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How to break the Chinese and Vietnamese firewalls

OR How piracy is the greatest spreader of culture in history

I am currently in teeming and steamy Hanoi, surely one of the greatest cities in the world, having taken the epic sleeper train up from Da Nang in central Vietnam. Yesterday I lighted on an old quarter bookstore (not more than a table on the street) with a very shrewd and discerning selection of English language books. There I found a copy of Jonathan Neale's excellent "People's History of the Vietnam War". Astutely the old lady running the store suggested to me Graham Greene's classic "The Quiet American" to go with it, but I had just finished reading it. Glancing at Jonathan's history, the misspelt cover pages and scanned text showed me it was a pirate copy, which I'm sure would be a great delight to the author, even more if it was in Vietnamese. I couldn't check that yet. This is not an article to discuss the pros and cons of copyright protection so I will simply state that I consider file-sharing to be the most vital disseminator of culture in the world. My own use of it is fairly prolific, though probably not by ths standards of teenagers I know. Torrents found through pirate bay furnish our fortnightly film club of deeply obscure art movies, and the magnificant aaaaarg.org gives me more serious food-for-thought reading matter than I can ever get through, and helps impoverished doctoral students the world over. Downloading from spotify and youtube allows me to consume music on my smartphone whenever I travel. This activity is made more fun by the ferociously concerted attempts of a few corporations to alter the very nature of the internet in order to protect their sadly outdated business models. The resulting game of cat and mouse is frequently absurdly unequal, like watching repeated episodes of Tom and Jerry. When ISPs were forced to ban pirate bay by a daft court judgement, it took me two minutes to find a proxy, and pirate bay's traffic rose with the publicity.

So much for the corporate-sponsored legislative firewalls. Here in Vietnam there is a state-sponsored firewall no less absurd and meretricious. In Da Nang we can't get facebook (no tragedy for me), but can get the BBC. In Hanoi it's the reverse. (I shoud point out that I do not use the BBC for its news, which is as unreliable as any corporate media's, but for its excellent football coverage at what is a crucial juncture of the season for the Gunners.) A quick and simple installation of the excellent anonymity network Tor, gives me a blow-by-blow account of the Arsenal's battle for a Champions' League place. In the lobby of our hotel yesterday I met a young Chinese woman despairing at the blocking of the Zuckerberg empire in her home country. She said that people in China paid for a service to get round the Great Firewall (a VPN?). With something as important for human rights as internet freedom, trust someone to try to make money out of it. I suggested Tor to her as a free alternative. The Chinese authorities are continually trying to block Tor, but bridging apparently makes this much more difficult. For further information, see this excellent article.

Meanwhile, I must go out and buy a beautiful wooden birdcage in Hanoi's bustling markets, though not of course to house a bird. For someone who opposes corporate and state attempts to cage the internet, that might be considered hypocritical.....

NEW SHOW! - People2People

I am currently experimenting with using skype video calls for a new show called People2People, "the show where citizen journalists talk to other citizen journalists around the world". It gives a really exciting opportunity for eye-witness reportage by a method which is technically fairly straightforward.


We are aiming to upload these shows directly, without editing, because skype is low quality to begin with, and another compression should therefore be avoided.

We're using Supertintin Recorder, which allows you to record skype in avi format. So far I have recorded 640 x 480 pixels, which produces a reasonable quality image (23mb for 5 mins - would be better if it was twice that - but it says it's recording a video bitrate of 2300 kbps, which is lots - next I will try the higher pixels setting to see what effect that has on picture quality).

I like the fact that Supertintin has a 5 minute limit in the free version, because that's plenty long enough for a watchable skype show. Really it is! Almost all talk shows on the internet are far too long....

The software also allows you to set both the position and the size of the interviewer's picture-in-picture.

For cutting from interview to video or stills, we are using skype's sharing option. The main problem with this is the slowness of the changeover of picture, with some freezing of the talking heads occurring and so forth. We may be able to get quciker at this, or do it more smoothly, with more practice. The important thing is to keep talking, and have no gaps while you wait for pictures!

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