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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: Photo of sign reading "Those who throw objects at the crocodiles will be asked to retrieve them." (Crocodiles)
Thursday, May 28th, 2015 11:18 am
Item the first )

Item the Second )

So I'm having a nice quiet day of smug satisfaction at my own perspicacity. Given the rest of the day involves my jerk-brain telling me I'm useless, hopeless and won't achieve anything (to the point where I'm having to take photos of the housework as I'm doing it to prove the wretched thing wrong) it's nice for the external world to give me a bit of validation.
megpie71: 9th Doctor resting head against TARDIS with repeated *thunk* text (Head!Tardis)
Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013 09:50 am
Your government is like your operating system for your country. Now, there are a lot of different OSen out there, some better suited to their purpose than others. The US government is basically a very old, very buggy version of RepresentativeDemocracy (RepDem) 1.51, complicated by the problem that you haven't been applying upgrades for a long, long while (I think the last attempt to patch the US OS was the Equal Rights Amendment patch, and it got rejected by the buggy hardware even though the majority of the programs running on the system support it, as well as it being a major requirement for a lot of world networking). Basically, your country is running on a fairly old and buggy legacy system.

(By comparison: The UK is running some kind of bastard hacked-together hybrid of Monarchy 3.5 and Westminster 1.314; Australia is running Washminster XP; France is on Republic 5.0; and New Zealand is trying some sort of Linux-derivative thing called MMP 1.0)

Your system has currently wedged. One misfiring process has managed to wedge the entire system such that nothing is capable of happening. Your country is currently sitting there with the blue screen of death blinking at them, showing a large amount of hexadecimal gobbledegook, which is only really useful to a constitutional lawyer or other such systems architect. Some of the less major processes (the ones running the display etc) are still running behind the scenes, because they're handled by separate data paths, and don't need access to the CPU to operate. But the majority of functionality is gone. For ordinary users, a reboot would fix this - switch the whole system off, replace some of the defective components in the hardware, and restart. Unfortunately, the OS controls the power supply (which is really poor design, by the way) and since the OS is wedged, you're not able to even partially reboot until a scheduled outage in 2014.

My guess, as a former tech support type, is that your system appears to have a serious viral infection - it looks like you have a serious infestation of all of the neo-Con group of viruses, ranging from Objectivism, through (g)libertarianism. Gods, you've even got anti-Communist hysteria running on there, and that's a really ancient one which doesn't even RUN on most systems these days - it's been obsolete since about the mid-nineties. This is causing the system to hang when you attempt to install a working anti-virus program (your current anti-virus isn't working; it's been corrupted by the neo-Con viruses to the point where the OS doesn't supply necessary resources to a lot of programs in order to prevent virus infection).

Ideally, you need to restart your system in safe mode, install an up-to-date anti-virus program, scan your entire system to root out or at least quarantine the Neo-Con viruses, including that really weird "NRA" variant you have in there, and then restart things gradually, to see whether you've rooted out the worst of the problem.
megpie71: "Well, when I was a little girl, I thought I'd like to become a scientist, so I became a scientist" (feminism)
Monday, May 14th, 2012 08:48 am
I was busy reading through a lovely little article on the ABC this morning about a group of doctors who have submitted a statement to the Senate enquiry into marriage equality here in Australia. The position of this group of doctors (about 150 in all, one of whom is a member of the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission) is that "marriage between a man and a woman is the "basis for a healthy society"."

Their contention is that ""It's well proven that children who grow up with a mother and a father in a biological mother-and-father family do better than children who don't have the opportunity to grow up in that kind of family,"

Now, my immediate thought when faced with this was along the following lines:

Show me the research - This is always my response to ninety percent of these sorts of statements in news articles. I want to see the studies these people are pulling their quotes from, and actually figure out whether their justification is accurate.

teal deer underneath )

Really, if you get past the first page of their submission, it's just the same sort of small-minded, socially-conservative idiocy that you'd expect from the Christian (Always) Right - "Don't Do It Because We Don't Like It; Our God Says This Is EEEEVUL!!!"[4]. It's a bit disappointing that 150 doctors hold these views, but then again, so long as they don't let their views get in the way of their practice, I've no problems with that. They're entitled to hold opinions as private citizens. It's when they try to use their position as doctors to force those opinions on the rest of the population that I have problems.

Footnotes below )
megpie71: Cloud Strife says "Meep" (Cloud 1)
Wednesday, June 8th, 2011 05:44 pm
This one is pretty specific to Final Fantasy VII fandom. If you're not a part of that fandom, you may not find it particularly interesting.

Fandom Specific Stuff Below )

(All figures are taken either from the Final Fantasy Wiki for fandom specific data, or from Wikipedia.)
megpie71: Impossibility established early takes the sting out of the rest of the obstacles (Impossibility)
Sunday, May 22nd, 2011 09:32 am
It's May 22. I'm still here. So are my neighbours. So is New Zealand.

But then, I had a problem with Mr Camping's figures from the start - they were based around the whole business of "years from Christ's birth", and the assumption this occurred at some fictitious Year Zero. Now, there's a few small problems with this: firstly, and most importantly, there wasn't a Year Zero at all - in fact, at the time Christ was supposed to have been born, there were two calendars his birth might have been reported on, and one of those was the Hebrew calendar which (at that time[1]) counted years since Seleucus I Nicator returned to Babylon after his Egyptian exile (because Galilee, Judah and surrounding territories fell firmly into the Seleucid empire). The other was the Roman imperial calendar, which counted years since the city of Rome had been founded by Remus in memory of his brother.

The second big problem is that the timing of the birth of Christ wasn't noted in any contemporaneous historical documents (there are three gospel references, all of which post-date the death of Christ by at least 100 years[2]) and therefore it can't be fixed. The best most biblical and historical scholars can do is guess - to a greater or lesser degree of accuracy, depending on the premises they use.

The Anno Domini (or "Year of Our Lord") dating system wasn't actually devised as a way of counting years until approximately 525CE. It was originally created as a way of dating Easter each year, as a replacement for the Diocletian epoch (Diocletian being the the last Roman emperor to go in for serious persecution of Christians, and mass production of Christian martyrs). The only thing which has come down to the present day is the actual conversion table from Diocletian years to AD, and there's no notes available to provide any cross references to other dating systems, or any indication of the calculations used.

Historical research has since been conducted to try and figure out when the actual birth of Christ occurred[3], and the results of this are rather interesting. In effect, the dates for various biblical cross-references can put the date of Christ's birth anywhere in the period between 18BC and 7AD (depending on which of the gospels you believe to be accurate). The most widely accepted figures tend to be between 9 and 6 BCE.

Now, given this, even if we accept every other part of Mr Camping's mathematics to be exact, divinely inspired and absolutely correct, the best guess is that the end of the world would have begun sometime between 2002 and 2005. If this were the case, then clearly we were just all too busy to notice - or there were a lot of people who were expecting to be Raptured who were clearly not as good at this whole Christianity thing as they thought they were.

But hey, dating Christ's birth is an imprecise science. If we take the latest figure possible for Christ's birth (putting his birth at the time of the census of Syria and Iudaea in 6 - 7CE[4]) then we should be looking out for the end of the world in 2017 or 2018. If it hasn't already ended in 2012, as per the Mayan calendar.

[1] The current Hebrew calendar counts the years since the founding of the world as per biblical record, but it's only been doing so since about the 3rd century CE.
[2] Thus they post-date his birth by at least 133 years.
[3] I haven't yet heard of any research into whether it occurred at all - but then, I'm not a theological or archaeological scholar.
[4] Although this is slightly inconsistent with the same gospel writer's record of Christ's conception occurring during the reign of Herod the Great, which ended in 4BCE. Of course, if this is at all accurate, I can understand why the (previously) Virgin Mary is regarded as a saint - an eleven year pregnancy would be trying for anyone, let alone a first-time mother!
megpie71: Kerr Avon quote: Don't philosophise at me you electronic moron; answer the question (tech support)
Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 07:14 am
So, the election is over and done, the counting goes on, and it looks like we're going to have a minority government no matter which party gets the most seats (so far it's looking like 73 all for both Labor and Liberal - which means the balance of power, which is currently held by 4 independents and a Greens member, is going to be crucial in getting legislation across the line). It hasn't been a big win for either of the major parties, although Tony Abbott is busy talking up the idea of the Libs having a mandate to form a government (they don't) and that the Labor party has lost out to the Liberals (they didn't - most of Labor's lost votes went to the Greens).

Either way, we're getting the two standard post-election behaviours out of things. The first is the party which is perceived to have "lost" the election (in this case, the ALP) is turning into a circular arse-kicking contest. The second is having people saying the election result proves we're doin' it rong, and we should change the way Australian votes are cast or counted. The old chestnuts which have been brought out for their regular polishing are "abolish compulsory voting", "bring in first-past-the-post counting" and "one vote one value".

Let's deal with each of these in turn. The "abolish compulsory voting" one is fairly straightforward - in Australia, as in any democratic nation, one of the responsibilities of a citizen is to participate in the political process by voting in elections. So in Australia, we take this seriously, and expect people to turn out and receive their ballot papers so they can vote. If you don't turn out and get your ballot paper, you can be fined. It's a small fine ($50 - you pay more if you're caught speeding) but it's enough to make people actually head down to the local primary school once every three years and get their ballot papers. Note I'm not saying it actually makes people VOTE - the compulsory bit stops when you receive your ballot paper. You don't have to fill in a valid vote (and the number of people who voted invalidly during this election increased, which some folks are seeing as another message to the various political players). But you do have to do your democratic duty and participate in the process - even if nobody's taking their time to spoon feed you all the information about your local candidates, or their policies or similar.

I happen to think this is a good thing for Australia, overall. For one thing, it means elections are much more representative of the opinions of the Australian public than any poll, write-in survey or other measure, because there's a sufficiently large sample being taken (approximately 90% of all Australians over the age of 18). It's also much more representative than the sample obtained in such places as the United States (where the election results measure the opinions of as little as 40% of the US voting population) or the United Kingdom (again, about 40% turn-out). To put this in perspective - an elected government in the US or the UK can represent the opinions of as little as 20% of the population. An elected government in Australia represents the opinions of at least 45% of the population.

There's also issues of accessibility to be considered. In Australia, participating in an election is an enforced responsibility. Thus there is a requirement on the part of the people who administer the election process (the Australian Electoral Commission) to ensure the maximum number of people are able to participate in the voting process with the minimum of inconvenience. This means our voting day is inevitably a Saturday (as compared to a Tuesday in the US), when the majority of people aren't at work. Those who are working generally are allowed to take time off to vote, or are encouraged to put in a postal vote. There's also numerous polling places which have facilities for absentee votes (voting in an electorate you're not registered in because you're at work, on holiday, etc). There are facilities for Australians who aren't going to be in Australia when an election occurs to cast a vote by post. There are specialist polling facilities which go around hospitals. There are efforts made to make polling places accessible to persons who are using either permanent or temporary mobility aids (although these vary in effectiveness). There are even efforts to make it possible for persons who have vision impairments to be able to cast a vote in privacy (rather than requiring a sighted person to assist). All of this is the reciprocal side of Australians being required to turn out and get their ballot papers at each election.

Overall, I feel the requirement to turn out and receive a ballot paper is one of the more important ones in the Australian political system. It means we have a system which is accessible, and it means we have a system which encourages participation.

Now, on to "first past the post" counting. At the moment, the Australian system is set up so that in order to win a seat in the House of Representatives, a candidate must achieve a number of votes equivalent to 50% of the vote plus one vote more. If a candidate achieves that amount of votes on first preferences, then no worries, they're elected. But what if none of the candidates achieves the necessary votes to become elected on first preferences alone? In such a case, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated, and their votes are sorted on their second preference. Then we run the query again: does any candidate have 50% of the votes plus one vote more? (In programming, this would be a while loop - while nobody has enough votes to win, keep eliminating candidates from the bottom of the pile, and redistributing votes according to the next preference down the line).

An example, if you will. Consider the House of Representatives seat of Goddzone, with a population of 100,000. There are six candidates standing - one from the Worker's Party, one from the Conservative Party, one from the Environmentalist Party, one from the Farmer's Party, one from the Christian Theocratic Party, and one from the White Supremacist Party (so in other words, a pretty normal spread for an Aussie electorate). Each voter on election day will receive their ballot papers, and they'll be instructed (both on the ballot paper and verbally by the AEC official) to number the candidates in order of preference from 1 through 6. Here's the numbers after the first preference count:

First Round of Counting
Worker's Party40,000
Conservative Party40,000
Environmentalist Party15,000
Farmer's Party2,000   
Christian Theocratic Party2,000
White Supremacist Party   1,000
More long-winded political rambling )
Distributing Preferences from White Supremacist Party
Conservative Party40,400+400 2nd preferences from the White Supremacist Party
Worker's Party40,000 
Environmentalist Party15,000 
Farmer's Party2,400+400 2nd preferences from the White Supremacist Party
Christian Theocratic Party2,200+200 2nd preferences from the White Supremacist Party
More long-winded political rambling )
Distributing Christian Theocratic Party Preferences
Conservative Party40,900+400 2nd preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +100 3rd preferences from the White Supremacist Party
Worker's Party40,500+500 3rd preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
Environmentalist Party15,900+400 2nd preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +500 3rd preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
Farmer's Party2,700+200 2nd preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +100 3rd preferences from the White Supremacist Party
More long-winded political rambling )
Distributing Farmer's Party Preferences
Conservative Party42,050+1,000 2nd preferences from the Farmer's Party
  +100 3rd preferences from the White Supremacist Party (via FP)
  +50 4th preferences from the White Supremacist Party (via FP)
Worker's Party41,800+1,000 2nd preferences from the Farmer's Party
  +100 3rd preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +100 3rd preferences from the White Supremacist Party (via FP)
  +50 4th preferences from the White Supremacist Party (via FP)
  +50 4th preferences from the White Supremacist Party (via CTP)
Environmentalist Party16,150+100 3rd preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +50 4th preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +50 4th preferences from the White Supremacist Party (via FP)
  +50 4th preferences from the White Supremacist Party (via CTP)
More long-winded political rambling )
Environmentalist Party Preferences
Conservative Party47,625+5,000 2nd preferences from the Environmentalist Party
  +200 3rd preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +300 4th preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +25 5th preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +50 5th preferences from the White Supremacist Party
Worker's Party52,375+10,000 2nd preferences from the Environmentalist Party
  +200 3rd preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +300 4th preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +25 5th preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +50 5th preferences from the White Supremacist Party
More long-winded political rambling )