Rated G: For All Audiences

Censorship is disagreeable to some for various reasons, but few deny the need to protect young and fragile minds from inappropriate media. Many would agree that a parent has the right, as well as the responsibility to ensure that their kids are kept safe from from the gazillion bytes of questionable content found on the Internet today.

Rating is a method of classifying content so that people can decide the suitability or otherwise of content before they consume it. Unfortunately, rating hasn’t quite caught on on the Internet: there is no uniform infrastructure for specifying rating, and web browsers do not properly allow filtering.

This troubling situation means that people with Internet access at home can only hope that their kids use it responsibly, or perhaps resort to software that may not be entirely foolproof (of which I don’t know any).

A solution exists. And I believe it is good enough to be worth recommending: www.opendns.com .

The two-minute guide to filtering your net access involves simply setting your DNS servers to:
208.67.222.222
and
208.67.220.220

The procedure for doing this depends on your Operating System or Router. You simply replace the ISP supplied DNS servers with those two above. There is no loss of functionality (except for blocked access to filtered sites, which you can configure on www.opendns.com ) and no decline in performance either, so if you’ve been looking for a way to filter your Internet access, you’re out of excuses now.

A smart kid may find out a way to replace the DNS entries on his PC or laptop with unrestricted DNS servers, thus, nullifying the filtering, but if this is used together with access control (you revoke the kid’s ability to modify network settings at the operating system level) which again, varies according to operating system, you can ensure that the only Internet access they get is through the filtered pipe. There are other corner cases where OpenDNS can be circumvented as well, but if your kids figure those out, you probably should counsel them to apply their ingenuity to more positive things, since the nature of DNS can’t cover those cases.

On Microsoft Windows systems, as far as I know, the only way to remove someone’s ability to change network settings is to assign a Guest account to them. On Linux, it is simply a matter of removing the appropriate tick when creating their user account. I expect Apple’s OSx to be similar to Linux.

You can have control over the extent of filtration, you just need to create an account. I encourage you to visit www.opendns.com to find out more about this useful service.

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Random quote: I try not to break the rules but merely to test their elasticity. — Bill Veeck

Close but no Cigar

I recently observed what I consider to be a programming oversight in an otherwise acceptable service. I am referring to Nairahost (www.nairahost.com).

They provide reasonably priced services and a convenient means of payment for us Nigerians. Granted, their hosting packages are not particularly competitive with what you obtain from companies in the US for instance, but they’re good enough, and I have nothing but praise for them.

The only thing which irks me about Nairahost is the fact that their client area (handles billing, and control panel) can sometimes embed your username and password in the URL. See image below or view http://nucco.org/nairahost.jpg :

Apparently, the developer thought that because the communication was taking place over SSL, then it was safe to put the password in the URL. Almost harmless, except that there are firewalls, bandwidth managers etc out there, which can, and do log URLs, and you can’t even begin to count the number of machines between which traffic passes before it reaches your computer, which could be logging these URLs as well.

Now I’m scared about logging in to my Client Area, and worse, with these kinds of mishaps going un-fixed, and without even a reply after I raised a ticket with customer support, I am having doubts about moving my primary email account, or any other important thing for that matter to their servers.

Update: Seems like they’ve fixed the issue. Good going.

Random quote: In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes. — Benjamin Franklin

Names

I recently came into an argument with a couple of my friends. The crux of the matter was about calling people by their first names.

I maintained that addressing someone by their first name depended on how well you knew that person, age difference, and the formality or otherwise of the context, among other factors that affect how comfortable you feel addressing them by their first names. They maintained that it simply depended on the person’s status (married, single, wealth etc), and was a sign of respect.

We agreed on the respect issue, but I wished to insist that calling someone by their first name was not necessarily a sign of the lack of respect. I do realise they raised a quite valid argument, which has prompted me to re-examine the way I address people.

On a place like a mailing list, where I scarcely know most people, the way I address them depends (for one) on their Email Signature, or the name I see in my inbox. If someone always signs his messages as "ABC DEF", I usually addressed them in an email by "ABC". If they signed "Dr ABC DEF", it would usually be "Dr ABC". And if I was making an indirect reference to them in an email and where dropping the title would cause no ambiguity, I usually dropped the titles. On rare occasions, I address people by their email names. Mine for instance, is "afanen01@abcdef.com". In this case I would simply quote "afanen01" when referring to the owner of that address.

We all know that "Sir" is a term of respect, and I do know that I have made the unfortunate error of addressing people as "Sir" in the past where "Ma’am" would have been more appropriate (yes, on a mailing list too), I quite naturally inclined towards dropping the title. It is not always accurate to guess a person’s gender based on their name.

While I won’t expect someone I don’t know, and who doesn’t know me to get offended because I used the wrong gender qualifier in addressing them, I have always believed that dropping the title was less likely to cause trouble. It now appears that I wasn’t quite right, even though my calling someone by their first names has never implied the amount of respect I had for them.

I suppose it is pertinent that people provide some sort of indication of how they would like to be addressed, be it in their email signatures, or the alias for their email accounts, since it is greatly simplifies the process of communicating with and appropriately addressing them. Of course in real life, I always make sure I address people in the culturally correct manner: taking a bow (especially since Tiv does not have a suitable word for "Sir" or "Madam") etc. In email exchanges with people I know personally as well, I always address them the same way I would in real life.

For me, I like to be addressed by my first name, and take no offence if you address me as "afanen01" or by my last name. I don’t mind any titles you may embellish my name with, but I prefer no titles simply because i like simplicity. Indeed one can say that the extent to which you address me by my first name determines how comfortable I feel communicating with you.
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Random quote: Not every problem someone has with his girlfriend is necessarily due to the capitalist mode of production. — Herbert Marcuse