I'm a sinner saved by grace. I work in HR Data Analysis and Reporting. I enjoy making work a better place for everyone by providing insights through data. My hobbies include rock climbing, puzzles, board games, music, and live entertainment.

It has been a while

So uh... I have no idea who reads these.

It could just be me. That's fine.

What's happened since the last update?

I started going to church again! It's interesting, coming back after such a long break, but it fills me with so much joy, to be able to serve the Lord. It feels like I never left, but also like I need to... learn more, to spend more time with the Lord.

I've changed jobs! I'm at the University of New South Wales, now.

I've started rock climbing! Some toprope, some bouldering. It's fun and gets me active!

I've started seeing musicals and other shows. I remember seeing Wicked years and years ago, and starting to see shows again, it's really quite amazing, some of the sets, some of the singing, some of the acting. It's nice to see the arts, and something I really wish I'd done sooner - I feel like I've got so much catching up to do!

That's the update for... probably this year? Hope it's been a good one for everyone else.

What Matters About How We Count

We tend to get what we measure, so we should measure what we want.

It's a bit of a strange feeling, but one I think I need to do more often - reading, and reading that challenges, or at least makes me more cautious about, the things that I'm more sure of. Counting: How We Use Numbers to Decide What Matters, is one of these such books. Deborah Stone shines a harsh light on one of the key assumptions in modern life: feelings aren't facts, numbers are.

As a Data Analyst, I use numbers - a lot. I've got to trust them, and I've got to make sure that I can tell stories with them. And it's these moments where you might think "numbers are numbers, so as long as you're correct mathematically, you're right".

But, even when you're correct in your sums and calculations, it's the counting that matters, and it's how we count that matters. As Stone says, it's not so much the calculations that can lead you astray, but the way in which society today takes for granted the decisions that go into including or excluding members from a set.

Particularly when working with people-related data at an organisational level, it's crucial to be aware of this. You don't need to question a number every time you use them, but you should question them. Who was included, and why? Who was excluded, and why?

And it's plainly not the case that statistics and analysis have no value. Entire systems of government and industries rely on it to make sure that things run as smoothly as possible - based on those assumptions.

So, it's really those assumptions that can be problematic. In the case of organisational data, you probably don't even have the opportunity to go back and re-count - once the numbers are in your data lake/base/warehouse/mart it's there, unquestionable because some time ago, a business analyst and data modeller sat down and decided on what counts and what doesn't. Who counts and who doesn't.

It sounds obvious but needs to be said: To know what a number means, you have to know what the counters included in their counts.

Counting was a pleasure to read - when it comes down to it, it's simply saying that numbers are unlike life in that life is full of subjectivity and ambiguity, it's got judgement calls and people with their own interests. It's entirely true, of course - life isn't math, and I'm alright with that.

But it would be a mistake to believe, after reading the book, that you should use numbers and statistics less to try to solve problems in the world. It would be a problem to throw statistics to the wind, and make decisions based on gut feel. After all, that's how we got to where we are. largely - people deciding to do things based on what they thought was right - rarely actually wanting to do harm - from their perspective, of course - but often motivated to maintain the status quo, which itself was (and is) problematic, or else to improve their lot in life, indifferent to the cost to others'.

The lesson to take away from the book, I think, is that we should all try to be more comfortable with interrogating statistics and data. Not with a view to discredit and disprove something because it would disadvantage us - or more likely, reduce our own relative advantage - or because, as the aphorism goes, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Rather, the approach should be to try to understand better those figures in which we have a genuine interest - whether we want them to be right or wrong - with an honest curiosity. The numbers represent the same facts (yes, to belabour Stone's point, the same facts pre-counted and pre-sorted for your consumption) whether or not we understand it, after all.

Through understanding the numbers we encounter on a daily basis, though, we gain two understandings: what we consider important enough to count, and how we're counting them. Numbers are advanced, as Stone writes, in service of people's arguments. Asking more about the numbers arms us better than simply parroting numbers we want to believe are true, and trying to dismantle numbers we want to be false.

2020 in review

Hoo boy. 2020. What a year.

To think that in 2019, the worst I was worried about was the smoke from apocalyptic bushfires.

That I was going to try to escape it by travelling abroad, returning to Europe for a bit.

It's been a testing year, to be sure, but there's a few things that I think I can be grateful for.

Working from home

Yeah, I like this. Controversial for some, but as a single guy with no children (or really, any responsibilities at all), working from home has really given me back a couple of hours each day. Did I spend those two hours sleeping? Sometimes. Did I spend those two hours watching Netflix… Sometimes.

I'm fortunate enough to work for an organisation that's reasonably flexible; even when I was in a customer-facing role, I was able to work from home from time to time. I'm fortunate enough to work in a role that allows the possibility of working from home, full stop.

But of course, as with many other workplaces, working from home was the exception, not the norm, and there's definitely some roles or work where in-person collaboration is superior to video calls or asynchronous communication.

What forcing everyone to work from home for an extended period of time did, however, was highlight some of the gaps we had at work.

It's easy to assume that people are doing things, and that things are getting done, when you're turning up to an office 40 hours a week. It's easier to see that not all of these things are happening when you have only the cold, hard metrics to look at.

The US Election Outcome

This one is a bit mixed. I'm not a citizen of the United States, but it's hard to deny the influence they have over Western countries, and Western democracies, by dint of the big tech companies - Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and many more - that are incorporated there and subject to their laws.

The US Election Outcome was a relief. I found myself, in the week following the election, wondering whether I should've put some money on Trump to win, just in case it happened, as a consolation prize. I'm glad I didn't, and the fact that so many Americans voted for him is disheartening, but the fact that so many more didn't vote for him was heartening indeed.

In a year filled with so much crap - fires, racial injustice, a global pandemic - the fact that the people of the United States voted to make Trump a one-term president, in spite of the massive amounts of misinformation generated by the president himself (and, admittedly, Murdoch media - apologies for that one) was a small spark of light in the darkness.

I probably follow US politics more than I should (and really, only because the last five years has been so exceptional; I think many would be in the same boat), and I look forward to being primarily anxious about local, state and federal politics here in Australia once again.

The Australian response to COVID-19

I've not been more abso-2020-lutely proud to be an Australian than I have been this year.

We've had our challenges this year - the residential tower lockdown in Melbourne, the Ruby Princess in Sydney, the present spike in infections in Sydney, for instance.

But the world-class response we've had to the pandemic has meant that (along with the benefit of being in work that hasn't been affected so much by the pandemic) - the theme for the year for me has really been "shrug can't complain".

And it's not because we've had a perfect year - we haven't, see above re fires, pandemic, etc. - but in comparison to the absolute travesty of pandemic responses enacted by Australia's peers (or, well, those we like to think of as our peers) - Britain, the United States, many parts of Europe - we've done exceptionally well.

In fact, I daresay that (with the possible, potential exception of New Zealand), I can't think of another place I'd rather have been in the world.

It might be easy to dismiss our success as being a factor of our isolation (we don't have huge land borders, removing a vector for transmission), or our small population (exponential spread is exponential), or even the fewer number of jurisdictions we have (governmental bureaucracy is exponential).

We also have the advantage of our initial lockdown coinciding with our winter - the benefits of which are unknown, but I suspect people were less inclined to mingle in inclement weather.

But really, nothing we did was impossible for other countries. Harder? Sure, it's probably easier to wrangle eight states and territories than fifty. You might need people to patrol land borders that we just don't have.

But it's not as though those things couldn't have been done, and the fact that we've done it is proof that it can be done.

And our success here means that, when it comes to things like spikes, we're able to stamp out even very small numbers of cases - or even large ones, by our standards (sometimes over 700 cases a day during the peak of the Victorian outbreak).

When it comes to the vaccine, we have the luxury of letting other countries go first, because we're not relying on it to suppress the spread of the virus (not that that's guaranteed, either).

Sure, I recognise that there are deeply entrenched social and political factors which might mean that a response like ours couldn't have been just copied and pasted wholesale into countries like the United States or Britain.

But I'm damned proud of what we've done. 🇦🇺


I don't know what the coming year will bring, and it seems like it'd be asking for trouble to assume that it'll be better.

It's going to sound a little corny, but having seen Australia, my team at work, my friends and family, all pull together to get through the massive dumpster fire that 2020 is, I'm cautiously confident that we'll get through whatever 2021 has to throw at us.

Free speech, social networks, and misinformation

This is slavery, not to speak one's thought.

It's basically a cliché these days, but if you're not paying, you're not the customer, you're the product.

But what happens when the service which sells your attention is something that you find that you need to use to remain connected to a community, to friends, to family? What happens when you reach a critical mass of people and coordination and consensus are too elusive for you all to collectively decide that enough is enough, and it's now time for you to move on to somewhere else?

If you're new to my blog, it's a little awkward that this is probably the only "serious" and non-wanky post. But also... well, meh. It's my blog.

There's this weird idea that speech should be free, that it should be unencumbered. Heck, there's another idea that most things should be unencumbered and you should only need to be honest in your dealings and not harm other people. Of course, those are probably the bare minimum for a respectful and civilised society, but it doesn't stop there.

Freedom of speech, on the other hand? It's something that some idealistic people in the colonies made up - not our colonies, mind you, but in the much older, "United" States of America. Why? Because when it boils down to it, you need to be able to discuss and critique your government for a healthy society, and so "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech".

We have a similar provision in the Australian constitution which represents an implied freedom of political speech, but the explicitness of the American constitution is often lauded by its citizens and those who hold the American model of government up as an example for the world to follow, and to be exported to other lands on the planet.

But you know what? They got it wrong.

Not the part where the government should be prohibited from restraining criticism of itself, but really, in the way that "freedom of speech" has essentially become a thought-terminating cliche.

Instead of teaching people and making clear the rationale for the first amendment, instead people are told that the United States has this thing called "freedom of speech". What does that mean? Well, most people seem to think that it means that you can say whatever the hell you want without consequences (not true), and not only do other people have to listen to you (also not true), your speech and your ideas must be maintained, unchallenged, ad infinitum - and how dare a social media company curtail your right to say whatever you want, whenever you want.

In reality, the First Amendment is not unfettered. There's a whole list of exceptions to free speech in the USA, and that's only in the USA - you don't even really get that much consideration in Australia, nor most other countries.

And you might not like it. You might wish for a world where no-one can tell you what you can and can't say, but that's not the world you live in now - or at least, it's not the case that you can say whatever you want and risk some punishment, based on laws that have been passed wherever you say it.

Some people might believe that it's their right to disregard laws that they don't agree with, consequences be damned. If I want to spread lies about someone or something, why shouldn't I be allowed to?

Recently I've heard two arguments against restraining expression: one is that you should be free to express whatever you want, and that social media companies (namely, Facebook) shouldn't be permitted to stop you from doing so, and that it's up to each individual person to make decisions for themselves based on these expressions - personal responsibility. This was said in the context of Facebook taking down a video from a group of doctors claiming that hydroxychloroquine is a safe and effective remedy for COVID-19, citing anecdotal evidence in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus that establishes no such thing.

This would take the argument for free speech too far, in my view - why should a private corporation (keeping in mind that the forbearance on restricting expression applies to the government, and even that has boundaries) be bound not only to allow you to post things which are demonstrably false (which they do anyway), but also to maintain it in perpetuity? Don't companies have a right to curate public perception of them, and the content that they deliver?

That's a bit of a moot point, since Facebook doesn't give you an unfiltered, neutral stream of content - it gives you a very-much algorithmically-curated stream of content with the objective of keeping you on the site or in their apps for as long as possible, because they sell your attention for profit (see above). So, while they're promoting some posts and quietly suppressing others (an unavoidable consequence of us having limited attention spans and finite time each day) to maximise the amount of time you spend looking at those posts, what is their responsibility to the truth, or at the very least, to avoid being complicit in spreading lies? None? If Facebook can spread lies, why can't I? If Facebook needs to not only display lies to me, but to spread the more salacious ones, then why should I be punished for doing the same?

And since I don't (and probably can't) claim to be completely original, why should I be punished for any lies at all? Aren't I just reinterpreting and regurgitating ideas I've heard elsewhere?

The other view I've heard is that you should be able to express your views any time, place, and way you want, but you should be able to deal with the consequences, ranging from praise to physical violence. Somewhat confusingly, this was in the same context as the previous view. I'm not convinced that the two can be held at the same time, by the same person, without contradicting each other inherently.

If you should be able to express anything you want, anywhere you want, in anyway you want as long as you're prepared to deal with the consequences, then... doesn't this mean that if someone decides to fact-check or remove your content (on their platform, mind you; you're in their house), that's a consequence you just need to deal with? Isn't this just them asserting a response to you?

There's a simple explanation - perhaps slightly overly-simplistic - of course, and one I'm worried will be considered... offensive. It's a failure of critical thinking, with some conspiracy-thinking tendencies sprinkled in.

It's not about thinking about the consequences of applying your rule on what should and shouldn't be allowed more broadly and from behind a veil of ignorance, it's that I can't do what I want, and instead of just saying that, it needs to be a principled stand because those are selfless instead of self-serving.

It's the same sort of thinking that finds patterns where none exist, and where it seems like everyone is out to suppress the truth. Of course, some conspiracies do exist, but you know what? Probably fewer than you think, and those that do exist probably affect fewer people than you think. Not convinced? How many conspiracies are you a part of? Now extrapolate.

The problem with today's world is that everyone believes they have the right to express their opinion AND have others listen to it.

The correct statement of individual rights is that everyone has the right to an opinion, but crucially, that opinion can be roundly ignored and even made fun of, particularly if it is demonstrably nonsense!

10: Double digits!

When the facts change, I change my mind.

Some time ago, a friend - well, I don't know if she'd call me a friend, but I'd definitely say that she was one of the kindest and most intelligent people I knew, or know - wrote a book, and I didn't think much of it.

It was about sexual assault, why it's so rarely reported, and what happens because of systems of invisible - or at least, not openly comprehended or spoken of - bias. No, let's call it what it is, sexism. As an attempt to preserve some anonymity, that's about all I'll say about it, but the story was harrowing.

It's crazy that this happened, but it's crazier that it still happens. I know that there's not much that I can do about this, personally. But I think I can try to do what I can.

I can call out inappropriate behaviour when I see it - whether or not someone else sees me do so.

I can make sure that I treat everyone with respect and act with integrity - and hopefully, by doing so, help create a space where people can confide in me.

I've had setbacks in both of these areas in the past. I think that's okay. I don't think I can forgive myself - not because I like living with guilt, but because I think it's a bit meaningless to do so - and I think that's fine, because the guilt, and to some extent, the shame (which, yes, misses the point of the book somewhat but), it reminds me that I need to do better.

I need to be better than I have been in the past.

I need to - and have tried to - be okay with being wrong sometimes, and to be able to admit it.

9: Certainty

Uncertain times, the new normal, dealing with it all.

It's easier for some than others, and if you've lived your entire life without being worried about where the next meal is going to come from, or how you'll get to work, then you're lucky.

You shouldn't be, of course. But I suspect it's a feeling that many more people will have to come to terms with.

How do you prepare for the unknown? Planning for it. You can't, of course, plan for all unknowns, but there are known unknowns that you can insulate yourself against.

These are questions like:

  • Will I have a job in three, six, twelve months?
  • Will I have some kind of accident?
  • Will I be in good health?

There's an industry built on this uncertainty, insurance. It plays on your fears, but there's a massive conflict of interest - it is in the commercial interests of insurance companies to pay out as few claims as possible. The thing you are paying for, they have a vested interest in making sure you never receive it.

Some premiums are unavoidable. Others are just plain dumb.

8: SovCitiots

A friend of mine alerted me to the existence of this right to know request.

I'm not the biggest fan of bureaucracy, but very little compels me to sympathise with them faster than Sovereign Citizens, free-men, or whatever else we want to call them

Under normal circumstances, they're an annoyance and should be dealt with expeditiously and with no nonsense (aside from the nonsense inherent in claiming to be sovereign citizens). During a pandemic, they should probably be restricted in movement, speech, or association, as is necessary to safeguard public health.

I'm not a lawyer and I don't feel like litigating this issue again, but I need to vent, so here I am:

  • If you really knew how laws were made, you would know referenda are not always required and that laws can grant certain discretionary authority to governing bodies, such as to restrict movement

  • If the government tells you to wear a mask, don't be a dick, wear a mask or stay at home

  • Your magic words have no power over actual police, who will arrest or fine you as permitted by law.

Wear a mask, stay home, social distance, unless you're fortunate enough to live somewhere that is free from this and experts (this means people who study and research epidemiology for a living, not people who read a blog or watched a few hours of YouTube and now know all there is to know about vaccinations) have said that you can move about freely.

7: Figuring things out

The problem with definitions is that you don't know what you don't know. Maybe not definitions, but expectations, certain

There are few things as frustrating in life as wasted time; all the money in the world never bought a second of time.

And then, you learn and do it again. And you swear to yourself that you won't make the same mistake again, but the truth is, we make this mistake all the time.

We have trouble assuming that we're not really knowledgeable about things. We forget to question whether what we know is enough for what we need, and the crazy thing is, the more we learn, the worse this gets.

Only through rigorous rationality and meta-cognitive awareness do we stand a chance of overcoming these stupid biases.

The next step for me, of course, is trying to figure out exactly how I can do that...

6: Just do the right thing

Okay, I'm not a fan of handing over my rights or freedoms. I get the instinct to curl up and protect them, and you might get high-minded about dying for your freedom.

You might be in ordinary circumstances, and have no reason to read on. You might be reading this later, when things are more normal.

But right now, there are some restrictions in place around the world - it might be that you're to stay home, or wear a mask, or limit the size of gatherings.

And you might be happy to die for your freedoms, but right now, you're not making that choice just for yourself - you're making it for everyone you come into contact with, and so are they.

Refusing to wear a mask when you're asked to isn't just selfish, it's dangerous. Refusing to stay at home, or holding gatherings isn't just being stupid, it's potentially fatal. Maybe not to you, but to someone else.

There's no bravery or valour in someone else unknowingly sacrificing their lives for your comfort or benefit.

5: Some things you plan, others you just do

So I guess if you don't plan things, you end up just reacting to them.

And for the longest time, I punished myself because I didn't plan things enough - I thought that I found myself reacting to things so much because it wasn't something I'd accounted for, in my plans.

A lot of it was to do with my financial security - there was a period where I was making decent money, but failed to plan for the future, because I thought it would never end. Then, when it did, I was totally unprepared, and there was a much longer stretch where I couldn't prepare for the future, and so life was just... so much harder than it needed to be.

I think though, that while I was right to regret not planning and preparing while I was able, every moment of regret after recognising that - when it wasn't possible for me to do otherwise - was effort wasted.

Learn from your lessons, yes, but don't be a slave to your mistakes. The difference is whether you feel guilt - which you should - and whether you can do something about it.

Feeling guilty about not preparing for the future while you were able to is fine, but if you keep regretting not doing so while you can't do anything about it, it just becomes... draining. You end up punishing yourself, and it's just... exhausting. Tiring.

And to some extent, it's not possible to block this out completely. If you find yourself in a rough patch, and you could've prevented it, you'll think back to that time, and maybe resent past you for not doing so. The trick is to notice when this happens, accept that it's happened, and then try to do something better with your time.

And then to remember, next time you have the chance to prepare for the future, do it.

4: Palm Springs

Palm Springs perfectly encapsulates so many of the feelings that characterises 2020 for so many of us.

A feeling of isolation, of nihilism. That you're doing the same thing over and over and over again.

Andy Samberg's character, Nyles, comments that we don't really have a choice in whether we live life, or not. You might be trapped in an endless cycle that feels just... pointless, but you don't really have a choice.

At least you have each other. Nothing worse than going through this shit alone.

But later on, he mentions something pretty crucial, that we need to remember, even if we think there's no point in doing the right thing, because we don't think there's any consequences.

When Cristin Milioti's Sarah (Sara?) decides that she can be as cruel as she wants, inflicts whatever pain she wants, because everything's going to reset anyway, he tells her that that's not the point - she, Sarah, will remember. The pain they cause, the cruelty they inflict, matters, because it's the wrong thing to do.

And later, Nyles's nemesis, Roy (played by the incomparable J K Simmons), who's also in the loop, has come to terms with things. He knows that life in this kind of situation is far more palatable with someone than without.

As much as it seems like we're stuck in a loop, we will get out of it.

Even if it seems like there are no consequences, we should do the right thing, because it's the right thing to do.

And remember, things are easier with a buddy.

Some other thoughts:

  • By the way, not only is Cristin Milioti in this (and I just adore everything she's in, from A to Z 😏), the casting was done by Alison Jones, which marks yet another show I absolutely love that she's had a direct role in casting, The Office and Brooklyn Nine-Nine being some others.

  • On the other hand, I'm reminded of the series finale of Angel: "Those who don't care will never understand those who do." "Yeah, but we won't care."

3: Reflecting on Coronavirus

I managed to have a brief catch up with people I know today, in Europe. Things there are... not great. I wonder though, whether the ability to travel in Europe will ultimately see a stronger recovery there.

Moreover, I wonder whether Australia's relative success thus far in keeping cases and deaths down has worked against us. Here's the thinking:

  1. In Australia, we have managed to keep deaths low such that we can identify those who die due to COVID-19 by age: a 60-year old, a 50 year-old, and so on

  2. Since we keep hearing these, and more often than those who are younger, younger people don't fear the effects of the virus enough to reinforce the behavioural measures needed to suppress the virus

  3. Additionally, the ongoing pressures from loss of income or mobility are causing a pent up desire to do normal things

Still, I guess we should be grateful with the low case and death rate we've experienced thus far.

2: Why Standard Notes?

... and general thoughts on paying for things.

In a lot of ways, the internet is to blame for many problems. This might be vague, bordering on pointless, but it's true. Talking specifics, it's the promise, and delivery, of "free" content, which has resulted in the erosion of wuakity journalism, diverse and broad voices in media (though, the internet has also provided a platform for voices thst would otherwise be unheard; it's unclear whether that's a good thing, overall, or not).

For the longest time, too, I was not a fan of paying for things on the internet. To this day, there are some things which I'll try to obtain for free, or at a discount, if I can.

But more and more, I've come to appreciate that I should be paying for things, not just because otherwise it's my data that becomes the product (though this too is a compelling reason), but also because, well, people deserve to get paid for their work.

Whether it's a webcomic, or a podcast, or, yes, a notes/blogging platform, someone had to work on that thing, and, well, even if it's a labour of love and they don't expect to become rich from it, isn't offering to help sustain them the best way to ensure that they continue to do what they do, and that they put my needs, as a user, before those of some sd company, or some other third party?

This isn't a panacea, nor is it an original thought; certainly, using a centralised means of supporting creators (read: Patreon) means that someone's still tracking me. But the goal here, with paying for things, is not for me to become invisible. Indeed, if I wanted that, I'd not be blogging publicly, or likely online at all - my notes would be in paper form, only, or at the very least hidden from the world.

The goal with paying for things is to make sure that people are justly compensated for their work, at least to my reasonable and proportionate ability.

1: Private browsing and how easy it can be

Let's see how many days in a row I can write things.

Why here and not on Twitter? This is... text. Just writing. And a bit more reflective, I think, for that reason.

I use an Android device, and for a very long time, I've touted Firefox Focus for how easy it makes private browsing. Set it as your default browser and your browsing is incognito by default.

Firefox Beta (and maybe stable?) lets you open links in private browsing tabs, though, which is just a bit easier and better, in my view.

What's more, though - and what convinced me to reassign my default browser to Firefox Beta - is that you can enable Dark Reader on Firefox proper, and even in private browsing.

The number of times I've had to scrunch my eyes shut against the white glare of a website when I'm reading in bed (okay, that's a different problem, but one thing at a time) is enough to persuade me to switch over.

Add this to the built-in reader mode, and I'm a convert. This would've been the case even if Firefox Focus weren't randomly glitching and giving me black screens after task switching (I would guess some kind of a memory bug?)