Another Dark Little Corner

moon phases

Started this before change to "New Blogger", as backup in case of trouble with digiphoto blog "In a Small Dark Room", or rants & links blog "Hello Cruel World" . Useful - at one stage Dark Room was there, but like the astrophysical Dark Matter, we could't see it ... better now, but kept Just In Case.

Your ABC

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There is nothing. There is no God and no universe, there is only empty space, and in it a lost and homeless and wandering and companionless and indestructible Thought. And I am that thought. And God, and the Universe, and Time, and Life, and Death, and Joy and Sorrow and Pain only a grotesque and brutal dream, evolved from the frantic imagination of that same Thought.
Mark Twain (letter to Joseph Twichell after his wife's death)
[me, on a bad day]

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FanFiction.Net : The Game of the Gods
Just to note that to look at the other stories, dextrously you pick them from the drop-down list - available at the top and bottom on the right hand side. To add a review, sinisterly, you use the link at the left hand side :)

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Branch from the past discovered in Catskills: -- --
State Museum employees unearth massive fossil of prehistoric flora
By PAUL GRONDAHL, Staff writer
Tuesday, May 24, 2005

ALBANY -- Earth's oldest tree wouldn't turn heads at your local garden center these days.

It was spindly and stood up to 30 feet tall. Its trunk was studded with nubs of dead branches. Its crown hadn't evolved into leaves yet -- it featured a web of twiggy appendages. It produced spores instead of seeds.

Any aesthetic shortcomings might be forgiven for a tree that's 380 million years old.

The prehistoric flora, which resembles a stunted modern-day tropical palm tree, predated the dinosaurs by about 160 million years...

Ummmm ...

Chill-out city :) - probably better with sound & faster connexion

Abusing Amazon images

Ethical Considerations
Abusing Amazon images for decorative art on your own web pages makes use of Amazon's processor and bandwidth. While Amazon is generally good about letting people use their systems for interesting projects, it should be remembered that they make access available in order to ultimately sell more stuff.

My recommendation for those who want to use Amazon's services without being a total leech is to either save a copy of the resultant image and host it directly, or be sure to include a link to the Amazon sales page for the product depicted.

Again: Ummmm ...

Two hurt in mock light sabre duel
Two Star Wars fans are in a critical condition in hospital after apparently trying to make light sabres by filling fluorescent light tubes with petrol...

This could be seen as slightly related to the previous story.
FanFiction.Net : The Game of the Gods
Just to note that to look at the other stories, dextrously you pick them from the drop-down list - available at the top and bottom on the right hand side. To add a review, sinisterly, you use the link at the left hand side :)

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Unintended? Consequences (or Back to property suffrage eventually?)  
The new Australian industrial relations regulations take jury duty, among other things, out of awards. With unfair dismissal being encouraged now, does this mean there will be no way for society to legally discourage your employer firing you out of hand for upholding your right, and responsibility, to serve on a jury?

Another example: last year in the USA a Bush-supporting employer fired a long-term worker who wouldn't remove the Kerry-supporting sticker from her own car. Despite disapproval, and our opinion that the US is litigation-mad, I heard no suggestion there was any legal difficulty with it.

"Much of the labour law which ... evolved in the 20th century ... stems from an experience-based perception that the market constraint is not a sufficient protection." -- Keith Hancock, senior deputy president, Australian Industrial Relations Commission (1992-1997)

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urban cartography  
urban cartography: FoundCity in Super Beta
Should you find a point of interest in Manhattan that you would like to share with others, simply folkmap it via cellphone on

Using folksonomy tags, people in the city can index what they find interesting about the city, in order to bookmark it for themselves as well as to reveal it to other people. Folkmapping allows you to both keep track of the things you stumble across in your daily adventures, as well as compare notes with other people in your city, to learn more about your surroundings and discover interesting things you may have been missing out on. And as you do it, you contribute to a growing index of space that becomes more interesting with each new entry.

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Happy Furry Friday  

Happy Furry Friday
Originally uploaded by Britta_585.
"I go not out, it is stormy and it rains" ... and haven't we all had that urge?

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You may not have heard of the latest twist of the knife -- pull on the choke-chain? -- that the Land and Property Information Office tried last week.

I happily believed that, having finally paid off the mortgage (By golly, the mortgagor did seem reluctant to let go, they faffed about for ages in all sorts of ways. Extracting the last drop of interest income, I guess.) and got the Certificate of Title in my sweaty grasp at last, then filled in all the official forms and assembled all the other documentation and ID the same way that I did for his house, there would be no problem with transferring the title from Christopher's name to mine. Last time it took a few visits, but thinking I had learnt the ropes from that, I entered the large, light reception hall with its soothing classical architecture and walls the colour of sun on wheatfields unworried, and took a numbered ticket to await a smooth transaction.

But the eyes of the guardian of our territorial integrity, regarding me closely across the matt grey plane of his melamine desktop, vast and cool and unsympathetic, caught on a snag in the flow of rippling paper. Though it had not been a problem before, and I had the certificates, and the Letters of Administration, and various forms of identification, there was nothing to say that the person "XZ" named on the Letters of Administration -- I don't know why they didn't put my full name -- was the same "XYZ" who had filled in the Transmission Application form and was sitting before him. It could have been the different addresses, some with my own home address while others had my mother's, where I spent much time caring for her.

So. I now have to supply a Statutory Declaration to declare my identity. It has been a bit of a public issue recently: people being detained or deported wrongly, and mysterious soaking wet amnesiacs playing pianos in Britain; maybe people've become more alert to it. Oh well.

He kindly gave me a couple of Statutory Declaration forms and I was sent back into the gloom of a damp Sydney day to attempt to affirm my selfhood; one of the great and ancient philosophical questions: "How do I know I am?" The simple declaration Cogito, ergo sum is not legally sufficient, it appears. Or perhaps the question here is: "How do you know who I am?"

Anyway, here is first draft of the Statutory Declaration.

I declare that I am the [Full Name] born at the [Hospital Name], [Suburb Name] in Sydney, Australia on [Date of Birth] from the union of [Mother's Name] and [Father's Name].

I furthermore declare that I have always been, am still, intend to continue to be, and was at the time the selfsame [Short Name] who, as his next-of-kin and bereaved spouse under law, was appointed Administrator of the Estate of the late [Name of Deceased] by the Supreme Court of New South Wales on [Date of Letter] (Document No [Number/Year]).

Moreover, I also declare that, since my frail and aged mother needed care after the death of my father, for some years I have resided partly at my own house, [Home Address], as shown on my NSW Driver's Licence and other documents, and partly at my mother's flat [Family Address], as shown on the Letters of Administration. For many more years, I have used my Post Office Box [Postal Address] as a secure and central place to collect my mail.

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Struggles of a Suburban Guerilla; Nubile-Only Women; The Gates and A New Rendition  
Suburban Guerilla
Ghost Story (note my earlier comments about the things I'm thankful for - I'll have to put the link(s) up here)
Oil for Food
Pictures of Pictures of Christo's The Gates Rendition means a new thing now.
An Australian Version
Torture, Anyone? (Margo Kingston's Webdiary, 17th May, 2005, on the SMH website)

Sisyphus Shrugged
the trophy wife creation act
Language is important. It doesn't really matter what you meant to do with the law. It matters what the law says.
What the House and Senate versions of the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act (USA) say is this

WOMAN - The term `woman' means a female human being who is capable of becoming pregnant, whether or not she has reached the age of majority.

So there's been a lot of legislative activity lately centered around defining marriage.
Marriage, many of our states have decided, is exclusively a compact entered into by a man and a woman.
Well, woopsie. Congress has decided that legally, once you hit menopause, you're not a woman any more.

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Online Quiz Result: I am John Brunner  
I am:
John Brunner
His best known works are dystopias -- vivid realizations of the futures we want to avoid.

Which science fiction writer are you?

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Google Hacks - Random Image  
Google Random Image
This is a little javascript code that scans the html of the page it is on and uses that to find a matching image on Google Image Search, which is then displayed. This way you can always have a fresh image on your site/blog.

... The current applet shows the results of a Google image search using a random word longer than three characters from the site it sits on. You can easily change this 3, it sits in a rather obvious place. The script works on IE 6, it doesn't on Mozilla, which is really too bad, as it is my main browser. Let me know if you can fix that. The script retrieves a new image every 60 seconds.

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Google Hacks - Google News Map  
Google News Map
I was working with World 66 the open travel site with some mapping stuff and got a list of countries and their coordinates. Why not parse Google News, find the first name match and draw a map with the latest headlines on the coordinates of the countries.

I buffer the results for 10 minutes and use absolute positioned divs to get the urls to appear on the right spot, so it might not work on all browsers out there. I use Firebird 0.7 and I also tested on IE 6. Should work on other Gecko's too. If a headline doesn't fit, I retry one time with y = y - boxheight, so any country can have at most two headlines.

I also did a standalone version which displays its results in a windows using TkInter. Should work on your OS of choice, but let me know if not. Extract the zip file into a directory and run the"

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Google Hacks - Land Geist  
Land Geist: "Land Geist is a combination of Googles Zeit Geist, Google Mind Share and Visited Countries. For keywords like 'war', 'poverty', 'party', this project shows which country (names) have the highest relative scores (google shares). I.e. 35% of all pages with the word Iraq on them, also contain the word War, making Iraq leader for war, just after Afghanistan and North-Korea. The axis of evil appear therefore in red.

One conclusion I drew early in this project, is that Google was not my search engine of choice for this project. Google doesn't count very well, which bodes ill for measuring mind share. Google claims that 8% of all pages on the internet that contain 'united states', also contain 'cheese', which is about 8 times as high as other search engines.

So I settled for AllTheWeb, a search engine I use when Google doesn't do what I want. I created the scripts, ran the measurements, but the results were kind of weird. Iraq scored very well on war and povery, which is explainable, but also on sex. Something was weird. You can check the results of this experiment out your self.

I thought it probably had to do with the fact that Iraq suddenly had become very popular, so it would appear on less serious pages, but Hjalmar Gislason mailed me with a better explanation: Iraq appears a lot on big pages with lots of comments, because people have opinions about the country, so a lot of other words also appear on these pages. He suggested using the NEAR keyword, to count only the 'sex' occurences that were near Iraq.

Neither AllTheWeb, nor Google supports the NEAR keyword, but Altavista does. So I retooled the thing to use Altavista and you can view the results below. If you would like a keyword to be added, drop me a line. The whole thing takes 10 minutes, so doing it online is probably not a good idea."

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Google Hacks - Mapped Web  
Mapped Web
Physical distances are not the same as psychological distances. Physical distances are easy enough to measure, but how do we go about measuring psychological distances? The Mapped Web does this by taking the chance that given a page contains the name of one country it will also contain the name of another country as a measure for psychological distance. The resulting images show us how close countries are to each other in psychological terms.

This procedure can be extended to create maps for specific areas by including extra search terms. Look at all the pages on the Internet with the word War on them, which countries correlate? Probably countries that have something to do with each other in wars. The images below picture some of the relations between countries in this way.

A 200x200 matrix with the relative frequencies of country name combinations represents actually a 200 dimensional space with the countries as dots in between them. The trick is to reduce this amount of dimensions to two so we can actually plot something. This is usually done by a technique called Principal Component Analysis, where two new axis are constructed that represent the lot in the best possible way. The program here uses a different technology, the sammon algorithm. Here we just start with a random initial configuration. Over a number of iterations, we move the countries in the directions where they want to go, i.e. they are attracted to countries which they are closer to according to the matrix than according to the configuration and are repulsed by countries are too close to.

The results are the maps below. You can download two scripts, generateMatrix, which takes one parameter, the keyword, and generates a text file with the distances matrix for that keyword and stressOptimize, which generates the map. The latter uses the brilliant VPython visualization. The nice thing is that it is animated during the iteration, so you see what goes on. This project was largely done together with Ernst Wit, a fellow Savage Minder, who also came up with the initial idea.

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Budget 2005: Tax Cuts - Squandering our Future  

Tax Cuts - Squandering our Future

Australia is living off two great sources of capital laid down earlier, but we are not renewing or building them up - a bad sign for the future. The bulk of any surplus should be re-invested in these, to help tide us over future difficulties.

One is our natural resources: fertile topsoil, clean fresh water, fisheries & so forth. Only recently I think there was an estimate of $10 Billion to restore them to function on a long-term, sustainable basis after the damage done over a couple of centuries.

The other is the massive public (& private) investment in our infrastructure: water & sewerage systems, transport (not just roads) for goods & people, energy generation & distribution, as well as health systems, education & other vital parts of our society's structure. Many were developed from mid-to-late Victorian times into the first half of the 20th Century, & have barely been maintained since.

Now we have a chance to repair & improve these, learning from earlier mistakes. This is what will give a good foundation for our descendants to improve their lives, instead of scraping by, regretting lost opportunity.

Like the mutual building sculpture above Martin Place showing how a man can't break the bundle of sticks bound together, though each could be broken with ease one-by-one, the point of government is to bundle together our money and effort to do the things that singly are very difficult (how many of us can buy or build a new train or hospital?). And private companies are run for profit, not to provide a service.

For instance, a well-built sustainable water collection, distribution & purification system will take some maintenance over time, but will last without huge extra investment. The same for improving energy or transport systems (eg fixing/rebuilding bridges or taking freight off roads, which reduces road damage bills). A big push into reforming (in the genuine use of the word) agricultural practices & land-use, or ways of building cities can lay a good foundation for centuries of advance instead of continuing decline.

An educated person might be lost to their particular profession, but it's not likely they'll lose all their skills, they may return to it, otherwise they'll probably go to a different, but still skilled & worthwhile job. I've lost my skills as a biologist & medical researcher over the last 20 years, but work in a useful skilled job in a different field (though I'd prefer to feel I was contributing more to society &/or the world).

If 12% of Australians are in the current top tax bracket, 88% are lower. The majority of us know that if we strike trouble - like my recent medical & family crises - we will need social support. Not just trustworthy & affordable health care, but someone to help the aged mother I care for, meals on wheels, community nurses who aided my convalescence, etc.

Even if you have help from family or friends, that other support stops the total ruination that you too often see in both the third world & the US when a crisis hits someone. That's why there's community support for spending on services - even if people doubt that spending will go towards what they most value.

There could be a lot more said on this, which I won't go into.

EXCEPT those who say: "You'll spend it all and we won't have anything left when there isn't any surplus."
NO! I wrote about putting the investment into things, both physical & social that will stay.

AND: for the furphy about "Oh, these are State, not Federal issues".
Just where do the States get the majority of their funding? Most of the money is collected by States and by the Commonwealth, put into the "kitty", then split up & distributed, some via State, some via Federal, trickling down to Local government. Remember that fuss last year about NSW's share being cut? There are also several bodies which co-ordinate Commonwealth & States to look after particular issues either nationwide or like the Murray-Darling or Great Barrier Reef.

2004 Budget; same problem (4-May-2004)
A couple of related posts: Uses of Universities (13-May-2004); Annoyingly repetitive tax rate misconception (12-May-2004); Public good; public lands; public service - see my contribution

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Sign-language interpreter told `the truth' on state TV about Ukraine's election
By Nora Boustany
The Washington Post
Posted May 1 2005

Dmytruk, 48, today interprets sign language for Ukraine's state-run television.
Her face and hands appear in a little box at the bottom of the screen as she sends out the news on the mid-morning and early afternoon telecasts to the hearing-impaired.
During the tense days of Ukraine's presidential elections last year, Dmytruk staged a silent but bold protest, informing deaf Ukrainians that official results from the Nov. 21 runoff were fraudulent.
Her act of courage further emboldened protests that grew until a new election was held and the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, was declared the winner.
... "After every broadcast I had to render in sign language, I felt dirty. I wanted to wash my hands."
The opposition had no access to the state-run media, but Dmytruk was in a special position as a television interpreter to get their message out.
On Nov. 25, she walked into her studio for the 11 a.m. broadcast ... The newscaster read the officially scripted text about the results of the election, and Dmytruk signed along. But then, ... In her own daring protest, she signed: "I am addressing everybody who is deaf in the Ukraine. Our president is Victor Yushchenko. Do not trust the results of the central election committee. They are all lies. ... And I am very ashamed to translate such lies to you. Maybe you will see me again," she concluded, hinting at what fate might await her. She then continued signing the rest of officially scripted news.

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From that New York Times article : "science fiction has evolved since the days of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne". I submit an overlooked section from page one of War of the Worlds , it begins with the well-known bit, but continues on to something quoted a lot less often:

With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same ...
[famous quote] Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us ... [/famous quote] ... The immediate pressure of necessity has brightened their intellects, enlarged their powers, and hardened their hearts. And looking across space with instruments, and intelligences such as we have scarcely dreamed of, they see, at its nearest distance only 35,000,000 of miles sunward of them, a morning star of hope, our own warmer planet, green with vegetation and grey with water, with a cloudy atmosphere eloquent of fertility, with glimpses through its drifting cloud wisps of broad stretches of populous country and narrow, navy-crowded seas.

And we men, the creatures who inhabit this earth, must be to them at least as alien and lowly as are the monkeys and lemurs to us. The intellectual side of man already admits that life is an incessant struggle for existence, and it would seem that this too is the belief of the minds upon Mars. Their world is far gone in its cooling and this world is still crowded with life, but crowded only with what they regard as inferior animals. To carry warfare sunward is, indeed, their only escape from the destruction that, generation after generation, creeps upon them.

And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?

I wonder if that theme will get referred to in the new film version ?

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