More is less

February 19, 2008

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any more stupiderer, a recent US university massacre has apparently triggered a push for more guns on the campus:

IN WHAT seems a distinctly American response to a distinctly American problem, last week’s Illinois university shooting appears only to have spurred a push to allow students to carry guns.

An internet-based lobby, Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, wants lawmakers to overrule university boards that ban guns on campus, so that staff and students could arm themselves against mass killers.

I am literally speechless. (Lucky I can still type.) Where do you start with insane troll logic like this?

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War on music piracy. Yaar!

February 19, 2008

Avast maties! Thar be poi-rats on them thar inter-toobs! Yar-har!

AS THE internet threatens to kill the established music industry, the Rudd Government is considering a three-strikes policy against computer users who download songs illegally.

The Government will examine new legislative proposals being unveiled in Britain this week to target people who download films and music illegally. Internet service providers (ISPs) there might be legally required to take action against users who access pirated

Interesting. I wonder how are they planning to approach it this time?

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linux.conf.au on $0 a day

February 1, 2008

tux.jpg

Linux Conf is back in Melbourne.

I live here and I couldn’t even get within sniffing distance of tickets, so if like me you’re hungry to get your nerd on, they are posting video and slide files on the website as the presentations take place. Yum.

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Another brilliant essay by Bruce Schneier, examining the false dichotomy of security versus privacy.

Back in Melbourne and I’m in full catchup mode. With any luck (har har) I should be back in the blog related swing of things in a day or so, but in the interim I thought I’d mention an odd moment I had at the airport terminal.

The flight home was a little bumpy due to some strong winds, and as I wobbled out to wait at the baggage pickup I found myself perusing a brightly colored “dangerous goods” poster. You know, the ones that describe which goods should “never fly” and what you can’t take on board a flight in hand luggage. Immediately a couple of things struck me:

  1. What on earth was the sign doing in the baggage pick up area? It’s a bit like advertising birth control at an antenatal class.
  2. I was bemused to discover that along with the usual warnings about fireworks, tanks of petrol and radioactive materials, there was an explicit warning about spears. I mean you have to wonder don’t you – do they get a lot of people trying to take spears on board flights? Where do you even get a spear? And where would you be taking it?

Then my daughter wandered over and glanced at the poster. She looked confused and asked me why an umbrella was dangerous? I had to look again, because I hadn’t even noticed. And I had to stop and think about that for a moment – I’ve gotten so used to stupid airline carry on baggage security theater that my brain’s automatic filtering software considers classification of an umbrella as dangerous to be normal.

But it’s not normal.

There is nothing normal about my grandmother not being able to knit on a seven hour flight, or my little sister having to throw away her nail file because she forgot to put it in her checked luggage. There is nothing normal about a mother having to drink her own expressed breast milk, or infants being stopped at security because their names are on a no-fly list. It’s just that the longer something stupid is allowed continue without being challenged, the less people seem to notice it as abnormal.

I denote this as the Inverse Square Law of Stupidity – the degree to which a person will notice stupidity is in inverse proportion to the length of time over which that stupidity takes place, and the degree to which it is not acceptable that it be exposed to scrutiny.

(In)security

May 28, 2007

Earlier this week I told a story about my bank’s rather poor handling of providing me with a replacement credit card. I was, to say the least, somewhat disappointed by the whole affair, but I had decided to move on. It was all over, I was turning the other cheek and I felt good about it.

And now this – my wife just called to inform me that my replacement debit card, my replacement credit card, her replacement credit card and all three PIN notifications just arrived in the mail. Together.

Words escape me. Polite words anyway.

Have a seat children, gather close and let me tell you a tale of security, agenda, externality and banks.

About a month ago I went to my bank (who for the purposes of this story we shall refer to as Bank X) to order a replacement card for my credit and savings accounts. My current card had seen hard use and was in serious danger of splitting into two thinner and infinitely less useful constituent parts. I was informed that it should arrive in 10 working days or so.

Yesterday it occurred to me that I had seen no sign of a shiny new card, so I called the central Bank X helpline to inquire about it’s status. The operator was able to tell me that the card had been issued, and that we had something of a problem because the card did not require any form of activation to be used.

I asked if he was seriously telling me that the bank’s idea of credit card security involved sending a usable card through the ordinary mail service, and hoping that it wasn’t intercepted?
He said “yep”.
I said “good grief”.

He then advised me that the card would need to be canceled, along with my wife’s card for the same credit account. Naively I did not realise (though nor was it made clear to me) that this was because the entire account would be shut down and reissued with a new account number. Thus when I attempted to transfer credit funds onto my savings account account I was somewhat surprised to discover that the account was gone. I called back and was informed that the account had indeed been shut down and I would not have access to it until I received the new card.

In 7 working days.

At this stage I am afraid that I kind of passed the point of calm understanding. I have several bills that are directly debited from the visa account, and now faced the possibility of these payments defaulting. I also have online orders with Amazon (which are only charged when the item is delivered into stock and about to ship) and if my current order is canceled I will have to wait up to another month just for it to be restocked. At no stage during the process was it made clear to me that the whole account would be inaccessible until I received the new card. No suggestion of transferring funds before the closure or making alternate arrangements for any direct debits was offered. Nor was any attempt made to offer useful suggestions for resolving the issue or escalating my dissatisfaction.

So with no suggestions forthcoming from the call center (other than the brilliant and utterly useless observation that “it can be a good idea to have a second card for emergencies” – duh! That’s what the first card was for!) I found a number for a customer service line which I then called to at least register some kind of formal complaint. I was served by an operator who was not able to get me the card any quicker, but could get me the new account/card number and expiry date the next day when they were reissued.

While this provided a partial solution allowing me to change payment details with my direct debits, it has not been sufficient to provide me with a satisfactory resolution. It is appalling that the system for issuing a replacement card is so brittle and tightly coupled that the basic failure case (of a card going missing in transit) has an enormously disruptive consequence for the customer, through no fault of their own. I understand that the convenience (to both Bank X and the average customer) of sending out the new card without any safeguards likely far outweighs the inconvenience of what was described to me as a fairly rare event, but if this is the case surely such a rare event should have a useful response case by which the situation might be resolved more expeditiously (rather than just treating it as a card lost by the customer). If the consequences of such an (even rare) event are so dire, then they could be pointed out to the customer when ordering the new card, and an option provided of picking up the card from a branch or having the card sent by registered post for some additional fee.

I have a salary being paid in the next few days and thus will not now financially suffer unduly from the lack of access to my account, but if this had occurred early in the month I would have completely lost access to my funds for up to two weeks. Such a situation would have extremely dire consequences and was only avoided through sheer blind luck, rather than the bank’s systems or any conscious design. It seems to me that the cost of this situation (both financially and in time and convenience) is an externality to the bank, a cost not born by the business itself, and as such merits little attention. I shouldn’t be surprised really, Bruce Schneier has long pointed out that security and associated systems are at the mercy of agenda and financial pragmatism, but in a supposedly market driven world it is always a little bit of a shock to be shown just how little one person’s opinion can matter.