Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Guns don't kill people

My late dad always used to explain to me that Guns do not kill people, people kill people. He really loved guns and always carried one, he also used to sell them to people for self-defense. He lost a close cousin who accidentally shot himself, although my dad never had an opportunity - and he always lived in Joburg - to shoot anyone.

So I do buy into the common hacker refrain mentioned in this amazing article I read in WIRED a few months ago; "See no evil". I can't get my mind off this story, please read it.

The "common hacker refrain is that technology is morally neutral. This libertarian (hmm.. yes I am a libertarian) ethos holds that creators shouldn't be faulted if someone uses their gadget or hunk of code to cause harm. But this case in example makes clear that the US government rejects that permissive worldview. The technically savvy are on notice that calculated ignorance of illegal activity is not an acceptable excuse." But as identified by WIRED, at what point (in the US) does a failure to be nosy edge into criminal conduct?

Last week I read another article about a (UK) scientist revealing codes for creating keys to start luxury cars. Sounds pretty much similar to the standard hacker refrain...  is this not the same thing happening in the UK too (well at least this guy in the UK doesn't have to sit in jail like in the USA)?

I did a little research by asking local people and a few foreigners about having a hiding place in ones car. Without fail, every South African thought it's a really cool thing (mainly as they thought it would be hiding things from 'criminals' breaking into ones car) and every foreigner thought what a useless thing, only criminals would want such a thing (to hide things from cops). Cultural bias?

Anyhow I'm really disturbed by the fact that Alfred Anaya - a genius at installing secret compartments in cars - was sentenced to do MORE time than the drug smugglers that used him. Can anyone explain to me if this is the case, how can the Colt and S&W factories exist in the US since they manufacture weapons that kill dozens in US every year?

In my future I'll certainly chose to holiday in Bali before Hawaii...

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

5 Life Lessons my son learned from playing World of Warcraft

This second in my series "Are computer games bad for your kids" was inspired by Esther Schindler who wrote about 10 Business Lessons I Learned from Playing Dungeons & Dragons.

Over the past six years my son has been playing World of Warcraft (wow) on and off TG. He's been through a few phases where he'll play only a few hours in a few months. Since we had to end the subs it's been a while since he's been able to play (more than eight months), I wrote most of this some time ago and it's time to share it.

I know that many parents are concerned about the addictive qualities of computer games, I think addiction can be a problem with anything. The better it feels the greater the addiction, that doesn't mean to say the rule is to stay away from the good things in life. So I'm considering; how good - or bad - is wow.

I've picked out some of the lessons he learns in the game. wow is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (mmorpg) provided on a monthly subscription by Blizzard Entertainment. The game was released on November 23, 2004, on the 10th anniversary of the Warcraft franchise. With more than 10.2m (May 2012 and 11.5 million in May 2011) monthly subscribers, World of Warcraft is the world's most-subscribed mmorpg, it's been in the Guinness Book of Records for many years.

Playing this game has more than taught my son the rules of combat or proper behavior 'in a dungeon'. He's gained several skills that I expect will help him in his adult life.

In WOW or wow, you can find out how someone solves problems and copes with stress, as well as various other activities that map to real life.
  1. Reading and writing: In Grade 2 the - special needs teacher approached me to ask what am I doing with my son? I was taken aback and responded by asking her why she is asking me this. She said that in her independent testing his reading skill was at least at grade 6 level and a lower grade 7. I know that he would say that I read with him (actually I used to read to him in bed at night) so that's how I thought best to respond. I mean the truth - which is that he learned it from wow where the chat windows in too small to follow all the messages if you can't read fluently - I don't think would have gone down too well. Anyhow, I have logged his messages and they're at a pretty good level, although it's all very specific, brief and to the point. He's learned to use digestible bytes of information, probably with a bunch of 14-17 year old Danes, Swedes and Englishmen. I'm not too worried as they have strict rules and you're not allowed to mention age or geography (there is a 12 year old age restriction though and he was only around 8-9). He doesn't embellish so his writing hasn't been well accepted at school. He manages to type a lot, so I'd say that he's fluent with keyboard even if he doesn't touch type yet. On the whole I'd say that his reading, writing and typing skills are strongly enhanced from wow.

  2. Team work and social skills: wow enables players to learn behavior that allow people to achieve social reinforcement and to avoid social punishment. Operant conditioning procedures evolve as part of the wow game, which inevitably develops social skills, as well as modeling, coaching, and social cognitive techniques all operate within the wow virtual reality. In grade 4 he was pretty upset with his mom one day, as he had told her in the morning that he had 'arrangements' with his buddies. She was a little perplexed until it became apparent that it was a wow buddies that he had arrangement with. When he reached level 80 at age 10, I really saw his leadership skills working - I think it's harder for him in the real world but in wow - he manages to pull together a team of more than 15 people to enter a battle ground and lead them all through the battle, it's really most impressive.
    Parenting.org mention the following skills, all of which personally seen my son perform in WOW: following instructions, accepting criticism, accepting “No” for an answer, staying calm, disagreeing with others, asking for help, asking permission, getting along with others, apologizing, having a conversation, giving compliments, accepting compliments, listening to others, being honest, showing sensitivity to others, introducing yourself as well as some not mentioned, like persuading others, leading a group through a complex attack strategy and managing real world time constraints.

  3. Analytical and strategic thinking: The best quests require a mixture of skills in the party. one has to always find new markets and cultivate ancillary skills. He experimented with various skills but took a liking to fishing. After fishing many lakes and playing the auction houses he found a buyer for a fairly rare type of fish. She guaranteed a buy (for a while) at a certain (inflated) rate in gold. So he fished for her and she bought, for a while. I suspect that the markets are fairly efficient in wow so she probably visited the auction houses too and found a more eager seller. And as he leveled, he found it easier to earn gold so the economics changed.
    More recently he has some older real world friends that he's helped reach higher levels. I've seen him train them on the mix of skills needed for various categories of battle. When selecting a weapon or tool, bigger is not always better, unique weapons tend to identify the heroes in the room, something he spends hours on. One action, used well, can be more powerful than plethora of actions. I've re-learned how to think out the box from his understanding os the most simple principle, "What are the tools at my disposal, and what can I do with them?" No matter how much he has experience in a specific weapon or specialty, he tried new ones and analyses the strengths and weaknesses of each element of the make up of each character. Once I find something that works I have tended to overuse it (just because it works) rather than focus on relearning new skills and techniques. It's better to out-smart an opponent than to fight one. In the early levels of wow, players can get into what feels like an endless repetition of "Find a monster. Kill it. Get its treasure." But your character (and career) can get hurt that way. Whether it's selecting appropriate quests, or setting up team efforts, winning special awards, learning special skills, playing the auction rooms or reaping the holiday spoils, the wow economy and world goes well beyond repetition. Picking up the spoils (and the experience points) can assist players develop real world physical and virtual values. It's not always appropriate but in a room of competition, an aptitude to get them to fight, can be an effective life strategy.

  4. Imagination and creative thinking: My son took on a keen ability to role play in real life. He can speak in dozens of accents with various cultural enhancements and more recently he learned how to impersonate dozens of people. He can do it on the fly.   Roleplaying (RP), or Role Playing, in World of Warcraft means taking on the role of a character and acting it out in-game through emotes, /say, /yell, and sometimes other channels. Players may also participate in roleplay outside the game by posting on blogs, wikis, or forums (official or otherwise). Roleplaying has similarities to improvisational theater, with the participants acting out characters in unscripted situations. The character's personality, goals, morals, and quirks may resemble that of the player or be completely different. Regardless, roleplayers recognize a boundary between what is in character and what is out of character.  For the advanced reader: RP also refers to RP Realms. RP servers are functionally the same as PvE Servers, with added social rules and stricter naming enforcement. The same is true for RP-PvP Servers and PvP Servers. Both sets of rules apply. RP-PvP is commonly misunderstood to mean that the roleplaying part is optional. In fact, these servers were started in response to petitioning from roleplayers, who felt that the ability to engage in PvP added realism.
    Bottom line: wow teaches role playing 

  5. Ability to disseminate information, hone ones strengths and strengthen ones weaknesses: My son lives the information and digital age, it's normal for him. Fortunately he's also learned the importance of social interaction at school. The rest is just encouragement I think. On WOW there are so many geographies, skills and talents, areas of development and options for play that every player has to learn haw to discern information (i.e. develop keen insight and good judgment). In order to identify each individuals strengths and weaknesses one has to try each and all of the potential combinations (an impossible task). As one discovers areas of interest, talent and developed skill, one has to research and explore in order to extend ones characters to deeper levels. 

  6. You don't have to read all the books: My son has read all the books, World of Warcraft is immersive no doubt about that. But they move on to other immersive worlds that all include different life lessons, and a modest description of the beast you are about to face is better than facing a daemon and trying six dozen spells before finding the right one. (If you live that long.) Do not eschew documentation. Learn from others' mistakes — or from your own. Draw a map as you go. It is easier to avoid the pitfalls and to find that hidden room the next time through.
There are many more so what did I miss? Add your own wow or other MMORG life lessons in the comments. Also see Social Impact Games

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What happened to the Vipercell? ...open source GSM

The Vipercell is one of those products that 'never' made it to market, or did it? I've certainly never seen one and I can't even find any references online any more. Fortunately, I did keep a cutting (amazingly - see the image below). The web reports that it went through a few legal iterations, with Cisco at the helm. I guess when they finally won, it was a flat time and the idea dies. Last month the TV company started selling devices that receive and stream sattellite TV via a hospot to all mobile devices in range. I expect that there's still life in this idea.

"Hang Vipercell antennas on the walls of your company's far flung locations, connect it to your ethernet and pow: your branches are now free calling zones for all cell phones. Vipercell intercepts voice and and messages with all GSM phones and reroutes via IP.

Viper Cell sold to Cisco in 2000 

Perfect idea for Cisco. But the biggest customers of Cisco were the telephone companies that still make massive sums of money from GSM voice and data so the legal battle is an ideal shelter and the idea's on the shelves.
Now, it's ten years later but equally aggressive and threatening. So where's the ideal spot for the idea to bubble up...

Thursday, April 05, 2012

FNB Platinum - best in Credit Card in SA for now

After my frustrations with Easypay I paid once for my telephone and electricity at Checkers (my local supermarket) and then realised that I could just add them both to my FNB platinum card via their internet banking list of recipients. Duh! What a pleasure, I must also thank FNB for the time they took to confirm how simple it is to get a platinum card and the benefits of the SLOW lounge at the airports. I also send kudos for a flawless Android App which makes banking (using my credit card account) a cinch.

It really saves to fly Mango (or Kulula) and hang out in better luxury than the SAA lounges. There are a number of other benefits like free card delivery and secondary cards, petrol cards with benefits, and some less useful ones like the platinum support but overall this is IMHO the best credit card in SA today by far.

Paypal integration also good as you may expect as they own Paypal in SA. And their CEO is a young practical approachable guy who spoke at the Silicon Cape event last year.
Much more than that I must also admit that I've owned an FNB credit card since my Bar Mitzvah so it's realy my oldest bank account (even when I was out the country for four years I managed to maintain it thanks to my late fathers help).
This leaves much to be desired for my other bank ABSA. As opposed to eBucks which I consider the premium loyalty banking service in the country (linked to dozens of online and offline services including most notably Engen and Kalahari as well as Woolworths, Makro, Kulula, Dischem, etc.) ABSAs Leisurelink closed down over 2 years ago. At the time we thought it was just ABSA insourcing. 18 months later I was sorry to say that had become the biggest thorn in ABSAs side. The promise was: "If you are an Absa Rewards member, earn Cash Rewards and qualify for great specials and discounts every time you use your Absa debit, cheque or credit card to pay at any of our participating Rewards Partners". Going to www.absarewards.co.za site one got: "The site's security certificate has expired!: and "The Absa Rewards programme has terminated with effect from 1st April 2009 however after paying a nominal fee (of a few hundred rand a year) one got absolutely nothing. Apparently the rules changed at the beginning of this year and the ±1% in 'ABSA rewards' was re-instated for all credit card purchases (for the 18 months prior it was only purchses from 'selected' partners that one earned rewards. I have yet to see what benefits can come about from these rewards and I'm aware ABSA is operating the Woolworths credit card which I considered getting for our domestic recently until I saw something better... see my next post....
Had to slot in an info graphic made by Scott Mooney a connection of a connection old family friend:

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Monday, December 19, 2011

UEPS stock alert, advisory sell Net 1 shares

I've been using Easypay to pay municipal and Telkom accounts for the past 13 years (since 1998). The company was an offshoot from Pick 'n Pay who always acknowledged themselves to be more of a financial institution than a retailer (they make money off the cash flow rather off the goods), and they had been accepting Telkom and municipal payments for many years prior to the online payment company Easypay was established. The Easypay website and system was simple and easy to use, one could save ones account details and login monthly (anytime) to make payments with ones credit card. It took a few minutes....

The website and systems worked flawlessly for more than 13 years... then some bright spark thought it must be upgraded and changed everything. The new site took about an hour to work out how it worked, one needed to call the support line in order to get it working, and finally the banks stopped allowing them to transaction (Both ABSA and FNB that I am aware of). Now they say on their site:
EasyPay's SOLUTION will launch in 26 days: As you are probably aware, a number of reports have been published in the press regarding Credit Card fraudsters targeting EasyPay's website. This led to ABSA, and other financial institutions erroneously suspending all credit card transactions processed through EasyPay's website. Some banks inferred or simply blamed EasyPay for the failure of their own Credit Card security systems. "We at EasyPay have always adhered to all the rules as imposed by the banks." 
Yes, Easypay you have always adhered to the banks rules and your new system failed because the users could not work it, and because your old system worked there is no wonder as to why the bad press is happening! It is so clear that Easypay are playing with words to try save face. We know that it's not fraud, it's the systems you built and changed to (which cause the people using it to revoke the payments they tried to make), since the new system is bad and customers revoked payments as they did not intend to make some that the system forced. I went through the whole process personally and I've spoken to others who had the same experiences.  
Now they say "EasyPay have considered the weaknesses of the current credit card security protocols, and will in the following weeks educate our users with regard to a newly patented system, developed by EasyPay's holding company, Net1 UEPS Technologies, Inc" 
Sad and disappointing from a consumer point of view, I can also see them spending heaps of money on even more systems development that will shed even more customers. I'm disappointed, Pick 'n Pay must have sold out... anyone know the best alternatives? 

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