Happy Babbagemas Everyone!

Turns out that the day after Newtonmas is Babbagemas, the annual celebration of Charles Babbage’s birthday on 26th December 1791. As well as having something to do with computers he also had a good understanding of your common or garden politician and their scientific understanding:

On two occasions I have been asked, – “Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?” In one case a member of the Upper, and in the other a member of the Lower House put this question. I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.

It is traditional (starting from now) to celebrate Babbagemas by blogging on the day.

New Victorian Government – Where’s the Science ?

So it appears that us Victorians have a new State Government in the shape of the Liberal/National coalition. I decided I’d try and look through the Victorian Liberal Party policies to get an idea of what might be in store for science in this state given that the ALP has been a strong supporter.

I can’t find anything. Not a sausage.

Even searching their 2010 budget response – not a mention of the word science. The website of their science minister seems to be devoid of any policy outlines, let alone detail.

Oh well. At least us people of the Yarra Ranges will get new bus shelters under this government, and the schools of that well known destitute institute the Catholic church will get more taxpayers money.

Why I’m Voting Green on Saturday 21st August

This coming Saturday, 21st August 2010 will be my first opportunity to participate in Australian democracy. My citizenship came through a few months after the last election, had I’d been able to vote then I’d have cast my vote for Labour and against John Howard.

However, with the Australian Labour Party (ALP) lurching to the right on a number of issues such as immigration, continuing the failed intervention in the Northern Territory, failing to legitimise same-gender marriage, and their crazy idea of mandatory Internet censorship combined with a new do-nothing strategy on climate change (“let’s hold a citizens assembly to tell us what to do, just like we did in 2008!”) means my conscience does not permit me to give them my first preference. They at least have some vision with the NBN, but that’s about it.

As for the Coalition, well they’re just laughable. A leader who doesn’t understand science or technology, policies that promise to deliver half the current speeds of ADSL2+, obscene exaggeration and fear-mongering about refugees coming in by boat (here’s some much needed facts on the matter), wanting to make bible classes compulsory in schools (I suspect aimed at the even more right wing Family First to whom they are directing preferences) and even worse policies on climate change and greenhouse gases. Even more FAIL than Labour. 🙁

So, I’m voting Green because:

  • They want to enshrine basic human rights in law (Australia is the only western democracy without legal protection of freedom of speech)
  • They’re against the mandatory Internet censorship scheme
  • They take the science of climate change seriously, and the challenges it poses
  • They believe that people who love each other should be able to get married, irrespective of orientation
  • They wish to treat refugees as people, not some mythical threat
  • They understand free, open source software and use it themselves

Most importantly I’m voting Green because THEY WANT YOU TO THINK! Not just about their policies, or other parties policies, but to think about how you direct your preferences. Sure they have preference deals, but what most impressed me was when they were announced Bob Brown said:

I don’t like back room preference negotiations with other parties. In fact I’m sick of it. And I think that we should be very well aware here that voters can get misled into believing that they should put their preferences where the Labor party or the Liberal party or the Nation party or the Greens or somebody else says. No that’s not true. People have a right to put, and I think an obligation to think about it, and put their preferences where they want to. That’s what’s important.

Watch the video on that ABC news article to hear that, it’s sadly not in the text of the report. They also have the best election advert that never was – The Gruen Transfer has been getting two advertising agencies a week to do an advert each for a political party and this one won the week they did The Greens.

Now I’m not under any illusions that they’ll form the next government, but voting for them will send a signal that I’m not happy with either of the major parties, and they should (hopefully) get the balance of power in the Senate.

Petition to Keep Referrals to Social Workers and Occupational Therapists Eligible for Medicare in Australia

As a followup to my previous blog post there is now a petition (PDF) to ask the Australian Government to keep referrals to OT’s and social workers eligible for Medicare, which Donna has blogged about. If you do grab the PDF and print it out – and I would urge you to do so if you are in Australia, they need 10,000 signatures for it to be tabled – then please also have a covering note to explain why it’s so important. Donna writes:


1 in 150 people in Australia are diagnosed as having an autism spectrum disorder. 90% of adults on the autism spectrum have experienced bullying. Many are forced out of school early due to depression, anxiety disorders and breakdown. As adults those in this population will be significantly more at risk of social isolation, dislocation from their community, unemployment, and homelessness than the general population.

Around 1/3rd of adults on the autism spectrum will become diagnosed with additional mental health problems stemming at least in part from social disadvantage. When those developmental disabilities, including Aspergers develop mental health issues associated with long term unemployment, social isolation and community disconnection, Accredited Mental Health Social Workers are uniquely skilled to address their psychosocial issues and improve their quality of life in ways not addressed by Psychiatrists or psychologists alone.

With a 90% unemployment rate among even those most able adults on the autism spectrum, most are on income support. As such, if they require mental health services, most will be unable to access these services if not covered by Medicare funding. From 2011 the Government is going to cut Medicare funding for Social Workers and Occupational Therapists under “Better Access to Mental Health Services” Program. 10,000 signatures is required to try and change this by December 2010. Please add yours.

Click here to get the PDF of the petition to print and sign.

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.

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.

VLSCI Mid Year Call for Applications from Victorian Life Science Researchers

A quick work related blog..

Today VLSCI announced its mid-year Call For Applications for use of the Peak Computing Facility at the University of Melbourne by life science researchers in Victoria. This includes time on our forthcoming IBM Blue Gene/P HPC system as well as the existing SGI Altix XE HPC cluster and a forthcoming IBM iDataPlex HPC cluster (both Intel Nehalem systems).

Pass it on!