Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Online Harassment with John Oliver

Investigative comedian John Oliver hosts and produces a TV show on HBO called Last Week Tonight. On his show, he uses the attraction of comedy to effectively communicate often serious social and political issues with his audience. In this video regarding “Online Harassment”, John attempts to describe the darker and often overlooked aspects of online culture. 

The topic of online harassment is not only amusing for John Oliver to riff on but also central to understanding and interpreting certain facets of this course, which will act as a medium for examining the relationship between computers and society. Starting his video with a “Rick Roll” and following up with a ‘90s AOL advertisement, John cuts to satirizing the internet culture from its origins without hesitation. Moving on to a more serious note, John reads some Twitter insults directed at him as a comic way to start tackling a bigger issue: the malicious nature of some internet users. One female gamer recalled various threats she had received, such as “I’m going to stick an egg in your vaginal canal and punch it.” Other women gave accounts of sexism in the video game industry, citing bomb threats, rape threats, and death threats. Oliver then shows, however, that this is unfortunately not exclusive to video gamers. Female writers also commonly receive vicious online harassment. Writer Amanda Hess explained her negative experiences on NBC and referred to tweets as examples, such as this one displayed by Oliver.

When attempting to contact police about online harassment, Hess was told by the officer that he was unsure if the threats and harassment are even considered a crime, explaining that he did not know what Twitter is or how it works. Highlighting other key issues such as lack of revenge porn victim defense laws, the victim-blaming sentiment in media culture, and ineffective legislation, Oliver continues to point out the horrors of online harassment scenarios. Ending with a parody video which further criticized internet bullying and the lack of legal defense against it, Oliver comically wrapped up his segment while driving the point home.

Throughout his segment, Oliver focuses primarily on how women can be harassed online. With stronger and more frequent examples to use as evidence, the malicious internet treatment of women is an effective way to get a viewer angry about online harassment. Unfortunately, this type of behavior does not have exclusively female victims. Regardless of gender, John Oliver makes some amazing arguments for the implementation of legislation which would protect these victims. If someone threatened to murder another person in real life, the authorities would offer protective services and investigate the accused. The same scenario online does not receive this treatment. In this modern era, it is important that we are held accountable for what we do on the internet. As Oliver points out, the internet and reality are one in the same. You can legally buy stocks on the internet, transfer funds, sell a product, hire an employee, advertise a product, and collaborate on projects. All of these online actions are real and affect more than just the digital universe; however, in some areas making a death threat online does not carry the same sense of reality.

 So how can we police this? With what system can we prevent this? We do have systems which address non-personal threats, such as the NSA which patrols for national security risks. What we need, however, is a system which can assign real accountability for the harassment delivered on the internet. With online usernames, proxy servers, and a variety of other easily accessible barriers, it is complicated to identify a solution. While we cannot let these issues continue as they are, we also cannot provide the resources necessary to solve them. And even if we could, our government often cannot agree on the legislation necessary to do so. Personally, I’m unsure of what the solution may be. What I am sure of, however, is that this is a serious problem that we, as a society, need to decide how to best resolve. The first step in doing so is to spread awareness as John Oliver does in his video, and hopefully as I do a little more in this post.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tumblr continuing on a downward slope

Tumblr is a micro-blogging web platform that lets users share all sorts of text, images, and videos. Although many of its users gravitate towards sharing content about fictional works, Tumblr blogs can be about anything the user chooses. In June 2013, Yahoo bought Tumblr for approximately $1.1 billion. Ever since the purchase, users have noticed some negative changes to website.

One simple change has been the oversimplification of the site’s design. Instead of keeping your blog statistics, such as how many followers you have and how many blogs you follow, off to the left of the page, they are now pushed into a floating header bar, along with messages, options, and notifications. Even if this change is small, it is still inconvenient.

The most annoying addition to the website is the introduction of advertisements. The sponsored posts on Tumblr are more active than ever and they are completely unwarranted. Originally, there were just recommended blogs near the top of the website. But currently, as you scroll down the dashboard, these dumb-looking frames containing ads keep popping up. I joined Tumblr because I had the freedom to pick and choose which content I wanted to see, but now that freedom has been taken away.

Another bothersome aspect is the fact that there are plenty of other problems the Tumblr staff could be working on. Users have constantly and actively voiced their opinions about issues such as: fixing the video player, implementing an effective chatting system, or allowing for more access control settings for private blogs. However, these cries have gone unheard as the staff continues to make updates that go against the wishes of the community and decrease the usefulness and enjoyment of the site.

Tumblr plays an important part in many users’ lives. Millions of teenagers use the website to discuss their interests and make friends through previously nontraditional methods. Countless others use it to discuss serious issues plaguing our society, such as gender or racial issues. The degradation of the site only grows the frustration of these users who may not have a place to shares their ideas and values. If the site continues down this path, its popularity may wane and another site may be able to take its place. Although I doubt this will happen anytime soon, it is still a possibility if Tumblr keeps disappointing its users. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Sony Brings Game Streaming to PS3

            Video game companies like Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft often find themselves asking “How will we sell our games and consoles that are for out-of-date models once our newest product is released”. Well Sony is about to take a stab at this issue with its PlayStation 3. Now that PlayStation 4 has been on the market for a while, sales have significantly slowed for older games available on the PlayStation 3 as gamers are upgrading their systems rather than buying older games. Sony’s solution to this problem is to make a large list of around 100 PlayStation 3 games stream over their PlayStation Network. This allows people who own a PlayStation 3 to access any of these titles without a disk for $19.99 a month (similar to having Game Fly, but specifically for your system and with a better selection available). This not only attracts the PlayStation 3 consumers due to convenience, but also enables them to save countless dollars on games. Sony is using a bold strategy in doing this as they are selling the use of these games at a heavy discount in hopes that it will boost activity of sales significantly enough that they still make a large profit margin.

This online game streaming introduced by Sony will however offer them little risk as it significantly reduces their cost of producing physical games and cases. Uploading the games to the PlayStation 3 Network will take some initial capital, but much less than the amount it would cost to produce so many games that they offer that they may or may not sell in video game stores. It is definitely a wise decision to install this sales strategy as sales of all goods recently has been shifting toward more online-based and lacking sales in person at stores so this should benefit their game sales. When sales of an older system are slacking, it makes a lot of sense to me to accommodate the consumer and make the product more readily available. This PlayStation 3 video game gallery will become available on May 12th and I suspect sales will be pretty high. To attract potential customers Sony is offering a 7-day free trial to any PlayStation 3 owners who have not yet signed up for the service. I presume most if not all customers who use the free trial will purchase at least one month of the game streaming service for $19.99. They also will be offering the newer games for PlayStation 3 at a one-time extra cost. This essentially is the same thing as buying these games at the store, but makes it available digitally and without the hassle of the CD. Sony is the first video game company to attempt this strategy so it will be interesting to see how it works out for them. I would not be surprised if both Microsoft and Nintendo make an effort to offer a similar online gaming service as they always try to keep their consoles on a level playing field.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Leakers, motivations and consequences

We may have discussed this in class but I wanted to point out something about the differences in US government leaks. There are three major leaks that we can look at: Snowden's NSA documents, Julian Assange's wikileaks and the military documents leaked by Bradley/Chelsea Manning. (Future notice, I'm just going to refer to Bradley/Chelsea as Manning for convenience)

The idea of this blog post is to try to figure out the motives, goals and ideas that these leakers want to accomplish. In my mind Snowden and Manning are very similar in their intent. They are on the inside of their program and see what harm or injustices they are committing. Snowden was a system administrator, which means that he had a much larger amount of access than a typical NSA agent. After watching the documentary "Citizen Four" that had the initial interviews with Snowden when he was running from the United States, I believe I have a better idea of what his motivations were. His access allowed him to see all of the massive programs that the NSA was using to gather mass surveillance. In my mind, his motives were along the lines of, 'The people have the right to know what this government agency is doing and what they are collecting.' Different than most leaks, Snowden went directly through a specific set of journalists. Other leaks post everything at once, while his is pieced together and given context by a journalist.

Manning is similar to Snowden on the motivation part without a doubt. After leaking her documents, called the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs she writes, "This is one of the most significant documents of our time removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetric warfare." Manning leaked a couple of videos of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan firing on targets without proper identification that they were targets. These leaks were carefully selected and trimmed of identifying information. She saw the injustices that the US military was committing and like Snowden, felt that the public should hear what is happening. Unlike Snowden, Manning leaked her information through Wikileaks.

Finally there is Assange, who had created and set up wikileaks. He is completely different than the previous two characters. His role is the stateless anarchist born in the internet age. Any leak he receives, he will post. When the documents detailing how the US government talks, deals with, and feels about certain other countries was leaked I think it showed his truer motives. He was just being an anarchist and hurting these countries how ever he could. It didnt matter to him about the actual content but how much this would sour relations or hurt a country.

And for a final point I think that it is important to note what happened to every single leaker. Regardless if they leaked because of moral conviction, these leakers were all discredited, attacked on personal basis, or made more important than their documents. Examples of this are Bradley/Chelsea Manning's gender identity issues, Julian Assange being charged and extradited for rape and Snowden being labelled as a traitor or a Russian spy.

This may be a simplistic view, but it seems that regardless of your motive or how you leak information about how the US government runs, every single possible card will be used against you. And the more painful thing is that the public will care more about the story of the leak over the actual leaked data. These should all be lessons to those who make the choice to leak any information from now on.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Small Robots, Big Strength

In one of the CNN articles that I examined entitled "These tiny robots have superhuman strength," microrobots approximately the size of a Matchbox car have the ability to pull 2,000 times their weight.  These robots, which are being developed by engineers David Christensen and Elliot Hawkes at Stanford University, have been able to pull weights, drag full cups of coffee, and pull objects up a wall in a lab setting.  Right now, there are two sizes in development.

Several real-world applications for the robots include equipping them with CO2 sensors and sending them into a devastated area or burning building to find survivors.  The small size of these robots also allows them to be sent to place objects in tough-to-reach spots like rafters of a factory, making them applicable in many office and production settings.

Since each robot costs only about $20, Christensen explains that it's not a big deal if one goes missing or gets lost in action.  Each robot can be made in under two days in a lab using 3D printers to make the parts.  Their design is heavily inspired by geckos and ants, "whose feet adapt when they climb or carry a load."  The 'feet' of the robot have spikes that stick to the ground.

The robots can haul an object by planting itself on a hard surface and then pulling a string attached to the object in question.  It repeats this process until the object reaches its destination (provided that there is nothing in the way)

Right now, the robots have only been in development for a few months and will appear at several robotics conferences in the near future.

The engineers hope that the robots can, after being fully developed, work just like an ant colony and accomplish tasks as a team.

My initial thoughts when reading this were if the robots were developed and redesigned in a way that allowed them to climb over obstacles (much like a real ant), they would be much more useful.  Their small size allows them to be ideal for situations in which humans are too big or are unable to reach, and it would be easy to attach a camera or other sensors and open up possibilities for many more uses.  Of course, there will be issues that present themselves such as privacy issues for attaching a camera to something so small and having it have the potential to be very hard to detect.  The engineers did not mention if this would be a product that would be available to the general public, but it would certainly bring about new challenges.

The article definitely does its best to glamorize the technology, and the robots themselves are not all that impressive yet, but what I found most interesting was the engineers' idea to use these tiny robots as a whole unit and colony as opposed to a singular device.  I feel like a lot of robots are expected to perform all functions on their own, and the idea of using many of these tiny little robots to accomplish a goal is interesting.  I also like the idea that we're taking a cue from something that works so well in nature and adapting it. I would be interesting to see how long full development takes on this project.

article:  http://money.cnn.com/2015/04/30/technology/strong-microrobots/index.html

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Fighting Fire With Bass

          Viet Tran and Seth Robertson, two engineering students from George Mason University invented a device that puts out fire with nothing but sound waves.  It is a speaker the size of a subwoofer a little bigger than a regular fire extinguisher, and plays a really loud bass for optimal sound waves.  At first, they thought this would be a failing project.  But it turns out that now they are trying to get their invention patented and turn it into something bigger.
           Regular fire extinguishers are full of chemicals, leaves powder and foam everywhere; and when putting out a fire with water, it leaves behind a big mess too while probably destroying the things that the fire didn't get to anyway.  This new way of putting out a fire can be greatly beneficial.  It will certainly leave less of a mess.  It leaves any harsh mad made chemicals out of the picture.  This can be put over stove tops to put out kitchen and grease fires.  They even think astronauts could deploy them, since the extinguisher contents would spread all over in space.  Sound waves can still be directed without gravity, so there is a great possibility that it could work.  All of this was a senior design project, and I think this is something that can actually be helpful to our society in the future, unlike many other things being invented today.


Virtual Reality in Cinema

Cinema has allowed us to be transported back in time, explore unknown planets and even find out what our toys get up to when no one’s around. In recent years, technological innovation has meant cinemagoers can become even more immersed in the stories they see on screen. One development in particular is virtual reality (VR) and now, for the first time, film-makers have at their disposal a range of revolutionary VR tools to help craft their movies.
Marketers, broadcasters, engineers, artists and architects are already onto VR. But the question being contemplated by movie executives is whether the VR revolution will catch the imagination of the public – or will a future where we strap boxes to our faces in the cinema aisles be too embarrassing?
Cinema is a spectacle. It’s a social experience you simply can’t get at home. It’s why we pay a premium for it. While home entertainment systems have improved considerably in recent years, the cinema industry has also upped its game. It’s now common for film goers to enjoy advanced digital 3D and 4K projections, complete with surround sound. But today’s digitally-savvy consumers want more – as do the film-makers. This is where VR comes into play. We’re already seeing huge changes to consumer technology as a result of affordable VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift and the Samsung Gear VR. While originally designed for the gaming community, they represent a quantum shift in technology that’s already changing expectations and experiences of going to the cinema.
During the Sundance Film Festival, Oculus announced that they will be launching the Oculus Story Studio. They claim that they will be releasing their first VR movie, Lost. Also they hope to use this Studio to provide VR advice and expertise to those who are interested in hopes to make this technology accepted by the public. 
With creations like this, cinemas will inevitably need to respond. While the big Hollywood studios will still primarily decide what we get to watch, this technology will soon become to popular for them to ignore. Overall, we’re going to see some incredible, transformative technology incorporated into entertainment inside and outside the home and I can not wait to see the future of Virtual Reality, especially in cinema.