Mourning For The City I Love

It has been devastating watching the catastrophe unfold in the city that I've grown to love. I've said before that this is the first place where I've truly felt settled. It's the city we chose to live in when deciding to emigrate, and we've never once regretted it. Many parts of Brisbane are now a disaster zone, including some of my favourite places. Of course buildings and places can be re-built; there's nothing that can be done to replace the lives that have been lost.

The heart and soul of Brisbane has been damaged and it's going to be a long time before things are back to normal.

When we've had visitors arrive from the UK, to give them a good taste of what's best about Brisbane we always used to drive to Bulimba or Hawthorne and take the CityCat catamaran service down the river, around the Central Business District (CBD), and get off at South Bank. The South Bank Parklands being my favourite place in the city.

The CityCat service has largely been destroyed. Not the catamarans as such, but the majority of the terminals. Similarly, South Bank Parklands have been inundated by the floods.

Riverside and Eagle St Pier, Brisbane
Brisbane flooding


Images courtesy of Channel 9

It looks like it's going to take 2 years to re-build the areas that are affected. It's going to be a long clean-up process requiring lots of resources. More than 26,000 homes and 5000 businesses in 67 suburbs have been affected. More than 150 roads remain closed and many part of the city are still without power.

We've been very lucky that we chose to move to the Redlands area. We did look at rental properties in Milton, Toowong and other inner-Brisbane suburbs which have been hit, but chose to move out here instead.

At work (the day job) we're also looking at what we can do to help out in the community. Our engineers are already hard at work helping out our customers who have been impacted. Many customers had to invoke their Disaster Recovery plans, and we've got quite a few customers who need help re-building their networks to get their business up and running again. Besides that I know a lot of us want to help out with the clean-up effort in the local community. Our office is near Fortitude Valley which has been impacted by the flood, but we're situated on a hill so the office is unaffected. We also haven't been hit by the power cuts.

I appreciate how lucky we've been that's why I want to help out as much as possible. Our Premier, Anna Bligh, who has been doing a sterling job, says that they need two things: volunteers and money. This couldn't come at a worse time for us if they want money. However, while we're short on cash I have been able to find another way that I can donate. Virgin Blue allows you to cash in your velocity points for cash donations. I've got plenty of those so that's what I've done. The page to make donations from Velocity Points is here (it's quite hard to find on their website). I've also signed up with Volunteering Queensland. The form for that is here.

It's very easy to start a new year and think about personal plans (see my last post). Then something like this comes along and puts it all into perspective.

Fair and Balanced?

We're getting closer to General Election time again in the UK and as I'm still a British citizen and eligible to vote, my interest in British politics remains. Don't ask me why, I just can't seem to switch it off. With Twitter, Google Reader and iphone apps providing an ever constant news feed, being on the other side of the world no longer means that we expats are out of touch with events in the motherland.

With the election looming ever closer it's interesting to see how the media is reporting political stories and portraying the three main parties. Very few of the newspapers or TV networks can honestly claim to be non-partisan but at least they make the pretence of being fair and balanced. Some manage it more successfully than others.

So it's been particular interesting this week to see the reporting over Lord Ashcroft's admission of his non-dom status.

As expected, the unashamedly left wing papers have made a big thing of it, covering the story on the front pages. And then there's the BBC.

I hold the BBC in high regard. The BBC news website is always the main source of international news for me. It generally has high editorial standards and, in most cases, can truly claim to be fair and balanced.

I am aware, however, that the BBC gets a lot of stick and is continuously accused of being too sympathetic towards Labour. I remember reading My Trade: A Short History of British Journalism by Andrew Marr who tacked this accusation by saying BBC editorial policy per se is not biased towards Labour, it's just that the BBC happens to attract a lot of left-leaning journalists so there ends up being a de-facto bias towards Labour. Or words to that effect.

So with a strong editorial policy you would hope that any inherent bias in a story would get a re-write by the editor before being published, and when it comes to political stories, you would hope that the editing would be top-notch particularly when the political parties have started campaigning for election.

In the case of the Lord Ashcroft story the editorial policies have clearly failed. Why haven't the BBC put equal emphasis on Labour's Lord Paul and other Labour peers who are non-doms and large donors to the Labour party. Same goes with the Lib Dems. Lord Paul has even reportedly stated that he would rather give up his seat in the Lords than change his non-dom status.

Some of the BBC stories have been quite misleading and the reader could be led to believe that he's been avoiding paying any tax for the last 10 years and completely props up the Conservative party, which simply isn't true. He's paid tax to the Inland Revenue on his UK earnings, he probably will have paid tax to another country on his oversees earnings (as most countries have a double-taxation agreement in place with Britain so that those earning income in the UK and overseas don't have to get taxed twice on the same income), and furthermore his contributions to the Tories have accounted for less than 1% of donations this year.

Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, has accused Michael Ashcroft of being unpatriotic. The same Michael Ashcroft who formed Crimestoppers, has raised millions for Help for Heroes and many other charities; and donated his Victoria Cross collection to the Imperial War Museum. That doesn't sound unpatriotic to me.

At least the BBC are 100 times more fair and balanced than the network that has Fair and Balanced as its byline - Fox News.

If I was American I'd be embarrassed to have Fox News as the country's biggest cable news network. This is a 'Fair and Balanced' news network that employes Republican governers, takes every opportunity it can to label Obama a marxist or communist, and even goes as far as organising rallies against government policy (the Tea Party rallies). Aren't they supposed to report the news not make it? Fox News is akin to the Völkischer Beobachter - the newspaper of the Nazi Party.

Monster Password Issues

This week, the massive online job site Monster.com released a security notice that their database had been hacked, potentially releasing the personal details of millions of registered users.   This isn't the first time this has happened, and I'm sure it won't be the last.monster Leave aside the fact that Monster don't seem to be encrypting passwords in their databases, which is extremely shoddy, this is a timely reminder of the importance of thinking about how we all use passwords.  The big threat with this type of attack is that if you tend to use the same passwords across multiple sites, if you're a Monster.com user (or user of their other international sites such as monster.co.uk), your password is now out in the open and could potentially be used to gain access to any other site that you've registered with using that password.

So, it's dangerous practice to use the same password across multiple sites, but at the same time there's no way you're going to remember different passwords for all the sites you use.

The answer to this problem is to use a password manager such as 1Password.  This is a Mac application but there's also PC password managers such as Roboform.  The beauty of 1Password is that there's both a Mac version and a free iPhone version which can be set up to wirelessly sync between each other.  It also plugs in to the major web browsers (I use Firefox) so that it can automatically enter your username and password into the form each time you visit a site.  The way I use it is to let 1Password generate a random strong password for each site that I use, which then gets added to the application's database.  I now only have to remember one password - the password to open up 1Password.  The thing you have to remember with Password Managers though is that the encryption is only as strong as the one  password you use.  Therefore the normal rules apply - make it long, include numbers, letters (uppercase and lowercase) and special characters such as $.!["]?*&#", etc.

It's basic maths.  If an hacker tries a brute force attack against your password, the time it takes to crack your password will be dependant upon the number of variables in the characters you use, the length of the password, and the processing power of the application and PC used to try and crack the password.  Just by using both upper case and lower case letters you are doubling the number of characters that the password cracker must use, from 26 to 52.  Add numbers and the figure becomes 62, and then there's a large number of special characters you can use to add even more possibilities.  Then, every time you increase the length of your password you are increasing the strength to the power of x.  Although, this can be undermined if the application you use doesn't 'salt' your password and the hacker uses Rainbow Tables, but I won't go in to that here.

When using a Password Manager it's also important to set a time out value in the settings so that you're required to re-enter your master password after a period of time, just in case your PC/Mac/iPhone gets stolen while you have a session open.

If you are using the same password for multiple sites by using something like OpenID, it's particularly important to make sure your OpenID password is strong.

I'm in no way affiliated with 1Password, honest, I just think it's a particularly useful application!

You can find news of other hacked websites at The Breach Blog.