Mike Bailey

Smoking: Prevention & Treatment

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When it comes to life threatening situations, prevention and treatment serve different purposes and importantly, different populations.

For example, responses to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s included campaigns to educate the public on how to reduce their risk of contracting HIV as well as research into a cure. Effective treatment options were discovered which greatly improve the prognosis for infected people with access to them.

During this same period, our public health bodies seem to have focussed on prevent but have failed to identify effective methods for people who want to stop smoking. The methods many organisations promote see reported relapse rates of around 80% within the first six months.

These include:

  • Cold Turkey (Quitting abruptly)
  • Nicotine Replacement Products (Patches, gum, lozenge, mouth spray, inhalator)
  • Quitting Medication (Champix or Zyban)

It’s unfathomable that ineffective treatments for tobacco addiction are being promoted while little effort is made to identify effective methods for people to use to stop smoking.

Australia’s National Tobacco Strategy lists a number of objectives which include:

  • prevent uptake of smoking
  • encourage and assist as many smokers as possible to quit as soon as possible, and prevent relapse

These objectives assist two separate populations, never smokers and smokers. The needs of people who smoke cannot be served meaningfully while we do not have effective methods for them to quit.

The reduction in smoking rates in Australia this century have been mainly due to an increase in never-smokers with the percentage of ex-smokers staying faily constant.

National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2013 – Tobacco Smoking Status

one-quarter (24%) of the population were ex-smokers and this has remained fairly stable since 1998 when the proportion of ex-smokers first exceeded the proportion smoking daily

one-quarter (24%) of the population were ex-smokers and this has remained fairly stable since 1998 when the proportion of ex-smokers first exceeded the proportion smoking daily

Australia’s smoking bans, tax hikes, advertising campaigns and other efforts may have contributed to reduced uptake of smoking but do not appear to have made quitting easier. While focussing on the children, there have been little change in daily smoking seen among people aged 60 or older this century.

We know that most smokers regret taking up the habit. We need to acknowledge the high relapse rates for currently promoted smoking cessation methods and get to work identifying effective alternatives.

In 2013, around 40% of Australians who smoke heavily tried to give up unsuccessfully (NDSHS). We don’t need to be convinced we should quit, we need to know how.

how to save money

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Are you price conscious in your everyday spending? A lot of us aren’t for the basic reason that it consumes brain cycles for little percieved reward. Quitting smoking led to an adjustment in the way I value money. Forking out $20 a day for something the literally goes up in smoke can make saving $5 a day on parking seem pretty irrelevant.

In considering my monthly spend I found a number of ways I could spend less without any real impact on my quality of life. Perhaps some of these could help you?

Stop Smoking, Start Vaping ($600/mon)

I’m addicted to nicotine. My pack a day habit was costing me $600 a month. I am now using a vapouriser to get my nicotine fix for $20 a month.

Park 10 minutes walk from office ($110/mon)

Adding 20 minutes of gentle exercise to my otherwise sedentary existance saves me a packet.

Stop buying takeaway coffee ($88/mon)

We have coffee machines at work. It’s free and I’m a good milk frother.

Find cheaper car insurance ($35/mon)

I was surprised how easy this one was. Thanks Google.

Buy supermarket milk ($30/mon)

I was under the mistaken impression that the branded milk was better.

Pay Less for Petrol ($12/mon)

There’s about a 10% difference between low and high prices for petrol depending on when in the cycle you fill up. I can save $6 on a 40 litre tank by filling up at the right time.

A tank lasts me 2 weeks. If you need to fill more often YMMV.

ACCC report on Australian petrol price cycle

Vendors try to mix it up but the graph above is updated daily and gives a good idea of when it’s a good time to buy. They also have petrol prices for other Australian states.

Don’t buy premium fuel unless your car needs it ($8/mon)

I’ve not a petrol head and haven’t even researched this one very well but started saving around $4 on a tank of fuel by not paying for premium.

Australian petrol stations market several types of unleaded petrol. They tend to be 91, 95 and 98 “octane”. I don’t know much about fuel and the higher numbers cost more so I tended to choose 95 or 98 thinking I must be getting more from it.

It turns out some cars (European) require high octane fuels or their performance deteriorates. I checked my Subaru manual and it said I was fine using 91 octane fuel.

Truth about Edinburgh Gardens NYE

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What happens when more 15,000 revellers converge on an inner city Melbourne park to ring in the new year with no perimeter fencing, byo drugs/alcohol and just 12 police officers on duty?

A potential horror story of violence and destruction didn’t eventuate but this hasn’t stopped the media from describing it as such.

There are over different 15,000 versions of NYE in Edinburgh Gardens 2014 and I suspect most people had a pretty fun time. The fact it turned out to be a largely peaceful celebration despite the absence of any effective crowd control seems both newsworthy and worthy of further discussion.

Ms Fristacky says local residents had varied views of the New Year’s Eve party. “Quite a few residents who attended said it was a great night, they enjoyed it, it was 20 000 people mostly peaceful, yes there were some incidents, but they were isolated.”

City of Yarra Mayor quoted by ABC

Reading between the lines, the night sounds a bit like a night at an open air music festival like Meredith or Golden Plains. Events like these show us that while we will never be completely rid of dickheads, most people want to be good to each other.

Misrepresentation of the evening and villification it’s participants has spread righteous indignation far beyond residents of the parks gentrified surrounds. Yarra Council is now facing increased pressure to crack down on park users.

‘Trash’ing the Gardens

We were told the park was trashed. While this brings thoughts of vandalism and permanent damage, reporters were actually referring to litter, most of which was all picked up and removed by Council staff and volunteers by sunset on 1 Jan.

Now don’t get me wrong, there was a whole lot of litter. The place was a mess but one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and the indignation inspiring imagery was media gold for the evening news and daily papers.

What kind of people would do this?

“inadequate lighting and excessive crowding also appeared to dissuade people from using the rubbish bins and toilet facilities provided, with significant complaints about public urination;”

Oh yeah, people partying in the dark

Music festivals like Meredith and Golden Plains see attendees cleaning up the mess from the night before when the sun rises.

Fence Climbing

Climbing can be fun but the recently installed tennis court fences aren’t very strong. The top bars slipped under the weight of people climbing on them. The Herald Sun reported this as vandalism. By these standards your average two year old is a wanton vandal.

Darwin was Right (http://instagram.com/p/ilnmIHDklK/)


Ambulance staff set up an emergency triage area in the park, where they treated about 20 people.

Most were treated for alcohol-related problems, while others suffered cuts from broken glass in the park.

“Paramedics Outraged”

Meredith and Golden Plains are two music festivals where you can bring your own alcohol but have a strict NO GLASS POLICY.

There were two violent acts reported. A man lost several teeth when he was punched in the face and a seventeen year old boy was arrested after he allegedly punched a female police officer in the face.

I don’t think anyone has worked out a solution to dickheads but MMF try:

Festivals at the Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre have a No Dickhead Policy.

Essentially this is a self-policing policy whereby ‘the dickhead’ is not celebrated at the festival. Dickheads or people involved in dickhead behaviour will usually find that a solid citizen will firmly but politely inform them that their dickhead behaviour is not admired or appreciated. The Dickhead will usually realise they are being a dickhead and pull their head in. If not, our Helpers or Staff or even Security might make a discreet intervention.

So if you are a Dickhead, this festival isn’t for you.

MMF No Dickhead Policy

Hey Rupert, Stop Bashing Our Youth

Demonising our youth may sell papers but what does it do to our social fabric? Crafting words that stir up moral panic doesn’t make life easier for anyone.

The sky is not falling and the connected generations are not falling for your lies.


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On Redesign My Brain, Todd Sampson took on the challenge of eating something new each day in order to get his brain working more creatively. I decided to try this as well to see if I notice any changes to my thinking.

Fruit seems like an obvious place to start for me as I only eat three of them: apples, bananas and mandarins.


01 Kiwifruit # I solved the kiwifruit for myself. 02 Apricot # I cheated and watched a walkthrough. Do you eat the skin?

Fun with Retinal Burns

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Disclaimer: Don’t look at any bright light source. It may damage your eyes!

The sound of a fly buzzing meant  one more thing for me to before going to bed. What happened next took me by surprise and provided some fascinating entertainment that I thought I’d share with you.

Returning from the kitchen with a can of fly spray, I heard it’s intended target was in the last remaining light source in my house – the big orange lampshade by the couch. After peering down into the lampshade and releasing a couple of light sprays I returned to the darkened kitchen only to notice I was seeing spots, three large overlapping ones to be precise.

These black Venn Diagrammesque apparitions were due to photobleaching of the chemicals my eyes use to sense light. They were in three distinct places because the eye flicks quickly when scanning – if I had been watching a marble race I’m sure it would have been a circle.

Anyway, we’ve all see spots right? What was really neat was what I discovered next…

Covering my eye made the spots go a light colour. Looking at the pantry doors resulting in them being dark. The spots faded within seconds however covering my eyes brought them back, as did shifting my gaze to a different area in the room. I think I’ve found a new way to demonstrate perceptual filling-in. Until now I’ve only heard of blind spot fill-in.

The beauty of retinal burn fill-in is that you don’t need to find your blind spot, or be a certain distance from things as you can control where you place the burn. It’s amazing to watch the burn dissolve as the brain fills in the missing information. I’d advise against deliberately looking into any bright light source but next time it happens I suggest you use the opportunity to experience first hand the difference between the signals your eyes send and what you perceive.

Vagrant notes

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I’m a massive fan of Vagrant’s command line virtualisation goodness. This post is me trying to find a public place for my vagrant notes to rest (I couldn’t find a cardboard box).


This vagrant rubygem plugin automatically updates /etc/hosts on your guests and host box each time you run vagrant [up|provision]


vagrant-vbguest is a Vagrant plugin which automatically installs the host’s VirtualBox Guest Additions on the guest system.

First Impressions of Macbook Air with preinstalled Mountain Lion

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Last Friday night I picked up my new Macbook Pro and thought it might be worth sharing my initial experiences. Coming from a late 2011 MacBook Pro with HDD I’m loving the speed and lighter form factor.

Mac OSX Mountain Lion demotes /usr/local/bin in path

Homebrew’s ‘brew doctor’ command warned me about my PATH.

Warning: /usr/bin occurs before /usr/local/bin

This means that system-provided programs will be used instead of those provided by Homebrew.

It turns out /etc/paths has listed last /usr/local/bin. Ever since reading Dan Benjamin’s post, Using /usr/local I’ve been…erm…using /usr/local. I’d be interested to know why Apple made this change.

MacGPG2 can mess with libiconv

While on the topic of PATHs, you don’t want this in your PATH: /usr/local/MacGPG2/bin

For some reason this was the cause of me being unable to compile native extensions in the tiny_tds rubygem. GCC appears to have been grabbing that item and then finding /usr/local/MacGPG2/include/iconv.h which conflicted with the OSX installed version. (Brew tells me the package is no longer provided as OSX provides libiconv).

Oil Lamps in the Geek House

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“Connect It” by Chow Hon Lam

Of the five senses, the two I get most signal through are sight and hearing. Over the past few weeks I’ve been experimenting with the former and have made some interesting discoveries (or perhaps more correctly, rediscoveries). I have no qualifications in lighting or biological science but think it’s worth sharing my experiences and a summary of what I’ve learned. I’d love to hear from you (in the comments) if you find any of it interesting.

People’s sensitivity to their environment varies greatly. I think I’m on the more sensitive end of the spectrum and are more affected by:

  • glare – halogen down-lights, car headlights in the rear view mirror

  • color temperature – evening computer use, walking into convenience stores lit by fluorescent lights

  • golden hour – first/last hour of sunlight loved by photographers and film makers

  • firelight – candle, oil lamp, campfire

The Lamp Shop

T.W. Sands, Melbourne

As a teen I went through a phase of lighting candles in my bedroom. The light they produced created a different mood or atmosphere that I think most readers will relate to. A few weeks ago when walking home from the Melbourne CBD I came across a curious little lamp shop that would not have looked out of place a century ago.

Established in 1918 and in Elizabeth Street from 1951 to 2004, T.W. Sands & Co is one of the few original lamp houses left in the world.

T.W. Sands & Co has been selling oil and kerosene lamps for almost 100 years. They never switched to electricity! Inside they sell new and old lamps, as well as wicks, chimneys, oil and replacement parts. My curious mind lit up with questions – fortunately the staff have a detailed knowledge of the workings of the lamps along with the history of advancements in burner technology. In short, the Americans won the arms race with the 40 candle power Aladdin which is still in production today. This uses a thermoluminescent mantle that throws off a bright white light when heated by the burner. They’re so bright they require a shade to reduce glare and while great for a dinner table I prefer my flames naked.

Oil Powered Time Machine

I returned the next day to buy three different types of lamp for my 1880’s home in Carlton North. The house sports three rather impressive fireplaces that would have been the main source of heating when built. The mantle pieces seemed like an obvious place to put the lamps. They stand at shoulder height and are a foot deep which means the lamps:

  • are in an optimal position to light faces
  • illuminate the other things on the mantlepiece, creating a feature
  • probably most importantly, won’t get knocked over by an arm or bag hanging from someone’s shoulder

This last point is important. A number of people expressed alarm that I was using firelight in my house, fearing an accident. While I don’t think lamp oil will burn on floorboards, a rug, curtains or other wick-like furnishing would be happy to assist and I could imagine many a housefire was started by a lamp. The clumsy and dim witted are probably better off in a fire free household. I’m confident I can manage it though. Already I felt like I was defending something that few would have worried about in the 1880s.

I decided to do a sort of Earth Hour on steroids, abstaining from electric lighting for a week. The experience transported me back to a time where the human experience of night time was very different to what we know today. For someone with little practical experience using firelight in a domestic environment I had to work things out for myself. This was interesting from a historical perspective but also led to me learning more about how our eyes work and the magic of night vision.

In some ways it felt like camping, perhaps because that’s the only time I experience the night without electric lights. For this experiment I had a control – the house as I used it before – so I could identify what elements of the experience were due to the lighting. This removed confounding variables like country air, a long drive and kangaroos.

Firelight Changes the User Interface of a Room

Back in the late 90’s Google replaced Alta Vista as the search engine of choice.

Alta Vista got ‘busy’

One refreshing change was the lack of distractions on the Google’s search page.

Google’s distraction free interface

Modern home lighting is akin to flood lighting. The majority of homes have overhead lighting without dimmers which results in reflected (and lots of it) light being pretty evenly dispersed. Firelight is of lower intensity and so highlights things in close proximity. You wouldn’t clean the floors to firelight – that’s a job better left for the cold light of day. Similarly, it’s not as easy to check for mud on your boots in firelight. I wouldn’t be surprised if people we more inclined to leave them at the front door if they came home after dark.

Low output lights seems to create less extraneous stimulus by creating more focus on areas nearer the light source.

Ow! My Eyes!

In addition to the lower intensity of firelight, it also gives has a much warmer colour temperature. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the light you’re confronted with when visiting a convenience store lit by fluorescent tubes.

Worst mood lighting ever

Color Temperature is measured in Kelvin and strangely enough a lower value refers to a warmer light. It refers to the temperature of a black body radiator that emits a light of comparable hue. The ‘cold light of day’ is up there with fluorescent tubes which might explain why walking into one at night can be feel so unpleasant. Suddenly adjusting to a different color temperature seems to be a bit jarring for some people.

Temperature (K) Source
1,700 Match flame
1,850 Candle flame, sunset/sunrise
2,700–3,300 Incandescent lamps
3,000 Soft White compact fluorescent lamps
3,200 Studio lamps, photofloods, etc.
3,350  Studio “CP” light
4,100–4,150  Moonlight,[2] xenon arc lamp
5,000  Horizon daylight
5,000  tubular fluorescent lamps or Cool White/Daylight compact fluorescent lamps (CFL)
5,500–6,000  Vertical daylight, electronic flash
6,500  Daylight, overcast
6,500–9,300  LCD or CRT screen
15,000–27,000  Clear blue northern sky

Golden Hour (sunset/sunrise) is well known to photographers and film makers for whom light quality is critical. While factors such as smog can have an impact, generally the light at this time has a color temperature closer to firelight. I took to walking my dogs at this time and in addition to watching the sun light up the clouds noticed the changes in the way it lights everything during that time. It’s also referred to as Magic Hour and I highly recommend it as a great time to take a walk outside.

Something you can do right now to make your computing life nicer is to install f.lux.

“Ever notice how people texting at night have that eerie blue glow? Or wake up ready to write down the Next Great Idea, and get blinded by your computer screen? During the day, computer screens look good—they’re designed to look like the sun. But, at 9PM, 10PM, or 3AM, you probably shouldn’t be looking at the sun.

F.lux fixes this: it makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.It’s even possible that you’re staying up too late because of your computer. You could use f.lux because it makes you sleep better, or you could just use it just because it makes your computer look better.“ – f.lux website

 Night Vision

Walking the dogs at sunset led to a surprising discovery. On returning home I needed to enter the house in the dark to light my lamps. (I’m pretty sure people used to keep a hand lamp on the hall stand to make this task easier/safer!). On returning home one evening I discovered I could navigate reasonably well using just the light entering my windows from the night sky and street lighting.

“Rhodopsin is the chemical that allows night-vision, and is extremely sensitive to light. Exposed to a spectrum of light, the pigment immediately bleaches, and it takes about 30 minutes to regenerate fully, but most of the adaptation) occurs within the first five or ten minutes in the dark.” Wikipedia

Like an anemone, night vision is super sensitive to disturbances, quick to retreat and slow to return.

“The human eye can function from very dark to very bright levels of light; its sensing capabilities reach across nine orders of magnitude. This means that the brightest and the darkest light signal that the eye can sense are a factor of roughly 1,000,000,000 apart. However, in any given moment of time, the eye can only sense a contrast) ratio of one thousand. What enables the wider reach is that the eye adapts its definition of what is black. The light level that is interpreted as “black” can be shifted across six orders of magnitude—a factor of one million.”

Firelight doesn’t seem to blow away my night vision. When I walk out into the backyard I can see pretty well.

How Low (Light) Can You Go

The idea that my eyes had a contrast ratio of 1000 but that I could potentially sense across nine orders of magnitude led me to try to create a darkroom in my house. In short I failed to stop all light from entering my living room. At first it appears that the bin liners taped to the windows had worked but as my adaptation progressed I could see lighter patches on the windows where the bin liners were not doubled over. Reflected light from the ski was seeping through!

That said, the light getting in was not enough to allow me to see my hand in front of my face – the quintessential measure of darkness. My hand was visible if a held a lit cigarette close to it but not when I moved it a foot away. I was amazed at how sensitive my eyes were to light in such a low light environment. How much light does a lit cigarette emit? I would love to know if that’s been measured!

Looking around the room I could see what looked like light seeping under the door. This light originated from the street, passed through the window in my front door and then down a long hallway. It occurred to me that in this modern era it’s almost impossible to keep light out.

To Be Continued?

Personal Cloudification

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The Urge to Own…

Expensive Paperweights

Something about my personality has seen me always running my own servers. In the late 90s I setup a Pentium 100 with a permanent 28.8 kbps modem connection to the Internet in a wardrobe at my parents house. It hosted my mail and web services for a few years (including 18 months spent living in the U.K.). Something about knowing the system down to the metal, and beyond that even, to the environment has always been important to me. I think amongst systems people I’m not alone.

… versus the Allure of The Cloud

Various factors have led me to abandon (at least for now) my desire to host@home:

  • power consumption (waste & cost) & heat output
  • single points of failure (power, ADSL, theft)
  • desire to eat my own dogfood

A few years back I found other services to be cheaper than Amazon’s AWS offerings. I’m currently exploring what has changed since then and how individuals can use Amazon AWS to provide performant, highly available Internet services at low cost.

Mobile is Changing Everything

There are some great tools out there for controlling your Amazon services from mobile devices. Cloud Services Manager is a great app for iOS that enables control of AWS services on the go. My SSH client of choice for connecting from iOS is Prompt by Panic, Inc. These two alone let give you a lot of control from your iPhone (or iPad).

Cloud Services Manager for iPhone

Create, start, stop EC2 instances

Cloudwatch Stats

Prompt SSH client for iOS

Prompt is remarkably usable

ASCII steam locomotive (sl)

Cost Savings in Dev Land

When EC2 was first launched you lost everything if you shut an instance down. These days Elastic Block Store (EBS) volumes are the default which means you can stop and restart instances as you need them, paying only for the hours they’re running. This can make it more comfortable to tinker knowing you’re only paying while you’re using it. Running 10 x m1.small instances will cost $0.80 an hour which is quite affordable.

Note that you’re charged by the month for the EBS volume the instance uses. The charge includes a charge of approx. $0.10 per GB-month of provisioned storage and $0.10 per 1 million I/O requests. I believe that creating a 10 GB EBS volume and destroying it an hour later would be counted as 10 GB-months but I want to confirm (or refute) this.

To Be Continued…