Games at Heather’s

It’s Queen’s Birthday weekend, and there’s nothing like a nice Sauvignon Blanc and a spot of boardgames on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Some Settlers of Catan, some Hacienda and good company.

LAN Photos

Here are some photos from a LAN a couple of weeks ago. Civilisation, Joint Operations, Halflife 2 Deathmatch, far too much bacon corn fritters and Rocket Fuel sauce, and of course Mystery Science Theater 3000 “This Island Earth”.

General Relativity

Why is General Relativity so damned difficult and inaccessible? Because of tensor fields.

So what’s this about tensors? Well, caclulus might be abstruse enough already, but tensor calculus takes abstrusity (?) to a whole new level. A tensor is a multidimensional generalisation of scalars and vectors, to n-dimensions. So, a scalar quantity such as mass, having one dimension, can also be thought of as a tensor of rank zero. A vector quantity such as velocity can be thought of as a rank one tensor. Things become complicated when dealing with more complex quantities, such as elasticity, a rank four tensor in materials science.

Performing calculus with tensors becomes useful when considering quantities with two or more dimensions. The great benefit is that it allows you to treat quantities with as many dimensions as you need with the same notational convenience.

A tensor field is a tensor quantity that varies across all points in space. A magnetic field, denoted B, is a vector field, and so can be treated as a tensor field of rank one. The space in which the field is mapped may be the standard Euclidiean 3-space, but might well be some other space, like gee, how about a 4-dimensional spacetime? And I haven’t even mentioned Riemannian manifolds yet.

Advice to Vodafone NZ

This is a letter I wrote to Vodafone. I am SO incredibly fed-up with their BOLLOCKS voice menus, so I thought I’d be pro-active about it…


I want to talk to whomever developed the voice menus for 777, because I want to offer some free constructive criticism. I guess it is because I develop software for a living and dislike using poorly thought-out solutions.

The only time I (and probably loads of other people) ring 777 is when I (we) want to top up, probably at least half the time by credit card. If you check your logs, I’ll bet topping up is what people are doing at least 75% of the time.

Let us say that I want to top up my mobile using my credit card. Please refer to attached diagram. Here’s how it goes:

  1. Blah Blah Blah random announcement that I can’t skip by pressing a button. Too bad if I’m low on battery life.
  2. “…to top up your mobile, press 2” I press 2.
  3. “…to top up using a credit card, press 2” I press 2 again. So far so good.
  4. “To top up, press 1. For customer services, press 2.”This menu is completely redundant and should be removed. At this point, I am about to indicate (for the second time), that I want to top up my mobile with a credit card. Why would anyone with an IQ greater than a cabbage want customer services at this point? Customer Services is available by pressing 9 at the first menu.

    Customer Services should be globally available from any menu by pressing the same key, (for example 0), and help should similarly be available (for example the * key)

  5. By pressing 1, I finally get put through to something useful, where it asks me to enter my mobile and PIN. Fair enough, but wait! What’s this:
  6. “To register a credit card, press 1, to top up, press 2.” Fair enough I suppose, but I have already indicated (twice) that I want to top up my mobile using a credit card. Pressing 2 gives me yet another menu:
  7. “To top up your mobile, press 1. To top up another mobile, press 2.” This is now the fourth time I have had to tell the system that I want to top up my mobile with my credit card. For a use case that probably occurs more often than most of your other use cases (check your logs), That is three times too many. These last two menus should be merged:
  8. 1. Register a credit card
    2. Top up your mobile
    3. Top up another mobile

Cheers

The irony is delicious

Am I alone in spotting the incredible irony in George W. Bush’s latest speech?

“Tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that murder is justified to serve their grand vision and they end up alienating decent people across the globe, and tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that free men and women are weak and decadent, until the day that free men and women defeat them.”

Presumably Bush is talking about terrorist leaders alienating, and eventually being overthrown by, decent hard-working folks. But I can’t help wondering if his speechwriter had a slight curl on his lips, especially when in the same speech he implores the US public to support the sacrifice of US military personnel in Iraq (and by implication yet more Iraqi civilians) in support of his administration’s grand vision of global supremacy. He has certainly been very successful in alienating the US from most of the rest of the world. Is Bush foreshadowing his own defeat when “free men and women”, sick and tired of being described as weak and decadent when struggling to earn enough to keep themselves above the ever-rising breadline, rally together and finally impeach his arse? I hope so.

Chicken And Mushroom Lasagne

  • 30 g clarified butter
  • 350 g skinned boneless chicken, cubed
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 200 g mushrooms, chopped (or whole button)
  • 1 tsp fresh sage, chopped
  • 250 ml (1 cup) dry white wine
  • 250 ml (1 cup) chicken stock
  • 250 g ricotta cheese
  • 200 g lasagne sheets, uncooked
  • 100 g Mozzarella cheese, grated
  • optional breadcrumbs

Heat the clarified butter, and fry the chicken and pepper over medium heat until golden brown. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Saute the garlic and onion in the remaining butter. Add the mushrooms and sage, and stir for about 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft. Add the wine and stock, simmer for about 15 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix the cooked chicken with the ricotta cheese. Layer a casserole dish with alternating layers of chicken mixture and mushroom sauce, with lasagne sheets in-between, starting with chicken and ending with mushroom sauce. Top with Mozzarella cheese.

Bake at 200°C for about 30 minutes or until the lasagne sheets have cooked (test their tenderness with a fork), and the topping is golden brown.

Bolognese Sauce

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 450 g lean minced (ground) beef
  • 675 g fresh plum tomatoes, skinned (or two 400 ml tins)
  • 4 tbsp tomato concentrate (paste)
  • 250 ml (1 cup) beef stock or water
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • handful of chopped fresh basil (or 1 tsp dried)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar

Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat, and gently saute the garlic and onions. Add the beef mince, and fry until browned. Add the tomatoes, tomato concentrate, water and herbs, and simmer over low heat until the fluid has mostly reduced (about 30 minutes). Season to taste, add the vinegar and simmer for a further 5 minutes.

Iraq, Oil and the US Dollar

Contrary to the huge amount of media spin and blatant propaganda, much of the current US global military strategy is motivated by two concerns: securing the world’s last remaining oil reserves, and preventing those reserves from being traded in Euros. This explains the lack of support for, even outright opposition to, the US invasion of Iraq in the EU. The opposition is strongest in the states with the most at stake in the Euro currency: France and Germany.

The US dollar gains a good portion of its ballast by being the prime currency that oil, drugs and arms are traded in. The War On Terrorism is just a convenient pretext, mere smoke and mirrors to hide this sad fact from a public that would not support such action if the true motive were known.

Bush points to his draconian domestic and foreign anti-terrorism measures and says, “See? We must be doing the right thing by removing your civil liberties and rights because we haven’t had a terrorist event in the 3 years since 9/11.” Well, there wasn’t a terrorist event in the three years preceeding it either. The fact is, terrorist attacks of any significant magnitude on US soil are quite rare.

Some are thanking Bush for going in to bat to keep our NZ petrol prices low. This is, at the very least, a cynical kick in the teeth for the families of the 100,000 Iraqi civilians (UN, Red Cross figures) that have died as a direct result of the illegal US invasion.

The reason Kerry was a more hopeful prospect for the recent US presidential election was that his administration would have almost certainly not contained the rabidly fundamentalist, uneducated philistines (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Pearle, and so on) behind the blatantly fascist thinktank Project For The New American Century. The website speaks for itself. In particular, their manifesto Rebuilding America’s Defenses states among their goals such things as global “full spectrum dominance”, “US global leadership” and “securing America’s national interests”. No mention is made of what exactly these “national interests” are, but the evidence seems to suggest that they include other people’s oil and financial markets.

Let us not forget that a large proportion of the American people have been completely brainwashed by the blatant propaganda machine of Fox News and other TV networks.

Newsflashes: The US dollar has been in decline since 2000, and is now at its weakest (as of 3 December 2004) in over twenty years. 9/11 and Iraq are not related. There are no WMD in Iraq, and the US government knew it before 9/11 happened. Among other terrorist organisations, Al Qaeda was funded, trained, and armed by the CIA throughout the 1980s to help bring about the fall of the USSR. According to Brzezinski, adviser to Reagan and Bush I, this was accomplished by overextending their military industrial sector by enticing them to invade Afghanistan, which helped to bring about the Soviet economic collapse.

Reading list:
Chomsky, N. Hegemony Or Survival
Brzezinski, B. The Grand Chessboard
Klare, M. Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict

American Empire

First of all, I’m not anti-America. I’m anti-Bush, which is not the same thing. Bush, Rove, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Pearle, and other members of ultra-right wing thinktanks seem uneducated in matters of history, particularly the decline of the British Empire, and the activities of Nazi Germany during the lead-up to World War 2.

Keep in mind that the US is no longer the economic superpower it once was. It has been in steady decline economically and politically since the Vietnam War, and only has the military dimension of its power left to its disposal. Its flagrant abuse of this military power has now isolated it from much of the rest of the world and accelerated its own decline. If you are in any doubt about this, just look at the performance of the US dollar over the last four years and US debt as a percentage of GDP since 1940.

The world’s financial markets are already starting to abandon the US dollar for the Yen and Euro. Not to mention the ensuing repercussions that would ensue if China ever open up (i.e. unpeg) their currency. India is booming right now at a rate that will supercede China within the decade, and it is doing that largely through leapfrogging industrialisation and becoming a world leader in IT.

The most ingenious thing about the propaganda machine in operation in the US is that it is only partly the fault of the US government. It doesn’t need a 1984 scenario when there are people like Rupert Murdoch who are doing an adequate job independently. The other thing to keep in mind is that it has been progressively built up over nearly a hundred years, with each roll-back of a regulation here, each buy-out of a local radio station there. Alex Carey, an Australian sociologist, has done seminal work on the corporate control of government, media and education in the US.

There aren’t smoky backrooms where people gather, rub their hands together and plan the domination of the world. It is much more of an emergent, systemic effect. Current US foreign policy is the inevitable result of an 18th century social and economic system that still wrongly assumes (to give two examples) infinte growth and unlimited resources. Whilst they may have been sensible assumptions to make in the age of wooden sailing ships before the advent of steam-powered mass production, human civilisation has now expanded to all corners of the globe and we now tread upon the world with very large collective feet indeed. We (globally) have become ever more efficient at fishing the ocean, milling the forests, eroding the soil, heating the atmosphere and polluting fresh water supplies.

It is a pretty mundane affair to predict US actions over the next term in the light of this knowledge. That it isn’t covered in the mainstream media means it is therefore easy to write off as conspiracy theory, and invented explanations can be used instead in order to engineer public thought. Here’s my prediction – North Korea will be all about summit talks, treaties and agreements, whereas Iran will be another invasion (probably with some new pretext, perhaps even an engineered “event” in order to precipitate it). It won’t be as straightforward as Iraq however, because Iran is not as crippled, and they have recently been making big oil deals with China. So expect to see a lot more negotiation and sabre rattling beforehand.

References:
Klare, M. T. Resource Wars: The New Landscape Of Global Conflict.
Wallerstein, I. Decline Of American Power.
Wasserstein, B. Israel & Palestine: Why They Fight And Can They Stop?
Brzezinski, Z. The Grand Chessboard.