Leaky and scary website customer data

A few weeks ago, I tried to fine a colleague's cellphone number by search engine and found her details along with those of many South Africans and others on the website of the Celebration Cruise Line (probable trading as Imperial Majesty in the past) at www.imperialmajesty.com/Information/form_results.csv. Under the presumption that if it was indexed by search engines, it has leaked already, I made a copy at www.webcitation.org/5u2ZpoFAM in case anyone needs to sue these jokers for damages due to identity theft. The moral: do not give out any more personal information than is strictly necessary!


eBay profit in the posting

On eBay one occasionally comes across curiously high postage fees. Obviously, the seller is offering a low price but making up in the P&P department. The most egregious case I have seen is the $100 prepaid visa card depicted below, with a $130.96 shipping and handling charge for despatch inside the US. The selling price is $0.99 so you'd have to be rather gullible to select Buy It Now!

Alternative copy of this image at http://awesomescreenshot.com/0c049rb9b.


Blogger in “Palestine” arrested for blasphemy

A blogger expressing anti-clerical sentiment has been tracked down by the Palestinian police force and arrested for “insulting the divine essence” using a Facebook sting. Islamic law explicitly prohibits apostacy, so going for Mo's message is a one-way street in many countries. I doubt that the Cape Town Opera's scheduled Porgy and Bess in Tel Aviv is going to have many Palestinians thrown in jail for thought crimes but the Palestinian Authority clearly is.

Source: Palestinian held for Facebook criticism of Islam http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40143564


Number porting mess (Virgin -> Vodacom)

Update on Friday 2010-09-24: A kind person named Milo in Vodashop Hatfield, initially also baffled by my dilemma, managed to determine that I needed to phone 100 from the Vodacom SIM card in order to “activate” it even though I was receiving SMS on it already at that point. Now, on day 5, I have two active SIM cards on the same number and seem to be receiving SMS messages and calls from all networks with the call terminating on either on of the two phones. Sigh.

Several years ago, I ported my old 082 Vodacom number to Virgin Mobile (VM) because of an intense ennui with the MTN/Vodacom duopoly. VM was quite alright, and inexpensive, but I increasingly want to use 3G on my cellphone and VM apparently no longer offers prepaid international roaming of any kind, so I decided to reverse the process and take the number back to Vodacom. VM had also left me without service on more than one occasion for several hours, for no apparent reason other than unspecified issues with the ported numbers.

It took me more than one visit to the Vodacom service centre in Menlyn to discover what the exact procedure was (RICA documents, completely fresh SIM card from another shop, officially weekdays 8am to 5pm only but in practice 10am to 3pm). On Monday afternoon, I made a special trip during office hours and it appeared that everything went well. Late in the evening, the number became unstable on VM and I could no longer receive calls from Telkom but I expected something like this to happen. On Tuesday I put the Vodacom SIM card into my phone but I could not receive calls either. It is now Thursday and I can still receive calls and SMS messages from Cell C on my VM SIM card and can make calls from VM (showing the correct number as CLI) but I am receiving SMS messages (but not calls) from other networks on the Vodacom SIM card (!?) which I cannot recharge so I have no idea whether I can use it to call or not.

Needless to say, I despair – of the workability of porting in SA, of the ability of these networks to make anything work (are they just Telkoms with wings, after all?) and welcome any suggestions. Good luck, Kenya!


Kenya to get Mobile Number Portability

According to the Communications Commission of Kenya, mobile number portability (MNP) was to be introduced in that country in July 2010 and I sincerely hope it is a success for consumers in that lovely country, especially after a frustrating 30 minutes spent trying to port my prepaid number at Menlyn in Pretoria today. The highlight was being informed by one of the official Vodacom outlets that porting can only be done on weekdays, 8am to 5pm! Kenya's version of our subscriber-registration diktat (RICA), which caused some of my problems this morning, seems a bit more rational. According to Safaricom's website, post-paid contract customers do not need to do anything (since, logically, Safaricom already has their details) and students may use a student card to register. A once-off fee, presumably regulated, of around R18 is to be charged for porting in Kenya. Haba na haba, hujaza kibaba.




Services.gov.za is down

I visited www.gov.za today in order to look for forms for passport renewal and clicked on the link for citizens and was taken right to an error message. Fortunately the main website carried a cabinet statement on xenophobia and I can only assume that the bold step has been taken to finally eliminate all services to citizens in order to ensure equality of the foreign and the non-foreign born…

It appears that any page below the main page www.services.gov.za is down at the moment and has been all day. Ouch!


Education trends (personal thoughts for Big U)

Colleagues at Big U have asked me to take part in a panel discussion this morning on trends and education to present a personal perspective. Perhaps the urgency of the matter is best illustrated by the quoation
“Education spending grew by 14% a year for the past three years and accounted for R140,4 million in 2008/09.”
from the information website of the SA government, on education  (or the archived copy). Of course, they mean “thousand million” or “billion” and not “million” and obviously it was not enough. These are my trends to watch in education over the following decade or so.

  1. Private provision. A recent study funded by the Ford Foundation points to tight restrictions on the provision of private higher education as one of the reasons for the fact that 50% of youth aged 23–24 are not disabled, not in education and not employed. The current higher education system has also failed to advance the current government's “Transformation” programme since the gap between minority students and the rest of the population has been growing over the past decade. Many developing nations (and the USA) have a extensive private provision in tertiary education. In his book The Beautiful Tree, author James Tooley has described the immense impact of private primary and secondary education in India and elsewhere.
  2. Technology. The obliteration of certain kinds of distance by technology will have a continued impact. However, it is not a panacea. A recent study at Duke University among over 150 000 learners, has shown how the introduction of home computers lowered test scores in reading and in mathematics, especially for students from a disadvantaged background.
  3. Cost and quality. There is little doubt that cognitive ability is positively related to economic growth rates. However, international comparisons are now showing the gap between quality and quantity, as measured in years of full-time education. As costs spiral, the public will increasingly ask where the value for money is.
  4. Cognitive science. Will insights about the difference between understanding division for fractions and being able to just to it, inform education in the near future?
I have put some further reading at www.kolmogorov.net/download/edulinks.html.


Television standards in South Africa

South Africa has started the process of migrating television broadcasts from the analogue Phase Alternate Line (PAL) system introduced in 1975 to a digital system that is more efficient and made possible by technical progress, mainly in computer processing since the 1960s when PAL was introduced in Europe. PAL is the analogue television standard for most of Europe and large parts of Africa and Asia, including China and India. Its main competitors were the French SECAM (also widely used in Africa) and the North American NTSC (also used in Japan, South Korea and a few other countries). This has meant that a German or Kenyan analogue television set, for example, could be used without problem in South Africa but that a Japanese or American one would certainly not work.

Digital television broadcasting (over the air or OTA) more efficiently uses the available spectrum and allows for the transmission of many more channels. This is, indeed, why satellite broadcasting (like DSTV in South Africa) has been digital for some time now. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU)  has been driving a world-wide effort to convert OTA broadcasts to a digital standard. In SA this is essentially the SABC and e-TV. The migration to digital broadcasting has already been completed in the United States and in the SADC region, Mauritius is nearly done. The SADC region had decided to adopt the DVB-T (Digitial Video Broadcasting – Terrestrial) standard that is also in use in Europe, Indian and Australia. DVB-T is an open standard which incorporates some patented algorithms for encoding of the signal.

Recently, the South African government has started to suggest that SA might switch to the Japanese ISDB (Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting) standard. Since trials of DVB-T have already started, such a switch would imply considerable cost for the industry. It would also put South Africa's chances of completing the conversion from analogue to digital television by 2015 in considerable jeopardy!

Further reading

Digital TV standards: The truth behind it by Jan Vermeulen,  MyBroadband  (10 June, 2010)

Digital TV conspiracy: Is govt lying? by Candice Jones, ITWeb online telecoms editor (Johannesburg, 10 Jun 2010)


Police protecting SA from “illegal” shirts (and iPods?)

As part of the state-corporate criminal take-over of South Africa, otherwise known as the 2010 FIFA Sucker World Cup, police have been clamping down on “illegal” T-shirts. In Pretoria this week, five Ethiopians were reported arrested on charges of dealing in counterfeit goods. Now, in a country which is second in murder and first in rape, does the public really demand protection against counterfeit (whatever that means) T-shirts? Is it really necessary to arrest people for a putative offense that does not harm anyone or anything except corporate profits and poses no imminent danger that cannot be obviated by simple confiscation of the shirts? When does intellectual property vest in a yellow shirt with a national symbol on it?

In the meantime the Intellectual Property Research Unit at UCT have confirmed that it is illegal in South Africa to rip your own CDs and put them on an MP3 player or iPod. This issue has been discussed in the blogosphere before and it stems from a special provision in SA's Copyright Act for sound recordings. Otherwise SA has, as far as I know, fairly generous fair use provisions. Can we expect the police soon to be stopping people and arresting them for using an iPod with “counterfeit” music on it? This ridiculous notion is supported by a dinky industry association website stoppiracy.org.za which shows how close to the coalface it is by proclaiming that
“[b]y buying pirate music you are supporting organised crime”
which will, I am sure, come as a great shock to those who are in the habit of paying for pirated music!


Three policewomen suspended for Zuma e-mail

Cape Town's Die Burger reports that three police officers in the city have been suspended from duty for “improper conduct” while on duty for circulating a doctored film poster of President “Bring me my Machine Gun” Zuma and Julius “Kill-the-Boers” Malema. Now, this seems pretty innocuous (even, lame) and I have certainly received much worse at work so I think that it could become an interesting test case for what constitutes reasonable private use of work e-mail. In many jurisdictions (including, I believe, South Africa) the right of employees to reasonable use of office facilities for private purposes has long been recognised. This would include receiving personal calls on your office telephone as well as making them and so on. With so many excellent webmail providers out there, I think it is not advisable to use an official e-mail address for a lot of personal mail (including with colleagues) and if you prefer to use a single interface for all your mail, rather forward your office e-mail to a private address. Anyway, the SA Police Service (soon to be a Force again, I believe) has a history of biting the dust in Labour Law disputes and one can only trust that the trend will persists.


Meksiko kan per SMS selfoonnommer registreer, 25m doen dit nie

In Meksiko, soos in Suid-Afrika met die RICA-wetgewing, moet nuwe selfoongebruikers hulle persoonlike gegewens by die regering registreer en het bestaande gebruikers tyd gekry tot 'n bepaalde datum om dít te doen. Alhoewel Meksikane dié registrasie kon doen deur net 'n SMS te stuur met hulle federal ID-nommer (die sogenaamde CURP), is 31% van die lyne in Meksiko nie geregistreer nie en die sperdatum was Saterdag die 10e. Volgens 'n berig in La Jornada moet die selfoonmaatskappye nou begin om ongeregistreerde gebruikers se diens te beëindig. Dit kan natuurlik maklik wees dat die 25m lyne ter sprake grotendeels tweede of derde SIM-kaarte verteenwoordig en nie primêre gebruikers nie, wat 'n baie interessante refleksie sal wees op die statistieke waarmee die selfoonmaatskappye só graag spog.

Die prentjie hierbo is deur die Flickr-gebruiker Venturist en die twee webbladsye in Spaans waarna verwys word, is ook beskikbaar by http://www.webcitation.org/5ovObv6Uf en http://www.webcitation.org/5ovOpIDoH.


Goedkoper bel in Suid-Afrika

Foto deur Flickr-gebruiker aussiegall
Oor die Paasnaweek (wat saamval met Pasga hierdie jaar) maak baie mense van dié rustige tyd gebruik om met familie en vriende wat ver is te gesels. Hoe skakel 'n mens tans goedkoop binne Suid-Afrika?

Aangesien dié land sowat tien keer soveel selfoonlyne as landlyne het, fokus ek op oproepe na selfone en oproepe in spitstyd sodat die inligting ook ná die langnaweek bruikbaar kan wees. Selfs die groot netwerke, Vodacom en MTN, het relatief redelike tariewe indien 'n mens die regte pakket kies. Met Vodacom se All Day is die tarief R1,80 na ander netwerke en R1,70 per minuut na Vodacom maar ek verstaan nie wat die tarief van R3,60 per minuut vir „Voicemail Deposit” nou eintlik is nie. MTN se OneRate bied 'n heeldag-tarief van R1,75 per minuut maar daar word duidelik aangedui dat dít per sekond verreken word, vanaf die eerste sekonde.

Diegene wat toegang het tot 'n Telkom-lyn hoort lankal bewus daarvan te wees dat Telkom se tariewe na selfone relatief billik is. Telkom se webwerf is nie die maklikste om te navigeer nie maar die huidige tariefblad gee R1,47½ as die minuuttarief (met 'n minimum van 60s en dan per 30s) wat aansienlik goedkoper is as Vodacom en MTN se tariewe en wat nog saans ná 20:00 val met sowat dertig sent. Telkom het egter 'n komplekse tariefstruktuur en ek verkies 'n eenvoudige en eenvormige prys per minuut.

Die kleiner spelers, Cell C en Virgin Mobile, het nog meer aantreklike tariewe. Hoewel ek eintlik net na voorafbetaaldienste wou kyk, moet ek meld dat Cell C vir tussen R49 en R100 per maand (afhangende van die gratis selfoon wat gekies word) op 'n kontrak van 24 maande vir 'n mens 100 gratis heeldagminute gee met 'n prys van R1,50 per minuut na alle netwerke daarna. Cell C verreken oproepe op dieselfde 60/30-basis as Telkom. Met Cell C se Easychat All Day voorafbetaalplan is die oproepkoste ook net R1,50 per minuut, heeldag en na alle netwerke. Virgin Mobile het ook 'n innoverende vooruitbetaal-opsie waar hul tariewe R1,99 per minuut is vir die eerste 5 minute per dag en daarna R0,99 per minuut, alles per volminuut bereken. Vir die meer intensiewe gebruiker, veral vir iemand wat 'n klein aantal lang oproepe op die meeste dae maak, is hierdie 'n baie gunstige tarief.

Mense wat reeds Internet  het sal moontlik 'n stem-oor-IP-diens (VoIP) soos dié van Telfree wil oorweeg. Telfree se huidige tarief is R1,33 per minuut wat, tydens spitstyd, baie gunstig is. Telfree is ook draagbaar en 'n mens kan dit baie maklik uit die buiteland gebruik, veral met hulle nuwe webblaaier-koppelvlak.

Indien 'n mens in ag neem dat die gebruik van Telkom en Telfree 'n bykomende infrastruktuur vereis maar dat die selfoonnetwerke geen maandelikse fooi vir voorafbetaalde gebruikers het nie, lyk dit asof dit moeilik is om Cell C se aanbod van R1,50 per minuut te klop. Cell C bied tans nog geen omvattende en vinnige Internet-diens nie maar vir die minder veeleisende verbruiker wat hoofsaaklike wil bel en SMS stuur, is dit Easychat All Day 'n  goeie keuse – ook vir almal wat hoofsaaklik vóór agt saans bel. Indien die leser tans meer as R2,00 per minuut betaal, dink weer!

Foto hierbo deur Flickr-gebruiker aussiegall.


Blog forced migration blues

This blog used to be published using an FTP account on the server where I host my personal homepage. I used to edit the blog at Blogger.com and Blogger would then transfer the pages to “my” server using FTP. A few months ago, Google (the owner of Blogger) announced that they would no longer be offering the FTP publication option and that all blogs had to be migrated to the Google servers. Well, I did this last weekend (and hence the blog was offline for a few hours) and it was not very painful except that most of my images appear to have disappeared. They are not really lost, having remained on my original server and I am now going to have to slowly put them back.

What did I learn from this? The BIG lesson was not to rely on a free service and rather to host my own blogging software. From this point of view, it is acceptable for beginners to start their blog on Blogger's competitor WordPress since Wordpress is actually a platform as well as an opensource server application so that one can easily move to one's own installation. This is what I shall eventually do, needless to say. The SMALL lesson was to always host my images not on the blogging platform but elsewhere, e.g. on ImgDen.com. If I had done that, the process of migration would have been a relatively simple one of moving text only. I am now applying the small lesson, which will eventually make it easier to move to WordPress.


Virgin Mobile but I am not

Last night, and again this morning, I noticed the server of Virgin Mobile (South Africa) was redirecting to an error page.

Things got worse, though. I couldn't leave my complex to get to the office because, according to the husky voice I reached when trying to call the gate (to open), my “prepaid service” needed recharging. But I have a contract! Unconnected events? I think not. Now, if only they could fix the website so I could call them and they could stop looking so cheap and nasty...


Curious case of Telkom mobile rates

I have just been perusing the published rates of Telfree, my VOIP provider, and noticed that calls to Telkom's (limited) CDMA mobile network are charged at R0,84 per minute as opposed to R1,62 per minute to other networks. Now, all of South Africa has been following a drawn-out saga that ended in an announcement that on 1 March 2010 the peak mobile interconnection rate would be cut from R1,25 to R0,89 per minute. So, how can the calls to Telkom CDMA network be so relatively inexpensive? It's still cheaper to call landlines in Slovakia (R0,51) and not much more expensive to call a Swedish mobile phone (R1,09) but nevertheless, all still does not seem well in the murky world of South African regulated interconnection.


Minus nul vir Omaha, sê Wikipedia

Die klimaatstatistieke op Wikipedia bly vir my lekker vermaak. Ek het só byvoorbeeld geleer dat Bogotá (die Afrikaanse inskrywing is tans net 'n dop) baie lekkerder moet wees as wat 'n mens eintlik sou dink. Soos dit nou maar gaan, beland ek nou-die-aand op die inskrywing vir Omaha, vermoedelik via The Onion, waar 'n gruwelike omskakelingsfout op die oog val.

In die bronkode word die temperature in grade Fahrenheit gegee, en Wikipedia gebruik duidelik twee of drie lyne kode om dit na Celsius om te skakel. Dié algoritme toets blykbaar eers of die oorsponklike temperatuur in Celsius negatief gaan wees al dan nie, bepaal die teken van die antwoord, en skakel dan die heelgetalgedeelte om. Aangesien negatiewe temperature in Fahrenheit min voorkom, gaan dié probleem vir omskakeling van Celsius na Fahrenheit nie veel voorkom nie. Die korrekte benadering is natuurlik om die Fahrenheit-temperatuur eers na 'n afgeronde Celsius-waarde om te skakel en dan die teken van die heelgetalgedeelte te skei. Wiskundig gestel, die funksie sgn(x) wat die waarde -1; 0 of 1 aanneem, kommuteer nie met die funksie round(x) wat x afrond tot die naaste heelgetal, nie.


Grootboet Nieu-Seeland

Aucklandse prokureur Tim McBride merk met reg op dat die Nieu-Seelandse polisie se nuut verworwe magte om, met 'n hofbevel, in te luister op alle elektroniese kommunikasie, vergelyk kan word met die installasie van afluisterapparatuur in iedere huis, kantoor, kroeg, koffiewinkel en op elke straathoek. 'n Artikel in die Sunday Star Times beweer dat wetgewing in dié verband op die aandrang van die Amerikaanse FBI implementeer word, hoewel die VSA-grondwet 'n dergelike ingryping in die VSA onmoontlik maak, soos ek dit verstaan.

Die installasie van 'n enorme afluister-infrastruktuur hou, volgens die Kiwi-polisie, geen gevaar in vir dié wat onskuldig is nie. Let op die slenter in dié stelling, wat algemeen gebruik word om owerheidsvergrype te regverdig. Daar word 'n skuldig/onskuldig-tweespalt gespek vóór 'n verhoor plaasgevind het. Hoe weet ons dan wie „onskuldig” is? Wel, dit is natuurlike diegene wat nie deur die polisie afgeluister word nie. Droom hulle van swart laarse?


NZ's cyber spies win new powers (NICKY HAGER - Sunday Star Times) http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/3203448/NZs-cyber-spies-win-new-powers


RICA routed by adroit relative

In Afrikaans as RICA uitoorlê deur kranige familielid op Sake24 beskikbaar.

South Africa's rather draconian Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act (RICA) has been proving a thorn in the flesh of legal foreign visitors to our fair shores, who obviously have some difficulty in providing the requisite proof of address in the country (utility bill etc. in the purchaser's name) when activating a local SIM card for use during their visit. To my delight, one of my relatives who is visiting from the desert republic of Namibia managed to have a SIM card for a network that shall not be named fully activated at a retail establishment which shall remain anonymous for now in the week before Christmas. He simply presented his Namibian passport and recited a local address!

Having undergone several RICA registrations myself, I am note entirely surprised since I have not seen any of the assistants doing the registration do any serious checking of the proof of address (and mine consisted only of a routine statement from my residential complex) and I have not seen them keep a copy of the proof presented. There is therefore, in practice, no paper trail at all. It does not seem infeasible to use a colour printer to produce a duplicate Telkom or municipal bill using a fictional address and use this in conjunction with, say, a Somali passport to purchase and activate as many SIM cards as one likes but even that appears not to be necessary.

Mr Zolisa Masiza, regulatory head at MTN, pointed out on Shine2010.co.za in October that foreign visitors for the major 2010 sports event
“will be required to provide their full names, surname, original passport document and residential address in their home country to a RICA officer or agent”

“will have to notify MTN if the card is handed over to someone else, and registration will then happen all over again.”

Furthermore, according to Masiza, who should know, having been a Councillor at the regulator ICASA and in the regulatory division of Telkom as well over the past three years, the
“obligation is on the foreign visitor to destroy their SIM card once they have left the country.”
No doubt, he is technically correct, but I don't see the soccer fans complying in droves. Besides, how many municipal bills in Ukrainian will MTN be able to process?

Update (2010-01-03): Just search a bittorrent site or other disreputable source for “ID template” and you'll find everything you need to “roll your own” RICA documentation.