peteg's blog

Web Censorship: the other unflushable turd.

/noise/politics | Link

This is hilarious: apparently the censorship test came out awesome. It won't slow down the tubes, those nickel-and-dime ISPs have proved it!

I'd like to be able to say Exetel is above the fray, but a quick googling will turn up all sorts of contradictory attitudes from the company. I must admit I haven't noticed their content filter, but it makes me distinctly uneasy.

Andy Gill & Graham Hutton's Worker/Wrapper in HOLCF, finally.

/hacking/isabelle | Link

Finally completed this bit of work, started sometime around December 2007. The Isabelle proofs available here remain a bit rough, but I did manage to find a bug in the original presentation by Andy Gill and Graham Huttonunwrap must be strict for fusion to be correct. From there it is a short step to a fusion rule that provably works. I've submitted a corrigendum-ish paper to the JFP and we'll see what happens now.

TBC: Testing By Convention

/hacking/haskell | Link

mrak and I have been working on a testing harness for Haskell that suits our development styles better than the existing ones. It will:

  • Try to compile and run all tests, even if some do not compile or run, or some source modules from the project do not compile.
  • Find the "conventional" tests automatically, reducing boilerplate significantly.

TBC is at an embryonic stage of development, and would greatly benefit from feedback and/or patches. :-)

The git repo is here:, and here's the Hackage page.

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex

/noise/movies | Link

Too long, but well made.

Whitlam Institute: Getting to grips with the economy: John Quiggin, Steve Keen, Guy Debelle

/noise/talks | Link

Trekked out to the Riverside Theatre at Parramatta with Pete R.. Took us a bit more than an hour to get there, with heavy traffic on Parramatta Road and the M4 even around 4:30pm; I find it hard to believe that anyone would do this every day.

We got there perhaps ten minutes into Quiggin's keynote talk, which sounded a lot like he was reading directly from his blog. Generally he focussed on what the institutional response to the global financial crisis should be, in structural terms. I guess the guts of it is in Quiggin's paper, and in brief, the idea is to get the public sector to take a larger role in the areas where markets have not shown themselves to be superior. A sample argument: the government can always borrow at better rates than the private sector (presumably axiomatically: the private sector is underpinned/regulated by the Government, and hence cannot be a better risk) so there is no real (as compared to political) gain in financing via public-private partnerships. A lot of the nuance was beyond my limited understanding, but as always he sounds at least plausible and often irrefutable.

Of the two respondants, Steve Keen, A/Prof at the University of Western Sydney, stridently claimed the economy is fuelled by debt to a much larger extent than the government admits, and that it has a pervasively pernicious effect. Pete R. was suspicious about his charts and simulations, which were difficult to interpret in such limited time. Most interesting was his claim that all decreases in unemployment since the great depression have been funded by debt that has yet to be paid off; in other words, we have no story for sustainable growth. One man's debt is his countryman's investment?

The other respondent was Guy Debelle, who cursorily dismissed a lot of what Keen had to say. It was difficult to take him for more than a technocrat, playing the reassure-the-sheep role that the Reserve Bank is generally adept at. Not much light, and the heat was a bit tedious.

The Big Hit

/noise/movies | Link

The big cheesefest. A Marky-Mark classic, where he almost out-Arnies Arnie as a ham actor. Lou Diamond Phillips in peak form. I note Elliott Gould appears in the drunken Jewish father role.

I think I've seen it twice before, and I wish my memory was worse.

John Brunner: The Shockwave Rider

/noise/books | Link

Finally got to one of Mark's recommendations after finding it at the secondhand bookshop on Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn that Bernie took me to. It is definitely the best of the Brunners I've read thus far.

This is one of those big ideas author hobby horse scifi operas, where some things are spelt out in excessive detail and some details are skimmed right over. (Think libertarianism and Heinlein.) I can't really take utopianism seriously, except perhaps real utopias: who's to say the new powerbrokers will be any better than the old ones? — but this is merely aspirationalism on the part of the author, not worth analysing further, and I'm not going to get sucked into strawman work...

The book's big claim to fame is the first appearance of the (tape)worm meme. The idea of programs self-propagating through computer networks surely did not originate here, though just what such a device might achieve is quite well explored. His actual proposal is probably closer to a botnet now, something that could only be removed by dismantling the network.

I'll bite a bit on the idea that there should be no privacy on the network: his focus is on institutions, which mostly produce information that could ideally be made freely available. Moverover Brunner seems to understand that all transactions will be tracked but misses the implication that corporations (and not just government) will abuse that info, and it may be the cross-referencing that ultimately causes the most pain. Really, how is it workable to have zero privacy for government decisions and reasonable privacy for individuals? &mdash but I said I wouldn't get sucked in.

The plot gets a bit implausible at the discontinuity from recorded memories to real-time action, and I found Kate to be little more than a geek fantasy, the wise woman who understands, her intuition perfect and forward to boot. Shame about the scrawniness. Precipice is too perfect a settlement to be stable, and he never mentioned who's collecting the garbage.

The Delphi Pools are cute, albeit coarsely sketched. Here Brunner slips past the obvious moral concerns (that some things are broadly thought too icky to bet on) and instead presents them as a means for the government to adjust the well-being indices of the population, a conundrum for any more immediate democracy. Full points for exploring this feedback loop, but how about the myriad others?

For more, you can read someone's brain dump full of spoilers on Wikipedia. Here's another review that takes it apart a bit more.

First of the cyberpunk novels? Perhaps, perhaps not, I dunno, but worthwhile in any case.

Wake in Fright

/noise/movies | Link

As mrak has accused me of posting too many things of tweet length (the horror), I'll have to start padding out the movie log with extraneous bullshit like this.

At the Chauvel at the pensioner hour of 11am, on the day of the week that everyone gets in for $9. The last thing I saw there was apparently The Passenger almost three years ago. The last thing I remember seeing there was a collection of student shorts, specifically the fantastically provincial Beef Off, many years ago.

Of course I went on the back of the hugely inflated ratings awarded by the review crowd, and not because Nick Cave claimed it to be "[t]he best and most terrifying film about Australia in existence" (the grab on the flyer for the movie). Dare I buck the trend slightly and assert the plot is spaghetti, the characters generally unbelievably one-dimensional, and wonder at how anyone can take it to be saying much about anything. Sure, people in the bush go shooting, but I strongly doubt they drink more than urbanites. I wonder if we're (collectively) going up or down in the per capita rankings. People are cruel everywhere, and there are plenty of places that are aggressively hospitable to people of Anglo stock. The acting is occasionally fun.

The cinematography is sometimes enjoyable, reminding me of the towns of my childhood.

Parkes Radio Telescope Open Day

/noise | Link

Dad and I headed off to the Dish in the early morning, and got to their once-in-a-blue-moon open day around 10:30am. The helpful organisers claimed to have taken about 1500 visitors through the telescope building on Saturday, and that we were fortunate that they were better organised today. (ABC news later claimed 7000 people visited that weekend.) We queued for about 40 minutes, much less than we had anticipated, and the tour went for about the same again. Almost all the electricals have been rewired now, with the old receiver module (now taken by several people for a lunar landing module exhibit) being replaced by one with a humongous 13-head sensor, piped with fibre optics. Apparently the media got to go on the Dish itself on the Saturday morning, but I haven't seen any photographs from that. The tour was fantastic, everyone becomes a geek.

The CSIRO staff seemed to be enjoying themselves, talking about all kinds of things. I guess the beauty of this telescope is that it spans so many scientific and engineering disciplines. The Albert Einstein character kept the kids enthralled and made me wonder if his faith might've been restored by these efforts in the 1960s.

Dad scrounged up an old book for me: Parkes: One hundred years of Local Government. Compiled by R.T. Tindall in association with the Parkes Centenary Book Committee. Griffin Press, ISBN 0959278605, 1982. I scanned the chapter on the radio telescope and posted it here (circa 14Mb PDF).

I can't help but feel that while scientific progress might be faster than ever, the type of science and engineering that captures the public imagination has slipped into history. Australia will chuck $88 million into a Chilean optical telescope, and one can only hope the Chileans keep their pollution under control (and the Brazilians stop cutting down the Amazon). Quiggin opines that the moon was approximately as far as we can go, but with his being an economist I want to see the error bars.

Neil Armstrong asserts that the race to the moon was a byproduct of the cold war, a Kantian perspective that I find vaguely troubling.

John Brunner: Into the Slave Nebula

/noise/books | Link

I fear this one was written sometime around 1968 to satisfy a soul-destroying contractual obligation. The title gives most of it away, and smeering it with scifi does not improve on an entirely predictable plot. Perhaps the reader is supposed to be amused that the author is aware that this space romance is a turkey.

Vale, Robert S. McNamara.

/noise/politics | Link

I read today that Robert S. McNamara is dead. Kaplan's piece in Slate gives a reasonable account of what made him such a pivotal figure; I can't say the same of his counterpart writing for Salon, whose portrayal of the broader history of the Vietnam War is much, much weaker than his stridently polar conclusions.

Perhaps it is time to watch Fog of War again. I definitely won't go as far as to re-read In Retrospect.

John Brunner: Total Eclipse

/noise/books | Link

I picked up a pile of Brunners at Gould's. As always, I walked in with hopes of finding some particular books, viz the ones that Mark suggested, and walked out with other things. This one takes on a classic theme, viz alien anthropology, ala Asimov's The Gods Themselves and Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama, and does nothing special to it. Oh, of course the boy genius solves the puzzle of why the aliens died out. Sorry to spoil it for you.

What I found most frustrating was the imprecision: apparently these aliens produced "exactly one" of their artefacts, or at least that is what was found by the 100,000 year late Earthlings. Only one knife? One house? Err, of course not, he mostly meant one type of knife, house, etc. except perhaps where he doesn't; maybe there is just one ship in the entire world. What was the point of that telescope anyway? I hoped it was going to go all 2001 and take great vengeance on the various stereotypes in this book.

The ending is a bit depressing (perhaps too like the subsequent Rama X for two many Xs) and a tad predictable given all the self-absorbed personalities involved. Are they not smart enough to think up other ways to pass their time?

This review is a bit fairer.


/noise/movies | Link

Ennio Morricone did the music.

From Dusk Till Dawn

/noise/movies | Link

John Brunner: Telepathist

/noise/books | Link

Mark suggested I read some John Brunner, and though he didn't recommend this one in particular, it was all I could find at Gleebooks second-hand a few months ago. I haven't read this sort of classic pulp-ish scifi for a long time, excepting the occasional moldering Asimov, and having looked through quite a few library catalogues and second-hand bookshops they are getting quite difficult to find.

Here Brunner is workman-like, recounting the rise of a mental superman with a broken body to the peak of the "curative telepathy" profession. At the two-thirds point I worried that it would go all Ubik with mental worlds-inside-worlds, but fortunately he dodged that bullet. It's an amiable read, but surely not his best; there are a few non sequiturs in the plot, such as the ready acceptance he finds when he returns to his home town in the last third.

Apparently it was released as The Whole Man in the U.S., which might give you some idea of the narrative arc.