23 December 2008

Obligatory holiday post

Hi all.

I'm off on Wednesday for a few days up the coast soaking up the balmy sea air and avoiding sunburn.

For those of you who read my blog from colder climes, there is something truly wrong about singing Christmas carols about snow, roasting chestnuts and one-horse open sleighs when the weather outside is verging on 35 to 40 degrees. Celsius.

(Or, if you like, spare a thought for Sean the Blogonaut. He lives in the middle of Australia where the temperature gets into the mid forties during the day, and then plummets to seriously cold levels overnight. Thank goodness we at least have the moderating influence of the sea where I live)

On Christmas Day, normally, I will be up around midday - because I like to sleep in. Then I will get up and stuff myself silly on turkey, ham, salad, maybe some chicken, prawns, Balmain bugs or lobster (depending on availability - looks like lobster is out this year), mussels and a variety of deserts including pudding.

Then we might get in a trip to the beach before opening presents, having a nap and then finally passing out in front of the TV in a bloated state.

It's all good.

So anyway, on to my annual holiday post.

Bloke of the year goes to Joe Biden, who, after spotting that Dick Cheney was planning on scuttling away without anyone noticing, put the boot in and shitcanned him, calling him, 'the most dangerous vice president we had probably in the American history'.

Dick Cheney, you might recall is still currently the Darth Sidious character to George W Bush's Dark Helmet. An odious guy who will be remembered for pulling the strings in the worst administration in US history. Oh yes. Harding, Nixon, Hoover - they had nothing on the Cheney Bush Administration in terms of general awfulness.

But enough of this. Here's some holiday reading for you:

Dikkii's Greatest Hits for 2008

=10. Go Placidly Amid The Noise and Wait

=10. Something I noticed recently

=10. Are Fiscal Deficits Really That Bad?

=10. Yes, I have a new favourite TV show

9. Keysar Trad on polygamy

8. The art empire strikes back

7. Brutal carnage!

6. Denial. Or why people actually drink.

5. One more and then I'll shut up. For a while...

4. Holy Frottage, Batman!

3. Blackmail And The Catholic Church

2. An open letter to artists everywhere

And, you all know how I love to big-note myself. I bet you can guess what is going number one here:

1. This blog is culturally significant. Official.

So party on and enjoy the summer. And, if you're reading this from the Northern Hemisphere, OUCH!

Edit 05/01/2008: Yes, I know that this didn't go up until January. I totally thought I'd posted it, when I in fact hadn't done so. I was in a hurry to pack and go off to the coast at the time. For the record, Christmas lunch was turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches in a picnic area in the remotest corner of East Gippsland, Victoria.

04 December 2008

Guest Rock Epic of the month


Dikkii has graciously allowed me to present this month’s rock epic. I am not really sure of the format but will endeavour to produce some interesting reading. I have decided to give everyone an insight to a wonderful performer who I finally had the privilege of seeing over the past weekend so the basis will be a run down of the concert and some quiet thoughts from the Hulk. I hope you enjoy.

It is a rare occurrence these days when one has the opportunity to witness a truly great performer, artist, lyricist and ambassador to the music industry who has been around for more than a couple of years and whose music catalogue extends further the one great album. I truly believe these days that so many are quick to point out how good a performer is based on nothing more than maybe one or two top forty hits. Sure they may be a good performer but will they one day be truly great? Do they write their own lyrics? Do they play an instrument? Do they have a degree in music of some sort? Have they played with some of the other truly great performers of the world? And furthermore has their music stood the test of time where they are respected worldwide not only for their performances but for the substance that their art has delivered and continued to deliver over many years?
I had the privilege of attending a show with one such artist on Saturday night and if I were to use the word great to describe it that would be a gross understatement. I am talking about none other than Billy Joel. A man whose humble beginnings playing in a piano bar turned into international superstardom over a 30 year plus career. From the very beginning before even entering the concert you can tell how this man has survived for so long in arguably one of the toughest professions in the world, especially at the present. The excessively wide age gap between the crowd said it all. It was clear to see how many generations had been positively affected by this man's art.
Song one answered many questions such as: Is he going to be able to play his songs as good as he used to? Is he still just as adept on the piano? etc. To put it in perspective, the man is 60 plus years old and starts the show with "Angry Young Man". For those who don't know this song, it starts off with one of the fastest piano pieces imaginable and for a person of that age endeavouring in such a task and completing it perfectly quashed the questions you may have had in relation to this with the utmost authority. Proceeding on, many performers I have noticed do little or the bare minimum to incorporate the crowd and personalise it. Come out, play songs, say thanks, concert over. The same cannot be said for Billy. Immediately after this first song he addressed the audience and when I say that, he actually had a chat like we were sitting on the couch at home having a beer and a ciggy. This made it feel like you were the only person in the room. A refreshing change I must say. But what I think it says more is that it shows the difference and maturity compared to someone a little less "seasoned" in the art form.
From songs such as Big Shot, Allentown, a haunting and a slightly bluesier rendition of New York State of Mind to the later classics such as We didn't start the fire, he did not miss a beat (Pardon the cliché). Other notable performances were, You May Be Right, Only the Good Die Young (which was a song written in reference to him trying to top himself apparently) Its still rock and Roll to Me etc. The most wonderful thing he did though was too play some of the more obscure songs that are never heard on the radio but are equally as good, at least for all the die hard fans. I refer to this as he played a song off the Turstiles album called Vienna. A song that he wrote referring to the 2nd World War where he is basically saying "Don't worry, Vienna will always wait for you" being the city that remained independent of the war itself, (or mostly). This was a treat which I did not even imagine witnessing. Having said that, it was a clear illustration of what a great performer or wannabe great performer should try to accomplish.
The rest of the show had all the bells and whistles without "over production" and ridiculous pyrotechnics which do nothing but take the emphasis away from what you are actually there for. Also worth a mention, he decided to get one of his roadies up on stage and while he jumped off the piano and grabbed a guitar, his roadie sang Highway to Hell by AC/DC. Another indication of a performer who understands his audience. Skilled art? I will let you decide.
Through the many great albums and an endless list of “actual” hits that most would know coming off albums such as Streetlife Serenader, Turnstiles, Piano Man, Glass Houses, 52nd Street and so on, the concert could have gone on all night without a break from the crowd singing every word, but it did not need too. It was all answered in the climatic ending when 15,000 or so people, all on their feet, arm over each other shoulder, Billy on the piano and a Harmonica around his neck singing the one and only...... Piano Man.
It was a a remarkable experience and one I will remember affectionately for a long, long time and even though I am a tragic fan, I would still, as unbiasly as possible, recommend giving yourself the honour of being in his audience if you get the chance. Most of today’s acts are incomparable, but I do hope some of the musical talents in the world take a leaf out of Billy Joel's book so future generations can experience what we all have.
This will conclude my guest role on Rock Epic of the Month. I do thank Dikkii for the opportunity and hope you enjoyed it. I will look forward to any comments you may have.

The Hulk.

The Series Reboot

A little comedy gem that I found this year was Review with Myles Barlow. Hilarious. Basically, it's a bit of a waltz through the sheer pretence that is arts review programs.

ABC and SBS have a few of these, but after Review has been on air, I'd be surprised if the ABC shows one again for a little while.

The twist is that Barlow (played by Phil Lloyd) reviews anything.

Here's Barlow reviewing bareknuckle boxing:

And here's Barlow reviewing open heart surgery:

Barlow reviews lying:

At The Movies co-host David Stratton reviews Barlow:

Which leads to this exchange where Stratton kicks Barlow's arse:

I start with Myles Barlow, because I'm going to do a review of my own. Basically, the series reboot is totally in at the moment.

I've just seen Quantum of Solace, the second in the rebooted series of James Bond flicks and boy, do I feel confused.

The series reboot thingy is more than just a remake. It goes beyond just remaking a movie franchise to completely redesigning it from the ground up.

When Casino Royale came out in 2006, it basically threw away the previous movies and started from the beginning again. It was as if Blofeld, Tracy Bond, Q, Pussy Galore and Holly Goodhead didn't exist. Which might have been a good thing.

Bond was probably getting stale. I once remarked that tradition dictated that each Bond movie had to be more over the top and unbelievable than the previous one. This tradition had to come crashing down in a screaming heap eventually, which it did with Pierce Brosnan's last outing as 007 in Die Another Day. I enjoyed Die Another Day. At least I did up until the clearly fake computer generated wave off the coast of Iceland that Bond surfs down the face of. After this I felt a bit queasy for the rest of the movie and didn't enjoy it so much.

The spy thriller movie had a serious workover with the superb Jason Bourne trilogy. Obviously, this made the producers of the Bond movies sit up and take notice, because they completely re-engineered Bond for Casino Royale.

Not long before this, though, Christopher Nolan had given Batman the reboot treatment with the excellent Batman Begins, followed by The Dark Knight which was also excellent. Soon enough, others had to follow - Superman Returns did a partial reboot in pretending that the (admittedly piss-poor) Superman III and IV movies were never made, and The Incredible Hulk tried to make up for the Hulk movie of 2003.

So on to Quantum Of Solace. Is it just me, or was I watching two movies at once?

We had an old Bond movie - tuxedos, hotels, incidental music with new Bond - improved car chases, fight scenes, rooftop chases.

We had two plotlines - a simple one, and an utterly convoluted mess.

We had the same actor playing M (Judi Dench) as the old M. And essentially the same character. I still think that this might be a smidge anachronistic.

We had hi-tech resources at MI6, but no hi-tech toys for Bond himself.

And we had a bad guy with a stare that seemed almost like Auric Goldfinger was back.

Don't get me wrong - Daniel Craig is great as the new "gritty" Bond. And I like the idea of a reboot - let's face it, the old movies didn't have a great deal of respect for fans with their cavalier attitude to continuity. But are they "Bond movies"?

Stratton and Margeret Pomeranz gave this three stars. I concur.

28 November 2008

Save the Net

The Get Up! group has launched their campaign against mandatory internet censorship. It's worth getting behind.

For those who don't know, the federal Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy is proposing internet censorship at ISP level. In my opinion, the moves being planned are an INTERNATIONAL DISGRACE!!!

From Wikipedia:

In October 2008, Senator Conroy announced that filtering of illegal material would be mandatory for all Australians, and there would be no opt-out provision.

Wikipedia refers to this article to cite this.

From Get Up!'s website:

The Federal Government is planning to force all Australian servers to filter internet traffic and block any material the Government deems ‘inappropriate’. Under the plan, the Government can add any ‘unwanted’ site to a secret blacklist.

Testing has already begun on systems that will slow our internet by up to 87%, make it more expensive, miss the vast majority of inappropriate content and accidentally block up to 1 in 12 legitimate sites. Our children deserve better protection - and that won't be achieved by wasting millions on this deeply flawed system.

(Their emphasis)

Regular reader Paul has already pointed out on his blog that anything that gets introduced can be gotten around. And it looks relatively simple too - any 12 year old kid can do it.

The thing is, why should the rest of us carry the can for parents who are too irresponsible to supervise their kids on the internet? Or install their own net nanny programs?

I actually think that we probably need to consider something far more serious than just joining an internet petition. I for one will be sending a snail mail letter to my local MHR, Jenny Macklin, who also happens to be the federal Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

But I'd like to go one step further.

Conroy's faction within the ALP is the Transport Workers Union. This is their website. And this is their email address: twu@twu.com.au .

Let's go berzerk and bombard them with complaints. After all, Conroy responds to a higher power, and it's them. He will do their bidding.

(Thanks to Sean the Blogonaut)

23 November 2008

Are Fiscal Deficits Really That Bad?

We've been hearing a lot in the media about this subject at the moment. The Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Opposition Leader are forthright that budgets should not slip into deficit.

Yet we heard the other day from the governor of the Reserve Bank, Glenn Stevens, that we probably shouldn't be so concerned should it actually happen, provided that increased government expenditure was being made in the right places. Presumably, his definition of "public investment" is a reference to increased expenditure in the regions covered under the heading, "infrastructure".

After this seal of approval from Stevens, it wasn't then, a real surprise that the Treasurer and the Opposition Leader voiced their disapproval of such moves. Deficits are seen by the electorate as a sign of fiscal irresponsibility and are considered political dynamite for an incumbent government, even if they can be defended on prudent economic grounds.

So, for the layman, why might a fiscal deficit be defensible and when might a government use it?

The answer lies in the government itself. Governments are traditionally the biggest business in a national economy. In most places, anyway - I know about countries like Finland where the domination of companies like Nokia almost relegates government involvement to "minor player" status.

Governments make money through taxation and then spend it through government expenditure. How much and where the government spends then becomes rather powerful as it can turn entire economies.

The power that government expenditure has was really only realised towards the end of the 1930s during the Great Depression, when an economist named John Maynard Keynes worked out that if people and businesses weren't spending, then governments had to pick up the slack.

Governments then went berzerk, borrowing and spending. In fact, the Australian Federal Treasury did not post a single fiscal surplus between the thirties and the late eighties. I was surprised that it took this long, given that Keynesianism fell almost entirely out of favour in the late seventies as stagflation thanks to rising oil prices took hold, and increasing importance was places on interest rates to sort economies out. This, incidentally was single-handedly due to the work of another economist in the sixties, Milton Friedman, who predicted the events of the seventies, and was lauded as an economic prophet of sorts, as a result.

The discarding of Keynesianism and the adoption of Monetarism was merciless. But the strange thing was that as interest rates started to play a greater role in regulating economic activity, a kind of reverse-Keynesianism crept in in a number of places, in particular, the US and the UK where Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher launched a dual assault on the role of government spending. Consequently, in these places, the end result of cutting government services and slashing taxes was that more money was free to pump up these economies. This actually led, in parts, to the record inflation of the eighties, followed by the crash of 1987. And the resulting recession, which was a fierce one. Strangely though, Reagan and Thatcher are lauded by conservative politicos as visionary.

What a bunch of twats.

Reagan and Thatcher were reducing government participation in the economy and increasing reliance on interest rates which pumped more money into economies that eventually overheated as a result. The recession of the early nineties cost Thatcher and her successor John Major their jobs, as well as eventually ensuring defeat for George HW Bush.

Keynesian economics has a time and place. Using fiscal power to fuel the fires of booming economies is not it. Reducing the role of government fuels economies and is thus, despite what conservative economic pundits will tell you, Keynesian.

Over twenty years since the crash of 1987, it appears that the role played by government expenditure is back as a viable tool for getting economies moving again. In Australia, we're now in a position where we're seeing major economies like the US and the UK, possibly even Europe, moving into recession once more, and having to resort to spending their way out of the mess.

Australia isn't yet obviously moving into recession, hence the obstinacy on the part of the government and opposition, however, Stevens has a point, which he spoke about in another part of the same speech: If our economy slips downhill as a result of us talking our way into another recession - Stevens isn't the first to notice this - can't fiscal deficits be used by Australia as a sort of pre-emptive strike?

I don't see why not.

18 November 2008

Rock epic of the month: "Gravity Grave" (The Verve) 1992

Rock epics of the month is a series of posts where I'll look back on classic examples of what I think is the greatest excess of rock and roll - the rock epic.

Shoegazing. What a genre. And it appears to be back, under a term that I have come to deeply despise, "Nu-gaze".

Shoegazing got its name from a variety of bands from London and the Thames Valley who were known for plugging in, switching on, turning the amps up to eleven and playing their guitars through three or four hundred different effects pedals. The act of "shoegazing" itself seems to reference the inordinate amount of time that guitarists in these bands spent looking at the floor, no doubt more interested in their setups than interacting with audiences.

The acts that people seem to remember from this period were the louder bands, My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Swervedriver, however there were three distinct versions of shoegazing for which these bands really only formed the first, louder version.

(Never mind that Swervedriver really were more rock than shoegazing, anyway)

Version two was a poppier, upbeat sound characterised by early Blur, The Charlatans and the Boo Radleys. Blur would probably go on to reap the greatest success of these acts, however, it is interesting to note that really, only the Charlatans managed to last the distance.

And then there was version three. A druggy, slowed down sound that was best characterised by acts such as Slowdive, Chapterhouse and finally, in the last days of the movement, The Verve.

Simply "Verve" initially, The Verve would be forced to add the "The" to the start of their name when poncy wanker jazz label, Verve Records threatened them with legal action over the use of their name.

The Verve were still their original line-up here - vocalist Richard Ashcroft, guitarist Nick McCabe, bassplayer Simon Jones and drummer Pete Salisbury. "Gravity Grave" itself originally surfaced on their EP of the same name which was issued in October 1992. This blogger notices that Gravity Grave seems to have now become the title of a single from the Verve EP, even though that EP was issued in December of that year and contains horrible edits of both "Gravity Grave" and "She's a Superstar".

By the time that The Verve got around to issuing their initial recordings, shoegazing was on death row. The first of the new wave of Britpop was coming through, heralded by the likes of Pulp, Suede and Blur, who had long hated being lumped in with the shoegazing crowd and were well on their way to recording a single-finger salute to the scene in their second album, Modern Life is Rubbish.

Meanwhile, Ride were languishing, My Bloody Valentine had broken up, Swervedriver were looking to replace their rhythm section, and the rest of the shoegazing scene seemed to be in total disarray.

Enter The Verve, who really were quite unlike anything else that the scene had thrown up, up until this point. For starters, they were from Wigan. The Verve entered to a rapturous response from critics and other bands alike, which, in the British music scene, is normally considered a kiss of death. And it kinda was, eventually.

But anyway, on to "Gravity Grave". The Gravity Grave EP (their third release after two well-received singles) contained the full length version of this tune, which at 8:21 is a gobsmackingly beautiful piece of spaced-out meandering. Kicking off with an echoey bass groove courtesy of Jones, "Gravity Grave" quickly establishes where its going as McCabe lets rip on the guitar with some squalls of feedback and some quite loud harmonics all the way through.

Ashcroft's vocals are soft and understated all the way through, although he never ever really went berzerk except in a few places. And there's this vague sound like a harmonica all the way through, which is so far back in the mix, I'm not even sure if it actually even is that.

And to get an idea of the difference between The Verve and some of their peers, compare Salisbury's restrained sticks work to that of Loz Colbert (ex-Ride, now with The Jesus and Mary Chain) and Adi Vines and Jez Hindmarsh (both of various incarnations of Swervedriver) whose approaches seemed to be to beat the living snot out of their drumkits. Salisbury's light patter on the toms is quite a bit different.

The Verve went on to release one album in this sound (A Storm in Heaven) before reluctantly embracing the Britpop wave that had engulfed the UK by that point with their second and third albums, A Northern Soul and Urban Hymns, recorded with the addition of Simon Tong on additional guitar and keyboards.

They then broke up in 1999 before reforming in 2007, without Tong who had gone off to do a stack of work elsewhere, mainly with various projects of Damon Albarn's.

But here's some of "Gravity Grave". It's only four minutes of it, but it's really only had the last part slashed off it. Please sit back and enjoy.

11 November 2008

Dikkii's Adventures in Linuxland

Some of you who read this blog occasionally may recall that earlier this year, I decided to wade out into the world of Linux. Specifically, I installed Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) onto my desktop to dual-boot with Windows Vista.

Since then, I:

I’ve since replaced EeeXubuntu with Ubuntu-Eee 8.04 and installed Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) on my desktop.

I’ll discuss these in future posts.

This is spooky stuff for someone who was, up until that first post, a Linux virgin.

Not only that, but it has also hammered home to me several revealing things about Linux that I was previously unaware of.

The first thing I found out is that Linuxers are a welcoming bunch when it comes to new users.

The second thing is that Linuxers can be a dismissive bunch when it comes to new users. Check out this exchange.

It is this mixture of contempt and friendliness that has me so intrigued about the attraction of this OS to Linux users. And, after some months of use, I really do think that it is more of a threat to the dominance of Windows now than it ever has been: Observe the new bunch of mini-laptops (I refuse to use the term "Netbooks") that are now shipping with a Linux distro as standard.

But to this observer, Linux has a way to go before it gets things right. Here are some criticisms:

A. The Command Line

Linuxers appear to worship this thing.

Which is odd, because the rest of us really fucking hate it. Windows might have a DOS prompt available to be used, but does anyone really know of any “Mums and Dads” using Windows who have actually attempted a DOS command in the last fifteen years?

Does the Mac OS even have a command line?

I hear defendants of this appalling anachronism all the time banging on about how you can do all sorts of awesome shit with it, but they only ever quote examples that have no relevance at all to Mum and Dad users.

Mum and Dad users. I’m going to use that line a lot today.

Mum and Dad users are truly the meat and potatoes that Linux has to conquer before Linux has even a small chance of taking a bite out of the Windows, or even the Mac markets. At least as far as end users are concerned. And while Linux users are forced to use this groaning relic of days gone by for even simple matters, Linux will simply not get any traction in the real world.

The core problem is that Linux has, since its inception, been used by computer nerds everywhere who will tinker away on anything, getting probably more joy out of the tinkering itself, than the actual results.

And yeah, there might be fantastic stuff that the command line does that Windows can’t do, but consider this: Mums and Dads aren’t doing that kind of “awesome shit”.

In fact, it almost looks to me as though there’s a deep-seated sense of denial that the command line is a problem. The command line might as well shine one's arse to a crystal finish while humming the 1812 Overture - your average Windows user would rather run a mile in pouring rain to avoid use of this thing.

Lesson 1: Drop the denial and get over it. For Mums and Dads to even be remotely interested in using Linux, the command line simply has to go the way of the DOS prompt. Anything else is just not good enough.

B. Half-baked update releases

I'm using Ubuntu on my desktop. Ubuntu is probably the best supported Linux distro on the market at the moment, which I'm rather happy with. But I expect that had I installed Fedora, Mandriva, OpenSUSE or any of the other entry-level distros, theirs wouldn't be all that much less.

Ubuntu is easy to use, is excellently documented and easy to install.

But it does have one major problem, which can be covered in one word: Punctuality.

Yes folks, Ubuntu is updated once every six months. Consequently, by hook or by crook, they will get new versions out by the end of April and October every year, even if they have to cut corners to do it.

I had so many problems with drivers not being ready and other niggling issues when I went to upgrade from Ubuntu 8.04 to 8.10 that I trashed the entire Ubuntu partition and re-installed from scratch. I'm glad I did.

Actually, I had less trouble upgrading it on my Eee PC, which was running an unofficial, and cut-down variant of Ubuntu.

But here's the thing: A new OS should be mostly OK out of the box. I still have to run various scripts and configuration changes just to get the screen fonts looking acceptable.

And then there's Open Office - it looks outright wrong. Launchpad tells me that it's a bug that is being sorted and will be eventually backported. It's bad enough that the Ubuntu developers and testers can't see fit to stick Open Office 3.0 in as standard - they're sticking with 2.4.

We're going to have to wait until Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope) to get this version of Open Office.

On the other hand, if this was GNOME, they'd be releasing it as an update - so why should Open Office be different? After all, you can bet your bottom dollar that an office suite is the NUMBER ONE reason why your Mums and Dads have a desktop PC in the first place.

Lesson 2: Mums and Dads do not want to have to run scripts and config changes to fix an officially released version of their operating system. It should be good out of the box. If it isn't, there is nothing wrong with delaying the release of the next version. It's not like anyone's paying for it. Except maybe Canonical, Novell, etc.

C. Linux forums

Linux forums are littered with users of various levels of experience. And newbies.

Newbies ask innocent questions on these forums and rightfully expect at least some kind of constructive answer. What newbies don't expect is "This has been answered before. Don't you know how to use the 'search' function?"

Half the time, newbies don't even know what the keywords are that they're meant to be searching on. And when they do, half the answers to their problems are riddled with jargon from what can sometimes appear to be a smug and cliquey bunch of regular forum users.

Mums and Dads in particular want to know how to do something, or to fix something. The level of assumed knowledge of users in these forums seems to be well past newbie level, so answers only ever seem to half-answer questions and then come out with such pearls of wisdom as, "Compile the rest of the kernel as you choose and install it in your boot manager's menu."

WTF? I know what this means, but I've been stuffing around with Linux for six months now. What the hell does your average Mum or Dad make out of this?

Lesson 3: I had to look up what "backported" means. Mums and Dads aren't quite as patient: If jargon isn't obvious, change the fucking word. Or better yet, actually explain what it is you want them to do. Do not assume they know your jargon: Chances are they don't.

D. Open Office

Open Office is the single application that most Mums and Dads want working when they first install Linux. It should be in tip-top shape upon installation of your new Linux distro.

Lesson 4: Mums and Dads do not want to plough through countless internet searches and fruitless forum reading to find out why Open Office looks amateurish and fuzzy. Known bugs should be either fixed, or listed somewhere easy to find.

Lesson 4A: Do not release a version of a Linux distro without ensuring that Open Office runs properly first. Or that the most recent release has been included. Not sure that I need to resort to "Mums and Dads" here - this is quite frankly astounding.

Anyway, believe it or not, I've found the Linux experience rewarding, and I've learnt a lot.

Then again, I have more patience than some.

05 November 2008

To My American Readers

Good luck with the upcoming elections. You, unlike us Aussies, have a democratic right not to vote.

My only explicit wish is that you don't choose to exercise this right.

(I have another wish, but I'm sure that you already know what that one is. It relates to the outcome, but far be it for me to attempt to influence your voting.)

03 November 2008

Woo-lovers fight dirty

Robert Lancaster, founder of the sites Stop Kaz and Stop Sylvia Browne recently went to hospital. During this time, a cybersquatter bought the domain name for Stop Sylvia Browne and started using it for evil.

This is just not right. Horrid woo-merchants like Sylvia Browne and her ilk are a DISGRACE!!!

So, in the name of all that's good in the world, we're fighting back. Here's what you can do to fight the good fight:

Change all your links to Sylvia Browne to http://stopsylvia.com .

And just because I can, please allow me to do the following:

Sylvia Browne
Sylvia Browne
Sylvia Browne
Sylvia Browne
Sylvia Browne
Sylvia Browne
Sylvia Browne
Sylvia Browne
Sylvia Browne


Sylvia Browne

Thank you for your indulgence.

02 November 2008

The Elephant In The Centre Of The Room

There's another reason why those of us outside the US want Barack Obama to win the US presidential election on Tuesday. Imagine the carnage that will eventuate on world markets if the McCain-Palin ticket gets up?

It's almost too frightful to contemplate.


31 October 2008

I haven't blogged much recently

I have been meaning to blog more recently, but I just don't seem to find all that much time to do it.

Here are a couple of things that I've been meaning to blog about:

1. The forthcoming atheist bus advertisements in London. Due January 2009.

2. The Rudd Government's bank guarantees, and how non-bank lenders and investors are being done over by this. Naturally, I plan to take a balanced and fair view. Yeah right.

3. Hedge funds getting burnt by Porsche's takeover of Volkswagen. Who ever suggested that I'm immune to feelings of schadenfreude was out of their freaking minds.

4. Horse racing and the fact that I hate the Spring Racing Carnival and all the hype that goes along with it only slightly less than how much I hate Seven's Summer of Tennis.

5. My recent installation of Ubuntu-Eee on my Eee PC. It went very well, thank you.

6. My growing dislike of social networking sites. And my increasing reliance on a few of them.

7. The realisation that if something isn't done soon about Melbourne's train system, it'll end up like Sydney's.

8. The Federal Government's plan for an internet makeover, Chinese style. Fight this one with a passion kids.

9. Ubuntu 8.10. Where's the hype?

Anyway, I am getting round to it. Just haven't had time is all. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

23 October 2008

On the subject of Glarbism

I was recently reminded of glarbs on Bronze Dog's blog. I find the Glarbism phenomenon fascinating.

Have you ever met a Glarbist? I haven't, but nonetheless, I still find Glarbism fascinating.

According to Glarbists, glarbs are flarschnikit. I kid you not.

Everything that we know about glarbs is contained in the holy book of the Glarbists. That particular text, titled The Holy Book Of The Glarbists, is apparently a long and largely boring read.

That is, unless you like the parts which just bang on about how great glarbs are. They make up about three quarters of The HBOTG. Personally, I would consider this to be dreadfully boring and self-serving. Mind you, I have to be honest here and say that I don't know of anyone who has ever read it.

So glarbs are flarschnikit. These are possibly the most amazing ultra-beings ever. Put it this way: being flarschnikit means that they would kick the arse of the Judeo/Christian/Islamic god to His Hell and back again.

Can you imagine how cool it would be to be flarschnikit? Certainly makes "omnipotence" and "omniscience" look weak.

Not only that: Deities are their minions!!!

How do the Glarbists know this? The HBOTG says so.

I must admit that just like BD, I'm somewhat doubtful about this one. I'm not even sure that I fully understand flarschnikity terribly well, but I know better not to ask a Glarbist: They won't tell you, because, as I pointed out before, glarbs are flarschnikit.

Glarbist apologists see this as the ultimate proof of glarbs. After all, if glarbs weren't flarschnikit, then glarbists wouldn't clam up on the subject, would they?

If you suggest otherwise to a Glarbist, this is where they get all judgemental about how "you'll end up bluggling in Flornath". Or accuse you of being "gobatastic".

I'm not convinced. Certainly, in glarbism, there are some weird stuff. Take the story about the prophet Humbert The Kidiphiddler. Certainly, I would have thought that he would have ended up in glorious Butnuggarts for this, but instead, Glarbist dogma has him beelittling about in deepest Num-b'Atooz.

Where then does Flornath fit in? How does one "bluggle"?

Ah, but the Glarbist has the answer for you on this: It turns out that glarbs are flarschnikit.

Not only that, but I was scratching my head at this bit in the Book of Chunder where the relatively realistic story of Peter And The Testchoob-b'Aybiz is related. Turns out that it's merely a metaphor and isn't meant to be taken seriously.

But what really gets me is later on in the Book of Chunder during the Coming Of The Whore Of Howwidstern where our metaphorical Peter proclaims the gobatastic virtues of the Whore, and is immediately spifflockated by the glarbs.

Turns out he'd forgotten that glarbs are flarschnikit. This, incidentally, is meant to be taken literally, hence my confusion.

If you wonder how Glarbists know that The HBOTG is accurate, they've got an answer to that, too: As it happens, glarbs are flarschnikit. End of discussion.

BD really went to town on this, and I have to thank him once again for bringing it to my attention. It really was interesting to go back and re-read his take on this.

Glarbism is not for theological beginners.

14 October 2008

Rock epic of the month: "Glósóli" (Sigur Rós) 2005

Rock epics of the month is a series of posts where I'll look back on classic examples of what I think is the greatest excess of rock and roll - the rock epic.

This month, I'm really stretching the bounds of what can be considered "rock".

Sigur Rós burst out of Iceland in the mid-nineties, and some said at the time that they probably would have been long forgotten if it wasn't for a fascination with Icelandic culture that was brought to the world's attention via the work of former Sugarcubes frontwoman Björk Guðmundsdóttir, an Icelandic singer who probably would be better described as a performance artist. Or even a complete nutcase.

But where Guðmundsdóttir mined a genre all her own, Sigur Rós were probably better described as riding the wave of a peculiar genre known as post-rock.

Post-rock really was lazy journalist-speak for "How the frig do we categorise this?" It included acts like Tortoise, Mogwai and Don Caballero, and has since been used in arrears to describe some of the work by bands such as Public Image Ltd and the later work of Talk Talk.

Things that post-rock bands seem to have in common is a complete disregard for structure, as well as using their instruments in different ways to provide textures that would otherwise not make an appearance in rock music.

Sigur Rós started in Reykjavic and were named after Sigurrós, the sister of singer and guitarist Jón Þór "Jónsi" Birgisson. Completing the band were Georg "Goggi" Hólm on bass and Ágúst Ævar Gunnarsson on drums.

(Fair dinkum, there's a reason why keyboards in the anglosphere don't have accented letters, not to mention Þ (thorn), ð (eth) and Æ (ash). It's because these letters were replaced in old English by different combinations of letters that do the same thing. I am getting so tired of typing these, but I'll struggle on.)

Anyway, not long after their first album, Von, Birgisson, Hólm and Gunnarsson were joined by Kjartan "Kjarri" Sveinsson on keyboards. They soon released Ágætis Byrjun, an album that introduced the world to Birgisson's penchant for playing his guitar with a cello bow.

Gunnarsson left the band soon after to be replaced by Orri Páll Dýrason who joined the band to lend his skills to the outrageously, pretentiously titled ( ). ( ) featured eight untitled tracks guaranteed to send you barmy, and introduced Birgisson's new fascination with singing gibberish which he called, "Hopelandic".

Their previous groundwork could be described as parts that were either truly "cutting edge" or straightforward wank. In 2005, Birgisson, Hólm, Gunnarsson and Sveinsson lay down tracks in the studio for the album where their experiments with sonic textures finally coalesced into something that, while still pretentious, hit the mark musically. That album was called Takk... and was, just like its predecessors, extraordinarily well received by the critics.

Unlike Takk...'s predecessors, though, you got the distinct impression that this time, the effusive praise from the critics was a bit more sincere, rather than, "Oh shit, I better give this one top marks, because I don't know what the hell is going on and I'll look like a philistine if I don't."

The towering "Glósóli" (6:15) was the apotheosis of this album. Featuring a nice rhythmic groove, courtesy of Hólm and Dýrason, this just moseys on down with rather lovely keyboard cascades from Sveinsson.

Over the top, but nicely buried in the mix, is Birgisson's completely weird-arse falsetto, which almost certainly relegates Guðmundsdóttir's to the top of the "normal" heap.

And it builds. Oh my sweet FSM, how it builds.

By the time that this tune finally unleashes a full-blown scary monster, Birgisson has put his voice away and is blasting out klaxons on his guitar, turning all atmospheric on us at just about the right time.

Oh, and the video is absolutely perfect too.

Be blown away by this. It is frightfully good stuff.

13 October 2008

Go Placidly Amid The Noise and Wait

Given the carnage on the markets over the last week or so, it was only a matter of time before the we got some irresponsible media reports.

So far, I give a qualified single thumb up to the media for restraining themselves from the kind of sensationalist and hysterical spectacle we saw during the tech wreck. At no stage have we seen the media, en masse anyway, hinting that everyone should sell up before (paper) losses get too great. At least, in Australia, anyway.

The reasons for this are twofold:

1. The tech wreck ended up as, by and large, a bit of a non-event in this country. We're not a hi-tech country. We weren't subject to mass IPOs of dubious quality floating on the market in the same way that countries like the USA were. Needless to say, those in the media who got a little crazy after the events of 2001 looked like geese, and probably felt a little sheepish afterwards as well.

Enough with the animal insults.

2. The Australian economy is in great shape. Our banks are totally not in need of "guaranteeing" in the same way as what is going on in Europe and North America at the moment. Never mind that, though. Our Federal Government guaranteed them today.

OK. Up until quite recently, we did have a bit of an inflation problem. On top of that, we did have a real estate bubble that, thankfully, appears to have sprung a slow leak thanks to our (still relatively) high interest rates. But in the overall scheme of things, we're doing OK.

We don't have a property price crisis like over in the States, though. Yet.

It did make me wonder though, during the week, when I turned on the news to see that some commentators are now starting to consider the distinct possibility that a housing price slump could hit Australia. I would personally welcome this, however, it could cause some grave havoc.

Consider this: In the 1980's, the median house price was set at around about three times gross household income, based on figures I saw during the week. Now, it appears to be about seven and a half times. In real terms, this is simply too much for most householders to afford, and should ring alarm bells anywhere, in the same way that the USA's foreign debt at around 350% of US GDP is at the moment.

By the end of the week, the massive spin doctoring machine that is the Real Estate guilds in each state had reversed this talk, and were even talking up their industry, with headlines like "Housing Prices Bottoming Out", amongst others.

You have to hand it to the RE guilds. The media is totally in their thrall. Media Watch, a couple of weeks ago focused on the attention that Sydney newspapers paid the sheer spin and dishonest figures that the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales like to put out to support their arguments. Figures that, when compared to those churned out by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, seem totally incredulous. The Daily Telegraph even held up the REINSW as being the "peak body" when it came to these figures.

I'm at the point that when I see a property story on the news, I simply don't believe a word of it if there is even only a one-word quote from anyone associated with these bodies. The fact is, the RE guilds represent real estate agents. They do not present fair figures honestly, and how the media don't see through the rubbish that they put out every week is one of life's little mysteries that we'll never see solved.

But on the whole, the media has been relatively controlled on the stampede for the exits that we're seeing in equity markets at the moment.

I did, this week, see something that made me wince.

Marcus Padley, a stockbroker, and regular columnist for The Age usually writes some insightful articles on finance.

Padley, for those who don't know, possesses a sharp mind and one of the silliest egos in finance this side of the late Rene Rivkin. He writes a tip sheet, which is relatively highly regarded, called "Marcus Today". Obviously, Padley was oblivious to the groans that went on around his office when he decided on that one.

Padley wrote an article in The Age which in my honest opinion, is the stupidest and most irresponsible op-ed piece during a financial crisis that I have ever seen. It was titled, "Take your money and run - it's worthless advice".

Cop a geek at this. Padley writes the following choice quotes:

"If I was still holding stocks, yes I'd still sell them... But I come at it not with an opinion about the direction about the sharemarket, but from a human perspective."

Padley has essentially held out a red rag to the bears and said, "Go on. Sell up. You know that you want to."

"But [don't hold on to your stocks] if you can't afford any more losses and are in pain. The definition of "can't afford" in my book is this, if I had to go home to my wife and tell her our expectations are going to have to be lowered."

(My emphasis)

OK. We're all going to have reduced expectations as a result of this. In Padley's opinion, everyone must sell everything, lock, stock and barrel.

"Who wants to play in a casino? The volatility has reduced the market to a casino. In a casino, no opinion has any value."

Your average investor might just as well give up at this point and shoot craps, because this is what Padley is suggesting that the market is no better than.

This is despite the fact that we know a great deal of market behaviour over the long term, which tilts the odds firmly back in the direction of an investor. Unlike our craps table at the casino, which is rigged against you from the start.

This is just the first third of an article which Padley manages to break every rule in responsible journalism. By essentially saying, "everyone should sell, without question," Padley has crossed the line into Personal Financial Advice territory, and should have the book thrown at him by ASIC.

Elsewhere Padley offers these little gems, which I have paraphrased:

  • Avoid losses. Therefore, avoid the market as well. It doesn't matter if you are in it for the long term or not.
  • I agree that the herd mentality is good. Stick with it and you can't go wrong.
  • Optimism is just that. Even if it backed up by the sheer force of history that suggests that investing for the long term requires a buy and hold approach.

Honestly, the whole thing almost reads like a parody. If this is Padley's idea of a joke, it's not funny, and he should be hauled over the coals as soon as the moment arises.

On top of this, Padley is a stockbroker. This means that whenever another sale is done, he collects a commission from it. Ka-ching!

Out of 5 stars, I give this disgraceful effort a bitch slap. Padley needs to wake up to himself.

Standard but necessary disclaimer: Only a complete idiot would think that any of this plausibly constituted advice. It's not even vaguely reasonable to consider this to be advice. If you are in any doubt as to the content of this, see a good, independent financial adviser immediately. They do exist.