The Republicans waged a 3-decade war on government. They got Trump.   ƶ

Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann:

In April 2012, we created a major stir in the political world with a long piece in the Washington Post Sunday Outlook section called, “Let’s Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem.” It was adapted from our book published days later, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, and this was our money quote:

The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier in American politics — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

As scholars who had worked for more than four decades with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, we faced a ton of scorn from sitting Republican lawmakers and outside observers for making this argument — and denial from most of the mainstream media. For reporters, professional norms and concerns about accusations of partisan bias dictated that the parties be treated equally, whatever the underlying reality. The safe haven of false equivalence led the press to ignore one of the most consequential developments in contemporary American politics: the radicalization of the Republican Party.

Australians shouldn’t feel too smug about this. We have the same problem, but – as always – we’re a few years behind the U.S.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

A Technical Glitch   ƶ

A great piece by Ben Thompson:

Those old business models were great for journalists; they weren’t so great for those not deemed worth covering. Those nostalgic for the “good old days” are likely wishing for far more problems than they realize.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Pokemon Go is a huge security risk   ƶ

Pokemon Go is a phenomenon, and it’s going to be one of the most important games of the decade, but Niantic has a lot of things they need to fix. Starting with their security practices.

Adam Reeve:

Let me be clear – Pokemon Go and Niantic can now:

  • Read all your email
  • Send email as you
  • Access all your Google drive documents (including deleting them)
  • Look at your search history and your Maps navigation history
  • Access any private photos you may store in Google Photos
  • And a whole lot more

What’s more, given the use of email as an authentication mechanism (think “Forgot password” links) they now have a pretty good chance of gaining access to your accounts on other sites too.

And they have no need to do this – when a developer sets up the “Sign in with Google” functionality they specify what level of access they want – best practices (and simple logic) dictate you ask for the minimum you actually need, which is usually just simple contact information.

It’s not just the access level that’s a problem either – the login page they present in the app gives you no assurance that when you type your Google password you’re actually talking to Google. If you have 2-factor authentication enabled this still won’t help you if you’ve connected your Google account to Pokemon Go, because Niantic’s access tokens have full control of your account regardless.

Best case scenario: this was mindblowingly lax security by Niantic, especially considering they’re ex-Google employees.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

In Gun We Trust (America’s Deadly Equality)   ƶ

John Pavlovitz:

The greatest myth we’ve allowed ourselves to believe is that the answer to our ills is ever a “good guy with a gun”. We all believe we’re the good guy.

None of us ever imagine that we are the danger, that we are the evil presence, that we are the impulsive, hateful, unhinged ones out there. We all consider our motives pure. We all consider our cause righteous.

And when we want to be the good guy and still kill people we find a way, and we find others who will line up to tell us we were right to pull the trigger. Those other bad people weren’t of course—but we were.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

An impoverished estate   ƶ

If you read one single thing at all relating to the election, make it this piece by Russel Marks.

Rejection of Turnbull in Daily Telegraph heartland signals waning influence   ƶ

Amanda Meade:

The tabloids, once seen as wielding enormous power, have found that their schoolyard taunts and cartoonish coverage is falling on deaf ears.

Some of the best news to come out of the election is the waning power of tabloids like The Daily Telegraph.

It’s not all roses though – people have abandoned print media for the Internet, which has its downsides. For instance, it’s a lot easier to get a slanted view of the world if you only read news on Facebook, because Facebook shows you what you want to see. I gave a speech on exactly this topic back in 2014.

SF’s homeless problem: A civic disgrace   ƶ

Marco Arment nails it:

I only spend one week a year in San Francisco, and I’ve seen relatively little of the city. But every year, I’m increasingly struck by the widening class divide and disturbing contrast I see as tech workers (including myself) briskly walk past a lot of people for whom society has completely failed, pretending not to notice them, on our way to offices and events of some of the richest companies in the world.

We can’t continue boasting our industry’s “innovation” and how much we’re “changing the world” when we can’t even take care of people’s basic needs *literally* right outside these companies’ front doors.

Monday, 4 July 2016

The warning signs were there, we just ignored them   ƶ

Ian Verrener:

A revolution is sweeping across the developed world, as an increasingly disillusioned lower and middle class find themselves threatened and disenfranchised by the economic forces unleashed by the rise of technology and an increasingly global economy.

It is being driven by a real and growing chasm in the distribution of wealth and the backlash, initially at least, is showing up at the polls in the form of protest votes directed against the established order.

The old divide between left and right has begun to blur, allegiances are dissolving and the political establishment, which for years turned a blind eye to the growing undercurrent of resentment, now faces its very own moment of truth.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

I want my country back   ƶ

Laurie Penny, on the Brexit:

In the meantime, the cackling clown-car drivers rolling this catastrophe over the wreckage of civil society are already cheerfully admitting that they lied about their key campaign statements. No, there won’t be £350m more to spend on the NHS, whatever Farage wrote on his battle bus. It turns out that the reason you can’t get a GP appointment isn’t because of immigration, but because the Conservatives have spent six years systematically defunding the health service and cutting public spending to the bone. Brexit will mean more of that, not less.

This was a working-class revolt, but it is not a working-class victory. That’s the tragedy here. The collective howl of rage from depressed, deindustrialised parts of the country bled white and reckless by Thatcher, Blair and Cameron has turned into a triumph for another set of elites. Another banking crisis, another old Etonian in power – that’s what we’ve got to look forward to as Scotland decides when to let go of the rope and the union splinters into jagged shards and we all realise we’re stuck on a rainy rock with Michael Gove, forever.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Why you should stop trying to see everything   ƶ

Great read.

As a friend of mine put it: “It’s one of those ‘I have been having these thoughts but have not been able to articulate them fluently’ kind of essays.”

The French call this time-wasting flanerie, and naturally have a whole philosophy on how to be a stylish urban flaneur. But going to Paris or Peru and doing nothing doesn’t come easy. It takes a certain courage to ignore famous monuments and must-see museums. I control my panic and remind myself that I don’t need queues, crowds and another gold star in my been-there book. Meanwhile the skill of idleness, of childlike staring at the clouds, has to be relearned. After all, we’ve been taught since forever about the value and rewards of being productive, ambitious and busy. Those with a Protestant background in particular have learned that idleness is next to godlessness. And in the modern social-media world, many of us have lost the ability to be reflective and introspective. Few of us can sit and think of nothing for long.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

The Curse of Culture   ƶ

Ben Thompson’s magnum opus. A fantastic piece, and a must-read.

Culture is not something that begets success, rather, it is a product of it. All companies start with the espoused beliefs and values of their founder(s), but until those beliefs and values are proven correct and successful they are open to debate and change. If, though, they lead to real sustained success, then those values and beliefs slip from the conscious to the unconscious, and it is this transformation that allows companies to maintain the “secret sauce” that drove their initial success even as they scale. The founder no longer needs to espouse his or her beliefs and values to the 10,000th employee; every single person already in the company will do just that, in every decision they make, big or small.

As with most such things, culture is one of a company’s most powerful assets right until it isn’t: the same underlying assumptions that permit an organization to scale massively constrain the ability of that same organization to change direction. More distressingly, culture prevents organizations from even knowing they need to do so.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Avoiding Blackberry's Fate   ƶ

Excellent piece by Marco Arment:

The BlackBerry’s success came to an end not because RIM started releasing worse smartphones, but because the new job of the smartphone shifted almost entirely outside of their capabilities, and it was too late to catch up. RIM hadn’t spent years building a world-class operating system, or a staff full of great designers, or expertise in mass production of luxury-quality consumer electronics, or amazing APIs and developer tools, or an app store with millions of users with credit cards already on file, or all of the other major assets that Apple had developed over a decade (or longer) that enabled the iPhone.

No new initiative, management change, or acquisition in 2007 could’ve saved the BlackBerry. It was too late, and the gulf was too wide.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

The Real Problem With Facebook and the News   ƶ

One of Ben Thompson’s best pieces. Essential reading.

The Internet removed the need for things like desks, typewriters, and especially printing presses, making it viable for an entire new universe of publications. And, unlike the news organizations of old who started with a geographic monopoly and worked backwards, Internet-era publications have no distribution advantage (or more pertinently, disadvantage) versus anyone else; the only way to win is to attract more users on the basis of your content.

To that end Internet publications, particularly political ones, have tended to have a very distinct point of view, whether it be Talking Points Memo on the left or Red State on the right — and those are just two examples of many, covering every part of the ideological spectrum. And why not? The truth is that all of us like to read what we already agree with, particularly when it comes to fraught issues like politics, and we’re more likely to return to a site that makes us feel good about our beliefs.

This article is what prompted me to (finally) write a transcript of a speech I made to my alma mater back in October 2014.

Transcript: Guest Speech to 2014 Heathfield High School Presentation Night

This is a transcript of a guest speech made at the Heathfield High School Presentation Night in October 2014. A video of the speech is available here.

Thank you Amanda, and good evening to everyone.

I’ll be honest: when Amanda asked me to make a speech tonight, I was absolutely terrified. I’ve never really had to write a fancy speech before, and both my sister and my dad have made speeches for Presentation Night in the past, which—of course—meant that mine would have to be better.

For a while I honestly considered turning down the invite, but being asked to speak at your old High School’s Presentation Night isn’t the sort of opportunity you pass up, especially when the school has had as much impact on your life as Heathfield has had on mine.

I can still safely say that the best teachers I’ve had in my life were those I had at Heathfield. In year 12 in particular—I put an enormous amount of effort into my studies, and my teachers put an enormous amount of time into helping me with them.

I spent that year studying like crazy, and midway through the year I was completely burned out. My motivation to study fell off a cliff.

So I mentioned this to Tanya Fischer, my home group teacher. Back then I didn’t even know what I wanted to do after I graduated, so I asked her: “why am I putting myself through this?”

Tanya told me: “if you had the ability to do well, and you didn’t, you’d regret it.”

She was right, and it worked. As my dad later said: you only get one go at it, you might as well give it your best shot.

So I feel very lucky to have been a Heathfield student. I attended a great school, which creates fantastic opportunities for its students, and with teachers who genuinely cared how their students went.

But I should hedge a tiny bit here—for the students: your grades in year 12 are important, but they shouldn’t take over your life. And study certainly wasn’t the only thing I did at Heathfield.

I also learned a lot through the Heathfield Volleyball Program.

The Heathfield Volleyball Program is something that is really hard to explain to people who haven’t been involved in it. It was something I almost took for granted while I was at school, and I only later came to realise how many positive things I’d taken from it, and how much I missed being a part of it.

When you’re part of the Heathfield Team you very quickly learn what hard work is. Some of the best memories of my life are from playing for this school at the Australian Schools Cup. Playing in a grand final in front of hundreds of chanting and cheering Heathfield players is an experience you don’t forget very quickly.

I still play volleyball, and I’m now the President of the Adelaide University Volleyball Club. Most of my closest friends are those I made during my time at Heathfield, or through playing volleyball for Adelaide Uni since.

So if I was to give one quick piece of advice to the students here, it’d be this: get involved in something.

It doesn’t even matter what that thing is—whether it’s a sport club, the pedal prix, music—being part of a community will give you a lot more benefit than the effort you put into it.

Volunteer your time for a community group, and I guarantee you’ll be richer for it.

Not all of you will want to do more study after you graduate from High School, but one of the first things you’ll realise if you do is that there is a very big difference between a lecturer and a teacher.

I learned this the hard way. After Doug Gregory had spent Year 12 getting me to love Physics, I enrolled in Aerospace Engineering with Science as my double degree, intending to major in Physics.

Unfortunately, I then spent my first semester with an American lecturer who taught everything in Imperial units, and assumed knowledge that hadn’t been part of the Year 12 Physics curriculum for at least 30 years. By the end of the semester there were only three of us attending lectures.

It did work out all right in the end though: through my Engineering degree I discovered I really enjoyed programming, I changed my Science degree to Computer Science, and now I work as a Software Engineer.

One of the great things I experienced when I started working full-time, was that—for the first time in my life—I was now interacting with people significantly older than me on a regular basis, and not as parents, or teachers, or coaches, but as peers.

I spend my work week with colleagues who are double my age. They have very different backgrounds, different interests, and different world views.

And, as with every generation throughout history, they think the next generation is going to ruin society.

Some of the best moments I’ve had at work have been just talking to my workmates. I’ve learned how to service my car, the optimum time to eat protein after a workout, the type of milk I should buy to maximise the froth in my coffee, and the best places to eat in every major city in Australia.

I’ve learned a lot simply because my background isn’t the same as theirs, and they’ve been alive a lot longer than I have.

While talking to my workmates I’ve also had arguments—on politics, society, science and technology. If you know how opinionated my family can be, this won’t be much of a surprise.

One of the benefits of having an education, however, is that I’ve learned how to argue my point of view, and how to understand someone else’s perspective, even if I strongly disagree with them. This is a very important skill to have, especially in modern society.

Modern technology, after all, is amazing—most of us now walk around with a device in our pockets which can access the sum of all human knowledge in seconds via the Internet.

The Internet also, unfortunately, comes with more than a few negatives. For starters, it makes it easier than ever to be horrible to other people. Some of you in this room may have personal experience with that.

The Internet also makes it really easy to avoid ever having your viewpoints challenged.

How is that possible? Well, the problem is that when given the choice, we tend to avoid or dismiss anything which challenges our views. It’s a thing called Cognitive Dissonance.

One of my all-time favourite quotes is from John Kenneth Galbraith:

“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.”

And he’s right. Being shown that we’re wrong about something makes us uncomfortable. So, we avoid it, if we can.

This is difficult to do when you study or work on a daily basis with people who hold different views to you, but the internet makes it easier than ever.

Politics in the United States and Australia have never been so polarised—and part of that is due to the fact that people are choosing to source their news from places that present it in a way that already agrees with them.

It also works for conspiracy theories. If I Google for five minutes, I can find a thousand people who will agree with me on almost anything, no matter how crazy. The moon landing was a hoax? The earth is flat? Tony Abbott is an alien lizard? (You may laugh, but that last one gets over one hundred thousand results.)

It gets worse: if one of my friends decides to take the time to show me evidence that I am wrong, another five minutes on Google will get me hundreds of pages proving that the evidence is part of a conspiracy to suppress the truth.

This is human nature. It’s much more comfortable to hear things that agree with us.

Facebook recently released a study about manipulating peoples news feeds. It turns out that they can put you in a better mood if they filter your news feed to only show you happy stories. And they have an interest in doing exactly that, because people tend to click on advertising and buy things more often if they’re in a good mood.

This is a bit of a worry when so many of us now get our news from our Facebook feeds or other social networks.

So the internet is great—it’s a fantastic invention. But it also has its downsides.

And the Internet cannot replace an education.

Why? Because an education isn’t just about learning, it’s about being shown how to learn. What to look for. How to weigh evidence. How to compare arguments. How to tell the difference between a blog post and a peer-reviewed study covering decades of research.

It’s also about being challenged. Not just in the sense of making you do hard things, but challenging your views. Learning how to go looking for different perspectives, even if they make you uncomfortable. Learning to appreciate and understand different points of view, even if you strongly disagree with them.

Some closing thoughts:

To the parents—try to remember that just because your daughter or son is sitting in front of a screen doesn’t mean they’re wasting their time. They might just be talking to someone on the other side of the world on an issue they care strongly about.

To the students—try not to underestimate how much you can learn from your parent’s generation. They might call it BookFace and ChatSnap, talk about sending ‘Twitters’ to their friends, and they might call everything flat with a screen an ‘iPad’, but they have been alive a lot longer than you have, and they know plenty of things that you don’t.

In my life I’ve found that you can learn from books and from computers, but the stuff that really counts can best be learnt from people.

I was taught by a lot of great people at Heathfield, and you have as well. You’ll only realise just how important that is after you leave.

Thank you, and the best of luck for the rest of the year.