Thursday, December 15, 2011

Not a bad pay packet

The Herald reports:
(edited) Judge Clark sentenced Brian Joseph Scandlyn, 29, unemployed, to a year's home detention, 180 hours of community work and ordered $7,643.21 reparation be paid to local businesses affected by Scandlyn who wrote cheques from a closed bank account. He had earlier pleaded guilty to two charges of engaging in a money-laundering transaction knowing that part of the $883,533.40 he had obtained was the proceeds of a serious offence. NZ Herald Full story

Let's see. One year in home detention and the equivalent of 4½ weeks work for which you get $883,533.40 less about 9% reparation. Who says crime doesn't pay?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Carrier IQ Spyware

In a way this is a follow-up to yesterdays post.

Bruce Schneier's recent blog is about the latest in the Carrier IQ rootkit saga. This malware is installed on people's smart phones either by the phone company or by the phone manufacturers on their behalf and can report back all activity on the phone, including encrypted https sessions to other sites.

Bruce's blog:
Spyware on many smart phones monitors your every action, including collecting individual keystrokes. The company that makes and runs this software[...], Carrier IQ, freaked when a security researcher outed them. It initially claimed it didn't monitor keystrokes -- an easily refuted lie -- and threatened to sue the researcher. [...]

Carrier IQ is reacting really badly here. Threatening the researcher was a panic reaction, but I think it's still clinging to the notion that it can keep the details of what it does secret, or hide behind such statements such as:

"Our customers select which metrics they need to gather based on their business need--such as network planning, customer care, device performance--within the bounds of the agreement they form with their end users."

More at Schneier on Security: Carrier IQ Spyware

Monday, December 5, 2011

WikiLeaks Warns of Surveillance State

The USA, Britain, Australia, South Africa and Canada are among countries developing spying systems that intercept mobile phones and portable computers. They are not only using these on their own citizens but selling to "dictators and democracies alike." Libya and Syria are among countries using the technology to monitor political opponents, said a WikiLeaks spokesman.

"Who here has an iPhone? Who here has a BlackBerry? Who here uses Gmail? Well, you're all screwed," Assange told a news conference.

"It sounds like something out of Hollywood, but as of today, mass interception systems, built by Western intelligence contractors, are a reality."

More at Enterprise Security Today

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Telecom XT harassment

I am getting thoroughly sick of Telecom New Zealand. Despite my explaining that I intend switching from CDMA to XT when they have a suitable Android phone they continue phoning me up to try and get me to switch to one of their current crop of inferior or obsolete Android phones.

When I first explained this to them they had no Android phones on offer and they apparently noted this as the next person to phone me started off by saying they knew I was only interested in Android. Unfortunately at that point they only had 2.1 (or earlier?) on special offer so I passed.

In July they sent a letter notifying that CDMA would be discontinued on 31 July 2012. No worries, a year to go so no rush. In August I received a phone call from a Telecom  salesdroid wanting to tell me about their phones with "the latest Android" ... the best they had was an overpriced 2.2, hardly latest and I told them so.

Lunchtime today they sent me a text message trying to get me to change to their XT network.

Tonight while I was trying to watch Fair Go I received another call from Telecom.  As usual they don't launch straight in to trying to get me to upgrade, first comes the standard telemarketer "How are you today" then he says he wants to talk to me about my account with no specifics. At which point I got annoyed and asked him to get to the point.

Finally he admitted that he was trying to get me to change to a new phone. Now I was really annoyed. I demanded "Don't you keep notes of these conversations. I've already explained that I intend swapping when you have "up-to-date Android phones. Can you make sure that's noted. Your continuing to phone me about inferior obsolete phones is bordering on harassment." I was really pissed off so I added "No, it is !@#$ harassment" and told him to also note that "I've always been with Telecom and don't want to switch to Vodafone but I will if this harassment continues"

I think he was quite taken aback but he assured me that it was noted.

This was just over 30 minutes ago and as I write this I'm wondering what got me so riled? Normally the only telemarketers I cuss out are the Indian "Microsoft anti-virus" scammers. About lunchtime I started sneezing a bit and then we had a meeting at work early afternoon and I started feeling dizzy and unwell. During this meeting a specific coworker was mentioned a couple of times and I couldn't place who he was (I work in a department of around 20 people) I even had to ask who he was, much to everyone's surprise. Three of us left feeling unwell at about the same time mid afternoon. I currently think I have a cold or mild fever, hopefully nothing much more.

Although I am justifiably pissed off at Telecom I actually feel quite sorry for the poor marketdroid, he didn't deserve the strong reaction. I wonder if I'm completely rational at the moment. It will be interesting to read this again in a couple of days.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What's the state of computer education in New Zealand schools?

This interesting comment was recently on the British education system's failure on computer science.
 Google chairman Eric Schmidt has attacked the British education system, saying a failure to appreciate the importance of computer science was holding the country back in the digital age. ...
He said he was shocked that computer science was not taught as standard in British schools, adding: "Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it's made."

Do we still teach students how the chains and gearing on a bicycle works? Do we still teach students how a car works? Do we still teach them how transistors can amplify signals?

If we don't we should. They may never build a bike, car, or audio system but we should give them some idea of how the technology works.

I don't know that we could teach every student how to program (Some people are temperamentally unsuited to programming) but we should give them an overview of how programs work and how to design and build them.

I can't see why the powers that be don't want to teach it. True, it involves actually thinking through what we need to have our citizens prepared to take advantage of as yet unknown technical opportunities, but surely that is part of building a curriculum. Unfortunately what seems to be happening is we are only teaching students how to be consumers of commercial packages, not how to create and improve the software.

Liz Quilty, a friend of mine, reports
One daughter wanted to take digitech next year as an option, i looked at it and realized they were teaching how to use office pretty much and told her no [...] she learnt it at the beginning of primary, it was used as a major part of the curriculum right through primary, and i think that is not uncommon nowdays to have kids using technology.
So the secondary schools are basically going to "teach" children how to be users not innovators and to boot it's what they have already learned in primary school.

I fully agree that you need to know how to use computers and common software (Word processing, spreadsheets, databases, browsers) but if you never learn how these things are built you will never be able to go beyond the imagination of the people who have put them together and it will be much harder for you to be a creator in the next technological wave.


Leigh Hunt has published a blog entry with similar thoughts and more information.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death

1816 was the year the crops simultaneously failed in Western Europe, North America and China. Approximate European fatality total was 200,000 deaths with an unknown (to me) number of deaths in other places in the northern hemisphere.

Food riots broke out in the United Kingdom and France, and grain warehouses were looted. The violence was worst in landlocked Switzerland, where famine caused the government to declare a national emergency.

Rice production in Yunnan province was devastated, resulting in widespread famine. Heilongjiang province, reported fields disrupted by frost and conscripts deserting as a result. Summer snowfall was reported in various locations in Jiangxi and Anhui provinces, both in the south of the country. On Taiwan, which has a tropical climate, snow was reported in Hsinchu and Miaoli, while frost was reported in Changhua.

The New England corn crop failed and in other places very low yields were reported.

Severe summer climate abnormalities caused average global temperatures to decrease by about 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F), resulting in major food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere.

It is believed that the anomaly was caused by a combination of a historic low in solar activity with a volcanic winter event, the latter caused by a succession of major volcanic eruptions capped off by the Mount Tambora eruption of 1815, the largest known eruption in over 1,300 years.

On the plus side, the lack of oats to feed horses may have inspired the German inventor Karl Drais to research new ways of horseless transportation, which led to the invention of the draisine or velocipede. This was the ancestor of the modern bicycle and a step toward mechanised personal transport

The above is adapted from this Wikipedia page. I'd never heard of it before stumbling on it today. 

There's obvious parallels to the effects that global warming are expected to have on agriculture in the years to come. The big difference is that 1816 was clearly an act of nature and nothing we could have done would have changed the climatic outcome. Europe was hit more severely by the crop shortage than it might have otherwise been  because the economy was still recovering from the Napoleonic wars, but the shortages would still have happened.

This article is largely a reproduction of excerpts from a Wikipedia page and is covered by the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Kids Going To School Hungry in NZ

It boggles my mind that in New Zealand we can't manage to ensure that every child gets breakfast, especially given that we as individuals donate so much to support starving children overseas. Are we just ignorant about the problems or do we choose to pretend that all is for the best in this country.

Today's Herald has this:
"A children's lobby group says New Zealanders should stop blaming the parents of hungry children and allow their tax money to be used to feed children in the poorest schools."More at NZ Herald
It also has two other related reports More Schools Feeding Children with more information on the failure in childs lives and this report on how Dominos has stepped up after rival Hell Pizza backed out of a sponsorship deal for kidscan as they had doubts about exactly how much of their money actually got to kids.

There's another article on a charity that feeds children:
"Takanini mother of five Bronca Fox started feeding hungry children from a local caravan park who came to her door a decade ago. Today, her charity feeds 250 children at five local schools."
Neither corporate sponsorship nor charity, of course are the answer here. We need to set up reliable systems that will ensure the children are fed and that, unfortunately given today's reality, means it has to be a properly funded professional exercise. $14 million divided by 2 million tax payers is $7 each a small price to pay to help the most needing of our citizens.

I'm not interested at the moment in getting into the reasons why parents can't feed their children. This isn't the time to look for blame, this is the time to act.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pasta Strainer Deemed Religious Headgear

According to the NZ Herald, pasta strainers are now considered suitable religious headgear in Austria ... at least for drivers licence photographs.

It took him 3 years but Niko Alm an Austrian Pastafarian has finally received his laminated drivers licence card showing him wearing an upturned pasta strainer on his head after the driving authorities ruled the kitchen utensil was a suitable religious accessory for a Pastafarian.

So what now?

  • Will the French ban pasta strainers?
  • Will the Australians enact laws to allow traffic police to demand they are removed for identification purposes?
  • Will pastafarian motorcyclists demand the right to wear these instead of crash helmets?
At least I know the answer to my next question
Q: Will stupidity never end?

A: No, or at least not while I've got this blog going.

Update:  Niko Alm has blogged about this (In German) here. There's a picture of the licence on the page.

Another update: According to this article in German the story isn't quite as reported or claimed on the website and has grossly exaggerated:
Even the rumored three-year waiting period was, according to the Vienna Police Department is not correct. "The license is completed since October 2009. He was not only picked up" (Google Translate)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Should British Royal Succession Rules Change?

I have no intention in this posting of entering the debate on New Zealand becoming a republic, I'll assume for now that New Zealand is to remain a monarchy.

With the upcoming marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton, various people, including the British Prime Minister are suggesting that the British succession laws should be changed to allow a female child to have the same precedence in the succession order as a male child.

There is a constitutional convention among the various Commonwealth Realms (Countries that have Elizabeth II as their monarch) that no country should change the fundamental laws about succession on their own. This comes from a time when the Commonwealth was a part of the British Empire and reflects the realities of 80 years ago. Since then the Commonwealth Realms have become fully independent and the Empire is no more.

There are historical precedents to a king or queen reigning over countries with different succession laws. Before Victoria came to the throne, kings George III,George IV and William IV had been kings of both Britain and Hanover. As these two countries had different succession laws, Victoria did not become Queen of Hanover, that honour falling on her uncle and the two nations peacefully separated.

What made this possible in 1837 and would make it possible in 20xx is that Britain and Hanover had what is known as "Personal Union" which meant that they were two countries that just happened to share a monarch. The same situation that Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and so-on find themselves in today.

Today we are fully independent and the British succession laws are irrelevant to New Zealand, no change to the British laws would apply here unless passed by our parliament. What should be changed are our succession laws which should match our beliefs as a people. The succession of the New Zealand monarchy should be gender neutral and not have the requirement of belonging to any particular religion or religious denomination.

If we change our succession law while the British don't change theirs and at some future date this means that the last combined British and New Zealand monarch is succeeded by separate British and New Zealand monarchs then so-be it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Driver charged over car door cyclist death

The man who opened a car door and caused a cyclist to fatally swerve into the path of a truck has been charged with the criminal charge "careless use of a motor vehicle causing death".


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Credit Card Merchant Accounts

A week or so back there was a discussion on one of the mailing lists I subscribe to about obtaining on-line merchant accounts for credit cards that would accept multiple currencies.

The answer is that New Zealand banks try to restrict their customers to only accepting NZ currency and place all kinds of barriers in the way of businesses that want to accept payments in foreign currency. No wonder so many smaller NZ businesses are forced into accepting paypal and incurring their relatively high merchant charges.

We're in a global economy and if you want to sell to people in larger countries you usually need to accept their currency. This is especially true of Americans and the English but also applies to a lesser extent to Europeans and even Australians. With information products I can sell globally, it only requires a few photons to go down the fibre cable to the world internet. Even for physical products its' possible to ship from New Zealand to the major markets of the world ... just ask the people who have been exporting cheese, meat and wool for the last 120 years.

Call me disloyal, but I get my business cards printed in Australia ... I simply can't find a New Zealand printer who can give me anything like the convenience and price of the Australian offering. They have a site and accept NZ Dollars, and it wasn't until I checked the whois on the domain before placing my first order that I even realised that I was dealing with a foreign company.

If you look at the US market, accepting credit cards is a competitive business and there are a lot of people offering this service. It took me under a minute to find Ms Merchant Account whose banner proclaims you can start accepting credit cards today with low discount rates and they are prepared to accept on-line transactions and foreign currency transactions.

So, why aren't our banks offering us services like this? Have they simply had a nod and a wink and decided not to compete?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Future of Christchurch?

The rescue operation is over. The end of recovery operation is in sight. The news media has long ended its  continuous coverage and the tone has changed from sharing our shock and reporting heroism to looking for scapegoats.

Christchurch residents are either working around the problems they are facing or are moving out of town.  Some are virtual refugees others have simply expedited already planned moves or for younger people gone on their OE to England a little earlier than they may have.

Meanwhile the centre of Christchurch is still cordoned off, but businesses have been given limited access to much of it to recover computers and vital business records. Thousands of homes have no water or sewerage and the Mayor of Christchurch used part of his press conference to talk about using chemical toilets.

Predictions are that at least ten thousand homes will have to be demolished and rebuilt and there are suggestions that entire suburbs will have to be abandoned because of the liquefaction problems so new land will be needed to build on. The Treasury has estimated that the total cost of the earthquake will be around 15 billion dollars and will take more than 4 years to rebuild Christchurch.

Meanwhile, Auckland has a large number of empty offices and shops, and builders are putting up more of these all the time only increasing presure. Every time I pass a building site, I think it would be wonderful if we could find a way to move the builders down to Canterbury, obviously someone would need to cover the out-of-pocket expenses of having them work remotely while having their homes here but I'm sure that problem can be solved.

Longer term, Christchurch will rebuild, but it's going to be a long hard slog and in the meanwhile they will need support and assistance from the rest of New Zealand.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Free Web Templates

I'm not a web site designer. I willingly tell people that I can't design a decent looking website to save myself and happily offer several reference sites to prove this claim. My strengths lie elsewhere, and I feel we should largely stick to our strengths. I've seen several badly broken websites where excellent web designers showed they were even worse at database programming than I am at graphic design. There are exceptions, but generally the better you are at one of graphic design or database development, the worse you are at the other.

I was browsing around for free web templates today. These are a wonderful resource, someone's already done the work to make a site look good and I just need to plug in the content or content generation. Typically they want to be paid for their work with a link back to their for-money web design business, I don't have a problem with this, I obviously like their work enough to use it and giving them a plug is not a problem. The free templates usually aren't as good as the bespoke ones they offer, but they're good enough for my purposes without paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for a unique design.

Today I came across this page of free web design company templates and cracked up. As I'm not a web designer, I have no problems using someone else's design on my sites. The website of a web designer should be a canvas for the best work they can do, a place to show off their skills. A web designer who gets someone else to design his or her own website is a problem though:
  • Are they actually not any good at design?
  • Don't they trust their own design ability?
  • Do they really think that a free and so middle quality template sells their abilities?
But what's more, the terms of the free design means that they need to give a link back to the designer in their page footer, so either:
  • They're telling anyone reading to the bottom of the page what they think of their own abilities, or
  • They're planning to violate the licence by removing the required link.
Would you really want to do business with someone who matches either of these?

Christchurch Earthquake Community Response

A dedicated volunteer team of Internet people, web masters, programmers, and computer capable helpers have built the New Zealand Christchurch Earthquake Community Response site to coordinate help efforts.

Anyone who needs help because of the earthquake or who can offer help should go there.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Headless Chickens of the Apocalypse

Yep, that's me too. In the wake of the 22 February earthquake I officially nominate myself as a headless chicken of the apocalypse

For the benefit of archaeologists reading this in 1,000 years time, it's now 2 days since a 6.3 magnitude earthquake went off under Christchurch, killing at least 75 people (possibly as many as 300), demolishing buildings and destroying the water supply of NZ's second largest city.

On Monday, like many New Zealanders, I watched the continuous TV coverage in stunned silence. On Tuesday, along with thousands of others I asked myself "What can I do to help?". I can't do much, but I do have internet assets so I decided I could make a list of available services. Emergency services, contact services, etc. I reasoned it shouldn't require much infrastructure so I threw up a page on my personal blog. I then discovered that there are a lot of people out there creating internet resources to help and there is quite a bit of duplication. I don't want to pick winners so I listed everything I found. Eventually the page grew to the point where the blogger editior was unhappy with the nested blockquote / bulletpoint format I chose and started grinding to a halt.

Then I had my headless chicken moment. "I'll start a new blog" I said. I was alone, so nobody said "No, you fool, there are already enough blogs" so my Christchurch Earthquake Resources Blog was born. I placed it on a domain name I already had and made it with Wordpress. Why Wordpress? I don't know how to use wordpress. Why even a blog? I'm building a directory ... in retrospect I think it's because I already had a single blog page.

I worked on this for a couple of hours til around midnight & went to bed. This morning when I woke up I was a bit more logical and said "Julia, you make directories. You've got 9 of them, this is a collection of links, why not make a directory?" so 5 minutes later I had my Christchurch Earthquake Resources Links Directory set up and 10 minutes after that I had the links duplicated. I now have the blog page, the blog and the directory ... I think I'll leave them all up for now until I work out how to glue my head back on.

On the plus side, I now have a useful list of resources for peole needing help with canterbury or wanting to offer help. The red cross website has been overloaded since the earthquake. A posting of mine about this found someone who has plenty of bandwidth and is now trying to contact them to offer help (Their phones are overloaded too).

 The moral of this story, are
  1. To help, pick something you actually know how to do
  2. Don't rush in before you're sure it's the best thing you can do
  3. Don't unnecessarily duplicate other people' efforts. Check sites like mine first and try googling. This is so new that the search engines may not have caught up, but at least try.
  4. Do tell me & others with similar lists about your sites
  5. Do co-ordinate with others who can help.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Placebo effect works on real medicine too

I remember an old TV comedy where a character said she is such a bad hypochondriac that the doctor has prescribed broad spectrum placebos. I was reminded of this today when I read this article in New Scientist. Quote:
"Before you pop that painkiller, you might want to focus on how much better you'll feel afterwards. Positive thinking could double your pain relief."
Why was anyone surprised? Tell people they are getting a powerful drug but give them a sugar pill and some people will get better as a result. This is the placebo effect, it's a real effect, it works.

So now, we find that placebo effect + real medicine is better than either real medicine or placebo effect on their own. I'm not surprised. In the world of real medicines you can get a drug-drug interaction, for example an antacid will affect the efficiency of blood thinning drugs. What would be interesting to discover a drug where the placebo effect has a negative effect on the efficiency of the real drug ... a med that only works when you don't know you are getting it. Would that surprise me? Probably not, but it would be cool to know one exists.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hone Flies Again

There's a huge fuss on at the moment about Maori Party MP Hone Harawira. He's been suspended from the party caucus and there's apparently a process that will decide if he will be expelled from the party. The mainstream media are baying for blood, the NZ Herald editorial "Maori Party should cut Harawira loose" while the Gisborne Herald printed a letter saying "Harawira not keeping to Maori values"

Fifteen months ago there was another big fuss over intemperate and allegedly racist language from Hone Harawira. At the time I said
"Hone Harawira is quite safe, as long as his support remains a lot less than theirs, Sharples and Turia won't touch him as they need him, or someone so like him to make no difference appeal to the minority segment of Maoridom he holds for the party. They'll make tut-tutting noises, but they are both to clever to alienate him or his electorate."

I'm going to make the same prediction today. This is an election year, like all parties, the Maori party, need to attract as much attention as they can and they need to reconnect with their electorate. After two years in the governing coalition the poorer among in society, including the poorer among the Maori, are feeling disadvantaged and they need to feel that continuing to support the Maori Party is in their best interests. The middle class Maori electorate can see that the Maori party has delivered for them, but this has been a hard two years for the working class and unemployed.

What does Hone say about all this? In his blog on the issue he says
"I know I don’t have all the answers. I know my colleagues have just as much to offer as I do, but I also know that our people are crying out for us to reconnect with them, with their lives, with their situations and with their hopes and dreams."
You're right there Hone, your party needs you to connect with the Maori radicals and keep their vote for your party and your party needs you, or someone like you, to raise your party's public image. Meanwhile Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia will continue to connect with their parts of the Maori Electorate. Every time you and they have robust discussion in public you get press and TV coverage that the other small parties aren't getting and you raise your party's public profile.

Finally I'd like you to consider that Hone's mother was a founder member of protest Ngā Tamatoa in the early 1970s and has been a Maori activist since at least that long ago. Hone has been an activist since at least 1979 and says "When people refuse to do what's right, at the end of the day you step in, do what you've got to do." He wasn't some unknown, the Maori Party selected him as a candidate knowing full well what he believes and what he stands for. It would be hypocritical of them to turn around and say that he doesn't fit in the party he helped bring into government.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Oyster death hysteria

"Oysters being wiped out around the world" The Herald headlined on Monday "Wild oysters are now 'functionally extinct' in many places where they were once plentiful. More than 85 per cent of their reefs have been lost through overfishing, a study says." More...

Of course things aren't always what they seem. Note the "In many places", then read to the bottom and discover on the very last line that the article is a re-print of an Independent (English Newspaper) article.

Tuesday they followed up with "Bluff oysters defy trend towards extinction, says industry" a genuine local article with NZ details. This time they make it clear that they are talking New Zealand. Would have been good if they made that clear in the original article.

There's nothing wrong with reporting that overseas species are threatened, but please make it clear at the top of the article that this is what you are talking about.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

O tempora o mores; Oh Times, Oh Daily Mirror

Until a very few years ago the professional news media: owners, editors, and journalists had a huge power to limit the information that was available to the ordinary person. If any step in the chain didn't consider a piece of information was "fit to print" the ordinary person never got to hear about it. More subtly the professional news media had the ability to slant the news according to their prejudices (as we all do) but unlike today the other slant often didn't get a chance to get out.

In the 1940s and to an extent the 1950s Britain (in reality England) had the largest empire the world had ever seen and considered the world to be their oyster. The ordinary Briton was regaled by tales of the colonised people, admittedly not a very nice picture of them, but a picture none-the less.

We left Britain in 1959 when I was under 2. In the mid 1970s my father took me & my younger brother back to Britain to meet the relatives and see the home land. He was socked by how insular the British press and local TV news had become. In retrospect, the loss of empire and the adjustments to being a part of Europe had simply changed the views the news media chose to present. For the locals this had been a gradual change, for Dad Britain was frozen in his mind at 1959 and it was a sudden wrench to bring his world view forward 25 years in a couple of weeks.

New Zealand media have always been focused on the world. We know we're a small and relatively unimportant part of the world and so our press has always covered events in England, USA, Western Europe and Australia very well. In recent years it has expanded its coverage of Asia and Africa.

The United States is an interesting case. Despite being the strongest nation on Earth militarily and first or second economically, they have retained an incredibly insular media, and most people in the United States are woefully ignorant of the world outside their country; and what they do know is horrifically slanted by the views constantly trumpeted by their news media. Americans are no more stupid than any other nation, and if given better and more honest coverage of the world would be much better able to use their democracy to make far better choices. The keeping of them in ignorance by big media is almost a crime.

Also in today's world I can choose where I take my news from. 25 years ago I had a choice of 2 newspapers; today I can read the on-line version of any newspaper on earth. If I want an English daily I can read it, if I want a US paper I can read it, I can read the Chinese government news ... typically I don't but I have that freedom. I can choose the slant I want.

Things are changing though, and what is changing it is that big media is losing control. In 1975 it was incredibly expensive to have a voice. Today a home PC and Internet connection and anyone can. I'm currently "following" an obscure Icelandic politician on twitter and commenting on world events. Sure, there are a huge number of differences between me and a professional journalist, but I have the freedom to make my voice heard and an increasing number of independent voices are out there being read. So where is the journalist today? At least in theory I'm free to be as slanted as I like while journalists are supposed to give "unbiased reporting" ... the reality is both the journalist and myself can only report what our internal filters let us see ... I think I'm fairly open about my biases and I would like to see big media and professional journalists come out about their biases and prejudices, so when we read their words we have the ability to know where they are coming from.

I'm picking that the future of the professional journalist is going to be interesting. The independent commentators and amateur reporters in places like Wikinews are going to be increasingly pressuring them and they are going to adapt to survive. I can see a few futures that don't really work out. I'm sure that the professional journalist will survive, but I don't have a good handle on what that survival will mean ... it could be raw news feed with an ability to get to the right place at the right time ... it could be the ability to conduct interesting penetrating interviews with the key people ... it could be a slanted journalism that would make today's US media look unbiased ... it may well be something else.

Whatever professional journalists become, they won't have the ability to filter information in the way that their predecessors in the 1970s and earlier enjoyed. 

[The title of this blog entry is a quote from Michael Flanders, who in turn was quoting Cicero.]

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Web Directories

I'm taking time out from braying at the moon to be a little self serving.

When it first started, the web was pretty small and either academics or fairly geeky hobbyists. They built links between their pages based on webs of interests. People would find interesting sites based shared interests. The web grew, Yahoo came along and built a massive directory, then the search engines arose.

Today web directories are nowhere near as important as they used to be, but some still have a reasonable amount of influence. I've applied to list this blog on a few of the more important and have created this post to share some of the love back at them.

My directories

First I should mention my own directories.
Search New Zealand
Finding New Zealand on the web
Search Me New Zealand
Another list of New Zealand websites
Interesting New Zealand web sites

General Directories

Friday, January 28, 2011

Stressed out Judge?

Judge Tony Adeane, a district court judge who works in Hawke's Bay and Gisborne courts looks like he's reaching the end of his tether, and has been in the news a few times over the last couple of weeks.

Two weeks back the lawyers for 2 accused of aggravated assult on a policeman  scheduled a bail hearing then said they wanted a delay so they could apply later. Adeane is reported as saying he would not accept court proceedings "sitting in limbo"" and remanded the accused in custody the application.

Eight days ago he was reported  as jailing a man for contempt after he shouted abuse from the public gallery of the court.

Today there are two reports about him, presumably from yesterday. In the first, he is reported as saying "Taggers should expect to be sent to jail" while sentencing a tagger to community service while in the second he supposedly said "Home detention does not work as a deterrent in Hawkes Bay [...] It has not been the experience of the District Court in Hawkes Bay that home detention truly is an equivalent of prison - it doesn't have the same deterrent effect and most offenders realise that" while sentencing a recidivist shoplifting gang member to home detention.

The first two cases suggest the actions of a man who has been pushed to the point where he is starting to experience work place stress and is letting his more difficult "customers" know that he has had enough of their antics. You have to wonder why his words in the other two cases don't match his actions, ¿Que? presumes that sentencing guidelines are forcing him to issue sentences he recognises as futile and inadequate.

¿Que?'s position is that our society is at the mercy of career criminals because bad behaviour is permitted to ratchet up into criminal behaviour with no effective sanction until a person with dozens or hundreds of convictions finally cripples or kills an innocent person. It seems it isn't only the public who are victims of this process, Judge Adeanes' comments and actions makes ¿Que? think that even judges are victims of the New Zealand cirque d'justice .

The failure of community sentencing is nothing new, nor a particularly New Zealand issue; they have similar problems in England as this two year old report from the BBC shows
Community penalties 'laughed at': "One officer said: 'I know prisons are full, but they're full with the wrong people. We need to send out the message that if you've got a suspended sentence and you breach it, you go to prison.'"

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The loss of history

Five thousand years ago the Sumerians started writing on clay tablets. Mostly it wasn't interesting stuff, commercial transactions, tax records, the occasional letter or decree. Today these give us an insight into their life that we would not have if we relied only on the official pronouncements and how they would want to be seen by posterity.

Not long after the Egyptians started recording their history, there's the official story in hieroglyphs and the real story in Hieratic script, including an incredibly advanced (for the time) medical text.

Fast forward 3000 years and we have Roman Britain, a time we until recently knew remarkably little about, to the Romans it was a fairly uninteresting provincial outpost and in any case the official histories of the time did not place the same value on objective truth as we do today. Then came the Vindolanda tablets, suddenly we had an insight into the day-to-day life of a Roman garrison in England.

Rome fell, and a lot of information was lost in the west, mostly by a quiet censorship. When books needed to be copied by hand, unpopular books (or unpopular ideas) simply weren't copied and after a few years vanished ... still examples did show up, just as the Vindolanda tablets did.

The twentieth century will probably turn out to be the best documented ever time for future archaeologists. In many countries there was near universal literacy, while from Djibouti to Papua New Guinea the educated elites had been joined by the educated middle classes and printing had become as cheap as it ever was. Electronic media developed during the century and at until the very end of the 20th most people got their news and information on paper.

Then electronic media took over. 24 hour news channels and Internet news took over. In the days of newspapers, yesterday's news wrapped today's fish and chips, but in the days of electronic news, yesterday's news is only a bunch of electrons or magnetic fields. Paper might be preserved, but electronic media only live as long as the publishers want to keep them. In the 1970s the BBC deleted thousands of television programs so they could recycle the magnetic tape they were stored on. They saw no purpose to keeping them. At the time very few people were concerned, television was ephemeral, home video didn't exist and if you missed a programme, you missed it. Today the BBC regrets this and is trying to replace those deleted episodes from third party libraries, old film copies an similar.

Blogger Martin Belam reports that the BBC website is deleting hundreds of sub-sites. To them these have passed their use-by date and are no longer needed. To the future this will probably be seen as cultural vandalism on a par with the deletion of series 1 and 2 of Dad's Army. The BBC deletion is, of course, only the tip of the iceberg. Huge amounts of information exist only on impermanent digital forms, often technically protected using technologies that didn't exist 10 years ago and may not exist in 10 years time.

There is the Internet Archive, but it's coverage is erratic and in the long term its future is far from certain. It's a small start, let's hope it is enough to allow our great-great-great-grandchildren to understand us.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Telecom's customer data open to former staff members

The Herald has an update of this story today. Sounds to me like Telecom were forgetting some pretty basic principles of information security.

Telecom's customer data open to ex staff - NZ Herald: "Former employees have questioned Telecom's security policies and one can still look up customer details despite having left his job two months ago.

Andrew Rozen, who worked in a customer service role from March to November last year, checked if he could access Telecom's Wireline database after accusations of a security breach this month."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

All Telecom customers details revealed

The Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff, has announced she will investigate how Slingshot's marketing company Power Marketing obtained and used a sign-on code that allowed access to account details for every Telecom customer.

The NZ Herald reports that they had access to a "legitimate account used by a Telecom dealer to carry out its business"

There are at least dozens and possibly hundreds of Telecom dealers in New Zealand, just think of those little stands in malls. They are mostly small businesses and probably kept hungry by the competitive state of telecommunications in this country, I can imagine they probably go out of business reasonably often, or at least need to let staff go, so why on earth is Telecom letting them have full access to our private details?

As well as the impact on our privacy, this just doesn't seem to be a good business practice for Telecom. In short it seems sloppy.

Update (6:15 PM) Telecom says it is investigating the use of the database "If our investigation confirms unauthorised access we will pursue all appropriate action."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Waived insurance, got sick, complained

"A family who reported their son's chicken pox to Air New Zealand three days before they were due to fly believe they have been 'punished' with the extra costs involved in rebooking their travel. [Father] told the airline about the medical condition and was told his son could not board the flight.
Staff told him the booking fee could be reimbursed with a medical certificate, but he was quoted a price of over $500 to exchange his family's tickets for new ones."

The Herald has been asking readers if the airline should have reinbursed the fare. Fortunately most of those who replied are far more sensible than the Herald and are firmly promoting the view that individual responsibility goes both ways.

As most of those I read have said, travel insurance is available for this type of event and the passengers chose not to buy insurance, thus deciding to carry the risk of illness / etc themselves.

When buying cheap fares for internal flights, I too usually decide that I'll carry the risk, for me it's a small risk and usually the cost of a replacement ticket is sufficiently small that I feel I'll come out ahead over time. When travelling internationally the potential charges are such that I see it as beneficial to have insurance so I buy it.

Although it's easy to say that Air New Zealand should refund the fare, if the airline decided to give them the benefits of having insurance without the customer having bought that insurance then others who also chose to carry the risk themselves could also request the same & eventually the costs of the insurance plus a profit margin for the airline would be loaded as an extra charge onto every ticket we bought.


[get this widget]