Posts Tagged‘australia’

Same Sex Marriage Really Isn’t That Scary People.

Sometimes I just can’t help myself. Yesterday I was linked to a particular website by one of my friends, a place which I’ve mentioned in the past and I’ve refrained (and will continue to refrain) from linking to because I don’t think they deserve anymore air time than they’re currently getting. Funnily enough I have quite a history with them, having run up against them several times during my involvement with the No Clean Feed movement and my endless blathering about the R18+ rating in Australia. Still like a driver slowly passing by a crash site I couldn’t help myself when I clicked the link provided to me, seeing a world that I didn’t believe existed.

It seems that the latest thorn in this particular lobby group’s side is the channel 7 program Sunrise. Whilst I have my reservations about that program, mostly because whilst Koch is a great financial commentator his opinion on everything else isn’t so informed and they committed the cardinal sin of making seem like climate change is still in debate, their support of a campaign for marriage equality does net them some brownie points in my eyes. This has, of course, rattled the lobby group’s cage somewhat sending them into a furor that all fundamental groups seem to get in when there’s the threat that them gays might be able to wed each other. Usually I just write it off as people taking the bible a little too seriously and are happy to leave it at that. However this time around I found ignorance on a whole new level, something that I just couldn’t let stand.

Primarily the issue I take is when people use “facts”, things that I can easily find out with 5 minutes of Googling and reference checking, to support their point of view when the reality of the situation is that those “facts” are nothing but pure ignorance and speculation on their part. Take for instance the statistics surrounding support for marriage equality in Australia. There have been a number of opinion polls done over the past 5 years or so and in all of them there has been a majority of support for it by the public. The most recent polls have shown approval for marriage equality up around 68% and a survey conducted by the House of Representatives which received 276,000 responses had an approval rating of 64.3%. Looking at the comments on various articles regarding Sunrise’s support of marriage equality would have you thinking the inverse but the fact of the matter is the majority of Australians support same sex marriage.

The second, and by far more disturbing, trend of thought is that the right to marry is somehow not a human right. Check the United Nations, you know the place with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and have a gander at article 16 where it states in no uncertain terms that the right to marry applies to all humans. Funnily enough the sacrosanct tenant that  marriage is solely between a man and a woman doesn’t seem to apply here either, just that they be of age and both consenting to it. Thinking that the right to marry isn’t a human right isn’t just factually wrong its quite abhorrent as you’re classifying the entire LGBTI movement as somehow not human.

I’m a married man myself and personally I have a real hard time understanding why the government’s definition of marriage matters so much to these people. I can understand why they’re outraged, a book told them that those other kinds of people can’t do that, but what the government declares as marriage (did you know being defacto is, in essence, the same as being married in the government’s eyes?) really doesn’t affect that definition at all. At the same time does leveling the marriage playing field affect your current (and future) marriages in any appreciable way? I really struggle to find any and would love to know how it would.

Usually the next argument I see brought forth is “But think of the children!” usually followed by a ream of reasons why children brought up in non-traditional marriage situations are somehow worse off. There have been numerous studies showing that children raised in LGBTI couples are just as psychologically healthy and well adjusted as their counterparts raised in traditional families. Saying anything to the contrary ignores the decades, yes decades, worth of study and research that’s been done into this very question. The truth of the matter is that the gender, co-habitation status, sexuality and number of parents play a small role compared to actual qualities of the parents and their relationship with each other and their children.

I know I’m probably preaching to the choir here as my generation (who seem to make up the majority of my readership) are quite comfortable with the idea of marriage equality. Still even I was taken aback by some of the comments made by the opponents, comments that I would have had no straight answer to had I been asked them in person. So hopefully if you meet someone who opposes marriage equality for the reasons shown above you can hopefully reason with them a little bit. Of course if its a belief derived from religious grounds then you’re on your own with that one, but suffice to say if they try to hit you with any of these “facts” you can at least call them on their bullshit.

You Just Lost a Customer, Razer.

I like to think of myself as a good customer, having spent a good 6 years on the other side of the consumer equation. Whilst I might be ruthless in my product selection once your product is past that hurdle you’re guaranteed a whole bunch of free marketing from me, usually in the form of recommendations to my friends and sometimes even here on this blog. It’s not much but I’ll be damned if I haven’t swayed dozens of people to products that I’ve bought solely on my recommendation. It goes both ways though so if your product (or business practices) are terrible then you can be assured I’ll be voting with my wallet and encouraging others to do so.

Today, I’m going to do exactly that.

So for my birthday last year my loving wife bought me one of the TRON keyboards from Razer. It’s a very pretty keyboard but it’s unfortunately not all that great for gaming thanks to the extraordinarily large keys and tendency for the keys to get stuck in the on position when several are pressed together. Figuring that it would make a great keyboard for either my spare test machine or media PC I set about looking for a potential replacement keyboard, something more suited to my main purpose of gaming.

I had heard good things about the Razer series of mechanical keyboards. These are preferred for gaming due to their distinct actuation points rather than the rubber domes that are common on most keyboards today (including the TRON keyboard I have now). They’re also renowned for being quite loud due to their mechanical action and the keyboard I had my eye on, the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate  is known for having some of the loudest keys around thanks to Cherry MX Blue¹ type switches. Razer does make the same keyboard in a stealth option which uses the quieter MX Brown switches, something that I’d prefer to have so I don’t get driven insane by the loud clicking.

So of course I started looking around for somewhere to get the keyboard. Strange though all my usual sites don’t seem to stock it, but they do stock every other keyboard. Frustrated I check Razer’s store and it’s available through there for US$139.99. Googling around reveals that the stealth version is exclusive to the Razer online store. Fair enough I thought, the price is a little on the high side but it’s one of those things that you buy once and don’t replace for a good while. Attempting to follow the order screen through to see how much the total would be lead me to a brick wall, not being able to ship it to Australia.

Undeterred I saw that they had an Australian version of the store and the keyboard was available in there. The price, however, was no where near what I expected being a whopping $90 greater than its USA counterpart. Now Australia is renowned for getting gouged on pretty much everything, including in places where distribution doesn’t matter like Steam, but I still don’t tolerate companies that do it. Frustrated I tweeted at Razer about it, hoping for some kind of response but alas I got nothing. I could use a remailer service to get the keyboard here but then I’d be giving my money to a company that obviously doesn’t respect its customers enough to price their products fairly.

So instead I went looking elsewhere for a similar product and not 5 minutes later did I come across the Corsair K90 which ticks all the same boxes and has the better Cherry MX Red switches to boot. It might be more expensive than the stealth Razer in the USA but it’s available here from pretty much everywhere. Corsair also have a history of not treating their customers like crap either, I’ve sent several sticks of faulty memory back to them only to get better memory in return. I’m more than happy to give them my money, especially when it means not giving any more to Razer.

Will Razer respond to this post? Probably not, but it needs to be known that Razer have no respect for Australian consumers if it’s trying to pull crap like this. I’m doing the only thing a consumer can: voice their discontent and then vote with their wallet. If enough people don’t put up with these kind of shenanigans then maybe one day we’ll be able to buy products in Australia at fair market prices rather than at the garbage, price gouging levels we get today.

¹If you’re wondering what the hell I’m on about here check out this guide to mechanical keyboards on overlock.net to get the low down on the different types.

Building Australia’s Silicon Valley (or The NBN Gambit).

It may come as a surprise to you to find out that Australia is a predominately service base industry. Whilst it’s hard to argue that we’ve enjoyed the benefits of the current mining boom Australia’s GDP is still predominately derived from our service industry, to the tune of 69% (pg. 134). Still the current prosperity and insulation from global economic crises that Australia has received from the growing mining sector won’t last forever and now is the time for us to start looking towards the future so we can ensure future economic prosperity. I strongly believe that we’ve already undertaken the first steps towards achieving this with the implementation of the National Broadband Network.

Australia as it stands today suffers from an incredible amount of skill drain to other countries. Well over half of the Australian residents who leave Australia for over a year or permanently were skilled workers and whilst the trend has gone down in recent times (thanks wholly to Australia’s isolation from the global economic turmoil) that hasn’t stemmed the flow of talent leaving our shores. For the high technology sectors at least there is the potential to recreate the hot bed of innovation that led to the creation of Silicon Valley on the back of the NBN. This would not only stem the brain drain overseas but would produce large and sustainable gains to the Australian economy.

Right now the public view of the NBN varies wildly. Businesses by and large have no idea what benefits it can bring them, public opinion is mixed (although Senator Conroy says differently) and even the federal government seems at a loss to what it could mean for Australia’s future, doling out cash to local governments in the hope they’ll be able to sell it for them. To combat this the government should instead provide incentives and seed capital to high-tech start ups who are looking to leverage Australia’s upcoming ubiquitous high speed Internet infrastructure, in essence building an Australian Silicon Valley.

Doing this requires co-ordination with entrepreneurial communities, venture capitalists and the willing hand of the government. They could easily make investment in these kinds of companies more desirable by extending tax breaks that are currently enjoyed by other asset classes to investment in NBN based high-tech start ups. This would also make Australian based startups incredibly attractive for overseas investors, pumping even more money into the Australian economy. As the sector grows there would also be an increasing amount of ancillary jobs available, ones that accompany any form of corporation.

Australia would then become a very desirable location for both established and aspiring businesses looking to expand into the Asia-Pacific region. It also works in the reverse, giving Asia-Pacific businesses (and nations) a more local launch pad into the western business world. Establishing Australia as a high tech hub between our strong local ties and western allies abroad would provide a massive economic boost to Australia, one to rival that of the current mining boom.

Of course it’s not like this hasn’t been tried before in Australia, indeed many have tried to recreate the success of the valley with little results. Indeed I believe this is due to a lack of co-operation between the key players, namely the government, entrepreneurs and investors. The NBN represents a great opportunity for the government to leverage the industry not only to ensure Australia’s future economic prosperity but also to establish Australia as a leader in technology. I believe that the government should be the ones to take the first steps towards fostering such an environment in Australia as once the industry knows they have the support they’ll be far more willing to invest their time in creating it.

Not leveraging the NBN in such a way would leave the NBN as a simple infrastructure service, woefully underutilised given the capabilities that it could unlock. Make no mistake the NBN puts Australia almost at the top in terms of ubiquitous, high speed Internet access and that makes a lot of services that are currently infeasible to develop attractive targets for investigation. Indeed since the same level of broadband access is almost guaranteed throughout the country it is highly likely that benefits will stretch far past the borders of the CBD, even as far as regional centres.

As someone who’s group up on and made his career in technology it’s my fervent hope that the Australian government recognizes the potential the NBN has and uses that for the betterment of Australia. As a nation we’re well positioned to leverage our investment in infrastructure to provide economic benefits that will far exceed its initial cost. Creating a Silicon Valley of the Asia-Pacific region would elevate Australia’s tech industry to rival those throughout the rest of the world and would have massive benefits far beyond Australia’s borders.

Full Body Scanners: Security Theatre at its Finest.

In my travels through the USA I became intimately acquainted with their high level of airport security. Upon entering the country we were finger printed, photographed and grilled about what our trip was about. There was also the long lines for getting through the metal detectors and full body scanners, usually taking up a good 45 minutes of my time to get through. I was never chosen to go through the backscatter x-ray machines (nor did I see any of the newer millimetre wave ones) but I did see many people go through it. Most of them weren’t exactly what you’d call a security risk (mostly people in wheelchairs) but I knew exactly why those machines were there: to make everyone feel safer without actually being so.

This is what is referred to as security theatre. These scanners are supposedly better at detecting things that slip by metal detectors which they accomplish by using low-energy x-rays that penetrate through clothing. Solid objects then should become obvious and should something suspicious be identified the passenger can be taken aside for further searching. Trouble is the machines aren’t terribly effective at what they’re designed to do and the back-scatter x-ray type machines emit ionizing radiation (not a lot mind you, but there’s been minimal research done into them). Using them then seems like a pointless exercise and indeed even though they’ve been in operation in the USA for quite some time the jury is still out on whether they’re actually being effective or not.

So you can then imagine my surprise when I find out that we’ll be getting these scanners at all international airports in Australia:

PASSENGERS at airports across Australia will be forced to undergo full-body scans or be banned from flying under new laws to be introduced into Federal Parliament this week.

In a radical $28 million security overhaul, the scanners will be installed at all international airports from July and follows trials at Sydney and Melbourne in August and September last year.

The Government is touting the technology as the most advanced available, with the equipment able to detect metallic and non-metallic items beneath clothing.

Now we won’t be getting the dubious back-scatter style ones here instead we’ll have the newer millimetre wave ones that don’t emit ionizing radiation. That’s the only good news though as they’ve also amended the legislation that allows you to turn down things like this in favour of a pat down, with the penalty for refusing to go through one being that you’ll be barred from your flight. To top it all off the transport minister Anthony Albanese sealed it with this choice quote “I think the public understands that we live in a world where there are threats to our security and experience shows they want the peace of mind that comes with knowing government is doing all it can”.

It’s almost like he knows these things are a useless piece of security theatre, but is going ahead with them anyway.

More than a decade has past since the events of 11/9/2001 and we’ve yet to see a repeat, or an attempted repeat, of the events that led up to that tragedy here or overseas. The health and privacy concerns aside the reality is that these scanners don’t really accomplish what they’re designed to do and are thus just another inconvenience and waste of tax payer dollars. I can understand that there are some who will feel safer by seeing them there but that doesn’t change the facts that they’re just another piece of security theatre, and a costly one at that.

 

Until R18+ Becomes a Reality This Will Keep Happening.

The last 2 and a half years have seen the lack of a R18+ rating for games issue ramp up from just a few vocal supporters to an issue that now captures the attention of a good chunk of the nation. The movement has been heavily catalyzed by many notable releases being either outright banned in Australia or receiving significant changes, leaving many Australians to either acquire these through nefarious means or simply doing without. In both instances this robs the developers and publishers of a potential sale making Australia a somewhat hostile environment for games developers, especially those ones who like to flirt with the boundaries of what may or may not be acceptable. Thankfully it seems we’re on the right path now, but until the new rating system is implemented we’re unfortunately still in the same backwards state as we were when this movement started.

The latest casualty in the R18+ war is the reboot of the Syndicate franchise. Citing excessive and highly visceral violence the Australian Classification Board decided to slap the deadly NC rating on it, thereby making its sale illegal in Australia. “Bugger” I hear you saying, “But we’ll still get some nanny-state version to play right?”. I wish it were so, EA has decided to not pursue reclassification and is instead not going to release Syndicate to Australia:

 “The game will not be available in Australia despite its enthusiastic response from fans. We were encouraged by the government’s recent agreement to adopt an 18+ age rating for games. However, delays continue to force an arcane censorship on games – cuts that would never be imposed on books or movies,” EA Corporate Communications’ Tiffany Steckler wrote Joystiq in a statement. “We urge policy makers to take swift action to implement an updated policy that reflects today’s market and gives its millions of adult consumers the right to make their own content choices.”

Indeed ever since the tragedy that was the censored version of Left 4 Dead 2 (it’s predecessor had me captivated for months whereas it could barely hold me for a couple hours) the standard reaction to a NC rating has been to simply not bother with the Australian market. EA’s statement above shows that companies view Australia as a hostile environment and can’t be bothered to rework their product should it not meet our backwards standards. Until we have a really real R18+ standard things like this will continue to occur, and that isn’t going to help anyone.

This news coincides with some saber rattling from NSW Attorney General Greg Smith, the last of the AGs to hold out on the R18+ rating. He’s apparently all for a R18+ rating in Australia but wants particular games, he singled out Grand Theft Auto, to be outright banned. Forgetting for the moment that all of the GTA titles sailed through in the MA15+ category (minus a couple changes for GTAIV, but the content he was complaining about was still in there) Smith is basically attempting to force his own view of what’s appropriate on everyone else. The final guidelines for the R18+ rating are more than adequate at keeping out content that’s already banned in other mediums and provide enough freedom for developers to not have to worry about running afoul of the dreaded NC rating. Whilst Smith probably won’t do anymore damage than he already has it’s irritating to see someone in his position doing such a disservice to Australia with his narrow views of what is and isn’t appropriate.

The R18+ rating really can’t come soon enough as until it does we’re still a nation that’s stuck in a world from 20 years ago, one where gamers were a minority and games were seen as a childish distraction. Today this is far from the case with the vast majority of gamers being over 18 and looking for titles that are appropriate for their demographic. It’s a real shame that some developers will then decide to leave us by the wayside but at least the loss of those games will highlight the need for change and hopefully accelerate its coming.

Have Money, Want Content, Will Spend.

I spent the better part of my youth pirating nearly every bit of software I wanted. It’s not that I was doing it on principle, no it was more that I didn’t have the cash required to fuel my insane desire for the latest computer hardware, software and everything else that I had my eye on back then. Sure you can argue that I should have just gone without instead of pirating but in the end they were never going to get money from me anyway. For those software and games developers that did make a decent product they’ve since received a well paying customer in the form of my current self who spends lavishly on collector’s editions and any software that he needs.

One area I’ve never paid a dime for (although I happily would, as I’ll explain later) is TV shows. I was a pretty big TV watcher as a kid, even going to the point of recording shows that I couldn’t watch in the morning (because I had to catch the bus) so that I could watch them in the afternoon. As I discovered the wonders of playing video on your PC I started to consume most of my media through there as it was just so much more convenient than waiting for a particular show to come on at a certain time. Australia is also quite atrocious for getting new shows as they’re released, usually coming to our shores months after their release to the rest of the world, if they do at all. However whilst I might be able to get everything for free it’s still somewhat of an inconvienence, especially when I see a service like Steam that has no replica in TV in Australia.

It’s not like these services don’t exist either. The USA has things like Netflix and Hulu that stream TV shows to users and the latter will even do so free of charge. From a technical standpoint there’s no reason why these services can’t work anywhere in the world, they’re just another set of packets travelling alongside all the others. However both of those services employ heavy geo-fencing, the process by which anyone connecting to it is identified by region and, should they be outside the USA, be blocked from viewing the content. Primarily this is because of licensing agreements that they have with the content providers who want to control which content goes where. For places like Australia however this just leads to people pirating the content instead of watching it on TV or buying it in stores, something I’m sure they’re not entirely happy about.

This issue came up recently when a bunch of ISPs got together and proposed a new system to deal with copyright infringement. On the surface it looked like long time supporters of privacy were caving under pressure from rights holders but it’s actually anything but. More its an idea to make the discovery process more open and focuses on educating the end users rather than punishing them. Whilst I don’t like the system proposed I did like the fact that they recognised rights holders needed to do a better job of providing content to Australia residents. The fact of the matter is many turn to piracy for the simple reason that they simply can’t get it anywhere else. A service like Hulu in Australia would be wildly popular and would be as good for the rights holders as Steam was for the games industry.

Steam has shown that convenience and service are what drive people to piracy, not strictly price. Of course Steam’s regular fire sales have made sure that people part with more cash than they usually would but the fact is that they deliver a product that’s on the same level of convenience (sometimes better) than the pirates do. Right now rights holders are still delivering products that are less convenient (and sometimes, even worse overall) and so the piracy option is far more attractive. I know this is asking a lot of an industry that’s feared technology for the better part of a century but in the end the problem doesn’t lie with the pirates, it lies with them. 

On Single Founder Startups.

I’m a very firm believer in the adage of “either put up or shut up”. I often talk with people about their ideas for things and how much better they’d be than what’s currently available. My usual retort is that should then go ahead and try to do that (usually not facetiously) otherwise they should just stop talking about since an idea without action doesn’t do anyone any good. Of course I’m not one to let people say the same thing to me so the vast majority of ideas that I have for a product that I talk about have usually undergone at least some preliminary work to make sure the idea is viable, just so that I don’t feel like I’m talking out my ass.

The problem I’ve often found though is that it’s easy for me to get excited about an idea that I’ve had but it’s 100 times more difficult to get someone else excited about the same idea. I can hear you saying now “well if it was a good idea anyone would be excited about it” but the problem is that since pursuing such ideas is inherently risky people tend to err on the side of caution instead of wanting to get involved. The second you start mentioning dollar figures (whether costs or potential revenues) it gets even worse as people have seen enough seemingly rock solid business go down in recent years to be wary of anyone coming to them with some outrageous idea.

If I’m honest I’m really just generalizing my own personal experiences here and depending on who you are and where you grew up the experience could be quite different. Canberra, and the majority of Australia for that matter, are a risk adverse lot tending towards proven ideas rather than new risky new ventures. This is especially true with the majority of investment in Australia with many choosing the “safe bet” of property rather than investing in new ventures. Thus for any of us wanting to lash out on our own we’re more or less isolated in a community of risk adverse people, and that makes developing a new idea inexorably hard.

I found this a lot when working on many of my previous ideas. Sure there were many times when I’d discuss an idea and its potential with people and receive amazing feedback, but should I ask more than to try it when I finally released and I’d be met with non-committal responses. There’s also not much of a start up scene here in Canberra either since 90% of the people employed here are public servants or working directly for the government. Sure I could probably travel a bit to get involved in say Sydney or Melbourne however the only time I currently have to spare is spent on working on my product, and the potential to find (and convince) someone else to work with me on my ideas seems small enough as to be a waste of my time pursuing it.

Thus for my first couple ideas (and application to Y-Combinator) I decided to go it alone as a single founder. Now the odds are really stacked against you if you go this route, both for start up accelerators like Y-Combinator and the real business world. Many people liken it to raising a child, sure you can do it yourself but its a much greater burden to bear and you’ll need to put in so much more effort to achieve the same results. For someone like me who’s in an environment that’s not conducive to pursuing new ideas sometimes the only option you have is to go it alone, lest you never go at it at all. Of course the simple solution here would be to then put myself in a more conducive environment, which I am looking to do within the next year.

This all being for my 2 most recent projects I have been able to find people who are interested in the idea that I came up with and have been willing to work with me on them. I think I can attribute my success in this regard to finding an area of common interest that we could then expand upon, each of us being able to have meaningful input that will sculpt the end product. I’ll admit it’s a lot easier when you’ve got someone to lean on, even if they’re not technical as that back and forth helps solidify your idea, keeping your eye squarely fixed on the end goal. I’m hopeful that these ideas will turn out a lot better than my last couple ventures, not least of which I’ll hopefully be able to credit to sharing the load with someone.

 

R18+ For Games Sees Real Progress At Long Last.

It’s been almost two years since I posted my very first thoughts on the issue of game censorship and back then it was really only an issue because of the impending Internet filter that was threatening to turn Australia into an Internet back water. Thankfully the Internet filter hasn’t yet come to be (although it seems Conroy is still committed to the idea) and the barriers that once stood between the Australian gamers and titles deemed unfit for people half their age have started to come crumbling down. There’s even the possibility of the classification system getting a complete overhaul to do away with the disjunct between states and territories, something which will be beneficial for all Australians.

Up until now however most of the progress we’ve seen has just been in the form of promises and postulation from politicians with little actual progress to show for it. Last week however saw the first few real steps towards actual reform on this issue, something which I wasn’t expecting to see for another couple of months. The first bit of progress that I came across was a draft proposal from Attorney General Brendan O’Connor that outlined what the new R18+ classification guidelines would look like:

“The Gillard Government wants to provide better guidance for parents and remove unsuitable material from children and teenagers. The introduction of an R18+ classification will help achieve that and will also bring Australia into line with comparable nations,” said O’Connor in a statement. “This issue has been on the table for many years, without the necessary progress to make a change. We’ve recently seen several states publicly express their support for an adult only rating for games and I’m keen to reach a unanimous decision at the July meeting.”

Interestingly the proposed R18+ rating would also include reworking the MA15+ rating a bit, mostly adding in restrictions that things like sex, drugs and nudity can’t be linked to rewards and incentives. It’s a pretty small distinction but it does mean certain types of games like say Leisure Suit Larry or Strip Poker will find themselves firmly in the R18+ category (as they probably should) whilst most games currently rated MA15+ won’t be affected by the rating change. It does have the potential to shove quite a few titles into R18+ if you take a broad interpretation of “must not be related to incentives or rewards” for things like leveling up in Call of Duty or Battlefield, but I think the rewards are far enough away from the action for them to skirt around that idea. We’ll have to see what the Australian Classification Board thinks on that one though.

Additionally it looks like the ACB is going out to the public again to seek what the public’s reaction is to the proposed guidelines and R18+ rating. This time around however they’ve gone for a quick survey with a short comment box at the end of it. If you’re in support of the R18+ rating you should head over there now to have your say in this matter as hopefully we can garner the same sort of reaction we did last time they tried this and wrote off the results as “gamed” by the supporters. Realistically they underestimated just how passionate gamers are about this issue, heck my brother even asked me if I had written a submission for it and he’s not one for politics.

Of course the vocal minority has hit out at the proposed guidelines in the usual fashion. I was going to do a take down of their FUD line by line but honestly I don’t want to give them any more air time than what they’ve already got as there’s no swaying them away from their absurd opinions. Just let it be known that the Australian Christian Lobby fervently opposes the R18+ rating as they do anything that could legitimize the behavior of adults that disagrees with their world view, even if it would benefit them in some way.

We’re now only a few short months away from Australia casting off part of its archaic past and stepping towards the future. It’s been a long time coming with many political battles fought and nearly a dozen articles written on the subject by yours truly but finally the Australian gaming community might just be treated for what they are: mostly adults. There’s still many more steps to go before the R18+ rating becomes a reality but progress is now decidedly forwards instead of in circles and that should make every Australian gamer very happy indeed.

Buying Property: A Geek’s Perspective.

Buying a house is an experience of many varied emotions, from excitement to confusion to being overwhelmed and finally the ultimate reward of having a place to call your own. I’ve been through the whole process twice now and suffice to say I’ve had my share of trials and tribulations along the way. Today I’m going to walk you through a rough outline of the process (note that this will be Australian centric, sorry overseas readers!) so that those aspiring property owners looking for a bit more information on the process will hopefully come out feeling a bit more confident when they start looking for a place to call home.

First of all before you start looking at any houses you’re going to have to know what kind of budget you have to work with. At this early stage I’d highly recommend seeing a mortgage broker as they can look at your financial situation and find a loan that’s appropriate for you. They can also teach you how to build business credit, which can be useful to you in the long term should you be short on capital. I have personally used Aussie Home Loans as my brokering agent every time I’ve looked for a property and have never been recommended the same loan twice (nor any of Aussie Home Loans products either). There are of course dozens of firms around and none of them charge any fees so I’d wholeheartedly encourage you to talk to a few of them if you’re not completely happy with any one of them. At this point you can also get pre-approval for a loan, meaning the bank is ready to finance you and will make the whole buying process a lot faster than if you’d found a house then had to get finance.

With your finance sorted you can now go about looking for a place to call your own. In my experience this is a whole lot of fun for the first couple weeks as you get to see many great houses (and some not-so-great) but it can be exhausting if the process drags out over a long period of time. Whilst I said before you shouldn’t bother looking before you’ve got finance it can help to do a little market research in the months prior to fully committing to getting a house. This will let you know how the market is doing and which properties have been on sale for a while. A rule of thumb is that the longer a property has been on the market the more likely that the seller will be flexible regarding the price (although it could also mean the property is overpriced, in need of dire repairs or has something else preventing it from selling).

Once you’ve found a place that’s within your budget the next step will be to make an offer¹. This process is wholly dependant on the agent selling the property and can be as informal as a telephone call to the agency or could involve multiple forms in order to register your intent to buy the property. It’s at this point you can negotiate the price for the house if you so desire and it’s quite possible that the house will go for below or above the advertised price. Should someone else make another offer you will, most of the time, be notified by the agent should the offer be higher than yours. Strictly speaking agents are not meant to tell you how much other people are offering for the property but inevitably most do. Depending on the instructions given to the agent by the seller there might be predetermined sell point or they may leave the property open for offers until they’re satisfied with the price. Should you be lucky enough to place the accepted offer you’ll be contacted by the agent and will usually have to supply a $1000 deposit to confirm your intentions to buy the home (this is counted towards the asking price).

According to Think Conveyancing’s website, at this point its time to bring in the lawyers or a conveyancer, as part of the formal offer acceptance you will have to nominate one such agency to deal with the legal paperwork required by the sale. Just like if you were seeking the aid of an injury attorney in Orlando for example, you have to do your research. In my experience you will be better served by an actual lawyer rather than a conveyancer as they will be able to provide qualified legal advice in the event something should go wrong. They can also help with explaining some of the legalese and add provisions and protections into the sale contract should they be required.  Once you’ve nominated the agency the agent will send them the required paperwork and you’ll be required to sign a few things in order to get the process going. Soon after (usually before 10 business days) your and the selling party’s lawyers will then exchange contracts, allowing both sides to inspect them prior to agreeing to continue with the sale. Again at this point you’ll be required to sign the paperwork to say that you’re happy with the terms of the sale. At this point you have a financial interest in the property so it’s recommended to take out insurance on it at this point.

Once the paperwork is completed the next major event will be the settlement, the formalisation of the sale contract that both parties have agreed to. Before this happens however there are usually a few things that need to be sorted out. Probably the largest of tasks is the payment of stamp duty which has to be done either directly to the Revenue Office or through your lawyer’s trust account. There are also things like arranging financing for paying out rates or water bills (usually paid to your lawyers who hold it in trust for use at settlement) and having one last final inspection of the property to make sure you’re still happy with it. The bank will also send out a representative at this point to do an evaluation on the property to make sure the property isn’t worth substantially less than the loan they’re giving you. Once they have been completed (can be anywhere from 2 weeks to months, in my experience) then both party’s legal representatives convene to complete the sale. Shortly after this you should be contacted by the agent who will hand over the keys and you’re officially a home owner.

This scenario does not mention anything that might go wrong during this entire process. Should all things go well the time from accepted offer to moving in is usually around 4 weeks however this can easily balloon out should any part of the process be delayed. The most common problems are finance related, usually either delays in sending out appraisers or not releasing the funds for settlement. There can also be issues at settlement like unapproved structures or disclosure of required sale information (like if it’s a flood plain, for example). However if you have a good lawyer behind you most of these problems will be made clear to you and options presented for remediation.

So in a nutshell that’s what the process is for buying a house in Australia. I’m sure there are details I’ve missed or haven’t given enough attention to but if you were wondering what’s actually involved in securing property than this should give you a good insight into what’s required. It can seem daunting at first but realistically it’s really just a whole lot of talking, walking and sending money to people in the right places. If you have any questions about a particular part of the process feel free to ask in the comments below and I’ll do my best to ask.

¹I’m deliberately writing this from the perspective of buying a house through a negotiated price rather than at an auction. Buying a house at auction is an inherently more risky scenario due to emotional involvement and the removal of many buyer protections. The process before and after the auction is identical however.

The advice provided here within is general advice and should not be considered professional financial advice. It does not take into consideration your personal circumstances and can not be used in any financial decision process. No party should take action or refrain from action based solely on the content of this post or any other contained here on The Refined Geek. Please seek professional financial advice before proceeding with any investment.

The National Broadband Network: The Diamond in an Election Turd Sandwich.

I think I speak for a lot of Australians when I say I was tired of this election 2 weeks ago. I didn’t have the same buzz I had 3 years ago when I made my way to the ballot box, eagerly waiting to cast my vote that would bring the change that Australia desperately needed. That night was filled with elation as my prime minister of choice was elected and Australia’s future started looking a lot brighter. The next couple years were a tumultuous time but we came through the other side with nary a scratch on ourselves. However Rudd’s non-negotiable stance on several key issues rubbed people the wrong way and the Liberal attack dogs were let loose, utterly destroying the once high approvals that Labor once had. In the end we ended up in a position where neither party really won the election and we’re now stuck with a minority government and 3 years of pork for a few regional seats. There’s really little good to come out of this election.

Still there had to be a winner and it was the Labor government. You’d think that by my glowing recollection of the first years of the Labor government that I’d be happy about this but in truth I’m indifferent. I voted for the Greens this year because they aligned with my ideals the best out of the lot, but they were still far off the mark for a lot of their other policies. Don’t think for a second that I was just voting for them because I was disillusioned with Labor; I voted below the line on this one ensuring all my preferences went exactly where I wanted them, not where the Greens thought they should. Still it mattered little for the electorate I’m in, but that’s just how it goes in representative democracies.

Probably the only good thing to come out of all of this is the fact that the National Broadband Network will not be scrapped in its infantile stages and will live on for the next 3 years. I commend the Labor government for initiating this project as the time frames are far past that of their current term (and then some) showing that they at least have some long term vision for the future, even if it’s only in this one area. The good news is that should they not win the next election the NBN will be far enough underway that cancelling it would be political suicide and it will keep on rolling until its fully realised. There’s still a chance that it might get scaled back or mucked with in another way by a future government but 3 years is long enough to secure the vast majority of its infrastructure to ensure that a good majority of the original NBN idea gets implemented within its original time frame.

However the NBN hasn’t come out of this election turd smelling of roses either. As funneling pork to the regional independents was key to securing this election for the Labor government the NBN, which would eventually bring significant investment to the regions anyway, has been rescheduled to first target regional Australia. Now it’s really here nor there on whether this is a good or bad thing in itself, I mean I’m all for them working out the bugs on the regional folk before rolling it out here, but the highest value places for the NBN are the CBDs of major cities. Rolling out to the regions first means that Australian businesses will be waiting longer to make use of these upgrades, potentially stymying them for a couple years. It’s not that big of a deal, but it does open up the potential for criticism when the NBN is only delivering on its promises to a small subset of Australia.

There’s also been an increased amount of scrutiny and criticism levelled at the NBN due to its increased visibility in this election. During its construction the NBN is going to require up to 25,000 workers to get it all rolled out by its current deadline of 2018. According to industry union estimates there are only 7,000 workers in Australia right now that are capable of performing the required work and their estimates show that there will be a shortage of 10,000 workers over the course of the NBN’s implementation. Such a skills shortage does mean that there will be an upward pressure on wages in this particular industry and that has the potential to increase the projected costs for the NBN. Most of this has already been taken into consideration however and I believe the potential impact to the project should be minimal if action is taken to address it immediately. It’s unfortunate that Australia has a tendency to be so xenophobic when it comes to migrant workers as there’s more than enough skilled labor overseas that could be imported for the required duration.

Can’t imagine how the unions would feel about that one either… 😉

Strangely enough one of the most common criticisms I’ve heard has come from my IT cohorts who say that the NBN goes too far with its planned implementation. Their reasoning is mostly based on the fact that the Internet they have now is quite adequate and there’s little reason to overhaul the network. However this does not take into consideration that the current copper infrastructure can not scale in the same way a fiber network can and whilst their broadband is fast enough now it won’t be in 5 to 10 years time. Additionally such a network would make Australia quite attractive to overseas technology companies looking to trial new services, especially those coming out of the United States. This has the potential to build Australia’s service industry up for the time when our natural resources run dry and our current source of economic success is cut off.

The counterpoint many of them use is that wireless technologies are rapidly and will render a cabled network useless. Indeed the LTE specification is designed to give peak performances that are very comparable to that of the NBN and there have been demonstrations of the technology to that effect. However the amount of work to implement such a wireless system on the same scale as the NBN requires investment on almost the same level. The wireless towers would all require a fiber connection back to the dark fiber back hauls in essence requiring a scaled back NBN that did fiber to the node. Additionally none of the towers in Australia are equipped to broadcast on the frequencies required to achieve speeds comparable to that of the NBN, somewhere on the order of 2.6GHz (most carriers are on the 850/900/1900/2100MHz bands). There would also be a need to increase the number of towers to ensure adequate coverage, further increasing the cost required. In the end the argument that a wireless NBN is the cheaper and better alternative is nothing more than a distraction, it’s just not as viable as a national fiber network.

It’s no secret that I’ve got a lot invested in the NBN idea, what with my dreams of starting up my own private data center in my basement so I can host all my web applications cheaply.  But the NBN is so much more than that and whilst I might be unhappy with the way the election turned out this year I’m glad that the NBN didn’t get the chop. The next 3 years of pork barrel politics will be long forgotten when the NBN finally reaches its goal of bringing extremely fast Internet to the vast majority of Australia’s population and I can’t wait to see it happen.