The NBN is 62% faster in our new house!

This time last year we finally got connected to Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN).

Doing so dramatically increased our average download speed from 6.9MBps with ADSL2+ (over the old telephone copper wire network) to 46.7MBps with NBN (over a new NBN fibre optic connection to the closest telephone/internet exchange).

A little over a week ago we moved into an independent house in another suburb. This meant we were no longer sharing that fibre optic internet connection with the other residents in an apartment block.

I checked to see if this had increased our connection speed and, sure enough, our download speeds have gone up by 62% to 75.7MBps!


Pro tip: If you’re looking to move house and, like me, can’t live without the NBN, check out the nbnm8 Chrome extension. When you use and Domain to search for properties it’ll automatically do the nbn availability look-up for you :)

We're finally connected to the NBN!

On 23 June 2014 I tweeted this:

But it wasn't till yesterday, 15 December 2015, that we finally got connected to Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN).

Yes, this took 1 year, 5 months and 22 days

What was particularly irritating was that our neighbours got connected several month ago. It took us this long because we're in an apartment building. Which meant that, first, our Body Corporate had to get their act together and network our building — which they finally did at the end of October.

We then had to wait till iiNet, our prefered ISP (who we've been with for over six years), released their Fibre to the Basement plans for selling NBN services to individual apartment building residents. 

Once all these pieces fell into place, though, things moved quickly. And, six days after the NBN became available to us, we were online:

We're now enjoying download speeds seven times faster than our old ADSL2+ connection (an average of 46.7Mbps with NBN versus 6.9MBps with ADSL2+) and upload speeds thirty-one times faster (27.6Mbps now vs 0.9Mbps previously). We're also connecting faster, with an average ping time of just 2.5ms with NBN vs 27ms with ADSL2+. 

It's awesome.

Of course these speeds aren't as fast as the NBN can theoretically reach ("up to 100Mbps") or as fast as my internet connection is at work (average downloads at 64.3Mbps and average uploads at 86.9Mbps) — but it still pretty darned good. And it's more than enough for any video streaming we want want to do.

So, yay! The NBN was a long time coming, but it was sure worth the wait.

Picking an AFL Team to Support

I've been in Melbourne for almost eight years now and it's about time I picked an AFL team to support.

How Do You Pick a Team?

There's lots of advice on the web about how to pick a team: 

There's also this infographic from Reddit (from December 2012) which is both useful and funny:

Plus this thread for the 2014 season:

Brand Associations

All that is good advice but I think there's a quicker and easier way for someone like me to choose a team: using the power of brands and brand association.

So here's what I did:

  • I went to each team's website and looked at the list of their partner brands - both sponsor brands who support the team financially and support brands who provides the team with goods and services
  • For every brand that I liked (i.e. for which I'd be a 'promoter' on the NPS scale) I gave that team a +1 score
  • For every brand that I didn't like (i.e. for which I'd be a 'detractor' on the NPS scale) I gave that team a -1 score
  • I ignored the brands I didn't have strong feelings for or wasn't familiar with (i.e. for which I'd be a 'passive' on the NPS scale)
  • I then added each team's +1s and -1s and gave them an overall score - a 'net positive brand association score' of sorts

This is the result (sorted by highest-to-lowest score, then alphabetically by team name):

So, if I was to choose a team by brand association alone, then the team I'd be supporting is the Sydney Swans, with the Brisbane Lions coming in second. 

(I've kept my scoring here really simple, by the way. Had I wanted to do a more sophisticated analysis I could have first given 'principle', 'major', and 'premier' partner brands higher positive and negative scores and 'associate' and 'support' partners lower positive and negative scores. Of course this would have given undue importance to brands that simply had more marketing money to spend. So next I would have looked at each brand's annual revenue and marketing spend as a proportion of annual revenue and tried to undo some of those effects. And I might have introduced a 'sponsorship proportion' multiplier for each brand. That is, if a club had twenty partners instead of ten, each of those twenty brands would have had half as much proportional weight. There are many more things I could have done but I'm not feeling particularly nerdy this weekend. I'd rather watch TV or browse Reddit.) 

The brand I like the most from that list, by the way, is iiNet, which is a Hawthorn partner. But the brand like the least is Swisse, which is also a Hawthorn partner. So those two pretty much cancelled each other out. Oh well. 

So, there you have it. After living in Melbourne for almost eight years I now tentatively support the Sydney Swans. Go figure. 

Next Steps

Now that I've reached a tentative result, I need to research the Swans and watch some of their games. If I'm going to support them seriously I need to know much more about them. I need to learn about their players, their coaches, their history, and so on. 

A quick skim through their website has been positive: 

  • They're all over social media and even have their own mobile app - though I suppose this is pretty standard for sports teams in this day and age
  • There's nothing untoward about them in the news - at least nothing I could find when I searched for 'Sydney Swans controversy' on Google News
  • They have two clubs for their female supporters - one in Sydney called L@SS and one in Victoria called LOL (both names I like)
  • They have a Black Swans Supporter Group
  • They have a blog series called 'Swan Songs' in which they talk to past great players called 
  • They have player blogs, one of which was actually updated in 2014

I'll now keep an eye on them and report back if all is going well and if I'm going to continue to support this team.

Till then, go swannies!

Save the Ferris

Wearing my 'Save Ferris' t-shirt

“Save the Ferris” he says, enunciating each word carefully, trying to sound less tipsy than he actually is. He belatedly ends his statement with a rising intonation, making it a question. He gestures helpfully at my t-shirt.

I'm tired and I like my happy-drunk people to have greater pop culture awareness. But we've only just crossed the eleventh floor and the lift isn't very fast (new hotel, old building) so I can’t pretend I haven’t heard him.

“It’s from a movie,” I say. “From the 80s. Called Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

He looks confused. “Oh really?”

“It was quite popular in the 80s,” I add.

“Yeah man,” his friend chimes in, “haven’t you seen Ferris Boomer’s Day Off?”

I smile helpfully in their general direction.

He thinks for a minute but, just as he says “No,” the doors open and two more people walk in. We descend in silence for a while, but the newcomers are getting off at the mezzanine, so soon it’s just the three of us again.

“Save the Ferris,” he repeats. Once again adding the “the” that isn't actually printed on my t-shirt. He says it more thoughtfully this time – his brain cells working hard but still drawing a blank.

“You should watch it I say,” as we the doors open at the lobby, “it’s a fun movie.”

That’s apparently an excellent suggestion because he beams at me and says “I’ll do that,” and since this is goodbye, “Have a great night!”

“You too!” I respond enthusiastically. Then I buy a fruit cup and head back up to my room to finish the presentation I'm working on.

Just another night at the Gold Coast.

Mapping My Social Networks: Facebook, LinkedIn

Following on from my post on Immersion, the Gmail metadata mapping tool, I learnt of two other tools that map Facebook and LinkedIn metadata (i.e. your social graph). David Glance mentioned them in his article in the Conversation about the power of metadata ('Your social networks and the secret story of metadata').  

This is what my Facebook social graph looks like:  

What's cool about this network mapping is that, because people share a lot of information about themselves on Facebook and the tool knows who my friends-of-friends are, you can see one level deeper and find sub-networks within my broader social graph. Many of these are high school and university based sub-networks but some are also immediate-family groupings. 

The social graph that's probably cooler (and certainly prettier) is this one from LinkedIn Maps: 

This shows you that I'm connected to four major networks, one each for my two universities (LUMS and MBS) and one each for the two places I've worked at the longest here in Melbourne (Melbourne Water and Jetstar). 

And even though Jetstar and Melbourne Water are in completely different industries the kind of work I did (and am still doing) in both jobs is similar so the crossover space between their two clouds is where all my suppliers, vendors, and industry contacts are. 

One thing I've noted while doing all this mapping is the size of my network on each platform:  

  • Gmail contacts: 478 
  • LinkedIn connections: 505 
  • Facebook friends: 505 
  • Twitter followers: 776 

That's reasonably consistent and certainly above average for each of those social networks. I suppose that's a good thing. 


Immersion: Mapping My Email Networks

I've spent the last few days playing around with Immersion, a fabulous email network mapping project from MIT's Media Lab.  The project's creators describe this as "a people centric view of your email life" and what the tool basically does is create a network map of all your Gmail emails using the From, To, Cc, and Timestamp fields. 

Who Have I Been Emailing? 

You can can learn a lot from these maps. For example, here is what my email network looks like from April 2004 to July 2013. (I do actually have email from 1999 onwards in my Gmail account but, for whatever reason, Immersion only mapped my email from 2004 onwards. )


The person I emailed the most during this period was Nadia. After that, the network of people I emailed the most was my family. Obviously Nadia is also heavily connected via email to my family network. She is also connected with our Melbourne friends network and, to a smaller extent, my MBS (MBA) and LUMS (BSc) classmate networks.

The two other networks of people I emailed the most were my work colleagues at MBS and my other freelance jobs. 

Digging a Little Deeper

That's a high-level view but you can also divide this 2004 to 2013 date range into three distinct periods in my life.

The first is from 2004 to 2006, which is when I was living in Islamabad just before I came to Melbourne to do my MBA:  

Nadia and my family are obviously the largest nodes and network of nodes here, too. Aside from that, my LUMS classmates, my music projects (Corduroy and the F-10 1/2 project), and my other projects (earthquake relief) all have identifiable email networks of their own.

A couple on specific nodes are also interesting. Mosharraf, one of my seniors from LUMS and also a work colleague, is a connector of networks. And, on the upper right hand side, you can see my email correspondence with MBS starting to play a bigger role. 

The next period, from 2006 to 2008, is while I was doing my MBA at MBS: 

Here my MBS classmates network is a huge part of my emailing. That network also overlaps with the MBS staff network - from my emails to and from the Careers Centre team and my work colleagues from when I worked at MBS for a few months before graduating.  

Emails to my LUMS classmates have dropped of quite a bit, though I was still emailing Amanullah quite regularly. 

Finally, here is what my network looked like after I completed my MBA, that is from 2008 onwards:

Now a new network has popped up: my Melbourne friends outside of MBS. And, thanks to Facebook, I don't email my LUMS or MBS classmates as much as I used to.

That's really cool, isn't it? :) 

Summary Stats

Immersion also gives you a summary of your email stats, including who your top 'collaborators' are (and, if you want, you can also drill down further into your connections with each of these collaborators).

These are my overall stats and the stats for my two top collaborators: 

Yes, that's 20,879 emails with 194 collaborators over 9.3 years :)

My most active email sending years were 2007-2008, which was when I was doing my MBA. My most active email receiving years were 2010-2012 and I think those were because of Nadia, my family, my Melbourne friends, and various mailing lists. 

The group of people I email has stabilized over the last few years so the number of new collaborators I've been adding has dropped considerably. That's also because my Melbourne Water and Jetstar work emails aren't in Gmail so they're not counted here. 

Finally, the two people I collaborate most with are Nadia and my older sister Asha. I like that I've sent Nadia over a thousand emails, of which about two-thirds were sent just to her. Meanwhile I've sent Asha only 515 emails. Of those 137 were sent just to her, which makes sense because she's part of that big family network. 

So there you have it - my life in email.  

If you use Gmail you should check Immersion out yourself. It's fun to use and you can learn a lot about yourself and your email networks in the process. 

Online content & services worth paying for

I get a lot of ‘free’ stuff from the Internet – everything from news and entertainment to email and online storage.

By 'free', of course, I mean ad-supported (in most cases) so while I do technically pay for these services with my time, attention, and user profile data I don't directly pay for them in cash.

There are, however, a bunch of online services that I do explicitly pay for with my own money.

Paid Services

These include services you can't access without a subscription, such as:

I only recently signed up with MOG, by the way, and chose to pay them over their competitors for two main reasons: they stream high quality music (320kbps over WiFi and 4G) and, since they’re a Telstra partner, streaming music from them doesn’t count toward your mobile data bandwidth. Being both an audiophile who values high quality music and a Telstra mobile customer both of these are excellent reasons.

Payment Optional & Freemium Services

The other online services I pay for/contribute to are the kind that you can access for free but can also support financially if you so choose.

These include the news, information, and editorial services like:

With the exception of Wikipedia, to which I donate annually, the rest I support through automatic monthly micropayments.

The freemium services (products, really) that I pay for include:

  • Online information management from Evernote
  • Online photo storage from Flickr

Oh, and depending on how Fairfax rolls things out, I’ll probably subscribe to The Age Online, too, once they set up their paywall. And, speaking of news outlets, I also used to subscribe to the Economist but, much as I loved their content and editorial, I wasn’t getting enough of a return on my investment.

So that’s my list. What online services – content services or products – do you pay for?

More About Transport Maps: London & New York

Earlier this month, in a post about the upgrade of the Melbourne tram network map, I mentioned that I really loved the London Underground Tube map and the MTA New York Subway map.

Underground MTA logos

A lot has been written about these maps so I don’t have much to add but here some information are bunch of links about them that you might find interesting.

London Underground Tube Map

Let’s start with the Wikipedia entry for this map which summarises its origins:

The first diagrammatic map of the Underground was designed by Harry Beck in 1931. Beck was an Underground employee who realised that because the railway ran mostly underground, the physical locations of the stations were irrelevant to the traveller wanting to know how to get to one station from another - only the topology of the railway mattered.


To this end, he devised a simplified map, consisting of stations, straight line segments connecting them, and the River Thames; lines ran only vertically, horizontally, or on 45 degree diagonals. To make the map clearer and to emphasise connections, Beck differentiated between ordinary stations (marked with tick marks) and interchanges (marked with diamonds). The Underground was initially sceptical of his proposal - it was an uncommissioned spare-time project, and it was tentatively introduced to the public in a small pamphlet in 1933. It immediately became popular, and the Underground has used topological maps to illustrate the network ever since.

This is the map that started it all: It was a proper transport system infographic and not a route overlay (underlay?) drawn on top of a geographically accurate aboveground map.

Here’s what the map looks like today:

London tube map

You can read more about the Underground map on the BBC’s h2g2 website and can see images of it through its history on the Guardian’s website. There’s also more detail about it’s history (till 2002) here.

For something more awesome, check out:

Oh, and if you’re interested, you can get the actual, current map from here.

MTA New York Subway Map

Again, let’s start with the New York Subway’s Wikipedia entry which has this to say about its map:

The current official transit maps of the New York City Subway are based on a 1979 design by Michael Hertz Associates. The maps are not geographically accurate due to the complexity of the system (i.e. Manhattan being the smallest borough, but having the most lines), but are known to help tourists navigate the city, as major city streets are shown alongside the subway stations serving them. The newest edition of the subway map, which took effect on June 27, 2010, reflects the latest service changes and also makes Manhattan bigger and Staten Island smaller.

Part of the reason for the current incarnation is that earlier diagrams of the subway (the first being produced in 1958), while being more aesthetically pleasing, had the perception of being more geographically inaccurate than the diagrams today. The design of the subway map by Massimo Vignelli, published by the MTA between 1974 and 1979, has since become recognized in design circles as a modern classic; however, the MTA deemed the map was flawed due to its placement of geographical elements.

So New York is one of the few large cities whose subway map is more closely tied to its aboveground geography. In his 2006 New York Times article, ‘Win, Lose, Draw: The Great Subway Map Wars’, Alex Mindlin had this to say about why Vignelli’s simpler but geographically inaccurate map didn’t work:

Although designers love to discuss why Mr. Vignelli’s schematic map didn’t fly, no single theory has emerged. The graphic designer Michael Bierut, however, suggests that New York’s street grid was to blame.

“Londoners are actually unclear about how close one stop is to the next,” he said. “But a lot of Manhattanites could tell you authoritatively how long it would take to walk from Fifth and 28th to Seventh and 44th. So the geographic discrepancies in the Vignelli map, which are no more than those you find in lots of subway maps around the world — they’re just glaring.”

Bierut actually explained the problem with Vignelli’s map more thoroughly in his own article on this topic in 2004 (the 100th anniversary of the New York Subway system):

[Vignelli’s map] was a design solution of extraordinary beauty. Yet it quickly ran into problems. To make the map work graphically meant that a few geographic liberties had to be taken. What about, for instance, the fact that the Vignelli map represented Central Park as a square, when in fact it is three times as long as it is wide? If you're underground, of course, it doesn't matter: there simply aren't as many stops along Central Park as there are in midtown, so it requires less map space. But what if, for whatever reason, you wanted to get out at 59th Street and take a walk on a crisp fall evening? Imagine your surprise when you found yourself hiking for hours on a route that looked like it would take minutes on Vignelli's map.

Here’s what the map looks like today:


For more about the map’s history (as well as that of the the subway system itself), check these out:

Another good website on the New York City subway is, of course,

For something more awesome, though, check out:

Of course, if you’re interested in the actual, official, current subway map, you can get that from here.

Melbourne Maps

For more about Melbourne’s transport maps (both tram and train), check out these links:

Other Maps & Things

If you’ve reached the end are are still reading, here are some more good links to check out:

Photos from SlutWalk Melbourne

So today we took part in SlutWalk Melbourne (which I wrote about earlier).

The only half decent report on the Melbourne walk is here but I’m sure there will be others over the next few days. The really good accounts (i.e. the nuanced and non-snarky ones) will, inevitably, be published in blogs.

We started outside the State Library of Victoria on Swanston Street with a few speeches:

The one by Cody Smith was particularly inspirational though others made really good points as well, such as:

"It shouldn't be the responsibility of survivors to educate people about rape."

"It is not the responsibility of women to educate people on sexism"

"If you come from a position of privilege it should be your responsibility to educate yourself and your friends."

Lots of people were carrying awesome protest signs, like this one from James:

And this one from someone standing behind us:

After the speeches we walked down Swanston and Collins Streets to Parliament Gardens. Here are Scott, Nadia, James, and Andrew:

And here are me and Nadia once we got to the gardens:

If you’re curious about the “Hornet’s nest of revolutionary feminism” t-shirt I’m wearing, you can find out more about that on the Tiger Beatdown blog.

(Also, you can see a few more photos from this walk on my Flickr profile.)

Sadly, while the walk made an important statement, raised a lot of awareness, and was lots of fun to participate in, my cold didn’t react very well to two hour out in the cold so I got home a little worse for wear. I’ll definitely be sleeping in tomorrow!

A big thanks to the walk’s organizers and volunteers for making this happen; Samurai AV for the sound system; Victoria Police for coordinating our movement through the CBD; and everyone who turned up today (both in person and in spirit).

Here’s hoping this walk – and, indeed, this whole movement – has a genuine, long-term impact that reduces incidents of victim blaming and slut shaming. If nothing else, the walk has got us all talking about theses issues and that, in itself, is a good thing.

SlutWalk Melbourne is on 28 May 2010

In case you haven’t already heard, SlutWalk Melbourne is at 1:00 PM on 28 May 2010 in front of the State Library on Swanston Street in the CBD.

What’s it all About?

For a quick introduction, here’s what the Melbourne protest’s organizer, Clem Bastow, said about SlutWalk in The Age earlier this week:

The "SlutWalk" phenomenon began in January this year, when a group of Toronto women organised a protest following a local police officer's comments (to university students) that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised".

The organisers' stance was simple: to call for an end to victim-blaming, the idea that victims of sexual assault or rape could somehow be blamed for their attackers' actions based upon what the victim was wearing or doing at the time. Was the victim dressed skimpily? Were they intoxicated? Did they have a large number of sexual partners? Yes? Oh well, that explains it then.

In addition, the walks protested against a culture of slut-shaming. As the founders put it, "Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault."

Why Attend?

Nadia wrote a really good blog post about the whole SlutWalk movement which mirrors my own feelings on this topic:

…If you get sexually assaulted, NOTHING you were wearing or were doing is going to be good enough. There will always be some moron going on about how you shouldn’t have gone there or done that or worn such-and-such or had a sexual or professional or intellectual history. The bottom line is that we live in a global society that believes femaleness is a fault and that if something happens to you, well then that’s just what you’re going to get if you insist on existing while female.

So yes, I’m going and I’d encourage anyone of any gender and any orientation who can attend to do so. Because this isn’t about one kind of woman or one kind of world view or even women as a group. Victim blaming and a culture that allows and even expects it are toxic for all of us, whoever we are and wherever we are. It is important then that, when handed the opportunity on a silver platter, we lend our voices to the protest against it.

I recommend you read the whole blog post and I, too, recommend that you attend at the protest walk.

Also, please don’t “slut up” or dress up for the walk. Women get abused, sexually assaulted, and, yes, called sluts regardless of what they do and what they wear. I think it’s important that people of all types, wearing all kinds of clothes attend the protest dressed as they normally would in order to highlight the diversity of people who are willing to stand up against victim blaming and slut shaming.

More Information

New Melbourne Tram Network Map

I love infographics and have a particular fondness for really good transport network maps. So I was very excited when, last week, Yarra Trams (Melbourne’s tram operator) launched a new version of their tram network map.

Old vs. New Map

Here’s the old network map:

Yarra Trams - Old Tram Network Map

And here’s the fantastic new one:

Yarra Trams - New Tram Network Map 2011

A little application of colour goes a long way, doesn’t it? :)

One Colour Per Tram Route

This addition of colour – specifically, the assigning of one colour per line/route – is an excellent feature that is used by the best transport maps from around the world. Certainly my favourite transport maps – the London Underground Tube map and the MTA New York Subway map – both use this visual cue. So I’m glad Yarra Trams (YT) have added it to theirs. (More on those other maps in another blog post.)

The cool thing is that YT are highlighting this change via a really good marketing campaign (or would you call this a change management campaign?).

For example, yesterday they were handing these out at the Flinders Street tram stop on Swanston Street:

New Tram Map Marketing Campaign

The information in the booklet was useful (an Android version of their awesome tramTRACKER app is coming soon!) and the jelly beans were delicious :)

Route Maps Inside Trams

YT have also gone a step further and placed colour-coded route maps inside trams. Through this, travellers have easy access to more detailed route information for the tram they’re currently on:

Route Maps on Trams

The complete network map is also available on a nearby wall, of course.

All in all, I’m thrilled with this latest instalment of KDR’s “TRAMSformation” of Yarra Trams.

Further Reading

If you like this sort of thing, do check these links out:

‘On Her Shoulders’ - International Women’s Day Documentary (UN Women Australia)

‘On Her Shoulders’ is a short documentary commissioned by UN Women Australia to commemorate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

The message to young women is: You might think you're equal but, mate, you're not.

You earn less, you earn less per hour, you earn less over your lifetime. You do a heap of unpaid work because somebody's got to do it.

You don’t run things, you don’t decide things…so don’t have the illusion that you’ve got choice.

Eva Cox

UN Women Australia commissioned a short documentary to be made to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of International Women's Day. 'On Her Shoulders' follows the history of International Women's Day and the struggles women have faced. In addition, it looks at what still needs to be achieved to ensure that gender equality can be fully realised.

Microaggressions Blog

Nadia recently told me about the Microaggressions blog that, as the name suggests, publishes microaggressions.

The cool thing about this blog is that it publishes user-submitted stories (microstories?) and doesn’t limit them to just racially motivated encounters (which is what the term was originally coined for).

The blog is a great place to vent so, if you have any episodes to share, please do so.

My Experience

The kind of microagression that I come across most has to do with my language abilities:

[Usually spoken in a surprised and attempted-complimentary but actually-patronizing tone of voice] “Your English is really good!”

English is my first language but there are always people who will assume that, because I’m from Pakistan or because I don’t look like the dominant Caucasian population, that couldn’t possibly be.

Though, since:

  • I am male, largish in size (fat, not muscle, unfortunately), and whiter than the average Pakistani (so I don’t look “typically” South Asian);
  • my English is really good; and
  • I look and dress like a geek (sneakers, comfortable jeans, geeky t-shirt, Casio watch, glasses, bald, goatie…again, not “typically” South Asian)

not too many people say that to me directly.

The second most common one is to do with the numerous stereotypes people have of South Asian women. I won’t go into that here because…well, that can be a long story.

What Happens Next

The Microaggressions blog is great because it gives you a place to vent. But what’s sometimes more interesting is what happens after the initial exchange.

If you recognize what just happened you then have a choice of what to do next. You can:

  • do nothing and move right along,
  • react aggressively in return, or
  • make this a “teaching moment”.

What you choose depends on:

  • which of those options are actually open to you at the time (e.g. if you’re in large auditorium and the person making the presentation makes such a statement so you can’t do much till question time at the end),
  • how charitable, ticked off, or angry you’re feeling (which, in turn, depends on who made the statement and how they said it),
  • how many times you’ve heard that statement before in the last few days,
  • how tired you are of reacting to similar statements,
  • how well you think you can make your point,
  • who made that statement and how you think they’ll react to what you say next,
  • what the social dynamic of the group is,
  • and so on.

For example, when someone makes a generalized statement about Pakistan that perpetuates a stereotype but, in my opinion, they’ve said that because they don’t know any better, I will almost always try to correct them right then and there. (Though sometimes what I really wish I could do is sit them down and show them Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk on ‘The Dangers of a Single Story.)

If I think they’ve made that statement because they genuinely believe it, then I think more carefully before saying something at that time. Sometimes it’s better to address more complex points later on and one-on-one. Sometimes it’s easier to send a link to an article or blog post that explains things better than you can. I do, however, try to make a quick point by saying something like “Well, that’s not quite right…but we can talk about that later.”

Of course, none of this takes away from the sting, irritation, hurt, or anger that you might feel at the statement this person has made. Which, of course, is what the Microaggressions blog is all about.

How I’ve Responded

When people have complimented me on how good they think my English is I’ve generally responded in a couple of different ways.

The first is a quick dismissal of their statement:

PERSON: “Your English is really good!”

ME: “Well it should be! It’s my first language, after all.”

I generally say that to people who genuinely don’t know better (yes, some people do live under a rock). This highlights their stereotyping without making it a very personal retort.

Most of time these people will accept what I’ve said (often with a sheepish smile) and move on. I can remember only once instance in the last few years in which someone replied to this with: “No, that’s not what I meant. I just mean that your English is better than most of the people working here.”

I responded to that with something like: “Oh, okay. It’s just that I hear statements like this most often from people who have stereotypes about the English speaking abilities of people from South Asia.” (Though I didn’t say it quite like that at the time!)

Fortunately, this person was very open to the highly productive discussion on stereotyping that followed.

My second response is reserved for the people who do know better:

PERSON: “Your English is really good!”

ME: “Thanks! Such are the joys of having taught English for years and having worked as an editor whose job it was to correct others’ English!”

The idea being that I react as if they’d said that to someone they perceive to be a “native English speaker” (i.e. another white person). And since my English is usually better than theirs I simply…highlight that fact.

The response I haven’t yet used is one that I’m saving for someone who really deserves it:

PERSON: “Your English is really good!”

ME: “Thanks! So is yours!”

Or the one that one of my classmates at MBS suggested:

PERSON: “Your speak English really well!”

ME: “Thanks! So do you…for a white guy/girl.”


TAM Australia Day 1

I’m back in my hotel room after attending the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe (SGU) Dinner on Day 1 of the TAM Australia conference in Sydney. And what an awesome day it’s been.

For starters, the venue is very impressive. The conference is being held at the Sydney Masonic Centre which is the unusual looking in the middle of this photo:

Most of the talks are taking place in the largest auditorium there called, as you would expect, the Grand Lodge:

Today’s sessions (mostly panel discussions) were really a preamble to the official program of talks that kicks off tomorrow morning. Here’s what happened.

Paranormal in Australia

After a quick welcome, we launched straight into a panel discussion on the paranormal both in Australia and elsewhere. Here are James Randi and Barry Williams at that panel:

Some interesting points from the discussion:

  • Not all people who witness “paranormal” events want you to explain what it was that they saw; they almost prefer it to be a mystery that “has the experts baffled”
  • Some of them do this because they want to feel special or self important while others just like having mystery in their lives (e.g. they want to believe)

Skeptical Activism 101

I then attended a workshop on skeptical activism (instead of the one on science based medicine that was running in parallel). This was a fun and informative discussion despite the really irritating buzzing coming from the speakers for the first hour or so. (And by ‘speakers’ I mean the audio producing equipment and not the panelists!)

Some of the resources mentioned during the workshop included:

James Randi

After a quick break we reconvened in the Grand Lodge to hear James Randi talk about his life in skepticism. Very inspiring stuff. He even did a couple of magic tricks :)

Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki

Dr. Karl’s talk was (as expected) hectic, crazy, funny, random, and informative. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to take a photo of him while he was speaking.

George Hrab

We closed the day’s program with a brilliant performance by the multi-talented George Hrab.

I look forward to seeing him perform in Melbourne on 30 November :)

SGU Dinner

The after hours events for tonight were the SGU Dinner and the ‘Pieces of Mind’ performance by Simon Taylor. I would have loved to attend both but SGU is one of my favourite skeptical podcasts so it’s to their dinner that I went.

Here are all the podcasters in attendance at that dinner standing up on stage for a photo opportunity:

And here are the members of the SGU answering questions (left to right: Bob, Evan, Rebecca, Jay, and Steve):

It was really strange to hear such familiar voices coming from faces I hadn’t seen in-person before!

No one from the SGU actually made it to our table to talk to us (there were lots of tables there!) but some of them were wandering about the room so people went over and talked to them.

Overall, it was a fun event and I really enjoyed talking to the people at my table. Interesting stuff I learnt there:

  • Astronomy seems to has a higher proportion of women than do other fields of science. However, as you go up the career/experience hierarchy, the proportion shifts pretty drastically to mostly men.
  • The NeoCube is quite awesome.

The Fun Continues Tomorrow

So that’s it for day 1.

Tomorrow we kick off at 9am with Brian Dunning (from and end with a harbour cruise (called ‘Skeptics Afloat’) so I’d better rest up. There is much to do this weekend.

Things to do in Sydney

I’m going to Sydney next week to attend TAM Australia which is this year’s annual conference of the Australian Skeptics.

I haven’t spent much time in Sydney before so I’ll be heading there a couple of days early to do some sightseeing.

I was going to do some research on stuff to do while there but, a couple of months ago, Lifehacker and its readers solved that problem for me via the Ask Lifehacker question: ‘What Should I Do On A Sydney Staycation?’.

Now I have too many things to do in the day-and-a-half before the conference…but that’s okay, I’d rather have too many than too few choices :)

Aussiecon 4: Day 5

aussiecon4_logo_web Today was the fifth and final day of Aussiecon 4, the 68th World Science Fiction Convention.

I am tired, brain-stuffed, geeked-out, hugely inspired, and incredibly happy.

This despite the fact that there was so much more I wanted to do but simply wasn’t able to get to. Oh well…next  time :)


It is now one of my life’s goals to attend every single Worldcon and win at least one Hugo award.

Sessions Attended on Day 5

Today’s program changed quite a bit – I think the Hugo winners were doing interviews while the Hugo nominees were sleeping in! – so I attended the following sessions:

High stakes: the television world of Joss Whedon

  • There are lots of good things about Joss Whedon’s shows: great writing; smart dialogue; excellent humour (i.e. the show doesn’t take itself too seriously); a sense of family; good, strong characters (particularly women); complex characters; damaged characters are fabulous; great character growth (e.g. Wesley, Fred/Illyria, Drusilla, Topher, etc.); a consistent and well developed world; great stories (some of which may make you uncomfortable); brilliant story arcs; letting the actors inform their characters; and the show doesn’t fall apart when a character’s love interest is realized (and later falls apart catastrophically!)
  • There are plenty of bad things, too: some of the fight scenes (particularly early Buffy ones) could have been better; the cast is too racially white; and some issues are handled naively (e.g. Inara as a Companion and the implications of her profession and position in society)

Losing the plot: plotting in advance vs writing as you go

  • When approaching the plot for a story, writers range from gardeners (they see how things grow as they write their story) to architects (they plan everything in advance)
  • Television writing is very architect-oriented while book writing appears to be more gardener-oriented
  • Most authors seem to have a general beginning, middle, and end in mind when they start to write their story
  • The ‘middle’ often consists of milestones or tent pole events in the plot
  • Plot outlines can be useful, particularly in complicated stories
  • Plot outlines can help you write faster and more efficiently

Reading: Charles Stross

This was a great reading. Stross read from his upcoming book, ‘Rule 34’, that’s due out in July 2011.

Hand-waving, rule-breaking and other dirty tricks of hard sf

  • Unless they belong to the mundane SF movement, most hard SF authors are okay with bending the rules if the science gets in the way of their story (e.g. faster-than-light travel)
  • They will, however, take pains to be internally consistent with the changes that they have made – even if they don’t actually address how the new science/knowledge works (e.g. they won’t explain the workings of an FTL engine in a space ship in the same way you wouldn’t explain the workings of an internal combustion engine every time you talked about a car)
  • Remember Clarke’s Three Laws 
  • Hard SF stories that use current knowledge that is later found to be incorrect do get dated but this doesn’t mean those stories will no longer be read (take, for example, H.G. Wells and all his stories that were based on the science knowledge and theories of his time)

Fantasy fiction and the Bechdel Test

  • The ‘Whores and virgins: finding roles for women in fantasy fiction’ session was cancelled so I went to this session, instead
  • As it happened, because of all the schedule changes that took place today, the panelists for this session didn’t turn up (they’d either left or didn’t know they were on this panel)
  • Fortunately, the thirty of us who did turn up made a circle of chairs and did the session ourselves :)
  • The Bechdel Test, which was created for movies & television, can also be applied to fantasy fiction books, comics, anime, and video games
  • Most early books don’t pass this test while many newer ones do
  • The test is, of course, an awareness-raising tool so it has its limitations and can’t be applied universally
  • It is useful in pointing out blind spots to authors, though

Closing Ceremony

  • Aussiecon 4 was awesome – thanks to everyone (organizers, guests, and attendees alike) for making it so much fun

What Next?

renovation-banner-follow-greenWhen one Worldcon ends, another one begins. Aussiecon 4 is dead. Long live Renovation!

The 69th World Science Fiction Convention, called Renovation, will be held in Reno, Nevada, USA from 17-21 August 2011.

I will do my best to be there.

Concluding Thoughts

John Scalzi, Charles Stross, Gail Carriger & Melinda Snodgrass are awesome.

I have craploads of books to read. I have lots of stuff to write. I have many magazines to subscribe to. I have a bunch of fan clubs to join.

I have autographs from Gail Carriger & Charles Stross. I also have photos of them (from their readings) and with them.

Here’s Carriger:

Gail Carriger at her reading at Aussiecon 4

Here’s Stross:

Charles Stross at his reading at Aussiecon 4

And here’s me with Stross (somebody asked if I was his stunt double!):

Me and Charles Stross

All in all, it’s been a fabulous five days.

Now back to the real world…

Aussiecon 4: Day 4

aussiecon4_logo_web Four down, one last day to go at Aussiecon 4.

Sessions Attended on Day 4

I made a few changes to the sessions I attended today, which ended up being:

Novellas: the perfect format

  • I attended only half this sessions because Gail Carriger’s reading started on the half hour
  • Novellas (a manuscript that’s 17,500-40,000 words in length) used to be harder to sell: you can’t sell them as standalone books and, though they’re featured in some SF magazines, there’s only one per issue
  • They’re becoming easier to sell thanks to the rise of e-books and publishers that are publishing two-for-one novella books or novella anthologies
  • Authors generally know, when a story comes to them, what its length is going to be; i.e. whether the idea will work best as a short story, novella, novelette, or book

Reading: Gail Carriger

  • This was a really fun reading from Carriger’s third book, ‘Blameless’, followed by a quick Q&A session
  • Fun tweet: @gailcarriger: Heard at #worldcon #aussiecon4 "I love Gail's fans all the men are quiet and gentlemanly and all the women are bold and obstreperous." 

How to review

  • There is a difference between ‘reviewing’ (with answers the basic question of “should I spend my hard earned money on this book?”) and ‘critiquing’ (which is a more in-depth, in-context analysis of a piece of work)

The short half-life of strange television

According to the panel and audience members, the following good TV shows were cancelled before their time:

Science fiction and the television industry

  • SF in the TV industry is complicated
  • For more about the entertainment industry listen to the podcast, The Business

The future of gender and sexuality

  • There are lots of speculative science fiction works in which authors have talked about possible gender and sexuality futures (including post-gender, post-human, post-sex-for-reproduction types of futures)
  • Some of these authors explicitly talk about the impact of such futures (including, for example, reactions and counter sexual revolutions) while, for others, the future gender and sexuality situation is part of the backdrop of the world they’re describing (so future earth is described much like an alien culture)
  • Unfortunately, this session ended up being more of a topic-raising discussion as opposed to a good topic-analysing discussion so I left halfway through
  • And, while author Cristina Lasaitis did have some really great things to say, sadly the level of conversation was too basic for her to have a good discussion about it

Taking it on the chin: authors and reviewers

  • There are three kinds of reviews – overly positive ones, overly negative ones, and properly considered ones – and authors should ignore all but the last kind
  • Negative reviews shouldn’t make you feed bad: you can’t (and shouldn’t try to) please everyone all of the time
  • Ignore reviews in which the reviewer is only using you or your work to promote their own agendas
  • There’s a difference between a bad review and a negative review
  • Never respond to a review

The Hugo Awards

  • The Hugo Award ceremony was really fun.
  • I’m really glad that Charles Stross won for ‘Palimpsest’ in the Best Novella category. That novella really blew my mind, as have all the other works of his that I’ve read.
  • The only other author that blows my mind as much as Stross does is Vernor Vinge

Sessions for Day 5

Here are the sessions I plan to attend tomorrow, which is the last day of the convention:

  • High stakes: the television world of Joss Whedon
  • The Grandfather paradox
  • Book signing with Charles Stross
  • Hand-waving, rule-breaking and other dirty tricks of hard sf
  • Whores and virgins: finding roles for women in fantasy ficition
  • Closing Ceremony

This con has been a blast so far and tomorrow shouldn’t be any different.

Aussiecon 4: Day 3

aussiecon4_logo_web I have now had three fantastic days at Aussiecon 4.

The best part is that, even after three whole days of awesomeness, there are still two more days to go!

Gail Carriger: Book Signing & Photo

Today was particularly fantastic because I went to Gail Carriger’s book signing at which she signed my copy of her third book, ‘Blameless’ :)

I also got my photo taken with her:

Photo with Gail Carriger


All three of her books – ‘Soulless’, ‘Changeless’, and ‘Blameless’ (collectively known as the Parasol Protectorate series) – are really good, by the way. They’re fun, funny, and creative and they feature Alexia Tarabotti who has quickly become one of my favourite science fiction characters.

These books, if I could describe how they feel, are like chocolate cake without the calories: they’re delicious, decadent, lots of fun, and you don’t feel guilty about gorging on them.

Maybe at the next Worldcon, instead of wearing my ‘What would Ripley do?’ t-shirt (as I am in the photo above), I might have to make and wear a ‘What would Alexia do?’ t-shirt, instead.

Sessions Attended on Day 3

I attended the following sessions today:

Copyright in the 21st Century

  • Copyright is complicated
  • At a very basic level, you have to ask yourself: “What is the purpose of copyright”? and
    • How much of it has to do with protecting and/or recognizing intellectual property?
    • How much of it has to do with the economic benefits of creative work flowing to authors?

The best SF novel you have never read

As if I didn’t already have a huge list of books to read, I now have more; including:

I also have a book that was published as a podcast series to listen to:

The James Bond enigma

  • James Bond is the only spy movie franchise to have survived the decades (for a number of reasons; one of which is that it keeps adapting to the needs of that particular decade)
  • It is being threatened by the Bourne series of movies
  • The reboot is great because it’s now gone back to its old, darker, more character driven, and less gadget focused style

Melinda Snodgrass: writing for television

Kim Stanley Robinson's guest of honour speech

  • Robinson interviewed himself; it was a really good speech

Cyberpunk and the city

  • Cyberpunk as a political movement is dead but it remains alive as a stylistic movement through fashion and iconography
  • It has evolved to what is sometimes called ‘post-cyberpunk’ (until someone comes up with a better name for it) in which the protagonist is often trying to fix a dystopian work by building instead of by tearing down
  • It has a sub-genres, such as biopunk

Just a Minute

  • This was a fun SF-oriented quiz show based on the famous and long running BBC Radio show of the same name
  • It featured Paul Cornell (as host), Jennifer Fallon, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Chine Mieville, John Scalzi, and Catherynne Valente
  • It started late and ran over time so I missed the end but I’m pretty sure Scalzi won hands down :)

Academic Panel: Fantastic females: reworking feminism in women’s fantasy


  • The masquerade was fun; some people make awesome costumes

Sessions for Day 4

Tomorrow I’m planning to attend these sessions:

  • The problems with first contact or Film Program: International Animated Shorts
  • Do you want to be in our club? or Far future: where fantasy meets SF or Anachronistic fiction: successors to steampunk
  • Readings: Jason Nahrung, Gail Carriger or 3D cinema: revolution or novelty? or Editing the novel or The case for a female Doctor or Novellas: the perfect format (this is going to be a difficult choice!)
  • Great women of science fiction or, if I can make it, a kaffeeklatsch with Charles Stross
  • The short half-life of strange television
  • Science fiction and the television industry or The limits of science
  • The future of gender and sexuality or Norman Cates’ WETA digital presentation
  • Mary Poppins: from the Outback to Cherry Tree Lane or Build a LEGO Dalek (for adults) or Boxcutters present: writing Doctor Who
  • The Hugo Awards

It should, again, be an awesome day – by the end of which we’ll find out who’s won this year’s Hugos :)

Aussiecon 4: Day 2

aussiecon4_logo_web Thus endeth another fantastic day at Aussiecon 4. Well, at least for me. Others will party late into the night, I’m sure.

Today I:

  • bought a book: Singularity Sky by Charles Stross (which I will ask him to sign tomorrow)
  • ordered three t-shirts: one for Nadia, two for me (including the official con t-shirt)
  • attended a number great sessions

Sessions Attended on Day 2

These are the sessions I attended:

The Last Airbender: race and Hollywood cinema

  • We talked about a lot of stuff, most of which is covered on

Making a living: Professional writing for speculative fiction authors

  • Great session and I got to hear both John Scalzi (Wikipedia) and Cory Doctorow (Wikipedia) talk! :)
  • Most writers of speculative fiction (or fiction of any kind, really) need to think, work, and act like freelancers, entrepreneurs, and sole traders
  • Important things to do/remember:
    • have multiple income streams (including fallback streams)
    • day jobs can be very useful to have
    • save all the money you can
    • be good at scheduling your time
    • write every day (this is important)

The future of privacy

  • This was another great session and, in this, I got to hear Charles Stross (Wikipedia) talk! :)
  • Privacy is complicated and our concepts of privacy are changing very quickly
  • Technology is moving much faster than the cultural shifts needed to use it well

Eowyn and Sam: underappreciated heroes in The Lord of the Rings

  • This is my favourite session of the con so far
  • Everyone in the room loved Tolkien, knew a lot about him and his books, and spoke very intelligently about the books and the Peter Jackson movie trilogy
  • We talked mostly about Eowyn, Sam, and Faramir

To the stars: the never-ending history of Star Trek

  • This was an excellent session as well, especially since it included Melinda Snodgrass (Wikipedia) on the panel :)
  • The new Star Trek film was shot using the script’s first draft because it was shot during the Hollywood writer’s strike

Academic Panel: These are not the people you are looking for: race in SFF

  • This was a good panel with some brilliant panelists, including China Miéville
  • I can’t write all the awesome stuff that was discussed so, instead, I suggest you read the article that this session was inspired by: ‘Racism and Science Fiction’ by Samuel R. Delany in the The New York Review of Science Fiction

Sessions for Day 3

Tomorrow I’m planning to attend these sessions:

  • Copyright in the 21st Century
  • The best SF novel you have never read or Capes and skirts: the plight of female superheroes or QF (the SF version of Stephen Fry’s quiz show QI) – I’m having a hard time making up my mind!
  • The James Bond enigma
  • Book signing with Gail Carriger followed by Did the future just arrive? The e-book and the publishing industry
  • Cyberpunk and the city or Vote #1 The Thing for President: how cult films are born
  • Thinking in trilogies or Micro-audience and the online critic
  • Academic Panel: Fantastic females: reworking feminism in women’s fantasy
  • The Masquerade Ball

It should be awesome :)

Aussiecon 4: Day 1

aussiecon4_logo_webI’m attending the 68th World Science Fiction – Aussiecon 4 – that’s being held in Melbourne, Australia from 2-6 September. 

Today was the first day and, so far, it’s been awesome.

Choices, Choices…

The biggest problem with conventions like these are that there are multiple sessions running concurrently (in multiple rooms, of course) so you have to choose which one of those you want to attend.

The organizers do, however, try to make your life a little easier by dividing sessions into topic streams – such as kids, young adults, academic panels, academic papers, writers workshops, film programs, signings, talks from guests, and so on. That way, if you have any special overarching interest in one streams, it makes it a little easier for your to make your choices.

Sessions Attended on Day 1

Aussiecon 4 opening ceremonyToday, aside from the opening ceremony, I attended the following sessions during which I learnt the following things (though, of course, this is just a small sample of what was discussed there):

Breaking the fourth wall: Supernatural and its audience

  • There are two kinds of ‘fourth walls’:
    • one in which the show’s authors are influenced by the fans (e.g. the killing off of Bela in Supernatural season 3) and
    • the other in which the show’s characters interact with the audience during/through the show (e.g. the bit after the credits in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off).
  • Fan influence can be both to the show’s benefit and detriment. In the case of Supernatural the consensus seems to be that the latter occurred.
  • It can sometimes be hard for a show’s authors to figure out whether the feedback they’re getting from their fans is:
    • just the loudest people trying to get them to write the show they really want to see (e.g. this must happen in the next season because I think that would be awesome!) or
    • a genuine fan pointing out a flaw or blind spot in their story or show choices (e.g. all the show’s characters happen to be Caucasian…wtf?).
  • American TV networks seem to be shifting the way in which they source and plan for serialized shows. The original model was, for example, a show that had a 5-year storyline with defined milestones for each season. The newer model seems to be the British one of shows being sold with 1-year plans and, if they do well in that first year, being picked up for subsequent seasons.

Perfectly packaged: designing and marketing science fiction

  • A book’s cover image should tell you what it feels like to be reading that book
  • Some manuscripts are really easy to pick covers for while for others (such as cross-genre one) it’s a much harder exercise
  • ‘Less is more’ in book covers and one of the most effective covers is one with big lettering for both the author’s name and book’s title and with only a small image/illustration
  • Publishers try to avoid people’s faces on book covers because it leaves more to the imagination
  • Black book covers with a single, coloured high-contrast image in the centre (i.e. the Twilight style) is very last year

Things to do in Melbourne when you’re geek

Sessions for Day 2

Tomorrow I’m planning to attend the following sessions:

  • When history becomes fantasy: artistic license and historical cinema
  • The Last Airbender: race and Hollywood cinema
  • Rethinking SETI: 50 years on – though this has been rescheduled so I’ll have to change my plans accordingly
  • The future of privacy or, if I’m one of the first ten to sign up, a kaffeeklatsch (i.e. small group discussion) with Gail Carriger
  • Shaun Tan Guest of Honour Speech
  • Eowyn and Sam: underappreciated heroes in The Lord of the Rings
  • To the stars: the never-ending history of Star Trek
  • Academic Panel: These are not the people you are looking for: race in SFF

I’ll also go check out the dealer’s room and go to the Friday Night Filking session (which should be lots of fun).