Sunday, December 29, 2013

Could Natural Curiousity Be Made To Work In The Classroom?

As a child I was curious. I learnt to count. I was horrendously proud of myself when I figured out how to count to 100 and had figured out the pattern. This was done in a quiet room by myself with me occasionally bothering someone by asking things like "What comes after 39?". Because of course, four-ty is quite different from twen-ty which isn't two-ty and similarly for thirty. This is probably my earliest memory... or one of them (it's all a bit fuzzy).

A little bit older and I was playing around with these little informational cards which had information about a particular animal. Of course, being a boy, we were all into sharks and spiders and .. well... basically anything that could kill you in interesting ways. Unfortunately the Internet wasn't around in which case I was completely reliant on what those cards had on them and encyclopedias - and usually the encyclopedias had less information on blue bottle jellyfish, for example, than the cards did.

Of course, now we have the Internet. You can look things up. Take history for example.

I was having a conversation with Renedox and I took rather an extreme position that history could be dropped from most school's curriculum. Why? Because the desire to learn is already there. People want to know stuff. In which case, why couldn't you pop someone in front of a computer hooked up to the Internet? Of course, it's not quite that simple. Something needs to be there to spark the curiosity. What if it could be video games?

The game doesn't replace real content. It's just there to spark a little interest in the events.

Of course this is a really bad idea. The dropping of anything from the curriculum leads to things no longer being learnt. You could argue that those things aren't useful any more but there are some things - like blacksmithing - that while incredibly useful, aren't taught in anyway any more.

This sort of thing is already starting to happen. I don't mean the learning things on your own but rather, the dropping of subjects from the curriculum. Particularly at a tertiary level where it would seem that we're now more interested in creating people suitable to the workforce as opposed to having education as it's own pursuit.

Which kind of brings us full circle again. While curiosity and learning is a natural instinct, education seems to be an industry about creating workers - those natural instincts be damned, and even, in a lot of ways, fought against (Chromebooks vs. Netbooks).

Saturday, December 28, 2013

My Double Standards

I was talking to Renedox last night about Tangleball. How I would really love to see a similar model working in a low decile area.

The reason I want to see it in a low decile area is because I always wanted it to be that way. It's all well and good catering to the privileged middle class, but if it could become something somewhere where it could really change people's lives... that'd be so much better. The problem is that for a pilot a low decile area for a user pays kind of thing is ALWAYS going to fail. This is because there is absolutely no margin for error. And I'm not convinced that it can work entirely off a user pays system anyway.

While I'm completely of the opinion that Tangleball must keep itself commercial interest free, I have a double standard when it comes to something similar in a low decile area.

The reason for this is that if it's being used to get people out of a state dependency cycle, then it's to the good. There HAS to be rules around how that's presented. Let's make an example.

If a venue was set up much like Tangleball within a low decile area - let's call it "Brain Space" (the word "Mind" seems to be over used) - and people started to use the facilities to build a "whatsit™" which they can sell, should they advertise Brain Space when marketing the "Whatsit™?

It's a complex question. In the case of Tangleball, it's discouraged. If you do it, you don't advertise Tangleball because Tangleball can't be seen to be endorsing your product. This is a very sensible position. And if you do start making money from it, it's assumed you can then buy your own equipment and start doing it away from Tangleball (thereby not tying up resources).

However, I'm quite happy with the idea that if the facilities are there and people can see a way of getting themselves out of the state dependency cycle, then it should be used right up until the point that people are able to buy their own equipment and facilities - or - for an assessment to be made around whether it's better to have some of these people around to staff the place and pass on skills.

I don't think there can be hard and fast rules for these things. Which is the enemy of consistency which leads to all sorts of favouritism and ultimately corruption. Some more thought required. The point is, I don't think the same model for Tangleball can go the other way. Which isn't at all a bad thing. It's just that it requires some thought - but it's time for this to happen.

Learning to Use Facebook

I saw my sister and she says to me "You're on facebook?". Watch my face go beet red. My mother looked shocked at the idea. A message saying "You didn't /have/ to" - given the choices it was the only choice to make really. There are reasons and knowing I was going to have to, I found myself looking for alternatives - which given the goal were completely pointless (though I did create a diaspora account on some node somewhere. Diaspora left me wanting to punch someone. It turns out it's whole node thing doesn't lend itself well to searching other nodes so if you don't know what node your friends are on you're going to have trouble finding them).

I'm not going to go into the why. Look at this as rather an interesting little experiment. While Google+ was new and my profile was just plain awesome there, Facebook is well and truly established and there's very little risk in getting caught up in my own (lack of) celebrity.

So initial impressions.
  • Facebook seems to be a place full of girlfriend's past (although I found someone who I worked with and had a bit of a crush on. Best pregnancy photo I've seen for a while).
  • The layout leaves me wanting something a little more simple. There's just way too much going on.
  • The content kind of sucks. Actually, that's generous.
  • Getting a quick summary on a person is next to impossible (think - a replacement to old friends).
So far I've done a quick post - a photograph of my especially dark chocolate mousse with blueberries braised in red wine (it adds some tartness to the bitter chocolate mouse. Add a little sugar in the red wine if you need a bit of sweetness coming through) and not a single like! Meanwhile coffee ice cream, Oreos and hot fudge sauce and anything with bacon seems to get likes...

So far facebook gets a bit of a grumble from me. Anyway - if you're reading this, seek me (Nevyn Hira) out on Facebook.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Happy Solstice

So solstice is finally over! I'm incredibly thankful for it. The pencils were handed out with care (it's an Apple thing). I cooked up a storm over two days with a hell of a lot of cleaning and some rearranging involved. I was trying to not think about something in which case, solstice was exhausting - as well as the cooking.

On the whole pencil thing:

I'm finding myself really surprised that there seems to be very little comment on how dumb the ad really is. They use around a minute telling us about a pencil and then pick up the device from behind that costs a hell of a lot more, is only smaller in 1 dimension and can run out of power. I mean, sure, a pencil probably won't last you as long but given that I was able to pick up a pack of 10 from the local $2 store... All that potential in $0.20!

Anyway, this isn't really a post.. it's just a happy solstice thing. Oh - and if you ever get your hands on a syringe (surprisingly enough it seems you don't need a prescription or anything from the chemist), try injecting a cherry tomato with balsamic vinegar. It's the nicest thing eva!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Let's Ditch Christmas

It's solstice! Happy Solstice Everyone! Yep - today is it. The longest day of the year for us New Zealanders.

At this time of year I always kind of wonder if I'm being a bit of a grinch. I'm not opposed to celebrating and sharing a bit of good will to all men. I just really really hate the extremism of the emphasis on one religion's celebrations for solstice.

Obviously the event is important to a whole lot of different cultures. Can't we, instead of calling it Christmas, acknowledge the fact that it's solstice? Yes that includes Festivus (much as I'm not at all in any way whatsoever a fan of Seinfeld though I love the idea of a non-commercial let's take the mickey kind of a celebration. It's origin story is FANTASTIC!).

Instead of having "holy crapballs on toast, I can't believe you are actually that douchey" feelings engendered by comments from people (watch the video clip to the left. You'll get what I mean) about the solstice and claiming that people like me are trying to take away "their" holiday, I think we should all be looking for a bit of respect for all religions and cultures. Even if that includes Festivus.

The problem is that this extremism is seen as okay. It's okay to lack any sense of respect for other religions and cultures (sexuality? gender? race?) in the States apparently.

The insistence that everything else is fake is more than just a little insulting. Let's instead see the 25th of December as a day of celebration. For America this would mean the lack of nativity scene's on government/state owned land OR the inclusion of all cultures to put up their own nod to solstice.

I find myself flabbergasted by the idea that it can be normal for America to have positive discrimination in the work place (that is, having to fulfil a quota of Jews, Females, Latinos, African American's etc.) but not have a problem with the holy crapballs on toast disrespecting of other religions and cultures that the video above shows.

In other words: Happy Solstice everyone, and to everyone a happy solstice.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Acknowledging Diverging Interests

One of the things that REALLY bothers me about people talking about trusting in the market is the fact that my interests and the market's are quite possibly, very probably, almost certainly, different things.

This morning I woke to an email (literary - my cellphone beeped when I got an email and suddenly it seemed like the most important thing in the world) with a link to an article discussing a recent study into American schools and contracts around cloud services.

The results aren't at all surprising. The study pretty much says there's a whole lot of things that schools should be looking at and setting as their minimum requirements when looking into these contracts that they aren't.

Things like "does the information get removed once the original purpose for the collection of that data is gone?" or "should there be a data breach, is the provider of those services required to inform the school?" etc.

It annoys me every time I hear teachers say something along the lines of "Google/MS etc. are being altruistic". Here's the thing. They're working in their interests. Sure, those interests may intercept with yours, but they're still working in their own damn interest and unless you know what those interests are, you don't know what kind of behaviour is going on in the background that is counter to your interests.

In terms of education, the choices are being made for other people so this is all the more important. In order to make an informed decision, it's incumbent on us to learn all we can. The point is, the decision has to be informed and at the moment, it's not.

In which case, people need to acknowledge the fact that their interests, and those that they're representing may be VERY different from those of others. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. By acknowledging these things we can start to make informed decisions around acceptable compromises.

I was wanting an image or a video for this post. The first thought was a really boring Venn diagram (if you don't know what a Venn diagram is, you can be  forgiven. It's no longer part of the curriculum in New Zealand) - that bit where your interests and their interests meet up is a small proportion and what you need to be aware of is the bit where they don't meet up. And then I was thinking of a video on youtube about gerrymandering where they talk about how getting representatives from both parties (in a binary party system) to draw up electoral districts. This normally results in agreements being made so that parties get safe districts. The problem is that the video is only kind of vaguely related to the topic at hand and kind of ends up going off into some rambling tangent about gerrymandering and the 2009 Mt Albert By-election and how National aren't even trying (it's theirs to win).

I had stopped writing this post (and started another one about ditching Christmas altogether) and then came across the perfect video clip. This is it to quite an extreme. A guy telling us that it's cruel to feed people. There is something in there - I don't agree with food stamps myself as it removes choices from people's lives and the ability to make choices thereby further disenfranchising people BUT his interests, his experiences, the way that he views and experiences the world are to his interests and his agenda.


I guess it's for this very same reason that this colouring book is described as "non-partisan" and "fact driven". Though seriously... the name for the range of books seems really does sound like a slogan for propaganda - "Tell the Truth - Tell it Often - Tell the Children" - and given the language used, you can't call it "fact driven" or "non-partisan" for that matter.

Anyway, we need to stop emphasizing with what are effectively psychopathic entities (corporations) and start making some real informed decisions.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Ideas That Happened... Not Because Of Me

Years and years and years ago I wanted to do this really interesting piece of performance art. Basically get a bunch of people in Auckland who, upon hearing a certain piece of music in town on a particular day, would suddenly stop, do the Charleston (in whatever form that may be), then when the music stopped, also stop and continue on as if nothing had happened.

The idea would be to have a few people walking around with backpacks on - those backpacks would contain audio equipment and a way to receive signals to turn that equipment on and off.

So over a few hours, there would be this really strange thing happening. People would suddenly stop and dance and then carry on with their lives leaving everyone around them wondering what the hell was going on. And hopefully, random people would just join in figuring it looked like fun.

Basically I had come up with the flash mob. Sure, the wireless communications was different than what I was thinking. And I still like my distributed scale a lot more than one very set area. Oh and the fact that the dance didn't have to be synchronized - instead it could be an individual's interpretation of a dance (Yes, I did think about it to this level). But yeah... basically a flash mob. (Anyone interested in living my dream of it? 50 odd people of so...).

It turns out I kind of had a concept of the single board computer... Wait... back up. A single board computer.... like Raspberry Pi, the MK802's, ODROID, Parallella etc. Basically nerd (or should that be "NURD"?) toys. What can you do with them? Well to me they represent a hacking culture. They're not really designed for anything in particular. Well okay... they all kind of have their aims but then, those aims only really achieve anything with people and their imaginations.

I'm thinking of turning a Raspberry Pi into a DVD player for example. Why? Because then I'd have control of it! It'd be the software I chose in the configuration I want it to be in. That's the power of these boards.

I'm making a very tenuous link between an idea I had and these things. I was looking at the ODROID today and realised that they were doing something very similar to what I was thinking. You see, with MP3 players, you'd kind of stuck with a vendor's configuration. What if you could make it completely modular?

So you could upgrade your decoder chip to support not only mp3's but also ogg. You could change the processor for a bit more grunt to do things like video - which might also require an upgrade to the screen. You could be a complete audiophile and get an expensive DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) which could then reproduce FLAC files more faithfully etc. Basically be able to start off with something really amazingly cheap, and upgrade it, pimp it, make it beastier than thou to your hearts content. You could change the software to add things like graphical equalizers and the like.

That leaves the user with the decisions around price, functionality, quality etc. Okay, the link is very tenuous.. Though it's almost exactly the same thing. You're in control. It's a computing device that you decide how much you want to spend and that mostly relates to how good it is (though the value may be more in the community than the hardware itself). You know what it is you're buying.

I've long had this idea (which as far as I can see has never been done successfully) around hospitality. A directory of hospitality places - places to go for coffee, a drink, a kebab (my food of choice when at conferences) - all on the one easily searchable website and have reviews, essentially make up homepages (and hopefully include menus and photographs of the place) etc. you could be charging the places something like... $10 a month.... The value add is being able to search the damn thing based on an area (a map...), being able to pick a food type (vegetarian, vegan, gluton free, Indian, Chinese etc.) and perhaps even being able to find a hotel... Advertising is no longer about road side advertising but rather, you can find that reasonably priced hole in the wall with the most amazing food... So if anyone wants to take that and run with it... be my quest. If you do succeed... perhaps you could take me out for a coffee or a drink or something...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Being Wanted

datingA dating website, for which I'm a member of (I'm thinking about deleting my account because of reasons...), has this "meet me" feature. You're shown a photo and then click "Yes", "No" or "Maybe" to the question "Would you like to meet this person?". If you click on yes, that person gets a notification.

I've had a look at it myself and find myself clicking on their profile to have a look before clicking.

Every so often I get an email telling me that someone clicked yes! Someone wants to meet me! And I find myself horribly disappointed that they didn't have a look at my profile before making that choice. Actually - back it up a bit. I didn't realise what was happening until one of them said to me "I think you're hot. Take the complement". So they're going purely on my profile pictures. It's flattering... but it's kind of creepy. Kind of like being honked at when walking down the street. What are you expecting to happen? That we'll suddenly become soul mates? Things you'll never hear said seriously:
"Here I've been waiting all of my life for someone, just as creepy as you, to wolf whistle at me without knowing anything about me."
datingWhich has me thinking... if only they knew ANYTHING about me. I'm not just a pretty face! I'm horrendously opinionated and a bit of a hippy. Oh and I look quite different now - I no longer have the beard (I decided it was making me look old).

But I digress. I was thinking that this just HAS to turn into a blog post. And then I got an email. I've been having issues with accounts. Everyone wants me to have an account with them! In this case, I had wanted to download a file and they insisted that I needed an account to download. The email today was to tell me that they were closing my account for inactivity.... Which is funny because I never wanted the freakin' account in the first place.

Google want me (and everyone else) on Google+. Hell, we're all probably wanted on a whole range of things that none of us really want. This has me thinking about the terms and conditions that I agree to to do the simplest of things. Leaving a comment on a blog has lead me to get a Disqus and Wordpress account. Asking questions about the Chromebook is made somewhat more difficult given that I would need to have a Google+ account to talk to those in the know. I sometimes find myself creating an account just to see if something can be shipped to New Zealand at a reasonable rate. Downloading a file landed me with a 4shared account. These are trivial activities.

Which leads me to wonder, what have I agreed to? What is so valuable about having me as a member that has Internet services everywhere making me sign up and agree to the mostly unread (I only really read terms and conditions when it comes to agreeing to them on other people's behalf. For example, I would highlight any problems with terms and conditions when teachers suddenly decided they were going to use an online services and thereby agree to those terms and conditions on the kid's behalf) EULA and things of that ilk just to do the most trivial of tasks.

I was talking to a friend about a documentary called "Terms and Conditions May Apply" (Ironically, if you want to see the film you're kind of stuck with having to agree with Vimeo's terms and conditions). I highly recommend watching it. In it they say it would take a month, working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, every year to read all of the terms and conditions that we agree to. The friend reckoned that it was untrue as that was assuming that we apply to all of the big services out there. Given the amount of, what I could consider to be micro-services relatively speaking, I would probably estimate that figure to be higher... Think about it. Every time you buy something... Every which way you communicate on the web... When you use an application (whether online or not), you've agreed to a set of terms and conditions that you've probably never read.

I know that I'm wanted. The question is "Why?".

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Victory Dance of the Programmer

I often hassle Renedox about excessive animated
gifs. But sod it. This seems appropriate.

I really kind of miss having an office. I mean a proper, away from everyone sort of an office. The kind where you don't have people slamming things around. I especially love offices in the evenings and weekends where there's no one around and if they are around they really don't want to be talking.

It's at times like this that I find myself REALLY missing my office. What makes right this very moment (actually... I'm writing this a few days before it gets published....) quite different? It's the fact that I've finally figured out a piece of code that's taken me a hellishly long time to figure out.

And in an office, in the weekend or in the evening when no one's around, I would do the dance of the victorious programmer. I would swing around in an office chair and wave my arms about, pretend to be Mick Jagger (except a Mick Jagger who can't move), look upon the code in pride (this time around it's less than a page long and has taken me almost a week to figure it out).

This isn't the pride of seeing a piece of work that you've done or been a part of being brought to fruition. Speaking of which, check out this link. Unfortunately I had a falling out with one of the people involved in the project and so am not kept up to date with it or credited with any of it's conception. It's this whole other big buzz, have a celebration drink, take 5 minutes out to be proud, then carry on life... it's short lived. Hell... there's a chance I'll come back months after writing this, see the code and think "What was I on?".

Anyway, a bit of code for that chrome management thingee. Oh - and this code will eventually end up on github... I'm just not sure what to call it. I should probably explain what it does. It takes in a Preferences file, as used by Chrome and Chromium, and another file, one that contains settings, in the same format as Preferences (json) and outputs a merged version of it.

 #!/usr/bin/env python  
   
 import json  
   
 def get_index( original, value ):  
 # This has been written for a very specific use case.  
 # I imagine it would need to be extended or values
 # given to the function to specify search keys.
 # It'll do for now...
   if 'name' in value:  
     for (counter, item ) in enumerate( original ):  
       if 'name' in item:  
         if 'path' in item and 'path' in value:  
           if item[ 'name' ] == value[ 'name' ] and \  
             item[ 'path' ] == value[ 'path' ]:  
             return counter  
         else:  
           if item[ 'name' ] == value[ 'name' ]:  
             return counter  
   return -1  
   
 def merge( original, changes ):  
   if isinstance( changes, ( dict ) ):  
     for key, value in changes.iteritems():  
       if key not in original:  
         original[ key ] = value  
       elif isinstance( value, (dict) ):  
         original=dict( original.items() + merge( original [ key ], value ).items())  
       elif isinstance( value, (list) ):  
         for item in value:  
           changed=merge( original[key], value)  
       else:  
         original[ key ]=value  
   elif isinstance( changes, ( list ) ):  
     for ( counter, value ) in enumerate( changes ):  
       if isinstance( value, (dict) ):  
         index = get_index(original,value)  
         if index == -1:  
           index = len( original )  
         for key, value2 in value.iteritems():  
           if key=="name":  
             pass  
           else:  
             original[ index ][ key ]=value2  
       elif isinstance( value, (list) ):  
         index = get_index( original, value )  
         if index == -1:  
           index = len( original )  
         original[ index ] = merge( original[ index ], value )  
       else:  
         if value not in original:  
           original.append( value )  
   return original  
   
 # code for testing....  
 #  
 # Preferences would be a Preferences file used by  
 # Chrome and Chromium to store settings.  
 f=open( 'Full-Preferences', 'r' )  
 preferences = json.loads( f.read() )  
 f.close()  
   
 # The changes.json file contains the settings you  
 # intend to change.  
 f=open( 'changes.json', 'r' )  
 merge_file = json.loads( f.read() )  
 f.close()  
   
 print json.dumps(merge( preferences, merge_file ), indent=3)  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Kicking Myself (And Faling For Spam)

Has anyone else looked at my stats and thought... "Wow! They're really getting up there!"?

So here I'm thinking to myself - I actually really enjoy this writing stuff. I've always wanted to be a writer in which case, if people are actually reading the blog, perhaps I could start making a little money off it - become a professional writer. Of course, the modern version of this is a blog with a couple of ads. Being me I'd probably end up blogging about how people should probably be using adblocker. Let's see if we can break the Internet...

It turns out my blog has been spammed. Around 50% of my hits (when looking at the figures from the last 30 days) are from places like vampirestats, adsensewatchdog etc. While the Internet seems to point to the idea that they do this just to get blog owners to click on the link to their website, I'm wondering if they have a completely different purpose.

When confronted with the idea that I was a whole lot more popular than I am, my patterns changed. I decided to start posting more regularly. And I was contemplating advertising.

Which has me thinking. If I'm generating more content and am more amendable to attaching advertising to that content, then that's a whole lot of value being added to Google with no work on their behalf... Or is there?

It could be Google generating these hits acting as a third party (the registered domain holder of those domains is an anonymousing server) in order to get people to change the way that they blog. That aside, at the very least, it'd be helpful to remove these hits from the analytics. But then, that's not in Google's best interest....

Anyway, the stats just don't make any sense at all. It seems I've got hits from 2007.... when my first post was in 2010.

There's something to be said about my ego when I've thought that people were enjoying the blog as much as I enjoy writing it... That's a bit of a bummer...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Summer Computer Blues

We've finally had a really nice day. Overly hot if you ask me. It was way too hot to get some sleep (and after my late night's productive programming that's not a good thing). Anyway there's that quiet little seldom spoken about problem in the summer...

If anything is going to fail on your computer, it's going to be during summer. There are parts which only really fail or degrade due to heat.

The power supply for example. It's worthwhile buying one that's well over spec'ed for your needs. Basically, the bigger the wattage rating, the better. A high wattage power supply can basically dissipate more heat than a lower rated one.

Alas, with time comes dust and with dust comes reduced airflow which equates to more heat and eventual failure. A blast of air to dislodge the dust is a good thing every now and again. Especially within fans...

I mention all of this because today my hard drive blew. There are a couple of things that I lost. For example, I've been playing through some games and I've now lost the save games. Ah well... It's time to get on with some work anyway.

In fact, I think this has been my least catastrophic hard drive failure of all time. I credit a lot of that to dropbox. I think the only important information I lost was a few proposals - all of which have been sent as PDF's. So at the very least I can reproduce them if necessary.

In that sort of vein, I've been kind of meaning to throw up a couple of more recent drawings from blurry/dark photos. I kind of like the idea of taking a photo at the time (with my cellphone) - no matter how dark and/or difficult for photography and using the result to throw something together. Kind of a reminder of what you were thinking at the time.

Basically I'm letting the Internet back up my data....

This drawing was based a horribly dark couple of photos. I only had candle light when taking the photo... but it was just way too tempting to take the photo... having a family underneath the word "family".

 
A drawing from a photo taken at a local pizzaria (called Gorgeous) while waiting around for a friend to turn up for dinner.

The Ethical Question Revisited

Just before I get started... this is my 500th post! My apologies if it's a little rambly. I was up coding all night and have had minimal sleep. But hey - 500 posts, and around 37,000 hits... that's something to comment on right?

I'm not sure how many of you remember my post on the ethical question. It's come up in a discussion I've been having and it scares me to say that some people (within education) are shrugging their shoulders. And that has me worried about how these decisions are made within politics. That's a leap I know, but bear with me.

If you can't remember what the ethical question is, it goes something along the lines of:
If we're making decisions on someone else's behalf, what sacrifices are we making on their behalf?
Or something... Basically we're entering into this all new changing context and the attitudes within education need to take that changing context into account. What am I talking about?

1:1 devices. If the aim is to have the kids take their devices home - which, given that the ownership structure is changing around this sort of thing i.e. the kids/their family's now own them, is what really should happen - then those questions around privacy become even more important.

I remember being told by probably my first school teacher when I was in Intermediate that she still used a piece of "work" I did as an example. What a horrifying thought! Some drawing (booklet) that I did as a 5 year old being shown to people...

In 10 years time, are those people who've had their privacy traded away for the convenience of certain products going to be happy about having that privacy traded away? The 5 year old me would have been proud. The 11 year old me wanted to burn it.

So how does all of this relate to government? The government have the ability to do the same thing to us. Our privacy can be traded away for convenience. And if the GCSB really is a pawn of the CIA, then we've got even more reason to be concerned. For example, the outcry over prism wasn't so much that people were being spied upon, but rather, that American people were being spied upon.

Let's dial this back for a second. Auckland Transport...

But first, a quick tangent:
I'm having a bit of a moan about the AT Hop cards at the moment. Auckland Transport are doing this great big promotion as they switch from the Snapper Hop card to the AT Hop card. Which means that my transport cards are basically useless. I went to Britomart to get the cards swapped over for one. It turns out they won't swap it, they'll sell one for $5 or I can go online and get them to send me one out for free and then I still need to go to Britomart to get the balance shifted over.

Given that the Snapper Hop cards cost me $10, and I've got 2 of them, it would seem to be to be cheaper for them to:
  • Do a straight swap at Britomart and avoid the postage. The problem with this is they wouldn't get the extra information they're asking for when you go online to get one.
  • Given that I'm wanting to put the credit from both Snapper Hop cards onto a AT Hop card, I'm essentially giving them $20 of value for $5...

Auckland Transport (AT) started using a contact-less payment card for public transport. The problem with this is that they're now able to track an individual's travel. There's some very detailed information that can be collected about where you go, how often etc. Sure, that information is more useful when used for statistical analysis in assessing trends and patterns and the like BUT, given AT's lack of discretion in giving that information, about individuals, to a third party, you've got to be concerned.

You could use cash BUT you have to pay 10-15% more per fare. The Hop information page describes this as a saving! In reality it's them paying you for your information.

Given that to get the new card without having to pay for the new card, you have to enter more information on line than previously needed, is the ethical question being asked?

Is it okay for my travel or anyone else's to be logged?

The GCSB's powers were extended - despite protests and owing to the slimmest of majorities in parliament - involving being able to wire tap you and the like for being a threat to "national economic health". If the GCSB has the information, who is that information being traded with?

The government have rules around where data may be hosted. So it's not a question that hasn't occurred to them. BUT what would the government be willing to trade those rules for?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Reverse Snobbery

It was my mother's 60th (Happy Birthday Mumsy!) on Monday and she decided to take the day off and go into town.

We were wondering around and she says to me that she'd love to get some diamond stud earrings as a sort of celebration. So we start wondering around jewellery stores.

At some point she was persuaded to try on a pair of earrings. They looked nice - perhaps a little big. She asked how much they cost. A tad shy of $30k... Yep... $30,000 for a pair of decorations for your ears.

The really cynical version of me wants to say something about Christmas decorations usually being ½ price on boxing day. If you need it to be really glittery, I have it on good authority that glitter at the $2 shop is only... $2. I know... weird right?

There's something I find really disturbing about people ever spending that much on earrings. There's nothing practical about them. They really are nothing more than decorations. To think that I was a little irritated by tags on jewellery saying "Only $2 per day" - that's enough to feed a starving child in Africa... Okay - so that's still less than a coffee a day (though you get something from coffee). But then explode that out to $30,000 and you've got something really amazingly dismissive of people by spending that much money... on a decoration.

For the rest of the afternoon we indulged in a little reverse snobism. Suggestions of the idea that she should have tried to negotiate with the sales person :- "How much for the earrings without the diamonds? and how about just one?". Lunch on the Viaduct included a glass of champagne. A glass of champagne and an empty glass (we did order a second glass eventually... we really were taking the mickey).

Every now and again I come across snobbery on the Internet. For example, the Yahoo Answers page for "How does the bank rob you?" starts off with:
Okay...let me tell you a secret...I don't mean to sound rude towards anyone but...the people who complain about banks, either have no money, or don't have the slightest idea about managing it, or math...
Recently New Zealand banks muscled out smaller money exchangers using money laundering as an excuse. Yet another tax on the poor...

We all get that capitalism sucks. Let's be proud of the fact that we perhaps don't have as much money as the kind of idiots who walk around with $30k on their ears. That's not a bad thing.

Oh, and to the sales person who made my mother feel like crap for not being able to afford $30k earrings... or even the $14k earrings... you're in retail! Let's see where you are financially when you're 60...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Oi! New Zealanders! Christmas Trees Don't Really Make Sense in New Zealand

It's that special time of the year again. Tensions at work are aired at the work Christmas function. The crime and suicide rates go up. And we in New Zealand are enjoying a grand old summer.

And soon we'll meet on beaches for a barbeque and laugh about the idea that people everywhere are talking about the "true meaning of Christmas" and relating it back to some guy born in a barn as if Christians now have exclusive rights to the solstice.

Solstice... there's the key word. We have these Christmas cards that show snowflakes and snowmen and some fat guy adorned all in red (and sometimes green depending on how old the illustration is - pre-1950's - or if someone decides they're going to depict a less commercialised Santa) ready to brave the howling winds and snow.

Except, in New Zealand, it's just a couple of days out from our longest day of the year. If you're not wearing shorts for Christmas, you're probably doing it all wrong.

I'm suddenly on a Christmas tree rant this year for a couple of reasons. Every year these pop up Christmas tree places go up. Selling sad looking trees starting from $20... Shortland St, a locally produced drama, had a couple of the characters paying $50 and then going and stealing the saddest looking dead in the ground tree they could find - to which the owner finds the cash, pockets it, and waves them on their way. Yep... that's what passes for drama in New Zealand.

So even here in New Zealand we drag an evergreen into the house to remind ourselves that the worst of winter is behind us and the days will now be getting longer... only the days are now getting shorter and really, if we wanted some green, we'd pop outside in our jandals and probably even climb a tree. $20 minimum for a piece of wood? I'm sure EVERYONE could find a better use for that money. There's no need to go cutting down a pine for the sake of cutting down a pine (unless of course you're doing it to dry some wood out for the winter).

Monday, December 9, 2013

Somewhat Less than a Civilian

I've been trying to do this post for a couple of days. I saw the video and had a whole lot of hooks.... Things to talk about.

Although not at all mentioned, I have this whole thing about slavery never really having disappeared from America. It's just that they tend to be state owned rather than privately owned and generally for limited times. Such is the prison system.

I like the fact that he actually defines terrorism. It's not a bunch of guys who practise a particular religion. Every time there's some sort of event in America, we in New Zealand hear, via our news, about the increased security for fears of further terrorist attacks. The attacks aren't actually necessary because the fact that there's increased security means that people are already living in terror. The question is, is this a result of the terrorist attacks or the media who seem to lap at these easy stories? Take a marathon, add security angle, mention terrorist. Job done, rest of the day free.

And then there was the idea of a life time denial of voting rights for people who have been within the prison system - admittedly only 2 states (Kentucky and Virginia) but I still find this disturbing. Compare and contrast that to the African-American population and how that number seems to explode within the prison system.

Actually, there's also something in there about the idea that The United States of America shouldn't be viewed as a country but rather a whole series of individual countries given that each state has the right to deny people their voting rights.

I've talked about statistics on this blog before - mainly around the idea that statistic collection is flawed mainly in terms of surveying. The money that goes into it is ridiculous. My pet hate is the World Internet Project. It's another one of those projects that Internet NZ support and tell us about at NetHui but just feels so completely flawed that I find it really difficult to support it. Despite all of that I'm going to use statistics now...

So the statistics.

According to wikipedia, for every 100,000 people in Kentucky (being one of the two states that deny voting rights once someone's gone to prison), 492 are prisioners.

According to this page, the African American population of Kentucky is only around 7% and they represent around 36% of the prison population. I do have my doubts about the figures on this page and I have no idea how old those figures are. It's a page that has the figures I was looking for though so we'll just go with them.

Let's expand that out.

According to this site (public data), Kentucky has a population of 4,280,400 people.

Of that 4,280,400 (based on the figures above):
  299,628 are African American.
    21,059.568 are incarcerated.
   7,581.44448 of those incarcerated are (soley - those figures don't include mixed race) African American.

We can ignore the decimal points... What does all of this mean? That currently, within the prison system in Kentucky, around 2.5% of the total African American population of Kentucky are currently incarcerated.

Okay, this probably doesn't sound like that big a deal. But it's numbers based on one point of time. According to this article, 1 in 5 (why a ratio when 20% would do just as well?) African American's in Kentucky can't vote because they've been, at least one time in their lives, caught up in the criminal "justice" system. I know - the numbers are completely flawed...

Where am I going with all of this? There's something really disturbing about racial profiling, being turned into a slave within the prison system, and having that further reinforced when you've done your time and no longer have the right to vote. i.e. you're somewhat less than a civilian.

And why did this happen in the first place? A friend of mine works within law enforcement and was saying that things get busier during Christmas. People get more desperate and more crimes happen... The all mighty disenfranchised can't keep up with the ridiculousness of what Christmas is supposed to be.

So Kentucky's and Virginia's solution? Make sure they remain disenfranchised after leaving the prison system. Make absolutely no acknowledgement that people can change. And while we're at it, make sure the African American vote gets completely watered down.

Anyway... that's enough fire and brimstone from me... Go and watch the video. It really is very good.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mysterious Appearing and Disappearing Posts

Hi Everyone. My apologies for the weird appearing and disappearing posts. I've been trying to write when I've got the inclination. You might have noticed that last week I managed to do a post a day (for the weekdays). I'm going to try and keep up that pace but it means that I'll be scheduling posts. So sometimes I can sit down and do 2 or 3 posts. Other times I find myself sitting there staring blankly at the screen trying to come up with something.... anything.

And all I ask of you is to be patient with me as sometimes I get confused by dates (true story) - oh and perhaps...

 
For those not in the know, this was one of the most successful beer advertising campaigns in New Zealand. Basically they had a website where you could make your own. They'd take suggestions and put them on giant billboards. Sometimes they'd get complaints and they'd take them down but not before several thousand people had seen them and probably taken photos of it etc.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Wall of Shame - Fishpond.co.nz

I don't think I've ever had a good experience with Fishpond.co.nz. They almost always use services from the Freightways group (New Zealand Couriers, Castle Parcels, Post Haste) which I've also had trouble with (They lost a passport, have caused no end of hassles in getting items - the most extreme being a $700 printer which I ended up going around to 2 different depots on 3 different occasions to collect and had arranged redelivery several times with no luck. This is after phoning, getting confirmations, dealing with incompetent staff over and over again etc.). Freightways entered onto my wall of shame a VERY long time ago.

This time around though... I figured after a few years of not ordering something I'd give fishpond.co.nz another try and besides which, they're the only ones advertising what I'm (still) after in New Zealand. Bad bad bad idea. After a month of waiting they finally email me to inform me that the item is out of stock. Oi - Dickheads! It doesn't EVER take a month to find out whether something is in stock or not! Either it's in stock... or it's not. Don't hold on to a person's money, and have them eagerly anticipating getting an item FOR A MONTH. That's ridiculous.

Actually, this is something I generally don't like about Internet sales.

At one stage I was trying to buy a printer. I knew which model I wanted so it was just a matter of hopping on the Internet and figuring out who had it at the cheapest price. Brilliant. I found one, plugged in credit card details and the money came out.

A couple of days later I got a phone call from the company. I told them to go away and email me. I wanted a paper trail. They refused. Instead, they told me that they couldn't sell me the printer for the price I had paid and instead, if I wanted to buy the printer from them, I'd have to pay an extra $50.

Anyway, I digress. Buyer beware of Fishpond...

Update 9 December, 2013

I got an email from them this morning. I had left a question asking why it taken a month, the full delivery time, in order to figure out that it was not in stock. The reply back was a generic "We work with a network of national and international suppliers and if one doesn't have it in stock, we go to the next one".

Thanks for the press release. Now... why did that take a month? At the bottom of the email is a link asking "Was xxx's response helpful? Rate it at: URL". So I clicked, clicked on "No" to which it had this message:
Thank you for your feedback. We will use this to improve our service to you, our valued customer.
Not any more I'm not. I don't feel in the least bit valued and I will endevour not to be a customer of theirs... Besides which, how long have they been running? If they don't have a stock control system that can't figure out if they or their suppliers have it in stock before the estimated delivery date, then how the hell have they managed to stay in business?

Enough of Middle Earth Already

To all of you from the mystical land of "overseas":-

Enough already! I for one am really sick of it. For me, the last straw was last year when I was heading down to Wellington and the entire flight they played the theme tune from The Lord of the Rings. I got to Wellington thinking to myself that if I ever heard that tune again I would kill someone... and then someone went past whistling... that very same tune (to those who know the tune: I know - I never would have thought someone would be able to whistle it either). You'd be surprised how many places there are to hide a body in an airport.

We're not hobbits. Honestly... we're not all inbreed... Despite what the brochures may say, you might meet a hairy footed short person here but it's certainly not the norm. We have so much more to offer.

For example, a scale model of Mt Fuji (as seen in "The Last Samurai").

Scale model of Mt Fuji A.K.A. Mount Taranaki A.K.A. Mount Egmont. Mount Fuji. The cherry blossoms are available at Mt. Taranaki but are an extra.

Oh - and a more than willing government. In order to get The Hobbit filmed in New Zealand, the New Zealand government set laws around whether actors were contractors or employees, gave a US$15m tax break to poor put upon Warner Bros. and even topped it off with US$10m for promotion! That's US$25m in taxpayers money to make sure we're now lumbered with hearing that damn tune...

But you know... whatever... Despite being more "under" than "down under" (under is a scalar word right?), call us middle earth. See if we care.

Posting Anonymously

Anonymosity and I have a troubled relationship.

I encourage it for the most part. You'll notice I don't require any sort of log in for people to comment on this blog. It irritates me to some extent though. There are bold comments made by "anonymous" - often condescending and irritating comments which I can't help but feel that they're hiding behind anonymosity. There's certainly an argument to be made against anonymosity though I think it creates a barrier to communication requiring an account to participate with conversations (even though this blog seems all but completely bereft of comments). I'd be a fan if comments required nothing more than an email address and the acknowledging for a confirmation email for a comment to be published. It seems a poor excuse to make you create an account by requiring a login to comment.

Every now and again I just want to write something... something a little personal. The development of an idea to do with the relationships around me. It's not that they're necessarily reflective of the relationships around me but rather, the relationships around me have been used as a sort of inspiration. More often than not, they're influenced by what ever media I've been consuming at the time - movies or books etc.

This has all lead to finding another interesting little pleasure. There's all sorts of really interesting content that's been generated under the guise of anonymosity. Letters to breathe offers a bunch of letters. Joe Apology is a fantastic concept though it doesn't appear to have been updated for the last 3 years. There's some really bad content too. Like the whiny poems of 16 year olds going through puberty. But then, there's no art without suffering... and reading that content is the very definition of suffering.

Within the discovery of this interesting pleasure, I also realised that the wanting to write anonymously also removes something from the value of the writing. Can a writer be any good without feeling somewhat vulnerable?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Of the Government, Chorus and What is That Capitalism Thing Again?

Knowing that my audience is predominantly American (I have around 10 times as many hits from America for every whoever is next - China or New Zealand) I'm finding it a little difficult to justify talking about New Zealand politics. But sod it... this kind of bears some talking about. It's going to be a little longer than I'd usually make a post like this because i'm going to add a whole lot of background information.

The National Party (our center right party. It's worth noting that our center is far more to the left than the American center. That isn't to say that they aren't a pack of self serving prats hiding behind capitalism) got into power on a great big promise of a telecommunications overhaul. There were a few other issues there but this was their big campaign promise. To spend $1.5 billion on UFB (Ultra Fast Broadband. Essentially fibre to the door). Absolutely essential

The government, now lead by the National Party (we're looking at around.... 2009?), ordered the split of Telecom. Telecom was New Zealand's ONLY telecommunications provider (they've now got competition but they're all stuck with Telecom's infrastructure). It became privatised in 1990. Since then they have been a right pack of bastards. It's that same old capitalism mantra:- extract money, provide little. Basically, what has always been essential infrastructure has been little more than a cash cow. So while the shareholders have been enjoying quarterly (now semi-annually) dividends, the infrastructure hasn't been being updated. Basically leading to this situation. But I digress. The split was with the infrastructure. It was to be a separate company called Chorus.

It turns out that this split was VERY timely (No. It's most likely not a coincidence). As Telecom, they most likely wouldn't have gotten the lions share of the contracts to roll out fibre across the country. As Chorus, this is exactly what happened. Chorus bid for and won a whole bunch of contracts.

The Commerce Commission, New Zealand's competition enforcement and regulatory agency, was required to review UCLL (Unbundled Copper Local Loop) pricing to reflect pricing Internationally. Their findings had that pricing needed to drop by around $10 per line (23% or so) per month. This is pricing that Chorus is obliged to provide.

The National Government are stepping in on the basis that if Chorus are made to lower their prices their business could go under leaving a whole lot of work on the UFB project undone. Basically legislative change in order to keep pricing for the consumer up and save the company.

Now you're probably wondering about the regulatory pricing thing.  It is infrastructure that was paid for by New Zealand people, and then privatised (To much criticism. Given it's monopoly status at the time the company was sold for a song) and still enjoys a monopoly in terms of telecommunications infrastructure. it's of national concern and dictates pricing for EVERYONE else - so even if you go with a different provider, they're still subject to this pricing meaning that it sets an absolute minimum.

The bit that really bothers me though is that this highlights one of the many problems with capitalism. If it's a good business, the market decides, the business survives. If the business is a bad one though, the business fails. Think about the recession. Terms like "Too Big To Fail" came out. People, through their taxes, are paying to keep these big businesses alive. It's no longer survival of the fittest but rather, survival of those the government sees value in. We're left with the bill.

You can't have it two ways. Either capitalism works and we trust in the market, or it doesn't work. Taking government intervention into account, it doesn't seem to be working... We're not trusting to the market. In fact, we have this great big dirty perversion of what capitalism is which is probably best summed up with a quote by Robert A. Heinlein:
“There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to the public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute not common law. Neither individuals not corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.”
There's a discussion to be had here about employment. If a big company fails then a lot of people become unemployed. Sure... valid point. But isn't that what capitalism is about anyway? You don't have people doing useless things. It may sound callus but this is the only way the shorter working week works. Because it would be insane to arbitrarily hire people to do what has nowadays been termed "bullshit" jobs. People would be hired for far fewer hours to do useful work. They'd feel like they'd actually accomplished something rather than being there "just for the money" and would have a hell of a lot more time to do the things that are important to them.

But that aside.... Make up your damn minds. Either we're capitalists and trust in the market to decide which businesses survive and which don't OR we don't trust in the market in which case we'd have to decide to try something else.

Why should I care about Chrous' profits? Have they ever spared my income a thought?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Avoiding Vendor Lock In

I have another company to add to my wall of shame: HRV. Those guys who sponsor 20/20 cricket in New Zealand.

HRV offer a Heat Recovery Ventilation system. At the time that we got ours, there were two main brands - HRV and DVS. While being exactly the same thing - a fan that sits in the ceiling with outlets to the ceiling of most or all rooms of the house.

When buying it I had asked "What's your differentiation point?". Basically I don't care about the commonalities. Both companies are spouting the same benefits. So the important question, at the time, was how do they differentiate themselves?

And the answer? The filter. They use a finer filter.

Good enough for me. We brought one and had it installed. Jump forward a few years. The filter needs to be changed on a semi regular basis. I didn't realise this had been done but one winter, I seemed to be getting dripping from the outlet in my bedroom. I rang the company and told them what was happening. I got assured that their system could not do this .... yet it was happening. I ended up with a bucket just by my bedroom door with a towel at the bottom (the towel stopped the annoying sound).

It wasn't until we were doing some renovations to the place that the electrician pointed out that the HRV system, which comes in 2 parts, hadn't been put together properly (they had fallen away from each other) when they changed the filter.

Since that happened we've complained but we're stuck with the system. While we need a new filter, we're stuck with having to get HRV to install it. They won't sell us the filter to install it ourselves. No.... we have to pay full price to get HRV in to hopefully not screw it up. It all amounts to being a pretty shit way to treat people.

If I had to do it all over again, I would ask them "If you guys screw up, and we're stuck getting supplies off you, are you willing to buy the system back off us?". Sure, it would leave us with holes in the ceiling. But it also make them think seriously about the fact their screw ups should not result in them being rewarded in service fees. If the service has proven to be less than useful, then why should we or anyone else ever be stuck paying for it? And if HRV aren't able to offer anything in the way of compensation for their screw ups, then they're definitely a company to be avoided.

The IT Person's Dream

I've always kind of sucked at life. There's no franker way of saying it. In terms of a personal life, I've just been really bad at it.

In which case, it became about work. The validation from work is brilliant! That's what tends to get me up in the mornings... except that it also leaves me wide open to some god awful depression if I find myself unemployed and generally un-useful to anyone. If only I could get up and make a living from writing (this really is just a bit of stress relief for me).

Basically, when it came to work / life balance, there was no such thing. I didn't really bother with life. I'd get into situations where I was working crazy hours (I remember going home to get a little sleep on one occasion just as everyone else was getting into the office).

I.T. can be a very impersonal and boring job. I mean, really... Quite often you're surrounded by a bunch of people who refer to you as "geek" (or have that condescending look) - and not in a friendly way. Because you spend a great deal of your life sitting, and doing your best to keep calm and collected, you're often perceived as "not working" (when working in a factory environment this was the prevailing opinion of what I was doing). You quite often work with quite a vast array of people who fit quite snuggly within the autistic spectrum.

In terms of job satisfaction, it can be a great big let down. For me, one of the biggest bits there is feeling limited by money. The problem is this:

Imagine you see something. This something is very cool and if you can bring it to fruition will have all sorts of really great benefits. The users are more empowered, the nerds (yourself included) probably won't be needed quite so much and overall it'll be a saving to the customer.

The customer doesn't want to invest and doesn't see your vision, the company doesn't know how to pitch it, you're not given the time to do it and you start to resent having to do something that feels repetitive when you could have just fixed it...

So with Manaiakalani it was always my approach to design it first and implement it, and ask if it had any value later on. This tended to backfire.

The stuff that they did see value in, they didn't value because it was just there. The bits that they didn't see value in were suddenly huge bits of value when offered by... Google for example. I found myself being really irritable when told that the image I had built wasn't scalable because they didn't realise the scope with which the image and the tools around it had been build.

There has to be a better way.

What if you were to become the master of your own destiny? A friend recently let me know of a few jobs going at his workplace. I really appreciated it except... I'm hoping to get some momentum as a contractor. This is what most I.T. guys would rather be doing. Being able to accept and refuse jobs on their terms. Spend a minimum of time at any one location and instead have a variety of work. Being able to work at extremes but after a week or two, have a break and spend some real quality time with the people they care about.

In this way the relationship between you and the customer is more interpersonal. They're more willing to listen to your ideas around what you think might be in their best interest and they can tell you directly why it would or wouldn't work.

That friend? He replied back that he'd always thought about doing the whole contractor thing as well.

Of course, there's the downside to all of this. The paperwork. The taxes and figuring out GST. Finding the jobs. On the plus side, you're empowered to help and empower others... Now that's a trade off I can make.

Monday, December 2, 2013

ICT and Computer Science Education

Wow! I've been watching a discussion on MS Office 365 for a while now. The discussion is around MS's "sudden" decision to offer MS Office 365 to students... Free of charge!

There's a couple of amazingly bad things going on here. Microsoft haven't just decided to give it away. It's their ONLY choice. They're losing market share to Google quite rapidly. It's also no where near free. Imagine that our schools didn't have a deal with MS. Given that it's free, would that mean the student devices could have it free of charge but the schools couldn't? Here's their problem:

As the world moves further to a 1:1 world (one device to every child), and the costs of that are distributed out - i.e. it's not the schools who own the devices anymore - MS Office 365 just didn't make any sense as those devices still couldn't access it. The solution? Make a great big song and dance about being all altruistic! It's a PR opportunity but one that if you look at it closely enough, kind of misses the point.

In a BYOD (Bring your own device) world, the student should be in charge of the type of device they bring (I would put financial qualifiers in here. It makes more sense in low income areas for bulk purchasing deals to be sought in order to make it affordable) which allows them to pick the device that works for them best (or more likely, allows them to treat devices as status symbols). Which means that, while Office 365 has some properties of a cloud application, on the client side, it doesn't run solely in the browser. Which means that the devices that you can use Office 365 on are in the control of MS. MS gets to dictate which devices you can and can't use if you chose to go with a MS Office environment.

And then there's the douchiness that is the ribbon interface. Does it feel intuitive to anyone or have you all just gotten used to it? My theory is that it's there to create a switching cost. Think about it. The learning curve between MS Office pre-ribbon and any other office application was relatively low. Sure, you might get a little mixed up when looking for "Page Setup" but those were small things. Nowadays you have to learn the MS interface independently of other office suites.

But all of that aside. What really has me riled up is the fact that educators are talking about it's relevance in relation to computer science and ICT. Why are we training people to be a bunch of secretaries? Especially when we deal with computer science.. there's so much more to be had there.

The really cool stuff on computers is usually around making things accessible. That's what gets people excited. It's being able to contact friends, being able to access a medium for a voice, being able to access and see data in a whole bunch of interesting ways etc. Not only is this stuff exciting, but it's also helpful. It's productive to society at large. It's a bunch of really interesting thinking skills.

From a science fanboy perspective this goes into that whole discussion area. What do the results mean? Say you've proved "something". What is that something? During the whole peer review piece of the puzzle there's the poking holes at the experiment and method and then a discussion on what those results actually mean. This is probably the hardest bit as if you've set up an experiment to test your hypothesis, then chances are you're quite invested in the experiment being relevant to your hypothesis. Blinkers alert... It's all about thinking...

It seems we're worried about whether people have MS Office skills. Do you know where the supporting evidence for the need for MS Office skills have come from? The employment market! Those people who judge skills and attributes so incredibly accurately as to never get it completely and utterly wrong... all of the time.

It kind of feels like we're pandering to a bunch of dinosaurs. We, an all new singing, dancing, contextual understanding, younger generation (I include myself in here despite being in my mid-30's. There's nothing quite like stupid job requirements like "must have MS Office skills" to make you feel young) can do things without having to explicitly learn THAT version of whatever.

See that flowchart? Just do that... Except with an office suite. I now certify you as being able to use a word processor!

Will AdBlock Break The Internet?

I was going down the rabbit hole that is youtube and came across this video that claims that using AdBlock would break the Internet if too many people are using it.

The more important question though is "why do people chose to use AdBlock software?"

I feel like I'm in a damn mall (I chose not to go to malls because they're just a sensory overload of advertising) whenever I browse without blocking advertising.

I have no problem with some advertising. I have a real problem when it gets in the way of the functionality of a site. It only takes 2 or 3 sites that I visit regularly to have douchy advertising behaviour.

It's unnecessary. This is kind of the whole pirating argument. You know the argument I'm referring to right? The one that goes:
The Movie/Music industry loses $(X x 10⁹⁹) every year due to copyright infringement.
Except that the number feels completely made up and it ignores the fact that the problem is created by putting up barriers of entry. For their douchy behaviour such as using technology to limit access to content (DRM, arbitrary expirations for content, region locking etc.) people have been frustrated and taken the less legal routes. A friend (I've probably mentioned this before) paid for the same content several times while trying to get some music onto his MP3 player. Unfortunately it would only play on his computer.. So he ended up resorting to pirating (admittedly pirating content that he'd already paid for).

So people use AdBlock type software, not because they're being douchebags but rather, because there is no need to have a page with advertising covering up otherwise functional parts of the screen. It's just plain douchy behaviour. If that's how people are making money on the Internet - by being dicks (I would like to submit a new rule as a golden rule contender - "don't be a dick") - then perhaps the Internet needs to be broken.

Meanwhile, if you're not getting the revenue you think you deserve via advertising... how about trying something a little different?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

It's Just a Theory Right?

I was having a conversation with a friend recently. He looked about ready to hit me. Evolution.... it's just a theory right? Remember that post about how science is unfortunately scalar? There's a burden of proof.
Guy with the computer needs some lessons in ergonomics.
From my own point of view, I see creationism as something that's just completely crazy. I mean, every religion under the sun has some form of creationism or another BUT most other people accept that things change. We find out more. We don't need the fairy tales anymore (I was watching the Colbert Report when some guy was saying "...it's not like it's voodoo or anything. It's real. It's Christianity...". I'm not sure what makes Christianity anymore real or valid than voodoo but that's a whole other discussion).

Basically, look at the barriers to conclusiveness on either of those two things. Evolution requires proof. Creationism requires the backing of a religion when science wasn't around. If someone had said that we'd been born from the belly button of a god, we'd have that story rather than a man and his rib (or "side" depending on the translation). Actually, if you consider that the Abrahamic religions are relatively young religions, they really did have their pick of creation stories.

Definitions for words in science need to be looked at a little bit differently. It's a theory. What does this mean? In science it means that it hasn't failed yet. It's pretty conclusive... thus far. It could be proved wrong. The beauty of science? It allows for itself to be proven wrong. As soon as more information comes about, that information can debunk previous theories. Sure, we might find proof that says differently at some other time but thus far, against all tests it's been put against, it's fairly well conclusive.

Of course, we have to remember that evolution only deals with how we've got to where we are. It doesn't say anything about the origin of life... Did god create a soup that had unintended consequences?

Oh - that friend looking like he was about to hit me? I had spouted the "well it is just a theory right?" line at him. Creationism COULD be proved right though if it is I'll go on record in saying that I'll eat my own underwear if that ever happens in my lifetime.