The King of Irony

So, John Howard is finally leaving Sydney. Having become only the second prime minister of Australia to lose his own electoral seat (as well as the election), he's finally (implicitly) acknowledged that he never liked the area anyway, by leaving now that he isn't required by electoral law to have his residence there.

Last night, he had a farewell dinner, and guests got a showbag of goodies...

Like the several hundred other guests, this Liberal paid $100 for five hours of fond reminiscence, a four-course meal, a speech from John Howard, a live auction of selected Liberalia, and a showbag.
Of the above-listed features, perhaps the showbag was the least helpful on the question of the Howard legacy.
It contained a tea towel, a John Howard DVD, two energy-saver light bulbs, three Ferrero Rocher chocolates, a mini-bottle of Bundaberg Rum, and a copy of Gourmet Traveller's January 2006 issue.

Oh, the irony:
  • A tea towel. The defining characteristic of his core base: old ladies who cherish themed tea towels;
  • 2 energy-saver light bulbs, from the man who continues to deny climate change;
  • A bottle of Bundy Rum... a tribute to how many of us got through the Howard years; and
  • A Gourmet Traveller's issue, from the man who holidayed at the same hotel every year for 30 years.
Good to see some things don't change.
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Victory is sweet!

Well, we had to wait until today to get the details, and I can now confirm that the Starbucks in Lygon St Carlton is closing! Whee! That means that Lygon St has now caused both McDonalds and Starbucks to close stores due to a lack of profitability. Long live Lygon Street.

(Starbucks is closing 61 stores in Australia.)
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World News Update

Sydney is playing host to World Youth Day. Of course, this is really World Catholic Youth Day. No infidels allowed. Security is similar to the APEC summit last year, and protests were quashed.

Highlights: Today, the pope lauds courageous apology by Australian PM Rudd to indigenous Aborigine Stolen Generation, whilst simultaneously insulting the victims of church abuse and watering down his promise for an apology of his own to victims. Dozens of "pilgrims" are struck down with gastro and influenza.

Ode to George Carlin

 I'm sure the timing of this can't be incidental...

They want to replace the word "intervention" with "Enhanced Health Services Delivery Initiative".
This exactly the subject of many of George's tirades. What's the essence of a good joke?


Firefox 3.0: Day 1

I decided to upgrade to Firefox 3.0 on day 1 (today). Most of the add-ons were ready (see below), and it has been hammered by quite a few people through the betas, so I figured I'd jump on it early.

Background: I'm running a Mac on OS X 10.4 (Tiger). I have delayed upgrading to Leopard because the Spaces feature of Leopard is not as sophisticated as Virtue Desktops on Tiger. But Virtue Desktops has a problem... it leaks like a sieve. Just flipping between spaces leaks!

The other big application I use is, of course, Firefox. Firefox 2 is also a memory hog, and leaks (yeah, I know, some people blame the add-ons, but I'm not convinced).

So, whilst I have 3GB of RAM, I can watch it disappear rather quickly (with iStat Menus, which I like more than MenuMeters). Of course, restarting Virtue Desktops and/or Firefox keeps things under control, but it's annoying.

So, against this backdrop, I decided I would jump to Firefox 3 when it went FCS. That was today.

After a full backup, it was time to begin. The application installed and upgraded existing settings/add-ons without incident.

Not all of the add-ons I use are available yet (and I've previously disabled most add-ons to reduce Firefox's memory footprint):
  • Aadvark. Allows you to cull bits of the page quickly for better printing.
  • Firebug. Access/manipulate the DOM. I don't use this much, but I'm sure it will be available before I need it.
  • SwitchProxy. I'm not on the road much at the moment, so this isn't annoying yet.
  • TabMixPlus. Enhanced session save/restore.
Of these, TabMixPlus is the only one that hurts. In actual fact, I haven't been using it to its full extent for several months because of a bug that appeared several Firefox updates ago: Restarting Firefox would lose most of the windows (and their tabs) into a 0x0 window in the top left corner of the screen. Whenever the browser crashed, I effectively lost all tabs in those windows that would no longer restore properly. Very annoying. Some research on Bugzilla suggests this might be fixed in FF3, but in the mean time, the standard "restore previous session" session should be enough.

The first problem I encountered was that it was not restoring windows from the previous session properly. I suspected a setting changed by TabMixPlus, and googling confirmed the fix: In "about:config", the setting "browser.sessionstore.enabled" defaults to true, but is reset by TabMixPlus to false (to avoid double-dipping), and the failed upgrade (TabMixPlus is not FF3 compatible yet, so is forcible deactivated during the upgrade), did not reset the value. Once I fixed this, things have been fine.

And that was the only problem encountered so far! Overall, it runs noticably faster, and with a smaller footprint. We'll see how things develop over the coming days. No doubt more to follow. :-)


A New Take on Packers and Mappers

Those of you who have heard me speak at various conferences over the years, will have heard me talk about the Programmers Stone [Wikipedia Entry], and Carter's idea of "Packers" versus "Mappers". The basic idea is that our day consists of a stream of information packets, and there are two basic techniques for dealing with them: you can process the information packet, and adjust your world understanding accordingly ("mapper"), or you can just stuff it into the closest-fit pigeon hole, possible breaking off any inconvenient bits that should stop it from going there ("packers"). It's easy to spot a packer; when something doesn't work, they just do it again. They don't possess the tools to actually analyse the situation clearly.

I characterise these two approaches as "Learn" and "Store" respectively. You will note that Storers (Packers) have a distinct advantage in learning facts, languages and other systems that require rote learning rather than rule learning.

Well, I just finished reading this recent article from Scientific American, which basically says the same thing, but from a very different context, and has a number of psychological studies to back it up. The gist of this article is that people have two different mindsets to intelligence; either that your intelligence is fixed (pre-determined) and hence you cannot really improve, or that intelligence is learned, and hence can be improved. These two types are called "helpless" and "mastery-oriented" respectively. Their result was that it is very important to praise effort (“Wow … that’s a really good score. You must have worked really hard.”) rather than intelligence (“Wow … that’s a really good score. You must be smart at this.”).

It's an interesting read.

OMG Turkey

I am at my brother's place in Chicago for Thanksgiving.

What a long, windy, exhausting day. It started early, as days in houses with a 3-year-old tend to. Once she rises (at around 6am), she starts running around upstairs, sounding not entirely unlike an elephant on the wooden floorboards. So I was up. I had a couple of pieces of toast with Vegemite to kick start the day. (The vitamin B in Vegemite is an excellent substitute for the natural energy you might receive from an adequate night's sleep.)

We dutifully cleaned the house knowing how pointless an exercise it would be. The house would shortly be filled by 3 couples, 3 three-year-olds and 2 babies (and the ring-in from Australia). My niece, Jemima, was looking forward to the turkey very much. She had been told about Thanksgiving a lot, and it centered on turkey and pumpkin pie. The entire week I have been here, we would ask her, "what will you eat on Thursday?", to which she would reply, "turkey and pumpkin pie." Now, Jem is a very single-minded creature. So, from the moment she awoke, she was asking, "where is the turkey", to which all you can answer is "soon". It was time for a distraction.

It was snowing outside, so we dressed up and wandered down to the park to look at the strange white stuff. Jem didn't have gloves, so I put mine on her. They reached most of the way to her elbows. At least it kept her hands from the cold, My brother, who had hitherto been telling us off when we spoke about the cold, was now whinging about the biting sting of his ears, and coercing us to return home post haste.

People started showing up around 11am or so, and the kitchen quickly filled with food and alcohol. (I had bought enough for all of us the previous evening, which meant that, by my calculation, we now had around twice as much alcohol as we could consume.) The kids all went downstairs to play. Now, for those who are not parents, three is the age where kids are developing their social skills, specifically learning to share with others... Adults took turn playing referee.

Thank goodness for wine. We started drinking around 11:30 or so. I used some Brookstone LED wine charms to identify everyone's wine glass; it seemed in keeping with the festivities. It was around 2pm or so that I overheard the wives talking about the schedule... that we'd eat at 5:30pm. Those two pieces of toast were no longer sounding adequate. But the kitchen was full, and I was drinking and the kids were screaming, and I was drinking, and the kids were screaming....

The kids wanted their turkey. The adults wanted their turkey. The kids demonstrated the cascade effect of chucking a wobbly. Several times. Sort of like dominoes that stand themselves up again. Four-month-old babies can really let out an ear-shattering squeal when they aren't happy!

Finally, after several rounds, we were ready to eat. Only one problem: that required getting everyone into the same room, and getting the kids to settle down and stay seated at their table.

The feast was amazing. A huge turkey, huge tray of stuffing (that had not seen the inside of a turkey), a large bowl of cranberry jelly, beans, sweet potato mash (with marshmallow!), potato au gratin, and other things I can't remember just now. It was a serious feast. For dessert: Pumpkin pie and a Pumpkin crumble thing. Jem eats like a bulldozer excavates. A spoon with less than 3 inches of food just isn't ready to put in your mouth.

It feels like it's 10pm. It isn't. It's 7pm.

Now, with new energy levels, we could face the children... with new energy levels. More wobblys. Port and Cheese. Adults pacify children with a video. Adults continue drinking.

Lots of over-tired children. Children go home, kicking and screaming. We clean up the entire toy collection that now covers the floor, the kitchen that looks something akin to ground zero, and finally, consume the remaining port.

Our 10 hour trek is at an end.

Time for bed said Zebedee.