Oh Australia, don't ever change

When you read a news article heading like "Cairns man who binged on ice feared dead after attempting to have sex with crocodile" you just know that the journalist who picked up this particular story was down on their knees crying with gratitude.

According to the friend, the man - now naked - leapt at the crocodile and tried to have intercourse with it. [How? How!?] "We were still a fair distance back but I reckon he just about got it in," said the witness. "Of course, the croc wasn't having a bar of it [never heard that particular idiom before] and started thrashing around like crazy.
This of course has many of the hallmarks of an urban legend - unnamed victim or friends, too good to be true - but the source is a local newspaper in Cairns, and specifically names the beach, so dammit I'm going to believe. I want to believe, and so should you.

I know that Australia is famous for blunt public health warnings - "If you drink and drive, you're a bloody idiot!" but this case provides the material to step it up a gear:

If you smoke ice, a croc will bite yer bollocks off!


Bitrex redux - DUP edition

After 24th June 2016's outpouring of bitterness I expected that it would not be equalled - or even rivalled - for quite a while. It appears I was wrong.

The avalanche of Facebook protest posts and memes about the proposed pact between the Northern Ireland DUP and the Conservatives to form a working (though small majority) has been quite something. The main themes have been appeals to sign the petition protesting against the coalition (now at half a million people!) and excoriations of the Tories for allying with the "bigoted" DUP - with a lot of links to Brighton's favourite loon, Caroline Lucas writing in the Grauniad:

This desperate Conservative government will reach out to the hardline DUP – a party that denies climate change, opposes abortion and is openly homophobic.

Since there are 18 parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland, the DUP has 10 of them, and 7 of the others are held by the Sinn Féin, it seems a bit odd to slam 55%+ of Northern Ireland's parliamentarians as "bigots". It seems fairly clear what Ms. Lucas thinks of the Northern Ireland electorate. Does she perhaps prefer Sinn Féin, since there's no possible way they could be accused of prejudice of any kind? It also appears that their position on abortion is complex, mixed, and still far from the UK mainstream. "Bloody Irish peasants, why aren't any of them woke like we metropolitan liberals?"

Let's face it, this new wave of bitterness is entirely because Jezza didn't make it as far as an electoral majority. Heck, he couldn't even get a majority with a 3-way coalition. This is not to take away from his electoral performance which was a massive out-perform of expectations, but it took one of the most incompetent electoral campaigns in modern times from May and her advisers for him to get even that far.


When seconds count, the police are minutes away

After last night's terror attack on London Bridge and Borough Market, the main lessons I took away were:

  1. Anyone who's motivated can execute this kind of attack: get 1-2 buddies who are similarly motivated - for maximum efficiency - some long knives, and a rented van are all that's needed;
  2. Civilians were reduced to throwing bottles and drinking glasses at the attackers to try to keep them away;
  3. Unarmed officers were effectively powerless during the incident, reduced to trying (extremely bravely) to distract the attackers from civilians;
  4. In the heart of the nation's capital, at near-maximum terror alert, with the densest national concentration of armed officers, the attackers had 8-10 minutes to rampage unimpeded before the armed police turned up and whacked them in short order.

Contrast this with the May 2015 attack in Garland, TX where the heavily armed gunmen just made it out of their car, managed to slightly wound a security officer, and then promptly expired in a hail of bullets. I can't help but notice the complete lack of follow-on terror attacks in Texas since then; presumably word has got around the terror community that it's a poor choice of location.(Glasgow is probably number 2 on the do-not-terrorise list after the terrifyingly vicious response of the residents.).

I can't help but think that the complete dis-arming of the UK civilian population is not working out quite as well as most of its proponents expected.


Teachers vs engineers

"If we paid teachers like we paid engineers, just think how far ahead we would be!"

If we assessed teachers on the results of their work like we did for engineers, just imagine the outcry from the California Teachers Association.

"Class X results in Maths have plummeted year-on-year compared to equivalent classes Y, Z taught by other teachers; class X's Maths teacher objectively sucks and should be demoted/fired."
"How dare you! Won't you think of the children?"
I've met some great teachers in California, but The System is very clearly working against them.

Government-class service

I was chatting at the coffee machine yesterday with a buddy - let's call him Mike - who was just back from paternity leave. He was showing me many, many pictures of his baby son - we can thank Apple and Google for making death-by-mobile-photostream a thing - and mentioned in passing that he'd spent half the morning phoning around local post offices to make a passport appointment so they could go en famille to visit his brother's family in NZ.

"But you said you're not planning to go until October?" I pointed out, puzzled.

Well, it turns out that if you're applying for your first US passport, you can't just send off a few forms. The American passport application form (DS-11) isn't as bad as you might think if you've dealt with other US government forms, but first passports and passports for any under-16 child require that you appear in person at an "acceptance facility". This, in practice, means one of a small number of passport offices, some city clerk offices, or a subset of US post offices. Passport offices allow you to turn up on the day; city clerks and post offices are appointment-only. The appointments are usually only available 3-4 days per week - not weekends, natch - and only a few hours per day, e.g. midday through 4pm.

After canvassing four or five different venues to get a handle on availability, Mike had managed to find himself an appointment for Wednesday 2nd August as the earliest available - ignoring all other scheduling concerns. That's 2 months hence.

"That's a bit tight for an October flight - why not go in person?" I wondered. Unsurprisingly Mike had already done the research, and pointed me to the Yelp reviews for Willow Glen Passport Station, San Jose as a guide to what he'd be dealing with:

#1 tip is get there early - and I mean 3, 4, 5, 6 AM early (the doors open at 10 AM). There will always always be a line. I talked to so many people who just expected to walk up and have their application processed. Even if it LOOKS like there are only 2 or 3 people in front of you, it's entirely possible they are saving a spot for additional people. We thought we were 7th in line but once everyone's relatives showed up at 10, it was more like 15th in line.
Weekends have WAY more people in line and some people have been known to show up as early as 3 AM. We took off work on a weekday just for this reason. Arriving at 4:30 or 5 AM on a weekday SHOULD ensure you're near the front of the line.
Arrived at 4:30. Nine families were there already. At 5, about 20 people. At 6 about 30 people. Total 50 numbers were issued. Therefore, after 6 am chance is small. Numbers were given out by post office employee at 9:55. Got in at 10. Finished at 11:10. Staffs are nice and professional.
Got in the line at 3.20AM. There were 15 folks ahead of me. Long line formed behind me by 8AM. A post office employee came out at 8AM and said "if the applicants are in the line, please come inside, 10 at a time, and I'll validate the forms". Chaos ensued, since most of the folks in the line were holding a spot for their families. Eventually things calmed down. The employee was out again and stated that they would only process 30 passport applications (not 30 customers).
Do you think that there might be a demand signal here? (In case you think Willow Glen is a special case, read the Eastridge reviews.)

What I took away from those reviews is that the passport station staff (generally) were individually trying to do a good job and make things run smoothly, e.g. by pre-validating application forms, but were totally ham-strung by being desperately under-staffed relative to the demand. Similarly, the city clerks and post offices had no incentive at all to add staff and expand the number of face-to-face appointments. It looks like they're limited to claiming $25/person fees so there's no ability to raise fees to respond to demand, and hence no reason to hire extra staff to increase their processing capacity because that's probably below the employment cost here in Silicon Valley.

I remain completely baffled by Americans who want more Federal government involvement in their lives. This is what Federal government involvement looks like. (At the state level, they should examine the well-oiled customer-service-friendly machine that is the Department of Motor Vehicles.)