How I lost sympathy for (some) bushfire victims

The Black Saturday bushfires in 2009 were, in terms of lives lost, the worst fires in Victoria’s history. In Kilmore East, 118 people died and over 1,200 houses were lost. Earlier this year, a group of around 10,000 people affected by the fires launched a massive class action against power company SP Ausnet, based on allegations that faulty cables (due to poor maintenance processes) triggered the bushfires. SP Ausnet denies that claim and is fighting it in court.

My gripe is in this article. It discusses how SP Ausnet entered private property (which is perfectly legal in some circumstances) to conduct some tests that they believed would exonerate them. It seems that by accident or design, entering private property for that purpose was illegal. The response of the plaintiffs is to try and have that evidence excluded from the case on the grounds that it was obtained illegally.

In my mind, this act completely removes the moral high ground that the plaintiffs have. They are no longer victims using the civil court system in a way it should be used, i.e. to ensure that perpetrators of criminal negligence are caught and punished. Instead they are using the civil court system the way we mock the Americans for – just to squeeze a major payout from someone out of some misplaced sense of entitlement.

  • If the evidence that SP Ausnet gathered proves that they were not negligent, then what right do the plaintiffs have to pursue the case and get a payout? It’s nothing short of greed.
  • If the evidence that SP Ausnet gathered does not disprove negligence, then the courts will figure that out and ensure that SP Ausnet is punished appropriately.

This kind of court trickery is very disappointing. The plaintiffs should be seeking truth, not a deep-pocketed scapegoat.

Women over the years, whatever next?

I saw this thing doing the rounds on Facebook, seeking comments on which is your favourite era.

Call me crazy, but depending on who you believe the number of white people in the world ranges from eighteen to twenty percent. Accurate figures are hard to find, because for a start, how do you define “white”? And how do you find figures that aren’t posted by idiots with racist agendas?

Anyway, whatever the eanswer, the women in the photo are in no way a representation of “women” from the 1960s through to the 2000s.

What does a fly see?

Something has always bugged me (he he) about the way a flies’ vision is portrayed in books or other media. Flies, as you probably know, have compound eyes. Instead of a big round squishy eyeball like the two you probably have, flies have a whole mess of cones, each one effectively an individual eye (that cannot focus or move) arranged in a mosaic around most of a sphere.

This leads to the issue of how they are portrayed. I’ve used an example based on a Far Side comic, since it is deliberate so I can make my point without being personally critical of anyone. The portrayal is typically something like this:

So here is a question I ask of you. Does the following picture reflect how you see?

A picture of a fly duplicated as if the human eye viewed everything as a mosaic of two images

A fly how a fly might think a human sees a fly based on how a human thinks a fly sees.
© Shouting at the Clouds

Of course not. You see something more like this (ignoring the fuzziness of peripheral vision etc):

A single image of a fly

A fly as a human might really see a fly

Notice the difference? That’s right, your brain mashes the images together so you perceive it as a single image. Why wouldn’t the fly brain do the same thing?

Bonus reference: this link talks in a little bit more depth about how fly eyes work.

If you are wondering where I got the picture from, it is a weird-looking fly I photographed at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. If there are any entomologists out there I’d be interested to know what species it is.

Derryn Hinch: ‘I am genuinely hypocritical’

Derryn Hinch, the human headline, has stood up in court and said that he is “genuinely sorry” for breaching a suppression order and revealing details of the criminal history of a murderer facing trial.

But he also says what he did is morally right.

I think he is just being a big ol’ hypocrite.

If he believes he did the right thing, then he should get up there and say that. To suddenly be all contrite and apologetic in what looks like a rather transparent attempt to wriggle out of a punishment is just hypocrisy.

The laws were put in place by a government elected by the people. If I were to unilaterally decide I don’t like a particular law, I have no right to just go around breaking it. Especially if by breaking it I am going to have a negative effect on other people’s lives. I should either work to get it changed (through campaigning and so on), move somewhere else, or just suck it up as a side effect of living in an otherwise pretty good society.

There are exceptions, for example a law might be put up by a “bad” government against the will of the people. If I was darn sure it was a bad law, and I knew that most of the people were against it, AND I was a heroic person (which I am not), I might elect to break the law as a method of social change. The classic example is Gandhi and his “assault” (see what I did there!) on British oppression back in the 1930s.

The heroic part is how I know I’m going to go to gaol or get some sort of punishment. But I’ll take that punishment on the chin because it serves as a rallying point, and if the mood for social change is right it can be a spark that causes enough of a fire to make the politicians notice and change the laws. Then I’ll get let out of prison (hopefully) and get streets named after me and stuff.

If Mr Hinch believes that the law is wrong, and believes that society agrees with him, then he should stand up and say so. Otherwise he should not break the law in the first place, but campaign against it through other means. He had a radio show for crying out loud; it’s not like he didn’t have a voice of far more influence than you or I will ever have (unless you, dear reader, are a celebrity of some sort, in which case I’d love a little shout out in your Twitter feed or whatever!).

Anyway, we’ll see what happens. It sounds like the judge is intelligent enough to see this as fake genuine sincerity (i.e. he’s not a four-year-old!), so maybe Mr Hinch will have some time in gaol to reflect on how sorry he really is.

Hoax debunked: If you’re trying to quit smoking, go to a sauna 3 days in a row.

I’ve seen this picture doing the rounds on Facebook lately, and I couldn’t find someone who had debunked it:

A picture of a sauna with the text: If you're trying to quit smoking, go to a sauna 3 days in a row. You'll sweat out the nicotine and it'll be easier to quit.

I’m not a chemist, physicist, or physician; so take this with as many grains of salt as you see fit. The way I see it, there are 3 major things wrong with this assertion:

1) Nicotine is metabolised by the liver, whether you sweat more isn’t going to make your liver work faster (it will actually work slower if you are dehydrated).

2) The elimination half-life of nicotine is about 2 hours, so 3 days after a cigarette the nicotine would be long gone, sauna or no. For example, if you had 10 cigarettes worth of nicotine in you when you stopped, by the time 72 hours had passed you would have 0.0000000003 of a cigarette’s worth of nicotine.

3) Addiction to nicotine is what makes you want to smoke. If this method did somehow magically remove nicotine faster then the desire for nicotine would come back sooner; pretty much the exact opposite of what you are trying to achieve!

So sauna away, if that’s your desire; just don’t expect it to help you quit smoking.

An open letter to Miley Cyrus

Dear Miley,

I can understand that maybe you don’t like unsolicited advice on how to look after yourself. And I can understand that you may wish to tell people who offer such advice to get lost and mind their own business. But I can’t understand why you would feel the need to mock those with mental illness to do so.

1 in 4 people have some form of mental illness, and due to the stigma associated with it many will fear to seek treatment.

According to stats in the USA, there are 12.4 suicides per 100,000 population. You have nearly 14.5 million followers on Twitter. If you extrapolate from that, over 1700 of your Twitter followers will commit suicide this year.

That is 1700 people who do not have to die. 1700 families that will spend the rest of their lives wondering “why?”. 1700 families seeing in hindsight infinite signs, real and imagined, and feeling sick with guilt that they could have done something, should have done something.

Next week is Mental Illness Awareness week. I strongly encourage you to read through the National Alliance of Mental Illness website (, and use your Twitter voice to reach out to your followers to help break the stigma.

You may even save some lives.


3 things you should not photograph (unless you are professional)

Everybody has a camera these days. It’s great; it’s wonderful to have memories of things we have seen or done. But there are three things that us amateur photographers should learn not to bother photographering, and the sooner the better. I know, because before I learned better sense I too took many ugly, blurred photos.

Note: this only applies to those of us who never got beyond working out how to turn the auto-flash off; obviously skilled photographers will know all of the f-stoppy kind of stuff and be able to take beautiful pictures of these things.

1) Fireworks. Unless you know what you are doing, just don’t bother taking photos of fireworks. Every time I see a fireworks show I see a bunch of people whip out their phones or cheap digital cameras and start clicking away, as if they can recapture the magic of the sounds, lights, and smells…when all they really capture is a blurred splotch:

Bad fireworks photo

“Bad Fireworks” – Robert Fiske (

2) Anything through an aeroplane window. Aeroplane windows are partly plastic, have two parts with a gap between them, and they are often scratched and dirty. Then there are all the weird atmospheric effects.  I have taken many pictures through the window and got nothing but yuck like this:

Photo through a Plane window

“Photo through a plane window” – Me
©2011 – though if you are that desperate then you can reproduce it for non-commercial purposes. Can you guess where I took the photo?


3) Concerts. Concerts are often fast moving, have weird lighting, and you are either so close you are being jostled constantly, or you are so far away you can’t see anything anyway.

4) Bonus tip: Don’t make bootleg movies either. All you will hear is the person screaming next to you, the person screaming on the other side, and the other screaming fans all around you; occasionally you will hear the distorted warbling of the band. All of this to accompany a fuzzy video in which the more skilled squinters may actually be able to differentiate the moving blobs that are the band from the rest of the stage, that is assuming that they don’t get sea-sick from the shaking and wobbling first. All it does is clog up youtube with unwatchable/unlistenable stuff and makes it harder to find the good stuff.

I apologise to those whose photos I used as negative examples.  Robert has plenty of beautiful pictures in his photostream, and whilst all I know of John is that he took a cheap camera to a Muse concert once, he may be the same John who has this Instagram account which also has many lovely photos.