Every Post Needs A Title


The Princess Who Never Smiled by Viktor Vasnetsov

The Princess Who Never Smiled by Viktor Vasnetsov (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Drag, drag, drag.

I don’t know why I bother to get out of bed. I don’t want to do this anymore. Can I please get off?

I have three days of long weekend and nothing happening. Nothing will happen tomorrow, nothing will happen the day after that. On the holiday Monday nothing will happen.

There are two possibilities for tomorrow. It will either be pain or boredom. The day after that there are two possibilities, pain or boredom. As far back as I can remember every day has been either pain or boredom. As far into the future that I look I see only pain or boredom.

I’ve decided to stop taking the anti-depressants. They don’t fix anything and I hate the side effects and dietary restrictions.

(I find it amusing that they call them side effects – with modern anti-depressants the side effects are actually more reliable than any effect they have on depression. Ninety-six percent of all people who start taking antidepressants experience a change in their sexual function and the best they hope for is around 20% of people taking an SSRI will gain a benefit.)

Can I die?

Will somebody please kill me?

If I curl up in this corner and sob quietly will I still get paid? Can I pay my rent if all I ever do is cry?

I like the idea of getting on a plane to the US, going to a gun show in one of those gun-toting redneck states to get a nice large pistol and taking a hike out into the woods.

Would riding my scooter under a truck hurt? It looks easy. Seventy kilometres an hour down the Gore Hill Freeway – just one little twitch and I’m under a truck.

Do I have to play this game? Can’t I lose gracefully?

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Education – Failing From The First


The Tasmanian coat of arms features thylacines...

The Tasmanian coat of arms features thylacines as supporters. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Education is a serious topic. When we talk about schools we are talking about the most precious part of our lives, our children.

Previously in my post ‘Edumacation – Broken As Designed’ I argued that “we have an education system that is measured according to a limited set of outcomes and the outcomes we drive for are no longer relevant to the society we want to be.”

While that may be true there are some measures that are still as valid in the twenty first century as they were in the nineteenth when we first started public education.

The most basic of these would be literacy and numeracy. This is why I was so appalled by a Radio National story ‘A literacy deficit’ that informs us that in Tasmania half of all people between 15 and 74 are functionally illiterate, and more than half are functionally innumerate—meaning they don’t have the skills needed to get by in the modern world, like filling out forms, or reading the instructions on their prescription.

The story also identifies this as an intergenerational problem further fuelled by low expectations.

As a result Tasmania has the highest unemployment rates in the country and more than a third live on welfare.

Now we here in Sydney might think to make jokes about Tasmania and Tasmanians at this point but we should be careful what jokes we make as Tasmania is merely suffering writ large the same problems that infest pockets of intergenerational socio-economic disadvantage in areas across the country.

As a side note I should point out to all those that think that the “Gonski” funding reforms will solve our problems that Tasmania already spends more per student than any other State, mainly due to the high proportion of small rural schools.

Some of the problems in Tasmania’s education system are structural. High schools only run until Year 10 and further education is available only at city “colleges” so for a lot of Tasmanian’s “finishing high school” means only Year 10.

I also noticed that the graph ‘Percent of students not meeting the national minimum standard’ that is taken from the 2013 preliminary NAPLAN results overstates the current problem in Primary schools in Tasmania. If you grab the report from this page you will see that Tasmania perform better than other States in some areas and even when they are the worst performing State (the Northern Territory stands alone as a total, signal failure though if you adjust for the high absentee rate it is not too far from the States.) This may reflect a minimum standard that is too low, however.

If we can’t teach our children to be functionally literate and numerate we are failing from the first. If we can’t do that how do we expect to teach them anything else?

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So Much Unfair


Medicare in Australia's brand.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “Tell us about something you think is terribly unfair — and explain how you would rectify it.”

We live in a society that might be described as democratic capitalism (though if I am feeling argumentative I would disagree that we are truly either) and there is a great deal about the way we build that society that is “unfair”.

If you talk to the upper-middle class and rich in Australia they say it’s “unfair” that they have to pay taxes while people “bludge on the dole” and that people on the bottom “just don’t know how to work.”

Today I’d like to talk about unfairness at the other end. I’d like to talk about some benefits that the top get that don’t get down to the bottom. There are far too many to cover them all (how about public finding of private schools)

In Australia we have a publicly funded health care system called “Medicare”. This is funded through a levy. If you earn more than a little over $20,000 you pay the levy. If you don’t have private health insurance that covers at least hospital stays you pay an extra levy.

At the other end if you earn less than $130,000 then you will get a percentage of all of your private health insurance cost paid back to you.

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Break Those Chains


chains

The first image on the Google Image Search

Today’s Daily Prompt: “Grab the nearest book. Open it and go to the tenth word. Do a Google Image Search of the word. Write about what the image brings to mind.”

So I grabbed ‘A Feast For Crows’ the fourth novel in ‘A Game of Thrones’ series by George R.R. Martin and the tenth word on the page was ‘break’.

A multitude of meanings for that word and the image search echoes that. The first image is a chain breaking, the second a Reese’s Fast Break chocolate bar, a “coffee break” sign, a cartoon of a broken heart, a cartoon of a young man signalling “time out” and then a break dancer. Interesting that you have to get all the way past the fortieth image before you get an image of a broken object. Before that all the images of “break” are positive.

It should come as no surprise that, by comparison, the images for “broken” are almost entirely negative. They are dominated by the “broken heart” meme but other negative images are there such as death (the 13th image is a man in a noose) and broken dreams and broken people.

When we think of “break” we tend to think of a vacation or gap in our schedule. I think one of the good things about the human condition is that we seem to be such eternal optimists, always seeing the positive. It would be entirely possible when hearing “break” to think of “break a bone”, “break a heart”, “break a relationship”, “break a friendship”. You could even think “break a mind”, as happened to me.

One of the things about most people suffering from major depression is that the optimism is one then things broken. Depressed people tend to see the negative.

So when I heard the word “break” what did I think of. Well it must be an incredibly positive word because I thought of coffee break. Of course it is entirely possible that this can be explained by my coffee addiction rather than the word “break”.

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Rubbish Retail


dick smith

dick smith (Photo credit: sensesmaybenumbed)

All you people who complain that it’s the GST and the Aussie dollar that makes us all buy online, I’ve got a story for you.

I broke my Kindle. I tripped on the back step and, as well as collecting some bruises, I slammed the Kindle on the floor and got coffee all over it. I thought it was going to be OK, but two days later it refused to charge.

Wednesday morning I gave up and went looking to buy a new one. Unfortunately Amazon only sells through a small number of retailers locally and none of them offer overnight delivery.

Dick Smith does carry Kindles, but my favourite Dick Smith store was out of stock. The young man on the phone suggested I try “Click and Collect” — where I buy on the web site and it tells me which stores I can pick up from. (That might be why it’s my favourite Dick Smith: good staff there.)

“Click and Collect” told me that a nearby store had them, so I paid my money and set off to the shopping centre for my morning errands and shopping.

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Secular Education


Private School

Private School (Photo credit: mikecogh)

One of the myths of Australia is that we have a secular political system. Nowhere is this myth more obviously false than in our funding of education.

As well as the secular public education system we have a large number of “private” schools with a religious nature that receive generous public support. The Catholic school system, run by the Catholic Education Office, is so generously funded that it charges little in the way of fees and may as well be a public school system. Other so-called “private” schools may charge fees but still continue to receive a great deal of public support. At the same time the fees charged are tax deductible so still further money is taken from the public purse. The vast majority of these schools are Christian of some denomination or other with a small number of Jewish and Muslim schools adding to the high percentage of religious schools.

Australia is one of the few countries in the world where private schools receive public money and spends the greatest percentage of its education funds on these schools and it isn’t going to improve any time soon. One of the rules given to the Gonski committee when they were looking at school funding was that no school could be worse off under the scheme, and make no mistake this was meant to insulate the major private schools from inevitable funding cuts.

Given that they compromise such a large drain on the public purse you might think that these schools would be prepared to obey the same laws as the rest of our society, including the public schools.

There you would be wrong. Private, religious schools are exempt from a number of laws but most importantly discrimination legislation.

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Person of The Year


Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai

Today’s Daily Prompt: “You’re asked to nominate someone for TIME’s Person of the Year. Who would it be, and why?:”

An excellent question. If we are talking about 2012 then several people immediately spring to mind but first I’d like to think about the idea of “TIME’s Person of The Year” (TPoTY).

TIME have long held that TPoTY is not an award as such, it is given to the person (and sometimes a group of people or a thing) who “for better or for worse, …has done the most to influence the events of the year.” Note that in 1939 they chose Adolf Hitler despite the blitzkreig across Europe and the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. More often though it has been awarded to someone admirable in the yea and we have come to see it as an award.

What do we mean by “influence the events of the year” and “admirable”? Who would I choose from the year 2012? Would I nominate someone that was a huge personal influence or someone who influenced the world?

I’d like to look at two young women and nominate them both.

In study after study it has been shown that one of the best ways of relieving people from poverty is by educating the women in a society. When you educate women family incomes rise, social stability rises, infant mortality drops at the same time as average family size drops, malnutrition drops and disease morbidity drops. It’s universally successful.

That’s why a young woman who is outspoken on women’s rights and education will always deserve our praise. When we see one who does so for many years in the middle of a repressive and violent regime it goes beyond that.

Malala Yousafzai was 11 when she first started writing a blog for the BBC on the repression that surrounded her in the Taliban controlled Swat area of Pakistan and her views, she was particularly vocal in her condemnation of school closures. She was so politically active and so loud a voice that her life was threatened by the Taliban.

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Privacy? Not Here!


Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Today’s Daily Prompt: “How do you manage your online privacy? Are there certain things you won’t post in certain places? Information you’ll never share online? Or do you assume information about you is accessible anyway?”

Online privacy is a huge issue. We are now putting huge amounts of personal information online.

Between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Foursquare and our blogs it is possible to obtain a great deal of information about people.

Try an experiment, search Google for “honestpuck”. You will find this blog, my profile on Slashdot, Flickr account, Twitter account, Instagram account, App.net account and my Facebook account – and that’s only the first two pages. Just to confuse the issue you will find things like a DeviantArt account that isn’t mine. To really get in to some hard core data mining about me try a Google search for “honestpuck Tony Williams”.

I’ve been online for a long time. I used to assist in running a BBS back in the eighties and nineties, in the early nineties I ran the Australia forum on CompuServe. I’ve had a self-hosted blog as well as trying out Tumblr and Blogger before settling down here on WordPress. I’ve also written a lot of reviews for Slashdot and Amazon.

Given all that I’ve long ago accepted that anything I write or post on the net, no matter how obscure the website, is there for all to read.

Privacy of writing does not exist on the net. Anyone that tells you different is attempting to fool you.

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Real Innovation


Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Today’s Daily Prompt asks the question “What will the next must-have technological innovation be? Jetpacks? Hoverboards? Wind-powered calculators?”

I live in the high technology world. I have for the last twenty five years earned my living in the computer industry designing, writing, supporting, administering and writing about computer software. I have to say that sometimes questions like this can really get my goat.

To start, what do we mean by innovation? If we go to dictionary.com we learn that it should be defined as “something new or different introduced”. So where do we draw the line at what is an “innovation” and what is just a slightly different iteration of an existing design?

Perhaps we mean the introduction of a new technology? In a way this just shifts the question. Is, for example, the iPhone an innovation, a new technology or just an update to an existing technology. We could argue any of the three.

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Politics of Fear


John Howard, 31 August, 2007

John Howard, 31 August, 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia) It’s always good to stand in front of a flag when playing the politics of fear.

It’s on again. Increasingly right wing politics has become a politics of fear and Tony Abbot has learnt the lessons well at the feet of John Howard.

In the movie “The American President”, close to the end, Michael Douglas gives a speech defending his new girlfriend from character attacks from a Republican hopeful.

I’ve known Bob Rumson for years, and I’ve been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn’t get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s problem is that he can’t sell it! We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character. And wave an old photo of the President’s girlfriend and you scream about patriotism and you tell them, she’s to blame for their lot in life,

Well what happens if we do some editing? If we take that speech and replace ‘family’ with ‘battlers’, ‘American values’ with ‘Australian values’ and ‘character’ with ‘huge deficits’. Then switch ‘the President’s girlfriend’ with ‘refugee boats’ and scream about ‘Australian borders’.

Does that sound like the noises we are getting from the Coalition? Check this story from their puppet newspaper “A Coalition Would Change National History Curriculum” and this one “Activists disrupt Abbott’s ‘illegal boats’ tally”.

Is this a party that is talking about the future shape of our country? Or are we likely to have a government after September that got there by “making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it”?

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