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Petition etc, Europe Plans, and more

It's been a busy week for secular activities in my word. The petition I initiated, to de-register the Australian Christian Lobby and end "advancing religion" as a charitable category, has reached over 17,000 signatures, although it has slowed down in the past couple of days. In upping the ante, the Federal government is raising the prospect of "religious freedom" bill which almost certainly would enshrine the power to discriminate. I have offered the alternative that "religion" should be removed from the statute books entirely, following the clause of the Australian constitution, "Commonwealth not to legislate in respect of religion". The Victorian Secular Lobby had a committee meeting as well, to confirm our banking details, given that we might actually need to use it now. Finally, just on the verge of finishing the association's submission to the Victorian government's Royal Commission on the Mental Health System.

In other news, caseopaya have booked our tickets for this year's trip to the other side of the planet. Of course, part of this is due to necessity as I have a residency in Zurich to complete as part of my MSc in Information Systems. At least most of this journey will actually be a holiday. Naturally enough, the plan is afoot to visit friends and family, all of whom are within a few hours of each other in the central-west region; thus the plan is Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Strasbourg, Freiburg, Zurich, Paris, Ghent, Deflt, Amsterdam, and then back to Frankfurt. The journey will take pretty much most of the month of October; I would rather like to take a bit of a journey to the south and east (Venice, Vienna, Bratislava, Prague), but alas time does not permit such an opportunity this time around. Next time for sure, right?

In other news, things are mostly normal, as much as they are in my life. Have had a few support successes at work with the various interesting user issues, which is kind of unavoidable with scientific software. I've had a good discussion making comparisons between war and business in international business strategy in the MSc discussion forums. In gaming news, an issue has been raised in RuneQuest circles about the relative value of shields vis-a-vis two-handed weapons, which has generated some discussion on the RuneQuest rules mailing list and on the Facebook group. Currently playing Megatraveller, where we've "kidnapped" a despot who is paying well to have some medical treatment on another system.

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/275453.html.
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Petitions, Languages and Other Studies

After a couple of days of deliberation among the committee, the Victorian Secular Lobby launched a petition this morning (picked up by no less than Lee Lin Chin, hooray), calling for the Australian Christian Lobby to be de-registered as a charity and for the Federal government to remove the "advancing religion" clause from the Charities Act. which basically allows any religious group to claim tax-exemptions even if they are not doing any charitable work in a meaningful sense of the term. This does come on the midst of a significant court case in Australia between Israel Folau by Rugby Australia after he was sacked for various social media comments. I have written an extensive piece on the Isocracy Network, Rugby, Religion, and Charities, which was simultaneously posted in a slightly modified form in [community profile] talkpolitics. For something that has been running for just over twelve hours, the petition currently has over 4,000 signatures.

For a good portion of this week I've been delving into various linguistic studies. I have neglected my Portuguese from French studies for months and with a new co-worker who is a Portuguese speaker (from Brazil), there is an opportunity to practice my woeful skills in this language. Duolingo has also just started an Arabic course, which I have thrown myself into with some interest and less competence. I have also spent some time (i.e., have completed the first week's worth) of Noongar, the Australian aboriginal language of the south-west. A course is available on edX and co-ordinated with Curtin University. One thing I have discovered over time is that quite a few words in my childhood which I thought were standard English words, were, in fact, Noongar words. I was always brought up with the knowledge that a hand-spear for fishing was a 'gidgee', for example.

Apart from that, I've been making a few remarks on my information systems course on the difference between methodological individualism and institutional socialisation, along with the economic and business value of free and open source software from a strategic perspective; as one does. On Wednesday most of our team avoided going to work because the building site next door was breaking up concrete which would have been a hell of a racket - I spent a good portion of the day building software and updating my introduction to parallel programming course, especially with additional material I had overlooked in the shared-memory OpenMP API; the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has been very helpful in that regard. Plus I have a co-authored presentation in at the ARDC Skilled Workforce Summit, so I might be going back to Sydney again soon. Speaking of which, neglected to mention that last Tuesday week I was on Sydney Radio Skid Row with John August talking about truth in political advertising, and the relationship between an informed electorate and a functioning democracy (quite a strong correlation, it turns out).

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/275136.html.
  • Current Location: Willsmere
  • Current Mood: content
  • Current Music: Bleeding Star, Jean-Paul Sartre Experience
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Eclipse Phase and Pandemic, Studies

Eclipse Phase is a post-cyberpunk transhumanist roleplaying game which includes political factionalism, alien contact, the devastation of Earth by rogue AIs, and travel to exoplanets by wormhole Gates. It has something for everyone in a mostly hard SF simulationist approach, and understandably it won the Origins Award for best RPG in 2010. The books are invariably beautiful, and the setting rich, and the author was not afraid of where transhumanist logic took him (I interviewed him in RPG Review Issue 33). For the past three-and-a-half years I've been running an Eclipse Phase story, and it's now coming to an end. The PCs been to every planet on the solar system, several moons, and a few exoplanets, and now they're staring down the singularity event on the edge of the sun, and Sunday's session ("A Holiday in the Sun") has all the hallmarks of an end-of-campaign chapter. It's been a hell of a trip, and despite some odd crunchy bits to the game, it's been very much worth it. I am, to be honest, a little inspired to pitch a similar game for Chaosium.

It was the second day of gaming in the weekend, as Saturday was our irregular CheeseQuest with ser_pounce and hathhalla. Game of the day was Pandemic: Fall of Rome, which is similar to those in the co-operative Pandemic series, but with a few additional changes to suit the particular example. Our downfall was quite brutal with a succession of unfortunate event cards and an inability to stop an overwhelming takeover of the Iberian peninsula by the Vandals. Overall, not a bad game and certainly one that I would play again - this time with a better sense of the dynamics and the strategy that entails. And speaking of matters of the strategy, the rest of the weekend was spent working on a 3000-word essay on strategy for my MSc in Information Systems. One essay and one short dissertation to go and I'll be finished my fifth degree and second Masters.

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/274853.html.
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Mortgages, Europe, etc.

As a sign of a combination of good luck, a co-operative effort, a Bohemian lifestyle with professional employment, and maybe a hint of effective adulting, caseopaya and I paid off our mortgages today. If you had told me in my youth that I would be in the situation I am now, I probably would have responded with the old adage of the real path to wealth being "inherit it, marry it, or steal it", which is largely true in nearly all circumstances, Stakhanovite claims notwithstanding. The main thing that this does leave out is luck, which is actually the most significant factor, and is no wonder that on occasion people refer to "good fortune". Anyway, the practical upshot is that banks no longer own half our home which generates a nice sense of independence on one's mental state.

Last journal entry I mentioned that I had a somewhat distant Europe trip planned, centered on Zurich, as a residency requirement for my MSc in Information Systems. Well, since then the college has decided to extend the spots in the October residency, so I'll be going then instead. Hooray to completing this a couple of months earlier, because one really needs a fifth degree for the practical purpose of arguing on the Internet. It's a living example of the public sphere, you know. Be this as it may, I'm currently trying to plan an extensive loop of the following form: Zurich to Venice to Vienna, to Bratislava to Prague, then through Germany (probably Dresden, Leipzig, and through to Bremman), then on to Delft, and then Ghent, Paris, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Freiburg and finally Zurich again. Anyway, that's the current plan, and there's a bit of time before I climb into the big silver bird.

In the meantime have engaged in the usual activities of work, study, and gaming. For the former, second half of the course, Advanced Linux and Shell Scripting for HPC was taught at the Peter Doherty Institute. I get the impression they were pretty happy with their new found knowledge of RegEx and the power of a useful shell loop when combined with a here-doc. For studies I have an MSc assignment to complete this weekend, primarily comparing different environment scanning approaches according to the proximity of activity. Finally, in the gaming hobby, funontheupfield introduced us to the rules-light Kids on Bikes, based on the pre-mobile 'phone era of which all players were familiar with. The building of the setting and character relationships is a cooperative venture, and we picked up from a previous setting a couple of years back, a not-quite Wonthaggi, for our rather fun game of Cats Against Cthulhu. That was somewhat light-hearted; this one went quite grim real quick. Yet, we've also retained the unknowably sapient cats and the eldritch horrors, which probably means it's going to end up being quite the surreal horror. I'm rather looking forward to it.

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/274629.html.
  • Current Location: Willsmere
  • Current Mood: relaxed
  • Current Music: Return to Eden, Ultravox
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Teaching, Learning and Europe, and Fantasy Adventures

In a hat-tip to the previous journal entry (which referred to SF adventures), there is a certain degree of similarity in this one. The weekend, apparently, is similar to the week prior which explains why I feel that I haven't had a weekend yet. Today however I was teaching mainly immunological doctoral researchers at the Peter Doherty Institute. I was planning to do an Introduction to Linux and HPC but after listening to their explanations of existing genomics workflows, I switched my presentation immediately to my Bioinformatics for HPC course which combines the general courses with the Date Carpentry course on genomics (so yes, two courses squeezed into one), with most of the first part being completed. They were a pretty switched-on group, with a number having good levels of previous experience, and with some challenging and insightful questions.

Out-of-hours what spare time I have has been largely spent on working on an assignment for my final course for my MSc in Information Systems, with the dissertation to follow. With a few stuff-ups in my residency enrolment, I am now booked to go to Zurich in November. After missing winter for two years in succession, it will be a pleasant change to get two in a single year, although I imagine it will be quite a shock to the system returning from the onset of a European winter to the beginning of an Australian summer. Still, the practical upshot of all this will be the completion of degree number five, and with six and seven in the wings as well. It will, of course, be another opportunity to visit Europe which will require mapping out something will include visits to friends and family as well as trying to expand the scope of places to include new areas.

On the weekend played a session of the new edition of RuneQuest, having wrapped up our third edition game that made use of various "gateway" settings (Questworld, Griffin Island, Elderaad). This is set in the deep, weird, and mostly consistent fantasy world of Glorantha which in some many ways has a mythic structure that is stronger than most real-world religions, but that's what you get for a fantasy world designed by a practicing shaman and mythologist. For my own part, I took the role of the most comic species in the setting, the duck-like durulz (and with an appropriate pun, named her Rowena Wigeon, a trickster cult member). The curious thing about these beings is that even though they come across initially as quite ridiculous (image of Donald Duck come to mind), they have an extraordinary depth of character. Cursed, flightless, they live in a swampland inhabited by a demi-god vampire and his minions. As a result, they may seem initially to be ridiculous, but they carry with themselves a level of surly seriousness and are savagely foul-beaked as a result. Strange, deep, but consistent? That's Glorantha for you and that is why in the past I have described it as the greatest fantasy world ever created.

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/274379.html.
  • Current Location: Willsmere
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  • Current Music: Far & Off, Aes Dana and MikTek
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Teaching, Learning, and SF Adventures

A good portion of this week was taken up teaching Introduction to Linux and HPC and Advanced Linux and Shell Scripting for HPC. They were a good class and quite switched on, even for people who were coming in with a relative lack of familiarity. It's a steep learning curve, but on the basis of the questions they asked (I tend to run classes more of an "interactive workshop") they were well on their way. Next week I have a repeat of the classes for immunologists at the Peter Doherty Institute. In my copious spare time at work, I've slipped in another conference presentation abstract and have continued work on my planned course for regular expressions, which I have been somewhat remiss in finalising - plenty of additions on speeding up grep added today.

In other teaching-related activities have expressed my displeasure at the intellectual laziness of the HPC Certification Forum in their continuing suggestions to use multiple-choice questions as summative assessment for the certification. I have argued, with backing in education theory, that they should be using actual practise on a real HPC system as a test of HPC system competency. For what it's worth my MHEd supervisor at Otago University agrees with the approach that I'm suggesting. Meanwhile I am making some progress with the last unit of my MSc at RKC/Salford for the dissertation, however, it seems that they have stuffed up my residency enrolment in Zurich; just as well I hadn't booked the tickets. For people teaching a postgraduate degree in information systems they're not very good at it.

All this aside, did manage to go out during the week, specifically for the Twilight Zone Movie at The Astor (and also an opportunity to visit Duke The Cat). The film was basically in the style of four of the old-style TV episodes, so it wasn't exactly all guns blazing, but it did have some nice plots with a dash of the macabre - and especially so given that people died in its production. Regardless of what is on at the Astor for me it is very much an opportunity to spend some time in front of a classic large single screen cinema and absorb the trappings of an old and slightly frayed deco beauty; after home and work it's probably the third most likely place one is to find me. The following night was science fiction adventures of a different fashion, with a session of Megatraveller, which involved dealing with the treasures of the Sindalian Empire - which turned out to be bacterial and nuclear weapons; whoops. I get the feeling that the ante of this story is arcing up and the poor ol' PCs are going to be on the receiving end of everything going wrong.

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/274066.html.
  • Current Location: Willsmere
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  • Current Music: Moon Soundtrack, Clint Mansell
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Various SF and Fantasy Explorations

Recovering slowly from my illness (and I'd better be, I have teaching tomorrow and the day after), I've had a bit of a foray into the old hobbies in science fiction and fantasy. On Thursday night, courtesy of Google Hangouts, I joined our regular Megatraveller game whilst dosed up and rugged up. The plot led us to discover a great ancient treasure - which turned out to be weapons of mass destruction - and our unhinged ally had demanded his 20% share of the take; this could be a problem. This is trouble enough, but on Sunday things went a level higher in my Eclipse Phase story. Confronted with a psychotic alien on one hand, and an AI attempting to turn Mercury into a Dyson Sphere to steal the sun, and the Factor aliens threatening to supernova the sun, the PC Proxies and their Sentinels managed to save the day, in a manner of speaking by destroying Mercury. Eclipse Phase is always a game of horror and existential risk so perhaps it is no surprise that as a story comes to an end, everything gets turned up to eleven. Also during the past few days managed to put together my character for a new RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha story; a durulz (cursed humanoid duck), named Rowena Wigeon.

RPG Review 42 has just been released (astoundingly late) with an emphasis on The Wilderness and the Wilds. My own articles are reviews of Outdoor Survival (old boardgame from the 70s), AD&D Wilderness Survival Guide, D&D 5e Wilderness Survival Guide, Eclipse Phase: Sunward, and Eclipse Phase: X-Risks. Sunday evening was also committee meeting time for the publishing cooperative, and on Wednesday night we'll be attending Twilight Zone: The Movie. Further to all this, Continuum, the national science fiction convention, was on this weekend. If I had been of better health I would have liked to go along for at least part of it. Nevertheless just returned from a dinner with some attendees on Lygon St; R, J, and darklion. Very much a pleasure to catch up with an old friend of many years.

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/273836.html.
  • Current Location: Willsmere
  • Current Mood: chipper
  • Current Music: Source Transmission, Ascendant
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The Dreaded Lurgi


This sickness doth infect
The very life-blood of our enterprise.
-- William Shakespeare, Henry IV


Here's a pro-tip; when you're taking annual leave, don't get sick. For the past four days, I've been ridden with an absolute shocker of a cold, and two of those days was whilst I was in Sydney. Fortunately, the University is sensible enough that one can cancel one's annual leave and convert it to sick leave if that happens. So what was supposed to be five days of joyous holidays has become three days of annual leave and four days of sick leave. As can be imagined, it's put a massive dent in my plans for the week. I've basically spent the best part of the past two days in bed drinking as much water as is humanly possible and dosing myself up on whatever medicines are at hand.

What was supposed to be the last day in Sydney was a bit of a wash-out, as can be expected. After trying to "feed a cold" at the hotel's breakfast, wandered off to the local cinema for the purpose of sitting and not doing much. The film was Godzilla: King of Monsters, and it was pretty awful. Impressive special effects do not impress when the storyline is trash, especially with a ludicrous sub-plot of a nuclear-family tension when the entire planet is being destroyed. Dragged my carcass through the Museum of Sydney, which fortunately had a couple of long films (one on Government House, and a much better one on the English invasion of the Sydney region, which even touched on the use of germ warfare).

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/273513.html.
  • Current Location: Willsmere
  • Current Mood: sick
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A Busy Holiday in Sydney

The past few days in Sydney has been pretty packed series of events. Friday's events included a visit to the rather fun Sydney Aquarium and the inner-city Australian Wildlife zoo; highlights of the former include the dugong and penguins and for the latter, meeting a quokka and patting a python. A highlight of the following day was meeting a homeless man Chris and his pet rat Lucy, who acquired some fame some weeks back when his rat was stolen and recovered. If you're in Sydney go down Pitt Street and spend some money to be in their company. Afterwards, we went to Manly to meander around the parkland of the former quarantine station where we met several bush turkeys and an echidna.

That night was the Underworld concert at the Sydney Opera House, our second in three days. It was, to say the least, an incredibly high-tempo evening, and they really didn't have any need for seating - at any point in time well over 95% of the audience was on their feet dancing as the Underworld duo provided a truly incredible show of light and music. What really made the night, however, was the enthusiasm of the crowd, which does beg the question of whether Underworld was at a concert to see their punters, rather than the other way around. Quite seriously, the second-best concert I have been to (Hawkwind retains top spot).

The day after the concert had a long five-hour lunch, drinks, and catch-up with few Sydney-siders whom I know, including John A., of the Pirate Party, Adam B., and Alex. We had a wide-ranging chats from the state of contemporary and international politics, the role of corruption, visits to abandoned locations, and even astrophysics. Appropriately the following day visited record and book stores in the city and Newtown, where we went to Gould's, which I hadn't been to for some years. That evening went down to the Darling Harbour to witness more of Vivid, specifically the Robot Space Land.

Today, however, I've come down with a cold. I'm dosed up on medicines and have pretty much avoided doing anything in the vague hope of recovery as soon as possible. In the morning we went out to a local cinema to watch Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion which involves the quest of the druid Getafix to find a successor after an accident. It was a pretty good kid's film with plenty of screen-time for all the favourite characters with their well-known behaviours, and introducing the pathetic Senator Tomcrus. The cinema itself had a grand total of four people present, which despite its success in France makes me wonder about the future of the franchise.

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/273286.html.
  • Current Location: Sydney
  • Current Mood: sick
  • Current Music: Second Toughest in the Infants, Underworld
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Bioinformatics and Sydney Visit

Three of the past four days have been almost entirely taken up by courses; two days of which I was delivering (Linux and HPC for Bioinformatics) and one of which I was receiving, the last of the University Management Development Programme (MDP) series. The Bioinformatics course went pretty well, based on the detailed and anonymous written feedback from participants. As is inevitable one person, who had no familiarity with the command-line, did struggle a bit and another mentioned that they found that the second day had too much information for them. This is, of course, why I keep all my material documented and accessible. As for the MDP course, it was actually my fourth attempt at attending this particular workshop, with previous attempts cancelled due to conferences or classes. Should also mention that I've officially finished the second last course for my MSc in Information Systems; glad to see the back of that one, I'd say that had the second-worst educator I've had the misfortune to experience.

All the said, caseopaya and I have decided to take a week's holiday in Sydney. We're staying at the Great Southern Hotel which is comfortable, inexpensive, and has some nice deco features which we both like. Also, being the pair of incurable rocknerds that we are we're taking the opportunity to see two concerts at the Sydney Opera House (Australia's collection of giant cat ears) whilst we're here; The Cure and Underworld, and have just returned from the former. It was a thirty-year anniversary concert for the Disintergration album, and whilst that album is far from being my favourite with too much aural wallpaper (the maudlin angst of Pornography was always my preferred album), it was well-performed nonetheless, and even livestreamed! More will be written up on Rocknerd next week which will no doubt please [personal profile] reddragdiva, who has his own contribution on the Isocracy Network this week, on bitcoin and cryptocurrency madness, cribbed from his book Attack of 50 foot Blockchain.

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/272994.html.
  • Current Location: Sydney
  • Current Mood: tired
  • Current Music: Disintergration, The Cure