Can you hear me Major Tom?

With David Bowie’s death, many people are sharing the connection they felt to the performer and his music. Though not a big follower of Bowie, there was one song that always made my chest tighten and my eyes swell.

When you’re a kid, it’s easy to dream big. Throughout most of primary school, I wanted to fly the space shuttle. I started school in the year of the first shuttle flight, and was still relatively young when tragedy struck the Challenger mission. The toy box at my parents house probably still contains the die-cast metal space shuttle that I would fly on my simulated missions.

I’ve no idea when I first heard ‘Space Oddity’, and for a long time I actually thought the song was called Major Tom. As a kid, it really struck a chord with me. Space Oddity was probably one of the first songs I had heard that was simultaneously exciting but sad. That may be why I’ve carried the emotional impact of the song with me into adulthood,

For me, ‘Space Oddity’ has always been a song about the wonder, and danger, of space exploration. And about the courage of ‘Major Tom’. I used to try and imagine what it would feel like in that moment of “stepping through the door”. What courage would it take, especially back in those days, to step into the vast and humbling expanse of space?

There was also the question of whether ‘Major Tom’ simply chose to not come back. Overcome by the emotion of the moment – did he simply allow himself to drift off into space?

It’s too late now for me to be an astronaut, and my reflexes are nowhere near what they’d need to be to pilot a space shuttle. But listening to ‘Oddity’ this morning has been a timely reminder that you’re never too old to dream. Never too late for your Walter Mitty moment where you make your life an adventure and live the life you want, even if there’s some risks. All it takes is the courage to “step through the door” each day.


p.s. I couldn’t go past the version above on account of the space shuttle being included. But the version below from ‘Secret Life of Walter Mitty‘ is fantastic too if you enjoyed the film.

Scroll no further – there be dragons

This post marks the beginning of a new and hopefully reinvigorated life for  The Minimal State blog. If you happen to scroll past this point, you’ll be taking a bit of a leap back in time. There’s some interesting stuff covered in the old posts, but most of it is four or fives years old. If you’re looking for anything recent, don’t cross this line.

"Statue of a dragon guarding one of the beautiful bridges in downtown Ljubljana, Slovenia. June 2008." Credit: Flickr user: Ville Miettinen
“Statue of a dragon guarding one of the beautiful bridges in downtown Ljubljana, Slovenia. June 2008.” Credit: Flickr user: Ville Miettinen


Politicians and the God Complex: Voting for someone without all the answers

Would you vote for a politician who told you they didn’t have all the answers? After watching Tim Hartford’s TED Talk on ‘The God Complex’, perhaps you might be more willing to consider it. But if ‘trial and error’ is a better policy alternative, why isn’t it more popular with politicians?

Tim Hartford argues that in our incredibly complex world, one has to have a God Complex to be ‘absolutely convinced’ they know how the world works. Likewise, someone who believes their particular solution to a problem is ‘infallibly right’ is kidding themselves. Hartford claims the best process for solving our problems is actually through trial and error.

So when it comes to rolling out a nationwide policy, especially something long lasting and very expensive, what should we do? Do we trust our political leaders, infallible and God-like, to declare the right solution? Or do we create an environment where polices and solutions can evolve through trial and error?


Terabyte Delight or Terror Byte?

I have a new post at TEX,  looking at the market buzz around terabyte broadband plans. The short version of my argument: whilst there are some users who consistently use  a terabyte or more, this is a lot more data than most currently need.  Anyway, the post  got picked up by the media, being covered by both ZDNet and IT News.

Attribution & Retribution in the age of Aurora and Stuxnet

This post is  inspired by my attendance at the Sydney session of the  McAfee Focus 2010 Security Seminar and recent discussions around the Stuxnet malware.

At  McAfee’s  Focus 2010 Security Seminar, one of the more interesting sessions  was an analysis of Operation Arurora presented by McAfee’s head of Threat Research,  Dmitri Alperovitch.  Outside of  IT security circles, the name Operation Aurora probably doesn’t ring any bells.  But in January 2010,  the Aurora cyber-attack  was making headlines across the globe due to Google’s sensational claims it had been the victim of a security breach which had its origins in China.

Google wasn’t the only company infiltrated.  A number of other US companies in industries such as finance, defence and technology, were also targeted. But it was  Google’s actions – publicly outing itself as a victim, naming China as the source of the attacks and threatening to stop censoring its search results in China – which made it the public face of the Aurora attacks.

Whilst those with a background in IT security would probably get more from Dmitri’s presentation, the analysis of Aurora was presented in a way that made it accessible to a more general audience. Which is a great thing given some of the thought provoking issues raised.


Corporate Blogging at Telstra Exchange

One of the great things about writing your own blog is the freedom. You get to choose  the style, the format and the frequency of posting. You get to set the rules of the blog, and so long as your employer is supportive of private blogging,  there’s scope for discussing pretty much any topic – even those that may be work related.

But as a writer, there’s a different challenge in writing for a specific audience or in a particular format. This is part of the reason I’ve become an official  blogger at Telstra Exchange (TEX). Writing for TEX means pushing ones self to write to someone else’s requirements.

For example,  whilst conciseness is something I strive for , my more analytical posts tend to be around a thousand words, or even longer. By contrast, the recommended word count for TEX is about half that. Sticking to the suggested limits requires careful selection of both the blog topic and the key points to be covered.  It’s a challenge, but being able to work within the guidelines and still produce a post I’m happy with is quite rewarding.

The other reason for blogging at TEX is exposure.  My first post at TEX was a review of Kindle for Android, and in one afternoon it’s generated more comments, likes and shares than anything posted on MinimalState. TEX  looks like being a good platform for building a personal blogging brand, which can hopefully be leveraged to boost the profile of MinimalState.

So whilst there will still be new and original posts appearing here at MinimalSate, I’ll also be directing readers to posts on TEX.  And if you have any suggestions for topics you’d like to see covered here or at TEX, please  let me know.

Will GetUp!’s satire GetIt! in trouble?

With an election likely to be called in the next few months, advocacy group GetUp! has launched a campaign encouraging people to ensure they are enrolled to vote.   A key element of this campaign is a YouTube clip portraying the electoral battle as if it were the latest Hollywood action movie.

The clip is cleverly put together – superimposing the faces of  political figures on to the bodies of Hollywood action heroes amd tying together action sequences  with a dramatic soundtrack interspaced by political ‘sound-bites’. It looks and feels like a genuine Hollywood movie trailer, no doubt helped by the fact that GetUp! have utilised footage from actual blockbusters such as The Matrix and The Fifth Element.

Which raises the question of whether this video will land GetUp! trouble for copyright infringement?


The State of the Population

Thanks Julie Gillard. Really.

Some time ago, I was going to post on the ‘Population Crisis’ as it had been reported at the time (months ago) and why I though, generally speaking, it was rubbish. I held off, as accurate statistics were tricky to get hold of, and I’m generally pretty easy to distract. I blame Twitter.

Julie has gone and put our population, and the illegal immigrant portion thereof, back in the spotlight. (A great speech, I recommend you read in its entirety. It is somewhat lengthy, feel free to finish this before you do.)

The real population crisis, is much, much worse.

Here’s the thing about population. There’s a lot of it. Not just here, but globally. We breed like rabbits. No – scratch that – like humans, and it seems the fruits of ‘keeping warm’ during the long, cold winter months have led to a somewhat unbalanced ecosystem. The best digestible write up on this I’ve seen to date comes from Greenpeace co-founder and Captain of the Sea Shepard, Paul Watson. (Who, being an ecological activist since 1968, is somewhat ahead of the game as far as I’m concerned)

Here’s the other thing. Check out a population density map.

See how nice and low density Australia’s population is? Now look up, and to the left a little – and you find yourself espying the Globe’s most densely populated areas.

Of course, we know that that 80% of our population is huddled against the shoreline, afraid of the hot, arid, spidery death that awaits us all inland, but it’s not brain surgery people – the world is running out of room.

And conveniently for the folks that currently have the least room – there’s a big, open (looking) space not so far away – surely, being the kind, generous, diplomatic and friendly nation they promote themselves as being, that place could take in some of the overflow. Even if they do eat such strange and universally despised ‘foods’ like Vegemite.

I’m not suggesting we’ll be overwhelmed by the ‘Mongolian Menace‘ so feared by our predecessors and the Federal Council of Australasia anytime soon – but at some point in the future, assuming we don’t all suddenly realize that China might be on to something with the whole One Child thing, the population waters will rise, and they’ll all need to go somewhere. In 40, 60, even 100 years time, we will need to learn how to accept each other’s culture, language, behaviours and skin colour – and learn how to truly share this planet. All of us.

So yes, detractors – there is a population problem, but realistically, immigration policy doesn’t have a lot to do with it. Pragmatically, it’s good to see that JG has this at the (near) top of her agenda as PM, and now she’s opened the can, let’s see how quickly, and in how many ways our underlying national racism can worm its way out.

Hetero sex scandal?

One day, public figures being gay and/or enjoying sex won’t be newsworthy. Unfortunately for David Campbell,  that day is yet to dawn.  As Channel Seven demonstrated earlier this year, for some journalists and the audience they serve, that combination is still seen as scandalous.

When the David Campbell story broke,  LE  pointed out the mixed messages being sent out on this topic.  At the same time some members of the media where busy berating Jason Akermanis for discouraging gay AFL players from coming out, “gay sex scandal” was rapidly becoming the headline of the day as the David Campbell story escalated.

Seven’s original story was accompanied by allegations Campbell had misused his ministerial car in order to attend “Kens at Kensington” and that he had been at “Kens” during the debacle involving the closure of the F3 freeway. It was subsequently shown that the car and F3 allegation were false.

Channel Seven  defended their actions as being in the public interest,  claiming the public had a right to know that  “Mr Campbell was leading a double life unknown to his family and had campaigned for election as a family man including sending Christmas cards with a photograph of his wife and children.” They also alleged that Campbell’s actions put him in a position where  he may be blackmailed.

Both of these arguments are relatively weak justifications for Seven’s actions.