I’ve kicked off coverage over at Corrupted Nerds with a post entitled How will we cover Breakpoint and Ruxcon? I’ll leave you to struggle with the concept of what that might be about in your own time.
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TechEd is Microsoft’s annual developer conference, and TechEd Australia 2013 kicks off this coming Tuesday 3 September. ZDNet Australia had commissioned me to cover it, from a room much like the one pictured — just like I did last year — but now it’s all off. Because Microsoft has banned me.
On 1 August, I emailed ZDNet Australia editor Chris Duckett to accept his commission. But on 6 August, he phoned me, pissing himself laughing, to say that the message from Microsoft — I don’t know from who or how it was delivered — was a no-go. I’m banned from TechEd for “being aggressive to speakers”.
Now I, too, was pissing myself laughing. I was nearly in tears!
“Aggressive to speakers”? Let’s be clear. Any problems were about one speaker, singular. And this alleged aggression — which I’d characterise more as ridicule, mockery and outrageously hyperbolic violent imagery, as is my well-worn shtick — happened solely via Twitter.
Now I’ve thought long and hard about whether to tell this story. Personally, I don’t really care. I’m happy to avoid spending most of next week in that hell-hole called the Gold Coast, and I’ve got plenty of other things to get on with. And Microsoft does have the right to decide who they will and won’t allow into their event — especially when they’re paying.
But I’ve decided to go public because I’m a big fan of transparency — as reflected in my blog posts from 2007, Releasing the Black Hawk crash video was A Good Thing, Scaring the shit out of clients and Being Real: more notes on radical transparency.
I think you should know about this ban, because it potentially affects the quality of my coverage and analysis of Microsoft as it faces some interesting challenges — more about that another time. I’d like you to be informed consumers of my work, which is why I list all the corporate largesse I receive in my Weekly Wrap posts.
I was also under the impression that any problems which may have arisen were all sorted out at the time. Certainly no-one at Microsoft has ever mentioned any problem to me since then.
Quite frankly, to bad-mouth me to one of my commissioning editors — in an undocumented phone call, no less! — strikes me as a tad defamatory.
And without any communication with me? From an organisation that wants customers to trust it with our most intimate and confidential data? Does this not represent a glaring absence of due process?
So, in the tradition of another 2007 post, “Let’s just write that down…”, I’m just going to write it all down, and put my name to it. That’s what honest people do, right?
Come with me, boys and girls, as I tell you about TechEd Australia 2012′s keynote speaker, Jason Silva, “futurist, filmmaker, epiphany addict [WTF?], ecstatic truth lover [WTFF?], techno optimist”. Check his Wikipedia entry and personal website.
I cringe when people talk about the “train station”. “It’s ‘railway station’, you morons,” screams my brain. Well as it turns out, they’re actually not stupid — at least not for that reason. It’s just another relatively modern shift in language.
The chart at the top of the post is a Google Ngram search of their entire English corpus since 1920 — the first public steam railway in the world was the Stockton and Darlington Railway, which opened in 1825 — comparing the usage of “railway station” (blue) versus “railroad station” (red) and “train station” (orange).
As you can see, the most common usage has almost always been “railway station”, with “railroad station” distinctly second-place. A “train station” wasn’t even a thing until the 1950s, but it rose in popularity quite quickly. “Train station” has been the most common usage since the mid-1990s, although it has been declining again since around 2000. I wonder why.
My understanding is that many railway terms derived from the military, because until the railways came along nothing else had been organised on that sort of trans-national and even trans-continental scale except armies. Hence trains have “guards” for their safe operation, and “stations” along the line where staff are stationed to maintain the entire railway system — including fuel, water, trackwork and signalling.
Railway stations are therefore part of a railway’s entire operation, not merely “train stations” for trains to stop at. For me, someone talking about “train stations” is showing their ignorance of how railways work: it’s more than just the trains.
Since I had the Google open in front of me, I thought I’d look at the variations in US versus UK English. It seems that “railroad station” isn’t the dominant American usage that I’d imagined.
The piece is a follow-up to an article published on Thursday, Why So Secretive?, by OpenAustralia founders Katherine Szuminska and Matthew Landauer — a stinging attack which alleges that Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) is “unlawfully obstructing over 100 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from the general public in an attempt to maintain secrecy”.
Friday’s article centres on a subsequent discussion on Twitter between DIAC national communications manager and “avid tweeter”, as The Global Mail quaintly describes him, Sandi Logan.
In 2013, isn’t it just a bit retro to draw attention to someone using Twitter a bit? Particularly when it’s their job to respond to public comment?
Anyway, here’s what I tried to post as a comment at The Global Mail just now, only to be told: “Your comment was unable to be posted at this time. We apologise for the inconvenience.”
The medium truly is the message. The first of Logan’s statements quoted in this story contains 68 words of substantive content, counting the URLs as one word each, and 48 of those are a direct quote from legislation.
Anywhere else this would be a “brief statement”, perhaps even a “terse statement” if the journalist was wanting to pre-judge Logan’s mood on the readers’ behalf — but I was once taught not to do that because it’s editorialising.
But because Logan’s words are spread across four tweets, it becomes a “flurry”. Really?
The Macquarie Dictionary gloss for “flurry”, skipping over the literal weather-related ones, is: “3. commotion; sudden excitement or confusion; nervous hurry.”
Logan’s entire conversation reads to me as a perfectly level-headed conversation with critics. Certainly his initial comment is one simple, coherent paragraph, spread across four tweets only because the limits of the medium demand it.
Now that I’m blogging this, I’ll add my usual gripe about the headline.
“Twitter Tackles Open Government”? No, the San Francisco-based company did no such thing. Nor did the abstract communications network that operates via their servers. People tackled a DIAC staffer. And as far as I can see, all but one of the people quoted was a journalist. The medium through which that happened is hardly relevant.
A handful of journalists and sprinkling of public policy advocates is hardly representative of Twitter users as a whole. If we analysed the level of Twitter discussion about DIAC that night, in comparison with the global firehose of tweets, I doubt that we’d even see a prostate-corked dribble.
Still, a more accurate headline, such as “A few journalists question a media adviser”, would detract somewhat from the “power to the people” theme.
The icing on the cake for me is that the article is about demands for DIAC to be more transparent, and that commenters at The Global Mail are advised that “you have a lot more credibility when you use your full name”, and yet it’s bylined… “By Staff”.
Goose, gander etc, folks.
[Disclosure: I know Katherine Szuminska and Matthew Landauer, and have had dinner and drinks with them on numerous occasions. For what it's worth, I generally support their calls for more government transparency. Browsing through what I've written previously will soon reveal my attitude towards the government's asylum-seeker policies.]
“Is A Billionaire Former Scientologist Shaping Sydney Harbour Into A Giant Gambling Den?”, asked the headline in an email this morning from The Global Mail. Is he? Let’s see!
The story in TGM, the philanthropic media project of Graeme Wood, also a key investor in The Guardian’s forthcoming Australian edition, is obviously about plans by James Packer to build a casino at Sydney’s Barangaroo development.
The proposal is controversial, certainly. But Sydney Harbour becoming a “giant gambling den”? FFS! If it’s not immediately obvious why this is complete bullshit, I’ve drawn a picture for you. A special kind of picture called a “map”.
The black bit is Sydney Harbour, traced from Google Maps. The red bit is the entire proposed casino complex, assuming this report in the Sydney Morning Herald is still roughly correct. You might have to click through to the full-size map to see the red bit.
Sydney Harbour is clearly not becoming a “giant gambling den”. Sydney Harbour will be changed in a way that will be barely noticeable, at least if your global perspective manages to make it any further west than Glebe Point Road. And I’d have thought that the intelligent, well-educated people at TGM would be able to figure that out for themselves.
We were told that The Global Mail was about “quality journalism”, but apparently it’s just another in a long series of comfortable colour supplements for Sydney’s whining middle class, with bonus points for waving the good ol’ Scientology scare-stick.
The story itself is by Nick Bryant, whose work I like. He’s got a biography of Packer coming out, so I assume the article — which I haven’t read yet — is an extract from that book and somewhat better than the promotion it’s been burdened with suggests. I’ll let you know once I’ve read it.
Discussions with editors about what I’ll be doing in 2013 continue. One discussion is about the title of a new column that the editor in question has described as me shouting at the sky. I need your help.
“Shouting at the sky,” you ask?
We mean the analysis and opinion pieces that result from me cutting loose about something that’s pissing me off, or that quote people who are in the same frame of mind.
Here’s half a dozen near-random examples, chosen from a variety of mastheads so I don’t reveal where this column will appear.
- Perimeter security: IT’s Maginot Line, ZDNet Australia, 22 June 2012.
- Time to drop the ‘e’, Technology Spectator, 13 December 2011.
- Social media laws? It’s time to take a chill pill, Crikey, 27 September 2012.
- Influence without Klout, Technology Spectator, 28 November 2011.
- Yet another free pass for Aussie spooks, CSO, 16 September 2011.
- Infosec’s mega marketing misalignment mishap, CSO, 13 September 2011.
I should also mention that this is for a technology-related masthead, and the topics will include that key focus that I’ve identified in my work: changing power relationships.
Yesterday I asked for suggestions on Twitter. Here’s what you’ve come up with so far.
Several billion years ago, I set a challenge. I posted a passage of text in an unknown script. Could people decipher it?
Actually it was in 2007. I fully expected it to be solved within days, perhaps a couple of weeks at most, because I’d solved it myself fairly quickly. Before we had computers.
But it took ages. Years.
Finally, Italian computer scientist Dario Besseghini solved it in February 2012. That’s him pictured above, on the right.
I’d promised a prize, and Dario provided an Amazon wishlist for me to choose from. And then I forgot about it. Until the other day.
I have just ordered for Dario a copy of In the Land of Invented Languages: A Celebration of Linguistic Creativity, Madness, and Genius by Arika Okrent. That’s it pictured above, on the left. The theme of invented languages seemed particularly appropriate.
So, Dario, my apologies for the delay, and my best wishes for the holiday season.
I know you were fretting because you hadn’t written up your solution method in more detail, but there’s certainly no rush!
I’ve closed comments on this post, so that any conversation will continue at the original place.
Postscript: As an indication of how little I participate in consumer culture, it turns out that this was the first time I’d ordered anything from Amazon since some time before 1 July 2007. How do I know? Because I started doing my bookkeeping in Saasu on that date, so if there had been a purchase there’d be a record of it.
Here’s the Macquarie Dictionary entry for the word “cunt”, because I need to refer to it in some posts I’m writing over coming days.
[Preface: The idea for this post was originally pitched as an op-ed for ABC The Drum, and the story was commissioned by editor Jonathan Green. But once the final piece was delivered, although there were elements that he liked he wasn't sure that it said enough. It was a line ball call, he said, but in the end he passed. Fair enough. He's the editor, it's his call. Gentleman that he is, he acknowledged his initial enthusiasm and will pay for the story anyway. I'm publishing it here almost exactly as it was submitted -- apart from adding links to the media releases in question. Unlike the ABC, my house style is not to despoil the expletives with asterisks. I would very much like to hear your comments.]
A funny thing happened on Twitter the other night. Someone unfollowed me for being offensive. That’s not so unusual. The unusual bit is who unfollowed and what offended them.
Around 10pm I received two emails.
“The two government media releases I just received, when combined, indicate a rather distasteful piece of opportunism behind the scenes,” I tweeted.
“1. HMAS Maryborough intercepts a SIEV off Ashmore Reef, 34 passengers and 3 crew aboard. 2. ‘Another boat as Coalition “turn back” policy continues to unravel’, timestamped minutes apart,” I said — and I’ll run the tweets into continuous prose to make your reading easier. I am nothing if not considerate, dear readers.
I was outraged by the combination.
“Dear Ministers Bowen and Clare, YOU are the government, so YOU set policy. And the boats’ arrival is determined by the passengers’ need. Dear Ministers Bowen and Clare, any fool who can read a chart of numbers properly knows policy our end is irrelevant. Fuckwits. Dear Ministers Bowen and Clare, we’re the richest fucking country in the world. Show a bit of fucking compassion.”
Having vented my spleen, I moved on to congratulate Russia for trolling Eurovision 2012 and ponder whether, hypothetically speaking, Vaseline conducts electricity. Don’t ask.
A short time later, someone with the handle @ashmidalia tweeted, “@stilgherrian And this is where I click ‘unfollow’. For the offensiveness more than the inaccuracy. But there’s plenty of each.”
“Bye,” I replied and then, to no-one in particular, “I wasn’t aware I was obliged to provide ‘suitable entertainment’ for random arsehats who hadn’t even bothered to say hello.”
And then I noticed that @ashmidalia was Ashley Midalia. The name rang a bell.
LinkedIn soon told me that Midalia is Chris Bowen’s deputy chief of staff. A staffer from one of the offices responsible for my anger! Maybe he was even the strategist in question.
Fuck me dead! This cunt of a political staffer — an ALP staffer no less! — was offended by my language! The poor delicate little petal!
“Well if I’m wrong I’m happy to be corrected,” I tweeted to the world.
“But I still think it’s disgusting that the richest nation in the world continues with this outrageous treatment of desperate people. And I still think it’s disgusting that politicians use their arrival as a trigger to attempt to score party political points. I reserve the right as an Australian to express the true strength of the emotions behind that by using equally strong language,” I said.
“Besides, over my three decades in media Ministers and their staffers have used that sort of language and worse about me so it’s hypocrisy [to complain about my language].”
“My genuine understanding is that the level of boat arrivals tracks the level of refugee movements globally. Happy to see counter evidence.”
Having exhausted my combination of anger and bemusement, I calmed my shattered nerves with a gentle episode of “The Thick of It”.
Now I won’t get into the whole boat people thing today, but this whole “offended by swearing” arsehattery got me thinking.
Swearing what we do. It’s as normal as breathing.
Our reputation for swearing is recognised around the world.
When I called American internet entrepreneur Jason Calacanis a “prick” back in 2008, it caused a minor outrage in the blogosphere. But Calacanis himself understood.
Coming from anyone else but an Australian, he told me, he would’ve been offended. But he knew that being called a prick by an Australian was just foreplay.
Indeed, only a few weeks ago no less a personage than a Minister of the Crown (do we still say that?) told me, “Mate, you need to get a fucking life!”
As a conversation-starter, after offering coffee and a comfortable chair.
Sometimes a few f-bombs and c-bombs are precisely the precision munitions needed to deliver a powerful message.
When I headlined my expletive-laden rant about the Google+ social network Right, Google, you stupid cunts, this is simply not on! that blog post ended up being read by more than 100,000 people, triggering plenty of thoughtful discussion and even an anonymous message of support from deep within Google’s bowels.
I was criticised for it, but the reality is that without those expletives the article would have been just another ho-hum whinging blog post read by a couple hundred people, if that.
A cunt or two cuts through.
And sometimes well-crafted profanity can be sheer poetry.
Besides, Mr Science tells us that swearing is good for you.
No-one has the right not to be offended. And it takes two people anyway, one to give offence and one to choose to take it.
Swearing is honest, healthy and thoroughly Australian.
Offended by swearing? Fuck off!
[Image: Twitter bird drawing by Hugh McLeod.]
On 4 August 2007, I set a challenge. Could people decipher a passage of English text written in an unknown script? Well yesterday, 66 months later, dario finally posted a solution. Congratulations, Sir!
As I mentioned in my follow-up comment, it turns out that the text wasn’t the work of Ursula K Le Guin as I’d originally thought. Oops. It’s actually a document related to the fantasy universe of Danny, the guy who developed the script. I hope to have more details about that soon.
dario says he’ll eventually post “an analysis of this fascinating script and a report of how I arrived at the solution”. Meanwhile, I’ll be organising a suitable prize for him. Stay tuned.
I’ll close comments on this post. Please feel free to continue the conversation over at the original post.