2014 – January 6

I’m (sporadically and with much delay) blogging my yearly pilgrimage to 2014, this year being held at the University of Western Australia in Perth.



We begun the first day of the conference with the morning keynote, which was presented by Suelette Dreyfus. She talked about some of the statistics around people’s feelings towards privacy, whistle-blowing and government surveillance. The thing I found most interesting was that the ordinary citizen supports whistle-blowing and doesn’t support government surveillance. Which leads to one of two conclusions:

  1. The government will soon have to start actually listening to citizens and do something about all this.
  2. The government is actually entirely controlled by the spy agencies and we’re all screwed.

Yay for freedom and democracy! :/

Rocketry & Radios

The next talks I attended were from the open radio miniconf, where Bdale Garbee and Keith Packard talked about the hardware and software they are using for rocket to ground radio communications on their rockets, and which they are successfully selling through their fully open-source business. I found a few points interesting:

  • RF circuit board design is hard. There is some serious smarts going on with designing those boards to not have everything interfere with everything else (especially in such as a small package, with two radios within a centimetre of each other).
  • Here is yet another FOSS small business that is clearly surviving and not a complete drain on the pocket (one assumes, you can never be sure). That’s good news, as the world needs more businesses to cross that divide between open-source and the commercial world.
  • Rockets are fun!

The Sysadmin Miniconf

Between lunch and afternoon tea I sat in on the sysadmin miniconf (there’s a mantra at if you’re in doubt as to what to see, tend towards the left hand side of the schedule). The most interesting talk for me was from Elizabeta Sørensen on RatticDB, which looks a pretty cool password management tool that would have been amazingly useful in my last job (where I worked as a sysadmin rather than being a programmer like I am now). Despite being immature software, it has a lot of promise and I’ll definitely be trialing it for my own uses.

I also found the talk on Husk by Phillip Smith to be very interesting. Writing iptables rules is a pain, and writing them twice (once for IPv4 and again for IPv6) is a complete pain. So Husk looks great because it gives you extra power in simply being able to write-once for both network stacks and being able to re-use variables and rulesets. It’s basically SCSS for firewalls.


After afternoon tea I went to the talk given by David Rowe on modems and how they work in a basic sense. Unfortunately I was completely out of my depth and I had no idea how the modem algorithm fit into the stack of hardware and software. Is the mixer hardware or software? Where is forward error correction done? No idea. More reading for me to do!


20140106_182003By this stage I was pretty exhausted, having not got much sleep the night before. I therefore retreated to the dorm room and had a quick nap, a cup of tea and a shower (Perth is hot!) before dinner. I went out with a few friends (new and old) to a great pub we’ve found nearby that does good pizza and amazing crème brûlée. Hopefully an early night tonight so I don’t get too exhausted before the week is out.

On Abortion

There’s been a lot of debate recently on the subject of abortion, both within the general Tasmanian community and within my circle of twitter friends (Anna and Michael especially). The following are my almost incomprehensible thoughts on the subject. This post is in response to this and this, and also to the vastness of the entire Internet.

Before paying me too much attention, know this: I’ve never been involved in abortion first hand, so I really have no idea what I’m talking about. This is important.

I think that the only thing most sensible people can decide on in regards to the abortion debate is that the subject is enormously complex. Unfortunately, everybody seems to have a different reaction to this fact. Some people decide to simply say that a blanket decision can apply (such as the pro-life movement takes, where abortion is always wrong, no matter the context). I, on the other hand, believe that because this subject is so complex, there are so many ifs and buts, so many different combinations of life story, there will almost certainly be a situation where abortion is the correct choice. It’s unfortunate, but it is true. Sometimes abortion is just the right thing to do (at least, that is my opinion).

I think because of this fact, it makes no sense to have a legal framework in which abortion is illegal, because if a certain set of circumstances requires it, then nobody should have to go through the pain of abortion and the pain of breaking the law at the same time – women (and men, but it is the woman getting the abortion after all) should be given all the support they need.

It makes no sense to deny this based simply on the fact that abortion does not sit comfortably in some people’s world view (specifically, their religion). I’m not a fan of abortion, but it is one of those things that we just have to accept. Firstly, people will get abortions anyway. Fact of life. Secondly, there will be pain caused to people. Because they have to go through illegal trauma. Because of your world view. Not a fact (I have no proof), but it’s not hard to imagine. Now imagine: you either cause pain and suffering to other people (which is bad, according to your own religion) or you allow abortion and other people get on with their lives – and you are in the same position as everybody else, you simply accept abortion for what it is and get on with your life.

The other thing I would like to say at this time is that I think men can certainly have a valid opinion on abortion – this blog post stands as a testament to that. However, women do have a final say here… simply because it is their body. Another fact. I’d certainly hope that if I was ever in the situation where considerations were being made, that I would be consulted. However I would always be aware that the final decision does not rest with me. Comfortable or uncomfortable as I might be with that, I have to accept it.

And here ends the rambling incomprehensibility. We now return to regularly scheduled silence.

On Julian Assange & Political Asylum

Within the last 24 hours, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been granted political asylum by Ecuador. Earlier this week, the Ecuadorian embassy in London reported that British police had threatened to storm the embassy in order to bring Julian Assange to justice. ABC News report here. Here are my thoughts on the matter:

Whoever it was that thought up the idea to storm an embassy must be completely bonkers… a single prisoner isn’t worth an act of war. To quote M in the James Bond movie Casino Royale: “You stormed into an Embassy. You violated the only absolutely inviolate rule of international relations…” I never understood why that was so until I discovered that an embassy is actually the territory of the country in question, so British police would be storming into Ecuador, pretty much. Not a good look.

It’s interesting that out of all the embassies in London that Julian Assange could have taken refuge in, he chose Ecuador. I suspect this was because Ecuador is one of the few countries that isn’t in bed with the United States… unlike Australia. Julian Assange is a citizen of Australia, and the Australian government should have offered Assange a far greater degree of assistance than they have. In essence, Assange seeking political asylum in Ecuador is basically saying that putting himself in Australia’s hands would have put him in personal danger. That’s not a thought I feel comfortable with, as the freedom from political persecution is a right I believe everybody should have.

I suspect the reason Australia haven’t given Assange more support is Geo-political in nature. Australia cannot defend itself in the case of invasion from either Indonesia or China (who I have little doubt would love to invade Australia for the sheer landmass that would afford them). We need the United States to offer us defense support, which is why they have air force bases in the Northern Territory (much as we don’t like them, they are a necessity for national security). If we support Assange against the United States, we’re basically giving a big F-you to the United States, which they won’t like very much… and on it goes.

Of course, this presupposes that Sweden has ulterior motives in it’s prosecution against Assange (that it wants to prosecute him simply to send him to the United States for further question), which is debatable. Very, very likely is that the CIA and FBI would like to question Assange, probably in a dark room somewhere.I remember reading about debate amongst academics in the US as to whether Assange had actually committed a crime (the gist is basically that he didn’t actually leak anything, just publish those leaks; not sure how legitimate those claims are) and thus whether a civilian (I guess US Supreme) court would convict would be marginal.

Basically, nobody could ever predict the outcome of what all this will be… but the way things have played out so far makes perfect sense. With that said, I believe Australia should offer Assange more support, starting now. The more teeth Australia shows in this matter, the more we can stand up and say we believe in human rights.

And then we can do something about the non-illegal “illegal asylum seekers”… but’s that for another day.


I’m beginning to think that the only thing that can save the world that we know and love from complete and utter destruction now is a revolution.

The slow progress being made in our courts and parliaments will not be enough to prevent the ruin of the earth’s environment by corporate greed that has gone unchecked for too long. We need an event like the Boston Tea Party, which in 1773 spurred on the proponents of the American Revolution and simultaneously worried the pants off the British Crown. Even as a British citizen, I still think the Americans did a good job claiming independence from what was an empire in it’s fullest stride of greed, just like the corporations of today. A very strong comparison can be made between companies like McDonald’s and the British East India Company.

Even if we do not get a full revolution, the world needs something akin to the Boston Tea Party that will spur action groups on, as well as create concern and chaos within our current power structures. Something huge, something powerful, something with a very simple message.

The occupy protests were a good start. They had the first two of these things. They were huge. Mainstream media was commentating events for months. They were powerful. Common people were on the side of the protests, and almost everybody could have got behind it. Unfortunately, the message wasn’t simple: most mainstream media couldn’t comprehend the purpose, and every protester who came on board muddied the water further, claiming the protest’s message as their own. You need something simpler than “We are the 99%.” That would be a very hard task indeed.

Zzz? Zzz!

This has to be the most entertaining federal election of all time… not. Both major parties (the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal/National coalition) agree with each other so much there’s nothing major left to argue about.

They’re both going to give us offshore processing of asylum seekers (though we have to decide between Nauru and East Timor). Personally, I’m appalled by the fact we are even considering either of these options. These are human beings we are dealing with here. We should be welcoming them with open arms into our country. No terrorist is going to come by leaking boat, so they pose a relatively small danger to the existing population. It’s all just a load of fear-mongering by the major parties, and I’m disappointed.

Both are making huge stuff-ups with Climate Change. The L/N coalition can’t even decide if it exists or not. The Labor party is having trouble committing to anything, and that’s showing through with climate change. We’re going to get a citizen’s assembly of 150 people to decide for us. This is a matter where normal citizens do just not have the information available to make the right decision. I (if I may) call myself a well-informed voter, and I don’t have the information for the job. The one man who does, Ross Garnaut (who wrote a report on this for the government), got his solution to the problem blown into a million pieces in parliament.

Both parties are completely over-using their campaign slogans.

One of the leaders is a backstabbing whining bitch; the other is also a backstabbing whining bitch.

There isn’t just a small number of people agreeing with me either. Here’s one of them.

At the election, I’ll be voting Green first. I think it’s the only rational choice. I don’t agree with every single policy they have, but the parliament needs a mix-up and a bit of discussion rather than simply disagreeing on the identical policy. I have no idea if they are running candidates in Tasmania, but if they are, the Liberal Democratic Party (basically a libertarian party) will get my second vote, simply because I think we need to stop turning into a nanny state.

So, unless something interesting happens, that’s all I really have to say about the federal election.

Note: As of the time of writing, the LDP’s website appears to be down for maintenance. I think they may need to fix that, being an election on and all…