Melbourne Grogblogging - June 16th
Russell Degnan

And so it has come to this. Certain shady figures from the Melbourne blogging underworld are trying to gain some legitimacy. Come, drink, be awkward amongst people whose blogs you've kind of heard of but not read, and...

Meet the pillars of the Melbourne blogging community *

Friday June 16th, 6:30ish
Lincoln Hotel
(cnr Queensberry and Cardigan St.)

Meals are available at the pub and are generally good.

The Lincoln closes around 11pm, but plans are afoot to stay out later. If you plan to turn up very late, drop me an email or comment and I'll give you contact details.

* Actual pillars may be less impressive than pictured.

Passing Fancy 30th May, 2006 12:09:57   [#] [11 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CXXIV, May 2006
Russell Degnan

I seem to have run out of leaves. Taken July 2004

Melbourne Town 29th May, 2006 21:48:22   [#] [0 comments] 

What Was Left - Clare Bowditch and the Feeding Set
Russell Degnan

What was Left begins with silence. Not a pretentious John Cage silence, but a slow recording of someone walking up to a door, rattling keys and then opening it to a strumming guitar. It is terribly appropriate, because the mood of this album is not a studio, nor even a pub, but the back porch of a home in the inner/middle suburbs of Melbourne.

While you listen, you seem to be half-laying in a cushioned wicker chair, looking at a tree half shorn of leaves but still trying to flower, a slightly over-grown lawn, and an old-fashioned steel hills-hoist.

It begins to rain. A steady rain, not so heavy as to be unpleasant, but too heavy to go out in; the kind that dribbles over gutters full of autumn leaves in mid spring.

Inside, someone is playing drums, or either a piano or an old organ. Clare sings, while others play or sing along dreamily, on a french horn, a viola, or anything else that comes to hand.

Between songs, you discuss anything that comes to mind: books read, politics, food, familial relations, places to go and places been, and the health and well-being of mutual acquaintances.

This goes on all afternoon.

There is nothing particularly brilliant about this album, but it is pleasant, in the seamless transition from song to song, and its rich, soft sound. They will never be the world's most popular artists, but they add something to the milieu, and it is good stuff -- when the mood takes you.

Track Highlights
Lips Like Oranges - The loudest of a lot of quiet songs, full of changes.
Winding Up - A good vocal song, with just drums for company for the most part.
Divorcee by 23 - One of the singles, and a worthy one. Typical in its drift, instead of movement from part to part.
Little Self Centred Queen - A simpler song, which helps give it some pop sensibilities.

Finer Things 26th May, 2006 22:08:00   [#] [4 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CXXIII, May 2006
Russell Degnan

Continuing the theme -- the Fitzroy Gardens. Taken May 2006

Melbourne Town 23rd May, 2006 01:15:06   [#] [7 comments] 

Not what they claim. Not even what they think.
Russell Degnan

Normally I like to be largely analytic when i talk about transport issues, but following the release of the State Government Transport Policy and its associated spin, many, many, people have made analytical comments. And so I will merely rant, and we'll see where we end up.

"For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose." - "On Bullshit" - Harry Frankfurt

"For the past 6 years, the Victorian Government has taken
strong action and made major new investments to build
a modern, safe and reliable transport network across
Victoria" - Steve Bracks

"the most comprehensive, far-sighted transport plan Victoria has seen since Robert Hoddle laid out the grid for Melbourne's CBD in 1837." - Steve Bracks

Bracks must have something against Melbourne's transport planners, since he hasn't been able to find one august enough to share his lofty perch, without travelling all the way back to the beginning. And yet, to choose Hoddle makes some sense, because Hoddle was a man after Bracks' heart.

Except for a few streets in and around the CBD, Hoddle did almost nothing for Melbourne. And even that was hardly a glowing achievement. Melbourne's laneways aren't there because of some hankering after dark alleys; they are there because Hoddle's grid was inflexible; not to mention, drab, boring, and unsuitable for a 'place'. But why let incompetence stop at the drawing board; like Bracks' plans -- the last of which was so poor as to be only fit for swatting government ministers -- Hoddle's grid was hardly a symbol of competent road management. Almost twenty years after it was built, it was common for local drunks to drown on one of its flooded corners, tree stumps and their roots still dotted the road surface, and holes mixed with mud and manure, or if you were lucky, dust and manure. The manure was a constant.

But why stop at a little bit of bullshit when you can have a lot?

Do a half line upgrades and a few new stations over 20 years, and a few new bus lines really constitute a comprehensive and far-sighted transport plan? And if so, how should we really rate other far-sighted and comprehensive Victorian travel plans? Like the decision in 1890 to extend the country and metropolitan rail system an extra 4,600 miles. Insane, sure, but you have to say it is pretty far-sighted. Or the 1970 Transport Plan, that proposed, and then actually did a fair job of building, 300 miles of freeways; but also, three new rail lines, an extension, a city loop, dozens of electrifications and duplications; a half dozen new tram lines; and a 64% increase in bus route length. Only in the current government does not doing anything for 20 years count as far-sighted.

But you know what else is good about the 1970 plan? Well, for one, they actually told us about their methodology. They measured where people would live, how many would own cars, where they travelled, where they might. Sure, a lot of those predictions were self-fulfilling prophecies for increased car use. But it was damn good planning.

Nor does the 1970 plan bombard you with costs. It has them, on the second and third last pages. But this government is obsessed with telling you how much they are spending, as if its a bloody achievement to piss tax-payer money against a wall. I bought a train ticket to Spencer St. from Sydney last year, where in the process of telling me that there would be interruptions, it also managed to tell me they would cost "$700 million". And this plan is full of this crap. Practically the first thing it says is that it all cost $10.5 billion, as if in twenty years that will be accurate, and as if that is somehow relevant.

And finally, the 1970 plan doesn't waste page after page with implementation details. Because it knew that was a political decision, that priorities, like governments change, that costs go up and down, that things need to be approved, land acquisitioned, and that government agencies could do that for themselves, in their own time, and under their own budget. Could that is, until John Cain Jr. pillaged them. They were as centralised then as they are now, except at least then, they had some sense of their role (like say, running trains). What does the DOI see its role as? Is it, perchance, a publishing company? Because that's what they seem to spend their time doing.

"The MTP identified and examined 4 key transport challenges: safety, managing congestion, metropolitan growth, and support for economic development."

"This substantial program of investment in transport infrastructure and services should not be seen as an exhaustive list of projects, but as a strong framework upon which this and future governments can build as new needs and challenges arise."

Call me an old engineer. But planning has declined markedly since engineering principles got taken out of the central frame. You see, the beauty of an engineering approach, is that everything is seen as a problem, for which one is supposed to propose a solution. It is very simple. Engineers are very simple. This is why engineers do useful things like build bridges, and why planners do complex, but useless things, like determine the optimum height for someone's front fence.

But try and find a specific problem, or even an aim, in the transport document. The closest they come is in the first paragraph above, and they are neither. You can tell they are neither by applying the negation test of our so called challenges: "danger, letting congestion run free, metropolitan shrinkage, and support for economic decline". You see, these are silly. The third would possibly make sense if the city was getting smaller, but otherwise these are neither goals, nor problems, they are abstract, poorly defined, areas to take into consideration while you actually design some real, measurable aims.

And we know that this plan is not comprehensive, nor focused on achieving broad aims, because they tell us, immediately after saying how good they are, in that second paragraph above. Except this is a bald faced lie, because there are no frames in this framework. The whole document is made up of vague motherhood statements about liveable the whole place will be when they are done not implementing anything significant, and a few specific projects. And I mean a few. $10.5 billion over 10 years is peanuts. $1.05 billion per year. Around $500 per household. Or just three and a half times what the average Victorian household spends on transport per week (i.e.. 1/15 of total private transport expenditure).

Which is not to say that some of those projects are not worthwhile. The bike network is an excellent idea; the reserve fund might be, but could also be an accounting trick; late night trams and trains are good; traffic priority measures for trams likewise (although they talked about them in 1970 too); grade separations are long overdue, but still under-funded; some freeway improvements will help, and the country arterials will too (as soon as they learn to spell the Calder Freeway).

But the question is, help what? The implementation is all mixed up with the methodology, and the planning, and the resourcing, and the goal setting. I am sure there are engineers down at the DOI. And I am sure they have those project management diagrams somewhere, with the big feedback loop. Have these been ignored completely, or are there 400 pages of justifications to go with the shopping list?

"Jobs are shifting from the city to the suburbs and regional centres. As a result, more people are travelling from suburb to suburb and regional centre to regional centre, rather than from the suburbs to the city." - Steve Bracks

This statement highlights why a shopping list approach is bad. Job shifts and shopping shifts has been going on for years and years. What matters, is not that it goes on, but how it goes on, because it does so in very specific ways. The automobile has greatly increased our ability to travel across and away from the public transport network, but this pattern is not accidental. Businesses, particularly heavy freight businesses, have placed themselves along major transport routes, because noone in their right mind wouldn't. Chadstone is not in the middle of nowhere, it is smack against one of the busiest roads in the state; Springvale Road is lined with office parks; trams still run down vibrant strip shopping centres; residential growth is strongest along rail-lines and freeways. More importantly, over the time-frame that these transport plans are implemented, the bulk of businesses and new residential development will move much faster, because they can, and they do.

The problem with this plan is not the plan so much. Like all plans it is both good and bad: better than the last, but still lacking in any direction. The problem is it doesn't even try and set some sort of goal; and more specifically, some sort of measurable goal. The only (now unstated) goal for transport in Melbourne is to get 20% public transport use by 2020, which is not a useful goal anyway. Things need to be a whole lot simpler than that.

What Melbourne needs, first, is a sense of what we expect. In terms that people care about, which is not the mode of travel, but the time to travel, the level of comfort, the convenience, and the safety level. All of which are specific to geography, and must be integrated with other, also somewhat relevant but equally ignored plans. Not that hard, and a fairly useful first step towards breaking out of the current piece-meal, practically unplanned, reactive approach of which this document is a classic example.

Sterner Matters 21st May, 2006 02:11:54   [#] [5 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CXXII, May 2006
Russell Degnan

Not terribly Monday, but I'm busy with homework, or something. This time the colours of Flagstaff Gardens. Taken May 2006

Melbourne Town 17th May, 2006 19:37:21   [#] [1 comment] 

Shaping reactions through systems
Russell Degnan

Previously, I've argued that the way we do planning in Victoria is producing a lot of negative side-effects. In a way, this is a harsh assessment. Not because it isn't, but because the system itself is built on the two foundation stones of liberal democracy: the right to a fair trial; and having decisions made by elected representatives.

The issue, is that both of these are very conservative ways of approaching democracy, created by (for the most part) lawyers, for lawyers, based on adversarial positions, and (in general) winner-takes-all decision making. And while this can be appropriate, it is not necessarily always appropriate, and planning, being a highly subjective area, is one of them.

The planning system in Victoria (shorn of the few additions that have tried to ameliorate this problem) is relatively straight-forward:

You submit an application

From this point onwards, the planner and the process is in control of the application. This is the first problem. As any contractor will tell you, people have no sense of time; once something is submitted they will bug you day and night for completion; if it is in their hands they will sit on it indefinitely. In the interests of keeping people in the process, it makes sense for them to be in control of it, and not a planner/bureaucrat.

The plans are checked for consistency and sufficiency

There is nothing wrong with consistent and complete plans per se. The problem here is the approach. By setting up a dialog between the planner and the developer the plans are finalised without input from affected parties. The planner can add to this process, and the plans can be modified a little later, but it locks things in to early.

The plans are advertised to potentially affected parties

On the surface, this is important. In reality, like any piece of advertising, it serves to encourage behaviour -- an objection -- which isn't actually what you want. For preference, nobody would object. It also, again, creates the adversarial roles when both sides, generally have an interest in a good outcome.

In light of comments made, the plans are negotiated, assessed, and then decided upon

Once again, the public, and the proponent are removed from the process. Except, by this stage, large numbers of people have a vested interest in the outcome. Any system that makes a decision -- as any planning system must -- cannot avoid this; but the system, as constituted encourages the escalating political dog-fight that controversial applications tend to become. Politics and good planning outcomes are not anathema, but nor are they necessarily optimal.

The decision can (potentially) be appealed to VCAT

The final fun stage, when everyone lawyers up and goes at it. This process favours people with access to funding for lawyers, be they well-mobilised, wealthy, local resident groups, or large coroporations. The process, from go to the court-room woe, is long and unwieldy, and much of the problems lie not in the details people fight over, but in the structure.

There are many ways to do this better, that do engage the community, give planners more guiding power, and less legislative grunt, that avoids adversarial positions, that are more democratic, and less entwined with the legal profession. Nor are they necessarily substantially different to what we have, as is the case in many jurisdictions.

Take, as an unusual example, the creation process for Usenet newsgroups. A process that has worked on a similar scale, of a few hundred people, is similarly voluntary, but which, lying within the largely anarchic culture of the internet, has been designed with weak bureaucracy (though many proponents still argue too much), and strong inclusive principles. It too was relatively simple:

A request for discussion of the new group is posted to relevant places

Note the difference between this and planning. The first point of contact is engaging with the affected parties. These discussions can become heated, but their purpose is to shape the details of the group, based on a series of draft proposals, combining the knowledge of the proponent and their supporters, the 'old-hands' of newsgroup creation (planners if you will) and interested parties (the general public). Discussions period lasts 30 days; in the planning field, discussions could be longer or shorter, depending on the complexity of the project, and the time it takes to shape a consistent and sufficient plan together.

A call for votes is initiated

The call for votes is, or rather was, designed to ensure the newsgroup has sufficient membership to support itself. It required 100 more yes than no votes, and a 2/3 majority to pass. Since I last read news.groups this process has fallen apart, and is in the middle of a rather arcane, and ultimately pointless discussion on how best to do the process by committee, rather than votes. The problem was that 100 people is a lot, especially when you factor in the nay-sayers, and the decline in usenet users, not to mention that 100 people generate more verbosity than you'd probably want anyway.

The point here though, is the way the mechanism produced good outcomes. The votes that failed for other reasons, generally did so because they were fundamentally flawed, or made changes that, even if slightly irrational, drew people's ire. The advantage of a voting hurdle is that it forces the proponent to draw the community in from the start, rather than down-playing those faults.

Another complication, is that an two-way adverarial system disguises that there are really a dozen or more viewpoints: several council viewpoints, state government, local planning priorities, state planning priorities, traffic planning, local residents, external (sometime/visiting) residents, business groups, community groups, and the unfortunate proponent.

There is strength in that diversity, provided ideas are fleshed out, which at the moment, with planners subject to councils, and developers and residents facing off from each other, they are not.

So what am I proposing?

1. Objections and their responses should be discussed openly, between the proponent and objectors, not through the planner.
2. Vast swathes of the planning system should be automated, and made acessible online, including any discussions.
3. Planners should be divorced from decision making, and confined to decision guiding. The reasons for their advice should be examined publically.
4. In order to engage people who aren't out and out nutters, developers should be encouraged to get people to register interest in their proposal.
5. Interested parties should be allowed a direct -- though not conclusive -- say in the final proposal.
6. Either all decisions should be made by an independent legal body, or all decisions should be made by a sub-collective of relevant parties. Not both, and not one before the other.

Like in usenet, decisions are never as important as they might seem at the time. But under the present system, the way we interact encourages misunderstanding and negativity. And there are relatively subtle changes that could be made -- many of these would not involve changing the planning act -- that would make a substantial difference to this interaction, and the end result.

Sterner Matters 17th May, 2006 04:53:35   [#] [3 comments] 

The best searches money can buy
Russell Degnan

(via Marginal Revolution) Google has a new toy, showing trends in news and searches. Fun, fun. Neither searches nor news are necessarily related to importance, and common terms will dominate, but I am sure this could be useful for something.

And tourism could be one of those things. Because searches indicate interest. With that in mind, here are Australia's major cities

On the news front, Sydney got good press during the Athens Olympics, and bad press in December 2005. Melbourne got a jump during the tennis, the grand prix, and this year, from the Commonwealth Games (albeit less than from the Australian Open).

But in the searches, it is mostly noise, with Sydney well ahead but for one brief period a year.

And what event is it that, more than anything else, puts Melbourne's name on the google search map?

If searches mean anything, than nothing else comes close to the Melbourne Cup.

The linked search there shows three other interesting trends (assuming the data is broadly accurate, which is not necessarily true):

- "Australia" is declining as a search term
- "Australia" is increasing as a news term
- After New Zealand, Singapore and India are the main origins of Australian searches

Update: After more playing, it becomes obvious that pretty much any sporting event known to man will have a flood of Australian searches for it. Particularly from Perth and Brisbane. But the Australian city most interested in "Ashes cricket"...

...Canberra. Ah, this is fun.

Passing Fancy 11th May, 2006 23:12:09   [#] [3 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CXXI, May 2006
Russell Degnan

Melbourne is normally too warm in early Autumn for colour. This year: not brilliant, but not bad. Taken May 2006

Melbourne Town 9th May, 2006 00:13:11   [#] [2 comments] 

Ratings - May 2006
Russell Degnan

Sri Lanka v Pakistan
Opening Ratings: Sri: 1074.84 Pak: 1152.03
1st Test: Drawn
2nd Test: Pakistan by 8 wickets
Closing Ratings: Sri: 1046.93 Pak: 1183.32

One nice thing about playing cricket at these ridiculous times of year is it brings to mind the days of uncovered wickets, unplayable pitches, and amazing results. The first test was a classic example here. The first day lost to rain, the second and third, 14 and 8 wickets fall respectively. Then on the last two days, the pitch turned into a belter, Sangakkara and Shoaib Malik cracked (slow) tons, just 7 wickets fell in the last two days and the game was a tame draw. The second test barely made the half way mark. Sri Lanka (Sangakkara again) making a solid start, and Muralitharan earning them a big lead, before Mohammad Asif followed up his first innings performance, with help from Abdul Razzaq to bowl the Lankies out for 73! Insane as that was, Pakistan cruised to victory with Younis Khan and Imran Farhat doing the job. That takes the Pakistani rating to its highest level since 1997/98, albeit in third. Sri Lanka remain in 6th.

Bangladesh v Australia
Opening Ratings: Ban: 601.18 Aus: 1377.72
1st Test: Australia by 3 wickets
2nd Test: Australia by innings and 80 runs
Closing Ratings: Ban: 598.51 Aus: 1379.29

Some teams arrive at their first significant victory in a flash of unexpected glory - the birth of the Ashes for example. Others fall over the line after years of exhausting effort. Bangladesh have no excuse for not achieving the first, having wasted not one, but two golden chances, against Pakistan, and now Australia. Insane schedulign or otherwise, Australia were spanked on the first day by Shahriar Nafees and co., and can thank their rested bowlers in MacGill and Gillespie for the chance to win at all. Gilchrist's first innings ton was a welcome return to form, and Ponting's in the second was a superb captain's knock. Mohammad Rafique can count himself unlucky to be on the losing side, but the reality is, Bagladesh need to be more than spirited gamblers. Their tail contributed a grand total of 50 runs, against Australia's 250 with wickets to spare. Close, but not good enough.

In the second, the extraordinary sight of a Gillespie double century over-shadowed his continued good bowling, and that of MacGill and Warne who ground down the Bangladeshi batsmen to make it an easy win. Neither side will probably be happy with how they played in the end; Bangladesh because they should have won the first test, and dropped their bundle in the second. Australia, because it was really one tour too far. Not too much to read into the performances, although again, Bangladesh can be encouraged.

South Africa v New Zealand
Opening Ratings: SAF: 1084.75 NZ: 1050.90
1st Test: South Africa by 128 runs
2nd Test: Drawn
3rd Test: South Africa by 4 wickets
Closing Ratings: SAF: 1101.97 AUS: 1028.90

A part of me has no sympathy for these two sides. I often, if not always, have to play on damp pitches and dark conditions at the start of a season. Another part says the collection of pie-chuckers I face are a different prospect to Ntini and Steyn, even if they have a passing resemblance to the New Zealand attack. It is a wonder any of these games finished, given they were off the field for light most days, but dew ridden pitches can help. If South Africa have an assuming top order, New Zealand seem to lack one at all. Cop this for half their efforts: 6/89, 6/28, 7/82. A Fleming double hundred on a drawn road aside, only the gutsy effort in the second innings of the third test was even remotely respectable. The runs, when they came, coming from Franklin, Oram and Vettori.

Franklin and Mills bowled well, but lacked the penetration of Ntini and Steyn, leaving Smith and Kallis, along with Amla and Prince, to carry the day. These games were low scoring, so they look closer than they were. Ultimately though, South Africa are not that good, and have dropped into fifth. But New Zealand are worse, which is becoming a problem.

Forthcoming Series:

England (1213.19) v Sri Lanka (1046.93) - 3 Tests.

England have had their problems during the southern summer, but they should romp this in. Sri Lanka are a one man bowling attack, and a three man batting lineup. England, despite having some questionable batting, are very good in the bowling ranks, particularly at home, and will score the runs. A draw is always possible in early summer, but a Sri Lankan win will surprise.

India (4th) 1142.25
West Indies (8th) 812.76
Zimbabwe (9th) 672.64

Idle Summers 8th May, 2006 01:33:53   [#] [0 comments] 

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