// Internet Duct Tape

What Have You Done For You Lately?

Posted in Digital Culture, Lifehacks, Technology by engtech on April 24, 2008

Lifehacks and Productivity

For Earth Day this year I decided I was going to try to make a real change by commuting to work under my own power instead of using my car. I’ve been riding a wave of endorphin high as my body goes through the shock of experiencing exercise again for the first time in a long while. I can feel the winter doldrums lifting [1], and I asked myself: when was the last time I did something that makes a positive change in my life?

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The Fragmentation of Identity and Discussion

Connect with your readers

I’m a social web app junkie. Where most people use a few on a regular basis as a consumer and only a couple as a producer I am an active user on far too many sites. I’m not a beta junkie to the point where I try out every web service (especially not the ones spamming my blog contact email), but I do try out more than my fair share and manage to get involved before they reach the tipping point (like Friend Feed is reaching now).

The sheer amount of web apps out there leads to fragmentization of our online identities, but that isn’t a bad thing. The people who read my blog aren’t necessarily people I’m interested in talking to on Twitter, and none of us might share the same taste in music on Last.FM. For a while there I was talking about the Ruby programming language like crazy on this blog, but now I’m using a niche tumbleblog so that I can post more often on that specific technical subject without alienating my existing audience.

But it isn’t only our online identities that are fragmenting: it’s also the discussion around content. Once upon a time the way someone would comment on something you wrote would be to write a blog post of their own in response. Then blogs got a comment section and people could write what they had to say directly on the post. Now the discussion around a post has completely fragmented: people are saying stuff about your content on Twitter, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Digg, Reddit, Facebook… pretty much anywhere except for the post where you originally wrote it.

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Book Review: Halting State by Charles Stross

Posted in Book Reviews, Digital Culture, Games, Technology by engtech on February 14, 2008

Book Reviews

If you’re a programmer/gamer geek and looking for a gripping book that you won’t be able to put down then look no further than Halting State. I’ve been on a Stross kick for the past few months, having read Accelerando, Glass House and Iron Sunrise. Halting State is easily his most engaging book I’ve read so far.

It takes place in the near future where ubiquitous computing has started to take hold via mobile phone networks. This is a future where online roleplaying games and live action roleplaying games are an international past time (as we already can see happening now with the gaming industry being a bigger industry than the movie industry). The story starts off in with a bank robbery by a band of Orcs in a virtual world — a band robbery that should not have been possible because of the digital cryptography keys involved.

As much as I enjoy video games and fantasy settings, the book thankfully takes place mostly in the real world — although in the age of ubiquitous computing and common place augmented reality, who is to say what is real? It reminded me of War Games meets Cryptonomicon and World of Warcraft. Stross manages to get all the geeky elements right, and I’m not just saying that because my player character in my weekly table-top campaign is a were-bearbarian.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but this is a wonderful whodunit, and if this is what Charles Stross has in store for us in the future then I’m going to have to make more room on my shelf.

Favorite quote: “It’s TCP/IP over AD&D!”

Also see

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Online Survival Guide: 9 Tips for Dealing with Idiots on the Internet

Social Software and You

My first experience with online communication was bulletin board systems in the early 90s. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The experience of running a blog is almost exactly the same as it was running a BBS 15 years ago. The only difference is the sheer number of channels available for communication.

Where there was once up to 100 to 200 local BBSes there are now so many online forums for communication that it might as well be infinite., New forums for communication are being created all the time. Mainstream sites like the New York Times let you comment on articles, and each person has their own discussion forum thanks to sites like Facebook and MySpace.

“When I was involved in the BBS/IRC scene as a teenager I was surrounded by flame wars; one-upmanship was part of the attraction. I thought it was because of the immaturity of the participants, but now I think it is a natural offshoot of digital communication. We lose all the visual and auditory cues that are a normal part of human dialog and instead focus on words that can be easy to misinterpret (especially if looking for a reason to fight).” quoting myself

Winter is one of the worst for flame wars because environmental conditions make people more irritable and more likely to spend more time online. Here are some tips for navigating online discussions from someone who has been participating and managing public forums for over 15 years.

Tips for Administrators

Tip #1: Disemvowel

From Wikipedia: “In the fields of Internet discussion and forum moderation, disemvoweling is the removal of vowels from text either as a method of self-censorship, or as a technique by forum moderators to censor Internet trolling and other unwanted posting. When used by a forum moderator, the net effect of disemvowelling text is to render it illegible or legible only through significant cognitive effort.

Xeni Jardin, co-editor of Boing Boing says of the practice, “the dialogue stays, but the misanthrope looks ridiculous, and the emotional sting is neutralized.”

This original sentence:

In the fields of Internet discussion and forum moderation, disemvoweling (also spelled disemvowelling) is the removal of vowels from text.

would be disemvowelled to look like this:

n th flds f ntrnt dscssn nd frm mdrtn, Dsmvwlng (ls splld dsmvwllng) s th rmvl f vwls frm txt.”

You can disemvowel any text using this tool. There is also a Firefox extension that lets you disemvowel comments if you’re a WordPress administrator. The same guy has a Firefox extension for handling religious trolls.

Tip #2: Temporarily disable comments for that post

This works well if you’ve been linked to from another site and it’s bringing a lot of tolls (IE: Digg, Slashdot). You can turn the comments on after a day or two without having to wade through the 100+ comments telling you how much of an idiot you are because they don’t agree with some minor minutiae of your argument.

Tip #3: Take the discussion to email

Nothing kills a flame war like removing the audience.

Quoting myself: “There is a different between scrawling messages on a public site and having a one on one conversation. The flame wars that are routine on some sites rarely exist in personal email. People stop being disembodied words and ideas and you remember that there is a person behind all of that typing.”

Comment Ninja is a handy Firefox extension for WordPress blog administrators that makes it easy to respond to commenters on your blog by email.

Tip #4: Never post personal information

Because you are an administrator, you have access to a commenters email address and their IP address. This information is usually enough to find out anything else you want to about who they are. (IE: put their email address into Facebook to find their real name, use their IP address to find out where they work)

It can be tempting to deal with a troll by removing their anonymity, but making it personal can change a one time nuisance into someone with a grudge that won’t go away.

Tips for Anyone

Tip #5: Let it stew

If something really gets your goat, then sit on it. Come back and re-read what bothered you later on and you may find that you were reading between the lines and interpreting an emotional undertone that isn’t there. The human mind is great at adding missing context, but it can also trick you into reading what you want to believe.

Revisiting something that filled you with rage days latter can leave you scratching your head trying to find what it was that pulled your chain.

Tip #6: Leave it where you found it

As I said earlier, it is ridiculously easy to collect personal identifying information about someone and find other parts of their online identity. Other than bringing a public argument to a private means of communication, you should leave the argument where you found it. Letting it spill over to other websites, or worse, following the person on to other aspects of their online identity makes you look like a stalker or a crazy person.

It doesn’t matter how justified you feel your actions are, the simple act of not being able to let go of things hurts your credibility.

Tip #7: Social proof is important

No matter how well reasoned your argument is, trying to convince someone of something they vehemently disbelieve in is next to impossible when they don’t know you from a hole in the wall.

From Wikipedia: “Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon that occurs in ambiguous social situations when people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior. Making the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation, they will deem the behavior of others as appropriate or better informed.”

Every online forum is an ambiguous social situation because you don’t know who you are communicating with. The social proof of who you are in that community will play a bigger role than your actual argument.

Tip #8: Always let a fool have the last word

Slant Six Creative covers this in depth: “Healthy argument and debate only work when everyone’s a willing participant, and no amount of reason or good sense is going to convince someone whose only goal is to throw a monkey wrench. At the same time, trying to dismiss that person or shut him up will usually just make him go that much harder. That and it makes you look like a dictator, which you never want to be.

So, give him the last word on the point and move on. Doing so might mean a short-term hit to your pride, but in the long run it helps you build credibility with the people you’re really trying to talk to.”

Tip #9: Walk away

Communicating online has some clear benefits because you can take as much time as you want to develop your arguments and it is easy to re-read past points without falling into a rehashing of who said what. But it can also be time consuming and pointless when there is no resolution in sight. There’s a big difference between debating a subject and a flame war in the emotional response you feel and the benefit you get from the discussion. The only way you can win a flame war is by turning off the computer and getting on with your life.

Online discussion is easily archived and searchable, so who knows if this discussion will be dredged up years later. Is it really worth it?

Book Review: Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson

Posted in Book Reviews, Digital Culture, Games, Movies, Technology by engtech on January 04, 2008

Book Reviews

Credits to Fred for introducing me to Everything Bad is Good for You: How Pop Culture is Making Us Smarter. The thesis behind the book is simple: if you look at the popular media culture over time it is becoming more and more complex. There have always been avant garde examples that wove complex stories but over time the same techniques are used in mainstream pop culture. IE: It is becoming common place to produce tv shows and movies that require multiple watchings to fully digest.

everything bad is good for youThe book notes that this is in deep contrast to the old mantra of television programming where you wanted to go for the least offensive programming possible to avoid loosing market share. Johnson posits that one of the causes for change is before we didn’t have the ability to easily rewatch a tv show or movie to catch something we might have missed on first viewing.

Johnson also notes that the decline in reading books isn’t as bad as many people make it out to be because we have so much more access to written content via the Internet and more importantly people are writing more than ever before. I thought this was a good counter argument; when I look at the online presence of myself and my friends most of them are doing some form of content creation instead of passive content consumption.

The one area where I felt the book fell weak was in proving that more complex content is making us smarter. Intuitively I agree with the hypothesis, but the only proof offered was how IQ scores have been increasing in the average to above average segment of the population, but IQ scores haven’t been increasing for the ultra-smart people. It makes sense because the complexity of pop culture might be enough to increase problem solving skills in the average person but wouldn’t be enough to increase skills in the exceptionally above average.

I recommend reading this book after reading Made to Stick because Everything Bad is Good for You is a perfect example of how to convey an idea that will stay with the reader. The only downside is that some of the pop culture examples are already getting long in the tooth and I already agreed with the hypothesis without needing that much evidence. It might make for a more interesting read if it challenged your perceptions.

What Other People Have to Say

The Attention Age: Accelerando, Software Agents, Filters and Gatekeepers

Posted in Book Reviews, Digital Culture, RSS Syndication, Software, Technology by engtech on October 17, 2007

Last night I finished reading Accelerando by Charles Stross. Like many of the books I read these days, I heard about it from another blogger. It feels like a spiritual sequel to Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, John Brunner’s the Shockwave Rider and Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan. It is about information overload to the nth degree and too much change in too short of a time.accelerando charles stross

Accelerando is broken into 9 fragmented stories with decades passing in between them. This is too bad because it was the initial segment, only a few years in the future, that I found most interesting. Our protagonist is hooked up to a portable computing network of software agents that he uses to continually data mine and plug-in to a “river of news”. As he communicates with other people he spawns off parts of his “distributed brain” to research more information and get back to him.

The greatest inventions usually come from seeing the possible connection between two separate things (eg: peanut butter and chocolate). Like in the Shockwave Rider, our protagonist is successful because of his ability to gather and process information is so far beyond an average person’s. Being immersed in the information stream he sees the connections and trends that other’s can’t see.

These connections lead to so many successful ideas, that he can’t possibly execute on them himself – because the time it takes to implement them would take away from the information processing that is his true talent. He makes a career of giving away his ideas and surviving off of the reputation gain and support of his sponsors he’s made so successful. Very much like Doctorow’s concept of whuffie – reputation as currency.

The book progresses to talking about the post-human experience after digitization has reached the point that we can successfully digitally encode human personalities. Post-death society, heads in jars and living bodiless on the internet. There’s a really good bit on how the next major species will be intelligent corporations and artificial spam intelligence. But what really interested me was the initial chapters so close to the beginning 21st century: how do we use technology to deal with information overload?

(You can get a copy of Accelerando for free online – which is very useful because the copy I borrowed from the library was missing the last page – now that’s frustrating)

It’s Getting Harder to Find Information

We’re in the middle of a great revolution where anyone can become a self-publisher. But that’s the crux of the problem, isn’t it? Anyone can become a self-publisher. The low barrier to entry makes the competition for attention fierce. At some level we’re all on par with the lowliest spammers, trying to compete for other people’s attention. There is so much new content being created all the time at the only way old content stays in the public record is if the Great Google God returns it in a search result.

This is only going to get worse because Google has created a new caste of blogging serfdom. People create content and splash Google ads on it with the hope of that it will do well in Google search results so they can get paid.

There’s many a “business model” that relies completely on Google-Google Search for traffic and Google AdSense for revenue. And there’s an even larger amount of so-called business models that rely almost completely on Google for traffic, even if the money comes in via other means.

I think you know what happens to the money when the traffic stops.

I use the term “business model” above loosely, because a model that is entirely dependent on an outside company, for either traffic or revenue or both, is not really sound. You’re not in charge and you have very little control, because if Google decides to change the rules, you’re out of luck. Based on that, I would argue that relying on Google is not a business at all.

I’d say you work for Google.

From the Teaching Sells e-book

Where are the Smart Filtering Agents?

One of the things I remember clearly about the idea of intelligent agents in the early 90s was how it was going to revolutionize how we consume information. Instead of having to *gasp* pick up a newspaper, autonomous software agents would search the net finding tidbits of information what we were interested in and adapting and learning from how we interact with the results. Sci-fi books like John Varley’s Steel Beach dealt with the relationships between humans and these evolving artificial intelligences.

Take a moment to glance at the Wikipedia page on software agents; it’s quite good.

The 90s hope for intelligent agents has congealed. RSS has gotten us part of the way; now we can pick voices out of the chaos that we allow to push information to us. We can subscribe to alerts on search subjects that interest us. But aside from custom recommendation engines like Netflix and Last.FM there isn’t really a bot out there for finding information for us.

The Future: RSS Filtering

I see the fledgling baby steps of software agents delivering news. There are several sites competing for being able to filter through a list of RSS feeds and recommend the best news items to you.

There’s also the “build your own” filtering agent approach.

And let’s not forget the ability to monitor search terms.

One of the more enlightened concepts I’ve come across is FaveBot that wants to bring you the custom information you want about your favorite actors, authors and musicians.

Is the Answer Better Gatekeepers?

Is having an intelligent software agent the right approach or is it better to let humans do the filtering? The past year has seen an incredible rising in using crowdsourcing to decide what is the best information available. This is how digg, reddit, stumbleupon and the delicious popular page find interesting information by using the wisdom of mobs. Unfortunately when the user-base grows too large it becomes watered down to only common denominators.

The other approach is to find human editors to act as your gatekeeper. I’m not talking about hiring your man in Mumbai, but rather niche news sites like Slashdot, BoingBoing and Fark, and to a greater extent using the network of blogs you enjoy to act as your information gate keepers.

The last.FM music service is an amazing tool for finding new music to listen to. What makes it even stronger is its ability to find your “neighbours” – people you don’t know who have similar musical tastes. Listening to your neighbourhood radio is like having a friend who’s a DJ and always pushing new and interesting songs at you.

last.fm music neighbourhood

I don’t know any of these people, but I like their musical tastes.

Maybe instead of software agents we need software that connects us to other people who have similar interests? I read LifeHacker because I know the editors have very similar sensibilities to what I find interesting. Jon Udell shares my same love for information organization and manipulation. Jeff Atwood has perhaps one of the most engaging blogs for general geekery and love of programming, and his twitterstream is always full of interesting links.

The only downside to filtering information is that restricting your input to the people you already agree with creates a reinforcing feedback loop and destroys your patience and your ability to be around people with differing outlooks.

Related Posts

Book Review: Overclocked by Cory Doctorow (and Fair Use Day)

Posted in Book Reviews, Digital Culture, Technology by engtech on July 11, 2007

Fair Use, Copyright and Digital Rights

There is a grassroots movement to make July 11th an International Fair Use Day where we all celebrate our rights to copy content in a fair manner (i.e.: backing up software/movies, quoting other sources). Copyright laws have reached the point where they stifle innovation and prevent use from standing on the shoulders of giants. Fair use of copyright is very different from piracy; copyright laws should protect the rights of the content creator but also protect the rights of the end user. Fair use is about achieving balance between the two different interests.

Copyright discussion and technology often go hand-in-hand because advances in technology make it easier and easier to cheaply reproduce what was originally hard to reproduce. Striking a balance between producers and consumers is very important. If nothing was profitable then nothing then there would be less innovation, but on the flip side what if producers held complete control over how and when their works could be used? Can you imagine a world where you weren’t legally allowed to re-sell or buy used books, CDs or DVDs? Can you imagine a world without libraries?

drm orwell digital rights management
(photo by jbonnain)

Michael Geist

July 11th is a great choice for the date because it is also the birthday of Canada’s own digital rights super-hero Michael Geist. Happy birthday, Michael. If you aren’t familiar with his work, then I recommend starting with a series of articles called “30 Days of DRM” that are enlightening to say the least. Another Canadian digital rights super-hero is Cory Doctorow, a science-fiction author and co-editor of the famous BoingBoing weblog.

Cory Doctorow

cory doctorow overclock short stories science fiction bookLast night I finished reading Cory Doctorow’s new collection of short stories, Overclocked, and I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I’ve read two of his other books, Eastern Standard Tribe and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and found them disappointing although full of interesting ideas. Overclocked succeeds where the others failed for me because the short narrative allows for a focus on the ideas without feeling that the characters are neglected.

Common Themes in Overclocked

Cory deals with information warfare, robotic sentience, inequalities between first and third world countries and the next level of copyright infringement – when we have 3d printers that can replicate any goods. So much of our current consumer laws are based on the concept of scarcity. We’ve already entered a post-scarcity economy when it comes to entertainment goods that can be reproduced digitally. 3D printing already exists, what kind of world do we want to live in when anything — even food, clothing and electronics — can be reproduced with minimum cost and effort?

The Stories from Overclocked

All of the short stories in Overclocked are already freely available online from other sources. You can check them out by following these links.

Printcrime – the real outcome of a society where copying has been made illegal.

When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth – when a biological agent wipes out humanity the only people left standing are the sysadmins who were protecting the network in clean rooms.

Anda’s Game – a young girl learns about goldfarming and world wide inequality thanks to World of Warcraft.

I, Robot – Asimov meets Orwell in a mash-up of 1984 and I, Robot where government controlled restrictions on technology have created wars with countries that don’t follow the same restrictions.

I, Row-Boat – a sentient row boat with free will explores the nature of consciousness in a post-human society.

After the Siege – A city goes from utopia to a cesspool of human misery when other countries attack them for illegally copying the goods they need to survive.

Related Links

Electronic Civil Disobedience

Posted in Digg, Digital Culture, Technology by engtech on May 02, 2007

People are calling the Digg user revolt the “Internet story of the year.” The Digg community fixated on the 32-bit encryption key for HD-DVDs protests against the site owners giving in to potential censorship requests by HD-DVD producers (who are also advertisers on the site) and censoring stories that published the key. You can read more coverage (and screenshots) at Mathew Ingram, Deep Jive Interests or TechCrunch. I first heard the story break at Paris Lemon. WinExtra might have the best post about this.

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Five Ways to Fix Digg’s Comment System

Posted in Digg, Digital Culture, Technology by engtech on March 27, 2007

The Kathy Sierra story made Digg. Of course, the comments were to be expected. Robert Scoble is outraged by the comments (truly, there were some horrible ones there). MG@ParisLemon asks the question:

What role, if any, should Digg play in this? The comments could be a place for great discussions on the story, but usually they degrade into the musings of lunatics. When do comments stop being free speech and start being serious threats? These are the questions.

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Cyber-bullying – Not just for teenagers

Posted in Digital Culture, Links, Technology by engtech on March 27, 2007

I’ve been thinking about featuring 31 bloggers over 31 days for my one year anniversary and Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users would be tops on that list. Which makes this even more saddening and sickening. I don’t know any of the people involved/accused so I won’t comment on the specifics of the situation. It constantly amazes me how “Just Add Internet” and people get up to the kind of actions and harassment they’d never do in real life.

Well, hopefully they’d never do in real life.

Scobles’ response was good, especially since he gets his fair share of internet death threats as well.

Quoting myself from a previous post:

When I was involved in the BBS/IRC scene as a teenager I was surrounded by flame wars; one-upmanship was part of the attraction. I thought it was because of the immaturity of the participants, but now I think it is a natural offshoot of digital communication. We lose all the visual and auditory cues that are a normal part of human dialog and instead focus on words that can be easy to misinterpret (especially if looking for a reason to fight).

Throw anonymity into the mix and it becomes a recipe for disaster. Becoming popular on Slashdot or Digg is equal parts excitement at the exposure and annoyance at the new commenters. To be fair this isn’t restricted to these two communities; for a large number of people getting into arguments on the Internet is a major source of entertainment.

But some people take that too far. Flamewars and oneupmanship is drastically different than harassment. I hope legal action is pursued and the WordPress.com staff do what they can to identify the source.

In the Future This Blog Post will be Obsolete

Posted in Digital Culture, Technology by engtech on February 18, 2007

I spend a lot of time surfing information feeds and I see how ideas form and spread from one person to another. We are in the information age and experiencing information explosion. Push button publishing has lead to ever increasing content. The librarians of the future have their job cut out for them — but that’s okay because the physical storage space for all this data continues to shrink.

The bigger question is how do you keep it accessible? Digital Rights Management (DRM) is one side of the problem — ensuring that anything locked by copyright will be unreadable in 10 years time. The other side of the problem is technological obsolescence. Even if you use open standards they are continually evolving. At the moment I can play MP3s on my computer, iPod, home stereo, car, and gaming console. What about 50 years from now?

Do you own a record player? What about a cassette tape player?

This is great for content producers because they can keep selling you the same thing over and over again. But what about when the data isn’t a consumer good? If there isn’t any money to be made from converting data to the new format du jour then it will be abandoned. Look at this New York Times Best Seller list from the 1940s to 2000s. I haven’t heard of most of the books or authors that were published before I was born. And that was before we hit the Information Age. Good luck finding those books at a bookstore.

Copyright legislation ensures that by the time a published work is freely available for copying it is almost guaranteed there will no longer be an audience who is interested in copying it. More and more content is available in digital format, but by the time it can be legally copied that format can’t be read. Do you have software that can read a WordPerfect [wiki] document [1]?

Old video games see new light because of virtualization and emulators. But these are the exceptions that prove the rule. At least with stone tablets you could still read them thousands years later. CD-ROMs can become unreadable after as little as two years [wiki] under normal usage conditions. Even if they are physically accessible the chances of being able to read the content 50 years from now is next to nil. When was the last time you bought a computer with a 3.5 inch drive?

Content is disposable and the chance that something you create will be read, watched, or listened to years from now are next to nothing unless it continues to remain commercially viable from generation to generation. Even if you created something that could stand the test of time there are too many new voices producing too many new things. The best of the best is a needle in the haystack and the haystack keeps getting bigger.

[1] And I am unfairly picking on WordPerfect. It is still a commercially available product, just one that few people use.

The Internet is for Trolls

Posted in Digital Culture, Technology, Web 2.0 and Social Media by engtech on December 20, 2006

Meek, normally polite people can turn into the biggest assholes when they don’t have to look each other in the eyes.

When I was involved in the BBS/IRC scene as a teenager I was surrounded by flame wars; one-upmanship was part of the attraction. I thought it was because of the immaturity of the participants, but now I think it is a natural offshoot of digital communication. We lose all the visual and auditory cues that are a normal part of human dialog and instead focus on words that can be easy to misinterpret (especially if looking for a reason to fight).

Throw anonymity into the mix and it becomes a recipe for disaster. Becoming popular on Slashdot or Digg is equal parts excitement at the exposure and annoyance at the new commenters. To be fair this isn’t restricted to these two communities; for a large number of people getting into arguments on the Internet is a major source of entertainment. Two weeks ago I put a comment policy on my blog – I have no problem with disagreement but keep things civil.

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Cory Doctorow on Building an Audience

Posted in Building a Community, Digital Culture, Links, Technology by engtech on December 05, 2006

Cory Doctorow is a prolific author and runs the most popular blog on the planet: BoingBoing. He’s also been challenging the publishing industry traditions with his writing. I still haven’t read any of his books, but I should. Forbes as an interview with him where he talks about giving the milk away for free, but still getting people to buy the cow. (via Gaping Void)

I’m a believer that Digital Rights Management (copyright protection) is horribly flawed. By trying control every aspect of the consumer experience, content publishers are shooting themselves in the foot. Watching a copied DVD is a better experience because you can remove the “forced to watch” trailers at the beginning. Theatre goers are confronted with a “copying is stealing” message even though they’re the only customers who are guaranteed to have paid for the experience.

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Project Cleanfeed Canada

Posted in Digital Culture, Online Privacy and Reputation Management, Technology by engtech on November 26, 2006

(this is a follow-up to the Great Firewall of Canada)

spyblog.org.uk notes how “systems like British Telecom’s CleanFeed are inherently vulnerable to reverse engineering attacks, which can reveal the list of censored websites”. While I doubt the technique mentioned in the paper still works, it does give more technical information about CleanFeed than I’ve seen anywhere else.

Dr. Richard Clayton’s paper
http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/%7Ernc1/cleanfeed.pdf

Michael Geist has thrown in his support with Cybertip on the issue:

More importantly, while some may suggest that this opens the door to other blocking – hate content, defamatory content or copyright infringement to name three – there is a crucial difference with child pornography that should prevent a similar approach. While those forms of content may raise legal issues, in the case of child pornography, it is illegal to even access the content. That is a crucial difference since under current law there are no valid free speech arguments for either disseminating child pornography nor for seeking the right to access it. Given that difference, the right of appeal, and the active involvement of cybertip.ca, the arrival of Project Cleanfeed in Canada looks like a good news story that merits close monitoring.

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The Great Firewall of Canada

The title of this article is, of course, a reference to the Internet censorship that is rampant in China.



Mark Goldberg
pointed me to the press release of “Project Cleanfeed Canada”. Canadian carriers Bell Aliant, Bell Canada, MTS Allstream, Rogers, SaskTel, Shaw, TELUS, and Videotron have all opted in to a blacklist provided by Cybertip.ca, the Canadian tip-line against child exploitation. Mark is an advocate of putting censorship in place against websites that would be deemed illegal by Canadian Law (such as those promoting hate speech or sexually exploiting children).

I first came across Mark’s website when he was filing an application requesting the CRTC to authorize Canadian carriers to block internet content. I morally support blocking hate speech and child porn (who wouldn’t?), but the idea of having a national blacklist sends shivers down my spine. I would always prefer that illegal websites be shutdown rather than putting into power national filters that have the potential to be abused. I’m a pessimist, I believe that any form of censorship will eventually be abused despite its good intentions.

Nart Villeneuve has an excellent article that sums up my fear of government sponsored filters:

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