It may come as a surprise to you to find out that Australia is a predominately service base industry. Whilst it’s hard to argue that we’ve enjoyed the benefits of the current mining boom Australia’s GDP is still predominately derived from our service industry, to the tune of 69% (pg. 134). Still the current prosperity and insulation from global economic crises that Australia has received from the growing mining sector won’t last forever and now is the time for us to start looking towards the future so we can ensure future economic prosperity. I strongly believe that we’ve already undertaken the first steps towards achieving this with the implementation of the National Broadband Network.
Australia as it stands today suffers from an incredible amount of skill drain to other countries. Well over half of the Australian residents who leave Australia for over a year or permanently were skilled workers and whilst the trend has gone down in recent times (thanks wholly to Australia’s isolation from the global economic turmoil) that hasn’t stemmed the flow of talent leaving our shores. For the high technology sectors at least there is the potential to recreate the hot bed of innovation that led to the creation of Silicon Valley on the back of the NBN. This would not only stem the brain drain overseas but would produce large and sustainable gains to the Australian economy.
Right now the public view of the NBN varies wildly. Businesses by and large have no idea what benefits it can bring them, public opinion is mixed (although Senator Conroy says differently) and even the federal government seems at a loss to what it could mean for Australia’s future, doling out cash to local governments in the hope they’ll be able to sell it for them. To combat this the government should instead provide incentives and seed capital to high-tech start ups who are looking to leverage Australia’s upcoming ubiquitous high speed Internet infrastructure, in essence building an Australian Silicon Valley.
Doing this requires co-ordination with entrepreneurial communities, venture capitalists and the willing hand of the government. They could easily make investment in these kinds of companies more desirable by extending tax breaks that are currently enjoyed by other asset classes to investment in NBN based high-tech start ups. This would also make Australian based startups incredibly attractive for overseas investors, pumping even more money into the Australian economy. As the sector grows there would also be an increasing amount of ancillary jobs available, ones that accompany any form of corporation.
Australia would then become a very desirable location for both established and aspiring businesses looking to expand into the Asia-Pacific region. It also works in the reverse, giving Asia-Pacific businesses (and nations) a more local launch pad into the western business world. Establishing Australia as a high tech hub between our strong local ties and western allies abroad would provide a massive economic boost to Australia, one to rival that of the current mining boom.
Of course it’s not like this hasn’t been tried before in Australia, indeed many have tried to recreate the success of the valley with little results. Indeed I believe this is due to a lack of co-operation between the key players, namely the government, entrepreneurs and investors. The NBN represents a great opportunity for the government to leverage the industry not only to ensure Australia’s future economic prosperity but also to establish Australia as a leader in technology. I believe that the government should be the ones to take the first steps towards fostering such an environment in Australia as once the industry knows they have the support they’ll be far more willing to invest their time in creating it.
Not leveraging the NBN in such a way would leave the NBN as a simple infrastructure service, woefully underutilised given the capabilities that it could unlock. Make no mistake the NBN puts Australia almost at the top in terms of ubiquitous, high speed Internet access and that makes a lot of services that are currently infeasible to develop attractive targets for investigation. Indeed since the same level of broadband access is almost guaranteed throughout the country it is highly likely that benefits will stretch far past the borders of the CBD, even as far as regional centres.
As someone who’s group up on and made his career in technology it’s my fervent hope that the Australian government recognizes the potential the NBN has and uses that for the betterment of Australia. As a nation we’re well positioned to leverage our investment in infrastructure to provide economic benefits that will far exceed its initial cost. Creating a Silicon Valley of the Asia-Pacific region would elevate Australia’s tech industry to rival those throughout the rest of the world and would have massive benefits far beyond Australia’s borders.
In my travels through the USA I became intimately acquainted with their high level of airport security. Upon entering the country we were finger printed, photographed and grilled about what our trip was about. There was also the long lines for getting through the metal detectors and full body scanners, usually taking up a good 45 minutes of my time to get through. I was never chosen to go through the backscatter x-ray machines (nor did I see any of the newer millimetre wave ones) but I did see many people go through it. Most of them weren’t exactly what you’d call a security risk (mostly people in wheelchairs) but I knew exactly why those machines were there: to make everyone feel safer without actually being so.
This is what is referred to as security theatre. These scanners are supposedly better at detecting things that slip by metal detectors which they accomplish by using low-energy x-rays that penetrate through clothing. Solid objects then should become obvious and should something suspicious be identified the passenger can be taken aside for further searching. Trouble is the machines aren’t terribly effective at what they’re designed to do and the back-scatter x-ray type machines emit ionizing radiation (not a lot mind you, but there’s been minimal research done into them). Using them then seems like a pointless exercise and indeed even though they’ve been in operation in the USA for quite some time the jury is still out on whether they’re actually being effective or not.
So you can then imagine my surprise when I find out that we’ll be getting these scanners at all international airports in Australia:
PASSENGERS at airports across Australia will be forced to undergo full-body scans or be banned from flying under new laws to be introduced into Federal Parliament this week.
In a radical $28 million security overhaul, the scanners will be installed at all international airports from July and follows trials at Sydney and Melbourne in August and September last year.
The Government is touting the technology as the most advanced available, with the equipment able to detect metallic and non-metallic items beneath clothing.
Now we won’t be getting the dubious back-scatter style ones here instead we’ll have the newer millimetre wave ones that don’t emit ionizing radiation. That’s the only good news though as they’ve also amended the legislation that allows you to turn down things like this in favour of a pat down, with the penalty for refusing to go through one being that you’ll be barred from your flight. To top it all off the transport minister Anthony Albanese sealed it with this choice quote “I think the public understands that we live in a world where there are threats to our security and experience shows they want the peace of mind that comes with knowing government is doing all it can”.
It’s almost like he knows these things are a useless piece of security theatre, but is going ahead with them anyway.
More than a decade has past since the events of 11/9/2001 and we’ve yet to see a repeat, or an attempted repeat, of the events that led up to that tragedy here or overseas. The health and privacy concerns aside the reality is that these scanners don’t really accomplish what they’re designed to do and are thus just another inconvenience and waste of tax payer dollars. I can understand that there are some who will feel safer by seeing them there but that doesn’t change the facts that they’re just another piece of security theatre, and a costly one at that.
I don’t pretend to be all up on American politics, I look to much more intelligent people than I for understanding of those matters, but if there’s one thing that I know inside and out its space and the industry that surrounds it in the USA. As it’s campaign time now in the USA presidential hopefuls turn to high rhetoric and sweeping promises in order to win votes for their elections and the space program is not immune to this. Indeed it seems that NASA is most often used as a rhetorical tool that ends up under-delivering on its promises, mostly because those promises aren’t backed up with the appropriate funding.
Jumping back a presidency you can see why this was so, with George Bush’s vision for space exploration that had us returning to the moon by 2020. Instead of adding additional funding to complete those goals and all of those already set out for NASA much of the vision was funded out of cancelling other projects, like the Shuttle and their involvement with the International Space Station. What this resulted in was a program that was under-funded and ultimately impinged heavily on NASA’s ability to conduct many of their other core directives. The VSE was then replaced by the Obama administration which had a larger focus on building core space exploration infrastructure whilst out-sourcing rudimentary activities to the private sector, a much better direction for NASA to head in.
Newt Gingrich, current candidate for the Republican nomination, made some sweeping statements about how he’d reform NASA and see Bush’s original vision achieved. He would see a permanent moon base by 2020, a good chunk of NASA’s budget allocated for private incentives and a culling of some of the bureaucracy. They’re ambitious goals, especially considering that Bush made similar ones almost a decade prior that are no where close to being achieved. Still there are some good ideas contained within his vision, but a whole lot more that just show a total lack of understanding.
As always Neil deGrasse Tyson does a much better job of tearing it down than I ever could:
Neil hits on a point that I’ve long held true: NASA should be charged with advancing space frontiers and the private sector should be tasked with the things that are now routine. We’re already seeing that kind of industry develop what with companies like SpaceX gearing up to resupply the ISS with several others developing along the same lines. This is where the private industry does well but it does not do well in pushing the frontier forward. That’s an inherently risky venture, one that’s very unlikely to be undertaken by any private agency. Advancing the frontier is the realm of the government and NASA is the agency to do it.
Where I do agree with Newt though is the slimming down of the NASA bureaucracy. Much of the costs incurred by the Shuttle program was the standing army of people it had, not the actual launches themselves. The original plan of launching often, up to 50 missions per year, would have drastically reduced the impact this standing army had on the cost per launch of the Shuttle. With the cancellation of the shuttle program much of that will have already been cut but NASA is still quite a large agency. How that would be achieved is left as an exercise to the reader.
Extraordinary ideas require extraordinary amounts of support and whilst I’d love to believe that Gingrich would follow through with this idea I’ve seen how ideas like this have panned out in the past. Thankfully, with or without Gingrich’s interference, the private space industry is setting itself up as being a viable replacement for the rudimentary activities that NASA needs not bother themselves with any more. What I’d like to see now is Obama’s vision for NASA has changed since he cancelled constellation and whether or not he falls victim to the same high rhetoric trap of over-promising and then not support the vision.
For over 100 years rights holders have resisted any changes to their business models brought about by changes in technology. From a business perspective its hard to blame them, I mean who wouldn’t do everything in their power to ensure you could keep making money, but history has shown that no matter how hard they fight it they will eventually lose out. Realistically the world has moved on and instead of attempting to keep the status quo rights holders should be looking for ways to exploit these new technologies to their advantage, not ignore them or try to legislate them away. Indeed if other industries followed suit you’d have laws preventing you from developing automated transport to save the buggy whip industry.
The copyright system that the USA employs is a great example of where legislation can go too far at the request of an industry failing to embrace change. At its inception the copyrights were much like patents: time limited exclusivity deals that enabled a creator to profit from their endeavours for a set period of time after which they would enter the public domain. This meant that as time went on there would be an ever growing collection of public knowledge that would benefit everyone and not just those who held the patent. However unlike the patent system copyrights in the USA have seen massive reform in the past, enough so that works that would have come into the public domain will probably never do so.
Thankfully, whilst the copyright system might be the product of an arms race between innovators and rights holders, that hasn’t stop innovation in the areas where the two meet. Most of this can be traced back to provisions made in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that granted safe harbour to any site that relied on user generated content. In essence it put the burden of work on the rights holders themselves, requiring them to notify a site about infringing works. The site was then fully protected from legal action should they comply with the request, even if they restore the offending material after receiving a counter claim from the alleged offender. Many sites rely on this safe harbour in order to continue running on the web because the reverse, them policing copyright themselves, is both technically challenging and resource intensive.
However just like all the technologies and provisions that have been made for the rights holder industry previously those safe harbour provisions, which enabled many of the world’s top websites to flourish, are seen as a threat to their business models. Rights holders associations have said that the DMCA as it stands right now is too lenient and have lobbied for changes that would better support their business. This has come in the form of 2 recent bills that have dropped in both houses: the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the house of reps. Both of these bills have attracted heavy criticism from the technology and investment sectors and it’s easy to see why.
At their core the bills are essentially the same. Both of them look to strengthen the powers that rights holders have in pursuing copyright infringers whilst at the same time weakening the safe harbour provisions that were created under the DMCA. Additionally many of the mechanisms described in the bill are at odds with the way that the Internet is designed to work, breaking many of the ideals that were set out in order to ensure ubiquitous access. There’s also many civil liberty issues at stake here and whilst bill supporters have assured everyone that they don’t impact on them in any way the wording of the bill is vague enough to support both interpretations.
The main issue I and many others take with these bills is the shifting of the burden of proof (and thus responsibility) away from the rights holders and onto the web site owners. The changes SOPA advocates mean that web site administrators will be responsible for identifying copyrighted material and then removing it from their website, lest they fall prey to having their domain seized. Whilst this more than likely won’t be the downfall of the sites that made their fame inside the safe harbours of the DMCA it would have a chilling effect on start-ups looking to innovate in an area that would have anything to do with a rights holder group. Indeed it would be the sites that have limited resources that would be hit the hardest as patrolling for copyright infringement isn’t a fully automated process yet and the burden could be enough to drive them under.
It’s also evident that SOPA was put together rather haphazardly when some of the most known copyrights infringement sites, like The Pirate Bay, are actually immune to it. Indeed many sites that rights holders complain about aren’t covered by SOPA (just by the current laws which, from what I can tell, means they’re not going anywhere) and thus the bill will have little impact on their activities.
You might be wondering why I, an Australian who’s only ever been to the USA once, would care about something like SOPA. Disregarding for the moment the principle argument and the fact that I don’t want to see the USA technology sector die (I could justify my point easily with either) the unfortunate reality is that Australia has a rather liberal free trade agreement with the USA. What this means is that not only do we trade with them free of tariffs and duties but we’re also obliged to comply with their laws which affect trade. SOPA is one such bill and should it pass it’s highly likely that we’d be compelled to either implement a similar law ourselves or simply enforce theirs. Don’t think that would happen? A leaked letter from the American ambassador to Spain warned them that not passing a SOPA like bill would see them put on a trade blacklist effectively ending trade between the two countries. This is just another reason as to why everyone, not just Americans, should oppose SOPA in its current form.
The worst part of all of this is the potential for my site, the one I’ve been blogging on for over 3 years, to come under fire. I link to a whole bunch of different places and simply doing so could open me up to domain seizure, even if it wasn’t me putting the link there. I already have limited time to spend on here and the additional task of playing copyright police would surely have an impact on how often I could post and comment. I don’t want to stop writing and I don’t want people to stop commenting but SOPA has the very real potential to make both those activities untenable.
So what can be done about SOPA and its potential chilling effects on our Internet ecosystem? For starters if you’re an American citizen write your representative and tell them to oppose SOPA. If you’re not then the best you can do is help to raise awareness of this issue, as whilst it’s a big issue in the tech circles, even some of the most versed political pundits were unaware of SOPA’s existence until recently. Past that we just have to hope we’ve made enough of an impression on the USA congress critters so that the bill doesn’t pass, at least in its current form. The hard work of many people has made this a very public issue, but only continued pressure will make it so it won’t damage the Internet and the industries it now supports.
EDIT: It appears that the strong opposition has caused the American congress to shelve SOPA indefinitely. Count that as a win for sanity.
I don’t have kids and probably won’t for another few years but that doesn’t mean I can’t understand some of the things that parents go through. I used to work in child care back in the day and by far the biggest concern any of the parents had was their child’s health. As a care giver every child’s health was my concern as disease has a tendency to spread rapidly in those situations and one sick kid can mean dozens if not taken care of correctly. This, amongst numerous other reasons, is why I fail to understand why some parents refuse to vaccinate their children as otherwise you’re putting them (and other children) at a great risk.
Now I know the reasons why most parents don’t vaccinate their children. Mostly it has to do with their concern that vaccines, in particular the triple shot MMR, will cause their child to develop an Autism Spectrum Disorder. The controversy surrounding this is well known but it is suffice to say that all the evidence and scientific research shows that vaccines can not and do not lead to ASDs. Any correlation that can be drawn between the two is simply that and can not be used as a basis for causation. The fact of the matter is that so far the only proven cause for autism is genetics and any environmental factors are either still under investigation or have been thoroughly disproved. To say otherwise at this point is unscientific conjecture and it would be reckless to base your child’s health decisions on such things.
The usual retort people have for the decision not to vaccinate is that it’s their decision and they should have the choice to make it. At this point the crazed libertarian in me starts shrieking out in support of them and I’d agree with him, right up until I get to the point of where their decisions start to impact others. Whilst the decision not to vaccinate your child is not only a bad decision for them it’s also a bad thing for society at large. Herd immunity requires a certain number of people to be immune to a disease before the non-immune can benefit from their protection. The anti-vaccination movement has had a big enough impact that for certain diseases we’re actually below that critical threshold and those who can’t be made immune, like those who are too young, end up paying the price.
Thankfully I live in Australia a place where the government has finally decided to hit people who refuse to vaccinate their children where it hurts, in their wallet:
Parents who do not have their children fully immunised will be stripped of family tax benefits under a scheme announced by the Federal Government.
The Government says 11 per cent of five-year-olds are not immunised and has announced a shake-up of the system which will take effect from July 1 next year.
Under the changes, families who refuse vaccinations face losing up to $2,100 per child in benefits.
That number of unvaccinated children is rather scary as the herd immunity level for pertussis (whooping cough) and measles is above that vaccination rate. Now this change won’t convince everyone, there are some that to refuse to vaccinate on principle, but hopefully it will drive the numbers up high enough that it won’t matter any more. As it stands now we’re in danger of seeing a resurgence of these diseases that, to put it simply, we shouldn’t have to.
This isn’t one of those ethical grey areas where you can justify your decision based on whatever you believe in, the fact is that if you’re child isn’t vaccinated they are not only at risk themselves but they also put others at risk. The only time I’d support someone not vaccinating their children is if they kept them away from all other children which I think everyone will agree would be far more damaging to them than a shot in the arm. So if the Australian government isn’t going to entertain the anti-vaccination movement neither should you and if you still feel the need to go against the grain because of some whacky view you saw on the Internet then I’m glad you’re getting slugged for it. Maybe then you’ll think twice about the callous decision you’re making.
Long time readers will know that one of my favourite bugbears is the R18+ rating for games. It’s not that I’m some masochistic lunatic who revels in violence and depravity, more that I believe that video games aren’t just for children any more and that video games are just a valid medium of expression as any other. The rest of the world seems to have been way ahead of us in this respect with most modern countries having classification schemes that recognize games are able to deal with mature themes and should be rated as such. The campaign to bring Australia in line with the rest of the world has been one that’s been going on for the better part of a decade and even up until recently it seemed like there was no end in sight.
But here we are, 2 years and 12 posts after I first wrote on game censorship, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Just under a month ago I wrote a rather… impassioned piece on the latest developments with the R18+ rating. In essence we were there with all the attorney-generals agreeing to support it. However there was one hold out, AG for NSW Greg Smith, who seemed to be holding out for no good reason in particular. My political genius friend told me that this was probably part of some bigger plan to gain a bit of leverage in other matters, which only made me that much more frustrated at the whole situation. You can then imagine my shock when I read late yesterday afternoon that the NSW cabinet would now give the R18+ rating its full support:
The NSW Government has given its formal support for the introduction of an R18+ classification for computer games, according to Attorney General, Greg Smith SC.
Mr Smith said after a meeting of Federal and State Attorneys General in Adelaide that he expected NSW would join the agreement.
Cabinet has now given its “in-principle” support for the introduction of the R18+ rating.
This is fantastic news and is the first bit of progress we’ve seen in a long time on this matter. However there’s an awful lot of weasel words peppered throughout the AG’s statement, enough to give me a bit of pause before being able to celebrate this as a victory. Sure the in-principle agreement means that they can actually start moving forward with drafting legislation and the issues can be raised as part of that process rather than being the stonewall that we Australians have been butting our heads against for the past decade.
What starts now is the long process of formalizing the guidelines for the R18+ rating and, if I’m reading the press right, a reworking of the MA15+ rating. This isn’t going to be a short process by any stretch of the imagination and I’ll be surprised if we see the rating’s implementation within the next year or so. It also doesn’t mean that every game that got a RC rating under the old scheme will become available under R18+ either and there’s still the question of whether or not games rated under the current system will need to be redone or simply grandfathered in. There’s also the question as to whether R18+ games will require more stringent rules around display and sale since they are in essence a controlled substance much like tobacco and alcohol.
All that being said however I’m still very happy with this announcement. It signals that our politicians have finally recognised that games aren’t just for kids any more and they can be just as expressive as any other medium and should be treated as such. There’s still a long way to go until we catch up with the rest of the modern world but at least now we’re moving towards the end goal rather than chasing our tails constantly. I’m hopeful that today’s revelation marks the last road block coming down and from here on out we’re just going through the motions that will take us to a better, more sensible future.
I try to keep things civil here, you know clearly stating my side of the argument, giving a few facts to support my view and address any counterpoints I’ve come across so my argument seems convincing enough to sway people over to my side of thinking. Part of this is keeping my emotions at bay as whilst an impassioned arguments are sometimes amongst the most convincing they’re also the most susceptible to going off the rails and losing track of their greater goal. Today however a couple articles have crossed my desk that have pushed me past the tipping point and I just need to launch some vitriol at some people I think are total ass holes.
As the title suggests, I’m talking about those jerks who are blocking the R18+ rating in Australia.
So apparently this all began a couple days ago when South Australia announced it was going to drop the MA15+ rating in favour of the R18+. This really should have come as no surprise to anyone as they socialized the idea less than three months ago and whilst the public didn’t seem to like the idea (and really I think everyone was over reacting, but that’s to be expected as Australians are fucking whiners at the best of times) I didn’t think it was too bad. Sure it was another half-assed solution to what should be a trivial issue, but at least it would get the ball rolling in the right direction.
Not long after that less-than-shocking announcement came the real rear-ender, the NSW attorney general Greg Smith announced that he’d be abstaining from voting (I hope he fired his photographer for the picture in that article) on the issue citing some political bullshittery:
“We’re not going down a definitive route,” a spokesperson for Smith told GameSpot AU. “More work needs to be done on this issue. We want to wait to see the results of the ALRC [Australian Law Reform Commission] classification review.”
If Smith takes this position at the SCAG meeting on Friday, it will mean the R18+ for games decision will once again be delayed. For an adult classification for games to be introduced, all of Australia’s state, territory, and federal governments must unanimously agree on its implementation.
For starters who the fuck is “we”? If you’re talking about the Australian public we’ve already clearly stated many times (holy shit, is that a link to an Australian government website showing massive public support? Fuck for Smith’s sake I’d hope not) that we’re in favour of it. Hell with the average age of gamers now being over twice the fucking age limit for those games you’d think we’d be able to handle mature content. According to at least one of our esteemed representatives however we’re not and they want to wait for some long review process to complete before they can make a decision, telling us that more work needs to be done (Are you fucking serious bro? You’ve had over 2 years on this).
Wait a second, I remember who was saying we should wait for the the ALRC classification review to finish before making a decision on R18+: the Australian Christian Lobby (and fuck no I’m not linking to their shit, nor the article I found that supports what I just said. Google that shit yourself for proof). They fucking got to you didn’t they Smith, after all the shit that went down in your electorate and in Victoria you’re now scrambling for support in any sector you can get. Gamers are an easy target since this isn’t an election winning or losing issue (or could it? We’re in a minority government and shit like this could swing it) so you side with the ACL to get their support. Really if this is the case shame on you bro, you’d win a whole lot more people over by supporting this than being a dick about it.
His resistance now leaves us in the unenviable position of either having to actually wait for that review (which realistically only needs to be done for a national scheme) or having the states and territories each implement their own. South Australia is already poised to go down the latter route which will only replicate the same awkward situation we have now with pornography and the ACT. Whilst I’m sure the states will love the increased patronage for services like that it’s not a solution that’s beneficial to Australia itself nor its image in the world community. However you might spin this not implementing the R18+ rating is simply going against the wishes of the vast majority of the Australian public, meaning these Senators are not acting with the best interests of the constituents at heart.
I’m just so fucking tired of having this issue being so close to being resolved and then being taken from me that it’s flipped my rage switch. I keep hoping one day that I’ll wake up to the news that our Senator’s actually listened for once, realized that Australia wants this and then looked back on this whole issue and laughed at ourselves for being so backward. Well it’s been over 2 years since I first blogged about this and nothing’s really changed in that time, so I guess I’d better saddle up for another 2 years worth of disappointment and frustration before I can really hope for any fucking progress on this.
I’m always surprised at the lengths that Google will go to in order to uphold its Don’t Be Evil motto. The start of last year saw them begin a very public battle with the Chinese government, leading them to put the pressure on by shutting down their Chinese offices and even going so far as to involve the WTO. Months passed before the Chinese government retaliated, in essence curtailing all the efforts that Google had gone to in order to operate their search engine the way they wanted to. After the initial backlash with a few companies pulling parts of their business out of China there really wasn’t much more movement from either side on the issue and it just sort of faded into the background.
In between then and now the world has seen uprisings and revolutions in several countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Whilst the desire for change is stronger than any tool services like Twitter, Facebook and Gmail have been instrumental in helping people to gather and organize the movements on scales that would’ve taken much more effort than before. Indeed those in power have recognized the usefulness of these tools as they’ve usually been the first thing that gets cut when a potential uprising begins to hit critical mass. China is known for its harsh stance on protesters and activists and they’re not shy when it comes to interfering with their activities.
It seems that Google has picked up on them doing just that with Gmail:
Google has accused the Chinese government of interfering with its popular Gmailemail system. The move follows extensive attempts by the Chinese authorities to crack down on the “jasmine revolution” – an online dissident movement inspired by events in the Middle East.
According to the search giant, Chinese customers and advertisers have increasingly been complaining about their Gmail service in the past month. Attempts by users to send messages, mark messages as unread and use other services have generated problems for Gmail customers.
Screwing around with their communications is one of the softest forms of oppression that the government can undertake without attracting to much attention. Whilst I believe an uprising on the scale we’ve seen in the middle east is highly improbable in China, thanks entirely to the fact that the sentiment I get from people I know in China is that they like the current government, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t conducting operations to kill any attempts in it’s infancy. They’ve previously targeted other activists with similar attacks in order to gain information on them and that’s what sparked Google’s first outburst against the Chinese government. Why they continue to poke this particular bear is beyond me and unfortunately Google is in the hard position of either continuing to offer services (and all the consequences that follows) or pull out completely, leaving activists in China few options that aren’t at least partially government controlled.
There’s also rumors that the government is now implementing similar technology to their Great Firewall onto the cellular network. Some users are reporting that their phone calls drop out after saying certain phrases, most notably “protest”. Whilst I hesitate to accept that story whole heartedly (the infrastructure required to do that is not outside the Chinese governments ability) there is precedent for them to conduct similar operations with other forms of communication, namely the Internet. Unfortunately there’s no real easy way to test it (doing encrypted calls is a royal pain in the ass) without actually being there so unless some definitive testing is done we’ll just have to put this one down to a rumor and nothing more.
Google has shown several times now that it’s not afraid to go against the Chinese government if they believe their users are under threat from them. It’s unfortunate that there haven’t been many more companies that have lined up behind Google to support them but if they continue to be as outspoken as they are I can’t see them staying silent indefinitely. Of course many Internet services in China are at least partially controlled by the government so any native business there will more than likely remain silent. I don’t believe this is the last we’ll hear on the Google vs China battle but unlike last time I’m not entirely sure it will lead.
I think I speak for a lot of Australians when I say I was tired of this election 2 weeks ago. I didn’t have the same buzz I had 3 years ago when I made my way to the ballot box, eagerly waiting to cast my vote that would bring the change that Australia desperately needed. That night was filled with elation as my prime minister of choice was elected and Australia’s future started looking a lot brighter. The next couple years were a tumultuous time but we came through the other side with nary a scratch on ourselves. However Rudd’s non-negotiable stance on several key issues rubbed people the wrong way and the Liberal attack dogs were let loose, utterly destroying the once high approvals that Labor once had. In the end we ended up in a position where neither party really won the election and we’re now stuck with a minority government and 3 years of pork for a few regional seats. There’s really little good to come out of this election.
Still there had to be a winner and it was the Labor government. You’d think that by my glowing recollection of the first years of the Labor government that I’d be happy about this but in truth I’m indifferent. I voted for the Greens this year because they aligned with my ideals the best out of the lot, but they were still far off the mark for a lot of their other policies. Don’t think for a second that I was just voting for them because I was disillusioned with Labor; I voted below the line on this one ensuring all my preferences went exactly where I wanted them, not where the Greens thought they should. Still it mattered little for the electorate I’m in, but that’s just how it goes in representative democracies.
Probably the only good thing to come out of all of this is the fact that the National Broadband Network will not be scrapped in its infantile stages and will live on for the next 3 years. I commend the Labor government for initiating this project as the time frames are far past that of their current term (and then some) showing that they at least have some long term vision for the future, even if it’s only in this one area. The good news is that should they not win the next election the NBN will be far enough underway that cancelling it would be political suicide and it will keep on rolling until its fully realised. There’s still a chance that it might get scaled back or mucked with in another way by a future government but 3 years is long enough to secure the vast majority of its infrastructure to ensure that a good majority of the original NBN idea gets implemented within its original time frame.
However the NBN hasn’t come out of this election turd smelling of roses either. As funneling pork to the regional independents was key to securing this election for the Labor government the NBN, which would eventually bring significant investment to the regions anyway, has been rescheduled to first target regional Australia. Now it’s really here nor there on whether this is a good or bad thing in itself, I mean I’m all for them working out the bugs on the regional folk before rolling it out here, but the highest value places for the NBN are the CBDs of major cities. Rolling out to the regions first means that Australian businesses will be waiting longer to make use of these upgrades, potentially stymying them for a couple years. It’s not that big of a deal, but it does open up the potential for criticism when the NBN is only delivering on its promises to a small subset of Australia.
There’s also been an increased amount of scrutiny and criticism levelled at the NBN due to its increased visibility in this election. During its construction the NBN is going to require up to 25,000 workers to get it all rolled out by its current deadline of 2018. According to industry union estimates there are only 7,000 workers in Australia right now that are capable of performing the required work and their estimates show that there will be a shortage of 10,000 workers over the course of the NBN’s implementation. Such a skills shortage does mean that there will be an upward pressure on wages in this particular industry and that has the potential to increase the projected costs for the NBN. Most of this has already been taken into consideration however and I believe the potential impact to the project should be minimal if action is taken to address it immediately. It’s unfortunate that Australia has a tendency to be so xenophobic when it comes to migrant workers as there’s more than enough skilled labor overseas that could be imported for the required duration.
Can’t imagine how the unions would feel about that one either…
Strangely enough one of the most common criticisms I’ve heard has come from my IT cohorts who say that the NBN goes too far with its planned implementation. Their reasoning is mostly based on the fact that the Internet they have now is quite adequate and there’s little reason to overhaul the network. However this does not take into consideration that the current copper infrastructure can not scale in the same way a fiber network can and whilst their broadband is fast enough now it won’t be in 5 to 10 years time. Additionally such a network would make Australia quite attractive to overseas technology companies looking to trial new services, especially those coming out of the United States. This has the potential to build Australia’s service industry up for the time when our natural resources run dry and our current source of economic success is cut off.
The counterpoint many of them use is that wireless technologies are rapidly and will render a cabled network useless. Indeed the LTE specification is designed to give peak performances that are very comparable to that of the NBN and there have been demonstrations of the technology to that effect. However the amount of work to implement such a wireless system on the same scale as the NBN requires investment on almost the same level. The wireless towers would all require a fiber connection back to the dark fiber back hauls in essence requiring a scaled back NBN that did fiber to the node. Additionally none of the towers in Australia are equipped to broadcast on the frequencies required to achieve speeds comparable to that of the NBN, somewhere on the order of 2.6GHz (most carriers are on the 850/900/1900/2100MHz bands). There would also be a need to increase the number of towers to ensure adequate coverage, further increasing the cost required. In the end the argument that a wireless NBN is the cheaper and better alternative is nothing more than a distraction, it’s just not as viable as a national fiber network.
It’s no secret that I’ve got a lot invested in the NBN idea, what with my dreams of starting up my own private data center in my basement so I can host all my web applications cheaply. But the NBN is so much more than that and whilst I might be unhappy with the way the election turned out this year I’m glad that the NBN didn’t get the chop. The next 3 years of pork barrel politics will be long forgotten when the NBN finally reaches its goal of bringing extremely fast Internet to the vast majority of Australia’s population and I can’t wait to see it happen.
Media classification is one of those subjects that affects everyone but it never really gets discussed apart from when it causes a bit of stir like when a game is refused classification. Unfortunately this has meant that new forms of media have either slipped under the classification radar or have been stuck with a system that wasn’t designed for today’s world. The problem with Australia’s current approach to media classification is that it is unable to deal with new forms of media as they are created and as such either ignores them or attempts to shoe horn them into the models developed for old media. This has most publicly affected Australia’s gaming community with the lack of a R18+ rating which, admittedly is a small issue in the grand scale of things, still remains as an issue today.
However the lack of a R18+ rating for games is symptomatic of a larger problem. Whilst new forms of media aren’t exactly an everyday event the advent of new distribution channels for content have made the single source of truth style of classification almost irrelevant. Take for instance YouTube who, whilst having their own set of guidelines as to what is acceptable, don’t have any relationship with the Australian Classification Board (ACB). Considering you can see something as innocent as a double rainbowto Baraka beheading Johnny Cage in the new Mortal Kombat shortwithout even a hint of classification about it (although YouTube does allow users to flag content as adult, requiring a login) the task of classifying such vast amounts of material seems almost impossible for an organisation like the ACB.
Indeed these services rely on the fact that the material doesn’t have to go through such classification channels. Getting a classification through the ACB incurs a feefrom around $400 all the way up to $5,000 depending on the type of material and intended means of distribution. Such fees would pose a significant barrier to anyone looking to distribute content online should the classification of such media become mandatory and unfortunately it appears that the ACB intends to do just that:
At a conservative estimate, one-third of them are games, suggesting compliance costs would be in the millions.
A spokeswoman for Minister of Home Affairs Brendan O’Connor said he was “concerned about the classification of games playable on mobile telephones and had put the wheels in motion to address this with his state and territory counterparts”.
Definitions of computer games under the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 do not exclude games distributable or playable on mobile phones.
This isn’t a new idea either. Back in April Minister O’Connor (the director of the ACB) expressed concerns over the mobile space that bypasses their classification process. Whilst I share some of his concerns it appears that little thought had been given to the impact that his words might have, especially when it comes to developers and content producers looking to Australia as a potential market.
Now I understand that the ACB has the best of intentions when it comes to this but the way they’re going about this only serves to create a hostile environment for those looking to distribute their product on our shores. The app store and other similar product distribution methods have been successful because they have been allowed to self regulate and imposing fees on them will more than likely see all but the biggest players pull out of the Australian market. With most paid iPhone applications selling less than 10,000 units at the average price point of $0.99 (with 30% of that going to Apple) even the cheapest classification severely cuts into any sales they make, even to the point of making it completely unprofitable.
What’s required then is a complete rethink of the current classification system and how it can be applied to the new digital world and its various distribution methods. This comes down to a fundamental shift away from the current system which is highly segmented between different media formats. Unifying all these classification bodies under a single banner with a standard framework for classifying content would eliminate the disparity in classification information and serve as a basis for new forms of media as they are created. It would also ensure that markets such as the iPhone and Android app stores don’t suffer unnecessary financial burdens by being shoe horned into a classification framework that couldn’t fathom their creation. In essence classification in Australia needs a rethink on a national scale and it needs it soon.
The good news is that such an idea is not new and I’m not the only one who supports it. The Australian Sex Party (who are readers of this blog, which I find rather cool ) also supports a national classification scheme as part of their larger stance on making adult material available across all states and territories, as you can currently only legally buy it in the ACT and NT (but you can also import from these territories too). I support their stance on this issue as it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to put these artificial restrictions on such material but it also has the flow on effect of ensuring that new media doesn’t get killed in Australia simply because we refuse to change our ways for the better part of 2 decades.
These issues were something that we simply could not fathom when we first set about creating standards for media classification. It has come time for a fundamental change in the way we do these things in order to keep pace with our ever changing technologically driven world. To not do anything risks Australia being seen as a media blackspot, unable to cope with the world that is changing around it. However there is hope for change as the roots of movement against the status quo are already taking hold and it is only a matter of time before we will see the first steps towards a more sensible future.
Tip of the hat to my old university pal Dave Woodgate for hooking me up with the inspiration for this post.