Punishing the Victims of Suicide

Need help? In New Zealand, you can call Lifeline on 0800 543 354 or Youthline on 0800 37 66 33.

Te Ururoa Flavell, Māori Party MP wrote this piece for The Rotorua Daily Post on suicide prevention.

He seems to miss the boat entirely and says:

“From what I have heard, one is almost wasting time asking why [suicide] happens.”

Instead he suggests we… shame and stigmatize the other victims of suicide—the friends and family of a person who has taken their own life.

“If a child commits suicide, let us consider not celebrating their lives on our marae; perhaps bury them at the entrance of the cemetery so their deaths will be condemned by the people.”

“In doing these things, it demonstrates the depth of disgust the people have with this.”

He Cemeterysays he has seen family members “in their despair, in their real grief,” but has no problem supporting the hijacking of their grief process by not allowing the usual practices to take place and stipulating where a person should be buried. Funerals and related practices aren’t just for the person who has passed away. Just because someone has taken their own life doesn’t make that life any less worth celebrating.

Progressive leader Jim Anderton’s daughter took her own life. He says that those on the verge of suicide are not acting rationally. Would place of and practices around a person’s burial really act as a preventative measure and stop them from taking their own life?

Mr Flavell says he was just trying to get people talking, to find a solution.” Setting up families and friends for embarrassment isn’t that solution and introducing further shame around suicide isn’t the way to encourage people to talk about it—which is what really needs to happen.

Image credit: Nathan Hayag

The National Interest of Foreign Espionage

A van was crushed by rubble following the February Canterbury earthquake, containing Israeli tourists. One of them, Ofer Benyamin Mizrahi, was killed instantly. Michal Friedman, Liron Sadeh and Guy Yurdan escaped. It’s been revealed that Israeli involvement after the quake has been investigated by the SIS and the police.

Fact checking

What appears to be the original Southland Times article that broke the investigation seems to have been poorly fact checked and shows a lack of editorial oversight. Shemi Tzur, Israeli’s ambassador in the South Pacific is said to have flown from Australia, where he is based, except a quick Google search shows that he is actually based in Wellington.

The same article talks about a piece of suspected Russian malware named “agent.btz” and says that “attempts to remove the malware have so far been unsuccessful”, which gives the impression that the computers of the United States Military are still infected. The next part of the sentence states that “new, more potent variations of agent.btz are still appearing”, so what is probably meant is that attempts to eliminate the malware out of existence have been unsuccessful, which isn’t surprising considering the nature of malware and software in general.

Red flags

9000 passports!James Bond cameras

The Southland Times article says that Ofer Mizrahi “was reportedly found to be carrying at least five passports.” John Key said “according to his information, Mizrahi was found with only one passport”, of European origin.

The group of three that left Christchurch gave Israeli representatives his Israeli passport. So that makes at least two passports.

Shemi Tzur says that he was handed Ofer’s effects and they contained “more than one passport.” Does that makes at least three passports or does this include the Israeli passport handed off at the airport?

He says it’s common for Israelis to have dual citizenship because Israeli passports aren’t welcome in some countries, which is understandable. However that doesn’t explain why Ofer was traveling with both/multiple passports—I am an expert thanks to watching Border Security on TV and conclude that less eyebrows would be raised at an airport if, when searched, someone wasn’t in the possession of more than one passport.

12 hours

Passport stamps

Within 12 hours of the quake the three remaining Israelis had evacuated Christchurch, driven to the airport by Shemi Tzur himself.

This raised eyebrows because they left Ofer behind in the van, but in their defense there was nothing they could have done and it wasn’t like they were leaving someone injured behind. Guy Yurdan, one of the three, said that Ofer was killed instantly.

The advice from many countries to citizens in Christchurch would have been to get out of there as soon as possible. The potential lack of accommodation, food, and water, plus the risk of further aftershocks would have supported their decision to leave as quickly as possible.

A mysterious seventh Israeli

Concerns were raised about a “mysterious seventh Israeli” who was in New Zealand illegally and was reported missing after the earthquake, but weeks later was reported to have left the country. Not sure whether there was anything suspicious about the person apart from their visa situation.

Five Facebook likes

A Facebook tribute page for Ofer came to the attention of investigators because it only had five likes over four months (now 32). Apparently many Israelis don’t have social network accounts. Perhaps those on Facebook who knew Ofer didn’t know of the page? It seems a stretch to say that this is suspicious.

Four phone calls

It’s been reported that Israel Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu phoned John Key four times on the day of the earthquake. John Key says that they only actually spoke once in “those first days.” It seems reasonable that a Prime Minister is hard to get hold of, especially during a state of emergency. I’m not sure what the significance of prime ministers calling each other is, I assume representatives from many countries spoke to John Key as a result of the earthquake.

Two search and rescue teamsMission control

There was reportedly one Israeli search and rescue team but then there were two? Either way it seems at least one either wasn’t allowed access to the red zone or was removed from the red zone by armed personnel. According to Shemi Tzur, a team was sent by the parents of Ofer Levy (other Ofer?) and Gabi Ingel, two Israelis who died in the earthquake.

The article says “Israeli families reacted that way when their children needed help anywhere in the world, often because it was demanded by insurance companies.” Insurance companies often demand that families hire and fly to a foreign country private search and rescue teams when search and rescue is already underway by the country?


Perhaps stranger is Hilik Magnus, who runs the search and rescue company in question, Magnus International Search & Rescue:

“He served in the Israel Defence Forces in an elite paratrooper battalion specializing in special operations. He fought in the Attrition War, first lebanon war and the Yom Kippur War, remained a reserve officer for twenty years and served also in the intelligence community.”


Their team entered the red zone “accompanied by police, only to retrieve the personal effects of two people who died.” “There was only one rescue team and it was allowed inside the red zone to accompany police to retrieve backpacks belonging to Mr Levy and Mr Ingel.”

One Israel Civil Defense Chief

The Southland Times article says “In the hours after the 6.3 quake struck: Israel’s civil defence chief left Israel for Christchurch.” The New Zealand Herald reports that Matan Vilnai did visit Christchurch, but nine days later. And not from Israel, but from Australia where he was for a visit.

This doesn’t seem suspicious.

A groups of forensic analysts

An Israeli forensic analysis team sent by the Israeli government worked on victim identification in the morgue. A security audit of the national police computer database was ordered after someone connected that the analysts could have accessed it. The police say that their system is secure. Someone from the SIS says that it could be compromised with a USB drive:

“An SIS officer said it would take only moments for a USB drive to be inserted in a police computer terminal and for a program allowing remote backdoor access to be loaded.”—Stuff

It’s questionable why USB access would even be enabled on computers that have access to such confidential material.

Why New Zealand?


Gordon Thomas, who has written about Mossad says that Mossad trainees, possibly picked during compulsory military service, were usually planted overseas in groups of four. He says that the CIA and MI6 have offices in Auckland and have “held high-level meetings with New Zealand spy bosses”. They want to know what sparked the SIS investigation, what investigations were carried out and what passports the group possessed. He thinks New Zealand is a credible Mossad target because al Qaeda cells could expand into the Pacific Rim. Israel would want to know what our intelligence agencies know, what they are sharing and how good they are at getting information.

He says that Mossad has a reputation for using students as agents and that using two couples is “standard Mossad operation style. The reason they have a man and a woman … it’s easy to pass unnoticed, unchallenged, and the woman acts as back-up.”Passport


New Zealand passports are readily accepted around the world. Anyone gaining one who had nefarious purposes would likely face no contest at a border. Paul Buchanan, who has worked at the Pentagon says that it’s unlikely the four were Mossad agents because of their age and the apparent low-level task of passport fraud they were undertaking, but they might have been recruits operating as sayanins, the Hebrew word for helper. He says that after the September earthquake, Christchurch may have been seen as a good target to get names of New Zealanders to use for false passports.


The three survivors from the van gave an interview to Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, days after the earthquake. It would seem unlike spies to put themselves out in the public eye like that, but maybe that’s reverse psychology. Who knows.

Image credits: Ian Rutherford, Ludovic Bertron, J Aaron Farr, Tom Raftery

The Real Wikileaks

The English version of Wikipedia is the website that tops the search results for a large majority of popular search terms. How do you keep 140,000+ active editors happily producing good content in a neutral way when they all have opposing viewpoints on content and procedure?

“Wikipedia is like a sausage: you might like the taste of it, but you don’t necessarily want to see how it’s made.”—Jimmy Wales

The Arbitration Committee

BWikipedia globe keychainasically the Supreme Court of Wikipedia, the Arbitrators that make up the committee make decisions on Wikipedia disputes that haven’t been able to be resolved through other means or on issues where privacy needs to be protected. Jimmy Wales and The Wikimedia Foundation are essentially the only people above them. They largely conduct business over a private mailing list, potentially to appear in agreement in public. Abd says:

“[the] appearance [of solidarity] was more important than making the whole process transparent, so that the community could understand the logic or reasons behind decisions — for better or worse.”

Arbitrators receive access to the CheckUser and Oversight tools, which gives them access to IP and user agent records and the ability to expunge content from an article’s history, respectively.

List structure and security

The mailing list software emailed each list member their password in plain text every month. Someone gaining access to one of their email accounts, say by using Firesheep over an unsecured WiFi connection, would’ve easily gained access to the private archives. No selective archiving was available in the software, so everything was logged. It doesn’t seem like it would have been difficult for a list member to intentionally leak the contents of the archive (although it appears to be easier for unauthorized users to access the archive than the authorized: “I will take care of that if I can get into the archives, it often doesn’t work for me”). Because of the nature of email it is easy to accidentally send something to the wrong person, illustrated in one of the emails leaked where someone was accidentally carbon copied in on an email about them. Retired arbitrators continued to have access to the list until sometime around 2009. Jimmy Wales continues to have access to the list.

Wikipedia editors generally expect their IP addresses to be protected when they’re logged in and policy supports this assumption (although in reality I’m unsure why IPs are considered such private information). CheckUser records only go back so far so it would be interesting to see what privacy concerns were considered by individuals keeping their own records. It also appears that centralized information on troublesome users is kept on a private wiki.

“Unitanode is formerly known as SDJ (S. Dean Jameson), and has had prior accounts as well. See the WPuser page on the arbwiki.

“The earlier draft would, incidentally, be very handy on ArbWiki as Wpuser:Sophie to provide all the background should this crop up again later (as I’m sure it will, either in the form of appeals or socks).” [emphasis mine]

Security concerns aside, the mailing list structure doesn’t seem to work. Even though list archives are kept, individual Arbitrators are relied on to forward old information.

“Do you have notes from your Feb 7 [CheckUser] of Guido that will help?”

“Does [anyone] have CU notes on Angela Kennedy or Destroying Angela they can forward to me?”

“Thank you for contacting us; the Committee is currently discussing your offer. Developing consensus among 18 or so people via mailing list isn’t terribly efficient, so we appreciate your patience.”

The leaks

A couple of users on Wikipedia Review, a forum critical of Wikipedia, have been posting email threads, largely based on requests. Why care? Actions on Wikipedia can have serious real world consequences. One of the emails details someone with a Wikipedia article being asked in a job interview about something untrue posted about him on Wikipedia. Another email talks about the power Wikipedia has over other search results, “if you were a sugar producer, how much would having [[Aspartame controversy]] be the first Google result for “artificial sweetener” be worth?” If you’ve ever used Wikipedia, as a reader or editor, what happens behind the scenes is relevant.

Note: some of the quoted emails are very old and I may be wrong in the conclusions I’ve drawn from them. Thanks to users at Wikipedia Review who did a great job pulling the interesting bits out of the emails in the forum threads.

Jimmy Wales versus an adminJimmy Wales Roda Viva

A Wikipedia administrator called a user a “little shit” and was blocked from editing by Jimmy Wales for 3 hours. It’s unclear what harm a 3 hour block prevents and probably causes more drama than it solves. Arbitrators on the list raised concerns about Jimmy blocking users because of the attention those users receive as a result.

In emails Jimmy says he’d prefer a private mediation instead of a public Arbitration case:

“Indeed, if we go to a[n Arbitration case], I am going to push for [the removal of your administrator status], because I think you’ve gotten off very lightly so far, and your conduct since the block is very far out of line from what our community standards for admins are.

Whereas if you enter mediation and work with me, I think you’ll end up looking quite good. I am not a man of pride – I am willing to look bad if that will help Wikipedia in some way. Just come and work with me and with someone we both trust, and let’s at least try.”

In an email to the Arbitration Committee on the 22nd July 2009 Jimmy states that he’s giving up the block tool:

“I am hereby permanently giving up the use of the ‘block’ tool. I will remain an administrator so that I can do some other admin things from time to time (most importantly, viewing deleting revisions), so there is no need to do anything technical. I just won’t block anyone ever again.”

However, his actions log shows he performed a block in May 2010.

Threats against arbitrators

Forum user SB_Johnny summarizes an email that was eventually redacted by the leaker:

“Just for the benefit of the curious, a quick synopsis is that some asshole threatened to do harm to the loved ones (including children) of one of the [arbitrators] if the [arbitrator] didn’t do what he wanted. The other [arbitrators] (appropriately and gracefully) gave their moral and [emotional] support to the victim. ‘Nuff said on that.

The only thing that’s really of interest if that there wasn’t much in the way of support from Jimbo or the WMF [Wikimedia Foundation] (at least not in the dox provided), but only interesting in the sense that it was a rather alarming example of the sorts of things WMF volunteers are exposed to, and the WMF’s apparent disinterest in their fates.”

Hiding behind clerks

“Just to note that an anonymous IP (Comcast, Seattle Washington) has now posted an email from Lar (who has been broadly supportive of the proposals, including those relating to Jayjg), which implies that Lar himself is known to canvass. I am inclined to ask a clerk to delete as it is personal communication, but I do not think any of the committee members should do so. Thoughts?” [emphasis mine]

Experienced users versus new users

“Again it would be good enough to be used to justify a sock accusation against a new user, but it would be a world of pain for Arbcom to use it against a functionary who has broad support within the community (e.g. the reasonable recent election given he withdrew, with a growing cloud bearing down on him) and has ties with WMF (I’m not sure of all the details of this).”

Threats and blackmail by an ex-Arbitrator

“On 24 February 2010, FT2 contacted the Arbitration Committee by email to request return of Checkuser permissions for the purpose of participating in a specific sockpuppetry investigation. At that time, an email written by FT2 came to the attention of the entire Arbitration Committee. The email was addressed to an abusive sockpuppeter who had been banned from English Wikipedia and some other WMF projects as a result of a cross-wiki investigation in which FT2 played a significant role. In the email, FT2 threatened to contact family members of the sockpuppeter directly, and laid out a series of conditions including those external to Wikipedia with the threat of contacting employers, government agencies, and others about the nature of the socking.

It was known at the time this email was disclosed to the Committee ”en banc” that the conditions outlined in FT2’s email had not been met, and there was concern that he might proceed with the actions he had threatened in the email. FT2 confirmed that the text of the email was correct and implied that the content had been vetted in advance by a WMF staff member and a WMF board member. Both denied having read the email at any point.”

Here are some parts from that email:

“My conditions to you are simple. I will state them once, below. Failure to take this seriously will lead to the events changing from your rules and WR’s rules, to my rules. Hide one thing now or later, lie or evade once, and the gloves come off. Believe me, you don’t want to test that . That’s the advantage of being a volunteer rather than an employee. My only formal obligation is my own conscience, and the law.

They made errors like confusing your wife and sister. They don’t know about your children, whose names you put in the public domain and used as covers (which would disgust most people including your family). They don’t recognize that the [redacted]’ [his wife’s employer] IP means [redacted]’s [his wife’s] employer is legitimately fair to be brought into the frame to ascertain just what it extended to.

The bad news is, you have a choice: complete abject confession online to your online games, or exposure in your /offline/ world – it goes “real world” as the only way to kill it. You don’t get to keep both. Choose which.

One minute after that, gloves come off all the way, without any further warning, starting with [redacted]’s [his wife’s] workplace for evidence, and the Department of Health, and probably unavoidably, ending with family or someone will inform the police. Do you actually love your family, or need them? Or are they toys too?Sacrifice your fictions, games and abuses for yourself and them. Put right the abuses you have done over the last 3 years and you may survive, or take complete responsibility for any unfortunate results of forcible removal. I don’t know [his wife], but she seems tough, and people don’t like being deceived. I don’t know what settlement you’d get, but I bet it won’t include the things in real life you care most about. Risk it if you like. Your call. And watch me not minding if it hurts you to put this all right.Yes doing this is going to hurt and humiliate you. I couldn’t care less. No, avoiding hurt is not an option in life. You’re about to feel every last person you abused over 3 years, right now. You like editing, you don’t mind others hurting when you edit, so we’re going to edit my way a bit, if you want me to believe in any way that the matter is closed. The lesson here is, a wrong isn’t closed or an abuser off the hook till it’s put right and they commit not to repeat.

Then when that’s done you can fuck off to number 74 to reminiscence with [redacted list of family names] and the family. Or did you think I might be guessing at knowing far more than you thought? You put all that information on the web.By Monday noon EDT (ie Sept 15, 5pm UK, 6pm UTC I think), if you haven’t complied with at least #1 and are visibly in progress on #2 and #3, or there’s one sock you haven’t named, or I ever see one abusive edit after that from you under any name or proxy, the gloves come off for good with no more warning. We can talk as much as you like before then, but when that’s over, we’re done talking and I move on without further discussion if I don’t see a disclosure that I feel is honest and complete.

Others have contacted [redacted] and your workplace — shit happens, too bad, you did expect that, right? As for me, I plan to inform the last major group of victims, your family, not out of malice, but because they are ultimately the only ones who can prevent future abuse here, and recidivism.

You yourself dragged your wife [redacted], her employer [redacted], and your son [redacted] into this by yourself; they are in some ways the biggest victims of all and deserve to no longer be lied to or left ignorant of being taken as victims, as your co-worker [redacted], the beautician [redacted], your boss [redacted], the boudoir’s owner [redacted] whose business you placed at risk, and the rest were.” [emphasis mine]

Kind of takes serious business to the extreme. An Arbitrator says that “half dozen people had been [carbon] copied, including foundation folks. I thought the email was violently objectionable, but no one else seemed to mind. Maybe I’m bonkers?” If this is true, people from the Wikimedia Foundation knew about the content of the message and did nothing.

“No matter what they have done on-wiki, they don’t deserve that. [It’s] still ‘just a website’”—Understatement of the year from an Arbitrator.

Jimmy Wales gets involved and appears to refer to blackmail as “humanitarian kindness”:

“> I don’t know whether FT2 did that due to a momentary slip-up,
> illusions of grandeur, or actual malice. I don’t care whether his
> motivations were good or bad. I simply cannot give my imprimatur on
> him doing any sort of investigation on our site.

Just to be sure I was 100% clear the other day (I’ve been offline for several days due to a computer crash and illness) – I agree with you completely on this.

There are situations in which it could very much be ok to warn a user that continued misbehavior onsite could lead to offsite consequences. My own view is that such warnings should come at the point in which it would already be perfectly ok for us to publish the facts, and should be done as a humanitarian kindness and especially in cases where we think it is likely to be effective.

But this was really not ok at all.” [emphasis mine]

FT2 is still an administrator and has access to the OTRS system. OTRS volunteers deal with emails to a handful of email addresses on behalf of Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation. In his own words:

“OTRS gets numerous emails under real names, describing real issues, legal claims, harassment, threats, and other matters.”

Perhaps concerningly, FT2 appears to actually be working for the Wikimedia Foundation now (from his user page), for time comparison, the above discussion was happening around early 2010.:

“In mid 2010 I was asked to spend time contributing to various projects at the Foundation’s offices, and in 2011 I was invited onto the WMF Communications Committee.”

Predators on my wiki? It’s more likely than you think

Or maybe just trolls and people trying to cause a PR crisis. Here’s the email the Arbitration Committee was going to send to the person in question:

You were asked several times by several Wikipedians interested in your welfare to downplay references to your self-reported age and your reported personal history as a “child porn victim”. Instead, it seems that each time someone asked you to tone things down, you went out of your way to promote yourself as “a little kid”. Your edit notices emphasized that you were “a little kid”, you posted both your age (13) and your reported date of birth on your userpage, and you added an image of a girl even younger than you as “decoration”. This was very provocative, as was explained to you.

The modified screenshot from /b/, an adult-only 4chan forum, that you posted on Jimbo Wales’ talk page again gave the appearance that you wanted to draw the attention of the /b/ editors, known for their vandalism of Wikipedia and their personal attacks directed at our editors. As you frequent the various Wikipedia-related IRC channels, you are well aware of the type of behaviour one can expect from /b/ participants. Your continual demands that people speak to you as if to a young child, posting even on heavily trafficked pages that you were “only 13”, was almost calculated to draw attention to yourself as a very young editor; in particular, your question of a high profile Arbitration Committee candidate, and the request for arbitration that you posted, seemed designed to bring your youthfulness to the attention of an ever-increasing audience. The emphasis on your desire to be spoken to like a child is very unusual behaviour for a 13-year-old girl.

Apart from your behaviour on-wiki, there have been increasing concerns and reports about the stories you have been telling other editors about yourself: that you were kidnapped and forced to do “child porn”; that you are in a witness protection program; that your school burned down so that is why you edit sometimes from [redacted] College, where some of your classes have been moved. (The only school fire reported in the [redacted] area in the past year resulted in the school’s kitchen being out of service for a day.) You have made references to the [redacted].org website, which you say is your father’s website; it’s registered to. He is also the same person who runs the “Help bring Madeline home” pages and you yourself have told me about the HBMH youtube page, which also is run by the same person, and which you say you were involved with.

I note with interest that two of the videos on that site are about internet safety for young people. And yet you would have us believe that your father/parents are oblivious to the fact that you are online until the wee hours of the morning UK time on a regular basis, talking to adult males in private IRC chat rooms, and cruising the 4chan /b/ channel. The moderator of the Youtube page, Steve, says his two daughters were kidnapped for six years, and returned in 2008; I’ve not heard of you mentioning a sister, just a brother, and I also note that there is not a single online news source that corroborates such an unusual case. This combination of stories doesn’t add up very well at all.

User:Sophie, I do not know if you are a 13 year old girl behaving provocatively, or someone pretending to be a 13 year old girl. Either way, the manner in which you have been participating on Wikipedia, starting off with the promotion of the [redacted].org site and now acting as a young child, is not conducive to our primary objective, the development of an encyclopedia.

Additionally “she” offers to provide a photograph of her holding a white board with the date on it to confirm her identity as a 13-year-old, but that she’s “scared of sending it to someone iv not spoken before.”

3. Sophie has presented photo identification to TechEssentials which has turned out to be fraudulent (it’s a copyrighted picture)
<Dusti> 4. In the beginning stages of [redacted].org child pornography was placed on the site.

Just to throw some more weirdness in there.

“Shouldn’t we just be reporting whoever is going around imitating a 13-year-old?”

Yes, great idea!

“Though I’m also aware that there are only two of us in the UK, and I would be reluctant to actually report anything myself, though I think something should be reported.”

No? Oh okay.

But really, predators

A pedophilia advocate was unblocked by the Arbitration Committee with a ban on editing articles about certain topics.

“We tacitly endorsed the continued editing of Davidwr last year. He came to our awareness when he asked permission for topic socks, fearful that editing on local topics could out him. We denied this arrangement, so he continued under his previous deal. He was unblocked a couple of years ago when Fred and FloNight negotiated his return with an unspoken topic ban. Lately, we’re not allowing a topic ban solutions at all. Given the risk of grooming, I think this makes sense.

The only distinguishing feature of Davidwr is that his pedo advocacy was done on an edit-segregated account, and the Davidwr account was swept up by Checkuser. Therefore, there’s no apparent evidence of
advocacy, but does it make sense to rely on this odd fact?” [emphasis mine]

Jimmy Wales Jimmy Wales Black and Whitedoesn’t want to say that pedophiles aren’t allowed to edit Wikipedia:

“At the same time, I am not willing that we should have a witch hunt for pedophiles or anyone else. Nor that we state, categorically, “pedophiles are not allowed to edit wikipedia” — I see no benefit to such a public stance.”

The issues above could have been discussed openly, or dealt with swiftly by actual staff from the Wikimedia Foundation (or wouldn’t have been issues if the ArbCom didn’t exist). In one of the emails Jimmy Wales says:

“To speak of traditionally “law” here, ArbCom is a delegation of my personal powers within the community since day one. I am free to dismiss ArbCom at will.”

Perhaps that’s a good idea.

Image credits: Renato Targa, William Brawley and Cary Bass

The Case of the Compulsory iPad

Decile-nine Orewa College has told parents the iPad 2 will be a compulsory stationery item for all year nine pupils next year.—Stuff

Except that’s not what they said. The letter (pdf) they sent out to parents says a one to one computing device will be required. They list the examples of laptops, netbooks, tablets or iPads.

The decision has been criticized because the college recommends the iPad over the other options and it costs a fair amount of money. The reasons for (pdf) favoring one device—the iPad are clear: teachers and students can support each other easily if they are all familiar with the device, the applications available are vast and battery life is long.


One Laptop Per Child BhutanThe lowest priced netbook I could quickly find was one from Dick Smith at $375. Will a student be disadvantaged if they get a cheaper device instead, like a netbook?  I doubt it.

The content from most if not all educational applications in the Apple Application Store will be available somewhere on the Internet. Students will probably end up teaching the teacher how to use his or her iPad. Those without iPads be fine working out their device themselves and Googling solutions to issues as they come up—actually relevant problem solving? Devices with keyboards are arguably easier to type on compared to a device that only offers a touch screen. Issues with battery life won’t be a huge issue—I envision power boards to be plentiful.

iPad 3

How parents deal with updates to the iPad will be interesting to watch, but any update won’t damage the existing features of the iPad 2: strong battery life, large selection of applications and Wi-Fi access.


It has to be said that an iPad isn’t like other stationery. I don’t regularly pull out my compulsory $100 graphics calculator for fun-times around the dinner table. iPads are different. Sharing skills will be tested as everyone in the family wants to use it.


What I find interesting is that the first letter is dated June 24th and discussion with parents was going on for 4+ weeks before then. The media are only reporting on this now. It seems like none of the parents involved have had a huge issue with it—no one went to the media straight away.

Orewa College is a decile-nine school, the second highest decile available to schools. It means students generally come from a high socio-economic background. The vast majority of parents won’t have a problem finding the money for a one to one device, and the school has provided options to spread the cost out—“We have enclosed information on purchasing options from Cyclone Computers, that are approximately $10 per week.”

There’s still time for parents to choose for their year eight students to attend a different high school. But it’s a slippery slope when that is the proposed solution to potential issues with a child’s local school and is reminiscent of Brown v. Board.

Congratulations Orewa College for moving forward. Let’s hope that future schools won’t have to go through this when they choose to make one to one devices compulsory.

Image credit: Laihiuyeung Ryanne

I Am Famous*

I thought I recognized one of the photos in one of the presentations at TEDxEQChCh, and I was right. It turns out that I recognized it because it was my image. Kind of.

The photo

Bob Parker talking to a journalistBob Parker - It's munted

That’s my original photo on the left, which I posted on Flickr. The modified image on the right was used in the talk Tragedy Plus Distance (the other TEDxEQChCh talks are up on YouTube now too, and you should watch them). I’ve looked on Google, Flickr and Facebook and can’t find the modified image anywhere (if you see it let me know). Unfortunately free reverse image search engines like TinEye only index a relatively small number of images.

I don’t know if the site the modified image is on is making money or provided attribution to me. I’m not having a dig at the TEDx speaker—few if any speakers attributed the images used in their presentations and any attribution would likely point to the modified image, not my original one.

The stolen scream

Unlike mine, this is an extreme and interesting case of image plagiarism: Noam Galai‘s photo of himself screaming made it into 30+ countries, on book covers, in magazines and on t-shirts.

The case against watermarking

“[A] watermark breaks the image.”

Watermarking photographs is an option. But an ugly one. The lesser evil of watermarking on the edge of an image rather than in the middle presents the option to someone who is determined of just cropping it off. Is a casual sharer going to go out of their way to crop an image? Unlikely. Let’s assume they would provide attribution either way. Are they going to want to share the image at all? Unlikely. The comments on this post about watermarking  are worthwhile reading.

In a survey of professional photo buyers, PhotoShelter found that “an overwhelming majority of them stated that an image with a prominent watermark is less likely to be licensed than an image without any watermark at all.” Co-founder Grover Sanschagrin agrees that watermarks result in people being less likely to pass your images on to others and says that prominent watermarks send a subtle signal to buyers that you’re a difficult person to work with.

The Internet copyright conundrum

I think the interesting thing for me is that the person who modified and posted the image is probably a content creator too. They likely have at least some content they place usage restrictions on.

What does All Rights Reserved mean to an Internet user? Is personal and noncommercial use (like blogging, Tumblring etc.) of a reasonable amount of a person’s content with attribution accepted practice? Some Flickr users don’t want their photographs being shared at all. I disagree—the more people who see my photos the better. A large side goal of that is to promote my other content, which requires attribution.

Should I put my photos under a Creative Commons licence then? I’m hesitant. Among other things: some of my photos have made me money—would buyers be put off if the same photo was available for ‘free’ under a noncommercial licence? Creative Commons is essentially irrevocable and the format of the original content can be changed under any licence—attribution is not linkable offline.

I think I’m happy with the status quo. All Rights Reserved with the knowledge that because of the nature of the Internet the image will be shared noncommercially no matter the licence, but that hopefully a link back will be shared too.

If you share content off the Internet please link back to the original creator. It’s extremely easy to find good quality ‘free’ images on the Internet, I’ve posted before about finding images responsibly on Flickr. When I was trying to track down the modified image I saw that Google provides options for searching for Creative Commons labeled content too.

Even if imitation is the greatest form of flattery it can still leave a bad taste behind.

What does copyright in the context of the Internet mean to you?

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Blog posts are better with images. Posts look better and are easier to read when text is broken up by something. Posts with images catch the eye better in RSS readers too. It doesn’t have to be hard to find good and free images to use in posts.

Flickr Creative Commons

Searching Flickr is a great way to find Creative Commons (CC) licensed images which are suitable to use in blog posts.


Copyright Puzzle

Using Advanced Search, Flickr gives the option of only searching within Creative Commons-licensed content. If you make money off your blog or think you might try to in the future you should also tick the commercial use box. If the search term is popular you’ll likely get better quality results by clicking on the Interesting search filter, which is a magic algorithm that appears to take into account things like image views, clicks, comments, favorites and tags. If the search term isn’t popular, the Interesting filter will probably show up irrelevant images, in which case you can switch back to the Relevant filter.


The images that are returned by the above CC Commercial search need to be attributed back to the uploader; if you haven’t ticked the modify box, some licenses might require the image to be used as is, and not cropped or otherwise changed; other licenses allow modification but require the modified version to be released under the license the original image was under.

Flickr Thumbnail Crop

I use a WordPress plugin called LinkWithin, which along with similar plugins could be argued unintentionally violates No Derivative Works licenses by modifying images to create square cropped thumbnails which are displayed below related posts. However the thumbnail is effectively advertising the original image, which isn’t modified in the post, so I think it’s still in the spirit of the license. Flickr does the same sort of thing with their thumbnails and it doesn’t seem to be a problem, however it’s likely covered in their terms of service.

Questionably licensed images

The best candidates to be genuinely a Flickr user’s photos to upload are personal photos, pictures of landscapes, buildings, monuments, and other tourist type photos, and pictures of celebrities at public appearances, such as conventions, ceremonies, and book signings. –Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons has a great page on what to be wary of:

  • scans from magazines, books etc.
  • screenshots from movies, TV shows etc.
  • studio type photos and posed portraits that don’t look like they’ve been uploaded by a professional photographer, who usually say so in their profile and plug their website and social networking sites.
  • photos from red carpet type events.
  • uploaders that upload images from more than a few different cameras. However it wouldn’t be uncommon for uploaders to upgrade cameras regularly, but it’s likely they’ll show brand loyalty, especially for more expensive cameras.

Searching for images versus finding them by looking through a uploader’s photostream who generally uploads under a CC license introduces the possibility that some photos have been inadvertently licensed, either under the wrong CC license (eg. they typically upload under a different ‘flavour’ of CC license) or incorrectly licensed under CC altogether. It may pay to check the uploader’s other images. It’s also collegial to leave a comment letting them know where you’ve used their image, because it’s a nice thing to do, and because if they didn’t intend for the image to be CC licensed, they’ll let you know in a nice, non-lawyery way.

The Commons

The Commons on Flickr hosts some great old school photos contributed by 50+ worldwide cultural heritage institutions with the aim of increasing access to publicly-held collections.

The photos are “licensed” as having no known copyright restrictions. Wikimedia Commons points out that, the Smithsonian Institute, for example, states in their rights statement that images are for non-commercial use only. However they clarify that:

“If [advertising] is the only commercial aspect of your website or blog, you may post the Content on that site consistent with these Terms of Use… If you decide to use the Content for commercial or other purposes without undertaking to clear all rights, you will be responsible if someone else owns the rights and the owner objects to your use.”

So read the rights statement for the institution who uploaded the photo which is linked to in the right sidebar first.

Do you know of any other places to get quality images for blog posts from?

Image credit: Horia Varlan

“So how do you feel about your light bulbs being stolen?”

Arie Smith-Voorkamp was the face of Christchurch earthquake looting because of the media attention he received. He made it onto at least one of the <insert bad thing here> the looters!12@@#%^## Facebook groups. Shame on the looters! There is no excuse. Who are they to pick on the poor people of Christchurch?

The loot

The story gets interesting when you find out what he is alleged to have stolen. Two light bulbs from an untenanted and vacant building. Police describe the nature of the offending as serious and say that there is a strong public interest in the case. Arie was in jail for 11 days.

Asperger’sEarthquake Damaged Building

Arie has Asperger’s syndrome which fuels his obsession for all things electrical, including old light fittings. “Sometimes I get that excited about it sometimes I can’t sleep.” He had walked past the building many times, and became fixated on a switch in the shop. Once inside he found that the switch was too modern, but found two light bulbs that he thought he could clean up and display in his house. He says he was not thinking about theft, or the danger he was placing himself in.

Sunday programme

The Sunday programme ran a story about Arie last week, which seemed to excite the Police. Canterbury Central Police Area Commander Inspector Derek Erasmus suggested to the building owners they call TVNZ to try to stop the story going to air.

“On Friday the Sunday programme received an email from Inspector Erasmus advising us that we were under criminal investigation in relation to our story. So we’ll keep you updated on that.”

The victims

Building owners Andrew and Irene Matsis didn’t even know about the “theft” until Sunday contacted them for the story. This seems to contradict the Police calling the offending serious. Surely in serious offending the victims would actually be notified.

“Well since Sunday interviewed the Matsis’ a fortnight ago, senior Police have visited the couple twice. The first time Thursday and again Friday. On Thursday in a press release Inspector Derek Erasmus, said the Matsis’ were now happy for the case to proceed to court, where the matter should be resolved. Sunday spoke to Andrew Matsis just hours ago, he’s happy for the case to go to court but hopes Arie’s name will be cleared.”

On the programme, Andrew says if he knew about the alleged looting he would’ve been angry at Arie for putting himself in danger, not for pinching anything.

Andrew and Irene say they would not have pressed charges if they were contacted by the Police. The interview resulted in the hilarious question: “So… how do you feel about your lightbulbs being stolen?” to which Irene replied: “We do not care about our lightbulbs, he’s welcome to them. And you can tell the Police, I mean we have more important things [to deal with, our] house is falling down and we’re going to worry about light bulbs? No.”

I know stealing is stealing (though is it in this case if the building owners say he is welcome to the light bulbs, abeit after the fact?), but common sense dictates there is a better use of court time and money than to make an example out of someone who offended as a result of a documented disability, who has an unblemished criminal record, and who has already served jail time just because he took a couple of lighting fixtures.

Andrew Matsis: You said you never had any other history of doing anything like that before?
Arie Smith-Voorkamp: No.
AM: First time with the Police?
ASV: Yes.
AM: And they make a court case. What a waste of money.

What do you think? Is there no excuse for looting, no matter the situation?

Image credit: Me

A Bad Flyer: NZ TV Is Going Digital… Sometime

Going Digital DogNew Zealand’s analog television is being turned off from 2012 so an advertising campaign has been set up to encourage people to switch over to digital. We were sent the following flyer in the mail (click for a bigger version), with good intentions, but it is perhaps quite unhelpful.

Going Digital Flyer Front

Going Digital Flyer Back


It does not contain any mention of when the switch is happening. The statement “You need to go digital to keep watching TV” makes it sound like that could be very soon. But for us in Christchurch and most of the South Island it is happening in 2013, quite a while away. It would have been helpful to include a map from one of Going Digital‘s other leaflets, which shows when each area is switching.

Going Digital Map


The options table could be helpful, but contains little information that consumers care about—what is the cost of options, upfront and ongoing, and what is the difference between them? Eg. installation cost and quality of cable versus satellite versus UHF, what options let me rent box office movies and have extra channels available, are there options within options—of HD (what is HD?) and being able to record/play with live TV?

The text that is different on each of the Freeview logos (HD and satellite) is tiny.

Terminology between advertising materials differs. Freeview set-top box is used instead of satellite digital receiver, SKY decoder changes to SKY set-top box, and Freeview set-top box gets the fancy name of HD digital receiver when used in the context of Freeview HD.


The above map could also be used to show where the different services are available—86% of New Zealand is a frustratingly vague “where” (the 86% of New Zealand that can get Freeview HD includes: Auckland, Waikato, Tauranga, Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. It is going to be, or has been, expanded over 2011 into Invercargill, Timaru, Nelson, Wairarapa, Whanganui, Gisborne, New Plymouth, Taupo, Rotorua and Whangarei.)

The flyer looks good, but needs more detail to be more useful than just a reminder of something that people should get around to doing.

Have you, or do you know someone who has recently switched to digital or has yet to make the switch? How helpful has the advertising material been?

New Zealand Post’s Lifestyle Survey Is Still Shady

I’ve blogged about New Zealand Post’s Lifestyle Survey before. Yesterday I received an email inviting me to participate in their survey. In my opinion it’s still being advertised in a misleading way.


New Zealand Post Lifestyle Survey Full Email

New Zealand Post is offering you the chance to customise the messages you receive from businesses, so they’re more relevant.

If someone doesn’t fill out this survey, no businesses will be sending them messages that they could consider irrelevant. This makes it sound like the businesses being given the person’s contact details already have a relationship with the person.

The information you supply may be provided to organisations from New Zealand and overseas, on commercial terms to help tailor their communications to your interests.

The information will be provided to other organisations because that’s the whole point of the survey. Commercial terms does make it a little clearer that the information is being sold.

Most importantly, only your name and address is provided to any participating organisation and subsequently your information is protected.

Clearly a name and address isn’t worthless though. Case in point being this survey where companies are buying “only” names and addresses off of New Zealand Post.

Also, blue on blue is an interesting colour combination for the explanation of the survey:New Zealand Post Lifestyle Survey Blue On Blue

Do you think New Zealand Post is being deceptive?