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The end of Forestry in Tasmania

1/11/2005

This post is about people “saving time” doing the wrong things. The whole ‘life hacks’ area has become much more visible since the presentation by Danny O’Brien on 11 February 2004, visit this
who presented results of interviews with highly productive hackers (notes of the presentation taken by Cory Doctorow). There was a second presentation (notes by Cory again). This has spawned a number of sites treating more or less seriously; for example, Sildenafil
43 folders and Life Hacker.

Originally, the idea was very simple. These ‘high achievers’ all use mainly one application (and one file to keep EVERYTHING). This can be a combination of text file + editor, a private blog or wiki, etc. There are a few scripts using data from that file (if text) or RSS feed (if blog or wiki) to keep things synchronised. Now, how come that this concept has been expanded to cover such a diverse array of approaches?

First, different things work for different people—fair enough. However, the main problem seems to be that people have been developing all sorts of hacks for the wrong reasons. An example of the first approach is the Hipster PDA. Why bother with big electronic files if there is a simpler, low-tech approach (more about this later). Another example would be this article on dealing with email overload. The second approach, however, implies just a simple waste of time. Some examples:

  • Why do you need to worry about how to organise thousands of RSS feeds? That is clearly too much information, unless your job description is ‘to summarise thousands of feeds per day’.
  • The last few weeks there have been plenty of people worried about watching too much TV, so there are ‘life hacks’ to reduce time seating watching TV, movies, Tivo, etc. Just turn off the bloody box! Easy. There are some people clearly using too much disposable income for getting more ways to be distracted.
  • And anything iPod (in its many incarnations) related.

Let’s go back to simple and important problems and drop the fluff. Talking about fluff, I put in that category most online approaches to keep your life sane (e.g., Backpack). They imply constant connection to internet, which at least for now it is not possible, unless you are a completely urban-being with your rear permanently glued to a chair in front of a computer.

After a false start, health system
I am again putting some of my bookmarks in del.icio.us. I will probably add the tags (newish term for old-fashion keywords) to blog posts too.

Playing with cream

Paul Ford’s comments on Amish computing certainly hit a soft spot on me. I do miss Wordperfect 5.1! It was back to simpler times when using computers was certainly much more productive for me. Multitasking is a nice feature to have when strictly necessary, for sale but not all the time.

Next year I need to spend a fair amount of time writing lectures and I am certainly tempted to ‘going back to basics’. Most of the text that I need to prepare is not highly complex, generic
so I am thinking of writing at least the first drafts in text files with a simple markup. The most humanly readable markup is probably Markdown. Once the text is in Markdown it can be easily converted into html (e.g. using the Markdown dingus, and adding the ‘html’ and ‘body’ tags to get a complete page) and from there to other formats like LaTeX or MSWord. If I decide to go for a longer document probably LaTeX would be the way to go.

I have been playing with Cream, the VIM mode for dumb users like me (another distraction). I hope to slowly learn a few tricks at a time to become a more proficient VIM user, but that is not a real priority. It is a really nice editor mode!

I installed the vim-latex suite, which seems to add pretty good latex support to VIM/Cream, but it seems to override some of the Cream configurations (e.g., F9 is not code folfing/unfolding anymore). It seems to be a matter of getting used to that though. Anyway, I will not need it for the first version of the documents.

Making more changes to Tim’s site

We have had a few problems to have the PDF file of Tim’s book indexed by search engines. My theory is that engines aren’t very happy with Textpattern’s internal links (of type http://mysite.com/file_downloads/2) for a PDF file. Today we changed it to something more explicit like http://mysite.com/bookfiles/file.pdf. Actually, the story was not as simple as that. When first trying to use the new code we ran into a ‘missing page’ problem, which I traced back to a problem with the .htaccess file. I dropped a <IfModule mod_rewrite.c> condition from the file, leaving it like below and it just works.


RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -f [OR]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -d
RewriteRule ^(.+) - [PT,L]
RewriteRule ^(.*) index.php

A few years ago I obtained my Australian citizenship and simultaneously—at least in theory—I lost my Chilean one. Last September the Chilean congress approved law No 20050 (PDF version in Spanish) reforming 54 aspects of the constitution including:

  • Recovery of citizenship and accepting the principle of ‘ius sanguinis’ (acquisition of citizenship through descent—textually, bronchitis
    by right of blood). This would give my son access to Chilean citizenship.
  • Elimination of designated (non-elected) and lifetime senators.
  • Reduction of the presidential period from six to four years.
  • The president can now remove commanders in chief of the military and security forces, approved
    without requiring the consent of any external authorities.
  • The National Security Council (Consejo de Seguridad Nacional) has its role greatly reduced, Myocarditis
    minimising its interference in public affairs.

Finally, after fifteen years of recovering democracy (year and a half after a famous plebiscite), there are substantial changes to the political system eliminating several of the vestiges (but not all) of a dictatorial system.

I got you! This post is not about the end of forestry activity in Tasmania, viagra 60mg
but about the end of the Forestry in Tasmania web pages. After two years compiling materials and hand formatting HTML I have decided to stop updating the sub domain. The fact that I am leaving Tasmania at the end of the year—so I will not have time to keep up to date with what is going on—is just the straw that broke… you know.

I still need to decide what to do with the site; either I will leave it unchanged for posterity’s sake or pull the plug and delete the whole thing. Over these last two years I have received a fair amount of abuse and a few examples of praise for keeping the site and trying to present a ‘fair view’ of environmental discussion in Tasmania. However, ailment whatever tries to pass as debate is so low quality that it is easy to get disheartened with what one reads in the media.

Will I start a ‘forestry in New Zealand’ page? I doubt it; my role will be completely different and forestry activity over there is much less contentious. I rather spend some time learning Maori—I am quite keen about this—and practicing the haka with Orlando.

Filed in environment, forestry, tasmania, web No Comments

Some food and movies

18/10/2005

Another bombing, troche another massacre. More killing and maiming innocent people in the name of religion, politics, big ideas or small ones.

Flashback: twelve years of Catholic school listening about good and evil, some times as abstract concepts, some times personified in strange caricatures. Then in 1982 I came across The Rubaiyat, by Omar Khayyam and read:

Pen, tablet, heaven and hell I looked to see
Above the skies, from all eternity;
At last the master sage instructed me,
‘Pen, tablet, heaven and hell are all in thee’.

There are a few bad people amongst us, walking with hell inside them. As John Quiggin pointed out, this is a time for solidarity with Indonesian people.

Today I informed my employer that I am leaving at the end of the year. After some thinking I have decided to take an exciting and challenging offer from a drugs
University of Canterbury”>group of very good people.

After our 1998 expedition to India, treat
we gained a bit more appreciation of Indian food. Hobart has four or five Indian restaurants, with Annapurna being probably the best one. Anyway, we have not had Indian food for a while and we decided to order this time from that Tandoor and Curry House (101 Harrington Street, Hobart). The food used to be very good and this time we ordered simple and mild dishes: Lamb Korma and Palaak Paneer. However, it seems that they have changed chef or something like that; the food was pretty ordinary, the Palaak Paneer quite spicy and we both got heartburn. Not recommended anymore.

And the movies

Last weekend was—as any weekend—horrible on terms of TV programs, so after putting Orlando in bed we just started watching our copy of the twentieth anniversary edition of E.T. the extraterrestrial Twenty three year later the movie is still magical for me and, embarrasingly, I still get emotional when E.T. say goodbye.

On Sunday I decided to watch The girl in the café, which was broadcasted by ABC. The previews of the movie promised something a bit different and funny: it starts with a socially disfunctional public servant (Bill Nighy—for some obscure reason I have a weak spot for him) meeting a mysterious low-key girl (Kelly Macdonald) in a café, with the background of G8 summit negotiations. Unfortunately, as time passes the movie becomes a propaganda medium and very incredible. The movie promised much more than it delivered.

This reminded me of some (relatively recent) movies that I had really enjoyed, in no particular order:

I should probably prepare a list of older movies that I still like (coming one day, maybe soon).

Working with Tim and quote

We have almost finished adding content to Tim’s web site, including a PDF version of his book. We have implemented the whole site using Textpattern. Yes, this is a shameless plug to get Tim’s site indexed by search engines.

Finally, the quote of the week:

Rehab is for quitters—Unknown.

Filed in miscellanea, movies, quotes, tasmania, web 1 Comment

Afternoon in Zoodoo

6/09/2005

In a previous post I complained about Taronga Zoo. I thought that the ticket (AUD30) was quite expensive—as anything that you could buy inside the zoo—and that the place was not that great. After arriving back in Hobart we went to Zoodoo, medicine a wildlife park located in a farm near Richmond.

Marcela and Orlando at Zoodoo

The contrast could not be bigger: the ticket was AUD12, physician the variety of animals much smaller but it was so much more fun. The place could be defined as a ‘red neck zoo’; there is no attempt at mimicking natural conditions for most species but its main intention is to make easy the interaction between people and zoo animals and Orlando loved it.

If you have children they will really enjoy a visit to Zoodoo. There is no serious attempt at animal conservation (compared to a normal zoo) but it certainly reinforces the love for animals.

Filed in geocoded, orlando, tasmania, travel No Comments

Woodchips under threat

9/08/2005

While some parts of my work are quite exciting, this
other parts are, ambulance
say, uninspiring. I call the latter ‘compliance statistics’. This means that there is no much interest in the final result, nor there is a need for actually getting a specific value: the aim is ticking as many boxes as possible. Yes, we calculated the power to detect X. Yes, there is a protocol to assess Y. If one ticks enough boxes the result is a good evaluation, certification, or other types of not very useful tokens.

In just another example of serendipity, I visited Paul Graham’s site and just found him complaining about similar issues. He rants about the way work is organised and how work is evaluated:

…the reason most employees work fixed hours is that the company can’t measure their productivity.

If you could measure how much work people did, many companies wouldn’t need any fixed workday. You could just say: this is what you have to do. Do it whenever you like, wherever you like. If your work requires you to talk to other people in the company, then you may need to be here a certain amount. Otherwise we don’t care.

and

Per capita, large organizations accomplish very little. And yet all those people have to be on site at least eight hours a day. When so much time goes in one end and so little achievement comes out the other, something has to give. And meetings are the main mechanism for taking up the slack.

Meetings are like an opiate with a network effect. So is email, on a smaller scale. And in addition to the direct cost in time, there’s the cost in fragmentation—breaking people’s day up into bits too small to be useful.

I find very interesting that someone may question the time I spend working in this—particularly considering the important ramifications of this type of work—and prefers me spending my time ‘ticking boxes’. The problem comes at the time of evaluation, when time spent doing important things count very little when compared to all those little ticks people think are a measure of productivity.

I would say that, in many cases, tick-compliance is a cost without any useful return: people feel that they are measuring progress but in reality are making me take time off from producing real value and not letting me work as an amateur.

The Tasmanian forest industry has lost contracts to supply 400, diagnosis
000 tonnes of woodchips to Japanese paper companies. This will certainly have an effect on industry and Forestry Tasmania already announced that it will be offering voluntary redundancies. They will most likely be targeted at non-essential jobs (trimming the fat of the organisation) so those positions will not be filled again. It would not make any sense otherwise.

While the forest industry was quick to blame Greens and other conservationists, they also have a good proportion of blame. It is true that conservationists have been tackling the customers of Japanese paper companies, in many cases with misleading information. This pushed companies like Nippon Paper to start public consultation on the issue. However, it is the Tasmanian industry’s fault to have mostly ignored this situation and clearly of being out of touch with their customers. This campaign did not happen overnight, but it has been going on for years.

There are also indications that the cost of woodchips from Tassie is becoming not very competitive. There may be some elements of hard negotiations too, with Japanese customers playing the environmental card mostly for obtaining lower prices.

Whatever the full reasons, it is clear that we have some very interesting times ahead.

Filed in environment, forestry, tasmania No Comments

Rampant protectionism

6/07/2005

As expected, heart
it took only a few days to receive a reply to my letter to the paper defending Che Guevara’s legacy. It had the typical arguments: Cuba is a democracy, find Chávez is great, ask
Cuban doctors are saving the world, etc. Ah, and I should know my history. I replied the following:

Duncan Meerdig (Letters, June 17) defends the legacy of Ernesto Guevara. He states that I should know my history. I think it is funny when armchair revolutionaries discuss life (particularly my life) in such abstract terms.

I was born in Latin America, and lived in three of its countries for twenty nine years. I had the ‘luck’ of living under right wing and left wing tyrannies: despite of claimed ideological differences they are two sides of the same coin. My family suffered exile, I have friends who were tortured and killed: all in the name of ‘the revolution’. Dissent and independent thinking was crushed, university lecturers dismissed, imprisoned and some times killed (and Che is used as a symbol of a university, what an irony).

The actions of this ‘Latin American hero’, followers and imitators have costed millions of displaced lives, thousands of deaths and the destruction of the economies of many countries. These countries include Cuba under Castro and Venezuela under Chávez. Venezuela is an interesting case, where the proportion of people under the line of poverty has increased despite rising oil (its main export) prices.

Mr Meerdig’s democracy has managed to have the same leader for 46 years. Little surprise when people have elections with a single party to choose from. Fidel Castro is head of state, head of government, first secretary of the communist party, commander in chief of the armed forces and member of the National Assembly of People’s Power; the ultimate approach to democracy.

Guevara started the ‘tradition’ of imprisoning dissidents and other ‘deviants’, including homosexuals, practitioners of minor religions and rebels. This practice would be later extended by the Cuban government to HIV AIDS victims and mental health patients. Guevara signed thousands of execution orders while being in a position of power.

Luckily, people in Latin America now know better and in many countries we have a resurgence of democracy, despite of Che Guevara’s heroic influence.

I have been very quiet lately, cure
cialis mostly due to spending my web time updating some of the information contained in the wiki side of this site. In addition, last Saturday my laptop started playing tricks and by Monday I was greeted with the ominous signs of total hard drive failure. I mean missing os kernel, a grinding noise when trying to access the disk and total loss of the files.

The good thing is that a month ago I decided to spend AUD41 buying Handy Backup and I had daily backups of most of my things (excluding pictures and music, which are just too big) to the network. The good thing is that this software allows me to encrypt the backups so I can keep them in ‘public’ parts of the network without people having a look at my private documents.

At the end of the accident I only lost one day of changes to some documents and my web bookmarks (the latter hardly really valuable), but that was due to the network being down at the end of Friday. Unfortunately, we do not have whole machine images working, so I will need to wait until Thursday to get my laptop back and then probably spend a couple of days installing software, rather than restoring an image.

I will get back to writing here sooner than later.

I have written before about protectionism in Tasmania, cialis 40mg
but never at such a large scale. McDonalds had the chutzpa of choosing different sources of potatoes (New Zealand to be exact) and it is like they are a bunch of criminals.

Vegetable growers in Australia are saying that is unAustralian to eat foreign grown vegetables. They do not seem to realise the consequences of following that logic. Agricultural products is one of the main exports of Australia, remedy so if other countries decide to ban foreign produce, malady what is going to be the market for Australian products?

Some potato growers want people to boycott McDonalds, which then would sell less french fries, requiring less potatoes, reducing even more the need for Tasmanian farmers. Brilliant!

In addition, what are the consequences of people choosing to buy local—and more expensive—products over imports? People spend more of their income in food, leaving less for other things and affecting other industries. A clear explanation can be found in these posts on protectionism and offshoring by the Angry Economist.

I also find this quote from Making Economic Sense by Murray Rothbard quite a good explanation:

Myth 10: Imports from countries where labor is cheap cause unemployment in the United States.

One of the many problems with this doctrine is that it ignores the question: why are wages low in a foreign country and high in the United States? It starts with these wage rates as ultimate givens, and doesn’t pursue the question why they are what they are. Basically, they are high in the United States because labor productivity is high—because workers here are aided by large amounts of technologically advanced capital equipment. Wage rates are low in many foreign countries because capital equipment is small and technologically primitive. Unaided by much capital, worker productivity is far lower than in the United States. Wage rates in every country are determined by the productivity of the workers in that country. Hence, high wages in the United States are not a standing threat to American prosperity; they are the result of that prosperity.

But what of certain industries in the U.S. that complain loudly and chronically about the “unfair” competition of products from low-wage countries? Here, we must realize that wages in each country are interconnected from one industry and occupation and region to another. All workers compete with each other, and if wages in industry A are far lower than in other industries, workers—spearheaded by young workers starting their careers—would leave or refuse to enter industry A and move to other firms or industries where the wage rate is higher. [p. 29]

Wages in the complaining industries, then, are high because they have been bid high by all industries in the United States. If the steel or textile industries in the United States find it difficult to compete with their counterparts abroad, it is not because foreign firms are paying low wages, but because other American industries have bid up American wage rates to such a high level that steel and textile cannot afford to pay. In short, what’s really happening is that steel, textile, and other such firms are using labor inefficiently as compared to other American industries. Tariffs or import quotas to keep inefficient firms or industries in operation hurt everyone, in every country, who is not in that industry. They injure all American consumers by keeping up prices, keeping down quality and competition, and distorting production. A tariff or an import quota is equivalent to chopping up a railroad or destroying an airline for its point is to make international transportation artificially expensive.

Tariffs and import quotas also injure other, efficient American industries by tying up resources that would otherwise move to more efficient uses. And, in the long run, the tariffs and quotas, like any sort of monopoly privilege conferred by government, are no bonanza even for the firms being protected and subsidized. For, as we have seen in the cases of railroads and airlines, industries enjoying government monopoly (whether through tariffs or regulation) eventually become so inefficient that they lose money anyway, and can only call for more and more bailouts, for a perpetual expanding privileged shelter from free competition.

Filed in economics, miscellanea, tasmania No Comments

Extending the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement

16/05/2005

I am a big fan of Splus and R and I am often recommending these systems to colleagues. One of the many reasons I like the programs is their very active users’ communities. If one runs into trouble, physician there are always other users willing to help. Nevertheless, angina a while ago I started noticing a disturbing trend: one of the Splus/R language demigods was becoming increasingly arrogant—and rude—in his replies to fellow posters. What was even more surprising is that nobody seemed to care. As Eric Hoffer said:

Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.

I was uncomfortable, but the situation was below my ‘annoyance threshold’ until this reply to this post. I was so annoyed that submitted this message, which generated an interesting discussion that resulted in a ‘lawyer-style’ apology from the offender. The interesting thing is that—after my post—I received several personal emails from people that where equally uncomfortable with the situation, but felt uneasy challenging the ‘powers that be’. This seems to be yet another example of the issues faced by internet communities, where a few individuals can easily damage the quality of communication in a forum.

I think that after this experience we will go back to a much more respectful and welcoming email list, so people are not afraid of posting simple questions and being flamed in the process.

A few months ago Senator Bob Brown was complaining that nothing would happen with the government’s electoral promise on forests. Last Friday—Friday 13th, see spooky—John Howard (Australia’s Prime Minister) and Paul Lennon (Tasmanian Premier) signed the ‘Supplementary Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement’ in a medicine
5936, resuscitator
15281978%255E921,00.html” title=”link to The Mercury”>visit to the Styx Valley.

The extension to the RFA includes much more than just extra reserved land:

  • Extra 193,400 ha protected (148,400 ha of State Forests and 45,000 ha of voluntarily protected forests). This covers two of the most contentious areas: the Tarkine and the Styx Valley, plus a number of small areas. Out of the 148,400 ha there are 120,000 of old growth forests. The new areas are reserves and not national parks; thus, they are not available for forestry but the mining industry still can claim mining rights.
  • Clearing and conversion of native forests (both old growth and regeneration forests) to other land uses (plantations, farming, etc) on public land phased out by 2010. Same situation in private land by 2015.
  • Old-growth clearfelling will be reduced to 20 percent of total production (400 ha a year) by 2010, favouring partial harvesting methods. There will be no acceleration of harvest rate in old growth forest.
  • There will be an expansion of hardwood plantations of 16,000 ha (most likely in converted land) to allow meeting a legal commitment of 300,000 m3/year of sawlogs and reducing reliance on old-growth forests.
  • End of use of 1080 in States Forests (although this is not new) and incentives for private land owners to do the same.
  • There would be an extra 213 jobs in forestry (155 direct and 53 indirect).
  • There are other bits and pieces including ‘feel good’ programs of AUD 1 million for water quality assessments and AUD 2 millions for studying Tasmanian devils’s facial cancer. Not that they are not important, but they have not much to do with the rest of the RFA.

It is now clear that the delay of the announcement (from December to May) was due to intense negotiations to provide a much more comprehensive package. This extra coverage comes at a cost though; where the initial budget was AUD50 millions from the Federal Government, it increased to AUD250 millions (160 millions from the federal budget plus 90 millions from state government). There will be AUD 115 millions for intensive forest management and AUD 42 millions for the hardwood industry. This is still a small number compared to Labor’s promised AUD800 millions.

If the sign of a fair deal is that everybody is a little unhappy, we are in the presence of a good deal. The Greens and other conservationists can not stand it—the Greens call it forest torture—but nobody expected that they would like any solution to the problem, which is key to their political position in Australia. Farmers do not like the deal because it imposes restrictions on land clearing. Part of the forest industry does not like it because it reduces—and in some cases eliminate—access to to specific forest resources.

It is clear that with a reduced available forest area, there will be an intensification of silviculture of the remaining land, particularly in plantations.

Some sources:

Filed in environment, forestry, politics, tasmania No Comments

Misleading in Liverpool Street

8/02/2005

This post is an utterly miscellaneous brain dump:

  • Last week I got pharyngitis and am still taking antibiotics, side effects situation that I really dislike.
  • Yes, geriatrician I am a doctor in the real sense of the word, despite what the physician that prescribed antibiotics thinks.
  • Last Saturday I got one of the worst haircuts ever—at least that I can remember—at Just Cuts. Yes, it is my fault for first choosing to go to a such dubious place: avoid it if you can. Nevertheless, every time I passed outside Paul’s barber shop he was busy. Today I went to his place with my tail between my legs and beg him to have it fixed. We had a laugh, had it fixed and he made me promise not to repeat my sin.
  • Cooked a beautiful marinated octopus pasta last night. Looking forward to eat the left overs at lunch time.
  • Last Christmas I got a few vouchers from ‘Music without Frontiers’, one of the few music stores in Hobart where one can find something outside the ‘top 20′. I went back to my old listening habits, and got:
  • Andrew told me that last Saturday was Captain Beefheart’s birthday. I did not know who CB was so I will have to borrow some of his art.

It is hard for me to get interested in current mainstream music: no challenges, one can guess what is coming so easily that tends to be a big yawn. That’s all folks.

High productivity of matrix languages like Matlab and S+ or their Open Source siblings Scilab and R are a joy to use. I wrote programs in Matlab during my PhD and I can still go back to the code and perfectly understand what is going on there. Now I am writing a lot of S+ and R code where a few lines manage to perform complex operations.

A good programmer can certainly produce better performing (on terms of speed and memory requirements) program using a low(ish) level language like C, viagra 60mg
C++ or website
I am not such a good programmer and it would take me ages to do some of my work if I needed to write things using those languages. Most of the time execution speed and memory usage are not the limiting factors, and speed of development rules.

I am extremely happy now using R and playing with the idea to use it as a statistics server for a few small applications. Omega Hat seems to be a very valuable resource for all things ‘connecting R to other software’.

A long lived quicky

Around 2001 I wrote a ‘temporary quicky’ to compare new Eucalyptus samples to already identified haplotypes. I did that in a few lines of VBA in MS Excel, which was the software used as a repository for these haplotypes. At the time I suggested ‘this is a quick fix and it would be a good idea to develop a proper data base’, and suggested a structure allowing for user roles, web access, etc. I was told that ‘this is not a priority’ and ‘we are happy with the spreadsheet’.

Yesterday I was having lunch with the owner of this spreadsheet, who told me that a.- it is still being used after four years! and b.- they were having some problems because they changed a bit the structure for storing the haplotypes. I offered help to fix the problem but I was told that ‘one of my students will try to fix it, because the problem has to be something very simple’.

I thought that the comment was a bit dismissive and if it was so easy why haven’t they fixed it in over a month? Granted, the code is extremely simple but they do not have any programming experience whatsoever.

VBA is a fine scripting language, which allows people to write short and useful programs. However, I would question that in this case an Excel spreadsheet is the best option for storing molecular genetics information.

A better generic language

In general, scripting languages (like Matlab or R) feel like a better fit for me. Python, my all time favourite language, feels much more productive than any other language I have ever used. In addition, combining Python with the Numerical Python library produces an excellent all purpose/matrix programming language. This can be used for prototyping and—if one is happy with performance—transformed into a standalone program using a utility like py2exe.

Our telephone service for the last three years has been provided by Ecomtel (a small company), information pills
although the physical infrastructure belongs to Telstra (the largest telecommunications provider in Australia). Initially we were very happy with Ecomtel’s services, rx
they had low charges and their service seemed to be very responsive. The icing in the cake for me was their reliance on Open Source Software (e.g., prostate Linux), which made easier for them to be very competitive in price—particularly for international calls.

This year we logged an issue with Ecomtel, because our low speed of connection to internet (maximum of 14.4 Kbps, pathetic, isn’t it?). After some investigation, it was established that the problem was in the quality of our line—that belongs to Telstra, which happens to be a paired gain system rather than an individual copper line. We pointed out to Ecomtel that according to the TIO the minimum speed of connection to internet should be 19.2 Kbps:

The Internet Assistance Program was set up as a joint venture between Telstra Corporation and the Federal Government to ensure a minimum transmission speed of at least 19.2 kilobits per second to all users of its fixed network. Subsequently, it was decided that a minimum speed of 19.2 kilobits per second would become a condition of Telstra’s licence agreement. While this condition is not binding on other network carriers (where Telstra does not provide the underlying infrastructure), the TIO views this as an industry benchmark and expects that regardless of which network a customer is connected to, the standard telephone line provided should be capable of a minimum transmission speed of 19.2 kilobits per second.

The fact is that physically it is not possible to achieve 19.2 Kbps with a paired gain connection. Telstra and Ecomtel say that we should pay for a new telephone connection (cost AU$209) to change to a copper line. Our position is that i- we were never offered the option between types of line when connected in the first place and ii- the current line does not meet the condition for Telstra’s licence agreement anyway. By the way, the ‘new connection’ only involves unplugging our line from one connector and plugging it back in a connector sitting next to the original one.

We have been discussing the issue with Ecomtel for over a month, and they have not been very responsive during this time. We will now take this issue to the TIO and see if we can get a new connection without the extra cost. During this process, we changed from loyal (telling our friends to switch to Ecomtel) to dissatisfied (writing this post) customers. A real business lesson in how to alienate your customers.

Checking the server logs I have discovered that many people that arrive at my posts on calling VB from R are, dermatologist
in fact, looking for the reverse. I have never done any programming calling R from VB; however, while I was looking for COM clients for R I also found information on COM servers. OmegaHat lists RDCOMServer as a package that exports S (or R) objects as COM objects in Windows. It provides examples on using VB, Python and Perl to call R code.

Another option is Thomas Baier’s R(D)COM Server, which is provided with examples in the same languages used by RDCOM Server.

There is a lot of project information, site ideas, ambulance
and not really structured information that I find hard to store. As I work in projects with people overseas (with whom I have no direct contact in many cases), the idea of an easily up datable site, where to put my (and their) current brain dump is very appealing. I am playing with the idea of transforming my ASReml cookbook into a Wiki site that can be corrected and improved by other ASReml users.

There are plenty of Wikis to choose from, and I have been playing with PmWiki, a Wiki clone written in PHP. I would prefer a Wiki clone written in Python (so I can tinker with it), like Moin Moin, but I not seem to have the administration privileges to set it up properly in my web server.

Wikis are collaborative sites by definition, but I want to limit access to people really knowledgeable in ASReml, so I will need to password protect the site (to avoid annoying modifications by spammers).

Log to self: Trac is an interesting Wiki for project management (with a subversion back end). This could be a good choice for software projects.

Walking in Liverpool Street, decease Hobart, pregnancy
I was approached by a Wilderness Society (TWS) campaigner, who asked me if I wanted to help to keep Tasmania’s air and water clean and, ergo, protect the forests.

Of course I started questioning some of the information that she was giving me:
—‘But already forty percent of the forest is protected’, I said.
—‘No, only forty percent of the land it is’, she said.
—‘No, you are wrong in this’ and I started giving her some figures, but she kept repeating her mantra and that the Society has scientists that keep track of these figures.
—‘And what about poisoning with 1080 that causes cancer in people and the Tasmanian devils’, she insisted.
—‘May cause’, I corrected, ‘there is no proven link or any shred of evidence linking pesticides and Devil cancer’. Even further, ‘Forestry Tasmania will stop using 1080 (by law) in December this year’.
—‘We need to keep campaigning to put pressure on the government so forestry really stops using 1080…’

I kept asking questions and she kept pointing at a map in a plastic folder, saying that ‘we need to protect biodiversity, clean water, clean air and the future of our children’. Then I commented that a big chunk of what she was pointing at the map was already protected. And then she went on ‘we need to protect biodiversity, clean water, clean air and the future of our children’.

After struggling to show some knowledge of basic facts and statistics, she explained that she did not need to know the all the numbers and facts behind the problem. Her conviction of doing the right thing was enough, and other people from TWS could answer for her. That reminded me of religion lessons at school, when a priest told us what to reply in case we did not know what to say: ‘doctores tiene la iglesia que sabrán responderos mejor’. This can be loosely translated as ‘the church has doctors (sensu people that know the scriptures) that will be able to give you a better answer’. In summary: one does not need to think, but only to believe. A sad situation I would say.

She asked several times if I wanted to join with a contribution, and each time I said no. She then started saying that she could not continue talking with me, because she needed to convince other people to contribute (so I was a lost cause, I assume). She let me wondering, do campaigners work on commission?

By the way, I am not suggesting that the forest industry has a perfect record or anything similar. It is only that I find impossible to reason with people that regurgitate a mantra, without thinking or checking the most basic information freely available.

PS. 2004-02-08. Added the antepenultimate and last paragraphs. Incidentally, I do not know if this type of campaigners are volunteers or if they actually receive a payment. The comment about working on commission refers to her unwillingness to continue the discussion.

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Not much happening

18/01/2005

My previous post makes reference to a poem by Mauricio Redolés. It is difficult to explain the beauty of some of Mauricio’s writings, seek particularly when you hear him singing (it’s crap). It is hard to find his poems in the web, hemorrhoids so here there is one — I know, in Spanish, although I have tried to include as many links as possible in English — that I find particularly interesting. This is a transcription from a reading, so most probably the verses are a bit off.

Bello barrio (Mauricio Redolés 1987)

Descubrí un bello barrio en Santiago de Chile
Es un bello barrio en que los camaradas no han desaparecido aún y los bares son color anilina que puede leerse al revés igual.

Descubrí un bello barrio de luces antiguas y gente amable
Las mujeres son bellas ánimas aún más que una madre, atraviesan las calles en aeroplano.

Y hay avisos, y hay avisos, y hay avisos, y hay avisos antiguos envueltos en gasa y paños sencillos

Y el blues vive en la sangre y aún no ha llegado la hora de los asesinatos
Es más aún, la banda de asesinos todavía es tramitada en las fronteras del Polo Sur.

Descubrí un bello frágil barrio al suroeste de Santiago de Chile
Su belleza es tal que aún mi hermano tiene el rostro recompuesto antes de la fiebre verde y los fierrazos.

Es bello, porque parece ser Londres 1956 por Bethnal Green
O Buenos Aires 1950, con equipos de fútbol y barras de emigrantes
y Gato Barbieri es chico, con olor a chocolate y naranjas

Hay arreglos de guitarra imaginativos y tengo amores con una muchacha que es casi de este barrio.

Hay la alegría de esa utopía que nos negó este siglo

Ven a vivir esta fragilidad peligrosa de corromperse

Aquí nadie discrimina a los negros porque todos somos negros
Aquí nadie discrimina a los obreros porque todos somos obreros
Aquí nadie discrimina a las mujeres porque todos somos mujeres
Aquí nadie discrimina a los chicanos porque todos somos chicanos
Aquí nadie discrimina a los comunistas porque todos somos comunistas
Aquí nadie discrimina a los chilenos porque todos somos chilenos
Aquí nadie discrimina a los cabros chicos porque todos somos cabros chicos
Aquí nadie discrimina a los rockeros porque todos somos rockeros
Aquí nadie discrimina a los punkies porque todos somos punkies
Aquí nadie discrimina a los mapuches porque todos somos mapuches
Aquí nadie discrimina a los hindúes porque todos somos hindúes

Ven a vivir esta fragilidad peligrosa de corromperse

Bello barrio, bello barrio, bello barrio, bello barrio bello

En que los cines dan las películas del Guatón Ruiz
Y la música de Los Jaivas no ha sido destruida a hachazos

Bello barrio con b larga y a corta, en que el proyecto cultural no ha sido culeado,
ni tampoco nos borraron los murales
que anuncian la venida del afamado grupo chicano de rock Los Lobos
y la emigración de viejos chipriotas y hermanas negras traen la comida y la música que nadie les pisoteará
Porque acá nadie discrimina a los chipriotas porque todos somos chipriotas
Y en donde tú vas con tu sueño y la ternura viva en los labios
Porque acá nadie discrimina a los que van con su sueño y la ternura viva en los labios.

Bello barrio en que los dinamitados aún tienen los dedos pegados a las manos y el páncreas dentro de su cuerpo y van por ahí tranquilos
Más tranquilos que son esos

Barrio donde existen horas que después no fuerán necesarias
Barrio de lluvia y gotas como estufa y hay una sinceridad de panadería que me pone nostálgico y sureño
Y la guerra no está ni en las historietas del kiosco
Porque en esas historietas vienen sólo colores y gritos de gozo

Iba un hombre mitad pez y mitad hombre y todos lo quieren y le preguntan:
¿Cuál es tu nombre amigo?
Y él ríe con sus ojos anaranjados de pez

Barrio donde ese loco de Miraflores y Merced salió hace cincuenta siglos, la mañana en que el tiempo ajeno fue el tiempo

Ven a vivir esta fragilidad peligrosa de corromperse

Barrio con cuadernos de hojas verdes y gruesas
donde el lápiz conversa con el cuaderno al escribir y son amigos

Barrio donde Soledad Fariña pinta su primer libro
Barrio donde Téllez organiza un primer tucaneo

Descubrí un bello barrio en que el oxigeno es bello y puedo llorar cuando escribo

Descubrí un bello barrio donde nadie discrimina a los allanados porque todos nos hemos hallado

Ven a vivir esta fragilidad peligrosa de corromperse

Barrio donde los misterios son misterios bellos y entretenidos
Barrio donde las chimeneas echan oxígeno y la gente puede perder un paraguas, pero nadie le devuelve una metralleta, conchetumadre

Barrio en que en la tele aún sale el Perro Olivares y Cortázar y Arlen Siu y Víctor Jara y Roque Dalton y John Lennon. Están posibles con la posibilidad que vivieron

Barrio en donde los accidentes son accidentales

Acá el presente no ha acontecido, es más aún, las balas que desgarrarán los tiernos pezones de los desaparecidos aún son plomo en lejanas minas de un continente aún no descubierto

Ven a vivir esta fragilidad peligrosa de corromperse

En donde las librerías de viejos están llenas de obras que luego la memoria tendrá que someter a la fantasía
Barrio en donde los poetas aún dialogan con la muerte, de madrugada, bebiendo pisco y no se han enemistado con ella

Acá el futuro se vive en su pasado, noticias vulgares en radios vulgares

Ven a vivir esta fragilidad peligrosa de corromperse

Se llega por recorridos de micros inexistentes
Se llega por calles subterráneas
Ven a esta bella barriada a encender el ultimo fuego
amor

Bello Barrio certainly reminds me of Barrio Bellavista, where I used to live with my parents in Dardignac Street.

It seems that during summer time not much is happening on environmental issues in Tasmania. Plenty of people are on holidays and the news cover mostly regrettable natural disasters around the planet. Anyway, click
just a few things that will be—or are likely to be—happening in Tasmania during 2005:

  • 1080 will stop being used in State Forests in December 2005. Therefore, Forestry Tasmania will stop its use, in the same way it stopped using Atrazine in 1997.
  • Parliament will continue the discussion about repealing section 32A (112 KB, PDF file) of the Freedom of Information Act. Although Forestry Tasmania is subject to Freedom of Information law, it may request exemption under specific circumstances. FoI law still protects information considered ‘commercial in confidence’, including pricing.
  • The government should make available the results of public consultation on the projected pulp mill in Northern Tasmania.
  • Forestry Tasmania should make public the updated version of Alternatives to Clearfell Silviculture. They were supposed to be released around the time of the past Federal Elections. On hindsight it was good that the results were not released on time. The issue will still be political, but not more than necessary.

I doubt that there will be any real news before March.

PS. 2005-05-16. Additional reservation and other changes were announced in May.

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Additional land not reserved yet

29/12/2004

In an unsurprising appearance in the news a few days ago, doctor Senator Bob Brown said that nothing is going to happen with the re-elected government’s promise on Tasmanian forests, weight loss so he will not hold his breath about their conservation.

But what would happen if parts of the Tarkine were to be reserved? What would be the impact on Tasmania’s environmental debate if part of the Styx Valley became protected? I think that is highly unlikely that the whole areas — which go way above the 170,000 ha promised by the government — will be reserved. For once, it would probably break the RFA (Regional Forestry Agreement). On another front, it would be seen as too much a concession to the Greens.

However, if the heart of the Tarkine or the section of the Styx Valley that contains the tall trees (yes, a good part of the valley does not contain giant/tall trees) what would be the reaction of environmentalist organisations? They would probably claim that ‘the end is near’ and that ‘it is not enough’, despite of extending partial reservation to two icons of the Tasmanian environmental debate.

I may be wrong — and Bob Brown in the right path — and nothing will happen with this electoral promise. In fact, I normally do not trust politicians; however, in this case I think that the ‘John W. Howard’ reserve (mock name, of course) will be a reality pretty soon indeed.

PS. 2005-05-16. Additional reservation and other changes were announced in May. Bob was wrong.

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Freedom and legal action

20/12/2004

I received comments about this site from an old university friend who works in Latin America for a major environmentalist organisation. He had some compliments and many criticisms, food the latter including that ‘there is only a superficial varnish of conservation biology and you don’t touch political issues like overconsumption and rural poverty’. He is somewhat right, cystitis because — mostly due to lack of time — I have not treated with detail all those issues. I will start with poverty.

It is possible to claim that poverty is closely linked to many environmental problems. If one lives in poverty environmental problems tend not to be at the top in one’s list of worries. This probably is because this would imply long term planning, and one is in survival mode. A typical example of poverty and its interaction with the environment is that large part of natural forests deforestation — particularly in the Third World — it is due to harvesting for firewood by poor people. Another one is that reproduction rate (and therefore larger populations that exert more pressure on the environment) is higher in poorer societies.

Richer societies tend to develop a preoccupation for the natural environment — and can dedicate resources to improve it. An increase of living standards is often accompanied by a reduction of birth rate. Graphical representation between income and a series of ‘quality of life’ indicators can be found at Gapminder’s site. Environmental conditions and quality of life tend to improve when societies become richer. Then the questions are Why are some countries poor? and How do we get people out of poverty?

In The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else (you can read the introduction here), Hernando de Soto argues that developing countries have failed because most people have dead capital.

Even the poorest people save… but they hold these resources in defective forms: houses built on land whose ownership rights are not adequately recorded, unincorporated businesses with undefined liability, industries located where financiers and investors cannot see them. Because the rights to these possessions are not adequately documented, these assets cannot readily be turned into capital, cannot be traded outside of narrow local circles where people know and trust each other, cannot be used as collateral for a loan, and cannot be used as a share against an investment.

My old friend’s comments and the previous quote reminded me of some lectures on ‘rural development’ at university, where with another friend we questioned the approach proposed by the lecturer. ‘Weren’t we just perpetuating a subsistence level but not increasing living standards?’ ‘Wasn’t the lack of clear property rights (going back to old Spanish institutions like mayorazgo) one of the main causes of environmental degradation in Chile’s IV region?’

Rather than continuous handouts, poor countries need help on implementing reforms that transform all the wealth in their informal economies into capital. Doing this will certainly contribute to improve environmental conditions in the Third World. Going back to my university days: developing a drought-tolerant tree species for firewood is a nice thing to do, but will do very little on improving living standards in a permanent way, because it doesn’t tackle the roots of the problem.

Gunns has started legal action against twenty environmentalist individuals and groups, nurse
including Bob Brown, Peg Putt, the Wilderness Society and Doctors for Forests. The company is trying to recover around AU$6.36 million that claims to have lost due to:

  • Logging operations disruption campaigns and actions at Lucaston, Hampshire, Triabunna and the Styx;
  • Corporate vilification campaigns relating to the Burnie Woodchip site and the Banksia Awards;
  • Campaigns against overseas customers of the First Plaintiff (Gunns) including customers in Japan and Belgium;
  • Corporate campaigns targeting shareholders, investors and Banks.

The writ claims that the environmentalists’ campaign is a conspiracy to injure Gunns and to interfere with Gunns trade and business by unlawful means. The writ is quite large, and you can obtain a copy from Bob Brown’s website (PDF 5.4MB).

Environmentalist organisations and forest companies have used before legal action, called to Royal Commissions, lodged formal complaints, etc. Thus, there is nothing new in the ‘legal approach’ to environmental ‘debate’. However, this time Gunns is certainly aiming high in a very risky bet.

Is legal action threatening freedom of speech? I think it is hard to be conclusive about it. On one side, it may deter people voicing their opinions and genuine concerns, which would be a major drawback. On the other, there would be pressure to be more responsible when expressing dissent, particularly pushing people to ‘check facts’ and to avoid bogus claims to disqualify their opponents, which would be a major plus. I would certainly prefer a parallel universe where people would speak their minds openly always telling the truth. However, I live in this universe where legal action may be the lesser evil.

Will Gunns be able to prove the accusations presented in the writ? I find it hard to believe, particularly when (i) trying to connect cause (environmentalists actions) with effects (loss of income) and (ii) valuing the size of the effect of the campaign. It may be that Gunns is trying to establish a ‘fear factor’ (that I do not think will be achieved) or that John Gay really believes the contents of the writ and is trying to recoup some of the money. Anyway, there are interesting days ahead of us.

In a not so unrelated note, the Independent Complaints Review Panel of the ABC, found that the ‘Lords of the Forests Programs’ (aired on 16 February 2004) showed some innacuracies, unsourced visions and emotive language, which affected its balance and fairness.

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