Hey, Australia and New Zealand, I'm coming to visit you!

I'm about to embark on a tour of Australia and New Zealand to support my novel Walkaway, with stops in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, and Wellington! I really hope you'll come out and say hello! Read the rest

Australia put an algorithm in charge of its benefits fraud detection and plunged the nation into chaos

In a textbook example of the use of big data to create a digital poorhouse, as described in Virginia Eubanks's excellent new book Automating Inequality, the Australian government created an algorithmic, semi-privatised system to mine the financial records of people receiving means-tested benefits and accuse them of fraud on the basis of its findings, bringing in private contractors to build and maintain the system and collect the penalties it ascribed, paying them a commission on the basis of how much money they extracted from poor Australians. Read the rest

Australian government's worst-ever state-secrets leak: accidentally selling filing cabinets full of classified docs in a surplus store

Australian national broadcaster ABC has gotten hold of a massive trove of state secrets that were inadvertently sold off in a pair of cheap, locked filing cabinets purchased from a Canberra junk-shop that specialises in government surplus furniture. Read the rest

Comic-strip contracts, so no one argues they’re too confusing to be enforceable

University of Western Australia Law professor Camilla Baasch Andersen has helped businesspeople draft legally binding contracts that take the form of simple comic-strips, arguing that their simplicity not only promotes understanding, but also insulates companies from the risk of courts finding their contracts unenforceable because they were too confusing (an Australian court has forced insurers Suncorp and Allianz to refund AUD60m paid for insurance that was of "little or no value," but which Australians purchased thanks to confusing fine-print that made it hard to assess). Read the rest

Star Toys: a line of Star Wars-themed sex toys

Australian bathing-suit-area-gadget vendor Geeky Sex Toys has launched Star Toys, a line of Star Wars themed sex-toys that include a Dark Side Bondage Kit, a Hand Solo fleshlight, the Darth Vibrator, Vibe Trooper and R2V2, a C3PO buttplug, and Light Saber dildos in Blue, Red and Green. (via Mitch Wagner) Read the rest

The Australian health authority believed it had "anonymised" a data-set of patient histories, but academics were easily able to unscramble it

The Australian government's open data initiative is in the laudable business of publishing publicly accessible data about the government's actions and spending, in order to help scholars, businesses and officials understand and improve its processes. Read the rest

After priest/child rape scandal, Australian Archbishop says he'll ask the Pope to allow priests to have sex

As a Royal Commission in Australia wraps up its investigation into decades of rape by priests (especially rape of children), and decades of Church officials obstructing investigation into the rape, Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart says he'll ask the Pope to change the rules so that celibacy for priests is voluntary, not mandatory. Read the rest

A proposed Australian leaker law will put journalists and whistleblowers in jail for 20 years

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced a plan to bring down anti-leaker legislation that provides for 20 year prison sentences for whistelblowers who leak in order to prove government wrongdoing, and for the journalists who publish those leaks. Read the rest

Vegemite ice pops

It's summer in Australia, which means people are thinking of cool treats to enjoy in the heat.

Then, on Tuesday, the folks at Vegemite ruined everything by making ice pops with their thick, dark yeast spread.

After much debate whether it was a joke or not, the Melbourne-based brand tweeted, "We weren't kidding with this one!," and offered up the recipe for the repulsive "Vegemite Icy Poles." Read the rest

Cool sculpture made of repurposed wooden escalator stairs

Sydney's Wynyard Station wooden escalators, built in 1932, have been preserved and repurposed as a sculpture titled Interloop, in the station where they operated for over 80 years. Read the rest

Helping kids play with danger: crowdfunding a log-splitter, designed for children

Risky play is good for kids: it lets them test their boundaries in an exhilarating, vivid way -- and it's been all but entirely engineered out of contemporary child-rearing. Read the rest

Bigots who swore their religious beliefs would force them to divorce if Australia passed marriage equality renege on promise

In 2015, Nick and Sarah Jensen publicly swore that their religious beliefs would force them to divorce in protest if Australia enacted marriage equality laws that allowed for same-sex marriage. This week, Australia passed such legislation, but the Jensens were evidently lying, and now Nick Jensen told the press (by text-message!) that they meant their "public comments regarding civil divorce never envisaged me separating from my wife, but rather our marriage from the state." Read the rest

Australian government upholds dismissal of sneaky golfer who shielded his employer-issued tracking device in a chip-bag

Tom Colella worked for 20 years as an Instrument Electrical Tradesperson for Aroona Alliance in Western Australia, until he was fired in on Sept 20, 2016 for sneaking off to play golf every Wednesday afternoon and hiding his absences from his employer by putting the PDA that he was obliged to carry -- in order to track his movements -- in a mylar potato-chip bag that acted as a Faraday cage and prevented it from receiving GPS signals and other location-identifying beacons and storing or communicating his location for his employer. Read the rest

Australia is a world leader in internet usage and bad internet policies, so Australians want better policies

Australia is one of the world leaders in internet adoption and usage, and it's also been one of the worst offenders in bad internet policy, with a track record to rival even America's reckless indifference to the internet's overall importance. Read the rest

Scientist puts his dog on the editorial boards of seven predatory journals as proof of their negligence

By day, "Olivia Doll" sits on the boards of seven academic journals; by night, she's a Staffordshire terrier named Ollie, owned by Mike Daube, a public health expert in Perth, Australia. Read the rest

There is now a Ferry McFerryface ferry, and the crew is pissed

The year 2016, and a public vote, brought us Boaty McBoatface, followed by Horsey McHorseface. Then, earlier this year, Trainy McTrainface pulled into the station.

Now, there's a Ferry McFerryface.

Australia's largest city Sydney asked its citizens to name the new passenger ferry, and six others, in an online public poll. Over 15,000 entries came in. Boaty McBoatface was the number one choice, with Ferry McFerryface coming in second. Since there was already a Boaty, the transit service went with Ferry "for the kids."

While it might appeal to children, the union workers, who are slated to work on the amusingly-named boat, are offended:

Maritime Union of Australia Sydney branch assistant secretary Paul Garrett said ferry staff would boycott the new vessel, which is due to start service on November 26, saying the name was an “insult” that will last for decades.

“Members don’t want to crew the vessel,” he said. “It’s an insult to the integrity and heritage of Sydney Ferries, it undermines the professionalism and pride of the fleet.

“This is not a five-minute internet sensation — this name has to be around for 20, 30, 40 years. This vessel will be left alongside the wharf until further notice.”

Mr Garrett said maritime staff would only crew the vessel if it was renamed.

“Members will leave that vessel alone, we won’t work it,” he said.

(Pee-wee Herman) Read the rest

Australian government proposes jail terms for satire

Juice Media is a company whose "Honest Government Adverts" Youtube series lampoon both the Australian government's decisions and the way it promotes them. Juice's videos are very funny, and very, very obviously parodies (they spell "Australian" wrong!). Read the rest

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