Google's weather gadget says that Melbourne will be 36 degrees on Monday, but the rest of the world says 43 degrees.How can I find this Google parallel universe? By Monday.

I sent an email to Conroy of the Ministry of Truth regarding the plan to compulsorily censor the internet for all Australians, all the time in every place. My letter was entirely about censorship. The reply was entirely about how the technology used wouldn't slow down the internet. Hardly mentioned censorship. I was to be assured that an unelected panel would know what is bad for me and my children, and what is best. I think we opponents of this plan had better work out what it is that we don't like. We shouldn't get distracted about the internet being slowed down. The problem is censorship.

One hope is that perhaps the High Court will find that this plan harms the implied right to freedom of speech existing in our constitution (discovered a few years ago) but it seems too narrowly defined (as "political communication").

So just think: I'll be tunneling to an overseas server like a Chinese dissident, but from the comfort of my own living room. Will it be illegal to teach people how to circumvent censorship? Will it be illegal to do it? Will sites teaching this be censored, to save ourselves from ourselves?

If the ALP introduces this legislation into parliament, that's it for me. There are no real liberal parties in Australia. To me, the ALP has been the closest approximation most of the time since I've been voting, but perhaps no longer. The other great feature of ALP governments in my adult life has been their competence. This current government has buckets of talent. But Conroy is out of his depth on the frontbench:L he negates the talent argument.

So, what to do? I guess I'll have to vote Green, since one strand of the party seems pretty liberal. Plus the Greens have been remarkably constructive in the Senate, although of  course not on their signature issues. If I have to choose between a party that supports censorship, a party that appeals to base instincts of greed and fear, and a party that doesn't believe the market is usually the best way to ratio scarce resources, I'll have to choose the third, since it is merely irrational, , where the other choices are morally repugnant and lead to dark places.

The BBC documentary on the history of rock covered Springsteen tonight (as well as Queen, Police, Led Zep, U2: it was the stadium era episode). Great show. "Born in the USA" had seven top-ten singles. That's amazing. But I still wonder how This Hard Land got left out. What a track. Was it perhaps a little "retro" even then? File under "life's little mysteries".

I like the myschool website. It's far from perfect. It presents over-simplistic data subject to misunderstanding, and runs the risk of reducing education to caricature. However, it is also accessible, comparable, objective and measurable. Used properly, it's a tremendous win. Used badly, it could distort educational priorities.

It's also cheap and practical. Today, an author, John Marsden, had an article published in The Age, calling for parents to prefer a more detailed look at a school. His recipe included, among other points, (a) interview the principal, (b) arrange a private tour of the school by some students, and interrogate them with difficult questions, (c) arrange for the children's toilets to be cordoned off, and then inspect them, taking particular note of the softness of the toilet papter, and (d) take a surprise tour of the staff room.

The parent is advised to look for graffiti (in the toilets), dispirted teachers (anywhere), and negative comments by pupils (while you have them on their own). Since the typical suburban school takes in between 150 and 200 kids in the Year 7 intake, this approach is not going to be highly practical (even worse if parents do this for a reasonable shortlist of three schools). It's a bizaare contribution.

Now, myschool and the AEU (Australian Education Union). My topic of the day.

The AEU is definitely a union, but the focus of its efforts is not better education.

The myschool website is a mix of data. If you want to get into it a little, you'll find, a couple of clicks away, a PDF dicussing multi-variable correlations. I'm quite comfortable with that, but I also prefer linux.

The community would welcome some informed assistance to use this information. Guiding, debating, helping with understanding complex facts ... it sounds like a job for teachers. But the AEU wants to stop discussion and sabotage the website by preventing the next round of national tests. The AEU explains its position as fear of stigmatisation: kids from poorly performing schools will be stigmatised. Taken at face value, this argument is "the data is subject to misunderstanding and misuse. It's too hard to understand, so better if you just leave everything to us. We know what's best. No further questions will be taken". 

If my kids get teachers like this, I will be angry. The AEU position is a long way from how I want teachers to respond to questions of interpretation, discussion and analysis.

I'm being too polite. If I want my kids to be taught by book-burners, I'll move country.  AEU, Fail. Go away. I don't know whether I'm more disturbed by the extreme self-interest of the position, or the AEU's pathetic justification which mixes misjudgement, paternalism and false logic in serving-sizes so large you'd be hard pressed to compete even after a month of practising bullshit and spin. It's karma: the same stupidity and narrow-mindedness behind the AEU's reaction also cripples their ability to make good arguments. Which is funny. But it's also sad: these people are teachers and they should be better.

One valid criticism of the testing is the narrow and reactionary selection of comptences. The focus on "RRR" (Rriting, Rithmetic and Reading) is a throwback to decades or centuries ago. We could talk about that. Instead, the AEU throws away this opportunity, and amazingly invokes an even earlier era: the reaction of 16th century Catholic Church to new ideas. Book-burners. Luddites.

While the AEU wanders in the desert, here are things I don't like about the standardised national tests: there are five competence profiles. One is numeracy. That's a broad topic, and since the other four are connected with language, "numeracy" has a big burden. If you want to get a measure for numerical, spatial, computational and scientific competences, the "numeracy" test is the only home. What other mighty pillars of intellectual development could dare stand aside "numeracy"? Spelling. Yes, "spelling". I kid you not. Yet another is grammar and punctuation. Australia has got along pretty well with a population that treats puncuation like it does manual transmissions: something to avoid. People speculate wildly about the proper use of the apostrophe.  Aware that is should occur reasonably often in close proximity to "s", Australians apply their solid numeracy skills and invoke the law of averages to work out the rest. The semi-colon is fast-disappearing and would be the subject of celebrity documentaries were it made of ice or feathers. I've come back to an Australia where Gen X and Y are covered in body art and body piercing. Many of them have another tatoo that they can't see: Their use or misuse of puncutation is an intellectual tatoo branded in school and visible for life to those who look for it. However, while being a punctuation snob can be some light-hearted fun, punctuation is a useless thing to know. I can't think of any economic or social benefit that would accrue from better punctuation, and I really have tried to think of at least one. So how did we end up with such a small-town Chamber of Commerce list of education tests? It has the stink of the Howard government.

However, most of the National Test skills are not without value.  And they are easy to measure, which is its own virtue (and once again, I'm not joking). What we need is to safeguard education from being taken over by these narrow measures (teaching to the test). When the AEU decides to re-engage with the community, it should get stuck into this point.

Despite all of the above, I'm a huge fan of myschool. I'm enthusiastic about the idea, and I'm a reasonable fan of the content. So far, we have two years of data. Each school is sampled twice (a school offering prep to year 12 is sampled four times). This is enough to get a feel for what the school does when it has its hands on the kids for a couple of years. That is, you can see what the kids look like in year 7, and you can see how they after two years in the school. Right now you can do that for two separate cohorts, and I hope old years will not be rolled off as new years are added.  Regardless of the problems above, a school which sees a deterioriation in scores is a school that raises alarm bells.

Now, Mr Marsden, what I would be asking principals *after* looking at myschool is

a) how is the school adapting to national testing (an open question. I would look for a mature, balanced response which highlights that the tests are a narrow measure of a school, while still acknowledging the importance of basic skills, and testing and measuring those skills)

b) the tests measure an average. How does the school cater to non-average students? (looking for ways in which bright students or students with special talents are given enrichment and stimulation)

c) what type of toilet paper do you supply to the kids? (If I find a principal who knew the answer to that question, I'd be getting a little alarmed)

In Australia buying movie tickets online means you pay more for a transaction that costs the provider less. An interesting paradox.

In the Netherlands, the cinema chains encouraged users to buy online (to save labor costs) so the idea of paying more irritates me to the point where I won't tolerate it. However, intellectually I'm intrigued. Buying tickets online saves money for the cinema, once a certain volume of transactions occur. Also, the cinema gets an advance sale of a ticket. Because this means an early allocation of seats, it should be a positive feedback loop, encouraging others to book online.

Now, when airlines sell advance seats, they discount them. Have done for years. The trick with pricing is to sell the same product at different prices to different customers. Most of the time when using a fixed price, you'll always sell to some people who would have paid more, and lose customers who won't pay what you're asking, even though they would have paid enough for you to make money on the deal. Instead, the seller is forced to aim for some average price that neither throws away too much profit nor loses too many customers. The airlines get around this by selling tickets early and cheap and then raising prices closer to the fly-date, getting a premium price from people who really need to fly on that date, and then selling left-over seats cheap at the last moment (or giving them away to valued customers). The same logic should apply to cinemas.

And when airlines sell tickets, you pay more to do it the old fashioned way, because human-involvement in this transaction increases costs. Of course, there is a cost in setting up the website. But it can't be much. The technology is off-the-shelf and publication of movie schedules is already online. And a ticket-selling website scales: built once, it will look after many cinemas and screens. The paradox remains.

Enter economics and added-value. The value of something is not the same as the cost to produce it (because the person buying it and the person making are different, with their own priorities, resources and comparative advantages). So there is no logical guarantee that something cheaper to make should be cheaper to buy. While the sale of online tickets saves costs to the cinema, it adds value to the purchaser. The movie-goer secures a ticket and a good seat; there is no need to get there early to lower the chance of missing out, and in fact getting there early anyway does not eliminate the risk of not getting a seat, unlike buying it online. Arriving later may bring lower parking charges. However, most of these benefits only apply to movies in high demand, yet the booking fee is applied indiscriminately.

What is the role of competition? It can not be very strong, because this booking fee, which is mostly pure profit, is not being whittled away. The competition exists between movies but not between venues, I think.

So the cinemas are treating online ticket purchase as a premium service, rather than encouraging it as a way to lower costs. I admire their pricing discipline, but I wonder at their modelling. I find it hard to believe that you're not better off driving a shift to online sales by encouraging it. My gut feel is that value of presales (committing people to see the movie) combined with a reduced box-office staffing requirement would be much more compelling. Possibly, the cinemas are protecting telephone purchases of tickets, which may be very lucrative?