African Broadband

[As ever, this piece is on the BBC News website, where they called it ‘How Broadband is Changing Africa’, though I think the real message is that a broadband Africa will change the Internet…]

Norman Borlaug, whose work in Mexico and India led to the ‘green revolution’ in agricultural production, died last week and was widely commemorated for his important work.

While the introduction of new crops and the use of irrigation, fertilisers and pesticides certainly enabled us to feed millions of people, the crops were delivered at a price, and we should not forget it and Borlaug’s green revolution, like every revolution, had a negative as well as a positive side.

New farming practices create dependencies on machinery and chemicals, and the the patents that protect genetically modified crops limit the ability of farmers to do things like retain seed from one harvest to plant next year, forcing them instead to buy anew each year.

I was reminded of the debate over the green revolution this week as I stood outside my hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, and watched a work gang lay fibre optic cable in a trench they were laboriously digging with pickaxes on the other side of the busy road.

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Cloud City

[As ever, you can read this on the BBC News website]

When I’m asked to give a talk about technology I like to pull out my iPod Touch, wave it at the crowd and point out that ‘in the future’ it will be a supercomputer with parallel processors and terabytes of storage.

Well, it seems the future has arrived rather earlier than I imagined, as a new service called ‘Oosah’ has just started offering a terabyte of storage for the iPhone/Touch ‘in the palm of your hand’.

On closer investigation it seems that they aren’t ripping the case apart to install some cool new quantum-effect anti-matter memory that has just emerged from the labs, which is a shame.

Instead they have a website that gives your phone access to remote data when you’re on the move and lets you copy files back and forward.  As long as you’ve got a signal or a wireless connection you’ll be able to play music, watch photos and read documents as if they were local.

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End of the Internet: Pictures at Eleven?

[As ever, you can read this on the BBC News website]

We journalists like nothing more than a forthcoming apocalypse, especially when it involves something that most people don’t properly understand. It’s easy to frighten people with talk of ‘superbugs’ or argue that when the Large Hadron Collider is turned on it will create ‘strangelets’ that will destroy the known universe, and even if the stories are more speculation than fact you get a good headline and lots of interested readers.

It has got a lot harder to write this sort of story about the internet over the years as more and more of us are online from home, work or school and have some idea about how the network operates.

You can still get a good ‘internet meltdown’ headline out of projections that show we’re using up all the bandwidth and filling up our network with spam – I’ve done it myself.

But it’s even better if you can focus on aspects of the network’s core architecture that few users ever notice, like the unique numerical addresses assigned to every internet-connected device and the complex mechanisms used to move information between those devices.

And if you’ve got an authoritative report from an international body calling for something to be done then you’re on to a winner.

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Fools rush in…

The House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Select Committee recently issued a call for more regulation of online content, and I wrote about it for Index on Censorship

It would be nice to think that the latest call to ‘do something’ about online content from the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee was grounded in some new development that made it trivial for websites to identify adult-oriented content, an online identity system which reliably linked social network profiles with age verification for all users, or the release of a user-friendly but unbreakable watermarking scheme that could identify copyrighted material whenever it appeared on an Internet-accessible computer.

Because the alternative would be that a bunch of MPs has decided the best way to get some publicity at the start of the summer recess, when newspaper editors are starved of ‘serious’ stories, is to announce that the Internet is like the Wild West, and children are constantly exposed to unsuitable material on YouTube, reveal intimate personal details on Bebo and surf the web looking for pro-anorexia or suicide support sites.

read the whole thing here.

I saw this…

Here’s what I’ve tagged on

Watching the Olympics

[As ever you can read this on the BBC News website – and it seems the story is already moving on, with reports that press access to the net will be filtered by the Chinese]

I won’t be going to Beijing for the Olympic Games next month, and in fact I probably won’t even be going to London in 2012 when it’s our turn to host the festivities.

I don’t watch athletics or any of the other events that will be taking place. I don’t support a football team either, or have much interest in cricket despite being an English male. Sport just doesn’t excite me at all.

But even though I don’t care which country wins most gold medals or whether world records are broken for running, jumping or throwing odd-shaped objects, I’ll be watching what goes on around the Olympic Games with keen interest, because this world-wide sporting event offers a fascinating perspective on the state of the internet today.

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My bookmarks for July 10th through July 11th

Here’s what I tagged on between July 10th and July 11th:

My bookmarks for July 5th through July 7th

Here’s what I tagged on between July 5th and July 7th:

My bookmarks for June 16th through June 23rd

Here’s what I tagged on between June 16th and June 23rd:

My bookmarks for June 7th through June 11th

Here’s what I tagged on between June 7th and June 11th: