Saturday, February 28, 2009

Pants

I used to be a bit of a bike nut. It had nothing to do with fitness but with freedom. When I was biking, I was not at home. I could concentrate on the immediate worries, which were few. I knew where I stood, so to speak. And for all their faults, none of my six parents ever grounded me. Freedom was a bike ride away.

Happiness was a Sunday afternoon biking. The banks of the Manawatu River with fresh batteries in the Walkman was the best, but any compass point would do. The Esplanade was interwoven with a braid of dirt tracks. That was always a good place to start. Right past the Lido swimming pools, the mini-golf, the micro-railway towards Dittmer Drive? Nice native bush back there, fantails and everything.

Left was always more interesting. Under the bridge, the one that isn't there any more. Concrete arches like a Loch Ness monster. Choice of the Lagoon path or the back of the Teachers' College. Past the Murder House, the golf course and the cement works. Before you'd know it, I'd be halfway to Ashhurst, stopped only by the track dying out behind the market gardeners and gang headquarters.

As far as I know, no-one in particular made these paths. They were formed from common usage and not a great pool of money.

Then there was the river. That thing had a life of its own. If a path had gone on too much further upriver, it would have had to stop at the Manawatu Gorge. It might look piddly in summer, but the history of the river's winter potential is carved in that canyon. Only the insanest of crazy cyclists, PE teachers and the like, dared to bike through that chasm of stone with the main traffic back then.

I saw few fishers or swimmers along the banks of the river. Even in the middle of summer, practically no-one dared dipping in the steady river chill. Fishermen had better kai half an hour down Himitangi way. Adults didn't bike back then, preferring to work out their miseries on tenderising the steak or the missus, depending on their sex. There were a few walkers, but jogging hadn't caught on yet either. For a time, there was just me and the river, the hills, the sky and everything else.

The bike became part of me. In town, I had worked out a way of avoiding having to slow down at those pesky overlapped metal bars that pedestrians are supposed to zigzag through on walkways. I'd half dismount and skim under the bar at cruising speed. I wasn't the fastest though. That was proved when I came third to last in a mini-triathalon, narrowly beating an asthmatic albino and the octogenarian nana.

Cycling in Wellington took a bit of getting used to. Out Island Bay way, cycling was more weekend thing than mode of transport. The bus was a more reliable, weather-proof and less suicidal transport than biking to work. Things got trickier on moving into Thorndon. By far the quickest way to work was to bike along the motorway to the Terrace off-ramp. As this was usually about dawn and not having lights on the bike to attract traffic cops, I got away with it.

In my many many hours of cycling, I had not got myself killed once. Or even maimed, for that matter. Grazes, hell yes. Embedded gravel, you betcha. One thing you learn quickly when biking is how to fall. Landing on your brain is not recommended and best avoided.

Bolger's National government did something catastrophic and stupid in the 90s. It actually did two huge Transport cock-ups, the other being the merging of the police with the traffic cops. But that was mainly a budget thing. It became compulsory to wear an approved bike helmet. From henceforth, all cyclists regardless of age must strangle themselves with the strap of an uncomfortable polystyrene hat that would magically protect them from death. All the fun had gone out of biking, and after one too many helmet fines in 1995, I got off the bike forever.

Tragedy, fat fucks and fashion crimes. That's the price of bike helmets. Last year's death of a traffic safety cop sort of summed it up in the tragic irony department. All those Soccer Mum traffic jams at schools can largely be blamed on the death of popular childhood cycling. And the sartorial infringement award goes to this post, which conjures up the unholy image of Karl du Fresne in bike pants. No-one should have to experience these things.



So, in some sense, I understand the potential of a bike track from north to south. It won't affect trade agreements, as it is difficult to describe the project as protectionism. It would separate the traffic flows, allowing a non-helmet environment (no narks or cops), whilst keeping latex shrink-wrapped junk from distracting or terrorising innocent bystanders. There's also the tourism potential as well as providing a designated route for people fundraising for charities or walking a hikoi.

But is it really worth $50 million borrowed dollars? Or as Cactus Kate more accurately calls it, $100 million? I'm doing my utter best to avoid complete cynicism, but I'd want to see more of a business plan before such a scheme is purchased.

Then there's the obvious solution. Rip up the Main Trunk Line on uneconomical parts of the route to cut funding costs. I mean, we already own it and everything. Rearranging sunk costs and paper write downs are cheaper than borrowing. Rip up the rail to pay for the path. In fact, you could probably get volunteers to rip it up, saving you even more. Much the same was done with the old Fell railway line, the Rimutaka Incline, which is now very popular with the cyclists and walkers.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Back to the Futurama

Good news everyone! Futurama may be back from the wild green yonder for a sixth season according to Voice of Fry, Billy West (Hat Tip /.). Futurama was originally canned by Fox due to "poor ratings", where "poor ratings" is defined as constantly screwing with the schedule. Well, those who care all know what happened to those executives:



NZ TV programmers weren't that great at showing the series here either. In fact, I'd say many viewers switched to file sharing sites just to maintain some form of regular viewing schedule. Programming schedulers are somewhat responsible for copyright infringement. Respect your audience!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sun might be hot

From the department of obvious science, outdoor workers are exposed to a lot of UV. It's called the sun, mate. It's why Africans are black and Maori are brown. Skin pigment is not some racial superiority gig, but a way to tune the response to the climate. In the meantime, some form of hat might be in order for the Gingas.

Headline of the Day

Tearful Atlanta Cops Express Remorse for Shooting 92-Year-Old Kathryn Johnston, Leaving Her To Bleed to Death in Her Own Home While They Planted Drugs in Her Basement, Then Threatening an Informant So He Would Lie To Cover It All Up

Or, in journospeak:

She was killed by officers after they used a no-knock warrant — obtained with falsified evidence — to storm into her house in search of drugs an informant had inaccurately told them were inside. Apparently thinking the officers were robbers, Johnston fired a shot through the door. Officers responded with 39 shots, five or six of which struck her.

The officers initially sought to cover up their actions in obtaining the warrant, but their story eventually unraveled. All three pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate Johnston’s civil rights.

Carnes said she hopes that if anything good comes from Johnston’s death it will be “a renewed effort by the Atlanta Police Department to prevent something like this from ever happening again.”

She also said the “pressures brought to bear” by the department’s performance quotas, calling for officers to get a certain number of warrants and arrests, “did have an impact on these and other officers on the force.”

The War on Drugs continues. Hat Tip BoingBoing.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Police state layoffs

Good news for Judith Collins! Some of the British police force is about to be made redundant:
Some 80 officer positions are expected to go in Gwent, North Yorkshire has dropped by 120 in the past two years and South Yorkshire Police cut 82 officers last year. Surrey is bracing itself for “significant and painful cuts” with the loss of 144 officers and staff.
Perhaps some of them could emigrate to South Auckland, seeing how Britain has more cops than it can afford.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Blackout cause has effect

As far as Blitzkrieg political activism goes, the Blackout campaign must be one for the record books. Conceived barely a week ago at Baa Camp, the campaign against 92A was spread far and wide and with a speed never before witnessed in NZ political lobbying. The uproar from across the political spectrum provided enough impetus for cabinet to suspend 92A's enactment for at least a month. If no agreement is reached, it will be gone by Eastertime.

Well done to everyone who took part, from the dreamers and schemers who came up with the idea, to the citizen organisers who provided the props for the hastily prepared protest at parliament, to all the commentators and bloggers who felt outraged enough to make a difference and spread the word, when indifference and inertia are so tempting. And a really big thanks to the new National executive, who have demonstrated an ability to listen to the punters.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Black cat on a moonless night

New Zealand's new Copyright Law presumes 'Guilt Upon Accusation' and will Cut Off Internet Connections without a trial. Join the black out protest against it!

Et tu, 92A?

I've only ever submitted one upload to YouTube, this little evisceration of Michael Cullen:



To date, it has been viewed a whole 142 times. Although it was a complete Popularity Fail, it didn't stop whatever company that owns the rights to this obscure Queen song from sending me an advisory warning. I didn't save a copy, bugger it, but the substance of the nastygram went something like this:
We have found that an uploaded video on YouTube under this user name includes media content that belongs to us. You have used it without our permission. We don't ask you to remove this content, but we reserve the right to do so whenever we feel like it. We reserve the right to include advertising on this media, if we so choose.
I have no idea if this We Are Watching You notice was sent by a bot or a human. Either way, there was no disputing which side had the better legal team. And that was just the soundtrack. Must admit, I do feel a bit guilty to all the file footage I nicked without attribution. All those images of someone else's work and no hotshot lawyer's got their back.

It's not as if I made the clip for the money. I did it because I wanted to see what it looked like, whether it was greater than the sum of its parts. And yes it was. No other song perfectly matched the angle of the sentiment, the flamboyant rage at the former finance minister's antics, and this was before the KiwiRail purchase. The images came from that great modern library of Alexandria, the interweb, even if I had to use a backdoor or two to get the right image.

But such a brush with legal goliaths has put me off putting more stuff up. I'll stick to misappropriating phrases and smudging photos. That's about my danger level. As Russell Brown mentions, these things can get nasty:
Some time back, Daniel Gardiner, who operates a YouTube channel under the name dannews, posted an amusing mash-up of an Air New Zealand ad, which I embedded on Public Address. I received a C&D letter from Air New Zealand's chief counsel, about which I did nothing -- because I knew that YouTube would act with dispatch, and without asking questions, to take down the clip under the DMCA. This is precisely what happened. But since then, Dan has twice had his entire YouTube account frozen on the basis of complaints whose nature and source he has been unable to determine.
Whether the Air NZ legal counsel has grown a sense of humour since the affair is unknown. At least Air NZ's latest ad is almost impossible to mash into anything funnier, so at least the marketing department have noticed something. But Air NZ and other companies can't run comedy advertising and suppress mockery forever. There's a very fine line between mockery and brand infringement. The Scientologists have made good use of this vagarity to close down user-generated content pisstakes and dissent on their idiosyncratic beliefs.

Please don't shoot the magpies for borrowing a few shiny baubles or taking the piss. And please don't cut off my internet because of some minor intellectual copyright infringement. You cut off my internet, you cut off my hands, my means of communication. Even in sharia law backwaters, there's a court before they cut off your hands. And Internet Service Providers are not cut out to be some Hollywood mullah's version of the Community for the Promotion of Virtue and Elimination of Vice.

This blog goes black at midnight. I hope that Monday's cabinet meeting passes an Order in Council to suspend Section 92A until greater clarification of the rules of engagement are agreed upon.

Sweet Child o' Melamine

The chances of TVNZ forking out for a political cross-examination program to replace Agenda seems as dead-and-alive as Schrodinger's Cat right now. While we wait for signs of life from the box, at least Bill Maher's back. Here's the first New Rules for 2009, featuring a suggestion for Wall St from the melamine saga:

Friday, February 20, 2009

Time for a cup of tea

Ceasefire on the new frontier

From John Drinnan:
Movie and music industry bosses have pulled back from a hardline approach and are belatedly considering a plan for an independent mediator to oversee protracted complaints between them and telcos.
From PCPro via /.
Pirate Bay's co-founder has pleaded for hackers to stop attacking the sites of those organisations lined up against him.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Judas Tizard

The rapport between Mikey Havoc and John Key on bFM today resulted in an apt name to sum up the furore over the 92A story thus far. Judas Tizard.


Pic from Stuff

I did my bit. Armed with a Fair Go sign that possibly breached copyright, I stood with what another person described as a Who's Who. I guessed around 200 people turned up to protest. This was no Rent a Crowd. You couldn't afford to rent this crowd; politely pissed off ISP providers, bloggers, deep thinkers, sys admins, programmers, artists and other creators, students and political junkies from across the spectrum.

Peter Dunne, always one who knows which way the wind is blowing, came down to accept the petition from Creative Freedom Foundation director Bronwyn Holloway-Smith. Dunne compared 92A to the Electoral Finance Act, and he was spot on.

Just as Mark Burton's ham-fisted and poorly drafted Electoral Finance Act helped savage Labour in the election, Judith Tizard will be remembered for brutalising Labour's support due to 92A. Clare Curran pretty much confirmed this idea not long afterwards, when she also addressed the protestors.

Like the Electoral Finance Act, Labour are keen to cut loose of their past mistakes. The previous Labour leadership had pursued victory at any cost. With the EFA, it was to shut down dissent. In the case of 92A, it was to clinch an American Free Trade Agreement to wave under the noses of the middle voter. Labour lost and the purge is on. They need to lose a lot more baggage than Burton and Tizard, but it's a start.

So, repeal or postponement would have the support of Labour, the Greens and United Future, at the very least. As Met Turei says, it's all rather academic because it's really up to John Key's cabinet, with guidance from Ministers Simon Power and Steven Joyce:
The Greens did not deny leave, why would we as the bill wont make the situation any worse? But it certainly wouldn’t make any difference to the problem – that is that if Cabinet doesn’t agree on Monday to issue an order in council to prevent section 92A from coming into force, then as of 28 February ISP will have to comply with the provision.
Everything comes down to Monday. Get an email off to the relevant Ministers. Contact details for them here (.pdf). Do your bit!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Blackout at Parliament

Creative Freedom NZ has organised a protest against the "guilt by accusation" copyright law tomorrow in Wellington:

When: 12:3012:00 noon, Thursday 19 February
Where: Parliament forecourt
Wear: bright colours, with a black placard

Ripped from No Right Turn.

The Outlook for Thursday? Fine, 21 Celsius, light Northerlies.

Electoral Finance Act repealed

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Contraindication Station

The future is fractal. I said as much to the pre-election Health select committee considering the medicinal cannabis petition last year. The exact words were a path of "individuated medical treatments" when challenged on the "cannabis for everyone" question from, off memory, current Health Minister Tony Ryall.

While humans share an intolerance for obvious Kryptonites such as cyanide and arsenic, our individual mutations splinter into a myriad of pluses and negatives. I can eat as many peanuts as the next monkey, but don't give me penicillin. I once knew a girl who was allergic to bee stings and carried a hypodermic of adrenalin, another was diabetic and carried insulin.

A generation before mine, I would have been fed Alexander Fleming's bread mould as required, as it was better than any other medicine they had at their disposal. Tough luck on the side effects. Before adrenaline and the invention of the hypodermic, my old friend probably faced a life of seclusion or death by bee. It was just over a hundred years ago that snake oil salesmen still sold quack remedies for diabetes, as so little about the condition was understood.

And these are just some obvious examples. Feel free to supplant these with your own experiences. I never learned Latin well enough to pronounce the names of some of these concoctions, that only doctors, didgeridoo players and Tim Shadbolt can say in one go. But everyone learns to pronounce their own medicine when the need arises.

I say all this in preamble in order to provide some context in what might seem to be an imminent and apparent contradiction on the role of DNA for the public good. After all, earlier this month I beat a fairly loud drum about the police DNA database for alleged criminals and how bad it is. OK, are you prepared?

It's this fascinating little gizmo:

From a drop of saliva or cheek swab [this handheld device] can analyse DNA to tell if a patient has the right genetic fit for a particular drug. The Snip Doctor looks for known single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) - single letter changes in the genetic code - that can affect an individual's response to medical treatment.

This little thing, if it works as advertised, has the potential to diagnose reliably and more accurately than ever before. The potential to revolutionise treatment is huge. Until we can get all those doctors out of cosmetic surgery and back to doing something useful, this device could spread the load of monitoring patient conditions as well as, and here's the apparent contradiction, feed back into the cloud of medical knowledge.

Yes, that raises the prospect of some form of database. But one tempered by doctor-patient confidentiality and other (future?) relevant legal protections, as opposed to the police database scheme. The reasons for collection vary greatly too. A medical DNA database would provide phenomenal insight into the intricacies of pharmacological treatment to NZ's inhabitants.

Take, for example, Maori. Diseases foreign to their race came across with the immigrants in the 19th Century and ravaged their people. Generic overseas tests do not easily accommodate for our unique and complex genetic and environmental heritage. The more information that can be gathered and fed into the general knowledge, the more it can benefit the infirm.

Meantime, the jury is still out on the fate and use of Guthrie cards, according to the latest Privacy Commission newsletter:

The Privacy Commissioner has made a submission to the National Screening Unit (NSU) about the collection, retention and secondary use of the newborn bloodspot samples... The Privacy Commissioner also addressed the need for legislation to regulate secondary use of samples and ongoing governance. She said there were also concerns about the information that was currently available to new parents and the consent gathering process.
If you were born in NZ from 1970ish onwards, somewhere there's a card with your baby blood on it. That's a Guthrie card. What can it be used for? Well, that's a bit unclear. As you can tell from the above statement, the fate of this DNA-testable card of your quotable soul is still moot.

There is so much good possible, but also risks of grave social harm if abused. What do you reckon? Should the cops get your code before your doctor? What would you like done with your Guthrie card?

Burning Questions

Just how are the mainstream media going to cover this in the news for the next couple of days? Which reporter will be called on to report live from the event? What questions will they ask? How much further can the MSM disappear up its own arse?

Copyfight Club

If there's any doubt in your mind that the new NZ Copyright Laws are not part of a concerted global attack by a desperate and failing business model, have a read of the BBC story on The Pirate Bay:
Authorities denied that the raid was prompted by urging from the MPA, the international arm of the MPAA, but the Swedish media revealed that the MPA had met with the justice ministry in the months before the raid...

In September 2007, hackers leaked six months of internal emails from anti-piracy company Media Defender, which revealed that the company was discussing hiring hackers to attack the Pirate Bay's servers.
Pirate Bay have long taunted the multinational copyright monopolists with fart-in-your-general-direction type scorn. All the best to them with this court case.

Here in NZ, my suspicions of corporate interference on policy was confirmed during the Election '08 Internet Debate (.rtf):

FRAN O’SULLIVAN I was talking this morning with Phil Goff up in New York and he was just announcing these new free trade talks with the US and others and we had a bit of a debate about, well you know, what’s in it for the United States. He said well one of the key issues the US will have is intellectual property and copyright and we have just heard some very staunch comments here from the panel. But I wonder, you know, how you can uphold those principles once the US gets involved?

One really feels sorry for APRA. They're prepared to front up and tell their side of the story to any who will listen. But the impetus and motivation behind 92A is really the beancounter division in the Old Empire of entertainment corporations.

In other news, they're reading about the Blackout here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Blackout on 92A

New Zealand's new Copyright Law presumes 'Guilt Upon Accusation' and will Cut Off Internet Connections without a trial. Join the black out protest against it!

More info here.

Swords to ploughshares

It's good to see the old Shelly Bay Air Force land handed back to Taranaki Whanui. I'm a proponent of the original agreement made by Wakefield, promising a tenth of Wellington's land will remain with the original occupants. This promise was eroded over the years as the various whanau got pushed first to Kaiwharawhara and then out into the Hutt.

Kotare has a brief outline on the substance of last weekend's Baa Camp. Fascinating headline topics, ones which I have been mulling over for some length of time. I have some quite controversial ideas about sustainable living in cities that I might get around to posting up.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A more wretched hive of scum and villainy

Favourite pirate hangout, Hong Kong, now includes a bolthole for Africa's most colourful nutjob dictator since Idi Amin; Robert Mugabe.

Wasted on sniffer dogs

In a follow-up to the popular Cujo the Sniffer Dog post, drug educator Paul Dillon appears in today's Sydney Morning Herald, responding to latest Bureau of Crime Statistics report showing use of Ecstasy has increased 112 percent in the last two years.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Autist-Unfriendly Canton

From Mother Jones:
In 1999, when Rob was 13, his parents sent him to the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, located in Canton, Massachusetts, 20 miles outside Boston. The facility, which calls itself a "special needs school," takes in all kinds of troubled kids—severely autistic, mentally retarded, schizophrenic, bipolar, emotionally disturbed—and attempts to change their behavior with a complex system of rewards and punishments, including painful electric shocks to the torso and limbs.
I am SO looking forward to seeing how these boots camps are going to work out. Hope the camps are better run than our own little Alcatraz. We've learned sweet bugger all from Milgram and Zimbardo, haven't we?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The SEC pinata

The US Securities and Exchange Commission is taking a justifiable beating at the moment. DPF highlights a chewing out of the SEC appearing before the oversight committee. Dem Rep Gary Ackerman tears strips off the Commission as they lamely attempt to claim executive privilege over the Madoff mess.

Reason Online features an interview with an outgoing SEC Commissioner. It makes sobering reading. Here's a taste:

reason: Why wouldn’t the market, this fierce disciplining force, create a system to certify trading activity and valuation?

Atkins: Well, there were outside parties—accountants, accounting firms, and, of course, the ratings agencies. Those were there to sort of give comfort to other parties, and the marketplace itself was starting to work on ways to try to have some sort of increased transparency with respect to these particular obligations. But the SEC has a statutory obligation to look at investment banks on a risk-management basis, to say, “What exactly do you think you’re worth, and how do you think you’re relating to the marketplace in general?” Those sorts of questions could have and probably should have been asked a little bit more forcefully.

Billions and billions

The Washington Post has a splendid graphic of where the $819 billion stimulus plan will go, and how it is spread out over the years.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Sovereignty of Self

It's business time as the Nats get down to living up to all of last year's election promises. Taking DNA from all arrestees will be one I think that they will live to regret.

The superficial attraction of the policy is obvious. Anyone who watches CSI can relate to those forensics tests performed to Miami Vice-like soundtracks. Although this fingerprint analogy has floundered, Simon Power has his "tool to prove innocence as well as guilt" mantra down pat. Let's see how long that one lasts.

No Right Turn has an excellent summary of many worrying aspects of this change of DNA policy, with all sorts of source materials linked. Attorney-General Chris Finlayson's report has sounded a loud ping on BORA issues. The breach of unreasonable search and seizure is not trivial. The Bill of Rights guarantees, at least in theory, the sovereignty of self from the state. If this law is passed and instituted in its entirety, I can almost guarantee that it will result in cases to the Supreme Court, which the Crown will lose.

I have very serious doubts. I expressed some of them over at MacDoctor:

DNA collection is nothing like fingerprints.

Fingerprint records, unlike DNA records, are readily confirmed. The uncomplicated and verifiable method of fingerprinting is nothing like DNA extraction, which requires much more meticulous and careful analysis. It’s one reason why Simon Power is considering staggering the introduction of the new scheme, as ESR won’t be able to cope with the massive demand for their services.

Fingerprints do not give away familial traits. It’s not just a matter of damning alleged criminals with DNA samples, but also their bloodline. It is one thing to identify law breakers, it is completely another to incarcerate their family’s DNA on a benevolent government database.

Which leads to another chasm of difference between DNA and fingerprints, and is related in theme to your mention of “at risk” interpretation of data. Lose or have a fingerprint database get stolen, no biggie. All you’ve got is a collection of ridges and whorls.

The loss or theft of DNA data is much more serious. With the UK’s state databases misplacing stuff left right and centre, I would be very reluctant to hand the keys of my genetic code over to some jumped-up Wanganui computer.

It maybe one thing to damn the families of the seriously mad, sad or bad bastards. But to damn the families of petty criminals, from protesters and drunk drivers to Millie Elder and Tony Veitch, is to go way too far.

But there's much more, and you don't have to watch Dexter to get the implications. Consider the case of Arthur Allan Thomas, where a detective planted evidence in order to get a conviction. Consider the implications of an embattled police force, more concerned with keeping their work mates out of trouble than protecting and defending the public. How much effort do you really think it would take a cop with a vendetta to plant some hair, some used undies? What if was to get their cop mate off the hook?

Consider junk DNA. No-one knows what it does, hence the name. However, it stands to reason that it must be there for a reason, whether it be as an artifact or something other. I'm betting on other. With this great unknown in the balance, I'd prefer to future-proof against any future eugenics experiments by keeping the DNA testing regime in a very necessary small padlocked box.

It's a well-intentioned but ultimately dangerous intrusion on individual, ethnic, and human sovereignty. Just as Einstein wished he could go back in time and become a watchmaker and not a destroyer of worlds, or the dentist who conducted research into the pain mechanism and saw his work turned into a military weapon, so too Watson and Crick may well be damned for their discovery of the human code.

With all due respect to Simon Power, this tool is also a weapon. You don't know what it does. Put it down gently and walk away.

The wrong mascot

I always thought Australia chose the wrong mascot. Instead of having roadkill as the national symbol, I found the koala more accurately represented the Aussie psyche. Seemingly cute, but stoned and grumpy and best left to their own devices. So it's a potent thing to see the poor little buggers reaching out for help.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Have you bought any shit today?

The Yanks are not adapting to the digital TV switch-over very smoothly.



Sony Releases New Stupid Piece Of Shit That Doesn't Fucking Work

6 weeks in Rio

After mere weeks of being made the chairman of Rio Tinto, Jim Leng has resigned after differences with the board over the increasing role of Chinalco. Meantime, the share price rose a couple of dollars on the back of yearly earnings of US$1billion.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Tectonics at Temasek

Singapore's second largest sovereign wealth fund, Temasek, has announced its chief executive's resignation. Ms Ho is the wife of the PM and current CEO. Her replacement is former mining magnate Chip Goodyear, formerly at BHP Biliton. Ms Ho is leaving after years of restructuring Temasek to be more publicly accountable. But the credit crunch has hurt Temasek, which has 40 percent of its fund in financial services.
Mr Goodyear was at BHP from 1999 to 2007 and analysts said yesterday that he was likely to take Temasek into the commodities and mining sector. The group has almost no holdings in this area at the moment. Mr Goodyear will be the first foreigner to run Temasek, which was set up by the Singaporean government in 1974 and is still 100pc state-owned. The senior team includes Simon Israel, a New Zealander who was recruited to Temasek from running the Asian operation of food group Danone.
This is a sea change for Temasek. They are acknowledging that the financial services market, the unreal market, is doomed. The real economy of primary and secondary industry, the tools of infrastructure, are to the fore. Then there's the lossening of power by the Lee family. Sure, they'll retain their clout, but they're pulling out of the running of these things.

And can we timeshare some of that kiwi talent somehow?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Sugar pusher dumps Phelps for non-sugar hit

Multinational sugar dealers Kelloggs will not be renewing Olympic super fish Michael Phelps' sponsorship contract, due to the recent incident with a bong:
Kelloggs said it would not be renewing its sponsorship contract with Phelps, telling the Associated Press that Phelps' behaviour - he was caught on camera smoking marijuana - was "not consistent with the image of Kellogg(s).''
Please note that Kellogg's makes its fortune selling sugar to children. Popular brands include Cocoa Pops (now only 36.5 percent sugar!), Froot Loops (41.5 percent) and Frosties (41.3).

While it might be an attempt by Kellogg to minimise any collateral in the Soccer Mum market, to the rest of us it just looks like drug snobbery. Kellogg should have sucked it up, contexualised it. Reason magazine notes what Michael Phelps should have said when the moneymen told him to apologise:
You’ll have to pardon my cynicism. But I call bullshit. You don’t give a damn about my health. You just get a voyeuristic thrill from watching an elite athlete fall from grace–all the better if you get to exercise a little moral righteousness in the process...

Tell you what. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll apologize for smoking pot when every politician who ever did drugs and then voted to uphold or strengthen the drug laws marches his ass off to the nearest federal prison to serve out the sentence he wants to impose on everyone else for committing the same crimes he committed. I’ll apologize when the sons, daughters, and nephews of powerful politicians who get caught possessing or dealing drugs in the frat house or prep school get the same treatment as the no-name, probably black kid caught on the corner or the front stoop doing the same thing.
I'd like to see all the board members, directors and management of Kellogg stand with hand on heart and swear that they've never taken stronger drugs than high frustose corn syrup. Let's face it, if you win as many gold medals as Michael Phelps did last year, you've earned a little bit of slack. It's not as if he ran a $50 billion Ponzi scheme or bankrupted Lehman Brothers or anything. This is a man who looks after himself. As professionals have noted, that was quite some bong. The King of Bongs, in fact:
According to connoisseurs, the ROOR is designed for—ahem—high performance. As opposed to being made like a hippified art object, it's constructed from the glass you'd find in chemistry beakers, which makes it easy to clean. (Bongs, apparently, get quite sticky with tar.) It also has a series of clever seals: Tight rubber O-rings that prevent leaks and allow the smoke density to be regulated more easily.
If Phelps had been drinking whisky and not smoke out of a glass, there would be no story. In fact, he probably would have got another sponsor. But because instead he was imbibing unsponsorable marijuana smoke, he is villified.

I'm just hoping this bites Kellogg on the bum with stoners boycotting their products. That could do some serious damage to their market share. From now on, I'm getting my sugar from Sanitarium and Chelsea!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Nazis with English accents

There's a lot of WWII stories out there this year, what with Valkyrie, The Reader, Inglorias Basterds, etc. BBC looks at a short history of bad accents in movies, with particular reference to the English actor playing the baddies archetype.

Monkey Dust is a bit more direct:

Six of 7, 3 on one mother

While Telecom used confusion as a marketing tool, it looks like Microsoft has adopted confusion as corporate strategy. Windows has learned next to nothing from the Ferrit of operating systems, Vista.

Not that you could tell from this gushing advertorial for Windows 7 in today's Herald. No, consumer testing has shown that the many many faults in Vista have been tidied up. There's a new task bar, "jump lists", "Aero Peek" and "BranchCache." While Seinfeld may no longer be fronting the ads, it sounds like he's working in the branding department.
Ben Green, Microsoft New Zealand's Windows client business group manager, said as well as improving the user experience for Windows users, 7's features should offer local businesses ways to improve productivity, cut costs, and reduce the time workers spend performing some PC tasks.
Indeed. With Windows 7 shipping in six flavours, I'm sure there's a bleeding nostril licence scheme to suit any level of business. But pity the poor bloody consumers. Nowhere in the article is mentioned the entry level 7, Windows 7 Starter.

7 Starter won't be sold separately, but as OEM systems for new computers. From Computerworld:
The Windows 7 version of Starter will retain the restrictions of the Vista edition with the name, including a limit of three applications, or windows, active or open at the same time; no local network connectivity, although the operating system can connect to the Internet; and a limit on screen resolution.
A maximum of three applications, no networking, limited screen resolution. Web browsing, music player, email client, Minesweeper. Choose 3. Friends round and keen for a networked game? Tough.

As foobar at Geekzone points out, this is an example of anti-feature:
Somewhere in the core of their OS there must be some lines, similar to this:

bool allow_new_app() {
if (edition == "STARTER" && num_apps == 3) {
return FAILURE;
}
else {
return SUCCESS;
}
}

Specific code, just introduced to cripple the capabilities.
This is code not through necessity, but through malice. Microsoft seem to be saying to the masses, upgrade or fuck off to Linux. Pardon me while I bathe in the warm glow of Schadenfreude.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Cure for constipation

If this doesn't give you the shits, nothing will:



I.O.U.S.A. in 30 minutes. Hat Tip Bernard Hickey.

Wet Liberal success story

Faced with budget cuts, the state of Kansas is trying a new tactic to rehabilitate prisoners on release. That's right. Kansas:
"We have to think long-term and stop arguing about what criminals deserve. Instead we need to focus on what we deserve as citizens and that leads us to a very different set of interventions."
Take that, Garth McVicar!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Cujo the sniffer dog

The War on Drugs can claim one more innocent scalp; Big Day Out party goer 17 year old Gemma Thoms. While standing in line to enter the BDO festival, Gemma panicked while carrying the party supplies for her friends and seeing sniffer dogs up in front. She swallowed three Ecstasy tablets and died a few hours later.

It's a sad, pointless and tragic death, but far from unique. As the Sydney Morning Herald says, a report by the New South Wales coroner in 2006 predicted this sort of thing would happen. The same article cites a government review which pointed out the unintended consequences of staking out dance parties with sniffer dogs:
Rather than staggering their drug use over a long period of time, the report, Review Of The Police Powers (Drug Detection Dogs) Act 2001, stated many drug users would swallow all their pills at once to avoid detection.
Perth police, unsurprisingly, are refusing to accept any responsibility for the teenager's death. This bizarre article in the West Australian, titled Drug victim had nothing to fear: police, has the police denying the existence of the police dogs at the festival:
But West Australian police said Ms Thoms had nothing to fear as there were no drug detection dogs at the festival, apart from dogs being used by railway police at the Showground rail station.
According to the police version, Gemma hallucinated the sniffer dogs and just decided to overdose for the hell of it.

Over at ABC News, it is obvious that neither the politicians nor the police have learned a damned thing from this death. On the contrary, the cops are focusing on who supplied Gemma with the drugs, while the idiots in government are formulating a Get Tough(er) on Drugs policy to ensure this event never happens again. The outcome, as we all know, will be quite the opposite.

Voices such as Australian drug and alcohol educator Paul Dillon from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre in Sydney are drowned out. Which is a complete shame, considering his excellent interview with Kathryn Ryan Lynn Freeman on NatRad today. The current one-size-fits-all approach to harm minimisation only reinforces the rebellion of the ones it is most aimed at; the risk-takers. The monkey-see, monkey-do copying by teenagers of adult behaviours erodes the hypocritical status quo. Nowhere is this more evident than in Australia and NZ's religious devotion to drinking.

In a story that closely parallels Gemma Thoms' death, Dillon tells a stark story starting at about 10 minutes into the podcast. It involves a girl's birthday party, a bottle of vodka, and a fear of authority's consequences that overrode the obvious assistance that was available in the next room. Listen and learn.

And until Requiem for a Dream loses its R18 rating and can be shown in schools, consider Dillon's summation of the problem:
"The young people we do have in our society are amongst the kindest, most compassionate and empathic that I've ever dealt with. They don't want to hurt themselves and they definitely don't want to hurt their friends. They want to look after each other. And we just don't provide the information they need. We provide them the information that we think they should have. And that's really dangerous. They're playing a political game with young peoples' lives."

Monday, February 02, 2009

Kiwi Cargo Cult

This eloquent definition of the American Cargo Cult could very well apply to and beyond NZ talk back radio. Hat Tip BoingBoing.

Boy racers to pay for Judith Collins statue

In a novel attempt to crack down on boy racers, the government will soon be giving police the power to crush the cars of offending motorists. Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker plans to build a statue of Police Minister Judith Collins in Cathedral Square with the resulting debris.

"We'll build it just like in the movie Wall*E," said Mayor Bob. "Working from media reports of how many boy racers there are out there, we anticipate that, when finished, the statue will be nearly as tall as Mt Cook."

Not everyone is happy with the planned sculpture. "The mayor's plan is loonier than Loony Lucy O'Looney, winner of last year's Miss Full Moon Lunatic Pageant," said popular left wing Christchurch City Councillor Pam Frisbee. "Those cars would be put to better use housing the homeless."

Hasta la vista, Vista

A week into my month long self-imposed trial of Ubuntu, it's settled. Vista can go bite the big one. No more gazillion windows updates checking whether my software is their software and chewing my data cap. No more credit card scams from unnecessary software. No more hyperactive processor grinding away every other second. No more DRM!

A system that takes 12 seconds to boot down, not 12 minutes. A system that can perform all the bells and whistles of the Vista UI without requiring 10 Gigs of RAM. A system that is blunt and beautiful without needing to resort to euphemistically obscure program functions. I mean, how long did it take you to find Add/Remove Programs in Vista?

Now I'm no full tit geek. I've dabbled a bit in BASIC and DOS, but mostly in the paddling pool of listing and changing directories. Navigation is OK but for the life of me I've never got the hang of driving or programming computers. It was this fear of fuck-ups that put me off trying out Ubuntu for a long time. Not to mention that some of my favourite programs only run on Windows. But after Miramar Mike's description of moving to Ubuntu, I had to give it a go.

On the first day, I downloaded the install program and burned it to CD (800Mb CD, not Vista's 2 DVD bloat). I booted from the disk but the 800 by 600 screen resolution was rubbish. The wireless network didn't work, nor the webcam. The cable connection for the internet was a doddle to set up, so that was something. An update notification advised that video driver updates were available. As installation of these required a reboot and the Live CD wouldn't remember the changes, I was stuck. The Live CD showed the UI worked, but it didn't work well.

On the second day, I installed a Vista/Ubuntu dual boot system. Even after backing up data and scrubbing a few programs from the hard drive, I was left with a measly 10 Gig of free space. Dual boot wasn't a long term option, but I had to see if the updates cured some of the Acer's ills. Reboot and voila! 1280x800 resolution!

On the third day I installed Ubuntu, overwriting Vista. The next great discovery was that there was only minimal playing around in the Alpha and Omega of the Terminal. On a really basic level, there was the Add/Remove engine that not only showed what was installed on the box, but what you could install. No more roaming the web for programs, it was all in one place. For more sophisticated or experimental software, the Synaptic Package Manager does all the hard yakka.

By the fourth day, everything was running well apart from the wireless and the webcam. I had my MP3s playing, my avis movieing, and had even got Photoshop working in a Windows shell program called Wine. The webcam was no biggie, but the wireless problem was. This is where Ubuntu Forums come into their own. After tweaking the search criteria, a little bit of trial and error, a brief foray into Terminal with copied and pasted sudo commands, and a reboot, the wireless worked.

A week of putting the new OS through its hoops, and finding myself with 20 extra Gigs of hard drive I never used to have, I am left with two questions. Firstly, why are you still using Windows? Secondly, why aren't schools, universities and all government departments using non-Windows operating systems?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Back on the Agenda?

Is this for real?



Has Agenda been brought back from the dead intact, or is this some cruel Zombie Agenda?

A little election goes a long way

There's good coverage of Iraq's local body elections in the New York Times. The Shiites are voting, the Sunnis are voting, the men and women are voting. With turnout of between 50 and 60 percent, about the same voter turnout as the US in 1980 electing Reagan as president, it puts our own local body turnout to shame. The 2007 Wellington local body election turnout was just 40 percent.