Category Archives: My soap box

Winning at all costs…and the death of honour

Anger, hatred and violence have always been a part of human DNA. That’s why every society has a system of justice and mechanisms for punishing those who transgress against the laws of society.

Those laws are the ‘big sticks’ that make it possible for so many aggressive humans to live in close proximity to each other, but there are cultural laws as well. Concepts of equality, honour and fair play are the ‘soft’ laws that make us want to obey the big stick laws because failure to do so means that we risk being ostracized by our peers.

Or it did when I was a kid.

I remember playing some kind of make believe conflict with the neighbour’s kids. There were four of us in total. Joseph was about my age – eight – while his sister and brother were a couple of years younger.

Joseph was a bit bossy and he made me want to beat him, just because. So I came up with a brilliant plan whereby I would trick Joseph into thinking that I was on his side against the two younger kids. In reality, I’d set myself up as the ‘leader’ of the younger kids. I guess they were a bit sick of their older brother too.

We carried out my plan and the plan worked. We won, but I will never forget the look of contempt and betrayal I saw in Joseph’s eyes.

Triumph evaporated, and I stuttered something stupid like “but it’s just a game!” Only it wasn’t just a game, and Joseph knew it; lying and cheating are lying and cheating no matter what the reason.

I learned a life changing lesson that day, and it boiled down to one thing – the end never justifies the means.

That concept was taught at the Catholic primary school we all attended, but it was not until that awful day that I realised why the end doesn’t justify the means. It’s because of what it says about us, and what it does to us.

If you believe that certain, reprehensible actions or even illegal actions are ok because of X, you will eventually come to believe that winning justifies anything and everything. Winning means power, and power trumps honour any day because honourable people rarely win.

It’s a circular argument that has gained more and more adherents as neo-liberalism has taken hold all over the world. Money means power, and power is now the greatest ‘good’, so anything is justified so long as it makes money. Here in Australia, the Banking Royal Commission revealed just how much our financial institutions have taken that concept to heart:

‘Declaring that “choices must now be made”, Justice Hayne also referred some of the nation’s biggest company names to regulators for possible criminal or civil action for the way they treated their customers.’

https://www.smh.com.au/business/banking-and-finance/the-banking-royal-commission-final-report-at-a-glance-20190203-p50vg2.html

And while expediency gradually became the greatest good, honour devolved into a pathetic concept fit only for ‘Care Bears’.

Remember them? The cute little cartoon bears who solved problems by doing good things?

I watched a lot of Care Bears videos when the Offspring was little, but these days, the name has become a perjorative, especially in the gaming community. Care Bears are seen as weak players who can be bullied without consequence.

Is that an ethical shift brought about by the games being played? Or do those games reflect a society that no longer values compassion and honour?

I’ve never seen myself as a Care Bear because I will always fight back if attacked, but I won’t cheat. Ever. If I can’t win by honourable means, I’d rather lose.

And this brings me to the anger that prompted this post. Yesterday, I discovered that ESO [Elder Scrolls Online], a game I have loved for a couple of years now, actively encourages something that I can only describe as ‘suicide bombing’.

No, not the real world kind of bombing, the PVP equivalent. PVP stands for ‘Player vs Player’, and as the name suggests, players get to fight each other instead of fighting computer generated monsters.

Back when I started playing MMOs, roughly 20 years ago, PVP was supposed to be the only real test of a player’s skill. In some games, it probably was. In others, especially those that allowed ‘open world pvp’, it became a way for players to gang up and terrorize lone players. This kind of behaviour even has a name: ganking.

Yesterday, I learned from a fellow Guildie [member of a guild of players] that in ESO PVP there are a couple of built-in skills – i.e. deliberately created by the developers, not just ‘exploits’ created by the players – that allow players go invisible, sneak into a group of opposing players and…detonate their armour, ‘killing’ a lot of players at once. This is, apparently, a winning strategy.

I was shaken at what this said about ESO and the players who used this strategy to win. Being kind of naive, I assumed that all of my Guildies would feel just as shocked. Some were, and piped up in agreement. Others said things like ‘you don’t have to use it’ [meaning the suicide bomber tactic]. Others must have felt a little shame because they came back with the old ‘its just a game’ response, or, ‘just because I kill people in game doesn’t mean I kill them in RL’ [Real Life].

That last comment made me see red and I said something about how normalizing such attitudes can have real life consequences. The example I gave was the pathetic excuse for a human being who planned and carried out the New Zealand massacres not long ago.

Someone piped up with “surely you don’t believe video games turn people into killers?”

The one that really threw me though, was a dismissive, “oh is that all? We have incidents like that every day”.

I’ve never believed that video games turn kids into homicidal monsters, but the normalization of violence in real life, and the need to win at any cost, which is reinforced by many of these games, is a form of conditioning. It validates the individual’s wants, right or wrong.

That lack of empathy or care for others was demonstrated in a newspaper article back in April or May in which the writer basically said that his grandfather was in his eighties and wouldn’t mind popping off to save the economy…

Politicians here, and in other Western countries, have not been quite as blatant, but the emphasis on the economy at the cost of lives has been clear. And no one from the mainstream media has connected up the dots and said “hang on, so you don’t care if the elderly die?”

What continues to shock me is not that politicians can be so callous, but that we, the public, don’t rise up in protest. We accept it as a valid argument.

When did we lose sight of fair play, and justice, and compassion for the weak?

When did we forget what being honourable actually means?

When did we stop caring?

Meeks


I just unfollowed someone :(

So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that I don’t think I’ve ever unfollowed anyone on WordPress before, certainly not in anger.

I don’t ‘Follow’ people lightly. I visit their blogs a number of times, lurk and read, sometimes comment and like, and generally ‘vet’ them before I decide to follow. So unfollowing someone I used to like, or at least thought I liked, is a bit like a marriage break up but without the custody battle over kids and property. It’s not…pleasant.

I don’t intend to tell you who I unfollowed, or precisely why, but I will say it’s because I believe the common good should trump personal likes and dislikes. The ONLY reason human beings have taken over this planet and remade it in our own image is that we are capable of making small personal sacrifices so that all of us benefit.

It’s not altruism, exactly. Rather, it’s enlightened self-preservation, a bit like the law against theft. Giving up the right to steal from our neighbour means that our neighbour does not have the right to steal from us either. Furthermore, the enforcement of that prohibition protects us all.

I’ve long believed that society can only function properly when there is a delicate balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of society as a whole. Without society, individuals would be at the mercy of a world where every predator has sharper teeth and longer claws than us. Without individuals, society would stagnate because individuals are the ones who push the envelope…for good or ill.

Finding the balance, especially at this dangerous time, will depend on compromise as never before. Sometimes, that compromise means choosing the lesser of two evils. Sometimes, that compromise requires that we set aside our own personal, individual peeves in favour of doing something for the greater good.

I know that what I consider the greater good may not be what someone else considers to be the greater good. But I can only make decisions based on how I see the world.

The way I see the world made me unfollow someone today. For the first and last time, I hope. 😦

Meeks


Dear PM – you can’t have your cake and eat it too

Dear Scott Morrison, PM,

Meeks here. As many countries, including our own, battle an up-surge in Covid-19 infections, one thing is becoming increasingly clear – the suppression model is just not working. As soon as lockdowns are relaxed [to save the economy], the virus surges back up again. If we had some effective tools to use against the virus, things might be different, but the truth is that we have nothing.

Remember that mobile phone app we borrowed from Singapore, PM? You know, the one that was going to keep track of everyone we came into contact with and then alert us if one of our contacts became infected? I think you called it CovidSafe, the app that was going to allow us to have our cake and eat it too.

Bad news, PM. The CovidSafe app failed, in large part because Apple phones and Android phones couldn’t or wouldn’t co-operate with each other. When the outbreak began in Victoria, the app was useless. It’s still useless, and as far as I know, no country has managed to develop one that actually works the way it should.

The failure of the CovidSafe app in Victoria has meant that the authorities here have had to track and trace every single contact manually. The backlog of untracked contacts is now in the thousands, one reason the Premier, Dan Andrews, has had to impose the harshest restrictions yet. These restrictions have seen the introduction of a nightly curfew and the shutdown of everything that is not [very] strictly essential. Workers in essential industries now have to have a permit to go to work.

These draconian restrictions became necessary, PM, because the virus has spread too far in the community. One reason for this spread is that the virus has many vectors [pathways] of spread available to it:

  • the most obvious vector is person-to-person contact – hugs, kisses etc. This is where social distancing comes in.
  • the next most important vector is the air. This is where masks come in as they greatly reduce the amount of virus being released into the air and being breathed in from the air. The virus spreads in the air via :
    • large droplets – e.g. when someone coughs or sneezes. These large droplets fall to the ground, or a surface, very quickly so are relatively easy to deal with.
    • aerosolized micro droplets that hang in the air for quite some time. In confined spaces such as public transport, or shopping centres where air is recirculated, these micro droplets can spread the virus very quickly.
  • next in line are surfaces. Both large and micro droplets can survive on various types of surfaces from a few hours to a few days. This is where hand hygiene is vital. If you touch something that has active virus on it and then touch your nose, mouth or eyes, the virus could easily enter your body via your own hand.

If we were all altruistic, compassionate people who practised strict social distancing, strict mask wearing, and strict hand hygiene until a vaccine arrived, we probably could have our cake and eat it too. Thailand has managed to do just that. Unfortunately, most Western countries are not like Thailand. We don’t seem to have the necessary sense of community responsibility. I’m surprised no one on your staff mentioned that to you, PM.

Anyway, as I’m sure you know, PM, Covid-19 has a number of incredibly powerful tools in its arsenal:

  • it has victims who are hell bent on spreading it to others
  • it has multiple vectors [pathways] for getting inside its victims
  • and it has THREE secret weapons :
    1. it is infectious for 2 – 3 days before symptoms appear,
    2. in many people, the symptoms are so mild, they don’t even know they’ve been infected,
    3. and there are some people who never get symptoms at all, not even mild ones, yet these asymptomatic people* are infectious and can spread the virus to others.

This is why the virus cannot actually be ‘controlled’. Sadly, PM this is also why your dream of suppression was never a realistic option.

So I guess the thing I’d like to know, PM, is what you intend to do now. Are you going to make us keep opening and closing all the time?

I sincerely hope not, PM, because everything I’ve seen so far indicates that businesses simply cannot survive much more of this. Being able to reopen safely and stay open, is vital to both people and business. The question, then, is how do we stay open safely?

I hate to say I-told-you-so, PM, but right from the start, I thought your government was wrong to opt for suppression instead of eradication. I also thought the schedule for reopening was wildly optimistic and didn’t demonstrate much of an understanding of human nature. And then there was the whole issue of whether Victoria was ready to reopen. With just 2 days of zero new infections in all of May, it didn’t look good.

But you and your government were determined to save the economy, PM, so Dan Andrews finally bowed to pressure. And there was a lot of it, wasn’t there? You said each state had to do what was right for that state, but many people in your Cabinet and in the Victorian Liberal Party were not so nice. I really think you should have a word with Dan Tehan, your education minister, along with Tim Smith and Michael O’Brien of Victoria. They said some naughty things behind your back, things designed to paint Dan Andrews as a megalomaniac who wanted to hurt his people.

I’d definitely have words with them, PM, because what happened next is at least partly their fault. With overseas travellers still arriving in Melbourne, Dan Andrews ordered that they stay in hotel quarantine for 14 days. A private security company was hired to stop them from leaving hotel quarantine. That private security company then apparently sub-contracted the work out. Unfortunately, those private security guards were poorly equipped and even more poorly trained.

Dear PM, I’m stressing the fact that it was a private company because Dan Andrews has been blamed for doing precisely what you and your government do all the time. You outsource to private companies because you believe that private industry always does a better job than the public service. Plus it’s part of your credo of ‘small government’. But that’s not always the case, is it, PM? I mean, look at the deaths in aged care! Most of them occurred in private aged care facilities regulated and controlled by your government in Canberra.

Getting back to those private security guards, PM, I won’t speculate about how they caught Covid-19 from the quarantined travellers, it’s enough that they did. Then, because large family get-togethers were once again allowed, they took the virus home to their families. From there, the virus spread like wildfire. Or should I say ‘bushfire’?

And of course, with all those new victims, the virus used every weapon in its considerable arsenal to leap from person to person, and from place to place.

In hindsight, PM, I do believe that Dan Andrews made a mistake in not putting all of Melbourne into hard lockdown along with the social housing towers, but the atmosphere of general discontent probably made that impossible. We’d been hearing about how hard it was to be in lockdown, how miserable we were for such a long time that we would have rebelled.

Speaking of discontent, PM, did you have anything to do with that? You see, I was rather shocked by how skewed the reporting was, even on the ABC. Instead of inspiring stories about people helping each other, or sad stories about people who had lost loved ones, everything was skewed towards the negative. Stories about how tough it was for small business, how tough it was for parents having to supervise their kids’ schooling, how sad we all were at not being able to visit friends and family…

But I digress, PM. I’d like to talk about what might have happened if we had opted for eradication like New Zealand. Import and export would have continued. The only thing we would not have had were foreign tourists and foreign students. But hey, we ended up not having them anyway.

The real difference would have been in what came after. With the virus eradicated, the Australian states could have remained ‘open’, and both tourism and the tertiary sector could have remained ticking over thanks to domestic demand. Instead, both sectors are dying because you somehow forgot about them when you were handing out the largesse.

Not that I blame you, PM. It’s easy to make mistakes when you’re dealing with a crisis. I mean, do you remember those long, long, long queues outside the Centrelink offices when you announced the first, rather short shutdown? And how long it took for people to receive their first payments. Mistakes do happen, don’t they?

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/mar/24/newly-unemployed-australians-queue-at-centrelink-offices-as-mygov-website-crashes-again

But I digress again. Getting back to eradication, PM, I know what you’re going to say, eradication of the virus would have been hard. For starters, all of Australia would have had to stay in hard lockdown long enough to stop ALL the ways the virus can spread. That would have taken time, and it would have cost your government a lot more money. Then again, it looks as if suppression is going to cost more too.

In fact, I can’t help wondering if it wouldn’t have been a whole lot cheaper to lockdown once and eradicate the virus the first time round? I mean, I know not every country can successfully eradicate the virus, but we can! Australia may be big, but we are an island you know.

Anyway, there is good news, PM. It’s not too late to change your policy and go for eradication. Once Victoria finally grinds the virus down to zero, I think you’ll find that none of the other states want to risk being the next Covid-19 hot spot. No one will want to open their borders, and you know how disastrous that would be for your economy. No money coming in, lots of money going out. Not good.

So don’t think about the cost, PM, think about the benefits we’d get from eradication. With the virus gone, we’d all be able to:

  • go back to work,
  • go back to school,
  • go back to travel [within Australia],
  • go back to holidays [within Australia],
  • go back to coffee with friends,
  • go back to dinner parties,
  • go back to birthday parties,
  • go back to drinks at the pub,
  • go back to sport as real live spectators,
  • go back to weddings,
  • and yes, we could attend funerals again…but there would be far fewer of them.

And let’s not forget business, PM. Businesses, especially the small ones, will be able to reopen and stay open. They’ll be able to plan for weeks or months ahead. They’ll be able to grow again. And people will stimulate the economy by spending! Yay, right?

But first, PM, you and your government have to bite the bullet and admit that we cannot control this virus. We don’t have the tools or the social structure to stop it from breaking out again. The best we can do is eradicate it within the country and then keep it from returning.

That way lies hope. And who knows, maybe in time, New Zealand and other, successful South East Asian countries will let us join their bubble. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Suppression though, that’s a dead end, PM, literally. So how about it? Shall we give eradication a go?

Most sincerely,
Meeks

* The first person to ever be identified as an asymptomatic carrier was Mary Mallon, nicknamed Typhoid Mary. She remained infectious her whole life because she lived at a time when there was no safe or easy way to rid her of the virus. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Mallon


Corporations and Social Responsibility

My thanks to Scottie for introducing me to Robert Reich via this video:

My disillusionment with corporations began back in the early 80’s when I learned how Microsoft became ‘great’. Then, in the early 2000’s I began researching genetic engineering and discovered what another big ‘M’ had done to maximize its profits.

More recently, it’s been Facebook and Google et al. I still have a lingering fondness for Amazon, but that’s only because I’m a reader and a writer. And of course, let’s not forget the big financial institutions right here in Australia.

To say that I’m disillusioned with corporations is an understatement, and yet, I was still surprised by the Reich video. Something about the sheer size of these behemoths amplifies everything that’s cruel, callous and vicious in the human psyche.

Stopping corporations from becoming so big and powerful won’t make them paragons of virtue, but it will stop the effects of their bad behaviour from poisoning society. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll allow the law to deal with criminal elements more effectively.

At the moment, these corporations are not only ‘too big to fail’, they’re also too big to prosecute. Something really does have to give.

Meeks


Plastic eating gut bacteria

We all know that plastic is a huge problem – just think of the garbage patches in the Pacific ocean. Not only does all this rubbish have to be collected, it has to be broken down somehow, but plastic doesn’t ‘break down’ the way organic material does. The bits do get smaller, but that just makes them more dangerous, not less.

So what’s the solution? The following quote is taken from a New Atlas tech article:

‘In recent years, scientists have identified a number of organisms with an ability to eat away at common plastics. These include engineered enzymes, mealworms with an appetite for Styrofoam and a type of bacterium with an ability to break down PET plastics in a relatively short space of time.

Waxworms are another exciting example. These … critters also have quite an appetite for plastic, with an ability to chew through it, digest it, and turn it into ethylene glycol, a type of alcohol.’

Hopefully one day, these waxworms will be part of the rubbish recycler’s toolbox, cleaning up this man-made mess and turning it into something useful.

Please go to the New Atlas website and read the whole article. A bit of good news never goes astray. 🙂

Meeks


Private Health Insurance in Australia – who needs it?

Disclaimer: I have just cancelled my private health insurance after almost 40 years. I will try to be unbiased as I present the facts that led to this momentous decision, but some bias is inevitable.

For Australians under 40, and international readers who know nothing about our hybrid health care system, I’ll start with a very brief overview:

The scheme [universal health care] was created in 1975 by the Whitlam Government under the brand Medibank, and was limited by the Fraser Government in 1976 to paying customers only. The Hawke Government reinstated universal health care in 1984 under the brand of Medicare. Medibank continued to exist as a government-owned private health insurance provider until it was privatised by the Abbott Government in 2014.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medicare_(Australia)

Note: The government owned Medibank provided private health insurance in direct competition with private health insurers.

In 1999, the conservative LNP government led by John Howard brought in the Private Health Insurance Rebate Scheme. Depending on your age and income, the government will rebate 30% of the cost of your health insurance premiums. This rebate is subtracted from your health insurance premiums so you only pay for the remainder. This is the ‘carrot’ part of the equation. If you don’t take up health insurance by the time you hit the age of 30, you will pay 2% more whenever you finally do take up health insurance. This is the ‘stick’.

The purpose of the Private Health Insurance Rebate Scheme was ostensibly to relieve the pressure on public hospitals which are run by the states using funding from the Federal government.

When the rebate scheme was first introduced, premiums were relatively low and the private cover was a true ‘safety net’. In the 20 years since then, premiums have crept higher and higher while the payout for procedures and treatments has shrunk. This is true for both for-profit and not-for-profit health insurers.

As someone with a pre-existing medical condition, I’ve had basic hospital cover for almost 40 years. For most of those years, my premiums ensured that I could be treated in a private hospital by the specialist of my choice without long waiting periods or astronomical out-of-pocket expenses.

That all changed today when I finally realised that my basic hospital cover only did one thing – it allowed me to have my own specialist:

  • in a public hospital
  • in a shared ward
  • after I’d gone through the standard waiting period for public hospital treatment.

The following shows exactly what my private health insurance covers:

Apologies for the poor quality of the graphic but I wanted you to be able to see the whole thing. Every item with an ‘R’ next to it has ‘restricted’ cover only. This means that my private health insurance would only pay a miniscule amount [above and beyond what Medicare already pays]. Dialysis for chronic kidney failure, insulin pumps and weight loss surgery are not covered at all.

I don’t have kidney failure or diabetes or weight problems, but I can see at least five things I may need as I age. Sadly, with my basic private health insurance cover, I’d end up having to pay for them out of my own pocket anyway.

For me, the crunch came when I realised that I was already a [free] public hospital patient, but I was paying for the privilege.

Clearly, the hospital cover I had was next to useless, but when I looked at the levels of cover that would give me a proper safety net, I discovered that a) even some of the top plans didn’t cover me for everything and b) even if they did, I couldn’t afford them.

The sad truth is that I can barely manage to pay the $71.50 per month for the basic hospital cover I have/had. $71.50 doesn’t sound like much – it’s under $20 a week – but when you live on the age pension, $20 makes a difference. Wasting it on private health insurance that covers me for nothing is crazy.

So today I stopped being crazy and joined the ranks of Australians giving private health insurance a big miss. These Australians include young people on government support, older Australians on government support, and a growing segment of our population surviving in the GIG economy. In short, all those people who can’t afford the kind of health insurance that actually provides value for money.

So who’s left then?

I’m not sure. The table below is from the government website:

The income categories are shown across the top and indicate that under 65 years of age, all rebates cut out above $140,001 for singles and $280,001 for families. Taking bracket creep into account, that’s not a huge income by 2020 standards.

This may be my bias showing, but I am feeling rather ripped off. I’ve been a good girl and paid my premiums for years, but it seems as if the only ones benefiting from the 30% health insurance rebate are the health insurance companies themselves.

As the health insurance rebate is being paid from our taxes, I can’t help wondering whether we wouldn’t be better off if the rebate were abolished, freeing up all that money for the public health system.

Meeks


Guttenberg – the problem with blocks

For those who don’t know, Guttenberg is the name of the new[ish] WordPress editor, and unlike standard word processors, it isn’t based on a linear flow of text. Instead, posts are built from blocks of ‘things’, a bit like legos.

But what are blocks, and why should we care?

In Guttenberg, each block contains one type of ‘thing’ – i.e. you can have one block for the heading, a second block for the paragraph, a third block for the image and a fourth one for a list of things. You can also embed videos and audio etc in blocks.

Because each of these components is inside its own block, they’re kind of ‘self-contained’ and can be moved up or down using arrow keys.

This is what the arrow keys look like:

The Block Move arrows in Guttenberg

Each click of the up or down arrow moves the whole block up or down by one block.

Useful, right?

Well, yes and no. If your posts are relatively short, and you only need to move a block a short distance, the arrow keys work just fine. But what if you realise that a block at the end of the post should really be at the beginning? And there are 20 or more paragraphs/blocks in between? That’s twenty clicks. 😦

Or what if you realise that a whole section of your post needs to be deleted?

I can tell you from bitter experience that deleting a whole series of blocks is a major pain in the proverbial. To delete a block you must:

  • click inside the block to be deleted,
  • click the three dots at the far right of the floating menu,
  • scroll down until you reach the ‘Remove block’ option, and
  • click it.

There is a slightly faster option which involves clicking inside the block to be deleted and then pressing SHIFT + ALT + Z on the keyboard. But…it gets real old real fast when you have 20 or more blocks to delete. If you open the post in the Classic Editor, you can select and delete paragraphs easily, but that kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?

How do I know all this? I know because I’ve just spent a lot of woman hours looking for an easier way to update one of my How-to books. ‘How to Print your Novel with Kindle Direct Publishing’ was out-of-date in both the ebook and print book versions, so I thought I’d turn the whole thing into a series of posts and update it online.

It seemed so easy at first…-cough-

Copy/pasting the text into a series of posts was easy enough – Guttenberg automatically turned each paragraph into a block – but as KDP, Thorpe-Bowker and the National Library of Australia had all updated their websites quite dramatically, there were a lot of old, outdated blocks to remove.

Updating the relevant chapters also required that some parts be re-structured. And yes, you guessed it, there is no way of selecting a whole series of blocks and moving them as a group. There is a group function, but I couldn’t get it to work properly. Perhaps it was never designed for ‘group moves’.

In hindsight, I should have updated the Word file first, and then poured it into Guttenberg. But I didn’t know then what I know now, did I?

Sadly, the ‘Group’ function didn’t work as a ‘Reusable’ either. A reusable block is a sentence or image or whatever that can be plonked into a post without the need to copy something and then paste it.

As I wanted to create consistent navigation across something like 19 blog posts, I created some reusable blocks that I used for each post:

When I’m finished, all of the ‘Click here…’ blocks will be live navigation links to other posts in the series, so not having to copy/paste each one is nice. But is it nice enough to keep using Guttenberg?

I admit that most bloggers probably won’t try to publish a whole book on WordPress the way I have done, but I’m sure I can’t be the only person smashing my head against Guttenberg’s limitations…

If WordPress wants Guttenberg to make blogging easy for all bloggers, then it has to solve these core problems with blocks. If they can’t be solved, then the old ‘Classic’ editor has to be retained because it’s still head and shoulders more powerful than Guttenberg.

I’ve given Guttenberg as fair a trial as I know how, and it’s just not good enough. Not yet. For now I’m going back to the old Classic.

cheers

Meeks


The price of convenience

I’ve been concerned about online privacy for a couple of years now, but the article I just read still shocked me. It’s titled ‘Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, And They’re Not Keeping It Secret’.

You can read the entire article here:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/12/10/business/location-data-privacy-apps.html

I’ve had geo location turned off on my phone since I bought it, but until today, I always felt a little silly; was I being paranoid for no real reason?

You may be wondering that too, but the case study of Lisa Magrin, a 46-year-old math teacher, may change your mind. It certainly confirmed my fears.

An app on the device [smart phone] gathered her location information, which was then sold without her knowledge. It recorded her whereabouts as often as every two seconds, according to a database of more than a million phones in the New York area that was reviewed by The New York Times. While Ms. Magrin’s identity was not disclosed in those records, The Times was able to easily connect her to that dot.

Lisa Magrin’s movements over a four month period

Lisa Magrin’s every single move was recorded…without her knowledge or consent. Then that information was sold. The Times article doesn’t mention who or what the information was sold to, but there’s a good chance it was sold to an ad network that collated her location data with her online data – Facebook comments, Instagram pictures, websites she visited, products she bought with her credit card, all those convenient little things we take for granted every day.

That’s a lot of information, and it’s meant to be anonymous, but what does anonymous actually mean? When your ‘anonymous’ data knows where you live and can track everything you do, the fact that it doesn’t automatically name you means nothing.

The ad networks that mine this data don’t need your name to target you for advertising. But that information is for sale, and there are no guarantees that the buyer will be a ‘harmless’ advertiser.

“Pffft! I have nothing to hide,” you say. “Besides, who’d want to buy my boring info anyway?”

Nothing to hide, huh? I wonder.

Does your wife know you visit that massage parlour for a quickie when you should be at squash?

Does your Mum know you spend hours on that porn site?

Do you use your birthday as the password for every online game you play?

Are you absolutely sure there’s nothing you wouldn’t want your co-workers to know about you?

As for who would want to buy that boring information, hackers would, and stalkers, or your abusive ex-husband perhaps. The list is endless, and the danger is real, not just for you, personally, but for those near you who may be targeted via information you unwittingly provide.

Stealing this kind of information will become illegal eventually, but until then you have to ask yourself – is that little bit of convenience really worth it? Or is your life too high a price to pay?

Meeks

p.s. My thanks to Chris the StoryReadingApe for this point:

Some of the things that can happen when your data is hacked can also apply to data that’s been sold to hackers, either directly or indirectly.


How can you not like what I like?

At an intellectual level I’ve always known that being an individual entails being different to others, at least in some respects. And yet…despite age, and enough life experience to sink a ship, I keep expecting others to like what I like. In other words, I keep expecting them to be like me.

Every time I write about a book I’ve loved, or a glorious vista, or a piece of music that moved my soul, I expect that you will feel the same way. And I’m rarely wrong. The individuals who gravitate to this blog and become friends are, by and large, like me. Thanks to the power of social media, you are my kindred spirits. 🙂

By definition, a kindred spirit is someone like oneself, and on social media it happens when people are drawn to each other via shared interests. Think iron filings to a magnet. The degree to which we ‘stick’ depends upon the number of interests we share.

This filtering process happens in the real world too, but at a much slower rate because we can only physically interact with a small number of people at a time – family, friends, neighbours, colleagues at work etc. Plus there is no guarantee that the people we do meet will be sympatico.

And right there is one of the most wonderful and dangerous aspects of social media – the ability to consistently give us what we want.

Why? Because most of us want to belong. We want to be with people who make us feel warm and fuzzy and good about ourselves.

This is how social media bubbles form. But feeling good about ourselves involves a value judgement about what ‘good’ actually means. Even if you never consciously question your own likes and dislikes, you recognize them in others and automatically judge them to be ‘good’.

And I’m no different. I believe I’m a good person, so I can’t help believing that people who share my values are good people too.

But if we are the good people, what of the others? What of those who don’t share our values? Are they the bad people?

My head says “Of course not!” My heart says “Maybe”.

Every time I log in to Twitter and read a comment distorting some fact or praising something I consider to be ‘evil’, the anger says “Bad person, bad, bad!”

And then the shame sets in because I know that person isn’t bad. I know that if I got to know them through some other area of life, I’d probably think they were okay.

How do I know that? Because I’ve lived it. Many years ago when I lived in a shared student house, there was a girl there with a very abrasive personality. I didn’t like her one little bit. Then one day, to my shame, I discovered that the abrasiveness was just a facade to protect the sad person underneath.

More recently, I’ve discovered that many of the right wing panelists on The Drum [see footnote 1 at the end of this article] aren’t right wing about all topics. In fact, I’ve often caught myself marvelling that someone with those political affiliations could be so open to, for example, action on climate change, or same sex marriage or some other supposedly left wing issue.

I’m a left wing progressive, but I don’t intend to turn this post into some kind of pseudo political rant. Instead, I want to hammer home the fact that expectations based on social media bubbles are dangerous.

We humans are hardwired to generalise. It’s a powerful mental shortcut that allows us to make snap decisions based on just a few facts. This ability would have been a real survival mechanism back in the days of the woolly mammoth. These days? Not so much because thinking in generalities often substitutes for thinking, period.

Sadly, social media bubbles reinforce those generalities just when we should be questioning everything, starting with our own assumptions. We need facts, and we need to call out untruths, but we need to do so with courtesy because that ‘other’ person is more like us than not.

In years to come, people will look back on this era of social media and shake their heads at how bad the ‘wild wild west’ really was before it was tamed. In that yet-to-be-realised future, individual privacy will be protected by law, anonymity will not be allowed, and social media companies will face the full force of the law if they’re found to have manipulated their users.

But we’re not there yet.

cheers

Meeks

Footnote 1 : The Drum is a current affairs show on Australian TV. It’s part of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation [ABC] and funded by taxpayers. As such, its charter requires that it be unbiased. That’s why the panelists on The Drum are chosen to be inclusive, and represent as many interest groups as possible, including people of both the left and right political persuasion.


Review – ATO’s myTax

Is there such a thing as minus one? -grinds teeth-

In a nutshell, the ATO [Australian Taxation Office] website functioned quite well, and by that I mean the way the computer side of things worked. If you are familiar with the general workings of a complex website, you should be able to follow the logic fairly well. The problems arise from the content, in particular the terminology.

Any teacher will tell you that the single biggest hurdle to learning is new terminology. Not only does the student have to learn new terms specific to the subject matter, they often have to learn new meanings for familiar words and phrases used to describe very unfamiliar concepts.

The best software programs deal with the problem of terminology by having context sensitive lookups. For example, if a question is about ‘Sole Traders’, there will be a little [?] at the end that can be clicked. Clicking that lookup displays a short definition of the term.

Lookups are a great idea…if they’re executed properly, and that’s where assumptions come in. Experts have so much knowledge of their areas that they cannot put themselves in the shoes of someone who knows nothing. So many basic terms do not have lookups because… “It’s obvious, isn’t it?”

Duh no, it isn’t obvious. Not unless you’re a tax accountant.

I’m not a tax accountant. That’s why it took me well over two hours to lodge a couple of years’ worth of returns. The first was relatively easy because I was doing it as a normal person. The second was much harder because I was doing it as a ‘Sole Trader’. Basically, Sole Traders are people who work for themselves with a company name and an ABN [Australian Business Number]. Casual tutors like me often work as Sole Traders.

But all Sole Traders are not equal. Working out what variety of Sole Trader I was involved yet more terms I didn’t understand. I used every lookup, accessed Help, tried the so-called online chat help [basically just an algorithm] and even tried DuckduckGo. Despite all that, however, some of my answers were the better of two bad choices. In other words, pretty much guess work.

Surely there’s a better way?

Yes, there is. It’s called paying for a professional tax accountant.

Decades ago when I could afford the money, I actually had a tax accountant. These days I have to DIY and hope for the best.

I can’t be the only person having issues with the ATO’s myTax software because there is a real live group of volunteers who have been trained to ‘help’ with myTax! Whether they just help with the website side of things or the actual tax side I don’t know. What I do know is that myTax is a major disincentive to retirees thinking of working for themselves.

One exhausted retiree signing off.

Meeks

p.s. While I’m in a venting mood, here’s one for the Guttenberg developers – it’s really annoying when you go back to edit a paragraph and the floating toolbar covers up part of what you’ve written. This seems to happen when the paragraph is at the top of the screen area:


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