Freelancing Gods 2015

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.

15 Feb 2008

Exit Right

(A blog post where Pat cheats and just quotes heavily from the book.)

Another book I managed to get through on my break in New Zealand was the latest Quarterly Essay, Judith Brett’s Exit Right: The Unravelling of John Howard. Anyone who knows me well knows that I was extremely happy with Howard’s loss at the end of last year, so reading about what lead to the downfall wasn’t exactly depressing (unlike the excellent Dark Victory, which covers events around the 2001 election).

As well as pointing out the dangers of groupthink and following the party line (paralleling nicely with Cass Sunstein’s Infotopia), Brett had two incisive descriptions which I hadn’t heard clearly before.

The first was about how WorkChoices had such a strong impact for so many voters.

With its new industrial-relations regime the government was trying to change culture, just as Howard had accused the Keating government of doing. And the culture was resisting. The deep problem for the government was that unlike many other areas of policy, when it comes to what happens at work, people have first-hand experience, both their own and that of friends and family. And opinions based on experience are much more firmly held than those based on media reports or government advertising campaigns.

In the long interviews which Antony Moran and I used for our book Ordinary People’s Politics, there was a discernible difference between the way people talked about opinions based on experience and their other political views. On issues of foreign policy, such as the decision to support the US invasion of Iraq, most Australians have little choice but to trust the government. And if the government gets it wrong, it has no immediate impact on their daily lives. It is the Iraqis who are bearing that cost. Even with the children-overboard affair, the fact that the government lied had no immediate impact on Australian voters’ everyday lives.

But changing the power relations in the workplace is a very different matter. In trying to sell the changes to an already-sceptical electorate, the government damaged its more general credibility. If they are giving us spin on things we know first-hand, why should we believe them on anything else? WorkChoices may well be the main reason people seemed to stop listening to the government some time i the first half of 2007.

The second was in regards to Budget promises and the lack of expenditure on services.

The core problem of Australian federalism is vertical fiscal imbalance. What this means is that the federal government raises most of the revenue but the states have the most need of it, with responsibility for services including education, roads, hospitals and police, where there is never enough money. Australia’s federal system involves not just a mismatch of money, but a mismatch of accountability, which is why it is so difficult to fix.

There is a structural fracture between the level of government (federal) which bears the odium of raising taxes, and the level of government (state) which claims the credit for spending the money. There is also endless scope for blame-shifting. Why would a Commonwealth government give more money to the states for public hospitals, for example, or for TAFE colleges, particularly when the states are in the hands of the opposition party and when it can’t control the outcomes? Why wouldn’t it give voters tax cuts for which it will get the credit?

Voters keep saying that instead of tax cuts from the surplus they would prefer the money to be spent on health, education, infrastructure, the environment. But most of this is done by the states, and so doesn’t easily provide the Commonwealth with the type of big-bang policy announcements that tax cuts do. And from the perspective of the Coalition, it’s just giving free kicks to the Labor state premiers and helping them stay in power.

Neither point is ground-breaking, but I found them clear perspectives that I hadn’t encountered before.

14 Feb 2008

Link: Australia 2020 - Nominations

"Every Australian has the opportunity to nominate to attend the Australia 2020 Summit as a member of one the 10 critical areas of discussion."

12 Feb 2008

I'm Sorry

A few notes and links on the Government finally apologising to the indigenous people of Australia, prompted by conversations with Ross via twitter and IM:

  • ‘Sorry’ isn’t the be all and end all – but it’s a good start.
  • Howard’s intervention to ‘save the children’ was a load of bullshit bound for failure – top-down approach, handed down from on high, by white people who don’t have a clue.
  • I don’t have any solutions on how to make things better. But as far as I’m concerned anyone suggesting solutions who doesn’t work with indigenous communities should seriously consider shutting their mouth.
  • There isn’t going to be an easy, clear, simple solution.
  • But there are people out there putting forward intelligent ideas. Go read Chris Graham’s article in Crikey
  • While you’re at it, peruse these articles by Kylie Lee and Claire Smith.
  • Also topical and definitely worth reading – Martin Flanagan on Archie Roach

I’m looking forward to tomorrow morning.

13 Jan 2008

Link: [AusNOG] Happy new year / New rules forage-restricted internetand mobile content after the 20th ofjanuary 2008

"The many responses to Government enquiries, Senate Select Committees and newspaper letters to the editor from Industry, civil libertarians, technologists and concerned citizens should, after all this time, make it patently obvious to even the most uninfo

04 Jan 2008

Internet Censorship in Australia

The news about the Government’s plan for an opt-out internet filter has got me pretty incensed, so, for the first time in far too long, I’m sending a letter. Yeah, a proper, printed letter, in an envelope. Apparently that raises the odds that I’ll get a response, but these are politicians we’re dealing with, so I have my doubts.

The main target is Senator Stephen Conroy, but I’ll also be posting off copies to my local member, Kelvin Thomson, and the Chair of the ACMA, Chris Chapman. I was inspired by the EFA’s media release (are you a member of the EFA yet?).

Thanks to those who have provided feedback and discussion points – particularly Anthony Richardson and Jayne. Hopefully what I’ve written below will spur others into action.

To the Honourable Stephen Conroy,

With the recent announcement of the Rudd Government’s plans for a mandatory internet filter, there’s been some discussion in the media, but I have a few concerns that I’d appeciate being addressed.

Firstly, the opt-out nature of the filter. Making the filter opt-out is, I feel, implying the Government of this country doesn’t trust it’s citizens. Will people who request to opt out of the service have their details recorded? Why couldn’t this be an opt-in filter?

And who decides what gets filtered? The Government? Or an independent organisation? Each lobby group and political party will have their own opinions about what should and shouldn’t be blocked by the filter. I’m sure “Who watches the watchers?” is a quote you’ve already heard in regards to this issue, but that doesn’t detract from its relevancy.

Thirdly, the issue of speed. This filter will make browsing the internet slower for Australians – even for those who opt out. Every single request for every part of a web page will have to be checked, first to see if the user requesting the content has opted out, and then if they haven’t, to see if the content requested is censored. Of course, that’s if you’ve got a list of filtered content. If you have some system that determines whether content should be filtered as it’s requested, that’ll definitely be slower.

Let’s keep in mind the fact that Australian broadband is lagging behind the rest of the developed world as it is. Also, the same speed issues will apply even if you have an opt-in service.

Beyond the issues listed above, I also have some skepticism that this filter will be particularly effective. Let’s not forget the how easily the previous Government’s attempt was hacked. And it won’t stop people watching child pornography – they’ll just opt-out of the service. That kind of material is not really a problem for children either – it’s not something they’ll stumble upon.

The (relatively short) history of the internet has shown that it treats censorship as failure, and will route around it (to paraphase John Gilmore). From my questions and concerns above, I think it’s clear that I feel this Government’s (well-meaning) attempt to filter the internet is not only another barrier in the way of decent internet speeds and open content, but also a waste of time and effort.

I look forward to a response to the questions I’ve raised. I would definitely be happy to discuss all this with you in person.

Kind Regards,

Patrick Allan

02 Jan 2008

Link: EFA Media Release: EFA Attacks Clean-Feed Proposal

"Australia is supposed to be a liberal democracy where adults have the freedom to say and read what they want, not just what the Government decides is 'appropriate' for them.." If you're not a member of the EFA, why not?

02 Jan 2008

Postie - The Gem

An addition to, prompted by Dr Nic’s suggestion in the comments of the earlier blog post – the postie gem. It allows easy parsing of Postie search results, and also provides a command-line tool for searching.

By suburb:

postie Brunswick

By postcode:

postie 3070

To install:

sudo gem install postie

To use within your own ruby code:

require 'postie'


Again, extremely simple, but just makes access to the data that little bit easier.

Now, what would be really cool is a Quicksilver plugin that queries the API. Any volunteers to code that up?

30 Dec 2007

Postcode API

A couple of weeks ago I quickly coded a basic webservice – using Merb – for Australian Postcode data. Just got hosting for it sorted out last night, so now I can blog about it.


The emphasis is on simple – you can search by postcode or suburb, and get the data back either as a HTML page, XML, or JSON. That’s pretty much it. The request urls aren’t complicated, either:

Suburb requests use partial matching, so you don’t need the full suburb name. If you want the JSON returned with the MIME type of application/json, use the .json extension.

I’ve no plans at this point on using this, but perhaps it’s useful for someone out there – if so, would love to hear about it.

11 Dec 2007

Link: Australia Post - Postcode Search

The Postcode Datafile

03 Dec 2007

Why not?

I was watching the always-interesting Enough Rope tonight, I came across a surprising stat.

One of the segments was focused on a family who had lost their 7-year-old daughter two years ago. She had been signed up as an organ donor, and her parents were surprised to find out how rare this was – so they’ve spent a large amount of their time since raising awareness and encouraging people to sign up to be on the Organ Donor Registry.

The surprising (and disappointing) statistic is that less people signed up to be donors in 2006 compared to 2005 – and both numbers were less than 300! In a country of 20 million people!

So… if you’re not a donor, and would like to be, the Medicare website has the relevant forms. You can even apply online (although they’ll then send you a form to sign).

If you’re not a donor and don’t want to be, though, I’d be interested in hearing why. (My original question contained less thought and more expletives, but I’m open to there being valid reasons.)

03 Dec 2007

Link: The party's over and Liberals will soon be history - Opinion -

"By 2014, we will have a struggle between a new left and right - Labor and Green - and the issue will be simply how green, how to balance the need for a much simpler and more communal kind of life, with the need to give people comfort and amenity now."

27 Nov 2007

Link: Crikey - Mungo: The dubious legacy of John Winston Howard

"And thence we emerged, to see the stars again."

26 Nov 2007

RailsCamp Wrap-up

RailsCamp 2.0 finished earlier today – and I think it’s safe to declare it a fantastic success (even given my bias).

Massive thanks to Ben and Karen for their hard work getting everyone fed and co-ordinating people in the kitchen (and the RailsCamp bus from Melbourne to Sunnystones). Thanks too to everyone who helped at various points – both in the organising and over the weekend.

Finally, thank you to everyone who came along – these camps are so much fun because of the calibre of people who attend, and their willingness to share ideas, code and laughs.

Will be posting a version of my talk at some point soon… once I’ve recovered from the weekend.

02 Nov 2007

Link: In cold blood - In Depth -

"We must speak out against capital punishment in all forms, in all places, unconditionally."

02 Nov 2007

Link: [AusNOG] The Elephant in the Room

"Who is going to wear any increase in the cost of delivering the same service 'via the node'? ... The customer?"

30 Oct 2007

RailsCamp Reminder

In case the few readers of this blog are not aware, there’s a RailsCamp happening just outside of Melbourne, from the 23rd-26th November (not far away at all). It will be a weekend of hacking, chatting, food & drink, and very likely some gaming (along the lines of GuitarHero and WiiSports), taking a similar approach to barcamps. The first one, back in June near Sydney, was a fantastic success, and judging by the current list of attendees, I’m expecting it to be much the same.

We’re edging closer and closer to being sold out, so if you’re considering coming along, I recommend signing up as soon as possible. Day passes for the Saturday and Sunday are also available.

23 Oct 2007

Deja Vu

From 2004:

Election 2004 Comic

From 2007:

Election 2007 Comic

16 Oct 2007

Insight on Gen Y voters

I caught the last half of SBS’ Insight tonight, which was focused on Generation-Y voters in the marginal Queensland electorate of Moreton, currently held by the Liberal Party’s Gary Hardgrave. While some of it felt pointless and bland, there were a few points from the parts I saw that grabbed my attention.

Labor – Still Clueless about the Internet

Graham Perret, the Labor candidate, was present on the show, and I caught the tail end of him talking about how Labor was using the Internet. He spoke about how it was another way to get their message out to the voters – and that’s precisely the wrong way to approach it. While newspapers, radio and TV are largely broadcast media, the Internet is far more democratised, and far better suited to engaging people and getting proper dialog happening.

This is what irritates me about politicians (particularly John Howard) using Youtube – they treat it very much as just another way to get the press release out. GetUp is making use of Youtube in a much more conversational way – there’s no reports yet on the site about how Sunday’s forum proceeded though.

People want Politicians to be Humans

There was a researcher on the show – I didn’t catch her name – who had studied Generation-Y, and (if I am remembering correctly) was talking about how all voters – not just the younger ones – want politicians to be funny and human. To be honest and approachable. To stop with the spin. To really connect with people.

Okay, maybe I’m riffing off her ideas into my own, but I think the feeling was pretty similar. I wish ideas like this would get more airplay – perhaps the politicians might actually take it on board.

Beyond the Show

On Insight’s web site, they have a temporary forum for discussion about the show. I made a few comments myself, but from a technological perspective, it’s really not an effective way to encourage discourse. You also get the trolls – even with the moderators vetting each post – just like everywhere else, which is a shame.

Of course, it’s tough to get people in a frame of mind where they’re open to other ideas, instead of just ramming their own down other people’s throats.

16 Oct 2007


".. A third trick is showing his impish sense of humour, evidenced by his statement that he cares deeply about Aboriginal reconciliation."

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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.

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