Confession of a Novel Writer

God lives in the pages of fiction. Also babies’ eyes, and the musings of newborn kittens. I do not read much; for I am not a parishoner. I am a preacher, this is my pulpit, and Her thoughts are spoken through me, writ large on the page, for those who wish to hear to see, to taste and smell and touch the truth. God is the wisdom of words, and the novel is Her church, each book a divine testament providing witness to the majesty of Her creation. How dare I blaspheme with the profane filth uttered by my wretched hand? I am not worthy. For although my words are Hers, I do them no justice; they are a perversion to be mocked and scorned as the twisted ravings of a heretic. Do not read them. Honour others’ testimony with your gaze, for mine is wanting, defiled by my sins.

For I am a novel writer.

Confession of a Novel Writer

Documentary Review: “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks”

Poster-art-for-We-Steal-Secrets-The-Story-of-Wikileaks_event_mainFirstly, Assange is not the second coming — not even in his own circles. His ‘hacker’ background is by no means unique, and was almost a common experience amongst ‘geeks’ who grew up during the late 80’s and early 90’s. Being investigated for, or even charged with, hacking / phreaking / fraud offences was as common amongst his peers as trailer trash being arrested for shoplifting, or simple assault. (Heck, if you were trailer trash with a modem you might have been charged with all of them!)

The information required to exploit various devices, systems and networks was freely available, if you knew where to look (or what number to dial), and the mechanics of doing so were often trivial. Let’s just get that out of the way, and accept that for the purposes of this review, Assange was, prior to Wikileaks, nothing extraordinary.

However, having the hutzpah to publish classified information when ‘everyone knows’ what would happen to you for doing so is really what differentiated Assange from the rest of the crowd — no one can or should dispute that. It’s surprising he hasn’t already had an ‘accident’, and he should be applauded for his evident vigilance in keeping himself alive. But, there are other documentaries that do that. What this particular documentary seemingly wants to explore is not whether what Assange did was exceptional (we already agree that it was), but whether how he elected to bring his ‘secrets’ to the world was done in the most appropriate, compassionate way.

‘We Steak Secrets’ recognises that, to some, this is important — even if many of Assange’s supporters think that it isn’t.

Bradley Manning is a tragic individual. Those who find themselves questioning their gender identity (often before pursuing gender reassignment) do not typically make the best choices. (This is why to proceed on such a path one usually needs to see a psychiatrist.) It is an incredibly confusing, frightening and yet euphoric time and I don’t generally advise people in such circumstances to make any decisions that could change their lives in any real degree while they mull over their future, since they’re not likely to be their best choices in retrospect.

Being transgendered may not itself be a ‘mental illness’, but the anxiety, depression and mania associated with coming to terms with being so certainly is, and one can’t be considered of ‘sound mind’ in such a state — this is an important point to make, and one the documentary attempts to impart through Manning’s IRC chats with the sad little man who would eventually turn him in.

Obviously, deciding to copy a large amount of classified data and deliver it to Wikileaks would qualify as a ‘poor decision’, especially when you’re in the US military, and have practically zero likelihood of defending your actions to your superiors. This is what the documentary suggests, and to do so is not slander — it merely tries to explain to the layperson why such a bright young man would choose to martyr himself in such a dramatic way when very few others (if anyone) would ever consider embarking on such an ambitious but dangerous course of action.

The documentary assumes that a completely rational individual in a similar scenario would never jeopardise his personal security in such a rash fashion irrespective of a perceived collective humanitarian benefit — which is not an unfair assumption to make — and asks what made Manning different; what could lead him to behave so contrary to that norm.

In doing so, ‘We Steal Secrets’ makes a decent hypothesis.

Moving on from Manning to Assange, the documentary then raises the question, “If Assange was aware of Manning’s personal difficulties, was he irresponsible in choosing to receive the classified information, and go ahead with publishing it, knowing what would result?” This is an ethical conundrum that is open for debate, but open for debate it most certainly is — regardless of whether Assange’s supporters like it or not.

Although Assange evidently concluded that releasing the information was of greater value to humanity than preserving the remainder of Bradley Manning’s productive life, others may not have felt similar. But go ahead Assange did, at full steam.

He made his choice, fair enough — but could Assange have redacted details that weren’t all that important to the context of the information, such as the names of informants? Could he have released statistics, or related overall ‘stories’ told by the data, rather than the data itself, to mitigate some of the consequence to Manning? Would Manning’s looming punishment have been reduced had the information been handled differently?

We can only speculate — but we are entitled to, make no mistake.

It’s not ‘unfair’ for the documentary to ask these questions, either. It’s also not ‘unfair’ to continue on and examine Assange’s exploitation of his subsequent ‘rock-star’ status — after all, it speaks to his motivations, and casts a shadow on his supposed altruism. However, although to me the documentary tells the unfortunate tale of a fame-seeker who took advantage of someone in the grip of reconciling a very difficult truth in order to further his own agenda, others could interpret it differently.

I’m not sure how, but I’m sure they could. Can you?

Documentary Review: “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks”

#GovHack Melbourne: Not a Hackathon? #hackathon #melbourne

Hi David,

This is an open letter, posted to social media.

I’m a little concerned by your statement (in your e-mail dated 29 May 2013) that it “is the idea that matters more than the code.”

Does this mean it’s possible that teams that implement nothing (process no data nor write any code) over the weekend could receive the majority of — or all of — the recognition?

I believe that would seriously diverge from the overall ethos of GovHack, and of ‘hackathons’ in general, wouldn’t it? I realise that GovHack Melbourne is trying to be “different” with its “beautiful data” theme, but I really would like some assurances that ‘code’ (as you put it) is going to play a significant part in the decisions regarding the recognition of projects, and not be completely discounted in favour of wholly unimplemented proposals. Otherwise I would have serious reservations about attending the event, and I will strongly encourage software developers to ‘give it a miss’, and maybe attend RHoK instead.

Now, I do realise that there will likely be teams in attendance without developers, and that you want to cater to these. I suggest that those teams be encouraged to disband and find teams that do have developers — not that they be given the chance to take significant opportunity away from those developers that do attend! I would put to you that by doing so, you only serve to risk alienating developers further, and will simply end up with less of them attending next year.

Indeed, I’ve recently conducted surveys of users on developer-centric sites such as Slashdot that heavily indicated the majority of respondents would not attend / continue to attend ‘hackathon’ events that did not consider their work as relevant in the awarding of recognition. This is a fairly obvious conclusion — who wants to bust their arse writing code for the better part of two days only to have ‘projects’ that exhibit no technical prowess take all the glory? Further, by suggesting that implementation is of little consequence — an afterthought that can be ‘dealt with later’ — you belittle their talent. Who wants to hang around for that?

On behalf of all the developers that might attend GovHack Melbourne 2013, I would like a formal and public assurance that ‘code’ WILL ‘matter’ at least as much as the ‘idea’, that substance will be no less equal than form, that implementation will not be trumped by mere speculation.

Thank you,
Melody Ayres-Griffiths.

On Wed, May 29, 2013 at 5:59 AM, David F. Flanders <david.flanders@ands.org.au> wrote:
T-minus 2 days, 12 hours and 10 minutes until all the #GovHack prizes are announced this Friday night! <eek!>

If you have any last minute questions please twitter either myself, Flanders (@DFFlanders) or Fiona (@FCTweedie) [1].

We’ve already had a couple of questions which we’ve posted here:

http://www.govhack.org/locations/melbourne/

But, how do I win?

As with previous GovHack winners it is the idea that matters more than the code, that’s why we’ve made sure to invite more than just developers this year. Developers we love dearly[2]! – but we want developers to partner with designers, storytellers, researchers, cartographers, artists, journalists, videographers and anyone else who can help make data come alive. In short, we’d love to see simple data, beautifully expressed- if you’ve not seen this example you really must:

Or see this winning example from last years GovHack:

http://au.okfn.org/2013/05/08/beautiful-data-govhack/

The team you’ll need to win?

Friday night will not only be the announcement of all the prizes on offer, but will also be your opportunity to meet new people with the creative skills you’ll need on your team to win. So come ready, and come eager – and don’t be late! 6pm Friday night, see you there!

Kind Regards,

David & Fiona
(Event Coordinators)

[1]= email questions if you must 🙂 david.flanders@ands.org.au [2]= Developers: we complied a bunch of tools for you in this ‘developer pack’ please do have a look as you’ll be surprised by this great resource: http://www.govhack.org/howto/

#GovHack Melbourne: Not a Hackathon? #hackathon #melbourne

tapDancer

Got a Commodore 64 and an Android-powered device? Check out our first Android utility, tapDancer, a free Google Play download.

tapDancer allows you to use your Android-powered device to render and play back .TAP archive files of Commodore tape images to your real Commodore computer (VIC20 / C64 / C128 etc.) All you need is a common ‘CD to Cassette’ adapter, your Commodore and a Datasette.

Simply copy your .TAP archive files (of tapes you own, of course!) to your Android device’s SDCard, connect your Android device to the mini-jack leading from the ‘CD to Cassette’ adapter placed inside your Datasette, press ‘Play’ on the Datasette, power on your Commodore, press Shift-Run/Stop, press the ‘Eject’ button inside tapDancer, navigate to and choose your desired .TAP file.

After the audio renders (anywhere up to two minutes, longer on slower devices), press the ‘Play’ button. Adjust your volume to around 10 (for starters). With luck, in a few moments your C64 will recognise the file, press SPACE on your C64 as soon as it says ‘FOUND *GAME*’. If it doesn’t, try adjusting the volume up or down, press ‘Stop’ in tapDancer to reset the audio playback, reset your C64, press Shift-Run/Stop and try again.

Unfortunately, not all Android devices provide audio output at a quality necessary for your computer to read it, but in our tests the majority of devices did successfully load games. Also, tapDancer doesn’t know when the tape motor is stopped, so loading so-called ‘multi-load’ games can be tricky. Try to find ‘single-load’ versions of games, where the entire game loads at once. As with most things, your mileage may vary.

For more detailed usage information and a user forum, see the tapDancer website a thttp://tapDancer.info or by tapping the WWW icon on the main tapDancer application screen.

Later versions plan to add support for Acorn, Sinclair, MSX and Atari.

tapDancer

Aussie Marriage Equality Proponents Should Support A Nation-Wide Referendum #ausvotes #auspol

Marriage equality proponents should support the notion of a nation-wide referendum.

I believe their present fears to be misplaced. Firstly, by far the vast majority of Australians live in metropolitan areas. This is not to say that those who live in the country will automatically answer in the negative to any question regarding legalising same-sex marriage — but even if they did, mandatory voting means that they will likely be overwhelmed by the majority of those in metro areas who are in favour (or at least not willing to stand in the way) of marriage equality.

Secondly, once the populace is better educated that a change in legislation will not force any religion to marry a same-sex couple; that same-sex couples already raise, foster and adopt children, both their own and others; that marriage equality in Canada and elsewhere has thus-far not resulted in the Apocalypse visiting these countries; and that by-and-large same-sex marriage will result in no real change to their own lives; the influence of anti-equality lobby groups will be largely neutered — their only remaining argument being tradition.

Thirdly, tradition is an argument easily defeated once you suggest that should these religious lobbies have their way in this case, a woman’s right to vote, wife-initiated divorce, gender equality in the workplace, or any and all anti-discrimination legislation in general could be next — after all, none of these relatively modern advancements are ‘traditional’, and should be wound back, shouldn’t they?

If we take the behaviour of humanity as a whole over the last two-thousand years and agree to base the laws of today on what we did the majority of that time — our ‘traditions’ — slavery would still be legal, discrimination common and even encouraged, only husbands could divorce their wives, domestic abuse would not be illegal, marriages would often be pre-arranged, the working life would begin at age twelve — the list goes on and on.

Obviously, a scant few Australians would agree to return to such repugnant times.

Predecessors to those currently opposed to marriage equality have been present as each of those now-undesirable ‘traditions’ came to their ends, arguing quite vocally that there was plenty of justification for society not to change. I’m sure they trotted out, for example, God’s approval of slavery, implied that men were ‘bad Christians’ for embracing women’s rights (a woman is only a man’s rib, after all!), and congregated about polling booths wagging their fingers in shame at those voters who elected to do away with burning at the stake — but these past efforts happily failed.

These ‘warriors-of-God’ inevitably lost their crusades — upstanding members of the community such as slave-owners, capitalists who exploited child labour, men who loved to beat their wives — and those relics still opposed to marriage equality will similarly surrender to progress in short order once the law is changed, lest they find themselves decapitated by it.

So, taking these points all together makes marriage equality appear to be a remarkably easy concept to market to Australian voters. A convincing print advertisement, for example, need only be a faux-ballot with the following five questions:

“Question One: Should this country return to traditional White Australia policies?”

“Question Two: Should men regain the traditional right to own slaves?”

“Question Three: Should the right to vote be restricted only to men, as mandated by tradition?”

“Question Four: Should the age of consent to marriage and sexual relations be reduced to the traditional twelve years?”

“Question Five: Should the tradition of marriage remain strictly between a man and a woman?”

I suspect voters will answer similarly to all five of these queries. So be ye not afraid, marriage equality advocates — it will be a referendum hard fought, but handily won.

Melody Ayres-Griffiths was a strong advocate for marriage equality in Canada, and is happily married to her Australian wife in her birth-country — a marriage she would also like to be similarly recognised in her new home, Australia.

Aussie Marriage Equality Proponents Should Support A Nation-Wide Referendum #ausvotes #auspol

Turnbull’s NBN no #fail…

Everyone’s fuming over the ‘last mile’, but they shouldn’t — it’s kind of stupid.

Firstly, FTTN still eliminates the nightmare of pair gain — one of the loudest accomplishments of Labor’s NBN. Second, one of the greatest difficulties currently facing ADSL2+ is not the ‘last mile’ itself, but that in many cases that ‘last mile’ is actually several, making ADSL2+ difficult to implement. Since presumably the fibre nodes will be more widely distributed than the existing DSLAMs, many more people will have access to ADSL2+ speeds, a dramatic improvement to their existing internet connections.

Thirdly, I find it laughable how much stock media outlets such as Fairfax seem to have put in this idea that they were going to rush head-long into the IPTV game without facing any regulation, but my real third point is that IF IPTV IS VIABLE, COMPANIES SUCH AS FOXTEL WILL PAY TO CONNECT FIBRE TO CUSTOMERS HOMES. This is a simple market reality — if someone can make money off of FTTH, they need only stump up the $3-5K, and then recoup it through a subscription. Heck, I imagine there will be many ISP’s offering to connect you to FTTH on a 24-month contract. It won’t be that painful to get FTTH — it just won’t be ‘free’.

So, it’s this idea that the Coalition’s NBN is somehow ‘inferior’ for not arbitrarily connecting every doghouse, farmhouse and henhouse that’s the real #fail here. It’s simply unnecessary. Wherever FTTH is viable, the market will find a way to deliver it. In the meanwhile, many more people will get good solid ADSL2+ speeds of between 20 and 25 megabit for a much lower cost than they do now.

I personally want the really fast upstream fibre provides for commercial purposes, but when FTTN appears in my neighbourhood, I’ll pay for FTTH myself. There’s no reason for my neighbour to have to subsidise my business — which is what Labor’s NBN would have them do.

Turnbull’s NBN no #fail…

Crazy Bug In Slashdot Moderation System?

I think I may have just uncovered a crazy bug in Slashdot’s moderation system.

If you click ‘Parent’ on the post you wish to moderate, you can then moderate the posts inside that sub-thread without immediately losing any moderator points, if you go back to the home screen after you moderate the comments.

It appears that the system does catch up with you periodically, and then deduct the points — but during that period of time it appears you can go far into negative deficit. For example, I ‘spent’ my last moderator point today five times (for research purposes; I certainly don’t plan on doing it again).

It looks like the points I ‘over-spent’ have stuck.

I wonder if this really is a new ‘discovery’, or if it’s commonly abused by Slashdot moderators? I hope not.

Crazy Bug In Slashdot Moderation System?