UK ISPs forced to block The Pirate Bay – thoughts

The High Court in the UK has ruled that all of its Internet Service Providers must block The Pirate Bay from being accessed within its borders. Initially, I was going to tweet about this, mocking it and generally highlighting the ludicrousness of the entire thing. As per usual, it is of the arrogant, ignorant and absolutely idiotic opinion of so-called “copyright holders” that by plugging a hole in an unfathomably large boat that it will somehow curtail the spread of piracy among Internet users.

But then I realized something. This isn’t just petty blocking. This is a whole new level of censorship. It is rare that an ISP is ever forced to prevent access to certain websites, never mind forcing every ISP to do so. The issue here isn’t that websites are being blocked as a formality – this is far worse and, most importantly, much further up the food chain. It’s all well and good to have a third-party filtering system in places such as coffee shops, schools and offices. We just scoff at the naivety of it all, then load up our favorite web-based proxy or forward our traffic through an SSH tunnel – ten seconds work. Done.

This, however, is the nationwide imposition of censorship on to the companies that provide us with our gateway to the Internet. These very companies are almost always the last “hop” on the route between your computer and another computer. Controlling the ISPs always implied controlling and censoring the end-user’s experience of the web, as has been done in North Korea, China and Vietnam, just one subset of the so-called “Enemies of the Internet“.

Part of what makes the Internet what it is, is its architecture, and the power which that architecture facilitates. The Internet as an entity is unstoppable, uncontrollable and is, when taking the right precautions, impossible to keep surveillance over. The free sharing of information is already ingrained into modern society through the use of the Internet and this is something that the “copyright holders” need to realize soon and fast, presuming they wish to survive in the near future. This is not a blog post about ethics, but merely a review of the reality of the situation. People share copyrighted files not because they are inherently bad, but because they don’t care about copyright. It matters little to the consumer who got paid for what work – all they want is the song, book or film that they want to enjoy.

Censorship is scary. ISP censorship is scarier. But nationwide censorship is the scariest.

Letter to Galway West TDs regarding “Irish SOPA”

The following is an email which I have sent to every TD in the Galway West constituency. I did so using the tool made available by Boards.ie at boards.ie/petition. It outlines my opinions on the madness that is junior Minister Sean Sherlock’s proposed new copyright legislation and the detrimental effects it will have on Ireland. I would encourage everyone to write to your local TDs using the above tool and to make a note of who replies, when they replied and what their stance was on the issue.

I have had one response so far; one which seems to be your typical “stock reply”. I’ll keep updating this post as I get replies.

Dear [TD],

I am a constituent of Galway West and I’m writing to you today to express my concern over junior Minister Sean Sherlock’s proposed statutory legislation regarding copyright.

The issues and problems with this legislation have been clearly outlined to the minister by members of the opposition, industry bodies, legal firms, eminent professors of law, technical companies, entrepreneurs and businessmen. As a student of Information Technology, I can also inform you with some degree of experience that this proposed new law will seriously affect both small and large technology companies from setting up in Ireland. If you were to put yourself into the feet of these companies, you can surely understand that, any risk assessment undertaken by them in regards to setting up within Ireland will take our stance on copyright protection as a factor which could cause immeasurable damage to their business model or infrastructure. If you were an executive for a large media website and thought that huge amounts of your content could be taken down without warning due to the laws of this country, would you really take the risk?

Perhaps most importantly, this proposed legislation will not achieve its intended goal. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”, as they say, and it is no more correct as in this case. It is demonstrably easy to find and illegally obtain copyrighted works using the Internet, and this bill will not change that. It cannot alter the infrastructure which allows piracy to occur and is, therefore, a legal measure which is both dangerous and irresponsible.

This is an issue which is not to be taken lightly. The protests against the proposed SOPA legislation in the US and ACTA in the EU should make this quite clear. The decision not to implement SOPA in the US and the lack of White House support for same is indicative of how ineffective the bill would have been. It is time for both Minister Sherlock and the Oireachtas to realise this too.

Your stance on this issue will be noted for my consideration and one which will, without doubt, affect my future voting decisions.

As one of my representatives in the west of Ireland, I would like to know where you stand on the matter and what actions you are going to take on my behalf on this issue. I will consider any standard reply or lack thereof to mean no action at all.

Yours Sincerely,
Aaron Hastings

For Aidan…

I was recently asked to write a blog post on my reaction to sunglasses indoors, London riots, hair products and coffee. As well as this I’ve been asked to include at least 6 links on random nouns linking to relevant information sources. And like all good bloggers, I’ve agreed to it without argument.

Sunglasses

Where to start? Sunglasses were invented in 1842 by John Sunglasses as a way to keep molasses out of your eyes when you were spreading it on rye bread, as was the style at the time. The dark color of sunglasses we’re all used to today is actually a homage to the sunglasses of old, after years of being splattered with dark, sticky molasses, many people found the UV protection offered by their sunglasses to be unbeatable. Now where was I? Oh right, sunglasses indoors. I don’t see a problem with it. In fact, I just see it as another trend to set, which is the very reason why I myself have a tendency towards indoor sunglasses. And after all, you never know when a stray glob of molasses might come hurtling towards you.

London Riots

What started as a medium-scale riot in the borough of Tottenham has now spread into a nationwide epidemic of scumbaggery. I’ve tried to stay away from this topic as much as I could over the past few days, presuming that it would tide over like most epidemics. But I’ll be straight-up and admit I didn’t expect anything like this to come from Great Britain, neighbour, friend, inspirer of ludicrous video game censorship laws, the older brother that used to beat us up but is now our role model…

What I say here isn’t going to stray too far from the general public perception of what’s going on. A man was shot dead by police. That caused a peaceful protest to be organized. From order came chaos, and from chaos came fruitless anarchy. At this point it’s no longer about a man being shot, and the subsequent upset that was caused. I’d hazard a guess that much of the “looter” population haven’t the faintest clue about how it all got started. I don’t, however, think these riots are as organized as the media are making them out to be. And for the sake of boring men in suits and teenage girls everywhere, leave Blackberry alone. They’ll be gone in a year anyway.

Hair Products

I’ve used many too hair products in my life. In chronological order, from entry-level teenager to the present day (in ascending order of schwah):

  • Dax Short and Neat
  • Brylcreem Next Generation Strong
  • Brylcreem Next Generation Wet Look
  • Shockwaves Xtrovert Styling Steel
  • Fudge Hair Glue
  • Osis+
  • Shape It
  • The “any old shite” era
  • College begins. Gotta look cool. Moose Head Matt Holding Mud
  • Fish Shape Strong Hold Shaping Cream

 

Coffee

Coffee and I have had a love-hate relationship for a long time now. Coffee generally loves residing within my person. My eyes and sinuses hate same. After spending all of yesterday with burning eye sockets, I’ve concluded I’m allergic to the wicked black serum. My friend Oisín is a good example of a coffee disliker. He can’t stand the stuff. In fact, I once quoted Oisín as saying, “Aaron, don’t ever let me have a cup of coffee. I just don’t like it, hate it, if you will. In fact, if you ever see me with a receptacle of coffee in my hands I want you to take this gun and shoot me dead.”

The seventy preceding words are a lie. Oh Internet, you’ll believe anything. Sorry Oisín… there’ll be an espresso waiting for you when you get back from CCC.

6 links on random nouns

  1. Dew
  2. Guilty
  3. James
  4. Postage
  5. Quilt
  6. Scene
Thanks to Random Noun Generator

That post was for you, Aidan. I still have no idea why.

And life went on.

Pet Peeves 1

I just finished a pretty hectic year at college so I’m looking forward to some more free time, at least a part of which I can donate to blogging more regularly. So I thought I’d open with something fun.

My friend Melissa once described me perfectly. After one of my usual rants about things that most people wouldn’t either: a) Notice, or b) Care about, Melissa just stared at me and said, “You don’t like things, do you?”

I decided to make an effort to condense all of my pet peeves and annoyances into one place. So over the past few weeks I’ve been noting down everything that’s ticked me off in any way, using the trusty Notes app on my iPod. And here it is, the first of what will probably definitely be something of a series.

————

People who talk in the library

I can’t get over the sheer ignorance of people who do this. Firstly, it’s a library, so it’s going to be a mostly quiet place. Consequently, any sounds you make are going to be at a much higher volume than anything else in the space around you. So why then do people think they have the right to, not only talk to others, but have full-blown conversations about complete nonsense when everyone else is trying to study in a quiet environment? Worse again is the giggling and laughter generated from these conversations. We live in a time where most people studying in a library spend about 50% of their time on Facebook. Why can’t people just have their conversations there? Why can’t you just type “lol” instead of coming down and literally laughing out loud right next to my desk? Girls are by far the worst for doing this. Guys are by no-means exempt, but it’s the simple fact that girls tend to study in packs that cause them to talk to their friends.

 

People Who Use Capital Letters Unnecessarily

I admit I used to be capital letter criminal. One of those types of people who’ll call a Facebook photo album, “My Summer Holiday To Spain With The Lads”. It’s “My summer holiday to Spain with the lads”. No extra upper case letters to are required to signify your holiday’s importance along with those who deserve it, like the President, or the Queen, or the Garda Superintendent. Eh…

 

People who leave their laptops unlocked

See that button on your keyboard between Ctrl and Alt? That’s right, the one with the Windows symbol. The Windows button, correct. Hold that down. Keep it held. Now press ‘L’.

Okay, now you’re mad at me because I’ve made you enter your password again. But that’s a little trick to bear in mind whenever you leave your laptop in a place with other people. If more people knew about the Windows+L key combination, there wouldn’t be nearly as many “frapes”. But also, it prevents your information from being accessed/stolen if you leave your laptop in a public place (such as a library or lecture hall).

If you’re a Linux user, that key combination is usually Ctrl+Alt+L. If you’re a Mac user, that feature is an optional extra.

 

Misuse of exclamation marks!!

Oh dear, the famed “double exclamation mark”. This has reached some acceptance in recent times, especially in things like print media, posters, leaflets, etc. We got a leaflet in the door from a local supermarket recently. Bear in mind that these people are paying thousands of Euro for advertising and marketing “specialists” and, yet, I still have to read things like, “The lowest prices in Galway guaranteed!!”. I would talk about the triple exclamation mark, but that’s just pulling this piss.

 

People who are ignorant about data security

Why on earth do some people still not have passwords on their laptops or wireless networks? “It’s so annoying having to type in a password every time I start my computer” – yes, but slightly less annoying than somebody stealing your laptop and consequently having access to all your personal information: photos, Facebook profile, email, passwords, browsing history, possibly even your home address.

“I’m the only one who uses this computer, so there’s no point” – I beg to differ. I’m quite enjoy using this laptop. Nice photos from your Greek holiday by the way. I wish we had kebabs like that over here!

“It’s only us that connect to this wireless router” – not the point of a wireless password (or “WPA key”). A WPA key doesn’t just stop others using your internet service for free, it also encrypts all of the internet activity between your computer and the router so that anyone prying on your connection can’t see what you’re doing. Without a router password I can read your emails, get all of your passwords and read all of your Facebook/MSN chat messages within a few seconds. And no, I’m not a hacker. It’s just very, very easy to snoop on Wi-Fi networks.

 

Not texting back quick enough

Considering so many people use smartphones with full QWERTY keyboards, taking more than ten minutes to text back is annoying as hell. But not nearly annoying as…

 

Texting back too quickly

Okay, seriously. Put some ointment on those thumbs. There is no way you could write such a long response to my lazy “ya lolz” text in less than 30 seconds. I’m going to purposely delay texting you back now for another five minutes. For fuc… you did it again!

Verifying the reliability of medical information on the Internet

As part of my degree, I am taking a module in Professional Skills. Professional Skills focuses on developing one’s writing and presentation skills. As often happens in University, the course began by throwing us into the deep end, with each of us a receiving a random topic on which we were to focus on for the entire semester. Every topic was Information Technology-related and no two people had the same topic. My assigned topic was, “How can consumers verify the reliability of health and medical information on the Internet?”. Admittedly I wasn’t very happy when I first received it, especially as a friend of mine was assigned a topic on the advantages of open-source software. But the topic grew on me and in the end I was happy with the knowledge I obtained from the research and with the overall report. This blog post is a summary of the final report.

—–

The Internet is probably the most widely used medium of knowledge transfer. We use it for everything we want to know; from how to boil an egg without it going soft, to cooking a lobster dinner for six. The reason you’re here right now may be for this very reason. The Internet provides a simple, yet comprehensive way of acquiring information. All aspects of knowledge are shared using the web, and medical knowledge is no exception. Medical and health information is a bit of a dangerous area, however, with everyone who’s anyone having their own take on it. The Internet is not policed, and quite rightfully so, but this makes looking for an unbiased and well-informed piece of medical knowledge all the more difficult.

Why do we use the Internet? It’s convenient. It’s usually pretty affordable and can generally be accessed without having to walk outside and brave the elements. It’s also easy to find and retrieve the information you’re looking for, thanks to the advent of search and database querying. Before the dawn of the web, the main repository of knowledge was the local library. Libraries will always have their place in society, as will written works in literature. However, libraries have also evolved in their functionality to become predominantly places of study and for renting of books which have already been researched on the Internet. How often do you buy or rent a book without first reading an online review?

One of the most interesting findings of my research related to the tendency of different groups to use the Internet for medical queries. The most prevalent of these was pregnant women and women with young children. Upon taking a step back, it’s easy to see why. Pregnancy, as well as being a period of joy and intrigue, is a time of curiosity and confusion in a woman’s life. Some of the highest selling medical books are pregnancy-related and, as with the library analogy, more and more of this research has migrated to the online domain. In one of my sources on the matter, a number of parents were asked how they performed medical-related searches online, with Google coming out on top. No surprise there, as Google is leaps and bounds ahead of any rivaling search engines in terms of popularity. The authors of the paper decided to emulate these results, by performing Google searches using keywords related to common childhood diseases. Their qualitative results were less than stellar, with only 39% of the returned webpages providing accurate information.

Martin Codyre with family at the Ironman triathlon in Switzerland

My final area of interest was unconventional medicine. We’ve all received the junk emails and seen the ads on websites, offering cheap cosmetic alterations, surgical enhancements and miracle cures from hospitals in countries no one’s ever heard of. As mentioned before on this blog, I’m a committee member of the Skeptic Society in NUI Galway. We were very fortunate early last semester to be addressed by Martin Codyre, a quadriplegic public speaker on the subject of stem cell research and disability. Towards the end of the talk, I asked Martin his opinions on the issues covered in my research topic, such as the increasing trend towards the Internet for medical knowledge and diagnoses. Codyre stated that he himself relied heavily on the Internet to obtain information on his condition and possible treatments. He said that too often people will enter in a medical search term, only to find advertisements for expensive and possibly deceptive treatments. He believed that stem cell research is particularly prone to this, being an obscure form of treatment whose mechanism of action is relatively unknown. “They could hook you up to a drip of ‘stem cells’ and, for all you know, it’s just a saline solution.” When asked about the use of the Internet for information on stem cell research, Codyre’s opinion was clear and firm: “Definitely. Who reads books anymore? The Internet is the only way.”

Another aspect of unconventional medicine which I focused on was bariatric surgery, also known as “gastric band” surgery. I found this topic interesting for a number of reasons. Bariatric surgery is considered by many to be an unnecessary surgery. Those who undergo this procedure often claim to have exhausted all other attempts at losing weight, yet it still remains a very controversial and extreme course of action. In a study of 100 patients undergoing the operation, the authors of my source paper on bariatric surgery discovered that less than half the patients had done any prior Internet research on the procedure. This presented a very striking contrast between the group undergoing bariatric surgery and the group of parents and pregnant women. But what were the reasons? One can only speculate, but I have my opinions. The gastric band patients were likely to be distressed and anxious about their health and the operation itself – much more so than the parents with a sick child, or the young soon-to-be mother. Surgeries involving people suffering from obesity are known to have much higher rates of mortality than usual. Interestingly, more than half of the resulting websites found by those who searched online provided very little details about the procedure itself, or the risks involved, but mainly the benefits and post-operative weight-loss of those who underwent the surgery. This again demonstrates the danger of online advertising and search engine optimisation and their influence on search results.

If you found this post interesting, please read the full paper, including my conclusion and a full list of references, at the following link:

Verifying the reliability of health and medical information on the Internet. Using trusted information and safe practises to ensure the safety and well-being of consumers on the web.

Life goes on.

Setting up Android Notifier in Ubuntu

Update: This no longer works in Ubuntu 11.04 using the Unity interface. It may still work with the “Ubuntu Classic” interface, but I haven’t tested this. Many thanks to Courtney Gibbons for pointing this out!

I recently stumbled upon a neat little application for Ubuntu called Android Notifier. Android Notifier is a minimalist application, written in Java, which displays pop-up notifications from the Ubuntu notification area whenever an event occurs on your Android phone, such as a phone call, text message or low battery. It’s pretty easy to setup, so I said I’d make a quick guide. Please note that this guide is for pre-Android 2.0, so I will be running through the Wi-Fi setup options.

—–

  • Go to this link and scan the QR code to download the Android app. Or else search the Android Market for “Remote Notifier for Android”.
  • Install the app, then open it. Go to Notification Service and make sure “Start service at boot” is ticked.
  • Go back and enter Notification methods. If you phone is pre-Android 2.0, then the only options you will have are “IP/Wifi” and “IP/Wifi options”. Enter the second option and tick the “Auto-enable wifi” box.
  • Time to set up the Ubuntu end. Download the .deb package for either 32-bit or 64-bit Ubuntu and install it.
  • Open a terminal (Applications > Accessories > Terminal) and enter: sudo apt-get install gufw
  • The above command installs a graphical firewall editor called GUFW. Open it by going to System > Administration > Firewall configuration. Go to Edit > Add Rule then go to the “Simple” tab. Change the “TCP” dropdown to “UDP” and enter 10600 into the text-field. Click “Add” and then exit GUFW.
  • Once installed, run it by going to Applications > Accessories > Android Notifier Desktop. An application indicator will appear in your notification area, so right-click it and click Preferences.
  • Tick “Start at login” if you don’t want to start the application manually every time you start up. At the bottom of the options, under Devices, select “Receive notifications only from these devices”, then click “Add”.
  • In the Android app, select “Send test notification”. This should (hopefully) register your phone with the desktop application, where you can now give your phone a name.

—–

Admittedly the application isn’t always reliable. It seems to miss a few text messages every now and then, but I’m hoping this is down purely to the fact that it uses UDP as its transfer protocol. UDP, unlike its TCP/IP brother, does not confirm whether or not its receiver actually received the entire packet. Any lost bits along the way will end up in an entirely corrupted packet, meaning your computer wouldn’t receive the notification. UDP works great for video and music streaming, but is entirely useless for text. However, if you have a post-Android 2.0 phone, you should have the option to send notifications over Bluetooth, which is far more reliable.

Happy notifications!

Life goes on.

Xmas – a time of giving, receiving, and paying subscription fees

So even though it’s only been four days, I feel this is a bit of a belated post. Anyway.

Xmas [purposely sic] in my house is always an irreligious affair based on materialism and sherry trifle. This year’s haul of presents consisted of three video games (Super Mario Galaxy 2, Gran Turismo 5 and Star Trek Online), two t-shirts from Jack and Jones (or three if you count the free Star Trek Online t-shirt), an aftershave gift set, an RC helicopter which doesn’t work – sad face – and the most quintessential Irish stocking filler of all time, a Cadbury’s Selection Box.

Oh and look, it’s still raining outside.

Life goes on.

Linux users pay more for software

This probably isn’t much of a surprise to anyone, but I saw an interesting chart on the Humble Bundle website regarding donations to their “Pay What You Want” scheme for their Humble Indie Bundle #2. The Humble Indie Bundle #2 is a bundle of 5 awesome indie games, available for Linux, Windows and Mac. The developers have adopted a payment scheme whereby customers can pay whatever they wish for the bundle, from $0.01 up to whatever’s in your bank account, although paying anything under $1.00 brings up a tear-jerking comic about how the developers need money :’(

Upon purchasing the bundle, a chart is displayed at the bottom of the webpage, outlining the open financial details for the bundle, including the total revenue, list of top contributors and the average price paid by Windows, Mac and Linux users. The chart speaks for itself in many ways, but most interestingly is how, although Windows purchases account for more than half of the total sales, Windows users on average have paid the least amount of money for the bundle – less than half of the average price paid by Linux users and slightly less than what was paid by Mac users. See for yourself:

Life goes on.

Reply from The Document Foundation

I recently wrote a letter to The Document Foundation, asking them to fix a spellchecker bug that’s been irking me and my friends since we first started using OpenOffice.org. I don’t know why this seemingly small bug was never patched by the OpenOffice.org team.

Anyway, I received two very swift replies from two members of TDF,  the second being very positive indeed!

———————–

Hi Aaron,

thanks a lot for the feedback. Can you put this bug into our bug tracking system?

Thanks,
Florian

…but before I could file the bug, I received this reply from Caolan McNamara of The Document Foundation. And judging by his email address, he’s a member of Skynet, the University of Limerick computer society!

I fixed this (in theory at least) back on Nov the 4th for Libreoffice
3.3. So this should just “work out of the box”. When RC2 comes out have
a double-check to make sure this is working and file a bug at
https://bugs.freedesktop.org/ against “LibreOffice” if it’s not fixed in
that version.

C.

———————–

Happy days!

If you’d like to learn more about LibreOffice, a new Open Source productivity suite based on OpenOffice.org, take a gander over to: http://www.documentfoundation.org/

Life goes on.