Faster than a speeding bullet

Recently I was driving down Hale St, a six lane, divided road with no traffic lights or intersections on a gently descending slope past the Suncorp Stadium. It was seven thirty on a Sunday morning, there were about three other cars in my field of view and we were braking gently to maintain the sixty kmh speed limit when I noticed it. A police car in the off-ramp with two officers, one pointing a radar gun at us. I cannot think of any location where exceeding the speed limit by five or ten kmh would have less impact but I can see how easy it would be for someone to do so. I was, and still am, disgusted by this use of my tax money even though I am sure the operation is profitable.

In the early days police were private organisations designed to protect property or collect taxes so the emphasis on revenue raising is well founded. In the early 19th century in England, Robert Peel formed the first modern police force to keep “The Queen’s Peace.” Still, I don’t recall reading about a surfeit of police on horseback enforcing the road rules for horse and cart traffic. Today we have a lot of cops and many of them are ridin’ the range. In Australia we have 65,000 police (50,000 of them sworn officers) at an annual budget of $8.2 billion. That’s 290 officers per 100,000 people or 6 officers per 1,000 square kilometres. The USA has over 900,000 sworn officers. In the UK, 5 people die and 65 are injured every day on the roads at an estimated cost of 32 billion pounds a year.

These days I can’t think of any car incapable of 160kmh with most capable of well over 200 and no place where you can legally drive one at more than 110 kmh. Even our motor scooter can exceed this. (So I am told!) When I was a young ‘un, the 300hp of a Falcon GTHO was amazing but today I can buy that in a family appliance like a Camry.

I object to seeing hundreds of commuters fined for doing ‘5 over’ and then having it justified by the police minister claiming that “Speed kills” and using as an example some idiot kid who hit a tree at 150. We will never be able to prevent testosterone or alcohol charged fools killing themselves and others as long as we keep supplying them with weapons but if we are willing to accept the draconian regulation of our speed by radar, maybe we would accept some restrictions on the car manufacturers.

Any car can have a GPS for $100 and every speed zone in the country is programmed in the system. I propose that cars simply be regulated to achieve no more than the speed limit plus 15 kmh. It would still be illegal to speed but the 15 kmh would allow that surge which may be argued as a safety margin. We could get away with less police (whose cars would be unregulated) and they could perhaps focus on actual crime once more.

I can’t see this being acceptable in the US where the constitution prevents them from protecting themselves against themselves. I heard yesterday that there have been 3300 deaths by gunshot in the US since the Newtown school shooting. However, it might get by in Europe and here. There would even be some advantages. For example, racetracks would become more popular and cars could easily be programmed to use all their capabilities on the track. The Nissan GTR already has this built in. We could also eliminate those ridiculous 95 kmh advisory speed signs on long bends where they can’t put 130 or 140.


Long Term Archive VIII - The Museum

About 10 years ago I was invited to tender for magnetic tape storage for a certain military museum in Canberra. They have bombers and submarines and tanks on display and even more large hardware in warehouses around the ACT but there are almost innumerable, small, irreplaceable artifacts as well. The majority of these items will never be displayed because of the lack of space, some are too fragile and some will decay to nothing. The museum had decided to create high quality photographs of everything to be stored and indexed electronically and archived. (Forever?) We have examined earlier the challenges of keeping electronic data for eons but let us look at some issues that came up much more quickly than you might expect.

Firstly, high definition photos in the ‘naughties’ meant about four megapixels per picture. Today my phone has an 8MP camera and professionals use much greater definition so in just ten years the museum must be thinking, “Could we have done better?” or “Should we photograph them again?” In both cases the answer is complicated by the huge amount of time and effort that was expended. Still it is interesting to think that most of the artifacts are 60 to 100 years old and in the ten years since the photo program began, they haved only aged another 10% while the photos are almost obsolete.

What about digital photography itself. It has changed. Maybe the photos should have been shot in 3D or perhaps using one of those New Lytro cameras. Perhaps they should have been recreated using 3D printing or maybe we should wait for colour 3D printing.

The point is that when considering long term archiving you must deal with the unknown. Technology changes more quickly than the archived items will age. Will maintaining the archive data be more costly and time consuming than preserving the actual artifact? Do we conserve a photo of the Mona Lisa or concentrate on keeping the canvas. Food for thought.


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.


Long Term Archive VII - What's the answer?

If you have been following my rambling rants you might think that I am about to suggest the best technology for your long term archiving needs. Well, not today. We might discuss some hardware and software options down the track but the most important component is a piece of wetware- the ‘Trusted Adviser’. Only you know your desired outcome but others may be better equipped to get you there. It might be your I.T. Vendor, application provider, third party consultant or your wife. No matter how well equipped you or your team think you are there is always room for advice, even if you ignore it.

I recall a story from my distant past when I worked on ledger machines. These electro-mechanical monsters (mostly mechanical) would use a striped card per account. The idea was that you pull Mr Jones’ card from the filing cabinet and feed it into the beast. It would read the account details, balances etc and await input. You would then key in details of the current transaction and the animal would print a line in the ledger, update totals and add details to the magnetic stripe on the ledger card. Then you replace the card, get the next one and so on. You end up with a printed ledger and updated account cards.

We had a small business customer who decided that we were ripping him off for the cost of blank cards so he went out to tender. The winning tender was a printer who duly delivered 1,000 nice, new cards all neatly printed with lines and logos and smelling of lavender. (Just kidding about the smell) They didn’t work. After a week of inconvenience, wasted time, costly service calls, anger, frustration and torn out hair, it was discovered that the printer had innocently printed the brown stripe down the side of the card with no idea that it was supposed to be magnetic oxide. He was not aware of its significance.

Everybody had a good laugh at the business owners expense and we delivered a new box of cards. In the end, the customer was out of pocket, behind time and embarrassed. The printer got no repeat business and wasted a lot of time. We had delayed our sale and somehow came out looking like the bad guys for not making obvious the purpose of the stripe.

The real problem was that the business owner did not trust us. (Probably our fault). He did not turn to someone with appropriate knowledge for independent advice. Good business relationships are gold. I encourage you to work on developing a mutually beneficial relationship with a ‘trusted advisor’ wherever you can find him or her.


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

Long Term Archive VI - Multiply and Reproduce

When considering the long term storage of data. the storage industry likes to promote two processes:

1. Redundancy
2. Technology Refresh

Redundancy is about having multiple copies of the data in case of loss and technology refresh is about having the data stored on technology that has not been obsoleted. You can see why we like to promote this stuff. Both processes require you to buy more storage and to keep buying it!

In the last episode we talked about the difficulties associated with trying to keep archived data for hundreds or even thousands of years. Neither of these two approaches will be much help here as that solution is more dependent on choosing some kind of incorruptible and easily readable medium. My years of experience in the storage industry led me to understand that very few vendors care about very long term archiving. The business focus is on data which must be kept for financial or regulatory reasons and the time-frames are usually 5, 7, 15 or 25 years. Let’s limit today’s discussion to this kind of archiving.

Firstly redundancy. The word has always bothered me because multiple copies of valuable data are not redundant, they are a valuable asset. Redundant means excessive or unnecessary. If I am made redundant at work it does not mean that I am a valuable asset in reserve. Semantics aside, you must determine how much extra equipment you need to maintain continuous access to your archived data. The simplest approach is a RAID disk system. That stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive (sometimes Independent) Disks. There’s that word redundant being misused again. RAID will protect data against the possibility of a disk failure. To protect against multiple disk failures or subsystem failure you might consider mirroring between subsystems. To further protect against fire, flood, theft, terrorism or plane crashes you might want that mirrored system to be remote. Finally, to protect against data corruption or software failures you will want a backup copy similarly remote. This might be tape or optical disk or flash memory or holographic cubes or whatever. Now you are a valuable asset to your storage vendor.

Secondly, technology refresh. Moore’s Law applies to processors and suggests a doubling of performance every two years and it has continued to amaze by continuing to apply. A similar model for storage, especially tape sees capacities and speeds doubling in a similar time-frame. Because of this the industry moves ahead and the storage medium you are putting your tax files on today will be obsolete in a few years. The vendors suggest, correctly, that you must plan to migrate to a new storage medium (removable tape or disk) or new storage system (fixed disk) every second generation. Manufacturers will guarantee backward compatibility for one or two generations of product but seldom more. You will also gain in economies of scale as the newer products will inevitably hold more, take up less space, use less power and maybe even cost less. The old technology will be getting rusty and slow anyway and the maintenance providers will conveniently increase costs on older gear to help you along.

The cost and inconvenience to you, apart from buying the shiny, new hardware is that you must have a set of procedures and a workflow for ensuring the ongoing management and migration of your archive data. Consultants like myself can help. Just call.


The image is of bridge redundancy. Gateway Bridge, Brisbane, Australia

How many rods in a chain?

America is a funny place. I love it, don’t get me wrong but it is definitely quirky. You know that I am an avid fan of the metric system so arriving in the US was like going back to my childhood as far as measures are concerned. I had to delve deep to remember how many pounds in a ton or feet in a mile. It intrigued me because the Americans are loathe to change anything but when they have, it is usually for the better. Three things about their system of weights and measures particularly struck me as amusing.

Firstly, the name of the system. I remember the inches and ounces system being called either ‘Imperial’ or ‘Avoir dupois’. The first relates to the British Empire or all the countries painted pink on the map. The empire does not even exist anymore and I cannot imagine Americans wanting to be associated with the apron strings they cut 250 years ago. The second is French for ‘to have weight’. Even more than accepting a British Imperial system I cannot see the Americans agreeing with the French. You cannot even buy a Renault, Citroen or Peugeot in the Home of the Brave. Maybe they don’t need a system name. It is just accepted as what always was and always will be.

Secondly, the spelling. Noah Webster dropped all the ‘re’ endings of words back in the nineteenth century. Centre, theatre, spectre all became center, theater and specter. (I hope spell check has not derailed me here.) But acre persists. I guess if it did change it would become a Taiwanese computer maker but do you know what an acre is and how archaic is the concept? An acre was historically defined as the area that could be ploughed (plowed) by a yoke of oxen in one day. How many modern Americans know what a plough, yoke or oxen are? (Device for turning soil over, two, an adult castrated bull). This inexact area was more defined in England in 1824 as a strip of land one furlong by one chain. Clear? It is equal to one six hundred and fortieth of a square mile. Better? A simple Hectare is 10,000 square metres. There are one hundred hectares in a square kilometre. Simple.

Thirdly, the ridiculous U.S. gallon. They have their own gallon which is smaller than an Imperial gallon by about 15%. The imperial gallon, although archaic and almost gone at least had some logic which is missing from the U.S. gallon. It was originally defined as the volume of water that weighs ten pounds. It consists of eight pints, each of twenty fluid ounces so that one fluid ounce of water weighs one ounce weight. None of this works in America. Their pint is 16 fl oz. Crazy. It stems from Americans’ huge inertia against change. In the seventeenth century there were many different gallons depending on the liquid being measured. 1824 saw the British standardize on their current gallon but America went on and evolved their most commonly used gallon which was the one used to measure wine for tax purposes. There is a sweet irony there.

Long live the litre.
P.S. The image shows all countries that have NOT adopted the metric system of measures.