Liddell Power Station

Not Liddell power station – ABC News gets it wrong. (Actually Bayswater.)

Liddell power station (near Muswellbrook NSW) has been in the news this week, with a bit of a public stoush between its owners AGL who intend to close the station in 2022, and Malcolm Turnbull who wants to keep it open for five years beyond that date.

One of the frustrating aspects of this has been how frequently the media shows a picture of a power station other than Liddell when reporting on Liddell.

I’m familiar with Liddell power station as I worked there as an electrical engineer from December 1986 to January 1988 in my first job  after graduating from university.  Since the media is incapable of showing pictures of Liddell, I thought I’d scan and post some of the photos I took while I worked there. It was an interesting time, as there was a lot of repair and remediation work going on, and I got to look inside a lot of equipment that would normally be unseen.

Liddell High Voltage Certificate.

Fakebook

I’m not on Facebook. There are many reason’s why, but in an excellent article discussing the role of the media in the recent U.S. election Joshua Benton of NiemanLab expresses one of my misgivings very succinctly …

Facebook has become a sewer of misinformation … Facebook has built a platform for the active dispersal of these lies — in part because these lies travel really, really well.

Our world has rolled from “post-modern” to “post-factual”, and Facebook is one of the biggest wheels in the grubby machine that profits from lies and misinformation.

UPDATE

So it’s not just me imagining a void of veracity… less than 24 hours after posting this blog article, Oxford Dictionaries announce that their Word of the Year for 2016 is “post-truth”.

e-Voting

With the result of the last federal election taking a couple of weeks to determine, there is a renewed discussion on the possibility of online electronic voting. While an undoubted advantage of e-voting is that the result of an election, no matter how close, would be known on election night, I am against the idea of e-voting for a number of reasons.

The first question that arises in the matter of e-voting is, would it be secure? But that question is simplistic to the point of meaninglessness. For there are many aspects to the security of e-voting:

  • Identification: Who are you?
  • Authentication: How can you prove who you are?
  • Authorisation: Are you eligible to vote?
  • Privacy: Can others see how I vote?
  • Anonymity: At a later time is it possible to see how an individual voted?
  • Auditability: If there is any suspicion that a result has been rigged or interfered with, is it possible at a later time to verify or prove the result?

And of course with each of these questions of security the answer is not just a simple “yes” or “no, but can be a complex and nuanced answer. And although it is probable that a system of e-voting could be implemented that was “secure enough”, it is absolutely certain that the security mechanisms of any such system would be so complicated and esoteric that they would be unintelligible to the vast majority of electors. Seriously, how many people are going to get their head around blockchain technology?

With this inevitable opaqueness of understanding of security, e-voting fails to meet two basic criteria of democratic election – transparency and confidence. That is, do people understand how the the vote and count is conducted, and do they have confidence that the vote and count is conducted fairly.

Although it has limitations, our current paper based system of voting meets all the criteria I have mentioned above. Having electoral officials sort ballot papers into different piles while scrutineers appointed by candidates watch on, is both intelligible and provides a high level of confidence in the validity of the result.

Apart from these two issues of transparency and confidence, there are other reasons why I think e-voting is a bad idea. For example, there is a risk that the incidence of fraudulent voting would increase with e-voting. With the current system (apart from postal voting) to cast a vote on behalf of someone else, requires you to tell a bald lie, face to face with an electoral official, when they ask you if you’ve voted already. With e-voting, if you have enough information to impersonate another voter (and with family members that will often be the case), then a fraudulent vote on their behalf will simply require an impersonal tick in a checkbox on a computer screen in the privacy of your own home. And we are already well conditioned to tell lies of this nature on the internet, because of the never ending requirement to tick checkboxes to say that we’ve read terms and conditions that we have no intention of reading.

Finally, I am skeptical of e-voting because it risks further disengaging an already jaded voter base. With the current system (postal votes aside) you have to physically get your body out of the house, and to a polling place, past the candidate volunteers, queue up with other citizens and cast your vote. Although not too onerous, there is effort involved, and this effort I think makes people more deliberate in their voting decision. On the other hand, e-voting could easily become a quick and mindless filling in a web form just to avoid a fine, given as little deliberation as the meaningless daily web polls that online media sites love to serve up to us.

An argument over nothing

It’s election day today. Two federal elections ago I wished for high speed national broadband network (NBN); In the last federal election I lampooned the coalition’s fibre to the node (FTTN) solution in favour of Labor’s fibre to the premises (FTTP) solution, but I’ve come to realise that it’s an argument over nothing. Literally nothing. For six years on, this is the status of the NBN in my area:

NBNA FTTN broadband solution that doesn’t exist is patently of equal value to a FTTP broadband solution that doesn’t exist.

Still despite the incredible dullness of the campaign, and the ordinary options before us, there are few things to be thankful for in this election:

  1. With the recent changes to Senate voting procedures I only had to number 6 squares above the line in order to vote for my preferences, instead of 154 squares below the line.
  2. Apart from a vestigial Queen in a ceremonial role, Australia mostly sorted out the whole leaving Europe thing 115 years ago.
  3. No matter who wins today, Donald Trump won’t be the leader of Australia.