Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Gift of eBooks

An Israeli friend of mine and I embarked on a bald experiment in the name of science: it involved me buying my friend an ebook through Amazon’s kindle shop. Specifically, I bought my friend a copy of Christopher Hitchens’ last ebook, Mortality (highly recommended, in case you can’t be bothered to read my review).
First, some background. Amazon.com is a USA shop where one can buy books published in the USA and have them posted to any address in the world. However, with ebooks things are not that simple: international copyright regulations dictate that when one buys an ebook, one’s country is determined by their location at the moment of purchasing. Thus Amazon.com can only sell ebook editions published for the American market to Americans and ebook editions published for Australians to Australians. Why is that? Because, as explained in John Scalzi’s blog here, authors sell the rights for their books to different publishers in different countries. It’s the same book, but publisher A is only allowed to sell it in the USA, whereas publisher B is only allowed to sell it in Australia. For the sake of our experiment here, Israel is equivalent to the USA: due to its small size and small demand for English language books, Amazon regards Israeli ebook consumers as Americans.
Back to the case at hand and Mortality: Amazon sells Mortality for $13 to Americans and $10 to Australians. Me, I’m used to using VPN to make Amazon think I come from different countries and shop around for cheaper prices; my friend is a noble guy with morals*, so I suggested I buy him the Australian edition as a gift through the Amazon website.
When my friend agreed, I went and bought him the ebook. It was the usual Amazon Kindle experience: quick and efficient. However, when he tried to receive his gift he got the following message instead:


As the message states, my friend was unable to acquire the ebook that Amazon just took $10 from me to buy him. Amazon knew who I was buying the ebook for – that is how its ebook gifts mechanism works – and allowed me to buy the ebook. It did not, however, allow my friend to receive the ebook. Neither did it allow me to get my money back: instead it credited my friend with $10.
It goes without saying that I find the situation unsatisfactory. No matter how many times Scalzi might try and explain the matter of international book rights on his blog, I still consider it dumb, dumb, dumb. Let me explain.
We are told that copyrights are there to promote creativity and ensure the creators get their share. Is that the case here? No, it isn’t! As my case clearly shows, I can buy my friend the paper version of Mortality and have it posted to him, but I cannot do so with the ebook. You see, an Australian buyer is prevented from buying the American edition of the ebook, while an Israeli reader is prevented from reading the Australian version. Through this dumb and dumber line of thinking, I am left unable to give the gift of ebooks to overseas friends.
How can this silly state promote creativity and ensure income for the creators? This is a setting shouting for piracy to come in and fill the gap.


*I will leave the discussion on whether it is immoral to cheat the country set book rights out of scope of this post. Obviously, I personally couldn’t care less; I actually consider breaking violations of these agreements a service to the general improvement of society. My friend would probably beg to differ, though.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

No Sacrifice At All

P1000010

What can one say about a country that appears to be struggling so much with its identity it forces its citizens to sit down and do nothing for one day each year? As in, properly sit down: try and drive a car and you’ll be stoned; radio stations are off the air, the works.
I’m talking about Israel and what seems to be its eternal struggle for identity. In this struggle this self proclaimed secular state adopts a religious holiday, Yom Kippur, and forces it – emphasis on force – on the whole of its population.
Yet theocracy is not my main concern in this post; there are good reasons for me leaving Israel in my wake. This one is personal.
The other week I was chatting to an Israeli relative over the phone, asking her if she’s getting ready for Yom Kippur. Her reply shocked me: she told me that she used to fast for me, but that because of her deteriorating health she cannot do so anymore. She was quite upset, not at her deteriorating health, but rather at her inability to continue to atone for the sins of this heretic.
I did my best not to personally offend her, but I did let her know exactly what I think of a god who requires one person to atone for the sins of another by taking physical sacrifices which bear no relation to the perceived sin. Needless to say, this is not a line of thinking that is unique to Judaism: the whole “Jesus died so that we can live” is the driving philosophy behind Christianity, yet hardly anyone stops to think that this immediately implies blood lust on behalf of its all conquering god.
To my relative and to all those who think like her across all religions I will say this: if you’re that bored with yourself and your life, go sacrifice a goat or something*.


*In case you intend to take my advice literally, do bear in mind goats are conscious and should be treated as such.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Cheapest iPhone Ever

3. Original battery is stuck on with double sided tape. It took some force to pry off!

I thought of an ingenious way to save myself more than $800 the transition to an iPhone 5 would cost me and still have an iPhone. It’s a two step plan:
  1. Replace the battery on my iPhone 3GS, and
  2. Look after my phone in the hope it will last another year (by which time I’ll assess the market again and probably look into the Samsung Galaxy S4, the next Google Nexus iteration, or the iPhone 5S/6).
I can afford trying to get another year out of my iPhone 3GS because it seems to be working well under the new iOS 6 regime. It’s not perfect; it’s got its issues, but when I compare these issues to an additional $800 on my mortgage account I think I can live with the following:
  • It’s slow.
  • Some applications stutter while running, often crashing. However, the fault seems to be with rather buggy applications (here’s looking at you, Spotify; you, Telstra with your Whereis app; and you, Twitter, for ruining Tweetdeck).
  • The camera is a Stone Age relic. This is actually my biggest issue with the phone, because (a) I like photography and I care for image quality and (b) by virtue of always being on me, my phone is my most commonly used camera. It’s not just a quality issue; newer features, like being able to take panoramas, generally don’t work on the 3GS.
  • Tethering is limited to Bluetooth (as opposed to a wifi hotspot), but I can live with that since it works well on the two devices I tether to the most – my iPad and my MacAir.
  • No 4G. Then again, I doubt my provider, Amaysim, will have 4G capability any time soon. I also know I will not have 4G reception where I live.
  • Battery life is annoyingly short. Oh wait – I’m fixing that!
That’s it, really. Looks like by creating an uninspiring phone in the shape of the iPhone 5, Apple is helping me out with my mortgage.


Image by mmmsedap, Creative Commons license

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Private Email

I have spent many words here discussing Google chucking a u-ey on us this year and sacrificing our privacy in a short term effort to put up a fight with Facebook. I even mentioned I am going to gradually distance myself from Google as a direct consequence.
This post concerns me doing away with Google’s main personal service, its Gmail web email service. When it first came out, less than a decade ago, Gmail was a revolution; I can clearly recall the tight confines of the 20MB Microsoft gave my Hotmail address up until Google came along throwing gigabytes into the ether. However, as far as I am concerned Gmail overstayed its welcome when Google decided to create a single portfolio on me across all of its services, Gmail included: I do not want the company reading all my personal emails and then taking that knowledge further.
The problem is the lack of comparable alternatives. Gmail is not only an email platform; it’s also used for contact management, and through related services it manages calendars, documents and much more. Microsoft offers similar (yet inferior) services through Hotmail (recently rebranded into Outlook), but its privacy policies are just as bad as Google’s.
I therefore chose to go with GMX. GMX is not the greatest ever web email service, but it does have one crucial advantage: its privacy policy clearly states it will never read your emails. It takes two minutes to create an account and it took me two minutes more to link that account to my iPhone, where I can enjoy the use of my existing contacts catalog. GMX offers its own contacts, calendar and storage services, but these are inaccessible through apps; you need a proper browser for them, implying their limited attraction.
Indeed, it has to be said that compared to Gmail, GMX feels rough around the edges. However, things are not too bad. I’ll put it this way: compared to Gmail, Hotmail/Outlook is rough around the edges, and it doesn’t appear as if Microsoft is running out of clients.
It is important to remember that any cloud service presents certain risks when it comes to privacy. Then again, with GMX I am happy to take these risks for the added benefit of being able to access my emails anywhere and from any platform. And for being the only one doing so.


Image: GMX

Friday, 21 September 2012

Shaft!

NBN Co Limited

I would like to point out the following:
  • The area I live in is out of the NBN’s two yearly plans for high speed Internet.
  • The area I live in is out of Telstra’s plans for 4G coverage.
  • The area I live in is out of Optus’ plans for 4G coverage.
Talk about getting the shaft…


Image by Dushan and Miae, Creative Commons license

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Financial Security

Credit Crunch
One of the main reasons we keep our money with the banks is security. We can keep it under our mattress, we can keep it under a loose tile, but most of us deem the banks to be safer. They usually are; I had multiple opportunities of witnessing ANZ take proactive measures to ensure the safety of my account. On the other hand, I had appalling firsthand experience with American Express. This taught me to direct my activities in the direction of the banks that seem to know what they’re doing, security wise, and away from the more casual ones. In this post I will discuss one such case of a bank that seems to take things rather too casually, Bankwest.
As far as I am concerned, Bankwest has had its three strikes when it comes to security. Strikes one was already reported here, when the bank claimed to have never received application forms we posted them. (Note that original post referred to the bank as Westbank; I assume my intention was clear.)
Strike two came a month or two ago. One evening I found myself unable to login to my account, receiving constant “you got your user name/password wrong” error messages. After some attempts I was locked out and had to call the bank, where I was told they are working on their website. They reset my password and I was able to access my account again.
Until the next morning, that is, when the whole affair repeated itself. Only that this time, resetting my password did not work. After multiple goes the problem was found: the new password I was trying to use was too long for the revamped website to accept. It also used special characters (i.e., non-alphanumeric characters) which the site claims to accept but in practice doesn’t. Note I wasn’t told of these problems when I first typed my new password; my nominated password was accepted. It was only when I logged off and in again that I found myself unable to access my account.
The main point, though, is that the newly revamped website forced me to lower my password standards, both in length and complexity. A great move for security, isn’t it? And just in case one comes up with the excuse of my problems being due to Bankwest’s work in progress, my answer would be: please test your work in progress before you implement it to your production systems. That’s basic IT, guys.
Strike three came shortly after. My wife wanted to access Bankwest’s phone banking facilities for the first time, which requires a code the bank posted us shortly after we opened our account with them. That’s great, but due to us moving houses we weren’t able to easily find that code. Bankwest’s phone representative was resourceful: he let my wife access the services after she provided her date of birth and email address.
Yes, you read it right: full access to a person’s financial facilities was granted on the basis of information that can be easily retrieved from numerous locations, is often public, and at least in the case of the email address is easily guessed. Great security showmanship!
But wait, I have myself a fourth strike, too. The other week I received a call to my mobile from someone claiming to be from Bankwest. His first question? He asked me to provide my password so he could verify my identity. I didn’t know whether to be angry or LOL, so I did both; in return for my explicit contempt at the request I was given a reference number and told to contact Bankwest.
Contact them I did. It took Bankwest some time to figure out what’s going on, but it did seem as if the call was genuine. After the matter at hand was sorted out, I expressed my complaint: Bankwest should not contact people the way it does; instead it should leave a reference number and ask for the customer to call back. I was then informed this type of cold calling that I’ve enjoyed follows the bank’s set procedures, to which I answered that perhaps these procedures should be updated; I was then told most people are happy to be approached this way. Well, mark my words: if most people are happy to accept such business practices then most people are dumb. I severely doubt the bank’s representative’s claim is true, though.

I will conclude. Given those four security strikes, all of which took place within the span of less than four months, I conclude Bankwest’s approach to matters of privacy and therefore security is far too relaxed for me to consider them reliable. I am actively limiting my interactions with the bank, and I advise everyone else to keep their distance.


Image by bitzcelt, Creative Commons license

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

They Move in Mysterious Ways

We know banks don’t shy when it comes to coming up with ingenious ways to depart us from our money. The massively popular class action against ANZ testifies for that. In this post, I would like to point at an example for just how creepy banks can be; I’m using the word “creepy” because the whole affair doesn’t really amount to much, hence, I question the bank’s need to act the way they did.
The story goes like this. I have a credit card with Citibank for several years now. It started out great, but with time its bonuses kept eroding. Last Friday (14 September) I received a letter from the bank informing me that as of 1 October my card would be altogether cancelled and Citibank will issue me with a totally different credit card instead. A card I deem significantly inferior.
I could not avoid noting the bank gave me only two weeks to react to these news. After all, it is customary to give 30 days or 4 weeks’ notice on such news. Remember, it’s not like this plan of theirs hit the bank like lightning in the middle of a sunny day. So I checked the date on the letter and found, to my surprise, that it was dated 3 September.
The bank’s plot, it seems, was to leave me with little time to react to their plan but – on the other hand – to still appear to be doing things by the book. The way to execute this plan? Backdating their notification letter. How sleazy is that?

Now I can hear you calling me to relax and consider other options. For example, what if this notification letter got withheld by Australia Post? Or what if it took Citibank itself a long while to send me the letter?
I agree: fine arguments. Let’s examine them under the principle of reasonable doubt.
First of all, Citibank is an institution well versed in issuing massive amounts of letters. They’re a bank, and as such they send their customers monthly statements by mail; another notification letter on top of that wouldn’t/shouldn’t upset things too much.
Second, looking at the monthly statements I have been receiving over the course of being a Citibank customer, it is safe to say I have received more than 50 account statements by mail. All of these arrived within 2 to 3 days past the end of my monthly credit cycle; none was ever late. Therefore, the probability of this particular notification letter I have received being randomly late due to an Australia Post whim is less than 2% (that’s 100% divided by 51 letters). Assuming normal distribution applies on this statistical exercise, this means we go past the two sigma (two standard deviations) area of a normal distribution’s bell curve, an often accepted threshold for establishing reasonable doubt.

I will therefore repeat my accusation: it seems to me as if, beyond reasonable doubt, Citibank chose to delay the communication of bad news from me. I suspect they probably did so in order to reduce my reaction time for getting alternative products and help push me towards their inferior product of choice.
The sad thing is that this case is but a single representative of the way banks treat their customers.


Image by Mwtoews, Creative Commons license

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore

poor ned better off dead

It is no secret the majority of us don’t like banks. Yet banks are forced on us wherever we go, from the time our salaries are paid directly to the banks to the time we spend the money through our cards – letting the banks keep tally of everything we do with this money of ours. Government institutions are also in the process of moving away from dealing with money, delegating these duties to the banks: Medicare, for example, no longer issues cash refunds; everything has to go through the banks now.
With that in mind, I thought I’d run a trilogy of posts dealing with Australia’s banks. The next two will involve personal experience, but for this one I’d focus on a general introduction to the world of Aussie banking. All it takes are the following two bullet points:
    • The majority of banking operations in Australia are concentrated with the big four banks.
    • Four entities are the major shareholders of all of the big four banks. These four major shareholders are: HSBC Custody Nominees, JP Morgan Nominees Australia Limited, Citicorp Nominees Pty Limited, and National Nominees Pty Limited*.
      In other words, our four big banks that control our economy are all controlled by the same entities. Do not wonder why there is not much in the way of competition between our banks, because they are all controlled by the same entities. In other words, Australia is in effect a one bank nation. Usually, the word for that is “monopoly”.
      [Insert praise for capitalism and the free market economy]


      *This information is quoted from an article by Richard Denniss of The Australia Institute, published in D!ssent #38.
      Image by yewenyi, Creative Commons license

      Sunday, 16 September 2012

      Tropical Iceland

      Hot/Cold Cufflinks, 3

      I think I can confidently claim the move back to our house was easier than the move out of the same house during early February. I can cite two reasons for that: first, we didn't have the threat of a bobcat paying our house a visit and putting us under unexpected pressure to leave our current residence with urgency. Second, this time around I had Spotify with me everywhere to keep me entertained. Oh, and the fact we were never without ADSL Internet sure helped, too.
      Not that the move has concluded. It will take us a long while till we unpack it all, and even before we do that it is very clear we won't feel truly at home until some changes are made. I'll put it this way: when I'm typing this post on an inflatable bed in the middle of our living room, one can sense the need for a sofa. I guess that's the punishment for moving to live at a bigger house. And bigger it is, so much so that it's hard to tell what the other residents are up to.
      Another way in which the whole affair is obviously incomplete is to do with us identifying further faults left behind by the builder.  These are annoying because they're not really faults: they're mostly cases of damage to the existing parts of the house. Damage that the builder obviously knew about but chose not to tell us (e.g., damage to the roof of one of our garden sheds). Or damage he half arsed-ly took care of, like that pavers he broke during his work and replaced at our request towords the end, only for us to see them broken again already; obviously, he didn't bother laying them down properly. The story of us chasing after the builder seems to therefore continue, and I wouldn't be surprised if the final scenes will take place in court.
      Don't get me wrong, the house is nice. It's nice to live in a house that's designed to be lived in, as opposed to the rental place we spent the last seven months at - a house that's designed to look good, but once in it becomes obvious looks can be deceiving. That said, our new house is more like two: you step in to Iceland, a land of cold where heating is needed to sustain body and soul; once climbing the stairs to the upper floor, you are welcomed to the Tropics. Up in Tropical Land you can undress yourself to your boxer shorts (female readers: the choice of clothing is entirely yours to make) and feel fine and dandy. Obviously, I'm exaggerating; yet it is definitely a case of each floor feeling like it has its own unique climate.
      Feel wise, the upper story with its newish design feels much "cooler". It's like a studio apartment up here - I like it! We just need to see what it would be like when summer hits the town. In the mean time we're getting ourselves acclimatized: Mass Effect-ability has been achieved last night, with full blown [glorious] surround sound acquired today.


      Image by the justified sinner, Creative Commons license

      Wednesday, 12 September 2012

      Moving Thoughts

      The Book of Ecclesiastes (aka Kohelet in Hebrew) is one of the few Bible books worth the paper they're printed on. In particular I like these following quotes:
      Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
      Futility of futilities, all is futile.*
      [* I have to say I consider the Hebrew original far superior in the nuance department to the English translations.]
      Now, to this Bible scholar the story behind these thoughts seems obvious: those ancient philosophers were moving houses!
      In between more mundane thoughts along the lines of "damn, these speakers are heavy", one can clearly see the natural thread of logic leads to the existential philosophies Ecclesiastes is famous for. And if you think I'm bullshitting you, think this: what exactly is the difference between building pyramids for the Pharaohs and moving houses?
      QED!

      Be it as it may, the next time I will be playing Mass Effect I will be doing so at a brand new house. Hopefully, with proper surround sound for the first time ever. It is written in the stars!


      Image is in public domain

      Tuesday, 11 September 2012

      The Examined Life

      A gentleman and a scholar

      Death is always serious news, the serious there is; the death of a relative in her twenties in an eccentric accident takes things up a notch. I only meet the deceased once and briefly so, and therefore this post is not going to be some sort of a sophisticated eulogy. What I will discuss is the process of coming to terms as seen from this vantage point on the other side of the world. In other words, I'll be talking about myself.
      News of the tragedy was first provided through Facebook. With all the antagonism I have towards Facebook, I have to concede this is good use of the tool: instead of burdening the family with the choir of notifying everyone, it allows the network to do its work. I’ll put it this way: when I am the first degree relative who needs to inform family and friends, I will seek the easy way out. I argue the impersonal nature of the message’s delivery is well worth its benefits. It’s a pity Facebook has to be such a bad social networking tool, though.
      Human nature almost dictates that when a person dies some justification is required. The younger the victim is the worse the need for such consolation. Obviously, deep down we all know there is none; there is no great gig in the sky. Instead, all we have is this single life of ours that wears out its welcome with random precision. We may try to pretend otherwise, but death lurks behind every corner of this cold and indifferent universe.
      We then turn to look at the life that was and look at its achievements instead. I have a problem some of the tendencies there: I do not consider the life of, say, a climber of the Everest to be any more worthy than the life of someone who played video games all day. The climbers may be engulfed in their solipsism while I prefer to look elsewhere. I agree with Socrates on this matter when he said “the unexamined life is not worth living”. The way to live a meaningful life, by Socrates and I, is to read, learn and actively ponder about this world and this life.
      Perhaps I don’t examine as much as I should, but then again who does? I do dedicate a significant portion of my life to examining this world and this life of ours. My point is that if I were to die today, I would like the world to consider it the death of a person who felt content and fulfilled with his work (and no, I do not refer to the work that brings me my income here; at least not exclusively). It wasn't always the case but now I consider myself lucky; lucky to be able to do my examining and lucky to do so in the company of people that I love. Please direct your post death concerns and worries should be directed at the living left behind.
      The five year old of the house could not avoid hearing the phone calls and ensuing conversations. Not that he really paid attention to what was being said; he was trying his usual attention seeking moves, always refusing to accept that people may talk to other people about subjects other than him. I used the initiative to discuss some of these serious matters with him, and although I doubt he even glimpses at understanding the meaning of death I have to say this conversation may be one of the more memorable ones I ever had with my son.


      Image by Unhindered by Talent, Creative Commons license

      Monday, 10 September 2012

      I get email

      incoming Jan 11 29

      Been receiving emails asking me not to respond if I’m going to be too analytical.
      So I’m not responding.


      Image by donovanbeeson, Creative Commons license

      Saturday, 8 September 2012

      Our house, in the middle of our street

      white house

      Seven months after we were kicked out, our house is officially ours again.
      I thought of using the opportunity for a big "hooray", but I cannot avoid noting how instead of big trumpets and fireworks I am rather stressed and baulking at the ever expanding list of to do items.
      Then there is the case of the way our engagement with the builder has been deteriorating lately, as noted in various posts and lately at the comments here. That story is probably best demonstrated by the SMS I sent our builder this Wednesday:
      Good morning,
      A note regarding the paint touch ups: you knew about some of these issues (the laundry) for more than two weeks after we notified you in writing. Still, you had the painter in the house and chose not to have him address the problems.
      If you don't want us to remember you for posterity by the stains on our walls, please fix them properly.

      Moshe
      While that particular problem has been addressed since, to one extent or another (even if the builder never bothered to answer my SMS), two other cases of blatant neglect and carelessness have been identified since. For example, flyscreens were fitted to the outside of the second story windows without the builder bothering to clean the windows first. Windows that are inaccessible from the inside and had the builder's name written all over them when they were delivered...
      It looks like we will have to learn to take it one day at a time, remember that the ball is round, and play for the whole ninety minutes. The next challenge is cleaning our house: although we had professional cleaners over for the initial assault, it appears as if by magic our house is constantly generating additional piles of dust by the minute.
      I wouldn't mind fast forwarding the upcoming weeks at all...


      Image* by dcJohn, Creative Commons license

      *Yes, this is an authentic photo of our house!

      Thursday, 6 September 2012

      Wallace, Gromit and Propaganda - the Reply

      Three things have happened since I aired my contempt to the copyright propaganda campaign currently taking place at the Scienceworks Museum under the guise of a Wallace and Gromit exhibition: First, my Twitter campaign got worldwide spread once Asher Wolf took it upon herself to promote it. Second, Scienceworks finally published the comment I added to their exhibition’s website (see here; search the page for “Moshe” if you can’t find my contribution). And third, I received a personal email from Genevieve Fahey, the manager of Scienceworks.
      As much as I would love to, I cannot post Fahey’s email here because of copyrights (you know me, copyright is the pillar of fire guiding my way through the desert of life). However, I will say the email is short, polite and well written; I very much appreciate her taking the time to write to me personally and her invitation for me to give her a call to further discuss my concerns.
      Specifically around my concerns, Fahey’s main points were:
          •    The exhibition is around the concepts of invention and innovation.
          •    References to IP laws reflect current Australian legislation.
          •    The intention was to portray IP concepts to young audiences.
      I hope I managed to convey her message properly without violating rights. I do, however, have my gripes with the 2nd and 3rd points and I do have a problem with narrowing down my complaint to a short email / phone call. I will therefore post my draft reply here and allow for feedback to gather for a few days before emailing Genevieve Fahey back.
      Without further ado, here is my draft reply:


      Dear Genevieve,

      Thank you for taking the time to address my concerns regarding the Wallace and Gromit exhibition currently running at Scienceworks. Yes, I would be happy to further discuss these concerns with you; however, given their scope I think a phone call would do them great injustice. I therefore resort to answering you in writing.
      My main problem with the Wallace and Gromit exhibition is that, in effect, this exhibition has been using the power that the Wallace and Gromit brand has over children in order to wash them with copyright propaganda that has little to do with invention and innovation. I see nothing wrong with bringing IP and copyright matters to the public’s attention; on the contrary, I think these matters are vital to the development of our culture. However, I do have a big problem with the way Scienceworks chose to do this.

      First, I consider the exhibition to be grossly one sided in favour of the copyright industry. It provides a word to word account of the propaganda coming out of Hollywood studios and record labels, but totally fails to mention other views or points of contention. For example, in your email you mentioned that the exhibition conforms with current Australian legislation. Let’s examine that.
      According to surveys, some 40% of the Australian population admit to illegally download copyrighted material off the Internet (refer to Delimeter at http://delimiter.com.au/2012/08/23/news-ltd-chief-slams-scumbag-internet-pirates/). That is a significant portion of the population; it implies that people in your direct vicinity are downloading pirated material. Surely the position of such a large proportion of the population cannot be dismissed as easily as the exhibition does? Perhaps it would have been worthwhile to mention these observations?
      Second, it is clear that our copyright legislation is suffering from numerous issues. It’s broken, and the case of Optus and the AFL clearly demonstrates the existence of some weaknesses (refer to news coverage at http://delimiter.com.au/2012/09/07/high-court-doesnt-feel-the-optus-vibe/ and to expert legal analysis at http://www.idealaw.com.au/default.asp?page=cms_optusnrlhca). Weaknesses that, might I remind you, are totally ignored by the Wallace and Gromit exhibition.
      We don’t have to go to the bleeding edge  either: if you recorded off air TV before 2006, you have been in violation of Australian copyright legislation. It is very obvious the vast majority of Australians broke the law there, but then again – so what? Yet the exhibition and its related educational material fail to mention deficiencies or problems, instead singing the praise of copyright.
      IP matters are just as problematic. Can we truly claim there is no controversy around the patenting of human genes? Does society not have an ethical problem to deal with when patented medicine is effectively blocking residents of poorer countries from dealing with some of this world’s worst diseases, protecting the interests of big pharmaceuticals instead?
      We recently heard how USA courts deem Samsung to owe Apple a billion dollars for violating its IP. Many experts quickly pointed how, in effect, Apple was using IP laws to block innovation (for one of many examples, please refer to IT Wire at http://www.itwire.com/2012-06-01-13-40-03/browse/c-level/56319-apple-samsung-and-intellectual-honesty). However, there is no shade of this complexity at the Wallace and Gromit exhibition; all we hear is how great IP legislation is at supporting innovation. Well, given the above examples, it is clear this is not always the case.
      Then there is the case for successful alternatives to copyrights and IP. Linux, the operating system running most of this world's servers and probably Museum Victoria's, too, is the result of a collaborative effort between developers that publish their code as open source that is free for all to use. Indeed, Google has used that code to power its Android operating system, the world's most prolific mobile phone operating system that any manufacturer can install on their devices. They can do so because there is no copyright! And what about Firefox, one of the most popular Internet browsers? Firefox is not IP protected either. Need I mention Wikipedia? It seems as if the only place where IP protection is all encompassing is Scienceworks.

      Next, I argue that the Wallace and Gromit exhibition is often factually incorrect.
      Take, for example, the image in Attachment 1, taken at the exhibition, which shows the record labels and distributors pushing all the money they gather towards the artists. The sad reality is, artists receive only a fraction of the incomes; some time the fraction is all but infinitesimal (refer to Crikey’s analysis as an example at http://www.crikey.com.au/2012/05/23/spotify-and-streaming-music-a-black-hole-for-artists/).


      Copyrights often work directly against the interests of the artists. For example, on Sunday 2 September the world of science fiction convened at Chicago to hand its yearly Hugo awards, but the live streaming of the event was blocked due to copyright related reasons that were later revealed to be incorrect (refer to news coverage at http://io9.com/5940036/how-copyright-enforcement-robots-killed-the-hugo-awards). Numerous artists lost the exposure they should have had from this, their night of nights. They were "protected" in the name of a concept that, according to the Wallace and Gromit exhibition, is there only to serve and protect the artist. The problem, by the way, is not limited to the geeks and nerds of the science fiction community: Michelle Obama was hit just the same (refer to http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/09/youtube-flags-democrats-convention-video-on-copyright-grounds/).
      At the more direct level there is the Wallace and Gromit exhibition airing a video portraying kids discussing the evil of copying and how bad it is (refer to the image in Attachment 2). That single exhibit was responsible for the bulk of of my anger at the exhibition: how can anyone claim that copying is bad, especially in the context of children, when all it is that children do is copy? How else can a child learn a language and acquire the skills required for being a contributing member of society if not through copying?


      Our civilization depends on copying; yet our science museum is happy to claim copying is outright evil.

      The third and last major gripe I have with the Wallace and Gromit exhibition, in its current form, is its use and abuse of children.
      My point is made very clear by the video I referred to above, where we have children telling other children, the exhibition’s audience, that copying is bad. The ease with which children’s innocence is sacrificed on the altar of the copyright industry’s interests sends shivers down my spine.
      As you point out in your email, the exhibition is targeted at young audiences. This brings in mind the exhibition's stereotyping: the record labels in Attachment 1 are, for reasons that elude me, represented as cute toy ducks; copyright infringers, on the other hand, are seafaring pirates (refer to the image in Attachment 3). I would have argued such stereotyping is reminiscent of tactics employed by humanity’s worst regimes, only that by contemporary "Pirates of the Caribbean" standards the pirates have the advantage of a much "cooler" image. Still, it’s the thought that counts, and the intention is quite clear: without much in the way of supportive evidence, the Wallace and Gromit exhibition seeks to implant within the minds of its young audience the image of a cute and cuddly music recording industry and the image of an evil pirate copyright infringer (those evil 40% of Australians). In other words, this is no objective presentation of facts; it has the abuse of children’s minds written all over it.


      When examining the Wallace and Gromit exhibition at the higher lever, the combination of its single sided / single agenda presentation, the highly selective twisting of facts, and the blatant attempt to twist children’s minds all lead to an inevitable conclusion: The Wallace and Gromit exhibition is nothing more than a propaganda campaign.
      Freedom of speech allows propaganda the same place it allows all other forms of expression, yet it is obviously out of place at an institution whose core purpose is the promotion of the values at the core of science: empiricism, scepticism and the promotion of the inquisitive mind to name but a few. In airing the Wallace and Gromit exhibition, Scienceworks is therefore following on the footpath paved by the likes of The Creation Museum as it presents its own non evidence based agenda and tries to influence the minds of its visitors in the process.
      I am therefore extremely annoyed with both Scienceworks and Museum Victoria for allowing this to happen in the first place. This is not what I have been paying my membership money for; this one is an exhibition that contradicts everything these institutions should be standing for.


      Sincerely,
      Moshe Reuveni


      9/9/12 update: Thanks for all the feedback. I emailed my reply to Scienceworks tonight.

      Monday, 3 September 2012

      The Apple Beach

      iphone 5 black & white models
      The Goddess had finally made Her mind up and the decision was made on a very important matter: the iPhone 5 will be replacing my aging and almost cripple feeling iPhone 3GS. In a tribute to her foresight and knowhow, the Goddess’ decision was made and revealed to me prior to the iPhone 5’s official release in two weeks time.
      At the end of the day, the decision making came down to the following core arguments.

      In favor of Android:
          •    Screen size: the 4.8” screen of the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the 5.3” screen of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 make the iPhone 5’s expected 4” screen look pathetic. I can buy the iPhone, but I will forever be disappointed with it.
          •    Price: At less than $500, I expect the Galaxy S3 to cost me about half of the 32GB iPhone 5 model I now assume to purchase.

      In favor of the iPhone:
          •    Better operating system/environment: I did my homework on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean (currently running my wife’s smartphone). In some respects it is superior to iOS, but there are catches. You can read Charlie Stross’ review of his experience with the Google Nexus 7 tablet, coming in as an iPhone/iPad user, to see exactly what I’m talking about. The iPhone just works; Android requires tinkering and messing about. In this respect, the Android reminds me of Ubuntu, an operating system that gives my desktop all it needs but, due do drivers and compatibility issues, often induces sweat; in contrast, my Mac just works.
          •    Privacy: I have a problem with Google collecting information about me behind the scenes, which an Android phone allows it to do to one extent or another. I admit the full extent of the problem is unclear and could, potentially, be minimal; but I consider Apple to be vastly superior in the privacy department by virtue of the fact selling my privacy is not its core business.
 [BTW, as a side note, I will mention that Microsoft appears to be taking a leaf out of the Google book when it comes to it collecting and then using private information when you engage its services (see here). If you thought of using Microsoft as a replacement to Google due to privacy matters, think again.]
          •    AirPlay: By now I am too deep into the Apple ecosystem to be able to easily tear myself apart. You could say I’ve become Apple’s bitch. The number one example for this “problem”, if you will, is my reliance on Apple’s AirPlay at home in order to stream online music to my hifi. Android does not provide a suitable alternative to this piece of functionality from which backing out seems inconceivable.

      The above puts me at a weird position. Were my current iPhone 3GS to break now (as in, before the iPhone 5 becomes accessible to me), I would rush to get either the Galaxy S3 or the Galaxy Note 2. However, when the iPhone 5 becomes accessible – that is to say, I can get its eccentric SIM through my budget mobile provider and the phone’s price becomes digestible – I will replace my iPhone 3GS with the iPhone 5.
      Whatever transpires, I will be disappointed with my new phone.


      Image by methodshop.com, Creative Commons license

      Sunday, 2 September 2012

      Imperfections of the Skin

      Spotify

      As much as I love to praise Spotify, extensive use over more than a year now and in particular since its Australia release reveals an undeniable truth: Spotify’s archives of 15 million songs are full of holes. Or, in other words, a Spotify user cannot rely on Spotify’s services alone for all their music listening needs.
      There are bands that were never there, and let’s be realistic about it – will probably never be there, either. I’m talking about The Beatles with their exclusive Apple deal, Led Zeppelin, or AC/DC whose music was never made available digitally. I can live with that.
      The more annoying cases are those that are half available. Take David Gilmour, whose Remember That Night I recently reviewed: the audio version of that performance is unavailable on Spotify. However, his later live performance and fellow Pink Floyd Richard Wright’s last, Live in GdaƄsk, is there. But… the one song I would like to listen to the most out of that performance, Echoes, is unavailable. WTF?
      Continuing with Pink Floyd, I couldn’t avoid noticing their catalog is all but non existent for Australian Spotify users. I couldn’t avoid noting this fact not only because I’m a big fan of Floyd’s, but also because I did listen to Pink Floyd through Spotify during the time I used the American version of the service. Floyd is not the only example for that particular issue: the movie soundtrack from Until the End of the World, one of my favorite movie soundtracks, is another piece of music Spotify would let me listen to as an American but block me from as an Australian. I can continue mentioning other performers in this geo locked club, but I’ll assume the point is taken.
      Clearly, the matter here is a matter of rights; I don’t suppose Spotify actively denies me the pleasure of my favorite music, it’s just that they could not get the copyright holders’ approval to do so. Thus I have exposed one of the more annoying aspects of copyright, the fact that the rights for a certain piece of content may be held by different holders at different territories. In such a messy environment one cannot truly blame Spotify for failing to provide its subscribers with all the music they could think of, but one definitely wins the right to show copyright legislation the finger yet again as the latter is used not for the promotion of culture, as it claims to do and as it is meant to do, but rather for the blocking of culture. I do blame Spotify to some degree, though: so little of what it makes actually goes to the artist that there is little incentive for the artist to want to take part. Then again, this fault is likely to lie more on the heads of the greedy record labels, pointing the finger back to the illnesses of the copyright concept.

      From a user’s perspective, the question then becomes: If I cannot rely on Spotify to provide me all the music I want to listen to then what’s the point of paying for Spotify in the first place? I might as well put my money elsewhere (iTunes got the lot, or at least so much the gaps are effectively undetectable); then there are free downloads, courtesy of Bit Torrent & Co. That realm could not care about borders and does not charge Aussies more than Americans; it is the realm of the truly free citizens of the earth.
      My answer to that question is that Spotify is still a good tool whose main benefit is not its archives but rather its comfort and ease of use. That said, I wouldn’t mind at all if it got more songs added to its catalog…


      Image by factoryjoe, Creative Commons license