Thursday, September 12, 2013

Valuing women for character. And love

I can't argue with this blog post about women and society, I can only regret that it rings true:

My answer, from experience and a man's perspective: the “when” is easy: When we grow up.

The growing up, for men, is the hard bit and I don't know where the answer lies. I live and work as a tech reporter, in an industry that will still think an app to look at tits is worth applause, or that thinks swimsuit models for the launch of aphone – a phone for pity's sake – is worth column inches regardless of the qualities of the product.

These are men who haven't grown up.

I can't name the women in my life without their permission, but I can tell their character.

The curmudgeon: she terrified me 20 years ago and still does. She also follows my life closely, either by quizzing me when she sees me, or quizzing my friends when she doesn't. When I was her employer, she roundly abused me for what she saw as mistreating another female employee over what was actually a simple argument. She is a survivor of the Sydney Push of the 1960s, and never forgets a friend. Including me, and I'm honoured.

The first wife: Our marriage was long ago and a mistake, and we got over it. We've now been friends for far longer than we were both engaged and married. She has nursed me through terrors when I thought my second wife was dying.

A terror: The first time I heard from this woman, prominent and respected in public relations, she was defending one of her staff against my once-famous bad temper. She abused me roundly on the phone, and we remain friends 20 years later.

A victim: The woman that got me in trouble with “the Terror” quickly became a friend. She was the first person to put my sons on horses. I once gave her a home-made marmalade that made her husband overdose with a spoon.

A hippie: I can't think of this one without a lump in the throat, only because she's also been the willing hostess of my whole family, generous beyond belief, loving and always ready to reconnect over gaps of years.

The casual friend: a woman who stayed with Ms T and our sons when they were toddlers and I was overseas. She gave my son the only teddy bear he ever got attached to, and faded from our lives when live took us apart.

The mate: God, when I met you, you were one of the most beautiful women I'd ever seen. We somehow managed to skip an affair and form a friendship. If you read this, you know who you are, and I treasure the way you always call me “darling” or “sweetie” and ask about my life.

The insane: whose friendship can be dangerous, because she's not entirely sane, but she's also devoted and generous and will forget her own troubles at the merest hint that mine might be worse right now.

My second-best friend: Yet another woman. Once merely a staffer in my care and subject to my whims. Only “second-best” because Ms T, my wife, is my best friend. My second-best friend holds my heart in her hands anytime Ms T can't do so. From another country, she reassures me that my best will be enough that we'll all survive. And she loves all of my family nearly as well as I do.

And others: because it's so easy to form friendships with women. To go from a casual acquaintance to friend can be a matter of nothing more than a “true bloke” deciding it's more important to tell someone how you feel, because they've just run into a bit of life they weren't expecting.

And through all of this: Ms T. Partner of my soul, mother of my sons, love of my life. My joy and my Shiralee and the best friend I ever earned. The woman who understands, even though most of my best friends are also women: she loves and trusts and opens the doors of our loves to the wider world.

And in all of this list: the common thread is character.

It's not so hard to learn that women have character. All you need to do is grow up. To the kind of man that hasn't yet done so – the target of this post – I'll say this: If you can't see beyond the body, you're missing a constellation of friendship, arms around you, voices on the phone, and love.

Oh, in the interest of full disclosure: sure, I notice perfumes, hairdos, faces, cleavage, figure and legs. Ms T will call the ambulance if that ever ends. Or the undertaker.

But, gentlemen: if you'll stick to a juvenile attitude to woman, you won't have them as friends. The bromancers and hand-slapping wankers can have their swimsuits and tits. I'll have my friends and loves and women and the years in which I grew up, and fuck it, I win.

E-voting: I don't like it, because I'm a democrat

I don't like the outcome of the election, but I do. I don't, because of my politics. I do, because we had a pretty much indisputable result, without guns, hanging chads, or Diebold fraud accusations.

I've been around computers so long my first program was written in Wang Basic, and the first computer I had at home was a Tandy TRS-80, and I don't think that e-voting fills the requirements of democracy. It's an efficient vote counter that steals the process from the citizen.

So what are my requirements for electronic voting?

  1. Anonymous

The system has to be as anonymous as Australia's current electoral system. No “proof of ID” at the polling place, because that opens the door to intimidation. Yes, there is a gateway to fraud, but it's so minor that in 30 years, Australia has never had a seat result overturned in the High Court (which has the Court of Disputed Returns jurisdiction) because of fraud.

  1. Open to scrutineers

The computer system has to be as open to scrutineering as the current system. That is: every party that wishes to argue over the intent of the voter, must have the same opportunity in the future system.

  1. Accurate

The system has to record every voter's intent accurately. If the voter intends to cast an informal vote, it has to be recorded as such without penalty. Which goes back to “anonymity”. If the elector intends to drop a blank ballot in the box, so be it.

  1. Secure

In case you haven't noticed, security is a thing at the moment. Snowden, the NSA and all that? And no, I don't believe freedom-from-spooks was so great even before the Snowden leaks.

  1. Accessible and inclusive

Every single step of the electoral process in Australia can be understood by anyone who can tell the number 1 from the number 2. That's not everyone, but we have a system which, by world standards, is astonishingly inclusive. If you can work shoelaces, recite the alphabet, and you're considered not a danger to the system, you're probably eligible to take part in the process.

It's easy to make systems that are usable by the electors. But in Australia, you don't need “special sauce” to be part of the process.

Right now, if there was an enormous sunspot that destroyed every computer on the planet, Australia's process would survive. The whole thing could be handled manually (albeit slowly), and at the end of it, there would be reasonable confidence in the final result. Because the process is so simple:

  • I enter the polling place, and my name is checked off on a list
  • I vote and stick my ballot in a box that's supervised by AEC officials
  • At the end of the day, they tabulate votes.
  • The disinterested (AEC vote counters) are watched over by the interested (party scrutineers)
  • The count is reported

And after the count is reported, the AEC then re-checks everything (which is how the “Indi error” was found), not on the assumption of fraud, but on the assumption of error.

  • Verifiable

Everyone has to verify that what was supposed to happen, happened.

Other bits of the process

Meanwhile, other officials cross-check the voter lists (with computers but it could be done on paper if necessary) to detect if someone's name was checked off at more than one location.

And there's still other ways to detect fraud – if not a specific instance, a trend suggesting fraud can be discovered with statistics. Psephologists are well-versed in identifying anomalies in trends, saying “we think this booth was gamed”, because they have a long experience in analysing swings, even big ones.

I truly believe in democracy – and it only works if every elector has the opportunity to participate in any given stage of the process.

To take any part of the process, and exclude electors from it, is to turn electors into passive recipients of the offerings of others.

I have a great regard for meritocracies such as the IETF. That body has bestowed on the world an Internet that works.

Think of it like this: democracy is a meritocracy in which “merit” means “functioning citizen”.

Democracy means everyone is included, everywhere. Regrettably, it might even include people we think are idiots because they can't read code or solve a DNS issue without help. It doesn't matter: democracy doesn't just mean “everyone votes”, it means “everyone know how voting works”.

In Australia, voting works. It has imperfections and holes and one of the reasons exploits fail is that the system is sound and trusted.

Geeks – or vendors – have no right to appropriate part of the process to themselves. If you can't give both the ballot paper and the electoral process to those you disdain, you're not a democrat.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Healthcare and fast networks

I've written about this before in a different forum, but that was ages ago and it still holds true.

People thinking that fibre isn't necessary for telehealth don't understand just how many kinds of applications there are, and the truly vast scale of the data that can be produced.

If you live in any reasonable suburb, there's a fair chance that it has a medical imaging joint servicing the local GP. There are more than 200 in greater Sydney, Google tells me – and most of these aren't in the lousy-with-fibre streets near major hospitals. They're in suburban high streets or the upper levels of ordinary shopping centres.

Go and get a CAT scan, look at those images, think how many there are if you've got lots of pictures in the scan, and take a guess at the amount of data there is. Individual images – depending on resolution – might range from 60 MB to multi-GB per image.

Which is why you go back to the joint to collect the images, go home, and then drive to your GP to deliver them.

Which is why, because the private imaging joint I have in mind didn't have a fibre link to Royal Prince Alfred hospital, I once found myself asked by a specialist treating my wife to walk to the place, pick up the DVD, and return it to him as quickly as possible, since they needed the images for a procedure due to start in 20 minutes.

It's sneakernet, sometimes with cars, all because there isn't fibre.

Now, consider this in economic terms – by which I mean stuff like productivity and unnecessary travel.

This report tells us that per 1,000 head of population in 2009-2010, there were 816 imaging procedures. For 22 million of us, that means there are nearly 18 million imaging procedures taking place.

Let's assume that just 25 percent of these happen in the suburban imaging service – 4.5 million. And let's assume a standard model, with all trips being 1km each way at an easy-to-calculate 50c per km:

  1. Trip to GP to get referral for imaging
  2. Trip to imaging centre for imaging
  3. Trip to imaging centre to collect images
  4. Trip to GP to deliver results

If the images can be delivered directly from the centre to the GP, the travel is reduced by 25 percent. Each year, in other words, connections suitable for lots of gigabytes would (in this very simple model) save 9 million kilometres of unnecessary travel.

That's nearly two billion tons of carbon, not to mention the cost of the travel, and there's the productivity cost to be considered. If you include time hanging around in the waiting room, those 4.5 million trips could easily represent a couple of million hours of unproductive time.

Even that's only $50 million a year, if we assess a productive hour as being worth $25. Plus (say) $9 million in travel. But get this: it's $59 million a year, probably rising – and it goes on forever. There won't be a year in the future in which there will suddenly be no medical images created.

And that's just one fibre-medicine opportunity. There are others, and every single one of them delivers real-money benefits.

If you try to imagine “telemedicine” as a single monolithic entity, you're missing the real point. Medicine – in any form – involves a huge number of different interactions, and many of those interactions are some kind of “sneakernet”. It's just that it's not easy to write a single article, or post a single video, that explains all the interactions.

But you don't need to transmit that much data!” isn't an argument, it's a reflex built from a simplistic understanding of the billions of interactions involved in healthcare that get better with better connectivity.