01 April 2014 

Melbourne Ride to Conquer Cancer 2014 needs riders

Last year I successfully completed the 200 km Ride to Conquer Cancer in Melbourne. Thanks mainly to friends, I was able to raise $6,400 for Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Living with metastatic prostate cancer, I rely on this public hospital.

Although I remain fit enough to ride again this year, I don’t want to press the generosity of my friends further. Instead, I have decided to participate as a crew member.

However, the Ride succeeds by the number of Riders it attracts. Last year we were down a bit on numbers, and I hope this year will see an increase. The Ride is in October. If you were planning to do the Around the Bay in a Day ride, consider doing this Ride instead. It certainly would mean more to me.

Watch the video above to learn more about the Ride to Conquer Cancer. Contact me if you want more information. Then follow this link to sign up!

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29 March 2014 

Igniting a deliberative social movement

This is a discussion that public participation professionals and academics need to have.

…attempts to label the responses – as “civic engagement,” “collaborative governance,” “deliberative democracy,” or “public work” – or to articulate them as one movement or policy agenda under a heading like “civic renewal” or “stronger democracy” – immediately spark debates about substance, strategy, and language…. Though it is clear we have many principles and practices in common, we differ on what we should call this work and where it is headed. In order for “overlapping civic coalitions” to form, the potential partners would have to work through goals, assumptions, and differences.

Frontiers of Democracy 2014 Conference at Tufts University, July 16-18, 2014, Boston, MA

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13 March 2014 

Research as Social Construction: Transformative Inquiry

During my journey towards PhD I attempted to adopt a social constructionist stance. However, since I was not in charge of the overall research agenda, the extent of my engagement as a constructionist communicator and inquirer was limited.

Social construction is not a well-known or accepted research stance. Instead, empiricists tend to adhere to the ‘objective’ prescriptions of the scientific method, discounting alternative methods that explore subjective and emergent aspects of a situation. The interpretive subjectivity and contextual framing that are inevitably invoked in any observation are denied in the quest for ‘evidence-based’ conclusions. Most believe that you have messed up your research if you actually get involved with your subjects. Some who facilitate appreciative inquiry, a well-practised constructionist method, still cling to the need for ‘independent’ research methods about it. But committed social constructionists like me reject this demand.

Furthermore, public deliberation can be seen, following the constructionist stance, as a research method for citizens to determine public policy settings. Yet the academy that invented deliberative democracy as a new form of governance generally continues to privilege the position of researchers over the citizens who are ostensibly handed the decision-making power. This is a contradiction. Our job should be to facilitate the deliberation and trustworthiness of participating citizens as the trustees of public research. Public acceptance of their process and findings is the ultimate evaluation.

Prof Sheila McNamee has written extensively about constructionist approaches, especially in health care practices which address questions about pragmatic and relational concerns.

Her article “Research as Social Construction: Transformative Inquiry” (2010), published in the Brazilian academic journal Saúde & Transformação Social (Health and Social Transformation) provides one of the most accessible and succinct outlines of social constructionist research that I have encountered. Highly recommended reading.

View a copy of her article: http://goo.gl/NtyMqk

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19 December 2013 

'Like' isn't good enough

Facebook only has a ‘Like’ button (it wasn’t introduced to Facebook until 2009). This supports the old adage that “if you have nothing good to say about something, then say nothing at all.” People who like to call others names because they think differently would reduce Facebook to a social hell. And advertisers on Facebook will face more scorn than they’d be willing to put up with. So aside of creating a virtual world that is as angry and unsustainable as the real world we are escaping from, I don’t understand the benefit to Facebook or its users of the introduction of the new ‘unlike’ stickers in their chat facility. This probably won’t get much take-up amongst think-alike friends, but will further fuel the popular demand for post and comment ‘Unlike’ buttons in Facebook.

Several friends agree when I suggest that Facebook needs an “Empathise”, “Acknowledge” or “Respect” button. To ‘Like’ somebody’s sadness or distress is just wrong. And if somebody says something that I don’t happen to agree with, I would want to indicate my tolerance of their right to say it. It would be a progressive thing to do. Maybe the shaka or hang-loose would work \…/

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12 December 2013 

Lyn Carson: Improving Democracy with Deliberation

My PhD supervisor Prof Lyn Carson offers good advice about why introducing deliberation into public policy decision making is worthwhile.

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05 December 2013 

Auto-generated metadata

Metadata are the categories that you and your transactions and online activity (like what you ‘like’ on Facebook) are automatically put into, building an ongoing descriptive profile of you. Your location (e.g. nearest mobile cell) is one such category. Grocery corporations with a loyalty card know exactly what kind of shopper you are.

Today while doing online banking, I find a list of all my credit and debit card transactions in a list categorised by transaction type: groceries, fuel, entertainment, clothing, ‘internet shopping’, etc. Then there is a graph showing how I’ve spent my money this past year. On the surface, this seems like a terrific idea. But upon closer inspection, I find that at least half of the category assignments are wrong. A local take-away restaurant meal purchased online is labelled as ‘rent’. My road toll charges are shown as ‘parking’. And unsurprisingly, bank charges by my own bank are put into the ‘miscellaneous’ category.

After spending an hour correcting the categories, I did end up with a list that informed me about my spending patterns (and I’ll be changing some of my behaviours). I wonder if my corrections were actually informing the system, which must maintain a map of merchants and categories? This service is promoted only to help me. I don’t believe that. The metadata is being generated for all bank customers, including the 98% who don’t even know this service is there for them. To whom is this metadata about me being sold? What are the impacts when so much of it is incorrect?

I’ve just written the bank.

Metadata about my spending

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29 October 2013 

Ride to Conquer Cancer Conquered!

I am pleased to report that I completed the 200 km Melbourne Ride to Conquer Cancer without difficulty. It was a relief that my knee, after blowing up ten days earlier, gave me no grief at all.

Day 1 Saturday began at Albert Park Lake with an opening ceremony where it was announced that over $4.3 million dollars were raised for Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

I was then privileged to be introduced to the rostrum to tell a bit of my story, concluding with:

It is their commitment to PROACTIVE cancer research, treatment and care that makes Peter Mac special! That is why I am so happy to be a patient at Peter Mac! That is why we are here today to support Peter Mac!

There was a massive cheer from the 1223 riders who were ready to go, and dozens approached me afterwards and said that my words were motivational. Many riders are cancer survivors, and we either had a yellow flag stick on our bikes, or wore yellow flag pins. There were many teams, including medical staff at Peter Mac, which raised more than $25,000. We led the riders out around the lake and then with a tailwind down along Port Phillip Bay towards Frankston.

The staff, crew and volunteers did a fantastic job catering for us at pit-stops and lunch. The signage and traffic control volunteers made sure we didn’t get lost. In the Mornington Peninsula we rode up some long but gentle hills. The weather held and with the first 100 kms completed, I arrived at Hastings just after 1 pm when the rain started. After checking my bike into the storage pen, I headed straight into the massage tent for some enjoyable pain!

All riders shared 2-person tents set out in rows on a grass field. My duffle-bag arrived by truck and I made myself at home. I felt comfortable enough to go for a quiet walk along the Western Port foreshore, where I knew a handful of geocaches were hidden.

I returned to the main marquee to have many conversations with fellow riders and staff. There were sad stories of relatives and friends lost to cancer, but also inspiring stories from several who had beaten the disease. There were many handshakes, hugs and kisses. There was a presentation by one of the 520 clinical researchers and staff at Peter Mac who explained how the donated funds from the previous Ride had helped her get the equipment she needed for her investigations. The last rider arrived at camp shortly after 5 pm, and was given a mighty cheer. By 8 pm I was well fed and talked out, so retired to much-needed sleep. Apparently there were a few riders trying to sleep in nearby tents who didn’t bring earplugs!

On Day 2 Sunday we awoke at stupid o’clock to amplified announcements. After a quick breakfast we packed our gear up. I had feared that I would be terribly foggy, as is my typical morning state without testosterone. But at 6:40 am I was alert and on my bike heading back towards the City.

It was drizzling and cold, but I had gloves, goggles and two warm layers under my Ride jersey. I was in much better condition than I had expected. Without too much effort, I managed the hills across the Mornington Peninsula, but kept to low gears and didn’t fuss about the speedsters overtaking me.

I got a headache, which surprised me since I was keeping myself hydrated. Then I realised that in my rush I’d missed my morning coffee! Doh! Into the medical tent at lunch to get some paracetamol!

Once we got past a cruel hill at Mt Eliza (where I could not stand up and peddle without losing grip on wet pavement) and some inclines into Frankston, it was a 45 km flat-line to the end. The sun was out by then too, which lifted everyone’s spirits. Sail-boats were out on Port Phillip Bay, but the wind was light and not into my smiling face.

I stopped at every pit-stop to fuel up and chat with other riders and the volunteers, who continued to offer fantastic encouragement. It was so wonderful to be surrounded by happy, gregarious people, which really motivated me to rise to the occasion.

At the final stop only 18 kms from home, I rang my good friend Ray to hurry himself and his truck to the finish because I was arriving much earlier than expected. At 11 am I coasted under the finish gantry and big screen where MC Meredith (who’d introduced me at the start) gave me a huge welcome to the cheers of everyone waiting for their loved ones.

I was certainly spent by the end, as was evident when a video camera was pointed at me and nothing came out of my mouth at all! I think I eventually said good things, but I have no recollection! I was chuffed to be greeted with hugs from a former neighbour, and then Ray arrived to get me home and serve me beer from his esky. What a champion!

Thank you to everyone who supported me in this ride and donated to Peter Mac! I think a couple of postal donations are still to be accounted, but to date my campaign has reached $6,140, which is well over my target. While I was on the road, I received many SMS and Facebook messages of encouragement from all over the world, which really lifted me.

That 200 km course was the longest I’ve ever ridden in two days. I now know that the tracking on my website didn’t work as advertised, but at least you know where we went. Technology, meh! Due to my training and a light-weight road bike, I didn’t have to spend nearly as long as most riders on the saddle. The final finisher came through five hours after me.

The strain we put ourselves through on the Ride is symbolic of the physical and mental strain that we face enduring difficult cancer treatment. Having spent a weekend surrounded by people who exuded happiness with every breath, even when having to work much harder than me, I am determined now to keep that positive energy up and worry a little less about my own dilemmas.

I don’t plan on fund-raising and riding again next year, but I will definitely work for the Ride to Conquer Cancer in some capacity. After all, I am depending on Peter Mac for my survival.

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26 September 2013 

EZProxy Chrome extension updated

Last year I was caught out when Google changed their internal API for Chrome extension developers. Next week, they are forcing everyone to move to a new manifest format (a file delivered to Google that lists everything in the package). Again, completely by accident, I discovered that Google was about to de-list my EZProxy product because it didn’t conform to the new order. That just sucks—how hard is it to send out an email?

EZProxy helps university students more easily access academic journals electronically. It transforms the sort of URLs provided by Google Scholar (for example) which bars free access, into URLs that go through their university library system which grants free access to registered, logged-in students. EZProxy is a useful companion to the Zotero bibliography system.

My new version lets you toggle the proxy URL extension on and off, which is useful to many users. There are currently about 4000 users of my extension.

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28 August 2013 

How to vote in the Australian federal election

Antony Green, an authority on electoral systems and voting employed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, provides advice on how to cast your votes at the Sept 7 federal election. House of Reps is easy, but the Senate election is fraught, with dozens of candidates and single-issue parties for each state (we use the Single Transferable Vote system). Do as he suggests.

Did you know:

The instructions say you must fill in every square, but the savings provision of the act require that only 90% of the squares be filled in, and will allow a maximum of three sequencing errors. A sequencing error is any doubling up of numbers and any break in the number sequence.

If you want to be ultra safe, fill in below the line and the fill in one of the above the line squares. The below the line vote takes priority, but if proves to be informal, the ballot paper will revert to the above the line option.

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23 July 2013 

Deplorable reporting of Adelaide Citizens' Jury

This is the miserable way that Channel Nine News chooses to report on the Citizens’ Jury that The newDemocracy Foundation is convening on behalf of the South Australian Government.

Nowhere in this news report is the activity of public deliberation explained, nor how policy formation can benefit by such processes. The description given is so vague that the viewer is left with the impression that it has no real purpose. This is just shameful.

The report shows participants saying that it is “an interesting experiment” (no, it is a very real process that should be taken seriously) but political commitment may be lacking (no, the State Government is keen to expand its take-up of public engagement). We also hear from a female participant in a funny hat giving a Utopian response. Why were more informative and positive interviews not shown?

The mouthpiece for the conservative Opposition is handed a platform by Channel Nine to smear it as a “stunt”, a waste of taxpayers money and a dereliction of leadership. He complains that Government representatives weren’t in attendance—why on earth should they be?

There is no doubt that the cadet reporter set out to create a negative narrative about the Citizens’ Jury, with no interest in accepting the facts about it, or understanding its usefulness.

How can a social movement towards deliberative democracy be launched that sidesteps such ignorant prejudice by mainstream media?

The Citizens’ Jury is not over yet. I hope the Government stands up and applauds the diligent work of the participating citizens. I wish newDemocracy well in promoting deliberative public engagement despite the nasty barriers.

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