December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

Enjoy the spirit of giving!


December 21, 2005

U.S. Legal System says 'No' to Intelligent Design

Once again common sense prevailed. Religious advocates who seek to subvert children to their particular brand of religion has for the time being, set back.

Judge Jones' findings addressed several important points in the debate between Intelligent Design advocates and the general science society. Briefly, the points are:
  • Intelligent Design is not science.
  • Intelligent Design is religious.
  • Intelligent Design should not be taught in science classes.
  • Intelligent Design is not an alternative to evolution.
I am elated at this ruling, and hope it will send a message to educational institutes in Australia, private, public or Catholic - that Intelligent Design should not be taught in science classes.

There is not doubt that this ruling will be contested by Intelligent Design's advocates. Yet equally there is no that the men and women who have fought preserve the integrity of State and Science will continue their fight.


December 14, 2005

Linus says "Use KDE"

I personally just encourage people to switch to KDE.

This "users are idiots, and are confused by functionality" mentality of
Gnome is a disease. If you think your users are idiots, only idiots will
use it. I don't use Gnome, because in striving to be simple, it has long
since reached the point where it simply doesn't do what I need it to do.

Please, just tell people to use KDE.

There you go folks, KDE is better than GNOME :P

*dons flame proof shirt*


December 03, 2005

IRC Spam

* wlrnkle (fgtt@ has joined #-----
wlrnkle < a u s T n e T > DISCUSTED of AUSTNET? Dislike an oper or 2? We know where they all live. Now you can too! Find out where ALL the opers live and beat some sence into them. <-- Its a list of ALL the opers contact details. also vist #infkted for more info
* wlrnkle has quit (Exit: )
I don't know who runs these bots/scripts, or who write them. Either way, they ought to put more effort in. My English is not as good as M's, but I shall do my best here:
  • a u s T n e T - Why on earth are the T capitalised and nothing else? Why not AustNet, or AUSTNet or just austnet? I guess they can't help but be "zoMg d0Dz i pWn J0o".
  • DISCUSTED - I am disgusted at their spelling.
  • sence - They should get some sense into their heads instead of wasting time on hate-mongering.
  • its - It's incorrect to use its when you mean it is/has. To the author(s) of that dismal script/bot, learn some basic English.
  • also - Also, you should capitalise the first letter of the first word of a sentence.
I hope to see a more polished spam message next time, with credit to me for pointing out the mistakes.


December 02, 2005

Quote of the day

The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes strong than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism - ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power.
Franklin D. Roosevelt


November 20, 2005

Austnet Exposed - Update2

Hello dear readers, and welcome to another episode of AustnetExposed - what they got wrong this time!

The first thing of course, is the hideous shoutbox they have implemented. For some reason it's placed inside a frame and restricted to 200x300.

Secondly, there is this new sentence on their web page:
"READ THIS STEVE YOU JEW This file was converted from .doc to .html for size reasons and people not been able to open the .doc properly."
Now I take it that the "JEW" part is an insult, which makes these people lowly scum. The message itself says two things:
  1. These people are idiots, they don't know how to write HTML.
  2. Their friends are idiots, they don't know how to view .doc properly.
The next thing is the "new" information about me. Well, it's supposed to be about me, except they got it wrong. Again. These morons have now mistakenly identified two innocent people as me. First it was "stevie" and now it's "sl7". Neither of these poor souls are me, and to avoid further cases of mistaken identity, here is a clue to the austnetexposed gang:

I am not involved in Austnet management at all. Not ASD, not OPER, nothing. I am just a user.

My IRC handle should be obvious to the diligent reader. Though if the authors of austnetexposed fail again to pick it up I won't be surprised.

Now lets do a little dissection of the information they posted, and see how "1337" our friends at austnetexposed are:
Nickname: steve / SL7 / Raff
email: /
Well, the "steve" part is obvious, the email addresses are from my resume. As aforementioned, "SL7" and "Raff" are wrong.
Name: Steve B
Mobile # 0405 645 225 Location: 8 Cole Cr, Liberty Grove 2138, Sydney Australia
DOB 05/04/1985
At least they can copy-n-paste from my resume properly. They thought so much of my resume they even mirrored it!
This is just out of the blue. Whisky tango foxtrot. I cannot begin to understand how this occurred. One can only attribute it to the austnetexposed gang "pulling it out of their behind".
Home Box: - lets h4x0r...oh hacking is illegal so don.t!
Another accomplishment! Austnetexposed authors have again demonstrated their remarkable skills in copying-n-pasting information readily available. I encourage the curious reader to click on that link, and take a look at my summer project of 2005: emmap.
Leet WWW:
A little about our steve:
More information copy-n-pasted, well done! Here, have a star.
Fav Quote: .Removing stretch marks: If you have stretch marks you would like to remove, rubbing some vitamin E oil is the way to go. Cheers, Steve.
I feel the need to point out a few things about that:
  • It's not a quote, it's a piece of advice. It's not my "favourite", it's the authors of austnetexposed's favourite quote. One can only infer then they must find this information useful.
  • It's off my other blog, dailydiscovery, where I post useful things I learn in my daily life. I encourage the curious reader to visit.
Oh, I almost forgot this gem:
"Not that anyone cares as he is just another AustNET lacky. Well tell you what SL7. We think your worthy.worthy of been listed on this lovely article."
Let me get this right: no one cares, except the austnetexposed gang, who cared so much they updated their website? Normally I would laugh at such hypocrisy, but I am more scared that the same people are running an IRC network.

For users of ozzinet reading this, I ask you to consider the character of management as they exhibit themselves here and on austnetexposed. Can you really trust these people?

Now sadly, we come to the end of this episode of AustnetExposed - what they got wrong this time! Stay tuned for further updates.


November 17, 2005


steve@rei:~/code/md5coll> md5sum good2 bad2
1235f679c2250f08e750e45e0eabe1f2 good2
1235f679c2250f08e750e45e0eabe1f2 bad2
steve@rei:~/code/md5coll> ls -l good2 bad2
-rwxr-xr-x 1 steve users 3648 2005-11-17 22:36 bad2
-rwxr-xr-x 1 steve users 3648 2005-11-17 22:36 good2
steve@rei:~/code/md5coll> ./bad2
Die world!
steve@rei:~/code/md5coll> ./good2
Hello world!

This can be done for any binary you have the source too. Any program can be made this way.

Procedure/"paper" soon!


November 09, 2005

Austnet Exposed - Update

Before I begin, this post is not about the borderline-legal or outright illegal slander, blatant immorality or unethical practices of the above site. The social commentary has been done. We know the ozzinet guys are dickheads, that doesn't need reiterating. This post is just because I'm highly amused and I'd like to share the joke. :)

Take a look at the above site. Oh, but if you're like me (I'm using Firefox, under Linux but the OS is probably not relevant), before you actually get to see it you'll get a nice little popup dialogue saying
A script on this page may be busy, or it may have stopped running. You can stop the script now or you can continue to see if the script will complete.
[Close] [Stop Script]

Hmmm...just inspires one to want to view the page, doesn't it? "There is a script running on this page. It is taking a long time. Can you really be bothered waiting?"

Well, I ran the script, because I wanted to see what was at this shiny new domain-name-inclusive version of the Ozzinet Austnet Exposed website.

Ok, ok, I use the term loosely. It's actually just one webpage. Originally written in Microsoft Word. Changed to html for portability (who'da thunk it, stuff on the web should be portable now? Gee Cletus...them new-fangled intarweb thingies are tricksy, hain't they?).

So, one wonders, why have such a bloated script to generate a simple - and it is very simple - webpage. Why, to protect -

ahahahahaha...bwahahaha...oh dear god...*ahem* sorry...

- to protect the code. Because, you know, it's very valuable. No doubt Microsoft is just hankering to buy them out to get their hands on this amazing code. Sadly they will be thwarted in their attempts to obtain it without said buy-out, because the clever folk responsible for this travesty of web design have disabled right-click.

Oh noes! Ph34r the st0rm!

When you, having an IQ greater than that of an amoeba, go to open the page source anyway, you get a nice message saying the HTML is protected, and a line of javascript.

The cunning! However will we thwart such evil genius?!?!

By the way, here is a plain-HTML mirror of the site, for those of you who don't want to be bothered waiting to decode their crappy javascript.

Yeah, we, um, hacked their box to get it. 1337 sk1llz mandatory. Super-protected code and all. *taps nose*

Actually it's amazing what copy and paste can do these days. Technology, eh?

Enough about the atrocious lack of the most basic web development skills displayed by this excuse for a webpage. Let's move on to the content, shall we?

Let's see, let's see...OK, I think I'll ignore the excessive use of hyperbole, leetspeak, and other language 'features' usually confined to the depths of Counter-Strike servers frequented by thirteen year old boys. Those are too obvious to bother pointing out. A cursory glance at the page in question will illustrate what I am talking about. :) So, hard as it is, we will ignore the abuse of the English language and proceed to what they are actually saying, or, well, more accurately, attempting to say.

So, what have we got...

Oh wow, they are offering free email addresses. I could never get one of those elsewhere, quick, I'd better sign up. Hmm,

Be apart of the AustNET Ownage experience!

Thanks for the kind offer. I will indeed stay apart from the Austnet, well, as we'll see it's not exactly worthy of that zero in '0wnage', now is it? ;)

The server is finally fixed, 100% workin and way better then AustNET.

Ah yes, because, y'know, getting your server working now is much better than Austnet's effort - that is, having had them working for years.

We are sick of all the AustNET SPAM!

Funny, the only spam I've seen on Austnet has been messages promoting Ozzinet, signed by st0rm, redundant ascii decoration included free of charge.

Try match out work!

Assuming that's meant to be 'our' (did they even read this before they put it online?), your...'work'? Googling hardly qualifies for the epithet, methinks.

Poor little AustNET. Feeling the pressure now?

No, not I be?

FEEL OUR COCKS!#@$@$ Pwned


So I says to the woman, I says, "But I don't even have a donkey!"


People are afraid of big changes, so things will be implemented slowly so you don't all get scared.

Your horoscope for today: A career in marketing is most definitely not for you.

"There's a war out there. And it's not about who's got the most bullets. It's about who has and controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think... it's all about the information!" Cosmo (Sneakers)

Isn't it lucky then that you are clearly a bunch of ignorant prats? :D

AustNET will probably be shut down in a week or so, so you might as well all come to and get your nicks and chans ready to register. Registrations will all begin 3rd Of July 2005 (Hopefully).

Mmm, might want to update that bit. Last I checked Austnet is still around. Just in case you can't read a calendar, it is now November 2005. November is the 11th month of the year. July is the 7th month of the year. 11 comes after 7, ok? Good boy, have a lolly.

No doubt the creators of the page under discussion will utterly fail to understand most of this post, so here it is in simple terms:

You do not own, or 0wn, or even pwn, not Austnet, not anyone. You cannot master the simplest of markup languages, let alone have any of the skills required to lay claim to that word. Austnet is, despite your delusions, still there. No one thinks you are cool, or elite, or even that you have big cocks.

No I'm serious. They really don't.


No really, talking yourself up on the internet doesn't bring respect.

Even if you use the word 'cock'.

Yes, even if you capitlise it!

Shocking, I know, but I'm sure you'll come to terms with it in time.


There is something about Mary

Actually there isn't anything about Mary here. But there is something about this sentence: A man, a plan, a canal, Panama.

What is it?


October 26, 2005

Creating KDE cursor theme packages

If you downloaded a KDE cursor theme but can't add it in KDE Control Centre, see if you can find the following in the package you downloaded:
  • index.theme - regular text file
  • cursors - folder containing cursor files
If these exists, you can attempt to create a KDE cursor theme package out of it such that KDE Control Centre will add it automatically:
  1. Create a folder properly named, ie. my_cursors
  2. Copy index.theme into the folder
  3. Copy cursors into the folder. Your folder layout now should be:
    • [folder]
      • index.theme
      • cursors
        • [cursors]
  4. Create a tar.gz archive out of the folder, either
    • using Konqueror: right click -> compress->.tar.gz
    • using command line: tar -zcvf folder.tar.gz folder/
  5. Go to KDE Control Centre -> Peripherals -> Mouse -> Cursor Theme -> Install New Theme and add it.
And you are done!


October 13, 2005

Google Maps Talk by Lars Elstrup Rasmussen

Yesterday, Lars Elstrup Rasmussen, the lead engineer of Google Maps, gave a talk at the University of Sydney, which I attended.

He started off by giving us an overview of the history of Google Maps – where it came from and how it got to be where it is now. Originally, Keyhole - which was later accquired by Google - was a desktop-based application written in C++. When they first became Google Maps, Lars and his team tried to convince Google that a desktop app was the way to go, citing the fact that it could have more features, and just generally be nicer than anything you could do in a web browser. Google, however, would have none of this and said basically, “We like the web, see what you can do to get this online.” So their C++ program which had taken months to write got converted into Javascript in a matter of weeks, and thus AJAX was born.

AJAX, for those of you who don't know, is a way of writing applications entirely in Javascript, so they can be run in a web browser. Google Maps was the pioneer of this technique, however it is now widespread across the internet. Lars explained to us that in fact a lot of the methodology of Google Maps originated as quick hacks to get something working in the limited time frame they had to port the original app to the web, and that in fact it continues, in his words, to be 'held together by chewing gum.' But it's chewing gum that appears to be holding up pretty well so far. :)

He went on to explain how the magic was done, including demos and code examples. The standard way to do maps and other related things online before Google Maps came about was to load each new image on a new page (and this is still employed at many websites). You click a button or link to zoom in, the page reloads, and you get a closer image. Or you click to go to the next map and again, the page reloads to give you the image you want. Google Maps doesn't do this.

This is achieved through the use of iframes. Essentially, an iframe is a page-inside-a-page: it allows you to embed one webpage inside another. You may have seem them in widespread use to implant advertising into webpages, for example. The thing about an iframe is that it is in fact a separate page. So the iframe can load, refresh, go back and forwards etc. without the main page changing. Moreover, if you follow links in an iframe, so that you load a number of pages inside the iframe in sequence, the pages will appear in your session history and you can switch between them with the 'Back' and 'Forward' buttons in your browser just as you would an ordinary page.

Next, with a bit of javascript, you can make the link in the iframe change content in the main page. Since it's javascript doing this, the main page does not need to reload in order for its content to change, even though the iframe will load a new page. Lastly, you use a bit more javascript to hide the iframe. So now what you have is pages loading in the iframe, entirely invisible to the user, but changing content on the main page. What this looks like to the user is a seamless changing of content on the page they are looking at. What it actually is is new pages being loaded, content being transferred to the main page, and all of this being done in the background where you can't see it.

If you've ever tried to look at a portion of Google Maps where images are not available, you'll notice the area where the map usually goes is divided into squares, each of which will bear the same message about the lack of images. This is another neat trick Google Maps uses to make the overall experience smoother for the user. All of Google's images for both their maps and satellite imagery are divided into tiles, each of which can be loaded individually. The bit of the page where the map goes is actually much bigger than it looks. You look through a 'window' onto a portion of the map, but the rest of the map is there, being loaded by your browser: you just don't see it. So, if you move the map around, as you approach new tiles that your browser hasn't rendered yet, they will be loaded, so that by the time they actually appear in your peephole onto the map, they are already there. This means the scrolling is smooth – it appears like it's just one big image that's already been loaded that you can move around freely in.

We were shown a graph of the usage of Google Maps. The service was originally launched in beta form through Google Labs. This, as you can imagine produced a spike in the graph, however then it seemed to go along at a fairly constant rate, with small increases which Lars informed us were due to various stories in newspapers and so on. However, after a while, the graph suddenly increased exponentially – actually it looked like it was going almost straight up. This, we were told, was when Google added satellite images. Which, as I'm sure you'll agree, are damn cool. Now, a great many people have heard of and use Google Maps – both the maps and the satellite images. So, people like maps, and, moreover, people want to be able to do things with them. They want to be able to put them on their own websites and map walking routes on them, or track approaching hurricanes, or check out possible places to live. So they did.

Within days of its release, Google Maps had been reverse engineered. According to Lars, there were blogs out there describing how they did it better than their design documents did. Within weeks people had worked out how to get Google Maps on their own websites and manipulate them in all sorts of cool and interesting ways. Google were getting hundreds of emails asking “Is this ok?”, “Can I use your maps for X?” etc. However, Google licences the maps from data providers and so were not at liberty to give such permission. After about three months of renegotiating their contract with the data providers to allow such use, Google released the Google Maps API.

To wrap up the talk, Lars talked about where Google Maps would be heading in the future. Firstly, Google Maps is based here in Sydney, though they have teams working in numerous locations around the globe. The Sydney office is currently expanding a great deal – in fact, if anyone's interested, they're hiring in a big way at the moment. This should allow them to work on a number of improvements to the service in the future. The main goal at present is to make the geographical information more organised and more searchable. This is, after all, what Google is all about – making information accessible. Other map services may have neat features in their interfaces and so on, but what Google wants its map service to be distinguished by is how easy it is to find things. Currently, businesses can be located quite well for places where maps are available, as Google has done a great deal of data mining on the web to find addresses and other information about these businesses. However, places like parks, for instance, are currently very difficult to find, since parks don't usually have websites to mine data from. So this is one area they are looking at improving.

Another is bringing some of the nice features available in Google Earth to Google Maps, such as 3D flyovers (which, if you haven't seen them in Google Earth, are exceedingly cool). This is being helped along by current trends in browser development – in fact, browser developers are starting to come to Google and ask them what sorts of things they'd like a browser to be able to do in order to make things like Google Maps easier to create. There are also new standards for browsers being developed by W3C to better allow a browser to act as a platform for web-based applications. This will naturally have an impact on Google Maps.

Lastly, the audience were given a chance to ask questions. Here are some of the answers:

- Google maps for Australia will be coming out probably early next year
- There is a Google Earth client for Linux in the works: it's being done by a different team to Lars', so no real idea when it will be here, but it's coming.
- No comment as to whether or not Google are making an office suite: the answer was basically 'Not as far as I know', and, later on as we were all having food and drinks 'Are you from the press?'.

Links: The google maps service itself, as of last week integrated with Google's local search service Where to get Google Earth, the downloadable version of Google Maps, complete with lots of features not available online (needs Windows)

September 25, 2005

Why auction sniping is bad for business

Auction sniping is the act of using automated software to bid the minimum extra amount, often $1, in the closing seconds of an auction in order to win an item. This practice is damaging to sellers, buyers and the companies that make a profit from online auctions.

Why is it bad for sellers? Firstly lets see why its bad for buyers.

As a buyer, you lose out because some one has out bid you with out giving you a chance to respond. You could be in the position to be willing to bid another extra $10 but there is nothing you can do - the auction has ended, some one else has walked away with your sought after item for an extra $1. If this has ever happened to you, you know how frustrating this is. Its the lack of ability to respond to challenging bids that makes auction sniping unethical - every one is suppose to have an equal opportunity to bid, not just the people who have a high bandwidth or employing auction sniping software.

Its easy then to see why auction sniping is bad for sellers - you have a customer willing to pay more than the closing amount but they can't because they have been snipped. You end up selling an item for less than its market value, and that's bad for business.

It follows then the companies who make a profit from hosting online auctions by taking a small commission from the sale also loses out - a lower closing amount equates a lower commission. Its obvious that its in every one's interest but the sniper's to put a system in place to prevent auction sniping - and such a system exists.

is implemented by, a New Zealand online auction site. This extends the auction by 2 minutes when any bid is placed in the last 2 minutes - the auction will only end when no bids has been placed in the last 2 minutes, giving every one equal opportunity to bid, giving sellers maximum sale value, giving maximum commission. Every one wins.

Auction sniping not only deprives buyers of equal footing, it also robs the seller and hosting company of profit - it should be banned and people who use it be dealt with as frauds.



September 24, 2005

U.K Travel Warning

All travellers planning on carrying delicate computing machinery should take care when travelling in the U.K as to avoid being arrested or shot for being suspected of being a terrorist. The following are helpful tips on how to act and travel with in the U.K.
  • Always stare at police officers so you are not deemed to have been "avoiding" them.
  • Ensure that no one else is entering a station or bus stop, or any place of importance when you are - always enter alone to avoid the suspicion you are an accomplice in a terrorist attack.
  • Avoid wearing enough clothing to be comfortable - wear enough so you are not freezing to death. Otherwise you may be arrested for being dressed "too warm for season".
  • Its imperative you use several small bags rather than a single large one as to avoid appearing to be carrying explosives - this applies even if it severely inconveniences you by forcing you to put your laptop in one bag, charger in another with other media, and another for normal every day items.
  • In relation to the above, regularly leave all your bags alone and walk away so you are not at risk of being accused of "keeping your bags with you at all times". Whilst this does significantly increase the risk of theft, its nothing compared to the inconvenience of being arrested under the new Terrorism Act.
  • Do not at any point look at people coming on the platform, except if they are police officers. Terrorist always look at people coming on the platform - you really don't want to be mistaken for a terrorist in the U.K these days.
  • If your phone rings, do not answer it or attempt to send a SMS in reply. Nor should you take any pieces of paper out of your pocket and read it - these acts makes you a terrorist suspect.
  • Make no attempt to protect your belongings - laptops included. Do not appear to be protective of your bags - you could be mistaken for being protective about explosives.
  • Always ensure to dress in the latest fashion - terrorists never dress properly and stand out from the crowd.
  • In no circumstance should any wires be seen protruding from your bag - this includes ear phones. Wires sticking out of your bag(s) is a sure sign you are a potential terrorist and may need to be shot on the spot, especially if you appear to be scared of plain clothed men running towards you with drawn guns.
  • Even if the train is late and you are missing your promotional interview or a similarly important event, appear calm and collected. Do not check your watch, do not pace, do not mutter "where is the f**king train" under your breath.
  • If you have problems with crowds or do not feel comfortable around people, public transport is severely discouraged - terrorists often have the same problem and its difficult to tell you and them apart. Taxi is recommended if you can afford it, otherwise you can always walk to your destination.
Failure to adhere to guide lines above will result in arrest, house search, and confiscation of personal items.

Information compiled from the International Association of Chiefs of Police training guide regarding suicide bombers.

September 18, 2005

Firefox theme to wet your pants

For those of us who use Firefox on OS X, you can't beat GrApple's theme for OS integration:
[ GrApple preview ]


August 28, 2005

A state of fear

There is no denying it - the world is in a state of fear. Nations in the West and Middle East are ravaged by bombings, kidnappings, murders and more. People are locking their doors, arming themselves - doing all they can to protect those they hold most dear.

But at what price?

The measuring stick by which our civilisation gauges its progress is freedom - freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom from persecution, from pain. The Western world has always prided itself in how well it has measured up. That is until fear - fear of persecution, of pain, of death - has started to erode its place in the standing of Nations.

Freedom is being traded for security. Yet it isn't security that can be guaranteed. At best its a sense of security. Freedom is being bartered away by governments in return for National ID cards, the power to hold suspects without charge, the power to shoot to kill, the power to deport suspects, the power to monitor the public around the clock, and more. All these trades are in the name of security and claim to make our society safer from terrorists. But what protects us then from ourselves?

Consider the Social Security Number (SSN) as it is used in the United States - its the de facto national ID. If you can get your hands on it, along with basic details, you can impersonate some one else. Steal their money, their property, ruin their life. That is the danger of a system that can identify some one absolutely - it allows them to be impersonated absolutely.

This is not a problem restricted to SSN - it is a problem that is applicable to any system with the same capabilities. Any such system can be exploited by criminals and by the very people they are designed to protect against - terrorists.

Identification is a major part of security but it is not served by keeping detail records of individuals and through means of absolute identification. It is best served in my opinion through security questions designed by the user - customised to their private life with details away from the prying eyes of governments and corporations. Aside from increased risk of identity theft it will only serve to provide further means through which people can be discriminated against - and few things breed hatred like discrimination.

The invasion of our private life is not something we tolerate normally, yet we are now willing to give up a significant amount of it - National Identification Cards, public cameras, security reviews. We hoped that such measures will some how make our life styles safer, protect us from suicide bombings. Such is the hope offered by governments and the price demanded - yet where is the result?

How long would it be before the price demanded is that we restrict our life style? How long before we are only travel to certain places, only on approved means of transport, allowed to buy only from "safe" shops - all of which tightly controlled by the powers that be in order to make sure those who comply can do no harm?

How long before we protect ourselves by locking ourselves behind bars?

That is the future we are headed towards if we allow the current state of fear determine the development of our societies - we can not allow it to happen. The cliché phrase "terrorism only works if it forces a change in our life style" is bollocks. That terrorism exists is an indicator that our life style, however indirectly, is affecting the life of others - driving them to extremes. To ignore terrorism is akin to ignoring pain from your body . Terrorism won't go away because we ignore it - it will go away when we have resolved the fundamental issues that fires the hearts of men and women who carry out acts of terrorism. Its however evident that politicians are more interested in destroying the symptoms than cure the cause - poverty, oppression, occupation, suffering.

We can not tolerate terrorism - it is never a mean to a good end. Yet at the same time we can not ignore terrorism and continue to live our life as normal - because something is wrong with the world, something that would cause terrorism to contaminate our life. So instead of "terrorism only works if it forces a change in our life style", I propose "terrorism only works if it forces a reduction in our freedom".

The 2 different phrases illustrate 2 different points of view when dealing with terrorism: one advocates we ignore it and continue as normal, burying our heads in the sand while our freedom is slowly leached away into building bars behind which we can hide. The other proposes we do not give up our freedoms in fear, and change the way we live so the cause of terrorism is resolved. Politicians like the former, I much prefer the latter.

Which do you prefer?



August 24, 2005

IRC quote of the day

#11397 +(144)- [X]
<zx64> ducktape is merely a physical manifestation of regexps


August 14, 2005

Same Shit, Different Day

Well, I've just got back and read all the comments re Steve's post about Austnet-exposed. It would have been absolutely hilarious, except that I get the sneaking suspicion tha the ozzinet opers actually - yes, I know, it's difficult to accept - actuallly *believe* the crap they're spouting. And that makes the difference between something that's hilarious and something that's just sad and rather disturbing.

My opinion of humanity just dropped a little.

Ok, so you don't like Austnet. Fine, you are entitled to your opinion. So you made an alternate IRC network where you could have rules you like. Fine, more power to you - more options for users can only be a good thing. And you made a webpage describing the problems you had and the solution (ozzinet) that you've come up with. Fine...

...wait a minute. No, that's not fine. In concept yes. In execution, absolutely not. Have you guys actually read your page? Because I find it difficult to believe that you know what it says and are still happy to attach your names to it. Personally I'd be hiding it in some deep, dark, recess - preferrably /dev/null - out of shame. Ok, let's put aside the blatant immoral and unethical content, because I think it's fairly well established you don't care for either of those. But that aside, that webpage is still a dreadful slur on your dignitiy.

I mean, honestly, do you, the supposedly meant-to-be-respected opers of a newly formed IRC network, really want people to look up this esteemed document you have created, only to realise the content essentially goes along the lines of:

"Ner ner, we are so much better than j00! omgwtfbbq ozzinet = 1337z0r, d00d. We know where you live, hahahaha, oh and my big brother's in Yr 12 and he's gonna come to your house with all his mates and..."

Need I go on?

Don't agree with me? Read it again, I'm sure if you have half the intelligence you attribute to yourselves you will see exactly what I mean.

Oh, and while I'm on the subject of intelligence, or lack thereof: your information gathering about Steve was woefully pathetic. A google search of 'freespace' reveals more. In fact, all of the details you found, including those you state inaccurately, are available on this very site and on other sites linked to from here. You see, your threats - "We will post your picture and details online" - really don't mean much to a person who has nothing to be afraid of. All of this information was already freely available, why? Because Steve is rightfully unashamed of who and what he is. Revealing this does not so much threaten him as simply show his character in a deservedly good light.

By the way, one other small inconsistency that's been bugging me. Talon, if you are going to object to (nonexistent, I might add, but then, basic Year 7 comprehension skills cannot really be expected of you) claims that you do drugs, it's rather stupid to later say you have some cones to smoke. Just thought I'd let you know. Maybe you like showing your hypocrisy. But if not, consider that a tip for the future.

Steve's already discussed what's so wrong about your site. This post is just to let everyone know there's something seriously wrong with you as well. Unless you're in Year 2, in which case your childhood development is proceeding relatively normally.


P.S. Feel free to add me to your hit list. I'd be honoured to be in such good company.

P. P. S. Racial slurs? You resorted to racial slurs? Don't make me laugh...oh wait, you already did. Well I suppose it's a testament to Steve's integrity that you found nothing better to insult him on than the location of his birth.

Interesting observation

Interesting observation as pointed out in a comment:

Quote from a comment by storm:
When something happens, then bother with the posting. btw, im not iCER :)

Your all a bunch of tools and will get what you deserve. That goes for all...

Quote from #freebsd on ozzinet:
17:16] <@iCER> anyways i put an EOF there
[17:16] <@iCER> i wont be reading it again unless i relaly have to / care
[17:16] <@iCER> tell the fag to stop deleting posts
I have this feeling that iCER and st0rm are the same person, but I will let you draw your own conclusions.


August 09, 2005

AustNET Exposed: A regular and long-time user's response.


Most of you reading this have read AustNET Exposed. This is my response as a regular and long-time user.

Firstly, despite the legal smoke screen the author throws up, the article is clearly slander, as per statements like:

If they stop downloading animal porn then they might get the job done.

Secondly, despite the claim that the site is "used for educational / training purposes only." the article calls on the reader to sell and otherwise abuse personal information supplied on the opers. This is hypocrisy at its finest.

Aside from the self-righteous claims and pathetic attempt to legalise their fear mongering, the authors make it clear why they are banned with golden lines like:

"We dare you, not to remove the glines set on us. "

They preach that DDoS is bad and we shouldn't do it. Yet they make it crystal clear they are prepared to. Hypocrisy pours from this article like water from the sea.

These people express their dissatisfaction for AustNET's service by - wait for it - attacking the netwok. Thats logic for you. Granted, the coders may be ignoring the problems presented, but I fail to see how attacking the servers which host AustNET, or threatening the people who run it will do any good. It only serves to increase the distance between the two groups. These same people then go and get angry - self-righteously angry in fact - because of the fact they are no longer welcome on a network they attacked.

To that I say: good riddance.

I can't stand people who disrupt other people's lives for their own goals, however noble they may be. Good can not be served through evil because then evil is justified. For the same reason AustNET can not be improved by fear, intimidation, disruption, or deception. If the authors genuinely believe in bettering AustNET they should have opened active dialogue with the operators instead of disrupting AustNET's servers and threatening the people who run it.

People who I despise even more than the above are people who attack other people's work. The keyword here is attack not criticise. AustNET is maintained through the work of the operators. It's a not-for-profit network and organisation and like all such organisations, it has its foundation in passion. Passion for an idea, a way of life, a culture, and most importantly, passion for the users. To criticise is accepted and welcomed - this is how Little Things grow into Big Things. To attack is dishonorable and pathetic - no one is being forced to use AustNET, so why do they even bother? Why don't they move on to the millions of other networks like their favorite Because they haven't got a life, because they are so pathetic that they must make themselves feel better by ruining other people's fun and gain from it some small sense of power to cover their own insecurities.

I have met some of these people at ruxcon 2004. In real life they are no better. These are the punks of cyberspace, their acts the cyber equivalent of graffiti, defacement, deliberate damage. It's unfortunate then that the only way to stop them is through stricter control - just like in real life. The operators are our cyber police and like real world police, they must from time to time act with an iron fist to ensure peace.

To the operators of AustNET, I extend my gratitude and thanks. I cut my teeth on AustNET - it was the first IRC network I used. I have met great friends online, and these same people taught me things I would never have learned by myself at a young age of 15: networking, coding, philosophy, life. I learned to be humble, to be polite. I found people of like interest, people who are smarter, better, funnier; people who are willing to teach, learn. In short the people I met on IRC helped me to deal with people in real life, for despite the metaphysical avatar we adopt online, our true selves still shine through. Communities have risen from the initial chaos, friendships formed from tentative a/s/l's. All of this would not have been possible without the people behind AustNET and their passion.

So once again ladies and gentlemen, to the operators who keep it running: thank you.



July 31, 2005

The long lost battle

Only a short time after Microsoft brings out Windows Genuine Advantage validation, its been bypassed.

This is yet another sign of the long lost battle that is Digital Rights Management. Time and again people have found clever (and not so clever) hacks that enabled them to get what they want whether or not the companies want them to. The old adage goes:
If some one is smart enough to make it, some one is smart enough to break it.
Companies can try all they want to restrict the flow of information, but with the widespread use of the Internet they might as well try to stop the universe (which incidentally is really really really big).


July 25, 2005

virus email alert

Got this in my inbox, I was sufficiently unfamiliar with my hosting to actually unzip the attachment. Thankfully I wasn't stupid enough to run the .pif included (not that I would do anything since I am using OS X).

Subject: Important Notification
Date: 25 July 2005 10:40:43 PM
Delivery-Date: Mon, 25 Jul 2005 22:41:20 +1000
Received: from ato7022 by with local-bsmtp (Exim 4.44) id 1Dx2Gk-0002jA-JB for; Mon, 25 Jul 2005 22:41:20 +1000
Received: from [] ( by with esmtp (Exim 4.44) id 1Dx2GH-0002dV-4g for; Mon, 25 Jul 2005 22:41:18 +1000
Mime-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: multipart/mixed; boundary="----=_NextPart_000_0006_3A27F8D6.ADA0B3D5"
X-Priority: 3
X-Msmail-Priority: Normal
X-Spam-Checker-Version: SpamAssassin 3.0.4 (2005-06-05) on
X-Spam-Level: ***
X-Spam-Status: No, score=3.2 required=5.0 tests=FORGED_RCVD_HELO, MISSING_MIMEOLE,NO_REAL_NAME,PRIORITY_NO_NAME,RCVD_IN_NJABL_DUL, RCVD_IN_SORBS_DUL autolearn=no version=3.0.4

We regret to inform you that your account has been suspended due to the violation of our site policy, more info is attached.
Attached is, which includes the malicious .pif forementioned. Obviously if you get an email like this, delete it immediately.


July 22, 2005

Back from Byron Bay

After 3 nights away in Byron Bay I must say its nice to come home to all my computational devices :-)

Strange how every one I said "I just got back from Byron Bay" asked "Did you get stoned" or made remarks on similar lines. Little did I know that Byron Bay is considered the Pot Capital of Australia.

I should find out more about my holidays destinations next time.

This revelation however does explain why while waiting for my small cone and banana and blueberry milk shake with honey there was a guy rolling a Big One in front of the shop. It in fact explains quite a few things I saw while I was out in town with friends. At least stoners don't get violent.

Before that little excursion into the Nigh Life of Byron Bay though, we visited the Eastern Most Point of Mainland Australia. As much as I would love to debate the validity the location's claim on the basis of the fractal dimension of coast lines, I digress. The light house there held special fascination for me as its the first light house I have seen up close. I must say its very stylish.

After the light house lost its shine (boom da tish!) a bit of night coastal cliff walking was done. Some rather adventurous individuals including myself went out in midst freezing gale and crashing waves and climbed out onto an outcrop that more or less dare the sea to destroy it. That was dangerous, reckless, careless. But it was fun :-)

Oh, before I forget, there stood a statue holding a working bronze bell one the winding foot path around the cliff head. It was rung many, many, many, many, many... many times.

Anyway enough rambling from me. Here, have a prime clock and a deviation.

[Byron Bay]


P.S. I did shit in my exams

June 18, 2005

Elec2103 notes

Lecture notes for the parts of the course which mattered is now available for every one's benefit.

[edit] Short lab notes for Lab 5 involving Laplace transforms is also avaliable now.

Good luck tomorrow!


June 16, 2005

The Manhattan Project

The project
he Manhattan project was the code name for the US efforts during World War II to develop an atomic bomb. It was partially motivated by Germany's progress whereby it was a race to be the first to develop a working atomic bomb, and hold the trump card that would turn the fate of the world.

The Manhattan project took place over 4 years at the cost of 1.8 billion dollars - the equivalent of over $20 billion dollars today. The result of the project was more than weapon superiority, it was also a major scientific breakthrough. Its a prime example of how scientific advance is accelerated in times of war or crisis.

Three bombs were produced by the project: Gadget, Little Boy, Fat Man. Gadget was used for testing purpose, Little Boy was detonated over the city of Hiroshima, and Fat Man was detonated over the city of Nagasaki.

Causes and effects
One of the most compelling reasons for the use of atomic bombs was to keep the Soviet Union out of the Pacific theatre which served to stem the influence of USSR and Germany on post war negotiations. In a sense, the atomic bomb was the stone that struck 2 birds: it ended the war quicker before USSR can extend its influence to the Pacific and Easter Europe, and it also served to diminish the power of USSR and Germany on the barging table when World War II ended.

While the politicians saw the atomic bomb as a means of securing the power of Alliance in the the post war world, the scientists developing it saw it as the trigger of an atomic arms race. For ethical reasons they urged that the Japan be shown the power of atomic bombs in demonstrations and allowed to surrender.

However the demonstrations did not happen, and despite heavy protest from scientists, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki went ahead under the guidance of President Truman.

The bombing of Hiroshima on 6th of August 1945 resulted instantly in the death of 66,000 people and over 69,000 were injured. The bombing of Nagasaki 3 days later on the 9th of August 1945 resulted in the death 39,000 people despite the plutonium bomb's greater power - it missed the city by 1 mile- with over 25,000 people injured.

Damages didn't stop there. The death toll continue to rise years after the detonation of both atomic bombs. The nuclear fallout that occurred afterward had far reaching effects. In Hiroshima alone it was estimated that between 1946 and 1951 over 60,000 people died from radiation related illness. Over all the death toll for Hiroshima was an estimated 140,000 people at the end of 1945, and 70,000 in Nagasaki.

After Japan surrendered World War II ended shortly after. In its wake the atomic arms race predicted by the scientists occurred. This is known to the world as the Cold War.

The Cold War resulted in both USSR and US spending large amounts of resources to further their own research into atomic weapons. This boosted the economy of both nations due to booms in the defence industry, and resulted in the invention of revolutionary products - spin offs of military applications.

The events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki also spawned the Council for a Liveable World in 1962, a Washington based lobby group dealing with nuclear arms control and foreign policy, and the civilian control of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1946. A means of regulating atomic weapons is thus created, in the aftermath of the Manhattan project.

Humanity has gain a power that this planet has never before seen, yet our wisdom and ethics matched not our might. The Manhattan projects serves as evidence of this. Experts agree that World War II would have ended in 1945 even with out Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thousands of women, children, and civilians would have been spared death and pain if only US took the power of the atomic bomb, and the responsibility it brings with it.

The following quote by General Omar N. Bradley, Chief of Staff, United States Army, in 1945 condenses the problem society faces in the present world. Whether its stem cell research, cloning, DNA engineering or designer babies - the problem remains unchanged from when the Manhattan project raised it to the present day:
"We have too many men of science, too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon of the Mount . . . The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living."

The Manhattan projected affected not only the outcome of World War II, but also human civilization and history. We are now more than ever more powerful than any before us, and how we deal with such power and those yet to come will decide the fate of the human race. We are like children playing with fire - if we show no restraint, exhibit no morals, we will ultimately be destroyed by the knowledge we so dearly gained. Science with out responsibility is the shadow over our civilization.


June 15, 2005

Googling skills

Google is the new god of knowledge and the Internet. Our world moves ever onwards, towards an age where this god will reign supreme. Your knowledge will not be measured by how much you remember, but rather by how well and how quickly you can find information. And google is far and away the best tool to do that.

On the surface it appears quite simple. Type what you are looking for into the box and if there is information about it, it will be returned. In reality, this is far from the truth. The title link shows just some of the many tricky things that can be done to modify a google search. There was even a book produced

But even without using these features, googling is an art. It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that knowing the best search terms to enter is a skill acquired not only by practice, but by an intuitive understanding of how the search engine works. I've lost count of the number of times I've been told by someone that they've googled to no avail, only to try it myself and find what they are looking for within the first three results.

Today we are moving towards teaching our children to be computer-literate. Computing courses are no longer just for aspiring developers and engineers - they are for everyone. We give lessons on how to use word processors, web browsers and email clients. Search engines, however, are neglected, most likely because they are appear to be so simple to use. And indeed they are - at a basic level. The subtleties involved in using them effectively are more difficult and need to be imparted to the general populace if we are to move forward in the information age. We are approaching a time when Google is becoming a vital part of research and everyday life - to 'google' has even entered the popular vocabulary.

I don't know what it is that makes the difference between a good googler and a bad one - from my experience it does not appear to be dependent on knowledge of computers, programming ability or anything else that would jump to mind. Perhaps I have learnt better than others simply because I am a self-avowed Google fan and have read widely on the topic. Perhaps it's just a natural talent, I don't know. But I believe "How to google 101" needs to be added to our list of things that people should know about computers. In the years ahead, googling will be a vital skill and it is not as simple as many people think.

June 14, 2005

On Bibles

This label should be mandatory.



Been meaning to get this one out for a while now, pictures are worth a thousand words and all that:


I'll let you draw your own conclusions from that.


June 13, 2005

New home

Now that is back up, its the new home for Journey's End. I'll be leaving the old posts on the ausgamer site while I slowly convert all the links to point properly.


June 12, 2005


Its a rare thing that happened today on a global scale: compassion. Firstly some background:

Group of Eight consists of the world's leading industrialised nations:
  1. Canada
  2. France
  3. Germany
  4. Italy
  5. Japan
  6. Russia
  7. United Kingdom
  8. United States
  9. European Union [ that's right EU is the 9th member, the name update is coming ]
G-8 today announced it will write off $40 billion USD of debt from 19 [ note that almost all sources report 18 when its in fact 19 ] developing countries, many of which are in Africa. Its a moved designed to lift Africa out of poverty by allowing a combined 1.5 billion USD each year normally used to pay interests to be reinvested with in the respective nations. What is even more surprising is the lack of any strings - the White House has stated that this act "would not jeopardize future aid funding". If that wasn't enough. Bush Administration has "agreed that rich nations would provide extra money to the multilateral bodies to compensate for the assets written off, and ensure future aid packages would not be affected."

By the way, the 19 countries are:
  1. Benin
  2. Burkina Faso
  3. Ethiopia
  4. Ghana
  5. Guyana
  6. Madagascar
  7. Mali
  8. Mauritania
  9. Mozambique
  10. Niger
  11. Rwanda
  12. Senegal
  13. Tanzania
  14. Uganda
  15. Zambia
  16. Bolivia
  17. Guyana
  18. Honduras
  19. Nicaragua.
These countries will benefit immensely from this act of compassion. For example, one in five Malawians is HIV-positive and the country spends more on debt interest payments than health.

In today's profit driven world where corporations aim only to increase their profit margin, this is a welcomed move from the leading Governments in the world. Here compassion shone through greed, through selfishness and illuminated a better path for nations in need.

It doesn't stop here though. Plans are on the drawing board for further debt write-offs - 20 other country are eligible provided they meet strict requirements which demonstrates the integrity and ability of their Government. Potentially $55 billion USD of debt will be written off.

If only business can be convinced to do the same for people in need - widows, single parents, students. People who are struggling to pay back debts where interest alone cripples their ability to lead a better life.

I must admit I am pleasantly surprised by this move. It goes to show that compassion still exists in our world's leaders and all is not lost.

To the world's leaders - well done, and my thanks.


May 20, 2005

Canberra experience

I hit the town last weekend to celebrate M's sister's 18th. Being her 18th clubbing was a must. The night went well first, though the music was crap, queues were long (but pizza was good), toilets required hazmat suits and everywhere were usual collection of punks, bro, and what-nots trying to pickup. Before you know it though, it was time for me and M to leave, and as usual when we leave, things start to go wrong:
  1. I got an egg thrown at me by a gutless wench. We had stopped at a set of lights waiting to cross the street. The aforementioned wench was sitting in a run down car looking at me funny. I paid her no mind at first. Then when the lights turned green and her car took off, I felt a hard impact on my throat and then saw yellow/white splatter between my feet. Took me a second to realised what happened and appreciate my luck. I turned and yelled at her as she ran away laughing like a mad witch after a night of eating children and sleeping with newts.
  2. M's brother was punched by a gutless son-of-a-bitch from behind. Said SOB picked the fight, and while M's brother chose to stand his ground then walk away, Canberra is so boring the SOB decided to keep it up. Him and his friends were promptly kicked out by security, but then loitered outside waiting for M's brother to punish him further for getting in their friend's fist's way.
Both events are pathetic and contemptible. Its almost like these people want organised crime but are too stupid to well, get organised. I can't express how disappointed I am at night life at our capital city. It blows donkey balls. Really. It must be the only capital city in the world that blows so hard.

Must be all the politicians.

Speaking of politicians, the design of Canberra is a apt reflection of politicians and bureaucracy in general. Winding roads, round abouts.. sound familiar? That's bureaucracy. Going around in circles... Oh, you can't see much at any one point, there is always something in the way...

One other thing: power lines. Nearly all of it is underground. Like politics. All the power is underground, friends-of-friends, cloak-and-dagger. Seedy business.

Any ways, good night my not-so-royal-readers-and-random-pass-bys,

May 10, 2005

Defusing a bash forkbomb in netbsd

What happened...
Some one posted on atomicmpc about forkbomb. This lead to me googling forkbombs and arriving at an article that looked at how forkbombs affected modern linux distributions and *BSD. I quote:
I'll admit that I held my breath for a few seconds as I keyed the script into my NetBSD laptop, and then ran it. I was pleasantly surprised when the attack had no effect, confirming that I wasn't losing my mind after all -- limits had been put in place to prevent a normal user from crippling the entire system. Exactly as one would expect.
Naturally I wanted to test this. I have a netbsd box running on an old ibook with the following uname -a:
NetBSD eva00 1.6.2 NetBSD 1.6.2 (GENERIC) #0: Tue Feb 10 23:52:52 UTC 2004
GENERIC macppc
Quickly I typed up a cheap bash forkbomb that's not even as cool as
:(){ :|:&};: -
$0 &
exec $0
Merrily I executed the script in my normal account over SSH... and watched as things slowed down to a crawl. SSH timed out, and local login from the keyboard generated a delay of about 60 seconds from keystroke to echo. Normally one would reboot and install quotas, but this box had good uptime! I wanted to keep it so I set my self the slightly harder task of defusing the fork bomb.

How it was done
I knew I had to some how stop the processes, not kill them because killing them will simply free up resource which would immediately be taken over. ni suggested to use SIGSTOP. To my knowledge POSIX defines a set of signals which can be send to processes. One of these is SIGSTOP which can not be caught or ignored. It causes the process in question to stop. Yes it surprised me too.

So now we know how to halt it and bob's our uncle right? Not yet. The problem was there were over 400 bash processes happily consuming what little resources there were and given the 60 second delay its silly to try and manually halt every one of them. In the absence of killall I devised the following:
ps ax | grep bash | grep -v grep | awk '{print $1}' | xargs kill -STOP
Which worked! After I spent about an hour typing it in. Then the STOP was replaced with -9 and ran again to kill the processes and reclaim my resources. A problem with the above is that it had a large collateral damage. A better script would have been:
ps axu user | grep bash | grep -v grep | awk `{print $2}' | xargs kill -STOP
So next time...
Implement user process quotas!


April 17, 2005

Lagrange polynomial solver

lagrange polynomial solver
Attempts to fit a lagrange polynomial through the give data points using the matrix solver library, which has also been updated to be cleaner and better. Output is in a form that is easily copy and pasted into various mathematical packages for plotting.

  • Small
  • Works :D
  • Portable to almost everything under the Sun
  • Outputs in a format that can be easily pasted into mathpad or matlab for plotting


April 07, 2005

matrix solver update

  • matrix solver
    Update 7/5/2005 solves for parametric matrices. Update 4/5/2005 - proper detection of the nature of solutions, code clean up, as well as fixing the infinite loop that occurs for certain matrices. A simple program I wrote after learning about matrixes. It performs Guassian elimination on a given matrix, then uses what I considered a very elegant loop to perform back subtitution to solve the system of equations where a solution exists.

    • Command line based
    • Detects unique, parametric solutions, as well as no solutions
    • Prints unique and parametric solutions
    • Works! :)
    • Will print out working
    • Small

solaris:~/code/matrixSolver steve$ ./matrixSolver 3 1 0 -2 1 3 1 -6 1 0 0 0 0
Solving below matrix
0 [ 1.000 0.000 -2.000 1.000 ]
1 [ 3.000 1.000 -6.000 1.000 ]
2 [ 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 ]

0 [ 1.000 0.000 -2.000 1.000 ]
1 [ 0.000 1.000 0.000 -2.000 ]
2 [ 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 ]

matrix has parametric solution:
unknown0: 1 + 2 * s0
unknown1: -2
unknown2: s0

Self charging behaviour of electrolyte capacitors

During my physics lab this afternoon, I found that discharged electrolyte capacitors re-charges to a percentage of its original voltage when left alone as open circuit. I was informed this effect is called dielectric relaxation by one of the tutors, but no explanation was forth coming.

So I did some research and here is what I have found:
"A capacitor exhibiting dielectric absorption acts as if during its long precharge time the dielectric material has soaked up some charge that remains in the dielectric during the brief discharge period. This charge then bleeds back out of the dielectric during the relaxation period and causes a voltage to appear at the capacitor terminals. Fig 2 depicts a simple model of this capacitor: When 10V is applied for 1 min, the 0.006-µF capacitor gets almost completely charged, but during a 6-sec discharge period it only partially discharges. Then, over the next minute, the charge flows back out of the 0.006-µF and charges the 1-µF capacitor to a couple of dozen millivolts." [
"An electrolytic capacitors is, amongst other things, an electrochemical
cell, and as such can store energy as polarization of the electrolyte/electrodes, and as chemical change. Discharging the surface charge briefly does not release this stored energy, which will subsequently give rise to a terminal voltage as the cell settles back to equilibrium. " []
The following are posts to sci.physics newsgroup thread regarding the same topic:
"The way I remember it was that the capacitors had TWO "neutral" states: electrically neutral and mechanically neutral.
Upon discharge the capacitor plates were electrically neutral, but as they mechanically relaxed the diaelectric became polarized and thus produced a charge difference on the plates."

"The situation in electrolytics is complicated by the active nature of the electrolyte, i suspect. If this is correct, an initial zero volt indication merely means that the charge closest to the electrofes has been bled off. If investigating, leaving a milliameter (other wise known as a "calibrated short sircuit... 8)>>) and reading it at intervals (or equivalent datalogger, for the instrumentally endowed...) would be instructive."
The same thread also offered alternatives to the dielectric relaxation explanation
"What you have experienced is common- you have to think about what you have there, an ELECTROLYTIC capacitor. Electrolytics contain "electrolyte", a fluid dielectric betweenn the plates. This fluid is not pure, and it is the impurities that
cause the "battery" action you have noticed. Short the pins for a couple of days and THEN retry. Chemically the impurities in the oil will neutralize and the capacitor will no longer "charge itself up". The action is similar to a very poor battery (try
sticking dissimilar metal nails into an orange and measure the voltage across the nails- you should get about half a volt or more)."

"If one can buy electrolytics with pure electrolyte, and plates made of pure aluminum, then such reactions would not be seen. However, traces of copper and other metals in the plates as small as they may be, are responsible for this "battery" action. As long as industrial grade metals and electrolyte oils are used, we will constantly see this effect...............sq"
It would seem there are two schools of thought on this subject:
  1. Dielectric relaxation is responsible for the self-charging behaviour of electrolyte capacitors.
  2. Chemical reaction similar to that of a battry causes the self-charging behaviour of electrolyte capacitors.
Personally the results of the "memory" effects of capacitors observed supports the theory of dielectric relaxation being responsible. If the effect is due to a reversible chemical reaction, then by conservation of energy the longer the capacitor is held at a certain potential, stronger the self-charged voltage.

The following is my own uninformed and most likely wrong explanation of why this happens, as I interpret it:
When a capacitor initally charges its dielectric material's structure is "stressed" or polarised due to the presence of the electric field. This causes a small amount of energy to be stored in the inter-molecular bonds with in the dielectric material. When the capacitor discharges rapidly, the dieletric material's structure is still under stress even though the potential across the terminals is 0 due to its slower response. As it reverts back to its normal, minimal-energy state in the absence of an electric field, a small increase in electric potential develops across the capacitor's terminals after some time. If the dielectric material is held by an electric field for a long period of time the internal structure will re-arrange graduly itself as to achieve minimal-energy under influence. Thus when discharged after a long time with in an electric field the self-charging effects are smaller as a lower amount of stress is present in the molecular structure.
Should any one more knowledgeable stumble on this topic, please correct any mistakes I have made.


April 04, 2005

Better communication, better world

Its hard to believe having grown up in China witnessing the exploitation of immigrant workers (people who move to Guang Zhou, where I grew up) that the same companies are facing a shortage of workers, a far cry from the days where the sons of farmers were willing to work in construction sites with out any safety gear (friend and I used to play in construction sites at night, the half finished buildings and stock piles of materials provided the settings for many imaginary adventures).

New York times attributed this to the aging working population, and its true. Many of my other's co-workers have retired when my mother and I visited them in 2000. This can be seen even in rural areas which once produced a seemingly unending stream of young people, a tradition breed into the farmer class in a culture where health care is non-existent and death comes early. I visited the village where my dad grew up, a backwater area reached by driving along a poor excuse for a road, then trekking along a muddy track. Where once a thriving village was, an entire section is now abandoned, houses falling into disrepair inhibited by animals. Family planning has finally extended its long arm and curbed the growth of humanity.

Despite this decrease however there are still more than enough people in China. What has changed the status quo in my opinion is better communication. Rural youths are no longer disillusioned with promises of easy money and adventures in the Big City having been told by those who ventured before them due to the improved telephone services. Youths are more technology literate, they utilise emails and SMS to regularly keep in touch with friends and family. The effect of improved communication is that people are able to compare their respective pay and living conditions and gain knowledge of better conditions elsewhere. They are no longer trapped in isolation, living in what facilities provided by the management, cut off and made to think they are having it better. In the same way that privatisations of businesses opened up markets for competition, the advance of communication technology has made the hiring market competitive.

Similarly better communication will eventually brush aside the "iron curtain" around the Chinese government and its people. With some 2 billion people, it will take considerable effort to keep anything from a population that can instant message, send anonymous messages, and post to public viewable noticeboards. Censorship of information so effectively used during the cultural revolution to control the masses, will not work in a world that is becoming ever more connected. The Chinese government now faces a dilemma: the advance tide of communication networks is granting its citizens more power, more knowledge, more freedom. Yet its also moving China forwards in technology and science, essential for its continued growth to become a world power. To restrict such communication is to cut itself off, and in this day and age its no longer a viable option. Its export economy will collapse as its manufacturing technology falls behind and increased reliance on imported technology will strip any fat on its balance sheets gain from the recent years of rapid growth and place it at the mercy of more advanced societies. On the other hand if continued exchange of knowledge is to be allowed, it will need to significantly restructure itself in order to survive in a country where its citizens are free to compare their conditions against the rest of the world, to express opinions and exchange ideas.

Time will tell how the government will react, but regardless of what they do the people has already tasted the first fruits of improved connectivity, and will not willing allow their connections to be cut.

April 02, 2005

The case against VSU

The driving logic and motivation behind VSU can be summed up in the following quote from a report produced by the Student Association Inc:

Federal Education Minister, Dr David Kemp, referred to Western
Australia as a working example of Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU) in its purest
form, stating ‘when campus organisations cannot take their customers for granted,
they will have to provide a better service or they will lose their customers…In
Western Australia, which has had VSU since 1995, we have already seen change in
the services provided’

Despite Dr David Kemp's claims the result was far removed from the idealistic projections as the following extract from the same report shows:

In reality however, VSU resulted in a significant demise in
the services that were provided to students in Western Australia . Although the
legislation has been significantly repealed by the current WA Government since then, at the time it resulted in the collapse of campus life at Edith Cowan University and a severe cut back of it at Murdoch and Curtin Universities.

Further more the introduction of VSU will also undermine student's authority in educational institutes:

Under the proposed legislation, the Student Association would lose
approximately 75% of its net income. This would almost certainly result in the
winding up of the organisation, terminating the delivery of services and activities
currently provided and also terminating any prospect of development of improvement of campus facilities in the future. In addition, the SA’s representational role in the university decision making processes would be lost.

Proponents of VSU like to tout that people will join the union if they want its services. The following data show instead that people will value their money over even basic services, even if the buildings are falling around their ears.

From the a report produced by University of Queensland Union:

In 1995, the following percentage of students joined their respective student unions:
  • Curtin - 10%
  • Edith Cowan - 13%
  • Uni of WA - 28%
  • Murdoch - 38%
After 4 years of cost cutting and aggressive advertisement, the figures improved:
  • Edith Cowan - 6%
  • Curtin - 30%
  • Uni of WA - 30%
  • Murdoch - 35%
However during this 4 year period:

Most of the commercial services continued to operate after 1997 but the profits were insufficient to continue to the comprehensive range of non-cost recovery services,publications and advice/support normally offered by the guilds...universities had to step in to provide financial assistance to the guilds to ensure the maintenance of a basic level of student services, and in the case of Edith Cowan the university took on a role the role of direct administration after the Guild collapsed.

As you can see, despite the disintegration of services due to lack of members, students still would keep their money rather than improve their university services. This attitude is born from greed and the mentality "I can put up with this because eventually others besides me will join and make things better. Then I can reap the benefits with out any personal cost." To make matters worst the current VSU legislation prevents universities from funding non-academic activities, all student services would vanish following the collapse of student guilds.

There is an interesting table on page 5 and 6 detailing the effects of 4 years of VSU. Its a despairing sight as it forecasts the losses we will be expected to endure. Specifically:
  • Student Emergency loans - lost from 3 universities
  • Full program of cultural events - lost from 3 universities
  • Student conference funding - lost from all 4 universities.
This puts lie to the claim that university life would not be significantly affected by VSU's introduction.

If the past is any indication the introduction of VSU nationally will see the deterioration of student services, student representation, university life and basic services.

March 24, 2005

Google talk by Rob Pike

Yesterday Rob Pike, from the Google Systems Lab (he's also worked at Bell labs and done a lot of work on Unix), came to do a seminar at the University of Sydney.

The main topic was the language Google uses to handle all its data processing, querying etc, though there were lots of other interesting things in there too. He started off by going through his past work in designing concurrent programming languages and then onto his work at Google.

Google uses a filesystem called GFS to store their data. I was surprised to find out that all those zillions of bytes are stored as flat files - not as SQL databases. To query etc they use a special language devised primarily by Rob Pike, though other people were of course involved. :)

Basically, to facillitate the distribution of the workload across all their machines, jobs are carried out in the following way:
- First, the information is stored using IDL (information descriptive language I think (?)) which he said was "like XML, but without all the XML stuff". So pretty much fulfilling the same purpose as XML - storing data in a structured format
- This structured information is transmitted through a number of protocols: Google's system relies a lot on message passing to accomplish its work, so the protocols are important. Basically, this is just so the program that receives the information knows what form it is in, what data/variables it can access etc.
- The program that receives the information, written in Google's own language (which I never did catch the name of unfortunately), deals with one record only. There is no way to access what was done on previous records, no inter-record operability at all
- The results from each record are emitted to the aggregator, where all the inter-record stuff happens. The aggregator collates all the data, combining it into the final output.

In order to do this, the operations on each record have to be commutative - i.e. order doesn't matter. This means there is no need for Google to store its data in an ordered way: the files are all indexed to make them easy to get, but not in any particular order. Also, the operations performed by the aggregator have to be assosciative - i.e. it doesn't matter which records' results it gets first, it can collate data in any order. So for instance, it can aggregate the data from machines X and Y, and then combine the data from machine Z, or it can do X and Z and then add in Y. This is important as then each machine is independent, so the work can be easily distributed.

The language itself is designed specifically for Google's purposes, so it has some features not present in other languages and is missing other features that are unnecessary. Some of the interesting points are:
- Data types are appropriate to Google's purposes, e.g. string, url, time, int.
- Syntax makes it easy to express operations Google would want to do, such as compiling tables indexed by time, country, etc; getting the geographical location of a query from the ip address; getting information about a search query such as country, search terms, etc.
- Special function called sawzall() that uses regex to do all sorts of funky parsing stuff, like splitting a string into tokens or lines in different formats
- No standard I/O. This means Google's sensitive data is protected since it's actually impossible to view anything the protocol doesn't allow. Even if protecte data is present in a file, if the protocol used doesn't deliver it, it can't be accessed.
- Parsing of data is primarily done by preprocessing using the protocols. At the top of the program is a line [code]proto: "some_protocol.proto"[/code] which is a bit like a #include line and tells the program what data is present to be worked with. The programmer then doesn't have to worry about parsing and can just use the data, since all this work has been hidden at a lower level.
- Data type 'undef' indicates an error - there aren't any exceptions in the language. There is a flag that says either stop the program if undef is found, or ignore it and drop that data. During debugging, they stop the program, but when they are actually running it, the data is simply dropped. Since Google has such an enormous amount of data, it is statistically insignificant to drop the few cases where there are errors.
- Syntax of the language is kind of like C, but much more concise: it is an interpretive scripting type of language.

A notable point about this language is that there are no threads, locks, sychronisations etc. Considering how much concurrent processing Google does, that's pretty amazing. However, this is achieved by building these ideas into the fundamental design of the language. The program gets run once for each record and order doesn't matter, so it doesn't have to worry about multiple threads or anything. It just emits the result to the aggregator, then gets the next record and runs again. The aggregator doesn't care which order it gets the data in because all its operations are assosciative, so it doesn't particularly have to worry either.

The work load is distributed by Google's work queue, which he didn't go into much detail about since it wasn't the topic of the talk, but essentially it just works out which jobs get done on which machine and when.

So here's an example of how powerful yet simple this language is. Rob Pike showed us a program that he'd written which was about 15 lines long. It got all Google searches for a day and built a table of them, indexed by time they occured, and lattitude and longitude they came from (using ip address to get the location). This was then plotted as a world map which varied over time. The output was a black background, with white dots of varying intensity showing how many searches there were in each location. So it was like looking at the world at night time, with the lights indicating use of Google. As the hour of the day changed, you could see night time going across the world by the decrease in activity. It took 9 minutes to generate that map from all Google's searches for 24 hours.

One other anecdote I thought was interesting, which just illustrates the sheer scale of Google's operation: As in any good system, there is redundancy to protect their data. Once a rack holding about 60 TB, iirc, got completely wiped, and they didn't lost any data at all. Not a single byte.

We also got to talk to him after the seminar and he explained GFS a bit more and told us about Pagerank and how Google decides which results are most relevant. All in all, definately a worthwhile lecture to attend. :)

March 22, 2005

Joke of the day

After receiving his first ever paycheck, a young man went down to the club his dad worked at to meet him at the end of the day. They decided to have a few drinks before heading home for dinner.

One thing led to another and the father decided he'd like to have a go on the pokies. So there they were, playing away, not winning much, but enjoying themselves. It was getting pretty late and the son was wondering when they'd be going home...after all, they'd already missed dinner and his mother wouldn't be happy.

Towards the end of the night, they were playing on a machine that proclaimed "WIN A CRUISE" on the front - line up four cruise boats to win. The son pulled the lever and they watched breathlessy as the slots cruise ship, two, three...but the last one stopped just short!

"Phew, that's a relief!" said the father. Puzzled and disappointed that they hadn't won, the son turned to him. "What do you mean dad? We could have won a cruise!"
Dad replied, "Yeah, and how would we have explained that to your mother??"

By M