Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

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20 October 2004

I cannot understand why this government feels compelled to liberalise gambling laws in this country. I find it extraordinary that the Government would see casinos as a means of regional regeneration. Of course not all the bill is bad – it does ban advertising for online casinos and bans fruit machines from places without proper supervision like takeaways and minicab offices – but it also allows for more and larger casinos.

I can’t cite the relevant research but from what I remember the evidence suggests much of the money spent on gambling comes from the poor and the elderly and it flows to large multinational corporations (if anyone can refer me to hard data on this I would be interested). There are already 400,000 ‘problem gamblers’ in the UK and the Henley Centre suggests this bill could add another 300,000. According to Gamcare for each problem gambler 15 others are affected.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists found serious problems with the bill – in fact the joint committee heard from five groups all opposed to the bill. In addition the NHS’ Health Development Agency has produced an excellent article outlining some of the dangers.

I don’t recall any groundswell of popular enthusiasm for increased gambling being expressed – in fact one poll suggests 90% are opposed to further liberalisation.

I can’t understand why there isn’t more protest around this issue. The Salvation Army has responded to the government’s proposals but while it is criticising the bill it does not seem to be running any kind of online campaign.

To my dismay, not only did there seem not to be an anti-gambling lobby group on the BBC’s iCan site – it provides information on how to run a lottery to raise money for your cause! There’s an anti-gambling bill campaign there now however and I encourage you to join it and if you are in the UK see what your MP says about the bill and lobby him or her to stop it

I just discovered I have a powerful ally on this issue (if a strange bedfellow) the Daily Mail is running a campaign against the gambling bill as well. If you are in the UK you can join their campaign by emailing casino@dailymail.co.uk, giving your name and address, and saying you also oppose the gambling bill.

19 October 2004

At last someone has produced a free-to-download User Guide to Using the Linux Desktop (there may be others but this is the first general purpose one I’ve heard about). You might also check out “the O’Reilly site”:http://linux.oreilly.com/ for a few free chapters from some of their many Linux books or take a look at “Learning Debian/GNU Linux “:http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/debian/chapter/book/index.html which is completely free – one of O’Reilly’s “Open Books”:http://www.oreilly.com/openbook/.

Thanks to “Slashdot”:http://linux.slashdot.org/linux/04/08/22/1955204.shtml for the link

Ubuntu Linux, sponsored by South African entrepreneur “Mark Shuttleworth”:http://www.markshuttleworth.com/bio.html is not just available free – the organization behind it will “send free CDs”:http://shipit.ubuntulinux.org/ to wherever in the world people want to get their hands on it. (Note: if you have broadband and can download it rather than getting the CDs please do so and save money that could be used to send discs to developing world organizations that do need it). If you want a review of the current version with all the geeky details read “Kuroshin”:http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2004/9/28/211242/712. To summarise, it includes the main applications you would need (the Firefox web browser and OpenOffice) but at present if you don’t want it to take over your whole hard disk you have to partition it manually, which doesn’t say much for its user-friendliness. It’s early days though.

18 October 2004

Tom Steinberg pointed out a while ago that the “Daily Mail”:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/ – arguably the most dangerous newspaper in Britain – now has “message boards”:http://chat.dailymail.co.uk/dailymail/index.jsp. A chance to get a peek into the heads of their europhobic, often paranoid readership? Or perhaps an opportunity to change a few minds?

P.S. To get an idea of the Mail’s point of view on the world and get a good laugh at the same time try the (satirical) Daily Mail headline generator.

15 October 2004

“Google Desktop”:http://www.desktop.google.com/index.html has arrived and two more desktop searching products are on their way. AOL is reportedly developing AOL Desktop Search and a new search engine, “Exalead”:http://beta.exalead.com/search also plans a “desktop search product”:http://beta.exalead.com/search/C=0MlQAMAA%3d/2p=5.

BBC World’s Click Online just did a “short report”:http://www.bbcworld.com/content/template_clickonline.asp?pageid=666&co_pageid=2 about hard disk indexing programs which covers some of the same ground as I have done earlier (for example “here”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_search_engines.html#001238).

14 October 2004

The Wordcount site is an interesting art project and trivia goldmine in one. Did you know that ‘internet’ is the 30525th most used word in the written English language? On the other hand it is the 66th most popular word searched for on Wordcount according to its companion site, “Querycount”:http://www.wordcount.org/querycount.php

Thanks to Yahoo’s “Pick of the Week”:http://picks.yahoo.com/picks/ feature for the tip.

P.S. I just noticed that the right hand column of my weblog sometimes gets shoved to the bottom of the page when using Internet Explorer (though it displays properly in Mozilla). Can anyone suggest why?

13 October 2004

I thought I was doing pretty well with a combination (Telewest and “Telediscount”:http://www.telediscount.co.uk/accessnumbers.php) that cost me 10 pounds a month, a 6p connection charge and between 1 and 3p a minute to call the UK, France, Canada or the US (depending on whether it’s daytime, evening or weekend).

I am still stuck with the 10 pound line rental but now I find 1899.com has a 3p connection charge, lets you call any UK landline for free (except 0845 and 0870 numbers), mobiles for 2p a minute weekends, 10p weekdays and Canada and the US for .5p a minute (France 1p)! An alternative provider “18866”:http://www.call18866.co.uk/printer_version.php charges somewhat more but with a connection charge of just 1p.

When I first came to the UK from Canada my phone habits changed drastically – I was used to paying nothing for local calls to my friends – now I had to pay for every call I made, so I kept my calls short. Now I suspect the boot is on the other foot – certainly my father pays around 50% more for his line rental and I’m guessing I pay less on a per-call basis (except for the fact I still have to pay 3p per call while his local calls remain completely free).

I suspect too that since companies like 1899 rely on word of mouth and (I’m guessing) people finding their website it’s (ironically) the wealthier, better connected people in the UK who can find and take advantage of these deals while poorer people without the time or skills to shop around end up paying much more.

11 October 2004

In the interests of better understanding of Arabs by the West, the (American) “National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education”:http://www.nitle.org/ has produced a useful overview of Arab culture – the Arab World Project. Of course I can’t say much about its accuracy but it seems fair. I would be interested to hear if anyone who knows Arab culture well finds the site lacking.

10 October 2004
Filed under:Humour & Entertainment,Weblogs at6:44 pm

(Or to be more precise Onion-esque humour about a particular kind of teen blogging) from Modern Mirth Magazine. OK it’s a bit obvious and shooting-fish-in-a-barrel-ish but it did make me chortle. Don’t forget I – like ‘Jennifer Meyers’ – allow comments, “so that when you read my thoughts, you can have a place to agree with me and add additional support for what I said.”

9 October 2004
Filed under:Arts Reviews,Personal at1:21 pm

I noticed the arrival in London of “Bright Leaves”:http://www.brightleaves.com/ – a new film by an oddball American independent film-maker Ross McElwee – and on a whim I went with my wife to see it. While the premise of the film was promising (a grassroots view of the tobacco industry mixed with McElwee’s characteristic personal reminiscences) I found it more than usually self-indulgent so it was a bit of a disappointment.

However, I discovered to my surprise that McElwee himself was there as this was a premiere. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to thank him for producing his most memorable work, “Sherman’s March”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091943/. It’s a pity that there doesn’t seem to be a European standard copy of that film available on DVD or tape…

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