Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Internet - 1.... Swimsuit Edition - 0

America just recently celebrated what is becoming one of it's more obscure holidays, I am not speaking of President's Day, but rather the release of the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition Issue. The fanfare surrounding this issue increases every year, including cover girl speculation, supermodel interviews, and any other form of  ridiculous narcissistic media coverage of a future media you can think of.  The real crime of it all though is that when it came in the mail (for the record my gullible roommate accidentally bought a whole year's worth in an internet "sweepstakes", not just this issue), over half the particularly thick magazine was advertisements; some were overt, some were tastefully themed toward the Super Bowl of print advertising opportunities, but in all there were a lot of them.  After flipping looking through it... for the articles... it had me craving for my internet browser's ad-block feature or at least some curation of the content being thrown at my face.

This is one of the many reasons journalists have been crying for years that print is dead, people want their media tailored to them, and if they can trim the unwanted commercial fat, all the better.  Good luck to the 2015 graduating Marketing Majors all over the country, with better and better ways to avoid advertisements, like the aforementioned ad-block, marketing is being a far more fickle beast.  It is pretty clear though that the future of commercialism lies in the internet, but there are definitely right and wrong ways to go about this, and its going to involve a lot more than looking at my cookies and thinking all I want to see are banner ads for running sneakers.  For the smart companies they know the internet's value isn't in my browser history, but rather is the shear number of interactions between people.

The internet breeds creativity and the same can be said for internet marketing schemes.  A growing trend of video game media outlets is to post YouTube videos called "Let's Play"s, it involves footage of video games being played with a narration from the player.  A stupidly simple concept with incredibly good results, and as views have begun to pile up, game developers have noticed. Initially video game giant Nintendo argued that these video's infringed on copyright laws, while others instead of following their lead, remained silent.  This is because they saw what these video really were.... free advertisement, made by fans for other fans, that gave such a stronger motivator to buy than any 30 second commercial ever could.  Advertisement being more about communication between fans than a 2 -bit pop-up is sweeping the internet.

Kickstarter began 6 years ago with the intention to be a soapbox for small company start-ups to find the voice and monetary backing they would otherwise be unable to receive and it has continued to do that.  One-time Kickstarter success story now multi-million dollar company, Pebble, has returned to Kickstarter to fund their new project, and people wonder why.  Surely, they could fund the project themselves, or easily gain an investor due to their great track-record so what's up? They're freaking marketing geniuses that's what's up, a week into the fundraiser and they've set a Kickstarter record with $15,133,977 raised as of writing with only a measly 23 days left to raise more.  Someone smart at Pebble understands that the power of the internet is the community it creates, Kickstarter and other similar crowd sourcing websites build and curate communities to maximize interested eyes in projects, and in turn those fans naturally publicize for free on social media.  Lets sum up how this has gone for Pebble, they haven't spent a dime on marketing, they have $15 million in income, they've already sold product, and social media is a buzz about it.  Internet - 1... Print - 0

The internet provides so many opportunities for companies to brainwash customers, but the smart ones will be the ones who let us brainwash ourselves.

It's 2015; Do you Know Where your Children's PICTURES Are?

So recently, I read a pretty weird and somewhat disturbing news article about people who perform "virtual kidnapping" or "digital kidnapping" on other parent's photographs of their children. The pictures are all found on social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where the parents will post pictures on accounts without actively keeping their privacy settings at a safe level. By not using privacy settings to keep strangers off their accounts, parents are allowing everyone who is interested access to all their posts, pictures, and other information that should be private and protected.

One mother was notified one day that her 18 month year old son's picture had been liked by a stranger. She then noticed that the stranger had not only liked the picture but was using the photograph as her homepage picture. There were also posts on the stranger's wall sharing with their friends 'information' about the baby such as how old he was, when he would start teething, and other comments. The stranger was pretending that the baby was her baby! Luckily, this stranger turned out to be a 16 year old who happened to think the red head was cute for its red hair. Still, I really wonder what would compel a 16 year old girl to think it was a good idea to role play being another child's mother and why her friends and family would think nothing of this incident.

The disturbing part of the article was when I read about another incident of strangers stealing the pictures of someone else's kids. A picture of two young children ages 3 and 6 were shared by a stranger to the page of some man in China. The mother of the two children was notified by Facebook that the photo had been shared. She traced the share link to a Chinese page with thousands of followers where she discovered the page contained pictures of many young girls. The mother knew the share linked back to her Facebook page which contained personal information such as her home address so she deleted the post that the share link used and immediately changed her privacy settings.

The main issue with both of these examples of strangers stealing pictures of young children is the lack of parental responsibility on online social media websites. The article quotes the Federal Trade Commission that the Children's Online Privacy Protection Art, "imposes certain requirements on operators of websites or online services directed to children under 13 years of age, and on operators of other websites or online services that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information online from a child under 13 years of age." Unfortunately, this Children's Online Privacy Protection Act cannot prevent parents from posting pictures of their children publicly and guarantee their privacy. If parents are going to post pictures of their children or personal information online, it is up to the parents to be diligent, responsible, and up to date on privacy settings to ensure their children's pictures are protected along with their own personal information.

Third-Party Software: Should You Start from the Bottom Up?

As a developer, you can run into all sorts of problems on a project that can really get under your skin as you think on a solution for hours, days, or weeks. Often these problems can be solved if you delve deeper into the programming language you are using, the APIs that are provided for you, and the documentation available, but often-times you can find yourself in a spot where you can’t spend that much time on a problem before another one comes up. You’re tired, you want a relief from this roadblock, and there seems to be no end in sight for the things you are facing.

You aren’t an idiot, so you try to google your problems away. It is very likely that the problem you ran into has already been solved by some other developer somewhere else in the world. And, more often than not, you are right. Forums are filled with people that have already asked (and answered) the questions you have about a specific problem. Places like Stack Overflow contain questions and answers for an endless variety of languages, platforms, hardswares, etc., and that is likely the last stop for a majority of people who do not know how to solve a problem right way. However, a lot of the time you want to have variety in your application, and have code that can solve most (if not all) future problems that you might have on the project.

Third-party software provides that kind of relief. Large entities like Facebook and Google provide frameworks that you can add to pretty much any project to make your life simpler and easier to get your job done. These add-ons can increase the functionality of your application ten-fold, all while reducing the time to implement many functions that users have become used to in a modern application.

However, there is a problem. Many of these services, especially the ones coming from the larger companies, frequently phone home. Tracking has become common place because of these things. Have you ever searched Google for medical advice, purchasing decisions, or research into any particular subject? Well, Facebook, among many many other companies, probably know about that. Regardless of whether or not you use these services, these plug-ins create a profile of each user that can be followed from cookies, saved in a database, and called up whenever someone wants to review your credit score or determine how much your insurance should be.

This is something that cannot be explained away. These tools are so widespread because these companies are in the business of selling personal information. We view them as cool frameworks that are avaiable for free to anyone who has the knowledge to implement them, but is it worth adding functionality at the expense of your user’s privacy? Take a look at the problems you are facing and think about whether or not it might be better to create a solution by yourself instead of defaulting to an unknown framework with pretty animations. Yes, it will be harder. But in this privacy conscious world, it’s really the best thing we can do to provide our users peace of mind. If you are going to do it, make you you narrow down the field before choosing them, and be conscious of the data you are handling.

Google Has Ruined the Barroom Debate

Back in the day, the barroom debate was a staple in nighttime entertainment among friends at the local watering hole (I assume). Arguing with your friends over a beer about what the most popular food in America is or who won the Oscar for best picture in 1993 was a fun way to pass the time and a nice way to have a friendly heated debate with your friends as well. Obviously, this doesn't only apply to bars, but it's a likely setting. However, now that we have smart phones, people are so quick to google any kind of question that comes up so as to ascertain the correct answer, that the debates are no longer a reality. Now, I have to confess, I actually stole this blog idea from an episode of How I Met Your Mother, where the main characters have this exact conversation with one another. For those of you with Netflix, it's episode 6 season 7 "History vs. Mystery", and it's the opening scene (actually, the entire episode is about technology changing dating now that I think about it...). How often has it happened though that you get into a disagreement with a friend over some fact of some sort, and instead of arguing about it (which can be pretty fun), somebody just googles it? It kinda makes us a bit of know-it-alls, doesn't it? I've also noticed that it tends to really annoy older people. My grandparents, for example, would always get frustrated when somebody would just google something without having to think about it (especially my grandfather, who loved crosswords. Googling a crossword hint is probably a cardinal sin in some religion somewhere). This phenomenon of doing a quick internet search for useless facts has changed our "barroom debate" dynamic, and I think it's a bit of a shame. It was fun, and now it's gone. I'm kind of reaching with this blog post, but I think you all get the gist of what I'm saying.

Quadriplegic Woman Flies F-35

     Everyone's dream of mind control is just getting closer and closer to reality. Arati Prabhakar, director of the Pentagon's advanced research arm DARPA, stated that a quadriplegic woman was able to maneuver an F-35 fighter jet using nothing but her thoughts. Jan Schuermann, a 55 year old quadriplegic was recruited by DARPA for its robotics programs back in 2012. Because of her hereditary genetic disease, doctors implanted electrodes in the left motor complex of her brain to allow her to control a robotic arm, a feat she accomplished. However, she wasn't using this robotic arm to fly an F-35 simulator. Instead, she was using her thoughts and flying a fighter with nothing but pure neural signalling. This is an amazing achievement but it brings with it good and bad things.
     Lets start off with the good things. With this breakthrough, the human body is no longer limited by its physical constraints. We are now able to used our bodies to the limit and this technology only goes as far as our imaginations. Military veterans, handicapped people, and everyone with motor problems, all of whom are unable to do so many basic things can now control anything they want with their minds. Of course this technology is only in the developmental phase and will probably remain with the military but that doesn't mean that this technology can't offer hope to those in need. Machine and human integration is definitely the next step for mankind.  
     As for the bad part. I feel that by training fighter pilots to fly jets with their minds, the training of flying it manually will diminish. When all the computers that control this malfunction, will the pilots still know how to control the $150 million machines they are flying. I think that in order for this to work, they have to seamlessly integrate the two.
     This technology must be used for the betterment of mankind. Not only will it bolster the military, it'll make everyone's live a little bit better. I look forward in hearing more about this technology in the future.

Google Plans to Tell Us What's True

Launched in 1997 the google search engine has become the most widely used search engine in the world. Approximately 65% of all searches made come from the internet giant. Initially, as a search engine, Google, only displayed results that lead to webpages. These results are based on the amount of links to a website. The more links to it the more popular it was believed to be and the higher it was placed in Google’s queue. The search engine then began evolving. It started adding built in functions to improve the user experience. These tools include a translator, dictionary, calculator, unit converter, and others. While these built in tools are convenient and helpful; it is clear that Google was moving away from just being a search engine.   
Then something happened behind the scenes, search algorithms specific to every individual. Google’s search engine tailors a person’s results based on their preferences if they are signed in to their Gmail or google account. However even if they aren’t, Google still uses 57 signals from your connection such as your location, the browser you’re using, and the computer being used to tailor your results. AS Pariser said in his Ted Talk about filter bubbles, the internet is now deciding what it thinks we should see. Well these search algorithms just rearranged the top results into links that mirrored our interests or views. Now, google is trying to come up with a new way to control what appears on the first page.
     Google is currently working on a fact checking system that will check the mount of truthfulness on a site and rank it based on that. This system would tap into Google’s Knowledge Vault of all facts that Google has collected from the internet. According to Google, all these facts have been unanimously verified and are to be considered truth. The new system will compare all the information on the site against what is in the Vault and any site with few contradictions would be considered trust worthy. Google will be assigning a Knowledge-Based Trust score to each site based on how truthful the site is deemed to be. Google reports that initial testing on a small set of sites has proven the algorithm effective.
  So let’s look to the future. One in which, google not only chooses what it thinks we should see but it also tells us how true a site is. If used only on empirical data or on facts that can’t be disputed then this new model could be very effective. It would help lower the number of people getting mislead by false information and make fact checking a much smaller process, if anyone would still do it. However, I feel that a generation that is introduced to Google with this built in knowledge base would easily fall prey to it. Blindly trusting Google’s truthfulness rating could lead to getting wrong information, or at least the inability to double check the information. It might start as a very accommodating tool but who knows where it will lead. No one saw the search algorithms being inserted into Google’s core, and now they tell us what we should see. What if Google sees you’re a smoker advertises for NicoDerm (nicotine patches), could they not easily pass you studies that say electronic cigarettes are the worse alternative to nicotine patches?  Couldn’t Google easily raise the truthfulness of a site or article if they had a sponsor that would pay them lots of money for it? As we are becoming more and more reliant on technology we should keep in mind who should be in control.   


Cyberbullying at its Finest

                        For this week’s blog, I decided to shed light on a topic that I had written about in my first paper for Computers & Society.  The issue(s) are that 6ABC News had made a false report against my family’s business, and as an effect of that, the people of Facebook felt they had the right to comment all over the place about it.  So to begin the story, it’s key to know that my dad has two jobs, he is a pediatrician, and he also owns the last drive-in movie theater in the state of New Jersey.  One night this past summer, we were all at the drive-in, working another busy weekend as usual.  Half way through the initial rush of customers, there was one family that had the need to cause a little commotion.  A car pulled up to the box office with a couple, their teenage son, and many friends of his inside.  Let me say here another important bit of information, at our drive-in we do not allow outside food or beverage, as we make all of our money through the concession stand, and have a massive, restaurant-like menu for our customers.  So this family coming in ended up showing they had brought a bag of Fritos with them because “their son has diabetes, and those are all he eats.”  After one of our box office staff members not knowing what to do with this specific situation, he called my dad for assistance.  My dad explained to the family why the Fritos were not permitted, but that was not acceptable.  The boy’s mother proceeded to inform my dad that she’s a school nurse, and therefore knows what she’s talking about… Well that only led my father to inform the family that he is a doctor, and so he knows a little bit more on the subject than her.  For whatever reason, there was no giving up the Fritos, so the diabetic’s dad ended up yelling at my father in outrage, and telling him that “he’ll be hearing from him about this!”  Not long after, my dad was approached by 6ABC News to get his side of what happened.  When the report aired, we were all in shock.  6ABC had twisted my dad’s words around to make him look cruel to people with handicaps by saying that we did not allow the diabetic’s emergency kit, which contained insulin and glucose tablets, along with some mini M&M’s, inside the theater!  WHAT?!  That emergency kit was never even shown to the box office employee, or my dad!  Immediately afterwards, the not-so-kind people of Facebook went at it.  People from all over the country felt that they had the right to state their opinions about my father on this social media site.  Everyone went onto the Delsea Drive-In (DDI) Facebook page to let my family know just what they thought of my dad.  According to them, my dad has no right to be a doctor, business owner, and father.  He had death threats against him, along with bomb threats to our theater.  The emails and posts were never ending, and got crueler and crueler as time passed.  Let be known, that most of these people saying these things were not there the night of the incident, do not live anywhere near our theater, and have never even been there or heard of it once.  My family is still dealing with the effects of this false report, we had to delete our DDI Facebook page, and my dad has lost several patients at his practice due to it. 

                        My point with this story is pretty obvious.  Media will do whatever it takes to get a “good story” that will rack up viewers, and stir up trouble, no matter who they hurt or screw over in the process.  News stations are supposed to report the facts, but clearly didn't do that here, and that is astonishing to us.  Now don’t even get me started on Facebook!  Absolutely none of the people on there that made their negative, hurtful comments should even have a Facebook account.  They clearly use it for the wrong reasons, which are to bully strangers and let their worthless opinions be shouted from the rooftops.  I, personally, have never witnessed such an intense case of cyberbullying in my entire life.  With Facebook, no matter how many comments you “report”, an explanation must be provided for each one, but I guess slander wasn't a good enough explanation.  I do believe people should be entitled to their opinions, but I absolutely think that those people stating their opinions had to experience, or witness whatever it was they are commenting on to begin with.  In my paper, my solution to such issues such as these was that “liking”, “commenting”, and “sharing” should just be removed as options on Facebook entirely.