Saturday, November 30, 2013

Being Thankful

It's that time of year...

People of America all seem to try to occupy the same space as every other person while they get all grabby grabby with stuff that neither they nor anyone else ever needed. Seriously.... stores are starting their black Friday specials on Thanks Giving Day?

TV shows talk about getting together with family in an obnoxious combination of people saying dicky things like "Gobble Gobble" (If your turkey dinner suddenly made a "gobble gobble" noise, you'd be freaked out), ignoring the people around them while watching sports and obsessing about food (what's with the marshmallows on yams?).

It all accumulates in this really nice moment of "I'm thankful for..." along the same sort of lines as saying grace (Dear something bigger than myself. I'm anxious about X. I'm thankful for stuff).

That's something I could get behind.

I'm thankful for the Internet.

For the last couple of days my stats have suddenly plummeted. People suddenly stopped visiting the blog. Which, given this event's proximity to Thanksgiving, would seem to indicate that most of my readers are from the States. Either that or my stats are completely reliant on me posting daily (it's a hell of a pace).

From the outside looking in, the States is a truly odd place. The American's I've met in New Zealand, those that have or are looking to immigrate here, have been American refuges. They've wanted to enter into a world of less extremes.

The ones that I imagine when imagining someone electing Bush or spouting on about the fire and brimstone that is the inevitable result of trying to look after people (yep... that Obama guy is totally going to hell) are quite different. I imagine an insular people.

The sort of people who are completely reliant on the labels on a map (I'm useless at geography but at least have a general idea of where the continents are. I mean the people who would see Australia labeled as "North Korea" and not question it at all) and who spout off rubbish like "America was the richest country in the world until Obama came into power" or whatever. Those that spout things like "we're the greatest country in the world!" without ever having done a comparison with the rest of the world.

Now, the attached video clip - I could have picked a video clip with American's getting their geography all messed up in scaringly humorous ways. I'm sure we've all seen them. Instead, the first 8 minutes of The Newsroom.

So what does this have to do with the Internet? Imagine a mechanism whereby people could see outside of their own circumstances. When I was working within the Manaiakalani project, one of the biggest things that I was seeing that had me excited was the fact that the kids were seeing themselves on a global stage. They're more than just being "From G.I." (when asked why they say "'sup" I was told "We're from G.I").

Is the Internet having a similar effect in America? I still see quite stupid statements around the place - such as someone commenting on this blog about 2 pages of the constitution (using "wordstopages.com" and knowing that the original draft was around 4,200 words long, we can estimate the constitution to being a little more than 9 pages long and that's not counting amendments) not calling for a nanny state (The Constitution also doesn't mention equality at all. It's mentioned for "all men" in the declaration of independence but that's not the constitution...) BUT do those same people also take something away with them?

Does the barrage of "Holy crapballs on toast. That's what you believe?" have these people wondering how the rest of the world see them? Is that the game changer? I'm not suggesting at all that the rest of the world has it right. I mean, if we take the extreme that is North Korea as an indication of humanity's infinite capacity for adaption, we're probably all skewed based upon something... for that infinite capacity to be there, there also has to be circumstances under which we need to adapt for.

I freely admit to not understanding a lot of the positions I see expressed (All the Fire and Brimstone you could possibly want and then some!). Am I also taking something away with me?

As a teenager I figured out the best thing you can possibly share with someone is perspective. Traditionally this was via published works. I could write a book and have it appear on shelves everywhere! And if people wanted to offer some feedback they'd either have to seek me out or craft a letter (remember those days?). So it was effectively a one way medium. Nowadays we have the Internet... Where access means you can share your perspective and gain someone else's etc. For most of us, getting access to the Internet is a hell of a lot easier than trying to convince someone to buy our rights (copyrights) so that we can get published.

Is there a way of ending one of these "I'm thankful for" things?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Making Mo' Dough

I finally pulled out my bread maker and have started using it.

There's something to be said about it. If you find kneading dough therapeutic then a bread maker is probably the worst thing ever. If you just want to throw a few ingredients into a bucket type thing, press a button or two and be done, then a bread maker is brilliant.

I've been having the argument about whether you save money by using a bread maker. If a loaf of bread costs around $5 (unless you're into that white stuff that feels like playdough in your mouth which is probably closer to $3 / loaf) but the ingredients / loaf is only around $0.80 which we'll round up to $1 to cover electricity... then if the bread maker costs around $100, you only need to make around 25 loaves before it starts paying off.

In my case our household is going through around 2 loaves / week.

I was using a recipe off the Internet which Renedox saw and rolled his eyes at. It really was ridiculous... as follows:

1¼ cups water
3⅓ cups bread flour
1½ tsps salt
2 tbsps sugar
2 tbsps nonfat dry milk powder
2 tbsps butter
1½ tsps yeast

Look at it... the amount of salt and sugar and butter. One of the first things that bothered me about this recipe is that the bread came out sweet. I HATE sweet bread. It's either a cake or bread... if it's a cake, then be a damn cake. If it's bread, then I want to be able to eat it with things like tomatoes - which don't really go with sweet things.

Anyway, the whole point of this post... I've been mucking around with the recipe quite a lot and now have a little scrap of paper with an all new, what I think is a much more reasonable recipe. If only there was a place I could put such information for myself and share it all at the same time.... if only.

This makes a 1.5lb loaf (I have no idea why my bread maker talks in imperial measurements). Oh... if you're wondering why a recipe is just a list of ingredients, it's because for a bread maker you just throw the ingredients in and push a button.... there's no order to it or anything.

1¼ cups water
2 cups white flour
1½ cups wholemeal flour (because I prefer a little texture in my bread)
a pinch of salt
2 tsps sugar (You need some sugar for the yeast. I'm going to try halving this the next time I make a loaf)
1 tbsp nonfat dry milk powder (you get a slight milky taste which reminds me of a white vienna)
1½ tsps yeast
a small dash of oil (This is just plain easier than butter. Not all oils are created equal - there are oils that have some health benefits).

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Strategic Voting Strategem

I've always said that voting should be about finding representation for yourself. In New Zealand, we have MMP which allows for this - to a bigger degree than First Past the Post at least.

There's a problem though. While a 2 party system sucks, having a system whereby a small party can hold larger ones to ransom sucks even more.

The bit that the video doesn't tell you is that the party with the most seats doesn't necessary get to rule. Which is a good thing and a bad thing.

So you have 3 parties - the Blues, the Reds and the Greens. The Blues get 49% of the votes, the Reds get 48% and the Greens get 3%. If the Blues are center-right, the Reds center-left and the Greens more left than the Reds, then the Reds and the Greens are more likely to enter into a coalition giving them the majouriy in parliament. That's the good. The majority of people have voted for left policies. There's none of this splitting the vote bollocks.

Say the Greens want to be scummy about it though. Their agreement to join a coalition is vital to either the Blues or the Reds ruling. So in order to get the Greens' support, the Blues and Reds are suddenly in a bidding war with each other. Things like "We'll give you a ministerial seat. You can be minister of foreign affairs" or "We'll support your stance on energy". Essentially the Greens, with their 3%, get to decide who's ruling. 3% of the vote dictates where things are going.

Let's look at another scenario. What happens if you've got an election where you can already see where things are heading? There's another candidate - the Yellows - in the race. From a Greens and Reds supporter perspective the Yellows are pure unadulterated crazy - profits above people y'all! You know that the Blues are going to have the majourity.

The more seats the Yellows get, the more influence they have in what happens in the running of the country. More importantly, the bigger their ratio in comparison to the Blues, the more unadulterated crazy policies come into play.

So we get into strategic voting territory. While you still need a core of Reds supporters, it's in both the Reds' and Greens' interests for the Greens supporters to split their votes between the Blues and Reds.

Why? If it's the ratio between the Yellows and Blues that matters in terms of crazy levels, then by increasing the ratio of Blues to Yellows means that the Yellows have less influence.

Crazy right? Crazy enough to work?!?

A Question to Americans

The other day a few friends and I sat around. I had said something about inflated cost of health care. Semantics aside about the word "inflated" (in general terms inflate refers to increasing something whereas in economic terms it's something quite specific)...

If you're concerned about your health in... India or Malaysia (probably most places in Asia) you can go to a doctor and you can even ask for a particular test to be performed if you have the money to back it up.

And the cost? It's soooo much lower than New Zealand or America.

While we were talking semantics about the word "inflated" an American friend of ours showed us the attached video. The video's great BUT it talks about complexity and then presents a very simple argument: they charge what they think they can.

And then I read this on one of Chuck Lorre's vanity cards:


Well... so am I. What is so wrong with universal health care? Admittedly my sources of information aren't the best. I keep watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report which often has me wondering if the crack smoking mayor of Toronto is the only politician on crack. Those words - which can be summed up with WTF - never seem to be that far from my mind while watching the clips shown on these shows.

So it's fire and brimstone. Someone pointed out that it was the tax increase that people were worried about. And then there's been this very strange "We're in debt!" panic that seems to be going on (which seems to ignore the fact that America has had a National debt for a VERY long time)... I found an explanation of what's going on there here.
Grabbed from wikipedia

I don't see the tax increase as a biggie. Why? As the video above points out, American's already spend more in health care through taxes than a lot of other countries. To put this into perspective, according to this graph, the U.S. already spends MORE on health care than Defense (and given the ridiculous amounts spent on defense, this is surprising). And what do they get from it?

As little as humanly possible. Such is the way of capitalism. Which makes Obama's position all the more important.

If insurance companies have to adhere to certain standards and offer those at a reasonable price then that whole douchy capitalist "give as little value for as much  money as possible" is kept in check.

That's my perspective... I'm wondering though... is there a reasonable argument the other way? How could universal health care lead to fire and brimstone? Why is seeing it work elsewhere (just about everywhere else) not reassurance that it doesn't have to be fire and brimstone?

The Lego Gender Inequality Supposition

Dr. Siouxsie Wiles wrote an open letter to Lego and even got a response!


In the open letter she talks about the number of female figures in a pack of mini figures. But check out their expressions.

The radiation suit woman looks positively joyful. The guy is freaking out. The pyjama characters.... the woman has perfect hair and is smiling, the guy is yawning. In fact, the number of expressions worries me. For the gals you've got ecstatic, smiling and whatever the police woman has going on.

Way to reinforce unrealistic expectations of woman Lego... perfect hair and smiling... Yeah right...

Does Open Source Equate to Morality?

cc-by-nc-sa - Drawn and Designed by Robin Paulson. Please note the nc (Non-commercial).
A friend of mine sent me a link to this photo he did today.

I remember a conversation a couple of months ago where someone was talking about the virtues of a particular company... I think it went something along the lines of:
Sure, they don't do Open Source software and they're another proprietary vendor with data lock in BUT they are a New Zealand company and so we should support them.
I lost it... Really? That's an argument? They're a New Zealand company conducting what I would consider to be immoral behaviour BUT we can turn a blind eye just because they are a New Zealand company. Actually this is one of those weird companies that just buggers belief. They've never turned over a profit yet their share prices are astronomical.

The bit that had a friend throwing this together was an argument about a conference. If the conference is all about the best way of extracting money from people, then does it really matter if it's they use open source tools to do so?

To put that another way, if you've been shot... do you really care that the gun and bullet are open source? There are much bigger considerations/morality etc. that goes before whether something is open source or not.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Virtues of a Pencil

It turns out Apple have produced a device that's as good as a pencil! It's even smaller in 1 of 3 dimensions than a pencil and costs around $748.01 more...

I keep coming up with silly ideas for when I get horrendously rich. Apple beat me to this one...

Of Carparks, Markets and Poverty

I've got this thing about people making money. People have to eat. People don't have to be chasing Beluga caviar. The problem..., what does this look like?

Currently "people have to eat" is used as an excuse for douchy behaviour. Excessive promotion and pushyness is "just" the cost of business. So those who are trying to make it can excuse a bunch of behaviour by saying... they have to eat.

Is that the cost of doing business?

Renedox and I went to a night market in a carpark of a mall (Dress Smart) and it got us thinking about Asia. We've both been and one of the most memorable things for me is the amount of markets. When one is shutting down, another is opening up down the road. You can get EVERYTHING. Farmers from just out of the city limits can come into a city with a cart full of vegetables and sell it in a market...

It works in Asia. It's a way of living. Costs are kept low because you're not paying a middle man and besides which, there's real practical competition. What is the cost of doing business? A table. Perhaps some sort of license? A small fee for using a pavement? Presumably it's a hell of a lot cheaper than a lease on a building...

Back to New Zealand.... Markets have this great atmosphere BUT it's generally not encouraged except for a few odd days. Business owners talk about the threat of drunk people or the irritation of messy streets in the evenings. Heaven forbid someone uses their piece of side walk.

The cost of doing business? Want to sell something? If it's a small item, you're well out of luck. Selling it online and having to pay the delivery on it when delivery makes up a large proportion of the overall cost of goods as well as paying commission to Trade Me (you sell where the customers are meaning that sella is just not a happening thing) makes it an impossible proposition. This is assuming that your big skill is making something that can be shipped. Food items like vegetables or cooked food items? You're well out of luck.

You could go out on a Saturday to sell your goods at a Flea market... and the rest of the week you'd go through the indignantly of being on the benefit... because one day's work isn't going to support you. It's not that the things being sold have no value. It's that the opportunity to sell it is somewhat restricted. Those people who really would be doing it so they can eat are priced out of the market.

Perhaps you could pay the lease on a building? The cost of doing business...

I was back at the mall yesterday - passing it while going somewhere and found it disappointing that it was once again a carpark. As a market it was cool. As a carpark... well... not so much. There's something really galling about the idea that car parking is more important than people being given a chance to make something of themselves. There are loads of covered car parks around the place... Hell, you can rent carparks. In Auckland city, for a cheap one, it costs around $300 / month. Imagine if for $300 / month you could have a go at making a go at it... Running a business. Making a food item or selling goods etc.

The cost of doing business? A few more people to change their attitudes to public transport (god forbid they hop on their bikes as a form of transport as opposed to driving to the water front on the weekend and riding around the bays).

Friday, November 22, 2013

Google Chrome Management

It turns out I might be doing some work for Manaiakalani again. Just for a couple of weeks. Which has me thinking about something again...

Google Chrome Browser..... one of the best things about it is the fact that it has amazingly simple configuration. Default options and the like aren't hidden in a zip file (unlike Firefox... the other thing... do you really need quite so many links to Mozilla by default?). Oh and the format of those options is fairly simple. For example, if you want to turn on the bookmarks bar, it's really simple. Try doing the same in Firefox...

Given that the education sector is so enamoured by the configuration options of Chromeboooks but ChromeOS really is the browser (if you go through the source code for the browser you find bits that are specifically for ChromeOS) then all of that configuration can be achieved with the browser.

There's only a couple of things you have to do to make this a reality.
  • Make a launcher for Chrome Browser that looks for a new version of the defaults/policies etc. and downloads it (probably from the cloud solution proposed in the next point) to the local machine, merges configuration options and then launches Chrome Browser.
  • An interface for producing and managing those configuration files. Probably Internet based. This shouldn't be that hard. Each I.T. manager could log in and manage multiple sets of configurations (a student owned device requires a completely different attitude in managing than a classroom device). This would also have configuration files for getting the right download location and the like.
The shortcomings?
  • Changes would only take effect after Chrome had been restarted.
  • There would need to be a community around this to maintain launchers for other platforms.
So this is all very possible given the simple configuration storage. You'd even be able to add applications to Chrome really easily. Of course, this sort of thing takes loads of time. I think the launcher would take me about a week whereas the web based interface.... quite a bit longer.

The question is, would it be used? Could it made to be free and make a little bit of money by having small amounts of advertising?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Assay


I've basically stolen this post from Dr. Siouxsie Wiles (but added storm troopers). I have asked for permission. She replied back with "it's not stealing. It's reworking". Except that reworking makes me feel like less of a rebel (and we all know the rebels are the heroes). To be fair, it really is a great big simplifying reworking. This post shouldn't be taken as an indication of Dr. Wiles work unless of course you see this post for what it is - my mind map and reworking of a blog post as well as my little dig about animal testing.

Please note: no storm troopers were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

I haven't made a typo... Assay is a word... Who knew? Wikipedia defines it thusly:
An assay is an invesitigative (analytic) procedure in laboratory medicine, pharmacology, environmental biology, and molecular biology for qualitatively assessing or quantitatively measuring the presence or amount or the functional activity of a target entity (the analyte) which can be a drug or biochemical substance or a cell in an organism or organic sample.
Boring!... So let's describe one using not animals (because we seem to be hung up on animal testing). Instead, I propose we use storm troopers. Why storm troopers? Because whoever designed their uniforms decided to abstract any sense of humanity out of them. Look at them! They look like robots. Which makes testing on them okay (though, given what we'd be testing for, if they were robots, would make them ultimately useless.... details details).

Imagine you want to figure out if a food has been contaminated with a toxin. If it is harmful, you want to know why it's harmful (i.e. which toxin) to perhaps prevent other batches from being contaminated. Please note: this is an extreme simplification. If it were real, we'd probably be talking about injecting "storm troopers" rather than merely feeding them... oh and we wouldn't be talking about storm troopers.

The first step, the lite version, would be to take 3 groups of storm troopers. Why is there a first step? Storm troopers are expensive. Look at them. You have to build a robot type thing and mould (or 3d print) the uniform. They eat, contrary to being robot type things. Besides which, no one likes having to put the damn things out of their misery at the conclusion of the tests.

One group of Storm Troopers gets the food that you're testing. The second group is fed their regular food and the third group is fed food that is definitely infected.

What does this tell us?

The second group is a control group. They attest to the general health of the storm troopers. There's always the chance that you have a bad batch of storm troopers. If some storm troopers show symptoms - death, illness etc. - in this group, then the storm troopers need to be "disposed" of and the experiment repeated.

The third group is a "positive control". It shows you what to expect if the first sample is infected with what you're looking for or gives you clues if there's something wrong - like the storm troopers are immune to the toxin you're testing for. This apparently doesn't make any sense for this example... But it's there anyway. Take this as an infantile explanation

If a few of the storm troopers in the first group get sick, and the control groups have done what you'd have expected them to have done, then there's quite likely something wrong with the food. Further testing needed...

You could always repeat this first test - perhaps with a bigger sample size (read: more storm troopers!) - just to rule out a botched test. And if it is replicable, then it's time to move on and get a whole lot more focused...

And this is where the costs go up... Because now we need quite a few more storm troopers:

Group 1:
Eat the infected food and Antitoxin A

Group 2:
Infected food + Antitoxin B

Group 3:
Infected food + Antitoxin C

So on and so forth.... And your control groups:

Group CG1:
Inert food (definitely not infected)

Group CG2:
Definitely infected food.

This allows the sort of verbosity that would allow you find out what strain of a bug a food is infected with. If the strain is toxin B for example, you'd expect to see Groups 1, 3 etc. and GC2 to get sick.

Of course, I talked about the fact that science generally isn't conclusive or rather, it's a lot more rigorous in what it considers conclusive. An important step to getting to some confidence in your conclusions is being able to replicate the results. Giving someone else enough information to replicate the results is probably even better. Basically more and more storm troopers. Actually - there's a whole process here around getting an article published. Peer review, discussion (about the conclusions drawn from the results) - basically an academic battle royale where EVERYTHING is brought into question.

Now we can start in on the ethical questions... is it okay to sacrifice robotic looking storm troopers if it could save lives? and if we didn't test on "storm troopers", what would we not know about the world around us and the effects the world around us has on us?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Finding a Source for Science News

Given that I hate the way the media reports on science, I was intrigued when someone mentioned the Prime Minister's Science Prizes. In particular, one awarded for "Media Communication".

Okay, so I'm not at all a fan of the Prime Minister and I kind of feel sorry for the winner for having to meet the twerp BUT it's important that someone like this is being acknowledged for her work in the area.

So that person - Dr. Siouxsie Wiles - might just be an all new crush (in a "I'm not worthy!" kind of a way as opposed to "You're so dreamy" way. Can admiration be expressed as a crush?). Of course, this is for a whole range of reasons.

Communicating science issues in plain English and emphasising the practical applications of that research is something we're sorely missing yet she sees it as fundamental to science.

She's also a supporter of Open Access. It's roughly speaking, the FLOSS equivalent to science. I've said previously that I have a problem with cancer research and the various fund raising efforts around it. The problem for me lies in the approach. They hit the streets asking people for money to fund their research BUT the research is locked behind patents and the like. In which case, their research (or purchase of research) only really benefits them. If we really wanted to solve these big issues, then the data would be available for others to carry on.

And even more importantly, she's able to go outside of science occasionally and talk about issues that she's passionate about - such as sexism.

You can find her blog here and an article about the award here.

There are probably a whole lot of unsung heroes in this area.

Like  Dr. Fabiana Kubke - who I've mentioned before. She changed my perspective on science and the way it's portrayed significantly and being chair of the advisory panel for Creative Commons Aotearoa, she's a HUGE supporter of open access.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Having it Both Ways

I've found something else that irks me in I.T. The idea of software development. For a lot of systems, such as management systems (information management systems, student management systems etc.), the applications are simply interfaces to a database. That's it. There's nothing all that complicated about it. I mean sure, I'm being totally blasé about programming but there's a good reason for it.

You see, the interface actually has two purposes.
  1. To provide a way to interact with the system.
  2. To enforce rules not supported by the database.
The problem is that point 1 above seldom gets more than a glance. Why? Because it's expensive... Take my own approach to development for example. I like to develop within the environment that something is going to be used. The problem with this is that you have to go a hell of a lot slower because you're doing a whole bunch of things.
  • You're building relationships with your users (This means dealing with horribly frustratingly boring issues such as dealing with mixed data types in Excel - is it a number or a number represented as a string?).
  • You're seeing what they're doing now and figuring out ways that can be improved (think in terms of an information flow manager. What triggers an event? Who deals with it? How does the next person know to do something with it? etc.).
  • You're trying to do the actual coding while making it future proof. A year or two into it and you're finding you need a complete rewrite because the system has changed so much as you've found more and more requirements. This mostly happens because the client isn't sure what they want initially and as you've built it they've asked it to be customized it to their needs and realised possibilities that didn't even occur to them.
Given the way that most software is built - very little user feedback with a whole lot of guessing as to how the user would like to interact with their system - then a programmer can't claim complexity as they've only really given the complex parts a passing nod. Calling a user in after the system is already built hardly counts...

And databases aren't at all rocket science. I think you could probably teach people relational databases fairly easily using every day language in a day. If you're then able to abstract those concepts into a visual way of designing databases without having all of the syntax, then anyone could build the database (sure, there's some thought to be put into the interface - ERD's for example are bad at showing constraints though are good for an overall picture)...

Which leaves me with a question - why are information management systems seen as complex? The only reason I've really seen for this is being able to charge more than is necessary for software development.

In which case - I'd suggest being a whole lot more picky about an application. Instead of relying on an hour trial of a system before signing off on it, put it into a pilot and get real users using it and listen for comments like "that's stupid" or "but it's just not doing it!" and reset the clock every time a change is required to make it suitable to the business - the pilot's not over until the system does what it needs to do in the way it needs to be done...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Could Wikileaks be a Destructive Tool?

Wikileaks have gotten hold of the TPPA (Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement)! Brilliant. Except... well... if you want to negotiate something in secret, and you're adamant that it HAS to be done in secret, then the best way to throw people off is to "leak" documents. Given that they're leaked, there's absolutely no real requirement to authenticity.

So while we may be able to read it and get some sort of indication where things are going, are the points of argument that are ascertained by reading it valid to the actual agreement?

Given that this agreement is going to effect every single one of the participating country's residents, we need transparency. None of this crap about things of this nature having to be done in secret. What's currently happening is just not right.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Importance of Tertiary Education

I'm watching one of my favourite films - Accepted - and came across this line:
Society has rules. And the first rule is, you go to college. You want to have a happy and successful life, you go to college. If you want to be somebody, you go to college. If you want to fit in, you go to college.
Renedox was saying something the other day about seeing degrees as currency. The basic premise is this. Value is judged based upon scarcity. This is why we can't just print money to pay off our national debt. If you double the amount of currency in the country, then the value of that currency halves.

So if everyone has a degree, then the degree doesn't have any value except perhaps as an absolute minimum. Uh-oh. There lies another problem. This is called Academic Inflation.

It's a basic premise. I worked in a factory where we had a whole bunch of guys who had low intelligence - enough not to get themselves hurt for the most part. One day the boss pulled me into his office and got me involved with the hiring process. Basically - here are a pile of CV's. Pick out the ones that you would follow up on.

I think I've said previously that there was nothing to distinguish them out for me. What we needed was an attitude - which was never going to come through in a CV. So the boss came up with an idea. What if we got them to sit an aptitude test? The idea wasn't so much to pick the one who got most answers right, but rather, try and pick out those with some level of problem solving skills. So the workings, scribbles etc. were more important than the answer.

After a few months though, the intent kind of got lost and it was about the answer. In a years time I can imagine that there'd be another requirement that didn't previously exist... and so on and so forth.

Why do more and more people have degrees? It turns out it's incredibly bad business to have people fail. I mean, sure, you may think that you could make more money from having people resit papers, but what if no one takes the course because the pass rate is so low?

If you're printing money and the printers are being paid in gold, does the printer really care about how much money gets out there and the effect that has on the value of money?

So it's in tertiary education's best interest to keep pumping out the degrees. How do you do this? You make the assessment criteria easier. Remember, they're a business. Which would mean that the commercialisation of education has been a negative thing (Shock horror!).

If the value of a degree is so low (over saturation, less meaning), then does it really matter if you do tertiary education? Is it really the end of it all? Can you not have a happy and successful life without it?

Well... if I were to use myself as an example... then no. :/

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Problem With Science

Another story that piqued my interest last week was the one on a company that had chosen to remove a few chemicals from their products.

The article talked about how a Green party MP asked them to remove triclosan from their products. The fact that it was triclosan that they asked to remove was near the end of the story.

It irks me. You see, in high school, we're taught that science is very binary. You try to prove or disprove a hypothesis... That's all there is to it. Except... well... what happens when people have drawn contrary results to the same or similar questions? What if there's just not enough information either which way?

Actually - there's a fantastic resource for demonstrating this point: snakeoil (thanks for showing me this years ago Dr. Kubke). It's kind of a heavy site but if you are able to have a look, seek out some of those things that you take for granted. For example, Vitamin C for colds - the research is inconclusive... That is to say, the research hasn't turned up anything either which way.

So a lot of what we're told is marketing rather than things that have been proven. Wifi for your kids? Is it dangerous? The World Health Organisation have often been misquoted, or their findings misinterpreted by the media. While their findings are often around the fact that they can't rule out wifi being dangerous, they also haven't found anything particularly bad with it. The other thing to look out for is that they have different studies on the different frequencies. So what's found for cellphone frequencies isn't the same findings for wifi frequencies.

But back to the article. What is triclosan and why should we be concerned? It's used as an antibacterial and antifungal agent. It turns out we probably shouldn't, as consumers, be all that concerned. It's known to cause an effect on hormones in some animals but there's no proof that it does so in humans.

Anyway, I think I'd be a lot more confident if the news had a science advisor - someone who can look at these studies objectively and derive what the reports are saying as opposed to the knee jerk "water causes drowning so don't buy products with water" reaction that the media seems to encourage.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Problem with Ginger Beer - Definition of the problem

I've been having a look at making ginger beer again. Something that's bothered me is that all of the instructions I've seen have called for plastic bottles. So I got to thinking... why plastic? Because they don't explode... only... why would glass explode?

It's to do with sugar. Given that carbonation (bubbles) occurs from building up pressure of CO₂ - accomplished when yeast turns sugar into alcohol, and ginger beer being a sweet drink, means that there's the tendency to use too much sugar. The pressure builds beyond what's needed to carbonise the drink.

In other words, you can have a dry ginger beer, that doesn't explode, or a sweet one, which you have to store in plastic bottles (the reason plastic bottles works is that you can give them a squeeze - when they're rock hard, put them in the fridge to drop the temperature below what the yeast needs to carr on).... Or, use an non-fermentable sugar.

So I'm about to start experimenting... I'll post up a recipe when I've got something that I think works....

Minimal Ethics

Two news stories have quirked my interest this week. That is The Roast Busters and, one which I think is related in America, the Richie Incognito bullying story.

One of the things that has really annoyed me is the people being dismissive of the actions in both cases. In the case of the Roast Busters, it was female friends of the members of the Roast Busters talking about how they're just being teenagers and "it's just normal". The police who were dismissive of the 4 complaints (that we know of) from victims of the Roast Busters - apparently trying to ascertain if the length of these victim's skirts constituted rape or "asking for it". There are protests being held next weekend about it. I'm likely to be going. There is a story on it here (though it's a demonstration of just how completely fucked up the media is - they report that the protest is about charging the Roast Busters as opposed to the blatantly dismissive "we have insufficient evidence" line from the police and the treatment of the victims of the Roast Busters by the police. It's worth noting that a protest against police is probably kind of a dangerous thing to happen).

And in the case of Richie Incognito, there's been loads of talk about American Football culture. It's perfectly normal apparently...

I don't care how isolated you think your particular "culture" is - there are, what I would call, a very minimal set of ethics that form the basis of our society. It's not okay. We should have absolutely no tolerance for it. The police? You should be ashamed! The people saying idiotic things like "boys will be boys" - I hope I'm never in situation where I could save your lives because I really don't know which way I would go. To the school that didn't take the complaint seriously when told they'd raped a 13 year old... Where are your priorities? Don't you have a responsibility to the other kids in the school?

I think there's a whole other issue here - and that is one of the arrogance being shown towards people. A couple of weeks ago I got a rather annoying text. It just said "Sup". It turns out it was some dickhead who thought I was some girl he'd met the night before who thought his particular brand of harassment was somehow endearing. For the entire day he kept on. When told to stopped he kept going.... I ended up ringing him, told him to go fornicate himself and that I'm not there for his entertainment.

Herein lies the problem. People are not playthings. They're people... They're like you. How would you feel being treated the way that you're treating them? I have absolutely no tolerance for anyone who dismisses behaviour that would have them feeling victimized. Enabling people to treat other people in ways that are just plain immoral and arrogant is, to my mind at least, as bad as doing the actual deed. So the police who keep spouting "insignificant evidence" when 4 girls have tried to lay rape charges against this group - the backlash is going to be interesting. Can you really claim that you've acted in the most ethical way?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The News (4 November, 2013)

I've been watching the news for the last couple of days. Admittedly, the day after airing. But still... I've been watching it...


The government is lowering the blood alcohol limit for driving. TV3 news were all too happy to crow about Campbell Live's investigative reporting being a catalyst to it. What they fail to mention is that the findings of that "investigative reporting" showed that the problem wasn't so much with the limit but rather, the way it is measured.

So a person with a bigger mass can drink more. We all knew this. The question is, why was the limit so high to begin with? How were those figures arrived at? Even now, the limits dropped to be in line with Australian and a few other country's laws. What would happen if you got those same 4 people in the Campbell story (though at least 4 of each gender to be fair....) to do it all again with the new limits? Does it go far enough? So "boo!" to arbitrary figures... Why not do a full study, using a decent sample size, on when alcohol causes serious issues with reaction time?

The Roast Busters thing is disgusting. It doesn't matter how you spin it. It's disgusting. One of the things we learnt really early on with the Netbooks within the Manaiakalani program was that we had proof of bullying. The police were using a Facebook page to monitor some horrendously disgusting behaviour. TV3 got the page taken down...

There's something to be said here about:
  • There has to be a limit on this sort of thing. The Facebook page was obviously being used to effectively re-victimise victims. If the page has been operating since 2011 and it's now 2013, then you have to wonder about it's effectiveness as a monitoring tool.
  • If the page had been taken down earlier, would the boys involved be quite so likely to go out and do these activities?
  • Does the media have the right to influence events this way? If the Facebook page was having a positive impact on the Police's investigation (being able to seek out victims for example), then how many of those victims are going unheard, if the activity is continuing? Have TV3 screwed the pooch on these guys ever getting charged?
What's more disgusting is milking this story for all it's worth...

And finally... if these guys  haven't broken any laws that the police can charge on and are entirely reliant on people coming forward... Do we need to review laws in this area? Statutory rape is a crime... Given that there's video of the guys admitting to having sex with underage girls... Should that not be enough to prosecute on and should the police be able to prosecute on "general principal" grounds? Given that most statutory rape charges are brought forward by parents, rather than the victims themselves, should a news story be effectively trying to bully victims into pressing charges?

Oh - and apologies? Now? Really? An anonymous founder of the group has issued an apology:
"...if I suffer any consequences from my past actions then I guess I deserve it but I just want people to know I am a good person at heart..."
Let's look at that for a second. He guesses... By doing it anonymously, he's effectively said "I don't want to face the consequences from my disgusting behaviour". He guesses... Holy crapballs on toast. A good person at heart would face up and take responsibility for their actions... no guessing... no anonymousness... no waiting for a story to break before being apologetic for their behaviour...

There was a really short story last night about a drowning off Wairoa. I mention this here for effect (this is about the sequence in which it appeared in the news).

The unfortunate man, Tarun Asthana, in Auckland who was taken down by, from most stories, a single punch has since died in hospital.

There's something to be said here. The story goes that he complimented some girl on her dress and she didn't take too kindly to it and some other guy stepped in and punched the guy... He fell down, hit his head, and ended up in critical condition.

There's a few questions in there:
  • The guy being charged (Grenville David McFarland) is likely to be facing much more severe charges now. If you'd seen the situation - some girl freaking out and the cause being right there - and you'd seen a guy come to the girl's aid, would you have considered McFarland to be an assaulter?
  • Given that it was a single punch, but has resulted in a death making it so much more serious. Shouldn't all violence be treated in the same vein? I have a problem with someone who gets off one punch being treated worse than someone who repeatedly punches a person doing damage (such as breaking a jaw) who gets a slap on the wrist. In which case, do these laws need to be reviewed?
Man found dead in Christchurch. The accused is a 24 year old who lived with the man (no comment on the situation in the story). No names... No context. Just a dead story really.

Politics - an election is likely to be held AFTER a visit from the Queen. So the precursor to the election is John Key looking the giddy school boy sucking up to the headmistress. I personally don't have that much of a problem with it. I'm not much of a royalist. I didn't watch the royal wedding... BUT, there are a fair few royalists around (did you watch the wedding?) in which case, I have a problem with the election's results likely being skewed by this visit.

TV3 is shocking! The New York Marathon was barely even a story. Increased security. No one's allowed to wear backpacks or camel packs for example... Score another one up for terrorists...

But what had me reaching for a sick bag is Mike McRoberts pure exploitation of the story. He ran with a blind man and showed off his medal for completing it and made sad eyes at the camera while effectively telling us how much more meaningful his medal was because he'd run with a blind man... How about this? Why not leave Mike McRoberts out of the story entirely and focus on the disabled people?

There was a story on API Consumer Brands cutting a few ingredients out of their products. The story focused on the fact that Green party MP asked them to do it and they did! There wasn't anything near a look into the chemicals, the studies that are causing the concerns or anything to suggest why, other than some vague fears, these chemicals may be cut out of products...

There was a rescue from Mt Cook! (Snore) and talk about the weather. There's something a little disturbing about the news making small talk. Oh and a puff piece about the Nelson Mandela movie premiere...

Oh - for national news, it seems very localised. A concrete truck rolled near Greenlane (A suburb in Auckland)...

And finally.... Remember that bit about people drowning? It seems they didn't see a connection between that and the story they had now - which was about school swimming pools. They're a great big cost and don't belong in the whole "Reading, Writing, Arithmetic" paradigm so schools are mostly getting rid of them. The cost of getting rid of them is that kids aren't learning to swim from an early age... resulting in more drownings...

Just to add a little colour to this post (and because I just can't resist), there was a story from a couple of days ago that annoyed the living crap out of me. The text version on the Internet shows the problem far more effectively:

They just kind of threw in a partial story. It's not a story... but it has absolutely NOTHING to do with a gender quota system... If you heard about this and wanted more information, would you know to look in this story for that little bomb?

I've got to say... from the few days I've been watching the news, there's been very little international content (unless you count the Nelson Mandela puff piece). Are we becoming more insular?

Monday, November 4, 2013

After Earth - A quick review

I finally watched "After Earth" - which I found, against all trends and reviews on the net, to actually be pretty good. Sure, it missed some opportunities and perhaps the subtext wasn't obvious enough, but bear with me... It's not as bad as you may think....

So here's the premise. A gradual process of poisoning our environment (probably through everyone having to have the best and latest portable device even if there's nothing wrong with the older one) leads to the people of earth having to leave earth. The humans are then attacked by an alien force, once they find a planet to colonize, which, seemingly from the movie, only really have one weapon in their arsenal. A creature that can smell fear (and seemingly has no other sense except perhaps touch). The humans are completely outmatched until one man manages to suppress his fear to the point that to these creatures he's invisible. They refer to this as ghosting.

This is where the movie perhaps lacks a little explanation. If you think of the psychology of this, fear is part of the id. It's almost the very definition of the id. Which means, the suppression of it is part of the super ego. If you remove fear entirely, what is the sacrifice?

So imagine it can be done. Except... you no longer connect with the people around you. To them, you have no real personality... They respect you, because you can do things that need to be done. They fear you because you're no longer of the same species as them. They need others to be able to do it. Those who strive to do it are willingly sacrificing something of themselves. In fact, it's quite a sacrifice... there's no guarantee that when you chose to make the sacrifice that you even can BUT the effect it has on your personality may be permanent.

So now that we've thought about it for a second - watch the rest of the movie. The acting is lacking - not because of bad acting - but rather, they're playing the roles of characters who have sacrificed major parts of themselves. How Will Smith's character ever finds himself married (and has children) alludes me. The last line about wanting to work with mom does rather than being a soldier indicates that they've recognised the sacrifice they've strived (and are respected) for.

I kind of find it a pity that in a lot of films we soon lose the world and reality that they've been set in. For example, there could be loads of movies based upon this same reality - where aliens are taking on humans. Sure, this one used Ursa's - the conveniently blind monsters - but this could expand to other tactics... Where was Cypher before visiting his family? This is something I really love about things like Animatrix and Batman Gotham Knight. Of course, if this movie had been a success, it would have been killed in a great big "let's do sequels!" love-fest.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The I.T. Ethical Debate that Needs to Happen

I did a talk for AuckLUG last night on the Manaiakalani project. It was kind of funny. I started by asking if anyone knew anything about the Manaiakalani project and one guy said "I know you've been working on it for the last few years" and that was it... So no one had come along for the "talk" - for which I hadn't prepared anything anyway. I was amused at the very least - the very few people who turned up were there for the social aspect of it.

At one point someone asked me about root access. Do kids have root access on the devices? Absolutely. They're their devices (the netbooks... It's a different story with Chromebooks). This to me is an ethical thing.

It is completely outside my sense of ... morality to take a device that's owned by someone and locking that someone out of it. It's much the same reason why I hate iDevices, the way that people deal with Windows and why I'm often butting heads with I.T. security people.

There was a guy there. I had just told him that the sky was pink with purple polka dots. The idea that I would find it immoral to lock people out of their machines was almost foreign to him. I mean, he was coming at me from a completely respectful place but he just didn't quite understand.

And then, this morning, I think I understood where he's coming from. There's another big side to this debate. I think part of what alluded me to it was a comment he made about Windows XP - that it's going. It's finally going to be completely unsupported. I said something about how that marked a fundamental shift in usability and he laughed. Where I consider usability first, he considers security first. So we're there looking at the same problem from different perspectives.

So... the big ethical debate:

On my side, I have usability and questions of ownership. I would assert that if someone's paid for a computer, that device is their's. Furthermore, we shouldn't try and make it harder for them to use.

vs.

If you were a plumber and you found a leak, it would be a moral obligation to seal that leak. Leaving that leak in the pipes would just be a dick move. So if you know of exploits in an operating system, it's incumbent on you to fix it.

The question is, does fixing the leak have to come at the price of usability? And what if it's not a leak but rather, the tap... Bear with me for a second... It's found that a tap could be turned on and used to fill a tub which an infant could then drown in. So the tap's the problem right? Or the tub? To fix the problem there are two approaches.... we could poke holes in the tub to stop it from ever being filled, or we could disable the tap... We don't ever consider the social issue in that the users of the tap could be asked not to leave tubs of water around the place because we're computer people...

So to me, I think the debate needs to be had. Instead of pulling out the magic trump card "it's security", an actual weighing up of the benefits and minuses...

So despite my disappointment and amusement, I learnt something!

If anyone is interested... I have started putting up a little bit of code for Tartare Source (it's just gherkin at the moment). You can have a look at the code here.