Archive for September 2014


What’s at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue again? Maybe Sarah Palin used Google Maps

29.09.2014

I see the media are laughing at Sarah Palin when she referred to the White House being at 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue.
   And yet no one laughed at Google in 2009 when it didn’t know what was at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
   Google Maps was new to me then and I installed it. I had heard so much about how you could check out landmarks. So I typed in ‘1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC’. This is what it showed:

6a00e54ee56f0788340133f38e331c970b

   Mrs Palin and I have very different political beliefs and I’m not a fan of hers, but I’m curious why no one had a go at Google in 2009. Such an error by one of the largest companies in the US deserves more ridicule than whatever she said, which is akin to President Obama’s 57 states and his mispronunciation of corpsman, or Vice-President Biden’s belief that a hypothetical President Roosevelt could go on television in 1929.
   This was not version 1 of Google Maps, but version 5.
   This means that in five versions of Google Maps, no one had checked where the White House was. And do you wonder why I don’t have much faith in Google?
   At the time, I wrote:

Nothing around here even looks like the White House. Can any American readers please explain what I am doing wrong, or is this another one of those computer glitches that only happens to me?
   If I have done nothing wrong, then here are some possibilities of what has happened:

  • the White House doesn’t exist and never did. I only dreamed that it did;
  • the White House only exists in fiction, like Ernie Wise’s wig;
  • the boss of Google voted Republican;
  • the White House has been moved to another location, like they did with the Museum Hotel;
  • the White House has been blocked from Google Earth for a 9-11-related reason;
  • UFOs have beamed up the entire White House;
  • the Manhattan Project has beamed up the entire White House.
  • A Washingtonian confirmed that when they typed the same address into Google Maps, they got the same result, so it wasn’t just me.
       Since 2009, this error has been remedied.

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    Posted in internet, media, politics, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


    An expatriate’s view of Occupy Central and what Hong Kong wants

    29.09.2014

    Equal access: an audio recording of this blog post can be found here.

    I know I’m not alone among expats watching the Occupy Central movements in Hong Kong. More than the handover in 1997, it’s been making very compelling live television, because this isn’t about politicians and royalty, but about everyday Hong Kong people.
       I Tweeted tonight that if I were a student there, I’d be joining in. While the idea of direct elections is a recent development—they started in 1985 for the Legislative Council, it’s important to remember that all UN member nations should permit its subjects the right of self-determination. It doesn’t matter when they started, the fact is they did. The latest protests aren’t about Legco, but the election of the Chief Executive—the successor to the role of Governor—which Beijing says can only be for candidates it approves.
       Legal arguments aside, protesters are probably wondering why they could enjoy free and fair elections under colonial rule from London, and not by their own country from their own people.
       I cannot speak for Beijing, but their perspective is probably more long-term: in the colonial days, the Legislative Council was appointed by London, not voted by Hong Kong subjects, for most of its existence. The Governor was always appointed by London. Surely what it is proposing for 2017 is far better?
       And given that the Chief Executive currently is selected by an election committee of Beijing loyalists, then 2017 presents something far more open and akin to universal suffrage.
       Those are the issues on the surface as I understand them, but they ignore some of the history of Hong Kong.
       Hong Kong was a backwater until 1949, when the Communists revolted, and refugees poured in. My father was one of them, having made the trek from Taishan with his mother and sister. Other members of the family had got there on other journeys. The stories can happily fill chapters in a novel.
       He recalls in his first days in Hong Kong, police officers had three digits on their shoulder. ‘I don’t know how many policemen there were,’ he recalls, ‘but there couldn’t have been more than 999.’
       Hong Kong’s population swelled, and the colonial authorities found a way to accommodate the new arrivals.
       I don’t have the exact figures but at the dawn of the 1940s, the population of Hong Kong was 1·6 million, and it was close to 2½ million in the mid-1950s. When I left in 1976, it was 3 million.
       The reason most people went there and risked their lives to escape the Communists: freedom. Most were skilled workers and farmers fearing prosecution.
       Dad recalls that in the lead-up to the family home and farm being seized things were getting tough at school, with false accusations made against him by teachers and students. The vilification of land-owning families had begun.
       The day he left, he saw a notice on the front door and the family departed for Hong Kong, where my paternal grandfather already had contacts from his military days.
       Assuming a million people came across from the People’s Republic of China, then it’s not hard to imagine a sizeable part of the modern population of Hong Kong to have grown up with negative impressions of Beijing.
       Those same impressions saw to the mass exodus of Hong Kongers in the lead-up to the handover, with most expecting doom and gloom despite assurances under the Basic Law—though of course many have since returned to Hong Kong since things hadn’t changed as badly as they feared.
       They were the reasons my parents left in 1976. My mother simply thought a generation ahead and figured that by the 1990s, it would be hard to leave Hong Kong since some western countries would start going on about yellow peril again. (She was right, incidentally.)
       While in the post-colonial days, there is more contact between Hong Kong and the rest of China, it will take a while for those impressions to subside.
       It would be fair to say that culturally, we are predisposed to taking a long view of history, and the Cultural Revolution and the mismanagement of the economy in the earlier days of the People’s Republic stick in our minds.
       Even if the PRC proved to be a benevolent nation and made no wrong moves since 1997, the suspicion would remain.
       It hasn’t been helped by June 4, 1989 and its aftermath, continued censorship within China, and, more recently, some Hong Kongers feeling that they’re a second class in their own city when mainland tourists pop over for a holiday.
       Then you get people like me who cannot understand a word of Mandarin, which these days tends to be the second language many people learn. When the language of the colonials is easier to grasp, then that doesn’t bode well for our northern friends. There’s a sense of separation.
       This may explain a natural resistance to Beijing, because the way of life that the Chinese Communist Party envisages is so very different to what Hong Kongers believe they should enjoy.
       Scholarism, meanwhile, from which Occupy Central has spawned, has come from this culture: a group protesting the introduction of ‘moral and national education’ as a compulsory subject in Hong Kong. The subject was seen by opponents to be pro-communist, with the teaching manual calling the Communist Party an ‘advanced, selfless and united ruling group’.
       It’s hard, therefore, for Hong Kongers who grew up in this environment not to be suspicious of Beijing.
       That explains the solidarity, the sort of thing that would have inspired me if I was a young uni student today in Hong Kong.
       Now we are looking at two sides, neither of which is famous for backing down.
       One possible resolution would be for Beijing to accede yet bankroll a pro-Beijing candidate come 2017, which could, in the long term, save face, but provide the protesters with a short-term victory. It’s not what they are fighting for—they want everyone to be able to stand for the post of CE—but it may be one way events will play out.
       Hong Kong isn’t prepared to risk its economic freedom and progress, and it remains proud of its stance against corruption which has helped the city prosper. Citizens also place faith in the rule of law there, and the right to a fair trial.
       Beijing, meanwhile, isn’t prepared to risk the danger of an anti-communist CE being elected and having that trip up the development of the rest of the nation.
       I have to say that such a fear is very remote, given the overriding desire of Hong Kongers to get ahead. If Hong Kongers are anything, they are pragmatic and ambitious, and a Chief Executive who is imbalanced to such a degree would never get elected. With the rise of the orient and the sputtering of the occident, the “competing” ideas aren’t so competing anyway. The United States and Australia have laws either enacted or at the bill stage in the name of national security that they can hardly serve as an ideal model for democracy. After all, Edward Snowden went to Hong Kong first.
       The Cold War is over, and what is emerging, and what has been emerging, in Hong Kong and the rest of China since the 1990s has been a distinct, unique, Chinese model, one that has its roots in Confucianism and which takes pride in the progress of the city.
       The ideal Chief Executive would more likely be a uniter, not a divider, balancing all sides, and ensuring those they represent a fair go. They would be a connecter who can work with both citizens and with Beijing.
       Under my reading, there shouldn’t be any concerns in Beijing, because pragmatic Hong Kongers would never elect someone who would risk their livelihoods or their freedoms.
       And when Beijing sees that such a development can work in Hong Kong, it could be a model to the rest of China.
       Taiwan, too, will be watching.

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    Posted in business, China, culture, Hong Kong, politics | 1 Comment »


    Brand Kim Dotcom: what has changed?

    22.09.2014

    Equal access: an audio recording of this blog post can be found here.

    It’s disturbing to see so many Kim Dotcom jokes post-General Election, with plenty of Kiwis happy to ridicule the bloke because of Internet Mana’s terrible showing in the polls, and the loss of Hone Harawira’s seat.
       Yet not too long ago, the overall public perception was that this was a guy hard done by the authorities, with the criminalization of his alleged copyright infringement and the victim of illegal spying that forced a law change, by an all-too-eager-to-please New Zealand government trying to impress the FBI.
       I thought it was above us as New Zealanders, first, to kick a guy when he’s down, and secondly, subject him to ridicule when absolutely nothing about his legal position has changed.
       However, the perception now is he’s a foreigner—not only that, a German owner of a copy of Mein Kampf against whom we should now display a heightened level of xenophobia once reserved for Basil Fawlty’s hotel guests—who had interfered, along with some other foreigners, in our political processes.
       I’ll admit that my first impression of this hard-partying, fast-driving playboy with his Mercs wasn’t a positive one. But as news of what he had allegedly done came to light, and the US still refusing to let him see all the evidence so that he can defend himself, my thoughts about him changed.
       Since the legislation was enacted, I’ve been involved twice in DMCA allegations against our firm—though I send out dozens of take-down notices each year—and the standard procedure that we follow, as do Google and Facebook, is pretty clear. If you find it, we’ll remove it. But till you tell us about it, we don’t know. In Dotcom’s case, as with Google or Dropbox, there are so many files that they don’t know. Further, there are privacy laws preventing his former company from looking into what you’ve stored on his servers.
       So here’s a guy that, as far as I can see, is doing the same thing as the big players when it comes to copyrighted materials. I’ve no comment on the racketeering, money laundering and fraud charges, as I simply have no facts on them—and I don’t think he has, either, with the secretive processes the US prosecutors have used. Thank goodness our judiciary remains independent.
       Thanks to him, we’ve learned that the GCSB has been spying on him and other New Zealanders illegally, prompting a law change that applied retroactively. And that is important for us as New Zealanders to realize. We should be concerned about the misuse of a government agency, and we should be concerned that the US has been taking the lead on our copyright laws, including the “three strikes” amendments that the Prime Minister was for before he was against, and before he then decided to vote for anyway.
       Put yourself in Dotcom’s shoes: you’re a guy who is running a business in the same way Google and Dropbox are, and you’ve been pissed on by the country you call home with illegal activity, an armed raid, and a government who has taken all your stuff and has frozen your assets.
       You can shrug your shoulders and let them keep pissing on you, or you might just want to take the fight back to the minister in charge of the GCSB—the Prime Minister—and who knew or did not know about you or your name.
       You might just want to bankroll a political campaign and find the easiest way in there to get some hard facts about what is going on, so you can simply bloody defend yourself.
       I said then that this was the oddest marriage and it felt doomed, but maybe it was the one option he felt was available to him.
       Most didn’t complain when Bob Jones did it with the New Zealand Party—and I don’t accept that that was for the public good—or when he said he wanted to field a bunch of contestants in the local body elections in 2010 here in Wellington. Nor did we complain when Colin Craig decided he would use his own cash to bankroll his own party.
       I’m not a fan of money influencing politics—certainly not corporate donors wanting to extract favours from candidates—but if these guys want to sink some cash into the country in which they reside to make a change, then that is their choice.
       Sure, this is a convicted criminal who probably shouldn’t have been let in in the first place, but the fact is we did let him in, he is now a New Zealand resident, and he is entitled to do the same things other New Zealand residents can.
       And to all those who complained that here is this one foreigner living here who involved three other foreigners in his backfiring ‘Moment of Truth’ last week (embedded above), I take it that you all have never commented, and will never comment, on the politics of the countries that Dotcom, Assange, Snowden and Greenwald are residents of.
       I don’t know Kim Dotcom and we have exchanged only a couple of Tweets over the years. I can’t tell you if I think he is a good bloke or not. I believe that Kim Dotcom is out for Kim Dotcom, rather than the New Zealand public, but that’s his prerogative. But I can tell you I’m grateful for some of the stuff that has come out because of his case—you don’t need Nicky Hager to put any slant on it, the facts are on the record, from both his and the government’s side, so you can make up your own mind. Maybe ‘brand Kim Dotcom’, as he put it, was poisonous to Mana, which he has apologized for—but not long ago, ‘brand Kim Dotcom’ was heroic for revealing to us that things weren’t fair in our nation.
       The fact remains that he is a New Zealand resident who is innocent till proved guilty, that he has been denied the sort of due process you and I could have if we have been accused of the same crimes, and if he didn’t deserve the xenophobic, toxic remarks before, he doesn’t deserve them now. Honestly, folks, I thought we were better.

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    Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, New Zealand, politics | 11 Comments »


    About Labour, I was nearly on the money in May

    20.09.2014

    In May, I wrote (in the wake of the Oravida scandal):

    The problem with all of this is: where’s Labour, in the midst of the greatest gift an opposition has been given for years?
       One friend of a friend noted that maybe Labour shouldn’t be attacking, because we Kiwis don’t like whingers. It is the charge I hear from friends on the right. Labour should, instead, be coming up with solid policies and leave the attacks to the Greens (which is doing a marvellous job) and Winston Peters (need I say more? He remains a great political wordsmith).
       For me, I’d like them to do both if they are to stand a chance. The job of the Opposition is to oppose.
       And failure to oppose strongly may suggest to the electorate that the same thing could happen under Labour.
       Six months out from the election I contested, I had my policies published—which one blog noted was unusual but welcome. That meant my policies were out for twice as long as my opponents’.
       We’re talking about a party that has been in opposition for a long time, long enough to know what it wishes to do should it be handed the reins of government.
       And yet, apart from a few policy announcements here and there, it has been silent. You’d think the names of the Shadow Cabinet would be in our consciousness by now. Embarrassingly, I even forgot David Cunliffe’s name recently in a conversation. I could only call him ‘not-Robertson’. (It is better than the PM calling Grant Robertson ‘Perry Mason’ today, I hasten to add.)
       It makes me wonder if Labour isn’t working and whether the anti-National vote will, indeed, head even more to the Greens this year.

    My last paragraph was off about where the anti-National votes went, but the old Saatchi & Saatchi headline held true in the 2014 General Election: Labour isn’t working. I don’t think I need to restate what I wrote four months ago—and what I had been saying even before that.

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    Posted in New Zealand, politics | 2 Comments »


    Reacting to AJE’s Broken Dreams: are there parallels between GM and Boeing’s 787?

    12.09.2014


    Simpsons fans should be able to connect the above scene with the post below.

    I’m sure some of you watched the al-Jazeera English documentary this week on the Boeing 787, and how there are safety concerns over the models built in South Carolina. In summary, ‘Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit and reporter Will Jordan investigate Boeing’s 787 “Dreamliner”, finding some workers with quality concerns, alleging drug use and fearing to fly the plane they build.’ Even if you don’t watch the full 48 minutes, the links on the page make for interesting reading.
       I’m not usually one to take a TV programme at face value, but I admit this one piqued my interest. Enough for me to Tweet Air New Zealand last night to ask them their thoughts and the airline responded this morning:

    Safety is paramount and non-negotiable at Air NZ. We remain completely confident of the safety and reliability of the 787-9.

    which does sound a bit like a press release. Hackneyed? Yes, and totally unlike the human face that Air New Zealand generally takes with its Twitter account.
       Call me cheeky, but I responded with:

    That’s what BOAC said about the De Havilland Comet. Will you check into these new allegations about the Hillbilly 787s?

    (I accept that that was not a good term to use and I apologize for it) and added later:

    Can you guys at least watch the doco or confirm to me that someone senior enough has, and then convey your thoughts?

       The documentary was quite damning about the 787s, and the US system failing consumers these days (just think about GM), I think I’ve every right to be worried. Air New Zealand, even more so. When whistle-blowers like John Woods are fired, something is rotten. If consumers don’t trust ‘Made in USA’ any more, then we need to be assured that we’re getting the best planes made by the best workers—and traditionally, those workers are the Washington state ones.
       Surely there are parallels here. Here’s what happened to GM quality manager Courtland Kelley:

    It described employees passing the buck and committees falling back on the “GM nod”—when everyone in a meeting agrees that something should happen, and no one actually does it …
       Kelley had sued GM in 2003, alleging that the company had dragged its feet addressing dangers in its cars and trucks. Even though he lost, Kelley thought that by blowing the whistle he’d done the right thing and paved the way for other GMers to speak up. Now he saw that he’d had the opposite impact: His loss, and the way his career had stalled afterward, taught others at the company to stay quiet …
       Kelley had been the head of a nationwide GM inspection program and then the quality manager for the Cobalt’s predecessor, the Cavalier. He found flaws and reported them, over and over, and repeatedly found his colleagues’ and supervisors’ responses wanting. He thought they were more concerned with maintaining their bureaucracies and avoiding expensive recalls than with stopping the sale of dangerous cars. Eventually, Kelley threatened to take his concerns to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Frustrated with the limited scope of a recall of sport-utility vehicles in 2002, he sued GM under a Michigan whistle-blower law. GM denied wrongdoing, and the case was dismissed on procedural grounds.

    and what happened to Woods (who also lost against Boeing and its team of lawyers):

    There was some animosity between quality and production. I would bring up a quality concern and they would say, well, that’s not helpful to production.
       On several occasions, I would go check out these repairs while they were being done and after. There are inspection points all throughout the repair process where an inspector is supposed to come over and check something and mark it down that he checked it.
       You’re never supposed to go past an operation that’s not checked off. I would see a defect and I’ll look at the inspection sheet and there was no note of it, and I know in the specifications that all anomalies, even small anomalies, are supposed to be recorded in the inspection.
       So I would bring an inspector over and show it to him and say, “Could you please note this down in your inspection?” And they say okay, so I’d walk away. Then I’d come back later that day or the next day and it’s still not noted.
       So then I would go mention it to the supervisor and go back another couple of days and still not noted. It became very frustrating on several occasions, to the point where people were angry at me for bringing it up.

       If we cannot trust the NHTSA over GM, can we really trust the FAA?
       As a New Zealander, I would like our national airline to assure us that we’re not getting lemons, and just how we can be sure that we’re not the guinea pigs for testing the planes like those early Comet passengers were.

    Boeing’s response to the al-Jazeera programme can be found here.
    A review questioning al-Jazeera’s objectivity with claims there were biases can be found in Forbes.

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    Posted in business, culture, media, New Zealand, TV, USA | No Comments »


    Facebook blocks you from reporting bots, fails to provide rationale

    07.09.2014

    It appears Facebook doesn’t want bot reports after you hit a limit. In fact, I’ve been banned for a day for reporting them.
       This makes no sense. Facebook gives you a warning to slow down when you hit the 40s. But you can’t get any slower. The fact is Facebook has made the reporting process very slow by introducing more dialogue boxes. If you keep going, however, Facebook gives you a one-day ban, with a warning box that has a link for more information (that does not give you any information on the upper limit or the rationale for the ban), although you can fill in a box and tell them they made a mistake.
       But why should I be defending actions that are selfless and for the good of the community? And surely, since the overwhelming majority of the accounts reported were then deleted—I’d even say all of them, but I didn’t go back to check the last few in each block—then wouldn’t Facebook have a mechanism to say, ‘Right, this guy is on the level’?
       It’s perfectly normal to see more than 40 bots a day on Facebook if you run groups, because a lot of them are joining them to make themselves look legitimate. They’re also liking pages—some even in cahoots with Facebook. (Just today I talked to a New Zealand business owner who bought Facebook likes, restricted them to New Zealand, and yet she somehow attracted accounts from Egypt and Morocco.)
       The more bots there are, the fewer resources Facebook’s servers can devote to legitimate users. Eventually, the bots will overrun the system and could even be the origins of denial-of-service attacks.
       The below are tonight’s bots, not counting this morning’s:

    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004972665291
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007942905362
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007706745366
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007326225411
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004273695465
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005123145337
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004155315516
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007194525440
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005286765378
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004642995496
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007651845445
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005938275512
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007823175380
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007728165452
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008071125392
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008045505381
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007953840726
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005147565355
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006667935344
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008401201715

    Three hours later:

    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007529137326
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007384752178
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004818162276
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005288290019
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004805647271
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005288174810
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004806457148
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004767757207
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006871812132
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007187167379
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006447457255
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004817382081
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008276257202
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007104822399
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005287994706
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007986851807
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005288289860
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004821222189
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005287904919
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006377742208
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004821187302

       Then I went to re-report some from 15 days ago, which Facebook finally accepted. However, while I was reporting this series, hitting the ones below, Facebook blocked me.

    https://www.facebook.com/ze.hao.14
    https://www.facebook.com/eleanor.young.9465
    https://www.facebook.com/LambRAWRghini
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002244310810
    https://www.facebook.com/emerson.stewart.144

    Which is a shame, because a few moments later I came across another 21 trying to join groups.

    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006101687832
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007271985326
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004489155309
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004238537896
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006265307871
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006631577828
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005194785403
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007808027790
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005155425293
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007468875290
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005335605327
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006749445281
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007497885296
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005236907983
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005077697830
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006587925294
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008083785274
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007184267799
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007760027803
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007751805319
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004263977904

       That’s 67 bots in a day. My previous record (last week) was 53 in a day. It wasn’t that long ago when it was one a day. The growth of bot activity on Facebook could be exponential.
       Either Facebook lifts the blocks, or it improves its bot-detection measures. Evidently, Facebook is failing to stop the bots, which, to me, spells the end of the website.

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    Posted in internet, USA | 4 Comments »