Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Deceptive bug counts

Get Firefox! The downloads of Firefox have surpassed 100 million. This news makes me happy and I take this opportunity to give Firefox another plug at the top of my blog! :)

That is not why I post though. I want to point out the ambiguity of the bug counts listed in recent news items about Firefox vs IE. I think it's important that we remain healthily skeptical of hints that Firefox is invulnerable and that it is significantly "better" than IE. The truth is it's better than IE, but mostly because it's free and open source. And of course Firefox has had security flaws too.

Yahoo news says:
IE, however, still had a higher proportion of serious vulnerabilities, with 9 of the 13 flaws rated as highly severe. By comparison, 11 of the 21 Mozilla browser flaws were deemed highly severe, and just 7 of the Firefox flaws were seen as highly severe. The IE flaws also took longer to fix – an average of 43 days, compared with 26 days for Mozilla browsers.
There is more to read into this, however. According to our project manager, programmers on average introduce X bugs per hour of work, some less, some more. (Obviously I would be on the side of more!) Based on this, if company A discovers N bugs in their software and company B discovers only half N bugs it doesn't make company B's product better. Rather it makes company B's product worse because half of the bugs are still in there and need to be found! With reference to IE and Firefox, let's take into account that IE has at least 8 or 9 times as many users so bugs should be discovered at nine times the rate as with Firefox. Note on the flipside, possibly Firefox users are more IT-savvy users in general so bugs are reported more often when they do crop up.

So what's the upshot out of this? As an end user, I want bugs to be found as quickly as possible and I want them to be fixed as quickly as possible. I'm not statistically analysing this, but for me it's clear Firefox wins handsdown in both categories!

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Monday, October 24, 2005

A new take on extremism

With reference to a recent Swiss referendum on whether to provide ten new EU members with the same "free movement" as the existing fifteen members, Crikey reporter Charles Richardson writes:
Countries that trust their voters to make decisions find that they get it right most of the time; extremism flourishes where that trust is absent.
Richardson's claim is that the majority made the "right" decision on this because the Swiss government demonstrated trust in their decision-making ability, unlike France and Netherlands on the same issue (and hence those countries rebelled by making a "wrong" decision to reject the proposed EU constitution earlier this year).

I wonder if this is an accurate assumption - that a good decision results from empowering or "trusting" votes to this degree. Given my lack of Euro-politics-savvy I couldn't say, but I'd be very cynical that this assumption could work at the global level (even though I really want to believe it would be the case).

Global citizen opinion would be highly fragmented in some parts and very polarised in others, and it might be a farce to try and make decisions of global interest in this manner! Isn't it something to do with a relatively homogenous majority culture/value-set that enables Switzerland exist relatively harmoniously in equilibrium with those 26 highly-independent cantons? The very fact that Switzerland enjoys this rare kind of regional governance possibly contributes to 60% (the percentage of yesses to the referrendum in question) being able to their ability to make a "right" decision.

However, the real topic here is extremism and on this matter, Richardson may be right that global referrenda would dampen down extremism around the globe. Your thoughts?

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Digitally mugged me and stole my private key!

Digital identityWe were talking about digital identity not too long ago. It started when Malcolm Turnbull got a drop of publicity from a suggestion that Australia provide "pigeonholes for all" in the form of (at least that's what I thought it was when I read the article, but now it appears to have been updated by ABC to include one's date of birth after surname too -- no thank you)... Seems to me like Turnbull is completely missing the point of why people use email in the first place. Without getting distracted by many other issues, people like email because it's immediate, enables participation in various online activities, can be relatively anonymous, and is easier than writing a letter, finding and envelope, stamp and postbox. At the same time, if there's information you're really wanting to receive from authorities or some other stranger who doesn't already know your personal email address, you will provide this person with your phone number, current email or postal address.

While there does appear to be a slight movement towards an individual choosing to use their real-life identity online, this is often in addition to not instead of other digital identities one may have created for oneself. For instance, Gmail is strongly encouraging the use of real names for a gmail identity by requiring both a "first name" and a "last name" to register. The registration process then "suggests" an email address of the form Practically every large organisation and company in Australia also uses email address that include one's surname and first name before the at sign in a specific format. But existence in cyberspace certainly doesn't require real names or full names. Identity is forged in a variety of other ways.

Specifically we can expect a future where everyone signs emails, forum posts, blogs, etcetera, with their personal key (something like the way many people currently encrypt their emails with PGP encryption) and these will be read by decrypting with our matching public key. In the same way, for messages to us, private keys would be used at both ends (semi-private at the sender's end). We will only be able to read something encoded for our identity to read and in an effort to prevent spam we may choose to only receive messages sent by identities we already trust somewhat. Our collection of private keys will become as important as our credit cards and wallets!!

In a related post on Kim Cameron's blog, we read about a (probably) new academic field that would go beyond the philosophy to examine the nuts and bolts of how identity is formed and lost, especially in a digital context. Cameron writes about the advent of "Identity Studies":
Identity Studies will be founded by computer scientists, information theorists, cryptographers, privacy and security experts, semiologists, psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, architects and designers, lawyers, criminologists, political scientists, and policy researchers. All of these disciplines have important insights to contribute.
Certainly, it's an enormous field which we can expect to become more important in the next fifty years.

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Two instalments of $500 for a bub

Abbott attempts to manipulate women into carrying pregnancies to full term with $500 cash incentives After reading of Abbott's anti-abortion plan and seeing Sarah's post, I had to add a few comments publicly because it is such a simplistic, knee-jerk and irresponsible idea. In his quest to ease his 'Christian' conscience over Australia's "90,000 abortions per year" (a figure which misleadingly includes all involuntary medical procedures too), Abbott has suggested:
One option could be to pay $500 of the [$3079 maternity] allowance when a pregnancy reaches 14 weeks, $500 at 32 weeks and the rest after the birth.
Women should be encouraged to think carefully about such a decision, not be pressured with the lure of immediate payment of some arbitrary sum of money! Offering a token sum like $500 at such a time would likely only change a woman's mind on her choice to terminate a pregnancy if she was smallminded enough to prefer enough cash for a couple of week's rent in the short term instead of carefully considering the longterm future of herself and her possible child-to-be plus its father.

A human life isn't something you can buy or sell for two installments of $500! As a child I would be depressed/infuriated (depending on my personality) if I knew my mother had only carried me because of Abbot's $500 cash "incentives". As a child I would want to know my mother brought me into the world because it's what she wanted.

In the end, maximum support should be offered to women to make the most responsible decision, taking into consideration their own welfare as well as that of their potential child and its father. If Abbott finds the current abortion rate a "tradgedy" then I would be happy to see him suggest government-funded independent, objective counselling services for women considering abortion instead of the current situation, where abortion clinics are compelled to offer "token and pressured" counselling according to anti-abortionist Melinda Tankard Reist in her book. (I do take Reist's point that the abortion clinics would have a vested interest in the woman deciding to abort.)

I don't think I could comprehend how difficult yet important a decision on whether abort a foetus would be if the pregnancy was unplanned or potentially unsafe for the woman. Obviously Abbott has even less idea. What a pity it wasn't Abbott who became pregnant when he was a teenager instead of his girlfriend, Kathy Donnelly.

Image courtesy of Peter Kuper
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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Robotic fish

A robotic fish Professor Huosheng Hu has developed a robotic fish that is apparently able to mimic that elegant swish-flick of a real fish. According to the article they are
biologically inspired robotic fish which mimic the undulating movement of nature's fish species – aiming for the speed of the tuna, the acceleration of a pike, and the navigating skill of the eel.
They are going to be let loose in the London Aquarium. Underwater society will be scandalised!

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Diplomacy across the Kashmir line of control

Musharraf and Vajpayee In the middle of the piles of rubble and bodies in Pakistan there's a report that's really warming -- it's much easier to make blog posts revealing political deceptions, but I thought it might be good to make a post praising a nice spot of diplomacy we saw happening with the Pakistani disaster on the weekend. All the news sources have reported that India is providing aid to Pakistan. Last I heard they offered to ferry aid across the militarised zone of Kashmir, but no one was sure if Pakistan would accept. Seems like it's happening now though.

ABC noted that the so-called "nuclear neighbours" were becoming friendlier lately. Actually a friend just told me that when an underwater fibre optic cable was damaged earlier this year, temporarily breaking Pakistan's Internet connection, they approached India asking about the possibilities for sharing some of India's connectivity. Well it would be a nice boost for the economy if Pakistan could have a few of its own Bangalores.

Seems that Israel's offer of aid was rejected though. Even if India's aid is worthy, Israel's still in the bad books. That being said, apparently "Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf had an 'unprecedented encounter' last month" at the UN General Assembly, but Pakistan still officially refuses to recognise Israel's sovreignty before there's a proper Palestinian state established.

Drawing courtesy of Afshin Sabuki
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Friday, October 07, 2005

Sheep evolution

SheepReally, I'm not obsessed with sheep, but here comes another post about sheep (following this one about smart sheep)...

Did we miss something in the evolution of sheep? Apparently sheep aren't just smart, but they are becoming rude and cunning creatures who are just about too smart for their own good. I came across a BBC article claiming a small flock had figured out how to get across a stock grid to get to the tastier food in people's gardens on the other side.
Hungry sheep on the Yorkshire moors have taught themselves to roll 3 metres across hoof-proof metal cattle grids... ...the crafty animals have also perfected the skill of hurdling 1.5 metre fences and squeezing through 20cm gaps... ...Dorothy Lindley, a Conservative councillor, said: "They lie down on their side, or sometimes their back, and just roll over and over the grids until they are clear."
And we all thought stock grids were able to prevent stock crossing!??

Well, as they say, need is the mother of invention and these sheep just needed to eat some flowers.

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Monday, October 03, 2005

But seriously, regarding Bali... let us learn from terrorism, not fear it, nor justify it

Kuta Beach Street, Bali, Indonesia It is a bit sickening to have another attack in Bali, but it seems especially this way because it's close to home again. I tried to get a perspective on the scale of this latest tradgedy in Bali and noticed that according to Wikipedia this is one of eleven major* terrorist attacks around the world so far this year (three in Israel).

  – Thirteen major attacks are listed in 2004 (two in Egpyt, two in Iraq, two in Israel)
  – Ten major attacks are listed in 2003 (five in Israel)
  – Ten major attacks are listed in 2002 (three in Israel)
  – Ten major attacks are listed in 2001 (three in USA, seven in Israel)

* Note: Major being a kind of callous arbitrary definition that corresponds to a terrorist attack having enough casualties and diplomatic/commercial upset to be newsworthy on its own.

So my thoughts turned to Israel again and I was reminded of one of the best articles I've read about terrorism in Israel by Ami Isseroff: Wafa the hospital bomber. Of course, this is about the worst of the worst -- attempting to blow up a hospital where you are to receive free treatment! But some other "acts of terrorism" aren't as easy to condemn somehow. I think it is easy to be tempted to wonder if terrorism is sometimes justified, but really it is not justifiable and I congratulate Isseroff on his article which makes this compellingly clear.

Probably violence is never morally justifiable, but clearly indiscriminate brutality against civillians is absolutely not morally justifiable. In fact I'd put certain aspects of the invasion of Iraq as well as the Iraqi insurgency into this category. Terrorism doesn't build any kind of confidence, doesn't relieve any tensions, doesn't achieve anything - its aim is to create terror. How can this ever be justifiable? I used to ask myself if Palestinian people felt they were in such a desperate situation that they simply had no option to make people aware of their plight except through bombings. Harsh as it sounds though, every individual and every ethnic/social groups are free to choose how to try and broker peace where there is conflict. Just because you are a minority doesn't actually excuse violence or terrorism. The same should apply to the Israeli Defence Force except that we tend to make exception in the case of national defence forces. No doubt this is a source of great frustration and unfairness for Palestinian people but it still cannot justify terrorism.

What about Bali and the talking heads encouraging us to keep visiting Bali so we're not "giving in to the terrorists"? Well it sounds like a cliché now, but I suppose it's still true. I was impressed with how sensitively people around me reacted to the Maxim Restaurant bombing in Haifa in 2003 when I was in Israel (well most of them). I'm sure most people would not think we have much to learn from Israel in terms of responding to terrorist attacks but I had the good fortune to be in the presence of both Arab and non-Arab Israelis in Haifa at this time and their response was to look at the attack (which killed 19 people including a baby) in terms of the noting the lessons to be learned and then continuing life making our best effort as individuals to understand the causes and envision a future of greater confidence and understanding between Israel and Palestine. To me this is the best way we can respond to terrorism: with our minds genuinely oriented towards this kind of 'peace-building' activity; not responding with fear, not responding with violence, nor going the other way and responding by justifying the terrorism or glorying in the fear the attack created.

But here in Australia following this attack, we should go beyond even this response. As usual Howard frustratingly had a far better response than any other politician: he noted that we should use this as an opportunity to build more bridges with Indonesia [my words]. (Damn his strategy-man is good! :( Or maybe he has just been in the game long enough to know the exact right thing to say). I definitely agree anyway, and hope that we can build public pressure to make this really happen. Massive exchange programs with students from all over Indonesia and Australia might be nice. Perhaps extend this to PNG too so it facilitates more meetings between young Papuans and Indonesian and Aussie youths...

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Adelaide could copy Dubai!

Jebel Ali, one of the Palm Islands off the shore of DubaiMy housemates's boyfriend: "We need a few billion so we can go and create ourselves our own Bali somewhere else." I guess he means something like the four archipelagos Dubai is creating in the Persian Gulf out of oil profits.

Only one problem: where will we find enough dirt-poor people willing to work for practically nothing servicing Aussie tourists? Oh no please don't answer that question!!

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