1. April 27, 2009

      The Nerdery: s03e05: POLi

      So over the holiday I got another nice letter from the NZTA, telling me they want another $210 for the pleasure of having a motor vehicle for another year. Oh well, another thing to go online and do. I find online transactions to be wonderful – they’re instantaneous, convenient, and incredibly secure.

      But this time round they’ve sent out a flier for their online services – which I always use anyway. Why is it that no company/government agency ever remembers that I already use their online services, and send me emails? But on this flier they included an advert for a service called POLi. I was curious, and did some digging. Turns out, POLi is an application which you download, and once installed interacts with your browser for arranging direct debit payments from your bank account. You click some buttons, select your bank, type your username and password and the application takes care of entering the receiver’s bank details and payment amount.

      … Now, just in case you’ve missed the plot, lets rewind a bit, say a decade ago. Since the inception of online transactions, banks, security companies, and governments have been warning us not to disclose our passwords to anyone. They’ve been warning us not to install software that could compromise security. They’ve been warning us to only interact with trusted services; i.e., the bank providing us with a bank account. And so I have two very simple questions; WHY IN BLUE HELL IS THIS SERVICE ALLOWED TO EXIST AT ALL, AND WHY IS A GOVERNMENT AGENCY PROMOTING IT?!?!?!?!

      This is exactly the kind of thing that all those warnings are supposed to be preventing us from doing; giving our details out to someone we can’t trust. No, you can’t trust POLi. They don’t hold your money. They don’t process the transaction. They aren’t a bank and don’t try to meet the requirements of being one. They are simply a private company which people are handing over their passwords to. It’s reckless and irresponsible, especially for a government agency. It’s insane that it’s even considered an option. Those capable of using online banking are more than capable of entering in an account number and payment amount.

      Also, there are reasons why credit cards are preferred for online transactions; speed, broad acceptance, and if there is any hint of fraud you can arrange to get your money back. Direct debit is popular in this country because it’s a way of avoiding the per-transaction fees of credit cards, and apart from having a bank account theres nothing required to set up. But you don’t get any of the security against fraud.

      I’ve heard of applications like POLi before. It’s spyware, which is often used for fraud and identity theft. It’s inconceivable that anyone would knowingly install spyware, so why is POLi being promoted?

    2. October 16, 2008

      The Nerdery: s02e23: On 2009

      First, a public service announcement. The SCMS Pub Crawl will be happening on the 17th of October. A splendid time is guaranteed for all, as has been the case year after year. Free/cheap drinks and lots of free food, and of course the always popular pub crawl t-shirt (which will NOT feature Comic Sans MS this year, graphic designer types can wear it without shame). Being part of the SCMS is not a requirement, we always welcome our Science / Engineering counterparts, or anyone else who has a geeky tendency. We need to know numbers by the 13th. $18 with t-shirt or $3 without, collect your tickets from Bronwyn Poki in R.G.22.

      The year is quickly pulling to a close, like it does year after year, and so begins my plans to move between lovely air-conditioned rooms, ensuring that I’m not at all exposed to the harmful UV rays of summer. It always surprises me that it happens, in the same way most nerds were surprised when 01/01/2000 happened. It’s not as if it’s something you can count down to or anything. And so if I’ve done my math correctly, this is the last ever time you’ll be able to read The Nerdery this year. I should end with a reflection into all that’s happened this year, unfortunately I still haven’t learned how to program reflections correctly (The Earth language is worse than Java), and I can just barely do them with Algebra. So instead, here’s a short list of what I’m looking forward to in revision 2009;

      I’m looking forward to getting rid of the horrible Windows thing in my pocket and getting a Google Android-based thingy. No, not iPhone. The iPhone, although pretty, sucks when compared to what the Android is going to be able to do. I’m looking forward to Internet Explorer 8, how much better the web will be (standards-wise), but not how slowly it will be adoped by users. I’m looking forward to the end of people’s hatred for Vista as Windows Mojave hits the shelves. And finally, I’m greatly anticipating playing Duke Nukem Forever.

      I look forward to spending another year hunched over the keyboard with your, dear reader. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

    3. The Nerdery: s02e22: On Internet Explorer 6

      First and foremost, the people at WAND are gauging interest for running a JNCIA course over a week of the summer holidays. For those who don’t know what JNCIA is, it’s an entry level networking qualification from Juniper Networks (comparable to the CCNA from Cisco). This is a great way to get hands-on networking experience from people who really know their stuff, and if you have any aspirations of getting a technical job with Telecom, Alcatel-Lucent, Kordia, or some other telco/service provider, I strongly recommend you take this course. Email [email protected] if you’re interested.

      Now, onto the ASPAs. It rocked. Except for me the next morning, when I realised oh too late that me + Chardonnay == bad. Hangovers aside, I really enjoyed it, and I hope that it’ll be equally awesome next year. Being the photography geek I am, I had my camera. And despite being incredibly intoxicated, I managed to take some decent photos with it, which you can find on this week’s classy busted page, or at http://www.jlaundry.com/photos/aspa08, which will not work properly in IE 6.

      And so here is where I venture to nerdiness. I’m one of those people who won’t release something until it’s exactly how I envisioned, or at least decent to the point where I like it. Which is exactly why it’s now months since I started writing code for my photo gallery. In designing my website, I’ve always upheld the concept that it should be easy enough for my mother to use. Design-wise this isn’t hard, just use decent (bigger than small) sizes and everything else somehow falls into place. But technically, making something consistent under all circumstances is incredibly difficult.

      I write in valid XHTML. I use compliant CSS. I use the most rudimentary of JavaScript, and use libraries (which are designed to be cross-compatible) wherever possible. So why is it that even the “better” browsers aren’t compatible with each other? I’m puzzled why Safari, Firefox and Opera all render things differently, when all three (3) are supposed to be a better, more standards-based web experience compared to Internet Explorer.

      The only explanation I have for it is the fact that users of said alternative browsers are more likely to run a newer, less bug-ridden version, and hence the kinks will be worked out in time. Firefox almost forces updates upon users, Apple tricks them into downloading it, and users of Opera are mostly developers, who love new software. And yet here’s big Microsoft, who won’t even put IE 7 into the last XP service pack, despite IE 6 being more than 7 years old. People like to drive new cars, they’re safer and have more features. So why is it 40% of the world is still driving a shitty old commodore?

    4. September 25, 2008

      The Nerdery: s02e21: On Zealots

      It’s time I sat down and explained to the general public why, despite the contradictory evidence, they shouldn’t take anything on the internet seriously. “Zealots”. Zealots are everywhere, and they propagate their thoughts throughout the internet like a sex joke propagates though a middle school. Slow at first, but by the end of the week everyone knows the tale of the 3 (three) sticks that get shoved into a dark hole and made to puke.

      While the more commonly found zealots should be obvious to those who’ve been to more than one (1) forum, such as the gaming console zealots (nerds who still think their god-given console is better than a computer) or the Mac/PC/Linux zealots (nerds who still haven’t heard of interoperability), I figured I’d better start informing everyone about the lesser-known types…

      The fads-never-die zealots. As much as it pains me to lump them all into this category, I really can’t be bothered explaining how forums about every single frame of Tool Time is analyzed and personalized, or those still stuck arguing wether or not the earth is flat. These are the more specialized type of zealots, and are either very hard or not hard enough to find with a few keywords typed into a search engine.

      The ‘simple concept’ zealots. “Imagine a 747 is sitting on a conveyor belt, as wide and long as a runway. The conveyor belt is designed to exactly match the speed of the wheels, moving in the opposite direction. Can the plane take off?” Simple eh? It’s too bad that, provided you have a group of 3 people, everyone will come up with a different answer. Thankfully, these arguments are mostly confined to 4chan boards, and the occasional Bongo sushi session.

      The n00bs. Not so much zealots as-per-se, but still as annoying as, or even more so in some cases. These are the people who refuse to learn before diving head in, and once their in, still refuse to learn. It’s like someone who refuses to learn how to tell time using an analog clock, so instead of learning just complains whenever a digital one isn’t avaiable.

      And finally, there’s the mindless attention-seeking zealots. The worst kind, they’ll infect the “off-topic” boards of any forum with crap, and will advocate for whatever dumb-fuck idea pops into their head. These people will fight on the internet for the sake of boredom [1], and seek out new places to drain the life of.

      [1] And I don’t mean that in the good, Uncyclopedia Flame Warriors way.

    5. The Nerdery: s02e20: On FOSS

      I hate getting my calendar mixed up. I sat down this weekend to realize that next Saturday is software freedom day, and so this column misses out being read before then by a mere two (2) days. Oh well, better luck next year.

      Let me begin by declaring my stance on the FOSS (Free, open source software) issue. I’m the uni’s Microsoft student partner. My personal servers run Windows Server 2003 and FreeBSD (using VMware). At work, I manage software projects that utilise php, Perl, MySQL and Oracle, and servers that run Linux (with Xen). I have a Mac laptop, and being the photography nut I am, I use Adobe software. Who says you can’t mix milk with orange juice?

      Most people don’t care what tool they’re using, so long as the tool best suits their needs. This is where a lot of conflicting ideas between free software advocates and the non-free-software types occur. If someone were to say “you can have as many spoons as you like, so long as you give up your knives”, most people would laugh it off and walk away. But, in my opinion, It really comes down to that.

      There are many types of zealots in the computer ‘verse, as i’ll get to in my next article, but the hardcore FOSS advocates seem to be the most aggressive of them all. These are the type that take the “all-or-nothing” approach, which by today’s standards just isn’t feasible. Imagine if Adobe adopted the FOSS business model; gave away their software but charged for support. Raise your hands if you regularly use Photoshop and have ever contacted Adobe for support. How about if they gave away a feature limited version, but allowed you to pay for advanced features. Well, isn’t that what we’re currently doing?

      I know quite a few people here at waiKato who would like to think the world can and should adopt to certain ways of thinking. But one solution will never be able to gracefully meet all needs, a solution that tries to is obviously not a good solution.

      On a more upbeat note, I’ll leave you with a quote to mull on, by one of my former lectures:

      I’ve been insulted by Richard Stallman three times and I’ve only just met him.

    6. September 12, 2008

      The Nerdery: s02e19: On The Nerdery

      As many nerds may know, waiKato has had more than a fair share of it’s nerdiness. There’s something about the fine farmland air that produces the best nerds in the country [1], and probably the best in the world. From the warm routers [2] of WAND, to the students SSHed into the labs, to the first-years mocking the management students who are trying to learn how to code, to the end of year pub-crawl, we’re a proud bunch.

      Nexus has been here for us nerds. Back in 1996 was the first glimpse into mainstream nerdery, with an article about the internet written by my cousin Malcolm (hmmm… I wonder if you still read Nexus/my blog…). Thats right, a 7 page long feature on the internet. Let’s see a modern contrubutor rant and rave on that long! Then a few months later started a column called “Computers”, which was renamed to The Nerdery a few issues later. Each column started with 42.

      I had the intention of analysing the columns, how things have changed between then and now, but got distracted by how the first Nerdery column talked about online dating, and just how little had really changed. There was even a mention for those who couldn’t get an online date to revert to a site with free pr0n passwords. Unfortunately, I don’t know of such a site to give you, but I’m sure if you google hard enough you could find it before the ITS people find you.

      And there’s been the advertising revenue to go with our long-running nerdy column as well. If you ever get a chance (hopefully you’ll be able to just look to your left), have a look for the raunchy Microsoft ads in Nexus issues that were. They launched a campain back in ‘2k (and then again 2k3) promoting their student-friendly priced Office editions. I gotta say, not only do they really get the message across, but it’s amazing they were published in the first place.

      [1] I’m not just talking about our PBRF ranking

      [2] if you’re a kiwi bloke out for giggles, get Donald Neal or someone with an equivlently awesome accent to pronounce routers

      [3] http://www.cs.waikato.ac.nz/department/history.html

    7. The Nerdery: s02e18: On delayed blog posts (sorry)

      Time flies when you’re having fun. That’s why I’ve spent most of the holidays either being unproductive or working, both of which are very fun for me. And yet, it’s now one (1) week out from uni, and I’ve once again completely forgotten that I have a Nerdery to write. Fortunately, at the last Nexii contributor meeting, I was smart enough after getting smashed to try looking though archives so I could come back with a wizz-bang story on the history of waiKato nerds. Unfortunately, this isn’t that article. That article is next week’s article. Instead, this article is a witty collection of random ideas in the hopes that people out there (that’s YOU) can help me resolve them.

      Why is it that the big recycling bins on campus take glass and aluminum cans, BUT NOT PLASTIC?!?!? I dare say that drinking fizzy, sugary, oh-so-caffeinated beverages is more popular on campus than beer (I could be wrong). The lack of plastic recycling is especially upsetting for us in the Interaction Design Lab (the dungeon-esque one), who combined consume a few bottles of black liquid per week. Anyone on the environment council thingy know why this is the case? Also, why are there no recycling facilities in Bongo? The garbage bins overflow with sushi containers and plastic bottles, why is this all going to the tip?

      Why is it that the Clarence st Pak n Save doesn’t stock Cadbury Three Wishes chocolate and Bluebird Sweet Thai Chili chips anymore? While I highly doubt Pak n Save management types read Nerdery, if anyone out there knows how to complain and get these in stock it would be much appreciated. I’m tired of going out of my way to seek these items out elsewhere. Oh, and stop making the Croissants randomly disappear!

      And before I forget; waiKato needs another Imagine Cup team for next year to carry the torch of excellence we seem to always wave here in the computer science department. In 2007 the waiKato team came 1st in NZ and won a trip to Seoul, Korea to compete in the world finals, and this year we came 3rd (although it’s fine to say fuck in Nexus, I don’t think my thoughts on the winners of this year’s competition would be suitable for this column). Ryan Tarak from Microsoft and I are to give an information session to anyone who wants to be involved, at the time of writing this is to be Tuesday September 13th @ 14:00, but this may change. For updated information, visit my site; (you’re here) or look out for the posters that I’m supposed to be putting up.

    8. August 18, 2008

      The Nerdery: s02e17: On Problems

      I just realised that it’s now Tuesday 17:31 and I’ve still got to write another 200 words, arranged in a fashion that makes clear and concise logical sense and has something tech-related. So, this weeks article is about problems. When faced with a problem you usually have two options; ignore the problem and use enough resources to live around it, or face the problem and use enough resources to solve it. I realise my insight is a tad generalised (and the phrasing probably has something to do with the fact that I’ve been playing a lot of Age of Empires lately), but has held true for just about every case I’ve thrown at it. [1]

      Unsurprisingly, you’ve probably come to the same conclusion at some point in your life as well (although you probably didn’t word it as eloquently as I did). And yet, many people don’t accept it, not foreseeing the cost of resources to live around an issue. I could list examples such as doing homework before the due date as opposed to right before the due date, but instead I’m going to dive right for the more technological issue; data backups. Drives are cheap and getting cheaper. And yet I look at how many people take regular backups and am still amazed at how few take regular backups. Remember people; data is cheap, time is expensive.

      Now, in life (of Comp. Sci.) we also have the problems of the more interesting kind. The Programming Competition kind. Congratulations are in order for the solo guy who just wanted a T-shirt (which he received), the DARTH VADER team (esp. Daniel for the pelvic thrust after solving a hard question), and to everyone else who competed and managed to beat agp (Almost Grey Power), who despite being senior programmers, were only able to solve the 3 easiest questions.

      Finally, I’ve been alerted by my girlfriend that blue LEDs are pretty. Indeed they are. But that’s still no excuse for them glaring in my eyes when I’m trying to listen to music. I’ve also been told by randoms that I use a lot of brackets in my articles (mostly to extend a point while keeping within an acceptable sentence length). To this, I can say “kiss my ass”, as I like to use excessive punctuation where appropriate. It makes the English programming language a lot more fun, like php.

      [1] Of course, some of the more insightful philosophers reading my column would be quick to point out “Hah! You forgot, you can throw resources at the problem before the problem occurs, adding a third option!” and would be right, except that you’d be ignoring that you’ve faced the problem, it’s just you faced it before the problem became a problem.

    9. The Nerdery: s02e16: On Blue LEDs

      Let’s start this week off with a little quiz. When buying an expensive piece of electronics with your freshly borrowed “course related costs”, do you expect to find;

      1. An Apple-inspired design
      2. Blatant branding to remind you it’s not made by Apple
      3. Blue LEDs, which indicate that it’s obviously high-tech

      If you answered C, you deserve a slap, as you’re the reason why myself and many others like me (i’ll explain) are either;

      1. Voiding warranties by opening up things and replacing the LEDs with a more sensible colour
      2. Putting electrical tape over all the blue LEDs

      So, for those who don’t quite get my rampage, let me explain something. Blue light has a short wavelength, which makes it really hard for your eye to focus on. So, for an ambient light, like the type which alerts me to know my speakers are on, blue light is really bad in terms of overall interface design. It’s irritating to the eye. There’s a reason why you don’t normally see blue lights in car dashboards; it’s dangerous, especially for night driving. And yet, over the last few years, consumers have come to expect lots of blue LEDs in their products, because it looks cool.

      If done correctly, there’s nothing wrong with using colour lights. But please, why do you think it’s necessary to shine blue light in my eyes when I’m just trying to listen to music? Not to mention, not only does it look “high-tech” to consumers, but marketers have also decided that it sounds high-tech as well. BlueTooth headset anyone? Maybe a Blu-Ray player? When will the madness end!

      But, then again, most of the tech world is crap, and if it wasn’t for the sea of crap we wouldn’t have the shining stars. So really, what can one really expect from our generation?

    10. August 4, 2008

      The Nerdery: s02e15: On Tonga

      As those who know me know, I work for a large international communications company. Not only do I get to have a part-time job doing something that I enjoy, but I also love the side benefits; being able to roll into work whenever I want, or just working from home and proving the myth that pants are optional. But this week, I’m not just sitting at my desk, trying to draw inspiration while hard at work. This week it’s all around me. This week I’m in a communications room, in Tonga.

      To cut a long story very short, a server that helps run one of the Tongan mobile networks died. It was supposed to be a simple job; fly in Wednesday, change the CPU, relax and fly out Saturday. In my urge to screw my carbon footprint this year and get another stamp for my passport, I didn’t stop to think I’d be pulling my hair out trying to fix hidden problems, but like all things, nothing is simple. My colleague and I are now waiting for assistance from our advanced technical support centre. As usual, Murphy’s law prevails.

      (picture me with greasy hair putting my head in hands and rubbing eyes)

      Since my first dial-up account for my 12th birthday, a decent internet connection has never been more than a short maneuver away. And suddenly I find myself in a place where, according to statistics, most people don’t use the internet regularly and many have only heard of it. I knew this was the case, but it’s a major shock to realise how lucky we are to have this resource, but how quickly we are to complain about it.

      I’m also amazed with how loyal customers can be. Despite fierce advertising from the competition, the incumbent telco is keeping a strong hold on their market out of pure choice by the customers. According to locals, everyone knows the competition is cheaper and provides better mobile signal coverage, but the audio quality is poorer and it’s not Tongan owned, and so few people permanently switch.

      It’s amazing what a short airplane ride can do to one’s perspective. So next time you’re ready to complain about how your is, or how it costs “too much”, just spare a moment to think about how lucky you are that you’ve come to expect the world. Read that last sentence a couple times.