04/09/2001

Web content filtering. Sometimes you just have to filter Web content. I’m not in favor of requiring it by law, but I won’t go to the extremes that some personal liberty advocates go, who say there should be no filtering. If a company or organization is providing equipment and an Internet connection, I believe they have some right to say what that connection will be used for. It’s a question of whose rights trump whose.

At any rate, I’m doing some work with a church/school that needs some content filtering, because, well, they don’t want to become the place for people who don’t have computers of their own to come and get porn. And they’ve got jack to spend. Getting them some low-end hardware shouldn’t be a problem. But what about content filtering software?

There’s some stuff out there.

http://dansguardian.org/?page=introduction — Filtering based on PICS and keywords, requires Linux and Squid.
http://www.squidguard.org — Filtering based on URLs. Uses Squid. Blocklist updated three times a week. Automatic updating? That’s what cron is for!
http://www.squid-cache.org — Caching Web proxy.

Squid saves you bandwidth, then the other two hop on board and take advantage of its expansion capabilities and add filtering. Both are written in C or C++, which makes them much faster than solutions written in Perl.

Controversy. Chris Miller sent me a link to this commentary .

I sincerely hope the US View/European view at the end is satire.  We know Cuba isn’t bent on world domination and wouldn’t get it anyway. Castro annoys the heck out of conservatives, though some in Hollywood profess to be very fond of the man. Most conservatives see him as a totalitarian with a really big mouth that’s usually open. We don’t put guns on kids’ lunchtrays. Most conservatives believe that when you walk into a school building, you lose all constitutional rights. I don’t agree with that, but if I’m going to give a constitutional right to schoolchildren, the first amendment is much more useful to them than the second.

Most of us are very disgusted with lawyers and lawsuits and opportunists and huge, unfair settlements. And as for foot-and-mouth, we don’t want it, hence our restrictions on importing European livestock. Europe should have sealed off its borders to prevent its rampant spread. It’s called a quarantine.

I wholeheartedly agree with the author’s friend, who said: “The trouble with Europe is that every time you get into trouble you yell across the Atlantic for help. But, when things are good you expect us to listen to your horses— lectures about the way we run things in the US.”

This doesn’t totally excuse the United States’ lack of interest in affairs abroad, but until they’ve been here, Europeans don’t grasp the size of this place. The United States is not the size of France. We have individual states that are larger than European countries, in land mass and/or population. We have divisions. To a New Yorker, New Mexico is difficult to understand. Keeping up just with what’s going on in the United States is like keeping up with all of Europe. Maybe worse. That said, if we’d learn the lessons of Europe we’d be much better off.

Not much needs to be said about this piece, except it illustrates how little the United States and how little Europe have changed over the past three centuries. The Founding Fathers were the liberals of their day, while Europe was conservative. Now, the United States is seen as conservative and Europe as more liberal. But we haven’t changed. The Founding Fathers mistrusted government, and modern conservatives and libertarians still do. Therefore, in the United States, we are apt to look for a solution outside government, and only go to the government to solve a problem as a last resort. We’ve always had that tendency and probably always will. In Europe, where people tend to trust the institution of government much more, that’s a strange idea.

And, to the inevitable question of environmentalism… We have precious little data. We know very little. We have tons and tons of satelite data from the past few years. But even assuming we have 40 years’ useful data, think about it. How old is the earth? The most extreme Judeo-Christian view dates the earth at about 6,000 years old. Many scientists say it’s several million years old. I’m no statistician, but as a journalist I had to take a statistics class so I’d at least remember to ask that sort of question. Seven years ago I would have had a prayer of telling you how many years’ sample size we did need. Forty years is not a significant sample size against the larger set, which is the figure the majority of environmentalists would accept. We know that temperatures and atmospheric content fluctuate over time, but we don’t know how much. Taking drastic measures at this point is little different from deciding public opinion on a given issue based on asking four people.

I’ll open this up for discussion, but talk about it in the forums. E-mail about this will probably just sit here or get a short private response; I need to focus on the things I do well. I can’t solve this problem, so I’ll focus on people’s PC questions and problems, which I frequently can solve.

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