<October 2004>
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Chris's Random Ramblings

Sun, 31 Oct 2004 - Tinderry Twin Peak

Headed out for a walk to Tinderry Twin Peak, near Michelago just south of Canberra. Saw an echidna, and quite a few large goats. All were pretty shy, but at least the echidna was slow enough I could get a close up photo of it. I had to wait a while for it to calm down and stop trying to hide its head between two rocks. One of the goats was sleeping in the sun in the middle of the track, but quickly took off when it saw me coming.

Sun, 31 Oct 2004 - New Toys

Last week was new toy week with an iPod and a T41p laptop arriving. Took a day to get everything transferred and setup on the laptop but Xinerma (how did I ever live without that!) and DRI are working, though not together. Spent a few hours trying to get suspend to RAM working with ACPI, but finally gave up and went back to using APM.

Setting up the iPod I noticed that it supports a very limited number of timezones. Interestingly the only Australian timezone is Brisbane or Brisbane (DST), which is strange not only because Apple chose Brisbane to represent Australia, but Brisbane doesn't change its time over summer. Luckily they don't appear to know that, and the time still changes by an hour. Little bug aside, it is a very nice portable audio player, especially compared to my previous one, a four year old PJB-100 which is about 3-4 times bigger.

Wed, 27 Oct 2004 - Hackfest Bots Online Only about 10 months after the Hackfest 2004 competition finished, I have finally managed to put the source code to the bots entered into the competition online.
Sun, 24 Oct 2004 - More on Wikipedia

Martin writes more about Wikipedia. He comments that:

As an example of this filtering in action, the Australian Gannet page was originally created as an attack on Wikipedia, but now it has useful content.

I wonder if this is really true? I certainly don't know of any factual inaccuracies in the information, but the page was created by by googling for relevant websites. I'd say its representative of what people who publish pages on the internet, that google has found, believe to be true of Australian Gannets.

I do find it rather concerning that lawyers are using Wikipedia for legal research, and actually citing it in cases. Orin Kerr, an associate professor of law, had a look at a few pages on topics he believes he knows fairly well and noted that:

Its entries seem to be a strange mix of accurate statements and egregious errors.

He does say that this is only a tentative conclusion based on a few sample queries, and I don't think you can extrapolate that to all of Wikipedia. I think its most accurate in the non controversial scientific areas (eg whats a hectare), and least accurate on topics which are controversial, as people are beginning to use it to promote ideological agendas. Factual errors created not just from vandalism, but also garden variety, well intentioned ignorance. Like other sources of information, its important to understand its limitations and weaknesses.

Mon, 18 Oct 2004 - Canberra Bubble?

Sometimes Canberra gets accused of being out of touch with the rest of the country. This sort of came up in a recent IRC conversation when talking about the recent federal election result, and a friend mentioned that they hadn't spoken to anyone who was happy with the Liberal party being returned. I suggested that Canberra is a bit of bubble.

I didn't really have any figures to back this up, so I went looking for some information on Canberra - some basic statistics on income, education and crime, compared to other parts of Australia. I found some data on the ABS website for 2002/2003.

For equivalised gross househould income, the average income in the ACT is is 29% above the national average. Canberra also has the the youngest population, second highest employment to population ratios and relatively low unemployment rate. Also the proportion of people deriving most of their income from government pensions and allowances is the lowest in the country.

Looking at education, it has the highest year 12 retention rate (for males it is almost 20% higher than the national average). For people aged 15-64, about 30% of the population has at least a Bachelor degree or higher, compared to the national average of 17.8%. The second closest state is Victoria with just under 20%. The crime rate in Canberra is also well below average in nearly all areas except motor vehicle theft and other theft.

So I think I'm justified in saying that Canberra is a bit of a bubble compared to the rest of the country. Whilst there is still poverty and crime, it is in general not as bad as most other places, and people are significantly better off than in other cities in the country. Perhaps its this privileged position that we're in that leads many of us to have different priorities from what we want from the government.

Mon, 18 Oct 2004 - New look

I haven't been keeping up with web design techniques for the last few years, so I spent Sunday night learning CSS. Hopefully my web pages look a little less last-century now.

Thu, 14 Oct 2004 - QOTD Comment on John Quiggin's blog:
Democracy is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get, but one thing you know for sure, there'll be a lot of empty wrappers before it's your turn to pick up a choccy.

Sun, 10 Oct 2004 - Nepal I've been planning on going to Nepal next year to do some hiking, and so have been looking around at the various websites for more information. From trekinfo.com:

"Many trekkers have actually begun to enjoy their brief stints with the rebels"

Thats one way to explain you might get held up along the trail. Though apparently they even issue receipts.

Thu, 07 Oct 2004 - Flip Album decoder I've had a few requests for a program which I wrote which decodes Flip Album images so I've put up a copy of the source here. It doesn't work on all images - of the 500-600 that I tried, a handful didn't extract properly and I never bothered working out why. The program definitely won't extract any encrypted images.
Tue, 05 Oct 2004 - Book space galore Had a very productive long weekend and I think I've now tripled the amount of bookshelf space in my house. My house turned into a bit of a workshop during the week, but everything is now cleaned up and I can start unpacking some of the boxes of books I have in the cupboards. While I was away at work during the week my parents also put up a small shed in my backyard. At last, I no longer have to store my lawnmower in the spare room :-)
Tue, 05 Oct 2004 - More junk Tridge's junkcode area contains more useful code than most people's non junk collections. The website itself is run on one of the programs, tserver. Its a tiny webserver which supports server side scripting - in bash! A recent addition, which Tridge showed me today, is talloc, a hierarchical memory allocator library.

talloc allows you to create hierarchies of memory allocation, and then when freeing a parent, having all the child nodes also freed automatically. It also allows you to attach arbitrary destructors to nodes which are run when the memory is freed. One example of using a destructor is to close file descriptors. These features allow you to remove a lot of complicated or cluttering error paths from your program without leaking resources. It brings to C some features of C++. Appealing to those who have a strong dislike of programming in C++. Next on the list may even be exception handling.

Sat, 02 Oct 2004 - Radio Shark Tpot talks about setting up a Radio Tivo using a USB FM radio. Most of what is on radio that I'm interested in time-shifting is on AM. I've been looking around for a while for an affordable AM/FM tuner that can be computer controlled. It looks like the radioShark will do what I want. No sign of a Linux driver yet, but I think the device has only been available for a few weeks.