Lessons from the edge – finding gifts in important places

Spent all day yesterday hanging out with a good friend, Peter Miller.

To see someone I care about dealing with Leukaemia (CLL) and putting all the theory and philosophy of martial arts into practise to not only cope, but to grow and evolve through such an experience is humbling, inspiring and deeply profound. I highly recommend people read his blog. For those of you who struggle with the topic of death, it will challenge you. But for everyone, it will likely inspire you to live better. It will inspire you to find gifts in important places, and teach you how to change your perspective if your current perspective doesn’t give you the tools you need to live well.

I still remember a series of discussions with Peter from many years ago now about martial theory, and about seeing everything as a gift. We had been talking about seeing an attack as a gift. Rather than seeing combat as something negative, or violent, or aggressive, seeing it as just another thing that you can engage in with joy. How treating all challenges of any sort as a gift changes your frame of thinking, giving you more options to affect a more awesome and holistic outcome for all involved. Little did I realise how useful this discussion would become.

Yesterday Peter showed me how to take a branch of wood and turn it into my new martial arts weapon. Hurrah! It involved breathing, learning to feel what the wood wanted to do, putting down anything negative to ensure each action of planning was smooth and uninterrupted. Basically everytime I got frustrated or agitated, including when just talking about life, I would make a mistake. It turns out planing a piece of wood is the best type of litmus test for calmness and mindfulness 🙂 A few hours in  and I was extremely relaxed, extremely productive and even managed to complete it (apart from sanding and finishing bits).

Thank you for the meditation lesson Peter, I accept this gift, and am a better person for it. You continue to create an amazing legacy of things, people, perspectives and inspiration.
Pia and PeterPlaning wood

Note for others: I did a talk about the idea of applying martial arts to everyday life that covers this idea last year for those interested.

Internet, government and society: reframing #ozlog & #openinternet

Having followed the data logging issue peripherally, and the filtering issue quite closely for a number of years, I am seeing the same old tug of war between geeks and spooks, and am increasingly frustrated at how hard it is to make headway in these battles.

On one hand, the tech/geek community are the most motivated to fight these fights, because it is close to our hearts. We understand the tech, we can make strong technical arguments but the moment we mention “data” or “http”, people tune out and it becomes a niche argument, easily sidelined. It is almost ironic that is it on these issues the Federal government have been the most effective on (mainstream) messaging.

The fact is, these issues affect all Australians. When explained in non tech terms, I find all my non-geek friends get quite furious, and yet the debates simply haven’t made it into the mainstream, apart from a few glib catch phrases here or there which usually err on the side of “well if it helps keep children safe…”.

I think what is needed is a huge reframing of the issue. It isn’t just about the filter, or data logging, or any of the myriad technical policies and legislation proposals that are being fought out by the technical and security elite.

This is about the big picture. The role of the Internet in the lives of Australians, the role of government in a digital age, and what we – as people, as a society – want and what we will compromise on.

I would like to see this reframing through our media, our messaging, our advocacy, and our outreach to non-tech communities (ie – MOST of the community). I challenge you all to stop trying to tell your friends about “the perils of data logging on our freedoms”, and start engaging friends and colleagues on how they use the Internet, what they expect, whether they think privacy is important online in the same way as they expect privacy with their snail mail, and what they want to see in the Internet of the future.

I had a short chat to my flatmate about #ozlog, staying well away from the tech, and here is what she had to say:

What annoys me is how the powers that be are making decisions that can or will affect our lives considerably without any public consultation. The general public should be educated on the implications of these kinds of laws and have a say. To me, this is effectively tampering with the mail, which has all the same arguments. If we start just cutting corners to “catch the bad guys” then we start losing our rights and compromising without consideration, potentially to no effect on crime. It’s a slippery slope.

Pamela Martin – flatmate and non-geek, she still has a VCR

It’d be great to see a series on TV about the Internet and society, something that gets normal people to talk about how they use the Internet, what they expect from the Internet, from government, and to work through some of the considerations and implications of tampering with how the Internet works. Some experts on security, networking, online behaviours and sociology would also be interesting, and let’s take this debate to the mainstream. The tech, security and politically elite too often disregard the thought that “normal” people will get it or care, but this is in fact, possibly the most important public debate we need to have right now.

I’ve written a little more on these ideas at:

Would love to hear your thoughts.

It is worth noting that during the big filter discussions in 2009/10 I was working for Senator Kate Lundy. Most of our correspondence up till that date were, to be frank, pro filter letters that argued that people wanted less porn to protect the children. IE – the arguments were generally idealogically based and little to do with the actual proposed policy, but supporting letters just the same. The Senator blogged about her thoughts on the issue which caused (over a few posts) several thousand comments, largely considered and technical comments against the policy which were really helpful both in building a case and in demonstrating that this is a contentious issue. I was and remain very proud to have worked for a politician with such integrity.

At the same time I saw a lot of people fighting against the filter using nastiness, personal attacks, conspiracy theories and threats. I would like to implore to all those who want to fight the good fight: take a little time to consider what you do, the impact of your actions and words, and whether in fact, what you do contributes to the outcome you are seeking. It is too easy to say “well it’s gonna happen anyway” and get all fatalistic, but I assure you, constructive, diligent and overall well constructed advocacy and democratic engagement does win the day. At the end of the day, they work for us, we just sometimes need to remind them, and the broader “us” of the fact.

UPDATE: This post was initially inspired by a well written SMH article which reported that the data logging issue had been put deftly back on the table (after it being shelved for being too contentious) with questionable claims:

Her apparent change of mind may be a result of conversations with the Australian Federal Police, who have long pushed for mandatory online data retention. Neil Gaughan heads the AFP’s High Tech Crime Centre and is a vocal advocate for the policy.

”Without data retention laws I can guarantee you that the AFP won’t be able to investigate groups such as Anonymous over data breaches because we won’t be able to enforce the law,” he told a cyber security conference recently.

Now, I’m not involved in Anonymous but I’m going to make an educated guess that there is probably a reasonably high rate of tech literate people who understand and use encryption and other tools for privacy and anonymity. Data logging is ineffective with these in place so the argument is misleading at best.

I was pleased and heartened to see the SMH article get a lot of attention and good comments.

This is only the beginning.

Fake geeks prey on us poor lonely “true geeks” – 4 realz yo

Note: apparently it hasn’t been completely obvious to a few people so just saying up front, this is a mock blog 🙂

Don’t you hate it when you go to a geeky event, and you see a guy dressed up as Mal or Ironman or Wolverine (swoon) and it turns out they are just a booth babe, or worse, a sales guy. It’s like, the biggest let down! OMG! They are obviously purposefully poaching on us poor lonely and desperate geeks and frankly we’ve had enough! If you aren’t a true geek, then pretending to be one is worse than poaching, it is maliciously playing with the hearts and minds of the people who run your networks, and read your email, and could, with very little effort, utterly destroy your life and reputation online.

Do you feel me?

Even worse, I hate when you meet a cute guy who does turn out to own a computer, but also turns out to be a total Windows fanboi. Raving on and on about his 1337 VB skills, or how everyone that picks on Windows 8 totally sucks because no one has even seen it yet but it is totally “awesum”. He despises “freetards” because they are all so unrealistic about the industry and “it’s not like Linux has even made it on the desktop anyway, so who cares?”. Yeah, Windows fanbois are totally fake and should stop pretending.

Then you get the Apple banbois. The ones who wear berets because they think it is fashionable, maintain a pretentious sense of (secretly self) loathing about geeks and pretend to be passionate about design and typefaces because it helps them get laid given the demographic of the vast majority of Mac users. An Apple fanboi will lament about how Steve Jobs was Gandhi, Einstein and Jesus in one man, and wear turtlenecks because they think it makes them just like Steve. Apple fanbois are fakers who should stop pretending and learn how to be a true geek!

Then you get the device geeks. You know the ones, who always have the latest gadget regardless of the brand, who like to show off their immensely huge collection of apps, and who think installing an upgrade to Angry Birds somehow makes them technically competent. I got news for you chum, you are a fake geek! Stop it!

You know when you meet guys who talk about being a sysadmin ninja, or a gun at games development? FAKE! I have studied martial arts for 21 years and you sir, are no ninja. You couldn’t hit a wet towel and you couldn’t fire a gun to save yourself. Your limp wrist and shoulder muscles would buckle from the kick back so just stop. We won’t be tormented like this!

Finally you might get lucky enough to meet a guy who can program in a real language, can run his own infrastructure, is into gaming and loves to throw around Star Wars and Evil Dead III quotes. But then he expects you to stay in the kitchen, or give up work entirely to look after the kids by yourself, or he wants you to not beat him in Tekken or Call of Duty ‘cos his friends might laugh at him being “beaten by a girl” and frankly he doesn’t want the competition at home. Geek guys who turn out to be misogynists are the most annoying kind of fake geeks, because they have forgotten that true geekiness has nothing to do with gender, and they encourage geek girls to reject either their geekiness or their girliness. You guys need to be put down, you are the worst kind of fake geeks. No rly.

So, I guess it’s too much for a geek girl to find a real geek guy, one who looks like Wolverine or Mal, who can talk my language, use the same tech, play the same games, treat me like a human being and not disagree with my particular flavour of geekiness in any way shape or form.

Or perhaps we should all just chill out and let Bartlet be Bartlet.

No one has a monopoly on geekiness, and there are many flavours of geeks out there. It is actually really awesome that being geeky is becoming popular because we need more people to get on the path of tech literacy, whatever their incentive. Otherwise when the machines come our army will be very small 😉

For another fantastic and better written blog post about this is John Scalzi’s “Who Gets To Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be“. Read it, now! 🙂

Note: This mockblog post is inspired by a good article by Daniel Griffiths (‘Fake Geek Girls’: How Geek Gatekeeping Is Bad For Business) which responds to the growing number of articles berating “fake geek girls”.

It’s incredible to me how idiotic some people can be, how short sighted they are in their own quest for self importance. Personally I love the fact that being geeky has become trendy, has become something people aspire to. As a geek I want to encourage our society to embrace and be empowered by technology, not shut down a person because they “aren’t a true geek”. What does that even mean anyway? So I hope you enjoyed my trollish response to the quite pretentious “Booth babes need not apply” article by Joe Peacock. Hey Joe, the article didn’t start too bad, but by the end it just got stupid. But well done for bringing an important discussion to the fore.

Online Culture – Part 1: Unicorns and Doom

There is a lot of commentating, hypothesising and general navel-gazing around the topic of “online culture” and how the Internet is changing society. Some believe we are ascending into a euphoric utopia where we will all be free and ride unicorns over double rainbows! Some bemoan our descent into ego driven fickleness that is undermining the very foundations of a civil society!

The reality is far simpler.

It is also, though it seems odd for many to hear, rooted in the actual technology of the Internet and history of geek culture.

I was originally going to do four blog posts looking at:

  1. Unicorns and doom: online culture and the impact on mainstream society
  2. Live free or dial: public vs private, some new challenges for our society online
  3. The geek will inherit the earth: the history and lessons of online culture
  4. Who is responsible: some thoughts on the relationship between citizens, corporates and governments

I will continue this series mid 2013 as my contribution to an important discussion we are starting to have as a society, as well as useful in providing some context for those unaware of geek culture (and their own inevitable geeky metamorphasis).

Unicorns and doom: online culture and the impact on mainstream society

It is certainly true that we are seeing a shift in society that is profound, but it is a shift that really boils down to two key aspects:

  1. a change in mainstream society expectations, &
  2. a transfer in power (and increased capacity for greatness) to the individual and thus the community.

Great Expectations

When you use the Internet, it changes you. I don’t mean sending emails and the occasional Google search. I mean when you spend many hours every week or day going online, engaging in discussions, cross-checking official statements with on the ground bloggers, actively seeking out people you like (or dislike) online to see what they are up to, and clicking through interesting links until you inevitably find yourself rickrolled.

Using the Internet changes your expectations of the world around you, and importantly your expectations of how you can interact with the world.

There are four expectations that we develop, consciously or not, by engaging online:

1) Route around damage

At a technical level the Internet was designed so that there was always a way around a problem in the communications. Any damage or blockage becomes just something to work around. Internet users naturally adopt this idea of assumed access and expect to be able to find and do whatever they want online.

This becomes an extraordinary and profound expectation when “damage” is interpreted at a social level, and individuals assume they can “route around” any form of artificial interference such as censorship or manipulation. The expectation develops in individuals that they can work around obstacles in their life, and they are less likely to put up with ideas thrust upon them or agendas they do not subscribe to.

2) Healthy skepticism

Anyone can publish their thoughts online and there are many cases where the official media reporting of an issue does not gel with the online accounts of people on the ground. Projects like Wikipedia demonstrate clearly that for many issues there is more than one “truth”.

Wikipedia, to its credit, manages to present the most generally accepted version of issues whilst also archiving edits and discussion pages to present to the inquisitive reader some of the conflicting ideas around the topic.

Contrast both of these situations to the past where the local newspaper was the only news and Encyclopedia Brittanica or an equivalent was the authoritative source for students and casual research. The variety and ease of access to different opinions and knowledge is an easy trap in the first instance, but rapidly teaches us the importance of cross referencing, of looking for why someone might think or say something, of being skeptical of official information.

3) Transparency and accountability

When we want to know about something, we automatically look it up online. We expect to be able to get information on any subject we choose and when information is not forthcoming we ask why. Anyone is accessible online and we can follow (and in some cases get responses) from our leaders, music stars, favourite authors, peers, pretty much anybody.

This experience fuels an expectation of access and engagement which is a challenge for many, particularly in older established institutions. It is the accountability with which we can hold people, organisations and institutions to account that is making it easier for us to make informed choices.

Of course the flip side of this is that individual privacy has become far more public and people are sharing more and more of their lives online and then dealing with the consequences. Such as sharing that you are going away for the weekend along with your address through geocoded tweets and then finding your house broken into.

We are currently going through a transition period where the old and the new are caught in a frenetic push and pull of negotiating expectations, and we have not yet really defined our expectations of online privacy. See part two of this blog where I go into the ramifications of public vs private online.

4) Do-ocracy

When we meet people in the physical world, we engage in a complex dance of communication. There are protocols (in every culture), we use a number of mechanisms such as voice and body language to establish rapport, there is a negotiation of expectations and limitations and often an interesting conversation will result.

By comparison, when we meet someone online, we can immediately compare what they are saying to us to what they are saying to others, or what they’ve said before and importantly, what they’ve done. We can google their name/nick and get an indication of what they are like and their contributions to the world. We have an immediate capacity to establish for ourselves at least a small amount of context around this person, far more so than we could hope to establish in person over a significant period of time.

Even without a person’s real name you can establish a trusted, constructive dialogue and collaborate online. Establishing networks of trust is obviously not new, but the ease with which we can do so online with people from all across the world, even with pseudonyms or anonymously, creates an expectation that we can achieve great things in great numbers, very rapidly, without necessarily having to know exactly who they are.

It also creates an expectation that fits very well with Australian culture. That is, we start to treat people according to their actions, their efforts, their contributions, as opposed to their status, relatives or finances. Even famous people become judged by their actions as opposed to their past.

All of these changes in societal expectations has a profound impact on how people engage with the world around them, with governments and organisations, and interestingly with power constructs.

People Power

Like every other significant shift in society, we will see most people adopt the new tools as a matter of convenience, but we will also see some people embrace the opportunity for their personal beliefs or freedoms.

The opportunities for personal and community empowerment are enormous online.

The Internet has democratised both access to and “publishing” of knowledge. The control of knowledge has always been a power mechanism, and we are now seeing a significant struggle as traditional knowledge and power brokers find themselves continually flanked by individuals and communities.

Technology gives us an immediate, global reach both for information dissemination, but also significantly for distributed grassroots coordination. And we can engage with other people under our own names, psuedonyms or indeed anonymously, all of which are important in different ways. Also, as most people are online in some capacity (and certainly every power broker), anyone is able to be engaged with or affected online.

So armed with information from many sources, a virtual megaphone, the ability to connect with like minded people anywhere and coordinate, and the ability to do so from the relative safety of a psuedonym or anonymity, we really can achieve anything. Sometimes this power is used constructive, sometimes just for the lulz, but the Internet has changed all of us fundamentally.

In Conclusion

There will always be people being fickle, thoughtful, noble, underhanded, overreaching, argumentative, complacent and all the rest. The Internet has not changed any of this but it has acted as an amplifier. People will always be people (and we don’t have a plan ;)).

To assume social media (for example) is changing society because people are putting random tidbits about their life and thoughts in the public domain is a shift is not only a mistake, but a gross underestimation of what is actually transpiring. People have always used the tools they have to hand to express themselves, it just so happens the current tool of choice is quite public.

However, the Internet has had a profound impact on mainstream society. It has changed our expectations, how we engage with the world around us, and has created new opportunities for power for all people (and organisations). It has become an extension of our everyday life and mind, a meritocratic demonstrator of community empowerment and hyperconnectivity, and yet we are only just getting started.

My next post will look at some of the new challenges we are facing online, such as our definition of freedom, rights, and the interesting dynamic between private and “public” spaces online.

Parting ways

After nine years together, Jeff and I have decided to part ways. This is a mutual and amicable decision, and we wanted everyone to know that we are both ok 🙂

Jeff’s post is at http://bethesignal.org/blog/2011/06/09/parting-ways/

Though we still care for each other and will remain good friends, unfortunately we have grown significantly apart and out of love.

Personally, I have learnt a lot from this relationship and from Jeff, and I look forward to seeing what he goes on to do and supporting him as a friend. Although it will be a difficult transition in some ways, we know this is the right thing to do and hope you will all support us both through this.

I will be staying in the Canberra area and Jeff is planning to move back to Sydney.

Although we both will appreciate loads of hugs in the short term, it would be great if everyone could avoid the “I’m sorry to hear that” of “what happened” sympathies. Good company, good times and good wine will be the best way you can support one or both of us.

Thank you everyone, and please if you know us both, don’t feel weird about inviting us to the same parties 🙂

Air traffic control and Somalia

I was moved to blog this evening by two inspiring conversations I had whilst travelling to Melbourne. Both fascinating for very different reasons!

Firstly, on the plane from Canberra to Melbourne I sat next to a guy who works in the air traffic control systems industry. It was fascinating because it is an industry with only a few major players (about 4 or 5) who over the years have absorbed most of the small players. As a result most people in the industry know each other and because as he put it “a lot of the crap tech was discarded”. There is a lot of standing on the shoulders of giants, of building upon existing awesomeness rather than reinventing the wheel. It was interesting to hear as a person who has been in the tech industry for years to observe the consequences of less, large, quality players in a niche industry.

He also talked about the tech. It was interesting to learn that pretty much all air traffic control systems have become Linux based over the last few years (usually a forked and heavily modified Red Hat distro apparently), and that they take the Battlestar Galactica approach to security whereby they don’t have the systems networked or easily accessible and hence massively reduce the risks of cracking. Simple, low tech and extremely effective 🙂 A nice reminder that security doesn’t have to be overly complex, just well considered and  thought through.

The second conversation was with a cab driver in Melbourne, a lovely guy from Somalia with whom I got into a conversation about what is happening in Egypt and throughout the Middle East and Africa. He was happy for Egypt, but he was concerned because he thought the people’s uprising in Somalia didn’t result in a system that represented the needs of Somalians but rather split the country and rendered the government less capable. It was an interesting personal insight and I’m going to go and do some more research of the political histories of African countries. We also chatted about aid vs investment, and the challenge of generating wealth in a country vs just bringing external wealth in.

Lots of food for thought. I’m going to try to start blogging more again, even if it is just short pieces every week or two. It’s been far too long and I know I owe a few blogs I promised to do months ago! 🙂 I’ll be doing a blog about data vis later this week, and a long overdue one about linux.conf.au 2011 next week.

A Sheik, a Rabbi & a Priest in Yass

My parents are putting on an event in Yass on the 16th September which proves to be very interesting. Basically it is the Together for Humanity Foundation, which bring a Sheik, a Rabbi and a Priest together to discuss the differences and similarities of Islam, Judaism and Christianity (respectively) and ultimately help promote understanding and tolerance in our society.

It is a great cause, and they primarily speak to schools all over the country. There is a dinner on the night of the 16th including a panel of the speakers and I thought it might be of some interest to some of the more local readers of my blog 🙂

As a person who studies Chan Buddhism, obviously I’d love to see even more diversity represented. But I still think it will be a very interesting event and I hope to see a few of you there 🙂

My top 10 songs of all time

So I didn’t actually get to vote in the Triple J top 100 of all time. I feel really stupid to have missed it! I was just asked (live on radio) whether I had voted and I stupidly said yes intending to get straight off the phone and onto the voting, but it was closed! So below are my top 10 songs of all time, some for technical reasons, all for emotional. Thought it might be of interest to some 🙂

Meme time!

In no particular order:

  • Gorecki – Lamb. Our wedding  song 🙂 About finding that person that just completes you, that complements and helps you want to be a better person. A beautiful song and a beautiful voice.
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana. Changed everything, and yet so simple. Influenced a generation.
  • Shame – Stabbing Westward. My favourite angsty teenage song. Once went to a Live (the band) concert just to see Stabbing Westward play support, and then left 😉 The man has an incredible voice.
  • H – Tool. I love a lot of the older Tool music, this particular one reminds me of  a close friend who died very young in very unfortunate circumstances.
  • We’re in this together – Nine Inch Nails. I love pretty much every NIN song, but this one really talks to me about regardless of everything going on, none of us are truly alone.
  • Fade to Black – Metallica. One of their best songs, and one that influenced me to learn guitar in the first place.
  • Burn – The Cure. an amazing (and dark) song from The Crow soundtrack. One of their best in my opinion. Admittedly takes me back to school 🙂
  • Cornflake Girl – Tori Amos. Beautiful, powerful and disturbing. Worth looking into the deeper meaning.
  • Classical Gas – Mason Williams. An incredible guitar piece that puts me in an almost meditative state when I play it. Technically challenging but also a joy to play and listen to.
  • Pathetique – Beethoven. Such an exquisite piano piece, and when played well covers about the entire scope of human emotion. Fun to play too, but I’ve yet to master it 🙂

There are so many more songs I love, and I’m sure given more time I’d rejig this another dozen times. So I’ll leave it there 🙂 Apart from one last honorary mention:

  • Space Cadet – Kyuss. Couldn’t leave this off. This 3 person rock band had such a big sound, such a complex and incredible mix. Great fun to play on the bass. Demon Cleaner also very worth listening to.

Bonfire night photos

The bonfire was great fun, and although there were a lot of pikers (sickness, bad weather concerns, wusses) we had a lovely group of friends come out to enjoy the bushland and the explosions 🙂 Below are the links to the photos I know of. I’ll add more as they come in:


One of my favourite photos is here, by Jenny, but I can’t insert it for some reason.

Mike Carden - fires and moon
Mike Carden - fires and moon
Marys photo of Po
Mary's photo of Po
Ghostly gums by Alison
Ghostly gums by Alison
Sparkly Alice by Alison
Sparkly Alice by Alison
Lovely fire photo by Nathanael
Lovely fire photo by Nathanael

Speaking at SoGikII in Sydney on Tuesday

I meant to blog about this, but have been busy. I’m speaking at the SoGikII conference on Tuesday, which is an incredibly eccentric geek conference that should be awesome! Anyway, check it out 🙂

GikII noobs be warned: this is a conference with the boring bits left out, and the level of ‘geek’ cranked right up. (GikII, FWIW, is the tragic love-spawn of an Information Institute and a ligil geek.)

I’ll be speaking about being a geek in the political machine.