Monday, September 22, 2014

A response to “Farmers, foodporn and ICT literacy: here’s where the tough get going

Icarus had written something on ICT literacy and how meaningful the numbers were. The question posed is that "yes people do have internet access but what do they use it for?" A lot of the time for very trivial things.

I had been thinking a little on the subject of the spread of ideas.

I think one of the most critical developments in human civilisation was the invention of writing which enabled ideas to be preserved and shared. When ideas depended on word of mouth to spread they were unlikely to go very far without being distorted. With writing distortion was reduced, it became easier to understand what had originally been intended. Interpretation will introduce some subjectivity, but less so than in ideas spread verbally.

Printing, which enabled much faster and wider sharing was the next most important development.

While the means for spreading ideas were improving, in the early stages the main barrier to the spread of ideas was literacy. Only a handful of scholars and scribes could read or write. Taking ideas to people meant using town criers or preaching in the marketplace.

Wider levels of education after the industrial revolution, the development of newspapers, the telephone, the telegraph, radio and television all helped the rapid spread of ideas and the transformation of society. From Martin Luther to Marx, ideas spread through books changed societies.

Now we have something unique - an even wider and easier way of spreading ideas than ever before. Previously, to spread ideas one would have to publish something in some established media. Publishing a book was not easy and radio and television were even harder to get into. Even getting a letter published in the newspapers was not that easy.

Now we can publish sitting at home, at very little cost but yet be read by someone from across the globe.

Never have we had such power to spread ideas. It is still in its infancy but as long as people are using it, its potential remains.

All humans are not equal and not everyone will come up with a a thought that is groundbreaking or even serious. Yet, as long as people are logged in, they are potential recipients of ideas. Someone who comes up with something important will find it far easier to communicate it to a wider audience than ever before.

Too often it may seem be a little more than a waste of time, but eventually the medium will mature and the power to transform societies - for better or worse, will only grow. Hopefully it will be the good ideas that win.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Should the Chinese premier be an advisor to the Government?

Chinese President Xi Jinping has arrived in the 'Wonder of Asia' for a flying visit, flying being the operative word.

His visit is scheduled to last a total of 23 hours, about a third longer than the 15 hours or so that he will spend travelling to and from Beijing. (The fastest flight is on Sri Lankan that is supposed to take 7 hours and 25 minutes, one way). Assuming he spends some of those 23 hours resting or sleeping after the flight the actual hours spent waking may well be as many as those spent on the flight.

No matter, for although his time spent is short, his influence is long. Notably he has single handedly solved a problem that has eluded our leaders for ages: reducing the cost of living.

In the few short hours that he has spent the price was electricity was reduced by 25% and the prices of diesel, petrol and kerosene by Rs. 3, Rs. 5 and Rs. 20.

An amazing feat. Our greatest fear is of the prices rising after his departure. Or after the election, since that happens to be conveniently at hand.

Therefore I propose a simple solution: make premier Xi Jinping a permanent advisor to the Government! This way we will have a more permanent reduction in the cost of living.

We have hundreds of ministers and perhaps thousands of advisors, one more will not do any harm, especially since he has delivered results.

Confucius has said:

 “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

Words to ponder, as we dance merrily down the path taken by many a Banana Republic.

Chinese President XI JinpingPresident Xi Jinping’s visit

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hotels required to report guest details to police

According to a report in today's Sunday Times:
The management of tourist resorts countrywide is now required to report to the Police Station in their area whenever bookings are made by local guests. Besides their names, the address, the date of arrival and departure are among the data sought.
The report goes on to elaborate that:
such data were often transmitted by the Police Station concerned to the District Intelligence Bureau (DIB). They in turn forward that information to the State Intelligence Service (SIS) at Cambridge Place, Colombo. 
The surveillance has already started, the report quotes a hotel manager who is uncomfortable with sending out the information but does so anyway because "Otherwise they find fault with us.”

Under what law are hotels being required to cough up this information? These acts are probably unconstitutional and outside the law, but what does that matter? The laws of the land exist only for the purpose of repressing the weak, the powerless or some unfortunate political opponent.

The collection of guests data used to happen in the North and East during the conflict but I believe the practice stopped after the war ended. Now it appears to have been resurrected in a wider form that covers all parts of the country. Previously, the Government could claim that there was a war on. Now what excuse do they have? Are they monitoring NGO workers? Journalists? Opposition politicians? Who knows? Perhaps the see enemies around every nook and corner?

There have been stories circulating of the police or military trying to collect information on households in some parts of the country, this new move fits in with a general pattern of surveillance that appears to be in place.   

The Sunday Times report compares this to the acts of the Stasi, or the Ministry of State Security- the secret police that operated in the former East Germany.  Very apt, but the parallels are a lot closer than people suspect. The Stasi were responsible for the surveillance of mail and telephone conversations as well more regular types of spying.

I don't think the post is being monitored but it is known that telephones are being tapped. I believe the practice started in 2008 when all phone users were required to register their  SIM cards. The phone companies then had a database of all users and were required to give access to the powers-that-be.

Such things should not happen in free or open societies, but then, we already know that we are neither, don't we?