Saturday, October 31, 2015

Misinformation on social media

We live in an age where more than 1 in 7 people use social media. People share everything from how often they go to McDonald's to new ideas on how to improve the world. Social media has become an integral part of our lives and its widespread use has increased the speed at which information is spread. People are quick to share any news they see on their Facebook page and tweet about anything they heard that sound interesting. However part of all the information that is shared and spread, is misinformation.
It has now become so easy to spread rumors and lies online that it has become cumbersome to filter out the truth from the hoard of information presented on social media. The fundamental problem is that in general people do not fact check what they read online. The assume it to be true and shear it, becoming an accessory to misinformation. The misinformation could be in the form of an article, a picture, or worst of all, someones personal opinion. To give an example, recently in Saudi Arabia there was a stampede that killed over 700 people during the Hajj (Islamic annual ritual). When people first heard about this they immediately began speculating as to whose fault it was. They blamed everyone from the Saudi government to a recently deceased prince's funeral procession. Famous people posted about this on their Facebook pages and didn't even bother to determine what actually happened, they just sort of blamed who they thought was most likely to be guilty. When people read these statuses (such as "Saudi's bad management led to the death of 700 people"), they immediately assumed that the Saudi's were to blame and shared the status. This cycle continued until an entire narrative based on prejudice and pre-disposed opinions was shared by a lot of people. Another example pertaining to the same incident is when a picture surfaced on facebook of the Saudi government using bulldozers to clear out the dead bodies. People were immediately infuriated and didn't even stop to consider whether or not this picture was legitimate or not. Later on someone proved online that picture was a photo shopped version of another picture and was posted by someone who hated Saudi Arabia.
The fault in both examples lies within the community of people who started such posts without researching and the people who spread them without fact checking the information. So essentially human nature. People should be more careful about what they share and post, as opinions can be confused for facts easily today since Photoshop and such softwares can make lies look very convincing.
This begs the question as to whether mankind deserves such high speed information sharing. Yes on one hand it does help communicate great ideas and people can learn new things very quickly. However on the other hand people can also spread lies just as quickly and someones reputation can be scarred in a matter of hours and repairing it takes much more effort. Maybe there should be some sort of regulation? My opinion is to educate people about the importance of fact checking what they share and if they cannot prove it, then leave it and not spread it. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

How Human is Human Augmentation?

             Human enhancement using nanotechnology has been a long-term goal to be able to manipulate molecular and atomic structures. A common controversy is whether or not this is moral and whether or not it makes a being less human. In order to understand if human augmentation is we need to decide what being a human is and how enhancements truly affect us, do we become more attached to technology and alienated from society or it is a mere enhancement to be able to understand the world around us better?

               Whenever you imagine human augmentation what comes to mind, a cyborg? Someone who is so far gone that they are easily identifiable by their physical traits. Often enough when we talk about being human it involves looking, acting, and thinking like a human. A world where everyone looks like Robocop is not the idea in mind when we conduct research into human augmentation. A seamless transition, an extension of ourselves is usually the aim. With that in mind we have already made significant progress in human augmentation. Hearing aids and artificial limbs that can feel are such examples. Hearing aids improve our sense of hearing to the point that the inner ear is able to process the input. Limbs can enhance our physical abilities up to about the point that the rest of the body can handle. Even lenses for eyes are already created where they process images just as fast as the brain can, with no increase past perfect vision. We may not see them as augmentation but they certainly enhance our abilities, you are able to see and walk/hold things, and you are able to be physically separated from the object. This is not ever seen in controversy when discussing how human it is to enhance ourselves.

               Why is today’s technology not seen as human augmentation, because it does not give us superhuman abilities. The best it can enhance us to the abilities of a human, which is because the limiting factor would not be the technology it would be us. When someone loses a leg or an arm they need to train and increase their strength so that they are able to use the new appendage. They need to increase their own ability to match some kind of quota that the limb places. The same kind of experience would be needed for something like neural enhancements, the brain to an extent would need to be able to sustain a certain threshold on its own before it is augmented leaving even cyborgs susceptible to human limitations.

               So how human are we when we augment ourselves? Well as human as we are now, we push our boundaries, our abilities, our knowledge only to be confronted by another obstacle that we must repeat the process for. Even if one day we are able to upload our consciousness to a cloud and be a collective cloud that does nothing but compute we would still be limited by the human aspect. Perhaps not physically but mentally as to how much it is able to comprehend, how fast is it able to compute, or  how long the conscious will survive. No matter how far technology goes there will always exist a distinction between human and artificial entities, the one that cannot go as far is the human. Since we cannot lose our humanity, human augmentation will never lose the human aspect.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Secure Passwords

Recently, tech news site Ars Technica did an article on a sixth grader selling passwords to people. Not selling people’s passwords for various illicit purposes, but rather generating secure passwords and selling the dice-rolled results. This method of generation, known as Diceware, combines rolling a die with matching the rolled results to words. Similar to webcomic XKCD’s famous “correct horse battery staple” password, these Diceware passwords are both secure and easy to remember. While it helps that said sixth grader is the daughter of the privacy-minded author of Dragnet Nation, Julia Angwin, the fact that an eleven year old is not only generating, but also successfully selling secure passwords brings to mind a bigger issue: password security.

When typing “most commonly used passwords” into Google, the results are rather disappointing. Simple, easily guessed, unoriginal, and ridiculously insecure passwords dominate the list, such as the ever creative “123456” and “password.”  While passwords such as these may seem creative to an elementary schooler (indeed, acquaintances in my 4th grade class thought it was clever), they are insecure. Yet people use them, in spite of having multiple random password generators freely available with another easy Google search. So why is it that people continue to use bad passwords? Well, there are several causes. Poor corporate policy forcing users to change passwords frequently leads to a multitude of bad passwords as users struggle remember the correct one for the week, for one. The effort involved in making up a new password being difficult is another. Other causes include people being predictable and/or lazy, passwords being too complicated, and people being outright ignorant.

So how does one creating and remembering a secure password, then? The above mentioned Diceware method is one way, taking advantage of entropy to get random numbers, and thus words, with the result being an easily memorized phrase. Rather than paying a rather clever 6th grader to make and mail one to you (which could be duplicated or intercepted, just because it’s illegal to do so won’t stop someone dedicated), simply break out 5D6 and roll them physically (as some dice rollers aren’t so random) to get your words.

Another way to get a secure password would be to use a random password generator. This, however, results in the generated passwords being rather difficult to remember. Fortunately, several of these random generators are attached to password storage services such as LastPass, KeePass, and Norton Identity Safe (although that last one is Norton…), which handle generation, storage, and retrieval of all one’s passwords. While arguments could be made against giving all of one’s passwords to a paid service, it is still a valid option, one that enables use of complicated strings of characters instead of only using phrases. Of course, variations on these this particular method also works, such as simply memorizing an entire string of random characters (I can still recite the WEP key for my first router) or thinking of a mnemonic.

There are, of course, other methods to generate passwords, such as grabbing words from a book, making some sort of cipher, and so forth. With all these different methods to do so, there is no reason not to use secure passwords. Remember: a 6th grader does it and even monetized it, so even you can create and use a good password.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Stop Using GitHub

As in "You all lose. Just leave. Go form your own git hosting service that'll wither and die. Shoo." The thing is, the core users can literally do just that, and where would that leave Github the business?

In my opinion, programmers should avoid using GitHub. Here's why.

Forced publicity

GitHub’s public repositories are publicly view-able by default. GitHub does this not out of malicious intent, but with the hopes that you’ll be coerced into buying a premium account. While open source is generally a positive thing, it should be your right as a programmer to decide if you want your code to be public.

The clear solution is simply not to use GitHub’s free accounts. If you are a hobbyist programmer with a small project, you probably don’t need GitHub or even version control. If you are a more intermediate level programmer and are unsure if your project is going to be a hobby or your livelihood in five years, giving your code out to the public before it may be ready is a terrible idea. In either situation, many of GitHub’s competitors offer free, private repositories, and git works fine with only a local repository.

For a more comprehensive exploration of GitHub's ToS and all the scary things they can do with it, read this article. Some of the issues described in this article will be touched upon further.

GitHub is monopolistic

Many claim that git as a protocol was designed to be decentralized; this is unfortunately not true. Git was designed to just work. However git is decentralized, and since it already has that feature it might as well be put to good use. The fact that a large majority of the world’s most high-profile open-source projects are now in the hands of a single for-profit company represents extremely poor planning on the behalf of the FLOSS community. Single points of failure are almost never desirable, and when that single point of failure is susceptible to both political and technical pressure from nation states, corporations, malicious hackers, and the open source community, it’s just a matter of time before things go very wrong. Do the world a favor and help decentralize development again by not using GitHub.

GitHub encourages ‘non-coding’

One would think that GitHub, considering the name, is designed to hold git repositories, however that’s not necessarily true; there are many other features packed in. Some of these are helpful, such as issue tracking, and others seem a bit less so. Combine this with the fact that anyone can create an account and there’s a lot of people on GitHub who do anything and everything except actually write code. Some of the most senseless, most nasty arguments I’ve seen on the Internet have come straight from GitHub, a horrifying example here. There’s simply no reason for petty politics and non-programmers to be mixed into the development process.

While this isn’t inherently GitHub’s fault, it is a symptom of GitHub being poisoned by the same problems that plague all large online communities, and the sneer of “Facebook for Programmers” is becoming a more fitting description by the day.

GitHub censors repositories

The most heinous of violations of free speech, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, is when technology itself is censored. There are several notable examples of GitHub censoring code. Whether or not the maintainers of those repositories had it coming is besides the point; there is no reason GitHub should be able to decide what you want to to say or do with your code.

GitHub’s ‘Reverse Racism’ policy

I have very little to say about this because it speaks so much for itself.

In August of 2015, GitHub released an “Open Code of Conduct”, designed to be a template for all projects on GitHub and beyond to adopt. This Code of Conduct specifies that online communities should “prioritizes marginalized people’s safety over privileged people’s comfort” by responding to complaints regarding “Offensive comments related to gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, mental illness, neuro(a)typicality, physical appearance, body size, race, age, regional discrimination, political or religious affiliation” but ignoring complaints regarding such thing as “‘Reverse’ -isms, including ‘reverse racism,’ ‘reverse sexism,’ and ‘cisphobia’.” GitHub has for all intents and purposes made people who they deem ‘privileged’ fair game for harassment while promising to protect everyone else.

After several people pointed out that ‘reverse racism’ is still ‘racism’, and therefore GitHub is literally endorsing discriminating and derogatory behavior, GitHub backpedaled pretty hard and put the project on hold. However the damage has already been done, and the creators of GitHub have been revealed as having an extremely biased and toxic view of the world of software development.


Many of these complaints are reasonable and make sense from GitHub’s point of view. They are a company, and they will do what they must to make money. However that does not make the conditions they have imposed upon their users acceptable. Others are completely unacceptable, and reveal GitHub for what it is: a bad choice for programmers.

As explained earlier, there are several good alternatives to GitHub. If you still wish to give up all your code to an external third party, companies such as Bitbucket, GitLab and Kiln provide services similar to GitHub while fixing some (not all) of the issues discussed. Setting up your own git server is a relatively easy and educational activity, provided that you have a spare PC to use as a server or pay for hosting. Finally, git repositories work just fine on your local machine; you can use all the features of git without having to push your changes to a remote repository.

Version control and the software development community is better off without GitHub.

Political Disruption, Information Availability, and Voter Discontent

                In most professions, the most experienced and successful applicants for a job are chosen to fill an open position.  A job well done often leads to eventual promotion, as the management of most professions values good work and a proven track record.  This presidential election cycle, however, has turned this common-sense approach to filling a position on its head.  Granted, voters have often valued rhetoric and personality, but they usually choose a candidate with a proven record; 17 presidents have been state governors, 16 have been US senators, 14 have been Vice President, and 18 have served as US representatives (nonexclusively). These account for all but 7 of past US presidents, and most of those had records in the military proving their courage and ability.
                In an age where information on any candidate is readily available to the vast majority of voters, it would seem logical that voters would choose the candidates with the best track record.  However, instead of reading up on each candidate’s past, voters seem to allow themselves to be convinced by entertaining clips of candidates performing on variety shows (such as Donald Trump appearing on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, or Hillary Clinton on Saturday Night Live) or meme-worthy soundbites.  Although early political polling is very unreliable (as discussed in my previous post The Rise and Fall of Political Polling), non-traditional candidates seem to be gaining traction this cycle, based on their online followings, large volumes of small-value donations, and large turnouts at campaign events.
                So why are voters increasingly turning to non-politicians to run for office?  The availability of information on politicians appears to be a double edged sword; while their records are easily referenced, politicians’ failings are also on full display to the voter populace.  With gridlock in Congress at a historic level and both parties failing to make major progress in their legislative agendas, voters seem to be sickened by lifelong politicians and their seeming ineffectiveness.  Voters seem to focus their attention on the portions of the news that display the slow, prodding nature of politics, and they blame the politicians for this lack of progress.  They disregard the argument made that politicians with more experience better know how to get things done, coalescing instead around the opinion that disruptive representatives are what is needed.

                This trend is nothing new; during midterm election years, history dictates that the party with a president in office will almost always suffer major losses, showing peoples’ discontent with whatever regime is currently in place.  This phenomenon’s most recent victory was the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 2010; many right-wing candidates (usually known as Tea Party Republicans and members of the House Freedom Caucus) were swept into office across the country, taking control of the House away from the Democrats and Obama.  Yet even as the GOP holds an overwhelming House majority, they still seem unable to accomplish substantive progress.  The Freedom Caucus is so far to the right that they constantly disrupt the GOP’s agenda, and most recently effectively forced Speaker Boehner to give up his gavel.  Their destructive potential is so great that Boehner was often forced to collude with Democrats to make a working majority, the exact opposite of the hopes of Republicans who elected the Freedom Caucus members with the view of a stronger Republican Party.  Viewing this turn of events, along with practical considerations, should make voters ask themselves: are disruptive politicians better than their establishment counterparts because they change the status quo, or are they worse because while they disrupt, they offer no new progress, but only obstructionism?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

At What Age Should Children Be Allowed to Use the Internet?

Today, the Internet is more than just a source for education. The internet now contains so much information, maybe too much information, unnecessary for children who would want to utilize the internet for innocent purposes; but the general question, "at what age should children be allowed to use the Internet?" is a little general. Does it imply supervised or unsupervised use? How would a child get on the internet? The slang term, "the internet" now has several different meanings. You could be referring to social media or you could simply be talking about google when referencing “the internet.”

When the question, "what age should children be allowed to use the Internet?" is brought up, answers vary due to the way people think about the sources of getting to the internet. For example, some people think about home desktop computers, some think about cell phones, others think about a child’s own device, such as a laptop. In old standards, the internet was considered safe since there would usually be a home computer that everyone shared in a household that was easy to monitor, track, and secure; therefore, it wasn’t a big deal for a child to use the internet. Today, there are new devices that are sometimes mandatory for children to utilize (for education, etc.) that are harder to monitor since there are so many of them. The main question now is, “what kind of devices should children have access to, to get to the internet?” and in today's world, it depends.

According to an article in NetworkWorld, “Microsoft's survey found that the average age is between 11 and 12 for kids to start using mobile phones, texting and social networks, which could still potentially be disastrous without some kind of parental online safety guidance.” When I was 11 and 12, I remember going on AIM to chat with my friends, however, my primary purpose for using the internet was for educational use, as I needed it to look up facts for my research projects. My parents used to give me time limits on the internet and I knew they could monitor and see what I was doing on the computer since we all shared the same computer. Cell phones weren’t a big deal at my age back then since no one really had them and cared for them.

This wasn’t the case for my sister, who was born 6 years after me, in the 2000’s. During that time, society started to loosen up and provided more unsecured ways to communicate with others, as did my family. My sister was already begging for a cell phone because she wanted to go on social media and text her friends. It was much harder for my family to please my sister and ensure her the safest route for going about the internet, to help her prevail in her education. 

That is the struggle for most parents today. They would love to see their children do well in school by giving them access to the internet, however, they do not want them to be exposed to the terrible things. Some parent's say that they would wait as late as high school to have their children exposed to the internet, and some say they don't mind, as long as they have an idea of what their children are doing. The answer is, it depends.

"Bing Finally Shows a Profit", Lol

I recently read this article. The headline made me laugh out loud: “Bing Finally Shows a Profit”

Bing is this search engine made by Microsoft that’s kind of a joke. There’s nothing inherently terrible about it, but it does not stand a chance against Google. Google is without a doubt the most popular search engine in the world. As a society, we have chosen Google. It is what everyone turns to for an immediate answer on anything, and now “google” is even a commonly heard verb: “Let me google that”.

Because Bing does nothing significant that Google doesn’t already do, it’s a laughing-stock and people hate it. That’s also probably because the name “Bing” sucks. To illustrate people’s negative feelings towards Bing, please read the interview with a random stranger that I imagined below. I didn’t actually interview anyone about Bing, but I think if I did, this is how it would probably go.

Me: Excuse sir, have you ever used B--- [starts to laugh]

Stranger: What’s that?

Me: Oh sorry. I’m having trouble keeping a straight face while I’m asking you about Bing because it’s so stupid.

Stranger: Ah, Bing? You mean Bing Crosby, the best-selling American recording artist famous for the song White Christmas? That’s the first thing I think of when I hear “Bing”. Definitely not some shitty search engine.

Me: Oh, I was actually talking about a shitty search engine, Bing. Have you used it?

Stranger: Nope, I can’t say that I’ve ever googled anything on Bing.

Me: Okay lol thanks for your time.

See? Even though I made up this interview, it demonstrates an important point: Bing has some huge hurdles to pass if it wants to eclipse Google. It is nowhere near a household name. Even if a person used Bing once, they would probably say they “googled it on bing”. (“binged it” sounds stupid.) Even the author of the article “Bing Finally Shows a Profit”, uses the word “finally” in the title like it’s obvious that Bing hasn’t been profiting yet.

So since Bing sucks so much, you’re probably wondering how the whole finally showing a profit thing is possible. Microsoft starting doing what any good business trying to push a bad product would do: trick people into using the product.

The article mentions that a sizeable part of the increase in revenue from Bing that Microsoft is seeing is a result of Bing being the default search engine used by Cortana, the digital assistant on Windows 10 devices. So unsuspecting, innocent people are asking Cortana for help with things expecting to get quality Google results, but instead they’re getting Bing.

It makes sense that this is the reason Bing is doing better. It’s good to know that few people are voluntarily using Bing. I think that most people who use Bing probably have it as their default search engine on their web browser, and it’s just too much effort to figure out how to change it. I’d be surprised if anyone actually ever typed in the URL “”.

As a Google-loving society, let’s all hope that news of Bing starting to profit will inspire more people to take a few minutes to switch their default search engine from Bing.

Microsoft, if you really want us to forget about Google and love Bing, you’re going to have to have to give us a good reason.

Live Streaming – A New Source of Income?

The other day, my mom sent me a text out of nowhere to ask if I played League of Legends. She went on to explain that a woman she worked with played and commentated the game to make a solid $500 a week on average.

I did the lazy math while looking at my screen. That's more than $25000 a year, which is extremely significant when combined with the wage from a full time job. My mom finished her train of thought to say that I could do it too. So what goes into something like this? Can anyone start streaming their video game experiences to make money? Well, the answer is a little complicated.

The most well known game streamers make their wage on the most popular streaming website: Twitch. A quick look at the front page at any time will show a serious number of views for popular games (with League of Legends being the king). Checking all of the streamers for the biggest games usually shows the top few streamers making up most of the viewcount for their game. Then there's several still in the 3-4 digit range followed by an incredible number of people broadcasting to less than 10 viewers. If I were to start streaming today, I could say with confidence that I would belong in that last category.

Several things go into being a top streamer, and they all belong with the theme of people wanting to see you play the game. Many of the top streamers are just extremely good at the game that they play. Top League of Legends professionals are in the top percentile, even though all they tend to play is the same solo experience everyone else can. Smaller streaming subsets, like speedrunning, also show a high appreciation for skill. The allure of watching someone play a video game better than you can is a mysterious one, but it certainly does exist. The second best option is a high level of charisma. Some top streamers have never touched the professional level of their game. Their service isn't gameplay, but themselves. Someone who interacts with their viewer or is just fun to listen to. The woman my mom told me about probably falls into this category, since I haven't heard of any top players from the middle of nowhere.

Now, the money itself is the interesting part. A stream with enough consistent broadcasts and viewers can partner up with the website, allowing advertisements to be played on their video, generating revenue. In addition, viewers can subscribe to the streamer for $5 a month, and around half that tends to go straight into the streamer's pockets. The benefits of subscribing include exclusive chat faces and the possibility to be invited to play on stream, which is generally not worth the money. Most subscribers tend to pay up just to support their favorite streams. A far more direct way of doing so exists, which is direct donation. Huge amounts of cash can flow from this, and these are where the games really begin.

A few months ago, one of the biggest streams I followed was tired of reading the comments attached to their donations out loud, and installed a text-to-speech program to do it for them. Several viewers donated the minimum required to get this program to activate just to tell jokes or push the censorship filter as far as they can. Eventually, the entire broadcast was taken over by the robotic voice saying things that the streamer himself would never have read out loud. But despite the fact that the gameplay and commentary of the stream was being completely shafted, he hesitated on turning it off. The amount of money being thrown out was absolutely incredible. In the end he had to tone things down, since the website did not approve of some things being communicated. This sentiment was probably shared by the streamer's multiple corporate sponsors.

This is just one example of going to the limit out of many. With just a simple look at Twitch, its clear that streaming can absolutely be a main source of income. But in the end, joining the several top dogs would take some quality nobody else has, or a long amount of time cultivating a dedicated base of viewers, subscribers, and donators. And unfortunately for me, that time would be better spent elsewhere.


I am currently doing a research project that has to do with the profiling of browsers.  Essentially how your browser holds personal information and how different mechanisms can access these attributes to create a profile of your habits.  Certain websites exploit these mechanisms in order to figure who you are in a crowd of millions.  They can than use your profile to show you certain ads or articles that might be of interest to you (although lets be honest they never are).

While researching this topic my team came across a tool created by Samy Kamkar called Evercookie.  Basically the Evercookie works like most cookies where it stores information on you in your session storage.  However, what sets the Evercookie apart is that it also uses mechanisms like JavaScript, Flash, and Silverlight to store information.  The purpose of storing the information all over the place is to reduce the ability to wipe the cookie out completely.  If you delete your sessions storage the information will be recreated from the JavaScript storage or the Flash storage.  In order to delete the cookie completely all of these mechanisms need to be disabled and its sessions storage deleted.  For the average user this is a huge problem because it can cause a lot of usability to be lost.  When you disable something like JavaScript most websites will not act the way they normally do and some don't work at all.

I wanted to give more awareness to this technology because privacy is an ongoing problem on the internet as technology gets more advanced.  The Evercookie is just one step to the elimination of privacy on the web.  Luckily, Sammy Kemkar didn't create the cookie for harm.  In fact the whole purpose of him creating it was to spread awareness to people that this sort of technology most likely exists and that websites are using it.  You can go to his website (linked at end of post) and try to create an Evercookie in your own browser session if you want.  The purpose of him creating this "test" Evercookie is so that users can see how easy it is to profile them.  Hopefully people who visit the site and successfully create an Evercookie in their session go and learn how to keep anonymity and their privacy safe while browsing the web.

If you are reading this and into hacking, Samy Kemkar is a really smart guy who dedicates a lot of time into creating different hacking tools.  Over the summer I was at the 23rd DefCon, the biggest Cyber Security conference in the world, in Las Vegas and Kemkar did a talk on hacking garage doors using a Mattel toy.  Yes the same company that creates Barbies also creates a toy that can be hacked to open almost any garage door in 10 seconds.  I'm also going to link that in the bottom of this post in case you want to see that in action.

The Future of Television

    Recently, more and more TV shows have never even aired on television.  Shows are being made for the sole purpose of being put on Netflix along with other streaming websites.  As this continues it begs the question of at what point will people no longer feel the need to pay for cable when all of their favorite shows are available whenever they want, with no commercials, for a much lower price than what it costs for the endless number of channels on cable.  As someone who mostly watches TV in order to view sporting events and endless reruns of Seinfeld, this is something that I will probably never do with the current state of streaming services (the current state being that I use my roommates Netflix account).  However, Los Angeles Clippers owner and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who is one of the most technologically inclined owners in the league, proposed the idea of setting up a web streaming website in order to allow fans to watch Clippers games without needing cable.  This of course would be for a fee, fans would either be able to pay for the entire season or to pay per game.  The NBA currently has its own streaming service, like most professional sports leagues, which fans can pay for in order to watch any game live.  However, what the NBA does not tell you is that blackout restrictions apply.  For instance, if I was living in New Jersey and wanted to watch the New York Knicks on the NBA's service, I would be unable to, due to me being in the Knicks local area.  This also applies to nationally televised games on TNT and ESPN.  This actually happened to me my freshman year of college and I was able to get around it via some internet trickery.  This was extremely inconvenient and I plan on never using this service again, due to it being extremely slow and often crashing for no apparent reason.  What Mr. Ballmer is suggesting would be available for purchase to all fans regardless of location, it would also presumably run much more smoothly.  If every team had their own streaming service, I would be inclined to purchase a subscription to each of my favorite teams in each sport and cancel my cable contract.  With the multitude of ways to put internet services onto a television screen now, there would not even be the drawback of watching on a computer monitor.  If this were to happen, along with the progression of TV shows going straight to streaming services, the cable company may, over the next several decades, find itself completely unnecessary.

Computers and the Music Industry

With advances in technology come both improvements to society and some things that society could probably do without. One such example can be found in the music industry. If you look back into the 80’s, when technology was nowhere near as advanced as it is now (duh), you find, what some argue to be, some of the greatest musicians that defined the generation. Some of the greats include Bon Jovi, Queen, Van Halen, the list goes on. As a side note, Nirvana was formed in 1987 in Seattle. All of the bands I have mentioned used actual instruments and the members had actual talent. It was only occasionally, and only for support, that they would use any kind of computer to add to their music. Synths. I can think of at least one song from each of the above bands, sans Nirvana, that used a synth, especially Van Halen.

Once you start to get into the 90’s and 00’s is when, in my opinion, things start to take a turn for the worse. Boy Bands like N*SYNC and The Backstreet Boys start to arise and attempt to show that you don’t need instruments or real voices or talent to become a popular musician. While they did prove that to be right, in my opinion, they were nowhere near as talented as other bands in the 90’s such as Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden, for example. 

However, things continue to take a turn for the worse when get to the late 00’s and early 10’s. A technique arises that will forever change, and possibly plague, the music industry forever. Autotune. Various artists like Ke$ha (or, as she goes now, at time of writing, Kesha), Akon, Chris Brown, and, dare I say it, Rebecca Black resort to this technique to try to firther their careers. With the birth and rise in popularity of autotune, you can see something very interesting start to happen. Because of the easily reproducible notes and effects on all songs on the charts, this brings the rise to the YouTube spoof trend. 

With the rise of YouTube in the late 00’s, countless people begin creating accounts and uploading content. Obviously, not all of them will rise to fame, but the ones who do, I would say, define a generation. Striving to gain viewers’ attention, these content creators start to look for ways to turn some heads towards their content. This is when the rise of the YouTube spoof begins to happen. YouTubers such as Shane Dawson and iJustine begin to turn to popular music to gain attention.

Somehow, we started off with musical greats like Bon Jovi and Queen, and ended up Shane Dawson’s YouTube spoofs. This just goes to show you how great of a social impact computerized music has had in the past few decades. With this in mind, I cannot even begin to imagine where music will be going in the future. Who knows, maybe somehow we’ll get back to 80’s Hair Metal.

Are we addicted to our phones?

Are smart phones becoming part of our body?

Ding, I just got a text. Do I wait and finish the sentence or thought that I am typing for a blog post, or do I check my phone? Nine times out of ten, I check my phone. Sometimes I actually scroll through my Facebook newsfeed until my fingers hurt. Or I find a game app to pass the time or app to get me through traffic or the one that tracks battery use, or the app that has a new modified way to chat with my friends... The crazy world of apps gets updated almost every minute, and each and every one looks wildly attractive and seems useful. I have talked to a few of my friends and family members and they all responded that they would also spend hours on their phones instead of having a human interaction or finishing stuff hat has to be done. I remember in 6th grade getting my Motorola SLVR phone because I needed a way to call my parents in order to get picked up after Math Team practice. It had no texting and no internet, just a regular cell phone to call my parents or friends when I wanted to talk. Fast forward 4 years, I decided to try out the iPhone 4. My entire world changed. I could not focus on one specific task without checking my phone if I had a text or a new Facebook message.

A few weeks ago, I dropped my phone and it broke. I was very distraught. I had to survive a whole five days without my phone until I came home and could get a new one. Those five days were some of the hardest days of my life. Why are we so addicted to our phones? I decided to test out a theory: I turned off the Wi-Fi on my phone and decided to not check my text messages, I only used it to make calls like I did with my Motorola SLVR all those years ago. All of a sudden I got so much more free time, I became more productive and I could focus more on specific tasks. I did go on Facebook and checked my texts through my computer, so I did not deprive myself of social media. But I chose when I went on it and when I focused on studying for an exam or programming my Artificial Intelligence homework, etc.

I have turned back on the Wi-Fi on my phone, but I still keep it on silent. Now, I actually check it less and I attribute my new found freedom to my week without a phone and the week of using it without Wi-Fi. Although a phone is now an essential part of our lives, wouldn’t it be nice if you could walk around without accidentally bumping into someone texting or playing Angry Birds? I implore you to try and do the “no phone for a week” challenge where you only use your phone to call and see how much it changes your view on the world and how much free time you would have, I know it helped me a lot.

You are what you Google

Justin Tsang
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Blog #4- Internet Advertisement

The Internet is Too Commercialized
            “You have mail.” To your surprise, you receive an e-mail from a retailer you shared you e-mail account with years ago to receive a 50 percent discount on that “IP on everything” tee shirt you had your eyes on. Now, your inbox is spammed with advertisements from Macy, Viagra, and Ashley Madison; all of which you have no interest on. Was it worth it?

While most users view these spam advertisements on Facebook, YouTube, and Google as a nuisance, Facebook and Google view the advertisement industry as a profitable source of revenue. By the end of 2015, YouTube expects to make over $5 billion dollars in advertising revenue alone (White). In a month, Google makes over $3 billion dollars from text ads from search results. Although we may not know it, what we search for and do on the Internet is valuable to advertising industries over a long-term. These advertising companies are so invested on users clicking their ads that the cost-per-click on Google search result is over $24 per individual. The only way to opt out of these advertisements, such as on Twitch and YouTube, is to pay a $5-$10 monthly subscription to the companies that permitted these ads in the first place.

            However, how do these tech companies track our activities on the Internet? While these commercial advertisements are transparent to users, there are some hidden methods that track users’ activities on the Internet. As one of the most popular search engine on the Internet, Google has found ways to implant tracking cookies that records users’ searches and even activities on other websites, if they are using Google Chrome. With Google, it uses a tool called Google Match which enables advertisers to tailor ads based on users purchase histories and information. For example, if a user discloses his, or her, e-mail address to a retailer, that retailer can send that address to Google to identify that user when searching on Google or watching videos on YouTube and cater ads around that product purchased from the retailer. Another method that Google allow advertisement companies use is called Similar Audiences. This tool allows advertisers to gather information on the users and find pattern of behavior that may resemble existing customers. Therefore, they can target specific ads to these users (Marshall).

            Similar to Google, Facebook is also tracking user activity and geographic location but with JavaScript. Facebook created this tool that allows it to track where its users are. When a user was on Facebook and went to other websites, such as which has a Facebook share button, he noticed that Facebook send a pull request to request JavaScript to track user on the website. The tool checks what the user is reading on the website, what you link to from Facebook, and what purchases were made on those websites (Felix).

As a result, advertisement companies are able to build a profile around a user depending on their e-mail database and search result. These companies can gain information on people’s age, gender, likes and dislikes, religious and political orientation, and even health status. For example, AdStack, an advertising company, uses users’ email addresses to gain information on their age, gender, and preferences in order to evaluate whether or not they are potential consumers of any products. By building these profiles, users are showed targeted ads along with their search results that are catered to their profiles (Greenfield).

            The problem with blocking these tracking cookies is the play on fear these sites use to prevent users turning off cookies. When disabling cookies or JavaScript, there is a pop-up alerting the user that disabling cookies and/or JavaScript on the website may cause certain functions on the site to not behave properly. As a result, many users fear to turn off these cookies because it would affect their experience on the website. This is true because there are cookies and JavaScript that are needed to keep the user from losing connection to the server and optimize user experience. Therefore, I find it deceptive for Google and Facebook to mix the exploitive cookies with the good cookies on their websites. As a result, users are unable to obtain the fullest user experience on these sites without giving away their personal information. In the end, the tech and advertising giants are profiting, while we lose our privacy and are exploited.

            However, more and more users are becoming aware of these tracking cookies and are turning to other Internet browsers, such as Safari and Firefox, to avoid Google’s browser cookies. Unlike Chrome, these alternative browsers give the users the option to choose which cookies either permit or block, and in most cases, these browser usually blocks third party cookies. Therefore, Google has been working on a new technology to continue tracking users. This new concept allows websites to inspect the hardware, software, and plugins of the user’s computer; such as the screen size, the time zone, and the plugins installed. All of these features of the user’s desktop create a unique identity of the computer and assigns an identification number to associate with the computer (Greenfield). As a result, it is harder for a user to block the advertisers from tracking their activities because it would require them to uninstall software and plugins when not in use and replace your monitor every week.

Until we speak up on the close financial ties between the Internet companies and advertisement industry, they will continue to monetize on user activities and disregard the privacies of their users. If you believe that there is nothing wrong with these companies tracking our activity since we are using their websites, then I want you to open up the command prompt and type: ipconfig /flushdns à Open up Chrome and Google search an item à Type in command prompt ipconfig /displaydns. Without you knowing there are third party cookies already pouncing on your activity on the Internet and is building a blueprint of your life. If your privacy is not your main concern to block tracking cookies, then user experience should be. With these tracking tools, they take a long transfer time to send out user data. As a result, instead of using 100 percent of your bandwidth for download speed, only a percentage of it would be allocated for actual use (Felix). Therefore, I believe that it is time for the Internet to regulate the commercial exploitation of consumers. It is time for user privacy to be a major concern of everyone and to speak against these advertising industry and tech companies tracking our every move on the Internet. For now, all we can do is use alternative Internet browsers, such as Mozilla Firefox, use incognito mode, clear search history and cookies after each Internet session, and “ipconfig /flushdns” after each Google search result.

Works Cited
Felix, Samantha. "This Is How Facebook Is Tracking Your Internet Activity."Business Insider. N.p., 09 Sept. 2012. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.
Greenfield, Rebecca. "How Google Will Track You Without Cookies." The Wire. n.p., 17 Sept. 2013. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
Marshall, Jack. "Google Will Target Ads Using Email Addresses." Wall Street Journal. n.p., 28 Sept. 2015. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
Singel, Ryan. "How Does Google Make the Big Bucks? An Infographic Answer." Conde Nast Digital, 19 July 2011. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
White, Linda. "How Much Does YouTube Pay Partners for Their Content?"Quora. n.p., 16 Oct. 2015. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.

We Need to Get our Anonymity Back

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
-Oscar Wilde

Back when I was in elementary school, when many of my peers and I were first getting access to the Internet, the adults in our lives gave us the same set of bullet points on how to behave online. The thing that they stressed the most is to never under any circumstances give out personal information, like your name, birth date, address or phone number. This was great advice: it kept a nice clean separation between real life and the web, kept people safe from digital stalkers and harassment, and allowed the free exchange of ideas without having to worry about real-world backlash. Over the past several years, however, this advice has fallen out of style. Nowadays, the expectation is that people go by their real names online, or at the very least have a pseudonym that they go by on all the sites they frequent. As this trend continued to grow, so too did the trend of targeted online harassment campaigns against specific people, as well as the increased spillover of Internet drama into real life. I believe that many of the social problems that have arisen in relation to the internet over the last few years are directly correlated to this loss of anonymity.

In the old system, where one's real life identity wasn't attached to their online persona, the greatest countermeasure to online harassment and bullying was just to make a new pseudonym. You could tell your friends that you've made a new account, and leave the bullies to endlessly spam an account no one checks anymore. You never had to worry about your family or boss judging you for the things you say online, because they couldn't be connected back to you and used against you in the future. We live in a world now where every stupid thing that you said or did as a teenager is permanently on display for your future employers to see. And while this definitely stops some of the more visible trolling and harassment online, it has a lot of dangerous implications. It prevents people from arguing for unpopular opinions, and also causes people to bottle up their feelings out of fear that their words will come back to bite them in the future. And when people have no outlet to freely express themselves, they keep building up internal pressure, anger, and resentment until they can't take it anymore and have to lash out, which may explain the recent rise in school shootings.

If you're still not convinced, I suggest to you an experiment. On some website you frequent, or even better yet, on one you don't, try creating a new name. Don't associate it with any of your other accounts online, or with your real life identity. See how it feels to be able to say whatever you're feeling without ever fearing it will be tied back to you. It's an amazing feeling, and after a week you'll never want to go back. We need to reclaim the Internet's culture of anonymity, and it all starts with you.

Wireless Medical Devices

One of the newest developments in the medical field today is the use of wireless medical devices. The devices, which are also called Radio Frequency wireless medical devices, use wireless RF communication to assist in health care delivery. Two examples of the technologies these devices use are Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Wireless Medical Telemetry. RFID is a system that has two parts, which include a tag and a reader. The reader emits radio waves, which then will receive signals back from the tag. Some of the major uses of this technology include, equipment and inventory tracking, making sure patients receive correct medication and dosage, out-of-bed and falling detection, and several others. Wireless medical telemetry is usually used in order to monitor patients’ vital signs, including things such as respiration and pulse.
            These new advancements have numerous benefits. For the medical telemetry the biggest perk is that it allows the patient to be able to move around without restricting them to a bed. Some of the other benefits of these devices include giving health care providers the ability to be able to program devices, and the also allow doctors to be able to access the information of patients whether they are in the hospital, doctor’s office, or at home. These benefits will greatly impact the medical field, for it will allow physicians to be able to monitor their patients in the comfort of their own homes, and change things such as medication dosage. These devices will also greatly help in taking care of groups such as senior citizens, for they can be constantly monitored.

            Although these devices have multiple benefits, they also have quite a few drawbacks, due to the fact that they are so new and some of the glitches are still in the process of being worked out. The biggest issue currently with these devices is that of multi-path propagation. This occurs when there is interference with signals due to walls houses or other structures. If signals are interfered with, then critical information such as a patient’s vitals or a change in a medication dosage may not reach the doctor or patient, which can have dire consequences. Another downfall of these technologies is spectrum limitations. This occurs when different frequency wavelengths are restricted by the government. Like the multi-path propagation, spectrum limitations can result in the same consequences due to important information not being received by doctors or patients. Some other drawbacks that are not as serious as the first two mentioned, include user mobility and security issues. Although these devices do have some setbacks, they are quite new to the field and still can be greatly improved. The benefits outweigh the flaws, and over time these devices will greatly improve the medical field. 

Why Pens & Pencils Aren't Going Anywhere

For at least the past decade, people have theorized that the shift from writing with a pen or pencil in a classroom to writing on a tablet is just around the corner. Every year, it seems that this change should be closer and closer. New technology has made translation from tablet scribbles into text simple and fast, and tablets are getting cheaper and faster. So why does it seem like we aren’t any closer to this goal than we were a decade ago?

The most important issue to address is cost. Now, immediately after reading this sentence, you’re probably thinking, “What does he mean, ‘cost’? If I tallied up all the pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, and binders I’ve bought during the course of my education, a tablet would end up being much cheaper! I only need one of those!” And you’re right. But the important thing to examine is that you’ve been buying these supplies over the course of several years. A tablet, on the other hand, is an expensive one-time purchase. Lower income communities are barely able to afford those school supplies, it’s entirely unfeasible to expect them to be able to fish out a few hundred dollars when living paycheck to paycheck. And this is assuming that you only need one tablet for your entire educational career. Now imagine all the times that you’ve dropped your own phone, tablet, or laptop. Even most middle class families wouldn’t be able to keep up with a clumsy child breaking their tablet every few months. Furthermore, with the rate at which tablet technology advances, it’s likely that you will need to upgrade your tablet at some point. And schools certainly can’t afford to provide the children with these tablets, as most K-12 schools already barely make do. And if you think you can convince parents to support tax hikes to fund a program like this, not only purchasing tablets but also training, good luck.

Another important set back deals not with the students and their families, but with the teachers. While most kids these days grow up around technology, and know their way around it, the teachers weren’t raised in the same culture. It’s fundamentally impossible for a school to function around tablet use when the teachers themselves don’t know how to use one. Sure, the school could provide training for each teacher, but as mentioned earlier, the schools simply don’t have the budget to do this. And even if the teachers were tech-savvy enough to know their way around a tablet, as they doubtlessly will become as time goes on, they, along with the students, will still be unfamiliar with whatever software the school adopts for the collection of student data. With an untrained instructor, this will make organization of assignment and exams a very time consuming process. And each new school will likely adopt different software, making training the students every few years a significant effort.

While tablets could undoubtedly enhance the classroom experience, these important factors cause significant hurdles to cross before a tablet in the hands of every student is a reality. The potential benefits of a tablet system simply cannot outweigh the monumental effort and cost required to do away with the paper system. Don’t expect to be throwing out your #2 anytime soon.

Our voice will echo in the space of Virtual Reality

          The sounds of the ending credits of the movie was quickly drowned out by our excitement at praising and criticizing the movie.  Our voices echoed throughout the vast white space around us.  “You know you should decorate this room with more than just a TV and couch,” one of my friends commented as he looked around at the bare space around us.  I replied, “Eh, the bare essentials is good enough for me.  I’ll be right back, I think I hear my cat asking for food again.” I press a button the vast whiteness suddenly turned dark.  I removed the head set from my eyes and confirmed my cat clawing at my pants while meowing.
          This could soon be our reality!  The consumer version of the Oculus Rift comes out some time next year and with it the untapped potential of its revolutionary technology.  I believe that this device will be the starting point for a new chapter in digital media technology.  The theoretical applications of this device have ranged from simple office usage to enhanced gaming technology.  If linked to a social network or a program like Skype, one could create a 3-D digital chat room where the users can look at each other and hold a more realistic conversation (this being even more enhanced with emerging 3-D sound software).  From a social standpoint, it would make friends separated across the world to meet together in their digital rooms and play together.  I believe it would be trivial for these rooms to display screens where friends can watch movies together or play games by using input from real controllers to play games on a virtual screen.  Movie theaters could use this technology to create a new level of immersion for the audience.  Imagine having a headset on that allowed you to look away from the action and turn to the scenery around yourself and more fully appreciate the beauty of the scene (of course this would depend on the quality of the movies utilizing this technology, but that’s not what I will discuss here).  I have seen a university developing the next generation of roller coasters using the Oculus Rift.  They have discovered that when the human body is experiencing centripetal force from a turn in a roller coaster, it is unable to discern the exact degree of change.  This allowed students to create a digital ride that masked on top of the existing roller coaster, but completely changed the path while giving it a new look.
          Despite such an optimistic outlook on the potential of the Oculus Rift, there is one area of concern that I have with this emerging technology.  Ever since the start of this class, I had been disturbed by my discovery of how many people (primarily the younger generations) are concerned and obsessed with things such as social media and smart phones.  I have known people who literally cannot keep their hands off their smart phones to check something every few minutes.  When my friends and I go out to eat, we sometimes have everyone stack their phones into one pile so that we would socialize with each other instead of with our phones.  From what I recall, the price of the Oculus Rift is slated to be around $500 or more.  If this price were to drop low enough, I could imagine that owing an Oculus Rift, or any similar device, being as common of a sight as owning a smart phone.  Imagine people simply laying or sitting down all day while communicating through their headset instead of even bothering to walk 3 blocks down to actually meet with a friend.  The final destination of this train of thought lead me to the movie “Wall-E” where the surviving humans move around in floating chairs and don’t even bother looking left or right because they had a screen in front of them to talk too.  They are lost inside a virtual world that makes them ignore the real world.
          To me, the Oculus Rift brings joy and concern.  This technology is the starting gate for the creation of immersive virtual worlds.  I can imagine large vast recreations of popular worlds such as Middle-Earth from The Lord of the Rings.  Being able to look around and explore the creations of creative developers would be awe inspiring.  Therein lies the danger that people may become too immersed in this technology.  This brings me to my final question, what’s next?  I will leave this next portion as a separate blog post, but I will reveal that my next post will relate the Oculus Rift to a similar technology introduced in the anime “Sword Art Online” called the NerveGear.