Ephemerides 

A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

Who is that fat bastard? A Sturm's Eye View, Guaranteed Free of Harmful, or Potentially Harmful Chemicals -- but Watch Out for the Ideas! Some of them are Contagious! 

A journal of sorts to record Jonathan Sturm's (and others') thoughts and observations on things worth thinking about. Feedback welcome, but be aware that unless you prominently say you want your communication kept private, I may publish it.

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Monday 3 June 2002

Well, the results are in: the last three months are a weather record for Tasmania -- the driest and warmest autumn on record. Usually when it's dry at this time of the year, it's also very cold and frosty overnight. One of the "warmers" on the Climate Change Debate made reference to the increasing rate and severity of drought in Australia and I lost my temper. From the mid-nineteenth century to the nineteen fifties, average drought frequency was one every eight years. From then to the present the average is half that -- one every sixteen years and not so intense. Even though it's no longer in living memory, we still talk about the Great Drought of the 1890s.

-oOo-

The end of last week became busier than  usual. I had to disinfest a neighbour's computer of its viruses. I used Grisoft's free AVG software. As a result of our conversation, I have decided to run computer training classes in The Great Hall of The House of Steel. Why this hadn't occurred to me before is a matter for speculation. Actually, I had, but only in terms of when the new office is built below the master bedroom. Sometimes it's hard for a new idea to dislodge what's already there.

I already have enough machines to train two or three at a time, but I really need a couple of new boxes. For just under $A1,000 I can get a 1 GHz Celeron system -- Intel 815 chipset, A-Open (Acer) MoBo, 128 MB of SDRAM, 40 GB 7200 rpm IBM hard disk, MS keyboard and mouse, decent A-Open case and PSU. This may surprise those of you who think I'm a one-eyed AMD "freak".

First: Intel make much better chipsets than VIA, Ali, or SIS. Second: I'm not looking for CPU grunt, or a fast maths co-processor. The 128 MB RAM and fast hard disk will make more difference than a nominally faster CPU. Third: the A-Open MoBo was cheaper than an ASUS MoBo for Athlon, reducing the price difference between the platforms at the low end to a negligible amount. It's at the high end where Intel costs 120% for the same performance, or provides 55% of the performance for the same price. Except for video, I suspect these boxes will perform about as well as my current box when used for the tasks I expect them to be doing.

-oOo-

Saturday saw me cleaning bricks for the Franklin Palais renovation. Initially, my companion was a marine biologist hailing from the UK and we had quite a fascinating conversation until we were joined by a local. He is just the sort of extreme left-wing, green pessimist I cannot stand. Having never seen anywhere outside of Tasmania, he bagged it as "nothing but devastation and ugliness caused by man's greed". Feh! It's one of the most beautiful places on the planet! This idiot's solution to the problems caused by the government is a totalitarian government.

Fortunately, beer o'clock arrived and I had a nice chinwag with my friend Richard, a glass artist. We both had a good laugh from the aforementioned idiot's characterisation of Richard as "an academic, and I don't like academics. Al this mess is their fault!" Richard and I are both from UKLand -- Richard is from London and I spent my early childhood and adolescence in the Midlands. We remember "the good old days". Problem is, they were bad, not good. Unless the lower air quality, lower standard of living and extreme pollution of waterways are "better" than today. We recalled freezing winters and shorts that chafed our bare legs. Being taught how to catch as bus for ourselves -- for Richard at age 4, for me at age 5. We like living in paradise.

Thought for the day:

Personally, I'm always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.

Winston Churchill

Current Listening

Kevin Ayers -- Sweet Deceiver


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Tuesday 4 June 2002

Growing up in the fifties in UKLand, there was an air of optimism about technology coming to save us from our problems. The two editions of Arthur Mee's The Children's Encyclopaedia I had access to were full of the wonders of the modern world and what lay in store for us. It very much contrasted with my reading Charles Dickens' and Thomas Hardy's pessimism. By the time I reached university in 1969, the mood of the world had very definitely changed from that Arthur Mee had espoused and I must admit that I became infected.

As I have grown older and perhaps wiser, my reading of history indicates that humanity cycles between these alternating bouts of optimism and pessimism. The enviro-pessimists predict a grim future based on the assumption we will not change our ways unless we are forced to and point to man's failures. The enviro-optimists predict a much better future, pointing to our past successes. I count myself among the latter.

I have just been reading Natural Capitalism: The Next Industrial Revolution by Paul Hawken, Amory B Lovins and L Hunter Lovins. It matters little if it's incorrect in detail, the optimism will help move us in the appropriate direction.

Thought for the day:

Be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind. Talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet. Make all your friends feel there is something special in them. Look at the sunny side of everything. Think only of the best, work only for the best, and expect only the best. Be as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own. Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future. Give everyone a smile. Spend so much time improving yourself that you have no time left to criticize others. Be too big for worry and too noble for anger.

Christian D. Larsen

Current Listening

Brian Eno -- Another Green World


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Wednesday 5 June 2002

Much of the day spent in frustration with a persistent Postscript printing problem. It only occurred with Adobe PageMaker, but I suspected the printer driver. The Postscript drivers bundled with Microsoft's OSs have never been very good. But I also have a problem downloading files from the US through the slow, narrow pipe of a dial-up line. Adobe doesn't provide a separate driver for each OS, you have to download a file that contains the drivers for the whole shebang. Eventually, I managed to get a copy of the file that wasn't corrupt and my problem was fixed. I resent the assumption that everybody has DSL, or cable these days!

A really useful utility I would have used had I realised its existence, WinCRC, here.

Formerly known as FileFix (Win32-command-line based version), this program uses a mathematical algorithm to compare two files which are not on the same computer, and then copy only the difference between the two files - therefore, it can be used to fix a downloaded file with errors without the need to download it again.

Example : If your friend has the good copy of the file, and you have a broken one, you won't need to download the entire file again, but using this program, you can fix your file using your friend's good copy.

This program now includes a GUI (graphical user interface), please read the included readme file for more detail on how to use this program.

Now that I can print properly again, it's time to run off 300 copies of a flyer to promote my "new" computer training business. Really, it should be called a people training business, but that confuses them.

I will print the flyers on a high quality, lightly textured paper of 120 gsm weight and ivory in colour. The fuser roller in the laser has trouble melting the toner, so the flyers will need treatment to prevent the toner rubbing off. Artists' fixative provides a thin protective coating. Hair spray works almost as well and costs a lot less, but I cannot abide the stench. Why go to all that trouble when ordinary bond paper works without the additional labour and expense? I am selling quality, and the feel and appearance of the paper helps convey that. Nobody thinks twice about throwing a cheap piece of paper away.

-oOo-

In the middle part of the day, I felt the need for a change of pace away from the computer. My apple trees are bare, apart from the Sturmer Pippin, so I set to with the secateurs and pruning saw. Quite a lot of wood ends up on the ground as I remove any crossing laterals and maintain an open shape. Fruit buds that receive inadequate sunlight produce inferior fruit. As well, the open shape encourages air movement and reduces the incidence of fungal disease. I limit the height of the trees so that a ladders is not needed to thin the blossom, or pick the fruit.

The low height will also help when I net the trees next year. The parrots ate far more than we did this year! Mysteriously, they eat very little of the conventionally-grown fruit from the neighbours' extensive orchards. They have a preference for fruit with high sugar content. Each of the bushier trees has a small bird's nest, birthplace of my free grub and aphid-controllers. I will need to ensure that next year's nests are empty before netting.

Thought for the day:

Too much sensibility creates unhappiness and too much insensibility creates crime.

Charles Maurice De Talleyrand

Current Listening

Ian Dury -- 4,000 Weeks Holiday


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Thursday 6 June 2002

The world is a strange place and none stranger than the corner I live in. Tourism is often touted as Tasmania's saviour and there is now much effort expended to encourage more tourists. It's far from a bad idea. The tourists have fun and we get to keep some of the money they spend. The government bureaucrats have come up with a scheme to encourage more tourists on the government-owned ferries. Cars, campervans, motor homes etc will be carried free for most of the year. However, owners of bicycles will have to pay a fee of $A20 to bring them across. Unless they remove the front wheel, in which case the bike miraculously becomes baggage, and is then carried free.

In a similar departure from common-sense, university-educated nurses were given a pay-rise relative to those without the now mandatory university training. Since university-trained nurses are a recent phenomenon, those nurses who provided the university training are ineligible for the pay-rise.

All of which reminds me of the following found in my Inbox:

Administratium:

A major research institution has recently announced the discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science. This new element has been tentatively named "Administratium." Administratium has 1 neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 111 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. Since Administratium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of Administratium causes one reaction to take over 4 days to complete when it would normally take less than a second. Administratium has a normal half-life of 3 years; it does not decay but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, Administratium's mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization causes some morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientists to speculate that Administratium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as "Critical Morass." You will know it when you see it.

-oOo-

I have been looking at some local temperature data for the last half a century. It's from the Grove Agricultural Research Station and so is unlikely to be subject to urban heat-island effect. I chose Grove because it's closest to where I live. Here, the 1980s were warmer than the 1990s. And the major warming was at night, rather than during the day. The 1970s also exhibited much warmer overnight temperatures, though the daytime temperatures were lower than the 1990s.

Hans Erin notes that Global Warming affects winter temperatures rather than summer. Rather than killing people, The Pompous Git thinks this might actually be a benefit to the poor. Also Hans notes that the warming in northern Siberia and Canada is explicable by increasing forest cover reducing albedo as revealed by the satellites. The Git thinks a bit of judiciously applied herbicide is likely to be cheaper than Kyoto, though he finds the concept of extra forest being evil quite inexplicable. He's rather fond of forests.

Meanwhile, the press trumpets about people dying like flies from heat-waves, forgetting entirely that the world record heat wave was in Australia. Marble Bar in Western Australia recorded temperatures of more than 37.8C (100F) on 161 consecutive days -- 30 October 1923 to 7 April 1924.

Thought for the day:

If we make a couple of discoveries here and there we need not believe things will go on like this for ever. Just as we hit water when we dig in the earth, so we discover the incomprehensible sooner or later.

Georg C. Lichtenberg

Current Listening

Kraftwerk -- Ralf and Florian


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Friday 7 June 2002

While Thomas split firewood, the Pompous Git barrowed gravel for the floor of the second half of the woodshed. We managed to put away another two months' supply before the much needed rain arrived. The forecast is for a further four days of it with snow falling above 800 metres. England beat Argentina in the soccer and all is well with the world.

-oOo-

Martin, a friend of mine and I discussed the Precautionary Principle last night over dinner and that led to my discovering this morning a most delightful paper: Science, Precaution and Food Safety by Dr Edward Groth. If you have the time to read 40 pages of a well-written overview of issues equal in complexity to those of the climate debate I hope you enjoy the read as much as I did.

The issues Groth considers are all familiar to me as we had to grapple with them in the days I spent helping hammer out the organic growing standards we use here in Australia. The debates surrounding that were often vigorous and stimulating with the consumer side obsessed with the food safety issue and the farmer side more concerned about soil and stock health. Of course the issues are very much entwined and it took us more than two years to arrive at anything like a consensus. Of course that consensus was only within part of the sustainable agriculture movement and misunderstanding of what constitutes sustainable agriculture is still a matter for debate.

Many issues in life are like that. It is frustrating when participants in such a debate act and behave as though their point of view is conclusively proven when the science behind the issues is far from cut and dried.

Thought for the day:

The real winners in life are the people who look at every situation with an expectation that they can make it work or make it better. 

Barbara Pletcher

Current Listening

Pink Floyd -- Meddle


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Saturday 8 June 2002

The rain continued all day, so we decided to watch a video. Unfortunately, the audio output on the VCR has stopped working. I spent an hour or so leafing through old magazines I had written articles for. When I find a day, or two free, I will OCR them and post them here.

-oOo-

Mark Zimmermann's latest post set me thinking. He writes:

Not everybody has time, or mental energy, to develop a high level of expertise in every subject. We always have to rely on the judgment of others, to a greater or lesser degree. The trick is to recognize who's worthy of trust, and to separate legitimate authorities from those with personal biases (listen for the sound of grinding axes in the background!) and from those who pretend to know more than they actually do.

And sometimes authority-recognition is too tough, and we have to trust a meta-authority (e.g., a national academy, a royal society, a presidential commission) to indicate who's expert and who isn't. That can be risky. It's important to realize the delicacy of the situation, and not rely too heavily on judgments hanging by such a thin thread.

To which The Pompous Git adds: Of course most people rely on what one might call meta-meta-authority -- the press and TV -- where the sound of axe-grinding drowns out almost all of the useful information.

Thought for the day:

Make three correct guesses consecutively and you will establish a reputation as an expert.

Laurence J. Peter


 

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Jonathan Sturm 2002

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Jonathan Sturm 2002