Max Barry: Machine Man

14 06 2009

You may think – given the title – that I consider Max Barry to be part robot.  But no.  Max is a wonderful Australian author that is, as far as I’m aware, totally human.  He’s currently writing a real-time serial story titled Machine Man and I’m really enjoying it.

This is a pretty cool concept.  Max is writing this story day-by-day and posting it straight to the web without publishers or anyone else getting in the way.  Like a blog but written by a talented author who’s committing to roughly a ‘page’ per day. 

The first 43 pages are free but then it’ll cost you US$6.95 to receive all the rest.  How many more pages are there?  No-one knows, not even Max, but I’m at page 63 now and there’s still a lot of legs left in the story (hehe, Machine Man readers will get the pun!).

More conventionally you could start by reading his books Company and Jennifer Government (I haven’t yet read Syrup but I’ll get to it).  Keep up the good stuff Max!


MythTV: The Hardware

14 06 2009

I’ve blogged about my MythTV setup before.  MythTV is the system I use that lets me watch and record TV the way I want to.  View the channel guide, click to record a show.  Pause and rewind live TV.  Remove ads from recorded shows.  Myth does all this and (much) more and the software responsible for all this magic is free

The hardware is mostly a vanilla computer.  There’s a good chance you have an old PC lying around that you could turn into a MythTV system.  I often get asked (hi Adrian!) about what hardware I use and, since I recently upgraded some of the components, I thought I’d discuss it here on the blog.

Here are the specs of my current system:

  • Core 2 Duo 1.86GHz
  • Gigabyte 965P motherboard
  • 8GB RAM
  • Four hard drives for a total of 1.6TB storage
  • 2x Leadtek WinFast 1000 DVB TV tuners

Now this is well in excess of what you need to run a MythTV backend (though you will need a bit of grunt if you’re using the same PC as the frontend) but I also use the same computer for a number of other purposes.  And the only components I’ve paid for is the RAM, power supply and tuner cards – I’ve spent about $300 total.  The other parts I’ve just scrounged for over the years.

If you were building you own system from scratch you could get away with much less.  The specs of my original system:

  • Athlon 1.2GHz Thunderbird
  • ASUS A7V133-C motherboard
  • 512MB RAM
  • Two hard drives for a total of 240GB storage

Which was cutting-edge in 2000.  Although it was working a little hard the two main reasons for upgrading were 1) noisy primary hard drive and 2) no expansion left on the motherboard.  The older motherboards didn’t have many onboard features and my ASUS was no exception.  I had PCI cards for sound, video, USB2, SATA, 10/100 ethernet and by the time I’d added my first tuner card there was no expansion left.  Modern motherboards with onboard everything are wonderful for a Myth installation.

Anyways, if you want to know more please just ask!

iPhone 3GS

9 06 2009

The Apple WWDC is over and there were many announcements that interested me. Snow Leopard for US$29, a new MacBook Pro 15", a reduction in price to the MacBook Air (about time) and significant performance improvements to Safari.

But – more importantly – I want an iPhone 3GS!

The iPhone has matured to the point where it now does just about everything I want and does it better than just about any other device.  The 3GS will be on my shopping list as soon as it hits Australia.

Read more about the WWDC at Engadget or MacWorld.


25 04 2009

[Update: Congrats to Talia!!]

At the risk of placing my masculinity in doubt…

I’ve really been enjoying So You Think You Can Dance this season!

I’ve always been surrounded by people who’ve been involved with dancing in some form.  My Dad danced in his youth, my sister spent her childhood in ballet, jazz or whatever classes.  Melissa has danced since she was this tall.  Since learning a bit of salsa I’ve even had some first-hand appreciation of the skill and dedication that dancing requires.  Anyways, for as long as I can remember I’ve enjoyed watching good dancers do their thing.

And the dancers on SYTYCD this season have been bloody good.  The top four are all very versatile dancers, able to whip out different style on demand.  Quite amazing when you consider they may go from contemporary to latin to hip hop all in one show.

While Talia is my pick to win – she’s just an extraordinary dancer – it could go to any of them.

Looking forward to Sunday’s finale.

For me, the highlight of last Sunday’s show, the Tango with Ben and Talia

Advanced Open Water Diver

22 04 2009

Last weekend Nicki, Tim, Dave and I (and new dive buddies James and Mark) went through the PADI Advanced Open Water Diver training.  We had all held the Open Water certification but the Advanced allows us to dive deeper – increasing our maximum depth from 18m to 30m – and hones many skills.  The training was really interesting and great fun!

An amazing photo of a pair of divers by arno gourdol from Flickr

Tim and Nicki had used the folks from Aquability for their Open Water cert and had been more than happy with them.  So when they organised the Advanced training we went with their recommendation.  Mark Ryan, assisted by his wife Vicki, took us for the training and I felt we struck gold; you couldn’t ask for a better instructor than Mark.  A highly experienced technical diver, Mark is not only knowledgeable but is patient, calm and blessed with oodles of common sense.  He also spins a gripping yarn!  Vicki too was a wonderful teacher and a lovely person to boot.

The course was run over both days of the weekend.  Saturday there were three dives at the Rye pier, all shallow (<5m) aimed at building fundamental skills.  We developed our ability to control buoyancy (and learnt that we should have no more weight than absolutely necessary), practiced underwater navigation skills (compass work, measuring distance, using natural markers) and did a ‘naturalist’ dive.  No, this doesn’t mean diving nude!  It was designed to focus on marine life and how to be responsible divers in the underwater environment.

We saw seahorses like this one at Rye pier.  Photo by Saspotato.

After a meal and beer or two at the Rye pub we all retired to the Rye Beach Hotel where we practically collapsed from exhaustion.  Three dives in a day is bloody tiring!

The next morning we woke up fresh to take on the ‘serious’ dives.  The first was highly anticipated – diving on the J4 submarine wreck just outside the heads.  The J4 was a WW1 British submarine that was given to the Australian Navy toward the end of it’s military life.  Our navy used it mostly as a training vessel before scuttling it where it now lies in 28m of water.  For all of us this was our first dive over 18m and we were pretty pumped.

Unfortunately, while wrestling with a vicious wetsuit, I hurt my back.  It wasn’t crippling but, carrying the 25-30 kg of gear, it was pretty painful.  Frankly I don’t think I could have done the dive without Dave really helping me out carrying the gear around.  Thanks mate!  Anyways, once in the water – almost weightless – it was fine and we quickly descended to find the well-kept wreck.  The conning tower was well preserved and you could look straight down into where the periscope used to be.  Visibility was a little poor (maybe 8m) and there was a fair bit of surge to fin against.  That, combined with it being our first deep-ish dive meant that we consumed more air than we hoped and our bottom time was shorter than we’d have liked.  Still, it was an awesome dive.  Some of us surfaced with very little air though!  10 bar on the gauge would feel uncomfortable I reckon!

Check out this video of some other group diving on the J4 to get a feel of what it was like; they had excellent conditions!

The next dive was our official ‘deep’ dive and we’d be descending down to 28m – allowing just enough wiggle room to ensure we didn’t go past the 30m limit (instant fail).  We were going to part of the Lonsdale Wall which is just inside the heads and renowned for it’s marine life.  This dive was more technical than our others with Mark and Vicki watching us closely to ensure we dove competently.  We quickly descended and performed a couple of exercises including a “narc” test.  You see, when you’re in deep water, typically below mid-20m, your thinking can become slower and concentration can be harder.  The effect is known as Nitrogen Narcosis and occurs because the ratio of oxygen to nitrogen in your bloodstream is affected in the deep water (O2 compresses more so you kinda get high on nitrogen).  Being ‘narced’ is not dangerous in its own right but it can slow you down and cause you to make mistakes which, when you’re under, can cause serious problems.  Anyway Mark whipped out his slate (effectively underwater paper) and wrote a math problem on it.  This was mine:

3 x your age

+ your age

I remember staring at it for a few seconds before I could absorb what I had read.  Then I struggled to remember my age.  Then I slowly worked out the math.  It was like I had cotton wool stuffed in my head!  It really made it obvious that you had to beware of the narcosis effect.

We swam around for awhile enjoying the marine life on the wall then began our ascent.  As a group we formed a pretty tight circle and controlled our ascent reasonably well.  You could tell the dive masters though; Mark and Vicki were practically motionless, conserving their energy and air, hovering effortlessly.  The rest of us were relatively flapping about as we fought to maintain neutral buoyancy.  We got the job done but we’ve got some way to becoming elegant in the water!

After we surfaced and debriefed (naturally over beer and munchies at the Rye pub) we were told we all passed and were fully fledged Advanced Open Water divers!

A big thanks to Tim & Nicki for organising the weekend and to Mark and Vicki for running such a smooth course.  Finally to Dave, mucho grazies mate for being an awesome dive buddy.  You can be my wingman anytime.  😉

Australia’s National Broadband Network

8 04 2009

KRudd’s big announcement recently was the new National Broadband Network.

Lot’s of interesting viewpoints emerging post-proposal. 

Here’s a grab-bag of my thoughts…

43B is a lot of money.  I’ve dug around a little and cannot find any significant explanation as to how they arrive at that figure.  As far as I can tell it’s a sound bite for KRudd to throw at the media.  "43 billion!  See.  It’s a big number so we must be serious!"

Is it coincidence that Japan recently media attention over their 160Mb broadband that is available right now?

Glad to see that the government is considering working around Telstra (by proposing fibre to the home instead of running it over existing infrastructure).  Their monopoly on our telecommunications network should be brought to an end.  Especially since most of their services are overpriced and poorly implemented, IMO.  If I were a Telstra exec I’d be nervous.  The proposal covers a lot of ground that I interpret as "how can we limit Telstra’s power".

I’ve never had confidence in any of our recent crop of communications ministers.  Richard Alston, Daryl Williams and Helen Coonan were all technically incompetent and did little, if anything, to improve the IT landscape.  Senator Coonan – while a polished and seemingly decent individual – also exhibits an apparently vague grasp of technical concepts.  So my confidence is low that the government can get this right.

BUT, if they do it could be great.  The promise is cheap, fast internet connectivity with a boost to local jobs in the process.  I’ve long wished that the government invested in local IT and this is exactly the kind of commitment I’ve been hoping to hear.

Let’s see if the government can deliver because KRudd is good at making promises but hasn’t really delivered as much as I had hoped.  Hopefully the NBN will be a success.

Decent ticket inspector

8 04 2009

Not usually my favourite people, the ticket inspector I bumped into on the train this morning was a legend.  He was super-polite.  Happily wished everyone a good morning, apologised for the inconvenience and then went about his job.  Gave most people a respectful "Hello, how are you doing sir/madam?" as he checked their tickets. 

When he found an offender he handled it discreetly lowering his voice so as not to make a scene nor embarrass the person.

Sure it helped that he was about 6’3" and built like a tank – no-one was going to argue with him however he handled the situation.  But kudos to him for doing his job politely and respectfully.