Archive for December 2022


An introduction to smart TVs for a complete novice

27.12.2022

Earlier in December, we decided to put a TV into our guest room. One catch: there is no aerial there, so initially we thought, ‘We have some great DVDs, let’s plug in the DVD player.’ But it didn’t quite feel right.

We’ve stayed at enough places with smart TVs, including some running the Android TV system. We’ve never really had a need to pursue this since most of the things I really love to watch have come out on DVD, and if Amanda and I wanted on-demand, there’s always the laptop with an HDMI cable. Simple.

I began looking into this and was intrigued by one suggestion on Mastodon for an Nvidia Shield, but alas, none were available in the time-frame (viz. before guests arrived). I was largely stuck with the Amazon Fire sticks, various Google-branded Chromecasts, and the DishTV Smartvu. The ever-knowledgeable Drew at PB Tech recommended the Smartvu, since he was in a similar boat: his place didn’t have an aerial, and he used the Smartvu to work as his regular TV. It also happened to be the most expensive of the lot.

My criteria were fairly basic. I wanted something that I could set up and sideload APKs on to, and never, ever go to a Google Play store. I began de-Googling in earnest at the end of 2009 and I sure as heck wasn’t going to intentionally invite the bastards back 13 years later—and actually pay to have their spyware in my home. The fact that Google’s offerings were more expensive than Amazon’s should be an affront to all consumers. Pay more to have them spy on you!

DishTV’s New Zealand distributor has comprehensive instructions on how to set it up, and sure enough, one of the first steps was it would take you to the Google Play store. No doubt that would be the same story with the Google Chromecasts. Which, unfortunately, left me with one choice: give Amazon money even though they owe me (and this is an ongoing dispute in which, since they are Big Tech, I believe they are lying).

But Amazon it was. PB was charging quite a lot more than Harvey Norman and Noël Leeming and, while Gerry Harvey might be a prized dick, he does seem to hire good people on the shop floor. I never had anyone at Leeming help. Nor could I even find the product at their Tory Street store.

Amazon does require an Amazon account, which I still have, despite all the BS; but once you are in, sideloading is not too difficult. And there’s no Google Play in sight, even if it is a reasonably stock Chromecast set-up.

Of course, I went through the privacy settings and made sure any data the gadget had collected to date were deleted.

I then proceeded to follow these instructions and enabled third-party apps.

The first method, sideloading from my phone using Apps2Fire, never worked. Waste of time. For whatever reason, the third method didn’t, either: ES File Explorer refused to sync with Dropbox despite all my credentials being correct. Of course I had to attempt the second one last—download the Downloader (yes, really), then go to the address where the APKs are.

It’s just as well, since some of the Amazon-hosted APKs don’t work (e.g. Euronews), so you need to find alternatives. Matt Huisman offers some New Zealand ones on his website, and getting the Freeview one was a no-brainer—the terrestrial channels are then all available, as though one had a normal TV. (I was very surprised to learn that this is not a common thing to do, and equally surprised that the APK was not available on Amazon; presumably it’s not on Google Play either.)
 

 

Amazon did suggest getting the Fire TV app for my phone, but when you scan the bar code, it offers two destinations from which to download it: Google Play and Apple Appstore (I still want to call it Ishop). This is pretty senseless, since Amazon has gone to the trouble of hosting so many APKs itself, why not its own one?

Maybe … it’s because it’s a lemon and doesn’t work. I grabbed the one at APK Mirror, and it was about as useless as a milliardaire running a social network. (I don’t believe it even installed.) No biggie, once everything was set up I had zero use for it.

Which leaves Alexa, which interested me from a technological point of view. The original Alexa will stop working on December 31, so I might as well shift to using the thing that Amazon now calls Alexa. And to ask it to make fart noises, which seems to be its only utility if you don’t have other gadgets wired into the network. Only problem: how does it work? Where do you talk into? The stick? The remote?

Strangely, Amazon does not say when I searched for information on its own site, so I guess everyone else automatically worked it out by telepathy.

All I know is when I pressed the button, as per the very few instructions provided in the box, the TV said to wait for the tone, then speak. Nothing ever happened, whether I spoke to the remote or to the stick.

One Mastodon user told me that I had to talk into the slot in the remote.

It was a week later that I tried keeping the button pressed down after the tone. Only then did it work.

I’m not sure how anyone is supposed to know that, especially as Amazon’s own instructions just instruct you to speak after the tone. There’s no instruction to keep the button pressed down. I would even say that implicitly, you’re instructed to let go of the button. You hear a strange noise, you release the button. That seems like a natural reaction to me.

Again we come to the usual conclusion that tech people make a lot of presumptions about how tech-savvy the public is. Folks, you need to assume that we are coming to these gadgets with zero knowledge about them. Yes, I realize Walter Matthau had to press the button on his mic to talk to Robert Shaw in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, but Walt never had a computer tone beep back at him.

Now with hundreds of channels, there’s still barely anything to watch, though I did find the Jackie Chan movie Wheels on Meals in the original Cantonese. Once I finish watching that, it’s back to the DVDs for me. I just hope our guests are happy.


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When reverse image search services allege you’ve stolen work

23.12.2022

I think these are going to get more frequent. We received another copyright claim, accusing us of publishing a photograph without authorization. They wanted around €500, part of that for the licence, and part of that for running it since 2009.

This one, from a German company, was easier to deal with than an American firm that approached us with a similar accusation some years back, using the same tactic of including a pro forma invoice in the body of the email. I don’t remember the US firm’s name, and right now I’m not comfortable revealing the German firm’s since I’m still checking to see how legitimate they are.

I remember the Americans dragging it out over days, never answering the substantive parts of my legal arguments—gaslighting is part of their intimidation tactics. They wanted me to cough up, citing sections from our Copyright Act—an act which I knew better than they did and how the sections actually operated.

Their last email was citing one section which I knew they would fail on if they were to go to court, so I said, ‘You already have my response.’

They never actioned any lawsuit and I felt the whole thing was a scam. The way the American was avoiding getting to the core of the argument and not understanding commercial law (which could come into it as well as copyright law) told me as much.

Of course the image at issue was used legitimately, but in this case I didn’t have any evidence where it was from. All I knew were our procedures.

I never let on I had a law degree and he was emailing our main work email, so he never saw my signature file with my qualifications.

In this latest case, the approach was a little softer. In addition, things were a lot clearer, since I recall how we came to run the allegedly pirated photo of a Coty perfume: it came via a press release.

The beauty of having used Eudora as my email program—and still using it 27 years later—is being able to grab old mailboxes and load them up again.

And there it was, the press release from October 2009 in the inbox—twice, in fact, one sent to a former editor and one to our general media wire address. In there was the download link, which, happily, made it into the Internet Archive so I could confirm for myself that that was the source.

This German company had an online process where you could feed your evidence and details of your licence. I provided one of the releases and fed in the name and company of the person responsible. One of the companies was Coty, Inc., whom I very much doubt would not have made sure we in the press were covered.

In the message field I advised that if there were a claim for costs, they should approach Coty, Inc. and Coty SAS—all the while knowing that they would have secured the necessary licence.

Tonight, the German company emailed to say they would not pursue the claim further, which was a speedy resolution—but I wonder if they will continue going after people who got their image the same way but not having records stretch back that far. If they are con merchants, they will. If they’re legitimate and professional, they won’t.

A few things strike me here. The first is the timing: sending out on December 21 and demanding a reply by December 28. There’ll be offices that aren’t working through the Christmas break.

Secondly, my memory is that pro forma invoices, as far as New Zealand is concerned, are illegal. I can also think of them breaching other legislation. (N.B.: this blog post doesn’t constitute legal advice.)

Thirdly, will everyone still have their 2009 emails and will the Internet Archive have found the download link to spider? Unlikely—and this makes it unfair on the publisher.

Fourthly, I would say this claim falls outside the Limitation Act.

Don’t get me wrong: I believe photographers, indeed any author within the meaning of the Copyright Act, should be rewarded for their work. We send out DMCA notices a lot—but only after we have written a velvet-gloved email to the publisher or a comment on their blog.

I’ve even toyed with using such services ourselves over a series of articles, some hosted by Go Daddy who seems reluctant to have their customer remove them.

I would only consider them if I can identify the parties who have allegedly pirated, and not leave it to their systems, which appear to make overly sweeping approaches.

Further, I do not approve of the pro forma invoice tactic.

I can see through the legalese as I’ve had legal training and specialized in intellectual property. But I don’t believe everyone can see through it. They’re designed to intimidate, and based on some forum discussions, that intimidation works.

And I fear we are going to see many more of these. Like our experience earlier this year with a Spanish company, it seems they automate their processes too much, identifying piracy where there isn’t any. Gullible companies like Facebook and Google believe them and act against a smaller player.

Typically, copyright owners have turned a blind eye to the use of images of, say, packaging if the associated article is about them and promotional in nature (again, as this was—we alerted our readers to a fragrance launch).

I can’t promise you that we have records of every image we’ve used, because we might have clicked on the email server-side to get the download link, and Eudora’s filters took out the actual message once it was imported, for example. Or one of us went to a free photo site where an uploader hadn’t done their checks.

All I know is that we’ve behaved ourselves. I’d never accuse someone of doing something that they didn’t do and make my approach look like a scam. One hopes copyright reform will balance things on this front.


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You can’t even mention Mastodon in Twitter private messaging

17.12.2022

It was pretty unsurprising to see Mastodon links blocked on Twitter. If you consider that its owner is a petulant manchild, then everything makes sense. But I was surprised that this censorship extended to private messages. This from Tweetdeck as I advised a friend:
 

 
Note the links aren’t even live—they’re just text mentions. Those are too upsetting for Elmu to deal with.

Remember, petulant children who harp on about free speech care about only their free speech, as they lack the maturity to understand others’ free speech.

I haven’t seen this sort of censorship since Google Plus, though I’m sure users of Chinese social media will find it familiar.

I eventually copied and pasted the text and took a screenshot for my friend, so OnlyKlans’ software isn’t smart enough to do OCR yet. That got through.

Sadly, till Dlvr.it is capable of exporting my RSS feeds to Mastodon, my Twitter account remains live—plus I still don’t want people pinching my handle that I’ve had since 2007. But some of these tech companies are pretty slow. Dlvr.it has only had six years to build in ActivityPub and the capability to export to Mastodon. Give them time. One day, they, and Zoho Social, will get there.

Though realistically, our government should be blocking OnlyKlans itself, due to its alleged distribution of the March 15 video. A service that was based here would have been shut down already, and Twitter does have a New Zealand office (via a law firm on Brandon Street). The fact Labour isn’t working on this means they will continue kowtowing to Big Tech. The fact National hasn’t uttered a word means nothing will change under them, either. Blairites and the right love these foreigners and the power and money they wield.


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For the web, the glass is half full

12.12.2022


Manu Schwendener/Unsplash
 
I like what Robin Sloan had to say in his blog post, ‘A Year of New Avenues’. It’s typeset in Filosofia, which is another great reason to read it.

I’ve often said the trends of a new decade, or century, don’t emerge on the dot. You’ve got to get a few years in for them to become apparent. (Some even argue that we should look at decades beginning midway, e.g. 1975 to 1984, to identify groups of trends.)

Robin believes that the platforms of the 2010s are history.

And just as I’ve drawn parallels between 1973 and 2022, Robin feels that 2023 is going to have some of the energy of 2003, as far as the internet is concerned:

It is 2003 again. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram haven’t been invented yet … except, it’s also 2023, and they have, so you can learn from their rise and ruin …

As the platforms of the last decade crumble, we might put “founder” culture back on the shelf …

I want to insist on an amateur internet; a garage internet; a public library internet; a kitchen table internet. At last, in 2023, I want to tell the tech CEOs and venture capitalists: pipe down. Buzz off. Go fave each other’s tweets.

There’s more good stuff after that, which I’ll leave you to read. It’s a glass-half-full world of where the web can head, and if Robin’s even half-right, then it’s going to be an upbeat time for creative people.


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Are there a lot Gmail users who get their address wrong, more than any other service?

12.12.2022

Kurt and I have very different brains, if you read this thread that I jumped in on.

I am sure he is right on how things should work. Get me talking about spacing and spelling, and I’d be in the same boat. Or the use of the word billion. I have my ideas on all of these, but not everyone follows them.

But in the Wikipedia article he cites, not everyone accepts that [email protected] and [email protected] are the same—and certainly my own experience backs this up. You won’t be able to email me, for example, if you miss the punctuation. I also won’t be able to reach employees at some of the big media players on this planet.

I know Gmail would like us to think that a dotted and non-dotted email address are the same, and says as much, but there are just too many stories out there of people receiving emails not meant for them.

And you know what I think of Google: what it says and what it does have not always been the same thing.

Kurt believes all those people have fed in the wrong address for their emails to wind up with others. It’s entirely possible, but for one tale that I linked to, on Reddit.

A former network engineer, Dan Hoyer, said, inter alia:

So, bottom line is that Gmail didn’t always ignore dots, and people who had dots but had that address first were merged with the non dotted accounts and started receiving email from someone else’s non dotted account in addition to their dotted version. (I am not sure, but I believe the reverse may have happened too if the non dotted name came first.)

And in the replies, Melissa Chapman says:

I am with you about the change. It 100% used to see dots and they were suggested to users as alternate forms when you created your gmail. I’ve gotten email for people with my same maiden name in California, New Jersey, Minnesota, and most recently France. And not just junk mail, but Paypal, church tithes, and utilities. It’s frustrating that Google completely denies that this is the case! I don’t use my older email much, but I also wonder if the other user has some access or gets some emails. Like with Paypal, they had confirmed their email to create the account!

Now, if Melissa is telling the truth, then there is an issue with Gmail, where someone else can get your emails. If what Kurt says is right, then Melissa’s claim about the Paypal account’s verification by another user is impossible if someone else did not register a variant of her address on Gmail separately, and was told that it was accepted.

With respect, if someone is ignoring certain claims, it’s probably because they don’t want to open their minds to the possibility that their belief system is wrong. I remember that from an earlier Google experience—and what kicked off my de-Googling in 2009. As I said, I accept Kurt’s position on how things should be—but in practice not everyone is strict about things, and the computer world is as rife with examples as any other.


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Google’s advertising business is a negligence lawsuit waiting to be actioned

09.12.2022

Apparently the New Zealand government says Big Tech will pay a ‘fair price’ for local news content under new legislation.

Forget the newcomers like Stuff and The New Zealand Herald. The Fairfax Press, as the former was, was still running ‘The internet is scary’ stories at the turn of the century. What will Big Tech pay my firm? Any back pay? We have been in this game a long, long time. A lot longer than the newbies.

And what is the definition of ‘sharing’?

Because Google could be in for a lot.

Think about it this way: Google’s ad unit has enabled a lot of fake sites, scraped sites, spun sites, malware hosts, and the like, since anyone can sign up to be a publisher and start hosting their ads.

While Google will argue that they have nothing to do with the illegitimate usage of their services, some might look at it very differently.

Take the tort of negligence. To me this is classic Donahue v. Stevenson [1932] AC 562 territory and as we’re at 90 years since Lord Atkins’ judgement, it offers us some useful pointers.

Lord Atkin stated, ‘You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour. Who, then, in law is my neighbour? The answer seems to be—persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question.’

If you open up advertising to all actors (Google News also opens itself up to splogs), then is it foreseeable that unethical parties and bad faith actors will sign up? Yes. Is it foreseeable that they will host content illegally? Yes. Will this cause harm to the original copyright owner? Yes.

We also know a lot of these pirate sites are finding their content through Google News. Some have even told me so, since I tend to start with a softly, softly approach and send a polite request to a pirate.

I’d say a case in negligence is already shaping up.

If Google didn’t open up its advertising to all and sundry, then there would have been far fewer negative consequences—let’s not even get into surveillance, which is also a direct consequence of their policy and conduct.

Do companies that are online owe a duty of care to internet users? I’d say this is reasonable. I imagine some smaller firms might find it more difficult to get rid of a hacker, but overall, this seems reasonable.

Was this duty of care breached? Was there causation? By not vetting people signing up to the advertising programme, then yes. Pre-Google, ad networks were very careful, and I had the impression websites were approved on a case-by-case, manually reviewed basis. The mess the web is in, with people gaming search engines, with fake news sites (which really started as a way of making money), with advertising making pennies instead of dollars and scam artists all over the show, can all be traced to Google helping them monetize this conduct. There’s your obiter dicta right there. (Thanks to Amanda for remembering that term after all these years.)

Google hasn’t taken reasonable care, by design. And it’s done this for decades. And damages must be in the milliards to all legitimate publishers out there who have lost traffic to these unethical websites, who have seen advertising revenue plummet because of how Google has depressed the prices and how it feeds advertising to cheap websites that have cost their owners virtually nothing to run.

Make of this what you will. Now that governments are waking up after almost two decades, maybe Big Tech is only agreeing because it fears the rest of us will figure out that they owe way, way more than the pittance they’ll pay out under these legislative schemes?

Anyone with enough legal nous to give this a bash on behalf of the millions of legitimate publishers, past and present, directly harmed by Google and other Big Tech companies’ actions?


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Keybase: one failure after another

08.12.2022

Because I locked my Twitter, Keybase was unable to find its usual proof there. It told me to link a new one from their ‘app’. I’d love to, folks, but you don’t let me see anything.
 

 

That’s Keybase. I can’t see anything in the window, and I can’t move the window. I have reinstalled the program, to no avail.

These software people are all having a good laugh at regular people. I’d rather they spent that time making things that work.

Oh, look, they’re HQed in New York. What a surprise.
 
Eventually, right-clicking the Keybase icon in the tray (when it didn’t disappear) showed a link, ‘Keybase’. I clicked on that. So now I have this window.
 

 
Ah, but you can fix the Keybase thing from the website. Great!
 

 
Let me click that link!
 

 
It’s the same story if you use their command-line method, and the bin\bash method just gives lots of errors in red.

From the days of Yahoo!, to Vox at Six Apart, to years of Big Social BS (BSBS), nothing really changes with this lot. You’d hope they’d stop failing at their jobs, but you’re reminded that many won’t.
 
PS.: The program window did load after a few hours. No idea how to add a Mastodon proof to it, so maybe it did me a favour by failing to load in a reasonable time. Their website offers zero clues on how to make this addition in the program—just that it can be done. Once again, there’s no thought given to regular people, only computer programmers.
 
P.PS.: I received an email from Github where I filed a report several days later, and it appears discussions around the removal of Mastodon proofs began in 2020. The feature was removed in 2021. But this hasn’t wound up on the website yet after a year, so people are in the same boat as me.


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Avira dishonours paid subscription, blames it on the customer

08.12.2022

I see Avira has downgraded me to their free version despite my being paid up. As far as I can tell, this has been the case for months, and I remember Tweeting them back when Twitter was a thing.

I can’t log in at all, and it keeps showing a ‘Get Prime’ button to force you to pay again. No thanks.

I went to their website and fed in my issue. They then take me to this page, which is pretty typical for a lot of computer companies: blame it on the customer.

I take them at their word and clicked on their link to download the allegedly missing Microsoft .Net Framework 4.6.2. Only problem is, none of the download links on the Microsoft site work. (Because Microsoft.)

I still manage to get the MSI file from Microsoft and of course there was nothing ever wrong with my set-up. I already had the Framework installed:
 

 

Your move, Avira. And that move had better include fixing the problem and extending my subscription period by at least half a year.

I guess this is what happens when a big US company buys up what was a pretty decent German one.


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Autocade reaches 30 million page views

08.12.2022

I was hoping we’d crack 30 million page views by the end of November, but it’s taken an extra week or so to get to this milestone at Autocade.

The stats’ counter shows 2,375,730; added to the last recorded total of 27,647,011 before the server upgrade and a new MediaWiki installation, and we’re comfortably in the 30,000,000 territory. In fact, I believe we would have got here yesterday when the counter was 2,354,000, but I didn’t have time to check the old total.

I had looked at the daily increases and there were some days when the page views jumped by 20,000. The smallest was 7,000. Typically I’d see 10,000, maybe a little more.

Overall the pace has been far slower this year than last, possibly due to Bing acting like it’s on life support, and dragging all its proxies (Duck Duck Go, Ecosia, Yahoo, Qwant) with it.

Fewer models have gone up, too, admittedly, with the total now at 4,631; in early August we had hit 4,600. But it has been a bit busy here lately and do people really want to see another SUV?

The top 10 model leaderboard is still very interesting:
 
Toyota Corolla (E210) (6,892 views)
Ford Taunus 80 (3,438 views)
Daewoo Winstorm (2,792 views)
Ford Fiesta Mk VII (2,599 views)
Peugeot 206+, 207 (2,591 views)
Renault Mégane II (2,536 views)
Opel Astra J (2,495 views)
Rover SD1 (2,391 views)
Renault Mégane III (2,256 views)
Ford Cortina Mk III (2,241 views)
 
The Daewoo Winstorm continues its rise, the previous-generation Fiesta has overtaken the 206+ at last, while the Kia Morning (TA), which experienced a surge in August, has now departed the top 10. The Renault Mégane III is now ninth, which makes me rather happy due to my own bias (not that I have been responsible for any clicks).

As the numbers get back up to what they were before the reset, these rankings will become less meaningful, but for now there’s still some academic interest to see them jostling for position.

So here’s how we stand in terms of our traffic development.
 
March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 (five months for seventh million)
March 2016: 8,000,000 (five months for eighth million)
August 2016: 9,000,000 (five months for ninth million)
February 2017: 10,000,000 (six months for 10th million)
June 2017: 11,000,000 (four months for 11th million)
January 2018: 12,000,000 (seven months for 12th million)
May 2018: 13,000,000 (four months for 13th million)
September 2018: 14,000,000 (four months for 14th million)
February 2019: 15,000,000 (five months for 15th million)
June 2019: 16,000,000 (four months for 16th million)
October 2019: 17,000,000 (four months for 17th million)
December 2019: 18,000,000 (just under three months for 18th million)
April 2020: 19,000,000 (just over three months for 19th million)
July 2020: 20,000,000 (just over three-and-a-half months for 20th million)
October 2020: 21,000,000 (three months for 21st million)
January 2021: 22,000,000 (three months for 22nd million)
April 2021: 23,000,000 (three months for 23rd million)
June 2021: 24,000,000 (two months for 24th million)
August 2021: 25,000,000 (two months for 25th million)
October 2021: 26,000,000 (two months for 26th million)
January 2022: 27,000,000 (three months for 27th million)
April 2022: 28,000,000 (three months for 28th million)
August 2022: 29,000,000 (four months for 29th million)
December 2022: 30,000,000 (three months, 10 days for 30th million)
 

The latest model entered: the current Nissan Fairlady Z. For once I had something cool to show for one of these million-milestone posts.
 


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Tesla to a typeface designer, and a big missed target

03.12.2022

Now that the quartet has been launched, it’s evident that Tesla’s naming strategy is all wrong. This is what they should be called.
 

 
On a related note:
 

 

Since I haven’t seen the March 15 video now circulating on OnlyKlans, I mean, Twitter, I can’t use the DIA reporting form. But those who have, should.

If it were a New Zealand website doing the distribution, a warning would have been issued at the least; and I bet it would have been blocked by now. The person running the site would probably have been charged. Basically what our government is signalling is that a foreign fascist sympathizer has greater freedoms than the rest of us. And what the opposition parties are signalling is that that’s OK, too, because here’s a real thing that they can sink their teeth into, but they prefer to gaslight over other stuff.

The Christchurch Call website has not been updated since September.

Anyone in politics who actually has some bollocks?


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