Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Self Righteous Fire Storm

A fascinating miniature firestorm is going on across the US at the moment. No, it's not about a guy with explosive jocks. It's about a woman who styled herself as Alexa DiCarlo. She had, to my knowledge, three different but related websites: Her blog - The Real Princess Diaries, a site with stories of sex workers' first experience of professional sex - My First Professional Sex, and her "professional" site as a sex worker. Alexa also had a formidable presence on Twitter as AlexaRPD.
Of those sites the first and last are currently "down for maintenance" and only MFPS is still up. Alexa has also gone silent on Twitter. Why? Well that's the nub of this story.
Alexa popped onto the scene about 2 years ago with the Real Princess Diaries. Briefly the story was that she was in the process of moving from Florida to San Francisco in order to start a Masters in Human Sexuality. She was also going to change from working as a stripper to working as an escort to fund her studies. She was leaving her girlfriend Niki behind in Florida but the relationship continues.
The RPD website was a place for Alexa to present her views about sex work, sexuality, Yellowstone National Park and anything else that caught her fancy. She also increasingly posted about elements of her work and private sexual activity. Alexa also maintained Tumblrs with erotic photos. She is a pretty engaging writer, opinionated and forthright. Clearly intelligent. She presented strongly as a sex workers' advocate and had a passion for sexual education. Her politics are left rather than right.
You can imagine that she garnered a pretty big following on her sites and on Twitter. But trouble was brewing. Alexa refuses to meet with other sex workers. She says that she doesn't want to compromise her future by becoming publicly known for engaging in illegal activity. And sex work is illegal in the US for all intents and purposes. It seems to me its her right to remain anonymous if she wants to.
Behind the scenes there have apparently been attempts to meet with Alexa and to verify that she is in fact who/what she says she is. To no avail. And so this article appeared on Carnal Nation and one of its key targets was Alexa. The premise being that she is likely neither a sex worker nor "real". That then spawned articles such as this one - it's the Drama Llama post of 23 December you want; and this one by Amanda Brooks.
I'll let you read those articles and blog posts for all the gory details and all the "evidence". Basically the argument is that she's not real, she isn't a tart, she has ripped off others' photos and she certainly can't claim to be an activist.
Perhaps the mildest of the posters is Amanda Brooks, a noted activist and writer who wrote a thoughtful piece. I posted a comment on Amanda's blog which she responded to. Basically we differ and the difference is, to quote Amanda: "As you yourself stated, you are not a worker, therefore you will NOT see the issues the same as we do."
That's absolutely right, but there is always more than one perspective on a situation and none of them is necessarily "right". I'm a radical constructivist by the way so that might help you understand how I think about these issues!
So now to the bits that make this so interesting. Firstly you have got a group of people - sex workers and sex worker advocates - who are all in a tizzy about who can call themselves an advocate. I fundamentally differ at this point. I can call myself a "car drivers' advocate" if I want. You of course don't have to accept that I am, and if you are a car driver you don't have to accept that I represent you. But what you have no right to say is that I can't call myself a car drivers' advocate because you don't think I am. I believe the same principles apply to the Alexa situation. People can say "I don't see Alexa as an advocate", I don't see that they have a right to say "Alexa can't call herself an advocate".
The second interesting point is about "what's real". In this country we've had a number of literary "scandals" over the years - writers who were not as they presented themselves. The Ern Malley affair and the Demidenko "scandal". These matters were not funny for a lot of the literati. They did however shake the tree, many of us found them enlightening for the way that they shed light on the literary establishment. More recently we've had the whole discussion about Anon - the author of a Bride Stripped Bare and even more recently the whole disclosure of the identity of Belle de Jour.
As far as I'm concerned this is all grist for the mill. You can present as whoever you want on the net or in print. It's up to your readers to determine how authentic you are and whether you are worth reading. I think there's a bit more to flow under the bridge with the Alexa saga and it will be an interesting thing to watch. But two elements of the whole issue are worrying:
  1. Somebody or a group of people have taken it upon themselves to begin outing sex workers in the US. They are on Twitter here. I have no idea what their motives are but they appear to be related to the Alexa saga somehow. I think that's most unfortunate;
  2. A commenter on Amanda Brooks' blog said, in part " To see people who should know better, who do know better continue to buy into the line that “Alexa” is somehow being harmed in all this, floors me. “Alexa” Is a fictitious character. " That also worries me. "Alexa" is certainly a working name, a blogger's handle, but there's a human being in this somewhere. I think it would be unfortunate to forget that. Human beings can get hurt, even if they are not who we think they are.
Food for thought in this movable feast called the net. Oh and if you are wondering...yes I'm real. It's just that my Mum doesn't call me Critical Alpha.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Days of Christmas - Number 12 - Christmas Reflections

Well the first thing to do is to apologise that this is so late...but I've got a fair excuse. I've spent the whole Christmas period in increasing pain, culminating in a trip to the Emergency Department today. I hope, after 7 hours there, that I'm finally on the improve, though it's not really clear at the moment.
Seven hours, mainly waiting, gives you some time to reflect. The thing that always comes to me is that EDs are amazingly inefficient. It's interesting to speculate on why this is. What is clear though is that the process is not very streamlined, not designed for speed and effectiveness. What it appears to be designed for is to deliver on the antiquated notions about how a doctor should do their job.
Before I go further I need to say two things: Firstly, every time I've been to an Australian ED the care has been exemplary for whoever the patient was. Protracted, a feat of endurance, but great care. The second thing is that on a number of occasions I've been to an ED and have been startled by the speed with which they have assessed and treated the patient. Royal Hobart Hospital holds the record: 15 minutes to clerk the patient in, assess them, suture the wound and kick them out onto the street. The suture line was very pretty and the result was great. It is therefore possible to be efficient.
Go to a busy ED on a busy day however and you see the system failing. Each and every staff member, individually works hard to do a great job, to look after the patients and to get a good outcome. Collectively however the system creaks and groans. Staff are often tired and overworked, the "doctor system" just doesn't work. It is patently inefficient, repetitive and slow.
The difficulty is that doctors, by and large, believe that doctors and only doctors are the people who are capable of understanding the system. Therefore it is only doctors who are capable of proposing change. Take the matter of overwork. Which other profession would not only tolerate fatigue from excessive working hours, but actively propose that it was necessary to achieve good training outcomes? The airlines, the maritime industry, train and truck drivers are all subject to mandatory maximum working hours and prescribed rest periods. We know from detailed research that fatigue has a similar effect on human performance to excessive alcohol intake. The medical profession continues to argue that in order to get the necessary amount of patient contact during a period of training, doctors must work excessive hours - sometimes shifts of 24 hours or more. Sorry that's simply wrong, negligent and unacceptable. Quality not quantity is what we should be aiming for and please don't let me hear "I did it so why shouldn't this generation". Yes steps have been taken, but we are still a long way off.
I think there is also plenty of evidence from a wide range of fields that often really effective change is generated by a set of outside eyes. A new perspective leads to challenge and change that never would have occurred if those who "own" the system are left to their own devices. I suggest that this is never more true than in Emergency Departments. These are intensive environments, resource hungry and highly inefficient. The nurses, doctors, radiographers, porters, cleaners, ambos and all the other staff deserve a better working environment. The patient, oh so patient, population deserve a better deal. Ultimately as a society we can't afford the continued inefficiency.
Someone I know, a medico, once tried to reform the system at a major ED. He described the "assassination" process that ultimately led to his demise. It wasn't pretty and it points to the inordinate power that the medical establishment wields. It was ultimately the worst sort of industrial thuggery.
The irony is that perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of real reform at the coal face - the EDs - would be the staff. Reform can't come soon enough for them - or for me!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Days of Christmas - Number 11 - Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve wasn't a big deal when I was a kid, it was just a day of waiting. Now though it's taken on a new significance, for two reasons.
Firstly it's the day of preparation, make sure we have all the ingredients for tomorrow's food, make sure we have the wine and drinks for tomorrow and make sure that we've got gas for the barbecue and presents for each other.
That makes it a busy day. Shopping, sometimes battling through crowds, and it's nearly always hot. Today wasn't so bad, it was around 30 degrees C but very muggy and humid. I did my last minute present shopping and then it was on to the food shopping for tomorrow. We're having a simple day with a menu that's based on Thai snack food, rice flour pancakes, satay sticks, prawns, mussel pancakes, green papaya salad. Seafood is always a feature of our Australian Christmas. Not for us the big hot Christmas dinner, the weather doesn't suit it and anyway, the seafood is always so good.
Tomorrow is going to be very low key - just four of us. It brings memories of one Christmas a few years ago where our extended family all stayed at a conference centre near the beach. Four of us started cooking at 5:30am and at 1:00pm we served Christmas lunch for 56 people - the extended family, including 99 year old great grandma. I felt like an afternoon nap after that.
With the food, presents and wine laid in it's home for the second part of Christmas eve. Our small family has had a tradition for the last few years of having a low key evening meal on Christmas Eve. Sometimes we have friends over, sometimes we don't. We eat a simple meal, decorate the tree and lay out the presents. Sometimes we watch a movie, sometimes we just chat. It's a low key, relaxing preparation for tomorrow.
I'm sitting here right now with the first glass of bubbly, looking at the decorations and thinking about tomorrow and thinking about the snow storm in the US.
A happy evening.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Days of Christmas - Number 10 - Kevin Rudd's Report Card for 2009

This is a bit like my school reports as a kid: Kevin could do better if he tried. In fact Kevin could do better without even trying.
This has been a pretty disappointing year for those of us who had some hope for this government. Very disappointing indeed. Here's how I read it:
  1. The internet nanny filter: Kevin, you and Stephen Conroy just need to get over this. I WILL vote against you if you implement this as you are proposing to do. I know I'm not alone by a long chalk. Let's agree on a few things first: paedophillia and other similar material is abhorrent but you don't need a net filter to get rid of that. You have ample laws in place now to stamp on that stuff. As for the rest of it, you would do much better if you looked hard at the violence in films and television. You want to filter out sex on the internet but it isn't sex that does harm, it's violence that does harm and the biggest feed of unacceptable violence is in television, film and video. Change the censorship laws to get stricter on violence and you will do a lot for society. As for censoring the internet (and it's not just sex you want to censor), sorry that's like China. We don't like it when they do it and we don't like it when you propose it. Beyond the obvious we are big people and able to decide for ourselves. Bluntly, we don't trust you, we don't trust you not to filter valid dissenting content like China or Iran do. We don't trust any politician with that sort of power. Spend your effort elsewhere not on this.
  2. The intervention in the Northern Territory. Fail, Kevin, fail. The approach that the previous government took was one of command and control. You have followed that approach. You have insisted on taking control of community resources in return for action. You don't need to. What you need to do is things like working with the Territory government to get the housing money they have already, actually doing some good. You need to do something sustainable about health in these communities and you need to do it now. To much worrying about fighting for control and not enough action. Apologies are important but real, meaningful action needs to follow and it hasn't;
  3. Rudd the International Statesman. It's a fine line this. We like to see Australia playing a meaningful role in world affairs; we like to see meaningful international influence. We hate hubris. Watching you through the course of the year I felt that you slipped from playing a sensible and competent role on the international stage to displaying unacceptable hubris. Copenhagen was the worst of it;
  4. So let's talk about Copenhagen. Watching from the outside the appearance that we got was that a small group of nations, with Australia in the vanguard, tried to scam a deal and shove it through. You failed to get a meaningful deal and in so doing you appear to have created damage to our relationships with other countries, not the least being Pacific nations. Not good enough, we expected more and you promised more. The key issue was hubris in my view, an excess of it;
Kevin, those are the main things we want you to work on. Next year is a very important year, a lot rides on 2010 for you. You'll probably scrape through but you have that unpleasant fellow Abbott chasing you hard and I think he'll do a fair bit of catching up to you if he works hard. He won't catch you completely but he might give you a fright.
Whilst you're at it do something about the refugee issues that you've stuffed up. There are other things you'll have to work at but that will do for now.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Days of Christmas - Number 9 - Google Me Dead!

I was just doing some run-of-the-mill tasks in my digital life and I stopped short: how fundamental is Google to the way I run my digital life? How much does Google know about me? How ubiquitous is Google?
The answers to those questions are really something to make you pause for thought. Hands up if you have never used Google or any of its services. I bet there isn't a single hand up, in fact there can't be - you are reading this blog by kind favour of Google, they offer the service that I use.
My guess is that Google "knows" more about you than any other organisation or person in the whole world (please read the NB at the bottom of this post). They have your email running through their systems, they have your thoughts on their blogging system, they "know" what you search for; if you use Latitude they "know" where you are; if you use Google maps on a GPS equipped device, they "know" where you are...
There is another side to this though. Google is pretty fundamental to my digital life:
  • If you want to read RSS on the iPhone, in my view the simplest way is to manage your RSS feeds in Google Reader and read them on the iPhone in something like Newsstand. That's what I do and it's fast and simple. But of course Google "know" what RSS feeds I subscribe to;
  • The quickest way to search the web on the iPhone is with the Google iPhone app. I use it every day, and I like the way it also gives me direct access to Google apps. But you know the tagline here...;
  • Here's one for the pilots. Do you want a simple, cheap (free), flight tracking app for your iPhone? As long as you are in mobile range Google Latitude does that for you. You can make your friends aware of your exact location...and Google of course;
  • Google Calendar is the best way of managing shared calendars, if like me you don't have a corporate network and calendar server. The functionality is good and the iPhone calendar app allows you to synchronise direct. Now they "know" what I'm doing and when and probably with who!!
  • The best thing about Gmail is IMAP. That makes life so simple if you access your mail from multiple devices. It keeps everything nicely synced and once you've read an item in one place, every other place knows its been read. Very nice...and a great reason to let Google "know" what you are saying to who;
  • Google Maps is just about the most used app on my iPhone. Where's a particular shop, show me a picture of the front door of that address, show me the way to go home, show me the traffic on the way...But in a way it's the most worrying. Do I want a picture of my front door on the internet for all to see?
That's just a sample but you get the idea, there's also Earth, and YouTube that I use a bit.
So my bottom line is that Google makes my life a hell of a lot easier than it might otherwise be. I do have genuine concerns however about the information that I "give" to Google in return. It's the same old story. Your concern about that is going to be directly related to your view of Google. If you see them as a benign force for good, then you probably aren't concerned that they "know" about you. If you see them as like any other corporate titan then you are probably substantially more concerned.

NB: Please be aware that I am NOT suggesting that Google pries into your email, your search history or any other information about you. Nor am I suggesting that they do anything improper with the information which flows through their systems. I simply don't know what if anything they do with that data. My point is that all of this information flows through their systems and is capable of being used in a way that you may not care for.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Days of Christmas - Number 8 - Live to Fly Another Day

Changing subjects entirely for this day of Xmas: Human Factors in Aviation.
If I have one thing I'd like to see in 2010 it's for all of us who fly light aircraft to realise that it's us, and generally us alone who cause crashes, and then to act to fix that. It was this realisation that spurred the whole development of Human Factors and CRM in heavy aircraft flying. It's long overdue that we get the same benefit in light aviation. Sadly we still get human factors derived crashes in RPT operations. This recent crash in Vanuatu is an example. The pilot flew the Islander about 7% overweight and misjudged the aircraft's climb performance and its clearance from a ridge. Realising that he would not clear the ridge he slowed the a/c and tried to land amongst the heavy timber. The pilot and one passenger died and there were some serious injuries amongst the other pax. Weather does not appear to have been a factor.
I think that, at the initial and commercial training level, too much emphasis is placed on "human factors" such as how your ears work and how altitude affects us. Not enough emphasis is placed on decision making, situational awareness and threat and error management.
Try this: think of the last 3 aviation accidents that you have personal experience of or which you know well. Now ask yourself "what was the underlying cause of that accident?" I think it will be a salutary experience. Rarely if ever will the primary cause be structural or mechanical failure. Yes engine failures do happen. But a fair proportion of those are due to things like fuel starvation or exhaustion - both almost always down to human factors.
One recent ATSB report appears at first glance to be a structural failure. However closer reading suggests that other factors, human factors, probably played the major role.
I can't think of a single crash that I have seen or known about that wasn't driven by the person at the controls.
To understand that is really important. It means something vital for my safety and for your safety: If we are the cause of our crashes, then we can do something about not becoming a statistic. If we change the way we manage threats and errors and we enhance our own situational awareness and the way we manage situations then we are less likely to be the subject of a crash report. I reckon that's something worth doing.
If you want to explore HF further then here's a simple starting point. Google will find plenty more for you.
Stay safe and live to fly another day.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Days of Christmas - Number 7 - Yet More Perfection


Lyle C Hess was born in Blackfoot Idaho in 1912 and whilst still a boy he moved with his family to Southern California. Lyle loved boats and the sea and from an early age he built and sailed boats. The first large sailing boat that he designed and built was Westward Ho. Lyle once said "All I've ever wanted to do is design boats". And design boats he did, beautiful, functional boats. Many of them based on the lines of the British Pilot Cutters. Perhaps the first of Lyle's designs to achieve fame was 24 foot Seraffyn launched in 1968 by Lin and Larry Pardey. Seraffyn subsequently circumnavigated and had a series of books written about her. There are at least two 24s in Australia, Daisy Cutter in Oyster Cove and Heather Belle in Melbourne.
In that same "series" of designs Lyle also designed a 26 footer of which there is at least one in Australia - Sally; a 30 footer, of which Lin and Larry Pardey's Taleisin is the most famous, having herself circumnavigated the globe about one and a half times. There is at least one 30 footer in Australia, Friendly Light in Port Albert.
Then came a 32 footer, designed at almost the same time as the 30 footer. There are at least 4 of these in Australia, Wild Honey (gaff rigged), Ubique (modified bermudan rig) and Zuline (Lyle's original bermudan rig). These three were built at the same location in Tasmania, in the order listed. The latter two are both in Melbourne. Wild Honey and Ubique are both planked in Huon Pine and Zuline in Celery Top. Another 32 has also been built in Tasmania on a cold moulded hull - Aziza.

A Fatty Knees Dinghy

Finally there was a 40 footer. To my knowledge only one has been built - in the US. Lyle however did not stop there, there were many other designs. Perhaps my favourite Lyle Hess design is his Fatty Knees dinghy, a beautiful little dinghy to row and sail and with the lines to carry a load. The story of the name is an insight into Lyle's sense of humour. Lyle's wife was known as Doodle, one of her grand children looked at her one day and said "Grandma you've got fatty knees!" and so a dinghy was named.


To sail a Lyle Hess design is a privilege and a revelation. Their lines are classical, a long keel, beamy and with maximum draft right at the stern post. Whilst no slug to windward they relish just eased sheets and will romp away in the right conditions. Once I crossed Bass Strait from the Rip to Banks Strait, on the tail end of a very heavy south westerly gale. The wind was about 25 knots and a big sea was running. We completed the whole trip at an average of 7.33 knots with two reefs in the main and a staysail. Not bad for a heavily laden, long keel boat on a 30 foot waterline. Just very occasionally we thumped off a wave with a hell of a bang. Generally though it was a very comfortable passage.
These are not boats that will spin on a dime, but they are very well behaved and very predictable. In a gale they give you a great sense of security. Hove to in 40 knots of breeze with the very steep short, slightly breaking seas of Bass Strait, the boat rides very comfortably, only taking wind blown spray on board and making somewhere between a half and three quarters of a knot to leeward. The trysail is the key to heaving to in that sort of breeze and there is no need for any canvas forward. As each steep sea comes along it seems impossible that she will climb up it safely, but after the first couple you realise that she is in her element. The biggest danger is passing ships. In those conditions they just cannot see you.
To quote from an interview with Lyle Hess:

When asked if there is a common quality running throughout his designs, Lyle thoughtfully answered, "I feel that any boat that points her bow out to sea should be designed so that the crew need not worry about a safe return--no matter what tricks the weather may play. I guess if there is a unifying thought behind my designs it is to bring skipper and crew home, in one piece, no matter what."

My experience of Lyle's designs is that is exactly what they do, and they're fun too!

The Days of Christmas - Number 6 - Favourite Things

OK, enough of the seriousness for a little while. All too preachy maybe, but those things really piss me off.
A favourite thing.
It's a warm summer morning, there's hardly a breath of wind, the sun is bright and hot and the sky is that pale blue that spells heat. There's a light, white haze so that visibility is not great. We get aboard and cast off, motor out and hoist the main and the yankee. It's hardly worth it but we're in no hurry. Friends drift up alongside as we head southwest across the bay. We drag cushions up from down below, chat to our friends across the gap between the boats and slowly trickle along. The water is glassy and there's just enough wind to create tiny eddies as the water passes along the hull and over the rudder. The crew lounge on the deck to leeward, in the shade of the coach house. The camera appears and we take pictures of our friends and they of us. The day is sleep inducing, so still, so hot, so quiet. Motor boats zip across the water leaving wakes that shimmer and disappear in the heat mirage.
Lunch appears and we graze and chat, children disappear below and sleep away from the heat. Finally I find myself alone. The whole crew are asleep, leaving me to watch the boat. I must have drifted off in a reverie, becoming aware, with a start, that I'm about to run down a little aluminium runabout. A scrabble, the helm hard over and we slide past with appropriate apologies. Too close that one, too close.
As the afternoon slides on the breeze slowly increases. The land is heating and the convection is dragging in a sea breeze. The boat comes alive, the water hisses along the rail and the bow wave whitens. Our destination begins to rise from the sea, we can just lay it on this tack. Reluctantly I call the crew from their dream sleep. They stumble on deck, to the cool freshness of the breeze. Little gusts funnel off the land as we round up and drop sail. A peaceful perfect day.

The Days of Christmas - Number 5 - Catholic Abuse

I think it's time that the community stood up to the notion that the catholic church is somehow interested in the welfare of people ahead of the welfare of the church. This proposition is simply, demonstrably not true.
The catholic church has demonstrated, over the last 80 years or so that it is focused above all else on the survival of the church as an institution rather than the continuance of the mission of the church as a force for good. During the second world war the Pope collaborated with the Germans to protect the Vatican, with much evidence that Italian Jews were sacrificed as a result.
During much of the last 80 years the catholic church has been a breeding ground for clergy who are sexual predators of the worst possible kind. What in my view is unforgivable is that far from seeking to promptly and effectively identify these predators and hand them to the authorities, the church has protected them. I can think of no greater betrayal of trust. The church quietly moved priests when complaints arose; simply allowing them to betray others in fresh hunting grounds. Perpetrators, far from being handed to authorities, were protected and hidden from them.
Whilst the greatest betrayal has been the sexual abuse of thousands, possibly millions of children, there has also been not inconsiderable physical abuse by various religious in catholic schools. The principal of one large catholic school once said to me "there's not much a good bashing won't fix". It wasn't a joke, he ws talking about the children in his care.
What rankles even further is the behaviour of the church towards victims. The system set up under George Pell and still continuing in Melbourne, is designed - in my view - to achieve one thing only: the silencing of victims at the lowest possible cost to the church. Having suffered abuse at the hands of the church already they are then faced with what I believe to be a manipulative and cold hearted process.
Until the catholic church has demonstrated - over an extended period of time - that it has taken action to effectively stamp out paedophillia in its institutions, I believe that it should be sanctioned by governments around the world. The church hierarchy who protected paedophiles by acts of commission or omission should be actively prosecuted by authorities. Government funding should be withheld and in extreme cases catholic schools and institutions should be forcibly shut down.
It is my view that the catholic church has, somehow, created what appears to be the perfect breeding ground for paedophiles and abusers. The problem is therefore institutional and all the more difficult to eradicate. We should take special care before we accept that change has been effected.
At a time when all other institutions in society have gone to - sometimes extreme - lengths to stamp out paedophillia and to protect children the catholic church is a salient failure. Society should no longer tolerate the failure of the church to protect those most in need of protection whilst actively protecting its own and its own institution.
Enough right now.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Days of Christmas - Number 4 - Ethnicity, Religion and Violence

Where did number 3 get to? It was the post on the alcohol/violence crackdown. It wasn't intended to be but when it was finished it sort of turned out that way.
This day is a thought about global violence. Why is it that in every (almost every?) conflict in my lifetime there have been one or more of three root causes? Those causes are:
  1. Religion
  2. Ethnicity
  3. ...ism
Think about it: Northern Ireland - religion and ethnicity (the catholic Irish hate the British); Israel vs the Arab world - whether it's been Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan...religion and ethnicity; The Vietnam war - that was an ism, the "free world" against the "forces of darkness" in the form of communism; Rwanda - ethnic violence; the former Yugoslavia - ethnic violence with some religion thrown in; Sri Lanka - ethnicity and religion; Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan - religion, ethnicity and more than a dash of cultural imperialism from the "coalition" forces. There are more but I think you get the point.
So my question is this: why is it that your where your parents were born or what you believe in is a cause for such bitter enmity? How does it justify waging war, conducting genocide and creating so much more hate and chaos? That's the worst part: each injustice leads to a further perpetuation of the conflict, new generations are infected with the same hatred as their parents.
I have nothing against peoples' belief in religion. I don't care which religion you believe in or indeed if you don't believe. What I object to most strongly is the waging of war and the delivery of injustice to others on the basis of belief or ethnicity.
I want it to stop and now would be as good a time as any. All it takes is for individuals to refuse to follow a path of violence and to stop persecuting others on the basis of belief or ethnicity.
And lest you think I am selectively pointing the finger here, let me make it clear that the western world, with its sickening sense of moral superiority and fear of "the other" is responsible for inflaming and fuelling many (most?) of the conflicts of the last 50 years.
We should just stop it. Pie in the sky? Maybe, but who wants more death and destruction in 2010? Not me.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Australia and New Zealand Alcohol Induced Violence Blitz

Over this weekend police in Australia and NZ are running a blitz on "alcohol fuelled violence". They are out in force cracking down on people engaging in drunken behaviour and violence.
First thing to say is that I like a drink as much as anyone else I've met. But this situation, in Melbourne at least, is out of hand. We keep reading about manslaughter in close proximity to licensed premises, bashings....on and on. I live very close, read very close, to 8 licensed premises. Barely a weekend goes by that someone doesn't vomit in the lane-way or have a massive, alcohol fired, domestic dispute at 3:00am. Fights, drag races, shouting, name it it happens.
So what I want explained to me is this: the law in this State says that it is illegal to serve a person who is intoxicated. In fact I think it might be illegal to be on a licensed premises if you are intoxicated. So the people who are gob-smackingly drunk, falling over, vomiting, fighting, screaming drunk - somebody has served them alcohol to get like that. I'm not talking one or two people. I'm talking lots of people every weekend. So why aren't the licensing laws being properly enforced? The fines for non-compliance are big, you can lose your license and you can be shutdown for periods of time - like a suspension. So why aren't these laws being enforced?
I know that this isn't a solution to our drinking issues, that needs cultural change. What I do know is that if you can't get a drink when you shouldn't then you are less likely to be roaming the streets drunk and you are less likely to engage in acts of violence, public domestic disputes, vomiting... That makes it less likely that we will have the problems we currently have. So as far as blitzes are concerned what about having a real blitz on licensees? Let's take the law seriously and stop serving people who have had too much. Let's get the drinkers out of the premises and on their way home before they have too much. That way we might all get some peace.
Happy Christmas!!

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Days of Christmas - Number 2 - DDDC

That's right, today I want DDDC! Of course you know what that means. Oh you don't, OK, it means Dynamic DITA Delivery of Content.
Think about these, features of web content:
  • It's fragmentary. Meaning most web content is brief and about a single thing. The best web content is fragmentary. The more verbose it gets the worse it generally gets;
  • It's atomic. Again most web content is the smallest thing you can say about something;
  • It demands re-usability. Think about it, the News on your homepage is probably the same news that you want on your News page, along with other stuff. The company address is likely to be used in multiple places;
  • Content is presentation free. When we create web content we leave it to the stylesheet and the browser to sort out how it appears on the screen;
  • Web content is rapidly changing and version sensitive. New and fresh is the catch-cry where web content is concerned. But we also want to be able to manage versions and roll back when necessary;
  • Think of others...and tell me about them.
Now let's think about DITA content:
  • DITA topics are fragmentary and atomic. Just the same as web content really - a single idea, the simplest thing you can say about that idea;
  • DITA content is designed for re-usability. Each topic is designed to be plugged in with others and re-used;
  • DITA content is presentation free but semantically laden. It's ideal to apply a stylesheet to and to deliver according to the needs of the site. The elements allow for fine-grained presentation detail;
  • DITA content is easy to change and most shops use some sort of version management system.
So my argument is that DITA is ideal for the web. I know that you can use the Open Toolkit to process to HTML. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about render at runtime. So here's what a DDDC solution will deliver:
  1. A simple set of tools that allow me to reference topics and maps and to plug them into a WYSIWIG style page designer;
  2. A very simple, I repeat very simple, but powerful template/stylesheet system. Preferably GUI driven;
  3. Connectors to a file system based DITA collection, to a version control system and to my favourite CCMS, XDocs;
  4. Lightweight, probably in Java, did I say lightweight?
The principles here are that we don't need an in-line editor, you've already got all you need with your existing DITA editor; we don't need version control - you have that with your existing tools; we don't need a database - you already have a repository with your current system, be it file system, version control system or your CCMS.
We want to offload everything that we can from the DDDC system. It has a set of simple jobs which are about placing existing content, applying stylesheets and serving the whole lot to the web. If you want to change a topic you do so in your DITA editor, and the result appears on the web. The address changes for your Hong Kong office, well you just change the DITA topic. If you don't like a new version then you use your DITA version control system to roll back and the rolled back version appears on the web.
Simplicity above all else is what's needed here. I'd far rather use a simple set of DITA authoring tools and a light weight DDDC engine than some of the big, ugly monolithic Web CMSs that are out there now. They just seem to get bigger, more complex and often buggier.
So tell me what you think. Anyone for an open source project? I'm serious about that. I'll do the BRS for a start.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Days of Christmas - Number 1

Now I know that this isn't actually correct for the twelve days; and I know that Christmas isn't for everyone. But it is for many of us Downunder and the days are near enough.

I'm going to try and do one of these a day, to talk about some of the things I'd like and some of the things that have been sad/bad/shameful in 2009.
For the first day of Christmas the thing I'd like most is a decent agreement in Copenhagen. You can be a sceptic if you like, you can say that the climate isn't changing, you can say it's a natural cycle, it's not done by man, yadah yadah. Here's my point: Carbon costs money - whether it's coal or oil or gas or even wood. Carbon costs and so the less of it we use the better off the world is going to be. "What about the producers" you say? Same as anything really, markets change, demand changes. But I'm not that concerned. Our population is growing so even if we decrease per capita usage total demand will stay stable or increase. In any event it's a non-renewable resource in the main and so when it's gone it's gone. I'd rather not have that happen any time soon. So in default of climate change, reducing carbon usage and therefore emissions is IMHO a good thing.
I happen to believe that the ocean levels are rising and the place is warming however. Whichever case you take, the bottom line is that we have to make some tough decisions. The likes of Barnaby Joyce, Nick Minchin, Tony Abbott et al are simply trying to create a "spoiled brat" argument. "I want to keep being profligate with my resource use and you aren't going to stop me". Playground stuff. "Well we're not doing it unless he does it". Playground stuff again. We need to turn the tide, we need to change a couple of centuries or so of behaviour. We need to start somewhere and someone needs to start. It might as well be us. And please don't get on to that rubbish about jobs, terms of trade etc. I'd far rather see modifications to "free trade" designed to protect the resource-sensible and penalise the resource-stupid.
The most important thing here however is that we have to empower developing nations to come along with us. I'd rather that was with a combination of structural changes and money, rather than straight money.
So why don't we make a start as Australians and stop being the biggest per capita producer of carbon emissions in the world? That's a bit frightening isn't it? Not bad old China or the US but good old Australia.
That's what I want for Christmas a sensible commitment from as many countries as we can get to stop our profligate use of resources and get on with starting change.
Just for the record this 1970s greenie finds himself stunned that he's beginning to think that nuclear power might be a way to go.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Telstra Enables iPhone Tethering

OK, for all you patient Telstra iPhone users get on with it and upgrade to carrier settings 5.1. Do it right now because you will get tethering.
More after I've tested it but the tethering button is there in Settings>General>Network
16:58 EST
Back after a few minutes and all I can say is well done Telstra and Apple. Tethering rocks!!
I don't know what the maximum speed we are supposed to get is, but it's certainly faster than the Telstra pre-paid USB dongles. I'm not even going to say "about time", I'm just happy it's here.