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Friday, 27 March 2015

The making of predictions

As part of my work on my Big New Project, alias Many Voices, I am looking into the early take-up of telephones in Australia, and I have been surprised to see that there were telephones before the telephone: you will need to wait for the next release of Many Voices for that, but as I now have more words than Marcel Proust got into his paean to madeleines, the new version will be out before March 31.

For now, I am hunting something else, and it harks back to something Niels Bohr is supposed to have said: Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.

He didn't say it, though he may have quoted it, but every time something new is invented, people try to say how it will be used, and they always get it wrong. In point of fact, as I have said before, it takes us around 50 years to come to grips with a new invention and stabilise how we use it.

Just read this 1877 report, and see how they see telephones (and mechanical calculators) being used!

The American Centennial Exhibition has afforded the opportunity to bring into public view many inventions and improvements which otherwise would only have been known to the smaller circles that may find them of service. 

There is, for instance, an ingenious device for communicating directly to a central office by telegraph the changes in the weather, which are shown by recording instruments at different stations. It promises to dispense more or less with the work of the weather observer at each station, and to substitute the automatic work of machinery. This is a foreign exhibit As shown, it is perhaps better adapted for its present use in one of the smaller European States than in this country. But if modified by Yankee ingenuity so that a separate telegraphic circuit would not be required for each station, it might prove of service here. The telephone is a now instrument of electrical science more likely than some of the rest to find immediate use.

It operates by transmitting the current through a tuning fork. The fork will only vibrate a given number of times in a second. A message can be sent through it by the usual Morse code, there being no apparent interference between the tuning-fork vibrations and the message. But at the other end of the line the message can only be taken off through a tuning-fork in unison with the first. Consequently, if a tuning-fork of different pitch is interposed at each of several stations served by one wire, and the messages are sent through forks of corresponding pitch from the head office, the message to one station will not be repeated at the others during transmission.

Sir William Thomson, at the Glasgow mooting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science gave foreign notoriety to another of the Centennial exhibits that has attracted great attention from the judges of the group to which it belongs. It is a curious device that might fairly find place in the magic of Arabian tales.

A membrane is stretched over the end of a short speaking-trumpet. The membrane carries a small piece of metal which is, so to speak, the armature of a magnet. The magnet forms part of a telegraph circuit, through which a current is passing. To send a message it is only needful to talk loudly into the trumpet. The message is received by a similar trumpet with membrane and armature at the other end of the line; and that trumpet being placed to the ear, repeats the sound like an echo. Dom Pedro was with the scientific people who tested this instrument on one occasion.

So accurately did it reproduce sounds that each member of the party was in turn recognised by peculiarities in voice or accent. The final test was the reading of a paragraph from the news columns of The Tribune. Of what use is such an invention? Well, there may be occasions of State when it is necessary for officials who are far apart to talk with each other without the interference of an operator. Or some lover may wish to pop the question directly into the ear of a lady and hear for himself her reply, though miles far away, it is not for us to guess how courtships will be carried on in the twentieth century. It is said that the human voice has been conveyed by this contrivance over a circuit of sixty miles. Music can be readily transmitted. Think of serenading by telegraph! 

The calculating machine at the Fair is another of the new and strange inventions. Primarily it is an "adder." But it adds differences in groups and under all sorts of circumstances. Arrange it in one way and it will turn out cube numbers for you as fast as you can turn a crank. In another arrangement it will turn out logarithms as readily. Put on steam power and it will do the work that it is set to, without further attention. It furnishes its results stamped in a matrix ready for the stereotyper; no proof reading is required.

To the non-mathematical visitor its performances are utter mystery. Yet few machines are simpler. Take cubes, for instance, 1, 8, 27, 64, &c. ; subtract them from each other and the result is 7, 19, 37, 61, &c.; subtract these from each other, and the result is, a set of numbers that only differ from each other by 6. All that the machine does is to add these differences, beginning with those of 6 each. Yet in the endeavour to make, a machine that would actually do this work, many distinguished mathematicians have failed—among them the illustrious Englishman, Babbage.

His machine is now lying idle and useless at the Kensington Museum. The American "difference engine" is pronounced by our experts perfectly successful. But what is to be the effect on our posterity of inventions like this? Already a modified contrivance of the sort makes short work of the multiplication table. Our grandchildren—nay, our children —will be turning a crank, or twisting a screw, instead of working out the four rules with slate and pencil. Of the three R's, that which was the most essentially intellectual threatens to become the most mechanical.— New York Tribune.

Friday, 20 March 2015

The Big New Project

Thieves take a caning!
I stomp on thieving rogues who take my text without permission, put it up on the web under their own copyright claim and refuse to apologise when I catch them red-handed, saying that I should be satisfied that they removed the stolen material from the web (even though that was only after I gave them a non-negotiable demand to take it down.

Everybody else gets a share of the pie.
That is my right as a writer.

The clowns at the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum wanted right of reply on this blog, but they won't be getting any such thing.  People who steal credit have no rights.  One of their puppets even joined up to and tried to post a comment. He didn't get anywhere. "Mark Mc" gets no rights, either.

Writers have rights!
That said, I am an exceedingly generous chap, as I explained in my above-mentioned denunciation of the idiots at the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum.  Saying that I am generous is one thing, but here and now, I will set out the proof: please compare my attitude with that of the mean, grasping plagiarists at the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum.

I specialise in the less hackneyed aspects of Australian history. I decided late last year to collect together all of my notes and collected quotes from books I have written in the past.  Facing the fact that I am getting older, I decided to throw in all of the books I was thinking about writing, but probably won't ever write.

Then, because I'm not about to drop off my perch, I started augmenting those areas that interest me most. The result is a collection of approximately 1.1 million words, contemporary accounts of Australian events, customs and places. The words are in a PDF called Many Voices, which you can access here. Please note that it is free: there are no charges, and there is no DRM. I realised that messing around with taxes and site licences would be too annoying altogether.

Most of the excerpts I have gathered from sources that are otherwise unavailable in machine-readable form, taking books and running them through OCR software, checking them, and then sorting them. I also add notes, and later on, I will probably add keywords and other metadata.

I have also lifted quite a few from Trove's Historical newspapers collection, and in almost every case, you will find a link to the original digitised image. You will find my paw-prints there, because I have generally either corrected the OCR, or added the article to a list, or added a comment. Please read these extras, because they are provided as aids to those who follow after.

There is a detailed list of books drawn on at the end, and in those cases where I used a digital version, there is a link to that as well.

Not only that, but pictures too!
This part is coming along a little more slowly, because the PDF file that contains all of this stuff was getting too fat, so I am looking at some way to make all of the pics available in large format, going from VERY SMALL thumbnails, and while I can do that easily when I am writing HTML, it's a bit harder to do when the source file for the PDF is in Word.

So I am leaving that to one side for the moment, but I have LOTS of rare, copyright-free images that will become part of Many Voices later. These are all large-format, which is why they fatten the PDF too much.

I will revisit this blog entry from time to time to update the state of of play with Many Voices

As a rough indication, I expect to release a new version about once a month.

(Update, March 27: today I sailed past the word-count of Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu, so I expect to produce a new release by the close of March 31, Australian time.)

Matters of copyright:
Short version: The text is Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, Share-alike. If you want to make other uses of it, you only need to ask, and unless you represent then Charles Sturt Memorial Museum, you will find me very helpful. I am only claiming compilation copyright, and there is more detail at the start of the document

Not only but also 

One of the other reasons this blog has been falling behind a bit is that I have been doing that, and also op. ed. pieces like You Don't Have to be Crazy to be a Writer for the March 2015 issue of Access, the organ of ASLA. You can read it at that link.

Like I said, when I'm not stomping on thieves and rogues, I'm a pretty generous sort of bloke.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Crooked Mick goes fishing

I said I was going to tell you about how Crooked Mick broke the world rod-casting championships, and I will, provided you can stop interrupting me with your questions.  Is that too much to ask?  Right, here goes.

Mick was really keen on fishing.  It all started when there was this Murray Cod that'd got up onto the Speewah in a flood and settled down to breed.  Well whatever was in the Speewah soil, it must have been in the water, and worked for these cod as well, because they grew to a size to match anything else that the Speewah could produce.

The whole shearing shed were getting tired of sheep, they said.  It was bad enough having to shear the blanky things, they said, but why did they have to eat them as well?  The station manager said if they wanted anything else, they'd have to catch it for themselves.  So Crooked Mick decided to catch one of the cod.

Well every line he tried just snapped, as soon as the bait was taken, and when he tried a chain, the hooks just got bitten through.  When he used case-hardened hooks, the cod just pulled and bent them out straight.  So naturally, Mick went for bigger and tougher hooks, and that was when the chains started snapping again.

The rest of the shearers laughed, and that made Mick more stubborn than ever, and he went out to the back shed mumbling, and carrying several hundredweight of chain wrapped around his left arm, and a couple of larger bits as well.

All you could hear after work for the next three nights was hammering, clanging, and frequent swearing.  Mick didn't have a bellows for the forge, and his dog had to heat the fire by panting, and it kept stopping for a drink, which didn't help Mick any at all, but I've told you before about how lazy that dog was.

Just as a side issue: if Mick'd kept an eye out, he could have had the cod there and then, because when that dog drank, it cleared a two-mile stretch of the river for five to ten minutes, leaving all the fish flapping on the mud till more water flowed down.  Still, Mick was single-minded, and only looked up to swear at the dog and to tell it to get back to panting, or sometimes to slow down the panting because it was blowing the fire out.  Like I said, the dog was a bit short on commonsense.

At the end of the three nights, Mick had finished a fishing rig that no cod could ever break.  It was so heavy, in fact, that Crooked Mick and his dog couldn't carry it by themselves, and so Mick had to whistle up two of the other station dogs to help.  Between Mick and the dogs, they dragged the gear down to the river, trampling over a young and rather silly ram that got in the way, so Mick grabbed that and used it as bait, spiking it on this huge anchor-like hook he had fashioned.

Some of the other shearers reckoned Mick had gone a bit mad, and that he was going to wait till the cod came up and brain it with this anchor, but Crooked Mick knew better than that.  Them cods had brains, he'd tell you, and wouldn't be fooled that easy.  Instead, he attached the gear to a gum tree that was so big all the Speewah dogs could use it at the same time, wrapped the chain three times round, and threw the hook into the river, making a splash and a wave that would smash up four freight steamers two days later, and three hundred miles downstream.  Then he sat back to wait.

He didn't have to wait long, as the fish soon snapped onto the bait and pulled back.  Mick grabbed the end of the "line", and held on with a grim determination.  Nothing gave way, so the fish pulled harder, and now it was firmly hooked.  "The die is cast!" cried Mick, who had been given the rudiments of a classical education while they waited two and a half years for the rain to stop, one wet season.

"The die is cast!" he cried again, in case anybody had missed it the first time.  (Mick really was quite vain about his education at times. Even when it was silly: I mean it was the rod or the bait that was cast, and that was a while back.)  Then the fish pulled again, and Mick was almost pulled off his feet.  After that, it was on for young and old.

The fish pulled, Mick pulled, and the gum tree just sat there in the middle.  Then all of a sudden, the whole trunk snapped through, and this time Mick did go over, but he never got wet.  He gripped the stump with his legs, and pulled.  And he pulled, and he pulled.

He pulled with all his strength, all through that night, but when it came time for breakfast the next day, he was no closer to pulling that fish in, and he had to let go, and get back to work.

This caught the fish by surprise, and it flew across the river, up the bank, and skidded, flapping all the while, half a mile across the plain on the other side, where they sliced it up with cross-cut saws that afternoon, and the whole shed lived on fish for a week, until it started to go off, and a crow got the rest of it.

There was just one problem of course, and that was that all the pulling had dragged the bed of the river two miles from where it used to flow, but the boss didn't mind, because three paddocks that used to be dry now had river frontages, and they used the bones of the fish later on, and built a ten-room hut over them.

Didn't last, though, because those cod are tough.  Next time a flood came through, the bones just up and swam away.  So if you ever catch a really big cod with corrugated iron right down its back on both sides, that'll be the one.  Anyhow, that was how Mick got the fishing bug that led to him setting a world record for rod-casting, but I'd better leave that story till some other time.

* * * * *

Note: there is a whole book of these stories, which I am currently pitching to publishers, but they will probably appear in an e-book.

There will be quite a number of these on the blog, all with the tags Speewah and Crooked Mick.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Curtiosity about Coprophilia

I decided not to illustrate this one.  It comes from the spares pile, because I am 950,000 words into the Big New Project, of which more will be said a bit later in the year.

If any person whatever is detected in throwing any Filth into the Stream of Fresh Water, cleaning fish, erecting Pig-styes near it or taking Water but at the Tanks, on conviction before a Magistrate their houses will be taken down and forfeit £5 for each Offence to the Orphan Fund.
Sydney Gazette, 18th December 1803, page 1.

The present dry season of the year being indicative of an approaching long drought, which will be much felt throughout the town of Sydney, we presume it would be advisable, as much for the sake of decency as   cleanliness, to pay a little if not due regard to the General Orders in existence relative to the preservation from all filth and impurity of that valuable and serviceable reservoir—the Tanks. With much pain we have lately observed individuals washing themselves in this stream of water, particularly in that part that runs central from King-street, because that spot is almost secluded from every eye, that of curiosity excepted. In former times the punishment tor this offence, it may be recollected, was summarily severe; and, as it is likely the Government and General Orders, bearing date the 10th September, 1810, and 11th August, 1811, are not known by some of the present inhabitants of the Colony, we embrace this opportunity of once more giving them publicity, trusting it may be productive of a prevention of such filthy and prohibited practices in future:

"No necessaries, slaughter-houses, tanneries, dying houses, breweries, or distilleries shall be erected on or near the Tanks, or the stream or springs flowing thereinto; and all such nuisances as have been so erected shall be immediately pulled down, on pain of prosecution under the Nuisance Act. No person shall throw dirt, rubbish, ashes, dirty water, or any filth into the Tanks, or into the streams, springs, or streamlets flowing thereinto. No articles whatsoever shall be washed in the Tanks, streams, springs, or streamlets. No pigs, goats, sheep, horned cattle, or horses shall be permitted to drink therein, or otherwise render the waters foul, on pain of forfeiture of such animals.
No person shall throw or lay down any filth or dirt in the streets, foot-paths, or drains, on pain of prosecution. And all constables and other peace officers are required to give information to the Magistrates, from time to time, of any person or persons acting in disobedience to the above orders." 
Sydney Gazette, 28 October 1820, page 3.
Chicago was not so much thriving upon established commerce as upon the industries which prepared for the arrival of others. . . . Streetcar lines had been extended far out into the open country in anticipation of rapid growth.  The city had laid miles of streets and sewers through regions where, perhaps, one solitary house stood out alone — a pioneer of the populous ways to be.
— Theodore Dreiser (1871 - 1945), Sister Carrie, 1900.

It is impossible in this connection to avoid deploring the sewage system which is so generally prevalent in towns and cities, for by this means practically the whole of the nitrogen from the food of the human population is irrecoverably wasted.
— Sir William Tilden (1842 - 1926), Chemical Discovery and Invention in the Twentieth Century, London, 1916, p. 395.

A filter consists of a bed of sand which is usually about 30 in. thick.  The action of the sand in removing bacteria, finely divided clay, and colloidal matter smaller than the openings between the sand grains is explained in several ways.
— Ernest W. Steel, Water Supply and Sewerage, McGraw-Hill, 1947.

It is better to sniff the French dung for a while than to eat China's all our lives
— Ho Chi Minh (1890 - 1969), inviting the French back into Indochina, 1945.

A problem with vultures and high tension lines
. . . the resulting viscous, electrically conducting jet can trigger sparkover by reducing the air gap.  Fascinating side-issues of hydrodynamic stability are involved.  Ordinarily such a jet would break up because of sausage-mode pinch instabilities caused by surface tension.  When the jet is very close to the insulator, this normal capillary break-up is accelerated by electrostatic forces.  Under some conditions, however, the reverse may be true, since such jets can be stabilized by longitudinal current-flow, produced perhaps by corona at the ends of the jet.

To simulate the phenomenon, engineers at the Bonneville Power Administration in the United States, after consultation with avian experts, designed a mechanical cloaca consisting of a pressure chamber with an adjustable-diameter orifice.  A balloon within the chamber contained raw scrambled eggs (for correct viscosity) doped with salt (for correct electrical conductivity).  The doping level was determined from measurements on rehydrated cage scrapings from a local zoo.  A solenoid operated needle broke the balloon on command, discharging the contents.

In full-scale tests conducted at 500 kV, the mechanical cloaca operated perfectly, resulting in spectacular electrical fireworks.  As a result of this study, spikes were installed on cross-arms to discourage roosting.  Animal rights activists will be pleased that no living birds were injured, and that a hazard to wild birds was reduced.
— David C. Jolly, 'Bird dropping research continues apace', Nature 319: 625-6, 20 February, 1986.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Some thoughts on educational research

I found a reply that apparently never went to an email list. It was written some years ago, but it remains valid today.  The matter under consideration was an item of research that concluded that "who" your parents are, as in being better educated, high socio-economic status etc etc was more important than what they "do" with their children in their formative years and so "proved" that success is dependent on those factors.

One of my good friends (her name is Barbara, which will identify her to a few) commented:
I am ... very sceptical about a lot of  "research" because, as we know,  much of it is undertaken by parties with vested interests in the results and these can be skewed to reflect those interests and sell their product.
I agreed with this, but from an expert viewpoint. My reply began by saying that my science teacher wife and I had been entertaining a rather delightful US environmental activist, writer and illustrator who had been staying with us for a few days, so I had not been reading my email, but oddly enough, reading to children was a topic of conversation that arose several times as we clambered around Sydney's many Aboriginal engravings sites.

We agreed that reading was a key, because we shared that sort of mind-set.  We even debated, not the truth of what we saw as self-evident, but how reading to small persons could be encouraged more, because we took its central role as a given. This is what tends to happen when educators meet: they agree on what is good, or potentially good, and look at ways to foster it.

I must say that I agreed strongly with Barbara about educational research -- and in the 1980s, I had more than my fill of contact with educational researchers seeking access to certain classes of data that were under my management in the NSW Department of Education. If they wanted our data, or access to our schools, they had to get past me.

This is Peter the ADHD, who is almost indistinguishable from Rikki-Tikki-Tavi who always had to run and find out: I care passionately about Aboriginal engravings, I care about wee beasties, rocks and stuff — and I am a dab hand at educational research, among other things. I also know a fraud when I see one, and I saw a few.

I will be blunt: I moved on to other and more engaging things when I found that most educational research is the codification of the bleeding obvious, and some journals are amazingly able to be worse than others. At one point when I was no longer with the NSW Dept of Education, I acted as the external member of a panel to select somebody who needed expertise in research methodology.

After hearing the applicants I argued for one bright young person getting the position, because I had asked about the Journal of Educational Research, probably the most popular "journal" in the Directorate where he was working and where I had once worked.

Most of the other applicants, when I asked them about their preferred sources for information, immediately named the  Journal of Educational Research, praising it for its lucidity and relevance.  The bright young person was different.

He had mentioned other journals, but not the JER, and when I asked him about it, he declared that he wouldn't touch it with a barge pole.  This was in contrast to the other suckers, who had all declared, unprompted, that it the best thing since sliced bread.

The BYP's answer accorded with my judgments of JER, based (among other bizarre things) on a learned piece that demonstrated that children took longer to read longer passages (the author did have the grace {or tail-covering skills} to admit that this result was unsurprising!)  The others on the selection panel saw other values in him, and he got the job by unanimous consent.

Surely the key thing with the alleged research on determining factors is that many of the variables are correlated. I used to be one of those austere number-crunching types who would engage in statistical jiggery-pokery to partial out confounding effects of inter-correlations, but that is probably even rarer now than it was then.  You have to do that, and do it the right way around.

I suspect that the better-educated and higher status etc etc parents are also the ones who take it for granted that they should read to their children.  Maybe some of them are too busy earning Nigel and Nigella's school fees, but others are right in the thick of it.

In the same way, some parents take it as a given that they will sit and watch television with their children -- and I suspect that this style of TV watching would not be counted as different from unsupervised watching by most "researchers".

"All science is either physics or stamp collecting" said Lord Rutherford, a little unkindly. Well, some educational research is stamp-collecting, and some of it barely makes it to the level of a sincere form of philately.  Please remember that, next time you see a report that research has shown that something is good while all competing forms are incontrovertibly bad.

Remember: research in education nearly always states the bleeding obvious — or at least that which was the bleeding obvious for the "researcher" when the "research" took place. There are, I have to concede, rare exceptions, but these are vanishingly rare.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

A question of copyright

In 1980, I was given the task of investigating a giant scam that was being played out against the New South Wales Government. I was middle management, and the take would have been $200,000, which was a lot of money back then, ~12.5 times my annual salary.  It was a fraud, as I showed, but I had so much fun tracking it down, that it showed through in my report, which one of my colleagues dubbed The Acid Drops.  In fact, my dissection and skewering was so savage that, even though it was all true, it was placed under seal, never to be released, though six months ago, I released it anyhow, under the 30-year rule.

Well, Black Mac Rides Again!

This blog entry is about how somebody (1) failed to observe due courtesy and legal requirements in using copyright material, without permission (or (2) attribution), and then when I tracked her down, (3) failed to offer an acceptable admission of guilt and an unqualified apology. Those are three errors that I am, by this public exposure, ensuring that she and her museum will think twice about making again.

The offensiveness was compounded by the fact that the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum, the organisation in whose name she published my work, had claimed copyright in my work. It was not helped by the museum failing to admit this was totally unacceptable.  Here is the proof:
It did not help when people at the museum suggested that I ought to be satisfied that they took my material down when I objected — even though they only took it down because I warned them of the consequences if they did not. At every stage, the museum's representatives have been one or more of truculent, offensive, impertinent and stupid.

Plagiarism is unethical and immoral.  I work very hard to make taking the credit for my work a bad choice. That is the case, even when the taking is more a matter of incompetence, which is how I regard the way the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum took over my work and craft, without permission — and has since failed to offer a proper apology or offer any compensation.

Their excuse is that they would void their insurance cover by admitting any liability.  I rather suspect that they voided the cover when they admitted they had insurance, but I have told them repeatedly that if they undertake to provide the written apology I require, I will undertake not to sue them. I am busy, I have better things to do than sue people who behave like idiots, but I need to publicise what they have done.

This entry isn't so much about their offence: it is mainly about what it is like to have your work plagiarised, how plagiarists, whether clumsy amateurs or slick thieves, can be caught out, and some robust methods of making them regret their actions.

First, a bit of background on my policy of sharing:

I am a volunteer myself, and I contribute to a newsletter for that organisation, but what I submit for them is original, based on my own work and in my own words. My work is intellectually honest.

I am very kind to museums, as the example on the right will show. It is from the "Making Tracks" installation at the Michigan State University Museum, and two weeks ago, I had acknowledgement of my efforts to find a good copy of this pic for them. Look at the bottom left to see my name.

In the past two months, I have provided Gallipoli images to meet a request from a commemorative committee, images of Hakea fruits opening to help somebody resurrecting an old pamphlet and several magazine articles, all for free. I like to help people and show all courtesy to those who are courteous enough to me.

This week, I took time from a heavy writing schedule and prosecuting this battle, to prepare two quizzes on Valentine's Day to share on school librarians' lists in Australia and the US.  I like to be helpful and to be seen as an ornament to my profession.

Note: I am not a librarian, I am a social climber so I like hanging out with them. My profession these days is writing useful educational stuff. I educate young people, librarians, teachers and museums whose staff do the wrong thing. People only have to ask, and I will help out.

While I lay traps for plagiarists, I found the problem file while I was writing a pro bono article for a school librarians' journal on the risks you take as a writer. In passing, I had referred in that article to how Harry the Camel shot his master, John Horrocks, and I wondered if an explanation was needed.  I used my friend Google, and found a well laid-out and clearly well-researched piece.

Reassured that the matter was adequately covered, I was about to move on, when something about the style caught my eye. I looked again and it dawned on me that it was familiar — in fact, those were my words!
 And on the home page, I saw this: 

My text, copyright to them?  Not on my watch! Mind you, it was a bit changed from what I had published in 2007. Maybe the lady just thought she was a better writer, but I know enough about frauds (see here and here) and hoaxes to have my doubts.

I am sure that if she had known my past history of rogue-catching, she would have acted differently, because I hunt them down.

I am fairly sure she wandered into the minefield, completely, blissfully unaware, ignorant of the law of copyright, but as Latin speakers say, Ignorantia juris non excusat, while others say the same thing when they observe that "ignorance of the law is no excuse". Friends have urged me to sue them, but that would probably break them, and I only want them to sit up and pay attention.

(This is why it was very silly of them to tell me they were insured.  As you will see, it's an open-and-shut case, and I believe their insurance company would move to settle, ASAP, to avoid ballooning costs.   I would prefer to get the museum's Trust in the witless box and see them cross-examined, but it will never happen.  I'm a nice person, but I have my off days.)

Time, then, for a bit of background on my policy of NOT sharing:

I have three main problems with people who misappropriate my work:

Type 1. The people who send me an airy email like this one that I will précis:
"I am writing a book about Australian humour, and I found one of your Crooked Mick stories on the internet. I won't be able to pay you, but as you put it on the web for free, I'm sure you won't mind if I use it."

There was no please, no offer of credit, and it got a robust negative from me.  I told the writer that I am a professional writer, my fee was $300 plus GST, paid up-front, and if I caught him using it without paying, I would seek to have the edition pulped, and I cc'ed it to his publishers (who have in the past been my publishers). He was just an idiot.

 * * * * *

Type 2. The people who take one of my carefully crafted and meticulously planned web pages, and put it on their site as their own work. These people are out-and-out thieves.  And idiots.

I have a number of school-oriented web pages that have drawn more than half a million hits, several that are over the million mark and one that is somewhere past 4 million.  All are freely available as educational tools.  I share stuff.

The last of these gets stolen, every so often, by high school teachers in the US. People are granted explicit permission to store the page locally for their own use, and I even offer a PDF version that they can print off to give the text to their students in compact form. I do not allow people to post copies on the web, because they can point to my page instead.

Still, some of them do grab my page, cut out the paragraphs that mention me, and when they do they get burned. So how do they get caught?  Simple: there are watermarks on my work and I will explain those later.

I don't waste time asking them to take it down, I take them down instead.  I find their school, then I get the email addresses of eight or ten senior staff in the school, plus a couple of senior people somewhere further up in their school  system, and I send them all the URLs for the offending page and my page, asking that they order the thief to take the page down and go in for re-training.  I make it clear that I have the skills and the will to make a lot of fuss, but will settle for a touch of honesty.

 * * * * *

Type 3. The present case. My prose was used without my permission by a no doubt well-meaning but foolish amateur. She was foolish because:

* She thought she could get away with it;

* She picked the wrong target (me); and

* When caught, she tried to babble her way out of it, rather than just admitting her guilt.

She claims now (through her trust president) that she found my text online and thought it was acceptable to use it.  I had assumed she had copied it from my book, Australia's Pioneers, Heroes & Fools, but I accept that it is quite possible she found it in an email I sent on January 28, 2006, to the Oz Teachers email list.  That email drew on the manuscript of the book in question, which I was then writing, and I was sharing ideas for new curricular content that was a bit more interesting than the same-old, same-old. I encouraged my professional colleagues to use stuff like that, but I gave nobody permission to seize my words and claim copyright on them.

She was remarkably slow to come up with the alternative source, and while I was waiting, I created the graphic below.

The image shows two sets of text, with the common material high-lighted. There are 196 words in my text. All but 12 of those words appear in the second block. That's about 94%, which cannot be a coincidence — and the pattern continues throughout the 1500-odd words of "their" article.

One reason I suspect now that she used the email is that I revise quite a lot, and I can see several places where  her text is closer to the email. I can't be bothered looking in detail: the simple fact remains that it was my text, my work, her museum that claimed the copyright, and there is a lack of regret.

The people at the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum, however, seem to think that if they can prove the words were filched from my email, they are safe.  They aren't.  My words, wherever they appear, with or without that c in a circle thing or any claim to copyright, are still mine.

This is my way of fixing that lack of regret.  I gave the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum plenty of time to get their house in order, but they failed to do so. So be it upon their own heads.

So was it plagiarism?  I challenge readers: would you believe that what the museum published could have been independently written by anybody else?  Not a chance!  Those were my words in almost all of the second passage. Same words, same order.  As a friend at the Australian Society of Authors commented when I posted the comparison on Facebook, "game, set and match!".

As I have said, I am very generous about sharing ideas and material, provided people ask my permission and give me an appropriate acknowledgement.  These people at the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum had never contacted me, even though I have a large public profile and an unusual name which makes me easy to track down — and if they are to be believed, the source was an email I sent, so they would have had my email address.

I came across the unauthorised use of my work by chance, and was rather annoyed to find that the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum site had no contact email on their web site.  Then I found an email address for their shop and emailed them to ask for a contact email to deal with the problem.  I noted further that, while containing my copyright material, the home page had a blanket copyright claim: in short, they were claiming copyright in my work!

The response came from their secretary, Margaret Phillips, who replied:
Remember this? They weren't unaware, just brain-dead.

Notice that I redacted her name when I prepared this image. Up until just before I posted this, I had hoped to name nobody at the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum, and not even to name the museum itself.  That, however, was conditional upon them showing due contrition, across the museum, but I'll get to that later.  Suffice it to say that Margaret Phillips was responsible for my copyright text being disseminated, without permission, without credit, and under the blanket copyright claim of the museum.

I gave her details of the piece, and suggested that as they clearly had a rogue in their midst, they should check the other items under the resources tab, very carefully. I thought a couple of others looked suspicious, and one could have been mine.  I made it clear that I required prompt action, and that any failure to deal honestly with me would lead to the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum being held up to the public gaze.

I got this grudging admission:
Note that (1) she could not even spell my name; (2) I would never call a rank amateur like this an historian (I win prizes for writing history, but I would never claim that title); and (3) impugn means to attack or assail. Accusing somebody of launching an attack when all they are doing is defending their intellectual property is a bit like the old style copper, who said "the defendant head-butted my boots, yer Honour".

She also missed the point that the greatest offence was not to ask for permission. In their responses, the museum people have consistently dodged that issue.

Now look at the last paragraph above, where she says she has often told the story of Horrocks. If that is so, then why did she need to follow my text, almost verbatim?  And where did she get the idea that this was about references? And where did she find the hide to say that she "wrote" it ("I sometimes write a historical article...") ? I will come back to what students will find of interest later.

She then offered an apology of sorts, surrounded by lame excuses.

God help any prominent individuals who  are lumbered by one of "her" speeches, but back to her plea.

In other words, she had buried the evidence, and hoped I would go away. As I said, she picked the wrong target. As an educator, I felt the need to educate both her, but more importantly, the rest of the museum staff and volunteers. I want them to be more careful next time!

So I told her my two requirements, though I (and only I) knew that only the first was non-negotiable:

1. That she arrange for a letter admitting guilt, and apologising for the misappropriation of my work, to be signed by the entire museum trust, to be sent to me; and

2. That she compensate me for the time I had wasted, tracking her down and making her comply. At that point, I said, the bill was $500 and rising.

My intention, after giving her a financial scare, was to let her off the payment, but the apology was, and is, an absolute requirement. There was to be no hiding.

I told her that if she failed to do these two things, I would post this blog, and as you can see by this appearing, she and her museum failed to deliver on the one key requirement.  She and they had the chance to act professionally, but they did not.  Instead, I got her bland personal semi-apology, hedged around by vague denials and "can't recalls".

I believe I only got the admission that she had "written" it because I had made it clear that metadata in the PDF file indicated that somebody with her first name had created it.  Once you are caught, it's time to be honest.

... what students may find of interest ...
I think I can tell her what students will think, because these days, young people are taught to respect intellectual property.  As I warned her, I have now shared this widely, recommending that it be used in school units on plagiarism, where the low tricks pulled at the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum will be considered.

In spite of having the comparison image (I mean the image above), she won't admit the truth. Nor has the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum's Trust commented in any way, shape or form, even though the Trust president, was cc'ed on my later emails.

Their only response was to take the whole of the resources section down briefly and remove my piece. That is, of course, something I advised them to do, because there were several other dodgy pieces there, and I think it confirms that they knew what would happen if they didn't.  Yet while they found time to vet the rest and put the other pieces back up, they could not find the time to answer me.

I would happily have granted the museum permission to use my text, had they asked, but she took it without permission, and having been caught red-handed, the "author" tried to fob me off with disingenuous flim-flam.

The position now

After repeated questioning, I finally extracted from Arthur Jeeves, the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum trust president, an admission of the source (but no admission of guilt). It was, he said, something she had found in the archives of the old Oz Teachers list.  As soon as I had that admission, I went to my personal email archive, and found the text she had used, posted by me for my fellow professionals to read. Now if she truly found the text there, she would have had my email address, so why did she fail to ask permission?

I told her, and the president of the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum's trust that I would settle for a written apology, signed by all members of the Trust, admitting and regretting the plagiarism.  My terms were quite clear: satisfy my requirements, or be exposed.  It seems that they have chosen public exposure.

My last warning 
Some 40 hours before the deadline I had set, 3 pm on February 5, I realised they had not asked for my mailing address, and were unlikely to deliver the written and signed apology in time.  I noted that Jeeves had cc'ed his response to an Adelaide solicitor, without mentioning his status.

So in case they were planning some sort of clever-clogs legal trickery, I pointed out that any harm would be on their heads, because they had failed to meet my simple, low-cost and entirely reasonable requirement.

This is what I said:

Here is the position:

* There is no rule of "finders keepers" on the internet.

* If the source was a teachers' email list as you claim (and it could be so), Ms Phillips had my email address.

* She failed to ask for permission to use my text.

* Worse than that, she wrote this to me in an email:
"The article was something I put together for our small number of members as an interesting historically tale. I didn't think to reference it at the time, because our newsletters are just, that a newsletter. I sometimes write a historical article, as an interest piece."

She did NOT "put together" the article, she misappropriated it, lock, stock and barrel.  She did not WRITE anything, she lifted it. Also, she, and you, seem to have assumed this was about "referencing", presumably meaning attribution, but that was secondary.   The first step is always to ask permission.

There is a saying to the effect that "it's easier to apologise afterwards than to ask permission".  In this case, asking was easy, but she didn't, and nobody has offered anything I would call an apology.  Waffle set about with self-justification simply doesn't cut the mustard as an apology.

Your position is, to put it bluntly, unwinnable.  You either admit to the breach of my copyright and moral rights, without reservation, without qualification, with due contrition, in appropriate language — and undertake to educate your staff better — or I educate you. When I am done, you will need to be more careful to do the right thing, both in asking permission, and also in apologising promptly and well when you are caught.  I can say this with some confidence, because any Google search will reveal that you have been caught before, and warned about the rights authors have, so the next writer you poach from will be able to wheel you straight into court. Apologising appropriately is much easier for you.

I thought, Mr Jeeves, that once you entered into the matter, along with your solicitor friend, there might be some common sense.  While it will be tight, it's not too late for you to save matters, but you will need to use a courier, and you will need to confirm your intentions by requesting my full and correct street address: what appears on the internet is intended to mislead.

I will be doing some consultancy work tomorrow morning.  It's another pro bono job (as I mentioned, I am generous with my time and skills to those who ask), but I will be back at my desk and online, just after noon, Sydney time.

I am a genuine admirer of museums in general and Charles Sturt in particular, and it will irk me to  have to treat your museum harshly, but I really cannot let you get away with a grudging, sulky, muttered sorry.  If you can't do better than that, I owe it to other writers to make sure that you are really sorry.

There was no answer, and there was no apology. Now I out them, not out of revenge, but to make an example of them — as my mate at the Australian Society of Authors said on the phone, pour encourager les autres.  My purpose in asking for the letter and the payment was to make them consider their actions (though as I said, I had no plan to collect the cash).  I knew it would give them a fright, but they needed a harsh lesson.

I also made it clear that the publication of this blog was the only other civilised alternative open to me, because I had no wish to bankrupt a bunch of amateurs who have settled like cockroaches on a good cause.  People in the game who have looked at this have said "Go on, sue them, you'll make a mint, and they'll have to pick up your costs!"

I like museums, I don't want to send one bust.  I really believed that they would toe the line.  They didn't, so they are now publicly shamed, but now I want to offer some guidance to other victims of other poachers, on the fine art of catching scavengers.

1. Watermark your pages.

This is what I do with my heavy-traffic web pages: I have a nonsense phrase that appears nowhere else on the web, and that is tucked away on the high traffic pages, either in small print and the same colour as the background, or in the metadata or both. Numpties who pinch stuff aren't very bright, and so they miss the watermark, and get caught.

By the way, there is a watermark at the very end of this blog entry: see if you can find it.

That trick didn't work here, because the text was copied from a book (or maybe an email), and I just chanced on it. Well, that happens, when writers revisit old areas of interest.

2. Use the available computing/ net tools.
There are quite a few, so I will just describe what I used this time.

Here is a really good one that I knew but hadn't thought to use until Murray Storm, a former student reminded me of it: looking at the metadata in a PDF. When you are hunting down people like this, you need to keep copies, so you can run checks when they try to bury the evidence. I just opened my copy of the pirated file, clicked on View — Properties, and got this image, seen on the right.  Thanks, Murray!

So we know that the creator was "Margaret", and when the PDF was created.

Another way to get this is to open the PDF file in Notepad, when you get a long jumble that includes this: I have highlighted the salient bits.

8 0 obj
<</Length 3700/Subtype/XML/Type/Metadata>>stream
<?xpacket begin="" id="W5M0MpCehiHzreSzNTczkc9d"?>
<x:xmpmeta xmlns:x="adobe:ns:meta/" x:xmptk="Adobe XMP Core 5.2-c001 63.139439, 2010/09/27-13:37:26        ">
   <rdf:RDF xmlns:rdf="">
      <rdf:Description rdf:about=""
               <rdf:li>Margaret</rdf:li>            </rdf:Seq>
               <rdf:li xml:lang="x-default">Microsoft Word - John Horrocks.doc</rdf:li>            </rdf:Alt>
      <rdf:Description rdf:about=""
         <xmp:CreateDate>2012-07-26T12:03:09</xmp:CreateDate>         <xmp:CreatorTool>Microsoft Word - John Horrocks.doc</xmp:CreatorTool>         <xmp:ModifyDate>2012-07-26T21:33:45+09:30</xmp:ModifyDate>         <xmp:MetadataDate>2012-07-26T21:33:45+09:30</xmp:MetadataDate>
      <rdf:Description rdf:about=""
         <pdf:Producer>novaPDF Lite Desktop Ver 5.4 Build 253 (Windows XP  x32)</pdf:Producer>      </rdf:Description>
      <rdf:Description rdf:about=""
I think using View — Properties is easier!

* * * * *

Next up, always take screen shots. In Windows systems, the Ctrl-PrtScn key combination places a screen image on the clipboard: open any graphics program, start a new screen-sized image and paste in the image with Ctrl-V. Then save the whole view before you trim it as necessary.

This is your only defence against people who may try to say "We didn't say that," and change what is visible.

Save the PDFs, save the web pages, save anything that might be evidence.

3. Use any available email address to get in.

In the past, I have often broken through the secrecy barriers that hide the email addresses of Big Cheeses.  Once, I was being lied to by Virgin Airlines after they cancelled a flight I had booked and paid for. Later, they claimed they had refunded the money when they hadn't, and I could not get past Virgin's call centre.  I got the name of the CEO, found some email addresses for PR people, deduced their method of creating email addresses, and sent him a rather corrosive email, which I cc'ed to the PR people, so he knew his underlings knew he was being put on the spot.

Basically, I explained that they were about to find themselves  in a nasty PR mess, and I wanted the money NOW.

The Boss Monkey replied "You didn't have to be so bloody rude, and the money is on its way".

I replied "Yes, I bloody did. You weren't coughing up — until I turned up the heat."

I have recently used a version of that to penetrate a large bank's hierarchy.  I got my money there as well.

The museum website provided no email link, except on their shop page, so I sent an email there and got a reply from the secretary, Margaret Phillips, who pretended to know nothing until I told her I had the metadata evidence.  Then she played innocent, but it was too late.

At about this time, a friend got to Whois before I did, and found me the name of the site owner and his email address, so I included him in the next email I sent to the secretary as a CC, and he VERY promptly fired back, saying he was merely a contractor and was NOT responsible.  He seems to have removed his email address from the domain registration now.  Can't think why!

He also cc'ed the Trust President, Arthur Jeeves, so I could now include  him as a CC in the subsequent emails.  I think Jeeves is a decent man, but out of his depth on this matter: he certainly has an honorable track record.  Given that he involved a solicitor, he should have been better advised.

A few cunning checks have failed to reveal the names or contact details for any other Trust members, but those two have been sent my emails and the first graphic in this entry. That should have been enough.


The annoying thing with this whole issue is that as I have said, I am very generous with my intellectual property, in the name of informing the wider public, and that appears to be their aim as well. The museum in question claims to be an amateur one, and if they had asked me for permission, I would have said "go for it, but give me a credit if you can, please", and that would have been that.

Instead, some clown decided to take my work without permission, taking the credit for my research

Charles Sturt was a Good Bloke, in my eyes, an honest man, a decent man, and a museum celebrating him is one I would treat as a worthy cause. Now it has become necessary to seize the whole gang of them by the scruff of the neck, and rub their noses in the mess they made. Not out of malice, you understand, but to make sure they try just a little bit harder next time.

Somebody got kudos for writing such a carefully researched piece.  Now that person is exposed as what they are: I will leave you to name it.  Well, that was somebody else's choice, not mine.

Post script
I have spent far longer on this analysis and discussion than I did on chasing the people who took my work.  That's OK: as I said several times, I do a lot of pro bono work, and delivering ethics training to the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum is time well spent. They definitely needed it.

Next admiral, please, M. Voltaire!

Incidentally, if people don't know the story of Harry the camel, I suggest they jump to this link to get the context.

The background, the story of Horrocks and Harry, is here.


I have had somebody try to post a silly comment, accusing me of bullying the clowns at the museum.  Standing up for your rights is often called bullying by the bullies who are trying to take those rights away.  I assume the poster is a puppet for the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum, because "Mark Mc" joined blogger this month, has no profile and no posts. (He says abusively that he isn't, which makes me even more certain that he is.)  

The basic rule here is that anonymous commentators with no track record have no privileges, and somebody using a pseudonym is effectively anonymous. Such a person does not get to scribble all over my work.

Why don't the museum people just admit that they took my work without permission, and failed to admit their offence?
Charles Sturt Memorial Museum