Sunday, August 31, 2008

Lightning fast linux on USB pen drive

Shutting out the US presidential race and Winston Peter's latest campaign to bait the media in order to win votes, I turned to my toys.

It's been a goal for the past 15 months to get Linux up and running on my Acer Travelmate 2483 laptop, complete with wireless support, sound and all the usual Internet mod cons.

I moved the idea from thought to action about a couple of weeks ago when I went to DSE and bought a DSE USB Microdrive with 16GB of flash ram.

After some false starts with Ubuntu and Damn Small Linux, tonight I tried the AllInOne version of PenDrive Linux. Pendrive Linux is based on the Mandriva distribution.

I downloaded the 495MB zip file and extracted all the files to the FAT32-formatted USB key. Once I worked out I needed to run the makeboot.bat file from an *administrator* command prompt on Windows Vista, I was then able to boot the laptop from the USB key.

This method also avoids installing the Lilo or Grub bootloaders, leaving the main hard disk untouched.

I then connected to the Internet via ethernet cable (the Marvel Yukon 100Mb ethernet chipset and DHCP worked fine). I then tried to set up the wireless network. Pendrive Linux correctly identified the Broadcom wireless chipset and told me I needed to download the BCM43xxx firmware for it and provided the URL. The wireless setup task then allowed me to select the downloaded firmware and installed it. In another couple of minutes I had configured the wireless network, rebooted and was on the Internet wirelessly, using a Linux system started from the USB pen drive.

The sound works fine and I can play flash videos on YouTube without having to install anything. I used Ksnapshot to capture the image of my new Pendrive Linux desktop in this post and GIMP to scale to a smaller size.

In a word: Awesome.

In another word: FAST

The laptop has 1.5GB of RAM and the CPU runs at 1.73GHz. By modern standards, that's a very ordinary machine. Windows Vista reckens it's too slow to run the Aero user interface. Pendrive Linux, on the other hand, loves it. With all data on flash RAM in the USB drive, this system is much faster than the Windows Vista system it normally runs......despite the USB bus speed being slower than the mainboard data bus.

PenDrive Linux can be run in read-only "live" mode, or in persistent mode. The latter allows the system to save and use the same setings (and any new files), just like on any"normal" system.

I've written this post on it.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Mozilla "Ubiquity": Try it. You'll (probably) like it

I don't load my computers down with useless toys. My systems tend to be somewhat basic and if I don't use an application much, I tend to get rid of it. Maybe that's due to my years as a Resource Management Analyst on the former NZ Dairy Board's mainframe systems, trying to better just a little bit more out of the hardware and software by making most efficient use of it.

Yesterday I discovered Mozilla's "Ubiquity". It's a sort of command-line for the Mozilla Firefox web browser.

But much more than that. I've been having fun working out how to most effectively use it - particularly the ability to highlight some text on a web page, invoke Ubiquity, and watch it find resources, from a variety of sources, related to those selected words. There is much more to it than that, despite the first version being described, at v0.1, as a prototype.

Watch the video below and see how easily Aza Raskin is able to create a "mash-up", using Ubiquity, into an e-mail he's drafting. The potential for it to be a very powerful tool is there.

It's available on Mac, Windows and Linux. You can checkout the tutorial and it installs in a handful of seconds. It's only 185k. You can learn how to develop your own Ubiquity commands, too.

Ubiquity for Firefox from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Russia, Georgia the US and (sadly usual) hypocrisy

I haven't said much about the events in Georgia. partly because it looked like a situation that demanded watching rather than uninformed opinion. The background seems to be that Russia has long standing and declared interests in the region. The Russian ethnic minorities left behind in some of the former Soviet republics when the Soviet Union broke up are a serious issue for Russia and Russians.

Arguably, Russia has acted in defense of people it sees as Russians - the South Ossetians. Reports say some South Ossetians have been given Russian passports. This is understandable as when they were born, they likely were Russians. Just as people born in other countries to a British parent can get EU passports. I'm one of them myself. There is nothing strange about this.....US Republican party presidential nominee, John McCain, was born in Panama to US parents. Nothing has been said in the media about the basis for Russia giving passports to some South Ossetians. Only that some are getting them. The truth lies in the details.

The government in Georgia had been growing ever closer to the Bush Administration in the US. The US had supported joint military operations between Georgia and it's non-Russian neighbours. At the tail end of those exercises, Georgian troops rolled into South Ossetia, disturbing the effective truce that had pertained there for some time.

One of the interesting items picked up in trolling through the news from non-US sources over the past couple of weeks was that South Ossetia had been made a semi-autonomous region within Georgia by Stalin, decades ago. So this is nothing new at all.

One can readily understand why Russia might want to highlight how little substance there is to American support for Georgia and remind Georgia to show more respect toward Russia.

Another interesting aspect in this is how Russia has - effectively - emulated the foreign policy approach of the Bush Administration in unilaterally pursuing what it sees as in its best interests. The events of the past few weeks might be seen as former Russian Preisdent and current Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, giving George W Bush the finger during Bush's last few months in office. After all, Putin pleaded with Bush for most of two years to follow a more moderate and co-operative foreign policy and Bush took no notice whatever.

I can readily imagine Putin and current Russian President Medvedev rendering the diplomatic version of "Talk to the hand" in response to hypocritical American thundering about Russia's self-interested military actions in defence of.....Russians.

Of course this isn't how it is presented in the usual right-wing, one-eyed, war-mongering media outlets - like the Telegraph in the UK and those in the US owned by weapons contractors who make more money when there is a war going on - or threat of one. In all that news coverage, we hear a great deal from the US and very little is reported in detail of what the Russians have to say. I'm sure they aren't silent. We simply aren't told what they are saying.

The Guardian and The Independent in the UK have distinguished themselves by their even-handed and level-headed appraisals of the situation in context and informed by history.

A more rounded and less cartoon-like assessment of the whole situation is out there. Unfortunately, you have go digging to find it. The truth isn't mainstream.

Once again, I see 5,000 English-language newpapers essentially delivering little more than whatever AP, Reuters and AFP dish up.....and those three wire services have clearly been captured by more-war political interests long ago.

Kiwibank looks like a winner - again

Kiwibank is going from strength to strength having announced a $36.m profit for the past year. That's up 19% on last year and Kiwibank says that is actually an 82% increase due to changed rules requiring last year's profit to be restated.

I moved my accounts to Kiwibank a few days after the ANZ, who I have dealt with for 23 years, announced they were sending 500 back office jobs to India.

Bad enough we are now scorched earth for manufacturing, but to loose clerical jobs to India in large numbers would ultimately gut our economy.

One of the interesting things I learned while working at IBM a few years back was that banks make 80% of their profits from the top 20% of their clients. In those days, they made mothing at all from the bottom 20%. Hence the move to much higher bank fees. For a huge chunk of relatively low-income banking customers, those fees are the only profit the bank makes from dealing with them.

This triggered the move toward setting up Kiwibank. It was essentially intended to offer banking services to that botttom 20% (and anyone else) who want banking with lower fees. It was also intended to exert downward pressure on the fees other banks could charge without losing customers.

Having spent 6 months in Canada last year "enjoying" the much higher banking fees they pay to their large banks, the value of Kiwibank to every NZ banking customer - whether they deal with Kiwibank or not - is very obvious to me. 

Monday, August 25, 2008

I hate toll roads

I hate the very idea of toll roads. It's visceral. It may even be irrational. Whether it is or not, I still hate it.

Thought experiment: Here we have a road. It's a perfectly good road. It may even take you where you want to go. Lovely. You might walk down it. You might ride your bicycle.


You can't use it unless you pay to go there. Pedestrians and bicycles almost certainly aren't allowed. To prevent non-paying users, there are fences along the side of toll roads - maybe even walls. I've seen both.

If you don't want to pay or can't pay you'll have to go some other way. The people who want you to pay for roads will have a financial interest in making the other - tax-funded - way more difficult to use. There is no financial incentive for them to do otherwise. They will run down the maintenance to "save money". The public roads are degraded so the private roads might prosper....and profit at your expense.

Looking around at failed "PPP" (public private partnerships) roading projects in places like Canada and Australia, the case for obstructing the tax-funded roads would be even stronger, as failure of the pay road must not be allowed. Usually, the taxpayer underwrites these PPPs - to protect against failure by the private partner - while the private participant expends huge effort to shove costs onto the public partner through loopholes in the contract. Big bucks are eaten up by accountants and lawyers arguing over compliance and fulfullment. This is how it has too often gone elsewhere.

National's Maurice Williamson championed toll roads with multi-million dollar gantries of electronic sensing equipment to allow money to extracted from toll road users, based on their reg plates or a transponder installed on the vehicles of frequent users. He's at it again as the election approaches.

To me, it's just one more sign that this really is the same old 90's National Party....still pushing the same user-pays barrows to generate ticket-clipping profits for the small clique of transport (and other) cronies who back them......all the while claiming it's for our own good. People without memories lap it up. The market theory is so pretty. The reality of actual practice forgotten or unknown.

If we are constrained for roading infrastructure, the cheapest way to fix that is the invest in public transport. But, as we have seen in the power industry, there are no profits in conservation. Profits are largest when consumption is highest - however wasteful that may be overall. Never mind we could avoid spending billions on power plants if we use existing technologies to save power instead of generating more.

The same applies to roading. We have loads of roads. But we use them unwisely.

In the Herald article, Transport Minister, Annette King, lists roughly $7 billion worth of roading projects in Auckland alone. A good chuck of that would not need to be spent at all if there was better public transport. The new tunnels under the Waitemata Harbour won't alter much, but the volume of traffic carried through them and their capacity into the future could be greatly enhanced by better public transport - rail and road.

The people pushing toll roads aren't entrepreneurs or investors. They are would-be monopolists looking for the golden ticket. The NZ Herald quotes Willliamson as saying we will all be paying $50 / week to use the toll roads and be happier for it. I doubt it.

Combined with better public transit, I very much prefer tax-funded roads to roading-for-profit. Tax-funded roads are, effectively, funded by public roading insurance supported by the widest possible base: everyone who drives a car or truck. Any of us can go on any road we have collectively paid for. We own them all and can use them all.

Rational or not, that's how I feel. I won't pay to use a road on a per-use basis. Roading is public infrastructure. If we want more roads, we should stump up more tax.

While I might condone paying a toll for a defined period to recover the cost of construction of a public road, I won't vote for anyone who says I should pay a toll in perpetuity to use a road owned by one of their cronies.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

First Past the Post: Pity the Canadians

Looks like Canada may be headed for a federal election later this year.

The last two governments have been minority governments, elected under Canada's first past the post voting system. The national Parliament in Ottawa is currently dominated by four parties, three of which enjoy a strong regional base, concentrating their vote and allowing them to win seats out of all proportion to their support nationally. This regional concentration - a product of the first past the post voting system - has effectively "balkanised" Canada, despite the fact that all parties (other than the Bloc) enjoy significant voter support nationally.

The prospect of an election has been raised by the (minority) governing Conservative party rising to 39% in the polls as compared to 30% for the Opposition Liberal Party. At that level, they have a realistic prospect of winning a majority of seats and forming a government - despite the fact that 61% of Canadians do not want them to be the government.

That's First Past the Post for you: one party governments most people DON'T want.

Long live MMP.

Friday, August 22, 2008

MMP and the Herald's democratic disability

Yesterday, the NZ Herald graced us all with more evidence of their democratic disability.

Like many who have never actually understood how MMP works, the Herald ignores the reality list MPs are elected by the national party vote. Sorry, but that is how it is. When I cast my party vote, I am voting for the entire "team". If the Herald doesn't (or doesn't want to) understand this, that's very much a flaw in their understanding rather than a flaw in MMP.

A list MP, like any MP, is selected by their party to stand before votes. A local MP stands only before the voters in one small part of the country. A list MP stands before the ENTIRE country. They are accountable, as a group, to ALL voters....not just a few in one place.

This one of the BEST things about MMP. Not only is there a local MP who is accountable - in practice - to the largest minority of local voters, but the entire party (many MPs) are accountable nationwide through the party vote. That was not possible under First Past the Post.

Under FPP, the best possible outcome for any single voter was that they voted for ONE candidate in one of many electorates. No other candidate, party or incumbent MP is in any way affected by that vote. It's the pea-shooter vote compared to MMP's shotgun vote.

How the Herald can be so confused as to think a voter (maybe - FPP after all) holding one MP to account is better than holding MANY to account, is not clear. But it is a common misapprehension among those who never wanted MMP and who have, consequently, refused to understand how it actually works.

One analogyu I use is the All Blacks. When you watch a rugby match, do you cheer for Daniel Carter and I cheer for Richie McCaw? No. We all cheer for the whole team.

FPP is the system that only lets you cheer for one player. MMP let's you back both your favourite player AND the whole team...and it might be a different team.Roughly one third of all voters split their vote between a local candidate of another party. The Herald calls for a system that would take this powerful tool for accountability away. 

It's clear enough to me MMP is by far the better system, offering voters more powerful tools for enabling each and every voter to see their vote translated into representation.

When you boil down the arguments made by the Herald and others it comes down o them deciding that people they disagree with should not be allowed to elect the people of their choice. Yet they call themselves democrats....when clearly, by their own words, they have no real understanding at all of the term.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ubuntu and cool stuff

My youngest daughter discovered his week that GIMP (open source equivalent of PhotoShop) runs better on Linux than Windows XP. She uses about a thousand brushes and as many fonts and after a few hours XP just grinds to a near halt. On the same system, Ubuntu Linux 8.04 stays consistently lively across several days with no problems doing exactly the same things.

I've been coming home to find her deep in the grip of the penguin....for hours...designing Bebo skins for her mates. I have to confess I've been seeking tuition on how to use layers and masks and collect brushes of all types for creating interesting graphics. I have a lot of catching up to do. She's been thrashing GIMP for almost 2 years now, to the point where she can do stuff that is REALLY cool....and be completely unable to explain how she did it. It just happens......part of her internal programming.

Still on Tux, she also found that on Ubuntu 8.04 she can preview her MP3 files by hovering the mouse pointer over the file in a folder. She was waving the mouse pointer around "creating" ad hoc sample 'concerts'. It must load them into cache or memory as the switch between songs was instant. Even I, somewhat jaded linux user for 14 years now, thought that was pretty cool. The system has 512MB of RAM and is based on an AMD Athlon 2200+ CPU (approx 1.8Ghz) that was new 5 or 6 years ago.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sign the petition in support of the Disappearance Convention!

No Right Turn asks:

In December 2006, the United Nations adopted a major new human rights treaty aimed at preventing and punishing enforced disappearance.

New Zealand didn't sign it.

You can help change this.

Download the petition, collect as many signatures as you can, and post it back.

Friday, August 15, 2008

In no particular order

The news is a bit thicker than usual this week. These stories broke through the mass into my no particular order.

The iPhone 3G appears to have problems. Dropped calls (3% vs the normal 1%) and choppy Internet (as the devices swap frequently between low and high speed access) are the main issues, it appears. Fingers are pointing at Infineon Technologies' 3G chips. But Infineon says they work just fine in other phones and cites Samsung as an example.

Whatever. I'm glad I didn't go for one.

For the last few days, I've also had Georgia on my mind. Where the heck did THAT come from? I'm trying to make sense of it. I can see some long running threads amid the mess.

Russia (Putin) has grown tired of Bush-lead America following a "me first, screw you" approach to almost every aspect of foreign policy. 'Might makes right' wears thin over time. The EU and NATO are encroaching on Russian borders and Russia is frozen out of closer relations with the rapidly growing 'United States of Europe'. But thanks for all the oil and gas. The US continues to set up its missile shield setting up on Russia's doorstep in Poland, Turkey and elsewhere (supposedly directed at "rogue" states) despite Russia's vehement opposition. Then, the president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, tried to assert control in break-away South Ossetia immediately after US-funded joint military exercises began last month in Georgia. Those exercises were matched at the time by a Russian anti-terrorist operation on the other side of the border.

Georgia wants to join NATO. Hard to imagine Russia letting that happen.

Who is the US 'saving'? Georgia is nominally a democracy. No need to fight for 'freedum-n-dumocrasee' there. South Ossetia has a large Russian population and doesn't want to be part of Georgia. They've made that fairly clear. Russia compares it to Kosovo in that respect, which the West assisted in seceding from rump-Yugoslavia, though it would not be fair to compare Saakashvili to Serbia's now-dead former leader, Slobodan Milosevic.

Looks to me like some (unnecessary) brinksmanship going on and Russia either took the bait (October Surpise!) or called US President George Bush and Georgian President Saakashvili's bluff.

Either way, the US elections would have to feature in the overall calculations somewhere....especially on the American side. One of the key tools Bush has for helping out Republican nominee, John McCain is the ability to stir up trouble as a background for McCain to posture in front of. Democrat contender, Barack Obama has sensibly spoken of a more moderate and co-operative approach to foreign policy. What better way to make him look soft than to go around the world stirring up trouble making it look like talking isn't an option? Meanwhile.....real people die. Bush couldn't give a rat's arse about that, as his record clearly shows. For its part, Russia will be betting the US and EU don't want their oil and gas supplies disrupted by a wider war and anyway the US is busy with all the other endless wars it has underway.

I'm sure it will get worse before it gets better. Obama is still ahead in the polls. It's a risky strategy. The Republicans are already in trouble with many voters for starting stupid wars and waing Everests of tax money. Intensifying the apparent stupidity heading into an election could backfire. Though many Americans are suckers for some flag-waving war-mongerig and might go with it no matter how stupid it is. After all, they backed the invasion of Iraq on he evidential equivalent of the smell of an oily rag.

The Beijing Olympics are on. There was never any doubt in my mind that China would put on one hell of a show. The intelligence, energy and creativity of China are enormous and a set piece like the Olympics is the perfect platform to display all of the above. Virtually every person I know of Chinese nationality or extraction is bursting with pride - and rightly so. Having said that, I'm either working all day, spending time with the family, walking the dog or reading and thinking or sleeping, so haven't seen more than a couple of minutes worth of coverage here and there, now and again. Much like the last Olympics and the several before that. Not being one to spend endless hours in fromt of the tube watching anything (let alone sport) the O-rings aren't getting much of a look in.

The last time I sat and spent hours watching an Olympics was in 1976 in Montreal, where I had a friend attending as an alternate. He won gold in the heavyweight class in Edmonton in 1978 at the Commonwealth Games. He was to be the primary competitor in 1980, but the Soviets invaded Afghanistan to forestall muslim extremists taking control of the place and almost every Western country boycotted the Moscow Olympics....and my friend was very disappointed. He'd spent most of a decade preparing for that day. He left Canada after winning gold in the heavyweight plus class at the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane in 1982 and still doesn't live there full time even now. Last time I spoke to him, he was spending about half the year in Beijing and half in Vancouver and has done for over 20 years. His experience at the hands of cynical political interests sort of ruined the Olympics for me. It's even worse now we know the US funded those muslim extremists in Afghanistan in the first place and Canada was suckered into supporting a boycott regarding a war the US had played a part in provoking. Another one.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Toronto propane explosion live on YouTube

YouTube had an "08/08/08" event in Toronto, Canada this week. As a consequence, many well-known YouTube personalities were - and awake  at 3am - when the big propane explosion occured in the Wilson & Keele St area. Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes in the middle of the night, within a radius of about 2kms. This is a heavily populated area. I was living not far from this area when in Toronto last year. It's right next to the 401 highway, Canada's busiest, it's about 12+ lanes wide at this point. Imagine this happening right next to Spaghetti Junction in Auckland.....

Here are some YouTube videos of the huge explosion, including one made by "SxePhil" one of YouTube top video bloggers.

The first video shows a good wide view and includes a fragment of the major explosion.

toronto propane explosion (good sound quality)

The second video is from the nearby 401 highway and shows the scene from a much closer vantage point.

Toronto Propane Facility Explosion - 10/08/08 (High Quality)

The third video is also close, and you can see exploding propane tanks flying through air at about the 1 minute mark.

VERY CLOSE - GOOD FOOTAGE - Toronto Propane Depot Explosion - Keele and Wilson 2008

The 4th and 5th videos are the initial HUGE explosion as seen the a hotel where some well known YouTubers were staying.

kevjumba: Toronto Propane Explosion from My Angle

SxePhil: Toronto Propane Explosion Caught on Tape (sXePhil Angle)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Pork chop barbie on an Arctic Ocean beach one day soon

Over on Hot Topic, Gareth reports 2008 could be the worst year for ice cover depletion in the Arctic Sea to date. More disturbingly, whether it is or not, the Arctic Ocean will be all but ice free in 5 years time.

For the hardier souls among us, that may be see the beginning of a northern land rush as the Canadian (and other) "North"s become more moderate and - dare I say it - livable. That may depend on how much sea levels rise. Judging the new coast lines may not be easy.

If it sounds like I've given up on people have any real impact on climate change, I'm close to it. The progress since the Rio Conference in 1992 has been negligible as the greedy pigs who can't lift their snouts out of the daily trough long enough to see the butcher coming continue to frustrate any real progress on the whole issue.

It's so bad, they would rather spend millions frustrating any progress by sowing confusion than spend the same money doing something about the problem.

I've mentioned in other posts that I used to own pigs. They would dig up all the grass to get to the grubs....and when they were done there was neither grass nor grubs. At that point, they had privatised all their profits and expected me to socialise their losses by feeding many modern "capitalists" (major banks loaded with dodgy debt and falling over are prime examples).

So start looking for those prime spots a few kilometers in-shore from the Arctic Ocean. You could be on to a winner. The pigs are running and there may be fresh pork on every barbie following a climate disaster near you.

CBT AGM Tonight

I'm looking forward to attending the AGM of the Campaign for Better Transport this evening. Cameron Pitches, in particular, has been an excellent advocate of better public transport in Auckland.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Evo Morales re-elected president of Bolivia

One of the Latin American presidents the Bush Administration in the US loves to hate has been re-elected with a thumping majority. Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia, appears to have won a sweeping majority in the recall election his conservative opponents had hoped would remove him from office.

Morales nationalised the oil and gas industries, reformed the Constitution and introduced agrarian reform in his first 8 months in office. The intention was to spread Bolivia's wealth more widely among the people and create a broader middle class supporting social and political stability. Gross inequity backed by military and police power had, in the past, lead to insurgent armies and violent factions fighting in Bolivia's hinterlands.

The recent history of Bolivia is well worth catching up on. Evo Morales appears to be a very practical man. So far, his solutions appear to be working for Bolivia, if somewhat unpalatable to the old ruling class and their self-serving sense of entitlement.

Today I introduce a new label "smart people". I'll use it whenever I come across someone who appears to be doing something good for the right reasons. It won't mean they are perfect or that they will never make mistakes. It just means for this thing (whatever it is), on this day, they were smart.

Monday, August 11, 2008

National: subsidy-seeking sense of entitlement

National: They hate democracy

National's proposed referendum on MMP is self-serving. They have made themselves losers (for the most part) under MMP by refusing to either put forward policies voters will support or to persuade voters to support the policies they have.

Arguably, voters have a clearer view of those policies and their effects than National does, having been subjected to them several times already and finding them wanting. It's bizarre for a political party to claim they are aiding democracy by unilaterally seeking to dump MMP and thus deprive the better part of a million voters of a vote that actually counts toward representation. National voters in safe labour seats and labour voters in safe national seats will return to the day when their vote was worthless as far as electing anyone at all was concerned.

The claim there is a public outcry is false. The same arrogant people - like Peter Shirtcliffe and Graeme Hunt - who hold voters in contempt and hate the thought of people they don't like having a vote that actually elects anyone are behind this. Beyond the monied few, any popular referendum attempt using the CIR law has fizzled for lack of interest. Every recent poll shows most people are happy with MMP.

The Supplementary Member system Key says he supports creates two classes of voters and his party gets the boost in seats their share of the vote doesn't justify. A vote for the National Party will be worth "1" while a vote for the Greens or someone other than Labour may be worth "0.5" or less, depending on how many proportional seats there are.

It says something deeply meaningful to me about National's ethics and lack of understanding of democratic equity (all votes of equal value) that they seriously advance a system where all votes are not equal and a vote for the National party earns an unearned bonus.

I can't vote for people who place themselves above democracy for every Kiwi where everyone has a vote of the same value.

National's sense of entitlement is frankly sickening. They seek a democratic subsidy (welfare for the disadvantaged - them) and limits to the political free market for their own benefit.....while claiming to be party who is the enemy of both subsidy and unearned privilege.

Where is the self-reliance they preach to others? It doesn't seem to apply when you're talking about them. They need to cheat to win and will try to tell you its for your own good.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Vodafone's broken internet

Since yesterday afternoon, I haven't been able to access Google Mail or Blogspot via my pre-pay Vodafone.

On the Vodafone 715, I get a grammatically interesting "Received a invalid response". On the Motorola, I get a more direct Error 502.

I called Vodafone and paid the $1 to speak to Customer Service. They told me the problem was a known one caused by upgrades to Vodafone Live and would be resolved....whenever. No, I would not be notified.

I tried a few minutes ago and it's still not working. That's a 31 hour outage by my count.

[UPDATE: 07:47am Monday - Still can't get to http error 503.]

Back of mind wonders: Do they create problems after introducing the $1 charge to drive some revenue? Or to see what call numbers are like? Or to see how many people objectto loosing this part of the service? They ditched CNN from Sky Mobile without a word....and appeared not to inform Customer Service beforehand as they had no idea what was offered, never mind what they had stopped offering.

Vodafone is starting to feel like just another concrete-eared telco.

[UPDATE: 07:47am - Still can't get to http error 503.]

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Liquid sunshine and public transport

Raining this morning. Grey from edge to edge, the sun just coming up - somewhere. I'm driving over the bridge to the city this morning so will get to see of this falling-down day very soon.

I was thinking about taking the bus to Grey Lynn, but checked the MAXX Journey Planner and gave that idea up. Despite being ready to leave at 7:45 am, on the way there, I would , arrive almost 25 minutes late (after 9am), walk over 1km in the rain and pay $5.90 for the privilege.

On the way back at 13:30, I'd have to walk a total of 1.5kms in the rain, wait almost 25 minutes for the first bus, (after the 550 metre walk between buses - in the rain), and then arrive home 98 minutes after starting out and a hour later than if I just drove home. And pay $5.90 for the privilege.

It's just not an attractive option today. Especially when riding more than one carrier because they so frequently require long-ish, exposed walks between them in whatever weather.

I'd do it if I had to, but I don't. The car takes 28 minutes each way and the tank is full. I can leave now with no money in my pocket. At 32kms, the return journey will use 2 litres of petrol (1.3L car) and cost about $4.06.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Where's the proof of Iranian nukes?

It's hard not to be cynical about the corporate media globally. I just checked Google news for stories about Iran. There are literally thousands of them. I sampled a large number, over 90 minutes and, for the most part, they are essentially the same: implicitly evil Iran has "snubbed" the US, EU and Russia by refusing to stop enrichment of uranium and begin negotiations. All stories either simply assert Iran is making a bomb or is alleged to be making a bomb. The US is presented as leading the campaign to impose further sanctions on a country that - so far - hasn't done anything it isn't completely entitled to do under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. A treaty the US has largely ignored. With 15,000 nukes, the US is fully and excessively proliferated.

I didn't read a single story about Iran that said no one has presented any proof at all that Iran had a nuclear weapons program and then remained consistent on the point. Even if this was acknowledged, the very next sentence then makes it clear this should be ignored. I cite an AP story below that does exactly this. Yet no one has presented any proof. Every story I read took these unfounded claims at face value and simply restated them...again and again and again over the past several years.

A few stories today gave some background and said Iran was refusing to stop enrichment because it had already done so from 2002 to 2005 and got absolutely nothing out of it. Negotiations went nowhere. So now Iran will only negotiate with the centrifuges spinning. It has no leverage otherwise. But most stories are almost entirely from the US / "western" perspective.

What amazes me is that after all the lies the Bush Administration fed the world's media about Iraq and a host of other subjects, that same media still slavishly reprints more of the same day after day....and backing it up with columns and editorials castigating Iran.

I have yet to find ONE major newspaper anywhere with an editorial line that recognises NO PROOF of any of the allegations against Iran has ever been presented - by anyone.

For the blackout on that simple truth to be so complete, chance cannot be a factor and opinion isn't an option. How do we account for this, given the facts themselves do not support the line taken?

Admittedly, I have not read every one of the thousands of newspapers out there. But my sample is not small, across months, and the results of my informal survey are uniform.

Meanwhile, the US is selling Israel bombers large enough to carry nukes to strike Iran. The Germans are selling Israel more submarines (Israel already has 3) capable of firing nuclear missiles at Iran (or anyone else it chooses).

Israel has explicitly said it is planning to use nuclear weapons to strike Iran if - and you have to LOVE this:
"If Israeli, U.S., or European intelligence gets proof that Iran has succeeded in developing nuclear weapons technology, then Israel will respond in a manner reflecting the existential threat posed by such a weapon," said Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, speaking at a policy forum in Washington last week.
So they have no proof and they openly admit it....and carry on escalating anyway.

One might well wonder how selling a nuclear-armed and arguably paranoid Israel more and better ways to deliver nukes on its neighbours is aiding the cause of world peace. Nuclear non-proliferation this is not. Perhaps that is what this is all about. Conjure up some threat to allow Israel to be armed to the teeth and be part of the controversial US missile shield program and Russia can't object. Blowing smoke to hide the real agenda.

The same AP report linked to, after making it clear no one has any proof Iran has a nuclear weapons program, carries on the report as though Iranian nukes are a fact:
"With sanctions and diplomacy still the international community's preferred method to get Iran to stop building the bomb, an Israeli strike does not appear imminent."
Iran is supposed to stop making a bomb no one has any proof they are making and which Iran has denied repeatedly it is making.

What about those denials? Iran says it will need nuclear power for the day when its oil runs out. Iran's oil is heavy stuff and energy intensive to refine. Surprisingly, Iran is dependent on foreign refineries for petrol and diesel. It's access to these - and the funds to pay for them - have been the target of sanctions. No wonder Iran wants to free itself from this sort of vulnerability by seeking alternative power sources.

Iran - an Islamic theocracy - has declared nuclear weapons to be un-Islamic and contrary to the will of Allah. That is like the Vatican building nukes after the Pope says they are the work of the devil.

I don't think Iran could give anyone any assurances stronger than that one, so the current campaign against Iran isn't about assurances or guarantees. It's also ikely to be, in part, about cornering a rising regional power who wanted to trade oil in Euros....and using any pretext to do it. One gets the impression no matter what Iran did, the goal posts would be racing around the paddock and the US claims would remain the same. Let's also not forget the US is currently funding $400 million worth of covert ops against Iran. Mosques and cars have been blowing all around that country for months.

The media who would claim to be credible and trustworthy lap it all up and in some cases, like Fox News in the US, are actively complicit in spreading what can only be described as propaganda. I'm betting when I read the news tomorrow, almost all of it will echo all the same stuff for which there is no proof at all.....and Iran will again be presented as a nasty piece of work determined to destroy Israel despite having never actually made that threat. At worst, Iran has said it would respond if attacked. Not that it would launch an unprovoked war. On the contrary, it is Israel who has been making threats against Iran, year on year.

Even the AP report admits that what Iran said about Israel is disputed, then errs in the details of what is disputed.
"The Iranian leader has in the past called for Israel's elimination, though his exact remarks have been disputed. Some translators say he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," while others say a better translation would be "vanish from the pages of time" — implying Israel would disappear on its own rather than be destroyed."
There doubts. Where there is no proof at all there can be only doubt.

What we DO have proof of is that the Bush Administration lies. A lot. But you'd never know it from reading the newspapers on any given day. Even some of our local columnists, usually on the Right, like Fran O'Sullivan, strongly buy into these unfounded claims. Why is that? Why don't the facts matter? Why are proven liars believed without question?

Take the pledge

Jim Anderton is challenging political parties to take the pledge not to sell Kiwibank. Good on him. Kiwibank is one of Anderton's best ideas ever, in my humble opinion. I'm now a Kiwibank customer and glad to be a part owner through the Crown.

Employment: participation up

Economic journo, Bernard Hickey, of reports worker participation rates are up, which has pushed the unemployment rate up. More people are joining the work force or looking for work. The number of people employed rose 1% in the June quarter over the March quarter. Hickey says that is a big rise for one quarter.

I suspect the rising cost of living is pushing some who would prefer to be at home with the kids back into the work force in an effort to make ends meet. It may also be the case that in some sectors, people leaving for Australia has resulted in others being pulled back into full or part time work. I'd be one of these, having taken 18 months off to pursue personal interests before resuming paid work in July. I'm taking the place of a co-worker who left for Melbourne last Friday.

'Bright lights, big city' called and if you're tired of Auckland, there's really nowhere else to go but overseas. No government here can legislate against our remoteness.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

NZ Herald: National Party spin-sheet

The NZ Herald today locked in its growing reputation as a National Party spin-sheet. The persistent editorial bias in favour of the National Party simply can't be explained away any more.

In this blue-soaked edition Granny Herald was outraged ("Dirty tricks benefit no one") comments made by senior National MPs were recorded and then used in serious media.

Whereas, the Herald's coverage of a recent immigration conference flustered some in immigration circles because many of the things reported in the story had been delivered under "Chatham house rules". Those passing them to the media were explicitly breaking confidence. No ethical problems for the Herald there.

The Herald dismisses as irrelevant the reality the National Party has dressing in sheeps' clothing for electoral advantage while their private policy tastes and objectives are explicitly for wolf. The Herald skips over that as though it doesn't matter at all and disingenuously pretends everyone already knows it.

We didn't know it for certain. Now we do.

Contrary to the Herald's blue-tinged view, voters are the winners in this. If they are paying attention at all, they now know National isn't what it claims to be. As a voter, I'm very happy to have this deception confirmed.

For good measure, the Herald again echoes the National Party line and accuses Labour of doing the deed, despite there being no evidence to support that conclusion. Parroting the National Party response to the incident seemed to be more important than sticking to what is known and what is not known.

Granny takes a swipe at Bill English, saying he might have done it on purpose to undercut John Key. I suppose this is what passes for balance at the Herald.

Lest there be any doubt about the Herald's policy preferences, the editorial makes that very clear:
"The Labour Party appears convinced Mr Key has more drastic economic policies in mind than he will admit before the election. Would that it were so."
Would that it were so.

I hear ya, Granny.

You don't have to tell the editor what to write if you hire the right editor. Looks like APN owner, Irishman Tony O'Reilly, is making full use of the "Overseas Media Baron Billionaire" exemption in the EFA. National couldn't buy the sort of luvin' Granny Herald is bestowing upon them for free.

Based on writing over the past several months, Garth George, Fran O'Sullivan, Liam Dann, John Drinnan, and whoever wrote today's leader, are clearly the 'Right' staff to get the job done. Not much in the way of balance to be found anywhere among that lot. Even the usually measured John Armstrong had to toe the line on this one, outraged by the recording while not much fussed about National's 'sheep in wolves clothing' approach to policy (misre)presentation.

Looks like time to review the laws allowing media outlets to be controlled by foreign owners with political agendas that can only be advanced by deceit.

No wonder the Herald is also backing National's call for a referendum on MMP. Democracy is the only thing that can check the sort of extreme policies the Herald clearly yearns to see implemented, so democracy must be done away the name of democracy (of course).

...and you thought "up is down" Orwellian nonsense only lived in Bush's America. Nope. It's come to NZ.

Thanks, Granny. Top o' the marnin' to ye.

Incongruity and illogic

Canada's Conservative minority government has some odd policies based more on belief than reality. Health Minister, Tony Clement, unveiled yet another yesterday at the 17th International AIDS Conference in Mexico City.
“Allowing and/or encouraging people to inject heroin into their veins is not harm reduction, it is the opposite. … We believe it is a form of harm addition,” Tony Clement said Tuesday in Mexico City"
Mr. Clement spoke in opposition to the World health Organisation's (WHO) advocacy of "safe injection" sites, like the InSite operating in Vancouver on Canada's west coast. Under the policy, injecting drug users can safely inject themselves in a supervised environment without fear of arrest by authorities or harassment by other drug users or the people who prey on them. The intention is to reach out to the most marginalised drug users and encourage them to become known and to enter rehab and to educate them about keeping themselves safe. The overall goal is harm reduction - in particular restricting the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The Canadian government (the WHO's largest funder) is OK with needle swaps and methadone and other aspects of the policy recommendations, but sees providing a safe place for them to actually be used as "condoning" illegal drug use.

WHO officials maintained their strong support for safe sites. Teguest Guerma, associate director of the HIV-AIDS department at the WHO, said:
“The WHO supports harm reduction....including all interventions that benefit injecting drug users."
HIV/AIDS isn't as judgmental as Mr. Clement and his government. It will infect anyone whether you approve of it or not. To stop the spread you have to reach the people on the very edge who remain most vulnerable and who represent an ongoing repository for enabling active HIV/AIDS infection. You can't reach them if you won't do what it takes to do the job for extraneous 'moral' or political reasons. Where is the morality in allowing HIV to continue to fester among those you refuse to "condone"?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

2001 anthrax attack murk

This week Bruce Ivins allegedly committed suicide. If you don't know who he is, you'd be far from alone. Remember the letters containing anthrax that were sent to the US Congress and several prominent journalists in 2001 shortly after 9/11?

After a 7 year investigation the US Justice Department was about to pin the crime on Bruce Ivins. Ivins was a US government scientist who worked in the lab where they stored anthrax. Shortly after Ivins' lawyer was informed of the impending charges, Bruce Ivins was found dead, having consumed a massive dose of Tylenol mixed with codeine.

Running alongside that sad event is the story about the renewed fallout from the 2001 ABC News reports that "four separate sources" had told ABC the anthrax attacks were connected with Iraq. If Bruce Ivins really is the guilty party, then those four sources were clearly lying.

For ABC - and any journalist - the question is: Do you protect sources who lied to you?

One would think if a source lied, you owe them nothing. If anything, the risk of being exposed would be a useful way to keep sources honest. In this case, the people who may have mislead ABC News were using the anthrax attacks to back an agenda for war in Iraq. We should know who these people were. If what they said was true, they may have information about the anthrax attacks that might clear the late Mr. Ivins. if they have no such evidence, then they will stand revealed as liars and should be held to account.

As for Mr. Ivins' guilt or innocence, the FBI seems to feel they had an unbeatable case against him, leaving ABC News' sources in a vulnerable position.

Hopefully....the truth will out. Soon. It's been 7 years already.

The Truth and nothing but the truth

I'm one of those people who thinks that if democracy is to work, people - voters - have to be informed before they cast their votes. To be informed, you need to know the truth about what each party proposes to do if they are in a position to govern or be part of a government. The entire process become a farce if voters are mislead or misinformed or not told the whole story by some, any or all parties before they go to vote.

The problem for any political party is the tension between holding fast to their values, beliefs and consequent policies when doing so may make them less attractive to voters. Do they change their policies to win wider support? Do they keep the same policies few or none want and go nowhere? Do they try to hide their policies and pretend to be something else?

These are all options open to any party.

Whatever choice they make, voters need - and want - to know what the truth is.

With that in mind, we have witnessed this week Bill English and Lockwood Smith - both very senior members of the National Party caucus - caught out misleading the public. The agenda presented in public isn't the agenda they discuss in private. In private, they say they can't pursue policies they want to pursue because the public doesn't want them.....but that once in power they will see what happens further down the track. That sounds almost reasonable. Except it isn't what they have said in public. The preferred agenda is hidden. They have chosen the third option. No stands on principle here.

When caught, did they own up? No way. Instead, there is "outrage" someone would record them speaking the (previously hidden) truth.

Frankly, I don't give a damn. If there was no gap between what they said privately and publicly these recordings would be of no interest. The truth is what matters and I don't care who reveals it or how. Good on them. Maybe one day the National Party will stop misleading people.....but that day isn't today and doesn't appear to be any day soon.

Monday, August 4, 2008

National's "Bush-o-nomics"

First you lie to the voters. Say any damn thing to get elected.

Then, you put in place big tax cuts and spend like hell. Borrow whatever you need. Break the public service. Impoverish and degrade the social safety net.

You can "cut bureaucracy" be gutting the agencies that protect the environment - air, water quality, worker safety, any sort of "profit-limiting" regulatory body is a target for cutting and gutting.

Most especially, you gut the bodies that monitor the disastrous effects your other cuts are having. If you can't shut them down entirely, you stack them with your people....who will say what you want them to say.

The "public / private parterships" become a system of patronage where only those who make exclusive donations to your party are rewarded with contracts. Jeb Bush lead the way there in Forida and much of the rest of the US is now following his example.

To lock this madness in, get rid of MMP......because democracy is the only thing that can stop it.

The hints abroad so far make it appear that New Zealand is about to head down this long, dark tunnel if National were to govern alone after the elections.

If that came to pass, heading to Australia would appear to be the only way out.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Nats: Sell off Kiwibank "eventually"

National's Finance spokesman, Bill English, was recorded saying the National Party would sell off Kiwibank eventually.

It's one more sign that the National Party voters loved to hate in 1999 hasn't gone away, it's gone undercover.

Kiwibank has been hugely supported by Kiwi since it was founded. It has served to keep the hugely profitable Australian banks operating in New Zealand from raising their banking fees - saving us all, collectively, hundreds of millions of dollars. Kiwibank also has a higher ratio of deposits to loans and is therefore arguably more stable. From every perspective, Kiwibank has been a roaring success.

It says a lot about how ideology counts for more than reality in the National party that they see no good in these things and would prefer to sell Kiwibank off - mostly likely to a foreign owner.

You begin to wonder whether the National Party is misnamed. Perhaps they should be called the "Foreign Bank and Insurance Company Party".

[UPDATE: The full transcript is at 08Wire.]

Friday, August 1, 2008

'No Right Turn' has been Blogger-Blocked

Received in email today from Idiot / Savant about his "No Right Turn" blog:

Sometime this afternoon, Blogger, in its infinite wisdom, decided that No Right Turn was a "spam blog" and locked it. I have naturally asked for a review, and sometime in the next two business days (yeah right) someone at blogger "customer service" will be looking at it and manually unlocking it. in the meantime, I am off the air. The blog is readable, but I cannot post.

Unfortunately, if their customer service is as shit as usual, then it could be a lot longer. And if they take 20 days, tough, I get deleted. Marvellous.

So, apologies for the silence, and hopefully it'll get back up soon. In the meantime, if you use blogger, beware. If you link to other blogs (as normal blogs do), then you might be considered spam.

(Very pissed off)

Downward Kiwi dollar

With the Kiwi dollar on the way down, it's interesting hear Reserve bank Governor, Alan Bollard, talk about having lee-way to reduce interest rates further.

A falling dollar will fuel inflation further for imported goods like oil......and almost everything else we use daily other than food and toilet paper....even if the price overseas hasn't increased, which they are.

It's hard not to see the interest rate moves right now in a wider political context. As usual, time will tell.