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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Nicholas' LiveJournal:

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Sunday, September 27th, 2009
1:21 am
I've moved!
LiveJournal was making me feel a bit uneasy, so I moved my journal to wzdd.lardcave.net.

Unfortunately the new site doesn't yet have comments. I like comments, so I'll try to add that as soon as I can.
Wednesday, September 16th, 2009
4:28 pm
Congratulations to Catie, who is now a doctor!

Belated congratulations to Leonid, Dave, and Matt, who also became doctors recently. You are an inspiration to me.
Friday, July 3rd, 2009
2:56 pm
Why yes I do have a thesis to write, blah blah blah
When I cook something in the microwave, I generally put it in for some time between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. This usage pattern is borne out by the wear on the buttons.

I wondered if this would follow Benford's law, but it doesn't seem to. Here are the buttons arranged in order of usage, based on the amount of wear:

There's no particular reason why it should, as the amount of time I want to heat my food isn't so much related to the actual heating requirements of the food as to the amount of times I feel like getting up and stirring it. Plus a bunch of other reasons. :) Sadly I think the wear patterns are too noisy to work out if the arrangement follows a Zeta distribution.

Wear on buttons can have more serious side effects: Bruce Schneier recently posted about security-code keypads which leak information by showing a pattern of wear on the correct keys.
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009
12:53 pm
Worst joke ever
The worst joke ever is, my previous entry notwithstanding, this joke recounted by an unnamed Labor guy during the Senate proceedings:

Unnamed Labor guy 1: How do you confuse the opposition over climate change?
Unnamed Labor guy 2: I dunno, ask them about sequestration?
ULG1: No.
ULG2: Err... talk about biochar?
ULG1: Nope.
ULG2: I'm really at a loss here, unnamed Labor guy 1! How do you confuse the opposition over climate change?
ULG1: You don't have to say anything, because they're already confused!
ULG2: *reaction unrecorded*

Honestly, that's hardly even a joke. I'm beginning to suspect that people don't get up during Senate proceedings to tell jokes at all, but instead to make some rhetorical point.
Tuesday, April 14th, 2009
4:51 pm
Joke for you guys
Q: How do you make a cross city tunnel?

A: Sneak up behind it and kick it in the arse!

(I had something here before about duplicating access, closing free roads, setting high tolls and going broke, but it wasn't as snappy.)
Friday, March 27th, 2009
2:36 pm
Net censorship, again
I'm very encouraged by the reaction of the majority of the public to the flaws in the Australian government's Internet censorship plan, which has received widespread ridicule in the local and overseas press.

I enjoyed this cheap shot by the Associated Press, covering an interview with the Minister responsible, Stephen Conroy (full article):

"It is possible to support a blacklist and support free speech," Conroy said. He did not explain how.

If you're interested in following along, I recommend the (obviously biased) site somebodythinkofthechildren.com.
Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
2:08 pm
Communicating with men, if you're a man
To start with, the conversation should be about 95% silence. Give the impression that you don't have to talk. Chatting is for the timid. You don't need it. Convey the absolute minimum amount of information necessary, as an afterthought. "Just a trim, please," you might say, for example. After five minutes of silence, he will perhaps respond with "shall I trim the sideburns?" and you can respond with something like "yes please."

Give the conversation time to develop. This requires the utmost delicacy. Think "deer in headlights" more than "Nescafé ad". With the proper timing, you should be hitting the conversational high points after a quarter of an hour, talking about male pattern baldness, how to attract the ladies, your computer science thesis -- and the minutes will just fly by.
Wednesday, February 18th, 2009
5:07 pm
Clive Hamilton's opinion piece: just the naughty words
sex naked dildos sex sex oral sex cum facials blowjobs hard-core bondage fisting upskirts incest golden showers gang bangs scat vaginas penises sex defecating sexual sexual censorship censorship censorship censoring censor

full article
Friday, February 6th, 2009
8:59 pm
Coffee vs tea
Coffee beans costs about $10 for 250 grams. That's 4 cents a gram. Apparently one shot of coffee is about 7 grams of ground beans, so the average shot is about 28 cents worth of coffee.

Really expensive Earl Grey tea from T2 costs $22 for 250 grams, or 8.8 cents a gram. But you only need 2 grams per cup of tea, so a cup of delicious tea costs only 18 cents.

Conclusion: drink tea!

(Numbers obtained from the Internet and Kevin, a self-confessed coffee addict.)
Saturday, January 3rd, 2009
4:39 pm

Skimble, my family's cat, was euthanised this morning after a pre-existing condition took a turn for the worse. He was 18.

When we bought him the woman in the pet shop told me that in her opinion he was the smartest there. We soon had reason to doubt her judgement, however, when we discovered his method for asking to be let inside. Obviously deciding that meowing was for lesser creatures, Skimble's preferred technique was to charge full-pelt at the front door and bash into it with his skull, generating a dull "boom" that could be heard throughout the house.

When inside, he gravitated to laps, completely oblivious to any pre-existing lap contents. I have many memories of sitting at my desk, typing, with a lap full of cat and his jackhammer-level purring filling the room. He never liked strangers, so it always made me smile to visit my mum's house and realise he still recognised me -- not bad for an old cat.

He is missed by Robyn, Charles, and me.
Sunday, December 28th, 2008
1:06 pm
Dante's Inferno: the video game
A couple of people have pointed out Dante's Inferno: the video game, since I was vaguely thinking about making a game based around Inferno as well. However, there are some subtle differences between the game as it currently stands, and the poem. Here's a quick guide for telling the difference between The Divine Comedy, three poems published by Dante Alighieri in the 14th Century, and Dante's Inferno: the video game:

Poem: Dante, an essentially good man, finds that he has strayed from the correct path -- he has become too worldly, accepting God in name only. As a sinner, he cannot repent and go directly back on the path of righteousness: He must first recognise, and then renounce, his sin. As part of this process, he is led through Hell, Purgatory, and finally to Heaven. The journey is both real and metaphorical: to recognise his own sin he must understand and accept God's punishment of the sins of others. The poem is intensely political, reflecting the tumultuous politics of Italy at the time -- Dante encounters historical figures and his political enemies at every level of Hell. Dante's logical and emotional reaction to these tortured souls is critical to his progression, both physically and spiritually.

Game: You're a guy and you get to stab things with a cross. Every so often you encounter a boss and you have to kill him in order to free lost souls so they can return to Purgatory.

As a game based on the poems, I think it's going to suck. Inferno is really only incidentally about Hell: it's a landscape which mirrors the condition of Dante's soul rather than a tangible place. Neither the author nor his guide commits any act of violence and, in fact, Dante cannot interact with the souls, as he is corporeal and they are not. It's obvious (I did it) to look at Inferno and see game-like concepts: there are nine circles, each one themed; there are various boss-like characters; the world is nicely filled with thousands of non-speaking NPCs plus a handful of more detailed characters; and it's set in Hell, which means there is a rich and accessible cultural heritage to draw from. But if you put all that together, you don't get Inferno, you get Doom, or God of War, or whatever. These are great games, but they're not Inferno, they're genero-Western-culture mashups. It's not even like someone could claim that they were re-using Dante's imagery, because he didn't come up with most of it. His genius was in re-using it to tell his story.

Anyway, I could be wrong and, to be fair, it's far too early to tell. There are lots of themes in the poem which are still relevant today (such as that of making best use of your time on Earth), but some which only make sense in a religious context (such as "human reason can only take us so far and to go further requires God's grace") -- which, I suspect, EA won't be keen to put in a mass-market game.

Sorry to go all Roger Ebert (ref) on this, but I had the same sort of idea about Inferno to start with: cool! Each level reflects a sin, there are lots of different monsters, awesome theme for a game! Then I actually read the book.
Thursday, December 18th, 2008
9:57 pm
Stephen Conroy's office sent me a form letter. I have included it, with my comments, below.
Internet FilteringCollapse )
Monday, November 10th, 2008
1:27 pm
1:53 am
This blog gets more and more specialised, but not in any particular direction.
I just found a whole bunch of different readings of the last few lines of Coleridge's Kubla Khan, here. This is the bit they're talking about:

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw :
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!

I think there are two interesting things about these readings. First is the pronunciation of "Abora". This can be pronounced with slight emphasis on the first syllable, or it can be pronounced with a strong, lengthened second syllable. The first pronunciation sounds more like a place name to me, but the second one means you get a vague rhymey thing happening with "saw". I wonder if there is a better description than "vague rhymey thing".

The second interesting thing is the emphasis in the line "I would build that dome in air". I have always spoken it with the emphasis on air, as if the miraculous thing about the statement is that the pleasure-dome could be constructed through words alone -- but also implying that it was at one point not built in air, i.e. it physically existed. But the first reader (Sheen) puts the emphasis on I, and thus removes the assumption I had made that the speaker in the poem was talking about something that ever existed, even in the poem's universe. I like that suggestion: Paradise can exist purely in one's imagination.
Saturday, November 8th, 2008
1:25 am
Paper deadline
Look, here I am, at home, wearing a hat!

However, this is a far better hat, courtesy Catie.
Tuesday, November 4th, 2008
2:09 pm
Sine wave speech
I just found this (via Mind Hacks). Apparently you only understand the garbled version after listening to the non-garbled version, but I didn't have any problem understanding the garbled version straight-off. I don't think I have magical ears, so I'm keen to find out if the same applies to you!

I didn't get the picture version, though.

UPDATE: I just browsed the linked paper, and apparently knowing that what you're hearing is supposed to be speech can be enough to work out what is being said. So the Mind Hacks site is a little misleading.

UPDATE 2: I downloaded the software and made my own recording.
Monday, October 27th, 2008
1:03 pm

DANIEL DENNETT sits opposite THOMAS NAGEL. NAGEL is dressed casually. DENNETT is dressed rather sharply (business suit?), but slouches in his chair. He pokes at his lunch, which consists of two bowls: one filled with a lumpy soup, and one completely empty.

NAGEL: Look, you wanted soup, so I got you soup of the day. It's not my fault you got two bowls, and it's not my fault that the soup du jour turned out to be quail. Who would have thought, at this dive?

DENNETT: I can't tell which one I want.

NAGEL: It's a simple question.

DENNETT: For you maybe.

NAGEL: Just send it back if you don't like it.

DENNETT: I like quail. I just...

NAGEL: What?

DENNETT: Well they're both sort of quail-ey.

NAGEL: That's even easier, if you'll just listen to me! Which one is quailey-er?

DENNETT stares at the bowls ferociously. The conversation is over for NAGEL, who grins briefly, leans back, and tucks in his serviette.

DENNETT: (Slowly) Urrrrrrrrr!

DENNETT clambers over the table and begins to eat NAGEL's brain.


Feelings and experiences vary widely. For example, I run my fingers over sandpaper, smell a skunk, feel a sharp pain in my finger, seem to see bright purple, become extremely angry.

- The poor tormented souls at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Friday, October 24th, 2008
3:25 pm
Meet the walking zombie of Year 10 English
The first time I heard W.H. Auden's "Funeral Blues", which begins

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

I thought it was pretty strange that Auden would make such a tasteless connection between dog bones and funerals. I had a post written out asking if this connection was as obvious to everyone else and whether they thought the poet knew about it BUT then Catie and I did some research and it turns out that the reason it sounds so strange is because the poem is actually a joke -- or at least the first part of it started off as one. The first two stanzas come from Auden's play "The Ascent of F6" and are apparently read as a satirical eulogy for a politician. This actually makes me feel a lot better about it, since the alternative was that it was just bad poetry.

So there you go.
Thursday, October 23rd, 2008
9:12 am
Parliamentary question time yesterday was full of grandstanding disguised as "questions" about the Government's decision to guarantee bank deposits. A lot of the focus was on Treasury secretary Ken Henry, who (it is claimed) misrepresented the opinion of the Reserve Bank governor to Kevin Rudd (more info).

I'd just like to share with you this part of a hilarious speech by Mr. Gray, Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Northern Australia, who weighs in with his own opinion on Liberal Party trashing of public servants:

Mr GRAY- [...] The Leader of the Opposition and shadow Treasurer are lawyers. They are used to mastering a brief without engaging in morality, ethics or propriety. They are lawyers; they prosecute their brief. They turned up in this place on the first day, I have no doubt, thinking they had all the integrity of Atticus Finch. No, they do not. They are just grubby politicians seeking a vote under whatever rock they can find it under by creating whatever nervousness and instability they can create in our
banking system.

Mr Robert—A Labor politician talks about grubby politicians? You guys are the ultimate grubs!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. AR Bevis)— Order! The parliamentary secretary will be heard in silence. As much as it would pain me, I will remove you if you keep it up.

Mr GRAY—I notice those opposite reserve for this parliament the same lack of courtesy that they do for senior public servants—the same lack of regard that they reserved for our significant prudential institutions like the Reserve Bank when they lined up to appoint their own donors as members. It is why they turn around and attack the Secretary to the Treasury this week. It is why they turn around and attack the Reserve Bank itself. It is why those opposite impugn the integrity of public servants and prudential regulators, most of whom they appointed. It is why they feel no twinge of conscience as they set about doing damage, because the damage to our banking system will, those members opposite hope, deliver a vote dividend. It will lift their profile. Damage the banks, win votes is the equation. Who cares about the damage? Damage to whom? To the very people those opposite would seek to represent. They also seek to damage the very character of the Secretary to the Treasury. We have seen the Leader of the Opposition call upon the government to sack the Secretary to the Treasury for doing his job. This is the very same Secretary to the Treasury who has served multiple federal governments. He served the Hawke government and the Keating government. He served the Howard government with great distinction. One might wonder why they so hate the Secretary to the Treasury. I wondered that myself. Could it be his work ethic—he has one; they don’t? Could it be his ethics— he has them; they don’t? Could it be his character—he has one; they don’t? Could it be that he understands that they do not understand the issues that they drag around our parliament and community like a dead rat?

For the thrilling conclusion consult Wednesday's Hansard (1.8MB PDF) and search for "dead rat".
Sunday, October 19th, 2008
7:32 pm
Why yes, I do have a thesis to write. How could you tell?
Today I took a break from fixing non-existent bugs to attend the Crows Nest Fair with Catie (and, unexpectedly but pleasantly, Peter). I did like the book stall with one section labelled "women's books" and another labelled "blokes", but I was a little disappointed overall.

Eventually I decided to stop looking at books and T-shirts and instead to collect as much religious material as people were willing to hand me. I didn't do a great job at this, but I was very polite about it and ended up with four separate sets of flyers.

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