Net Politics and activism

My federal MP’s Twitter feed: relentlessly negative

Because I’m interested in politics, I make it my practice to follow various politicians on Twitter, whether I agree with them or not, including all the local ones I can find.

Andrew Robb on Twitter

My local federal MP Andrew Robb would have to have the single most relentlessly negative Twitter feed of any of them.

Here’s all his Tweets for the past week (excluding retweets and also those addressed to other people, therefore not showing up in most users’ timelines).

  • I see Wayne Swan has a juvenile petition out on cruel cuts, I presume he’s referring to his cruel cuts to community grants. #hypocrite.
  • Swan and Wong need to stop the spin and explain Labor’s $120 BILLION BLACK HOLE.
  • Labor has reached the dangerous stage, saying and promising anything to save political skin. #Labor’s$120billionblackhole.
  • Chickens come home to roost – Labor’s $120 billion budget black hole revealed in Fin Review.
  • Financial Review reveals Labor’s $120 billion black hole.
  • Is there a policy Labor has implemented without botching it?? Think pink batts, NBN, mining tax, carbon tax, live cattle, border protection.
  • Let’s judge Labor’s record debt by Australian standards, rather than against the basket cases of the world. It leaves us vulnerable.
  • If Labor is returning to surplus why in budget did they raise the Commonwealth debt ceiling to an unprecedented $250 BILLION??
  • Why did Labor tell us net debt would peak at $94.4 billion two years ago, but now it’s $145 billion? Only $50 BILLION out!
  • $4.1 billion unfunded dental promise, part of Labor’s $100 BILLION BLACK HOLE of unfunded or hidden budget liabilities.
  • Labor promises $4.1 billion for dental scheme but can’t say how it will be funded. That means higher taxes or more record debt.
  • Labor has reached the dangerous stage. $100 billion worth of commitments either hidden or unfunded. #Laborblackhole
  • Penny Wong’s credibility through the ‘floor’, see what she said before & after Labor’s carbon tax floor price backdown.
  • Labor told us the carbon tax floor price was needed for certainty, now they tell us the opposite. They are a shambles.
  • Labor’s carbon tax chaos recipe for budget black hole but Combet says trust our modelling!!!
  • At last election Penny Wong said net debt would peak at $94.4 billion; now that figure is $145 billion. A $50 BILLION blow-out in 2 years!
  • Penny Wong fails to lock in prosperity as under Labor Australia has become a less attractive place to do business. [link]
  • Penny Wong in denial. BHP has warned for months investment climate is being crippled by carbon & mining taxes & other sovereign risk issues.

It’s all attacking Labor. EVERY. SINGLE. TWEET.

Not a single comment about what he would do in government.

Not even a single comment on what he thinks Labor should do.

Even Tony Abbott, derided by Labor as “Doctor No”, often tweets about the people he meets and the events he attends.

As the next generation of voters increasingly get their information from social media rather than mainstream media, it’s going to become important for politicians to represent themselves better through avenues like Twitter. With a growing and changing population, even Goldstein won’t be blue-ribbon Liberal forever.

C’mon Andrew, surely you can do better than this. Just for a moment, stop telling us why you think the other guys are idiots, and instead tell us why we should vote for you.

Consumerism Home life

Robot vacuum cleaners

I was chatting to a work colleague about birthdays, the amazing fact that we’re now well into the 21st century, and what happened to the promise of robots who would do the housework?

Of course, we have dishwashers, clothes washers, dryers… and then she said she has one of those robot vaccuum cleaners. Apparently it works wonders in a flat with floorboards and cats that leave hair everywhere.

It gets switched-on when leaving for work. It roams around the house (I guess the cats are used to it) and then returns itself to its charging station.

Apparently it handles rugs okay, and given I have floorboards (but no cats), I’m wondering if it might be a good Christmas present to myself.

The base models from the excellently named iRobot company appear to cost about $400, judging from Harvey Norman’s list.

Previously I’ve been wary of these things as being an expensive gimmick. But I wonder if the technology is sufficiently advanced now that they are reliable and effective enough to provide some genuine benefits for the cost.

Anybody else have one? What do you think of it? Are they as good as the reviewers on the HN web site claim?

Home life

Proudly presenting: slow-motion video of me on a pogo stick

(No, I don’t think this is a big part of the future of urban transport.)

Food'n'drink Friends and loved ones TV

Best birthday cake EVER

Daniel's birthday cake

With thanks to my super-cake-baker sister Susannah.

If (gasp) you don’t get it, well, you’d better watch this.


Smartbus sign still not fully working after 18 months

There used to be realtime train information displayed on the Smartbus sign outside Bentleigh station (as there is at many other Smartbus stops near railway stations around Melbourne).

Bentleigh Smartbus sign (when it worked)

The information was provided partly for the benefit of bus drivers, so they could see if a train was imminent, and if so wait for passengers (though it was never clear if they’d been instructed to wait a bit longer if they were due to depart).

But of course, the information was useful to the general public as well — the countdown timer was a prompt you might need to walk faster to catch your train… and it’d be good advertising for the frequent (ten minutes or better) we now get every day on the Frankston line.

About a year and a half ago in February 2011, around the time of the last fatal accident at Bentleigh station’s level crossing, the train information on the sign was turned-off.

Last year it was also the case that some other similar signs elsewhere in Melbourne didn’t properly work, though others continue to work fine.

It was switched-off because the Department of Transport believed the information on it was sometimes wrong (though I don’t actually recall spotting any glaring errors on it). A notice was placed at the stop explaining why.

Bentleigh Smartbus sign: apology 1

Time passed…

…months flew by…

Just in the past few weeks, there’s finally been progress. What progress, you ask?

A new notice! With the Metlink logo replaced by a PTV logo! Hooray!

Bentleigh Smartbus sign: apology 2

In all seriousness, I’ve checked — they’re still working on a solution, but they don’t want to use the old apparently dodgy data feed (I think it may have been provided by insane monkeys hidden away in some basement underneath Flinders Street, pressing and listening to green buttons before bashing the information into keyboards to display on the screen).

Instead they’re going to switch to a shiny new rocket-powered, laser-guided data feed that apparently also feeds the information provided on the platforms — in this case, the green button, I guess.

(I hope this doesn’t mean it’s waiting for the repeatedly delayed Metrol upgrade project to be completed.)

And there’ll be another improvement: it used to be that after the last bus had gone, the entire sign switched itself off, even though trains keep running for several hours afterwards each night. I’m told that when the sign is working again, the train times will still be displayed when buses have finished for the night.

When this will all happen, however, is unclear.

And so, we wait.


The amazing transformation from old man barber shop to trendy cafe

My recollection is the back of the building at the corner of Little Bourke Street and Little William Street was an old man barber shop.

Little William St
(Pic from Google Streetview.)

Over the past year or so it’s somehow transformed into a trendy cafe called Patricia. The kind of place that appears to be wildly popular despite having little or no signage advertising its presence. When I go past on the way to work, or at lunchtime, there’s often a queue out the door. I’m betting the coffee is suitably awesome (if you like that kind of thing — I’m not a coffee drinker).

Patricia, Little William Street

Patricia, Little William Street

…in fact, their Tumblr shows the renovations they did.


(At the other end of Little William Street remains this sign.)

Consumerism transport

No, the law doesn’t demand that Myki accept 5 cent coins, or that Metcard machines accept notes

You know in the end the machines will win (1/2)The question seems to keep coming up as to whether it’s legal for Myki machines to not accept 5 cent coins; or indeed whether it’s legal for Metcard machines on trams to only accept coins (not notes).

Some people assume that because it’s all legal tender, it must be against the law to demand specific currency, or otherwise limit the payment options (such as only providing a limited amount of change).

As this page from the Reserve Bank says, legal tender doesn’t mean there’s any obligation to accept it:

It is the Reserve Bank of Australiaโ€™s understanding that, although Australian currency has legal tender status, it does not necessarily have to be used in transactions and that refusal to accept payment in legal tender banknotes and coins is not unlawful.

So you might not like it, but it’s not illegal.

PS. Some people even claim stuff like this that they don’t like is unconstitutional, and someone should be taken to court. Good luck with that.


Why are Twitter messages 140 characters?

Did I post this already? I don’t think I did. Hopefully not.

Why are Twitter messages 140 characters?

Because they were designed to fit into the 160 characters of a text message, with some characters filled up with header information and so on.

So why are text messages 160 characters?

Because they fit into 140 bytes, or 160 7-bit characters.

That, in turn, was so the messages could fit into unused space within the signalling formats used by phone networks.


Man vs nature, Bentleigh station

Man vs nature


Level crossing rules: safe to cross, but illegal

Happy Rail Safety Week.

Level crossing. Three tracks. The two in the foreground have no train coming, and the automatic gates for them are open. There’s a train approaching on the other track, and its gates are closed.

Logic would suggest it’s perfectly safe, and perfectly legal to walk through the open gates, right?

Level crossing pedestrian gates

Turns out, it’s safe, but illegal. Today’s Age:

A COMMUTER has been taken to court and fined for doing what thousands of people do every day in Melbourne – walking through the open gates of an automated railway pedestrian crossing.

He was fined because he crossed while the warning signals at the nearby road level crossing were flashing, which is against the law.

Age: Safety rule at railway crossing a step too far for one commuter

Here’s what the law says (I’ve highlighted the relevant phrase):

(1) A pedestrian must not cross or attempt to cross railway tracks at a place provided for crossing by pedestrians –

(a) when gates at the crossing or at an adjacent vehicle crossing are closed or locked; or

(ab) when warning signals or devices are operating at the pedestrian crossing ***or at an adjacent vehicle crossing***; or

(b) when a rail vehicle can be seen or heard approaching and there would be a danger of a collision with the rail vehicle if the pedestrian entered the crossing; or

(c) when a rail vehicle is on or entering the crossing; or

(d) if the crossing or the path beyond the crossing is blocked; or

(e) when directed not to do so by an authorised person (conduct).

Penalty: 5 penalty units.

Update July 2015: This legislation is now found under the Transport (Compliance and Miscellaneous) (Conduct on Public Transport) Regulations, Regulation 22. The wording and numbering is slightly different, but the key regulation is the basically the same:

A pedestrian must not cross or attempt to cross railway tracks or designated tramway tracks at a place provided for crossing by pedestrians if –

(a) gates at the crossing ***or at an adjacent vehicle crossing*** are closed or locked;

I think it all makes sense except the highlighted section. Many level crossings simply don’t work like this — they have automated pedestrian gates which work separately to the flashing lights and bells for vehicles. (Blog reader Kevin has pointed out that gates at Glenhuntly are operated from the signal box, so they are not truly automatic.)

Specifically, at stations with island platforms, only the gates relevant to the tracks with passing trains are closed, allowing people to enter and exit the platform, or to cross half way.

Simply put, I think the law is out of date. It matches a time when there were no pedestrian gates, just the “maze” — the layout of railings designed to ensure you looked both ways before you crossed. Back then, it made sense to use the vehicle lights/bells/booms as your guide.

It’s Rail Safety Week this week

For Rail Safety Week, Victoria Police are doing a blitz on level crossings.

On Wednesday morning I spoke to some plain clothes police who were at the level crossing at Bentleigh station. They implied they agree the legislation doesn’t match reality, and said they’re taking a “common sense” approach and only booking people trying to get past closed/closing gates. Fair enough.

But the gentleman in the Age article obviously didn’t get the common sense approach when he was booked by an Authorised Officer.

The silliest thing is the Department of Transport’s response in the Age article:

But the department does not intend to review the law, saying it promotes safe behaviour. ”It is important that people act safely at railway tracks and crossings at all times and do not take it upon themselves to act contrary to the warning signals,” a spokeswoman said.

I wonder if they even fully understood the question.

Update: Meanwhile, Chris Gordon on Twitter noted that the PTV standards actually require the pedestrian gates to work like this:

At pedestrian crossings providing access to an island platform (including those at road crossings), the pedestrian gate pair for each track shall operate independently from the other.
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