You Can’t Make This

Posted in Opinions on February 11th, 2009 by MadDog
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Remember MC Hammer’s You Can’t Touch This? How about Weird Al Yankovic’s parody I Can’t Watch This? I loved them both – and I hate RAP!

Well, neither of them has anything to do with this post. It’s just my play on words.

However, no matter how smart and skilled you are, You Can’t Make This:

Eunie's watch that died of terminal internal green stuff

Yes, I kid you not. You could not possibly take a supply of raw materials and machinery and make a digital watch – no matter how smart you are.

Why? One might ask.

Have a look at this:

The post-mortem begins

Okay, so far I don’t see anything that a competent watchmaker (do we still have those?) could not reproduce. But what makes it tick?

Having grown tired of fitting new batteries to one of Eunie’s dozen or so cheap watches with which she accessorizes so expertly, I finally drew a red X on it and told her it had terminal green stuff in it.

This got my cerebral juices all stirred up. One of my recurrent musings bears on the history of technology.

We humans seemed to pass over some kind of threshold in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. Before that time, it was possible for a single individual to carry enough knowledge in his head (or easily access it otherwise) to build a fairly complex contraption by himself. For instance, I’m sure that there were a few polymaths on the planet that, given suitable raw materials and machinery, could have built something recognizable as an automobile unassisted. Certainly, we could think of many other examples.

Today, however, I feel safe to state that no person on the planet has sufficient knowledge, no matter what raw materials and equipment are supplied, to make a humble digital watch.

It’s mostly because of this:

You can't make this!

The red arrow points to a tiny integrated circuit measuring only about .5 by 1.2 mm. Nobody on the planet has the all the knowledge it would take to make one of these unassisted.

SO WHAT? (one might ask)

Well, my conclusion is that if we want to take on complicated projects, we’d better learn to cooperate. That’s CO – OPERATE, meaning work together for a common goal.

REPUBILCANS AND DEMOCRATS in the US CONGRESS . . .   Are you listening to me? I’m saying something important here. I’m not just blowing cigar smoke.

Hey . . .

HEY! . . .

The silence is deafening.

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What About the Future?

Posted in Opinions on February 10th, 2009 by MadDog
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Yesterday I received four new issues of Science, the Journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Why four issues at once when it’s published weekly? Well, you would know if you understood the postal system in Papua New Guinea. In all fairness, though, we are a long way from the rest of the planet.

We, along with many other developing nations are a long way from the rest of the planet in other matters.

Here is the first paragraph of the lead editorial:

For success in an increasingly complex, crowded, and dangerous world, a nation must strive to be a meritocracy: Its education and social systems should be structured to select those with the most talent, energy, wisdom, and character as the next generation of leaders for each segment of society. When I was young, I was taught that providing equal opportunities for everyone was a matter of social justice – part of the social contract in the United States. Now, I believe that it is also a matter of national survival. Any country that fails to encourage and develop the talent in each individual through its public school system will suffer greatly, because the quality of a nation depends on the collective wisdom of both its leaders and its citizens. [italics mine]

Now, before I get all heavy with my spouting of unsolicited opinion about the matter, let me show you an image of the harbour in front of our house. The shot required a fifteen second exposure and massive processing on the computer with Photoshop:

The harbour at night - Madang

If you click to enlarge, you can see a fair amount of detail, especially in the warehouse on the left.

The curious idea of a meritocracy hasn’t gained much of a foothold. The idea that someone should hold a position of influence and power because of “talent, energy, wisdom, and character” is not especially popular. People seem to gravitate upwards for other reasons, especially where the general education level is inadequate for people to make reasoned decisions about leadership. There is a lot of talk about choosing leaders wisely, but what is the result of all this wink-wink, nod-nod?

Two recent elected officials in our area (no naming of names here) were convicted criminals. One attempted to serve part of his term in office from a jail cell. How does this speak of character?

Forget principles – how about ability. Well, you can hardly have a meritocracy if your population is largely uneducated and technically unskilled.

Who is to blame for this? It’s easy to blame the government – it’s a big target. But there is plenty of blame to go around. Everybody can have their fair share. I have seen families who believed that education was essential to their future limit their size (fewer children) and make horrifying financial sacrifices in order to pay school fees. I have also seen many other families let their many children run wild while there was always money for beer and cigarettes. I ask: which family will prosper in the end?

I can hear the voices of some even now, “That’s easy for you to say. You’re relatively rich compared to most of us.” This is true, but we have put our money where our mouths are. Over the years we have paid school fees for more than twenty children to go as far as they wished to go. Some have done well and now have good jobs. Some chose not to continue and their futures are not as bright.

My opinions are seldom humble, so I won’t change the trend now. I believe and espouse the idea that if we do not change our attitude towards education and force a change of governmental policy that fosters free education for those who show promise, than we are doomed to national mediocrity. We will be indistinguishable from other developing countries who have failed to reach their full potential.

Our country has great potential. I believe that Papua New Guinea is the “natural leader” of the South Pacific island nations. Can we ever claim the moral, educational, and technical high ground?

Never. If we fail to educate our children.

Will we ever see a sunrise in education?

Will we ever see the sun rise?

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Saving Trees – The Stupid Way

Posted in Opinions on February 6th, 2009 by MadDog
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Have you noticed that your magazines seem to be getting thinner and thinner?

The last paper and ink issue of PC Magazine

The image above may represent the wave of the future. And, I’m not talking about Windows 7.

I’ve subscribed to PC Magazine since it came out twenty-seven years ago. The issue shown above is the last to be printed on paper. Those with subscriptions are given the choice of continuing to receive the full content of the printed magazine via the internet or receiving a refund of their remaining subscription value. Those who choose to purchase at a newsstand are simply out of luck.

What a bummer! I like to sit in my chair with a beer and a cigar and read real ink on real paper. The magazine itself has gone from nearly 300 pages to less than 100, but it still contains a good deal of information that is of interest to me. I don’t want to sit at my computer at the office (where my consumption of questionable substances is severely constrained) and try to create a linear reading experience out of a web page. It’s NOT the same.

I want to save trees as much as the next guy. But, are we going to do it by destroying the printed publishing industry? Many people will simply stop reading periodicals.

What about all the people who have no means to connect to the internet? I can see the rationale for PC Magazine. They probably reckon that most all of their readers already have the capability to read the magazine online. However, I predict that within two years, the circulation of the magazine (the online version being the only option) will drop to practically nothing. Too many other computer magazines are still available that give the purchaser a genuine reading experience.

So what do I suggest? (as if anybody cares)

Treat magazines and newspapers like glass bottles that require a deposit. In many places, you now pay for the privilege of dumping your empties anywhere you like by paying up front. If you act responsibly and return the empty, you get a refund of your deposit.

If printed material that is normally disposed after reading (not books), had a recycle bonus attached to its cost (say, 10-15%), then people could save up stacks and return them to the seller for refunds or credit against purchases. There would be enough for everybody. The purchaser, after saving up a big stack, would find it worth the effort to return the paper for recycling. The seller would get a cut to make it worth his while. The recyclers would have reduced costs because there would be fewer pickup points. This is exactly the way it works in Canada for the bottle shops. You bring back your empties, get some cash, and use that to buy more.

Then we could continue to enjoy a genuine reading experience while saving our precious trees.

That’s my plan and I’m sticking to it.

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Expatriate Assistance or Expatriate Rule?

Posted in Opinions on January 27th, 2009 by MadDog
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With apologies to those in far places to whom much of this will make little sense, I’d like to take advantage of my inability to upload images at the moment to present this item of intense local interest.

The following appeared in yesterday’s The National (27 January 2009). Please hold your judgment about my reasons for presenting it here until you’ve read it. I’ll have comments at the end.

WE HAVE NO RESPECT FOR THE LAW

Papua New Guineans have no respect for their fellow countrymen and women, and the law.

Otherwise, people like Sir George Constantinou, pilot Timothy Houji and many others would still be alive today.

Police Commissioner Gari Baki recently refuted claims of Port Moresby being listed among the top five murder capitals.

Mr Baki’s response was weak when the statistics are there for everyone to see.

Lae, Mt. Hagen, Goroka and the two oil palm towns of Popondetta and Kimbe also have their fair share of killings, which I am sure our overall nationwide murder statistics must be very frightening.

Apart from murders, armed robberies are also getting more sophisticated and on the rise, making our policemen look outdated and slow.

As a former police detective myself, I have dealt with some of these violent crimes being conspired and committed in collaboration with professionals in different fields.

Whilst such violent crimes continued unabated, corruption and white-collar crimes committed by high office holders and even our hypocritical politicians are also on the rise.

Investigations or commissions of inquiries into high profile scandals, corruption or embezzlement of millions of Kina were never ever completed.

Even if the current Commission of Inquiry into Finance is completed, PNG will live up to its traditional norm that those implicated will never be prosecuted.

Even if such cases were prosecuted, they would soon be swept under the carpet and forgotten.

Who can ever forget the Julian Moti CoI? What has happened to it?

Just an hour prior to me writing this letter, a young boy from Lufa district was caught stealing a can of Ox & Palm corned beef and a Wopa biscuit.

The boy was beaten up by security guards before being handed over to police.

The poor boy could be convicted and sentenced to serve a jail term because he belongs to the “unfortunate system class”, unlike our politicians.

I will not be surprised if the Taiwanese scandal will be swept under the carpet.

What PNG needs is to take a drastic and radical approach to rid itself of this sickening moral decay.

One possible option for PNG to fully adapt and embrace the ideology of former Goroka MP Hire Kimisopa to bring back the Australians so that they fill all the key Government positions.

Apart from Australia, we can also bring in expatriates from UK, New Zealand, Canada and the US to head our Government institutions and agencies.

Not only should expatriates head these institutions, they will have to be placed in key positions where they are able to thwart any potential corruption practices.

I’m sure the expatriates can instill confidence, discipline and eradicate the current negative trend.

John Supa
Goroka

Mister Supa, I’m right with you on everything that you say about our problems. Where I begin to think more critically is where you write, “One possible option . . .” I agree that it would be a possible option, if we lived in a more tolerant universe. However, in the real world of 21st century PNG, I can’t see how it could possibly be culturally acceptable.

I’ve been here since 1981. I cannot tell you how many times that I’ve heard sentiments such as, “Everything would be better if Australia would come back and run things.” Frankly, this makes me very sad. I am not a Citizen of PNG; I’m a Permanent Resident. If it were practical for me to become a Citizen, I would. Unfortunately, it appears that it would take more years to become a Citizen than I likely have left to live.

Regardless of the issue of citizenship, this is my adopted homeland. I love PNG and I will live here the rest of my life. Therefore, I refuse to believe that we are unable to solve our own problems – WITH HELP. We are a strong and resourceful people. We have a will to make a better life. However, we need help because we do not have a civil servant class with complete training, integrity of character, and a sense of purpose. I’m guessing, from observation of the way things work these days (or don’t work), that most people would agree with that statement.

As expatriate officers and managers drifted off to greener, quieter pastures, many of the citizens left behind were ill prepared to take the reins of power. I place no blame on them for that unfortunate circumstance, but the previous colonial administration has a lot to answer for concerning the issue.

I fully agree that we need expatriate help. I believe that we need competent, dedicated, honest advisors in all government institutions. I would call them Advisors With Teeth. I can’t help feeling that installing expatriates as “bosses” in high positions would not be the right move. It feels to me like a return to colonialism – a step backwards.

However, if advisors were well chosen and have an above-reproach power to report to when bad outcomes result from advice ignored, then I believe that we could profit greatly. The world is full of highly talented and respected retired professionals who are sometimes willing to work free or for nominal fees. We could tap into that talent and give them the power to report poor results to an ultimate authority, which could then make the appropriate corrections. I suppose that it’s fair to ask exactly what that ultimate authority might be, considering that trust is a rare commodity these days – and rightfully so!

I sympathize with your frustrations and anxiety over the state of our society, Mr. Supa. I feel these same emotions daily. I differ with you only in degree on the issue of expatriate assistance. I think that if we are clever enough, we could reap the benefits of expatriate assistance to help us to solve extremely difficult social issues without resorting to what some would see, with some justification, as “foreign interference”.

Let’s see how clever we are.

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Here We Are Again – Right Back Where We Started

Posted in Humor, Mixed Nuts, Opinions on January 26th, 2009 by MadDog
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If you’re considering blogging and you are not a ‘scripting geek’ who probably thinks Microsoft is the mark of the beast and goes to bed at four in the morning with a copy of The LINUX Bible under your pillow, then DON’T, for pity’s sake, set up a WordPress blog on an independent host! (Get a “free’ one as I describe below.)

Why? (one might ask)

Because, when an independently hosted WordPress site works right, it’s as sweet as honey – you can do all kinds of cool things. But, when it goes sour on you, you will very likely not be able to fix it yourself. You won’t even get mead. You’ll get vinegar.

Case in Point:  Sometime in November, having a ‘self-hosted’ WordPress site on Global Technologies’ server in Madang, I got hacked. Don’t ask me how. Though I’ve worked on computers for over thirty years, much of what’s going on here is a total mystery to me. The result was that I COULD NOT UPLOAD IMAGES.

So, since nobody could give me any better advice than “you got hacked” (somebody got around the security measures and put something on my site that caused it to stop working), I moved the entire site to a ‘free’ WordPress blog at WordPress.Com.  (You can sign up for a free WordPress blog at www.wordpress.com. Just press the “Sign Up Now” button. Ten minutes later you’ll be blogging with no hassles and very little risk.)

I soon discovered limitations that I did not like. There are some cool things that you can’t do on the ‘free’ version of WordPress.

So, I attemped to move the site to a server in the USA and botched the job completely. Finding no help that I didn’t have to pay for, I hired a consultant to move it for me. He did. Some things still did not work. He suggested a move to another host. I said, yes, if that’s the one you like, then move it.

So, three moves after the initial incident, and US$525 out of my pocket (and I just sent another US$300), I have a shiny new site that looks just as good, does all the nifty things I wanted it to do, and has the same internet address, but today I discovered, with much weeping and gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, that I COULD NOT UPLOAD IMAGES.

Right back where I started!

(In fairness, part of the money has gone to setting up a new, very professionally tricked-out WordPress blog for Eunie at www.messersmith.name/news. Don’t expect much yet; it’s a work in progress.)

Just so we’re clear, I don’t regret paying for the work. I don’t regret all the hassle and fretting. The consultant underestimated the complexity of the job and it took more time and it’s not finished yet. That happens all the time – no blame game here!

What I do slightly regret is that I didn’t get a ‘free’ WordPress.com blog in the first place and learn to live with its limitations. I do not have the skills that are required to get me out of a problem if something goes wrong. And good help doesn’t come cheap.

I got many offers from places that I shall not name to “move you blog for $50”. I can’t even imagine how disastrous that could have been. I returned the emails politely, saying that I had already found another consultant.

Now that I’ve bored you into a comfortable numbness, I’ll leave you with my hard won wisdom.

If you want to blog, keep it simple. Your blog should attract readers because of what you say, how you say it, and the images that you present.  The rest is just razzle-dazzle and can cause you a lot of grief.

If I would only learn to listen to my own advice.

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Along the Way

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Opinions on January 14th, 2009 by MadDog
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Serenity is a much-sought commodity these days.  It certainly is for me.  I think that’s true for many people in these “interesting” times.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that the situation on this planet is getting worse instead of better.  Most of the time, I don’t want to watch the news.  We can’t seem to find a way to stop killing each other.  We’re obviously poisoning the planet in myriad ways.  The primary occupation of most of the rich seems to be to rob from the poor.  The litany of human perversity goes on and on.

It’s no surprise, then, if I seek moments when I can steal away from the troublesome day to come and find peace in the beauty of my adopted land.

Driving to work in the morning often provides such opportunities.

As I turned onto Coronation drive this morning, the Finnesterre Mountains  were brooding across Astrolabe Bay  looking bluer than the sea:

The Finnesterre Mountains, Madang, Papua New Guinea
 
I crossed the road to have a look at the shoreline. The muted light made the mossy rocks glow fluorescent green:

Mossy rocks along the shorline of Astrolabe Bay - Madang, Papua New Guinea

To the northeast, the glassy sea reflects the morning sun crashing through the clouds:

Astrolabe Bay reflects a brooding sky in Madang, Papua New Guinea

I got back into the car and drove up the road to Machinegun Point. It’s one the spots that I love to photograph:

Machinegun Point on Astrolabe Bay - Madang, Papua New Guinea

The image above reminds me that change is a blessed thing.  Just as a photographer notices the change of light, atmosphere, and context when he composes, I notice changes in life’s circumstances that drag me along, kicking and screaming, to new experiences – new vistas, if you will.  One day I’m dismally wondering, “Is this all there is?”  The next day, circumstances change – new forces come into play.  I may be facing a new life that promises new opportunities.

Certainly, not all changes are beneficial.  Often circumstances beyond our control bring about undesirable change.

But we can control the changes that we craft of our own volition.  When we opt to change ourselves for noble reasons, we are truly human in the best sense.  When we choose options that better our family or community relationships, we benefit the whole.

It’s trite, but true; when we cease to change, we die.

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The Terrifying World of Clubbing – Know Your Bouncer

Posted in Humor, Opinions on January 10th, 2009 by MadDog
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Back in my day, clubbing looked like this:

We were some cool and crazy cats back in my day

Yes, we were some cool and crazy cats.

It was the women that saved us from profound nerdery. I love this shot that I snapped on the fly in a dark club hallway. Eunie and her friend Grace were accompanying me for a night out on the town. There’s nothing like having a classy babe on each side of you at the table to make you feel taller than you really are:

Two classy babes - one is my wife, the other still a dear friend after all these years

They are both terrific dancers and gorgeous in the bargain.

Eunie’s reflection in the mirror adds to the groovy aura of the shot. I married one of these women. I would have married Grace if Eunie had turned me down (again!). I suppose that’s presumptive, since I never asked Grace.

Ah, but things are more complicated today. There are legal, ethical, law enforcement, and regulatory complications.

Have a look at this item from Cosmo* – the UK edition:

Know Your Bouncer - TERRIFYING!

The sidebar came from a terrifying article in the January 2009 issue.

It makes me glad that I’m not a woman. To be such a target might dampen one’s spirits a bit. Of course, most of the time it’s an excess of spirits that’s the problem. Ah, but ‘tis not for me to judge. I’ve tied a few on in my time.

* Yes, I read Cosmopolitan. If you want to know more about women, you don’t read Playboy! DUH!

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