Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday not-a Fat-Jet

Another of Alex's great photos. This one being a Caribou. Alex says 'fast' isn't in a 'Bou's vocabulary. But 'useful' certainly is. The reason that we have a squadron of these still in service is that there is no one-for-one replacement available - so they soldier on.

Their latest campaign is helping out Papua-NewGuinea with it's floods in Oro province. 'Bous are no stranger to PNG.

A view of 'the Middle Kingdom'.

Things were so much more straight forward during the Cold War. It was pretty obvious to us who the 'other side' were, and they were there, and we were here, and there was very little interaction, and virtually no reliance of one bloc one to the other for trade or commerce.

These days, things are different. The 'other side' is really other sides, and interaction, trade and commerce is intimately intertwined. We need oil from the middle east, yet that is where many of those who view the west as enemies come from. We import cheap goods from China, export our resources, yet China is an up-and-coming economic and military power.

So when I see thought provoking articles like this one (found via Samizdata), I try to visualise where it's all heading.

Gary Rosen from 'Commentary' magazine (must remember that one - looks like good journalism) visited China and got quite an education. Not just on what China has achieved in less than 20 years of embracing a market economy, but in how things are done there;
"...One might have an abstract sense of the scale and density of China’s hyper-development, but seeing it on foot or from the window of a minibus is another thing altogether. The massive, anonymous glass-and-steel office towers and concrete apartment blocs simply go on forever, and the traffic is a heart-stopping game of chicken, with bicycles, “trishaws,” and motorized carts flowing heedlessly into lanes of overloaded trucks and speeding Buicks and BMW’s. This is the ground-level view of a decade-and-a-half of roughly 10-percent annual growth in GDP, a period during which hundreds of millions of Chinese have been lifted from poverty...".

"...As he spoke to us in a glass-walled conference room, the smog outside was so thick that nearby buildings were visible only in outline. “Is this a ‘good’ air day?,” I asked, pointing toward the street. Without missing a beat, he replied, “it takes an expert to determine that.”...".

"...When I asked him what would happen if protesters wished to speak out about Taiwan or the human-rights situation in China, he said that “the public-security apparatus would decide what is appropriate,” noting (without apparent irony) that “this is how it is done in every country...".

"...“China has a population of 1.3 billion people, including the 23 million people of Taiwan. It is not for them to decide their own status.”...".

"...Thinking about Yuan and her friends—cosmopolitan, English-speaking students at China’s most elite university—I find it difficult to imagine that the People’s Republic will easily contain them. Some will undoubtedly be co-opted by economic opportunities, like much of China’s middle class; others will end up serving the Chinese state, perhaps in a role like that of Mr. Huang, practicing the “techniques of hospitality” on foreign visitors. But it seems just as likely that, following the lead of the previous generation, they will begin to ask why China, alone among the world’s great nations, cannot enjoy the full range of modern freedoms. Their protestations aside, they may yet have their own Tiananmen. If it comes to that, one can only pray that this time it turns out very differently....".
When reading, not just that, but many things on China, I am left with the feeling China has made some issues for itself to deal with. How, for example can you educate and open up a society without that society observing and questioning? And if the answer to that question is not what the rulers are prepared to accommodate?

What of China's neighbours? Taiwan has the Sword of Damocles hanging over it. I suspect China has some scores to settle with Japan. And if it wants 'liebenstraum' and resources - what then?

And that is only part of the modern equation. Add in the Islamic world, India, Russia, the 'United States of Europe' (the EU) and the world is most certainly a very differt place than it was pre-1989!

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

The 'Transistor' is 60 years old!

Interesting Tech story in the SMH. The transistor turns 60.

For the non-technical, transistors are the basic building block of modern electronics. Put many transistors on a common substrate, and you have an integrated circuit. They are the basis of what is probably the most profound technological revolution of the modern era.

Guest Poster.

I asked Daughter to consider doing a guest post for the blog, and she has kindly done so, Here 'tis;
"Hello Practicality Readers! The Daughter here, guest blogging.

I’m lucky that I got to vote less than two weeks after I turned 18. It was almost like having an introduction to adulthood in one day, seeing as you don’t usually feel any older on your birthday.

As we were getting ready to leave, I was excited. I have been reminded, especially in the past weeks, that our country is one of only six in the world to have continuously held the right to vote since 1900. That is something I have been taught to value, and I do.

Dad let me choose which polling booth we would go to - I chose my old primary school, which we noted as a nice touch of sentimentality; of growing up. The school had changed slightly, with new additions and expansions, but it was still very much as I remember it, and I remember it fondly.

We had been discussing my voting ‘technique’, and while Dad was careful to never tell me who to vote for, I got a few pointers on policies and other important things like that which were very helpful. Also, I was briefed (ahem) on the intricacies of the preferential voting system. Perhaps not necessary, but interesting all the same.

We went into the Hall, numbered the little boxes exactly as we saw fit, sent our ballots off, and I made a mental note that this was my opinion being valued. Often when thinking about how I would vote, I said to myself that, really, my one vote out of 13 million wasn’t going to count for a whole lot. But, that’s entirely not the point. This is an individuals opportunity to have their say and be counted. Voting with the mindset that your contribution is important and valued is the point.

The actual voting was over quickly, but I was happy to stand for a minute after putting my ballot papers in the boxes. There were people rushing past, just wanting to get the process over with, but I’m happy to say that on Saturday I recognised that I had a right, to exercise responsibly, to cherish. And that’s what I did.".

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Oz Election - from the outside.

Found this interesting snip in 'The Australian';
"...Rowan Callick, watched the election with Chinese officials, and their amazement at what happened on Saturday night is revealing. As Callick reported yesterday, Chinese diplomats were agog at the very idea of a government being turfed out overnight and were fascinated at the civility of the leaders. They were amazed that outgoing prime minister Mr Howard had the dignity to address the people in the face of such a crushing defeat and at the generosity of Kevin Rudd's acceptance speech. Whatever their political views, all Australians should be proud of the exemplary way in which the elections were conducted. Indeed, watching the controlled chaos caused by 13 million random acts of democracy, seeing senior ministers put out of a job and newcomers triumph, resonates deeply with the Australian psyche. But it is more than that. It ensures that passing legislation, whatever its merits, is not enough. Governments must be able to take voters along with them. Even a government such as Mr Howard's, in the rare position of holding a majority in both houses of parliament, did not have unfettered power. In the end it was answerable at the ballot box, where judgment was merciless..."
Nor was this the only interest shown, now or in the past. More here for election tragics.
[ 'Political Compass' -worth visiting]

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Australia (and a coupla 'Ordinary Australians') vote.

As some may have noticed, I've been off line for about 2 weeks. We have been moving things around in our house, and one result was I only just got internet access back.

It's election day here in Oz. Our family voted this morning, and significantly, Daughter voted for her first time, having turned 18 less than 2 weeks ago (but you can register on the electoral roll at 17 to vote once turning 18).

It's just gone 5:30 here. Polls close at 6PM. Things happen quickly after 6. The Electoral Commission staff at each booth (polling station) close the doors, shutting in themselves and the Scrutineers - (a representative for each candidate in that seat who helps ensure the process is proper and above board) - in and the first, quick count is done by them, and phoned to the AEC, and by the Scrutineers to the candidates offices. (The first figures are known by 6:20 usually). (I used to Scrutineer).

Some thoughts;
. Labor/Rudd has been consistently ahead in the polls all year.

.It is the result in the 20 or so 'Marginals' which truly count - and will decide the election outcome.

.There is apparently a late surge towards Howard and the coalition (Lib/Nat).

My call? A Labor win.
I will update later tonight.

Update 25 November 2007: (These jotted down as we watched the coverage)
My promised update (though a little late - we had 'family stuff' to do).

.6:00PM Polls close in NSW and Vic (still 1 hr to go in Qld, as they aren't on Daylight Saving).

.6:05PM 'The Australian' newspaper exit polls suggest voting 53% labor to 47% coalition on 2PP (2 party-preferred) basis (we have preferential voting here in Australi - not first past the post).

.6:07PM Exit polls suggest PM Howard is in danger of losing his own seat of Bennelong.

.6:35PM First figures in from small booths - 15 of vote counted. exit polls showing 7% swing to labor - landslide material!

.6:55PM Former PM Hawke says "this feels like his 1983 win" Lib MP/Minister Joe Hockey says this is " end of the Democrats".

.7:12PM Lindsay showing 10% swing to labor. Almst certainly a loss for the libs.

.7:23PM Eden-Monaro 53/47% on 2PP "strong swing to labor in key seats".

.7:46PM "5% swing to labor in Qld. Ch7 computer predicts 76/72 seat split in House of reps (ie a labor win).

.8:00PM Polls close in WA (3 hrs behind eastcoast Melb/Syd).

.8:25PM Mark Kelly claims Eden-Monaro for labor - 1st seat claimed!

.8:30PM Julia Gillard says labor can form government.

.8:40PM Jeff Kennet says it looks like John Howard has lost the election and lost his seat.

.8:44PM "Queensland really delivering for labor"

.8:51PM Ch7 commentator Mark Riley calls it - labor victory. 6.5% swing nationally to labor.

.9:06PM First figures from WA. Ch7 election computer calls labor victory.

.10:05PM Howard phones Rudd to concede.

.10:36PM Howard arrives at Wentworth hotel in Sydney and gives speech conceding defeat (quite dignified and gracious).

.10:50PM "The Howard era has ended".

.11:05PM Rudd delivers victory speech at Suncorp stadium in Brisbane.

(All this scrawled down on the back of an envelope as we watched the tally unfold).

Why did they lose? In my opinion; WorkChoices (Industrial Relations legislation), and that the electorate has a better memory that some think - eg "who do you trust to keep interest rates low", Also, alienating 1.5 million voters who happen to also be gun-owners in 1996 didn't help, eventually.

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