Australia’s So-called ‘Assistance and Access’ Act

Very recently, the Australian Government passed what it called the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act. This overly complex and euphemistic title represents a piece of legislation that poses a significant threat to Australian data security and the economy.

Governments around the world insist that encryption hinders their efforts in dealing criminals and terrorist plots, due to the encryption of instant messaging apps. The creation of backdoors in apps and operating systems not only destroys innocent users’ privacy, it also threatens the integrity of systems upon which even government tools are built. Back in August, The Conversation explained:

the bill allows the Director-General of Security or the chief officer of an interception agency to compel a provider to do an unlimited range of acts or things. That could mean anything from removing security measures to deleting messages or collecting extra data. Providers will also be required to conceal any action taken covertly by law enforcement.

There are huge concerns about what this means for the security of businesses and how international companies interact with and work in Australia. One example that popped up in my Twitter feed was a blog post on the issue from Canadian company AgileBits Inc. I’m a huge fan and regular user of its app, 1Password, which provides a secure vault for passwords, logins, card information and various membership details and notes. How is this kept secure? You create a complex master password that protects all of your other information and encryption does the rest.

AgileBits Inc’s blog post dealt with its concerns about doing business with and hiring people from Australia. I doubt that the Australian Government really considered this and how Australia will be able to interact with the app economy in the future. Here’s an excerpt:

We do not, at this point, know whether it will be necessary or useful to place extra monitoring on people working for 1Password who may be subject to Australian laws. Our existing security and privacy design and internal controls may well be sufficient without adding additional controls on our people in Australia. Nor do we yet know to what extent we should consider Australian nationality in hiring decisions. It may be a long time before any such internal policies and practices go into place, if they ever do, but these are discussions we have been forced to have.

The more that I hear about the issue, the clearer it is to me that the Australian Government does not understand the implications of its decisions, despite arguments from major tech companies, app developers and other specialists in the field. We truly live in an era of dismissal (and even hatred) of experts.

Read the full blog post by AgileBits Inc here.

A Testament to Human Laziness

Throughout history, humankind has done some pretty remarkable things. Amongst many examples, you may consider the following:

  • the printing press;
  • modern medicine;
  • the computer processor; and
  • landing people on the Moon.

Amazing, right? These were huge milestones. No other animal on the planet has managed to achieve any of these. Yet with all of this power and all of this potential for further greatness, we are presented with situations such as this…

Whilst at a robotics competition on the weekend (as a spectator), I spotted these two bins. They stood in the doorway to a room full of super-intelligent competitors; one was overflowing whilst the other (emptier) one was right next to it. As you can see, it was only slightly obscured around the corner.

What caused this? Dimwittedness? Poor eyesight? Suboptimal arm reach? I think not. It all comes down to laziness. On and off during the day, I watched numerous people—young and old—approach the overflowing bin with a look of hesitation and disgust. Most decided to carefully balance their filth on top of the pile rather than look around the corner. Some even performed the classic crushing ritual. Others let their rubbish drop onto the floor. The picture above was taken towards the end of the day, when the emptier bin was slightly closer to being full. Yes, I could have acted but then I would not have been able to report my observations to you.

In an age when everyone is losing their minds at the prospect of a new age of tech disruption and artificial intelligence, built on the brilliance of automated Gen Y and Z start-ups whose founders are innovative, digital natives raised on nothing but kale-and-ginger-based vegan snacks, I think that we should adopt a much more realistic outlook. Humans are lazy and nothing is going to change that.

Perhaps the dawn of our new age of artificial intelligence will lead to solutions for this… consider a new robot assistant that could manage such refuse (or at least point humans to the nearest empty bin).

Others Palin Comparison

Last night, I had the great pleasure of seeing one of my childhood idols, Michael Palin, live on stage at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney. My sister Jodie (also a fan) joined me for the show.

Palin was in town mainly to promote his latest project, Erebus, a book about the titular ship’s role in one of the British Empire’s most successful exploratory voyages. For the first half of the show, he brought the real, historical characters of Erebus to life with the perfect balance of wit and analysis. I had never heard of the ship’s voyage to Antarctica, which saw the discovery that it was, in fact, a continent. He then elaborated about the tragedy that befell the ship and its crew during its attempt to navigate the North-West Passage. The tale was incredibly fascinating and Palin’s passion for history, geography and real human stories was evident. He was incredibly thorough.

The second half of Palin’s show was more reflective and autobiographical, covering his time on programmes The Complete and Utter History of Britain and Monty Python’s Flying Circus, films like A Fish Called Wanda and his various documentary projects and series, including a recent trip to North Korea.

The humorous highlight of the evening was something that I never thought that I would witness in person: a live rendition of The Lumberjack Song. Ending the show, Palin performed the entire piece, with the audience joining in as his Mountie chorus. He even sang part of the song in German separately, as he recounted the time that he and the Pythons had to translate and learn many of their sketches for shows in the country. It was brilliant.

Having seen Cleese and Idle on stage in Sydney back in 2016, the chance to watch Palin on stage this time was a fantastic second Monty Python fix for me. As someone who grew up with their comedy—fortunately introduced by older family members—it was deeply satisfying and nostalgic. Many people my age whom I’ve met, if they’re at all aware of Monty Python, are often dismissive of their style and deliberate absurdity. They simply don’t get it. I have long considered Monty Python to have been an indispensable part of my development and life education. Like the somewhat different shows Seinfeld and The Simpsons, Monty Python’s productions taught me from a young age that nothing is off limits. Things that are taken for granted or never questioned in daily life, such as social customs, history or religion (especially) can be put under the microscope and mocked freely.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that Monty Python was the catalyst for my atheist awakening in primary school. It took things that I thought about religion from an early age and gave me the vocabulary to express myself effectively. Palin explained during his show that much of the group’s comedy came from their university education and love for history and literature. For viewers, Monty Python was as much a lesson in language as it was silly sketch comedy.

Chapman, Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Jones and Palin used their combined talent and knowledge to give us a new way to look and laugh at the world. Certainly much of the satirical content that they produced back then would be deemed unacceptable if it were written today. This is fascinating to consider. We accept quite readily that humanity is on a path of linear progress. Is that the case with our sense of humour?

I’m not sure that we’ll ever see another comedy troupe like Monty Python again—certainly not with the same level of universal popularity and influence, given our fragmented media landscape. Opportunities such as Palin’s live show, however, let us relive that excellence.

Outdoor Rumination

You might have gathered from the name of this site that I like to ruminate. Taking the time to think—especially away from technology—is important.

Every day at work, I go for a stroll through the surrounding woodland to stretch my legs, enjoy the sound of native birds and of course, ruminate.

During my walk today, I spotted this by the side of the road. ‘What a perfect opportunity!’, I thought, ‘Here’s the chance to ruminate on a lounge outside!’.

Whilst it was obviously missing cushions, which wasn’t an issue, a closer inspection revealed that the lounge was filthy. Alas, I continued my walk. Perhaps I should carry a portable chair for outdoor rumination in the future.


The Oxford Dictionary of English defines the word ‘napkin’ as follows:

a square piece of cloth or paper used at a meal to wipe the fingers or lips and to protect garments.

The most important word here is the verb ‘wipe’. When one wipes something, one intends to clean that very thing. In order to achieve this objective, the napkin itself must be free of detritus. If a napkin has been soiled prior to its intended use, then it would perform the task of wiping very poorly indeed.

For quite some time, I have been observing what I consider to be utter nonsense in cafés. Observe an example below.

The brownie looks delicious and has been presented beautifully. The napkin, on the other hand, has been placed underneath the brownie, thereby soiling the napkin. The reason for this is unclear; a wooden board has already been used to support the brownie, so why must a napkin be placed beneath it? Surely the napkin could have been folded and placed neatly to the side instead. Would that have been so offensive?

Whenever I’m confronted by this super-first-world predicament, I have no choice but to use the soiled napkin, which compromises its ability to clean my fingers. In addition, attempting to unfold the napkin to use its cleaner (inner) surface area presents other problems, such as the spilling of crumbs off the edge of the board or plate.

Furthermore, I could request or find another napkin, however this would lead to the unnecessary waste of additional napkins over time.

Don’t even get me started on the idea of protecting one’s garments with such a napkin, as is suggested in the definition. Would you put this napkin on your lap? I think not.

I implore café owners to reconsider their presentation of napkins with food, so that we all may use them as they were designed to be used.

Thank you.

Wollongong in Transformation

For some time, the city of Wollongong has been changing… and for the better. We’ve always had gorgeous beaches and a picturesque escarpment but elements of our city have needed updating.

The most notable shifts in recent years have been improvements to the Blue Mile coastal areas and old tramway, the refurbished Crown Street Mall, new GPT shopping developments and the annual breath of life that is the Wonderwalls Festival of street art. Not to mention, the city council has undertaken the massive task of overhauling the streetscape, with new footpaths bringing greater consistency into the place. I applaud them for this.

There has always been disagreement, like how how the mall should function. I disagree with the idea that it should have reverted to allowing traffic and am glad that it remained as a pedestrian strip. Around the world, we’re seeing a shift back to pedestrian-friendly areas that enable safer movement, outdoor activities and events such as markets. That’s why when you visit countries like Italy and Germany, you come back with romantic memories of their amazing respective piazze and Fußgängerzonen. These open spaces allow the creation of culture, with locals with visitors mixing and mingling. Cities are for people, not cars.

The thing that does puzzle me about the mall, however, is the lack of eateries on the strip, particularly those that can provide al fresco dining. At night-time (other than on Thursdays with the Eat Street Market), the place is dead. The insistence on having almost entirely daytime retail is strange and totally cuts off the bustling Keira Street restaurant strip from the similar setup on Corrimal Street. We basically have two entirely different nightlife zones.

Recently, I’ve been wondering about another development that was completed farther down Corrimal Street, on the old Dwyers site. The fantastic decision was made to keep the footpath very wide, enabling improved pedestrian access and avoiding the creation of a huge wind tunnel with the new Oxford development that stands across the road.

Except the only issue is, nothing is happening here. It’s dead space. Sure, the Coffee Club has just moved in up the road on the corner, but other than a few chairs outside, everything is indoors and behind glass. One restaurant has already failed and other spaces are offices or have remained for lease since construction was completed.

Sometimes I wonder if there’s actually a long-term vision that drives all of this. Cities should feel lively and inviting; this area, unless there’s some future plan of which I am unaware, does not display those characteristics. Why not add a coffee cart? How about news or fresh produce stands, like in Sydney? How about a place for street artists? The same can be said of Civic Plaza in front of the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre, which is often empty unless the Spiegeltent is in town.

As unpopular as this suggestion may be, what about something like the sandstone and palm tree art installation in the mall? Whilst some people hate that design, at least it’s distinctive and children can be seen climbing and jumping from sandstone block to sandstone block. It’s a great combination of form and function, as the blocks function as family seating during the markets and also break up the greyness of the mall. Remember, Parisians hated the Eiffel Tower when it went up and now it’s an icon. I’m not saying that the palm tree is our Eiffel Tower but at least it’s unique, memorable and makes you stop to observe your surroundings.

Wollongong is a beautiful place that’s full of diverse, interesting people. Fortunately, as a regional centre, we don’t suffer the same level of congestion and air and noise pollution that Sydney has. In many ways, we have it really easy here. I’m so proud of the improvements that have been made over the last decade but occasionally you see something like this and wonder… ‘Why?’. I want to see Wollongong CBD become an altogether exciting place, not a mish-mash of food and retail.

If anyone has any clue about the intention for this dead space, I’d love to know about it.

OK, that’s a Word

I’m fascinated by language and often take notice of the words that people (sometimes unknowingly) tend to use. As an aside and to be upfront, I’m really big on words like ‘certainly’ and ‘ultimately’; they just sound nice and dramatic to me.

One term that I had never really considered was ‘OK’; it is used so frequently by so many people. My interest was piqued by this fantastic video on Vox, which explains the history behind this now ubiquitous word. I had originally heard that it came from the wartime display of ‘zero kills’ after a successful day on the battlefield, however, this is one of many fake stories (as the video explains). Instead, it comes from the 19th-century trend of creating humorous abbreviations and phrases for other pre-existing terms. (I won’t ruin the rest of the story… you should just watch the clip.)

All of this made me think more deeply about why I find other current, ubiquitous words frustrating, such as ‘like’ and ‘literally’… so why not the word ‘OK’? After all, it is even more common and as a phrase from the United States, is a shining example of American influence on all global ‘Englishes’.

I arrived at the following conclusion: it comes down to the usefulness and purpose of such a word. If there is an intention behind the creation of a new word or the alteration of an existing one’s meaning, this is a sign of language adapting, improving and perhaps even filling a gap. A term like ‘OK’, with its neutral yet affirmative nature, according to the video, did not exist in English beforehand. ‘Yes’ is simply too definite and much less versatile. You can say ‘Are you OK?’ but you can’t say ‘Are you yes?’.

Other examples include the transformation of the word ‘access’ into a verb. This may be excruciating for some (such as my extended family) but it now fills a gap. ‘Accessing’ is a major feature of computer language and dialogue boxes, such as when waiting for a connection to be established to a file, site or other content. A word like ‘retrieving’ doesn’t work.

The words ‘like’ and ‘literally’ are frustrating because they are not so much the evolution of language but pure mistakes. ‘Like’ is useless filler, a strange interjection where ‘um’, ‘ah’ or ‘hmm’ would suffice. Outside of its proper usage, such as ‘I like jam’, it only serves to disrupt the flow of any given sentence. ‘Literally’ is even more annoying, since it is used instead of ‘actually’ or ‘really’. The original definition of this word is being misunderstood and eroded, not enhanced. If and when all people start to misuse this word, will we actually lose the word’s original meaning and literally have to replace it with something else?

To avoid obsessing entirely about only these two words, another made-up term that I hear frequently is ‘learnings’… wrong. We already have the word ‘lesson(s)’; ‘learning’ is an abstract noun that can’t be used as a plural. Again, this is an error that only leads to ambiguity and confusion. How many ‘learnings’ can one learn whilst learning?

Some may argue that the word ‘gay’ fits into this category, as prior to its being synonymous with ‘homosexual’, it meant that one is happy. I argue that this is different. The word ‘gay’ has gained an extra meaning and now benefits from the positivity of its original definition. ‘Literally’, however, is now used in a way that makes no sense and conflicts its real definition.

What I’m getting at is that we shouldn’t be linguistically deterministic. To totally standardise and clamp down on language is to stifle its evolution—how else would we have so many languages and dialects today? We can’t, however, swing back too far the other way and just accept anything and everything. My only issue is when changes are based on error rather than invention, creativity or cultural nuance.

‘OK’ is an example of true linguistic creativity; it is a word that has come to be so versatile and significant for so many people. If anything, it’s the ultimate symbol of Americanisation/globalisation, spanning not only English-speaking nations but also infecting others’ languages. You know what, though? It has filled a gap. It’s a word that affirms and unites everyone and I’m cool with it. OK?