Posts filed under '4. Off-topic'

My new hippy crash pad :)

Ok.. so I promised that I’d give a few photos once I’d fully moved in to my new place – so here it is..

This first photo shows the place during the day..

TheDuck House 1
Note the cool pink bouncy sitting ball above – very Googley – Jazz, my hound, loved it – happy to chase it around all day.

Alas, Jazz’s days of fun with the ball are now over.

Jazz doesn’t realise how sharp her fangs are, and she is currently lying on the remains of the pink ball mourning – this photo I took just now 😀

If you’re from Google, and you have a tough, more dog friendly ball – I’d suggest you be totally Googley and send Jazz a new bouncy ball – the poor chook is very depressed, as you can see – Prozac anyone?

Jazz the  bouncy ball murdered

This photo shows my house after dark.. yes, it’s still small, regardless of the time of day 🙂 That is a photo of my girlfriend, Claudia (Schiffer), on the wall, by the way 😀

The all important Metrosexual Accoutrements…

And.. of course, the computer desk.. here we have a lenovo T60 (lovely computer, donated by lenovo as support for my PhD, thanks Lenovo!) on the left, followed by my new E8200 based overclocked behemoth, and finally my Q6600 based quad core super-data-muncher GIS computer on the right. I wish I had three eyes.

The little bit of geek in the metro-sexual batch pad :)

And, naturally, everyone needs to wash – in keeping with the rest of the house, the bathroom is tiny.

Where is the toilet I hear you say – well, it’s actually in a seperate building.

This is very much a batch pad, folks – but after several years living in Asia / PNG it doesn’t worry me a bit – I actually like it – don’t ask me why – I just do.

The Bathroom…

Gets a bit chilly up here – the pot belly stove keeps me warm, adds ambience and heats my water.

The Pot-Belly Stove

And of course, the most important thing when you’ve locked yourself away to study and write a PhD – company.

Luckily Jazz, the alsation / kelpie cross, also serves as the garbage disposal unit;

Between Jazz and the pot-belly stove I don’t tend to generate much trash other than plastics – which is a good thing, as we don’t have a garbage collection up here – even though we’re only 15kms out of the centre of town.

The trash disposal unit

And, naturally, if you’re wondering why I’ve moved out of town, this photo should explain it –

Apart from the fact that I get to play the music I love (alot of Paul Simon at the moment, I admit – right at the mo I’m hearing ‘spirit voices’ – love it) – I jog about 5 miles (round trip) down a big hill every morning and back – this is my reward at the end of the walk – I live right on the edge of a national park (forest) – see (or smell) koalas and kangaroos almost every morning, and end up HERE –

Where I walk to every day

I’ve had a few folks up here tonight for house-warming – been very fun – actually, 3 Californians – Dave, my chef mate (naturalised Australian now) and two of his nephews from Mountain View.

Cheers and hope you are all well.

UPDATE:- Four hours later – not cuddling with the carcass anymore, but still within a few feet of ‘the-deed’ just-in-case 🙂 – still desperately depressed, but beginning to figure that all these photos and pats must mean biccys are coming soon, I figure.
Jazz Prays the Googley Ball will bounce once again..

UPDATE 2 :- after 24 hours of witnessing a dog in deep depression, I caved and bought Jazz a new ball. She’s happy again now 🙂

new ball

7 comments March 15th, 2008

Ok.. so.. I have internet again :)

Hey everyone!

I notice a few of my friends turning up on my mybloglog sidebar.. so.. just a shout out to a few.. John – fantastic to see your blog getting the traffic it deserves lately for some inspired commentary on what peeves us about the inadequacies of Google Webmaster feedback. Shambhavi, I’d love to hear how you’ve settled in since your big move.. possibly you’re visiting in the vain hope that I’ve updated my blog recently – alas no, I haven’t.. UNTIL NOW…

But.. in all fairness I have been genuinely really busy. I’ve completed the long and drawn out process of moving into my new house… And, as the title of this post would suggest, I’ve actually managed to get broadband internet working here – which is very satisfying indeed.

Once I’ve converted my new place from the current maze of boxes to something a bit more worthy of a few photographs, I will do a post about it.

It’s certainly a unique place and I think some of my non-Australian readers would be fascinated – it’s definitely a very ‘Aussie’ pad – we’ve got Kookaburras, Kangaroos, Wombats.. very relaxing.. it’s such an Aussie house that the first thing I bought was a BBQ – and I haven’t cooked inside even once in the four weeks since I started moving in (Sorry folks from the US, but we’ve had absolutely brilliant weather here – warm, tropical).

I’ve been travelling alot recently, but by far the most ‘important’ thing I have been doing is consulting to a company in the North of my state – developing yield maps that help sugarcane growers improve their productivity whilst simultaneously reducing their costs – the fabled ‘win-win’ solution. It’s something very interesting, and I’d like to blog about it here.. But… I need your help.

Does anybody know of any free or open source software that allows you to record your screen in real time as a video? I basically want to do an online ‘tutorial’ about my new ‘yield mapping’ sofware – I’ll be putting it on my business site ( of course.

Your help would be appreciated!

Oh – one additional subscript – those of you that know me well will know that there has been a stressful sidetrack regarding a new lingerie product over the last little while – I spoke about the stress of that particular venture quite briefly on the website of  a friend a couple of months back.

I’m glad to say that this is now completely over and done with. We won the case – something I’d never like to go through ever again, but it’s given me some new and interesting insights into the challenges that entrepreneurial businesses and webmasters face – and those kind of insights are priceless.

I now feel quite qualified to advise folks about the legal side of webmastering – how to be ‘savvy’ about these issues and avoid destroying a great business with endless legal battles 🙂 It’s an important lesson – your time should be spent building a business. Time in court is wasted time folks!

Cheers and all the best,


7 comments February 29th, 2008

Broadband and the Digital Divide in Australia

So.. I’m currently moving house – It’s been on the cards for a while but I put it off pending a reply from a company I had been hoping to snare my ‘dream job’ with. The reply came, and it looks like I’ll be continuing my current status as a self-employed consultant/ PhD student for a while yet (dawgammit) , so it makes sense to make the move now.

I’ve found a fantastic place about 25kms out of Brisbane, at a spot called Mount Nebo (quite near to where my parents live, actually). The rent is good, the view is FANTASTIC and it’s a rural area, so I’ll be able to get back to my roots and have a few chooks etc 🙂

One big problem – if you can believe it – here in Australia, only 25kms out of a major city I cannot get broadband internet. To understand why this is, consider that the telecommunications utility (Telstra, often perhaps aptly renamed Hellstra) in this country was until recently Government owned, and is now a publicly owned company – so now the mighty dollar rules the roost.

It strikes me as a bit odd that the government would privatise a company that provides a service every bit as important as other utilities like water, electricity etc, without imposing conditions – like, for instance, the need to provide that service to folks where the population density might not quite make it a rapid return on investment – that is, after all, the reason that we have government owned utilities in the first place.

Actually, these days broadband internet is probably a more important utility than water and electricity – if you’ve got no water, you can always collect it from your roof. If you’ve got no electricity, you can always probably pay for solar panels. If you’ve got no broadband – well, sorry mate – you’ve just got no broadband. Hard luck.

This has resulted in the issue becoming a hot political potato. In fact, one of the major election promises of the incoming Rudd Labor government was that they would ensure that the entire population of Australia would have 8Mbp/s internet connections within several years if they were elected.

To this, the current American CEO of Telstra, Sol Trujillo, rejected the Rudd Labor Government’s idea of Telstra and its competitors all forming a jointly owned ‘new’ broadband network (probably FTTN – fibre to the node) as being some form of ‘kumbaya, holding hands theory – we are only going to participate in things we own and control’.

I must admit I can see his logic – CEO’s are paid the big bucks to maximise shareholder value. Opening up your monopoly owned exchanges and infrastructure to competitors for ‘the common good’ doesn’t cut it in this modern world of capitalism.

On the other hand, Telstra also blissfully enjoys their monopoly.. they argue I can get broadband – their wireless (3G) offering – Next-G. Yep, it’s fantastic – a whopping top speed in the area of 512Kbps, and only the low low price of $US150 per month for a maximum of 3GB download capacity.

I can use 3GB in my sleep – just 10kms down the road I can get 50GB a month for $50 at 5Mbps… so.. broadband at 100 times the market rate and 10% of the market speed is really only for those that have too much money or too few brain cells.. so. no broadband for me – I’ll have to buy a carrier pidgeon instead.

Alternatively.. well I am a comms engineer so.. I have the technology. I might just see if I can’t find someone with ADSL broadband in the valley below and offer to pay their monthly fees if I can rig up a yagi from their property and longshot the internet over an 802.11g/n link. It might be not strictly legal, but avoiding not-strictly-legal conduct is probably the reason that they never privatised the police force as well…


4 comments January 30th, 2008

How to Select Polygons which contain Points in ArcMap

Occasionally I write about things on this site that I haven’t been easily able to discover via a Google search – here’s one of them – I’ve been doing some GIS work for a client recently and I found myself befuddled by a simple problem.

When we’re faced with a situation where we have a large number of xy or lat long points in arcmap (for instance, when we’ve got a lot of yield monitor data) overlaid over the top of a polygon data set (for instance, block or paddock boundary shapefiles) in arcGis, what’s the best way to select only those paddocks (polygon shapefiles) which contain logged points?

Actually, it’s not too difficult. You have to use something called an ‘intersect’.

Select By Location in ArcGIS

Basically, in ArcGIS / ArcMap lingo, you’re selecting a feature (our block boundary polygons) that intercept or contain elements from another feature (our point data layer) – as shown below, with the selected features highlighted in cyan.

A GIS Intercept

To achieve this type of select, you need to go to the select menu, and choose ‘select by location’ – which will take you to the ‘select by location’ dialogue – (you can click the thumbnail to view full size).

Intersect Dialogue in ArcGis

In the dialogue, first you need to select the data layer that contains the polygons / blocks / features you’d like to select (select features FROM the following layer) and from there you need to chose ‘intersect’ in the drop-down followed by your points layer in the ‘features from this layer’ box.

After some processing, this will select all blocks / polygons / features that contain your points of interest.

Exporting a Selection to a new Shapefile in ArcGIS

Of course, now you’ll probably wish to export the selected features to a new layer – that process is described here – ‘Creating Subset Datasets in ArcGIS’

2 comments January 17th, 2008

Overclocking the Intel E8200 Core 2 Duo ‘Wolfdale’ Processor

Ok – so, if you read my last post about GIS systems and Sugarcane Yield Monitors you would be well aware that I’ve been labouring with a very processor intensive task called ‘Inverse Distance Weighted Yield Projections’. With over 2 million data points, the process takes many days… SO… in the interest of speeding it up, I recently decided to buy and overclock one of the new generation ‘Wolfdale’ Intel 45nm Core 2 Duo Processors – the E8200, which is the little brother to the new e8400 and e8500 series.

Firstly, the E8200 processor itself uses the same socket (775) as Intel has been using for quite some time now, but as I’ve been using AMD 64 processors up until now (socket 939), I needed to get a new motherboard as well – I chose the Gigabyte P35C-DS3R motherbard.

Meh – what the heck – if you’re going to go all out, why not get the works – so I topped off my purchase with some Kingston HyperX PC8500 DDR2 RAM as well – which is rated to 1066MhZ.

Add to that a nice little RAID 0 array of 2*500Gb 7.2K rpm hard drives for my data, and 1 10K RPM 160Gb WD Raptor, and you’re starting to shape up as a very speedy system.

Recommended Overclocking Settings for the E8200

Ok – so, the E8200 is rated at 2.66 GHz out of the box. With a little trial and error, I’ve been able to get it stable at a pretty decent 3.92GHz with the stock standard cooler. Here are the settings I used –

  • Ram Latency Settings – 5-5-5-10
  • RAM:FSB Ratio 1:1 (so effectively the Ram is matched to the CPU speed, running at around 490MHz – well, actually, 980 because it’s DDR – double data rate)
  • CPU Core voltage – 1.25 volts (this one was a suprise – many folks suggest you need to go as high as 1.5 – I didn’t)
  • RAM Voltage – 2.2V
  • CPU Clock 490MHz at the default multiplier of 8.

The system (on account of the low voltages) actually runs very cool – around 42 degrees Celsius (107 F) at idle, with a max temp of 62 degrees C (141 F) running Prime95, which is a CPU testing tool (amongst other things) – and that’s just using a stock CPU cooler with Arctic 5 heatsink compound.

Cool, in my mind, is good. If a processor runs cool, it’s usually a good sign that it is energy efficient – and it definitely means that less energy has to be spent keeping it cool which means lower electricity bills and a smaller environmental footprint – a good outcome all round.

So… contrary to the bad press I have heard elsewhere about the E8200 being not so overclockable, I’m absolutely stoked with these figures – but rumor has it that the E8400 and E8500 are getting prodigious numbers in the mid 4Ghz range, so they may be worthy of the additional investment, although the E8500 is a little overpriced for only an incremental increase.

For those of you interested – my particular CPU is the number 6 stepping – here’s a picture of the processor’s SuperPi numbers (just over 12 secs) –

Intel E8200 Overclocking

Some Additional E8200 Overclocking Tips

  1. To get very high CPU speeds like those noted above – YOU WILL NEED FAST RAM that can quite happily sit at ~ 960Mhz or above. A high quality DDR2 800Mhz stick MIGHT cut it, but I’d recommend going for a min of 1066MhZ RAM (PC8500), otherwise you’re going to find your overclock will be constrained to around 3.3Ghz.
  2. A New RAM technology is currently emerging called DDR3 – It offers speeds in excess of 1066MHz, but it is horrendously expensive – consider getting a motherboard (like the gigabyte Gigabyte P35C-DS3R I chose) that can handle BOTH DDR2 and DDR3 memory – socket 775 is going to be around for a while, and you might want to use DDR3 in the future.
  3. Don’t go overboard with the CPU voltage – some people are recommending as high as 1.5V, but I’ve found that past 1.3V you are mostly generating exponentially more heat for very little additional clock speed – it’s not worth it unless you’re nuts and like spending heaps of money on expensive cooling gear.

How did you go? Did you achieve the same speeds? Are you doing better with an E8400 or E8500? How much better? Got any questions? I’m really keen to hear from you – leave a comment below!

All the best –


123 comments January 16th, 2008

How to Process, Filter and Clean Yield Monitor Data

Hi Everyone – long time no post, I realise.

Ok – so a bit of an update – I’ve spent the last little while learning a new language (VB.NET). It’s been a nice challenge, as most of my programming to date has been non-object oriented stuff – command line interfaces or totally embedded solutions usually written in ANSI C.

I’ve been up in North Queensland helping a company up there develop yield maps for their Sugar Cane harvesters (actually, I helped design the equipment that sits on the harvesters and does the yield monitoring, as well). The process of taking the raw data off the harvesters and converting it into yield maps is a fairly long and drawn out one. Firstly you need to filter the data (something I had been doing in Excel) to remove erroneous positions and obvious outliers.

Secondly you need to convert the latitudes and longitudes from the yield monitor into eastings and northings (A degree of latitude isn’t the same distance at every position on the earth) so that you can project the data onto the local industry GIS system (the projection used is called the Geodatic Datum of Australia – GDA Zone 55) which was a bit of a mission – I had to convert a long and convuluted mathematical process (about three pages of equations) into a neat little visual basic function.

Thirdly you need to tie the data back to actual weights to obtain a calibration for each machine (had a hybrid Excel / Access database for that job) and fourthly you need to have a way to automagically recalibrate the harvester as the season progresses and the pressures that the yield monitor uses to monitor cane throughput start to change (mostly they go up – wear and tear on the harvester).

I was planning to teach my clients how to do this all manually, but, since I had a hankering to learn a new language and wanted to make life easier for them, I asked a famous Googler what object oriented language he would use. He suggested visual basic, which suited me fine because it turns out that it’s quite similar to C in many ways.

So.. now.. a month later I know a new language and have a great little humungous larger and more comprehensive than I ever imagined software package.

The package condenses what took me about 7 or 8 days to do using excel spreadsheets etc into an algorithm – essentially distilling it down into a 5 minute batch process. The danger is that it will look TOO easy and my clients won’t appreciate the effort that’s gone into it 😀 – but, meh, the satisfaction of a job well done was worth the extra effort.

Once the yield data has been processed by the software, it then connects into a GIS system which converts the point yields into a smooth surface – a yield map. The one I use alot is called ArcGIS, and it makes life rather easy. Specifically, it uses a function called ‘Inverse Distance Weighted (IDW) Interpolation’ to draw the map. Basically, for every recorded point from the datalogger, it looks at 8-12 other nearby points and uses them to ‘guess’ what the yield may be between the points – and hence comes up with a nice smooth yield map.

That process can take a long time – for a years worth of data for 23 harvesters in Australia the process of calculating the IDW maps took me about 3 days with my Opteron 165 based system – which leads me into my next post – about my new computer (feeling very Geeky here).

17 comments January 16th, 2008

The ‘Brothers Gibson’ live at ‘The Grove’, Brisbane

A taste of the live music scene here in Brisbane, where I live at the moment – Sascha and Mike from a band called The Brothers Gibson playing a song about North Queensland (specifically, Cairns, where I lived and worked about 5 years ago) – called ‘The Rusty’s Bar’. This song epitomizes North Queensland – plus I’ve never before seen someone play the cello like a guitar (that’s Sasch on the left, Mike on the right)

You can hear me cackling in the background a few times – having lived there in my early 20’s, I’m familiar with the particular bar they are singing about – a few lines stand out to me – “It took them more than 3 months just to realize – that the road to Surfers Paradise was bitumised” – it takes the piss and congratulates North Queenslander’s in one fell swoop… Why?

Funny because Surfer’s is the main ‘tourist attraction’ in Qld (but 1600 miles south of Cairns) – I think they’re basically saying that as far as the locals are concerned Cairns is the centre of the universe.. 

I also liked the line – ‘the ceiling fans rotate’ as the chorus – that’s so appropriate – so very North Queensland – time just drifts by, the slow, steady beat of the ceiling fan matches the rhythm of life in general up there – Cairns is not really known as a hectic place 🙂

Add comment December 22nd, 2007

New Major BlixKrieg Update on the Way

Folks – I’ve become aware that there are some niggling issues with WordPress 2.3.1 that are causing a few formatting problems with the current version of BlixKrieg.

I’m planning a new major release of BlixKrieg over the next couple of days to deal with these issues – keep your eyes peeled for the new release – and, in the interim, delay upgrading wordpress until the new release comes.



7 comments November 22nd, 2007

How to Program A New Keyless Entry Remote Ford BA Falcon

I like to write the occasional ‘how-to’ on this site to answer questions I’ve found really difficult or impossible to find an answer for online.

Ok – so… recently the keyless entry remote for my 2003 BA XLS Ute went on the fritz, which caused the ‘panic’ alarm to go off at all hours of the night without warning.

I did actually find that replacing the battery of the remote seemed to cure the problem – but I went to the wreckers and bought a second hand remote as a spare.. so.. here I’m going to tell you two things:-

  • How to replace the battery in a Ford remote control (specifically these instructions are for the BA model Ford Falcon, but they should be applicable across the range), and;
  • How to program a new remote control (keyless entry fob) for a Ford Falcon.

How to replace the battery in a 2003 model BA Ford Falcon Keyless Entry Remote

This one is really easy – just pop open the remote using a 5c piece and replace the battery with a CR2032 battery available at your local supermarket for around $5.

The batteries need to be replaced every couple of years.

How to Program a New Remote Control for a Ford BA Falcon

This one is a closely guarded little secret – Ford won’t tell you – but I happened to get my hands on a full workshop manual for the BA series.

After skulking around the ill-gotten workshop manual I managed to find the ‘secret’ technique hidden right at the back (along with a few other ‘gems’). Ok – here’s the procedure to program the new remote –

  1. Obtain a remote (can be a second hand one – they can all be reprogrammed, or you can buy a new one for about $90 from Ford).
  2. Close the doors.
  3. Turn the ignition key to the accesories position.
  4. Within 5 seconds of turning the key, hit the rear demister button (center console) three times in succession.
  5. The door locks will cycle once to indicate the special mode has been entered.
  6. Press any button on the remote you wish to program.
  7. The doors will cycle to indicate a new remote has been programmed.
  8. Continue steps 6 and 7 for all remotes (including existing ones) you intend to use on the vehicle.
  9. When you’ve programmed all the remotes, turn the ignition key off. The doors should cycle again to indicate the programming session has been completed.

For the techies amongst you – It’s interesting to note that you are not actually programming the remote per se, but rather you are programming the car. The late model Ford’s all have a BEM (Body Electronics Module) which is basically a fully fledged computer. When you press the remote, it ‘squawks’ a unique code to the car BEM. If the BEM is in the special programming mode, it then enters this code into memory as an authorised fob.

Something else I found a bit interesting – there is apparently an RFID (radio frequency ID) chip in the key of these new cars. Even if a key happens to fit your car, unless it’s been programmed as an ‘authorised key’ using a similar technique you won’t be able to start the vehicle.

If this advice didn’t help you – please drop by when you find the solution for your particular vehicle and help others by letting us know (using the comments below) what it was 🙂

Cheers and all the best,


132 comments November 14th, 2007

Fun Science – How many megabytes in the human body?

Following on from my post about the incredible progress of computer storage density over the last twenty years, I remembered hearing a ‘popular science’ broadcaster here in Australia equating the gamete transfer during sexual reproduction to data transfer.

I like ‘weird science’ so I thought I’d go back and try and ‘reproduce’ his findings (pun entirely intended) – so – in this post I’m going to explain in ‘digital terms’ (eg megabytes, gigabytes):-

  1. The number of megabytes of ‘data’ exchanged during human reproduction.
  2. The amount of data which the human brain can store (hypothetical).
  3. The amount of data stored in all the cells in the human body.

This post involves some low-level discussion of sexual reproduction. So, if you’re prudish or get offended by this kind of thing, I apologise in advance and please turn away now 🙂

The amount of ‘storage’ in the human brain

We can do similar calculations with the human brain – although these are much less definite – we’re much less certain about how the brain works than we are about how sexual reproduction works.

The average brain has around 100 billion brain cells (neurons) – that’s 100,000,000,000 brain cells (although this is a ‘guesstimate’ based upon other factors).

Human Neuron - like a bit of data?Each neuron is functionally connected to around 1000 neurons (again, a guesstimate). If we assume that neurons have either an ‘on’ or ‘off’ state (digital logic – although, not unsuprisingly, we have reason to believe that brain storage uses analogue voltage ‘levels’ rather than digital logic for storage) we can then assume that each neuron can ‘read or write’ 1000 neurons – essentially 1000 bits or 0.122 kilobytes of data.

Assuming that this ‘data’ ripples through the brain in a steady-state manner, we can assume that the average amount of ‘storage capacity’ is hence 100,000,000,000 by 0.122 kilobytes, or 122 million (122,000,000) kilobytes. If we convert that figure to gigabytes, we arrive at the sum of 116.34 Gigabytes of data in digital terms.

Obviously there is a massive fudge factor here – the calculations make alot of very ‘broad’ assumptions – it’s really just a ‘fun’ measure of what our brain capacity would be if it was a digital system.

How many Megabytes in the Human Body

This one’s just too complex for me to consider this early in the morning – but lets have a go (drawing on my limited recollection of genetic biology here).

I’d guess to work it out you’d have to define each ‘base pair’ as a bit of information.

In human DNA there are two common base pairs which consist of the ‘nucleotides’ adenine, thymine, guanine or cytosine. Generally speaking only adenine and thymine pair with each other, as do guanine and cytosine – so the typical DNA base pair can be AT or CG – one of two states – a bit.

The DNA Double Helix, and 'digital' base pairs

The human genome is estimated to contain some 3 billion base pairs – so (again, simplifying) 3 billion bits = 0.35 gigabytes – so each cell in our body encodes roughly a third of a gigabytes of information – that’s a pretty high information density, especially considering that the double helix DNA in our cells is a minute proportion of the cell as a whole (and that the process of cell reproduction produces RNA strands which may be present in a cell as well).

Estimates for the number of cells in the human body range between 10 trillion and 100 trillion (see Sears CL. 2005. A dynamic partnership: Celebrating our gut flora. Anaerobe, Volume 11, Issue 5, October 2005, Pages 247-251).

The generally accepted figure is 100 trillion cells – so, given each cell contains 0.35 GB of data, the (very) approximate amount of data held in human cells is 35 trillion gigabytes, or 34,179,687,500 terabytes of data, or, expressed in megabytes 3.58400 × 1016 megabytes!!

If you add in the information encoded in RNA and the base pairs in the bacteria which live in our body (another 1000 trillion cells) then we’re talking about a hell of alot of data.

The human race would make a truly excellent data center if Google ever runs out of storage space or we get invaded by aliens with a need to store lots of information 😀

The number of Megabytes ‘exchanged’ during human reproduction

The human sperm can be one of three states - x, y or wasted.Each sperm cell in a human male is heterogametic, meaning it contains only one of two sex chromosomes (x or y) – incidentally, the female egg is homogametic – meaning that it only has an x chromosome.

This means the male ‘determines’ the sex of the child, which makes a mockery of Henry the 8th’s annulment of his marriage with Catherine of Aragon on account of the fact that she was ‘incapable of providing a male heir’.

Basically, sperm cells are like bits – they can (in most cases) be only one of two states – x or y, or in digital form, 0 or 1. So, it’s possible to express an ejaculate in megabytes (!?!) – Let’s try.

The average human ejaculate contains around 180 million sperm. So, that’s 180,000,000 bits. If we use google to convert 180 million bits to megabytes, we find that approximately 21.45 megabytes of ‘data’ is transferred during each act of human sexual reproduction in the form of gametes.

Whether this ‘information transfer’ results in anything constructive is up to individual circumstance, but it does raise a number of interesting questions (I’m putting my communications enginner / silly hat on again):-

  • Given that this is ‘bursty’ traffic, what is the peak data transmission rate (in megabits per second)?
  • How does this compare to optical fibre (assuming the subject doesn’t suffer from ‘dark fibre’ problems 😀 )?


Have you got any other ‘fun science’ questions you’d like answered? Any comments? You can leve your comments below.

23 comments September 27th, 2007

Curing the oil crisis:- Starch or Sugar based Ethanol versus Cellulosic Ethanol

Ethanol as a replacement for petroleum

Back in my undergrad degree, I did some research into the viability of using resources from Australia’s large sugar cane industry as a feedstock for ethanol production.

My research was completed about 10 years ago. I found that for Australia to fulfill its own oil demands with Sugar Cane based ethanol it would need to have the entire arable land mass of Australia under cane and that the cost of production would be around 60c per litre, or about US 2.26 per Gallon.

The Australian retail price of petrol back then was around the 60c mark. It was clearly an impractical and uneconomic proposition.

Replacing Oil with Ethanol?

I went on to spend some time with the Sugar Industry and I found along the way that really my calculations were entirely flawed.

Firstly, I’d assumed that the feedstock for my theoretical ethanol production would be something called Molasses. Molasses is relatively cheap and abundant by-product of sugar production and is often used to produce rum. It contains perhaps 5% of the available sugar produced from the processing of Sugar Cane – with the remainder generally converted into relatively high value crystal sugar (the type we use in our coffee).

Two things have changed since then – the world price of sugar has precipitously declined and the world price of oil has sky-rocketed – so the economics have changed. I thought I’d take this opportunity to cast a backwards glance and go over my figures once again.

Brazil can switch between ethanol and sugar production almost instantaneously!

Brazil (the largest producer of sugar cane in the world) has over the last 10 years or so built the capability to easily tailor their production to either crystal sugar or ethanol – basically if the oil price is high, Brazil starts producing ethanol.

Due to the enormous size of the Brazillian industry the resultant shortfall in crystal sugar tends to drive up the world sugar price – so much so that over the last 5 years or so we’ve started to see the world sugar price (WSP) follow the peaks and troughs of the oil price.

Already, without even realising it, Sugar has become an agro-industrial energy crop. The same thing has happened with corn as well – in recent years the price of maize has doubled in much the same way as the price of oil has.

This is a very different playing field to that I investigated 10 years ago – ethanol production from sugarcane is now starting to become an economic proposition of some merit.

A friend of mine in the south of India has secured the rights to build an ethanol factory in a state called Kerala, so I’ve been speaking to some experts here in Australia on his behalf about the new state-of-the-art in ethanol production.

Cellulosic Ethanol

Kerala has a rather large Coconut industry, and one of the interesting possibilities we are looking at is cellulosic ethanol, which has recently been featured in this great article from wired magazine.

This is still a technology in its infancy, but things are looking very promising. Cellulose is the stuff that makes plants stand up – it’s tough, it contains a great deal of Carbon and it’s not easy to break down.

For all our evolutionary complexity, we as humans haven’t yet developed the ability to utilise cellulose as an energy source in our diet, although that’s not the case for other organisms.

Ruminants like cows, goats and camels are capable of supporting vast populations of bacteria in their gut which digest the cellulose and produce by-products called (again, simplifying) short chain fatty acids which can then be digested by the animal as an energy source.

Termites go a step further – their guts apparently produce these enzymes in-situ without the need for a symbiotic colony of gut bacteria.

In recent years there has been a veritable explosion in the number of companies (and governments) investing in this particular technology.

What are the expected yields of alcohol per tonne of Cellulose?

It’s very hard to find definitive numbers here though that allow us to start looking at the potential economics of using cellulose from plants as a ethanol feedstock.

One article about the economics of cellulosic ethanol production states that the theoretical yield of ethanol per tonne of biomass is 114 gallons (431 litres), but in practice the real (achieved) yield is closer to 70 gallons (264 litres). Unfortunately that particular article doesn’t express ethanol production as percent dry biomass (aka dry matter) so it’s hard to compare it with other studies.

Another article I found goes into a bit more detail and compares potential cellulosic ethanol production between four feedstocks – corn stover (another name for corn stalks), alfalfa stems (lucerne), sugarcane bagasse (the dry fibre left over after sugar extraction, usually burnt as a waste material) and Oak Wood. This particular study expresses Alcohol production as litres of ethanol per tonne of dry matter – a much better measure.

Conversion efficiency (%)
Feedstock Hemicellulose
to xylose
to glucose
Alfalfa stem 96 88 228
Corn stover 92 90 298
Sugarcane bagasse 90 86 267
Oak wood 88 79 278

These figures tend to correlate well with those given in the first reference – that expected production of ethanol per tonne dry biomass is going to be somewhere in the order of 220-280 litres of ethanol. It also correlates fairly well with a ‘tool’ provided by the US Department of energy which allows you to calculate the theoretical yield of cellulosic ethanol based upon the composition of a biomass feedstock.

So.. down to some economics..

Let’s take a reference (underestimate) of dry matter % sugarcane biomass as ~14%. So, for every 1000kg of sugarcane, we’ll assume we’re left with 140kg of dry cellulosic materials after extraction of the sugar. Assuming 260 litres per tonne biomass, that means that we’re going to expect to produce around 36.4 litres of cellulosic ethanol per tonne of harvested sugarcane.

Now the important part – Sugarcane uses what’s called C4 photosynthesis – meaning it’s extremely effective at producing biomass from sunlight – biomass yields are very high and the plant is extremely fast growing. A typical yield of sugarcane per hectare in Australia would be ~ 70 to 150 tonnes cane per hectare per annum. We’ll take the midpoint – 100 tonnes.

This means that from cellulosic sources, we’d be expecting to produce around 3640 litres (961 gallons) per hectare of cane from a material that is otherwise considered a waste product.

What about if we used the sugar too?

Now lets look at the sugar content.

Fleay et al (2006) states that (one tonne of) “sugar yields 0.385 tonnes of anhydrous ethanol” and the specific gravity of ethanol is somewhere between 79% and 81% that of water, meaning we can expect the yield of anhydrous alcohol per tonne of sugar to be (1/.8*385)=481 litres.

In general the CCS of cane (amount of sugar in a tonne of cane expressed as percent biomass) is somewhere between 10 and 14% – and that doesn’t include the sugars available in molasses. Let’s assume that we just macerate the cane, extract the juice and ferment that (a much less energy intensive process than extracting the sugar) – we’ll make a relatively broad assumption that we’ll have around 140kg of sugars available per tonne of cane, which, at our theoretical yield of 100 tonnes per hectare equates to around 14,000 kg sugar per hectare available for fermentation and conversion to ethanol. At 481 litres per tonne of sugar, we’ll be left with around 6735 litres of ethanol per hectare.

So.. we’re left with the following figures.. from a ‘typical’ cane field with 14% fibre, 14% available sugar and 100 tonnes per hectare..

Yield of Cellulosic Anhydrous Ethanol per hectare – 3640 litres

Yield of Fermented Anhydrous Ethanol per hectare – 6735 litres

Total yield of Anhydrous Ethanol per hectare – 10,375 litres

Could Ethanol totally replace our petroleum usage?

Would this be enough to satisfy Australia’s Oil needs?

Let’s assume an annual cane yield of 40 million tonnes, or roughly 400,000 hectares under cultivation – this equates to around 4 150 000 000 litres, or 4.15 billion litres of ethanol per annum (assuming one crop cycle per year)

The energy density of ethanol is only around 70% of that of petroleum so this would equate to around 2 905 000 000 litres (2905 megalitres) of petroleum (although ethanol does have a higher octane rating, which means it burns more efficiently, so this is probably a slight underestimate). Current petroleum consumption in Australia is around 20,000 megalitres per annum, leaving a shortfall of over 17,000 megalitres per annum.

WOW! If Australia was to convert our entire sugar industry to the production of ethanol, we’d only be able to satisfy around 14% of our demand for automobile fuel (not including diesel consumption which is another 4000 megalitres). Keep in mind Australia has only 20 million people.

The scale is enormous – in QLD you can basically drive for 2000 uninterrupted kilometres and all you’ll see growing is sugarcane.

If we wanted to gross up our cane production to satisfy our demand for foreign oil (for automotive use only), we’d need to have around 2,857,000 hectares under sugar cane – the entire cropable landmass of Queensland (approx 20% of Australia’s land mass) is just below that figure. Forget about eating – we’d need to crop our whole state just to satisfy the thirst of the nation’s automobiles. That’s quite amazing and I feel the figures for a country with a much higher population density like the US would be even more compelling – these are interesting figures.

This reinforces a few things to me:-

  1. The massive scale of our oil consumption is easier to comprehend when it is expressed as biomass equivalent production (the amount of oil beneath the earth was phenomenal)..
  2. That burning that finite resource to fuel inefficient vehicles rather than using it for higher value industrial purposes for which no other economic feedstock exists (plastics, medicines etc) is perhaps not the best long term use of an amazing natural resource.
  3. That folks are going to look back at this period of history and wish we had done things a bit differently.

What are your thoughts? Where do you think the future lies? I’d be keen to hear your ideas / opinions.


THE AUTHOR: Matthew holds degrees in Agricultural Science and Computer Engineering. Matt has extensive experience in the Sugar Industry worldwide and has a strong interest in Agricultural Mechanisation, Economic Modelling, Agronomics, Alternative energy, Comms Engineering / Remote Area Comms and Entrepreneurial Start-Ups. Matt is available to discuss these topics, and would welcome contact from anyone interested in discussing their business.

18 comments September 26th, 2007

1GB then and now..

I ‘stumbled’ across this little tid-bit – this photograph shows ‘cutting edge’ storage for 1GB from 1988 (on the left) and 1GB storage from 2005 (on the right).. 🙂

My how things do change – I noticed just the other day that USB keys now come in a 16GB flavour – that’s right.. those little floppy disks I used to take to school to trade ‘high tech’ games like tetris with my mates about 15 years ago were 1.44MB in size – I can now hold the equivalent of ~11,400 of them in a little card on my keyring – that’s incredible.


1 comment September 26th, 2007

Got a new ute :)

Brief update – I got a new vehicle today.

I’ve been driving around an ancient vehicle with 300K+ km’s for the last 5 years – and finally I decided it wasn’t really worth spending any more money on.. so today I purchased a new old ute at auction.

For those of you who aren’t from Australia, a ‘ute’ is like a pickup – it’s a uniquely Australian invention that was designed to allow farmers to have a vehicle that they could use during the week on their farm, and still be ‘beautiful’ enough to take the wife or significant other to church on Sunday without causing embarassment.

The fact they only have two seats and a v6 engine is a bit of a problem in this modern world of high fuel prices and environmental conscience though – and on that matter I feel a little guilty. There was a Prius that went for about $5K more, and I did consider it (momentarily).

If it weren’t for the fact that utes were made for dogs and dogs were made for utes and dogs aren’t allowed in ‘family cars’ and I have a dog, I’m sure I wouldn’t have got a ute – but I have horses and dogs and love the country – so i’ll stay with the ute for the moment and ride my bicycle around town to help limit global warming and waist expansion 🙂

Photo below… M

Can I run it on LPG or autogas in Brisbane?

6 comments September 13th, 2007

Supplementals have been abolished

In a case of short term pain for long term gain long term pain for short term gain, everyones favorite search engine has abolished the supplemental index.

But before you go running around your office whooping with delight like I did this morning – STOP. Google hasn’t abolished the supps, they’ve just stopped telling us which pages are in supps.

What’s that mean to the average punter?

Well, it means less questions on the webmaster forums starting with ‘why are my pages all in the supplemental index’, and less time spent by ‘mom and pop’ sites worrying about it.

Possibly a good move.

Me, well, I’m skeptical about the move. The overriding stated aim of Google is to return quality results. I’ve seen plenty of quality pages in the supplemental index – google has stated repeatedly that the biggest reason for a page being in the supps is NOT a perceived lack of quality, but rather a lack of pagerank.

It’s nice to know they are there so that we can make an effort to bring them into the main index where they belong. Google should be adding MORE tools to help genuine webmasters assess how they can improve their index penetration, not less.

It’s a case of ‘need to know’ – Google now no longer reckons we ‘need to know’ which pages their algorithms consider unworthy of a place in the main index. My initial feeling about that move is that it seems a little paternalistic.

Google has eviscerated the ONLY tool that goes any way toward explaining why a page might be performing poorly.

My take? If they are going to stop tagging pages as supplemental they should just abolish the supplemental index altogether – if a page is being crawled but isn’t in the index, well, we know it sucks – so why lump it in with other results? Put differently, why show us pages in a site: search if they’re not going to rank anyway.

At the moment I’m leaning towards thinking this might have been a (short term) backwards step, although it wouldn’t surprise me if we see some new tools in the Google webmaster tools arsenal to help deal with this prob.

ADDENDUM:- Richard Hearne ( put it best recently on the google webmaster help forums –

“Of course Google would rather we didn’t discuss or even consider this supplemental index.  Then again if Google was serious about fixing issues like these they would scrap the supplemental index… or give us back the supplemental tag so that we can try to fix these issues ourselves. “

5 comments August 1st, 2007

I Can’t Fly, But I know how to Fall with Style

Ocassionally, just once in a while, I get fed up with sitting in front of my computer, studying, or heading to the gym.

At times like that (when I’ve done some consultancy and have cash in my pocket) I head out to my local skydiving DZ (Ripcord Skydivers at Gatton, Australia) and kick back, soothe the soul, relax and jump out of perfectly good airplanes.

In my current hiatus (took some time off trying to consider whether PhD is really where I want to be for next three years, and attempting to get involved with something I’m really passionate about), I’ve indulged myself and gone for a few more jumps.

The following vid is from about 5kms up – three jumps in total (not all in the one flight) – all of them are me, aka theDuck – (perhaps better known as theEmu – flightless bird from Oz), but the last one is my favorite – I’m doing a move called ‘the funky chicken’.

Basically, ‘the funky chicken’ involves climbing out the strut, squatting on the step and asking the pilot to go to full power (you’ll see me nodding and thinking ‘cmon, is that all you’ve got’) until you can’t hold on any more, then let yourself be blown off the airplane. At that point you squeeze yourself into a little ball and watch the world.. then the plane.. then the world.. then the little plane.. then the world.. then the little dot of a plane.. spinning, spinning, spinning..

It’s a form of nirvana – like floating in the ocean, but there are no sharks, no sting rays to spear you through the heart, no coral to cut your feet on, very little chance of running out of air and if you get caught in a rip you’ve always got a second option. Generally you can sit there spinning, without any sensation of falling, for about 50 seconds before you need to snap out of it and reach for the little metal handle, otherwise your cypress cuts in and all of a sudden you’ve just wasted 5 jumps worth of cash and given yourself a broken collarbone 🙂

Probably the freakiest jump I’ve ever done was out of a helicopter – since the helicopter is static, and most of the downwards thrust is at the end of the rotor, you jump into ‘dead air’ – there is no forward speed (and hence wind velocity) to ‘cushion’ you, and you end up scrambling like a cat in a swimming pool trying to get yourself stable until about 10 secs into the jump when you reach terminal velocity and start to feel weightless. The 9 seconds up until that particular moment are sheer adrenaline, and unfortunately it is against the rules to listen to your ipod to take your mind off what ‘might’ happen if the (airborne) venomous spider catches you.

Here’s the vid of my latest jump..

4 comments July 13th, 2007

Google Taken to Court by the ACCC

In Australia we have a very powerful competition regulator. This probably stems mainly from Australia’s strong stance on competition and free trade – when your national economy depends so heavily on export income, free trade tends to be fairly important.

The Australian Competition Regulator routinely shuts down or imposes massive fines on companies that engage in anti-competitive or deceptive behaviour – and it seems it has my favourite search engine in its sights – in particular the ACCC  is concerned about Google sponsored links (adwords) – and the way some companies use them to gouge other people’s businesses – essentially the regulator sees this as false and misleading conduct and is trying to get a ruling holding Google responsible for the actions of its’ advertisers. Any thoughts on this? Matt

1 comment July 12th, 2007

Featured in “The WordPress PodCast”

Hi folks – just a little tidbit – one of my plugins, SEO_Wordpress has been featured today in Charles Stricklin’s “WordPress Podcast” – check it out here at The WordPress Podcast (fast forward to 25 mins 42 secs for Aaron’s review) – Thanks Charles (P.S. I noticed your sidebar is broken in IE6 – Susan Moskwa (from Google) posted a tip about this problem recently in this post). Thankyou! – Matt

Add comment July 9th, 2007

My Recent Job Interview with Google Part 2

Following on from my previous missives about my recent trip to the plex, I thought I’d put together this little video – detailing the last couple days of my trip.

I put on my best walking shoes and went hiking up around point Reyes (North Western side of San Fran bay) , and a little sight seeing around San Fran itself..

Yup – I know I’m no cinematographer (and my seal impersonations aren’t that flash either 🙂 ) – but you can see I kept myself amused.. I had fun with my great new little Pentax optio M30 – my first digital and happy with the results.

Hope you are all well –


5 comments July 1st, 2007

SOLUTION: BlixKrieg 2.2 “Featured Advertiser” sidebar shows when ads turned off

Hi everyone – we’ve released an upgraded version of the Blix Krieg theme to give better support to those of you who don’t wish to use adsense on your blogs.

This version corrects a minor bug with the previous release.

Basically, this bug makes the ‘featured advertiser’ sidebar header show even when advertising is turned off.

We’ve now corrected the bug, and you can eliminate it by downloading the updated version here.

Users that are utilising the adsense enabled version of the theme, or are using WordPress 2.2 with widgets enabled need not upgrade their theme.

Those of you that wish to download the adsense enabled version of the theme, or read more about it, may do so at our support page. You can see the latest version of the theme (with adsense turned on) at our beta test page

Blix Krieg is a WordPress 2.2.1 (and backwards) compatible drop-in replacement version of Sebastien Schmieg’s famous and highly customizable theme, Blix. Blix Krieg ads additional functionality like ‘asides’, widget compatibility and the option to easily integrate google adsense into your blog if desired. You can read more about the latest version by following this link.

Thanks for being a part of our community!


4 comments June 27th, 2007

Safety Report – Blix Krieg is 2.2.1 Compatible

Just a quick aside – for those of you using blix krieg (wordpress 2.2.1 compatible Blix replacement), I’ve tested functionality under the new wordpress 2.2.1 update – thunderbirds are go, it works fine – upgrade to your hearts content.

Add comment June 24th, 2007

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