Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Stop internet censorship

Internet censorship is getting increasing attention, and rightly so. We're not just talking about people being prevented to express themselves openly via their websites, or having their content pulled, but also the efforts by authoritarian regimes – be they the government of China or some school in the US – to stop people accessing various sites on the internet because of their content.

This bugs me as a blogger, not just because my blog could in theory be blocked, but because I oppose political censorship.

I'm not talking about porn sites here – I'm all for stopping my son from accidently seeing pornography online. The technology these regimes are turning to, and the IT/internet companies that are colluding with them, is aimed at stopping people from reading online opinion sites, campaign websites, blogs and news services that may carry items critical of the regime.

Cory Doctorow at Boingboing has been doing a huge job to alert people to these issues, and documents the extensive efforts to oppose net censorship and expose copyright and intellectual property restrictions. Electronic Frontier Foundation has been doing an amazing job campaigning for free expression on the
internet for a while now. There's also Electronic Frontiers Australia, if you want to know more about censorship in Australia and help local initiatives against it.

Now Amnesty International has joined the movement against internet censorship with a new online petition and some other interesting stuff. Note the new campaign button I've put on my sidebar. Find out how you too can be 'irrepressible':
Irrepressible Adj. 1) Impossible to repress or control.

Chat rooms monitored. Blogs deleted. Websites blocked. Search engines restricted. People imprisoned for simply posting and sharing information.

… Amnesty International … is launching a campaign to show that online or offline the human voice and human rights are impossible to repress.
[Thanks to David for the tip.]

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Car crash

Car crash
Originally uploaded by Mark Lawrence.
On our way from my son's school yesterday afternoon, we saw this aftermath of what must have been a very bad accident. This car had flipped on its side and ended up on the footpath at the very busy corner at the end of our street!

The not-so-funny thing is that my partner and I were talking about how dangerous that junction is just earlier in the day. We had heard that the Victorian government has earmarked funding for improvements on this bad junction (along with a number of others in our suburb) where accidents are frequent.

The problems at this junction are mainly speeding, drivers who run red lights, and poor visibility. And you wouldn't believe the number of drivers I've seen not stopping for pedestrians crossing the road, or using their mobile phones while driving!

It scares me because we wait at that corner for the lights to change on the pedestrian crossing each time we want to catch the tram! If...


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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A great kid's yarn

I've raved about the joys and importance of reading to your kids before, but I haven't personally suggested what to read them before. I love Alison Lester's books, and I think she's probably one of the best children's book illustrators AND writers in Australia. And that is no easy feat.

For one, not many illustrator-writers get published. They're either one or the other. The handful who do are usually big names in kids' publishing, or are illustrators who break into writing (seldom the other way around). Alison is one of those illustrators with a beautiful eye for detail, great sense of colour, and writes well. Are we there yet? is my favourite – I haven't tired of reading it to my son, who's five-and-a-half, since I bought it for his birthday last year. It's a great way to introduce Australia to a child, and it certainly encourages a sense of adventure in adult and child alike.

I'd heard a little about the book, but what convinced me to buy it was that it was short-listed for the Australian Children's Book of the Year awards last year. In fact, Are we there yet? won the Picturebook category in 2005. When you're standing in a bookshop surrounded by brightly coloured children's books unable to decide which to get, it makes a big difference to know that certain books have been highly recommended – or won an award. It makes it easier to support Australian children's writers and illustrators (who are very good!), and not go for the easy option of the kid's cartoon/merchandise/toy tie-in story book. (However much these have their place on a child's bookshelf, they don't really match well thought out, well told, and well illustrated home-grown picture books.)

If you're wondering what to get a child this year, the 2006
Australian Children's Book of the Year shortlist is here. Its awards cover young adults, early readers, early childhood, picture books and 'information' books. If you want a better idea of what the books look like or are about, check out Readings' coverage of the Awards here.

And remember, when reading to your kids – read early, read often and read
for fun.

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Milestones: 200 photos and counting

These milestones usually pass me by, but I did notice this one – today I uploaded my 200th photo to my Flickr Photos site. A nice round number, and not a full-on one.

I have never been one to upload tons to the site, unlike some avid photographers. Since I started on flickr 1.5 years ago, my collection of photos has grown – slowly and steadily when I started, then shot up when I got my digital camera last year...

You won't see all 200 of them, as a majority are family shots, especially of my kids, that I have marked 'private' for family and friends to view. I still worry about protecting my family's privacy over the internet... Still, there's a fair few 'public' ones I'm noembarrasseded to share.

It is nice to notice these milestoneoccurringng around the same time that Flickr makes
big strides as well.


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Monday, May 22, 2006

Flickr goes gamma

Wow. It has been a few days, but I've just checked my flickr site and found some changes – a new look to how the first page of photos loads is the most apparent. Now, the first page loads to columns of photos, so that you can see more photos on a flicr-person's first/main photos page. I like it.

There are also a few changes to navigations and all that, but I really notice the photos page first off.

And I've noticed that flickr has gone 'gamma'. Gone are the days of flickr 'beta', which has become almost a fixture to its name and whole ethos – a learning, growing, expanding online-photo sharing tool. The flickr team explain the changes on their blog here.

Go look at more photos by some great photographers online...


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Howard's IR laws vs family values

It feels good to have triggered a bit of a conversation about fathers, parenting and work in a previous post. Now, David has alerted me this Don Edgars opinion piece from The Age the other day. In Howard's wrecking ball, Edgars, formerly head of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, examines how Howard's IR laws will affect family life and the time and energy workers – whether men or women – will have with their families.

This was something pointed out in the comments of that previous post of mine, so obviously this is something on many people's minds. Must check out Edgar's book, The War Over Work: the future of work and family (Melbourne University Press).

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Friday, May 19, 2006

From junk food to kitchen gardens

Who says that a TV chef can't make waves outside the kitchens and dining rooms of viewers? After Jamie Oliver's high-profile television campaign to improve the quality and nutrition of the meals provided to children in English schools, England's Department of Education has finally announced it will ban junk food in school meals in schools.

Besides banning fizzy drinks and other 'junk' foods, they're going to limit fried foods to only two meals a week. Radical. There goes the potatoe crop... I wonder how the British farm lobby will hand
le it. Maybe they can get their farmers to grow other vegetables as well.

I wonder if Australian chefs, TV ones or otherwise, will take heart and push similar campaigns here. But then again, there are no government funded meals in Australian schools, are there? Just the few breakfast programs for really hungry and poor kids...

As an idea of what small things are being done here, celebrity cookbook author Stephanie Alexander has been working with the children of a primary school in the low socio-economic suburb of Collingwood through and kitchen garden and regular lessons in gardening, cooking and trying good food.

I've visited the kitchen garden and heard about the work, and I reckon there should be a kitchen garden in all primary schools. With a rainwater tank attached, of course.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Well and truly Autumn... late

Well it is a couple of months late into the southern hemisphere's autumn, but I've been enjoying taking photographs of Melbourne's autumn leaves.

As usual these are the leaves of exotic trees, which turn somewhat red, yellow, golden or bronze – or just plain brown – before they fall off and create a rather lovely carpet on the grass, or clog up our drains.

As antipixel noted last summer, Australia's native trees tend to shed their bark in the heat of summer, rather than their leaves in the cold of autumn and winter the way European trees do.

And possible add fuel to (bush) fires.


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Monday, May 15, 2006 on 'The daddy track'

Derek of (whose blog has been in my 'blogs I like' list since I started blogging) has shared some thoughts on The daddy track – ie being a dad and the choices he's made about his work, life and wealth. He's chosen to make work and income fit around his children and home life, rather than the other way round! He says:
Over most of the ensuing decade, we've adjusted our schedules, which has included my working part time, working freelance while staying home full time, and now my wife working part time while I'm back to a full time position.

Some of those changes we planned, some were unpredictable. Our choices were good ones. We're better off than some of our friends, and not as well off as others. Yet had either of us been ambitious and made the time, perhaps we could have been earning six-figure salaries and driving fancy cars (or fancy bicycles).

On the other hand, I think of the type of person and the type of father I would have had to be to achieve that, and that's not really me—at least not the me I have become.
This rings so true for me and certainly with other fathers I've spoken to about the choices we've made regarding our 'careers' and our families – and which we hold dearer.

Still, I still sometimes wonder 'what could have been', or wonder at how other men my age are earning twice what I am and can afford more 'stuff'. I just need good reminders of why I've made the choices I have: like Derek's posting and spending time with my kids!


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Friday, May 12, 2006

The only budget warm glow

Right on the heels of the announcement of the new GetUp! campaign on children in detention comes this email to GetUp! subscribers claiming success in their previous campaign to secure greater funding for the ABC (on which I blogged previously). This is what they emailed to those of us on their email lists:
Real people acting together to hold politicians to account: this is what GetUp is all about, and in our record-breaking Fund Our ABC campaign, there were more than 78,600 of us who did just that. Congratulations! Here's what you achieved.

The ABC will now get an extra $88.2 million over the next three years. That's an extra $30 million to produce Australian content, an extra $13.2 million to enhance regional and local programming and an extra $45 million to upgrade equipment and infrastructure.

These additional funds still fall short of the recommendations from the independent consultant KPMG, but they far surpass anything experts were predicting seven weeks ago when we launched our campaign. ABC Chairman Donald McDonald calls this the best budget outcome for the ABC in more than 20 years - reminding us, and our politicians, what Australians can accomplish when we work together. With that in mind, special thanks to the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance and Friends of the ABC for their exceptional efforts.
This would probably be the only warm glow from the Howard government's 11th budget announced last Tuesday, which once again delivers tax cuts to the wealthy, at the expense of better funding for education, health, overseas development aid and, as the Federal Opposition is pointing out, funding for expanding child care places in an ever shrinking market.

Oooh, I'm so looking forward to getting my $10 dollars a week tax cut (if at that), which if I'm lucky will get me a sandwhich and a milkshake in a couple of years, considering where this budget will take inflation...


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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

GetUp! petition to keep kids out of immigration detention

With all that bluster and our waiting with baited breath to see if 'rebel' Liberal backbencher Petro Georgiou could wring any concessions out of the Howard government to humanise its inhumane immigration detention regime – they did agree to keep children out of detention. Now it seems they are going to renege on that deal. No surprises there. John 'read my lips' Howard is no stranger to breaking his promises when it suits him…

GetUp! has launched another major campaign to stop them from backpeddling and sneaking in mandatory detention of children of asylum seekers, and child asylum seekers, through the back door – the 'Pacific solution':
Right now, the Government is trying to enact radical new laws to send all children who arrive via boat seeking asylum to detention centres on remote islands in the Pacific.

Last year, we decided no child fleeing persecution should be made to suffer like this. But – after 42 West Papuans were granted asylum last month – the government wants to change the rules. They want to push this inhumane legislation through next week.
No child should be in detention! No child seeking asylum in our country should be automatically locked up - let alone in some other country! Australia must not bypass its responsibility to help those seeking refuge by handballing them to another country. The government, parliament and Senate are accountable for ensuring we meet our obliglations, and must be held to account if these laws are passed!

Click here to sign their petition, and to view the preview of the TV advertisement they launched on Australian commercial TV on the 4th of May.


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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Our new baby

Our new baby
Originally uploaded by Mark Lawrence.
Yes, we have a new baby in our family. Shelley, my partner, gave birth at our home on Tuesday 2 May, at 7.28 pm, after labouring through the day.
Shelley had her two independent midwives, Jenny and Nicola, with her through most of her labour over the day and right through the crucial time. They were brilliant! No shift changes in hospital, and we knew who we were going to deal with through the whole thing.

Shelley and baby are both doing extremely well.

He weighed 3.92 kgs (or 8lbs 10.5 oz) at birth. We haven't decided on a name yet, but we're over the moon about him.

So, I hope this is a good enough excuse for not blogging very much this past week, and in the weeks to come!

Update: Here is a photograph* from the birth – moments after he was born into the water, we placed our newborn on Shelley's chest – skin to skin.


* Click on the photograph to go to the photo's page on the flickr site and read the description to get an explanation of the photo…
[updated 7 May 2006]

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