Thursday, February 16, 2006

Brrreeeporting on the search engines

Brrreeeport score 16 February, 19:42 South Australian time: Technorati – 445, Google – 302 (hmmm I must have done something wrong with the latter as it's not matching the most recent ones).

Brrreeeport: Technorati kicks Google's butt What the hell is a brrreeeport? Ask Robert Scoble – he invented it...

...and found that the search engines we know and trust appear to be lying – yes lying.

Well, okay, here's my definition of brrreeeport: A brrreeeport is first of all a concept coined 14 February to show how Technorati kicks Google's butt, secondly a word to evoke all those fears we have about search engines skewing, filtering and simply missing search results without telling us. (And, sorry, the picture is just what came into my mind when I first saw the word on Technorati's front page – brrr... doesn't it just freeze the blood – but that image is actually of some freak cold snap that happened somewhere – in Switzerland I think – sometime last year).

Brrreeeport tshirtAccording to Lipstick on a chicken's blog:
The Scobleizer is playing with blog search engines at the moment. Any of his regular readers will know that it's a favorite sport of his, but right now he's twisting their nipples a little harder than usual. Via a made-up word (brrreeeport) he's seeing how fast links propogate through different search engines...
How fun, I thought, and just had to try it myself.

Update: Check out Karl Long's post with regard to the brrreeeport phenomenon.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Enter TGA for RU486 in Australia

Abortifacient, Mifepristone (RU486) Congratulations to the 45 senators who, today, voted to repeal the bill which was blocking the Therapeutic Goods Administration from considering the abortifacient RU486 for use in Australia. So it's not approved for use in Australia yet, and this as it should be... Because I, like every sane Australian, want the TGA to thoroughly investigate how safe it is and how it could be or should be accessed by Australian women before it's made available.

This post follows on from today's earlier post on the RU486 debate in the Australian senate and the bill to repeal the blocking of the TGA to approve the drug.

Andrew Bartlett has posted a breakdown of the way senators voted for this bill today. Nothing is more telling to me than the vastly different percentages of male and females supporting the bill.
Male senators 46% for, 54% against
Female senators: 89% for, 11% against
All sentators: 62% for, 38% against
What is the conclusion to make from this? Men are less likely to be able to empathise with women facing abortion then women. Possibly I should use the term "think about women's rights before religious values" in place of empathise, but that is possibly going too far. Regardless, if it had have been up to an all-male senate to pass or reject this bill today, clearly it would have failed.

If there was ever a case for setting aside a minimum percentage of senate places for each gender then this would be it, even though I strongly disagree with that concept.

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Playing God with abortifacients

Playing politics with reproductive rights In 1996 Brian Harradine decided that it was necessary block the Therapeutic Goods Administration from considering the abortion pill RU486 and other abortifacients for use in Australia. Why? Apparently he believed "abortifacients amounted to a special category of drugs for which an additional layer of public scrutiny was required". What a load of codswallop. Make that an additional layer of impossibly thick red tape to get through. Specifically, make that virtually impossible to import and use RU486 in Australia. And this has nothing to do with the fact he is a staunch/fundamendalist Catholic and would've liked to have banned abortion altogether (L. Buckmaster, 2005).

Today the senate will decide whether to repeal Harradine's legislation that stopped the TGA controlling RU486. But why are we even having this debate about whether the TGA or the Australian Parliament should control the approval of abortifacients? I belive Harradine's original bill in 1996 and opposition to today's bill on allowing TGA control of RU486 is all about politics and has absolutely nothing at all to do with protecting women.

Why is it that when it comes to the issue of abortion that emotive words and religious beliefs hold are allowed to hold so much sway over the issue? Of course, the decision of whether to abort a foetus is a difficult ethical dilemma and one I'm glad I've never had to face. But all the emotive words from self-important men about moral obligations to carry through a pregnancy, and high-handed control over the approval of abortifacients in the senate to limit the options of women are not the slighest bit helpful to women who face this decision.

The TGA is specially charged with making drugs and other therapeutic products unavailable or available with restrictions, depending on how safe they consider the product to be. The TGA includes medical and chemical experts and I say let these experts do what they do best. Let's not leave it up to (potentially) fundamentalist, misogynist or otherwise inexpert politicians to decide such things.

Without exception, all of the politicians opposed to the bill are using their opposition as a way to express their disapproval of abortion itself, and secondly as a way to express that they would prefer that parliament say who has a baby and when. For some reason, when it comes to abortion, the pollies think they have a right to play God and enforce their personal morals on to the entire populace.

For example, Nick Minchin also wants to continue to block the Therapeutic Goods Administration from considering the abortion pill RU486 for use in Australia. Why? Because his former girlfriend had aborted what he assumed was his child (presumably against his will). Controlling the importation and use of RU486 in parliament is really going to make him feel better, because now he can relish having a tiny bit more control over the next woman he impregnates.

And then we have ham-fisted Barnaby Joyce saying "There is a right of a person to proceed through life without another person believing they have a right to kill them." Good point Barnaby, but I'm not sure I quite get how this relates to foetuses and pregnancy.

In response to Barnaby and others who should exercise their brains a bit more, I must quote a few lines of Andrew Barlett's timely and well-though-out speech on RU486.
To label as murderers people who choose to have an abortion or who assist someone to do that and to label RU486 as a human pesticide or a drug designed to kill babies is an abuse of language and a vilification of women. It is a vilification of women who find themselves in a situation of extreme difficulty. The last thing they need is this sort of abuse.
Want more? See a previous post I wrote on the topic, involving a mad abbot on the hill.

My colleague, formerly a gynaecologist/obstetrician in China for 10 years, told me about the widespread use of RU486 in China and how it is available straight off the shelf in China. She also told me about its misuse and the ugly cases they have to deal with when the drug has been taken too late in a pregnancy. It is indisputably wrong that an abortifacient would be misused in this way without some sensible control of distribution of the drug by medical professionals. If the bill is passed today, I don't think anyone is asking for it to be available without restrictions or without qualified medical supervision. But let this be an issue to be managed properly, without emotive anti-logic and politics, but with attention to medical and ethical studies by the TGA and medical practitioners &ndash this is their area of expertise and let's allow them to apply it!

In finishing this rant, I must say it does seem interesting that RU486 is so freely available in China, where strict population control has been enforced for many years, not just with the one-child policy, but back to the time of the cultural revolution, where permission had to be obtained from the state for a couple to go ahead and have a child. Yet in Australia, where every so often we see frightening and alarmist articles about declining birthrates and aging populations, a drug like RU486 receives so much intense opposition.

Stop playing politics with our reproductive rights!

Image courtesy of Peter Kuper
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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Skype 2.0: Peer-to-peer video chat

Skype 2.0 Well in case you missed in Skype 2.0 was released over the summer holidays (right when everyone wasn't watching as Tris Hussey noted). Note that 2.0 has only been implemented for Windows but it's worth downloading anyway to test out the video conferencing capabilities. Eventually I managed to test out a two-way video plus voice conversation across broadband and it worked properly, but not without a few crashes on the part of the other participant – and spontaneous disconnections.

Apparently this release of Skype also includes the ability to redirect calls for the first time, although I'm not sure if this just means to ordinary telephones or if you could have the call redirect to a different Skype account.

According to the website:
The new, shiny Skype 2.0
  • Our best ever call quality.
  • Sounds like empty marketing here, but functioning as a peer-to-peer network gives Skype voice and video chats a real edge over, say, MSN video chat – which I think I only ever used once in my life! And I have an irrational fear of GoogleTalk since their beta release last year caused so many conflicts on my system.
  • Smile, wave or say hello to anyone, anywhere in the world with free one-to-one video conversations.
  • It works, but I didn't try it in a multiway voice chat and am pretty sure it will only display one video per chat window.
  • Easily sort your contacts into groups like 'colleagues', 'friends' and 'family'.
  • I found it only minimally useful, but nice that it can do what MSN Messenger can do to maintain/organise contacts.
  • Display mood messages and your local time, so people know where you are and how you're feeling.
  • This has also been implemented on the latest Mac OSX release.
Skype 2.0 contact list screen shot
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