Friday, February 24, 2006

Death And Taxes

Browsing an article at Linux Online, I discovered a reference to the South African Revenue Service

A tax office with SARS as an acronym?!

...I guess it figures.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

PHP Free For All

It all started innocently enough.

Tim Bray posted his thoughts and (limited) experiences with the PHP language. The general tone was 'not impressed, but willing to be convinced.'

And then a lot of people jumped on the bandwagon, willing to convince him (or not). There were a pretty impressive number of responses given that 'Ongoing' doesn't have a comment feature (yet)!

My contribution is here.

I have had good experiences with PHP, but can certainly see the potential for horror stories (having spent a year de-obfuscating the most recursive spaghetti ridden legacy code you have ever seen!)

The bottom lines are:
  • Yes, it's easy to get started in it. (as in: easy to get a web page running!)
  • No, it doesn't guide the user to code intelligently (C-style structured programming being applied to a web page that is effectively reentrant can lead to lotsa pasta!)
  • No, it doesn't try to guide the user at all (a good thing: 'do not meddle in the affairs of wizards. They are subtle and quick to lead you down the garden path to the fairies behind the compost bin.')
  • Yes, there is room for improvement. Regrettable, but not a fault in itself. Athena might not have been such a headache if she had been prototyped!
Richness of feature can lead to richness of application, and useful stuff like PmWiki, for anyone wishing to run their own wiki site. I chose it for Boroondara Bushwalkers because:
  1. it didn't require a database
  2. PHP was the only scripting language provide by the ISP
  3. it's pretty good

Still, those seeking both ease and elegance may find it in Spyce (which does the same thing as PHP, but uses Python)

And, of course, there's Ruby on Rails (which I have not yet investigated)

Finally, to put all this into perspective: a cautionary tale.

Anyone wishing to smell the brimstone of an environment that almost forces you to code badly need only try their hand at coding and maintaining COM objects!
On second thoughts, don't! Life is short enough as it is, and you have better things to do, trust me!

Foo was here

This is nothing per se. Just a test post to investigate web graffiti.
It shouldn't vandalise the site directly but, if it does, I'd better be the guy who wears it!
(So, any blogspot administrators, I'm doing this to myself!!)

OK. Let's see....

How it works is that the target site is linked to, and the grafitti is overlaid (ie you only see the damage from the grafitti link). FWIW, the results of my wickedness can be seen here
As a means of annotation, the technique has possibilities (especially as SVG becomes more widely supported). However, I think this example is a little primitive.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Moving Pencil

One has to wonder at the reasoning of Saudi authorities when they shut down a newspaper for publishing *those* Danish cartoons.

The thing is, to my innocent Western sensibilities, the cartoons are pretty tame. I understand that any portrayal of the Prophet is proscribed, and I can understand objections to them but, face it, they were penned by non-moslems in a non-islamic state who can't and shouldn't be expected to follow the same mores. The level of reaction to them is out of all proportion to their worth.

So, are the Saudi authorities protecting the sensibilities of upright Saudi citizens, or are they protecting them from seeing for themselves what the fury is about?
Seeing them, and feeling their righteous indignation dissolve into a giggle.

Meantime, my prediction about the tee-shirts was spot on! (idiot!)

Oh, well! Here's my stir of the possum (fear not, pious viewer: the only images involved are those of the mind ;-):

The Moving Finger:

A buttonpress and martyrdom. So simple the way to Paradise!
But... only one wife?
The figure removed her veil, greeting him with a wrinkled, gap tooth grin:
’You lads never read the fine print! But really! Isn’t seventy six virgins a bit greedy?'
'Ohnono! One wife of seventy six has far more to teach!'
The crone took the horrified shade’s hand.
'Come, love, we have much to learn about each other.
And eternity for doing it!'

Update: this is a second draft, having felt that this was a story to be told in seventy six words.The original can be viewed below if you highlight the text:
A press of a button. So simple a gateway!
True, the blast had scattered Khalid's immortal wits as much as it had his body, but the young man's soul was soon able to collect his thoughts and take in his new surroundings.
Paradise! His reward for unswerving dedication to Jihad!
A shrouded figure approached... his new wife? Chaste and sweet!
But... what of the other seventy five?
The figure stopped, and removed her veil in the presence of her new lord. Rheumy eyes gazed at him kindly, and she greeted him with a wrinkled, gap tooth grin:
'Ah! Another young fool who didn't read the fine print! But really! Seventy six virgins is being a bit greedy, don't you think?'
'Ohnono, my sweet! It's felt that one wife numbering seventy six is far more able to teach an inexperienced young firebrand a thing or two about the universe!'
With a cackle, the crone took Khalid's horrified shade by the hand and led him away.
'Come, my love, we have a lot to learn about each other.
And a long time in which to learn it!'

Friday, February 17, 2006

Emancipating the Spirit of Humanity

If you want some sobering viewing, take a look at this video clip. One of Ed Burtynsky's images is reproduced here.

It looks like a lava flow, doesn't it?
It isn't.

Seems hopeless, doesn't it?
It isn't.

Want to do something about it?
You can

I have a permanent link to the WorldChanging site to the right there (see it?). These guys act as a clearing house, trying to find all the little ideas that, when put together, would help us out of the ecological disasters that are awaiting us.

Other than a few posting comments, and an offer to volunteer which wasn't taken up, that's the extent of my involvement.

Still, they've been doing a great job, and hope to do even better. They've just started a drive to reach those ideas that aren't part of the english speaking world. Indeed, which aren't yet part of the web.

This will require a little more proactiveness on their part which, in turn, will require money. They are after $150,000US. Now, the target isn't as steep as it looks, since all contributions will be matched by two benefactors 2:1 (so the total currently unpledged is $50,000)

So, consider making a donation.

And be inspired. Be emacipated from the mindset that we will fail in this.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Chaining the Spirit of Enquiry

How does this make sense?

NASA's budget cuts:
  • Keep the shuttle flying
  • Cancel Europa mission
  • Cancel Starfinder telescope
I could rant on (and I'm going to in a minute). First, though, you can see more reasoned objections by the Planetary Society's Louis Friedman.
OK. Now it's my turn!
It was an Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of income in Italy was received by 20% of the Italian population. This observation was later later enshrined as the 'Pareto Principle', and is a very simple but effective tool for detecting where most costs are incurred and, therefore, where the most effective cost reductions can be made.

  • Most of the budget is allocated to the shuttle program
  • Some of the budget is allocated to the ISS program
  • A little of the budget is allocated to the Space Exploration program

Where would you apply cuts if you wanted to save money? An economist like Pareto would have wept at the cuts that are actually being considered.

Now consider:
  • Most returns come from the Space Exploration program
  • Some returns come from the ISS program
  • Almost no returns come from the shuttle program
Where would you apply cuts if you wanted to kill off the spirit of enquiry?
Now does it make sense? It isn't really about Pareto and good budgetting, is it?
But, why would you *want* to kill off the spirit of enquiry?
Don't ask me: I certainly wouldn't!
Better ask George Deutch, who insisted that all references to the Big Bang be accompanied by the word 'theory', and who tried to block media access to NASA scientists who were too outspoken on climate change.

Better ask his patrons, who placed him as NASA Press officer without any credentials.

Better ask the right wing religious zealots who would probably find the prospect of life on Europa a little difficult to explain in terms that the bible of choice can encompass.

Watched/read the latest Harry Potter film? Do you recall the bit where, having cut off his hand to resurrect Voldemort, Pettigrew is so slavishly grateful when his master offhandedly grants him a new one?
"And it came to pass that the world changed, and the minds of men grew strange and wayward,
No more did they look into the evening heavens, and wonder.
Instead they came to shun the night, and grew fearful of it.

So it was that, forgetting what they knew, the people populated the void with dragons,
And called upon their gods for salvation from what lay outside the flickering lights of their hearth fires.
And the priests of these gods looked upon their work, and saw that it was good."
The good news is that the vast majority of humanity don't have the same mindset as Deutsch and his patrons.

The war on tyranny will be won.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

It Could Be Worse

As previously indicated, Little Missy has embarked on her voyage through the formal education system. Early indications are that she's learning the ropes.
"So, how was school today, dear?"

Keeping the Door Ajar

EON time.

Brainstorming's always fun, and somebody's just pinned this article from NY Times up in the tea room at work: 'Better Bananas, Nicer Mosquitoes'

Now, I'm more than happy to rant about the perils of Microsoft (openness has an anti-meme, and don't mention COM in my presence if you want me to remain courteous).

But I'm not so switched that I'll deny that Bill is doing a good thing with the Gates foundation.

Which leaves Steve Ballmer...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

CSS Zen: Separating the Sheep from the Goats

I've recommended the CSS Zen Garden before to anyone interested in web design and in seeing how fully a combination of html and css can be made to separate form and function. (The whole point of the site is to show how one page can be styled in just about any way you choose)

Here is one representation which I find particularly amusing. To appreciate it fully, you need to view it using both Internet Explorer 5 *and* one of Firefox, Opera or Safari.

Yes, it really is the same page!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Beyond Offence: But What's Tasteless?

The satirical sting of cartoons seem to be coming in for a bit of grief at the moment.

If you haven't heard about the reaction of certain muslim elements to a few Danish cartoons that have the affront to depict the prophet (with or without bomb shaped turban) , then you haven't been paying attention.

The cartoons in question may not be particularly witty, and they may be offensive to muslims. Offensive enough that some feel it appropriate to express their outrage. This is perfectly acceptable. It is even acceptable to request their withdrawal if you feel they are misleading.

To demand a retraction because something contravenes your set of beliefs is not acceptable, especially when accompanied by threats and a 'bit of bovver' inflicted on Danish embassies. This is simply an attempt to impose your set of beliefs on others.

History suggests this is not a good idea.

Of course, the firebrands in downtown Beirut don't seem to realise the irony of their actions: which simply reinforces the western view of Islam as a religion of rabid crackpots (as might be depicted in, say, some Danish cartoons). The decision of NZ papers to publish the cartoons isn't helpful, but a predictable case of 'stirring the possum'. (wait for the T-shirts).

The *successful* reinforcement of such a simplistic view would be, of course, far more damaging to world peace than one or two torched embassies (not that they're a minor concern: where is law enforcement when you need it?). however, I don't believe that will occur as a result of a few cartoons (any polarisation of opinion over the threat of Islam vs the threat of a few tyrranical opportunists happened a while ago).

It is good to note that a number of muslim clerics are condemning the protests.

It is the tradition and nature of cartoons to be satirical: to depict things that cannot be put into words. A few unflattering caricatures are regrettable, but tough! Live with it.
"I disagree with what you say, but will defend, to the death, your right to say it!"
- attributed to Voltaire.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Beyond Tasteless: But Who's Offended?

According to a report in The Age, it seems that the January 29 cartoon by Tom Toles at the Washington Post has raised the wrath of the top brass in the US military.

The cartoon, which depicts a limbless US soldier being classified as 'battle hardened' by one Dr. Rumsfeld, has led to an official letter of complaint which describes the cartoon as 'beyond tasteless', and furthermore:
"We believe you and Mr Toles have done a disservice to your readers and your paper's reputation by using such a callous depiction of those who have volunteered to defend this nation, and as a result, have suffered traumatic and life-altering wounds."
To be sure, making fun of a wounded soldier would, indeed, be beyond tasteless.

But go and look at the cartoon (or reread my synopsis), and see who's the real butt of the joke. The good doctor, methinks.

For the record:
Dave Autry from Disabled American Veterans said he was "certainly not" offended by the cartoon. "It was graphic, no doubt about it," he said. "But it drove home a point."
The point being that:
The cartoon is based on remarks that Mr Rumsfeld made last week. In rejecting warnings that the Iraq war risked "breaking" the army, he said the military was "battle-hardened" and an "enormously capable force".
Making political mileage out that soldier's predicament: now THAT'S beyond tasteless!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Darth Vader Rides Again...

I finally got around to finishing off my rewrite of Star Wars III: Revenge Of The Sith.

(how come blogspot no longer let's you adjust publication dates?)

Oh well, the piece is entitled: 'The Redemption of DarthVader'.


A Big Day

Little Missy has gone off for her first day at school. (Well, to be precise, her first three hours at Kindergarten).

The condemned lass ate a hearty breakfast of poached eggs and brocolli. That's enough to give anyone a dose of intestinal fortitude!