heyrick1973 -at- yahoo -dot- co -dot uk

Schools and proxies

This article on BBC News discusses schoolchildren using proxies to work around restrictions in where they can go using school Internet access.

I especially like the part about "Some can carry viruses, malicious software, and may even be under the control of cyber criminals, according to security experts.". Shades of RIAA and "illegal downloads", no? If the children have note of four or so alternative proxies, along with swapping their details with classmates, the solution on the children's side is simple. If a proxy asks for something to be installed, drop it like a hot potato.
Likewise, what sort of computer administration would permit unknown executables to be run on the host? This can be blocked, right?

Perhaps there is a more workable solution. They have a list of sites to block, yes? By IP address, I hope.
Why not turn this one on its head and work out where children should have access to, and block everything except that which is listed. And to prevent accusations of anti-this or anti-that sentimentality, institute a simple and clear method for adding requested sites to the list of permissable sites. Oh, and critically important - stick to the method. I've been at the ass-end of a "clearly defined protocol" that eventually came down to how somebody was feeling that day, and I've been at the ass-end of a badly organised hierarchy where everybody says "it isn't my job, go see X". Neither will instill any sense of respect in pupils and you can bet the system will be examined and played with, perhaps ultimately broken, if you seem to be acting as God for the sole reason "because you can".

Surely a responsible IT admin at a school would be working on the allowed-sites theory, with an open mind, as opposed to the ultimately futile approach of trying to maintain a list of disallowed-sites?

 

But don't overdo it

For some, talking to people is difficult. They can say a lot online, but actual face-to-face is a whole different matter. Believe me, I'm describing myself here. These things I write. I have a personality, I have a mind, I have opinions.
But you wouldn't know it if you saw me in person.

For some, not only the above, but if there is a bad problem at home, they can hardly start up the browser and start looking for guidance on various issues they have. Let's not beat around the bush with nonsense like "if a girl thinks she might be a lesbian" and let's just make the assumption that said girl is probably fairly well aware what her preferences are. The problem isn't in "gee, do I really like girls?" but more "what the hell do I say to my parents!". Well, it would probably take a pretty clueless dad to call up the browsing history and not figure it out. Or, worse, realise the browser was stuck on safe-mode for a while. Maybe they are bastards and actually run a network "nanny" to filter out anything that isn't tasteful enough for the puritan Christian crowd.
Maybe, also, the parents are happy to technologically abuse any shade of privacy by expecting to look at all emails and communications? The "for your own protection" line only goes so far. Show me a teenager who hasn't wanted the bedroom door closed and to cut themselves off from the family. It's pretty normal behaviour.

This is somewhere the school could help. To notice and think about requests for websites like http://www.suicide.co.uk/. Now I reckon quite a lot of clueless people could come up with a lot of pre-assumed opinions about having material advocating suicide available for children to read. Those numpties that actually visit said site might think twice when they realise it is a redirect to http://www.samaritans.org/.
Perhaps the child looking up such material is attention seeking. Or maybe s/he has deeper problems than you know and might actually be considering it.
This is where a school's IT support needs to realise its role extends beyond the accessibility of coursework-related materials, and where they might end up being the only person a lonely child can talk to. Maybe the more forward-thinking ones have already added such sites to the allowed list.

 

Why "child(ren)" in italics?

It's quite deliberate. I remember my teenage years, and like many I'm sure, the definition of "child" as "not adult" sounds a bit condescending at best. When the do-gooders point out something that is aimed more at the emotions than any semblence of logic or sense, they'll usually end with "think of the children!". Like we're talking a cute nine year old with buckle-up patent leather shoes, a frilly dress several decades out of fashion, and a ribbon in her hair (think of any of the movie adaptions of Alice In Wonderland...). Are we? Or are we talking of people who will in a year be treated as, and expected to behave like adults. We really ought to introduce "teenager" as a legal classification. As a transition period between the whimsical childhood and the rather less pleasant adult years.

Or maybe I am wrong, and maybe they are letting eight-year-olds lose on the Internet without one-to-one supervision. In which case, all I can say is... f***wits!

 

iTunes boob

Alan is a girl. A Chinese/Tibetian (I'll let somebody else argue the politics of that) who is an active J-Pop singer. She is listed on iTunes, with the song Sakura Modern which is really quite nice, but her more recent elements series - Megumi no Ame, Gunjou no Tani etc have yet to appear. I'm not sure exactly how I'd pay $0.99 in the Eurozone, but I'll work that out when they have the songs I want.
Follow this Google link for pictures of Alan.
She's pretty good looking, and definitely a chick.

Here's her bio on iTunes:

Former member of Mexican teen pop sensation Magneto, Alan (born Erick Ibarra Miramontes) dedicated three years to preparing his first solo record, called Azul, produced in Los Angeles, CA, by KC Porter. In addition, Alan made his debut as an actor by playing a role in the Latin soap opera Rayito de Luz. Alan moved to Italy to make his following album, Mi Realidad, which was released in 2001.
They're half right. There's a Mexican guy called Alan, but this is the wrong one. Is it that iTunes doesn't know any better, or can it not handle two artists with the same name? If I set up a group, perhaps I should call myself Beyonce? Uh, on second thoughts...

Here's an iTunes link to a J-Pop Mexican bloke who looks like an Asian girl!

 

My internet-related soapbox rant, or maybe a viable theory

I have said it once, I have said it a dozen times.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS
AN ILLEGAL DOWNLOAD

Copyright infringement is a civil offence, not a criminal offence. Thus, ripping off music titles from P2P and other distribution sites is unlawful but it is not illegal.
Don't get me wrong. Both can result in all your computers walking out the door, a fine the likes of which would make your mother wet herself (about a millisecond before she disowns you...) and possible punishment by community service (if you are lucky) or a spell being somebody's butt-monkey in a tiny locked barred room. Doesn't sound pleasant whichever way you slice the cake.

The difference? Big Faceless Corporation (aka BFC) goes to court, armed with all the bull$#!+ that the likes of the MPAA and RIAA can come up with. They pin the woes of the world on YOU and dear Judge will either rule in your favour, or rule in their favour. The latter is infinitely more likely. You could try to argue that if it was a DRM track, you "purchased" only a licence, and since the music file was not yours to own, it is not possible for you to have committed any form of theft by passing it to somebody else. That might make a twisted sense of logic to a geek, but for the legal industry - which has resolutely avoided technology as much as possible - it is unlikely to wash. So count on getting into Deep $#!+. Lots of it.

Why is this important? This is important because either the courts are failing to buy the "one ripped off track costs us a hundred billion $$$$$$" logic, or the music industry knows that prosecuting children who download a few tracks (and might not even be aware of its legal status) is really bad for PR, and those who push the ripped off songs are in countries that can choose to ignore the oft-abused DCMA, or worse, countries that don't give a hoot about any concept of copyright. This makes it a little harder for them to bring an end to what they perceive as lost profits.
And, people will go looking for free tracks. Because the average consumer is a fairly law abiding person. To a point.

I'll give you an example. I wanted a Hoyt Axton track. "A Stone And A Feather". A song I remember from when I was younger. Amazon.co.uk had a copy. For something like 65p. After adding it to the basket, and discovering it had vanished from the basket, I dug around. The music could not be offered to me because it was not licenced for where I lived. WTF? I could BUY a CD and they'd send it no trouble. I could BUY a DVD. Hell, I could order a Berryz工房 CD/DVD from Amazon.co.jp and they'd post it. Hell, I asked support of Amazon.com if it was possible to buy something listed in America through their French partner. The response was basically "why? set up an account and order directly from us".
But digital music? Uh-uh. No go. Amazon.fr did not have it, I did not live where Amazon.co.uk wanted me to, so effectively the track is unavailable. It's no wonder people see an attraction in not-legal downloads.

Did I get the track? Well... that would be telling. What I will say is on the desk here I have a euro coin and a dollar bill. If somebody feels the need to be recompensated for the aforementioned track, whether I downloaded it or not, I will happily post one or the other of the money, provided such organisation who claims it does some actual work to help remove restrictive barriers (and yes, I expect to follow up on your progress). Perhaps it is that music sales in France are managed by a different label than music sales in the UK? I'm sorry, I'm looking for a track. Explain how anything else is my problem. You'll find it isn't, it's your problem as a music industry to look to promoting your artists (even the dead ones) with a little bit of flexibility. Who should get the money here? The British, for the British offer the track. The French don't, the Americans don't. So I order it from the British. They did the work, they get the sale. Er, or not as it turns out... If the music industry sees it differently, I challenge them to remedy the situation, not point fingers. Because pointing fingers is easy, cheap, and means nothing actually has to be done.
I shall remind you again. We, the end user, the client, the person with the paycheque and the wallet, will have a song in our heads. And we will be looking for that song. Now you, the music industry, can either pull your heads out of your asses and make it easy for us to find and buy music, or you can make it difficult and throw up a lot of restrictions, in which case we will give up on the legitimate methods and look elsewhere. It is akin to voting with our feet, and the quoted losses suffered by the recording industry are either total fabrication, or a pretty clear message that your methods are not exactly working. Take a leap of faith and embrace the technology. Don't focus on those who still rip you off, for there are people who would look for a way to rip you off if you personally delivered free CDs to their homes, some people are just like that. Look instead to the many people who would be willing to pay something like €0,65 per track. I'd put my hand up. Kylee's "You Get Me". I'd like that. And a bunch of J-Pop. And absolutely nothing Simon Cowell has touched. Music industry - can you make that happen? If not, why not?

Remember - the problem is not in payment or willingness to pay, the problem is in getting the track in the first place. Because a computer decided I don't live in the right place.
Oh, and before you ask - I don't like iTunes as I don't want to have to use specific software just to download a song. I don't need to with Amazon. Oh, and it is irrelevant anyway as iTunes doesn't list this track. So sorry Mr. Jobs, ten billion tracks... except the one I want.

Anyway as you can see, it's all a civil affair. It goes through the civil judicial system. So this makes me wonder why the governments are getting in on the act? There is already established set of practices for dealing with copyright infringement (you don't commit "theft", you "infringe" - another namby-pamby but important nonetheless legal distinction). So why are the governments moving to put in all sorts of draconian measures to aid against copyright infringement?

Here's my theory. Many such governments are run by crooks and thieves. In France, it's the Affair Clearstream (which sounds like an American 50s camper), and in the UK this is all being overseen by Lord Mandleson - hell, say no more. Time and again the NuLab government has shown its rampant paranoia to draft (deliberately) vague legislation to control way more than is right. Look at the fervent abuse of the anti-terrorist legislation s44 weilded (illegally) against tourists and, well, anybody with a camera. Can you take photos in London without a PCSO treating you like a terrorist and keeping you talking until armed police arrive? Think I'm taking the piddly? You might want to read this.

You need to look beyond the obvious. The big companies are screaming about music and movies being ripped off. Your ISP has been given safe harbour status from not being found guilty of passing "illegal" (they always misuse that word) data, because it's all just packets of data. Hell, the way the Internet works means that the hop after the server and the hop before your router are the only places in the entire system where your packets will arrive together. But, hey, ever see a download stall and then shoot up several % at one time? It might have been waiting on a packet that went the satellite route via Tokyo, while another went via Melbourne, and the last rode across the transatlantic cables chasing Viagara spam. There's no saying that until it actually reaches your computer and gets cached, that any of it will arrive in sequential order or make any sense at all.

It is possible, using a process known as Deep Packet Inspection, to examine packets on a one-to-one basis. Even when you have mere bits of a file, most files hold a structure. This structure, for video and audio, is a sequence of frames. Look up the specs, even JPEGs and GIFs follow a chunked pattern. With enough processing power, packets can be plucked and examined. Most will be discarded as not-relevant. Some might be discarded due to origin - an MP3 originating from bbc.co.uk may well be a Radio4 podcast. Others? You ever heard of that iPhone app that you can let it hear some music and it will identify the music and tell you where you can buy it from? Well, a similar method could identify a song download. I don't know if one packet would be enough or if a few need to be collected. Work back to the IP of the origin, is it somewhere authorised to be disseminating the track?

Technically possible, but bollocks. The above? That's what Joe Public will be told. All to protect copyright and stop your children from turning to a life of hard crime. Blah blah blah. But believe me, the sort of government (and companies - are you listening Google?) that spout "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" usually have a lot to hide, and their biggest fear is YOU. Enough of you do the math, get mobilised, you can push the lot out of power. The British might think the French are a bunch of pussies, but they got fed up with the ruling classes and ended that pretty definitively. Ukraine recently went through an unpleasant struggle for independence and came out the other side as their own country. Montenegro split from Serbia. Scotland wants to split from the United Kingdom, or not, depending on who you listen to. People can only be pushed so far. I'm sure even the famously apathetic English have a limit...
Already we are seeing anti-terror legislation injustly used against ordinary citizens, and this will increase. But think - deep packet inspection. The ability to examine packets for content. What is VoIP if not a series of packets? Now imagine, push people to cheaper VoIP based phone tariffs, and suddenly the world is your oyster if you are a paranoid government. Easy access to listen in to people's calls just by sniffing out the right packets. No more of this wiretap need-a-court-order nonsense. They'll say it is for the terrorists, but really they mean you. But, then again, if they have designs on being a totalitarian regime, there probably isn't a lot of difference in their mind. After all, Dubyah said it best - "if you aren't with us, you're with the tearists". If you aren't an active NuLab supporter, you're probably with the terrorists, aka anybody who might possibly in some remote way bring down their sense of control.

Nuke, taken from Tsar Bomb video on YouTube.
Nothing like a good conspiracy theory to end the year! :-)

Of course, living in France I can watch NuLab from afar and hope the extradition process isn't as skewed as the Britsh, so I can fairly safely comment without worrying about black sedans arriving with suited people coming to cut me off mid-

 

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anan-ish, 28th December 2009, 16:21
I've said it before, and I'll say it every time: being able to download things "unlawfully" has actually increased the amount of music, DVDs and other merchandise we pay for! Usually because we now know what we're buying.
Rick, 1st January 2010, 01:57
anan-ish, that's a very true point as we now have the ability to purchase music track by track, so no longer can we be fooled by a CD containing a few good songs and lots of rubbish.
An interesting (Canadian) survey can be read at http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/2347/125/
Rob, 8th April 2010, 14:28
iTunes also fails in that it recently made me update and torched both my optical drives, forcing me to completely uninstall and reinstall the drivers each.
Rick (at work), 8th April 2010, 18:18
The last time I had an optical drive nuked, it was W98 and "protection" on a music CD. Had to reinstall Windows to get it back, and since then I vowed never to let *anything* autorun. 
DVDs often begin with "You wouldn't steal a car...?". Uh, *you* wouldn't intentionally (through negligent bad testing) kill my computer??? Yeah, exactly.

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