An Undo button for all seasons

This week, Google introduced ‘Undo Send‘ as a standard feature in Gmail. It’s more like an Undo Godsend for those times you accidentally email the wrong person, or notice a shocking typo just as you’ve sent the message, or suddenly realise your message was way too harsh and you should sleep on it and redraft it in the morning – or is that just me?

In such situations, ‘Undo Send’ gives you a few precious seconds to reconsider. Having used it in the development phase, it’s surprising how often it comes in handy – in fact, I sincerely hope that other companies will follow Google’s lead. ‘Undo’ should be part of every email application, especially at my work where every month or two someone accidentally sends a message to several thousands of users, before presumably being taken into an IT dungeon somewhere and flogged with a mouse cord.

But it’s not just in the realm of email where the ability to reverse things would be invaluable. Here are a few other social situations where Google, with their omnipotence, should be finding a way to allow us to take it back. Continue Reading →

The Simpsons did it, and now they’re done

grandpasimpsonAs the longest-running sitcom in the history of television lurches towards another season, one thing is increasingly clear: friends don’t let friends make 27 seasons of The Simpsons. In recent years, the show’s become like that favourite 90s band that insists on releasing inferior new albums years after its heyday. In short, The Simpsons are the Smashing Pumpkins.

In 2015, still more episodes of The Simpsons is probably the second-last thing our civilisation needs, just behind that book of 352 Kim Kardashian selfies. There are already 574 episodes in the can, so many that you could watch non-stop for eight days and still not get through them all. Surely our appetite for even this most brilliant of series has been satiated?

Once I used to read those news stories about the latest ingenious developments brewed up in the writers’ room with great delight. But the latest batch of announcements was dismal. “Homer and Marge are to separate!” said one batch of articles, with Lena Dunham appearing as the Other Woman. Goodness me – marital strife between Marge and Homer – is that for the 324th or 325th time?

And come on – it’s a sitcom. Hence the subsequent obvious, clarification that it was only going to be for an episode or two.

What I’d like to hear producer Al Jean clarifying is why the series is continuing at all when his only other ‘teaser’ announcements about Series 27 were that Spider Pig is coming back, as though there’s any more juice to be squeezed from that one brief joke, and that Bart will die. Continue Reading →

How to enjoy the Midwinter Ball

So you’re heading to Parliament’s Night of Nights, the Midwinter Ball! Or maybe you’re just curious about what our politicians get up to when ordinary Australians are distracted by State of Origin? Here’s an exclusive guide to enjoying the only social occasion within the Parliamentary Triangle that’s more entertaining than Senate Estimates. Continue Reading →

Give us a home among the gum trees

A few summers ago, I was sitting in a beer garden with half a dozen friends who work as commercial lawyers in major firms. The conversation drifted to property, as it always does in Sydney, and each of them confessed that they were looking for a house so their young kids could have access to a backyard. Then they all sighed and said that there was absolutely nothing affordable even remotely near the city, and they couldn’t look too far afield because they didn’t want to spend an hour plus each way commuting.

They were keen to reiterate that they weren’t looking for anything big or fancy, just a little terrace or something with a modest rectangle of backyard so that their kids could burn off some energy within the safe walls of their yard. Maybe, they pondered wistfully, they’d host the occasional barbeque, as well?

Not being a commercial lawyer myself, the conversation made me wince. If these people, who had jumped through all of society’s hoops to guarantee themselves success and a healthy income, and put in long, dedicated hours doing finicky work for demanding commercial clients, were having trouble finding a house that wasn’t a brutally lengthy commute from the CBD, what hope did I have? Continue Reading →

Ten Reality TV Ideas Even Better Than Married At First Sight

Many people wonder why television broadcasters keep producing terrible reality TV shows. The answer is simple – because they rate. And what’s more, the more terrible they are, the more they rate. This maxim has recently been proven by Married At First Sight, a show on Channel Nine with a premise so disturbing that it’s compelling. So much so that it was renewed after the first episode scored 1.5 million viewers.

So, how can the industry possibly top/sink beneath Married At First Sight? I’ve gazed into my television crystal ball and come up with a few suggestions. Continue Reading →

Eurovision 2015 was disturbingly freak-free

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest was pretty good.

As reactions go, that’s roughly on par with saying you found the new Mumford & Sons album not in the least bit effete, or that you were moved by a recent episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

In fact, both observations have been made recently after recent instalments from the Mumfords and Kardashians pleasantly surprised critics. Which goes to show that just because a live, international television broadcast has been one way for an astonishing 59 years, that doesn’t mean it can’t achieve the unexpected.

This year, for its 60th anniversary, most countries somehow lifted their usual standards to produce a perfectly respectable, non-wacky effort. Which might just have made it the most disappointing Eurovision I’ve ever watched. In fact, it was so solid that one could almost have been forgiven for taking the whole thing seriously. Continue Reading →

Graduation address: There’s life in the media yet


The Dark Knight Returns

I was asked to speak at a graduation of Sydney University arts graduates, primarily media students, on the afternoon of 15 May 2015. 

I want to begin by adding my respects to the traditional owners of this land, and their elders past and present.

First of all, I want to thank the Arts Faculty for doing me the great honour of asking me to speak today. I only graduated late last year, and it occurred to me on that day that I’d probably never wear these amazing robes again – thanks so much for the chance to dress up once again as Academic Batman. Continue Reading →

Budget 2015: the definitive best guaranteed accurate winners and losers

Budgets are complicated documents in which a multitude of complex changes to expenditure and taxation are delivered in one go. It’s for this reason that media organisations helpfully break the detail down into concise lists, usually with groovy little graphics like these ones.

I read every single one of the 93 winners and losers lists published by the Australian media on budget night to bring you this, the most definitive list of all.

Which I suspect makes you the winner and me the loser.

WINNER: Adelaide

Joe Hockey said that this was “a budget for a start‑up business in Adelaide”, which is fabulous news for whoever owns it. There will undoubtedly be more, as the City of Churches is inundated by froyo shops.

LOSERS: Backpackers

Travellers on working holidays visas will no longer have access to the tax-free threshold that’s available to Australian residents, so they’ll have to pay income tax on all of the non-cash-in-hand income they almost never earn.

WINNERS: Small business

Assets worth less than $20,000 will be able to be deducted immediately. There will also be lots of work for accountants, as the threshold of $2 million will see all major Australian businesses restructured into related entities with turnover of $1,999,999.99.

LOSER: Apple

The US device maker is being targeted, along with 29 other multinationals, in an attempt to bypass its complex tax minimisation and profit-shifting measures. Fortunately, any increased tax it pays will be more than offset by the deluge of small business owners buying tax write-off iPads.

WINNERS: Smash repairers

Not only will they be able to invest in new equipment, but there’s a bonanza on the way from all the small business owners who misunderstand Hockey’s invitation to go out and write off their assets immediately.

LOSERS: Expats

They’ll now have to pay back the HECS they’re using their degrees to earn money in London or New York instead of here. And if they don’t pay it, presumably we’ll seize the sweet little apartment they bought themselves with the first home owner’s grant. That’ll teach you to abandon Australia, brain-drainers. Or to leave to get educated even earlier.

WINNER: Netflix

Sure, customers will have to pay an extra 90c a month to use their service, but does anyone really think that’ll make any difference when figures published this week say that their market share’s already ahead of Foxtel’s? After all, they have Orange Is The New Black, while their local competitors may discover that their new black is red.

LOSER: Indonesia

Along with our ambassador, we just recalled 40% of our aid, presumably because if the country can afford to send air force jets to escort a handcuffed pastor and painter from one prison to another, they don’t need so much of our help any more. Although we might want to pay for Joko Widodo to get an answering machine, so he can do a better job of returning Tony Abbott’s calls. That said, phones have been a contentious subject in recent years.

WINNERS: Waterslide lovers

The Treasurer promised an “immediate tax deduction for new investment in water facilities”, which we can only hope inspires the construction of dozens of aquatic theme parks right across the country.

LOSER: Anti-vaxxers

Their childcare payments will be reduced unless their kids are inoculated, although if their approach to the science of mathematics is the same as their approach to the established science on vaccination, they might not actually notice.

WINNER: Hockey Real Estate

The Treasurer mentioned how his family’s family real estate agency “put a roof over our heads” and “gave all of the family a chance at a better life”. No doubt the whole country was listening, and thinking hey, why not ask the Hockeys to put a roof over our heads too? No word on whether you get a cigar for a successful transaction.

LOSER: Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey

Do you remember that guy, who said things like “[Wayne Swan] wants you to believe he can deliver a Budget surplus, but as each day goes by there’s increasing doubt that he ever will (2011)” and “Labor’s planned return to surplus is not credible and presents a potential black hole in future Budgets (2013)”? Being unable to resisting the direction of the global economy seems far more forgivable when you’re on the Treasury benches.

WINNER: Northern Australia

$5bn of loans will be made available for anybody who wants to build a port or other major infrastructure up there. Which is presumably the government saying it can’t be bothered, because it’s just so incredibly hot and humid up there – but sure, knock yourself out, Gina et al.

LOSER: Bill Shorten

Last year’s budget was so unpopular that Bill Shorten went on a months-long spree in the polls. But now the government has remembered that it needs to make people like it to win re-election, so it’s been doling out money to the voters whose support it needs, the way John Howard used to. Which means Bill Shorten’s job just got a whole lot harder than it was when he was ahead in the polls as a proxy for “anyone else”.

LOSER: Bill Shorten again

This time because it was his birthday on budget night. Seriously, who wants to spend their birthday wading through financial documents? (Well, Albo would have been up for it, but that’s still an awkward subject.)

WINNER: Joe Hockey

After the criticism he’s weathered from the media, the pollsters and even some of his colleagues over the past year, it’s a huge triumph for him even to be delivering this budget – even though Scott Morrison got to sell the most attractive bits. Nobody can say that Joe didn’t follow his own advice and have a go, even if some of his colleagues ultimately conclude he has to go.

Charlotte Elizabeth Diana: what’s in a Royal Name?

Congratulations to his current Royal Highness and future Britannic Majesty William, Duke of Cambridge, Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Strathearn, Baron Carrickfergus, and future king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, the fifth of his name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, on the birth of his daughter!

And of course congratulations also to Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, who seems to have handled matters ever so well for a commoner. She is now Mother of Heir and Spare, having admirably prolonged the House of Windsor into yet another generation, unlike newfangled dynasties like the House of Cards, which sank into mediocrity in only its third year.

Especial congratulations too to the family on the choice of the child’s name, Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana of Cambridge. It’s a fine choice, full of heraldic significance. A name befitting a princess, really, which is lucky, because unlike your computer-animated Disney versions, this is an actual, proper princess, with access to castles and everything.

Continue Reading →

I was a high school debating geek

debatingIn my youth, I was not the flabby, docile creature you see in the little photo atop this page. I was a warrior. I trained at least once a week, often more, and went into battle each weekend to defend what was right. I would dispatch my enemies with scornful panache, and sometimes facts gleaned from The Economist. For I was a high school debater.

A flabby, docile debater, admittedly.

Chairperson, ladies and gentlemen, here’s how it went down. On Fridays, I donned my foppish debating tie, which boasted purple and white stripes for reasons I’m still unable to comprehend, and hung around for hours after school, supposedly reading up on current affairs but in fact tackling the all-you-can-eat record at the local Pizza Hut.

Then, as night fell, we would either drive off to another fancy school or welcome them to our fancy school, so the Games, or at least the Talking, could Begin. Continue Reading →