02 November 2013

A brief Windows Phone 8 v Nexus 4 v iPhone 4

My employer just issued me a Windows 8 phone -  a Lumia 820. As a Nexus 4 owner, and previous iPhone 3/3GS/4 owner, here are a few thoughts on the Lumia 820:

Battery life is very good - better than the Nexus 4, but is that because I'm not inclined to fiddle with it? No, I actually think it is very good. 

No LastPass or Remember The Milk apps. Deal breaker. Voice recognition is there, I'm told, but it's not obvious where.

Connecting to Bluetooth in my Renault Megane RS 250 was easy, and it asked me if I wanted to download my address book (in principle, better than the Nexus). I said "yes" but it just didn't. 

Sometimes the in-built audio player starts playing. It's not clear why, but there is no indication which audio player is playing, and you have to manually start each audio app to find out what's going on. Yesterday I was in a meeting and my colleague's phone started playing Pandora for no reason. Deal breaker.

In-built GPS navigation: this is sensational. Not only does it come with the phone, but the maps are downloadable for pretty much anywhere in the world I am likely to ever drive. That's worth the cost of the phone! Don't buy TomTom apps - just get a Lumia phone. It will be cheaper if you need to drive through Australia and two other countries.

Ecosystem: it's ok, but just ok. Evernote, TuneIn, Audible, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pandora, Spotify, Skype, Tripview, YouTube are all there. But, there are a few things missing - I really like the control over audio I get on the Nexus with Persist. I'm a paid-up Tasker user too. I miss these. 

Verdict: As a work phone, I can live with it. Having said that, it doesn't look up the Active Directory contact list automatically - that's another step. Why??? There are so many little missing pieces that should link this phone to the Microsoft ecosystem at work, and it's not obvious why they're missing. Maybe it's just a bit of time needed.  If was a brand new smart phone user today, I'd go:

1. Nexus 4(5) - average camera
2. iPhone 5S - great camera
3. (by a very wide margin) Windows Phone 8. No good reason to buy this phone.

01 November 2013

Nexus 5 phone

The new Nexus phone - Nexus 5 - is out. At 1920 x 1080 the screen sounds like it will be amazing, but will there be much else to talk about?


17 September 2013

Cyberspace October 2013 - Access to public websites

Internet services and forums often need to stop some people participating, and the obvious way to do this is to terminate their licence to use the service and disable the account. Unfortunately that doesn't physically stop the user setting up a different account with different details and continuing the poor behaviour. The next step is often to ban connections from that users’ IP address. This can be effective to block businesses and some home users. However, most home users receive a different IP address every time their modem reconnects. If a banned user receives a new IP address from their ISP then they will be able to circumvent the IP block.

In Craigslist Inc v 3Taps Inc et al (US District Court for the N. District of California CV-03816 CRB) Craigslist (a classified advertisement site) claime that the defendant had breached the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and other legislation by accessing Craigslist without authorisation. The defendant had scraped content from craigslist and on-sold it. Craigslist notified the defendant that it was prohibited from accessing the website or services, and also blocked access from the IP addresses used by 3Taps. 3Taps continued to use the site by changing its IP addresses and using proxy services and moved to dismiss the claims, arguing that the “owner of a publicly accessible website has no power to revoke the authorisation of a specific user to access that website." The motion was denied, and the court found that there was an arguable claim under the CFAA.

The court agreed that by making information publicly available on a website there is an authorisation to the world to access it. In fact, the Stored Communications Act states that it is not unlawful to intercept or access and electronic communication if the system is configured so that it is readily accessible to the general public. However, the CFAA does not have a similar section and the Ninth Circuit had previously interpreted the CFAA to confirm that computer owners have the power to revoke authorisations.

In Craigslist, the court found that 3Taps was accessing data without authorisation, once that authorisation was revoked and the revocation communicated. The court discussed the distinction between unauthorised access to a computer or service, and a violation of a corporate policy —  several USA cases have discussed the need to avoid criminalising behaviour that is merely breach of a corporate policy. Unauthorised access can amount to criminal behaviour, whereas the latter is a contractual or industrial relations issue. The defendant tried to argue that their behaviour here was violation of a policy, but the court rejected that saying that craigslist had told the defendant that it could not access its website for any reason, and effected a technological barrier. The purpose of the restriction may have been commercial, but that was beside the point. The court found that it was adequately notified due to the sending of a letter, imposition of access restrictions, and commencement of proceedings against it.

In drafting Internet service usage policies it is prudent to consider the effect of both the contract entered into between the provider and user, and statutory or criminal law. As we have discussed before, Part Six of the Crimes Act 1900 deals with unauthorised access, but only as it applies in relation to a serious indictable offence, or restricted data, where access is restricted by an access control system associated with a function of the computer. Neither of these would clearly apply to the USA situation, although it is arguable that IP address blocking is an access control system. However, s.308H is not clear on this point.

17 August 2013

Google Nexus 7 (2013) Review

The Google Nexus 7 (2013) was launched in the USA in July 2013, but hasn't been made available in many other markets yet. I broke my original Nexus 7 (from 2012) so was keen to replace it with the new model. A mail order purchase of $269 (32 GB WiFi)  from Walmart plus USD$45 shipping from a USA mailing address and a week later I received it here in Sydney, Australia.

Short review

This is the same tablet as the 2012 version except it has three major improvements:

  1. The screen resolution is much higher, so it's easier to read any text, and much easier to read small text;
  2. The processor is more powerful, so things happen faster;
  3. The body isn't as wide, so it's easier to hold in one hand.
It has Android 4.3 - the latest operating system at the time of writing. Little else of consequence has changed - even the annoying fact that the micro-USB socket is 180 degrees to the socket on the Nexus 4. Why is this annoying? I have a bedside dock that works really well with both devices, but I have to rotate the plug before swapping devices.

One other minor feature is that is has a flashing indicator light like other members of the Nexus family and Blackberry. Quite handy and something the iPhone & iPad families could benefit from.

Any problems?

The only issue I have encountered is one that is already circulating the internet - the touch screen can be a little over-sensitive at times. It's sporadic and not a problem - at least at the moment.


I'm glad I purchased it. It's more portable than my iPad 3 (which still gets a good workout from me - I have some business-related use cases for it), and it does a bunch of things my Nexus 4 can't. The screen really is outstanding, and putting side-by-side with an iPad Mini makes you realise just how badly Apple needs to upgrade that screen. 

21 July 2013

Email garbage

This might be the most important thing you read this year - from a business perspective:

"We clog one another's e-mail systems and to-do lists with a mishmash of crucial topics and trivial information and then waste hours of every day slogging through a hundred useless e-mails to ensure we don't look irresponsible by missing the two or three important ones."


25 May 2013

Cyberspace June 2013

Mobile apps

I started to use smart phones about a year after the original iPhone was introduced in 2007. At that time there were plenty of feature phones around that had some smarts,but the iPhone opened up the category. Applications came shortly afterwards, and now the application stores for android and IOS have hundreds of thousands of mostly useless applications to choose from. Some law firms contributed to this mire of uselessness by creating so-called applications that were really just brochures. To some extent this is a reflection of the quality of law firm websites.

Quality apps have started to appear, although there is a fundamental limitation based on screen size. There is a simple app for AustLII which might be useful on tablets, but firms have woken up to the potential. Large USA law firms such as Latham & Watkins releasing useful apps. There is little about these that utilises the unique features of a mobile device – AB&C Laws is a library of antibribery and anticorruption laws in 13 economies. O’Melveny & Myers has a similar app, and Baker & McKenzie has an app that shows key requirements of listing securities around the world and another is the global equity matrix setting out tax on legal consequences for employee shareholdings.

I recently mentioned the application by Corrs Chambers Westgarth to assist in document triage. Aon has recently licensed Navigator by Stroz Friedberg which delivers compliance information and real-time data and analytics. It answers questions in relation to policies and can automate approval processes, and it can store all of this activity for later compliance verification. It is easy to see the product like this could be valuable for a global organisation. King & Wood Mallesons has a well-developed iOS app which delivers matter information to clients, as do a number of other Australian firms.

There are many application developers who can tailor an existing framework application to contain your content, or develop something from scratch. However, like any software development process this will require significant resources to produce something worthwhile. Those resources include lots of time from subject matter experts, business analysts, project managers and testers. A glorified brochure in the form of an app should be cheap, but is anyone really get to keep it on their device? They won't, so don't make one. If you haven't already, one day you will receive a call from a mobile application developer offering to build one of these for you.

Your firm may find that a well designed website that provides content suitable for mobile devices will be cheaper, easier to maintain and probably more useful. Many website hosts will automatically re-purpose your information from a desktop web page to a mobile web page automatically.

What could a mobile application do that takes advantage of things such as the camera, GPS location, ready availability (it's in your pocket) and the other features of a mobile? If you're an insurance company your app might be useful if you have a car accident — the application leads you through taking photographs, stamping the location and time on them, collecting the correct information from the other driver, what not to say, phone number links to preferred towing companies and if necessary, phone number links to a solicitor.

If you're a busy sole practitioner then you might allow existing clients to book conferences with you during your designated conference hours. That could save a lot of time in making callbacks while you're in court. Your app could allow clients to photograph multiple pages of documents into a PDF which is mailed to you for your review. For certain matter types such as conveyancing or leasing you might collect the essential information from an app before you even see the client.

A few photos from Vietnam

13 April 2013

A few Android & Nexus 4 Notes

I've just got back from Vietnam and used the My Tracks app on my Google Nexus 4 to see where I went for certain trips.  It was pretty effective and didn't use a lot of battery, even for a 4 hour track. I just turned on My Tracks and put the phone in my pocket. Features such as the dropped blue pushpin on my phone were saved and I opened the tracks as .kml files from Google Drive - most features except for speed colour coding came across to the desktop. Neat feature.

31 March 2013

Beating graffiti

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the mobile app "VandalTrak" has achieved good results in reducing the incidence of graffiti and increasing concurrent convictions.

Anyone can install the app and take photos of graffiti. It is uploaded to a database along with the location and other data, and made available to police and other organisations. When a graffiti vandal is being interviewed for an offence the police can locate other instances of the graffiti and charge him or her with extra offences.
picture: Hugo, wikimedia commons

The database is, of course, no substitute for real evidence, but it seems to make guilty pleas more likely and send a message to those who realise that a compensation order may no longer be a few hundred dollars but many thousands.

Excellent idea for a mobile app.

25 March 2013

Powers of Police in NSW

I haven't practised in criminal law for many years, but I make sure I keep up with significant cases. The case of Semaan v Poidevin [2013] NSWSC 226 (22 March 2013)  is one...

Poidevin was a police officer, and Semaan was a man in the vicinity of a disturbance to which the police were called. Poidevin spoke to Semaan and went off to speak on his radio. Semaan got out his mobile phone and started dialling. Poidevin told him to stop doing that and attempted to grab the phone. Semaan turned away from the police officer to shield his phone. Semaan apparently received a serious injury in the ensuing scuffle, the police officer did not, and there was no charge of assaulting the police officer.

Semaan was charged with breach of s546C of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) - resist a police officer in the execution of his duties, and convicted in the Local Court. He appealed to the Supreme Court of NSW and the conviction was set aside.

The judgement is worth reading if you deal in this sort of area - especially if you deal with the usual trio - assault police, resist arrest and offensive language. Rothman J deals with statutory and common law rights to confiscate property to avoid a breach of the peace, as well as the powers of police mentioned in s 201 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (LEPRA).

Lessons to be learned

s 546C Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)

Poidevin was concerned that Semaan was going to ring friends and ask them to join him and create a disturbance. However, the unlawful conduct is hindering or resisting - it is not conduct that has the effect of hindering. Semaan might have telephoned his mother or girlfriend or his lawyer. It was not a necessary result that a breach of the peace might have occurred. Semaan had the right to protect his property from the police officer in the circumstances. Poidevin had no right to attempt to seize the property.

s 201 Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW)

When a police officer exercises the powers set out in s 201(3), such as the power to seize any property (subs (e)), he must provide the following  before exercising the power or as soon as practicable after:

(a) evidence that the police officer is a police officer (unless the police officer is in uniform),
(b) the name of the police officer and his or her place of duty,
(c) the reason for the exercise of the power.

In this case Rothman J said (p 109 with my emphasis):

The prosecuting authority must prove that the police officer was executing his duty, and, to do so, must assert and prove the "lawfulness" of the officer's conduct. Because of the non-compliance with s 201(1) of LEPRA, and the failure to prove that the time for compliance had not yet arisen or passed, the prosecution is unable to do that and, therefore, it is unable to prove that Mr Semaan has resisted the officer in the execution of his duty.
So the failure to comply with s201(1) effectively means that there was no lawful exercise of the relevant power - there was no retrospective validation of the officer's actions.  The police had to prove that they had complied, or the time for compliance had not yet arisen. 

21 March 2013

Google Keep?

Google has released a new application named "Google Keep", available on Google Play for Android, and it's also a web app.

It has a few similarities to Google Notebook, which I used many years ago until Google shut it down. It now lies in the Google Graveyard. The shutting down of Notebook led me to explore and ultimately adopt Evernote, which I now pay for - it's worth it, despite the iOS versions being quite unstable.

So should you use Google Keep? I'm quite burned at the moment  because Google is shutting down Google Reader, which I use several times a day and rely on it for my research for my columns in the Journal of the Law Society of New South Wales and other writing.

When Google Reader is shut down I will have lost two Google services that I relied heavily upon. Sure, I didn't pay to use them, but Google monetised them and encouraged me to use them. At least the Google data liberation team does a good job in ensuring you can liberate your data.

Google Keep is a little more than Notebook and a little less. You can't categorise your notes, but there is a mobile app that works reasonably well - for what it is...

Will I use Google Keep?

Not in my wildest dreams would I use Google Keep. It has a small fraction of the features of Evernote, and really offers nothing new. If Google neglects it as much as it has Tasks in Gmail then Phil Libin will not be losing sleep over it.

I don't think Google needs to do Keep - and I don't think it's been thought through properly There is a level of integration with Google Drive, which makes sense, because the old paradigm of storing different types of data in different places is pretty immature. If all I care about is the data then it doesn't matter if that data is an email, spreadsheet, presentation or postal letter. However, I don't see this level of thinking coming through with Keep.

And finally, I'm not going to put all my data in one basket. I'm a happy Google Apps for Business user, but my reliance on a single vendor is going to stop there. Of course Google isn't going to go broke or go away suddenly, but us lawyers are usually a cautious lot.

19 February 2013

Tweeting from court

The Sydney Morning Herald reported today that lawyers and recognized journalists will continue to be allowed to transmit court proceedings under new regulations.

NSW journalists allowed to tweet in court

06 February 2013

Google Inc v Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

The decision in Google Inc v Australian Competition and Consumer Commission [2013] HCA 1 (6 February 2013) was handed down today by the High Court of Australia.

This is the third and final round in the legal fight between Google and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission over "sponsored links", which were later to become known as "advertisements". The Commission claimed that the sponsored links (that is, paid advertisements which are displayed based on keywords used in a search term) were misleading and deceptive within the meaning of S.52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974.

At first instance the Commission failed, and upon appeal to the Full Court of the Federal Court it was successful. Google then appealed to the High Court of Australia, which found in favour of Google.

Section 52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974 is perhaps the most famous part of that legislation, and is now s.18 of the Australian Consumer Law. It requires that a person must not engage in conduct that is misleading or deceptive, or is likely to mislead or deceive. It does not require intentional conduct — a person can contravene the section without intending to do so.

The Commission had claimed that Google's AdWords program, which displayed sponsored links in the search results, had deceived or was likely to mislead or deceive users of Google's search. The problem was that if you searched for travel agent A, the search results would include a sponsored result for travel agent B. This was because travel agent B had used the name of travel agent A in its keywords for its AdWords campaign. So, if you search for Harvey World Travel you would also see a sponsored result for its competitor, STA Travel.

The commission said this was misleading or deceptive because it implied that there was a commercial association between the two travel agents where one did not exist. Car advertisements and dog training were also used as examples of this conduct.

Each of the decisions is worth reading (by lawyers) for useful summaries of the relevant law.

The first instance decision

His Honour Justice Nicholas of the Federal Court found that the advertisements contained representations which were misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive. Ordinary users of the search engine would have understood that these sponsored links were advertisements as opposed to ordinary search results, but he found that the relevant class of consumers could have been deceived into thinking there was an association between the advertiser and the competitor search term that the user actually entered.

However, he found that Google had not made the misrepresentations — it was a "conduit" which passed on the advertisements of others without endorsement or approval. Therefore Google was not liable.

The Full Court of the Federal Court

The Commission appealed to the Full Court. The Full Court found that Google was liable.

It found that Google had made the misrepresentations, as it had applied its own labour in accepting the users search terms and returning the result set. So, while it was an automatic process, Google had engaged in relevant conduct. "The enquiry is made of Google and it is Google's response which is misleading."

The Full Court also rejected the claim by Google that it had a defence under S.85 (3) which provides that a person in the business of publishing advertisements will not be liable if it did not know and had no reason to suspect that the advertisements would be a contravention of the Act.

The High Court of Australia

The High Court looked closely at the way Google personnel assisted advisers in selecting keywords. If you use AdWords you will be contacted by a Google representative who will try to help you choose appropriate keywords that may work best for you. The Court hinted that if Google had actually chosen the keywords it may have been liable –

"(the evidence) never rose so high as to prove that Google personnel, as distinct from the advertisers, had chosen the relevant keywords, or otherwise created, endorsed or adopted the sponsored links."

The Court also noted that Google has a system to stop certain keywords when Google is on notice of possible misrepresentations, but ascertaining this in every case would be very difficult without any notification.

The Court therefore "considered… that Google did not itself engage in misleading or deceptive conduct, or endorse or adopt the representations which are displayed on behalf of advertisers."

The Court did not need to make a finding in relation to the S.85 (3) defence, but it took the opportunity to clarify the scope of the defence. In particular it noted that a publisher who actually has endorsed or adopted a representation of an advertiser,  but without appreciating the capacity of the representation to mislead or deceive, may still be able to use the defence.

Justice Hayne and Justice Hayden delivered separate judgements agreeing with the joint judgement of Justices French, Crennan and Kiefel.

Justice Hayne found that Google should succeed in the appeal on the very simple basis that any reasonable user would have "understood that these sponsored links were advertisements made and paid for by the advertisers and that the representations made in them were not endorsed or adopted by Google." By taking this approach he was agreeing with the first instance decision of Nicolas J. There was simply no conduct by Google.

Justice Hayden considered that the Full Court had made an error of law and an error of fact. The law provides that Google will not necessarily have contravened S.52 if  it does anything more than "repeat or pass on" material. It was already clear that merely repeating or passing on material was not a contravention, but the Full Court erred in saying that anything more would be a contravention.

The error of fact was that Google did not "create 'the message' sent by means of that technology." Google merely received the advertisements created by advertisers, and the keywords were chosen by the advertisers. His Honour rejected the Commission's submission that "dynamic" insertion of keywords was an active participation in the relevant conduct.

Time has not committed me to fully digest the ramifications of the decision, but it is a useful case in interpreting what is now section 18 of the Australian Consumer Law. Although the High Court tends not to take on  particularly decided cases, it is probably restricted to the particular facts of how Google operates its AdWords program. It is the user that has complete control over the keywords, and Google has a system to prevent abuse of keywords where it is notified. Google did not play a part in creation of the advertising, and therefore there was no "conduct" by Google.

However, this still leaves open claims against the advertisers who use the keywords of their competitors to create an impression of false associations between the advertiser and its competitors. I wouldn't be surprised if we see claims by competitors for damages relying on S.18, provided that they are able to quantify the damage.

05 February 2013

Reflections from a week in Saudi Arabia

I spent the last week of January 2013 in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the guest of the National Guard Health Affairs, which is roughly equivalent to the Ministry of Health. It was the 1st Scientific Conference on Strategic Development & Performance in Health Institutions in Riyadh in the Kingdom, organised by the College of Medicine of the King Saud bin Abdulaziz University and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Riyadh Mosque entrance
I initially accepted the invitation with mixed feelings, as I felt in particular that the treatment of women was oppressive and unjust. But, since the Kingdom is a difficult place to be permitted to visit as a tourist, and I was keen to gain a better understanding of Islamic culture, I accepted.

Why did I speak at a health conference? I gave a speech that I've given a few times before on risk management in the context of social media.

Health institutions and professionals engage in social media for many reasons, and some of these reasons include  altruistic (disseminating valuable health information), mere advertising, or for information gathering purposes. As an aside, my observation of Australian health institutions on Twitter is that they do this particularly badly.

In a society which has a high proportion of young people (60% under 20 years old) with good internet connectivity there is an opportunity to both speak and listen on health matters.

There were over 1000 registrations for the conference, and what surprised me most was that at least one third of the attendees were women. While many were local, there was a sizeable proportion of immigrant health workers from the Philippines. The Philippines supplies many of the medical technical personnel required in the health system, and they are well regarded.

It is clear that the Kingdom takes their health system seriously, and is keen to improve it. This conference was a full two days on risk management, with the majority of speakers from overseas. The speakers included those from Turkey, Finland, Australia, United Kingdom and the United States of America.

An open society?
While the kingdom does not appear to encourage tourism, it is nevertheless far more "open" than I imagined. A recent BBC documentary (well worth watching) on Prince Saud bin Abdul Mohsen painted a picture that I found fairly accurate. The Royal family is keen to evaluate and embrace new ideas that are of value, without needlessly discarding centuries of history and culture. The former is amply demonstrated by the fact that 90% of the conference speakers were foreign, and it was refreshing to visit a culture that had not discarded cultural icons such as its clothing. When I visited Japan I was disappointed to observe that there was no evidence of traditional dress styles, whereas in Riyadh the traditional dress was the rule rather than the exception.

Another example of this interest in external ideas was an article in the Arabic news on 31 Jan 2013 noting that SABIC was offering scholarships to gifted children to study abroad. This is a culture that is not afraid of new ideas, and has the good sense not to accept all of them. "New" does not equal "good".

In Saudi Arabia the Internet is filtered. I came up against the blocking page several times while I was there, but I was able to access everything I needed. There was no difficulty in using the commercial VPN service that I subscribe to, so I could have had access to all material available to me in Australia.

At the time of writing Twitter has only provided Arabic language services for less than 12 months. Facebook had been available for around three years. The topic of my talk was risk management in the use of social media, so it is clear that the government health system sees value in using social media for both disseminating information and gathering health intelligence.

The take away from this is that the Kingdom is open to absorbing that which is of value, without taking on board the noise and baggage that also comes with the Western world. I can't recall exactly which web sites I was not able to access, but I'm fairly confident they were of no actual value to their society (pornography, useless gossip columns, and the rubbish that passes for lifestyle news). This is a society that has decided it doesn't have time for the detritus of the Internet, while maintaining open access to that which is of value. In the BBC documentary the Prince made it clear that there was no imperative to accept cultural aspects that they frankly found unacceptable. The Saudis are proud of their history and make no apologies for things such as the law permitting them to cut off the hand of the thief. However, for the law to impose such a penalty there are so many legal requirements that the thief would have to be very determined to subject himself to the punishment. The death penalty is enforced (in January 2013 nine nationals were beheaded) just as it is in the United States of America and many other countries.

I saw no evidence of news censorship (although that may be the result of censorship which is well done). For example, the newspapers published information about the current Syrian and Egyptian riots on their front pages, and I read a letter to the editor in the newspaper praising the winding back of the powers of the religious police.

This was a response to an announcement made while I was there  (Powers of Haia Curtailed - Arab News via AFP). However, this is just one step, as women are still, for example, banned from driving.

Women & culture
Shortly before I travelled to Saudi Arabia the King fulfilled his promise to appoint women to his advisory Council, and they are on track to allow women to vote in 2015. While I was there the Minister of Interior Prince Mohammed bin Naif said that the General Directorate of Investigation (the Director of Public Prosecutions to you and me, I suspect) "should open its doors to employ women with the required qualifications". Another event that occurred was that Bena'a Productive  Families Centre and the Saudi Arabian Oil Company signed a partnership deal to develop skills amongst women to own and run small-scale projects in different parts of the Kingdom.

The conclusion I drew was that the King is walking a fine line between progress that can be accepted peacefully, versus a pace that might cause difficulty in society. It remains that women, except in major centres, wear full robes with only a slit for the eyes. Many women will cheerfully tell you that they are very happy to do so and choose to do so, but they are not free to not do so. That freedom is a value that is very important to me, but my values are not Saudi values. Having said that, I would find it difficult to accept or understand such a dress code for immigrants to Australia, and I have a great struggle understanding why separate entrances for females are required for public buildings such as libraries.

Except for one of my drivers I found the Saudis are extremely polite. The attention to detail in the preparation of the conference was extraordinary, as was their generosity and hospitality. The culture has a strong sense of hierarchy, and I found it interesting during one of the risk talks that a comment was made by a senior attendee that there is a culture of blame whern errors occur - they aren't too different from you and me. The sense of hierarchy and formality is very clear in the way people are addressed, titles used and seating arrangements in public activities. There is a sense of "theatre" about some public ceremonies, which it is clear that they enjoy. As in  the world over, younger people tended to be less formal, but know when they need to be.

I did see women acting more freely than I expected, such as one who approached me to discuss my conference speech, and when out shopping. I was in the Dirah souq in a small shop with a male shopkeeper. A fully robed woman entered the store and appeared to have no difficulty in being with two men, and later alone with the shopkeeper after I left.

Although Riyadh has not had political or terrorist trouble for some years, there was a lot of security on  show. The Intercontinental Hotel had automatic road barriers in the ground, in-ground lighting to facilitate undercar searches, road spikes on the exit, and their own baggage x-ray machine. Cars were photographed on entry through the checkpoint. The Ritz-Carlton (an amazing hotel) has the same arrangements. Just around the corner from the Intercontinental was the Ministry of Interior, and the main road had checkpoints manned by soldiers with automatic rifles. Other buildings had razor wire around them, and on the road to the airport there were trucks with turret-mounted machine guns (albeit rather elderly looking). Just like in the Western world, some of this security was more of a charade than reality. My Finnish friend was pulled up by one of the armed soldiers for photographing the architecturally interesting Ministry of Interior, and while he escaped confiscation of his camera, he had to delete the photographs. Nevertheless, photographs of the building are available all over the Internet and even on postcards sold within the Kingdom.

Traffic & transport
Traffic was chaotic compared to Australia, but nothing like Southeast Asia (such as Cambodia or Vietnam). There are two principal differences: motorcycles are virtually non-existent in Riyadh; and Riyadh drivers are far more likely to run you over or collide with your car. All the vehicles appeared to only ever have one occupant, and his sole responsibility was not to drive correctly but the blow the vehicle's horn. Lane markings are largely only a rough guide, and it seems that it is critical to make your lane choice at the very last second possible. Using your indicator is seen as a sign of weakness and a beacon to take your spot before you do. Despite all this they remain fairly good-tempered, even in a traffic jam at 4 AM. My driver was an outstanding example of this:

There is virtually no public transport in Riyadh, and certainly nothing like regular buses or a metro train system. Fuel costs about one Saudi Arabian Riyal (at the time of writing AUD$0.25 or about one seventh of the Australian price) but it's not clear whether cheap fuel is the cause or result of the lack of public buses. A lot of the cars look like they have been stolen from the wreckers yard but occasionally you will see a new Bentley or Rolls-Royce. Taxis are cheap (about AUD$5 for a half-hour ride) but perhaps only 50% of the drivers can speak any level of English. I found out to my personal cost that a lot of them don't necessarily know their city that well either. If you have a good idea of the price then you should agree the price before getting in the cab, but I found that most drivers bargained for what would be eventually about the metered price anyway. The one time I was taken for a ride was when I was very tired and hot and caught a cab from the number one office building in the city – Kingdom Tower. Having said that, I probably paid only AUD$2 more than I should have.

Road laws are a mixture of strict adherence, such as red light and speed cameras, but it is okay to drive something out of a Mad Max movie or pile your labourers in the back of your truck. As well as not seeing any motorcycles, I did not see any bicycles either. A cab driver told me that riding either of these was roughly equivalent to jumping off Kingdom Tower. I thought that heat may have had something to do with it, but I actually found that it could be pleasantly cool (15°) all day in winter.

You can probably forget about using maps. They are largely an expression of intention rather than a useful tool. I found three entirely different addresses for a restaurant I wanted to visit (there was only one restaurant), and Google Maps was likely to be as inaccurate as anything else. The satellite layer or Google Earth was of some value provided you can correlate the map names with the geography.

This experience was one of those in my life where I have been completely turned around from a fairly strongly held position. Prior to the conference I had extremely negative opinions around Saudi Arabian culture and lifestyle, but I actually found a system of government that not only says it desires change, but is actually changing. Absolute monarchies are fairly foreign to Western culture, and they are by their very nature specific to the individual. My very limited exposure suggest that this is a culture with good (and well-intentioned) government which is on the road to rectify some anomalies such as the treatment of women, while carefully evaluating other Western lifestyle choices.

I have no doubt that there are many other facets of their society which would not be acceptable to Western notions of equal human rights.I don't have enough information to comment on this further

There is no desire for a homogenous culture indistinguishable from the West or even other Arabic countries. There is a strong desire to retain their lifestyle and identity while having the good sense to explore and accept those things that are of value or can be learned. It is a society that is on a controlled but well-directed journey.

Back from Saudi Arabia

I spent last week in Saudi Arabia (via Oman), and have published my photographs at https://plus.google.com/photos/107663051060911824195/albums/5841260118689069793?authkey=CJab_ujBgv39tgE

I'm in the midst of writing an essay about my time there, lessons learned and some observations of life and culture in the Kingdom. Keep an eye out for it here soon.

27 January 2013

Conference in Saudi Arabia - travel blog

I have been invited to speak at the 1st Scientific Conference on Strategic Development & Performance in Health Institutions in Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, organised by the College of Medicine of the King Saud bin Abdulaziz University and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

I fly out from Sydney to Riyadh, KSA today, via Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Muscat, Oman.

My travel blog: When travelling I usually post photographs to the Calvidays Blog http://holidays.calvin.it, so you might want to go there and subscribe, or follow me on Google+. These aren't usually my best photos, but they're often memorable.

Why am I speaking at a health conference? I'm giving a speech that I've given a few times before on risk management in the context of social media.

Health institutions and professionals engage in social media for many reasons, and some of these reasons include  altruistic (disseminating valuable health information), mere advertising, or for information gathering purposes. As an aside, my observation of Australian health institutions on Twitter is that they do this particularly badly.

In a society which has a high proportion of young people (60% under 20 years old) with good internet connectivity there is an opportunity to both speak and listen on health matters. 

20 January 2013

Charging an iPad in Bootcamp and Windows 7 on a Mac Mini

The Problem

Short version: my iPad doesn't charge on my Mac Mini in Windows 7.

Long version: I have a Mid 2011 Mac Mini which I don't use a lot, and if I do it's usually in Windows 7 via Bootcamp. For interest sake I note that I upgraded the RAM from 2 GB to 8 GB for AUD$60 (instead of the several hundred dollars that Apple would have charged) and added an SSD M4 hard disk from Crucial (which was a qualified success) using an iFixit kit.

I also have an iPad 3, which shows that it's charging (and indeed does charge) in OS X, but when I boot into Windows 7 using Bootcamp the iPad does not charge, and it displays a message "Not charging." It indeed does not charge at least while the iPad screen is on, and appears to just maintain its charge when the screen is off.

Given that there are no hardware configuration changes during boot, I was a bit puzzled. The only explanation I could think of was that there is a mis-negotiation between the two devices about power. This Apple note confirmed that - http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4049. It's not a very helpful note because it says that "Some Apple computer (sic) and displays may offer the ability to operate more than one USB port at 1100 mA" but apparently it's a secret as to which computers and displays can do this.

Anyway, it turns out that I was correct - and Apple obviously doesn't think it's in their interests to do this properly when providing Bootcamp drivers. It's a pity that Apple can't write these very well. The note says "An Apple computer started up to Windows via BootCamp will not provide extra power."

The solution

It turns out that there is a fix for this, and it is provided by Asus. It's the Asus AICharger http://event.asus.com/mb/2010/ai_charger/ which allows you to "Quick charge your iPod, iPhone and even iPad". It's not limited to Asus products (obviously, since it works on my Mac Mini - as I write this it's just gone up 1% while the screen is on).

Another claimed feature is the ability to charge while in standby, suspend or shutdown modes. I haven't tested this, but if true it overcomes the standard limitations Apple has left in its software (http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4049).

Can it cause problems? I doubt it since it simply provides the same function as OS X does on the same hardware - i.e. it's a driver fix, but only time will tell...