Profile

megpie71: Animated "tea" icon popular after London bombing. (Default)
megpie71

April 2017

S M T W T F S
       1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 1718 1920 2122
23242526272829
30      

Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
megpie71: Slave computer, captioned "My most humble apologies, master" (computer troubles)
Friday, January 6th, 2017 09:00 am
Centrelink crisis 'cataclysmic' says PM's former head of digital transformation

The notion that the current Centrelink crisis is a result of a culture of "don't want to hear bad news" in Centrelink management doesn't surprise me at all. Centrelink management has long had a culture of shooting the messenger bearing bad news, because it doesn't agree with the glossy picture they're trying to sell their Minister (not to mention themselves). It really is one of the main ways the particular algorithm being used (compare total incomes reported against the ATO total for the financial year to determine whether income has been reported accurately, then average the ATO total across 26 fortnights to determine whether there's a debt) could have survived even cursory testing.

I suspected the whole thing was developed in-house, and it's nice to have those suspicions confirmed, but the point to be raised here is Centrelink's programming staff are not sourced from within the group of people who have worked on the customer contact end of Centrelink's operations. Instead, they're sourced from within the IT industry, and generally from a group of people who have had next to no contact with what could be considered the bulk of Centrelink's business (their parents may have received Family Tax Benefit for them while they were in school, but that's pretty much it). This is where a blind spot in the bureaucracy intersects with a blind spot in the IT industry - the bureaucratic insistence on "no bad news" intersects with the IT industry article-of-faith that if you can figure out programming, you can solve any problem at all with no additional knowledge required (and if you did need extra knowledge and didn't get supplied with it by the client, this is the client's fault for not knowing you'd need it).

So basically, what's happened is a programmer (or group of programmers) in Centrelink's IT section has been handed the job of figuring out how to automate the process of debt recovery sparked by income data matching, and they've done this effectively starting from scratch (and probably reinventing several wheels along the way) with absolutely no reference to existing processes and procedures, or to the knowledge bank of staff who were doing this job at the time. When the program was tested, it passed all the standard tests to see whether it would break the Centrelink desktop environment (this is mandatory for all products on the Centrelink network, whether they're being rolled out to all staff or not), so it was assumed to be Just Fine! If someone in the debt recovery section raised the problem of "we know this is going to raise a lot of false positives - something like nineteen out of twenty of the issues data matching raises aren't actually valid debts" with their manager (assuming they found out about it ahead of time), the caution would be buried, because nobody wants to hear bad news in Centrelink's upper management.

And thousands of people across Australia got asked to justify their receipt of social security benefits they were legally entitled to, because they made a typo in their income reporting once (or because the business they were working for made a typo when they created their record with the ATO), or because they got a good job after having been on social security (and this averaged out over the course of twelve months to be higher than the fortnightly cut-off limit), or whatever. Things which probably could have been picked up very quickly and resolved with minimal fuss and bother to the person affected if there had been any efforts at inserting a human element in the whole process to just double-check the results of the first couple of weeks, and then remove the bugs.
megpie71: Slave computer, captioned "My most humble apologies, master" (computer troubles)
Tuesday, November 11th, 2014 01:13 pm
There was a thunderstorm yesterday morning. Which I don't mind - I'm not one of those people who gets freaked by thunderstorms (the ones which are more likely to worry me at the moment are hailstorms accompanied by heavy wind - our place has no eaves, so the windows are vulnerable). I lit some incense for the thunder gods, and got on with the day.

Unfortunately, however, the router for our home interwebs decided to die, which may or may not have been connected to the thunderstorm (we're dealing with a lot of second-hand tech here - it may have decided to die for Reasons of its own). However the nyetwork card for our gateway box died at the same time, so it's more than likely to have been a consequence of the thunder gods having their fun and games.

At present, I am on the internet via a rather ancient router (found in Steve's Collection Of Assorted Tech Bits And Pieces He's Never Thrown Out Because We Might Need Them Some Day) and my errand for the day is to find a computer shop and see whether I can get hold of a PCI network card (preferably the oldest and cheapest of their stock, since that means it has more of a chance of fitting into our rather ancient gateway box).

So there's another thing to add to my long-term goals and plans... get enough money together that we can afford to replace all the various discards and spares we're calling our network infrastructure.

Updated later: Apparently PCI network cards are a thing of the past. I managed to get one by heading all the way out to Cannington (from Yangebup) after calling around all over the place to try and find a supplier. Eventually I wound up giving up, phoning the local Dick Smith and asking if they had the part, and when they said "nope", asking if they knew anyone who did. So they referred me to one firm, who referred me on to another group, who referred me on to a third, who wound up having the part. Austin Computers, in Cannington, if anyone's interested.

Doesn't help that putting "computer parts" into the Yellow Pages brings up a thousand and one entries for "Geeks 2 U". Geeks 2 U are a mobile computer service franchise, and the bane of my job-seeking life. When I go searching for part-time work in IT on Seek, about once a month their ad trying to recruit more consultants shows up (they aren't looking for staff, they're looking for sub-contractors with an existing IT repair business to glomp under the umbrella of their franchise). So I start off averse to them to begin with - and I wasn't particularly happy to have them showing up as the major listing for the whole damn category.

It annoys me, because if we want computer parts, we want the actual *parts*. Himself is perfectly capable of wielding his own screwdriver, thanks very much. We don't need to pay someone else a ghastly hourly rate just to drive out here and wave a rubber chicken over the carcass of the gateway box while they plug in a new card. But I couldn't find the place that sold the parts, because it was buried under all these listings (suburb by suburb) for people who'll come and install the wretched things.
megpie71: Avon looking unimpressed, caption "Bite Me" (bite me)
Friday, May 11th, 2012 10:46 pm
I'm busy re-reading some back issues of Tiger Beatdown at the moment (great blog, love it to bits), and I'm currently going through the stuff from about late August last year - back not long after Sady posted her critique of either "Song of Ice and Fire" or "Game of Thrones" (whichever one is by George R R Martin, anyway) and started getting inundated by the nerdrage. And one of the things I'm realising is that while I may be am a geek (I geek statistics, for fuck's sake; there's not much more out there which is geekier), I don't really identify myself as a member of a particular geek community.

There's a reason for this. The majority of the most vocal geeky "communities" out there tend to be represented in public by people who are possibly their least likeable members. The ones who are blatantly and openly sexist, for example. The ones who are ardent Mansplainers. The ones who take out their rage at the Mean Girls and Jock Guys from high school on the internet at large. The ones who perpetrate the worst acts, and then try to excuse it on grounds of being geeky, being fans, being nerds, having been bullied at high school, or basically anything other than "I'm finally on ground where I feel unassailable, so I'm going to make everyone else's life hell".

Basically, a lot of the problems I have with identifying as a geek, or identifying as a member of any particular geeky or nerdy community (including fandom, in a lot of ways) is that I get a strong feeling that I'm immediately supposed to become entirely passionate about the subject in question. For example, I consider myself a fan of Dr Who - I've been in love with Doctors One through Seven for years now (since I first started seeing episodes of Dr Who at around age five or six - so about 1976 - 1977), and even found a few good things to say about the telemovie which introduced the Eighth Doctor. But recent Dr Who fandom, I find, is entirely too damn polarised. One has to be 110% passionate about the subject, one has to be completely and utterly engaged with it, one cannot criticise things AT ALL (when at least part of what I loved about the Old School fandom was their willingness to engage with the wobbly sets, point out the plot holes, make fun of the scenery chewing, and the regular double-entendre of "we must act now!"). Instead, in order to prove one's membership of fandom, one has to be completely passionately devoted and delirious about the subject to the point where I'm certain the actors and writers must find at least some of this just a little scary. That's not the fandom I want to be identified with.

I'm a fan. But that doesn't mean I'm blind to the faults of what I'm seeing. For example, I have a lot of problems with a lot of what Stephen Moffat (the current show runner for DW) writes, and have done since I was first watching "Coupling" on DVD. Yes, he's capable of writing good dialogue; yes, he has a nice touch for comedy; yes, he can handle drama very nicely too. But he also has a rather nasty streak of often unremarked-upon sexism in his writing.

I have problems with the current formula timewise, because it tends to lend itself more to the one-shot sequences - one of the things I liked about the old format was the way that a plotline was strung out over multiple weeks. I dislike the high-tech effects, too, because quite frankly one of the things I loved about BBC science fiction back in the late 1970s and early 1980s was the way that the BBC's effects team worked to suggest so much with so little. Watch "The Ark In Space" - there's a moment in there where an actor manages to pull off a very convincing performance as someone who is undergoing an horrific transformation into a totally alien creature, and all he uses to do it is a green-tinted bubblewrap glove. These days it's all CGI or high budget effects, and we lose that wonderful combination of good scriptwriting and good acting skill which put the BBC stuff several cuts above what came out of the US studios in my book.

I don't like the constant "reunion" episodes at the end of each series - that was one of the things the old format had very right, I thought - the ability to convey that the Doctor went out of the lives of these people, and their lives went on without him. What isn't pointed out quite as obviously is that as far as the Doctor's life goes, he had to go on without them - and he'd lived over nine hundred years by the time Tom Baker's tenure was done (I'm not too sure how old the character is by the time Christopher Eccleston stepped into the role, but I'm sure by now he's hit his millennium). The Doctor has had to learn to be very good at leaving people behind, and learning to live with that. Bringing everyone back at the end of each season for a grand final reunion is just rubbing it in, to my mind.

Now, yes, I do have these problems with New Who. But that doesn't mean Old Who was completely faultless either. As I said before, there were the wobbly sets, the zip-up-the-back rubber-suit aliens, the chewing of the scenery, the stories with the Obvious Filler chase scenes, the Monster-of-the-Week format, the recurring monsters who weren't used to their full capacity. For example, the Daleks were sometimes used as rent-a-thugs - yes, in some of Terry Nation's scripts, back before he wrote "Genesis of the Daleks". Then again, Terry Nation actually meant for the Daleks to die off at the end of the first storyline they were introduced in, but they became fan favourites, so he was stuck writing them for about twenty years. There's actually a lovely story in the commentary or interviews on the DVD set of "Genesis of the Daleks" where the script editor points out that "Genesis" was the second storyline they'd requested from Terry for the Daleks - the first one was a rather predictable chase sequence, and it was knocked back as a result. So then he sat down and did a full retcon on the origins of the Daleks, and a new legend was born. But that was the other great thing about Old Who - while there were some absolute shockers, there were sometimes these unregarded gems in the middle of things. For example, the 5th Doctor story "Kinda", which actually turns out to be a very interesting piece of genuine science fiction storytelling (provided you're willing to ignore the giant snake effect at the end).

I count myself as a fan of the Final Fantasy series of games, too. But I'm aware they're not perfect. They're written from a Japanese perspective, which means that yes, there's a lot of embedded sexism in the way that gender roles are visualised, and yes, there are a lot of in-game tropes that I sometimes don't have the cultural background to understand. In the earlier ones, the graphics are clunky, and in the later ones the hero-figures are, quite frankly, irritating (Tidus and Vaan both inspire me with a strong desire to thump them over the head). The fixation on providing add-ins to the Final Fantasy VII continuity annoys the crap out of me (particularly the whole business of Crisis Core - Genesis wins my personal prize for "video game character I'd most like to slap"), as does the tendency to create sequelae to just about everything (whether or not there's actually a story hook to hang things onto). The outfits for the female characters in the later games tend to be somewhat stripperific (exhibit one: Fran the rabbit-woman and her "playboy bunny" armoured lingerie), and Tetsuya Nomura definitely majored in "impractical armour", since I think the last properly-armoured major character in the FF series was Cecil, in FFIV! Don't believe me? Check Dissidia. Bartz from FFV is wearing a tunic. Terra from FF6 wears a mini-dress and leggings. Cloud (FF7) is in cargo pants and a knitted top, with one paudron. Squall (FF8) wears leather pants, a t-shirt and a leather jacket (at least he wouldn't get too seriously flayed in a motorcycle crash). Zidane (FF9) is wearing boots, a poofy shirt, and trousers (all apparently fabric). Tidus (FFX) is at least wearing that glove-cum-arm-protector thing. But really... there's at least two (if not three) of these people who live in cultures where a battlefield generally means there are bullets flying around. Is it too much to expect they're going to have at least a little bit of protection from high-velocity lead poisoning?

(And yes, this is my geeky side coming out again - I'm a practicality geek, I'm a plothole geek, and I qualify for life membership of the Overthinkers Club. I am the type of person who will spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make the worlds of Blake's 7 and Firefly co-exist, who will write a long and involved post about the political and economic situation of Minas Tirith post-Ringwar, and who will spend much time and effort trying to figure out what the fsck is going on with the world of Final Fantasy VII to create the Shinra Electric Power Company).

I find things interesting because they make me think. Even if what they're making me think is along the lines of "how the fsck does that work again?" I'm not set up correctly for unthinking adoration and devotion of my source material. I'm more set up for mild-to-moderate irritation at various qualities of it, and a willingness to make snarky comments about it. I get pissed off when the only fan-space I'm allowed to inhabit is one which requires total and utter worship of the creators and everything they do - I think that fan-space not only insults me as a fan, it also insults the creators of the original work, because it sets them up as beings incapable of handling critique, incapable of handling dissent, incapable of handling any different viewpoint to their own. I write myself, and what I find I appreciate most as a writer is not the person who writes a simple "loved it, plz rite moar!", but rather the person who asks questions, the person who offers bits they liked and why they liked them, the person who engages in dialogue about what I've written (I so rarely hear from these people - I've started being a bit more open with being one myself in the hope of encouraging more of them!), and the person who isn't ashamed or afraid to tell me "this sucks, and this is why!". I'd like to believe that the creators of some of my favourite fan properties have a similar attitude toward criticism.

My point is, being a geek, or a nerd, or a fan, should not mean that we switch our minds off and become uncritical worshippers. In fact, I believe very strongly that as a fan (of a series, a genre, or a writer), I'm in a better position to offer criticism, because it's coming from a position of overall love.

I'll be honest, though - I'm more than just a fan, more than just a geek. So I'm always going to be a little on the outer with these communities, always feeling I don't quite fit in, because I just cannot maintain the posture of unquestioning adoration which appears to be required. I can do enthusiasm. I can do critique. But I think I'm a bit too old and cynical for adoration these days.