More web legislation? Crikey!

Posted by jerry on March 3rd, 2007 — Posted in New media

Alerted by Duncan Riley’s 901 news blog, there appears to be some new legislation proposed by Australian Communications Minister Helen Coonan to try to impose a classification system on all web content – presumably including all blogs and web sites, as well as e-books and perhaps online spaces like SecondLife.

It seems on the face of it impractical, but in fact is more likely to follow a similar trajectory to the BROADCASTING SERVICES AMENDMENT (ONLINE SERVICES) ACT 1999. – A good political showpiece in an election year – with little real effect.

901 news blog

The Bill (not yet drafted) to be introduced for passage in the (Australian) Autumn session is known as the

Communications Legislation Amendment (Content Services) Bill

Its purpose being to “- reform the regulatory structures for non-broadcasting communications content to ensure that existing policy principles for the regulation of content are consistently applied to these new audio-visual services “

Crikey dot com

Well Crikey reckons it’s unworkable because the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts would have to employ a heap of new staff to cope with the flood of online books, video content (YouTube) and of course the plethora of blog posts. All of which would need to go through the Office of Film and Television Classification. Interesting proposal, given that Australia is still fifth in the world for internet penetration with 70.2 percent online and around 14million netizens in Australia.

As a piece of political theatre the proposed legislation is likely to work like the Australian Broadcasting (online services) Act 1999. That Act made 72 pages of amendments to the Australian Broadcasting Services Act (1992) in order to allow people to submit an objection to the Broadcasting Authority over a web site, which would then be looked into by probably 0.5 of a designated officer, who could then request politely that the site be taken down or at least moved out of Australian jurisdiction – an action which would take the average computer geek about 15 minutes.

This way, it would serve the political ends of not seeming to give web users a free rein at the expense of Big Media, while actually having an almost immeasurable effect on web content providers. Yes we may have to display our self classification of content on our pages, but that is little different from the requirements of most ISPs these days anyhow – with suitable clauses about reporting unsuitable or offensive content.

Jokingly, one could perhaps wonder if the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts would run a trial system in which everyone submits all blog posts, emails, web content, videos etc to the Office of Film and Television Classification in order to scope the staffing levels needed in order to cope with the traffic. ­čÖé

If the devil’s in the details, we’ll just have to see what the legislative drafters come up with as the Bill nears its introduction. Here’s what The Australian Newspaper had to say on the topic on 26 Feb

Difference Engine – Babbage would have been proud

Posted by jerry on March 2nd, 2007 — Posted in New media, Technology

I had been re-reading Willim Gibson/Bruce Sterling’s book The Difference Engine and recalled the one built in the London Science Museum which was built as far as possible with the metallurgy and tolerances available to Charles Babbage in the 1820s. And the machine works well.

Difference Engine

Seeing the (re)production machine which weighs in at around 2.62 tonnes and occupies an area 12.65 feet by 6.65 feet and 8.21 feet high – this is a seriously impressive machine. It can solve 7th order polynomials to 31 digits of accuracy – certainly greater than the average pocket calculator today.

But then a quick search showed that some enterprising souls have been making good use of multi-modal construction toys like Meccano┬« and Lego┬« to re-create at least part of Babbage’s Difference Engine Number 2.

Tim Robinson set about building his in Meccano┬« to achieve a successful working model – eventually he hopes to power it with a Meccano (Mamod?) steam engine to realise fully the steam-punk dream.

Meccano Difference Engine

Andrew Carol’s approach was different, setting about solving the challenges posed by flexible plastic components to produce a 3 order polynomial machine built in a modular way using Lego┬«

Lego Difference Engine

One way to understand these machines better is to take a look at the instruction manual for the Science Museum machine – it certainly brings home the breadth of the achievement in building Babbage’s Difference Engine. And you can look here for technical specifications of the machine on Ed Thelen’s web site.

And in 2000, nine years after the Difference Engine No2 was completed, engineers at the London Science Museum completed the printer element of the engine, thus giving hard-copy output to the set of numbers.

Babbage printer

All up these are a great way to come to grips with a remarkable precursor to modern computers. Babbage stopped working on his Difference Engine No2 in order to devote time to develloping the true precursor to the modern computer – the Analytic Engine – which, thanks to Ada Lovelace’s programming genius, would have been able to perform any kind of operation, using IF/THEN logic not just the pre-set operations.

One could well speculate, as Gibson and Sterling have done, what might the Victorian era been like in the UK if the Analytic Engine became as widespread as computers today. I’m inclined to think, however, that it would have required a social change to see the need for these machines before they would have emerged into wider society’s use.


Second Life Tube station

Posted by jerry on March 1st, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media, Technology

With all the exotic means to get around in Second Life – who’d have thought that some bright spark would come up with … a London Underground tube stop! Does that mean someone has actually built a whole Tube system?

Second Life Tube stop

Thanks to the Going Underound’s Blog for this link – there are some great vid clips too of lego folk catching the tube and a wonderful French one advertising the Metro!


Samplers in Salem

Posted by jerry on February 28th, 2007 — Posted in History, Journal, Travel

Okay I was actually looking at woodworking sites, but I came across the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA and saw a couple of delightful samplers by the Gould sisters – amazing work for ones so young


There’s a lot more to see – lovely period furniture in abundance on the MESDA site


Online privacy – teens stay private

Posted by jerry on February 27th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media, Technology

Angela Thomas’ blog has an interesting piece on teens and online privacy. I too have thought that young people seem happy to share an extraordinary amount of personal information online – especially with sites like MySpace and Friendster. But some new research suggests that although kids share with friends, a very large percentage – the majority in fact – keep their personal profile private.

Angela Thomas' Blog