Monday, 1 February 2016

Apple Genius Fail

There is currently a recall out for Apple's wall plug adapters.  Some of the adapters in the World Travel Adapter kit need to be replaced because they might break and create the risk of an electrical shock. There are a couple of options as to how to do that but the obviously best thing to do is

"Exchange your adapter(s) at your local Apple Store (Genius Bar reservation recommended)"

So that is what I did. There is an "Apple AC Wall Plug Adapter Exchange Program" and that is what automatically set up my Genius Bar appointment (all I had to do was pick the store, date and time). I picked a couple of days ahead, to be sure that they would have the right bits when I got there.

But that is not what happened. I got to the store, was asked to wait, and when the genius appeared (their word not mine) she looked at the box as though she had never seen one before. She took out each of the adapters, and looked at them. She checked the box descriptions to try and identify them, as her iPad did not seem to offer the help she needed. So then I told her which ones were which, and showed her the ones that needed to be changed. Another genius joined her. They spent more time rehearsing what I had said.

Eventually they said they did not have any of the parts I needed - despite having the advantage of me letting them know some days in advance I was coming in to get them. I thought Apple was a high tech whiz at issues like distribution and inventory control. They asked me for enough information when I made the appointment and they had time to get the parts.

Then they asked me to confirm my contact details - and said they would contact me when they became available. They were unable or unwilling to specify when that might be.

Waste of my time going there, but I suppose they do have to guard against people trying to get wall plugs under false pretences or something. I don't know. I felt like I was dealing with some mid 20th century communist bureaucracy.

UPDATE  Feb 4 2016 I got a canned email telling me I could "pick up the parts" now - if I bring photo ID with me.

ANOTHER UPDATE Feb 5 2016 - I get to the store and get another "genius" who admits right off that she has no clue what I am talking about. Fortunately I am sitting right next to an iMac, so I call up the Apple Support page with that illustration above, and show her the three plugs we are talking about: one each for Europe, Korea and Australia. My World Travel Adapter Kit does not have the Brazil plug. She does not ask to see my id, by the way.

So off she goes and comes back with one Europe plug. Which is progress of a sort but not exactly what is required. After some more to and fro she finds both the Korean plug and the original order which omitted to mention Australia.

So now she is going to order that last plug and we get to go through all this again in a few days time.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The Speed of the Internet

We have Telus providing our home phone, tv and internet. That means when the phone rings, the number calling us shows up on our tv screen. I did not recognise it, when it rang during the CBC Vancouver News, and my partner answered it. It was Telus, wanting to know if we would like to upgrade our internet speed.

She does not know what our current speed is, and does not much care. So she did not bite on the offer of 50mb. I have been wondering about our home internet speed ever since I saw the contractors' trucks down on Valley Drive installing fibre optic cables - for Telus. It seemed to me that if we were going to see a significant change in internet speed, more money would have to change hands.

Anyway, while I was preparing dinner (spaghetti squash with bolognese sauce) she looked up her Telus bill. We are paying for Internet 25 - but when I ran the speedtest I was actually getting only ~5Mbps. But then when I went to the Telus support webpage and the key bit of information there is this advice "Connect an Ethernet cable to your modem for best results". I had been using wifi: now I am on the cable I am getting 26.71Mps - over five times faster! A bit of furniture arranging and switching of plugs and outlets later, and I am a much happier camper. I think for now she is right, we don't need 50, when I can get 25. Maybe if we used different kind of services it would be different: but if I want to watch full length video we use Apple TV and the tv set, not the laptop. Or maybe Chromecast on the bedroom tv: not that we use that much either. But for stuff like flickr and tweetdeck this will be fine, thank you.

PS I am so close to the router/wifi base now that I get the faster speed even without the ethernet cable. I was just sitting in the wrong place!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

"Jane Eyre" NT Live

I just got in from the Scotiabank Theatre. 3 hours and 20 minutes - including an interval - during which I was spellbound. Despite some hiccups in the feed early on, and not one but two cell phones ringing at the climax of the drama. Even so, and the man next to me eating the smelliest kind of sandwich, a captivating performance of Jane Eyre. A novel which has been turned into a theatrical performance by the Bristol Old Vic company. Originally done over two performances, it has been compressed into one for the National Theatre and there is an encore on January 23 or you could check for local ones nearer to you. You definitely ought to try and get to experience this if you can. As the lady in the row behind us said loudly "I was moved." To which I replied "Weren't we all."     

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Official Secrets

I have just had a major memory flash back. The Intercept has published an article by Duncan Campbell "GCHQ and Me: My Life Unmasking British Eavesdroppers". It was partly very familiar since I read the journals that Campbell worked for - as well as the extensive coverage of the ABC trial. And of course lots of background and since revealed secrets and substantiation that were kept secret at the time. 

I was a local government officer working in planning and transportation. It never occurred to me that any of this stuff would impact me, but then Mrs Thatcher abolished the GLC and I had to find re-employment. That came to be as a Civil Servant at the Department of Transport (DTp) at Marsham Street, SW1. And that meant the first thing I had to do was sign the Official Secrets Act. In the days before governments pretended to support Freedom of Information, everything that happened inside a Ministry was considered secret. This grab all approach was introduced at the beginning of the First World War and had not been changed since (we are talking about 1985 - 1988).

In Duncan Campbell's article he describes the ludicrous situation of those called to give evidence against him

As our trial started, witness after witness from security sites tried to claim that openly published information was in fact secret. In a typical interchange, one Sigint unit chief was shown a road sign outside his base:
Q: Is that the name of your unit?
A: I cannot answer that question, that is a secret.
Q: Is that the board which passers-by on the main road see outside your unit’s base?
A: Yes.
Q: Read it out to the jury, please.
A: I cannot do that. It is a secret.
So if I told you that at my workplace there was a staff canteen - we would both be guilty of an offence under the Act. I have passed information to you - and you have received it.

The following information would therefore also fall under that Act. Our office was not open to the public. No-one could be admitted without showing an official pass. And if by chance you had picked up such a pass - say if it had been accidentally dropped in the street - you would not be able to tell what it was. Or if you recognised it as an Official Pass there was no way for you to tell who it had been issued to or where it might be useful. The offices inside the building were not normally locked but they had cupboards and filing cabinets that could be locked. There were also key boxes which had combination locks where keys to conventional locks could be stored. Combinations were a complex series of numbers and we were forbidden from writing them down anywhere. But there was no information on any door that might give a clue to the uninitiated what might go on behind it - unless it said "Ladies" or "Emergency Exit". Not even - and I do not exaggerate - "First Aid".

One morning I came to work and was summoned to see the Under Secretary, who formally informed me that there had been a serious breach of security and I was required to see - um, somebody. I mean they did tell me her name and a job title, but frankly I did not believe either. At one time I had worked near St James's Park, and one of the neighbouring buildings was known by all to be used by some kind of intelligence outfit. The building was anonymous. There was no brass plate outside. Ian Fleming in his Bond novels suggested that MI6 pretended to be a company Universal Exports. That may have been true at one time but wasn't then. My Dad, as a Clerk in the Public Control Department  of the London County Council in 1939, looked after vehicle registration documents. He was able to easily determine that some vehicles which seemed to be involved in laundry collection and delivery were actually engaged in clandestine activities. He, of course, kept this information to himself until long after the war was over. But it seemed to me then, and still does, that if someone tells you they work for Government Security - they may well not be especially truthful. About anything at all.

I asked for one of my colleagues to be present when I met the security woman. Neither of us were permitted to take notes.  Apparently, there was a bunch of spooks who were employed to wander around inside government offices checking on the effectiveness of the security arrangements. And they had looked into my office desk diary and tried some of the phone numbers I had written down for contacts, and one of those numbers worked to open a combination lock on a key box in a nearby office. Not in my office, somewhere else. That produced keys that opened cabinets which contained information some of which was classified "confidential". Such documents were subject to special handling and storage arrangements. Hardly any of them came across my desk. It did not matter that my colleagues and I had devised a simple way to retrieve the combination that we actually needed that had nothing to do with diaries or phone numbers - and opened a different set of file drawers to the ones the spooks had got open.

So I was given a formal reprimand. Then she smiled: "Not that we think the Russians are especially interested in the new parking rates for the City of Westminster."

I didn't like to tell her that I had no idea we were being consulted about that. It was a municipal matter and well beyond our control. Indeed our attempts to influence the City in how they controlled parking were going exactly nowhere as there simply had not been time to set up adequate procedures before the GLC was abolished. Something I did know something about, and might well have been why they decided to give me a job, but no-one had ever bothered to talk to me about.

I'm afraid that always coloured my reaction to any of the revelations about the security and intelligence community. It always seemed to me that anything that happened in any government office was much more readily explicable by the cock-up theory than the conspiracy theory. Yes, SIGINT probably did get huge amounts of material from unauthorised wiretaps. The problem was they were unable to sort the few bits of real hard intelligence from the vast amounts of dross - or even to stitch together the good bits into a narrative that anyone actually paid attention to.   And subsequently I have read both revelations from those victimised by this system and the counter story of those who try to continue to persuade us that any of this is really necessary.  And I know who I prefer to believe. Duncan Campbell and Edward Snowden seem to me to be on the right track.

By the way, at the time I did expect a bit more questioning about my activities in what had been a Communist Country and which subsequently became a grisly killing field. But no-one seemed interested in that either.

- 30 -

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Three Sisters Winery: 2013 Pinot Noir

I bet you have seen "Sideways". You might even have said - in a loud, offensive way "I ain't drinkin' no fuckin' Merlot!" as a tribute to Miles. He also introduced me to the complexity - and the sheer difficulty - of producing a decent Pinot Noir. This is the grape used to make champagne. And also California style single grape variety red wine. Which the French used to regard as crazy (every great French wine is a blend) until they began to appreciate the value of the oenology from University of California, Davis. Not least of which was marketing.

This week, on our way back from the usual blow out sale at the Bay in Oakridge (no, really, I needed tennis shoes - and we had to to replace the inherited EPNS with some usable flatware) we stopped at the Farmers' Market in Kerrisdale. We needed some good bread for lunch. We also bought peaches and there was stall with wine from the Naramata Bench. Which sounds Australian. But isn't. One of the best things about a Farmers' Market is you get to talk with the producers. They are obviously not marketers, or salespeople. But they have an unmistakable enthusiasm for the stuff they grow or make. We were encouraged to taste the wines. Not a hard task to persuade us, I admit. They had a Tempranillo - which I associate with Spain. And I thought has been too long in the oak cask. But I liked the Pinot Noir, and my partner really liked the Chardonnay. Now this is unusual as we still have the rule of ABC - Anything But Chardonnay. There is simply too much of it. (This also used to apply to Cabernet but no longer.) And thanks to modern technology they take credit cards. We bought two bottles of Pinot Noir and two of Chardonnay. We had not brought shopping bags with us but still made it back to the car safely.

I must also here insert a plug for the Vinturi: every red wine benefits from decanting. The Vinturi is an honourable short cut. I would not normally pair Pinot Noir with pepper steak. I did this time, and it was wonderful. If you are lucky enough to find Three Sisters Pinot Noir 2013, get at least a couple of bottles. Trust me, you will enjoy them.


Monday, 20 July 2015

U.S., Cuba restore full diplomatic ties after 5 decades

I just heard the news on CBC Radio. The full story had this little sting in the tail.

"U.S. calls for Cuba to improve on human rights and democracy."

It seems to me to be chutzpah of the highest order for a country which spies on its own citizens - and just about everybody else - as a matter of course. Where people are shot dead by police with little or no reason or consequence. Which incarcerates a greater percentage of its citizens than almost anywhere else, many of whom are innocent of the crimes of which they are charged. Which denies due process on a regular basis to large numbers of people held for immigration control purposes. Which still executes large numbers of people - and many of those have been shown to be innocent too. Which has programmes that captures, holds for long periods, tortures and refuses to release people in secret prisons around the world, including one in Cuba that is maintained because that puts it beyond reach of the US courts. Where people can have their cash and property seized as possible proceeds of crime, which is then used to fund police forces and other state activities, where the only recourse is a civil court system which is hideously expensive and tilted heavily in the state's favour, due to the politicisation of judicial appointments. Which operates both prisons and juvenile detention as sources of cheap labour and high profit for private corporations. Which regularly and as a matter of course interferes with the electoral process both through gerrymandering and voter suppression up to and including the election of a President (George W Bush) illegally.  Where money is equated with speech so that capital now dictates the political process. Which operates unmanned drones to spy - and drop bombs - on people who have been deemed to be terrorists based on little or no evidence - and none of which is subject to any form of democratic control or review.

While full diplomatic ties have been restored, it will continue to be illegal for Americans to visit Cuba - or even do business there. Which I find encouraging, since that preserves a country that is worth visiting to see what a place untrammelled by unlimited capitalism looks like. Yes, I know about Castro's prisons - and the fun he had emptying them into Florida when given the chance. But I also know about Cuba's health care and education systems which, I venture to suggest, perform at a much higher standard at a far lower cost than their American counterparts. The Cubans have shown themselves to be both resilient and innovative thanks to the US embargo that prevented them from being swallowed by the multinational consumerism so evident in most other places. They have also been fortunate not to become the sort of client states we now see in Haiti - or Greece.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

"White men don't understand ..."

"White men don't understand what gender and race have to do with anything. They don't experience sexism or racism."

 The quotation is from a tweet - and the context is

“Sandra Bland died because of a traffic stop and my mentions are filled up with angry white men denying white privilege and patriarchy.”

So from this you know that the tweeters are female and American.

And the reaction that this provoked in me could not be compressed into 140 characters or less.

I am a white male. I am also 66 years old and have immigrated from England to Canada. I have not been the subject of racism - in the sense that these women would understand it - and not, of course, sexism. But that does not mean that I have not experienced prejudice. That I do not have first hand experience of people who have made a set of judgements about me - who I am and what I must be thinking -  based on the very little information others have from first impressions. That I have not been refused service, or attacked physically and verbally, or denied that to which I am clearly entitled. That people have not closed ranks in my presence and ignored or belittled me simply because of who they judge me to be.

Indeed I would be very surprised indeed if anyone had not experienced being excluded, exoricated and even persecuted based on accent, appearance or probable origin. Anyone who has attended any kind of educational establishment would have seen - even if they had not been a victim of - the creation of the scapegoat. The Other. An alien on whom all scorn and blame may be safely laid. The individual who can be used by exception to identify the group to which he (or she) clearly does not belong.

There are many white males who will have been treated badly due to their social position, accent, sexual preference, size - even hair colour. There are places where, if you have red hair, you can expect attacks - verbal and physical - if you are "a ginger". Northern Ireland for many years - and continues - to practice religious intolerance. You will be judged by your supposed adherence to Catholicism or Protestantism - or even worse if you are seen to be "a Brit" - the enemy!

The British have long made a fetish about class: often determined by accent - but there are other signs and signals. "The way an Englishman speaks makes every other Englishman despise him" (G B Shaw via Lerner and Loewe). I went to a university where only 25% of the students had previously attended state schools. Do you think the other 75% were universally well disposed to this minority?

I have experienced bullying since I was 5. I was surprised at the common reaction to "Lord of the Flies". I thought everybody knew how appallingly little boys treated each other. The surprise to me was the discovery that little girls in a Canadian suburban elementary school could be even worse. I expected their high school cliques to be bad: I did not expect such exclusionary instincts to kick in on the under 7 soccer field!

The British seem to create clubs just so that they can exclude some people. Many groups can only identify themselves by knowing who they are not. Canadian identity, for instance, is simply not being American. Yes, I was discriminated against as an immigrant. Yes, I experienced exclusion based on ethnicity. Yes, I have been the subject of class prejudice and anti-semitism.

And do not imagine that these things stop when you leave school, or university. Bullying is common in most workplaces. Preference is given to insiders. It is often said that it is not what you know but who you know. You will be passed over for promotion or the plum assignment based on your lack of knowledge of something as irrelevant as hockey or baseball. Clubs are as strong here as anywhere. The Masons or the Knights of this or that do not exist to promote charity or fellowship, but to determine who gets shut out based on gossip and innuendo.

From what I have observed, I would say that homophobia is as powerful as any racial or gender prejudice. That stammerers and those with developmental issues, educational challenges or mental illnesses, or even physical disabilities, all experience the same kind of exclusion and glass ceilings as women or people with darker skin tones.

And they can be white men and not experience the benefits of white privilege or patriarchy.

Some white men understand only too well - and the others continue to benefit from it.   That is why we all need systems - laws - practices - conventions - that protect everyone.

We hold these truths to be self evident. That all men (which means "all human beings") are created equal.
What is hard is making that belief a reality.

AFTERWORD from Chuck Dunning on Facebook