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Archive September 2004
Wednesday 29 September 2004
"Free Adult Dating", my spam says. So stop using those expensive child dating services you'd normally use. [13:37] [1 comment]
Amusing discovery on Wikipedia - Medieval Philosophers were secretly supervillains! William of Ockham, recently depicted as the evil Doctor Ockham wielding his razor in opposition to our hero Arachnid Boy, turns out to have more powers than previously thought, as he used to be Doctor Invincibilis. Albertus Magnus, who I'm sure we're all familiar with as Magneto, was even more powerful in medieval times as Doctor Universalis. Henry Goethals was one of those tricky not-very-powerful supervillains - the sort that come closest to winning, like Lex Luthor - as Doctor Solemnis. Francis Mayron was two supervillains, first the angular Doctor Acutus, and then, his super-secret identity as which he directed world leaders, Doctor Illuminatus. St Thomas Aquinas, in addition to being a saint, was Doctor Angelicus, the angelic doctor. OR WAS HE? In fact, when he peeled off that disguise he was revealed to be Doctor Communis, THE RED DOCTOR! [05:25] [0 comments]

Saturday 25 September 2004
In countries with government-controlled services such as electricity and phone service, what do they do to prevent natural privatisation? If Bob in the imaginary country of Ownedland sets up an unusually efficient wind-farm and solar generating plant, and offers to sell the electricity so produced to others in his town at a quarter of the government rate, is he committing a crime or what?

Regarding countries with income tax (I know, this is an extremely rare occurrence that nobody is at all familiar with, but this sort of totalitarianism does happen in some crazy third-world nations, I assure you), if Bob in the imaginary country of Ownedland arranges a work-trade-unit that people in the town can exchange with each other, such that, for example, instead of working to earn the country's currency, a plumber can fix someone's toilet and later exchange the work-trade-units thus earned for having someone else fix up his garden, how does the government get its tax from such a trade? Is Bob committing a crime by arranging the existence of such a unit? [04:15] [7 comments]

Thursday 23 September 2004
Oldboy is rather a good Korean movie. Not for the squeamish, due to graphic Reservoir-Dogs-esque facial-features trauma. Not for the prudish or moralising, due to other graphic things. Not for people who don't like subtitles or weirdness.

For everyone else, it's lots of fun. There's an insane plot! There's hammer-fights! There's eating live squid that grabs your nose with tentacles after you've bitten its head off! There's fifteen years locked up without explanation! There's incest, twice! There's suicide, three times! There's more hammer-fights!

Apparently it's essentially a retelling of the Count of Monte Cristo, but with, er, more hammers, suicide, incest and squid. And subtitles. Now apparently being remade in America, so if you don't like subtitles you can watch a shit version in three years' time instead! Shit version guaranteed fewer hammers and squid! 90% chance of inferior plot! 95% chance of reduced incest and suicide! 98% chance of worse acting and direction! But hey, no subtitles, so it must be worth waiting for. [04:02] [3 comments]

Sunday 19 September 2004
I just had the most fantastic idea ever for a rule regarding political campaigning. It should be illegal for any government or political party employee to speak of anything being paid for by the government, by the treasury, or by their party, when that thing would not actually be paid for out of the party's own funds. Instead, they should have to speak of "taxpayer money" or "your money" paying for things.

Imagine the ineffectual chaos as political campaigns are rephrased. "Under a Party X government, three billion dollars of your money will go to improve education" is so very much less compelling a claim than the more common "Party X will put three billion dollars into improving education." It's especially effective with tax rebates and reductions. "Under a Party X government, you will get a cheque for one hundred dollars of your money back!"

Oh yes, single mothers and retired people and the ill will receive benefits from your money, road repairs will be made with your money, and we'll have a space program or whatever research paid for out of your money. All these fantastic government offers sound so very much less fantastic when it's explicitly stated that you are paying for it all. Since that is and has always been the case, and is very much obfuscated by the people in power (and those who want to be), it should be constitutionally mandated that all 'government expenditure' mentioned in any public context must also have mentioned that the money they are spending is the citizens' money, not the government's. See how popular a multibillion dollar war on a smiley moustache man is then. [06:41] [6 comments]

Saturday 18 September 2004
The OKCupid Politics Test is quite good. More interesting questions than your average political-opinion test, and not biased towards telling everyone they're Libertarian like the Libertarian version is. That said, it still told me I'm Libertarian, being 70% socially permissive and 71% economically permissive. Which apparently means I have similar political ideology to that of Adam Sandler's hair or the solar plexus of some olden days bloke in a wig, maybe a french revolutionary or Thomas Jefferson or something. My result plot is probably available here.

I particularly like their messy method of showing the ideologies of famous people, and enjoy that everyone 'west' of center has either an evil frown or a false-looking smile, and everyone 'east' looks happy or amused. Even Mr Anarchist Anorak looks vaguely chipper, if a bit cross. I suppose Monsieur Vader might be grinning merrily, too, under the apparatus, perhaps fondly remembering the appalling flying CGI fruit of yesteryear.

It's also nice to get a set of poll results with a 'known' sample bias ("people who are on okcupid or taking tests therefrom"), though the bias is either surprising or frightening, maybe both, in that Bush-supporters only slightly trail Kerry-supporters, where I would have expected an anti-Bush bias from online nerds. Gun-control and war-on-drugs are breaking even; pro-choice and anti-death-penalty are winning; very few OKCupiders like the war on Iraq. [02:14] [3 comments]

Friday 17 September 2004
Further on that "superior bureaucracy" note from the other day, amicable divorce is about as much better in Australia than in America as immigration is. I dropped divorce forms into the mail on Monday, and today have a letter something along the lines of "your divorce hearing will be on the 20th of October at a time and a place," only with an actual time and place, "you will not be required to attend."

Here, it's as simple as being separated for a year, filling in a very sparse 10-page form, and both signing it in front of a notary (or two separate notaries). Only one party need reside in or be a citizen of Australia. Oh, and a fee of AU$288. In Maryland and Virginia, the parts of America for which we looked into such things, one must be separated for a year, someone must be 'accusing' the other of something, and there didn't seem to be any easy way of saying "we've already split our possessions so please stay out of it, Mr Court". And the fees were, of course, much larger. We were quoted at least three months, probably six, before it would go through, with a court hearing which we would have to attend.

Even cleverer, the Australian lot are once again demonstrating some technical competence - while they won't allow you to apply for a divorce with an online form and digital signatures, which is a shame but hardly unexpected, they do provide the form as one of those posh PDF forms that you can fill in before you print it out. The only one of those I encountered in the US was some unusual tax form. And they have the URL www.divorce.gov.au for it all, which is fantastic. Even if the server is down at the moment.

On a related but less complimentary note, the Australian prime minister today said "look how good I am, we have three billion dollars more than expected." This would indeed be a good thing, except he then went on to say "because of GST." This prime minister introduced GST (Goods and Services Tax, essentially a sales tax), which is functionally an extra 10% tax to the people. He also introduced the "medicare levy", which despite being called a levy is a 1.5% tax which, at the time, he said would be a one-off charge, not an annual recurring one. So essentially he is saying "look how good I am, I took more money off you than expected." Tsk. Still, at least he didn't spend it all on something stupid. And there's an election soon. [07:51] [7 comments]

Wednesday 15 September 2004
Those of you who have been reading for a long time might remember my fun with immigration times as I wheedled my way into America, where I didn't really want to be anyway. Or you probably won't, since most of the fun occurred a couple of years before the blog even started, but it was still going several months in. Which is quite indicative of how fun it was, really. And that's just the preliminary part of the immigration which took more than two years - the actual permanentising of the visa wasn't for another year or two beyond that.

More recently, you might remember my having mentioned that the Australian immigration people are remarkably efficient. Or more recently still, you might remember my remarking about how America's shitty bureaucracy is still the most awkward factor even if you're immigrating to Australia.

Today's addition to the tale is the completion. Two days ago I dropped the requisite American and UK police certificates into the immigration office. Today I got the "visa granted" letter. Yes, two days after I gave them the final documents. Meaning they sent the letter out just one day later. That's more like customer service than bureaucracy, except that most customer service isn't that good either.

Why, you might be thinking if you'd bothered to remember or look up details, which you haven't because that would be insane, was I only dropping off the police certificates two days ago, when I was applying for them six months ago? Because, of course, that's how long the FBI took. The British document, which I sent off for two months later, got back to me two months earlier. The American one, as well as being slowest, had the largest processing fee.

So, once again my feelings of, tax-wise, grudging every cent the American government demanded, and not minding at all the money the Australian government wants, is renewed. Some governments make life easier. [03:10] [1 comment]

Tuesday 14 September 2004
Bush and Kerry Duel on Health Care, Weapons Ban

Bush: "I think health care is bad!"
Kerry: "Well I think it's good!"
Bush: "Pistols at dawn!"
Kerry: "No, I want to ban weapons!"
Bush: "Well I don't!"
Kerry: "Pie-fight, then!"

Hi, I'd like to purchase an AK-47 or some other military assault weapon, please.
"So, tomorrow for the first time in 10 years when a killer walks into a gun shop, when a terrorist goes to a gun show somewhere in America, when they want to purchase an AK-47 or some other military assault weapon, they're going to hear one word: 'Sure,"' Kerry told supporters in Washington.
I'm sure this quote will make several people, such as Kitiara and Visgoth explode with rage. For those few of you who aren't already more knowledgable than Kerry and seemingly every other politician on the matter, the "assault weapons ban" which is expiring forbids various features to appear on firearms in groups of more than two. The banned features (which you could still pick any one from, mind) include pistol-grip on a rifle, ammunition clips with a capacity larger than 10, bayonet attachments and flash suppressors. The only bearing the ban has on an AK-47 is that an AK-47 is an "assault rifle" which is a phrase which has "assault" in it, just like "assault weapons ban". Of course, someone could be assaulted with a brick, which would make a brick an "assault weapon" - it still wouldn't make it related to the ban in any real way.

Note, I'm not actually certain that AK-47s aren't affected by the ban - it does appear to be a gun with a larger clip capacity than 10 rounds and something that might be a pistol grip. I'm not a gun buff. However, people still can't walk into a gun shop and just buy a gun over the counter, thanks to a completely different piece of legislation, the Brady gun-control law, which was made to stop the Brady Bunch, known terrorists, from getting hold of guns and shooting everyone, or something. And this still makes no difference, since if the AK-47 was something affected by the ban, you could still get exactly the same gun with the pistol grip removed, assuming that's what that is, and it'd be legal again and just as deadly.

And anyway, everyone knows that guns don't kill people - they just make cars flip over. Have these people not seen the A-Team? (People also don't kill people. Nothing kills people. And everything makes cars flip over.) [02:25] [8 comments]

Thursday 9 September 2004
A handy tip for anyone whose work patterns are like mine (which probably means nobody except me). If you find that after your pre-work ritual of coffee, toast and a bad TV show from the eighties, you sit down to work and find yourself suddenly very tired, then there's one of two things wrong. The first option is simply that your screen is too bright. My brightness resets to eye-searing when rebooted. If that's not the problem, then the other likely problem is actual tiredness; the solution to that is to reset your body clock.

How does one do that? By staying up through an entire extra day, then getting a nice long catch-up sleep at the end of it. For example, if you usually go to bed at midnight, instead stay up until about 8pm the following day. The extra twenty hours of awakeness is conveniently matched to a mere extra four hours of sleep, and leaves you feeling fully rested. This seems like an excellent deal - why not stay awake for thirty-four hours and sleep for fourteen all the time, you might think. The answer to that is that you unfortunately can't do anything requiring competence with the last half of the awake-time. It's a good thing to do during a holiday, perhaps, as you get better value for your time and everything's funnier when you've been awake for more than twenty hours, but you shouldn't be driving or operating heavy equipment such as knives and forks.

But Mr Internet, you might be thinking, staying awake for thirty-four hours when you're tired after eight is quite difficult. But Misters and Misses Reader Of The Internet, I reply, we have the solution to that difficulty. Simply play an engaging time-devouring game such as Nethack or my similar new friend Gearhead.. Playing a game for 30 hours nonstop will also make you feel much more like programming.

Also helpful is to not use War of the Worlds season two as your bad TV show from the eighties, because it's a bit rubbish, doesn't have an engaging theme-tune, and lacks a sense of closure on most episodes. Even A-Team episodes that end with "to be continued" feel more closed. Good shows for the purpose of inspiring creativity while coffee does its chemical goodness include Monkey, The A-Team, War of the Worlds season one, Blake's 7, The Prisoner, and Monk (which I realise isn't actually eighties, but it feels like it).

Does anyone have suggestions of other similar shows that I should add to the queue? I'm always in danger of running out, which would break my ritual and thus make it difficult for me to get things done. [23:55] [4 comments]

Saturday 4 September 2004
You know how people like to play silly buggers when they get a call from telemarketers, and then chortle later at telling the tale? That's fair enough, since it's bloody annoying to get calls from telemarketers, but I think we can do better. The problem is, most telemarketers are unwillingly annoying. They've tried to get a proper job, but they've ended up with telemarketing as a last resort. It's not nice to waste their time, they're probably paid by success rather than by the hour, and don't have a lot of choice.

So here's what I think you should do - when you get a call from a telemarketer, ask to speak to their manager. Keep trying to escalate until you can get no further. Once you get as high on the food chain as you can, waste that person's time for as long as you can. Ask them stupid questions about their company. Tell them about your cat that's just died. Pretend you'll be willing to buy whatever they're selling if they'll sing you a song. Try to tell them ways they can improve their questions even if you haven't heard the questions yet. The people who deserve to be annoyed in telemarketing are the people in charge, not the phone-monkeys. [05:48] [6 comments]

Thursday 2 September 2004
Listen up, World. I want some stuff, and you, the world, are just the entity that should be providing it for me, as soon as possible.

I want a community living-space which is sensible. I want either a small locale like The Village or a large apartment building with each living-space properly soundproofed.

I want this community to have its own large lump of bandwidth, which is near-free for the use of the residents via wireless, and 'shaped' such that the bandwidth may always be used to capacity, and if there is a conflict such that the required bandwidth exceeds capacity then whoever has used less bandwidth recently takes priority over whoever has used more, on a ratio-based scale such that if someone has used 100GB they get half as much of the available bandwidth as someone who has used 50GB, a quarter as much as someone who has used 25GB, and so on. Most of the time this limitation would not come into effect at all. Otherwise-unused bandwidth could be used for mirroring of common downloads.

I want the living space to have at least one dedicated chef, possibly more depending on the size of the community. The dedicated chef should make any recipe on request, at a reasonable price for his work, with the requester supplying ingredients. A couple could get a nice curry for two made for about $20 (a curry is about half an hour's work), or community members could group their orders, such that if twenty people want curry the same night it should be less than $5 per person, as making a large amount of curry doesn't take much more effort than making a small amount. The dedicated chef is paid only for their time, not per-portion. They are also given free lodging and use of facilities in the community. People are still welcome to cook their own food if they prefer, of course. But World, cooking is time-consuming for me, and I know that while it takes me five minutes to chop up a few habaneros, a proper chef can do it in seconds. Why do you make me do things that others can do better? I want this fixed.

I want the living space to, similarly, have a dedicated staff of cleaners, who will wash dishes, take out rubbish, vacuum and so forth on a similar paid-per-time basis. I know a competent cleaner can clean things more effectively than I can, in half the time, so it would be a bargain for me; a real-world cleaner would not, because they have to charge enough to cover getting to a house and such. If they're part of this small community, World, they'd always be nearby, wouldn't they? So the costs would be less. You see? Why don't things already work like this, World? What's wrong with you?

I want a community gymnasium, a community assault-course, a community games room and several community ridiculously large television and sound system rooms. I want trampolines. I want a swimming pool. I want tennis courts even though I hate tennis. Few of these things require much maintenance, and if the maintenance costs are split between a community of a hundred or more people they're a pittance. Lots of people buy ridiculously large televisions and sound systems for watching movies, even though there'd be next to no disadvantage to sharing three such devices between about twenty people. I want cost-effective entertainment, World. What cleaner can afford these sorts of silly luxuries? I'll tell you, World, the answer is the cleaner who works for The Community.

Yes, World, this does sound like a hotel, and I realise that. But what's different is that hotels charge extortionate prices. A community doing the same thing but each owning their room (or renting if they choose, but not at a stupid daily rate) would, yes, be similar to a hotel. But you'd own your space. You'd have a kitchen. People wouldn't come in and decide to make your bed unless you asked them to. You'd be the only one with a key unless you wanted it otherwise. So no, World, it's not really similar to a hotel at all, is it? Why don't you give me this? Why? [10:06] [16 comments]