mad scientist

Australian Internet Filter - the inside dope

Part 1 - the decisive battle was yesterday

You will have heard that the Australian Government has shelved it's
plans to introduce a mandatory "Great Firewall", and that while an
Independent review proceeds certain ISPs will voluntarily block a
short list of undeniably vile child pornography URLs.

This is not good news.

I worked in the filtering industry for six years. I was a senior
engineer at a company that sold network-level filters to schools
and businesses, one of the companies that whispered poison in Conroy's ear
while the current government was in opposition, having failed to sell
the idea to then-minister Coonan. I maintained my then-employer's
copy of the Secret Blacklist, updating it weekly with the latest
additions (almost never removals) from ACMA.

The Biggest asset that anti-censorship campaigners have had is that
the ISPs in general did not want be censors. They couldn't be arsed
being the government's stooge, it gets in the way of rampant profit.
The ISPs have maintained that filtering web traffic is in fact
technically impossible, and that any attempt to achieve it would
hopelessly degrade internet experience to third-world levels.
(The argument of impossibility has always been a little bit bullshit,
since cheapskate ISPs are happy to deploy caching transparent proxies
to save money, and in reality a practical caching proxy is only a
tiny tweak away from a filter.)

As for the performance issue, its my experience from actually
writing code to filter web traffic that the further you put the
filter from the users, the slower and less effective it is.
Households that want a filtered feed should seek firewall or
local-loop provider solutions.

For the biggest top-tier ISPs in the country to suddenly announce they will
"Voluntarily" filter a list of child-abuse sites represents a massive
about-face on their part. I can only wonder what sort of leverage the government
has exercised to force this concession.

I'm dismayed by this "victory" on filtering because:

  • its an attempt to avoid having censorship debate during the election
  • paradoxically, after the election, whichever party wins can claim a
    "mandate" to implement their version
  • if the ISPs can filter a list of hundreds of sites successfully, then the
    infrastructure is already in place for them to be later compelled to filter
  • worst, the users who will be "consulted" on whether the filtering has
    an "acceptable impact" are going to be Telstra and Optus customers(!) I'm not
    sure the undiscriminating dopes who put up with Big Telco service
    would know a millisecond from a millipede. I expect some grandma from Dubbo
    whose Windows95 box and 33k6 modem are just as "snappy"
    as ever will be "proof" that the filter "works fine".

So don't treat a "review" as anything but a sneak-attack, and do keep this issue hot during the election.

Next post I want to talk about my assessment of the arguments for and
against the filter, and after that examine the technical issues of
actually implementing it, and share some of my experiences from my years
in the filtering industry.

mad scientist

How long have I got left on my social contract?

Australia Post considers giving up mail delivery.

Dear Whatever Crazy Fuck Originated This Plan: "Taxes pay for services" was the bullshit governments used to sucker us into paying taxes in the first place, remember? "Social Contract" ring any bells?

You want to welch on the services? Fine, I'm not paying any more taxes.

See how you like supporting your crack habit by sucking dicks in an alley, instead of embezzling from the public trough.
mad scientist

5 things that are not news

• putting computers in blenders is not good for them

• people who kick balls for money often have high testosterone and low IQ

• hitting computers with baseball bats is also not good for them

• hitting a ball with a stick isn't much different from kicking it

• if you encourage them they'll just keep doing it

mad scientist

The real reason flash video exists

(My mental blank from last post came unblanked)

Despite all the protestations of 'seamless play', 'unified experience', 'rich viewing controls', 'no codec hassles' I strongly suspect the following:

The real reason flash video even exists is to prevent "downloads".

The tech-savvy know streaming==downloading, but look at all the trouble most video sites take to defeat FLV-downloaders.

Surely, no matter how great HTML5 video embedding is, those sites aren't gonna touch it as long as their copyright lawyers are in the policy driver's seat.

Counterpoint: Youtube is dipping their toe in the HTML5 waters...I'm keen to see whether the sharks bite it off.
mad scientist

Do not TAUNT happy extract command

The above sage advice was included in the README for one of the first linux distros. I think it was SLS or maybe Slackware.

Today I decided to upgrade my work PC from a rather broken and tired debian installation to shiny new Ubuntu Karmic. Previous upgrades of home machines had gone like clockwork.

Needless to say, everything went pear shaped. I spent the afternoon intermittently working off a liveCD system while trying to figure out why the installer would not detect my hard drive (it could MOUNT it, but not offer it as an install target). I ended up installing to my USB backup drive, then manually rsyncing the files over to my internal HDD and hand-hacking a grub configuration.

I had it all back in working order by about half-an-hour after knock-off time. :-/

Still, it's so great that you CAN run the installer in the background while working off a LiveCD. Were it any other OS, I'd be sitting twiddling my thumbs while the installer spat platitudes at me.
mad scientist

Retrograde marketing

Dear Every Website On The Freaking Interwob,

Should I sign up for your periodic newsletters because I have a genuine interest in what you make or do, I will typically update my mail filter rules so that your newsletter goes into a mail folder where I will find it amongst all the noise.

It is therefore in your interest and mine not to CHANGE THE BLOODY SENDER ADDRESS ON THE NEWSLETTER EVERY SODDING MONTH. Fairfax in the back row, wake up and pay attention! Wipe that smug grin off your face Google Earth, I'm talking to you too.

I realize that every new marketing droid you hire must piss all over everything to make it smell like them, but please stress to them that there is no practical benefit to changing the From: address on their newsleter from "" to "". Then shoot them in the face.

Love and kisses,