Sunday, February 26, 2006

Falkirk Wheel

Sometimes politicians manage to start something that really does inspire people. In the case of the Falkirk Wheel, a competition to find a replacement for a series of old canal locks, led to the wonderful piece of engineering shown below (image courtesy of Wikimedia):

The beautiful thing is the wheel is so well balanced that the energy it takes to swing it around is very small:
It takes just 22.5 kilowatts (kW) to power the electric motors, which consume just 1.5 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy in four minutes, roughly the same as boiling eight kettles of water.

Wikipedia's article has more photos of the structure.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Interview with BSAA Chairman Jim Macnamara (Part 1/3)

In case you haven't seen it yet, check out my interview with Jim Macnamara from the BSAA on the Round Up! This is part one of what will become a three part series.

Star Wars Wiki

Regardless of what you may think about the latest 3 Star Wars films, there is an undeniable appeal in the expanded Star Wars universe that includes the various books, games, comics and fan-flicks created over the years. So it should not be surprising to learn that there is now a fan-created Star Wars Wiki that covers ALL of the Star Wars universe.

Feel like airing your personal insight into Darth Vader's motivations? Then feel free to go ahead and join the discussion page, or just update his entry in the wiki. Perhaps you want to start somewhere more modest - so how about reviewing the wanted pages list and adding a small entry to one?

Lots of fun for hardcore fans and casual visiters to the Star Wars universe alike ...

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

GTD: My HipsterPDA

Recently I've implemented Getting Things Done (GTD), an easy and effective way of organising yourself from the bottom up. The central tool I am using for all of this is GMail, and I might post about how I do that in the future. But as part of doing this I knew I needed a better way of capturing ideas, notes and actions whilst I was out and about, and so I turned to using a HipsterPDA.

My first effort was a bit dismal (although functional). It was basically 10 or 12 index cards held together by a bulldog clip. It was enough to prove the concept for my satisfaction, and so I stayed up late one night scrounging bits of plastic, metal and card up and then whacking it together to form this:



The transparent plastic on the front came from an old mouse pad that let you put pictures under a transparent screen, the flowchart is a simplified GTD reminder chart from D*I*Y Planner, and the back is decorative laminated card from the front of a notebook I am no longer using. You can just see a year's calendar stuck to one of the back index cards, that is just enough help for me to plan meetings with people, without actually requiring my full calendar in hardcopy.

Unlike my first version, this one is held together by a keyring loop that goes through holes punched in the cards and covers. I snipped off most of the loop so it is easy to slip cards on and off. This makes it a pretty standard Pierced Edition HipsterPDA.

The rubber band helps to hold it together (especially in my pocket) and also keeps the pen on the back. I've found that the key to getting the most out of GTD is to carry this with me everywhere as otherwise you end up keeping something in your head rather than out in your infallible system.

Future changes will include shifting from green cards to white ones, they still have the ruled lines running landscape (not portrait), but I can manage with that. I would like to make more use of the D*I*Y Planner's HipsterPDA templates - but I might need to wait for a index card printer first.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Find Music You'll Love - Free at Pandora

One of the nicer Web2.0 tools I've come across recently is Pandora, a free online music streaming tool. You can use it to create your own 'radio stations' based upon music you like. So my Nickelback radio station is very different to my Jamiroquai one. You can rate the songs it picks for you and help it choose better music for you, or leave it alone and let it play away in the background.

At the moment you can play with it for a while for free, and then you need to register to use it. The free version is ad-supported, but the ads are visual only, so that's not too bad. There is a paid version that can be used without ads, and that can even be linked to other devices than your web browser, like your home stereo.

You can also put a create station box like the one below for people to try it out themselves, have a go!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Top Ten Sci-Fi Films That Never Existed

Sometimes when you run your own business you stay up to crazy hours trying to master GTD, and then you waste a little time RSS-surfing. That's how I came across The Top Ten Sci-Fi Films That Never Existed, an amazing list that not only covers those films (some were made, just Not As They Should Have Been™) but also explains what went wrong in each case. In any case, have a read if you're at all into sci-fi ... or beating up George Lucas.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Redneck Palm Pilot

I was always taught at university that we should never suggest an IT solution if a manual solution would handle things just as well. In that spirit I can heartily recommend that you look at implementing the Redneck Palm Pilot as a replacement for all those expensive Palm and WinCE devices we're becoming addicted to.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

iPod - It's disposable dontcha know?

In a post titled iPod Grief, Reveries Magazine points out an unpalatable truth faced by many iPod owners, that Apple has designed them to last a shade longer than their warranty period. Apple seems to think everyone realises that the iPod is disposable electronic fashion, after all it's built around a relatively flimsy hard-drive.

The Australian iPod technical details remind us that:
Limited Warranty
Your iPod comes with single incident telephone support for the first 90 days and a one-year limited warranty. Purchase the AppleCare Protection Plan for iPod to extend your service and support to two full years. Only the AppleCare Protection Plan provides you with direct telephone support from Apple technical experts and the assurance that repairs will be handled by Apple-certified technicians using genuine Apple parts. For more information, visit Apple support or call 133 MAC (622).

So go ahead and spend A$598 on your iPod, and then spend another A$99 to extend the protection to two years. Just expect to be talking to them in 13 months' time when it starts decaying and buying something else in 25 months' time.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Those cartoons: In the interests of democracy, they must be published.

Andrew West at The Sydney Morning Herald blogs that Those cartoons: In the interests of democracy, they must be published.

The point he makes is this:
There is an uncompromising first principle at stake here: Muslims, and the adherents of any other faith, living in liberal societies must accept that, in such societies, a critique of religion, however juvenile and insulting, is not only permissible but intrinsic to democracy.
Racism is wrong and to be avoided, but criticism of beliefs (and followers of Islam are by definition, believers) is not only allowed, but encouraged in order to provide a real choice for people.

On the other hand, the controversy seems to be doing little for freedom of the press in general (although it continues to highlight the self-censorship that the Danish newspaper had complained of in the first place), and on the other the Muslim activists behind the various violent outbursts are seeing some nice polarisation of opinion, no doubt helping their recruiting efforts. This is the point behind another Sydney Morning Herald piece:
Naser Khader is a liberal Muslim MP in Denmark who thinks the episode has helped extremists on both sides. "The campaign against the caricatures is a clear manoeuvre on the part of Muslim radicals," he told the German newspaper Die Zeit. But he also says when an MP from the far-right Danish People's Party calls Islam a "cancer" and no one objects, it "prepares the ground" for extremism.

At a protest in London on Friday, one young person was dressed as a suicide bomber; some people carried placards calling for beheading of the cartoonists. As a response it was fanatical and out of all proportion. It also underlined Khader's point: publication has emboldened those for whom the prospect of a clash of civilisations is enticing. On its own, that is not an argument against publication. Causing offence, even rage, is an inherent and necessary risk that goes with free speech.

But the right to free speech does not exist in isolation from other values, such as empathy and respect. As a Guardian editorial says, no Western newspaper would publish anti-semitic cartoons of the kind that were published in Nazi Germany and are still published in many Arab countries.

Yes, the editors were free to run the cartoons. But what greater good was served in doing so? As Khader and others have said, a struggle for the soul of Islam is under way in Europe. Victory could mean a new form of Islam, comfortable with secularism, pluralism, dissent and women's rights. Defeat is too awful to contemplate. It is impossible to see how the cartoon wars have nudged the larger struggle in the right direction.
Perhaps the 'greater good' that was served is that it has highlighted the extremist tendencies within Islam, and the Western media's timidity in confronting it. Certainly bloggers have taken a more active stand against the cartoon protesters than the mainstream media, and for this can be thanked, however what else do we not hear about, because it is considered not to serve the 'greater good'?

My own beliefs say that we should let the light shine where it can, darkness only serves to propagate the ignorance of all.
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.
John 3:19-21

Classic Asteroids!

Thanks to I'm able to offer you a free game of asteroids!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Child's tale led to clash of cultures

Finally I managed to track down a concise and understandable explanation for how the Danish cartoons of Mohammed have become such a major issue. It sounds like some feisty Danish imams, not content with the local reaction they managed to brew up, took the cartoons, along with much more offensive three images NOT published by the newspaper and toured the Middle East in an attempt to work up exactly the sort of reaction we are seeing now.

Given the state of extreme Muslim sensitivity in Sydney right now, I think it is sensible for major news papers not to publish the cartoons. It is an overreaction however.

If you want to see the cartoons for yourself, then check out Tim Blair's blog.

Edit: Even more good commentary exists here including thumbnails of the 3 images the Danish imams apparently included with the original 12.

Edit 2: Shock, horror! It appears that Mohammed has been represented in cartoons and artworks before. There is also more explanation about what the Danish imams did. It is certainly looking like a good deal of this was manufactured to generate outrage on the part of even moderate Muslims, whilst leaving little for the West to do about it.