Saturday, August 11, 2012

The fat and comfortable gang up on an idealistic youngster

I was old and cynical by the time I became a journalist.

Not so old, I guess: I was in my late 20s. Not so cynical, either. But I had previously worked in the security industry and rock & roll. I would have been hard to shock*, even in a place like the Herald-Sun newsroom that shocked a young intern so much she wrote about it.

The piece isn't all that good - yet every glass jaw in the country feels itself personally assaulted by an impersonal and originally anonymous rant. Fools formed a queue to try the shoe on, just in case it fitted and they could take a swipe in return.

I find myself more in sympathy with Sasha Burden and all her faults – in spite of her over-sensitivity,  inexperienced writing, and the rest – than to align with a collection of fogies old and young explaining why she’s wrong.

So far, criticisms of her boil down to the following:
“That’s just how things are, put up with it”
“Keep it in the family”
“She should have done X”
“Get inside the system before you change it”
"When I were a lad..."

…and so on.  Strip away the indignation and self-justification, and everybody is giving Ms Burden a paraphrase of "don't rock the boat".

Why the hell not? 

If Ms Burden’s approach is wrong, and you know the right way to change the world, then how come, in 2012, the world remains unchanged?

As for the the “harden up” argument – “it’s what I put up with when I was 20”. In other words, journalists who are now fat and forty don’t want their consciences priced for their own (natural) cowardice when they were twenty.

If the Herald-Sun had the balls it professes, it would recognize a troublemaking ratbag who has the basics of a writer. The proper rejoinder to Ms Harden is a job offer. “You know better? Here’s the rope. You can climb it or hang by it.”

(*Actually, the most shocking workplace I ever entered was the old international telephone exchange at Paddington, in an era where international operators still existed. Their habitual conversation taught me things about blue language - and human anatomy - that made each day an agony of blushing.)

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Blowout? What blowout?

Here’s a forecast: there will be more delays in the NBN project – not because the project is impossible, nor due to the incompetence of anyone, but because it’s a very large project, and construction delays are almost inevitable.

Not that this will help Mike Quigley or Senator Conroy in any way: as with the budget, timing is now considered nailed down by a press whose project management skills don’t have to go far beyond the next deadline.

As for the relentless use of the word “blowout” – spotted in the wild at Fairfax, News Limited, the ABC and even TheConversation – what a bunch of dills. The new figures from NBN Co diverge by just 3.9% from the company’s forecasts: in the world of accounting, this would be considered a high accuracy forecast.

In looking at the NBN corporate plan, please keep in mind that there’s a difference between “premises” and “households”. The NBN will pass 12.7 million premises – according to the forecasts in the corporate plan – but that’s not 12.7 million households.

Let’s take a guess that there’ll be 11 million households by the end of the build (there’s about 7.7 million now). The rest of the premises passed are not households – they’re businesses, schools, hospitals, and so on.

This might seem like pointless pedantry, except for this: if some enterprising analyst sits down to try and run their own projection of the NBN’s income based on 12.7 million households, their numbers will be out by around 15 percent. That kind of puts the 3.9 percent everyone’s worried about in the shade.

(Actually, the error will be bigger than that, since the 1.7 million premises getting miscalled households would actually be the kind of premises that spends more than a household. But I’m not about to try and put estimates to that!)

Monday, August 06, 2012

Mars shot successful, while Google classifies kooks as “science”

Here’s an image to mull upon.

That’s the Google News Australia home-page “science” category at the moment. At the time, about 6pm AEST – several hours after the Mars Curiosity touched down (wow. Just wow.) – Google hadn’t got around to promoting that above the Olympics in Australia.

(A few minutes after Curiosity out-ranked the Olympics, it fell again. Either we’re depressing, or Google News is.)

Oddly, over on “Classic” view, it isn’t just the presentation that changes – so do the stories.

Yes, I realize that there’s a top-of-page section about Curiosity* - but why the hell is a group of acpoaclyptians (it’s a word now, OK?) classified as “Science” in the first place? (*Spelling – because Curiosity is an American venture)

There is absolutely, utterly, one-hundred-percent of number-twenty-seven nothing about that story that qualifies it as Science, except for the arcane mysteries of the Google ranking algorithm.

Oh well. We’re luckier than Americans, who right now aren’t being offered a Science category at all. What a depressing thought.

(By the way: it’s not some quirk of my Google News personalization. I haven’t yet bothered to personalize: no particular reason, I'm just lazy.)

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Today’s marmalade

Except for setting, which drives me nuts, marmalades are easy. So while I wait for the marmalade to set, here’s the receipe.

It’s based on the St Benoit’s Three-Day Marmalade recipe from Jane Grigson with some wrinkles. First, I’m not strict about the timing. Second, I usually mix the citrus up. Third, my wife usually adds some subtle spices. Here’s what’s happening today:

Six small tangellos
Four Seville oranges
Star anise

1.     Slice the fruit (thinly!), put in a boiler, and cover with water. Bring to boil and keep it simmering for about 40 minutes.
2.     Leave 24 hours, add a few star anise seeds, and simmer for another 40 minutes.
3.     Add sugar – roughly 1:1 with the weight of the fruit and water. Bring to the boil and keep it boiling until it reaches setting point.
4.     Bottle in clean, sterilized jars.

If, as often happens to me, you have to delay bottling, just heat the mix each day so it doesn't spoil.

I don’t really know how long it will keep. I’ve got jars that are more than a year old and are still fine when I open them.

The next marmalade will feature blood oranges and kumquats. Stay tuned…

Fixed line decline: real but over-stated

This post arises because of a Twitter conversation, in which people were speculating about whether political polls have become skewed because of the decline in the landline. If the pollster can’t call you, you’re left out of the sample, and there’s so many no-landline homes now it must destroy the accuracy of the poll, right?

Wrong, I suspect.

Because it’s a Sunday morning, and because nobody’s paying for this, I don’t propose even trying to start crunching the numbers. But I believe that the “landline decline” is frequently overstated. So here are some thoughts on the factors that are left out of the story.

Telstra’s PSTN decline

There has been a fairly dramatic loss of basic PSTN services revealed in a decade’s worth of Telstra annual reports – but that’s not a reliable guide to the number of “no home phone” households. Most of the services disconnected since 2002 represent the consolidation of multiple lines down to a single service. The drivers for this are outlined below.

Broadband – once ADSL became widely available, nobody needed a second line for dial-up Internet any more. That drove a five-year drift in the number of services, starting about 2001-2002.

Faxes – there are still more fax machines out there than the people think, but they have been declining steadily for a decade. A business that disconnects a dedicated fax line contributes to the loss of basic PSTN services.

Business IP telephony – SMEs routinely bought multiple incoming phone lines (I suppose many still do). However, each time a business buys a data service connecting to its IP telephony server, it eliminates an unknown number of individual PSTN services.

Naked DSL – if someone abandons their Telstra landline service and buys a naked ADSL and home phone combo from iiNet, TPG or whoever, they fall out of the Telstra data. However: they might still have a phone number visible to the PSTN.

Cable telephone services – Consumers who connect a PSTN phone to their (say) Optus HFC service don’t count as using a basic telephone service, so there’s a few hundred thousand services that are often forgotten by analysts prepping numbers for the media.

The Naked DSL and HFC services exemplify another difficulty: if you have no Telstra fixed line service, but you do have a PSTN-visible phone number, how should you be counted?

With all of these factors coinciding, it’s quite feasible that Telstra could shed a couple of million basic PSTN services without a single household opting to abandon the fixed phone completely.

The all-mobile individual

Most surveys I have seen identify all-mobile individuals – and there’s a fundamental problem with using this to estimate the number of households without a PSTN service: the individual isn’t the household.

It’s quite feasible for someone to say “I don’t use a fixed line” while still living in a home that has a fixed line – because they’re not the person paying the bill. This is especially true in a world in which young adults no longer leave home at the first opportunity.

The reason I can’t be bothered properly crunching the numbers on a Sunday morning should now be clear: anyone who wants to work this out properly needs a week or a month.