Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Why the proposed Internet filter will not help protect your children

Today there is an article in the Age entitled Government goes to war with Google over net censorship, which I felt obliged to respond to (search for "Nicky"). This article was based on a radio debate on ABC National last night which I also tuned into.

For those that aren't up to speed, Senator Conroy and the Labor Party are planning to introduce Internet censorship via a mandatory ISP filter. In laymen's terms, this is supposed to block undesirable websites, to protect children. I'm a parent so I know that most parents' first response to this would be "sounds great!". Right?!

Wrong. Problem is, it won't do what he's claiming it will do, and anybody with any technical know-how at all is telling them so. However, the Government is forging ahead with plans to spend over $40 million dollars of taxpayer dollars to implement something that is technically infeasible!

Here are some facts about the filter:

- Senator Conroy claimed last night that the filter will only block 355 websites. However, the blacklist that the filter is based on has already been leaked on the Internet, and it currently contains well over 10,000 sites.

- The filter is based on Refused Classification (RC) material. RC material is NOT illegal - it is legal to possess and view (although not to buy or sell).

- Any of those blocked websites could change their name or hosting provider at any time, and they would no longer be blocked.

- The filter will not do anything to stop peer-to-peer traffic, or email, or FTP, or Instant Messaging, or IRC chat rooms, or in fact any other part of the Internet except for a miniscule portion of the World Wide Web.

- It is simple in the extreme to get around this filter, via the use of "anonymous proxy servers" - 3 words which my 6yo daughter would already be capable of typing into Google. (I've seen 10yo's use computers who know waaay more than their parents - think they won't see this as a challenge worth figuring out?!)

Here are some facts about Australia, our Government and censorship:

- This filter will allow the Government to censor the content that Australians see. (Just the words "Government" and "censor" in the same sentence sends chills down my spine).

- The blacklist is secret, so anything could be added by any future government on a whim and we would never be told.

- Several "false positives" have already occurred that resulted in some websites being added to the blacklist, that shouldn't have been there. If it's YOUR small business website on the blacklist one day, you won't know and you probably won't be able to get it off there easily (although you could just change your business name!).

- Australia has recently been placed on a global "Internet Villains" watchlist which includes South Korea and Russia, and which is only one level below the "Enemies of the Internet" list containing China, Iran, North Korea, Burma, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. Yesterday, it was reported that the US Government questioned the Rudd government's plan to introduce an internet filter, saying it runs contrary to the US's foreign policy of encouraging an open internet to spread economic growth and global security. The world is watching us, and not in a positive way.

- Australia is already a long way away from the rest of the world and the people are very spread out, so our Internet access is generally slower and more expensive than lots of other places in the world, purely due to infrastructure. Forcing ISPs to filter every single website, which is what they'll have to do to identify these 355/10,000 sites, is undoubtedly going to slow things down even more.

Lastly, here are some of my views as a parent:

- This filter will create a false sense of security for many parents, because the Government is doing it and they trust the Government to do the right thing. But to put this into context - this is like sending your 8yo out into the city streets alone at night because the Government has hired one policeman.

- I don't let my children watch any TV show they like. I don't let them wander into newsagents or bookshops and read whatever they like. And I don't let them go to the grocery store and buy whatever food they like. Similarly, it would be irresponsible of me to allow them to use an Internet-connected computer to do whatever they liked, unsupervised. But I don't need the Government's help with that, any more than I need it to stop them watching TV.

- PC-based filter programs and parental controls have been available for years. The last government released a free PC-based program (which I can't find online any more but will post if I do find it), and Net Nanny has been available for almost 10 years. The new Windows 7, Ipods & Itouches all come with the ability to turn parental controls on, and it's possible to enable controls on Google searches too. Just type "parental controls" into any search engine and you'll find thousands and thousands of references. These are all far cheaper than the proposed filter, and they don't infringe on anybody's civil rights. However - none of these things will be 100% successful if you have a determined and unsupervised child.

To finish, here is one of my favourite quotes with regard to censorship:

The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion. ~Henry Steele Commager

Until next time,
Nicky xo

For more information please visit:
Electronic Frontiers Australia
EFA's OpenInternet campaign
The Punch's Top Ten Internet Filter Lies

Monday, 29 March 2010

2GB Free Online Data Backup with Mozy.com

They have a referral plan so if you join via clicking this link then we'll both get an extra 512MB, so it will be 2.5GB free.

https://mozy.com/?mcr=1&ref=T23PAH

Thursday, 25 March 2010

WEB101 - Learning Portfolio, Week 4 - What is Web 2.0?

Good grief, I think I'm going blind - SO much reading this week, I may have to get a bigger screen (or glasses)!

This week we started Module 2, which is all about Web 2.0. So what is Web 2.0? Well... after reading the required text by Tim O'Reilly, I'm not convinced it's much more than a marketing term, to be honest. I understand the need that some people have to put labels and buzzwords on things, but I don't really understand why we can't just look at the Web as a constantly evolving beast - just like human beings - and be done with it. Even Tim Berners-Lee labelled the term "Web 2.0" as "jargon" in an interview he did in 2006 with Scott Laningham of IBM developerWorks - and we all know how much I adore Tim. :>

My interpretation of Web 1.0/2.0 is mostly based on personal views derived from 15 years of experience working in IT, and reading the O'Reilly article didn't really sway my opinion that much. One such experience occurred while working at a publishing company in 2003-2006. I was in a meeting of senior staff, discussing the direction of the company's intranet, because at that time it was run by a small department of people who had fairly limited "online" experience, and it was always out of date. One group was arguing for more staff, and I was arguing to open it up, allow everybody to contribute so that the information would always be updated - it was a PUBLISHING company, after all, half the people on staff were authors or editors! But a couple of senior people were adamant that this would result in a complete debacle. At one point I uttered this line (which was subsequently repeated for months afterwards!): "Originally the web was like a TV - one-way, most people sat back and watched/read what other people produced. Nowadays it's becoming more like a PC - two-way, far more collaborative, people can create their own things and contribute. What do you want this intranet to be - a TV or a PC?" At that time I wasn't aware of the term "Web 2.0", but I still think it sums it up the progression of the Web quite nicely. :>

To digress slightly, one of the things I didn't agree with in O'Reilly's article is the characterisation of content management systems (CMS) as Web 1.0. Now, if he's referring to just enterprise CMS, then maybe - I remember working at a large company back in the early part of the decade where "CMS" was the buzzword - but what they were proposing was a big database chock-full of thousands of security levels and basically controlled by a few people. So yes, in that regard that particular type of CMS was probably more "TV" than "PC". However, as someone who originally hand-coded HTML back in the 90's, and who now develops websites using Joomla, I think Web CMS are very much "PC". Joomla (and indeed many of the other content management system website solutions that are currently in use today) is an open-source content management system which distinctly separates the "look and feel" of a website from it's content, and therefore allows just about anybody to easily add content to their own website. I've built Joomla websites with chat forums, blogs and commenting enabled on e-commerce product listings(similar to Amazon). Yes, in most instances somebody needs to build the infrastructure that they need, mostly because free things like Blogger don't allow them to achieve exactly what they want to achieve for their business, and building a customised, database-driven site still requires some coding abilities - but they control their own content. If you look at the Web 2.0 Meme Map on the aforementioned site, it even states "User positioning: You control your own data" as being one of the characteristics of Web 2.0!

Similarly, I'm not sure about calling Napster a Web 2.0 app - even though it was a step beyond the old "static links on an HTML page" concept of mp3.com, it was still a central point with a central database that everybody went to, which ultimately made it pretty easy to sue and subsequently shut down. Although, everybody could contribute to that... so... hmm... maybe! I suppose these types of examples are precisely why nobody can clearly, 100% define what Web 2.0 is. :>

The first activity we had to do this week was about RSS, which I'm already up with so I won't go into that here. The second activity was to create a Delicious account and seeing I already had one, I decided to also kickstart Assignment 3 and create a new one specifically to fit into that assignment. Then of course I got sidetracked and created all the other things I'll need for that assignment too, meaning I STILL haven't finished Assignment 1! So... I'm off to make a cuppa and then I'm into it!

PS: Re that intranet - it took a while and I left that company about a year later - but I believe these days it's quite "PC". :>

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

First dotcom name registered 25 years ago

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

WEB101 - Learning Portfolio, Week 3 - What is the World Wide Web?

I'm swimming in a sea of nostalgia so far with this class. And feeling somewhat old. The thing is, I REMEMBER some of this stuff actually happening. It's not like doing a history course about stuff that happened 200 years ago. I've HEARD of Tim Berners-Lee, AND he's still alive. I HAD a version of the first MOSAIC web browser, followed by the first version of Netscape. I found a webpage that I wrote more than 13 years ago in a text editor, on the Wayback machine. I feel like some kind of pioneer, albeit one that nobody has ever heard of. :>

I posted this story on the class Discussion Boards so I thought I'd re-word it slightly and post it here, because it shows just how much things have changed in a relatively short time:

I did a backpacking trip in 1996 when I was working as an IT nerd at McDonald's Australia, which included 2 months in the US. I remember coming back and telling my boss that I'd seen billboards there with www. web addresses on them, and that McDonald's really should get a local .com.au website and be at the forefront of this WWW revolution in Australia - but he said it was a waste of time, mcdonalds.com would do fine. I've just now discovered the first version of www.mcdonalds.com.au is dated April 1999! So I can console myself that I may be getting old now, but once upon a time I was before my time. :>

It's actually quite interesting to think about how the World Wide Web actually started, and reassuring that I don't remember the early part. The first person to put ideas into words about how the World Wide Web should eventually work, was a guy named Vannevar Bush who in 1945 speculated about creating a machine that would store information in a framework more like the human brain - not a nice clear single book but a network of associated ideas all linked together. He was followed in 1965 by a guy named Ted Nelson who defined the idea of non-sequential, non-linear, connected text, which today is called "hypertext". Then followed George Landow (1992), who had much to say about Foucalt and Poststructuralism, Doug Engalbart who built the first keyboard/mouse combination and in fact created the first computer mouse, and the development of ARPAnet.

Frankly, all of this to me was just groundwork for the genius that is Tim Berners-Lee, who in 1990 basically developed the World Wide Web. His original proposal can be found online here. Apart from proposing the structure of the WWW, he also created the first browser and most importantly - made the Internet free. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be sitting here today writing a blog that nobody reads!!

In light of the current Australian Government's push to censor free speech in our apparently democratic society, I think it's appropriate to finish off today's post with a quote from Tim, from his book "Weaving the Web":

The web is more a social creation than a technical one. I designed it for a social effect - to help people work together - and not as a technical toy. The ultimate goal of the Web is to support and improve our weblike existence in the world. We clump together into families, associations and companies. We develop trust across the miles and distrust around the corner. What we believe, endorse, agree with, and depend on is representable and, increasingly, represented on the Web. We all have to ensure that the society we build with the Web is of the sort we intend.
- Tim Berners-Lee, 1999 - Weaving the Web: p123

More Uni - What is the World Wide Web?

I'm swimming in a sea of nostalgia so far with this class. And feeling somewhat old. The thing is, I REMEMBER some of this stuff actually happening. It's not like doing a history course about stuff that happened 200 years ago. I've HEARD of Tim Berners-Lee, AND he's still alive. I HAD a version of the first MOSAIC web browser, followed by the first version of Netscape. I found a webpage that I wrote more than 13 years ago in a text editor, on the Wayback machine. I feel like some kind of pioneer, albeit one that nobody has ever heard of. :>

I did a backpacking trip in 1996 when I was working as an IT nerd at McDonald's Australia, which included 2 months in the US. I remember coming back and telling my boss that I'd seen billboards there with www. web addresses on them, and that McDonald's really should get a local .com.au website and be at the forefront of this WWW revolution in Australia - but he said it was a waste of time, mcdonalds.com would do fine. I've just now discovered the first version of www.mcdonalds.com.au is dated April 1999! So I can console myself that I may be getting old now, but once upon a time I was before my time. :>

Thursday, 11 March 2010

WEB101 - Learning Portfolio, Week 2 - What is the Internet?

The thing I'm enjoying most about this unit so far is realising what I already know. Being self-taught is great but I never really have a sense of how much I actually do know about a particular area - I always have this niggling feeling that I've only focussed on the bits that are interesting and I've conveniently missed huge gaps of "not so interesting" stuff in between. Thankfully so far this is proving to be incorrect!

This week's topic is "What is the Internet?", and it turns out that I knew all the "technical" aspects of this topic already, which was reassuring. So my Reflections this week are all about what the Internet is (and has been) to ME.

I started working in IT in 1993 as a network administrator and shortly after convinced my boss that it would be REALLY useful to be able to work from home, so I was provided with a brand-spanking new IBM 386 with Windows for Workgroups 3.11, a funky, state-of-the-art 9.6kbps Hayes external modem and a 3.5" diskette entitled "OzEmail Internet", which setup a dialup account with Ozemail and included several Ozemail-created applications including Usenet (newsgroups), Archie & Gopher (both search engines, although not web-based), an IRC client (chat) and a funky thing called Quarterdeck Mosaic, which was one of the first graphical web browsers. I can't remember how I got around but I have a vague recollection that I used Yahoo and Excite, and that there wasn't much there! I also remember pretty quickly ditching this Ozemail diskette and getting the "real" applications because they were pretty limiting. My friends and family thought I'd lost the plot but I spent HOURS every night after work lost in cyberspace (although I'm not sure it was called that then).

The World Wide Web wasn't much back then, but the thing that really captured my imagination was IRC. There I was, sitting in my lounge room late at night chatting to people from around the world! It was unbelievable! Back then it was almost exclusively techy people like myself, or people who worked at an ISP or who had something to do with the US Military and therefore had free access from work, so a lot of these people were really smart and if I had any tech questions there were a bunch of people I could ask - I learned a lot. Some of those people have gone on to bigger and better things including owning ISPs, writing popular software, working "high up" for large corporations, running a couple of very well-known blogs and websites and some other "notorious" things that I won't go into here! But we didn't just sit and talk tech - we chatted about all sorts of things. It was like having an insight into other people's lives, and it was fascinating.

In 1996-98 I set off on backpacking trips across Europe and North America. I was armed with a list of people that I knew from IRC (names, addresses & phone numbers, and a copy left with my Dad "just in case") and use of a Unix shell account provided by a friend who ran his own server, which included an email account. I caught up with a bunch of those people along the way and even crashed on a few couches. It's hard to put it into context now, but the views of my RL (real life) friends and family back then, most of whom had barely even HEARD of the Internet, were along the lines that I was going to die at the hands of "one of those Internet freaks" or disappear into a weird cult or something, because it Just Wasn't Normal.

What actually happened was, I met their husbands, wives, kids, parents and friends. It wasn't like meeting a stranger, because they weren't strangers. They took me sightseeing but they also invited me into their lives and that's an experience that I'll never forget, and always be grateful to them for. When I arrived at an IRC friend's house, they'd tell everybody else that I'd arrived and people would call up to listen to my "funny" accent. As a group they "followed" me across the world, were subscribed to my email list for updates and chatted to me online when I got onto somebody's computer for 1/2 an hour. I had a website that I wrote in a Unix editor and put up some photos as I went (amazingly, a version of this website from 1998 can still be found on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine!!) A lot of them travelled to Australia in later years and crashed on MY couch, and several of those people are friends for life, even though they live on the other side of the world and I'm lucky if I get to see them more than once every few years.

I stopped IRCing every day quite a few years ago now. It got too easy to find and use, which brought in a whole bunch of silly people with silly scripts, doing and talking about silly things. Well, and I suppose I grew up. :-) But I can still always find the people that count, and I use the things that I learned, technically AND socially, almost every day of my life.

So I guess the point of this week's topic - "What is the Internet?" - is that yes, it's more than the world wide web, it's more than TCP/IP and it's more than "cyberspace". For me, it's added so much to my life over the last 17 years that I can't imagine what my life would have been like without it. :-)

Part of my current Uni course - What is the Internet?

Parts of this post were published on my Uni blog but I wanted to recreate it here... it's about my own personal history with the Internet, and what it's been to ME.

I started working in IT in 1993 as a network administrator and shortly after convinced my boss that it would be REALLY useful to be able to work from home, so I was provided with a brand-spanking new IBM 386 with Windows for Workgroups 3.11, a funky, state-of-the-art 9.6kbps Hayes external modem and a 3.5" diskette entitled "OzEmail Internet", which setup a dialup account with Ozemail and included several Ozemail-created applications including Usenet (newsgroups), Archie & Gopher (both search engines, although not web-based), an IRC client (chat) and a funky thing called Quarterdeck Mosaic, which was one of the first graphical web browsers. I can't remember how I got around but I have a vague recollection that I used Yahoo and Excite, and that there wasn't much there! I also remember pretty quickly ditching this Ozemail diskette and getting the "real" applications because they were pretty limiting. My friends and family thought I'd lost the plot but I spent HOURS every night after work lost in cyberspace (although I'm not sure it was called that then).

The World Wide Web wasn't much back then, but the thing that really captured my imagination was IRC. There I was, sitting in my lounge room late at night chatting to people from around the world! It was unbelievable! Back then it was almost exclusively techy people like myself, or people who worked at an ISP or who had something to do with the US Military and therefore had free access from work, so a lot of these people were really smart and if I had any tech questions there were a bunch of people I could ask - I learned a lot. Some of those people have gone on to bigger and better things including owning ISPs, writing popular software, working "high up" for large corporations, running a couple of very well-known blogs and websites and some other "notorious" things that I won't go into here! But we didn't just sit and talk tech - we chatted about all sorts of things. It was like having an insight into other people's lives, and it was fascinating.

In 1996-98 I set off on backpacking trips across Europe and North America. I was armed with a list of people that I knew from IRC (names, addresses & phone numbers, and a copy left with my Dad "just in case") and use of a Unix shell account provided by a friend who ran his own server, which included an email account. I caught up with a bunch of those people along the way and even crashed on a few couches. It's hard to put it into context now, but the views of my RL (real life) friends and family back then, most of whom had barely even HEARD of the Internet, were along the lines that I was going to die at the hands of "one of those Internet freaks" or disappear into a weird cult or something, because it Just Wasn't Normal.

What actually happened was, I met their husbands, wives, kids, parents and friends. It wasn't like meeting a stranger, because they weren't strangers. They took me sightseeing but they also invited me into their lives and that's an experience that I'll never forget, and always be grateful to them for. When I arrived at an IRC friend's house, they'd tell everybody else that I'd arrived and people would call up to listen to my "funny" accent. As a group they "followed" me across the world, were subscribed to my email list for updates and chatted to me online when I got onto somebody's computer for 1/2 an hour. I had a website that I wrote in a Unix editor and put up some photos as I went (amazingly, a version of this website from 1998 can still be found on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine!!) A lot of them travelled to Australia in later years and crashed on MY couch, and several of those people are friends for life, even though they live on the other side of the world and I'm lucky if I get to see them more than once every few years.

I stopped IRCing every day quite a few years ago now. It got too easy to find and use, which brought in a whole bunch of silly people with silly scripts, doing and talking about silly things. Well, and I suppose I grew up. :-) But I can still always find the people that count, and I use the things that I learned, technically AND socially, almost every day of my life.

So I guess the point of this week's topic - "What is the Internet?" - is that yes, it's more than the world wide web, it's more than TCP/IP and it's more than "cyberspace". For me, it's added so much to my life over the last 17 years that I can't imagine what my life would have been like without it. :-)

Friday, 5 March 2010

L.A.R.P. Live Avatar Role Playing

I'm just... speechless!


Thursday, 4 March 2010

This is one of the funniest things I've ever seen in our local paper...

Reposted from Facebook:

From my fave part of our local paper "Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down", is this week's absolute gem: "To the disgusting person (most likely a teenager) who keeps arranging the fruit at my local fruit market to form the shapes of private parts. It is extremely disturbing and you should grow up and show some consideration to people that don't find disgusting things such as that funny."

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

WEB101 - Learning Portfolio, Week 1

This year I've started the third lot of "formal" study in my lifetime, but the first in more than 15 years.  Suffice to say, things have changed a bit!  Back then I sat in a lecture hall watching a lecturer furiously scribble on a whiteboard while handing out reams of paper, and I studied such gems as "Programming Concepts" and "Using a Mini-Computer", which was about all you could do in the World O' Geek back then.  This week I sat down at my own desk with a cuppa, logged into my student account and downloaded my first lecture, then listened to it in my own time, pausing to look things up, take notes, tap out a couple of posts in the discussion boards, answer the phone or respond to urgent emails whenever I needed to.  It's almost surreal!  This first unit is entirely web-based and all assignments are submitted electronically.  I will probably never even meet my lecturers or tutors, who seem to be all based 3000km and 2 timezones away from Melbourne at Perth's Curtin University.  Welcome to the world of higher learning, 21st century style!

Part of our assessment is to keep a Learning Portfolio, to document things that we find interesting or useful each week, so I've decided to make use of this rather vacant-looking Blog that's been sitting here unused for a couple of years now.

This week they've started in slowly for us - What's in a name?  One of my pet subjects!  My husband still can't believe that I sat there the day that Facebook "released" usernames for the first time, ready to bash out my personalised name before anybody else could get it (yes, I got it).  We were asked to visit http://namechk.com/ and try to find a username that we could use for several social networking sites.  Luckily my chosen username was only being used by me (except for 1 site) so I registered in a couple of other places and now I have a veritable collection of "nickyveitch" sites scattered about the place!  Here are a couple:

Oh, and let's not forget - http://www.nickyveitch.com

One other thing that was covered this week, which I'm bizarrely fascinated with, is this funky little Flash app depicting Social Media Counts by Gary Hayes:

For those that are interested, I'm doing the first unit in what will probably become a Bachelor of Arts (Internet Communications) via Open Universities Australia (if I can stick it out this time!)

Until next week,
Cheers,
Nicky

Gary's Social Media Count

I'm fascinated by this... please keep all geek comments to yourselves :p

http://www.personalizemedia.com/garys-social-media-count/