Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Skippy and Sonny talk data retention

“Tsk-tsk, tsk-tsk, tsk-tsk-tsk-tsk-tsk”

“What’s that Skippy? You need wide-ranging and draconian powers over the innocent activities of ordinary citizens? But why would you need that?”

“Tsk-tsk, tsk-tsk”

“Because it’s harder and more expensive to investigate a crime after it’s been committed. I don’t understand, Skippy. If the crime hasn’t been committed, what is there to investigate?”

“Tsk-tsk, tsk-tsk, tsk-tsk-tsk-tsk-tsk”

“You can’t really believe that. Not everybody’s a criminal, Skip.”

“Tsk-tsk, tsk-tsk, tsk-tsk-tsk-tsk-tsk”

“Nobody is innocent? Doesn’t that sound more like the sort of thing you’d hear in an oppressive regime than in a place like Australia?”

“Tsk-tsk, tsk-tsk”

“I didn’t say it was like the Stasi. I was just wondering whether you were seeking power which was excessive and could ultimately be abused?”

“Tsk-tsk, tsk-tsk, tsk-tsk-tsk-tsk-tsk”

“Let me get this straight, Skippy. You’re saying the power could be abused if you were the kind of police force that abused its power, but that this has never happened in your experience as the kangaroo in charge of the entire NSW Police.”


“But isn’t the proposal for data to be retained about everybody in all of Australia? Would you have the same amount of trust in all the police services in all of the states, at all times from now until forever?”


“Well, it wasn’t meant to be an insult, Skip. Merely an observation that you can’t predict when there may or may not be a corrupt officer, or a group of corrupt officers working in concert, who may at some time abuse their access to all that stored data.”


“Well, no, Skippi. I mean, yes, I do realize that there are all kinds of nasty people out there. However, these seem to be massively in the minority, since obviously most of us are not in prison, nor are we under suspicion, nor are we under investigation.”


“What’s that again?”


“What do you mean, ‘only because you don’t have sufficient power or resources?’”


“So if all of us were, in fact, police, and all of us had the power to request a warrant to inspect the stored telecommunications data, you’re absolutely confident that you would be able to demonstrate evidence that all of us had committed, were in the process of committing, or were likely to commit a crime of some kind?”


“Except the police, yes. You’re a very sick kangaroo, Skippy.”

Seriously: if Andrew Scipioni meant to scare the hell out of anyone paying attention, he succeeded. I have seen the NSW police commissioner say some creepy things to the camera in the past – he appears to regard pretty much the entire citizenry as already guilty of some crime or other – his performance in front of the Parliamentary Spooks’ Committee was terrifying.

Such is Scipioni’s utter disregard – no, strike that, such is his utter contempt for the rights of the citizen, Scipioni has made a good case for his removal from his post. The sole reason to have a police force is to safeguard the rights of freedoms of the citizen.

No free country should tolerate a policeman who resents the very rights he’s supposed to protect.

Added: Someone on Twitter just reminded me that Scipioni was in charge of the NSW Special Crime and Internal Affairs unit, at a time when members of that unit were faking evidence to get phone taps against people they didn't like. Nobody on the parliamentary committee thought this taint worth bringing to his attention, heaven knows why.

*If you’re not Australian, or too young, you need to understand that Skippy was a television kangaroo which communicated using little “tsk-tsk” noises.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Artic cyclone: the conspiracy that wasn’t (Wattsupwiththat goes shark-jumpin)

If you feel like laughing at conspiracy theories, head over to Wattsupwiththat, where the denialists are sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling “LA LA LA LA LA” about Arctic Sea Ice.

If you didn’t already know, the ice cover at the Arctic reached its lowest extent in the satellite era this month. Skip the media coverage, here’s the NASA source.

One reason for the dramatic fall in ice cover: there was a cyclone-strength storm that churned the sea-ice and made it more vulnerable to melting.

The storm has acted as the perfect distraction for denialists like the Wattsupwiththat blog: “NASA finally admits it – Arctic cyclone in August ‘broke up’ and ‘wreaked havoc’ on sea ice” (my emphasis).

That seems to imply that NASA was trying to conceal the interaction between the cyclone and the sea ice.

Except, of course, that NASA didn’t conceal a damn thing. The cyclone – and its likely impacts – were in public, with comments by NASA, back as far as August, while the cyclone was still active.

In this article, for example, discussing the storm back in August, NASA commented that the storm had already detached ice from the main pack – and exposing the detached ice to quicker melting.

So much for the conspiracy theory.

The article I referred to above also pointed out that the sea ice would not have been so vulnerable if it wasn’t already so thin – by the end of July the sea ice retreat had already broken records.

Conspiracist ideation” anyone?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Will the coalition’s FTTN get people off dial?

This is odd: There’s a considerable gap between two different ABS measures of the number of dial-up Internet customers still in Australia.

According to the bureau’s Internet Activity, Australia, there were 379,000 household dial-up subscribers at the end of 2011. However, according to the Census data (collected in August 2011), there were only 235,000 households reporting themselves as dial-up Internet users.

I suspect that there are a lot of people who kept a backup dial-up account at some point, and who haven’t gotten around to cancelling it.

This is an aside, however. 

This post is in the context of Malcolm Turnbull's initiative to survey users on broadband speeds.

I was interested that Turnbull's concerns include the dial-up customer (which led me to notice the data discrepancy). To quote Tony Eastley’s introduction* in AM, “the opposition says close to half a million households still use dial-up technology, and they’re being forced to wait too long for the NBN.”

Given the speed of dial-up’s decline in Australia, I doubt it. The dial-up sector lost nearly 100,000 customers in the six months to December 2011 anyhow – if that rate is maintained, it will die of its own accord in a couple of years.

(I would guess that most of the remaining 90,000-ish businesses with dial-up accounts use them only for backup, by the way. That application is being replaced rapidly with mobile connections.)

My other point is best illustrated by a rough map:

This shows the Census SA1 areas in which more than ten percent of the households still have dial-up connections. I haven’t calculated exchange distances, but the illustration should tell you enough.

Dial-up is at its most stubborn in remote places – areas that would be the slowest, most expensive and difficult to upgrade to FTTN.

*Note: it's perfectly possible that AM misunderstood something Mr Turnbull said, but that the program didn't put to air. If so, my apologies to Mr Turnbull.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Can we just forget about the polar bears for a while?

Not that I don’t care, but ever since An Inconvenient Truth made the polar bear the iconic image for climate change, it’s become a distraction from the real debate.

Take this piece of logical legerdemain from Matt Ridley. Admitting through gritted teeth that actually, really, oh-all-right the Arctic sea ice is retreating, he plays a misdirection game: “In the Holocene Optimum there was no collapse of the polar-bear population”.

Keep calm and carry on, people, the polar bears will get by somehow.

That, of course, ignores two itsy-bitsy ever-so-tiny details.

  • 1.     Polar bears and arctic foxes are only so-so as a proxy to answer the question “what impact would an ice-free Arctic have on species in the region?” Ridley somehow manages to overlook species, like the muskox and the steppe bison, that may have suffered a population collapse in the Holocene. It’s odd that he’d miss these examples, since he’s a zoologist.
  • 2.     The survival of the polar bear is not a benchmark for the impact of warming on human society.

Ridley ends with this red herring:

“The sea-dominated Southern Hemisphere is certainly warming more slowly than the land-dominated Northern Hemisphere, but it has still been warming. If warming is supposed to be "global," shouldn't sea ice retreat at both ends of the world?”

That’s a misleading question – since it’s been answered. Ridley seems to be placing a bet that his readers don’t know this. His readers don’t realize that the Antarctic is land, not sea; that the freshening of the Southern Ocean allows it to freeze more readily.

Most importantly, if all of the Antarctic ice is taken into account – both land and sea ice – the Antarctic ice cap, like the Arctic, is shrinking.