Monday, October 29, 2012

New Zealand on Air?

Is it time to review New Zealand on Air?

A bit of background.

Firstly, I'm going to be using the term "trash culture" a bit. It's a term a friend used used recently (I'm also looking for ways to use the term "presstitute" though I guess I'm just not trying hard enough) and it's something that I've been thinking about more and more. It conjures up a couple of different things for me. The culture of waste prevalent in American culture (Look at the size of a drink at Wendy's or Google's warranty policy on Chromebooks - doesn't matter how you spin it, reuse is better than recycling). The rampant sexualisation of music videos targetted at a young audience. But mostly, for me, it's about "reality shows".

New Zealand on Air, on their own website, describes itself thusly:

NZ On Air is a government broadcast funding agency

We invest in a colourful range of local television, radio, music and digital media content to extend choices for New Zealand audiences.


You'll note that NZ On Air has in recent times been putting funding toward some ludicrous ventures. Need I mention the G.C.? "The G.C." was pitched as a documentary showing Successful Maori in Australia. The promos showed one guy describing how he liked "all aunties" supposedly meaning girls/females. It seems what the pitch didn't say is that they were showing successful douchebags (really, did anyone care that the douche was Maori or was it just the fact that he was a douche that turned people off?) from NZ in Australia. Okay, so NZ On Air may have been mislead.

But there's absolutely no excuse for the $1.6 million given to "New Zealand Has Talent". In reality these types of shows are commercial ventures relying not only on advertising revenue but also the revenue generated by polls (either telephone or text). I think they've even got voting packages nowadays.

The interesting bit is that one contestant pulled out of NZ's got talent - Kylie Price - due to the show trying to force her to sign an exclusive contract. If the NZ Government, through NZ on Air, has provided funding for this programme then I am of the belief that terms around licensing HAS to take into account the New Zealand public. i.e. if Kylie Price chooses to perform outside of the show, then it's really just a reflection of the government's funding.

New Zealand on Air is in charge with a huge amount of money which could be put to better uses if all it is really doing is to increase the profit margins on trash culture. You'll notice "The Ridges" wasn't funded by New Zealand on Air - it's singular redeeming feature. It's completely possible to fund trash culture through traditional models (i.e. advertising). $1.6 million can probably go a long way to building a couple of houses. Hell, chuck in a few camera's, talk about earthquake proofing (resistance?), make it a little educational with a little bit of engineering and you've probably got an interesting show with a moral conscience.
So back to the original question, is it time for a review? Are you particularly happy about your tax money being spent to make programmes like "The GC" or "NZ's got Talent"? 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Responsibility

At ULearn I was asked to contribute to a presentation. I ended up asking if I could go and give my bit in person rather than having a 3 minute video. A question was asked about giving kids the responsibility of looking after netbooks and I sort of alluded to something I'd be thinking about.

If the value of the netbooks is dependent upon a certain amount of maturity - i.e. the kids must have some sense of responsibility - then some schools could be accused of taking something away from the kids by not giving the kids responsibility. My own personal ideal:

At a young age kids are given more and more responsibility for themselves. They learn to tie their own shoes etc.

A little bit older (8-12?) and they're given responsibilities that deal with a wider context - the school. They do things like "patrols", looking after younger classes during wet days, taking on the responsibility around the cleanliness of a particular area of the school, showing guests around etc.

At a high school level I'm of the opinion that the scope should widden again. You're now looking at community. A person or two taking care of each "walking school buses" for a nearby primary school. Organising fundraising events. Perhaps gardening in public areas (I really want to see a part full of fruit trees).

This all leads up to interdependency. Instead of everyone being for themselves, they should be able to call upon resources/other people to help them out. So say you don't have access to daycare but have a job. You should be able to call upon your neighbours - ideally someone in the neighbourhood with children of their own - to look after your children while you're then able to give them a little money.

In fact, it was this sort of idea that was behind Tangleball. My abilities with certain tools should not be a limitation on the sort of project I take on. So if I needed to weld something for example, I should be able to ask someone to help me out.

And Trading Post (I swear, this is going to kick off around Christmas) is the same sort of thing. I rely on a fruit shop for lemons BUT there's a really good chance that one of my neighbours has some rotting in their backyard. I rely on lemons to make ginger beer which I'd be perfectly willing to trade for various other bits and pieces - lemons, limes, apples etc. And what's to stop people from trading things like hummus, yoghurt and bread? Hell, do you have a fisherman in the neighbourhood?

And all of this doesn't lead to me being supportive of children sailing across the world or flying planes. But I think maturity is something that's horribly overlooked (in light of reading, writing and math). Set low expectations and kids will match them every time. Sure, there's going to be some pain. But in the long run, the kids are gaining something incredibly important - something that should be seen as their right. In which case, babying them and removing all responsibility from them is taking something fundamental away. So a challenge to teachers out there, instead of saying "X person/class isn't mature enough to do Y", why not instead say "How can I prepare X person/class for the maturity needed to do Y"?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Is Money Good? Is Money Bad?

The new BNZ ads around money being good or bad has me grinding my teeth every time I see it. It's a horrid oversimplification of the issue.


The problem isn't so much that money is bad (it's an inanimate object - it would be trying to attribute a sense of evilness on a rock) but rather, the system used to reward people doesn't take into account ethical issues. For example, the "Yes Men" went after Dow Chemical (who brought Union Carbide - the company inadequately held responsible for the Bhopal disaster). They went onto BBC news posing as Dow Chemical representatives and accepted full responsibility for the Bhopal disaster. For the full story, download the Yes Men's 2nd movie here (a totally legal "p2p" version).

The effect? Dow Chemical's stock prices plummeted. They climbed again when it was revealed to be a hoax.

In 2008 China had the Milk Scandal. In this case, sure, people stopped buying the products but only after a couple of infant deaths. And these deaths only occurred because of greed. When money is the prime object (because "you've got to eat"), where do ethics fit in?

We've also enabled this psychopathic behaviour in the form of banks and corporations. What do I mean?

Psychopathic behaviour can be thought of as completely logical. Ethics is not involved at all. So given this story (got this in a chain email a long time ago - I can't find the original email):
A woman attends the funeral of her mother and sees a man who she instantly falls in love with. After the funeral she tries to track down the man. She asks all of her family members if they know who he was. None of them seem to know who he is.
A month later, she kills her sister. Why?
Most people try to fill in some information. Most people will say something like "Her sister was dating the guy?". However, there's enough information to come to, what to most people is, a chilling conclusion. She killed her sister in order to meet the man again (presumably at her sister's funeral).

What are the banks interested in when lending you money? They're not interested in the fact that you are quite probably buying a home for your family. They're more interested in your ability to pay it back. But that's not it either. A friend of mine went to get a mortgage and didn't get it because the amount being asked for was too low. So it's not only the ability to pay it back but also their ability to get you stuck - it's more profitable.

And corporations are essentially businesses that are granted the same rights as people. But where are the ethics? The conscience? They are essentially psychopathic entities.

The most galling bit about it all though: Immoral behaviour is hidden by the term "ethical". Working in the best interests of the share holders is ethical. That means maximising profits.

Think about our consumer goods. The attached documentary is about the chocolate industry and the slavery used.

I'm not sure of the legalities of including this video clip with this blog post but it is available on youtube and I think including it here is in line with the documentaries goals.

Given my views on copyright and how there seems to be a move to try to limit information and it's distribution, I'm quite willing to take the risk.
We all know about sweat shops and the fact that the reason we can get clothing as cheaply as we can is sweat shops. And sure, there's a counter argument here - that the people in these sweat shops are often thankful to have a job.

But, it shows that capitalism doesn't work. Those values that we place so highly aren't afforded elsewhere. We're taught that it's okay or that it's not okay but there's nothing we can do about it anyway.

The system sucks. The system, at times, seems to encourage immoral behaviour and discourage ethical behaviour. The accumulation of money seems to trump ethics until we're using those same words to describe the accumulation of money.

But capitalism is supposed to be based upon the ethics of people. If you believe something to be unacceptably unethical, then the people are supposed to talk with their wallets. This is ineffective in New Zealand in particular - how often do we complain about the food at a particular eatery but then go back the following day/week/month?

So is it that money is bad, or is it that our apathy, while encouraged but still bears our taking responsibility, leads to the rewarding of unethical behaviour? And if unethical behaviour is so ingrained in certain industries, such as clothing/footwear, what are our options for breaking the mould? Is there ethical clothing to be had, while still functioning within modern society? And if our whole economic situation is based upon the price of common commodity goods such as clothing, can we afford to clothe ourselves in more ethical ways without the blatant exploitation of people?

The answer to that question can probably be found in eggs. There's a movement towards free range eggs BUT there's a price to be paid for free range eggs. A lot of people won't buy free range eggs because of the price differential compared to battery farm eggs. And following the theme of this post, it seems that there's VERY little in the words "Free Range". So it turns out you can charge twice as much for "Free Range" eggs while still maintaining overcrowded conditions with de-beaking and the sort. So even if you choose to do what is supposedly the ethical thing, it seems business adjusts to take advantage of it to turn over higher profits - essentially a reward for unethical behaviour.

And I'm not saying that you can't do good things with money. But the accumulation of money seems to lead to some questionable behaviour all in the name of maximising profit. Hell, I've been struggling with this myself. How ethical is it to charge for development after the fact? Assuming that development is done regardless of investment i.e. The services and development sold as a package thus the development has to already be done, am I always going to then be chasing to recoup those costs? And assuming that one project isn't enough to live on, i.e. the demand for that development isn't high enough to make a full time living (yet), is it ethical to also charge to start to pay for the costs of future development? At what point does that just turn to greed?

So in terms of framing a question - "Is money good? Is money bad?" - BNZ, you get a huge FAIL from me. There are much bigger questions in there and BNZ, you've opened that door around "good or bad" - essentially asking the ethical question. Let's have a real debate around this marketing campaign.

Friday, October 19, 2012

On Teacher's Pay

I got an email from a friend , Mr, CK, today and asked him if I could throw it up on the blog. But just before we get to that, a bit of background.

A few months ago New Zealand's biggest payroll changed providers. Teachers and administrators everywhere were driven to tears, yelling at the sky and so forth and so on, as the transition didn't go nearly as smoothly as one might hope. Of course, this went all very quietly until Campbell Live, TV 3's puff piece show (as opposed to TV 3 News which specialises in puff pieces interjected with some ... shock and horror ... news), did a story on it. The matter is serious enough that I thought that it really should have gotten decent billing on the news but there you go. If it's not Kim Dot Com, it isn't a story. Of course, it wasn't an issue until the media got hold of it, which is a tradition, or an old charter, or something. So Mr C.K.'s post:

So, teachers, twitter hashtag competition time?  How about:
  • @lessthan100stuffups 
  • or: @whatsupwithteachersalaries 
  • or: @whenwillIgetpaid
  • @spareadollar
  • @nomorepay [my personal fave] 

What should be the prize for the most popular suggestion? A CD of Für Elise (Nevyn Edit: The song played over and over and over again while waiting so speak to someone at Novapay. I had the same situation with the song "Cheek to Cheek" - which I always liked to replace the word "Heaven" with "Nevyn". It get's very disturbing from that point on).

It seems fairly ironic teachers get a hard time about mispronouncing children's names, when the MOE spokesperson is happy to mislead, misinform and misrepresent the facts surrounding this situation and cherrypick data to suit their stated postion.

Does this sound familiar?


"One in Five children are failing at school" used to justify introducing National Standards

vs.
"89,000 people paid successfully over the past three pay cycles" "...It's not acceptable and I have mechignisms (sic) in place to basically ensure those people are paid properly so, I am genuinely surprised we haven't heard from them." [Leanne Gibson on behalf of the Ministry of Education] 
Of course you haven't, they are probably still on hold trying to talk to someone about it. (Another Nevyn edit - actually... Novopay deals with Novopay problems. Give it a go - ring up the MOE and try to voice some concerns about Novopay. What's the bet you get given a phone number to call? A phone number that plays Fur Elise).

Speaking of which, I was deleted from the system at end of July/first week of August. Wondered why I got such a big pay that week? Turns out it was my holiday pay. I had just been terminated and paid out. Fortunately our Principal is a man of principle and totally supports his staff when in difficulty, so I was paid by the school from their own budget. MEANWHILE Our School Financial officer spent most of HER holidays attempting to rectify the situation, along with other problems caused by this system.

I filled out an application to be put back on the system again. Horah! Success!, ah wait... no payslip, so what was I paid? It seems I was now an unqualified uncertified teacher with a new MOE number, on my second stint of teaching employment [despite having been at the same job since starting in 2006] - worth around 50% of my "previous" (normal, expected) pay. Hmmmm.... After much phoning, emailing, angry enlightenment of the Novopay staff she, our ever so patient and persevering School Financial Officer, has finally got me reinstated at my previous pay rate as of the 16th of October. However still without my original MOE number. What this means for my sick leave etc. I shudder to think. Not having had a sick day for 2 years I hope it hasn't evaporated. But not being displayed on the payslip now who could know? (Nevyn Edit: Have you gotten a payslip since then?). So, a question or two for the spokesperson. [Please reply via John Campbell] 
  • How many staff on the National Education sector payroll?
  • How many paid correctly each pay cycle Since August 1?
  • How many phone calls to Novopay asking for payroll mistakes to be corrected, [people not paid, overpaid, or dropped from the system]? I assume you log these calls "for training purposes" ?
  • How many emails asking the same? 
  • As for the idea 89,000 paid correctly out of 110,000 and not one of the 21,000 was bothered enough to tell you'?  (Nevyn Edit: No really - try calling the MOE about Novopay).
Please try harder, I have better tellers of fibs in my class, and they are only 9 years old.  Consider yourself INFORMED.

Another teacher I know was forced to take on part time cleaning work in order to buy groceries as a result of the mistakes and double deductions from her pay over the same period of time. Add in all the penalty fees, unauthorised overdraft charges, missed auto payment dishonnor fees etc. generated by all the teaching staff in New Zealand affected by this, and the unnecessary stress placed on people, and I believe there should be a very big PUBLIC APOLOGY coming from the person with the ultimate responsibility for all this. With adequate reimbursement. And an apple for the teacher! (No not the one Snow White got!)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hobbies

With a little bit of time on my hands I'm finding myself getting into all sorts of hobbies.

When I left school I wanted to go into electronics. Funny story - I didn't have the marks when I left school to get into electronics. I hadn't taken physics and my last year in school was... well I guess I was a little indifferent. All of my inspiring teachers had gone. Some of my subjects had switched to unit standards - a change that I just wasn't having ANY success with. And as a reaction, I was then spending my Saturday mornings being tutored (though truth be told, for the most part, I was having to write lines).

Long story short, I wanted to learn about electronics. I didn't really have the skills to do it. It didn't help that I just couldn't, for the life of me, produce a decent solder joint.

But it's all become horribly exciting. The Arduino combined with the Raspberry Pi makes for some really exciting possibilities. The arduino is capable of doing all sorts of interesting real world stuff - control led's, sense motion, measure distance etc. So I've spent a little money on a few arduinos and am now trying to learn how to use transistors (I get the basic idea but a datasheet looks like a completely foreign language to me - anyone know of a good explanation?).

The Raspberry Pi on it's own is incredibly interesting. It's a underpowered machine.... or is it? It seems it's got a hell of a lot of potential. Making use of OpenGL ES could yield a pretty capable system. But, for my piece, I'm kind of dissatisfied with the current out of the box media player options for Raspberry Pi.

Firstly, given that there's a good chance that you've got more than one TV in the house, and Raspberry Pi's are quite cheap, then they should work together - if I put a USB stick in one, it should be available to every other such media system in a logical way i.e. Instead of organising it based on source, it should be able to combine things. So a drive in one Raspberry Pi has a "Filmz" folder, and another has a drive with a "cinema" folder, then it should just sort it into "Movies". And it should be customizable. So you decide which folders get combined and how.

Secondly, why are we still using remote controls? Currently on my coffee table there are 5 remote controls. Think about it. The highest end remotes are lcd touch devices. Sound familiar? Why aren't we using our cellphones/tablets to control just about everything? And why the hell aren't manufacturers offering this sort of functionality? And given that we can then show controls on a phone/tablet, there shouldn't be a need to show any controls on the screen. 10 foot user interfaces are right out the window. We don't need them. This would remove all sorts of overheads. The current systems feel a little unresponsive.

And then there's photography. You may remember my tourist activities. I was considering buying myself a camera for my birthday. There's a lot more to it than point and click. For example, I came across this. I found the youtube video and decided to have a look at the site. The page is... interesting. The examples are brilliant but the last photo leaves me scratching my head. It's not what it sounds like is it? Could this woman be teaching people photography using "adult entertainment"? Very educational.

At home we're going through some home renovations. A new kitchen (desperately needed), bathroom, a couple of walls knocked out etc. The phone stopped working so I got up in the roof, cut out the bits that are going to have to be removed anyway and reconnected it (twisted together - despite having a junction box I didn't have a punch tool). So then I got to thinking. Why not do away with the old wiring and hook up some ethernet ports around the house? Sure, loads of crawling around under the house and a bit to spend on faceplates (I think I've got everything else) but worthwhile.

Oh that reminds me. I was going to write something of a review here:

The kitchen people - KitchenMania - have left something to be desired. The salesman actually said that his bit was now done. So the person you have formed a sort of relationship with suddenly ups and leaves well before the job is done. The installation left a few things to be desired. The guy who did it was a little surly and left without doing those finishing touches - like adjusting doors - so we've got a door that scrapes (and has already left some damage) with a door. He also cut a hole in one of the cabinets which was just silly - making way for a power point (which I've since had moved - it was the Oven's power point. I can't for the life of me imagine why someone would think it a good idea to put that powerpoint in a cabinet).

The electrician has been brilliant! Nice guy. Very capable. That's MDC Electrical - a guy by the name of Matt Carroll. I'd like to leave his details here, but it's probably best to just contact me offblog if you want his details.

I rang a friend tonight and he mentioned a piece of classical music which had me thinking about the piano I've had sitting in my room since I was 12. The piano's cool (but out of tune - anyone know of someone who can tune a piano?) but it kind of lacks something... an effective way to learn it. So I got thinking about the idea of using a midi keyboard with the computer to show me the notes to play.

Except of course, this is stretching all of those things I don't have a bit far - time and money. I desperately need to start development on Tartare Source soon in order to hopefully be ready to sell my services early next year. And even that's not likely to earn me enough to live off - so there has to be other development.

Edit 19/10/2012:
The guy who did the installation for KitchenMania was back and did a great job. He was in much better spirits. This doesn't make up for the fact that KitchenMania seem to have VERY segmented contact. i.e. Once the salesman, your first point of contact, has earnt their commission, they're no longer in the picture. A project manager is assigned but you only ever meet him once. The installation is done by a contractor so if you have any problems, YOU end up going back to KitchenMania, and eventually get the contractor back out again. This may be business practise but it's absolutely crappy treatment for the customer.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lines in the Sand

So the software patent issue continues. For those of you who don't know, the patent system is being reviewed in New Zealand. After a lot of select committee hearings last year, the select committee put forward the recommendation that software be excluded from patentability.

But there was a spanner in the works. It turns out that most software patents in New Zealand aren't filed by New Zealand programmers. They're done by multinationals - the Microsoft's of the world. So representatives of these interests kept up a great big FUD (Fear Uncertainty Doubt) campaign. Software Inventors wouldn't be protected!

The New Zealand industry believes that copyright is all the protection we need. Firstly, software is cumulative. Secondly, a 25 year patent only serves to stifle the industry - counter to the intention behind patents (that an entity should enjoy a limited monopoly for their invention to encourage them to invest in advancing it).

So most in New Zealand agree, software shouldn't be patentable. Except... Craig Foss, minister of commerce, has been drinking some body's Kool-Aid. He introduced two words, "As Such" to the bill. The words are interesting. Take this example:
Craig Foss is not corrupt as such.
Those two words can change the meaning quite a bit. But, more importantly, there are examples where this terminology has been ineffective in accomplishing the goal of making software unpatentable. The European Union have used just that wording and it's failed. Miserably.

The more interesting bit is that Craig Foss is ignoring the evidence presented to him around the mess that the European Union have found themselves in, and still believes that he is excluding software from patentability. The letters I've seen to other people suggest that he is relying solely on advisers - and is quite willing to offload any responsibility their way.

The other parties in parliament have come out against Craig Foss' changes. Clare Curren, Labour's ICT Spokesperson, has even suggested alternative wording. But no cigar.

This is a problem I have with party politics. It seems to me that a lot of the time a good idea is thrown out because of it's source. Surely a good idea is a good idea.

It seems to me that Craig Foss is now standing very stubbornly trying to prove he's right while he fields questions around why he's ignoring the evidence of this approach not working,

So New Zealand has the opportunity to do something right. The two sides (and numbers don't seem to count in this fight) are squaring off against each other. Now... how do you fight a minister's ego?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Time to review "The Consumers Guarantees Act"?

Remember back in 1993, the Consumers Guarantees Act was celebrated as going a long way to help consumers get a fair go (coincidently, that's probably around the same time that the television show "Fair Go"'s viewing figures dropped significantly)?

I've had reason to have a look at it recently. It turns out that the Consumer Guarantees Act also has an effect on warranties. Who knew? The prevailing advice on the Internet is not to purchase extended warranties because, under law, the consumer guarantees act goes a long way to protecting you.

Firstly, if a device is replaced due to fault, then that device's warranty term applies for the duration of the life of that device. i.e. you buy a washing machine with a 12 month warranty. 6 months in, it's replaced. Rather than 6 months warranty left, you get a further 12 months. Very fair I thought.

But, more importantly, going by the New Zealand government run Consumer Affairs website:
How long can I expect my goods to last?
If you have a computer and the warranty is for one year, that doesn’t mean that you expect a new computer to only last one year. It is reasonable to expect that a new computer would last at least five years.
Under the Consumer Guarantees Act you can get a remedy if the goods don't last for a reasonable time.
And there in lies the rub. The word "reasonable". When the anti-smacking issue came up, a lot of the reasons for reviewing the situation was due to the term "reasonable". i.e. previously, you could discipline a child with "reasonable force'.

Who decides what is reasonable? I personally wouldn't consider 5 years "reasonable" on a computer. 3 years, yes. Anything after that I would consider fair game. However, I have much higher expectations on say... a fridge. Roughly comparable in price, but I have the expectation that my fridge would last 5-10 years without fault.

Actually, talking about this makes me wonder about software - should you expect software to operate without fault for a reasonable time? Those of you who brought computers when MS Vista (ditto for MS ME) was pre-installed could "reasonably" expect a suitable replacement to the software to my mind regardless of whatever EULA you agreed to.

So there are a few questions around extended warranties:

  1. Do they actually offer anything over and above the rights granted under law? In which case, what is it that you're actually paying for?
  2. Is the application of the law consistent?
The answer to both questions seems to be the same. You essentially pay the extra amount on extended warranties to avoid the hassle of trying to have the application of that particular law honoured.

So what really needs to happen?
  • People need to stop buying extended warranties and challenging retailers/manufacturers using the Consumer Guarantees Act.
  • The ambiguous nature of the word "reasonable" used in the context of that Act needs to be cleared up.
  • Manufacturers/retailers, if offering an extended warranty, should be made to make it clear what it is that they're offering above and beyond those rights already granted under New Zealand law. 
  • And while we're about it, warranty really shouldn't require a receipt. If your device is in "reasonable condition" i.e. not obviously abused, then a warranty should be honoured regardless over a product's lifetime (i.e. item starts selling in 2009, and is sold up till 2011, and it's reasonable to expect a lifetime of at least 3 years on that item, then a warranty, regardless of when it was brought over that period, really should be honoured until 2014 without qualm or receipt).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Internet Creepiness

I can't believe just how... creepy the Internet is becoming. I didn't bat an eyelid when I had heard that a great deal of the content on the Internet was porn (more than 50% for the time - not sure if this still holds true). But it's getting even more .... intrusive. Take the following email:


I don't want to block them just because the people entering my details into whatever service (and that's one of the creepy things about this email) are actually people I'd like to keep in touch with.

But let's analyse that content for a second:

  • To find out what "service" this is sent from, you have to look at the header information.
  • X wants to follow you. If you're going to stalk me, put a little effort into it. Hide in the bushes or up a tree. Don't get a service doing it for you.
  • Is X your friend? - Well... yes. But this doesn't mean that I want to join up to some undisclosed service.
  • Look at the size of those buttons. A big bright orange "Yes" and a small "No". 
  • Once you've had a look at the header information, you can see that the email is sent from "infoaxe.net". Going to that address in a browser results in a "Temporarily out of Service" notice (I checked it yesterday when I received the first of these emails - I've since received 3 more).
There are pages that are accessible and from those you can glean that the service is actually called "Flipora" - accessible via "flipora.com". The email has no flipora.com links that I can ascertain. So why the secrecy? Why not just say in the email that the email is about a service called Flipora? Why not use Flipora links rather than infoaxe.net, which has no front facing page?

The service apparently keeps track of your "web memory". That is, it tracks you and stores that data. That information can then be used to recommend websites that you might be interested in. That sounds like targetted advertising to me. So why would anyone sign up to this? It's a bad idea dressed up as candy.

As for my own browsing habits: I generally have 20 or so tabs open at any one time. That in itself is enough to cause a bit of data overload. I go through each tab daily, decide if I'm ever going to get back to it or if I'm finished with it and close them. I don't use bookmarks because that list soon gets unwieldy and really, I never actually get back to bookmarks. They just kind of fester there.

I also sometimes just follow my curiosity - in which case, I can have tab after tab after tab opening all in a few short minutes. It's enough information that I can't keep track of it all. So, X person following me (that really sounds stalker'ish to me) is never going to be able to take it all in.

Google at least puts on a clean shirt before stalking you. This site... it just smells bad.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Raspberry Pi - The limitations

Warning: Geekspeak post

There's been quite a flutter about low cost machines. Personally I think the Raspberry Pi is going to do what the XO (OLPC) did. Without OLPC, the netbook market wouldn't have existed. So the Raspberry Pi is cheap and brilliant.

But... it has limitations. And surprisingly, those limitations aren't the CPU (700MHz ARM 11). Actually - it kind of is a limitation, but there are even more limiting factors.

Firstly, USB. This has been a sore point for the RaspberryPi since the first development boards got out there. The Broadcom chipset initially had bad drivers. And then people started to notice voltage drops which caused the Raspberry Pi to reboot or USB just stopped working. The USB ports, for the first revision, were limited to 140mA. For the second version, while the limitation isn't quite so profound, it can still cause a power drop which forces a power interruption to the Raspberry Pi. The official fix is to use a powered USB hub.

But there's an even bigger problem - for me at least. It turns out that a lot of the limitations of the CPU can be mitigated by leveraging the GPU. So using omxplayer in Raspian gives you this great experience - only about 25% of the CPU is used for high quality content.

Take a really good look at the output of top and you start to notice something really odd. The wait time (the time that the CPU spends waiting for data) is right up there.

This happens regardless of whether you're using the SD card that you booted from or a usb device, essentially, the ONLY ways for data to get to the CPU on this board. It's never going to be that quick a boot up time (pity).

BUT it gets even more disturbing. I plugged a usb wifi adapter in wanting to avoid having to run network cables everywhere. Copying files to it using scp gives me speeds of less than 150KB/s - around 20 minutes for a 175MB file. To put this into context, I get about twice that on my Internet connection. Just a quick edit here: I suspect some sort of driver issue. Given that I'll be looking to do set ups for behind TV's and the like, I probably don't need those tiny little "nano" wifi adapters.

It turns out that the NIC on the revision B version is just a usb device itself - so you're already sharing the USB with something. Add a keyboard, hard drive, mouse and keyboard and you've got something that's going to struggle.

Essentially, in terms of geek toys, this is brilliant but, it's not the kitchen sink. i.e. It's probably best not to use one as a router/firewall as you'll start hitting speed issues (I was looking forward to replacing my firewall with a Raspberry Pi - it'd save a hell of a lot of room. IPFire has been ported to the Raspberry Pi). For the use I wanted - a distributed media centre (i.e. you should be able to have one in the back of every TV and if you plug in a device, it's contents should show up on every Pi) - it's a bit of a bust. Without the speed, it'd make it terrible to actually load media on there (such as TED talks).

So the Raspberry Pi has a ways to go. That's the hardware. In terms of software, omxplayer, the only video player that takes full advantage of the Raspberry Pi's video acceleration features, proves that huge benefits can be gained by leveraging the GPU. It's a huge shame then that Raspbian, the Debian build for Raspberry Pi, uses a 2D desktop by default (although I think there'd be a fair amount of work to be done for any desktop environment to leverage the GPU). Some time in the future, it'd be really great to see a desktop that leverages the GPU to create a truly braggable experience.

Here's something interesting for all you hackers out there - it turns out that the Raspberry Pi is actually cheaper than a lot of the Arduino shield's (expansion modules) out there. It's cheaper to use a Raspberry Pi rather than buy an ethernet shield. Inversely, an Arduino is far cheaper than a Gertboard (the expansion to Raspberry Pi to give it more Arduino type capabilities). It's a match made in heaven really.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Unemployment - Day 1

I've got to do a post of my reasons for leaving the project and what I'm planning on doing sometime very soon. For now though, I thought I'd describe myself doing the whole unemployed thing.

First thing in the morning. Wake up. Fall asleep. Try to get up again. Mind mostly willing, body failing to follow suite. 2 years without break just way too long. Need rest.

Finally get up. Get dressed, go to office for debrief. Haven't had time to do so before last day. Find any lose ends. Boss arrives a little after I do - thankfully. Have a coffee and try orange V. It's not yet released but the best way to describe it - Borocca in a can. Genius.

Less loose ends than expected. Just got to get some decent documentation up on debugging and procedures. Got to start at beginning. Doing it in wiki form. Dokuwiki has left some things to be desired - doesn't help that half the admin modules don't seem to work.

Have a look at final pay slip. It's depressing. Probably not going to able to afford long enough break. Body gives a little twinge in protest.

Waiting for bus to get home. Get phone call. Request: "Can you please prepare some documentation for a presentation?". Agree to go to one of the school's on Wednesday. Promise to send in notes before day out.

Start writing notes on bus. Get home, rewrite fully as presentation. Hate slideshows. Always done badly. Mine look like notes for a speech. Actually... wouldn't mind doing the presentation next week. Still hate slideshows. Boring to present. Worse to watch. Only seen done well once - Lawrence Lessig last year. Felt almost sorry for the politician after him who's slideshow was the worst thing ever.

Finally decide it's time for lunch. It's 2:30 already. Turn on TV. Catch the end of a movie called "How to Eat Fried Worms". Apparently it has something to do with sticking a live worm down your pants and dancing/wiggling around. Wonder what school would be like with theme music playing all the time. Copyright problems. Even if school's have the rights to play the music, what message does it send the kids if the music is played loud and proud enough for everyone to hear? Broadcasting fees and copyright seem silly. Don't feel like lunch. Thankfully didn't get noodles. Eat it anyway.

Get email about lack of progress of documentation - give time restrictions, not at all surprising. Replacement doing my head in - not very autonomous in which case, EVERYTHING is escalated. I'm sure lunch would get escalated if it went wrong.

Mother has arrived home with double edge razor blades. Too expensive to buy in New Zealand - even Trademe seems excessively expensive so had ordered them from Thailand (off eBay). Might sell a few - brought way too many but always cheaper buying in bulk - can still beat the prices on Trademe.

There goes concentration. Death by a thousand "it'll only take you a minute" type tasks. Arguing over every individual minute can lead to hours of unpleasantness if pointed out that I'm trying to work. Sod it. Sleep for a couple of hours. Try again after 9.

Up at 6. Time for dinner. Japanese tonight. Wait until 9. Document. Bed at 2am. Need practise on this unemployed thing.