Invasion Day, Statistics, and more

Once again Australia has reached the date where we celebrate "Australia Day" in willful ignorance. A national holiday whose date doesn't represent what it says it does, which has been declared on all sorts of days, and in reality represents the declared invasion of the eastern coast of the country. Despite the fact that in 1988 then Prime Minister Bob Hawke promised a Treaty with Indigenous Australians (we're the only country in the Commonwealth that doesn't have one), and with all that follows. It is a lie to say this is all in the past; it is very much in the present any sociological data would reveal if one makes the effort. We cannot even begin to engage in "reconciliation", as was once the popular term until there is recognition, and recognition requires a Treaty.

Trawling through the grim numbers has been a capstone on a significant portion much of the week's activities which have involved a great deal of statistics and econometrics. Part of the statistics has been strengthening the content I have for the maths and stats HPC workshop I conduct with R and Gretl in particular. But it is also an area in economics where I am probably weakest, mainly due to a lack of exposure. Whilst there is some justified criticism of economics as a discipline dressing itself up with mathematics to appear more scientific, there is enormous value in quantifying economic relationships and testing economic theories. There is no point in having developed a just economic policy if the actual data shows it just doesn't work; positive analysis must be applied to be normative principles.

It has not all been work and study in the past week, however. I enjoyed myself attending Damien B's birthday gathering at Gong De Lin earlier in the week, and attended a virtual meeting of SOFiA Melbourne with Mark Vallis giving a presentation on Hypatia of Alexandria. Regular gaming sessions included Cyberspace, RuneQuest, and Cyberpunk 2020, and I'm still working through the Cyberpunk 2020 conference transcript. Also, using credit from a cancelled flight from the middle of last year, I am visiting Adelaide at the end of next month, the first time I have been in that part of the world for several years. I am rather looking forward to it. This entry was originally posted at

Another Orbit

It appears that I have completed another orbit around the sun; my fifty-third. This year, at least, I managed to remember it. Whilst the day itself is nothing special (and to be honest, I prefer it that way), it does bring the opportunity for reflection of successes, failures, and remaining opportunities, of which there are a few in each basket. I could be simply content with my lot, but I don't feel like fading away. There is still much that I wish to do, and especially much I wish to write about; hundreds of thousands of words of text in scattered notes. Perhaps it was my upbringing with science fiction, or perhaps an even stronger interest and formal study in history (especially the history of technology), but I have this inkling that if I am to contribute anything meaningful to this world it will be after I shuttle off this mortal coil that my contributions will perhaps see the light of day, hopefully, more than a walking shadow who struts upon the stage, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

If this seems to have taken a melancholic turn part of it is inspired by recently being in the company of the last hours of an old cat. My sensitivities mean I often try to take the view of an animal's mind. Most do not have a particularly sophisticated language, nor particularly developed capacities for forward planning (the rat is an exception in both cases). But animals do feel, and they do have memories, and they do "think in pictures". The poor thing had kidney failure, a typical death sentence for such animals, and had foul-smelling mouth ulcers from which the antibiotics had so long failed to cure. Doped up on buprenorphine, the creature would have felt little pain and continued to do cat-like things (still trying to sniff out mice), albeit with wobbly legs. Then the home euthanasia vet came to visit, another sedative applied, and the green-dream of pentobarbitone injected. Surrounded by housemates and friends, the cat passed quietly, its body donated for trainee vets.

A day prior I was awarded the opportunity to present a talk on The Year of the Rat at the 1st Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of Melbourne, of which I have provided an linked transcript, which includes a story of a Buddhist pilgrimage from some 24 years prior, the Bramble Cay Melomys Day for extinction events, and the story of APOPO's Hero Rats, all on the second anniversary of the death of Sam Savage, author of Firmin. On my recommendation, the accompanying music was La Festin from Ratatouille and the reading was Robert Southey's God's Judgment on a Wicked Bishop, a favourite rat-related poem (the real Bishop Hatto died on January 18). Having referenced the remarkable intellectual and social abilities of my favourite rodents, my conclusions were unsurprisingly advocacy for animal welfare. This entry was originally posted at
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    Cyro Chamber compilation, Songs for a Dying World
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Recovery, Gaming Updates, Rat Talk

I must confess, I am a little overwhelmed by the wishes for a speedy recovery that I have received from many people, especially on Facebook. Now a week after I was under the knife, recovery from the operation is going really well with no complications and with a gradual removal of dressings. There are of course limitations on what I am allowed to do, and I will confess that I have missed a week of not be able to exercise hard with weights or cycling as is my preference. Even work this week I took fairly gently, making my way through translating bioinformatics tutorials from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. I have noted that my energy levels have been somewhat less than usual in the past week, the combination of healing and painkillers having their effect.

One thing I have been able to engage in quite successfully is various gaming-relating activities. Today, I completed write-ups of the last two sessions of Eclipse Phase, namely 28.2 Pets, Not Cattle and 28.3 Cheyenne Ghost Dance, all in preparation for tomorrow's session. Monday was also the 14th anniversary of my HeroQuest Glorantha game which witnessed Scene 166: The Breaking of the Fellowship. In addition, I have been spending what spare time I have working on the Cyberpunk 2020 Conference transcript, which will probably take another week to complete to be honest.

Some time has also been spent and writing up my presentation for tomorrow at the 1st Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of Melbourne, on "The Year of the Rat: From Buddhist Pilgrimages to Extinction Events and Land-mine Detection Awards". I remember Jon Oxer and I concurring on a 10:1 ratio for giving talks if you making sure your research is accurate and the structure sound. That is, for a one-hour talk, you'll spend about ten hours writing it up. Sure, I can ad-lib with the best of them, but for this particular topic, I want references and plenty of them. The address will be given via Zoom, so if any are interested please DM me for details. This entry was originally posted at

A Galling Experience

The past few days I've been mostly offline, courtesy of an emergency visit to the local public hospital (St Vincents) to have a highly inflamed gall bladder removed, a relatively useless organ, at least in a modern context. OK, not entirely useless, but in my case more trouble than what it's worth, and despite my better diet in the past year, still had more than thirty years of neglect. Apparently, I had probably undergone the passing of many gallstones in recent months and noticed absolutely nothing. True, I had a few experiences the previous year which were extremely noticeable, the pain sufficiently intense that one could not even accurately determine the locus of the pain (Dr Jenne P's diagnosis at the time turned out to be quite correct). So after three days of increasing pain in the correct location, I checked myself into emergency and the following day, as the triage demands, I was operated on, and with just over a day in recovery, I've been released back into the wild.

I have a great deal of praise for our public health system, and the nursing staff who act as the front-line essential workers. Meandering around the ward (I had to get exercise in somehow), I was struck by (a) how furiously busy they are and (b) evidence of a commitment to integrated teamwork and improvement. It rather reminded me of how IT operations should run. It also had that feeling that I encounter so often in public institutions, even "big science" examples, such as the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), still looks underfunded with cheap office furniture and chipped paint; "private wealth and public poverty" as Galbraith quipped. I feel that it is often more the case that public institutions (at least in advanced democracies) spend their resources on doing what they are meant to, rather than superficially presenting corporate professionalism. CERN does nuclear research, stuff the suits, and the furnishings. Hospitals keep people alive, and if that means pokey desks, so be it. Comparative economic policy in healthcare suggests that "the Australian system" (public health, single-payer) does extremely well in terms of access, efficiency, and outcomes.

Hospitals are, by their nature, fairly boring places to be in. When in ill-health and both preparing and recovering from surgery one's sleeping patterns are a little all over the place. Nevertheless, I was gifted "The Last Theorem", the last novel by Arthur C Clarke and co-authored by Frederik Pohl, which was a pretty good page-turner from two of the greats of science fiction. I powered my way through a multitude of French lessons on Duolingo and, for something completely different, revised some LSE studies in macroeconomics. In an hour after my discharge, I found myself at The Rose Hotel in Fitzroy downing a pint of cider and chairing the annual general meeting of the RPG Review Cooperative. As our report illustrates 2020 was not a great year for the association, but we got through it intact and with some small improvements in our member's capital. I think we are better prepared for the year that is to come. This entry was originally posted at
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    Michael Giacchino, Ratatouille Soundtrack
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Domestics, Scripts, Duolingo

The past several days have been thoroughly enjoyable, both in terms of time spent in fine company and in terms of getting some of my home environment organised. Whilst normally a public and external person, I will confess to also rather preferring a clean, and neat home environment. Part of that this past few days I've upgraded all the awful and cheap plastic Venetian blinds in the house for ten years to some rather nice curtains, and I have nothing but praise for them. Cool in summer, warm in winter, the window billows through them creating beautiful movements and dancing shadows which are a rather stark contrast to the banging sound that one gets, at best, with the blinds. The kitchen is getting more organised, cleaner, and neater (new kitchen appliances pending), and the bathroom has been given a good scrub and there's a bit of sparkle there. I would like to get the entire house in such a state, alas it's all a bit big for me to do, and always has been.

Today was the first day back at work after what was close to two weeks of end-of-year leave. I managed to resist the urge to logon to the cluster or even look at my work emails. Surprisingly, the quantity that had stored up in the days past was not nearly as large as I had expected, small mercies. I added a small vector addition program for OpenCL to the cluster's repository and spent much of the rest of the day working on a workflow for pan-genomic analysis on everyone's friend, E.coli. Currently, I have a problem with one of the applications (a) failing to run as expected and (b) deleting everything in the directory whilst it runs. It is just as well that I am keeping a backup of the code and data, as well as having a defensive directory structure.

Somewhat related, several days ago I wrote a script for batch processing watermarks for image files. This evening I wrote a couple of minor modifications, ran some final tests and posted it. I am sure it will be quite a time-saver for people who need such things with regularity. Finally, the day also witnessed me start the year by topping the diamond league in Duolingo, which is the second time I've done that in the past year, although they have added a small mountain of French lessons for me to catch up on. It's weird to hear that some people cheat for such win. What for? Having a fake language skill is not exactly going to be helpful in foreign lands, which really is the purpose of such training. This entry was originally posted at

Memoro MMXX, Praedico MMXXI

There is no doubt that 2020CE was a very difficult and challenging year and even in the relative safety of living well in an advanced economy, it still took its toll. Personal reflections on the year that recalls these challenges, yet also recalls some small successes along the way. Knowing all to well that our times are remarkably fluid (considering how little travel we do) and recognising that hard predictions are always off, there are justified reasons for some ambiguity in planning for the year. Nevertheless, once again, a summary of my personal life in the past year and thoughts about the coming year.

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Despite the new year heralding a vaccine (of sorts) for COVID-19 and a new occupant in The White House who isn't completely deranged, I am concerned that 2021 will actually be worse than 2020 as the rate of daily new cases and deaths continues its upwards trajectory, especially in developing countries. The global economy, in this wake, limps along in a lacklustre fashion. The stage is set for some determined, global, interventions, but the political will is lacking. The personal is political, the political is personal. As reflective as I may be looking inwardly, I am so very aware of how public policy, such as health policy, can have very real and visceral effects on the lives of others. This entry was originally posted at
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    Solar Fields, Reflective Frequencies
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A Very Cyberpunk Christmas

The Year of the Stainless Steel Rat cyberpunk convention has run, and I must say with a degree of success. All the speakers were absolutely great but I really want to point out Walter Jon Williams, Dan Smif Smith, Sarena Ulibarri, and Tod Foley's presentations. Anyway, the next step is to get the transcript of the conference together - six hours' worth - and then compile that with the gaming scenarios. All together this should make for a double-issue of RPG Review. There were things that didn't go together as well as I should have; I was so concerned with the transcript that I neglected to ensure that I had a recording. The gaming session registrations didn't go as planned, but we did get to Cyberpunk RED. As always with free events, there were a number of people who signed up and simply didn't attend without nary a whisper why. Still, with a couple of follow-up actions to complete it is certain that I'm going to rambling on about this a bit for a few more weeks.

Christmas day itself was largely spent with Brendan E., as is often the case. The actual day itself has never one that has held much attachment to me, which I have written about in the past. Still, the opportunity to catch up with friends and loved ones is a good enough reason in itself and has been the case for many years the stalwart has provided fine company and this was no exception, as he plied me with various vodka slushies as I baked salmon and put together a meringue and chocolate ice-cream combination. Video entertainment was two very different films that still had an emphasis on partnership and teamwork; the animation-comedy, Ronal the Barbarian, and the action science-fiction, The Edge of Tomorrow (which would been vastly improved if they chopped the ending). Poor Brendan had to endure my recommendation of James Ricker's recent short (under ten minutes) version of The Little Match Girl, which follows the main themes of the traditional story, but with one great addition. This entry was originally posted at

'Twas the Night before Christmas

Well, there's no rodents stirring in the Asylum this year, just two cats and a turtle. One of the cats is positively angelic whilst the other has impulse control issues and is liable to draw blood if one looks at her the wrong way. If anything is stirring it's my small Freemason's clock which, despite its size, has a powerful tick-tock that echoes throughout the lounge-room, a credit to the designers. I believe that certain clock-makers deliberately designed such devices in such a manner to present a moral message, a constant tolling on the passing of time, to encourage and rise to action and as a reminder of our own temporality.

That itself had a sharp example earlier this week when I attended a funeral of an erstwhile friend from quite some years ago. A public persona that I remember as having a sharp mind, a rapier wit, and more than a touch of the sardonic. Such events provide the opportunity to be with others whom I used to associate, some of whom I hadn't seen for almost 25 years. Despite the circumstances, this was entirely pleasurable; as one ages such reunions occur more at funerals than weddings. But there was also circumstances that led me to be not entirely comfortable, my troubled thoughts elsewhere. I am fortunate that I had a good travelling companion who kept at least part of my mind in place.

Apart from that the past few days have largely been as expected. I've been powering my way through "Emails & Direct Deposits", which should be ready just in time for the Cyberpunk 2020 convention, which is still getting registrations right up to the last minute. I briefly had to return to work this week for a couple of days, but with low pressure and distractions, I felt that I could coast through the bioinformatics tutorials that I am preparing for cluster users. We had a work lunch on Tuesday; it had been several months since any of us had seen each other in person, so that was quite an opportunity for more visceral conversations. This must be a similar experience to many others in this state and perhaps also other parts of the world. Gradually, we will make tentative steps towards "covid-normal", with all what that implies. This entry was originally posted at

Annual Leave, Cyberpunk Convention, The Next Degree

The last four workdays I've been on annual leave, mainly because I've accumulated too many holidays and that makes the bureaucrats feel nervous. Most of the time I have spent at home, albeit with a couple of exceptional social outings, one of which I joked with the participants that I was "on a hot date with three girls" (they were all older women well into retirement age and beyond from the local Unitarian church; they thought the idea was quite amusing). Much of the time whilst on leave I've engaged in the exciting activity of cleaning out clothing items that had been in storage for over ten years (mostly not mine, I hasten to add), and putting various books, etc up for sale, including an enormous pile for the cyberpunk convention on December 27.

Which of course is how I have been spending another significant chunk of my free time. The convention is powering along quite well and there was a surprising flurry of registrations on Thursday, now pushing the 70 mark. There will be, of course, a big push in the final week (there always is for such things). I've contacted the panelists with some presentation prompts for their contributions and the GMs on running their sessions. The convention will also produce content for a double-issue of RPG Review, for both the proceedings and the RPG scenarios that are being run in the evening. Also, I am more than half way through the "Papers & Paychecks" cyberpunk supplement, "Emails & Direct Deposits", which I hope to be able to launch on the day of the convention.

I completely neglected in previous journal entries to mention that my application at the University of Auckland to do a Graduate Diploma in Applied Psychology has been accepted, which I will commence next year. If the timing is right that will make it degree number eight. Best still, I have a co-pilot in the subject, albeit with a different focus. Whilst I am concentrating in aggregates and organisational psychology (because I'm a sociology and institutions nerd), they're focussing more on clinical and positive approaches. These are obviously complementary rather than competing approaches as the overall interest in human behaviour and the mind remains common. It is really the sort of motivating and intellectual partnership that I thoroughly enjoy. It is interesting how intellectual enthusiasm inspires those who also have the same enthusiasm. I guess that's why philosophers end up forming so many clubs and associations. This entry was originally posted at

Becoming one's own foster parent

Apparently, there's a big discussion on TikTok on whether an 18-year-old can legally adopt a 17-year-old. Well, I have a related story. When I was 17 (way back in the dark ages of 1985 (before TikTok, Youtube, Facebook, even before Google), I became my own carer, and I was paid a supplement to look after myself as my own foster parent.

The circumstances were as follows; on turning 17 I found myself in a situation where I was a State Ward (that's a longer story), still at school, but with no income and no fixed address. There were some occasions where I was "sleeping rough" as has become the contemporary phrase. My assigned social worker learned of the situation and, deciding I was quite responsible if provided some modest income support, made some arrangements.

I'll never forget that day in her office. Prior to this, I thought she was all sweetness and light. Dealing with the government bureaucracy on the 'phone she transformed into a demon of fury, demanding that the application and payment be processed immediately. Once that was done, she slammed the 'phone down and turned backed into her usual angelic self. The application was approved, and shortly I would be receiving the princely sum of $30 a week.

How was all this possible? Well, it turns out that the supplement was available for those particularly low-income parents who found themselves with a child and it was payable to anyone aged 16 or older. However, it would wrong to exclude foster parents from such an arrangement and the age that a person could be fostered was anyone younger than 18. I fell into a sweet spot where I could become my own foster parent.

Now, I am sure someone will do the figures and point out that $30/week was woefully insufficient for a person to live on in 1985, and they would be quite right. This was a state government supplement. There was also a federal government payment for that small percentage of full-time high-school students of "independent circumstances" which amounted to $45/week. That was being processed as well, and it was a mighty day when I received six-months back payment for that. Another story, but the main point of this one is how I became my own foster parent.

In hindsight, I think I did a pretty reasonable job looking after this rather well-meaning, if errant, youth. This entry was originally posted at