Friday, May 31, 2013

Dancing on workplace graves isn't journalism. It's revolting.

So. Workplace safety.

First, the headline-chasing. I am a click-whore with the best of them, but I draw the line at advertisers paying to have people click on a death if it's not directly relevant to what I write about. A road accident that happened to involve a kid working for an NBN contractor?

Even with the proud red-top tabloidism of The Register as my masthead-of-employment, I won't give the world the headline “NBN-related death”. Not ever.

In trying to explain my position on Twitter, I called on my father's record, which was “nobody died on my sites”.

He was a civil engineer. Because he was a WW2 veteran (Australian Navy, seconded to the Royal Navy), he was also a good imitation of insane much of the time, until he got Alzheimer's Diseas, and then he no longer imitated it because he was.

From the 1950s to the early 1970s, his specialty was as a construction engineer, managing projects from Mount Isa's first power station to (at his peak) the last half of the construction of Australia Square. Then he spent some time on shopping centres (Bankstown Square, Carlingford Square and Penrith Plaza) before home construction for Petit & Sevitt, and retiring from the construction industry because his friends kept dying young from the pressure.

In that career, his proudest boast was that people didn't die working for him. That is: from power stations to skyscrapers to project homes, nobody died on his sites.

I guess it came from WW2, when people died all the time, always too many, all of them people. His ship, the HMS Quiberon, once entered Sydney Harbour with a gaping hole in its bows from a Japanese kamikaze that almost hit, and he always wondered about the pilot. He even felt bad about chasing an ASDIC (the predecessor to Sonar, Anti-Submarine Detection, Interdiction and Combat) signal around the Pacific Ocean for two days so his ship could depth-bomb a whale.

He didn't like deaths, and was fanatical about protecting workers on his sites.

That wasn't always popular. The then-“union boss” and now revered instigator of green-bans, Jack Mundy, once threatened to pull a strike because Dad sacked labourers for refusing to wear hard-hats on site. What changed Mundy's mind was Dad's site record: “nobody has ever died when I was in charge. Pull a strike. I'd rather that than a dead worker.” Mundy, apparently, changed his mind.

And that record remained in place. On one site, Oxford Square, the most serious injury was to Dad: a swinging joist in a crane struck him on his (hard-hat protected) head. His head was fine, but he was on a ladder, so the impact broke his ankle. He also broke a rib, once, but that was his own work: he decided to sit on the edge of a desk to take a phone call, and missed.

In case all this sounds a bit rose-coloured: we never got on, Dad and I.

When I was little, he wasn't there. When I was a teen, we were fighting – my disappointing performance at any kind of sport probably didn't help. And in my twenties, his brain was growing the holes of Alzheimer's disease, and he was fading.

At best, there were a couple of weeks in my whole life when Dad and I actually liked each other. But I can see his big accomplishment – “nobody died” – for what it is, something to be proud of.

And I have two direct pieces of evidence for his record, that I can put my hands on: marble coffee tables, one in my home, the other in my brother's. They were gifts from a loud Italian contractor, delivered in person to our suburban home in West Pennant Hills when I was a child, “because you take care of my people!”

From my point of view, media dancing on a workplace grave for a political point is absolutely loathsome. I detest every workplace death, and will not exploit it for clicks – and I'm probably the greatest click-whore in the Australian tech press.

A line has to be drawn somewhere.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Twitter-rant I'd like to preserve

Like Sarah Stokely, I'm sick of the emergence of the “cult of hard”. 

"HTFU" is yet another piece of plastic solidarity, invented only so that the arsehats at the top of corporations can justify their “we own you so do as we say!” Invented to ruin lives, steal weekends, cancel holidays, eliminate sick leave – and adopted out in the community by suckers, racists, toad-eaters, pole-climbers, place-seekers and all that drops from the arse of the corporate world onto the anchor-fluke of the ship of commerce.

“Harden the fuck up” leads to nets under Foxconn dormitory flats to catch the jumpers, to trolls that don't think “ape” is a racist insult to an Aborigine footballer, to miserable lives of desperation no longer quiet, to silent misery after yet-another-buggering by a priest.

In my father, enough “hard” to serve in WW2 meant a man who was never completely sane until his death from Alzheimer's Disease in 1989.

To hell with hard. And here's my Twitter-stream because I'm proud I found the words. With thanks to @stokely who started it.

@stokely The world doesn't need more hard. It needs more soft. I'm as hard as a lemonade sandwich. "Strong" != "Hard".

All that follows is me as @r_chirgwin. I have suspension points where thoughts spanned more than one Tweet.

In general, "HTFU" and variations on the theme are just evangelising passive conformity. Takes a lot more "hard" to speak than not.

Someone says "this is rotten", and a whole heap of vested interests say "harden up"...

…(And a chorus of eunuchs chimes in aligned with their meal tickets). Who's strong? The vested interest, or the ordinary person saying "no"?

I'd rather admire the "soft person" who trembled at the knees and spoke up, than the conformist saying "harden up" or any of its variants.

"Strong" is a virtue. "Hard" is not. Ask my wife: I'm soft. But you won't get a hammer through my skin...

…and in the face of hell and death and illness and all the rest, we're 26 years together and still hold each other every night.

The "harden up" crew in the world look a lot less potent if you imagine them in tunics with pom-poms...

…the cheerleaders of a toxic culture introduced to the world by people like Al Dunlap. It's not something to aspire to. It's to despise.

If you love your loves and love your happiness, love your ability to be moved to tears or appreciate beauty, NEVER "harden the fuck up".

People who say "yes" in fear of the horror of being disdained by the boss aren't "hard". They're followers hoping the arrows don't hit them.

And the jewels you win by being "hard as concrete" won't be more than glass when live turns to shit and desperation.

The only things worth holding are love and laughter, and those things you do because they strike at your heart. The rest is chaff.


I ended the Twitter-rant because dinner was served. It was a home-made chicken pie, cooked by Ms T, with leek and mushroom in a cream sauce. Served with chat potatoes in butter and parsley. OK, she ran with frozen peas as well!

She is seriously ill and on chemotherapy for an immune system disorder, and her chronic pain is good enough for synthetic opiods. And she and I live on the knife-edge of expertise: what's enough chemo to keep her immune system down, but not so much that it causes cancer (she had two tumours removed last year)?

“Cooking for you guys [me and our sons] is the last thing I'll let go,” she said tonight.

I'll take your HTFU and raise it “love through the pain”. Even with a pair of twos in my hand, I'll win.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Yet more MSM NBN politicking

It's been a while since I had a chance to unpick egregious NBN commentary – not that the stories have gotten any better, but because I've been extremely busy!

But this piece at Fairfax is too much for me to let pass:

Let's just pick off some hit points.

“The government's plan to roll out high-speed fibre-optic telephone cable to the home is now estimated by most experts to cost $90 billion to $110 billion, compared with the government's latest guesstimate of $45 billion.”

Fibre-optic telephone cable? That should set the tone.

And “most experts” don't estimate $90 to $110 billion – that, dear friends, is the Coalition's number. I don't know why the columnist, Kenneth Davidson, decided not to source the number correctly.

The government's $45 billion is the whole network, not just the fibre network – it includes the satellite services and fixed wireless services to the last 7% of the population. NBN Co's calculation for the fibre is currently in the order of $37 billion.

There are about 11 million fixed lines in Australia. Fibre has a life of about 25 years. In order to fund the capital cost and depreciation of the network, every fixed-line user would have to pay $9400 a year to the NBN, based on a return of 10 per cent a year.”

Fibre has a life of 25 years”? Oh dear. Mr Davidson has mistaken the depreciation life of the fibre for its operational life. The depreciation life – which gets revised upwards from time to time – is a mere financial fiction. The operational life of the cable could easily reach 60 years; as I've reported before, Corning has tested fibres which, after twenty years of exposure to mud, flood, heat and snow, showed no observable deterioration.

By 2020, the US will probably have developed low earth orbiting satellites capable of picking up and sending wireless signals at a fraction of the cost of the Gillard government's scheme.”

Wow: let's party like it's 1998, when I was being instructed by boosters to get excited about Iridium, the planned constellation of low-Earth-orbit satellites that would usher in a new world of communications, etcetera.

Iridium got launched – but not until after a bankruptcy, for a host of different reasons, and a subsequent restructure that meant some of the planned constellation was abandoned. As it happens, the late 1990s saw this happen more than once, with Teledesic, Orbcomm, ICO Global and Globalstar all suffering a similar fate.

Some of the constellations are there – but you might notice that we're not all using satellite communications in preference to our land-based services.

I would add that I'd just as soon have my services delivered by an Australian company, and pretend futilely that at least some of my communications aren't subject to the Patriot Act.

When so many errors are fashioned into a stick to beat the government, it's hard to believe that the opinion was nothing more than politicking. The problem is, few readers are in a position to pick up the errors.

Mr Davidson Responds 

Update: I'm told Mr Davidson has responded to criticisms, and his response is posted here at Dropbox.

Note that I can't vouch for the veracity of the response. If it's a hoax, I have no way of knowing.

So here's the nub of Mr Davidson's case:
The major difference is between my statement that the capital cost of ftth will be in the order of $90 billion (the Turnbull estimate) rather than the $46 billion (the official NBN estimate) 

The difference is explained by the fact that my NBN critics claim that the ‘least average cost’ of the underground tail connection from the NBN pit to the customer is $4,000 dollars. The highest average cost is $12,000. Based on 11 million connections the total cost of the tail connections ranges from $44 billion to $132 Billion dollars
I don't exactly know where Mr Davidson sources his data but I suspect it's a mangling of data presented on page 207 of the NBN Implementation study. Yes, the peak price does reach between $11,000 and $12,000 per premises.

The $11,000-$12,000 cost per premises is not the cost across the whole rollout – that's the bit of the graph that's been misunderstood here. The graph says that for the easy premises, in metro, near the exchange and so on, the connection cost is low, whereas for someone in a low density area, at the edge of the network, in a country town, the cost is high.

It's quite clearly described in the Implementation Study as a “marginal cost curve”. The $12,000 cost of connecting Joe Bloggs in Dubbo does not result in a $12,000 cost of connecting Jenny Basketweaver in Balmain.