SARS Communication Suckiness

Free Software, Jonathan, Politics, Project Mayhem 5 Comments »

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I’m so frustrated with SARS (South African Revenue Service). They sent me an e-mail to notify me that I’ve received communication from them that require my attention. I click on the link which takes me to their website, enter my username and password, and it takes me to a page where I have to download the contents of the documentation in a PDF file. So, I do so.

When I opened the file with my PDF viewer, and it displayed that I require the latest version of Adobe Reader. This was already a bit frustrating, having to do so much work and still not being able to read my message. At least Adobe reader is packaged in Medibuntu, so I add the repositories and install it. 20 minutes worth of downloads later, I open the PDF. Yet again, it displayed “You need the latest version of Adobe reader to open this file”. Grrr.

I head over to, saw a link that says “Adobe Reader download”, where it also said “Latest Version”, and downloaded it. Turns out it is also Version 8.1.2, the same version available from Medibuntu, and it also doesn’t want to open the document.

After trying all different kinds of things, I’m still unable to open the PDF. Thanks Adobe, for implementing such horrible technologies in our government, and thank you SARS, for absolutely not caring about free software users, even when our government has a mandate to move over to free software itself.

Then again, it’s not like any government ever had a good reputation for keeping its promises. I don’t know how I expected ours to be any different.

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SA Government to standardise on ODF

Free Software, Politics 2 Comments »

From Tectonic, the South African government accepts ODF as the document standard. The adoption of ODF (Open Document Format) in our government is indeed great news, and hopefully it will have an effect on other developing countries when decisions like these are made.

What disturbs me though, is the criteria for what qualifies as an open standard, according to the MIOS document:

  • It should be maintained by a non-commercial organization
  • Participation in the ongoing development work is based on decision- making processes that are open to all interested parties.
  • Open access: all may access committee documents, drafts and completed standards free of cost or for a negligible fee.
  • It must be possible for everyone to copy, distribute and use the standard free of cost.
  • The intellectual rights required to implement the standard (e.g. essential patent claims) are irrevocably available, without any royalties attached.
  • There are no reservations regarding reuse of the standard.
  • There are multiple implementations of the standard

Firstly, why should a standard have to be maintained by a non-commercial organisation in order to be considered a standard? (And why does this document use American spelling everywhere? Doesn’t our government know that South African English is derived from the English?). I am quite sure that an open standard doesn’t need to be any less open if it’s maintained by a commercial organisation. Some might say that commercial companies may have vested interests, but this is true for many non-profit organisations, especially those funded by big commercial funders. Whether it’s a non-profit or for-profit organistaion, in my opinion, shouldn’t make a difference at all.

The third point seems to refer to the specifications of the open standards. What in the world does “or for a neglibible fee” mean!? In the next line they do state that everyone must be able to access and distribute it at no cost, so it seems that the intention is to have the specifications available at no cost, so I think they should’ve just dropped the “neglibible fee” part. Paying for distribution of a free standard is fine, in my opinion, but no one should have to pay for access to a standard, not even a so-called “negligible fee”.

I would personally be much more happy if they chose a definition more in line with the W3C Open Standard definition is far superior.

It gets worse though. On page 13 of MIOS, it says that FTP should be used as file transfer method in government intranets. Uhm.. what? Someone should tell the authors that 1985 called and want their file-sharing utilities back. FTP doesn’t even hae encryption or compression, not very good for government departments where security is important. Also, there SO many better ways to tranfer files, that work on all operating systems. Transfering files using the SSH protocol, is one example, and with clients such as GNOME-VFS and WinSCP, it’s easier to use than an FTP client as well. (on Page 16 though, they do make a small mention about SSH for file transport, but SSH should most certainly take precedence over FTP)

Later they say “Web based technology is to be used in applications that previously used Terminal Emulation whenever possible.”. I wonder how they want to do that? An AJAX based web interface? Should it use Java to provide a terminal emulator? That doesn’t sound like e very clever requirement to me. I think someone might have suggested that new software that’s developed for government should be preferably web-based, and then it got mangled along the way.

The rest of Page 13 is quite cool though. Yay RSS!

It goes a bit downhill again in Page 14: “Government information systems will be designed so that as such information as possible can be accessed and manipulated from common commercial browsers through utilisation of functionality freely
supported and available within the browser community.” Why target compatibility with “common commercial browsers”!? They should be targeting compatibility with established Internet standards instead. We seriously don’t want to see more crappy web interfaces “optimised for IE4 or better”! On Page 15, they do say that web services should adhere to standards developed by the W3C and OASIS. I don’t know why they have the contradicting terms though, there are bad people in this world who like to manipulate these contradictions for their own profit.

On Page 20, page 6, I think they could have specified Ogg Vorbis and Ogg Theora explicitly, especially since they made so much effort spelling out all the MPEG formats.

It’s really, really great to see government make good moves on open standards, but in my opinion, as a document for “Minimum Interoperability Standards”, they could have done better. The good news at least, is that everything required in the document is available and easy in Ubuntu, which is good news for companies who deploy systems and solutions at government sites. Besides the contradictions in the definition and the preference to FTP, I suppose this document is quite ok. I’m a bit tired and might be a bit harsh, so I’d love to see what people like Benjamin “mako” Hill (who really care about definitions) would say about this document.

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A true war hero, and how wrong Americans are

Politics, Project Mayhem 2 Comments »


His name is Eleon Israel, also known as “Eli”. Earlier this week, he decided to disobey direct orders and refused to participate further in the war in Iraq (Full story from

“Yesterday, June 19, 26 year old SPC Eli Israel put himself at great personal risk by making the courageous decision to refuse further participation in the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Eli told his commanding officer and sergeants that he will no longer be a combatant in this illegal, unjustified war.”

Now that’s what I call a true hero. We need more people in the world that talk and act against that which is wrong. I have some American friends, and whenever I make a hint about how treacherous or tyrannous their leader is, they are usually quick to tell me that the U.S. is a very divided country, and that it’s only half the country that supports him, and that they don’t necessarily agree with everything that Bush does or says.

Well, tough shit. If half the country is content with letting George Bush get away with whatever he’s doing, even if they didn’t vote for him, then I classify them in the same league as those who allowed Apartheid to happen and did nothing about it. Once Apartheid was over, many blissfully claimed that they weren’t involved with it and never supported it. I say that they are lying. There was probably quite a lot they could do. If they were white and over 18, they could’ve voted for a party that was more liberal. They could’ve spoken out against Apartheid, and spread awareness about the terrible things our government was doing at the time. I say that those who stood by and allowed crimes against humanity too take place were also guilty.

The same goes for the Americans who let Bush get away with so much. If you’re one of those who think that it’s OK to do nothing, then you’re wrong. Bad things happen when good people do nothing, Eli is one of the good Americans, and I salute him. I hope that more Americans will follow his example.

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Patricia De Lille wants to restrict your freedom

Free Software, Politics, Project Mayhem 2 Comments »


Patricia De Lille wants to limit your freedom of speech, read this link for the full story. What it comes down to, is that she is calling on government to somehow regulate blogs and electronic communication to prevent anonymous defamatory comments. I’m quite disappointed, I honestly thought that De Lille was a bit more intelligent than that. I would’ve even voted for her before.

In this country, countless people have fought a long and hard struggle for the freedom of our people. Many have even died for the cause. And now, De Lille, who really should know better, wants to take some of our freedoms away from us again. Government regulating on-line communication will only result in bad things. No matter what they implement, there will still be ways to anonymously post content, while the legislation will just hurt the people who want to be heard. We already have a situation in the country where rape victims hardly report the incidents, since they are afraid of how their family/police/etc would respond. South Africans need to learn to speak up more, and fight more for their rights, NOT the other way around.

Patricia, you’re a big public figure, and lots of people have huge amounts of respect for you. Please, stop trying to take people’s rights away from them. It’s not the right thing to do.

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