Thursday, May 26, 2005

Simple mobiles

Vodafone have come up with the idea of a "simple" mobile, intended presumably for those far off on the left hand side of the technology adoption bell curve (e.g. ones parents).

However, their idea of a simple mobile phone looks more like a 5 year old standard mobe than the elegant simple device you might have hoped for.

My concept for a simple phone would be:
- one line display for the number, big green light to indicate you have a signal.
- 12 buttons, 0-9 plus Send and Hangup
- no text, phone book (maybe make the phone out of some sort of wipe-clean material so you can write numbers on with a pencil)

Or even:
- no number display, tone feedback as you dial
- flip open to pickup/start dialing and hangup
- automated end of number detection, like a PSTN exchange does (I assume the data is there to know that a number starting 09 has 9 digits, 004420 has 14, etc)

Or even:
- no buttons, just a flip.
- on opening the phone you get connected to an operator, who asks who you want and puts you through

These phones could even become fogey fashion items through their elegant simplicity (not to mention small size...)

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Living in a shoebox

There's an article in today's Herald about small flats being built in Auckland's CBD.

I can't see what's wrong with small apartments if people are willing to buy/rent them. I owned a studio flat in London for a while - I can't remember the exact size, but I'd be very surprised if it was over 30m2. It was perfectly adequate for my needs at the time and it certainly wasn't a slum - like most of my neighbours, I was a young professional who was willing to trade off a shorter journey to work and a lively neighbourhood for the extra space I would have had in suburbia.

I suspect that a lot of Aucklanders are opting for a personal, if small, flat over a shared house, which is perfectly reasonable. I can't see why Auckland City is preventing people from making this choice by imposing size limits.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

TV on demand

The BBC is to offer a range of programmes via video on demand. The catch is that they are putting in a DRM system to restrict content to their UK license payers.

Thought 1: How they plan to identify license payers? Presumably they will allow you to register given your license number or similar. Of course there will be a whole lot of trading of credentials, not to mention trading of MPEGs (especially given that the BBC will be under political pressure to make its content available via an open source codec - such codes not being compatible with effective DRM).

Thought 2: Currently one of the BBCs revenue sources is program syndication (selling Top Gear to Prime for instance). If they are distributing programmes directly to the UK (and consequently having them ripped off around the world) then this is going to undermine the price they can get for those programmes. They may wind up being able to get more money by offering the shows free with built in advertising than through syndication.

Thought 3: The BBC license fee is a compulsory tax on all UK TV users, enforced by law. If the BBC begins to electronically "lock" its content, then it calls into question the need for their "tax raising powers". Given that the UK is moving to a digital platform for broadcast TV in the next 10 years, this is likely to become an interesting issue.

Monday, May 16, 2005


Various stories this morning in Computerworld and on TVNZ about Dick Hubbard's phone getting hacked.

How did this happen? Well, the default on mobile phone voicemail (Telecom & Vodafone) is that if you fetch voicemail from your own phone, you can access the service with no PIN. If you use another line (like a landline) you need to enter a PIN.

It makes the decision on whether it is "your" phone based on Caller ID. It would be reasonable to assume that this is a "telecoms grade" secure service - i.e. that without hacking a telephone exchange you can't fake a Caller ID.

Unfortunately this isn't the case - there are various dodgy companies in the US, such as the amusingly1 named Telespoof that will let you call out (for a small fee) with your choice of Caller ID. You can also apparently hack various mobiles to do this. The telcos have clearly allowed the generation/validation of caller ID to go rather too far down the food chain!

I guess what Telecom (and Vodafone) should now do is to get some software upgrades that either strip/reject caller ID from outside their network that claims to be from inside, and/or validate voicemail logins using the actual calling number. Having to enter a PIN every time I check voicemail is a real pain.

(Actually, I'd like my voicemail messages sent to me as an MMS, so I don't need to log in at all!)

1. "Spoof" is Kiwi slang for semen.

Friday, May 13, 2005

"Alternative" world map

I came across this map while looking for holiday flights.

I love their view of the world:
- Asia, in keeping with standard Kiwi practice, stops at Thailand. India and the Middle East have been entirely omitted.
- Former Yugoslavia has a land border with Israel - I think this would lead to yet more conflict..
- Mexico is now part of the USA
- The Balinese have conquered the rest of Indonesia
- Australia is the worlds largest landmass, closely followed by New Zealand

Saturday, May 07, 2005

If the UK had MMP

If the UK had an MMP system with a 5% threshold the seat allocations would be:
Labour 238
Conservative 218
Lib Dem 149
SNP 10
SinnFein 4
Plaid Cymru 4
Respect 2
Independents 2

Which would mean that a coalition of any two of the three largest parties would have been able to form a government. This would not look like much of a victory for Blair.

(This doesn't predict how people would actually vote under PR - a few smaller parties (Greens, UKIP for instance) would get 5% - the factions in the larger parties would probably be externalised as well).

Friday, May 06, 2005

Some small consolation

Tony Blair now has an overall majority - Labour are predicted to windup with a 60 seat majority.

The left-wing MP George Galloway, who was chucked out of Labour for allegedly cosying up to Saddam, has won Bethnal Green & Bow for the Respect party. I used to live in Bethnal Green (Shoreditch really - but it was in E2) but moved back to the country before I left the UK.

The Libs are headed for around 60 seats - consolidation, but I really think it's time they found a more charismatic leader. Paddy Ashdown was brilliant - unfortunately Chuckie seems to have been a bit of a retrograde step. Perhaps Ken Clarke could be persuaded to swap parties? Or a high profile figure from outside politics - like a musician or TV personality?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Grauniad tells you to vote Labour

The Guardian is advising its (British) readers to vote Labour on Thursday.

Their argument seems to be that apart from the war, new Labour is doing many good things for the country and that a vote for the Lib Dems risks letting the Tories in.

On the first argument, I don't just oppose Labour because of the war - I oppose them for ASBOs (i.e. jailing people for being irritating), ID cards, detention without trial of foreigners, expanding selective education, pandering to xenophobia and racism and a bunch of other policies that mark them down as urbanised, modernised, Tories.

On the second argument, they claim that in only a "tiny handful of seats " can one vote Lib Dem without risking a Tory being elected. They point at this list showing marginal seats that can swing between the 3 parties. I'm sorry, but their list is bogus. My former home in NE Hampshire isn't on their list. It's a fairly safe Tory seat with a majority over 50% - so if the Tories stayed where they were and everyone else voted Lib Dem, or Labour, they would still win. If, as is possible, a bunch of Tories voted Lib Dem as well as protesting Labour voters, then the seat *could* go Lib Dem. It isn't going Labour - not ever. What will probably happen is that it will stay Tory - my Liberal vote will at least go to swell the national total, and if they make some inroads into the Tory majority it will help build a platform for next time.

I don't see any reason to vote for a right-wing party that I fundamentally disagree with in order to avoid an even more right-wing party being elected. To suggest otherwise is dishonest, and doesn't reflect any credit on the Guardian.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Causes of wars

With all this remembrance of WW1, it's interesting to look at why it happened and what lessons we can learn for today.

I would disagree with No Right Turn that it was a "House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family squabble" - the various royal families had little in the way of personal disagreement and in Britain's case, relatively little influence on government.

The short version of the cause of WW1 is this:

Britain/France/Russia and Germany/Austro-Hungary/Turkey had formed competing alliances. They had various areas of conflict: notably the boundaries between France/Germany and the (still active) fault line between East and West in the Balkans.

These conflicts had been active for hundreds of years. Previous wars had been affairs of columns rather than fronts - two rival armies would march until they encountered each other and fought. This kind of war took time to start - troops had to be recruited, mobilised (on horseback) and brought to battle. The industrial revolution had facilitated a war of fronts - much larger numbers of troops could be mobilised by rail to enable rapid confrontation. Weapons had also evolved much more destructive power.

The key to success in modern warfare was seen as being to take the advantage and initiate a mobilisation plan for the enemy could resolve. For this reason, once one side began the march to war it could not be stopped. 1914 Europe also had few, if any, mechanisms to regulate international relations and prevent all out war.

After ww1 (and ww2) various such mechanisms *were* put in place, in the form of the League of Nations and, later and more succesfully, the UN. These were based on the idea that countries would obey various rules - most notably a self-imposed limit on their rights to initiate warfare.

These rules are now thought by some to be "inconvenient" or "quaint". The US/UK/Australian alliance has decided that it is reasonable to unilaterally attack countries that are considered objectionable, notwithstanding petty conditions of international legality. To me, the lessons of Gallipoli and the Somme are that we move down this path at our peril.