The Orwell Diaries

Starting next week (9th August) George Orwell’s diaries will be published online at The Orwell Prize.

Orwell Prize is delighted to announce that, to mark the 70th anniversary of the diaries, each diary entry will be published on this blog exactly seventy years after it was written, allowing you to follow Orwell’s recuperation in Morocco, his return to the UK, and his opinions on the descent of Europe into war in real time. The diaries end in 1942, three years into the conflict.

Putting the diaries online is a very cool way of using the web and showing how important cultural artefacts can be made available to anyone and everyone without depriving someone of access. This has been done several times before but I must say that I am looking forward to reading Orwell’s private diary. This is technology put to good use.

George Orwell square in Barcelona is under camera surveillance! Is this an instance of beauracratic humor? Photo by Wrote (CC by-nc)

Activist Wifi

Stealing wifi is an old subject but it remains an interesting one. That some people have been prosecuted for stealing wifi in different parts of the world is also old news.* Still most of us have no problem checking for open networks when we need to access. I have also known users to be on their neighbours wifi without knowing or meaning to – they just don’t understand the difference. But this may be a minorty.

The availablity of open networks is either intentional, unintentional or even accidental. Accidental occurs when people don’t know about wifi and unintentional happens when people don’t know what they are doing. Then there is the group who intentionally shares their wifi.**

Some would prefer to share because sharing is good. Bruce Schneier has written about the added good of openness.

Similarly, I appreciate an open network when I am otherwise without bandwidth. If someone were using my network to the point that it affected my own traffic or if some neighbor kid was dinking around, I might want to do something about it; but as long as we’re all polite, why should this concern me? Pay it forward, I say.

The attitudes about freeloading and sharing vary. Some are scared of intrusion, some support the openness and others could not care less. Unfortunately the latter group is growing. I say unfortunately since the default settings on more wireless routers, especially those provided by ISPs, are closed.

This is the equivalent of the house advantage in roulette. Slowly and surely their will be no openness left other than those few activists who strive to ensure open networks. This means that the struggle for openness will go from the commonplace to the realm of the activists.

* Arstechnica reports that an Illinois man was arrested and fined $250 in 2006 & in Michigan man who parked his car in front of a café and snarfed its free WiFi was charged this past May [2007] with “Fraudulent access to computers, computer systems, and computer networks.” In a similar case from Singapore (Engadget) a 17-year old recieved 18 months of probation under the Computer Misuse Act for stealing his neighbours wifi. In the UK one man was been arrested and two people have been cautioned for WiFi theft or “dishonestly obtaining electronic communications services with intent to avoid payment.”

** Sharing wifi will in most cases violate the contract terms for most internet service providers.

Boyle Book Cover Competition

Via an email list I found out that James Boyle, the new Chairman of the Board at Creative Commons and a founder of Science Commons, is holding a contest to design a cover for his new book, The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. In the book, Boyle argues that more and more of material that used to be free to use without having to pay a fee or ask permission is becoming private property — at the expense of innovation, science, culture and politics.

Details, including specs and a link to some great source material for imagery, are available at the Worth1000 website. Both the book and the cover will be distributed under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial license.

Boyle is a great writer and enjoys exploring legal questions surrounding property in a way which makes it accessible and interesting to the reader. His book Shamans, Software and Spleens: Law and the Construction of the Information Society was a real eye opener for me. I am definitely going to get his new book.

When my PhD was almost finished I announced a similar competition for the design of the book cover and was lucky to get it widely publicized. The whole idea of the competition was actually quite resented and discussed on my blog. Professional designers felt I was cutting them out of the market by asking for free work. Interesting discussions ensued. The results of the competition were posted on my blog and the winner was chosen by popular vote and used on the cover of my PhD.

Treat them like crap

Explaining the inner workings of the university to outsiders is complicated enough my family and friends don’t get what the university is, or how it works and often enough the comments that I have “stayed” in university are flung at me as if this is a simple, cosy sinecure. Ignore the fact that we have an incredible series of qualifications (both formal and informal), ignore the fact that we have internal politics, real budgets, tough evaluations and working conditions which do not match our salaries – no other group works for free as much as we do – ignore all that. Just remember that universities can, and do, treat many of their valued workers like shit.

Purse Lips and Square Jaw blogged an excerpt from Marc Bousquet’s new book How The University Works (the introduction in pdf)

Degree in hand, loans coming due…the degree holder asks a question to which the system has no answer: If I have been a splendid teacher and scholar while nondegreed for the past ten years, why am I suddenly unsuitable? Nearly all of the administrative responses to the degree holder can already be understood as responses to waste: flush it, ship it to the provinces, recycle it through another industry, keep it away from the fresh meat.

Several of my friends have written their PhDs and are still struggling to get fixed jobs in academia despite several years of teaching and research experience. Martin over at Aardvarcheology has written his experiences at getting hired within academia.

Read more over at Bousquet’s How The University Works Blog and Tiziana Terranova and Marc Bousquet, Recomposing the University, Mute Magazine, 2004

Sports, Politics and Resistance

Tommie Smith was the winner of the 200-meter dash at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico. His teammate John Carlos came third.


“The two American athletes received their medals shoeless, but wearing black socks, to represent black poverty…” Both the americans and the silver medalist wore Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badges. “Carlos had forgotten his black gloves, but Norman suggested that they share Smith’s pair, with Smith wearing the right glove and Carlos the left. When “The Star-Spangled Banner” played, Smith and Carlos delivered the salute with heads bowed, a gesture which became front page news around the world. As they left the podium they were booed by the crowd.” Wikipedia

This is a classic image in symbolic resistance which has been an inspiration to all those who struggle.

The coming Chinese Olympics have already been the target of political campaigns. The Chinese civil rights record is a natural target for acts of civil disobedience – whether symbolic or not.

In order to prevent any such things the British Olympic chiefs are going to force athletes to sign a contract promising not to speak out about China’s appalling human rights record – or face being banned from traveling to Beijing. (Daily Mail)

OK, so maybe there cannot be any official positions taken from the participating countries but to prevent individuals from protesting is going to far. The Chinese naturally see the Olympics as a perfect opportunity to present their position and of course this has not gone unopposed – for example AOL video, RSF, and Yahoo.

Interns to the Open Rights Group

The Open Rights Group is looking for summer interns. If you have the time and inclination this is a really worthwhile pursuit.

Are you a student thinking ahead to the long summer months? Are you itching to contribute to an exciting and socially beneficial cause? If you fit this bill and are interested in computer science, politics, law or culture online then come and intern for Open Rights Group.

The Open Rights Group works to  raise awareness in the media of digital rights abuses and to protect digital rights online.

Open Your Wifi

Bruce Schneier is a security expert and author, in a recent Wired article he argues for maintaining aopen wifi networks. It’s very nice to see that someone who is focused on Internet security can also argue for keeping open networks.

In particular when out traveling finding an open network is a great. Since I often rely on this I leave my own network open to others. In the early days most networks were open, but after some years of scare propaganda and the companies delivering wifi are making them closed by default. When I moved into my new apartment I found seven wireless networks from my kitchen – but none were open. Mine is still the only one available.

For me, keeping my network open is a way of helping others. But, it’s annoying to have to defend this position, so now it’s nice to be able to refer to Schneier and his arguments. Why not read his blog?

Benazir Bhutto killed

Maybe this was unexpected but it is terrible. The more world politics go to hell, the more tired I seem to get.

Pakistan was plunged into deeper political turmoil today after the assassination of the former prime minister and main opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, in a suicide attack.

The Guardian Online

OK so I am a naive person but I really would like peace for a change.

Oil of the World

This map shows the world with each country’s size in proportion to their share of the worlds oil reserves.


Click for larger image

Unsurprisingly the worlds largest consumers (North America, Europe and China) have very little oil of their own. Looking at the map of the world in this way is interesting since it shows a power relationship other than the one we expect (i.e. we are dependent).

The map can also be seen as containing geopolitical implications – since the “west” is dependent upon oil then the countries with large oil reserves are necessary to maintain our lifestyles. Whether the oil supply is protected through friendly or unfriendly means is just a question of politics.

(via The Sietch Blog)

On Sleeping Bears

Getting older is a strange thing. I don’t feel older – in fact I feel younger today than I have been for many years. But I am older and the best way of measuring age is not the way in which you feel but rather in the way you relate to older and younger people.

I am not old and yet I have a school tie in my closet that is older than many of my students, I am not old but I am trying to lecture to a room full of people who were born when I was attempting to disco.

The difficult thing about getting old is attempting to talk across the barriers of age. My students perceive me as older and I perceive them as younger. The difference, in a teaching scenario, is the problem of giving examples. It is hard to convey the importance and turmoil of 1989. This was the year that saw both the Tiananmen Square student massacre and the fall of the Berlin wall.

While growing up the concept of the cold war seemed outdated. East-West relations had been frosty for my entire life and we had always lived under the threat of nuclear war. My generation was bored with the fear of nuclear war and were more concerned with the social economic changes brought about by Reagan and Thatcher.  We were tired and blasé, we did not really expect change. We knew that teenagers everywhere where in reality the same but politics was (and is) the game of old men.

So it’s understandable for my generation to see 1989 as a proof of the correctness of optimism and it is equally understandable for my students not to understand why I make a big deal of it all.

The question is what shall we all make of Putin’s decision to re-activate strategic flights by nuclear bombers:

Russia has resumed regular “strategic flights” of nuclear bombers. (They may or may not be carrying nuclear bombs, but you can practically hear Putin’s smirking tone as he says, “Our [nuclear bomber] pilots have been grounded for too long. They are happy to start a new life.”) (via Question Technology)

Are the cold war generation just nodding their heads in the understanding that the last 2o years has been an exception to the status quo. Do the post 1989 generation even think about the possible implications of this or have they lived in a post cold war era for too long to be able to imagine the alternatives.

And what on earth does my generation think about it all…