Back online

So my site was offline with a bad plugin for just over 2 weeks, and I had no idea.

I used to check this shit daily.

Goddamn WordPress plugins are so. fucking. frustrating. Fantastic in theory, easy bit of functionality to extend the system, but the biggest source of vulnerabilities in the software, so you feel like you have to turn on automatic updates. Except now, turns out, I’m vulnerable to a plugin updating that goes bad, and fucks up the whole fucking site. Like, what kind of fucking design is that? Oh right, PHP, where the browser is the error console. GAH.

I really need to sort out where I’m at with this place, and what I’m doing with it

The Super-aggregators

Ben Thompson of Stratechery writes of Facebook & to a lesser extent Google’s model here:

What makes Facebook and Google unique is that not only do they have zero transaction costs when it comes to serving end users, they also have zero transaction costs when it comes to both suppliers and advertisers.

An interesting way to think about it; Facebook’s suppliers are its users, since they produce the content; this attracts and retains other “suppliers” – you and me, the friends of those on Facebook, and in turn that gives Facebook its “product” that it sells to its market, the advertisers.

Facebook doesn’t really do much work in between – sure, yes, they host the site, and make it possible to share thousands of photos and videos and whatnot – but they don’t need to make that happen on a personally-involved scale; they don’t call you to post on your profile to pull in other people who are also simultaneously shown ads.

Facebook and Google seem to be unique in this position – other networks don’t seem to have scaled in that same way, which is what makes Facebook & Google the “super aggregators”, and chances are their combined power wil eventually swamp the other also-rans that didn’t make it to that level of power.

(Note also: Facebook et al make the best attempt to steal the sole resource you have that is non-renewble, your time.)

Winter’s over

Winter’s over before it got cold. I mean, like, really properly cold. I think went out of my way this year to get exposed to something resembling the winter of old – biting cold that makes you happy to be inside. I went to Melbourne and to the mountains and to the valleys outside Sydney because it felt like autumn never ended at home, like a cold snap was just around the corner, like I’d need to take out my blanket next week, but now the calendar tells me winter is over for another year.

If I were to describe in detail the way things have been busy, I’d be here until summer, I suspect. This month, I travelled away for the weekend twice, both pleasant occasions, and spent the other two weekends up to my ears in attempting to be a junior economist, creating two papers I’d actually be proud of. Turns out that I really, really like studying economics, and even if I get an average mark, I’ll be pleased to have been exposed to it, and I could spend hours debating it and the implications.

Unfortunately, between that and work, I ended up with such free time as I attempted to fill with a show that told me winter was coming, and with a series of books that enthralled me like few have in years. The Expanse is a universe I’m struggling not to devour, knowing my pace of consumption far outweighs the scope of the content produced to date. Reading for pleasure was an itch I’ve been trying to scratch for well over a year since I ploughed through The Dresden Files, and finally something stuck, and now I’m almost afraid to finish it for fear of having nothing to go on to.

I also during this month discovered Apple’s Reading List feature – and I guess I mean discovered in the Captain Cook sense, in that there were a bunch of people who have been using this for years – and I marvel at the way things are so easy now, bookmarks magically synchronised across devices at a wonderous speed. I’ve been stacking up things to read and things to share there for some time, and it looks like this weekend may be it, with little else to do in all honesty, so the chance to unwind mentally and unpack the things I thought worth squirrelling away for future will come out with the end of winter as the hibernation ends.

(I say that, but it sure doesn’t look like things will ease up at all in the coming months – it’ll be Feburary before I can well and truly relax.)

(oh and I’ve realised I’m planning to head to the US again at the end of the year, against perhaps some better judgement considering the political scene, so I’ll be getting all the dose of winter I could ever ask for over there.)

(for a post that started with mentioning how winter’s done, I sure did end up focusing on it a lot huh.)

Here’s to unwinding with the longer days, and cracking open this year’s supply of antihistamines.

Then it was Ma- Jun- July. 

A draft starts in April, and then it was May. And despite the fact that May feels like the longest month ever – did you realise it’s 31 days? Does anything actually happen in May after May Day? A day so boring they couldn’t even come up with a more interesting name for it? Is it even a month that counts given the uncertainty expressed in its name? – it ended up being a rather wholly busy month, and so it was June, and you know what June is like. Honestly, May should trade its 31st day to June so we can have a chance to get some things done before the middle of the year arrives all in a huff. It shouldn’t be surprising when 30th June shows up and all of a sudden you’re in the back half of Twenty bloody Seventeen and 2018 is just around the corner. Remember when it was still 2016 and you thought “how can this year get any shittier?” and then 2017 arrived and the conclusion was “oh, yes, this is how,”? Well, we’re now further away than ever from the utopia that was 2016, and it’s now under six months to go until 2018. If you conceived a child today, it wouldn’t be born until March 2018. The end of March 2018. That’s where we are now. Or will be in 9 months time, you get my point.

Phew. A breather.

How the hell is it July already?

Oh that’s right, I’ve decided I didn’t really need free time after all, and am now completely occppied in entirely planned and unplanned ways. I opened a book yesterday for the first time in about 4 months because I finally found myself with a half hour of time I hadn’t allocated out or somehow spent on productive and unproductive activities that choose to occupy my brain. While that moment felt good, it was also tinged with “but I should be doing x, y or d instead…”

Let me tell you now, doing an MBA while working full time on an intensive project and also trying to keep a long distance relationship going is a… challenging idea. Any one of the above by itself would’ve been enough to keep the ordinary person occupied, which is what I had last year, but I’ve somehow stumbled into all three at the same time and it’s been an adventure in time management. I had the value of being bored and pursuing interests in new areas gets sacrificed, and at times I’m quite willing to skip out on social events entirely just to give myself a couple of hours to catch up on everything that’s been going on.

When it comes to events of the year, it has been relentless, and with each day that passes I’m more convinced that I need to be more politically engaged. Some of that comes from the frustration of seeing the government navel gazing; some of that comes from the sheer absurdity that is the USA right now. I know a large driving factor is seeing my local representative completely failing to represent me as he happens to be an arch conservative that carries the flag for everything that is wrong with the conservative side of politics in this country (like, every single bone-headed policy. He cheers for Trump completely unnecessarily!). And then I remember everything I’ve already got on my plate, and I wonder what I could realistically do without sacrificing something.

That kind of feeling and motivation seems to tie in with an increased self-awareness and maturity that I didn’t consciously come to, but rather has welled up with time and experience – it is something along the age lines that really starts to become obvious. Where the twenties were about my personal growth and – frankly – somewhat selfish in many measures, it appears the thirty mark being passed does make a difference in how the world feels like it’s impacting my life. A sense of agency appears – that I can, and should, need to do something to make a change, make the place a better one.

And now I suspect I’m rambling. It’s useful to use this platform to explore thoughts and process, but I do occasionally need an editor to go “right mate, wrap it up, you’re wandering in a way that someone outside your head can’t follow.” And so I will.

Though! One more thing before I go, a media endorsement: go watch The Expanse. That’s some damn good scifi, and I’ve been only to happy to escape to that universe for 40 minutes or so at a time.

Globalisation and Inequality

This thinkpiece is opinion with some small basis in researched reality, but please don’t take this as definitive. All my own views.

The argument being made in the US post-Trump and in the UK post-Brexit is that the forces of globalisation and free trade have led to increasing inequality, and that’s what the working class of these countries is getting upset about – their increasing distance from the “elite” that are perceived to benefit from the globalisation at the cost of the working class.

Except what’s happening here – to put it in Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat terms – is that the playing field is flattening, at least at the lower end of the income distribution. This means more than just bringing the developing countries up to the standard of the developed countries – it’s also causing the developed countries to drop down a little, or more rather a reversion to the mean.

The way the working class in developed nations are feeling the pain is an inevitable consequence of this globalisation – the advantages they had were only ever relative, because for all that there’s said about equality, it was never the case that developed economies were “equal” – it was entirely in their average lying well above the global average.

But now… it’s not so much. The working class in developed economies is being levelled with the working class in other economies. The working class of developing economies are coming closer to equal footing as borders come down in the pursuit of the dollar. Immigration makes this even more so, where those willing to work for a low wage by developed economy standards are comparatively better off by their personal standards because it’s a high wage by their own standards; this only starts to break down when the wages in their home countries lift enough that the differential isn’t worth it.

Inequality has always been there; inequality, globally, has gotten lower. However, where it was also unequally spread – where some countries had less internal inequality – it’s now being more equally distributed around the world as a global population is included and free trade and movement of labour makes the production of goods anywhere the same.

Continue reading Globalisation and Inequality

A Love Letter to Australia

First Dog on the Moon writes a love letter to Australia:

Hello Australia, I have always loved you.

There isn’t space here to list everything as Australia takes up a lot of space.

I love standing still in the bush when it is pushing 40 degrees…

I love watching Test cricket. With the sound on the TV off and the ABC radio on…

Geez we can be funny buggers though. I love that. And the way we talk, I reckon if the science could work out a way to weaponise an accent, Australian voices could blast a hole in the moon. Yeah nah

I love the fact that everyone’s taken to be equal, how we talk about our leaders as Bob and Paul and Johnny and Kevin and Julia and Tony and Mal, none of this formality nonsense.

I love how “She’ll be right,” is a legitimate attitude to just about everything.

Love this peice.

End of Week, End of Month, End of Quarter, End of Season

It’s the end of another week, and then I look at the calendar and realise it’s the end of the month. But then it’s not only that, it’s the end of March, marking the end of the first quarter of the year – yes, I think like a banker now – and in a way it’s what marks for me the end of the summer, where you know now that the seasonal change is truly underway and the hope for warmer days fade.

As if right on cue, it’s also the end of daylight savings, so the days become darker and shorter, and the mood shift sets in. It’s well and truly 2017, and the steady progression of the planet around the sun continues apace and the one thing you can never negotiate on feels like it passes faster and faster, time ticking away.

So many endings coming together brings a certain focus, a certain reflection on the time that has passed thus far, and an ever-regretful mood that recalls how things were left incomplete, a reminder of how much there is to do.

At the same time, there’s a degree of celebration in that reflection, understanding of how many things that were actually achieved in this time, and recalling that for all the things I can look at negatively, and all the things that preoccupy my mind disproportionately – events around the world that I have no influence on and conversely have no impact from – there are those things much closer to home that I can be happy with and draw satisfaction from.

Recently inspired by a passing conversation I happened to hear, I will be devoting some effort to reflecting weekly on the achievements and progression, noting the positives and ensuring a very practical focus – personal, local, stuff that actually matters in my personal world – is recorded in some way. I realise how much of my memory is driven by things I’ve written down and things I’ve taken photos of, and how many things and events that I just don’t recall because I didn’t do that. Everyone has their focuses and quirks – some recall conversations with ease, while others recall images; all have their own ways to work through these things, so I hope that through writing and reflecting I’m better able to keep my memory going on these small events and build up a better picture through time to know that life isn’t wasted.

So here goes.

Continue reading End of Week, End of Month, End of Quarter, End of Season

That Special Someone

There’s an instinct that seems to drive people to want to be with a specific other person; “pair bonding” as the scientific term might go. It’s a natural instinct that you can explain away as pure biology, but of course humans have coopted this notion into something else entirely and put our own complicated spin on things.

Finding “that special someone” is therefore a fairly uniquely human thing to do – the idea that there’s one person that’s specifically right for you, someone that meets the criteria of an ideal partner – sufficiently similar, yet sufficiently different to keep things interesting; sufficiently near, speaking the same or a similar language, of the same age… on a rational level, that’s a fools game.

And yet…

And yet we still play it, because we’re fools blinded by emotion and this idea of an ideal romantic love which would be sufficient to surmount these challenges. We pay token attention to the probabilities and realities in an effort to satisfy a different drive, a desire for mental and emotional fulfilment, beyond the purely physical.

But… it requires patience, and persistence. It requires keeping at it, trying again and again, until you do find the one that sticks for whatever reason, because that person will be worthwhile. That person will match you mentally, challenge you to do better, to be bettter; that person will love you back and adore you, that person will have something in them that you recognise at a deeper level, and you will trust them, and want to make them happy, and they will make you happy, and you will share a lifetime of stories, and you’ll dream of the rest of your lives together when you’ve only just met, because something in this person will sing to you on a level that you don’t even realise but is within you, like a tuning fork suddenly in resonance with another, and you’ll want that person there all the time.

Some may compromise sooner, accept shortcomings and think rationally that someone happens to tick enough boxes to make it a good deal. No doubt I’ve also contemplated that for myself, more than a couple of times, more recently than I’d care to admit. The bonding instinct doesn’t necessarily require a specific person, even when the emotional side does.

And sometimes, persisting, you get lucky… :)

Happy Valentines Day, friends, lovers, countrymen.

Ideas from HBR

I’ve started listening to podcasts recently, and one that seems to work really well for me is the Harvard Business Review Ideacast. Ok, it’s a little bit B-School, a little bit world-of-work, but it’s surprisingly interesting despite the apparently staid context in which it exists. Here’s some interesting episodes I’ve listened to recently, along with ideas in them:

  1. The “Jobs to be Done” theory of innovation

    It’s an idea that’s come up on my radar recently, but I had assumed it was a new spin on the Getting Things Done productivity method. Turns out, it’s a different way of looking at how people interact with things and companies. In brief, when you’re buying a product (or a service) from a company, it’s not because you want the product, it’s because there’s a proverbial “job” to be done – whether that “job” is satisfying your hunger, or getting to a place; framing it that way rather than buying a burger or jumping in a cab lets you identify better what the actual activity being performed is, and this helps identify areas and ideas for innovation.

    The podcast isn’t necessarily enough to re-orient you towards this way of thinking all on its own, but it serves as an interesting introduction.

  2. How Work Changed Love

    A strange topic for HBR, but interesting insight into where “dating” and modern relationships have emerged from… a quick run down:
    – Until the 19th century, courtship was supervised – the interactions between unmarried men and women was mostly in family or community situations, possibly arranged by someone. This gives me a different perspective on the oft-complained about arranged marriage thing in Indian culture – it’s not that far removed!
    – As women entered the workforce, the context changed with more people away from home and meeting in “unsupervised” ways – so dating as it’s known today didn’t really kick off until the 1910s and 1920s. That’s really recent as far as relationships amongst humans comes from – just three generations removed from where we are today, and yet it’s such an integral part of the youth experience today.
    – Economic mobility has reduced since the 1960s – and one of the reasons for this is that with women becoming more equal, particularly with higher education, there’s less reason for men to look across class lines for relationships.
    – The median age for women at first childbirth is 25, while the median age for women at first marrage is 27. That’s a big swing in how marriage is perceived.
    – Marriage is being looked at as a “capstone” instead of a “cornerstone” – it’s what you get to at the end of your growth as an adult, rather than a foundation.

    I’m genuinely interested in how these things have played out.

  3. The connection between Speed and Charisma

    A few hundred milliseconds are the difference between someone being perceived as charismatic and those perceived as far less so. This is interesting to me because there’s definitely a difference in the speed of my response driven by my comfort and ease with some people, so I wonder if the perceptions of these people are entirely different to those closer to me simply based on the speed of my responses.

  4. Bonus, from the Ezra Klein Show – “We have locked in centuries of climate change”

    Because it’s depressing as shit, but everyone needs to hear it. The world is not in a happy place when it comes to climate change. Be aware, be active, be deliberate in your actions.

The End of the Obama Presidency

Today marks the end of the Obama presidency, and in some ways, it seems to mark the end of an era – or perhaps more pessimistically, the respite from the decline of an era that effectively ended with the events of September 11th, 2001.

Perhaps we’d been to unwilling to admit it over the last 8 years, but since 2001, the United States of America turned from being a leader for the multicultural, involve-everyone-everywhere sentiment to the navel-gazing self-interested country that its enemies had always accused it of being; where George W. Bush led the country into misadventures and tipping the delicate balance that had held for the 90s in the Middle East into the dumpster-fire, basket-case of a region it seems right now.

Obama’s efforts to revive American interest in the progressive, outward looking world seem an exception – the first years reacting to the financial crisis of 2008 that was never quite a full-blown multi-year recession, followed by the battles with the Republican opposition that organised into a parliamentary style opposition rather than the loose confederation that had always been the operating standard in the US Congress.

Obama’s efforts to rehabilitate America’s image post-W were for the most part successful – despite the ongoing issues in Syria, and the free hand used with drone warfare around the world, the open engagement with the world community and the level-headed leadership was respected. Adults were in charge. For a few years, it seemed like we could put the Bush years down as the anomaly.

Now… now we’re getting Trump and his henchmen. Bush wasn’t the anomaly, he was the prototype – a deep distrust of intellectualism and expertise infecting a populace convinced that things won’t change. The shame is the distrust of expertise, and the necessary recognition of this utility. Watching confirmation hearings for key executive branch positions, it’s clear the people being put in charge of these things have little to no idea of what they’re getting involved in. We’re going from people with deep knowledge and care to people who openly oppose the very notions of the departments they’re supposed to be running.

It’s like their assumptions are that everyone should have an equal chance at trying things, without realising specialist roles and knowledge are useful; the idea of putting a CEO in charge of an organisation and purpose that he or she does not know is not infinitely applicable; experience and excellence in the field of business does not equip one to consider a fundamentally different purpose in the public service space.

Add in Trump’s own openly declared insular views – withdrawal from NATO being on the table, a deep distrust of the UN and international processes, the childish ideas of a wall on a border, the hostility to global trade – and you see America steadily pulling its head in, repeating the experience of a hundred years ago as the post-WWI America retreated. Where they once led by example, now they disown any position of leadership beyond economic and military, both of which are likely to be overtaken soon by China and its particularly control-heavy model of society.

For most of my life, America’s been a presence that shows the way for a free and democratic society. The respect for law, freedom of speech and press, and the willingness of the people to experiment, try, fail, get back up – all ways in which the country and its culture has attracted people the world over for centuries. Sure, there have been foibles and ongoing failures, but now, it appears a dark curtain is falling across the country, and hope that America leads the way disappears.

Russia talks up hegemony in a oligarchical state led by a virtual dictator; Europe bifurcates as the populist movements tear apart international cooperation; China of all countries – the most successful notionally communist country – is a major proponent of free trade; Australia meanders directionless as leaders abandon leading; what hope do we have of solving big international problems like climate change – barring the fact that China itself recognises the costs, and India too commits to skipping the carbon heavy phase of development. With mistrust of expertise in the west though, I fear we just end up mired in the muck.

Today marks as strongly as November 8th did the decline and fall of American exceptionalism; for all that Trump claims to lead America to new greatness, is there anyone outside America that takes this credibly? The life he’s promising is long gone, the world moving on. Whatever comes next does not resemble the 1950s, but that’s what Trump and his followers hope and dream for – an era of greatness for a slice of the population not adapting to the world’s changing tides.

May you live in interesting times, as the Chinese curse goes.