Thursday, March 31, 2005

Plumbing or philosophy

I heard John Morris, the principal of Auckland Grammar, talking on the Wire about scholarship exams and related topics. He expressed the common view that less students should go to university and more should train for trades (such as plumbing).

This all has the hallmark of someone who spends his time frightening recalcitrant children with tales of how, if they don't work harder, they'll wind up as dustmen. (Kids - if anyone tells you this it isn't true - there are a wide range of jobs open to slackers ranging from musician to company director).

I disagree that there should be an ability hurdle for higher education, other than the threshold knowledge and skills needed to usefully participate in a degree course. We need to be moving a a society with more knowledge workers, not least because that is the only way we can achieve economic growth in an increasingly competitive world.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Killer on the loose

The Herald reports that a convicted murderer has escaped from a minimum security prison farm in WA. Rather worryingly, he was in jail for killing a couple last time he escaped.

Obviously the high security jails in Oz are only for children and foreigners. Good old dinki-di Aussie psychopaths get minimum security. Isn't Australia wonderful!

UK Election

When is the UK election going to finally get called? It was supposed to be "after Easter" which I thought meant Tuesday.

I hope that my postal vote has time to get here and back. I don't hold up much hope of anything other than a 90-100 seat majority for Blair, but I would like to have my say..

Monday, March 21, 2005

Accidents waiting to happen

I noticed an article on Stuff about the poor credit risk that many New Zealand finance company bonds represent. These are the bonds you see advertised on TV and billboards promising interest rates of over 9%.

Generally, when something seems to good to be true, it is. Most global finance companies have access to an international capital market that enables them to borrow at rates substantially less than those being advertised. The fact that these smaller finance companies cannot certainly raises a "red flag" as Standard & Poors put it. Equally, most credit-worthy borrowers can borrow from banks at reasonable rates - the finance companies are lending to those who cannot. Some of this lending is to individuals with poor credit - more worryingly, quite a lot is funding building projects on the edge of viability.

Sooner or later one or more of these companies is going to collapse, and the government is going to be hauled over the coals for not protecting people. They should really do something now and stop highly unsuitable investments being marketed to naive retail investors.

(Oh and another tip - if anyone has a scheme to run cars on a fuel other than petrol don't lend them a cent!)

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Push polling

I did an opinion poll this morning.

I'm registered with YouGov a UK opinion poll service and get occassional polls sent to me - they have either a prize draw or a 50p (NSD1.45) bonus attached, as well as sometimes being quite interesting.

This one was in the latter category:

They started out by asking various questions on identity theft: had I been a victim of, were the banks/government/telcos doing enough to prevent it, did I feel confident with internet shopping, etc.

After about 5 questions of this nature, they had one similar to this:
Select one or more of the following:
- I think ID cards will help reduce identity theft
- I think ID cards will make banking more secure
- I think ID cards will help combat terrorism
- None of the above

Now, for those who don't know, one of the many illiberal measures being brought in by the UK government is a mandatory ID card scheme. I strongly suspect that the above poll was commissioned by the very same UK government. A poll like this is called a "push poll" - the idea is that the preceding questions put an initially undecided subject in a frame of mind to give the "right" answer - which in this case can be headlined as "XX% support ID cards - poll" where XX% is all those who didn't answer "None of the above".

I wonder how many of the "impartial surveys", both in the UK and NZ, are in fact organised along these lines. (YouGov is regarded as a reputable source - although I and others have doubts about their methodology of taking a self-selecting minority of internet users and then adjusting the figures to correct for sample bias).

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Banks and fraud

(no not that one)

Westpac are claiming that their Internet banking system is "secure and had never been infiltrated by hackers".

While this is probably the case, in that it is unlikely that anyone has found a back door into the system without a password, it is not the whole story. It is, as has been pointed out in the media recently, very easy to install monitoring software on a PC that will store any logins and passwords used on that machine.

It has been suggested (by Russell Brown and the IT Minister, David Cunliffe) that the onus is on Internet cafes to improve security. Personally, I can't ever see an Internet cafe being a secure environment. Even if they run fully locked down consoles (and the trouble with these is they tend to restrict games - which seem to be the main source of revenue for most Internet cafes) there is still every opportunity for a dodgy employee to install keyloggers using their admin rights.

Personally, I think expecting end users to take responsibility for securing their Internet connection is ridiculous. The banks need to agree (or be forced by legislation) to limit user liability to cases of recklessness (like telling someone a password or writing it on a card). Doing that puts the onus on banks to either accept losses from fraud or do something about it - just as with VISA cards - if someone steals your card and fakes your signature, then it's the bank's (or possibly the merchant's) problem.

The Terminator replaced by the terminated

ACT had plans to have Arnold Schwarzenegger speak at their conference by video link. Unfortunately, he wasn't up for it - he was heard to say "vere is dis noo zeeland und vot is die Act Party".

So they've got defeated Auckland mayor John Banks - a case of replacing The Terminator by the terminated...

Friday, March 04, 2005

Mad for it

Apparently alleged psycho nutcase Antonie Dixon believes it was god, rather than P, that made him attack four people with a samurai sword.

Obviously Density Church and United Future have a lot to answer for.

(By the way, odds are now available on the next Pope - they aren't quoting any on Bishop Tamaki, but I wouldn't be surprised if he becomes Pope - at least in his own mind.)