Monday, June 14, 2010

Catch Up To My Step Up.

So, I've left this place fallow for quite some time now. I've been writing for a friends project, it's called the Hyperbole Machine. But I have neglected the few people who read here and not there, so I'll be double posting the stuff I put up there [where appropriate] and try and keep this as my self indulgent space.

Here is my latest piece of works over at the HM.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Murdoch Qualms

Some times I forget exactly how pervasive the internet has become. Case in point: I've been contributing to a friends start up blog The HyperboleMachine, on it one of the contributers [a fellow murdoch student herself] had a bit of a rant about West Coat Blues and Roots in which she took both sunset events and Murodch to town for a few different reasons. You can read the post in question here. To Gerry's article you can see that I left a fairly scathing reply which focused exclusively on Murdoch and where I think it's been assing up. It went something like this...

Murdoch really really really need to stop trying to “capitalise on the new media opportunities” and “speaking to young adults on their level” and realise that they are a fucking university. I don’t want you on my god damn level, murdoch. I want you to be the shining beacon of everything I’m not, I want you to be the institution that chews me up and spits me out, if I’m lucky, with a degree that’s worth more than the paper it’s printed on. I want you to make me admire you, not suckle at the teat of whatever new ploy your young marketing staff has come up with this week.

If you want to capitalise on the “new media” I’ll let you in on a secret, you can’t make it work for you. The new media is us, it’s this, right now, what I’m doing here, what people are doing elsewhere. It’s said that markets are now conversations, and I’m under no illusion that a university is a market driven entity, but here’s the genius part about markets now being conversations, you can’t direct them. You can’t fool us, the new media, with gimmicks and shiny baubles. Sure, you might catch what vestigial features are left of the old school mentality, but the bright minds, the committed thinkers, the people you should be wanting to attract, all you are doing is leaving them with mud to throw, buckets and buckets of it.

Pick up your game, lead by example, stop pandering to the lowest common denominator. You are a higher education institution, start acting like it. *IF* you do, we the media, will start saying nice things about you again, but I won’t lie to you, it’s going to take a while

Now, the reason I started off by saying that the internet is pervasive is that a member of the marketing team at Murdoch, one of the same ones that chose me to be an endorsed blogger. The same ones who have given me cool free stuff like tickets to blues and roots. They emailed me because they had seen my comment on this other blog, one I have never linked to here, and asked me, very politely, if there was anything in particular I had issue with and that the team felt they were doing the best they could to give prospective students a window into uni life. So I thought I'd take an opportunity now to clear up what I meant in my criticisms.

My issue isn't with the marketing team at Murdoch, online or otherwise. In fact I have a fair amount of respect for them, both professionally [thanks to t.v. ad campaigns like the "I want to try" ad, which I can't find a video online of unfortunately] and individually [the online marketing team that I've had the most to do with actually seem to care about stable of bloggers and students they've got helping them out, something that is pretty hard to come by in the industry, believe you me]. No my issue with Murdoch is not with the marketing team, it is with the upper management directing them. For too long now Murdoch has become the last thing in the world is was ever envisioned being, a degree treadmill. This is especially hilarious as Murdoch isn't even a predominantly teaching university, it's a research uni, and of the two, research uni's make significantly less money.

Now, the upper management will go to the grave saying that it is for this reason that Murdoch, as an institution has had to make some of the hard decisions that it has over the last few years. I know this because I conducted an interview with one of the bigger mucky mucks about the executive's side of the story in last years pay dispute. He said that Murdoch is run extremely close to the line and that there is very little surplus money for things like paying teaching staff more. A very useful excuse to use when the financial operations of the uni are not transparent, meaning open for scrutiny. Now, I'm not an idiot, I am fully aware that a company should not reveal it's financial decision making process to it's stakeholders because stakeholders have NFI how to run a business. The only problem with this is that Murdoch is a Public University, and as such, not only does it in part belong to the staff and students who teach and attend it, it belongs to the community as well.

This is the crucial facet of the approach the Murdoch Executive has towards conducting itself which I feel is essentially flawed. Yes, Murdoch needs to be financially ship shape and able to support itself. This however does not mean maximizing profits and receiving the best return on your investment. Especially when part of that means selling false promises to prospective students. Your marketing campaigns are wonderful at invigorating people and stirring up their social motivations and desire to not be a part of the crowd, unfortunately I've studied here for three years and I am yet to see the innovative thinking and outside the box approaches that you sell.

At the end of this semester you will lose two of your best and brightest from the media department to Monash, a crushing loss for those of us in the media school. A friend of mine started uni as a mature age student this year and despite being a switched on self reliant young lass I have had to wade waist deep into the quagmire of bullshit that surrounds simple tasks like, enrolling, or, signing up for tutes, the administrative staff being unable to offer her the solutions to her problems because they were either over worked or had no real experience with the online systems. Murdoch has a policy of not allowing fliers or posters on columns of bush court or the poster pillar near the main car park [which funnily enough is called such because it's sole purpose in life is to act as a home for posters] which they claim it to keep the uni neat and nice looking... it's a university you morons, it's supposed to be covered in fliers. Couple this with the fact that students are not allowed to set up food vending stalls and tables outside of very strict guidelines for fear of unfair competition with the food hall, [us crazy students having the proclivity to partake in activities that provide services without generating profit] are just two of many examples of measures the executive has undertaken which, deliberately or not, leave the Murdoch student culture a malformed still-born year after year. The list of failing goes on and on, and while I would dearly enjoy being self indulgent and listing them all [it is a blog after all] I fear I'm already starting to lose your attention so I'll anchor all of these symptoms to the root disease.

Murdoch is being run as a entity with it's financial prospects as the huge and overwhelming priority, other benefits such as quality of education and staff conditions are externalities and considered as factors in an economic equation. I have an alternate view to propose, what if students, staff, and research where the combined goal, and financial sustainability merely a way to best maximize returns to that goal. As I said in my quoted comment from the other blog, markets are now conversations. We are reaching a point in social organization where anything BUT quality product [and your product in this case is a vibrant, healthy, and happy university] will get you nothing. You can still try and run the ship with the old school headspace, and that will most likely work right through to the end of your respective tenures, but what then? You will leave the next round of administrators with a university with no student life, dissatisfied and underpaid staff [if there are any good ones left at that point] and shitty research culture, and in this future, when a shiny media campaign has become irrelevant, how the fuck are you going to sell Murdoch to us then?

P.S. once more to the marketers at Murdoch, I really have no beef with you guys, you've always been super lovely to me, despite me being an arrogant douche bag, which is really rather nice of you. And like I said, I got the mad respect for you, having successfully polished a turd.

P.P.S. If you like what you've read here, quote it, link it, and spread it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nationalism. Or, How I learned to stop worrying and love my country.

I’m in Helsinki. I’ve been here for about 2 and a half months now, and I don’t miss Australia. You know those people who know the second verse to Advance Australia Fair [or hell, even all of the first verse for that matter] and who actually care about the medal tally or whether Mark Webber is doing good this season? Yeah, I’m not one of those people. In short, I don’t love my nation, I am neither patriot or nationalist. But this does not mean that I think either of these things are bad, or evil. Oscar Wilde may have said that patriotism is the virtue of the vicious, but I don’t think that’s a declaratively true statement [and besides, he was like, totally gay]

In the course of “education” I’ve had more than a passing interest in politics, and by politics I mean political science, you know Totalitarianism and Democracy, the role of ethnicity and god, that sort of thing. Nationalism is a prominent feature of almost any conversation about change within a nation, because time after time we can see that the quickest way to mobilise a people is to stoke the fires of their nation-love.

But why? The idea of the “nation” and by extension “national identity” are fairly new concepts, they’ve only been around for a few hundred years, and lets not forget that until about 150 years ago [give or take half a century depending on who you look at] small lineages for fairly inbred people controlled most of the world through empire rule. Yet stand in the deep south of the US or on the river foreshore on Australia day for that matter and utter the phrase “fuck this country” and you will attract some violence pretty quick.

How have we become so caught up in the idea of the national family that we will attack members of that “family” for criticizing it? And why, in Australia at least, does it seem to be a province of the young [younger than 30]. I will allow that in the Australia day scenario booze would play a large factor, but when Alan Jones whipped that merry band of savages into a frenzy over in sydney, most of them weren’t on the piss.

The answer, for here and elsewhere, seems to be anomie. Anomie is a cognitive dislocation, a kind of social disconnect that leaves an individual rudderless in a storm. Anomie can be born of many things but from what I have observed one of its principal causes in western society seems to be the rift between expectations and reality. We expect to be successful, we expect to be rich, we expect to be famous. I’m not saying everyone is deluded enough to think that one day they will be Paris [or even Perez] Hilton, but the fact remains that we are sold on the idea of moving into the class above us at some point in our lives. The realisation that this probably isn’t going to happen, that dairy section manager at the local supermarket is about the best that’s going to come your way*, results in an anger, a formless, unexplained dissatisfaction that an individual is not aware of and cannot solve.

It is into this spiritual and emotional hole that some of the “answers” float. These answers might be God, Drugs [In Australia Booze, Weed, Meth. In order of impact] Love, or as is pertinent to this article, Nationalism. It gives us comfort knowing that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. It makes us feel victorious when members of our family beat members of rival families in contests. And it makes us feel righteous when some of these other families behave in monstrous ways. We can say to ourselves, much as your actual family may have done when you were little, “I’m glad we don’t behave like that”. I am glad our women have the right to vote, our citizens don’t have their ethnicity on their passport/identity card, and our citizens are free to criticise. These features of our country are good features, but I am not proud.

I am not proud because the facets of my nation that should arise pride are not representations of my families elegance or intelligence. How many of these qualities that I hold so dear would still be around if left to the constantly shifting discretion of my “family” members, rather than enshrined into law? Our nationalism revolves around a schema of exclusion, that is, we feel good by comparing ourselves to others. This I feel, is a crucial mistake. If we look at ourselves critically we will see a population of commodity driven worker bees. We make a big song and dance about people coming and trying to get in on the good life that we’ve all works so very hard to build, but Australians haven’t worked hard to build anything, other than our own personal fortunes. We think that because we’ve contributed to the economy in some kind of thrice-removed abstract sense that it not only absolves us of further effort but entitles us to claim the whole nation for ourselves?

What about this, what about we actually live up to the slogans and the t-shirts. What if we actually, as a people rolled up our sleeves and gave a shit. We stopped trying to accrue our sad little piles of stuff on patches of sand where every house looks the same. I’m not saying that the everyone has to become some kind of social welfare zealot, that’s the true absurdity of the situation, all people would need to do is to look around themselves and see the mechanisms in our society that are already in place but could use another set of hands once a week.

Australia is already not half bad, I mean, given how useless it’s population is, it’s kind of surprisingly good. Imagine what it could be if everyone actually started caring. Imagine if our nationalism revolved not around “this is ours, not yours” but around “We’re working hard, you’re welcome to work beside us”.


*Note. I do not for a second think that being the dairy manager at the local supermarket is a degrading or “low” job. Two reasons, first of all because I don’t think it matters where a person works, you can always bring pride and sincerity to your job, and secondly, sometimes I really fucking need a man who knows his cheeses. KnowwhatI’msayin?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Uni Lessons

So, the good people in the Murdoch chancellery [aka. the kremlin] were all like "you should totally talk about stuff you know now which you would have liked to have known back before you started uni. I thought on this a bit and didn't really come up with a whole lot, so I asked some of my mates to think of some things as well.

As you guys may or may not be aware I'm on exchange in Helsinki at the moment, so I thought I'd record my suggestions with the city as a backdrop.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


So apparently all of our emmisions based power problems have been solved! Basically there is a company called Bloom which has created a fuel cell technology that uses combustible material, and a bunch of oxygen, to make power... sans emissions. Now that's a pretty tall claim [not as tall as the routine claims that people have broken the laws of thermodynamics] but no small accomplishment none the less, assuming they've actually done it that is.

If legit, this tech will address one of the biggest hurdles left to clear in order for our societies to transition to emissionless communities, base load. The idea between base load is this, throughout the day, in a given cities power network, demand for electricity with fluctuate throughout the day. In Perth for example [and most of the rest of Australia] our peak usage tends to be in the afternoon in summer, when people come home, turn on the computers, tv, electric ovens, and most importantly of all, and air conditioners [one of the most inefficient technologies around], where as in the early hours of the morning, when all the lights and appliances are off, the demand is significantly lower. Base load is the amount that a power company must supply to a customer, on the fly, so that things don't go dark.

The upshot of this is that most of the large scale clean production systems we've got at the moment [read: wind and solar] are simply fantastic as long as it's not a windless night. The way that our societies are organised, if the power just suddenly goes away it's more than merely inconvenient, it can have disastrous effects. On this point a lot of the hippies will cry out about how our behavioral patterns are the variables that need to change, and then everything will be honkey dorey. While I agree that our society could be a lot more engaged in the cause and effect involved in every day behavior [people who keep their houses at anything below 27 really shit me off] unless the hippies have figured out a way to mobilize a whole society into drastic behavioral change, we're going to have to go about it in a different way, and that means base load.

This is where the Bloom energy servers come in. The company spokesmonkey purportedly hopes that in 10 years homes will be able to buy their own fridge sized bloom box for about 3 grand USD. Supplying energy from anything that's combustible [like say, house biowaste and sewage]. 10 years is a long way away though, and if it's available in 10, that means that large scale adoption wont be in for another 10-15 so we're looking at somewhere in the 30's before the tide actually reverses direction. Which, by almost all accounts, is a probably a wee bit late. So what options do we have in the mean time to reduce our reliance on emission based based load generation? Well, we've got a few options.

Augmentation. This means pretty much what it sounds like, and to a certain extent, is starting to be rolled out at the moment. This is things like the traditional wind turbines and Photovoltaic solar panels. These are fairly easy to integrate into the existing power grid simply working the opposite to what happens when you turn on a blender. Instead of the system registering that a tiny bit more power needs to be supplied, it registers that a little less does. You've also got solar-thermal, which simply heats the water used in the power stations [which are normally just steam engines, essentially] which then has to be heated up less by the coal or gas or whatever, meaning less emissions. "But Ben, why have we not already started augmenting our grids?" I hear you ponder. Good question. One reason for the lack of take up of wind generation has actually been the green movement, believe it or not. There has been many a bearded man and dreadlocked lady the world over that have stopped wind turbines sullying their rolling mist laden vista's [personally I think wind turbines are very pretty and kind of hypnotic, like zamboni machines.] As for the rest, it's expensive, and we live in a society where the "benefit" in cost benefit analysis needs to also be measured in dollars. Social benefits having notoriously low dollar values.

Nuclear. I just heard the collective gasp of every one of my enviro mates, but hear me out. Nuclear reactors, as we are familiar with them, are a joke. It takes more money to refine and transport the fuel for them than they actually produce, and in terms of how long they need to run to produce the amount of power used to build them [a standard metric one can use when comparing power generation methods] we're looking at a time scale of around a decade; wind turbines are about 2 years.


There is a new kind of reactor that has been developed. It's called a pebble bed reactor, and it addresses the bulk of the issues that are raised with conventional nuclear reactors. The basic principle behind the difference between the two kinds of reactors [there's actually about six kinds, but I'll try and keep this simple] is that in conventional reactors all of the safety measures and technology is in an effort to stop the nuclear reaction from running away and causing a melt down [most of the handful of reactor accidents or near accidents have been caused by a broken water pump, or cracked pipe, or something else that normally stops the nuclear reaction from melting through the floor]. Pebble bed reactors are exactly the opposite, all of the systems are in place to ensure that the nuclear reaction is maintained, so should one [or all] of the systems break, the nuclear fission stops, and the plant [and one would presume everything it's hooked up to] goes dark. The material used to power these plants are the "pebbles" mentioned in it's name. They are graphite balls about the size of tennis balls with particles of fuel material [like Uranium] in it. The balls get stacked together and their proximity [in really large numbers] to one another creates the nuclear fission. Because the balls are immensely less potent they are passively safe, meaning you can be near them without you body melting, which also means they are much less of a headache to move around the place. Since they don't need to be cooled down with fluid the plants don't produce anywhere near the amount of waste that conventional ones do.

But all of this is a moot point, because I said the word Uranium, which is enough of make any argument to the left completely moot. I give mad props to the green movement for bringing all these issues to the public's attention over the last 30 years, but man it'd be really cool if they could get out of their own way for a while so we can actually get some stuff done.

So we come back to these Bloom energy servers. The basic principle behind them is a technology called solid state fuel cells. I had not heard of this method of power generation before now, and I'm not sure I can simplify it adequately [not helped by the fact that bloom is being very hush hush about how they work] but essentially, it seems to be like a kind of ceramic battery that takes a fuel, and turns it into electricity, with significantly less emissions. But here is the kicker, in the same way that an electric motor [which if spun by an external force] is also a generator, so to if you feed power into the bloom boxes [say from your house's solar panels or wind turbine] that power can be stored, like a giant battery. This is the truly significant implication of the Bloom Energy Server. Never before have we had a viable way to store enough power to keep things entertaining us into our social coma's when the wind and sun go away for a while.

We have possessed the tools to be a lot further along the road to sustainability than we currently are for quite a while now. The real crime is that when the stakes [and water levels] rise, the rich whiteys like my and most of you will all be fine. We have the money and resources to adapt to whatever comes our way [humans being far and away the most adaptable creatures] but all those poor uneducated schlebs... well, if any of you watched the film "chlidren of men" you'll know where we are heading.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


When times be slow, I serve up the finest finds in my slow traverse of the digital frontier.

lets start out with some light entertainment.

Via 4chan

So, something that I learned from reading Jurassic Park, and then later studying Biology at Uni, is that evolution is kind of a lot like life in general, everyone always struggling and inovating to stay in exactly the same situation. In biology this is called the Red Queen effect. The example used to explain it to me was giraffes and African thorn bushes. Now a few thousand generations ago, giraffes didn't have long necks and tongues, and the thorn bushes were low to the ground and thornless. To avoid getting eaten by every wandering herbivore the bushes grew up out of reach, so the giraffe developed it's long neck. The tree's were all like "awww hell no" so they developed some seriously bad ass thorns, to protect their leaves, to which the giraffes were like, "pfft please, I'll just evolve myself a bitchin' tongue."

Anyway, the thing that got me thinking about it all was this article over at engadget that was talking about how the UK cops [read: custodians of the most surveilled country in the world] caught a perp with an automated flying drone equipped with IR camera. How long do you suppose it will be before some nefarious people hack that drone the way they did with the Predators used by the US military, you now, the ones with missiles.

So it turns out that the anti-piracy peeps have shut down what would have to be one of the only law abiding music blogs around. Yet another savvy move sure to win you the hearts and minds of the disenfranchised market who already have no moral qualms about stealing your product.

A very very cool article about a middle class family that sold their home, bought a smaller cheaper one, and donated the rest of the money to charity. Maybe there is hope for a post-consumer culture. Now, when's the iPad come out?

Speaking of radical fiscal moves, read this article about a rogue economist in New Mexico and his ideas. He's my kind of crazy.

On the topic of social activism, feel like helping people be private on the internet? You should run TOR. It's a kind of organic proxy server network that will help hide people from anyone trying to find them. Such as Iranian bloggers speaking out against their government, for example.

I have to go through Heathrow on my way back home, and will have to use the full body scanners.
Well, I feel safer already. Via Boing Boing

So, this could revolutionise the world. I like it when that happens.

It's not often you have access to genuine emotions here on the morally parched and forever cynical internet. But this photo essay about various peoples "one's that got away" bucks the trend. Both beautiful and sad, like so many things.

For all you cats who like sex, drugs, and combinations of the two. Here is an incredibly detailed feature article written in the 60's that details the sexual experiences of one woman havign sex on 7 of the most prominent drugs at the time. Now that's romance lit I can get into [Via Dangerous Minds

Finally, a new tradition, I'm going to end each post from now on with two pictures, one will be the album that I'm listening to at the moment, and the second will be some random pic chosen from my "interesting pictures" folder.

Amon Tobin - Foley Room

Friday, February 19, 2010


So, I'm catching the subway [aka, metro] here in Helsinki for the first time, and I get this brutal sense of deja vu. I'm looking around myself thinking 'have I dreamed this before, is there a movie or something that has scenes down here. And then it hits me, like a bright orange train.

I'm a muh-fuh-ken freestyler, yo.

For those of you too young to remember world and its pop culture way back in 2000 [A historical epoch where one had to maintain constant vigilance for Sharptooth]. Freestyler was a number one hit around the world by a band called Bomfunk MC's. Trust me when I say that if you had a TV or radio in the year 2000, you know this song. Trust me further when I say that at 13 and in possession of a fresh love of electronic music, [a worse combination than antibiotics and booze] these guys were the bomb.

I now present, for your nostalgic pleasure, a series of stills from the videoclip, with a corresponding photo I took this afternoon