Thursday, February 24, 2005

Casting Light: Open Voting Initiative

This is the last monologue on open voting you'll get on this site.

That's because I've started a parallel blog. In Casting Light, I will be jotting down what amounts to some design notes about how an open source voting system might be implemented.

You are encouraged to contribute.

If it achieves sufficient momentum, I will consider setting up a proper project site on eg SourceForge.
I've cast a stone upon the waters...let's see where the ripples go!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Code v Data

...or, in the hip vernacular of the moment, should that be 'Meta' v 'Mutter'?
I just got asked for my learned (?) opinion on whether HTML constituted code or data.

My kneejerk response was 'Data'. After all, HTML is meant to comprise of documentation marked up to look pretty.

  1. HTML is a language, and contains (admittedly static) constructs that require interpretation in order to be used.
  2. dynamic behaviour can be provided by the inclusion of applets, javascript etc.

OK, then. Code it is.

So, why did I initially think Data?

Assuming that I have some tentative grip on reality, I can only assume that my confusion arose through:
  • the fact that great pains have been made to ensure that HTML is representible as pure ASCII text, and
  • the notion that HTML and associated initiatives such as XML strive to separate form and function, with HTML providing the form (ie Data). It hasn't entirely succeeded.

In fact, the web standards are evolving at an incredible rate (HTML -> XHTML?) and I haven't been playing the game long enough (or seriously enough) to catch up with the latest.

Believe it or not, I have worked for 20 years as a software engineer without needing (or even being able to get access to) much exposure to web technology. Until recently, that is.

So, as I said: learned opinion?

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Contributing to the Pool

When discussing an open society, one thing that doesn't get quite as much emphasis as it should is that, if everyone can draw on the creative commons, then everyone should at least try to contribute.

This is called trade. It isn't mandatory to do so, of course, but it seems to be the right thing to do and, no, I haven't been particularly giving.

So, a little something of my own for any programming geeks passing through...

When debugging a program, it is occasionally useful to isolate a section of code, so it can be determined whether or not that is where the problem is. Alternately, you may wish to toggle debugging code on or off

Whatever, a common way to do this is to wrap the code in a comment block thus:
if (itFeelsGood)
All well and good. However, a problem arises when the blocked code is large, or if you want to toggle a useful but expensive debugging feature: you have to continuously remove and insert both the start and end of the comment block, which is both tedious, and can cause some obscure compilation errors.

The trick I've found is that, by masking the comment blocks by means of a line comment, you can toggle the block off and on by a single key stroke.

Now you see it:
if (itFeelsGood)
and now you don't:
/* <-- deleted one slash
if (itFeelsGood)
I hope you find it useful.

Interesting Sense of Priorities

The breaking news on ABC FM radio last Friday demonstrated a very interesting sense of priorities...

Item 1: Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles announce their engagement
Item 2: N Korea announces that it has nuclear weapons, and is withdrawing from the non-proliferation treaty.

Question: which of the above is more likely to make the world move for you?

Speaking of priorities, while I don't buy Brin's conspiracy argument, I do find it peculiar that the US is huffing and puffing at Iran over it's nuclear intentions, and seems rather reticent about North Korea.

Maybe they feel that the sabres are best rattled where the troops are.

Maybe they can recognise a cut snake when they see it.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Time For Some Taradiddle

I was doing some channel surfing late last Thursday evening (a bit sad when the selection is limited to five channels!) and I happened upon a double episode of Stargate SG-1. I haven't been following this one much at all, having dismissed it as another bit of half-baked SF.
The suits may have a point in their apparent strategy to generally resist raising the audience expectations bar, and to sit on anything produced by a certain Joseph M Straczynski: I haven't really been able to go back to Star Trek since Babylon 5!
Anyway, I started watching this, and, while it probably says something about the arc development that I could still follow the story after missing several seasons, I decided it wasn't that bad.

It was the one where the Gou'ald (specifically Anubis?) decide to come calling on Earth, instead staying in the background wondering where we were. Lots of armed spaces fleets and generally dramatic stuff. Having decided, after five minutes, that carrier battle groups like the Nimitz aren't really going to pose much of a credible deterrent (I mean, you really need to call in the RN for this sort of work, they would have lasted at least 6 minutes!!), our guardians for truth, justice, and the neocon way launch their one and only cobbled together spaceship to do battle. It's not exactly a great deterrent either, but at least it can actually reach the invader!

Meanwhile, our heroes in SG-1 have decided to extract digits and have gone scouring the galaxy for the key to the ancients' weapon systems; a seemingly hopeless task given some meaning by the Col (Connor?) having acquired some form of memetic virus that is gradually replacing his persona with that of an ancient who knows the ropes (missed the details of that).

That they succeed is perhaps no surprise. That the journey was entertaining was more so.

...and the effects were very good. Not just the visual displays of star cruisers coming to get you (a given these days), but the effective depiction of inertia. In particular, when a somewhat battered Prometheus changes tactics: abandoning its defensive position over the Antarctic base where SG-1 are trying to get their final act together and lumbering heavenward through a hail of Gou'ald hate to give ole Anubis a head butting while they still can, you can believe that several thousand tonnes of armour plating is on the hoof.

Star Trek never did get the hang of that kind of thing. However well they conveyed the impression of size, the result always seemed to have a certain tin can (or polystyrene) feel to it.

So, given the effects, I'd rate this one as on a par with a so-so episode of B5

...and, speaking of memetic viruses, I suppose, the demographic objective was achieved: what does become of Connor?

Friday, February 04, 2005


... which, if movie titles are anything to go by, is meant to translate from the Hopi as 'water out of balance'. I wanted to use the word 'weather', but couldn't find anything on the web. (and I've probably just committed lexical genocide in Hopi!)
All of which is meant as a lead-in for that perennial topic the weather: of which Melbourne and SE Australia has been getting more than its fair share of in the last couple of days.

It began on Tuesday evening... no, before we get to that, let me mention a strange precursor on early Tuesday morning, when people from all over Melbourne reported a brilliant flash of light around 3am, followed by a long drawn out rumble. Earthquake? Meteor? It turned out to have been a massive lightning strike, that vented its spleen on a power pole in Melton (power pole ceased to be)

In the light of happened next, it could have been accompanied by heavenly voices proclaiming:
'Dis be da spot: right hee-ya!' (Hopi trans.?)
Tuesday was, on the whole, a typical summer's day, with temperatures in the low thirties.

Move forward to Tuesday evening, when an active front came barreling in from the Southern Ocean. Nothing unusual in that and, while we're recovering from the recent drought, the more rain we get at this time of year, the better (or so we thought!)

In the normal run of events, said front would have come in, dumped 10 mm or so in a couple of hours, and continued on its merry way.

Not this time.

First of all, the front stalled in the middle of Victoria.

Next, a low pressure cell developed and intensified... around about Seymour way.

...and the rain came down, and down, and down.

Top temperature for the day? 13 degrees celsius (that's a cold snap in the middle of winter hereabouts, what is it in the middle of summer?)

Come Wednesday evening, the entire state was awash, while NSW was getting lashed by severe electrical storms.

...and the rain came down, and down, and down.

Seems like there was more water in the sky than on the ground.

Wednesday night, the low system, still stationed over central Victoria, expanded to include northern Tasmania, and the wind got up to full gale strength. A clayton's cyclone, picking up strength over land (hmm!). Trees uprooted, the Yarra bursting its banks in Southbank (ie 'downtown' Melbourne) and the Tasmanian ferry being forced to turn back in the face of a 20 meter swell. At least, 20 meters is what was reported. Given that an 8 meter swell is bad storm weather and that the Boxing Day tsunami was supposedly of about the same height, it's hard to credit. However, passengers were telling tales of waves breaking over the deck, and they're pretty big ships!

Come Thursday morning, 200mm of rain had fallen and, while the main fury had abated, rain continued during the day as people struggled to work between the fallen trees, power poles and raging torrents (I was relatively lucky).

It is now Friday afternoon (Feb 4), and that pressure system is still there, currently sitting right over Melbourne. While it isn't a solid rain mass any longer (even some sunshine!), the weather radar still shows some substantial squalls circling around, like wolves.