Archive for July 9th, 2009

Not enough Nattie photos

I’ve had a few requests to produce more photos of Nattie of late, so today, when I finally decided to replace my two-year-old Facebook profile picture (which was taken in John Stanley’s office at 2UE), I decided to include Nattie in the picture.

Samuel And Nattie

I think I have some unpublished photos of Nattie around here somewhere. If I find them, I’ll share them with you in the near future.

Samuel

2 comments July 9th, 2009 at 07:14pm

Close Ayers Rock? You’ve got to be joking

This is a joke, right? Please tell me it’s a joke.

Federal authorities want to ban people from climbing one of Australia’s great natural wonders – Uluru.

An estimated 100,000 people make the steep ascent each year.

The Director of National Parks wants to close the climb for “visitor safety, cultural and environmental” reasons.

A 10-year draft management plan for the park, issued on Wednesday, says authorities will work towards closing the track.
[..]
Uluru, which is located in Australia’s “Red Centre” and used to be known as Ayers Rock, attracts about 300,000 tourists a year. Most are from overseas.

Visitors are free to ascend the path up Uluru most of the time. But signs urge people not to do so out of respect for indigenous culture.

We shouldn’t climb it because some people who were born near it say so, and because a few people have died over the years? That’s like saying “I was born in Canberra and people have died on the roads, so you shouldn’t drive on Canberra’s roads”…give me a break.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett has to sign off on the plan. A spokesman would not be drawn on whether Mr Garrett supported closing the track.

The spokesman said “there will obviously be a range of views” about the Uluru climb, and urged people to take part in the public comment period on the plan, which closes on September 4.

To their credit, the opposition are opposed to closing the great rock.

I may have to enquire about how one gets involved in this public consultation, and report back. A quick google search didn’t turn up anything useful, nor did a quick check over Peter Garrett’s website (I’m not brave enough to browse it for long).

Samuel

5 comments July 9th, 2009 at 04:28pm

Of course the Government isn’t going to launch a new bank

It already has a bank, it’s called the Reserve Bank, and it’s the only bank the federal government should have. Don’t forget, it was the federal government which got us in to this situation of having four major players swallowing massive swathes of market share…remember the “bank deposit guarantee”? The federal government’s bizarre and misguided attempt to solve the global financial crisis, in which they decided to guarantee deposits in to banks, effectively prompting people to pull out of non-bank investments en mass, causing further problems on the stock market.

Thankfully the government and the opposition agree that a new government retail bank is not a good idea, despite the bleating of six economists.

Australia’s big four banks were in the top eight banks in the world, which provided confidence in the nation’s financial system and ability to recover from the global recession, [Home Affairs Minister Brendan] O’Connor said.

“So I don’t think there’s any particular need to look at the systemic review of our financial system, it’s very sound.”

The federal opposition does not support the notion of a “people’s bank” to rival Australia’s big banks but would support an inquiry into Australia’s financial system, Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull says.

I’m pleased that we have unity on this issue. The less government interference we have in the retail banking system, the better. Eventually, once enough people are sick of the “big four” exploiting their position, we will see a natural shift toward other financial institutions. How long, or short, that period of time is, depends on how badly the “big four” exploit their position.

Samuel

1 comment July 9th, 2009 at 02:18pm

Google finally announce an Operating System…don’t expect too much though

Google have finally done what people have been expecting for years…they’re launching an Operating System to compete with Windows, Mac, Linux and others, although after looking at the details, I don’t expect it to compete, except for a very niche market.

It’s been an exciting nine months since we launched the Google Chrome browser. Already, over 30 million people use it regularly. We designed Google Chrome for people who live on the web — searching for information, checking email, catching up on the news, shopping or just staying in touch with friends. However, the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web. So today, we’re announcing a new project that’s a natural extension of Google Chrome — the Google Chrome Operating System. It’s our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be.

Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010.

Spiel sounds good apart from some odd factual errors (“the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web” for starters), but here’s where it becomes incredibly niche. Unless you can find a web application to fulfil your needs, Chrome OS just isn’t for you.

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web.
[..]
The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.

So, no MS Office (which means no Outlook) which probably makes it unusable for the vast majority of business users. No Cool Edit or Audacity for the audio enthusiasts amongst us. No video editing software (but YouTube, being a “web application” will work…editing stuff to upload to YouTube won’t be so easy), no “insert name or type of non-web-application which you use everyday”.

Effectively, as Google said, it is “for people who live on the web”. If you do anything outside the web on your computer, it’s not for you.

The business model for Google is obvious. Move everything (or as close to everything as possible) on to the web, making more websites and applications which can carry Google ads. Actually getting web applications to a point where this will be feasible is going to be the problem for a couple reasons:

1. Google Docs: It has some useful features, but most businesses can’t replace MS Office with it because MS Office has so many more features and functions, that’s it’s just not funny to compare the two.

2. Security: If you think the Department of Defence are going to trust all of their secret data to a web-application, even if it’s one that they host themselves, you’ve got to be kidding.

For the moment at least, Chrome OS seems to be targeting the “I need Internet access everywhere, and either don’t want to use a phone to do so, or need slightly more functionality than I can get out of a phone” market…and frankly, it’s not a big market.

This needs to be spruced up a bit. Until then, it’s just another interesting experiment with an awful lot of money at-the-ready to keep it going.

Samuel

1 comment July 9th, 2009 at 12:55pm

Fine-free week in New South Wales

The police are not handing out fines in New South Wales for a week, starting last night, after pay negotiations stalled yet again.

Police will stop issuing on-the-spot fines for traffic, parking and boating offences for a week, after their pay negotiations with the NSW Government fell through.

The Government had until four [yesterday] afternoon to come through with a better pay offer, which didn’t include cuts to shift allowances or workers comp payouts.

Peter Remfrey from the Police Association has told 2GB’s Jason Morrison they have been left with no choice.

“We’ll be announcing a week of what we’re calling a ‘fine-free week’,” he said.

“Our members will be requested exercise their discretion and not issue on-the-spot fines for traffic and other offences such as the criminal infringement notices, public parking notices, rail infringements and boating infringement notices as well.”

Instead, offenders will be issued with warnings for minor offences or court attendance notices for serious matters.

The fine-free week begins at 6pm on Wednesday and will run until 6pm on Tuesday, July 15.

“At no time will the community be at risk,” Association president Bob Pritchard told reporters.
[..]
Mr Pritchard said the association had provided the government with a detailed plan on how it could save almost $200 million a year while improving policing.

So, an increase in the speed of traffic for a week? It’s very likely, in my view, that people will be willing to speed a bit more than usual this week on the assumption that the police will turn a blind eye.

Incidentally, in the above linked article, you can listen to 2GB’s Jason Morrison’s full interview with Bob Pritchard. It’s an interesting interview.

Samuel

July 9th, 2009 at 10:18am

Bundanoon bans bottled water, almost

It’s actually a voluntary ban on the sale of bottled water, but lets not net that get in the way of a good dramatic headline.

The central New South Wales community of Bundanoon has voted overwhelmingly in favour of a ban on bottled water.

More than 350 people turned out at a public meeting at the town hall tonight to vote on the motion.

Only one local resident voted against the proposal, along with a representative from the bottled water industry.

Wait! 350 people? What do News Limited have to say about the attendance?

Local businessman and Bundy on Tap organiser Huw Kingston said almost 400 people turned up to the Bundanoon Memorial Hall

Uh huh, and this counts as “overwhelming support”? Must be a small town then:

Population: 2,035 (2006 census)

Less than a quarter of the town turns up to a meeting, and this is overwhelming support?

Anyway, I digress, continuing from the News Limited article:

The voluntary ban has been triggered by concerns about the carbon footprint associated with bottling and transporting the water.

Free water fountains will be installed in the NSW village, southwest of Sydney, to replace the bottled H2O.

“Carbon footprint”? *sigh*

In a double blow for the bottled water industry, NSW Premier Nathan Rees has signalled an end to idle chit-chat around the water cooler for NSW public servants.

Mr Rees today announced an immediate ban on all departments and agencies buying bottled water, including supplies for water coolers.

It was the first step in a government campaign to significantly reduce the consumption of bottled water in the community, Mr Rees said.

Australians spent about $500 million on bottled water in 2008, a 10 per cent increase on 2007.

“These plastic bottles are everywhere,” Mr Rees said.

I’m no fan of bottled water, in fact I rarely ever buy it, but I do like the fact that, if I need water in a place where I don’t have immediate access to safe drinking water from a tap, I can buy a bottle of safe, clean water. That less than a quarter of Bundanoon, or New South Wales disaster-in-chief Nathan Rees wants to ban me from buying water in a bottle, and instead insist that I have my own bottle which I can fill from a dubious communal water source, astounds me.

But if I continue reading the News Limited article, I’m not surprised by the chosen obligatory “expert”:

Environmental group Do Something! welcomed the government and Bundanoon bans, saying they could be the catalyst for change in the community.

“It’s all about common sense,” Do Something! director Jon Dee said.

“When you reduce the usage of bottled water you’re not just saving the environment, you’re also saving your wallet at the same time.
[..]
Mr Dee said it made no sense for people to pay twice as much for a litre of bottled water than for a litre of petrol.

Jon, it’s called choice. People choose to buy it despite knowing that there are other, cheaper, sources of water. It’s also called convenience. But, then again Jon, you are the idiot who was on Open House on Sunday night claiming that the planet is warming because people are wasting food.

“The bottled water industry has managed to convince people that bottled water is somehow pure or better for you than water you drink out of the tap,” he [Jon Dee] said.

See my point above Jon. In an age when we’re taught not to share the things we eat and drink from, for fear of catching nasty bugs etc, you expect me to trust a communal water source in the middle of town? One that’s been left outside for long enough for the drunk people to amuse themselves by targeting it with their various bodily functions? One you want me to share with a person who has a cold or worse?

It’s like the old bubblers all over again…and Jon, don’t try to tell me that people won’t try to drink directly from these water dispensaries, because we both know that they will.

And just in case you do happen to believe in the carbon footprint nonsense, Geoff Parker, director of the Australasian Bottled Water Institute has some facts and figures to (pun intended) pour cold water on the “bottled water is evil” line.

The environmental footprint of one bottle of water of locally produced water would be much smaller than a tin of canned tomatoes imported from overseas, some imported cheese, or French champagne, I think we need to keep it in perspective.

That we do Geoff, that we do.

Samuel

1 comment July 9th, 2009 at 07:53am

Should’ve just said it Jon

I note from Mark Parton’s blog that the Chief Turnip of the ACT, Jon Stanhope, nearly let out the F word yesterday, but stopped himself just before it came out.

Word is that the Chief Minister was addressing some business leaders yesterday. He was talking about potential budget blow outs in the upgrade of Civic….and he nearly said, “How the F….can it possibly cost that much”

He stopped himself on the F and went with ‘How in the world’ instead.

People seem to like politicians who comes across as honest and “one of the people”, and not “putting on a show”. I can’t think of a better way for a politician to gain popularity than to use the F word, in context, in a public setting, and enjoy the public rallying behind him or her when the media starts criticising them for it.

Sure, you’d get those who would be critical, but on the whole, I think the number of people who would be supportive would greatly outnumber the disapprovers.

Whilst it does have to be remembered that there is a time and place for everything, and that a business meeting is probably not the place for a political leader to shout expletives, it’s probably a better place for them to do it than some other places (the chamber, for one, would be a bad place). There isn’t really a “right place” in public for a politician to use expletives, but for an intended or unintended political stunt, yesterday’s meeting with business leaders would have been one of the better places.

I suppose I should be thankful that he didn’t use the F word though, because if he did, I might have been forced to defend him…and defending Jon Stanhope is one of the least comfortable things I could ever be forced to do.

Samuel

July 9th, 2009 at 06:54am

Googong Dam Spillway Construction

As previously mentioned, I went out to Googong Dam on Tuesday afternoon to take photos of the construction of a spillway. The photos from this trip are now online. Here are some highlights.

Overview from the Dam Lookout carpark
Overview from the Dam Lookout carpark

Overview from the road leading up to the lookout carpark. Construction is all on the left side of the wall.
Overview from the road leading up to the lookout carpark. Construction is all on the left side of the wall.

Possibly some sort of entrance to the spillway near the top of the construction?
Possibly some sort of entrance to the spillway near the top of the construction?

Closer look at the upper areas of the spillway from the non-carpark side of the dam
Closer look at the upper areas of the spillway from the non-carpark side of the dam

So ACTEW Corporation haven't contracted out the construction of the spillway?
So ACTEW Corporation haven’t contracted out the construction of the spillway?

Shot of the dam side of the spillway construction
Shot of the dam side of the spillway construction

the spillway construction, as seen from the Googong Dam Water Treatment Plant hill summit
The spillway construction, as seen from the Googong Dam Water Treatment Plant hill summit

More photos are up on the Photo Gallery at http://photos.samuelgordonstewart.com/GoogongDamSpillway20090707

Enjoy!

Samuel

July 9th, 2009 at 04:31am

Photo Gallery back online

The photo gallery is online again, having been offline since I moved the site in April.

I encountered an interesting problem when I brought the gallery back online where none of the links to the various photo albums were working properly. Links to the various administrative pages were working fine, and all of the images were loading properly, but clicking on a link to an album (for the purposes of this example, we’ll work with the “Old Cooma Road Bridge Upgrade” album) resulted in the URL in the address bar changing, but the home page of the gallery being served up. So, for example, the page at http://photos.samuelgordonstewart.com/OldCoomaRoadBridgeUpgrade was producing the same content as the page at http://photos.samuelgordonstewart.com/

To make things more bizarre, no errors were being produced in the site’s error log, so I really had nothing to go on, in order to work out what was going on.

On the previous server, the photo gallery was located in the directory /var/www/vhosts/samuelgordonstewart.com/subdomains/photos/httpdocs/ and I had already corrected the paths listed in the configuration files to the path on the new server, which is /home/samuelgo/public_html/photos, and I have moved the Gallery between servers and paths before without encountering this problem.

When I had a closer look at the directory structure inside the “photos” directory, I noticed that there is no directory with the name “OldCoomaRoadBridgeUpgrade” (or any of the other album’s names, for that matter) and that they in fact live within the “albums” directory (for example, /home/samuelgo/public_html/photos/albums/OldCoomaRoadBridgeUpgrade), and that the Gallery software must, therefore, be using Apache‘s (the webserver software) mod_rewrite functions to use nice URLs such as http://photos.samuelgordonstewart.com/OldCoomaRoadBridgeUpgrade instead of some archaic (and ugly) URL such as http://photos.samuelgordonstewart.com/albums.php?set_AlbumName=OldCoomaRoadBridgeUpgrade

So, why was mod_rewrite failing to behave properly…time to check the .htaccess file at /home/samuelgo/public_html/photos/.htaccess which contains the mod_rewrite rules. Hmmm, that’s interesting, there are no mod_rewrite rules in it…so why am I getting the index page instead of a “404 not found” error when I visit something which physically doesn’t exist such as http://photos.samuelgordonstewart.com/OldCoomaRoadBridgeUpgrade?

Then it struck me, this is precisely the behaviour I would expect if WordPress‘ (the software which runs this blog) standard mod_rewrite rules were being followed…that is, if a given URL doesn’t physically exist, refer to index.php to find out what to serve up. None of the pages on this blog exist in physical files, they are all generated on request by the index.php (and others) file running database queries and extracting the required information out of the blog’s database. Gallery doesn’t work in quite the same way, and it definitely doesn’t understand the WordPress method.

But why was I getting WordPress’ mod_rewrite behaviour now, when I wasn’t getting it on the old server’s Gallery installation. Well that’s simple. The old server was running the Plesk control panel, which keeps primary domains separated from their subdomains. On the old server, this blog existed at /var/www/vhosts/samuelgordonstewart.com/httpdocs whilst the photo gallery existed at /var/www/vhosts/samuelgordonstewart.com/subdomains/photos/httpdocs. This server, however, uses the cPanel control panel which stores subdomains within the directory of the primary domain. So the blog exists at /home/samuelgo/public_html whilst the gallery lives at /home/samuelgo/public_html/photos.

The annoying thing about the way cPanel handles subdomains is that .htaccess files take effect recursively. This means that the .htaccess file which lives at /home/samuelgo/public_html/.htaccess has an affect on the public_html directory and all of the directories within it, and the directories within those directories, and so on and so forth. Annoyingly, this means that the mod_rewrite rules used by WordPress get applied to the photo gallery with disastrous results.

I was able to prove that this was the case by temporarily taking the blog’s .htaccess file out of commission, which resulted in virtually every link on the blog and the photo gallery producing a “404 not found” message.

So the problem now was how to get the Gallery installation to produce its mod_rewrite rules again. My theory was that if I disabled Gallery’s use of mod_rewrite, and then re-enabled it, Gallery would need to reproduce the mod_rewrite rules. Unfortunately I had already gone through the Gallery configuration wizard to see if there was anything I had missed (alas, there wasn’t) and noticed that using mod_rewrite is not optional. If mod_rewrite is installed on the server, Gallery will use it. This didn’t completely kill the idea though.

I decided to manually modify the configuration file which controls whether Gallery uses mod_rewrite, and tell it not to use mod_rewrite. This worked, as it forced Gallery to use archaic URLs such as http://photos.samuelgordonstewart.com/albums.php?set_AlbumName=OldCoomaRoadBridgeUpgrade which were working fine. I then ran the configuration wizard again, which noticed that mod_rewrite is installed on the server, and thus decided to enable Gallery’s use of mod_rewrite, and write the mod_rewrite rules as needed.

It wrote the following in to the photo gallery’s .htaccess file, and normal Gallery URLs started working again:

# BEGIN Gallery section
# (Automatically generated. Do not edit this section)
# Note: still under development, so format may change.
# If you edit this file, make a backup before runnng the Config. Wizard.

Options -Indexes +FollowSymLinks

RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule ^([^\.\?/]+)/([0-9]+)$ /view_photo.php?set_albumName=$1&index=$2 [QSA]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule ^([^\.\?/]+)/([A-Za-z_0-9\-]+)$ /view_photo.php?set_albumName=$1&id=$2 [QSA]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule ^([^\.\?/]+)/$ /$1 [R]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule ^([^\.\?/]+)$ /view_album.php?set_albumName=$1 [QSA]

# END Gallery section. Add User changes below this line

Which effectively overrides the mod_rewrite rules of the WordPress installation for the “photos” directory and directories therein.

So that was my fun for the evening. And I apologise to the person who tried to access the “A Current Affair’s Ben Fordham rings 2CC’s Mike Welsh to take exception with something Mike said” article and instead got a “404 not found” page in the few moments that I had this blog’s .htaccess file out of commission.

Now, time to put the pictures of the construction of Googong Dam’s spillway online.

Samuel

July 9th, 2009 at 03:53am

Happy Constitution Day

It’s the ninth of July, so I get to say happy Constitution Day, despite the fact that it’s not a public holiday in Australia.

Constitution Day marks the day in 1900 that Queen Victoria signed the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 in to law in Britain.

I’ve argued for quite some time now that we need a holiday in winter to balance out the glut of holidays in Summer and surrounds, and that we shouldn’t have a holiday in November for the Melbourne Cup. Well there we go, Constitution Day, a good day for a nice patriotic holiday.

Samuel

July 9th, 2009 at 12:19am


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