Monthly Archives: July 2007

It is time to resign, Kevin Andrews.

It is time, Kevin. The alternatives are fairly clear: either a terrorist has been let out into your hastily invented “home detention”, instead of the customary way in which they are treated, or you have put an innocent man through hell in an attempt to save your government’s political life. Australia’s reputation as a fair country is now completely in tatters and I am disgusted by your conduct.

No more of this no-apology, no-resignation nonsense that we have come to expect from the other weasels in your government. You have continually reminded us of your Christian beliefs. Prove it. What would Jesus do, if he wasn’t a work of fiction?

One of the stupidest political ideas that I’ve seen yet.

A Victorian member of parliament, Evan Thornley, has suggested that parents should be able to vote on behalf of their (underage) children..

I can’t be the only person who is fed up with hearing the word “family” coming from politicians. The “family” is constantly used to justify everything from censorship, targetted tax-breaks, government handouts and plainly blatant discrimination. Premiers resign to spend “more time with their family” (it’s so nice that their generous superannuation allows them to do that), fringe religious extremists start political parties to push their beliefs onto society, using the family as a front, and both sides of politics harp endlessly about working families, as if the rest of us are merely layabouts. Now someone wants to give a weighted vote to those people who breed the most children?

It’s one thing to want to lower the age at which a person may vote, but it’s quite another to disenfranchise the childless.

This comment, however, amused me greatly:

Mr Thornley said last night: “Families are currently underrepresented in our democracy. They pay but don’t have a say.”

Umm, Mr Thornley, it’s not called the Singles Tax Benefit. I don’t mind that taxes go towards this (and, in fact, encourage it), if it is properly means-tested, but please, the money isn’t coming just from families.

Sadly, as a result of Steve Bracks’ resignation today, Mr Thornley is likely to be in the Victorian cabinet, at this time next week.

More on this at Larvatus Prodeo

Guilty until proven deported.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer:

“Every time there is somebody arrested and facing charges, there’s some sort of controversy about ‘oh the poor thing, he must be innocent, this is all being cooked up for some particular reason’.”

I guess presumption of innocence is no longer a core Australian value.

Unlocking a SelecTV satellite decoder

Last year, I subscribed to SelecTV, a newish satellite pay-TV provider, because it seemed like the easiest way to get news stations like BBC World and Euronews that I watched quite a bit when I lived in Amsterdam.

The thing I liked about SelecTV was that their service is set up so that customers can use commodity equipment to receive their signal – that is, any DVB-S receiver with Irdeto encryption. This means that their customers own their equipment, there’s no contracts, so they can cancel the subscription whenever they like … and most importantly, it can be used with a home-brew PVR – unlike Foxtel, where it’s necessary to fork out a couple of hundred dollars for an iQ box, which has to be returned if the service is shut off.

SelecTV is broadcast from the Intelsat 8 satellite. Before I subscribed, I went outside and took a few ad-hoc measurements with a compass … and found that the path between my house and the satellite was blocked by the huge, ugly housing commission building down the road from me; the same building whose construction was responsible for the demolition of the lovely (or so I’m told) old house that my grandfather had been born in. Politicians and architects of the 50s, 60s and 70s have a lot to answer for.

Not sure whether the building would present a problem, I wanted to be certain that it all worked (and it did) before I paid any money, so I decided to go with the SelecTV-provided equipment; satellite dish, LNB and a UEC-990/DSD990 DVB-S receiver. This is an entry-level receiver, and it is somewhat lacking in features. Furthermore, it is locked to SelecTV’s signal, by default. This is somewhat annoying, as there are a number of free-to-air signals on that satellite from other providers, and I wanted to see them.

I’ve been trying to find out for quite a while if it is possible to unlock it, and if so, how to do it. finally today, I found an answer, at the end of this forum post. I’ll repeat the steps here, in case the forum disappears:

  • Press the Menu button, go to Advanced Options
  • Choose Change Dish Installation
  • Enter a PIN of 9949
  • Choose Signal Setup, and then enable each of the Signal Setup options 2 – 6
  • Go back to the Change Dish Installation menu and choose Tune and Rescan

That’s it. Once it was done scanning, there were dozens more channels – although most of them were encrypted, and hence not available without the correct card. The extra free-to-air channels were mostly Arabic stations, with a couple of Chinese stations and one from Bosnia … and also Deutsche Welle TV, which broadcasts alternate hours of English and German. I’ll find that very handy for a bit of language practice.

My next step is to buy a three-way LNB holder, a second LNB and a diplexer, so I can get the free-to-air broadcasts on the Optus B3 satellite; BVN is available there, broadcasting in Dutch, another language which I’d like to get more practice with.

Thankyou, Peter Costello

…for the most enjoyable day of politics-watching I’ve had for a long time.

Australia’s pathetic media

There are plenty of reasons for John Howard and his vile government to apologise, but forgetting the name of one of his party’s candidates for the next election is probably the least of them:

Forced to apologise? Hell, half the time I can’t even remember what I did an hour ago, let alone the names of 226 MPs, Senators or prospective parliamentarians, and I’m half his age.

This is a non-story. Why aren’t these useless journalists getting him to apologise for taking the country to war on a lie?

The Great Global Warming Swindle

Why is the ABC showing the “Great Global Warming Swindle” on both ABC-TV and ABC2 at the same time? There’s nowhere in Australia where the second channel can be received that the first channel can’t also be received. And it’s not like ABC2’s miniscule audience is going to add anything to that which ABC-TV will get; of the few people who have digital receivers, how many of those even know ABC2 exists?

In all, it smacks of a cowed ABC giving in to a badly stacked board. I don’t care if they show it on either channel, despite the fact that it has been thoroughly discredited; but there’s simply no good reason to be showing it on both channels at once.

Seven reasons why embedding media players is bad.

I often wonder who it was that thought it would be a good idea to embed streaming media players into web browser windows. I can’t imagine that the public beat on the doors of software designers and told them, “You know, we like this internet radio thing, but hey – put it in a web browser!

Back in the days when streaming audio on the internet was just starting to become a commercial proposition (and don’t we all remember Xing), radio stations would put a link on their webpages, which, when clicked, would spawn a separate application to play it (based on the link’s mime-type).

Somewhere, along the way, this changed. Stations started embedding their players into web pages – hiding the url, in most cases. These days, I’d estimate that probably 70%25 of online radio stations make their listeners use embedded media players, and those who want to listen to the station with a dedicated application have to go hunting through the javascript source code for a link.

Here’s why I dislike them so much:

  1. It’s annoying for the user. Who wants a hulking great web-browser window on their screen, just to play music? The audio should be going on in the background, not sitting prominently on their screen, forcing the user to iconify it. Just let them run a separate application in the background, minimised.
  2. Most web browsers are unstable. Browsers are big, complex applications. They tend to crash, or hang, a lot. When this happens, embedded media players – which are generally just a bunch of shared libraries, dynamically linked at runtime, will die in sympathy. There’s nothing quite like having the White Stripes halt mid-chorus just as you accidentally click on some tweenie’s all-singing, all-blinking Myspace page.
  3. Most media players are unstable. They’re not big and complex like web-browsers, but I’ve found media players to be, by and large, pretty bloody awful. A bit of network lag, a stream pumps out something the player didn’t expect, and bang, that weblog entry you’ve been working on disappears with the player’s plugin.
  4. Not everyone uses a graphical browser. Good luck getting your javascript monstrosity in lynx – which probably rules out most visually handicapped users from accessing your stream. While most commercial radio organisations probably don’t care about this (although they should), government-funded broadcasters – who need to provide equal access to all – certainly should be taking it into account.
  5. Embedded players are often difficult to bookmark Want your listeners to return again and again? Well, they can’t, if your web pages launch a javascript window without the browser’s menubar on it. Let them bookmark the stream in their favourite media application instead.
  6. People want to use an interface that they are familiar with. I don’t care about that snazzy interface your web design team has dreamt up. My media player of choice is gxine. It’s small, light, and with libxine behind it, it works for the vast majority of radio stations I want to listen to. I have no desire to use any other application to listen to audio, certainly not one with your radio station’s logo plastered over it … and people who aren’t IT-minded will be confused with all the millions of different interfaces that these web-designers waste money putting together.
  7. Hiding the url makes life difficult for people with streaming appliances. There’s a bunch of products coming to the market that are effectively internet radios. It’s probably not far off from the day when mobile internet rates are cheap enough that people start listening to internet streams in their car or while jogging as frequently as they’d listen to a normal radio; as it is, I tend to use my wireless PDA as a portable radio, around the house. If you’re a radio station hiding your url behind a huge web of indecipherable javascript in an embedded player, you’re going to be bleeding listeners. Just provide a damned link.

Furthermore, should any radio station managers or CTOs read this article, please use an open codec, such as Ogg Vorbis for your station’s stream. There’s no good reason to be using a proprietary player – it’s as ridiculous as the sealed set scheme, which was used early in Australia’s radio history, where radio sets that could only be tuned to one station were sold to listeners. Needless to say, it wasn’t particularly successful. By using a codec that people are free to use without restrictions or patent fees, it will open the market to a wealth of new applications and devices, and allow your station to be accessed in ways you might not have considered. Consider how far radio would have gone if it had stuck with the sealed set model…

(And as an aside, there’s just no excuse for publically funded organisations like the ABC, the BBC, CBC, Radio New Zealand and RTE to be using proprietary streaming systems. I really don’t see why government money should be going to prop up one or two software vendors, thereby forcing the public to use proprietary products to listen to programs that their taxes have paid for).

Amateur hour

With all the recent hysteria about the attempted bombings in the UK, The Register has a really good article written by a former armed forces bomb-disposal operator, putting it all in perspective. Well worth a read.


Threats to Australia: terrorism, high interest rates … and now wall-to-wall control:

Prime Minister John Howard has repeatedly warned about Labor governments having nation-wide control, arguing a balance was needed.

Never mind the fact that it would take a near miracle for Labor to get control of the Senate, John, with the Greens on 13%25. Hopefully Australians will learn not to make the mistake of allowing an outright majority there, again.