Federal Election 2022 – Liberals Wiped Out

Three weeks on from Labor’s election victory and it is possible to see some threads that have woven together to spell bad news for the Coalition.
Albanese and his team fell over the line, thanks to preferences from Greens and some unsuccessful independents, not in any ringing endorsement of their policies or personalities, but out of disgust with what the Morrison government had become.
My own hope is this presages a government like Jacinda Adern’s, a measured, compassionate rule where the nation sees a better future and is led toward it.

For Peter Dutton and the other warmed up leftovers in the Liberal party, I think the message is simple. Morrison and his cabinet ran a country based on flimsy marketing – a government of sound bites and announcements, where the reality could be whatever the Prime Minister asserted, at least for the length of a press conference.
But the real reality, the reality faced by people in their day to day lives became further and further from what Morrison and co were painting. When the government prioritises religious laws over the actual challenges facing the country, when they concoct a controversy about trans people in sport, or that wages rises will harm the ‘economy’, that we don’t need to worry about climate change, that COVID could be addressed as anything but urgent. People didn’t have to look far to see the falseness in these positions.

And so a government that felt it could win an election if it defined the battleground to suit itself was routed by the reality of the war that played out not to its choosing but under the light of real experience.

The last bit to consider is the future of the Liberals. While no fan of their breed, a strong opposition makes for an honest government, so at least competence is desirable. But the remainder table Liberals seem to have learned nothing. Fake solutions like nuclear energy to counter an immediate crisis in fossil fuel costs, foolishness to antagonise China and the Pacific for perceived domestic political gain, and a denial that there should be accountability and a brake on corruption in Canberra continue to be their position. A position in denial of reality.

I’ll say it quietly, as I don’t mind in the least if the blowhards of the right destabilise the LNP for a couple of terms of government, but while they pursue policies that align with their dogma, but deny reality, they will fail.
In America, reality has been set aside by a president prepared to destroy the place to retain power, or to address a slight, and replaced by a weak moderate with no vision to lead. With a compliant media and inherent corruption, there is nothing to cause the wake up to reality that country needs until things become much worse.
But seeking to repeat this in Australia has been rejected, blessedly, and is a path to nowhere for the right.
Eventually, they will regroup around the traditional conservative values of individual responsibility, low taxes, small government, balanced budgets and solid defence. But to get there, they will have to leave a position that inserts itself in people’s religion, bedrooms and health choices. For a lot of the scraps left after the election, who have pursued politics for power and personal wealth and glory, this reset to core values will be meaningless and a bridge too far.

Windows 11 – brings out the grumpy

In 1995 my flatmate was at Harvey Norman to get Win95 on release day. Anybody who used Windows 3.1 will know why. But a quarter century later and Windows releases are more about introducing new nuisances than anything anybody would look forward to with anticipation.

For the last few days I’ve been using a Windows 11 Pro machine. It isn’t great.

It isn’t BAD. It is just a nothing burger with more annoyances and no benefits.

It is reliable, no crashes. Which is great, but has generally been true of Windows for a couple of decades.

Like evey windows before, it takes a bit of configuration to set up the way you want. Where is the Start menu to be located, what it shows, what is on the desktop.

I can live with this, if two things are true.

  1. If the little interface changes between versions happen, at least make them somewhat useful.
  2. And let me undo the dumb little interface changes.

Win 11 fails here, and even 6 months after release it just isn’t suitable for upgrade unless you have some compelling reason. Some examples of where the Windows product managers have tried to justify their salaries by chopping and changing the interface?

  • the start button is centred. Amazing. I guess this is useful for right handers on a Surface? Surface is 5% of MS revenue, and I guess, less than 1% of profits. Not really something to design your operating system usability around. At least you can select where to put it, like for the last 27 years.
  • The option to ungroup windows on the taskbar is unavailable. I don’t know any above average Windows users who don’t ungroup windows. I suppose there must be some? I presume the snooping metrics show a huge percentage of users retain grouped windows since they were turned on by default (in Win7?) – I’m sure my 80yro Dad doesn’t know how to turn it off. And he doesn’t know how to turn off the snooping user metrics. So naive users preferences have an overweight impact. Of course, if the default switched to ungrouped windows, these users would leave that untouched too. MS product group would be amazed that so many users agreed their change was so perfect.
  • I have a reasonable size monitor, 27inches. Plenty have bigger, and 24inch is the very basic issue these days. But for some reason, I get tiny little taskbar icons, grouped to allow 80% of the taskbar to be empty. Thanks? I love that empty grey bar.
  • The Settings panel seems to have had the usual shuffling of where everything is located. Why? Nobody knows. I’m sure there is a Powerpoint deck explaining why these changes will deliver 3% productivity improvements for first time PC users, or some other silly metric.
  • The Start menu shows a rotating view of recent apps and some pinned apps. With an extra click I can have All Apps listed. I’d really like to stop that extra click. I use the computer enough to memorise the order of the app menu, so a variable menu slows me down. There is no option to change this. Again, I don’t know why it would be desirable to make software less personalisable.

There are other little irritations, like the efforts it makes to force live.com accounts, and the way the interface chrome changes to random past versions if you access a feature not blessed with the latest skin. Is it truly OK to ship a new version of Windows with a UI slapped onto only some parts of the OS? When Win8 came out with the silly metro touch stuff there was at least the excuse that Redmond was scared and lost their heads. Why do some apps still look like Vista in 2022? How unfair, at least it is flat now.

Anyway, it seems like the Windows team has concluded they no longer need to consider power users, they can use power shell, or download 3rd party utilities to make the software work productively.

The bad news for them is they are shipping software that nobody wants. Who would upgrade from Windows 10 if it was kept in support? If the only market for your software left is corporates who are forced to upgrade to stay in support, and home users who get a new version every 5 years when they buy a new Dell, well, what are you doing with your life?

Backup and Restore the Registry – Guide for Windows XP, 7, 8, 8.1, 10

And a couple of days after complaining about this, LEah Lundqvist on Twitter does it far more elegantly:

A Tale of Efficient Markets

It was no monumental insight to recognise peer to peer markets were unlocked by the Internet. Though I guess I could have been a billionaire if I had VC backing to build a lot of the ideas that plopped out during the dot-com boom, that actually became the Uber and AirBnB and Fiverr of the current bubble (is there a nice name for it except FAANG? I’ll admit I’m less interested than I used to be).

But if you are like me and the interest is in getting a cheap product or service, things have changed. There are still some bargains to be had – we all get cheap travel thanks to Uber subsidising a car ride to use their monopoly market position and stock price to undercut a taxi – which is a very obvious game to capture market before they ramp up prices (or maybe destroy driver pay, or both!)

But this isn’t a message about fucked up markets, but a reflection on old market distortions.

In this case. ebay.

Everyone uses ebay, right? I guess the combination of predatory service fees and attempts to vertically integrate sales and payment turned a lot of people off- gumtree and facebook market place have certainly killed their classified business, but they used to be the only game in town for selling unique stuff, and I think they still are for some stuff.

I always used ebay as the market value for an item, but in the last years of the 20th century, and early 21st, ebay was very subject to the reduced market around public holidays. Sellers in the USA, especially used to list items on 7 day auction that closed on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day, with the result we could buy stuff for an impressive discount, while the USA was offline.

It doesn’t work anymore, sadly, I guess because sellers have their phones nearby, but I will always remember fondly snatching auctions when the USA was busy – one of the few benefits from being in the wrong time zone.

Omicron COVID – I guess we learnt nothing.

The alarming information from South Africa about a substantially more contagious variant of COVID is bumping up against very human disaster fatigue.
There is a bunch of wishing that the new variant is less dangerous, and it is possible it will be found to be - but the most likely is that the virulence is unchanged, or not dramatically changed.
There is also a lot of wishing the vaccines remain effective. Again, it’s unknown, but the substantial number of mutations make it seem very possible immunity will be weakened.
Some estimates of R(t) in SA are 1.2 for Delta and >3 for Omicron. This implies that the public health controls in place produce a result similar to when COVID was first circulating, with zero controls - and the concern was for overwhelmed healthcare.
If the new variant is equivalently virulent, but much more contageous, the risk of over whelming health resources is real, even in highly vaccinated populations, as even a small percentage of the population ill at the same time could easily be a disaster. Note this remains true even if the disease in the variant is less severe. A halved virulance but quadrupled infection rate is still doubled hospitalisation, and more as the case numbers grow exponentially.
There are some clues that natural immunity from a prior infection is less effective against this variant. This would be very bad in areas which have already suffered from earlier waves.
There are some hopes the hospitalisation rate is lower. Unfortunately, there is also an indication that many of the early cases in hospital were there for other reasons. If you go to hospital with a broken leg and flu symptoms it seems quite predictable that you will leave earlier than somebody hospitalised because the flu symptons have progressed to serious respiratory illness. I think in the weeks to come as the stats about Omicron become dominated by those hospitalised as a result of the disease, we'll be better able to judge the seriousness of the illness.

In Australia, where we have, until a month ago, quarantined international arrivals, we have an opportunity to halt Omicron until the data on the variant is confirmed. Unfortunately, politicians are primed to hear the best news for themselves, so we are still accepting international travellers with a few days self isolation at home. We should note the NSW health minister admitted the self isolation was being frequently ignored.

I hope the new variant isn't terrbily contagious, but all evidence to date is that it is.
I hope the new variant doesn't evade immunity or vaccine immunity. There is very little evidence to date, though some clues reinfections are increased.
I hope the new variant is incredibly mild, and it 'chases out' previous dominant strains. There is no reliable evidence at all that this is the case, just hopes in my opinion.
I hope that a tailored booster vaccine could be developed swiftly. I have seen comments saying a couple of months is possible. I don't know if this is realistic, but with limited other options, we may depend on it.
I hope that the combination of extreme contagion, immunity escape and similar virulence don't lead to much death, a return to lock downs and the disruptions the world experienced last time a deadly disease infected many people - just last year. 
But it looks like a real risk.

Our leaders should have reacted in a precautionary way, instead of waiting for the data to be in on whether the new variant is stronger/weaker or more/less contagious. But they failed to do so, so we are at the mercy of luck.

I'd say it will be clear in the days between Xmas and New Year whether we were lucky or not, so take care around vulnerable people and cross your fingers the politicians are right. And try not to make any plans for 2022 that a pandemic might ruin!

What’s gone wrong at Google?

Google makes a lot of money from selling advertisers really specific access to likely customers.

They have been extraordinarily innovative in the way they do this, to the point where advertisers bid in real time to show you their wares and advert placement gets almost spooky when a product you discussed on the weekend shows up unbidden on your screen.

I’m not an idiot, so I don’t like any of this. I don’t like anybody, be they for profits, governments or a benevolent overlord peering so closely into my drivers and past activities that they can predict anything meaningful about my future behaviour.

I don’t buy the line that targeted advertising is better for everyone, if for no other reason than I have no belief vendors of a hotel room will give me the best rate if they know I have already booked non-refundable airfares.

But that isn’t my gripe with Google today.

I’m not so naïve that I think the ‘Don’t be evil’ motto lingers in any way, but I do like to think Google gives some consideration to how it behaves with my data, and what they might do with it.

A lot of people will argue they clearly failed this with the cancelling of Google Reader (a convenient way to manage headlines and articles from a large base of information sources like news sites and blogs) or the ill fated Google Plus nonsense.

These were clearly dumb moves, but in the last couple of weeks there have been fresh examples I rate as even dumber.

Firstly, and annoyingly for me, is the end of Google Music in preference for YouTube. I have nothing against YouTube. I battle through the advertising encrusted interface to watch an occasional video on replacing a stove element or a review of a new keyboard – content that still holds the promise of the early Internet where individuals would share freely information to make everyone’s life better.

But I will only watch an entertainment video there with the greatest reluctance. The site/app is gratingly unpleasant, with unwelcome advertising, and a UI designed to force the interactions the platform owners will allow, rather than what a viewer may want.

Suffice to say, I don’t want any more to do with YouTube.

My only use for Google Music was to store a bunch of music I own so that I can access it via a voice controlled hub in our kitchen. Why bother, would be a reasonable question, and the answer is that casting music via wifi to the speaker is unreliable, and not available from all the devices I want to use.

I understand for 80% of users, Spotify or Apple Music or YouTube or whatever streaming service gives enough music choice, but I really don’t want to just give up on some artists I quite like because they haven’t contracted to the right distribution system. And I would rather buy new music I like from the artists, in preference to spending with a platform that gives them only microcents per listen. Similarly, after buying Led Zep on cassette, vinyl and CD, you can excuse me if I would rather not pay them any more.

So audio streaming isn’t much use to me, and the YouTube service is painful to use. To top it off, I gather the voice activation function I use is only included if I pay for a premium subscription.

This is all fine, Google can do what it wants to make money, but this seems to me like layers of decisions that don’t benefit the customer piling up – in this case sufficiently for me to spend time both whinging about it, but also to bother to find a software solution somewhere like Plex or whatever to fix the underlying reliability irritants in the first place. I’ll update with what I find.

The second example was the silly posts on Google real online real estate in the form of an open letter that warned Google free services could ultimately be ended if they have to pay for access to news sites.

I’ve no truck with the wealthy media businesses in Australia who squandered their advantages to find themselves beholden to a government regulation to keep some revenue. That was just the worst sort of short term planning and failure of leadership. But I also don’t shed any tears for Google or Facebook having to licence some of the content they pass around and glean advertising revenue from. The Google response is tone deaf, and further shows Google has no interest in its customers best interests.

In any case, it is a good reminder to check where Google and others might have a little too much control of my data. In my case, Gmail and Google photos have become a little too essential, so I will add them to the list of services I need to build a better redundancy plan for – as the day will no doubt come when they stop being useful enough to put up with the down sides, just like YouTube.

More COVID-19

So a matter of hours after I post that the numbers don’t look credible, as if they were being constrained by a testing lab capacity issue or similar, China releases a big spike in infectious numbers and revealing they are now counting patients diagnosed but yet to be tested. It will be interesting to see if they change the reporting criteria for sites outside Hubei too.

It does reinforce this is an incredibly infectious virus, and illustrates how quickly business as usual health facilities reach their limits in a pandemic. Hopefully, the global response continues to be aggressive and effective.

Covid-19

The novel Coronavirus/Covid-19 outbreak that started in Wuhan is concerning.

It looks as though the virus is very contagious, and with a mortality rate higher than influenza – but with no vaccine or effective anti-viral treatment. What I am curious about are the figures being reported from China on infections and deaths.

For the past fortnight, infections have grown by a very regular number in the daily Chinese update. The figures don’t exhibit the variability you would expect to see in a normal distribution, and don’t reflect the growing infection totals. If they are accurate, the Chinese quarantine efforts have been spectacularly successful, yet fail with unexplained regularity. Hmm. Maybe there is a local limit in lab testing or other limitation which puts a daily ceiling on how many cases can be confirmed?

The last two days have seen figures released with a declining number of daily infections. Given the large population pool in Wuhan and the other major Chinese cities reporting infections, and the experience of cities like Singapore and Hong Kong, a decline infection growth strains credibility. I have seen a rumour stating only more severe cases are now being counted.

This is a concern if China has determined the economic impact of quarantine is greater than the increased illness and death a widespread outbreak would entail. If there is a lack of transparency, other governments might under rate the risk and severity of the illness, ultimately risking more exposure.

Hopefully, China has contained the outbreak, but it is disconcerting to watch figures that don’t reflect an expected path.

Some thoughts on blockchains and Bitcoin

I’m not a mathematician or Computer Scientist, but I like the elegance of a genuinely ne idea, so I’ve been watching the various block chain developments for a few years.
When BTC was under $30 I ran the numbers and figured my cost of power would never make mining profitable. When it spiked up over $100 I did the numbers again for cloud hosted mining, with the same result.
Now it is around $3000. Huh.

bitcoin

I think the blockchain currencies will end up being the less interesting part of the equation, unless you are using them to avoid Chinese currency controls, or deal drugs or something else you want to sell without a trail. The initial excitement was all about untraceable cash, but you can avoid taxes with cash today, and hold precious metals if you don’t want to be beholden to fiat currencies.

While bitcoin and other currencies (Doge, anyone?) are exciting in a speculative sense, and interesting in a fresh idea sense, they have a number of issues to be useful except in edge cases.
Number one for me is the energy use for mining and transaction processing. The algorithm that produces coins has increasing rarity built in, a bit like prime numbers in the real world, so to grow the bitcoin supply takes enormous energy – which could be used for productive purposes at less cost to things like climate change. This algorithm also ensures ongoing inflation, offering all the advantages of the gold standard in the 1970s…

Transactions also take energy to process, and there is debate at the moment on how to streamline this, but the current situation is that transactions are limited to around 7 per second, compared to VISA, for example, that typically handles thousands, and while there are ways to scale this, there are arguments against too – with the end result being a system that is less than ideal.

This combination suggests to me we’ll see examples of people ‘breaking’ the transaction system ‘for the lullz’, probably timed to coincide with bitcoin being launched for some legitimate, high profile system.

The other issue I’ll be interested to see merge is just how anonymous crypto currencies are. I don’t mean that there is a flaw in the implementation, but rather that privacy exploits will be developed that rely on meta data in the transactional record to breach anonymity. I don’t think this has happened yet, but I can imagine it being around the corner should transaction volumes grow enough that statistical methods can be applied to infer personal data from transaction patterns, timing, network origin etc.

In the future, I suspect the real action will be in Ethereum like block chain computational models, rather than currencies.
If you consider the blockchain mechanism as the underlying platform, then currency is just one application.
To draw an analogy, email was an early and cool application on the Internet, but the really innovative stuff that harnessed Internet technologies to make something with no real analog in the offline world came later, often much later.
When the Internet went mainstream in the early 1990s, there were plenty of people making a bit of money selling web hosting or writing client software, but much later the Googles and Facebooks arrived.
I think bitcoin is at the Alta-Vista or Hotbot level of maturity – people made plenty of money there but the world quickly moved on.
The Ethereal model is interesting, but there is little reason to use the Eth public coin (or, urgh, classic ETH), when you can host a completely separate fork for basically free. And less reason as the coin price rises.
So blockchain is real and useful. Coins are a valid application. They are a convenient current speculation, but like tulips or Hotbot shares, have little inherent worth. But the emerging applications might be very valuable.

Mac OSX Chrome adware malware Cloudscout removal

cloudscoutSomehow, no doubt after installing some bit of software from a seedy part of the Internet, I ended up with ads being injected into my web browser as the pages rendered. You get this stuff all day on Windows, but not something I’d seen before on a Mac.
I looked for suspect extensions, and found none, but disabled them all any way.
The ads took the form of aggressive animated gif banners, plus highlighted words in text linking to advertisements, see above.

I tried searching the file system for suspect software, but didn’t find anything useful. I also tried searching the Internet, but while there is info for removing this from Windows, there is nothing for Mac that works.

I ended up watching the developer console in Chrome to see what connections the browser was requesting. The list I got that I reckon is suspect is below. I added it to Adblock plus and the ads are gone. If you know what software is the culprit, please post in the comments and I will update the post.

Good Luck

adnxs.com
scorecardresearch.com
dnsqa.me
hklmm.com
2mdm.com
cptlsrv.com

Power button on iPhone 4s

The power button on my old iPhone 4s (ok, I suppose I should retire this phone for something a bit more modern, but the obvious Apple upgrade in near $1000! so I am looking at China androids. Anyway) stopped working.

The Internet says it is the surface mount cable strip under the button that is likely to go wrong. I ordered one that included tools for about $5 from ebay. I ordered a new battery for another $7 at the same time as I was going to be opening up the device.

It was an exceptionally tricky repair. Much harder than replacing a laptop screen or anything except maybe when I tried to surface mount solder some RAM chips to a Palm Pilot back in 1998 (I failed, and wasted $50 worth or chips back then).

Luckily, I was a bit better this time, but the internal design is pretty close to impossible to repair, as if Steve Jobs said make it hard so it can’t be repaired, just replace.

If you are brave, there are directions to fix it here:

https://www.ifixit.com/Guide/iPhone+4S+Earpiece+Speaker+Replacement/7320

and here:

https://www.ifixit.com/Guide/iPhone+4+Power+%26+Lock+Button+Replacement/4332