Wednesday, 16 April 2014

First Litigation Threat

I was wondering when the day would come, the day I will receive some legal threat over something I wrote on my blog.
That particular threat arrived two days ago, when I received a request by the photographer of a photo I embedded into a post to remove the photo. Sadly, that request came attached with a "or I will take legal actions" threat. You can read it for yourself in this post's comments.
First, I would like to clarify that in this particular case there is no legal grounds for the threat. Although the photographer has changed the licence on his photo from Creative Commons to a full Copyright one, at the time I have embedded the photo into my post it bore a Creative Commons licence. As explained by Prof Michael Fraser, a firm copyright supporter, during the event discussed at this post, once a creator gave up on their copyright monopoly privileges and gone Creative Commons, there is no going back. Fraser was saying this in order to deter the crowd from choosing Creative Commons, but his inputs clearly put me in the clear.
However, although I am in the right, this does not mean that I have much of a choice on the matter. Yes, I suspect it would have been very hard for the photographer to file a lawsuit against me; in all likelihood we live at different parts of the world. But do I have the resources to take part in a proper legal fight, even when it is clear I am on the right side? No; I have neither the time nor the money to wage in legal warfare. Which, by the way, happens to be one of my main criticism towards contemporary matters of copyright: can any normal person fight back when a corporation such as Disney takes down their YouTube video under copyright claims? Obviously, not. [Note I mention Disney in particular because they did take down a private YouTube video of mine, featuring my baby son, under a copyright claim claim. They did so some 5 years after the video was posted. The reason? Star Wars music playing in the background.]

Legal deliberations aside, I did not hesitate and removed the embedded photo. I did so because I know fully well how annoying it is to have a photo of mine misrepresented. Take, for example, how my PZ Myers photo is used in an unfavourable Conservapedia entry. I accept that and others as the price I have to pay for standing upright and publishing my photos under a Creative Commons licence. I believe that overall, the world is a better place when knowledge and culture is spread unhindered.
While I accept misrepresentation as part of the deal, but I can understand other that don't. Think about it before you stick a Creative Commons licence on your stuff; I know I did, and I do not regret it when I see my photos getting used for creative causes all over the Internet.

Image by A. Diez Herrero, Creative Commons licence

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Day After Tomorrow

With the way things are going at work at the moment, it would be stupid of me not to pay significant attention to employment future. As in, what am I going to do once I no longer have the job that I now have?
It is clear the job market out there is not in a glowing state. Looking at relevant job ads, the vast majority are for short term contract work; more importantly, there aren't that many positions in the market. In other words, both quality and quantity are suffering.
From friends that are out there on the hunt and who are in touch with recruiters I have learnt that for each such position there are between 80 to 100 applicants. Getting that job interview in the first place is a tough competition on its own. Some of these friends have been out there looking for a job for several months now. And some of them are very good at what they do.

The potential for long periods of unemployment, or "spare" time between contracts, got me thinking more deeply into how I can use the this idle time to benefit my career. Specifically, what can I do to enhance my skills during this spare time I am going to be endowed with?
First, and most obviously, comes the conclusion that I should make myself attractive to potential employers looking after someone of my current profession. However, I would also like to expand my horizons; I would like to use online resources to go into areas that:
  1. I am interested in and would like to spend my time doing, regardless of pay.
  2. Are in demand.
  3. I have reason to believe I can make some money out of as an independent business.
Essentially, what I am looking for is something interesting that I can do "on the side", in between contract jobs. That something will keep me occupied in studies while I am unemployed and might, hopefully, allow for some bonus dollars to fall into my purse.
Thus far the main idea I came up with is the implementation of simple websites for businesses in need of exactly such a tool as well as potentially looking after these websites on a regular basis. I have already done it before, in parts; I even have the tools such tasks would take. By improving some specific skills along the way, I can make something out of this.

I welcome other ideas.

Image by Kevin Lim, Creative Commons licence

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Lost Opportunities

This post runs a heavy risk of stating the obvious. Occasionally it's not too wrong to do just that.

A question that has been bothering me since the passing away of my father is the question of grief. As in, what is it, exactly, that makes me feel in that particular bad way I am now feeling? Because it is certainly noticeable that I am feeling something; it does not take much to detect behavioural changes taking place upon me since receiving the news of my father's "just a question of time" state.
Having thought about it, I got to the conclusion that my grief is the result of missed opportunities. Never again will I be able to do something with my father, tell him about something that happened to me, or hear him telling me something. That's it; this death arrangement is very permanent. It is the only thing that lasts forever.
It's not just not being able to do things in the future that causes grief. The worst part of the grief is to do with all the things I could have done in the past but dismissed, through one reason or another. There is plenty of that, especially given my migration across the world: by leaving Israel in favour of Australia I severely reduced any opportunities for mutual activities. But even before that, I can recall being too busy with work or having better things to do with my time than spend time with my father. I am not the only one at fault here: my father had his things, the things he liked to do, and spending time with one of his children was not always at the top of his priority list.
There is no end to missed opportunities. I can wax lyrical about not being able to do this or that with my father or complain at my parents not taking up on the communication opportunities presented by the Internet as much as I can physically can. However, it feels a lot like complaining at not winning the lottery: those numbers that won yesterday's draw were simple numbers, the bastards, so why couldn't I figure them out on time?
I guess grief is one of those things only time can heal. Probably never in full.

Image by Tim Hamilton, Creative Commons licence

Friday, 11 April 2014

Changing Passwords

You should have heard of Heartbleed by now, but in case you haven't: it's the recently discovered vulnerability in the way much of the Internet has been encrypted. It also happens to be the third ultra serious vulnerability that was happened to be found recently, following Apple's and Linux'.
Clearly, this succession of vulnerabilities serves to indicate we cannot fully trust the Internet with our stuff. A lot of what we put in there, no matter how secure it seems, should be considered to be in the public domain. Think about it the next time you are asked to place your biometric identification information on some online repository: you can change a password, but you can never change your fingerprints.
For now, the question is, what do we need to do in order to prevent this Heartbleed vulnerability from exposing our information. In this particular case, the main item at risk is our password: the password we used to, say, access our bank's website may now be in the hands of some criminals. And if not now, it may be in their hands later if the bank won't sort itself out. [Note I am ignoring the risk coming from governments putting their hands on our passwords; by now I take that for granted].
It seems like there are three rules to be followed when it comes to acting upon Heartbleed:

  1. Some websites already announced they were unaffected by the vulnerability, or at least that their level of being affected does not require end users like us to do anything. These include Google, Evernote and Dropbox to name a few.
  2. Other websites announced that they have patched themselves and therefore now recommend their users to change their passwords. These include the likes of Facebook, Amazon and Yahoo. By all means, go forth and change your passwords for these websites. You don't want those credit card details of yours, held by Amazon, to do the rounds.
  3. The catch is with the rest of the websites, some of which will be left vulnerable for years to come. With those the suggested policy is to avoid accessing them altogether until they are patched.
    Often you will not know whether they have been affected in the first place, but you can definitely check whether they are currently vulnerable or not. This tool, to name but one example, lets you check on websites' current Heartbleed status. [If you want to go further than Heartbleed, use this tool instead; be careful, though, as it might scare the hell out of you to realise how insecure some of the websites we deem secure are.]
    Once you know the website is fine, go and change your password. Do not do so before they have been fixed, as you will only expose yourself further.

With these rules in mind, I have been basically running over my passwords and checking their respective companies to see whether they have made official announcements regarding their Heartbleed status (check here for some major Aussie updates). If I find such advice, I act according to rules 1 & 2; if I don't, I assume the worst and act as per rule 3.
Obviously, the result is a time consuming headache. I will add, however, that using a password manager tool makes life much easier in this regard. I use 1Password, and although I cannot say I am 100% content with it not being open source, it is probably safe to say that by using the tool I am overall more secure than before through being able to easily manage the wealth of online passwords I maintain.

Image by Flippo, Creative Commons license

Tuesday, 8 April 2014


I read it in Motorcyclist: Honda is rejuvenating its VFR line of motorcycles, releasing a new take on the V4 sport touring bike concept. This new model motorcycle, the VFR800, will be themed along the lines of the nineties model. It will even bear its good old name: Interceptor.

First, what am I doing reading Motorcyclist? And what is Motorcyclist in the first place?
Despite hardly ever touching them, let along taking one for a ride, I was in love with motorcycles for decades. You may fancy your sports car, but I think even the best sports car cannot compete with the thrill of riding a motorcycle; and you really have to dig into the most expensive of the exotic super cars in order to come up with something that would beat a sports motorcycle that costs less than a used Toyota Yaris.
Yet I could not afford a motorcycle of my own, especially not in Israel where they used to be very heavily taxed and where insurance was a killer (I have no idea what the current deal is). So I had to compromise, and the compromise came in the shape of watching motorcycle races on TV and reading motorcycle magazines. Of these magazines, Cycle used to be the one I liked the most until its publisher decided to kill it and merge it with Cycle World some time during the nineties. No big deal; I comfortably slid over to my second place preference, Motorcyclist, which I continued subscribing to for a decade later.

Motorcycles continued to play a major role in my life. The first thing that attracted me to Australia, as far as setting the spark on the thought of coming to live here, was the prospect of being able to afford a motorcycle of my own (as well as a sports car). And the one motorcycle I coveted the most was the Honda VFR, then the VFR750 Interceptor. Those who know me from the time might remember me naming my then car Interceptor; that was no coincidence.
But then life happened.
While a motorcycle was one of the major reasons I came to Australia, I never got to have one. Starting from financial issues and moving on with the realisation that a motorcycle is too dangerous to my well being, I totally abandoned my dream of having one. Practicality won the day by a landslide, starting off on the day I visited a Mazda dealer to try out the MX5 only to realise I'm about a head too tall for its roof. And practicality is winning the day since.
Yet I will not deny the force of attraction motorcycles still hold on me. They are wonderful beasts, and as an engineer I am fascinated by the way they are designed. It's incredible how the slight difference in an angle here or the bore and stroke dimensions of the cylinder there can create a wonderful new design. To me, motorcycles represent a lot of what is beautiful about human technology.
Thus when Zinio offered me a discount on a Motorcyclist subscription, I took it. And when I read about the new Interceptor's reincarnation, I immediately recalled my old love.

Having seen first hand how dangerous motorcycles can be through several friends and family members, and having a mortgage and tons of other expenses, I cannot say there is much risk of me owning a motorcycle of my own any time soon. Frankly, there is not much risk of me getting along for a ride even.
Perhaps when I have my millions and a private circuit I can safely ride my bike on I will get one. That, however, will never happen. Which does not mean I am unable to wash my eyes on them and dream about them at night.

Image copyright: Honda

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Live to Work to Live

The level of busy-ness of our lives seems to be climbing higher and higher. Between the pressures of work and the pressures of parenting, we constantly feel under the pump. Come the weekend, all we want to do is rest. Time? There's time for nothing.
One of the questions the situation raises is "what did we do before we became parents". What did we do with all that time that we now we are missing so badly? It seems hard to recall, but when I think about it I do come up with an answer. I used to work!
I clearly recall a survey I took part in while working in Israel. The findings were clear: my average working day, at the time, was more than 11 hours long. Things were different, back then. Work supplied me with lunch and dinner, and my work colleagues represented the bulk of my social life during the week.

I said it was hard to recall the above. I have to admit I actually forgot about it. As it often happens nowadays, I need to thank my friends for this recollection.
In my previous post, I raved with jealousy at Israel and its thriving high tech industry. It didn't take long for people to correct me. High tech in Israel may be flourishing, but it is not necessarily helping its employees flourish. They are trapped in jobs that demand them to work long hours, and once they pass the age of 40 their chances of acquiring future employment are severely diminished. Or so I was told.
Witnessing the look on the faces of some of my friends discussing their Israeli high tech job prospects at the advanced age of 40, though, it does seem as if the resulting anxiety is genuine.

The whole affair served to remind me something I seemed to have managed to forget by now. As in, it reminded me of some of the core reasons I decided to move from Israel to Australia in the first place. It reminded me how impressed I was with the whole "work to live attitude" Australia seemed to offer, in contrast to the "live to work" approach that dominates the culture I grew up into back in Israel.
It says something about me when nowadays I find it easier to recall the negatives about the Australian high tech industry, or rather the lack of substance in Australia's high tech industry, rather than remember the more important way of life advantage that Australia offers over Israel. People would probably use this against me to declare me a "half glass empty" type of person; I prefer to regard myself as a person who always seeks improvement and is happy to look elsewhere for inspiration.

Regardless, the philosophical discussion at hands puts key cultural differences between Australia and Israel on the agenda. I intend to explore the theme further in an upcoming post.

Image by Belén Montilla, Creative Commons licence

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Impressive. Most Impressive.

I have to say it, even if it comes at the cost of me having to chew on my own hat: my recent visit to Israel has left me with a fairly good impression of the country. No, I am still not a general member of the country's fan club and I'm also a bit shocked by congestion and traffic conditions in the Tel Aviv area. However, I still need to give credit where credit is due.

I'll start with my hat. Following last year's visit, I posted my impressions of overly nationalistic Independence Day celebrations. This time around I arrived during another holiday, Purim (the sort of equivalent of Halloween), and I could not avoid noting the celebrations.
I could not avoid noting them because the main street right under my parents' house was closed off in order to accommodate for various holiday activities. The whole area was full of celebrating kids and parents celebrating in a very similar way to Melbourne's recent Moomba. It was not exactly my cup of tea, being that it was quite congested with people and noise, but it was definitely nice.
More importantly, it was a kind of thing that never took place while I was living in Israel. Perhaps, then, the Independence Day celebrations I noted last year were notable not necessarily because of nationalism, but rather because Israel has finally learnt how to celebrate, big time? I'm willing to give the country the benefit of doubt and eat my hat.

But wait, there were other things to celebrate about Israel.
First things first. Upon landing, I took the train from the airport. That train took me directly from the terminal's exit to a station that's about 15 minute walk from my parents house. The train itself was nice, roomy, affordable, and seemed to be well operated. Now, I was told by friends that I got the best impression possible: as the luck of the draw had it, I had the pleasure of travelling on the newest train without a single interruption. But still: impressive.
More importantly, that whole train line was something that did not exist at the time I left Israel. That is to say, Israel had managed to erect this train line from virtually nothing during the past decade, and do a fairly good job at it.
Now let us look at Melbourne in comparison. When was the last time a new train line was added here? Not a new station, but a new train line? Oh, I hear you, sometimes during the fifties (that's 60 years ago, in case you're mathematically challenged). And it's not like there is no need for extra lines; the whole Doncaster area is uncovered.
Need I mention the elephant in the room, Melbourne's lack of train service to its international airport?
If there is one thing you can say about Australia, it's that it's UnAustralian to invest in infrastructure.
Oh, unless, that is, one is investing in an $8B (that's billions for you) road that no one really needs and the consensus is it will provide poor value for money. Roads we can do, because car travel makes Tony Abbott feel like a man (and if you're wondering where that masculine association comes from, feel free to browse Tony's own book to check his opinions on matters of transport). 

It's not just trains and celebrations that got me impressed. It's technology, too.
During this visit of mine to Israel, I got to travel a lot around the suburbs of Tel Aviv. During these travels I could not avoid noting the large number of high tech companies operating in the area. I could not avoid noting them because of the numerous huge towers devoted to high tech operations, so huge and so numerous and so recognisable from great distances through the familiar brand names (Intel, anyone?). Each of those buildings, on its own, would probably encompass the whole of what is the Melbourne IT industry; yet the Tel Aviv area alone contains them by the dozen, if not more. And I could only note the huge towers; I suspect there are plenty more high tech operations taking place in smaller buildings, too... There is nothing but jealousy that I can feel here.
Yet there is more to be jealous about. Ads everywhere were telling me, and everyone else, that I could get a 100MB Internet connection at very affordable prices. Basically, just "call and we will get you connected". All I could think of was how jealous I am of this scenario.
Here in Australia we have ourselves a popular Liberal government that is hell bent on killing the NBN project. Now they are actually talking about using existing coax cable deployments to offer high speed Internet in areas where such cables are deployed (most of suburban Australia), even though this technology is light years away from the realms of the fiber optics. In other words, us Australians are generally stuck with ADSL and ADSL speeds for years and decades to come, while in Israel people can just call in and get themselves connected to true NBN speed Internet for less than the cost we have been paying for ADSL. And they can do so today.
Yes, I am jealous. But in this particular case, I am also disgusted by how the general ignorance of the people of Australia in matters of technology is getting this nation screwed by a bunch of shortsighted gang of the greedy. If only we opened our eyes to learn from the world around us!

Image copyrights: Bezeq, from its 100MB Internet connection ad (currently here)

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Never This Nice

As part of my ongoing self improvement program I try to learn from past mistakes. One such mistake was identified last year when I flew from Melbourne to Israel using the services of Turkish Airlines. At the time I did not have much choice, but as it turned out I had myself quite the ordeal. Knowing the experience of having to fly to Israel at a short notice will come back to haunt me, I took measures.
This time around, I was quite picky with my flights. For a start, instead of a three leg itinerary from Melbourne to Tel Aviv, I insisted on a two leg journey. The difference in flying time is not that big, just a few hours on top of an already exhausting journey, but the difference it made to the livelihood of the passenger - yours truly - was huge. And it's not just the flying time we're talking about; it's also messing around with another transfer at yet another airport. Remember, not all airports are created equal (I'm pointing my finger firmly at you, Istanbul!).
The next measure I took was insisting before my travel agent that she tries to seat me at the back of the plane. Normally, airlines and agents alike tend to think the seats at the front are better, mainly because it implies disembarking would be faster. While potentially true, what's the big hurry? Personal experience seems to indicate that if there are empty seats on the plane, they tend to be at the back; and having an empty seat near me, especially on a long flight, can make the experience of flying across the world so much easier.
As was the case with my flights this time around. Out of the four legs I have had the "pleasure" of flying on, the shortest of which was 9.5 hours long, I had three seats for myself on three of those legs. Let me spell it for you: T-H-R-E-E seats on T-H-R-E-E legs. That is to say, for three quarters of my flights, I slept better than I had ever slept abroad long range flights. Screw business class, give me three economy seats any time.
The difference those three seats made was huge. Usually, I get my worst jet lag flying west to east. This time around, my return to Australia had left me tired and out of sync with local time, but it did not leave me with the feeling of having to force my eyes open as of midday. I was just a bit tired, that's all; nothing a cup of coffee could not sort out. Never in my history of flying did jet lag come this easy.

There is another avenue I commonly turn to when it comes to making my life an easy pleasure: Gadgets. Again, last year's experience had taught me a lot on how to cope with such long trips.
The first problem that needed tackling was the noise on the plane. Aside of physical compression, it's the constant noise on the plane that troubles me the most. This time around I had my noise blocking Shure headphones with me! Compact and easily carried in their tiny pouch, these proved effective ear blockers on their own right, even before I pressed "Play"; but then, when I switched Spotify on, I was amazed to hear high quality music reproduced in my ears. Fancy that, enjoying music on board a noisy plane! Unbelievable.
Last time around I carried my Mac Air with me for my computing needs. As nice as it is, the Mac Air is not that easy to deploy aboard a plane or in the mess of an airport terminal. This time around I had an iPad Mini: quick and easy to deploy, sporting a longer lasting batteries, a sharper screen, and offering a larger variety of travel suitable entertainment. From Kindle to XCOM, I had it all at the tips of my fingers.
Last, but not least, was my iUSBPort2. Probably a member of one of the lesser known gadget families, this one is a wifi hard drive. That is, it can act as a hard drive for the iPad, with which it communicates via its own wifi network. Essentially, this meant I could bring all the entertainment I could carry along with me, regardless of my iPad's limited storage space.

Between gadgets and smart bookings, the journeying part of my latest trip to Israel was probably as easy as it could ever be.
Sadly, there is still the nonsensical security theatre to deal with. At Bangkok I had to explain, twice, that I prefer a manual body scan as opposed to them porn scanners. In Israel they now demand one leaves one's suitcase unlocked, which offers the terrifying prospect of all my stuff spreading itself out on some remote piece of tarmac, never to be seen again. And then there is the whole mess that is bringing duty free items to Australia: they actually open your hand luggage just as you're about to board to inspect each and every item you bring aboard!
Those issues, however, can only be fixed at the voting booth.

Image by Doug, Creative Commons licence