energy

April 2nd, 2014

With the news that BP is shutting its Brisbane refinery, it’s worth pointing to this article by Neerav Bhatt:

What would happen if the Australian national electricity grid collapsed or a war broke out in the Asia-Pacific, blocking cargo ships carrying liquid fuel from reaching us?

A new NRMA commissioned report about Australia’s Liquid Fuel Security reveals that we face the real risk of not having any domestic oil refineries by 2030, which would leave us wholly dependent on foreign liquid fuel supplies.

This is, as it happens, as good as any reason to look to diversifying our sources of fuel.

internet censorship

February 2nd, 2014

The Australian Government is once again pushing legislation to censor the internet. And the sky is up, the grass is green and there’s nothing new under the sun.

This time, Canberra is angling to appoint a new e-safety commissioner and create new legislation in a supposed crusade against online bullying. To that end, the Government is proposing new powers for the rapid takedown of offensive material published on social media networks.

It should barely need to be said again: you can assume that you’ll be as successful in censoring the Internet reliably, as you can be in censoring individuals’ thoughts reliably.

This ain’t 1984.

threatening behaviour

January 28th, 2014

Much has been said about Queensland’s VLAD laws, much of it from far better writers than I. Examples:

But still the Government and Police tell the good people of Queensland that they have nothing to worry about and the laws are necessary to get the baddies. David Crisafulli, in his capacity as Acting Attorney-General assured the people that only the criminals will be targeted. Yet he refused to confirm that three or more bikies and associates who have not committed any actual crime, could attend a birthday bash, or be employed together, despite the legislation clearly stating this is so.

And the rising hysteria of the Newman government as it seeks to defend its indefensible attack on Queenslanders’ rights is very telling.

There will be more of that from Newman as hopefully, more and more Queenslanders come to understand that the VLAD Act is not about outlaw motorcycle clubs. And it never was.

It is about them. All of them. And their inalienable human right to associate with who they want, work where they want, and go where they want – free from the constant supervision of a crazed police state and a power-mad populist Premier, bungling Attorney-General, and sycophantic Police Commissioner, who feed them a constant diet of lies and mis-truths about ‘bikies’, while tarring every rider with the same misinformed brush.

I have another, deeper, problem with the manner in which the legislation is being sold. That problem is thus:

I ride a motorcycle.

As a result of this legislation, I now am on the receiving end of more — ignorant — behaviour from other road users, who assume that, as a motorcyclist, I must be up to no good simply by virtue of being on a motorcycle. Some of these people clearly believe in vigilantism, undertaking abusive — and in some cases, downright dangerous — acts to “prove their point.”

Never you mind that I am not, and will very likely never be, a member of any of the existing declared organisations. Never you mind that don’t ride a bike more commonly associated with such clubs. Never you mind that I barely fit the stereotype for a member of a motorcycle club. In the minds of more than a few road users, the simple act of being on a motorcycle is sufficient reason to vilify me. On average, this is now occurring twice on any ride near to major centres; I hear similar stories from my fellow riders.

I no longer have to worry about SMIDSY alone. I now have to be equally aware that people may, in fact, have noticed me.

collusion

January 27th, 2014

In early 2005, as demand for Silicon Valley engineers began booming, Apple’s Steve Jobs sealed a secret and illegal pact with Google’s Eric Schmidt to artificially push their workers wages lower by agreeing not to recruit each other’s employees, sharing wage scale information, and punishing violators.

“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”
– Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776

This reminds me that a previous employer of mine had tried — with two other very large tech-related firms in the area — to more-or-less collude on hiring staff, under the guise of better workload management. The theory went that since the resource demands of each of the three didn’t match up very well, that they could simply share staff between each other, moving the resources to where the workload was. As I understand it, the plan was scotched when legal advice intimated that the obvious side effect of suppressing competition for employees was almost certainly illegal.

the future of networking

January 27th, 2014

Predictions are dangerous things. We — humans, that is — are notoriously terrible at predicting the future, and continually get caught out by retroactively “obvious” developments.

Having said that, I’m reasonably comfortable that software-defined networking has a place in the future world of network equipment, and that as a result, the role of a network engineer will morph from being skilled in one or more vendor platforms to being skilled in one or more vendor platforms and a programming language, such as Python. In fact the best network engineers will likely have a role that looks more like business analysis than e-plumber. Python, and languages like it, will likely provide a means to that end.

Software-defined networking doesn’t really deal with moving bits fast: equipment from a range of vendors already does that, and does it pretty well. In fact, SDN doesn’t really provide anything that can’t be done with existing equipment; what SDN provides is (theoretically, at least) a simpler way to provide a given business solution.

I also predict that — as a side-effect of this trend — the average network engineer will have to become a lot more comfortable with commodity operating environments, and in particular, Linux. While SDN controller software runs quite well in a range of environments (that being part of its point, after all!), Linux is apparently becoming a default choice for a range of related environments, including OpenStack and several virtual (and real!) routing and switching platforms.

on expertise

January 20th, 2014

I fear we are witnessing the “death of expertise”: a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers – in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all. By this, I do not mean the death of actual expertise, the knowledge of specific things that sets some people apart from others in various areas. There will always be doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other specialists in various fields. Rather, what I fear has died is any acknowledgement of expertise as anything that should alter our thoughts or change the way we live.

Another way to say this: people are now wont to believe that the phrase, “my ignorance is as good as your knowledge” holds actual water.

ransomware

January 17th, 2014

Pharmacists have become the latest targets of sophisticated computer hacks known as ransomware attacks, which lock up PCs until victims pay up.

Once the hackers plant the virus, the files on a computer become encrypted and unable to be accessed.

I doubt very much that there’s targeting going on; instead I predict that they’ve been subject to bad luck and poor security practices.

It’s appropriate though to point out that proper off-site and off-line backups are a critical component of any business disaster recovery plan.