Middle Earth Geography

Lord of the Rings Page

Well, The Fellowship of the Ring comes out soon, so I figured I might as well launch a little project I’ve been working on for about six months. It’s not actually finished, and there’s a good chance it never will be, but eh.

It’s an interactive map of Middle Earth. Oh yey. I started it to get a bit of hands on experience with DHTML and as a response to the pathetic one on the official movie site which doesn’t seem to actually work, and lists “Wizards” as a race. Pretty damn small race, I mean there are only five of them, and only three involved in the actual plot, the other two unnamed ones headed out east soon after their arrival at the Grey Havens in about T.A. 1000…

Yes, I’m an obsessive Tolkien Fan. Deal with it.

Anyhoo, use the checkboxes to turn map features on and off, and then click on said map features for information about them. I’ve tested it in Netscape 4.7 and 6.2, and Explorer 5.5 and it all seems to work. No guarantee it’ll work for you though (these people with their weirdass browser set ups I don’t know…)

Most of the actual map work is done, apart from clickable links on the “Reunited Kingdom” layer, but a lot of the information pages are still non-existant. So if you click on something and get a blank pop-up window, don’t panic. It just means I’m a lazy bastard.

As if we didn’t already know that.


The Toilet Trap

Office Move and Toilets

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything (as usual) but I have a good excuse. We’ve been moving office. This means that instead of sitting at a desk all day typing and mousing I’ve had to carry heavy equipment up and down stairs, which is not the kind of work IT professionals are designed for. But it’s all done now, and I can come home after work and do things apart from collapse into bed. Or onto the couch. Or the floor.

When I first joined the company in early 2000 we were bailed up in a pokey little room at the back of an ISP. Not long afterwards we got a big chunk of investment to launch a shopping portal, and moved out to spacious second storey offices in fashionable Subiaco. This was great, except we launched the portal (who’s name I shall not repeat, because the hollow shell is still online and it’s just too embarrassing to let anyone see) just as the dot.com bubble burst, and it was a complete and utter failure.

Actually we can’t totally blame the dot.com meltdown. The idea was we combine all our online stores via a clever front end that would make them look like just one big online store. A great idea, except that at that point our online stores sold…

So we ended up with possibly the world’s first power tool, liquor, lingerie, flower and knife portal. Needless to say it didn’t sell a thing, and before long crashed and burned, trailing funds and the company’s reputation flailing in it’s wake.

Thankfully we’d been smart enough to set the portal wing of the business up under another name (necessary for a .com.au domain name), so the rest of the company didn’t suffer too much fallout. But we were still stuck leasing expensive Subiaco office space, without the promised money pouring in from the golden goose portal to support it. This of course made moving to smaller premises a priority, and last week we shifted offices from our spacious, airy retreat high above Rokeby Road, to a slightly less (but still very) pokey little room at the back of the same ISP we started from.

Net result? Eighteen months and several thousand dollars to move the company one door down the hallway. But at least we’re still afloat, which is more than can be said for a lot of dot.coms these days.

One disadvantage of moving back to the ISP (apart from the fact that we have to fit the equipment of a 100 square metre office into about 16) is we have to deal with the bathroom issue again.

The ISP shares bathrooms with an investment company on the same floor, there’s a door from our side of the building into the bathroom hallway, and one from their side. This wouldn’t be a problem except that in a fit of paranoia the ISP directors decided that they couldn’t risk the occasional merchant banker wandering through and raiding the fridge. To this end they installed an expensive security card system on our door, meaning you need a magnetic card to get out of the hallway.

Yes, to get out.

In their infinite wisdom (or as some kind of sociological experiment) they decided to let anyone into the bathrooms from our side of the building. It’s the getting back out that presents problems. If you’ve left your card at your desk (as frequently happens when you’re concentrating on an insanely complicated programming issue and suddenly realise that can of cola you drank an hour ago wants out now), you end up helplessly imprisoned in the hallway.

It’s like some kind of fiendish trap.

Until recently the only way to escape was to hammer on the door and yell until someone came along and opened it. The door is at the back of the building, next to the kitchenette and away from the offices, so it usually took a good ten minutes of drumming to get anyone’s attention. Even worse, the Investment Bankers from the other side would often hear the racket and poke their heads in to have a good laugh or offer helpful advice such as “You have to knock really hard! No, harder that that!“.

Recently however, after many complaints from staff with sore throats and fists, the directors have seen fit to install an intercom in the hall. This means that you can now hold down a button and yell. Since the other end of the intercom is just outside the door this isn’t much better than the old system, but is at least a bit easier on the hands.

I feel like I’m living in a Dilbert strip.

Dating Agency

Dating agencies. Dating agencies have been on my mind lately. This is not surprising, as on Saturday morning while shopping for a wedding present for Fabian’s impending nuptials at the Galleria (that is I was shopping at the Galleria, he’s actually getting married in a Gazebo) I was bailed up by a pair of rabid dating agency employees, and was only able to escape by filling out one of their forms.

They got me by jumping out of a dark corner and shouting “Are you single?!?” in tones of hideous enthusiasm. The smart thing to do would have been to yelp “No!” and run as fast as possible in the opposite, or indeed any, direction, but my mind was occupied trying to figure out whether to buy the sheets or the dust-buster, and before I could gain control of the situation found myself answering “yes”. Having caught me in edges of their net, they then pulled me further in with “Would you like to meet lots of eligible young women?”. Well, what can you say to that? Actually I could have claimed to be a disciple of Nepalese Buddhism* and walked off leaving them feeling confused and somewhat profane, but as I said, I wasn’t really thinking.

Everything gets a bit hazy after that point but I remember filling out some kind of form, then staggering away wondering what the hell I’d just got myself into.

Supposedly this form is going to be entered into a gigantic computer for “assessment” to see if they have any eligible young women to match me up with. Then they’ll contact me, say how I did, and see if I’m interested in joining the service.

I don’t believe this for a second.

Any day now I’m going to receive a call saying that they’ve found hundreds of attractive girls just dying to meet me, and they can introduce me to them all for only $300 or so. This will not be because my form has been put into the computer. My form will not have been anywhere near the computer. Heck, they may not even have a computer for all I know, they may just throw the forms in the air then staple them together however they land. But anyway, my form will have been resting comfortably with a whole bunch of other forms before being forwarded to a call centre where underpaid phone monkeys (carefully gender matched to their form pile) will phone every single person and tell them that there are hundreds of attractive people waiting to see them. Then sucker them for all the money they can get.

Maybe I’m just being cynical, but I can’t see any other way a dating service can make money. I mean the fundamental problem with a dating agency is the only people you’re going to meet through one are losers desperate enough to join a dating agency. Or, to be blunt, other losers desperate enough to join a dating agency. Certainly the crazed form pushers at the Galleria seemed to be targeting the overweight, ugly, greasy and old* from what I could see on my gift-registry motivated trips back and forth.

So maybe my ideal woman is out there waiting to watch my cheaply made video. But I suspect that, I dunno, Alisen Down for instance, has better things to do with her time. So when that phone monkey calls, I’m going to tell her I’m devoting my life to Nepalese Buddhism, and hang up before she can drag me screaming back in.

(*If indeed there is such a thing as a distinctly Nepalese form of Buddhism, any statement I make about it should not be taken to be indicative of the actual beliefs and practises of the religion, which could probably best be learnt by attending services at your local Nepalese Buddhist temple.)

(* Check, check, check, only a matter of time 🙂

Election 2001 – Australia Decides!

Election Blather

Well, Election 2001 is well and truly upon us here in Australia. This Saturday we’ll all trot off to the polls, and elect a leader to take us boldly into the future. As such (and because with all the political advertising and analysis on TV there’s nothing to watch) I thought I’d spend some time explaining the Australian electoral system to any foreigners who might stumble over this site looking for information on Werewolf: The Apocalypse.

To start with, unlike the Americans, we don’t vote for a specific person to lead the country. instead we vote for a person to represent our little bit of the country which is called an ‘Electorate’ or ‘Seat’ (the latter apparently because the person elected is generally the biggest arse). Once elected, this representative goes off to a big room in Canberra and spends their day sleeping, waking only for tax-subsidised parliamentary meals. This person is typically a member of some political party of other, and whatever party has the most people dozing in the room at the end of the day wins and forms the Government. The leader of this party becomes the Prime Minister, leads the country, and gets slightly better meals.

Well the actual leader of the country isn’t the Prime Minister, it’s the Governor General who is the representative of… well the actual leader of the country isn’t the Governor General it’s the King or Queen, who also happens to be the King or Queen of England at the same time, which is a great way of getting paid for two jobs at once and probably explains why the current incumbent Queen Elizabeth the Second is the richest woman in the world. But the Governor General is the monarch’s representative on the ground as it were. Not that they do much, apart from make speeches, give out awards and open museums. Oh they can dissolve the Government, force elections, declare war, and that kind of thing if they have to, but that sort of behaviour can threaten their pension so they mainly stick to the speeches. The current Governor General used to be a Archbishop, that probably tells you all you need to know about him.

So, whatever party has the most people in the parliamentary dorm (better known as The Lower House, presumably because it’s on the ground floor) wins the election and rules the country. Which means that any political party that wins enough support can get into power. This would be a truly remarkable example of democracy in action, except for the fact that there’s only two parties with enough members and support to ever have a majority.

The first is the Australian Labour Party or ALP. They’re sort of what the American Democrats might be like if they restricted membership to blue collar workers, then held a meeting and decided to completely sell out. Their current leader is Kim Beazley, about whom the best you can say is that he’s lost some weight recently.

The second is the Liberal-National Coalition, who are actually two parties doing the political equivalent of a couple of kids under a long coat trying to pass as an adult. The Liberal Party is like the American Republicans but more evil at heart and less effective at getting anything done. The National Party are a bunch of redneck farmer types whose only claim to fame is that their former leader used to wear an amusing hat. The leader of the Coalition (and current Prime Minister) is John Howard. He is short, balding and has eyebrows that could conceal entire pyramid building Mayan civilisations.

Exactly why the Liberals are called so when they’re about as liberal as Stalin on one of his good days (when the proletariat were being properly subservient, all his enemies had been recently purged and no one was invading) is a bit of a mystery. The obvious confusion that could arise from this misnomer has necessitated the creation of two phrases unique to Australian politics, “Large L liberal” and “Small L liberal”, the former referring to a member of the Liberal Party, and the second to a person who wouldn’t string you up just for taking a shortcut across their paddock.

The rest of the parties are non-starters really. About the best of the bunch are the Australian Democrats who can lay claim to strong and progressive policies on the environment, sexual equality, indigenous affair, social justice, and a bunch of other issues the main parties wouldn’t touch with a ten foot clown pole lest they actually have to do something about them. Not that the Democrats ever do anything about them either, their time is completely consumed appearing on trendy left-wing youth-oriented TV shows and attempting to broker deals with all the other parties in desperate attempts to get any kind of power. If they ever actually got any power they’d probably have no idea what to do with it, but at least Senator Natasha Stott Despoja is kind of cute.

Filling out the political spectrum are a host of wild and wacky minor parties including the Greens (who appear to have abandoned the environment in favour of Gay rights these days), the Australian Shooter’s Party (who think a gun under every bed and bullets in every cupboard are the best solution to crime), Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party (who wouldn’t be out of place hosting a garden party for the KKK), the Natural Law Party (who will solve all our problems by employing hundreds of meditators to sit in a big room in Canberra and go “om” – as if this is any different to the parliament we already have), and the Christian Democrats (right wing fundamentalists who can’t seem to decide whether to pray for God to destroy Sydney because of the Gay Mardi-Gra or spare Sydney in spite of the Gay Mardi-Gra).

In addition to the parties, there are usually a few independents standing in each seat. On the rare occasion they get elected their job is chiefly concerned with answering any question put to them with the phrase “I am an independent”, hence any further discussion of them can be safely dismissed with.

So, with this kind of choice, why bother voting at all? Well, actually because you have to.

If you’re over 18 and an Australian Citizen, failing to vote in an election is an offence which can land you with a hefty fine or, for repeat offenders, jail time. This may seem unjustly harsh, but as registering to be on the electoral rolls in the first place is the Citizen’s own responsibility when they turn 18 it’s perfectly simple to avoid prosecution by never putting your name down, thus making yourself politically invisible. This is probably why so much Government money is spent each year telling people it’s a good idea to register, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Of course if you do decide to vote you get to have the fun of not just nominating who you loathe the least to represent you in Canberra, but ranking each candidate in order of preference! This is called (predictably enough) a preferential voting system, and probably lurks behind everything that’s wrong in Australian politics today.

The ballot papers handed out at polling stations have the name and party of each candidate printed on them with a little box next to each. In order for a vote to be valid the voter has to write (yes, write, no faulty Dade County type punching machines here, just illegible handwriting) a ‘1’ in the box of the candidate they like the most, then ‘2’ in the next least objectionable candidate, and so on until all the boxes are full. These ‘preferences’ are then crunched together in some complicated and arcane fashion, probably involving the sacrifice of a Goat and the reading of its entrails, to figure out who wins.

(At the same time as filling out a ballot paper for the House of Representatives (The Lower House, most political institutions in Australia have multiple names, a policy introduced in the 1950’s to confuse the Communists) voters also have to fill out a second ballot to elect someone to the Senate (The Upper House – There are stairs, but most Senators take the lift). Senate ballot papers are generally about three feet wide, and have more boxes than a crossword puzzle. Filling them out properly is a process so complicated that I won’t attempt to explain it here, suffice to say that most people get it wrong and the Senate is generally elected by the small percentage of the population with degrees in theoretical mathematics.)

Most of the population are so indifferent to the running of the country that they’ll fill out the little boxes in any way their chosen political party tells them to. Hence the allocation and trading of preferences between political parties is big business, and anyone coming within 50 feet of a polling station is besieged by foaming campaign workers handing out “How to Vote” cards.

Some voters are so indifferent that they’ll ignore even these idiot cards, and just number the boxes from top to bottom. This, for reasons no one can adequately explain, is called a ‘donkey vote’, and the remarkable number of donkey votes in each electorate make the ordering of candidates on the ballot paper of prime importance (and give a rather accurate idea of how few people would actually vote if given the choice). There are whole Government departments with powerful computers devoted to arranging ballot papers to cancel out the effect of donkey votes. No, I’m not making this up.

There is actually a way to legally fill out a ballot paper so to as deny any of your preferences going to particular parties. I happen to know what it is, but I’m not going to even hint at what it is because (rather remarkably for a country that’s supposed to be a democracy) it’s illegal to tell people about it. I could be fined or imprisoned for giving the slightest suggestion of how to do it, so I’m keeping my mouth well shut 🙂

Some foreigners may by now be thinking how insanely complicated the Australian electoral system is. Well, just to make things more complicated we do the whole thing over again individually for each state. Yup, each State has it’s own Government, with it’s own candidates, own political parties (generally running dog lackeys of the Federal parties with local idiosyncrasies pegged on) and own elections. And then of course there’s Local Government elections as well. Basically this means that the average Australian citizen barely goes a year without having to vote. We’re probably some of the most pesteringly enfranchised people in the world.

So, all that said, how am I going to vote? That’s my business 🙂

CSS Blues

Fixed Surfarian

Once upon a time a company named Netscape released a web browser that sort of supported CSS standards. Then another company named Microsoft released a web browser that also sort of supported CSS standards, but in a different way. Then Denys the Purple Wyrm learnt basic HTML and built a web site that worked with the Netscape browser, and sort of worked with the Microsoft one. And all was well.

Then Netscape released a browser that really supported CSS (or at least moreso than version 4.7), Microsoft followed suit and Denys’s website fell to bits in a messy heap.

So I’m currently in the process of fixing up the horde of horrible CSS errors plaguing the site. I’m working section by section, so far the Junk Files and Guide to Surfarian (the worst offenders) have been fixed (with Netscape 6.1 at least) and the rest will follow suit. To speed this process up, please feel free to send me griping emails about any part of the site that looks horribly wrong in your browser. You never know, I might actually get around to fixing it.

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