Reflections of the Skint and Webless

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:20 am

First thing – I really appreciated my new iPhone yesterday, because we (gasp, shock!) were at home all day with no internet access! Not sure whether the issue was with our modem or the storms and rain just got to the phone lines, but we couldn’t connect to our ISP at all. The iPhone can connect to the web using 3G1, so at least we could check the banking and communicate with friends and so on.

Got me thinking about what life would be like if the whole web went away forever, for whatever reason (huge electromagnetic pulse due to reversal of the earth’s magnetic field, for example). I mean, I can vaguely remember life before the web – it’s only about as old as Alex – but it has transformed my mode of life so completely that it’s hard to imagine not having it. Even a day would have been hard to take without a little sneaky access.

And then we’re also very short on cash right now. Part of it is that public holidays and timing have kept money out of the bank that should have gone in, part just what we spent on Christmas, part that the tenant in our rental property left suddenly and we had to find a new one, with all the costs and delays that entails. Anyway, we’re by no means poor, and will have thousands tomorrow when all these things unsnarl, but for right now we’re eking out a few dollars to get us by.

Which meant that I went to the supermarket this morning to pick up some stuff for breakfast, and had to actually look at all the available sausages to see which style and package was the cheapest, rather than to simply pick the ones that looked tastiest, as is my more usual pattern. And it struck me, just how much of a privilege it is that we normally don’t have to shop to a budget. Matt, Cassie’s boyfriend, has been a bit shocked by the grocery bills when he comes shopping with us… because he’s a uni student who is supporting himself on government allowances and shops very frugally. I don’t think it’s that we’re ridiculously extravagant… but as I say, we do look at the food and see whether we’ll like it, and only rarely look at the price.

Two useful wakeup calls about things I tend to otherwise take very much for granted…

  1. And how delighted am I that I am on a Optus phone plan with 3 GB a month of data allowance2 rather than the iniquitous and extortionate Telstra plan of 300 MB and then a dollar a meg or whatever it is?
  2. which I’ll never get close to using – heaps of usage all day yesterday used something like 20 MB


Number 1200 (Merry Christmas!)

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:14 am

In the 1101st post on this blog, in February, I said the pace seemed to be about 100 posts per 6 months, so we should expect to see post 1200 in about August. But I slowed down a fair bit this year, for various reasons (Facebook (including the X-Box), Twitter, the WGB, and the temporary addition of the EducateTruth forum to the William Gibson Board, Adventist Forum and Netrider), so we’re hitting post 1200 (this is it) on Christmas Day instead.

Who knows where the blog will go from here – it’s been a long strange trip so far. But whatever happens, peace and goodwill to everyone who comes here to read my witterings (and who has stuck with me through the recent climate change obsession). All I can promise is to try to be interesting…


One more must-read post from Glenn Greenwald

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:01 am

This time on why what counts as ‘journalistic objectivity’ is apparently quite different for the New York Times and for Al Jazeera – especially when describing US conduct:



Businesses that get the new web

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:46 am

Really just passing on kudos to two businesses that are doing it right.

We’ve been using TPG for our web access (ADSL2+) for a year or so, and have been very happy with them. We’ve just given them all our mobile phone business too (the 3 girls’ phones – mine is through work and is described below).

At the time of setup one of TPG’s techs connected with me on Gmail’s chat application and I was able to chat directly with him about our needs and any issues that arose. I know his name and a little about him, and he’s still in my Gmail contact list and offers a prompt answer or referral to any questions I have. It’s a really excellent customer support experience, using a simple technology, and I don’t abuse the privilege, just enjoy it.

My phone plan is through Optus, and after a storm last night left me temporarily without service, I discovered they have a presence on Twitter. Any questions tweeted for them get a prompt and courteous response with good followup. Turned out my issue last night was with my phone rather than their service, but they were great.

Not hugely expensive things to do, I imagine, but in a world of robot phone answering machines with menus that never quite fit my situation, international call centres that are sometimes tough to understand and anonymity for all, these simple touches definitely leave a good impression of the companies that ‘get’ the technologies and make the effort.


iPhone Day!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:08 am

Heading in to uni today to pick up my new iPhone – which will be my first ever mobile phone. Guess in this particular technology I’m an extremely late adopter… the fact that I’m not really a big fan of talking on the phone may have something to do with that. Maybe the new toy will help to overcome that phobia… Ended up picking the iPhone over the alternatives after reading a heap of reviews, and on the fact that, like most things Apple, it *just works*.

The challenges for me now are (a) to prove to Sue that I *won’t* end up extending my email obsession into every waking moment if I have it with me all the time and (b) to manage caps for calls, text and data so that I’m *not* one of the people who suddenly discovers they have a surprise $1000 (or $5000) bill for usage…

Anyway, should be fun – and though I bought it myself, this is definitely my Christmas present. I’ll ask the family for something smallish like maybe the second book of Clive Barker’s ‘Abarat’ series.


Theme change

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:15 pm

So, it’s back to the old theme. Less pretty, but it actually works properly – people have been struggling to comment – and is also a lot easier to admin.

It’s all about the words, anyway…


If I ruled Australia

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:02 am

(I know a fair few posts lately have been climate change related – put it down to being topical and the Copenhagen talks. Hopefully the topics will broaden out a bit again over the next little while.)

I’ve talked a bit about Australia’s ‘Exchange Trading Scheme’ here – a cap-and-trade approach to reducing carbon dioxide emissions like that planned in many other countries. I don’t think it’s perfect by any means, but it’s what we’re being offered…

But it got me thinking: if I was the benevolent dictator of Australia, and could do whatever I wanted to do to combat climate change – and, into the bargain, solve quite a few of Australia’s other problems along the way – what would I do?

A couple of baseline assumptions:

  1. In one sense, it doesn’t matter whether humans are the main cause of climate change or not – if we don’t slow or stop our use of fossil fuels for climate reasons, we’ll have to slow or stop for running-out reasons at some point in the near-to-mid future anyway… so leave the whole AGW debate on the side of your plate – this is about cheap, clean, abundant energy into the future
  2. Approaches that shuffle money around, like the ETS, and give bankers and brokers a large slice of the action, are probably less effective than more direct ones. I’m a dictator, remember? 😉
  3. The way out is to innovate out – to go forward rather than backward technologically. While the ‘greenest’ solution might be to dramatically reduce our energy use (and therefore our lifestyles), that’s not very attractive… and in the absence of rather draconian measures on population control, won’t work anyway.
  4. Australia is a small country: its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is about 1.5% of the global total, as is often pointed out (leaving aside the fact that that is *far* greater than its proportion of global population). Our own contribution is small, and leading by example has its limits in a world of self-interest. But technological solutions created here can work everywhere… and we can have a huge global effect. And, into the bargain, we move from a resource economy (dig it up and ship it out) to a knowledge and intellectual property economy – much more sustainable into the future.

(OK, didn’t know there was that much just in laying out the assumptions!)

Right, now to the concrete proposals:

  1. Nuclear is not ideal, but most of the safety and waste problems have been solved, or can be solved with sufficient research. Fission is just a stopgap to carry us until we have fusion – something like 40 years on current timetables – but it’s an approach that is essentially greenhouse-neutral, particularly if the first nuclear station built can ‘bootstrap’ and have its power used in the building of the rest. So, a network of very large-capacity nuclear power stations, outside each major Australian capital city, so that all fossil-fuel-burning power stations can be decommissioned and shut down over about the next 15 years (that’s how long nuclear plants take to build and come online). Australia has a heap of uranium, and I’d start mining that in a serious way… heaps of fuel until we get fusion happening.
  2. Money doesn’t come from nowhere – there might have to be a direct carbon tax (rather than an ETS – cut out the middlemen) that ‘de-incentivises’ 😉 the use of fossil fuels – it would start very low and escalate over time. 100% of the proceeds would go to the massive infrastructure projects in this list, and to financing serious tax breaks for research and development pertaining to energy creation, storage, transport and use. The ‘carbon tax’ would be labelled some other way and ‘sold’ to the public on the basis of peak oil and future energy independence, bypassing the whole AGW debate. Not being dishonest, just recognising that there’s more to the fossil fuel issues than AGW…
  3. Once you have abundant cheap energy and no power-station emissions, the next big one is transport emissions – cars, trucks, trains and planes. While planes are more of a challenge, hydrogen fuel cells make a much better solution for cars than batteries. Lighter, longer-lasting, and you can fill up at a service-station (as people do now with LPG), rather than having to charge… and suddenly all the vehicles on the road are producing only clean water vapor.
  4. There are definitely things that can be done with insulation and good design to reduce energy use and still have the comforts of life (like airconditioning in Brisbane).
  5. Of course, the focus on carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas ignores the other big one – methane, largely from livestock production. I would strongly encourage Australians to shift to eating mostly kangaroo, when they eat meat at all, and to eating much less meat. Kangaroos have soft feet and don’t harm the land, they don’t emit any methane at all, and their meat is lean and healthy. And cutting down on meat as a whole has the double-whammy of cutting down on methane and helping with the obesity epidemic. This would be a public education campaign with lots of ads and programs with healthy vege and roo recipes and so on, rather than anything legislated… though the notion of a ‘methane tax’ on beef and lamb might be worth a look.
  6. The other huge problem for Australia as a whole is water. Well, I say ‘Australia as a whole’, but really it’s just the south – where people live. The north has had *heaps* of rain – record amounts! So, I’d build several enormous dams in the far north of the country, and several enormous water pipelines or systems of aqueducts. One would just come down as far as the top of the Murray-Darling system and refill that river and flush right through it, reviving communities all the way to the south coast. Others would come to the capital cities… and some would go to parts of the centre to make them arable1. The big cost of this scheme would not be building it so much – though that would be substantial too (Australia needs a new Snowy Scheme to unite it in pride) – but the on-going costs of pumping the water (it’s north-south, but no matter how it looks on a map, it’s *not* downhill!) A few more nuclear power stations along the way would address that issue. Water security is most likely going to be one of the defining issues of this century and beyond… securing Australia’s is urgent, and isn’t even an issue on the political radar.

That’s probably enough to be going on with, but the key is boldness, vision, taking great strides forward rather than just whimpering and damping down the campfire to make it last a little longer. Technology, in many ways, got us into this, and I’m probably unfashionable in many quarters2, but I still have faith that technology has the potential to get us out of it (if we can somehow find a leader with real vision).

  1. There’s a whole other story about how the soil is thin in places where there’s been little or no water for thousands of years, and it’s true. It might be necessary to water the land for 10 or 20 years and let vegetation grow, replenish the soil with humus and so on, before starting to farm it (or run roos on it, at least). I’m a dictator, remember, I can stifle the greed and do what’s good for the long term, not the moment.
  2. Interestingly, the lefties with whom I agree on most issues would hate this, and the right-wingers I fight with most of the time would love it.


The Climate Change Denial Industry

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:42 pm

George Monbiot on the smoking gun. No, not the hacked CRU emails – the other one:



Tony Abbott, waving bye-bye to reality

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:22 am


Global warming has stopped, says Tony Abbott

This decade ‘warmest on record’


Malcolm Turnbull and some sensible words on climate change

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:24 pm

This is the guy the Liberal1 party rolled last week:


  1. For those playing in other countries, that’s the conservative party here

Reverse Pascal

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:23 am

For those not familiar with it, Pascal’s Wager can be roughly stated as the idea that, given we cannot know for certain whether or not God exists, it is better to believe he does, since the rewards of believing he doesn’t are finite while the rewards of believing he does are (advertised as) infinite. It’s a probability argument, and Pascal’s own perspective was more sophisticated than this raw rendering gives him credit for… but the idea is out there.

Of course, he was writing in 17th century France where there was really only one God to think about – a binary probability distribution. If there’s one thing that the travel and communication of the past couple of centuries has shown us it is that there are thousands of possible gods, and that the task of choosing the right one (since all claim to be true and that all others are false) changes the probabilities in Pascal’s Wager dramatically.

I have a position that seems to work for me, on this question… others mileage most definitely will vary… but that’s what web discussions are for!

Life is here, life is generally good, with bad bits, life is for living. Any belief system – and beliefs are here described as ‘dispositions to act’, so a belief system directly implies a set of ways of being and behaving in the world – must enhance life right here and now.

In other words, I’m completely eschewing the notion of doing things in this life for reasons related to the afterlife (gaining reward and avoiding punishment (incidentally, very low level moral reasons for doing anything, according to Kohlberg)). Things are done or avoided because they are right or wrong – or, in my friend Darren’s language, beneficial or not beneficial – right here and now.

Christians have tried to claim (that ‘Long March of the Koalas‘ thing I’ve posted a couple of times does a nice job of skewering it) that such a perspective leads to a debauched and nihilistic hedonism: that humans freed from supernatural shackles end up as drug-addled profligates riddled with pox.

And yet clearly that’s bullshit and there are all manner of people who act only for this life who are healthy, happy, productive, loving, creative people and members of society.

So, no point of distinction so far from atheism. But here’s the Reverse Pascal bit: if it does turn out that there’s a God and an afterlife:

  1. Any just God would reward a life spent focused on enhancing the quality of life for oneself, one’s loved ones and as many other people as possible with eternal life.
  2. One would not want to enjoy eternal life with an unjust God.

The downside, of course, is if those who believe in everlasting torment in Hell are right… but given that one would still be stuck with trying to pick the right God from among thousands, there’s no realistic way of avoiding that anyway.

But living the best possible life here and now is the only rational course, it seems to me.


Explaining the ETS

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:31 am

If those who are asking ‘How is a tax (the ETS) going to reduce emissions?’ are sincere, I’m happy to offer an answer.

Currently, it’s expensive for a company to produce a product that produces, say, mercury as a byproduct, because they also have to pay for the safe disposal of their wastes. So if there is a process that produces mercury, and one that doesn’t, it’s more advantageous in a business sense not to produce mercury, because it’s expensive.

Carbon dioxide is also an industrial byproduct and pollutant, but at the moment businesses can dispose of it for free just by dumping it in the atmosphere. That is, the cost of doing business does not include a reasonable cost for the environmental damage caused by this dumping.

The Exchange Trading Scheme adds that cost: if a company dumps CO2 into the environment, it must pay. But the advantage of a trading scheme over a straight tax is that it means businesses are able to be flexible: they can buy more credits from a business that has been able to reduce its CO2 emissions, if they can’t easily reduce their own, or they can sell credits (and make their business more profitable) if they are able to reduce their own emissions.

It is a program that puts into place real, bottom line financial incentives for business to get serious about reducing emissions.

Hope this is helpful to those with sincere questions.

Sex is good for you, mmkay?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:22 am



Tony Abbott and I agree on one thing(!)

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:12 am

From Tony Abbott’s recent book, Battlelines:

It’s hard to take climate alarmists all that seriously, though, when they’re as ferociously against the one proven technology that could reduce electricity emissions to zero, nuclear power, as they are in favour of urgent reduction in emissions.

He’s right, you know. I’ve talked about it here before, and gone back and forth on the issue, but all options should be on the table in talking about energy futures, and nuclear is one option that needs to be looked at very seriously. It would be expensive, but in the long term gets us off fossil fuels and off CO2 emissions.

Some answers to the questions of the climate change ‘sceptics’

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:41 am


We need a better term

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:42 am

I think it’s fair enough that those who either don’t believe climate change is happening at all, or think it’s happening but is not human caused, object to the use of the term ‘deniers’ to describe them. They note that it’s a rhetorical strategy that seeks to tie them to the objectionable views of Holocaust deniers by association.

But ‘sceptics’ is not really an appropriate term either. A sceptic is someone who judges and tests all the evidence using the best methods available. The vast majority of these people don’t test any evidence at all – they swallow holus bolus the claims of those with whom they agree and reject out of hand the claims of those they disagree with.

Any nominations for a better term that is fair and describes them accurately?