Social Workers and Occupational Therapists Disappearing off the Medicare Radar

It’s not making the news at the moment, but the proposed scrapping of the Medicare rebate for access to social workers and occupational therapists is going to cause a lot of pain to a lot of people. We have friends with Autism and Aspergers Syndrome who benefit from the support these people provide, support that helps these people get into jobs, to live independently or to understand how the world is working. As my own wife puts it:

As a person with autism, learning disabilities and mental health issues from a background of abuse and homelessness, a lot of my skills took years to acquire. I had had a lifetime of labels, Psych and Guidance, medicated by age 9, psychiatry since my teens. But it was a social worker who liased with my psychiatrist to get me – relatively illiterate, innumerate, itinerant and at risk – back into education. The psychiatrist took the credit but it was there I understood the very different jobs these people had in the area of mental health. The psychiatrist could medicate me, but the Social Worker had a more powerful medicine – practical plans and support to change, to save, a life.

When her first husband left after isolating her:

I had spent two years without practicing my self help skills. Agoraphobic, isolated, disoriented, I didn’t need a psychiatrist or medication. I needed practical hands on help in the home and the community to pattern me back into my life skills. That help came in the form of an Occupational Therapist. She helped me get back my strategies and the life skills these supported, helped me get my confidence back and helped me put supports in place for the things I needed help with. Within three months I was running my life as an independent adult, able to commute from home out into the community, even joining in community activities and looking after a cat.

Mental health often flies under the radar of journalists, but it is a significant health issue in Australia. Professor John Mendoza says:

Today, mental ill-health is the leading cause of death for all Australians under 45. More than car accidents. More than binge drinking. More than anything else. It is the leading cause of disability in Australia across all demographics. It affects more than 4 million Australians every year and is estimated to cost the Australian economy about $30 billion each year.

This decision isn’t yet set in stone, it is apparently due to be reviewed later this year but don’t wait for the election, please write and tell the current Health Minister why it is important to keep these services eligible for the Medicare rebate.

Federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon,
1 Thomas Holmes Street
Maribyrnong Vic 3032,
Phone: 9317 7077.

Thank you.

Soliciting Australian Signatories to an Open Letter Against Software Patents to Minister Kim Carr

The Melbourne Free Software Interest Group (a group of Melbourne computer folks with an interest in software freedom) have put together an open letter to Senator the Hon Kim Carr, the Minister for Innovation, to request that software be excluded from patenting as part of the Australian governments review of patents in general.

We are currently collecting signatures to the letter and if you are in Australia and of a like mind we would really appreciate it if you would contribute your signature too! Just click on the link, read the letter and the form to sign it is at the bottom of the page. Please also pass this on to others you know who may be interested.

Nick Crane’s Britannia and Floating Islands in Snowdonia, Wales

Watched the first episode of Nick Crane’s Britannia, about England and Wales, and was interested to see a section about Snowdonia which implied that William Camden, the Elizabethan author of the original Britannia, had said that there were was a lake there which had a floating island in it. It implied that Camden would have come across this story by talking to cattle farmers of the area on his travels through North Wales. But that doesn’t seem to be the case at all, in fact the English translation of Camden’s own text says:

Neverthelesse, so ranke are they with grasse that it is a very comon speech among the Welsh, that the mountaines Eriry will yeeld sufficient pasture for all the cattaile in Wales, if they were put upon them together. Concerning the two Meare [lakes] on the toppe of these, in the one of which floteth a wandering Island, and in the other is found great store of fishes, but having all of them but one eye apeece, I will say nothing lest I might seeme to foster fables, although some, confident upon the authority of Giraldus, have beleeved it for a verity.

In other words he was just quoting Giraldus Cambrensis who, in his “The Description of Wales” (1194 CE), wrote:

the latter of which are said to be of so great an extent, that if all the herds in Wales were collected together, they would supply them with pasture for a considerable time. Upon them are two lakes, one of which has a floating island; and the other contains fish having only one eye, as we have related in our Itinerary.

Even then Giraldus is just summarising what he wrote in his “The Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin through Wales” (1188 CE), where he says:

On the highest parts of these mountains are two lakes worthy of admiration. The one has a floating island in it, which is often driven from one side to the other by the force of the winds; and the shepherds behold with astonishment their cattle, whilst feeding, carried to the distant parts of the lake. A part of the bank naturally bound together by the roots of willows and other shrubs may have been broken off, and increased by the alluvion of the earth from the shore; and being continually agitated by the winds, which in so elevated a situation blow with great violence, it cannot reunite itself firmly with the banks. The other lake is noted for a wonderful and singular miracle. It contains three sorts of fish – eels, trout, and perch, all of which have only one eye, the left being wanting; but if the curious reader should demand of me the explanation of so extraordinary a circumstance, I cannot presume to satisfy him.

So sadly it appears that William Camden was just referring back to a text that was almost 400 years old when the first edition of Britannia was published in 1586.

SSD Drive Using Compression Internally ?

The most excellent Joe Landman has a blog post looking at the performance of an anonymous SSD with a Sandforce SF-1200 controller chipset on it, and comes up with some very interesting benchmark results. But first he comes up with a nice way of quantifying the distance between benchmark results and real life:

I need to understand how close the marketing numbers are to the actual numbers. We need to establish a ratio for this. Call this the Benchmark Significance Ratio, or BS Ratio for short. Define BS Ratio as:

BS Ratio = (what they claim) / (what you measure)

A BS Ratio close to 1 is good. A BS Ratio much greater than 1 is bad. Of course, a BS Ratio much less than 1 is either an indicator of a failed test, or an accidentally released product.

What Joe finds is that the performance of the SSD, in terms of basic things like read/write speed, depends on what you write to it. If you write lots of zeros you find the performance is almost 4 times as much as if you write random data to it. Now as Joe rightly points out, this smacks of compression somewhere in the path between the program and the disk which means that most of the benchmarks you see/do (unless they/you, as Joe does, take care to use random data) will be pretty much meaningless unless you plan to just store zeros. Mind you if you do plan to just store zeros then I suggest just using /dev/null for writing to and /dev/zero to read from – they will give you much better speed and far better capacity for free! πŸ™‚

What intrigues me though is not so much the speed difference but what that means for the capacity of the device – does it claim to be a X GB device but actually store Y GB (where Y > X dependent on compressibility of data) or does it enforce the amount that it can store to the quoted capacity ? Even worse, does the stated X GB capacity depend on your data being compressible and more random data results in less space ? I think the last can be ruled out because I can’t see a way how you would fake that failure to the SATA layers unless you returned failed writes which could cause chaos, especially in a RAID environment. I also suspect that it must enforce a fixed limit as I presume they must fake some characteristics of a spinning disk (heads, etc) for compatibility.

Which is a real shame because you’ve actually got a storage device that could (given the right sort of data) store far more than its stated capacity, if only you could address it in a non-spinning disk like manner. This echo’s other issues with SSD FTL’s like bad wear levelling implementations, etc, which would go away if we had an open interface into the device exposing the internals, that way you could (with this controller) get extra storage for free and potentially even a better wear levelling system into the bargain.

I guess even if that were available I don’t know if filesystems could cope with that (yet), but I wouldn’t mind betting they’d be up for it!

Geeks versus Lawyers, or, China versus the US

Interesting take on why China may well dominate technology in the near future at BusinessWeek:

In China, eight of the nine members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, including the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, have engineering degrees; one has a degree in geology.

Contrast that with the US:

Of the 15 U.S. cabinet members, six have law degrees. Only one cabinet member has a hard-science degree — Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1997, has a doctorate in physics. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have law degrees.

Basically it comes down to political will and understanding on the part of the people with the power.

(Via the ever excellent InsideHPC)

New Records for Global Temperatures (from NOAA)

Two interesting statistics from the NOAA National Climate Data Center:

June 2010 was the fourth consecutive warmest month on record (March, April, and May 2010 were also the warmest on record). This was the 304th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last month with below-average temperature was February 1985.


It was the warmest January–June on record for the global land and ocean temperature. The worldwide land on average had its second warmest January–June, behind 2007. The worldwide averaged ocean temperature was the second warmest January–June, behind 1998.

Yes, those figures are for the whole planet.