Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Plots thicken

How the end of the month quickly comes to pass. And plots continue to thicken.

The Mega Conspiracy, as the Kim Dotcom copy-fight is now called, has raised issues of how far extradition law should go. Dotcom has never been known to set foot in America, yet still faces extradition. A British student is facing the same situation, as has an Australian national previously.
And given that MU's servers could be imminently wiped, it's been theorised that legitimate users of MegaUpload - including some notable musicians - could open Washington DC to liability claims for lost data. It's also been speculated that Dotcom's latest project, MegaBox, was effectively sabotaged because it cut out the middleman and hence Big Music itself. There's still more heat than light on the saga so far, so it's too soon to tell.

The Teapot Tapes have finally been leaked, and there's not much of a smoking gun to speak of. So if there's nothing to hide, why misuse the police as a tool of censorship? Rob Muldoon and Sir Joh cranked that up to 11 during their peak.

The Ports of Auckland dispute continues to rage on with no end in sight. If talks completely break down, the Port will potentially carry out its threat to contract out its workforce in the name of flexibility, citing a Productivity Commission report on the shipping industry. However, they probably didn't count on the watersiders' union colleagues in London, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), who have warned of declaring PoA a 'port of convenience' - which would essentially impose a global boycott on it.

In quake-ravaged Christchurch, tensions are boiling over with the revelation of its city council CEO Tony Marryatt - or perhaps that should be Tony Marie-Antoinette - pocketing a $68,000 pay hike, despite official reports proving his under-performance. And that's on top of the big hash he made of the loss-making Hamilton V8 Supercar event.
To add insult to injury, Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker and his hangers-on have defended Marryatt's pay rise in open defiance of all opposition and economic reality, citing 'salaries competitive with the private sector'. They're underestimating public antipathy to such cavalier dismissal at their own peril. And shooting the messenger by blaming leakers isn't helping either. Even with the official retractions - or what passes for them - it's too little, too late.
It's all a symptom of a bonus culture where those with money and power become a law unto themselves, and as a result executive salaries get horribly inflated and disconnected from actual performance. The same kind of bonus culture in Wall Street and the City of London that contributed to the GFC. Time to dust off my old Peoples Republic of Christchurch T-shirt, methinks.

The Occupy NZ crowd appears to have been evicted for good from the central parks of Auckland and Wellington. While their targets are nobly identified - corporate greed and inequality in the wake of the post-2007 Great Recession - their cause has been let down by poor execution. If anyone knows how to do civil disobedience, it's the ITF, WikiLeaks, Anonymous, the citizens of Christchurch, and above all, the Egyptian public - an obvious sign of victory is when your opponents resort to shutting down the Internet.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Blackout 2.0

Wikipedia, Reddit, and a number of other popular Web sites went black for 24 hours earlier this week, in protest at the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) bills, and for good reason.

The blackout starkly illustrated the the potential chilling effects of SOPA and PIPA, which has since gone back to the US Congress for further debate. Even many of the senators who sponsored the bill have changed tack. At best it would have been an inconvenience, at worst it could have had the same effect as Hosni Mubarak pulling the plug on Egypt's Internet. And it would still have fired at the wrong targets. And isn't it just a tad unconstitutional to extradite so-called 'pirates' to America, when they haven't even set foot in the country?

In 2009, tech-savvy New Zealanders blacked out their online avatars in response to Section 92a, and succeeded in forcing a rewrite of the bill. Yet vested interests still persist in remaining set in their ways. Not least of all those who support the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), yet another exercise in cargo-cultism at the expense of all else.

Public Address blogger Craig Ranapia has pointed out that Victor Gollancz Publishing digitised its back catalogue into e-books, including many out-of-print titles. So, if old media companies like Gollancz can embrace the Internet and profit from it, then why is it so hard for the MPAA, RIAA and IFPI to follow suit? One word comes to mind - cartellisation. I suspect it's because they want to maintain a stranglehold on traditional distribution methods - and hence fix prices on the media they sell - and the Internet is a natural cartel-breaking medium. Meanwhile, bands like Radiohead and comedians like Louis CK have figured out how to make money online - by kicking out the middleman altogether. In the case of Louis CK, he hosted a live comedy show on his web site, with no DRM, and made $1m in just 12 days.

Film buffs in NZ who don't want a SKY TV subscription are keen for the likes of Netflix or Hulu to legitimately offer digital movie services in these parts. Unfortunately, Netflix has publicly stated that the Internet in NZ isn't good enough to justify setting up shop here.

And Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, two of Silicon Valley's best known figureheads, basically created their signature products by pirating ideas. MacOS effectively stole the idea of a GUI from Xerox PARC, and Windows effectively stole the same idea from MacOS. To top it off, Romanian President Traian Basescu once remarked - in front of Gates - that piracy laid the foundations for his country's ICT industry and helped its youth discover computers!

In the meantime, the founder of Megaupload, Kim Dotcom, and his assistants have been nabbed by the authorities - right here in NZ. Small world, it seems.

Monday, 16 January 2012

RIP Blanket Man

We all knew it was coming, but Blanket Man has passed on.

This was the last photo I ever took of him, eating of all things, sushi.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Friday afternoon computers

First week back at work for the year after the Xmas/New Year holidays, and my work computer packs a sad. Namely, some loud jamming noises were coming from the hard disk. Luckily, we had access to some spare parts abandoned by customers, and now it's reborn, bigger and better than the one that came before it. Furthermore, it was due for replacement anyway, having had the same machine for the last 5 years.

There was a time when people spoke of 'Friday afternoon cars', where a usually reliable model would not work as intended, popularly believed to be because the assembly worker involved was too distracted thinking of the weekend, and hence more careless with the finished product.

The same seems to apply to certain computer parts. Not too long ago we received a small shipment of video cards by a manufacturer of proven reputation, and the whole lot turned out to be dud. Turns out we were unlucky enough to have received a Friday afternoon batch, as the supplier informed us that no one else had reported issues with them.

Before that little episode, we had some less than stellar experiences with a well-known brand of small form factor (SFF) boxes. No less than two of them went back for warranty in the first few weeks, and a third was reported to throw a BSoD (Blue Screen of Death) at random. We practically threw the kitchen sink at the third example - the memory, hard disk, CPU, power supply and motherboard all tested just fine under our watch, even when run under heavy stress. No viruses or other dubious programs were found, we patched to the latest firmware, the temperatures all looked normal, we even steamrolled the Windows 7 installation with a new one. And yet the customer was still reporting BSoDs, even from a fresh install. We did manage to replicate the fault a couple of times, but no obvious clues could be found. Percussive maintenance suddenly became tempting.

It ended up being sent back twice to the distributor, who didn't find anything overtly wrong with it. The customer was surprisingly understanding of the circumstances, pinning the blame on the product instead of us. Finally, after extensive acid-testing, hardware disassembly and re-assembly, and re-installation, the machine finally started behaving itself. To this day, the customer hasn't come back complaining to us. Even so, our experiences with this particular brand of SFF machines has left us jaundiced, no matter how good they look on the outside. There are definitely alternatives out there.