Sunday, 12-Oct-14 00:49
Whisky galore!

My Facebook stream has been full of whisky - pictures, links, prices - all evening. The internet tends to react like that to news like this. For the Finnish-challenged the gist of the story is about as follows:

A Helsinki-based Beer and Whisky Expo got a stern note from the "Aluehallintovirasto", a regional government official, that any mentions of the word "whisky" are absolutely banned, because of the Finnish alcohol laws. So they had to change the name to "Beer Expo". And not only that, no private blog may talk about whisky in connection to this event, or the event would get its license revoked and could no longer serve alcohol. So the expo had contacted a couple of bloggers who had already written about this, who were nice people and removed the blog posts, since as fans, they didn't want to ruin the show. The officials allegedly said that "no google search for 'viski' (Finnish for whisky) must end up on their page".

OK. First of all, multiple other officials had already okayed all this - their company is even registered under this name. Second, they are threatening that if private people write about the show, the show gets the punishment. So basically me mentioning that you might get some nice Islay whiskies (for example, the Caol Ila I am just enjoying, which should cost you 5-7€ per 2cl in the expo to taste) in the show, the show might just suddenly cease to exist. The thought does make me giddy with power - HA, I CAN RUIN LIVES AND ENTIRE EVENTS WITH THE MIGHTY POWER OF MY KEYBOARD - but the sad fact is that I am in no way connected to the show.

So the Finnish alcohol law is a bit of a fuckup. I get the point though - alcohol abuse does kill/maim/injure a shitload of people every year, either directly or indirectly, and it is arguably the most dangerous legal drug out there. So yeah, reducing overall consumption is an admirable goal, one which I support. And, at the turn of the year, it's going to get even more strict when it comes to alcohol advertisements: Practically every place where a minor could possibly see even a beer logo will have to be cleared out, which is already annoying people.

Unfortunately the law reads like it was designed in the 1980s, where you still had a clear separation of businesses and individuals. These days, the internet has turned almost any profession from a binary yes/no thing to a continuum of newbies,enthusiasts,amateurs,hobbyists,hard-core hobbyists,pro-amateurs,experts and professionals. Bloggers get free goodies from companies so that they would write about them, just like critics get free books from authors so that they could review them. "Buzz marketing" and "virals" are standard tools for any marketer, and they're as meticulously planned out as any TV campaign of old.

So, if a blogger writes about your expo, and happens to know some of the products present, and talks about them, is it marketing or not? There's no way to tell. It could be just an enthusiast, it could be the well-intentioned target of a viral, or it could be a paid advertisement. But in every case, it is a private individual, not a company. And that's where the laws start to fail - it is very difficult to make a law where you would still claim to have the basic freedom of speech, but at the same time say that marketing a particular product is forbidden.

The Finnish government does not seem to have a good solution to this either. They have actually even asked Facebook to remove the "Share" button on any Finnish brewery pages, so that no-one could accidentally share the knowledge about beer (good luck there). However, at the same time it's totally ok for e.g. Fosters to have a Share button on their pages, because obviously the Finnish government can't do shit about breweries in foreign countries. So they choose to try to cripple the locals instead. Now they're suspecting that the Beer and Whisky Expo is using private individuals to do marketing for them, and hence have entered a very slippery slope which can only either end up with them either banning talking about liquor in Finnish blogs completely, denying alcohol licenses for any current and future expo in Finland, or just letting the thing continue in a very weird state of non-legalness-that's-actually-not-enforced.

What kinda saddens me in advance is that even if this thing was brilliantly leaked to a major newspaper on a Saturday (and no government official works on the weekends, so the whole thing can gather internet rage for two full days), the officials have a perfect defense: this is how the law was written, so complain to the Parliament. And the Parliament members will use the whole thing to gather politicopoints by issuing stern comments about how the officials are interpreting the law wrong, and how stupid the whole thing is, etc. Unfortunately, we have elections coming up very soon, and politicopoints are right now more valued than actually doing something. So I'm not expecting much to happen to this, even though a lot of people will be writing about this in their blogs and Facebook timelines and heck, #viski is even trending on Twitter right now. I'm pretty sure a lot of people are instagramming their whisky bottles right now too, as a not-so-subtle comment about what they think of this too.

I'm fairly sure I wouldn't even have remembered the Beer and Whisky Expo, if it wasn't for this noise. So good going, "aluehallintovirasto". Best possible advertisement there. Well done indeed. Does that count as alcohol advertisement and can you give yourself a fine now? Tip: Look up "Streisand effect".

Our government and officials still don't understand the change that the internet has brought to the world. You can no longer put things in neat boxes, because all the boxes are broken and everybody's playing on the floor now. It's not even clear anymore if and when money changes hands, thanks to stuff like product placements, free and plentiful samples, viral marketing and Bitcoin. And I get it. I know it's really hard. I don't have answers myself either. But what I do know is that you can no longer do the laws the same way you have always done by people who don't understand the networked nature of our current existence.

The internet isn't about putting PDFs online so that you can email opinions during a comment period. The internet isn't about the unwashed masses of comment troll hordes. The internet is an amplifier, an equalizer, and a transformation of almost every single aspect of our lives. And the laws of the future must, absolutely must, take that into account in all aspects.

Update: The official is saying that the expo organizer overreacted. Regardless, the situation is complicated, and it looks to me like the expo organizer understands the internet a lot better than the official - if the instructions are that the site must not be found on Google, then they really have no choice but to request everyone to stop blogging about it.

Update2: The boss of the said gov official agrees that this all may have been an overreaction, and would appear to basically have her head screwed on straight on this topic. Unfortunately, the officials only interpret the law, don't make it.

Friday, 12-Sep-14 10:01
Insane password policies

A service that I very rarely use just approached me with their new "security rules":

We are pleased to inform you that we have improved the security of XXX website. Because your idea matters, we want to keep them secure and confidential. As per the new policies you will be required to change your passwords on monthly basis. Also the passwords have to be at least 8 characters in length, having at least one letter, one number, and one special character (such as !#$&?.()@^” etc.)

Guys, not like this.

  1. Rolling passwords on a very short basis just makes them insecure.
  2. I don't use your site on a monthly basis anyway, so that means that every single log-in I have the extra burden of inventing a new password that I will never use but which still must be work within your arbitrary rules
  3. Ever heard of two-factor authentication? You know, like if you're really serious about protecting people's ideas? (Of course, this is not without its problems.)
  4. You need me more than I need you. So making the process harder is not actually in your best interest, and telling me that you "require" that I comply with your rules is even less in your best interests.

So basically I'm just shaking my head and putting this thing in my mental "nice idea, but too much trouble" -bucket.

(Yeah, I am aware of 1password and all these tools, but a) they're basically a security single-point-of-failure, and I dislike single points of failure, and 2) I use multiple devices all the time, and the thought of all of my passwords syncing to a single cloud service makes me queasy - and not having the sync makes them kinda pointless.)

Saturday, 16-Aug-14 15:31
Driving with Electricity, pt 1

First, a small confession: I don’t actually own a car. I have never owned one. The reasons are partly practical and part environmental - cars are fairly expensive things to own, and as long as I can manage without one, I can spend the money on other stuff. Like buying an apartment near a major public transportation hub so I don’t actually have to own a car… Also, climate change is a serious problem, and I try to avoid contributing to it. Plus that I actually like my morning commute on the public transport - it’s some quiet time for myself, and it’s faster than driving myself.

However, it does not mean that I don’t drive. I am a member of a car-sharing service as well as a Five Star Gold Member at Hertz… I rent the car when I need one; and take a taxi fairly liberally. The Finnish taxation makes cars pretty expensive things to own, so I’ve been calculating that I am still saving money. Things may of course change when the kids will need to move around more; or if we move to a location where public transportation wouldn’t just work.

The great thing about renting a lot is that you get to drive all sorts of fairly new cars. And I like testing them out, in case I ever actually buy a car. It’s really like getting an extended test drive from the dealer (and I know some people use the test drives as really cheap rentals too, but I haven’t yet used that opportunity).

One car that I had had my eye on for a small while was the Volvo V60 PHEV - a hybrid diesel car that you can plug in at home to charge it up, but which still has a regular diesel engine for the longer trips. So when it popped up on Hertz reservation system when I was looking for my holiday car this summer, I seized the chance, emailed Hertz who got me a sweet deal on it (I’m kinda happy about it, so this is their free plug ;-). Therefore, for the past two months or so I’ve clocked some serious hours in that car - 5400 km worth of time to be precise.

The car

Why people want a hybrid in the first place.

I’m not a car expert, so I won’t be covering a lot of the technical details - frankly, I can’t be arsed to do a lot of research on it. If you’re interested, just go check actual car magazines, who can tell you everything you need to know about how the car lights work etc - I’ll just cover my impressions and thoughts after driving a half-electric-half-diesel car both in city runs as well as a couple of long road trips.

I’ve had a few earlier encounters with Volvos, and I have to admit that they kinda work for me. They’re comfy, spacious, feel a little luxurious (but not too much) and have this… aura of safety around them. Which is nice when you have your most important legacy fighting over toys on the back seat. The D6 engine (the biggest diesel engine that Volvo has) in the V60 PHEV makes this car really GO when it needs to, and the electric engine gives it a nice boost if you press the pedal. Put on the "power" mode and it’s got enough power to give me a scare followed by a big grin the first time I left the traffic lights.

The most wonderful thing about the car though is the electric drive. Driving with an electric engine is pure joy - in fact, I felt slightly offended every time the nasty, polluting diesel engine kicked in. “Why are you ruining my pure experience?”, I swore under my breath many times! Of course, the battery in the car is good for only about 50 km of electric driving, and even then the diesel engine starts from time to time to provide power in sudden accelerations. But there’s a “Pure” (pure!) mode, in which the car really tries to avoid using the combustion engine, so that makes avoiding nastiness a bit easier.

Driving with electric drive is addictive. Nevermind having to dodge people in the garages who’ll never hear you coming ‘cos the thing is just so **quiet**; sometimes I just shut off AC and radio and just listened the wheels and the wind, as there was no other sound from the car. (Aside from the kids bickering in the back, of course. Or the Lego Movie. Whichever happened to be on for the most of the road trips.)

Also, electric driving is cheap. I briefly chatted with the owner of a Prius PHEV, and he mentioned that he hasn’t been to the fuel pumps in over three months. He charges at home, he charges at malls, he charges at the office. He probably doesn’t pay for half of the electricity, since both malls and offices these days have free plugs for EVs. Malls, because it’s a marketing thing (we’ll get to that later); offices ‘cos they are often subletting from a larger garage complex and managing payment for electricity would be more expensive than the electricity itself. Note however that the V60 PHEV is a good deal more expensive than the regular V60, so by my very rough estimate you’d need to drive around 100 000 km with electricity to get even… So at this stage this is more of a lifestyle vehicle than a car you buy because you’re pinching money. But I hear that Volvo is planning to make PHEV versions of all of their models, so I’m certainly giving my thumbs up for that: more production = cheaper prices and more options.

Since everyone’s interested in fuel consumption figures, let me say that I got around 5.2 litres/100km averaged across the entire 5400 km. This is of course because a vast majority of that driving was long-distance (we did one 2000km trip and a few 300 km trips). In the city, the consumption was far less, because we could use electricity to propel us towards new adventures! Volvo themselves claim 1.9 litres/100 km, but that’s only true if you do a massive amount of driving in the city, and are able to charge often. But you could basically go to near-zero if your daily commute was < 50 km and you could charge the battery full at both ends.

But that really brings me to the charging aspect of the EVs. And that’s where things get ugly. Stay tuned for the next episode!


Private comments? Drop me an email. Or complain in a nearby pub - that'll help.



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"Main" last changed on 16-Aug-2014 15:22:03 EEST by JanneJalkanen.

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