Kamala, the Inflection Point and the Geek vs Freak Election?

This is not an article about politics but it is about the Democratic National Convention (D20) held in the last week. Specifically, it’s about one phrase in the speech by Vice Presidential candidate, Kamala Harris (see video). The phrase is “inflection point” that was also echoed the following day in the speech by Presidential candidate Joe Biden. It seems that the Democratic Party are hoping that this phrase will be a rallying call for them come Election Day in November.

“We’re at an inflection point. The constant chaos leaves us adrift. The incompetence makes us feel afraid.  The callousness makes us feel alone. It’s a lot. And here’s the thing: We can do better and deserve so much more.[1].

Continue reading “Kamala, the Inflection Point and the Geek vs Freak Election?”

Herd Immunity and COVID-19

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By Snapwire from Pexels (free to use)

This morning I was watching TV, the Today show. as Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon were discussing the concept of “herd immunity” which had been considered by the UK Government early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Their casual conversion considered whether it might be a good idea to deliberately infect younger Australians with the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) [1] whilst isolating and protecting older and more susceptible members of the community. This apparently casual conversation raised alarms for me as I’ll explain below (see after the jump). The infographic video that Allie used to explain the concept of “herd immunity,” seemingly made a compelling argument for it. Fortunately, they brought in sensible expert advice in the form of Dr Sanjaya Senanayake an Infectious Diseases physician and Associate Professor from the Medical School at the Australian National University (ANU) (see the YouTube video below).

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My Trip Down Memory Lane

Thinking about updating my curriculum vitae today, I was triggered to reminisce about my senior high-school experiences back in 1974-5. Amazing how sharply some memories came flooding back through the eyes of a 17-year-old. I remember about being part of the Science, Mathematics and Technology group of 4 that all shared dreams of becoming scientists, technologists or engineers: Wayne, Geoffery B,, Jon and myself. At the beginning of senior high, one of the Industrial Arts teachers had suggested that the 4 of us take a lower level of English so we could concentrate on Maths, Science and Industrial Arts. As you can imagine, the English Department was not at all impressed that some of their students were taking a level of English that demanded less than their full capabilities. What happened next is far from what you might expect (read the full story after the jump).

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Bags packed ready for my trip down memory lane [1].
Continue reading “My Trip Down Memory Lane”

Speculation About Game of Thrones Season 8

In my former life as an academic, I used to joke to my colleagues that Game of Thrones was essential reading as a standard operations manual for working in universities nowadays.

GOT as a manual for negotiating the world of research grants, where, figuratively, you either win the game or die and of navigating a path between the wheeling and dealing of the big-time professors, administrators, bean-counters, health and safety officers (hey, don’t underestimate their power). On many occasions, the internal and external politics between all of the players seemed to operate on a GOT-like scale. There were times I must admit that I felt no better than a denizen of the “Flea Bottom” in King’s Landing.

Given that internal politics in most organisations of more than a handful of people can feel a bit like GOT, from time-to-time, why not distract yourself with a little idle speculation about the upcoming Game of Thrones Season 8? I’m hoping to speculate on enough topics that I’ll be able to make a random hit and be able to say “I told you so!” The truth is that my speculation is unlikely to be any better than anyone else. But its fun isn’t it? [March 7: I’ve added new updates in notes at the end]

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Careful to Whom You Hand the Keys for Encryption

The Kingswood! You’re not taking the Kingswood, I’ve just shampooed the dipstick! Ted Bullpit, Kingwood Country (TV series 1980-4)

man-65049_640Most Australians are very cautious about whom they hand their car keys to. In that regard, they’re still a bit like Ted Bullpit (played by the late Ross Higgins) from the iconic Aussie 80s sitcom Kingswood Country (see the quotation above).

So how did encryption key laws pass both houses in the last hours of the last sitting week of parliament (6 December) in the lead up to the summer parliamentary break?

Given the apparently innocuous-sounding name of the “Assistance and Access Bill 2018” [1] it happened so quickly, at a time when most Australians were distracted with their preparations for the holidays. I’m not sure that many people will have much idea that the Australian Government now have presented our law enforcement and surveillance agencies with the right to circumvent internet encryption keys for matters pertaining to criminal and terrorist investigations.

Government Case

The Government’s case has been led by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has consistently stated that laws enforcement agencies need powers to intercept encrypted messages to keep Australians safe from criminal and terrorist threats. He’s argued that the new laws modernise the way that authorities can access information but doesn’t expand on current surveillance powers. A key feature of the Government’s approach has been to stonewall objections to the Bill by the tech industry.

There’s a reason for the amendments to be referred to as  the “Assistance and Access Bill” It’s as if the Government were condescendingly saying: “you tech guys are really smart, we need these surveillance and protection laws, just do your jobs and give us the technical assistance and access required.” Oh, and if you don’t do so voluntarily, we’ll make you do it by imposing heavy fines or imprisonment, on you as an individual, not just your company. Continue reading “Careful to Whom You Hand the Keys for Encryption”

Reading and Reflecting

Reading the sci-fi novel Coyote by Allen Steele (2002), reflecting on the political turmoil in Australia, last week, and wishfully thinking about escaping it all to the Ursa Majoris star system.

Reading

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Coyote by Allen Steele from Goodreads

I’ve recently started reading the interstellar colonization novel Coyote by Allen Steele (2002). I found it a bit difficult to get into initially, given that my previous reading (also TV series watching) had been The Expanse series which is more action-packed from the very first pages of Leviathan Wakes  (book 1). But I’m now appreciating that the Coyote series is written as fictional history, starting from a beginning point and moving forward in a linear fashion from that. Actually, now that I’ve spent the effort to get into the Coyote universe it’s becoming a most enjoyable experience.

Coyote is the destination for interstellar settlement of the Ursae Majoris system, some 46 light years from Earth. Coyote is a moon of the gas-giant planet Bear. The planets and moons of the Ursae Majoris system are named after native-American mythological icons. Coyote is smaller than Earth, but larger than Mars and has a slightly lower gravity and surface air pressure. Being a moon of a gas giant, the seasons on Coyote is more complex than on Earth, so much so as to require that the colonists invent an entirely new calendar system. Coyote and The Expanse novels both have a similar approach to the way that scientific realism is built into their respective fictional universes.

Reflection

Many of the colonists to Coyote are escaping a highly-conservative and repressive regime on Earth, called the United States Republic (USR) after a second American revolution. I’m not suggesting that political revolution is likely in Australia (or America) anytime soon, But given the political events in Australia of the week starting 19th August, originating from conservative disquiet in the Australian Liberal party and leading to the downfall of a Prime Minister, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fictional events in Coyote and the actual events being played out in Canberra.

How could a modern liberal society, like Australia or the United States turn into a right-wing authoritarian regime, like that depicted in the Coyote novels, or like that seen in numerous other places on Earth, both currently and in the past?

Continue reading “Reading and Reflecting”