Desert Island Art

I’ve often joked with my computer geek friends that if I was stuck on a desert island and could have only one program, it would be Microsoft Excel. Which is amusing on a number of levels: I have a long history of Microsoft bashing; Excel is not very well known for anything other than number crunching; Real Programmers™ tend to pooh-pooh VBA (the programming language in Excel).

But Excel is incredibly versatile. You can use it as a word processor, the formatting is great, the built in formula language is great, using VBA lets you turn spreadsheets into applications, and more. I even used it to design the kitchen and bathroom tiling for the Electron Workshop.

But a 70+ year old Japanese artist has taken it to an entirely new level: Using Microsoft Excel to create art.





Much more at:


Schools and Bombs

(paraphrased from a bumper sticker seen this morning)

I will be happy when schools have all the money they need to educate our children and the military has to hold fetes and garage sales to buy bombs.

Why, as a society, do we get our priorities so completely backwards?

Delete Meat

I’ve become a vegetarian.

I had my last carnivorous meal on the 12th of September. I’ve been reading a lot over the past few years about the impact on the planet of our western obsession with meat: most forest clearing is for cattle grazing land or for crops to feed cattle; the sheer inefficiency of feeding an animal 7-10 kilograms of grain and soy protein to produce 1 kilogram of meat, not to mention the thousands of litres of water that go into both; the cruelty that is unnecessary but commonplace, particularly with chicken and pigs; even the simple fact that we actually don’t need to eat meat.

The time comes when the weight of that knowledge pushes me to say to myself “So what am I going to do about this?” I can spend time taking in all this information, but if I don’t actually do something about it, I’ve just wasted my time. And inaction is not an option: inaction is too generous a word, because not changing means choosing to continue. It means continuing active financial support of the very industries that are destroying the planet, and leading too many people down the road to obesity, ill health and misery. I won’t participate in that any more.

The most interesting revelation on becoming a vegetarian is that it’s pretty easy. I’ve learned a lot about healthy eating over the past few years, which has meant that I haven’t been eating much meat. So it’s not really a big jump to substitute something that amounts to only 5% or less of my existing diet. I love cooking and trying new things, so this is now a new area of culinary exploration to enjoy.

Some people do tend to find it difficult to adjust, though. I guess it can be uncomfortable to process change at such a basic level in someone you know. I found a similar reaction when I’d lost a lot of weight, and mentioned that I still needed to lose a lot more. My appearance had changed enough to cause them to update their mental picture of me – the brain essentially stores our images of people in the form of caricatures – and suggesting that there was more change to come was quite unsettling for them.

I deleted television almost four years ago. Now I’ve deleted meat. What’s next? That’s what I worry about…

If you’re interested in what being a vegetarian is all about, there is a wealth of information on the web and veggie123 is a great place to start.


Some time ago I promised Nick that I would comment on the Rob Watts vs Andrew Bolt debate. Before reading this, go and listen to the debate.

“Debates” like this would suit Andrew Bolt down to the gound. While he likes to try to create the impression that he’s a brave conservative boldly stepping into the bearpit, he would love this sort of situation. Look at the terms: he gets to argue in favour of a vague assertion: that most staff and many students of universities are engaged in a left-wing “group think” that sees them all believing and saying the same things about the same issues. Quite a nebulous proposition, and of course he can cite various anecdotes to support this assertion. More on anecdotes later.

Of course, when it comes to his opponent, Rob Watts, if he attempts to make any generalisations about conservative columnists, we find that Bolt does not identify with those columnists. He will only engage over specific things he has written. So Watts has to defend all academia, but Bolt only has to defend specific things he’s written.

Looks like a pretty lopsided debate.

The “citing of anecdotes” I mentioned above is the core technique of many conservatives. One or more experiences are taken and a view formed that is then applied to all members of any specific group. This is garden-variety bigotry. For example, recently I read that John Howard still believes he was in the right over the children overboard saga because “they irresponsibly sank the damn boat, which put their children in the water”. I still recall his lemon-mouthed comment that “these people” were the sort of people that would throw their children overboard. He lumps every asylum seeker into a basket of “these people”, based on the alleged (and subseqently proven to be false) actions of a few of them.

This is a favourite technique of Bolt and many other conservative columnists: you don’t need statistics, studies or other scientific facts when you have anecdotes and/or personal experiences that can be extrapolated into sweeping generalisations. After all, things that happened to you or your friends are facts. You can’t question the validity of what someone experienced. Some conservatives seem to like anecdotes more than personal experiences – you don’t have to defend or justify anecdotes. But the real fact is that the experiences of an individual have nothing to do with the characteristics of a population.

Now it’s time for a game of Andrew Bolt Bingo.