The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

Bush’s mistake in Southeast Asia

Thursday 26 July 2007 at 11:45 pm

Notwithstanding Iraq, John Howard’s foreign policy doesn’t suck as much as his domestic policy, and he’s done a reasonable job at relations with the eastern half of Asia. So his visit to East Timor today, for instance, will probably be a good thing for long-term links. (That is, assuming that their country can get some political stability after June’s inconclusive election that left the top two parties with a quarter of the vote each.)

Meanwhile, George Bush seems to be forgetting that East Asia exists, or something. In the last week or so his aides have been on the back foot defending why he’s pulled out of a planned informal meeting with ASEAN leaders in Singapore (just before APEC in Sydney), and why Condoleezza Rice won’t be going to the ASEAN Regional Forum. This continues recent trends whereby senior US officials have turned down invitations for dialogue or sent minions instead, and isn’t going to help perceptions that Bush cares only about the Middle East.

Adding this up with the ever-growing anti-American sentiment among people in the region (thanks to said Mid-East policy) leaves me wondering whether the US will find itself decreasingly relevant in East Asia at a time when China is flexing muscles. At the very least, Bush’s successor next year will have their work cut out for them …


It’d be funny if it weren’t so worrying …

Tuesday 24 July 2007 at 6:00 pm

My first reaction to the failed Glasgow terrorist attack was laughter. To borrow Dave’s inimitable characterisation: “woo! I’m a wannabe terrorist trying to blow up an airport, but the best I can do is drive into a bollard! so I’m going to run out of the car and try to punch up the police!”

Obviously, those blokes and their collaborators are dangerous and should be charged and imprisoned — but someone should tell the Federal Police that that doesn’t imply a need to lock up every Australian with contacts in Scotland. Despite their $1.2 billion budget, they seem to have trouble comprehending the idea of concrete evidence: there’s this guy who responded when someone asked for his old SIM card! he may have even photographed a significant building! and he’s got brown skin!

You know, I’ve often heard it said that the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a potential terrorist target (hrm, maybe the people claiming that think the September 11 attackers chose the Pentagon at random?). It so happens that I have lots of photos of said bridge! I can cite things like how the stone pillars on each corner are decorative, not structural! The last plane ticket I bought was one-way! And worse than a SIM card, I’ve given brown-skinned people stored-value cards for use on trains!

Should I await a call from the Murdoch press, or from the Federal Police?


Who chose that typeface?

Tuesday 24 July 2007 at 5:04 pm

No, I haven’t neglected to pay the ISP bill; rather, I’ve been caught up in a string of events that scarily resembles a bad soap opera. For this post, indulge me a bit of introspective rambling about graphic design on public transport. (Hey, they do it in London and New York, so why not here?)

After a “how do you like the timetables?” survey a few months ago, there’s a new look for the recently-changed northern and eastern timetables (like Northern 67) and some of the bus stops in Fremantle. Aside from more sensible folding (yay!) and slightly more colourful maps, the new design drops the quintessential British typeface Gill Sans in favour of the freeway-signage clone Interstate.

Old and new Transperth timetables

I’ve been a little surprised to see this typeface (and cousins like Transit) appear more often in recent years, in places as unusual as corporate reports and fashionable Web-dev pages. And while I am biased against it (alas, I like humanist sans-serifs), I worry that this change makes the big list of numbers less readable than it used to be.

At the least, I suspect they could have taken more care with line spacing and sizes (stop numbers, for instance, could be de-emphasised). Or maybe it’s just me who scrambles to the timetable rack trying to read in the few moments before I miss the bus.

It is, IMHO, a bit like when they dropped the old stripey-T logo a few years back (which is still on one ferry and a few old buses) — the replacement isn’t bad, and it’s modern, but it lacks the elegant practicality of the older style.

(And on that note, WTF Qantas? Maybe your typeface was a bit old-fashioned, but why change a symbol with both history and megabucks of brand-awareness behind it?)


Wimbledon, words, and wars

Tuesday 10 July 2007 at 11:43 pm

Roger Federer holds his Wimbledon trophy
photo by bluemoose

  • The Wimbledon men’s singles final was pretty awesome! That was the first time in a while that I’ve seen Federer look weak, or for that matter so worked up about line calls. In the men’s doubles, the Bryan brothers lost! And in the women’s singles final, Marion Bartoli looked promising, but didn’t have her game together quite enough to overcome Williams.
  • The Saturday newspaper amused me by having a relatively early article about new research that debunks (again) the silly urban legend that women speak more than men, followed a few pages later by some pseudoscientist author citing exactly that myth as part of a seminar. (In unrelated amusement, the research paper cites the blog Language Log!)
  • Similar amusement can be had in tonight’s news, where we have on the one hand the IEA (formed after the 1973 crisis) warning of a possible new oil shock, and our dear PM on the other telling us to be patient with respect to the Iraq war. These couldn’t possibly be related, could they?
  • Finally, and on that note, this imagined history is a somewhat-exaggerated but still-interesting read.
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Meme attack! “8 Random Things”

Tuesday 10 July 2007 at 9:55 pm

Only because AV asked nicely. Well, not that nicely — I’d have preferred a silver platter of some form — but the poor man is/will be on a teacher’s salary, after all :-P

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Tidbits from the Census results

Tuesday 3 July 2007 at 8:47 am

Graph showing more women than men reporting 15-30 hours of weekly housework

Last Thursday’s news bulletins were filled out with items about some of the figures in the Census results release — age statistics, numbers of indigenous people, and economic indicators — but there were a few other gems in there too.

Contrary to everyone’s fears about the Asian rabble overrunning the country, Italian is the most common non-English language spoken at home in WA, SA, and Victoria. But WA has a much lower proportion of people speaking Arabic at home (0.4%) than NSW (2.5%), where it’s the number two language. In the not-so-multicultural south, non-English languages can be heard in the homes of only 8% of Tasmanians. (The other extreme is 34% in the Territory, where Aboriginal languages dominate.)

Unsurprisingly, WA has a higher-than-average proportion of people living in detached houses (at 79%, the stuff of urban sprawl), but despite the complaints about rental property shortages our median weekly rent ($170) is well below that of Queensland ($200) and the ACT ($260).

WA does have the lowest proportion of people born in Australia, 65%, but the number two country of birth in every State and Territory is England (with New Zealand, Italy, and China also making strong showings). Curiously, our proportion of people with “no religion”, 22.9%, is higher than the national figure of 18.7% and the NSW figure of 14.3%.

In the world of family, Tasmania and SA host a slightly higher occurrence (40%) of couples living with no children than the national average (37%). And as the graph shows — vertical segments being the proportions of people that age ticking each box for “how much housework did you do this week?” — the people who report doing the most at home are all female and mostly middle-aged. (My spreadsheet for this is here.)