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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19 December 2003

Alas this offer is limited (though there is no need to commit yourselves) and it only works if you either buy a voice over IP telephone or download the appropriate (free) software and configure it (something which I have found less than straightforward to do in the past). Nonetheless, this is clearly the future of telephony.

By coincidence, the “New York Times”:http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/18/technology/circuits/18nett.html?ex=1387083600&en=b28df722ab69712f&ei=5007&partner=USERLAND has just reviewed “Vonage”:http://www.vonage.com/’s Internet to telephone service and says it works just fine. I tried the free Free World Dialup service with my parents and it kind of worked as well but my voice was a little broken up (probably because of my bad habit of running 17 programs at once on my PC.)

I hope France gets connected in a similar way one day – we only pay between 1 and 4p a minute (2 to 7 cents) to call my wife’s friends and family but it still adds up!

See “Free World Dialup”:http://www.freeworldialup.com/ for details.

18 December 2003
Filed under:Academia,Best of blog.org,Personal at10:56 pm

graduation with nick couldry and robin mansell.jpg
Today I graduated from my “Masters”:http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/media@lse/study/mScInNewMediaInformationAndSociety.htm here at the “London School of Economics and Political Science”:http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/pressAndInformationOffice/aboutLSE/information.htm but I am already hard at work on my “PhD”:http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/media@lse/study/mPhilPhDMediaAndCommunications.htm – being supervised by “Robin Mansell”:http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/media@lse/whosWho/robinMansell.htm (at L) and “Nick Couldry”:http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/media@lse/whosWho/nickCouldry.htm (at R). Wish me luck!

P.S. On the morning of graduation day I received the first line or so of a spam email on my mobile phone. It read, ‘Want more respect? Get a PhD’ – I found that obscurely encouraging…

17 December 2003

An interesting discussion going on at the very insightful “TheFeature”:http://www.thefeature.com/ (which is all about ‘the mobile internet’). It was sparked by an article by “Howard Rheingold”:http://www.rheingold.com/ all about the potential dangers of ubiquitous location-aware devices. Some good points made about the need for sensible default settings (since few people change their defaults) and I pitched in:

Making “off” appear to be the same as “out of network range” is only a social protection as long as the technology doesn’t work reliably. The old phone excuse of “you’re breaking up I’ll call you back” really doesn’t work any more across most of the UK, for example – the network is just too good!

If your boss requires you to be locatable at all times during work hours you may not be able to pretend the technology doesn’t work – so the only protection for the individual against such harassment would be a social taboo against such behaviour – and I don’t think we can guarantee this will happen.

The only way I think this kind of thing can be prevented would be to make it illegal for a workplace to track someone’s location without a strong reason.

16 December 2003

Isabel Vincent at Canada’s National Post has gone to Kosovo four years after the war and finds it a mess, with ethnic cleansing continuing (of Serbs by Muslim extremists) and drug and people smuggling:

“More than 80% of Western Europe’s heroin comes through Kosovo, where several drug laboratories have been set up, Interpol officials say.”

The sources are more than a little one-sided – anonymous Interpol officials and a lot of data provided by a Serb diplomat (as well as an ex-Canadian ambassador) but it’s certainly not encouraging.

Let’s not forget about the former Yugoslavia while we try to take care of things in Iraq and Afghanistan (and numerous other countries around the world…)

15 December 2003

A report in the Guardian says little new support was offered by the developing world to close the digital divide and suggests governments and NGOs didn’t really interact. Tellingly:

While the government leaders made their speeches in main auditorium, other people and organizations showcased their projects in a separate hall on the floor below… There was relatively little interaction, with government officials using their own entrances, restaurants, lounges and even toilets.

13 December 2003
Filed under:Current Affairs (World) at1:54 am

I read once before about this and could hardly believe it but apparently it is true – c. $100m found by the US military in Saddam’s palaces has been looted and redistributed to a ‘Commanders’ Emergency Response Program’ which amounted to a slush fund for US military commanders to use effectively “at their discretion”:http://usembassy.state.gov/mumbai/wwwhwashnews999.html. Fred Kaplan at “Slate”:http://slate.msn.com/id/2091857/ suggests this was an excellent idea.

Call me old-fashioned but doesn’t that money belong to the Iraqi people and shouldn’t the money have gone into some kind of fund that they could draw upon once an independent Iraqi government is once again established? Kaplan suggests now that that source of funds has been spent the US government should put some of its own money into a similar fund.

“Might such discretion create the potential for corruption? Yes. But no reports of abuse surfaced during the first round. And if some miscreant officer does skim a few bucks off the top, the loss would be trivial compared with the price-gouging that Pentagon-approved contractors have routinely practiced in the course of rebuilding Iraq.”

If you want to do an end run around administrative bureaucracy in approving rebuilding projects why not give the money directly to NGOs and protect them as they do their work? But then the Iraqi people would not be forced into a cosy relationship with the occupying forces…

12 December 2003
Filed under:Current Affairs (World) at9:34 am

According to Dexter Filkins at the “New York Times”:http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/07/international/middleeast/07TACT.html?ex=1386133200&en=b502ae4c549da2f4&ei=5007&partner=USERLAND :

As the guerrilla war against Iraqi insurgents intensifies, American soldiers have begun wrapping entire villages in barbed wire.

In selective cases, American soldiers are demolishing buildings thought to be used by Iraqi attackers. They have begun imprisoning the relatives of suspected guerrillas, in hopes of pressing the insurgents to turn themselves in.

All of these tactics have apparently been used in Israel, and, ‘writing in the July issue of Army magazine, an American brigadier general said American officers had recently traveled to Israel to hear about lessons learned from recent fighting there.’ Colonel Sassaman (the man who surrounded a village with wire) is quoted in the article saying, ‘with a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them.’

This is frightening stuff. Fred Kaplan at “Slate”:http://slate.msn.com/id/2092178/ (who pointed to the NYT piece) suggests – correctly in my view – that this kind of approach only breeds more terrorists, whether in Iraq, Israel or (historically) Vietnam and the Philippines.

It appears that the Marines “don’t intend”:http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/12/international/middleeast/12MARI.html?ei=5007&en=1a1a29c3bded603f&ex=1386565200&partner=USERLAND&pagewanted=print&position= to behave the same way, but it will be interesting to see if those good intentions remain once they start getting fired on.

11 December 2003
Filed under:Old media,Useful web resources,Weblogs at12:53 pm

The New York Times Link Generator – A solution to the problem that links to the New York Times normally disappear after a week or so into their “pay to see” archive. Links generated using the service above will always be freely accessible. This has been done with the permission of the New York Times on the (likely correct) assumption that commercial researchers will still want to use the NYT’s own complete search and pay for articles from the archives because webloggers won’t be linking in to (and therefore making freely available) every last article the NYT produces on a given day.

In the “discussion”:http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/2003/06/06#a440 that surrounded this move I also came across “Bug Me Not”:http://bugmenot.com/ which is a somewhat more controversial tool – it gives users a way to share usernames and passwords for sites like the NYT that require registration.

10 December 2003

PC Magazine in the US recently did a “short article describing Wikis”:http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,4149,1402872,00.asp (web pages that anyone can edit just by typing simplified text into a form) and rated six options for making your own Wikis. One Wiki-related technology with some interesting unique features that is free to use and doesn’t get a mention is “Bloki”:http://www.bloki.com/ and probably the largest bit of Wiki content is the “Wikipedia”:http://www.wikipedia.org/ – a 300,000 entry user-generated encyclopedia.

Thanks to Many-to-Many for the link

9 December 2003

A local paper claims the Independent Media Centre that started it all in Seattle closed partly because of its decision to have a downtown location costing $3000 a month so that it could be at the heart of the Seattle WTO protest (which was four years ago) and so it could offer its multimedia services to other left-leaning groups.

More controversially the paper’s ‘obit’ suggests classic problems of left splintering were also partly to blame – “the core group running the IMC was cliquish and inaccessible; at one point, nonwhite media activists discussed starting their own competing local IMC” and it also pointed out one of the drawbacks of the open publishing model – readers had “to sort out for themselves the solid, well-researched, well-presented stories from the jargon-laden, factually incorrect anarco-leftist rants”.

Of course Seattle Weekly is part of the alternative press themselves so it may be they had an axe to grind – and the Seattle Indymedia website is still running, with a front-page explanation of their status that is “dismayingly revealing”:http://seattle.indymedia.org/front.php3?article_id=36723&group=webcast …

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