24 December 2007

CNN rewrites elementary geography: Australia and New Zealand are in Asia

If you browse CNN's website, you will notice that stories from Australia, New Zealand and other nations in the Pacific Ocean are published under the section Asia.

CNN.com is the only website I know of that lumps Australia and Pacific nations under Asia. Other news websites, such as BBC News, will publish news about Australia under a section called Asia-Pacific instead. It makes you question CNN's commitment to responsible, accurate and factual reporting.

10 December 2007

Rudd's commitment to Kyoto: more negotiations

The response from Peter Garrett, Australia's new Environment Minister, on questions about Australia's support for short term cuts to greenhouse gas emissions was all too familiar:

"I think that most importantly, we are committed to constructive negotiations. That is the important message here, we're committed to constructive negotiations."

Rudd leaves us in no doubt about our "commitment" at the Bali conference:

"The objective of Bali is to start the process of negotiations for the next couple of years to bring about a real outcome to deal with excessively dangerous climate change."

Rudd has ruled out endorsing short term targets for greenhouse gas emissions without even setting foot on Bali.

Until Rudd is serious about making a commitment to targets for greenhouse gas emissions, the ratification of the Kyoto protocol can be regarded as nothing more than a symbolic gesture.

This raises some doubts about how committed the Labor Party truly is to tackling climate change, an issue upon which it sought to differentiate itself from the Liberal Party in the last election campaign.

Editorial from AdelaideNow...: End this climate of uncertainty

9 December 2007

The Evan Trembley Hoax

Here is another bandwidth waster that has been doing the rounds in Facebook:

Please look at the picture,(Above)read what his mother says, then forward this message on. My 15 year old boy, Evan Trembley, is missing. He has been missing for now two weeks. Maybe if everyone passes this on, someone will see this child. That is how the girl from Stevens Point was found by circulation of her picture on tv. The internet circulates even overseas, South America , and Canada etc. Please pass this to everyone in your address book. With GOD on his side he will be found. "I am asking you all, begging you to please forward this email on to anyone and everyone you know, PLEASE. It is still not too late. Please help us. If anyone knows anything, please contact me at: HelpfindEvanTrembley@yahoocom. I am including a picture of him. All prayers are appreciated! It only takes 2 seconds to forward this. If it was your child, you would want all the help you could get!!


You can rest easy, because Evan Trembley is alive and well, as reported on Snopes.com.

You should always be suspicious of any message that asks you to forward it on to other people. Chain messages are a dumb way of appealing for public support in finding a missing person.

Investigating whether a chain message is a hoax is very simple. Just copy and paste the entire contents of the message into the Google search box. If it is a known hoax, any information about it is likely to be one of the first items to appear in the list of results.

6 December 2007

Answer to the "What's wrong here?" puzzle

Recently, the following message has been forwarded from user to user all over Facebook:

Whats wrong here


Did you know that 80% of UCSD students could not find the error above? Repost this with the title "what's wrong here", and when you click "post ", the answer will be really obvious.

Judging by the number of posts to discussion forums about the question in this chain message, it has left many people bewildered.

Instead of staring at the pattern trying to identify an irregularity and giving yourself eye strain, consider what might have been the intentions of the author who created this chain message. The author claims that the answer will somehow be revealed if the message is posted again, which of course is nonsense.

There is no error in the pattern and the message is a prank. The author has created a chain message that spreads rapidly while perplexing users with a question that they cannot answer.

2 December 2007

Dullsville: What is missing?

In the world's most isolated city with over 1 million inhabitants, some are making a 3300km journey to Sydney on the opposite side of the country seeking a change of lifestyle. While Perth, or Dullsville as it is dubbed, is seen as an ideal place to study by parents of overseas students who want their children to be free of the distractions typical of city life, we have to wonder how Perth earned this unenviable title and what is driving away young professionals who will give reasons other than just the better opportunities that are offered elsewhere.

Perth is a clean and beautiful city and many of its residents would not want to live anywhere else. However, there are also many who want to call some other place home. On most days the CBD becomes virtually a ghost town in the evening, and except for Friday and Saturday night, the majority of clubs, pubs and bars in Northbridge - Perth's entertainment precinct - are either closed or have few customers.

Many sense a lack of vibrancy in the atmosphere of this city, and upon careful consideration, the underlying reasons for this may not be as simple and obvious as they at first seem.

What Is Meant By Dull?

The meaning of dull depends on the individual's perspective. Some Perth residents will have no idea what the proponents of change are seeking that the city does not already have. The proponents of change themselves will have differing ideas on what is needed to make the city more vibrant. However, most of these people would like to see more facilities and changes to laws that are conducive to social activity.

Does Size Matter?

With 1.5 million inhabitants, Perth is indeed small when compared to the world's largest urban agglomerations:

Agglomeration    Population
Tokyo            33.6 million
Seoul            23.4 million
Mexico City      22.4 million

Size certainly does make a difference, and the larger cities do tend to be more exciting, simply because there are more things to see and do.

There are other factors that contribute to the vibrancy of a city, however. Take for example Gold Coast City, famous for its expanse of surfing beaches, high rise apartments and theme parks, such as Warner Bros. Movie World. It is home to just 550 thousand. Gold Coast City owes its success as a popular tourist destination to geography, which attracted investment in tourist and entertainment facilities.

However, you do not need good beaches to create an exciting city, and Perth has good beaches anyway (even though they are not ideal for surfing).

Food and Entertainment Facilities

What can you do in other cities but not in Perth?

There is always a pub nearby. The hard part is choosing which one to go to.

There are nightclubs to cater to a range of tastes, including dance, R&B, house, rock and retro. They are concentrated in Northbridge, the CBD and Fremantle.

There is a wide variety of restaurants reflecting the multiculturalism of Australia, including Chinese, Japanese, Thai, French and Italian, just to name a few.

The cafes are plentiful. You see them everywhere you go in the CBD and Fremantle, and they can be found in many locations throughout the metropolitan area.

Aside from the above, the facilities exist for many other social activities, including watching movies on the big screen, pool, gambling and karaoke.

While Perth does have amusement and theme parks, it is debatable whether they can be considered world class. Perth would benefit from an amusement park with the same type of attractions as Disney Land in Los Angeles, but such a facility would not transform the atmosphere of Perth on its own, because it would not provide a regular social venue for local residents. The boost to tourism would be more significant, because it would encourage greater investment in the infrastructure and entertainment facilities that are needed to make Perth a more vibrant city.

Do the existing facilities just need to be bigger, better and greater in number in the capital of Australia's richest state? One would have to think not; presently, it is a meaningless proposition because on most nights almost all the social venues in the CBD are either closed or do not attract many customers. One would not describe the CBD as just dull six nights of the week; almost everywhere it is dead, eerily so. Visitors are left asking "Where can I get something to eat?". While there are restaurants (many of which only offer fast food) open in the evening, they are few and far between and lone visitors can be forgiven for not wanting to wander around the dark abandoned streets late at night searching for them. The few restaurants and nightclubs that are open for business tend to lie in obscure places where people are unlikely to find them on their own.

There are many restaurants and cafes open in Northbridge on every night of the week, but to get to these places one has to make a trek over the railway line which separates it from the centre of Perth's business activities. Some might argue that having a separate precinct exclusively for dining and entertainment is desirable, since it keeps the booming dance clubs and drunkards away from Perth's office blocks, but a lot of important business is done in restaurants and cafes outside normal business hours.


Visitors might think that the exodus from the city centre at dusk is simply a lifestyle choice which fits popular stereotypes of Australian culture. It can be considered a choice, but not one made by individual retailers and shoppers.

The Retail Trading Hours Act 1987 was introduced by the state government with the aim of assisting small retailers against competition from larger businesses by restricting opening hours depending on the size, type and location of the business. Standard trading hours are as follows:

  • 8.00am-6.00pm, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday
  • 8.00am-9.00pm, Thursday
  • 8.00am-5.00pm, Saturday

The Perth and Fremantle tourism precincts have expanded trading hours:

  • 8.00am-7.00pm, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
  • 8.00am-9.00pm, Friday
  • 8.00am-5.00pm, Saturday
  • 12 noon-6.00pm, Sunday

Small retail shops that meet a certain criteria may trade 24 hours of the day. The Act also allows 24 hour trading for filling stations. Retailers falling under the special retail shops category, such as pharmacies, video stores and duty free stores, are permitted to trade longer hours.

To the frustration of many consumers, the legislation has made many items such as clothes, electrical appliances and homewares generally impossible to obtain outside standard hours (or expanded hours in tourism precincts) because small businesses offering such products during these hours are simply not viable.

It is highly likely that the restricted trading hours of retailers would at least partly explain why other businesses such as cafes are legally permitted to remain open outside these hours but must close because they have too few potential customers. Consequently, there is little left to attract people into the CBD in the evening apart from a few convenience stores, fast food outlets and Internet cafes.

The Big Picture: Urban Design

Most of the discussion on transforming Perth that receives attention in the media appears to concentrate on the CBD and adjacent areas. It is easy for people to accept and appreciate the benefits of change in this part of the city. There is no question that the vitality of the city centre is important, but there are other issues that have an impact on the city's social structure.

The urban geography of Perth is characterised by urban sprawl and one of the world's highest dependencies on the automobile for transport. The highly segregated land use has resulted in suburbs featuring low-density, homogeneous residential areas serviced by large shopping centres. Urban sprawl is a phenomenon that became particularly evident in Australian and American cities after World War II and has been the subject of numerous studies.

Evidence exists that the car dependent lifestyle which is a fundamental characteristic of urban sprawl not only has an adverse impact on the environment, physical health and the economy, but also on social capital, or the benefit delivered by social networks. The only form of face-to-face interaction drivers have with people outside the car is road rage.

Reducing dependence on the private automobile is not a simple matter of increasing funding for public transport. Perth's urban geography has already made it one of the most costly cities to service in the world when measured as a percentage of Gross Regional Product.

Planning the city so that people spend less time behind the wheel and there is more space and money available for entertainment facilities and the services that support them can only make the CBD and surrounding suburbs more exciting places to live.

25 November 2007

The Narcissism of Kevin Rudd

There is no question that Kevin Rudd is narcissistic, given what I've independently observed and comments made by others who have gotten close to him, including a backbencher within the ALP. The question is how narcissistic. This is an important question about Kevin Rudd's personality that needs to be answered. Some of his behaviour can be strange, such as his chameleon-like ability to say, be, or do whatever he wants at any point in time regardless of how contradictory it is to the choices that were made before. If he just has the common every day self-centredness that aggravates people but he still puts the nation first, that's fine.

At the other end of the continuum is pathological narcissism. Some people who have had the misfortune of knowing someone with pathological narcissism will tell you that they never would have guessed at first, and by the time they realised their true nature it was too late and the relationship had already taken a substantial personal toll.

Anyway, this is enough for now and I'll just wait and see what he is like before speculating on his character.

24 November 2007

Waiting for the real Kevin Rudd? Don't hold your breath.

Rudd is becoming somewhat mysterious. I've been trying to find out who the real Kevin Rudd is. I'm not the only one asking that question; many people are.

It is amazing how so many people are not hesitating to swing to the Left, or whatever the ideology of the Labor Party is now. Australians tend to take a simple approach to politics. Whenever you get fed up - or just simply bored, even when a 1 trillion dollar economy is as healthy as it ever has been - just switch to the other major party. Howard has been very successful, but at the same time, there has been so much anger about some of his policies that it seems they will switch to anybody, even if they actually don't know much about the person.

There are plenty of comments about what might be the elusive Kevin Rudd - that is, the real one - from a variety of sources. He is a ruthless autocrat and can have a bad temper. He has a glass jaw. He is very calculating. It is no secret that he actually has no friends in the ALP. Nobody likes him, but they've chosen him as their leader as they don't care who it is as long as he can beat John Howard, even if it means actually adopting some of the Liberal Party's ideology.

Kevin Rudd is described as a chameleon who will adopt any position at any given time, leaving everyone confused from the many contradictory actions and statements. He has already openly shown his chameleon nature in the formulation of "his" policy - his famous "Me too!" approach - where he just flagrantly copies Howard's policies as he proposes them. I have never been able to understand this aspect of the campaign and how it has been successful. His voters for some reason don't mind letting Howard do all the work, and Kevin Rudd realises this. Am I different because I expect politicians to come up with their own policies and not just copy those of their opponents? Bizarre.

I suppose the comments that offer the most insight are from someone within the ALP's backbench, some of which have already been mentioned:

  • Friendless
  • Cynical
  • Autocratic
  • Egotistical
  • Narcissistic
  • Short-tempered
  • Thin-skinned
  • Condescending
  • Smart-arse

Narcissistic is one adjective I have already used to describe him.

After all my research, I am beginning to wonder whether the real Kevin Rudd actually exists. I wouldn't be surprised if all the usual spin and empty rhetoric which have been the hallmark of his brilliant election campaign don't cease and reveal the relaxed, every day Kevin Rudd that you are expecting. His personality quite possibly will evolve as he tunes it to his goals. I suspect Kevin Rudd sees a personality as a means to an end.

23 November 2007

Kevin Rudd to Unleash "Razor Gang" on the Public Service

On Saturday many voters will embrace Kevin Rudd and will trust him enough to give Labor both the House of Representatives and the Senate. To them, he appears to have miraculously bridged the ideological divide between the two parties and discovered the perfect balance where he can offer the wealth of economic conservatism and yet, at the same time, the compassion for the socially disadvantaged found in socialism. This of course is the dream of all Australians, whatever their ideological beliefs.

Notwithstanding the government’s good handling of the economy that has taken advantage of the mining boom driven by the rapid growth of China and India, many down-to-earth Australians feel that they have a moral obligation to reject the incumbent because of policies that to them appear to compromise the welfare of the Aussie battler for sake of free enterprise and his decision to commit our soldiers to a protracted military campaign that was justified by intelligence that later turned out to be false. This of course is not the view of all Australians, who are quite polarised in their views of the Liberal Party. Whether or not you believe that the Liberal Party’s policies have been motivated by a desire to create wealth and raise the overall standard of living for the good of the nation, Howard arguably has to be universally judged as ideologically a typical social and economic conservative.

Kevin Rudd has done the unthinkable by cutting ties with the militant unions (or so we believe) who now feel betrayed because he will not fulfil his promises after accepting millions in donations. He is also planning on slashing spending in the public service. This is a bold announcement to make just before the election, because it will cost jobs.

These voters will be excited to see this bright clean-cut rising star as being the ideal choice after waiting for a long time for an alternative. Unfortunately, the less apathetic voters who have carefully considered his proposed policies can be easily forgiven for holding an entirely different view. One cannot help but be sceptical about his promise to take on head-to-head the powerful unions who founded the Labor Party and quite understandably expect him to restore the power they once had that was diminished by the Liberal Party's reforms. Will he seriously be able to maintain an iron grip on his authority over the rest of the party to curb the former union officials who make up the majority of Labor and believe that the basic freedoms of workers have been undermined? One thing is certain: there will be no shortage of members who secretly despise him as a traitor and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are making plans on how to remove him should they win government at this very moment. Labor is hopeless at maintaining unity to further the party’s general goals, but such is their desperation that they’ve had enough self-discipline to force their smiles and wait a little while before bringing out the knives. It is hardly surprising that throughout the campaign just about everyone else including those expected to be on the front bench have rarely spoken outside interviews and debates, and when they have, left us confused with an embarrassing set of contradictions. Was Peter Garret really joking when he said they were going to do a complete back flip on the policies that have been flagrantly copied from those of Howard? Even before such a frank admission or foolish joke there have been such suspicions. If they plan a back flip, it is unlikely to be a decision of Rudd’s, and he’s unlikely to remain should this be the case. If he isn't swiftly booted from the leadership, then there will just be the same chaos that seems never-ending, only this time it will well and truly disrupt the running of this country.

The biggest question of all everybody is asking is what Rudd personally wants to achieve. One cannot help but wonder if underneath this well-mannered intellectual is nothing short of an absolute control freak seeking centralised power. Throughout the campaign he has clearly kept other members of his proposed front bench as silent as possible without arousing too much suspicion, and the lack of communication shown through the contradictions and gaffes leaves one wondering if he has run the whole show alone throughout his campaign.

It is difficult not to believe that this fantasy of a government that offers the best of everything from the two parties is just a complete con.

He has just announced that he, in the name of fiscal conservatism (which has become an irritating mantra, but seems to be having the desired effect) is going to sack workers in the public service:

"Well a razor gang is precisely what it says — you look at the totality of government outlays and see the extent to which fat can be cut in administration and delivered to frontline services instead,"

Confused that he has revealed that jobs will be lost, and not only that, had the audacity to use such insensitive words like a ruthless CEO in a board meeting? Don’t be. Use of the term razor-gang is deliberate and is spin at its finest; he is trying to promote himself as a shrewd economic manager who is prepared to make tough economic decisions. It is easy for common every day Australians to understand the justification for sacking workers in our government where there is clearly a lot of inefficiency. Also, he hasn’t revealed his hit-list, so you’re not going to see any picket lines yet.

Restructuring the government’s bureaucratic machine is no trivial task. Nobody can praise this policy announcement because he hasn’t shown Labor has improved and now proposes policies backed by proper study instead of nebulous ideas. It’s just too easy to give the impression you’re a fiscal conservative by sacking workers in government en masse who are easy targets. Well, easy for Rudd to do anyway.

After such a policy announcement from a man who lets us know on TV that he can beat Howard in a pub brawl, there is absolutely no legitimate argument to be made that Kevin Rudd has shown any more compassion than Howard when it comes to working Australians. Office workers are entitled to just as much compassion from government as our blue-collar workers on construction sites and similar unionised workplaces. One thing is certain: jobs will be lost under Rudd at his behest, and to make matters worse, he hasn’t provided the proper justification that you would expect in the formulation of economic policy and it is more than reasonable to expect that this should be provided. It is no different to announcing redundancies in a national corporation, except that he hasn’t even attempted to tell us what the savings will be. Businesses almost always explain what’s behind such decisions, but our prospective government announced this one and kept the policy away from scrutiny. For all we know, Rudd might have just thought it was a neat idea.

You might draw comfort from the fact that there are also reports of plans to do precisely the opposite and increase spending in the public service as well. The proposals are confusing and contradictory but he has every intention of axing jobs in the public service.

22 November 2007

Will the grass be greener under Rudd?

Just then I watched an interview and for the first time in this election campaign I listened very carefully and kept an open mind about him and the Labor party. And I wasn't just disappointed, I was concerned. Not by what he said. I must admit I really couldn't disagree with anything he said. Unfortunately my impression was worse because for the entire interview, he effectively said nothing. He was full of empty American-style rhetoric where the hopeful utters an extraordinary number of words with the least amount of content. The message was simple but meaningless: in return for your vote, you will get me. But wait, there’s more: he is a fiscal conservative, just ask him. That might be enough to convince the swinging voters that are looking for someone who will have the Liberal Party’s key strength – good economic management – minus their industrial relations reform.

My opinion is different: while he might be bright, he does not have much skill in economics, which is in short supply in the present Labor Party. It is far from reassuring that he thought he could deceive the Australian public by telling us that productivity dropped just when there was a sudden jump in the number of jobs.

To counter criticism of the Labor Party because it is full of ex-union officials, he insults lawyers to tell us that their party has a bigger heart because it does not have as many lawyers as the Liberal Party. Somehow I don’t think this is valid as a counter-claim. The problem is that it is difficult to trust that the party has the nation’s interests at heart if it is being run by former officials of powerful organisations that can do great harm to business and affect the community as a whole since they will be heavily involved in passing the laws that are needed to control their activities. The lawyers in parliament are no less independent than any of the other members there. Furthermore, there should be some in parliament. The people trained and experienced with practising law have to be involved in the creation of law. Creating laws is not as simple as you might think. Ever heard of loop holes which allow the most outrageous failures of justice to occur?

I don't recall him explaining in any reasonable detail how he intends to implement his agenda. And he didn't seem real at all; it is as though all the effort he has put into in his campaign has gone into carefully crafting his persona rather than formulating policy to convince Australians that he has more to offer. Politicians always put on a polished performance and indeed they should. This is different though. There is just no telling what lies beneath surface.

I hope Labor voters can offer me a good reason why they intend to elect him, apart from just “he is not Howard”, “he has been there too long, time for a change” and “he will abolish WorkChoices”.

22 September 2007

Hotline for Drunken Diallers

Drunk and feel like ringing up your ex at some ridiculous hour of the morning? You can guarantee that your call will be unwelcome while you are in your inebriated state. Now, courtesy of the Internet, there is a service that allows you to blurt out all the unintelligible nonsense you like without any shortage of listeners.

21 September 2007

The "Works on My Machine" Certification Program

You have to admire the discipline of developers who are so good at keeping within the scope of the task that has been assigned to them. They focus purely on ensuring that their code compiles and executes on their machine. So much so in fact that what has been checked into the repository will not run on anyone else's machine. To recognise such team performers, the Works On My Machine Certification has been conceived.

13 September 2007

Formation of a Geometric Pattern with a Mobile Wireless Sensor Network

Justin Lee and Svetha Venkatesh
Department of Computer Science
Curtin University of Technology

Mohan Kumar
Department of Computer Science and Engineering
The University of Texas at Arlington
Arlington, Texas 76039

Journal of Robotic Systems
Volume 21, Number 10
October 2004

DOI: 10.1002/rob.20033
URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/rob.20033


Mobile wireless sensor networks (MWSNs) will enable information systems to gather detailed information about the environment on an unprecedented scale. These self-organizing, distributed networks of sensors, processors, and actuators that are capable of movement have a broad range of potential applications, including military reconnaissance, surveillance, planetary exploration, and geophysical mapping. In many of the foreseen applications, the MWSN will need to form a geometric pattern without assistance from the user. In military reconnaissance, for example, the nodes will be dropped onto the battlefield from a plane and land at random positions. The nodes will be expected to arrange themselves into a predetermined formation in order to perform a specific task. Thus, we present algorithms for forming a line, circle, and regular polygon from a given set of random positions. The algorithms are distributed and use no communication between the nodes to minimize energy consumption. Unlike past studies of geometric problems where algorithms are either tested in simulations where each node has global knowledge of all the other nodes or implemented on a small number of robots, the robustness of our algorithms has been studied with simulations that model the sensor system in detail. The simulations demonstrate that the algorithms are robust against random errors in the sensors and actuators. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Distributed Motion Coordination for Mobile Wireless Sensor Networks Using Vision

Justin T. C. Lee
Master’s thesis
Department of Computing
Curtin University of Technology
Perth, Australia
March 2003
URL: http://adt.curtin.edu.au/theses/available/adt-WCU20031201.132347/


Mobile wireless sensor networks (MWSNs) will enable information systems to gather detailed information about the environment on an unprecedented scale. These self-organising, distributed networks of sensors, processors and actuators that are capable of movement have a broad range of potential applications, including military reconnaissance, surveillance, planetary exploration and geophysical mapping.

In many of the foreseen applications a certain geometric pattern will be required for the task. Hence, algorithms for maintaining the geometric pattern of an MWSN are investigated. In many tasks such as land mine detection, a group of nodes arranged in a line must provide continuous coverage between each end of the formation. Thus, we present algorithms for maintaining the geometric pattern of a group of nodes arranged in a line.

An MWSN may also need to form a geometric pattern without assistance from the user. In military reconnaissance, for example, the nodes will be dropped onto the battlefield from a plane and land at random positions. The nodes will be expected to arrange themselves into a predetermined formation in order to perform a specific task. Thus, we present algorithms for forming a circle and regular polygon from a given set of random positions.

The algorithms are distributed and use no communication between the nodes to minimise energy consumption. Unlike past studies of geometric problems where algorithms are either tested in simulations where each node has global knowledge of all the other nodes or implemented on a small number of robots, the robustness of our algorithms has been studied with simulations that model the sensor system in detail. The nodes locate their neighbours using simulated vision where a ray-tracer is used to generate images of a model of the scene that would be captured by each node's cameras. The simulations demonstrate that the algorithms are robust against random errors in the sensors and actuators. Even though the nodes had incomplete knowledge of the positions of other nodes due to occlusion, they were still able to perform the assigned tasks.

12 September 2007

The Tenants of Perth's Prime Office Real Estate

Guess who the main occupants are in Central Park. Here's a clue: they are not the greedy, self-indulgent banks who are charging exorbitant fees simply because they can, finance companies or government departments, as you might expect. Nonetheless, it is hardly surprising, because these companies are enjoying staggering growth that knows no bounds.

Central Park Tenant Profile