Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Mystery of the Disappearing Blog Post: An Overconnected World

So, back in week 8 I wrote a post about the wonders of viral videos, referring to the latest craze of viral dances i.e. the Harlem Shake and Gangham Style. This morning I woke up, and thought to myself, "Maybe I should check to see if anyone's commented on that." I turned on my laptop, loaded up the page, only to discover it was nowhere to be found.

At first I thought maybe the post had just failed to upload, which would be a pain because I'd typed it straight into the blog publisher, and so would have to write it all over again. However, as soon as I went to write a new post, I knew exactly where the post had disappeared to; it had been posted to my old blog that I haven't touched since I was a teenager.

I realise this is partly human error, and largely my fault; I should have checked. However, this for me is becoming one of those everyday annoyances. Too many of my accounts are now synced, which means when I need to access something on what should be separate websites I have to log out and back in again. For example, my Hacking the Book account was set up using my student e-mail address, because it is part of my student life. However, my Youtube account is set up using the e-mail address I have had since I was 8. Because Youtube and Blogger are both owned and connected to Google, it means I have to switch between accounts every time I want to check this blog or watch videos from my subscription feed. Of course the one time I forget to switch would be the time I actually need to do something important.

I also have an issue with my Facebook and Hotmail chat being synced. It's lead me to block every single person on my messenger systems, so that when I log into my Hotmail account I can just check my e-mail and not be stormed by  conversation "bloops". I did try disconnecting these two systems once, only to have my inbox spammed by Hotmail asking me whether I'd like to reconnect them. Everytime I would delete the e-mail, and every time a new one would appear within 48 hours, to the point where I gave in and connected them again, just to get them to stop badgering me.

I suppose though, that my problem is not with websites being synced, but that they are the wrong websites for me. I'm one of those people with multiple e-mail addresses, and I was so pleased when Hotmail introduced the feature allowing me to hook up five accounts and pass quickly between them. However, they have now "upgraded" one of my accounts to Outlook, a programme I have deleted from every laptop and computer I have had since I can remember. Not only is it slow, clunky and prone to glitching my attachments out of existence, but it means I can no longer jump back and forth between accounts on my phone, unless I decide to "upgrade" all my other accounts.

It would also be great if I could sync my deviantArt with my current blog, so that I could show people what I'm up to creatively with out all the messy links.

I guess what I'm arguing for is a world of option, rather than forced connectivity and sparse choices. The internet is a supposed to be a democracy, where people's views and shares have the power to make things popular, but surely we should also be able to choose how we view the material. If you want to check your e-mail in peace, you should be able to, and if there's no need for your Youtube to be connected to Blogger, then you should be able to disconnect them.  

(On a side note: I found it very amusing that the spellcheck on here doesn't know how to spell Google, Blog, or in fact Blogger.)


Friday, 15 March 2013

Word Clouds and ‘How to Not Read a Victorian Novel’



Recently, we had a talk about word clouds and what they were useful for and, if I’m honest, my personal conclusion was ‘not much’. I did, however, enjoy playing with the program by taking the text of novels from the Project Gutenberg1 site and putting it into the generator3 to see if the cloud matched my own ideas about the themes. I tweeted about this (it was a quiet evening) and, after being told off for calling it ‘hipstery rubbish’, was given some extra homework; an article by Paul Fyfe called ‘How to Not Read a Victorian Novel’4.
As well as making a good argument against reading lists for students (all arguments against this are good arguments), the article spoke about an experiment run by a professor in which students were asked to write an essay on a book they had not read. This part of the experiment does not seem all that revolutionary. However, as well as acknowledging that the students were not going to read these long Victorian novels, Fyfe gave the students instructions on how to gather knowledge about their given texts without reading them. The first method was to do exactly as I had been doing: downloading a plain text version of the novel from Project Gutenberg and making a word cloud.
After playing with data and going through various different forms of mucking about with internet tools to see what came up, the students had to stop and think about what they had done. This was the step I had been missing. As it happens, turning the books into ‘data’ to be manipulated in this way gave an entirely different and entirely useful insight into the architecture of the novels, both in terms of prevalent semantic themes and, by dividing up the plain text of the novel into sections, by allowing word choices over time to be compared.
The main thing I took from this was a reminder that academic curiosity can in fact be valuable in an exam culture, and that following your nose and playing with your food are two very valuable habits when it comes to studying literature (or anything else). I’d recommend to anyone to read the article, or at the very least to have a go at making some word clouds from novels.

1 http://www.gutenberg.org/ Projec t Gutenberg is dedicated to uploading books to the internet as soon as the works enter the public domain. They provide the usual ebook formats (mobi, epub) as well as pdf and plain text versions. 2
2 Footnotes like this are better than Harvard. I don’t need to explain why because it’s 2013.
3 The generator I used was Wordle: http://www.wordle.net/
4 This article can be found at: http://t.co/8tlK0RZTBP

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Creative Quality



The Internet is quickly becoming the home of creative projects.  It’s a place where we can publish what we create with the click of a button without having to convince a third party that our work deserves to be seen by the rest of the world.  However, this has caused some debate among the involved industries that this new method of creative enterprise is damaging, that it is encouraging a lack of quality.  While in some cases this is true, there are some projects that just could not be as innovative if they were not online.

One such project is The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, produced by Hank Green (of Vlogbrothers Youtube fame) and Bernie Su.  It’s an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice but completely contemporary, as it takes a vlog format on Youtube.  Twice a week Lizzie Bennet regales her viewers with the dramas of her and her sisters Jane and Lydia, her best friend Charlotte Lu, and their romantic entanglements with Bing Lee,  George Wickham, and of course William Darcy.  What’s wonderful about this project is how innovatively it uses social media to involve the audience.  Each character has their own Twitter account so that you can watch the events of the novel, (although slightly twisted for modern times, I don’t think Wickham made a sex tape with Lydia and threatens to put it online in the 1813 version) Jane has a fashion Tumblr blog so you can see what she’s up to when she goes to LA, Lydia starts her own vlog channel by filming on her iPhone.  The world is so completely immersive that some viewers do not even realise that it is an adaptation of one of the world’s most famous novels and think that it is documenting the real events of real people.

The Internet is providing a platform for creativity, and creativity with quality, whether people like it or not.  There’s teenage girls getting hired by Lady Gaga because they have posted fan art online, there’s amateur dramatic musicals getting millions of views for their clips on Youtube.  If you’re creative, whether you’re an actor, an artist, musician, writer … the Internet is where everything is happening.  Creative industries are evolving, and there’s no point in whining and moaning about how the Internet is taking business away because in the end no one can stop it, the only thing they can do is go along for the ride and try to use it the way everyone else is.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Assessment information

I mentioned last week that it might be possible to move the submission date back to after Easter, to give you more time to focus on the project work. Unfortunately this does not seem to be possible, so the assessment details on WebCT do apply. Jim will put some additional guidance on how to complete the various pieces of assessment on to the syllabus document later today.

Some students have reported issues with the portfolio system (403 errors). I have not yet been able to find out the reason for these errors, but will see that I get that sorted later today. Of course any assessment deadlines will be pushed back accordingly.

In the final seminar session there will not be presentations—instead we are currently planning a big launch event after Easter where we'd like to have presentations from you on how you did the project. More information on that to follow.


Thursday, 28 February 2013

Game, video and cheat - Ngram

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=video%2Cgame%2Ccheat&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=

I'm a little disappointed that cheat didn't increase, I'm assuming it's not counting video game magazines. But yes, I've gone for a really geeky one and the results are as expected. Huge increases in the 1980s as video games emerge for video. "Game" seems to be on a continuous increase which is best attributed to increases in commercial sport.


Article, Treatise & Programme: N-Grams

Looking at different ways in which information has been conveyed - articles, treatises and programmes - it is clear that programmes, likely in the form of radio and television broadcasts, have become more prominent over time. Notably, this starts in the late 19th Century as technology is beginning to develop. Treatises have gradually diminished, perhaps for reasons of changing vocabulary and reclassification (where this was a prominent term in Medieval writing, the use has clearly diminished and, so far as I am aware, is much rarer nowadays.) Articles, though having apparently diminished, are still in far wider use than the other terms.

Terrorist, rebel, resistance: N-Gram results









As you can see, putting the terms 'terrorist', 'rebel' and 'resistance' into the N-Gram Viewer yields some interesting (although not unexpected) results. Obviously, 'rebel' and 'resistance' may be used in more metaphorical ways than 'terrorist', and so have appear much more often in the results, but the trends in their use and the very clear peaks reflect world events and, presumably, the opinions of people writing in English at the time. The term 'rebel', peaking around the time of the Taiping rebellion (which had little effect on english-speakers), is quite non-committal, reflecting the lack of vested interest of the writers in the events at the time. The term 'resistance', however, is more biased towards the party which is doing the 'resisting' - predictably, this shows a drop during the 1920s but then a sharp rise in the 1930s, peaking during the Second World War.

Finally, the word 'terrorist', a word which has come into vogue more recently, is heavily weighted against the party which goes against the 'norm'. A sudden rise is seen during the late 1970s, which is maintained through the 1980s before dropping back to a more gentle curve. As extreme rebellions have had a greater domestic impact on English speaking writers, the term has come to be used more often. It is also interesting to note that the other two terms have started to slowly diminish in use, in spite of not being particularly archaic.

Anonymity & The Internet

Anyone who browses the modern form of the world wide web, with its hyper-popular social media networking, linked-together business networks, and increasingly identity-driven entertainment content, comes to a point where a decision must be made: to 'sign in with Facebook'? Or to stay anonymous - or in many cases, to stay silent? This issue is not simply one which stays on the web: it has real-life consequences, too.

One proponent of the idea that anonymity online is not only an unnecessary feature of the web but is, in fact, a negative is Randi Zuckerberg, marketing director of one of the world's number one websites with over one billion member profiles and increasingly liberal privacy standards (regardless of whether the users tend to agree with those changes or not). She suggests a strong link between the anonymity of the internet and the prevalence of cyberbullying, and told Marie Claire magazine that online anonymity 'has to go away'. But is she right? Is online anonymity not only not an intrinsic right - but something which encourages

Perhaps even those who strongly agree with Zuckerberg's solution - that the end of anonymity is nigh and that's a good thing - would not go so far as to suggest that all of the problems of both the internet and 'real life' could be solved by removing anonymity: physical and verbal bullying is certainly not anonymous, and doesn't come with the option of 'blocking' the offender; racial and religious hate speech is encountered off-line as well as on-; and sexist comments on an online game are surely more easily ignored than harassment in person.

Randi Zuckerberg may be only one voice - albeit certainly an influential one - but she is not the only one calling for the end of online anonymity. Just this month, an Illinois Senator, Ira Silverstein, introduced and then called back 'the Internet Posting Removal Act', a bill specifically intended to remove the right to anonymous comment online. While this little-known bill would have obviously had at least some positive effect on such issues as cyberbullying, harassment, and cyberstalking, the potential for political censorship and other such uses is evidently too great and too obvious for this bill to have ever passed; at least in the current political climate of America.

Whether or not one chooses to 'sign in with Facebook' or use your full name on Twitter, everyone currently has the ability to choose. You are not forced to 'verify your ID' when signing up for Facebook - you are not asked for your home address while signing onto Tumblr - and you are not asked for anything more than your age when trying to watch a Youtube video - but those freedoms and rights of privacy are not necessarily a certainty, and wherever one stands on these smaller issues, one is taking part in the shaping of, and witnessing the metamorphosis of the changing face of the Net.

Carriage and Car


My search on Ngram looked at the use of 'carriage' and 'car'. As expected 'carriage' initially is presented as more frequent, before 'car' takes over and becomes the new norm. The use of 'car' begins a quite steep increase beginning around the 1880s, crossing 'carriage' at 1905. The use of 'carriage' it appears, remained relatively steady until around 1903. Sadly my transport knowledge is not brilliant however, this would suggest that during the early 1900s a particular shift occured from 'carriage' to 'car'.

The growth of the internet.



 The internet remains to be a modern invention and concept. As it has developed, so have the varieties of internet connection that we have used. As the internet is still fairly recent, the use of words such as dial up, boradband and even more recently, fibre optics were irrelevant to anything up until the late nineties. The n-gram shows the rapid growth of the use of the word broadband that coincides perhaps with how many people are connected to it. As the n-gram searches books, there would have also been an increase in manuals and instructions. Around 1980's, the word fibre optic sees an increase that ever so slightly decreases come the twenty first century. There has been a lot of discussion recently surrounding the use of fibre optics to create faster broadband, with Virgin media for example, yet it is still a phenomenon that is to catch on. The majority of people still use broadband, which explains the difference in people speaking about the two. Dial-up has the least increase and popularity because very few people are connected to the old fashioned modem.

Mediums of communication

For my n-gram search, I used three of the most popular written methods of communication since 1800: the letter, telegram and e-mail. Whilst once the only way to pass along a message was via the letter form, as technology has advanced other ways of communicating have advanced, most latterly through the internet. As expected therefore, the use of the word letter has been dominant since 1800, peaking in the late 1830s. Despite a few slight increases in use again, it follows an ever decreasing trend, not only due to the increase in use of e-mails but also other methods not shown on this graph such as phone calls and text messages. Thus the use of e-mail was completely unheard of until the rise of the internet in the 1990s, where it has experienced a sharp increase ever since. What surprised me most was the use of the word telegram: perhaps ignorantly I expected telegram to be almost as popular as letter in the late 19th century, however it never received such popularity and has slowly dwindled since the 1920s peak. What will be interesting to see in years to come is if, and when, letter becomes less used within books than e-mail: possibly a sign that technology has prevailed over traditional methods and changed the face of communication for good.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Feminism and Masculinism

You'll have to excuse the picture, but for whatever reason right clicking wouldn't work so I had to print screen it. I decided to look at the words "feminism" and "masculinism". As you would expect, in the early 20th Century "feminism" appears and suddenly explodes with the increase of new-wave feminists in the 1970s. Oddly, though "masculinism" stays at a fairly even level until the 1990s when there is a small clime. I can only assume this is a reaction to the success of women in liberating themselves.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Google N-Gram: science and technology

Google N-Gram of 'science' and 'technology'












My N-Gram result produces something which I did not expect. With the Industrial Revolution occurring from around 1760, I expected the word 'technology' to have a sharp increase in use at this time, instead of the illustrated increase around 1920 onwards. Therefore the use of 'technology' does not reflect the increase in society. Science shows an overall increase in use, as to be expected due to the continuation of scientific discoveries and explorations.

Portfolio Entry on Mapping

Is now up. Apologies for the delay!

Deadline is March 5th, 23:59.

Types of Journalism


It is evident from this N-gram of Broadcast Journalism, Media Journalism and Photojournalism that there has been a huge amount of variation between these terms since 1942. First to experience an increase is Photojournalism, which apart from the years between 1969 and 1976, maintains a higher rate and faster increase in popularity and use than that of Broadcast Journalism and Media Journalism. In comparison, the use of the term Broadcast Journalism steadily increases up to 1975, but then experiences a gradual decline to 1989 before picking up again. On the other hand, it is interesting to see that Media Journalism maintains a fairly steady, but noticeable lower rate of use, with a minuscule increase between 1975-1985 and then again in 1995-2008. The differences between all these journalism types reflects the changes in the world, what new devices are introduced, and what mediums are the most effective forms for reporting events, and putting a story across in a way that the audience are able to understand, emphasise with and appreciate.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Mediums for Writing

In the early twentieth century, the thought of writing on anything but paper would have been perplexing. However, technology has changed this; now, one can take notes and write on a multiplicity of things. These mediums include old-fashioned, trustworthy paper, but also computers and, most recently, tablets. Computers have only got increasingly more portable, but tablets are immensely portable. The graph shows the rise of 'computers' that corresponds with the use of technology from the 1950s. Tablets, however, show no increase up until 2000. Obviously, there is the tablet for medicinal uses, which is the reason for the use of the word on the graph. One may predict that the use of 'tablet' will rise exponentially in the near future. What remains to be seen, however, is if 'paper' will remain stubbornly unchanging, or whether another medium will take over as our favourite thing on which to write.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Too much too young?


“Hi cuz wot u up to #crazy”. I had to read it three times, check the user who had sent me such a message, check their followers and cross-reference completely until I was certain that this day had arrived. I had just been tweeted by my 10 year old cousin. Obviously, I couldn’t believe it and was instantly outraged. Yet but it raised numerous questions about the generation that was to follow me: are they really ready to be released upon the world of social media at such a young age? Is this what advancements in technology has led us to?

Social media websites have of course imposed their own boundaries: you must be 13 to set up a Facebook page, and twitter offers the option of age-screening for brands, where you must insert your age before being allowed to follow certain pages. However, the ‘age restrictions’ found on Facebook and numerous other mediums such as tumblr often only consists of filling in your date of birth: I’m almost certain that most twelve year olds are capable and more than willing to merely change their year of birth by a year in order to obtain access.

But what effect can these social media websites have upon young children? Well, take twitter for example, you are never more than a few clicks away from naked pictures, abusive comments and inappropriate behaviour galore. Facebook also has seen a recent inundation of videos depicting despicable acts, and this is without even beginning to discuss the implications of followers/friends who are not who they say they are and the ever-present risk of interaction with pedophiles.

Personally, I feel that 13 is a reasonable age to impose upon such websites. By the time British children reach 13, they will have completed their first year of secondary school and will have begun to form some sort of understanding of the world. It’s important that children are given the freedom to explore the internet nowadays, and we will always hear that you must ‘learn from your own mistakes’ and ‘you can’t keep them wrapped up in cotton wool’. However, whether these social websites will ever be able to, or indeed want to pay for the software, to prevent those under the age of 13 from using such websites is a different case altogether.

Friday, 15 February 2013

The benefits of Validation, and Progress

I made a start this week on the iBrum app - a very basic and incomplete prototype is now ready, and has been distributed to the testers (see below). This has provided another example why it is beneficial to validate your data. In this case beneficial to the tune of about 30 minutes of development time. In the real world that would be about £30 or so.

For testing purposes I was using two sample XML data files, which had not been validated (unless the validation process went horribly wrong!), but I assumed they were valid. When testing the code that loads the XML into the app, it crashed. And the bit that crashed was the XML parser (I am using the opportunity to try out a new parser I hadn't used before which makes the whole thing much easier than the standard parser I was using before). I traced the error inside the XML parser (luckily an open-source component!) but all seemed well. Until I found the error: a comment was missing the exclamation mark ("<--" instead of the required "<!--").

I changed it, and then found that on the map only one of two locations was plotted. This time I checked the data file first, and indeed, 'longitude' was misspelt in the tag name, so the coordinates were incomplete. Quick change, and it works now.

Had the file been validated, this would have been much easier. So, whenever you edit an XML file for this project (or any other), run it through a validator to make sure it's OK! And it also shows what kinds of errors one has to deal with while developing an app. Lots of them are really trivial but still take time to chase.

On the positive side, it works now. So far you can see the main screen, tap on 'Map View', and see a map with the two attractions, Chinatown Quarter and Selly Manor (which incidentally is in the wrong location!). You can also switch between that and a list view, you can change the map type from plain to satellite to hybrid, and you can centre the map on your own location.

The prototype is distributed to testers via TestFlight, which is an easy way to distribute test versions. Apple is very protective as to what you can run on your phone, so it's a right old dance with various certificates and device IDs to get this working. If you're not a tester, but have an iOS device, let Ashley know: he's collecting addresses, and you will then receive a TestFlight invitation. So far two people have accepted their invites and registered their devices; everybody else has to wait until Thursday to see it in action!

Running a prototype will usually reveal things one didn't think of before, so I assume the specification will change a lot over the next few weeks. And it is very exciting to see the thing in action, the fruit of all the hard work you're currently still putting in!

SaveTheHour: Internet Campaigning


The BBC recently announced that, after two series and an impenetrable cliffhanger,  50s Newsroom drama, The Hour, is to be axed. This news created waves amongst the fans of the show, which have rippled across the internet since, culminating in a series of campaigns, petitions, twitter tags and attention grabbing articles objecting to the decision and imploring the BBC to rethink. Seeing the fervent backlash (this example, in particular, resonates) led me to interesting questions about how the internet has been harnessed as a tool for pressure campaigning. 

It is unlikely that The Hour will return; press reports from the BBC make it clear that the show will be replaced with new and upcoming dramas, but this has not deterred fans from expressing their support of the show in a multitude of ways. Tumblr, a sharing based micro-blogging site, provides the perfect backdrop for viral campaigning. As on Facebook, users like and reblog from their dashboards, but unlike Facebook, which focusses on social networking functions, Tumblr has become a centre of culture (TV fans, book fans, film fans unite!) and, most importantly, creativity. If something becomes a meme on Tumblr, it can be shared between tens of thousands of people at a few clicks; the potential of this for campaigning stretches beyond fandom, most notably having been employed by Barack Obama’s presidential committee.

Within minutes of the show’s cancellation, The Hour’s tumblr stream exploded with artworks, articles and outrage. Within a day the Save The Hour campaign started to go viral, linking Tumblr with the twitter tag (#SaveTheHour), a Facebook group of the same name and an online petition (now toting over 20,000 signatures and rising). The key to this was making the campaign accessible to fans: blog posts advertising the links to each of these things, sporting graphics that would not have looked out of place in a government propaganda campaign, and above all information about the campaign itself. This allowed fans who might not have been aware that they could write to the BBC the means to do exactly that, and become actively involved in the campaign. 

It is no secret that any site with a member count as high as Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr quickly becomes a powerful force; instant access to others with the same, strong opinions on anything from political views to favourite TV shows provides the perfect backdrop for these ideas to snowball and for movements to come together. By spreading a campaign such as Save The Hour across multiple platforms, the fans have increased the campaigns exposure; furthermore - whether the BBC decide to commission another series or not - they have come in together a force of which I believe the show’s main character, the integrity-driven, news-hungry reporter Freddie Lyon, would have been proud. 

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Social Media is taking over my life!


I remember being hooked on MySpace as a spotty 16 year old, often spending many a night tweaking my profile and trying to get more profile views. This is nothing however, compared to my behaviour (and indeed most of my friend’s behaviour) towards social networking now. Having a smartphone is probably the worst thing possible, as I am now constantly connected to the virtual world of Facebook and Twitter. It has now sadly become a morning ritual; turn the alarm off, reach for phone, check Facebook. Some feel the need to tweet their every move throughout the day; this I find a little too excessive. Whilst I often check my Facebook and Twitter, I actually hardly ever post anything.
            It can be seen how much of an effect this new found addiction is having on society. You’ve only got to go to a pub or cafĂ© in Selly Oak and in most groups of people, at least one or more will invariably be on their phone. But does this mean we’re losing the ability to make conversation? In short, yes. Whilst Facebook doesn’t feel like a huge part of our lives, it is. Before Christmas I decided to deactivate my account to aid my productivity with end of term essays. This was useful, but I felt as though I was without a limb.
            So can be really be blamed for the fact social media is taking over many of our lives? Or are the websites themselves really to blame? I think it’s down to the individual, though I recommend you give it a miss once in a while, you might like it!

Thursday, 31 January 2013

A valid DTD...

I've had a quick look at the DTD we produced in class and found the problem.  The attribute declaration we had down as:

<!ATTLIST attraction type CDATA (restaurant|museum|bar|gallery|other) "other">

Should have been:

<!ATTLIST attraction type (restaurant|museum|bar|gallery|other) "other">

The erroneous type declaration of the attribute "type" (we should have chosen better labels for our attributes!) meant that the parser expected the material in parentheses to be the default, hence it asked for quotation marks.  I've uploaded a corrected version into dropbox (hacking_2_4_dtd_master.dtd).  If you want to try and validate it, cut and paste the code into this validator:

http://www.validome.org/grammar/

If you want to go a step further and want to check that the xml document we created validates against our DTD, you can use this validator:

http://www.xmlvalidation.com/

First cut and paste the XML file into the box and then click 'validate'.  The site will then ask you where the DTD is.  Cut and paste the DTD into the next box and then click 'continue validation'.  It should validate, meaning that the xml document conforms to the rules set out in the DTD.

A question: how does the online validator know what our DTD is called? See if you can find the bit of code that says this.

Caught between multiple worlds

I often feel that I am in a costant struggle between different worlds: Home and University, Microsoft Office Word and Pages and finally the Physical and the Digital world. In the last post Victoria discusses whether technology is headed towards a cyberpunk reality where technology is part of ourselves and I am suprisingly  quite partial to any reality where I feel whole and not floundering at the border of Physical and Digital reality.

I am a home student without a smart phone that has an hour and a half commute each way, which inevitably causes a few technical difficulties. I am not bothered by the length of the commute I use it to listen to Cabin Pressure on my iPod but the distance it signifies causes multiple problems. I feel caught between worlds: the place where I keep all my notes and paperwork, my bedroom, and the university with its 'wealth' of resources made 'accessible' to students. The result is that I have at most an hour each night to decide what I will need for the upcomming day and then what I can feasibly carry. It is in no way an easy decision; instead it is one full of sacrifice and angst.

Just today I was making my commute at 7am and when I had got far enough away from my house that I would have to catch a bus to get back I realsied that I had forgotten: to write this blog post, to pick up my timtable because I am having my first Literature Project Prep seminar and I do not know the room number, my iPod, my iPad and lunch.

The first thing on my list are easy enough to sort. I arrived at University found an available computer and then waited for it to load, a most frustrating waste of time. But then I hit a snag. My timetable is at home and while WebCT has a 'wealth' of information it rarely contains the information you need. so once again i was trapped between the two worlds of the Digital and the Physical. Despite searching there are no digital copies of timetables available to students, therefore, I will have to seek another copy at the office.

Next is the problem of the iPad. The iPad unlike the iPod is essential; it contains all of my University work, articles, ebooks and prompts for where I left off my research; whereas the iPod is solely for pleasure. There is not way to circumvent this issue; physical distance makes this isurmountable. These are the times where I long for the technology speculated in SF. Data always held on my person that wont be forgotten and left at home because it needed to charge and was not put in my bag last night. Another issue with the iPad is the sacrifices I make becasue of it. I chose an iPad over a Laptop becasue it was small, compact easy to carry, light and fast on the internet, however, this casues diffuculties when sumitting essays becasue thte formatting between Word abd Pages is different and can lead to major presentation issues.It also means that I cannot access things that people post on dropbox and that i always have to find a PC if it concerns this course.

Life is full of sacrifices but i long for a realisty where Digital and Physical are fully intergrated where if I go on WebCT the notes and handouts are available and that I am not having to juggle retaining things on paper and also being glued to the computer waiting for my lecturers to post something. I long for consistency where things either exist in both realms or soley in one.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Public Service Announcement

Judging from the number of emails I have realised that the current portfolio task is not phrased very clearly–apologies for that!

I have now added a further bit of explanation to it, which will hopefully make it easier to understand. I also added a few more days to the deadline.

Oliver

Monday, 21 January 2013

SF and real tech: what might the future bring?

My laptop broke early last term. I can't say it was a particularly frustrating experience; I keep my most important files on USB sticks as well as the laptop's hard drive, so I could plug one of those into my mother's (largely unused) laptop and keep working while my machine was sent for repairs. My internet activity was only slightly affected by the change in machines, and if anything I did start working harder than before. For a while, anyway.

The temporary loss of my laptop did, however, remind me of how I spent quite a lot of my first year at university: alone in a terraced house twenty minutes from campus, without television or internet. Although I could easily make the journey into uni, laptop in tow, and use one of the many wireless internet networks available to access the various sites I typically do of an evening at home, I was also rather lazy. Some nights, I'd be in bed by seven or eight o' clock and just lie there, waiting to drift off to sleep, instead of doing something productive.

I imagine things would've been different if I had a phone that could access the net, or even had some means of getting online instantly whenever I wanted, something that I could just hook up to and lose myself in, or maybe something inside my body that allowed access to the data-rich realm of the internet with just a thought...

Where exactly is computer technology going at the moment? The first computers were massive things that filled rooms; now you can hold more power and memory than they had in the palm of your hand. The market seems to be filling with increasingly slim phones, tablets and notebooks; the room required in a device for hardware appears to be decreasing, with large (touch)screens being the primary reason for larger models to exist – and even then, they still have thin profiles, if not always thinner ones than in their previous incarnation.

To detour into the world of console gaming for a moment, compare the size (specifically the thickness) of the original Nintendo DS with its descendants; with the exception of the 3DS and 3DS XL, which use rather new technology, almost every incarnation of the platform has got thinner and more streamlined, its applications more varied and its hardware capabilities more powerful than the last. The wiring and circuitry of the DSi XL is pretty much identical to that of the much smaller and more compact DSi, its predecessor; it's a lot of hardware in a small space. And what of the games themselves? Cartridge size decreased from Game Boy Color to Game Boy Advance, and now more data than either of those carried – for different graphics and means of gameplay – can be kept on what amounts to a glorified SD card. Things have changed a lot in only a few years.

I don't think it would be too great a stretch of the imagination to say that eventually, technology might get so small (and yet be so powerful and advanced) we wouldn't need large screens to enjoy what it offers, at least not in the case of the internet; the tech could just be implanted and integrated into our bodies somehow, as in so many cyberpunk-inspired sf stories, and the information would flash across our retinas whenever we wanted – the ultimate hands-free experience – or we could dive into the net itself for a time, leaving our bodies behind as our minds wonder. Maybe this seems a little far-fetched right now, but who's to say what the future might bring?

Would we let technology literally become a part of ourselves, and have our bodies and minds be so immersed in it? How long would it take for such technology to appear and be accepted by society? What sort of ethical implications would it have? Would it completely displace our current technology? If we became dependent on it, what would we do if something went wrong with it and we lost access to it, or it became faulty? What else might change as a result of it? What alternatives to this might appear instead?

There's a lot of questions surrounding this sort of thing, hence its popularity in sf – the 's' stands for 'speculative' as well as 'science', after all. The possibilities of technology have had massive impact on fiction for a long time, and the relationship has proved reciprocal in the past. H.G. Wells imagined something like the internet might appear, and lo, it did, somewhat influenced by his ideas, if not necessarily in the exact form he might have expected. Other technology might come about in a similar way.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

XML: What I have Learnt



XML (Extensible Mark-up Language) is a way of storing data by electronic means  that is easily readable by human eyes. It has very few restrictions in terms of application because you are not limited by what tags you can use and it is widely compatible in a way that means data can be moved separately from formatting and without risk of losing data due to incompatibility.   It does this through a series of tags that can be used to group together information to make it simple to search through and easy to transport. Accurately coded, XML can store vast quantities of data that can be searched through with the tags used to define different categories. The easiest way to describe how this works is through explaining its application in the real world. Although I could not find a specific example of a company that uses this we can look at almost any product selling business to see one way in which XML can be applied. If we take a clothing store as a basic example, XML could be used to store information on stock, organised with a number of parameters such as type, colour, size and fabric. These elements can be grouped together for each individual item so it is possible to discover with a few key strokes whether a red, cotton dresses in a size 12 would be in stock.

The great thing about XML is the lack of restrictions that are placed on it: as long as you are able to correctly create tags (XML doesn’t handle errors well) you are not really limited in information you can store and to what purposes these can be applied.

XML & RSS

XML is a language understandable both to human readers and computers - it is vital for the creation, and distribution, of RSS feeds.

An RSS feed, or Rich Site Summary, is a simplified way of delivering updates concerning webpages that are always changing. The BBC, Twitter and Facebook are prime examples.


By standardising the format in which data is delivered, it also becomes possible to publish data once that is then readable by a huge number of devices and websites - it rids us of the necessity to republish for each end user. Your phone, desktop and tablet can almost definitely access these feeds and display them in a uniform fashion without any extra tailoring on the part of the publisher. By bringing all feeds into one place (ie a single app, such as flipboard) it is possible to aggregate a huge number of news feeds into one location, this saves the consumer having to open facebook,
                                                    then twitter,
                                                            then tumblr,
                                                                then eMail
                                                                     then BBC News,
                                                                           then, well - you get the point.

On a theoretical level the presences of RSS means that we do not need to visit webpages as often, or indeed at all, via our browsers, as any updates or new material will be brought directly to us, thus saving time.

 - when posting blogs and comments via blogger - you'll be asked whether to share the (exciting) news that you've posted via RSS - this will automatically alert any subscribers to your new output.
                                                   

XML and Microsoft Office

XML, or Extensible Mark up language is a ‘meta language’ that can be used to create a set of rules for encoding documents, which is both human-readable as well as machine-readable. It is used primarily for securely transferring and storing data. However, it has a variety of uses with many different resources. In particular, it is used frequently in relation to electronic publishing and can be also used in the creation of new internet language such as XHTML and WAP.
Nevertheless, it also plays a prominent role in the document formatting of the Microsoft Office package. In 2007, Microsoft changed their formatting to use XML and ZIP technologies. This had a range of benefits. One key benefit involves the exchanging of data. XML is a plain text file format, which therefore simplifies the process of data transfer as it can be read by different incompatible applications. In addition, the XML format enables a greater level of security in the exchanging of documents which may contain confidential information.  XML enables easy and simple identification and removal of personally identifiable information as well as business sensitive information. Furthermore, by using XML in conjunction with the ZIP container allows for the creation of much smaller file sizes due to the ease of compression. Moreover, the Microsoft format uses XML to define the connection of the parts which relate to create a document. These relationships between the parts are stored in XML and make it possible to manipulate documents without having knowledge of content mark up. Therefore, XML simplified many of the traditional processes used within Microsoft Office, whilst also improving security.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The XML Superstore(r)

XML coding, unlike HTML, is used to help store and transport data rather than just describe it. To give you a clearer idea, it works a bit like a library cataloguing system, or even isles in a superstore. (I use the more American term purely because it contains the word "store" which is what XML does best.) Imagine you own a superstore; you get to pick exactly what goes in what aisle, what shelf, even what inch. XML works in a very similar fashion, as there are no set words you must use to define the items, but you do have to tell label the information using "< >" and "</>" so that the computer knows what items are the same and need to be grouped together. Now imagine you want to set up a new shop, or move location; because you know exactly what goes in what aisle and on what shelf, you can move stuff in quickly and it will look exactly the same. This is how XML data works, because everything is tagged nothing gets lost when you transfer the data or copy it. However, your coding has to be perfect for it to work correctly.

XML is frequently used in the publishing industry, business documentation and databases as it is easy to understand. Both coding and content are readable for the user. There is a logic to the coding that is fairly easy to grasp, because it is mainly user defined. For example, even when the data only needs to be understood by the computer, we can still understand what it is:

<item number="00001">
  <name>
    <first>Jane</first>
    <middle>Q</middle>
    <last>Public</last>
  </name>
  <phone type="voice">
    <areacode>407</areacode>
    <number>555-1212</number>
  </phone>
  <phone type="fax">
    <areacode>407</areacode>
    <number>555-1213</number>
  </phone>
  <email>jpublic@gmail.com</email>
</item> 


(Source)
 
If we read the tags we can work out quite easily that this is "Jane Q Public's" contact information, and that she is the first in the database. XML is great for this type of information, as you only need a name, number, or email address to find out the rest of the persons information because all of the information is grouped.

Essentially XML is a great method of organising data. It's easy to understand, things within the code are much easier to find, and because everythings tagged and grouped it's very difficult for something to go missing when you want to transfer the file. It's not hard to see why it's becoming more and more popular.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

XML and Electronic Publishing


XML stands for Extensible Markup Language and is used as a set of encoding rules that can be read by both humans and machines. While similar to HTML, XML was not designed to describe data but transport and store it.  HTML focuses on what the data looks like not what the data is, unlike XML. The tags used in XML are not pre-defined, and must be defined by the user, therefore allowing for it to be more specific, as it’s purpose is to store information and self-defined tags allow for that information to be more instructive.  XML cannot be used without a piece of software or hardware to receive or display it.

Many different applications, programmes and sites use XML, as it can be manipulated to fit specific needs.  XML is becoming particularly more important in electronic publishing, as it allows for e-books to carry extra information that allows for them to exist in a number of different formats such as MOBI, EPUB and PDF files.  This means that an e-book using XML can be used by a variety of e-reading platforms such as the Amazon Kindle, Nook, and Apple iPad.  The ability to use self-defined tags means that information within the file such as the author or publisher can have their own tags without causing any confusion.  For example:

<title>The Fault in Our Stars </title>
<author>John Green</author>
<date>2012></date>
<publisher>Penguin</publisher>

The fact that XML can be used across a variety of systems means that the information will be safe despite any changes to software and hardware, allowing for the data to survive throughout the evolution of technology.