Archive for March, 2011

Nice post from UNEASYsilence on how to find out who is tracking you when you visit a website and how you can elminate the tracker.

Ghostery is your window into the invisible web – tags, web bugs, pixels and beacons that are included on web pages in order to get an idea of your online behavior. Ghostery tracks the trackers and gives you a roll-call of the ad networks, behavioral data providers, web publishers, and other companies interested in your activity.

Available as extensions for Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari, Ghostery also lets you block the trackers it finds, and view the source of suspect scripts. Running it is quite an eye-opener, to say the least.

Really cool to see what websites are really running on your computer!

Asher Moses, The Age


The entertainment industry has been warning of its impending demise for years. 

Photo: Denham

The entertainment industry has been warning of its impending demise for years.

Is piracy really sending the entertainment industry broke or are the claimed hundreds of millions of dollars in annual losses and thousands of job cuts just a load of hogwash?

The industry is constantly warning of an impending piracy apocalypse but continues to notch up healthy revenues and record box office takings.

From bogus figures to highly exaggerated press releases, analysts and academics claim there is no limit to the hyperbole record labels and movie studios will use in their relentless lobbying campaign.

With the industry reeling after repeatedly failing to use the courts to force internet providers to penalise illegal downloaders, it is now trying to persuade the government to implement new legislation that would crack down on internet users.

But critics say the industry isn’t playing fair and should refresh its business model for the digital age instead of stretching the truth in order to scare the government into implementing knee-jerk legislation.

Fudging the numbers

This month, a new lobbying group, the Australian Content Industry Group (ACIG), released new statistics to The Age, which claimed piracy was costing Australian content industries $900 million a year and 8000 jobs.

The report claims 4.7 million Australian internet users engaged in illegal downloading and this was set to increase to 8 million by 2016. By that time, the claimed losses to piracy would jump to $5.2 billion a year and 40,000 jobs.

But the report, which is just 12 pages long, is fundamentally flawed. It takes a model provided by an earlier European piracy study (which itself has been thoroughly debunked) and attempts to shoe-horn in extrapolated Australian figures that are at best highly questionable and at worst just made up.

What’s more, the report attempts to provide a five-year forecast based on a single year of data and also attempts to calculate lost Commonwealth tax revenue. It suggests there is a direct correlation between internet traffic growth and lost jobs in the content industry – but includes no new research into jobs in the entertainment industry to back this up.

“The main objective is to lobby politicians with this and to scare the public into compliance,” IBRS analyst Guy Cranswick said.

“The quality of data and analysis is very weak as its political objective is so clear.

“It does not use actual ABS data but data taken from Europe. It’s an elemental statistical error, it’s fudging with numbers to come out with a figure which is ‘kinda sorta’ plausible.”

The report was compiled by Sphere Analysis on behalf of ACIG, which comprises the main industry bodies for the music, games, software and book industries.

The author of the Sphere report, Emilio Ferrrer, said he believed the European study was credible and thorough and stood by his estimates for Australia, which he believed were conservative. Ferrer said that, even if the numbers were not completely correct, there was no denying that piracy was a significant issue for the industry that was only expected to increase with the arrival of the National Broadband Network.

Graphs from the ACIG report showing estimated losses to piracy. 

Graphs from the ACIG report showing estimated losses to piracy.

Twisting the government’s arm

Despite the flaws in the data, ACIG appears to be getting through to the government, with the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, using the report in a recent speech to highlight the threat of online piracy.

The tactic appears to be working overseas too with industry-generated reports succeeding in pushing governments in US, Britain, France and Ireland to act with onerous new laws.

ACIG’s report is far from the first Australian research to be criticised. Virtually every industry-commissioned report on the effects of piracy has been ridiculed by analysts.

The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT), another local anti-piracy agency, released a report in February that claimed piracy had cost the economy $1.37 billion in lost revenue and 6100 jobs from July 2009 until July 2010.

The study, based on a survey of 3500 people, has also been heavily criticised by analysts, copyright lawyers and the online users’ lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA).

“The reports always headline ‘jobs lost to piracy’, but this has no basis in fact,” EFA chairman Colin Jacobs said.

“Money not spent by downloaders on movie tickets is almost certainly spent elsewhere on other goods and services that may be more efficient at creating jobs in Australia.”

Essentially, piracy is a reallocation of income, not a loss to the larger national economy. Jacobs also noted that the content industry was mostly based in the US so revenue was largely flowing offshore.

He pointed to a research report from Holland that found piracy was actually beneficial to the Dutch economy (a Canadian study has come to a similar conclusion). Other studios have found that illegal downloaders actually spent the most on music and that pirated copies served to market the legitimate versions.

‘Self-serving hyperbole’

The Australian Institute of Criminology for one has been reluctant to take the industry at its word when it comes to piracy losses.

“Although these estimates provide a general indication of the scale of the problem, the validity of the data is open to some debate,” the AIC wrote in its latest report on intellectual property crime in Australia.

The AIC has previously debunked claims that piracy was linked to organised crime and in a draft report leaked in 2006 said industry-provided piracy statistics were “self-serving hyperbole”.

“The AIC’s frustration was largely based on the fact that none of these groups will expose their reports to genuine peer review or analysis,” said Kimberlee Weatherall, a senior law lecturer at the University of Queensland, who specialises in copyright law and is highly critical of the industry’s piracy reports.

“When the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) looked into it at the request of US Congress, it expressed doubt about most of the industry-produced figures.”

Piracy figures derived by the entertainment industry have also been heavily criticised in the US and Europe. In some instances, the industry has admitted to grossly inflating its numbers.

Australia’s biggest pirate? Fat chance

In February last year, the anti-piracy arm of the music industry, Music Industry Piracy Investigations (MIPI), put out a thunderous press release claiming it had helped police “shut down one of Australia’s largest illegal music burning operations” in Melbourne.

Acting on information from MIPI, police seized “close to 100 CD burners and approximately 25,000 discs containing pirate music housed in a suburban CD store”.

MIPI’s general manager, Sabiene Heindl, said at the time: “This is one of the largest and most blatant illegal music burning labs that we have seen for some time.”

It was only this year that the case finally ground its way through the courts and further details were released.

Of the 25,000 “pirate” CDs that MIPI claimed it seized, 14,600 were blanks, while the remaining discs were mostly of Asian artists which the store, Lucky Bubble, had a licence to reproduce.

Less than 100 of the discs were proven to be pirated copies and the charges were dropped to the lowest possible level. The manager of the store, who claims the handful of pirated discs were placed in his shop by staff, in the end was let go with a $1500 fine.

It’s a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties and years in jail that MIPI warned about in its press release.

The police have recently returned the man’s burners and almost all of the seized discs.

“This whole operation from the start has just been a monumental stuff-up by MIPI,” said barrister Doug Potter, who represented the defence in this matter but has 18 years’ experience with Victoria Police and has previously helped MIPI with its prosecutions.

“This bloke’s got a legitimate licence to be selling material and they’ve tried to characterise him as the greatest pirate in Australia. If their assessment is right they don’t have a piracy problem, it’s as simple as that.”

Mr Potter said he believed that MIPI was trying to “justify their existence” by pursuing minor pirates and raiding the occasional market stall. He said most piracy was occurring on the internet and much of this MIPI was powerless to stop.

“Everyone’s sitting on their computers anonymously pirating stuff and they’re going after someone with just 96 discs and proclaiming a great victory – the reality is that hard copies of these things are going the way of the dinosaur,” he said.

The Lucky Bubble case is reminiscent of the case of 24-year-old Queensland man James Burt, who was forced to pay $1.5 million to Nintendo in a piracy case last year for uploading a copy of a new game to the internet after he managed to buy it before the official release date.

Nintendo claimed he was a major pirate who had caused it significant losses, but Burt’s father said he was simply acting under peer pressure from his friends. As for the losses, the game, New Super Mario Bros, went on to earn $20 million in revenue in just seven weeks, making it one of the fastest-selling games of all time.

Studios still raking it in

But despite the presence of internet piracy, is the local industry actually suffering? The results are mixed.

The Australian box office set its third consecutive record in 2010, reporting revenues of $1.128 billion – a 4 per cent increase on the previous result.

Figures released by the Australian Recording Industry Association show that, between 2009 and 2010, although the quantity of music sold rose almost 10 per cent, the dollar value of these sales dropped from $446 million to $384 million.

Sales of DVDs, Blu-ray discs and other packaged media are holding strong, with 2010 revenues at $1.29 billion – just 6 per cent lower than in 2009.

Mr Cranswick believes shifting the blame for lost sales on to piracy betrays a deficit of “imagination and insight” by the entertainment industry.

There were legions of other reasons that could account for changing fortunes including technology, demography, usage patterns and price models.

The music industry appears to be the worst affected by falling revenue but there are signs it will soon turn the corner thanks to new subscription-based online music services. A recent Ovum research report estimated the digital music industry would grow by 60 per cent to $US20 billion by 2015.

Mr Jacobs points out that despite its profits continuing to grow on an overall basis, the industry for a long time has made a lot of noise about the end of days. It has continuously protested against new technologies and lobbied governments to impose restrictions.

“The marketers of entertainment should ask themselves – if a quarter of Australian internet users are engaging in unauthorised downloads as they claim, is it because Australians are a bunch of immoral criminals? Or could there be another explanation?” he asked.

“Rather than treating the impending roll-out of the NBN as an apocalypse of piracy, the industry should be embracing the technology to provide a more compelling offering to their Australian customers. Sadly, it seems that innovation is harder than putting lawyers in charge.”

An interesting Ars Technica post, bringing into focus not only overfishing itself but also the rapidly growing, unsustainable use of fossil fuels used for it.

The oceans of 2050: will there be any fish left?

By Jonathan M. Gitlin

It’s no secret that I’ve been pessimistic about the state of our oceans. So when I saw there was a session entitled “2050: Will There Be Fish in the Ocean?” at this year’s meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), I knew it would be one I’d attend. And while the message wasn’t particularly encouraging, it’s not all doom and gloom on the seas.

Reg Watson of the University of Tasmania started off by pointing out that humans have always fished; it’s just that we’ve gotten much better about it. Using data from a multitude of sources (predominantly the Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO] and the European Union), the Sea Around Us project aims to study the impact of fisheries on the marine ecosystems of the world, and helpfully provides their data analyses and visualizations for everyone to use.

In order to do this, it was necessary to come up with a metric, a single unit to normalize the data. The University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Daniel Pauly, who is Principal Investigator of the project, suggested energy expenditure as a measure of fishing effort, expressed as total engine power and the number of fishing days in a year.

Their data looks at the global picture from 1950, where the main effort took place around the European coast. By the 1980s, European fishing fleets started intensifying their efforts off the coasts of Africa, the Antarctic, and also in the deep ocean. Asian fishing efforts also ramped up around this time and, from the 1990s onwards, there has been a massive increase in fishing effort in the equatorial zones off northwest Africa and in the Pacific off southeast Asia. Around the same time, the global catch stagnated at around 70 million tons a year. Fishing effort was flat from 1950 until 1970, when it began to increase, ramping up to the 2010 level of 4.4 billion kilowatt days, a 54 percent increase over 1950 levels.

Having reached peak fish, the resulting fish stock collapses have meant that maintaining the annual landing of 85 million tons of fish in the 2000s became more and more energy intensive. Forty-seven million tons of fuel were used by the global fishing fleet each year over that decade, which works out to 1.8 tons of fish per ton of fuel, or 13.5lb of fish per gallon. Just as global agriculture has become incredibly dependent on fossil fuels, so too has global fishing, and it’s just as unsustainable.

Pauly pointed out that the recent FAO biennial report, which described the world fisheries as stable, was misleading, because it just measured catch, but not energy expenditure or the area being fished, which expands each year both in ocean depth and ocean area. Pauly thinks that consumers aren’t feeling this yet, since so much fish is imported from around the world, but that, within a decade, it will be more noticeable in the prices we pay at the supermarket.

Villy Christensen, also of UBC, tried to square the contradictory predictions of life in the future oceans. Unfortunately both these links require a subscription to Science, but the abstracts are free. The 2006 study predicted the global collapse of all taxa currently fished by 2048, but the 2009 study (which has many of the same authors) suggests that efforts to rebuild stocks are underway. According to Christensen, the 2009 paper is correct, at least for some regions.

Fixing the problems will require a more holistic approach to fisheries management than in the past, but there are signs that this is beginning to happen. The United Nations Environment Program is starting to work with the FAO to reduce the polarization between agriculture departments and environment departments across fishing nations. Even marginal reductions in fishing efforts now suggest that we could return to current fishing catch levels, but sustainably, by 2050. Unfortunately, not everyone who currently fishes can continue to do so—since that means taking away peoples’ livelihoods, reaching sustainability won’t be an easy sell.

Changes in fishing methods can also be successful; white sharks off the California coasts have recovered following a ban on drift nets. Increased use of marine protected areas will also be needed, but we can see these at work already—cod are recovering in the Gulf of Maine, for example. Alaskan fisheries are also doing much better since moving to a model that allocates each boat a catch share, rather than a limited number of fishing days. It’s not popular with everyone, since it effectively assigns property rights to the fish in the sea, privatizing a public resource. But, if the alternative is collapsed fisheries, then I think on balance it’s worth it.

If god were on Facebook …

Posted: March 17, 2011 in humour
Tags: ,

At least it’s quite irreverant :)!

[Cool Material]

I don’t think the following Harvard Business Review article provides any new information to the topic, but it seems to be quite a good reminder for how important sleep is.

Let’s cut to the chase.

Say you decide to go on a fast, and so you effectively starve yourself for a week. At the end of seven days, how would you be feeling? You’d probably be hungry, perhaps a little weak, and almost certainly somewhat thinner. But basically you’d be fine.

Now let’s say you deprive yourself of sleep for a week. Not so good. After several days, you’d be almost completely unable to function. That’s why Amnesty International lists sleep deprivation as a form of torture.

Here’s what former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had to say in his memoir White Nights about the experience of being deprived of sleep in a KGB prison: “In the head of the interrogated prisoner a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep … Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it.”

So why is sleep one of the first things we’re willing to sacrifice as the demands in our lives keep rising? We continue to live by a remarkably durable myth: sleeping one hour less will give us one more hour of productivity. In reality, the research suggests that even small amounts of sleep deprivation take a significant toll on our health, our mood, our cognitive capacity and our productivity.

Many of the effects we suffer are invisible. Insufficient sleep, for example, deeply impairs our ability to consolidate and stabilize learning that occurs during the waking day. In other words, it wreaks havoc on our memory.

So how much sleep do you need? When researchers put test subjects in environments without clocks or windows and ask them to sleep any time they feel tired, 95 percent sleep between seven and eight hours out of every 24. Another 2.5 percent sleep more than eight hours. That means just 2.5 percent of us require less than 7 hours of sleep a night to feel fully rested. That’s 1 out of every 40 people.

When I ask people in my talks how many had fewer than 7 hours of sleep several nights during the past week, the vast majority raise their hands. That’s true whether it’s an audience of corporate executives, teachers, cops or government workers. We’ve literally lost touch with what it feels like to be fully awake.

Great performers are an exception. Typically, they sleep significantly more than the rest of us. In Anders Ericcson’s famous study of violinists, the top performers slept an average of 8 ½ hours out of every 24, including a 20 to 30 minute midafternoon nap some 2 hours a day more than the average American.

The top violinists also reported that except for practice itself, sleep was second most important factor in improving as violinists.

As I began to gather research about sleep, I felt increasingly compelled to give it higher priority in my own life. Today, I go to great lengths to assure that I get at least 8 hours every night, and ideally between 8 ½ and 9, even when I’m traveling.

I still take the overnight “redeye” from California to New York, but I’m asleep by takeoff — even if takes an Ambien. When I get home at 6 or 7 a.m., I go right to bed until I’ve had my 8 hours. What I’ve learned about those days is that I’d rather work at 100 percent for 5 or 6 hours, than at 60 percent for 8 or 9 hours.

With sufficient sleep, I feel better, I work with more focus, and I manage my emotions better, which is good for everyone around me. I dislike having even a single day where I haven’t gotten enough sleep, because the impact is immediate and unavoidable. On the rare days that I don’t get enough, I try hard to get at least a 20-30 minute nap in the afternoon. That’s a big help.

Here are three other tips to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep:

  • Go to bed earlier — and at a set time. Sounds obvious right? The problem is there’s no alternative. You’re already waking up at the latest possible time you think is acceptable. If you don’t ritualize a specific bedtime, you’ll end up finding ways to stay up later, just the way you do now.
  • Start winding down at least 45 minutes before you turn out the light. You won’t fall asleep if you’re all wound up from answering email, or doing other work. Create a ritual around drinking a cup of herbal tea, or listening to music that helps you relax, or reading a dull book.
  • Write down what’s on your mind — especially unfinished to-do’s and unresolved issues — just before you go to bed. If you leave items in your working memory, they’ll make it harder to fall asleep, and you’ll end up ruminating about them if you should wake up during the night.

For more tips on sleep and other forms of renewal visit the Harvard Business Review web site.

Tony Schwartz is the president and CEO of The Energy Project and the author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working. Become a fan of The Energy Project on Facebook and connect with Tony at and

Some gree initiatives might be better tha none, but from a health driven mass uprising against the whole cola industry might be the best remedy for the environment.

Green Initiative of the Day: PepsiCo's Plant-Based Bottles


Green Initiative of the Day: It was announced yesterday that PepsiCo will soon begin manufacturing an environmentally-friendly bottle composed entirely of plant material — this despite Coca-Cola Co.’s recent assertion that it would be years before a 100% plant-based bottle could be produced.

Materials used include switch grass, pine bark, and corn husks. PepsiCo plans to eventually begin incorporating organic leftovers from its food business.

According to PepsiCo senior VP of advanced research Rocco Papalia, the way the new PET bottles feel and protect their contents is indistinguishable from their plastic siblings. “We’ve cracked the code,” he is quoted as saying. “It’s a beautiful thing to behold.”

[The Daily What.]

Dai Mahou Touge – Vegetable Suicide

Posted: March 17, 2011 in humour

I might be vegetarian, but will I ever become as epic and legendary as the potatoe? 😉

I found it hard to believe, but it works. If you have problems with mobile phone reception, put your phone in a drinking glass and after a few seconds you get up to two bars more, which in my case  creates the difference between no recption and being able to use my phone.

So a few years ago one of the waitresses there discovered (how?) that if you put a phone in an empty glass it dramatically improves the reception. The Pasta e Basta restaurant is basically stuck in a concrete basement so reception has always been awful. But since they found out about this trick they at least have had enough reception to make and receive calls.

The waiter gave me glass, I put my iPhone in, reluctantly, and lo and behold: I got 3 bars and no 3G but some GPRS. Not perfect but a huge improvement from the ‘No signal’ message I got earlier.

Via Lifehacker and The Next Web

Just found that on some old Lifehacker post: a smart way to prevent headphone or earphone cables from becoming entangled.

  1. With your right hand make devil horns (third and fourth fingers tucked, second and fifth extended)
  2. Use your thumb to hold the earbuds against your palm
  3. Wrap the cable around your 2nd and 5th fingers using a figure-8. This is really the key part, the cris-crossing prevents it from knotting
  4. When you have 6 to 8 inches of cable left, wrap the remaining cable around the center of the figure-8 a few times
  5. Tuck remaining cable to taste. Somtimes I tuck it through one of the figure-8 loops, sometimes through the center wrapping, sometimes not at all.

Tightness of the wrapping determines how well it holds together, but if you use a loose wrap, you can just pull on the earbuds and the whole thing comes undone without a single knot.

Businesses in Australia are allowed to impose surcharges for credit card users to recover fees they are charged, but recent research suggests that the charges are much higher than would be needed simply to cover those costs.

Picture by Paul Schreiber

Prior to 2003, there was no such thing as a surcharge for credit card use in Australia. Credit card providers didn’t want people to feel discouraged from using cards, so any store which wanted to offer credit card facilities also had to agree not to charge customers extra for using it — even though that meant that profits on credit card sales would be lower than on cash sales. (Incidentally, that was one reason why stores could readily offer “pay less for cash” deals, since there was still some room to move if credit card provider charges weren’t an issue.)

That all changed after the Reserve Bank effectively decided that the practice of not letting retailers recover the costs associated with credit card payments was anti-competitive and bad for business overall, and legislated to ensure that credit card agreements couldn’t include a “you can’t charge surcharges for using this” clause. Not every retailer chose to take up that option, but it did become increasingly common, especially for higher-value purchases such as electronic goods and airline tickets. Sometimes the additional charge is a percentage; sometimes it’s a flat-fee (Qantas charges $7.70 on domestic airline tickets, for instance).

The theory behind that change was that businesses should only recover their own costs associated with accepting credit cards, rather than using the surcharges as a source of profit in and of themselves. But has that actually happened?

Recent analysis by financial research firm East & Partners suggests that surcharges are out of sync with what retailers are actually paying to offer a credit card service. Across Australian industry as a whole in 2010, the average surcharge imposed for credit card use is 2.55%. In the retail sector, the figure is slightly lower at 2.34%, and that number actually fell from 2.4% in 2009.

While that drop might suggest that competition ensures that fees aren’t ridiculous, they are still much higher than the actual percentage charges imposed on retailers, which East & Partners lists as 0.81% for Mastercard and Visa, which are the dominant credit card players. (American Express charges 1.92% and Diners Club 2.12%, but even that last figure is lower than 2.34%.)

The silver lining is that we’re increasingly shunning credit cards in favour of debit cards, which is a sounder financial management practice. Credit cards now account for 22% of annual revenues for merchants, while debit cards account for 40.5%. Even so, if that trend continues, don’t be surprised if the Reserve Bank decides to tweak the regulations at some point.

In practice, you won’t always be able to avoid credit charge surcharges, but it’s worth checking your options. For instance, as we discussed recently, you can pay for airline tickets on Qantas and Virgin Blue direct from your bank account.

Lifehacker’s weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.

[via Lifehacker]