March 2006 Archives
Gmail for your domain - Google.com is testing a new service which allows a company to host their email on Google's servers. Anything to do with Mail Servers is a complete pain anyway, so this sounds like it might be useful.
So, despite my last post about my newfound Marco Polo Membership, the droid at the desk in Chek Lap Kok refused to believe me and wouldn't check my card.
At least the flight down was half empty, so I had a few seats to sprawl out over, and there was one half-decent movie to watch. (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - very different from the book, but it had to be to fit in the two hour time window.)
Finally today, I managed to get on to the Marco Polo helpline who confirmed that the Marco Polo and Asia Miles memberships are being merged and I am indeed a Silver Marco Polo member. I doubt there's much chance of anything useful to be had in BNE on the return leg, but at least I won't have to stand in the Economy Queue.
Some comment on the political situation in the USA:
While I was away, George W. Bush proclaimed himself dictator. That's not a joke, and it's not an exaggeration. In his "signing statement" for the Patriot Act extension, Dubya claimed the right to unilaterally set aside any portions of the bill that he finds inconvenient, no matter what Congress or the courts have to say about it --- thus himself making explicit what was already explicit in his functionaries' talk of wiretaps, that he won't recognize any limits on his power at all.
I was quite surprised today to find out that I've been a member of Cathay Pacific's Marco Polo club for almost five years. I was even more surprised to find that the amount of travel I've been doing for the last nine months has elevated me to the giddy heights of Silver membership. Tonight's flight (back down to Brisbane), tips me over into the stratospheric heights of Gold membership.
That means that I'll be able to use the Business Class Lounge in Chek Lap Kok tonight, with free beer, fresh noodles and internet access. Although, since I normally turn up at the last minute, I never get to enjoy those things. That also means on the return leg from Brisbane I'll be able to partake of the Business Class Lounge in Brisbane International Airport. Since Melbourne's Business Class lounge was a dark room with a coffee machine, so I'm not very hopeful about discovering a sybaritic gem in Queensland.
Stone first noticed the syndrome a decade ago when she was creating a product for Microsoft that let people interact in a "virtual world." She found that her test users wanted to fade in and out while conducting other activities. This turns out to be the way most of us work—and live—today. With an open communications channel the e-mail keeps flowing, the instant messages keep interrupting and the Web feeds keep coming. CPA stems from our desire, Stone says, to be "a live node on the network."
Source: Continuous Partial Attention
If you want to know the differences between the various Nvidia cards, see: Comparison of NVIDIA Graphics Processing Units.
Now if only they'd release an open driver for Linux...
Matrox, meanwhile, continues to suck on Linux.
As seens on last Friday's flight from Brisbane to Hong Kong:
- Aeon Flux - Meh. Despite being a science-fiction style action flick, which I'd normally regard as perfect for watching while flying, this was strangely unengaging.
- Zathura - This movie is nothing but a by-the-numbers remake of Jumanji, (Jumanji on Wikipedia) but without the spark of interest and humanity the Robin Williams character brought to that movie.
- Family Stone - Yawn. Tedious and predictable chick-flick.
Still, it was better than the flight down, when there was not one single movie worth watching.
Looks like I got out of Queensland just in time! Tropical Cyclone devastates Northeastern Australia:
INNISFAIL, Australia (Reuters) - One of the most powerful cyclones to hit Australia in decades lashed the northern city of Cairns on Monday with winds of up to 290 kph (180 mph), ripping roofs off houses, uprooting trees and flattening crops.
I was further convinced of the Americanisation of Australia by the build up to St. Patrick's Day in Brisbane. Threats that all the pubs would be full of green beer (WTF?) and heavy handed paddy-whackery made me very glad I was not going to be in Australia on that day.
Advice for citizens of countries other than Ireland for March 17th.
- It's St. Patrick's Day, or Paddy's Day, or perhaps St. Pat's Day. Patty is one of the girlfolk from Peanuts.
- You're not Irish. Check your passport if you're unsure of this.
- Not every Irish guy you meet will know your Uncle O'Kowalski from County MacShaughnessy. We have, at last count, about 5 million people on the island. Social studies suggest each person knows at most 200 others.
- We don't care if you have roots in Ireland. We have roots half-way across Europe, but we don't bother the French, Spanish, English, Scottish, Welsh, Portugese, Bretons, Basques, Italians, Germans, Swiss, Belgians, Walloons, Flemish, Dutch, etc. etc. etc. about it. Particularly not in bars.
- Most Irish people over the age of, oh, 10 do not wear green items for the day, unless specifically required to do so (e.g. participation in a parade, working for the Jaguar F1 team, etc.) And what's this nonsense with pinching folk who don't wear green?
- Green beer? What the fuck?
- Michael Flatley isn't Irish. We're sorry for Riverdance; the guilty parties are being dealt with. Please stop going to see it and thinking you know about Irish dancing.
- Guinness drinkers aren't necessarily Catholic or Republican. Beamish/Murphys/whatever drinkers aren't necessarily Protestant/Loyalist/Unionist. Politics and religion are best left to the politicians and the, well, religicians. We'd rather drink in peace, thanks.
- You saying that Ireland is a nation of belligerent drunks is kinda like us saying that yours is a nation of stupid people who spend far too much time meddling in other peoples' business. Except we're statistically more correct.
- Enjoy the celebrations. Try not to feel somehow incomplete because your country is just another flag on the Irish map of world conquest. We're good landlords.
Waider. SPIT.BOB ahoy!
 Specifically, that big blob of land preventing us from sailing straight through to the far east.
I've mentioned before how I think Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" is complete rubbish. Here's the Catholic Church's take on it:
Da Vinci Code novel a mess, US bishops say
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE in Los Angeles
US Catholic bishops have launched a stinging counter-attack on the best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code, ahead of the release of Ron Howard's film version in May.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops produced a new website disputing key claims made in Dan Brown's novel that are likely to be included in Howard's movie, starring Tom Hanks.
"The Da Vinci Code' is a mess, a riot of laughable errors and serious misstatements. Almost every page has at least one of each," the bishops wrote on the website Jesusdecoded.com.
"What this novel does [is] ... ask people to consider equivalent to the mainstream Christian tradition quite a few odd claims. Some are merely distortions of hypotheses advanced by serious scholars who do serious research. Others, however, are inaccurate or false," the site claimed.
The bishops said the site was aimed at providing "accurate information on the life of Jesus and the origins of Christianity prior to the release of the movie".
It offers articles written by theologians, media commentators, art experts and others that "provide background and also reject speculation and inaccuracies about Christ and the origins of Christianity", the bishops said.
Monsignor Francis Maniscalco of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in New York denied that the website was a knee-jerk defensive reaction.
"Reporters have asked whether even a best-selling novel can seriously damage a church of 1 billion believers. No, in the long run, it cannot. But that is not the point. The pastoral concern of the church is for each and every person," he said.
Brown's novel, which has sold nearly 40 million copies worldwide, hinges on the theory that Christ married Mary Magdalene and that they had children.
Perhaps it's the flat perspective he's chosen; it makes the towers look like they climb to the sky. Whether he's used a shift lens, or just photographed from the middle of the buildings, it's extraordinarily effective technique. Even for someone like me, who lives in Hong Kong, these pictures are impressive and yet alienating.
I much prefer his "corner houses" project: Michael Wolf: Corner Houses.
...And things are going so well in Iraq too, huh?
Griffin said he believed US soldiers had no respect for Iraqis, whom they regarded as "sub-human".
"You could almost split the Americans into two groups: ones who were complete crusaders, intent on killing Iraqis, and the others who were in Iraq because the army was going to pay their college fees," he said.
"They had no understanding or interest in the Arab culture. The Americans would talk to the Iraqis as if they were stupid and these weren't isolated cases, this was from the top down.
"There might be one or two enlightened officers who understood the situation a bit better but on the whole that was their general attitude. Their attitude fuelled the insurgency. I think the Iraqis detested them."
What a plonker:
Donna Maddock, 22, was filmed as she drove along the A499, one of Britain's most dangerous roads. She held a mirror in her left hand and an eye pencil in her right, leaving the steering wheel to itself.
Australians need stronger toilets:
Believing toilet seats are no longer able to handle our growing love handles, Standards Australia has begun a review and expects to make changes including "an increase in the strength of toilet seats to accommodate the increasing size of humans".
It's expected the new standard will cater for a 150kg person — of which there are more and more every day.
One nice thing about being in Australia is no longer being the fattest person in any given room.
UPDATE: darn <blockquote> tags!
In one posting, National People's Congress delegate Zhou Hongyu wrote that serving in the legislature is a way to "fulfill my duty and be a better deputy."
"I hope to collect the wishes of the people, listen to their will and experience the people's lives," wrote Zhou, a representative from the southern province of Hunan who advocates education reform.
The patriotically named "Strong Country Blog" is run by the People's Daily, the newspaper of the ruling Communist Party.
The myth that Australia is a naturally friendly place doesn't much survive being screamed at by an aggressive beggar in broad daylight on a Sunday afternoon. This was just outside Mincom Central on Ann Street at about 3pm. I was able to just walk away.
This makes three or four times I've been verbally assaulted in Brisbane in six months, as opposed to almost never in Hong Kong.
Local people don't seem to be too concerned about the shouted abuse from drunken yobs - perhaps it's just the local equivalent of witty banter, or maybe they're trying to avoid getting beaten up. Everyone assures me that it's very safe here. I don't quite believe them...
The old concept was that if there was a dollar's worth of labor in a pair of shoes made in the USA, and somebody wanted to import shoes from China where there may only be ten cents worth of labor in those shoes, we'd level the playing field for labor by putting a 90-cent import tariff on each pair of shoes. Companies could choose to make their products here or overseas, but the ultimate cost of labor would be the same.
Then came the flat-worlders, led by misguided true believers and promoted by multinational corporations. Do away with those tariffs, they said, because they "restrain trade." Let everything in, and tax nothing. The result has been an explosion of cheap goods coming into our nation, and the loss of millions of good manufacturing jobs and thousands of manufacturing companies. Entire industry sectors have been wiped out.
These policies have kneecapped the American middle class. Our nation's largest employer has gone from being the unionized General Motors to the poverty-wages Wal-Mart. Americans have gone from having a net savings rate around 10 percent in the 1970s to a minus .5 percent in 2005 - meaning that they're going into debt or selling off their assets just to maintain their lifestyle.
I'm sure the "Global Free Trade at all costs" brigade will tout the "success" of free trade by showing that large multinational companies make a lot of money by outsourcing everything except top management to third world countries without reflecting on the human cost of this "success". They're not 'Free Traders', they're 'Cheap Labour Conservatives'.
Cheap-labor conservatives like "free trade", NAFTA, GATT, etc. Why. Because there is a huge supply of desperately poor people in the third world, who are "over a barrel", and will work cheap.
Source: Cheap Labour Conservatives
Personally, I'm in favour of "Free Trade", but not "Free Trade at all costs". I don't believe that a corporation should be allowed to massively profit from driving local farmers out of business, or laying off first world workers to recruit sweatshop labour to make their products.
Finally, the new Intel Mac Minis have been launched! What's Inside.
They seem to address the issues of what needed to be improved with the original mac mini with the exception of the graphics. More on that later.
The obvious critical differences are the new intel processors, the extra ram slot and the larger disks. I suspect that all of these mean that it's slightly larger than the G4 version.
The prospect of a dual-core Mac Mini sounds very nice, although for HK$6,300 you could build a pretty powerful dual-core linux box. Wouldn't be as small and as cute, and it wouldn't have OSX (although maybe...), but it would be a good machine nevertheless.
The extra ram, combined with the digital audio in/out and bigger disk sounds like a 'make garage band usable on the mac mini' ploy.
I'm surprised by the move to Intel graphics, but that's probably not too shabby for an entry level type machine. It's shared graphics memory, which will eat into system memory, and that means that the base configuration of 512Mb is probably not enough to comfortably run OSX 10.4.
At least the Mac Mini will now support Core Image, which the older Mac Minis didn't. I would've liked to have dual monitor capability though — it could have been done with a dual screen DVI plug like the old RADEON VE/7000 used to have. There's Intel graphics on the workstation I'm using right now, and that has dual video outputs, so the hardware can support it. A quick run through of the various 3DMark benchmarks puts the power at roughly equivalent to an Nvidia FX5200, which is fine for casual gaming and OpenGL. Quake III and Half-life 2 with no problems, but for Doom 3 and Quake 4, forget it.
I guess the new iBooks will have a substantially identical specification when they're announced. Hopefully they'll have a higher resolution screen, though. A 1280x1024, or even 1280x800 dual core iBook would be very nice indeed.
Some other reviews:
Here's an interesting article comparing the presentation styles of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates: Presentation Zen: Gates, Jobs, & the Zen aesthetic
Military scientists in the United States are developing a way of manipulating sharks by remote control to turn them into underwater spies or weapons.
Engineers funded by the Pentagon have created electronic brain implants for fish that they hope will be able to influence the movements of sharks and perhaps even decode what they are sensing.
Now all they need to do is attach some lasers...
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