21 December 2009

Making your iPhone better

The iPhone has some missing features, such as a simple external indicator that you have email/SMS/Calendar reminder. Switching between applications is also very clunky, particularly when your application shuts down and you want to check something and then go back to it.

The answer is to jailbreak a iPhone (or iPod Touch for that matter). This lets one install applications that are not approved by Apple. While some people have difficulties doing this, many people find it straightforward on a iPhone 3GS with OS 3.1.2 (current at time of writing).
  • Go to http://blackra1n.com/ and choose the Macintosh or Windows application. 
  • Read and follow instructions
  • Be patient at each step
The user is then are prompted to install Rock or Cydia. These are, essentially, application stores just like iTunes. One can install free or paid applications, and some paid applications have a trial period (you usually don't see this on iTunes - only "lite" versions).

Popular applications are:
  • Categories - group your apps into folders
  • Kirikae - background and switch to any app. eg: I don't have to quit the Tom Tom GPS to check mail
  • iPhone Tool - turns on and off "Flight Mode" automatically each day (good at night)
  • MyWi - turns your iPhone into a modem by BlueTooth, USB or WiFi
  • Backgrounder - helps with the backgrounding of applications.
  • IntelliScreen - a great home screen, showing email, diary and more while locked
  • AnyRing - make anything a ringtone
Caveats? You might find yourself using more data and exceeding limits; you might reduce battery life; you might have trouble during the jailbreak. But then again, you might not. You might even be breaching the license Apple granted you to use the iPhone software. You may even be breaching copyright legislation.

Software license: Apple believes that it is a breach of the iPhone Software License Agreement, and therefore your license to use your iPhone (well strictly speaking, the software in it) is immediately revoked.

Legislation: It also seems that Apple thinks it violates the USA Digital Millenium Copyright Act 1998.

Apple might also think that Blackra1n defeats a "technological protection measure" under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 but the language is very different to the DMCA. However that alone is only part of any argument. Further, any argument may require understanding how Blackra1n works. In Blackrain's favour, it may be that s 47D of the Copyright Act relating to making interoperable products may come into play. Of course, s 47D directly contradicts Apple's ISLA, which attempts to remove the user's rights to make an adaptation of the iPhone software.

Why would Apple care about you hacking your iPhone? It's sold you the hardware and made a dollar, so shouldn't it be happy?  Publicly stated reasons are a bit too altruistic or don't hold water. I can think of three reasons:

1. Could it lose money? Well, you can still purchase from the iTunes Store, but if you purchase from Rock or Cydia then Apple will not earn the cut it gets from the iTunes Store. This seems to be the real reason that sets this situation apart from, say, Sony's PlayStation. You can install Linux on a PS3, and it becomes a powerful, potentially multi-node computer. There are 'supercomputers' made out of clusters of PS3s, and Sony actually explicitly permits this and even used this fact in its marketing.

2. Another reason Apple might be against jailbreaking is that jailbreaking can allow a user to remove the carrier lock from an iPhone, allowing them to use the phone on any GSM carrier. You can buy unlocked phones in several countries, including Australia, but you pay a lot for them. In the USA you can only use AT&T, and the purchase price is heavily subsidised by the money you'll pay during your two year contract. AT&T and Apple are understandably concerned by users buying a subsidised phone and then moving to another carrier - both companies lose. However, if you buy an unlocked phone then this reason doesn't apply.

3. Applications obtained through the iTunes Store are vetted by Apple. This is a somewhat impenetrable process, but is said by Apple to be an effort to ensure that malicious applications are not distributed, thereby harming Apple's reputation. Unfortunately the vetting process seems very uneven, sometimes slow, and there are many instances of applications copying data off iPhones and sending that data back to the developer. So again, this doesn't seem to be the protection that Apple claims.

One day I might do a more thorough analysis of this.

18 December 2009

RE: Official Google Australia Blog: Our views on Mandatory ISP Filtering

Google Australia has released a note about its view on the Australian Labor Party introducing mandatory ISP filtering of internet content in Australia. Google shares my view that the Australian Government should not be introducing a country-wide form of censorship in Australia in this manner.

I censor things all the time. I censor my personal use of the internet, my television watching and what I see and read. I censor my daughter's use of the internet, and I set controls and standards on what she can and cannot do.

However, this is not what Stephen Conroy is talking about. He is talking about "protecting" people from a specified list of content, at least some of which is probably illegal in Australia anyway.

The goverment conducted "testing" using various tiny ISPs, but also apparently included Optus (my ISP). I'm interested that Optus didn't notify me that they were filtering their services.

The testing regime was pretty hilarious. One test was to block the sites listed in the ACMA blacklist. Wow, that must have been really hard... I can actually do that myself with my $100 router at home. However, router-based blocking is relatively crude, and other systems such as pass-by filters or proxies are more sophisticated.  Most enterprises do it today with systems such as Webmarshall, Websense, Surfcontrol, M86, Sonicwall and even open source products.

The type of information filtered was the sort that you would have to try very hard to access. When a version of the blacklist was leaked in 2009 it was clear that the sites listed were "way out there" and no ordinary user would ever go near them. So what exactly is Stupid Senator Conroy trying to do except grandstand on a point that sounds great but has no substance at all? Nothing.

The best filtering is the filtering we do as adults exercising judgement, and as adults supervising our children. If an adult wants to exercise poor judgement then he will bypass these filters easily.
Telstra did not test circumvention, because it considers that filtering can be circumvented by a technically competent user. report

What we are left with something quite dangerous - a system that achieves absolutely nothing, but provides a framework for something very sinister - a filter system that by its nature will be secret. The ALP won't tell you what's on the filter list on the basis that that would be giving away a list of sites that undesirables would use.

So what was tested? Two things: a blacklist, which is a list of sites to block. This is technically easy, and most problems in the test arose from the format of the site list provided to the ISPs. The second was a category based filter, similar to that used by most enterprise filtering systems. I've used a few of them, and some are hilariously bad, but some are reasonable. However, filtering my access at work for legitimate occupational health & safety reasons, or anti-harrassment reasons, is a very different activity to filtering my access as a citizen. Some of these filtering products are absolutely hopeless, but you'll be stuck with whatever your ISP has to chose.

Enex Pty Limited said in their report:

A small number of customers indicated they experienced some over-blocking and/or under-blocking of content during the pilot. These events were considered relatively minor and occurred only once or twice. A small number of customers also reported slow network speeds as a result of the service which filtered additional categories of content.
So, if this system goes live, can you actually image contacting, say, Optus or BigPond, reporting that you've been falsely blocked, and them actually fixing it (either within 24 hours or at all?). That is hysterical.
Customers expressed the view that it was important for there to be mechanisms for self-management of the filter settings and improved visibility of the filter in action.
What are the chances of Stupid Senator Conroy taking this piece of the report and putting it into action? No he won't, because that would actually be hard work. No, he just wants to look good to the largely uninformed sector of the public who doesn't understand that this filter is a fraud.

Official Google Australia Blog: Our views on Mandatory ISP Filtering

17 December 2009

Strategic Legal Technology :: Staffing the Law Firm of the Future

I read this article on strategic staff planning - Strategic Legal Technology :: Staffing the Law Firm of the Future
- with interest.

His analysis of the thinking (or lack thereof) by large firms behind redundancies in 2009 is very likely to be completely correct - what I saw in Australia was largely "emergency cost cutting, not a conscious organisational re-design." These redundancies didn't flow from a measured consideration of workload, fit for need or organisational value. The proof of this is in that some firms ended up withdrawing redundancy terminations or rehiring the same staff shortly thereafter. The personal cost to the individuals, their colleagues and families was huge, yet it was caused by thoughtless decisions.

Large law firms still struggle with the place of the non-lawyer in the organisation. Most have come to grips with marketing or business development specialists (although I'm not sure that that many firms have hired really well in that area). However, the use of project managers and professionally qualified business analysts is in its infancy. One of the most useful courses I ever did was a week long course on IT project management. Naturally it only scratched the surface, but it introduced me to concepts of professional project management that I wasn't aware even existed. I believe that all lawyers should receive at least two weeks of professional project management training.

Client matters are a type of project, with a start, end, budget, timeline, milestones and strategy. Projects require some analysis for a business before they are approved and commenced. If a lawyer sat down with a client to build a business case for why that client should proceed with the legal matter, he may find that often there is no case for it.

I'm the owner of a project at the moment with a budget of well in excess of AUD$2 million. I ran a Request for Proposal process, I spent weeks writing a business case, I developed a strategy and vision, I have a project team of professionals in business analysis, project management, training and change management to name a few. However, the legal profession in Sydney today alone will have many client matters where the costs are or will be well in excess of AUD$3 million with nothing like the same professional attention and rigour. Instead, lawyers just put their head down and beaver away. This Dilbert cartoon says it all.

Lawyers don't understand that there are professional disciplines around projects; even something as simple as a Change Request for, say, budgeting, is not dealt with rigour. I must say that some lawyers do unconsciously do some of these things (telling an insurer client that you are recommending a change to the reserve now usually has rigour and rules), but it's more good luck rather than good management.

15 December 2009

Pathetic Australian Labor Government

The Australian Labor Party has decided that Australians cannot decide for themselves what is or is not appropriate to view on the internet.

Stupid Senator Conroy apparently said (from the Sydney Morning Herald)

"Most Australians acknowledge that there is some internet material which is not acceptable in any civilised society,"

Umm. Yes. Quite correct. However Stupid Senator Conroy, that is an enormous leap to say that you should be qualified to censor information in Australia. We have already seen that you have censored information about abortion.
About half of the sites on the list were not related to child porn and included a slew of online poker sites, YouTube links, regular gay and straight porn sites, Wikipedia entries, euthanasia sites, websites of fringe religions such as satanic sites, fetish sites, Christian sites, the website of a tour operator and even a Queensland dentist.
This censoring proposal is so stupid that it's hard to argue with. When the basic premise is just wrong then there's no argument other than "you're just stupid, Senator Conroy."

11 December 2009

Problems with streaming audio and Firefox?

I have now purchased a couple of digital radios (a Revo and a Kogan) that have the ability to stream internet streams as well as play DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasts). While I was setting them up for internet streams at http://www.wifiradio-frontier.com I found that Firefox wouldn't let me preview .3mu files - all I got was "Waiting for video". It turned out that VLC, a very versatile media player, had installed a plug-in in Firefox that caused the problem. Just disable that plug-in and you can then select your desired player (eg Windows Media Player).

03 December 2009

Nathan Rees' best speech

Thank you Sydney Morning Herald

Fifteen months ago, I was called upon by my party to take the leadership in difficult circumstances.
I did so knowing that my experience in public life was limited and that I did not hail from the factional group that had traditionally supplied leaders of the state parliamentary Labor Party.
But I accepted the call to serve and was elected to the leadership without dissent.
Others had the chance to stand.
But no one did.
As a result, I was chosen by my party, at that time unanimously.


I will not hand the government of NSW over to Obeid, Tripodi or Sartor.
Under my leadership, there will be no going back.
The old regime will never again dictate the fortunes of our party, nor will they regain the levers of control.

Unfortunately Mr Rees had no opportunity - he didn't "hand it over" - it was taken from him.

Welcome to more of the same, New South Wales

Geoffrey McDonald liquidator no longer able to act

THE Sydney liquidator Geoffrey McDonald has lost his official registration for two years for becoming involved in the external administration of an engineering company that had a prior professional relationship with the firm where he was a partner, Hall Chadwick.

Sydney Morning Herald 3 Dec 2009