Older blog entries for Skud (starting at number 183)

Stop global warming by unsubscribing from this blog!

What a load of complete codswallop this is. I’m rather fond of our local Transition group, and the Transition Towns movement overall, but this is just stupid.

The linked article tells us that we should consider the carbon cost of our online lives, and “take the pledge to reduce your digital footprint“. How? By deleting emails from your inbox, and unsubscribing from RSS feeds.

Really? Really?

Quite apart from the technical misunderstandings (do they really think that Google, for instance, stores a separate copy of each blog post for each of the thousands of people who subscribe through their Reader product? Or that archiving email on your own computer is more energy efficient than leaving it in a purpose-built data centre?), the whole idea reeks of the kind of “austerity measures” that most strongly impact individuals while corporations aren’t held to any kind of standards of all. Actually, it reminds me of the recent drought here in Australia, where everyone I knew kept a bucket in the bottom of their shower and watered their garden with the runoff, while it turned out that something like 90% of water use was coming from a small handful of industrial users. The effect of limiting your Flickr uploads or Facebook posts is infinitesimal compared to a few steps that could be taken by major technology corporations and/or legislators if they chose to.

So, in that vein, here are a some actually useful ways to reduce our “digital footprint”:

  • Run data centres more energy efficiently and/or on renewable energy.
  • Produce gadgets (computers, phones, etc) that are intended to be longer-lasting, are upgradeable without total replacement, and which can be easily repaired if/when broken.
  • Regulate polluting manufacturers, even if this means moving manufacturing to somewhere local rather than eg. China.

What’s that you say? That would cost corporations too much money, and cut into their enormous profits? Oh well in that case obviously we should all just tighten our belts. I’m going to start by throwing out all my backup drives. After all, I hardly ever need them.

Syndicated 2012-07-19 05:41:59 from Infotropism

The Itinerary Of Dooooooom!

Okay, I think I’ve got it together enough to post. Here’s where I’ll be in Spain, France, and the UK between July 24th and October 8th. If you’re in any of these places and would like to catch up for a beer/coffee/meal/tourist adventure, let me know. If you’ve travelled in any of these areas and have tips, let me know.

(Exceptions to request for tips: yes, I already have a Eurail pass; yes, I know about booking British tickets well in advance via thetrainline.com; yes, I know the Olympics are on at that time and know about getaheadofthegames.com.)


July 24th-August 7th: Spain, including Madrid, A Coruña, Cordoba, Barcelona.

August 7th-21st: France, including Avignon, a friend’s place nearish to Lyon, Strasbourg, Paris.

August 21st-September 30th: England and Scotland, including the south coast from Dover to Portsmouth, London, York, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Bristol, and Cornwall, with shorter side-trips along the way to various stuff.

October 1st-8th: Back through France and Spain to Madrid, and fly home.

More detail

July 24th: Arrive Madrid by plane. Stay one night, then take a train to A Coruña for GUADEC.

July 25th-August 1st: A Coruña for GUADEC. I’m speaking on the 28th. Hoping to get in a bit of sightseeing, including a side trip to Santiago de Compostela if I can manage it. I gather it’s pretty close by bus.

August 1st: Train back to Madrid (overnight) then on to Cordoba, arriving on August 2nd. Two days there, which isn’t much, but I’m interested in Al Andalus and would like to see some of the historical stuff. Staying with with locals who are part of the flamenco/arts/music scene. Expecting to more or less roast; the climate averages for August are about 5C hotter than the hottest month we have in Melbourne.

August 4th-7th: Barcelona, by train again of course. Expecting it to be full of tourists and I have a feeling I’m not going to think it’s as great as it’s cracked up to be. Most websites suggest that 3 days is barely enough to even get a taste of the city, but at the peak of the tourist season that might be all I want/could handle.

August 7th-9th: Avignon and Provence. Actually booked a place on a bus tour of Provence including a bunch of Roman ruins and medieval villages and wineries and stuff, because unlike most of the cities I’ll be visiting, it seems like an area that’s hard to manage without a car.

August 9th-14th: Staying with a friend in a little village in the general area of Lyon. Expecting to spend a lot of time sitting around knitting and talking and eating. Apparently there are some local ruins and a museum and stuff, but it’ll be pretty low key.

August 14th-17th: on to Strasbourg, or to be exact a smaller village just outside it, where I found a nice-looking AirBNB room. Planning to just wander around and take in the local sights in a general way; I was interested in seeing this part of France because the region seems so different from the other areas I’ll be in.

August 17th-21st: Paris! Hoping to mostly avoid the major tourist death-traps though I gather the Louvre is actually open til quite late on certain nights so I might try to see some of the Arts Décoratifs (which I’m more into than paintings and sculpture) while everyone else is having dinner. Better than queuing up to look at the Mona Lisa, I think, will be the Musée de Cluny (medieval museum). I’m also thinking of a day trip to Chartres, which should be a little less packed than Versailles, though I’m not totally writing off Versailles if the mood strikes me and I wake up early one morning. And of course some wandering around Montmartre, the Latin Quarter, those sorts of places.

August 21st: I’m crossing the channel by ferry because, I don’t know, I’m a traditionalist I guess. Or a history nerd. Or into boats. Or all of the above. Arriving at Dover, in any case, late afternoon.

August 21st-29th: south coast, spending 2 nights each in Dover, Bristol, and Portsmouth. At Dover I hope to look at cliffs and castles, at Brighton I’m aiming for the Pavilion and Georgian stuff and hipsters, and in Portsmouth it’s all about the dockyards and HMS Victory. Then I spend a couple of nights with a friend in Woking, and I’m thinking of taking a day-trip to a couple of National Trust properties near Guildford: Hatchlands Park and Clandon Park.

August 29th-September 10th: London! Staying with friends, trying to avoid the Olympics. I want to do a handful of touristy things but it will depend on how disrupted public transport is and how crowded the tourist things are. I’m going to play it by ear, but some of the things on my list include: the V&A, the Museum of London, side trip to Hampton Court Palace, the Geffrye Museum (a “museum of the home” which sounds so much like my cup of tea it’s not funny), the Phoenician ship currently moored at St Katharine’s Dock, and Camden Markets. I’ve got 12 days so I think I can do all my touristy stuff at a fairly leisurely pace and still have plenty of time to catch up with friends. I know I’ve spoken to a lot of locals about meeting up, and I’m pretty sure there’ll be at least one fannish gathering and one geeky/bofh/perl/etc one while I’m there, so if you’re interested in any of that let me know.

September 10th-12th: York. History nerding and walking round the walls. I’ve heard very mixed reports of the Jorvik viking stuff, so I suppose I’ll have to check it out and form my own opinion. (History nerds: any opinions?)

September 12th-17th: Edinburgh and various side trips, including Glasgow and a bus tour of the highlands. There seem to be dozens of near-indistinguishable bus tours of lochs, castles, and the like, so I’m whittling the list down by excluding anything that mentions the Loch Ness Monster or any reference to Hollywood movies. Would love to catch up with people for drinks/food/whatever in Edinburgh if you’re in the area.

September 17th-21st: Liverpool, with side-trips to the Peaks (where I intend to take a train to Castleton or somewhere and just wander around for a day) and to Manchester to see the People’s History Museum. In Liverpool I’m planning on hitting the maritime and slavery museums in particular, and mostly avoiding anything Beatles-related.

September 21st-25th: Bristol, with side-trip to Bath. History nerding it up as usual. Definitely going to spend a good chunk of time in the costume museum at Bath.

September 25th-29th: Cornwall, staying with a friend in a tiny village on the Lizard. Planning to spend a couple of days just rambling around that village and the nearby countryside and coast, and one day getting a lift to Illogan, where my family are from (they were miners who came to Australia during the gold rush) and wandering around there a bit for the day. On the 29th, hitting the maritime museum in Falmouth, before heading on to Plymouth in Devon.

September 29th-30th: Plymouth, where I’ll meander around and look at things a little bit before getting on a ferry over to France again.

October 1st-8th: This section is the least well planned at present, but the ferry comes in at Roscoff, near Brest, and I’m planning on spending a couple of days in Brittany before heading south, stopping off at Bordeaux for a look around, and then on to somewhere in Basque country (Vitoria-Gasteiz seems likely, since the train goes that way) for a little stop before I get back to Madrid and onto a plane for home.

So, that’s about it as it currently stands. Suggestions? Propositions?

Syndicated 2012-07-18 08:25:07 from Infotropism

Open thread, July 2012

Here’s an open thread where you can comment or talk about anything, including older posts whose comments are now closed.

Syndicated 2012-07-16 02:43:29 from Infotropism

Fresh links for June 20th through July 11th

  • Cities and Citizenship: Anti-Graffiti, Part 1: Aesthetics – An interesting take on the aesthetics of the anti-graffiti movement, and how it often co-opts graffiti to its own ends. Lots of interesting example pics from Sydney.
  • Revising The Revisionists – Excellent article about the 1898 armed coup and massacre of black residents of Wilmington, North Carolina. Reminds me of the book "Lies My Teacher Told Me", and of course Australia's own "history wars".
  • The Strongest Woman In America Lives In Poverty – This top weightlifter, on her way to the Olympics, can't afford to eat. She needs 3000-4000 calories a day while she's training, and relies on food banks. No sponsorships because of sizeism — they don't think she's hot enough, or something. She has an indiegogo fundraiser here if you want to help her out: http://www.indiegogo.com/loveforanolympian
  • Adaptation by Remix: Vidding Feminist Science Fiction – My friend Alexis writes about Chaila's Wiscon premiere vid, taking visual sources and creating a video for Octavia Butler's "Parable of the Sower" and "Parable of the Talents" that draws from the genres of book trailer, fanvid, and political remix.

Syndicated 2012-07-11 11:16:28 from Infotropism

Keynoting GUADEC, travelling in Europe

This is exciting! I’ve been asked to keynote GUADEC, the Gnome Users and Developers European Conference, in A Coruña, Spain, at the end of this month. I’ll be talking about my experiences with the world of open stuff since I stopped primarily being an open source developer a few years ago, about the ways open source software has inspired other movements, and about what we can learn from those other open projects in turn.

After the conference, I’ll be sticking round for a couple of months (side note: damn, I’m glad I already dropped out of school and didn’t have to make that decision in a rush) and playing tourist and visiting friends in Spain, France, and the UK, travelling extensively in all three countries. If you live in any of those places and would like to catch up — or even better, offer crash space — please let me know! I think there will be a couple of group gatherings in London at least.

Meanwhile, has anyone had experience travelling with the ebook versions of the Lonely Planet guides? How did you find them? I’d love to avoid carrying a couple of bricks around with me, but I’m wary about their usability, especially as the sample chapters available through iBooks crashed the app. Just in case it’s relevant, I have a first gen iPad and a Nook onto which I side-load books using Calibre. (Not being in the US, I can’t use the Nook store. If anyone knows workarounds for that, I’m interested to hear them.)

Syndicated 2012-07-10 01:05:55 from Infotropism


It occurred to me that some of the people who read this blog might not know that I also have a food/craft/domesticity sort of blog over at oeconomist.infotrope.net. If you like that sort of thing, then you might, well, like it.

(People reading this via Dreamwidth will already know this, of course. This is for the rest of you.)

I’d include a shiny gallery of pictures of the tasty food I’ve been posting about lately, but WordPress is being a pain the arse. So just pretend there are mouth-watering food pix here, and that one of these days I’ll actually get around to posting pics of my recent knitting projects, too.

Syndicated 2012-06-26 02:36:28 from Infotropism

“Utopia Girls”: I’m disappointed

Me, elsewhere: this is a crosspost of something I wrote for the Australian feminist blog Hoyden About Town. If you’re interested in comments, you should check there as well as here.

About a week ago, the ABC aired Utopia Girls: How Women Won the Vote, a documentary about women’s suffrage in Australia. I’d seen a few positive mentions on Twitter and Facebook, so this afternoon I went and hunted it down on iView and watched it.

The documentary opens with the narrator, Dr. Clare Wright, stating that:

These days, we all enjoy equal rights and seemingly endless choices. But just one hundred and fifty years ago, women were far from equal.

It’s nice that she thinks inequality is in the past, but she’s deluding herself. It would be facile to list all the groups who don’t enjoy equal rights in Australia (same-sex couples who want to marry being just one current and obvious example) but even if we limit ourselves to women’s rights and choices, it’s far from true. Women still earn about 15% less than men for the same work; abortion is still illegal or effectively so in Queensland; and take a look at the sort of misogynist crap that’s flung at Julia Gillard, Gina Rinehart, or the latest victim of a popular footballer’s rape if you want to see what attitudes to women in our country are really like.

So, no, Utopia Girls, the smug “we all live in a 21st century feminist wonderland” attitude doesn’t exactly fly with me. It’s not just inaccurate, it’s dangerous. Should we really be telling women there’s nothing left to work or fight for, or giving anti-feminists reassurance that women’s current concerns are unnecessary?

If that was all that Utopia Girls had wrong with it I’d be annoyed enough, but it just gets worse. The main focus of the documentary are the stories of a handful of middle class, white Anglo- and Irish-Australian women and their work for women’s suffrage in Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia. I can’t claim an exhaustive knowledge of the subject matter or the period, but it’s obvious even to me that there are voices missing here.

It might have been nice if Utopia Girls, rather than just telling us about Vida Goldstein — who had “charm and intelligence” and was a “dignified, private-school educated young beauty”, as the documentary points out — going doorknocking in the slums of Fitzroy and Collingwood, getting poor and working class women to sign a petition for suffrage, could have let us hear from those women themselves. As well as telling us about Caroline Dexter — “Paris-educated” and a bloomer-wearing promoter of dress reform — coming out to the goldfields just days after the Eureka Stockade and connecting her radical politics with what she found, it might have been nice to know more about women who were already there. Instead we just see silent pictures, with the sole exception of “May Howell, gentlewoman, 1855″ who talks about how independent she was in Australia:

“No-one to control or dictate to you, going where you like, doing what you like, no relation laying down the law or chalking out your path for you.”

Well, that’s nice for you, May Howell, but firstly you are wrong (since, for starters, you can’t vote, can’t own property, and can’t divorce your husband even if he deserts or beats you) and secondly, even if you do feel quite independent, your experience is hardly representative of Chinese women who came here as economic refugees, sex workers in Sydney and other cities, Aboriginal women on cattle stations, the convict women who were still being transported until 1868, or (presumably) the vast majority of Australian women at the time.

Over the rest of an hour, Utopia Girls works through a handful more middle-class white women, their activism, and the various legal wranglings that brought about women’s suffrage first in South Australia and then in other states. At last we come to the turning point, when in 1894 South Australia passed an act to give all women — including Aboriginal women — the right to vote and to hold seats in Parliament. Then, in the leadup to Federation, South Australia demanded that no person who already had franchise should lose it, which in effect meant that they demanded women’s suffrage at the national level as a condition of joining the Commonwealth.

Sadly, this was done at the cost of Aboriginal voting rights; they were thrown under the bus to maintain and extend white women’s suffrage. Aboriginal Australians didn’t regain the right to vote until the 1960s. How does Utopia Girls present this issue? The camera pans slowly over the 1902 “Act to Provide for a Universal Federal Franchise” while Dr. Wright tells us that Australia was “the international benchmark for democracy”. Then, almost as an aside, she mentions the retraction of Aboriginal suffrage — it gets two whole sentences, or a little less than 30 seconds — before going on to talk about Vida Goldstein’s world tour as a suffrage superstar, visiting Emmeline Pankhurst in the UK and Teddy Roosevelt in America. We end on a high note, patting ourselves on the back for how forward-thinking and progressive we are.

A lot of people have mentioned that they found Utopia Girls inspiring and have been encouraging others to catch it on iView while they can. The fight for women’s suffrage is certainly an inspiring and important story, but it’s stupid to act as if the fight is all in the past, and it’s downright offensive to ignore the state of all women’s rights in this country — including Aboriginal women, non-white immigrant and refugee women, working class women and women living in poverty — at the expense of middle-class white women’s triumphs.

Syndicated 2012-06-26 01:20:35 from Infotropism

The Plan, Revisited

Last May I posted about The Plan. You might have heard the quote, variously attributed to all kinds of people but apparently actually said by Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, “No plan ever survives contact with the enemy.” That’s not to say mean that there’s no point planning, but that your plans need to be adaptable and learn how to roll with it once the action starts.

I don’t really like to think of TAFE as “the enemy” but I will concede that a few months’ contact with it made it very clear that my plan needed to adapt. After lots of discussion (including on this blog the other day) I decided that I the benefits of TAFE (a structured curriculum and a piece of paper of dubious value at the end of it) weren’t worth the cost (4 days a week and endless boredom and frustration).

So, I let the people at school know I wouldn’t be back, and now I guess I’m technically unemployed until I line up a bit more paying work. Meanwhile I’m sidekicking gigs with a few different sound dudes, trying to get some more hours crewing for the production companies, looking forward to some studio work that should ramp up in a couple of months, helping a couple of people set up studios (home and pro), and doing a bit of low-key sysadmin on the side. My main goal between now and the end of the year is to get more paying work.

Oh, and I didn’t finish Anathem. I skimmed to the end, though, and found that even when I knew how it ended I didn’t really care.

Syndicated 2012-06-21 05:44:10 from Infotropism

Sunk Costs Fallacy

[Contains spoilers for Anathem, if anyone cares.]

I’m going through two intensely frustrating things at present:

  1. The end of my first semester of sound engineering school, and
  2. Reading Neal Stephenson’s Anathem

School: it’s TAFE, which means no exams worth mentioning, and they really don’t want to fail anyone if they can help it. That means the assessment tasks aren’t too difficult, and in many cases we finish them long before the end of semester so that there’s time for marking, resubmission, late submission, or whatever. The side-effect of this is that the last weeks of semester seem to be spent mostly sitting around not doing much. Last week I had a couple of days where we essentially did nothing — or nothing that I either hadn’t done before, or which I couldn’t do myself via Google or Wikipedia in a fraction of the time — which as you might imagine I found rather irritating. Wait, that’s perhaps too much understatement. I was literally bored to tears, and yes, I do know the meaning of the word “literally” thank you very much.

By Wednesday afternoon I’d started to think the whole TAFE thing was a waste of time. Perhaps I could do better working (paid or unpaid, or most likely a mix of both) in the industry and learning on the job. I’d almost certainly find it more fulfilling than sitting in class, and over the same time period I’d probably learn more and certainly get more hands-on experience and industry contacts. When I approached one of our teaching staff about this, asking for his opinion, he said that I “might as well finish what I started”. In other words: I’ve done a semester of a course that takes two semesters to receive a piece of paper (and four semesters to receive a more advanced piece of paper, but two semesters is the first relevant exit point). Now that I’ve sunk the costs into the first half-year, I might as well go through to the end of it, even if what we’re doing in class is of only limited use to me, and not all that good for my mental health.

On another note, Anathem: a few weeks ago, probably because I was missing Wiscon, I found myself in an SF-reading mood. I wanted to catch up on a lot of the books my friends had been talking about over the last couple of years, while I’d been reading other things. I ordered an ebook reader, which would take a couple of weeks to arrive from the US, and in the meantime I hit the public library and borrowed a couple of books I’d been meaning to read or re-read, to tide me over. One of them was Anathem.

Before I start panning the book, I should mention that I’m actually a moderate Stephenson fan. This website is named after a term I found in one of his books, after all. I first encountered his work when found Snow Crash on the shelf of a general bookstore in Ballarat, sometime in the early 90s. I picked it up because the cover looked cool and bought it because the first paragraph grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Cryptonomicon came out the same year the geeky consultancy company I was running was working on a gambling project on an offshore data haven; all our servers were named things like “kinakuta” and “raft”, and my laptop was “yt”. Hell, I even got hold of a copy of The Big U and read it. So, I’m not generally averse to the guy, and I have a fairly high tolerance for his diversions, random infodumps, and half-assed endings.

It was only when I got to the Baroque Cycle that I couldn’t handle it. At the time I was reading a lot of historical fiction and had pretty firm ideas on what constituted good writing in that genre. Quicksilver rubbed the wrong way against those genre conventions once too often, and since Stephenson was a relative newcomer to a period I already knew a bit about, his geeky fascination with things I considered commonplace (muskets and slow-match, for example) started to grate. Quicksilver was the first of his books that I didn’t finish, and I didn’t pick up another one until now.

Anathem is about a monk-like order who have survived thousands of years, who remain cloistered for up to a thousand years at a time, and who have a daily service of winding their giant clock, which has not just minute and hour hands, but year/decade/century/millenium hands too. It came out when I was working at Metaweb, on Freebase. The company had been named after Baroque-cycle-affiliated wiki of all knowledge, “The Metaweb” (now defunct, but you can see it on the Wayback Machine), and was founded by people closely associated with the Long Now Foundation, who are actually building a 10,000 year clock. Long Now talk was common at the office when I worked there, and there was lots of enthusiasm for Anathem when it came out — I remember there being an offer of tickets to a launch event or author talk or something for Metaweb staff — but I wasn’t in an SF-reading phase, so I skipped it. When Metaweb was acquired by Google, one of our founders gave a speech at our acquisition party talking about how Freebase was meant to be a repository of information that would last 10,000 years, and getting it into Google was the best possible way of furthering that goal. (True? Not sure.)

Enough background. A couple of weeks ago when I was standing in the Darebin Public Library’s Adult SFF section wondering what to read, I saw Anathem and grabbed it. I figured it would fill the time before my ebook reader arrived, I’d get to see what connections it had to Metaweb-the-company-where-I-worked, and it couldn’t hurt to have some of pop-cultural awareness of what it’s all about, the same as how I went to see Avengers, even though I don’t have much interest in the franchise, just so I’d know what people were talking about. All these were reasons to have a shot at it even though I knew there was a risk that I might find it as tedious and annoying as Quicksilver.

Surprise! It’s tedious and annoying! Stephenson finally found a way to add even more tangential infodumps into the story, by having almost the entire cast of characters be philosophers/theoretical scientists who spend most of their time lecturing or in Socratic-style dialogue about things like geometrical puzzles or the sensory perceptions of worms. Most of it ties in to the overall plot development, which at least is an improvement on some of his previous works.

The other thing that annoyed me was his worldbuilding: it’s set in another world where the people in it have “jeejahs” that are almost identical to our mobile phones and tablet devices; where the plebs wear baggy pants and sports jerseys with numbers on the back; where the dominant religion has a schism directly equivalent to the Reformation; and where details ranging from canvas-covered military transport vehicles to bucket-sized “sugar-water” drinks are all surprisingly familiar. The overall effect was of the kind of lazy worldbuilding where everything gets an “alien” name full of Zs and Qs and apostrophes, but is otherwise exactly the same as our world.

And then, over the course of hundreds and hundreds of pages, you eventually realise — SPOILER — that it’s all because parallel universes blah blah. Wait, you’ve been irritating me with your sloppy worldbuilding and “jeejahs” for all this time just so you could go SURPRISE! ALTERNATE EARTH!? And I’m meant to go “oh, wow, you’re not sloppy, you’re actually BRILLIANT!” Sorry, not feeling it.

So, I’m seven-hundred-something pages in to the book, and about ready to throw it across the room. And yet I find myself thinking, “Well, I’ve come this far, I may as well finish. Maybe it’ll get better.” At the same time, I have books ready and loaded on my ebook reader that I could be reading now, and probably enjoying more.

So the questions I’ve been asking myself, and which I ask you, if you care to take a shot at them: Firstly, with about two hundred pages to go, should I finish Anathem? Secondly, should I stay in school? If your answers differ, then why?

Syndicated 2012-06-17 04:32:35 from Infotropism

Open thread, June 2012

Here’s an open thread where you can comment or talk about anything, including older posts whose comments are now closed.

Syndicated 2012-06-16 02:41:51 from Infotropism

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