Category Archives: AU

The Age: subscriber problems

Recently The Age has been hassling me when I get to 30 articles/month. But I’m already a subscriber!

I suspect their code is buggy. Not hard to see how it might be trouble-prone when you see how many Cookies there are: no less than 92.

The Age/Fairfax cookies

Clearing them made the problem go away… for a little while, at least. (Isn’t that how freeloaders fool it?)

Not sure if that’s a permanent solution though. And as a paying customer, it’s very annoying.

ANZ: The rodeo clowns of online security

For years now I’ve been… less than impressed with the ANZ bank’s concept of how a secure banking website should work. Finally they’ve taken steps to harden their site. They’ve introduced “secret questions”, like “who was your best friend in high school”, “what’s your partner’s nickname” and “what’s your nickname for your youngest child”. At last, my money is now safe from thieves who will never guess that my my partner’s nickname is Cathy, my best friend in High School was Robert, and my youngest’s nickname is Marky. Oh, darn! I accidentally disclosed the answers to those secret questions! It’s as if that information would be widely available to any thief who took the time to look me up on Facebook (don’t bother, I’m not on Facebook).

Because in providing answers to these questions the security on my account was going up, not down, I couldn’t possibly be allowed to opt-out, with dire warnings about being liable for losses if someone found out the answers. To these most basic of questions.

Most other banks have implemented two-factor authentication. Even G-mail has two-factor authentication. But not the ANZ, they’ve stepped things up a notch. They’ve eschewed two-factor, and gone for “You’ll never guess the name of my pet, which I post on Facebook all day long”.

So I took my standard defensive action: attack surface reduction and target-value minimisation. To reduce the attack surface, for each answer I mashed the keyboard – so thieves, remember my first Primary School was in the suburb of pwofkmvosffslkdflsifcmmsmclsefscdsfpsdfpefsdflsd, or something. To minimise the value of the target, I swept all the funds out of the account. What’s wrong the the technique of establishing identity by the production and examination of 100 points of identifying documents?  Why do I need to have a favourite colour?

Cathy worked for the ANZ until recently, and the day she received her final paypacket she shut the account. Hated their account with a passion, but the ANZ is incapable of paying their employees through anything other than an ANZ account. Because, you know, banking is hard.

Australian electoral fraud

An undamaged security cable tie

If the security cable tie isn’t pulled tight engaging the teeth, it can be pulled right off. If it was secured, it would have been damaged while being removed (with scissors).

I did scrutineering at the last Victorian state election, and apart from the shocking level of informal voting and above-the-line voting, there was another shock.

Electoral fraud – or the possibility of it.

The nice thing about living in Australia is that we take our democracy seriously, and we balance being able to prove that what the outcome was with ballot secrecy. Nobody, no level of government or industry, no individual, will know how you voted without you telling them. Yet at the same time we can have confidence that our electoral system is not being rorted; our governments change back and forth, and each time it does representatives of both sides keep a close watch on the activities of the employees of the AEC and VEC, eyeballing each individual vote and knowing that they are all distinctly different from the others in spite of being a collection of handwritten marks on a slip of paper.

To minimize the risks of ballot box tampering, at the start of voting the ballot boxes (just big cardboard boxes here in Australia) are sealed shut with serialized cable-ties. An independent somebody witnesses this when an Electoral Commission employee does this (typically the first voters who wandered into the polling station), and their details are recorded (by details, I think that means signature, but it could be actually enough to track the person down afterwards) and they sign the form that records the sealing of those particular ballot boxes.

So how come they use cable ties that can be “done up” and yet the teeth don’t engage – thus leading to an unsealed ballot box? Is it too much to ask for a cable tie with teeth on both sides?

I should have kicked up a fuss, but it was a safe booth in a safe seat, and who needs the hassle?

Anyways, the reason I relate this story is that I’ve been seeing comments along the lines of “this is the 21st century, why they hell are we using pencil and paper?”  Because, dickwads, computers don’t leave a fucking audit trail.  There’s no scrutineering of electrons.  How the hell are you meant to verify that Clive Palmer didn’t in fact get 98% of the vote?  You can’t.  Interesting that Clive Palmer owns the company that supplied all of the (suspiciously cheap) voting machines to the AEC, but that hasn’t got anything to do with it. And the cost! Pencils are 10c each, paper is about a cent a sheet.  A shitty computer is $500, and requires a bunch of electricity. “Do it on the Internet, or use smart phones!” I hear you say. No, because while nearly everyone can move a pencil around, significantly fewer can use their computer to vote. And there’s no connection between how you voted, and the counting of votes. The announced result could be anything, and there’d be absolutely no way of proving it wrong.  So, yes, computers are shiny and clearly the best way of implementing a voting system, if you want an electoral system you can’t actually trust.

Summer 2013/2014 starts

The current 7-day forecast for Melbourne:

Friday   30 August           Max 20 Shower or two.
Saturday 31 August    Min 12 Max 23 Sunny.
Sunday    1 September Min 15 Max 25 Partly cloudy.
Monday    2 September Min 12 Max 23 Partly cloudy.
Tuesday   3 September Min 11 Max 25 Partly cloudy.
Wednesday 4 September Min 16 Max 26 Shower or two developing.
Thursday  5 September Min 16 Max 20 Shower or two.

I declare summer whenever there’s going to be 7 consecutive days in a row above 19 degrees.  Previously, the earliest Summer has started was mid-September, but typically it’s been moving forward from October or November.

Remember we’ve got an election coming up in a week’s time, and that’s your opportunity to repeal the carbon tax.  Which we need to do, to keep lovely balmy weather happening in winter-time and to keep the cost-of-living down.  Remember: carbon-dioxide is food for plants, and as such good for the environment, which is made out of plants. That’s just science.

ABC's Labor bias: Vote Compass

I am a single issue voter. I'm not proud to admit being so shallow, but there it is.  If there was a party that wanted to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2020 and also drown kittens, I'd be in like Flynn - and not because I dislike kittens either. Perhaps it's because I take a root-cause view of the world.  Immigration problems?  Address climate change or it's going to get much, much worse. Not spending enough on education? Not much point in edumacation if the climate collapses around us and we're up to our ears in climate refugees. Wrong telecommunications plan? Choosing between having enough food and downloading porn faster than you can watch it doesn't seem to be much of a choice to me.

So, naturally I thought that the ABC's Vote Compass wouldn't have much trouble pigeonholing me. Except, it tells me my views align more closely with the ALP.  Although at one stage in its questioning it allows you to weight the importance of issues (which I gave as 1-3 for most, 4 for a couple and 10 for environmental) this clearly… doesn't carry any weight. The anemic 5% by 2020 cut embraced by the two major parties means neither will get my vote, regardless of the technique to “achieve” such a “challenging” target.

And yet Vote Compass thinks I'd make a good ALP voter.  I think not.  The ABC's Labour bias at it again.

zp8497586rq

summer 2012/13

Per today’s Melbourne Forecast, issued at 5:06 am EDT on Saturday 10 November 2012.

Forecast for the rest of Saturday
         Max 20 Partly cloudy.
Sunday 11 November
  Min  8 Max 26 Sunny.
Monday 12 November
  Min 17 Max 23 Shower or two developing.
Tuesday 13 November
  Min 11 Max 20 Partly cloudy.
Wednesday 14 November
  Min  8 Max 22 Partly cloudy.
Thursday 15 November
  Min 10 Max 22 Partly cloudy.
Friday 16 November
  Min 12 Max 22 Shower or two.

As such, I now declare it to be summertime (7 days in a row forecast to be 20+ degrees), and as such am shutting down the gas heater and opening up the cooling vents.

Census night is coming

The census delivery chick turned up and offered us the option of paper or electronic form.

Two programmers looked at each other, thought about how they value their time and the response was a no-brainer:

“We’re programmers,” I explained, “we’ll take the paper form.”

“There’s a phone number you can call if you have any trouble filling out the electronic form” reassures the collector.

Cathy thinks: “Sure, that line won’t have any trouble when twenty million Australians simultaneously log into the web site to fill in the forms via a broken SSL link, using IE specific controls (that only work under some versions Windows assuming they’re correctly patched and have the right libraries loaded), demanding full round-trips to the underspec’d Windows servers to populate unnecessarily complex custom controls, some of which will no doubt demand Flash or COM. Come to think of it, it probably won’t even be web based, and we’ve only got two Windows boxes, one of which is tucked under a table (Yay! Census night on the floor swearing at the ABS’s programmers!) and the other has a screen resolution that went out with buggy whips (I’ve had programs barf and refuse to run because the resolution was unacceptable).”

We chose paper. For another view of the world, I’m looking forward hearing to how census night worked for Daniel…

AU timezones

I’m not happy when I see someone technical quoting a time in summer (eg during daylight savings) which claims to be “AEST”.

It’s almost certainly actually AEDT.

A summary of the abbreviations, which looks reasonably official, is here: Australian timezones.

In summary, AEST, ACST and AWST apply in winter. AEDT, ACST and AWST apply in summer.

The other issue I had with a recent email was it said 12:00pm AEST. I think in this context, they meant midnight AEDT, but it’s confusing. Better to either say Midnight, or use 24-hour time: 00:00.

How to fix YourTV.com.au’s annoying Sydney default

I quite like the YourTV.com.au web site. The TV guide it displays is quite usable, and can be customised to show your correct channels.

But why does it keep forgetting your region every few weeks, and reset itself to metro Sydney?

Your TV Sydney default

Very irritating. (Well, if you live outside metro Sydney.)

Using your web browser, you can check the cookies. This article describes how, in various browsers.

That’s where the problem is: it looks like the “TvFixGuide” cookie, which seems to hold details of what region you’re in, is only set for a month.

Your TV cookie

It doesn’t look like either browser allows you to extend the time range of the cookie, or otherwise modify it. I suppose there’s legitimate reasons for that.

It is possible to hack it by deleting the cookie, setting your computer’s clock, say, a year into the future, before going back to the site and setting the option.

Yep, it seems to work:

Your TV cookie modified

Don’t forget to set your clock back afterwards.

Sensis Yellow Pages

Dug this up from a five-year-old draft:

Sensis are nuts. They’ve totally shot themselves in the foot, and they’ve only got a limited amount of time to plug the gap before their Yellow Pages foot falls off completely.

Yellow Pages on the web doesn’t contain entries for all of the businesses listed in the physical Yellow Pages. Sensis charges businesses extra to list on the web. Not many have taken Sensis up on that option, meaning that YPW has remarkably few businesses listed – and because YPW has few businesses, consumers don’t turn to YPW to find businesses. And because of that, fewer and fewer businesses are listing… and so the death spiral goes.

If anyone there had one ounce of sense (sic), they’d be giving web listing away for free, or even negative price. For a while, while the network effect was being established. Then the charges would start hiking up, and the profits rolling in. But no, they had to try to be profitable before the monopoly was established. Bang! bang! Wow, my foot hurts.

I don’t think I was wrong.  When’s the last time you used the yellow pages online to find… anything?

Five years on: VoIP? No. Well, maybe. But not really.

Five years ago we looked at dumping the POTS and going VoIP to save big dollars. It cost more to use VoIP.

So, recent events have suggested that moving to ADSL2+ is now a good idea. Now that the local loop is unbundled, true competition has smashed into the marketplace, and VoIP has finally gone mainstream. ADSL2+ prices are cheaper than ADSL. There’s dozens and dozens of VoIP providers, you can even port your existing POTS number to a VoIP number (for certain providers, from certain telecoms companies).

Interestingly, there’s a $10 difference between going with Naked ADSL2+ and ADSL2+ bundled with a home phone; typically you also lose some data allowance, for example going from 20Gig to 15Gig, and that 15Gig will have a further (quite small – I’ve seen an estimate of 30Meg/hr) amount consumed by ‘phone calls. So, you get less, and the question is, can you pull in VoIP functionality for less than the $10 price difference?

Well, maybe. If you insist on porting your existing phone number to the VoIP provider, there are charges (say $3/month), plus an upfront charge ($55). You’ll also need to acquire a convertery-thing to turn your Ethernet cable into a POTS connection for your existing phone handsets, or buy a network-connected VoIP phone, or whatever – some kind of connectivity to your network and thus the ISP and thus through to your VoIP provider is required. If you want a VoIP account with a Direct Inward Dialing (DID) number (you might know that as a phone number) they start at $5/month. So, of your $10 price difference, you’ve just chewed up $8. You get to amortize the connectivity hardware and charges over the $2 savings you’re making; if you’ve got the hardware lying around, the $55 port charge is will be clawed back in just 28 months. Did I mention you’re running with a smaller data allowance? And there’s also the cost of keeping the convertery-thing powered up each month. And the fact that if you lose you broadband connection, you lose your phone (POTS have very high availability rates; broadband not so much).

Now, admittedly, VoIP calls are hella cheap compared to POTS calls. If we made many, that might be a factor. But we don’t, so it’s not. Our phone line’s more for people to call us. If we wanted to place calls cheaply, VoIP accounts without DIDs start at $0; we’re looking at replacing the home phone, and the numbers still don’t stack up, even after all this deregulation and vastly increased competition. Which makes no sense.

Or maybe it does. If the costs are approximately at parity for VoIP and POTS, surely that’s showing that the prices are competitive?

Here’s another scenario. You go with POTS and ADSL2+, plus VoIP with a freshly allocated local number which you use for all outgoing calls. You still need the bridge, and now you need a second phone. You retire your POTS number (advise everyone you know of that you’ve changed numbers – doctor, dentist, home insurer, car insurer, friends, family, work’s HR department, your bank, etc etc – shouldn’t take more than a day or two), but keep it alive for, say, six months (this assumes your ISP loves the idea of you starting out with a POTS line and then dropping it after the six months; I haven’t checked, but I can guess what their reaction will be). You’re paying $15/month over naked prices (ignore bandwidth differences), but your call costs are lower. At the end of the six months you’re saving $5 a month, so another 12 months to break even, and then you can start amortizing the convertery-thingy at $5/month – about two years for every $100 it costs. And once that’s amortized, and you’ve recovered the price of the extra electricity you’ve been using, you’re making pure profit.

I can’t wait.

When the phone line is $5, or $8 for your existing number, rather than $30, that’s when it’ll make sense. But it’s almost at that price now, when you get down to brass tacks, it’s $10 plus they throw in a little extra bandwidth. So we’ve got a competitive situation (at least on the connectivity costs), and VoIP, as a result, sucks balls. Interestingly, bundled plans aren’t sold as “naked plus $10, and we’ll throw in some extra bandwidth!”.

Let’s say you were forced to change phone numbers anyway (perhaps an interstate move), so now it makes sense to go without the POTS number at all. You’ve still got to amortize the convertery-thingy at $5/month, but on the upside you’re saving money on your calls – if you make any.

Final analysis: if you’re forced to change you telephone number anyway, you might as well go Naked ADSL2+ and VoIP. Otherwise, not worth the bother.