Friday, 29 January 2010

Data Roaming Rates: What does it all mean?

The fancy new Phones, and now tablet PCs, offer 3G internet to your hand. All of which is very pretty until you need to travel, where you can expect your data costs to go from "very high" to "crippling". Telcos do tell you what these data rates are, in technical terms of so much per kilobyte and so forth.

Roaming data is incredibly convenient, but at 10c or 30c for each 10KB, it can be expensive. It's important to optimise your usage to avoid a shock when you see your bill. (For example, if your laptop conscientiously downloaded the latest 40MB Microsoft security update in the background without you realising, it could easily cost $1,200.)

-- Vodafone

Well, I can imagine.

The trouble is, normal people do not think in kilobytes.

One of the problems is that talk of megabytes and gigabytes is so much techno-gobbledygook for many consumers. They may have no idea what it translates into when it comes to web surfing, sharing videos, e-mail, downloading movies and music, or the many other functions that have made computers an indispensable tool of daily living.

So lets break it down using Vodafones own mean estimate of 2c a kilobyte, and working out typical per use activity costs:

  • email
    • plain text: $0.015
    • Internet average: $1.50
    • Warning: a typical email may contain pictures too (see below)
  • pictures
    • std photo: $26
    • hidgh-res: $100
  • music
    • $86 per song
  • movies
    • 3-min YouTube: $190
    • TVNZ Episode: $8,000
  • web surfing
    • average: $2.60 per page
    • page images: $0.24 each
    • animated ads: $2.00 each


Each keyboard character takes up 1 byte in plain text mode. A short message, about 100 words, would be around 500 bytes + the information used to get the mail to the right person and so forth. So budget 1kB per plain text email.

Rich text is a different story. Depending on the formatting you use, a RTF email can double in size. As well as which, most RTF mails have a plain text version copied to the end. So budget 3k for RTF.

World wide, the average email size is about 75kB. If you do a lot of large emails, you'd want to budget with this figure instead.

None of this include any pictures or special content people add to their emails.


If a picture is worth 1000 words, it is also 1000 times the sizeA 1 megapixel photo clocks in at 1.3Mb - . Higher resolutions are now common, and they are proportionally bigger with 5Mb per photo not uncommon. This is why photos taken with phone cameras are so small.


On my Box - Gin Wigmore's "Oh My" ripped to a 4.3MB vorbis file (at high fidelity). mp3 and ogg format songs are usually a bit more (mp3) or a bit less (ogg) than 1MB per minute.


A short film of the sort you'd find in YouTube is about 9-10MB, so we are thinking 3-10 times the size of a photo. This would be a clip about 2-3mins long. The higher the movie quality, the bigger it is. A full DVD movie is 4-6GB for 1.5 to 2hours. TVNZ Video On Demand episodes can be around 350-500Mb.

browsing the web

Browsing the web involves getting web pages, which can vary in size a great deal depending on what is on them.

If you turn all images, scripts and dynamic content off, the bare-bones html clocks in at 25k. Webmasters are pretty decent about images, normally, and do not use photo size pics. The little giff or png widgets, like the firefox link on this page (left) are only 1-2k, and main pictures are usually 12k. The total web average size of a page is 130kB. Fancy animated ads can slow a page down: they are usually short movie clips 2-3 seconds long - about 1.5MB


Careful though: these are approximate, back of an envelope, figures - I even approximated 1MB as 1000kB. Even so... global roaming does not look like such a good option for staying in touch. This is something you have if you travel a great deat on the company, and the company pays for it.

If you are going overseas in any other capacity, buy a local sim card and switch data roaming OFF. Use local wifi hotspots for data.

Tablet PCs set to make a comeback?

Led by the iPad - are we seeing the return of tablet PCs?

The iPad itself is an odd beastie. It looks and acts like an oversized iPod Touch ... only it seems set to market through the telcos despite not actually being a phone (also does not do flash - so web surfing for multimedia may be a tad restricted.) Presumably it could be used for VOIP - oops: no camera.

Do we also expect the thing to be locked to a particular provider (I mean besides Apple) where our new iPad can only connect through a named ISP/telco/thingy? Is this even more money lost to data-roaming charges?

At an expected NZ$700 for the low-spec version, if you already have a phone and a notebook this thing will be impractical. Especially as it replaces neither. Same pretty much goes for the up-and-coming others. Possibly there is a market for students buying a new computer - if textbooks are available and cheaply on the thing. Even then, there are clear limitations to using it to actually do your school-work.

The iPad goes with your home computer, not instead of it.

Since this is Apple though, there is some concern that Apple plan to do to books what they did to music.As Holmes Wilson put it:

This is a huge step backward in the history of computing. If the first personal computers required permission from the manufacturer for each new program or new feature, the history of computing would be as dismally totalitarian as the milieu in Apple's famous Super Bowl ad.

Some people are more alarmed than others. Total control of a particular computing workspace is, indeed, possible. The primary, current, means to this control is called Digital Restrictions Management.

DRM in music is pretty much a dead issue – however it is alive and kicking for books and movies. To be fair, it wasn’t the disaster for music that was hyped – if only through consumer resistance (also called “rampant piracy” and “sharing with your friends”) – but still…

FSF Defective By Design team has a petition in the hope that apple can be persuaded to drop DRM on books before it is too late. As if – but at least signing up demonstrates a mandate and may dissuade the others.

Still, bad things come in pretty packages - and the iPad is very pretty.

Getting an unlocked tablet looks to be impossible, even with the up-and-coming Android tablets. I can see how same people would figure: “If I’m going to be in prison, I may as well make it a comfortable prison.”

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Google Afterword

CNN got Schneier to write an article about the Google/China thing. He chose to focus attention on the spying technology that was involved.

An infrastructure conducive to surveillance and control invites surveillance and control, both by the people you expect and by the people you don't.
Every year brings more Internet censorship and control, not just in countries like China and Iran but in the U.S., the U.K., Canada and other free countries, egged on by both law enforcement trying to catch terrorists, child pornographers and other criminals and by media companies trying to stop file sharers.
[I]t's bad civic hygiene to build technologies that could someday be used to facilitate a police state.

And, more security holes are found in IE. This one is interesting since the proposed attack uses a combination of non-critical vulnerabilities to open a wide hole in Windows security. Granted you have to click a malicious link - how often does that happen?

Back on the software freedom front, Albany Senior College is making more headlines by continuing to resist the Microsoft sales-force. They are not the only ones, but they are the most vocal.

By comparison, witness the proprietary world, where the NZ Health Ministry can present price increases in their Microsoft licensing as a "win", with a straight face. Even after the upgrade disaster which saw MS systems in Waikato Hospital massively infected with viruses.

OK - technically the same sort of processes could have lead to similar problems with a free software base. However, this is old hat. GNU/Linux has a security culture which acts to reduce the risk that similar mistakes would happen. Lax admins may still leave the door open for attackers, but, at least, with gnu/linux, they have to open said door first.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Of facts and FUD

I have been waiting for the dust to clear before commenting on the latest round of cyber attacks. Now the spin doctors are speaking up it is time for some perspective.

Microsoft speak is well documented these days. This is the language of marketing. So we hear that we should be using IE8 instead of IE6 (fair enough) but that a move away from IE, to firefox say, will lower your security overall.

This is following the high profile attack on GMail an the last few weeks, which also affected a lot of others. It appears that crackers used an IE exploit to gain access to google servers. To me this is neither surprising nor interesting. The fun bit is that the attack used technology loaded by google in order to comply with a US law allowing better access to law enforcement.

Earlier this month I blogged on the new powers proposed for NZ spies etc. I suggested that the technology being used was open to exploitation by others. Here is the test case - just the same stuff, in google, got used by China - though intended for the likes of the FBI and only with a search warrant. All our ISPs have the same problem.

But back to the reports - we see classic FUD signs, watch:

"I'm not aware that the vulnerability exists in other products," says Evans, "But those products may have other vulnerabilities."
Or they may not.

Asked directly when a fix would be ready, Evans states that the rollout might or might not be before the normal upgrade cycle, but has no further details.
Could this be any more vague?

"We are working to provide an update to the vulnerability. We are not seeing any attacks on IE8."
The vulnerability exists in IE8, it just has not been targeted yet. This is not the same thing as saying that IE8 is less vulnerable.

The overall thesis is that, this particular exploit not withstanding, non IE browsers are more vulnerable... overall. This is the impression you are supposed to walk away with.

This particular impression is probably best countered with the facts at the time of writing. Fortunately the footwork has already been done for me.

Secunia is a digital security firm which keeps tabs on vulnerabilities on a wide variety of software. They work closely with Microsoft, so I'm not citing enemies here. According to them, at the time Evans was speaking, there were 24 unpatched vulnerabilities in IE6, 11 in IE7, and 4 in IE8 - not including the one used in the attacks. By comparison, the same company lists zero unpatched vulnerabilities with firefox, chrome, opera, or safari.

About half the readers of this blog use IE of some kind. I peer at you over the tops of my glasses.

Sunday, 17 January 2010


Here's the photos promised ... I didn't take many because the camera stopped working. I blame the sand. The pics below are thumbnails, click to enlarge.

PJ bodiefluffy bodie

Here is Bodie (left), he is four and a half.
Bodie is a blond fireball, up early and playing hard all day to collapse at around 8pm. We had fun with a simple magic trick, counting, reading stories, pretend fishing off the deck, running, swinging, all before breakfast!

After all that I was crying out for my morning coffee - so I packed us all off to Charley Farlies, on the beach. Bodie had a hard choice between a fluffy and an ice block - decided on the fluffy (right) as strategy, since he figured (correctly) that he could get the ice later.

It was a blistering day, and Bodie entertained himself building sand castles and digging very deep holes (below) while his mum held his bow and arrow in trust. Cathy relates child-rearing stories - there was no shade on this part of the beach: right after this shot I went for a drink.

bodie at the beach

After Onetangi, we went to little Oneroa for lunch, and Bodie found some ducklings to feed. We were still there when I realised I had to get packed to meet the ferry home. Cathy was having too much fun and elected to stay. You can see why.

I'm Ba-ack...

Sun, sand, and small children on Waiheke Island.

Whenever I am on Waiheke, I don't want to leave. Then I get back here and I don't want to leave here. Orewa and Onetangi are both wonderful places to be and for different reasons.

On Waiheke, the beach and the pace is much nicer. Facilities are whatever you make them, and I don't miss the late shopping and and other hall marks of city-style living. I can sit on my balcony in the canopy overlooking the Royal Forest and Bird Reserve and let the rat race rush on by. Even the cinima, in Oneroa, is laid back: all decked out in old sofas, and playing non-stop "Isn't Waiheke Great" reels.

Back in Orewa, it is nice to be able to just do what I want without planning it out first. Shops close late and takeaways deliver. My cell works, and the roads are well maintained.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about being back.

But I have to tell you about this: on the way to Half Moon Bay we stopped for brunch at an eatery in Takapuna called Sumo Salads. This is a Sydney-based franchise, so a chunk of your money is going to Oz, but it is a refreshing change from the usual coffee-and-panini thing you usually see. The salads are not just a bit of lettuce and rocket, but a whole mouthwatering range you can mix and match. Portions are ample, we struggled to finish the "medium" salads we ordered, which makes up for a rather steep price. Overall it was fun and worth the detour.

While away, we played host to a friend of Cathy's, from the buddhist thing she goes to, and her 4-year-old son. It was quite nice to be looking after a small kid again, so he got spoiled rotten while his mummy had a break. Cathy enjoyed it so much she's still there, while I get to slog back and feed the cats. I have photos... somewhere: more on that later.

I have discovered that the cats like frozen chicken mince ... frozen?!

Nothing in the fridge last night so I had to do takeaways - it's a hard life. Watched late night TV: I don't seem to sleep well by myself lately. Dreamed of Corwin - vividly - so this morning was a bit of a let down. I went to the supermarket and managed to lock myself out of the car - which shows how distracted I was. Fortunately there is a spare set of keys at home so I jumped on a bus.

Now to get back.

Maxx timetables are pretty good - it tells me that the bus back is at 6:34, unless I want to walk the 6096m (which takes about an hour and a half). It's a nice day, I may yet.

So here I sit, with a computer and several hundred emails. It's achingly hot and eye-stabbingly sunny. And I'm sunburned. I think I'll soak in the pool.

Tomorrow, I have to pull out the pool pump to take to be fixed. Yay.

Monday, 11 January 2010

FSF Team back!

Hurray - managed to get my admin password accepted, so I'm able ta moderate the list. Finally the outstanding posts have gone through.

That sorted: I am off to relax on sunny Waiheke Island - and see what has happened to my house there. Anybody want to buy a house? Go to sleep listening to Moreporks? Wake up to Tuis? 10mins from Aucklands best beach and 34mins to the CBD?

Maybe I can auction it. Cathy says to wait till next year though, when prices will be better.

Meantime it is our holiday bach. This time we'll be joined by a friend of Cathy's and her small child. Which should be interesting. I'll also be out of contact for a wee bit.

When I get back I'll be able to tackle the web sites and sort out what's going to be happening about courses.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

FSF Community Team: still here - really...

For over a month now the FSF community response team mailing list has been silent. It's not my fault - honest.

After a noisy start, the list switched from minimal to strong moderation, so posts to the list have to be approved first. Unfortunately the list moderator has been locked out, so nobody has their posts approved and there is a big backlog.

That moderator is me. Of all the rotten luck.

Some people have been wondering what happened - now you know.

Possibly this is my usual Pauli Feild Effect - any server I am associated with in an administrative capacity goes haywire. I had hoped that being on the other side of the World to this particular one would make it immune. But it was not to be.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Owed to a Spell Chequer

found this:
I halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plane lee marques four my revue
Miss steaks aye ken knot sea

Eye ran this poem threw it
Your sure reel glad two no
It's vary polished in it's weigh
My chequer tolled me sew

A chequer is a bless sing
It freeze yew lodes of thyme
It helps me awl stiles two reed
And aides mi when aye rime

To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should be proud
And wee mussed dew the best wee can
Sew flaws are knot aloud

And now bee cause my spelling
is checked with such grate flare
Their are know faults with in my cite
Of nun eye am a wear

Each frays come posed up on my screen
Eye trussed to be a joule
The chequer poured o'er every word
To cheque sum spelling rule

That's why aye brake in two averse
My righting wants too pleas
Sow now ewe sea wye aye dew prays
Such soft wear for pea seas

Monday, 4 January 2010

Goodbye World indeed!

This is alarming:

Official papers obtained by the Star-Times show that, despite government claims that it was done for domestic reasons, the new New Zealand spying capabilities are part of a push by United States agencies to have standardised surveillance capabilities available for their use from governments worldwide.

What they are talking about is the recent increases in the scope of police and SIS ability to wiretap. Specifically, a single warrant is all that is needed to tap every form of electronic communication of a named person or place.

To a certain extent this is just an update on the old wiretapping laws to take account of 21st century technology. There are just so many different easy ways to communicate now. The red flags go up as we learn that the methods are automated, and implemented under pressure from outside of New Zealand.

Automating means that it is easy to do, and thus easy to abuse. It also represents another vector for malicious coders to exploit. I've met this in the corporate world where your boss wants to spy on your computer use. On the one hand, he can catch you doing something you shouldn't, on the other hand you don't work so well with the boss looking over your shoulder. The gripping hand is that the loss in security and productivity is in no way made up for by catching the odd employee using the work computer to play quake.

At a foreign powers behest, suggests that this is not so much in the interest of NZ law enforcement as much as it is in the interests of that foreign power. Has the nation that banned nuclear ships suddenly lost its backbone?

Certainly anyone contemplating criminal activity will encrypt their electronic traffic as a matter of course, and keep one-use mobile phones. Much of this already happens - resulting in a law that is most easily used against ordinary people going about their lives.

A world without privacy is creeping closer.

Last year Bruce Schneier reprinted his assessment of the issues surrounding surveillance in the 21st century, and he also has this to say about privacy:

Privacy is an inherent human right, and a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect.

Cardinal Richelieu understood the value of surveillance when he famously said, "If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged." Watch someone long enough, and you'll find something to arrest -- or just blackmail -- with. Privacy is important because without it, surveillance information will be abused: to peep, to sell to marketers and to spy on political enemies -- whoever they happen to be at the time.

Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we're doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.

We do nothing wrong when we make love or go to the bathroom. We are not deliberately hiding anything when we seek out private places for reflection or conversation. We keep private journals, sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret lovers and then burn them. Privacy is a basic human need.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Hello 2010, goodbye World ...

The year of the second of Arthur Clark's Space Odyssey stories.

The new year brings a wealth of psychic predictions - lets see how many, non-trivial, will come true. Or, to be precise, how far the facts need to be bent to make them fit a prediction.

I'll leave that up to you, I prefer to track doomsday predictions. However, 2010 looks to be a pretty safe year as far as doomsday is concerned. It seems that 2012 is dominating the psychic landscape too much.

The World may not end, but there are plenty of Earth-shattering events lined up:

Prophetess Baba Vanga predicts WWIII in November, including nuclear weapons. We note that the radiation wipes out all plants and animals in the Northern Hemisphere in 2011. And yet, there are another 2000 years worth of predictions after that. Presumably the northern ecology is restarted from southern flora and fauna.

It is not just psychics: academics add the authority of junk science. For example, in Moscow, Igor Panarin's forecasts are popular. Says the Wall Street Journal, no less, he's been predicting the fall of the USA in 2010 for a while now.

Mr. Panarin posits, in brief, that mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces -- with Alaska reverting to Russian control
... one way to make yourself popular with the government.

For intriguing commentary see The Cold Equations. The comments are also worth the read - you can scare yourself realising that many of these writers are serious.

ComputerWorld is more cautious. They know that you have to be careful when you make predictions, either they must be general enough that they fit anything or they must be already happening. Of course, they don't claim to be psychic.