Category Archives for Culture
With the global financial crisis, there’s been talk about saving companies and industries simply because a large number of people work in them. In Australia, Captain Planet (AKA Kevin Rudd) is bailing out the car industry, and one of the biggest reasons is the number of Australians that work in our automotive industries. This reminds me of a quote from Jeremy Clarkson in Top Gear a few years back:
I didn’t even know Australia made cars!
Society moves on. If we were to protect every industry that supported working families, then we’d still have a thriving horse and buggy industry. Technology and knowledge have always dictated the industries we need and don’t need, and like thousands of years of not caring which animals become extinct, we should simply leave it to technological evolution to decide who survives and who doesn’t. Do we really need to subsidise all those hard working morse code operators into the 21st century? I think not.
Sure, there’s argument for subsidising skill transition programs, but transition usually means delaying the inevitable for another generation, which just brings us back to subsidies.
Now I’m a socialist at heart, I stand just to the left of the most left learning person you can think of, so I’d nationalize everything I could if I had the chance, and I care a lot about the plight of families and the blue collar worker, but a career change isn’t the end of the world, and in many cases with outdated industries, the change to a more modern industry can mean improved life style, improved wages, and improved working conditions.
The money should instead be put into education and training for skills in modern industries, and not propping up industries in their death throws who have no way to, or no intention of, paying it back.
But what it really comes down to is, it’s the car industry. These are the people who ultimately provide the planet’s biggest source of pollution, the industry that has a habbit of killing off technology that will bring the end of the internal combustion engine (see orbital engine or Who killed the electric car?). Do we really need to prop them up any longer?
I’ve always been against organised gambling, companies whose only business is to make money off people with poor risk perception.
Gamblers are always the last to know, or they just don’t care, that the industry is designed so that the company wins and the gambler loses. Poker machines for example, have adjustable odds and payout percentage, so that the machine will only payout a certain percentage of what is put in. In most cases this is between 75% and 80%, so put in $1000 over a day, and you’ll end up with $750 by the end. Poker machines are configured so that you will lose.
Let’s move on to Lotto and lotteries. I’ve written about the odds of winning Lotto before, but let’s just reiterate the point. The NSW Lotto site states that odds of winning are about 8 million to one. The odds of being struck by lightning in a given year, are about seven hundred thousand to one, for example. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anyone who’s been struck by lightning, let alone the 4-5 times it would take to equal winning Lotto.
How about casino games that have a tactical component then, like card games? Well there’s a few elements at work here. Firstly, casino games are set up so that the player has a short term advantage, but a long term disadvantage. So the longer you play, the more chance that you will lose. Remember, casinos are in it to make money by you losing money. Secondly, they do this by taking a cut of each bet or win, reducing the payout below what would be dictated by the actual odds. Bookmakers work the same way, so say a horse wins at 10:1, then the payout won’t reflect 10:1, because the bookmaker needs to take a cut. You’ll get something more like 9:1 or 8:1 instead.
So not only are the odds against you, but they’re against you AND not paying you the correct dues.
Most governments, including our NSW state government, say that gambling is a problem, yet they’re usually the biggest takers of gambling profits. They say they want to help problem gamblers on the one hand, yet they’re continually inventing new ways to optimise their gambling take on the other.
Each year the Melbourne Cup stops Australia. A horse race stops an entire nation. And it’s not a particularly good race to bet on either, most professional gamblers don’t bet much on the Cup, because it’s too unpredictable. Yet generations of Australians are brought up on horse racing as a national sport.
For the past week, since the Melbourne Cup, the NSW TAB have been set up in the middle of Martin Place in Sydney. For the Melbourne Cup you’d probably say yeah OK, while it’s gambling, it’s now a national tradition. Yet since Melbourne Cup day, they’ve remained there to serve all the problem gamblers for the rest of the Spring Racing Carnival.
Even schools stop for the Melbourne Cup now. We’re teaching our children that gambling on the horses is a fun thing. It’s ridiculous.
And yet gambling isn’t our biggest social problem. Tobacco and alcohol are bigger. So why not have two extra special days a year for each of those? We can have Melbourne Cup day for the gamblers, National Smoko Day to publicise smoking, and of course National Piss Up Day, to promote irresponsible drinking. All three days could be pushed in schools, although most schools already have a National Piss Up Day, otherwise known as muck up day.
Organised gambling. It’s completely rigged so that you lose. When will people get it? All it would take is some government funded TV adverts, medicare funded councelling for problem gamers, and restrictions on how much you can bet in a day, and the problem would virtually disappear.
It’s amazing, but this blog has actually ruined Louise’s social network. Lots of Louise’s friends are reading my blog, which is great. (Where were you 7 years ago when I first started?) But many of my Molly news posts are full of more information and personal thoughts than I’ve even shared with Louise at times. So whenever Louise speaks to someone on the phone, not only have they heard all the news, but sometimes they’re telling Louise additional things about her life. Louise still hasn’t read my blog since going into hospital, so it’s all pretty surreal to her.
Molly’s doing really well. At times she seems to smile, and sometimes even acknowledge that we exist. Not really, but almost. And she’s still not crying much, except when she’s doing a number twos. Very similar to her Daddy in fact.
We’re still pretty sleep deprived, as she’s still on 4th hourly feeds, but we’re dealing with it quite well, and are starting to get into a rhythm. The Olympics on in the background helps, but that just reminds me of how much a hate our free to air TV stations. Insert Channel 7 TiVo rant here.
So finally TiVo is about to be officially released in Australia. And the TV ad for it is attempting to pull the heart strings of any Australian watching the Olympics. Average Aussie householders walking down the street extolling the virtues of TiVo, with the tag line:
We’re Australian and we’re taking control. Join the revolution. TiVo. TV your way.
In case the advert isn’t clear enough, TiVo is being brought to Australia as a Channel 7 joint venture with the U.S. based TiVo company. TiVo of course is a U.S. product that’s been around for almost ten years now, and while it’s easy for people watching the ad to think that Channel 7 and TiVo care about us the viewers and just want to bring this great product into our lounge rooms, the truth is fact much much different.
Ten years of TiVo in the U.S., but not here. Could it be TiVo not wishing to enter the Australian market until now? Could it be some technical innovation that’s only now allowed Australian PAL televisions to work with TiVo? Or is that there’s never really been a market here? None of these in fact.
The only reason we’ve not had TiVo in Australia, is because the free to air broadcasters, especially channel 7 and channel 9, have been preventing TiVo from entering the market for almost ten years, because one of TiVo’s main features, is the ability to skip over ads in recorded programs. Ads of course are the televisions stations’ primary income, so the threat of TiVo to our local broadcasters was and still is, huge.
Yet TiVo went to market in the U.S., so how come it was prevented from doing so here? Well, Channels 7 and 9 found a nice arguably dodgey loophole in our copyright laws. Because their program schedules were devised by them, they apparently thought that they held the copyright to them. And as with most people who don’t understand what copyright is actually designed to do (protect an artist’s right to income), Channel 7 and 9 used their copyright over their program guides (or EPG, Electronic Program Guide) to prevent TiVo from using them.
And of course without a program guide, TiVo can’t be programmed to record anything, and would be dead in the water in the Australian market.
Third parties have in the past set up their own EPGs on web sites, by manually typing in program schedules as they’re published in the newspapers, or by screen scraping web sites which display limited program schedules, such as the television station web sites themselves, but 7 and 9 have shut each of them down as they appeared. In fact 9 are still in court with IceTV, who were selling an EPG with a web site which would act like a VCR for you.
TiVo have been in Australia unofficially for years though. A friend of mine has several, and has been using them successfully for about five years now. Local hackers reprogrammed the TiVo software many years ago, and several web sites have published EPGs for it at various times before being shut down. But it’s not like taking a box home and just plugging it in and it works.
Enter Foxtel’s new iQ box, which basically does the same thing as the TiVo, but only if you have Foxtel. Consolidated Media Holdings (CMH), a Packer company, owns 25% of Foxtel, so of course Channel 9’s EPG is available on the iQ, but Channel 7 and Channel 10 refused to provide theirs to Foxtel, or at least didn’t initially, I’m not sure of the situation now.
So in response, after ten years of aggressively preventing companies like TiVo from entering the Australian market, Channel 7 did a deal to bring them in as a Channel 7 branded product. To 7’s credit, they’ve left in the ad skipping, and it’s going to be a one off purchase for the TiVo itself, although there are rumours that you’ll have to subscribe to the EPG for a small fee. From devil to angel in a single business deal.
And so it is amusing in so many ways, the tag line used in the Channel 7 TiVo commercial. Yes we are Australian and are taking control, but only after Channel 7 had run out of ways to prevent us from doing so. You couldn’t really call it a revolution, and you couldn’t really call the last ten years TV our way. But TiVo is finally here, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just a shame that Channel 7 is now considered the TiVo champion, when fact they were until very recently, it’s biggest opposition.
After so many years of embracing independent media, if you think that big media’s stranglehold on the world is loosening, then you’d be wrong, and the Olympics are a primary example.
Time zones are always a problem when reporting world wide news events, but most of the world understand this and just deal with it. Something broadcast from Australia, say APEC or some such, gets broadcast on Australian time, and if this means evening in Europe, the middle of the night for the U.S., or daytime for Asia, then so be it. The current conflict in Georgia? During the day in Europe and Asia, but middle of the night for the U.S.
The rest of world recognises that time zones exist, and that sometimes they work for you and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they fall during television’s prime time, and sometimes they don’t. Unless of course you’re U.S. broadcaster NBC, in which case you can simply pay to make sure world events, in this case the Olympics, happen in U.S. television prime time.
Let’s just put this into perspective. A television broadcaster has paid money so that a news event will take place in prime time.
Traditionally, at a swim meet, the heats are run during the day, and the finals are held at night. That’s the way it’s always been, regardless of where they’re held, and regardless of where they’re broadcast. Yet NBC has the power to change the Olympics so that the finals are held during the day, and the heats are held at night, so that they sync up with U.S. time of heats during the day and finals at night. And they’ve done the same with a whole range of events, including the gymnastics and the marathons.
In Australia, we’re only a few hours ahead of Bejing time, so the traditional timing for the swimming would have been perfect, heats during the day, and then finals at night. But with the U.S. pandering in place, we now have the finals being run at lunch time Australian time.
For us, the swimming is where we excel, it’s what we do, and we generally have a passion for swimming more than any other sport. It’s a tradition for us, especially when we usually beat the U.S. swimmers.
But not this time. On one of those rare occasions when a world wide event actually occurs in a good time zone for us, we’re now stuck with most of our population not actually being able to see the swim finals because they’re being held at lunch time.
NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol is one of the key people to blame. In an interview with The Guardian, he said:
In the first conversation that I had with the new head of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, I told him that it would be almost impossible for an American network bidding on the games in the future … not to have some way to have ‘live’ happen. … I emphasised from the beginning that it was important to us, if possible, to have swimming and gymnastics work this way.
But it’s not just NBC who’s to blame. Obviously it was the IOC, traditionally as bent and corrupt as the drug cheats they keep ranting about, that had to agree to the change, because the Chinese certainly don’t need the money. Co-incidentally of course, the change in schedule means that the swim finals will now broadcast in Europe in the late afternoon and early evening, not such a bad compromise for them.
Now the swimmers themselves aren’t particularly impressed with the situation either. All their competitive lives they’ve been used to swimming heats in the day and finals at night, and now that’s been completely flipped on it’s head. So much so that swimmers are saying they rarely reach their peek until the night, and so world records won’t tumble as much as they usually do under the new schedule. Yet obviously NBC don’t care if the performances are watered down, so long as it’s watered down in prime time.
Big media is still in charge, they’ve integrated citizen media into their model, and they still control everyone who counts. Meanwhile the world keeps on spinning, and still the world’s news events just happen to occur more often than not in U.S. prime time. Their demise cannot come too soon.
With the U.S. credibility around the world at it’s lowest point ever, and their financial markets completely crumbling, when will big U.S. media lose its stranglehold on what world events happen outside U.S. borders?
I fought the parking man, and the parking man won. On Thursday night, I left the hospital late, around 11pm or so, and the boom gate of the car park was up, so I just drove out. $30 saved. When I say car park, it’s more just a few empty blocks of gravel and dirt, but it’s the only car park near the hospital, so it will do.
Louise’s car had also parked there since Thursday, and was amassing quite a large fee. But I didn’t care, because I figured I’d just drive them both out late on successive nights, and voila, free parking.
So last night, Friday, I’d been parked there all day. I left the hospital at around 10pm, and walked to the car park. It was a cold night. The guy was still there, boom gate up, but waiting to take my money, so I walked around for a while, freezing, figuring 10:30pm would do it. Nope, still there. So I called my sister, spoke to her for a while, and walked back around 11pm.
By this time I was cold and frustrated, wondering why I didn’t just pay the parking fee. But the guy was packing up his stuff and about to leave, so it seemed like it was worth the wait. I walked close by to check it out, careful not to give away my intention. He watched me walk by, it was like a mexican stand off, him wanting to leave, but not wanting to miss out on the $30. So I went around a corner and waited 10 minutes before returning.
Finally, he’d gone. I checked the gate… it was locked. Check the other gate, also locked. I walked right around the entire station, there was no way out. I’d had a chance a leave, but I wrecked it, so here I was, with both of our cars locked inside a parking station that I couldn’t get them out of. I ended up having to walk home, and walk back to the hospital in the morning. This morning.
Late this afternoon I finally left the car park, asking the guy if I could go out and come back later in the day and continue the ongoing fee, but no, he said I’d have to pay the full day rate every time I left and returned in the same day. What an arse.
As it is, I now park out in the street, and I’ll get Louise’s car out (with a $100+ fee) sometime tomorrow.
What an arse.
We might be about to see a big and very welcome change in the way we innovate and invent. About 20 years ago we were bemoaning the move from individual inventor to corporate R&D, when most well known developments seemed to come out of company labs, and companies such as Philips and IBM invested more and more in pure research and it’s commercialisation. While inventions were still coming from an idea by an individual, the individual and the teams that went on to develop them were more often than not working for a large corporation.
Who remembers Charles P. Ginsburg of Ampex Corporation, who led the team which invented the first video recorder; or Dr. Percy Spencer from weapons developers Raytheon Corporation, who first discovered that microwaves could be used in a new type of oven; or the team behind the Joint Strike Fighter?
The day of the individual inventor seemed to be over, with the likes of Edison, Bell and Gutenberg perhaps ending with someone like Robert Moog or Raymond Kurzeil. This also seemed the case in my industry, with the days when an individual software developer could design and build a product on their own, also almost over. Goodbye to the heady days of software invention by engineers such as Dan Bricklin, Bill Budge and Alan Bird, to name a random few.
However, about five years ago the ABC TV show “The Inventors” popped back on air, and there seem to be a lot more news stories these days about individual inventors again. How come?
This story about a bed which makes itself is amusing, and was invented by an individual, Enrico Berruti. Now you may be thinking well, that’s what you get from an individual inventor, but Jean-Luc Vincent, who chairs the International Exhibition of Inventions where the bed is being shown, makes reference to Proctor & Gamble’s Connect & Develop strategy, where up to 50% of the P&G’s innovations are sourced from outside the company. Of course this doesn’t mean that these are all by individuals, but there’s at least recognition that invention happens outside a formal lab environment, and more often than not when an individual randomly gets a really clever idea all of a sudden.
In software at least, are we finally seeing a shift back to individuals or small teams? Things went out of control when users started expecting more functionality in their products, particularly with companies such as Microsoft setting a new benchmark in software complexity. Small developers found it difficult to satisfy ever growing user expectations of what good software should include.
About 15 years ago I used to write software packages on my own, and have them marketed by software publishing companies. I haven’t done that in a long while, due to the work that would be involved in developing so much new code from scratch. But with open source and COTS now being increasingly low risk and easy to integrate options for developers, maybe we are seeing a revitalised community of individual developers.
So go and invent something!
I wrote a bit of a rant about 3 and half years ago, about the Canberra taxi sharing rate. It’s
old, so I’m sure the system has changed since then, but for some reason I still get
blog comments, usually from people who don’t understand the system, or a driver with
no idea what it’s like to be a passenger.
Anyway, it’s time to turn on the Sydney taxi system, which is completely
stuffed, and was recently voted the worst in
all of Australia by the Tourist and Transport
We live in Newtown, a fairly arty yet very busy middle income area of Sydney,
which if you’re not taking the tollway between the CBD and the airport, is pretty
much mid-way between them, but again, lots of people live and work in the area. But
therein lies the problem, cabbies would rather go to the CBD or airport than pick
up a Newtown fare that could be going anywhere. I catch cabs several times a week,
so how do I fare? A few examples are in order.
My girlfriend booked a cab over the phone around 6:30am on a weekday morning,
and was told “first available”, which seems to be the layman’s translation of “good
fucking luck if anyone happens to be in your area”. After several calls, and 30
minutes, there was no cab, so she called a third time to complain, at which point
they cancelled the cab that said he was on his way, and organised for another cab
company to take the booking. Meanwhile, the cab that was cancelled, came past our
house, but decided not to stop and take the booking. After an hour, she finally got
her cab, at the expense of an important meeting.
3pm is shift changeover. If you want a cab within 30 minutes of 3pm, you’re
stuffed. Cabs will even drive past you with their light on (“available”) but won’t
One day at a big taxi rank in town, I was waiting for a cab at around 2:30pm. I
was at the head of the rank, so I should have gotten the next one. Two cabs turn up
at the rank, but park at the rear of the rank. There used to be a law that if a
taxi joins the rank, then they must take you wherever you want to go, and I have a
feeling the law is now extended to anywhere, not just at a rank. However cabs these
days seem to think they can sit at the back of the rank, get out of their vehicle,
walk down to the line of people and ask if anyone’s going to a high fare area, or
somewhere on the way to their shift changeover location. If they don’t want to take
the chance of getting a good fare at 3pm, then just don’t take any fares! It breaks
the system, and makes people unhappy and pissed off with taxi drivers.
This is what happened on this particular day, and it took 45 minutes to get a
cab at this major CBD rank. Meanwhile other cabs are driving into the rank,
dropping people off, and then driving away empty. After 20 minutes had passed, a
cab turns up at the head of the rank and drops people off, I try to get into the
cab, but he says he’s not taking bookings and drives off. I joke with the guy
behind me about arsehole cab drivers. Then two turn up to drop off passengers,
again at the head of the rank. The guy behind me goes to the second cab, who let’s
him in, but the first cab doesn’t let me in, he’s not taking bookings. So the guy
behind me decides he’s waited long enough and just drives off. Passengers can be
The other week I booked a cab for 9am at the corner of my street and King
Street, the major through road in the area. Two cabs came past with their light on,
and both said that they weren’t the ones who had accepted the booking, even though
they were from the same company as the booking. WTF? I ended up getting into the
second one, and called the company to cancel the booking, but twice when I was half
way through their automated booking system, they hung up on me, so I gave up
bothering to let them know. I don’t know whether my number is now logged, but I
definitely get a lot of late cabs these days.
“first available” cab bookings used to work by calling out the job over the taxi
radio, and whichever driver hit “accept” or whatever the button is called on their
radio, they would get the job. The driver was supposed to only take the job if they
were in the area and within a few minutes of being free. However I’ve had lots of
cabs where while we’re way outside the area of my destination, they will switch
their radio to where we’re going to be in 20 minutes, and accept any job they hear.
No wonder it always takes so long to get a cab.
Sure, cabbies have it tough, but they have a choice of whether to be one or not,
and they have a choice of whether to be nice to people or to mess with the system.
Today my girlfriend and I got into a cab in town, and were on our way home. We hit
traffic from a big accident about half way, and decided to get out and walk, but we
didn’t because the cabbie would be out of a fare AND stuck in traffic. However he
overheard us talking and said it would be fine if we wanted to get out. So I gave
him a big tip and we got out. Meanwhile, around the next corner, the accident had
cleared, so he pulled over and waited for the 2 minutes it took us to catch up by
walking, and asked if we’d like to have the rest of our journey for free. The tip
wouldn’t have covered the distance, but he still offered. It’s nice to be nice,
nice makes nice.
A few years back, cabbies started messing with the first available system, by
giving their business cards to passengers who have big regular fares. Many of the
cabs that take jobs from the airport, are because a regular customer called them
direct on their mobile, and asked them to be picked up. The state government
decides on how many taxi licenses to hand out, based on how many they think the
city can handle. When many of these are used for private paid transport, it’s no
wonder that people not bucking the system, have to wait so long for a cab.
This is against the law by the way, and to combat this, a lot of taxi drivers
have changed themselves into private hire transport, outside the taxi system,
because they can make more money that way. This in effect brings in more
inexperienced cabbies into the taxi system.
I met one cabbie who had two other mates who also drove taxis, and they’d spent
most of their time on the phone co-ordinating their private bookings and looking
after each other. His excuse was that they were now competing with the hire
transport guys for fares, and so had to optimise their fares in order to survive.
And this is one of the main problems with Sydney’s taxi system, the drivers mess
with the system, the broken system then annoys the customers, and the drivers
respond by saying “fuck you” to the customers and even more trying to optimise
their bucking of the system.
So for you you taxi customers out there, the best way to work with the system,
and get a cab when you want it, is to book with Silver Service, over the Internet,
for a specific date and time, ahead of that time.
It is ironic that the moment when you need a cab most urgently, that being right
now without any warning, cab companies treat this as “first available”, which
effectively gives it the lowest priority of all taxi bookings.
In closing, I should mention the infamous taxi round about problem. You’re
waiting on a city block for a cab. You haven’t booked one, and the closest rank is
too far away or is empty, so you’re just going to call one over when you see it.
Problem is, there’s another person nearby who also wants a cab, so they stand 10-20
metres in front of you, and end up getting the first cab. If you see someone
standing in front of you, do you then move another 10-20 metres around the block?
Eventually you’ll end up where you started from.
Or what about the rank stalker? These are people who stand 5-10 metres in front
of the cab rank, so they can grab the next taxi just before it gets to the rank. I
was in town one Thursday night with three of us at a main rank, and had four
different people steal incoming cabs just before they hit the rank. Surely cab
drivers would try to respect the system when they’ll still get a fare if they go
the extra 10 metres to the rank? Or maybe outside the rank they can at least check
to see where the person is going before taking the job.
All I ask of the taxi system is that a taxi turns up when I need it, and it takes me to where I want to go. Is this too much to ask?
The Sydney taxi system is screwed, and something needs to be done about it. It’s
not like you can catch public transport instead, because it’s also stuffed.
How do we provide the resources for all these people? Food, air, housing, even land itself. Will we need to restrict how many children can be born? Will we have a maximum legal age, like in Logan’s Run?
What happens to prisoners who were given a 100 year or more sentence, with the courts assuming they wouldn’t live any longer or would be too old to cause trouble? A life sentence suddenly carries much more weight, especially with never to be paroled. Will our jails just keep filling up with lifers? What happens when a psychopath gets out after 100+ years, is perfectly fit and after revenge? Do we automatically extend jail terms each year by the planet’s average life span? Or by that time will we have found the psycho gene and have deleted it from those in prison?
With life being suddenly more valuable and no longer inevitable, will we start taking less chances in life? Less risk, less danger, less experiencing of life itself. What will it be like for a children, who grow up in a world where living forever is just a part of being human?
Will we see the end of the lifetime warranty? What will this mean for a life insurance policy? Less risk, but longer life. Where on earth am I going to keep all my memorabilia, my personal stuff I’ve kept from my life experience?
And do we really have to put up with Rove McManus living forever?
Summary: The effects of music on performance on a computer-mediated problem-solving task were examined. Participants completed the task in anonymous dyads as they were exposed to either Classical music, Punk music, or No Music. Results indicate that those in the Classical music condition performed better on the problem solving-task than those in the Punk music or No Music conditions. However, those listening to the Classical music offered more off-task comments during the task than those listening to No Music. Implications for website designers are discussed.
“The current study looked at the distracting effects of pop music on introverts’ and extraverts’ performance on various cognitive tasks. It was predicted that there would be a main effect for music and an interaction effect with introverts performing less well in the presence of music than extraverts. Ten introverts and ten extraverts were given two tests (a memory test with immediate and delayed recall and a reading comprehension test), which were completed, either while being exposed to pop music, or in silence. The results showed that there was a detrimental effect on immediate recall on the memory test for both groups when music was played, and two of the three interactions were significant. After a 6-minute interval the introverts who had memorized the objects in the presence of the pop music had a significantly lower recall than the extraverts in the same condition and the introverts who had observed them in silence. The introverts who completed a reading comprehension task when music was being played also performed significantly less well than these two groups. These findings have implications for the study habits of introverts when needing to retain or process complex information.”