John Howard was widely regarded a “smart politician” – in many ways a backhanded compliment. But it wasn’t Howard’s policies that made him Australia’s second longest serving Prime Minister, it was his opposition. Put simply, until Kevin07 came along there was no suitable alternative. During the Howard Years, the revolving door to the office of the Federal Opposition Leader was almost the laughing stock of the nation. Beazley was the cute and cuddly teddy bear of politics, too soft and wishy-washy to govern. Simon Crean resigned after two years and became the first ever Labor leader to be replaced without contesting an election. And Latham was a disaster: a negative, bullying and spiteful thug who was given the epithet “Mr. Flip-Flop” by Howard. All of them failed to grab the public’s interest, and none of them could match Howard’s cunning and political savvy.
In much the same way, the Liberal party has it’s own revolving door on the leader’s office. First there was Brendan Nelson, who struggled to distance himself from Howard’s policies and plunged in the opinion polls. Turnbull came next, and got outraged over a fake email before urging his party to support the Government’s Emissions Trading Scheme. When that upset Liberal hardliners, they put Tony “Mad Monk” Abbott in charge and it’s been a roller coaster of bungles and gaffes ever since. The one thing all three have in common is an inability to engage the public.
One thing that became clear to me after the Rudd-Abbott Healthcare debate (watch it here) was that the Liberal Party will not – can not - win the next election with Tony Abbot still leading it. In fact, they will have very little chance with any of the currently serving members – with the possible exception of Malcolm Turnbull (probably the reason Abbott has left him sidelined on the backbench). The top echelons of the Liberal Party are filled with dinosaurs – old relics of the Howard Years who still cling to old fashioned notions of xenophobia, homophobia, White Australia and climate change denial. Until those fossils are removed – most likely over time through generational change – they are turning Rudd into Howard. Without challenge, they allow Rudd to get comfortable, to run the country as he sees fit without a serious or credible check on his government.
This, it could be argued, is the nature of all opposition governments. Bush enjoyed the luxury of a weak Democratic Party opposing him in the US, just as Tony Blair faced an ineffectual Conservative Party in the UK. In time, opposition parties slowly realign themselves and build new, fresh leaderships to challenge the reigning incumbent. It took eight years for Obama to emerge from within the rank and file of the Democratic Party and wrest the Presidency from Bush. It took eleven years for Rudd to do the same in Australia. Gordon Brown currently languishes in the polls but there’s still nobody capable of challenging him in the UK, thirteen years after his Labour Party took power. How long will it take the Australian Liberal Party to find its savior?
Microsoft Office sucks. Sure, I use it everyday, but that’s because I have to for work. It’s slow and bloated, and unbelievably expensive. And ever since they did away with the familiar menu-based system, I’ve had to hunt around to find my more commonly used tasks. Did I mention it’s expensive? It is. To download the basic MS Office 2007 from the Microsoft website costs $US399.95 – a huge expense even for large companies. What if there was a comparable, free alternative?
Of course, there is! OpenOffice.org is one of the most successful open-source projects around. Originally a Sun Microsystems product, the source code was made public in July 2000 and made open-source. Sun still sells StarOffice, which is essentially OpenOffice.org with some proprietary additional features. Despite the name being a URL, OpenOffice.org is not an online web-app, it is a local software suite that runs on nearly every platform. OpenOffice is a trademark for another company in some countries, so the software is called OpenOffice.org (or OOo or OO.o) to distinguish it – but in this article I’ll stick to OpenOffice.
The Standard version of Microsoft Office has four components: Excel, Word, Outlook and PowerPoint. OpenOffice on the other hand, comes with six: Writer (a word processor), Calc (spreadsheet), Impress (presentation software), Base (database program), Draw (graphics) and Math (equation editor). And OpenOffice can read and write MS Office files, although any document you create with it is saved by default as OpenDocument Format (an international standard file format). MS Office feels much more powerful and feature-rich, although in fairness I haven’t found many things OpenOffice doesn’t do that MS Office does. But the main advantage for using OpenOffice is not just the upfront cost saving, but the ongoing savings as well. Because the software is free, so are all updates to it – upgrading MS Office to Office Standard 2007 costs US239.95. And because OpenOffice is available on Mac, Windows, OS/2 and Linux, if you change platforms later on you don’t have to worry about migrating your data with it.
But the main feature that OpenOffice lacks, compared to MS Office, is online collaboration. Microsoft Live is an online workspace that allows you to share your documents with co-workers anywhere in the world. You sign up in your browser, and you can see all your documents that you’ve stored online. Clicking “Edit” marks them as “checked out” and opens the file on your computer in MS Office. Online collaboration is becoming more and more essential for online companies, but it’s also just as useful within the same building. And of course, it makes working from home much easier when you don’t have to take your files home on a flash drive.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the king of online office collaboration comes from Google. Many of you may have used Google Docs, a completely online browser-based office suite that can import/export MS Office files. One of it’s best features, in my opinion, is it’s ability to have a document edited by two or more people at the same time. Recently when Seamus was organising his buck’s party, he put the list of people to invite in a shared Google Docs spreadsheet that the groomsmen all had access to. As we contacted each person, we would then update the spreadsheet to say whether they were coming or not, and add any notes. Often Seamus or I would be updating it at the same time, and we could see the changes each other was making (and even chat with each other about it, without leaving the window).
Google Docs offers spreadsheets, word processing documents, presentations and online forms (such as feedback forms and surveys) and integrates with your existing Gmail account. However, business users should look into the more functional Google Apps suite, which allows you to run Gmail and Google Docs from your own website. Your company email, then, could be Gmail but branded for your company. All your employees would have an account for your Google Apps which is separate from their personal Google accounts, and they’d store all their work related documents on your website (or on Google, but accessed through your site). It’s completely secure, and different folders can be restricted for certain users etc. There are Non Profit, Educational and Government versions available, but businesses are most likely to use the Standard edition (free, but advertisement-funded) or Premier (US$50 per user per year). Standard version includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Docs and Sites – which lets you build your own company website as well as internal sites for within your company. The Premier version has all that as well as 25Gb email storage per user, Google Video, additional security options and round-the-clock support.
And the best thing about Google Apps, the thing that sets it light-years ahead of Microsoft Live? The recently announced Google Apps Marketplace, which allows you to integrate thousands of free or purchased third party online apps. Everything from Customer Relations Management (like the very popular Zoho CRM) to marketing (such as MailChimp, which streamlines newsletter and mailing list management), project management (like ManyMoon) to accounting and payroll (like Expensify or Intuit Online Payroll). Google Apps now makes it possible to take your company completely into the cloud, managing your whole business online. It’s easy to see where Google Europe chief John Herlihy was talking about when he said earlier this month “In three years time, desktops will be irrelevant”.The truth is, Google Apps offers so much for small and large businesses that I’m still learning my way around it all. Fortunately, Mashable have just posted this excellent introductory guide that explains what it’s all about.
A quick little post today to let you all know about a great service I’ve been using the past few weeks. We all have so many online accounts these days. Social media, online banking, forums, multimedia sites, productivity sites – and most people don’t think enough about the the security implications involved.
I know so many people who use the same password for all their online accounts. Stupid. Very very stupid. Earlier this year Twitter sent emails to a number of users advising them to change their password after ‘suspicious activity’ was detected. Turns out, it was a phishing scam that used a backdoor in free bittorent/forums software that a hacker exploited to gain the usernames, passwords and email addresses of potentially thousands of people. When I ran an online gaming site, one of the off-the-shelf gaming ladder systems we used stored users passwords unencrypted, plain text. That made it real easy for me, as an administrator, to fix users’ account problems, but it was a glaring, and unnecessary risk. Late last year, popular Facebook application developer RockYou (which made Super Wall and Birthday Cards, among others) had their servers hacked and thieves stole 32 million usernames and passwords. If your Facebook password is the same for your email or bank account, you’re giving those thieves access to a lot of damaging information. And there’s huge corporate implications here too – if you use your Facebook password for your work network or corporate email, you could be jeopardising sensitive business information. Every site you use should have its own, unique password.
And those passwords should be long, complicated and unpredictable. Online security company Imperva analysed the passwords stolen in the RockYou attack and reported that ‘nearly 50% of users used names, slang words, dictionary words or trivial passwords … The most common password is “123456”’. In fact, the detailed report lists the most common passwords and reveals that many passwords are so short and simple they would be easy for a “brute force attack” to crack them. Fortunately, Angus Kidman over at Lifehacker has produced a really handy guide to choosing passwords that are unique to each site, yet still easy to remember. That’s the system I use. However, if you’re really really worried about your passwords, security expert Steve Gibson has developed the Perfect Passwords page, which generates completely random 64-character strings every time it is refreshed.
But right there is the problem – how are you going to remember 64 different characters, for every single site you use? Obviously, you can’t do it just by memory. One popular way is with the free, open-source and program KeePass. KeePass stores your passwords in a very secure encrypted file, which you can access and decrypt with your (strong, right?) master password. This is perfect for your home computer, and it’s completely portable (doesn’t even need to be installed, and can be run straight from a USB drive) so you can take your passwords with you. It is something of a hassle, though, to have to copy and paste your passwords from KeePass – but that’s where KeeFox comes in. KeeFox is a FireFox extension that integrates your KeePass database. It’s still new and needs some refining, but it does the job and will improve with time. But obviously it’s limited to Firefox – if you’re using Chrome, Opera or Safari (we’re talking security, so you’re obviously not using Internet Explorer, right?) you’ll have to copy and paste from KeePass.
For the last few weeks I’ve been trying another method which solves that problem, and integrates nicely into all browsers on all platforms (and, for a small fee, even mobile devices). Lastpass is essentially an online KeePass. Your passwords (and notes and other sensitive data) are stored in your “Vault” online, accessible only with your master password. Connections between your computer and their server are secure and they only store your password in encrypted form – the decrypting happens on your computer, in your browser. You install the LastPass extension for your browser – Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera doesn’t matter, they’re all supported – and it can import and then delete passwords in your browser. Passwords stored in your browser are almost always in plain text, and therefore anyone with access to your computer can see them. After that, whenever you go to a website and log in, you can set LastPass to automatically log you in, or you can choose which username you want to log in to if you have multiple accounts for that site. Speaking of multiple accounts, you can have several with LastPass as well – so your spouse can log in to all his/her sites but not yours, if you wish. There’s a version designed for Firefox Portable, so you can load it on a USB drive and take it with you as well.
Both Keepass and LastPass are excellent password managers that I willingly recommend you check out. For me, I prefer LastPass for a number of reasons. Firstly, being online my passwords are available whether I’m at work, home or on the laptop. With KeePass, I’d have to sync my database file on all machines whenever I changed a password or signed up for a new site. Since I use Chrome on most of my machines, I can’t use the Firefox extension KeeFox but LastPass is available for all browsers I use. It’s also quicker and easier than KeePass because it can automatically log me in to my favorite sites. But KeePass is open-source, has a huge community behind it and has a proven track-record, so you may find it suits your needs just fine. Remember also, with LastPass you’re putting your trust in a third party and whilst they can’t see your passwords, if their servers go down you won’t be able to connect to anything. And if you’re without an internet connection, your saved notes won’t be available. The good news is, there’s no reason why you can’t run both, and keep your secure notes available offline.
How do you keep your passwords secure? Have you tried LastPass or KeyPass? Or have you ever had your account hacked as a result of phishing or an insecure password? Let us know!
Early last week, tabloid newspapers were given a late Christmas present. Nothing makes a tabloid happier than naked photos of an unwilling B-Grade celeb. So when Womens Day obtained a photo of bikini model Lara Bingle in the shower, it was like receiving a giant smut-cake on a silver platter. And that grubby photo was milked for every penny possible, speculating on who took the photo (AFL wanker Brendon Fevola), who gave the photo to the Womens Day (former Channel 7 journo Dylan Howard) and most commonly: how Lara felt about it all.
Lara is so distressed by the photo she is suing Fevola on shaky legal grounds. Actual distress, or opportunistic money-making, I wonder?
Now to be clear – I’m not saying this issue has come about from Lara looking to make money. It could very well be that she is surprised and hurt by the exposure. But I do get a little bit suspicious when this all emerges a week after she gets a new PR manager (and four years after the photo was taken), and I have to wonder whether a bikini model who has dozens of nude or topless photos circulating around the internet is really all that upset that people will see her boobies.
Because quite frankly, I don’t see the big deal. So Lara has breasts. Wow. That’s so… unsurprising, and uninteresting really. I mean hell, even I have breasts. If someone wants to take a photo of them they’re welcome to, although I’d have to question your taste a little. But that’s my point, really – who cares what someone looks like naked? Why should someone be embarrassed or offended by other people seeing their “private” parts?
When I asked that question of a few work colleagues, the responses were all much the same. “I have no problem with nudity,” said one co-worker, “I don’t mind if other people are nude or anything like that. But I’m not comfortable about my OWN nudity.” When questioned further as to why they’re uncomfortable, people couldn’t really give me a concrete answer. “It’s just something I think should be kept private,” some said. “I don’t know, I just don’t feel right about it,” said others. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the biggest “ickiness” feeling came from the thought of parents and family members seeing nude photos. “I wouldn’t want my Dad to feel uncomfortable, and he would be if he saw those photos” said one woman.
We are taught from an early age to hide our nakedness. We’re taught the only time we can be nude is in the bath. The only reason I can think of for this is that, over time, we’ve linked nudity with sex. And sex has a whole smorgasbord of shame and guilt associated with it (thanks for that, religion). Why else would we get so hysterical when an photographic artist makes an exhibition featuring naked children? Surely the fear is that the photos – even if not sexual in nature – are sexually objectifying our children? But the unclothed human body isn’t, in and of itself, smutty or dirty. The sexualisation of it comes from it’s actions or the imagination of the viewer. The nude body has been a subject of art for thousands of years, and many of the masterpieces on display in galleries aren’t suggestive or pornographic.
Did anyone else notice that 5,000 people can sprawl around the Sydney Opera House to pose nude for Spencer Tunick and nobody has an issue with it? But an underwear model has a shower and everyone’s in uproar? Sure, in one case the participants chose to have their photo taken and in the other case the photo was taken without consent. I realise there’s a difference there, and in fact it was one of the reasons a coworker gave for why she wouldn’t want to have a photo taken of her naked. “It’s something for me to choose to show someone,” she said. I don’t understand that though. What’s so special about it? Interestingly, the same coworker said she had body image issues, and didn’t like her body – so why is it something to show a special someone? “Honey, I love you so much I’m going to let you look at my hideous ugly body” doesn’t sound too romantic to me.
But what about privacy? Surely she has a right to privacy, people have said to me. And when they say that, I first of all point them to George Carlin’s thoughts on the concept of “rights” (ie, that you have none anyway). And then I argue that if you start down that road, you eventually end up with the right to not pay tax and the right to sleep with your cousin. It’s easy to say you have a right to something, is my point. I will say, however, that you have a right to take certain steps to protect your privacy, such as locking the bathroom door and not sleeping with footballers, for example. But as I’ve argued here before, we shouldn’t get too hung up on privacy. So much of what we do is online and publicly accessible, and that’s not really a problem. The internet – and digital cameras – have changed society dramatically in this regard, and society needs to adjust its attitude to accommodate that. There’s no shame in being naked, or having sex, or having flaws and weaknesses – all things people rush to pretend don’t happen. But they DO happen, and we need to stop being neurotic about it. As Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt said recently “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” I try to be open and honest about all aspects of my life, because I don’t feel I have anything I should be ashamed about or need to hide. And that honesty (and the knowledge that I’m not good at lying anyway) is central to who I am and keeps me from doing things I shouldn’t. I don’t lie or cheat or steal, because – well, because it’s wrong, mainly – but also because I can’t cover that up. If I do something dodgy, someone will find out eventually and then the lying about it will end up causing more trouble. Transparency and openness are key to a better, more trustworthy and safer society.
And again, I’d like to point out that these comments do not pertain specifically to the Lara Bingle case. There’s other, bigger issues there to do with trust and consent (for a well written look at those issues, I recommend Bronwen Kiely’s post on The Drum). I simply think that as a society we need to stop being afraid of nudity, and loosen up about our own nudity.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m weird (no argument there, actually), but I simply can’t understand society’s attitude to nudity. When I see people in bathers at the beach, there’s usually very little left to the imagination. Whether they’re wearing bikinis, one-piece bathers, board shorts or budgie smugglers, it’s still all there for everyone to see. I see that the women have breasts, that many of them remove the hair from (at least) their armpits and legs. Unless you’re wearing a burqa, people have a pretty good idea what you look like naked. Sure, they might not know the details – they might not know if you have a third nipple, or a piercing, your style of pubic hair or your ‘size’ – but they know enough to build a mental wank bank. Get over it! It’s just a body. Just bits held together by skin, nothing groundbreaking.
I’m reminded of an old joke among nudists that observes: if two men are walking down the street, and one is naked and the other wearing a black trenchcoat and carrying a machine gun, several grenades and a rocket launcher the police will get 50 phone calls about the nude guy and maybe 3 about the gun-nut. Our society loves to fear nakedness. Councils are always receiving complaints or threatening to close down nude beaches. Again this is mostly because of a perceived link between nudity and sex, which is ludicrous. If anything, it’s the opposite – the nudist community actively forbids sexual activity. Go to a nude beach and start masturbating, I guarantee you’ll get thrown out immediately. Nudists have long ago realised that the unclothed human body is only a sexual object if you make it one in your mind. Imagine someone pouring a cup of coffee. Now imagine them pouring the same cup of coffee, only this time they’re naked. Neither image was sexy or pornographic, was it? Same goes for just about everything we do in life – except things we do for sexual reasons. The naked human body simply isn’t worth the significance placed on it by today’s society. Isn’t it time we all grew up and stopped worrying for the sake of worrying?
Has anyone seen you naked when you weren’t expecting it? Were you embarrassed or upset? Why? Let us know in the comments!
Guest post by Seamus Magee
As I mentioned recently one of the most interesting facts about me at the moment is that in under 1 month I am getting married. So I started to ruminate on it and figured it might make a blog post topic.
Given my background I thought I might turn to the ancient Greeks to get their take on the whole marriage thing first… But sadly Aristophanes, the comic playwright I do the most work with, does not say that much about marriage at all. In Lysistrata, the title character describes her domestic situation as quite miserable. She refers to a insipid, dull and boorish husband who threatens her with abuse all the time, and won’t take any advice. And that’s about the extent of it.
In fact the ancient Greeks don’t mention marriage in general…. It gets mentioned a bit, but not a lot. Most of the material is made up of the occasional snide remark about how wives are horrible and marriage is “character-building”.
There’s one quote I like, it’s actually from a wedding song by the poet Sappho:
Χαίροισα νύμφα, χαιρέτω δ’ ὀ γάμβρος.
If you read it it sounds something like this:
‘Chairoisa numpha, chairetO d’ho gambros’.
And now in English:
‘The bride rejoicing, the groom should also rejoice’ (that’s the only bit of this particular wedding song that remains, it’s a fragment. No context, no dedication, no nothing, so take it for what it’s worth).
So moving along, what is marriage? And why does it matter? To me, it’s the establishment of new social entity – the family. Your spouse is the only relative in your life that you actually choose. I guess that’s what makes it important to me. That fact above all others. In marrying someone, you are forming a family. With all that entails. They’re also the only family member in your life that you can chose to sever the familial relationship with. So both the event and the maintenance of marriage really do imply a heavy commitment.
Me being me, I also see the sense and the point of having a ceremony and a ritual to it. A social ritual requires 2 things: participants and witnesses (sometimes the same group of people fulfil both these roles). A social ritual involves the participants making some kind of statement (doesn’t have to be verbal, but with a wedding clearly it is!) to the witnesses, and the witnesses acknowledging, and accepting that statement. In the wedding Chris and I will state, in no uncertain terms, that we are now a family. The witnesses will acknowledge and accept that statement, and treat us as a family from now on. Of course on the ground it won’t change a thing. We already have joint bank accounts and credit cards, co-own pets and live together. But the ceremony acts like a marker in your life where the two of you officially say “Well we’re married now” to your friends and families. Ceremonies are important. Rituals are important. I can’t enunciate why exactly, but they resonate to me…. Maybe its because they order our lives the same way humans try to order everything around them.
So that’s what I think about it in a nutshell… And that’s why I’m looking forward to forming a new family with Chris.
Guest post by Seamus Magee
This is my first post on this site, and I must admit it will be very lite on content wise… In fact I don’t think I’ll be saying much at all….
Hmm…. Well I’ve got a strange obsession with Ancient Greek Comedy (by a guy called Arisotphanes) and I work on translating and producing his plays. I don’t know exactly why I do it. It’s partly because the humour of the plays appeal to me. It’s partly because I am fascinated by that society and that period of human history. It’s partly because I really really enjoy theatre. I translate, direct and often act in these productions. I helped start a little troupe in uni called Omniprop Productions. The website is woefully out of date by the way… should be working on that rather than posting here. Some of our work is on youtube, but that really doesn’t do stage productions justice….
Given that the “Ancient Greek Drama Industry” is not that lucrative, I need a day job… So I work for an organisation called the Fitzroy Adventure Playground (AKA “Cubbies”) as the “Administration Coordinator”. It has its moments of frustration and has some organisational issues, but (seriously) the work is good. The organisation is a non-profit. We provide a play-space for kids, mostly disadvantaged kids, in Fitzroy. We’re located right near the 5 tower Atherton Gardens Housing Commission complex, and most of the kids that attend the playground live in public housing. The playground is a space for safe free play. We don’t run programs or classes, we open the door, let the kids come in and ask them “What would you like to do?”. That’s probably the best way to sum it up…. We have staff and equipment for kids to do all kinds of things – paint, cook, build, play sport, board games, table tennis and even do homework… We’re launching a theatre project in the next few weeks, which is wonderfully exciting (merging your job with your passion is always good).
Being a non-profit, we are cash strapped so I only work 3 days a week there. So I subsist by working for the Melbourne Library Service as a Customer Service Library Officer… Basically I scan books for people and answer their questions. I also run story-time sometimes though! And that’s much more interesting.
I am getting married in just under a month to a girl who is far beyond what I deserve. That’s exciting. That’s actually much more exciting than anything I’ve said so far. If you’ve already gone to sleep due to my incessant rambling, well tough. You’ve missed out! Of course you don’t care that you’ve missed out because you’re already dreaming about something perverse. Dirty dirty reader…..
Anyway yes – weddings. I might fill this blog with some of the things we did to make our wedding ours…. Hmmmm….
So Yes. Seamus Magee has arrived.