Friday, October 05, 2012

Spare me: Woolworths’ Simon Berger is not a victim of the left, nor of Twitter

Disclaimer: I am, via the self-administered superannuation fund, a Woolworths shareholder.

Even so: here’s the unofficial (for now) News Limited line on his resignation, courtesy (if that’s the right word) (I’m open to alternatives) of News’ Chris Kenny, via Twitter:

“Simon Berger is a good man...and worked hard for Woolies. I'm shopping at Coles #auspol Companies shouldn't be bullied by twitter kids”

For those who need the background, it’s at the end of the post.

“Twitter kids” are irrelevant here: what was at issue, almost immediately, were judgment, credibility, and capacity to continue in a role.

Among other things, Simon Berger’s job description included “government relations”. In the case of Woolworths (as with Coles), “government relations” can be described as “ensuring that the government doesn’t decide to fragment a cozy duopoly that can freely fleece both ends of the supply chain, suppliers and consumers alike”.

As Australian bowler Bill O’Reilly said when asked to “tell the truth” about his relationship with Don Bradman – in a quote later appropriated by, and frequently attributed to, Gough Whitlam: “You don’t piss on statues.”

That’s what Berger did: he pissed on a statue. For a person holding his position, the decision to provide a “chaff bag” as an auction item for a Liberal Party university fundraiser was an atrocious lapse of judgment and taste.

His involvement was witless – and it’s the witlessness, rather than the politics, that probably cost Berger his job at Woolworths. In the kind of blokey “hur, hur” mentality that infects and infests politics in Australia, Simon Berger thought that that pissing on the Prime Minister was a Good Idea.

There are only two reasons for someone holding the job title “government relations”. One is that they’re supremely good at what they do. The other is that they have accumulated a killer phone book.

If a government relations manager does something to ensure that about 80 percent of his phone book won’t answer his calls, he is a liability. By donating the “Woolworths chaff bag”, Simon Berger became that liability.

Not only would the entire Labor side of politics put him on the “do not call” list, anybody on the Liberal/National side who was either (a) horrified by what he did, or (b) terrified of being associated with him – would decline his calls.

Only a tiny handful of L/NP politicians would happily align themselves with the auctioned chaff bag – and Woolworths must know this.

The background, in case you live in a cave: Alan Jones smeared the Prime Minister Julia Gillard with the atrocious claim that her father “died of shame”, in a speech given to a bunch of booze-and-bonk university Liberals. The same skanky fund-raiser was partly supported by the donation of a jacket made out of a “chaff bag”, courtesy Simon Berger. This, in turn, referenced an early insult from the creepy Jones, that the PM should be drowned at sea in a chaff bag. 

Update: @HenryInnis is offended by what I say. I'll put it more simply, for the children: if your job is public relations, Rule One is don't upset your audience. Whatever context the Liberal Students want to try to apply, post-facto, to Simon Berger's auction item - it was bound to upset his audience. That's not a matter of politics. Its a matter of intellect and judgment. As I already said.

A star screaming through space around a black hole

I like science, and write about it for The Register, but there’s not always room for everything that gets my attention. So from time to time, I’m going to throw science stuff here as well.

And this looks like a pretty cool place to start: a star orbiting black hole near the middle of the Milky Way that completes its orbit far quicker than Pluto orbits the Sun.

While Pluto needs nearly 250 years to complete a circuit of the Sun, this star (S0-102) is whipping around the black hole it orbits in just over 11 years.

This is exciting to astronomers, because most stars’ orbits are too slow for us to hope for a complete observation. The solar system takes more than 200 million years to circuit the Milky Way, for example.

By comparison, astronomers will be able to see this star complete two orbits in just 23 years.

So what? you might ask.

While Einstein’s theory of general relativity is very robust, some of its predictions are difficult to test: you need data, and some of that data is hard to come by. For example, it predicts that a star in a black hole’s gravity well will be red-shifted; and that its orbit, pulled out of an elliptical orbit, will over time form the kind of flower-shape you might get out of a Spirograph.

Neither of these predictions, however, can be tested if it takes hundreds of years to gather the data.

That’s why instruments like the Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT (, are on the hunt for stars with high-speed orbits.

Pretty cool, I think!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Independent Australia: pro-NBN works better with accuracy

A period of some hours over at Independent Australia isn't sufficient to get a comment moderated, so my comment is here.

I'm pro-NBN, but I like to defend it with facts. So while it's good to see Independent Australia chiming in on the debate, here, there are some points I'd like to correct.

1. "Turnbull’s go to line that “[NBN Co] has only had about 5,000 connected”. Having studied the business plan, I see nowhere that Turnbull could possibly have gotten this figure from".

It didn't come from the business plan. Mike Quigley used a similar number here.

"In terms of activations, we now have close to 5½ thousand premises connected to the NBN across the country."

This was in February and is presumably obsolete, and anyhow included satellite (which is even worse for the fibre case).

My guess is that a statement like this has become part of Turnbull's armoury - even if it is now out-of-date.

2. "...the bandwidth falloff for VDSL2 Profile 8 (more than likely what will be deployed to keep costs down & deliver service to 1kilometre) not even making it to 80Mbps at the DSLAM (Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer, i.e. Exchange Equipment)."

That probably needs a re-write. The DSLAM is where the bandwidth is delivered from. So it's hard to discern the point that's being made.

3. "...a minimum of two pairs (bonded) are required to run the service, and one pair to run a telephone line." (my emphasis)

The phone line runs on one of the pairs, just as it can with ADSL: the lowest frequencies are reserved for voice (described as USO services in the standards documents). The broadband signal starts above 100 kHz.

4. "The requirements for lead-ins is that two pairs be installed to the first socket in the premises, the Telstra/Optus networks are both designed with this in mind, leaving little room for two pairs to be taken up by a VDSL2 service."

Optus doesn't run a twisted pair copper network. Its broadband services are delivered over HFC, or over Telstra copper - as are its fixed line voice services.

5. "there would have to be, at the least, a new copper pair for every premises connected to the network."

That depends. Many houses have two pairs installed, not because they were needed: merely because years ago, that's what Telstra did, just in case one failed. What we don't know - among the many things we don't know about the copper network - is how many houses have two usable pairs installed.

So what's the point to me correcting this?

The NBN is a political debate - which means that technical errors get exploited to make a political point. It's not a good idea to put weapons in the hands of your opponent.

NSW government: killing patients with cuts

Those who know me - either in real life or on the Internet - will probably know that my wife has a chronic illness that keeps us intimately familiar with the inside of hospitals.

Describing things in full would take an essay, but the short version is that she suffers from an immune system disorder that has knock-on effects pretty much everywhere: at the last count, she's a regular with six specialists (immunology, gastro-enterology, vascular, renal, gynocology, dermatology).

It is, therefore, a little distressing to read in the Sydney Morning Herald that the austerity fanatics in the NSW want to add hospital outpatient clinics to the list of things they want to cut.

This is one of those moments where the story isn't in "the story", it's in the sidebar to this story, and the sidebar is only in print, not online. Here's what it says:

Some outpatient clinics to be cut, forcing patients to see specialist doctors in private rooms at a cost of about $300 a visit. - Sydney Morning Herald, News Review, Page 3, September 29-30, 2012

A point about the story itself: if the Herald thinks a private specialist visit only costs $300, it's completely deluded; first, because the private specialist doesn't have to constrain charges to the officially scheduled price; second, because those visits often include pathology. Shifting the path from the hospital to the private clinic means that service is also private.

I guess we'll manage somehow. We'll have to. But how many people are going to die because they can't afford the gap between their insurance and the specialist?

The shift is, however, in line with Liberal party philosophy: replacing the public system with the private is an ideological idee fixee for the party. If that kills people, so be it.