Friday, February 12, 2010

Queensland: Altruistic Surrogacy Allowed

Finally, Queensland sees clear to make altruistic surrogacy legal.  Commercial surrogacy still remains a crime, but Laws making altruistic surrogacy a crime in Queensland will be repealed.

The new Laws will contain no discrimination on the basis of sex, meaning same sex couples can use a female friend to start a family.

Now personally, I think this is a great thing.  There are a number of couples who cannot have children for various reasons and if someone is willing to bear a child and adopt it out to that couple, then this cannot be a bad thing.  There are a number of parents who definitely don't deserve to have children, and I'd be willing to bet critical organs that those who participate in a program such as this will be some of the better parents, more suited to bringing up these children than a number of other couples that any of us could think of.

The children are likely to be less intolerant of those different from themselves and therefore better fit into society than children of, say, right-wing religious nutter parents who can't tolerate homosexuals, people with long hair, people with body art, people with a different god to theirs (not that theirs exists) and voters who vote for a different political party.


The Outspoken Wookie

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Judge: Users Are Responsible For Their Actions

In a win for clear thinking and sanity, the Australian Film and Television Industry lost a poorly targeted case against iiNet for what its users downloaded.  It is going to likely become a landmark case with regard to who's responsible for piracy - it looks like the legal system in Australia thinks that those who download pirated material are responsible for their own actions and the ISPs and/or carriers themselves are not responsible for the illegal actions of their users that are clearly *against* the AUPs of the ISPs and carriers anyway.

So, sanity rules - this time!  :)

I'm a big believer in being responsible for your own decisions and actions and not blaming others for your choices.  And it seems that Justice Dennis Cowdroy agrees with me: "It is impossible to conclude that iiNet has authorised copyright infringement ... (it) did not have relevant power to prevent infringements occurring."  The judge also ordered the studios pay the court costs.

Now, don't think that I condone piracy for a second - but I don't blame iiNet any more than Microsoft for enabling users to download pirated material - after all, not only did they use iiNet's Internet connectivity, many of them used a Microsoft Operating System to access the Internet - so if iiNet was responsible, then Microsoft should have been, too.  And the Electricity authority who provided the power.  And Laser or whoever manufactured the blank DVDs that the pirated content was burned onto.  And Seagate or whoever made the hard drives that stored the pirated content.  You may now see how ridiculous this claim that the AFTI made against iiNet truly was.


The Outspoken Wookie

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Security vs Safety

In quite a decent article on CNET News, Elinor Mills interviewed 32 experts in security and came up with the content for her article.  She also quotes ESET (the makers of NOD32), who released the results of a recent survey in which they found (not surprisingly) that Mac users were not only victims of cybercrime just as frequently as PC users, but that they perceived that they were less likely to be a cybercrime victim.

I call this the "ostrich defence" (or, more correctly, the "Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal Defence") where people mistakenly thought that ostriches buried their heads in the sand when they were in danger, thinking that if they can't see their attacker that their attacker can't see them.  Obviously, when it comes to ostriches this is a fallacy (there are still ostriches alive today), however when it comes to Apple users, well, this looks to be the way they are treating security.  Look at their response to Elinor's request for comment as a good example of the emphasis Apple places on open discussion about their security.

My take is that security and safety are two very different things.  When you look at the two current OSes - Apple's OS-X Snow Leopard and Microsoft's Windows 7 - generally the experts all tend to agree that there's very little between them, with Windows 7 being the more secure OS and Snow Leopard being the safer one to use.  The reason that Snow Leopard is safer is not because it is more secure (it isn't) but because there is a smaller installed base and therefore a lower financial reward for malware authors to target this platform.

Apple's market share rose dramatically as the result of Windows Vista.  Even now it is around 5-7% of market share depending what sources you read.  That's not a lot.  It took just 4-5 weeks for Windows 7 to reach this market share, showing how small a player Apple's Mac OS-X really is.  That clearly explains why it is such a small target for malware authors, regardless of its lower security than Windows 7.

Windows XP is still the largest shareholder and the biggest target for malware.  As Windows XP, released in 2001 and patched three major times since, is now 9 years old, you can understand why it has security issues in 2010.  As users move towards Windows 7, I can honestly see the number of successful attacks dropping and malware authors starting to look more seriously at OS-X.

Another issue - the biggest issue - is the wetware, not the hardware nor software.  Wetware is sometimes referred to as "PEBKAC".  Yes, I'm talking about the user themselves.  It doesn't matter how secure an operating environment is, if a user is determined to enter their password to download a browser plugin to watch the cute dancing pig, then they have made this secure environment unsafe.

This is why we strongly recommend against regular users having Administrator rights - users are users (ie, they use the system) and administrators are administrators (ie they administer the system) and even an administrator's regular daily account shouldn't have administrator rights as far as I'm concerned.

Windows Vista, the slothlike behemoth of an OS that it was, introduced some good security concepts, however they were very poorly implemented, making the slothlike OS even more unbearable to use.  Many of these were fixed in SP1, but Microsoft had done their dough by then.  Fortunately Microsoft learned from their legion mistakes with Vista and Windows 7 is a much, much nicer OS to use that retains and actually enhances the security introduced in Vista.

It is quite often the applications running on the computer that contain the vulnerabilities that are being exploited.  A classic example is Adobe Reader - one of the applications with huge amounts of security issues.  It TRULY is in need of a complete rewrite.  If you don't keep your operating system *and* applications updated, then you're neither safe nor secure.

So, safe behavior is more important than a secure OS - this isn't really news, but with decently secure OSes now available, safe usage practices become more important as social engineering attacks become more prevalent.


The Outspoken Wookie

Monday, February 01, 2010

Battery Technology

I do a bit of work in various fields that rely on batteries to run equipment - laptops, servers, desktops, cameras, microphones, IFB, in ear monitors, remote controls, clocks, smoke alarms, building alarms, emergency exit lights, hearing aids and a great deal more.  Because of this, developments in battery technology are somewhat important to me.  So, why not share?  :)

Now, we're talking about two main types of batteries here - the batteries that work when you buy them (primary batteries) and those that don't work when you buy them (broken batt...  oops, secondary batteries) as you need to charge them before using them.

Well, let's forget the Zinc-carbon dry cell as it is crap at pretty much anything - it does run at 1.5V, but it has a low output, low life, limited usefulness.  We'll also completely diss Zinc Chloride (aka Heavy Duty) batteries as they are only very slightly less crap than Zinc-carbon batteries.

That leaves us with the commonly used 1.5V Alkaline (Zinc-Manganese Dioxide) and Lithium (really, Lithium-Manganese Dioxide (mainly) at 3.0V or Lithium Iron Disulfide at 1.5V) primary batteries and various secondary, or rechargeable batteries.  I'll mention both Zinc-air (used mainly for hearing aids) and Silver Oxide batteries here to complete the picture, but will summarily ignore them from this point forward.

As for secondary batteries, I'll immediately ignore Lead Acid batteries (2.1V/cell) as I'm really thinking more of portable batteries in this post.  And I don't mean portable if you wrap a car around it!  :)

Now, NiCads, or NiCd if you spell it properly, are the most inexpensive, most common of secondary batteries.  They are fine for things such as remote control cars, but are crap for radio microphones, IFBs, IEMs and many other things such as smoke alarms and remote controls - mostly because of their 1.2V cells.  The Cadmium in these is a significant environmental hazard and these batteries are being phased out in a number of countries because of this.  They also suffer a "memory effect" where if they are not fully discharged before being recharged, they will o0nly discharge that far before thinking they are empty - this can be addressed sometimes with the use of deep cell recycling/rejuvenation, but there are better battery technologies around.

Like NiMH - Nickel Metal Hydride.  These have the same issue of being a 1.2V cell, making them still not ideal for devices designed for 1.5V cells, such as many radio mics, IFBs and IEMs, however they have the ability to withstand higher discharge rates than Alkaline batteries.  The original NiMH batteries have a crap shelf life - use immediately after charging as they lose 10% of their original charge after 2-3 weeks and about 35% after a year.  Newer "low self-discharge" NiMH batteries lose only about 5% after 2-3 weeks and 15% after a year - they can therefore be quite usable off the shelf most of the time.

Lithium Ion secondary cells have been around for a while now, however they are ~3.6V/cell, making them not so usable in AA/AAA cells, but great as laptop batteries.  They are lighter than pretty much any equivalent secondary battery, however they suffer poor cycle life - each recharge causes them to lose a bit of life expectancy.  They also don't handle high charge rates nor discharge rates well at all.  They are not very good with heat and can explode if overheated or overcharged.  Lithium-polymer cells (Lithium-ion polymer, to be correct) are a variation on this theme which offers a higher energy/weight ratio and a more physically robust design at the expense of needing to be quite carefully recharged.

Then there's the new (well, patented in 1901) Nickel-Zinc batteries at 1.6V/cell that are also looking promising.  They are currently commonly available as AA or AAA cells, however with low environmental impact, high cell voltage (usable in devices that can't run on the 1.2V cells of NiCD or NiMH batteries), fast recharge times, mAh ratings similar to Alkaline batteries, costs approaching those of Alkaline batteries, around 1000 recharges, however with very little real information on self-discharge rates.

So, it looks like for regular 1.2V secondary cells in devices that can handle them, the newer LSD-NiMH batteries, even though they will take fewer recharges (compared to normal NiMH cells) are the way to go, and NiZn in devices that don't work well on 1.2V secondary cells.  I'd really like to see some comparisons on discharge curves of the NiZn vs Alkaline batteries.  I'd like to see NiZn batteries and chargers available in Australia, too!

I could spend a boatload of time Googling everything and anything related to thes ebattery technologies, looking for discharge rates and lifetime plots and such, but I'm very unlikely to find any real comparative figures across different technologies.  I know that the Sanyo Eneloop site has some decent information comparing NiMH and their LSD NiMH Enerloop batteries, and Stefan Vorkoetter has done some more research on these and a few other LSD NiMH batteries.

Out of interest, you *can* recharge some Alkaline cells with varying degrees of success.  You *cannot* do this in a regular NiCd, NiMH, Li-ion nor NiZn charger.  Depending on how discharged they become, you can charge them up to a few hundred cycles, but in normal use, this will drop to a couple of dozen recharges at most.  A risk with recharging regular (especially Duracell) Alkaline batteries is cell leaks, which I can assure you, definitely does happen.  :)


The Outspoken Wookie