Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Friday, September 26, 2008

A little programming project, part 2

A week ago I posted about my attempts to automate an administrative task with Python. In essence, I’m trying to scrape links to sound files off the Radio New Zealand site and insert them into an entry on my blog. I can only test this on Thursdays, because the links are only present then.

Read on for my experiences yesterday and a revised program.

posted by colin at 7:26 am  

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cutting off your Internet if you are accused of infringement

Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about a very bad piece of law that the government and the music business have foisted on us all, and about the fact that the government appears now to have cold feet about it. I’m referring to Section 92A of the Copyright Act, inserted by the recent copyright amendment, and it says that ISPs have to cut people off the Internet if a music company accuses them of copyright infringement. There’s no trial, no proof, and no accountability on the record companies to get it right. This provision was inserted into the Bill by the government after the Select Committee had told it to do the opposite and then passed by a large majority in the House.

The Minister of ICT announced yesterday that this provision will be put ‘on hold’ for four months. (It can be put on hold because it requires enabling regulation; effectively Cabinet can decide when and if it comes into force.) He’s looking for submissions on this. Don’t be shy – write to your MP, badger the parties who want your vote, and support InternetNZ which will be lobbying hard for MPs to do the Right Thing.

Read on for my speaking notes, or download the audio as ogg or mp3.


posted by colin at 11:11 pm  

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Putting spyware on your spouse’s mobile

There was a strange article in the Sunday Star Times over the weekend that seems to have passed without comment. The article, which is clearly based on a press release by a private investigator, describes loading spyware onto your partner’s cell phone as a way of finding out if they are being unfaithful.

This is highly likely to be illegal, both on telecommunications intercept grounds, and on the “anti-hacking” parts of the Crimes Act. The article doesn’t mention that, or any downside at all.

I’m amazed that anyone would think this is a reasonable thing to do. If you are reduced to spying on someone, why are you in a relationship with them? And, if someone spied on you like that, would you want anything more to do with them?

Update: Apparently the person concerned isn’t even a proper private investigator – check the second comment below. Looks like the Sunday Star Times was more than a little credulous.

posted by colin at 4:20 pm  

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Election Debate tonight

There’s going to be a live debate tonight with politicians from the major parties discussing Internet and ICT policy. There’s online chat and a chance for you to submit your questions. It’s going out on Freeview TV7 at 9pm. Check it out on I’m part of the behind-the-scenes crew.

Update: It’s all over now. Mark Foster has blogged about the event, and Vik Olliver has posted about it, too.

Further update: The video’s all online. Links at

posted by colin at 3:58 pm  

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A little programming project

As you know, I post my radio speaking notes as blog entries. At Miraz’s suggestion, I load these entries in advance and set them to publish automagically while I am on air. WordPress is clever like that.

Sometime after that, Radio New Zealand puts my radio slot online as sound files in ogg and mp3. Thanks, guys. But, I don’t know in advance what the file names are going to be so I can’t link them directly from my post. In practice I generally link to the download page for the whole of Nine to Noon and leave it at that.

Recently, Hamish wrote to me and suggested that I link my sound files directly from my post. I told him that I was far too lazy, but it has set me thinking – surely I can get a computer to do this.

This is the first in an ongoing series of posts about a little programming project I’ve started to automate the process of adding links to the sound files as they become available. I’ll collect the program together in a page on the site.

If you have any interest, read on and see just how easy free and open source tools make it to throw together something like this.

posted by colin at 10:00 pm  

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Birthdays: Google, GNU and the silicon chip

Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about some birthdays and tried to look at what these different things had meant to us.

Read on for my speaking notes, or listen to the audio download as ogg or mp3.


posted by colin at 11:11 am  

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bad dog, IE6. Bad dog!

I try to make this blog work for everyone – that’s why I have the font-size changer in the right hand column, so that everyone can read it despite my somewhat outrĂ© choice of white on black. And that’s why I was disturbed to find that Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 doesn’t render it properly.

On the right is what this blog looks like in IE6. Two things are wrong. The white background around the green Adium logo shouldn’t be there – that background is set as transparent. IE6’s forerunner, IE5, gets that one wrong as well. It’s ugly, but I can live with that problem.

The really, really annoying thing as far as I’m concerned is that the right hand column displays below the main column, so most people will never see it. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It’s telling that only IE6 of the 50-odd browsers I tested using got this wrong. IE6 is old, and home users will probably have upgraded by now (hint), but many are stuck with IE6 at their workplaces, where IT departments like to control desktop configurations and need a very good reason to change versions. And the statistics for this blog show that IE6 makes up only about 2.5% of visitors, but that might be because the site is barely usable in IE6.

This must be an example of IE not following standards. Lots of websites have separate code – effectively separate web pages – for IE browsers so that their pages render the same way on IE as they do on other browsers.

I’m left wondering why IE was so non-compliant for so long. I’d like to find an explanation besides incompetence or hubris in assuming it could ignore standards and force the web to its bidding. To its credit, Microsoft realises it has a problem in this area and the latest IE8 beta makes a real effort to be more standards-compliant. That leads to other problems for sites with IE-specific code, but let’s not go there now.

In the meantime, I’m faced with trying to debug this thing for an old browser on a platform I don’t own, or just giving in and accepting that some people won’t be able to read it even if they want to. Sigh.

posted by colin at 8:24 am  

Friday, September 12, 2008

iTunes 8 crashes Vista & more…

Apparently it’s true – if you upgrade your iTunes to the latest version 8 on your Vista machine, the whole machine will crash when you connect an iPod.

That’s a shame, because the Genius facility on iTunes 8 is rather good – it suggests things you might like and haven’t already heard, and it will build you a playlist of things you already own based on a song you select. Cool. I can see I’m going to use this a lot.

But for now, it’s no good to you if you are running Vista. No doubt Apple will fix this, but in the meantime, hold off on upgrading to iTunes 8 if you are on Vista.

Update: This has now been fixed. It’s now safe to update your iTunes to version 8 even if you have Vista. If you have Vista and an “old” copy of iTunes 8, you may need to remove iTunes and reinstall. Happy downloading!

Further update:The latest whizzy iPod touches won’t work on WPA-secured WiFi networks. This is a biggie – you’d be nuts to “secure” your network using anything else. Don’t Apple test things any more? I suppose we’ll see an update pushed to squash this bug, as well.

posted by colin at 10:15 am  

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Some of the tech in the Large Hadron Collider

Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about the difference between technology and the kind of hard science that the Large Hadron Collider is doing, and about some of the ways technology is supporting that project.

Read on for my speaking notes, or listen to the audio download as ogg or mp3.


posted by colin at 11:14 am  

Friday, September 5, 2008

An apology to Bill Gates

Like many others on the ‘Net, I’ve often repeated the old saw that His Billness decided in the Dark Ages of computing (the early 80s) that 640k should be enough for anyone. It appears that, in the words of the Mythbusters crew, that one’s well and truly busted. There’s no evidence he said that, and he did realise at the time that the whole 640k thing would place a limit on growth. He did admit later to being surprised at how quickly that limit was reached, though.

So, Bill: I’m sorry for telling people you made that call.

posted by colin at 8:18 pm  
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