Data retention: an unworkable law devised in bad faith

Girl with a dead canary. Source: wikipediaYou should probably know, dear readers, that a journalist information warrant to secure data retention for this website does not exist and is not currently being applied for.

This statement may now render me liable to two years in an Australian prison.

Sorry to any regular readers who don’t like partisan rants. Leave the page now. Normal service will resume shortly. Maybe.

I’m cross because both main parties in the Australian Senate agreed to pass a very flawed bill on data retention. Here is just one of the many ridiculous and offensive clauses taken from the third reading of the bill, which was voted into law quite comfortably by people who should know better about technology and who have little regard for human rights. I am happy to  break this law flagrantly and will continue to do so until it is repealed. The statement at the start of this post might be breaking Section 182A of the new Act in two different ways. I encourage all Australians who care about privacy, government overreach or poor legislation to put the statement on their websites and emails, then turn themselves in to the police. Don’t worry if you don’t have a computer – to attract a two year jail sentence you can just speak the phrase into your phone.

182A  Disclosure/use offences: journalist information warrants

(1)  A person commits an offence if:

(a)  the person discloses or uses information; and

(b)  the information is about any of the following:

(i)  whether a journalist information warrant (other than such a warrant that relates only to section 178A) has been, or is being, requested or applied for;

(ii)  the making of such a warrant;

(iii)  the existence or non‑existence of such a warrant;

(iv)  the revocation of such a warrant.

Penalty:  Imprisonment for 2 years.

You can read more, and take part in the campaign to #stopdataretention.

Watch the deceptively softly-spoken Senator Scott Ludlam’s critique of the bill.

the Australian Government still can’t tell us how much it will cost; most importantly, they can’t tell us how they would protect the data which is now going to be something of a honey pot for people with malicious intent – and most importantly, they can’t tell us how trapping and storing the private information and the records of 23 million innocent people will make us safer or reduce the incidence of crime.

Finally, thank you to the 16 senators who voted against.




Coding is still not the new literacy


If coding isn’t the new literacy, what is?

According to Chris Granger, modeling is.

Modeling is creating a representation of a system (or process) that can be explored or used… To put it simply, the next great advance in human ability comes from being able to externalize the mental models we spend our entire lives creating.

Incidentally, this is corroborated by Douglas Rushkoff’s very brief history lesson, Social Control as a Function of Media, in which he predicts that the corporate controllers will only encourage  programming skills when the programs of the masses can already be assimilated.


The A=href test

How to spot a model that actually works

The feedback loop as a symbol for life in the 21st Century

self-organisation is a high-level property that emerges from the underlying network, not a feature of any of the individual components.

This has interesting consequences. Where any part of the mechanism is sensitive to the environment, the whole self-organising loop can be too.

Here’s an example from the Resilience Alliancethe adaptive cycle – that maps nicely onto the four cultures of cultural theory:

the adaptive cycle

See also: redundancy and resilience

Bias: it’s not a bug, it’s a feature

“Kahan’s argument about the woman who does not believe in global warming is a surprising and persuasive example of a general principle: if we want to understand others, we can always ask what is making their behaviour ‘rational’ from their point of view. If, on the other hand, we just assume they are irrational, no further conversation can take place.”

How to inspire people with prize money


Would you put in more effort if you thought you could win a large cash prize?

What about if that prize was broken up into a series of smaller prizes – how hard would you work then?

‘In praise of big prizes’ at the Freakonomics site, had some advice for a professor at the University of Texas who changed his practice of handing out cash prizes to students in favour of a more level system.

The author writes that actually,

“larger top prizes and a steeper prize gradient will elicit more effort than a flatter gradient, one with more prizes of smaller amounts (Lazear and Rosen, 1981).”

He suggests that a large amount of prize money is what motivates top sports people such as Tiger Woods, and that perhaps the professor could adapt and use this approach in an educational setting:

“he would get better written work if he went back to the old system, just as Tiger Woods is better motivated by a big winning prize for a whole tournament than he would be by small prizes for having the best score in a particular round.”

In a previous post on Fourcultures about Fatalist development aid I noted how schemes to randomly assign cash handouts to poor people seem to work quite well. According to the Economist, though, there are situations in which conditional handouts work better. In one example, would-be aid recipients were required to submit a business plan before going into the lottery.

Perhaps these schemes using contrived randomness, a Fatalist strategy, would be better if they used high value tournaments instead – a very Individualist strategy.

One small problem is that the prize money that seems to motivate Tiger Woods to get out of bed is slightly higher than that available in college classes or in development aid programmes.

First prize for the 2013 US Masters  tournament was $1,440,000. That’s quite a lot of money. Even the 50th placed golfer still won $20,160.

In contrast, the top University of Texas student paper won $1,500. In even starker contrast, Kenyan villagers identified by the charity Give Directly receive $200.

“We send each recipient household a total of $1,000 over one to two years, or $200 per household member for the average household. Our analysis suggests that this amount is fair, well-understood, and potentially transformative.”

When Individualism can provide a US Masters level of money to colleges and to poor villages in Africa, maybe then its policy prescriptions will be more credible.

See also: Fatalist development aid

[image credit: public domain, pixabay]

Fatalist development aid

The Economist evaluates a scheme to give poor people cash handouts at random, instead of through traditional aid programmes. Mixed results…

Fatalism, as described by Grid-Group Cultural theory, is more than merely the worldview that blind fate rules our lives. It takes this as a given and then seeks to make the world even more random. This has been termed ‘contrived randomness’. It has a strong pedigree as a tool for public policy (for example, random assignment of jury service, random alcohol checks on drivers, etc.) Taken to further lengths it can be used in ‘aleatory democracy’ – harnessing contrived randomness to benefit democratic organisation.

See also: How to be a fatalist