Internet Hunting and Gathering – May 12

moody golden gate

I spent my weekend in San Francisco, Sacramento, and a a bit in Stockton, mostly working (with a bit of Mother’s Days festivities thrown in there for good measure). These are the times when I’m awfully grateful that I have access to a car.

The weather in the Bay Area has turned from obnoxiously chilly to sweaty and hot over the course of the last two days, a development I am utterly, completely OK with. I am a tropical creature, best suited for sweltering days and monsoon rains. Keep your grey, malignant drizzle and your buckets of snow far away from me. I’ll take the Chikungunya Fever.

I do note that the weather around here has a perverse tendency to turn really, really windy whenever I want to fly my Phantom.

As for the Internet: yes, we’re still arguing about Boko Haram and hashtags. We will probably continue to do so for a while. You may as well settle down with it. There is no escape.

Live Footage from the International Space Station – NASA

It turns out that it’s pretty soothing to watch the blue curvature of the earth while you diddle away furiously on your latest Google Doc or Spreadsheet. What’s the point of it all? Have another drink! We’re all specks, specks!

Well, that’s probably not the intended message of this lovely livestream, but it’s what I’m getting out of it.

China’s Growing Gender Gap – Guardian

Shockingly enough, sweeping economic change and growing prosperity does not trickle down equally to women. On that topic:  read Little Tenement on the Volga, you won’t regret it. It is a very detailed account of the miserable post-USSR years in Russia, and the particular impact of a collapsing economy and rampant, desperate drunkenness on women.

The Reason Every Book in Africa Has The Same Cover – Quartz

I would imagine it’s the same reason every book at Southeast Asia needs to feature an image of a inscrutable Buddha, some bamboo, and perhaps a gecko if everyone’s feeling wild and crazy.

The Mathematics of Murder: Should a Robot Sacrifice Your Life to Save Two? – Popular Science

Fascinating look at the philosophical implications of self-driving cars equipped with super human intellect. We may not be very keen on the results. (And as a Volvo driver, I find this information especially disturbing).

Creating hexaflexagons with Mexican Food – Wimp

I didn’t know what a hexaflexagon was until I watched this, but now I realized it’s simply a template for creating the God King of quesadillas.

Nationalist Monks Call NGOs ‘Traitors’ for Opposing Interfaith Marriage Bill – Irrawaddy

I’m not sure if you were aware of this, but Buddhists can be awful too — as Myanmar’s increasingly aggressive nationalists are proving.

The Lives of Social Spiders – New York Times

Spiders have distinct personalities and choose their careers accordingly. I’m adding this to my life-long PR campaign in favor of spiders. (Well, except for the one that lives in my car. Remind me to tell you about that sometime).

Cambodian Government Hopes We Just Won’t Notice Sweeping Internet Cafe Circular

Want to visit an Internet cafe in downtown Phnom Penh? If the government has its way, that might not be an option for too much longer.

New circular 1815 has been put out by the Cambodian government that states that Internet cafes shouldn’t be allowed to operate within 500 meters of schools or educational institutions. Further, people under 18 won’t be allowed to use Internet cafes either, and no one will be allowed to play “all kinds of games.” Why?

Because Cambodians are apparently engaging in terrorism, economic crimes, and even looking at pornography with the benefit of the Internet. (And here I thought they were all just playing Facebook). You can read the circular in Khmer here.

OK. These directives sound simple enough, if rather insulting—until you take into account just how many schools there really are here in Phnom Penh.

Image via LICADHO.

Human rights NGO LICADHO is on the case—and they’ve produced a rather damning map of Cambodian schools, with the requisite 500 meter No Internet Zone drawn around them. As you can see, that leaves essentially no room for Internet cafes to operate, and spells big trouble for the many already extant within the red-zones. Problem.

What would happen if an Internet cafe is caught within the red zone, or if a “crime” is committed on the premises? The circular, according to LICADHO, says the shop would be closed, all the equipment would be confiscated, and owners would face arrest. No big.

Furthermore, average Cambodian Internet users would suddenly find themselves with very limited access to information—likely the intended result of the circular.

“There is nowhere for the Internet cafes to go,” said Urban Voice Cambodia team member Nora Lindström at a mapping meeting last night of the new circular.

“That means only people who have personal computers can access the Internet, while people who are using Internet cafes will not be able to access the internet. This is a issue of freedom of expression, and freedom to access information.”

I’ve got to wonder how exactly this directive might apply to hotels and cafes that provide free computers for customers to use, although they’re not primarily “Internet cafes” as such. I have a rather sneaking suspicion that lucrative businesses that cater primarily to Internet-addicted foreigners would probably be able to get away with an exemption—or at least some healthy bribes.

Sure, it’s unclear exactly how much power a “circular” actually has to effect change here in Cambodia, or if this is likely to ever become law. But the fact it’s floating around at all is a disturbing indication that the Cambodian government is looking into restricting its relatively free Internet, following the deeply dubious lead of China, an influential friend to the Hun Sen regime.

Furthermore, they’re doing it in a way that’s downright condescending. Did they really think the pro-Internet freedom lobby would fail to notice and condemn this immediately?

Finally: even if this measure never becomes law, it’s enough of a Sword of Damocles over the heads of Internet cafe owners. It could easily be used as a rationale for unscrupulous sorts in the government to collect hefty bribes from owners if they want to continue operating. As we well know, that could get ugly.

How can we fight back?

At a mapping meeting last night in Phnom Penh, social-mapping group Urban Voice Cambodia offered one interesting solution: crowd-sourcing the locations of all the Internet cafes in Phnom Penh.


No one knows exactly where these cafes are in relation to schools, and putting them down on paper could help alert the owners whose businesses are at risk of closure, or at least serious extortion.

Furthermore, this action would indicate to the government that Internet freedom supporters are absolutely paying attention—and a supposedly “sneaky” circular like the Internet Cafe rule is by no means going to go unnoticed.

“We want to crowd-source the location of all the Internet cafes in PP, because whether or not the government decides to implement this decree—which seems unimplementable—it does allow them threaten and intimidate owners of internet cafes to pay bribes to continue operating,” said Nora Lindström.

So if you’ve got any time this week and are an advocate of the free Internet in Cambodia, head to Urban Voice Cambodia and document your friendly neighborhood Internet cafe. You can submit a report here, and it’s a very easy process. Every little bit helps.

More insight from KhmerBird, VOA, and the Cambodia Daily at these links. 

Licadho’s report on the circular here.

#Censorship Fail: Repressive Governments Are Scared of Social Media – UN Dispatch

Social media is incredibly scary to repressive governments because it is just about impossible to control. Many authoritarian governments even look to incredibly censored North Korea and Eritrea as role models, instead of cautionary tales. Although the US government has announced sanctions against countries that try to block Internet access, international disapproval is unlikely to sway these oppressors from their path – especially when a nation finds itself worried about popular revolution, ala Syria and Iran.

Here’s some recent example of governments’ attempts to block out the Internet – particularly in those countries where, to some extent, the proverbial cat is already out of the bag. (Once people have access to the Internet and some modicum of wealth, getting them to give it up is a lot harder – another reason North Korea and Eritrea present something of a perfect scenario to many dictatorial regimes).

Although these are disturbing cases of government repression in action, I also find these cases rather heartening – mainly because government attempts to prevent Internet access rarely last very long, or work particularly well. It’s also worth pointing out that stagnant development and heavy censorship have a nasty habit of going hand-in-hand.

Read more at UN Dispatch….

India’s Own Great “Firewall”? Censorship Hits World’s Biggest Democracy


India’s tradition of free speech may be facing its biggest obstacle yet, following an end-of-year government push to require Internet giants Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and Google to filter its users content for “offensive” material.

The crack-down came after Communications Minister Kapil Sibal became aware of photoshopped images of Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hosted on social networking sites sometime in September, as well as some images deemed offensive to Islam.  Sibal swiftly demanded the social media companies remove the offensive material and create human-run monitoring systems for their networks, which would catch such images before they hit the Internet.

The good news is that the the companies ignored him, demanding a court order before they would take action—and pointing out in two recent meetings that they would rather not put themselves in a position to decide what is and what isn’t “offensive.”  In any case, with internet usage at approximately 100 million Indians,  the companies told Sibal his monitoring plans would be impossible to implement.

One would think that Sibal would leave it at that. And, as of Dec 15, according to a report by the Press Trust of India, Sibal seems to have taken his strident tone down a notch or two, following a meeting with Google, Facebook and Twitter.  (His change in tone may be chalked up to the nature of the Indian media itself, a famously vocal bunch of newspapers, writers, and bloggers, just about all of whom seemed to have a choice word or two regarding Sibal’s dreams of censorship)

Read more at UN Dispatch….

How Does the Internet Work? Also, My Daily Futurism

People in early 90’s clothing on NBC’s Today Show earnestly debate what this Internet hootenanny IS, anyway. Circa 1994.

“What’s this A with a circle around it? What is the Internet anyway?”

“Well, the Internet is this…giant computer network that’s getting really big now.”

“It’s like….a computer billboard. That’s getting bigger and bigger.”

“You don’t need a phoneline to operate Internet? Why not?”


My generation is slowly coming to the horrifying realization that we will have to explain to nieces/nephews/children/grandchildren/students how things like “dial-up” worked.

The Internet Archives Geocities cache will be considered a comically archaic realm, sort of like how we giggle at advertisements and newspaper stories from the 1950’s and 60’s today. Already all those GIFs we though were super cool 10 years ago look about as modern as poodle-skirts and Big Boy fastfood outlets.

I clearly remember my first time using the Internet. I believe it was 1995 and I was visiting my father’s office. I was around 7. He wanted to show me something on a computer and I dearly loved computers, so I happily followed him. We clicked through to a site on environmental issues. Another devoted to Winnie the Pooh. I was immediately fascinated. There was no CD involved? Nothing was stored on the hard-drive? What the hell?

We got a home connection a year later. I believe I trolled my first message board, devoted to a virtual pet video game, when I was 8 years old. That was 15 years ago. Damn.