Archive for the ‘ramblings’ Category.

If you’re going to compare Terms of Service, kindly do so based on facts.

ObDisc: I used to work for Google. I still have lots of friends at Google. I have a bias towards trusting Google that’s largely based on knowing people who work there and trusting them personally. I pay money for many Google services – several Apps domains, for instance. I am also a paying customer of both Dropbox and iCloud.

I had thought that the nonsense about Google’s Terms of Service and their impact on Google Drive was dead with Nilay Patel‘s comprehensive summary of Dropbox, Skydrive, Google Drive, and iCloud Terms of Service, but then I saw this tweet and realised that the nonsense is continuing. The article linked (published on Trend Micro’s “Cloud Security” blog) to was written on the same day as Nilay’s piece, so it’s not new – but apparently this nonsense is still being spread.

Trend Micro also have a similar service, called Safe Sync. In the footnotes below, I’ve included (as well as the comparison from Nilay’s article) the equivalent sections from Safe Sync’s own EULA for you to compare.

All of these Terms are fairly standard. Amongst their many similarities, each of them has a “You retain ownership” clause[1], and a “You grant us the right to” clause[2]. [3]

Without exception, every bit of FUD I’ve seen has been predicated around comparing the “You retain ownership” clauses from the other services with Google’s “You grant us the right to” clause. Today’s bit of nonsense does exactly the same thing: it lists the “You retain ownership” clauses from Skydrive and Dropbox against the “You grant us rights” clause from Google. This one goes one step further though: it first argues that the “You retain ownership” clauses in the other Terms are vital for establishing a Reasonable Expectation of Privacy under US law; then makes the explicit claim that Google’s terms destroy any argument that content uploaded to your cloud storage service has a reasonable expectation of privacy – implying (although never actually stating) that Google’s Terms, unlike the others, lack the vital “You retain ownership” clause.

Utter nonsense.

It’s quite possible that not having a “You retain ownership” clause might have consequences on a Reasonable Expectation of Privacy; but as Google’s Terms are equivalent to the others, this would apply equally to the other services. I don’t see how this could arise from a genuinely mistaken reading of Google’s Terms, either: the “You retain ownership” clause is quite literally in the previous sentence to the one quoted in the Trend Micro article – I don’t see how any honest attempt at understanding the Terms could miss the clause. I don’t see how this can be anything other than a deliberate attempt to create FUD.

The Trend Micro ends with a plug for their own product. The penultimate sentence says:

Here’s hoping the EFF shames Google into at least being less evil.

Good news! Ars Technica got in touch with the EFF and asked them to read over Google’s policy.. Was the result the shaming that Trend Micro were hoping would be bestowed on their competitors?

When Ars spoke to the Electronic Frontier Foundation about Google Drive’s terms of service, the EFF found little about them that was more suspicious than in any other similar cloud service.

I’m sure that Google is indeed positively burning with shame.

Edited to add: Just to be clear, I’m not intending to imply that there is no reason to be concerned about putting your private data on any of these services. Any time you decided to use any of these services (or any cloud Webmail service, or an online photo sharing site, or a social network…) you need to carefully balance the utility you get from the service against the very real privacy and security issues associated with the service. However, these decisions need to be based on *facts*: what the relevant Terms and Policies actually say. Spreading FUD about the contents of the policies doesn’t help anyone make a decision about which services to use (or not to use).

Google Drive
Some of our Services allow you to submit content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.
By using our Services you provide us with information, files, and folders that you submit to Dropbox (together, “your stuff”). You retain full ownership to your stuff. We don’t claim any ownership to any of it.
Except for material that we license to you, we don’t claim ownership of the content you provide on the service. Your content remains your content
Except for material we may license to you, Apple does not claim ownership of the materials and/or Content you submit or make available on the Service
You are the owner of your files and are solely responsible
for your conduct and content of your files, as well as any of the content contained in communications with other
users of the Trend Micro Products/Services.
Trend Micro does not claim any ownership rights
in your files.


Google Drive
you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.
We may need your permission to do things you ask us to do with your stuff, for example, hosting your files, or sharing them at your direction. This includes product features visible to you, for example, image thumbnails or document previews. It also includes design choices we make to technically administer our Services, for example, how we redundantly backup data to keep it safe. You give us the permissions we need to do those things solely to provide the Services.
You understand that Microsoft may need, and you hereby grant Microsoft the right, to use, modify, adapt, reproduce, distribute, and display content posted on the service solely to the extent necessary to provide the service.
you grant Apple a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Service solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available, without any compensation or obligation to you.
You understand that in order to provide the Service and make your Content available thereon, Apple may transmit your Content across various public networks, in various media, and modify or change your Content to comply with technical requirements of connecting networks or devices or computers. You agree that the license herein permits Apple to take any such actions.
In order to make the Trend Micro Products/Services available to you, you agree to grant Trend Micro a limited, nonexclusive, perpetual, fully-paid and royalty-free, sub-licensable and worldwide license: (i) to use, copy, transmit, distribute, store and cache files that you choose to sync; and (ii) to copy, transmit, publish, and distribute to others the files as you designate

[3]All of the service have Privacy Policys which modify the Terms of Service in various ways. It’s interesting comparing these too.

  • Google’s Privacy Policy mostly limits what they can do with the rights you’ve granted them under the ToS. For instance, although the Terms of Service require that you grant Google the right to use your data for “the limited purpose of … promoting … our Services”, the Privacy Policy seems to restrict Google’s ability to actually do this – as far as I can tell, only data you have expressly chosen to make world-visible could ever be used in this way.
  • Dropbox’ Privacy Policy, by contrast, greatly *expands* the rights Dropbox have. For instance, the Terms say that “aside from the rare exceptions we identify in our Privacy Policy, no matter how the Services change, we won’t share your content with … law enforcement, for any purpose unless you direct us to”. On the surface, this seems much more restricted than Google’s equivalent terms – until you find this in the Privacy Policy: We may disclose to parties outside Dropbox files stored in your Dropbox and information about you that we collect when we have a good faith belief that disclosure is reasonably necessary to (a) comply with a law, regulation or compulsory legal request. In short, despite the misleading wording in the Terms, Dropbox can and will share your data with law enforcement just as readily as any other corporation.

Google Plus is killing the open web

This tirade was originally posted as a comment on this post on Google Plus; but given the content, it seemed like it would be wrong not to post it here as well.

[Edited to add]To be clear, I’m not accusing Google, or anyone at Google, from intentionally trying to kill the web. I know that most Googlers, and Google itself, strongly believe that an open interweb is a good thing. I’m fairly sure, although I don’t know anyone involved, that the people working on Plus have good intentions about making it open; and probably believe that their custom API is better than an RSS/Atom feed because it offers more functionality.

I’m only commenting here on what I see as the net effect of Google+, as it is today, on the interwebs.[/EDITED]

Plus is killing the web because even Facebook offers more ways to track and be notified about that content than Plus does. Plus doesn’t export any RSS/Atom feeds. The only way to pull data out is a custom API that nothing much supports yet – I can’t even follow Google Plus from within Google Reader! I can follow my Facebook activity from within Google Reader – it’s a limited feed that doesn’t give me all the information I see within Facebook, but it’s enough that I know I haven’t missed any interesting activity from my friends. Plus makes it almost impossible to see anything but the last few posts, so I know that the interesting people I’m following are posting stuff that I’m missing. Stuff that if they posted to some open platform – their blog, twitter, hell, even Facebook – I’d be able to catch thanks to use of standards like RSS.

Plus is killing the web by tricking people into putting interesting content here that they would otherwise have put on their blog; then making it hard for me to find that content. For a while I’d considered “blogging” here (not that I blog much); but now that I’ve realised that posting here makes it next-to-impossible for anyone to find my content later, I won’t be. My second thought was to have my WordPress use the limited API to pull the content here into a post on my blog, but everything I’ve found that does that is ugly (and no, I’m not going to waste my time developing something when I could just post on my blog, on the open internet, and avoid the problem).

Plus is killing the web because it’s driving comments here, for much the same reason as the above. It’s easy for me to track down a comment someone made on +Robert Collins blog post about dmraid six months ago; if it was a post here, that would be impossible to find the post, let alone the comment.

Worst of all, by intermingling “Blog post” and “Link blog” type traffic (via the recent changes to gReader, amongst other things), Plus is killing the web by intermingling shallow commentary on half-read web trash (the kind of thing that used to be safely contained in gReader, delicious, or other linkblog type things) with interesting new content. Two-thirds of the reason why it would be impossible to find a six-month old post +Robert Collins had made would be the 7500 bits of crap in his stream since then – “Esconced for the wait until the flight”, “Checked in in some random hotel in eastern europe”, “aieee” being paraphrases of 3 of his 4 most recent posts. Blogs are for blogging; linkblogs are for sharing potentially interesting content, Plus is for dumping all your shit in and flushing.

In summary: Plus makes it harder to extract content than even Facebook; Plus encourages intermingling of the banal and the profound; and thus Plus makes it impossible to not miss quality content that would be found if it were posted on the open internet.

I hate to harp on about how Friendfeed got this right, but it really did. Friendfeed, although it aggregated my Twitter and my Blog, kept their identities as seperate streams. Friendfeed allowed you to choose if you wanted to see my tweets, my blog posts, or both. Friendfeed re-exported the stream I was watching as a single integrated RSS feed that I could then track in an RSS reader of my choice to make sure I didn’t miss any content. Friendfeed made it easy to re-share posts onto other services such as Digg or Friendfeed made it easy to pull the comments made on an item inside Friendfeed back into the source, so that the conversation did not get splintered or lost.

I miss Friendfeed. I wish Google had managed to bring +Paul Buchheit and the rest of the team back into the fold – Friendfeed would have made such a fantastic open platform on which to build a social network.

The long overdue details of my miserable EY experience

When I switched jobs earlier this year, I wanted to spend my week off between jobs doing something different from my routine – so I flew to Paris for 3 days, spent 2 in London, then flew home for the new job.

A few months earlier, I’d gone to the US for work, and flown Premium Economy on VA there and back. That flight was fantastic, not least because I got bumped up to business on the way over there. That flight, together with some domestic flights I’d taken earlier in the year, was enough to bump me to Silver status with VelocityRewards, so a secondary aim of my trip to Europe was to bump me up to Gold, so that I’d be able to have ongoing little treats for myself every time I have to fly over the next year. So, I booked Premium Economy fares for this trip too.

At the time, the alliance between VA and EY was fresh and shiny, so I decided to give it a try – especially as it seemed like the best way to maximise my chances of hitting Gold. All the flights to Europe were VA SYD-AUH, followed by EY between AUH and your destination. In my case, I flow AUH-CDG, caught the Eurostar to London, and flew back LHR-AUH.

At one point during the booking process, I was considering going Business class, as the fares seemed surprisingly cheap. That’s when I noticed the fine print: these fares were Business only on the VA leg, but economy on the EY leg. A few, far more expensive, fares offered Business all the way through – but even though this trip was about me splurging, I didn’t want to splurge *that* much.

This made me check the fine print on the Premium fares, and discover that they too put you in economy, as EY has no Premium service. This was my first disappointment: I wanted to splurge on myself just a little, but VA had chosen a partner that didn’t allow that.

The VA legs were fantastic: comfortable seats, plenty of room, good food, good IFE. Absolutely no complaints about those legs.

The layover in AUH outbound wasn’t terrible. The strange layout of the airport means that, after deplaning, you are forced to go through security just to enter the terminal; and terminal 3 at AUH turns out to be tiny – 5 or 6 obligatory high-priced fashion outlets, a token chemist/travel goods/bookstore, and a perfunctory food court above. The whole thing is closed in and claustrophobic – the longest line of sight anywhere in the place is standing at the base of the escalators up to the food court and looking up two stories to the roof. There are no windows in the terminal proper.

The terminal is shaped like the letter p – all the shops are in the circle at the top, with all the gate lounges in the long tail trailing off. If your flight is at one of the distant gates, allow a good long time for walking down there – and once you’re there, you won’t want to walk back.

After my layover, boarded the EY A340-500. The good news was that seating is 2-4-2, and I had one of the 2s to myself. The bad news was that I had detritus from the last passenger on and around the seat – most memorably, half a plastic cup on the ground in front of the seat, but also random bits of plastic in the seat pocket in front of me, and stuff down beside the seat. Aside from having to clean away someone else’s rubbish, that particular flight went fairly smoothly. I was disappointed to find out that the “Bakery Selection” the menu had promised for breakfast turned out to be “A Croissant”, but as I was about to be landing anyway it didn’t seem to matter much.

Coming back from LHR was less pleasant. I discovered that my Velocity Silver status didn’t get me priority checkin – but I had arrived well before the flight, so the line wasn’t long anyway. This time the plane was clean, so I thought that maybe the problems on the previous flight were a one-off – but as we were descending into AUH, I realised that this time the Bakery Selection had consisted of nothing at all. Suddenly the paltry “Selection” from the first flight seemed positively luxurious!

(Yes, I did just complain that, in the midst of being whisked quickly and without fuss from Merry Old Englande to the center of Erotic Arabia, they forgot to give me a pastry. You did notice the “#firstworldproblems” tag, right? If you want to read about people with *actual* problems, look elsewhere)

Then we landed at AUH Terminal 1. This is obviously a much older terminal, and seemed to be undergoing its first maintenance in decades. The whole terminal is one giant dome, with a supporting pillar in the center. Once again, the terminal lacks meaningful windows, turning would could be a glorious view out over the runways towards the sea into a claustrophobic world of concrete. As a concession to smokers, the terminal offers a smoking booth in the center of the terminal.

I’ve seen smoking booths at other airports. SIN has some of them – decent sized rooms, with strong ventilation, so that people standing outside get only the faintest whiff of smoke as people enter and exit. EY’s booth was as pathetic as the rest of the terminal – about the size of 6 standard Telstra phone boxes joined together. Free-standing in the center of the terminal, with no attached ventilation that I could see. For the convenience of people entering the booth, it had an automatic sliding door, which opened into a gaping maw about 50% of the length of the booth – and then stayed open, because there were constantly people walking past and triggering the sensor.

As a result, even the few people who were actually smoking inside the booth were just resulting in a constant trickle of smoke heading up to the ceiling and adding to the already foul haze and miasma in the room. Yes, room – this entire terminal is just one big domed room.

Using the smoking booth was clearly pointless, so most smokers didn’t bother. Sure, they mostly stood *near* the booth – but also sitting near the booth, surrounded by smokers, was a mother and her baby, who couldn’t have been more than 2.

I noted all this in passing as I was proceeding, post-haste, towards the comparative bliss of T3 – yet again, EY had managed to turn the downsides of the last trip into longed-for pleasant memories.

It was while I was in T3 eating in the ersatz food court that I realised I’d left my Kindle on the plane. No problem, I thought, cleaners will have found it. I’ll just ask customer service too retrieve it for me..

Well, it turns out that customer service is a two-person desk on the edge of T1 – so back into the smoke I had to go. It turned out that an EY flight to BKK had just been cancelled. It turns out that most of the people on the flight might have been able to get accommodation in Abu Dhabi – if they’d thought to get a visa before they left home. As it was, the customer service desk was surrounded by a swarm of people who weren’t happy at being told that their only option was to remain in that smoky dome indefinitely, until another plane could be found for them.

Neither of the customer service people behind the desk seemed interested in doing anything about this. They spent a lot of time staring at people, and asking questions like “So what am I meant to do about it?”. You know that Little Britain motif, where someone bashes away at a computer for a bit before blandly responding “Computer says no”? It was exactly like that, except without even the pretence of blaming it on the computer.

I waited in this morasse for about an hour, gradually managing to inch my way towards the desk as the people at the friend of the huddle gave in and left. I was almost there when some ground staff from another airline led in a woman through a back door. She’d left a scarf on an EY plane, but as she couldn’t get to EY’s customer service people, she’d made enough of a nuisance of herself to staff of other airlines that they’d dragged her in behind the desk just to get rid of her.

EY customer service> What are you here for>
Woman> I left my scarf on my plane
EY> *blank look* So? What are we meant to do about that?
Woman> *furious* I want you to see if the cleaners found it and handed it in
EY> *sigh* I guess.

At this point, the sketch I alluded to earlier played out in full: the customer service person picked up a phone, bashed a few keys, said a few words, listened for a few seconds, then put it down and announced “Cleaners say no”. He then stared at the woman until she gave in and went away.

Even if I hadn’t given up all hope of recovering my kindle at that point, my flight was now boarding – I’d been in that line for over an hour. I went back to T3 and boarded.

Actually, two more things happened while boarding. Due to Australian regulations, we had to undergo “Additional Screening” before getting on the plane. This consisted of EY ground stuff rummaging through our hand luggage in case we were smuggling hot beverages or vast quantities of drinking water onto the plane. The man in front of my had some roll-on deodorant in his bag, and the EY staff started thrusting it in his face and loudly asking him “How big is this? Is this bigger than 100mL?”.

Firstly: no, it wasn’t. It was nowhere near big enough to be 100mL, so it was a silly question.
Secondly: Why are you relying on *passengers* to tell you whether or not they’re complying with your regulations? If you’re going to conduct these silly checks, train your staff to have some vague idea of what 100mL looks like
Thirdly: printed right on the front of the bottle, it says “30mL”.

I know this because I happened to have exactly the same thing in my luggage. I made a point of pointing at the label when mine was being searched, which saved a lot of time.

The second thing that happened was that one of the EY staff asked me, as I was about to board the plane, if I’d enjoyed my time in AUH. I told him I hadn’t, which made him ask for details. He ended up taking my contact details and promising to try to find my kindle for me, but a few days later he had to tell me that no-one had reported it.

Would I fly with VA/EY again? Well, now that I’ve got Gold status, I had been thinking of giving it a try, to see if AUH is less hellish once you’re inside the lounges – but as EY have effectively rescinded lounge access for anyone not travelling business class (even their own Gold status frequent flyers don’t get lounge access any more, unless they’re travelling Business), I won’t even get the chance to find out. I could get into the Al Reem lounge in T1, maybe, if they have space – but I could have done that last time I flew too, as it’s open to anyone with $39USD to spare.

Ways to make me unsubscribe from your feed #1

I’ve noticed a trend where a lot of feeds are including large blocky ads at the bottom of each feed item. I can live with that; a little ugly, but I can skip them easily.

Today I saw something new:


That’s right: two complete posts consisting of nothing more than the same ad.

Scrolling down shows me that the very next item is exactly the same add from “The Fail Blog”, another site operated by the same company.

Ads with content I can stand. Ads without content?  *unsubscribe*

Laundry powder gets huge upgrade

I was in the supermarket getting some laundry powder last night and noticed something really strange: every single brand of concentrated laundry powder was advertising on their packaging the fact that they’re about to be relaunched in a new version. The new powders are all going to be 2x as concentrated, and most brands made a big deal out of the fact that the new packaging will therefore be half the size.

Golly. Every brand? All at once? All deciding to redo their formulation, redo their packaging, and retool their manufacturing plants, all with identical changes to formulation and packaging, all at the same time? Unpossible!

You’d almost think that every brand of powder was actually exactly the same, made at the same plant, and just packaged slightly differently. But that would surely never happen!

Censorship of.. flight details?

A few days ago, a colleage pointed met at AirServices Australia’s new fancy flight tracker, which allows you to watch planes coming and going in the airspace around Sydney airport. There are plenty of things not to like – MS Virtual Earth ;), the nasty click-through EULA that you have to agree to before you even find out what the site provides…

But, that aside, it’s fairly cool. Planes, flying, around Sydney! Results from noise-level meters, so you can see just how noisy your new suburb is going to be. Even details about the planes – type of plane, altitude, flight numbers..

So today there was a tragic accident involving two planes with trainee pilots. SMH have a video online which shows the flight tracker, and shows the two planes involved colliding (and then one of them dropping off the radar – literally). According to the timestamps superimposed on the video, the crash happens just after 11:23am

The site lets you see historical data: in the box on the lower-left, un-tick the “Show Current Flights” button, then use the controls to choose the day and time you’d like to look at. So it’s easy enough to go back to 11:20am and run through the next few minutes and see the crash for yourself.

Except… that it’s not. There are no planes in that area at that time. In fact, there’s no light aviation at all. Someone has excised all light aviation records between 11:00am and 11:59:16am. If you set the timer to start art 10:59, you see a whole bunch of planes:


suddenly dissapear:


It’s not a subtle removal either, even if you ignore all the planes which freeze and then vanish from the graph. There’s a nice graph showing you the number of movements per hour for the day – spot what’s odd about today:


I fail to understand this. I… just fail. I really don’t understand why this is considered sensitive, and why it’s been removed.

SMH: Not so clever with the counting

It seems that as well as firing all their journalists, SMH have forgotten how to do math.


Well done!

Kitties is cute

What’s cuter than a kitty-cat giving you morning cuddles?

Two kitty-cats giving morning cuddles!

The picture below is momentous – it’s the first time both cats have consented to cuddle at the same time.

Burrito licks Linus' ear while I cuddle them both

Burrito licks Linus' ear while I cuddle them both

Stephen Fry: Tweeting with class

From his tweetstream overnight (my time):

Well, sitting in JFK lounge. Flying to LA this morning. Sharp contrast. But, you know, it’s possible to love LA and NYC x
It’s possible to like the Beatles and the Stones. x
You can love Mozart and Wagner x
You can like Dickens and Austen x
You can like iPhones and BlackBerries x
Carbs and protein x
Bach and Mahler x
Coke and Pepsi. (Coke and Ecstasy for that matter …) x
But NOT Vista and OS X. Non posso. Unmöglich. x
Well praps I went a bit far with coke and pepsi. Should’ve tweeter “you can dislike both coke and pepsi” x