Bryce Coutenay dies

The Age reports that Bryce Courtenay died yesterday at his home in Canberra. Courtenay was probably best known for his first novel The Power of One, a very powerful story dealing with apartheid in South Africa. It was made into a movie, but, while the movie also made a powerful statement, it differed significantly from the book.

Author Bryce Courtenay

We claimed the author as Australian, although he was born and spent his early years in South Africa, and didn’t settle here until the 1950s. He took up writing after retiring from a career in advertising and he was 56 when The Power of One was published in 1989.

Courtenay announced in September that he had been diagnosed with terminal gastric cancer.

Reference: accessed 22 Nov 2012.

Ugly behaviour

I’ve read a couple of reports that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 10 will be set to “do not track” by default. Historically, the default do not track setting in most browsers has been “off” – meaning that websites that check for the setting were free to set tracking cookies. Websites and marketing partners like to track our browsing activity so that they can deliver targeted advertising. They claim that tracking is done anonymously without violating privacy, but some people argue that it’s easy to make the connection between a person’s IP address or mobile device and the real person.

SBS reports that privacy advocates have been pleased with Microsoft’s decision to allow the user to turn tracking on if he or she wants to. “We believe consumers should have more control over how data about their online behavior is tracked, shared, and used,” Microsoft chief privacy officer Brendon Lynch said in announcing the move.

Some website owners and advertisers, however, are up in arms and have declared that they will ignore the setting and track users’ browsing anyway. The statements they’ve made in response to Microsoft’s initiative are disingenuous, to say the least. According to the SBS article, ‘The Digital Advertising Alliance, a consortium of the largest US media and marketing associations, told its members they can ignore or override the default settings in Microsoft or other browsers. “The trade associations that lead the DAA do not believe that Microsoft’s IE10 browser settings are an appropriate standard for providing consumer choice,” said the alliance, which includes the Better Business Bureau. “Machine-driven do not track does not represent user choice; it represents browser-manufacturer choice.”’

Yahoo! agreed, saying it will not recognise the default do not track setting. A Yahoo! blog post said Microsoft had acted “unilaterally” and that “this degrades the experience for the majority of users and makes it hard to deliver on our value proposition to them.”

Pardon? Where is user choice when the default setting is “track”? How does turning tracking off degrade the user experience? The “value proposition” involved has no benefit to the user. These people didn’t complain when the choice to be tracked was taken away from the user by default. They didn’t argue then that it was “browser-manufacturer choice”. I think they realise they are on slippery ground here. They must fear that if the default setting is “off” then no one will ever turn it on… and they’ll lose their revenue streams.

US House of Representatives members Edward Markey and Joe Barton, who head the House privacy caucus, expressed disappointment over the actions by advertisers and Yahoo!, saying they highlight the need for better privacy laws. “If consumers want to be tracked online, they should have to opt-in, not the other way around,” the two lawmakers said in a statement.

The SBS article goes on to say that some analysts argue that wiping out all online tracking would undermine the economic model of the Internet. Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) analyst Daniel Castro said most consumers do not object to online tracking if they understand that ads support the websites they visit. “You can’t say you don’t want targeted advertising but you do want free access to websites,” Castro said. “People like free content and they are willing to make some tradeoffs.”

Hmmm, how does he know that? I guess they might do market research, but in all the years I’ve been online no website has ever asked me if I want advertising to offset the cost of providing free content. My experience is that sites shove their ads down your throat whether you like it or not. Some are so bad that the advertising almost drowns out the content.

I’ve never been able to understand the advertising-supported model. I made a conscious decision to not have advertising in any form on any of my websites, with one exception – this site’s host offers a discount in return for a text link, “Linux Web Hosting by Arvixe” on each page. My reasoning was that it’s a small piece of text, and it relates directly to this site. (I did feel the need to add “Disclaimer: this link earns me a 10% discount on hosting costs!”) My belief is that if you’re going to offer free content it should really be be free. If you can’t afford to offer it for free you should charge for it. Of course, that would tend to drive visitors away, and no doubt that’s why they go for the advertising.

Others complain that turning off tracking threatens the internet “economic model”. Richard Frankel, president of the ad technology firm Rocket Fuel, said that even though “everyone claims to hate online advertising” there would be very little content on the Internet without it. Frankel said that imposing tracking restrictions would cut revenues and thereby “would stifle investigative reporting, dissuade open discussion and commentary, and muffle free speech.”

Rubbish, Mr Frankel. The Internet survived quite nicely before some people got greedy and decided they could make money out of it. As for stifling investigative reporting and muffling free speech… what a load of codswallop! I’d actually call it self-serving rhetoric.

There are plenty of sites that provide their content free of advertising. Advertisers waste their time trying to pitch to many Internet users, anyway, because a lot of us block advertising in our browsers. I have an excellent program that blocks all ads, so I don’t even see them, let alone click on them.

The hypocrisy of the statements by website owners and advertisers above is stunning. They would have more credibility if they had protested that the choice was taken away from users when the default do not track setting was “off”. If they carry out their threat to ignore do not track, then they deserve our contempt.

Tribute to a funny man

SBS reports:

Clive Dunn, who played Corporal Jones in the hit sitcom Dad’s Army, has died in Portugal aged 92.

The actor, who played Corporal Jones in the hit sitcom, is believed to have been ill for a few weeks.

His agent Peter Charlesworth said the star will be “sorely missed”.

He said: “He will be a real loss to the acting profession.”

Dunn, who leaves his wife, children and grandchildren, was born in London into a show business family and started out with a number of small film roles in the 1930s before the war.

He served in Greece before being captured and spent four years as a prisoner of war.

After the war he resumed his career and in 1968 landed the role of Corporal Jones in the much-loved sitcom about life on the home front.

The character, a World War One veteran-turned butcher, was notorious for his often rambling recollections of his time in the army and his much-used catchphrase “Don’t panic”.

Dunn also had a number one hit in 1970 with Grandad and went on to play the title character in a children’s show of the same name.

He’ll be best remembered, however, as Corporal Jones, seen in this video telling one of his rambling stories and (as usual) getting up Colonel Mainwaring’s nose:

Headbangers’ delight

The crazy US electoral system delivered good and bad in Tuesday’s elections.

Sanity prevailed, and Barack Obama was given a second term. I shudder to think how things might have been had Mitt Romney won. Interestingly, a few states voted differently in the different elections. For example, Montana, Missouri and West Virginia elected Democrat governors and voted Democrat for the Senate, yet voted Republican in the presidential election. North Dakota elected a Republican governor, voted Democrat in the Senate, and Republican in the presidential election. The Democrats actually won several Senate seats from the Republicans.

The bad was the House of Representatives result — which sees the Republicans still in the majority, and probably another four years of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object.

Satire Wire summed it up nicely… “Americans went to the polls Tuesday and voted overwhelmingly to continue banging their heads against a wall.”

Guide dog blues

The tale of Lucky, the evil seeing eye dog, can be found on many websites and has repeatedly surfaced in the mainstream media. Stephen Fry used it as his end-of-show quote on a 2007 episode of QI (Series D, Episode 3: Dogs – shown as a repeat tonight here in Australia).

“We will not have him put down. Lucky is basically a damn good guide dog,” Ernst Gerber, a dog trainer from Wuppertal told reporters. “He just needs a little brush-up on some elementary skills, that’s all.”

Gerber admitted to the press conference that Lucky, a German shepherd guide-dog for the blind, had so far been responsible for the deaths of all four of his previous owners. “I admit it’s not an impressive record on paper. He led his first owner in front of a bus, and the second off the end of a pier. He actually pushed his third owner off a railway platform just as the Cologne to Frankfurt express was approaching, and he walked his fourth owner into heavy traffic, before abandoning him and running away to safety. But, apart from epileptic fits, he has a lovely temperament. And guide dogs are difficult to train these days.”

Asked if Lucky’s fifth owner would be told about his previous record, Gerber replied: “No. It would make them nervous, and that would make Lucky nervous. And when Lucky gets nervous he’s liable to do something silly.”

The supposedly true story has been passed around since at least 1997, according to Barbara Mikkelson at Mikkelson comments, “Stories that lack this much in the way of checkable facts (e.g., the name of an organization that could be contacted, or the names of victims whose obituaries could be checked) almost always turn out to be hoaxes.”

Hoax or not, it’s a compelling story!