Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Aqua Shallows.

It was a hot summer day, although you wouldn’t know it by the room he sat in. The windows were covered in a thin layer of dust save for the few smudged panes that he’d half heartedly wiped with his hand. The air conditioner hummed quietly in the corner with the only sign that it was on being the slight rustle of the piles of paper nearby. He’d never been really organized, but the lull in his work lately had left him to follow his thoughts aimlessly rather than keep his piles of paper in order. He drew a cigarette from his silver pocket case and rolled it in his fingers, contemplating it quietly. Just as he raised it to his lips there was a loud rap at the door, something which he’d almost forgotten the sound of.

Dropping the cigarette to the table he called out to the person at the door “Come in, it’s open”, for a moment thinking that he could’ve remained silent and have been left in peace. He didn’t actively desire the life of a hermit, but sometimes when you’ve been alone for so long you forget what it feels like to even talk to another human being.

“Are you Chris Satkin?” she said, neverously darting her eyes around the office. It wasn’t an easy place to find so someone must have told her to come to him. Strange, he usually did business over the phone with his regulars and most people knew to call rather than try to see him face to face.

“I am, but you already knew that” he retorted, letting his detective wit slip for just a second. She avoided his eyes.

“I’m Brooke Aegis, I believe you can help me find two people.” she said, sliding a small package across the table.

In it were 3 photographs, two of them showed what appeared to be young children, no older than 12 or so. The last was a ship with it’s vessel number clearly visible, he knew that it had disappeared several weeks ago. He was wondering what the hell she thought he could turn up that the authorities hadn’t already.

“The authorities won’t tell me anything, they’re keeping me in the dark. I need to know where that ship was going, please” her voice was desparate, he pondered if he should take advantage of this.

“What about the kids?” he said in a dismissing tone.

“I need to know if they were on it, that’s all.”

“Standard fee ma’am, paid in full before I start”, he’d only begun speaking as she reached into her bag and drew out an envelope. Inside was his fee, to the dollar. He wondered who had referred her. It must’ve been William, he was a sucker for the ladies.

“I’ll start right away”, he said waving her out. “Before you go though, who told you about me?”

“It was a Mr. Daniels”

His time in the detective business had obviously served him well. He’d have to thank Will later for sending such a fine young woman to him.

He pondered the photographs for a few moments more, then picked up the phone…

PS. I’ve updated the vow post with Rebecca’s vows for those who couldn’t hear them over the wind. Enjoy :D

To Those Who Mean the World to Me.

You know whenever someone gets up in front of a mic during a joyous occasion such as this one they usually waste 5 minutes of everyone’s time by thanking a whole bunch of people. You’ll then forgive me for doing the same.

I just want to start off by thanking everyone for coming tonight, especially those of you who’ve travelled far. You never really know how many people care about you until you try to get them all in the same room together, and looking over everyone here I can see a face that brings with it a story. Every single one of you has played a part in shaping the relationship that Rebecca and I now share today, and I’m forever thankful of that.

I’d also want to extend my heartfelt thanks out to Glynn, the father of my lovely bride. In the past we might have not seen eye to eye but the day that I walked into his home and timidly asked him for his daughter’s hand in marriage he not only said yes, he welcomed me into the family. It was at that moment that I knew that all of his actions were just, even I had not agreed with them. Glynn, I am so proud to be a part of your family.

For each of my groomsmen I have these words:

Alex: You have taught me that no matter what life throws at you, there’s something that you can do with it. You’ve been hit with so many things that would destroy a lesser man, yet you continue on. In you I find the strength that inspires me in the darkest of times.

James: You taught me how to be comfortable with who I am, to challenge the preconcieved standards of life and push past them. Before I met you I was an introverted person who desired nothing more to be alone with my thoughts. You brought the true me out, the one who revels in being the center of attention, who loves his friends dearly, and above all treasures the truth.

Eamon: You taught me the beauty of thought. Through you I learnt discipline in process, to question my own though patterns and inner biases. Truly you instilled me a sense of curiosity of the world that will never satisfied. You are the inspiration for my constant drive to success.

Dave: You set me free. I have no idea what you saw in me on that first night in Japan, but that night I cast off the person who I was and became someone new. You stripped me of my fear, my doubt, my self image and let me rebuild myself. Your brutal form of truth is something that amuse and taught at the same time, and I can not understate how much of my life has been changed by your presence.

Andrew: You taught me not to be afraid of my own mind. The long nights we spent talking about so many things are a treasure that few of us have. What really interested me about these talks was that no matter what the subject was, we would both listen attentively to each other. I have never met a man more skilled in the art of rhetoric, debate and the formulation of cognitive thought. You took everything that I’ve learnt and showed me how to use it. For that I can never thank you enough.

The final thankyou that I want to say is to my blushing bride, Rebecca. From the day I first laid eyes on you I knew there was something different about you. There was a sense of mystery, of yearing, of steadfast dedication to ideas that can not be broken. I remember on the first day looking at you and thinking that a woman of that caliber would never give a second thought to someone like me, I mean what did I have to offer? You were smart, attractive, and above all reproach. It seemed like you were destined to be my dream, someone who would be compared to every other woman I would ever meet.

That all changed when I met these fine gentlemen here. Through their encouragement I summed up all my courage to approach you. The timidness of my past still haunted me, and the next 3 months would see me wear down not only your barriers but those of my own. Until one day, which was none the different from any other, I put everything on the line. The rest as they say is history, and I came to realise that dreams are not just some unreachable desire. You are the one who is ultimately responsible for all my success, as you were my first dream that became a reality.

Rebecca, because of you I have strived to become a better man. All my successes would not be possible without you standing there by my side. I can not tell you how much strength I draw from the idea that no matter what happens in our lives you will be there for me. In you Rebecca I see the future as clear as I see today. You are the wings that allow me to fly.

And now everyone I shall leave you with these paraphrased words from William Clement Stone who was a bussiness man and generous philanthropist:
“Always shoot for the moon, because even if you miss it, you will land amongst the stars”


Bound In Love.

Rebecca, I dedicate myself to you.
For whatever may cross our paths, for any challenges we face,
I will be there for you.
To the bounds of the earth and across the stars
Through pain, joy, hardship and wealth
I will be there for you.
To this I bind myself in our eternal love
To only be separated by the ends of time
I pledge my unyielding faith to you
All this I hereby vow

I love you I love you I love you! and and I don’t ever want to be without you.
I can not wait to have children with you.
I can’t wait to achieve all our Dreams together and support each other.
I promise to keep making you hot chocolates and bug you with requests –“ do you want anything, Can I get you a drink, food…cuddles?”.
I promise to keep curling ip with  you on the couch, and bring you little gifts when I come back from shopping trips, business trips or when ever I feel I am missing you – no matter how short or long the time apart.
I love your magnetism, I love your positivity.
I want you all for my own.
“Can I have you ?”

Simple Things.

Sometimes the best news you can get is summed up by one line:

Monday Fine. Partly cloudy. Min 2 Max 14

Part of the joys of having an outdoor wedding is right up until the day you won’t know if you’re going to have a nice day, or a hailstorm that will ruin the entire thing. After enduring a record setting dust storm on Tuesday (Canberra had it first, but not as bad as Sydney), torrential downpours including hail and savage winds we’ve been on tentahooks about how the weather was going to be on the day. This one line, which hasn’t changed much in the past few days, has helped me keep myself and my significant other sane.

Now if only the other 100 things that need to be done would fall into place that easily I’d be a very happy gentleman.

(P.S. I’m hoping to get some time on the weekend to write up some articles so that you all have something to read during the next 2 weeks. If you have any suggestions, I’d be much appreciative ;)

Computer Fail.

As I’ve said before us IT guys have the most interesting problems when it comes to our personal computers. Mine decided last night, in the middle of doing stuff for the wedding on Monday no less, that it would give up the ghost and stop working completely. No amount of cajoling or begging would bring my computer back from its silent grave and I was relegated to trying to recover my files hastily in case the drives were on the way out.

Turns out either the hard drive itself of or the controller on my motherboard decided that the main boot record and master file table needed to die, and proceeded to oblige me in this request even though I had done nothing to provoke it. I had had problems with it freezing in the past but since there was no data corruption I put it down to spurious windows chicanery, and thought nothing more of it. This assumption has cost me around 3 hours of my life, something which I’m not keen to repeat again in the near future.

This post will be a short and sweet one as the time I usually dedicate to writing out a thoughtful post have been taken away by said computer fail. I will say one thing though, the free file recovery software Recuva is worth its weight in gold, as it was able to scan my drive and recover all the files in a fraction of the time of any other utility I’ve used before. Everything else I tried took at least 15 minutes to get the folder structure right and then couldn’t recover anything past a few measly files. I was able to get a full 21GB off my drive without too much hassle using Recuva, and I’m now just a format and reconfigure away from having a working machine again.

My shopping list now includes a 2TB RAID 1/0 array, because I never want to go through this crap again. :)

Argh I Have Conroy in my Space! Get it out, Get it out!

I’m sure the regular readers of my blog know that I’m not the biggest fan of Senator Conroy, mostly because of his idiotic support of the Internet filter which I’m vehemently against. However he’s been distancing himself more and more from that piece of legislation and seems to be shifting most of his focus on the National Broadband Network, something that I definitely support in principal but still disagree with parts of the proposed design. You can then imagine my surprise when I heard the words Conroy and space in the same sentence, especially considering that Australia is still in the infancy stages of, you know, actually doing anything in space:

The minister, who last week announced he would take the axe to Telstra’s monopoly, told a Tamworth forum that he is prepared to do whatever it takes to solve coverage issues in rural and remote Australia.

He says he will not rule out Australia sending its own satellites into space to ensure adequate coverage.

“If we can’t do a deal with operators who’ve got satellites in the sky, we’re actually looking to do it ourselves,” he said.

Now when I first read this I had one of those moments when the scientific part of my brain shuts down and I go into gullible mode. Think that this might lead to Australia developing a small launching capability in order to support the government’s satellite program. Of course this isn’t going to happen, especially considering the kind of infrastructure that would be required and the hired help we’d have to bring in from overseas. In reality the government would probably be buying the infrastructure from overseas partners and launching them from either America or Russia, with China still being an outside possibility.

Seeking to disprove his idea even before it got off the ground I decided to look into the costs of setting up such infrastructure. A good example to base this off is Iridium, a company specializing in delivering such a capability. Currently they have a network of 66 active satellites with 7 in orbit spares, for a total of 73. They’re relatively cheap satellites, coming in at around US$5 million each fully constructed. That doesn’t take into account the launch costs however, and the majority of them were launched in bundles of 5 on top of a Delta-II rocket which costs about $50 million per launch (the wiki article cites 1987 dollars as the cost). That’s about $15 million per satellite up there and whilst I’m sure we won’t need the coverage of the Iridium network you’re still looking at a price tag in the AU$100 million area, which is actually quite doable even with just the initial funding for the NBN of $4 billion.

It’s a very interesting idea and it illustrates the issue for providing broadband to rural areas. As someone who lived in a not-so-rural-but-still-far-out area for most of his life I can attest to the sorry levels of Internet available. I was a mere 30 minutes outside of Canberra yet the only way for me to get any kind of broadband was satellite for many years. That changed when a company supplying wireless broadband set up shop in the area, although their service at the time was a little questionable and it appears that they’ve decided to charge everyone for the set up costs now (to the tune of $1500, no less). The situation is getting better, but not by much.

Conroy’s idea of creating a satellite network as part of the NBN is a solid idea, and I can only hope that it would lead to many larger ISPs buying satellite capability from the NBN which would drive competition and lower prices. The barrier to entry for being a competitor with this capability is currently far too high for any real competition to happen so a new satellite wholesaler makes quite a lot of sense if you’re looking to increase broadband penetration.

Good on you Conroy.

Sysadmins Gone Wild.

Us system administrators are territorial people, especially when it comes to systems that we’ve set up ourselves. In fact I bet you’ve even run into someone who’s the only one who knows something about a certain system or policy, and heaven forbid if you ask them to tell you how it works. I can’t say I’m innocent of this kind of behaviour either as there’s been more than a few times when I’ve built something to what I consider perfection only to have it sullied by others. I like to call this the baby syndrome, as when something is your baby you’ll do everything in your power to make sure no harm comes to it.

Now I’d be lying if I said that this kind of behaviour was detrimental to people like me. Many of the places that I’ve worked in hired me as the other person was leaving, usually leaving a trail of systems that were usually not documented, except for in their head. My first couple months of any of these kinds of jobs is to get the systems to a state where anyone could come in and work on them which I believe is a good exercise when bringing new people in. Not only do they figure out how everything works they also usually break something in the process, and you never know a system well until you break it in some odd way.

However this kind of behaviour is exactly what leads to IT departments spending 90% of their time playing catchup with the routine issues of their environment and 10% trying to innovate. The issue for the system administrator however is justifying their existence to their employer. It’s pretty easy to keep your job when you say “I”m the only one who understands the mission critical business systems” but the more reasonable “As long as they follow my documentation anyone could do it” is likely to make you an easy target when it comes time to cut the fat, as it were. It’s this strange dichotomy of wanting to make everyone’s lives easier and making yourself irreplaceable that causes many IT shops to end up not caring one way or the other. That is, until something like Gershon comes around.

There’s another side to this coin however, and that is no matter how good you document your system there’s guaranteed to be some uncanny situation that works its way out of the woodwork that you could never plan for. If you’re still working with the system its pretty easy to start tracking the problem down, however if you’ve moved on the person in charge of the system you created is up the proverbial without a paddle. I’ve been in this situation a couple times before and it usually ends up with them calling me. Now it’s tempting to be a complete ass to them and tell them where to go, but for someone like me working in a small area like Canberra that’s career suicide, and I’ll usually spend an hour or two working it through with them. I wish I could say the experience was the same for me calling other ex-employees, as the majority are more than happy to give me the metaphorical middle finger.

In other words stop off loading your boring work onto others, you selfish gits :P

JAXA’s HTV: Another Step Forward for Japan.

4 days ago the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched the first flight ready version of their HII Transfer Vehicle (HTV) line. Whilst on the surface that might not sound like much it marks a significant step forward in Japan’s space capability, as up until now their involvement with the Internation Space Station only involved the Kibo laboratory, all of which was hoisted up by their American counter-parts. It’s quite an interesting craft due to the omission of certain things and the reason it was built. Before I get into that however here’s a bit of eye candy showing it’s rendezous with the International Space Station:

YouTube Preview Image

Apart from the amazing view of earth that this video shows it also demonstrates one of the oddities of the craft. Now the HTV isn’t the first of this kind of spacecraft to visit the ISS. The most frequent visitor is the Russian Progress craft, which has been responsible for delivering the majority of supplies to the space station. It’s basically a Soyuz craft minus all the gear to support a crew replaced with cargo storage, as it was impractical for the Soyuz craft to be used for both crew and cargo (it is quite small after all). The other is the European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) which made its madon voyage to the ISS in March last year. What separates these from the HTV is that they both have an automated docking capability allowing them to hook up to the space station with no involvement from the ISS crew. That’s why you see the CANADARM2 stretching out to grab it. You’re probably wondering then, why the heck do we need another cargo ship to supply the ISS and beyond?

The HTV is something of a special purpose craft. Whilst its payload capacity is less than that of the ATV it does sport a much larger docking portal. That by itself doesn’t sound like much but the ATV can’t carry the Interational Standard Payload Racks because of this limitation. The only other way of getting these things inside the ISS is through Multi-Purpose Logistic Modules which fly with the space shuttle, something which is scheduled to stop happening in the near future. In essence the craft is a cheaper alternative to getting standard cargo payloads up to the station once the shuttle is retired, which is a good niche for JAXA to fill.

It might not be the most sexy or exciting craft around but the more countries that develop a capability like this means a lot to humanity at large. We’re starting to see a critical mass developing in both the public and private sector space industries and for a space nut like myself it provides many an hour of slack jawed reading and gazing. Japan’s fresh view on how to get cargo into space is an idea that not many have considered in the past and I hope they continue their involvement past this endeavour.

Big thumbs up to you guys :)

Hold the R18+ Please, I’m Australian.

I can’t imagine what it must be like for game developers who want to sell their games to us Australians. Being a prosperous nation there’s enough spare income flying about that people are willing to spend up on non-essential items such as games so it makes sense to try and market their product to us. However from time to time the developers run up against the wall that is the Australian Classification Board when their game pushes across some boundaries:

THE sequel to a popular video game has been banned in Australia after failing to receive a rating of MA15+.

Left 4 Dead 2 was refused classification by the Classifications Board this week, meaning it will be banned from sale.

In its report the board said the game, due to be released in November, contained “realistic, frenetic and unrelenting violence”.

“The game contains violence that is high in impact and is therefore unsuitable for persons under 18 years to play,” the report said.

Here’s the decision in PDF form which actually makes for some entertaining reading. I’ve never seen someone so formally describe a game where you are basically hacking up zombies with cool weapons. But this does bring up a point which I’ve lamented before: Australia needs a R18+ classification for it’s games, especially considering the average age of the Australian gamer is now 30.

Now I know a couple people who are in the game industry and nothing seems to stress them more than the last few months up until release. The amount of work that they put in to make sure that every bug they can find is ironed out and the game play experience is as best as it can be is staggering. I’m still frankly amazed that many game development houses attempt to release their games in Australia when the threat of refusal of classification is always there as it means putting the developers through another crunch cycle so that the game can be sold in Australia, something which will never go down well. Indeed if your game is one that is guaranteed to get refused (like say Postal)  you will probably not bother and save yourself the time and money.

For the most part though a lot of game development houses have learnt from previous rejections and know what to avoid. The best example I can think of is dismembering bodies after you’ve killed someone. If you’re a particularly twisted individual like myself you’ll usually test a game to see if you can do this sort of thing. You can then imagine my surprise when I played Dead Space and Fallout 3 that both allowed you to do such things yet have been classified as MA15+ in Australia. The decision on Left 4 Dead 2 makes note that you can’t do this but it appears that their refusal for classification is based around the use of melee weapons that allows you to make quite a pile of bodies with a decent amount of blood and guts spilling everywhere. Since that’s probably one of the major selling points of the game (who doesn’t love chainsawing up a bunch of zombies with 3 friends?) they’re going to be hard pressed to remove that, so we’ll probably end up with guts and gore replaced with rainbows and sugar plum fairies.

Maybe then it will be suitable for our sensitive little minds.

I’ve been a gamer ever since I learned how to use a keyboard and I’ll be damned if the government believes it knows what’s safe for me to see and what isn’t. Too often do we have games that are refused classification in Australia because of some petty aspect of game play that in all seriousness most Australian adults would have no problem with. If parents are worried about their little tykes getting their hands on these games then that’s not a problem for the classification board to solve. Realistically retail stores would have to be more strict in checking ID, but 30 seconds at the cash register is a small price to pay when compared to the high cost that is incurred when you have to redevelop your game in order to dumb it down for the Australian market.

It’s not for lacking of trying either that we don’t have a classification. There was supposed to be a public discussion on the matter back in July however due to a shuffling of cabinet members the minister responsible Bob Debus was replaced by Brendan O’Connor, and this has stagnated any progress on the matter. In fact a recent interview with O’Connor on Gamespot shows that they’ve basically rolled back to square one, since they’re now reconsidering their methodology for consulting with the Australian public.

At this point I’ve just lost hope with the Australian government doing anything solid on this matter. Realistically refusing classification to a game doesn’t stop people from getting their hands on it either because if they can’t buy it locally they’ll import it. If they can’t import it, they’ll pirate it, and so far any attempt to stop piracy has failed miserably. In essence the government is attempt to keep “extreme” material away from the Australian community, failing, and souring a multi-billion dollar industry’s view of our market. Keeping Australia behind all other developed nations in this regard is short sighted and provides no tangible benefits to the community at large.

Don’t make me throw a temper tantrum.

Care For an Orbit or 8, my Dear?

Take any emerging industry and you’ll always find companies who blast into the market claiming that they have the technology to compete with the big guys. Sometimes this turns out to be true as we’ve seen many a garage based business turn into multi-billion dollar gambits. Granted a lot of these things are a lot easier when the capital required to get the thing going is minimal (Anyone could start a google rival for less than a $1000, whether people would use it or not is another question) so when it comes to things like the emerging private space industry the fly-by-nighters have been few and far between. It also hasn’t stopped some companies who’ve apparently been in the game for years from attempting the same thing:

Mojave, California-based Interorbital Systems (IOS) announced Saturday that it is developing a two-person orbital crew module as an addition to its orbital tourism operations to loft in late 2011 aboard the company’s modular NEPTUNE 1000 rocket.

Two Interorbital Systems test pilots—Nebojsa Stanojevic, a ‘Tweeting’ Serbian, and Miroslav Ambrus-Kis, [vid], a ‘Tweeting’ Croatian, both of whom are seasoned explorers, will be aboard the NEPTUNE 1000 spacecraft. The test pilots are also a part of the Synergy Moon Team for the Google Lunar X-Prize.

Interorbital Systems, that’s a new name to me but they’ve been around for almost 13 years. Their mainstay appears to be sounding rockets which are small payload vehicles designed for sub-orbital junkets. They were apparently a competitor for the Ansari X-Prize although I never saw anything from them. A quick search turns up their concept for a vehicle called Solaris X which they’ve classified as a rocket plane. I’ll forgive the liberal use of the name plane here (since you know planes have wings and all) but the fact that the only pictures I can find of it are renders and no test hardware shows that they can’t have been too serious about it. Especially when you consider Scaled Composites who had several public flight tests of their hardware long before they won the X-Prize.

But let’s not dwell on the past, these guys are promising us rides into orbit for the princely sum of $800,000 per passenger. It’s 4 times the initial cost of Virigin Galactic’s flights into space but I’ll be honest the prospect of spending 12 hours in orbit vs 5 minutes would definitely worth the price difference. But it’s that price difference that first triggered my bullshit detector, and my subsequent investigation into their launch technology has unfortunately brought me to a more bleak conclusion than my first reaction had.

What they are developing is a new launch system called NEPTUNE, which they’re touting as a modular launch system. In essence that sounds like a cool idea, need more payload into orbit? Slap on a couple more common propulsion modules. However looking at their design brings up a couple points that make me concerned about this system being viable, especially when it conjures up memories of launch systems past.

Neptune 1000 assembly Plume 1 Ocean Background Insert 1 X Logos 1 NB Small

It’s a radical design with a total of 33 engines on the bottom. Does it remind you of anything? In a previous blog post I detailed the Soviet moonshot and their failed heavy lift booster the N1. If you follow the link and look at the bottom of that ill fated rocket you’ll notice that it has 30 engines in the first stage. Many of the problems the rocket encountered was trying to get all the motors to fire synchronously and whilst the NEPTUNE 1000 won’t be firing all of them at once they will be attempting to fire 24 for the initial boost. They site the many successes of the Soyuz class of rockets on their site, probably as an attempt to disarm critics like myself, but they also fail to mention that the majority of other launch systems use far fewer engines synchronously (and for good reason to). Additionally the NEPTUNE 1000 uses parallel staging which means that unlike most traditional launch systems which shed their stages the NEPTUNE will be carrying them all up with them, reducing the payload. I could be wrong though but their current design doesn’t appear to lend itself to shedding the excess weight of spent stages however.

I won’t comment too much on their space capsule but suffice to say when they’re working on a budget of about 1000kg for 2 passengers, life support for 12 hours and re-entry shielding I’m not too confident that they can do it. Even the Gemini capsules were over 3000kg.

I love the idea, I really do. Anything that can lower the barrier to space is something worth pursuing. However like any emerging industry we’re plagued with those who make grandiose claims and never deliver. For now Interorbital is in my vaporware category but I’ll happily buy a ride from them should they ever actually launch something.