Matt's Musings

August 17, 2014

GPG Key Transition

Filed under: General — Matt Brown @ 2:45 pm NZST

Firstly, thanks to all who responded to my previous rant. It turns out exactly what I wanted does exist in the form of a ID-000 format smartcard combined with a USB reader. Perfect. No idea why I couldn’t find that on my own prior to ranting, but very happy to have found it now.

Secondly, now that I’ve got my keys and management practices in order, it is time to begin transitioning to my new key.

Click this link to find the properly signed, full transition statement.

I’m not going to paste the full statement into this post, but my new key is:

pub   4096R/A48F065A 2014-07-27 [expires: 2016-07-26]
      Key fingerprint = DBB7 64A1 797D 2E21 C799  3CD7 A628 CB5F A48F 065A
uid                  Matthew Brown <matt @mattb.net.nz>
uid                  Matthew Brown <mattb @debian.org>
sub   4096R/1937883F 2014-07-27 [expires: 2016-07-26]

If you signed my old key, I’d very much appreciate a signature on my new key, details and instructions in the transition statement. I’m happy to reciprocate if you have a similarly signed transition statement to present.

March 17, 2012

Kindle Reading Stats

Filed under: General — @ 11:08 am NZST

I’ve written before about my initial investigations into the Kindle, and I’ve learnt much more about the software and how it communicates with the Amazon servers since then, but it all requires detailed technical explanation which I can never seem to find the motivation to write down. Extracting reading data out of the system log files is however comparatively simple.

I’m a big fan of measurement and data so my motivation and goal for the Kindle log files was to see if I could extract some useful information about my Kindle use and reading patterns. In particular, I’m interested in tracking my pace of reading, and how much time I spend reading over time.

You’ll recall from the previous post that the Kindle keeps a fairly detailed syslog containing many events, including power state changes, and changes in the “Booklet” software system including opening and closing books and position information. You can eyeball any one of those logfiles and understand what is going on fairly quickly, so the analysis scripts are at the core just a set of regexps to extract the relevant lines and a small bit of logic to link them together and calculate time spent in each state/book.

You can find the scripts on Github: https://github.com/mattbnz/kindle-utils

Of course, they’re not quite that simple. The Kindle doesn’t seem to have a proper hardware clock (or mine has a broken hardware clock). My Kindle comes back from every reboot thinking it’s either at the epoch or somewhere in the middle of 2010, the time doesn’t get corrected until it can find a network connection and ping an Amazon server for an update, so if you have the network disabled it might be many days or weeks of reading before the system time is updated to reality. Once it has a network connection it uses the MCC reported by the 3G modem to infer what timezone it should be in, and switches the system clock to local time. Unfortunately the log entries all look like this:


110703:193542 cvm[7908]: I TimezoneService:MCCChanged:mcc=310,old=GB,new=US:
110703:193542 cvm[7908]: I TimezoneService:TimeZoneChange:offset=-25200,zone=America/Los_Angeles,country=US:
110703:193542 cvm[7908]: I LipcService:EventArrived:source=com.lab126.wan,name=localTimeOffsetChanged,arg0=-25200,arg1=1309689302:
110703:193542 cvm[7908]: I TimezoneService:LTOChanged:time=1309689302000,lto=-25200000:
110703:183542 system: I wancontrol:pc:processing "pppstart"
110703:193542 cvm[7908]: I LipcService:EventArrived:source=com.lab126.wan,name=dataStateChanged,arg0=2,arg1=:
110703:183542 cvm[7908]: I ConnectionService:LipcEventArrived:source=com.lab126.cmd,name=intfPropertiesChanged,arg0=
,arg1=wan:
110703:183542 cvm[7908]: W ConnectionService:UnhandledLipcEvent:event=intfPropertiesChanged:
110703:193542 wifid[2486]: I wmgr:event:handleWpasupNotify(<2>CTRL-EVENT-DISCONNECTED), state=Searching:
110703:113542 wifid[2486]: I spectator:conn-assoc-fail:t=374931.469106, bssid=00:00:00:00:00:00:
110703:113542 wifid[2486]: I sysev:dispatch:code=Conn failed:
110703:183542 cvm[7908]: I LipcService:EventArrived:source=com.lab126.wifid,name=cmConnectionFailed,arg0=Failed to connect to WiFi network,arg1=
:

Notice how there is no timezone information associated with the date/time information on each line. Worse still the different daemons are logging in at least 3 different timezones/DST offsets all interspersed within the same logfile. Argh!!

So our simple script that just extracts a few regexps and links them together nearly doubles in size to handle the various time and date convolutions that the logs present. Really, the world should just use UTC everywhere. Life would be so much simpler.

The end result is a script that spits out information like:

B000FC1PJI: Quicksilver: Read 1 times. Last Finished: Fri Mar 16 18:30:57 2012
- Tue Feb 21 11:06:24 2012 => Fri Mar 16 18:30:57 2012. Reading time 19 hours, 29 mins (p9 => p914)

...

Read 51 books in total. 9 days, 2 hours, 29 mins of reading time

I haven’t got to the point of actually calculating reading pace yet, but the necessary data is all there and I find the overall reading time stats interesting enough for now.

If you have a jailbroken Kindle, I’d love for you to have a play and let me know what you think. You’ll probably find logs going back at least 2-3 weeks still on your Kindle to start with, and you can use the fetch-logs script to regularly pull them down to more permanent storage if you desire.

November 24, 2011

How I’m voting in 2011

Filed under: General,Life,WLUG / LinuxNZ — @ 11:45 pm NZST

It’s general election time again in New Zealand this year, with the added twist of an additional referendum on whether to keep MMP as our electoral system. If you’re not interested in New Zealand politics, then you should definitely skip the rest of this post.

I’ve never understood why some people consider their voting choices a matter of national security, so when via Andrew McMillan, I saw a good rationale for why you should share your opinion I found my excuse to write this post.

Party Vote
I’ll be voting for National. I’m philosophically much closer to National than Labour, particularly on economic and personal responsibility issues, but even if I wasn’t the thought of having Phil Goff as Prime Minister would be enough to put me off voting Labour. His early career seems strong, but lately it’s been one misstep and half-truth after another, the remainder of the Labour caucus and their likely support partners don’t offer much reassurance either. If I was left-leaning and the mess that Labour is in wasn’t enough to push me over to National this year then I’d vote Greens and hope they saw the light and decided to partner with National.

Electorate Vote
I live in Dublin, but you stay registered in the last electorate where you resided, which for me is Tamaki. I have no idea who the candidates there are, so I’ll just be voting for the National candidate for the reasons above.

MMP Referendum
I have no real objections to MMP and I think it’s done a good job of increasing representation in our parliament. I like that parties can bring in some star players without them having to spend time in an electorate. I don’t like the tendency towards unstable coalitions that our past MMP results have sometimes provided.

Of the alternatives, STV is the only one that I think should be seriously considered, FPP and it’s close cousin SM don’t give the proportionality of MMP and PV just seems like a simplified version of STV with limited other benefit. If you’re going to do preferential voting, you might as well do it properly and use STV.

So, I’ll vote for a change to STV, not because I’m convinced that MMP is wrong, but because I think it doesn’t hurt for the country to spend a bit more time and energy confirming that we have the right electoral system. If the referendum succeeds and we get another referendum between MMP and something other than STV in 2014, I’ll vote to keep MMP. If we have a vote between MMP and STV in 2014 I’m not yet sure how I’d vote. STV is arguably an excellent system, but I worry that it’s too complex for most voters to understand.

PS. Just found this handy list of 10 positive reasons to vote for National, if you’re still undecided and need a further nudge. Kiwiblog: 10 positive reasons to vote National

March 29, 2010

Initial Review of Xero Personal

Filed under: General — @ 12:10 pm NZST

I’ve been eagerly looking forward to the release of Xero Personal which has been heavily promoted by Xero and BNZ (as MoneyMap) for the last few months. Unfortunately my first impressions of the product today are extremely underwhelming. Xero Personal is definitely not worth anywhere close to $5/month for me at this point in time and I’m unlikely to even keep using the free trial.

To set the context for that statement, Xero Business set the bar high. I first used the original version of Xero while it was still in beta and even then it was clear that it was an application that took accounting to a new level and would provide an order of magnitude improvement in how I maintained the accounts for our business. That promise held true once we started paying for it, even though the cost of Xero is more than 10% of our annual expenses, the time and hassle it saves makes it a worthwhile investment. By contrast today’s release of Xero Personal offers nothing new above existing personal finance websites or desktop packages and would take me extra time to use as it fails to handle many of the basic transactions that a normal household will encounter.

The way Xero Personal works is by having you manually upload your bank statements (the automatic import functionality that is so useful in the business version of Xero has been restricted to BNZ MoneyMap customers only). For each transaction you are asked to provide two pieces of information. The first is a category which serves as a basic form of account to track expenses and income. For each category you can set a spending or saving goal which Xero will help you track progress towards. The second is a name to identify the other party in the transaction. Xero Personal comes pre-loaded with some fairly generic categories. Annoyingly you’re restricted to no more than 8 additional custom categories and the names associated with each transaction are are simple strings – you can’t link a transaction to another account or entity. To represent a transfer you need two separate transactions, one in each account, which you assign to the special category “Transfer” so that Xero knows to essentially ignore it. Nothing links the transactions together or ensures that the values balance.

In addition to the basic categorisation functionality the application also attempts to track your assets and liabilities (bank accounts and credit cards show up automatically) so that it can compute your net worth. Unfortunately as soon as you try and use this you hit the problem that there is no way to link transactions from your accounts back to your assets and liabilities. This means unless you regularly and manually update your assets and liabilities the “net worth” calculation only takes into account changes in your cash position and becomes blatantly incorrect.

As an example, take the common case of a household with a weekly mortgage (or other loan) repayment. You want the weekly payment to decrease the balance of your current account, increase the balance of your interest expense category and decrease the value of your mortgage liability. Your net worth should decrease by the value of the interest expense only, as the decrease in the value your mortgage liability offsets the remainder of the decrease in the value of your current account.

Xero Personal doesn’t come close to being able to handle this example today. The ability to split payments to different categories has also been left out (even though it’s present in Xero Business and therefore presumably in the underlying engine) so your only option is to categorise the entire payment as a mortgage or housing expense, decreasing your net worth by the full value of the payment. Even if you could split the payment between two categories, one for the interest and one for the principal the inability to link the category for the principal to the liability account means the net worth calculation will still be incorrect.

Maybe I’m being to hard on this newly released product? It is a SaaS application after all and Xero has an excellent history of releasing regular updates to the business version of Xero. The reason I’m so surprised and disappointed by this initial release is that it essentially lacks any double-entry accounting support – many of the missing features are core functionality that is already implemented in the accounting platform that supports the business version. Assuming that Xero Personal is built on the same platform (and that would be the obvious choice wouldn’t it?) the fact that Xero Personal has been released and is being heavily promoted without these features (compared to the initial version of Xero Business which was fully functional and obviously awesome even in beta) suggests to me that it’s a conscious decision to significantly limit the scope and usefulness of the application rather than simply a limit on what could be implemented before the initial release.

I sincerely hope that I’m wrong and that the coming months bring significant improvements to the functionality of Xero Personal, but until it can support common transactions like mortgage repayments correctly I won’t be using it or recommending it to anyone.

June 28, 2009

Political Compass

Filed under: General,Life — @ 12:32 pm NZST

It’s been a while since I’ve taken any sort of quiz like this, so when David Farrar from Kiwblog posted his results today it prompted me to give it another go.

My Political Views
I am a center-right moderate social libertarian
Right: 1.33, Libertarian: 1.97

Political Spectrum Quiz

I completed the quiz pretty quickly and felt the need to answer ‘it depends on the specifics’ to many of the questions, so take the results with a grain of salt. I think it is a reasonably accurate description of me though.

February 24, 2009

The government listened!

Filed under: Debian,General,WLUG / LinuxNZ — @ 1:07 pm NZST

I was very pleased to wake up this morning to the news that National has delayed the introduction of S92A via an order-in-council. It’s a nice short-term victory, but I’ll save the champagne until the law is fundamentally rewritten.

The most pleasing aspect of the decision is simply that it was made at all. Within two weeks, a small band of protesters were able to harness the power of the Internet to direct international attention and place enough pressure on a Government, whose Prime Minister admitted to not having read the bill prior, that he then took the time to understand the issues and personally announce the delay in implementation of the law. We owe much thanks to the Creative Freedom Foundation for all the effort they put into co-ordinating the protest and ensuring that a single coherent message was presented. Just a little bit of my cynicism and belief that politicians never listen to public opinion outside of election campaigns was chipped away today.

The reason I’m not breaking out the champagne yet is that we’ve only achieved a temporary reprieve in the commencement of the law. While those present at the press conference seem somewhat confident that John Key didn’t like what he found in the law and would have repealed it if given the chance, all that has actually been done is delay it in the hopes of an agreement between the TCF and the “rights holders” (aka big media companies) on how to implement the still fundamentally broken law. The Government has given until late March for that to occur.

To put this into a more global context. My happiness as I took the bus to work after reading about the decision to delay the law was short lived as the front page of the local paper declared that Eircom (Ireland’s equivalent of Telecom) has “voluntarily” agreed to block sites such as The Pirate Bay upon request by the media companies (this comes a week after they also announced an agreement to, again “voluntarily”, implement a 3-strikes S92A style policy). Now, with the biggest ISP in their pocket (so to speak), the media companies have sent threatening letters to the remaining ISPs in the country demanding they implement the same procedure.

To me, this illustrates one of the fundamental problems with S92. The concept that an ISP is liable for the conduct of its users, or for policing where on the Internet users should and shouldn’t be able to connect to does not belong in our laws. Most ISPs already have provision to disconnect customers for illegal activity in their terms and conditions. If an end-user is doing something illegal, that is an issue between the rights holder and the end-user to take up in the courts just like every other sector of society must do when wronged, at which point the existing ISP terms and conditions can be invoked and access terminated.

The big media companies, having decided that it is too expensive/hard/inconvenient to follow standard legal procedures to resolve their grievances are launching multi-pronged attacks to shift the playing field in their favour. In countries like New Zealand, where our politicians yearn for a Free Trade Agreement with America, they use their lobbyists to ensure that S92 style laws are part of the conditions. In other jurisdictions, like Ireland, they use strong-arm, divide and conquer style bully tactics outside of the political and legal process.

I don’t support copyright infringement. I rely on copyright to protect much of the work I place on the Internet, I want strong laws that protect me when my rights have been infringed. I don’t believe that such laws should come at the expense of due process, our legal tradition and the basic principle of fairness! I don’t believe that copyright infringement is such a heinous crime that it demands punishments stronger than those we deliver to paedophiles, stalkers or any other class of criminal who uses the Internet to enable their crimes.

To me, today’s (yesterday’s – depending on your timezone) decision is only the first step in clawing New Zealand back from the dangerous path that the big media companies have been leading our law makers down. From here we need to press on and demonstrate to the Government over the next month that even if the TCF and rights holders are able to come up with some sort of workable code of practice, the law is still fundamentally flawed. It is based on premise that we are guilty by accusation.

Even if guilt were to be proved by a competent legal body (eg. court or copyright tribunal) we don’t need laws placing further liabilites onto ISPs (and remember the definition of ISP under this amendment act includes businesses who provide Internet access to staff, libraries, schools and hospitals) when their existing terms and conditions already prohibit illegal activity.

Finally, and most importantly of all, we need to remember that laws exist to serve all sectors of society. Yes, copyright infringement is against the law and rights holders are reasonable in expecting the law to protect their content and allow them to make a fair profit. On the other side of the fence, average New Zealanders are not being unreasonable in their desire to have media available electronically, on demand and non-inhibited by DRM following a legal purchase. The failure of the media businesses to adequately cater to this change in market demand and usage of technology is obviously a contributing factor to the widespread copyright problems that they are facing today.

Obviously, I’m not condoning copyright infringement simply because the media companies are failing to address demand. Even stupid laws must be obeyed (and the concept of copyright is far from stupid). What I want to see is the Government acknowledging that the problem is not solely with consumers infringing copyright for malicious purposes, and therefore that the solutions do not lie solely in increasing the enforcement and punishments available.

Copyright has always been a balancing act between the rights of content producers and consumers. S92 and the act it is contained within are taking us far too far down the road of catering to big business and their outdated business models with far too little concern for the rights of the individual consumer.

Despite the many submissions made on this act last year when it was first passing through parliament, there was no comprehensive debate on what copyright means and how it should balance the rights of content producers and consumers in our digital century where copying is a zero-cost, zero-thought activity. Without such a debate we’re doomed to continue wasting time arguing over the symptoms of the problem, like S92.

So, I’m saving my champagne for the day when we as a country address these issues and come up with a fair and workable interpretation of what copyright means today.

February 18, 2009

Blacked Out – no “Guilt Upon Accusation”

Filed under: General,Linux,WLUG / LinuxNZ — @ 1:37 pm NZST

If you’re reading this post via the website rather than a feed/planet then you will notice that the site has gone completely black in support of the Creative Freedom Foundation’s campaign against S92A of the NZ Copyright Amendment Act which is due to come into effect on 28th February 2009. I’ve also joined the wave of people blacking out their “avatar” on Facebook/Jabber/MSN, etc.

S92A introduces “Guilt Upon Accusation” whereby if you are accused of copyright infringement (downloading music and movies, etc) “repeatedly” (likely 3 or more times) you are at risk of being disconnected from the Internet by your ISP. The law does not require any proof or substantiation of the accusations and the entire process would occur outside of the courts and the established legal system. Not only does it place every user at risk, the wording is very unclear on exactly what type of organisation is considered an ISP and there is significant concern that schools, businesses, libraries and hospitals will be placed in the difficult position of determining whether their users have broken the law and require disconnection.

Opposition to the law is not an attack on copyright, or a statement that we should be free to download all the movies and music that we desire. Those sorts of activities are clearly wrong, and I don’t have any issue with copyright holders wanting to enforce their rights when their content is illegally copied. However, disconnecting people upon accusation, with no proof or formal legal process to prove guilt is not the right way to go about it.

The fact that the law does not require proof of guilt is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of problems with it. For further background on the problems it causes for ISPs by placing them as the middle-man in copyright disputes you should refer to the following posts:

Finally, I think it is worth pointing out that S92A was removed from the proposed Amendment at the select committee stage, but was later reintroduced by Judith Tizard during the final reading of the bill. Mark Harris has an excellent post on the history of the amendment which includes facts such as the official report on the amendment also recommended removing S92A as it was unecessary given existing ISP terms and conditions which forbid illegal activity. The fact that the select committee (based on public submissions) recognised the problems with S92A and removed it, only to have it added back in again at the last stage when we no longer had any say on it really hacks me off and I cant’ help but feel the influence of the “big money” American media companies pressuring our politicians to pass a law that they don’t really understand the full consequences of.

So what is to be done? The Blacked Out campaign, being run by the Creative Freedom Foundation is gathering steam and international attention. Peter Dunne of United Future (who originally voted for the amendment) has declared that the amendment is wrong, and doesn’t do what they thought they were voting to do, we need to convince National and the rest of the house of the same. Time is running out for this to happen before the amendment comes into effect on Feb 28th, but there is still time to write to your local MP and sign the petition against S92A “Guilt Upon Accusation”. The Creative Freedom Foundation site has a nice easy list of what you can do to register your protest.

September 9, 2008

New Gadgets

Filed under: Debian,General,Linux — @ 10:11 am NZST

It’s been a while since I last acquired new gadgets but I think I’ve made up for lost time with my last weeks purchases.

You may remember that I’ve had my eye on the Openmoko phones since early 2007, but in between shifting across the world and starting a new job I never got around to purchasing one of the first versions. The second version, the “Freerunner”, was released in June this year and I placed an order with Pulster, a local distributor, shortly after. The phones have been in hot demand, so I only received my phone last week, a wait of of almost 2 months, and it turned up missing one of the cables that was meant to come with it. Still some distribution kinks to be worked out.

Distribution kinks are the least of Openmoko’s worries at the moment though. As advertised, the phone is definitely not ready for primetime distribution yet. I’ve tried three different software images on it: the original “stable” 2007.2 image, the current “devel” 2008.8 image and the latest completely rebuilt SHR release which is the most promising yet. With the SHR image I’ve been able to send and receive calls and text messages, although the interface is somewhat arcane. I’m most interested in the GPS which looks to be working reasonably well at this stage.

After almost a week with the phone I’m glad I purchased it, and I’m having fun hacking on it, but there is a huge way to go before I’ll be able to use it as my primary phone. So that’s gadget #1.

The second gadget is a new Digital SLR camera. I’ve been thinking about getting back into photography for a while (I last took photos seriously in high school) and when I saw how affordable digital SLRs had become I couldn’t resist. There isn’t much between Canon and Nikon when comparing mid-range SLRs these days, so after about a week of deliberation I decided on the Canon 450D, primarily because most of my workmates also have Canon SLRs!

I only got the camera on Friday, and spent half the weekend playing with the GPS on the phone (I want to set them up so I can geo tag all my photos), so I haven’t had quite as much time to play with it yet. I expect to spend plenty of quality time with it on our holiday in Malta next week. First impressions are favourable, although I’m fast discovering camera viewfinders were not really designed for people who wear glasses. I may have to consider wearing contacts again.

Once we get back from Malta I’d like to find a local (or online) photography club with some good weekly assignments to fire my creativity and motivate me to get the most out of my new toy.

March 31, 2007

Travelling

Filed under: General,WLUG / LinuxNZ — @ 11:26 am NZST

In just a few hours, I’m hopping on Emirates flight EK433 from Auckland to Singpore, to start the first leg of my trip to Dublin. I’ll be travelling for pretty much the next month, so if you’re trying to get hold of me please don’t be offended if I take several days to reply.

Kat and I have setup another blog to detail our travels, and I’ll try and keep this blog free of too much personal stuff so as to not clutter the various planets that it is syndicated to. If you’re interested in our travels and what we are up to then head over to http://www.mattandkatbrown.com.

There is also a calendar at mattandkatbrown.com if you’re wanting to try and meet up with me for keysigning, etc.

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