catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Archive for July 2004

Don't call the phone company

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I had my first ever encounter with voice recognition technology the other night, when I tried to ring Telstra. They’d rung me a few weeks before, offering me 50 free local calls to switch to Telstra long distance. But for some reason I had to ring them back to get the free calls, and I also wanted the annoying beeps at the start of their long distance calls turned off.

After the bad music stops, an electronic lady asks you to say, in a few words, the reason for your call. Unfortunately it is difficult to recount in a few words the story about getting free calls, or to complain about the beeps. Nothing the electronic lady suggested was right – no, I did not want long distance calls barred, and nor did I want information on Telstra plans. I already knew what the plan was; just not how to implement it.

Eventually I gave up and checked out the Telstra website. You can find there some helpful hints about dealing with the electronic lady. But the technology seems to be at best frustrating, and at worst useless, in dealing with anything but the most common and simple inquiries. I am not sure what would happen if you said ‘I want to talk to a live person’, but that’s certainly a function Telstra needs if it is not to go back to being the infuriating company it once was.

The way around the problem, incidentally, is to send them an e-mail. That way, a real person fixed my two problems within 24 hours.

Written by Admin

July 23, 2004 at 7:18 pm

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Blog Comments Awards

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Commenters, feel free to nominate yourself or one of your ilk for the Blog comments award. (Link via Tim Dunlop) I’m tempted to nominate Homer Paxton for ‘most minimalist punctuation’, ‘most tangential’ comment and the ability to smuggle the phrase ‘Iron Mark’ into every comment; Dave Ricardo and Ron Mead would tie for ‘most deliberate trolling’, but aimed at different parties.

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July 23, 2004 at 1:15 pm

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Why politicians still prefer tax cuts

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My CIS paper examining public opinion on taxing and spending (pdf, 29 pages) is finally out today. Part of the argument is summarised in The Australian.

One of the things the paper does is look at why politicians aren’t following polls that show more support for taxing and spending. I provide five possible, and not mutually exclusive, reasons:

1) As public support for more taxes seems linked to prosperity, it is unwise to do anything that can’t be unwound when the business cycle turns again. From the Commonwealth’s point of view, revenue losses are recouped through bracket creep etc, while spending programmes just keep on growing.

2) The public tends not to notice spending increases. The Howard government has increased spending on health and education more rapidly than the Keating government, but gets no political reward for it. People recognise tax cuts because they have more money in their pocket.
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Written by Admin

July 22, 2004 at 10:34 am

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Overimaginative Overland

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In the latest issue of the leftist quarterly Overland, its editor, Nathan Hollier, writes

At the recent roundtable discussion on think tanks and the media … Andrew Norton from The Centre for Independent Studies said that, as with other right-wing think tanks, the main function of the CIS now is to intervene in the cultural sphere. Intellectuals associated with these think tanks have played a crucial role in advancing a racially exclusive and culturally conservative notion of Australianness.

Huh? I think what I said was that the CIS now focuses on social policy more than economic policy, which is the obvious conclusion to draw from the CIS’s strong emphasis on welfare and education over the last few years.

The stuff about a ‘racially exclusive and culturally conservative notion of Australianness’ is pure fantasy on Hollier’s part. Indeed, this looks rather like a projection of the Left’s racial obsessions onto the ideological ‘Other’ (to use one of their favourite terms). The CIS has published very little on national identity type issues. The one reference to ‘Australianness’ that turns up on a search of the CIS website is a criticism of the concept, as used by Pauline Hanson (remember her?).

It is Hollier, not the CIS, who talks about making a racial group central to ‘Australianness’, as when he complains in this same article that

Howard has sought to position the Anzacs in the place of Aboriginal Australia as the true moral and spiritual ancestors of our nation.

A key point about the Anzacs is that though they where white, that is not why they are honoured – it is the virtues they displayed such as bravery, stoicism, and a willingness to sacrifice themselves for others. This is partly why Anzac Day celebrations tend to reflect multi-ethnic and multicultural Australia, and why it is not inconsistent to emphasise good relations with our former enemies the Turks on the anniversary of a day when their ancestors slaughtered so many young Australians. Hollier should put aside the books on identity politics next 25 April, and take a look at what really happens on Anzac Day.

Written by Admin

July 20, 2004 at 8:03 pm

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Political gossip

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I fear that Mark Latham’s recent pre-emptive airing of past personal problems and behaviour has set a trend. Today the media is reporting, that Tony Abbott was once accused of literally touching butt instead of metaphorically kicking it, as he does these days. Abbott himself seems to have triggered this by telling Michael Duffy, author of a forthcoming book on Abbott and Latham, about it.

The magistrate dismissed the case, and we should too. Even if Abbott was guilty, the offence was so trivial as to be a waste of court time and no guide to Abbott the poltician nearly 30 years later. I suspect the electorate won’t get any more excited about this than it has about Latham’s past. There was a poll of marginal seats in last week’s Sunday Telegraph which showed 7% of voters were less likely to vote Labor as a result… and 8% were more likely. At a guess, most of the 7% were women, and most of the 8% men. But the net result was negligible, as it should be.

Written by Admin

July 18, 2004 at 4:22 pm

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Does Tasmania have a depleted gene pool?

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Earlier this week the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story about the apparently odd policy of allocating an extra 1,000 university places to Tasmania over the next four years, despite much more significant shortages of places in other states.

As I often have to explain to bewildered observers of Australian universities, the fact that a policy is absurd has never been considered a valid argument against it. In this case the policy is to equalise university particpation between states in the 17-25 year old population by 2008.

Devotees of Yes Minister may recall the episode involving a hospital with no patients. It’s not quite the case that the University of Tasmania has no students, but it has no existing unmet demand. As the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee unmet demand data shows, the number of Tasmanians in the top 30% of school leavers who missed out on a place in 2004 was…1. Across Bass Strait in Victoria it was 815.

It is even possible for Tasmania to fill its places? The demographic projections (published by DEST in 2002, but seemingly forgotten like everything else in the higher education review process) show that Tasmania’s teenage population is dropping rapidly. And could it be that those who remain behind are, well, let’s be as polite about this as we can, not the most likely to go to university?
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July 17, 2004 at 10:15 am

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Finding the negative

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Conflicting headlines on the UN Human Development Report, released yesterday:

Australia third in living standards, The Age;

In human terms, advanced Australia scores poorly at UN, The Sydney Morning Herald.

Written by Admin

July 16, 2004 at 8:58 am

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