Needed: a healthy sense of skepticism about large technology projects

Bruce Schneier recently linked to an interesting article about the failure of a project to implement city-wide surveillance cameras in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The project started in 2004 and since then netted a total of three convictions due to crimes caught on camera.

(It may not be clear on first glance at the article, but the three convictions for corruption were relating to the implementation of the surveillance camera project itself! Just in case you didn’t get that: the existence of the project enabled three crimes to be committed.)

NBN, take note.  This was a much less ambitious project, yet abysmally failed due to pork-barrelling and executives with poor character.  I hope the Australian public does not expect that we can sustain major government technology and infrastructure projects without both massive waste due to profiteering by vendors and contractors, and severe detrimental effects on the balance of trade due to those vendors and contractors being held by overseas interests.

I can’t help but think that a better alternative is to provide large tax incentives for private companies (especially overseas companies) investing in Australian infrastructure projects, and supporting (through tax incentives, grants, and possibly other avenues) research and development by Australian companies into technologies that can more efficiently satisfy our nation’s needs for communications technology.


dircproxy for always-on, unobtrusive IRC

I use IRC a lot for asking questions (and hopefully answering some as well) about Free Software projects, particularly Ubuntu-AU.  Most of the time i use IRC from my laptop, which means that every time i shut the lid or disconnect from the wired network and reconnect via wireless, my IRC connection drops out.  This results in disconnect/reconnect messages which inconvenience my fellow users, and sometimes even causes multiple accounts to be logged in.  I’ve also had a few instances of flaky Internet access causing multiple disconnects/reconnects in quick succession.  The solution i came up with for all this was to run an IRC proxy on my personal server.  I found dircproxy a really simple, easy-to-use proxy server which just worked.  Check out my wiki page for more info.