The Conspiracy has now left the building

I'm very upset about this. My favourite radio station, The Global Pop Conspiracy has shut down. It was such a brilliant station, always playing new and interesting music.

I discovered a few really great bands through them including controller.controller and Immaculate Machine.

They were always a bit mysterious, so I'm hoping one of them will find this post and let me know where I can get my fix from or perhaps you know?

A solution to Sydney's water problems

If you're not in Sydney you probably don't know this, but it's been raining solidly for the last 36 hours or so. Of course none of this rain is going to reach the catchments of the dams that supply Sydney's water. The big problem is our dams are in the wrong place, or the city is in the wrong place. So I have a solution to our water problems. It will require a small adjustment to the Constitution and will be acceptable to the cast majority of Sydney people.

Here it is: bulldoze Vaucluse and build a big dam. There's always loads of rain on the Eastern Suburbs, even when it's not reaching the dams. And there's nobody interesting living there. Only rich nobs.

The constitutional change required? We need to amend paragraph 51(xxxi), otherwise known as The Castle clause to "the acquisition of property on just terms from any State or person for any purpose in respect of which the Parliament has power to make laws, except for rich nobs who get no just terms."

Simple really. You gotta wonder why someone hasn't come up with it before.

The Tourist Engineer is back

My OpenGuide site, The Tourist Engineer is finally working again. Thanks to Kake for prodding and fixing the database format. That made all the difference!

The site is a tourist guide for geeks, looking at architectural marvels, giant infrastructure, geeky historical sites and the like.

I'll continue maintaining this site, but I'm also thinking of starting an Open Guide to Sydney, in the mould of London and Boston. These are open Wiki guides to cities, and when they work well they're absolutely brilliant. Sydney doesn't have much in the way of free, open guides to things. Most seem to be search-engine-harvesting "guides" with plain listings and no real opinion. There's nothing as good as the ever amazing Beer In The Evening. I think we need to harness some of this user-generated goodness for Sydney.

In the meantime, please check out The Tourist Engineer and feel free to jump in and add new sites.

Happiness is a firm mattress

Holly and I ordered a new mattress for our bed last weekend. We've not been sleeping well for a month or two now, due to the crappy, saggy old mattress. The new one arrived on Saturday and it's amazing. We've slept like babies the last two nights, and both of us feel a whole lot more alert.

Quite amazing the impact of a mattress eh? Maybe we're getting old...

Farmers: Spare change?

I couldn't help imagining my local bum's plaintive "spare change" request when I saw Ben Fargher (now there's an unfortunate surname), CEO of the National Farmer's Federation on the telly last night. He was talking doom and gloom, food price rises and the collapse of civilisation as we know it due to the drought. The (ABC) news then switched to pictures of parched fields with the voice-over talking about how this farmer's cotton couldn't be planted. Cotton? WTF?

The farming lobby has skillfully played on Australians' delusional self-image of being country folk for years, winning torrents of corporate welfare for themselves in the process. In reality we're one of the most concentrated urban societies in the world. You can be absolutely sure the farmers will win some more handouts in the latest drought.

The thing is, why should farming be treated like any other business? The biggest landowners in Australia are actually giant agribusinesses, hardly the image of the hard working battling cocky. Of course you won't see images of business suited agribusiness chairmen sitting around boardroom tables in anything put out by the farming lobby. Instead we'll see the Akubra-wearing cocky propping up the gate on his parched patch of dirt.

Now if I were to set up a little corner shop without doing my homework and discover there's no demand in the area for what I'm selling, I wouldn't expect a government handout when the business failed. Why is farming any different? Any business should do its research into market conditions, and for farming the climatic conditions would be one of the most important aspects. Anyone who couldn't see the writing on the wall for farming at least twenty years ago really hasn't been paying attention.

What's more, we farm absolutely ridiculous crops for our climate. What the hell are we doing growing insanely water-intensive crops like cotton and rice in this country?

The problem with further handouts to farmers is that it actively encourages poor farming patterns. Instead of penalising bad decisions, which is what our free-market government claims to want, we reward them by bailing them out every time Australia's climate turns for the worse. What's more, this pattern effectively penalises those farmers who have changed their methods to be more in tune with our climate, since they're not eligible for the handouts.

If the farmers' methods were rational, they'd be able to use standard market mechanisms like insurance and hedging (paid during the good years) instead of relying on the public purse.

Farming in Australia, and anywhere for that matter, will always be a somewhat risky occupation. But most businesses have important variables that are way out of their control, so why should farming be treated any differently?

Any handouts given during the current drought should be tied to radical changes in our farming methods. In many cases that means abandoning the most marginal lands. Don't expect these kinds of hard decisions to be made by any of the geniuses vying to win the election this year though.

The Truth About Weapons of Mass Destruction

Paul Hanes in The Truth About Weapons of Mass Destruction

My mate Hanesy's film, The Truth About Weapons of Mass Destruction, after a long and tortuous birth, is about to hit the festival circuit. I haven't seen the final cut but the earlier cuts were great, give or take a long bagpipe sequence.

The film follows Paul and his mates travelling from London through the Channel Tunnel to the World War I battlefields of Belgium and Northern France. Over the course of that war, millions of chemical weapons were fired across no man's land. A large proportion of these weapons failed to detonate in the muddy quagmire that was the front, and some of the chemicals used are stable enough to still be viable today.

Paul drives around the fields and finds some of these unexploded weapons of mass destruction lying by the road awaiting collection by the Belgian Army's specialist bomb disposal unit. He then meets up with that unit and tours with them to see the process of destruction of these weapons. One hilarious scene has the Belgian army guy telling them that if the filmmakers see him running, they should "run faster".

The main thrust of the movie is to point out how easy it would be to collect some of the unexploded shells and use them for terrorism. Only an hour's drive away from London, these shells are lying in fields for weeks at a time waiting for someone to pick them up.

What's truly scandalous is that the countries responsible for making and firing all these scary weapons are being tight arses on paying for their disposal. It's mostly left to the Belgian government to fund the collection and destruction of these weapons. Paul's film shows why it's in everyone's interest to ensure that these weapons are collected and destroyed quickly and securely so they don't fall into the wrong hands. They're going to be turning up in the fields of Belgium for the foreseeable future.

I can just imagine the furore if the europhobe newspapers like The Sun or the Daily Fascist got hold of it. Another peril from those garlic-swilling continentals!

Congratulations to Paul for making it into the shortlist for an award at the Swansea Bay Film Festival and the offical selection at the Everglades Film Festival in South Africa.

When prototypes attack

Here's a tip for newbies. When someone asks you to knock up a "quick prototype", be very very afraid. Your "quick prototype" could well end up as a production system. And guess who's gonna be supporting it?

I made the mistake of writing some dodgy Javascript to mock up some functionality we wanted to get built. Only ever intended as a demonstration, and completely unmaintainable. It's just come back from the umpteenth iteration through the lawyers and everyone else putting in their two bob, and I feel sick every time I see it.

I should have known this would happen when my boss started referring to it as an "application". ARGH!

Gun control saves lives

Howard has talked about my post on gun laws, and talks about the laws and their effect in the UK. There's been a massive increase in gun crime in the UK in recent years, fuelled partly by smuggling from Eastern Europe and the rise of gangsta culture. Someone was shot in Newington Green this week, just around the corner from Scott and Katie's place.

I thought I'd lay down why I support gun control, and in fact support it being far, far tighter.

People go nuts. In Australia and the UK, they go nuts at pretty much the same rate as America, give or take a bit. When someone goes on a killing spree, the weapons available to them make all the difference in the impact of the spree. You can only get so far with a knife, and hurt so many people.

Now occasionally this means a nutter with foresight will get hold of an illegal gun, and still go on a killing spree. But these types of spree are far, far rarer. They're normally going to go with what's easily available.

Personally I think you need a very good reason to own a gun. Target shooters should be required to join a gun club, and the gun is signed out and back in to lockers run by the club whenever they're used. You can't have such a gun at home.

Hunters, well I'm not quite sure we need them. I'm sure some similar restrictions could be thought up though. No guns in homes.

Farmers are a bit more difficult. We have a lot of pest animals in Australia, and farmers really do need to be able to have guns readily accesible to protect livestock and kill any pests they find. Not sure how you can reduce the risk here, apart from background checks, weapon limits and mandatory gun lockers.

Handguns? There's never any legitimate need outside law enforcement. Again, sporting shooters can join a gun club.