Freelancing Gods 2014

God
30 Dec 2013

Melbourne Ruby Retrospective for 2013

The Melbourne Ruby community has grown and evolved a fair bit in this past year, and I’m extremely proud of what it has become.

Mind you, I’ve always thought it was pretty special. I first started to attend the meets back when Rails was young and the community in Australia was pretty new, towards the end of 2005. The meets themselves started in January of that year – almost nine years ago! – and have continued regularly since, in many shapes, sizes and venues, under the guiding hands of many wise Rubyists.

Given I’ve been around so long, it’s a little surprising I’d not had a turn convening the meetings on a regular basis (though I’d certainly helped out when other organisers couldn’t be present). After the excellent, recent guidance of Dave Goodlad and Justin French, Mario Visic and Ivan Vanderbyl stepped up – and then Ivan made plans to move to the USA. I was recently inspired by discussions around growing and improving the community at the latest New Zealand Rails Camp, and so I offered to take Ivan’s place. (As it turns out, Ivan’s yet to switch sides of the Pacific Ocean. Soon, though!)

And so, since February, Mario and I have added our own touches to the regular events. Borrowing from both Sydney and Christchurch, we’ve added monthly hack nights – evenings where there’s no presentations, but people of all different experience levels bring along their laptops and get some coding done. If anyone gets stuck, there’s plenty of friendly and experienced developers around to help.

More recently, reInteractive have helped to bring InstallFests from Sydney to Melbourne. They are events to help beginners interested in Ruby and Rails get the tools they need installed on their machines and then go through the process of setting up a basic blog, with mentors on hand to help deal with any teething problems.

For the bulk of Melbourne Ruby community’s life, the meets have been announced through Google groups – first the Melbourne Ruby User Group, then in the broader Ruby or Rails Oceania group. It’d become a little more clear over the past couple of years that this wasn’t obvious to outsiders who were curious about Ruby – which prompted the detailing of meeting schedules on ruby.org.au – but there was still room for improvement. reInteractive’s assistance with the InstallFest events was linked to their support with setting up a group on Meetup.com – and almost overnight we’ve had a significant increase in newcomers.

Now, many of us Rubyists are quite opinionated, and I know some find Meetup inelegant and, well, noisy. I certainly don’t think it’s as good as it could be – but it’s the major player in the space, and it’s the site upon which many people go searching for communities like ours. The Google group does okay when it comes to discussions, but highlighting upcoming events (especially if you’re not a regular) is not its forte at all.

We’ve not abandoned the Google group, but now we announce events through both tools – and the change has been so dramatic that, as much as I’m wary of supporting big players in any space, I’d argue that you’d be stupid not to use Meetup. We’ve had so many new faces come along to our events – and while we still have a long way to go for equal gender representation (it’s still predominantly white males), it’s slowly improving.

With the new faces appearing, we held a Newbie Night as one of our presentation evenings (something that’s happened a couple of times before, but certainly not frequently enough). Mario and I were lucky enough to have Jeremy Tennant step up to run this and corral several speakers to provide short, introductory presentations on a variety of topics. (Perhaps this should become a yearly event!)

We’re also blessed to have an excellent array of sponsors – Envato, Inspire9, Zendesk, reInteractive and Lookahead Search have all provided a mixture of money, space and experienced minds. We wouldn’t be where we are now without you, your support is appreciated immensely.

Mario and I have also spent some time thinking a bit deeper about some of the longstanding issues with tech events, and tried to push things in a healthier direction:

At many of the last handful of meetings for this year, instead of pizza, we’ve had finger food from the ASRC Catering service, tacos from The Taco Guy, and a few pancakes as well. In each case we’ve ensured there’s vegetarian, gluten-free and lactose-free options. This trend shall certainly continue!

The drinks fridge at Inspire9 (our wonderful hosts for the past couple of years) now have plenty of soft drinks and sparkling mineral water alongside the alcoholic options – and we’ve been pretty good at making sure jugs of tap water are available too. There’s also tea and coffee, though we need to be better at highlighting this.

We’ve also adopted Ruby Australia’s Code of Conduct for all Melbourne Ruby events. This is to both recognise that our community provides value and opportunity to many, and to make it clear we want it to continue to be a safe and welcoming place, offline and online.

We’re by no means perfect, and I’m keen to help this community grow stronger and smarter over the coming year – but we’ve got some great foundations to build on. The Melbourne Ruby community – and indeed, the broader Australian Ruby community – is growing from strength to strength, and a lot of that is due to the vast array of leaders we have, whose shoulders we are standing on.

Alongside the regular city meets, there are Rails Camps twice a year, RailsGirls events becoming a regular appearance on the calendar, and the second RubyConf Australia is in Sydney this coming February. I’m looking forward to seeing what 2014 brings – thanks to all who’ve been part of the ride thus far!

20 Nov 2010

The Changing State of Leadership in Australian Politics

I’ve just devoured the latest Quarterly Essay, titled Trivial Pursuit: Leadership and the End of the Reform Era, by political journalist George Megalogenis.

It’s an interesting read – it’s filled in a few holes in my political knowledge (though that’s not too hard to do), and it’s provided an intelligent take on the current leadership crisis Australian politics is facing.

There’s plenty of thoughts from it that are buzzing around my head which I’d like to share – and would appreciate any thoughts you may have.

Generational support in the Major Parties

The Greens are building a considerable supporter base within Generation Y – and people often don’t switch parties as they get older, so this could lead to them being a serious player in Australian politics within the coming decade. However, the Baby Boomers are predominantly Coalition supporters. Keeping in mind our ageing population, in our most recent federal election 46% of voters were aged 50 or older.

Then factor this in: the ALP have dominated in the eastern states in particular – and yet there’s a decent chance that all three of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland will swich to Coalition Governments over the coming two years.

So: where does this leave the ALP on a Federal level?

Red and Blue States

Another divide is through the middle of the country: South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT all had swings towards the ALP in the most recent election. NSW was rather ambivalent, whereas Queensland and Western Australia favoured the Coalition.

Yes, inner city electorates have always been progressive in comparison to their rural siblings. But arguably this is a little more distinct. How would you go about being a leader for all of Australia?

Lead by Example

Hawke, Keating and early Howard were seen as true leaders – they led by action (ie: reform). Later, Howard, Rudd, Gillard and Abbott have all played by the polls, instead of leading with their own ideals and conviction. The abandoning of the ETS is a prime example of how the second approach failed Labor.

Playing to the polls is not healthy – far better to lead, and bring the country with you. Give them something to vote for, instead of being the least-worst option.

Stick to your guns – people are more willing to forgive you if you’ve got clear convictions. Consider Howard’s GST policy as an example. I’d quote others from Hawke and Keating, but I really don’t have the history chops to be confident in what I’d be saying.

Faster! Faster!

The pace of the media cycle is dangerous – there is the expectation of constant news. Our political leaders must push back against this desire. They need to plan out policy carefully, and not bombard people with a whole lot of small pieces of information.

Depth instead of breadth should be the focus – but that’s a hard thing to manage given our short attention spans. (A curse of the internet, perhaps?)

Be Prepared to Negotiate

This isn’t something from the book, but I think hung parliaments are going to become far more common. The Greens are coming into their own, and the combined ALP and Coalition vote hasn’t come close to 90% since 1993, when Keating beat Hewson. When 15-20% of voters are regularly looking beyond the two major parties, that makes a majority far harder to capture.

Does this all sound reasonable? Are my biases clouding my own perceptions? Is there anything you’d like to add?

14 Jun 2010

Laughtrack Review

So, it’s been a couple of months since the Melbourne International Comedy Festival wrapped up, and thus, a couple of months since LaughTrack went silent. I just want to write up a last batch of statistics, as well as some broader thoughts on how the site went in general.

I should have been doing this back when the festival actually finished, but some things got in the way of catching up on classifying all the tweets, and so I only actually got through the last of it yesterday.

The Leaderboard

A quick look at the top 10 (well, 11, given tied scores), going by quality:

Show Rating
The Pajama Men: The Last Stand to Reason 93
Nina Conti: Talk to the Hand 93
Ross Noble: Things 91
Jamie Kilstein: Revenge of the Serfs 91
Adam Hills: Mess Around 91
David O’Doherty: David O’Doh-party 91
Good Evening: Shaun Micallef & Stephen Curry 91
Frank Woodley: Bewilderbeest 90
Celia Pacquola: Flying Solos 90
Josie Long: Be Honourable 90
Melinda Buttle: Sista Got Flow 90

Most of those are quite established, but it’s worth noting those who are relative newcomers to the comedy scene: Celia Pacquola and Melinda Buttle – and those who are relative newcomers to Australian shores: The Pajama Men and Jamie Kilstein.

Gains

Here’s who made the biggest gains by rating over the final two weeks of the festival (I’ve trimmed the list to 8 – there’s another 7 on the next score down):

Show Initial Rating Current Rating Difference
Poet Laureate Telia Nevile: While I’m Away 0 65 65
Smart Casual: Same Mother, Different Fathers 0 60 60
Spontaneous Broadway 27 84 57
Mark Butler: I’ve Been Watching You Australians 0 53 53
Good News Week 0 53 53
Stevl Shefn and His Translator Fatima 0 53 53
Terry North: Life’s A Joke 0 53 53
Die Roten Punkte: Kunst Rock 27 72 45

In most of those cases, it only took a handful of positive tweets to gain some serious quality points. So again, let’s go by tweets instead of rating – because this turns out to be a far better metric for who has been getting a lot of buzz.

Show Initial Count Current Count Difference
Arj Barker: Let Me Do The Talking 43 77 34
Ross Noble: Things 29 62 33
The Pajama Men: The Last Stand to Reason 26 54 28
Josh Thomas: Surprise 17 38 21
Rich Fulcher: Eleanor the Tour Whore 23 42 19
Tim Key: The Slutcracker 32 50 18
Adam Hills: Mess Around 26 44 18
Sam Simmons: Fail 15 31 16
Jamie Kilstein: Revenge of the Serfs 15 30 15
Josie Long: Be Honourable 13 28 15

I’m not going to bother analyse the data from which shows were sold out – it’s far from complete.

What’s next?

LaughTrack was a fun experiment for the festival, but I’m not quite sure of its future.

It’s possibly useful for other festivals (especially those with repeat performances – so, Fringe festivals much more than Film festivals), but I don’t quite have the passion for those festivals compared to the MICF. In other words, I’m probably not going to commit the time to keep the site up-to-date for the Melbourne Fringe (for example) without some personal incentive.

The classification system also needs a lot of work. I spent many, many hours classifying tweets, because automating that kind of intelligence into a website is far from easy, and I couldn’t get it to a reliable state without human interaction. I could open the classification out to everyone who visits the site – and if I run this for next year’s MICF, that’s quite likely – but again, it’s additional work.

And it’s worth noting that most tweets that LaughTrack picked up were not reviews – there was a lot of noise, and very little signal (which is the main problem with automating classification).

So where does that leave us? Well, I’m definitely interested in reprising LaughTrack for next year’s Comedy Festival, and hopefully can get the people behind the festival to send some data on ticket sales through.

As for other festivals, I’m going to need some financial support to dedicate any time to adapting and maintaining the site. If you’re interested in sponsoring development on LaughTrack for a festival, then please do get in touch.

I would love to hear feedback on whether you found the site useful during the festival, and how it could improve. From a personal level, I know I found new shows to go see purely by reading the thousands of tweets that came through.

05 Apr 2010

LaughTrack: Week Two

Another week has passed, so time for some more LaughTrack statistics.

First up, acts with the best ratings improvements since the start of the Festival:

Show Initial Rating Current Rating Difference
Good Evening: Shaun Micallef & Stephen Curry 0 88 88
Ursula Martinez: My Stories Your Emails 0 84 84
Celia Pacquola: Flying Solos 0 84 84
Adrian Calear: Code Grey 0 79 79
Asher Treleaven: Secret Door 0 79 79
Daniel Burt: Yes Man Syndrome 0 77 77
The Festival Club 0 75 75
Catherine Deveny: Gold is Bullshit 0 72 72
Peter Helliar: Dreamboat Tour 0 72 72
Nelly Thomas: I Coulda Been A Sailor 0 72 72

That list is almost identical (ignoring the order) to last week… essentially: those who did well to start with, have solidified their position.

So let’s look at the differences just in the last week instead.

Show Initial Rating Current Rating Difference
List Operators For Kids: More Fun Than a Wii 0 60 60
Puppy Fight Social Club 0 53 53
And The Little One Said… 0 53 53
Jack Druce: Wild Druce Chase 0 53 53
Peter Helliar: Dreamboat Tour 27 72 45
Simon Keck: Dead Under Fluorescent Lights 0 43 43
Sadie Hasler: Her Lady Bones 0 43 43
I Heart Frankston: The Musical 0 43 43
Matthew Kenneally Flips the Bird at the Finger Pointers 0 43 43
Bart Freebairn: A Breathtakingly Magical Journey into the Ordinary 0 43 43
Greg Fleet: Big Love 0 43 43
Supermanchild 0 43 43
Metrosketchuals 0 43 43
Nick Cody: Lust Actually 0 43 43

This list could be considered shows with potential: towards the end, it only took two positive tweets to get them onto the list.

So, let’s now look at who has garnered the most positive tweets. Again, since the start of the festival:

Show Initial Count Current Count Difference
Wil Anderson: Wilful Misconduct 11 42 31
Arj Barker: Let Me Do The Talking 23 43 20
Good Evening: Shaun Micallef & Stephen Curry 0 19 19
The Pajama Men: The Last Stand to Reason 7 26 19
Rich Fulcher: Eleanor the Tour Whore 5 23 18
Nina Conti: Talk to the Hand 13 30 17
Celia Pacquola: Flying Solos 0 14 14
Ursula Martinez: My Stories Your Emails 0 14 14
Tom Green: World Standup Comedy Tour 8 22 14
Tim Key: The Slutcracker 19 32 13
Melinda Buttle: Sista Got Flow 4 17 13

Some big names there, though good to see some relative newcomers appearing too (Ursula Martinez, Melinda Buttle and Celia Pacquola).

As for the increases over just the last week:

Show Initial Count Current Count Difference
Wil Anderson: Wilful Misconduct 17 42 25
Arj Barker: Let Me Do The Talking 25 43 18
Tom Green: World Standup Comedy Tour 8 22 14
Good Evening: Shaun Micallef & Stephen Curry 9 19 10
Ursula Martinez: My Stories Your Emails 5 14 9
The Pajama Men: The Last Stand to Reason 17 26 9
Nina Conti: Talk to the Hand 21 30 9
Frank Woodley: Bewilderbeest 19 27 8
Sammy J and Randy: Ricketts Lane 6 14 8
Melinda Buttle: Sista Got Flow 9 17 8

Not much difference in the names this time around…

But what can you take away from this?

  • Ursula Martinez was an unknown before this festival. She’s just added three extra shows, which matches the buzz she’s received.
  • Melinda Buttle is another festival newcomer who has been getting a lot of buzz.
  • The big names draw the tweets – but Wil Anderson and Tom Green have both finished their festival runs.
  • The Pajama Men won the Barry Award for the best show last year in their first festival, and they’ve followed it up with another fine offering, going by numbers (and reviews).

I’ve also started tracking which performances are sold out – but there’s no point offering stats on that, because my data is far from complete. However, some of the smaller names regularly selling out:

Nick Cody, Daniel Burt, Vigilantelope and Clodhopper: Miami all sold quite well too – but they’ve finished their runs.

29 Mar 2010

LaughTrack: Week One

Last week, I launched a website I’ve been working on in my own time: LaughTrack. It follows what people are saying on Twitter about the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and provides ratings on whether the crowd thinks a show is good or not.

I’m not going to get too caught up in the site itself right now – that deserves a separate blog post, and I’ve not found time for that.

However, I just wanted to report on the acts that have had the most buzz over the course of the opening week:

Show Initial Rating Current Rating Difference
Celia Pacquola: Flying Solos 0 74 74
Ursula Martinez: My Stories Your Emails 0 65 65
Catherine Deveny: Gold is Bullshit 0 65 65
Geraldine Quinn: Shut Up and Sing 0 65 65
Good Evening: Shaun Micallef & Stephen Curry 0 65 65
Asher Treleaven: Secret Door 0 65 65
The Festival Club 0 65 65
Daniel Burt: Yes Man Syndrome 0 60 60
Adrian Calear: Code Grey 0 53 53
Dave Jory: Men Are From Mars 0 53 53
Donna & Damo: An Asexual Love Story 0 53 53
Fear of a Brown Planet Returns 0 53 53
Nelly Thomas: I Coulda Been a Sailor 0 53 53

I chose the top ten, but there’s quite a few that jumped up to 53, so you get a few extra.

It’s worth noting that those last five gained just three positive tweets. So, at this point it doesn’t take too many tweets to get someone jumping up the board. However, the higher the rating is, though, the slower the rating increases, so let’s look at who got the most positive tweets as a comparison:

Show Initial Count Current Count Difference
Rich Fulcher: Eleanor the Tour Whore 5 16 11
The Pajama Men: The Last Stand to Reason 7 17 10
Celia Pacquola: Flying Solos 0 8 8
Tim Key: The Slutcracker 19 27 8
Nina Conti: Talk to the Hand 13 21 8
David O’Doherty: David O’Doh-party 7 14 7
Russell Kane: Human Dressage 7 13 6
Tokyo Shock Boys 6 12 6
Ali McGregor’s Late-Nite Variety-Nite Night 1 7 6
Wil Anderson: Wilful Misconduct 11 17 6
Fiona O’Loughlin: On a Wing and a Prayer 6 12 6

Again, a top ten, with one extra because of the same increase.

It’s interesting that almost all on the first list are comedians still making their stamp on the comedy scene. The second list has several more established acts. Only Celia Pacquola made it into both.

Of course, the older tweets were from other festivals – in particular, the Adelaide Fringe and the Brisbane Comedy Festival, which both happened in the lead-up to Melbourne’s Comedy Festival. So these numbers are far from perfect (but then, divining quality from Twitter isn’t a science anyway).

Hopefully you’ve found this somewhat interesting (well, if you’re a comedy buff) – expect more reports as the festival progresses. If you’re in Melbourne, I hope you’re making the most of this fabulous time of year!

14 Jul 2009

Rails Camps - Coming to a Country Near You

This weekend, there’s going to be a Rails Camp. In October, there’s going to be a Rails Camp. Then in November, there’s going to be a Rails Camp. That in itself is pretty freaking cool. What’s even cooler is that they’re in Maine, England and Australia respectively.

Definition

If you’re not quite sure what Rails Camps are – they’re unconference style events, held away from cities, generally without internet, on a weekend from Friday to Monday. The venues are usually scout halls or similar, so the name is slightly inaccurate – most people don’t bring tents, but sleep in dorm rooms instead.

Getting Down to Business

Also, they are events for Rubyists of all level of experience – and not just focused on Rails either. Anything related to Ruby and development in general is a welcome topic for discussion.

Communal Hacking

The weekends are made up of plenty of hacking, socialising, talks, and partying. Alcohol and guitar hero usually feature. A ton of fun ensues.

Making Pizzas

Rails Camp New England

A quick rundown in chronological order: first up, from the 17th to 20th of July, is Rails Camp New England. This will (as far as I know) be the first Rails Camp in North America. We’ll be up in the middle of Maine, at the MountainView House (a bit different from most Rails Camp venues) in Bryant Pond.

Unfortunately, if you want to come to this camp, we’re all sold out. Let me know anyway, just in case someone drops out (although it is late notice).

Rails Camp UK 2

Building on the success of last year’s first UK Rails Camp, a second one has been put together by Tom Crinson out in Margate, Kent.

Balancing

If you’re anywhere in the UK, or even Europe, you really should be keeping the weekend of the 16th to 19th of October free. In fact, go book your spot right now.

Rails Camp Australia 6

Last on this list is the original Rails Camp, that started back in June 2007, run by the inimitable Ben Askins. We’re returning to Melbourne (the host of the second camp, in November 2007), but this time we’re down by the beach in Somers.

John showing us how it's done

November 20th to 23rd are the dates for this, and going by the names of confirmed attendees, alongside what looks to be an fantastic venue, it’s going to rock just as much as the last five (and quite possibly even more). Feel like booking your place?

For all of these events, you should beg, borrow or steal to get your hands on a ticket. The energy, intelligence and passion of past camps has been amazing (which is why I do my best to spread the word), and they are a breath of fresh air compared to the staid and structured setup of RailsConf and most other technical conferences.

Thanks to John Barton, Max Muermann, and Jason Crane for the photos above.

07 Jul 2009

PublicSphere: Open Government

I’m a bit late to blogging about this (and I realise there’s plenty of other blog posts I should have written over the last few months), but a couple of weeks ago, the ACT Senator Kate Lundy and her advisor Pia Waugh ran their second Public Sphere event. I didn’t really hear of the first one – focused on the national broadband network – until after it happened. The second’s topic was open government, a topic I’m passionate about, and so I marked it in my calendar.

Of course, the event took place in Canberra, and I’m currently experimenting with a location-independant life at the moment, and was in Boston, Massachusetts at the time. However, there was a live video feed for the talks, and the twitter hashtag #publicsphere was massively popular. I was able to listen in for a good part of the day, and throw around some comments with others paying attention.

Reflection

There was a lot of talking. I probably caught about half the talks, and was feeling pretty braindead when I called it a night. I imagine those there would have found it a little tough, particularly with the addition of corridor discussions.

It was great to see not only Senator Lundy speaking, but Lindsay Tanner and Joe Ludwig as well – and generally saying the right things. By all appearances, they seem to understand the need for openness and transparency.

It will be interesting to see how all this talk translates into action though.

The Taskforce

Not that there isn’t action happening, mind you – a good portion of the talks were about what people were already doing. The big announcement from the event was the creation of a Government 2.0 Taskforce, which seems to be made up of some smart people. Mind you, their banner competition seems to be a small token towards the having an open and collaborative dialog.

I’m also hoping they can sidestep the bureacracy that so often ties governments down, and get things done fast and effectively. Given they’ve only got six months to make things happen, there’s a decent chance.

Disconnect

The event gave me some hope where little has been in the past. However, this drive towards open data and transparency doesn’t gel too nicely with the approach of Senator Conroy, who is the Minister for Communication. Why wasn’t he present?

That said, the proposed filter legislation sticks out like a sore thumb, so it’s fair to say he wouldn’t have received a particularly warm welcome. Something needs to change, though – personally, I’d love to see Kate Lundy take over his portfolio, but I’m not holding my breath.

Also, Lindsay Tanner really seemed to have his head around the open government space, and it sounded like that’s been the case for a while – so why are we only seeing actions like this now?

From a Distance

Finally, a few notes on how I found interacting with the event from afar.

  • Having a video feed is fantastic – far better than purely relying on live-blogging or Twitter
  • The twitter stream is great at providing a picture for others’ takes on what is being said.
  • Unsurprisingly, the timezone made it a challenge – I missed out on most of the afternoon sessions (around 2AM local time).
  • I also missed out on the informal discussions, in the breaks and corridors, which is where I feel a lot of the value usually is in conferences and unconferences.

I’m definitely looking forward to seeing both recommendations and actions from the Taskforce, as well as future Public Sphere events.

09 Feb 2009

Victorian Bushfire Appeal

I’ve been stewing on a few blog posts about Cambodia, but this is a higher priority.

In case you’d missed the news, the state of Victoria (in Australia) has been suffering from some devastating fires over the weekend. Over a hundred people have died, and that number’s certain to rise as the fires are put out and areas can be accessed by emergency crews. Towns, such as Marysville, have been razed.

If you’d like to donate, the Red Cross’ website seems to be the best place, from what I’ve read.

To get a good idea of how bad things are, it’s worth browsing the latest Boston Big Picture post, which features photos of the fires and destruction.

Smoke clouds (7)

Photo taken by Warren, on Flickr, with a Creative Commons licence.

21 Jan 2009

Link: Blog of Wade – How the Australian Carriers Missed It

"Management just didn’t and don’t get the internet"

09 Jan 2009

A Guide : Internet Filter Action

  1. Meet with your local ALP MP or Senator.
  2. Have a conversation with them about the internet filter, ideally focusing on The Message (below).
  3. Add the meeting details in a comment – the post will be updated accordingly (please comment if you’ve already met with a politician about this issue).
  4. Spread the word, and encourage others to do the same.

The Goal

To meet with as many ALP MPs and Senators, and share the message below. If you don’t have an ALP representative, then visit a Senator for your State instead. A face-to-face meeting is highly recommended, as it’s far more effective than an email or letter, and you’re more likely to have a sensible discussion, rather than getting a form letter response. If pressed for time, a phone call may suffice, but do everything you can to speak to the politician in question, not one of their staff members.

Even if your member is already listed below as having had someone else meet with them, another meeting with another concerned citizen will help solidify the message that there are serious problems with the Government’s proposed legislation.

I recommend using the message below – obviously some peoples’ opinions will differ, and I sympathise (and agree) with the concerns of censorship and grey lines of what the filter will and will not block. However, we need to find some common ground and try to direct their attention to what we feel is a better approach.

When you have a meeting organised, please add the details in a comment below, so we all have some idea of which politicians have been met with, and which still need a visit.

Don’t forget: both houses return to Parliament in February, so try to organise a meeting before then!

The Message

The goal of the Government’s Internet Filter is laudable. We have no argument with wanting to stop child pornography, and make sure children aren’t exposed to the darker corners of the internet. The problem is with the approach: an opt-out internet filter will not work.

  • There are plenty of legal tools that route around filtering: those who want to seek out such material will be able to.
  • The filter trials have been focused on HTTP traffic, with no attention given to peer-to-peer file sharing or instant messaging.
  • Filtering BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer traffic is not feasible – an analogy is monitoring every single phone call in Australia.
  • It gives the impression the internet will now be safe for children, ignoring situations where children are groomed by pedophiles via chat rooms and social networks, and may potentially meet face to face with these people.
  • It will slow the internet down to some extent.

That doesn’t mean there are no worthwhile solutions that should be investigated, such as the following:

  • Opt-in filter for those who desire it – whether offered by ISPs or as a downloadable tool.
  • Education for parents – via TAFE courses and similar.
  • Compulsory education for children in schools on what to be aware of when using the internet.
  • Increased funding for the AFP.

The Government’s current approach is a waste of money – particularly worrying in these financially uncertain times. We encourage the Government to change their tact for making the internet safer for Australians to use, and hope they employ some of the more effective ideas as suggested above.

Representatives

(Alphabetical by Surname)

  • Dick Adams (Lyons)
  • Anthony Albanese (Grayndler)
  • Arch Bevis (Brisbane)
  • James Bidgood (Dawson)
  • Sharon Bird (Cunningham – NSW)
  • Chris Bowen (Prospect)
  • David Bradbury (Lindsay)
  • Tony Burke (Watson)
  • Mark Butler (Port Adelaide – SA)
  • Anthony Byrne (Holt)
  • Jodie Campbell (Bass)
  • Nick Champion (Wakefield)
  • Darren Cheeseman (Corangamite)
  • Jason Clare (Blaxland)
  • Julie Collins (Franklin)
  • Greg Combet (Charlton)
  • Simon Crean (Hotham)
  • Yvette D’Ath (Petrie)
  • Michael Danby (Melbourne Ports – VIC)
    • Steve Hopkins – Nothing Yet Scheduled
  • Bob Debus (Macquarie)
  • Mark Dreyfus (Isaacs)
  • Justine Elliot (Richmond)
  • Annette Ellis (Canberra – ACT)
  • Kate Ellis (Adelaide – SA)
  • Craig Emerson (Rankin)
    • Ashley Angell – Nothing Yet Scheduled
  • Laurie Ferguson (Reid)
  • Martin Ferguson (Batman – VIC)
  • Joel Fitzgibbon (Hunter)
  • Peter Garrett (Kingsford Smith – NSW)
  • Steve Georganas (Hindmarsh)
  • Jennie George (Throsby)
  • Steve Gibbons (Bendigo – VIC)
  • Julia Gillard (Lalor – VIC)
  • Gary Gray (Brand)
  • Sharon Grierson (Newcastle – NSW)
  • Alan Griffin (Bruce)
  • Damian Hale (Solomon)
  • Jill Hall (Shortland)
  • Chris Hayes (Werriwa)
  • Julia Irwin (Fowler)
  • Sharryn Jackson (Hasluck)
  • Mike Kelly (Eden-Monaro)
  • Duncan Kerr (Denison)
  • Catherine King (Ballarat – VIC)
  • Kirsten Livermore (Capricornia)
  • Jenny Macklin (Jagajaga – VIC)
  • Richard Marles (Corio)
  • Robert McClelland (Barton)
  • Maxine McKew (Bennelong – NSW)
  • Bob McMullan (Fraser)
  • Daryl Melham (Banks)
  • John Murphy (Lowe)
  • Belinda Neal (Robertson)
  • Shayne Neumann (Blair)
  • Brendan O’Connor (Gorton)
  • Julie Owens (Parramatta – NSW)
  • Melissa Parke (Fremantle – WA)
  • Graham Perrett (Moreton)
  • Tanya Plibersek (Sydney – NSW)
  • Roger Price (Chifley)
  • Brett Raguse (Forde)
  • Kerry Rea (Bonner)
  • Bernie Ripoll (Oxley)
  • Amanda Rishworth (Kingston)
  • Nicola Roxon (Gellibrand)
  • Kevin Rudd (Griffith – QLD)
  • Janelle Saffin (Page)
  • Bill Shorten (Maribyrnong – VIC)
  • Sid Sidebottom (Braddon)
  • Stephen Smith (Perth – WA)
  • Warren Snowdon (Lingiari)
  • Jon Sullivan (Longman)
  • Wayne Swan (Lilley – QLD)
  • Mike Symon (Deakin)
  • Lindsay Tanner (Melbourne – VIC)
  • Craig Thomson (Dobell)
  • Kelvin Thomson (Wills – VIC)
  • Chris Trevor (Flynn)
  • Jim Turnour (Leichhardt)
  • Maria Vamvakinou (Calwell)
  • Tony Zappia (Makin)

Senators

Australian Capital Territory

  • Kate Lundy

New South Wales

  • Mark Arbib
  • Doug Cameron
  • John Faulkner
    • Elias Bizannes – Nothing Yet Scheduled
  • Michael Forshaw
  • Steve Hutchins
  • Ursula Stephens

Northern Territory

  • Trish Crossin

Queensland

  • Mark Furner
  • Joe Ludwig
  • Jan McLucas
  • Claire Moore

South Australia

  • Don Farrell
  • Annette Hurley
  • Anne McEwen
  • Penny Wong
  • Dana Wortley

Tasmania

  • Catryna Bilyk
  • Carol Brown
  • Kerry O’Brien
  • Helen Polley
  • Nick Sherry

Victoria

  • Kim Carr
  • Jacinta Collins
  • Stephen Conroy
  • David Feeney
  • Gavin Marshall

Western Australia

  • Mark Bishop
  • Chris Evans
  • Louise Pratt
  • Glenn Sterle

Credits

This was inspired by the work of Geoff McQueen and Matthew Landauer. Originally planned as a Google Document, but that doesn’t allow editing by everyone, so this blog post will have to do.

04 Jan 2009

Revisiting Internet Filter Action

So, a bit over a year ago, as we edged closer and closer to voting John Howard out of office, Rudd’s team make the stupid election promise of an internet filter. Exactly a year ago, in anger and frustration, I sent off a letter to Stephen Conroy, the then new Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

Twelve months later, what have we learnt?

  • Conroy is slow to respond to letters.
  • Conroy isn’t particularly good at engaging in reasoned discourse.
  • Conroy is good at staying on message.
  • The internet filter is unlikely to be completely opt-out – there’ll just be two levels.
  • Question Time is a farce and lacking in intelligent discussion.
  • Those passionate about the issue have mobilised, with the EFA, GetUp, Steve Hopkins and Elias Bizannes amongst those leading the way.
  • Trials of internet filters have focused mainly on HTTP and HTTPS traffic. Not IM, peer-to-peer traffic, or newsgroups.
  • ISPs, including iiNet and Internode, are not fans of the proposed legislation
  • The Greens and Liberals aren’t supporting it either. Nick Xenephon seems to be on the fence, and unsurprisingly Stephen Fielding of Family First wants to add legal content to be blocked by the filter.
  • Conroy insists that our filter will be much like those in Sweden and Canada – yet both of those filters, according to the Government’s own feasibility study, are voluntary.
  • There is a live pilot underway.

We’ve had petitions, rallies, phone bombs, emails and letters. It doesn’t seem to be making a dint in Conroy’s plans. I think face-to-face meetings is the best way forward. If your local member is from the ALP, then meet with them. If they’re not, you will have a Senator who is. If you’re uncomfortable about going alone, find some other like-minded souls. A group may well have a larger impact.

If you’re in Melbourne, that’s where Stephen Conroy is based – I’d love to hear some feedback of anyone who has met with him. I’m currently overseas, so I haven’t got around to that yet – I’ve only managed to meet with my then-local member (I’ve since changed electorates), and it was pretty clear that I knew more about the issue than he did.

I’d also recommend not bothering with arguments relating to civil liberties, censorship or keeping legal access to pornography. While I don’t disagree that these are important and valid, it’s not going to win over anyone. Personally, I try to keep the message about how the filter isn’t going to work, just like past filters haven’t worked, and thus it’s a waste of money and time. You need to express understanding that the Government’s goal is laudable, but the approach isn’t. The ends does not justify the means.

Also have alternative plans to suggest – whether that’s recommending parents stay aware of what their children are doing online, an opt-in filter for those who want it, or something like the previous Government’s NetAlert software. (Although that wasn’t downloaded much at all – so is there really the demand for an internet filter?)

Online action is great, but it doesn’t have anything close to the effect that face-to-face communication does. If you really want to make a difference, get into those politicians’ offices.

30 Dec 2008

Freelancing Tips via Rails Camp 4

Context

The fourth Australian Rails Camp happened back in the middle of November – and it was unsurprisingly and extremely enjoyably awesome, just like the previous four. Ryan and Anthony did a sterling job with putting it all together.

I probably talked a bit too much – I certainly felt I had more than my fair share of peoples’ focus – and while I rabbited on about Sphinx and Ginger, the topic I really enjoyed ranting about was freelancing, because it became far less about me, and far more about sharing the wealth of everybody’s experiences. I provided a few starting points, and then wise RORO minds added their own thoughts and opinions.

I can’t reproduce all that here, though. I wouldn’t do it justice. What I can do is go over the same notes I had then, and you can add your 2 cents (or five dollars) in the comments.

Freelancing Maths

One of the first things you need to be aware of, when you start freelancing, is how much to charge. I didn’t have a clue, but some more business-minded friends put me on the right track, so I’m sharing their advice here – don’t give me any credit for it.

So, let’s assume you want to start freelancing, and you have a target of earning $80,000 over the year (yes, some of you may say that’s too low, but others will say it’s too high – it’s just an example, okay?). You can use this as a basis for figuring out an hourly rate. There’s 52 weeks in a year, 5 days in a week, and 8 hours in a day…

 52 weeks
x 5  days
x 8 hours
x ?  rate
_________
   80,000

But wait a second – are you really going to work all of those 52 weeks? I doubt it. You’ll need time off for annual leave, sick leave and public holidays – the times when an employer would still pay you when you’re not slaving away. Australian annual leave is four weeks, sick leave is usually two, let’s add in another one for public holidays, and that brings us down to 45.

 45 weeks
x 5  days
x 8 hours
x ?  rate
_________
   80,000

What are the odds you’re going to have work all the time though, and are you really going to have eight billable hours each day? Unless you’re some sort of machine, the answer’s no, trust me. So lets drop eight down to six.

     45 weeks
x     5  days
x     6 hours
x 59.25  rate
_____________
       80,000

One thing we’ve missed in our calculations is superannuation. Again, using Australia as the example (because it’s all I can reliably comment on), you’re supposed to be putting away 9% of your income into your super account. Let’s factor that in:

     45 weeks
x     5  days
x     6 hours
x 64.59  rate
_____________
       87,200

Okay, so we can get an hourly rate of about $65 from that maths. And that could be fine… but maybe you’ve been eyeing off RailsConf or RubyConf or other such events. They’re not cheap – and hopefully employers would normally fork out the cash to get you there. You’re the employer now, so how are you going to afford it? Add an allowance into your calculations.

Again, due to the remoteness of Australia, it’s extra expensive to get to any of the major Ruby conferences. If we assume you’ll get to two of them (again, could be extravagant for some of you, but this is all hypothetical), then I’m adding a touch over $12,000 – flights, hotels, insurance, the conference tickets – to bring us to a nice round $100,000 target.

Also, I’ve dropped the number of weeks down another two – it’s not like you’ll be getting anything done for your clients as you jet around.

     43 weeks
x     5  days
x     6 hours
x 77.52  rate
_____________
      100,000

Okay, our final hourly rate is about $77.50.

I know a lot of the more experienced developers are looking at that value and thinking it’s pretty low – and going by market rates (for Ruby developers), it’s definitely below average. Some say a good ballpark figure for a decent Rails developer is $100/hour – USD or AUD (remember when the two currencies were almost on par?). This doesn’t mean you should charge that much (or that little) – but it should factor into your thinking.

All that said, you need to be comfortable with what you’re billing your time at, but don’t be afraid to charge what you’re worth. If the idea of having more cash than you expect scares you, there’s plenty of charities who would like to be your friend. Or, you could just work less, and spend the extra time on cool things (and they don’t even have to involve code!)

Freelancing Profile

Knowing what to charge is useful, but it’s not going to bring in the clients. Being known will help that problem, though – and there’s a few things you can do to help that.

Blog

Interpret how you will – a normal blog, twitter, tumblelog, even gists and pasties – sharing your ideas and knowledge is a great way to get your name known to others. It also helps build some human connections, via comments, emails or directed tweets. If it is valuable, they will find you (and if you think they need help, use a site like RubyFlow or RubyCorner to bring in some eyeballs).

Talk

If there’s a neat bit of code you’ve found, library you’ve come across (or written), or knowledge you think is valuable to others, offer to talk about it! It can be at your local Ruby group, or at something like a Rails Camp or BarCamp, or if you’re really comfortable up on stage, think about applying for a RailsConf or RubyConf slot.

I’m not a natural public speaker – but my confidence has grown in leaps and bounds from giving talks to fellow developers. Granted, I need to build up a bigger repertoire of topics, but I’m a bit less nervous about standing up and announcing my thoughts and opinions to others. It all started with an email from Tim Lucas asking what I was going to talk about at the first Rails Camp – and now Rails Camp folks are probably sick of hearing my voice.

They know who I am, though, and they know what code I’ve written. And that’s led to a referral or two for Rails work (usually Sphinx-related).

Socialise

Networking is a dirty word – and I can see how building connections with others for the purpose of connections, instead of meeting cool people, is a bit dirty. The much more fun alternative is to socialise – go out to social events, find those drinks happening in the evenings of conferences, have a conversation with a person you’ve not met before at your local Ruby meet.

Down the track, you will find these people may throw work your way – or maybe you’ll just learn cool new ways to code, or share some of your own knowledge, or make a good friend. All chalked up as wins in my book.

Release Code

Releasing your own code – from snippets to plug ins to full-blown applications – is a great way to show peers that you know what you’re talking about. It also shows potential clients that too, and reaffirms that you’re worth the rate you’re charging, and that you can be creative.

In my own case, I’ve done the occasional bit of Sphinx consulting due to my work on Thinking Sphinx.

Coincidentally, doing all these things are rewarding in and of themselves. I don’t do them to bring in work, I do them because they’re fun and I meet awesome people, which is (I think) the best approach. The opportunities they lead to are just an added bonus.

Your Turn

So, what’s your advice to a budding freelancer? Is there anything here that’s a bit Ruby or developer-centric? Any more general suggestions to keep in mind?

Also, please keep in mind I’m not an expert. I think the above advice is useful, but it is just advice. There’s no hard and fast rules that should be followed.

And the name of this blog has nothing to do with my work lifestyle, but the idea of deities who freelance for each other. Don’t take it as an indication of my ego. Honest.

29 Dec 2008

Nullus Anxietas 2 Approaching

Yes, I know it’s been quiet here – there’s several decent blog posts on the way though. I just wanted to post a quick reminder for any Discworld fans in or near Australia that Nullus Anxietas 2 is happening at the end of February, and will be awesome fun. There’s also a discount of $15 off attendee prices (a Hogswatch special) if you get in before the end of the year (going by AEDT/Melbourne time, of course).

The above little clip was done by the fantastically talented Snowgum Films (also responsible for Run Rincewind Run).

11 Nov 2008

Filtering Trial Results

The Australian Government’s contentious ‘Clean Feed’ internet censorship proposal has got some media attention lately – and by and large, it’s been rightly critical of Senator Conroy’s plans. If you’re not familiar with it, I recommend you read my letters to Conroy and peruse nocleanfeed.com.

In the middle of last year, the previous Government commissioned a closed environment testing trial. The results of these were released recently, and the values have been used by both sides to tout the usefulness/uselessness of filters. Handily, these results are available to the public, so I’ve skimmed through the extensive PDF – although I claim no solid understanding of it all – to figure out where the figures are from.

Firstly, a few facts:

  • Six different filtering approaches were tried (with the codenames Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Theta and Omega).
  • These trials were conducted on a purpose-built network.
  • The network is similar in scale to a Tier 3 ISP.
  • The trials covered speed changes, the effectiveness of blocking blacklisted material, and the valid sites blocked incorrectly.
  • Most filters were only tested against HTTP and HTTPS traffic. Gamma and Omega were also applied to emails, and Delta skipped on HTTPS.

A full grid of numbers is at the bottom of the post, but let’s go through a few comparisons.

Speed vs Blocking

Speed vs Blocking

The speed results here are really mixed. One (Delta) doesn’t drop much at all, but two (Alpha and Gamma) are horrific. All filters manage to block at least 87% of the blacklist – but only Beta comes really close, with 98% (losing a third of the speed in the process though).

Speed vs False Positives

Speed vs False Positives

Note that the scale on the Y Axis drops a bit, but we still get another set of mixed results. None of them are perfect on the false-positives front, and the closest is Gamma on 1.3% – but that comes with severly limited speeds. And really – there are a lot of websites out there. Even 1% covers a fair chunk of the net.

Blocking vs False Positives

Blocking vs False Positives

Here there’s something of a trend, although you have to be looking for it: better blocking effectiveness means a higher number of false positives. That’s not good, people.

Takeaways?

There’s really not that much to work off here, no matter what side of the fence you’re on. The main things to keep in mind are:

  • None of the solutions are perfect.
  • All had issues with false-positives
  • This was done on something approaching a Tier 3 ISP – will the performance speeds decrease if we applied these filters on a Tier 1 or 2 ISP? My money’s on yes.
  • It wasn’t Conroy who commissioned this study, so it can’t be pinned against him.
  • Delta, which is arguably the only viable filter judging by performance, still missed 9% of the blacklisted sites.
  • None of the filters were tested against newsgroups, IM, or peer-to-peer traffic. I’d imagine HTTP/HTTPS filters are relatively easy, so expecting the same performance and effectiveness for other protocols sounds like a pipe dream to me.

Raw Numbers

  Performance Effectiveness
Filter PPI API CPI BRI OBI
Alpha 92% 16% 17% 90% 2.6%
Beta 99% 67% 68% 98% 7.5%
Gamma 98% 14% 14% 87% 1.3%
Delta 99% 98% 100% 91% 2.4%
Theta 78% 76% 99% 95% 7.8%
Omega 101% 79% 78% 94% 2.9%

Glossary of sorts: PPI (Passive Performance Index) is the relative speed when a filter is attached but not running. API (Active Performance Index) is the relative speed when the filter is running. CPI (Change In Performance Index) is API when using PPI as the reference point (instead of uninhibited network speeds). BRI (Blocking Rate Index) is the percentage of blacklisted sites stopped, and OBI (Overblocking Index) is the percentage of friendly sites overzealously blocked.

01 Aug 2008

Link: PHPandMore » Blog Archive » Australian Post Code Geo Database

21 Jul 2008

Technical Creativity and Australian Mobile Data Plans

I’m slowly making my way through Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class (yes, I should have read it a couple of years ago, I know), and came across a nice quote – paraphrasing the thoughts of Joel Mokyr, that I thought was rather apt when considering the stupidity and greed of the mobile phone carriers in Australia (in general, and in regard to Apple’s iPhone):

“Technical creativity has tended to rise and then fade dramatically at various times in various cultures, when social and economic institutions turn rigid and act against it.”

You could argue Telstra, Optus and Vodafone aren’t doing anything against technical creativity, sure – but they’re certainly not doing anything for it either.

If you want a much better, more detailed write-up, go read what John Allsop has to say.

16 Jul 2008

Correspondance on Censorship

About six months ago, I sent a letter to the Australian Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (yes, that’s a mouthful), Stephen Conroy, raising some concerns with the ISP filtering the Government was proposing.

A few weeks ago, I received a response. It’s overly long, filled with spin and cruft, but hey, that’s better than nothing. There’s still some questions unanswered though, and new ones raised, so here’s my response to the good senator. Fingers crossed for a faster reply.

 

To the Honourable Stephen Conroy,

Thank you for your letter dated 26 June 2008, replying to my own concerns sent to your office in January. I appreciate the extensive details on the current Government’s plans for cyber-safety, although I feel a couple of my concerns weren’t addressed. Namely:

  • The reasoning behind using an opt-out filter instead of an opt-in filter;
  • Acknowledgement that this filter will slow down the internet in Australia; and
  • Confirmation that it is the ACMA, not the Government, that determines what sites are filtered.

Secondly, I have some questions from what you outlined in your letter:

  • Who decides the participants in the Consultative Working Group and Youth Advisory Group?
  • What defines success and/or failure for the ISP filtering pilot?
  • Was there consultation with the industry about the feasibility of the filtering? Or is that consultation limited to how best to implement it?

Again, thank you for your response, and I look forward to the continuation of this discussion.

Kind regards,

Patrick Allan

07 Jul 2008

Nullus Anxietas 2

A quick post for any Discworld fans that may peruse this blog.

Nullus Anxietas 2, the second Australian Discworld Convention, will be happening from the 27th of February to 1st of March 2009, in Melbourne, Australia. The first (in February 2007) was a fantastic success, which is why we’re doing it again.

While Terry Pratchett sadly can’t make it over this time around – he’s cutting down on travel because of his Alzheimer’s – we’ve still got some exciting events happening (including the follow-up to Snowgum FilmsRun Rincewind Run – watch it if you haven’t already).

Details are a bit thin on the ground at the moment, as we work on fleshing out programme ideas, but if you’d like to come along, registering in the next few days scores you $15 off the already-low early-bird rate of $120 ($100 for concession holders).

If this sounds like your kind of thing, but you’re not close to Australia and can’t justify the journey, you may want to check out the UK version – which has been going for over a decade now (although this year’s is already sold out), and the upcoming American edition.

14 Apr 2008

Link: Unleashed: Who's reading your emails?

"Even though you had the suspicion that the Rudd Labor government would be, well, a little less suspicious, a little less willing to use the power of the state to keep us all in line, that particular bloom has come off the rose."

16 Mar 2008

RailsCamp #3

If you’re a Ruby developer in or near Australia, I highly recommend attending RailsCamp number 3, which has just opened for registration. The first two were simply amazing, so I’m just a little annoyed that I can’t make it to this one (as I’ll be traveling overseas at the time). I’ve no doubt that this one will be just as fantastic – expect an extended weekend of hacking and talking with a bunch of smart, entertaining and passionate developers, and plenty of drinks and games thrown in for good measure.

You don’t need to be a Rails or Ruby genius to attend – just a desire to discuss, learn, teach and (most importantly) have fun.

Go register now.

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About Freelancing Gods

Freelancing Gods is written by , who works on the web as a web developer in Melbourne, Australia, specialising in Ruby on Rails.

In case you're wondering what the likely content here will be about (besides code), keep in mind that Pat is passionate about the internet, music, politics, comedy, bringing people together, and making a difference. And pancakes.

His ego isn't as bad as you may think. Honest.

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