Martin Empson

A Novel Solution

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The burgeoning world of ebooks

'Socialism', we're told, 'will never work. Everyone's too greedy to work together for the common good.' It's a common argument and we've probably all had it thrown at us numerous times. So it's pleasing that there are a good number of examples of people working collectively to help disprove it.

Aside from the examples of solidarity and struggle that we would all answer this argument with, there are also examples of collective work on the internet that show people doing huge amounts of work for no personal gain, purely in the interests of other internet users.

Scrutinising Democracy

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US election shenanigans can't hide from the internet.

Months before the US presidential race started, the internet was a hive of activity and discussion about it. Indeed, the election was always going to be one where electronic media played a huge role. Back in January this year Democratic contender Howard Dean was described by the Guardian as the 'web's candidate for president'.

You Don't Say

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How the FBI have tried to gag Indymedia.

On 7 October, a major attack on free speech took place. It was barely noticed by the mainstream media and almost totally ignored by all but a handful of politicians and activists.

Responding to an FBI federal order, Rackspace, a US company with offices in London, handed over the computer equipment responsible for running and hosting some of the websites that belong to the Indymedia network.

Moore Fact Than Fiction

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Film websites are becoming venues for heated political debates.

If you look closely at the billboard advertising any latest US blockbuster movie, you will often notice a web address hidden among the credits. Occasionally the film studios will tie their film into some other advertising and sales deal - so the official website may well be hosted by the Sun newspaper, for instance. However, with more controversial or political films the web can become more of a battleground.

Still Crazy After All These Years

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Review of 'The Bomb', Gerard DeGroot, Jonathan Cape £18.99

When former president Ronald Reagan died, he was acclaimed as a great president who saw off the threat of Communism. Few of his obituaries noted how he oversaw a massive increase in defence spending. His running mate in the 1980 election, George Bush Senior, described how the US could win a nuclear conflict if they had a 'capability that inflicts more damage on the opposition than it can inflict on you'. Together, they presided over a reheating of the Cold War, threatening the whole of the planet.

No More Private Parts

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Hardly anyone noticed, but a month back the consultation stage for the government's paper on identity cards closed. This is the first step towards their introduction.

If you want to see what you missed, a pdf of the document is downloadable from the Home Office's website. In its introduction David Blunkett informs us that 'the threat of global terrorism, the ease with which large numbers of people now travel around the world and the proliferation of identity fraud make secure identification more vital than ever'.

He also reiterates the government's plans to make it compulsory for every citizen of the UK to carry such a card.

Save the World

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Greenpeace has launched a very well designed website to coincide with The Day After Tomorrow's release.

With a similar URL to the real movie website, they mimic the official film style, while attempting to get a serious message across - climate change has already started. It has to be said though that the official film website doesn't simply promote the film, but also highlights some of the issues - though the fake news stories of a frozen California and snow on the Acropolis in Athens undermine the serious point being made.

Waves on the Web

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For the left, the media has always been a battleground - on the one hand multinational media empires directing the editorial content of newspapers, television and the radio, and on the other ordinary people, trade unionists, campaigners or activists, trying to get their point of view across.

The advent of the internet led many to believe that this would change. Certainly the web has allowed many more people to put their point of view across, inform and educate. Unfortunately things aren't that simple - the major news and comment pages on the internet are still those of big business or the normal major media players. So while we shouldn't have illusions that alternative news sources are going to change this unequal relationship, we should advocate and encourage their use.

Watch for the Googly

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Many people who work in computing find the fact that millions of people continue to use Microsoft's ubiquitous email service Hotmail a constant source of frustration and surprise.

Not only does it seem particularly prone to spam, but it has limited storage capacity and Microsoft has been accused in the past of passing email details onto other companies.

However Microsoft's near monopoly almost guarantees people will use its email service, and if they don't Microsoft makes it hard for them. The only type of web email that Windows' built-in email reader Outlook Express can automatically configure is - you guessed it, Hotmail.

Pick Your Site

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The 20th anniversary of the miners' strike offers an opportunity to examine how the internet has been used to archive and record British trade union history.

Unfortunately the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is one of the few British trade unions not to have a website, so material relating to the miners and their history is limited, or from a right wing point of view. The BBC has part of its site devoted to the anniversary, and while its archive of images, film and interviews is extensive, it can be unusual. It includes, for instance, an 'animated map' that allows you to watch the 'UK's coal mines disappear'.

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