Category Archives: Humans


The interwebs are the kind of place that if you don’t watch yourself, you can find yourself wandering into all sorts of odd locations.  This thing is called a RealTouch.  It’s a USB controlled masturbation aid (like guys need some kind of aid) that synchronizes with especially encoded video pornography streamed from the publisher’s website:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but shoving your junk into a caterpillar track doesn’t seem to be a good idea.  Am I the only one who thinks of radio-controlled toy tanks when I look at this?  Remember to only use it with the shell attached kids!  There’s a heater built-in too.   Again, I’m not sure that strapping an electrical heater to your Johnston is one of the cleverer things you could do today.  There’s also some kind of thing to disperse lubricant.  All this for a bargain-basement US$150!

Apparently, computer controlled masturbation is a well documented field more precisely called Teledildonics.  It appears that geeks, given the opportunity to combine computers and self-pleasuring, didn’t attempt to restrain themselves and went in full-tilt.  There’s even a wiki dedicated to Teledildonics, with a page on this very device; it’s all very technical (your salami experiences Parallel Axis Actuation using two motorized belts).

Which is why you shouldn’t click on weird ads.

Birthrate<2.0 in Australia does not mean the end of the species

I’m listening to politicians rambling on about paid maternity leave and one just observed that it’s a crying shame that in Australia the birth rate is less than 2.0 per female.  Said same politician is advocating for more financial support for those undergoing IVF.

This planet does not need more people.  Governments should not be encouraging their production.

I’d like to point out that as it has in the past, Australia can very easily import humans to fill any shortage of warm bodies needed to care for the Baby Boomers in their dottage.  We don’t need to breed workers for the elderly-care industry.

When critical systems fail

There’s some interesting things coming out of the bushfires royal commission; the last couple of days has highlighted the limitations of the emergency Triple-0 system, when surges in the number of calls outstripped available capacity, and overflow calls were put on hold, got recorded messages or were diverted.

The first half-hour of Jon Faine’s show on 774 is worth a listen for those interested, particularly the section from about 10 minutes in, with Garth Head, a former adviser to Minister for Police and Emergency Services. For geeks, it’s a reminder that sometimes the systems we design, implemennt and manage are sometimes critically important to those who rely on them.

Communication with pre-vocalisation humans: a review

Earlier I mentioned that Cathy and I were trying to communicate with Owen using sign language. I’m here to report how that went.

It took a while. Our signing was persistent, and eventually we started seeing him signing back at us, although because of his impaired fine motor skills (what with being a baby and all) he didn’t do a good job of making the “correct” or taught signs. But we knew what he meant, and we consistently “corrected” him (by repeating our understanding back using the right sign), and saw no change. Once he’d figured out the sign for something, and he was getting the right response, he was happy. It took more than six months for him to change his sign for Cat from his personal sign (sticking his fingers to his lips) to that similar to the right one (pulling at whiskers on your face). He’s still signing “more” incorrectly, but we know exactly what he means – and he couples it with a spoken “Mor” nowadays.

One thing that I noticed was that his vocabulary was expanding steadily, until it suddenly collapsed. And that coincided with him beginning to vocalise – as soon as he started making distinguishable sounds, it seemed like all the hand signs fell out of his head. They’ve slowly returned, but it was a major disappointment to go from understanding most of his wants to understanding few of them.

A downside of sign language is that it’s hard to read in darkness. So going to a crying baby in the middle of the night and getting him to tell me what was wrong/what he wanted didn’t work so good.

In balance, I’d say that signing helped a lot. Owen’s a very calm child, which I partially attribute to his ability to tell his parents what he wants – and when we’re able to tell him that we understand, but he’s not getting any more chocolate until tomorrow, his frustration isn’t due to a communications failure.

What I learned from Scrutineering an Election

I scrutineered the 2006 Victorian State Election. Comments are made in the context of the voting systems used there: Preferential for the lower house, and Single Transferable Vote for the upper house. I was in a very safe Labour seat.

  1. HTV cards seem to hold quite a sway over voters; about two thirds of them vote as per the HTV card. In the upper house, HTV cards are unnecessary – the preferences are built in to the system. The informal rate is still disturbingly high.

    Because of this, I think the lower house ticket should allow a single “1”, tick or a cross to be entered – just like the upper house. It would eliminate the need for HTV cards.

  2. How To Vote (HTV) cards don’t affect upper house results. The Democrats were handing out HTVs at my booth. The Democrats weren’t running a lower house candidate, only upper house. The DLP and People Power were in a similar boat, but weren’t handing out HTVs. They all got the same number of Above The Line (ATL) votes.
  3. The ALP don’t care about the upper house. After the lower house count finished, the ALP scrutineers left. No Liberal scrutineer ever showed. The Labour guys said they were there “to make sure the Liberals don’t pull one of their dirty tricks” – no, they wouldn’t elaborate.
  4. Donkey voting is alive and well. I didn’t capture the rate, but I have been told 1%. I think it might even be 2% or more, looking at my figures. But in my booth, a donkey vote could easily have been classified as a “Not the sitting candidate – I hate major political parties” vote.
  5. The preferential voting system is not well understood.

    The VEC has made it as easy as they could for voters to vote formally.

    While the general process of numbering from one to the number of candidates is broadly understood by Election staff, even they don’t get the finer points of what constitutes a formal vote. The general gist for this election was “do as much as you can to make the vote valid” – so if the last digit was missing off a lower house ballot, it was clear what the voter’s intentions were; if the upper house ticket had marks both above the line and below it, the more specific (i.e., BTL) vote was taken. In addition to a “1”, a tick or a cross was acceptable; digits other than 1 didn’t invalidate a formal ballot. Basically, within the voting rules, great allowances were made for what counted as a formal vote. I spent a lot of my scrutineering time adjudicating as to what a formal ballot looked like. Which brings me to:

    • What does a valid “1” look like? Some fonts put a bar at top, or top and bottom. And it seems some people write them like a seven, and others like an upside-down square-mirror-imaged J. Is a half-cross a “1”, or enough of a cross to make a formal vote?
  6. Some people object to compulsory voting.

    Nearly half of the informal votes I saw were completely blank. They suggest a decision to not vote. From my read of this AEC research paper on informal voting, 1.5% – 3.5% points of informal voting are by people who don’t want to vote (something like 25% of people don’t want to vote). These figures correlate to what I saw.

    15% of voters didn’t bother turning up to vote. Another 9% shouldn’t have bothered – their votes were informal. So the election was decided by the 75% of voters who could (both willing and able to) vote.

  7. People are idiots

    Apparently there are some other correlated predictors for informal voting: English as a second language (ESL), little education and too many candidates. The ESLers have no excuse, election materials are provided in the twenty or so dominate foreign languages. Too many candidates for your little brain? Boo hoo. My booth had a stunning four candidates – most people can count to three. Didn’t go to school? Doesn’t preclude you from counting to three. The only reasonable explanation is People Are Idiots.

    This observation is also made in the context of the first point in my list.

I scrutineered to confirm my last point (it’s not that hard, I really couldn’t believe the informal rate was that high), and to challenge my assumption about HTV cards – they don’t work. Wrong. They work wonderfully. I also couldn’t believe that so many people vote “1” for a major party – but I was wrong, nearly 90% of valid votes cast were for the majors. I still don’t know why, but at least I’ve seen with my own eyes that it happens.

Perhaps we should just let our kids vote.

Arabs are evil because they are left handed

Do you recall having seen an Arab with blue hands? No? Fairly conclusive proof that All Arabs Are Evil.

You see, Arabic is a RTL script (in English, on the other hand – hah! – is Left-To-Right).

When you right a LTR script using your right hand, you get no ink on your hand, but try writing with your left hand. Blue ink everywhere! Yuk! But it’s the other way around with a RTL script.

It is widely known that Left-handed is evil, and the Arabs, well, they must all be left-handed because I don’t see them wandering around with blue hands; if they did, then we could easily tell them apart and protect ourselves.

Forward this one onto George, for the next time they don’t buy the Anthrax-vial speil.

Wow, how did I miss the Mechanical Turk?

Amazon Mechanical Turk is an astonishing idea – an Artificial AI marketplace. Basically, there’s an API you can call to get humans to do tasks (oddly enough, they want to be paid). Currently, a big favourite for the tasks is transcribing podcasts. I can see that it would be a cheap way to truth a set of training data for AI systems, like number plate detection / recognition.

An artist has used the Mechanical Turk to acquire 10,000 hand drawn left-facing sheep and put them on a site for your viewing pleasure – plus, there was an exhibition of the collectable stamp sheets etc (you can buy the as stamp-sheets for only $20 a sheet). Given the images cost less than a cent each to acquire, he may be a bullshit artist.

The Turk is an example of what Wired calls Rise of Crowdsourcing – Remember outsourcing? Sending jobs to India and China is so 2003. The new pool of cheap labor: everyday people using their spare cycles to create content, solve problems, even do corporate R & D. It’s about the markets, people. These are markets for micro-transactions – micro in their repeatability, or micro in their value.