Monthly Archives: February 2011

Goodness knows why!

Families not claiming thousands in childcare rebate:

“Child Care Minister Kate Ellis says parents often do not know they are eligible for the rebate.”

Or, perhaps they know, and thought they’d applied, and just haven’t gotten around to chasing up yet another damn thing…

Or! I have some suggestions about what might have happened!

Perhaps they went to Centrelink’s site on the childcare rebate and found instructions to apply. Oh wait, no they didn’t. They found information about eligibility and payment rates, but not instructions. It almost sounds like it might happen automatically…

But just in case they went to their online Centrelink account, and it said that their identity has not been sufficiently verified to apply for childcare rebate. And they recall what their current level of identitiy verification involved. Consider this interaction (where “Mary” is a randomly chosen name for a Centrelink childcare benefit* recipient, of course):

Customer service officer: “How many shares do you own in $company?”
Mary: “The correct answer is zero. But I am guessing you want the answer I last gave you in 2001.”
CSO: “Yes, the one in 2001.”
Mary: “Well, I don’t know, because I have not kept records of how many shares I owned in $company in 2001.”
CSO: “OK, I see the problem! That was quite a while ago. All right. If you can just tell me how much rent you pay…”
Mart: “The correct answer is zero. But I am guessing you want the answer I gave you in 2003?”
CSO: “Yes please. If you can!”

That is, I received Youth Allowance as a student from Centrelink, and their entire identification procedure assumes that either I kept details records of my exact financial state at the time, or that it hasn’t changed. (Rents haven’t gone up in eight years, surely?) So, the system is designed to not give a benefit to anyone who ever received a benefit in the past, because interacting with them is just such a pain the second time. Which is not a surprise, since they administer unemployment benefits.

Not that new customers have it easy. A story I heard was someone’s genuine physical address tripping up a rather poorly written “no post office boxes” validator, and who therefore couldn’t meet the requirement of providing a residential address.

* Childcare benefit is not the same as childcare rebate. DUH. And there’s no way that’s confusing people into believing they have received all their entitlements.

The Ada Initiative launches

Last night (midnight Sydney time!!) Valerie Aurora and I announced the Ada Initiative, a new non-profit organization promoting the participation of women in open technology and culture.

Per our announcement:

The Ada Initiative is focused on helping women get careers in open technology through recruitment and training programs for women, education for community members who want to help women, and working with corporations and projects to improve their outreach to women.


You can find out more at the Ada Initiative, and follow us in a multitude of venues: RSS, email announcements, Twitter and Facebook.

Idea for the taking: Freedom Fest

Note: this isn’t commentary on 2011 in particular, I’ve been thinking about this vaguely for a couple of years and it’s time to release the ideas into the wild where someone might actually do something about it. Also, it should in no way be read as a commitment to me actually ever doing this. Steal this idea.

Consider the miniconf system, in which there are single-day community organised streams occupying the first two days of the conference. Now… consider that as its own conference. That is, I envisage an Australian open source conference that has the organisers take care of the boring chores centrally: insurance, registration, venues. Then the space is provided to representatives of various communities to run their own stream. Because I am a control freak, I would probably also do the following centrally:

  1. provide a common timetable for all rooms, to allow attendees to move around between talks
  2. provide conference volunteers to act as session chairs, in order to make sure the talks actually end on time
  3. check people’s program, and take away slots if they are filled with things like “TBA” and “Lightning Talks TBA”. Shorter streams than a full day should be possible.

(And yes, needless to say, I would want some kind of central management of conduct/harassment policies too. Which would be hard if the policy is to apply to talks that aren’t centrally selected. But then, LCA has this problem with miniconfs already.)

It would also be important to be more flexible on registration than is (almost always, there were small exceptions in 2008), that is, to allow people to attend for a single day without paying for the whole event. Generous provision of hack or unconference space would be necessary!

This would mainly advantage communities that don’t overlap really well with LCA. Typically if they try and hold a miniconf they struggle both to get core members to attend (because they have no interest in Linux or in the main program) and to get LCA attendees along. One day registrations and the brand distinction would help a lot. It would also perhaps bring smaller communities together for the first time. The main disadvantage would be adding another major conference to the calendar, potentially competing directly with LCA if events like Haecksen moved to it. (People who use annual leave to go to conferences will likely only go to one long one.) If it actually replaced the first couple of days of LCA, perhaps not so much.

“Just leave if you don’t like it”

A note on the arguments following Mark Pesce’s keynote. There’s one in particular that bugs me: “just leave if you don’t like it.”

The thing is, it isn’t normal at (unlike at a Bar Camp) to just exit a talk from, say, the front section in the middle of a row. Unless you are at the very edge of the room, it’s considered rude to just leave, to the point where some speakers or session chairs might actually yell at you. (I had university lecturers do that.) And I suspect LCA, for organisational reasons as well as for speaker comfort, would rather not encourage an atmosphere of people just traipsing in and out of talks through the centre of rooms. So… the environment is (somewhat) coercive: if you don’t like the talk, you have to be actively rude to the speaker and the rest of the audience in protecting yourself from the talk.

If an environment could be created where someone could leave a talk from any place in the audience with a minimum of fuss and without risk of social retribution, and if people really did do so for all kinds of reasons, and thus an exit during Pesce’s talk would not have been immediately visible to everyone as “I have a strangulation phobia, if you would like to bother me in future, please mime strangling me”[1], I’d at least take this argument seriously. But in the LCA context it currently equates to: “don’t like the talk? embarrass yourself and be rude to the speaker!”

(Note to LCA people: I have a comment policy, and if your comment annoys me I won’t publish it.)

[1] I do have a strong reaction to strangulation, although probably not technically phobic, and if anyone uses this information to harass me even as a joke[2], they will not be my friend thereafter.

[2] People who have physical triggers, like having sharp objects pointed at their eyes, or disliking their neck being touched without warning, and who admit them, do suddenly find that half their acquaintance immediately does that to find out what happens. Consider yourself warned about what will happen.