Sunday, 28 February 2010

Earthquakes and Songs

The Haiti earthquake was 7.0 and look what that was like. I notice that the charity song is available via pirate bay. Last year there was a 6.3 quake in Italy which also spawned a selebrity charity song. That one also had an infringing copy released - but in that case the authorities charged the original uploaders with copyright infringement. Probably the 8.8 quake in Chile will also get it own fundraising single. Infringing copies will still be made.

Clearly there is an argument here that downloading an infringing copy instead of buying it deprived the victims of some measure of relief effort funding. However, this is only part of the stated purpose of the release - it is also supposed to help raise awareness of the disaster (as if) and we suspect it is also supposed to raise the profile of the participants. The argument only has merit insofar as it can be shown that the availability of the infringing copies has negatively impacted fundraising.

Are we really all so heartless that we will get a copy and not donate to the charity by other means? It is possible to donate to the charities online after all. In fact, the most popular torrent includes on the same page a full credit, production details, and an exhortation to donate at a named website. The torrents provided by people who overlook this sort of detail are riddled with comment about how immoral this is.

Since infringing copies are inevitable, the consciousness raising (advertising) part gains in importance. How hard would it be to include in the audio track this track was recorded to raise funds for Disaster Relief, please give generously at - possibly in the artists voices too?

The track redistribution licence could explicitly ask for only verbatim copying and that text advising of the charity should be included. I don't see anyone objecting and people who may not otherwise donate may be encouraged give a little bit.

People using these events to scream about how copyright infringement hurts everyone should consider the realpolitik of marketing. You deal with the market how it is rather than how you want it to be, and you don't fight the tide: it is always stronger.

Meantime the full extent human tragedy in Chile is still unknown.

Early reports are more confusing than helpful - especially from the USA. We are told that the quake is amongst the biggest ever - which is easy to say but hard to put meaning to. It's in the top ten. In fact it would be the 6th-equal largest anywhere in the last 100 years, equal to another one in Chile in 1906. The largest was 9.5, which was also in Chile.

In the last day (24 hours till 2am today) Chile had about 100 serious seismic events (5.0 or bigger), some as high as 6.3, most of them in Bio-Bio and this does not count the big one. Salta, Argentina, also got a large quake (6.3) same day. The last one in Salta was 1948, which measured 7.0.

So we are looking at a pretty seismically active part of the world. If you look at the quake distributions globally you can see it is typical for the pacific rim. That includes us - we are overdue a big one ourselves.

New Zealand can expect several magnitude 6 earthquakes every year, one magnitude 7 every 10 years, and an 8 every century.
We have not had an 8+ quake in over a century so far (8.2 Wairarapa, 1855) but there was a 7.8 last year (Fiordland).

The death toll in Chile is in the hundreds and rising.

Bio-Bio, the region most affected, has a population of 16.6 million, 4.8 million of which live in the capitol, Sandiago. The population of New Zealand is about 4.3 million.

The Haiti death toll passed 230000 out of a population of 9.78 million. This means we can expect a low six-figure death toll for Chile (its a worse quake, but the population is more spread out).

How to help. The New Zealand Red Cross is having a fundraising drive in the first week of March. Kiwis are likely to be feeling weary after all the appeals in the last year. Once more into the breach...

Tsunami and me

I woke this morning to a phone call warning me to turn on the radio because of the tsunami alert affecting the entire pacific - but no details. Since I live right on the coast, this was of no small concern.

Images of death and destruction echoing through my head from past tsunami disasters' news footage, I scrabbled for internet - my old water-wave physics skittering across my brain.

The thing about a tsunami warning, the important thing, is the height of the wave. While anyplace close to Chile are basically soggy toast, the wave prompting the warning was predicted between one and two meters high over here. As it washed down the coast, it was only going to get smaller. I went back to bed and resolutely slept through it.

It is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to mass alerts like this, so nobody did anything wrong with the alert. I know some families close by hurriedly went to higher ground and I hate to think what the motorway was like.

While a 1m swell at sea can get quite high as it comes ashore, I felt that the 10-20m cliffs between me and the sea would prove adequate. Hawaii can get 7m(!) breakers from normal sea swells because of offshore reefs - but there has never been anything remotely like that here. Besides, it is unlikely that the figure is for 1m at sea! Since even big tsunamis are seldom more that anyway. More likely the figure is trying to take shoaling near the Chathams into account. Harbours are more strongly affected - thus, Wellington's evacuation alert.

This i not to say that wee waves are not dangerous - you can still get pulled about or washed off something and people die from normal waves all the time.

Curiously, while reporting Civil Defense telling people to stay away from the coast and out of the water, TV News services are soliciting for video foothage of the waves as they come in. Guys: do you want to get people with cameras close to danger?

I really feel for our pacific island brothers and sisters, some of whom have already had bad luck with nature recently. To get hit twice...

Then there is Chile. A magnitude 8.8 are fairly uncommon (about 1 per year in range 8-9) and very devastating when they happen near a city. Nuclear comparisons are tempting but misleading: the nagasaki a-bomb shook to a mere 5.0 - this one was more than 1000 times bigger. But, nuclear devastation does not come from the ground shaking - an earthquake has the most gentle part of a wmd blast ony; no flash-burn, no blast, no radiation, no fallout. Releif efforts can start right away. Quite an improvement in fact.

Not that this is any consolation when you are in one!

I see releif teams are on the ground now. Recent events have sort of spelled out the importance of not hampering this process. Hopefully they will be better organized than at other times.

In this sort of thing we are reminded that the Earth is much bigger than us and anything we can do, She can do better.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Women, Learning, and TV.

Shakespeare used to write stuff like I'll stop your mouth with a kiss. Which just goes to show that the Bard knew absolutely nothing about women. There is no force on this Earth that can stop a woman talking when she is in full flow. Actually planting one on her at that time is a good way to get your lips chewed off. The closest I've managed is

Darling epitome of beauty and affection, your worshipper does beg of you an insignificant sign of your pleasure. If it is convenient for you, and when you can get around to it, it would greatly help this lowly worshipper to appreciate your lovelyness if you would generously pause your delightful monologue long enough for me to get some sleep sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry.
After which the woman has been known to laugh so hard that she loses track of what she was saying.

I didn't get much sleep.

In the Mail 1: Learning

Soon I'll be starting back at University. My courses for this coming semester have been confirmed:

Edprofst 715 - Information Literacy and Learning (30points) starting on Monday 1st March as online class
LawPubl 744 - Human Rights in Education Law and Policy (30pts) starting on Monday 12th April as one week block course at city campus

I'm not sure what a block course is exactly.

Having come from physical sciences, I'm a bit bemused by the full time workload in social science. Full time, in p-science, meant that you sweated your butt off in a 60 hour week (and thanked mill-owner fer privilege). The education courses are structured to be just as tight if you also throw in a full time teaching career. As a result, things feel a little easy-going. That said, I found last semester a bit tight towards the end.

The two papers above, together, are a full time course. The block course is held in one week only, so I'm guessing that it will be really intense that week, but the rest of the time it will be like part-time study.

In the Mail 2: TV

I've been trying to watch TV On Demand (TVNZ) only to discover that the player will not, um, play. It tells me the stream is loading and just sits there. Investigating, I discovered that firefox users are expected to install the WMP plugin. Since this is available only with windows I decided to complain - pointing out the increasing market shore of gnu/linux in NZ. I got this reply:

Almost all of our shows that are shown in a wmv format are also
available in flash which works sweet on GNK/Linux (which I'm sure you
already know). The only exception to this is for our live streaming
where we use a windows format as it's much cheaper than flash streaming
(however we are looking to change this in the next 6 months).

Well, it was the flash player I was having trouble with. Windows Media Video (wmv) has been favoured because it supports DRM - I'm guessing that royalties to TVNZ are lower if they use it with. DRM, but the same otherwise.

The TV program owners will be worried about people conveniently copying the shows using plugins like flash-got. Which is silly really: all the shows have long been available via PirateBay.

It is usually possible to bypass a flash player by viewing the source code and extracting the address of the playlist (it is a .smil file, in this case) then loading that into a specialist player like VLC or Totem. But I cannot even do that - they've done something so that the attempt produces a blank stream. I'd have to pick apart the smil file for the individual video segments to troubleshoot that.

However, I figured out what this was, even if TVNZ Webmasters did not get it. Firefox users often take advantage of a plugin called AdBlockPlus. This can block the ads from which play between chapters on each show, and at the beginning. As a result, the player gets confused and won't play at all. To watch TV On Demand with firefox, right-click on the ABP icon (top right of firefox, next to the google search box) and select disable on this page only. Now you will see the ads as well as the show.

BTW: the last email also had one of those thingies at the end pointing out that the content is intended only for me to read. Like I'm supposed to keep it a secret. These passages have dubious legal weight, but, insofar as there is anything to them at all, I like to put the following at the end of my emails:

By sending an email to ANY of my email addresses you are agreeing that:

1. I am by definition, "the intended recipient"
2. All information in the email is mine to do with as I see fit and make such financial profit, political mileage, or good joke as it lends itself to. In particular, I may post it to the internet.
3. I will take the contents as representing the views of your company.
4. This overrides any disclaimer or statement of confidentiality that may be included on your message.

Though there are occasionally good reasons to show discretion in your use of received emails.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010


Two posts in one day! The last one segwayed neatly into the current ACTA stuff ... it has been brought to my attention that ACTA has implications for Pharmac, and NZ's health sector in general, as well as software freedom.

The issue is that we allow cheap generics. This is the true genesis for the counterfeiting part of ACTA - the original motivations came from pharmaceutical companies.

In the USA, international generics are considered "counterfeit drugs" in that they don't pay any US company for the privilege of saving lives. You can buy a common, branded drug in Canada, drive across the border into the US, and it may be confiscated at customs. So if you rely on generics to keep you alive, don't travel to the USA.

(Outterson, Kevin and Smith, Ryan, Counterfeit Drugs: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Law Journal of Science and Technology, Vol. 15, 2006)

BBC Documentary The Fake Trade aired late night in NZ a while back also had a segment on counterfeit drugs where it is asserted, without examination, that they are harmful because they are outside the brand owners' quality control. Trouble is, such fake drugs also save hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide when the quality control part is no longer the sole preserve of the originating company. Everyone in NZ has benefited from them at some time.

There are fake drugs: properly, these are where a shady dealer misuses branded packaging to pass off some other substance as a well known drug. It will look just like the factory product, but is actually a placebo, or worse, another drug. The counterfeiting laws need to distinguish between this practise and a real drug being manufactured and sold without a license from its patent holder, but without pretending to.

There are also fake drugs in the sense of those herbal products which claim drug-like powers. Some even claim to be better than regular pharmacy drugs. The problem is so serious that some countries have enacted laws which require herbal supplement vendors to substantiate their claims in double-blind trials. You can tell the fakes: they are the ones complaining of a conspiracy to suppress "natural" or "alternative" treatments.

Generic drugs do not claim to be a well known brand. They just claim to be themselves. Compare Neurofen with Pams Ibuprofen. Currently, some drugs that can be purchased for NZ$40 in NZ cost as much as US$140 when purchased in the US.

These are areas where the 'counterfeiting' side of ACTA will have real, easily understood, impact on quality of life in NZ. Pharmac purchases are taxpayer subsidized - either taxes will go up, some public services will be cut, or the cost of drugs will increase.

Batch Processing and GIMP

Albany Senior High School has a blog focussing on Open Source. It's mostly a collection of short articles along the lines of "look what I found". I was particularly interested in the graphics posts, which hope to address perceived shortcomings in GIMP - the huge GNU Image Manipulation Program.

Batch processing, where you want to do the same thing to many images, comes up a lot in discussions about the GIMP. After a short introduction to Phatch it was interesting to read the comments where a program called Irfanview was praised. This was a surprise, but it highlights a common misunderstanding between Windows and Free Software users.

IrfanView is not Open Source, nor is it Free Software. The zero-cost version is licensed to restrict sharing the software, and you cannot use it as part of a business unless you purchase a business license. That is what "personal and non-commercial use only" means.

GIMP does have a batch process mode, and a script-fu console, just to help with repeated operations. If you don't like that, there is ImageMagick, which can be used in scripts alongside common file manipulation commands and other script languages. These two approaches are more powerful and flexible than Phatch, a point made on the phatch website. However, they also require commandline use.

Part of GIMP design philosophy is that users will create plugins for wanted features - particularly for things that are scriptable, like batch processing or panorama creation. Not everyone can script, or wants to, though.

Part of the Free Software philosophy is that users will share their programs. This means that popular functions are often available as plugins from your GNU/Linux repository (windows users will have to hunt online). It is worth firing up synaptic or yum-extender and having a look.

Ubuntu/debian have a batch processor, which works much like phatch, included in the gimp-plugin-registry package. A panorama editor (subject of another post) called Pandora is in a seperate package.

Windows users are used to a system where, when a program does not do what they want, there is no way to make it. This means that they give up quickly and go hunt for another program, usually some boutique freeware app. This is understandable because proprietary software is not only closed source, but is often monolithic and self-contained.

This is not uniformly the case - non-free programs like Maya include plugin interfaces so users can manipulate the parts of the program that matter to them and not to the vendor. For similar reasons, software media players are skinnable. These programs are amongst the most popular today, which shows that users want to be able to control their computing experience, even if it is just to paint the screen a different color. The enthusiasm for unlocking closed platforms like the iPod (via Rockbox) shows that this desire to control extends beyond the user interface.

Free software, by contrast, is modular in nature. This allows users and programmers to work just on the bits that interest them. It also means that popular agglomerations like GIMP and are highly extendable. If the basic install does not do something that is the sort of thing you'd expect to do with it, then the odds are good that someone with the ability has also noticed and written a plugin to fill the gap. Experienced GNU/Linux users become accustomed to looking through the repositories for extensions and libraries before they go look for an alternative.

The sharable nature of Free Software also means that a good idea that appeares in one program quickly migrates to others. This is why you find a few large projects with huge complexity while there are a lot of highly limited projects whose design philosophy is to stay as light as possible. But there is little or nothing in between!

In the non-free world there is a spectrum between the ultra-pro apps and the basic ones. So it is possible to find a program which fills your need and just your need in many cases. This happens because the vendors want to maximise revenue. Adobe does not want to sell you photoshop pro when you are happy with less, and they can charge you again if you decide, later, that you want to upgrade.

The result is the range of licensing options, and supporting technology, which software freedom proponents call "scams" or "antifeatures". It looks like a program has been tailored to your needs, but computers are not like suits: what the vendors have done is hobbled their programs in the hope that they will make more money by segmenting marketplace. If a working-stiff suit was exactly the CEO edition, only the tailor had sewn up the pockets (and made unpicking the stitches illegal) just so it could be sold at a lower price, you'd not be far off what the proprietary software industry has been doing.

Adobe could sell their full-featured Photoshop for the minimal featured price. They hope that they will maximise profits by providing different versions. It is possible that, by selling at the lower price, they will get enough custom to make up the difference, even exceed it. It is certain that they won't actually lose money even if they don't maximise profits. But that is a hard sell - companies exist only to make money and their boards have a strong motive to make decisions which are easily argued to maximise profits, even if they don't. Customer needs are secondary - in tech, they are easily marginalised since the customer seldom knows what is possible. Providing good technology does not even get a look in.

This is why you find the geeks, the hobbyists and professionals who care about good technology, increasingly adopt at least an Open Source stance. Much as auto engineers tend to buy cars they can service themselves. A Software Freedom stance becomes attractive to those who are aware of the subtle impact that computer systems have on our way of life.

Currently of great concern are the secret trade talks which some industries are trying to use to undermine hard-won freedoms. We don't know much about ACTA, and what has been leaked is hard to confirm or refute. There are serious concerns that the s92a - Guilt By Accusation law will come back as an anti-counterfeiting measure.

For more information on this latest attempt by the USA to export its more draconian laws, visit:

Monday, 22 February 2010

Gin Wigmore

The Bruce Mason Center is something of a small venue, and it was sold out. I went early to avoid traffic and parking problems and just to be sure, looked up the location before I went. First surprise: Google Maps street view asks you to do an illegal turn!

I parked on the main road, though there was a large parking building close by, and fed the meter. Second surprise, the meter refused my money after I had paid up to 6pm (the meters are not patrolled after that, but in the city they will still take your money!) Normally councils will just take your money as a kind of donation.

The area is quite posh and I quickly felt underdressed. I had my dinner at Sumo Salads up the road and settled down with a book to wait.

The venue opened a bar, a stall, and a barbeque - all the usual overpriced stuff you got at these things. There were announcements over a PA that were so distorted nobody could ficure out what was said. We all kept an eye on the doors.

The theatre itself was almost Shakespearean with steep-tiered stalls and a pit down by a stage that was only waist high. The audience filing in were very mixed - ages ranged from about 10 to 70. The pit quickly filled with teenage girls but I decided to sit out the opening act in the stalls.

The opening act was Kidz in Space, who charmed even the older membors with their playful brand of electronica backed hip-hop. They had a guest vocalist too, Aliesha from (iirc) Naked and Famous. She turned out to be, small, Asian, with a wonderful smoky-soft voice which the male vocalists kept drowning out. Fortunately there were enough solos for her voice to be enjoyed.

The sound balance was off, producing a crackling effect at higher notes and when the vocalist sang louder. However, this was only a minor distraction from the performances which were lively and upbeat. Not actually being a fan I did not recognise any of the numbers - though the overt playfulness at times had me laughing out loud.

There was an intermission which the set was dressed for the main act. The theme was New Orleans Gothic with candelabras and roses, a slightly shabby, theatre curtain behind, and a collection of patterned lights. Smoke started up, making the candles sputter. Red and yellow roses were placed at the front of the stage and a bunch was tied to the center mic.

Out, the lights, out all, ... the band came on in darkness and Gin took a solo spot to hysterical screaming in the pits. Launched right into the first number, then took a break to talk to the audience.

And she did seem to speak to the audience, where so many performers speak at them.

Is there anyone in love here? (shouts, some hands raised) You are? Who are you in love with? (more shouts, hands point to Gin) You're in love with me?! That's a good answer! There's three guys I could be in love with. One guy gave me four boxes of chocolates: I think I could love him.

I've been getting all these presents. The other day someone sent me a bottle of, this was all one person, a bottle of wine - Cabernet Sauvignon: perfect - a whole packet of Cream Eggs, a red rose, and a letter saying how much I've changed her life! That was wonderful but "changed her life"? I can't change anyone's life!

There was also some banter with the band too.

Gin: people have been writing saying how much they are proud of what I'm doing...
Neal(?): Was that Auntie Doris or Auntie Edith?
Gin (smiles: Fuck you.

The band is The Cardinals, which is awesome all by itself. Sorry guys, I did not remember your names even though you were introduced. I had to get them from your wikipedia entry. My problem is that the guys on stage did not look like the pics of the cardinals I've seen.

Her overall performance appeared open unaffected, and a bit vulnerable - so every guy in the audience fell in love with her. The comments were specific to the place, kiwi, but also quipped about seedy Takapuna dives. She was also down to earth, easy for everyone in the audience to identify with.

You'll notice I haven't raved on about the music, which was totally awesome. Partly this is because Gins performance was marred somewhat by the same sound issues which Kidz had - a crackling on the higher notes (sharper due to Gins unique vocals). I'm not the only one who noticed this, so its not just my geek-tech sensibilities at work here. It's hard to believe the sound system was properly tested.

She performed songs from her CD, some from Extended Play, and some I don't know where from including an up and coming release. There was a bashfulness in her performance which is not evident in the videos - suddenly turning he head shy after an enthusiastic boogie.

I itched to get into the pits, but the stalls were packed solid and I could barely move. I'd never have reached the stage though, and the teenagers had a ball waving roses during the softer numbers.

Everyone stood and danced the penultimate number (Oh My), including the pensioners next to me. Then there was an extended period of claps and stamping for an encore - obliged with Gin and Jon (I'm guessing again) with something to sooth the savage audience.

One encore was all she wrote. Despite technical difficulties, the show was satisfying.

Back home, Cathy had forgotten that I was to go to a cocert and she was like: Where have you been? and I was I've been having an affair.
I don't believe you!
Yeah, a blonde with a big grin and tattoos: her name starts with G.
Oh, Gin Wigmore?! The hussy - I'll kill her!

Gin is on facebook and has a fan page. Her videos are seriously pirated through youtube and so on, and Pirate Bay gives me 400+ hits for Holy Smoke. Motown records seem to be keeping quiet about this - presumably they realise (correctly) that this is the fastest way to get Gin the recognition she deserves.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

I got tickets

I got tickets to Gin Wigmore! Woo hoo!

I'm not too sure what I like about this artist - its probably the jiggle. Songs are quite good too. I'll be at the Bruce Mason Centre on Friday - last time I went to a concert was UB40 with my belle of the time: Porcelina. Before that is wan Pink Floyd - so I don't go to concerts much.

Monday, 15 February 2010

How to be a False Prophet

Looking around I found an neat collection of readings aimed against Catholicism. The basic thesis is that the Pope is the AntiChrist and so on. (Anti-Christ, meaning, "in the place of Christ" - they argue that the Pope is Christs Vicar and thus represents him or stands in his place. This would be benign semantics but for Revelations.)

But I was more interested in this page on False Prophets. Here's what it tells us:

Num 12:6 And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.
This is quite odd: If there be... This is God talking: doesn't He know? Without that "if" the statement seems better, except: how is this an improvement? God is, right there, speaking direct. Now he says that he will also speak to one of them through dreams? What's the point?

Unless He intends not to speak directly any more. Beats me but He's God so who am I to argue. It's just that there's an immediate problem: God stops coming to meetings but people want to know what to do. So they ask around: Anybody having dreams from God? We'll do whatever you say... And a dozen people raise their hands.

Clearly, at most, only one can be right. You can just see the argument:

TRUE P: I am the prophet!
FALSE P: No, I am the prophet!
TRUE: No! me! Kill the false prophet!
FALSE: No! Me! Kill the others!
PEOPLE: Enough of this: kill them both!
BOTH: Now hang on a minute ...

This must have been a serious problem, and God had to clarify the situation in another personal appearance.

Jer 23:21 I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.
Well yeah - saw that one coming. So how are we supposed to tell the bad ones?
Jer 23:22 But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.
If they were the real deal, they would have been successful?

Jer 26:4 And thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD; If ye will not hearken to me, to walk in my law, which I have set before you, To hearken to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I sent unto you, both rising up early, and sending them, but ye have not hearkened; Then will I make this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth.
Oh I get you: if I'm going to pretend to be a prophet, I should at least look the part! If I go on about how Holy I am, I'd better act Holy.
Jer 35:15 I have sent also unto you all my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, Return ye now every man from his evil way, and amend your doings, and go not after other gods to serve them, and ye shall dwell in the land which I have given to you and to your fathers: but ye have not inclined your ear, nor hearkened unto me.

Interestingly, it is not being a false prophet that condemns me, it is my failure to act according to The Law. Possibly lying about being a prophet is against that Law - but that is not actually stated in this collection. According to what is here it is OK to be a false prophet as long as I preach obedience. That pretty much lets ordinary preachers off the hook.

Seriously, this smacks of poor management. Couldn't he have just handed out a badge or something similarly unambiguous. How about in the original announcement just pointing the fellow out to everyone while he was still there and save all this trouble? Then Numbers would be a bit different:

Num 12:6 And he said, Hear now my words: There be a prophet among you, I point to him now: it is he, the LORD indicated one who was amongst us, and I will speak unto him later in dreams. Num 12:7 And He who was pointedeth out did humbly accept this burden that He his LORD did place upon him Himself and no other could claim the mantle of prophecy unto himselfe falsly for all there witnessed and would speak unto the false sayer and say "don't give me that, you don't look anything like him."

But that did not happen, and no amount of expanation worked either, because God had to spell it out to Isiah too:

Isa 8:20 To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
These guys just don't learn do they? Its as if God goes away and after a bit everybody starts acting up again.

Modern Cult-leaders seem to have managed to figure most of this out though - they make sure they have based their teachings in whatever they can convince people is actually in accordance with Gods wards. There's the rub: so far we have a blueprint for misleading the faithful by pretending to be a prophet. All this can be faked!

God noticed this, but seems to have waited some time before bringing it to anyone's attention. Probably lots of people had noticed, and complained already.

Deu 18:20 But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.

This answer is quite startling - read it again.

This passage insists that we apply mondern scientific philisophy. If the prophecy comes true, then the speaker may be a true prophet, but if it does not come true, then the speaker is definately a false prophet.

Scientists know we can apply this principle more widely than suggested here. It is also at the heart of the fundamental conflict between Church and Science. By applying this principle widely, Science risks finding out that some Chuches accepted prophet was not true. That would be pretty bad for the Church, even though all the Bible warns is that you are not as well prepared for when bad stuff happens (Jer 14:14-16).

Science generally concerns itself with statements about the World. So if any prophet in the Bible makes a statement about the World, claiming that this is the Word of God, and it turns out to be false, then all that prophets teachings must be held suspect. At the very least, he was just another preacher.

This is why early science was commonly at serious odds with the Church and why many Churches are so keen to re-interpret the Bible symbolically to allow for the empirically determined age of the Earth and the amount of time evolution takes. Seven literal days is not enough.

If a prophet says that the Earth is the center of the Universe, where we know it is not, then he meant it is a spiritual sence. It is not intended to be taken literally. That way, pretty much anyone can dodge the empirical test of Deuteronomy and we are back where we started. If he says, as in Jeremiah 14:14-16, that famine etc will not touch Jerusalem, and it does, why: he meant spiritual famine - and only if people didn't sin too much shame on you.

This is the Obiwan hedge... Darth Vader did kill your father Luke, just not literally.

More generally this can be taken in a softer form: what we say we know are expressions of our beliefs about God. We can be wrong. For example - it used to be believed that there could be no extictions as God who counts every sparrow would not allow one of his creations to die out. We now know that this belief about God was wrong: God may see every fall, but God does not stop the fall. Whole species can get wiped out by predation or just a dumb accident.

What else do we know about God which will later turn out to be wrong? The only verifiable test God offers us to find out is through empirisism.

But if we are to take the test honestly, and remember, this is what God commands we do, then what are we to make of the following passage in Genisis?

Gen 2:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

This is God making a prophesy. This has to be a true prophesy - by definition. But we know from the same book that Adam and Eve did eat of the tree of knowledge. And they did die (because they got chucked out of Eden before they could eat of the tree of life too - which is another matter). But how long did it take them to die?

The prophesy says that they will surely die in the same day. This did not happen. According to Genisis, Adam and Eve lived to a ripe ald age.

If God is exempt from his own test in Deuteronomy, then God is a hypocrite. If God made a mistake, then God is not all powerful etc. If God changed his mind (God took pity on the two humans and changed their fate) then it was still not a true prophesy. I don't see how God can get out of this unless... the verse itself is wrong!

If the verse is wrong, then what else in the bible is wrong?

We are left with the Obiwan hedge: when God said "die" He meant a spiritual death. Having obtained knowledge of good and evil they were no longer innocent. That happened the same day they ate, fulfilling the prophecy, and God is off the hook.

The same passage values knowledge over ignorance, yet casts the removal of ignorance as a bad thing. Probably it is the disobedience which is the sin and not the knowledge itself. And so it runs on in a big tangled knot.

Clearly there is something wrong with theism based on the Bible. You can see the attraction that Gordian knot-cutting atheism has.

But even if you don't, you should be able to see in the deuteronomy test that God requires that we use scientific method to test our ideas about Him and His Creation. We shouldn't take anything for granted.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Valentine a Poem and a Dell Update

Valentines Day today and Cathy has gone off to be with her girlfriends. This gives me a change to set something up - which is just as well really.

My wee poetry competition seems to be coming to a close.

Doggerel must have the last word here,
Vanity's a tiresome old whore,
Pray the future be not gloom and fear,
Flesh we are, the spirit is much more -
I have seen what you will also see:
Joy and light are all, eternally,
Your power to accept or to refuse,
Your power to embrace, rejoice, or lose -
Everything is light and all is one:
You will see when vanity is done

See? I'm talking to a True Believer&trade who sees a virtue in blind faith. It was in interesting exercize because I'm not normally constrained to verse. To be fair, that first line is probably self-referring. It's just that he does not normally do this. Since the next bit will probably be the last I had to be more careful:

On Sat, 2010-02-13 at 12:02 -0500, [Theist] wrote:
> Doggerel must have the last word here,

The theist thesis remaining unsubstantiated. 
That theist exits, having capitulated?

> Vanity's a tiresome old whore,
> Pray the future be not gloom and fear,
> Flesh we are, the spirit is much more -

What is this urge to value the false eternal
Over the real but temporary?
Surely this is the *grossest* vanity?
A mindset less than exemplary.
It is spiritually bankrupt as it denies
The spiritual of everything that has lives.
Only by *your* ideas of God you say
Can our existence be worth the weigh.

> I have seen what you will also see:
> Joy and light are all, eternally,
> Your power to accept or to refuse,
> Your power to embrace, rejoice, or lose -
> Everything is light and all is one:
> You will see when vanity is done

Whatever you see or end you propose,
There is a flowering garden of others:
Rows upon rows.

Madhouses are full of people who see
What you and I have not, and hopefully
While you and I may choose or refuse
We'd instead pick the light or reason or lose
Everything that is worthy of doing, young padawan ;)
And thus a theists mad vanity can be undone.

What does it matter? what is the point?
That this or that praise as he or she wont?
But when you decry another's position,
You open your own to opposition,
And what you in empty verse relate,
You'd best be prepared to substantiate.

In truth, since we can judge at all
Deities, indeed, do stand or fall
By virtue of the *human* mind
Judging the Virtue of all Their kind.

Readers will remember that I asked DELL NZ if I could borrow one of their Ubuntu machines. I've just heard back and it looks like my request is being passed up the chain.

Thank you for contacting Dell Customer Service.
We have referred your email to our sales support team to best assist you with your enquiry.
You may also contact them directly at (NZ) 0800 [deleted] for immediate assitance.

They are saying I contacted the wrong people. But I didn't expect to get that far.

Friday, 12 February 2010

A Discourse on Nature and God

I've been tangled in a poetry contest of words with a theist on the Wordlovers forum. The last one pricked me to some effort, so I figured I'd reproduce it for a wider awedience here :)

My antagonist, who shall remain anonymous, has dominated the forum with praises to God on high type poetry. But when someone else wrote a poem praising natural selection, wow - look out!

I wrote in defence, and there was a to and fro. That's the internet all right. Look:

Simon, do you know the purpose served
To make the human conscience crooked, curved?
Theist, do *you* know Gods purpose served
To make the Human conscience crooked, curved?
Whatever Purpose or design you propose,
There is a flowering garden of others:
Rows upon rows.

Harken close:
For whatever of nature makes
No whit of design or purpose takes
It is only a particular theist deign
That God, with Divine Purpose, does reign.

And in this presupposed order
The theist misleads himself to bother
So blinkered, selects only that which suits his fancy
Pushing all else from prejudicial border.
Where's the font and origin, distaste
For imperfection come from? Why the waste
Of your dissatisfaction with the ill?
The Problem of Evil, proposed of old
Leaves the "All-Good-All-Mighty" school of theists cold
For the Enlightened there is Just satisfaction,
Said imperfections are expected:
Natural Selection, in action.

Do we distaste imperfection? No!
When we suck a random confection
And it comes out sour...
We call that, in our conceit, "imperfection"
Yet another may count the taste a virtue
If it is sweet, then it is not desired
So which is well and which is flawed?
It is of us, by our societies, rewired.

But still we argue yet we agree:
A human *can* rank appropriately
What is fine and what is finer,
And so we put to judge The Designer,
And by His efforts we ascertain
What sort of "He", does now reign.

If signs of design in Nature are taken
As signs of the Designer, and not mistaken, 
Then signs of poor design must *by the same token*
Be signs of a poor designer ...

But, the theist protest
Our knowledge is incomplete at best
What we see as designers ill
Could be due to our ignorance of divine will

This is true - and yet:

What of that we judge as good?
By the same argument we should
Distrust that part as well,
And *nothing* of Gods and Nature tell.

In truth, if we can judge at all
Deities must stand or fall
By virtue of the *human* mind
Judging the Virtue of all Their kind.
Why should Man be free, and why free will
To choose the good and beautiful and not
The leavings of his instinct? Piffle! Rot!
If you imagine urging toward perfection
Is something Man invented, or selection.
That confluence of emergent behaviour we call Will
Is a phenomenon under study still
But that we choose the beautiful before the ill
That is something understood from the first

When called, ones decisions to account -
Asked, perforce, to tally this or that amount -
And consequence brought forth to surmount -
Would *anyone* claim they chose:
For the *worst*?

The learned jury is still out, divided
What manner of thing is will, and where resideth?

It is a conceit, a deceit, and nothing more.
And with that and a mop, we can clean the floor.

It is a curious modern fad that theist claim
That complexity in the World, to a Designer, acclaim
Yet we teach our engineers and architects highest value
In the very economy and simplicity their designs do gain.

Surely it is the simplicity in physical Law
That theists for their arguments should draw
That evidence for their transcendent God
Should be baked of that basic material raw.

And what more simple and elegant should be clue
Than that Darwin's Natural Selection be true
How clever and subtle that Christian God
To have created Evolution, that well
From which, all Life, He drew.

What more elegant lesson to teach
Examining shells washed up on a beach
That from the apparent imperfect clues
That all life's connected, from each to each.

Piffle? Rot? The universe cares not a jot!
It is Man decides the where foul and fair does lie.
Or why else does beauty, likewise fair *and* foul
Decay likewise and likewise, die?

Piffle? Rot? The steam from a pipkin pot!
All this of do you know of whys and know not
This bethinks an Allmighty Being Who, in His Will
hide only where we know naught?

What? A God who exists only where we've had but glances?
What? A God ever retreating as our learning advances?
There is more spirituality in a blocked sewer!
Better be a plumber and take your chances.

It is the theist claims a Design so rated
That an all-powerful, perfect, Creator created
All powerful, all knowing, all Good...
The theist thesis remains unsubstantiated.

Of course, you don't *have* to prove or even *make* your case or any.
One can always just accept that there are other points of view
And just stick to your own, or many.

Accepting and respecting the various expressions of belief
Here as *poetry* scribbled on the walls and floor -
And as the Muse moves us so we scribble
And scribble some more.

The Moving Finger scribbles; and, having scrit,
  Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to backspace half a Line,
  Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

You may also want to consider how you'd feel
If someone were here to praise -
Separately or together -
The Wiccan Triple Goddess, 
Allah, Baal, The Purple Spaghetti Monster,
Or whatever... 
The self same way you have Praised *your* God.
Will you see it as beautiful poetry, or clever,
Or as a challenge to the One True God? Both?


Oh Praise Great Goddess that in your Wisdoms
Did Create Nature in Pure Perfection
That even in the Flaws You Wrought
We see withall reflected: 
Your Natural Selection.

And thank you Goddess that from your bosom
You created such things as Theists and Atheists chosen
For such entertainment they make
That our Faith in the One True Goddess a-bouys.

Oh boy - the comments from this one! If anyones interested, I can let youse know what happens next.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

HBCLUG is gradually cranking up for 2010 - we need to start responding to the increased corporate and institutional interest in free software. Like:

DELL NZ are now offering Ubuntu pre-installed on some of their computers. I found this offer for the Latitude 2100 which puts the gnu/linux and Win7 offers side by side. Bottom line: Win7 will set you back NZ$765 while Ubuntu manages NZ$660. I suspect Windows costs a bit more than NZ$105, and the Ubuntu version does more from the start.

Considering my involvement with the last vendor to offer Ubuntu pre-installs, I have been asked about this one. Readers will recall that Acer offered the Aspire 4315 with a broken install, and some prospective buyers have been cautious as a result.

I cannot comment: I don't know and have never seen one. Considering the interest, and the traffic the Acer page got (and still gets) I have asked DELL if I can get a loaner for review purposes. Well- it doesn't hurt to ask ;)

Adam Gifford wrote this bit about Albany College in the Herald. Interestingly he gives emphasis to the liberty over the openness, even making a pun of the common confusion in the name:

One thing holding back the greater adoption of free software in this country is free software.

There is a possibility that HBCLUG can start regular meetings, in conjunction with AuckLUG, at Albany Senior College. It may be a bit far for Orewa residents though, I'll have to try to spread the Word further. Since ASC managed a strong event last Software Freedom Day, there are likely to be a lot of new gnu/linux users around that area.

In support of free formats - you know that html5 includes a video tag which utilises royalty-free theora format in popular browsers. Firefox, Opera and such ilk have this support native. Apple have this in Safari, through a third party plugin, and IE ignores all this as usual.

You don't have to wait for web-sites to implement html5 to enjoy this. You can take advantage of the built-in theora decoder to watch youtube videos right now, through a service called TinyOgg. This service will also host the theora version of a requested video so you can use it in your own web pages.

The sorry state of the nation's math skills was on display last night with news media making something of a hash of GST calculations. How to work out GST is in the third-form curriculum and in national assessments: you got taught it.

Its not hard folks:

Right now the NZ sales tax is set to 12.5% of what the seller wants to end up with. So, if I want to end up with $100 from a sale, I have to charge you $112.50. Word is that this is set to increase to 15%, so I'd have to charge you $115, which is an increase in cost to you of $2.50. Got it?

This means that from your, the consumer, perspective, out of every $100 you spend, $11.11 is tax. But, after the expected law change, it will be $13.032. This increases the tax take by $1.914 for every $100 spent.

All this means that the $2.50 soft drink will either increase in price by 6c to $2.56, or the vendor will have to accept being out of pocket by up to 5c, which would keep the price the same. (Personally I expect the price to be either $2.55 or $2.60, because nobody applies these things exactly.)

The 12.5% is simple because it is an eighth of what the seller wants and a ninth of the price the buyer sees. 15% is a bit harder, it is three twentieths (0.15) of what the seller wants and three twenty-thirds (0.13) of the price the buyer sees.

By the time Nightline rolled around, the math seemed to have cleared up, but their example purchases seem a bit funny. $1.50 for a soft drink? Really? I must be shopping in the wrong places.

Friday, 5 February 2010

BBQ By the Pool - Tomorrow

I've finally got the pool all fixed and mostly cleaned up. To celebrate, I've invited the street round for a bbq and swim. Initially I was a bit worried that nobody would come, but we've had some enthusiastic RSVPs already so we're poised.

Readers who know where I am and can make it are also invited - short notice because there are (last count) about 10,000 readers and I just don't have the space. I figure there cannot be more than a half a dozen who will read this tonight and live close enough to make it.

I'm putting an a small spread too - a bbq pack from the Mad Butcher, OJ, Cola, buns and salad. Anyone wants to do better can bring their own.

And we've spent the last three days cleaning the facilities so they are border-line presentable.

This should be good.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Freedom is Hard to Sell

Imagine I've spent my life a captive - I live in a cell, never known anything else, but it's OK - I get to order food off a menu, I've got a big window (barred) which I can open for fresh air. The cell is spacious and comfy, I have a TV.

How do you persuade me that freedom is better?

You can point out that there is more space, I can go where I want and there's fresh air and sunshine.

I'll point out that I have all the fresh air etc I need, the cell is roomy and I can do everything I want *inside* my cell, why would I need to go anywhere else? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Lets say you somehow pursuade me to try it - maybe you give me a long chain so I can go about in the freedom world and mix with the people there when I want to, but can duck back into captivity if I get too uncomfortable.

The first thing I'm likely to want to try, as a sceptic, is to see if I can do the same things as when I am captive. I try to get my food.

The first thing I notice is that meals do not arrive at mealtimes - there's not even a slot under the door. I ask about this and find out that free people use things called cafes and restaurants to supply meals - which needs money, which means work. Even then it is often too expensive or inconvenient so they make their own meals in their accommodation - which is also work and you have to collect the raw materials in advance - which usually means money.

This is a much bigger hassle than I'm used to - why not just install a door-slot?

Anyway - what do I eat? In captivity I have a menu with tick boxes which makes choosing meals easy. In freedom I have a huge and confusing choice, and I have to worry about things like nutrition and the effects my choices may have on the wider environment.

In my cell I have work that I do - and what I want is taken care of. In freedom, I am working just as hard, but I also have to travel to markets and take care of my income and basic needs myself. Which means I am actually doing more work. I can get other people to do that in freedom too, but it turns out to be insanely expensive.

This sucks!

Of course it sucks! The mistake I've made is in trying to duplicate my captive circumstances in freedom.

I've been judging the merits of freedom the same way I would judge the merits of a cell. I can be forgiven for this - I don't know anything else. (I think of it as "pragmatic" - basing opinions on practical merit rather than ideology.) What I have discovered is that freedom does not, a nice comfy cell, make.

Meanwhile, back in the cell, I notice that if I try to order food that is not on the menu... or if I want my favourite meal tonight... you see, all those things I noticed I had to do to get a meal in freedom are actually the price free people pay for being able to have the meal they want pretty much when and how the want it. I'm not used to having that freedom, I don't expect it, so I only experience the downside.

You know, come to think of it, that person who helps me out when I mess up my cooking... is a pretty good cook, better than the prison cook. Nice looking too.

This analogy can be pushed further, but you get the idea.

I teach a getting-to-know-GNU/Linux course. The first thing each student does is attempt to reproduce their windows experience. Some even go so far as to make the desktop a clone of their windows one ... same themes, one workspace, a taskbar, start button, etc. They think this is testing out how good gnu/linux really is when they are actually hobbling it.

They discover quite quickly that they are not in a nice prison cell. They have not realised that it isn't supposed to be a cell of any kind.

Fortunately these students have a guide - it is possible to steer them to the more liberating aspects.

Some people are just going to insist that they don't like it anyway.

It is tempting to conclude that, in order to get more people out of their cells and into a free life, I should make freedom more like what they would judge to be a nice cell (perhaps temporarily). The trouble with that is, I risk removing the very feature (the freedom itself) that most makes leaving the cell desirable in the first place. Besides, temporary fixes have this way of becoming permanent.

On balance - if someone wants to live in a cell - insists on it - well, there are already cells for them. Good luck to them.

Reprinted from an earlier journal post (May 15, 2009)