Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Australia's Apparent Heritage

You sometimes see the myth perpetuated, usually by pretentious Poms and American TV shows, that Aussies are mostly descended from convicts. With a brilliant standard of living, our enviable current status would have been an olympian effort for those mainly descended from thieves and prostitutes - considering how few women there were, it would have been an olympian breeding effort too.

Although a large amount of convicts did arrive in the beginning of British colonization, much to the dismay of some Australians, who like to brag about their supposed convict heritage, most of us are not descended from freed convicts. In fact, the states Victoria and South Australia weren't even penal colonies. Apparently, being descended from Scottish or Welsh farmers isn't as exciting as being descended from bread-thieving East-Londoners - who, admittedly, have had a large influence on our accents, eh mate?

With currrently 24% of Australians being born overseas, the number of possible convict descendents rapidly decreases. The majority of Australians are indeed descended from struggling immigrants as this article discusses:

While the perception of rural Australia is that it is largely anglicised, in reality it is home to many nationalities, such as the Germans in South Australia's Barossa Valley, the Italians of Griffith, the Sikh community in Woolgoolga, NSW, Finnish and Yugoslav miners in Mount Isa, and the Hmong, from Laos, growing pineapples and tropical fruit in northern Queensland.

James Jupp, director of the Immigration and Multicultural Studies Centre at the Australian National University, says early migration came from the British Isles, with some exceptions such as the Germans who went to South Australia and Queensland.

The legacy of Scottish migration is evident in rural Australia. A scan of farmer politicians reveals names such as Malcolm Fraser, Ian McLachlan, Ian McFarlane, Ian Sinclair and Donald McGauchie.

Jupp says Scottish migrants started coming in the 1820s.

"They didn't want to divide the property up so the younger sons were told to go to Canada or Australia. They were not necessarily poor by any means."

Most Irish settlers came from rural areas. Many took up small farms in southeastern NSW but the depression of the 1890s forced a large number off the land and into the cities.

I had an inkling of our mixed heritage as a child when a neighbouring central QLD country town celebrated an Oktoberfest, followed by an Irish festival the next year.

Throughout our history, we have had a continuous flux of immigration. A vast wave of non-convict immigrants arrived during the Australian Gold Rush period of the 1850's - the transportation of convicts to Australia was phased out between 1840 and 1868 with WA being the last colony. The next major immigration wave was after WWII and since then our population has grown more than doubled in size and it continues to do so through immigration.

Being descended from hard-working immigrants may explain why the Poms and the Irish* strike us as so lazy.

*I've been told the Irish are hard-working but my mate and I saw nothing concrete to confirm this.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Figuring out Photos

Fumar causa impotencia sexual. Fuck, eh. UNLUCKY smokers. Though, I swear most smokers in my circles are women.

Next stop: the Mediterrean where the women are hot and the men are impotent.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Feng Shui Shite

Just caught the introduction of a Feng Shui doco on ABC. The narrrator said something to the effect of 'We will cover the history of this ancient science...'

I nearly fell off my bloody chair when the bloke called it a 'science'. It's an art, a tradition, a way of living, a collection of superstitions. Whatever it is, it is NOT a science.

Nice work, ABC. Keep spending those taxpayer dollars. Idiots.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Diseases and Money

Ah, maths. Is there any thing it can't do? Well, except pull hot women, of course. When deciding upon my PhD topic I considered studying mathematical models of disease propagation. Since disease propagation has both probabilistic and network aspects, modelling it is both an interesting and challenging task. Hence, a couple of researchers have decided to study something very similar to diseases, namely:

Money, like diseases, is carried by people around the world, so what better way to plot the spread of a potential influenza pandemic than to track the circulation of dollar bills, researchers reason.

Researchers in Germany and the United States did just that to develop a mathematical model of human travel that can be used to plot the spread of future pandemics.

"There are some universal rules governing human travel and they can be used to develop a new class of model for the spread of infectious disease," said Dr Dirk Brockmann, a physicist at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organisation.

In addition to giving insights into how an infectious disease would spread, mathematical models and computer simulations could help to develop measures to take against it, he added.

This is partly the reason why a lot of mathematicians work in the medical industry (the main reason is they need experts in statistics to see how effective various medicines and medical procedures are). Perhaps there's hope for me landing a job yet...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


A profile of the typical arsonist:

HE is about 19 years old and commits his crime alone.

He is an underachiever, unskilled, erratically employed, often from a broken home, perhaps with a history of foster or state care.

He is most likely single and feels socially inadequate.

He is an opportunist who uses unsophisticated methods to start the destruction.

Yeah, sounds like half the delinquents in Oz. What I find frightening is the belief that:

...up to two-thirds of Australian bushfires, which cost the nation more than $77 million a year in lost property, stock, grazing and pasture land and wildlife, are deliberately lit by these loners.

Scary stuff indeed. However, tracking the origin of the fire seems like an interesting art (or science).

There are key indicators, such as leaf set or the fire-frozen leaves that point to where the fire went, ash deposits that indicate fire direction and the way fire wraps around tree trunks.

"We have often got down to the last 4cm on a fire ground and then, lo and behold, we have found the device or the probable cause," Crosweller says.

In Australia, there has been considerable work done by applied mathematicians (the best kind of mathematicians) to model the spread of bush fires with computer simulations (finite element analysis, I believe, the same methods are used to model the flow of air around aircraft and the spread of heat and electricity through various materials).

Just another use for applied mathematicians, I say. In the meantime, keep an eye out for any delinquents carrying petrol cans...

Monday, January 23, 2006

Futurama is back! Well, maybe...

The boys and girls at Fox have made a smart move by returning the classic animated series Futurama. TV companies are realising that TV ratings (I think about a sample size of 4000 in Oz) is not the only indication of what people are watching as DVD sales of various TV cult classics soar:

The animated series Family Guy is the best example, having been cancelled and then rescheduled three years after the show was axed when its huge DVD sales (setting an American record for best-selling TV show on DVD) and popularity in repeat pay TV screenings, showed it still had an audience.

Futurama, from The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, was cancelled by 20th Century Fox TV (the American network that commissioned the series) in 2002 after poor ratings.

And now it appears the fans have been heard.

Variety magazine recently reported that talks were under way at Fox TV, which also produces Family Guy, to make new episodes of the cartoon and other industry sources list the show as "in production" with the actors who voiced the series back under contract.

And the wily crew at Channel Ten have backed the right horse by airing old Futurama episodes. About time TV had an improvement.

Friday, January 20, 2006

More Brain Food

Nothing really exciting is happening in the world so I thought I'd continue the brain-food topic with this article, which discusses the benefits of acids found in seafood:

It has been known for some time that omega-3 acids are important, but data from a long-term study of British children suggest they are even more important than had previously been realised. In particular, the amount of omega-3 in a pregnant woman's diet helps to determine her child's intelligence, fine-motor skills and also propensity to anti-social behaviour.

Perhaps the most startling finding was that the children of those women who had consumed the smallest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids during their pregnancies had verbal IQs six points lower than average. That may not sound much, but it would have a serious effect on a country's brainpower if it were widespread.

I've noticed a couple of land-locked nations, such Laos and Bolivia, suffer economically because they have no sea ports for easy importing and exporting (in fact, Bolivia still has the shits with Chile who stole their coastline over a hundred years ago). I can't help but wonder what effect, economically and intellectually, a low-sea food diet has on a country's populace.

Lucky the majority of Aussies live near the coast, eh. Might explain why a lot rural folk strike me as daft. I did spend my first 9 years in outback NSW. Lucky my parents enjoy canned fish, though I do have poor motor skills...

Monday, January 16, 2006

I'll Drink to That

It's a known scientific fact that the brain LOVES sugar (and doesn't like fat). Hence in the last year or so I've used this piece of information as the perfect excuse to droml flavoured milk in exceedingly dangerous amounts. It turns out I wasn't far from the mark according to this recent study about sugar-ladened drinks:

Dr Riby used a series of memory tests and brain-imaging techniques to assess how volunteers responded after guzzling sugary drinks.

He found the hippocampus lit up with activity after participants had a sweetened drink and they were able to recall 17 per cent more than without a drink.

Dr Riby continued: "Our research shows that consuming a glucose drink can significantly boost memory recall.

"What's more, our work on young and middle aged adults shows if we can 'train' our bodies early in life to effectively use their own glucose reserves, poor memory function can be minimised in adulthood."

Well, what do you know? First wine was good, then masturbation, then *some* alcohol, and now sugar. Things are definitely looking up...

Bloody Hippies

I catch public transport, recycle household goods, reuse plastic bags, use a power-saving fan over air-conditioning, walk to the convenience store, and use the dual-flush function on the toliet - something uniquely Australian it would seem. I try to be environmentally friendly and despite my green-leanings, I can't tolerate the bastards from Greenpeace. I think they are nothing but a bunch of socialist extremists with not-so-subtle agendas of anti-globalisation, and anything else which is trendy to hate.

Their website is just loaded with biased propaganda and specious science of the most contemptible level. Some of their issues I don't even understand. For instance, GM crops? These are crops designed, among other things, so farmers don't need to use nasty old pesticides. How the hell is that even an issue? Face it hippies. GM grops are here to stay.

Mind you, originally Greenpeace had good intentions (and I think a lot of members still do) but somewhere along the line they lost their way. For shame. It's very telling when one of Greenpeace's largest critics is its former founder and president, Patrick Moore who preaches that environmentalism is about sustainbility and pragmatism, and not close-minded extremism.

And the scary thing is, there are worse green groups out there like Sea Sheperd. I suppose one can argue that groups like Greenpeace serve as the so-called Hegelian* antithesis that clashes with the thesis and ultimately creates the final synthesis - a happy middle ground. However, I fear that this extremism of the greens doesn't achieve this and only broadens the divide.

How are you suppose to gain community and government support when you preach bullshit and have the image of being a bunch of drug-addled dread-locked hippies? Simple: you don't.

*I read the philosophy-themed novel Sofie's World last year.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Cycloptic Cat

There’s a school of thought that biological evolution comes in two forms: creeps and jerks. Intuitively, these terms describe the rate and magnitude of the individual evolutionary step. Various non-believers in evolution will try to convince you, often with specious arguments, that significant physical change is impossible, particularly over one generation. Their argument is one random mutation does not have that much influence on a species' form. However, scientists are starting to show genetically that this isn’t the case, and that a single mutation can have a knock-on effect which creates a significant morphological change in the species.

Enter this newly born chimera: a cycloptic cat. Scientists were dubious, naturally, at first but apparently:

…medical authorities have a name for the bizarre condition.

"Holoprosencephaly" causes facial deformities, according to the US National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

In the worst cases, a single eye is located where the nose should be, according to the institute's Web site.

Admittedly, I can't see any great advantages in having one eye, hence why most creatures have two or more. However, this crazy kitten shows us that it is indeed possible for a significant physical change to occur over one generation (unless, of course, both parents are cycloptic).

Now, if this cat did have an advantage over regular cats, and it lived in a relatively small population (which are historically quite common due to various extinctions and geographical isolations), you would see the evolution of a new species. All you would need is a little time.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Aussie Thug

A little late I know, but the late Kerry Packer was definitely a character:

His most brutal moment probably came in 1962, when he was sent by his father, with a few mates, to rough up the owner of a Sydney publishing house who was refusing to sell. He was busy trashing the office when Rupert Murdoch, also with a few mates, turned up to fight him. Almost as good as cricket, Packer-style.

Does anyone else remember that scene in the Simpsons when Murdoch sends his thugs to beat up Homer? The Simpsons got it right again.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

American Political Antics

In the last couple of months I've taken an interest in American politics. Why? A) because I watch the Daily Show when I'm bored and B) it's such a fucking circus on top of Capitol Hill. For those Aussies who aren't familar with American politics it basically comes down to two parties: the very conservative Republicans (usually pro-military, Fundamentalist Christian, free-market advocate types) and the not so conservative Democrats (pro-welfare, and most things Republicans hate, I think). In short: Clinton a Democrat, Bush a Republican.

Firstly, a warrant is issued last October for Texas Republican Senator Tom Delay for running a not-so-legit political donation operation or 'money laundering' as some might say. Tisk, tisk. Would Jesus approve? Secondly, assitant to Vice-President Cheney and presidential advisor, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby is indicted for obstruction of justice and perjury. Tisk, Tisk. Not looking good for the ole Republicans.

Now, we have Republican attorney and lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleading guilty before a federal judge to one charge each of conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion. And this little piggy is gonna squeal apparently:

Now it is likely that Abramoff will help federal prosecutors go after as many as 20 members of Congress -- expected to be mostly Republicans but likely a few Democrats as well.

"This is going to grow and multiply," said Bill Mateja, a former top official in the Bush Justice Department who is now a Dallas lawyer. "If I were on Capitol Hill, I would be shaking in my boots. Because if anyone knows where the skeletons are buried, it's Jack Abramoff."

I hope they grill these corrupt clowns, Republican or Democrat (though mainly Republican;). Entertaining times are bound to ensue.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Hot enough for ya?

Typing this entry quickly before the scorching Brisbane heat kills my computer, again. I decided last year, before this sweltering summer, I will be moving to either Melbourne or Canada in case Queensland becomes the next Death Valley. Ever year it seems to get hotter and things don't seem to be cooling down according to this article:

Australian Institute executive director Clive Hamilton says the Government is pandering to the fossil fuel industry, allowing greenhouse gas emissions to continue to rise unchecked and contribute to global warming.

He says recent scorching temperatures are a sign of what is to come, with the CSIRO predicting drought conditions will become the norm.

"According to the CSIRO, we can expect a doubling or trebling of the number of scorchers in the next 30 to 40 years," Dr Hamilton said.

Environment-friendly countries like Sweden have never heavily relied upon coal power due to their limited coal supplies, unlike Australia which has some of the largest coal reserves in the world. Unfortunately, the political donations of coal-lobby groups are hard to match for rival power-generating industries (according to one of my professors). Thus, Australia is one of the largest C02-producing countries per capita. Ironically, the hotter our summers become the more coal (for electricity) we need for air-conditioning.

However, the question remains will reducing Australia's large coal use curb this apparent global temperature rise? Probably not, but it may be a good start as far as the environment is concerned. And Australia may even serve as an environmental role model for once. Whatever happens, for now I'm eyeing off some nice acreage in the Yukon, eh?

Update: Definitely a warm year.