My window to the world

Write an essay and go to jail: only in third world countries?

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 28-Apr-2007 13:51

This reads like something happening in a third world country or a country under a severe level of restrictions on free speech. But it happened in America, where a teacher asked students to write an essay, but was so "disturbed" with the writing from a straigth-A pupil that police was called and the teacher had the student rrested for "disordely conduct".

Now, if I understand what's in the Chicago Tribune, this was a private document, created on request, with no specific targets, person or location otherwise. The contents are not disclosed. For our safety?

What's next? People will have their thoughts controlled? Oh, they do this already. If you don't write what they want to read then the police is called upon?

I mean, hello, Stephen King's writing is disturbing for some people...

Now that they started this they should either let people read the essay and let us know what's so disturbing, or get off the back of this student. Otherwise is just plain censorship. Like book burning and obviously a restriction of speech.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Cary Police Chief Ron Delelio said the charge was appropriate even though the essay was not published or posted for public viewing.

Disorderly conduct, which carries a penalty of 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine, is filed for pranks such as pulling a fire alarm or dialing 911. But it can also apply when someone's writings can disturb an individual, Delelio said.

"The teacher was alarmed and disturbed by the content," he said.

But a civil rights advocate said the teacher's reaction to an essay shouldn't make it a crime.

"One of the elements is that some sort of disorder or disruption is created," said Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. "When something is done in private—when a paper is handed in to a teacher—there isn't a disruption."

Simmie Baer, an attorney with the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University, called the Cary incident an example of zero-tolerance policies gone awry. Children, she said, are not as sophisticated as adults and often show emotion through writing or pictures, which is what teachers should want because it is a safe outlet.

American Idol voting record: true or the rebirth of war dialers?

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 28-Apr-2007 13:05

I just read a press release with some really large numbers:

... a world record-setting event for television telephone voting for AMERICAN IDOL’s ‘Idol Gives Back’ two-night special charity telecast on FOX April 24th and 25th. The April 24th performance telecast included more than 70 million toll-free and AT&T SMS votes cast for the six remaining ‘Idol’ performers.

On Wednesday night, for the two-hour results show spectacular, more than 13,000 live call-center agents, across 31 separate call centers, were involved in ‘Idol Gives Back’ and a mass scale online donation system was set in place for the event.

More than 30 million viewers tune in to AMERICAN IDOL each week to vote for their favorite contestants by dialing into the toll-free telephone numbers or texting in on their AT&T phones.

Ellen DeGeneres hosted the show's live companion event via satellite from downtown Los Angeles' Walt Disney Concert Hall. The star-studded evening saw appearances and performances from stars ranging from Earth Wind & Fire and Il Divo to Kellie Clarkson, Celine Dion, Rascall Flats, Annie Lennox, Seal and Bono.

The more than 70 million calls and text messages that came in for ‘Idol Gives Back’ will be added to next Tuesday's tallies, said host Ryan Seacrest. Melinda Doolittle, LaKisha Jones, Blake Lewis, Chris Richardson, Jordin Sparks and Phil Stacey all return for the May 2nd telecast.

This is very interesting news, but then Juha pointed out that people have been willingly downloading and using war dialers to vote for one contestant, in this case gaming American Idol with votes for Sanjaya Malakar:

... is a voluntary install designed to automate the voting process in Idol:

"Sanjaya War Dialer uses your computers modem to automatically dial the American Idol voting number over and over and over again until you tell it to stop. Automatically cast hundreds or even thousands of votes for Sanjaya with the click of a button. Make Sanjaya win and help us ruin American Idol."

The Sanjaya War Dialer has its own MySpace page where users report on their votes — 600 a hour, for some. The show’s producers are aware of this, and have been lopping off blocks of votes if they seem to be coming from power dialers, as they call them, for several weeks.

This is old news (a couple of weeks old), and I am not sure how much of this affected the latest record... But it is interesting to see the "Wisdom of crowds" being played with.

Net neutrality is a fallacy

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 28-Apr-2007 11:56

I have just finished reading Cringely's "We don't need no stinking best effort: Net neutrality may have just been a fantasy all along" and it is indeed an interesting piece.

In it Cringely explains that Net neutrality has been an utopic ideal for some time:

...big broadband ISPs were apparently preparing to offer tiered levels of service and at this point it is a matter of flipping a switch, with the result that Comcast's VoIP might suddenly work a LOT better than Vonage's VoIP, which is to say my fax line.

Well it turns out that I may have, in this case, actually understated the problem. Readers claim that some -- who knows, maybe ALL -- big broadband ISPs are ALREADY running tiered services.

"I used to work at Time-Warner Cable's Road Runner High Speed HQ," wrote one reader, "and as of 2005, TWC marked all VoIP packets with the TOS bit turned to 1. TWC has 5 levels of priority, VoIP having the highest, router tables second, commercial services 3rd, Road Runner consumer 4th and everything else is classified as 'best effort'."

How does it apply to New Zealand? Remember the Xtra Go Large fiasco? That was supposed to be a plan with no limits, full speed, but with "managed" peer to peer (P2P) traffic. What happened is that a lot of people complained, Telecom New Zealand denied anything was wrong, but after a while they conceded the "network management" implementation was crippled and actually ALL traffic was being impacted for users on that plan.

This week I attended the Thirsty Thursday drinks promoted by the IAB and had a chance to chat with Collin Jackson, president of InternetNZ. They are not talking about Net neutrality, but pushing hard for peering. Go read the link. Peering has nothing to do with peer to peer networks, it's a completely different thing, and peering in New Zealand it is a hot topic.

Anyway, keep reading Cringely's piece to find:

What's to be done, then? Well we won't be going back to true net neutrality. Revealing that it had never existed was probably a weapon the ISPs were saving for their final defense of the status quo. In the long run, the ISPs will probably get their way, too, on being paid for access to higher service tiers. But since we've already paid for that bandwidth, I propose the ISPs be made to share their bounty with us.

If an ISP can account for packets on different service levels accurately enough to bill a Google or a Yahoo, then they can take half of the revenue generated by allowing faster access to me and credit that to my account, lowering my bill. I can either take the money and run or apply it toward raising the priority level of some of my own services.

Kryptonite (Jadarite) discovered in mine

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 25-Apr-2007 11:56

We all think of geek programs such as Star Trek when talking about some modern technologies and how they were pictured 30 or 40 years ago before these were actually created. Think of Tablet PC, Smartphones, and more...

Now, in a very interesting twist, Mother Nature has brought us... Kryptonite. According to the BBC:

A new mineral matching its [Kryptonite's] unique chemistry - as described in the film Superman Returns - has been identified in a mine in Serbia.

According to movie and comic-book storylines, kryptonite is supposed to sap Superman's powers whenever he is exposed to its large green crystals.

Researchers from mining group Rio Tinto discovered the unusual mineral and enlisted the help of Dr Stanley when they could not match it with anything known previously to science.

Once the London expert had unravelled the mineral's chemical make-up, he was shocked to discover this formula was already referenced in literature - albeit fictional literature.

"Towards the end of my research I searched the web using the mineral's chemical formula - sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide - and was amazed to discover that same scientific name, written on a case of rock containing kryptonite stolen by Lex Luther from a museum in the film Superman Returns.

"The new mineral does not contain fluorine (which it does in the film) and is white rather than green but, in all other respects, the chemistry matches that for the rock containing kryptonite."

As usual, the Wikipedia article about Kryptonite is already updated to include the Jadarite, which is the probable name for the new mineral.

Is this life copying fiction, again?

RSS in plain English

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 25-Apr-2007 10:53

Are you overwhelmed with information overload? Need a quicker way to read the news, interesting stuff, your relatives' blog posts?

You should try RSS feeds. I posted about those before, and you can probably see the orange RSS icon on this page.

To understand what's RSS and how it works (in a very simplified way), check this video from Common Craft:

Visiting the PlanHQ and a review

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 25-Apr-2007 10:13

Just yesterday I was visiting the folks at PlanHQ here in Wellington, to discuss a design update for Geekzone. This morning, by coincidence, I see a review of PlanHQ services at WorkHappy.Net, a blog with resources for entrepreneurs.

PlanHQ is an on-line business plan software, but the team also work with web site design, usability, etc. The team behind it includes Tim Norton (whom I've met a few times including at the Kiwi Foo Camp) and Natalie Ferguson. Also, Rod Drury (of Xero fame) is the company's Chairman.

Unpack your vodem: Vodafone releases support for Windows Vista

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 24-Apr-2007 17:21

Believe it or not, but Google Analytics tells me about 15% of our readers used a Windows Vista-based PC to access Geekzone during March/April 2007.

That's why I get so excited when I see support for Windows Vista rolling out of the door - such as the new, fresh Vodafone vodem drivers for the new operating system.

The vodem is a HSDPA (high speed mobile Internet) USB modem you can use with your PC. For pictures and some speed tests, check out my "Unpacking the Vodem" review.

Vodafone New Zealand promised the drivers for Windows Vista a while ago, and these are now officially available through select stores, while Vodafone sorts out download pages, etc. In the meantime, if you are in New Zealand and you must have it now then post a comment here or contact me and we will arrange for someone at Vodafone New Zealand to get in touch.

UPDATE: I've sent an email with a download link to whoever asked for it. Just be sure to read the instructions. The update must be made from a Windows XP machine, not Windows Vista (go figure!). Vodafone stores should now have this update available. Do not call the customer services because apparently they have no idea what this is about.

Agreement between Vodafone New Zealand and TelstraClear coming to an end?

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 24-Apr-2007 08:43

It looks like the agreement allowing TelstraClear to resell Vodafone New Zealand connections under a different area code (029) is coming up for renewal soon. And lots of signs indicate the agreement will not be renewed.

I was alerted to this by a post in our forums, plus an article in the newspaper. I decided to put my ear on the ground and listen for more information. I also asked the parts about the rumours. This is the comment from Vodafone New Zealand:

Commercial Development Manager Tom Chignell says: "TelstraClear is one of many channels we use that sell our services for us, and it's not our practice to comment on business matters between ourselves and our distribution channels.

"Vodafone is committed to an ongoing commercial relationship with TelstraClear.

"We have a variety of mutually beneficial dealings with TelstraClear. As well as acting as a channel for our mobile services, we work cooperatively on the TCF on a range of issues from number portability to llu [Local Loop Unbundling]. We interconnect a huge amount of traffic with them, and we are working very cooperatively with them on the NAD (number administration deed)."

I haven't received a reply from TelstraClear, yet.

But what I've heard from two different sources is alarming. Alarming because it shows how TelstraClear lost the plot: it just happens that TelstraClear was only reselling the Vodafone product (mobile connections). But here comes the catch: the customer base belongs to Vodafone, not TelstraClear.

So even though Vodafone did not provide direct support to customers calling them (in case of need (as I saw reported in our Geekzone forums before), the customers actually belonged to Vodafone.

Of course Vodafone may, or may not, realise how many deals (mainly in the government sector) TelstraClear brought to them. And it looks like they are not afraid of scratching this relationship.

The story leaked to newspapers from TesltraClear's customers since neither company will confirm or deny the stories.

Mobile operators need better customer services to convince the audience

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 24-Apr-2007 07:49

Every time I read our Geekzone forums I believe both Vodafone and Telecom need better customer services, pricing plans that don't confuse the users, flexible help desk hours, and more.

I've just read Seth Godin's post "Just because they say it" and it reflects pretty much what we see in the New Zealand telecommunications market in general:

I get more complaints about the bad customer service provided by cell phone companies than just about any other sort of organization.

We're waiting for the bait and switch, for the service to fade out, to be stuck, once again with a company that doesn't care. It might very well be that this time it's different.

The challenge to a marketer that chooses to enter a market with a miserable history of customer abuse is obvious: you can claim to be better, to be unevil, benevolent even, but people just aren't prepared to believe you. It doesn't fit the consumer's worldview. So, you could be the honest politician or the quality contractor or the direct marketer with no fine print and no spam, but you better be prepared to prove it over and over before we believe you.

Actually we have to consider that it is part of human nature to complain when things are wrong, but you read very little when things are right.

I can't complain about either Vodafone New Zealand or Telecom New Zealand really. I use both as my mobile communications providers and never had a problem.

For my fixed communications I use TelstraClear. They have superb cable modem service, way ahead of the DSL provided in the rest of the country by Telecom New Zealand. But wait time of 45 minutes when calling the help desk... That's the problem. Lucky I only had to do that a couple of times last year - none so far in 2007.

CDMA EVDO Rev A USB modem coming to Telecom New Zealand

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 21-Apr-2007 11:08

I've heard from the grapevine that Telecom New Zealand is working towards the launch of a CDMA EVDO Rev A USB modem for May - somewhere between mid to end of the month.

Knowing that Telecom New Zealand currently sells the Sierra Wireless Aircard 595, I would guess the new USB modem will be the Sierra Wireless Aircard 595u:

Since I have no confirmation of the model it's only my guess.

The Sierra Wireless Aircard 595 is the only 3G card that works ok with a Windows Vista 64 bit installation. The Vodafone equivalent is the Novatel produtc,, but there are no drivers for 64 bit yet (and the useless Novatel support doesn't reply to queries on their site).

freitasm's profile

Mauricio Freitas
New Zealand

I live in New Zealand and my interests include mobile devices, good books, movies and food of course! 

I'm the Geekzone admin. On Geekzone we publish news, reviews and articles on technology topics. The site also has some busy forums. Also worth visiting is TravelTalk NZ, a community for travelers!

Subscribe now to my blog RSS feed or the Geekzone RSS feed.

If you want to contact me, please use this page or email me Note this email is not for technical support. I don't give technical support. You can use our Geekzone Forums for community discussions on technical issues.

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