Sunday, October 26


News Headlines

Sheep Ship of Shame Finally Unloads
Eritrea Given Politically Embarrassing Sheep
Eritrea Home for Sheep of the Desert
Sheep to Shore in Eritrea
Sheep of Fools

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Thursday, October 23


Land of the Long Lunch

I understand that France has a standard 35-hour working week. Can anyone tell me if that means 9-5 with an hour for lunch, or is it really 9-4 (or something) with an hour (or whatever) for lunch, so less than 35 actual working hours?

Just curious, since I have more experience with 35-hour days than with 35-hour weeks.

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Curse You, Non-Globalisation!

I have a DVD Burner, as I've mentioned before. I use it to burn DVDs. Burn, DVD, burn! At around 4½GB a pop, and one-third the price of disk space (even leaving out the added cost of RAID), they make a lot of sense. (In fact, they're just about the only backup medium that currently makes sense, at least if you're looking at the price of storage rather than at the value of your data. Which is the wrong way to look at it... Unless you happen to have a terabyte of files that you don't value that highly but would still be terribly annoyed if you lost any of them.)

Where was I? DVDs, burn, right! So I bought a hundred blank DVD-Rs, which are conveniently white on one side so that they can be printed on and you can tell which way up they go.*

So, I have a hundred DVDs, which I am working my way through rapidly. I'll probably be buying another hundred before I'm done.

I have a hundred, will have two hundred... Identical disks, white on one side, silver on the other. Oops.

Labels would be good. I could buy some CD labels, print them out, peel them off, stick them on, hope I don't screw it up. Or I could get a printer that prints right on the DVD! Epson sell two models that do this, the Photo Stylus 900 and 960. They look like nice little printers in general, and they're not too expensive (particularly the 900).

But. Not. In. Australia.

Which. Just. Happens. To. Be. Where. I. Live.

In America, yes. In Canada, too. In Britain, in Denmark, in the Philippines, in Singapore.

But not here, dammit. I've emailed Epson; it will be interesting to see how (and if) they respond.

* No, really. Cheap CD-Rs and DVD-Rs are sometimes featureless silver on both sides, and the only way you can tell which way up they go is by studying the diffraction patterns. Or by sticking the disk in the drive and seeing what happens, which is often more reliable.

Update: Epson responded this morning. Good for them.

Apparently the reason the 900 and 960 are not available in Australia is that they use dye-based inks (the email actually said "die", but never mind) rather than pigment-based inks. The pigment-based inks are water-fast (which means that they won't run), but the dye-based inks are not.

Epson helpfully pointed me to the Stylus Photo 2100, which is available in Australia (which I knew) and can print on CDs and DVDs (which I didn't know). It's a very nice printer, 2880x1440 dpi, 7 colours with individual ink cartridges, able to print on paper up to A3+ size with edge-to-edge coverage (no borders). It has parallel and USB and Firewire ports. (I like Firewire.)

It costs $1789.


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I've Got A Theory

Most people are pretty sensible. (When I say "most people" here, I am specifically excluding teenagers, that is, women between the ages of 13 and 18 and boys under the age of 30.)

I've served on a jury, for example, and I was impressed by the common-sense, level-headed approach taken by the other 11 members. (I was just there for the free sandwiches.) It was not a case that - as far as I know - any of us had had to deal with before, but we listened to the evidence, took notes, and came fairly quickly to a unanimous verdict.

Get a few guys together and they can talk about cars - or computers, depending on the generation - for just about any length of time without the least sign of animosity. Even sport, with its strong team rivalries, is usually a safe topic.

As soon as the subject of politics is raised, though, the debate becomes heated, and almost invariably devolves rapidly into yelling and swearing. Unless everyone in the room happens to barrack* for the same team.

I have a theory as to why this is so, and it is this:

People don't know what they are talking about.
People rightly recognise politics as being an important subject, and rightly have strong opinions about it, but those opinions rarely rest on any solid basis. Most often, they try to apply the principles they would like to live their life by to the running of their country.

Unfortunately, that doesn't work. Consider the family. The family is, in essence, pure socialism. Mum** and Dad earn the money, and it gets spent where it's needed. Centralised planning, from each according to etc etc. This works because it is a family, and everyone has everyone else's best interests at heart.***

Obviously a good thing, right? But when you try to scale it up to running an entire country, you end up with millions of people dead.

When you try to scale a process, things change. Talk to an industrial chemist about it sometime.**** Factors that might be insignificant on the small scale come to the fore. Those same factors were present in your small scale experiment, but they scale differently - some might grow linearly with N (the size of the group), but others might grow as Log(N), or as N2 - or even as something scary like 2N or N!, though such things grow so fast that theories affected by such scaling tend to get wrecked by ugly fact pretty quickly. The factors of accountability and greed and the costs of centralisation and information flow were all there in the family, but with a group that size they didn't matter. With a hundred million people, they predominate.

What it boils down to is that most people have no idea about how to run a country, because they never have run a country. And because it's complicated, and it is not at all obvious how the scaling rules apply to even one element, let alone the huge number of disparate and conflicting elements needed to make a country run successfully.

Which is why even the people who do have this experience mostly just muddle along, making small changes and hoping they don't screw things up too badly.*****

I have a cure for this. If I get it right, it might even make me rich... If I ever get time to actually work on it.

* Root, but Australians attach another meaning to that term.
** Yes, Jen, hee hee.
*** It works in my family, anyway. No, I don't want to hear about your family.
**** But don't blame me when you can't get him to stop talking.
***** And relying on the scientists and engineers to drive economic growth and generally improve things.

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Wednesday, October 22


Sure-Fire Business Idea

With world fisheries declining at a dizzying rate* one of mankind's greatest culinary experiences** is pretty much doomed.

I'm talking, of course, about the anchovy.

What I'm planning to do (as soon as my friendly Nigerian financier comes through with the cash) is strike out in a bold new direction: pygmy shrew farming. Of course, we won't call them pygmy shrews, as our marketing test group rated that as the second least tasty-sounding animal, right after the leaf-nosed bat and just before the bandicoot.

No, in honour of their farm-raised heritage, I'm going to call them ranchovies. Get your pizza with 100% organic free range ranchovies today!

As for the shrews? It's gotta be better than the way they live now.

* Due to the French.
** After, for example, fried octopus.

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Tuesday, October 21



The Washington Post reports on A Dislike Unlike Any Other:
Has this unassuming man in a rumpled sports shirt lifted the lid on a boiling caldron of anti-Bush fury in liberal precincts across America? Or is he just an overcaffeinated, irrational liberal, venting to a minority of like-minded readers?
We report, you decide!
Ramesh Ponnuru, a soft-spoken conservative at National Review, pays Chait a backhanded compliment, writing that "not everyone would be brave enough to recount their harrowing descent into madness so vividly."
(via The Volokh Conspiracy)

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Monday, October 20


Live From The What?!

The Powerhouse Museum is a (very good) museum in Sydney, built inside the shell of an old power station. The Distillery is a new block of flats* built around an old distillery. The Quarry, similarly.

What would it take for an architect not to name his new creation after the old building's original purpose? Are we going to see The Abbatoir in coming years? The Brothel, perhaps?

* Apartment building.

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Sunday, October 19


Liberals... You Know The Drill

Following a link from Instapundit, I ran into this morass of whining. Why do men vote Republican? Are they just stupid? Have they been seduced by Karl Rove's evil genius? Or maybe it's because they're impotent?

Look, you imbeciles, it's you. It's you. People have taken a look at the modern Democrat Party and realised that for all Bush's faults, they can at least trust him to run the country, to do what needs to be done, most of the time.

They look at the seething, whining, feces-flinging monkeys that represent the Democrats and realise that handing power to these people would be the biggest mistake they could make. Better, far better the occasional corporate scandal (as if those never happened under Clinton...) than to hand America over to this feckless bunch of nogoodniks.

And until you can understand this, until you stop trying to pin every Democrat electoral disaster on voter ignorance and smarten up, you will only sink deeper into this swamp of your own creation. The voters know exactly what they are doing, and that's why 60% - sixty percent - of voters in California (California!) voted Republican.

Stop it. Cast the hapless loonies of the far left adrift; let them be eaten by sharks if need be. But face up to your own damn failings for a change or you will end up exiled to the political wilderness forever.

I keep running into something called Jane's Law, which says The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane. I don't recall it ever being more true than today, but then, until this year I got my news from, well, newspapers.

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Wednesday, October 15


US Politics 102

Another point Den Beste makes is that the two-party system is self-sustaining, although really this is true only as long as the politicians care more about winning than about issues. Compare the relatively stable two-party systems of the Anglosphere with the fractious factionalism found in many European states.

It also depends on the population being essentially homogenous; that there is no large group that truly votes as a bloc. This seems to be becoming more the case rather than less; labour, for example, long the bastion of the left-wing parties, has become rather less of a certainty now that a majority of the public have become shareholders in large corporations.

Marx wanted to resolve the class war by reducing the bourgeoisie to the proletariat. Capitalism has achieved the same end by raising the proletariat to the bourgeoisie. Today, we are all capitalist fat cats, and proud of it. (Except for the self-hating LLLs, who nobody cares about anyway.)

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US Politics 101

Steven Den Beste has a great post up explaining American politics to us beleagured non-Americans.

Two things have always struck me as slightly odd about American elections: first, the very public primary elections (particularly with respect to the current line-up of Democrat candidates). In Australia, the leaders of the various political parties are decided by the party members, and the leader of winning party becomes Prime Minister. (With the Liberals in coalition with the Country Party, the leader of the Country Party traditionally becomes Deputy Prime Minister).

Interestingly enough, the debate about Australia becoming a republic (instead of a constitutional monarchy as it is today) was squashed some years ago when a referendum showed that a majority of Australians rejected the idea. In fact, this was largely because the pollies (politicians) wanted to choose the President themselves, while the people wanted a popularly elected President. So for now, we still have a queen (Queen Elizabeth is Queen of Australia quite independently of being Elizabeth II of UKoGBaNI).

The other confusing thing is the apparent rag-bag of policies that make up the Democrat and Republican party platforms. For either party, half the items seem to bear little relation to, well, anything. This is explained by the fact that the parties are de facto coalitions of numerous unnamed smaller parties, whose policies and goals are far from uniform. So the Republicans have the NeoCons and the economic conservatives, who I largely agree with, and the Religious Right, who from an Australian perspective appear to be completely bonkers, but who remain something of a political force in America. The closest thing we have here is Fred Nile's Christian Democrats, who have pretty much zero influence in anything. (And are viewed as being completely bonkers by most Australians.)

The other big - but more subtle - difference is that voting in Australia is preferential rather than a simple "first past the post". This means that if you want to vote for a fringe candidate - say Ted, who supports model rocketry but has little chance of winning - you can direct your preferences to another candidate - say, Susie. All the votes are tallied, and if Ted comes last, the preferences on those votes are then distributed. If most of Ted's fans are also Susie fans, then Susie picks up most of Ted's votes. Which means that a third-party candidate like Perot or Nader would not have the effect of splitting support for their nearest political allies.

Whether this is good or bad is too complicated a question for me to ponder during my lunch break.

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