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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Series of Tubes Redux

Last night (as of this writing) I found myself at a rather interesting talk; the Alchemist Café was hosting Conor McGinn, PhD Candidate and Robot nerd. In the course of the Q&A he was asked whether Ireland was a good place to be doing research into robotics. A fair point; the Americans have Curiosity and the Japanese have Gundam, after all. No, quoth he, Ireland is a great place. And we could all see his point. We've constantly heard how Ireland is replete with educational magnificence, how companies the world over are setting up here to take advantage of our massive erudition. We all left happy.

But as I arrived home, I saw that our public representatives have been hard at work keeping the country safe for democracy. Specifically, Limerick TD Patrick O'Donovan issued a press release that was the most profoundly clueless thing any politician has said about technology in weeks.

To a certain extent this is a pointless post; he's attacking open source, after all, and that very fact means the world's nerds will be queuing up to attack him, a great many more eloquently than I could ever manage. Even so, as a modern, 21st century guy, I must perforce do my own bit for democracy in what's universally accepted as the most effective way; complaining on Twitter and on the web.

So what's our Limerick chum saying,and what's he trying to say? We can safely assume that he's going after the dark web in general, and the Silk Road and Tor in the specific. And bitcoin, of course. Nothing says 'technical cutting edge' like using a technical term that didn't exist five years ago.

I could make a lengthy defence of both bitcoin and tor, of course; anyone could (anyone, of course, who knows even the slightest modicum about the subjects at hand). I won't do that; I'll leave it to the myriad others with far more technical nous than I.

No, my problem isn't with his attack on the very things that are acting as a bulwark (however permeable) against the forces of tyranny the world over. My biggest problem is that he's in the fucking government. And Fine Gael, the party of government, are quite happy to put his ill-informed words on their website and, presumably, stand over them.

Seriously: does no one read these things before sending them to the outside world? Is proof-reading these days limited to running a spell checker? (spoiler: yes).

In conflating Firefox (an open-source internet browser, to use a phrase that appears more than once in his screed) with (I assume) Tor, he's betraying a fundamental lack of clue about anything related to the internet. And in order to get from his pen to the party of government's official web page, it surely must have passed by a number of eyeballs, not one of whom said "hang the fuck on a second".

Of course, nothing will come of it. He'll be ridiculed on the news for a day or two, slashdot and ars technica will get a hold of the story and sneer for a while, and then it'll all be forgotten. Except, I hope, by the people of Limerick. I hope they'll remember at the next general election that this dolt has held their constituency (and their country) up for the world to ridicule, and turf him out where he can go back to street corners, offering tin foil hats to passing motorists.