31 December 2008

Detect plagiarism and debunk hoaxes in seconds

The people at Google are very smart. It is one competitor that Microsoft has not been able to swallow up with the one thing they do best—and the only thing they are good at—marketing. And they have Microsoft very worried.

There is a lot more than meets the eye to the Google search box, and sometimes it is indespensible.

Detecting plagiarism

Suppose you had doubts about the originality of the following passage:

This year Marcian and Valentinian assumed the empire, and reigned seven winters. In their days Hengest and Horsa, invited by Wurtgern, king of the Britons to his assistance, landed in Britain in a place that is called Ipwinesfleet; first of all to support the Britons, but they afterwards fought against them. The king directed them to fight against the Picts; and they did so; and obtained the victory wheresoever they came. They then sent to the Angles, and desired them to send more assistance. They described the worthlessness of the Britons, and the richness of the land. They then sent them greater support. Then came the men from three powers of Germany; the Old Saxons, the Angles, and the Jutes. From the Jutes are descended the men of Kent, the Wightwarians (that is, the tribe that now dwelleth in the Isle of Wight), and that kindred in Wessex that men yet call the kindred of the Jutes. From the Old Saxons came the people of Essex and Sussex and Wessex. From Anglia, which has ever since remained waste between the Jutes and the Saxons, came the East Angles, the Middle Angles, the Mercians, and all of those north of the Humber. Their leaders were two brothers, Hengest and Horsa; who were the sons of Wihtgils; Wihtgils was the son of Witta, Witta of Wecta, Wecta of Woden. From this Woden arose all our royal kindred, and that of the Southumbrians also.

Copy and paste the text into a text editor to remove all the line breaks. In Notepad++, this can be done using the Join lines command under the Edit menu.

Now copy the line of text and paste it into the Google search box.

Clicking on Google Search reveals that the original source of this passage is the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. It appears on page 21 of the edition published by Kessinger Publishing, as shown in Google Book Search.

Debunking Hoaxes

If you receive a mass-forwarded message about some health hazard, missing person, superstition or petition, it is likely to be a hoax or inaccurate. It doesn't matter how unremarkable or believable the claim is, hoax messages are created for one reason only: to propagate. Anything worthwhile announcing to the general community is not delivered by e-mail; it is delivered via the mass media through television, newspapers, radio, websites and so on.

Here is one hoax warning that has been circulated around inboxes since February 2004:

Imagine: You walk across the parking lot, unlock your car and get inside. Then you lock all your doors, start the engine and shift into REVERSE. Habit! You look into the rear-view window to back out of your parking space and you notice a piece of paper, some sort of advertisement stuck to your rear window. So, you shift into PARK, unlock your doors and jump out of your vehicle to remove that paper (or whatever it is) that is obstructing your view . . . when you reach the back of your car, that is when the car-jackers jump out of nowhere . . . jump into your car and take off — your engine was running, your purse is in the car, and they practically mow you down as they speed off in your car.


Just drive away and remove the paper that is stuck to your window later ... and be thankful that you read this email and that you forwarded it to your friends.

If you search the Internet for this passage using the method above, you will find that this hoax has been documented on numerous sites, such as Sophos.

Blogger with axe to grind against the CCC

A blogger who goes by the pseudonym of Diogenes has launched a blog called CCC Exposed. At the top of the page there is a banner which reads "Western Australia's Greatest Corruption Scandal Exposed". The first post for this blog was made on November 11 last month.

The blogger uses a Swiss-based e-mail service called swissmail.org.

One of the alleged "victims" of the CCC happens to be, oddly enough, Brian Burke. His complaint is outlined under a post titled "Brian Burke speaks out".

28 December 2008

Brian Burke bemoans CCC for uncovering corruption

Brian Burke, that former premier, crook, lobbyist and political terrorist, refuses to go away and leave WA in peace. Perhaps we can do a deal with New South Wales and swap him for Nathan Rees, but that would be overrating Burke. Maybe 10 or 20 MPs from the government of NSW would make it an even deal.

He just appeared in an interview on Channel 9 blaming the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) for ruining the careers of politicians. He attempted to put a negative spin on something that is actually positive. The CCC didn't ruin their careers, Burke did.

Nobody should ever trust or come near this appalling character after everything he has done. No matter how convincing he sounds, a leopard never loses its spots, and he certainly hasn't lost his.

Government ignores its own study on ISP level filtering

A report on the feasibility of ISP level content filtering has been released that clearly highlights the inherent flaws of the government's planned Internet filtering scheme. The government's disregard for its own policy advice is a concern in itself.

The key findings are as follows:

Key Finding 1
There is a need for a clear policy on the goals of any filtering system that might be implemented.

Key Finding 2
The focus of the study was on content available in the form of web pages on the World Wide Web. This does not fully reflect the current dynamics of Internet based media.

Key Finding 3
Australia has a very heterogeneous ISP industry. Depending on the nature of a mandated filtering function, the impact on industry may be significant.

Key Finding 4
The industry is not well prepared for the implementation of content filtering systems. Our findings show that there is great disparity in the vision of how such systems should be implemented and the perceived level of difficulty in implementation.

Key Finding 5
There are many important legal and general business aspects that need to be addressed before a decision can be made on a filtering implementation. Frameworks need to be in place to ensure that the legal aspects and responsibility are adequately addressed.

Key Finding 6
It is evident that there are significant technical problems surrounding dynamic content filtering and its implementation in a nationwide ISP-based content filtering system. Current technology is unlikely to yield efficient and economically viable solutions for this purpose.
Furthermore, the problem is of a nature that requires a research effort before firm conclusions can be drawn on its effectiveness. As the accuracy of this form of filtering is still not high it could be expected that allowed content would be blocked inadvertently. For example, if child pornography is to be blocked, other pornographic content may also be blocked. Conversely, if all pornographic content is to be blocked, other content with a 'resemblance' in features will also be blocked; e.g. sex education, medical information, erotic content etc.

The report makes the following recommendations:

  • Define the objectives of filtering;
  • Consider applying the above objectives to a national filtering scheme with particular attention to be given to:
    • The role and scope of a filtering scheme;
    • The implementation options: i.e. ISPs either implementing their own filtering capability or utilising a national filtering service (refer to Key Finding 4).
    • The blacklist sources. International sources, such as INHOPE or the Internet Watch Foundation might be considered in conjunction with the ACMA blacklist;
    • The opt in/opt out framework. In particular, consider the implications of making the framework optional for ISPs;
    • The implications of making the national filtering scheme voluntary for the ISP industry, in line with international precedence.
  • Engage with industry to clarify how such a scheme would:
    • Interface with existing ISP infrastructure;
    • Impact on broadband performance;
    • Impact on costs;
    • Handle the issue of recovery of costs to industry as a result of implementation.
  • Undertake analysis to determine how vulnerable a national filtering scheme is to circumvention and to attempts to disable it.
  • Consult relevant stakeholders regarding the management of the nationwide scheme. Issues to consider include:
    • The legal aspects of such a scheme;
    • Compliance with Australian legislation;
    • Complaint procedures for incorrectly classified content;
    • The scope of filtering (to be undertaken in consultation with the general public): what is to be filtered; how often is filtering to be applied; how often will filter lists be updated and provided to ISPs; and
    • How will content be classified; what levels of transparency, scalability and security will apply to the classification process.
  • Mobile Internet service providers should be included in the consultation and planning activities.

24 December 2008

Letter to Senator Nick Michin

From: Justin Lee
To: Nick Minchin
Sent: Wed 24/12/2008 10:46 AM
Subject: Conroy's filtering fiasco

Hi Nick,

I was pleased with the comments (http://www.news.com.au/technology/story/0,28348,24840348-5014239,00.html) you made today about Conroy’s planned Internet filter. They echo the unanimous views of outraged users and professionals in the industry throughout the country. We condemn this policy not because of fears about freedom of speech, not because we fear losing access to streaming adult content, but because the means are not justified by an end that will never be achieved by this idiotic policy. It is a bad implementation of a bad policy with no moral or social justification.

He should be investigating how technology can be effectively used to find and prosecute those carrying out these evil crimes online, not just sending the URL to a black list whenever images showing sick individuals ruining the lives of defenceless children are discovered.

It is as if the policy was not bad enough, he had to make it worse by attempting to filter peer-to-peer traffic, which will be even more ineffective and detrimental to the quality of our Internet services. Perhaps someone should explain to him what encryption is. It appears it never dawned upon him that word might get around that the government is scrutinising the content of peer-to-peer traffic and users will just encrypt their data. He appears to be desperate to save his policy train wreck.

It is my honest opinion that he needs to be sacked. This is hardly the time for the government and businesses to be wasting money on a politically motivated scheme that will only trash a vital part of our communications infrastructure.

Have a happy and safe Christmas,
Justin Lee

13 December 2008

Child Wise's fundamentally flawed argument for Internet filtering

One organisation that backs the federal government's plans to censor the Internet is Child Wise. Bernadette McMenamin, CEO of Child Wise, uses the following statistics to justify her position in a media release:

Reports show that these filters are very effective, with the UK system operated by British Telecom blocking over 35,000 attempts per day. During 2006, the Norwegian system blocked 1.7million attempts to access child pornography. The Swedish system blocked 15,000 attempts during its first few weeks of operation and resulted in a 40% drop in reports of child pornographic sites to ECPAT Sweden's Internet hotline. Telenor, a large European mobile phone operator, has been filtering child pornography on their 3G phones since June 2005. Each country uses their local authorities such as the police to determine what sites are blocked.

These statistics are quite misleading. The "40% drop in reports of child pornographic sites" is rather meaningless—it states nothing about the impact on the distribution of child pornography via peer-to-peer file sharing, which is the typical method that is used to share illegal content on the Internet. The big entertainment companies certainly understand this and they have fought to protect their sales by taking legal action against the makers of peer-to-peer file sharing software. Studies show that peer-to-peer traffic consumes a large percentage of Internet bandwidth. According to a report released by Sandvine, peer-to-peer traffic consumes 61% of upstream bandwidth and 22% of downstream bandwidth. Also, one doesn't need any technical expertise to realise that the number of illegal sites reported cannot be used as a performance measure on its own as we are unable to compare it to the total number of illegal sites that are in operation, which probably dwarf those that are discovered and reported. The same can be said about the "1.7million attempts to access child pornography", but what makes this figure more deceptive is that it only includes accesses to known illegal sites using a server-based protocol; it does not include accesses via peer-to-peer file sharing.

There is no doubting that Ms McMenamin has the welfare of children at heart in her efforts to introduce ISP level filtering across the board, but her case is fundamentally flawed.

Ms McMenamin provides contact details for media enquires on Child Wise's website:

Bernadette McMenamin AO
Chief Executive Officer
Phone:  +61 3 9645 8911
Mobile: +61 419 397 689
Fax:    +61 3 9645 8922
E-mail: office@childwise.net

12 December 2008

RBA governor shoots himself down in flames

Many economists will be outraged by the following statement made by Glenn Stevens, Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, at his address to the Australian Business Economists Annual Dinner:

I do not know anyone who predicted this course of events. This should give us cause to reflect on how hard a job it is to make genuinely useful forecasts. What we have seen is truly a ‘tail’ outcome – the kind of outcome that the routine forecasting process never predicts. But it has occurred, it has implications, and so we must reflect on it.

A number of economists have been warning about this for years, including

It makes you wonder if he listens to anybody outside his board meetings.

29 November 2008

Kevin 747

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been getting carried away with his foreign policy fantasies at the expense of Australia's future.

Mr Rudd never misses an opportunity to be photographed with the world's economic and political heavyweights. Notwithstanding the current global challenges, there is no justification for spending 59 days overseas within the first year of taking office. John Howard, in contrast, spent just 18 days overseas in his first year as Prime Minister.

Year Month         Day   Location                  Nights Source
2007 December     8 – 16 East Timor and Indonesia     8     1
2007 December    20 – 24 Kuwait, Iraq, United Arab    4     2
                         Emirates and Afghanistan
2008 February      15    East Timor                   0     2
2008 March        6 – 8  Papua New Guinea and         2     2
                         Solomon Islands
2008 March/April 27 – 13 USA, Belgium, Romania, UK   17     2
                         and China
2008 June         8 – 14 Japan and Indonesia          6     2
2008 July         8 – 14 Indonesia, Malaysia          6     3
                         and Japan
2008 August       8 – 12 China, Korea and             4     3
2008 August      18 – 21 New Zealand and Niue         3     3
2008 September   22 – 27 United States of America     5     3
                         (New York)
2008 November    13 – 17 United States of America     4     3
                             Total Number of Nights  59

1. Parliamentarians Travel Paid for by Dept. of Finance, Tabled June 2008, Page 375
2. Senate Estimates May 2008, Finance & Public Administration, Question F19
3. Sourced from general media – no official documentation available to date

Rudd in Niue While overseas, Mr Rudd has

  • made a dubious commitment to disarm the world of nuclear weapons;
  • announced plans of an EU-style Asian community without even giving our Asian neighbours the basic courtesy of advising them beforehand;
  • handed Toyota a $35 million grant, not knowing how this large sum of taxpayers' money would be spent; and
  • delivered a six-minute speech at a G8 meeting.

23 November 2008

Preventing the unsightly yellow highlighting caused by AutoFill

I was asked to prevent the AutoFill feature on the Google Toolbar from highlighting the fields on our website's registration page with yellow. It can be easily switched off, but many users will be unaware of this.

We found one approach to the problem on the Web that involved using JavaScript—far from ideal, and it apparently didn't prevent highlighting of drop down lists. As it turns out, there is an easier way to resolve the issue.

The key is to understand how AutoFill works. It identifies the fields that are highlighted by searching for keywords such as name and email in the source HTML. By eliminating these keywords without changing the appearance of the page we can prevent AutoFill from changing the colour of the input controls on forms.

A simple example of a form with highlighted fields is shown below.

<form action="/" method="post">
      <td><input type="text" name="name" /></td>
      <td><input type="text" name="email" /></td>
  <input type="submit" value="Submit" />

To prevent the yellow highlighting, we must do the following:

  • For displayed text, break the keywords using empty span tags.
  • For keywords in the HTML not displayed to the user, such as attributes, rename them.

These changes fool AutoFill so that the input controls are rendered without the yellow highlighting.

<form action="/" method="post">
      <td>Na<span />me:</td>
      <td><input type="text" name="na" /></td>
      <td>Em<span />ail:</td>
      <td><input type="text" name="em" /></td>
  <input type="submit" value="Submit" />

21 November 2008

It won't just be your boss browsing through your records

Those who voted for the ALP in the last federal election believing that they have become the new Third Way force in Australian politics will be disappointed. The Rudd government has produced classic Labor policies, including reducing incentives to participate in the workforce instead of living off welfare, raising taxes on luxury vehicles without considering how the workers employed in this industry would be affected and ISP level Internet filtering—a useless answer to a social problem imposed by government that will fail. Now, they have submitted to union demands that violate your basic rights.

Joe McDonald and Kevin Reynolds, CFMEU officials

Julia Gillard, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, is finalising legislation that would give unions unfettered access to the employment records of non-union employees. In response, Michael Keenan, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, said:

Employees should have a right to decide who sees their personal employment records and who does not.

Non Government third parties, such as unions, should not be given any access to an employee’s information, unless the employee has given consent.

Unions are clearly looking for access to employee records to manipulate workers to try and build up their rapidly dying membership bases.

Ms Gillard’s backflips to appease the union movement and the Labor backbench will cost Australians jobs and do untold harm to the Australian economy as we navigate through difficult economic times due to the global financial crisis.

19 November 2008

Rudd's war on everything: the anatomy of political spin

Kevin Rudd's war on everything is one of the less sophisticated examples of his talent for political spin, and it became the source of amusement during question time when Joe Hockey, Shadow Minister for Finance, Competition Policy & Deregulation, asked him about the numerous wars that he has declared since becoming Prime Minister a year ago:

Mr HOCKEY (3.09 pm)—My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to his 2007 declared war on drugs, his January 2008 declared war on inflation and yesterday’s declared war on unemployment. I also refer the Prime Minister to the 2007 ‘Rudd’s war on whalers’, the February 2008 ‘A war cabinet to fight disadvantage’, his February 2008 war on downloads, his March 2008 war on pokies, his May war against doping in sport and his October war on bankers’ salary deals. Prime Minister, how goes the war on everything?

Mr Rudd has mastered the usage of keywords to powerful effect. While some voters found Rudd's repetition of phrases such as "education revolution" and "working families" during his 2007 election campaign rather monotonous, others found them inspiring. It might be difficult to accept that merely selecting the right words and using them as frequently as possible with barely any policy detail can win an election, but we must remember that campaigns are designed to appeal to the voters who will determine the outcome of an election, not everybody. A voter might base their decision on little more than 30 seconds of an interview they saw on the 7.30 Report, which they never watch except when changing channels.

A new mantra that Labor has added to their arsenal of spin is "decisive action", which started to become common when the global economic outlook began to deteriorate. It appeared 16 times in the Hansard of the House of Representatives for November 12: 14 instances from Labor MPs, once in a quote from the The Australian, and once by Liberal MP Tony Abbot:

Mr ABBOTT (Warringah) (10.36 am)—It is always a pleasure to follow the member for Werriwa, who is a strong representative of his constituents and is doing his best to defend the government. I have to say that ‘decisive action’ has joined ‘working families’ as the government’s cliche du jour. The fact is: this is belated action, at least insofar as pensioners are concerned, because the opposition has been calling for strong action to help pensioners since very early on in the year when it became clear that prices were skyrocketing, particularly the prices faced by pensioners and others on low incomes.

16 November 2008

Was Rudd's phone leak a slight against Bush?

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd showed his contempt for parliament during question time when Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull pressed him for some basic answers on the damaging leak of the exchange between himself and President Bush in which Mr Bush supposedly asked what the G20 was. When asked about apples, Mr Rudd talks about oranges:

Mr TURNBULL (2.34 pm)—My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the account in the Australian on 25 October of a highly confidential telephone conversation between him and the President of the United States, an account which acclaimed the Prime Minister’s diplomatic knowledge as much as it denigrated that of the US President. Given the Prime Minister now says the Australian article was factually wrong, why did he take no steps to correct the record until after the White House took the unprecedented step of expressly rejecting this self-serving story in the Washington Post three days later?
Mr RUDD—I thank the member for Wentworth for his question. The purpose of my call to the President of the United States was to discuss the importance of the G20. The President was fully aware that was what the conversation was about. We supported the decision by the President to host that meeting, which I will be attending over the course of this weekend—on Saturday. It is an important meeting, it is important for the country’s future, and we will be cooperating closely not just with the government of the United States but with other governments on the key challenges on the global agenda, namely, the global financial crisis, global financial regulation and global economic growth. We will get on with the business of conducting what is an appropriate level of policy coordination with our friends and partners. We will do so in the future. It is the right course of action and we have our sleeves rolled up and intend to get on with it.

Source: House of Representatives Official Hansard

Mr Turnbull asked four questions on the matter, and on each occasion Mr Rudd responded with blather that was irrelevant to the question. Evasive answers from politicians are certainly not unheard of, but usually they are relevant. Rudd wastes question time delivering political commentary in an attempt to make his silence on the matter less conspicuous.

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Bush gave Rudd the impression that he did not share the same enthusiasm for a summit of the G20, which Australia is a member of, and consequently aroused resentment from our narcissistic Prime Minister. Rudd is a man consumed by fantasies of grandiosity and would be highly sensitive to anything that undermines the vision that he has for himself. If Bush preferred to limit discussions of the financial crisis to the more prestigious G8, which would exclude Australia, then it is quite possible that Bush provoked Rudd's vindictive streak and Rudd sought to devalue Bush by leaking aspects of the conversation that would embarrass him and draw more attention to the G20 group of nations.

We have to wonder, incidentally, why Mr Rudd is still referring to Mr Turnbull as the Member for Wentworth, as shown in the transcript above, even though he became Leader of the Opposition two months ago.

26 July 2008

Google Maps beats online Yellow Pages hands down

The Yellow Pages is just one example of a slow moving dinosaur facing extinction because of its failure to adapt to change. While its end might be inevitable, the current design of their website and the search algorithms employed to generate the results will hasten the decline of its use.

In the past I always tried the online Yellow Pages from my mobile first when I'm on the go, only to be left frustrated by all the unnecessary navigation and confusing results that are full of duplicates. Mobile Google Maps, on the other hand, usually gave me the names and locations of the businesses I was seeking effortlessly, and when it didn't, it was because Google's data was not as up to date as that of the Yellow Pages.

Suppose you were looking for a print shop in the Perth CBD, which has a post code of 6000. A map with the contact details of all the relevant businesses in the area is returned instantly after hitting the search button.

When the same search is entered into the Yellow Pages, the user is swamped with a plethora of categories, including Leasing Services &/or Consultants and Video & DVD Production &/or Duplicating Services. It is quite unnecessary to list every conceivable category that can be linked to the keyword in the most obscure of ways. If the user was looking for cheque printing, they can narrow the search by simply entering "cheque printing".

In analysing the requirements of a piece of software, engineers should strive for the least number of features that offer the most functionality. Unfortunately, they tend to give us the most number of features with the least amount of functionality, which benefits neither the customer nor the software maker. The former, however, is actually more difficult and requires more thought.

14 July 2008

Channel 10 shows mercy on Australian viewers: Big Brother to be axed

I don't think Channel 10 should have axed Big Brother; it shouldn't have been aired in the first place. While it satisfied the voyeuristic appetite of some people who were prepared to sit in front of their TV for hours on end just watching people be people, the rest of us were left in awe at the new precedent it set in trash TV. If there is anything on TV that could put you into a vegetative state and eventually send you brain dead, it would have to be Big Brother. At least the test pattern has music.

Unfortunately, we may not have seen the last of this awful show, brought to you courtesy of Endemol Southern Star, as there are plans to sell it to other networks. Hopefully, Channel 10 will fill the vacancy in its schedule with something less asinine.

8 June 2008

Means test devastates solar panel industry and costs jobs

In an extraordinary move, Dean Mighell, Victorian state secretary of the Electrical Trades Union, has written to the Liberal Party expressing his support for their efforts to have the Labor government reverse the means test for solar panel rebates. They have been joined by the Greens in their condemnation of the policy which is devastating the solar panel industry and has resulted in job losses.

The previous Howard government introduced a rebate of up to $8,000 for the installation of solar panels. In the last Budget, the Labor government imposed a means test that restricts the rebate to households earning less than $100,000 a year.

The explanation offered by the Labor government for this monumental act of fiscal foolishness is ludicrous. On ABC radio, Environment Minister Peter Garrett said "This was a program that was very popular, it was a program that was overheating." In reality, we are witnessing a prime example of Labor's economic mismanagement that has resulted in workers losing their livelihoods. Many businesses in the solar panel industry have reported losing up to 80% of their contracts and have had to lay off employees.

Last year when Labor was in opposition, Mr Garrett and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced their policy on solar panels on the premises of Solartec Renewables, a family business located near Canberra. Mr Rudd made the following statement:

"We need to boost renewable energies in general. Solar is the most greenhouse-friendly energy available on the planet and, therefore, we just need to take some practical steps to make it possible for as many families as possible to invest in this."

Since the last Budget, the means test has ruined Solartec Renewables. They have lost $500,000 worth of orders and have had to terminate the employment of three of their staff.

Charges dropped against former part-time $630,000 public servant

Jim McGinty, Attorney-General and Health Minister for Western Australia, would be more than satisfied with the decision of Robert Cock, Director of Public Prosecutions, to not prosecute Dr Neale Fong, former Director General of Health.

The appointment of Dr Fong by Mr McGinty to reform WA's troubled health system has been a major embarrassment for the Carpenter government. Despite having to juggle such a demanding position with his commitment as chairman of the WA Football Commission, he was paid $630,000 a year, more than any other public servant in the nation. He set up his own bureaucracy at elite offices on Alvan Street in Subiaco, which costed $450,000 to fit out and $1 million to lease over four years, and wasted taxpayers' money on a string of costly external consultants. Dr Fong resigned in disgrace after the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) made adverse findings against him relating to his relationship with lobbyist Brian Burke. A report tabled in Parliament states that Dr Fong:

  • Engaged in serious misconduct by disclosing a restricted matter to Mr Burke, namely that the Commission was investigating a senior Department of Health officer, Mr Michael Moodie.
  • Engaged in misconduct by telling his Minister that he had no recollection of any email communication between himself and Mr Burke and had no personal relationship with Mr Burke while the Commission found evidence to the contrary.
  • Engaged in misconduct by failing to report the disclosure to him by Mr Burke of what Mr Burke claimed to be confidential Cabinet information.

Despite the findings of the CCC and admitting that the prospects of a successful prosecution were good, Mr Cock decided not to pursue charges against Dr Fong. He said that the likely penalty of a $60,000 fine was minor compared to the humiliation he has already suffered because of the investigation. Unfortunately, Dr Fong now sees the decision as a vindication of his actions. At a press conference, he stated "I was always confident that I had not committed an offence and that confidence was supported by my legal advice."

Leader of the state opposition, Troy Buswell, said the move meant there was one law for the rich and one for the poor in Western Australia.

2 June 2008

Labor loses the plot with FuelWatch

Labor has again shown its indifference to small business and is happy to allow large corporations dictate prices. Rudd has chosen to proceed with a national implementation of Western Australia's FuelWatch scheme against the advice given by the following departments:

  • Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet
  • Department of Resources and Energy
  • Department of Finance
  • Department of Industry

They warn of the possibility that the winners will be the large fuel retailers, and the losers the small independent service stations and consumers, which include Labor's "working families".

Treasurer Wayne Swan's response to criticism of the government's decision to ignore the advice of these departments shows that they are rank amateurs in economic management. He stated that they chose to listen to their own "common sense" instead of the "bureaucratic" and "academic" advice of the above four key government departments.

The Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) tabled in Federal Parliament by Assistant Treasurer Chris Bowen clearly states that, as has been demonstrated in Western Australia, the scheme enables fuel retailers with large networks of service stations to employ a strategy of rolling price leaders, putting smaller independent operators at a competitive disadvantage. Ultimately, this could affect motorists with higher fuel prices.

The economic modelling of the analysis released by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which the government uses as the foundation for its policy, is highly questionable. Professor Sinclair Davidson from the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), states that "the ACCC analysis is not convincing," and "the introduction of Coles into petrol retailing totally dominates the effect that the ACCC attributes to FuelWatch." The ACCC has not released the data and has been vague on the econometric techniques used in their analysis. As the Rudd government will soon consider whether to reappoint Graeme Samuel as the chairman of the ACCC when his current term ends on July 31, relying upon the findings of this analysis alone is very naive, but politically this is a convenient option for the government.

3 May 2008

Rudd to axe 70 officers supporting small business

Last year I made a post about Rudd's razor gang that would target Australian government workers. It has come to light that the axe will fall on 70 small business field officers.

Labor has always claimed to be the champion of Aussie battlers – common every day Australians that work hard to make ends meet. Unfortunately, Labor does not hold small business operators in the same esteem, many of whom work staggering hours to stay afloat. In June 2004, of the 1.1 million full-time small business operators:

  • 65.1% usually worked between 35 and 50 hours each week;
  • 30.2% usually worked between 51 and 75 hours each week; and
  • 4.7% usually worked more than 75 hours each week.

Source: Characteristics of Small Business, Australia (Reissue), 2004Australian Bureau of Statistics

This is hardly cutting "fat" in administration so that more can be "delivered to front-line services instead", as Rudd put it before the election. He has made a cut to government services that will directly affect hard working Australians whose businesses employ 3.6 million workers and generate 30% of the nation's economic activity.

27 April 2008

A slippery snake

We were given to believe that our Prime Minister stood up to Beijing by not allowing its "flame attendants" to accompany the torch barer during the torch relay:

"The advice that I have got from the Australian Federal Police is that the physical security of the Olympic torch will be provided by Australian security officials only."

This certainly wasn't the understanding of the so-called flame attendants, and the AFP had to keep them at bay during the Canberra leg of the torch relay.

Questions are not only being raised about the fruitfulness of the 2020 Summit, but Kevin Rudd's honesty about the whole process that has been followed in conducting the talkfest. The summit report included under Top Ideas suggestions for one-stop community child care centres across the nation and the establishment of a community corps to assist graduates in paying off their HECS-HELP debt. These ideas were never discussed during the summit of supposedly the nation's 1000 greatest minds; they are Rudd's proposals, and he has mislead the public into believing that these policies received backing from our experts during this event.

Rudd has an interesting approach to handling difficult questions. When asked a question about his connections with Chinese businessman Ian Tang in parliament, he replied out aloud "I have no such recollection," and then finishes the sentence with "other than it being some sort of humorous conversation," so softly that it can be barely heard.

During parliament question time, he held out and quoted from a letter, claiming it was "addressed to you know who: it is the member for Flinders". This was a deliberate lie made to gain political points: it was not addressed to Liberal member Greg Hunt but his own minister Peter Garrett.

26 April 2008

Charge Bush, Blair and Howard with war crimes: Mahathir

It seems former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad still won't let go of his grudge against the West and he is more out of touch with reality than ever. He has called for US President George W Bush, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard to be charged with war crimes. No, he won't attempt to bring them before The Hague, he will try them in absentia in a war crimes tribunal of his own creation. While the tribunal won't have any legal authority, he hopes to make some mark on history:

"The accused may disregard. There will be (other) people who will take it seriously, and historians will attach an epithet that they will not like. They will go down in history as war criminals."

The only thing that anyone would care to notice or remember is that Mahathir was the clown who set up this do-it-yourself war crimes tribunal.

Mahathir still doesn't get it. Those who have heard of him outside of Malaysia just see him as a corrupt ex-Prime Minister who dismally failed to influence the international community with his theatrical tirades against Australia and the West in general. Outside of Malaysia the convictions would just be received with amusement.

Australians might remember this outburst from Mahathir in 2002:

"This country stands out like a sore thumb trying to impose its European values in Asia as if it is the good old days when people can shoot aborigines without caring about human rights."

Howard, as always, gave Mahathir the harshest response of all: none. Mahathir was constantly seeking attention with his provocative rhetoric and he never got it.

16 April 2008

The customer service of our telecommunications carriers, or lack thereof

The overall quality of our major telecommunications carriers' customer service is appalling. From a technical standpoint, their services are adequate, but what is the point in having a service without staff competent enough to deliver them? One would think that providing staff who are aware of and understand the available phone models, services, phone plans and management of accounts would not be that difficult, but unfortunately based on my experiences with our major carriers over the past decade the vast majority of the people I have dealt with do not even possess these basic skills, and this is no exaggeration. None more so than at Optus.

It has been over five months since I purchased my new mobile phone under a contract and Optus still cannot set up the billing on my plan correctly. At first, I had no Internet access, and after being made to do the rounds of their departments, the complaints department finally enabled my Internet access within minutes after fighting for over a week to get the company to take some proper action on this problem. Not only did the complaints department enable the Internet access on my plan, they apparently put me onto a second plan, so I was being billed under two plans simultaneously - one for the price of two.

To compound the problem, their staff can hardly be described as proactive, keen to use their initiative and take any responsibility when dealing with customers' problems. Clearly, there are issues in the management of their service to customers because all too often Customer Service and Technical Support have referred me to the other department even after it is explained that I am being sent back to the one that originally took my call. When asked why I am being sent back to the same department the answer is simply "I don't know". This is just downright silly. If one department has made a mistake, do you send the customer back not knowing if the same person is going to handle the call? Should you make them dial the number again? Absolutely not. The appropriate action is obvious if you use some common sense and courtesy: put the customer on hold, call the other department to find out what has happened, then decide on the right course of action. Otherwise, as has been my experience, nothing gets done.

I have taken my case to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. The dispute is presently at Level 1 and if a resolution isn't found within two weeks, the dispute proceeds to Level 2.

2 February 2008

Apartment tower complex to replace Cinema City in the Perth CBD

You may have grown used to seeing new apartments rising up everywhere you walk in the city centre, but there is one development that is about to commence that you will surely notice: a 27 storey apartment complex on the former site of Cinema City. Located just opposite the convict-built Perth Town Hall and adjacent to the Hay Street Mall, it will be an inner city lover's dream. The 150 apartments will be built on top of 7 floors consisting of a shopping arcade, restaurants, coffee shops, wine bars, office space, a gymnasium and swimming pool. Every apartment will have either one or two parking spaces in the basement, each worth at least $50,000.

The prices for the apartments start at $600,000 and construction is expected to be completed in March 2011.

3 January 2008

Government's plan to censor the Internet will be a waste of money

The Australian government's plans to censor the Internet by blocking access to selected websites will achieve little except increase the costs of Internet services while degrading performance. Anyone with a basic understanding of how the Internet is constructed will tell you that any attempt to restrict users' access to sites across the globe will fail. The Internet owes its remarkable success to its decentralisation, open architecture and adaptiveness, and for these reasons it is futile to attempt to regulate users' access to data that is normally accessible by the general public.

The cliché "it is better than doing nothing" does not justify this dumb policy, because the time and money spent implementing the filter can be put to better use in other approaches to combating child pornography, such as law enforcement, where the perpetrators are actually identified and prosecuted, not ignored (of course, this would mean more money would have to come out of the government's own budget, rather than that of ISPs).

So, how easy would it be to circumvent the Internet filter? Here is one way it can be done in two simple steps:

  1. Browse to an anonymous public web proxy hosted overseas, such as Vtunnel.
  2. Enter the URL of the desired site and click Begin browsing.

Some will argue that this loophole can be overcome by simply blacklisting anonymous web proxies, but this is just one method and there are countless other ways that Internet filters can be circumvented, such as VPN, SSH and various other SSL-based tunnelling methods, as well as freely available technologies developed solely for this purpose. Furthermore, if anonymous web proxies were blacklisted, Australian Internet users would justifiably be outraged because it would be encroaching upon their basic right to online privacy, which unfortunately does not exist when traffic is unencrypted.

Most of the individuals who are determined to obtain or distribute child pornography via the Internet would be well aware of the severe penalties and shame for their crimes and would already be adopting measures to avoid detection, making it difficult to maintain up-to-date lists of sites providing such material. We do not know how much of this material is downloaded via server-based systems. Users obtaining child pornography through decentralised file sharing networks will be totally unaffected by filters that only target dedicated servers.

The intentions might be good (we should hope so), but the end does not justify the means, especially when the end will not be achieved.