March 2009

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Earth Hour, 2009

  • 11:44 AM

Sydney, as seen from my balcony five minutes before ‘lights out’ in Earth Hour 2009, with the camera set up to take what it believed was a +0EV shot:

Exact same exposure, aperture, ISO and perspective (except for somebody nudging the tripod) as previous shot, after all the lights that were going to go out had gone out:

Half an hour after the lights came back on:


(Note for keen observers: on top of the bridge there are two flags. The one on the right is a special “Earth Hour” promotional flag. This flag remained illuminated throughout.)


  • 1:56 PM

For those who aren't up to speed, Pwn2Own is a competition held at CanSecWest for the last two years. The first contestant who can hack into one of a couple of laptops prepared for the competition wins a cash prize, and gets to keep the laptop. Both years the winner was a security researcher named Charlie Miller (no relation), leading to occasional amusing instances of mistaken identity.

I have nothing against my namesake, but I must say I find the premise of the competition annoying.

It is incredibly hard to believe that any security researcher is going to find a new exploit against a given operating system and set of applications over the course of a few hours of competition. It is far more likely, and has been the case so far, that competitors show up with exploits already prepared. This year's competition came down purely to a roll of the dice: which researcher would get the chance to pull their “here’s one I prepared earlier” from the oven first?1

Or to put it more bluntly, Pwn2Own provides a cash incentive for security researchers to keep vulnerabilities secret in the hope they will remain unpatched until competition day.

1 The cynic in me wonders how random the process was that selected the most headline-friendly result: “Last year’s winner hacks Safari again!”

Twitter needs an “ignore this person for the next hour” button. What is it about going to conferences that makes normally interesting people think a bombardment of the minutiae of whatever panel they are currently attending is what their followers desperately want to read? I'd far, far rather read a paragraph of thoughtful, retrospective comment on someone's blog than have an ongoing stream of verbatim quotes clog up my phone.

To change the subject slightly, Merlin Mann: (via John Gruber)

Bullshit or no, good conferences attract good people for one reason; they know other good people will be there. You don’t go to act like a hero; you go to meet the people who are heroes to you. And, to me, there are 100-year opportunities for awesome in the hallways and bars and hotel rooms and even at the horseshit parties where loud music and free liquor turn a lot of people who should know better into retards and mooks.

For what it's worth, I'm going to be at the Atlassian Summit. I'm looking forward to meeting a lot of cool people doing cool shit with our software who I've only previously encountered over the Internet.

I'd just appreciate it if you didn't live-tweet the panels.


  • 10:28 PM

These days it's easy to forget how in the 1980s nuclear annihilation felt so inevitable, even imminent. Back in 1986 when Alan Moore was writing Watchmen (which I have never read), I was at school being taught that the world's superpowers had nuclear arsenals sufficient to destroy the planet a hundred times over, and there was a good chance they would do so before I was old enough to buy beer. On my more cynical days I suspect this is why my generation is so lazy in the face of global warming: we grew up with this nuclear spectre only to have the entire problem go away seemingly by itself, overnight.

The story of Watchmen is rooted in this tale of nuclear superpowers and imminent armageddon. To me this is the movie's greatest flaw. In sticking to the original story so closely it fails to acknowledge that the human race did find a way to survive, and even the conceit of an alternate history doesn't protect the plot from being constantly informed by the fact the whole audience knows we made it through in the end, on our own, without any glowing blue men to help us.

Still, that said, the movie has a lot to recommend it. It is ambitiously nuanced, telling the stories of a group of masked vigilantes coaxed out of retirement, as they might exist outside of the convention that a costume and a mask will either turn you into a force for good or a villain intent on ruling the earth. Refreshingly it is not shaped like a traditional movie plot, allowing the stories of its characters to unfold through the course of the film. It is not a superhero movie as much as a collection of character studies spotted with occasional ultra-violence.

And ultra-violence there is. I am not particularly squeamish, but there were a few occasions during the movie where even I was wondering if perhaps some particular mutilation might have better been implied than shown. Once again, we can marvel at the amount of media attention Dr Manhattan's oft-seen large blue penis is receiving, with no mention at all of the relentless, graphic depiction of a man having his hands cut off with a circular saw.

The direction is occasionally inspired, giving a complicated plot that is obviously not built for the motion picture format room to tell its story, but more often trips over itself looking for the most obvious shot, slow-motion sequence or musical accompaniment to drive home its point.

I'd give Watchmen a reasonably solid A−. I was entertained, it made me think, I was inspired to one day get around to reading the comic books, and I'll watch it again when it comes out on Blu-Ray.

Beer Snake

  • 11:46 AM

Video taken during the innings break of the Twenty20 match between New Zealand and Australia at the SCG.

Addendum: from here, a rambling path took me to Wikipedia, for today’s ‘least encyclopædic Wikipedia quote of the day’:

It should be noted… especially in Australia that the practice of drinking light, low carb or low alcohol beer in drinking games is seen as "piss weak".[citation needed]

Slow News Day

  • 9:33 AM

From Slate, a rather silly article: Jurassic Web, the unrecognizable Internet of 1996.

It’s 1996, and you’re bored. What do you do? If you’re one of the lucky people with an AOL account, you probably do the same thing you’d do in 2009: Go online. Crank up your modem, wait 20 seconds as you log in, and there you are…

I started thinking about the Web of yesteryear after I got an e-mail from an idly curious Slate colleague: What did people do online back when Slate launched, he wondered? After plunging into the Internet Archive and talking to several people who were watching the Web closely back then, I've got an answer: not very much.

Yes, it's true. Back in 1996 the Web was new and everyone used AOL. Therefore there was nothing to do on the Internet.

From my perspective, the annoying thing about the modern Internet is how a combination of the web and proprietary protocol land-grabs has killed, or at least stunted further development of potentially better solutions. For example, the constant refrain around the Atlassian office is that no RSS client is even remotely as useful as a decade-old Usenet newsreader.

Oh, and get off my lawn you damn kids.