Hear Ye! Since 1998.

Archived Posts for February 2003

Please note: The posts on this page are at least 3 years old. Links may be broken, information may be out of date, and the views expressed in the posts may no longer be held.
26
Feb 03
Wed

Operation KFC

Amusing – US troops are placing chicken coops atop their hummers and using chickens as chemical detectors. And it’s an article from Time, not The Onion.

Rogue Trader

Rogue Trader is the book Nick Leeson wrote when he was in jail in Singapore, after having traded the Barings merchant bank into oblivion. Fascinating read, and quite scary too – quite an insight into the crazy world of derivatives traders. Basically, due to gross incompetence of Barings senior management, breakdown of risk management and compliance, and Leeson’s deceit and foolhardiness, Barings ran up a position hundreds of millions of pounds into the red before anyone even noticed it (except Leeson, of course). Leeson, like a desparate gambler tried to double up each time to recoup his losses – but alas, unlike the casino where the odds are always static, Leeson’s gargantuan position in the market meant that his actions in effect also moved the market. He had bought all these futures in an effort to get the market to rise, and when it didn’t, he kept buying more. It didn’t work. This was compounded by the fact that rapidly unwinding such a long position would cause the market to dip and crash – so he was stuck with a lot of futures in a declining market, and having to make huge margin call payments. A very interesting read.

  10:14pm (GMT +11.00)  •  Books  •  Tweet This  •  Comments (2)  • 
24
Feb 03
Mon

Spot the Wife

Spot the Wife

Ok, very non-PC, but thanks to Kev.

23
Feb 03
Sun

Can I Speak to John Please?

The guys at the Chaser released John Howard’s phone number. It was a legit number. Johnny obviously was not impressed.

Breakfast

Swanson’s Hungry Man breakfast, the “Breakfast from Hell“. Seriously, those pictures are enough to make me naseous, let alone seeing the meal sitting there in front of me, congealing in its own effluent.

22
Feb 03
Sat

Spam Scams

A Czech geriatric was stupid enough to fall for a Nigerian scam. So he went out and shot one.

19
Feb 03
Wed

Cricket World Cup: Canada vs Sri Lanka

I know I shouldn’t be doing this but… what the hell, you don’t see 10 for 36 in international cricket every day.

16
Feb 03
Sun

New Computer

Finished buying components for a new computer. Specs: P4 2.4GHz, Asus P4PE (Firewire/Gigabit LAN), 512MB Corsair XMS3200 (2-2-2-6 latency), 120GB Seagate Barracuda V HDD (S-ATA), 120GB Western Digital (8MB cache, P-ATA) HDD, 40GB Seagate HDD(transferred from older computer), Lian Li PC-71 case, Antec 480W TruPower PSU, Leadtek Winfast 2000 XP TV/FM tuner card, SB Audigy Ex, LiteOn 52/52/24 CD-RW, LiteOn 16x DVD, GeForce 2 GTS.

I am waiting until the GeForce FX comes out, and will snap up a GeForce 4 when the subsequent price drop eventuates. Should easily last me through the rest of uni. I’m refusing to pump this system full of fans like my old one, no more overclocking for me. Serial HDDs are a pleasure to connect. All in all, it cost me in the mid $2000s, not a huge amount, and a miracle compared to the $5000 486-33DX system (4MB EDO RAM, 100MB HDD, SoundBlaster Pro, no CD-ROM) dad bought in 1991.

Interesting Note

Google acquires Pyra.

Bystander Apathy

This news is shocking. A man gets murdered on a busy street, at a petrol station, in full view of everyone, and no one bothers to call 911. I mean, the man is murdered in full view of a guy pumping petrol, and that guy finishes pumping petrol, pays, and drives off and doesn’t give a shit. And neither does the rest of the street. Psychologists researching bystander apathy will have a field day with this.

Armchair Opinion: War Against War

Today in Sydney, a peaceful ‘Walk Against War‘ protest took place, involving a quarter of a million people marching through the city CBD. A few days earlier, Melbourne staged a similar event which attracted 150,000 walkers. To put this number into perspective, Greater Sydney has a population of about 4 million, with the inner city holding around 1 million people. A friend who attended told me that by the time he started the walk route, the earliest walkers had already finished walking. Shopkeepers gawked at the incredible throng of people as they ambled along – young children, adults, whites, blacks, atheists, Christians, Muslims and everything in between. For over 6% of a city’s population, all belonging to no particular demographic other than holding a common aversion to war, to turn up to what was, in effect, Sydney’s largest rally ever, is an incredible statement against the increasing warmongering of the current Liberal government. (Update: Apparently around 1 million protesters were present in London, amongst the other millions around the world.)

One has to start wondering then about the catchcry of the US and its allies in this War on Terror – that this war is necessary to protect the citizens, their way of life and the democratic principles by which the West has flourished under. They seem to have neglected to mention how much capitalism, instead of democracy, has aided the economic growth of the West, but we will treat that as an oversight. Democracy, though, just what is that? One of America’s very own former Presidents once defined democracy as the “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” I am no political scientist, but I did learn in primary school that a democracy theoretically allows everyone to have a say. Because it is impractical for everyone in a country of 20 million, let alone 280 million, to have a say in every decision regarding a country, we elect a government. This government represents us, and we elect them according to whoever has opinions that best align with ours about how the country should be run. However, with regards to giving everyone a say, democracy does not just provide the electoral mechanism and leave it at that. Democracy is, again theoretically, meant to ensure that the government will carry out the wishes of the majority of the nation. Granted, only the naive could believe that this could ever be always the case, or indeed, that it would even be necessarily beneficial – sometimes controversial social and economic reform moves a country along better than sticking to the status quo – but nonetheless, the idea is always there, lurking as a root principle for democratic nations.

That’s why we have referendums on major issues that affect the country, such as whether Australia should become a Republic, or if the constitution’s preamble should be altered. Since Federation, Australia has tended to not carry the changes proposed in a referendum. However, even with the Republic movement only losing by a few percentage points, people accept that this is a fair result and don’t go to war over it. It is a proper procedure for implementing certain changes of national impact.

I am about to make an assumption here. I don’t think anyone would disagree with me, though. The overwhelming majority of Australians do not want war. Even without the turnout in Sydney’s march today, it is not hard to observe how many people have an anti-war sentiment. Look at the media – it is rare to find an opinion article that is pro-war. Look at the common Aussie – they find it hard to understand just why John Howard is so eager to launch pre-emptive strikes on a country half a world away. This reaction by the Australian public is hardly surprising though. Rallies everywhere around the world show nations concurring with the notion of avoiding war. Polls in Time Magazine of public opinion in many European countries show similar results.

The decision to go to war is not a light one. Not only is it a matter of considering the lives of our troops who will risk their lives for us on a distant battlefield, but our actions reflect on our nation in the global community. Reputations linger long after the dust has settled. The Australian people do not want war, but John Howard is not listening. Whatever happened to the Western ideal of upholding the democratic principles? There is no doubt that Howard fervently believes that assassinating Saddam will make the world a safer place. And it may, but it is also his duty to carry out the will of the Australian public. His title of Prime Minister makes him a leader, but the concept of primus inter pares (first among equals) grounds such a role. “This concept defines not only the prime minister’s relationship with Cabinet, but also, in a sense, his or her relationship with the public in our modern democratic society.” (Nat. Lib of Canada)

Of course, this is the man who handled the Tampa situation the way he did, and the man that announced such ‘initiatives’ as trying to assert Australia’s right and authority to take pre-emptive action against suspected terrorists in foreign countries, resulting in much annoyance from our neighbouring Muslim country which is 200 million strong not known for its socio-political stability. This man, by his actions, seems to think that Australia’s future still lies in the aging trade ties between America and Britain, not Asia. Not Asia, despite our proximity. He says we are a Western nation in the Eastern world, so we must retain our links with the West. This man, seems to think that the situation in the Middle-east, which has an insubstantial bearing upon our island continent, deserves more attention than North Korea. North Korea, a country which needed no UN inspectors to prove it had nuclear weapons because it simply announced to the world it had. A country which has thumbed its nose at the UN and US, even having the gall to use the US’ own words of ‘pre-emptive strike’ back against them, which has threatened the UN with war in the event of sanctions and which has not ruled out the use of nuclear weapons if it had to come to that in the end. North Korea simply isn’t on Howard’s agenda. North Korea isn’t the primary concern of the US, therefore it is not ours either. Never mind North Korea can directly affect our region of the world, we have to maintain our links to the West, and that means supporting Bush and Blair.

Why has Howard been so bent on invading Iraq? One cannot believe it is simply because he believes it will make the world a safer place. Declaring war cannot make the world a safer place. Our ties with the US have instead lit us up as another target for Muslim extremists (as evidenced by the statement given by the Bali bomber). His eagerness and urgency to declare war, an action generally espoused and shown in history to be something to be avoided at all costs, even though all other avenues have not yet been exhausted can only be, to me, shows he is merely following the US’ lead. To ‘strengthen our ties’ with America, to phrase it with a little more civility than Mark Latham (although I suspect that Latham’s assertions have more than just a touch of truth to them).

Australia cannot be a significant and large player in the world. Not in Howard’s lifetime, not in my lifetime, not with a population of 20 million. Even within the Commonwealth, where Australia is one of the major players, Howard’s opinions of Zimbabwe did not carry a huge amount of weight in CHOGM (opinions which I agree with, incidentally). However, Australia can be a major player in our own region: Asia. Keating saw it, Howard doesn’t.

No doubt, the US ambassador would have something to say about my opinions. He would say that I was very anti-American, as if that were a thought crime. He would say that despite me not being American. A democracy though, allows for freedom of speech. It is enshrined in the very first amendment of the US’ own treasured constitution. The US ambassador’s chastisement of Simon Crean stands in stark contrast to the principle behind that amendment. If only they stood by their first amendment as firmly as their second.

If the US’ actions and words do not align with the main principles to which they claim to seek to preserve through the vehicle of war, death and destruction, can we really readily believe any of their other claims, such as the tenuous “clear link” between Saddam and Osama? I believe for most of you, the question will be purely rhetorical.

Unfortunately, our opposition leader, Simon Crean, has only stood in weak defiance of Howard’s stance. His objections do not come with the passion of Howard’s statements. Admittedly, he realises that if he takes an abject anti-US stance, if he gets elected that may make future dealings with the US difficult. However, that only emphasises the importance of not dirtying Australia’s name within Asia. Furthermore, US has shown that it does not need to like a country to have ties with it – look at China. The so-called “old European” powers of Germany and France don’t seem to care about the US even though it is a superpower. They have been called recalcitrant, but they didn’t raise embargoes against the US at the drop of a hat like what has happened to us in the past. Instead, they are seeking alternative, peaceful solutions, which have all been categorically turned down by the US with seemingly no serious consideration. That is what our country needs, a Prime Minister and governing party that stands up for what the majority of Australians believe and want. We want what we have all been taught at school – no war, because war is always bad, especially when there are other options still existing. Bush has his own agenda, and despite protests in NY and LA, the American public seem to be behind him. He may be acting against the views of the UN, but at least he is acting with the wishes of the American public (however media influenced they may be), which is one better than Howard. What we need is a leader, not a sycophant. And certainly not the only Australian leader in the last 100 years who has had a no-confidence motion successfully passed against him for committing troops behind parliament’s, and the public’s, back.

(This is Hear Ye’s 3000th post.)

Responses:

I had
lunch with friends yesterday and everyone was very hawkish at the table.
Comments like the French and the Germans are ingrates because they refuse to
support the US unconditionally illustrate the level of hawkishness at least
in this microcosm of US public opinion. I suspect that same sentiment is
fairly pervasive among many Texans at least because they are staunch
supporters of Bush & Co. When I countered that the French and the Germans
could be doing so because they want to matter in this new political world
instead of being US vassals, my opinions made no impression.

While I agree that war is never good, I can only think back to early 1940′s
when Britain tried to appease Hitler and that ended up in World War II.
Whether or not Bush goes to war to finish what his father started or whether
he’s doing it to secure the US’ future oil supplies, whatever the reason,
only time will tell what happens. If Saddam Hussein was a despotic leader
in 1991 and deserved to be “removed” then, things haven’t changed 12 years
later.
-Marcus

13
Feb 03
Thu
12
Feb 03
Wed

IP Atlas

IP-Atlas takes an IP, refers to NetGeo and then plots the location on a map of the world. With a few mods, you could give it a list of last 10 visitors’ IPs to see where people are coming from. Better yet, snap a picture of visits every 10 minutes (where each snapshot encompasses a sliding window of visits over the last 30 minutes if your site is low traffic) and stick them together in an animation. Then you could see if the visits are geographically random and time independent, or if you can see a higher frequency of visits visible in a band that sweeps westward over the globe as people sleep/wake.

England Lose

England goes down to Australia 3-1 in soccer. “And so England’s first ever defeat by their great sporting rivals at our national sport was completed.” Victory is sweet. In other news, England refuses to play Australia in any sport ever again.

9
Feb 03
Sun

Trinity Settles. Apparition is no more.

Trinity settles out of court with bullying victim:

But he felt both teachers and students had more sympathy for thebullies as they had been sports stars at the school and he was accused of being a “dobber”. [...] The effects of the bullying inside Trinity went much further than just the victims. The younger brother of the 14-year-old victim also left Trinity after he had conflicts with boys who branded him the “brother of a dobber”.

Older student still traumatised.

I’m about 5 minutes from Coogee, but I haven’t been up to see the so-called apparition of Virgin Mary. Someone took a bat to the fence in the meantime: Vandals destroy fence that held a vision of Mary

Chicago

As a musical, Chicago is perhaps not as memorable as other more famous musicals in both plot and songs. As a movie, the choreography and cinematography make this film rollicking fun. Creative camera work keep the visuals interesting, mixing music and narrative nicely. This exchange I heard after the movie sums it up well (and almost word for word the same as what I said to Soph):

Guy: “What’d you think?”
Girl: “I thought it was a really really good movie!! You?”
Guy: “Yeah um… It was alright.”

The Quiet American

Competent film in the years before the Vietnam war, when French colonialists were trying to deal with the communist problem in the north. Better than Trek.

Star Trek: Nemesis

As much as I tried to like the long-awaited tenth Trek movie, and as large as my bias was, I just could not. Not by a long shot, and the more I thought about it, the more I disliked it. Nemesis always seemed like it was halfway on the way to nowhere. It lacked direction, purpose and involvement. Its array of plotholes were simply too numerous to overlook in the end. Dreadful.

[Warning - spoilers ahead] The movie opens decently with the wedding of Riker and Troi. The wedding reception features many cameos by past TNG actors. Picard gives a rousing speech reminiscing about the past with his faithful right hand man, who has finally attained a Captaincy and is moving to command another vessel… much like a 40 year old finally moving out of his parents’ house. The next thing you know, this “venerable” old captain is gunning around sand dunes in a glorified quad bike, being shot at by aliens who have no relevance to the film whatsoever, after engaging in a scavenger hunt for dismembered android limbs. Someone in the franchise wanted a car chase scene real bad. And it was.

Admiral Janeway makes a cameo, briefing Picard that someone has usurped the Praetor in the Romulan empire, and he should be the one to check it out. (Picard has done a hell of a lot more than Janeway – why on earth is she an Admiral? That’s a travesty. I mean, they made Kirk an admiral, so you can still be an admiral and command the Enterprise.) Picard gets to Romulus and finds out that the new Praetor, Shinzon, is actually a clone of Picard. Picard spends time trying to convince Shinzon not to be so evil. When that fails, they spend the rest of the movie trying to kill each other. Whatever.

The thing about this movie is that it wanders along, never building up to anything in particular. Just when you think the movie is getting somewhere, it doesn’t. Halfway into the movie, Picard is captured by Shinzon’s Big-Ship-Of-Death, but he was expecting this all along. So, Picard makes his escape 5 minutes later (a 60 year old phaser-wielding man holding off 50 Reman soldiers virtually by himself) and poor Shinzon is back to square one. Not only that, but we find out soon after that Shinzon is in fact dying. That’s good. Let’s have a villain that starts off on the back foot. Not only is he made to look incompetent, but the guy is going to cark it in a few hours. pH3ar the dying man who has severe onsets of gastroenteritis every half hour. No, that doesn’t work. The next thing we discover is that Shinzon in fact has a super weapon that can destroy all life on a planet, and he’s heading to earth to wipe out its 9 billion inhabitants so the Remans/Romulans can 0wNz0r the Federation. But oh wait. He’s dying and he needs Picard for a DNA transplant, so his cloaked Big-Ship-Of-Death can’t go anywhere just yet. (Meanwhile, Troi gets mindraped by the Reman Viceroy for no particular reason other than to show Shinzon dancing horizontally on top of Troi.) Anyway, Shinzon throws a tantrum and opens fire on the Enterprise. Being cloaked and bristling with weapons, he has no trouble in 0wN1ng the Enterprise and two pissy Romulan ships that have come along to “help”. Instead of beaming Picard onto his ship, Shinzon instead beams a boarding party of 29 onto the Enterprise, so Riker can have something to do – that is, engage in a fistfight with the Reman Viceroy. Again, this incident has no bearing whatsoever on the plot.

Soon after, the Enterprise is dead in the water, with Shinzon’s Big-Ship-Of-Death staring him in the eye. Picard goes to self-destruct the Enterprise, only to be told that the self-destruct system is offline. No matter. “Prepare for ramming speed!” The Enterprise lumbers forward at a snail’s pace, and yes, it is entirely ludicrous that Shinzon’s ship can’t move away in time, thereby causing a collision between the two vessels which subsequently makes for a dramatic, but otherwise stupid, scene with cool computer generated imagery. Shinzon has another hissy fit and decides to deploy his Weapon of Mass Destruction on the Enterprise. We never even get to see the Weapon of Mass Destruction used. This weapon naturally takes 7 minutes to power up, which is enough time for Picard to beam on board Shinzon’s ship, to implausibly kill Shinzon and his entire bridge crew and to beam back off while Data sacrifices himself in blowing up the Big-Ship-Of-Death. Earth is saved.

Ok, plot holes aside, this movie has attempted to recover the good old days of The Wrath of Khan, where the Captain gets pitted up against a single uber-villain. While this may work for Admiral “Khaaaaaaaaan!” Kirk, it does not for a bald old guy who is known more for his diplomacy than anything else. And where in Wrath of Khan, Spock dies in a sacrifice in a poignant scene with memorable dialog (“the good of the many, outweigh the good of the one”), Data pops in, literally says “goodbye” and shortly afterwards explodes in a blaze of glory. The audience doesn’t even realise he is going to die until 2 seconds before it happens. If you are going to kill a major character, at least give them a good send off! Milk it for all it’s worth.

Next, the major theme of this movie was initially well done – namely, commenting on the issue of cloning. Basically, although DNA is the blueprint for life, it is not the blueprint for humanity. How a person develops is affected by how his neurons are wired up, and not even DNA can dictate the way those brain cells connect to each other during the course of life. However, this perfectly valid theme, represented by the interplay between Picard and Shinzon, is horribly undermined by the interplay between Data and his android brother, B4. It is clear at the start that although B4 has all of Data’s memories and physical capabilities, he lacks the same aspirations and depth that we have come to know Data for. B4 is a dolt, in comparison to Data. However, at the end of the film, after the short and frankly, crap-shallow tribute to Data, there is a scene where Picard is lecturing a clueless B4. B4 does not seem to have any grasp of the goals Data aimed for (self-improvement), and Picard gets frustrated. Now instead of leaving it at that, which would have been a perfectly good scene that reinforced the idea that Data was in fact a unique and irreplaceable individual who is now permanently gone, B4 starts whistling. Judging by Picard’s grin, that little act was meant to show there is hope for B4 yet. A replacement for Data. That was not only an insult to Data’s character, but sends very mixed signals about the show’s theme. You can clone a person, but you can’t clone a personality. Oh wait. I’ll whistle “Blue Skies” and maybe you can. What were the writers thinking?

Sad and disappointing.

3
Feb 03
Mon

The Dark Elf Trilogy & Fantasy Novels

I thought this trilogy (Salvatore – Homeland, Exile and Sojourn) was great. Quite a big improvement on his Icewind Dale trilogy. The challenge in fantasy writing is, because the moulds are more or less set (hero has to accomplish some task against overwhelming odds, often involving killing big things) what distinguishes fantasy novels is characterisation and, less commonly, consciously working themes into the plot.

We’ll take Lord of the Rings for example. Let’s face it, the novel is boring. It rambles. Its descriptions of the landscapes are mechanical. Tolkien doesn’t do detailed fight scenes. It has whole chunks of redundant material. The characters are archetypical. So why is it a classic? My opinion is it is because of the richness of the universe that Tolkien has created by himself. I mean, the guy invented a whole new grammatically correct language for Middle-earth! (That, and the fact that he got in decades before a mass of pulp fantasy writers did.) The scale and depth of the world and events is huge. However, when the movie was made, the richness of the creation of Middle-earth didn’t translate as much (naturally due to time constraints) and so you see the movie writers emphasising some themes that are less visible in the book (comparing Frodo’s personal conflict between good and evil with the larger conflict of good and evil, for instance) and inserting others (most visible in Sam’s closing statements, such as his none-too-subtle speech on clinging on to hope in TTT) to compensate.

However, when all is said and done, it takes something new and creative to make a good fantasy novel, and the Dark Elf is pretty good. Drizzt, of course, is a pretty intriguing character, which prompted Salvatore into writing this trilogy detailing the drow’s origins. In the trilogy, the plot is not to achieve a unique heroic task against overwhelming odds, just to achieve a task against overwhelming odds – to live life according to one’s own values and beliefs. The trilogy covers issues of heritage, racism and a critical evaluation of values as Drizzt grapples with his place in the world. A lot of it is about identity. The trilogy just doesn’t pit good versus evil, but asks what makes good, good; and why is it preferable to evil? Drizzt’s soliloquys add a pinch of sophistication and bit of introspection and insight into emotions and the human condition. While the ground this trilogy covers is standard fare for other genres, it is uncommon in fantasy novels (granted though, that my fantasy reading repetoire is quite limited!). And of course, detailing the workings of the Underdark makes for fascinating reading, too.

The Avatar Trilogy

The Avatar Trilogy, comprising Shadowdale, Tantas and Waterdeep (Richard Awlinson) is a strange series. Then again, anything directly involving fantasy gods in the Time of Wonders is. It’s interesting to see how tha Forgotten Realms universe ticks, but at times the books do drag. Waterdeep is the best out of them. Good for background reading on the Realms, but there’s better stuff out there.

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Rockpool

Went to Rockpool last week. It’s in the Rocks on George St, although I almost walked past it – the restaurant has a non-descript green storefront, with small frosted writing in one of the windows being the only indicator of the venue’s name. The dishes at Rockpool are primarily seafood, with a very strong Asian influence. Using 41 as a comparison, the flavours are more intense as with much Asian cuisine. We had trouble selecting from the menu (the problem with everything looking so tasty!) and in the end, in addition to our own entrees, we got an extra entree of “wild and tame” abalone (slices of both cultured and wild abalone) for the group. Of course, fine dining servings are already miniscule, and when the abalone arrived, hilarity ensued when we were confronted with the ridiculous task of dividing several tiny, tiny slivers of abalone amongst the four of us. We did it anyway. The service at Rockpool was better than 41 (not that 41′s service was bad). The staff were very attentive and observant (when I took out my camera to take this not-so-good photo, a waitress promptly rushed over to ask if I wanted her to take a picture of our group). They were formal, but also relaxed and somewhat casual in tone, giving the perception that they were not overly worried about making a gaff, although it was evident that they took care not to. The atmosphere of Rockpool has a bit more hustle-and-bustle than 41 (we were sitting close to the kitchen, and the meal was punctuated with the ambient sound of crockery and cutlery clashing), but the decor was pleasing.

Being in the Rocks, we took a pleasant stroll around Circular Quay afterwards to walk off the food (here’s a couple photos I took: coathanger, sails). Along the way we were passed by a rapidly balding man being wheeled in a wheelchair. He had a respirator on and was surrounded by a small entourage. As he passed, I looked at Soph, and Soph looked at me and simultaneously exclaimed, “Hey… that was… Christopher Reeve.” My first reaction was to snap a photo, but I restrained myself out of respect – he probably had enough people gawking at him already.

  11:34pm (GMT +11.00)  •  Food  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 


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