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Soldiers shoot up the mob

Posted on 13/4/2009 | 1627 reads
The 'red shirts' just clashed with the army under the expressway at Din Daeng, near my apartment. Apparently a few people were shot, though there aren't too many details yet.

I was just starting to move house to my new apartment in town when the tanks started rolling out. So I spent last night sleeping on the floor in the new place (no furniture yet!).

I won't be going out today as the roads are probably not a good place to be. Fortunately there is a free wireless hotspot signal leaking into my place, so at least I'll be able to keep up with what's going on.


Internet censorship: An arms race the government will lose

Posted on 28/3/2009 | 1881 reads
The Australian government has decided they are going to censor content on the internet. The main problem is, of course, that this is not technically feasible. If you were a logical type of person you might expect the debate to kind of end right there but nooooo no no. That would make too much sense. This is one dead horse that we are going to ride!

Lets start by considering the progress in internet censorship made by other countries: The Chinese had a pretty good shot with their Great Firewall and are the clear leaders in the field. Vietnam and Myanmar are also pretty heavy handed, while Thailand makes token attempts to censor content. I've played with all of these during my travels and they are all circumvented by the most trivial and ordinary of means. Nobody has been able to make it work, and some of these countries have tried pretty hard. (My local censorship laws forbid discussion of the means, even though this is kind of like forbidding discussion about orange juice).

But this shouldn't come as a suprise. I don't know anyone who works with the internet who thinks that content censorship is possible. A lot of respected technical people have made representations to the government explaining that it just won't work. The Australian internet police dont think it will work. All major ISPs have indicated have advised that it wont work and none are participating in the governments technology trials. The few minor ISPs that have agreed to participate are doing so to demonstrate wont work. The governments own trials of filtering technologies were a disaster, for example:


The median network degradation of the tested filters dropped indicating a significant improvement since the previous trial. The performance or network degradation for one of the tested products was less than 2%, whilst three products were less than 30% and two products were in excess of 75%.

Source: Senator Conroys website

If a 75% drop in network performance is an improvement then one presumes the first filtering technologies trialled were various models of bolt cutters?

Despite the obvious futility of it all, the government still isnt listening. They're determined to save Australian children from pornography and all that. Or so they claim. The notion of internet censorship is so patently stupid, that you have to wonder if it is just a cover story for some other agenda. The installation of automated content scanning technologies opens up all kinds of new and interesting surveillance opportunities for the police and other government agencies. Is this the kind of surveillance capability we want our government to have? Hmm...

Moving along from technical infeasibility, there are some serious concerns about the lack of transparency by the censors. There is a list of banned websites that contain illegal or unwanted content. The list is secret. There is no way to find out if your own website is on the list. If your site does get banned, there is no procedure to challenge the listing or to get delisted in the case of error. And there has been no clear explanation from the Minister about what exactly constitutes unwanted content. [Edit: The secret list was published by Wikileaks, and it does indeed contain plenty of errors].

Worryingly, the Australian Communications and Media Authority is threatening legal action against websites that publish links to banned websites. Whirlpool.nets hosting provider was recently threatened with an $11,000 per day fine because someone posted a link to a banned anti-abortion website on the Whirlpool website. This begs the question, how can people avoid publishing links to banned websites if the list of banned websites is secret?

Finally, lets assume the government gets its way. What will happen? My prediction is that the government's attempts to censor the internet will simply prove counter-productive. Clamping down on 'unwanted' content will encourage people to adopt countermeasures to circumvent censorship. The more obstructive the censorship, the more incentive there will be for people to learn how to get around it.

Censoring the internet will start an arms race that the government can't win.


Of network attached storage devices and file servers

Posted on 2/3/2009 | 2059 reads
This week everyone was away and not bothering me at work. Consequence: I got a lot done. I set up an email newsletter service (outsourced to, an eCommerce shopfront for selling our books (oustourced to and wrote a proposal to set up a file server + backup server. Cool.

I am increasingly loving to make use of outsourced solutions for adding functionality to my work website. Honestly, why struggle to build things yourself when you can outsource it for peanuts? The mailing list costs me US$ 5 a month. The eCommerce site takes a 5.5% commission. They give me html snippets to embed in my site and all the security, database and transaction headaches are forwarded to them. Great!

Which brings me to the file server. My work still has a peer-to-peer network of Windoze machines. It really is horrible. When a hard disk dies someone's work usually goes with it. Due to someone important having two near-misses in a row, requiring a week to recover, we are finally in a mood to invest in a file server. I hope!

I've never run a file server before, so I started reading about it. That's not so hard. Then I started reading about file server backup. That's considerably more complicated than you might expect. Journaling, versioning, handling large amounts of's a bit tricky.

Enter affordable Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. Basically, they are small metal boxes into which you can insert many hard drives with a simple web-based management interface. Want to set up a RAID? Click a button. Create network shares and set access permissions? Fill in a form. Automated backup? No problem. They are amazing. Connectivity? Plug a LAN cable into one of the dual gigabit ethernet ports in the back. It's not just a NAS, it's a full file server as well.

In particular, I have come to dribble at the thought of getting my hands on the QNAP TS-439 Turbo Pro. These have an incredible amount of features for the price. This model takes 4 drives (their top model takes 8). That means you can fit it with up to 4 terrabytes of storage, any flavour of RAID you want. It can back up to other devices over the network via rsync, it has dual embedded operating systems in case one fails, full volume encryption, SSH access, emails you if anything goes wrong...its a stunning device, for the price of a cheap laptop. File server admins everwhere...I advise you to start retraining in some other discipline now, because you are about to lose your job to something cheaper than a good coffee maker!

I bought a D-link 323 NAS for home, which is both cheap and nice, but don't buy one of those, get a QNAP!



Posted on 24/1/2009 | 1908 reads
Bangkok is fogged out. Really, we have fog. Looking out my apartment window I can just see the ground. Visibility is about 60m. Amazing.

Hello Ducky

Posted on 1/1/2009 | 1755 reads
Happy new year.


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