Comment on Social Media and Social Unrest

My good friend Alec Muffett has written on ComputerworldUK about a discussion on the pros and cons of social media in light of the riots in the UK. He puts it really well:

I support that some people might want to use Blackberries to organise riots. If people want to use a cellphone or social media to conspire, that’s fine by me. I also believe that young lovers should be able to whisper sweet nothings to each other in secret, I believe that rape victims should be able to communicate in private, and that pregnant girls should be able to seek abortion advice without state, corporate, or parental eavesdropping. Cancer sufferers should be able to share in private their illness with the people who care for them, and I believe that dissidents should be free to communicate political opinion.

I believe all of these things because I discriminate the ability to obtain privacy from the exercise of criminal intent, and I believe that the ability to have a private conversation – something that 200 years ago was easily guaranteed – is a valuable asset to the individual. Plus I further believe that a state which has been too lazy, too profligate, or too cheap to police what people are doing rather than how they talk about doing it, is in no position to argue that ability or secrecy of communication should be inhibited because the problem is too expensive for them to address otherwise.

This is even more appropriate these days given that David Cameron, the UK PM, has now said:

We are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it will be right to stop people from communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.

I guess because it worked so well in Tunisia, Egypt, etc…

I would also suggest you watch his video “On Cyberspace, Social Media and Censorship“, recorded before the UK unrest.

UK Academic Network JANET to Close Usenet News Service (Updated)

This is a great shame, though probably not that surprising these days, but the UK Joint Academic Network (JANET) is going to pull its Usenet News service on the 31st July 2010. Basically I suspect the ever declining SNR has put people off, and these days everyone knows the web and the closest they get to knowing what Usenet is (or maybe was) Google Groups. JANET says:

There are now few active registered News Feed users and News Read users and the current infrastructure is nearing its end of life. JANET(UK) have therefore decided that it is no longer economically viable to run the service, especially in the current financial climate. We therefore will cease to offer the service when the existing contract expires on July 31st 2010.

Especially sad for me as I cut part of my first real sysadmin job at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, was working on the Usenet news system that had been set up originally by Alec Muffett and I was for quite a while the maintainer of the UK.telecom newsgroup FAQ and the alt.config guidelines.

Update: I’ve been digging through some old email – here’s one from 4th August 1993 giving an idea of what we had to struggle with:

OK, I deleted all binaries under alt.binaries, all of junk and all of control. That, coupled with the AEM_TIDY got us about 27 meg back. I then ran a doexpire, whch took a long while but we’re now up to about 53 Meg free, or about 85% of the 400 Meg partition.

Yup, the entire university news spool at that time was a whopping great 400MB. πŸ˜‰ We were using nntplink with CNews for the time (this was before we knew about INN).

The Atheist Bus Campaign

Good to see it took the Atheist Bus Campaign just 10 hours to raise all the money necessary for this!

With your support, we hope to raise Β£5,500 to run 30 buses across the capital for four weeks with the slogan: β€œThere’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Donate online now!

Snapshot of the advert for the Atheist Bus Campaign in London

It really riles me to hear folks say that you have to have religion to have a moral compass, It smacks of a desire to inspire fear in those who don’t believe. I feel there is plenty of evidence that religion itself can result in people doing things that are immoral (( No, I’m not saying that it’s always a bad thing )).

I’ve gone through a number of different belief systems in my time but in the long term none of them made any sense to me in terms of gods; in the end it just wasn’t logical to me that supernatural being(s) exist, there’s just no evidence for them and they seem to me to be entirely superfluous.

I concur pretty much with what Alec has to say about things, I’ll just carry on trying to be good to people and treat them as I’d wish to be treated (hopefully succeeding sometimes).


A Loony Thought on Flooding

Picking up on something that Alec wrote about flooding and now being not a good time to be in insurance, I always think that the Monster Raving Loony Party had the right idea in their 2001 UK election manifesto.

Under a Loony government any prospective home purchaser be issued with a full description of such dictionary terms as ‘floodplain’, ‘coastal erosion’ and ‘exposed headland’. This will save time explaining why they have no house anymore after nature takes charge of the environment. In addition to this policy, building on floodplains in future will be restricted to large houseboats with recoiling tethers like dog leads. These houses will be able to float up with the floodwater and land safely again in the same place when the water subsides.

Blocked by the Great Firewall of China

Inspired by Alec, I just checked using the Great Firewall of China checking site and found out that my site, along with Donna’s, her blog, her podcast, the site for her first book and the web site we set up to promote self-employment for folks on the Autism spectrum,, are all blocked!

Blocked by the Great Firewall of China

Presumably it’s working by IP address and so anything that happens to be on that IP address is persona non-grata in China. πŸ™

I did a bit of testing and found that VPAC (where I work) is blocked too, as is Melbourne Uni.