In my dialect of English, shared living arrangements (normally non-familial) can be described by three terms.
A housemate (or flatmate) is someone who shares your house (normally not your room, but this is open)
A roommate is someone who shares your room (normally not your bed)
A bedmate is self-explanatory.

In US English, “roommate” seems to cover all three, but US English speakers seem able to infer which is intended from the context. Can anyone help me with a usage guide?
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Weekend reflections

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

Mumbai terror attacks

Yet another terror attack, with 200 killed. All such crimes, whether committed by terrorist gangs or national governments, should be condemned without reservation. The idea that causes such as national independence, religion or political ideology justify the murder of ordinary people going about their daily business is utterly pernicious, as is the view that similar killings (whether directly intended or inevitable ‘collateral damage’) are justified in retaliation for such crimes.

Request for help

I know there’s a word for this, but I’m still holding out against it. I’m hoping someone will be able to help me with a computing problem.

My approach to security is to keep three copies of my Documents folder (about 20GB) synchronized twice daily (often about 500Mb of changed files). One copy is on the home computer, one at work, and the third is on my 40Gb iPod. My problem is that the iPod is filling up, and it doesn’t look as if Apple has any plans to bring out a substantially larger one with Firewire, as I had hoped. One possibility is to find one of the 60Gb models, but it struck me that if Apple can fit a Firewire drive into a lightweight package and make it play music as well, someone must have produced a FireWire equivalent of the ubiquitous USB memory stick. I don’t need something that big, but I’d like something that can be powered from the Firewire drive rather than external power and is small enough to fit into a shirt pocket, with capacity, say 80Gb. Oh, and a frickin’ laser beam attached to the front panel. Is that too much to ask?

Other suggestions gratefully received. My feeling is that synchronizing over USB or an Internet connection is going to be too slow, but maybe there are some clever strategies for increasing efficiency here.

Thanks in advance

PPPs in decline ?

There’s been quite a bit happening in relation to Public Private Partnerships, most of it suggesting a diminished role for this kind of financing. Queensland has issued new guidelines, partly in response to criticism of the fact that there has so far been only one major PPP project approved (and that only just scraped in). The criticism is understandable: a lot of people in the financial sector are missing out on really big money every time the government decides to go with simple low-cost bond financing. It’s striking though, that the only state with no reason to reduce measured debt levels (Queensland has positive net financial worth) is also the one that has found hardly any PPP offers meeting the value for money criterion. It seems pretty clear that at least some evaluation processes in NSW and elsewhere have been corrupted by the determination of the parties to do a deal regardless of the economics. The recent NSW Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee report on PPPs doesn’t say this, but it certainly raises plenty of concerns about opaque processes.

Meanwhile, in the UK, it seems to be two steps forward and one step back. The nonsensical idea of an all-in-one contract for schools, in which construction is bundled with provision of “soft services” like procurement and HR is mercifully being abandoned, but new forms of PFI/PPP, such as Building Schools for the Future are emerging. The pernicious features of these “innovations” will no doubt become apparent in time, but for the moment, the Blairites are still keen.

Back in the box

Unless Costello has another move planned, it looks like we can all turn back to the sports pages. Costello’s called Howard a liar, Howard has returned the compliment in spades (without actually repeating his earlier denials) and now it’s back to business as usual.

The only real interest in all this will be for the history books. Unlike the tangles of Children Overboard and AWB, where plausible deniability has reigned supreme, this is as straightforward a demonstration of the mendacity of Australian politics in the Howard Years as could be imagined.

The second time as farce

The Howard-Costello version of the Kirribilli pact is providing lots of innocent amusement, and insight into the postmodern nature of Australian politics.

Costello says there was a deal, Howard says there wasn’t, but, as the government’s supporters will no doubt hasten to point out, the whole idea of a ‘one size fits all’ truth, the same for everyone, smacks of socialism. In a modern market system of politics, everyone can pick their own truth, as desired, and have more than one available for different occasions.

The AWB fiasco illustrated this perfectly. On the one hand, Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrant and it was our obvious duty to support the US in overthrowing him, even if Australian lives were bound to be lost in the process (not to mention, of course, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, wounded or displaced). On the other hand, it was the government’s duty to promote the interests of Australian wheatgrowers, and if that meant slipping Saddam a few hundred million, creamed off the top of funds set aside to help the Iraqi people, then so be it. And, with Saddam gone, it was obviously necessary to cover the deal up so as to keep the incoming government sweet. With the surprising exception of Murdoch’s Australian no-one on the political right saw anything wrong with this.

As with AWB, I doubt that anything will come of this, unless Howard or Costello has decided to push the whole thing past the point of no return. Costello’s deliberate setup of a direct conflict with Howard suggests this. Still there’s plenty of time to patch things up.

More on this from Andrew Bartlett and Mark Bahnisch similarly cynical). Tim Dunlop retains some capacity for outrage and also thinks that Howard has to sack Costello now.

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Morphic resonance on Doctor Who

The first episode of the new series of Doctor Who was screened in Australia last night, and the preview of coming episode showed our old friends the Cybermen. As my son observed, they’re the least satisfactory of the Doctor’s enemies because they are just second-rate Daleks. Today, I opened my copy of the London Review of Books, to find the exact same observation from Jenny Turner, reviewing Kim Newman who objects to the cliched, but apparently universally true, observation, that children watched the series from ‘behind the sofa‘. Support for Rupert Sheldrake, or just evidence that the series reliably produces the same responses in lots of viewers.

Also in my mailbox, after a return from travel was an issue of the Scientific American with the front page headling Do Stem Cells Cause Cancer ? (answer, apparently, yes). My immediate thought was to wonder how long this will take to turn up as a talking point in the Republican alternate universe.

Macquarie Marshes again

The debate over returning water to the Macquarie Marshes is reported here at the SMH. Jennifer Marohasy’s claims that “cattle are killing the Marshes”, discussed here, get an airing, but very little support. This kind of emotive anti-farmer rhetoric has mostly gone out of fashion among environmental groups, being regarded as counterproductive, particularly when it is based on almost no evidence. But apparently it’s OK for a lobbyist for one group of farmers to use it against other farmers.

More encouragingly, the article gives a good presentation of the idea of buying back excessive allocations of water. This is the only option that is going to achieve the reductions in water extractions on the scale needed to restore the Murray-Darling Basin to a sustainable balance.