Monday, August 11, 2014

Open Letter to Bruce Billson MP re: Data Retention

Here is the letter that I submitted to my MP via the EFA/GetUp petition on Data Retention. Please consider also signing the petition and writing a letter to your MP, which the form makes extremely trivial to do.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

LexisNexis Rage

We said it's a free society, not a free society

I graduated from my Master of Laws degree earlier this year, and since then, I've been somewhat disconnected from being able to continue my studies. I mean disconnected in the literal sense.

Monash University, where I did my study (though I assume all other institutions are the same), give access to lots of online research tools for the duration of studies. Many of those tools are made by the likes of LexisNexis or ThomsonReuters. However, since graduation, I can no longer access any of these services.

In particular, LexisNexis makes a terrible database front-end for looking up reported cases and journal articles, called CaseBase. While the rest of the world has moved on to web 3.11, or some other such buzzword, CaseBase has remained true to its origins, firmly rooted in web 0.98beta.

They have no reason to spend money on improving their horrible front-end or adding features to their search "technology", because, as I'm sure you could guess, all their content is licensed either from journal companies, or some government department or government-approved monopoly. That means, for example, that you have to go through CaseBase, or some system just like it, in order to find out what was said in the decisions of the courts, for most court decisions. In Australia, which is a common law country, that means that without paying for a subscription, you cannot feasibly find out enough of the law to know what your responsibilities are, as a citizen.

You shouldn't need to pay for this stuff, but let's forget all that idealistic crap about citizens being able to read the laws of the land. I'm not cheap, so I'll just pay for a subscription. It can't be too much can it?

Try to find out on the website. I couldn't. I tried to LiveChat with them, but it took them somewhere north of an hour to respond, from my estimate, and I'd left my computer. I left a message on the phone and finally got a call back the next day. So this is an efficient company, huh?

So, now, back to how much it costs. I guess on an annual subscription, for this important information, $700 isn't too much is it? Oh, you think it is? Well, on an annual subscription, that's the monthly cost.

CaseBase costs $8,400 per year

Stripping out various journals and paring it back to just access to cases still cost about $5,000 per year, and when I still balked at that, the sales rep offered it to me for $3,400 per year, because I wouldn't be using it commercially.

Yeah, no.

This is what happens when information that should be public domain is locked up behind paywalls; we're left with sub-standard systems that cost a fortune.

It's a rort, and it needs to be fixed.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

[Solved] Amazon EC2 HTTP/HTTPS Redirection Loop using IIS

I'm writing this up because, like with a couple of problem solving posts in the past, I think this could be helpful for other people who have spent hours googling without any results.

I have been setting up a site on a single Amazon EC2 instance. The site can be accessed with SSL or without.

I generated the certificate request, going through GeoTrust, installed it with only a little difficulty.
Everything was going well until I tried to visit any of the HTTPS pages. If they didn't require HTTPS, then the request was redirected back to the HTTP version with a 301 permanent redirection. If HTTPS was required, then a redirection loop was encountered, as my code kept redirecting back to HTTPS, with something redirecting back to HTTP.

Lots of articles exist where people can't reach the site over SSL, but that wasn't my problem. Lots of articles exist where the problem is that Amazon's Enterprise Load Balancer (ELB) was in use, which obviously intercepts HTTPS requests, then passes on the result as HTTP, which would cause a redirection if requesting a page that requires HTTPS, but should not cause a loop where HTTPS is optional.

Instead, the problem was much simpler. The binding I had set up in IIS for HTTPS was using the EC2 instance's public, elastic IP address, rather than the server's private IP address. This was resulting in a redirection to the non-secure version on requests for the secure version, because as far as the server knows, the elastic IP address is a different machine.

Anyway, so changing the binding to use the private IP address worked perfectly.

I can't be bothered trying to word this as a question and answer using the right keywords and then deciding on whether it is more appropriate to go on Stackoverflow.com or Serverfault.com, hence me brain-dumping this here.

Hopefully, this SEO-keyword-laden blog post will allow others who get bitten by this esoteric issue to find an answer much faster.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Why of Pirate Party Australia

Recently, a discussion within Pirate Party Australia started up around "why" we're here, rather than the usual viewpoint of what we're trying to achieve. Simon Frew, the party president, wrote a piece about it on his blog.

These are my thoughts on the question of "why".

I understand that, from an "Apple marketing is different" stance, why before what leads to a more engaged audience, so we need to be clear in our why, which is difficult because the Pirate Party's why is inextricably linked to its what.

Our what is civil liberties and social inclusion. Our corresponding why is because we're passionate about allowing people to have dignity, and to come together as a society where everyone is able to freely contribute to what they think will make society a better place than when they arrived

People should be allowed dignity... but they can choose to give it up.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Google's stock split

It's been a few weeks now since GOOG stock split into what is now GOOGL and GOOG.

For each share of GOOG that a person held, pre-split, they retained 1 GOOGL share, which was the renamed, normal class of shares, and they were issued a new, non-voting share under the old name GOOG, which is different to the old GOOG, which was renamed GOOGL.

Nice and simple.

What's been irking me over this time is that the share prices are so similar. GOOGL currently trades for $533.87, and GOOG is trading for $527.93. That's about 1% apart, and the biggest difference has been about 2%.

It seems to me like a share that has a voting right should be worth more than one that doesn't. More than 1% more.

There's a special class of shares in Google that are only held by Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt, which each have 10 votes per share. This is the reason for the low difference in price between GOOGL and GOOG; it doesn't really matter how many shares anyone has in Google because they can never affect anything with a vote, so all shares held by the public, or even institutions, are effectively non-voting.

Except, if I recall correctly, the super special class of shares cannot be transferred without converting to an ordinary share.[citation needed]

If that's the case, then over time, these special shares will disappear, even if it is on the time scale of a lifetime. So the better long term investment is in GOOGL, as one day, they'll actually have a say, whereas GOOG will remain merely a token to partake in profit-sharing.

I guess that the value difference that's put by the market at a mere 1%. If I actually had any shares in Google, I'd have sold all my GOOGs and bought the same number of GOOGLs, paying the 1% right-to-vote tax. Perhaps it's the love of democracy that I have that makes me sad and confused that the value of a (promise of a) vote can be so little.

Anyway, let's see how this plays out.