Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Currumbin Swell Festival 2016

Bad weather = good parking. Beach art 2016 from Gold Coast. First the oversized turtle and deck chairs:

Then my favourites, this one for the little story that went with it:

Patricia Hoffie & David Sawtell - "Kyoto Protocol Revenant"

These bikes worked as a windmill with 4 little passengers:
Village Bike - "Wind in the Wheelos"

A lot of work went into welding these chains into masks, they are smooth to touch:

Mike Van Dam - "Life is a Masquerade"
Scrap metal pigeons with the inflatable turtle in the background:

Dave Hickson - "Pigeons for Peace"
 My favourite, it makes you want to touch it (I did - it was pleasant):

Ben Carroll - "Nothing But Time"

Saturday, August 20, 2016

NTV Mir - 18 Aug 2016 - Another Lie

I've caught another lie of Russian TV yesterday in NTV's Mir news from 18.08.2016 transmitted by Australian SBS on 19.08.2016. 

In the segment about possible moving of atomic weapons from Turkey to Romania, around 4:45 mark, the station tells its viewers: 

"[...] experts remind that even during Cold War, in Romania, as in other Warsaw Pact countries, there were no Soviet nuclear weapons". 

There were.  

Prior to the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Union maintained large amounts of troops on Polish territory. These troops were equipped with nuclear weapons.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union altogether 3,000 Soviet nuclear weapons were withdrawn from Central Europe – 2,100 warheads for ground forces and 900 for the air force, among them SS-21, Scud and SS-23 missile warheads; nuclear artillery; and nuclear bombs. Moscow started the deployment of these weapons in the late 1960s. The majority of Soviet nuclear weapons were stationed in East Germany (16 sites) but there were nuclear weapons in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, as well.

Thursday, August 11, 2016


Another weekend trip thanks to Jetstar: this time to Cairns (pronounced like 'cans' - no 'i', no 'r').

First, the good. The location of the city and the approach to the airport are spectacular:

Cairns airport
The airport seen from the "blue arrow" walking track on Mt Whitfield.
The city seen from the "red arrow"
From the ground level - looking towards The Pier shopping centre.
The shoreline (The Esplanade) with playgrounds and sports facilities:
One of the playgrounds on Esplanade
Beach volleyball courts and the hospital on Esplanade
Art installation near the wharf
I think I saw these metal rocks at the Swell Festival in Gold Coast
The Tanks Arts Centre, the Botanical Gardens, the Rainforest Boardwalk, the Butterfly Garden, the Esplanade:
Near the entrance to the Tanks Arts Centre. The tanks were used during WW2 to store oil.
Art gallery in tank 4
Butterfly garden
Rainforest Boardwalk

There are a few historical buildings in Cairns.
RSL (Returned and Services League) club
Former Customs House, built in 1937, now a Cafe
The Boland Centre, built in 1913
Airport - top left, Tanks Arts Centre, Botanical Gardens and Mt Whitfield below.
The Rainforest Boardwalk to the right of Botanical Gardens.
Top: Esplanade and the wharfs on the right. 

Second, the bad.

Primarily the design of the city: it was designed for cars, not people. The streets are too wide, the sidewalks in the CBD too narrow. It is easy to park, it is hard to walk or ride a bicycle. Walk 150 meters, come to a red light, press a button, wait for a couple of minutes to cross the street, walk 150 meters, come to a red light... There are no shortcuts for pedestrians, no little parks, very few trees. There are a few historical buildings, but it is hard to spot and appreciate them in the sea of cars.

Also, the neglect and mishmash of buildings.

And the noise: of helicopters landing near one end of Esplanade and planes taking off near the other end, of cars at parts of the red and blue arrow walking tracks (Captain Hook Highway) and everywhere else in the city.

Trinity inlet at low tide provides an opportunity to see mudskippers, but doesn't look pretty.

Promenade or esplanade? Trying to confuse tourists?
Most graves in the city cemetery are neglected.
Too wide streets - same problem as in Mackay.
These streets were designed maybe 100 years ago,
and are wide enough for an avenue of an imperial capital.
Today Cairns is 52 km long north-south and has a population of 157 thousand people.
This street is in the centre of the city.
Neglected old houses.
This one looks abandoned, but there are others in not much better shape with people living in them.
Oh, and this is off Esplanade.
Former Telegraph Office barely visible because of cars.
The Central Hotel, built in 1909 - it would be nice if this was a pedestrian plaza, not a sea of asphalt. 

A Peace Park plaque that could use some loving care.

United Nations Manifesto 2000 in Peace Park on Esplanade
 - please maintain it, these are beautiful ideas worth promoting.

Mishmash of new and old off Esplanade
The first tank you see of the Tanks Arts Centre - I thought that was it until I found the other tanks.
No people, no business, concrete ugly sidewalk, and the street so wide, the other side barely fits in the camera.

In Mackay I saw a city beautification project in progress. In Cairns I saw nothing like that. From that short trip I got an impression that Cairns is primarily a base for reef and national park trips, and not a destination in itself.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Great Australian Census Fail of 2016

Yesterday was the online census night. The previous census night was 5 years ago and the census was a paper form. This year, the ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) wanted a representative of every Australian household (there are about 9 million) to log on and do a 30 minute census form. On a Tuesday night.

From my experience, Australians go to bed early during the week. Long commutes, full time work, and after school activities mean that the weekday evening lasts maybe a couple of hours. Most Australians live on the east coast, and on 9th August 2016, Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne had the same time. Adelaide was only 30 minutes off. Perth was 2 hours off, so let's say it does not count. Population of Western Australia is only about 2.5 million out of 24 million for the whole of Australia.

Excluding Western Australia, we had about 8 million people (2.6 people per household) trying to access a website, and do a 30 minute form, within a 2 hour window. The window could have been more likely only a 1 hour window - people tend to have similar routines.

To accomodate that traffic, I would design and test the system for the worst case scenario: 8 million submissions in about a 15 minute window. Using a 15 minute window gives us a theoretical throughput of 32 million applications per hour.

What load did the ABS plan for? 1 million applications per hour. Any wonder it failed?

Planning for traffic 32 times heavier than ABS did, might also give us some breathing room in case of DoS attacks (not much really in case of a serious one), although to fight them off I would turn before-hand to a specialist web hosting company that offers DDoS protection.

There is also the question of design. I would not go with server-heavy JSP:

I would design the website to mirror the paper form (with a smart phone friendly option): static html5 delivered by CDN with client-side validation of data, no server-side validation on submission either, just storing the document. Processing of forms would happen later, using internal servers, and could take hours or days - as much time as it needed.

15.08.2016 Update:
By a security specialist: Censusfail and the fog of war

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Siri porn query leads to a call from sex worker?

The weirdest thing happened today. I was looking for an address on my street, because I wanted to fix a delivery error of somebody's else letter. The address had my unit number, but wrong building or complex number. I asked Siri: "Show me 422 Pine Ridge Road". Siri understood that as "Show me porn", and replied, something like "I don't know how to respond to that".

A few minutes later I get a call with no caller ID. I answer, and a woman's voice starts telling me in a sweet voice "I have been waiting for you..." I disconnected. What was that? Did a sex worker or brothel (they are legal in Queensland) buy my Siri query? I never got a call like that one before, and the timing looked like it was no coincidence.

Apple, what are you doing with people's Siri conversations?

Sunday, July 3, 2016

How The Mind Works by Steven Pinker

A good book. Sometimes a bit too wordy. Sometimes a bit off topic. Nevertheless, very interesting. It's not just about the mind. It is about evolution, genes, neural networks, optics, and mathematics of music. It is about reverse-engineering us. Why we act the way we act. How our senses work. 
To understand sight, we have to look to optics and computer vision systems. To understand movement, we have to look to robotics. To understand sexual and familial feeling, we have to look to Mendelian genetics. To understand cooperation and conflict, we have to look to the mathematics of games and to economic modeling.
Reverse engineering is the key to understanding how we work. Take morning sickness for example. Why is it part of pregnancy? A biologist, Margie Profet assumed that if it is there, it must be beneficial in some way, and she found it: 

  1. Pregnancy sickness protects the developing baby from toxins: plant toxins in quantities that adults tolerate can cause birth defects
  2. Pregnancy sickness starts when the embryo is most vulnerable to teratogens (birth defect inducing chemicals)
  3. Pregnancy sickness ends when the embryo is past the critical stage of organ development and needs nutrients for further growth
  4. Women with more severe pregnancy sickness are less likely to miscarry
Natural selection started with a replicator. Itself not a product of natural selection, but of chemical and physical processes. Replicators compete for resources. Copying errors that improve chances of reproduction are preserved by pushing out organisms that don't reproduce as well.

Confucius said "A common man marvels at uncommon things; a wise man marvels at the commonplace."

Steve Pinker is looking at commonplace human acts and wonders how they work, how could a robot do them.

Two related, interesting texts:
DNA seen through the eyes of a coder
The math equation for universal AI

The latter one is especially important. It may be describing how our intelligence works.

New observations allow AIXI to improve its world model, which over time gets better and better. This is the learning component. [...] 
The goal of AIXI is to maximise its reward over its lifetime – that’s the planning part. [...] 
[...] every interaction cycle consists of observation, learning, prediction, planning, decision, action and reward, followed by the next cycle.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams

The full title includes: "Kind of the Story of My Life". Published in 2013.

Scott's recipe for happiness, condensed:
Healthy diet -> Energy -> Exercise -> More energy -> Learn new skills -> Flexible schedule

"Goals are for losers and systems are for winners"

Forcing yourself to do something, for example to eat right, or to exercise, takes a lot of willpower. The trick is to set up yourself and your environment, so the things that you want to achieve come without effort. How to do that? For eating: you could stack your fridge with healthy foods, use spices to make them taste great. For exercise: you need a routine - exercise must be done every day and must be pleasant. You should not overdo it the first day, and then be in pain for a few days.

I grew up in an environment that was setup for more healthy living:

  • The pantry with the best food (sweets, sausages) was locked. My snacks were carrots and apples.
  • I walked to school, shops, church. I took a train when going farther away.
  • I played with other kids in the streets, in a park, and on school grounds.