Flood Control

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I Want To Steal This Man's Brain

I wrote about this the other week, but the catalyst of the last post, Nicholas Carr, has a much better post about America's position on ICANN.

Also? The Tunisia meeting that essentially decides the future of the Internet is next month, not a week ago. Whoops.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Oh Lordy The Internet

I've just finished watching that CSI episode about furries. I strongly wish I hadn't.

Apparantly Wikipedia has become the Internet's new whipping boy. I believe it started with a blog post made by one Nicholas Carr. He says, basically, that the properties given to new technologies like blogging, wikis and the like often go past their actual code and ascend into something like a religious experience, but when you get right down to it it's still basically amateur hour at the Roxbury, and it shows. He gives examples of articles picked at random which are basically regurgitated facts on a checklist instead of a quality source. He also uses the word 'echolalia', which I first heard in a Something for Kate song. (He uses it right around the point where he accuses the blogosphere in general of championing opinion over facts, so I guess that my Something for Kate anecdote took priority over what the word 'echolalia' actually means is telling. It's the repeating of things other people have said, both as a baby learning the native language and as a sufferer of autism, say.)

This sort of post wouldn't be new - there's been some dissatisfaction with Wikipedia brewing for some time now that I've been aware of, but what's different here is that the founder of Wikipedia publically acknowledge that the two linked articles were basically rubbish and needed to be improved, and this seems to have opened the floodgates. I still have lingering dissatisfactions with Wikipedia - their model for attracting experts relies on the experts coming to see something else on Wikipedia, so until an expert comes along it's written by people who don't entirely know what they're talking about; they have real problems with deciding what's worthy of inclusion and what isn't (why is there a three page article with pictures on Ultra Girl?) and what's worthy of attention and what isn't; keeping whichever phrasing or factoid you personally subscribe to is not a matter of finding the facts to support your argument than it is staying up all night reverting the article to 'your' version; enthusiasm is as much, if not more important, than expertise, and the two are not necessarily linked, so to actually get a good article you need to get an enthusiastic expert for every subject, and that enthusiasm can be easily killed if one has to deal with administrative bullshit just to make things right; and it's a big project, which means there is a lot of administrative bullshit to avoid the ability to control things. Royal fiat is not always a bad thing.

I'm sorely tempted to create a user on Wikipedia and see how much damage I can do by abusing the systems they have in place. I reckon I could get pretty far putting up votes for deletion on as many pages as I can and getting into edit wars over things I know nothing about. I understand Wikipedia has a policy of 'assuming good faith', so I wonder how well they'll pick up someone who isn't acting in good faith but is more interesting in finding flaws in the system and having Wikipedia damage itself than doing it directly.

I was going to write about Scientologists, but I have a short attention spooh look pretty butterfly! Come here butterfly!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

As American As Apple Pie and Fundamentalism

Required reading for this post.

The story is, for those who couldn't be bothered reading the link, regards the election of a US high school's election of their prom king and queen, who are, as it stereotypically goes, a jock and a cheerleader. Fairly basic, except for the twist: she's the jock and he's the cheerleader. They're both openly gay.

It's a sign of how accepting 'Generation Remix', as the marketers call them, are of homosexuality that the biggest popularity contest in US high schools can now be won by the openly gay. It's pretty cool, actually being able to see tolerance spread.

Naturally, there are detractors. And naturally, the detractors call themselves a 'family group', which is probably a term that will be forever ruined by its association with the nuttier end of religion. Direct quote from the Illinois family Institute:

"Something that was once sort of universally regarded as a sin, is now becoming sort of cool in high school. It's easy for an adult to say, 'Oh wow, I'm doing the compassionate thing by telling this teenaged boy that he's gay,' but they won't be there when the boy becomes a man and comes down with HIV or hepititis B and C."

Because, apparantly, the gay community aren't aware of condoms like straight people. It's that sort of attitude, that being gay is apparantly a perversion, that's caused most of the problems (while having sex with altar boys is apparantly a-okay.) The only evidence these groups have that it is a perversion (other than community attitudes, which it has to be said regarded probably 80% of people in the world as a perversion anyway) is the Bible, which I'm pretty sure doesn't actually say anything at all about lesbians. (There's two places where homosexuality is condemned - in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, where the word sodomy comes from, although it could be argued that it was ritual sex that was the problem; and in a list of commandments from some uppity evangelist that includes that 'a man shall not lie down with another man', which any half-decent rules lawyer could argue out of for women. Tells you which sex wrote the Bible, doesn't it.)

In any case, trying to force onto the community the way some Christians think the world should work is more likely to simply marginalise Christianity than to do any real good, which would be a real shame, as there's some good stuff in Christianity for those who aren't short-sighted and bigoted. On the Internet, you can't get very far as an open Christian without being ridiculed, mostly as a result of Christian fundamentalists' sterling promotion efforts.

I fully expect Christian fundamentalist terrorists to turn up in the next ten years. And I'll sit here and say, "I told you so."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

World Peace, One Step Closer

I have the perfect solution for mapmakers trying to deal with disputed territories, like Taiwan and places along the India-Pakistan border:

Call them 'quantum states'.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Random Play

I've seen this mentioned more than a few times around, and now it's my turn. Pandora is a service that takes a song that you like, and makes suggestions on other songs you'd like based on an exhaustive examination of the, I guess you could call it genetics, of a particular song.

So, yeah, it's a gadget. Like all these services, it takes some time to get a king hit, and you need to coax it away from the death metal, but once you do it serves up songs you've never heard before but just really like.

I can see this being pretty damn useful in the future. It's a subscription service, US$36 a year. A bit out of my price range. But I'll be sure to look at it in the future.

Also, it turns out blogs have a ticket system for when you're allowed to mention things. Who knew?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Ads That Fail To Grab

I live in Australia. Hi.

Here in Australia, there's a complicated set of laws going in that are intended to achieve 'workplace reform'. Nevermind that the unemployment rate is the lowest it's been in years.

I'm not entirely sure what the changes entail, however - there's certainly a whiff of making it easier to fire people, and you would think, considering this current government is very, very good at fulfilling middle class aspirations, that the ability to organise more flexible working hours would be on the cards. The only thing I can really go on is the advertising.

It's been interesting enough, though: one the one hand, the mega-union, the ACTU, has been running pure propaganda with very little factual basis and more than enough emotional manipulation. The government's finally mobilising its warchest and making its own ads, telling us that various conditions are 'protected by law'.

I've really got only one problem with that - the way workplace conditions are handled here is every industry negotiates to determine an 'award', a standard set of conditions that everyone has to follow. The whole point of having an independent commission doing this stuff is so you don't have to mobilise the governmental machine when it turns out that, say, 10 public holidays off a year isn't good enough. (Example from thin air, mind.) Protecting parts of those conditions under law means that to change them, you've got to mobilise the parlimentary machine. This seems like a bad idea.

Anyway, just a thought. I'm not entirely happy with the debate, because I haven't seen much meat on it, but I figure in the end nothing much will change. I'm a bit of a cynic like that.

Monday, October 17, 2005

I Love This Thing

I've just found this neat Complaint Letter Generator. It can generate barely coherant complaint letters about any subject:

Why does Merus blend together lexiphanicism and credentialism in a train wreck of monumental proportions? Anger? Fear? Stupidity? Some deep rabid urging of his soul? The answer cannot easily be found, but he's adept at spinning lies. Unless you share my view that part of the myth that he perpetuates is that our unalienable rights are merely privileges that he can dole out or retract, there's no need for you to hear me further. I cannot promise not to be angry at him. I do promise, however, to try to keep my anger under control, to keep it from leading me -- as it leads Merus -- to trade fundamental human rights for a cheap "guarantee" of safety and security.

As Exciting As A UN Meeting: The Future Of The Net

So, the UN is fighting over who owns the Internet, or more accurately, ICANN. This worries me somewhat.

ICANN, for those who aren't aware, is the organisation responsible for deciding who gets what IP address and running the DNS system that decides what a web address actually means. They're essentially the central bureaucracy of the Internet, although they farm out nearly everything to other organisations. Still, whoever controls ICANN can determine who can connect to the Internet and who gets to have a web address.

Currently, that's the US Department of Commerce, who have been smart enough to restrict their involvement to the rare suggestion. For an organisation that has world-wide operations and influence, that's an impressive amount of self-control.

But then, it's still the US government in charge, so naturally Europe has to object. And so they have: currently, there's a spat going on within the UN over who should own ICANN. There's basically four players: The US, who reckon things are going just fine, thank you; Europe, who wants to bring ICANN sort of under the fold of the UN; a group we'll call the Argentina consortium (because consortium is a cool word), which wants to separate ICANN from the US government by slowly having the US relinquish control; and a group we'll call CONTROL, which wants a bureaucracy set up that they've called the Council for Global Public Policy and Oversight, which would both oversee ICANN and handle IP addresses itself. And that's not even going into International Telecommunications Union, faced with a future in which they're obsolete, who'd dearly love to be ICANN themselves.

Firstly, CONTROL. If you thought the Council for Global Public Policy and Oversight sounds like it might dictate what the Internet is allowed to say, you're probably on the right track: CONTROL is made up of Iran and Pakistan, with the support of such champions of free speech as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. The Council would be bureaucrats, mostly; everyone else, like corporations and internet management societies, get an 'advisory role' as opposed to any real say. Pakistan also wants a UN forum set up that would talk all things Internet, but hasn't really said exactly what the forum's powers would be if any, which is a bit suspicious.

This proposal would simply give a bureaucracy too much control over ICANN; part of the Internet's success has been that the Commerce Department has stayed the hell out of the Internet and ICANN has thoroughly decentralised anything it doesn't really have to do itself. You'd lose that nimbleness by setting up one official group that has the final say on what goes on on the Internet, and you'd have to fight through the bureaucracy to change anything. These are computers, they change pretty fast. But who would be in charge of this all-powerful group? Could it be the countries that suggested it? It's a transparent power play for control of the Internet, that purveyor of free speech which has embarrassed many of CONTROL's countries.

What I'm surprised about is why Brazil is getting involved with CONTROL. I thought they were supposed to be cool? It doesn't add up with the image of Brazil as a permissive country, so the only thing I can think of is that either there's a dark side to the home of the Amazon or it's politics with Argentina.

Next, the EU's proposal. They want a "co-operation model" to replace the Commerce Department, which would call the shots on how the Internet is set up (IP addresses and the like) and would organise a new dispute resolution system (currently, anyone who thinks they've been robbed of their rightful address has to go see the Californian court, which is a fine solution but for the fact that it's, you know, in California, which doesn't really help anyone on the other side of the world who has a cyber-squatter problem). The EU would also set up a forum to talk about Internet issues that aren't technological, which would probably be part of the UN. The forum's basically just talk - they can't do anything, so while the UN could decide that, for instance, BitTorrent was a real problem, they couldn't outlaw anyone using it.

This is better than CONTROL's idea, at least. There's definitely some bone throwing to CONTROL in the forum part so China can rant about all the filthy people out there who don't agree with China. But what, exactly, is the "co-operation model" supposed to be? Don't we already have a group that does this stuff? Big slap in the face to them, huh? Is it really a good idea to replace stuff that already exists with some nebulous new group whose only saving grace is that it's owned by the UN?

Next up, the Argentina consortium. This appears to be an 'all of the above' sort of group, with vast swathes of Africa, Japan, Canadia (hey, they're Canadians), New Zealand, Mexico, Ecuador, etc. Probably more politics than anything else. Their proposal is to take ICANN off the Commerce Department by weaning it off slowly - first, you make a new group that serves the same purpose, and gradually transfer control over to this new group. They also want a reform of ICANN so governments are more involved in its decision-making. This one's the 'softly, softly' approach - most of the countries supporting this one signed on because they're concerned about the Internet disappearing overnight while the bureaucrats get their act together. This one's certainly the most flexible, and although it still involves the US as a major player, its strength is that it doesn't try to replace things that already exist until there's lots of safety net.

Like the thing we really need is more red tape. The problem here is still that it's bureaucracy interfering in the running of the Internet, even though it's not actually controlling anything. One of the great regrets is that there's a way for the politicians to interfere with the Internet at all, and governments have certainly exerted their control as much as they can. (Why I object to this: Ever noticed that usually when there's a sign-up page that you have to declare you're over 13? That's because of a US law that prohibits the 12-and-under from using the Internet, and because, well, the Internet's a global system, those who aren't US citizens are subjected to this silly law. What's an appropriate law for the US isn't appropriate for, say, Sweden, so to have Swedish citizens conform to US laws seems a bit unfair.) This suggestion still puts ICANN at the mercy of governments plural. Currently it's just the US, who feels a good deal of public pressure not to directly interfere in the infrastructure. Will a consortium of countries feel the same way? Considering China's efforts to block off the Internet, I doubt it.

Finally, there's the US, who thinks everything is just dandy. Their comments have been interesting: while they see themselves as the best suited to run the Internet because they've always done it (and we all know that tradition is never wrong) they've also said they'd prefer to see multiple forums to discuss the future of the Internet, instead of just one.

Having the US with veto power over the Internet doesn't seem like a healthy proposition, considering what's at stake: other countries, particularly CONTROL, have threatened to disconnect their countries from the Internet, which would kill in one fell swoop everything that's good about it - disconnected countries would be sure to implement more restrictive protocols, killing free speech in those nations; the rest of the Internet would lose its ubiquity, and would almost certainly dissolve into multiple subnets that can't talk to each other because they're all using different technology. Sure, hackers would probably try to connect up the disparate networks, and not being connected to the Internet would be a clear sign that the country in question is fairly authoritarian and probably shouldn't be a world citizen, but the confusion and multiple standards would cause major infrastructure problems for years to come. Even worse, China has a history of developing technological standards, so it's likely China would develop its own set of Internet standards if pressed. Besides, Clinton had promised that ICANN wouldn't be overseen by the US by September 2006, so not keeping this promise would not bode well for the current administration's credibility, such as it is. Giving up ICANN would be a good opportunity for the US to earn some trust in the eyes of the international community, which they could do with since the US-led invasion of Iraq.

The question is, do we trust the UN to run the Internet, considering that the Internet has done more to promote peace, tolerance and human rights by giving people a chance to communicate than the UN has done? Will the political power plays stymie any chance the net has to stick around for any length of time? Well, they're discussing it now, so we'll know in just a few days.

Cross fingers.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

First Turn Of The Wheel

So, new blog.

Normally, this would be the time to make sort of self-effacing comment about how very few people will be reading this and it'll all be a big waste of time. That's true enough, although writing can be very therapeutic when there's an idea in your head and it just won't come out.

I'm not hugely sure that sort of argument is relevant in the age of the Internet. You don't really need to subscribe to 12 months of blog just to get the few good articles every year, and many blogs, big blogs, have gotten so big and influential because they can hit some high notes on interesting issues, and they're read. So long as you keep writing interesting things that other people find worth pointing out, you can at least be a C-list celebrity. You're not exactly a household name, but you've affected opinions, and then those people can go and affect other people and so you become an unwitting founder of an idea, and that does so much more for you than firing off letter after letter to the newspaper in order to get your two inches to affect public opinion. (I don't ever recall reading a letters page in a major newspaper that felt like it pulled its weight. Then again, I don't read a whole lot of newspapers.) There's a whole economy of scale here where ideas can slosh around and sort of turn up, more a product of the collective than any one person.

An example - the idea of Intelligent Falling, which is basically a riff on Intelligent Design, that hot topic of the Internet ever since the Flying Spaghetti Monster made its debut. Intelligent Falling postulates that because quantum physics can't reconcile with Newtonian gravitational theory, which is itself broken in the face of Einsteinian gravitational theory, the whole thing's obviously a load of bunk. Here's a better and simpler theory - an Intelligent Agent makes things fall down. It's intelligent to make sure things fall the right way down, like we expect them to, and so things go around each other and so on. This cute little theory first turned up in the left-wing-to-a-fault webcomic I Drew This, and after doing the rounds of the Internet, was the subject of an article in the satirical newspaper, The Onion. (A quick article pointing out the apparent plagiarism, and a reply from The Onion, can be found here.) The collective will of the Internet has basically decided that they're sick of ID, and out come the satirists, assembling a collective response. This is even more apparent with the Flying Spaghetti Monster, where the fiction of the piece has been greatly expanded by everyone else who was both amused by it and slightly bothered at Intelligent Design.

As to what I think of Intelligent Design, that seems like good fodder for another day. (But as to what I think of the Onion, I think they're geniuses for coming up with the Fun Toy Banned Because Of Three Stupid Dead Kids article. No discussion involving the Onion is complete without it.)

So, what's with the name, "Flood Control"?

There is a computer game company named Valve. They're doing pretty well for themselves. Their name comes from trying to think of something unthreatening and completely devoid of testosterone and hyperbole. There's been a few other companies that have done something similar, and so I figured that I'd want something similar for a company name - unusual, but memorable.

I kind of strayed from that, I think, with "Flood Control". It sounds like bureaucracy crossed with white stencilled on a dam wall, which is admittedly probably better than what I was aiming for - it's ridiculous hyperbole, and a company that calls themselves Flood Control for no good reason makes a definite statement about what sort of people they really are and what they think of companies.

So then I decided to use it on a blog. Go me!