Thursday, May 12, 2022

What's your answer?

When I finished high school I enrolled in a combined Law/Accounting degree. I persevered for 3 years before deciding it wasn't for me, however the reason I even started it is an interesting one.

In my final two years at high school I had the same teacher for Legal Studies, Accounting, and Economics.  I thoroughly enjoyed all three classes, and as is often the case the reason was my teacher. I have vivid memories of completing questions in Accounting only to find that my answer was different to the one in the book. My teacher's response to this wasn't to tell me I was wrong, but rather to work through questions with me, and more often than not he would agree with my answer over the one in the book. This finding was subsequently supported by the others in the class who would also come to my conclusion (I tended to work very quickly and so their independent work would corroborate mine). In my (no doubt inaccurate) memory this led to my answer being assumed valid.

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

The feeling this left me with was one that "my thoughts and views are valid, even if they're different to the textbook". This is one of those moments in my life that set me on a particular course.  As my education progressed through university I found less opportunity to discover my own path, and ended up deciding that neither Law nor Accounting had space for the flexibility that I'd enjoyed in my high school studies of the same topics. The freedom to find our own answers (or to discover existing answers our own way) is something that has stuck with me throughout my life, something I attribute to memories like those from my year 11 Accounting class.

Of course when we parent we tend to take a different approach as our children go through different stages.  Without realising it we apply a situational leadership telling style, implying to our children that this is the only way to do it.  If we aren't careful, we limit our children's ability to move on and develop their own abilities and confidence.

Think about your own experiences - are you leaving your children with a sense that "this is how I've been taught to do the dishes, but there may be other ways that I might discover in future"?

Sunday, April 24, 2022

My first mistake

 I close my eyes and am there, the scene surrounding me far more completely than any modern media. The yard of my first school with the assembly lines painted on the bitumen where we played cricket at every opportunity. The frangipanis that we later learned could be used to indicate whether girls had boyfriends or not. The sandstone buildings that epitomised the area. And of course the blazing sun that we were only just beginning to be aware of the dangers of. I don’t know what age I am. I guess is 7 or 8. We’re old enough to bat, bowl, and catch. And more importantly argue. “Out” we shout in unison, the ball having landed in my hands. We converge in the middle of the wicket for a brief change of roles before the game continues. “But I caught it, I’m batting” I complain as the bowler takes the bat. The chorus of voices responding to my claim informs me that I won’t be batting.

With the debate over before it started I’m informed that “even in test cricket the bowler gets the wicket” — something that made no sense to my primary school self.

This can’t be my first mistake for I’m sure I’d made many before this event. But for some reason it’s a memory that’s stuck with me, a realisation that a view I held was wrong. I of course continue to make many mistakes, no doubt far more than I’m aware of. To this day I continue to reflect on moments in my day where I’ve changed my views on something — sometimes something small, sometimes something material. To do this well I ask myself three questions:

  1. What did I hear that changed today? What was it that changed my mind? What do I now need to re-evaluate having changed my mind?
  2. What did I consider changing my mind about but didn’t? Did I truly listen with the intent of learning rather than arguing? Was there something that wasn’t said that could have changed my view?
  3. What am I unaware of that I should be listening for? Surely there are interactions in which I am completely unaware that I position I hold is considered wrong to others. I am aware that I have a dominant voice, and that often others are silenced without me even realising it. Am I aware of when this happened today?

I love tying these back to my childhood, a time when learning was without ego and was expected. Why is it that we divide our lives into school (learning) and work (doing)? If we’ve stopped learning, how can we know that we’re doing it right?

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Negativity, Politicians, and Elections

I shed a tear this morning. Sat down, took some time to compose myself, and then got up again. This wasn't because I woke to learn that the 2019 Australian Federal Election had been decided, rather the tears were at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza; the location from which Harvey Lee Oswald assassinated JFK.

60 years on from Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign we see a merry-go-round of campaigns that we all know are missing something. The truth. Clear policy. Visionary leadership. All of these things have fallen victim to human nature's thirst for the sugar rush of the evil trinity of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. These three are often capped off with personal attacks on the opposition.

Turning back to Australia what do we see?
  • A country that believes itself to be built on a "fair go" (for American readers - note here the contrast between the American belief in free and the Australian belief in fair)
  • A country with a democratic system that includes mandatory voting (I will write more on this in the months to come)
  • A country about to receive its 6th Prime Minister in 9 years; only 2 of which came from democratic election

So why is it that my notes in the book at the JFK museum bemoan an event that took choice of leadership away from the people, and replaced with a choice made by an individual (acting alone or otherwise), yet we collectively appear to lose sight of the simple but powerful mechanism of electing our own leader.

To those of you unhappy with the election outcome, consider the following two points:

1. We, the people, elected the leader of the country.

2. Income inequality isn't anywhere near as bad as you think.

(a) Life at the bottom end of the economy has steadily improved under both sides of politics (lowest quintile shown below, adjusted for CPI):

Source: ABS 65230DO001_201516
(b) The gap between rich and poor isn't anywhere near as bad as you think.  Even The Conversation say so; and the Gini co-efficient shows Australia in the middle of the OECD pack.

Source: Treasury Australia

The Future

I dream for a future that includes positive politics. A future that includes politicians brave enough to accept criticism of their weaknesses. A future in which we build on strengths, rather than attacking weakness. A future that is not merely a dream, but a reality.

Who creates this future? We do. No longer shall we say we want, but vote against what scares us. No longer shall we complain about micro-parties and preference deals, but not bother to take the time to know who we're voting for. No longer shall we allow a dream of utopia to lead us to dystopian government.

From today, we are grateful for what we have, that we have elected our leaders, that on almost every measure our lives, and those of others around us, have improved.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Is it time for more transparency in primary produce?

The Coles and Woolies milk battles are again in the media, with The Age reporting that the supermarket chains are putting them out of business, and the ABC reporting that there is something we can do. I agree with the ABC, and in effect it is us, the consumers, that must decide whether we want to pay for people (in this case, farmers) to get a "fair return" or not.  However, there's a key piece of the puzzle missing here - information.

Market theory rests on a number of assumptions.  One of these assumptions is that the consumer has access to all the information they need.  In today's world of complex supply chains, and questionable marketing, this assumption rarely holds true.  So whilst its all good and well for the ABC to argue (and for me to agree) that we need to be prepared to pay for what we want, it simply isn't feasible unless the information is available.

So what should we do?  I know, I know - lets regulate more, and make those evil companies tell us the right information, yes - that'll do the job.  No, we as consumers should vote with our pockets, and buy from companies that do supply the level of detail we want.  Many people are happy to be swayed by promises by coffee companies to pay a certain amount to the producer of the coffee, why are we not interested in the same question when it comes to our own farmers?  After all - when they suffer, its us as the tax payer who subsidizes them.

Let me give  couple of examples that if you've read this much, you're probably interested in:

1. Eggs
Time and time again the discussion of what constitutes free range eggs arises.  There is currently an industry managed standard that says 20,000 hens per hectare constitutes free range, like many others I think this is taking the piss, but the real objection I have here is that rather than looking for a label of "free range" we should be looking for a number, and making a decision ourselves.  Imagine filling up with petrol and finding the price on the bowser saying "cheap", only to find out when you pay that "cheap" actually means $1.90 per litre.

2. Milk
In the current debate, it would be great if on the bottle of milk, it said how much the producer was paid for the milk.  I have no idea how much this is, but if it were visible then I could make an informed decision as to whether I was prepared to pay an extra $1 per litre knowing that the producer gets half of it (for example).

The key point here is not that you must want free range eggs, or milk that doesn't force farmers to cut costs.  The point is that you are making an informed decision.  So - go away, find the brand you buy from, and send them an email requesting they put the information you want on the label.  More importantly, even if you're not happy with the answers to your questions, buy the brand that takes the time to answer them.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Olympic business

I'm prompted to write this piece after reading that wrestling will not be in the 2020 Olympic Games. I should start by saying that I wouldn't be surprised if some of the views I hold are not actually based on fact, but instead on some myths I have formed in my head.  Myths or not, they are my beliefs, and I think they have merit.

The reason for removing wrestling is pure and simple - popularity (read money).  The Olympic Games, once the bastion of athletic ideals - Faster, Higher, Stronger, are now the bastion of capitalism - More, More, More.  Wrestling is one of the original events from the modern Olympic Games, so one might ask why the need for change.  The answer is to make room for other sports - lets take a look at a few of the sports that have been added recently, see if you can pick a theme: tennis, rugby, football (soccer), golf, basketball.  These are all professional sports with high TV ratings, they are being added so the Olympic Games can be more "successful" (ie bigger, more TV, more money).

In my view, events in the Olympic Games should meet the following criteria:

  1. They should be amateur in nature. I don't mean that athletes shouldn't be sponsored or endorsed, but they shouldn't have contract with their club that pays them to compete.
  2. The Olympic Games should be the pinnacle of the sport. This immediately rules out my hitlist of tennis, rugby, football (soccer), golf and basketball. I would add that road cycling should be removed - the Tour de France is clearly its pinnacle, however track cycling should stay.

The sad thing about all this is it appears to be irreversible.  I would love to read something that made me think a change could be made, and sport could again be sport.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dropbox and security?

A friend of mine tweeted about Sam Glover's article about Dropbox security, which I responded to with a tweet saying that "The technology behind dropbox is just fine. The weakness is people - convenience vs security."  Of course there are other views being presented as well, and as you can only fit so much of an argument in 140 characters, I thought this was worth some more in-depth discussion.

Firstly, let's define what we mean by "secure". In the context of Dropbox I'll define this to mean that no one gets access to files you store with Dropbox, other than the files you explicitly want them to have access to. Secondly, with a definition agreed, let's outline the threats to Dropbox security (note some of this is already covered in Sam Glover's article):

Threat 1: The Dropbox T&Cs allow Dropbox to access your data, or provide access to your data to the US government.

I'm going to ignore this threat, as I see it no differently to any other IT situation.  There is always someone somewhere who has "god access" to the system.  This applies to your on-site file share, your email (regardless of who is is managed by), and any other IT systems you use.

Threat 2: How secure is your Dropbox password?

People are lazy. I include myself in this, please don't take it as an accusation.  I have a bunch of different passwords, but for things that I don't consider critical, I have one password that I use over and over again.  This is not secure - if one of the sites I use that password for is hacked, and they happen to be foolish enough to be storing my password in an insecure way, then the hacker most likely will have my email address and my password.  They will then look at other sites (Facebook, Google, Microsoft (Live/Hotmail), Yahoo, Dropbox, LinkedIn, etc etc) - in many cases a user will have used the same password across many of them.

If you use the same password for Dropbox as you do for other systems, then you are relying not only on the security of Dropbox, but also the security of the other system.  If you are using Dropbox for sensitive information then I highly suggest you use a password for Dropbox that you don't use anywhere else.  Can't remember your password?  Simple - download the free KeyPass application (or similar) to store your passwords in.  Don't forget that this then becomes another risk, you need to ensure your passwords are safe, just because an application says they're safe, they may not be (I can vouch for KeyPass).

Note that any IT system will be exposed to this threat, however IT systems that can be accessed from the Internet (ie most cloud systems, or any system you host yourself but have decided to expose to the internet) are more vulnerable to this due to the ease with which a hacker can re-use a stolen password.

Threat 3: How secure is your email?

Moving on from the above, even if you do as I say and have a separate password, if your email is not secure, then neither is any system that has a "reset your password" link.  Dropbox, as with many other systems, allows you to reset your password via email.  If I can hack into your email, then I can simply go to Dropbox, click the reset password button, and voila, I now have access to your Dropbox account.  A well known IT journo Mat Honan was victim to this style of attack last year.

Threat 4: Do you share Dropbox files with other people?

Dropbox is great, you can easily upload a file and send a link to someone else so they can see that file - this gives you the option to tweet, email, facebook, or send the link through whichever channel you might want to  - very valuable given that some of these channels don't support attachments.  However, there's a downside to this.  There is the possibility that you might share more of your Dropbox account than intended, and in doing so give people access not only to the file you intended to share, but also to other files that you don't want to share.  If you think this is unlikely, pause to consider that a significant proportion of security vulnerabilities are not due to highly technical hacking technique, but instead due to a system administrator misconfiguring something.  If an IT professional can get it wrong, so can you.

Threat 5: Do you grant other applications access to your Dropbox account?

If you use an smartphone or tablet, the chances are that you have an application installed that has the ability to store or share content with Dropbox. This is great from a convenience point of view, but opens up more points at which someone can get access to your account.  If there's a bug in that application, or a malicious person has access to that application, the integration with Dropbox is suddenly not only convenient for you, but also for a hacker.

What should I do?

So, what is my advice? Unless you have a dedicated IT Security function, Dropbox will probably do you just fine, provided you follow some basic tips:

  1. Acknowledge that there is a system administrator somewhere who can look at your data.
  2. Use a unique strong password.  Don't write it down - instead use KeyPass or similar if you want to store it.
  3. Treat your email as a highly important secure system.  Use two-factor authentication if it is offered by your email provider (Google and Yahoo provide this, Microsoft do not)
  4. If you use Dropbox to share files, use a different account to do so, or make sure you know what you're doing.
  5. Be wary of applications that require access to your Dropbox account.
Finally - I'm sure that experienced Information Security Professionals could elaborate on the above, I don't consider myself to be all-knowing with regard to Information Security, but I think the above covers the key points.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Does the absence of a helmet on a cyclist suggest they are drunk?

An article published yesterday stated that cyclists with no helmets more likely to ride drunk. As a keen cyclist, one of the many who obey our of traffic rules, I read this with interest.

The article itself blurs two points that anyone with common sense would not need research to believe:
  1. Wearing a helmet protects your head if you're unfortunate enough to fall off.
  2. People who break rules are likely to not just break one rule, but be more willing to break rules in general.
Whilst the research itself draws a number of conclusions based on statistical analysis of the data, the article reporting the research chooses a sensational and non-core finding from the research to suggest that "those cyclists without helmets are probably drunk and riding through red lights".

It is a shame to see a The Conversation's standard diminished by such sensationalist headlining of this article. The real finding of the research (completely ignored by the article) is that the current argument about helmets not being important on bike paths is false (based on their analysis).  Unfortunately the research doesn't address the question of whether this cost would be offset by the benefit of assumed increased participation rates that would come if people weren't forced to wear helmets.