In January (or this week if you're on BT) the widely derided "porn block" that the government are shilling will come into force. If you don't know, it's basically a opt-out system of blocking of pornography at an ISP level enacted by the government that the main ISPs have all signed up for.

What this means is that you're going to get it no matter if you want it or not. And if you want to be able to access porn you'll have to sign up for it - opt out of the block. And, at a principle level this is fair enough right? Block access to material not suitable for under 18s at the source, makes sense - I mean we do it for movies, TV, games and print pornography, right?

Well... absolutely not. There are many things wrong with this, and we'll start at the top.

1) This is Censorship
Of course, certain censorship is fine. I don't mind certain art, like films or computer games being censored, and think that it is key to keeping a powerful art community when protecting those from harmful images or powerful material. For example, I am sure no one is against the idea of keeping something like Last Tango in Paris a film that minors can't see.

However, what this block does is stop consenting adults above the age of consent from watching what they want. Pornography is not illegal (certain types are, of course) and watching porn isn't either, but blocking it wholesale and having to opt in to have it unblocked is a strange way of dealing with it. I am old enough to direct, film, write and even star in a pornographic film, but then I go home and I have to tell a company I want to watch it? That's pretty odd.

2) It Removes the Responsibility from the Responsible
This is something I've actually moaned at length about before, but it's something that this is at the core of - children shouldn't be seeing porn online. However, blocking it for everyone is not the solution. The key here is that the parents of those who are under age should not be allowing their children to see those things, and those responsible need to step up.

There are hundreds of tools allowing you to block sites even without antivirus software. If I wanted to I could easily go into my router and block access to sites for anything using my router. I know how to because in the future I will have to. I see kids playing 18+ games at the age of 12 and wonder what is going on - my parents used to pre-screen London's Burning for me when I was aged 8 for goodness sake, and all that was was fire!

By taking the responsibility away from parents you are excusing them from getting educated, and then you're also removing it from those you're are protecting. It's similar to banning sex instead of educating about safe sex, and we all know abstinence doesn't work.

3) Why Porn?
Ok, say you don't mind the idea of the government blocking porn, why stop there? Or why just porn? Why not other things that actually do harm to the country, like smoking? Or Drinking? Or... driving? People die when they drive badly.

This is the weakest point, but it's one to consider - why porn? Well, because it carries a stigma - an easy target. And I have watched porn many times in my life and I don't care who knows it. It's a normal thing to do as an adult (see Nuts, Zoo, or Playboy's sales figures). It's just a tiny bit taboo amongst a certain group of people that the government are pandering to.

4) Do You Want to Be On That List?
I am going to opt out of the system because... well, for these reasons. And for number 5 below too. But that surely means that I am suddenly on a list somewhere. I mean, Virgin Media (an amusingly apt name) will have to track everyone who says to opt out, and then my name is on a list of people who "want to watch porn".

As we know, lists don't stay hidden. I would imagine people don't want to be on a list that is possibly accessible by anyone (Virgin Media or not) that says they're into porn, right? I can imagine politicians, media personalities, church goers etc don't want to be on the list, and thusly are blocked because of fear. That's an insane jump for our government.

I already know that Virgin have a list of where I go. That's fine, I have reconciled with that. As long as I don't do anything illegal... why should I have to ask again?

5) It's Using Bad Tech
Imagine it could work, that you could block porn. That'd be great! Then it might work perfectly. But here's the thing.

It won't.

Why do I know this? Well my phone has a block on "18+" sites when on 3G that I've never bothered to unlock (see number 7) and it blocks nonsense. Stuff that isn't even 18+ by their own definition. This is because automatic filters don't work. No technology will be perfect. In fact, by the definition of the system that the government are rolling out sites about sexuality and sex education will be blocked - blocking information for the most vulnerable of our children and teenagers (and adults, why not), who need access to this information, is borderline insane.

So yeah, the tech won't work. It can't. Because...

6) What is Porn Anyway?
What is porn? Tits? A flash of cock? An ejaculation? Well, if I can't decide (and society can't) then how is an automatic filter supposed to? I see sites like Wikipedia with their informative descriptions and pictures being blocked because of language and photos of naked bodies. Nudity is not porn. In fact, that'd mean many publications that the Conservatives endorse would be in deep shit, like The Sun. So here's the big problem - porn isn't a thing.

It's not a thing you can block because it doesn't exist as a steady thing - you could block the word "five" easily enough, because any time it comes up you can block it. Porn is a spectrum, and especially in the form that the filter will take, from nude art to illegal rape-porn.

Where is the line drawn then? Well, that's the thing - if I am in charge of my internet when I have kids I'd block it to a point. I'd block what I want to block. But it'd be me, working at it. I can't just block everything that might be porn, so why should the government?

7) I Can't Be Bothered to Change It
See number 5 - I've had a porn block on my phone since I got it in 2007. It works over 3G only, of course, but it requires a credit card to authorise, me spending £1 and them crediting it back to my account. I have never done this because it's an arse ache! Loads more won't bother to do it for their service either.

8) Who Cares Anyway?
And finally, who cares in the end, right? It's just porn! But that's the problem - here you are blocking a type of expression. No, come back, let me explain! Porn in certain circumstances (some would argue in all circumstances) is a form of art - admittedly, low art (in my opinion), but some films have money and time spent on them. And... are not real. Fictional events. So there's an odd leap for the government - suddenly you're blocking fiction. That's a very hair-raising idea, the concept of blocking something that doesn't even exist and isn't true.

The fact that there is a filter at all should alarm some people - imagine it was suddenly blocking certain websites for political reasons? The Internet is the great democratic enabler and has the power to change everything in the world for the better or worse. But if you don't allow the bad stuff, the good stuff won't be able to grow either, because what is "good" and "evil" when nothing you're blocking is necessarily illegal?

The whole thing is a farce. It's petty, bullshit, disgusting and pandering. It's a government playing directly to those who don't understand, don't grasp the enormity, and don't appreciate the implications. The same folk who complain about "nanny-state" and "political correctness" as things (which they are both not) are being played by the government as idiots and they are lapping it up. It enrages me that trans or gay children might not get to read about their options because some old twat without any understanding of how information frees people has decided that you can't see some tits on the internet.

And the worst part? I have no representation in government against it. All the parties support it. This is why politics in the UK is so terribly terribly rubbish.

A petition, if you think that'll do anything, is found here.

Stuck in the Wired Past

I have in the past few months butted horns with my internet provider, Virgin Media. 95% of the time their service is utterly brilliant, running at 28Mbps most of the time, which utterly smashes the BT and O2 previous records of 6Mbps. So yeah, can't really complain.

Until, I have reason to. When I had O2 internet, the router dropped a lot. I called O2 to ask for help and their response was measured and they walked through a range of options, of which I'd already done, and ended up at the point where they asked me to plug my router into my computer via an Ethernet cable.

So, I responded that I didn't have one. And even if I did, what would I do with it? I have an iPhone, and iPad, and Xbox and a second iPhone connecting to it more than my Mac, which at that point wasn't being used. I can imagine being what is called "post-PC" and not even having a Mac or PC at all.

The other strange problem was that the tools O2 wanted me to use only work on Windows PCs (Windows Vista above, too) which irked me.

I have recently had my Virgin Media dropping out. Over Twitter I talked with Virgin, not exactly helping me out. I've Storified it here.

So... my point? I don't live in the same world as tech people anymore, and I don't have tonnes of Ethernet cables lying about (not that I ever did). No everyone will have a computer. And not everyone will know what you are talking about, companies. So you need to move on.

Also, as a side bar, Virgin's throttling thing is a bit crap. Why offer 30Mb and HD video capability only to pull me back when I use it? Seems odd. Akin to a car company penalising me for driving my car at 70mph. I'll have more thoughts on this soon, I reckon.

Ah Well

I have extolled my love of Twitter many times on this blog, sometimes when it goes badly and other times when it is a force for good or change. But recently I have came to the conclusion that I actually don't particularly like it anymore.

It's mostly because of three things:
1) It takes up a lot of my time.
2) It forces me to procrastinate.
3) I find that people on it are increasingly forgetful about what it does.

In a recent interchange with someone who I shall not name I became sucked into an Internet Wrong argument, one that was utterly stupid, impossible to "win" or end, and was essentially me throwing water balloons at a brick wall in an attempt to render it invisible - futile.

The subject of the argument was not important for what it showed me - what it showed me was that there are users on the network who don't respect what it does. Twitter gives parity to peoples opinions in platform, but not in weight. You cannot just say something and expect it to be accepted or unchallenged.

When you do challenge and someone says "I am entitled to this opinion" I remind them that they are not.

But what I do see is that people forget that they have a social responsibility and a intellectual reaponsibility to back up their opinions and thoughts. You don't have to do it in a Tweet (140 characters is hard to format it all in) but it needs to be formed. Twitter's format means that this is probably not what everyone thinks. Having to type out ten different replies is something Twitter does poorly. There is also the legal responsibility - you are publishing, not messaging, and you can't libel just as I cannot here.

And it makes me a little bit sick to think that this is what Twitter appears to have become - idiots spouting bollocks is one thing, but idiots flaming, abusing, being racist or homophobic without thinking they are going to be caught or in trouble due to a misplaced concept behind the shield of "free speech". The more I see the media basing their stories on Twitter or actual tweets making the news, the more I don't want to be a part of it.

Which is a shame - it's like pandora's vox. Give the world free boundless communication and we can't help but fuck it up. Which is a shame.

We will see how Twitter goes but for now, a hiatus is needed to cleanse my pallet.

Creative Commons and Piracy.

There has been a lot of learned people talking about the SOPA and PITA legislation that was being pushed through the US legal system, and there was a lot of hyperbole and bias written about why it was or wasn’t a good idea – generally, I disliked the legislation as it did indeed give powers and control to people who shouldn’t be able to wield such control. It is not, however, my place to be able to pick it apart and understand the legalese in such a way that meant I could impart new opinions on it; more verbose writers have managed to do that.

The one thing that I can do is talk from the point of a few different people that are in the argument and what my opinion is on being one of those people.  I am

1.     A consumer
2.     A creator
3.     A prior pirate

As a Consumer
I am someone who spends a lot of their disposable income on media – it’s mostly music, but also in there are films and television, as well as books and other art forms. It’s remarkably easy to spend a lot of money these days on such items for several reasons – they are expensive and they are volumous. In saying that, there is also loads of newer ways to consume. Instead of buying all my music, I have the ability to rent it and only pay once. Spotify allows me to do this and I have been doing it for a long time. It entirely replaces the need to steal music (illegal downloading is stealing, in my view) and for a small amount a month also gives you even more music that you might have came across otherwise.

The concern comes when talking to one of my best friends about this – he states that he would rather download the music for free than pay £4.99 a month to rent it. He sees no moral reason to not steal music for free than pay someone to let him listen to it. The argument is that he won’t pay for something that he doesn’t own – but the thing is that you never own the rights to anything you buy anyway. Buying music is no different to buying a ticket to an art show – just because you have the copy of it in your hands (or on your hard drive) doesn’t mean you have any licenses to do anything with it. And there is a large knowledge gap in what ownership of media means.

I cannot fathom why anyone wouldn’t use a pay-for streaming service today. I agree that the artists are dealt a bad hand when you “pay per play” on these services, but it’s a lot better than the distribution of albums entirely without cost online peer to peer networks, isn’t it?

There is a problem when you look at the implications of children and teenagers growing up with the ability to grab every piece of music or film for free instantly – and the media is right to be scared.

As a Creator
A few years ago a friend of mine stumbled onto an article posted from my blog into a German Magazine. It was this one about people’s personalities and the types ofcars they drive – a bit of fun. I was flattered at first, then I felt a bit violated. The site had reproduced my work, changed it, and then not even mentioned it was me who had created it. Of course, I had no money to be made and look to make no money from this blog (right now, heh) but the realisation that I was creating “something” and I had not adequately protected it from copyright theft.

This lead me to understand what Creative Commons was – a concerted effort to introduce the ability to share copyrighted material easily and fairly. My blog is still to this day under Creative Commons under the “Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 UK: Scotland (CC BY-NC-ND 2.5)” license meaning that you are allowed to, freely, copy, distribute, display, and perform the work as long as you attribute me, it’s not for commercial reasons, and you can’t change or build upon the work. I only put it on for piece of mind – I don’t expect someone to come and ask to rework my text into a novel, for example.

However, on my Flickr page I do the same things – my photos are Creative Commons too. And I believe in the ease of the system allowing creators to control and understand the rights they can apply to their work and as I user of them I also am now becoming a proponent and supporter of them. I have created other works, like videos and music podcasts, and I make sure I am within my legal ability to make them – one video I made two years ago used Boards of Canada’s music without permission, and I still feel uneasy about it. The one I made about the year inTexas was made using music that I got permission from the band to use in that video. And my Radio Show is hosted on a site that claims to pay artists PRS fees (though I am unsure of exactly how that mechanism works in practice).

Creative Commons gives me the power to apply rights to these things, but can I control them? Not really. And seeing how little people pay attention to them on websites who steal photos from Flickrs and blogs I sometimes wonder if people really do care. Are we heading to an entirely free system of works that no artist can make money from? Is that even a bad thing? I am unsure.

As a Prior Pirate
During my teenage years and later I downloaded a lot of music. In fact, the majority of my musical exploration during the later part of my university career was downloaded illegally – and I will not be ashamed to admit it. I can’t really defend it, as it’s obviously at odds with my current stance, but there are two reasons why I am able to reconcile my thoughts – the first is one of means.

I had little to no money as a student and I downloaded illegally because I had internet. That’s not a defence, it’s just the reason I did it.

The second reason was that the technology hadn’t caught up with my internet – I could download an album and put it onto my phone and Creative Zen faster than people could make download controlled systems. The threat of DRM was something I didn’t really mind at first and happily paid £14.99 a month for unlimited Napster downloads... until Napster failed me and stopped doing it. I lost hundreds of albums I’d rented and downloaded to my computer. That was the problem with Napster’s idea – it blurred the idea of owning and not owning a music file.

So since Spotify I know that I don’t own the music. The line is defined. Also, technology has caught up – even iTunes sells DRM free tracks that can be moved and copied to anywhere I want them. And I can now download them again and again thanks to iTunes in the Cloud, another step in the right direction.

And now I don’t download music illegal anymore and I implore others to do the same; recently having convinced one of my friends to use Spotify on his phone. However, laws and censorship, such like SOPA won’t fix it as it is so easy to download music, and with faster internet it’s going to become even easier. What will fix it is competitive, easy and compelling reasons to not, and Spotify is one of them. 

It’s not the full answer, of course, but it’s at least a start.

Facebook and Me

Of course I have a Facebook profile – it’s linked to over there on the right hand side just below my Twitter account. I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with Facebook, exiled and even considering how to get rid of it and pointing out that even if I wanted to I couldn’t thanks to Facebook’s policy of deactivation versus deletion. Only recently have I fully started to trust Facebook and that coincided with my ability to remove my profile from the listings of anyone other than friends. So, if you want to find me, you have to find me through my friends or that link on the right. It makes me feel a little more secure.

Let me change that usage of the word “trust” though – I don’t trust them with my information and friends, as I think that it’s a clever recruiting tool for the collection of everything I do, but mostly I also think that the only reason I feel safe now is that I know that my information is “secure” in that only people I know can see it for now. Sure, Facebook in it’s big brother capacity, knows what I am doing, but I don’t mind that. If I think about it, and the other 500 million people that are on the site, I realise that I am a miniscule person in that massive pool of folk – folk that are probably in varying degrees easier to scope out information for. I wonder what percentage of those users has their profile set up to be “public”.

It’s an impressive milestone, 500 million people. The number is so big it’s almost out of our area of understanding. Consider that it’s approximately 7.6% of everyone in the world. Or, as far as we know, it’s 7.6% of every intelligent being in the universe. It’s a scary number for anything, even a country – the United States of America isn’t even that populous. It is worse when you think that these people are signed up not to a charity but to a private company that wants to make money from those 500 million people. I guess it wouldn’t be hard to make money from that number of people would it?

At any rate, I’ve been a Facebook member since 6th March 2007. In fact I remember that day decidedly well considering – it was a night out for my flat mate’s birthday and I didn’t know what Facebook was. My first Facebook message came a month later when my friend Colin asked me “Is this some sort of dating website?”… How little did he know what it was to become. At that time it had round 18 million people on it. That was, at the time, 4 and half times the population of Scotland. Now the site has 125 times the population of Scotland. Maybe the next major World War won’t be between nations but between groups of people on the internet? The idea of a World without international borders doesn’t remove the notion of countries, it just re-imagines them as defined by what shoes they wear, what movies they like, or if the have read the Lord of the Rings novels. Who can tell?

I can’t see me getting rid of my Facebook, even more so now that I am leaving. It’s a invaluable tool to keep in touch, share and chat to friends that you might not see enough and in that respect Facebook is great. But the more it becomes like a country in it’s own right it needs to start acting democratically I guess. Or maybe not – the difference with the internet is that it takes almost no time to get up and leave in protest and there will always be someone ready to make a quick buck from the internet.

Maybe we shouldn’t be scare of Facebook, but Facebook should be scared of us – what we give we can take away. And maybe that’s why I am more trusting now.

Real Names and the Internet

Recently, I have been thinking about my name. There’s a few reasons for this – namely (pun intended, honest) that my friend has had to remove a lot of the presence he enjoys on the internet to allow himself to get into the country of his birth. I am keeping his name from this post because I imagine he’d want me to I suppose, but I think that I’ve probably talked about him before. His worry is that his use of the internet might cause trouble when he wants to get into his country.

Another reason is that recently the geekworld’s been attacked by the makers of World of Warcraft Blizzard Entertainment deciding that their official forums for support and general chit chat will change to a RealID model. This is the model in which instead of hiding behind a nick name (username) you will have your real life™ name will appear instead. Their reasoning behind this is that it’s harder to “troll” or insult someone if you think that they are a real person rather than a fake username. Seeing Gordon Smith rather than geeklicker44 makes you less likely to rip into them is an obviously untested formula and might not even work, but it’s a point that might work.

You see, when Facebook introduced the “username” thing a while back there was a lot of confusion from some as the main point of Facebook was that you didn’t need this type of username because it was based all on your real name and your email address. This made it almost like your personal page online and I preferred it’s simplicity to the username bullshit and childish behaviour that was Bebo and Myspace.

Obviously, I am going to not be bothered by the use of real names on the internet – apart from the fact that this blog is hosted at “justanothersheeldz” I make no bones about this being my blog at all, referencing my name all over the place. Indeed, my internet “name” is just a silly phonetic spelling of my real name – sheeldz was convenient as it’s rarely used by any site anywhere other than myself. So yeah, if you see a “sheeldz” online it’s probably me.

But can using real names be a bad thing? For example, it was only until recently that I had made my Twitter and Facebook truly private. For a while I didn’t mind who found me and what they saw, but as I grown a little older I am a little worried about what artiefacts I have left behind on the internet. I have posted many times on several forums (Rollercoaster, Hitchhikers Guide, Music, Gaming, Roads and Mobile Phone sites mostly) and all are under similar aliases. I never used my real name until very recently, but putting two and two together I might have a problem I guess. Using the person finder site I enter my name and find that if, say, an employer were to do so they wouldn’t find my Facebook. They don’t find my blog either. They do find my Twitter but confusingly, and strangely, you find another Mark Shields from Glasgow who I’ve actually spoken to on Twitter. “thesheldon” is eerily like me in fact, posting on the same music website I post to. And there’s a reason for this.

I actually share my name with several people, and not just my doppelganger in Glasgow. No, there’s several real people that have a much more interesting online persona that shield me (pun intended again) from these kinds of searches. I am not hiding, but I am also not in plain view. The only thing I know is that, on this blog, everything I write can be taken as you read it and I have to exercise caution on it much like anyone would have to in a written publication in the media and that actually covers the whole of the internet. Real names are not a problem if you are being your real self and, for the most part, I am trying to be me.

Barack Obama