Too much Press and Hold

I really like the way that the iPhone recognises phone numbers in emails and turns them into touchable links.

Screenshot of email with highlighted phone number

But for ages I thought that all you could do was call the number.

Screenshot showing the short-press menu with Call and Cancel

This used to really annoy me because, being a modern kind of person, I generally prefer to text people than call them. Other times I just wanted the number to add to my address book, so I’d end up cutting and pasting the number into Contacts.

Then one day I lingered on the link too long and a whole new menu popped up! Hey, here were exactly the features I was looking for.

Screenshot showing the press and hold menu with call, text, contacts

Now, there are two problems here.

Firstly, there is no advantage to the user from this arrangement. In both cases the phone displays a menu with one or more actions and an option to cancel it. The required user actions are the same:

  1. Press (or press and hold)
  2. Press selected option or cancel

If the user interaction is exactly the same why not just show the full menu in both cases?

Secondly, and more importantly, this “press and hold” functionality is hidden from the user and there’s no way to easily discover it. I’d had my phone for a couple of years before I realised it was there (I’m assuming it wasn’t added in an OS upgrade) and I wonder how many people still don’t know about it. And what other convenient features am I missing just because I haven’t thought to check that they might be there?

To my mind, “press and hold” is a user-unfriendly way to add functionality and should be avoided wherever possible.

Appearing before a Select Committee

Last week I went to my first Select Committee hearing and therefore I’m now an expert. Here’s what I found out.


The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties sent in a submission about the Electoral (Disqualification of Convicted Prisoners) Amendment Bill to the Law and Order Select Comittee.

Current law says that prisoners given a sentence of longer than 3 years cannot vote; this bill extends that to all prisoners. The Council opposes this change and recommends that this provision should be removed from the law, not extended.

In our submission we asked to make an oral submission to the committee.

Subsequently we received an invitation to appear before them. We were allocated 10 minutes to make our submission. Kevin was to do the submission while I went to support him.


We turned up at Parliament 20 minutes before our time and went through the main visitor entrance. The receptionist asked us our business, gave us a sticker and then pointed us in the direction of the hearing rooms. The door was closed and a sign said that it was closed to the public. We sat down and chatted to the other submitters.


Eventually (they were late) the committee finished what they were doing, a whole bunch of people in suits filed out, and the sign on the door was changed to show that it was open to the public. We all filed in and sat in the public seats at one end of the room.

At the other end was a large U-shaped table with the various MPs around it, each with a computer terminal and a sign with their name in front of them.


The proceedings of the committee were fairly relaxed. The chair of the committee invited us up, quickly did introductions around the table and then asked us to speak.

Kevin gave his presentation and then the committee asked questions. The questions were generally quite good and showed that the committee members had listened to what he was saying – although some were obviously using our submission as a launch pad to put forward their own points of view. One committee member even asked for a copy of the statistics we had included in the presentation and then raced off to take copies.

Then the questions stopped and it was time for the next submitter to make their presentation, so we made our way out.


Thanks to Kevin McCormack of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties who wrote the original submission and then prepared and presented the oral submission.

Good Company Twitter

Companies are increasing their use of Twitter but it’s not always obvious what they should be doing on it.

It doesn’t help that different people have different opinions. I’m not interested in following companies to get deals or beg for favours, and I detest “retweet to win” contests that try to turn everyone into unpaid spammers.

Here’s five times that companies made a positive impression on me by interacting over Twitter:

  1. Welcomed Whittakers (@whittakersnz) to Twitter and asked when they were going to do Easter Eggs. Got told they were working on it.
  2. Orcon offered to help me resolve a problem with their service. (Not solvable by them, it needed Telecom to pull finger.)
  3. I complained about Netgear service and got a phone call (!) from their PR company in Australia. I declined their offer to help and sorted it out through the usual channels the next day.
  4. Responded to a question about where to get batteries by suggesting Dick Smith. Someone else responded and speculated that their house-brand batteries might not be as good. @DickSmithNZ responded with details of their current sale on batteries as well as a link to a report showing that their batteries were as good as the name-brand ones.
  5. I said I was switching from Vodafone to Telecom and received a “Welcome on board” from @TelecomNZ.

Each of these companies treated me as a person and, by doing so, made me feel better about dealing with them.

The winner is Dick Smith for their quick and useful response – but I admit I’m still hanging out for those easter eggs from Whittakers!

Some interesting offences

Just having a look at the Summary Offences Act to see if it was illegal to be drunk in public (apparently it’s not) and found these:

Defence for public urination

Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $200 who urinates or defecates in any public place other than a public lavatory. It is a defence in a prosecution under this section if the defendant proves that he had reasonable grounds for believing that he would not be observed.


Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $200 who Publicly advertises a reward for the return of any property that has been stolen or lost, and in the advertisement uses any words to the effect that no questions will be asked;


Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $200 who, without the consent of the owner or occupier affixes any placard, banner, poster, or other material bearing any writing or pictorial representation to any structure, or to or from any tree;

Disturbing people

Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $200 who, in any public place, unreasonably disrupts any meeting, congregation, or audience.

Peeping only happens at night

Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $500 who is found by night without reasonable excuse peeping or peering into a dwellinghouse;


A friend asked me a set of simple questions: “Why are they doing this whole thing with the ACTA treaty? Why is it secret? Why is NZ participating?” He then followed up with: “Why are you against it?”

This set me thinking. There’s been lot of articles complaining about the secrecy around the ACTA negotiations (I’ve even written some) and worrying about the contents of it, but they often assume a certain level of knowledge of the base assumptions.

This article is an attempt to spell out some of the basic assumptions behind the opposition to the ACTA treaty. It’s a combination of some of the things I suspect are true, along with some of the claims I’ve seen from other people. As such it’s not a statement of how things are, but more a statement of what I and others fear to be true.

Some points that could be grouped to form an argument

  1. That the ACTA treaty is currently being negotiated by a number of countries including the USA, the EU, Australia and New Zealand.
  2. That the negotiation and the proposed content of the treaty is being kept a secret.
  3. That there is no plausible justification for negotiating the treaty in secret.
  4. That the ACTA treaty is going to go beyond anti-counterfeiting and try to impose new conditions around the use of copyright material.
  5. That compliance with the ACTA treaty will require signatories to implement domestic laws which specify draconian new penalties for people who breach copyright.
  6. That such penalties have long been a goal of those in the major content industries.
  7. That the content industry contributes a lot of money to US politicians.
  8. That US politicians are largely beholden to the people who financially support them.
  9. That the USA is behind the attempt to extend ACTA to copyright.
  10. That the USA knows that the wider public has a better understanding of copyright issues than the average politician.
  11. That the USA is behind the attempts to keep the ACTA negotiations secret as they know it will not stand up to mass scrutiny.
  12. That being a signatory of ACTA will be a pre-requisite to signing a free trade agreement with the US.
  13. That politicians in many countries, including New Zealand, see signing a free trade agreement with the US as good both for the country and their careers.
  14. That politicians don’t really understand the issues around copyright in the digital age.
  15. That politicians will be happy to sacrifice copyright issues if it gets them closer to a free trade agreement.

My New Laptop

(This is another in my series of posts where I record my current feelings about technology in order to have something to laugh at in five years time. See also What I Use and Market Calibration.)

I’m getting urges for a new laptop again.

The main requirements when I got this laptop (Compaq 2510p) were:

  • Small and light-weight (it’s 1.4kg)
  • Long battery life (~6 hours)
  • Runs Windows well (it’s part of my job)

The Compaq has worked pretty well for me but my biases are changing. My new requirements are:

  • Relatively lightweight (but not so worried about small any more)
  • Backlit keyboard (I do quite a lot of writing at night but I don’t touchtype. A backlit keyboard would make both Kim and me happier.)
  • High resolution screen (at least higher than the current 1280×800)
  • Well over four hours useful battery life (i.e. I might accept four but I really want more)
  • I’d still choose battery life over performance and I’d prefer it not to have an optical drive to save weight.

And while it’s not necessary, I suspect that any laptop that meets those criteria will have one of the much cooler solid-state hard drives. They’re lighter and use less battery, plus they have no moving parts so they’re more reliable.

When it comes to the operating system, while I’d like to have a proper go using Mac OSX, Windows 7 fulfils most of my requirements and is more appropriate to my job.

Finally, it’d be nice if it looked kind of stylish, maybe even with a bit of colour.


I recently had a play on a Dell Latitude Z600 and I have to admit it was pretty good even though it was much bigger than anything I’ve considered before. It’s thin and surprisingly light for its size. Sadly, while the 16″ screen at 1600×900 has more pixels than my current screen, you’d think they could have increased it even more. Unfortunately it costs an ungodly amount of money and I believe the battery life is apparently atrocious.

The HP Envy 13 also looks pretty good. Stylish, good screen (1600×900 is acceptable on a 13″ screen), good battery life – but no backlit keyboard.

Dell have just put out the Vostro V13 at a good price but I really don’t want to stay with a standard res screen and no keyboard backlight.

The Sony Z is rather cool. 13″ screen at 1600×900, good battery life, backlit keyboard… why not? Sadly I have absolute faith in Sony’s ability to screw it up by filling it full of crap software and failing to provide good hardware drivers. It’s a pity because otherwise I think it might be the winner.

When it comes to the Apple range, the MacBook Pro 13″ is rather nice (and the price recently dropped). It fulfils most of my requirements (except screen resolution) but the styling is looking a bit dated and I don’t trust Apple to do a good job of releasing drivers that will allow Windows 7 to work to its full potential.

As normal, I find myself wishing I could cut’n’paste features from multiple models so that I could end up with the perfect laptop!

Late addition

I ended up with the Sony Vaio Z (the high-end version with a 1920×1080 screen, 8GB memory, 256GB SSD, etc). It’s a very nice laptop but my fears that Sony would do their best to screw it up were not unfounded. It came with 9 ugly stickers as well as a whole load of badly written Sony software pre-installed. Luckily that could all be cleaned up and I’m really very happy with it.

Change of Address

I’ve moved my writing about internet freedom to a new group blog, Tech Liberty.

Tech Liberty

From the website:

We’re concerned about the erosion of people’s civil liberties in the digital world. Some people seem to think we give up our rights as soon as we do something on the Internet rather than on paper. We don’t agree.
Tech Liberty is dedicated to protecting people’s rights in the areas of the Internet and technology. We make submissions on public policy, help to educate people about their rights, and defend those whose rights are being infringed.

I’ll also be moving some of the resources (such as the Internet Filtering FAQs) over to the Tech Liberty site.

Future for

This means that this blog will go back to what it was before I started concentrating so much on Internet filtering – a place I post random stuff that doesn’t really go anywhere else. Rate of posting is highly variable.

This post is sticky so anything new will be beneath it.

You Can’t Block Information on the Internet

The Law Commission’s report Suppressing Names and Evidence is a waste of time and money. They have spent a lot of time thinking about exactly why, how and what information should be suppressed, while neglecting to consider whether this suppression is even possible.

The Recent Case

I assume you’ve heard of the “well known entertainer” that was recently granted name suppression after the judge discharged them without conviction for offensive behaviour. For some reason a number of people felt it was so important that they tell everyone who it was that I found out their name on:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Online chat
  • Kiwiblog

I’m told it was also on the Trade Me forums as well as many others. Even the Wikipedia page for the performer has the details – if you think to look in the edit history.

Takedown and Blocking Notices

Publication of this sort of information on the Internet can’t be stopped. While you could send a takedown notice to local sites (such as Trademe and Kiwiblog) and expect it to be honoured, overseas sites such as Facebook and Twitter are going to ignore it.

The Law Commission seems to suggest that it will be the responsibility of ISPs to block access to sites publishing such information (recommendation 26 from the report):

Where an internet service provider or content host becomes aware that they are carrying or hosting information that they know is in breach of a suppression order, it should be an offence for them to fail to remove the information or to fail to block access to it as soon as reasonably practicable.

In the case above this would mean that ISPs would have to block the Facebook and Twitter web pages (the nature of these services means that you can’t just block a single piece of information as it could appear on any number of pages/URLs). They’d also have to block a number of other international forum sites. Ultimately, we would end up with the requirement to block every website in the world that contains content submitted by the users of the site.

If we get to this point the Internet in New Zealand is fundamentally broken and we’ve decided to stop being a member of the information age. Obviously this is not going to happen.

Is Name Suppression Dead?

If the courts can’t suppress information on the Internet is there any point continuing with suppression at all?

One counter argument is that not everyone is of as much interest as a “well known entertainer” so in some cases name suppression might continue to work. But the current trend is for people to put more and more of their lives, and the lives of the people they know, online. Over time I expect suppression to become less and less effective, even for people who don’t have a national profile.

You may notice that this article makes no comment on whether name suppression is good or bad. I’ve not always been happy with how it is used but, in general, I’m not completely against the concept, especially when it is used to protect the victim.

The problem is that my opinion, just like that of the Law Commission, is becoming increasingly irrelevant. The Internet does such a good job of sharing information that the idea of being able to control access to that information is becoming obsolete.

Court ordered suppression might work partially for a few more years but the end is in sight. The Law Commission would have done a better job if they had recognised this.

Sometimes it seems that every day there is another threat to people’s abilities to use the Internet. Each special interest group has their own barrow to push, often with honourable intent, that causes them to make impossible or unreasonable demands.

Today’s effort is from the Law Commission. They’ve published their Suppressing Names and Evidence report and it includes the following (recommendation 26 from the report, page 66, PDF):

Where an internet service provider or content host becomes aware that they are carrying or hosting information that they know is in breach of a suppression order, it should be an offence for them to fail to remove the information or to fail to block access to it as soon as reasonably practicable.

There’s nothing new in extending the current rules about not publishing suppressed material to hosting an Internet website publishing the suppressed material. Obviously someone will have to complain to the ISP (Internet Service Provider) that are hosting suppressed information, but the ISP will be able to refer to the judge’s suppression order and remove it. (Although of course there may be times when it is unclear whether a particular piece of information breaches a suppression order.)

The more worrying part is the use of the word “carrying” which, as far as I can tell, can only refer to information that the ISP is carrying between ‘somewhere on the Internet’ and the user.

By demanding that the ISP be able to block access to this information, the Law Commission is requiring all ISPs to implement a filtering system that is capable of blocking any access on any Internet protocol to any Internet address that may have the suppressed information. If they fail to do so, penalties include fines and imprisonment (exactly how you imprison an ISP I am not sure).

There are a number of problems with this:

  1. Each ISP would have to implement a filtering system (both technically and procedurally) and this would be very expensive.
  2. It puts an unreasonable responsibility on the ISP.
  3. Who would be responsible for removing information blocks when a suppression order is lifted?
  4. Most importantly, what they have asked for is technically impossible to implement.

Why is it technically impossible?

Information is shared on the Internet using a number of different methods (protocols). They include email, online chat, web pages, and peer to peer file-sharing. A number of these different protocols use encryption between the user and the site. For example, banks and online shops all use secure web traffic (HTTPS) to keep your transactions safe from interception.

If a piece of suppressed information is made available at an Internet address that uses encryption, the ISP can’t read the encrypted request and will therefore have to block all traffic to that Internet address. If your online shop uses the same Internet address as a site with suppressed information (sharing Internet addresses is very common, with some addresses hosting thousands of sites), access to your shop will also be blocked.

This means that every time someone overseas publishes information contrary to a suppression order from the New Zealand courts, a number of websites will have to be blocked. This will fundamentally break the Internet in New Zealand.

Of course, if you run a bookstore in New Zealand I suggest that you might find it advantageous to make sure to add some suppressed information to a review on!

This doesn’t even cover the technical difficulties and costs involved in deploying a blocking system that can filter everything on the Internet. You may note that the Chinese Government has spent a lot of time and effort building their Great Firewall of China and even that does a poor job of blocking information.


I believe the Law Commission needs to rethink this recommendation. The blocking they have asked for is technically impossible to implement without breaking the Internet.

Of course, if it’s impossible to suppress information on the Internet, is there any point in suppressing it in newspapers and other media? We may have to accept that we cannot suppress information on a pervasive global communications network.

It looks as though the Law Commission’s report may be obsolete on the day it was published.

Archives Educates the DIA

Back in August I posted about how the Department of Internal Affairs had been deleting the reports used to justify filtering sites in the trial. This seemed a bit suspect to me, especially as they knew I had a request with the Ombudsman appealing their refusal to give me copies of them under the Official Information Act.

It’s also in contravention of the Public Records Act so I sent a letter asking the Chief Archivist what could be done about it. You can download the PDF of their reply, but the gist of it is in the following quote:

The Department of Internal Affairs report that they have taken steps to address this problem. The Department of Internal Affairs have made their staff familiar with the mandatory standards issued by the Chief Archivist that are relevant to managing these records in accordance with the Public Records Act 2005. Steps have also been taken to ensure that website filtering records cannot be deleted without seeking the necessary authority to do so.

I consider that these are appropriate remedial steps that will result in ongoing compliance with the Act.

I’m sure we can all be pleased that the Censorship Unit at the DIA will now do a better job of maintaining their data.