April 2022

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

« Will Avera | Main | Tick..tick...tick »

Aug 07, 2010


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Can we get a blowup of that bottom,...er, last shot? I can't decide if it's porn or art.


3 revolting images

1 beautiful picture of a woman whose future may be behind her

Offensive objects, at a proper distance, acquire even a degree of beauty. ~ William Shenstone

Nothing is more useful to man that art which has no utility. ~ Ovid

Ed Cone

Art or porn? It's commerce, which may trump them both.

I wish I could claim that "bottom photo" was an intentional visual pun on my part. Nice call.


The problem I ran into when trying to learn what sites the library's current bandwidth-throttling scheme is throttling, is that the vendors who create the criteria will not share it. In response to a records request, the library's vendor would only supply general categories of sites it claimed to throttle, but no specifics for how it determined what sites belong in those categories.

Those who advocate for filtering of web sites without any understanding of what criteria are applied are operating without the most important piece of the puzzle. Before a city council person votes to filter web sites, they should be able to tell us, "Here is what is how the software is going to decide what gets blocked," and it ought to be something other than a circular definition like, "We'll block porn site by blocking sexually explicit material."

A council person who votes for blocking software without being able to explain their understanding of by what criteria material gets blocked is acting out of intentional ignorance -- not a good way to make policy.


roch: as you do, i prefer policy made out of unintentional ignorance and fear of the ignorant masses, who can turn on the parasite-elect like a skidsteer.

Michele Forrest

#1 Why is David naked?
#2 Appropriate for a women's doctor's office. (The dangers of using the web as a primary medical source is a separate issue.)
#3 Venus at least attempts modesty with the hair and hand. She should have used both hands.
#4 Gross, offensive, degrading, etc. As are y'all's comments. Seriously? Is this becoming a men's-only blog? (Obviously, not gentlemen-only.)

Roch said: "Those who advocate for filtering of web sites without any understanding of what criteria are applied are operating without the most important piece of the puzzle."

Or not. I used an internet filter for my children. It blocked by category. "Pornography" was one category. I didn't need a detailed breakdown of what "porn" meant. I don't need one from the library, either. Sometimes, (intentional) ignorance really is bliss. Yes, I smiled when I wrote that.

If the price of filtering porn is that an occasional photo of a naked statue gets blocked, oh well, it's a library. Go look in an art book.


Michele, we're hapless, hopeless and harmless. I otherwise agree with you. And you can't fully appreciate the art in a statue unless you can watch it get crapped on by pigeons. (And why do they always have broken-off arms? What's the deal with that?)

Michele Forrest


Junkyard Bill

I was discussing this very subject with a couple of GPD officers just this morning. Like myself, they say having more cops would help as the perps tell the library security guards to F-off and keep looking at the porn 'til the cops get there to arrest them or force them to leave the library.

It's called proactive policing-- it works to stop porn at the library and breaking into homes in NIP. Greensboro's cops want more proactive policing but instead they spend all their time in reaction mode.

Different crime-- same cure.

Ed Cone


1. One explanation for Michelangelo's decision: "David's nudity facing Goliath is explained as a result of verses 1 Samuel 17:38-39." Renaissance humanism probably played a role, too.

2. I would strongly disagree that health information from sources such as the Mayo Clinic should be blocked from public libraries (again, we don't know that it would be).

3. But she didn't use both hands.

4. I would agree that American Apparel ads are vulgar. Should the library ban all publications, online and print, that contain those or similar ads?

Michele Forrest

"Greensboro's cops want more proactive policing but instead they spend all their time in reaction mode."

Amen, my friend.


If a filter takes a broadbrush approach and blocks entire sites declared to carry porn, then the discussion, once again, reverts to who gets to decide what is or is not pornographic. Someone -- librarian, cop, judge, programmer, software market guy --- has to tell the software: Block this site.

On the other hand, if the software claims to be able to recognize and block individual instances of pornographic content, regardless of the site, then you'd have a finer-grained approach that wouldn't risk banning obviously mainstream sites because someone makes a lot of noise about one picture.

Even in the latter case, the folks writing the software are going to be the ones "telling" the code how to recognize porn. Software doesn't think for itself.

Michele Forrest

#1 Whoa. Somebody needs to read a Bible, instead of quoting Scripture. (Not you, the dude that wrote that article.) David was NOT naked. Here's what 1 Samuel 17:38-39 actually says:

"So Saul clothed David with his armor, and he put a bronze helmet on his head; he also clothed him with a coat of mail. David fastened his sword to his armor and tried to walk, for he had not tested them. And David said to Saul, 'I cannot walk with these, for I have not tested them.' So David took them off."

He took off the armor. He wouldn't have been naked under it. (Metal on skin? Ouch!) The whole point of that is that Saul was thinking in physical terms when he tried to arm David, but God had already armed David spiritually for battle -- which he won! (I could go on for days about that. So beautiful...)

#2 I don't think that it would be. The filter we used didn't block it.

#3 I know. She tried to act coy, but I think secretly, she was fast.

#4 The internet filter we used actually blocked the ads, not the sites they were on, if the sites themselves weren't offensive. The ads are served separately, so they can be blocked separately. On ours, in the space where the ad would have appeared, it just had a "blocked by filter" message. Re: print publications... Hmmm... Hadn't thought about that. Maybe we need volunteers with Sharpies or scissors to do some real-world blocking. Ed, you are an inspiration!


the problem is that these filters block out websites if the detect certain words. Many websites that are medical in nature have some of those words and the filters may block out some non pornograpic websites. A student doing an assignment on human sexuality may have a difficult time accessing websites. The problem has been overblown by Danny Thompson ad I think there are ways to handle it other than filters.

Jim Langer

#1- Michelangelo, as Ed rightly points out, was a humanist...but not a secular humanist. He was ardently pious (though, likely a practicing homsexual and thus in torment in his own conscience;his own great sonnets seem to affirm this). His David is not a literal illustration of the Biblical boy. He is obviously older, and more massively muscled. He is a Christianized David, too (I have had students identify David as from Christian stories...which they are, but clearly borrowed). Why> Because, as Paul ays, he put on the "whole armour of G-D." His naked ness is a symbol of his righteousness, a defiance of worldly need for measly human manufactured defense. He is also, rather conspicuously uncircumsized (especially as the verses in Samuel make many mentions of "spear heads" and "the uncircumsized Philistine"). This may mean Michelangelo intended his Christian Florentine fellows to nod in approval that they (likely also uncircumsized) had inherited the crown of David, through Christ's own lineage from the House of David.

It had two immediate responses in that brilliant Renaissance city of under 100,000: one group made a copper set of fig leaves for it, which was never attached; another decided it should not be put up on the Cathedral (explaining why the head and hands are so large), but should be placed in the city square as a symbol of all Florence's steadfast strength against its surrounding threatening neighbors.

#2- Mayo Clinic rocks.

#3- Venus is, after all, goddess of love and mother to Cupid, aka, Eros. This is pretty mild.

#4- Pretty tame by art standards, but crass as advertising.

Jim Langer

Michelangelo has made a Christianized David: conspicuously uncircumsized and clad metaphorically only in what Paul called "the whole armour of the Lord".

Michele Forrest

@Jim: So a gay dude made a statue of a hot, muscled naked guy. Makes sense. I get it. Let's not make it about Jesus, though.

Jim Langer

I didn't make it about Jesus. Michelangelo had to. It was commissioned to go on a cathedral.
Such Neo-Platonic double-entendres were expected by learned patrons and viewers.

Of course, then came Savonarola and the bonfires. For a few years. Both Botticelli and Michelangelo even destroyed work they considered an affront to faith. Lucky for us all, that mad endeavor at censorship didn't last long.

Sorry for the double post when my first one didn't go through immediately. Patience, patience.

Michele Forrest

Savonarola? A mad endeavor? Oh, no.


At the risk of being labeled geeky but wearing the mantle proudly, this is how filters work. There are two broad categories: software and hardware. Hardware filters are better. Both require fairly expensive annual subscriptions.

Hardware filters are often called firewalls (not exactly the same, but often similar). The settings on the filter (software that runs on the firewall, which is the hardware) include the ability to reject broad categories, parts of broad categories, specific sites and the good filters allow for exceptions to all of the above. For example, a business can reject all of "social networking" but make an exception for Facebook because they need to update their own Facebook page. (Fancier ones can allow FB on only some computers.)

Most of the good ones allow for exception requests. Hypothetical: fancy law or accounting firm blocks anything with "lingerie" in the content. Near a holiday, firm members want to go shopping for spouses and friends so they put in an exception request. You can allow "lingerie" sites for a period of time. You can also allow, say, all of "victoriasecret.com" instead of all of "lingerie." (Thought that was a decent Cone site example.)

Wrongly blocked sites (called "false positives") are usually weeded out within a short time but good hardware firewalls have a little "unblock" icon (on a user's screen) that is a request, it's reviewed, it's unblocked (or not) but rarely instantaneously.

As technology grows, the "intelligence" of the software has grown and continues to grow. Blocking helpful sites discussing breast cancer treatment, causes and support groups is an old example and those sites are generally unblocked through better filtering algorithms (one of my fav words).

Schools have different blocking software than, say, law firms and there are specific hardware & software packages for libraries. They are ALL expensive and require annual subscriptions to update lists and capabilities. We install them all the time (for law & accounting firms, schools and diverse businesses). Over time, we hear more requests for general unblocking, even by the owner who wanted to block "everything" from the start. I'm OK with hardware filtering in private business; they own the computers and can let their workers browse (or not) where they want.

However, we're a private firm working with small-to-medium sized businesses, churches, schools, nonprofits and more. We're VERY responsive. If exception requests have to go through the very over-worked City IT department, I doubt things would get done quickly and in a library, that matters a LOT to patrons.

My recommendation (seeing's as no one asked me) would be to allocate more money to be used to buy the higher-end, library-specific separate hardware filters, increase the Library's bandwidth so using computers wasn't so agonizingly slow and ensure that library staff members were trained and capable of providing reasonably quick response to exception requests, especially during the first year (this is a seasonal thing: during term paper time, more requests may come in; prior to finals; during competitions). I won't even guess as to the cost - some is structural (bandwidth), some is hardware, some is software & installation, and then there's training.

XXX sites wouldn't be allowed and that's pretty much all most people are after, I'd guess. But if this leads to any stupid argument that a page using the word, say, "lesbian," should be blocked, then I withdraw this comment.


You'd think the above would be enough, but let's consider some exceptions. A nonprofit may want to track hate groups and needs hate-group-identified sites unblocked. Couldn't someone want to use a library computer for the same thing?

A law firm has case dealing with something "sexy." Many "sexy" sites need to be unblocked. Yes, I'm sure lawyers have their own computers but what if a library patron wants to sign onto that case or research it?

Banning social media sites. Didn't we all get to know a "homeless blogger" and sorta fall in deep like w/him and his family because he used library computers to blog his plight? Didn't a lot of us donate computer equipment to that family? (Yes, we did, because I delivered it.)

I wouldn't even block Hulu.com - if you're using a library computer because you can't afford your own or Internet and can't afford cable TV, shouldn't you be allowed to watch TV in the library for 44 minutes (one show minus commercials)? Isn't that part of what people do in libraries - read or view for recreation?

So let's not jump at the 18 (or so) XXX "incidences" (shouldn't that be "incidents"?) reported at the library and waved around in a thick stack of fear-mongering paper ("I have a list of 57 people in Congress who are Communists." Cue waving paper.) I'd prefer to get the library more bandwidth and not focus on 18 reported icky patrons and spend the rest of our little bit of prevention money on fighting victim crime where victims are more clearly identifiable and have suffered grievous injury.

Kudos to Director Sandy Neerman and the whole staff for seeing a problem, devising a resolution and having what appears to be statistical success at reducing the problem dramatically. Raising the spectre of "patron pr0n" via waving paper is a disservice to the fine work done by our library staff. I'd like to see our council critters spend that much time & effort on the rest of our very serious issues.

Michele Forrest

"At the risk of being labeled geeky but wearing the mantle proudly..."

As well you should. Geek is good. Girl geek is even better. :)

Question: Why is commercial filtering software so expensive? Our home filtering software wasn't. It worked the way you describe, except that you do the exceptions, etc. yourself. (Very easy, quick.) Currently, it's $49.95 per year, or $69.95 for three computers. Are commercial filters more expensive per computer? Or did you just mean that it's expensive because there's so many of them? (How much would that add up to...??)

P.S. If somebody says the word "lesbian" should be blocked, I will smack them for you.

Brandon Burgess

Sue, thanks for chiming in. Your comment was very informative. I learned a lot.


Cost? It's that pesky free-market thing. It's a niche market and there's not a lot of competition. A private medical doctor can be charged $25K+ for "medical office software" because it's a niche market (same for lawyers & accountants; in fact, we pay an annual 'software fee' to the accountant and I'm considering charging something like that for the $2.5K copies of Adobe CS5 we have to buy). Schools and libraries are also niche. Some software is approved by school district or state; I imagine there's a library rating/acceptance system as well (you gotta have standards). As we all know, some software is garbage and other software is great. GIMP is good; I'd rather have Photoshop. It's a choice.

My firm paid more than $500 for one of our hardware firewalls (based on the capacity, usage and other stuff) and even more for the annual subscription. You pay based on how many devices access the FW. A device is a computer, a smartphone, an iPad and anything else that needs Internet or to connect to the servers. I imagine the library has hundreds of devices (not counting smartphone users who visit) so the appliance has to handle the number of users and costs more. It's the difference between a personal and professional version of filtering devices.

The annual subscriptions are costly and often based on user numbers (that is, they work with a FW of a certain capacity) but worth it. On Friday, one of our FW appliances died and although we temporarily replaced it with a lower-usage one, the company guarantees its product and is overnighting a replacement. Good on them but that's why you spend the money for quality products from reputable vendors with 24-hour replacement and it's doubly good to have engineers who tend to it right away.

Home filtering software is software. The library needs a hardware-based firewall. It's a capacity and end-product thing.


@Ed, you've got something running called "blogbar.org" that is making our site hard to reload. Don't know what it is but it's slowing down the site.

@brandon - happy to be my original school-teacher self. It never goes away - might be genetic.

@CM - you block sites at home? I don't know many people who don't need their kids' help in doing that :)


Sheesh. @Ed, that's "your" site. Not "our" site. Or not :)


Sue, I can't hang with you in geekspeak, but is the "throttling" software/hardware/whatever such as is used by our library subject to the same challenges and limitations in discriminating porn from nonporn as filters are?


@cheri I'm not sure but I think it's a different protocol than hardware filtering. ("Protocol" is a very geek word that has a specific meaning. Like "http:" is a protocol. Tis a fancy word for what the process is. Email is another protocol.)

The throttling concept means if a particular device (computer) is using a ton of bandwidth (downloading lots of pictures is an example), then you can slow down what's sent to that computer. It may or may not pick out XXX sites; it might merely slow down an over-achiever.

When we put the first round of wifi in Center City Park, we had systems in place to cut off a user who was hogging bandwidth to block anyone from spamming by using that wifi. Each device has a "mac" address (has nothing to do with Apple) and that mac address is logged when you sign onto wifi or any other server-supplied Internet (or simply onto a network). We could then block THAT particular device based on its mac address now and in the future because each mac address is unique to a computer, like an ID#. The library's throttling possibly works the same way. It MAY not care what you're downloading. It just knows that you're downloading too much and you have to share nicely with others.

You might be familiar with terms like "5 x 1" (five by one) or "10 x 4" which refer to your bandwidth limits. The first number always refers to download speed; the second to upload speed. You almost always get much lower upload than download in any Internet package you buy. My understanding is that it's a throwback to when people used to upload illegal software & music (huge files!) so the companies like TW and Verizon et al limited your upload speed to prevent illegal software or music sharing. I think that's something that has to go, but spammers are now the culprit of choice to limit upload speed.

I don't know if I answered your question but I think the short answer is "maybe." I'm not sure if it discriminates between porn and simply using too much bandwdith to download stuff like photos, which is the desirable part of porn (so I'm told :)

Jim Langer

I was just telling my wife I hoped Sue would make an appearance! I am not sure I am totally following, but the information is precise and interesting. Thank you.


I visit geek-ily with wariness. I can be exeptionally boring when talking about (a) computers and (b) existential phenomenology. I love talking about both of them.

Junkyard Bill

I wonder if our councilman is prepared to raise funding to the library to pay for his pet project. Hard times for city budgets these days and we all know how conservatives hate to increase budgets.

Let's see what our options are:
1. $thousands$ a year for software, hardware and subscriptions.
2. $thousands$ a year for police officers to enforce pornography ban in the libraries.
3. Lay off the library IT staff to pay for the hardware and software only to later discover they no longer have anyone on staff who can make the thing work, thereby forcing them to hire outside IT consultants at 10 times the cost.
4. Do a lot of yelling, spend nothing and crawl back inside his cave.

Who thinks he'll pick #3 ?
#4 anyone?


I doubt seriously that anything big needs to be done - Sandy Neerman has a fabulous solution and has very professionally and effectively dealt with a matter brought to her attention. My entire firewall explanation was more explanation than recommendation. The point is dual: (1) If you're going to complain about (cue paper waving) porn at the library, then spend the money to do something proper and effective about it and (2) if it's just paper waving and getting media attention because the magic word "porn" is involved (right here in River City!), then nothing will change. Plus ce change, plus ce le meme chose. I doubt I spelled that correctly but it's the same reason the NYC "mosque issue" is playing outside the city so much more than in Manhattan. Publicity politics.

I'll say it one more time. I like Danny Thompson. I think he really cares and will be a great council person. This just wasn't one of his finest moments and truly believe there will be many great Thompson moments. Am looking forward to them.

Michele Forrest

Darn close, Sue. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

I think real issues sometimes get used for publicity by politicians. Motive can be difficult to discern. Or... not so much.

The comments to this entry are closed.