Idirlíon (Internet)

Glenn Greenwald On War By Other Means

GCHQ - the spiders web

GCHQ – the spiders web

From Glenn Greenwald a must-read for Republican and progressive activists in Ireland and elsewhere examining how the internet is used and abused to manipulate individuals and groups in the interests of major nation-states. To defeat one’s enemy one must understand (or become?) one’s enemy.

“One of the many pressing stories that remains to be told from the Snowden archive is how western intelligence agencies are attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction. It’s time to tell a chunk of that story, complete with the relevant documents.

By publishing these stories one by one, our NBC reporting highlighted some of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS attacks they accuse “hacktivists” of using, the use of “honey traps” (luring people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses. But, here, I want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents: namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.”

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Removal Of The RSS Feeds – Apologies

RSS feed diagram

RSS feeds – they look simple but…

Yes, I know, the RSS feeds to like-minded websites in Ireland, Scotland and elsewhere have been removed from An Sionnach Fionn. I’m afraid the reasons are technical, mostly to do with slower load times on my own webpages and poor SEO ranking due to the presence of multiple RSS links on ASF. So what to do? Many (many, many) readers have queried their disappearance and requested their return. I understand that they represent a convenient go-to list of news and views from the Celtic nations. So I will be providing an alternative to the RSS feeds through direct links categorised by language and country. While that carries it own issues it will keep load-times to a minimum while pleasing the web crawlers of Google and Bing. Hopefully. Your views and opinions are welcome (not to mention alternative solutions).

Britnats Target SNP Website Through Avast!

The SNP's website targeted by Britnats via avast!

The SNP’s website targeted by Britnats via avast!

Here’s a thing. The avast! Online Security and Web Reputation Plugin, a web browser extension bundled with one of the world’s most popular free security programs, rates the online homepage of the Scottish Nationalist Party as “bad”. That means the SNP’s website has been found by multiple avast! users to be a “dangerous” internet location to visit, one infected with various unsafe programs that could potentially infect one’s own device.

This is nonsense of course but it cannot have happened accidentally. It can only be the result of a mass effort to falsely flag the SNP website to avast! users (and rather pointlessly so). And it certainly casts the claims of the electronic war by the so-called “Scottish cybernnats” in their true light since the websites of the Scottish Labour Party and the Conservatives show no such warnings.

From World Wide Web To World Wide Watch

GCHQ Building at Cheltenham, Britain

GCHQ Building at Cheltenham, Britain – spying on Ireland and elsewhere for nearly four decades

The newspaper revelations by the Guardian and the Wall Street Journal in relation to the NSA’s positioning of itself as a global “Big Brother” seems to have surprised many but most people who have been observing the growing “intelligence-industrial complex” (to rephrase Eisenhower’s warning) will have been aware of the outline of these programs already. It’s not so much a case of telling us something new but rather confirming what we already know.

In Ireland of course we have been the subject of electronic surveillance by the British for nigh on four decades (and longer). Most people are aware that regular communications in and out of Ireland are monitored by GCHQ though the growth of the internet has made that significantly harder in recent years (at least until they became junior partners in the United States’ attempt to turn the world wide web into a world wide watch). By the late 1990s the north-east of Ireland, under the British Occupation, had become a police state the likes of which only the KGB and Stasi could have dreamed of. Much of that paraphernalia of Intelligence gathering and observation remains in place or has been succeeded by other even more insidious forms of mass surveillance of the local population.

Helpfully Winston Ross in a post for the Daily Beast offers a few (very basic) tips on how to maintain at least a shred of one’s privacy in these open-door times. Think you have no presence on the internet that anyone anywhere could ever possibly be interested in?

“Skip on over to MyShadow if you believe that nonsense. There, you can find out exactly what kind of a shadow your computer and mobile-phone usage casts. It’s pretty scary and fascinating.”

Of course a few will complain that if one is an innocent citizen with no criminal intent then one has nothing to worry about. On that principle maybe we should all walk around at night with all our house-blinds up, curtains open and lights on? No matter if people are standing outside with binoculars trained on your home. If you’ve nothing to hide?

UPDATE: In a timely article The Guardian’s Ask Jack’ provides some advice on computer encryption. It’s not half as scary as it sounds and in most cases even the most technophobic can make use of the numerous premium and free programs out there. Defintely worth reading.

Words Of Wisdom

Just a quick post to note and recommend the wonderful, informative and always entertaining Irish Blog at Transparent Language. Its idiosyncratic nature is its joy. There are more Irish language online resources here and here.

If you like languages (and just plain wisdom) then also have a look at the Omniglot Blog, which is part of the Omniglot website.

A Native Place

The new Irish language social networking site Abair Leat!, which is primarily aimed at language learners, has been officially launched by the Irish-American comedian and Gaeilgeoir Des Bishop. From the Irish Times:

“… Abair Leat! is the first user generated content application of its kind and allows users to create a personal profile, add friends and exchange messages in Irish.

The core concept of abairleat.com is that at least 70 per cent of all posts and comments must be in Irish. It automatically calculates the percentage of Irish in each post and then invites the user to amend the submission if required.

A spellchecker is provided and an integrated version of Google translate allows users to translate any words they do not know.

Updates are automatically posted to Facebook and Twitter and site developers are planning to introduce an integrated thesaurus and speech synthesiser in the coming months. A smartphone app is planned for later in the year.

Originally intended as an educational resource for students attending Coláiste Lurgan – one of the country’s oldest Irish language summer colleges, the Abair Leat! concept was developed by company owner Mícheál Ó Foighil.

The website was built in association with US digital advertising agency Fantasy Interactive (FI) using ‘Contain’, FI’s social media platform.

Founded by Dubliner David Martin in 1999, FI has developed into a global firm with offices in New York, San Francisco and Stockholm. FI counts companies such as Porsche, Ducati, Google and CBS News among its customers.”

FI’s impressive portfolio of clients has led to a lot of free publicity for Abair Leat! and the website is generating a great deal of positive feedback for its slick look and tech-savvy nature. However, in the Irish Independent, Des Bishop also points to the torrent of abuse and discrimination Irish speakers regularly face when online necessitating a site like Abair Leat!

“”I’m a big user of Facebook and Twitter but when you post in Irish, people who speak Irish respond, but then everyone else makes passive/ aggressive comments saying things like, ‘Why are you speaking this dead language?’ and ‘I don’t understand’ or ‘speak English, please’. Irish is funny for some people, they get very upset,” he said.

“If two people were posting in Polish, no one would ask, ‘Why are you speaking in Polish?’”

Indeed, but the discrimination towards Irish speakers is not confined to online, anglophone trolls and bigots but is widely reflected throughout Irish society and the media establishment in particular.

Try Again 2012!

Talking of the Irish language online there is certainly a lot of speculation at the moment about the new website “Try Again 2012” and the associated high-profile advertising campaign around the country (not to mention on social networks like YouTube and at Twitter under the hashtag #tryagain). The Herald seems to have got to the truth behind the rumours:

“I’M actually bi, says The Voice’s Brian Kennedy. Brendan Courtney “lost it at 16″ and and it made Paul McGrath feel “inadequate”.

But what on earth are they talking about?

A suggestive new campaign has tongues wagging in the city but the “bi” claims by singer Brian Kennedy are a lot more innocent than they might first appear.

A host of big-name celebrities have put their names behind a new campaign to get people dusting off their Irish – and speaking the language again.

It’s being spearheaded by former champion boxer Bernard Dunne. Other well-known participants include Lucy Kennedy, Ben Dunne, Baz Ashmawy, and Jennifer Maguire speaking about their own experiences of the subject matter.”

The new television-related campaign will be unveiled on RTÉ’s Saturday Night Show on February 25th.

Abair Leat! To Launch On 27th Of February

In December 2011 I wrote about a new online Irish language education network for language learners called “Abair Leat!“. Going through its final beta testing we were promised a full launch within months and sure enough the site will be formally unveiled on the 27th of February. From Pól Ó Muirí in the Irish Times:

“Comedian and, indeed, fear grinn, Des Bishop, will launch Abair Leat! an online Irish-language service which aims to take the language out of the classroom and to let participants use it in day-to-day situations. The site’s founder, Míchéal Ó Foighil, hopes that it will be of use to adult learners, 2nd and 3rd level students and professionals in the sector.”

With a plethora of Irish language learning sites on the internet it will be interesting to see how this one fairs. It seems to be geared towards serving as a “live” language resource with a large number of interactive features including online conversational opportunities for Irish learners with indigenous Irish speakers. So far the beta site looks fantastic and the buzz about it is certainly one of excitement and expectation.

More news as it happens.

Get Your Gael On!

There’s an interesting site with some fun games for Irish language learners at Digital Dialects. The vocabulary seems correct and so far I’ve not seen any mistakes. It’s all very simple but something for some enterprising gaelgoir to build upon…?

For more online Irish lessons I’d highly recommend the award-winning Talk Irish, a popular new kid on the block that has so far gained nothing but praise (and nearly 12,000 members!). It’s a very comprehensive site largely aimed towards those with little or no Irish, and it utilises the latest technologies to bring Irish language learning to a truly global audience in a fun and easy manner. However, unlike some other online educational courses, there is no lessening in academic quality and the materials on the site are carefully drawn up and vetted. In other words it is a site you can trust. Money well spent!

Another professional site is Ranganna, though one aimed at the slightly more serious online learner with a more academic tone overall. It has courses geared towards second and third level students in Ireland, as well as specialist courses for teachers, civil servants, IT specialists, lawyers, etc. However its general Irish language courses are highly recommended by experts and it has the added advantage of linking to live courses in venues around Ireland run by Gael Chultúr, as well as the Irish language book group Club Leabhar and the online Irish language bookshop Siopa.

A more traditional site is Bitesize Irish Gaelic, which though lacking the glossiness and comprehensive nature of Talk Irish or Ranganna has gained a loyal following. It is run by the same company that hosts the similar Learn Irish Gaelic, the travel group Gaeltacht Travel, and Irish Gaelic Translator. The latter is a well regarded online Irish language forum with over 65,000 members (mostly from Britain, continental Europe, North America and Australasia) though the level of fluency varies greatly. In recent years it has become better known for providing free Irish language translations for tattoos, children’s names and people’s houses though it retains its very active – and at times fractious – message boards. In recent years the site has helped found and drive the collaborative online Irish dictionary, Irishionary.

However the “official” online Irish language dictionary remains Focal, which is funded by the Irish state and is the result of an ongoing academic program. This is the one favoured by most enquirers because of its professionalism and government status. It is also linked to Logainm, the official list of placenames in the Irish language across the island of Ireland (and a hugely popular site for visitors), and Ainm, the national biography of historic figures in the Irish language.

For general enquires and help with the Irish language the now famous online discussion board Daltaí na Gaeilge is second to none. It has been helping people learn Irish since 1981 and was probably one of the first Irish language groups to go online. An incredible feat for an organisation that is in fact based in the United States and Canada and not in Ireland! Its forums are a legendary and any enquirers generally receive a warm welcome. It also has the added advantage of providing information on language courses throughout North America and beyond.

For more learning materials the web-based retailer Litríocht (the “Irish Amazon”) is generally regarded as your “one-stop-shop” for books, CDs, DVDs, etc. with low-cost shipping available to a host of international destinations. You can also try the excellent Udar, another major online shop, or the Irish publishers Futa FataCló Mhaigh EoCló Iar-Chonnacht and Cois Life all of whom sell direct to the public as well as through online retailers and highstreet stores.

For more Irish language resources please try these sites:

Conradh na Gaeilge 

Gael Linn

Oideas Gael 

Foras na Gaeilge 

Cumann Gaeilge na hAstráile 

Conradh na Gaeilge Shasana Nua 

Coiscéim

Scríobh

Nascanna

Finally, if you want to experience the real thing, then Gael Saoire is the travel service for the Gaeltachtaí or Irish-speaking regions of Ireland, with a host of information and links for visitors.

My own personal bit of Gaeltacht heaven? Now that would be telling!

Stop Censorship! Protect Internet Freedoms!

Thank you to everyone who contacted me over the last 24 hours as An Sionnach Fionn joined the global internet “blackout” protest against the SOPA/PIPA legislation currently before the United States Congress, and thanks for your patience and understanding. The dangerous nature of the proposed US bill is not just an American concern but an international one since it threatens freedoms across the world wide web, and I felt it only right that the site join in with the campaign. As an Irish Republican website An Sionnach Fionn faces its own troubles with would-be censors, so I’m quiet aware of the issue of restricted internet freedoms (yes Facebook, Yahoo, Flickr, et al, I do mean you). The Guardian carries a brief explanation of the US legislation:

“The two bills, Sopa in the House and Pipa in the Senate, ostensibly aim to stop the piracy of copyrighted material over the internet on websites based outside the US. Critics – among them, the founders of Google, Wikipedia, the Internet Archive, Tumblr and Twitter – counter that the laws will stifle innovation and investment, hallmarks of the free, open internet. The Obama administration has offered muted criticism of the legislation, but, as many of his supporters have painfully learned, what President Barack Obama questions one day, he signs into law the next.

First, the basics. Sopa stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act, while Pipa is the Protect IP Act. The two bills are very similar. Sopa would allow copyright holders to complain to the US attorney general about a foreign website they allege is “committing or facilitating the commission of criminal violations” of copyright law. This relates mostly to pirated movies and music. Sopa would allow the movie industry, through the courts and the US attorney general, to send a slew of demands that internet service providers (ISPs) and search engine companies shut down access to those alleged violators, and even to prevent linking to those sites, thus making them “unfindable”. It would also bar internet advertising providers from making payments to websites accused of copyright violations.

Sopa could, then, shut down a community-based site like YouTube if just one of its millions of users was accused of violating one US copyright. As David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer and an opponent of the legislation, blogged:

“Last year alone, we acted on copyright takedown notices for more than 5 million webpages. Pipa and Sopa will censor the web, will risk our industry’s track record of innovation and job creation, and will not stop piracy.”

Corynne McSherry, intellectual property director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told me:

“These bills propose new powers for the government and for private actors to create, effectively, blacklists of sites … then force service providers to block access to those sites. That’s why we call these the censorship bills.”

I will be carrying the “Stop Censorship” banner for some days in the top right-hand corner which provides a link to the anti-SOPA/PIPA campaign in the United States if you want to know more.

Some Irish Pride

The Irish language is about to take a technological leap that will place it, in terms of accessibility and knowledge, at the forefront of global languages. From the end of 2012 a vast 51,000 online dictionary of English-to-Irish words and phrases will be available, free and online, to people around the world. The result of a lengthy academic project, the New English-Irish Dictionary (NEID) or Foclóir Nua Béarla-Gaeilge will be available at Foclóir.ie as well as in printed form from the state publisher An Gúm. The project team believe an extension of the project will allow them to place another 50,000 words online by the end of 2013.

Taken with the already existing Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language (eDIL), an extraordinary online and free-to-access Irish-English dictionary of Old and Middle Irish words and terms, the internet presence of tools and resources for the Irish language is probably unique in the world. Unlike the plethora of amateur, volunteer or co-operative language dictionaries that litter the world wide web, these Irish sites are the result of academic projects involving teams of historians, linguists, educationalists and information technicians. It is something we should be rightfully proud of.

The Irish Independent examines the project:

“Foras na Gaeilge plans to launch the first new English-Irish dictionary (EID) in more than 50 years which will add thousands of ‘new’ Irish words into the lexicon.

Not since 1959 has the State produced an up-to-date dictionary, and the main reason for the project is because huge numbers of modern words and terms are completely missing from the current text.

“The current EID dates from an era when the language documented in dictionaries tended to be of a more formal register rather than reflecting language as spoken by the people,” Foras na Gaeilge spokesman Cathal Convery said yesterday.

But the new dictionary, which will be published at the end of this year and available free on the internet, will change all that. Based on a database, or corpus, of 1.7 billion words of contemporary English, it will bring the Irish language completely up to date.

The computer system needed to publish the dictionary online is provided by a specialist French company, IDM.

It has also provided software for English, English-Spanish and English-Turkish dictionaries. No Irish company submitted a bid to provide the system.

The dictionary will have taken almost seven years to produce, at a cost of just over €6m.

“The current EID sells over 2,000 copies per year, despite its age, and we’re aiming to recover some of the development costs through sales of the hardcopy version,” Mr Convery added.

“The database that has been compiled for the New EID will also form the foundation of other dictionaries in the future, including a pocket English-Irish dictionary and technical dictionaries.

“The initial version to be published at the end of 2012 will have 51,000 words and terms. We’re hoping to get permission to go on for another year, which would result in about 100,000 words and terms. We think it’s money well spent.”

I couldn’t agree more.