Studying journalism

A few days before the 2013 federal election, I learned that I had been offered a place in the Master of Journalism course at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advancing Journalism. I will study part-time, commencing in March 2014, while continuing with freelance and contract web development.

In a way, I could see this as finally acting on one of my childhood ambitions. The seeds may have been planted by my mother writing for a suburban newspaper network (the same job she has held for thirty years) and my parents buying three newspapers a day. In my final year of secondary school, I got as far as sitting the Journalism Entrance Test at RMIT, but was steered into a generalist Arts degree at Melbourne (eventually majoring in history) and got distracted by more academic ambitions.

I wasn’t mature enough for the newspaper business when I was eighteen. Now I’m about to enter the profession with maturity, experience, and technical and small business skills that are more relevant to today’s changing media industry. I can’t imagine being employed by one newspaper company for thirty years; there may not even be many newspaper jobs by the time I graduate. However, data analysis and web development are going to be increasingly useful in understanding and interpreting our world in the coming decades. I am excited by the course at Melbourne because it looks, at least in theory, to be oriented towards future directions in journalism as well as building foundations in traditional investigative and research skills.

I was notified of my offer sooner than I expected; this gave me something to look forward to for after the election. I have been feeling a bit lost since leaving academia. I have enjoyed the intellectual challenge of building up my web development and programming skills and contributing to the Drupal community, but working on short-term projects for a range of clients hasn’t given me a sense of a professional direction. Volunteering for an election campaign gave me some direction and focus, but with a well-defined expiry date.

I feel this direction may be a way of pulling together various threads in my professional and activist past - a desire to help tell untold stories, and to bring together quantitative analytical rigour and the writer’s craft. More fundamentally, journalism is a natural home for some of my most fundamental values - free expression, empathy, and openness of mind - values that are so ingrained that I have taken them for granted.

Drupal module in development: Currently Reading

The bottom of the front page of this site now displays books that I have listed as ‘currently-reading’ on my Goodreads profile.1 I would like to display these in a compact format (e.g. Currently Reading: Title by Author) but haven’t yet found a way to extract this from Goodreads, so for now I am displaying the default ‘book review’ display provided by the Goodreads API.

The code for this display is available as a Drupal module for use on other Drupal sites. With time, I’d like to expand this module to display reading lists from other services such as LibraryThing, and provide more configuration options if possible. Suggestions and patches are welcome.

  1. Goodreads is a social book recommendation site - share your reading status and book reviews with friends and others.

Australian federal election - a love letter to democracy, and some resources

Executive summary: Democracy is a luxury which we can’t afford to lose. Voting (intelligently) is a citizen’s duty. Check your enrolment at now.

The Australian federal election has officially been called for 7 September 2013. Those who know me will know that I am quite involved with the Greens. However, I intend to keep a party-politics-free zone, aside from the occasional appearance of Greens events in the Melbourne Green Events newsletter.

As much as I care about what my party stands for, I care even more about the kind of free and open democracy that we enjoy in Australia. Standing up for democracy is almost in my blood and is a constant theme in my family story. We came to Australia from Singapore as ‘economic migrants’ of a sort - primarily for business/employment reasons. But it didn’t take long for me to appreciate, even at a young age, how different the two countries were in the way they encouraged or suppressed political difference and freedom of expression.

My parents and I have never been on exactly the same page politically, but we all appreciate our freedom to learn and talk about different policies and opinions. I grew up in a household that subscribed to all of Melbourne’s daily newspapers; one thing I miss about single adult life is the Saturday morning ritual of the four of us juggling the different sections of the Age, Australian, and Herald Sun which covered the dining room table. (Yes! I grew up reading the Murdoch press.) For (I believe) decades, both of my parents have worked as polling officials in elections at federal and state levels. One of the many reasons it took me so long to join a party was that it would disqualify me from sharing the polling-booth experience with them. (Members of political parties are forbidden from working for the Australian Electoral Commission, and rightly so. The AEC is independent of parties, and on the one occasion that I did work at a booth, I was disappointed by the number of voters who didn’t realise this and talked to me as if I were a party member, which I wasn’t then.)

And that was an unexpectedly long prelude to what was meant to be a brief post highlighting some online resources to help Australians vote this year.

Firstly, if you are in any doubt as to whether you are enrolled to vote, or enrolled at the correct address, you have until 8pm on Monday 12 August to check or update your enrolment at

Our federal voting system (which I think is broken, but that’s for another post) requires a number in each box for the House of Representatives ballot paper, and either a 1 above the line or a number in each box for the Senate ballot. The Senate ballot seems to get longer at every election. If you vote above the line, the party or ticket that you vote for determines your entire Senate vote - effectively a pre-determined below-the-line vote. If you vote below the line, you determine where each vote goes, but only if you number the boxes correctly - and at possibly a hundred or more boxes this year, the Senate ballot paper is easy to accidentally invalidate.

At the last federal election, Benno Rice’s Below the Line web app enabled voters to navigate the Senate paper before election day and prepare their own personal how-to-vote cards, especially useful for keeping track of all the numbers. Benno is working on re-launching this for the 2013 election - follow @belowtheline_au on Twitter for updates. In the meantime, Cameron McCormack has launched a similar app, briefly at and now at Neither of these apps will be usable before nominations close on 17 August.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is hosting Vote Compass, a web app that attempts to match your priorities with those of the Labor, Liberal/National, and Green parties. However, if you’re concerned about online, privacy, you may want to read Stilgherrian’s analysis first.

Drupalchix July meetup - change of date and venue

The Melbourne Drupalchix meetup has been moved to Thursday 25 July and we will meet at Rrose Bar, 7 Errol St, North Melbourne.

Please update your RSVP at if necessary.

Melbourne Green Events

Melbourne Green Events is a weekly email publicising events related to environmental sustainability, debate, and activism across Melbourne. It is published every Monday morning.

As an active member of the Greens who maintains a few websites and is active on social media, I often hear about or am asked to publicise such events. Melbourne Green Events will be a resource for green/environmental events and is not endorsed by or affiliated with any particular organisation.

I could be accused of duplicating the efforts of The Victorian Climate Action Calendar or the Sustainable Melbourne Calendar. However neither looks very comprehensive, and VCAC doesn’t appear to have been updated for a few months. I have received some encouragement to go ahead with this, which suggests that my friends and followers on social media are mostly unaware of these other resources.

Melbourne Green Events is a personal initiative of mine and is not endorsed by any party or organisation.