Current affairs

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So we have a new Premier. But Joe I’m-very-popular Tripodi and Eric Let’s-build-some-more-roads Roozendaal are still there. And I’m very confident the new Premier is just going to pull $10 billion out of his rear end to build the metro now that the power sell-off has fizzled. Sigh. Update: Miraculously, they’re now Finance Minister and Treasurer respectively. According to Wikipedia, our esteemed Treasurer started his Commerce degree but never managed to finish it. And now he’s in charge of a $47.6bn budget?

07 Sep 2008 | 1 comment

The New Jews: bias against Asian Americans at Ivy League universities is exposed, and although the statistics are alarming, the picture is far more complex than it first seems. (Note that in New South Wales, we are fortunate enough to have the impartial Universities Admissions Centre to manage university admissions.)

29 Aug 2008 | No comments

‘Human flesh search engine’ in hot pursuit of the iPhone girl, proclaims the headline. I was initially quite curious as to why there is a search engine that indexes bits of human flesh on the planet. Update: Tommy suggests that the phrase “human flesh search engine” is a literal translation from the Chinese.

29 Aug 2008 | No comments

The Games Began. Hearts Swelled: Chinese patriotism is a varying and nuanced entity – from the perspective of an American-born Chinese New York Times writer.

19 Aug 2008 | No comments

The Darlington side of main campus of the University of Sydney was a renovator’s dream. Its endless array of concrete slabs might lay claim to coherence in some kind of brutalist architecture, but I suspect the university pretty much built the Engineering and Architecture faculties out of whatever spare cash they could find at the time.

The USyd Central building adjacent to the Union’s Wentworth building is part of the Campus 2010 plan to reverse the years of neglect that have rendered other universities with substantially more attractive (and marketable) campuses. The first part of the USyd Central to open, the SciTech Library, has now been delivered, and it sure was a delivery from heaven.

When you first walk into SciTech, the thing that strikes you is how different it is from any other library that you’ve been to. With your first steps past the stylishly glassy entrance, you are presented with a large, welcoming atrium that envelops you and draws you in; the splendour and the interesting topology of the library makes you feel like you are viewing spectacular scenery from the top of a mountain. To the right is a lounge-like area, with playful, lime-green chairs that wouldn’t look out of place in an Ikea store. To the left are the book stands, and in front is a sunken valley of study cubicles. At night, the entrance area is tastefully lit up with small spotlights that cast small pools of light on the soft carpet, and during the day, there is ample natural sunlight from the wall of glass.

SciTech Library

As I intimated above, the furniture is one thing that sets SciTech apart from any other library I’ve seen. Colourful, distinctive, modern and definitely playful – as I write, some people are stacking up the lime-green chairs in various configurations, possible as the chairs are made up of three conjoined cylinders – the furniture is fitting for a science and technology library. From the jelly-coloured red and orange stools to the Ikea-like chairs, they are all inviting and very comfortable.

SciTech Library

The library, from the ground up, has been designed to be more than just a repository of books. It appears to have been designed for students to learn, to study and to collaborate. The “study valley” that I alluded to before encases you as a cocoon encases a caterpillar, drawing you away from the hustle and bustle of the outside world into a study world of your own. The hours melt away as you study in one of the the plush, multicoloured pods, or the seats that line the green river-like divider that separates the study valley from one of the computer access areas. As you meander between the mellow-coloured bookshelves, you come across islands of tranquillity, where you can sit down and enjoy a book or two. If you prefer electronic learning, power points are abundant, and there are multiple computer rooms, with desktop computers and laptops – now that is something I haven’t seen before anywhere in the university. The only minor complaint is that the wireless connection here isn’t as stable as it could be.

Ultimately, a library isn’t much of a library unless it stores books. Although I find it disappointing that in the move to the new library, a large portion of the Engineering collection was moved into archival storage, because there just isn’t room at SciTech, there is something that they have done that is quite interesting; some shelves hold the book so that the front is displayed, much like special book displays at book stores.

SciTech Library

If the rest of the Campus 2010 improvements are of the quality and thoughtfulness of the SciTech Library, the university is onto a winner. The design of the SciTech library shows a thoughtfulness to the needs of students and staff at the university. I look forward to the new law library with much anticipation – and to spending many days and nights at SciTech.

SciTech LibrarySciTech LibrarySciTech Library

More photos here.

The SciTech Library: Level 1, Jane Foss Russell Building, on City Road

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I’m surprised I didn’t know about this till recently, but Google Blog Search is something that no blogger should ignore. (Here are some other, albeit somewhat old, first impressions.) Apparently, Google believes in blogs — “Google is a strong believer in the self-publishing phenomenon represented by blogging…” — and extends their search prowess to the world of blogs. It looks and feels just like the standard Google search, but one must ask the question: why bother searching blogs? After all, aren’t blogs (like this one), just filled with the immature rants of wannabe writers who just wouldn’t cut it in the real world of journalism?

No, I don’t believe it’s true in general. Sure, the quality of blogs does vary quite a bit — but they all serve some kind of a purpose. Whether it’s a professional blogger contributing in his or her field of expertise, or a university student writing about life, the universe and crap like that, it’s all because they have something to say. The ability to link between blogs and comment on blogs creates a kind of dynamic that encourages people to think — instead of merely being passive consumers. That is a great thing to see. I suppose Andrew Keen wouldn’t agree, but just because he’s published in dead tree form doesn’t amount to much: see the Wikipedia Signpost review. By being able to search exclusively in blogs, you too can participate in this part of the Internet — participate in free speech. You can find out things that traditional media will not cover — how-to’s in obscure topics, political rants that match your persuasion. The results you get are pretty good — see this description of how it all works. Yes, Google’s thorough.

For bloggers, it is important that you are indexed by search engines, even if you are a small time blogger like me. What’s the point of writing publicly if you don’t actually intend on anyone reading it? I had known of Technorati before this, but Technorati has many irritations that other bloggers have covered and I won’t cover here; anyway, Google’s overtaken it. To ping Google Blog Search, just add to your list of servers to ping.

In other news, Google Maps features content for the 2007 federal election. Click on the “My Maps” tab and it’s under the “Featured content” part. Overlay the party colours onto the map of Australia, and you’d be surprised about the land area that the Liberals/Nationals represent!

On a final note, Google Blog Search and these special maps rather emblematic of the problem that Google has so many fantastic services written by so many fantastic engineers that just aren’t seeing much of the light of day because… there are just so many of them.

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If you’re planning to protest while the APEC legislation still stands, take note of the advice from Human Rights Monitors (I got this as a handout at the SULS APEC talk).

Some highlights:

  • There is no legal obligation to tell the public where the red areas are…
  • The legislation does not appear to provide a limit on how far a person can be escorted from the green area…
  • No criminal convictions are necessary to be on the list. It is only necessary that the Police Commissioner satisfy himself that a particular person would pose serious threats…

Given the good-natured protests thus far, police concerns have hardly been warranted, and a please explain might be in order as to why their fears were even remotely believable to begin with.

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Protesters at Railway Square

Protesters protesting about something at Railway Square: passers-by (like me) seemed to treat them as a curious spectacle with all our camera phones instead of pondering whatever message they were trying to get through. (I tried to work out what they were trying to say, but I couldn’t work it out. Probably “Bush Sucks” or some paraphrasing thereof.)

An insane number of police – everyone was well behaved though. I saw an officer recording the entire thing on tape – probably not for funniest home videos. I was going to take a photo of him but I remembered the lady from Redfern Legal Centre at the SULS APEC talk – “there’s only one crime, and that’s pissing off a police officer.”

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Grace mentioned this quite a while ago, but her parents’ shop at Sutherland station will be forcibly taken away by RailCorp, which wishes to widen the concourse at the station to, apparently, ease congestion. Despite their investment in the business, from what I understand, the problem lies in the fact that their contract does not provide for recompense in the event that RailCorp needs to do something with it.

I’d say that most people would be supportive of railway infrastructure development – who doesn’t want better stations, and better trains, and better services. The problem here is the way in which this development has been earmarked to proceed – to the detriment of one family, and with dubious benefits to railway commuters as a whole. RailCorp’s alleged attitude (i.e. silence) doesn’t instill confidence in the ability of this case to result in an equitable solution. As I commented (on the newspaper article), just because it’s legal doesn’t mean you should do it. If the redevelopment of the station must go ahead, other solutions, such as buying out the business, or offering to relocate the business to another part of the station, are both reasonable alternatives that RailCorp should consider. RailCorp is a corporatised business, but at the same time, as a business owned by the people of New South Wales, a more caring attitude would not go amiss, and should be mandated in the organisation’s practices.

Somehow, I get the impression that pushing RailCorp buttons won’t work in this case. The Ngs will have to search for other, bigger buttons to push. Let’s all rally behind them in their moment of need.

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In news that shouldn’t surprise anyone, trains on the East Hills line (the bane of my existence) and the Bankstown line were stalled for an ungodly thirty minutes around the City Circle because there was this lunatic running around on the tracks in the tunnel near St James. Did I hear someone mutter the word “fragile”?

What made it worse was how the station staff responded: almost like chooks with half their heads cut off, they had no idea what to do. It was mildly amusing when this train pulled up (from the opposite direction), and after a few minutes, the station staff asked the guard if he was leaving yet, but he threw his hands up in the air and told them he didn’t know where his driver went… he somehow just disappeared.

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