Wednesday, February 29, 2012


As you might expect, the Labor Leadership imbroglio generated a fair bit of visual material. This is one example that came via Lynne. It originally came from the NT News Facebook page.

Staying with Facebook, have you noticed the "sponsored" ads? This quite funny story will tell you more.

In Canada, it is two hundred years since the War of 1812. It seems that nobody is quite sure how to commemorate it. Hat tip to Christopher Moore on this one.

By contrast, Professor Marilyn Lake considers that Australians find it all too easy (and historically distorting) to celebrate this country's military past. I agree.

So far, I have only had a chance to skim read the Gonski report into Australian school funding. The thing I noticed first was the further extension of a variety of user pays. By contrast, Bronwyn Hinz focuses on the implications of the report in a Federal context.

I have to be at work very early today, so that's all for now. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Musings on the Rudd era

Over at his place, Neil Whitfield has been revisiting past posts. One year ago: Kevin Rudd bares all… was first published on 1 March 2010, two years ago. It includes a reference to an earlier post of mine from 30 May 2008, Slow down Mr Rudd, for all our sakes, slow down.

Neil's piece led me to look back at some of the things that I had written.

The Rudd Government was sworn in on 3 December 2007. That seems a long time ago now! It fell on 24 June 2010.

The first piece I wrote on Mr Rudd was on 22 November 2007 during the election campaign,  The Rudd Approach - Efficiency Dividends, Axe Wielding and Razor Gangs.  There I said in part: "All of a sudden Mr Rudd has given me a nasty feeling, a sense of déjà vu." The words déjà vu recurred in subsequent posts from around the same period: 28 April 2008, Mr Rudd and a dreadful sense of deja vu, 29 April 2008 Mr Rudd and a dreadful sense of deja vu - Managerialism and systemic failure.

Those earlier posts were influenced by my perceptions of what I saw as systemic failures in current approaches to management and public administration. This led me to interpret Mr Rudd's approaches in particular ways that were, I think, a little different from a lot of writing still influenced by the golden glow cast by the success of Kevin07, the Rudd new broom.

Looking back, the media gave Mr Rudd a long honeymoon period. When reporting did swing, it did so quite suddenly and with a degree of venom that surprised me at the time. At times it felt like "we were wrong, so we are coming to get you."

The déjà vu posts were part of a burst of posts I wrote over April, May and June 2008:

One of the problems that I sometimes have in writing on current events is that some of my views such as my continued support for a constitutional monarchy or indeed my focus on country issues seem old fashioned. You can see this a little in those posts. This can impede interpretation in a GetUp world.

Looking at those posts, you can see my concern about the use of symbolism, of style and image over substance. But you can also see my professional focus on the actual working of Government. These concerns continued in later posts such as:

I was, I think, either the first or close to the first to apply the NSW tag to the Rudd Government. I did so because I was quite close to the working of the NSW Government at the time, and the comparison was irresistible.

Looking back at the posts, it's interesting just how much I wanted to Mr Rudd to succeed, to replicate the first period of the Hawke Government when so much seemed possible and indeed so much was done.

The Global Financial Crisis broke while we were in Shanghai in September 2009. That was a golden trip, one of the best weeks of my life.

I had watched the crisis unfold on the TV, but was astonished when I got back to Australia on the nature of the reporting. Yes, things were bad, but from an Australian perspective they just weren't as bad as the local presentation. As reporting and commentary got more hysterical, I was drawn back into straight economic reporting of type I had not done for several years just to redress the balance.

To my mind, the global financial crisis was both the Rudd Government's finest hour and its greatest disaster.

It was the Rudd Government's finest hour because it acted decisively at a time when such action was needed. It's not just numbers that are important here, but popular mood. Some of the Opposition's analysis was in fact closer to the mark than the Treasury advice, but with something close to panic in the streets action was required.

It was the Government's greatest disaster because it distracted from other things, but also imposed strains on a Government system that was already stretched for reasons that I had outlined. The result was things like pink batts.

One of the things that I have struggled to properly understand over the period is the reaction on the left and within the Labor Party family to events affecting both the Gillard and Rudd Governments. I am not talking just about the machinations, but about the writing and talking that has gone on.

I have written a little about the way in which intense worlds gain a reality independent of reality. I suppose that age and experience have blunted the sharp passion that I once felt on certain issues. Yet even the young Jim would have struggled to understand why, in the name of ideological purity, it is better to kill your friends or allies when the outcome must be Tony Abbott!

Remember, I am not a natural ALP supporter.

I am interested in values (the refugee issue finally killed the remaining vestiges of my support for the Howard Government), but my focus is largely practical. I want things to work better.

Looking back, I feel a great sense of sadness at what happened with the Rudd Government. We lost the opportunity for that real change that only comes at long intervals. As we track forward, we have a wounded Government, along with an Opposition that seems entrenched on a track that, to my mind, encapsulates the worst features of a now discredited past. I find that sad.           

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Essay - old media, new media and Gen Y

In Saturday morning musings - relevance & the ending of a column I referred to the fact that my Armidale Express column had been replaced by a new column, "Gen Y it matters" subtitled in the promo "Issues that matter to our youth." I noted that it was an interesting and very clear example of a shift based on particular perceptions of reader interests and newspaper demography.

In the brief discussion in comments following the post, kvd noted that it had been quite a few years since he last saw anyone under the age of 30 actually reading a newspaper - except to quick scan the job ads and accommodation section. For his part, Evan thought that It would be interesting to see if a paper could attract Gen Y. If so, he thought that this would be quite an achievement.

For my part, I thought it was actually silly to target Gen Y as though they were a homogeneous group. Both my daughters classify themselves as Gen Y; the idea of a Gen Y column dedicated to giving a voice to our youth made them chortle a bit.

Back in September 2006 (Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y - What does it all mean?), I started my post with these words:

I must admit I have let all the debate about Gen X, GenY and the baby boomers sweep over me. I found the debate difficult to understand at more than a superficial level and also found it to be of little relevance to much of my work or my thinking.

I gave as one example changing attitudes to work. In seeking to understand those changes and their implications for people management, I came up with explanations that had little to do with intergenerational differences, much to do with the changing structure of work itself and responses to that. At best, terms like Gen X and Gen Y were short hand labels attached to bundles of attributes.

I then noted that I had been forced to re-assess this view. My overall thinking hadn't changed, but I needed to take into account that people were now using these terms in ways that did have behavioural impacts. I gave two examples.

In the first, eldest had suddenly started calling herself Gen Y, so she attached a personal meaning to the label.

The second example was the way that HR Departments in bigger organisations were frequently using the terms Gen X and Gen Y to explain the type of staffing challenges they faced. I might feel that they were talking about symptoms, that in fact the use of the terms disguised the real causes of the problems they were dealing with, but again their belief gave the terms meaning because it had practical effects on behaviour. I had to be able to use or at least understand their jargon if I was to help them in a professional sense.

Fashions change. The focus on Gen X and Gen Y in HR discussions appears to have peaked around the time we are talking about, and then declined, but the Baby Boomer, Gen X, Gen Y thing has rolled on. You can see it in the popularity of the Australian TV show "Talkin' 'Bout Your Generation."

The question of just what Gen Y actually is is a confused one. Recognising that Wikipedia pages change, the current Wikipedia page demonstrates that confusion quite nicely. There is no agreement as to start or end dates for Gen Y, nor of the attributes that this particular generation or generations is meant to possess. It could hardly be otherwise, for generation change is actually a creep rather than a sweep. Change is incremental. It is only looking back that you can start to get a feel for key change points.

Both my daughters were born in the second half of the 1980s, the decade that seems to form the core of much thinking about Gen Y. The single most important thing about my daughters' cohort is that they belong to the first truly  "wired" generation. Depending on your Gen Y start dates, the older members of Gen Y predate the internet. They may have adopted it, but they weren't born to it.

As so often happens, the bundle of attributes attached to Gen Y were set not by my daughters' immediate cohort, but by those who proceeded them.

According to the Wikipedia article, the phrase Generation Y first appeared in an August 1993 Ad Age editorial to describe teenagers of the day. The editorial used the term Y to distinguish from Generation X. It covered those twelve or younger (born after 1981), as well as the teenagers of the upcoming ten years. Now here we already have a bit of problem.

At the time I wrote my original post, on the Ad Age definitions the oldest Gen Y members were twenty four, thirty today. The HR managers of 2006 were clearly not talking just about those aged twenty four years or younger, nor were many those claiming to be Gen Y then twenty four. There is another indeterminate age range of perhaps six plus years who claimed (or were awarded) the Gen Y title to distinguish the group from Generation X. 

In 2006, my eldest daughter turned nineteen. In opting for a Gen Y label, in buying the first edition of that generation y (all lower case) magazine, she was responding to a marketing dynamic, for much of what we are talking about has been set by media and advertising. It was, after all, Ad Age that appears to have first promoted the term. She was responding to and accepting labels already defined.

Linking this discussion back to my starting point, you will see how messy all this generational stuff is.

In defining the new Express column in the way he did, our new editor linked one bundle of attributes "Gen Y" to another "our youth". My daughters laughed because while they classify themselves as Gen Y, they certainly don't classify themselves as "youth". Nor, for that matter, do most university students in general.

So who are the youth Matt is targeting? I'm actually not sure, but I suspect it's those in late school years through to the early twenties. But it's a pretty indeterminate target, especially if you focus on issues. To my mind, it's not issues but experiences (music, entertainment, social interaction, the opposite sex etc) that really appeals to this age range.

I said that my daughters belong to the first truly wired generation. Herein lies the rub, linking to the point made by kvd and Evan. They don't generally read newspapers.

My daughters' generation is a truly time poor generation. By the time you add university, work, social life, sport, their particular interests, they don't have time to scratch themselves. They use the new media to communicate, to keep in touch, just to follow up on things that have attracted their attention. They generally don't have time to sit down and read a newspaper, especially where they can get what they want in terms of information more easily from other sources.

This doesn't mean that the Armidale Express couldn't attract a larger readership in the younger demographic.  I think it could because, and as I have argued before, the country press still lives in a different world from the metro newspapers. It is still far more localised, rival information sources not so dominant.

But pity the metro press. It doesn't have the same options as its country cousins. I am a strong supporter of the newspapers. I know a fair bit about about new and old media, but I do scratch my head about the best way of attracting a younger readership. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday morning musings - relevance & the ending of a column

This has been a somewhat mixed week dogged by slowly lifting flue. So just a bit of a review.

On Tuesday, my long running Express column was abruptly ended by the new editor who advised in a short email

"I am writing to inform you I've made some decisions about the sort of
columns I'll be running as part of the new-look Express.

From next week I'll be running 3 new columns - From the editor's desk, Gen Y
it matters, and a Friday Soapbox (featuring all the movers and shakers in
Armidale putting forward ideas to help improve the town).

I will no longer require you to send your columns each week. I put a note at
the bottom of your column in tomorrow's paper that it would be your last
column in the Express, but that readers can still follow you online at the
addresses you gave.

I wish you well in the future."

After 164 columns and over 80,000 words, I didn't quite want to vanish into the night Via a one sentence at the end of the column: "Editor's note: this will be Jim Belshaw's final column" followed by the blog details. So the editor has agreed to run a short letter to the editor next week allowing me to at least thank my readers.

The column replacing mine is "Gen Y it matters" subtitled in the promo "Issues that matter to our youth." At this stage it has yet to appear, so I cannot comment on the content. However, it is still an interesting and very clear example of a shift based on particular perceptions of reader interests and newspaper demography.

While I tried to write broadly in the column, the evidence is that the column appealed most to an older demographic in Armidale. It also appealed most to those who identified themselves as local, who thought of Armidale as home and wanted to know more about the place, as compared to the large transient or semi-transient (Armidale has quite a high population turnover) group who had less identification with the city.

This actually created a bit of a problem in writing. I wanted to write broadly, but my highest response columns were often those that centred in some way on Armidale past.

As it happened, my former and long standing editor Christian Knight himself belonged to one of the groups that the column really appealed to, providing a measure of protection and even a somewhat privileged position. I always knew when Christian really liked the column.

The new editor, Matthew or Matt Taylor, has worked for a variety of papers including the Canberra Times and Newcastle Herald and, most recently, edited a Rural Press newspaper in a popular tourist resort. He is a very experienced newspaper man and clearly wants to put his stamp on the paper. So in my case he has disposed of a column whose primary  appeal was to one demographic with a second that he hopes will appeal to a younger and broader demographic.

It all makes perfect sense, but I happen to know Armidale with all its sometime byzantine complexities rather well. I will be interested to see just how Matt balances it all, whether he can in fact achieve what he hopes. In the meantime, I have been demographied!

  One of the problems I face as a person, sometimes social analyst and as a writer is simply staying relevant. I have written a little on this before.

For much of my writing, it's not a problem. My historical and public policy writing stands alone, although even here I have to remember what people know and don't know. The body of what we might call common knowledge shifts with time, a process that has accelerated over recent decades.

In other cases, it's a real problem.

All writers mine their own experiences for material. As we grow older, our past experiences bulk larger and larger relative to our current experiences. The present becomes a layer on an ever growing past. Yet to our potential audience, that thin present layer is (as it was to us) is the dominant real.

Musing on this yesterday on the bus, this has been another reflective week for me, I shut my eyes. In front of me was a group of chattering university students about the same age as my daughters. Behind me, sat a girl around the same age engaged in a long personal chat on her mobile. With my eyes shut, I just listened.           

The cadence of language was different, the technology was different, but really it could have been conversations from exactly the same stage in my own life.

Technology is important, cadence more so, shared experiences most so. Technology I can understand, although here I have gripe that I will share in a moment. Cadence I can't do, it would just sound silly. Shared experiences I don't have beyond those now separated by an increasing gulf in time. The conversation is the same, but the wrappings are different. 

All this means that a growing gap is inevitable. The most that one can hope for is to understand a little about the nature of the gap, to try to identify and account for key features.

    My gripe about the new technology? It's so anti-social and even atomistic! We have a situation where people may be watching TV together while also playing on a variety of computer devices or just checking emails. There is little conversation. Each sits in a world of their own, isolated from each other unless they happen to be playing a computer game together while watching TV!

I think that this is really where I part company with the current, where I have to accept my lack of understanding. I actually like to talk and listen to people, not engage in social interaction increasingly mediated through devices! Here I do not wish to be relevant and current.  

Friday, February 24, 2012

Presidential Rudd

The responses by the twenty ministers who have so far lined up behind Ms Gillard have been quite remarkable. Here are two examples:  

The Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, said ''You can't run … Australia and protect its national security interests and … economic security interests by every day running off what's on the front page of a newspaper or what you might want to do on TV.''

The Environment Minister, Tony Burke, said government under Kevin Rudd ''became chaotic … the micro-management where no one other than the prime minister could make a decision … Kevin as leader became someone who … became increasingly impossible to work with and as a government we simply weren't delivering the way we should have been able to.''

Mr Rudd's strategy appears to be to take his campaign to the public, his opponents to crush him once and for all. It's all very messy if quite interesting political theatre. While leadership challenges to incumbent PMs or premiers are not uncommon in Australian political history, I am struggling to think of one played out so openly and so, dare I say it?, presidentially. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Time to focus on Mr Abbott

Over recent weeks I have been suffering from a rather bad case of lingering flue, complicated most recently by another crash. For those and other reasons, I fear that my writing output has suffered quite badly. I am now looking to rebuild and re-energise.

The Australian media is dominated by the resignation of Kevin Rudd as Australian Foreign Minister and his apparent charge for the leadership. It's hard to escape it. This is one cartoon. It will be completely obscure to any one outside Australia!

I don't especially want to comment on the specifics of the challenge. However, I did want to make a few broad comments.

I pointed to problems in Mr Rudd's style early after he became PM.  These now litter the public criticisms by his colleagues. It may be that he has learned. Certainly his supporters say so. I am inclined to doubt that it affects the basic elements of that style, although it may temper it to some degree.

In a number of posts recently I looked at the way that the internal dynamics of the ALP combined with reporting created its own apparently real world that was in fact divorced from reality. I said that Ms Gillard had to find or create an island of calm in all this. She has not been able to do so. Regardless of the outcomes of any leadership ballot, it is hard to see how the Government can recover. The NSW disease that has afflicted Federal Labor appears to have entered its terminal phase.

In all this, there is one point I made that has not, I think, been discussed.

In talking about Mr Rudd, I said that the administrative structures that supported the Government no longer had the capacity to support his agenda. Subsequent events appeared to support that. I made the same comment with regard to Ms Gillard. Again, there have been problems.

Now that it appears that Mr Abbott could well be our next PM, someone would say that that has been the case for some time, I think it time to subject the coalition policies to the same type of analysis applied to the Government.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Computer woes

My computer has been down since the weekend. Posting will be difficult until I have it back

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Essay - clouds, complexity & systemic failure

Last Sunday in a short note on another of my blogs, Problems with cloud computing - and paperless offices, I commented on the slowness of the cloud computer system: 

It is easy to forget in all this that the concept (cloud computing) is not new. What is new is the scale of application. It is easy to forget, too, that the performance parameters are not new. They are just the same as any other computer system.

I mention this because the single greatest user complaint is simply slowness. Everything just takes more time as compared to either the local WAN or single computer use. The results are quite noticeable.

A week later I would make the same comment but with greater force. It's quite frustrating.

Normal work often requires multiple computer actions.

Say that you are working on a document. You open Word. As you work, you are constantly finding and checking other documents or spreadsheets. This requires new programs to open. Most of those documents or spread sheets are to be found in the electronic records system. Save and auto-save activity goes on all the time.

With a full cloud based system, all the programs are held in the cloud and everything goes via the cloud. So every one of the many computer actions requires a path out and back with external processing .

In theory, this shouldn't matter. In practice, the volume of actions and traffic, the density of interactions between different parts of the system, can slow it to a crawl or even freeze an individual user. The message "unable to save" was a new one to me, but had somewhat dire consequences.

I have written a little about the problems created by rising systemic complexity. A key problem lies in the nature of the dependencies built into the system.

As systems become bigger and more complex, the number of actions or processes dependent on other actions or processes, the number of possible interactions, rises exponentially.

My present work involves process mapping. This flowed logically into a second data base and reporting project. Here the aim is to create a data base that will facilitate both operational work and reporting.

I am not an IT person. My focus is on the business processes that will form the core of the data base. As part of this, I am helping to identify the business rules that have to be translated into data speak.

In a way, it's eye glazing stuff requiring great attention to detail. However, the nature of the work illustrates the complexity point, for even at this level hundreds of relationships have to be specified. In a complex system, you may need to specify hundreds of thousands or even millions.

You can see why things might go wrong, why some new IT or information systems simply fail. You can also see why so many organisations are reluctant to change systems once they are in place. This gives rise to very particular difficulties for staff who then have to work round growing gaps between changing work requirements and the computer systems.

In Aymever Days, I have started documenting our experiences in establishing and running a national consulting business out of Armidale. Computer based systems were already well entrenched, but in our management consulting advice we did try to warn about the danger of entrenching bad systems. Computerisation allowed you to do what you were already doing faster and more efficiently, but what if those processes were inherently inefficient in themselves?

Because of our high technology industry focus, the world we worked in was littered with continuous and sometimes disastrous system failures in either development or application. Murphy's law was a constant presence.

One of the big cultural changes that was taking place at the time was a shift from an engineering to a computing focus.

Engineering people understood complex systems. They designed systems that worked, they had to, but could also be over-engineered with high levels of redundancy. Computer people, by contrast, had a much shorter term focus. They were described as cowboys, get the sale and move on. Technology is changing, go with it. The number of non-working software systems that resulted was substantial.

Of course, there has been convergence as the computer focus moved from hardware to software and systems. But it remains true, I think, that our increasingly complex systems are more vulnerable than in the past, the risk of adverse results higher.

As a simple example, many people love electronic locking in cars. The Australian family recently trapped in their car in full sunlight because of a failure in electronic locking may now have a different view. Passers by had to smash a window to get them out. File:FrameBreaking-1812.jpg 

In 1811 a protest movement began In Nottingham, England, against the introduction of new wide-framed automated looms that could be operated by cheap, relatively unskilled labour. This resulted in the loss of jobs for many skilled textile workers. Handloom weavers burned mills and pieces of factory machinery and also clashed in battles with the British  Army.

The Government suppressed the movement by force. Many ended up in Australia as convicts.

Those involved called themselves luddites. Since then, the term has come to be applied to all those opposed to the use of new technology. 

I am not a luddite. I am not opposed to cloud based systems, for example, although I am conscious of the risks and problems involved. I am, however, opposed to the blind application of technology. I actually first wrote "new technologies", but of course most of the technologies involved aren't actually new!

Looking back at my writings around this topic, I think that the thing I have struggled most to get across is the way that technology reflects the way we think and structure, but then in return affects the way we think and structure. The result is a complex feedback loop in which technology has moved from servant to master. We are no longer what we think, but what we use.

Last year there were a number of major system failures in the Australian banking system that left millions unable to be paid, businesses unable to use EFTPOS, to pay or collect accounts. The periods weren't long, but reminded many that there were risks attached to the convenience they enjoyed.

People can understand and respond to this type of problem because the effects are quite clear. The general issues associated with growing systemic complexity, the problems with the way that systems and thought interact, are far harder to get across. It is also far harder to do anything practical about them because of the huge investment in existing systems.

Far fewer people today have real decision making powers than, say, thirty years ago, while the scope of those powers has shrunk. Decision processes have become longer and more complicated. Far more Australians are involved in simply ensuring compliance with rules and laws.

In a way, you could argue that I am my own worst enemy.

Look at the work that I am doing - process mapping leading leading to a new data base and reporting systems. Process mapping is, in fact, the hand maiden of standardisation and computerisation.

In one way or another, I have been involved with most of the things that I now complain about. In some cases, I was a relatively early exponent. My difficulty is that they haven't delivered the benefits I expected, while the costs have been far greater.

I would argue, I think, that the biggest and saddest loss in what has happened lies in the way that it has reduced the capacity for true innovation simply defined as applied imagination.

We have replaced a thousand flowers with a much smaller number of larger flowers that have begun to wither. We apply more fertiliser, technology, but without much effect. We put stakes in the ground (rules and laws) to try to hold the flowers up, to prevent them falling over, but then find that more of the same is required.

Perhaps it's not a good analogy, but I hope that it gets across a little of what I am trying to say.  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Slowed by house hunting & other things

I have found it remarkably difficult to write anything over the last week. Part of the problem has simply been limited time, part lack of focus.

This morning took Helen house hunting. She wants to move into a place of her own sharing with two friends. It's been remarkably difficult to get a place. They have lodged five applications so far on places they really liked without success. When we were looking for a new family place last January-February we went through something of the same experience. It's just a very competitive and expensive marketplace.

While Helen and her two friends are also studying, they have reasonably good part time incomes and in total can afford to pay more than a lot of singles or couples.

It's been a quite exhausting morning, and we have a house to go. So I will proceed and return tomorrow.   

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wednesday snippets

Here in Australia, the question of who did what and when in the period leading up to the overthrow of Kevin Rudd has been rattling the dovecotes. For those interested, you can get a feel here, here and here.

I have commented on the latest controversy nor on the continued speculation about Ms Gillard's future as PM for I really have little useful to say beyond the things that I have already said.

Over on World War II Day-By-Day, the daily reports have been tracking the fall of Singapore to the Japanese. British forces finally surrendered on 15 February 1942. This military disaster has acquired almost mythic status in Australia. Lindsay Murdoch's The day the empire died in shame will give you a feel.

Each participant including each member of Commonwealth and Empire has a different perspective on events. We tend to forget that.

Now turning to a totally different topic, the Australian free on-line newspaper, the Global Mail, appears to be gathering strength. Have a browse. I think that it's pretty good.

For those who like their history, I found Mike Dash's post Nice Things to Say About Attila the Hun quite fascinating.

Have you ever heard of ultimate frisbee? I had not  until Monday when I found that a girl at work played it This YouTube clip will give you a feel.

You will gather that I don't really feel like being too serious tonight, so I will finish here! 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Aymever Days 2 - getting started

Continuing the story from Aymever Days 1 - genesis, Denise came up to Armidale first, while I sorted out a few things in Canberra.

Based on my policy experience, I had a pretty clear idea what I wanted to achieve.

One of my complaints in Canberra lay in the impact of fragmentation, what we would now call siloing. There were two common approaches then adopted.

The first focused on small individual sectors, so that we had things with names like the room air conditioner industry. It was quite impossible to have sensible policies at this level of disaggregation because  there were so few real policy instruments available.

The second approach was the deal with big lumps such as manufacturing as a whole. I found this approach inadequate for two reasons.

The first lay in the variety across such a huge slab. Policy always has differential on-ground effects because people and firms respond to Government actions depending on their circumstances. The greater the variety in circumstance, the greater the divergence in actual outcomes. If you base policy on averages without taking variety into account, you will always get perverse results. 

The second reason was convergence. The old models then (and now) deeply entrenched in thinking go back to the industrial revolution and a now ancient industrial past. We have primary, secondary and tertiary. We have people who make or grow things, those who provide services to them.

Dealing with the electronics, aerospace and information industries, it was already clear that  convergence meant that the old models and the policies and statistical constructs based on those models were becoming increasingly irrelevant. A new approach was required that would allow for better integration.

The following diagram taken from the Aymever brochure shows our industry structure model. Further comments follow the diagram. Aymever 10

If you look at the diagram, you can see how we tried to integrate sectors around common relationships. Remember, the brochure was published around August 1989 and incorporated earlier thinking. If you look at the block containing broadcasting and television, you can see how we are already integrating that sector with information and communications services.

We began operating out of the family home at 202 Marsh Street, using one bedroom, the study and front verandah as space.

That immediate period is wrapped in nostalgia in my mind. I remember taking Denise to the hospital to have Helen and then coming back when it was clear that the birth would be delayed. I had a sleep in our bedroom just off the study while our people worked away.

Soon after Helen's birth, Denise and I went out to dinner. Coming back, the fax was spitting out pages. We were working on a large space bid in conjunction with a UK firm and had sent them material during the day. Now the responses were coming back. There was something wonderfully exciting about this, and I settled down to do a quick response.

It's one thing to have an industry model in mind, but how do you make money out of it? Aymever 17

The next graphic shows our services diagram.

We centred our services around the sector as defined with a sufficiently wide range of services to give us a chance of commercial viability. I believed in research and depth of knowledge, so we needed a basic research function. If we were to have that, then we might be able to sell research and contract information services. Information services as such were just coming into vogue. Later, we would add training services.

In growing a new business like this, you have to define who to recruit. I chose a mixed model.

Because there were few people in Australia with the generic skills we needed, we would recruit core staff young and train them up. We would then combine them with experienced associates who had the very specific skill sets we needed to complete particular tasks. 

We started with part time research and industry analysts, with the initial training sessions around the dining room table. Because we were industry specialists, the initial training focused on the electronics, aerospace and information industries. I then added product knowledge. All training had to be done from scratch.

Every staff member whether administrative of professional had to have a core knowledge. This included a detailed understanding of the workings of government.

I remember talking to Kathy Hall's dad at her wedding.

The wedding stands out in my mind not just because it was Kathy's wedding, but because of the links with then young Helen. To let Denise sleep, baby Helen and I used to watch Rage together. By the time of Kathy's wedding, I knew every one of the current songs. Most were played at the wedding!

At the wedding, Kathy's dad commented about her growth in knowledge, about the way she could talk about things that he struggled to understand. What did we actually do?    

The company grew like topsy. In 1987-1988 we generated over $250,000 in fees. By the time the brochure was printed in August 1989, monthly fees had passed $75,000 and were growing steadily.

The next photo shows part of the team at work in our new board/conference room. The caption reads:

The Company's approach to undertaking any assignment is to assemble from its Staff and Associates a team of specialised personnel with the mix of expertise and experience most appropriate to the client's needs. Here a group is working on the Australian Industry Involvement Package of a major defence project bid.    

Further comments follow the photo.  Ayemever 1   Pretty obviously, there is a degree of puff in the caption. But it's also true.

One of our big projects was the development of the industry component of Telecom Defence Systems bid for JORN, the Jindalee Operational Radar Network. This is an over the horizon radar system still central to Australia's defence.

This was pre-email days. Our Armidale team was working with teams in Adelaide and Melbourne. Material came in by fax and went out by fax. We prepared material and faxed it. It then had to be re-keyed at the other end.

The bid was successful. One side effect was that a key staff member included in the above photo, Andrew Davis, left us to join Telecom as the JORN industry program manager. We had trained Andrew from scratch, and it was a loss. Mind you, that's not a criticism of Andrew, just a reflection on the standard of our training!

Everything seemed great, but problems were about to emerge.    

Monday, February 13, 2012

Breaking the glass ceiling

I was quite fascinated by Mark's story Breaking the Glass Ceiling. I won't tell you more. Have a look!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Snippets - Malcolm Naden, social change with a dash of economics

I will continue the Aymever story later in the week. This Sunday just some snippets. 

Visitor 140,000 arrived yesterday. Normally I say welcome, but in this case it was a spam bot!

The search for fugitive Malcolm Naden continues. This piece by Heath Aston provides an interesting update. The comparisons with Captain Thunderbolt are inevitable. 

One thing that I sometimes try to do in my writing is to make the lessons from my experiences available to others. I also write to try to clarify my own thoughts. Back in May 2010 Sunday Essay - problems for stay-at-home dads discussed the challenges faced by men who chose the primary child care role.

In later discussions, my negative view of the particular challenges faced by men were challenged by women. There had been, I was told, a fundamental shift over the last five years. I was in fact suffering from a generation gap.

I'm not sure. Both girls have been out of school for some time now, so things may have changed. In the meantime, my own views have shifted to a degree.

Both men and women who chose the primary child care role face similar problems. One of the biggest issues for both is that of dependency. This carries risks that I plan to write about at some point.

Many of us who do adopt the primary child care role work from home. Back in November 2006, I looked at the issues here in Teleworking - a personal perspective. I think that this is still a useful post, although again my views have shifted a little. Today I would place much greater weight on the need to maintain consciously one's contact networks, to ensure a life outside the bounds set by family and home office.

Staying with the social change theme, Adele Horin's Retirement is a work in progress provides an interesting perspective on related aspects of the social changes now rippling their way through Australian society.

In 2009, I discussed Don Aitkin's What was it all for?  (Train Reading - Don Aitkin's What was it all for? 1, Sunday Essay - What was it all for? part 2).

Disillusioned by the changes that had taken place in their working life, a remarkable number of Don's class mates at Armidale High School took early retirement. They were able to do so because they had old style superannuation. In retiring early, they also opened the way for the growing number of baby boomers coming through the system.

The position now is very different. Quite simply, a considerable proportion of the now aging baby boomer population cannot afford to retire. They have to work as long as they can. Removal of compulsory retirement ages makes this possible.

The graying of the work force varies from sector to sector. I see it most clearly in the NSW public sector.  There are very few young people in the areas where I have done contract work. And what do I mean by a young person? Someone in their late twenties or early thirties!

I have spoken before about issues associated with an aging population, writing especially from an economics perspective. Here my concern lies with the social aspects of change.

Given my age, I am directly affected by the type of changes that Adele talks about, that I have written about. I think that many of us find the latest round of changes distressing and personally confusing. You see, one of the new tyrannies is that you cannot afford to appear old!

I said earlier that one thing that I sometimes try to do in my writing is to make the lessons from my experiences available to others. I also write to try to clarify my own thoughts.

I am truly fortunate here, for my writing provides both a release and a personal platform.

Finishing on a more mundane note, in Navigating the economic forecasting mess I looked briefly at economic forecasts and forecasting. The weeks since I wrote that post have actually been quite entertaining.

The yo-yo behaviour of economic forecasters and reporters bears a striking resemblance to political reporting on PM Gillard and the Australian Labor Government! One minute your down, the next up.   

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Aymever Days 1 - genesis

This post is the start of a story of dreams faded, a memory of a past now diminished. Yet those dreams remain and drive me in my present writing. The posts have been triggered by Carolyn Heinemann, a former staff Aymever 3 member, who found and copied the old company brochure to send to me.

This first reproduction shows part of our head office in Armidale. We occupied most of the top floor of this building, including the tower.

Some elements of the story will be familiar to regular readers of this blog, others will not. But I wish to record the story as a tribute to those who joined us in the dream. I still hold the faith that began with what Bob Quiggin came to describe as the Belshaviks, those of us who wanted to reshape Australia's industrial future.

Today when we live in world of narrow performance indicators and a locked-in past, it is helpful to remember that dreams do have an effect even in failure. In the story that follows I am not giving detailed links to my writing. This post is a personal indulgence,  a story that I remember even as the dark clouds sometimes swirl around me.

I am now a writer, someone who uses his pen as his primary weapon. Yet I remember when I did, when the doing was central. Even now in my daily work, in my striving, I try to bring improvement.

The focus may be different. Just at the moment my immediate concern is Aboriginal housing, something far removed from the story in this post. But despite the differences, the drivers remain the same.

The year is 1980. It's a Friday afternoon, about six o'clock.

I had just come across from Treasury to head up the Department of Industry and Commerce's Economic Analysis Branch. In Treasury I had made it a practice always to go to the Social Club Happy Hour - Friday afternoon drinks - because I enjoyed it and it kept me in touch across areas. I was determined to do the same thing in my new Department even though I had noticed that, unlike Treasury, few senior staff attended.

I was interrupted by John Martin, then Director of the Finance and Tax Section in my Branch, Keith Purcell, the First Assistant Secretary in charge of the Policy Division, had received an urgent call from the Minister (Sir Philip Lynch) and wanted to see me at once.

Keith explained to me that Prime Minster Fraser was very worried about the decline in Australian manufacturing and had asked our Minister for urgent advice not just on the causes, but on what might be done. We had to have advice on the Minster's desk first thing Monday morning. So we started calling staff in setting up for a weekend's Aymever 2work.

Quite frankly, this was one of the least satisfying experiences of my professional life. A week end to try to provide sensible advice on this issue was bad enough. But we also lacked the policy framework and supporting analytical tools required to say anything new and useful. So in the end we provided statistics with some fairly superficial supporting analysis. I swore that I would never put myself in this position again.

This next photo shows Liz (not Lis) Noble and John Nightingale on the stairs leading up to the flag tower in the first photo. Liz was Senior Research Officer with our information services business with a special interest in the media. John, then a senior lecturer at the University of New England, was especially interested in technology and the way that one technology replaced another. I still use his concept of competing technology regimes.

At the end of 1980 I went back to the University of New England on leave to work on my PhD. My topic was a biography of my grandfather, David Henry Drummond.

In my posts, I have spoken often of DHD and the influence he had on me. I absorbed many of his views, but by the time I returned to UNE the influence of those views was greatly reduced. They just didn't seem relevant any more.

A funny thing then happened. As I sat in my small office working my way through the papers or worked in my old bedroom at home, my old views re-ignited. Suddenly, I saw the things that had interested me as relevant once more.

Part of the reason for this lay in my renewed residence in the area that I loved. Part, too, lay in my recent experience as senior Commonwealth public servant, for I now filtered Drummond's views and experiences through the prism set by experience. I found myself nodding and saying that's right.

You can see the continuing influence of that experience in my writing today. For example, I describe myself as a New England populist. I would not have done so in 1980. Indeed, I would have been hard pressed to define what the term meant. It just wouldn't have seemed especially relevant.IMG_0002

This next graphic shows a New England new state car sticker. This was one of the two new state stickers on my bedroom window as I wrote. My renewed support for New England self-government was another linked element in my rediscovery of my own past.

I returned to Canberra early in 1983. Later in that year I was given responsibility for the creation of a new branch, the Electronics, Aerospace and Information Industries Branch, to provide a new focus on the high technology industries. This reflected a Departmental worry that too many resources were tied up in declining industries, too few were committed to new industries.

Drawing on my experiences including that episode I described earlier, I tried to develop new policy approaches. I described this in Case studies in public administration.

On 15 March 1987 Denise and I married. Denise was pregnant with Helen, and it seemed an appropriate time to chart new directions.

I had become increasingly frustrated at the early stage impact of what we now call managerialism because the combination of the reassertion of control by the central coordinating agencies with new hierarchical structures in my own department just made it so much harder to get anything new done. Again, you can see the influence on my present writing.

I decided to start a new consulting business in Armidale centred on the electronics, aerospace and information industries. Essentially, I was putting my personal money where my professional mouth had been. The Armidale location reflected my family and New England interests. My contribution to New England development would be the creation of a new high tech node.

I had made a decision in principle, but was still very undecided.

I had a good job and a career path. I was also very comfortably of financially, indeed quite wealthy with guaranteed superannuation, four houses plus a share portfolio. All I had to do was to sit and let compound interest work its miracles. I also met with opposition from my industry colleagues who wanted me just where I was.

A few weeks back I went to farewell drinks with Brian and Irene Lovelock. At the time we are talking about, Brian was a senior executive with Computer Sciences Australia (CSA). Later, he would become an Aymever client, while Irene became one of our associates on the training side.

Bob Cassell was at the drinks. Bob was CEO of CSA at the time Brian was there. The year before the events I am talking about, I organised a group of industry people to go to Armidale for the Picnic Races. Bob flew up in his private plane. Then, and this was something Bob's wife remembered, I took them all sapphire shopping before the races.

Bob was adamant. I must not resign. I had started something worthwhile, and I must try to drive it through despite the growing difficulties.   

In the end, it was a small thing that triggered my move. I had not been especially secret in my musings about new directions. David Charles as head of the Department called me in. What were my intentions?

I started to explain my dilemmas. Then David said: "I don't care what you feel. I am only interested in the impact on the Department." The die was set. That day I gave notice.

In my next post in this series, I will talk about Aymever's early days.              

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Zombies walk in Martin Place

Note to readers: I have been copying from a pdf to livewriter then posting, copying the image and then deleting. In doing so, I managed to delete this post. I have restored the post, but could not restore the comments. My apologies! I have added an extra photo at the end. 

Clare 8 Feb12

Foxtel's new FX pay TV will launch with hit zombie series The Walking Dead.

To mark the launch, zombies walked in Sydney's Martin Place at lunchtime.  The zombie on the left is my youngest, Clare.

Now here in pointing to Clare I was in fact wrong. Regular reader kvd thought Clare was at the back. He was right. She was listed on the left in the original and has a black wig. But she is indeed in the back!

Unlike the events I described in Zombies walk in Kingsford - & elsewhere, this was a paid gig for Clare.

She arose at 3am this morning to catch a bus into the city to be made up. Then there was a long gap before they were all caged.

Breaking from the cage into the lunchtime crowd, they created fear and terror or, perhaps just curiosity.

When I arrived home Clare was happy, but very hoarse from growling! She was happy though, and this is a comment that will only be understood by Australians, because she got to growl at Dicko.

Here is a further photo of the group caged.

For those who do not know who Dicko is -

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

In haste

Up early this morning to complete my Express column, again with a newspaper history focus. Now trying to tidy up before departure for work.  Maybe more later!

Monday, February 06, 2012

Australia v Europe

This one came from Brad Holland via Legal Eagle. I couldn't resist copying it.
The map shows Europe, or at least a large part of it, superimposed upon Australia. It gives a good visual feel for the size of the country. The European map itself is slightly odd, mind you. Perhaps dated would be a better word. Yugoslavia is still there, for example. Still, it gives you the picture. 

Postscript. My apologies on this post. The image link has become corrupted and I have been unable to find the original.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Flooding rains, short termism, politics & public policy

probability of exceeding median rainfall - click on the map for a larger version of the map

On 19 January, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology released its three monthly national seasonal rainfall outlook map. I used to run these maps quite regularly during the long drought that gripped South Eastern Australia.

The Bureau's computer modelling suggested that the north and west of the country could expect wet conditions, with the chances of above median rainfall in the south east about 50 per cent or less.

As I write, Southern Queensland and New England are awash again.

The NSW Government has declared 17 council areas natural disaster zones in the past week, including on the far north and mid-north coast. The photo shows the flood waters at Moree where 10,000 people are isolated by flood waters.Moree is stricken by floodwaters. Photo: The Sydney Morning Herald.

In Queensland, the townships of Mitchell and Roma are awash.

One of the problems during the long dry spell was that people confused a short term phenomenon (the long drought) with a long one (climate change). This led to some of the silly thinking and action that I have complained about before.

It was always going to be the case that floods would return. In New England, inland towns such as Moree and Narrabri have been swamped many times before. The Moree flood may be the highest since 1955, but that just makes the point about past floods. 

The rivers that have their headwaters on the New England Tablelands flow very slowly once they enter the plains because the fall in the country to the Darling-Barwon River is quite small. Water builds up, spreads widely and then drains slowly. The big storage dams in western New England were built in part for flood mitigation purposes.

During the long drought they fell to very low storage levels. Now they are full.

People are funny cattle, to use an old Australian bush phrase. During the long drought many in Sydney (including some officials) argued that we had to depopulate the inland, reduce population to a lower carrying capacity. As the wet returned, many of those same people argued that we should move people out of flood prone areas. Meantime, climate change has largely vanished from popular discussion. Again, we have the same confusion between short and long term.

In my last post, Rinehart, the media & technological change, I wrote:

As human beings, we are hard wired towards stability. We need this at a personal level. So when changes take place in what we see as the natural order of things, there is a sense of shock.

Our human lives are short. Our need for stability means that states that continue for long enough become in our mind the natural order of things. Then things change and we respond.

A child born in Western New England during a long drought may become frightened by the sudden heavy rain. In Sydney presently, people wonder if summer will ever return. This makes it hard to think longer term independent of current events. 

Australian PM Julia Gillard is clearly in trouble. This latest story will give you a feel. She has not been able to establish that centre of calm, that feeling of stability, required to work her way though the challenges she faces. She and her colleagues are constantly responding to the immediate.

Most of the discussions about Ms Gillard's problems are put in a political frame. I think that the real problem lies in the way we have made our underlying structures responsive to the short term and to change.

Certainly politicians bear some of the responsibility, for they constantly want things packaged for immediate effect, react to the immediate. We saw this in NSW over the last ten years of Labor rule when cosmetic packaging became a substitute for policy. Yet it's more than that.

We are confused about the role of our politicians, applying managerial models.

The PM is not in fact the CEO of the country, ministers are not the CEOs of their Departments. Cabinet is not the equivalent of a company board. The head of a government agency is not equivalent to a CEO of private organisation. Departments of state cannot be equated to corporations.

When I read that a department of state such as Treasury has defined a role, call it mission whatever, that is in some way independent of the Department's true role in providing fair and independent advice to its minister and then in implementing the Government's wishes, I shudder.

You see, it can't work. It's actually left a vacuum in which the politicians spin like like weather cocks in the face of conflicting demands. Activity has been substituted for thought, reaction for reasoned response.

I am not talking about some perfect world. Political responses are always important. There will always be compromise. Agency structures will always change. Yet things are different.

In the simpler world of the past, the constant shifts of responsibilities between agencies was just a fact of live. All agencies operated under common rules. Those rules were over-complicated and prescriptive, mandating things as small as the office size or carpet squares for different levels. However, they did provide a common framework that facilitated changes to administrative structures.

The rules changed as they had too. Agencies were given more freedom, senior officials more management discretion. Driven in part by the craze for standards based approach and for documentation (protocols, manuals, procedures etc), one side effect was the proliferation of different systems across agencies. I am not talking just about IT systems, but the whole proliferation from HR through style manuals to project management methodologies through records management and so on.

These new systems became increasingly prescriptive. Increasingly, they became computer embedded. The old system with its acts, regulations and general orders had been replaced by a new complicated system dependent on computing and communication systems for its maintenance and enforcement. 

Today, the CEO of the new agency, and especially the new mega agencies created because we believe that big is better, seeks as soon as possible to integrate all systems and approaches, all visual presentation, into a common whole.

The costs are substantial, the gains often limited.

Within the private sector, one of the recognised problems associated with takeovers or mergers lies in the difficulties created by different and incompatible computer systems. The costs involved in over-coming this can be so high as to either prevent the takeover in the first place or significantly reduce the expected benefits if the takeover does proceed. In the public sector, you have to add the costs of standardising all the administrative and other process systems including the proliferating requirement for reporting.

As a simple example, consider HR policies.

Say that you have five or six policies all with a common base dictated by central rules in that jurisdiction (these central rules themselves have become more complex), but also some variations reflecting the particular circumstances of agencies.

To standardise, and this may be an absolute requirement because it is necessary for the working of the central computer system in the new agency, a team has to be formed to go line by line through the various policies trying identify commonalities and differences and then define a common policy. Other work is then required to alter IT systems to support the new policy.

Replicate this process across multiple policies, processes and systems  and you suddenly get a feel as to costs. Now add to this the impact of constant change in administrative structures and you can see why delivery performance might degrade.

At Federal level in Australia, the Government has chosen to use what we might call a matrix approach.

Each minister has a portfolio. It used to be the case that portfolios represented what we might think of as functional areas. However, political necessity as well as policy desires have led to what I think of as bitsy portfolios. Each portfolio has a bit of this, a bit of that. These bits are shifted each time the ministry changes.

   We also have a situation where ministers or parliamentary secretaries are given responsibilities in other portfolios. We want to promote Fred, but Mary will be upset, so we add a few things to Mary's responsibilities.

It used to be the case that form followed function. That is no longer true, or at least not to the same extent. 

Practicality dictates that there be some relationship between structures and function, but beyond that we have something of a crazy patch-work quilt that can be difficult to understand. This then mandates a matrix approach in an attempt to integrate all the different responsibilities.

So far so good, perhaps. But add to this the fact that Australia is a Federal system in which each jurisdiction has followed the same path and you get a further set of problems.

In a Federal system in which the centre has been increasingly exerting control, integration is important. But you try integrating seven different ever changing matrices. I don't think that it can be done!

In concluding, I want to link the point I have just made back to earlier points in the discussion.

It used to be the case, and to a degree still is, that the public service provided stability and continuity.

By their very nature, policy and programs have a long footprint. If you analyse the Rudd and Gillard Governments, you will find that 90 plus per cent of their policy and program activities are in fact an extension of the Howard Government, just as the Howard Government was an extension of the Hawke-Keating period. Yet the administrative and advisory systems that once provided the required continuity have become less effective.

I think that that's a key reason why Ms Gillard is in trouble.     

Friday, February 03, 2012

Rinehart, the media & technological change

Gina Rinehart is Australia's wealthiest person, with an estimated net worth of $A10.3 bilWilcox on Rinehartlion based on the iron ore interests created by her father. She is presently involved in  a court case with some of her children over control of a family trust.

  A suppression order has been in place preventing reporting of the details. Now court action over the suppression order itself has revealed some details.

Reading Louise Hall's story on this in the Sydney Morning Herald left me feeling rather sad.  The Wilcox cartoon is from that story. As is so often the case, the dispute is about money, with the suppression order linked to fears over security. I quote:

The NSW Supreme Court was told a risk assessment of the family by an international security firm, Control Risks, found reporting of the legal dispute over control of the multibillion-dollar family trust would increase the likelihood of abduction and kidnap for ransom, robbery, protest and harassment from ''criminals, deranged individuals and issue-motivated groups''.

Ms Rinehart's dislike of publicity is well known. For that reason, her foray into the Australian media starting with Channel Ten and now her purchase of a 10 per cent interest in Fairfax Media raised some eyebrows. Now in a piece in the ABC's The Drum by Alan Kohler provides an interesting personal perspective. Mr Kohler worked at one point for Ms Rinehart's father.

While the personal observations were interesting, I was more interested in Alan Kohler's perspective on Fairfax Media itself. I quote:   

As for buying 235 million Fairfax shares at 81.8 cents as an investment - it's a Roulette play, in my view.

Either CEO Greg Hywood pulls it off and Fairfax makes a profitable transition to being a digital company, or he doesn't and the company goes back into receivership and shareholders lose everything. There isn't any middle ground, in my view.

And even if he does pull it off, the stock is unlikely to be a short-term ten-bagger: there are far better speculative plays in the industry Gina Rinehart knows best.

The digital transition for all traditional media companies is more about survival than riches. It's about figuring out how to go from high margins to low margins, not the other way around.

I mentioned in an earlier post that my train reading at present was Rod Kirkpatrick's Country Conscience: A History of the New South Wales Provincial Press 1841-1995. One of the things that I found interesting in that book was the way in which changes in technology have so affected the newspaper press over such a long period.

I am still getting my mind around some of this because I want to build those changes and their effects into my historical writing, and I need to be able to explain things simply.

I have indicated before that I don't necessarily share current pessimism about the future of newspapers, although I agree that people have yet to define a business model that works in the internet age. Having some sense of history is actually quite helpful in considering current media puzzles.

As human beings, we are hard wired towards stability. We need this at a personal level. So when changes take place in what we see as the natural order of things, there is a sense of shock.

The role, organisation and indeed style of the newspaper press has varied greatly over the last 150 years. Take an apparently simple thing, the writing. This has actually changed quite considerably reflecting technology, economic circumstances and the patterns of human life.

As an example, consider the headline. Today this may stretch across columns, even dominate a whole page. This type of headline wasn't possible in the past. The printing technology made it difficult.

Or consider the use of short sentences and paragraphs with the most important point placed first. Newsprint was in short supply during the Second World War, leading to cuts in the size of papers. This required compression in writing and forced changes in the way that stories were written. This wasn't the only reason, but it did contribute to longer term change.

So the latest changes are just another step in a continuing change process. Whether they will in fact be as dramatic as some past changes remains to be seen.       

Thursday, February 02, 2012

End month stats - a few interesting past posts

Sometimes I'm just not sure what to write about. I may have no ideas. More often, I have several things running around in my mind. That's actually worse! Then I tend to ramble. stats Jan 12 2

It's end month time. The chart shows the visit stats to end January (yellow) plus page views (yellow plus red). Pretty stable, but up a bit.

There is a growing discrepancy between the site metre and google stats. Google shows a steady rise, but I think that this reflects a rising number of spam visits.

Some of the referrals I find on Google are quite odd. I don't understand, for example, why a Russian sex site should be sending me traffic!

Usually I list the most popular posts in the month. But that actually includes a lot of posts there just because of the title that really aren't worth a visit. Instead, here are three popular posts in the last month that may be worth a visit:

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Use and abuse of modelling

In a comment on Navigating the economic forecasting mess, regular commenter kvd pointed me to this piece by Ross Gittins, Damned lies and economic modelling. kvd asked; "Are you moonlighting for Ross Gittens? .. When I read this I could almost swear I've read very similar things right here!"

Over at Winton Bates' place, a strongly favourable comment here on Ross Gittins' writing from another regular commenter, Evan, inspired Where is Ross Gittins coming from? It's kind of a Gittins phase at the moment!

kvd is right, of course, because I have been hammering away at the misuse of modelling as part of my analysis of just what's wrong with current approaches to management and public policy. The Gittins piece is worth reading because it's a very clear exploration of one aspect of the problem.