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.