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:

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:

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: