By Me Today: Uber’s Controversial ‘Surge Pricing’ in Sydney

Earlier today, I wrote:

Uber acted quickly Monday in an attempt to tamp down the latest controversy to hit the company, saying it is offering passengers free rides amid an unfolding siege at a Sydney café after complaints that rates had soared to exorbitant levels.

The reversal came just a short time after the ride-sharing app drew criticism on Twitter for saying it was raising prices to attract more drivers to the city’s central business district, where at least one gunman had taken hostages in a cafe and placed an Islamic flag in the window, sparking concerns a terrorist attack was under way.

The fare uptick was the result of an Uber policy called surge pricing, in which an algorithm charges customers more money during times of high demand — as was apparently the case in Sydney. Some users reported that the minimum fare had skyrocketed to $100 Australian dollars ($82) for a ride.

Click through for more. And for updates about the situation in Sydney, see our live blog.

Meanwhile, I neglected to mention that I recently wrote about Uber’s regulatory issues in Southeast Asia.

Australian author who insulted Thai royal family pardoned

CNN: “Author jailed for insulting Thai king freed

An Australian author imprisoned last month for insulting the king and crown prince of Thailand was on his way home Saturday after receiving a pardon from the king.

Harry Nicolaides, 41, was arrested last August over his 2005 book titled “Verisimilitude.”

The book includes a paragraph about the king and crown prince that authorities deemed a violation of a law that makes it illegal to defame, insult or threaten the crown. CNN has chosen not to repeat the language because it could result in CNN staff being prosecuted in Thailand.

Mark Dean, a lawyer for Nicolaides, said he was released Friday and taken to the Australian embassy in Bangkok, where he stayed until leaving for Australia at about midnight.

“He is obviously very relieved and grateful that the pardon was granted,” Dean said.

Nicolaides was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty last month. He faced a term of up to six years before the plea. Video Watch shackled Nicolaides at court »

His lawyers then requested the pardon. King Bhumibol Adulydej had pardoned foreigners in similar cases in the past.

BBC: (with video) “Thailand frees Australian writer

Harry Nicolaides, an Australian writer jailed in Thailand for defaming its monarch, has returned home after being pardoned by the king and set free.

Mr Nicolaides, 41, had been sentenced to three years imprisonment in January.

The charges arose from a passage in a largely unknown novel he wrote in 2005, of which only seven of 50 copies printed were ever sold.

Mr Nicolaides was met by his family in Melbourne. He would next see his mother in hospital, his father told reporters.

Speaking at the airport in Melbourne, Mr Nicolaides thanked the Australian people for their support, the Associated Press news agency reports.

He told reporters he had been crying for eight hours, having only learnt moments before his flight that his mother had suffered a stroke while he was imprisoned.

“A few hours before that I was informed I had a royal pardon… A few hours before that I was climbing out of a sewerage tank that I fell into in the prison,” AP quotes him as saying.

ABC (with a video on the right side of the page): “Tearful reunion as Nicolaides returns to Melbourne

An Australian author who has spent more than five months in a Thai jail has made an emotional return to Melbourne.

Harry Nicolaides, 41, was arrested last August and was sentenced to three years’ jail last month for insulting the Thai monarchy in his 2005 book, Verisimilitude.

Mr Nicolaides was deported from Thailand at midnight and arrived in Melbourne this afternoon.

He says he is in shock.

“[I am] bewildered and dazed, nauseous,” he said.

Australian writer gets three-year prison term for insulting Thai monarchy

AFP: “Australian jailed for three years for insulting Thai king

A Thai court on Monday sentenced an Australian writer to three years in jail after finding him guilty of insulting Thailand’s revered royal family in a novel, a judge said.

Harry Nicolaides, 41, had pleaded guilty to the charge earlier on Monday. He has been in custody for nearly five months.

“He was found guilty under criminal law article 112 and the court has sentenced him to six years, but due to his confession, which is beneficial to the case, the sentence is reduced to three years,” a judge told the court.

“He has written a book that slandered the king, the crown prince and Thailand and the monarchy,” the judge added.

Bangkok Pundit has more info. Here’s an AP story. And here’s one from the IHT. For context, I suggest this CSM story: “Thais tighten ban on royal slurs.

My long-lost relatives in Australia?

Purnell Citywide: relatives of mine in Canberra, Australia?

Thanks to my pal Ben P. for sending along this snap shot he took recently in Canberra, Australia. Purnell Citywide appears to be a real estate firm there. ((Ben’s previous contribution to this blog is the excellent “On Guns and America,” which I asked him to write in the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.))

My understanding is that many Purnells came from England to the mid-Atlantic of the US in the 17th century. But perhaps there were others who made their way down under? ((A Google search for “Purnells” reveals many things, perhaps most interestingly — given my interest in amusing foodstuffs — this.))