Saturday 7 August 2010

can an EPG have superhero powers, Freeview thinks so

I wrote recently of my passion for Television and that story was inspired by an article that I read in the Melbourne Age Green Guide a TV and technology insert and published weekly as a supplement in Thursday’s newspaper’s print edition. Yes I do subscribe to an old school newspaper and while I am on topic I also have a subscription to a popular house and garden magazine so when I talk about media getting paid ,I understand as I do pay, I am not all about the free culture but I am all for a the balanced one. While I am at it also in the mix of media that I pay for is a subscription to Foxtel a pay TV provider in Australia , and so this article  got me thinking about Freeview and the new improved EPG that they have launched and so I decided to explore this a little further.

Freeview is the brand of the free to air digital terrestrial television stations in Australia. It was first launched in 2008 and aims is to unite all of the free-to-air broadcasters into a consistent marketing platform to compete against the new technical landscape that includes PayTV, TiVo and the many other ventures that could potentially derail the current market. Foxtel in particular is perceived as its greatest enemy with over 1.5million subscribers.

Freeview will market its members 15 free to air channels and will produce an electronic program guide (EPG) for technology products, to use this guide manufacturers will need to get their equipment certified and thus will coordinate certification of  televisions, set-top boxes and personal video recorders (PVR) which meet their requirements. The Freeview brand was first launched in November 2008 with commercials promising 15 channels by 2009. Well here we are in 2010, and Freeview have at last delivered a 2nd generation EPG for use in certified equipment, however it won’t work with most equipment, but it does have one benefit that the other non sanctioned EPG don’t have,  it knows when a show in running late and can adjust recording times on the fly . The network broadcasters have after years of denial of the need for an EPG,  have finally abet reluctantly now all provided a basic EPG. So although it has taken years of legal challenges against the providers of other EPG based on false claims of copyright (abused again) and to be brutally honest nothing more than feet dragging we have arrived here but what does it really deliver and do we need it?.

EPG's are a kind of oxymoron in Australia, well at least when it comes to the free to air networks, as advertised shows often start late and thus often result in you missing the crucial ending of a show that you thought you had previously recorded in its entirety. As I alluded to this seems to only affect free to air broadcasts as Foxtel own channels run to the EPG schedule like a well-timed clock work and therefore I have never missed the end of those shows. So what does this EPG give you that you can’t already get with the current array of choices? Well as I have stated the biggest drawcard if I can call it that, is the on the fly correction of end times of programs running late, the rest is pretty much standard fare however to access this on the fly correction feature technology manufacturers must hobble or disable the very features that you as a user would find useful. So the most useful feature is one that the need for is predicated on the fact that the free to air networks run their shows late , so let's get this right I should subscribe to Freeview certified equipment to negate a problem created by the consortium that markets the solution.  In addition to forgo the ability to do the very things that I feel that are useful like ad skipping and transferring copies of show that I have recorded to other devices or to give to friends or family.

The non sanctioned devices can’t use this the 2nd generation EPG if they allow such heinous acts such as ad skipping and so I suspect this feature will be one the vast majority of users wont even use because it will never be available. I would also question the need for this new featured EPG as the Australian Communications and Media Authority looks to crack down on the practice of not running to published schedules anyway. Looks like the ACMA see the EPG as a way sneaky way to compete in the market and are not buying this tactic one iota. It is no doubt true that like all other industries that are entering the digital age that the change is disruptive, however preventing people doing what they want is not competition but is instead guilty of trying to stifle it. I think the Freeview idea is sound I however feel that the current methodology is flawed and that the money wasted on this EPG will do little to alter the landscape. Innovative products that deliver the consumer an enhanced experience is the secret to competing not creating a problem and proposing a solution that breaks the functionality that your very customers want. The Freeview EPG is late, hobbled and really nothing more that a man wearing his underwear on the outside thinking he has super powers when the competition are giving away kryptonite.

What do you think does the Freeview EPG sound useful to you? What do you currently use? Please leave me a comment I would love to hear what you have to say.

Friday 6 August 2010

What will happen when illegal file sharing stops?

What will happen when the very last evil, greedy, self-serving, thieving, file sharing miscreant, a blight on this fine earth and an affront to every decent law-abiding citizen is finally purged from the internet?  What will happen when big media get their way and every non authorised copy of music, video and writings are removed from the internet?  What will happen when mandatory 3 strikes legislation is introduced to all countries worldwide? What will happen when illegal file sharing stops?

The reason I ask such questions is that it appears that the world is quickly moving in this direction, and when the entire scenario presented above become reality, it makes these question more pertinent and the answers all the more important.

I have read countless articles on the plight facing the music, video and content industries as it struggles to survive let alone get paid for all the great and fantastic content that it contributes to our society. I have read of the billions and billions of dollars lost in sales to illegal piracy and the poor creators that can’t even put food on their table. I cry myself to sleep at night worrying if the industry groups such as the RIAA and MPAA will survive such an onslaught that this blatant disregard of copyright has wrought upon them.

So it is so pleasing that the governments have finally begun to act, to stem the tide, to ensure that the wealth and prestige of the anointed few can continue to rape and pillage the unwashed masses. It is enlightening to know, any one caught dealing/stealing non authorised copyrighted content will be charged, fined and banished to a leaper’s colony for their sins and I assume the rest of their nature life.

But still I am left wondering will people suddenly forget that the internet once existed as it once was, will we all pony up down at the local Blockbuster, realize that new film that we wanted to rent is not available to rent for another 6 months so we buy it.

Will we all purge our iPods of all illegal tunes and login to iTunes to legally download and of course purchase our favourite must have eight thousand desert island tracks. Will the older amongst us realize that we really need to update all those VCR and DVD’s to Bluray.

Will we suddenly realize that every article that we read on the internet that is not behind a pay wall was created by a hard-working writer and suddenly send them a micro PayPal contribution.

I am reminded of so many industries that have either disappeared or adapted their business models to changing technology and wonder if they had the clout of the content industries would they really have needed to alter their business at all.

And so the question remains What will happen when illegal file sharing stops? that is what I am waiting for. I don’t know the answer, but I am sure of one thing, we can’t go backwards and so the mystery remains.

taking the all black concept too far; NZ to put the lights out for file sharers for good

Will it go all black in New Zealand for alleged file shares? well it appears it just might if indeed one side of the argument gets their way. In a proposed measure submitted to The New Zealand government by the New Zealand Law Society they have asked for the full disconnection and banning from the internet of repeat infringers of copyright through p2p and file sharing. This is the focus of their submission to the select committee considering a proposed new law to protect copyright holders.

On Wednesday the 4 August 2010 public submissions began before the Commerce Select Committee, which is considering a Bill before the New Zealand Parliament that will strengthen the law on internet copyright protection. The bill is the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill. The legislation amends the Copyright Act 1994 to provide enforcement measures intended to combat unauthorised sharing of copyright material via the internet.

In 2008 a new law was introduced in New Zealand but not brought into force that would have required ISPs to regulate activity by adopting policies to terminate the internet accounts of repeat offenders. This new bill will repeal provisions of that law and instead mandate  the power of the courts to order disconnection of internet access for up to six months where serious offences of copyright infringement has occurred as well as other remedies.

The New Zealand Law Society have sought in their submission a complete internet ban for persistent copyright infringers, which would take away their right to open up an account with another ISP if their original one is suspended. Their submission points out that during the period of a user's internet account disconnection that there would be nothing stopping that person from opening an account with another ISP and immediately continuing to illegally share unauthorised copyrighted work and that the law should be further strengthened by expressly prohibiting any person whose account has been disconnected by a court order to open another account during the period of suspension.

There however is some opposition to any account suspension and InternetNZ did make a presentation to the Committee on 5 August calling on for disconnection to be removed as a penalty. Policy Director Jordan Carter has argued that disconnection needs to be removed from the Bill and that it needs to go on pragmatic and on principled grounds. 

All this however is about the end game if repeat infringers continue to flout the law, the real intention of the bill and its proposed measures are to better educate the public about the problems of illegal file-sharing. The Bill’s general policy statement says that “lack of public knowledge that file sharing may infringe copyright contributes to the prevalence of this activity in the digital environment.”

The legislation sets a regime for infringement notices to be sent within set timeframes to give infringers adequate notice of their offence and the potential repercussions. It is expected that most infringers will be deterred by the first notice and that the more stringent provisions of the legislation only come into play for serious repeat offenders.

This will be an interesting to watch along with Digital Britain and HADOPI France I have mused over this prospect before but seeing misguided action will be interesting indeed.

What do you think is this going to far? Leave me a comment love to hear your views on this one.

another road block removed, the Oz filter must be dead now?

The Australian Liberal Party has announced that the Coalition will not implement the controversial plan for an internet filter if it wins the August 21st election. Opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey said that a Coalition government would abandon Labor's flawed filter policy. The coalition would encourage parents to take more responsibility for monitoring their children's use of the web, a policy that was in place prior to their 2007 election loss.

I think this is excellent news, and now that The Liberal party has revealed its hand along with the knowledge the Greens whom mostly likely will hold the balance of power in the senate after the August polls it seems this policy is as dead as the dodo. I am not alone in this thinking and Electronic Frontiers Australia have also applauded Mr Hockey’s announcement.

“The Opposition are very welcome among the ranks of those many organisations and individuals that see the filter as a policy failure,”

The governments Communications Minister, Mr Stephen Conroy's office says Labor policy is unchanged and despite this news will still push ahead with its plan. Mr Hockey also indicated that the if unsuccessful at the August 21st polls that the collation would not support any legislation in the senate, ensuring that a second term Gillard government wouldn't have the numbers required to pass its legislation as the Greens have also shown an unwillingness to support this legislation .

As I have stated the current Australian Government and the Labor party have maintained that mandatory censorship still remains Government policy, however with The Greens and the coalition now both opposing the internet censorship scheme it passing the senate is improbable. One would hope that the government see the wisdom of abandoning this policy and show a real understanding of the issues involved in cyber security and leadership on this in the final weeks of the election campaign I however think the chances are slim.

Thursday 5 August 2010

creative works combined, a new life abounds

There is a lot of talk about people stealing content these days not as much about how much fresh and innovative free stuff that is actually out there.

This is a clip that my brother Poundcore did and animated by Manyfeet Productions. Mark has been working with on line creations for nearly 8 years since he acquired his first computer, and performing live around Melbourne before that.  Your can check out mark at Poundcore here or at South Channel here

I am impressed and hope you lie it.

using a smokescreen to reduce the smoke, why I think Oz cash for clunkers is the wrong policy

The Australian Government in the lead up to the federal election have announced that owners of pre 1995 cars will receive a $2000 rebate if they purchase a new fuel-efficient vehicle, under a Oz "cash for clunkers" scheme. If the Labor party is re-elected the government will from next January offer a $2000 rebate to car owners manufactured pre January 1995 if they trade them in for a brand-new car meeting fuel-efficient standards. The scheme is proposed to cost $394 million and will be financed by cuts to other climate programs, including reducing $220 million from the solar program.

Ms Gillard said when launching the imitative that it would see nearly 200,000 pre 1995 vehicles removed from the roads as well as reducing carbon emissions by an estimated 1 million tonnes. It is believed that there are approximately 2 million pre 1995 vehicles on our roads. The move is very similar to President Barack Obama's own cash for clunkers subsidies for new cars, which was introduced as a stimulus measure in the USA last year in the middle of the GFC. However this measure was about stimulating the depressed car industry in the US. Tony Abbott opposition leader has correctly pointed out that the US schemes aim was to encourage people to buy locally built cars but resulted in more imported cars being purchased and that in Australia since locally built large cars, such as the Ford Falcon, Holden Commodore and Toyota Aurion, were excluded and that this could result In further job losses in this sector of the industry. Some of the finer details of the scheme include rules covering that people must have owned the pre 1995 vehicle for at least two years. The new vehicle must have minimum greenhouse rating of six or higher and that eligible cars cannot be in the luxury offerings. Any old vehicles traded in under the scheme must be scrapped and under no circumstances are they to be returned to the road.

I think this policy is flawed on a number of grounds and that it is really no more than PR spin, is not required and will do little to achieve the targets it sets out too. I think it is admirable to be taking cars off the road however if the aim is just to replace them with more cars its seems like a pointless exercise, yes there will be carbon emissions reductions but imagine how much if the new cars did not replace the ones removed That would be innovative thinking wouldn’t it? Also It is not clear if the rebate is payable if you choose to forgo the car altogether and utilize public transport some thing that should be included if this silly scheme does see the light of day. I also think that this will not help the balance of trade with a surge in imports adding to the problems of a country that manufactures very little our selves anymore, and the irony that this is an imported idea . I also think that reducing funding for the solar initiative is short-sighted and finally after the debacle that was the insulation scheme I don’t know if the government is even able to run such a scheme.

What do you think? Do you think this is good idea? Leave me a comment your thoughts are always welcome here.

Titanic the The Artefact Exhibition

I have had a fascination with the White Star Lines most famous/infamous ocean liner the Titanic for many many years as no doubt have had so many others people around the world. I have been fortunate enough to have visited Halifax in Nova Scotia Canada, the  closest major port to the 1912 sinking and where all of the recovered bodies were brought to. I have visited The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic which has what is generally recognized as the world's finest collection of wooden artifacts from Titanic. I also recently attended the Melbourne Exhibition of the Titanic Artefacts, one of many such exhibitions being staged at numerous venues worldwide.

And it was the most recent reminder of this great and most unlucky of ocean cruise liners that has prompted me to put together a brief smattering of Titanic postings as a way to encourage people to find out more about this most tragic ship of history.   

I found this video on You Tube that provides an excellent run down of what you would expect to see at the Titanic Expo in Melbourne, this is taken from the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts exhibition but the basic premise is the same.
Journey back to 1912 and experienceTitanic's maiden voyage.
Explore detailed reconstructions of the ship’s interior including the Grand Staircase and First and Third Class cabins. Discover how the ‘unsinkable’ ship met its fate and connect with the personal stories of people onboard as you view artefacts recovered from the ocean floor.

On the fateful night of April 15, 1912, Titanic, the world’s largest ship, sank after colliding with an iceberg on her maiden voyage bound for New York. The disaster claimed more than 1,500 lives and subsequently altered the world’s confidence in modern technology. Nearly 98 years later, See treasures never before presented in Australia in this Melbourne-only showing at the The Melbourne Museum.

I also have found this fantastic photo gallery at the Dublin website for the Titanic Exhibition Titanic Exhibition Photo Gallery

and finally a You Tube Video presentation of various photos and drawings of the great ship.

are you planning to attend Titanic the The Artefact Exhibition, if so why and please let me know what you thought, I would love to hear from you.

Wednesday 4 August 2010

setting the intangible free, why not licence piracy

I am constantly amazed at the efforts that the RIAA and MPAA and other affiliated organizations and companies who either represent artists whom are copyright holders or who are owners of copyright in their own right and their efforts to constrain consumption of the goods that they hold copyright on.

They do this in the belief that unauthorized consumption is piracy and that it is also represents a lost sale, neither of these beliefs hold true.

I am a 44-year-old consumer who grew up in the old days before the advent of internet and the almost instant availability of nearly all the media that Western Society had consumed in the last 30 years, as I alluded to I am amazed at what I read in the media today regarding the actions of these two organizations to stem so this called piracy, but I have an idea, well a suggestion to end the farce but first a look back at the trip that lead to this me to a revelation.

Before the internet we had our, records and tapes, the radio, and a little while latter video and video recording was just amazing, but we purchased all our media because we had to.

Now that might sound like we would not of purchased media at all if we were had not been some what compelled to, but that’s  true, it’s just it was a closed shop, the medium the records and the video cassettes were not able to be produced by any one else but big resourceful companies. There were barriers to entry and there was a supply monopoly, so if we wanted to own any music or video we either made an inferior analogue copy of the record/tape (assuming we had access to the original) or we purchased it. I did an awful lot of purchasing.

Mind you an interesting story about the VCR is that in the early 1980’s the same MPAA fought to suppress the device from the consumer market, claiming "savagery and the ravages of this machine" and citing concerns about copyright violations and yet this device turned out to be a major additional revenue source for the members of the MPAA that it set out to protect the interests of.

So as we entered the digital age the music industries were the first to adopt with the introduction on the CD, an amazing disk that revolutionised the music industry .The CD when first introduced just like its predecessor the vinyl record was a non reproducible medium for consumers and thus had no Digital Rights Management.

The problem with that for the music industry is that CD was about to become the most ubiquitous storage device for the computer industry and that music CD’s could not only be copied but they were an exact copy. But worse because the CD was a standard not controlled by the music industry and they were powerless to add Digital Rights Management to them.

The Motion Picture industry did not make this so-called mistake when they transitioned from the Video Cassette to the DVD, although their encryption system was quickly broken.

So as the digital age advanced the ability of computers and the advent of the internet changed everything, no longer were consumers barred from entry when it came to copying, sharing and distributing media, the medium was irrelevant.

I still purchase a lot of media today I have an internet account and I have a Pay TV subscription I just don’t purchase in a physical medium anymore.

I still have all my records, I don’t have the VCR tapes anymore the player died and DVD was just better not that I use that any more either. I still like the physical media it's just technology has changed and now I have a media player and it plays digital content and so digital content is what I want.

So here we are today and the MPAA and RIAA want to shut down the best distribution medium ever, I think that they should use it along with their commercial endeavours.  The medium that I refer to is piracy

If other people are distributing your products for free, that is free of any costs and of course revenue why not licence people to use it.

Now I know that there are issues with copyright, but why not sell consumers a license that allowed them to source their personal use media from anywhere on the net.

Now this may sound ludicrous but if you are unable to sell to this segment of the market the media in your prescribed form then why not licence them to use the media that they source independently.

This strategy does not inhibit the MPAA or RIAA from enforcing their rights against those whom have no licence to distribute copyright material. It allows them an opportunity to profit on the actions of others and offers a totally free distribution channel that is hard to control, monetize privacy if you will.

This strategy removes the need for 3 strike enforcement, it removes need to impose liability on third parties such as ISP’s and it offers a way to engage with a section of your market that is not buying.

This approach would allow ACTA to refocus on the core objectives of Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement which should be commercial counterfeiting and not copyright enforcement.

So like the VCR of the eighties maybe the internet can be a valuable source of new revenue to the media industries it just may not come the way MPAA or RIAA envisioned it should be, the way it used to be before the intangible was set free from the medium.

Obviously there are more issues and these would need to be ironed out but I think this is at least worth exploring rather than criminalizing the users of your products, what do you think leave a comment.

patently absurd, I invented the media player

I am an avid consumer of technology news on the internet; one of my daily routines is to scour my favourite Technology sites each day for stories of interest I am particularly fond of the following sites.
cnet, ars technical, techdirt, zeropaid, zdnet (aust) delimiter (aust) there are obviously a lot more but these are my most prominent and often clicked book marks.

One issue that is getting a lot of coverage is that of patents and the effect that patents are having on this sector, most articles seem to focus on the negative effects that patents have wrought and the huge costs of defending your patents against others trying to exhort damages for patent violation. There is talk of the relative ease to get patents granted on obvious business practices, though to the use of the patent system to stifle competition all articles try to point out how these very things seem to go against the very reason that patents were created, to encourage innovation. The biggest issue in my opinion is the one of patenting business practices, or how to instructions (software) on things that are either obvious or prior art exists (the device or practice precedes the patent request). They do this not to protect a unique idea but to lock out competition or as is the case a lot more lately to sue companies that actually make a product into licensing agreements for what is nothing more than an idea or solution to a problem that any technically knowledgeable person in this field would have come up with.

I have long been concerned enough at this practice and I yearned to write an article addressing this issue. I however never really thought that I could bring any thing new to the discussion  I however have decided to give it a go, because I think I can now add a unique perspective. So since I am going to cover it from a different perspective, I don’t think it is necessary to rehash the many other discussions and articles that have preceded this attempt but if you are interested you can check at all the ars technical articles here and the techdirt ones here.

Firstly I am not a technical adept person, I love technology, I used to be able write basic computer code and have worked in IT, but I am a consumer of technology. I have a very good imagination, and I believe that I have excellent problem solving skills, I can work with existing stuff to imagine better ways of doing things. I am an ideas person; I seldom implement the ideas that I imagine/create because being a non technical individual I lack the skills to create the desired outcome but that does not stop me thinking and tinkering.

I used to think that patents were all about the invention, that is if you came up with an idea of how to split the widget, you had to design and build the machine to do just that, and I thought and righty so that you have to demonstrate a working prototype to prove that your idea was sound and workable.

It would appear that I was mistaken and that the mere description in as broader terms as you could possible use to describe a process to archive an outcome is enough. It does not matter if the said process described is obvious to all nor that prior art proves existence of this process already existing. No it would appear that all you need to do is submit the a patent, and oh maybe add to it over time as new and better ideas surface for it to be rubber stamped and approved.

The other troubling thing is what companies that have these patents do with them. It used to be about protecting intellectual property. These day’s patents are a business in their own right. You can trade in them, you can licence them, or you can litigate against others who you claim almost always have a wilful disregard of your intellectual property. It would appear that the biggest fans of patents would be patent attorneys as since the system is so abused the logical outcome is to ask the courts to sort it out.

So to prove the point of how silly patents have become, should have I patented the media player and by default should I also claim some ownership of the media server. Should I sue Sony, Dlink , Western Digital, Microsoft, Apple Inc and the countless others that make devices and software that enables my idea. I came up with the idea for a media server, I can’t recall when but it was at least couple of years ago maybe 6 or 7.  I have not pursued registering the patent as yet, a mere formality I hear. I just thought I’d run the story past you first.

I built my first media server/player my self, it was not a high tech set top box that connected seamlessly to the TV but it did do the job. It was basically was a pair of media sender/receiver with a computer configured remote control; the sender was connected to a TV port from the computer with the audio signal shared from the speaker’s port, the receiver which also doubled as an infrared sender that allowed for an infrared remote to control the computer. At the television set the receiver was connected to an auxiliary port on the amplifier that then on connected to TV. I did not have a dedicated remote for the computer, but was able to buy software to convert a remote that functioned for a TV Card, to control the computer.

It was a very basic setup that allowed me to control my computer from the lounge room. This set up preceded my need for routers or the establishment of a home network. It was really about my ingenuity in solving a perceived problem, with out bringing the computer to the lounge room. It was a real nifty solution and it worked. My complete and growing collection of Div X encoded video was now free to watch on my TV, with out the need to burn each show to a DVD, it was brilliant. I built this or more correctly I constructed this solution myself, because there were not any off the self solution available back then.

So as you can see I did build a media server myself, I used components that were readily available, but it was me who made the leap. OK I concede many others may have also made the leap and created their own media players. I was actually quite pleased when in Windows XP launched it had its own media server service built in. It was great to see an original idea of mine was being refined and improved. I never felt ownership, I thought what I had done was oblivious and eagerly embraced a Dlink media player when it first hit the shelves. I later updated to a PS3, and now also have a Western Digital Media player in the bedroom.

I think the whole patent system is absurd, I encourage you to read as much as you can on this interesting topic using the resources that I have linked to above, I hope you enjoyed this article and please leave a comment of any inventions that others have stolen from you.

hot off the satellite, why technology erodes choice

The world is becoming a much more complex place in which to inhabit, or should I say to exist. I am not talking about the effects and beneficial gains from the technology revolution, we have experienced revolutions before, the industrial revolution rocked the very foundations of our society and yet despite the enormous upheaval and the predictions of that again the end is nigh we emerged more prosperous, engaged and with a wide-eyed anticipation of what the future held for us. The technological revolution has like its predecessor the industrial revolution produced many fundamental changes to our society. Technology has opened the world up, it has made travelling easier, faster and more efficient, and it has also allowed us the luxury of almost instant communication to anyone anywhere in the world. The gadgets from the mobile phone, computers and GPS have made a our life’s experiences vastly different from those of even a persons of a mere 40 years ago.

I however think that one achievement stands above all others as the single most important achievement of all that both the industrial and technological revolution has allowed. I am referring too, the ability to break free from the constraints of our very planet and the gravity that binds us here and to explore the solar system and beyond. However it is in space or more specifically the small zone of space that extends out only a mere hundred or so kilometres from earth, the area that is inhabited by the myriad of satellites in orbit around our planet that has had the most profound effect on mankind. The ability to launch ourselves and our payloads from the planet and defy gravity to remain in obit above the earth has allowed us to lay one of the most pivotal foundations of our society. It has allowed the ubiquitous communication to almost any destination in the world unlike any other human advancement before.

All revolutions have costs be they real implied or intangible, of course they most certainly have benefits or else I suspect mankind would not have progressed down that path. Time is a dimension, and like the three others that we live with, height, length and depth, we are constrained by the laws the governor it. We can only see the 4th dimension as a point in time the present, and although we are aware of the progression of time, and write of our experiences in our history, and although we can also look to the future with optimism our path is only forward. The effects of all revolutions past are accumulative, and as we live through this the current one it will apply many more costs to our already burden ridden lives.

But what are these costs?  What is it that I refer too? I really should refer to them as what they really are the “unintended consequences”; these are the costs that revolutions have burdened us with and one consequence in particular concerns me the most.I think that we are losing choice, no not the ability to choose what we will consume, a simple trip to the supermarket, a brief moment on the internet or the simple act of turning the television should more that adequately illustrate that we are definitely not wanting for choice, it abounds everywhere. No I refer to the choice to either obey a rule, a regulation or law; I don’t want to live in a world where it is impossible to break the law. 

Don’t get me wrong I did not say I want to break the law, no not at all. It’s just every new law, combined with the use of new technology in the fight against crime corrodes at our ultimate freedom, free will. This may sound counter intuitive but as we corrupt technology and apply it to maintaining law and order we are creating an all-encompassing gaol for mankind to inhabit. We will no longer be able to break the law. 
This is a complex concept, a subject that I have thought long and hard about, I suppose the embryonic seeds of the this idea/belief first surfaced many years ago when as a young man I read 1984 by George Orwell, and further readings of science fiction cemented the fear. I know that these are not books of prediction, but as an observer of the mankind and the advancement of technology I see its effects on mankind and society, I see many troubling parallels
I will endeavour to provide a couple of explicit examples of the chilling effect that this is happening on society. I don’t intend this to be a doom piece no matter how it sounds. No this is a warning, a warning that we as a society needs to address the constant ratcheting up of rules and regulations or as I alluded too gaols will become the confinement area of the purpose-built correctional facility that binds, us a place we will  know as society.

The first areas of law enforcement that seemed to embrace the technological advances all appear to be in the areas of traffic management. This was really a no brainer and such an easy sell to the public. Motor Vehicle incidents are one of mankind greatest preventable killer of human beans. The cost on society is huge and the suffering and hurt thrust upon the victims of these incidents can be psychologically, financially and physically crippling. Is it any wonder why governments acted and yes I agree technology can most definitely help in reducing the carnage, but what I see goes far beyond this. I believe and I know will be shouted down by governments as ignoring the facts, but revenue drives this and OK or as a consequence we raise revenue. The proliferation of speed and red like cameras is so vast and ever-expanding that I can see a day where is will be impossible to break any road laws without being caught, fined and if it serves the government's agenda humiliated as a law-breaker, mind you not so serious as to require incarceration after all you can’t contribute if your locked up.

This may seem far-fetched but think about it, those satellites that I talked of they run the GPS system the earth loves so much, and yes no doubt one day every car will have one, it could even be mandated. These devices are able to record you speed and could in time remotely report breaches’ to law enforcement authorities. This will happen you may dismiss the “unintended consequences” as the law at work I just don’t and see it as a willing away of another freedom of ours.

Governments all try to control us for a variety of reasons and many different social models exist around the world, however there is universal condemnation of undemocratic governments and the control they wield upon their people. Prior to the invention of printing press, non personal communication was afforded to only the  powerful and the wealthy, governments of course utilized this, they were epitome of wealth and power and this monopoly power consumed them. The advent of the book opened up society to the power of expression and the sharing of ideas. It empowered the people and the governments hit back with a new and improved sword to cut away at the freedom that wide spread freedom and expression of ideas allowed they introduced censorship. Jump ahead today and the situation has not much changed. The politically corrupt regimes still exert their absolute control over the people, they now utilise computer technology to beat the technology that could allow their people the freedom that we the peoples of the world's so-called free nations are all accorded. Yes the world still condemns them for their lack of freedoms but it would appear many nations must secretly admire the absolute control these regimes exercise else why else would they look to replicate and copy the censorship that permeates these regimes.

There has been a debate just recently with the Australian Federal Government poised to introduce a mandatory filter to block refused classification material from all Australian residents; this is done with the aim to protect Australians from the so-called nasties that are lurking just beyond our borders. However I see this as just another claw back of power, a stifling of our freedoms and that if not challenged will enviably lead to scope creep and again those dreaded “unintended consequences”. There are multitude of everyday items that are being corrupted in the name of law and order. We are have become a monitored society, every thing you do, every where you go can be recorded and monitored. Every detail of your life lives on a database some where, the government or really just about anyone if truly connected can obtain information on every facet of your life, in most cases you have volunteered this information but in may cases it is surreptitiously recorded. These days it would appear the only real area the only sanctuary that is truly private is your home. But alas and ignore the pun but the majority of us have added a new window that allows us to peer out at the world via the internet unfortunately this too comes with an “unintended consequences” as not only is it a window on the world but it works two ways, it is also a portal in, and although we think only we have the keys to the lock, other very resourceful people have them too.

Its not a stretch to one day governments mandating this be a two-way portal that allows them access, after all I just heard The US President was just presented with the master keys to the internet. Many that argue for greater government control often provide this statement as a rebuttal to any questioning of these or similar articles “you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide”. Well I will counter with that I have plenty to fear if I live in a world where defiance to the rule of law, every misstep, every illegal act is detected, fined and deterred, if I am powerless to break the rules I really have no freedom at all. I believe the ability to do the right thing, the ethical thing is a choice and choice is really the only freedom, remove that and I might as well be in a goal. 

So in conclusion although I think satellites have allowed the innovation and fulfilment of so many gadgets that offer so many amazing benefits to mankind and that I stand by my assertion that space exploration and the lessons learned have allowed for many of these great achievements, it's just I see the “unintended consequences” this time as having a far great impact in the erosion of our rights than any other advancement in technology or knowledge has ever been before. What do you think? Have I lost the plot? The one thing that I must say that I am thankful for, I like the window on to the world that satellites, the internet and technology allows me and the ability to freely post my thoughts, feel free to share yours leave a comment, I would love to hear from you.

a new bite on the old cherry, will cat5 relegate HDMI to the technological dustbin

If you’re anything like me when it comes to technology you probably have a draw or two full of all types of cables from an assortment of devices and for a variety of uses from phone connectors to RCA video and audio cables, maybe even some cat5 computer cables. We accumulate these cables for a variety of reasons through obsolesce or failure of a much-loved device to upgrading to a better and newer standard. Cables are what connect us; they are as big a part of technology as the very devices that they connect.

In that draw I bet you don’t have a spare HDMI cable? I know I don’t because they are just too expensive to have anymore than you really need. Cables can be expensive, fortunately these days most devices come with the required cables included as well as the batteries. It used to be the bane of fathers everywhere when Christmas morning rolled around to reveal Santa’s little gifts had arrived “batteries not included”. The message has been heard and acted on and these days nearly all devices come with the batteries included, mind you they may not always be of the highest quality but that does some what apply to the type of goods you are purchasing and so it is with cables as well.

There still obviously exists the occasional need to purchase additional cables if circumstances change and HDMI cables mostly never come included. So it was good news to hear that there is a newly finalised cable technology, known as HDBaseT. This is a not so new cable type that can transfer audio and video signals over the ordinary the RJ-45 ethernet cable (cat5). It has come about as the result of an effort between LG, Samsung, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Valens Semiconductor that started a mere six months ago. And so this new bite on the old cherry may result in the demise of  HDMI. The HDMI cable had it beginnings back in 2003 and the popularity of HDTV has fuelled its growth and adoption ever since. And while HDMI was a vast improvement over previous A/V cable solutions it was not without its limitations some thing that HDBaseT attempts to addresses and ultimately could solve. HDBaseT will be able to deliver full-HD video, audio, web carry 100 watts of power over one cable simultaneously; it can support cables up to 100 meters long.

If this standard can truly deliver what it says it can over cat5 cables I think it will be a real winner on many fronts, including the utility to use existing cables, the cost and the fact its one cable may replace multiple cables for just one is a welcome change. It is expected that the new standard will ship later 2010, with the new cable type becoming more widely adopted the following year. Whether this standard becomes the standard HDTV connector cable is yet to be seen. I also hear that a new HDMI specification is expected soon. I for one hope that it does become a standard as I do have a few of those cat5 cables in my draw, however I am already using HDMI so the irony is that they would then occupy valuable draw place.

What do you think? What’s in your draw? Leave me a comment love to hear you technology stories.

would you sue a company for removing a seldom used feature? plenty do

Do you have a Sony PlayStation 3?  The reason I ask is because if you do are you pissed off at Sony for taking away features and options from the PS3? I first purchased a PS3 in March 2006, 3 days after its Australian launch. I love the PS3 as also I did the PS2 and the original PlayStation one. I have seen every incarnation of these consoles help propel the Sony Corporation a little further ahead in the battle of domination for the gamers’ heart and soul and their hard earned dollars. Game consoles like any technological device have greatly morphed since their first release into the main stream consumer market. I remember the earliest TV game consoles that basically just played variations of the game Pong.

Pong was one of the earliest arcade video games was a tennis game like simulation that features simple two-dimensional graphics. The aim of the game was to defeat an opponent of either a computer controlled opponent or a second human player in an electronic game of tennis. The game was originally manufactured by Atari and enjoyed huge commercial success in game arcades around the world providing a serious contender to the once almighty pinball machine. I also love the pinball machines but that sounds like a post for another day. By 1975 Atari had released a home version of Pong and like its arcade predecessor it also proved to be a huge commercial success. The game was remade on numerous home and portable platforms following its release and laid down an important foundation for the game console market of today.
When it came to which edition of the new PlayStation2 I choose the version that allowed backward compatibility with the games that I had already invested in for my PlayStation 2, interestingly enough both versions played the original PS1 games but strangely since they looked so archaic compared to the newer games you really wondered why they bothered at all and if you would ever play them again anyway. My choice would all be for nought anyway as less than a year after its initial release the backward compatibility for PS2 games was official dropped and no further editions of that console were to be sold. My first PS3 ended up stolen and of course the replacement console now lacked this feature, however strangely now the rumble was back after being conspicuously absent in the first release. This new console was every thing I wanted it too be, it had the best media server that I had ever experienced, the game play was excellent and the graphics and display in 1080 HD was simply magnificent. I am not a big player of games and really enjoy the driving simulations but found I was playing less and using the consoles other features more, it became the indispensible entertainment portal and update after update ensured that it was as cutting edge today as when first released. One interesting feature that I never used but came as an option was the ability to 'Install Other OS' option."  This allowed as the description indicates the ability to install another operating system on to the console Sony even stated "We believe that the PS3 will be the place where our users play games, watch films, browse the Web, and use other computer functions. The PlayStation 3 is a computer. We do not need the PC."
I found this really quite perplexing as first of all I had brought a dedicated console to avoid using my PC to play games and now there was an option to turn it in to a PC, strange and as I said I did not use this feature but it was nice knowing it was there after all I must of paid for it and it really was good that a company could be as open thinking as to allow people to use devices they had purchased what ever way they liked. Sony even reiterated that they were not about to remove this feature through future firmware upgrades with Sony engineer Geoffrey Levand writing to a PS3 mailing list in August 2009 stating, "Please be assured that SCE is committed to continue to support for previously sold models that have the 'Install Other OS' feature and that this feature will not be disabled in future firmware releases.".

However this feature was recently removed contrary to the stated early intentions not to hobble this feature and Sony released the following statement. "This feature enabled users to install an operating system, but due to security concerns, Sony Computer Entertainment will remove the functionality through the 3.21 system software update. In addition, disabling the 'Other OS' feature will help ensure that PS3 owners will continue to have access to the broad range of gaming and entertainment content from SCE and its content partners on a more secure system." I installed the update and lamented on Twitter the loss of a never used feature and the eroding of my rights, but in reality I didn’t really care at all. I don’t hack, I thinker yes but I had a perfectly good PC and a laptop so I certainly was not going to turn the PS3 in to another computer and so that was that and the feature disappeared as an option.

Now in Australia we accept the reality of things and note that although we might be annoyed at the actions of a company but if its just that, we get over it and move on with our lives, because really is it that important and frankly if the company has acted in bad faith that we have laws and government agencies to crack down on that type of thing. I would assume that in the USA that they also have laws and government agencies to help in these type situations but as well but they also seem to choose another course of action and that is too sue the company or organization that annoys them obviously in a the hope of a bucket of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow. Well it is no different in this case as arstechnica alerts me to Sony now facing single class-action for PS3 other-OS removal Sony Computer Entertainment of America (“Sony”) falsely represented that PS3 purchasers would be able to use their PS3s as a computer by installing another operating system, such as Linux. In a recent firmware update, Sony removed the ability of consumers to utilize this feature. As a result, seven class actions were filed against Sony in federal court in San Francisco, California.

So we now have one consolidated class-action complaint with a court date set for sometime in September where the parties will discuss the next steps for the lawsuit. I really don’t understand the merits behind this case, sure these people were pissed off but really is it that horrible that they need to waste courts resources to punish a company for doing for what ever reason an action that was perfectly legal and broke no laws and coincidently no machines since the software upgrade was voluntarily installed and only removed a small seldom used option. IT will be an interesting one to follow and I will report back on this story once it gets to court if that actually happens. The other interesting thing will be what resolution will actually be hammered out; in the arstechnica article they foresee the most likely outcome to be that none of the plaintiffs are likely to get rich. If the plaintiffs win, the lawyers will get paid, Sony will probably have to pay PlayStation 3 owners a small refund to make up for the loss of the option, or there will be a coupon or game giveaway. The other thing that I find interesting is that this article sees this case since Sony doesn't have any real defence of their actions and if this can may serve as a warning to other corporations then it’s a good thing as arstechnica puts it What's important for gamers in a broad sense is that Sony loses money in the case, so there will (hopefully) be a financial incentive to keep all the advertised features working in future systems and firmware updates.

What do you think should Sony be punished for removing a feature? If there was class action in Australia would you join? What is adequate compensation? All great questions why not leave a comment and answer them.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

what if apple had not disabled the iphone 4 before gizmodo got it ?

Once upon a time there was a struggling company that designed and built innovative computers, this firm was universally regarded as having the best hardware running the slickest and most user-friendly operating system and yet although somewhat successful, reputation alone could not guarantee sales and so for years and years the company released new and better computers with success and acclaim but not the domination they desired. Until one day it decided to dip its toe in the murky waters of mobile phones and as it had done with computers it released the most revolutionary mobile phone ever before seen. The world now had the iPhone the rest is history and now this company that is now worth more that its arch rival Microsoft also can proudly say that domination is now a word also synonymous with Apple Corp.

I have been reading a lot in the technology press lately about the woes inflicting Apple Corp and of the antenna issues currently affecting the newly released iPhone 4. Apple is a contentious company and normally features heavily in the tech news but most usually the news has a positive PR type spin and is so tightly orchestrated from the people at Cupertino that you would almost think that they are writing the press themselves. So obviously is quite rare to see so much press on Apple and with so much of it having a negative spin. It begs the question what went wrong and why did they not catch it early?  And now the proverbial has hit the fan why can’t they accept that they have erred, accept, fix and move on? I personally think that Apple could have and still should be handling things a lot differently and I think that at all the pivotal moments in this saga they either ignored the signs or was so arrogant to not anticipate the outcome and that because of this and the way Apple have reacted it may find that it will be judged harshly, rather than accept that they have erred, they continue to act like this is really only the media turning on them, and so it would appear they can’t write the history only make it.

I actually think that Apple made another pivotal mistake that to my knowledge has been not been explored the by press at all, it's some thing that is one of those could have been situations that is, if this had not occurred then that would not have happened that lead to that this happening type thing, a big what if, if you please.

You would all be familiar to the event surrounding the now famous loss of the iPhone 4 prototype if not Newsweek has an excellent article on the whole affair here.

On March 18, an Apple engineer named Gray Powell was celebrating his 27th birthday at Gourmet Haus Staudt, a beer garden in Redwood City, Calif., about 20 miles from Apple's headquarters in Cupertino. Powell carried with him a prototype next-generation iPhone, and somehow left it at the bar.Another patron, Brian Hogan, 21 years old, found the phone, which looked like a regular iPhone but had some unusual bar codes stuck on the back. He took it home and realized that the case was a fake, and that inside the plastic shell was an entirely different phone. According to Gizmodo, Hogan contacted the blog, a negotiation took place, and Gizmodo ended up buying the device for $5,000. Gizmodo wasn't sure the phone was a genuine Apple prototype; it could have been a fake. But when the editors took the phone apart they discovered it contained parts stamped with Apple's logo. On Monday, April 19, Gizmodo ran its story, by reporter Jason Chen.

Now the one thing that is pretty evident in this whole saga is that neither Brian nor the journalists at Gizmodo either used or were able to use the phone prototype, most likely because Apple had utilized MobileMe to deactivate it. MobileMe allows users to deactivate their phones and computers if they are lost or stolen. I believe that it allows options such as temporary lock or a complete system erase; these options are more about pissing the criminal off than actually retrieving the stolen item; however sometimes both outcomes are can be achieved. The features listed on the apple website advise it can do the following;

Locate your iPhone
If you lose your iPhone or iPad, MobileMe can help you find it with Find My iPhone. Just enable Find My iPhone in the MobileMe settings on your iPhone or iPad.* Then sign in to from any computer or using the Find My iPhone app on another iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to display its approximate location on a full-screen map.

Display a message or play a sound to help you find it. Say you’ve just used the Find My iPhone feature, and it turns out you left your iPhone or iPad at the doctor’s office. Not to worry. You can write a message that will be displayed on your iPhone or iPad. Something like, “Oops, left my iPhone behind. Please call me at 408-999-9999.” Your message appears on the screen, even if it’s locked. And if the map shows you that your iPhone or iPad is nearby — say, at home under a pile of laundry — yet you still can’t find it, you can tell MobileMe to play a sound that overrides the ringer volume or silent setting on your device.

Set a passcode lock remotely. Once you realize you haven’t simply misplaced your iPhone or iPad at home, you may want to protect its contents until it’s safely back in your hands. Sign in to your MobileMe account and remotely set a four-digit passcode lock to prevent people from using your iPhone or iPad, accessing your personal information, or tampering with your settings.

Protect your privacy with Remote Wipe. Addresses, phone numbers, email, photos. Your iPhone or iPad contains important and personal information — information you probably don’t want in the hands of a stranger. So if you lose your iPhone or iPad and displaying a message on it hasn’t resulted in its safe return, you can initiate a remote wipe to restore it to the factory settings.* If you eventually find your iPhone or iPad, you can restore your email, contacts, calendars, and bookmarks by enabling your MobileMe account on your device. Or connect your iPhone or iPad to your computer and use iTunes to restore the data from your most recent backup.

Now we all now know the way it actually went down with Apple demanding the phone back accusing Gizmodo of theft and eventually the police being called in and a raid occurred at home of the reporter who had written the piece after that the story spiralled out of control, with people lining up to comment on it. “Jon Stewart of The Daily Show lashed into Apple, saying Steve Jobs and his team were behaving like "appholes." but by then Apple already had the phone back and its all in limbo now with Apple looking a little precious at the time but with the recent events causing the angst that is little more than a glitch in time. But the questions that I propose could it all have been different? , like in National Geographic television show “Seconds To Disaster” there are always pivotal events and happenings that lead inexorably to the disaster, however if at any of these pivots or actions and inactions had been not taken place a different outcome would have resulted averting the disaster or at the very least mitigate the impact reducing the harm suffered.

What if the phone prototype had not had been deactivated by MobileMe, what if for some unknown reason the world was per chance a little friendlier and that no one had ever thought for the need to remotely lock a mobile device to prevent unauthorised access and there for there wasn’t an app for that. I know it’s a stretch but bare with me on this, what if instead of a review of a disassembled iPhone 4, Gizmodo had been able to run the phone through its paces and actually publish a true exclusive pre release review of the new upcoming iPhone 4. Would have a full-blown review have been able to identify antenna issues prior to the iPhones eventual release? Could we have had Gizmodo come out like Consumer Reports did in the USA just recently and announce that they can't recommend the forthcoming Phone 4 due to problems with the phones reception? That their engineers found that when you touch the gap in the antenna on the phone's lower left side, "the signal can significantly degrade enough to cause you to lose your connection altogether if you're in an area with a weak signal." Could have Apple avoided the whole antenna disaster way make in March? Could they have learnt of the issues prior to release and be able to include the bumper as well as mitigate the concerns with PR and spin? Could have Apple avoided the drop in its stock price? I don’t know but as I said if only one thing had been different the whole outcome could have changed. I hope Apple learns from this experience and that they can avoid the same mistakes in the future.

It is pretty obvious that one of the reasons that issues with the antenna were not identified in the field was that the phones were disguised to look like an ordinary iPhone 3 and that this disguise meant that compromising the new antenna was not possible. So all I am saying if Apple had been at least alerted to this possibility prior to release then much of the current harm could have been mitigated. Now this is a big what if I know but it makes you think that the irony is that if Apple had not been so secretive and suspicious of others then maybe they might have looked outside of their own locked gates for testing and this issue may not be the talking point that it now is.

What do you think? Can Apple be their own worst enemy? Leave me a comment love to hear you thoughts

catching the train,the shine is a little tarnished

This article is a Melbourne centric look at the problems with a privatised public transport network and why I think it has not provided any benefits since its adoption by Victoria over 10 yea ago and worse why it has instead added additional costs to an already strained and decaying service. The privatisation of the Melbourne Public Transport Network has not worked and is in this public transport user and observer’s opinion an abject failure; in particular I am referring to the Melbourne municipal railway network. The for profit mentality is no more able to run a modern reliable and efficient train network than the state funded public servants that had attempted to do so before them. Actually I would argue that this model is the least efficient and economically viable of all options that the government could have attempted or implemented

Public transport has always been subsidised by the state government, in so much as the revenue from ticket sales does not cover the operating costs to maintain and run the network and this shortfall in revenue or more correctly the operating loss is covered for by the public purse. This situation is not unique to Victoria and is pretty much the standard practice around the world with the vast majority of public transport networks some what subsidised by governments. The basic fact is that the majority of public networks would not even be run if the only justification for them to continue to operate was that if they at the least cover their operating costs and break even. Governments don’t run these networks for profit but as a service to the public. The imperative to have a cheap and efficient transport network out weighs the economic imperative to make a profit. It is similar to a multitude of other services that governments subsidise for the public good, and fortunately there are other many other criteria and reasons used in allocating scarce resources apart from just making a return on capital

This is not intended to be a political discussion as in Victoria both sides of the political divide is tarnished in their handling of this issue, it was the Liberal party that first implemented this farcical situation but successive Labor administrations have failed to end the farce and the status quo has remained, and even when presented with the perfect opportunity last year to end this failed experiment they instead just installed another operator. This misguided belief that some how Metro could do a better job than Connex in running the train system fails to address the underlying problems let alone fix this.

The privatisation model used in this case is both unique and novel, due to the nature of the asset and the lack of revenue to cover all of the outgoing costs. Metro are contracted to operate the network, they do not own any of the assets associated with the network such as tracks, stations and rolling stock, they however are responsible for revenue collection and are paid a monthly fee to cover the running of the system, this is a variable amount as fines are levelled by the government for non attainment of operating benchmarks such as punctuality and frequency of services. I am obviously not privy to the contract details as no doubt they are “commercial in confidence” a handy way for governments to hide embarrassing details they don’t want the public to know and securitise.

Another thing that confuses the situation is that anther government body called they are responsible for aligning all the operators of the public transport network from the bus, tram, municipal train train services into a coherent working body. The ticketing system used is the same for all the operators of these services and revenue is shared between all operators based on ticketing data obtained from the ageing but perfectly fine met card system. We however are also lucky enough to have a new world class ticketing called Myki that is in the process of being implemented but that is a story for another day. I did however write an early article that referenced the problems that I felt Myki has brought to the table that I recommend that you read if at all interested the link; Public Transport it does not need to be hi tech.

I also want to make it quite clear that I do not see Metro the current operators of the Victorian municipal train service as the villains in this mess. Metro has an excellent track record when it comes to operating complex transport networks world wide, there is nothing to suggest that if the appropriate resources were allocated to this network the outcomes would not be vastly different. No I think that blame clearing lays at the feet of the current and previous governments of all political persuasions. Public Transport is treated as a joke in Melbourne and the current state of the Melbourne train network is testament to the years of under resourcing, neglect and mismanagement by our elected representatives. It is an ugly blight on Melbourne’s landscape and unless urgent attention is applied to the network it will continue to decay and eventually may grind to a halt.

I remember when Melbourne hosted the Commonwealth Games recently and how ashamed I felt that visitors to this great city would have to avail them selves of the joke that is the railway network. I am sure that Melbourne is not alone and that nightmare stories of neglect and mismanagement abound in cities all around the world, and it is a travesty of justice for those cities as it is for mine.

The following is my list of why I think that privatisation of the railway networks has resulted in failure. This list is not exhaustive and is my interpretation of what I see is wrong with the system; conversely I would have loved to also provide a list of positive outcomes that privatisation has brought the Melbourne train network but the cupboard is so bare my friends that even old Mother Hubbard would blush with embarrassment.

  • The State Government uses it’s supposed non ownership as a way to deflect blame, if the trains are not running on time or any other problem it’s the operators fault. There is also no singular body responsibility for coordinating the whole system and because of that it is easy for blame to be shifted. It would appear that even the government minister that should be responsible takes a hands off approach or simply ignores the problems.
  • The system is poorly resourced, the network is old and degrading and the funding required to maintain let alone improve the service is sadly lacking.
  • By contracting a private commercial operator to run the service it just adds another layer of costs to the equation further lowering any possible reinvestment in the system.
  • Networks need to be planned and managed, by separating the ownership of assets away from the operator reduces an incentive to manage and improve those assets. This is a network whose foundation was laid over 100 years ago, and is in constant need of maintenance, the bare minimum is not enough.
  • Fining the operator for poor performance that is so well out side of their scope to fix serves no other gaol that to look like you are doing something. It’s a stick approach that has failed to work repeatedly and that maybe it is time to try the carrot. If an operator can't obtain the desired standards either the standards are too high or there are other issues hindering that outcome that first need to be addressed.
  • Every time we change an operator and so far I can count 4 times already why is a rebranding of the trains, stations and uniforms worn by the staff required? I can imagine that this is a huge costly exercise that redirects scare resources that could be used to improve the network to a futile PR exercise. Why could we not just name the train network independently of the operator that runs it? and thus avoid this costly and often repeated waste.
  • If the new operator is really just a new management team with exactly the same employees and resources available as the previous operator why should we expect to see any tangible improvement if no other variables has changed. Worse still is that Metro has since taking over the network has consistently performed worse than their predecessors Connex. Expecting a different outcome when the same resources are at play is patently absurd.
I feel that if we want improved train services in Melbourne that we need to lobby our politicians and let them know that this is a matter of huge concern. I find it reprehensible that in this day and age that with the focus so much on reducing carbon emissions and that motor vehicles being a large contributor to this problem that there is still no renewed focus to not only improve but also to expand the train network. If the government is serious about public transport and I guess you would say that I am not at all convinced of that prospect, then they need to firstly acknowledge that there is a problem and secondly apply the appropriate resources the network so badly needs.

What do you think? Do you have an efficient, reliable and adequately resourced train network where you live? Please leave me a comment I would love to hear what you have got to say, thanks.

and the winner is Egg Flip, Big M announces winner

and the winner is  "Egg Flip"

I enthusiastically wrote of Big M a few weeks ago and how Big M is a popular brand of flavored milk that was first established in Victoria in 1978. Its has since quickly expanded its distribution  into the states of New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland. Original story here.

I first remember when Big M first arrived on the scene, suddenly we did not have to reach for the Quik (NESQUIK®) anymore to have  have flavored milk , it was a brilliant marketing strategy that aimed to increase milk sales and since the humble beginnings we have have seen BIG M become a staple in Australian dairy cabinets and fridges everywhere for the past 32 years, It brings back glorious memories of summers past.

So it was with delight that I realized that they had a competition to bring back one of the flavors past, special edition flavors that ran for only a limited time. the choice included the following

The Choice was between

  • Choc      Berry
  • Choc      Jaffa
  • Pine      Lime
  • Egg      Flip
  • Honeycomb
  • Blue      Heaven

well now its official Egg Flip has been crowned the winner and will shortly be joining the following range in dairy cabinets and fridges everywhere. What do you think will you be rushing out to purchase Egg Flip Big M? I know I will be.

my top 7 peeves, now 8 things that really irk me

I wanted to write an article on what I would describe as pet hates; you know the things that you tolerate because you have too, or are too lazy to question, the things that just downright annoy you. I usually try to limit myself on the number of words that I will use on the average blog post to approximately one thousand words or so, I don’t want the articles becoming to verbose. But this target was not going to work this time around, as I started and put the pen to paper it was obvious that words just would not stop flowing, and so it would appear that I have quite the exhaustive list of pet hates. I needed to reframe my initial plan, to rework the idea and so I decided to cull the list down to the top 7 things that really annoy me, but rest assured they are many more. One more thing I am an Australian, and not surprisingly I also live in Australia so the majority of things that I write about will have an Australian feel to them, particularly when I am referring to laws and politics. Most of the items on my “top 7 peeves”  list relate solely to Australia, they may be relevant to where you live but the remedies that I may speak of refer only to Australia, so now I have the introduction and disclaimer out the way let's get on with the list.

I hate having to pay to receive an invoice, this is a nasty little thing that crept in slowly at first, an idea I think telecommunication companies first introduced, but this nifty little fee has spread far and wide and is cropping up more and more often on invoices from a multitude of companies across all industries. This is just plain wrong on so many fronts, firstly I don’t want your invoice at all, but begrudging I’ll accept it and pay for whatever goods and services you have provided me with, but honestly do I really have to pay for the honour of you presenting me a bill, a demand for payment so to speak. This is just insulting, but worse still in my opinion are the corny excuses they use to justify this fee. I don’t think it is fair to charge me a fee for alerting me of the debt I owe them for whatever the goods or services that I may have purchased. I know that there are options to avoid it, like I can opt to save the world and receive an emailed copy or I can just opt in to a direct debit arrangement and never receive an invoice at all. But these are really all just measures to save the company money; they don’t interest me in the slightest.

But finally I just don’t like that rather than providing an incentive to encourage the desired behaviour they use a fee, a punishment if you will on a transaction that is neither a good nor service. I would prefer if I was offered a saving for adopting the desired behaviour, the carrot instead of the stick.

Now as I alluded to above, these companies also use corny excuses to justify their behaviour and the fees, and this is also a pet hate, a big no-no. Why should I trust a company who can’t even be straightforward and honest with their motives and reasons for applying fees? I am not an idiot; they do this to save money by eradicating a cost, or by adding a fee to recoup the cost. This is all about them and yes of course I do not have to deal with them, or I can opt for the alternative to avoid the fee, but that’s not the point they lied to us, with lines like “ help reduce your environmental impact on this world and receive you invoice as a non polluting email”.

And this moves me on to my next pet hate, green washing, well I don’t know if that’s what you call it but the art of deflecting criticism of behaviour by implying that this fee or action is done to help save the environment. A classic example of this is the Green Shopping bags; these are going to save the world, and oh if you're not using them you are part of the problem, what crap! The other alternatives may have flaws but the bottom line is some thing that was free now costs the consumer. On the other side of the argument is the government and if they get involved then usually their favourite solution to any problem is to introduce a new tax, fee or fine and we wonder where business get their ideas from. Bottom line this is disguising the true motives of these organisations is to con us it to buying their product and if we don't that implies that we don't care for the environment or some similar dribble .  This practice is often successfully used as a means to deflect criticism of government policies and is becoming more widespread as a useful way to shame people in to silence, both a disgusting and immoral act.

I don’t buy cars very often, actually I don’t even have a car at the moment but I distaste dealer delivery costs. These have all but disappeared since a recent introduction by the ACCC, to mandate the use of an all up price when marketing motor vehicle in adverting. Gone are the days when you see a motor vehicle advertised at a set price only to find it was thousands of dollars more expensive than originally advertised. This tactic is also used by airlines; I however understand that even in this field the practice is to be outlawed. What particular annoyed me about the dealer delivery charge, is that is the majority of cases it was just a bogus charge, I was picking the car up. Yes I know there was more involved than that, but really the name was an oxymoron and I think car dealerships must have thought we were all morons as well. The charge is still there, it's just they have removed the loophole that allowed them to ignore it in their advertising and we the consumer is better off for it.

Credit Card Fees and surcharges also really annoy me these were introduced a couple of years ago when the Reserve Bank changed the rules on interchange fees, I am not really sure what these fees were or how they worked. The bottom line is this change in the rules allowed organisations to recoup the cost of fees charged by the bank or card provider to the merchant. The recoup was done by slugging their customers with an additional fee if a credit card was used to settle the account. So what’s wrong with that? Well nothing except under this new arrangement I had to pay for the privilege of using something that previously had no direct cost to me, and that its use was beneficial to the merchant.  The merchant chooses to have these facilities in place, they have them to encourage people to purchase goods and services even if the individual may have insufficient savings to purchase by allowing the customer to pay with credit but without any of the account keeping nightmares that credit provision brings with it. Suffice to say, I don’t shop at merchants that utilize this practice.

But what really annoys me is that it was unnecessary government intervention that actually resulted in consumers paying more for the same services as before the intervention. This is not the first time this has happened and again it was with the banking industry. The government in all their wisdom thought that it was unfair that some people, people who had actually saved some money to be spared the cost of account keeping fees on bank accounts by maintaining a minimum balance. The government voiced their concern and the banks promptly responded by abolishing the fee waiver and proceeded to charge everyone equally, account keeping fees were now for everyone . Way to protect the consumer Mr Government, fortunately the banks have been voluntary reducing a lot of these fees lately, coincidently because they fear government interference again. I am not going to telling them that unnecessary government intervention is usually beneficial to them.

Finally the last pet hate on this list is the, the no liability signs that you often see on children's playgrounds at fast food establishments that explicitly state that they are non liable for any injuries that occur on their equipment and that they are not liable for any negligent acts. I am not a lawyer, but you can not indemnify against negligence and it is a common law right of any individual injured by your negligence to sue for recompense.  These signs are bogus, if someone injures you due to their negligence they are liable for damages, and no sign can diminish your rights.

And in case you were wondering the word count on this article was just shire of 1500 words , do you have any pet hates? Why not leave a comment and share them with my audience, I always love to hear your opinions.


I just wondered outside to collect the mail and was alerted to another pet hate, the important information about your account letter. I am sufficiently annoyed to add this to the list of "my top 7 peeves, now 8 things that really irk me" . I just received a loverly letter from our telecommunications provider that the cost of our land line was increasing again. I don't begrudge companies the right to increase their prices, but I don't have to like it either. I am really thinking of sending them an important notice about their customer database being reduced by one as I find another carrier, but I won't because like I said at the beginning of the this post pet hates are things that you tolerate because you have too, or are too lazy to question, the things that just downright annoy you.