Saturday, 24 April 2010

Separation Time

Cathy and I are having "some apartness time". I will be in Helensville, looking after my Mum's cat, for a week or so while Cathy stays in Orewa.

This is great: I get to stay up and watch whatever I like. Though, that's not as good a it could be - I ditched Sky a while ago due to the watering down of the programming (shifting the good movies to pay-per-view for eg.) I return to sky, and find that the situation is pretty much as bad as I left it - though ppv is cheaper now. I end up watching History and Discovery a lot.

Nah - sky is not worth it. If I spend the same money each month on rental DVDs I get to see more movies that I enjoy. The main thing for where I live is that VHF receptions is very bad, so I'm saving for a freeview box.

Some people have asked about the installfest - which will be in May. That's all I can say until I can arrange it... but I expect it to be at the Orewa Public Library again. After that' I'll be able ta start up the GNU/Linux courses.

Meantime, the Wellington Declaration I wrote about before has born fruit! This was the NZ-lead initiative to open the ACTA talks to public scrutiny. This has happened. There are a lot of eyes on this - stay tuned.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

And that is that

Just finished the final day of the law paper - I was studying: Human Rights and Education in NZ and USA. It was fascinating. I was very fortunate to do this while Jim Ryan was still in the country - for a highly informed US perspective. Co-teaching with him was Paul Rishworth - also not someone to be sniffed at.

The pair's contrasting styles included a generosity and indulgence which was also extended to Cathy when she sat in on one of the lectures, to the extent of allowing her to voice opinions and answer her questions.

Now I have a 12000 word paper to write on something - my usual approach is to write about software freedom - but it is hard to put that in a human rights context. I could treat it as an equality of access issue - discrimination by wealth which we call "the digital divide". But it is tenuous.

Then I read that major "cloud computing" providers are announcing privacy to be dead, teachers are concerned about how much they can censor students on the web, and Bruce Schneier tells me that there is a shift of emphasis in privacy issues from secrecy to control.
When your health records are sold to a pharmaceutical company without your permission; when a social-networking site changes your privacy settings to make what used to be visible only to your friends visible to everyone; when the NSA eavesdrops on everyone's e-mail conversations -- your loss of control over that information is the issue. We may not mind sharing our personal lives and thoughts, but we want to control how, where and with whom. A privacy failure is a control failure.

A quick look at the literature tells me this is a hot topic and Prof. Jim says, "Thairt wud be ay grayt tarpic."

I usually write two papers side by side and see which one takes off, in this case I've been floundering for days on the technology one and five mins into privacy and I have huge progress. So I think it is pretty obvious what I'll be doing: To what extent do students in the public school system have a reasonable expectation of privacy - particularly with respect to surveillance by school authorities?

On another topic - anyone see Close Up yesterday? The bit about nail polish?

The contention was that some nail salons were refilling brand-name nail lacquer with a cheap generic, then passing that off under the brand.

The journalists investigated, using a kind of sting operation. They found that one salon was mixing different colours to make a new colour - all within the brand, while two others used different manufacturers products at different stages in the treatment.

The issue at hand is one of counterfeiting. Close up contended that there was counterfeiting going on at all three salons and consumers should go only to "approved" salons. However, no such contention was proved. So the show was misleading in its representation of the businesses and the results of the tests that were performaed.

The main question to draw from the show is whether, having legally purchased several different colours of a brand of nail lacquer, can you mix the contents of the bottles without abusing the trademark?

The same may go for anything you can mix - if I mix different Dulux paints, is the end result still a Dulux paint? In the hardware industry, Dulux seem happy with this and even supply mixing facilities to allow customers to maximise their colour choice.

The bottom line is: if the brand-owner feels that their trademark has been infringed by these salons, then they should take action through the courts. This sort of smearing someone's name through the media, though indirect, is not on.

Monday, 12 April 2010

ACTA Petition

The Wellington Declaration generated by the folks who attended the PublicACTA event this weekend in Wellington, is something I believe we LUG'rs should be getting behind.

If you support the statements made in the URL above - and really, I'd be surprised if you don't - please sign the electronic petition linked from that page.

All signatures added before Tuesday morning NZ Time will be appended to the Declaration when it is communicated to the NZ Government negotiators, who (it is hoped) will circulate it to all the ACTA delegations.


ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement or ACTA) is a controversial international treaty being negotiated in a series of secret meetings.

ACTA is proposed as a plurilateral trade agreement for establishing international standards on intellectual property rights enforcement. It is being negotiated between the US, Canada, Japan, the European Union, South Korea, Mexico, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand. Unfortunately, the negotiations have extended beyond trade and physical counterfeiting to potentially cover non-commercial infringement of copyright material by ordinary citizens and issues of digital rights management.

PublicACTA was organised by InternetNZ to give the public opportunity to critique the known and likely content of ACTA proposals.

Several issues abound in ACTA; the scope of the agreement is much wider than simply an agreement around trade, and the ramifications should it come into force will be dire for New Zealanders.

The NZOSS, which many of you will know of and know that I am also involved with, have taken their stance regarding ACTA to the Government.

Please be aware of ACTA, and if you support the position being taken by InternetNZ, NZOSS and many, many other groups and NGOs both in NZ and worldwide, show your support.

Me and Mark Foster
Administrator - NZLUG, AuckLUG

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Snowed Under

Snowed under this week.

I am starting a week-long block-course in law, starting 9am each day and going all day. But tomorrow, I have a job - acting would you believe it! I have to start at 2pm and go all night. Which means, my day starts at 7am (because if I start any later, I won't get to the city by 9) and finishes whenever I get home after 2am the next morning, to start at 7am same day!

Happy happy joy joy.

However, seems my part is a bit bigger than I thought, so at least I'll get a decent pay rate.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Happy Birthday to Me!

And for my birthday I will be giving away lots of chocolate - to my wife.

I've built a new starship for the hell of it ("Katapo" see below): this is supposed to be a small fast personal yacht for rich layabouts. It is 150m long, and named for NZs version of the black widow spider.

Last day for my auctions too. The binoculars have had 7 bids - but still only reached $7. The fujica 35 has had two bids - now $21 - no other bids. There are serious bargains here!

Studylink, on the 6th, accepted that I was studying full time and promised back-paid allowances yesterday. This did not happen - called them from the bank to discover that it was just waiting formal approval - which was probably a matter of clicking a box or something because approval was set right away.So now, after weeks of delays, bills stacked head high, the latest promise is "tomorrow" - meaning today.

Fingers crossed.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

PDF Caveat

I have commented for a a long time that people should not use DOC (or, more recently docx) format for mail attachments, in part because DOC format is a major vector for malware. This is still true. It has been drawn to my attention, though, that the same is also true of PDF attachments.

Over the years, Adobe has been expanding the pdf specification to add features that users want, like the ability to add dynamic content. This means running javascript or executing external programs from inside the document. These features can be maliciously misused.

Only full-featured PDF readers, like Acrobat Reader and Foxit, both popular on the Windows platform, are vulnerable. You can switch javascript off (recommended) but the "launch application" code will still work. In acrobat you get a warning dialog asking permission to execute the program. When you see one of these, do not execute; instead, contact the person who sent the pdf and ask them for an explanation.

They don't all warn you. Some security firms are advising to open pdfs in google-docs. This will help a bit, since the pdf opens on google's computers and google sends you the results for your browser to display. Until someone figures out how to get the executed code to run in your browser (or use it to attack google.)

Narrow featured readers, like xpdf (gnu/linux platform) are not affected because they do not implement these features. Bear in mind that all software has bugs, and free software is no exception. You do need to keep your applications up to date.

So what of email attachments? It is very seldom that you need to send the information in an attachment at all. Put it in the main body of the email as plain text and send it as a plain text message. Nobody ever got a virus off ascii.
New month - this weekend we all get to celebrate the rebirth of the Sun, at the wrong end of the year. This is another seasonal festival with a thin veneer of Xianity and a really thick layer of commercialism - but the chocolate makes up for a lot. I've got painted up boiled eggs and a bottle of wine.

We also get to enjoy the Rugby World Cup - it's already getting silly with our politicians falling over themselves and each other in a desperate bid to show whos the most devout in NZs national religion. A good reason not to take up politics: I won't have to pretend to like Rugby. I don't think it will be possible to hide this time - I may have to leave the country to escape.

Studylink are refusing to pay out on my student allowance, claiming that I am not studying full time. Well it feels like full time to me!

Its been an unending drama this semester: first they keep asking the university for last years enrolment details when they need this years. They did this several times before someone decides not to trust the computer and send the request by hand. I don't know what is going on now, according to the university, 120points (4 papers) in 1 year is the definition of full time. That's what I'm doing. And, of course, it is the holidays, so I'll have to wait 4 days to find out.

Its not all bad news though, it's my birthday on the 8th; and Ubuntu 10.4 will be out on the 29th. I have a law paper starting on the 12th - one week solid. Cool.

So hello April.