Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Going Round and Round

Just like I've previously had Haskell, Java-sucks and Lisp moments, I think I'm now having an Erlang moment.

I've been working on my personal project, and I've now hit the part that's been looming for a couple of years, and it requires concurrency. So I've been writing a class, it's a simple class, it just happens to receive calls from all over the place. It's got its own thread. Concurrency is hard. So, brainwave! All incoming method calls will create an internal message object to queue for execution on the object's thread. And! I'll create an internal state object; therefore incoming method calls won't be able to change the thread local state, even if they (incorrectly) wanted to. Brilliant!

So, I start my typing, and it's C++, and I'm creating functors, and object wrappers, and helper functions, and I haven't actually started writing any of the interesting parts of the class yet and, and...

I should be using Erlang!

This a good design, and a good implementation. But none of this code should even exist. This is precisely what Erlang gives you for free. As I keep seeing half the great ideas for how to solve the irritating, small, major and show-stopping bugs that can creep into C++, Java and C# applications have already been permanently solved in some 'esoteric' language.

Of course, if you can call the language that runs most of Europe's telco infrastructure esoteric...

So, tell me again why it isn't ready for us to use? And why aren't I using it? How well can it talk to Ruby...

Monday, 26 February 2007

Compulsory Reading?

There is a federal election coming this year in Australia. I'll vote, I have to, we’re blessed with compulsory voting in Australia, a system that 70% of the country supports. Including all the major and minor political parties.

Why? Why do we have to vote? At least everyone knows why the political parties support compulsory voting: they don’t have to work to encourage people to vote. Saves them a lot of money. But that’s it, the political parties know that you will be there on election day, they can sit there in smug satisfaction knowing that. And they also know that you’re probably one of the many voters in Australia who doesn’t change their vote very often, and will usually vote for the party they’ve always voted for.

So, if Labor and the Liberal’s don’t have to work to get you to the polling station and also don’t have to work to get you to vote for them, what exactly are they working for?

The right not to vote is as important as the right to vote. What if your western democracy ends up as a two party oligarchy? How do you express officially that both parties are pretty much a much of a muchness and you don’t really care which of them ends up running the country for the next three years?

You could vote informally, but that feels like a bit of a waste of time. You’ve been forced to get down there, so you might as well actually vote properly. After all, you wouldn’t want to be a donkey would you? And even if you were to, quick what percentage of the vote was informal at the last election? 4.8% in the House of Representatives. But did you ever hear that announced on the election coverage? The very name ‘donkey vote’ discourages people. Who wants to be one of the incompetents? Even more, who wants the incompetents actually affecting the way the country is run?

The statistic on voter turnout needs to mean something in Australia. A low voter turnout does not mean the populace are lazy, it is an indictment of the political parties. It is their job to make us care enough to give them our vote. If they want the power to act on our behalf with no interference from us for three years, then they need to tell us why exactly they are different from everyone else, and we should vote for them. If they are unable to do that, then even if they do win, they will have no mandate. Could a party that was elected on a 40% voter turnout actually decide to go to war? How could they possibly claim they represented the will of the people sufficiently to send those people off to die for them?

Maybe this requires constitutional change. Maybe voter turnout needs to be included when determining if a party can form government. Maybe a government formed from less than 50% voter turnout needs its powers curtailed: no change in taxation levels; no significant changes in funding levels to the governmental organizations; no declaring war. A corollary to that would be to allow that government to call another election after only a year.

Essentially, the people would have elected a caretaker government, and the political parties now have a year to give the people a good reason for allowing them more power. But no, you say, this would be too dramatic a change to our constitution, constitutional amendments always get knocked back. Well, guess what? Australia already has provisions for caretaker governments, happens all the time, everytime an election is called.

Friday, 23 February 2007


I'm a big sucker for a zoo. I always loved the Wellington Zoo as a kid. It's a small zoo, but I loved it. There are photos from when we went back in 2004. Like many of my holidays, I made sure we went to the nearest zoo.

When my family moved over to Australia in 1986, we stopped over in Sydney. We were only in Sydney for a couple of days at most (it was a long time ago, I can't really remember) but my Dad managed to take my older brother and myself to Taronga Zoo. I can still remember that trip pretty well, and as a zoo fan, I was impressed.

Living in Darwin doesn't give you many opportunities to visit Sydney, so I didn't go back to Taronga Zoo until a family trip down the east coast in 1993. And I remember that visit as well.

But, through all our eight years of living in Canberra, just three hours drive away, I never visited Taronga Zoo. This wasn't through a want of trying, but there was always something that came up. Back in 2000, we had a trip planned. We bought a Sydney road atlas, worked out a route through the city, and then as we were going to bed early for the drive, we discovered the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras was on the next day and the entire city would be closed.

And so it went for the next seven years. No matter what we planned, or how we tried, something always stopped us from visiting Taronga Zoo. Right up until last November when we spent four days in The Rocks, to see Pearl Jam. It rained, constantly, for all four days. Not zoo visiting weather.

In the end we managed to move to Sydney, without ever visiting Taronga Zoo.

And who knew that's all it took? Should have done it years ago! On the 4th of February we finally managed to visit Taronga Zoo. And there are even photos to prove it!

Echidna - A monotreme. Ooooh...

The trick is to try to get a photo of a giraffe with the bridge in the background.
They wouldn't co-operate.

But the zebra would!

Golden pheasant in an aviary - there really were no bars between me and the bird.

And what would an Australian zoo be without koalas? Taronga has dozens!

Ummm... Tortoises... I have no comment.


Dick Cheney came into Sydney yesterday and understandably people are upset the face of pure evil has arrived. So they marched past my window. Not sure why, I'm not Dick Cheney, or evil. But there you go.

And there were horses and everything!

I love living in the city. Wish I was better photographer though. Sorry about that first one.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

It's Just a Boat, People!

The Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Elizabeth 2 liners both visited Sydney this week. The QM2 only stayed for 18 hours, and 200,000 people went down to Woolloomooloo Bay to have a look.

It's a big boat. Impressive, just like the traffic.

We stayed down there for awhile, watching the people, the bats leaving the botanics and the ships as the light slowly faded. We didn't stay to see the fireworks. Instead, we just walked home past the insane traffic snarled through Woolloomooloo. Better than living in the 'burbs ;)

As we were coming up Bourke St, past all the stopped traffic, at the cross street for the Eastern Distributor on-ramp, there was a taxi; appparently parked sideways across the only lane of the road. "Well, that's a little inconvenient." And then we noticed the man in the old black BMW who was coming up the one way street the taxi was trying to go the wrong way down. The taxi was trying to reverse, everyone was laughing and the guy in the beamer was yelling "One way darling, you can't come down here. Only whores and junkies down here, darling!"

A New Tank

We decided to move from Canberra to Sydney in December 2006, and moving meant tearing apart my fish tank and starting it again. Back in January 2004 when I first set up this tank, I didn't do as good a job as I wanted. The substrate (gravel) just wasn't 'rich' enough, and plants never really grew well in it.

So this time, I made sure there was plenty of fertiliser in the gravel as I put it in. There's 2kg of Tetralit and 500g of Duplarit-G in that gravel. I'm also adding ADA Green Brighty Stage 1 daily, and there's CO2 injection. It's DIY with yeast+sugar, and it ain't working so well yet. I think the yeast is old.

This tank is going to be an aquatic garden, with discus eventually. For now though, it's mainly about the plants. There's chain swords, swords, spiral val, riccia and a red lotus. I don't think those are in any way accurate names...

The swords have been doing amazingly well. They were the first plants I planted, and they've already thrown up several new leaves already.

The red lotus only went in on Saturday, and even though it's apparently pretty difficult it too has also thrown up two new leaves.

The riccia I am most worried about. It needs a lot of light, and even with tying it to a branch right at the top of the tank, I just don't know if it's getting enough. I'll have to see about that one. But, keeping a planted tank just seems to be way easier here in Sydney than Canberra. In Canberra, if I ignored the plants for a day, or even just let the CO2 slow down slightly everything would melt.

With everything I was doing it shouldn't have been that hard, and here in Sydney it isn't. The extra fertiliser just shouldn't be making this big a difference. My wife pointed out that it's probably the softer water.

If only I could say the fish were doing as well. My new lampeye tetras and otocinclus seem to be doing OK. But all of my old fish from Canberra are dead now. Including my seven year old ugly-nosed dogfish (bristlenose catfish.) I think he died of old age and the stress of the move. But the others might have died because of the softer water. I should have given them time to adjust.

Sad... :(