Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

General Debate 21 December 2014

December 21st, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

A nation cries again

December 20th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The deaths of eight children – the youngest just 18 months old, the oldest 15 – in their Cairns home yesterday have shocked the Australian nation still reeling from the deadly Sydney siege.

The 34-year-old mother of at least seven of the children was in a stable condition in hospital last night with multiple stab wounds.

Police said they had no formal suspects. They would be interviewing anyone who might have had contact with the family recently. “Everybody who’s had any involvement at all in the past two or three days is a person of interest,” said the Cairns regional crime co-ordinator, Detective Inspector Bruno Asnicar.

The injured woman’s cousin, Lisa Thaiday, said another sibling, a 20-year-old man, arrived home to find his brothers and sisters dead in the Murray St house in the Housing Commission suburb of Manoora.

He was now being comforted by other family members.

At times, it seems there is no limit to the depravity of man. So very very sad.


General Debate 20 December 2014

December 20th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

Land transport funding

December 19th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Government has released its 2015 government policy statement on land transport. It covers the $3.4b annual spend on land transport.

The total budgeted (using mid points of bands) for the next three years for different activities is:

  1. State highway improvements $3,750 million
  2. State highway maintenance $1,581 million
  3. Local road maintenance $1,485 million
  4. Public transport $1,040 million
  5. Road policing $915 million
  6. Local road improvements $594 million
  7. Regional improvements $225 million
  8. Investment management $171 million
  9. Road safety promotion $103 million
  10. Walking/Cycling improvements $75 million

Looks pretty well balanced. I wouldn’t mind seeing less on road policing and more on road maintenance and improvements!


E-cigarettes more effective than nicotine patches

December 19th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Electronic cigarettes are more effective at helping smokers to quit tobacco when they contain nicotine, a review of studies has found.

The review by the international Cochrane Collaboration includes two trials in which smokers were randomised to groups using different kinds of electronic cigarettes or quit-smoking therapy. One of these trials was based at Auckland University, the other in Italy.

An e-cigarette is a battery-powered device which, when the user takes a drag, produces a vapour. They can be run with or without nicotine.

Dr Chris Bullen, an author of the Cochrane review and a researcher on the Auckland University trial, which followed participants for six months, said the trial found 7.3 per cent of those using e-cigarettes containing nicotine had quit tobacco. The quit rate was 5.8 per cent in the nicotine patches group and 4.1 per cent among those using non-nicotine e-cigarettes.

If your aim is to reduce smoking rates, then you should support e-cigarettes.

Also of interest:

New Zealand researchers have shown that a low-cost, Soviet-era quit-smoking pill is more effective than nicotine-replacement therapy.

Forty per cent of smokers who took the cytisine pills had been “continuously abstinent” in the month after their nominated quit day, significantly more than the 31 per cent on NRT.

Sounds very promising. Helping those who want to quit, to quit, is a good thing.


General Debate 19 December 2014

December 19th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

General Debate 18 December 2014

December 18th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

Majority of Americans think CIA harsh interrogation methods justified

December 17th, 2014 at 2:28 pm by Lindsay Addie

A Washington Post-ABC News poll asking Americans about the Senate report in CIA interrogation methods post 9/11 has some revealing conclusions.

NB: I’ve paraphrased some of the questions for reasons of brevity.

When asked if they thought the report was fair?
Fair: 36% – Unfair 47%

Did the CIA intentionally or not mislead the White House?
Intentionally mislead: 54% – Did not mislead: 33%

Was the CIA treatment of suspected terrorists torture?
Yes: 49% – No: 38%

Did the CIA’s methods produce important information?
Yes: 53% – No: 31%

Which of these statements comes closer to your own opinion: (It was wrong to release this report because it may raise the risk of terrorism by increasing anti-American sentiment) OR (It was right to release this report in order to expose what happened and prevent it in the future)?
Yes: 52% – No: 43%

Do you think there should or should not be criminal charges filed against officials who were responsible for the CIA interrogation activities?
Should: 34% – Should not: 57%

All in all, do you think the CIA treatment of suspected terrorists was justified or unjustified?
Justified: 59% – Unjustified 31%

Looking ahead, do you feel that torture of suspected terrorists can often be justified, sometimes justified, rarely justified or never justified?
Often or sometimes justified: 58% – Rarely or never justified: 39%

So a majority of Americans according to the poll are happy to see some kind of rough treatment meted out to terrorist suspects. Even though they think the CIA lied to the White House. Also of particular interest is the reaction of voters across the political spectrum. This is covered here. The chart is too large to reproduce here but it shows that across many demographics except the liberal Democrats there it is accepted that use of torture in some shape or form is justified. That includes moderate/conservative Democrats.

With the events in Australia and Pakistan in recent days there is a greater opposition than ever to terrorist attacks. It is too soon to accurately assess how these events will frame the debate on terrorism and how terrorists should be treated in captivity. Has what is morally acceptable in dealing with terrorism changed especially after the Taliban slaughtered 130+ innocent children? I think it probably has.


General Debate 17 December 2014

December 17th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

Cosby count now at 24

December 17th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

This Herald story lists the now 24 women who have come forward to accuse Bill Cosby of (generally) drugging and raping them.

When that many accusations are made, I have no doubt of the veracity.

What gets me wondering is how many more victims are there? If 24 have come forward, there must be many more who have not.

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Taliban massacre children at Pakistan School

December 16th, 2014 at 11:14 pm by Lindsay Addie

The BBC reports on this very disturbing incident.

At least 100 people, 80 of them children, have been killed in a Taliban assault on an army-run school in Peshawar, Pakistani officials say.

Five or six militants wearing security uniforms entered the school, officials said. Gunfire and explosions were heard as security forces surrounded the area.

The army says most of the school’s 500 students have been evacuated. It is not clear how many are being held hostage.

A Taliban spokesman says the assault is in response to army operations.

Hundreds of Taliban fighters are thought to have died in a recent military offensive in North Waziristan and the nearby Khyber area.

A school worker and a student interviewed by the local Geo TV station said the attackers had entered the Army Public School’s auditorium, where a military team was conducting first-aid training for students.

Live updates are here.

What an evil bunch the Taliban really are.

UPDATE: The BBC are reporting the death toll is now 141 of which 132 are children


General Debate 16 December 2014

December 16th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

General Debate 15 December 2014

December 15th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

General Debate 14 December 2014

December 14th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

General Debate 13 December 2014

December 13th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

Greenpeace scores an own goal

December 12th, 2014 at 9:04 am by Lindsay Addie

Greenpeace has incurred the wrath of the Peruvian authorities by unfurling a banner on the Nazca Lines which is designated a world heritage site by UNESCO.

The BBC explains.

Activists from the organisation placed a banner next to a figure of a hummingbird, carved more than 1,500 years ago. They were hoping to increase pressure on UN negotiators currently meeting in Lima. The Peruvian government said it would prosecute the activists who took part.

So what is Greenpeace’s justification for this stupid act?

“With our message from the Nazca lines, we expect politicians to understand the legacy we need to leave for future generations,” said one of the activists, Mauro Fernandez, on a video produced by the organisation.

That all sounds rather self righteous. The Peruvians aren’t amused.

They say the green group entered a strictly prohibited area and left footprints. The government is asking for the identities of those involved and threatening prosecution and six years in prison for the offenders.

“It’s a true slap in the face at everything Peruvians consider sacred,” Deputy Culture Minister Luis Jaime Castillo said, speaking to news agencies.

Greenpeace has apologised.

A statement released by the group said: “Without reservation Greenpeace apologises to the people of Peru for the offence caused… We are deeply sorry for this. “We fully understand that this looks bad. Rather than relay an urgent message of hope and possibility to the leaders gathering at the Lima UN climate talks, we came across as careless and crass.

Despite the apology hopefully the culprits will be prosecuted.

UPDATE: Here’s a photo of the banner.


Photo: Associated Press


General Debate 12 December 2014

December 12th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

General Debate 11 December 2014

December 11th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

General Debate 10 December 2014

December 10th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

General Debate 9 December 2014

December 9th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

General Debate 8 December 2014

December 8th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

Stephen Hawking and his new communication system

December 7th, 2014 at 10:50 am by Lindsay Addie


I was going to post about Barack Obama and Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) but that will be next week sometime. I instead decided to get right away from US politics and post about one of my other interests, one of which is the positive uses of high technology in the modern world.

Intel Corporation has been working with Professor Stephen Hawking for nearly 20 years.  As is well known Hawking has a motor neuron (MND) related disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis(ALS). His level of paralysis is now very advanced. Intel and Professor Hawking have redeveloped the system to enable him to communicate.

The Communication System and Professor Hawking

The communications system has become outdated so Intel have been working with the Hawking to facilitate easier communication for him.

Similar to the parts of an engine interacting smoothly to run a car, the Intel-created software user interface enables existing and new technologies to efficiently work with each other. The result: Hawking’s typing speed is twice as fast, and there is a 10x improvement in common tasks, such as easier, more accurate and faster browsing, editing, managing and navigating the Web, emails and documents; opening a new document; and saving, editing and switching between tasks.

His existing cheek sensor is detected by an infrared switch mounted to his glasses and helps him select a character on the computer. Integrating software from British language technology company SwiftKey* has greatly improved the system’s ability to learn from Hawking to predict his next characters and words so he only has to type less than 20 percent of all characters.

This information is sent to his existing speech synthesizer so he can communicate to others through his Lenovo* laptop running Microsoft Windows*. For example, to conduct a Web search, Hawking previously had to take arduous routes, such as exiting from his communication window, navigating a mouse to run the browser, navigating the mouse again to the search bar, and finally typing the search text. The new system automates all of these steps for a seamless and swift process.

This video explains how Intel keeps Stephen Hawking talking.

About the software

There are over 3 million sufferers of quadriplegia and MND worldwide. Hawking and Intel hope that this new system will inspire more research  into using technology.

The new toolkit created by Intel can be customized and changed to suit different users. The Intel-created system is a modern software interface for researchers and technologists to create customized solutions enabled by touch, eye blinks, eyebrow movements or other user inputs for communication.

With the platform being accessible and free, Intel and Hawking envision that research and technology communities – such as those focused on sensing, text prediction, context awareness and user interface design – will build upon and bring new and improved solutions to market.

Intel are a well heeled organisation and it’s great see them working at the cutting edge of R and D in an important area of technology development in this manner. There are many areas such as genetic research where there is much more work to be done.

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General Debate 7 December 2014

December 7th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

General Debate 6 December 2014

December 6th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

Another stupid experiment

December 5th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

In an experiment similar to that of Super Size Me, in which US filmmaker Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days, George Prior, a 50-year-old Los Angeles father of two has documented weight and health changes after introducing 10 cans of Coca-Cola a day into his diet. 

Super Size Me was a con. Spurlock ate 5,000 calories of food a day. Of course he out on weight. A less biased experiment saw someone eat McDonalds every day for three months, and lose weight – as they kept to 2,000 calories a day.

Drinking 10 cans of Coke a day is an extra 1400 calories a day, so every six to seven days you will put on a kg of weight. This is not because Coke is inherently bad. Just that you should not drink 10 cans of it a day.

I like Eggs Benedict. If I ate Eggs Benedict ten times a day, I’d get very unwell. If I have it once a week, it is fine.

There is no good or bad food. It is all about moderation and variety. But experiments like this are about demonising a company because they’re a large corporate.

Mr Prior used a combination of Facebook and YouTube entries to show the transformation that resulted in a 10.5 kilogram increase in his weight and a body fat increase from 9 to 16 per cent.

If you drank 3.5 litres of orange juice a day, you’d have an even bigger weight gain as there are more calories in orange juice than coke. Sure Coke has sugar (which is why I only drink Coke Zero or Diet Coke) but it is the extra calories that would have the main impact.


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