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the daily column

The Web of Broken Links

I went to link to this today, because I thought it was hilarious and insightful and speaks to something within me as a frequent traveller: “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Sleeping Positions on a Plane” from The Washington Post – and since I found it especially perfect a post, I thought I’d put it here on my blog.

And then I got to thinking: I have a whole lot of links here… how many still live to this day?

It’s truly depressing to explore.

Many of those links that landed on personal sites are broken entirely; people don’t maintain their websites for decades, they move on and find new homes for their worlds, if any. You’re not always there to notice until it’s years too late, a site you read every day that someday stopped publishing and you didn’t realise.

And equally, on the sites that survive, the rubble of broken links litters their sites.

These ones were perhaps those hosted on long-lived entities like Blogspot, and somehow still remain, a once-populated site that no longer updates. A favourite blog to read for me, Tequila Mockingbird, published its last post 12 or so years ago, at the tail end of 2007, a post like any other that gave no idea that the author wouldn’t return.

If you try to go anywhere outwards from there, it’s just as likely as not to lead to a broken link. How would we ever piece the web back together? Do we need to default every 404 to fall back to a web archive search?

The impermanence of the web is perhaps as much a feature as a bug; the ability for these words to be removed from the web with a push of a button perhaps a blessing for some, history that is erasable in a way that doesn’t even leave a physical trail.

On the other hand, pity the poor historians and archaeologists of the future, finding a web of broken links that hinted at something more vast and interesting than they can ever grasp, like Fermat’s last theorem fitting in the margins of history but the original pages never found, simultaneously mundane and profound.

Categories
opinion politics

2020

The year is now 2020.

14 years ago, I started this site as I was planning a move from Melbourne to Sydney. Previously, I’d been publishing on a friend’s server, buried in a subfolder, but that’s when the site came into its own. So now, with this post, I’ll have published items in 3 different decades – ain’t that a thing about getting old.

Right from the start, this site has been about my own political observations – one of the very first things written here was about the Cronulla Race Riot in December 2005, a decidedly unwelcome event for someone just about to move to the city.

It seems to have been an isolated incident of sorts, in hindsight, as we never quite got to something so nakedly racist on the streets of Australia again, but it left a high water mark – a new edge for the Overton window to nudge up against. And to some degree, you’d think over the years we’d nudged the Overton window the other way, with things like the Apology to the Stolen Generations, but that turned out not to be the case. We go into 2020 with the Conservatives in power across the US, UK, Australia, India, Russia… so many places of influence holding back and pushing towards a long-lost golden age without really understanding why that golden age existed in the first place.

Australia is on fire. I mean it in the worst possible way; at the time of writing, some 5.8 million hectares have been burnt, more than the Amazon fires of 2019, millions of tonnes of CO2 unleashed into the atmosphere just as we don’t need it, an estimated 500 million wild animals dead, a government in disarray as to how to respond, towns on the coast being evacuated by the Navy because there’s no other way out and the only safe place is to shelter on the beach because nothing can burn there after all.

14 years ago, I didn’t think that was coming. I knew global warming was an issue, but I didn’t know that we had such little time to turn the tide. I hoped that someone in charge knew what needed to be done; I voted along the lines that I thought would make a difference, but 14 years on, we’re still where we were, a brief flirtation with doing the right thing now six, seven years ended, and a government apparently in utter denial about what it takes to get it right.

A lot changed in that time.

A lot needs to be done still.

How do we start? Plant a tree. Speak to your neighbours about the issues. Figure out how you can reduce your impact. Talk to your family about what is coming, and how we can act to overcome that. Call your local MP at the state and federal level, speak to your councillors. Ask them what they’re doing, because we’ve seen now what it means to have warming truly come home to roost, and if we don’t want to live in a Mad Max world in our lifetimes, then we need to start changing it now.

Let’s make 2020 the year that you make a difference.

Categories
the daily column

Three and a half years on

Three and a half years ago, in a fit of madness, I decided I had enough of having free time, and signed up to go back to university for an MBA.

Boy, did I underestimate how much time that would take up.

Even more so than that, I didn’t think of how much might change between starting & finishing that degree. And change it did.


Just over three years ago, I met someone – talking to her on a whim, taking the chance, and found myself entranced. I’ve mentioned obliquely here about her, but truly, she became a part of my world in a way that I’d never thought I would encounter. The other half of my soul I didn’t even realise was missing. She is passionate, caring, filled with humour and hope and a drive that pushes me to be better and do more than ever. She is an embodiment of what I hope people would be more like; I’m besotted by my love for her.

Little surprise then that I married her not long after meeting her, and now we’re a year married and settling in to life together. This singular event of committing to spending your life with another person has been something that has shifted my perspective in ways I could not have anticipated, and I want to go back to Karan from three and a half years ago and tell him what’s coming so he could embrace it even more quickly than I did.


I thought three and a half years ago that I knew a little about the world, and hoped that I would be able to make a difference – grand dreams of changing and shaping the outcomes. Now, those grand dreams remain – but I find myself knowing more than I ever did, and in doing so, finding the challenge greater than ever.

The world has changed for the worse in my view over the last few years. It’s enough to make one give over to selfishness when you see that people act in those ways. The Australian election in May 2019 felt like a pivotal moment, a rejection of the things that would help us move forward and solve generational problems, and it did indeed make me despair for some months. But… in the end I’m still convinced that things need to change for the better, and it takes work to make that relevant and possible.

Change – truly transformational change – takes longer and more work than I had ever thought. If I’m to make change happen, I need to start more locally, more specifically, build coalitions, build momentum, and use those things I’ve learned in the last three years in ways I had never understood or anticipated. I hope that I keep my motivation to do so over time.


What do I plan to do with this website?

I have thought for some time about whether to maintain this site, an exercise from an era that pre-dated social media and all the services that emerged in the past decade to cater for the desire to share thoughts. Indeed, I spend at least an hour a day on Twitter, largely sharing thoughts piecemeal, so what purpose of this site?

In the end, I came to the conclusion that the site is part of my identity; part of the record of my history, a record of my thoughts that I had been willing to share publicly, and there’s value in that. I consider how we learn the history of centuries past from the diaries and letters of individuals, and I hope in some small way my reflections here contribute to the future – or indeed the present.

So my plans for this site is to return to it as a focus for me to write reflections, thoughts, opinions, and sharing things of interest that I suggest have some more permanence than the little iterations of thoughts on social media from me.

I plan to write up reflections of the past three and a half years of learning; I plan to share more developed ideas and opinions that I think merit sharing; I plan to build my writing skills through sheer volume, and hopefully restore some sense of purpose to this space in pushing the boundaries of what is around me, my family, my community.

For those of you who have read this site for many years and have stuck around, I thank you for your time & attention in following my ramblings. Whilst I write for myself, it is through the comments and feedback and the words of others that I get that I learn more about things than I can ever hope to do so on my own.

Categories
the daily column

On Problem Solving

I caught myself today acting a bit strange. [Ed: you finally noticed?]

Ok ok I mean stranger than usual. [Ed: how could you tell?]

Conversations with imaginary editors [Ed: oi] aside, I found myself sitting in my car, having returned from a busy day at work, playing a game I found yesterday called Really Bad Chess. It’s an interesting little game where, in order to level the playing field for people who kinda know enough to play chess but are – frankly – really bad at it, the playing pieces are mixed up. You still play by the same rules, but instead of having an AI that plays dumb – because a grandmaster-beating AI is easily available in your pocket these days – you get different proportions of pieces to make the game interesting.

It’s a fascinating game, and especially so for me, because I’m… pretty bad at chess. I tend to think far too reactively or tactically, or I recklessly lose patience and try to slam home an advantage that usually quickly evaporates.

So here I was, on my way home, a hundred little things to do, and instead I’m sitting in my car, trying to solve this particular iteration of the game. I’m solving this game dammit before I go home.

And that’s when it hit me: I spent the whole day solving problems at work, and then during my zone-out time on the train home, I chose to spend my time solving a problem – a virtual one, entirely of my own making and inconsequential as I chose to make it – because I’m addicted to the hit of solving an intellectual problem.

It’s not just this particular game – I’ve done it with games like Threes or Alto’s Oddessey recently. These are defined problem spaces where I can largely figure out the rules and get to the solution in a reasonable amount of time, and it fascinates me and holds my attention way longer than you’d expect.

I wonder if there’s more productive ways to spend my time than getting dopamine hits from solving games. Anyone else experience the same?

Categories
the daily column

Sonder through public meditation

If you’ve not experienced sonder 1 before, or not done so in a while, here’s a neat public meditation exercise that you can do that’ll open up new worlds:

Pick any person sitting, or standing, across from you. Someone you can stare at without seeming creepy. Focus on that person and get a good feel for their energy and who they are.

Shift to a soft focus on that person and picture them in their happiest moments — Hugging a friend, picking up their kids from school, reuniting with someone they love, celebrating after some good news.

Now, picture them in their saddest moments and imagine what they would look like when feeling low. Feel their sadness and despair with them.

Channel your most loving energy, and thoughts, and put it on that person. Make them feel the love and happiness you’re projecting onto them. Imagine their remaining life feeling fulfilled, whole, and finding peace within themselves.

Ok maybe the “make them feel the love and happiness you’re projecting” bit might go over the creepy-random-stranger line. But y’know, boundaries. (via)


  1. “The profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own, which they are constantly living despite one’s personal lack of awareness of it.” (wiktionary)
Categories
conversations with myself

Ceteris Paribus

Change one thing at a time, and hold all others equal – ceteris paribus.

It’s a core of science – to do an experiment, you look at cause and effect by making a cause happen and observing for effect.

Except, just about anything that happens in the real world is not easily explained by a single cause, and so we work backwards from effect to try to puzzle out the causes, because that’s the way that gives you the most truth – the effect is observable and known, but the cause isn’t always clear, not until you repeat and retry and figure out how many strings you need to be tugging on at any one time to get the puppet to dance.

So why do we still believe in the idea of Ceteris Paribus? Why is it useful? Is it because our monkey brains are yet to evolve to the point where we can keep track of explanations that need more parameters, and we figure from there that it’s the best way to do it?

I think I’m asking why humans can’t do multiple regression in our head, except there’s times when we do, we just can’t explicitly explain the steps along the way. Maybe that’s why the people who do best at this stuff get paid the proverbial big bucks to be data scientists, when 10 years ago those people were doing the finance thing, and 10 years before that the internet thing, and 10 years before that the greed-is-good finance thing, and 10 years before that the moonshot thing.

Getting to the moon certainly wasn’t ceteris paribus, in the end. Maybe that’s the lesson to take from all of this – that as much as the idea is useful, reality is more complicated.

p.s. how is it that we’re some 1700 or so years down the line from the peak of the Roman Empire and their language is still the best most succinct way to explain something? Will we see 1700 years hence some quote of the milkshake duck meme will still be the best way to point to a person and go “this dude is problematic”? That’d be mind-blowing.

Categories
the daily column

Jury Duty: As It Happened

Back in April this year, I got a letter in the mail from the Office of the Sheriff for NSW. For a minute there I thought this had to be a fake, but who fakes a letter in the year 2017? For that matter in the year 2017, how do we have a sheriff? Isn’t that one of those anachronisms that disappeared somewhere in the 19th century? But no, here was a real letter…

Opening it up, I discovered I’d been put on the shortlist for jury duty this year.

Ah.

I’m reasonably civic minded, and jury duty has certainly been something I’d previously been keen to see how it worked. Seeing the inner workings of the justice system was always something of interest, and I’d have been happy to do so under any ordinary circumstances… but the 12 month period to come was looking like a busy one, and I’m not sure I would be able to juggle everything. At that point it was just a notification, so it would be fine.

Three days later I got another letter, informing me I had been selected, and would be required at the Supreme Court shortly. So much for that theory.

It just happened to be that the summons date was when I was going to be out of town on a mini-holiday – and I’d only booked it literally the day that I had received the summons, so I went online and applied to be excused on that basis with some mixed feelings. I thought maybe that was that for the year, that I’d be put back in the process and who knew if I would get chosen again.

Of course, just when you most don’t want it, the universe conspires against you. It’s like getting randomly selected at the airport, the days when you just most don’t need the delay are the days that you get chosen and look most uncomfortable.

So come July, I received another notice. And… it happened to clash with a day that I was going to be out of the state again (thank you NSW for the August bank holiday), and I was once more excused prior to the day.

You know what’s coming next right?

Categories
pushing the sky

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

Categories
the daily column

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.)

Categories
the daily column

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.