Friday, August 30, 2013

Inattentional Blindness


Pretty much everyone has seen a picture of Adam and Eve, either in books, on the Television, or the Internet.  If you look at any picture of Adam and Eve, there's something that doesn't make any sense.  

They all have belly buttons.

Now, unless God supposedly had a uterus and someone's omitted this fact from all current religious texts, what we have here is an example of something that most people fail to notice, yet is so fundamentally wrong with the known story that it should stick out like a sore thumb.

People are fixated on the pictures, the quality of the imagery, the faces, whether there's a snake or an apple, or a fig leaf.  The navel's however, are front and centre every time and yet nobody sees this.  

Believe it or not, this inconsistency actually annoys me. I just can't let it drop.

When you don't notice things, psychologists call this "inattentional blindness".  Whether you have learned to block certain stuff out, or just fail to notice things, you need to be paying attention in order to get annoyed.  However, there's a good side to to all this annoyance.  If you are paying attention and get annoyed by what's trying to steamroll over you, you are also likely to fix it.  You'll notice a correlation between emergency planners, for instance, and their ability to spot things that normal people can't see.

Another angle to this inattentional blindness is expectation:  When people expect certain outcomes, they block out certain stimuli.  For example, if a person is looking for a friend in a crowd and knows they have a red jacket, they're more likely to look for people wearing red rather than trying to see the actual person's head - which is then totally negated when the friend has removed their jacket to expose a yellow sweater, even though their head remains unchanged.  The person looking for the other person might walk straight past them.

This problem of expectation causes many people to appear to "switch off".  Ask them about their commute to work and most people say it's the same every day and rather uneventful.  Yet, I commute to work every day and see new people at the subway station, hear different noises on the subway train, experience different crowds at my destination.

And yes, I get annoyed by a lot of things I see along the way. Ha ha!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Lack Of Science Behind The UK Badger Cull

Sometimes, I get very angry with Government - regardless of if we are talking the UK one I grew up with, or the current Canadian one that I live with.  Always, I get mad because they're doing something stupid.

I don't get angry when there's a difficult situation and difficult choices to be made.  I get angry when there's a relatively simple choice and they take the wrong one for all the wrong reasons. The current badger cull situation in the UK is one such choice.

If you research the history, the UK government commissioned the "Krebs Report" where they did a trial cull of badgers and determined that killing badgers doesn't actually help the Bovine Tuberculosis ("BTB") situation.  Some deer also carry TB, but we are not out culling those in their thousands.  Additionally, a simple look at badgers and BTB correlation found Scotland has no BTB but does have badgers, whilst the Isle of Man has BTB and no badgers.  The evidence this far is clearly stacked that BTB and badgers are not linked in any major way - even by the governments own "Krebs report".

The UK government went ahead with the cull anyway.  To boot, it has clearly stated it will not be testing the cull scientifically - meaning the slaughtered badgers are not even tested to see if they had Tuberculosis in the first place.

My conclusion here is that science and fact has not been used to start this cull, and therefore the government is ill advised to carry it on, and equally wrong to justify this cull using "facts" when they are actually ignoring the facts.  Throw in that they're not recording TB metrics on the slaughtered animals and this is just one very dark day for the UK government.  


The only cull I support is the one that happens at the next election.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ontario and Tasers


Today we had news in Ontario that the Police front line is going to be allowed to carry Tasers.  I think this is a very bad idea for numerous reasons, which I will state here.

Mis-use of the term "Non-Lethal"
Taser's are mis-advertised to the public as non-lethal.  This leads to two issues:
1)  When it's proven to be lethal (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_DziekaƄski_Taser_incident as an example of a Canadian Taser deployment gone wrong), confusion arises.  This confusion is then affects everyone in the chain, from Ministers to the public. 
2)  When the police think it's non-lethal, they're more likely to deploy it than a normal gun.  This means you've got a self-fulfilling prophecy in that more Tasers deployments happen, leading to more deaths.

From a physical viewpoint
If you look at the way a taser deploys it's darts, it's not a side-by-side motion, because in order to complete a circuit, both prongs need to connect with the target.  So, it sort of shoots similar to this picture of where you place defibrillator pads.



Now, bearing this in mind, think about the human heart and police in a situation.  The target's heart isn't likely to be in a resting state - instead, it's likely to be pumping at quite a fast rate.  So take a heart that's pumping hard as a person has been running away, and apply a shock across the chest in this configuration.  You're increasingly likely to send the heart even faster, leading to fibrillation.  Of course, the officer that just caused this problem is not likely to be equipped with a matching defibrillator.

Of course, all bets are off if the victim has a pacemaker - and this is still a large bone of contention amongst studies. 


Risk to the police officer
If the taser connects, the officer is now connected to another person.  If you know anything about electricity, you'll know that it can go up wires as well as down them.  If the target is wearing appropriate anti-taser equipment, you can discharge a much larger charge from a capacitor back up the wire to the taser.

As an explosives charge.
Tasers are also susceptible to being used as a detonator.  So, if a suicide mission has a person wrapping themselves in a layer of steel wool, the police officer might as well be shooting a flame thrower.  If the person has more serious stuff on them, the officer is at risk too, as tasers normally require you to be about 15ft from the person.

The drug and alcohol link
Have a look at the statistics on who tasers are used on, and you'll find a majority of people with drug and alcohol usage issues.  Unfortunately, this also happens to be the group that are most susceptible to issues arising from being tasered.  This disconnect brings us nicely back to the first issue at the top of this article.   

Retrofitting Us And Our World


Previously, when we invented something we often had a blank canvas to work with, or at the most a simple foundation to build on that didn't interfere with what came next.  Examples would be train tracks that just ran across open countryside, or roads that were paved over existing dirt pathways.  Other examples would be sewer pipes that are laid in clear soil as we're about to build on a new piece of land, or the overhead wires that carry our electricity.

The problems start with what comes next.  The next set of pipes have to be higher or lower than the existing ones.  New wires can't touch the old ones.  Roads require traffic lights, or overpasses/tunnels if they're busy ones.  The list goes on.

As time goes by, all these things where out.  Now, instead of just being careful where you add stuff, you've got the monumental headache of retrofitting.  Buildings have to be torn down and new taller buildings go up without touching the buildings around them, for instance.  New tunnels are built and connected to existing stations.  Overhead wires have to be re-routed underground, and so forth.

So far, I've only mentioned physical things.  What happens to your thoughts and views?  Do you just raze them to the ground and install new ones, or do you keep bits of the old and add to them?  What happens if one new way of thinking invalidates another?  Do you keep patching the old idea to make it comply with the new one, or does it get eradicated totally?

If you look at the major shifts going on around us, you'll see that generationally, the older people add/patch and the younger kids are just razing to the ground everything that came before as they see it as irrelevant.  We're starting to do this in IT a lot too.  You're apps will work on a certain version of Windows or OS X, or IOS, or Android and then one day (after numerous upgrades) you finally reach that point where old stuff just isn't compatible.  Despite all the grumbling, you'll notice that humanity hasn't ground to a halt yet.

We see this in advertising too.  Digital media replaced traditional media, which was like the laying of the railway tracks.  Now, people are adding to the digital media in ways that complement the existing systems whilst not breaking existing components, instead of tearing it down and moving to much better systems.

We see it in Industry too.  Old manufacturing practices and processes are now deemed unsustainable.  Now everything needs to be green and ethical.  Also, Government needs to change.  What use is a government system that's only open 9 to 5 mondays to Fridays, in a world that's 24/7?  And that line from them about email being not trustworthy is just plain hogwash - it's only unsafe if you let it be unsafe and don't encrypt to a reasonable standard (and they won't do that because nobody in Government likes correspondence that they can't snoop on).

If you were to look at where the next 10 to 15 years is largely going to be spent, it's in retrofitting old ideas and infrastructure.  Once we've done that, we can start moving forward again.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Glaceau and "Finding Retards"

So today I opened up a bottle of Glaceau "Vitamin Water".

I found this phrase printed under my bottle cap.


Naturally, I intend to enquire as to what happened here.


Number Tricks and The Toronto Star Paywall


Here's a little trick to play on kids:

1.  Ask them to hold up all ten fingers.
2.  Starting on one hand, count down "10, 9, 8, 7, and 6".
3.  Ask them how many fingers are on the other hand, and they'll say "5".
4.  You then say "So 6 on this hand, plus 5 on this hand is how many?"
5.  The kids normally look at you all confused and say "11?".

Of course, there's not 11 fingers - it's just about confusing people with the facts.

I guess this would be the "grown up" version of the same thing:
* Three people at a cafe generate a $25 bill.  
* They each put in $10, so there's $30 on the table.  
* The waiter gives them all back $1 each, and keeps $2 as a tip for himself.  
* If they all put in $10 and got a dollar back each, then they've now all paid $9 each.  
* So to recap:  Three x $9 is $27 and the waiter has $2. 
* That's only $29, so where's the other missing dollar?

Again, this relies on totally mixing the facts to confuse people.

Over the weekend, it hit me that I've seen this issue in real life recently.  After a little fiddling about, I've concluded this numbers phenomenon is the same thing affecting the Toronto Star paywall.  

Here's how it plays out at The Star:
1.  I reset the paywall to give me another 10 articles again for testing.
2.  I then counted the articles off.  10, 9, 8, 7.
3.  At this point, the system says I've 7 articles left.  This is the first error (we've done four, so "6" is the real number).
4.  I then counted off the numbers on the next chunk.  1, 2, 3, 4, 5. (they go "6, 5, 4, 3 and 2")
5.  At this point, the system says I've 2 articles left.  This is the second error (5 + 4 = 9… so "1" is the real number).
6.  I then counted off the next chunk.  1, 2, 3, block.  This is the third error. They've likely gone "2 articles left, 1 article left, zero articles  left,  block".  It should have been "1 left, none left, block".

What's gone wrong here is a zero based numbering issue where they're mismatching the counting logic.  This is a common mistake seen in arrays and loops in many programming languages.

To go back to the first example above for kids:
1.  Ask them to hold up all ten fingers.
2.  Starting on one hand, count down "9, 8, 7, 6 and 5".
3.  Ask them how many fingers are on the other hand, and they'll say "5".
4.  You then say "So 5 on this hand, plus 5 on this hand is how many?"
5.  The kids normally look at you not confused and say "10!".




  

Environments


Traditionally, your environment was a physical place where you lived, worked and played.  Where you met friends, learned new things and above all, socialized with other people in a way that you were accountable to your peers.

These days, we have two environments:  The physical one, and the online one.  Just like the physical environment, this is a place where you live, work and play.  Where you meet friends, and learn new things.  The problem right now is some people think that they can socialise with other people in a way that is not accountable to their peers.

As humans, we have a rather fatal flaw in that every time we get together in large numbers, spite and hate will inevitably raise it's ugly head.  This is why in the physical world, we have laws, police, and governments.  In the physical world, any wrongdoing is corrected in a physical way - you're locked up, or have privileges taken away.  

Now compare that to the Internet, where borders are transcended.  The biggest thing with the Internet is there is no law.  There is no government.  Even physical governments get tangled up when trying to work out when a person in one country who is not of that country's nationality does something to someone in a third country, and they try to work out who's law is supposed to be used.

The solution is simple, and this is going to spill over to the physical world at some point:  You give everyone a unique certificate that identifies them only, and without it, you can't access services. This is, after all, how the Internet fundamentally works.  Your IP address is unique to your session.  There is only one Google.com in the world.  

This will have to spill over into the national government system at some point. In the same way you have a physical passport, you will need an Internet equivalent.  

The billion dollar question though is who's going to be responsible for issuing this, and policing it. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Star's Paywall - Revisited...


You may remember the other day that I posted about the paywall at The Star, and how I'd found it easily circumventable.  Long story short, a subsequent tweet on Twitter that it'd still not been addressed caught the eye of The Star.

They asked the question as follows:



The first inconsistency comes from The Star asking about 10 free articles per day, when the paywall message says "10 free articles this month". 



Regardless, as I write this, I'm probably somewhere closer to 50 free articles at this point.


So, to document a little more, here's some information for their benefit, which won't fit in a tweet.  Having already documented that I exhausted my "10 free articles a month" previously, I went back to the site and poked around a bit more.

This is  (click to zoom) is how I did a test just now.  I stopped at 12 articles because there's no point in continuing...  12 is more than 10, so it didn't stop where it was supposed to, regardless of whether we're talking 10 per day or month.


The biggest issue with this is whilst the nag screen comes up sometimes, you can dismiss it and after it's taken you to the front page again, you just click a new section title and jump into the articles again.

So, hopefully The Star has a better grip on what I was saying before.



And because they're going to want this, here's something for their benefit:
OS:  OS X 10.8.4
Safari:  6.0.5 (8536.30.1)
And here's your cookie info (click to expand):


Place...


The concept of "place" is something that really interests me.  I've spent a lot of time poring over maps and programming GPS/GIS routines just for fun… that's how much I like the subject.  But it goes deeper than this.

When man first started to migrate away from wherever it is that we started off from in Africa, we lived a very nomadic existence.  It wasn't until we started agriculture some 10,000 years ago that we then finally stopped moving about quite so much….  and therefore we stayed in one place. 

The problem with staying in one place is you now have a whole new set of rules and etiquettes to have to contend with if you're all going to get along as a community, that you didn't have to deal with when you were all just a pack of people roaming about.  For the first time, you have territories, for instance.

The problem with staying in one place is that place then starts to define you.  If you're too far away from other places, you lose a transfer of knowledge from other communities.  Anything that's too far on a horse becomes out of reach from a practical sense.  When you think like this, you realise that even until the early 1800s, the "horse day" was still a major stumbling block for people.  In modern times, when people first meet, one of the first questions people ask is "Where are you from?"… This idea of place is still used to identify people.  

Consider now that the TAT-1 Trans-Atlantic Telephone cable was laid in 1956 (carried 36 calls at a time) and the TPC-1 (Trans-Pacific Cable) in 1964.  This is a little more recent than most people think of history.  The satellite Telstar didn't go up until 1962.  

Right now, some 5 billion people have phones and most don't actually care where you are when they want to phone you.  They just know that they can reach your phone within about 5 seconds if you're standing a mile away, or about 7 seconds if you're on the other side of the earth.  Now, if anyone can talk to anyone anywhere then communication increases.  Given the human nature of communication, we share a lot of information.  

Now ask yourself what that does to your sense of place?  Do you feel you need to protect it as part of your identity?  Do you feel it's irrelevant?

This is why it interests me so much.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Legacy Thinking...


Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you think that the Great Wall of China can be seen from space, because that's what someone once told you?
  • Do you vote for a particular party because that's what your parents did?
  • Do you think that the seasons come from the Earth's elliptical orbit because that's what they taught you in school?
  • Do you buy brands now because they fit with your idea of self as you were 10 years ago?
  • Do you define a relationship as only face to face?
  • Do you baulk at trying something new because "You know what you like"?

We're all guilty of legacy thinking and viewing the present through lenses from the past.  We do it because it's safe and familiar.  

Often when we challenge ourselves or others to look at something in a different way we sometimes hit resistance or fear because, fundamentally, we're asking people to get uncomfortable with their understanding of the world, and in some cases, we're basically telling them they're wrong and don't know anything.  This is where conflict starts, as it can be tantamount to calling them idiots for not seeing things as they are.

Now look at the conflicts going on around you:  
  • You've got people in the middle east and communist countries that after a lifetime of being told certain "truths", now have the Internet and can look up what you and I can lookup, meanwhile their leaders are still trying to tell them the old information.  
  • Younger generations have always said that the older generations don't understand them.
  • You've got the Bible Belt in the USA totally discombobulated by gay marriage.
  • Industrial age businesses are turning large areas of cities into "rust belt" areas and politicians are "stimulating" these dinosaurs instead of asking what replaced them and training people to do that instead?
  • Legacy thinking is a big part of our lives… that much is for sure.  Whether it's in our best interests, though, is another matter entirely.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

When the news doesn't add up...


Here's something that happens often to me…  I'm reading a news story, and everything seems to match and then I trip up on a contradiction that renders everything very suspect.  Here's today's…

This story (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/20/nsa-snowden-files-drives-destroyed-london) has the following headline:
"NSA files: why the Guardian in London destroyed hard drives of leaked files"

They also have this picture:



Now, you'd expect to see some destroyed hard drives given the headline…  There's no hard drives in this picture.  

The picture's caption mentions "The remains of a computer".  Count the motherboards.  There's three… and a graphics card (they don't store files either).  Now, the motherboards don't match the MacBook computer on the right, which also has it's logo lit up - meaning that's at least functioning with a battery and motherboard.

So there's at least four identifiable computers (or parts thereof) in this image and absolutely no sign of a hard drive, either mechanical or solid state.

What gives?



On the latest Fukushima leak


The latest news out of Fukushima about a new water leak raises the very valid question "Is everything that can be done, being done?"

The Japanese are notoriously proud people.  They are also famously insular and hate outside help or interference.  As this disaster waddles from one mishap to another, I can't help thinking that the problem is too big for TEPCO to handle, and that outside help should be provided, because this could easily escalate to an international crisis.  

Here's an example of what I mean:  
*  The problem started when a tsunami hit a nuclear power station that was built on the coast.
*  The solution so far is to put radioactive water in pools and store them on the exact same site

Now mull this over: 
1. What happens if another tsunami comes in and blows radioactive water across the prefecture?
2. Would the result be worse than the original tsunami?
3. What happens if this water ends up back out at sea.
4. Are these pools earthquake proof?

Personally, I like Japan.  I've been there.  I learned a lot from it.  I also get perplexed sometimes by it.  For instance, they have the foresight to put people in jobs where necessary, and put automated equipment in people are going to dillydally - so you can walk into a fast food restaurant and spend two minutes by a vending machine whilst you hum and ha about what to eat, then you hit the button and take a ticket to the counter where the human gives you your food very promptly.  They also often put people in traffic direction jobs because they can do a better job than traffic lights.  But why on earth are they risking people on a cleanup exercise like Fukushima?

If I was Japan, I'd be on the phone to Australia.  The mining companies there that have remote controlled machines digging up and carting stuff without a human within 100 miles is what Japan needs.  Anyone that has been to Tokyo knows it's surrounded on three sides by mountains and the sea on the forth side.  That means there's mountains between Tokyo and Fukushima.  Go excavate a mountain away from the sea, then remote-controlled machines move all that radioactive water and concrete and bury it there.  

In the current phase of humanity where are rapidly heading into a situation where we need a global concerted effort for some of the amazingly huge accidents we are now capable of producing.  We should not be relying on a local power authority to fix what can easily become a global disaster.  Equally, Japan needs to stop being so proud and get with the plan of actually fixing this….

Conclusion:
Everything that can be done has not been done.  Equally, what is being done currently is only putting everyone in further danger.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Supermarket Pricing Errors...

As men go, I'm probably not your average shopper - especially in supermarkets.  When I was younger, I spent many years working in one - and I have both a critical eye, as well as an understanding of the processes and responsibilities.

After I'd worked up from gathering trolleys, packing bags, stacking shelves, etc, I spent a while doing ticketing and pricing when my stint as a butcher was over.  As a result, I often see this type of error which has not been caught...

Here's a Swiffer pad ticket.  Note to the right of the barcode, the small text.  It says: 
"8.990 per 1EA" meaning "$8.99 per 1 piece"... 


Click To Enlarge

This is highly inaccurate.  $8.99 divided by 12 items in a pack = $0.749 Each.

Here's the next item:  A 24 pack at $14.99 with "14.990 per 1EA".   



Click To Enlarge

This should clearly be:  "0.624 per 1EA" as it's $14.99 divided by 24.  
All they've done is put the price of the entire box there. 


I look out for this type of thing because I like to save money, and when making a purchasing decision I usually go for bulk/jumbo sizes over small sizes because I save money in the long run.  

However, when I see something like the above, I have to shake my head.




Monday, August 19, 2013

From Hierarchies To Networks


If you look back to the timeframe from 1985 to 2005, many radical changes happened.  We went from analog to digital (bringing us CD's, the Internet, DVD's, online streaming video, digital communications networks, etc) and we also broke down most hierarchies in our lives and replaced them with meshes or networks.

Whilst everyone understands what the former has left us with (YouTube, Skype, iTunes, etc), the latter is a bit more subtle… until someone points it out to you, then it becomes screamingly obvious:  Most places that failed to "flatten" their hierarchy and turn it into a network has become viewed by the general public as the following:
  • Slow moving/cumbersome
  • Not as well respected as they once were
  • Unable to keep up with the man on the street
  • Likely to become extinct.
This pretty much applies to government, banks, telcos, and so forth.  

Does it apply to you?


Friday, August 16, 2013

Choices - They're Not Always What They Seem


One of the bigger things I've come to examine in my life is the idea of "choice".  We're faced with many choices each day, and sometimes we seem to subconsciously choose things that are not necessarily in our best interests and other times, we think we've got a choice, but really it's not the choice you first believed you had.  

For example:  A well known burger chain advertises itself with the slogan "Have it your way".  This implies you have a choice on how you want your burger to be by adding what you want to it.  

The reality is actually the opposite: You don't get to choose what to add - instead you have a finite number of options that have been pre-chosen and you can either to have everything that they have already stipulated, or you can have your choice by omitting items from the predetermined list.  

From the burger chain's viewpoint this is a great strategy because they still charge you the same amount, regardless of the numbers of omissions in toppings.  Another way of looking at this, is you can buy a car that's fully loaded, or you can choose to not have certain features.  This ability to opt out of having everything by default is always called "Options" in the car industry.  

When you look at it this way, you see that the pop-star who had 3 inch thick carpet and leather made from elves ears put in their car, is the only person that really had a choice.  

Everyone has a set menu and can only opt to remove things from it.... So you really do not "have it your way" like you thought you had.




Thursday, August 15, 2013

Decentralisation of Information Is Good - If You Understand It


Those in Canada are well aware of the "eHealth Scandal" here.  For those not aware, take a standard 2000's "Electronic Patient Records" you've heard from every country on the planet, throw in sharing of information, drug profiling, etc, and that is what they were trying to build.  

The reality was the standard Government project with cost-overruns, a trial by media, a system that got shelved and rebooted under a new name, and to this day it's not running.

In some ways this is a good thing - and it's actually left Canada in a slightly better position than if it had stuck to it's guns and rolled this dinosaur out.

In the decade since this type of project started being mandated across first world countries, the landscape has changed a lot.  The biggest shift is the decentralization of information and services.  In the old days a central person or organization was responsible for nearly every part of your lives - and now most people take on the burden of those services.  This started with the physical "Self Serve" models found in gas stations, supermarkets, etc, and has ballooned to the point where we do most things now that we used to rely on someone else to do for us.  

This however is a double-edged sword, because we're now in what's called a "knowledge economy" or "information economy" - where the key commodity that you pay for (or get paid for) is information, yet people forget that most times, they are the actual source of the information.

When you look at all the big players, this transaction is always very one-sided.  Even when it looks like you're getting something for nothing, the other party is being paid somewhere along the line - whether it's your free email service, free social media, free draw to win a LCD TV if you fill out a quick questionnaire.

Take your health data.  If it's now not going to the Government eHealth system, but is staying with the consumer, where the consumer has control over it's collection and storage, then in theory, the consumer should be able to monitise this at a later point, right?

Wrong.  

There's two industries that will show up and weasel that information out of the public for free.  The first is the drugs companies.  The second is the insurance industry.  Once they have your knowledge, they can renegotiate terms or end promotional offers of cheaper life insurance if you hand over your RunKeeper log, or Fitness schedule.

Conclusion:
The average person is still blind to what they think is a good deal.  They never ask "Who is this more important to? Them or me?".

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How FutureShop.ca Eroded My Trust

Yesterday, I went to FutureShop.ca, to search for something.  When I got there, I saw this location magically appear.


This was quite disconcerting for me, as I was sitting at a desk in Toronto when this came up.  Further, I'd cleared my browser cache some hours earlier, and this is the first time I'd been to this site in several months.  The icing on the cake was this is a location I went to once... some three weeks earlier.  I stopped there for 15 minutes at a gas station to take a leak.

The question became how did FutureShop know about a place I was in for 15 minutes three weeks ago?  The obvious answer is it got the information from my Google profile - I had pulled up Dundalk on Google Maps on my iPhone - and now I was at work and signed in to Google, FutureShop had snaffled my info.

And there's the rub:  
Usually, you're asked if you want to share your location information.  If they'd have asked me, I would have probably have said "Yes" and they'd have my real location.   Regardless of intent, they didn't ask me and took a wild/stab-in-the-dark guess, which is wholly inaccurate. Q.E.D.

This now begs the following question:
What else has FutureShop.ca and anyone else not asked for, but then incorrectly guessed from sources that I've not agreed to share?


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Why Canada Post should fire it's marketing agency.


Whoever does the marketing for Canada Post should be fired.  Here's why:

If I send an email to myself, it leaves my phone, goes to Reston VA, fires across to California and then comes back up into Canada.  Along the way, it's scanned and sniffed and archived by the NSA, and anyone else that feels they need to keep a copy for national security reasons.

If I send myself a letter using Canada Post, it goes to a sorting office in Toronto, then it comes back.  It doesn't leave the country as part of the sorting process.  It doesn't get opened, read, and stays somewhat sacrosanct unless you do something really stupid.

You'd think Canada Post would be all over this gift from the USA to drive up usage of the postal system… but no.

Testing the Toronto Star paywall.


Today I read that the Toronto Star had introduced a new paywall to their site.  This I applaud, because it's a step in the right direction - producing content is expensive, and someone needs to pay for it.

There's just one problem - I spent about 10 minutes poking this paywall, and it's not very hard to circumvent it in it's current form.

The first thing I noted is this supposed "10 free articles" seems to be a lot more.  It could be that to trigger a view impression you need to go below the fold, or to the bottom of the page, but my random clicking through articles seems to allow me to view at least double the supposed amount.  

The second thing I noticed is that if I expire my 10 free articles, then going into "Privacy mode" in my browser gained another "7 remaining" articles (they say 7, but again, I went something like 12 or 13 more before that expired).

The third thing I noticed was that turning off JavaScript then totally chopped the paywall off at its knees.  A further ten minutes of browsing around didn't raise any further restrictions.

Conclusion:
If they're going to make this work, they need to move the lock from the client side to the server side.  What they've done is taken a bank vault approach, and then placed the vault on the sidewalk instead of in the bank.

That needs to be remedied immediately.



Google Chrome Bugs Bounty At $5000


Today, I noticed that Google has increased the bounty for it's Chrome browser bugs.  What used to net you $1000 will now get you $5000.  (Source: http://googleonlinesecurity.blogspot.ca/2013/08/security-rewards-at-google-two.html)

This is good news.  People will always tinker with stuff, but the important question is why they're tinkering with it.  

Sometimes it's to prove something, like:
  • They can prove that they can get in.
  • They can prove something isn't fixed.
  • They can prove there's a bigger problem.
  • They can prove a risk to the bigger public.
  • They can probe something can be done better.


Sometimes it's through boredom:
  • It was something to do.
  • It was there.


Sometimes it's to gain something:
  • To gain insight, knowledge or secrets.
  • To gain data.


All but two of these can be turned into a good thing - which is what Google has done.  The only exceptions being the gaining of something, which can be leveraged into a blackmail or competitive situation.

By given people an incentive to hand over what they found, Google is doing two things:
1.  Only spending money on top talent, and not "average" talent.
2.  Making sure that top talent stays on side with Google.

I wish more companies would do something like this.


Monday, August 12, 2013

The next Apple iPhone...


Today, I see a lot of rumours starting up in the news about the iPhone 5S.  I don't think we're going to see an iPhone 5S, and here's why: 

1.  We all pretty much know a new cut-priced iPhone is in the pipeline.  Whether it's called the iPhone Lite, or iPhone 5C is immaterial.  If this is coming out this year, you cannot simultaneously introduce an iPhone 5S and say the only difference is materials.

2.  This idea that we go from a model to an S model is getting dated.  If Apple does something dated, you know it's going to get shaken up eventually.

So, my money is on an iPhone 6… rather than an iPhone 5S… and I think it'll be something of a departure from the usual "S" style of update to the current model. It'll be a new iPhone, like the 4 and 5 were. 

Speaking with an intent that people can identify...

This morning I saw this quote from Former Goldman Sachs executive Timothy Dattels, a BlackBerry board member:

"Given the importance and strength of our technology, and the evolving industry and competitive landscape, we believe that now is the right time to explore strategic alternatives," Dattels said in a statement.

You'd think a statement like that would have come from Blackberry in 2007, but no, this is from 2013.

I'm not going to rag on Blackberry as there's a passel of pundits that have done that and will continue to do it in the future.  What I will say is, this got me thinking about when people say speeches like that, which on the surface seem straightforward enough, but under the hood is saying nothing of positive substance.  I say "positive substance" because there is substance in this message - and it screams "speaking waffle with no clear commitment to anything we can specify".

This type of corporate whitewash-talk is tiring. Most people can see through it these days, so it's actually dangerous for a company that's in trouble to continue using it.  After all, all the above waffle translates to is this: "we are going to have a meeting or a few meetings".

Conclusion: 

If you've got something to say, great.... If you're saying something simple using waffle, it's time to rethink what you're saying.

Friday, August 9, 2013

GCHQ Tempora Didn't Help Hollywood or the Music Industry

There's an irony to the revelation about the GCHQ and how it's "Tempora" program worked, because indirectly it gave Hollywood and the Recording Industry a way to test national surveillance for downloading torrents whilst simultaneously shooting their own arguments in the foot.  

On the one hand, Hollywood and the Music Industry has been telling us that over half the Internet data is illegal torrents containing their material, and have wanted ways to monitor this.  On the other hand, it turned out that GCHQ has been monitoring Internet data, and the first thing it filters out is torrent data.

This apparently only reduces the data by 30%.

Now we finally have an actual figure, from a credible government source, taken from real public data, this should be all over the news.  Of course, it's not in the interests of the old media to acknowledge their previous figures were over-inflated, so they're being pretty quiet about it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Country Boundaries and the Internet...


Interesting interview today with Canada's Lt.-Col. Francis Castonguay about Canada's drive for changes to the Canadian Armed Forces so the army, navy and air force could operate in cyberspace... He said part of their problem was internet's lack of boundaries...  If you go back about a decade we heard the same argument between yahoo and France during their infamous spat.  

If you're not aware of this, in short, Yahoo! stated that as a US company, it didn't have to abide by the wishes of France when France found Yahoo! was trying to flog Nazi memorabilia to the French public - and besides, it's a boundary-less environment that couldn't be enforced.  Further, Yahoo! said that the USA's First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and expression, and that any attempt to enforce a judgement in the United States would fail for unconstitutionality.

They then said the French court was incompetent to hear the case.

Naturally, France got a tad upset by this and basically gave them 90 days to censor the Nazi content from the French people.  Magically, Yahoo! pulled this off.... largely because people outside of Yahoo! said to the judge that they'd be able to do it if Yahoo! couldn't.

After the case was brought before a bunch of US judges by Yahoo! saying that as an American company, the French Court's wishes were not applicable to them, naturally the American judge agreed.  Then a higher up court had the ruling overturned.  Then everything escalated and eventually the whole thing ended up in DC.  At this point, someone very high up who had a level head ruled this:

"Yahoo! is necessarily arguing that it has a First Amendment right to violate French criminal law and to facilitate the violation of French criminal law by others. [...] the extent — indeed the very existence — of such an extraterritorial right under the First Amendment is uncertain."

Yahoo! had lost trying to force American values on the French public.

The most interesting outcome that you don't hear too often is what happened after this: 
The same technology made for filtering out the American's sales of Nazi tat to the French was soon used to broker a deal with China, where (surprise!) the same filters were used to stop certain content reaching the Chinese general public.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Toronto and it's arcane animal by-laws



The news out of NB about the two boys being killed by an escaped constrictor is disheartening and senseless.  Quite rightly, animal regulations have come back to the forefront of discussion.

Living in Toronto, I think its high time someone took a good look at the City's laws here, because they are daft to say the least. 

In Toronto, we have this municipal code (source http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/municode/1184_349.pdf), which states what you can and cannot have.  Whilst it quite rightly blankets out the keeping of anything poisonous or venomous, it's bans you from keeping harmless things like ducks, chickens, ponies, etc, whilst leaving some pretty epic holes.

It clearly states on it that you can't have chickens ("Galliformes"), but you can have a non-poisonous snake as long as it's under 3 metres - That's 9 feet long…Toronto's rules say you can't keep elephants ("Proboscidae")… but a Rhinoceros ("Rhinocerotidae") is fine as that's not on the list.   Hares ("Lagomorpha") are banned, but Manatees ("Trichechidae") seem to be fine.   You're not allowed ducks in a pond, but you can keep a great white shark ("Lamnidae") in a pond.  You can't keep a horse or donkey in Toronto, but a hippopotamus ("Hippopotamidae") seems to be perfectly ok.

Hopefully, Toronto takes a look at this with new eyes, especially given the news right now. 

On a lighter note: If they ever bring back the Tyrannosaurus Rex, you'll be able to keep those in Toronto, too, as they're missing from the banned list.






The message is the message... regardless of medium.


Sometimes, when news has hit social media in the past, it spread like wildfire until someone pointed out that it's a hoax - or that a key fact is wrong - at which point it largely died out, except for the hardcore "sheep" that blindly repost everything they see.  

A healthy skepticism for everything that comes along on twitter is good.

We're also now largely getting accustomed to discounting anything that says "according to sources", because if they're not named then they're likely not real - and we're also getting very tired of trusting anything that says "reports say".  Again, if they can't substantiate "whose reports" then it's also likely to be false news.

So along came an event last week where something spread across the Twitterverse at breakneck speeds, proclaiming (paraphrased) that the US Government was warning people not to travel due to an unspecified threat.  After about five minutes, this changed to "The US State Department says not to travel, due to an unspecified threat."…

So I went and had a look at the US State Dept. website.  I found the travel alerts section, and this alert was not on there.  

I did a quick recap:
1.  Unsubstantiated facts = Check.
2.  The supposed source has nothing about this on their news feed = Check.
3.  Other news companies where attributing the news to AP, CNN, etc = Check.

In other words, this looked like a bona fide hoax.  Some time later, however, the US State Dept did in fact put something up on their site - meaning this was true after all.    

Some might argue that maybe twitter is too unstable for news to reliably travel through. In the case of this particular story, I think what should have happened is this:
1.  US State Dept posts the advisory to their website, where people will be heading to when they see it on twitter.
2.  They then hold the press conference.

This is very important:  By doing it the other way around, it means that when the story hit twitter, the lack of available substantiating facts are actually degrading the validity of the story that they're trying to get across.

There's a well worn phrase about "the medium being the message".  I wholly disagree with this statement because as far as I'm concerned, "the message is the message" and if I'm getting the wrong message via the medium of twitter then maybe we change the protocols and not the medium.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Unnecessary Delays On The TTC Subway

Today there was a subway delay due to "an unauthorized at track level".  Quite what this means is anyone's guess - but then clarity isn't a strong #TTC trait.  All we do know for sure was something is on the track that shouldn't have been - whether it was a suicidal person, a piece of junk on fire, or some random animal that escaped from the zoo.

The thing that irks me is this is usually a totally avoidable situation - just put barriers up.  Given the rate of suicides is not really tapering off, I still think it makes more sense to protect what is currently broken, than expand an unsafe subway system.  


There's 67 subway stations, so at $10m a station, that's only $670m to fix the problem and stop people dying on our tracks and clogging it up with fiery litter and "unauthorized's" - whereas all the politicians are trying to score points on something that's over the billion dollar mark.

Meanwhile, people continue to jump on the tracks, litter gets on the tracks and causes fires, and the city suffers in the form of time lost to preventable delays.


It just doesn't make sense to me.

Why Apple TV does not have an SDK yet


Yesterday, someone asked me "is it possible to build apps and push to apple TV?"

My short answer was: Not yet. 

My longer answer was:  
People (mainly "Analysts") have been prognosticating the arrival of an Apple TV SDK for years.  The media always picks up this analyst hype and regurgitates it as valid news from a credible source - which it's not.  This year alone, there have been two "Apple TV SDK imminent" events (one in February, and one just before WWDC) that I can think of.  I'm sure we'll see a third before the September iOS event for the iPhone 5S.  Of course, the SDK has never happened to materialize yet.  
As for opening it up to external developers, I subscribe to saying "never say never" but I think it's not likely to happen this side of the next five years.

Afterwards, I was asked why YouTube and Netflix are on Apple TV then.

Here's how that works...

The current landscape for traditional media as you know, is centred around two things:
1.  The content creators who spend a lot of money making stuff.
2.  The content aggregators who get this stuff for nearly free and distribute it.

The content creators are the music labels, hollywood studios, newspaper reporters, TV productions, authors, etc.
The content aggregators are the iTunes, Huffington Post, Youtube, Flickr, Netflix, Wikipedia, etc.

The general rule of media these days is the expensive-to-create content flows one way into a black hole of content aggregators who distribute it at the cheapest price to the public.

This is the model of iTunes, which works great for Apple, but not so for the authors, music labels, etc.  But given that's the price point people will pay, the content creators have to take what they can, even if Apple is skimming 30% off of the already cheapened price.  However, there's a few players that are exceptions to this rule, because they undercut even Apple.  

These two exceptions are YouTube (it's free) and Netflix.  Netflix's monthly subscription rate is approximate to renting one blockbuster and one older film per month on iTunes.  Apple can't easily compete with that.  

So, here's what happened:
1.  The YouTube app on Apple TV was written by Apple, not Google.  This is the same as what happened on iOS, until Apple pulled their product - at which point Google stepped in with their own app.
2.  Netflix agreed to rev-share with Apple.  It's also big enough that Apple knew it'd be a selling point for their hardware and they'd be fools not to go with it.  So, Apple now skims from Netflix too.  But, in doing that (bear in mind there's no App Store for Apple TV) Apple has to push the software for Netflix as part of the Apple TV OS upgrade - which means all 12million or so devices got that Netflix client.

Netflix was a win-win situation for Apple who gets more revenue from the same device, and Netflix gets another platform to sell through.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Watch out for turkeys


Once upon a time there was a little turkey.  The turkey lived on a farm.  Everyday the farmer would come and fill the feed trough, replace the water in the bowl, and this little turkey and all his friends would eat, drink and be happy.  

Every day, the same routine.  
Every day, the same outcome.

When the turkey got a bit older, he began to ponder the meaning of life and the patterns that are occurring around him.  He noticed that every day, the sun came up.  He noticed every day the farmer would put out new food and water.  He began to realise that he could predict the next day, and tested his hypothesis, day after day.  One day, he shared his thoughts and learnings with the other turkeys.  

They were all very impressed.  They too, tested the hypothesis of what would happen the next day.  Again, they saw the sun come up, and the farmer come with food and water.  They concluded that this is an observable truth and a fundamental law of their universe.  

One day, a slaughterer turned up instead of the farmer, and killed every last one of them.  

The turkey story is roughly the basis for Humes Paradox.  Hume declared that it is not possible to connect an effect to a specific cause with any degree of certainty, because no matter how many observations we have made that do connect the effect to the cause without fail, it still does not follow that any or all future effects will, with certainty, be connected to that specific cause.  The skepticism of the knowledge gained through observation is directly in conflict with the empirical data that can be assumed from it.

In other words, whilst the turkey's had measurable data to say that the routine was a certainty, when you look at the same situation from a different angle (the farmer's viewpoint, for instance), this "axiom" was wholly wrong. 

When I question someone about something that is happening and they harp on about their measurable data and the way things have always been done and how it always will be in the future, all I can see is a big turkey in front of me.