Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Politics: Birds and Wind Energy

Once again partisan politics rears it's ugly head in Australia. We have a perculiar position right now of a Liberal fedaral government with all (I think) states being Labor. The current issue stems from the Victorian government's desire for a wind farm in Bald Hill, South Gippsland.

Wind farms appear to be the next battleground between the Bracks Government and Canberra, after the federal Environment Minister promised to use his power to stand up for aggrieved rural communities and protect birds from turbines.

It seems the local community are up in arms about it's location and have resorted to the claim of "what about the birds?" to see that it is not built in their back yard.

The reality of bird deaths may be real, but the extent of these deaths, compared to the benefits to the community at large, is negligible. Birds? even the (British) Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have stated that wind farms are a good idea, and that the deaths of birds (which they acknowledge does happen on occasion) is negligible compared to the deaths of birds from other sources.

Millions of birds are eaten by domestic cats each, year, more fly in to houses (windows) or cars to their deaths. Surely a slowly spinning turbine (these things aren't exactly propellers) can easily be avoided by a bird on route.

I think that the federal government should be doing everything it can to reduce our Coal burning requirements, and should forget about politics for the sake of the country. Is it that difficult?

After all, what is more important? Birds in the sky, or clean air in which to breath (for all of us, including the birds!)

Read the article here

Monday, July 04, 2005

Politics: Bogus War On Terror..

If you've spent any time talking politics with me over the last few years, then most of this article, by Michael Meacher will not be 'news' to you. It does however hold some small hope to see it splashed so brazenly over the Guardian's pages, even if it is only 'commentary'.

Meacher pulls no punches, by naming the PNAC, it's geopolitical imperatives, and the fallout resulting from 9/11, a clear and worrying picture emerges.

In fact, 9/11 offered an extremely convenient pretext to put the PNAC plan into action. The evidence again is quite clear that plans for military action against Afghanistan and Iraq were in hand well before 9/11. A report prepared for the US government from the Baker Institute of Public Policy stated in April 2001 that "the US remains a prisoner of its energy dilemma. Iraq remains a destabilising influence to... the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East". Submitted to Vice-President Cheney's energy task group, the report recommended that because this was an unacceptable risk to the US, "military intervention" was necessary (Sunday Herald, October 6 2002).

That's quite a claim, isn't it? And to think the author is no less than a former British MP.. His summary is no less impacting..

The conclusion of all this analysis must surely be that the "global war on terrorism" has the hallmarks of a political myth propagated to pave the way for a wholly different agenda - the US goal of world hegemony, built around securing by force command over the oil supplies required to drive the whole project.

Read the full article here.

Programming: Riskier (Part 4)

Finally I have a working program. After many prototypes, tests and experiments, I have finally built a shell of a server in C#.

Currently, it is listening to one client generate message (MoveUnit) via .NET remoting. The world object is being updated correctly. Now, my next step is to have the fact update propagated to all interested parties. That should be interesting. The plan is to simply register each player object with the server, such that when a unit or region fact update is allowed to be known to a client, it is sent a message – this will be a simple .NET delegate (event). Ultimately, I intend to build a message packet which will accumulate updates, but that optimisation will come later, if required.

Next, I intent to start exploring the idea of using Reflection to automate the FactUpdate event. I thought it would be really cool to simply tag a property with an attribute that would indicate to the server that an update to the various clients is required – great plan, but yet to be confirmed. The fall back position will be to manually code the event call for each property for each entity. Not hard, but certainly not as elegant. It will no doubt be more efficient though, so all would not be lost.

Of course, a functioning server will demand a new and improved client. My intent is to build a primitive command based ‘terminal’ which will simply be a basic object viewer, in the spirit of mail-based BBS games of 10 years ago (no doubt these games still exist, and are well participated in!).

An interesting point from all this is that I have found it has been much harder to build this program than I had expected. Don’t get me wrong, I never though this would be easy, but I really have struggled to make the progress I had wanted. I have however learned several important skills, so all is not lost. I have in the process learnt many things about C#, the .NET Framework, and Object-Oriented design. At least my secondary goal was obtained!

As a vehicle for learning new technologies, it has been worthwhile. I can only hope that I am now in a good position to commence the ‘guts’ of the program. Writing the actual ‘business’ logic is where the process should become interesting and start yielding some visible results.

Firstly though, I need to beef up the client!

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Politics: Energy For The Future

I can't help but think about it. One time, in the near future, it is quite possible, that we will, as a society, come to the end of cheap abundant energy. I'm talking about Peak Oil first, then Peak Gas, and finally Peak Coal (which is of course, some time in the future!). Of course, no one is able to accurately predict when, and how gradual the decline will be. Some say that PO is imminent within the next 5 years. At best, even the optimists are saying 30 years is possible.

I am a bit of an optimist, so I like to think that the doomsayers are getting this wrong, that if we can absorb the impact intact, then we have a chance to manage the 'powerdown' phase. It would only be possible if we are expecting it, and have made the necessary adjustments. No doubt, it would still be a major undertaking, which would change society in unknown ways.

So what can we expect from a power downed world? Unfortunately, I'm really not sure. But I am sure that the extent to which we can maintain the good elements of our society is directly proportional to the immediacy at which we tackle this issue. I.e. We need to start thinking, talking and doing right now. Every day, month and year we wait is risking everything.

Maybe they're all wrong. Maybe the folks at the US Department Of Energy are right. The world's oil producers may well have accurately reported their current reserves, and everything is indeed under control. I hope so, but I don't feel so confident.. It's just a feeling though, so don't quote me! Issues related to the reserve reporting process are numerous, however, and are another topic entirely!

So what hope is there? The hope is that as a community we can rally together, and create a future that is sustainable. I have noted that the PO meme is now starting to enter the collective (at least, in the financial papers), and so I hope that we will soon see a growing awareness in a way similar to the 'green bag' meme that has recently swept Adelaide.

Unfortunately, the similarities end there! The green bag movement seems to have been effective because ultimately it is a small step that barely hampers our lifestyle. What is required to mitigate PO is much more, and will indeed affect our day to day living.

So much of our efforts involve consuming or transforming energy. So much so that perhaps we forget the extent to which this is so. Whether it is food, grown far away, transported, prepared, served, or eaten, or water, collected, pumped, and channeled to us in its many myriad forms, we rely on these essential human resources, that are all totally tied to the use of energy. Further to this, there is clothing, housing, and the other essential commodities we rely on each day. These are the things that we will need to ensure can continue in some form, if we are to survive in a reasonable condition.

It seems that the current governments both here in South Australia and federally are relying on Coal for our future energy needs. Fair enough, I suppose. You can't pretend that we have another solution. As much as I wish we did we simply don't have a viable alternative to supplying all of our energy needs beyond PO and PG. It's seems short sighted to forget about CO2, or argue for seqestration of the gas!

At least, not yet.. It seems there is some very exciting technology being explored in both HDR and Solar Towers, in SA and VIC respectively. I must admit to being quite excited about the ST, actually. The concept, design and prototype appear to be a very clever and likely generator of steady electricity. Right now, the plan entails a 1 km high tower, with the circumference of the MCG, and girt (sorry, couldn't resist!) by an 8 km green house 'skirt' that will collect the heat to send up the column, thus propelling large turbines within! Such a great idea, I wish I'd thought of it. Have a read!.

On the other hand, I don't know much about HDR, but it seems like it could be a good 'short term' solution - call it a stop gap measure. The only problem seems to be that hot rocks will eventually cool down.. Hence, it's not actually 'sustainable'.. Not literally, any way (it would *only* last 3000 years. Maybe you see it differently!

At least I just bought a new bike with the intention of riding to work on occasion. That's my first step in working towards a sustainable future. Now I just have to use it more!

Then all I need to do is learn to grow my own vegetables, stop driving, use less electricity and buy less!

Ugghh. I'm tired just thinking about it. No wonder most people are in denial..

Programming: Programmer Courses

Recently, my company has started providing courses on various programming topics. I'm not impressed. Not at the offer, which is great, but at the need.

Let’s make one thing clear from the beginning, I don’t mind if a company is willing to send a programmer on a course if they want to… I just think that if a coder wants to learn something, he will - Off his own back, in his own time.

Why? Because the history and spirit of programming is to find out, explore, experiment and fail, in order to succeed. Not to simpy be told (and try to stay awake!)

After all, that’s where the fun is in the first place, right??? Well.. At least that’s why I like to code, anyway!