Monday, 28 June 2010

Education Blogging

I've managed to get an extension on that "Expectation of Privacy for Students Online" paper I'm supposedly writing.

In terms of digital privacy, the USA situation must be considered as most of the online services students use are hosted in the USA, and include statements in their end-user contracts assigning jurisdiction to the States, often, of Virginia or California.

The USA views privacy as a search and seizure issue for the most part, but has no equivalent to our Privacy Act so the law is a mish-mash. STill, as a basic principle, the expectation of privacy seems to depend on what steps are taken to assure it. These steps don't have to be effective, just reasonable. So lowering your voice in a restaurant, closing the door to your room, hanging "do not disturb" on a hotel room door, all indicate a reasonable expectation of privacy.

It seems pretty similar in NZ too. Though, here, privacy is structured around data control. This is fortunate since this language has anticipated, without meaning to, social changes in the way privacy is viewed as well as technological changes in the ways information is managed.

In both countries too, right to privacy must be balanced with freedom of speech.

More to come.

The opportunity to be mentored by someone of the calibre of Jim Ryan, as I am, is pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime thing down in Kiwiland. Thus I am forcing myself to concentrate on this assignment rather than my personal problems. Those problems will not get solved any faster if I just chuck the paper, as I am tempted to do, after all. They will still be there waiting for me when it is all over. But I will delay starting on a Masters for a semester.

Now all I have to do is hold to that logic for a few more weeks.

I had a present today - a pair of Wood Pigeons joined me for breakfast: perched on a tree overlooking my balcony. They watched me photograph them (with my phone - I'll have to extract the images later when I figure out how) then both flew right up to me then on to the roof gutter. Wow!

Apart from that it has been wet.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Back on Waiheke

Train-wreck update:

I am now on Waiheke Island since I got my marching orders. Fortunately I got to move while that huge anticyclone ambled across the country - all wonderful weather. Of course, moving furniture down a goat track pretty much broke me and I don't have the phones on yet.

Everything is very comfy here - it is, after all, the house I built to my own specifications. Now the curtains are up - this is awesome!

As for everything else, Cathy is talking about having some sort of living-together relationship after divorce - that does not seem like a good idea to me: divorce is divorce! Meantime, mental health were no use, the next step is marriage guidance on the Family Court (fingers crossed). Cathy has agreed to counselling but is iffy about the FC.

Cathy wants a property agreement before counselling too - I think that should be part of a separation agreement, which is the next stage. She also wants me to stay faithful during this process. I can kinda see it, even though she is the one that brought in the lawyers: it would be a sign of good faith on my part that I really am serious about reconciliation. Fortunately this is a no-brainer: I'm not exactly beating women off with a bat!

I still have lots of work left on that Law research paper. Fortunately it looks like I'll get a 14 day extension, which should help. Being on Waiheke puts me closer to the Law Library too.

In other news:
The radio had a phone-in thing on the question: "have you ever claimed credit for anything you didn't do?" in connection with that SMH "Australasia" headline. I was driving, otherwise my things would have been...

1. "We are having a baby."
Yeah right - who has the swollen ankles, morning sickness, labour?

2. "We won the ."
The last two FIFA WC things were draws, which count as Kiwi victories - I'll bet if they'd have lost they would have been All-whites losses.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Stake through the heart?

S.C.O. is finally really dead ... we hope.

When you are a patent troll, you make your money by intimidating other companies into paying license fees on the "properties" you hold. You usually rely on the fact that all technology is built out of other technology - in the case of software, this can involve thousands of patents for a single computer program: nobody really knows who owns what.

The trick is to pick a target who is (a) big enough to pay up and (b) too small to fight back in court. It helps if you hold the patents you claim you do, and if the target is actually infringing on them, but if the target cannot afford to fight back it is all the same. It also helps if you hit up only one company at a time and if your charges are such that it is more cost-effective to pay up than to go to court.

SCO had had some success by this method with lesser entities when it got ambitious and targeted IBM over the way it used UNIX. SCO had just grown, and IBM is not what it used to be. Must have looked tempting.

They claimed that IBM had breached contract with some of its uses of UNIX related products. One of the uses involved donated code to the linux project.


Thing is - linux is not developed by just a few companies but by individuals sharing their labour and expertise with many companies. This meant that SCO had just threatened, not just IBM, but dozens of other Forbes 500 companies and several million linux developers. IBM decided to fight back, and recieved a lot of support to do so.

Still, SCO looked good at this stage and many pundits were predicting a win for them and the demise of linux as well. Some noticed that Novell appeared to have legal use of the infringing bits so perhaps SUSE linux would be the last distro standing when the dust cleared.

Novell, realised: "wait a minute, don't we own this stuff outright?" And sure enough, back when Novell was part of a nasty proprietary company themselves, they had licensed the administration of those UNIX bits to another company which was purchased by SCO but had not actually parted with them. (See how complicated it gets?)

So Novell sued back, claiming that SCO was overstepping their rights.

The court agreed - SCO was suing over claimed property that it did not own in the first place. This process took about eight years and vast sums of money during which SCO tried to win by delay and attrition. Only the combination of all the companies they'd annoyed meant there was no way, which had become obvious about 2-4 years in. They raised some funds by threatening smaller companies, who paid up, and by a weird deal with Microsoft. The court transcripts make entertaining reading and provide an object lesson about the idiocy of software patents.

SCO was bankrupt, their lawyers successfully filed to make sure they got paid before shareholders did and the accountants abandoned ship. It was over - or so we thought.

The zombie lurches back to life, SCO cries foul, and another round of combat by court commences. That has now finished. It never had a chance in the first place and the judge gave pretty short statements to the effect of "Shut up and go away." The case is formally closed.

It is the nature of the undead that they seem to keep coming back for the sequel. We've had SCOvsIBM and SCO2: the Resurrection, now we await the Bride of SCO, no doubt in production. Maybe one of those remakes that are so popular?

SCO stock is basically worthless, but the company probably still owns some actionable patents which could pass, T-Virus-style, into another host. Similarly, SCO executives will have been looking far work and their lawyers, who failed to advise their client to stop being silly even after it was obvious, are still in business. Thus, though this particular attack is clearly no longer possible, it is likely we have not heard the end.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Train wreck in progress...

I blogged at the start of the month that Cathy went on holiday without me. Seems she got herself away so she wouldn't be here when I got this letter from her Lawyer. It says that she considers our relationship to be over and she wants me to move out.

I cannot say I didn't see this coming. I had some concerns building over the last two months, about her mental health. I took these concerns, with her knowledge, to her doctor and the doctor referred the matter further. Now, she wants a divorce.

There are privacy issues here, so I have to be careful about what I reveal. So - no details. I did force the issue, though, knowing that I was risking our relationship against her good health.

My next step is to insist on counselling, and I hope the mental health people have managed to persuade her to see them too. AFAIK: they have not.

This is a race to see if she can get well enough to stop this before she throws our marriage away.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Ubuntu 10.04 and nz5000 black screen update

I blogged back in May about my experiences installing Ubuntu 10.04 to the hp/C nx5000.

I noted back then that the usual KMS workaround did not do anything. Since then I found out what went wrong. It turns out to be a subtle bug stemming from the way hardware gets installed...

The key is that the problem only occurs in some old laptops. You see, in order to tell if the computer it is running is a laptop or not as early as possible, the kernel checked the state of the "lid". If the lid was open then it was a laptop, if closed then it must be a desktop or, at least, it must be starting up with an external monitor. Makes sense as only laptops have lids to begin with even though desktops still have the indicator (always set to closed) on the inside.

In laptops, the indicator is reading the condition of a micro-switch that the lid presses on. In the nx5000 it is a small spike sticking out by the lid hinge. The lid switches on old laptops were not standardized: sometimes manufacturers used normally-open switches and sometimes normally-closed, and accounted for the difference in the (windows) software. So, assuming that a closed switch means a closed lid will be wrong about half the time.

This bug was fixed days after Ubuntu 10.04 came out - basically by leaving the detection until later (slowing the boot slightly). Technically the lid switch was not supposed to be used for that purpose anyway. When the computer is much more booted, programs are available to correctly detect the lid status as an ACPI event.

The solution, if you think you've run into this, is to install using an external monitor, or the alternate install CD (which is text-based), so you can see what you are doing. Then get the updates.

This sort of thing shows you just what we have to deal with. These days more and more vendors are linux-aware, and have improved their standardization. New computers don't suffer from this.

Afterward: If you seek technical support from me not covered in these posts, please send me an email, or add your question to linux questions. I'll not respond to anonymous comments here at all though I will respond to redirects that are relevant to the blog post.

Scam email recieved

... and so on. The email always seems to come from someone called George Hamilton who may have a gmail or yahoo account. It purports to be offering you a job as a pay coordinator for a Chinese import/export firm based in China.

A basic BS test is failed right away because legitimate firms looking for trustworthy employees do not spam the internet to solicit applications. Generally they advertise somehow and you contact them. However it happens, the offer will not come out of the blue.
We are research and staffing agency base in the United Kingdom. We are contracted by China Resources Retail (Group) Co., Ltd to recruit qualified and trust worthy individuals who will love to = represent the company in your region.
The English is a bit funny coming from a UK agency. Not actually bad in itself, just the phrasing suggests someone for whom English is a second language. Besides, an offer of contract would surely be expressed more in legal language wouldn't it.
We have 5 positions for payment processing officer in your region; its a high paying job.
Duties: Receive payment from our supplies in bank wire transfers and to resend the money to us via Western Union Money.
This is an odd duty. Surely the people paying them can just use the money order themselves? Why do they need a middleman? The message implies it is something to do with English language difficulties. The trouble is that this job only enters the picture after some sort of payment has been negotiated - so any language concerns must have been satisfied already.

All this rings alarm bells. The clincher, however, is in the information they want:
please fill out the following forms = below.
Personal Details
1: Full name
4: Occupation
5: Annual Income
7: Do you own a business? Yes/no
Bank Details,
1: Bank name
2: Bank Address
3: Account name
4: Account number

OK, a legitimate business may want your account details in order to pay you for your services - but you have not agreed to work for them yet. They should not be asking for these details on a job application.

Notice that they don't mind if you keep your current job - odd for someone offering a "high paying" position.

Pasting a block of the text of the email into google search shows that this is, indeed, a phishing scam. Quite well known too.

The bottom line must be to do your BS test before replying to unsolicited emails. Even emails purporting to come from someone you know can fail - be vigilant. For eg. you bank won't ask for your account details: they already know them.

These are all simple scams which millions of people fall for every year. Keep your wits about you. Don't be a victim.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010


Queens birthday honours out and I recall being asked (by a US tourist) once, "What does a knight do?"

I remember being a bit off the cuff at the time, I said: "A knight is someone who aids the weak, champions the poor and slays dragons, of course."

That description has sort of stuck with me since then. Being a knight is not a job, not something that you do. It is something you are even before the award. If you want to tell if an award was deserved, there is your benchmark.

The dragons would be metaphorical, but the idea shows the scale intended. You don't have to be successful, but you do need to embody the idea. The award itself is a recognition of these sorts of qualities, not just in an individual, but in society.

Of course, it can also be awarded erroneously to people who do not deserve it. It used to be that MPs would get knighted as a kind of bribe to make them "go quietly" - especially to those whose efforts tended to benefit their constituents ahead of their party. Anyone who is that much of a pain without ending up in prison probably deserves the award. These days the sir is pretty much automatic with some cabinet posts which is kind of silly.

As it is possible to get the title without being a knight, it is also possible to be a knight without getting the title. It is likely that there are many more knights than there are titles to go around. Inspiring knightly values in others would probably be a decent qualification for a knighthood. This is why I wanted to emphasise that the honour is also a sideways honour to our society.

Naturally we don't have to use this remnant of feudalism to so honour ourselves, and there is a self-congratulatory quality to the honours. It is a historical accident. An attempt to do away with the old system was tried, and managed to fall to immediate disrepute as the people who proposed the new scheme immediately honoured themselves and their mates.

There is always going to be a political mateyness about any political award. It would be nice to have an honours council which considers candidates without political interference but I don't see how this could be set up. Still, some sort of distancing from parliament would be good to see, given what that says about the kind of society we want to be.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Education Blogging

Wow - finished the last assignment for the Information Lit course. This has turned out to be really painful to do - part of the problem is the amount of PC stuff in the literature on this topic - stuff with computers gets you paid. Part of it is that the techniques are pretty much second nature to me - and I have a hard time valuing any skill I find easy.

So the assignment is basically not going to do well. I ran out of time anyway. Not the official deadline time, but because I have a 12000 word research paper in law to write by next month which I have not even started yet!

So I'll eat the reduced grade for IL and try to ace law - which is harder and more interesting.

In the meantime - Wifey has gone on holiday without me :(