Beta testing “Walking Melbourne” podcast

Last month I recorded a couple of pilot episodes of a new podcast series where I walk around Melbourne with one of the City of Melbourne’s “greeters”, Jill. This is a project cooked up between myself, Tourism Victoria and the City of Melbourne. We’ve recorded two pilots and I’d really appreciate it if a few of you in Melbourne would grab these and do the walk while you listen to the podcast and then give me feedback on how well it works.

The first tour takes us through Melbourne’s seedy past and is called “Politics, Prostitutes and Poverty”. The second, “Lingering in Laneways” takes us down some of Melbourne’s hidden laneways to discover some of the best kept secret bars, shops and restaurants.

Get both of them at TPN’s Melbourne Confidential site.

Religion and violence

This post “I Don’t Respect Your Religion” by Cenk Uygur from The Young Turks is right on the money.

Here’s an excerpt:

Read the Bible, the Torah and the Koran. They are all full of violent, bloody fantasies that teach you over and over to kill your enemies. Christians love to think they are the exception to this rule. They’ll say the Old Testament doesn’t really apply anymore because the New Testament overruled all the gory, masochistic violence of the earlier book. So, then I guess Genesis isn’t true either since that’s in the Old Testament? Oops.

Then, you’ll get the excuse that Jesus was the Prince of Peace. Yeah, I know, that’s why in Matthew 10:34 he says, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Sounds down right Christian of him.

But even if you can make up pathetic excuses for this obvious blood-lust and call to violence, it doesn’t matter. Because in the end Jesus murders almost all of us anyway. Jesus doesn’t just kill the “liars” and the “sexually immoral” and the eight other categories of people who get thrown in “fiery lake of burning sulfur.” He kills all of the “unbelieving” folks as well. If you don’t believe in Jesus, you get the lake of fire! What a swell guy.

Personally, though, I’m not convinced that Bhutto’s assassination had anything to do with religious fundamentalism. It seems to me to be a clean hit. I am amazed, though, at this video of her interview with Sir David Frost in early November, where, around the 6 minute mark, she clearly says that Osama Bin Laden was murdered, names his murderer, and Frost doesn’t even ask her to clarify the statement. She mentions it almost in passing. But then, according to Wikipedia, a week later, when she was placed under house arrest, she asked one of the policeman “Shouldn’t you be looking for Osama bin Laden?”

I’ve also been reading about the list of corruption charges again her and her husband on Wikipedia. Were they trumped up? Why did Musharraf drop the charges upon her recent return to the country? I would love to get some decent analysis of the situation.

Al-qaida has supposedly claimed responsibility for the assassination but it still isn’t clear to me WHO is behind Al-qaida. We know for a fact that the Afghani mujahideen were armed, trained and funded by the USA in the 80s. Hell, evenRambo liked them. It isn’t clear to me if or when the USA actually stopped funding them. And if it isn’t the USA, then what is the involvement of the USA’s ally, Pakistan and the Pakistani Taliban?

The only thing I know is that when I read simplistic descriptions of her assassination thrown about in the media with the propaganda words “terrorism” and “al-qaida” I am drawn into looking deeper. Superficial explanations don’t seem to do her or her legacy justice.

UPDATE 31 December, 2007: There are now reports that the BBC edited out Bhutto’s comments about Bin Laden’s murder. What I don’t understand though is where the original video, the one where Bhutto names the murderer, comes from if the BBC edited it out before broadcast?

Geeks Who Care

Over the last few months I’ve been wrestling with the notion that there should be some kind of framework for geeks to do something positive in their local community. Something that isn’t tied to any particular religious, political or social agenda. Something that plays on the strengths of geeks and doesn’t require a full-time commitment but also involves more than just writing a cheque or a blog.

After a chat with Father Bob Maguire (from TPN’s Father Bob Show and the guy who has been the inspiration for much of my thinking in this area), his co-host Michaela and Michael Leone from Gnoos a month or so ago, I realized that perhaps we should pull together a group of people together and workshop ideas on what we could do, together, to make a difference in our local communities. I don’t have the answers. Hell, I don’t even know most of the right questions to ask. But I do feel that I could be, should be, doing more. I just need to work out what kinds of things I, we, can do. And I think it might be easier if we were to try to accomplish it in a group.

So, with that in mind, I’m kicking off “Geeks Who Care” with a meeting at Bob’s place (Cnr Dorcas and Montague Sts, South Melbourne) on January 27th. I’m hoping we’ll get a small group of like-minded individuals to come together to workshop ideas. From there we can put together a framework, steps forward (kind of like how we started MODM early last year). I’m sure most of you will have more of an idea about what we should be doing that I do. I’m an idiot. I’ve already had a few great ideas given to me and I’m sure between now and Jan 27 I’ll get a lot more. There is a Facebook event set up for the meetup. Get to it here (link) and the main domain, GeeksWhoCare.com, currently re-directs to a Facebook group for general discussion. For those of you itching to tell me how much you hate Facebook – save it, I’m not interested.

Perhaps, if this one works out, we can set up similar groups around the country, around the world even… hell, let’s put one on Mars. Those poor little green guys needs our help too. Martians are humans too you know.

Geeks Who Care

TPN mentioned (briefly) in The Age

There are a couple of stories about podcasting in Australia in The Age today. I chatted with both journalists at length over the last month for the stories but ended up with two lines out of a 2+ page story. Go figure. All of my journo and ex-journo friends (including Mrs R) this morning counseled me to just wear it on the chin. And perhaps they are right. But I’m pissed off about it anyway. And here’s why.

In the main story, by Andrew Bock, the ABC, Austereo (owner of Triple M and Fox FM) and even Salty Dog (congrats Dennis!) get their download figures trumpeted. Where are TPN’s figures? Omitted. Deliberate? I don’t know.

What I do know is that Fairfax, the owners of The Age, have a commercial relationship with Austereo. Fairfax hosts Austereo’s websites. Was that disclosed in the article? No, it was not. Accidental? Perhaps. According to the article, Austereo is doing more than 850,000 podcast downloads a month across all its stations. TPN is doing about the same (we spiked a few months back and hit about 800k, last month it was about 650K, which is where Austereo’s last annual report in July 2007 said they were at). TPN is a one-man, self-funded, three-year-old operation. Austereo is decades-old, publicly-listed company with revenues in excess of $255 million pa which has some of the biggest names in radio working on their shows.

Now if *you* were writing the story about podcasting, don’t you think this would have been an interesting comparison? Apparently someone at Fairfax didn’t think so.

Fairfax also now owns Southern Cross Broadcasting, owners of top radio stations 3AW and 2UE. Was that disclosed in the article? No, it wasn’t. If you take TPN’s listener numbers (450 – 500k per month) and compare those to, say, 3AW, I think we’re about the same size, perhaps even bigger.

Does Fairfax have a conflict of interest when it covers stories about radio and podcasting? What do you think?

By the way, I don’t blame the journo’s involved. They are both swell guys. I’m sure if their stories are being edited after they submit them, and important conflict of interest disclosures aren’t being made, then they would both be concerned. Is the paper interested in reporting news or in promoting a company they have a commercial interest in?

Luckily we now have alternative places we can get our news from, such as NORG. If you aren’t contributing to that already, I encourage you to. We have the tools now to report our own news. Of course, I’ll need to get my backside out of this chair so I know what’s going on the world before I’ll have much to contribute…

Vista going nuts

Has anyone seen this kind of behaviour before? It’s happened to me on my Lenovo Vista box a couple of times in the last few weeks. Out of the blue, the screen just starts flickering like mad. The only way I have found to restore the box to normal behaviour is to either log off and back on, or a full re-boot.

Many Voices – a Twittories for middle school kids

As the twittories project keeps growing (we’re now taking registrations for twittories #2), it seems like the idea is inspiring others to do similar projects. I got this email today from Mr Mayo:

Cameron,

I’m a middle school teacher in the US. I have been following your Twittory project. I’ve joined to add a contribution to Twittory #2. I’ve created an offshoot of your idea, but tweaked it to use with my middle school students. I gave you credit for inspiring me to try this out with middle schoolers on our Twitter Story sign-up page.

Thanks for the idea. George (In Washington, DC)
http://twitter.com/manyvoices (link to our Twitter Story Page)


Mr. Mayo
http://www.mrmayo.org

Sounds like a great idea, George! Will you be making it available to kids from around the world to contribute to? Is Twitter popular with kids yet?

I’ve been wondering about what other kinds of new content or services we can create with Twitter as the collaboration platform. How could corporations or governments use it? More importantly, how can the general public use it to empower themselves against big corporations and governments? How can we use it as a platform for social activism, for positive change?

The 13.7 billion year old man

Have you ever stopped to think about how old you REALLY are? I don’t mean this arbitrary thing we call your date of birth – I mean how old you REALLY are.

Every atom in your body is old – REALLY old. Many of them, such as oxygen and carbon, are only produced via stellar nucleosynthesis – inside giant stars. The nuclei of these atoms is produced by whacking helium nuclei together under extreme heat, therefore the nuclei themselves, which hold most of our mass, are actually much older than those reaction. They were created in the Big Bang. Your current body just represents a different proximity and alignment of those nuclei. They’ve been around, in one form or another, for 13.7 billion years. That’s what we call the Law of Conservation of Mass-Energy – the total amount of mass and energy in the universe is constant.

The current estimate we have for the age of the universe is about 13.7 billion years. Therefore, it seems to me that my body is really about 13.7 billion years old. No wonder I’m feeling tired lately.

What is even more profound for me is the realization that I *had* to exist. Not only that, but I *had* to be who I am right now. It couldn’t have been any different. Yes, I’m a determinist.

When I’m having a debate with creationists about evolution, I usually hear, among their various standard arguments, something about evolution meaning we are all here through some random series of accidents. That strikes me as the complete opposite of the truth.

Think about it – 13.7 billion years ago, the Big Bang occurred. Everything that has happened since that point in time (which I guess was zero time, as time was created WITH the Big Bang) happened according to the laws of physics and chemistry, or let’s just bundle them up together and call them “Laws Of The Universe” (LOTU). Every single atomic reaction that has occurred since time started, happened as a result of LOTU. To suggest otherwise would be saying that sometimes LOTU can be broken which wouldn’t make them LAWS. From all of our investigation of the universe over the last few thousand years, we have come to understand that it does seem to operate according to certain laws. We don’t understand all of them yet and perhaps we never will. It does seem true, though, that laws are present everywhere we look.

What about quantum mechanics? Even QM, as mind-bending as it seems to be, appears to operate according to certain laws and, according to some, is probably also deterministic, even though we currently don’t understand all of the hidden variables and therefore it appears probabilistic. We’ve only been aware of the nature of sub-atomic mechanics for 100 years, it’s early days, but already we understand enough that much of our engineering is based upon the laws of QM as we currently understand them.

If we had absolute knowledge of every atomic and sub-atomic event that was happening one second after the Big Bang, and we completely understood LOTU, I’m certain we could predict everything – the entire course of our lives, the time and place of our death, and the end of the universe itself. Of course, we don’t have that information, and we probably never will, but it’s profound enough for me to sit here and contemplate that my very existence was determined by the Big Bang… that 13.7 billion years ago, the nuclei of the atoms that now form my body were created and a series of event began which lead, not only to my birth, but to the entire course of my life. Every thought and every action I’ve ever had or ever will have, are also the result of LOTU. Nothing could have been different. My life will play out the way it plays out. Every event which happens is the only possible event which COULD have happened. Nothing is wasted, nothing is in excess, nothing is superfluous. There is no reason to feel regret, or guilt, or worry. I am who I am, the only possible me I could be, and this is the only possible life I could live.

I could take it one step further and think about this particular combination of atoms that make up “Cameron”. Are they the same atoms that made up “Cameron” 37 years ago? Absolutely not. So which particular combination of atoms am I? Yesterday’s? Today’s? What makes me “me”? Is it a particular series of memories about events which happened to “me”? What if I had an accident and lost all of my memories? Would I still, then, be “me”? And, if so, why?

Perhaps this whole identity thing is just a fabrication, an illusion, a mental construct. Perhaps there is no such thing as a definitive “me”. Perhaps I shouldn’t limit the definition of “me” to this particular collection of atoms. Perhaps I should consider all of the atoms that have ever made up my body to still be “me”. But then… billions of those atoms are no longer part of my body. They came and went. Where did they go? Into the air, the soil, the water around me. They were, perhaps, absorbed by a nearby plant, which was eaten by an animal sometime later, which was then eaten by… another human. Is that other human, therefore, since they contain some of my previous atoms, also me?

This whole discussion of atoms gets weirder. Just imagine that you had eyes as powerful as an electron microscope. Now look at your skin. Which particles on there are you and which aren’t you? How go you decide which bacteria in and on your body are part of you and which aren’t you? Remove all of the bacteria in your body and you DIE. So surely they are you too. And we all know that atoms don’t have a hard shell. The electrons which are in orbit around the nucleus don’t form a hard shell, which is why physicists like Brian Greene like to say that we are mostly made up of space.

So… you are a 13.7 billion year old roving collection of atoms which are mostly made up of space and everything you have ever done, or ever will do, is 100% determined by the Laws Of The Universe.

Now tell me that isn’t at LEAST as profound and mind-boggling as anything you get from religion.