Saturday, June 29, 2019

No redeeming features

Remember when some people at Catallaxy theorised that the Charlottesville driver who rammed into a crowd, and reversed out at high speed, killing a woman and injuring others, might have just been panicked when some anti protest protesters hit his car?   Read some of the comments at this post, which contained these lines:

A white guy, whom I refuse to label, loses his cool, for reasons only known to him, reverses into a crowd of radical leftists and unfortunately killing a woman and seriously injuring a number of others. This single, indeed appalling incident, has become a hole in the dyke incident for Trump, and he buckled and singled out several white nationalist groups by name in his second address on the issue. Not a single radical left group received a mention: this was an undignified capitulation...

The video showed it to be nonsense at the time, but it is the blog for culture war fools, so one referred to him as "that poor boy" who the crowd wanted to lynch, and another who argued that police always recommend that when surrounded by a mob and are in danger, you just keep driving.  

In sentencing the guy today, for life, we hear that he was a hard core neo Nazi since at least a teenager:
Prosecutors said Fields had a long history of racist and anti-Semitic behaviour and had shown no remorse for his crimes.

They said he was an avowed white supremacist, admired Adolf Hitler and even kept a picture of the Nazi leader on his bedside table.

During the sentencing hearing, FBI Special Agent Wade Douthit said Fields "was like a kid at Disney World" during a high school trip to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.

Mr Douthit read grand jury testimony from a high school classmate of Fields who said he appeared happy and made the remark: "This is where the magic happened."

The statement provoked audible gasps from the crowd that had packed into the Charlottesville courtroom.

The classmate said when Fields viewed the camp's gas chamber, he said: "It's almost like you can still hear them screaming."

Friday, June 28, 2019

As dinosaurs saw it

I had never thought to ask this before:  where are the oldest landscapes on Earth which are pretty much the same as they were in the days of dinosaurs?  An article in Science answers this:
Scientists have shown that several plateaus in Brazil are likely Earth's oldest known landscapes, surviving largely unchanged for 70 million years despite heavy, erosive rainfall. For decades, geomorphologists have fixated on regions where plate tectonics accelerate geologic change, thrusting up mountains, opening rifts, and creating traps for oil and gas. But armed with new geochemical tools that can measure the erosion history of a landscape, geoscientists are turning on to the charms of the slow parts of the planet. Researchers hope these lands, typically plateaus that have had their surfaces armored by rain-induced chemical reactions, can provide new windows to Earth's deep history.
Hey, what's more - it notes that this is research from University of Queensland:
Climbing to the top of the Urucum plateau, a shock of rust-red land thrust 1 kilometer above the Brazilian savanna, is a journey into Earth's deep past. Despite the region's heavy, erosive rainfall, the surface of the plateau has remained largely unchanged for some 70 million years, making it Earth's oldest known landscape. Walk along it and you're only a few meters below the surface that dinosaurs once trod.

That startling picture emerges from a study published this month in Earth and Planetary Science Letters by a team led by Paulo Vasconcelos, a geochemist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Until recently, scientists could estimate erosion only by looking at the sediment sloughed off of a surface. But new geochemical tools developed by, among others, Vasconcelos and his colleagues measure erosion from rock that's left behind. “They all converge to the same story,” Vasconcelos says. “Though it's taken some time to convince people.”

Popular show that escaped me

The Guardian notes something that surprises me: 
The most watched show on US Netflix, by a huge margin, is the US version of The Office. Even though the platform pumps out an absurd amount of original programming – 1,500 hours last year – it turns out that everyone just wants to watch a decade-old sitcom. One report last year said that The Office accounts for 7% all US Netflix viewing.
My confession:  I have tried watching a few episodes, and my son sometimes likes to watch it, but it's just not a show that I find has much appeal to me.  

I assume it's meant to be a bit less intensely cringe inducing than the UK version (of which I'm not sure I've even seen a full episode - I really do not warm to Ricky Gervais, although I did find some episodes of Extras pretty good.)  In a way, I find it hard to put my finger on why I don't much care for it:  I think I find the scenarios are still too much straining for humour?   So I am surprised that it's a really lingering success in the US.  C'est la vie.

And suddenly, he didn't like it

I never came back to say what I ended up thinking about the Good Omens mini series.

I thought it remained pretty amusing and very watchable all the way through.  In fact, it was one of few streaming shows that I wanted to binge watch, rather than spreading out the enjoyment as I usually do, as it did play more as a 6 hour movie than a mini series.   David Tennant was very good, but in a way I was more won over by the prissy angel act of Michael Sheen.  It did, from memory, vary from the book a fair way towards the end, and the resolution to the problem of how to prevent  Armageddon was not all that convincing: but nor was it in the book, really.  

Which brings me to a review in the Catholic Herald which is a little odd: 
Good Omens is a travesty of eschatology
Given who wrote the book, that's hardly surprising, is it?

Anyway, what's odd is that the reviewer seems to have enjoyed most of the show quite a lot, but then suddenly turned against it on something like theological grounds.  This is his last paragraph:
David Tennant is marvellous as Crowley; the scenes of him disguised as Mary Poppins and later of his talking to his plants are priceless. Michael Sheen’s Aziraphale seems too dense and simpering, but one gets used to him; he is, after all, a gay angel. As for Gaiman’s travesty of eschatology, best to take it as just another excrescence of trendy atheism: stupid and ultimately risible. 
On the "gay" point:  I'm pretty sure the book (again, this is going back to memory of one reading in the early 1990's) says that Aziraphale was frequently mistaken as gay, given the way he spoke and that he liked to dance in uninhibited fashion; but in fact his lack of genitalia would have shown people their mistake.   There's no disputing, though, that the series does play up the relationship between Crowley and Arizaphale as looking like a rom-com about unfulfilled gay longing.  (Were they mistaken as a gay couple in the book?  I see one review that says so, but I don't recall.)   Anyway, I don't know there is any evidence in the series that Arizaphale is capable of, or wanting to, act on his enjoyment of  his friend's company in any physical sense, just as in the book.  And the final scene of them enjoying lunch was pretty charming. 

So it didn't bother me, and I would be happy to see another series about their adventures, if a good enough story could be found.   I do get the feeling the series has been a hit - there is a lot of fondness for it being expressed on the 'net.

Conservative Party analysis

I like the title:

How the Tories became a Brexit death cult in thrall to Boris Johnson

The article goes on to explain that it appears something like branch stacking (party stacking?) appears to be the explanation as to why the Conservative Party rank and file have decided that Brexit is worth anything:
Surveys can’t confirm whether this so-called Blukip phenomenon is as real as some of the self-styled victims of it, such as Anna Soubry, have alleged. But what they do seem to show is that well over a third of the current Conservative Party membership joined after the 2016 referendum, which some will take as at least circumstantial evidence and may explain why they care more about Brexit than their party’s long-term survival.

What they also show is that, while no deal wins the support of “only” 60 per cent of those members who had already joined the party by the 2015 election, that figure rises to 70 per cent for those who joined after the 2016 referendum, and to an astonishing 77 per cent of those who became Conservative Party members after the 2017 general election.

In short, attitudes on Europe have hardened among rank-and-file Tories; but part of that hardening is due to the fact that some of those with less strident views on the issue may have left the party only to be replaced by Brexiteer-ultras. That, of course, is democracy. But it’s also bloody good news for Boris Johnson – at least until he risks, as prime minister, having to disillusion and disappoint them.

The never ending defence budget spend

On a more serious note, have a read of this really good article at New York Review of Books about the ridiculousness of the American defence budget.  

It starts with one anecdote - how many military bands of full time musicians do you think they have?   Answer:  136, with 6,500 personnel, costing $500 million a year.   (It also says the Pentagon has a 4.5 billion dollar "public affairs" budget.)  A 2016 review ended up deciding the band should stay at current levels.

It also notes that the Army has been wanting to stop buying new tanks, as a basically obsolete platform, for years, but Congress doesn't listen.  They have 6,000 of them anyway.

You know how they say that if America didn't have such a high imprisonment rate, its unemployment rate would be closer to other countries?  I always wonder what the rate would be if it had a more normal sized defence force, too.

My Rules for Life (updated)

I thought I was heading faster towards 12, but I'm disappointed to see I had only achieved 3.    But there is another one that occurred to me this morning, so the list is now up to 4:

1.  Always carry a clean, ironed handkerchief in your pocket.  Always.
2.  Never buy into timeshare apartments or holiday schemes.
3.  If you have a choice, buy the washing machine with a 15 minute "fast wash" option.

and, ta-dah:

4.  Always buy reverseable belts. (You know, usually black on one side and brown on the other.)

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Comics knowledge expanded

Hey, I don't think I knew this before: 
The Gay Ghost (later renamed the Grim Ghost, not to be confused with Grim Ghost) is a fictional superhero in the DC Comics universe whose first appearance was in Sensation Comics #1 (Jan. 1942), published by one DC's predecessor companies, All-American Publications. He was created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Howard Purcell.
A little further Googling in image search brings up some amusing, hardly gay at all, results:

and now I see Cracked did have an article in 2013 that listed him as one of the 5 most absurd superheros, with this quote noted:

As for cringe-y dialogue:

 and this:

I am, verily, amused.

Frankenstein disappoints

The second series of The Frankenstein Chronicles was really quite bad.  Very badly written with nothing explained clearly; too many protagonists with sideburns who looked so alike it was hard to remember who was who; a very silly conspiracy; overly gruesome in some of its violence; and things hinted at still left unexplained at the end.  In fact, I wondered if there was a budget problem that meant a longer series that was originally written had to be compressed down into 6 episodes, abandoning much needed exposition.   

Quite disappointing after the pretty pleasing first season.

Not encouraging from Boeing

From the BBC:
US regulators have uncovered a possible new flaw in Boeing's troubled 737 Max aircraft that is likely to push back test flights.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it identified the "potential risk" during simulator tests, but did not reveal specific details.

Another very stable genius

Gee, Boris is very, very Trump like in his inconsistency:
Boris Johnson has said the chances of a no-deal Brexit are a “million-to-one against”, despite promising to leave on 31 October whether or not he has managed to strike a new agreement with the European Union.

Johnson, the frontrunner to be prime minister, told a hustings that the chances of a no-deal Brexit were vanishingly small, as he believed there was a mood in the EU and among MPs to pass a new Brexit deal.

“It is absolutely vital that we prepare for a no-deal Brexit if we are going to get a deal,” he said. “But I don’t think that is where we are going to end up – I think it is a million-to-one against – but it is vital that we prepare.”
I also saw on TV last night his interview in which he explained his alleged hobby of making buses from cartons - it was very, very bizarre.  Many people on twitter think he was making it up (for what possible motivation, though?) and one wit said that some flunky who works for him was probably working all night creating some to prove it's not a weird jape. 

A detailed look at whether perovskite solar cells will really make a difference

Interesting article at Nature about this - seems remarkably uncertain whether the boosters of this new form of solar cell will win out.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

A perfectly normal hobby for a politician

The only explanation I can see for disclosing this is that Boris really believes that the more eccentric he paints himself, the more people will overlook his lies and inadequacies:
Boris Johnson revealed that he makes buses out of old wine crates to relax.

He says he likes to unwind by painting passengers enjoying themselves on his model vehicles.

The former mayor of London, whose term in office included the introduction of a new 'Boris' bus to the capital's streets, was speaking to TalkRadio.

When no one answers an argument

What with Gillian Triggs coming out and (apparently - I have only seen extracts) making some dubious broad brush statements yesterday about religious beliefs and employment, I note that no one in my last thread about the Folau controversy has answered this point.   So let's bump it up to a post.

Who really thinks that those who are painting this as a right to religious expression would be donating money if it were this:   an Islamic sportsman with a high profile and social media accounts who used them to support things that he argues as a conservative Muslim are genuinely, religiously justified positions with plenty of tradition behind them, such as:  it would be fair enough for the law to allow for gays to be stoned to death - such a scare would help some save their souls from Hell;  that the death penalty for Muslim apostasy is warranted; that physical chastisement of a wife can be warranted and reasonable; child marriage isn't a big deal.

The obvious point is this:  some religiously justified beliefs are readily capable of holding reasonable offence for small or large parts of a modern Western society.   A company engaged in a business which wants broad support from its society should generally not have the right to discriminate on the grounds of an employees personal beliefs expressed in the private sphere, but are culture war warriors really trying to tell me that they think my hypothetical Muslim sportsman should also be free to express all his religiously justified beliefs in the public sphere via social media and it would not risk tarnishing the image of the sport that is employing him?     

Those who are defending Folau on this are simply drawing the line, as it suits their prejudice and background, as to where offensiveness in relation to religious statements about homosexuality should lie.

And yes, I know there are plenty of gay folk who go out of their way to find offence, in an irritating manner too, and most are not concerned that conservative Christians are right about their destination in the afterlife.    But nor do I dismiss the fact that Christian (indeed, even Catholic) statements about the inherently disordered nature of homosexuality can cause some angst to the self image of people (mainly young people) worried about their sexuality, especially if they come from a conservative  background.  

I therefore do not consider it unreasonable that, in these circumstances, a sporting body require that its generously paid players not engage in religiously motivated conservative commentary about the nature of homosexuality in the public sphere.   As I understand it, Folau had been warned along those lines too before signing his current contract, but he chose to do so anyway.

This means it is a contractual matter, and he may or may not win on the contractual merits.   He should not win on the wrong headed grounds that it should be open slather for any sportsman to be able to express any view under cloak of religious freedom.

PS:   I also think quite a few sports and companies are over-compensating on the matter of support for gay folk.  I would really like it if we could move past gay pride weeks and events, and find much of the public demonstration that is "pro diversity" to be an embarrassment, with gay pride parades frequently featuring fetishes, for example.   I am in no way "all in" with support for the state of gay social politics as it is currently in society.   But none of that changes my view on the Folau matter.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A funny Creighton column

Adam Creighton has decided that the big tech companies (Google, Facebook etc) companies have too much power.  He's particularly concerned that they have drained traditional news media of advertising money (true), so much so that he's willing to contemplate direct government subsidy of the news.  

Well, you might think, isn't that what we get with the ABC?   No, that's not enough:
Publicly funded media organisations can’t do as good a job. Private media companies have a powerful incentive to dig out bad news, even if it upsets governments, because it sells.
Huh? I thought Adam's paper has been complaining about the ABC "digging out bad news" (when it is about a Coalition government in power, anyway) for decades, which kinda proves public broadcasters don't have to be in the "selling" business to be interested in "bad news".

Creighton appears in The Australian - a paper for which the content over the course of a year is about 95% pure ideologically driven right wing opinion to 1% investigative journalism.  (And some of the latter is just true crime stuff - hardly matters of national political consequence.)    If he would actually come out and note that about Rupert's pet paper - as well as make some kind of observation about the heightened propaganda machine that is the money making machine known as Fox News - he might have a skerrick of credibility.

How much "investigative journalism" does Fox News engage in so as to be bring in the big money, Adam?   You know the answer - nil.   Your boss has monetised ludicrously biased spin as the way a "news" network can thrive, and you have the hide to argue that private media is better at investigative journalism.

His column goes on to complain that the big tech companies real danger is to democracy - because of the way their search filters sought out the news.   It doesn't take too much to read between the lines that his problem is that he thinks that filtering has a "left wing" bias he doesn't like - Right wingers have been complaining about search engines conspiring against them for years now.   (Because they have trouble understanding that, with the awful "we don't care about the evidence" path the Right has taken over the last 30 years, facts now have a clear Left wing bias.)

Nor does he not mention the true and clear danger from IT companies, which is via the spread of deliberate misinformation and lies (masquerading as news), sometimes via foreign governments interested in seeding political disunity, via social media.   

As usual, Adam's a just a silly lightweight who attacks all the wrong targets. 

He's dumbing you down, Jason.  

More anti Boris

A pretty savage, and somewhat amusing, attack on Boris Johnson by his old boss, Max Hastings.  I liked this line:
Like many showy personalities, he is of weak character. I recently suggested to a radio audience that he supposes himself to be Winston Churchill, while in reality being closer to Alan Partridge.
and this:
Johnson would not recognise truth, whether about his private or political life, if confronted by it in an identity parade. In a commonplace book the other day, I came across an observation made in 1750 by a contemporary savant, Bishop Berkeley: “It is impossible that a man who is false to his friends and neighbours should be true to the public.” Almost the only people who think Johnson a nice guy are those who do not know him.

More Libra scepticism

At The Conversation.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Rugby culture wars

I'm pretty amused at the Right wing culture war outrage about GoFundMe deciding after a few days that it doesn't want to be the conduit for wingnutty people with too much money to fund the legal fees for a guy who has been earning millions for running around a football field.

They now want Folau to sue GoFundMe! 

As with donations to the IPA, this latest story is another example of how wingnutty people are very easily parted from their money.   They don't care how much money the donee may already have, if they think they are getting to be part of a great and glorious culture war it's a case of "shut up and take my money".   

Update:  here's Mark Latham getting uptight -

This from the man who was wandering around Western Sydney with a microphone in 2017 fretting about Muslim views on hitting women, Sharia law and wearing the burqa.    

Maybe Boris is in trouble?

I opined yesterday that Boris Johnson was probably still assured of the Prime Minister job because he is like Trump - the focus of culture war hopes that overcome any consideration of character and past performance.

But I see on Twitter this morning that lots of people are calling out his comments about how Brexit could proceed was based on a fundamental error/lie;  he is also being called a liar about his past association with Steve Bannon; and now the Mirror is running a story that his argument with his girlfriend was because he actually wants to get back with his estranged wife.(!)

It's hard to know which of those, if any, might turn out to be more important.   But it seems his path to the leadership might be more in doubt than I expected.

A bridge made of grass

If you want to see a photo essay about this:
Every year the last remaining Inca rope bridge still in use is cast down and a new one erected across the Apurimac river in the Cusco region of Peru. 

The Q'eswachaka bridge is woven by hand and has been in place for at least 600 years. Once part of the network that linked the most important cities and towns of the Inca empire, it was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 2013.
you can hop over to the BBC.  

Libra scepticism

Axios reckons that everyone may be in a panic (or being prematurely enthusiastic - like the troika of RMIT blockchain conference attendees) about Libra for nothing - because it's likely to never get off the ground.

The reasons they give do sound pretty convincing. 

The ridiculous bag wars

It's a culture war thing for the likes of Adam Creighton that the ban on single use plastic bags in supermarkets is a waste of time.   So he's thrilled today to be able to link to an article in The Australian with the headline "Economy falls through our shopping bags", noting that the paper got its hands on some FOI material about companies complaining to Treasury about this:
However, a slew of companies also complained to the government’s chief economic department about the effect that banning plastic bags was having on slowing activity in the $320 billion retail sector.

“Several firms suggested that the introduction of a ban on plastic bags meant customers reduced their consumption to an amount that they could instead carry, and delayed purchases of heavier groceries,” notes the report, sent from Treasury economist Angelia Grant to Josh Frydenberg and his assistant ministers on April 2.

Contacts also warned Treasury that the poor showing in the retail sector would likely see “continued subdued inflation, with grocery deflation only partly offset by higher power prices”.
To the paper's credit, it does go on (after the sensationalist, tabloid headline) to quote an economist expressing scepticism about these businesses' claim.  Adam seems not to have read past the headline.  Or to have any sensible scepticism.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Brexit, and Boris

I actually read a piece by Helen Dale about the English political turmoil over Brexit and thought it sounded a plausible enough analysis.   Yet it left me with two thoughts:

a.  for a (now) "card carrying Conservative" who supports Brexit, this is not the first time I have read her commenting about Brexit, and it seems to me that she has always spent very little time on explaining why it will be for the good of the country:  even in this column she says people should treat as exaggerated any forecasts of how bad a "no deal" Brexit will be from Treasury or the Bank of England, but then goes on to list the punishing tariffs that can be expected under it anyway.  It seems that she wants it to be taken very much as a matter of faith that things will be better - eventually.  Instead, she just wants to talk about how terribly messy the politics of it all have become.

b.  she does not mention the lack of preferential voting in the UK as being part of the problem.   This has seemed to me to be an increasingly likely cause of the Parliamentary mess now that the country has 3 key parties in play - although I guess no one can have any idea without very detailed research as to exactly what difference to numbers in Parliament it might make if adopted.   But it makes sense to expect that a system in which local members who most in their electorate don't want to win can still win is a problem, no?

As for the Boris Johnson apparent ascendancy to the Prime Ministership - I think it's clear that he resembles Trump in that he is the beneficiary of a culture war inspired cult of personality that will let him slide past things which would sink any "normal" politician - such as the bizarre matter of getting his girlfriend upset enough that the police were called.  The neighbour who rang the police has had to deny that being a Remainer was his motivation for the call - and one can be certain that the internet's Wingnut flying monkey unit has descended on him and his girlfriend.   The fact that Johnson refuses to talk about what went on in the flat indicates something obviously problematic did.   But the gullible and dumb Right, as with Trump, prefers to believe conspiracy.

As to his suitability for the top job generally, The Guardian has assembled an impressive list of people who have worked with/known him for some time and who all highly critical of his character.   Also, Mary Beard has written about Johnson, who joined her for a charity debate a few years, in a way which also sounds quite accurate - that his problem is:
...a persistent pattern of misrepresentation, of cutting corners for argumentative advantage, and of disguising untruth or partial truth under a fog of enthusiasm and unthinking optimism.
 I expect no good to come out of his leadership. 

The likely truth about the Trump spin on calling off an attack

As Allahpundit at Hot Air explains, no one sensible believes that the Pentagon does not tell the President the number of anticipated casualties for a missile attack on foreign soil until after it is authorised.  And Trump himself has changed the story already, saying the attack had not yet been launched when it was called off, but still claims he was the one who had to ask about casualties, and his "military team" had to go find out to inform him.

Allahpundit, a conservative Trump skeptic, nonetheless flies the kite on a theory that maybe Trump deliberately wanted Iran to think that he was the only person in his administration concerned to not attack the country unnecessarily, so they ought to trust him in negotiations.  

A far more likely explanation:  because two of his prime advisers - Hannity and Carlson on Fox News - are in disagreement about going to war with Iran, Trump doesn't know what he should do.   Erring for once on the side of caution, his narcissism goes for the only way to explain his indecision and reversal - he's the nice guy who thinks the loss of life would be disproportionate.  (He must have been awake for that part of his briefing at least - it's not a word one expects is normally in his vocabulary.   Or perhaps more likely, he's changed his mind and asked his minders how he was going to best spin this.)

PS:  any brownie points which hard or soft supporters of Trump outside of American might be contemplating giving him for not following the advice of Bolton and the hawks in his circle should surely be tempered by the fact that Trump himself started the current problem with Iran by foolishly abandoning the nuclear deal that Obama had reached with the country.  As noted at this opinion piece in the Washington Post, something close to the same deal is the only obvious peaceful way forward.

Modi the yogi

I seem to have missed that Indian PM Modi is very much into yoga.  (In fact, I wasn't sure how conservative Hindu folk viewed it - I thought they might have seen it as too modern with its current, slightly new-agey feel - but it must get the tick of approval from them if Modi is into it.)

There's a video clip at CNA about International Yoga Day in India, featuring some shots of Modi engaging in yoga in real life, and via avatar (!).   He's been tweeted out animated videos of himself teaching yoga positions from earlier this year.  I'll come back and embed an example later...

Update:  as promised -

Friday, June 21, 2019

What were they thinking?

Haven't been over to James Lileks site for ages - got a bit bored with reading about his mundane life, so I concentrate more on recording my own mundanities. 

But he does collect some funny pop culture stuff, and this photo of  a recipe card from (I would guess) the 1970's had me laughing:

Lilek's commentary: 
The crew of the Nostromo set down on LV-426 in response to an automated distress beacon. They'd heard about the creatures, and the horrible way they sprang from their coccoons. What they didn't realized that over time they had evolved, and we now capable of sophisticated, coordinated dance routines.
 He has some good comic covers too:


Mapping the world by 3 words

I don't catch QI all that much since Stephen Fry left, but it can be OK in moderate doses.

The episode shown this week on the ABC I watched in full, and found it quite enjoyable.   This is how I learnt about What3Words, which I see has been around for about 6 years, but until now escaped my attention.

The Wikipedia entry explains:
what3words is a geocoding system for the communication of locations with a resolution of three metres. What3words encodes geographic coordinates into three dictionary words; the encoding is permanently fixed. For example, the omphalos of Delphi, believed by the ancient Greeks to be the center of the world, was located at "spooky.solemn.huggers". what3words differs from most other location encoding systems in that it displays three words rather than long strings of numbers or letters.

What3words has a website, apps for iOS and Android, and an API that enables bidirectional conversion between what3words address and latitude/longitude coordinates. As the system relies on a fixed algorithm rather than a large database of every location on earth, it works on devices with limited storage and no Internet connection.

According to the company its revenue comes from charging businesses for high-volume use of the API that converts between 3 words and coordinates; services for other users are free of charge.[1]
The "about" section of the business's website (I haven't downloaded the app - even though I can see many thrilling but potentially baffling conversation starters by telling new people I've just met the 3 word location in which we are standing) explains more:
3 word addresses are intentionally randomised and unrelated to the squares around them. To avoid confusion, similar sounding addresses are also placed as far from each other as possible. The app will account for spelling errors and other typing mistakes and make suggestions, based on 3 word addresses nearby.
I, like Sandi Toksvig, find this whole thing oddly intriguing.   Yet when I tried to pass on the excitement to my teenage kids over dinner last, my son said he could describe the conversation in 3 words: "This is boring".   This made his sister declare that the first joke he had ever made that she found funny.

Hence, via nerd-dom, I brought my children closer together.  

I am now going to download the app.

Update:  Cool - one grid close to my house's front door has "robots" in the 3 words, and in such a way that the two preceding words can be taken as describing them.     Using the voice search function though is a bit silly.  Because the phrases are randomised, if the phone hears the phrase slightly wrong, it will throw up locations all around the planet.  It does give a choice of three possible versions of what it thinks it heard.   Easier to type it in, though.

So that's why imported canned Italian tomatoes are so cheap?

Europe's a lovely looking place (that, unfortunately, I have not actually seen much of in person), but it does somewhat tarnish its reputation for being more progressive (and therefore nicer) than the deplorable infected governments of the United States when you read articles like this one about the "slave labour" picking tomatoes in Italy.   (Remember though that Spain also has a terrible reputation for exploiting immigrant labour in vegetable growing.  I posted about Simon Reeve revealing episode 4 of his Mediterranean series about that topic not so long ago.)

Mind you, Australia's treatment of backpackers in rural areas is also often a disgrace - but at least they are free to give up and return home.  

Would Trump be told if UFOs were alien in some sense?

While I'm not sure that there would ever be any strong reason for any US government agency to not want the public to know the Truth about UFO's (in the sense of them being of non human origin), you would have to suspect that any such agency would not want Trump told if they thought it best be kept from the public, for the time being at least.

This speculation is brought about by news of some Senators getting a Pentagon briefing about the Navy UFO cases, and Trump in his recent interview responding that he doesn't "particularly" believe in UFOs. 

The transparent motivations of libertarians, and why private currencies are a bad idea

Ha!   I reckon it's perfectly clear that the enthusiastic reception to the Facebook currency (and future alternative private currencies) given by the RMIT libertarian set of Potts, Davidson and Berg in the AFR this morning (which can be read via the ever ridiculous Catallaxy) is explained by their thinking that it will give them the form of government they want - small, tax starved and with limited spending power.

As such, they spend next to no time talking about the obvious problems of private currency - instead they see both dollar signs in front of their eyes (Australia should enthusiastically try to become a base for future private currencies, they argue) and the thrill that governments will be crushed if they try to step in the way of the inevitable, glorious, future of having less control over an economy.   Take this line, for example:
Governments that pursue irresponsible fiscal policies will see even greater capital flight.
As usual, then, libertarians are best ignored as ideologically driven money lovers always prepared to downplay the common good if it steps in the way of anyone - especially the already rich - making more money.  Their worst sin, of course, for which they should never be forgiven:  address global warming?  -  no, that might mean a new form of tax, so they would rather run a disinformation campaign to cripple united Western political action for 30 years while their mining friends add to their billions.  

As for why private currencies are a problem that should not be welcomed, the New York Times has a good article today:   

Launching a Global Currency Is a Bold, Bad Move for Facebook 

It lists four problems with the idea:  the first, that there is doubt it will be set up with all of the safeguards for misuse of a currency that governments and banks spend much money and time on establishing:
Banks pay attention to details, complying with regulations to prevent money-laundering, terrorist financing, tax avoidance and counterfeiting. Recreating such a complex system is not a project that an institution with the level of privacy and technical problems like Facebook should be leading. (Or worse, failing to recreate such safeguards could facilitate money-laundering, terrorist financing, tax avoidance and counterfeiting.)

Second, the US (at least?) stops banks from getting into other commerce areas in order to prevent exploiting commercial information against customer interests.  Can any Facebook associated enterprise be trusted not to do that?

The third:  if as successful as Zuckerberg hopes, it may be yet another financial entity that is "too big to fail" on a global scale.

And last, I'll just quote this one:
Enabling an open flow of money across all borders is a political choice best made by governments. And openness isn’t always good. For instance, most nations, especially the United States, use economic sanctions to bar individuals, countries or companies from using our financial system in ways that harm our interests. Sanctions enforcement flows through the banking system — if you can’t bank in dollars, you can’t use dollars. With the success of a private parallel currency, government sanctions could lose their bite. Should Facebook and a supermajority of venture capitalists and tech executives really be deciding whether North Korean sanctions can succeed? Of course not.

A permissionless currency system based on a consensus of large private actors across open protocols sounds nice, but it’s not democracy. Today, American bank regulators and central bankers are hired and fired by publicly elected leaders. Libra payments regulators would be hired and fired by a self-selected council of corporations. There are ways to characterize such a system, but democratic is not one of them.


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Another dinner to be happy about

Sort of an Italian soup with meatballs and pasta.  Very tasty.

[Maybe it tasted better than it looks - that's some parmesan cheese on top.  But it did taste very good.]

No one trusts Zuckerberg*

He is such a weird looking and acting man, it's no wonder there is a lot of instant antagonism to Zuckerberg setting up his own Facebook currency.   This article at The Conversation is a big ramble, but the woman writing it (gee, I wonder what her sexuality is) really dislikes Facebook quite intensely, by the sounds.

I even saw on IPA Twitter Chris Berg talking about it, saying something about governments should be fearing this big time.  So not only do Sinclair Davidson and Berg now seemingly make a large part of their living by talking about blockchain at RMIT, even the IPA wants to talk about it?   Is the IPA running out of topics to cover?   I take this as a sign that certain funding from certain sources might have dried up.  Did Gina get upset that Alan Moran was sacked?   Have the tobacco funders moved on?  Because the topics up at the IPA website are very generic now, it seems to me.   (Too much red tape, etc.)

Anyway, where libertarians stand on cryptocurrency and companies getting more powerful seems a bit of a mess to me at the moment.   On the one hand, I think they are drawn to the idea of government losing control of money because that will affect taxation and that means small government, something they hold as a matter of faith as being a Good Thing.   On the other hand, they don't like it when companies are "woke" on any issue, because, I don't know, that interferes with them making money?   In other words, one part of them thinks it would be cool if companies displaced government; the other part of them resents it when companies, even at this early stage of potential government displacement, start flexing their muscle.  

I trust Sinclair Davidson will be along to explain it all any hour now...

* except libertarians.  See my post above.

A high suicide rate

Axios reports:

The suicide rate for Americans aged 15 to 24 years old — the older half of Generation Z — is the highest it's been since at least 1999, according to Centers for Disease Control data.
I was curious how this compared to Australian recent suicide rates for youth.   Turns out the American rate is very high, by the looks:

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Against the Boris

Oh look:  a very anti-Boris Johnson opinion piece in, of all places, National Review:
As I explained a few weeks ago, the Conservative party is facing possible extinction; their complete failure to implement Brexit has lost them the majority of their voters. Many of Johnson’s supporters in Parliament are deeply skeptical of his character, but they are voting for him because they see him as the only way out of their crisis. This is the point made by Madeleine: Boris Johnson is not Jeremy Corbyn — if the Tories are to face a general election, they want a chance of surviving it.

But are they wrong to see him as a winner? In the long term, absolutely. Johnson is no longer the same man who twice won the London mayoral election. In those days, he was seen as a pro-immigration liberal conservative — the Tory for people who don’t vote Tory. Now, rightly or wrongly, he has become associated with a hostile brand of divisiveness — and it is Rory Stewart, as it happens, who has adopted the “outsider Tory” mantle. Johnson’s showman popularity among right-wing voters might be enough to win him the next election, but the average age of a Conservative voter has been increasing consistently for decades. People are forgetting that this is a party that has had one outright majority in 25 years. If it wants to survive, it needs to attract voters from the center ground.

For the party, then, there are no good outcomes. Either they opt for a candidate who will delay Brexit, thereby postponing an election but further weakening their immediate position, or they opt for an unpredictable renegade who, if tamed, might help them keep their parliamentary seats. I am writing this while listening to a fascinating discussion of the issue on the Talking Politics podcast (highly recommended to anyone with the slightest interest in British affairs). Here, the ever-insightful David Runciman asks his Cambridge colleagues the following: Is the fact that the Tory party is even contemplating making Boris Johnson its prime minister such an unusual thing that it’s a symptom of a party that’s already dying?

It’s an interesting question, and it pays a moment’s thought. Ask almost anybody who has worked closely with Johnson, and they speak of a Class A impostor — in the words of former Telegraph editor Max Hastings, a “gold medal egomaniac.” Any scarce praise usually refers to his ability to delegate — deference may suit a mayorship, but it will not suffice as prime minister. A deeply questionable personal life aside, Johnson’s career has been a collection of mishaps — one of which, during his time as foreign secretary, helped send a British citizen to prison. He is charming because of his Bertie Wooster-esque meandering mode of speech, but baseless bluster is not a characteristic that bodes well for a future as prime minister. He has never been a good performer in the House of Commons or in media interviews, and one daren’t imagine how his waffle will fare in Prime Minister’s Questions.
Jason, this is very consistent with my view of Johnson as stated in my recent comment in response to you, and I hadn't even found it at that time.   

Weird deal positions

As Slate notes, re the Trump administration and Iran:
The move comes as Iran has threatened to disregard uranium restrictions outlined in the 2015 nuclear deal that aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in return for sanctions relief. After years of deriding the nuclear deal as “the worst deal in history,” President DonaldTrump withdrew the U.S. from what’s formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and reinstated sanctions on Iran. The Trump administration, already suffering from a serious credibility deficit with allies, is now in the awkward position of demanding that Tehran comply with an agreement the American president has not only derided but pulled out of! “Administration officials found themselves Monday grappling with whether to press the remaining parties to the deal, including Britain, France and Germany, to demand that Iran stay in compliance,” the Associated Press reports. “They must also consider if such a stance would essentially concede that the restrictions imposed during the Obama administration, while short of ideal, are better than none.”

Tariffs and long term pain

A pretty convincing sounding explanation at The Atlantic about how China is responding to Trump's tariff war in ways that may well result in long term harm to parts of the American economy. 

Ethics from the BBC

Not a bad essay at the BBC:

Deep Ethics:  the long term quest to decide right from wrong

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Hot stuff for renewable energy storage

One energy storage idea is just to heat stuff up when you have enough spare power, and use the hot stuff to make steam for a turbine when the renewables are off line.

While we would have all heard of that as being an advantage of solar thermal plants which use molten salts, there are simpler materials that can be used for heat storage.  Surprisingly, Siemens has just opened one in Germany that uses volcanic rock:
Spanish renewable energy giant and offshore wind energy leader Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy last week inaugurated operations of its electrothermal energy storage system which can store up to 130 megawatt-hours of electricity for a week in volcanic rock....
The newly-opened electric thermal energy storage system is billed by Siemens Gamesa as “The Future Energy Solution” and as costing “significantly” less than classic energy storage solutions. Specifically, according to the company, even at the gigawatt-hour (GWh) pilot scale, ETES “would be highly competitive compared to other available storage technologies.”
The heat storage facility consists of around 1,000 tonnes of volcanic rock which is used as the storage medium. The rock is fed with electrical energy which is then converted into hot air by means of a resistance heater and a blower that, in turn, heats the rock to 750°C/1382 °F. When demand requires the stored energy, ETES uses a steam turbine to re-electrify the stored energy and feeds it back into the grid.
In the comments to that article, someone points out that an Australian company has just started using hot molten silicon!:
1414 Degrees is pleased to report progress with the GAS-TESS implementation at the Glenelg Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The full suite of ten biogas burners are commissioned and performing above expectations. The silicon storage reached operating temperature and the turbine started generating electricity on Saturday 25th May. It is supplying hot water from the turbine exhaust to the treatment plant, augmenting the continuous hot water supply from the biogas burners exhaust. Electricity is being delivered to our load bank pending SA Water completing the approval processes to connect to the National Electricity Market.

An innovative energy storage system from South Australia?   I hope it works...

Something to be happy about

How's that for a Tuesday night dinner? 

Thanks to my wife and Costco...

A little bit "Macron Youth"?

Not entirely sure about this idea:
Nearly two decades after France phased out conscription for men, some 2,000 teenagers on Sunday began a pilot programme for a new national civic service, a pet project of French President Emmanuel Macron.

For a fortnight, the 15- and 16-year-olds will leave home for training in first aid and other basic skills, followed later by another two weeks of volunteering.

Macron caused surprise on the campaign trail in 2017 by promising to introduce a month-long compulsory national service, saying he wanted to give girls and boys "a direct experience of military life".

The proposal got a cool response from the army, which baulked at the prospect of having to put millions of teens through their paces, prompting the government to come back with proposals for a compulsory civic service instead.

Some 2,000 youngsters, including 50 disabled teens, were chosen out of 4,000 volunteers for the first part of the trial, which started Sunday at boarding schools, holiday villages and university campuses around the country.

The group includes high school students, drop-outs, apprentices and vocational school trainees.
Each volunteer will leave home for another region for the two weeks, during which time they will be required to wear navy uniforms and sing the "Marseillaise", France's national anthem, every morning.

Described as an "integration phase", teens will be taught first aid, map reading, emergency response for different scenarios and other skills.
It'll probably end up in some form of under-age sex scandal, and that will be the end of it.   The uniform is a bit, um, naff? too:

Things to be unhappy about

*  Economic malaise in Australia:   I'm sure some people voted for the Coalition out of concern that reforms by Labor would drive down confidence in at least the real estate market.   It seems pretty clear, however, that the Coalition win had hardly brought signs of improved confidence to any market.  I bet retail is still flat as a tack, and what worse nightmare could any Sydney real estate who specialises in high rise apartments endure than the dramatic cracking appearing in two buildings in under 6 months?    (In fact, it will be interesting to see how that affects all "off the plan" sales in every capital city.   I wonder if it even has an effect on the country's reputation for tertiary education - it's not exactly the best advertisement for engineering expertise.)  

I'm not entirely sure anyone really has a good grip on why there is, more or less, an air of impending doom on our economy.  Greg Jericho does a lot of graphing, but it doesn't explain why things seem stuck on "not getting any better". 

Does everyone sense we are in some sort of transition, and to what, no one knows?   The economy can only bear so many new burger chains and craft beer outlets, I guess, and maybe people are sensing that we're reaching saturation level with them.

* "Summer" movies.   Well, it's far from the first holiday movie season for everyone to be complaining about the number of unwarranted sequels - but this one seems to be full of underwhelming entries.   I was thinking of seeing Men in Black International, but if a trailer can't come up with much in the way of funny bits in what is meant to be a comedy, I am inclined to believe the lukewarm reviews are right.   

*  The Trump administration:  who has confidence that it won't stumble into/deliberately provoke an unnecessary and dangerous war with Iran?   Who (with a brain) thinks the trade war tactics are good for America, let alone the globe?   How's that government deficit going?   It's a slow moving policy disaster.

* Boris Johnson as PM of Britain:   the English equivalent of Trump in many ways, showing how terrible Right wing politics has become around much of the world.   And they have a uniquely bad example of Left wing politics in that country too.   That country, if not the whole globe, seems to be suffering some kind of bad alignment of the stars at the moment.   When will it pass?

A quantum argument against uploading your mind

I have only skimmed through this paper on arXiv, and don't have any idea about its plausibility, but it's interesting at least.  Here's the abstract:
Killing Science Fiction: Why Conscious States Cannot Be Copied or Repeated

Several philosophical problems arising from the physics of consciousness, including identity, duplication, teleportation, simulation, self-location, and the Boltzmann Brain problem, hinge on one of the most deeply held but unnecessary convictions of physicalism: the assumption that brain states and their corresponding conscious states can in principle be copied. In this paper I will argue against this assumption by attempting to prove the Unique History Theorem, which states, essentially, that conscious correlations to underlying quantum mechanical measurement events must increase with time and that every conscious state uniquely determines its history from an earlier conscious state. By assuming only that consciousness arises from an underlying physical state, I will argue that the physical evolution from a first physical state giving rise to a conscious state to a second physical state giving rise to a later conscious state is unique. Among the consequences of this theorem are that: consciousness is not algorithmic and a conscious state cannot be uploaded to or simulated by a digital computer; a conscious state cannot be copied by duplicating a brain or any other physical state; and a conscious state cannot be repeated or created de novo. These conclusions shed light on the physical nature of consciousness by rendering moot a variety of seemingly paradoxical philosophy and science fiction problems.

How's that Indian heatwave going?

Some rains have arrived, but the death toll (such that is known - again I have extreme doubts about accurate numbers on this) has risen.   What's more, it was a pretty bad scene in some areas, apparently:
Tens of thousands of people in drought-affected villages in north India have left their homes because they do not have any drinking water either for themselves or for their cattle.

Even in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the Himalayas, where many Indians go to escape the summer heat, the temperature has reached 39C.

The rush to the higher ground resulted in huge traffic jams at the weekend that snaked around the mountains. People had to sleep in their cars because towns such as Shimla and Nainital – known as hill stations from the days of the British Raj – had no spare hotel rooms.

“It was unbelievable. The hills were alive and heaving with cars and SUVs and a journey that should take one hour took five,” said Sumith Verma, a Nainital resident.

About two-thirds of the country has been affected by the blistering heat, which looks set to become the longest heatwave the country has ever experienced.
But hey, Rowan Dean's wearing a funny tie; rich retirees travel the world and see shrinking glaciers (one of the clearest markers of global climate change) and say "natural variation";  and Al Gore made some incorrect predictions.   [Just my routine go at the incredible non-seriousness of everyone associated with Catallaxy.]

Tighter regulation

Is there a bit of a pushback against the way legalisation of marijuana is happening in the US? 

An opinion piece in the NYT argues it should not be sold to those under 25 on health grounds - a suggestion likely to not go over well in colleges across the nation.

The Washington Post reports that the high potency of marijuana products sold in Colorado is causing problems, as well as where it can be sold:
The critics also insist that more must be done to maintain tight regulation of the industry. That’s not been the case so far, they argue, with dispensaries opening near high schools in Seattle and with retail and medical pot shops in Denver outnumbering Starbucks and McDonald’s locations combined. 
Americans are rather naive, it seems to me, when it comes to the matter of  how regulation affects society.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Some Krugman techno optimism tweets of note

Nuts in the country

Nothing's creepier than stories of rural nuts who would exploit backpackers, sexually or otherwise, as per some of the stories told in this ABC article.

Maybe it's just the results of the recent Federal election annoying me, these stories are certainly helping feed my current biases against anyone who lives more than (let's say) 150 km from a capital city.

A strange story of Hollywood inspiration

According to a book reviewed at Nature, the 1998 movie Enemy of the State inspired research to implement new, powerful surveillance technology:
it was inspiration, even a blueprint, for one of the most powerful surveillance technologies ever created. So contends technology writer and researcher Arthur Holland Michel in his compelling book Eyes in the Sky. He notes that a researcher (unnamed) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California who saw the movie at its debut decided to “explore — theoretically, at first — how emerging digital-imaging technology could be affixed to a satellite” to craft something like Big Daddy, despite the “nightmare scenario” it unleashes in the film. Holland Michel repeatedly notes this contradiction between military scientists’ good intentions and a technology based on a dystopian Hollywood plot.

He traces the development of that technology, called wide-area motion imagery (WAMI, pronounced ‘whammy’), by the US military from 2001. A camera on steroids, WAMI can capture images of large areas, in some cases an entire city. The technology got its big break after 2003, in the chaotic period following the US-led invasion of Iraq, where home-made bombs — improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — became the leading killer of US and coalition troops. Defence officials began to call for a Manhattan Project to spot and tackle the devices.

In 2006, the cinematically inspired research was picked up by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is tasked with US military innovation (D. Kaiser Nature 543, 176–177; 2017). DARPA funded the building of an aircraft-mounted camera with a capacity of almost two billion pixels. The Air Force had dubbed the project Gorgon Stare, after the monsters of penetrating gaze from classical Greek mythology, whose horrifying appearance turned observers to stone. (DARPA called its programme Argus, after another mythical creature: a giant with 100 eyes.)

Some books use blockbuster action films to demonstrate — or exaggerate — a technology’s terrifying potential. Here, Enemy of the State shows up repeatedly because it is integral to the development of Gorgon Stare. Researchers play clips from it in their briefings; they compare their technology to Big Daddy (although their camera is so far only on aircraft, not a satellite). At one point, incredibly, they consult the company responsible for the movie’s aerial filming. (It set me wondering — which government lab out there is currently building the Death Star from Stars Wars?)

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Further to my fusion power scepticism

First, I have to admit that there is a degree of techno-optimism regarding fusion power, such that it has managed to get an extra-ordinary amount of money devoted to fusion research.   The long delayed ITER project being built in France being the prime example:
Take ITER, an enormous superconducting fusion reactor currently under construction in France. When the international collaboration began in 2005, it was billed as a $US5 billion ($7 billion), 10 year project. After years of setbacks, that price tag has risen to roughly $US40 billion ($55 billion) Optimistically, the facility will now be completed by 2030.
And some MIT associated folk have been making claims which are extremely hard to believe:
Bob Mumgaard, CEO of the private company Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which has attracted $50 million in support of this effort from the Italian energy company Eni, said: “The aspiration is to have a working power plant in time to combat climate change. We think we have the science, speed and scale to put carbon-free fusion power on the grid in 15 years.”
Notice that?  Private money being put into the project - of course there is every incentive to exaggerate how quickly progress can be made.  In the same link, a British scientist comments:
Prof Wilson was also cautious about the timeframe, saying that while the project was exciting he couldn’t see how it would achieve its goal of putting energy on the grid within 15 years.
However, achieving and magnetically containing a power generating plasma is one thing;  building it within something intended to be a long lived, safe, electricity generating facility is a different thing, and one of great complexity.  I think you only need to read the abstract of this article (from this year) to note that they are really just talking now about how they are going to try to address the various engineering problems in a timely enough fashion to allow the presumed breakthroughs to be turned into something useful.

In comments I made in a previous post, I noted that one retired plasma scientist had written articles sceptical that fusion would ever be a viable source for electricity generation.   His name is Daniel Jassby, and he had two articles in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on the topic.  (I strongly recommend people read the second of those, linked at "articles", about the ITER project.)  Of course, other scientists who have worked in the field dispute his pessimism, but even when doing so, they have to admit the nature of the problems:
Fusion neutrons will surely damage the internal components closest to the plasma. In the first fusion pilot plants, materials in the regions with the highest neutron flux would need to be replaced every 6-to-12 months of full-power operation. There are options for new nano-structured materials that are more neutron-resistant. These can be developed and qualified for fusion application using computer simulations and small-scale tests, as well as tests in the pilot plants themselves and in follow-on fusion power sources, as was done for fission. Fusion will have nuclear waste, but the lifetime of this waste will be measured in decades, not millennia. Fusion neutrons can in principle be used to breed fuel for weapons. But because no breeding materials should be present in a fusion power plant, this will be much more straightforward to detect and deter, as compared with fission reactors where the production of large quantities of weapons-usable material is intrinsic to the process. 
There was another retired atomic scientist, William Parkins, who appeared in Science magazine in 2006 expressing engineering scepticism about it ever being viable.  His views were immediately disputed by others in the field, notably in this Nature commentary, claiming that the issues raised by him had already been considered and dismissed in the 1990's. But the counterargument claims that the cost of replacing parts in fusion reactors has already been factored in, and this:
 Ward says that current estimates of the cost of fusion electricity are between 5 and 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. The US Department of Energy predicts that US electricity will average just under 10 cents per kilowatt-hour this year. "I think fusion could compete with coal today in Europe," says Ward, because of the economic costs produced by emissions regulations.
 Excuse me, but given the engineering problems yet to be solved for real fusion generation, I am extremely sceptical of forecasts from the 1990's of the possible cost of fusion power.

This is what's at the heart of my scepticism - put enough money into fusion and the scientific problems of how the plasma can be contained and power harnessed might be solved.  But from an engineering cost point of view, there is a lot of reason to doubt it will ever be a cost effective source of power.

Seems to me that anyone who has witnessed the huge underestimates of cost for other projects involving more in the way of new engineering than new science (like for each new fighter jet program in the US) should also be sceptical of the claims about the cost of fusion power.   And the difference is that defence projects develop their own momentum, with huge corporations having great political influence and able to sell upgrades in defence capability as essential.   The world of electricity generation doesn't have that same dynamic, so it is a bit harder to imagine them getting the unlimited government support in cost overruns that defence related corporations enjoy.

Crazy Rich Chinese Singaporeans

So, Crazy Rich Asians has unexpectedly turned up on Netflix and I have finally caught up with it.

I quite enjoyed it, finding it particularly fun recognising nearly all of the locations due to the recent trip to Singapore.   (Well, it is a small place, my wife observed.)   Sure, it seems almost like a co-production of a government tourist board, but everywhere in the film - interiors and exteriors - looks gorgeous.  I was wondering, though,  how they managed to get some filming done in outdoor locations before the actors started breaking out in sweat - it gives no sense of the crushing humidity.

The story is serviceable (if somewhat improbable) in a rom-com way, and the two leads are likeable.  In fact, it would have to be one of few successful rom-coms of the last 15 to 20 years:  everyone agrees that Hollywood has pretty much forgotten how to make them without throwing in a bit of raunch and not especially charming male leads.  On that last point, as quite a few noted when the movie came out, CRA is especially interested in rehabilitating the screen image of Asian men as not just sidekicks but handsome leads.  (It's too obvious about it, but I suppose there are decades of gratuitous shower scenes of female actors to balance up against.)

Anyway, Channel News Asia last Christmas had a lot of "year in review" talk about the success of the movie, and gave the impression that it went over very well there.   But Googling the topic, I see that some didn't care for the near invisibility of other races in the movie, given the melting pot that is the city state.   Vox ran a particularly serious complaint about how it "gets Singapore wrong", but it seems the "it's only a movie" crowd won the day, and fair enough I say.   

Two last points:  really, who thought the dress that the female lead (Rachel) wore to the wedding was a good look on her?  I mean, there is even a mean joke in the movie about her breast size, so why wear a dress that seemed to emphasise that?

Secondly, I see a line that I didn't get has an explanation in a review:
You also know that it is in fact Singapore on the screen when you hear “ku ku jiao” — the crude Singlish phrase for penis — being chanted repeatedly.
Presumably, I'm not the only one who didn't know that.

Update:  I just decided to check how much money it made.  It took $238,500,000 internationally, which seems not as much as I expected, given the publicity it got; but then again, I don't know what rom coms of the last decade have made.   Still, with a budget of $30 million, it was definitely a money maker.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The poor Tokyo neighbourhood

An interesting article in The Guardian about a Tokyo neighbourhood long known for being one for itinerant male workers, many of whom are now ageing and still live there in cheap hostels.

Pezzullo discussed

That Mike Pezzullo was in the news earlier this week, for taking offence at what a couple of Senators had to say about his attitude towards scrutiny, and I have been curious to know more about him.   I think Bernard Keane doesn't like him much, or at all, but lots of people have been talking about the respect he has from both sides of politics (he has worked with both Labor and Liberal governments.)

Interestingly, I was just listening to Hamish Macdonald on Radio National having a lengthy discussion with John Blaxland from the ANU about Pezzullo.

Blaxland's background is exactly in the same areas as Pezzullo and one would assume they would know each other.  Blaxland seemed to me to bending over backwards to smother anything he said as even the mildest criticism for Pezzullo's behaviour this week with praise for Pezzullo's abilities, and even his personality.   I wonder if other ABC listeners have some cynicism about this.

I don't care how smart, well read, and how personable-in-person-but-intimidating-when-he-needs-to-be a top public servant may be:  if his area of responsibility has taken on a more secretive and authoritarian air (suiting the government in power, particularly under Abbott) he shouldn't be above criticism.

PS:  one thing I should give Pezzullo credit for, though, is that I think Blaxland said he believes in climate change as a coming important regional issue with security implications.   How does a public servant like that live with having numbskull climate change denier politicians as his boss then, I wonder.

Friday, June 14, 2019

RU OK, Jason?

Gee, Jason, you're sounding a little like a cross between Peter Thiel and Lyndon Larouche with tweets like this:

OK, you and Thiel are half right - there is a uselessness about a lot of new, internet based business ideas which are an extremely wasteful use of capital when there are serious problems - well, mainly one, big, long term, planet wide serious problem - to tackle.   Yeah, the problem that Thiel doesn't even think is really that big a deal. 

But space colonisation and fusion?   Both are so off in the outer limits of do-ability that the technological development to get them to a stage beyond mere experiment is a ridiculously big hurdle.  The only credible fast track path to Mars for decades yet is likely to be via one way death trips.  (Indeed, the trip itself may kill the astronauts, given the hardly resolved problem of adequate radiation shielding.)   Large scale space colonisation is going to have to be a low priority while energy and climate change are cranking up as serious challenges.   (And yeah, I doubt fusion is a useful avenue to pursue - it's the "flying car" of the energy world, with futurists and small start ups telling us for the last 50 or more years that it's always just around the corner of becoming practical.  I don't think anyone takes it seriously anymore as an energy solution.)

And what about this silly claim:

You're not even half right there - in that Isis and Al Qaeda were never plausible threats to Western civilisation.  

So panicking about "woke corporations" being a threat to western civilisation now are we?    I assume your concern is not too much to do with companies pushing around conservatives on gay or transgender rights in the US?   How's that a threat to civilisation, unless you think it has to be one in which toilets have to be strictly gendered and gays shouldn't marry?

So what is it?  That some groups are wanting to divest money from carbon based energy and mining?    What are you upset about with that?   That some people with capital are starting to believe scientists and take action when they governments that are not?    

Here's the thing:  I don't think you have never faced up to the fact that the biggest single movement behind preventing the largest economy in the world (and the Australia one too) from consistently  embracing a proper, capitalist friendly, response to climate change has been libertarianism/small government/small tax advocates.  If it weren't for them, fossil fuel divestment groups would have less to worry about.

To be fretting that "woke capital" is a threat to western civilisation is just silly wankery coming from reading too many conservative publications, and paying attention to eccentric IT billionaires.   

Or come here and justify it.