Does The Pen Hear More than the Keyboard?

“I probably won’t be using that.”
It wasn’t a derisory or demeaning disclaimer. Just a calm statement: this is not for me.
I never was much of  a software salesman anyway. I had livened up a not-so-interesting training session by describing an upcoming software feature. It may or may not be in the next future possible major release! Geekspeak for I don’t know what the developers are doing).
Simply stated, instead of scanning in notes, they could be typed through an electronic form.
As my trainee wasn’t rude or abrupt, I nodded in agreement, at first. Only later did I realise how much of what she said really applied to me.
The conversation continued as she expanded upon her point. Besides the training session had ended and time was not of the essence.
She said that people say more when you take handwritten notes. She restated her point as people say less when you type notes on a computer.

Blue Pen on Paper

Blue Pen on Paper

 Instantly I thought of my last doctor’s appointment. As soon as he finished talking to me, he swivelled in his chair, he began  typing. Automatically  I stopped talking. I waited until  he had entered his notes and printed the prescription. I only realised later that had I anything important to say, it would have been lost. Admittedly, medical personnel don’t have as much time as me.
But it was exactly as my trainee was saying to me. But it went deeper than that. It applied to me more than I knew.
As a desktop support operative, people used to make fun of what I carried around with me. It was rather ancient and certainly non-technical.  People thought that it was funny that I carried around a pen and two (paper) notebooks. One was a diary and the other was a scratchpad. So many people remembered that when I left, I received an electronic diary as a farewell present. Sharp Electronic Organiser-open
But those two notebooks had a strange effect on myself and my workmates. Firstly, it was quite odd how well I remembered what I didn’t write down. For as I recalled my notes, other details would be revealed.  And secondly, in the presence of a (real) notebook, my workmates would reveal more detail about their problems than if I turned up empty handed. Often I found I solved more than one problem at once. Thirdly,  I also was able to record my successes and failures. Which was useful for future reference and self-defence.
And this conversation, threw light on my weaknesses and strengths as a technical writer and trainer. Upon reflection, I found I recalled more from handwritten notes than typed ones. And certainly more from handwritten lecture notes too. And again,in the presence of the pen and notepad, subject matter experts revealed more detail than when the keyboard was listening. Which meant that I found out what people needed to know not what was nice to know. In other words, by picking up a pen and paper, I (unknowingly) did my job better.
And now as a writer (there I’ve said it now : there’s no turning back), I find the pen and paper are often better tools for me to express myself and record than a keyboard. I handwrite first and then type into the computer.  Although that doesn’t work for everyone, just me.
Besides, that was the role of my trainee : to find out as much as possible about people’s problems before making her diagnosis.

National Insecurity, the Internet and Data Retention

UK and Australia have introduced internet monitoring and data retention laws.

Data Storage

Data Storage

Canada too is introducing a similar bill. France as well.

The UK has had the High Court throw them out. But the Conservative Government is fighting back. Europe is also throwing out such laws.

The USA is trying to postpone its response to the controversy over the actions of their intelligence agencies after the Edward Snowden revelations.

From my perspective as a ex-system administrator, ex-desktop support operative and ex-service manager for a web site, these laws are made by people who neither understand the Internet nor its users. So why make these laws?

Let’s look at Australia….

Australia has introduced laws blocking certain web sites. These can be easily circumvented by changing Domain Name Server settings.

As well, Australia has brought in laws monitoring internet usage. Again, these laws can be easily avoided. Greens Senator Scott Ludlam through a series of questions detailed the easy ways these laws can be avoided.  Besides which any hacker or terrorist can take even further measures to avoid surveillance.

As well, those laws laughably cover the storage of metadata. Here in Australia, ISPs are in the process of determining the Government requirements and getting nowhere fast despite a closing deadline. Unfortunately, the responsible minister Attorney-General George Brandis may be of little help here as this incredible interview illustrates.

But in all of that there are two issues that are overlooked.

First is best termed as the KGB problem. Reputedly, the USSR spies ended up amassing so much data that they couldn’t make sense of it.  And even with the mega oceans of big data that surveillance will yield, it will still require analysis. It won’t be as simple as looking for keywords as this example shows. Suppose a company runs software that checks emails for offensive words. Suppose it looks for the word butt. Emails found would cover smoking habits, porn or mutual admiration! Further analysis would be needed, perhaps something like the following : a phone call to florist, phone call to removalist then trawling internet dating web sites may mean a break up or a reconciliation.

The second is best termed as temptation. Such a vast amount of data would be a  Hacker Hackinghacker’s prize. So it better be secure. But almost certainly such data will be treated with disrespect by its stewards. Why? It’s just backups that we can access online. So ultimately hackers will break into it. After all, if hackers can break into the US personnel database, what’s stopping them breaking in to the stored metadata. Then you will have untrusted strangers looking at your deleted Facebook and Twitter posts.

So I return to the question, why has a Government who doesn’t understand the internet and its inhabitants made these laws?

Clearly, not to catch terrorists and hackers. They’re smart enough to get around them. Perhaps, its the opposite, to catch people who aren’t hackers and terrorists. People like you and me.

Walking on Thin Glass : Installing Windows 10

I’m usually cynical about trying out new Windows operating systems :

  • Windows Vista still gives me work-related nightmares especially with its spinning blue circle of death
  • Windows ME (Millenium Edition) meant that my daughter didn’t think I knew anything about computers and
  • Windows 8.0 beta which while so easy to install was quite confusing to use

But my curiosity leads me on : over the years I have installed various versions of non-Microsoft operating systems including desktop and server Linux.  I’ve even tried some of the more unheard of operating systems (remember Beos? (now Haiku!)).

So the move from Windows 7.0 to 10 was always going to be one of mixed emotions. I’d heard pretty positive feedback about it.  I was being prompted that I could download and/or install it, so I did.

The download was easy.  The installation not so.  My attempts included using Windows Update, booting from a USB with Windows 10 on it and running the Setup program from the USB.

My best success was running the setup program from the USB.  That was the easy part.  I kept encountering more and more obscure error messages.  I would research the message, find a sequence of steps and push on.  Yes three steps forward, two to four backward! But I succeeded.


My recommendations are the following:

  1. Use the setup program from the USB.
  2. Turn off anti virus for the duration of the installation.
  3. Use the MSConfig program to minimise all services.
  4. Install using US defaults only (you can change them later).
  5. Finally, don’t expect the install to work on a dual-boot (Windows and other non-Windows operating) system.
  6. Sit back and enjoy



A True Internet Fable: Don’t Mention the War, We’re Too Busy Collaborating

Last week, at work, the Aarnet (Australian Academic Research Network) is mentioned.  In my mind I slip away from the meeting and go back in time. To 1990, in fact, where I was witness to a remarkable episode of collaboration.

My then work colleague had done the unthinkable. He had talked management into connecting to the internet. But the only way to do so was through the Aarnet.

We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. The internet wasn’t the sexy World-Wide-Web as we know it now.  The internet seemed to be like a fairly disorganised library. It was made up of e-mail, news groups, search tools and file servers, all great tools that worked separately but never together.  That was to wait until the advent of the World Wide Web. 

Some of us used email. My colleague used the search tools and file servers to find software. Everyone else used the news groups.

We could find out anything. We also could share anything too. But not just in our area of expertise, or interest or locality but internationally. This level of collaboration was best shown by an incident which could not happen now.

It wasn’t long after connecting to the internet that the first Gulf War began. We had the radio on to follow the latest updates. It was then we heard that Scud missiles were being fired at Israel. One work colleague spoke up and said he had a friend in Haifa.  We became nervous as events might have escalated very seriously.

But on the news groups it was a different story. Iraqi students had no idea what was going on. They were asking questions. American and Israeli students were answering them. It didn’t matter that a war was going on.

That’s what happens when you give people the ability to collaborate.

National Insecurity, Citizenship and Exile

As posted on Gumption-inc

With less than eighteen months remaining in its first term, (or less according to some commentators), the Australian Government has been determined to show that it is tough on national security. One of those measures is legislating to strip citizenship of anyone who has joined the fighting in Syria and Iraq. In this action, all they are doing is following the lead of Canada and Great Britain.

UN Passport

UN Passport

Great Britain’s response to the increasing number of citizens joining the war in Syria was to try and ensure they didn’t return. One tactic in the case of dual passport holders was to revoke their British citizenship. In fact, revocations have increased in Great Britain since 2013.  The power to revoke citizenship resides with the Home Secretary and utilises existing powers. Despite provision to appeal the decision through a court process, due to the decision occurring while the person was abroad, the result is that many individuals have been left stranded overseas.  In some cases individuals have been left stateless. The justification is that of protecting national security and/or deterring potential and actual terrorists. As a consequence of those grounds, little is known of those people who have had their citizenship revoked.  Great Britain is now in the process of enacting and enforcing even more strict laws.

Passport and Handcuffs

Passport and Handcuffs

Following the British example, Canada introduced new rules for revoking citizenship again citing terrorism and national security concerns. Again most cases will be decided by the Minister with a provision for a courts process. No provision is made it seems for dual citizens who are overseas. As the Canadian Bar Association states such actions in effect will exile citizens effectively through a paper based process. As the Toronto Star states citizenship has now been criminalised and is effectively been used as a tool to achieve Government objectives, such as deporting undesirables. But as we are seeing in Australia, once citizenship becomes expendable, then proposals to revoke it on trivial grounds appear from nowhere. However in Canada, those grounds remain terrorism offences overseas,  national security offences and serving overseas in armed forces against Canada. Again note that neither Canada nor Great Britain are considering the revocation of citizenship for single nationals.

Claiming that it is extra tough on national security, but really following suit, the Australian Government introduced a proposal to revoke citizenship from dual nationals who had travelled overseas to fight. This proposal was put to the Cabinet and involved an administrative process with no provision for appeal. After a rebellion by some ministers,the proposal was amended to include a judicial review process.

In the meantime, there has been many views expressed including that the legislation was unconstitutional. But then the legislation was introduced and it appears flawed. Grounds for revocation of citizenship now include terrorism, national security offences, serving in the armed forces of another country and being in a so-called prescribed area such as Raqqa, the capital of Islamic State. But the extent of offences now may include whistle-blowing and the vague phrase of using a thing (undefined) to commit an act of terrorism (a paper glider flown through Parliament perhaps?) noting that offences may be applied retrospectively. So that means a person could visit Iraq or Syria for religious reasons but then lose their citizenship as the war has spread to their location.

World Wide

World Wide

In all of that the Australian Prime Minister was quoted as still pursuing means to strip the citizenship of single-nationals who have left Australia to fight overseas.

This is troubling for democracy. In Australia, at least, a law will be enacted that imposes penalties and offences without recourse to court. This law too will mean that potentially Australians fighting overseas will be rendered stateless and have no means of regaining their citizenship. The law provides no means of holding these terrorists to account for their crimes by extraditing them back home. This law, and such laws like it, fails to deter and in fact provides more grounds for fighters to leave a country, commit terrorism and not return.

This government don’t know what they are doing. If they suspend the citizenship of dual nationals who have committed crimes overseas, how will these people be brought to justice? They’ve effectively got away with their crimes internationally. Such suspension effectively rewards (not punishes) these people with exile. Such people contemplating going overseas may be more motivated if they lose their citizenship. And now they want to impose restrictions upon those with single citizenship through an quasi-legal accounting of their actions which could potential break international law (again).

These laws and laws like it are stupid and destined to fail.




This Printer Isn’t Working (Diagnostic Ping-Pong)

“Hi I’m just ringing about the printer. It’s not working.”
It was the printer just over the partition from me. I had taken it on myself to try and fix it. But I was not a desktop support person any more. I had:



  1. Checked the printer had paper, no jams and enough ink
  2. Stopped and restarted the printer queue
  3. Deleted the print job
  4. Cleared my temp files
  5. Switched the printer on and off and, of course
  6. Rebooted my PC .
The first-support information technology person walked me through all the checks. I had done all her suggested steps and perhaps more. Sigh!The next day the printer man arrived. He:
  1. Checked the printer had paper, no jams and enough ink
  2. Switched the printer off and on, and of course
  3. Ran a printer self-test.
I forgot that one. But after he left I leant over and checked the test results. The printer had passed. So all was good. It still didn’t print though.The next day, the network cable guy arrived. He:
© Ginasanders | - Network Cable Of A Computer Photo

© Ginasanders | – Network Cable Of A Computer Photo

  1. Unplugged the network cable from the printer
  2. Attached it to a grey box
  3. Pressed a button
  4. Checked the flashing lights.
While he was doing this, I peeked over and checked. I’d used such a magic box before.  The lights were blinking in sequence. The network connection had passed. So all was good. It still didn’t print though.
I waited to see what happened next. It was the printer support person again. And again, he did the same tests as he had done two days ago. He got the same result. The printer passed the test. So all was good. But the printer still didn’t print though.
It was looking like a game of diagnostic ping-pong. So I rang back.
“I know it’s not my job but…perhaps you could try this…just check to see if you can get the printer to talk back to you over the network (I had tried this in my old job). Or do a printer network test. Maybe it’s the network card. Or even the connector.”
There was a long, long pause and then, “I’ll add that to the notes for the call.”
Another day passes. It’s the printer guy again. He does a network test. He looks behind the printer at the network connector.  It has no lights and is damaged. They get a new connector and life goes on. Sigh!