July 29, 2005
The changing business of malware
Those bizarre individuals who plague us with viruses and worms and malware aren't just doing it to irritate us. They've got a business plan. And according to Kaspersky Labs - which is still our personal choice of malware defence, they've recently changed their strategy to improve their return on investment.
They must have had some business consultants in - the virus world's equivalent of McKinsey & Co - because according to Kaspersky, they're moving towards better defined structures and clearer business processes.
The company's research suggests that the industry has also picked up on the corporate fashion for mergers and acquisitions, and has possibly been doing some cost-benefit analysis. As a result, large-scale virus infestations - which are comparatively expensive - has increasingly given way to spam emails loaded with Trojans and backdoors.
The other advantage is that Trojans are easier to hide from anti-virus programs by using different compression utilities.
The article points to explosive growth in AdWare programs, and discusses a surge in the number of new malicious programs for platforms other than MS Windows (Symbian, UNIX, and .NET, but can the Mac viruses be far away?)
It's a fascinating article which will almost certainly teach you more than you've ever known about things like IM Trojans and, umm, "bankers". Merchant bankers, presumably.
Posted by cw at 10:44 PM
Telstra says you should add ICE in emergencies
It's taken a bit of time for them to catch up with the idea - we wrote about ICE-ing your phone a couple of weeks ago - but the fact that Telstra is now advising its subscribers to store the name and number of a family member or friend in their handsets under the name ICE [and ICE2, ICE3 etc] to be contacted In Case Of Emergencies, means that this great idea is likely to be adopted in a big way.
Telstra's Consumer and Marketing Group Managing Director, Mr David Moffatt, says Telstra will next week start sending an SMS message to more than seven million of its mobile customers and post information on its website at telstra.com to raise consumer awareness of ICE on mobile phones.
July 28, 2005
Spindle, Google Desktop and other plug-ins
Here's the Google Desktop Search plug-ins site, where you can find, for instance, the utility Peter Moon was talking about on ABC Radio last week, called Spindle, which extends the utility of a great program to CDs and DVDs.
Page numbering in Word
A listener to this morning's Computer Help show had a problem with a Word document that kept numbering one page out of sequence. I suggested that he might have had a page break inserted there, and suggested how he might remove it.
Another listener suggests that the caller might have been doing the document in sections. [It's funny what people can neglect to tell you when they ask a question.] If that were the case, then the issue could be resolved Under the File/Page Setup/Layout/Section Start dialogue, and setting it to New Page rather than Even Page.
The MVPS site I mentioned has a good article on the topic of page numbering in Word.
Here's some information on controlling Word's page numbers when you're working with sections and long documents.
Shauna Kelly, who's a Melbourne-based expert on Word, also has some good advice on mastering page numbers in Word.
Don't throw it out. Back it up.
Here at the Bleeding Edge Centre for the Study of Computer-Induced Unwelllness, we are no strangers to the extraordinary responses otherwise sane individuals can sometimes make to apparently trivial setbacks at the hands of their PCs.
Nothing, however, quite approaches the actions of a New York resident called Lew Tucker, who despite having a PhD in Computer Science, decided to throw out a perfectly good desktop PC, because it was full of spyware, adware and viruses, and buy a new one.
Now you might wonder how someone with a PhD in Computer Science could have comprehensively ignored the basic steps – install, update and run anti-virus software and anti-spyware software, and run the Firefox browser rather than Internet Explorer – that would have prevented this contamination. You might also wonder why, if it really was such a mess, he didn’t simply remove the partition, or re-format and reinstall Windows.
But according to the New York Times, an increasing number of Americans are doing precisely the same thing as Dr Tucker, in what we can only regard as an orgy of wastefulness.
Rather than suggesting that these people might need to have their brains re-formatted, the newspaper presents it as perfectly reasonable.
“In the face of a constant stream of pop-up ads, malfunctioning programs and performance slowed to a crawl or a crash – the hallmarks of spyware and adware - throwing out a computer is – and here it quotes Lee Rainie, director of Washington-based Internet research groujp Pew Internet and American Life Project , “’a reasonable response’”. It is nothing of the sort.
It takes time to research, source and actually buy a new PC. It takes a lot more time to install software and updates, transfer your files, and set up backup routines etc. The cost of a new PC could be trivial compared with the value of lost time and inconvenience that’s a likely consequence.
As it happens, we were about to write about some applications and techniques that can preserve you from that sort of loss and frustration. We were looking at them from the point of view of backup, but they do have other benefits. What we’re talking about is disk imaging.
One of the great truisms of computing is that if you are willing to spend money on a problem, you can win more free time. You would rather be poor but happy, right? Microsoft (with Windows) and Apple (with OSX Tiger) should really provide all the tools you need for backup in their operating systems – and they do provide some – but for true peace of mind we (reluctantly) recommend a bit of a spending spree.
For Windows, that means buying the US$52.90 Partition Magic Pro and the US$69.95 Norton Ghost 9.0 (that now includes Drive Image technology). For Mac it means buying SynXchronize! Pro.
Once you have these programs, a day’s work will put you way ahead because you will know that whatever happens to your hard disk’s data, you can always restore a perfect mirror image of the disk (including your boot disk). You know you can boot from a CD if necessary. And you know you can restore even the boot partition with confidence. This is like having comprehensive insurance for same day repairs for your new Porsche Carrera.
Scoffers will be thinking now about all the OSX shareware that can do this for free. Why wouldn’t you use Mike Bombich’s free Carbon Copy Cloner for example? There are both obvious and more subtle answers. The first point is Tiger compatibility – the fairly expensive (US$99.95) Synchronize Pro! X is compatible, whereas Carbon Copy Cloner is not yet (despite workarounds we still can’t get to do what they are supposed to). Then there are secondary factors. Tap Cmd-Shift-W in Synchronize Pro! X and you can invoke “non-overlapped read write mode” which saves an external Firewire drive from that supremely irritating mid-backup hang that confounds some backup runs using other software.
In the Windows world, there are also cheaper alternatives, but they are generally less approachable for anyone but an expert user. However just as we finished this article, we had a report from a Ghost user reporting serious problems which have forced him to switch to True Image, which we’ll look at in another colujmn.
In the Windows world, it pays to have a fresh copy of XP to boot into if your main XP boot partition is corrupted – especially during a trip or before a crucial conference presentation. Achieving that requires the creation of a new disk partition (hence Partition Magic), another XP install (with Microsoft authorisation) or, better, a restore from Drive Image. After that, you can simply add an entry to the system settings after right clicking “My Computer” so that boot.ini knows about your new partition and alternative XP installation. That gives you a choice of operating system at boot up.
Of course you may need to change the partition size of an existing partition to create a new one, which is where Partition Magic shines. Apart from some slightly unnerving forays into a DOS-like world to achieve that, Partition Magic makes creating, changing and deleting partitions very easy.
In the Mac world, the US$59.95 VolumeWorks (from SubRosaSoft.com) will do the same thing, but Mac users benefit from the fact that Tiger’s own Disk Utility can create a sparse image (a kind of virtual hard disk) that Synchronize Pro! X (and other programs) will treat like a new physical hard disk even though it is actually just another file on your hard disk. Mounting the sparse image can make it available for system restoration if you ever need it.
These processes tend to create some large files, and we recommend using an external hard disk, although the files can be chopped into 4.4GB slabs for easy (but slow) export burning to a DVD to save disk space. Nowadays, an external 500GB Firewire/USB2 drive from a company such as Lacie costs a good deal less than $1000, and of course provides very useful storage for your music and digital images.
Taking these simple measures will let you frown less, get to sleep faster and enjoy a genuinely more productive time with your computer. But enjoy it while you can. With Longhorn’s eventual release, or Apple migrating OSX to the new Intel chip, all these certainties may evaporate as a new era of backup neurosis dawns.
July 27, 2005
Australia's generous support for Microsoft
There are some interesting figures in the white paper Melbourne-based open source solutions provider Cybersource has submitted to the ACCC as part of its call for action against what it describes [you're not going to hear any objection from Bleeding Edge] as a Microsoft monopoly.
Cybersource has told the competition regulator Australian consumers and industry are paying at least $200 million per year in artificially inflated prices, because of Micoroft's market dominance.
Cybersource says that while the price of the average desktop PC has fallen from $4000 to $800 since 1994, the cost of Microsoft's Windows and Office software - which holds a 95 per cent market-share stranglehold - has doubled, with "no serious functional feature improvement for most consumers".
It says that over the same period, the percentage cost of hardware in the average PC had fallen from 85 per cent to 35 per cent, while the cost of the Microsoft software had risen from 15 per cent to 65 per cent - by far the lion's share of the whole system.
At the same time, in what it describes as a tell-tale sign of an anti-competitive market, the actual production and distribution cost for Microsoft had plummeted, with the elimination of large numbers of floppy disks and printed manuals by one or two CDs.
Consumers, it says, have been given no choice. If they want to buy the hardware, they must also buy Microsoft software. The situation has led to operating margins of between 79 and 84 per cent for Microsoft, compared to between 4 and 10 per cent for hardware vendors like Dell and HP.
Cybersource wants the ACCC to require major vendors to offer their desktop and laptop products without any pre-installed operating system, and to inform customers of the price differences.
It also wants a requirement for Microsoft to offer "unfettered and unencumbered access to all major content, document, data and applications formats which could enable interchange and interoperability between users of its platform and users of other alternative platforms".
Here's a question we'd like to ask: If US and European and Japanese regulators have already moved against Microsoft's anti-competitive conduct, how come the ACCC hasn't lifted a finger?
July 26, 2005
What women want
What with the money a modern girl spends on the accumulation of electronic gadgetry far exceeding the amount she invests in beauty products and treatments [by about three times], we geekish males can these days actually have a good natter about technology, and even pick up some good advice from females, rather than boring them to death.
We've got into trouble in the past by suggesting that what women want in technology is something that works and looks stylish, so we're not going to venture an opinion as to why Razor's spouse is these days likely to suggest - wonder of wonders - that we actually BUY something, rather than regarding all such purchases as a total waste of joint assets.
We will therefore simply repeat the opinion of Katie Lee, journalist and editor of Shiny Shiny, a weblog for gadget-obsessed women: "Women want good design, absolutely, and there's nothing wrong with that. But also women, more than men even, need to see a use in every gadget. They need to know exactly how it's going to fit into their lives, what it's going to do for them."
Women also welcome the fact that these days, you don't have to be a power lifter to enjoy technology: "More than styling, size has had a big impact," says Lee. "As things have got smaller, women have got more interested because physically these laptops, phones, whatever, are easier to carry around. So there's a straightforward appeal in things being pink or sparkling or cute. But if they don't do what we need them to do, or if they're too big, we don't care."
And: "Women like gadgets that have nothing to do with sitting in a darkened room, hunched over a keyboard. They like mobile gadgets. That's why mobile phones were such a major gateway gadget for so many women."
It's a bloody Big (Funny) Ad
July 22, 2005
We're not about to turn this into a travel blog, but the fact is, Bleeding Edge has to earn a living somehow, and what with the bank balance looking particularly bleak, we took an assignment from the Financial Review's Life & Leisure magazine to write a piece about Melbourne. We wonder how many of you share our view of the city we call home? It looks better on glossy paper, surrounded by images (which is why you might like to buy today's Fin to read it) but here it is ...
On a recent Friday afternoon, having read that a survey of overseas tourists departing from Melbourne had nominated its newest public construction, Federation
Square, as the most magnetic of its attractions, I caught a tram – the second best way to approach the centre of Australia’s second largest city - to evaluate this intelligence.
Was it possible that Melbourne had finally embraced the fond hopes of its administrators and tourist authorities, and adopted an iconic landmark? It seemed to defy everything I’d come to know of Melbourne in more than 30 years of on-and-off residency in this good-natured but maverick-minded city.
Sure enough, the square - a loose, modernist interpretation of an Italian piazza honouring the centenary of the nation’s establishment as a federation of States in this very city - was virtually empty. The architects had cloaked the buildings with mottled panels suggestive of a camouflage suit in what was, perhaps an unconscious acknowledgment, perhaps, of the attitudes of the people who were meant to use it. But clearly it was still far too intrusive for a city that seems to abhor the bleeding obvious.
Melbourne survives without a monumental harbour bridge – lacking even a monumental harbour – or stunning opera house. It doesn’t promenade in city squares (although it will get together for a nice public protest). It’s a city of events and traditions, the keeper of the nation’s sporting calendar and much of its artistic and cultural heritage.
The incendiary London chef, Gordon Ramsay, whose opinion is to be ignored at your peril, describes its restaurants as “the culinary engine room” of Australia. Its public gardens - marvellous places for a walk and a read, and a sandwich on the grass - invite comparison with those of London; its grander buildings with the best of Manchester’s, others with those of Spanish-revivalist California. But many of them, and much of what makes the city what it is, are in hiding.
You have to literally burrow into Melbourne, to appreciate it as its people do. You have to depart the impeccably arranged formal city grid and enter the capillary network of “little” streets, cobbled laneways and alleys that weren’t a part of the original symmetrical design plan. A handful of “little” streets – Little Bourke St, Little Collins St, Little Lonsdale St - running parallel to the main events, were introduced by a practically-minded colonial governor who foresaw the need for utility access to the rear of the buildings fronting the bigger arteries. But during the 1850s gold rush that turned the infant city into a boom town, more affluent by far, then, than Sydney, they seemed to develop a will of their own to branch off and intersect.
They take you to places, away from the rattle of trams and vehicle traffic, where you suddenly discover Melbourne’s rich array of intimate coffee shops, bars and bistros, designer boutiques and art galleries (more than 130 of them) and arcades … discover, moreover, the beating heart of its culture.
To view the essence of Melbourne, you must ignore the commercial shopfronts at street level – much like those of Everywhere Else - and cast your eyes upwards, to the first (for Americans the second) floor level, where a good deal of its highly eclectic built history surprisingly survives, where people live and go about their business, and a thriving community of artists and jewellers and fashion designers are producing unique, much-sought-after work.
Walk through the leadlight barrel-vaulted arcade of the 1920s Beaux-Arts style Nicholas Building in Swanston Street, not far from the squat functionality of Flinders St Station, and you can take the city’s only remaining operator-controlled lift to the airy, naturally-lit, if slightly run-down studios of close to100 designers and artisans. This is, by the way, the building that the headache gave us, what with the fact that the Nicholas family’s fortune was based on its manufacturing of aspirin.
Downstairs, Alice Euphemia is typical of a sizeable collection of shops in the immediate area, which have championed Melbourne, Australian, and sometimes New Zealand fashion labels – among them Obus, Ammo and Mien - and jewellery.
A few blocks away, in Little Collins St, a business called e.g. etal – as much an exhibition gallery as a retail store – stocks the work of around 50 of Australia’s best contemporary jewellers.
You’ll need a navigational aid to track these enterprises down. Marais, for instance, whose racks include the improbable creations – in jersey – of Josh Goot, who won this year’s Young Designer of the Year award at Melbourne’s l’Oreal Fashion Festival – seems to have been parachuted into its upstairs quarters in the Royal Arcade, under cover of darkness. Aside from a small sign over a stairway, there’s no evidence of its existence.
Fortunately, former bridal gown designer Fiona Sweetman conducts “Shopping Secrets” tours (Phone 03 9329 9665) that will put you on the scent.
Even in Federation Square, you can ferret out a jewel like the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, devoted to the cinematic arts, and the permanent exhibition of Australian art at the Ian Potter Centre, a satellite of the nearby National Gallery of Victoria.
But you have to go slightly beyond the square to the other side of the Yarra River, and walk a little distance along its beautifully maintained pedestrian paths, or take to the bike path with a hired machine, or better still, take a river cruise (Phone 03 9614 1215), to get an accurate perspective of its skyline and a hint of its tribal cultures.
For all of its modest, muddy dimensions, the river exerts a profound force on the city, much as Kryptonite does on Superman. Those abiding in the more affluent suburbs of the south find it draining to venture even to the university and Italian quarter of Carlton, on the edge of the CBD. They barely make it to the riverside restaurant precinct of Southbank, which also houses the Crown Casino and entertainment complex, and the new harbourside residential and restaurant developments of Docklands.
And those on the north possibly can’t conceive of a reason to mix with all those snobs in moneyed Toorak, South Yarra and Brighton.
They tend to make an exception for St Kilda, the inner beachside suburb where some of the city’s most expensive residential real estate intersects with backpackers’ hostels, and more feral entrepreneurial types transact the business of drugs and sex.
Along St Kilda’s Acland Street, the descendants of Jewish emigrants take coffee and something sweet in European-style delis and cafes and cake shops, or enjoy the beach or the indoor saltwater baths, while the kids ride the roller coaster at Luna Park. At night, the Esplanade Hotel (The Espy), pumps beer and pulses with live music from local and national touring bands.
St Kilda hosts so many festivals and events like triathlon competitions, that on weekends, parking is all but impossible. Fortunately, it’s served by several tram routes (timetables, route maps etc here). A couple of kilometres away, on the same side of the river, Chapel St also seems to repel the effects of the river, due to the gravitational pull of its shopping strip and club scene.
Melbourne is a city of the near at hand. The sheer proximity of its facilities gives it a curiously village-like ambience, despite the fact that this is also the centre of a vast suburban sprawl that houses 3.6 million people, and for the past three years has been growing at a faster rate than Sydney.
You find the National Gallery of Victoria and the concert hall (Hamer Hall) and Victorian Arts Centre (theatre, opera, chamber music and light opera) flanking Southbank, a few minutes walk across Princes Bridge from Flinders St Station.
Cross St Kilda Road at that point, and you can walk through a series of parks to the world-class Royal Botanic Gardens. If you get the taste for walking, you could join the throng of Melburnians who circumnavigate those gardens at a variety of paces, with or without strollers. The gravel track they use is called – with the city’s characteristic love of odd diminutives – “the Tan”.
The “G” is the Melbourne Cricket Ground - as much a sacred site as a sporting arena. It’s a 20-minute walk from Princes Bridge along the river that takes you past Rod Laver Arena, home of the Australian Tennis Open. To confuse the issue a little further, mostly what they play at the Melbourne Cricket Ground is not cricket but football – and moreover a locally-invented brand of football called Australian Rules. At the other end of the city grid there’s a new smaller football arena, called Telstra Dome. Like Rod Laver Arena, it’s also a popular venue for other events, including rock concerts.
It’s only a brief train ride to Flemington, the major venue (with two other Melbourne racecourses, Caulfield and Moonee Ponds) for the Spring Racing Carnival, a communal excuse for dressing up, having possibly more than a few drinks, and losing money. The principal event, occurring on the first Tuesday of November, is the Melbourne Cup, which literally stops the nation.
Should you tire of the near at hand, Melbourne is also the capital of the quick getaway. An hour and a half by car gets you into the vineyards of the Yarra Valley, where you’ll find some of Australia’s finest table wines. While you’re there, Healesville Sanctuary will introduce you to the world’s most curious mammal, the platypus. A slight diversion takes you to the mountain forests of the Dandenongs. About the same distance away are the beaches (and more vineyards) of the Mornington Peninsula. Another hour or so puts you on the Great Ocean Road, winding precariously through the wilderness of the Otway Ranges, past some of Australia’s best known surfing beaches.
Or you could take the highway to Ballarat, its route plotted deliberately to fold as harmoniously as possible into the landscape, dor a visit to Sovereign Hill, a working reconstruction of the goldfields era settlement.
The best way to approach the city? An hour before sunrise, gather in the Royal Botanic Gardens, close to the Shrine of Remembrance, and board a hot-air balloon . As dawn breaks, you drift serenely over domes and spires, the spearing Rialto Tower that river and those laneways, stalking the secret city.
July 21, 2005
Whoops, Firefox tries it again
Laptops: light versus might
This is a tale of two notebooks. A tale of change and compromise. Or no compromise. There was a time when we demanded the most powerful road machine around. We wanted all the megahertz we could get, plus lots of megabytes and gigabytes, a big hard drive, good keyboard, large, bright display, DVD drive and floppy and a good sound system.
After years of dragging our briefcase around airport terminals, however, we've noticed an increasing desire for something that doesn't make us feel like we've been carrying around a bowling ball.
Eventually, portability won. This is why one of the notebooks sitting on our desk for review is Toshiba's Portege R200. It's in a smart silver case and it's breathtakingly small and light.
We also recognise that many people are happy with an extra kilogram or so, which is why we've also been looking at the fully featured and fuller-figured HP NW8240 mobile workstation.
The idea of the Toshiba is to confer on its owner an unbearable lightness of being. At only 1.2 kilograms, it weighs less than half that of the HP, which is, at 2.63 kilograms, scarcely unbearably heavy.
What was sacrificed to make the Portege so small? The most notable missing item is a built-in CD or DVD drive. This means you'll have to use an external or network drive to load software. You'll also need a little patience.
To keep weight and bulk to a minimum, the Toshiba uses a smaller, slower hard drive. Although it is has the same 60GB capacity as the HP, it spins at only 4200rpm, compared with the HP's tearaway 7200rpm.
The Toshiba's CPU and RAM are also slower but still fast enough for business applications such as word processing, email, web browsing and presentations. Although the CPU is decent enough, if you plan to play games, the Toshiba will not cut it. The two USB2 ports will handle most things. But the Toshiba has no FireWire or audio input ports or faster hard drive.
The Toshiba still has a full-sized keyboard (at least the keys are full size). There is also an SD card reader, IR, Ethernet, modem and external VGA. No modern notebook is complete without wireless, and the Toshiba has both 802.11g and Bluetooth 2. You'll find them on the HP as well - but you won't find the Toshiba's fingerprint scanner, which locks out unfamiliar fingers.
If you're prepared to compromise - especially with the 12.1-inch screen - the Portege is hard to resist.
At the other end of the scale, however, the HP is equally compelling. Because we've been conditioned to believe that you pay a lot more for lightness, we were surprised to discover that the HP costs $1475 more than the Toshiba's $3520 price tag.
Why? Well, there's the 15.4-inch screen, capable of displaying a resolution of 1920 x 1200 - higher than Apple's much-vaunted 17-inch PowerBook. Driving the display is a ATI Mobility FireGL V5000, and only the HP uses it. The HP's Pentium M 770 2.13Ghz CPU is almost 1Ghz faster than the R200's chip and it also uses faster RAM (533Mhz not 400Mhz).
The faster CPU is expensive. We found an online store (nintek.com.au) that sells the CPU separately, so we could compare prices. A Pentium M 770 is $924, the 760 2Ghz model is only $616, and if you go down to a 1.6Ghz 730 it's only $302.50. The R200's 1.2GHz Pentium M 753 doesn't even appear on the radar.
We guess the HP's built-in DVD writer should account for at least another $200. There is an extra USB2 port and FireWire, nine-pin RS232 and a S-Video port - but they're not too expensive. You have to look closely to understand what you're getting for the price. Most notebooks support only 802.11b and g wifi. The HP has a tri-band card that can also use 802.11a.
Then there's the hard drive. It probably cksts $100 more than you'd pay for the average notebook hard disk.
The HP is for the mostly deskbound, uncompromising professional. It's black and neat, and it's bound to improve your boardroom status. On the commute home, people will crane their necks to glimpse the DVD on that wide screen. They'll hardly notice us lighter beings.
July 20, 2005
True to type
Should we buy Bello, a new font that won a best new "display font" award from the Type Directors Club? What would it say about us?
According to a small but interesting article in the New York Times magazine, the fonts we use convey a message beyond that of the words they form. Quoting an essay by media critic Leslie Savan from her book, The Sponsored Life, it says, for instance, that the clean san-serif outlines of Helvetica reassure us "that the problems threatening to spill over are being contained".
I didn't know that! I wonder what Times New Roman says? Apparently one thing it says is that you're not terribly cool. Bello is cool, because it's a script font.
Unfixing Microsoft's Firewire "fix"
As we pointed out, that highly problematic SP2 patch for Windows XP caused some major problems for Firewire users. In some cases Firewire drives won't work at all. In others, Microsoft's kindly slowed them down from 400Mb per second to 100Mb per second, which comprehensively defeats the purpose of paying extra for Firewire capability, wouldn't you say?
A reader - thanks Paul - who was hit by the problem referred us to a handy Firewire site that offers links to firmware fixes for Windows XP SP2, if your Firewire device uses the Oxford chipset.
As it happens, some Mac users have also been having problems with Firewire under OS X 10.3.6. There's a fix for devices that use the Initio chipset here.
When the boss is an idiot
Leon Gettler's got a fascinating story about a Melbourne Business School survey which shows that most managers are less than impressed by the intelligence and competence of their CEOs. CEOs, in turn, rate the chairman of the board or ministerial head just as badly. (Too bad there aren't any figures on the opinion of the average worker about all of them, because we suspect they'd be even less complimentary.)
"If leadership starts at the top," the report concludes, "then there is no wonder that there's not much of it in Australian organisations." [We're not quite sure if we know exactly what that means, but clearly, it's not good.]
Maybe all the guff we've been given about leadership has been leading us up the garden path. Maybe instead of relying on our leaders to select those who would lead us, we should be seeking more input from the poor bastards who are going to have to follow them?.
What's interesting is that baby boomers tend to think more highly of their CEOs than the younger generations. Leon suggests that's because more baby boomers are CEOs. We suspect it's because "existentialists" - those born between 1955 and 1963 - and Generation Xers (1964-79) are less likely to want to admit the bleeding obvious, preferring, apparently, not to notice that the leader is marching boldly towards the cliff face.
July 19, 2005
While we're all in favour of a site that allows you to vote for your favourite podcast, it seems to us that there's something odd going on at Podcast Awards when the No. 1 vote in the people's choice section is for Catholic Insider.
July 18, 2005
Firefox gobbles market share
Despite the fact that the average Internet user probably isn't even aware of its existence, Firefox is increasing its share of the browser market by as much as 1 per cent a month, and by the end of this month, will probably hold a strategically important 10 per cent.
Gosh, was it only last November that Microsoft Australia chief Steve Vamos and product manager Ben English were saying that nobody had any real worries about their product's security holes? And their users didn't want tabbed browsing?
(And thanks for asking. We're feeling a wee bit better.)
I've got a sore throat. I'm slightly feverish, and I didn't sleep well last night. Can I please spend the afternoon in bed?
July 16, 2005
Telstra boss a city slicker?
The Financial Review [PAY WALL] has investigated new Telstra CEO Solomon Trujillo's track record in servicing country customers and has some bad news for the bush.
Indeed, it suggests that if Mr Trujillo doesn't dramatically improve his record, it could derail the privatisation plan.
We've done a little digging ourselves, and as we've said earlier, Solomon's attitude to country areas may be better than the Fin gives him credit for. It seems clear that he's an advocate for broadband equality.
But the Fin says its investigation into his leadership of US West, the big phone company servicing the north-west of the United States, showed "rural and regional services were so poor the market regulator had to intervene to restore them".
It blames him for dividing US West customers into three categories - gold, silver and bronze - which it says "raised the suspicion that rural and low-value customers were always ranked last".
The story says some observers believe it took a class action on behalf of 220,000 customers to force US West to fix the problems, and says this will be unpalatable news in Canberra at a time when Prime Minister John Howard is working hard to secure political support in the bush for the final Telstra sale, central to his government's fourth-term agenda.
It's a fascinating story, well worth the read, but we suggest that it's far too early to be judging the man. Given some of his comments, there's every prospect that he could turn out to be an extremely wise appointment. (We'd love to be able to say some nice things about Telstra for a change.)
Google desktop search might save your skin
It's happened to all of us, surely, and probably more than once: you spend hours working on a document and then accidentally obliterate the contents.
Over on a blog called The River, a young journalist and recent mother - congratulations! - writes how she experienced that unique feeling of dread when you look for the file, and find it isn't there any more, or notice that the file size says "O kb".
Fortunately she'd been using Google Desktop Search, and there in the cache were three or four cached copies of the file. She was able to retrieve most of the file, and save several hours of work.
And here's some tips on getting more out of Google's desktop saviour.
July 15, 2005
Quick and easy Wi-Fi security
There's some good news, however. According to the Windows Secrets newsletter, which we recommend, a start-up called Witopia offers an easy, quick solution. It's free for one wireless router or access point and up to five users. It doesn't cost much for additional installations.
At last, an append text for Windows
One of its handy little tricks is the ability it gives you to append text to a document ... perfect if you're typing a shopping list, or a simple To Do list, or perhaps making notes while reading. We use it with the free Textwrangler, having had some difficulty getting it to work with other editors.
It's got to the point now where, when we're working in Windows, we find ourselves missing Quicksilver - although ActiveWords is pretty good. Happily, somebody's come up with a VB script that brings that append text facility to the Windows environment, either using ActiveWords, or without it.
July 14, 2005
Links from the radio show
Stuff arising from the Jon Faine Show's computer segment this morning:
The link I mentioned on air is actually a free service utility for Epson inkjet printers.
The PC in the surgery
Does your doctor let you see his computer screen? Too many of them use them as "a shield", according to a US study. If your GP huddles behind his screen, you might look for someone a little more communicative.
From frying pan to Firewire
Where would Bleeding Edge be without the devotion of our friends? We have tried to experience every form of computer-mediated disaster known to man, but the all but infinite variety of components and software has meant that we have been unable to enjoy some of the exquisite tortures that technology can dream up.
Fortunately we have been blessed with comrades in arms who expose themselves - albeit unwittingly - to sundry calamities that they bring to our attention, in varying states of desperation.
This allows us to alert you, dear reader, to the existence of hidden shoals that may capsize your particular computing vessel or - should you have already found yourself flailing in the water - fling you a lifebuoy.
Today's storm-weather alert, raised by one of our sacrificial friends, is likely to affect many users thanks to the exploding demand for external hard disk storage. It involves external FireWire hard drives - occasionally also USB 2.0 drives - and comes with a uniquely frustrating error message of its own, "delayed write failed error".
This was the message one of our more adventurous, and hence more calamity-prone, friends received just after he'd bought a 200 GB hard drive mounted in a FireWire enclosure. It popped up when he attached it to his PC's FireWire card and tried to copy some data to it. The hard drive locked up. He was forced to reboot the drive and try again. Sure enough, he got the same error message and the same apparently brain-dead hard drive.
It was only when he searched out the error message on the hard drive that he realised that people everywhere were also experiencing problems with their FireWire drives in Windows XP, most of them arising from the installation of Service Pack 2.
If your FireWire drive is working under Windows XP, it's possible that it could be running slowly because of SP2. The issue is discussed here.
In the circumstances, it would have been nice, when our friend was doing his shopping, if the salesman had asked him two questions: are you using Windows XP SP2? Would you like to avoid frequently banging your head against a wall?
Unfortunately, computer salespeople tend never to ask such questions, generally because they don't have a clue about what they're selling, don't have the slightest interest in the experiences of their customers and don't want to lose a sale. All too often what happens is that you get your new piece of hardware home, discover there's a problem and then engage in a series of Google searches looking for possible answers - in between banging your head against a wall.
That's what happened to our friend. In the case of this particular problem, there were a lot of answers. Indeed, the problem had proved so intractable that it had spawned entire websites and forum discussions.
Our friend spent the best part of a week seeking them out and trying them. While they may have worked for some people, they didn't work for him.
The first "solution" he tried was to partition the drive, the theory being that the problem was caused by the drive being too big. That didn't help.
Another theory was that the size of the logic blocks being transferred were too large. He set up a filter to adjust the size of the blocks but even when the drive took smaller mouthfuls, it still choked.
Eventually he tracked down a Microsoft KnowledgeBase article that outlined the problem and a potential solution, in the form of a Hotfix.
The article suggests that the problem is associated with specific chipsets and mentions the NEC 1394 chipset, which is used in many FireWire cards. There seems to be some evidence that AMD CPUs on motherboards that use VIA chipsets are also particularly susceptible. Our friend's PC is an AMD/VIA system.
Unfortunately, to obtain that Hotfix you have to phone Microsoft support, which requires setting up accounts and so on, and he didn't feel like doing that.
Instead, he went out and bought a USB 2.0 card and connected the drive through that. Would it surprise you to learn that he immediately ran into problems with that? Didn't think so.
It turns out that Windows XP sometimes won't recognise USB drivers without some registry adjustments. Fortunately he was able to find a tech support person to help him through that.
There's a useful resource on USB issues at snipurl.com/g23i, and if you're buying any USB 2.0 equipment, one thing you need to know that the salesman probably won't tell you: there are two varieties of USB 2.0, only one of which is really USB 2.0. "USB 2.0 Full" is actually USB 1.1, and therefore about 40 times slower than the 480 Mbps potential of USB 2.0. "USB 2.0 Hi-Speed" is the faster version.
July 13, 2005
Love PowerPoint or hate it, and as Bleeding Edge has reported in the past, information presentation expert Edward Tufte hates it - blaming it, in fact, for the fatal Space Shuttle re-entry (we do so hope the latest launch has been planned by reading Edward's The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint) - it's not going away, given its users number 400 million globally.
But we know you wouldn't like to subject others to the exquisite boredom that so many of us have sat through, time and time again, while someone reads a set of dumb slides. That's why you might want to point yourself, and others, to Eric Lippert's advice to novice PowerPoint users
New tools for podcasts
And the other big news in podcasting is that Odeo, the new online podcasting service co-founded by Blogger creator Evan Williams, has launched its beta.
And Griffin Technology's iFill allows you to create your own podcasts directly from Internet radio streams. You can get a free seven-day licence for the software. According to the blurb: "You can choose several stations at once and select from many different genres. And since iFill goes directly to your iPod, it won't clutter up your hard drive with extra files."
Meanwhile, on Razor, we've listed some new Radio National programs that are available as podcasts.
July 12, 2005
All your brain belong to us
We feel that we should point out, in the interests of attenuating possible future embarrassment, that our fingers have apparently mounted a hostile acquisition of a vital part of the Bleeding Edge brain.
The unwelcome raid on the share registry of Bleeding Edge Brain Inc. occurred as a direct consequence of the fact that Bleeding Edge is a touch-typist.
The way touch-typing works is that the brain, or whatever part of it is responsible for verbal communications, selects whichever words or phrases it wishes to employ, slips them into some tiny capsules, then sends them, by way of eight pneumatic tubes, to the Bleeding Edge fingers. The ninth pneumatic tube is connected to the right thumb, and it despatches spaces. It's a complex operation which involves extremely precise timing, and because of the speed of the finger movements, occurs at a level that is beyond the apprehension of the conscious mind.
The conscious mind formulates the words, and leaves it to the pneumatic tubes and the fingers to tap them out, as they've been doing, at 120 words per minute, for an awfully long time.
Then, with no warning whatsoever, the fingers took control. They started typing other words. Yesterday, for instance, the Bleeding Edge brain instructed them to type designated adult. What came out, was "dedicated adult".
This morning the brain ordered the fingers to deliver the date: "July 12". What came out was "November 12". Maybe the fingers don't like running two blogs.
Better spyware tools
What with Microsoft Anti-Spyware suspiciously relaxing its definitions of what exactly is spyware, so the second-most common piece of irritating junk is no longer automatically zapped, among other things, we've been looking elsewhere for some possible replacements.
Trend Micro Anti-Spyware, based on the company's acquisition of InterMute's SpySubtract Pro, looks good. And Trend Micro has already picked up CW Shredder, which obliterates that *&-^# pest, CoolWeb Search.
And CounterSpy uses the same engine as Microsoft Anti-Spyware, but isn't quite so soft on spyware/adware. The company runs some useful spyware forums, and their research centre lists the top 10 spyware threats.
Let's REALLY trust the Australian people
John Howard's finally convinced us, having used the phrase possibly 14 million times, that yes, "We can trust the Australian people". He was at it again yesterday, declaring that "To trust employers and employees in the workplace is to trust the Australian people."
Which means, well, what? Exactly? We're presuming that it means that we don't need any rules and regulations to prevent one side screwing the other.
We've decided to take the Prime Minister at his word. If we trust the Australian people, then why do we need any laws? Why do we need a Parliament, for that matter? Let's just trust the Australian people.
We can run the country by popular opinion polls, which are bound to be A LOT cheaper than elections and parliamentary salaries. The public service is already in place, and they're Australian people, so we can trust them.
And let's have some real workplace "reforms" - ones that will do even more than establish a new breed of enterprise worker who, according to Treasurer Pete, "grasp[s] that high wages and good conditions were bound up with the productivity and success of their workplace". Which means, sorry, we're obviously a little dense, what exactly?
Presumably it means that in the interests of productivity and success, workers and shareholders should be able to sack the bosses. On the other hand, given that we can trust the Australian people, why have bosses? Why have boards of directors? Why not run companies through opinion polls of the workers and shareholders? We can trust the Australian people, after all. A damned sight more than we can trust the Prime Minister.
Where in the world is ...?
O'Reilly has put up some Google Maps hacking links that will no doubt delight you, if, like a rapidly growing number of people, you're a digital-era Christopher Columbus.
July 11, 2005
Big Pond, big buck-pass
Telstra spokesman Craig Middleton (from whom we sought a comment on this yesterday) says that there's no dispute between Optus and Big Pond", and Bleeding Edge "really has to try to understand what RBL is".
He then proceeds to instruct us thus: "An international spam blacklist provider has some Optus IP addresses listed as spam sources. This has, I am told, been an issue for them for about five or six weeks. It's for Optus to sort out with RBL.
"I'm sure BigPond will not be the only RBL-subscribing ISP to be bouncing Optus mail as a result".
On Razor, where we've also posted on the situation, he's asserted, "If Optus have a problem with RBL it is their responsibility to sort it out. Your attempt to colour this as a BigPond versus Optus issue is misleading and the claim that "BigPond is blocking [Optus'] efforts" is simply untrue."
Well, according to Optus tech support, Telstra has put in place a system that prevents Optus engineers from removing the blocks on the IP address range. I'd describe that as a dispute.
And maybe we should change the name Big Pond to Big Pontius, given that the statement "If Optus have a problem with RBL it is their responsibility to sort it out", is a typical Telstra exercise in denying any responsibility.
That's evidence enough, to our mind, of a Big Pond versus Optus dispute.
The situation is that both Big Pond's CUSTOMERS and Optus' CUSTOMERS are suffering from the effect of the blocks, and Big Pond should be working with Optus to sort out the problem, rather than trying to split hairs and deny any responsibility. Telstra really has to try to understand what the word "dispute" means. Given they're in dispute with practically everybody, they tend not to notice.
July 10, 2005
Big Pond puts the bounce on Optus
If you're an Optusnet user, and you have to communicate by email with Big Pond users, you've got problems. Big Pond is bouncing messages generated from Optusnet servers, in what appears to be a dispute over spam measures.
Wouldn't it be nice if two huge companies could sort out their differences in a way that didn't victimise members of the Internet community?
July 09, 2005
Google Earth hacks
As if you're not wasting enough time already ... a site that offers Google Earth hints and downloads for getting even more deeply involved.
We suggest you shred your To Do list and tear up your calendar.
July 08, 2005
Having a lend, surely?
We're the first to admit that we're not the perfect public library client. Our most recent transaction with the wonderful City Library involved an exchange of money for a book they'd placed on their list of permanently obliterated titles before we managed to extract it from our
rubbish receptacle filing system.
And if anyone has a spare copy of Marvellous Melbourne, which we have to return to the City Library in a week or so, but which also appears unaccountably to have escaped from our custody, do let us know. [We've got the other three titles we borrowed ready to return, but we're anxious about turning up minus one book, given our track record.]
Here's the idea: immediately after you return from the library, and before you start reading your books, you calculate how many days you want to spend reading them, then divide them up into appropriate sections, marking each division with a Post-It tab. Or torn-up tissue. Or whatever. Then you mark your calendar, punch the time-clock etc, and get the books read on schedule.
There seems to be an epidemic of this anal retentive conduct on the Web these days, spread by a virus called Getting Things Done, the author of which seems to have been toilet-trained by a Doberman.
We're not saying it's entirely bad to manage one's time and practise efficiency, and from time to time we check out the recommendations at 43folders. All we're suggesting, in the nicest possible way, is that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an illness, rather than a desirable character trait.
Google problems, anyone?
Has anyone else been having problems with Google and Gmail? Gmail seemed to be down for half the day on Wednesday, and we're having problems again today, although some of our friends don't seem to have been affected.
And yesterday we got some server errors on Google itself. Maybe it's a side effect of those problems they've been having handling the traffic on Google Earth. And by the way, this is how good Google Maps are: an acquaintance bought a CD of satellite images recently at not inconsiderable expense. The free Google version is better ... although it does have a watermark.
So punk, you want to jail journalists? Make our day!
Why jailing newshounds could totally screw up the penal system.
How blogs and email tracked London attacks
The New York Times [PAY WALL] reports email traffic doubled as a result of the terrorist bombings in London, possibly because mobile phone networks were jammed by callers connecting with friends and families, and strain on the wired network meant dial-up connections were problematic. Mind you, they're putting the death toll at 45 (somewhat surprisingly attributing that to Skynews, which, like the other London media, is actually saying there are
37, 38, 37 known dead). There are 700 injured, many seriously. The injured include seven Australians [although the email alert says six].
As we reported elsewhere last night, London bloggers have become an important source of information, and Technorati has become an important source of information on London bloggers. And as you'd expect, there's a rapidly growing wiki.
As it happened, the mainstream media did a better job at gathering news, and harnessed the power of blogging somewhat better than individual bloggers, particularly at The Guardian, which gathered eyewitness accounts by email and rolled them out on its blogs. It even did a roundup of London blog posts, which turned out to be a better source than Technorati.
Other eyewitness accounts came from the BBC, but it solicited contributions by telephone, which seemed unwise, given the strain on both mobile and wired networks. But they seem to have adapted the blog format to their own purposes, and they did a better job collecting mobile videos and pictures. They're keeping Londoners in touch with the travel situation, and, through streaming audio, the latest news. But perhaps they should be replaying this suggestion for a better London transport solution?
Oh, and on the death toll: The Times, no longer one of the world's top 10 newspapers, went to press with 52 dead. Perhaps they can count better than anyone else.
July 07, 2005
The world's best newspaper
You're likely to be surprised by the results of a Swiss survey which rated the world's best newspapers. Would you believe No. 1 is the Financial Times? And No. 2 is the Wall Street Journal! That might be a bit of a clue as to what we value most these days.
What's also interesting is that The Times of London isn't even in the top 10. Just shows what Rupert Murdoch can do for a [once] great newspaper.
Bleeding Edge's personal favourites are The Guardian, the Financial Times and the New York Times. Other publications we pay for: New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, The Spectator, and The Economist. And a friend suggested last night we should try out The Week, which might fill the gap we've noticed since The Reader was sadly axed.
PSP passion makes iPod passé?
Memo Steve Jobs: We may have a problem with all that iPod stock the company has been manufacturing. It seems that even the most loyal Apple fans are displaying wandering eye syndrome for Sony's new Play Station Portable.
It's painful to read this sort of stuff: "Ever since I laid eyes on it, I knew I wanted one. Ever since I got one, I knew I could never let it go ... I spend all morning on the train playing it. I spend all day at work thinking about it. I spend the whole train ride home playing it. I spend the entire dinnertime thinking about it. And then I spend the whole evening playing it."
Only connect ... in the country
A couple of weeks ago, what with the temperature in the Bleeding Edge cave being only marginally warmer than the interior of the fridge, we decided to take this column north to Tathra, our favourite retreat on the NSW south coast. We moved into a rented house on a hill above the beach, with glimpses of the ocean through a wall of greenery.
What with maintaining a column and two blogs, plus having to complete a couple of freelance writing assignments, we were testing the effectiveness of the "change is as good as a holiday" theory, which we expect a lot of people are contending with these days.
In the era of the mobile phone, the notebook computer and the internet, relocating the daily routine appears relatively simple. In practice, however, maintaining communications can be highly problematic, more so if you venture far outside the metropolitan area.
A half-hour drive north of Merimbula, Tathra is hardly a bustling city. Nevertheless, the locals can enjoy ADSL access after the exchange was upgraded this year. When you're renting, however, that doesn't help much, because nobody's likely to let you piggy-back on their broadband account. If the owners allow you local telephone access, you can get dial-up internet, which is fine for email and the average person's expectation of normal web browsing, assuming the line is a good one. Often it isn't.
If you need to maintain voice communications, you're going to need good mobile coverage. As in many country areas, Tathra's best service is via Telstra's CDMA network. The average city-dweller, unfortunately, doesn't have a CDMA handset. The Telstra GSM service at Tathra has also improved recently thanks to a new antenna. But if you're not a Telstra MobileNet customer, you're not so lucky.
Bleeding Edge is a frequent critic of Telstra but we've remained a loyal customer of MobileNet, largely because its coverage in country areas is generally superior to anything offered by its competitors. We've even considered, at times, changing to CDMA because of the additional range and its superior data capabilities, first with the roll-out of 1xRTT throughout the network, and more recently the introduction of EV-DO (Evolution Data Only) in metropolitan areas. You can check the coverage maps at telstramobility.com
EV-DO gives you broadband internet access in metropolitan areas, which makes it a direct competitor with the iBurst service we've written about recently. It has broader coverage than iBurst but as with most Telstra products, it's substantially more expensive.
EV-DO could well become even more ubiquitous in the future, however, because it can be added cheaply to existing CDMA base stations and with mounting political pressure to extend broadband capabilities to rural areas, it's likely that it will eventually be extended at least to major country towns. Unfortunately, the effective range of EV-DO is only about a third that of 1xRTT, so it won't have quite as broad a reach.
Telstra says that you can get between 300-600kbps downloads, bursting up to 2.4 Mbps. Our tests in Melbourne indicate you can expect anything from 200-600kbps. On the outskirts of Melbourne it throttled back to 1xRTT speeds, and in our case, that meant download speeds between 64-100kbps. At Tathra, we recorded a consistent 86kbps - still vastly better than GPRS, and for that matter most dial-up connections.
In Melbourne we were using a MiniMax USB wireless modem made by Sydney-based Maxon Australia. It's an impressive bit of equipment, which works under Windows XP and (using the latest driver downloaded from their Web site) Mac OS X.
Installation is simple. The interface shows you the signal strength of your connection and essentially it's transparent. We found the service was admirably stable, even when driving at 100 km/h.
You can send text messages via the modem and you can also connect a phone - which you'd certainly not want to use for any extended period, given the price. This is definitely a data-only service.
For our foray into the country, we were switched to a PC card alternative, the Sierra Wireless AirCard. It was relatively trouble-free, although we found that we had to remove and insert the card after boot-up to force it to initialise. Maxon has recently developed a PC card version which Telstra is about to approve and which we'd be keen to test. Telstra has three time-based plans, ranging from $49 a month for 20 hours of access, $99 for 50 hours to $149 for 100 hours. There is also volume-based charging, which could work better in some situations, but not, unfortunately, in ours.
The MiniMax costs $499 but the price is included in a two-year contract. Users would have to be particularly disciplined, because once you exceed the limit, depending on the plan, you will be paying from $1.50 to $2.50 for each 15-minute block. And, because Telstra charges in 15-minute increments, those quick connections to check your email will eat into your allowance. The charges look high when you can buy unlimited EV-DO connection in the US for about $80 a month. Here's a good resource for EV-DO matters.
July 06, 2005
Due to what one might call the Iceberg Effect, our knowledge of software tends to be confined to a tiny portion of its potential utility. Nothing could be a better example of that than Google.
You may know that you can use it as a dictionary, simply by typing "define:" (without the inverted commas) before the word you're checking. Precede the term with a ~ [tilde] and Google will also search for synonyms, allowing you to catch something you might otherwise have missed. And of course, it's also a calculator: just type, for instance "4kg in lbs" and it gives you the answer.
There's so many useful things to learn about this search engine, that there's even a [one-hour] Google university course.
July 05, 2005
So much space, so little news
If you didn't see Media Watch last night, you might like to check out the transcript that The Australian IT section no doubt wishes would go away. They took as gospel, a blog entry that was intended as anything but.
Of course, the way technology moves these days, it's increasingly difficult to distinguish satire from reality, but the fact that the "story" is catalogued by Google under "Don't believe everything you read on the Internet" should have rung somebody's alarm bells. And there was that warning on the About page: "It's little more than a site with various curious Mac things. Probably mostly old, perhaps a few new, and the occasional completely off-topic article that I find interesting. I reserve the right to stray completely from that formula :). I may even just make stuff up for the sake of posting it. Be warned."
Mind you, judging from the comments, it fooled a lot of Mac users too.
Top 10 Outlook Express hassles
As Bleeding Edge frequently explains to callers seeking help on the Jon Faine show, one of the best sources for solutions to Outlook Express problems is Inside OE, which is run by Tom Koch.
Being idle ... not, perhaps, idyllic
Our favourite Financial Times columnist, Lucy Kellaway, says she's had an epiphany since reading Bonjour Paresse, "last year’s French best-seller that has already helped 300,000 French readers learn how to work even less hard than they work already".
An English translation, Hello Laziness, [which loses that amusing nod to Francoise Sagan's Bonjour Tristesse] has just been released, encouraging readers to regard salaried work as the pits, to appreciate the uselessness of managers, and to skive off whenever possible.
Lucy didn't immediately put her feet up on the desk and turn to the cryptic crossword. Instead she's developed a new respect for managers, and the value of work.
She says the author, Corinne Maier, an economist and manager at Electricité de France, has got it all wrong, and her solution will make office workers downright miserable, as opposed to merely unfulfilled.
Work isn't pointless, she says. Most managers aren't useless. And while skiving off is immensely pleasurable, it should be regarded as a well-earned reward for a job well done, rather than a sane response to career insanity.
If you're not convinced, Leon Gettler has some good links on idleness.
Shouldn't we complain?
Over in another place, we've highlighted our concerns about the fact that in terms of Internet efficiency, Australia seems to be on a par with Kazakhstan. Which isn't good.
According to scientists at the University of New England, Australia simply doesn't have enough bandwidth, and suffers from configuration problems in its public switched telephone network.
Dr Robert Baker, leader of the research team, says the issue goes beyond the fact that Telstra has saddled us with broadband speeds that according to Helen Meredith's story - start at 512 Kbps and go to the giddy heights of 2.5 Mbps - [umm, isn't that a touch optimistic?] compared to US broadband speeds, "which typically start at our upper limit and go to at least 8 Mbps". Indeed, as Robert Ashman alerted us, the US is busily increasing broadband speeds to levels that are going to make you feel very glum indeed about the situation in the Lucky Country.
According to Dr Baker, "This is also about how the network is configured. In Australia, traffic has to go on a scenic tour around the country until it gets to its destination."
We've suggested that Solomon Trujillo might like to make fixing this debacle a priority. But that's not likely to happen unless it's brought to his attention. We should all probably be emailing him. And sending copies to the Minister for Selling Telstra, Senator Helen Coonan. And the Prime Minister.
And by the way, according to Crikey, Solomon's insisting that his new email address should be firstname.lastname@example.org, despite the fact that that address has been used for solve-dockets. Crikey's source claims he didn't take too kindly to suggestions that he might find another one. He's given them eight days to make the change, which will apparently cost six figures. We must say that figures seems improbably high. Let's hope he's going to be just as insistent about improving the country's communications.
July 04, 2005
We spent much of the weekend busily reading Freakonomics - a book which has got a lot of people thinking, and might well convince you of the merits of legal abortion and seriously challenge what little faith you might have in real estate agents.
One of the assertions made by the freakonomist himself, Steven D. Levitt, is that the Internet addresses the problem of information asymmetry that has allowed those who have knowledge to exploit the public.
While that may be so in the US, we have our doubts about whether it's a phenomenon that's much in evidence in Australia. We've got Whirlpool, which, as we've often said, is a marvellous resource for broadband customers. But it seems to us that we don't have anything like the resources that are available to the American, or British, or European individual.
This New York Times story, for instance, on how to protect yourself from data theft includes several resources that we're pretty sure aren't duplicated here. What we have, instead - predictably, given the record of our Federal authorities - are "scoping" strategies.
One reason for the shortage of useful information in Australia may be that we lack the network of community and privately-supported foundations that do so much good work in the US. Could it be that we don't have a structure to foster their growth?
On the other hand, maybe we're entirely wrong, and there's lots of useful stuff out there that help us defend ourselves against confusion, befuddlement and outright lies. Any suggestions?
July 02, 2005
The Democracy Project II
When Bleeding Edge was plotting our manifesto on the reinvention of our tattered political system, we decided that the second step, following the creation of a cataloguing system for MPs and a Nincompoops Registry for those who pre-select them, would have to be the introduction of sensible restrictions on eligibility for political office, to address the shocking disconnection between our legislators, and those on whose behalf they legislate.
Our immediate targets were lawyers and union officials, who seem to regard parliamentary office as a natural extension of their superannuation entitlements. At first we contemplated a quota system - possibly no more than two lawyers and two union officials in each of the major parties, but rejected that in favour of a qualifying period of service in real jobs.
We were therefore stunned this morning, when we were reading an article [PAY WALL] in last week's The Spectator on the hatefulness of British tabloid journalism, by Ruth Dudley Edwards, to come upon evidence of similar thinking. We may be on to something here.
According to Ms Edwards: "I was no fan of Mao, but when I was a civil servant he inspired me to recommend that all officials and politicians be sent to work in fields or factories every seven years or so. I have become more radical with age. Additionally, I wouldn’t let anyone become an MP without 15 years’ experience in the real world — which would not include either law or academia." We're happy to add academics to our list of proscribed occupations - although we know that this is likely to piss off tflip - because it would have protected the nation from Kim Beazley, and on that evidence alone must be regarded as sound thinking.
It may be a good idea to add former employees of the Department of Foreign Affairs to the list, to avert the possibility of another Alexander Downer, but we don't suppose we ought to hold them responsible for Downer. By the way, we just checked out the idiot son's biography and discovered that he's listed an honorary doctorate among his qualifications. And claims to have been educated at "Radley College Oxford", among other institutions. Umm, Radley College actually is in Oxfordshire. But it's a high school, and unlike Balliol College, say, or Jesus College, it's not related to Oxford University. His degree comes from the University of Newcastle on Tyne, which is of quite another order. We think we might have to add another category to our catalogue of MPs: "Pompous Fraud".
July 01, 2005
A dramatic kick-along for podcasting
In what you might regard as an indication of unmet demand, within two days of Apple adding podcasting capabilities to iTunes, podcast subscriptions from its new directory topped 1 million.
There are around 3000 shows in the directory at the minute, including many from the BBC, PBS and commercial stations, and it's worth a look. So far we've downloaded a program on Merlin from BBC Radio 4's In Our Times series, with interviewer Melvyn Bragg. We're rather glad we decided to invest in a 60GB iPod, because it looks like we'll be putting a lot of podcasts on it. Not to mention all those audiobooks.
Telstra's wholesale abuses
Since yesterday's article about Matthew's problems getting an ADSL service out of anyone but Telstra, we've had several emails about people who've had similar difficulties.
A former employee of a Telstra competitor who now, ironically, works for Telstra, gave us some interesting details: Before he left, 12 months ago, for instance, when a customer requested an in-place landline connection, it took two full working days to add the details into the wholesale provisioning front-end system called LOLO, which sets the exchange to automatically do the work. LOLO, surprise, surprise, wasn't operational for 30 per cent of the day due to outages.
Contrast that with the fact that a Telstra Retail customer can call and get their in-place connected within two hours. "And," he remarked, "they say that there is no anti-competitive nature there at all."
He found the attitude of Telstra Wholesale completely frustrating.
"It was like we were little kid at the supermarket asking our parents to buy as some lollies. When you asked something of them, the responses were either 'Sorry, we don't have the info available to us,' or they'd have some processes in place which took two weeks to get the information. The information would be needed straight away and by the time the two weeks came, it wasn't required."
Oh well, it's probably because they can't afford to buy reliable computer systems.
And someone sent us a link to their blog which provides a "central point to vent frustrations with Telstra".
Big Pond ignores smaller fish
When Bleeding Edge’s part-time assistant, Matthew, bought a house on a new estate at Sunbury, he knew that it just wouldn’t feel like home until he had an ADSL broadband connection.
There was one potential hitch: a Telstra technician working in the area told him that the estate had been set up with pair gain equipment, which can’t be set up for ADSL. According to the technician, there were only 50 (ADSL-capable) copper lines for the hundreds of blocks. You can learn more about these issues here.
A couple of months later, he heard telephone services were being upgraded, so on March 21 this year, he sent in his application to iiNet, having studied the broadband ISP plans at broadbandchoice.com.au, and looked at the comments on the Whirlpool user community (whirlpool.net.au). He’d be paying $39 a month for a 1.5Mbps service with a 4GB limit, which was a much better deal than anything offered by Telstra Big Pond.
The response from iiNet was that it would take 10 to 15 days for Telstra to provision the line.
That was the beginning of a tortuous, and at times bewildering journey.