See this, folks? It’s a picture of democracy

Sunday Telegraph from cover: click to embiggenThere’s plenty of feels clogging the intertubes this morning about the front page of Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph (pictured). “AUSTRALIA NEEDS TONY,” it says. Oh this is so terrible! It’s a threat to democracy, whaaa whaaa whaaaaaa!

No, kids, look at it more closely. This is a picture of democracy. Suck it up.

Or, if you don’t like it, stop your whining, get off your arse, and do something about it.

Sure, the Murdoch newspapers’ ability to endorse a particular candidate on their front pages, effectively plastering a party-political poster onto newsagents and breakfast tables across the nation, gives that candidate a huge advantage.

Sure, if you don’t want that candidate to win, then this is a bit of a blow to your dreams.

But how about thinking through the implications of what you’re actually suggesting before you spend the whole day whining about how “undemocratic” this is?

For a start, why do you imagine that this, Murdoch’s alleged influence, is why Labor can’t win? Have you not considered that Labor itself has some sort of role to play in the process? By all accounts, they’ve been playing a pretty shit game. But that’s not really what we’re talking about here.

As Mark Newton tweeted a short time ago, your argument seems to be “All we need to do is reduce Murdoch’s influence and ALP will win.” That’s (a) antidemocratic, and (b) magical thinking.

“Let’s adjust media censorship laws specifically to improve the chances of my favourite candidate winning, because democracy,” he said.

You seem to be assuming that, despite the hundreds or thousands of people involved in the production of these newspapers and other media operations, they represent solely the opinion of one man, and him alone. You seem to discount the happy participation of all the others.

And even if it were solely Murdoch’s opinion, you seem to be wanting to remove his right to free speech because his opinion is different from yours, and you’re jealous because more people read his opinion that yours.

Diddums.

Do you really think that expressing opinions is some zero-sum game? That because Murdoch, or anyone else, has loudly expressed their opinion, that you’re somehow silenced? Then you’re an idiot. Stop whining, start influencing. And don’t whinge that Murdoch has so much power that it’s unfair and you can’t catch up, because I’m pretty sure Murdoch didn’t create his media empire by whining.

Sure, he had a head start, inheriting a ratty little provincial afternoon tabloid called The News. But you’ve got the internet at your fingertips, you can start organising, and try to counter the opinion you don’t like — because persuading and organising is precisely what politics is about, and in a democracy anyone can play.

Oh? That’s all too hard? Waaa! That’ll take ages. Waaa waaa waaaaaa! You just want to rub your tummy and have the Magic Democracy Fairy appear in a burst of sparkly how-to-vote cards and fix it all for you?

OK, let’s do that. Let’s have the Magic Democracy Fairy take away Murdoch’s influence. “Poof!”, it goes. Now what? Who’s next down the line? Take away their freedom of speech too? And the next? And the next one after that?

In terms of someone’s perceived influence being greater than yours, just how small must the margin be before you’ll allow them their freedom to express a view different from your own? Clearly-stated policies, or GTFO.

[Note to the hard of thinking: If you think this is somehow written in support of Tony Abbott, you really are an arsehat.]

Microsoft has banned me from covering TechEd

How they make journalism (at TechEd): click for copy at FlickrTechEd 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.

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Why people who say “train station” sound stupid

Google Ngram "railway station" all English: click to embiggenI 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 1820 — 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).

You can click through to the full-size chart, or run the search yourself.

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.

Continue reading “Why people who say “train station” sound stupid”

Do McAfee’s new cyberstats really represent a shift?

Composite image of ZDNet column headline and McAfee report title: click for ZDNet columnAs brokers of reliable information about the scale of online crime and espionage, most information security vendors would make great used car salesmen — but McAfee’s latest research finally seems to be taking the right path.

In my column at ZDNet Australia this week, I give McAfee some praise for the most recent research they’ve funded, a preliminary report from the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies titled The Economic Impact of Cybercrime and Cyber Espionage that dismantles the daft idea that cyberstuff costs the global economy a trillion dollars a year.

McAfee now admits that you can’t run a small-N survey in a couple dozen large, wealthy nations — often a self-selected sample of known crime victims at that — and extrapolate the data globally.

Their new figure is “probably measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars”, although they never quite commit to one specific number…

“In the context of a $70 trillion global economy, these losses are small, but that does not mean it is not in the national interest to try to reduce the loss, and the theft of sensitive military technology creates damage whose full cost is not easily quantifiable in monetary terms,” McAfee writes.

True, but as McAfee themselves point out, this supposed cybercrime explosion is really down at the level of shoplifting. Retailers generally budget between 0.5% and 2% for pilferage and other such “shrinkage”.

I also mention my previous critical comments about various infosec vendors’ dodgy statistics — but I don’t link to them, because they were mostly published at non-CBS mastheads. So here’s a selection of stories I’ve written on this subject over the last couple of years.

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McLuhan’s aphorism rules at The Global Mail, alas

The Global Mail masthead“The medium is the message”, the sole phrase that seems to remembered of Marshall McLuhan’s work, certainly held true in Friday’s story at The Global Mail, Twitter Tackles Open Government.

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.]

My fish are dead: the black dog ate them (an explanation?)

[This blog post ended up being too long and way too pointless. It was meant to be a simple statement that I’ve just been diagnosed with a depression disorder again — the black dog being a familiar visitor, of course, but recently more seriously, so I wanted to tell friends and colleagues why things might have seemed a bit erratic — but it took on a bizarre 1000-word life of its own. So that’s the main facts dealt with, right here in the preface. But do feel free to read the post — provided you’ve got nothing better to do with your time. Or you like cartoon fish.]

No, see, that solution is for a different problem than the one I have: click for Allie Brosh's original articleDepression is such an ankle of a thing, and it’s a thing that I’ve got. “Ankle”, you ask? Yeah, it’s an old Australian expression, one that has even been discussed in the NSW Supreme Court. Yes, Depression is an ankle of a thing. It’s three feet lower than a cunt.

That’s certainly set the tone, hasn’t it, boys and girls!

It’s been that kind of a week. Or two weeks. Or a month. Two months? Longer? Yes. Two and a half years, actually. Maybe even longer than that. I really don’t know.

So here’s the story…

Continue reading “My fish are dead: the black dog ate them (an explanation?)”