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Are we there yet?

Source: ABC News

So, Australia went to the polls on August 21. We all cast our votes on which local member we wished to have represent us out of the 150 members within the House of Representatives. We also nominated which party we'd like to see represent us in the Senate. We all did that, went home, and for some of us political tragics, we watched the evening coverage with mixed feelings, as the results came flooding in. Would the ALP retain power? Would the LNP get over the line and return to Government a mere 3 years after they left?

Or would we all still be waiting 2 weeks later for a final result? Hmmm - I bet no-one really saw that one coming before the ballot boxes closed.

OK, so it's not as if the 2 weeks that have thus far passed are in any real way a bad thing - at least we know the process is happening in a decent way. And for most of us polly tragics, the fact is this new scenario of a hung parliament / minority Government is like a breath of fresh air in what was fast becoming the most nonsensical and stupid election campaign of living memory. The pattern has been broken, and if nothing else, at least the next 3 years should provide us with some interesting points of discussion.

So far, the LNP have seemingly come out in front on the raw seat numbers - 73 seats vs the ALP's 72. This does, however, include the WA MP Tony Crook, the man who so wonderfully ousted Wilson "Ironbar" Tuckey from his seat. Crook has declared that for the most part, he will be sitting on the cross-benches, and won't be automatically siding with LNP policy. Which is fair enough, and not a huge surprise, given the WA Nats have always seemed to want to march to the beat of their own drum. Still, it is kinda funny if you think about it.

Meanwhile, the ALP have already managed to increase their number of seats from 72 to 74, putting them ever so slightly ahead of the LNP - but this was only possible by signing a 3-year treaty with the Greens to include Adam Bandt in the ALP count, as well as new Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilkie. Essentially these deals give the ALP confidence that supply will not be blocked by either member in the event of an ALP minority Government, as well as having the support of both men in the event of a vote of no confidence motion being put forward in the House of Reps. There's also been some policy discussion, but I guess that sort of stuff won't happen in too much detail until the ALP are confirmed as the next Government.

So now that Julia Gillard is close, she is still some distance from being able to visit the Governor-General and ask to form Government. Hence the reason we are still waiting on the 3 remaining Independents to finalise their views, something we expect to see happen next week.

The interesting side-note to all of this has been the Coalition reaction to the news, which has been hysterical to say the least. Tony Abbott and his minions really haven't handled this post-election phase at all well, with various rantings and sledgings of how things have gone to be quite amazing, to say the least. None of which can really be helping their case, it must be said. The overriding view I get of their attitude thus far has been that they really were just keeping it together until August 21, with all of their might and willpower, with the hope of winning and getting into Government, at which point it wouldn't matter how they carried on, because they had won. Now that victory is so close, and yet so far, the LNP are starting to crack under the pressure, with wild claims and accusations flying thick and fast.

The fact that the Coalition tried to "bribe" Andrew Wilkie to side with them, by offering a $1b slab of pure pork, goes to show in some small measure just how desperate the Coalition must be at this stage.

Then comes today's news about the LNP costings having an $11b "black hole" present, and suddenly the above theory takes on a much more sinister tone. They appear to have fudged the figures, claiming some areas twice when it comes to savings, removing the usual buffer put in when estimating future policy costings, that sort of thing. All dodgy little tricks in their Excel spreadsheet that would most likely send a chill up any accountant's spine. Well, save for the dodgy ones, that is.

It's clear from the reporting that the LNP knew their figures were dodgy - why else withhold them from the Treasurey department, under the Charter of Budget Honesty they themselves set up, if they knew the damage the figures would do to them prior to August 21? If this is indeed the case, the Coalition have no right to govern, since they were prepared to go to great lengths to hide the truth from the Australian people, and do we really want people like that running this country?

The alternative argument is that they honestly didn't know there was this big a problem, which begs the follow-up question - do we really want people running our finances if they cannot even get their own budget figures right? I thought the LNP were meant to be the responsible economic managers?

Anyway, I guess all of this will be resolved in just a few days time. I for one am hoping the 3 Indy's back the ALP, and give them 77 Seats in the House. If nothing else, this way we get the fun of watching the LNP explode, although the sad part is the mainstream media, in particular News Ltd, will quite happily assist the LNP in any attempts to undermine the ALP's minority Government stance.

Which could very well be the saddest outcome of all...


J-Starz Presents "Vacation"

On Saturday August 21st I was lucky enough to catch what was a pretty interesting dance presentation at the Brolga Theatre in Maryborough. Presented by the J-Starz Academy of Theatrical Dance, Vacationwas an interesting themed selection of various dance styles, which used the loose theme of the audience travelling on an aeroplane to various locations around the globe, to witness these various dance styles. While it might sound more than a little wanky from my fairly bland description, and despite the show having some serious theatrical flaws in it, the central reason for why we were all there - to see a bunch of very talented dancers do their thing - was more than enough to make up for the shortcomings in other areas.

Firstly, let's start off with the big positive, because it is a big one. The dancing, which was to put it mildly really rather stunning. Despite the fact that the entire dance team are made up of primary and high school students, save for the several adults running the group, you'd be forgiven for thinking that at times you were watching some performers a lot older than they really were. There was a definite air of refinement present in the show, which was reflected by a team of dancers who clearly knew what they were doing on the stage floor. The routines were all executed to a high degree of finesse, with some extremely impressive moves included in amongst what one could consider more traditional moves. Overall, the dancing itself did not disappoint at any stage, which I guess for a show all about dance, that is no bad thing.

And it's fair to say that there really was something for everyone here in Vacation, be it traditional styles such as tap and classical, but more contemporary styles present also, like hip hop and funk tap. The group also had a fairly heavy jazz influence as well present, which made for some slightly sultry pieces. It was this variety that really ensured your attention was fixed on the movements during the show, and never once during the actual routines did I honestly ever feel like I was bored. There was always something visually interesting happening on stage. The dancing was paired up with some pretty decent musical choices as well, with the variety of dancing styles being complemented with a wide variety of music choices mixed in as well.

Now, with the positives out of the way, let's get onto a few of the negatives which, while they weren't deal breakers, they did manage to taint the good work being done by the students. And in some ways, it helps to prove that sometimes dancers don't make the best directors.

Firstly, the length of the show, at over 3 hours, was at least an hour too long. No matter how good and varied the dancing was, there's only so much you can watch in a single sitting. "Always leave the audience wanting more" is how the old saying goes. Well, we certainly weren't left wanting more, since I cannot think of anything more the performers could have done. My advice for future shows would be to cull some of the more repetitive elements, and only include the absolute best of the best. Some of the performers appeared on stage more than a dozen times - surely 2-3 times per performer is more than enough?

Secondly, the running time of the show wasn't at all helped by the fact that there was a prolonged blackout between each and every routine. Each blackout went for between 60-90 seconds, and there were over 30 routines, so you do the Maths - that means the show could have easily had between 30 - 45 minutes of its running time slashed just by allowing each routine to flow directly into the next one. Again, this is where not having some of the performers on stage as often as they were would have helped. No need to wait for costume changes et al if the same performers aren't on in consecutive routines. This all ignores the simple fact that theatre is a visual medium, and as such leaving your audience sitting in an auditorium every 3 minutes looking into the inky blackness is never a good idea. It jarred quite a lot, really.

Thirdly, while the Brolga is an excellent venue (I've Directed three major musical productions in that venue), the stage floor was far too big for the needs of this dance group. Performing with the full depth of the stage, with only the cyc and the occasional gobo to perform in front of, felt extremely bland, and the occasional use of a black backdrop curtain in some scenes to halve the depth of the stage demonstrated that this was clearly the way the group should have presented all of their routines. The width was fine, but the depth meant most of the performers spent a huge amount of time too distant from their audience, like little tiny specks way off in the distance.

Fourthly, and this is quite minor, but the group weren't helped by what was a fairly flimsy linking narrative. While I totally got what they were trying to do, the fact is it felt extremely contrived and awkward. Next time, my advice would be to just present the routines, and leave out the attempted theatrics. Better to present us with a random collection of short and snappy dance routines, than to subject us to an epilepsy-inducing strobe light that weakly suggests we're on a plane.

Lastly, and this is even more minor than the previous point, but some of the music editing was a bit harsh. Better use of slow fades or audio effects to cover edit points might have helped the music to more perfectly suit the high quality of dancing that was on offer.

Overall, Vacation was an excellent dance performance that was sadly let down by some less-than-ideal theatrical framing choices, that I suspect a more theatrical-minded Director might have picked up on, and sought to remedy. Still, while it did detract slightly from the overall presentation, the final message is clear - these dancers are great at what they do, and this was a very good vehicle to showcase their talent. If most of these performers don't go on to do something dance-related after Year 12, the world will be a much sadder place indeed.


My new computer has arrived!

 Source: Dell

Well, the new beast arrived on August 19 as predicted, direct from Dell. In the end, after pondering the 3 options I had in my previous blog post on this matter, I elected to go with Option 1 - a new desktop PC. My logic was that I figured I might as well go for the system that gave me the most bang for my buck, and in all honesty I was quite underwhelmed at the various small laptop options available (most 13" laptops hadn't yet moved to the new Intel CPU architecture), and I didn't want to be stuck with something that was already out of date from the moment I bought it. So going with a fairly high end desktop PC was the right option, I think. Sure, I've lost the portability that I might otherwise have had with a laptop, but at least I know my new PC can pretty much handle any task that I throw at it.

So what did I end up getting? Well, I went with a Dell Inspiron 580 desktop PC, with a Core i5-750 processor at its heart, running at 2.67Ghz (up from a Core 2 Duo 1.8Ghz processor). The system shipped with 6GB of DDR3 memory, which is triple what I had on my previous machine. I got a 1TB hard drive included in the machine (up from 160GB in my old machine), and 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5450 graphics card (which is currently one of the best budget 3D graphics cards on the market). The machine even came with a Blu-Ray drive, even though I don't really have any use for one (I don't own any Blu Ray discs, for starters). The best part about the new machine, however, is that it came with a 23" LCD monitor with LED backlighting. To have gone to this from a 17" LCD laptop display has been quite exciting, as I am a sucker for panoramic displays.

So, what does all this mean when it comes down to raw speed? Well, probably the easiest way to compare my new machine with my old one is to use the Windows Experience Index values from both installations to have a rough comparison of the performance on offer here:

2007 Windows Vista 17" Laptop

  • Processor: 4.8
  • Memory (RAM): 4.5
  • Graphics: 4.6
  • Gaming graphics: 4.5
  • Primary hard disk: 4.7
  • Base Score: 4.5

2010 Windows 7 Dell Inspiron 580

  • Processor:7.3
  • Memory (RAM): 7.5
  • Graphics: 5.0
  • Gaming graphics: 6.2
  • Primary hard disk: 5.9
  • Base Score: 5.0

So, as can clearly be seen, the new computer has made quite a leap from what I purchased in 2007 - particularly in the areas of processor, memory, and gaming graphics. While the base scores might be quite close, this is down to a quirk of how Windows calculates the score. Rather than take some kind of average, it uses the principle that your PC is as slow as the weakest component, and in this machine it's the system's desktop performance for Windows Aero. Oh well - I am not going to argue with Microsoft logic. All I know is that the new PC is a heck of a lot speedier than the old one, and that is just from real-world use scenarios. Launching apps is quicker, it can better handle multi-tasking, et al.

So far, the build quality of the machine is quite nice, with a good combination of metal and plastic for the main case. As can be seen in the above pic, the case has some nicely styled images on the front, that don't serve any purpose other than to look nice. The monitor, meanwhile, is a very nice affair indeed, with capacitive touch controls on the lower right side to control the menu items. The picture quality of the display is vibrant, with good colour saturation and excellent viewing angles. Heck, even the cheap keyboard and mouse that came with the machine are quite nice to use, although I cannot see myself using them for more than a few months before I replace them with a more ergonomic set from Microsoft.

It even came with very little in the way of crapware on the machine, although the first thing I did do when I got the machine was scratch the McAfee trial and replace it with the excellent Microsoft Security Essentials.

I only have one real complaint about the unit, and that is it didn't ship with 802.11g/n wireless out of the box. It does come with gigabit Ethernet, but no wifi access. Which seems strange.

So, yes, so far I am quite happy with my new purchase. It's been a joy to finally move full-time onto Windows 7, complete with the new Beta of Windows Live Essentials 2011. But more than anything else, having the extra screen real estate is such a boon. Gotta love a nice big 1080p HD display when video editing in Windows Live Movie Maker, for example. Or editing photos in Windows Live Photo Gallery.


3 days after democracy...

Source: Daily Telegraph

Well, we're certainly now into a brave new world, aren't we? Some interesting times have befallen us of late, what with what looks to be a certain Hung Parliament now taking shape down in Canberra. At the time of writing this post, the ABC Election computer is stating that the ALP and Coalition have won 71 seats each, with the Greens having 1 seat, and there being 4 Independents (Andrew Wilkie seemingly having won his seat down in Tasmania). While that still leaves 3 seats in doubt, what has become completely clear is that neither of the major parties have a clear mandate to govern, having not won the 76 seats required to have an outright majority in the House of Reps.

Which is why the media attention of the last few days has been so heavily focussed on the Indepdendents sitting in the HoR. Bob Katter, Tony Windsor, and Rob Oakeshott have overnight become the biggest political sensations in all the time I've been following politics. The sad part is, however, is that all three gentlemen have been members of Parliament for several years each, and yet not before now have they ever received this kind of attention. So in a way while the current situation feels extremely reactionary, the fact is these three have a real chance to make some significant changes to the face of Parliament, least of all in response to the weak-as-piss campaigns and policy statements that both of the major parties advanced during the recent 5 week election campaign.

What I have found most interesting is the way in which these three men have discussed what will ultimately sway their decision process in selecting which major party to support in minority Government. It is true to think that these three, being from the right-of-centre of Australian politics, might necessarily support a Coalition Government, it isn't until you listen to what they are stating as deal-breakers that you start to think they might ultimately stray towards Julia Gillard's incumbent ALP Government. For these three gentlemen, the big issues are the National Broadband Network, Health & Education dollars & reform, and action on climate change (including the pressing issue of water availability).

Now, here's where things get interesting. If you look back at the campaigns run by the major parties, and in particular their respective advertising, these broad issues very rarely got much air time. All the ads were about were asylum seekers, population levels, middle-class welfare, and debates about the economy. No mention in the MSM about the real issues affecting average Australians, the issues raised by the aforementioned Independents. So could it possibly be that the new powerbrokers of Federal Politics have their finger on the pulse of what is important to middle Australia than the major pollys do? It sure seems that way, given how the votes went on Saturday. This is particularly evident when you realise the Greens were campaigning on similar lines such as these, and that party saw the biggest swing towards them of anyone.

Leaving all of this aside, however, there is one slight fact that someone like Tony Abbott seems keen to overlook (despite his protestations of late that the Coalition deserve to lead, the fact is the Greens picked up most of the ALP soft vote, the LNP picked up the dregs - so that is hardly a mandate of anything). The simple fact is this - Julia Gillard and the ALP have first dibs on attempting to form a minority Government, and there is nothing that he or anyone else can say that might change that fact. Well, apart from the Governor-General, who ultimately has the power of veto over most of these matters. So he really needs to shut up, and let the democractic process take its course. Certainly, so far since Saturday he's not really shown the mantle of a leader, rather more like someone impatient to be gifted what he seems to think is already his.

If nothing else, this last week has shown that the Australian democractic process has actually been enriched by what happened on Saturday, with the start of a move away from the dualistic approach of major parties, and moving towards something a bit more in common with the origins of our current parliamentary system. Canberra needs to be less about party lines, and more about good policy, and good decisions that benefit the nation being enacted. We've seen the Australian people request a move like this, and now it is up to our leaders to listen to what has been said, and try and enact what the people have requested. The times are a changing, and our politicians need to do the same. But aside from all this, the basic political maxim remains - good policy is good policy is good policy. A shame there was so little of this in the 2010 campaign...

My final word on this topic at this stage simply has to go to Bob Katter himself, a man I am finding myself in total awe of. He is simply amazing. This video, his viral ad from the campaign, sums up why he is so completely Double Rainbow...


Now, about that election thing...

Soure: ABC News

There's only one thing that is certain this morning - I suck at making predictions. My Wednesday night prediction that the ALP would win 80/81 seats has proven to be extremely optimistic, given that right now they have barely scraped over the line with 70 confirmed seats (with at least another 2 almost certainly going to them as well). At least I did get one thing right, and that was the Greens would win the Seat of Melbourne, so well done to Adam Bandt and his team for grabbing the Green's first ever House of Reps seat.

The fact is, quite simply, that Election 2010 has not gone the way I personally wanted it to go, nor has it gone the way either of the major parties probably wanted it to go. Neither has a mandate to govern, and in fact we're looking at a hung parliament, and won't even know who the next PM is until next weekend most likely. Whoever does end up taking up the challenge will find things quite interesting, and my gut instinct tells me that the next Government will probably only last 12-18 months before we all find ourselves going to the polls once again.

Now, there are likely to be far too many post-mortems being conducted on this election right now (my advice is to look at what Crikey is reporting to get the best analysis and coverage), and I am not enough for a political expert to offer anything other than an opinion that is in some way well-informed. But I would like to take this opportunity to list the things I like about last night's result, and the things that I don't like / am slightly worried about. So let's get into it, eh?

Things I Do Like

Australia Rejects Both Major Parties

After writing about how uninspiring the campaigns of both major parties were this year, I guess I shouldn't be at all surprised that the result has come down to what looks like a hung parliament. If nothing else of worth comes from this election, I hope it forces both parties (in particular the ALP) to actually sit down and have a proper think about what they want to do with this country should they get a chance to govern. The lack of visionary policy and clear positive ideas for Australia's future were thin on the ground this year, and I think this is what has had the biggest impact on voter sentiment. The fact that we've had the largest number of infomal votes for quite some time reinforces the notion of an electorate that is disengaged with politics. We want our politicians to make decisions that benefit the nation, not run around and be driven by opinion poills and appeasing lobby groups. The RSPT, for example, was a visionary policy that was watered down and cost a sitting PM his job, all because the ALP couldn't sell the policy and convince the general population of its worth. The ALP backdown on climate change policy was a sad move, although given how much of a dog the CPRS was, in some ways we were lucky they did it. But examples like this have only shown to the voters that if the sitting Government doesn't want to take a chance and lead, why should they get our vote?

The fact is, we're almost certainly looking at another Federal election in 2011, so the ALP have about a year to get their cards in order for another crack at the polls. If they can get themselves back on track, there's no reason why they cannot romp it home next week. Like they would have 9 months ago, when we were looking at a 100-seat representation by the ALP. Oh my, how times have changed. Which leads me quite nicely to...

The Greens Primary Vote Increase

If there's one thing we can say for sure about this election is that, and this is despite anything that Tony Abbott might say this weekend, last night belonged to the Greens. They not only managed to greatly increase their primary vote (by nearly 4%), and look to have the balance of power in the Senate come July 1, but they also nabbed their first ever seat in the House of Representatives. The fact is, this all came about because the ALP bled their primary vote to the left, and the Greens were there ready to collect up 2/3 of said bleed. By contrast, the Coalition only managed to grab less than 2% of the ALP's primary vote, so they can hardly be running around today saying that the ALP was rejected in favour of them, because the ALP was rejected in favour of the Greens. So it would seem to idea of moving to the right on several key issues, such as the environment and asylum seekers, has done the ALP primary vote no good whatsoever. But well done to Bob Brown and his team. The next 6 years should prove to be quite interesting.

Australian Democracy Works

Say what you will about voter disengagement, but if there's one thing we should be thankful for, it's the fact we live in a lucky country where we do have a proper chance to exercise a basic democratic right. A lot of countries don't get this same chance, and we are so much the better for it. Which is why it is a shame the major parties don't take things as seriously as they should. As well as this, the AEC once again have proven themselves to be a competent executor of these processes, so we should all be very thankful that things went as smoothly as they did this weekend.

Kevin Rudd Won His Seat

Good on ya, Kevin from Queensland. Now if the ALP do go into Opposition this week, how about you challenge Julia for the leadership?

Wyatt Roy Won His Seat

We now have a 20 year old in Parliament. Not sure why, since you'd assume you'd want MPs with some life experience, but if nothing else it'll prove good fodder for young 'un jokes. And it was nice to see his Mum let him stay up late last night to watch the results. But that's gonna make him tired and grumpy today. Hope he can finish his homework OK...

Steve Fielding Gets The Boot

This one kinda wrote itself, really. Not much to say here, other than I am pleased Steve Fielding's days in the Senate are numbered. The ALP helping him get into the Senate in the first place was a bad idea, and I am glad that this course has been corrected. I for one will not be sad to see him leave. Although I am sad that it might signal the end of @FakeFielding on Twitter. I sure hope not.

Things I Don't Like

Tony Abbott Could Be Our Next PM

There's a very big chance that Tony "The Mad Monk" Abbott could be our next PM. Now, this isn't meant to be a slur against him per se, or the Coalition, but I have a basic issue against any party (or person) getting to lead our nation when their campaign for election was based on a negative premise - vote for us because we're not the other guys, and the other guys are crap. At no stage did Tony Abbott manage to articulate a positive vision for Australia's future, and his core arguments about debt levels, wasteful spending (particularly around the BER), and asylum seekers, were mostly based on false statements that did not bare any level of scrutiny. But the sad part is that clearly a large number of people in Australia voted for him based on these lies. But then this has as much to do with my next point, so let's move on to...

The ALP Failed To Sell Their Achievements

Australia survived going into recession. We are the economic envy of much of the world. Our stimulus package kept unemployment levels down, and gave some great new facilities to thousands of schools across the nation. There are plans afoot to build the National Broadband Network, which will revolutionise Australian society. Work has started on reforming Indigenous Australian policy. All of this and a lot more happened in the last 3 years, but could the ALP seemingly manage to sell much of this to the electorate? Clearly not, since they took a pummeling in the polls. If they had of sold this a bit better, maybe the people of Australia would not have listened so intently to The Coalition's claims. Still, what's done is done, which is why the next one is even sadder...

Dumping Kevin Rudd Was A Bad, Bad Move

This was an easy one to call back in June. Dumping a sitting PM was never going to be a good idea, and after looking at the swings in QLD it's clear that it didn't help. Not only that, but the ALP didn't pick up an equivalent swing in Victoria to make up for their losses in QLD. It's hard to say if keeping Kevin Rudd on would have made any big difference in the final numbers, but let's be honest - it couldn't have been much worse, and even though it wasn't the only factor at play in QLD, it was clearly a decent chunk of why the ALP recorded the swing that they did. Besides which, it was never Kevin Rudd that was the problem. It was the message, stupid - the lack of clarity was what was killing the Government, and changing to Gillard didn't help here. All it meant was it robbed the ALP of the advantages of incumbancy, and a clear ability to pitch their message on their record.

NSW and QLD Labor Didn't Help Matters

The NSW and QLD State Labor Governments are quite clearly on the nose right now in those two states, and it would appear that given the Federal ALP has been looking more and more like a clone of those two State Governments as 2010 has rolled on, it was clear voters were going to start thinking of rejecting the Federal ALP in much the same way they clearly plan to do so at the next State elections. The NSW ALP Government should have gone at the last election, and hopefully will go at the next one. So too should the QLD ALP get a chance to go into Opposition for a term or two, and recharge and refocus. Being in power for too long is never a good thing, and so with the NSW State elections looming in several months time, it might just be that if we do go to a Federal poll again in 2011, the lack of a NSW State Labor Government could help here. But it was a bit of a shame that voters didn't chose to distinguish between State and Federal issues, but hey - who says they have to?

And last, but surely not least, we have the biggest negative of the entire result...

Wilson Tuckey Is Out

I love Wilson. Whenever he opened his mouth, he would always say the wrong thing, but always be entertaining. He will be missed. Farewell, you fat so and so...

Well, that's it. For now. There's probably going to be a lot more to say over the coming days about the 2010 Election, but the above seems to me to be a good starting point. There's probably a point or two I've missed, but right now I am too tired to think more...