – it’s all wirelessly there for you.

The stars have aligned: Between Spotify, Apple TV and Mountain Lion home entertainment will no longer be the same.
You may read the above and say “so what”. That’s fair enough. My answer is simple, though: There is no going back. Once you get used to such easy and seamless delivery, you’re hooked.
Getting your media on plastic discs that you need to go somewhere to get (and then potentially return)? Getting those plastic discs posted to me and then having to wait for days if not weeks? Waiting for the TV network to air the program that actually interests us? Don’t insult me. These are all butchered by the ability to play anything you want, exactly when you want it, through the Internet.
The future is here. The only question is how quickly the media companies will align themselves around it. They’ve done it with music during 2012; they’ve done it with video to one extent or another in the USA. Now they need to stop their crying and do the same for video here and in the rest of the world.

Image by ckm, Shih, Creative Commons license

Friday, 7 December 2012

MassStation News

Mass Effect (1), the first game in the trilogy, has finally been released for the PlayStation 3. Hooray!
Needless to say, Australia was the last to have it up and available on the Sony store. Hooray!
And it almost goes without saying the Australian Tax™ is firmly here, to the benefit of Sony and/or BioWare and/or EA: the game sells for 11 GBP in the UK, 14 Euros in Europe, and $24 in Australia. In other words, they have a special currency convertor for Australia, and it’s set to “SCREW”.

Regardless, yours truly will be saving the galaxy yet again.
Things are not as simple as they sound, though. Once the first Mass Effect game is done, one has to import the character into the second to witness the changes in the plot as a result of previous actions. And then do the third game, too.
One also has to play as both male and female, if only in order to manage the different relationship options. Again I will say what I said here before about Mass Effect: I consider the female option significantly superior, both for its acting and for the marvel of role playing a proper female character (as opposed to, say, a container for boobs).
Altogether, I am looking at something like 250 hours of gameplay here. That’s before getting the latest Mass Effect 3 DLC. That also doesn’t account for the multiplayer action, which may lack the story but is generally superior in the action department.
Sleep is for wusses. Me, I own this galaxy.

Image: BioWare

Thursday, 6 December 2012

It's Xmess Time

christmas decorations at virtusa

How do I know Christmas is coming? Because of incidents like this.
This morning I was noted for being relative alone in not having Christmas decorations on my office desk. (Screw those, I say; I’m the only one with Mass Effect decorations on my desk, and I know who wins in the comparison between the Normandy and Santa’s sledge. Even without having its guns calibrated.)
As a result of this notation, I was challenged by a surprised colleague: “What, you don’t believe in Christmas?”
I answered by simply asking what belief in Christmas entails. After a notable pause, the reply I got was a rather silent “Santa”.
So, for the record, let me point the following out:
  1. I have no idea what believing in Christmas means. Not just for heretics like me, but even for Christians.
  2. I definitely do not believe in Santa.
  3. I do, however, believe in winding down.
  4. I certainly believe in taking time off work, especially when everyone takes time off work together.
  5. And I believe in making the most of this off time together with family and friends.
Actually, I wouldn’t say “believe” is the right word there. A belief is an opinion we hold without evidence to back it up. I, however, have plenty of evidence to support my seasonal notions.

Image by HTTP 500 - Internal Server Error, Creative Commons license

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Donations Time


It’s the time of the year to giveth, so I thought I’d list the organisations that should expect to see some dollars coming from the direction of my wallet this month:
  1. EFF (Electronic Frontiers Foundation), who look after our online freedom. True, they are USA centric, but then again the rest of the world tends to copy what the USA does anyway.
  2. Wikipedia, the bastion of free and readily available information. Hard to imagine what the world would be like without it in public hands. Some credit is also due to Jimmy Walesefforts for justice to Richard O’Dwyer.
  3. Richard Dawkins Foundation. Saying I appreciate the work of Richard Dawkins is an understatement that needs expanding on. Dawkins, together with his foundation, is now my main source of science news and updates. Add this to the ongoing efforts towards curing public ignorance and one can see why a donation is virtually obligatory.
  4. Medicine Without Frontiers, aka Doctors Without Borders or Médecins Sans Frontières. They help those that need helping the most, and they do so without much regard for matters such as personal risk. Oh, they are also not religiously affiliated, which means there are no hidden motivations at hand as well as no potential for discrimination on the basis of religion. Their managers not telling the press that atheists are something along the lines of the scum of the earth helps, too.

My partner is also giving away some of our cash to other organizations, but you can read about those on her blog.
For the record, the above is not posted in order to demonstrate how great I am. I’m not; I’m much more of a tight arse than a generous person and my donations are not large by anyone’s account. The point is to inspire my readers to do the same thing. Note, for example, how the targets of my donations are closely aligned to my views and interests.
In other words, many similarly minded tight arses working together can achieve great things.

Image by Mindful One, Creative Commons license

Sunday, 2 December 2012


Seven is meant to be a number with some heavenly qualities, isn’t it?
There is a good reason why many cultures associate such qualities with the number 7, even if most people today are unaware of it. The best explanation goes back to the days we thought the earth flat and had no idea what those lights up there in the night sky are. Back then, all the stars seemed fixed in place other than some notable exceptions: the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. All seven of them. It is exactly the ignorance that prevailed in those times that lent the number its supernatural qualities.
These days, Our Car™ is celebrating its seventh birthday. Indeed, this car of ours is proving to have some super natural qualities: originally, our plans had us replacing it within three years, perhaps five if the car behaves itself. Alas, by requiring nothing more than regular servicing, new tyres and a new battery, and through never failing us after all these years, we are happy to keep on going with this car of ours. I really can’t think of any benefit a new replacement would bring us, and I certainly have better things to do with my money than see my investment depreciate to half its value within three years. Paying the mortgage, for a start.
The birthday of Our Car™ signifies the birth date of a related entity. Seven years ago this blog was created as a means of spreading my word between friends efficiently and effectively. Did I imagine at the time that I would spend so much time on it and that it would last seven years? I didn’t, of course; I doubt anyone truly plans that far ahead.
My world of today is significantly different to the one it used to be just seven years ago. Back then we just had our first wifi router installed; now, between iPhones, iPads and Kindles our world is much more digital and the Internet prevails over everything we do. These days I got the Internet stuck up my ass [pocket]. Oh, I also became a parent during the past seven years.
Perhaps because of all these changes it is nice to see some things have been with me throughout. Indeed, it is nice to see how nice things can evolve through time and effort from the mundane need to tell my friends I bought a new car.

N7 image from BioWare has nothing to do with this post other than the 7 reference and the fact everything has to do with Mass Effect.