RIP Anne McDonald, 1961 – 2010 – obituary from a friend

Painting of Anne McDonald as Mona Lisa in a wheelchair Last night Donna had a phone call from our friends Chris & Rosemary telling us the sad news that our friend Anne McDonald, who lived with them as family and for whom they cared for, had passed away suddenly on Friday 22nd October.

Anne was an amazing woman who touched many peoples lives deeply – she had severe athetoid cerebral palsy and was institutionalised at the age of three. Many years later she came into contact with Rosemary, a new staff member who saw her intelligence and together they found a way to communicate via facilitated communication. With Rosemary & Chris she fought in the Supreme Court of Victoria to escape from the institution by proving that her communication was her own; then she had to fight to win the right to manage her own affairs and she fought for disability rights – and won all the battles. She got a degree, she co-authored a book which became an award winning film (Annie’s Coming Out). Her tenacity was ferocious, she later wrote of her time in the institution:

Dying was dependent on the way you felt. Jobs in mental hospitals do not attract the best doctors, and there was no supervision. The patients could not complain. If you wanted to die you had every opportunity. Many short-stay kids took their chance. Death never appealed to me; I wanted revenge. Now that does not seem to matter. What is important is stopping other kids going through what we went through.

Anne had a great sense of humour, a love of reverse bungy jumping (she wrote that some recent trips to New Zealand were “officially to present at conferences, but really so I can go reverse bungy-jumping”) and an addiction to anything to do with the Mona Lisa.

I’ll leave the last words to Anne, this is her acceptance speech from winning the Personal Achievement Award in the Australian 2008 National Disability Awards which she kindly gave me permission to reproduce. Vale Anne, we will miss you. Our hearts go out to Chris & Rosemary.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I’d like to thank the judging panel for choosing me, and I’d also like to thank the many people who’ve helped me along the way and made it possible for me to be here in Parliament House tonight.

I spent my childhood and adolescence in a state institution for severely disabled children. I was starved and neglected. A hundred and sixty of my friends died there. I am a survivor. That isn’t a heroic achievement. Anyone who was put into a large institution in the times when large institutions were sugarcoated concentration camps was as much a hero as I was. They stayed alive when they could and they died when they couldn’t. Such heroism is easy to achieve in giant barracks where the prisoners stay alive through being cheery enough to attract a staff member to give them that vital extra spoonful of food.

I wasn’t exceptional in anything other than my good luck. I was selected for an experiment. Rosemary Crossley wanted a subject for her Bachelor of Education literacy project. She chose me. The aim of the experiment was to see if I could make gains in my tight-armed pointing to blocks with different colours on them. Rosemary found I could point to colours, then to words, and then to letters.

She taught me to spell and to make my wishes known.

I made known my wish to leave the institution, and then all hell broke loose.

I went to the Supreme Court and won the right to manage my own affairs. Unfortunately, that didn’t mean that the institution offered the other residents the right to manage their own affairs. I was an exception. Through no desire of my own, I was out front in the struggle to get rights for people without speech. I tried to show the world that when people without speech were given the opportunity to participate in education we could succeed. I went to Deakin University and got myself a degree. That, too, was seen as an exception. I gave papers and wrote articles on the right to communicate. I set up a website to show that there was hope for people without speech. People thanked me for being an inspiration; however, they didn’t understand why there weren’t more like me. They continued to act as if speech was the same thing as intelligence, and to pretend that you can tell a person’s capacity by whether or not they can speak.

Please listen to me now.

The worst thing about being an inspiration is that you have to be perfect. I am a normal person with only normal courage. Some people who should know better have tried to give me a halo. Anybody could have done what I have done if they too had been taken out of hell as I was. If you let other people without speech be helped as I was helped they will say more than I can say.

They will tell you that the humanity we share is not dependent on speech.

They will tell you that the power of literacy lies within us all.

They will tell you that I am not an exception, only a bad example.

Many are left behind. We still neglect people without speech. We still leave them without a means of communication. It should be impossible to miss out on literacy training, but thousands of Australians still do.

As Stephen Jay Gould wrote,

We pass through this world but once. Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of a life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.

A (Red) Rising Star in the Latest Top500 Supercomputer List

The 35th Top500 supercomputer list has just been released at ISC2010 in Germany, and it’s got some very interesting things in it.

Firstly, China has just got the #2 system on the Top500 with an nVidia GPU based cluster called Nebulae. At 1.271PF measured (Rmax) it’s just over 70% of the performance of the current #1 system Jaguar but (if you believe that it’s worth anything) on theoretical performance it’s 2.9PF beats out Jaguar’s 2.3PF – this means that if they can optimise Linpack some more for the architecture then perhaps they have a shot of overtaking Jaguar and taking #1 (assuming nothing larger comes along in the next 6 months).

Secondly China has also taken the #7 spot with an AMD GPU based cluster (notice a pattern here?) and now have 24 systems in the Top500 and have overtaken Germany to take the #2 spot in terms of total performance in a country at 2.9PF, though a long way behind the US with over 17PF total Rmax. I think the Chinese have arrived with a vengeance and I suspect they’re going to carry on boosting their capacity, especially as both their Top 10 systems are built by Chinese organisations.

Linux continues its domination of the Top500, increasing its share of systems from 446 (89.2%) in November 2009 to 455 (91%) today. Windows has just 5 systems in total, unchanged from last year. Tellingly it appears they are the same 5 as November as the stats are unchanged – it appears there may be stagnation in the uptake of Windows HPC at the high end.

Australia has just one system in the Top500, the Bureau of Meteorology / HPCCC Sun^WOracle cluster in Melbourne. It’s ranked at #113 with 49.5TF at which is pretty impressive. though I’m puzzled why its much bigger sibling at NCI/ANU in Canberra didn’t get a mention, perhaps they chose to just get it into production ASAP without faffing around with Linpack ? Based on their estimated Rpeak and the efficiency of the BoM machine I reckon they’d get an Rmax of about 128TF and would place about #35.

But without the NCI machine Australia ranks behind such well known HPC countries as Austria and Denmark and well behind the likes of New Zealand and India!

UK Academic Network JANET to Close Usenet News Service (Updated)

This is a great shame, though probably not that surprising these days, but the UK Joint Academic Network (JANET) is going to pull its Usenet News service on the 31st July 2010. Basically I suspect the ever declining SNR has put people off, and these days everyone knows the web and the closest they get to knowing what Usenet is (or maybe was) Google Groups. JANET says:

There are now few active registered News Feed users and News Read users and the current infrastructure is nearing its end of life. JANET(UK) have therefore decided that it is no longer economically viable to run the service, especially in the current financial climate. We therefore will cease to offer the service when the existing contract expires on July 31st 2010.

Especially sad for me as I cut part of my first real sysadmin job at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, was working on the Usenet news system that had been set up originally by Alec Muffett and I was for quite a while the maintainer of the UK.telecom newsgroup FAQ and the alt.config guidelines.

Update: I’ve been digging through some old email – here’s one from 4th August 1993 giving an idea of what we had to struggle with:

OK, I deleted all binaries under alt.binaries, all of junk and all of control. That, coupled with the AEM_TIDY got us about 27 meg back. I then ran a doexpire, whch took a long while but we’re now up to about 53 Meg free, or about 85% of the 400 Meg partition.

Yup, the entire university news spool at that time was a whopping great 400MB. 😉 We were using nntplink with CNews for the time (this was before we knew about INN).

SpamAssassin Y2K10 Bug

Update: removed the link to the SpamAssassin announcement as the link isn’t permanent! 🙁

In case you’ve not noticed – SpamAssassin had a nasty Y2K10 bug which had been fixed months ago but the fix never got pushed out into a release or updates. 🙁

Those of you using SpamAssassin to filter your mail may want to watch things a bit more closely than usual; it seems that current versions still include the rule known as FH_DATE_PAST_20XX, which adds 2-3 points to any message with a 2010 date in the headers. Surprisingly enough, such dates have suddenly become common, with the result that SpamAssassin may be generating more false positives than usual.

The fix is now included in the updates pushed out by sa-update, run it with -D to get debug output and check you’ve picked up 895075 or later. You’ll see it say:

[4096] dbg: dns: => 895075, parsed as 895075

If you’re running Zimbra then you’ll need to fix this manually, in the VPAC install (5.0.x) I changed a line in /opt/zimbra/conf/spamassassin/ from:

header FH_DATE_PAST_20XX Date =~ /20[1-9][0-9]/ [if-unset: 2006]


header FH_DATE_PAST_20XX Date =~ /20[2-9][0-9]/ [if-unset: 2006]

The other alternative is to set the score of the rule to 0 in your file:

score FH_DATE_PAST_20XX 0.0

Then go hunting for legitimate email in your spam folder (I’m lucky enough that none got picked up).

Nokia N900 Finally Shipping According to Reuters (Updated x 2)

Finally we have some good news about the Nokia N900, according to Reuters!

HELSINKI, Nov 10 (Reuters) – Nokia (NOK1V.HE) has started deliveries of its new top-of-the-range model N900, a key product for the world’s top phone maker in its battle against rivals iPhone and Blackberry.

Nokia Chief Executive Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo said in a speech the company started deliveries of the phone on Tuesday.

The Nokia press site has not yet been updated, but hopefully soon..

Update: The Nokia Conversations Blog is now covering the shipping, saying:

Today sees the first batch of Nokia N900 handsets boxed up and shipped out on their maiden voyage into wild.

Hooray! Now does this mean that they are being shipped from the factory to the resellers, or are already at the resellers ready to go to customers ?

Update 2: Well it appears, according to this blog post, to be from the factory to resellers..

The shipments of the Nokia N900 have now started. The factories are now working full speed and the devices are on their way to distribution.

So it does look like Amazon won’t have theirs to ship to my friends in the US before I get to LA, so I’ll miss the chance to play with it for a while. Oh well at least they are shipping! 😉

RIP Tudor Jenkins, Reader in Physics, University of Wales Aberystwyth

My friend Alun Jones forwarded onto me the sad news of the death of one of my former lecturers, Tudor Jenkins (here’s the link, in case the original goes away), affectionately called “Tuba Jenkins” by his students as he played the tuba for the Aberystwyth Silver Band (Seindorf Arian Aberystwyth).

Dr TUDOR E. JENKINS, MA, DPhil (Oxon), FInstP

It is with great sadness that we report the untimely death of Dr Tudor Jenkins, Reader in Physics at the Institute of Mathematics and Physics at Aberystwyth University. Dr Jenkins died on 3rd November after a short illness aged 60.

Originally from the Rhondda Fawr, Dr Jenkins read Physics at Corpus Christi College Oxford, and obtained a D.Phill at the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford. He subsequently studied as a post-doctoral research assistant in Cardiff University before being appointed as lecture in micro electronics at St Andrews University in 1979. He joined the Department of Physics at Aberystwyth in 1983 becoming Senior Lecturer in 1990 and Reader in 2007.

A tribute by Professor Neville Greaves, Director of the Institute of Mathematics and Physics, is published on

I remember I did his lasers course when I did my degree in Planetary and Space Physics at Aberystwyth back in the late 1980’s and whilst I wasn’t very good at that course I do remember his enthusiasm for physics and the fact he could inspire you to want to learn more. Turns out that he was recognised for that, in 2005 he won the Universities award for Teaching Excellence. This quote from the tribute also rings true to form:

Dr Tudor Jenkins was a committed and colourful colleague, famous for his often pithy Latin quotations with which he ended his e-mails. Looking forward to rationalising teaching modules for the 2009 session, he concluded wryly with Occam’s Razor: entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, which approximately translates as “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity”. Tudor was always a pragmatist.

I also seem to remember that he had an enthusiasm for real ale.. 😉

Magnitude 8 Quake in Pacific, Tsunami Generated

ABC news is reporting:

Deaths have been reported in Samoa and American Samoa after a powerful 8.3-magnitude quake sparked a tsunami and sent residents fleeing to higher ground across the region this morning.

USGS reports (all times local time) an 8.0 near Samoa Islands at 06:48am, 5.6 near Samoa Islands at 07:08am, 5.6 near northern Cook Islands at 07:20am, 5.8 near Tonga at 07:21am, 5.0 near Tonga at 07:29am.

ABC says:

The tsunami warning was also in effect for American Samoa, Samoa, Niue Island, the Wallis and Futuna Islands, the Tokelau atolls, the Cook Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Kermadec Islands, the Baker and Howland Islands, Jarvis Island, French Polynesia and the Palmyra Islands.A tsunami watch was issued for Vanuatu, Nauru, the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Kosrae Island, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii, Pohnpei in Micronesia, the Wake Islands, Pitcairn and the Midway Islands.

10 23 foot wave reported in Samoa.

Anglo-Saxon Hoard Discovered in Mercia

A metal detectorist has discovered a hoard of precious items (now declared treasure under the Treasure Act 1996) in land that was once part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia in England. Archaeologists were called in and recorded around 1500 items altogether, with around half being precious metals and gems.

It looks phenomenal, and is far larger than the hoard found at the Sutton Hoo ship burials which itself was impressive enough. What is really interesting to me is that these are often fragments of larger items and even the whole items haven’t been treated with care by whoever assembled the hoard – crosses are folded up for example – indicating that it was the previous metals and gems rather than items themselves that were valued. One of the experts who examined the hoard wrote:

The material is predominantly associated with war – swords, sword fittings, bits of helmets and the like – but all the precious metalwork has been stripped. That means they’re not treasuring the objects as wholes, they’re taking the precious metals off and keeping them.

Basically it looks like the collector of this was an Anglo-Saxon magpie, on a massive scale! 🙂

I’m glad to see that this is a case where the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme worked out really well; the find was reported immediately allowing archaeologists to excavate the items in situ and record all the vital information that lets us put these items into the wider context which is otherwise lost if these things are just ripped out of the ground and disappear into a private collection or onto the black market. All too often we are losing that valuable information about our past forever when that happens. So big props to the finder and the landowner for doing the right thing (not to mention they’re up for a massive reward, which is also the right thing to do).

UK Government Apologises to Alan Turing

55 years after Alan Turing, one of the fathers of modern computing and one of the intellectual powerhouses behind the achievements of Bletchley Park, committed suicide following his conviction for “gross indecency” for being gay and his subsequent exile from GCHQ the UK Prime Minister has apologised for his treatment.

Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two could well have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely. In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ – in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence – and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison – was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own life just two years later. […] we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.

The BBC has a good article on Turing, his persecution and the apology.

Alan, we all owe you a massive debt of gratitude for all your work and I’m very sorry the UK treated you so very cruelly. We cannot right those wrongs, all we can hope to do is to learn from them and try to not let them be repeated.

(Heard via an InsideHPC blog)

40Fires – Open Source Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Car

There was a message today on the OpenMoko community list from Roland Whitehead asking how well the OpenMoko community works. The reason for the query is really interesting!

I am working with the 40 Fires Foundation [] to try to build a framework for the development of open source hardware. You might have heard that the first project is the “hyrban” car – a car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell – the prototype of which was revealed by Riversimple [] earlier in the summer and whose designs have been licensed to 40 Fires.

It appears that the plans for the car will be licensed under a Creative Commons license (though it’s not clear which variant – the current 40Fires wiki content is licensed under the 3.0-BY-NC version) though they do recognise that some components of the car may not be available under open source licenses. It does sound like an interesting project, will be interesting to see how it develops!