Archives for category: Uncategorized


I keep hearing that cars are becoming appliances. Performance cars are too fast to be used anywhere and luxury cars are unaffordable so we all drive appliances to and from work and, just like kitchenware, they are mostly white or silver with the occasional black.

Perversely, fridges are becoming more like cars used to be. They come in stereotypes depending on origin. For example, if you can hang half a carcass along with eight slabs of beer it is probably American. If it scans barcodes, keeps inventory and orders refills over the web it is Korean or Japanese and if it is colourful and stylish it will be European. If it’s white, noisy and goes forever it might be an Aussie.

A trend I have noticed lately is bloke’s fridges. These come swaddled in denim or deer hide or just painted in your team colours and they are meant for the ‘man cave’. They hold many cans and bottles and there is no shelf for quiche. My question is, “What about the girls?”.

I don’t subscribe to the convention that women belong in the kitchen and I can fry bacon sandwiches as well as anybody. Why are there no fridges for the room dedicated to the lady of the house. I’m not necessarily suggesting pink ribbons or quilting but has anybody thought this through? And why is the man cave also known as the sports bar or game room. Of my acquaintances most of the actual sporting activities are carried out by the WAG. I have female fiends who run up mountains or compete in triathlons or marathons. Most of my male friends have bad backs or crook knees and prefer to sit in a soft recliner with a cold beer watching footy or cricket on a half-hectare Television.

Oh, I just realised that I have answered my own question!

P.S. WAG = Wives and girlfriends.

Long Term Archive IX

What media will you use to store your everlasting data? We have discussed the issues with keeping the spinning brown
stuff (Disks) going due to mechanical issues. We have also mentioned the chemical decomposition and coercivity decay of magnetic tape over time. I have admitted my predilection for physical records that do not require fancy technology to recover so I like rock paintings, engravings and ink on paper. It is difficult however to balance the convenience of storing a terabyte of data on a half kilo, two hundred dollar disk drive with the mountain of paper required for the equivalent in written pages. (Approximately five hundred million pages)

Back in the nineteen nineties some guy tried to market a system which converted data to a 2-D barcode which could be printed on any printer. It could be photocopied or faxed and it could be input as data again by a simple scanner and some software. It stored 4MB on one A4 page. That’s about the same as two thousand typewritten pages. I really liked this but it never caught on. Even so, you would need two hundred and fifty thousand such encoded pages to match the aforementioned hard disk. (1TB)

This brings me to the optical disk. CDs, DVDs and Blu-Ray have tiny physical pits which are read by a laser and although the players might be obsolete or just worn out in the future, the pits should still be there even if the Martians have to read them bit by bit through a microscope. Of course the encoding is digital and it is not just zeroes and ones but a special code (Atkinson code) to eliminate strings of the same bit. Someone could work it out.

You may have heard of CD rot or the discolouration of early CD plastic due to oxygen getting in. The gold CDs were less vulnerable to this than the polished aluminium substrate examples but it has all been solved with an epoxy edge layer. Anyway, it only applied to pre-pressed commercial CDs and DVDs such as music and movies. Your own data goes on CD/DVD-R or -RW which use dyes and the manufacturers assure us they will last for 100 years.

Still, 100 years is not that much. Imagine if the oldest recorded history we had was news articles on the Wright brothers flight or ‘House Rule’ being accepted for Ireland or turning of the first sod for Canberra. I’m still waiting for the next breakthrough technology in long term storage.



Who watches what?

“The Biggest Loser” disgusts me and I do not know whether I am alone. I see obese people without the willpower to manage their lifestyles. Trainers punishing them almost to heart attack levels while we are expected to laugh. Spy cameras catching them cheating – again; laugh. Contestants who will do anything to get on TV. Worst of all, the program itself is overweight so it runs long and ruins my plans to watch “Elementary” which has actual artistic merit. My PVR turns off before I know whodunnit! Maybe it is Channel 10’s intention to force me to watch it live and so get the ads but in our house the start of a commercial triggers a race for the mute button. We never watch them.

My issue, one of many, is that the program is said to be very highly rated by its audience and I want to know how or even better, why. Have you ever been asked what you watch? Twenty odd years ago, TV ratings were determined by extrapolating numbers recorded by a subset of viewers keeping a diary. I was approached by a door to door guy from Neilsen once who asked me to participate and being an opinionated bastard who thought he might make a difference I readily agreed. “Ah”, he said, “First you must fill out this questionnaire.” Half an hour later, after perusing my results, he informed me that my input would not be required. When he recovered from the beating enough to answer my “Why?” he said that I watched too much public television. I had ticked too many programs on the ABC and SBS and they were only interested in the commercial value of my viewing habits.

This led me to be concerned for the future of our beloved public broadcasters. If the Neilsen viewing figures show low numbers for the ABC it is because ABC viewers are not being counted. Scary.

Since that time I heard that Neilsen guinea pigs were given STBs which automatically track what they watch but I suspect that they are the same types of viewers, with the discerning few weeded out by the Orwellian door stoppers.

So, who really watches the fat people show and the endless kitchen massacres? I would really like to know.


I am a metricaphile. The metric system of measurement makes so much sense and the Imperial measurement system so little sense that it is amazing that the transition has been so slow. I guess we have to wait for the old people to die. You know, the ones who consider themselves six foot tall and 180 pounds or 13 stone. I am proudly 180cm and 80kg. But sadly, some of these old fogies run businesses which prolong the torture.

The worst offender is probably Harvey Norman with their TV screens measured and sold in inches and their photo processing section advertising 8 x 10s without a metric equivalent, but there are others. Cars, for example are sold with power numbers in kilowatts. My Citroen produced 155kW but they sometimes advertised it as 210hp because it sounds BIGGER. Seems logical from a cynical marketing perspective but it does not explain why 140cm wouldn’t sell more TVs than the 55 inch tag.
There is also the old guy’s mix of measures. The greying builder knows he wants a piece of two-by-four but he buys it by the metre. This mix thing has been set in stone or at least rubber for many years in the tyre industry. Tyre sizes are standardised worldwide with millimetres of width but inches of diameter as in 255/17. Crazy or what?
Back when metrication was introduced in Australia we could ring an ombudsman and complain about people advertising in the old system. What has happened to that guy? I want him back. I want to be able to buy a 30cm sandwich from Subway.
Next July will mark 40 years since all the street signs were changed at the same time. There was no problem. I don’t even remember it.
Enjoy this link

Are we there yet?

The USA is a very conservative place. They do not like change. They still have the ugliest money with very little concession to the visually impaired, little protection against counterfeiting and practically no change of design with the most recent president being Ulysses Grant on the $50 bill. He was known for being a general in the Civil War and for presiding over America’s first financial depression. He died 130 years ago. Apparently to be immortalised on a note you not only have to be dead, you have to be dessicated.

Americans live under a set of rules laid down when it was mandatory for everybody to own a blunderbuss and shoot at the British but I will try to stay away from controversy.

This intro brings me to the metric system but I get so steamed up over this issue that I will leave it for another time and you can ignore me then. No, today I want to air a pet rant which anyone who knows me will have heard several times. It concerns American odometers. The odometer sounds like it should be a device for measuring smells but its name derives from the Greek ‘Hodos’ meaning ‘Way’. It measures the high way or to be specific, it counts miles. It is the US’s second concession to the metric system after the dollar in that it counts tenths of miles. So far, so good. If I want to travel 0.3 miles I can watch the small digits count up by three but here’s the crazy part, I will never, ever see a signpost in the Land of the Free that tells me how far to go in tenths of a mile. Even major freeway signs will say things like “San Juan Capistrano 6 3/4” or “Bristol St 1/4”. Why? Now I have to interpolate my odometer. A quarter of a mile is a count of two plus somewhere halfway between the next two numbers.

This seems like a ridiculous anomaly to me but when I discuss it with Americans they don’t see the irony. Only tourists find it funny. Do you remember when petrol/gas pumps showed fractions of gallons on their rotating dials. Boy, you must be old!

If God had wanted us to use the metric system he would have given us 10 fingers and 10 toes. Oh, wait a minute …….


Off the grid

Energy. We use oodles of it to cool and heat our homes, cook our food, wash our clothes, dishes and bods and for entertainment. Historically people burned wood or charcoal for heat, used cold water carried from the well and applied a lot of elbow grease to get things done but the invention of electricity changed all that. Whether you blame Edison or my hero Tesla (before the cars sullied his name) electricity brought clean, convenient energy to the masses.

Unfortunately, it is only clean at the pointy end. Back at the plant someone is burning lots of coal or oil or gas or combining uranium atoms to create nasty waste. What to do? Continual increases in power bills have funded the interest in alternative power and manufacturing developments have lowered the cost of windmills and solar panels. Unless I missed it, there have not been parallel great advances in hydro, wave, tide, geothermal or other emissions free power sources. There are advances in other stuff to burn such as gas and oil from fracking, natural gas collection, bio fuels from sugar cane and old chip fat but growing awareness of the effects on the atmosphere work against burning things.

Wind turbines are the big thing for commercial power providers because they are very dependent on location, location, location and they scale well which is to say that bigger is cheaper. Sadly they have some downsides in that they are a visual blight and apparently the subsonic noise shrinks brains or something. But when the ordinary man wants free power he turns to solar power in the form of photovoltaic cells on the roof.

PV panels only work during the day and when it’s not raining or basically, when you are not there to benefit so the government, driven by altruism (cough) came up with the feed in tariff. This way you effectively sell power to ‘the man’ during the day and buy it back by night so lowering your overall bill. So far, so good but the power companies make less profit so they are gradually changing their charging model. Instead of charging a connection fee and then charging by the kilowatt/hour used, they are starting to charge a fixed fee to cover infrastructure like wires and poles and then a supposedly lower rate for usage with a correspondingly lower feed in rate for the ergs they buy from you. So the solar panel owners not only lose out but they have ruined it for the rest of us.

The satisfying alternative is to tell Energex where to stick their poles and go completely alone. Now you need to store any extra power made during sunlight and use that stored power when it is dark. I think we need two breakthroughs for me to do this. Firstly I want batteries with much greater energy density so I don’t need to build a separate ventilated room and manage them like a submarine captain. Secondly I want more efficient air conditioners so I can keep cool and still have the TV and fridge running. Come on you techno inventor types, get a move on, I want this now. By the way, these batteries will go well in my car too.

Instead of batteries it would be cool to use the solar power to run a pump to move water uphill so that later as it runs downhill it can turn a turbine to run my TV and a bank of lamps to light the solar panels and run the pump plus a fan to keep the wind turbine rotating. But I don’t see that happening.
(Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/


We’ve seen that technologists can tell a lot about our past from geology, geography, artefacts and bits of bodies but to really know what people were thinking and doing we had to wait for writing. Sure we had edicts carved in stone but not every Joe Blow had his own obelisk.  The Egyptians were first past the post office with the invention of papyrus, sheets of material made from bashing reeds which only grew along the Nile. We get the word for paper from papyrus which is ironic because the Chinese invented paper itself based on cotton fibre much later. The papyrus plant would not grow in Europe so very thin leather known as parchment was developed.

Now we had the technology to record knowledge but it was still expensive and so still limited to royalty, the church and the filthy rich. Plus there was no way to copy a sheet of papyrus or parchment except by hand and the only people who could read and write were royal scribes or monks and naturally their focus was on their own business. Rarely, they would look elsewhere to record some mathematical or biological breakthroughs but mainly these were decrees and commandments.
I have ignored pictorial art because the topic is becoming wider than I expected but I am sure you are familiar with things like the Bayeux Tapestry which is our best record of the Battle of Hastings. There are plenty of historical events and people recorded in paint and stored in the archives.

The invention of papyrus, parchment and paper marked the birth of data archiving. See, we finally got there. It quickly became obvious that information recorded on irreplaceable sheets of material required great care in handling and storage. I bet you’ve heard of the mighty Library of Alexandria which was burnt down by Big Julie Caesar. I always thought this was the end of much recorded knowledge but in my research for this I discovered that it might not have suffered too badly in that attack, that most of the books were hand copies of others in Rhodes and Rome and that there are three subsequent events which may have seen the demise of this library.  Either way it is not there now.
Imagine what could happen with the loss of a single copy. Maybe the Roman aqueducts were actually railway bridges for bronze locomotives whose plans are long lost. Maybe the Minoans weren’t lost but developed space travel and just left.
Real paper, based on cotton fibre, appeared in China in the 2nd century but the secrets involved in the process were closely protected such that it was a thousand years before the secrets were revealed to Europe via the Moors in Spain. If only the Chinese had as much respect for other peoples’ commercial secrets these days! The availability of this relatively cheap paper led to less important stuff like literature emerging and we still have original copies of Beowolf, the first English poem and Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’. 
Modern paper, based on wood pulp is one of the many (?) Canadian inventions of the 19th century. Unfortunately, this new paper stuff turns yellow and brittle with age so it is disappearing faster than the earlier sheets of papyrus and parchment. For example, the Magna Carta, written in 1297 on vellum (fine parchment) is in better condition than the American Declaration of Independence. (1776) Have you ever seen the effort put in to preserve these documents.
This is one example of the challenges facing long term archiving. It also shows that new technology which brings lower cost and greater convenience is not necessarily conducive to long term storage.  I am going to get around to computer technology but next time let’s look at the advent of printing and its impact on the ordinary man.