Crappy Telstra NextG network and Samsung A701 phone

It is difficult for me to find words adequate to express my unhappiness with Telstra’s crappy NextG network and the equally crappy Samsung A701 phone that I own. But I’m going to try …
The NextG network is the most unreliable thing since the early days of digital networks in Australia – high levels of drop outs, and there are dead zones all over suburban Sydney. God knows what it’s like for anyone in a smaller city. For heaven’s sake I could not even get a call out in Hornsby today, and it drops out regularly on the lower north shore and Northbridge, Chatswood, and St Ives. Luckily my friends are now used to one of us having to call back after a drop out. Maybe it is part of Telstra’s plan to increase revenue by doubling the cost of each call due to these drop outs mid -conversation?

I wish the NextG people would just find out what their brethren over at Bigpond are doing because they’ve managed to provide me with a reliable DSL service for several years now.

As for the phone, it is an annoying thing that is so unreliable that I’m going to replace it immediately after Christmas. Maybe I just got a lemon, but I will NEVER EVER by a Samsung phone again. It needs to go and be repaired again. So now I am going back to my old 2G Nokia handset which, by the way, still works day in and day out – even if it is a little clunky.

I feel better with that off my chest – still not happy, but better out than in.

Online video and social networking big in 2008?

Suspect that video based social networking is about to take off in 2008. But of course, I could be wrong!

During 2007 we’ve seen the consolidation of video sharing on sites like YouTube and others, now we’re seeing sites like seesmic launching. Early in 2007 lots of normal people (i.e. non-geeks) were talking about Utube (sic) but had never seen it, but now everyone knows what it is. Growth in video communications is coming our way. Who knows, soon I might even have a friend who can take one of my video phone calls?

via Aide-mémoire

Subprime crisis – Comments

It is always instructive to watch what a smart & successful company like General Electric* does and try to work out why they are doing it.

Several years ago GE spun off their insurance businesses and this divestment was of interest to me at the time because GE was removing a number of capital intensive operations from their business while retaining an equity interest. By this move GE no longer had to maintain tier-1 capital for these insurance businesses but instead retained a dividend stream from their equity, they also substantially reduced their own risk in those operations. By 2006 GE had sold their remaining equity in these operations, noting in their 2006 annual accounts that:

“In 2006, we substantially completed our planned exit of the insurance businesses through the sale of the property and casualty insurance and reinsurance businesses and the European life and health operations of GE Insurance Solutions Corporation (GE Insurance Solutions) and the sale of GE Life, our U.K.-based life insurance operation, to Swiss Reinsurance Company (Swiss Re). Also during 2006, we completed the sale of our remaining 18% investment in Genworth Financial, Inc. (Genworth), our formerly wholly-owned subsidiary that conducted most of our consumer insurance business, including life and mortgage operations, through a secondary public offering.” (Source: GE 2006 annual report p. 49)

This deal by GE really got me thinking about the problems associated with insurance products in the globalised markets where risk is interlinked between geographies and products. With the sub prime mortgages problem in the US lenders have loaned money to people who cannot repay their mortgages. The lenders don’t really care because all the mortgages are insured, but the insurers are probably very worried right now. And, if the mortgage insurers have been following the lead of the lenders you can bet that they also relaxed their underwriting rules to write those policies.

The credit crunch is going to be worse for the insurers because often they not only insured the mortgages, but also provided the deposit bonds. Also the ratings agencies are really going to come under some scrutiny – the real question is do they have any clue as to the underlying risk of the products they are rating? I suspect the answer is about to be revealed as a resounding not really.

The sub prime mortgage problem exists because lenders ignored prudent credit policy on the optimistic basis of a rising property market. We are now seeing the almost inevitable consequence of these poor credit policies. GE had the foresight to reduce their exposure to these insurance businesses, a pity some of the other players were not so prudent.

* Note: A few years ago I worked for GE in Australia, but no longer have any business relationship with the company. I have no personal knowledge of the GE business strategy behind these deals and the comments above are based on publicly available sources and my own interpretations.

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Why software testing is important – from New Scientist

Here is a story for those among us who do not believe that software testing is critical, this is from New Scientist’s Doh! Of Technology:

Back to the future
IN FEBRUARY 2007, 12 F-22 Raptors, the US air force’s new stealth fighters, left Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, bound for Okinawa, Japan, on the high-tech planes’ first overseas outing. Things went smoothly until they reached the 180th meridian – otherwise known as the International Date Line.

Some of the pilots suddenly found themselves without any navigation aids. With nothing to tell them their compass heading or even whether they were level or not, it was as if the pilots had been instantaneously transported from the cockpit of the world’s most advanced aircraft into one dating from the first world war.

Fortunately the skies were clear, so the squadron did an about-face and was able to follow its in-flight refuelling tankers back to Hickam.

The error was diagnosed as a problem with a “partial line of code” that had pitched the planes’ computers into an infinite loop of trying and failing to calculate their position while dealing with an unexpected date. A fix was issued, and three weeks later the planes made their trip to Japan without a hitch.

“Reliance on electronics has changed the flight-test process,” says
Donald Shepperd, once head of the US Air National Guard. “It used to be tails falling off, now it’s typos that ground a fighter.”

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Seesmic

Finally got an invite to Seesmic last night from Loic and, of course my webcam is not working on my desktop. This means I will have to use the Mac, which I generally only use on the road. It would seem very strange to use it here in my study. Unless tomorrow I brave the Christmas retail madness and buy a replacement. Dunno what to do for my first video though?

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Techcrunch goes political with the US election

Techcrunch goes political with the US election, Michael Arrington explains:

“TechCrunch wants to provide a voice for digital policy and technology issues in the upcoming U.S. Presidential election, and so we’ve decided to hold our own political primaries online. Voting will be open from Tuesday, December 18 through midnight pst Friday, January 18. TechCrunch will endorse one candidate from each the Democratic and Republican party as the “Tech President” candidate based on the popular results of reader voting and blog input from our community of technology leaders and entrepreneurs.”

More at http://primaries.techcrunch.com/

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Thomas Paine & the Declaration of the Rights of Man

I am reading Christopher Hitchen’s Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man: A Biography. Paine’s writings were highly influential in creating the world we know today, where equality before the law and democracy are normal. I’m also dipping into the The Thomas Paine Reader to access the original writings. I did read Paine’s works many years ago at Sydney Uni when studyin history, which itself is almost ancient history, but Paine’s writings have a freshness that stands the test of time.

So many of the ideas we take for granted in Western society were denied to people in Paine’s time. Indeed, he was forced to flee his homeland for merely asserting that man (and he did talk about men in the way of his time) had certain basic and irrefutable rights.

His ideas were foundational in the development of the United States, and informed much of their political and legal culture.

He also argued against the British system by which the people occasionally managed to wrest a concession from the ruling hierarchy: e.g. Magna Carta, and the Bill of Rights 1688.

Now that I am studying law and living in an Australia that has been gradually abrogating rule of law, it seems to me that his arguments might have some truth.

No doubt Paine was a radical, even by today’s standards. But he did stand firm on his belief that man had inalienable rights and that true nobility came from the ‘democratic floor’ rather than hereditary titles.

I can only hope that one day Australians will have acknowledged rights that are protected by the full power of the state and which cannot be changed at the whim of the current government without the full and informed consent of the populace. This means that these rights need to guaranteed by something other than mere legislation, which can be changed through parliamentary process without consulting the populace. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that Australians need their rights to be defined and protected.

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