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D520 Week Three – 2010

Last year Chapter Four of IronPython in Action was covered over two weeks (the lab is also a two-part exercise), and I felt that worked fairly well, so kept the same plan for this year, although the exact parts that were covered each week changed.  As usual, the students received notes [PDF], and a lab exercise [PDF], and two recommended reading items, both by Brent Simmons: one on how improving quality is non-linear, and one on how your own code is always improving.  The notes again cover the textbook, key points, and example code (although most of the example code is MultiDoc, so just links to the online copy. Continue reading

D520 Week One – 2010

There are not too many changes from last year, and those are mostly for the better.  The overall format for the course is the same – 4 hours a week (all in the lab) for 15 weeks, with a two-week break about two-thirds of the way through.

I did make a slight change to how I’ll use the 4 hours – the course used to be 6 hours per week, which was roughly divided into two hours of lectures, two hours of tutorials (i.e. going over code as a class), and two hours of lab exercises (i.e. students working on code alone, with one-on-one help from me).  With the change to four hours, my plan was to keep the two hours of labs, and work the tutorial content (considerably reduced) into the lecture hours.  This didn’t work particularly well – it took the students longer than I anticipated to grasp the new material and IronPython in general, and so we spent a lot of time working through the lab exercises together (either the week after they attempted it alone, or as the first attempt) – essentially the lab hours were reduced (nearly eliminated, although they still worked on the projects alone) and replaced by tutorial time.

For 2010, I’m keeping it this way: around 2 hours of lecture-style delivery, followed by around 2 hours of tutorials (e.g. we’ll walk through building MultiDoc from IronPython in Action together).  The students still have weekly lab exercises, but they will need to complete these in their own time (an added benefit is that this forces them to spend time out of class on IronPython, rather than hoping they would work through the textbook alone).  I expect we’ll spend 20 or 30 minutes at the start of several classes going over the previous week’s lab exercises.

I again gave the students a set of revision exercises [PDF] (example answers next week), a course outline [PDF], and some brief notes [PDF].  The revision exercises are pure Python, and there are some additional ones from last year – I hope that all the students can complete the first 6 or so fairly easily, the next 3 or 4 with some effort, and will probably find the final two somewhat tricky.  The notes have only three sections this year: which chapters of the textbook (again the excellent IronPython in Action) are covered (and a couple of sentences that summarise them or point out which parts are important to us), key points, and example code.  Last year the notes had a “Tools” section each week as well – as outlined below, this is simpler this year, and so I walked everyone through the first install, and will make a one-file summary of tools available in the next couple of weeks (e.g. including alternative editors).  Just as with last year, none of the students had obtained a copy of the textbook in advance, so we started completely fresh.

I’m still providing recommended reading (two links each week – a lot of changed material from last year – particularly shorter content, and I’ve tried to group it together in logical sections more this year).  This week it was “How I Hire Programmers” (Aaron Swartz) and “Hardware is Cheap, Programmers are Expensive” (Jeff Atwood). Continue reading

Forced Materialism

Fewer people than normal (is there a “normal” after only three?) asked what to get Samuel for his birthday this year – perhaps they all asked Olyvia and she didn’t mention it, or perhaps people know him better, or perhaps it’s just easier to buy for a three-year-old.  My stock response (which I tried, fairly successfully, to get Olyvia to use as well) was as follows (this didn’t apply to parents or grandparents):

Sam has so many toys that he just doesn’t have time to play with everything.  He has toys in his toy box that he hasn’t even played with yet.  He really doesn’t need any more at the moment.  He also has heaps of books and clothes.  If you want to buy him a present, then you are, of course, welcome to do so.  In that case, our suggestions are:

* Make him something.  He’s a bit of a fussy eater these days, unfortunately, so food might not be a good choice.  If you can think of something else to make, then that would fine.
* Something to do.  e.g. an IOU for a trip with you to somewhere. This could be as simple as a picnic at a park somewhere – he loves being outside.
* A donation to a charity and a card (he likes opening mail) saying what you did.  He’s not going to understand it now, but when he’s older, he’ll hopefully think that was really cool, and right now he already has so much stuff.

My hope was really for the latter – we actually do quite a few things already, so there isn’t a pressing need for the middle choice.  Making him something is great, but it seemed unlikely to appeal to many givers.  We did actually try this once before – suggesting a donation to a charity (Starship, I think) as a Christening present.  If I recall correctly, we didn’t get a single bite that time. Continue reading

“Santiago” (Mike Resnick)

This was in the collection of second-hand books that I bought a few years back, and which form the bulk of my unread stack.  To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting much, judging by the age and the cover (yes, I know the cliché, but without the cover, what’s left to judge by?).

However, I really enjoyed this novel, and thoroughly recommend it.  It’s a fairly typical setting, but there are interesting characters, especially the central character and the title character.  I quite enjoyed the way that the focus changes from section to section.  I also felt that it ended reasonably well – it wasn’t a super obvious ending, although it wasn’t a surprise either.

“The Healer’s War” (Elizabeth Ann Scarborough)

I wonder if stories about Vietnam are only of interest to Americans.  I certainly can’t recall any that have been interesting to me.  This started out reasonably promising, but trailed off into a rather dull story that didn’t go anywhere.  Characters come and go, and none are particularly captivating.  Can’t really recommend this one.

“The Return of Santiago” (Mike Resnick)

I really enjoyed “Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future”, so I was quite hopeful about this sequel.  However, while this was a good story, this wasn’t great.  It was pretty obvious how it would turn out all along, and the characters weren’t as interesting as in the original Santiago story.

I would still recommend reading it, but definitely check out the previous Santiago book first (especially since the sequel has spoilers for the first book).

Back to the short reviews/comments: that’s it!

“The Science of Discworld III: Darwin’s Watch” (Pratchett, Stewart & Cohen)

I really liked the first Science of Discworld, and enjoyed the second as well.  I’ve always liked the idea of mashing up educational material and fiction – here it’s loosely interspersed (odd chapters are lightly educational, even chapters are a related Discworld story), and I thought these were fairly well done.

This one, however, wasn’t that interesting.  I chose to read it now because of the Darwin anniversary stuff that was hot recently, so it seemed somewhat relevant.  The history was interesting, but the science wasn’t really.  The Discworld story was ok, but that part of the Science books has never been stellar (certainly not as good as a regular Discworld novel).

It was good enough that I’d still check out a Science of Discworld IV, but I’m not hanging out for it or anything.,,

I was ihug customer #377024, and signed up 20 Aug 1997.  However, as of a couple of years ago, I wasn’t actively using my account (they finally made me angry enough to switch to someone else).  I kept the account alive to keep these email addresses – in particular had been active since 1997, which was when I really started using the wider Internet (access from Mum and Dad’s in Whangarei previously was extremely expensive, so I didn’t really do that much).  It wasn’t my first email address, but it was the one I had for the longest time, and so was spread about all over the place.

I occasionally used the Ihug (now Vodafone) account as an emergency backup, but the cost didn’t really justify that.  I’ve monitored the email coming in for a while, and have moved/unsubscribed most of it.  Some of the rest I can’t unsubscribe to (or can’t easily), so will just have to bounce, because as of today, I’m killing these accounts.

As an aside: I would happily pay something less than $5 a month to keep these accounts indefinitely, with some sort of low bandwidth cap (e.g. 50MB/month), which would easily cover the negligible expenses that Vodafone incurs for hosting them.  I just don’t want a full account.  However, they don’t offer that, so I’ll never use an ISP’s email account again (I haven’t since these).

For now, if you need me and found this page, please use (using an ESP address is only a bit better than an ISP’s, but gmail is likely to be around for a while IMO).  You could use or if you’d prefer something that was wholly mine (but I don’t get a lot of mail there, so check them less often).

Goodbye ihug.

Wolfskin (Juliet Marillier)

The main reason that I bought Wolfskin was because I noticed that Marillier was a New Zealander (or at least was born here, although she lives in Australia now), and there’s not really very many NZ sci-fi/fantasy authors or books, and I’d like to support the locals as much as possible.  (As an aside, my favourite NZ book is Beak of the Moon, by Philip Temple, also of Dunedin).

So I wasn’t really expecting that much – it wasn’t quite charity, but I would have been happy with a pretty mediocre story.  However, I really loved this book.  I’m not sure why so many fantasy authors feel the need to set their stories in/around the UK, but it’s so common that it didn’t really bother me here.

The characters in Wolfskin were excellently developed, and a pleasure to get to know.  The antagonist was nicely grey – although you really could despise what he did, you could also understand his motivation for the most part.  The magic was pleasingly subtle, and the battles sufficiently short.

One minor note that bothered me (minor spoiler alert): early in the book, a girl is attacked, and the attacker isn’t identified.  The implication is that it’s the antagonist, Somerled.  The way the scenes were written, it seemed likely to me that it would turn out to not have been (directly) Somerled at all, but rather the girl’s friend, led to a bad decision by listening to Somerled (so he was at fault, but only indirectly).  Even later in the story, when the friend is re-encountered, nothing in the events seemed to contradict this theory.  However, the book ends without coming back to it, so I suppose that we’re meant to just believe that it was Somerled who did the attack.  I think it would have suited Somerled’s character, and improved the story, if we had discovered that it wasn’t directly his fault.

The story ends well, with the story nicely resolved, and although there’s clearly a hook left for a sequel, it’s subtle enough that the ending is satisfying and yet the hook doesn’t seem like the only purpose for that element is the sequel.

Overall I highly recommend reading Wolfskin, and intend to keep an eye out for anything else that Marillier produces.

S92A, and other thoughts on the revised Copyright Act

There is quite a furore (e.g. #blackout) at the moment about the eminent arrival of the updated Copyright Act in NZ, pretty much all surrounding section 92A.  92A doesn’t appear in the official online copies (either HTML or PDF) – I don’t know if that is because it only takes effect from the end of the month, or because someone left it out.  The Amendment does have the wording:

92A Internet service provider must have policy for terminating accounts of repeat infringers

“(1) An Internet service provider must adopt and reasonably implement a policy that provides for termination, in appropriate circumstances, of the account with that Internet service provider of a repeat infringer.

“(2) In subsection (1), repeat infringer means a person who repeatedly infringes the copyright in a work by using 1 or more of the Internet services of the Internet service provider to do a restricted act without the consent of the copyright owner.

The outcry among the public is basically saying that this amounts to “guilt on accusation” – i.e. someone accuses you of copyright violations, and you lose your Internet access.  That isn’t what it says, however:

  • Termination needs “appropriate circumstances”.  I can’t see how any right-thinking court would think that “proof of guilt” would be an inappropriate circumstance.  I don’t see how “found guilty by a recognised court of law” would be an inappropriate circumstance, either.
  • Nowhere does it say that termination of a user that is accused of infringement is required.  It’s quite explicit in that actual infringement is required.  I fail to see where this section removes the requirement for proof.
  • Termination needs repeat infringement.  You could define repeat infringement as downloading two songs at once, but I believe the more commonly accepted definition (what a court would hopefully require) would be that infringement is done more than one occasion (ideally with some sort of notice or warning after the first infringement).
  • I’ve seen it said that ISPs will use draconian policies out of fear of legal action.  However, the Act specifically exempts any such action:

Merely because A uses the Internet services of the Internet service provider in infringing the copyright, the Internet service provider, without more,—

“(a) does not infringe the copyright in the work:

“(b) must not be taken to have authorised A’s infringement of copyright in the work:

“(c) subject to subsection (3), must not be subject to any civil remedy or criminal sanction.

An ISP could adopt a policy that does provide for immediate termination on accusation, of course.  But they can adopt any policy they like (that doesn’t itself break the law) – that’s how the free market works.  Nothing there has changed.  An ISP could also chose to implement a policy that puts a reasonable burden of proof on the person/organisation making the accusation – considering that many of the major ISPs in NZ have spoken out against the section, it doesn’t seem unlikely that they would do so.

New Zealand is pretty soft on crime (although hopefully that will change with the recent change in government).  If someone (provably) violates the law, and does so knowingly (i.e. I would personally include in a policy a requirement for a first warning, before it gets to “repeat”), then they should be punished.  The question is then whether their Internet access should be removed, or whether punishment should be left for the regular court process.  This is where I have a problem with S92A.

  • Although making it harder for a criminal to repeat offend is a good idea in general, it’s not common.  This is done in traffic offences – if you repeatedly offend, then you lose your license, or might even have your vehicle removed for a period of time.  Many crimes, of course, use only commonly found equipment (or none at all) – so this doesn’t apply to theft, assault, and other crimes like that.  I can’t easily think of a crime that requires specialised equipment – but there probably are some, and removal of a set of tools is probably not done in that case.
  • The section is vague, and the Act’s definition of “Internet Service Provider” is far too vague.  It would be better if it made clear that proof of guilt (e.g. a conviction by a recognised court) was required.

There are many more problems with the revised version of the Act (although it is arguably better than the version it replaces).  For example:

  • The definition of cache is wrong: it must be “for the sole purpose of enabling the Internet service provider to transmit the material more efficiently to other users of the service on their request”.  A cache may be legitimately used to transmit the material a second (or further) time to the same user.

Another example:

An educational establishment does not infringe copyright in a work that is made available on a website or other electronic retrieval system by storing a copy of the page or pages in which the work appears if—

(a) the material is stored for an educational purpose; and

(b) the material—

(i) is displayed under a separate frame or identifier; and

(ii) identifies the author (if known) and source of the work; and

(iii) states the name of the educational establishment and the date on which the work was stored; and

(c) the material is restricted to use by authenticated users.

As far as I can tell, this lets an educational establishment provide unrestricted copies of software to authenticated users, as long as the software is related to the course.  I doubt that’s what’s meant, but that’s how it reads to me.

Then there’s the section that’s meant to be one of the big improvements, stopping everyone that rips CD music (to put on a portable music player) from breaking the law:

Copying sound recording for personal use

(1) Copyright in a sound recording and in a literary or musical work contained in it is not infringed by copying the sound recording, if the following conditions are met:

(a) the sound recording is not a communication work or part of a communication work; and

(b) the copy is made from a sound recording that is not an infringing copy; and

(c) the sound recording is not borrowed or hired; and

(d) the copy is made by the owner of the sound recording; and

(e) that owner acquired the sound recording legitimately; and

(f) the copy is used only for that owner’s personal use or the personal use of a member of the household in which the owner lives or both; and

(g) no more than 1 copy is made for each device for playing sound recordings that is owned by the owner of the sound recording; and

(h) the owner of the sound recording retains the ownership of both the sound recording and of any copy that is made under this section.

This is great, but this specifically excludes video.  So although you can copy a legally purchased CD to a hard drive, then to an iPod, I am restricted from copying a legally purchased DVD to a hard drive, then to an AppleTV.  Where is the logic in that?

Time-shifting is also now permitted:

Recording for purposes of time shifting

(1) A person (A) does not infringe copyright in a programme included in a communication work, or in any work included in it, by recording it, if—

(a) A makes the recording solely for A’s personal use or the personal use of a member of the household in which A lives or both; and

(b) A makes the recording solely for the purpose of viewing or listening to the recording at a more convenient time; and

(c) the recording is not made from an on-demand service; and

(d) A has lawful access to the communication work at the time of making the recording.

(2) However, subsection (1) does not apply, and A does infringe copyright in the communication work recorded and in any work included in the communication work, if—

(a) A retains the recording for any longer than is reasonably necessary for viewing or listening to the recording at a more convenient time; or

(b) in the event that the person who views or listens to the recording wishes to make a complaint to a complaint authority, A retains the recording for any longer than is reasonably necessary to prepare and despatch the complaint.

So I can record Lost to watch it later, but I can’t keep it longer than “reasonably necessary”.  “Reasonably necessary” is far too vague.  I’ve kept programs on MySky for close to a year before getting around to watching them.  Is that “reasonable”?  Would copyright holders really care if recordings for personal use had no time limit?

My biggest concern is that this Act (and presumably many others) was developed/debated by people who have no idea what they are talking about (just read the debate transcripts, and it’s obvious).  Surely someone could be found to inform the politicians, so that they have some clue about the decisions they are making?

Disclaimer time: Note that I am not a lawyer, nor do I follow this extremely closely.  I may be wrong in places.  However, I have read the Acts (original, revised, and amendment), and also the transcripts of the various debates/readings that were held.  I’m not convinced that many of the other people writing/speaking about this have done so.  I also strongly believe that people should be entitled to certain rights (such as those that the Copyright Act provides) over works that they developed (i.e. I’m not anti-copyright), although there should be sensible exclusions.  I believe that many of the changes are positive, and that many of the rights are fair.  As those that know me know, if there is a reasonably convenient, reasonably priced method of legally acquiring content, then I will always use that (even though I have sufficient knowledge to easily obtain illegal copies).