What I learned by gatecrashing another workplace

Let me start by saying that the title of this piece is a little misguiding.

*cough cough* 136 zombie kills. Just saying.

*cough cough* 136 zombie kills. Just saying.

It wasn’t a real gatecrash in the true sense of the term.
More like an invitation extended on which I acted.
Alright, I was an invited guest.
But it made a really good title.

I recently returned from a trip to Melbourne, during which I covered the swarm conference (it’s my annual national-scale giving back to the community project) through live tweets and blog posts of the two days it ran. It is always an eye-opener and an educational experience, sharing the room with so many amazing minds in the community and social media management arena. If you missed my work, or if you want to learn more about the only annual Australian conference for Online Community and Social Media Managers, you can check them out here.

I also took some time off to just enjoy the sight and sounds of Melbourne. I had the chance to catch up and hang out with my very good friend, Venessa Paech. If you don’t know this amazing lady, then you’re missing out. She is a wealth of knowledge concerning community management and a constant source of awesomeness.

Venessa is Senior Manager for Community & Content Strategy with REA Group, and I was invited to pop into the office to catch up with her and the crew after swarm. What I learn was very valuable indeed.

Lessons I learned at REA Group.

1) Work hard, but make time for play.
While many workplaces pay lip service to facilitating the work/life balance of their employees, few really offer ways in which to truly help. Even fewer employees seem willing to accept such offers. Whether it’s not wanting to appear unable to cope, or if it’s a lack of willingness to let their guard down, employees are not striking a true balance in their life and employment. REA Group has made some great moves to endorsing and encouraging fun in the workplace, with an emphasis on helping their employees strike their own sense of balance. Whether it’s taking time out to sit on the couches in breakout areas and play Guitar Hero, or if it’s grabbing the Oculus Rift gear to thwart zombies, these guys have really taken the “Balance in all things” phrase to heart. They even hold classes in the office for Zumba and subsidise gym memberships, showing that healthy choices are all part of striking the balance employees need and want in their lives.

2) “Hot-desk” isn’t a dirty word.
Sure, there are some roles in which you simply can’t have a different desk every day. sometimes, you really do need your own place and for that place to be always yours. When possible, and properly implemented, hot-desking can prove to facilitate employee productivity. It can stop the silo-ing effect of nesting, and helps teams to find a place that works for them and their particular efforts. It also means that if that person who insists on clicking their pen ad nauseum (or any other really annoying habit that you simply can’t stand) isn’t so offended when you simply up and shift to a new position.

3) Employee health IS an employer’s concern.
We often forget that, unless properly managed, one of the cons to increased work hours is a decline in employee health. With office hours on a general increasing trend, it falls to the individual AND their employer to ensure that health, physical and mental, is protected. Walking meetings, standing desks, opportunities to move around, offering exercise incentives, allowing regular breaks, ensuring good office ergonomics and allowing flexibility in work conditions are all ways in which employers can genuinely assist their employees in finding their own ways to ensure good health.

4) Your workplace is a community.
We spend so much of our time at work, but often forget that the people we work with are people too – people with feelings and families and a set of ethics and values. For that reason, your workplace is a community of people, each bringing valuable societal information to share. The moment you start looking at your colleagues in this way, work becomes less of a place to hack away at tasks, and more a place of collaboration and communal problem-solving that makes everyone feel good about the work they are doing.

5) Helping people is good.
REA Group holds regular Hackathons. These Hack Days are a chance for people to pitch ideas they want to work on, for customers, or as a way of giving back to their community outside of work. Whether it’s setting up a national volunteer database, or helping homeless people find a safe place to sleep, allowing employees to work on tasks that benefit someone outside of the workplace not only provides exposure for your company, but also shows that you recognise your place of privilege without society and are wiling to use that position for the greater good.

REA Group is a huge crew, but these lessons aren’t only for big organisations. They work and have meaning on smaller scales too.

And every work place should have zombie-smiting sessions.

Online Copyright Infringement Discussion Paper

I seriously love my friends. They’re a varied crew, all interested in a huge range of subjects. There is one common thread, however. They’re almost all into what is right.

I recently received this email from a friend in regards to a conversation underway about an online copyright infringement discussion paper. As it is a subject rather close to my heart, I thought I would share its contents with you. It is from the Australian Digital Alliance.

It continues to be an exciting year for copyright in Australia! Of particular note is the government’s request for feedback on its proposals on online copyright infringement which are due on 1 September 2014.

Online Copyright Infringement Discussion Paper

The government recently released a discussion paper aimed at reducing online copyright infringement.  The paper had three main proposals:

  • Extend authorisation liability;
  • Provide a new injunctive process to block overseas websites whose dominant purpose is to infringe copyright; and
  • Extend the safe harbours to a wider class of intermediaries (including schools and universities).

We have a quick overview of the proposals and have blogged some preliminary responses to the proposal to extend authorisation liability.  While this measure is directed ISPs, it is not restricted to ISPs, meaning that the changes will impact on other intermediaries such as schools, libraries, online platforms and universities.  In particular we are concerned that:

  • It will increase legal risk
  • It will increase legal uncertainty
  • It will encourage reliance on the safe harbours, including the requirement for an implemented policy for disconnection of repeat infringers
  • It will put Australia at odds with international norms

We have commissioned Dr Rebecca Giblin to write a paper that examining the effects on intermediaries and also do a comparative analysis of the forms of secondary liability with other core jurisdictions.

We will of course be putting in a submission, and would encourage others to do the same.  EFA has put together some consumer facing materials that may be useful and CHOICE is asking for consumer stories about access to content.  I haven’t seen anything from groups such as the Copyright Council, but if you have additional resources please feel free to bring them to our attention!

Trade Agreements
We have signed tow FTAs this year with Korea and Japan, both contain IP chapters. On copyright these continue to focus on enforcement, with limited recognition of other interests. In the reports on KAFTA they also included an opinion that the decision in the iiNet case was inconsistent with our trade agreements, and should be overturned, something that has now been suggested in the response to online copyright infringement.  We disagree with this interpretation of our international commitments, and said so in our submission.

Negotiations on the TPP continue, the next meeting will be in the first week in September in Hanoi.  The intention still seems to be concluding the agreement in  November, but this hinges a lot on whether Japan, the US and Canada can sort out the market access issues.  We continue to liaise at departmental and political level to ensure that the negotiators and decision makers are aware of the potential effects on user groups.

Other matters

We’ve also recently put in a submission to the Competition Policy Review (done a fair amount of media about the lack of movement on the IT Pricing recommendations \and supporting the work of the libraries at WIPO

Within the Attorney-General’s department a small group has been created to look at copyright reform, including online infringement and the ALRC recommendations.  We continue to work on this, and will be looking to some wider advocacy efforts toward the end of the year.

And, in some excellent news, we finally signed the Marrakesh Treaty!

If anyone is in Melbourne on Tuesday/Wednesday do consider coming to AuIGF – I’ll be speaking on panels about regulation on the internet and intermediary liability.

As always. please do keep up with our work at http://digital.org.au/blog or follow @aus_digital on twitter.  And feel free to email info@digital.org.au questions/concerns/suggestions/queries.

So, this blogging thing.

Yes. I’ll admit it. I’ve been incredibly slack in making regular posts.

That’s one of the reasons I’ve been looking into productivity/blogging tools, which I thought I’d share with you all.

If you’ve used any of the following, of if you have other tools to share, I’d love to hear in the comments below.

Now, in no particular order, here come the links:

Grammarly
Pitching itself as the world’s best grammar checker, this website contains an automated proofreader and says it can act as “your personal grammar coach.” Apparently, it can catch up to 10 times more mistakes than normal error checkers. I am yet to really put it to the test, having only used it for little pieces, but it does seem to do a good job. I think I’ll give it a go at sections of my Honours project next.

Every month you get a clean bowling-esque score card. If you write anything at all, you get 1 point. If you write 750 words or more, you get 2 points. If you write two, three or more days in a row, you get even more points. How I see it, points can motivate. It’s fun to try to stay on streaks and the points are a way to play around with that. You can also see how others are doing points-wise if you’re at all competitive that way.

Now, I haven’t used this one at all myself, but I thought it looked good, so I’m going to give it a go this coming month and I’ll get back to you with my findings.

HemingwayApp
Genius. Pure, unadulterated genius. This app has really given me a new zest for editing my work, which was something I have always loathed. If, like me, you really dislike editing or reviewing your written pieces, then this will make the chore colourful and easy! Each colour equates to a different focus of editing, meaning you can write clearly and concisely without breaking into a sweat! All of the love for this one. Give it a go and let me know if you love it too.

Kittens?Written?Kitten!
Have a deadline you’ve been ignoring for ages? Got an assignment you just want to forget exists? How’s that report going? Still not started? Allow me to introduce “Written? Kitten!” No spoilers for this one. You just have to go and use it. Let’s just say, I love this one even more than the HemingwayApp, despite it not necessarily being anymore productive than watching YouTube cat videos…

Got a tip or tool for staying productive in the face of ennui and eternal word counts? Share it in the comments below!

 

3 Years Today.

Today is my three year anniversary with my blog.

Yes, that’s right. Exactly three years ago, I started this mish-mash of collected junk I like to lovingly refer to as a “blog”.

It’s not much, but it’s mine.

And, in celebration of three (sometimes) glorious years, I would like to write a post to highlight how far I have come and the current state of thing.

Enter, the sponsored post that has been driving me nuts for the past week or so:

Curtin University Facebook post

 

Yes, Curtin. I AM dreaming of a better career. I have been for a number of years now. In fact, I have been working toward said “better career” for more than three years now.

But, pray tell, dear learning institution, what good is all that learning if there are no jobs?

What if the money I earn isn’t enough to live on?

Or enough to pay back the exorbitant interest on my student loan?

Or what if I become homeless because I cannot find a home to rent or purchase, even if I could afford one?

You see, Curtin (and other unis spruiking their wares at the end of the financial year after an incredibly harsh and damaging budget has been announced), there is no amount of learning that is going to matter if what we are striving for does not exist.

As much as I admire and strive for lifelong learning, there are sometimes strong currents in the murky waters of life that seem intent on pulling us down.

A Simple Comment to a Video…

or Why You Don’t Ask An Internet Communications Student For A Comment On A Video Off YouTube, Because You Might Just Get What You Asked For (but that was too long for a title on my blog, so you get the simplified version).

So, it appears I cannot retire my “political hat” any time soon. If you haven’t seen it yet, here is a link from the Vice Chancellor of Curtin University, Professor Terry. All in all, it’s a good delivery of an update on the goings on around campus and what she is doing to keep up-to-date with the various campuses. I, however, have the following email which I am about to send to the Vice Chancellor, as per her invitation for comments.

And now for my extensively long comment. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Dear Professor Terry,

Thank you so much firstly for posting your video on YouTube, and for inviting comments. It is rare to hear someone in an actual position of authority openly ask for, and encourage feedback in such an engaging medium as the Web.

I was happy to hear you speak of the restructuring of the academic teaching system within Curtin University. As a current student, completing my Honours thesis this year with a view to going forward to higher degrees by research in order to join academia and the teaching profession, it is a relief to hear that you will not be cutting numbers of teaching staff. I do, however, offer my story as a view from the other side of the fence that you may not have considered in the implementation of these changes.

I began my undergraduate degree as an Open University’s Australia student, not because I wasn’t as committed to my studies as on campus students but because, as a mature aged, single parent student without high school completion dependant on public transport who was working full time in order to make ends meet, it afforded me the best possible opportunity to fit me life and study together in the same 24 hours everyone else had.

When I made the realisation that this degree I had undertaken was giving me a more rounded sense of accomplishment and personal pride than almost anything else I had undertaken, I decided that I would be furthering my studies. The staff of the department with which I was studying afforded me every opportunity to obtain the necessary information, facilitated my education with a shared passion for the learning material and concepts of study that I thought were a myth amongst academics.

This department was that of Internet Studies, out of the school of Media, Culture and Creative Arts at Curtin University – a group of academics whom I owe a great debt of gratitude and thank no end for the development of a lifelong love of learning.

This inspiration is, I’m afraid, in spite of almost being erased from the history books due to a proposed cancellation of on campus enrolments last year. This move would have seen the end of this department – the first and only dedicated Internet Studies department in Australia. The students of this department lead and won the fight to retain the opportunity to attend on campus classes, despite opposition from the chancellory of the university, through online and offline means of protest.

But my story does not stop here.

As a current Honours student in the Arts, I have seen more uncertainty regarding the offerings to students already this year than I feel is acceptable. This is absolutely through no fault of the teaching and support staff who have done the very best with what they have had available.

I am attending classes on campus, having made arrangements with my family and employer, as an off campus option has not been made available to students this year. I have been lead to understand that this is due to a revision and restructuring of the unit material and teaching method. This, in spite of having been offered as an off campus study stream in previous years.

Class timetables were finally made available to students, in order to select the  days and times of their classes, only a few days before the beginning of the semester. We then received automated confirmation that our chosen times and days would be made available, only to be told the following week that they were not, and that the classes would be combined and only available on a single day of the week. Thankfully for me, I have a moderately flexible employer who understood that these changes to my schedule were not under my control.

We were then told, just a few weeks later, that the previously possible day and time for class to be held was still available and that the consensus of the class would be the deciding factor as to whether or not the day and time of our compulsory-attendance class would be changed in the middle of the first term. While it only took a matter of an hour or so for the decision to be made by the students that keeping the current day and time would be best, the moments of panic were felt by more than just myself, I can assure you.

I was probably not the only student who felt that continuing studying would be jeopardised if the class were to change circumstances again.

I was probably not the only student who felt that their employer might not be so understanding if study circumstances were to change again.

I was probably not the only student panicking that the Honours we had invested ourselves in might be taken away from us before we had the opportunity to really get started.

What I do know for certain is, I am the only student from my department currently studying Honours with Curtin University. Why? An unofficial poll of my fellow online students puts this down to the inability of enrolling off campus.

With so many Internet Studies students currently enrolled in off campus or online only study of the Internet Communications degree, it makes no sense to not have this further education offered online if, as you say, numbers of teaching staff have not been reduced.

It makes no sense to not offer Honours online or off campus, especially with the fine online access to Curtin Library resources we now have available.

It makes no sense to not offer Honours online or off campus with the degree of control and interaction possible through the Blackboard system, which served as my lecture, seminar and tutorial space for three years quite sufficiently.

It makes no sense to not offer Honours online or off campus, when the Internet Studies department of Curtin university have shown that this mode of study facilitation can create future scholars that will, one day, make Curtin University proud.

This, Professor Terry, is why I find it difficult to believe that the current restructuring at Curtin University has no negative impact on the numbers of teaching staff available to students of Curtin University. I have seen the ability of the teaching staff of Curtin University to traverse space and time to deliver a world-class degree second to none in the world. I have also seen the trials of trying to deal with university bureaucracy when staffing changes, restructuring, budget cuts, reforms and proposed denial of access take place.

Please, if you want to be sure that these staffing changes hold no negative impact for the students of Curtin University, both current and future, I suggest you ask the current students if they are seeing any ramifications from the initial changes today. You may be surprised to hear what they have to tell standing in direct opposition to what the numbers and figures suggest.

I may be just one student telling my story today, but this is not my story alone.

Many thanks for your time,

Melissa Nile.
– current Honours student of B.A. (Internet Communications)

 

TL;DR:

I didn’t write all that so you could cheat and look for the Brodie’s Notes (and if you don’t know what they are, you’re too young!) version of my email. Go read it! And get off my lawn!

Why Australia opposes Fair Use.

Having just finished this article I fear, once again, for the future. Why? Because it contains a very important message that will, ultimately, get drowned out by all the other important messages we are currently facing both here and globally… but that’s a post for another time.

Fair Use for EFF.orgAustralian copyright laws always have been considered antiquated. In fact, we are not terribly forward thinking as a nation, legislatively speaking. Copyright is, however, one of those topics that very few people understand and even fewer care about, unless they stand to profit from the proceeds of it.

Every study period throughout my undergraduate degree I was approached or pointed to a discussion regarding the unsanctioned use of unattributed copyrighted material for assignment purposes.

“But if my tutor says it’s okay to use this picture in my project, then isn’t it okay?”

“What do you mean using the writing of another person is illegal unless I have a specific agreement from the copyright holder to say I can?”

These questions, and so many others like them, resulted in me banging my head against a non-existent desk or wall, as the people I was attempting to educate gleefully told me that they didn’t care, the law was stupid, and they’d go and use copyrighted material anyway because no one was going to chase them for the royalties for their use of said material.

This.

This is why ideas like Fair Use won’t take hold here.

Fair Use is a legal idea allowing people to use copyrighted material so long as the copyright holder isn’t losing out on profits from said use. It’s that simple really. Of course, the real legal mumbo jumbo goes into exclusions and restrictions, but that’s pretty much what it amounts to.

Parliament’s a funny place. And by funny I mean disparaging to the human soul.

So, as long as the public don’t care that they’re breaking the law and could stand to lose a significant amount of money to an already filthy rich corporation (think of how many times you’ve share a meme based on someone else’s work, or a music video, or copied a line from some book onto a completely unrelated image), or face jail time and as long as politicians sit in the pockets of those corporations that believe they will miss out on all the profits if they allow people to do what they’re already “turning a blind eye” to, then legislation such as Fair Use will never take hold in Australia.

 

Still not sure what it’s all about? Check out the video below for more information.

Honours – The Calm Before the Storm.

Yesterday I managed to complete all my enrollment and admissions for Honours this year. It took me long enough to find out how. The instructions were like something out of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Buried under seventy bajillion clicks to get to the right website, I then had to jump through hoops aplenty to make sure that my submission for enrollment went to the right place. It’s all done now, so all I have to do is wait another month, attend the compulsory Orientation meeting (an hour and a half of what I expect will be unbridled excitement and uncontainable joy whilst sitting in the uni stadium) then classes every Thursday afternoon.

 

Honours RollHopefully, this time next year I will be the holder of a fancy piece of paper that says I know stuff… Fingers crossed it even has the words “First Class” on it. Even if it doesn’t, I will be proud of myself. I never thought I’d get a degree, let alone graduate with Honours.

 

Here’s to the calm before the Honours storm.