Roddy's Ramblings

Thoughts and tales; some of them may even be true.

My Photo
Location: Australia

Hopefully whatever there is to know about me will come through whatever is written below - whatever that may bring...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Really? Happening here? Couldn't possibly...

Sometimes, something happens that seems so bizarre that you believe that it cannot possible happen. Not here. But it is happening and it is happening here.

The Australian government is applying a mandatory filter to censor the internet. The same thing that China, Iran, North Korea and no-one else does. The very thing that our Australian Prime Minister asked China not to do during the Olympics. No-one is allowed to know what our government has deemed 'unwanted'; which is the latest term being used for blacklisted information.

It was a background thing at the time of the election that most people who knew anything about how the internet works just snorted at and ignored it as unworkable; the policy was something you could opt-out of, it was there purely to protect the children. Thank god someone is thinking of the children. Then about a month ago an employee at an ISP talked about the second filter that people who opted out the first one would go onto. The Australian government actually tried to have this ISP employee silenced by hassling his employer. Something you might expect of Putin's government or the Bush administraion, but not a newly elected Australian one.

Technology web sites and the technology sections in the media all ran the story, but not the mainstream media. No front page of The Age or the Herald Sun here in Victoria. The Courier Mail is Brisbane recently ran with it. The thing that bothers me the most is the tone of the articles, which always talk about the illegal material that the filter will be restricting. This filter can't be used on P2P or secure links – 60% of all the internet traffic in the world is from P2P traffic. So the only people being restricted by the filter will be any paedophile visiting or a terrorist going to If an illegal act is being performed using the internet, I doubt that it is being done (for very long) by someone using an unsecured web link.

The thing about the illegality aspect is anyone can use Google to avoid website blacklisting; if you translate a page from English-to-English then the pages you are looking at are no longer linked against their original address, but against Google; which is an unlikely web page to be blacklisted. You could also create a secure link to a proxy address in any other country (with the obvious exceptions of China, Iran, North Korea or Australia) and browse the web through that – the traffic coming to your PC will be encrypted on its final leg back to your PC from any old innocuous address. There are so many unsecured PCs in the world thanks to Microsoft Windows, the list of addresses you could look up and utilise is practically limitless.

So it's a waste of time if you want to stop anyone from accessing illegal material.

An example that the government have used repeatedly is Pro-Anorexia web sites. How will an automatic scan of a web page be able to determine if a web site if Pro-Anorexia or information about Anorexia? Especially when there may be links to a Pro-site within an Anti-site for direct examples of misinformation. Welcome to the world of false hits. Every piece of web filtering software has something called a false hit, it is where a site is blacklisted when it shouldn't have been; its an unavoidable fact that comes with the territory. The example the government keeps using is as likely to cause families faced with this problem to have no access to any assisting information or help groups.

The latest number of websites the government has deemed 'unwanted' is 10,000. We will not be told what the websites are, the target of the filtering or any aspect of the websites being banned. This list is secret within a department of the government that will decide what we can and cannot see. A department that is influenced by the Family First Senator, Steve Fielding. A veritable luddite who wants anything on the world wide web that has not been specifically given a rating by the Australian OFLC to be listed as 'unwanted'. This is a representative of a political party that has publicly stated their stand against homosexuality. If you want to spend half-an-hour shaking your head in disbelief, then check out their website. Then think about the future of the internet in Australia where an easy option exists for blacklisting any information with knee-jerk policies.

Its also worth mentioning that the filtering software that was trialled slowed down the internet connection between 30% to 75% (or 87% depending on the articles you read). That means at best, your internet connection will be a third slower.

The offshoot that hasn't been discussed yet is the measures to be taken against anyone who bypasses the government's internet filter. One has to go with the other. A mandatory internet filter cannot be introduced without a deterrent to stop people bypassing it. So is every geek and 12 year old who has learned how to get around their firewall and filter at school going to be looking at a life as a criminal?

Playing and losing

I heard yesterday that Fuel Watch is to be canned this week. From an layman's point of view, this is another round of political games where the populace has lost.

The prices around Melbourne were an absolute debacle last year before the fuel watch proposal was announced; there was no workable average to base your prices on, you just had to either drive past a lot of stations or take a chance depending on how many options you had. Things have settled down now to the point that generally prices are stable and, for reasons best known to the oil companies, they fluctuate the prices to make Tuesday the cheapest.

Apparently, we should all be grateful that the prices are cheaper on Tuesday, you can get 4c off a litre and fuel watch should be scrapped as it might interfere with how good the oil companies are to us. This was the basic message from the RACV spokesman speaking on the news. If you take a step back, you might wonder if the schedule from the oil companies point of view is to make it more expensive at the weekend and add 4c to the price, unless they have a receipt from one of their marketing partners.

In my own personal opinion, once the fuel watch has been scrapped for good, we can watch the prices spiraling out of any basis and the days where the petrol is 'reduced' starting to shift around. We may have just played a game with the oil companies that they were manipulating from the beginning to allow a grand-standing politician to say how we really don't need any laws to work with the petrol prices, they are self-regulating and the companies involved are a bunch of nice guys with our best interests at heart.

Back from the outback

Well – not really the outback, but the Grampians area of Victoria called Strathbogie (really). Its about 2 or so hours North of Melbourne through a multitude of signs saying 'No' to the North-South pipeline, which is currently being constructed next to the road.

The North-South pipeline is something that I only came across recently in the media, when a woman in her farm was arrested for obstructing the construction of it. From what I do know, it does seem that the pipeline is a fairly short-sighted measure that the farmers have every right to be upset about. It's a water pipe to bring extra water to the city, thereby reducing the amount available to the farms to do things like grow food and allow their animals to drink. You could never accuse the farmers of wasting water in Australia – but the same could not be said of those folks in the city. The water usage is now going up from my condensed dwelling companions as the campaign to get people to be more conservative is more losing ground the longer it runs. People are still wasting a shed load of water in the city; whether through their gardens or just not giving it much thought. It does seem peculiar that the water is physically taken from the people who desperately need it to be given to people who squander it while being hinted at from an advertising campaign. I guess there are more voters in the city.

Its always a pleasant surprise when it turns out that people really are more pleasant in the country; and even more surprising when people are helpful, courteous and friendly. From someone who has to take the train every day, its like the world has had an exorcism. The farm we were staying at was near a place called Ruffy (really). The surroundings were just what the doctor ordered after so much stress caused by endless, loud bass music and earthquake inducing car engine revving. As an extra bonus, one of the resident dogs had recently given birth to six of the cutest rough-and-tumble puppies; endearing doesn't even come close. The cottage we were staying in also had a rather nice pool table which was excellent; playing on it over the long weekend brought back memories of when I could actually pocket balls.

The area surrounding the farm has the most unusual rocks and boulders that really have to be seen (might be able to put a photo in this post); how they are 'placed' is really are quite intriguing and can bring one to consider and philosophical thoughts while drinking a nice, hot cup of tea. We were told of a market in Euroa, which we dawdled along to. As is the case in most of my life, there was someone there to tell us how much better is was the year before.