i-think Twenty-Two

Now with more coherency.

Lest we Forget

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Today is Anzac Day and it is important to take the time today to think about the men and women who have served their country as a member of the Australian defence force. Similarly, it is important to remember those that are currently serving, some of whom are deployed to hostile locations ((Diggers wounded in Iraq blast)).

Regardless of whether you think they should be there or not, they have volunteered to serve their country and are putting their lives on the line for the rest of us.

Freaking Spammers

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Recently, we’ve been inundated with comment spam. Of course, none of this spam has ever made it as far as getting on the website, and only a very small fraction has made it into our comment moderation queue. At the time of writing this article, 2,599 spam comments have been prevented. Most of these have occured in the last month.

With no spam getting through, it almost resembles are poor attempt at a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack. It is certainly more effective in this vain, than in attempting to create a Google Bomb to boost their internet search rankings. The spam queue is reviewed daily to check for false-positives ((Legitimate comments being marked as spam)), of which their have been none so far. Fortunately the spam is so easy to recognise that the likelihood of false-positives is insanely low.Thanks must go to the team at Akismet, for their excellent comment-spam filter.

What I don’t understand is why the spammers have not created more intelligent spam-bots, to maximise their impact. Surely it would not be hard to detect whether your spam attempt was successful, and if not, to move on to another site. Personally I’d rather Jack Bauer head up a team to “take out” the spammers, but at least intelligent spam-bots would know to leave this site alone.

Copyright and you

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Recently, Scott Adams ((creator of Dilbert)) has begun to raise the issue of online piracy, and generally seems to be against piracy ((

Here’s why. Intellectual Property is a funny thing. Not funny ha-ha, but funny in the sense that it’s hard for people to think of ownership over an idea. This problem comes from the ease at which an idea can be transferred much more quickly, through duplication. The creator of the idea hasn’t lost the idea, they still have it, but suddenly they have a competitor that has had no initial production costs, only duplication costs, which are extremely low thanks to the internet and the ease at which digital copies can be made.

That’s not to say we should reduce the ease at which digital copies can be made, or shut down the internet. Let’s say there are two stores next to each other. One sells pirated material and the other sells licensed material, with a portion of the profits going to the original artist. The shop that sells pirated material is able to sell it at a lower cost because their costs per copy are so low. In this case the products are identical. If there was no laws against piracy, the pirated store would clearly be in a better position. Only consumers that are genuinely concerned about the original artist, or who are frightened of pirates are likely to purchase the legitimate copy. Little or no profit makes it back to the artist, so they stop producing the material and get a boring desk job. Pretty soon, it becomes apparent that there is no money in the industry and therefore everything shuts down.

Before attacking this scenario, I admit that I have assumed that the only source of income for the artist is through the sales, which isn’t necessarily always the case, but that doesn’t mean that we can say that the artist isn’t entitled to this source of income. It’s also not supposed to be a real scenario, but simply a tool to show the extreme case of piracy and how it can clearly be detrimental to the original artist.

Some say that licensed material is overpriced. However the price is set by the market and competition needs to come from other artists, not from someone who has no initial production costs. Some would say that the prices are fixed and that collusion between production companies is keeping the price of this material high. It doesn’t change the fact that if you want the material, you need to pay the asking price.Let’s look at this from a different angle. DVDs have compulsory copyright screens and ads that can’t always be skipped to get to the content. As someone who has paid to watch the content, this can get frustrating, especially when the copyright messages are then shown in about a dozen languages. Pirated DVDs are not forced to have these screens. Suddenly pirates are able to produce what is to the end-consumer a better product than that able to be purchased legitimately. As Scott Adams has commented, it is impossible to compete with something that’s free. Surely it must be harder to compete with something that is free and less annoying.

The Internet has torn down the traditional national borders for information. In this context, pirates operate without competition from the original artist. A consumer, eager to see the artist’s latest work may not be able to access it within their country legally, so instead seek out pirates, more than willing to provide the service. In this case, a market exists which is being ignored. Prior to the internet, distributing media worldwide would be costly and stock would often sit in an inventory unsold. With the internet and broadband capabilities, it is now possible to set up a world-wide store without the costs that have been involved previously.

Maybe the author of the original material should have the right to make people in different geographic regions wait. Perhaps this discrimination is okay. However, people are impatient and they will seek out alternatives if they feel they have to.

Whilst I don’t think it should be necessary to compete with pirates on price, it makes business sense to at least compete with them on product functionality and geographic availability. People will continue to get material from pirates, but at least you’ll provide consumers and opportunity to do the right thing, while quenching their information lust.

Another one bites the dust...

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This week reports trickled in of yet another engagement within the small group of people collectively referred to as Friends.The initial tip-off was made by a party wishing to remain anonymous and was given off the record. Naturally The Mill could not proceed (and retain journalistic integrity) until the story was confirmed. Fortunately, confirmation was made yesterday by Will that he had indeed proposed to Alison, and importantly she accepted.

Given the increasing number of people who visit The Mill for proposal advice ((In March, 37.5% of visitors who came via search engines used the phrase ‘when to propose’, with approximately 10% using a variant on the phrase. So far this month, over half of visitors via search engines have come seeking proposal advice)), it is important to share as many details as possible about the engagement. Please be aware that further information is still forth-coming and The Mill will endeavour to follow up on any further leads it may receive.

Throwing caution to the wind was how Will decided to proceed, proposing at the start of an overseas holiday. This risk paid good dividends for both Will and Alison, who were able to treat the entire vacation as an engagement honeymoon, building memories that will last a lifetime. Originally, The Mill posted an article ((When To Propose)) suggesting making the proposal at the end of the vacation, although Will’s experience has shown that it is not necessary to follow The Mill’s suggestions to the letter.

So, for all of our visitors who are seeking ways to tie the knot with that special someone, be sure to use The Mill and any other resource you may find for inspiration. It is not necessary to follow advice of this type verbatim, indeed it is next to impossible to provide universal advice that will suit every situation. Hopefully you know the person you are wishing to propose to better than The Mill and you can use that insight to improve the odds of getting the answer you want.

If you have a proposal story that you’d like to see on The Mill leave a comment on a relevant post and we’ll get in touch with you to produce a feature article.

Finally, congratulations must go out to Will and Alison. Everyone here at The Mill wishes you the very best.

Carbon Dioxide and you

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Let’s talk more about Carbon Dioxide (CO2) as it is right up there in the leading ingredients for global warming (there are other greenhouse gases such as methane which are even worse). Last weekend I was reading an article in Time discussing how the Academy Awards were offsetting their carbon dioxide emissions by purchasing carbon credits. The author rightfully pointed out that purchasing carbon credits didn’t reduce their individual emissions one bit.

That’s right, purchasing a Carbon Credit will not suddenly make the carbon dioxide you emit disappear. Instead, it guarantees that an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide will not be emitted by providing green power to someone else. Therefore, the net effect worldwide is a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

Carbon Credits are in no way the final solution to the problem, but rather they act as a catalyst for the change that must occur. They create a market for green power without the complexities of only supplying it to the people willing to pay for it. As this market grows, the green energy companies can take advantage of economies of scale to reduce the overall cost of green power.

Carbon Credits are useful so long as there is energy that can be supplied by renewable sources that would have otherwise have been supplied by carbon dioxide emitting sources. Ideally as renewable power becomes more prevalent, old coal power stations will be closed down.

Anyone can buy a carbon credit. Sites like Climate Friendly (Australian Site) provide tools to help you work out how many carbon credits you need to offset your carbon output. Remember, your carbon output doesn’t change, but you will be sponsoring a reduction of other’s carbon output by the equivalent amount. Virgin Blue has recently announced a plan to allow passengers to offset their carbon dioxide emissions as part of their ticket. Or you can try to go directly to the source with companies like Jack Green which provide power supplied from renewable sources.

The Australian government has unfortunately not yet set targets for carbon dioxide emissions. I can only hope that when the results of the federal task force on carbon emissions are released next month a decision can be made. It is troubling that the government’s plans seems more based on working around the problem, than addressing its root causes with an investment of $170 million being spent on a “Climate Change Adaptation Centre”, tasked with the job of investigating “the effects on coastlines and the atmosphere”. At a guess, recommendations of snorkels for low-lying coastal areas will be the pinnacle of this centre’s achievements. ((PM refuses to set target for carbon emissions - ABC))