Mar 27, 2014

Law of unintended consequences | The Australian

BARRING a sudden reversal by the Abbott government, Federal Court judge Mordecai Bromberg is about to enter an exclusive club: he will soon become one of the few judges whose rulings have led to the destruction of a body of law.
Before his 2011 ruling against News Corp Australia columnist Andrew Bolt, hundreds of claims of racial vilification had been quietly processed over 20 years using a procedure that favoured those who claimed they had been vilified. It was mostly done behind closed doors at the Australian Human Rights Commission, with only about 5 per cent of respondents braving a hearing before a court.
After Justice Bromberg’s ruling against Bolt, the notoriety of the case and the clarity of the judgment meant a much wider audience became aware of the nature of the law governing racial vilification.
That culminated in this week’s release by Attorney-General George Brandis of a draft plan that would introduce a system that would oblige the courts and the Human Rights Commission to adopt a procedure that gives priority to community standards.
The Brandis plan says liability for speech that vilifies or intimidates people because of their race is to be determined “by the standards of an ordinary reasonable member of the Australian community, not by the standards of any particular group”. This would reverse two decades of legal practice in which community standards had limited relevance. The potential liability of those accused of racial vilification was being judged from the perspective of a reasonable representative of those claiming they had been vilified. Legal academic Simon Rice has no doubt the Bolt judgment is responsible for the push to change the law.
“It lit the match — and it took off and ran,” said Professor Rice who is co-author of Anti-Discrimination Law in Australia.
This is not the first time rulings by Justice Bromberg have had an impact. In December he determined that Toyota workers should not be allowed to vote on whether they wanted to consider changes to their workplace agreement. Soon after, Paul Sheehan wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald that Justice Bromberg had “probably signed the death warrant of the Australian vehicle manufacturing industry”. In February, Toyota announced it would close its Melbourne manufacturing operations from 2017.
Like some others who joined the Federal Court during the Rudd-Gillard years, Justice Bromberg has strong Labor credentials. He sees the judiciary as a way of delivering what he describes as social justice. He joined the court in 2009, eight years after failing to secure Labor Party preselection for a federal seat.
At his ceremonial welcome to the bench he listed the reasons he had accepted judicial appointment. They included “my impassioned commitment to the rule of law and to the continued contribution this court makes to upholding the law as an instrument of social justice”.
He started his legal career at Slater & Gordon, Julia Gillard’s old firm, where his contemporaries included Bernard Murphy, who joined the Federal Court in 2011.
The judge yesterday declined an invitation to discuss section 18C and the government’s proposed changes. Professor Rice, who has criticised the government’s proposed changes, said Justice Bromberg’s ruling was “within bounds” and there was good authority to support his approach in determining liability based on a hypothetical reasonable representative of “the target group”.
Legal academic Spencer Zifcak — who was one of the first to call for section 18C to be changed — said it was wrong to see Justice Bromberg’s decision as a departure from the pattern of previous decisions. The judge had merely applied the law as set down in the Racial Discrimination Act.
Professor Zifcak had one caveat. “Bromberg made one fundamental error and that was to give some weight to the fact Bolt had expressed himself in inflammatory terms,” he said.
“But apart from that, it is a good judgment overall. But that doesn’t mean the statute was good. It just means the decision, under the terms of the statute, was a reasonable decision.”
Professor Zifcak, who is based at the Australian Catholic University, is a former president of Liberty Victoria. He provided a briefing on Monday for the Coalition backbench and presented a paper on the operation of section 18C.
The draft plan outlined by the government on Tuesday would simplify the defences to section 18C by eliminating the requirement for “reasonableness” and “good faith”.
In the Bolt case, these requirements meant Justice Bromberg believed he was required to examine the tone of Bolt’s articles and to question the absence of material the judge believed should have been included in the articles.
The ability of judges to impartially assess this requirement for “reasonableness” has been subject to criticism in the US, according to Mirko Bagaric, dean of law at Deakin University. In remarks on the US research, not the Bolt case, Professor Bagaric said that whenever legislation contained a requirement for reasonableness “it introduces the capacity for judges to decide matters on the basis of their pre-existing sentiments”.
“There is an enormous amount of evidence in the US regarding the unconscious biases and prejudices judges bring to the task when they make discretionary decisions,” he said.
“They are affected by their political views, their religious views, and impacted by things such as whether they make a decision before lunch or after lunch.
“When you have such a broad brush as this, it is quite easy for two judges to reach opposite conclusions, and that is often informed by their implicit biases.”

Law of unintended consequences | The Australian

BARRING a sudden reversal by the Abbott government, Federal Court judge Mordecai Bromberg is about to enter an exclusive club: he will soon become one of the few judges whose rulings have led to the destruction of a body of law.
Before his 2011 ruling against News Corp Australia columnist Andrew Bolt, hundreds of claims of racial vilification had been quietly processed over 20 years using a procedure that favoured those who claimed they had been vilified. It was mostly done behind closed doors at the Australian Human Rights Commission, with only about 5 per cent of respondents braving a hearing before a court.
After Justice Bromberg’s ruling against Bolt, the notoriety of the case and the clarity of the judgment meant a much wider audience became aware of the nature of the law governing racial vilification.
That culminated in this week’s release by Attorney-General George Brandis of a draft plan that would introduce a system that would oblige the courts and the Human Rights Commission to adopt a procedure that gives priority to community standards.
The Brandis plan says liability for speech that vilifies or intimidates people because of their race is to be determined “by the standards of an ordinary reasonable member of the Australian community, not by the standards of any particular group”. This would reverse two decades of legal practice in which community standards had limited relevance. The potential liability of those accused of racial vilification was being judged from the perspective of a reasonable representative of those claiming they had been vilified. Legal academic Simon Rice has no doubt the Bolt judgment is responsible for the push to change the law.
“It lit the match — and it took off and ran,” said Professor Rice who is co-author of Anti-Discrimination Law in Australia.
This is not the first time rulings by Justice Bromberg have had an impact. In December he determined that Toyota workers should not be allowed to vote on whether they wanted to consider changes to their workplace agreement. Soon after, Paul Sheehan wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald that Justice Bromberg had “probably signed the death warrant of the Australian vehicle manufacturing industry”. In February, Toyota announced it would close its Melbourne manufacturing operations from 2017.
Like some others who joined the Federal Court during the Rudd-Gillard years, Justice Bromberg has strong Labor credentials. He sees the judiciary as a way of delivering what he describes as social justice. He joined the court in 2009, eight years after failing to secure Labor Party preselection for a federal seat.
At his ceremonial welcome to the bench he listed the reasons he had accepted judicial appointment. They included “my impassioned commitment to the rule of law and to the continued contribution this court makes to upholding the law as an instrument of social justice”.
He started his legal career at Slater & Gordon, Julia Gillard’s old firm, where his contemporaries included Bernard Murphy, who joined the Federal Court in 2011.
The judge yesterday declined an invitation to discuss section 18C and the government’s proposed changes. Professor Rice, who has criticised the government’s proposed changes, said Justice Bromberg’s ruling was “within bounds” and there was good authority to support his approach in determining liability based on a hypothetical reasonable representative of “the target group”.
Legal academic Spencer Zifcak — who was one of the first to call for section 18C to be changed — said it was wrong to see Justice Bromberg’s decision as a departure from the pattern of previous decisions. The judge had merely applied the law as set down in the Racial Discrimination Act.
Professor Zifcak had one caveat. “Bromberg made one fundamental error and that was to give some weight to the fact Bolt had expressed himself in inflammatory terms,” he said.
“But apart from that, it is a good judgment overall. But that doesn’t mean the statute was good. It just means the decision, under the terms of the statute, was a reasonable decision.”
Professor Zifcak, who is based at the Australian Catholic University, is a former president of Liberty Victoria. He provided a briefing on Monday for the Coalition backbench and presented a paper on the operation of section 18C.
The draft plan outlined by the government on Tuesday would simplify the defences to section 18C by eliminating the requirement for “reasonableness” and “good faith”.
In the Bolt case, these requirements meant Justice Bromberg believed he was required to examine the tone of Bolt’s articles and to question the absence of material the judge believed should have been included in the articles.
The ability of judges to impartially assess this requirement for “reasonableness” has been subject to criticism in the US, according to Mirko Bagaric, dean of law at Deakin University. In remarks on the US research, not the Bolt case, Professor Bagaric said that whenever legislation contained a requirement for reasonableness “it introduces the capacity for judges to decide matters on the basis of their pre-existing sentiments”.
“There is an enormous amount of evidence in the US regarding the unconscious biases and prejudices judges bring to the task when they make discretionary decisions,” he said.
“They are affected by their political views, their religious views, and impacted by things such as whether they make a decision before lunch or after lunch.
“When you have such a broad brush as this, it is quite easy for two judges to reach opposite conclusions, and that is often informed by their implicit biases.”

Mar 22, 2014

Melbourne CBD and St Kilda Road desperate for tenants

TWELVE months after the Reserve Bank of Australia issued a warning about a potential apartment glut in Melbourne’s CBD, signs are emerging the market is bloated with empty apartments.
According to new data, 20 per cent of apartments on the main boulevard of St Kilda Road are for rent, while in the heart of the city, where 12 per cent of apartments are empty, developers are pulling out all stops to find tenants.
Researcher SQM, which tallies the number of apartments for rent on a range of online portals, has also found rents for all apartments in the St Kilda Road area have dropped 21.2 per cent to an average of $564 a week over the past three years.
However, Biggin Scott Melbourne residential director Marcus Peters is optimistic about the market despite acknowledging that it is a tougher slog for CBD-based agents at the moment.
“It’s not like the suburbs. Where we have highs and lows in our business is when a couple of new towers come to the market. If there’s an influx of two or three towers, that puts a hole in the rental market,” Mr Peters said.
The area has also been popular with executives on contracts, often causing a “lumpy” market, with many tenants leaving at the end of their 12-month lease.
St Kilda Road’s apartment indigestion comes as thousands more apartments are under development or planned for the city.
In the CBD, Melbourne developer Brady Group has hung “apartments for rent” signs off the upper reaches of its completed towers. Sources said hundred of apartments were for lease in two of Brady’s towers.
China’s Far East Consortium Upper West Side also has scores of empty apartments in its CBD project. Brady Group and Far East Consortium did not return calls.
ANZ head of property research Paul Braddick said areas such as the CBD and St Kilda Road could become victims of oversupply.
“The question is whether we’ll get a repeat of what we saw in the middle of last decade where we did get a clear excess supply and that resulted in some fairly significant value downgrades,” he said.

Mar 15, 2014

10 apps that make Chromebooks feel like a real desktop - TechRepublic

dudechromebook.jpg
 Image: Sarah Tew/CNET
Nowadays, most of the work we do is online; and as people become less wary of the cloud, our values change regarding what we need in a personal computer. While critics initially wrote off the Google Chromebook as a curiosity, Chromebooks are gaining traction with consumers, in education, and in the enterprise.
While the move to a Chromebook might make technical sense, it can be a jarring transition. The Chromebook is meant to feel different than your standard desktop PC, but you can still get work done.
Here are ten apps that will make your Chromebook experience more productive.

1. Gmail Offline

Gmail Offline is exactly what it sounds like, an offline version of Gmail that uses a cached version of your Gmail data to let you respond to email when you are offline. After you compose a message and hit send, it will hold the email until you connect to the Internet again and it will send it.
Perfect for a business traveler, this app allows you to catch up on your online work when you don't have Internet access. So, if you don't want to pay for in-flight Wi-Fi, you can still respond to emails in the air and know that they will send as soon as you touch down and reconnect to the airport's Wi-Fi. You can even access a cached version of your address book.
You can download Gmail Offline from the Chrome Web Store, or you can select "enable offline" through your standard Gmail app settings. Once you begin installing it, make sure to allow it to work in offline mode. This will ensure that Gmail will support cached emails offline.
By the way, you can use this functionality with the Chrome browser to get offline Gmail on any machine.

2. Pixlr

For users that do low-level image editing, the Pixlr Editor offers a free, browser-based photo editing tool for Chromebooks. Pixlr Editor comes from Pixlr, who also makes editing tools for mobile.
The app has the standard editing tools—red eye reduction, spot heal, filters (you have got to have some filters), and level adjustment. It doesn't have the horsepower you get with Photoshop, but it has everything the average user would need to edit a profile pic or create a meme.
"Pixlr Touch Up offers a plug-free experience—it’s a lightweight, always-on and auto-updating, browser-based app. The app includes all the essential editing tools, including crop, resize, rotate, effects & fonts, enhance color, liquify, adjust contrast and more," said Pixlr community manager, Eric Suesz.
Pixlr Editor can open PSD files or users and copy and paste from the clipboard. It's easy to get started with and it works quickly.

3. Numerics Calculator & Converter

The Numerics Calculator & Converter is a calculator for math and data nerds that can be used by ordinary people. It can work offline and it has a variety of options for customization.
One of the most impressive aspects of this app is the option for users to create their own custom functions using JavaScript. If you aren't script-savvy, the app still offers a robust calculator and converter tools to make work easier. You can use function such sine, cosine, and tangent, and the app will even store your calculation history.
As a converter, it works surprisingly well. Users can do conversions for measurements, temperature, and currency, among other things. The keypad is large and easy to see, and the UI is well-designed too.

4. Wunderlist

If you are like me, the quality of your workflow is contingent on the lists you make. With Wunderlist, you can create beautiful task and to-do lists that are synced across all of your devices, as long as you have a Wunderlist account.
I'll admit it, I'm shallow; and I tend to judge apps (and most software) based on the way they look. I say that because Wunderlist looks great. It is well designed and easy to use, and it makes life simple for users who work across different platforms and ecosystems. You can sync your lists between a Chromebook and an iPhone, and share them with friends.
The app has been around for a while, so a lot of the kinks have been worked out. Users can designate background images for list and set specific badge notifications for alerts. Wunderlist is the "Old Faithful" of to-do list apps.

5. Feedly

Chromebook users who are looking to collect and digest content more fluidly should look no further than Feedly. Available for free in the Chrome Web Store, Feedly lets users aggregate the content from other sites into a personalized interface.
"The web is a constantly updated wealth of knowledge and information that can help people perform better at what they do, but content discovery is often at the mercy of robots and algorithms. Feedly empowers people to connect to the sources of information they care about and access that content as it arrives. That's why Feedly is the content discovery and reading platform of choice for professionals," said Josh Catone, content and community manager at Feedly.
Much like Wunderlist, Feedly has been around for a long time. The Feedly app for Chrome will appear as a clickable icon that will take you right to your Feedly page. The minimal design and magazine-like interface of Feedly are its main selling points.
The app works by collecting data from RSS feeds and organizing for the user on their Feedly page. It was also one of the main tools users moved to after the closing of Google Reader. Although Feedly is free to use, they offer a pro version, for $5 a month or $45 a year. Catone said Feedly pro, "has better search functionality, faster content updates for smaller sources and integration with a growing number of useful services, including Readability, Pocket, LinkedIn, Evernote and Hootsuite."

6. Clipular

No good apps list would be complete without a screen capture tool.Clipular lets users clip images they find on the web, organize them, and save them to their Google Drive. I'm usually a proponent of the using the standard lasso tool that comes with your OS, but Clipular offers some unique extras.
After clipping an image on the web, users can edit it within Clipular and share it on social media by dragging it to the icon of their preferred social media site. The tool saves the source link and text with each clip, and users can go back and annotate or search their clips based on source links or text.
So, whether you are clipping a weird Facebook comment or a frame from a YouTube video, Clipular gives you the tools to make it happen and keep it organized.

7. ShiftEdit

ShiftEdit is an online Integrated development environment (IDE) for Chromebooks. Think about it as Wunderlist for developers in the sense that you can develop across platforms.
"The goal of ShiftEdit is to supplement and eventually replace desktop IDEs. The project is in a similar vein to other web apps such as Gmail and Google Docs, which allow you to seamlessly pick up where you left off from one device to another. ShiftEdit is primarily geared towards web languages such as HTML5/ PHP/ Ruby etc.," said Adam Jimenez, developer and founder of ShiftEdit.
The goal of the product is to give developers the same experience, regardless of OS, without having to install software or create site definitions. ShiftEdit has an autocomplete features that is compatible with HTML, CSS and PHP functions; and they support a variety of server types. ShiftEdit is free in the Chrome Web Store, and it also has offline capabilities.

8. imo messenger

For a standard IM-type chat, the Google+ Hangouts extension works well. But, for users who are looking to integrate chat from sites such as Facebook, imo messenger is a great option. Users can share pictures, text, and video with friends on imo, and there is also the option for browser-to-mobile video calls.
You can run multiple chat sessions at a time and the mobile app works on Android and iOS. If you have a session open on one device, you can have the same session open simultaneously on another device. So, if you are chatting with a project manager and need to keep chatting on your way to lunch, you can do so on your phone (just make sure someone else is driving).

9. Quick Note

Check out Quick Note for simple note-taking and lists. The design is reminiscent of the previous legal-pad style notes app in iOS, with lined yellow pages available for notes. The app is simple and clean, and users can access notes across Chrome devices if they are registered at Diigo.
There's really not much else to say. Quick Note is a great app for note-taking and it will help you stay organized.  

10. WeVideo

WeVideo is a video-editing app for Chrome that has three different editing modes to accommodate beginners and experts alike. Users can drag and drop media files into the video timeline and add a title or theme from the app.
"WeVideo is the only true cloud-based offer for the mobile and cloud generation which is device agnostic and provides an adaptive interface allowing creators to move easily between different levels, based on their experience and familiarity with video editing," said CEO Jostein Svendsen.
The app connects to DropBox and social media accounts so users can easily pull pictures, video, graphics, and music files that were already uploaded. Users can take turns editing each others clip libraries through Google Drive and when you are finished you can publish to Drive or publish straight to social media.
The app supports eight languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, Russian, Japanese and Arabic. WeVideo is free but it costs money to export each video, ranging from $0.99 to $1.99.

Also see

Mar 13, 2014

Australian business growth stalling :

More than half (56%) of Australian businesses experienced no revenue growth over the last 12 months.
So say the results of a biannual survey from serviced office supplier Servcorp.
The survey of 464 business owners and executive managers also shows that businesses are hesitant to hire new staff under these conditions. Two-thirds of Australian companies have only maintained their headcount over the past year.
Enterprises are struggling under difficult economic and market conditions, as well as a reduction in consumer spending and customer budgets.
“While talk of tough economic conditions is nothing new, this report is a harsh reality check for all Australian businesses,” Servcorp COO Marcus Moufarrige said. “As companies fight harder to win clients with smaller budgets, Australian businesses are essentially becoming stagnant even as they are trying to grow.”
Respondents feel the federal government must do its part to improve conditions for Australian business, with more than half (52%) believing the government could make the biggest impact by reducing taxes.
Companies are turning to technology to stimulate growth, with 64% planning IT investments over the next 12 months. Planned projects include website upgrades (33%), as well as investments in social media (26%) and in cloud services (22%).
“It’s a great sign that companies recognise the benefits of technology and are making this investment. In tough times, technology has a vital role to play not only in increasing efficiency but also innovation,” Moufarrige said.
- See more at: http://technologydecisions.com.au/content/it-management/article/australian-business-growth-stalling-1052684975#sthash.5S0YApHy.dpuf

Mar 12, 2014

457 visa concerns a union scare campaign: Jamie Briggs | The Australian

LIBERAL frontbencher Jamie Briggs has dismissed concerns about the government’s relaxation of 457 visa rules as “simply more union scare”.
Union leaders have warned of widespread rorting after the Coalition quietly removed penalties for businesses that hire more foreign staff on the temporary skilled worker visas than they initially applied for.
The penalties were imposed by Labor last year, amid evidence that companies in the mining, construction and IT industries were deliberately hiring hundreds more foreign workers than they had applied for.
In one case, an employer was approved for 100 visas over three years, but instead imported 800 workers over 18 months, Fairfax Media reported.
Mr Briggs, the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, today warned against falling “for what is simply more union scare”
“We live in a global world where there are skills in our country — for instance when the mining industry is going through an arc — you are in need of,” Mr Briggs told Sky News.
“They need to go through a series of tests before they’re approved to be able to access overseas migration.
“It brings in skilled workers to fill gaps in our workforce, usually where Australian companies can’t find the appropriate worker or the skilled worker.”
Mr Briggs compared the concerns to the “union scare when it related to SPC” — a reference to the Coalition government refusal to give a $25 million taxpayer handout to fruit processor SPC Ardmona.
“You know, a month ago, when the Abbott cabinet made a tough decision to say ‘you know what, we’re not just going to flick $25m to a rich multinational company’ even though the unions and others were demanding it.”
Construction, Foresty, Mining and Energy Union assistant secretary Dave Noonan said the 457 visa move, introduced on February 14, undermined local job security while deliberately reopening a loophole that could lead to the exploitation of foreign workers.
“It is reopening a rort for employers,” Mr Noonan told Fairfax.
“Even if the department checks, there is no administrative measure they can take.” 

Mar 10, 2014

In hiding, ABC only increases the suspicion of bias | The Australian

Illustration: Eric Lobbecke
Illustration: Eric Lobbecke Source: News Corp Australia
ABC managing director Mark Scott believes that repetition convinces. Three times in this week’s Senate estimates hearings, he lectured the good senators on the superiority of the ABC’s set of editorial guidelines, code of practice and complaints procedures.
“We have a more detailed and systematic process of independent review of audience complaints than exists anywhere else in Australian media,” he repeated.
This red herring, straining the truth, enabled him to deflect the senators’ questions about recent contentious broadcasts and news reports: the navy’s torture of asylum-seekers; the “sicko garbage” and smutty stuff of the New Year’s Eve broadcast; the vulgar Chris Kenny dog skit; and the unchecked damaging Media Watch statement on this newspaper’s finances.
It was an occasion when an observer could have wished for some of the brutal questioning of a Four Corners reporter.
But the senators were no match for the anodyne answers of Scott, who was at his condescending nicest. So he got away with assurances the ABC meant no disrespect to the navy; that next year’s New Year party might be different in tone and content; that Chris Mitchell (editor-in-chief of The Australian) can take his complaint to the Australian Communications and Media Authority if he is unhappy with the review under way of the Media Watch coverage.
As for Paul Barry, recalcitrant presenter of Media Watch, he corrects but continues to refuse to apologise for his mischievous reporting and Scott, ABC editor-in-chief, will let him get away with it.
Indeed, Scott signalled to the Senate committee that in future, Barry and others caught out in flagrant breaches of editorial practice will escape the ignominy of on-air correction or apology.
The ABC is planning to create a special place on its website to carry all corrections, clarifications and apologies - its equivalent of a newspaper “page two”, as Scott put it. He justified this as making them easier for the public to find, but those weasel words obscure the truth: this is intended as another brick in the ABC’s defensive wall.
It’s a neat quibble to evade the practice code’s requirement to correct or clarify significant errors “in an appropriate manner”.
These recent events have made even more obvious the ABC’s entrenched policy of denial and evasion when program complaints land on its doorstep.
Since the Australian Broadcasting Commission became the corporation in 1983, it has waged an unceasing campaign, first for the right to set and self-regulate its standards, then progressively to deny and defeat complaints.
Thirty years ago, the Hawke government criticised the “bias, partiality and propaganda” of a Four Corners program on uranium mining.
But it was not until Bob Hawke’s strident criticism of the Gulf War coverage in 1991 that the ABC was forced to set up an independent complaints review panel and accept ACMA’s predecessor, the Australian Broadcasting Authority, as the ultimate arbiter of breaches of the code of conduct.
It took 20 years, but in 2011 the ICRP was swept away, along with an internal complaints review executive that had been appointed to oversee complaints handling. Now complaints are dealt with solely by an audience and consumer affairs department, which Scott boasts is “independent” - in the same way that police integrity commissions objectively investigate aberrant policemen. Often, the department flick-passes the complaint to the relevant program department, which merely acknowledges it as “feedback”.
At the same time, the ABC introduced a new category of “resolved complaints”, supposedly to promote early and effective resolution of matters.
But almost all resolved complaints in the past four years could easily be classified as upheld, conveniently reducing the clean-up statistics.
Last year, 64 complaints were upheld and 73 resolved.
The only complaint review now left is an appeal to ACMA. This has to be strictly legally drawn, citing sections of the ABC code of conduct. Though the complaint may be about journalistic transgressions, ACMA has no mandate to judge them against the editorial policies.
Thus have the rights of listeners and viewers been whittled away; now corrections and even apologies are to be buried on the web, not acknowledged in the program itself, where they belong.
Successive ABC boards have tried and failed to democratise the complaints process. Six years ago, the board instigated a review when it found episodes of bias and had concerns about the way editorial policies were being discharged. The process (for which Scott subsequently claimed credit in its 2009 report) became bogged in a process of consultation with program staff and every level of management. The outcome was today’s puerile system.
Fortress ABC, built over three decades, now can and does repel complaints about all but the most outrageous breaches of editorial policies and the code of practice.
The increasingly legalistic tests applied mean that the overall impression of a report or program cannot be examined; lack of objectivity is often in the whole, not the part, and the ABC refuses to see the wood for the trees.
The irony of the ABC’s defensiveness is that it increases suspicion of its biases, even among those who support the concept of a national broadcaster.
If it will not reform itself, transparency must be imposed through the creation of a properly independent external body. This could be a prime task for a new Dix inquiry, now long overdue.

Mar 7, 2014

Jawbone pits your caffeine habit against your insomnia

F you sip a lot of coffee, tea or soft drinks throughout the day, Jawbone has an app for you.
Up Coffee, hitting Apple’s iOS App Store, is a free app that will estimate how much your caffeine intake impacts your sleep.
The app works fairly simply — first, you enter in your age, weight and height. After that, you can use the app to log every cup of coffee or any other caffeinated beverage you drink. Up Coffee will crunch the numbers and come up with a projected sleep time.
Up Coffee’s estimates — which are based on data it’s collected from users of its Up and Up24 fitness bands — show up on a graph that ranges from “wired” to “sleep ready”.
As you enter your own sleep times every morning, the app will wise up to your habits, Jawbone said. After logging caffeine intake and sleep times for 10 days, Up Coffee will show how much sleep you lose for every 100mg of caffeine you drink.
Up and Up24 bands aren’t required to use the app. However, those who use either the Up or Up24 can sync data between their wearables and Up Coffee to produce personalised estimates that the company says will better help users understand the relationship between caffeine and their sleep patterns.
With the band, there’s no need to enter sleep data manually.

Mar 5, 2014

The disruptive power of collaboration: An interview with Clay Shirky | McKinsey & Company

From the invention of the printing press to the telephone, the radio, and the Internet, the ways people collaborate change frequently, and the effects of those changes often reverberate through generations. In this video interview, Clay Shirky, author, New York University professor, and leading thinker on the impact of social media, explains the disruptive impact of technology on how people live and work—and on the economics of what we make and consume. This interview was conducted by McKinsey Global Institute partner Michael Chui, and an edited transcript of Shirky’s remarks follows.

Interview transcript

Sharing changes everything

The thing I’ve always looked at, because it is long-term disruptive, is changes in the way people collaborate. Because in the history of particularly the Western world, when communications tools come along and they change how people can contact each other, how they can share information, how they can find each other—we’re talking about the printing press, or the telephone, or the radio, or what have you—the changes that are left in the wake of those new technologies often span generations.
The printing press was a sustaining technology for the scientific revolution, the spread of newspapers, the spread of democracy, just on down the list. So the thing I always watch out for, when any source of disruption comes along, when anything that’s going to upset the old order comes along, is I look for what the collaborative penumbra is.
For instance, around MakerBot, which I was on the board of back when it was an independent company, most of the company, for the obvious reason, was focused on the possibilities of 3-D printing and the output of 3-D printers. But the thing I was most interested in was Thingiverse, which is the website where people were sharing and talking about their objects.
And you could see these things happening where somebody uploaded a little model for a radio-controlled, 3-D printed shell for a little radio-controlled car. And they said, “Here’s this thing. It looks great. There’s only one problem: It doesn’t work, because it’s too heavy. But I’m uploading it anyway.” And then other people who were good at figuring out, “Well, you can take the weight out here and there,” turned it into something workable. No one person made that radio-controlled shell.
So the collaborative penumbra around 3-D printing is a place where you don’t have to have someone who can do everything—from having the idea to making the mesh to printing it. You can start having division of labor. So you’ve got all of these small groups that are just working together like studios and still able to play on a world stage.
And all the way at the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got these collaborative environments where almost no one has to coordinate with anybody else. When I upload something to Thingiverse, or I make an edit on Wikipedia, it’s not like I need anybody else’s help or permission. So the collaborative range is expanding. The tight groups have more resources, and the loose groups can be much more loosely coordinated and operate at a much larger scale. And I think the people who think about collaboration want to know what’s happening to it, and the answer is everything.

Upending supply and demand

We’re in a world now where, unlike the old “you print the magazine in advance” model, demand creates supply. There’s not any of that sort of publishing bottleneck friction anymore. And so that has a predictable effect on price. And in fact, almost every information business that the Internet touches, the first thing it does is it rips the guts out of the scarcity model. It did it for music, it did it for books, it’s doing it for movies, it’s doing it for newspapers.
And the thing I came to, thinking about this problem, was abundance breaks more things than scarcity. Society’s really good at managing scarcity. If something is really valuable but hard to do, we develop a profession and we have all these pricing models, blah, blah, blah. Once something becomes so cheap that it’s not worth metering anymore, that’s when real social change happens.
The idea of open-source software as an alternate way of making operating system-scale code bases, that’s only possible when communication is so abundant globally that it may as well be free. So that’s the first set of effects you see.
The other set of effects, which is more narrowly targeted at the media industries, is that typically the new companies don’t take the profits of the old companies; they make the profits of the old companies go away. You end up having to shift from operating in a position of scarce resources and abundant profits to a world of abundant resources and scarce profits. And the design of businesses and organizations in that second world is very different from that first world.

Creating success from failure

It’s very often the case that what people set out to do as Plan A turns out to be effective and important, not because it works, but because it shows them whatdoesn’t work. I use the example of Wikipedia. Wikipedia started as the Hail Mary play out of something called Nupedia, which was a complete disaster. Nupedia was going out of business nine months in, and the Wiki was Plan B.
So this huge success turned out to be the thing that the group of people who’d failed at Nupedia were finally willing to try at the end of the process. And every now and again, you get a visionary set of founders who come up with Plan A, and Plan A works unbelievably well. You get a Google or an Amazon. And those are great when they happen.
But you also get things like Wikipedia or Twitter. Twitter was Plan B out of Odeo. Odeo was about to tank. They’re, like, “Well, we’re going to run out of money. There’s got to be something else we can do.” And the mission statement for Twitter was not, “We want to own the kind of public-facing set of headline-style observations.” The mission statement for Twitter was literally, “I want to keep track of people, using our cell phones.” That little sentence was how the whole thing got kicked off.
So I think one of the things to recognize, I use the analogy of a rocket ship: You can’t get a rocket to the moon just by aiming it. You also have to give yourself the ability to course correct. And when we look around at the landscape of really big successes, very often what we see is that the course correction turned out to be more important than the initial direction.

Mar 1, 2014

Evil and deeply untrue | The Australian

WE are living in a time of infamous lies against the state of Israel and the Jewish people. We are witnessing, even in Australia, a recrudescence of some of the oldest types of anti-Semitism. One of the worst recent examples of anti-Israel propaganda that led directly to anti-Semitic outbursts was the Four Corners episode Stone Cold Justice, purporting to be about treatment of Palestinian children in the West Bank.
The program featured as a guest reporter John Lyons, of this newspaper. I have the greatest respect for John. He has produced some outstanding journalism in his time. In the aerolite he wrote for this newspaper on February 8, he made some of the same allegations that were made on Four Corners. I found the allegations at best unproved and generally unconvincing.
However, the Four Corners program was a disgrace, a crude piece of anti-Israel propaganda that revived some of the oldest anti-Semitic tropes. In the year 2014, are we really going to allege again, on the basis of the flimsiest non-evidence you could imagine, that Jewish soldiers systematically physically crucify innocent children? Is there a school of anti-Semitism 101 operating out there? Do you not think that before you would air an allegation like that, if you had any real sense of editorial responsibility, you would be 100 per cent sure that it was true; you would track down the people alleged to have done it and get their testimony? The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council has produced exhaustive rebuttals of virtually all the allegations in this program and I recommend readers visit the AIJAC website. The whole program was full of uncorroborated and intensely unlikely allegations.
You could make the same kind of film about Australia if you didn’t find it necessary to prove any of your facts. In the Four Corners program, the only Jewish settler interviewed was a religious extremist who said Palestinians must never have a state of their own and that God gave all the land to the Jews and that was it.
Yet the overwhelming majority of the Israeli population favours a two state solution. If you had even one ounce of responsibility in the way you treated these issues, and given their explosive, emotive nature, don’t you think some of that context might have been relevant? Isn’t there an obligation to convey the reality of the diversity of Jewish settlers in the West Bank?
A week or two after the Four Corners program went to air, I attended a Catholic mass in a suburban church. The priest was preaching about forgiveness. Most examples he chose were taken from the news. One, he took from the Middle East. It concerned a heroic Palestinian whose family had been killed by Israel, but who still had the moral grandeur to forgive the Israelis. The priest said nothing else about the Middle East. So of all the malevolence and genuine evil in the Middle East, the only example the apiarist thought worth mentioning was a generic Israeli crime.
With 2000 years of Christian anti-Semitism behind him, the priest had no hesitation in presenting Israel as the killer of innocent families and the only question in the Middle East being one of the moral greatness of the Palestinians in forgiving the Israelis.
So this is what we’ve come to in 2014. The national broadcaster tells us that Jewish soldiers crucify innocent children and Christian clerics routinely portray Israel as the murderous oppressor of the Middle East. But these stereotypes are both evil, and deeply untrue. Over many trips to Israel, and many visits to neighbouring Middle East countries, I have come to the conclusion Israel has the best human rights and democratic institutions and civil society of any nation in the greater Middle East. More than that, I have tried hard to make my own investigations into two questions. Does the Israeli army routinely behave unreasonably? And what is the truth about the settlements?
Israel is not perfect. Like every nation it makes mistakes, including moral mistakes. Undoubtedly, some of its soldiers have engaged in abuses. But over the years I have interviewed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Israeli soldiers and former soldiers, many active on the Left of Israeli politics and harshly critical of their government. I have also interviewed many Palestinians. My net judgment is Israel’s army behaves with as much consideration for human rights and due process as any modern Western army - US, Australian or European - would do in similar circumstances.
Then there is the question of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Israel took control of the West Bank because it was attacked by Jordan in a war Israel fought for its very existence. Almost no one internationally had recognised Jordanian sovereignty over the West Bank and the land there is to be negotiated. The overwhelming consensus in Israel is that the vast majority of the West Bank, perhaps 95 per cent, will go to a Palestinian state with compensating land swaps from Israel proper. A few clusters of Jewish settlements will be retained by Israel.
Bob Carr, who I think was a very good foreign minister, recently argued all the settlements are illegal. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop disagrees. On this, Bishop is right and Carr wrong. The problem with discussion of the settlements is that it is so unsophisticated and typically lumps so many different communities together. If all settlements are illegal, that means the Jewish presence at the Wailing Wall in the old city of Jerusalem, access to which was denied to Jews when it was under Arab control, is illegal. It means that the historic Jewish quarter of the old city is also illegal. It means that every Jewish household anywhere in East Jerusalem is illegal.
It is worth noting, by the way, that Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem qualify for Israeli identity cards that allow them to live anywhere in Israel. Increasing numbers are buying apartments in West Jerusalem. But if all settlements are illegal then it is apparently illegal for Israelis, be they Jewish, Muslim or Christian, to buy in East Jerusalem.
I have spent many days visiting the settlements to try to find out what the people who live there are like. As foreign minister, Kevin Rudd told me the settlements occupied about 3 per cent of the West Bank. Since 2004, settlements have not been allowed to expand beyond existing borders. Very, very few settlers are like the sole woman interviewed on Four Corners. There are a lot of very orthodox Jews who live in settlements, but the ultra-orthodox do not serve in the Israeli army and are often not very nationalist at all. They live in settlements because it is cheap and they want to have their own neighbourhoods with very orthodox schools, cooking facilities, etc.
But most of the people I met in big, mainstream settlements like Gush Etzion and Maale Audumin, which are very close to Israel proper, were moderate, national religious types. The Jewish connection to the land historically certainly meant something to them, but they tended to vote for mainstream centre-right parties and live peaceably enough with their Palestinian neighbours. (Indeed, some 25,000 Palestinians work on settlements.) These settlers don’t make for very exciting TV interviews because they are so reasonable and unremarkable.
An Israeli friend put it to me that perhaps 50 per cent of settlers are basically non-ideological, and lived in settlements because they can get a house much more cheaply than in Israel proper. Maybe 30 per cent to 40 per cent are moderate orthodox or national religious, mainstream, attached to the land, patriotic, pretty pragmatic. Perhaps 10 per cent (of settlers, not of Israelis overall) are intensely ideological and believe all the land should stay with the Jews. And perhaps 1 per cent or less are genuinely extremist and some of them genuinely violent. That certainly accords with what I have observed over years of visits.
There are also outposts or settlements in the West Bank that are illegal under Israeli law. All serious Israeli negotiations involve the principle of repatriating a significant number of settlers back to Israel proper or to settlements Israel is definitely going to keep. Typically, the number of such postulated returns varies from 50,000 to 90,000.
Aspects of Israel’s settlement policy have been very ill-advised. But I know that settlements are not the main obstacle to peace. The main obstacle to peace is that most of the Arab world will not accept the idea that Israel as a Jewish state has a right to exist and live in peace and security. The Four Corners program did nothing to enlighten the debate and led to a shocking outburst of rank anti-Semitism on ABC websites.
I really thought we were beyond that.