Boing Boing vs. Filter-ware

Yes, we all know censorship is bad.  But is it fair for BoingBoing to try to bully a software company out of business?  From a post yesterday:

Boing Boing to net-censors: Get bent!

We’ve decided not to rejig our editorial process to make it easier for a censorware company to block us for their customers. Instead, we’re creating a clearinghouse of information on how to defeat censorware.

Last week, we reported that Boing Boing was blocked by entire countries including the United Arab Emirates, and by many library systems, schools, US government and military sites, and corporations.

Today, we’ve learned that Internet Qatar, the sole ISP in the State of Qatar, has also banned BoingBoing.

We’ve heard from librarians in Africa who want to watch the video of the American Register of Copyrights denouncing Congress, employees at the Australian Broadcasting Company, students, and workers around the world who can’t gain access to our work.

At fault in most of these cases is a US-based censorware company called Secure Computing, which makes a web-rating product called SmartFilter.

Link: Boing Boing: BoingBoing banned in UAE, Qatar, elsewhere. Our response to net-censors: Get bent!.

Rather than address the specifics of access to their site, the BoingBoing folks are  launching an all-out attack, complete with a "Guide to Defeating Censorware"

Undoubtedly it’s true that current filtering tools leave much to be desired.  One would assume, though, that this company is trying in reasonably good faith to make an accurate product so that they can remain in business.  BoingBoing seems bent on subverting any filtering whatsoever.  Anyone who thinks there’s no legitimate need for web filtering has presumably never taught a computer lab or worked in a public library.  It’s not hard to guess who will be the most frequent visitors to BoingBoing’s helpful cheatsheet.

George Monbiot on “Children of the Machine”

The story about the two Ohio workers who got RFID chips implanted is ancient news by blog standards, but it’s still worth thinking/writing about.  George Monbiot had a good article about it last week.  An excerpt:

There are, in other words, plenty of legitimate uses for implanted chips. This is why they bother me. A technology whose widespread deployment, if attempted now, would be greeted with horror, will gradually become unremarkable. As this happens, its purpose will begin to creep.

At first the tags will be more widely used for workers with special security clearance. No one will be forced to wear one; no one will object. Then hospitals – and a few in the US are already doing this(7)- will start scanning their unconscious or incoherent patients to see whether or not they have a tag. Insurance companies might start to demand that vulnerable people are chipped.

The armed forces will discover that they are more useful than dog tags for identifying injured soldiers or for tracking troops who are lost or have been captured by the enemy. Prisons will soon come to the same conclusion. Then sweatshops in developing countries will begin to catch on. Already the overseers seek to control their workers to the second; determining when they clock on, when they visit the toilet, even the number of hand movements they perform. A chip makes all this easier. The workers will not be forced to have them, any more than they are forced to have sex with their bosses; but if they don’t accept the conditions, they don’t get the job. After that, it surely won’t be long before asylum seekers are confronted with a similar choice: you don’t have to accept an implant, but if you refuse, you can’t stay in the country.

Link: George Monbiot – Children of the Machine.

Blogosphere catch-up


  • Josh at Fire and Knowledge has been posting some quotes from one of my, um, favorite books that I’ve never read:

    We live in a world where it is as unthinkable to walk five miles to visit a friend as it was once unthinkable to speak across the distance through a wire.

Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies (1994)

Coincidentally, I did finally get a copy of this recently.  Part of my delay was caused by Fawcett’s cruel, destined-to-go-out-of-print price of $19 for a slim paperback.  (I bought it used, and yes I’m too lazy to go to the library.)

  • Michael Zimmer has been on top of Google’s controversies over the past several months with lots of great posts.  From a recent Q&A post:

    In light of the China
    situation, do you think the shift in “principles” is merely a tipping
    point for a public that has been waiting for a clear-cut reason to be

    I don’t think the general public has been looking for a
    reason to become “anti-Google.” From my perspective (and supported by
    Pew’s research), the typical web user (erroneously) feels Google is a
    neutral tool that inherently delivers the “best” and most useful search
    results. Few considered the fact that search engines could have biases
    or be political. I do think, however, that the China incident was an
    event that finally did bring these issues to light. The potential
    biases in how search engines operate has now come to the forefront of
    people’s minds. For those who already were concerned about the
    “politics of search engines,” the China incident was merely the latest

Is wireless internet hazardous to your health?

Lakehead University in Ontario has decided against installing campus wi-fi because of health and security concerns:

The safety of chronic, long-term exposure to electromagnetic energy, of which radio waves are a part, is a hotly contested scientific subject. Researchers have conducted hundreds of studies assessing the health impacts of this form of energy, studying not only radio waves, but related topics, such as microwaves and the electromagnetic fields around electric wiring.

    With the profusion of cellphone towers, wireless networks and electricity using electronic devices, exposure levels are rising rapidly across the globe.

    But most studies have been unable to prove conclusively that common, everyday exposures are a health hazard. In response, regulatory bodies around the world have usually concluded that there is no reason for public concern.

Link: Globe and Mail: Lakehead says no way to wireless

Via Computers, Society, and Nature, who have more on this issue.

Newsflash: Technology doesn’t make us more productive

I remember seeing newspaper articles making this same point ten years ago.  From Reuters via Wired:

Most U.S. workers say they feel rushed on the job, but they are getting less accomplished than a decade ago, according to newly released research.

Workers completed two-thirds of their work in an average day last year, down from about three-quarters in a 1994 study, according to research conducted for Day-Timers, an East Texas, Pennsylvania-based maker of organizational products.

The biggest culprit is the technology that was supposed to make work quicker and easier, experts say.

"Technology has sped everything up and, by speeding everything up, it’s slowed everything down, paradoxically," said John Challenger, chief executive of Chicago-based outplacement consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

"We never concentrate on one task anymore," Challenger said. "You take a little chip out of it, and then you’re on to the next thing. It’s harder to feel like you’re accomplishing something."

Unlike a decade ago, U.S. workers are bombarded with e-mail, computer messages, cell phone calls, voicemails and the like, research showed. […]

The Loka Institute

I recently learned (from the excellent book Trust Us, We’re Experts by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber) about the Loka Institute:

The Loka Institute (TLI), a national 501 (c) 3 non-profit research, advocacy, and training institute, has been in operation for more than a decade:

    * Highlighting the social and political repercussions of science & technology and development
    * Providing processes, protocols and best practices for democratic decision-making in organizations, community projects, and policy-making
    * Promoting and practicing participatory research
    * Advocating appropriate design of technology to reflect democratic concerns

We partner with community based organizations, local, state and federal government agencies, and universities.

They promote many worthwhile activities, such as community-based (and funded) "science shops" that enable community groups to study controversial issues themselves.

Proof that TV doesn’t harm kids?

Austan Goolsbee writes in Slate:

In a recent study,
two economists at the University of Chicago, Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse
Shapiro, came up with a different way to test the long-run impact of
television on kids—by reaching back to the distant past of the
information age. […]

From the 1966 Coleman Report, the landmark study of educational opportunity commissioned by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Gentzkow and Shapiro got 1965 test-score data for almost 300,000 kids. They looked for evidence that greater exposure to television lowered test scores. They found none. After controlling for socioeconomic status, there were no significant test-score differences between kids who lived in cities that got TV earlier as opposed to later, or between kids of pre- and post-TV-age cohorts. Nor did the kids differ significantly in the amount of homework they did, dropout rates, or the wages they eventually made. If anything, the data revealed a small positive uptick in test scores for kids who got to watch more television when they were young. For kids living in households in which English was a second language, or with a mother who had less than a high-school education, the study found that TV had a more sizable positive impact on test scores in reading and general knowledge. Evidently, Bozo the Clown was better than we remember.

Link: The Benefits of Bozo – Proof that TV doesn’t harm kids. By Austan Goolsbee.

(via Steven Johnson)

Goolsbee’s "proof" is from a single 2006 study that revisited 1966 data that were collected for a different purpose.  I haven’t read the paper but that kind of re-analysis sounds risky.

Poking around a bit, I noticed that the paper has apparently not been published yet.  Hmm.  You always have to question the motive of researchers (and op-ed writers) who promote research in the media before it’s reviewed and published in a real journal.

The Extremes of Modern TV

Lore Sjöberg writes about the shock of watching cable TV again after a five-year break:

The biggest shocker, however, has been the gratuitous, licentious, pandering inclusion of post-production computer effects. Gone are the days in which text would just sit there and maybe make your TV buzz a little. Now every damn piece of text has to make a Broadway entrance, swooping and glowing and surrounded by vaguely computery symbols and lines.

When last I had cable, there were 3-D news graphics and sports were starting to create yellow lines on playfields where yellow lines do not actually exist, but now it’s everywhere. Nature programs! I watched a show on Animal Planet about moose, and there were all these dancing, spinning, moose-related graphics. It was like some weird mash-up of Northern Exposure and Tron. How I long for the days when a nature show meant long shots of herd animals being chased by helicopters for no apparent reason while an old man tried to sell you insurance.

Link: Wired News: Tune In, Turn On, Veg Out.

I agree… Nature shows these days are especially bad.  Everything’s EXTREME! or computer-generated.  We’ve gone way past the point of nature shows being unrealistic because they showed only the exciting bits (attacking and mating).  Now CG fills in the gaps with even more dazzling performances when the animals aren’t up to it.

To give credit where it’s due, though: Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl was pure genius (I’m serious).

The New Atlantis

There’s a new issue out of the on-line journal The New Atlantis, with commentary on the $100 Laptop among other things.  An excerpt:

[The] blinkered enthusiasm of Negroponte and many others
for “salvation by laptop” is the latest symptom of a delusion that
afflicts millions: thinking that technology, and computing technology
in particular, is the thing most needed to change the world for the
better. Some skeptics have questioned the feasibility of the $100 price
or criticized some of the technical details. But only a few lonely
voices have raised more fundamental questions about how the machines
will be used—such as this letter to M.I.T.’s Technology Review: “I’m Mexican, and I’ve seen which sites Mexican kids surf in cybercafés—and it’s not ones like Project Gutenberg.”

Yet rather than asking hard questions about unyielding poverty in an
affluent world, it is far easier to praise “The Laptop That Will Save
the World” (as the New York Times has called it) and to lionize
Negroponte as a visionary (as ABC News has done). It is much more fun
to speak of “integrated and seamless” educational experiences and
“access to all the libraries of the world.” And it is nice to believe
that one’s own favorite pastimes—like technological innovation—are what
the most needy people most need.