It’s been two years

According to the blog folder I keep on the cloud somewhere, it’s not true that I didn’t write a blog post in the last two years.

But writing and publishing aren’t the same thing (just ask my third episode of This is Modern Living. It sits somewhere, also “in the cloud”, waiting to join its siblings on the outside, but knowing it doesn’t have an ending.

Two years ago, when I wrote the preceding blog post, I was in NYC. I escaped there for four weeks, renting a room in a six-storey walk-up on Houston and Eldridge.

My job of almost six years was over. I hadn’t felt anything in months. When I left Melbourne, Hilary Clinton was on her way to becoming the first female President of the USA. When I landed in LA 14 hours, the news reminded us that a one-in–20 chance is still a good chance. Trump rolled a natural 20 and nobody knew how to feel. I had transported myself to be a numb person surrounded by other numb people.

What I love about New York, though, is its perseverance. Those who move to NYC to pursue a dream do so knowing it’s going to be difficult. There will be hardship. The people in that city continue to exist despite others. They help each other through the hardship.

Two years later and my home was rocked by mindless violence. In Melbourne a man set a car on fire and started stabbing people. He killed a man who meant a lot to many Melburnians. Sisto Malaspina lived his life publicly as the perfect emblem of Melbourne: he made us feel welcome and he fed us.

So much of Melbourne feels touched by his death. So many of us were touched by his life.

I’m seven hours away, by plane. I’ve been living in Singapore for the past 5 months. This country has had the some government for the last 53 years. The current Prime Minister (Singapore’s third) is the son of their first. Some people criticise the government (privately, in their cars). Some continue to spruik the country, taking huge pride in its cleanliness and its airport.

It’s rare to hear a siren here. I don’t know what that means except it's a clear sign I’m not in Melbourne or NYC.

My life has changed a lot in the last two years. I’ve accomplished more than I thought I would. A couple of months later I started a new job. I learnt a lot. I met a lot of passionate people who what to make the world better and intend to do so with technology.

I’m feeling more hopeful than I was then. There’s a lot more to be hopeful about. Nihilism has its benefits, but hope is more likely to get results. That’s where what I’m sitting with now. Hope, action and support. Let’s give that a try.

Politics in November 2016

The following are rambling thoughts, typed with exhaustion, as a result of travelling from St Kilda to Soho, New York over 26 hours while an election was happening in the US. It probably has too many pop-cultural references in it.

We were in the air when it happened. The plane landed at LAX and as it headed towards the gate, people started turning on their phones. The text messages spread through the cabin and the conversations started immediately.

It was only when I heard other people talking about it that I realised Lyndal wasn’t playing some kind of terrible practical joke. This was real and the most difficult thing to deal with, at the time, was how credible it actually was.

During the whole lead-up to the election, different news organisations kept pointing to the numbers. The polling showed how far behind Trump was. But the numbers were ridiculous because they were gathered under the rules of the way the game used to be played.

In the first season of the TV show Survivor the contestants began their time on the show trying to survive in a remote location without the luxuries of home. Most of them thought that was the game. People were voted out because they were weak.

The game changed very quickly once Richard Hatch started forming alliances, telling people what they wanted to hear and playing the game the way he saw it. The other players were blind-sided. Even when they knew the way Hatch handled players and situations, they couldn’t keep up or bring the power over to their side.

The game changed before our eyes and we acted too late and couldn’t bring ourselves to play this new game. In this new game governing well is a distant second to power. Power comes from telling people what they want to believe but good governing comes from doing what someone believes is best for everyone.

We saw this play out with Brexit. We’ve seen it in the Philippines. We’ve seen it in Australia.

But we also saw it in Russia.

And we saw it in Animal Farm.

The giant appeared and announced “It is happening again.” And we’re like Agent Cooper, sitting in that roadhouse, knowing that we’re powerless to stop something that has already started.

These are dark times. We might feel helpless. That’s what they want. They will bank on that. Maybe we should start talking about what’s important to us more than every three to five years.

But we probably won’t, because it’s easier to just let it keep happening again and again.

Just remember: it’s a lot easier to push over a pig when he’s walking on two legs.

Dramatic reactions

We will continue to be angry with ourselves for being made into fools. Foolish things will continue to distract us from the real harm.

I almost posted this as a response to someone's (yet another person's) Facebook post about the video with the hawk and the snake.

But Facebook isn't the place for being told to care about other things. It's there to care about everything. Everyone's opinion is valid about everything and Facebook sets its algorithm to show us posts we are more likely to agree with and confirm that opinion.

It brings us the video, encourages us to share it and then encourages us to rage against its makers for giving us something we found entertaining.

Now, more than ever, we have always been at war with Eastasia.

Detecting Scam Virus Emails Because Word Documents are Evil

I’ve heard recently about more people getting scammed by clicking on email attachments that open up a crypto virus that destroys an entire office network.

This morning I received an email in my inbox (my spam filter usually detects them) and it looked suspicious, like it might contain a virus.

In case it might help you, I’m going to go through the bits that made it look suspicious so other people know what to look for.

How can I tell it’s suspicious (and might contain a virus)?

An innocuous looking email (but does it bring a virus?)

This is the email I received. It looks innocuous enough, right? Somebody is sending me an invoice they want me to pay.

Helpfully they’ve put the details in the message but they haven’t included the payment information. That must be in the attached Word .doc file, right?

Don’t ever click that!

The first thing I do when I see a Word .doc is leave it the hell alone. I then wonder who sent me a Word document when they could have sent me a PDF or shared a Google doc or done any number of things.

If someone has, in earnest, sent me an invoice as a Word .doc file, I still won’t open it. They’re probably a small business and they don’t know about proper email hygiene, but I’ll reinforce my reputation for pedantry by replying directly, explaining that I never click on Word documents in emails and ask if they could send it to me as a PDF or at least include the payment details in the body of the email.

A quick list of the instantly visible dodgy parts

That Word document probably contains a virus

  1. The subject line: What invoice? I don’t remember getting an invoice.
  2. The sender: I’ve never heard of these people.
  3. The amount: It’s a weird amount. It doesn’t mention what it’s for.
  4. That Word Doc: It just has my name as the file name. That’s weird.

Some closer inspection

Then, having a deeper look at how this thing is put together I can confirm that there are reasons it shouldn’t be trusted.

  1. Email address and sender name: The email address and sender name don’t match. This probably has not come from a business’s official email account.
  2. Details of the message: It says that there’s a bill reference number and there’s an invoice number. These don’t agree and there’s nothing in the to explain the situation to me.
The sender name and the email address do not matchThe bill reference number is different to the invoice number

Why does this email exist?

Look, I can’t say for sure. I was suspicious of it so I got rid of it.

But it seems to me this exists with purposefully confusing information in the body of the email to get me to try to open the Word .doc file in the hope that it will explain the situation better.

Word documents (or things pretending to be them) can have malicious software in them that only executes when you try to open it. That software can sometimes ruin your life (unless you have a robust backup procedure).

What to do with an email like this.

Mark it as junk to help train your junk email filter and maybe things like this will not appear in the future.

The Census: a Failure of National Humility

Let the Australian census debacle be our lesson about arrogance rather than technology.

Last night, you may have heard, the Australian Bureau of Statistics took the census offline after several malicious denial of service (DoS) attacks.

This should have been expected. Its possibility should have been discussed by the ABS and the government in the lead-up to the census.

The possibility of a kind of failure should have been made apparent at all stages. Instead, however, everyone publicly backed themselves.

Everything we do in technology is a trial of some kind. We base entire project methodologies around the idea of failure. (Look at the Agile and Lean concepts.) It is ridiculous to mix this level of expected and controlled whoopsies with the arrogance of a government prioritising being correct over being careful.

Government has become more about not admitting mistakes than actually governing.

The Schadenfreude you see expressed by libertarians on social media this morning is not a response to technology failing as much as it is the comeuppance of an arrogant government.

Last night the Prime Minister tweeted that he successfully completed the census at his house. Then he offered no further tweets about the problems other people were having.

He offered no comment about the unfortunate people struggling in ABS server rooms or about how great it was to attempt something so bold as a predominantly online census.

Of course he couldn’t do that because we live in a culture where mistakes are treated with excuses rather than ownership and compassion.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda

Imagine a different scenario: the government publicly treated the online census with caution. In this alteraverse they referred to the project as a “trial” and encouraged people to use it first and, if it failed, to swap to the paper form they were provided.

Maybe we could have supported them, in this other reality, if they had announced a plan to do something inventive and obviously for the public good with unused offline survey booklets:

The different ministries worked together and came up with a plan that conservationists, economists and social service workers universally applauded. The will turn unused census booklets into insulation or construction materials for makeshift housing for our increasing homeless population.

That’s not a real quote from anywhere. It’s a made up alternative universe; a dream; a fantasy.

Snap back to reality

Last night was a failure of our collective attitude towards big projects. We are so scared of being wrong that we would rather see everything come crashing down and do a piss-bolt out of the scene than preempt the possibility of things failing with public contingencies.

This morning’s news overflows with experts saying it was never going to work. That doesn’t help. What would those experts have done if it did work? Would they announce it as a triumph, hooking their trailer onto that passing star? Would they have stayed quiet? I doubt we’d see announcements from them saying they didn’t think it was possible.

We can’t keep dealing with technology issues in terms of absolutes. It does nothing but breed lack of confidence in our leaders and, more importantly, the technology to grow our reputation on an international competitive stage.

Australia: The Cautiously Optimistic Country

We need to get used to saying: “We’re not sure if this will work but we’re going to give it a go. And, by the way, this is the plan we have in place if it doesn’t work.”

Because a clever country plans. We have to stop saying we’re a clever country, stop hoping we’re a lucky country, and actually do the things we constantly pat ourselves on the back for. We need to encourage attitudes of planning, long-term research and revisiting premises.

We need to look beyond tomorrow’s headlines and next week’s opinion polls and beyond the interest of the power-hungry individuals who got us into this mess. They don’t care about us. We should stop giving them the power to hold us back. We’re better than this.

How we’re all broken

I wanted to write over the past few weeks but, instead, I researched ways I could post on my blog without having to log in to my WordPress site.

Then I changed the theme.

I started to adjust the theme: About 30 minutes lost researching new Google fonts I could use in the theme to make it more mine.

Returning to my earlier challenge, I searched again for ways to post directly to WordPress from Sublime Text 3, my chosen text editor. It turns out there used to be a way but it hasn’t been updated in years and everyone says it’s broken.

Meanwhile, ideas & brilliant thoughts, they all vanished from my head.

Important discussion points about how the world works, that I felt so necessary to impart, are now disappeared into the procrastiverse.

At some point I made choices withouth actual awareness.

Like that point, earlier today, when I picked up my phone to look at something and then forgot which cute and shiny icon I wanted to tap.

This is mindfulness’s opposite.

Australia and the Death Penalty

Today’s report is an important reminder that the AFP must not expose people to the risk of the death penalty. Evidence shows that the AFP is putting around 370 people a year at risk of execution, more than 95% of which are for drug cases.

Emily Howie quoted in “Parliamentary committee delivers blueprint for Australia’s global leadership to abolish the death penalty”, Human Rights Law Centre

It’s exciting to see some actual movement in this area.

Just over a year since the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in Indonesia, and a parliamentary report talks about, not just how it could have been avoided, but how it is our duty to try to stop the death penalty around the world.

I’m very proud of all the people I know who have been a part of this battle. This is a tiny step. Recommendations are not the same as taking action.

Now you have something concrete and meaningful to speak to your local member and candidates about over the next few weeks.

The entire report is available at the Parliament House of Australia website.

Standard Bearing

An end-user may not notice or care if you stick a form class on your form element, but you should. You should care about bloating your markup and slowing down the user experience. You should care about readability. And if you’re getting paid to do this stuff, you should care about being the sort of professional who doesn’t write redundant slop.

Tim Baxter in 'Meaningful CSS: Style Like You Mean It'A List Apart

I've had this argument with colleagues a lot over the years. Attention to detail is important. The errors that come from a lack of attention to detail are what used to separate professionals from dilettantes. It doesn't matter that most people won't notice. It should matter that you know the difference between excellence and slop and that you reach for the former and are ashamed of the latter.

It's why having standards is so important.