Move along now. Nothing to see here.


Censorship (Photo credit: IsaacMao)

I love the freedom of the Internet. The idea that any kind of knowledge, any kind of product or service is just a click away still astounds me.

Children born today will find it very difficult to believe that it was ever any different. Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys this freedom. There are those poor souls who have no access to the internet because of lack of means or infrastructure. Then there are those who only have access to a limited subset. They can see what their government wants them to see.

For some reason, I find that really sinister. I abhor the idea of someone in power deciding what I can or cannot see.

Living in the UK, we are lucky to have a press that is the envy of the world. Up until recently, I believed that they operated with no interference. They print what they want, even if it holds the state to account for their behaviour. I can’t imagine the press reports about MP’s expenses would be allowed in China or Burma for example. This was the press at their best.

Not so long ago, the press blotted their copy books by illegally hacking phones to source interesting news copy. This was not their finest hour. In response, the government is introducing a new watchdog backed by legislation to control the worst excesses of the press.

I don’t like it.

David Cameron recently unveiled an agreement with all the main internet service providers in the UK to introduce a “porn filter”. Unless subscribers opt out of the scheme, their internet access will be filtered to exclude adult content. According to the Open Rights Group, as well as sexual content, this will include violence, extremist related content,  eating disorder web sites, suicide related web sites, alcohol and smoking related content and esoteric material (whatever that may be). Who’s going to decide what’s OK and what isn’t?

I really don’t like it.

Anyone who wants to view any kind of adult material will have to opt in. This means that they will be on a list of people who have actively chosen to view such content. I really hope we are not sleepwalking into a world where such a choice has negative consequences for the individual concerned.

The thing I find really sinister is that the infrastructure to block content will exist. Will successive governments resist the temptation to filter anything inconvenient? Can we even believe that we have free access today?

The freedom of wifi

English: This is a 1987 Madge Networks Token R...

English: This is a 1987 Madge Networks Token Ring 4/16Mbps switchable Network Interface card. It can be slotted in any ISA compatible bus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Look behind pretty much any office computer these days and the chances are that it is connected to the network by an ethernet cable. I can remember when the connectors on the end of ethernet cables were round and when there were other competing network types.

The way ethernet protocol works is rather like a drunken barroom conversation. Your computer waits for a gap and then shouts whatever it wants to send. If someone shouts at the same time, your machine will stop shouting and wait again for a gap. All in all, it’s a terribly impolite conversation.

IBM used to have a network protocol called token ring. That was much more polite. There was a token that whizzed around the network. If a computer on the network wants to say something, they have to wait for the token to come round, grab it and then say what they want to say. Every computer waited it’s turn and there was no shouting. The downfall of the token ring network was speed. Being polite is not as efficient as shouting. Token Ring was harder to set up as unlike ethernet, a token ring network had to be “started up” to get a token into the network.

Wi-Fi Signal logo

Wi-Fi Signal logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now that we have 3G cellular networks and wi-fi, there is no need for a wire at all, which is just as well. It would be incredibly dull if you had to plug a cable into your mobile every time you wanted to do a google search or look at where you are on a map.

Most hotels will charge you for wi-fi access and it seems like the posher the hotel, the higher the cost. I don’t know how a hotel receptionist can keep a straight face when they explain to you that not only does your $250 room rate not include wi-fi, but the charge is $25 per day for access. I have no objection to anyone making a living, but I do object to profiteering.

Of course some places offer free wi-fi, but it is rarely free in both senses of the word; cost and freedom. More and more, free wi-fi will require you to register. Often, they will need you to click on a link in an email to confirm your email address. Sometimes, they will even send you a completely random user ID and password – something you don’t have a hope of remembering. If you are on a mobile, it means you are going to need to hunt around for a pen and paper to make a note of it.

Not only that – but many of them will kick you out after a predetermined time, which means that pretty much every time you go to use the Internet – you have to go through the whole palaver of logging back in again. If you are going to offer free wi-fi – please make it completely free.