Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Frapes

Is it cool to make light of rape? Obviously not.  Is there any way in which non consensual sexual intercourse, most often violent and incredibly traumatising, is at all humorous? I cannot, therefore, understand why the term ‘Facebook rape’ as a flippant description of modifying another party’s Facebook profile to amusing ends has entered uncontested into the vernacular.

If it’s done well, meddling with some poor, trusting fool’s information can be very funny; most of the time, however, false declarations of homosexuality and poor genital hygiene get old very quickly. Whatever. It’s not the act that I have a problem with, but the entirely inappropriate name that it has been given. Ask someone why this is so, and most of the time they will tell you that it falls under the jurisdiction of ‘banter.’ Banter is a word that is used, mostly by the congenitally ignorant, to justify saying and doing completely unacceptable and unjustifiable things. Racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism, physical and emotional bullying; all of these and more are constantly dismissed as mere ‘banter’ by the perpetrators, and often by bystanders or witnesses, unwilling to get involved.

Messing around with someone else’s online information is, on the whole, fairly harmless, and any problems or misunderstandings that arise from such an endeavour are easily explained as such, such is their frequency. So why does it have to equate to rape? You pull a prank on someone – you don’t ‘trick sodomise’ them. I wonder how actual victims of sexual assault feel when they skim down their Facebook newsfeed...

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Hacking the Book Portfolios

Hacking the Book is assessed by portfolio and group project.  The reason for this is that the course is about applied knowledge so we want to assess how what is learned is put into practice.  As the first half of the course is mostly conceptual, the portfolios give students a chance to reflect on what they have learned and consider how this material might apply more widely.  The second half of the course is much more practical and so the group projects allow students to demonstrate what they know through the production of some sort of digital resource.  Writing an essay is one type of practice, but on this course, we want students to do much more.

For those of you taking the course, remember that your portfolios are due in next week, week eleven.  Full details about the portfolios can be found via the link on the course schedule.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Social Experiment

This week my housemate, who studies Media, Culture and Society, asked if we could take part in a four day ‘social experiment’ for her dissertation. She requested that the whole house (five of us, all girls) would cut ourselves off entirely from all forms of social networking, emailing and ways of communicating technologically. That’s right…four days with no twitter, facebook, my.bham, gmail, Hotmail or the like. At first we were slightly outraged by this request, all complaining that it seemed somewhat demanding; after all we are final year students, and in the words of one of my housemates ‘need to check our emails’. However, we reluctantly agreed to take part. On the first day I continuously forgot that I was supposed to be ‘cut off’, and as if by some primitive reflex of social survival, automatically hit facebook every time I loaded my internet explorer. However, after a couple of days I managed to force myself to adjust, ‘proud’ on the Saturday when I’d only cheated the ‘experiment’ once. By the Sunday the experiment was over, and my housemate asked me to write a paragraph reflecting on my experience. What did I learn from these four days? That our need for the technology of communication has become so great that it is, indeed, now a need. The reaction of one of my housemates on being asked to take part was that she simply ‘wouldn’t’…indeed it was too difficult for her to cut herself off in this way for a few days. It has made me wonder, at what point did we become so technologically dependant? When did our need for constant social interaction become so prevalent? Indeed there was a time when, if information needed to be relayed it would happen over the course of a longer period of time through written forms, and when we needed to socialise with friends it would be over lunch once a week. One thing I did realise though was that I seemed to get a lot more work done during the days of the social experiment, and the other elements of my life have not fallen apart at the seams, just because I couldn’t check what my friends were thinking every hour on facebook. Perhaps the need for technology is not as great as we think.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Some of you may have noticed the news apps that are popular on Facebook at the moment, laid on by the likes of The Guardian and The Independent where you can see what online newspaper articles your friends have read and then if you sign up to the app, you can read them as well. Unfortunately some of these, after reading, I've looked at the date and realised they were written in 2005 or earlier, I even read an Independent one the other day which was written in 1999, but I've seen a more recent one which I thought brought up quite an interesting but serious and relevant danger of the internet. It was written in 2010 and was about a Korean couple who allegedly let their own baby starve to death while they were obsessively raising  a 'virtual baby' on the internet. (1) The article mentions at the end how there are thought to be links between depression and internet addiction.

This got me thinking about  how the internet has such a moreish appeal. This story is definitely not the first one circulating about the consequences of internet addiction, and definitely not the first time that it has actually proved fatal.  I wonder what it is about the internet which is so appealing? No one seems to be addicted to reading novels or watching TV, and I think this is because these things only really serve a single function, where as the internet can cater to all sorts of different needs. In a way it is a kind of umbrella device which cannot be singularly defined. Its breadth seems to exacerbate addictions that are already present , perhaps to gambling, gaming, shopping or pornography, and as using computers can be quite a solitary activity, I can see how excessive use  is linked to depression.

I think again this related back to our discussions earlier in the term about social networking websites like Facebook, where you can create your own persona and can hide behind a computer and not have to face up to reality. Similarly perhaps, with something  like online gambling, you do not have to be seen walking into a bookies or a casino. I think some of the appeal of the internet that is at the same time a large risk, is the veil it casts over reality, which seems to place people a step back from what they are doing. The news story referenced really shows the power of internet addiction and how it is a complex psychological disorder. Similarly, the statistics mentioned in the middle part of this Guardian article (2) are quite shocking. If you're worried you about being a internet addict, there are plenty of online tests you can do to find out (3). A bit ironic don't you think?

(1) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/mar/05/korean-girl-starved-online-game
(2) http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/mar/23/news.internet
(3) http://www.netaddiction.com/index.php?option=com_bfquiz&view=onepage&catid=46&Itemid=106
(All accessed 18th November 2011)

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Information

For those of you who are interested in the concept of information and how it is defined, stored, transmitted, there is a good popular science book on the topic: The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick. Quite fittingly I read the eBook version, and here I got confused by the difference in medium.

The Kindle app on my phone (where I was reading the book in spare moments when waiting for the kids or other opportunities) told me that I was about 60% into the book - obviously there are no page numbers, as it is just a stream of text... and suddenly there was a chapter titled "Epilogue". This I found weird - why is the epilogue in the middle of the book? Was the book split into two parts with their own, independent structure?

Wrong. It was indeed the final chapter of the book. And the remaining 40% were notes, references, and the index. This is something you easily forget when dealing with a paper book, as you can identify where the book 'really' ends, and you have a much better idea of your position within it. The 60% mark offered by the e-reader gave me a false sense of accuracy, as you don't normally consider those appendages as part of the book proper.

Anyway, I guess this is something we need to get used to in the future, unless e-readers do the sensible thing and exclude references etc from the progress indication.

The book is easy to read, and contains a lot of interesting, erm, information. Ever wondered how those 'talking drums' work? Or what entropy has got to do with information? And you don't need a PhD in computer science to understand it!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

We've come so far...

I was watching Friends today, which I am ashamed to say I do too much. Series Two, first broadcast in 1995 I believe was the one I was watching, and I couldn't help but laugh at the opening line after the credits of Chandler boasting about his new high-tech laptop computer:

"All right, check out this bad boy.", he says in a proud and gloating manner, "12 megabytes of ram. 500 megabyte hard drive. Built-in spreadsheet capabilities and a modem that transmits at over 28,000 b.p.s."

Now you don't have to be a computer-whizz to see that if someone came and boasted about that today, you'd think they had something wrong with them. Were computers ever like that?? When you consider that that was sixteen years ago, while it may seem not so very long ago for us, I can guarantee the older generations will think differently and maintain that sixteen years is not such a very long time at all. I remain as ever baffled by the speed at which our technology is improving.

I remember not so long ago when I got my first mp3 player, holding about 17 songs. And that was only maybe seven years ago when I think about it. Now we have ipods that can hold an insane amount of tunes, more than your battery power can even last for. And it isn't just memory, it is all of our technology. For my Twenty-first birthday two weeks ago, one of the things my mother gave me was an original paper from the day I was born. Seeing a cassette player on sale for about ninety quid certainly made me chuckle! But again: I'm not really very old!

My theory is that the technology of today is going through a phase of rapid expansion. In history, there's the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution... Are we currently in the middle of the technological revolution? Computer revolution? I don't know quite what to call it, but when it is the title of a chapter in the history textbooks of the future, then we'll know.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Cont:Facebook: Satisfying our Desire for Permanence?

It seems I could not post as a comment on campus so here is what was meant to be a comment on the earlier thread:

Lucy's comment caught my eye and reminded me of how damaging a frape can be.

A flat mate of mine had his relationship ruined by a frape. The initial false posting was on his (then) long-term girlfriends' wall. asking her to marry him. He had no such intentions. She thought that it was a genuine question and answered positively. Once it was established that it had been a frape, both parties knew that the other had entirely different ideas about the future of their relationship, and it soon broke down.

Whilst typing this I was reflecting the meaning of the term 'Frape' i.e 'Facebook Rape.' I wont go into the psychoanalysis details but to tell the truth I don't think that the phrase is all that hyperbolic.

Social Media and Politics

In the current THES is a comment article on the use of social media in politics - this seems to happen mainly in non-Western countries, for whatever reasons. Maybe lack of trust in traditional broadcasting media? Would Twitter be more relevant in the UK if the BBC didn't exist? Or are people using Twitter but it is just not reported as journalists don't notice it? With the more limited and controlled flow of information coming out of other countries one has to look out for alternative sources.

And the interesting bit is at the end of the article: a call by a professor from Delhi to study social media in university seminars, rather than just films and literature. Good to know we're early adopters in HtB!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


I’ve been pondering the idea of self-branding on social networking sites: of creating – through selectivity or outright lying – an idea of oneself different from reality. I’ve always said I’m uncomfortable with the self-branding aspect of Facebook (although I do untag unflattering photos posted by friends). But I’ve apparently got no problem with it on Deviant Art, giving myself a name – The Dandy Highwayman – that comes with a whole set of associations and implications: I’m a rake; a libertine; I like Adam Ant etc. Am I creating a persona to “live” through?

I think for me it feels different than concerted self-branding on Facebook because on Deviant Art my profile represents me as an ‘artist’, so it’s a persona to work through rather than live through, kind of like Banksy or Plan B’s Strickland Banks. Of course, the danger (or for some, perhaps, the desired effect) of any kind of self-branding is that the persona you create comes to eclipse you as an actual person. Ben Drew has announced that he won’t be playing Strickland Banks again, because he’s tired of people assuming the stage-persona to be him, but he still goes by ‘Plan B’ which is itself, presumably, a stage-persona.

How do others feel about the whole self-branding issue?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Facebook: Satisfying our Desire for Permanence?

All activity on social networking sites is deceivingly permanent. Every 'like'; every comment; every interaction is noted and recorded somewhere (the cloud.) It may only be a matter of minutes before a top story falls from everyone's news feed but the data still remains. A ghost of the comment, or expression lurks behind, to be collected and harvested just like any other source of data.

Our blogs and posts will outlast us. Putting aside a possible huge server fail or Facebook being shut down entirely our day to day narration of our social lives will live on long after the friendships or even people continue to exist. This is appeals to a desire many of us have, to go down in history, to create or to do something that will be permanently recorded. For the non-religious this idea soothes fears that death really is the end, that although we wont be able to sense or enjoy it, we still may 'live on' in some way as a citation.

However, it's not like our best moments are being recorded permanently. At best what will be 'attributed' to me (not that anyone will 'read' this data, it will be processed automatically) will be a collection of interactions I made (Liking stuff, attending events) at worst it will 'read' like a diary. I used to keep a diary, that's not how I want to live on after death.

After coming to this conclusion my online habits changed a lot. Even if what I post on the internet wont necessarily be attributed back to me, the fact that it will last as a record of what a human did with his leisure time makes me think twice before posting

Groupon the Band-Wagon

This post, in a way, is a response to deliberations we had in last week's seminar about how certain websites, despite competition, become the obvious point of reference for a particular realm. I thought about how Groupon, like Facebook as a social-networking site and Google as a search engine, completely monopolizes a certain market.

Before Groupon, there was not such a common port of call for online discount. Competitors such as livingsocial.com or moneysupermarket.com have never taken-off in the same, international way as Groupon has over the past three years; it now serves 44 countries. (Wikipedia) I read a Guardian article last Friday which released figures that highlight the success of the site. Its shares have soared to 55% above their initial cost and 'At $13bn, Groupon has a price tag worth double the amount Google reportedly offered for the discount firm last year.' (Josh Holiday, guardian.co.uk, 2011)

After witnessing the success of this online-voucher site, both Google (with the rejection of their offer) and Facebook have had plans this year to launch similar social-buying programmes. Just like these other two monopolies, Groupon has it's own smartphone app to suit you. Whether you're hungry ('I'm Hungry') or bored ('I'm Bored'), the app can track your whereabouts and find deals for establishments near you.

Is there any competition I'm unaware of? Also, is there much room for Groupon to grow without collaborating with either of the mentioned companies?

Link to article about Groupon's IPO:


Hoaxing for History

In 2008 Mills Kelly, a lecturer at George Mason University, crated a hoax historical figure called Edward Owens as part of his class 'Lying About the Past'. This figure - a fictional late nineteenth-century pirate - went on to have a rich digital life, spawning articles, Wikipedia entries and the like. When Kelly revealed the hoax at the end of his class, he caused quite a controversy, with even Wikipedia's founder, Jimmy Wales, taking notice.

Recently, Mills Kelly has announced that he intends to do the same again. What do you think of these deliberate hoaxes? Are they ever acceptable? And do they have a pedagogical value?

Further reading:

Thursday, 3 November 2011


Was shown this video during the week, it's one of the most visible appearances of Anonymous yet and a sign of a growing internet force figuring out how to implement its power in the real world. The idea of a Guy Fawkes mask at first detracted from the impact for me, all I could think was 'Well, this guy likes V for Vendetta.' but it does work and, though you can tell from the contrived hand movements that the guy doesn't act for a living, the video creates a real and impressive impact. I guess Anonymous got style.
Apparently the cartel has already responded to the internet group by allegedly killing people in Mexico thought to be associated with the group.
Sometimes you just have to sit back and appreciate the little things, like a ramshackle collective of precocious internet hackers donning Guy Fawkes masks after reading too much Alan Moore and picking fights with a Mexican drug cartel hellbent on fighting hyperlinks with guns.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Privacy is Dead

"People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people," he said. "That social norm is just something that has evolved over time." (2010 Zuckerberg)

In the UK, under the Human Rights act, ever citizen in the UK, has enshrined in law a right to a private life, however has the idea of privacy changed the the advent of mass social networks sites like twitter and Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg declared that the socially accepted view of privacy is dead, and the younger generation have different view of privacy than the older generation. Some have put this down to the fact that unlike adults, younger people have less control over other aspects of their lives and the internet is a place where they feel that they have control over the content that they give out. I would go with this argument however there are dubious grey ares surrounding privacy, when it comes to advertising. Social network users might have control of what they place on a Facebook page for example, but then they do not have any control over what then is done with that information. Social networks sell the information to companied which then can use the information, to create targeted market strategies for individual users, even a small piece of information like gender, or relationship status can heavily change the way you are targeted. For example, I single on my Facebook and on the advert bar, there is adverts for dating websites, which changed to other websites, if I changed that status to being in a relationship/married. To a certain extent we have to put up with this because we accept that we live in a consumerist/capitalist society, however it is taken to far then you could end up with something out of a science fiction film such as Minority Report, like the clip below. As a society we have to be careful about such ends and this probably requires some kind of global regulation to make sure that social networks have to work in a ethical way to protect peoples privacy, or people will leave the website in their masses I suspect.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/jan/11/facebook-privacy. Accessed 01/11/2011

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVPcladS_0k. Accessed 01/11/2011

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Social Media (I am a comment!)

I’ve had an account on social media site Deviant Art for a while now, but I only recently found the time to start uploading some photographs – of landscapes, buildings etc – to showcase them. One of the things that struck me about the submissions policy is that you basically sign away the copyright to your work while ever it appears on the site, allowing Deviant Art the right to use your work in in any way it chooses, for example for an exhibition of members’ work (they do promise to ask your permission first, but it appears to be only a formality).

The site itself is pretty easy to use, although it doesn’t seem to want to let me put emoticons in my comments on other people’s submissions or pages – somehow I feel deprived by this. Otherwise everything worked first time (which I find to be a rarity). One spooky feature is that as soon as I posted my first photograph, a link appeared at the bottom right of the screen offering anyone viewing the submission the ability to buy the camera I use – spooky considering I uploaded the photo from my laptop rather than directly from the camera itself.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Terms and Conditions

It was interesting for me, as a Kindle user, to hear about Amazon’s remote deletion of e-texts of Nineteen Eighty-Four because it was guilty of a breach of copyright in selling them. Aside from the fact that it’s a little uncomfortable that a big, multi-national corporation can delve into my Kindle – which I think of as a private and personal resource – at will, I wonder how aware Amazon was of what they were doing. If we give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they weren’t aware that the sale of this particular version was illegal, it does beg the question what chance has Joe (or Janet) Everyman got when it comes to copyright law, without teams of experienced business lawyers at their disposal?
In fact, I’d widen this to any aspect of the legal contract…after all, most of us (let’s be honest) don’t read the terms when we install a new program or piece of software, choosing the quick route of the “I accept” button and ignoring that niggling feeling that you could be signing your life away, so to speak. I’ve often thought that the companies that put out these software programs should include a plainer, more simply worded version of the contract alongside the official one. This dumbed down one wouldn’t be legally binding, but it might provide some idea of what is and isn’t permissible on the part of the user, whereas legal contracts are often so full of technicalities and hypothetical scenarios they seem largely incomprehensible.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Intellectual Property

In class today we discussed the introduction to David M. Berry's Copy, Rip, Burn (Pluto, 2008). One of Berry's arguments is that debates about intellectual property should be situated against the broader economic, political and social shift from an industrial to a post-industrial society. The language of rights, theft, piracy etc can disguise both the contingent nature of intellectual property legislation and the ideological interests it serves. Have a look at these user-friendly (and very useful) resources about intellectual property: can you detect any ideological assumptions that underpin their apparently objective presentation of the law?

Next week's class: social networking

There is no set reading for next week's class.  Instead, we want you to choose one social media platform (Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Flickr etc) and critique it.  Pay attention to things like what it allows you to do (that you couldn't do before?), what it prevents you from doing, its history, privacy provisions, the credentials it requires, who owns what, how it protects users etc.  Post a brief summary of your critique in the comments below but be prepared to elaborate when we discuss them in class.  You can use your portfolio to record your critique in more detail.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Open Source: Cool in that Uncool Way

I know this is a bit of a pre-emptive post given that I am kind of talking about stuff for tomorrow's seminar but I sometimes feel the need to have a little geeky rant about The Wonders of Open source and this is definitely a perfect oppurtunity! Plus reading the chapter for this week got me thinking about linux, openoffice and everything that's all alternative and cool. Yeah, I'm so cutting-edge.

But seriously, I was just wondering who had used linux (and open source software such as OpenOffice), and how they found it? I personally find it really good for a lot of things. I used to dual-boot my old laptop with linux so I could have two operating systems on there (And let's face it, my old laptop was Windows Vista, not Windows 7, who could blame me for cheating on my OS?)

The only problem I tend to find is as I stated above in my oh-so-scathing tone, is it is always somewhat of a specialist/ alternative thing. I don't really know people who use linux as their sole operating system, and it does always hit compatibility snags. However, my first linux that I ever used was Ubuntu (Version 8.04 "Hardy Heron") and I have continued to be a fan of Ubuntu ever since because it is a lot more user-friendly than many other linux distributions.

I must also proclaim my love for OpenOffice. FREE, as well as easy to use, it definitely is a good idea if like me when I had my old laptop, you don't particularly want to use Microsoft Office. I direct you to this old, but still true article: http://releasenotes.org/node/10

And now I will go back to my less horrendously geeky self, but only after I ask you about your experiences of open source? It would be great not to just get the tumble-weed here, as i hope some of you have tried it too!
I know this is a bit of a late contribution -- I wanted to post this as a comment, but it won't let me comment either. We thought we had it sorted after last week's session (but that's a different issue).
I also have free anti-virus software so I know exactly what Amy means about near-constant prompts to upgrade the program, and in doing so upgrade the amount of money in the company bank account of its manufacturer.
I want to express my sympathy to Eva, and am reminded of a sketch from 2D:TV (now there's a blast from the past), where Bill Gates discovers a pen and notepad and comes to consider infinately superior to one of his computers for storing information. After all, it never freezes or crashesand you never have to save anything (plus, there's no chance of it becoming infected with a virus).

Your Computer has an Infection cont-d

For some reason it wouldn't let me contribute my comment to Eva's blog.

(to follow on from Ben's comment:)

I also suggest that people could create viruses for the simple joy of making something work. A varient of this is explored in xkcd: http://xkcd.com/350/

Engineering a virus is similar to making a model aeroplane, or a replica combustion engine. Kids like to play through (among other things) making stuff that works: cooking; playing with K'nex etc. This is popular with kids as it requires discipline (following the recipe/instruction) and there is a positive reward at the end (a delicious meal or a working crane to play with.) also there is a physical output that can be rated by other people.

Some of these kids are now grown up. I kind of agree with Ben and Oliver; creating a virus in most cases isn't for any real monetary gain or anything else but a hobby, making something inanimate that works. Perhaps a nod to/from an innate desire to produce tools and technology?

It's interesting that the things we create have to be destructive. Almost as if we are predisposed towards destruction and carnage. If I see a frozen puddle relfecting the light in an interestingly beautiful way then I have to hold myself back from instantly jumping on it. Maybe it's jealousy? Perhaps it's because the created viruses only attack virtual objects, that aren't physically real and so are perceived to have less value? Maybe the anonymity of the internet allows us to live out our destructive desires without fear of retribution.

Maybe we're constantly frustrated by all the order and secretly long to introduce a little chaos to the pattern, like the Joker in Batman.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Who am I talking to?

Given that it is the end of the week, here a little exercise to test your information retrieval skills: You remember that a web server returns a status code as the first element of a reply to your browser. The most common ones are 200 (OK) or 404 (Not found - if there is nothing at the address you were looking). Now, in what situation would you encounter a status code of 418?

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

'Your Computer has an Infection'

I have been in and out of 'Fix It' on university campus after my computer unexpectedly crashed two nights ago. With this type of service- we hand it over, you 'Fix It' arrangement- it seems people are willing to remain ignorant to the actual problem as long as it is solved by handing over some cash and promising not to download again. Having a PC laptop, and by watching films online (occassionally), I had expected this to happen sooner or later but never totally understood why; after losing the start to my dissertation, today I wanted to find out.

I expect it had been down to converting torrents into music/movie files with UTorrent. Typical of this type of 'Direct Action' virus in file-sharing, I guess it had 'piggy-backed' onto one of the files I downloaded and replicated itself, like the bacteria of a real disease.

As my computer has a 'system cleansing' sleepover in the 'Fix It' offices, the question I still don't have an answer to is- why do people create the viruses in the first place? Is it simply for the arsen-type satisfaction of letting it all blow up in front of them?

Need for technology

The first instances of 'technology' were created out of a need for survival. Sharp stones and antlers allowed early humans to perform tasks crucial for their survival such as killing other animals for food more easily. If a hunter was not equiped with these technological tools then they would still be able to perform the tasks, but with less efficiency.

Our current technology (the equivilent of sharp stones and antlers) is still used to achieve the same goals crucial for our survival such as gathering sustinence. In the developed countries (I dislike this term but cannot think of a sufficiently sensitive one) we do not need to kill animals for sustinence, but to gather food we need to earn a living, and every job requires technology (i.e cars; ballpoints; or cling film.) To 'survive' in the technological world requires a basic understanding and application of modern technology like the early humans. The difference between us and our early ancestors is that they would still be able to perform the tasks if they did not have their technology, we would not. Most of us would be unable to start a fire, find our way or something to eat if we were to be removed from all our technology.

This reminds me of a passage in The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy: Mostly Harmless where the main character is stranded on an alien planet that only has primitive technology. He plums the depths of his human experience for something to teach these people. He concludes that without the technology itself he cannot do anything these aliens could do without his technology with the exception of making a good sandwich.

Our first technology was to help us survive. Now we need technology to survive. Maybe we would have been better off if we had simply evolved instead?

Monday, 10 October 2011

World Brain

Having found the HG Wells article interesting last week I had a look at his relevance throughout the twentieth century, especially, probably obviously, how this thinking is most prevalent within the genre of Science Fiction. How Arthur C. Clarke, the author of screen play for Stanley Kubricks film 2001: Space Odyssey, predicted that the first part of Wells vision 'The Library' would be created by the year 2000, and then the next part, an interactive supercomputer enabling users to contact each other and comment on the information, would be created by the year 2100. For me, a lover of science fiction, a much neglected genre, shows the power of imagining a future, and questions about What could be? can almost only be answered by science fiction as a genre. It plays an important part in out culture, about the optimism/pessimism of the future, and the possibilities of that world.


Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Musings on Digital Technology

If anyone's seen the film WALLE, you'll know it features a space-ship housing people who have become so reliant on technology they never see anything beyond a screen suspended in front of their face. I'd like to think we're a long way away from that, but you only have to notice a person sauntering along the pavement, eyes glued to their latest smartphone, and it doesn't seem that far away. I'm not a Luddite, but I do worry what kind of world digital technology is taking us into: if in future to "like" something won't be an emotional response, but a physical act of clicking a tab; if to "chat" will only mean to type into a small window with a postage stamp-sized photo of your friend in the top right-hand corner.
I once went to see comedian Ed Byrne at Birmingham Symphony Hall. As he performed, a woman near the front recorded his routine with her camera phone. "That's right Love," he said noticing her, "watch it on a tiny screen when you get home, then you'll enjoy it." Ed, I salute you.
It occured to me when writing on last week's task of setting up a blog, that the many different blogging services must be in fierce competition, but as far as I am aware there is no monopoly, and no clear winner even in the same way that Facebook edged out Myspace in the social networking world. I remember when I was a young teenager having a Windows Live Space because it was attatched to my MSN account, and then setting up various Livejournal accounts to blog my various teenage musings. But neither of these platforms seem to be about much these days. These websites review and rate the top blogging sites against each other:



CAPTCHA, reCAPTCHA and Turing Tests

To check that those signing up for its various services are humans and not machines, Google uses a program called a CAPCTHA.  Coined in 2000 by Luis von Ahn, Manuel Blum, Nicholas J. Hopper, and John Langford, CAPTCHA stands for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart."  This distinction is useful to protect programs and applications from mechanized attacks, where computers are programmed to simulate human users in order to get access to the sytems.  Google thought CAPTCHAs were so important that they bought von Ahn’s company reCAPTCHA.  reCAPTCHA exploits the human brain’s superior ability to derive textual information in order to correct errors made by computers when they ‘read’.  The program takes words from scanned books and offers them to users as part of traditional CAPTCHAs.  The text that users enter is then used to correct the transcripts of the scanned books.  By parcelling out the process of correcting transcripts and then making it a game, a task that would otherwise be too laborious to carry out is completed as users go about their day-to-day business.

CAPTCHAs, as a form of Turing Test, go right to the heart of artificial intelligence.  If a machine can pass a Turing Test, then it is a little more human.  Thinking about such tests, then, is a form of thinking about what makes us distinct from machines.

You can learn more about this here:

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Welcome to Hacking the Book

Welcome to Hacking the Book.  This is the course blog for a third-year undergraduate module, also called 'Hacking the Book', which aims to explore the impact of digital technologies on the way in which we read and write.  The course investigates the history, politics and economics of digital culture through critical analysis and practical work.  This blog will record will feature weekly posts from students on the course, detailing their activities and highlighting issues as tackled in class.