Friday, 29 July 2011

Spring coming

There will be one more cold snap, then a big wet to fill my tanks, and then it will be warm... yay! As evidence, the sun has touched my deck:


Just in time, I am in urgent need of spring cleaning inside and out - and so is the house. This is also the time of year I get all sad and moody; due to clear up after September. Meantime I have a humorous speech contest to prepare for. I'm the only competitor so I guess I'll win, if I can keep from going over time and so getting myself disqualified. Hopefully this will keep me occupied.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

O Muse

The other day I was writing and I noticed a stray punctuation mark in the text. No matter what I tried it would not delete. Not to be daunted, I set about working the mark into the text. But I went further, I poured my creative soul into the project so that, not only did the offending punctuation sit invisibly in the prose, it was central to the whole meaning of the passage. The result was a masterpiece of mans fight against the tyranny of Fate. I saved and exited, satisfied and sleepy, only to discover that it was just a bit of dirt on the screen.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Software Freedom Day 2011

Software Freedom Day is Saturday 17 Sept. Registrations have just opened:
This is with a great pleasure (and small delay) that we are announcing registration opening for SFD 2011! In fact some of you have already started to create you wiki pages and participated in the soft opening and registration testing that we started 2 days ago. Most bugs should have been cleared out of the way and I remain available for any problem you may encounter through email or on IRC (#SFD on freenode).
Indeed I have: I've constructed a Waiheke Island Software Liberation Front page on the wiki, registered it, and sent off for goodies. Calling all Waihekeans: support software freedom! In particular am looking for people to help with:

  • Information kiosk at Ostend Market
  • Sausage Sizzle at Woolies
  • Ask-a-geek day at the Library
  • Installfest - neet venu and bandwidth

 More information as it comes in. I'm using the wiki as a point of contact. I am also on Google+ and facebook if folk want to do the social media route.

.                                                          Cheers and Happy Hacking.

Monday Movies

Haven't done a movie review in a while - just watched:

The losers:
This is the A-Team update that didn't quite make it. Nice for explosions in the afternoon with a few brews but have something good to follow it with. The only actually good scene, the one where a hero "shoots" two rent-a-cops with his fingers, was used in the ads/trailers. All the other half-way good scenes are like that too and the context does not make them any better.

Lost Boys 2:
Not a sequel to the classic, but a re-imagining. The corniness was part of the charm of the original and some corniness remains here, punctuating matter-of-fact ultraviolence. eg. Telling his sister she's becoming a vampire: "OK, This is one of those 'good news' - 'bad news' situations." and on learning the bad news "Oh my God, you can't imagine how gross it is to constantly want to eat people: I'm a vegetarian!" But, there had to be a "but", I missed Cameron's studied approach to the thrill-seeking. These vamps are extreme-sports nuts, and the stunts should be breathtaking, but the suspenseful approach of the original to this (bridge hanging scene) emphasized the psychology. Here it is just lost. They also needed a twist. On the plus-side, Edgar Frog is done much better and making them all surfers ties the drama up nicely. Worth the watch. Set up the sequel in the extras - where we learn the other Frog brother is a vampire. I guess I'll be seeing it.

Wall Street: Money never sleeps:
Competent and slick with a tacked-on ending. Standard Hollywood with some nice lessons about bubbles and banking. Overall too light and charming for the talent brought to bear. Feels a little rushed. Shame. The result is that LB2 actually came out better.

Knight and Day:
Well, it's Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz ... what do you want? It's a light fluffy odd-couple spy movie with charm and silliness. Basically Tom plays the good agent who everyone thinks is rogue being hunted by his ex-partner, the actual rogue everyone thinks is good. Cam is the ditzy blonde with hidden talents and a big smile who he uses to get a package through customs. The package is a magic battery which will solve all the worlds energy needs ... which the bad guy wants to steal and sell. Interestingly, it seems our heroes are helping suppress the invention. Apart from that it's routine: another "have another beer" movie - maybe a white wine.

Except - for the beginning: in place of the usual "copyright theft is a crime" message is a speal about how "this DVD contains a digital file which lets you watch the movie on your computer, phone or mobile device". When I heard that I thought, "yeah right!" But it goes on, "After watching this movie be sure to put the disk in your computer and copy the file - just follow the instructions on the screen." And then the menu starts while I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Turns out that there is an encrypted file on the DVD you can only play with iTunes. There's the other shoe. Still, nice try eh?

Saturday, 23 July 2011

"Pseudonyms Forbidden" Google+

Privacy is about control - control over information. For the most part, Google+ hands control to the user - the person the information is about. The privacy settings are conservative by default, and the principle information flow tool, the circles, helps you keep your different online and private selves separate.

However, Google wants to control the means by which you control your information.

In social media, you would normally use a range of online identities across several accounts to control your information. At least, the net-savvy do this. How many of us have an email account to use when registering for services .. to catch the spam? We control information flow, in part, by our pseudonyms. Of course, criminals hide behind pseudonyms and people with an axe to grind can create a fake facebook (say) account in your name as a way to smear your name. Also, using a pseudonym yourself can make it difficult for people who know you in one social group to find you in another... that's your trade-off.

In this environment, Google+, by policy, does not allow pseudonyms (handles, avatar names, nicks, whatever) as the main identity of the account. As you can imagine, this is the cause of some concern. There is even a petition.

There are lots of legitimate reasons someone may want to use a fake name for their account. The various articles and blog posts on this topic list them. The whole concept of pseudonymity is complex, here's an academic overview of the issues and concerns (as opposed to a bunch of bloggers with their backs up).

Using an obviously fake name is all that is being banned, in practice. If you really really need a fake name, make one up that sounds plausible. An obvious fake name advertises it's fakeness and so is more honest, so this policy discourages honesty. Note, user +John Smith will probably want to be more easily separated from all the other John Smith's out there: so a  fake name can help people find you.

Without repeating the details from other blogs (above), it looks to me that the concerns of the users and those of Google can be addressed quite simply:

  • Allow pseudonyms in the profile name.
  • Encourage users to add their real name (however defined) under also known as.

This way, users can control which of their circles can see that part of their identity: adding to their control rather than removing from it.

Why not do this? Well I can only think of one reason: Google wants to know who you are. This is not about crime, spam, or finding people; this is about control.

Me Headroom

I've been experimenting with a live video mixer called WebCam Studio - made for linux, free software tool similar to Camtwist for the Mac, only better. Still very much beta, but very useable.

I don't have a green screen so I just set all the black to transparent, wore black, and switched the lights out. Still needs tweaking.

Thanks to:
WebCam Studio ... for the tools, and
Daverham - for the home made max headroom background

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Dedication and Prayer

I have spoken before about prayer in council meetings. The issue with the Wanganui District Councl is before the Human Rights Tribunal, mediation failed, so it is going for a ruling. A ruling is what they need anyway.

It will be interesting to see what happens. For instance, it would be hypocritical for parliament (via BORA) to rule prayers in council inappropriate since parliament starts with a prayer and the parliamentary oath includes the words "so help me God". Considering current interest in examining the parliamentary oath, thanks so very much Hone, a ruling against the council could have far-reaching constitutional impact.

It has stuck me, however, that the prayer at the start of the meeting serves a purpose. As irrational as it sounds, a short prayer or meditation has the effect of focusing the group, drawing their attention to business at hand and so on. So, while we would want to do without the religious part, we probably do not want to get rid of it completely.

Toastmasters clubs also have structured meetings. A common element in these meeting is the Dedication. Clearly this originated as a prayer to start things off but over the years it has become a short reading from literature or philosophy with no clear religious bias. members take turns coming up with the dedication.

Perhaps various District and City Councils around the country can take a leaf from the Toastmasters in this? It appears to satisfy all concerns apart from the rabidly fundamentalist.

Thursday, 14 July 2011


I have joined the Google+ thing. Still getting used to it, but early indications are that it is pretty awesome. I'm thinking, could use global circles to allow strangers to meet up and I'm a wee bit concerned about the videochat plugin including a patents pending notice. Main bonus is the feeling of being in control - privacy and all that. Still - early days.

If you are also on there - stick me in the appropriate group and I'll return the favour.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Burqa Burks

Listening to all the talk about Muslim dress, I wonder if Muslim women need to march down main street New Zealand in the full burqa? Like the slutwalk only... not.

When someone is totally covered up, we westerners have a tendency to feel a bit nervous around them, after all ... they could be hiding anything! We don't actually think that but it is behind the feeling that manifests as turning our heads away and pretending it's not happening.

The burqa is the whole thing, the big dress, the head-scarf, and the face veil, all together. The full dress is not actually Koranic and here are indications that the practice predates Islam - much as many Christian traditions have pagan origins. We tend to feel that this is oppressive to women and get puzzled when the women in question don't welcome being "liberated". As with any human activity, it's complicated.

It is difficult, however, to imagine a woman being an effective or persuasive orator all covered up like that - the audience needs to see the face to gauge the emotional content properly or to get any subtexts. Facial cues are so important that we draw little face pictures when we use text. This could keep women from having an important role in public life. It's an encounter suit - designed to separate the woman from her surroundings ... are the wearers are a kind of Vorlon?

I had this debate with a Muslim cleric (in training) some years ago. He maintained the I dressed "my" women like prostitutes... I countered that he dressed "his" women like lepers. It's easy to lose the point which is this: clothing is a form of communication: a social signal like a birds plumage. When I wear a business suit, I am sending a message which is quite different to when I wear t-shirt and jeans. When I want to be taken seriously I'll trim my beard and wear shoes. That's what the slutwalks were really about - not some ill-defined "right to wear what you want". When a woman dresses in a revealing way she also sends a message, maybe saying she is sexually available but this does not mean she is available to just anybody - interested: you have to pass muster too. It certainly does not mean "rape me please"! She's probably just indicating she's in a fun, playful, mood - enjoy.

Revealing dress can be a status symbol - as in the health-fad subculture of Venice Beach, Florida - all those posing-pouched body-builders and bikini skaters ... they are saying "look at me, I am wealthy enough to be able to maintain this body". Men don't mind having a scantily clad woman on their arm - it shows that they are the kind of guy who can score that kind of woman. In more macho terms he is displaying his power - other men may look on in envy but they do not try anything because... whatever.

There is a lot of scope for crossed signals here.

Think about it the other way around: when would a woman cover up - I mean really cover everything? Well, pretty much whenever she has some deformity or disease that cannot be hidden in makeup. Or maybe she's carrying something under that cloth... smuggling vibe. We cannot even begin to guess her mood - no face contact. When we hide our faces it usually means we are embarrassed or deliberately snubbing people: how rude!

So is it any wonder, then, that people acclimated to western dress signals are intimidated when confronted by a burqa?

Saturday, 2 July 2011

All better

It took this long to recover properly ...

Meantime lots seem to be happening.

Getting a bit exasperated at the news coming out of CHCH - it would be nice if all those folk, especially the professional media, reporting on the government offer to buy out homes would actually do some, you know, journalism, instead of just parroting the handout. Whats needed now is an appeals process, so people who can show their land+house is sound can get the demolition order repealed. Meantime, those who want a get-out-quick option can take it. There's no hurry to roll the dozers in right?

The main thing for those who want to stay to think about: can you get insurance now?

This leaves all those with reparable houses in the red zone. There is this strange feeling that insurance companies are supposed to just pay out whatever claim is made. These are businesses and you have a contract. If you insure something, you pay premiums based on the risk of that something happening. If you don't have insurance against the government deciding to bulldoze your house you don't get a payout for it. It sucks, but had you taken that insurance you'd have had to pay the premiums. Are those who want a full payout prepared to back-pay the premiums?

Bottom line: this is a disaster. There are no good solutions. That is what "disaster" means.