Archive for February, 2010

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Crime and Social Media

February 21, 2010

I’ve always been a supporter of social media sites, probably ’cause I caught the myspace craze right when this whole mess started, and have been riding the wave ever since. But, I’m also a supporter of intelligence, and in the context of social media, intelligence translates to knowing how to use the site/program you are using well enough to cover your ass. I’ve found myself (nearly) ranting about this a lot lately, especially in discussions in my blogging class (there’s a lot more ranting going on in my head – I’m not much of a talker in class, but moving on).

There are a great deal of people out there (it’s becoming more and more apparent to me) that are afraid of the potential power of social media. Your facebook might be searched by a potential employer, and those pictures of your drunken shenanigans might cost you a job. Your Twitter post might get picked up by a professor, employer, family member (whoever you don’t want reading your status update). Your foursquare account might reveal your whereabouts to potential stalkers or robbers. It’s dangerous, out there on the internet – everyone is trying to take advantage of you (thanks a TON scamville). And yet, it somehow rarely occurs to these social media nay-sayers that perhaps the solution is intelligent use.

I’m bringing this up because, while on my quest for a new car in Pittsburgh this weekend, I heard an announcement on a radio station that a new site, pleaserobme.com, is posting updates about when people are away from their houses based on status updates primarily from foursquare, but possibly also from facebook and twitter. The radio announcer used this site as a warning against posting status updates to facebook, twitter, myspace, or foursquare – ’cause people can track you and rob you!
After checking into the site, though, the main point of pleaserobme.com is to raise awareness of the wrong way to use social media(what I shall henceforth call, the unintelligent use of social media).

Posting about how you feel, a project you’re working on, a cool quote you heard in a movie, etc. – while pointless to some, is intelligent use of social media. Posting your whereabouts is unintelligent, if you happen to live alone, or have a stalker (not many of us do, but some of the better narcissists made from the social media explosion would like to think they’re stalk-worthy, so I’ll leave the judgement on that one up to you individuals). Posting something like “At BAR, will be here till 3am, totally drunk, here’s some pics” is unintelligent use, and is possibly asking for it. On the one hand, the Internet is a very big place, and (despite what the social media narcissists will tell you) no one really gives a crap about anyone else. We might all just be too busy updating our status on facebook to go out in the world and rob your house. But, on the other hand… the average facebook user has 300+ (can’t remember the exact stat) friends – many have a lot more that that, to make up for losers like me who keep the friends count in the double digits. If your account is not secure and closed, anyone can follow you on twitter. Same goes for foursquare. Everyone on myspace is 14, so I’m not going to go into that one. People, it seems, do not lock down their personal pages. And if they do, they turn around and “friend” 600 random people – thus defeating the purpose of any page security in the first place. With all of those people out there, and alert to the fact that you’re away from home for x hours and sloppy drunk, there is a slight chance that you’ll get yourself robbed, attacked when you get home, killed, etc. (very slight – but let’s all be paranoid for a moment and think about this).

This becomes more of a problem when a site like pleaserobme.com shows up to show us all how stupid we’ve been acting, and provides info on our comings and goings to the general public – just like we have been doing. Some might say that the site should be shut down, that the folks at pleaserobme are promoting crime and stealing people’s information, but with that claim, we should all be shut down too. Looking at my facebook page, I can get information on my address, find out that I’m in a relationship someone and link over to his information, get my phone number, links to all the other sites I use, and information on what I’m doing at the moment via my status. That’s enough information for anyone to figure out how to rob me if I decide to post about being out of the house. HOWEVER! None of that information is available to the general public, and I’m a horrible shut-in with very few “friends” who can get to that info. This is the solution for those who fear social media related robbings, crimes, etc: get over your need for a false-sense of self importance, ditch the thousands of friends you don’t ever talk to, and learn how to use security features available to you on the social media sites you use. This will also keep your boss from finding all those embarrassing pictures of you.

Now, I understand that it’s mostly the facebook narcissists that are so afraid of someone tracking them down, and that this might end in a logic-loop, going back and forth between the need for self-affirmation through friends and the need to ditch those friends to keep your stalkers at bay. I don’t think there’s anything anyone can do for those people. But, for the rest of us – who might fall into that trap from time to time, or just might not know any better. Be smart. The whole idea of social media is creating the possibility for individuals to talk to the world – so think about what you want the world to know before you post it, and if you don’t want the world to know, and still want to post it, well – security features are there for a reason.

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Car Shopping

February 21, 2010

Earlier this week, my beloved boyfriend flipped my beloved car and while the boy is okay, the car is not. The physics of the crash on their own are quite fascinating (he managed to flip an excessively lowered honda civic equipped with sway bars, a feat in itself, and did this by lifting the front of the car, engine and all, up and over the back wheels, landing it on its roof without scratching the sides of the car at all) but what I’ve been finding this week is yet another amazing application for the internet, which I have never really had to use before – shopping. This is not your mother’s internet shopping either. I’ve been doing some intense information gathering on a ton of cars I’m looking into purchasing (well… making the boyfriend purchase). It really is amazing – the amount of information out there for anyone with the ability to type the word “google” into their browser.

I remember when I went shopping for my Civic – back when I was 17, recovering from the destruction of my first car (I pretty much blew it up) and in search of the ideal car (to a 17 year old, of course). I was pouring over auto trader magazines and classified adds, hoping to find something cool. I had my poor parents driving all over western Washington and parts of Oregon for the better part of three weeks, going out on test drives, getting a feel for what was out there, and getting some sort of idea of what a “good” car was. Ultimately, I decided on the purple civic with a super loud muffler and a bunch of modifications to the engine that I didn’t know anything about (at the time). In subsequent years, and with many a google search and a tuning forum, I discovered words like “sway bars” “cold air intake” “DOHC V-Tec” “Turbocharger” and, my personal favorite “Customization”, as well as what these things meant and how they worked in my car. I learned about what my car was capable of, what else could be done to it, and how to accomplish these projects. I was hooked, and I’ve loved fast cars ever since.

I never imagined giving up my Civic – I had some idealistic dream of handing it off to my kids one day, all tuned-to-shit and awesome. But, the time has come to replace it (Everyone keeps telling me my idea of chopping the portion of the roof that is compromised and turning it into a convertible is a bad idea) and I’m finding the Internet to be a better resource than I ever imagined. Beyond finding the best deal, which is very helpful, and finding maps on how to get to where that best deal is (even more helpful – I can’t even tell north from south out here for some reason) I’m able to take my somewhat limited knowledge of what to look for in a car and run with it. I’m checking up horsepower ratings, safety ratings (mostly for the boyfriend) consumer ratings, all that stuff. I’m getting into forums for custom tuning jobs and finding out which cars can be enhanced more easily than others, and how much the parts for such enhancements cost. All in all, I’m feeling like I have a pretty good idea about what I’m doing, what I want, and what I should get (pretty much settled on a Mini Cooper S, for those interested). And as an extra bonus, I know enough about the cars I’m checking out that when some pompous, sexist car salesman tries to tell me there’s a turbocharged engine in a car that looks completely stock, I can call him on it, and get a better deal.

So that’s been my week – shopping for cars and haggling. All thanks to the internet.

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I’m old…

February 13, 2010

… or at least sometimes I feel old. I was out in Pittsburgh with my friend Boya today, doing some shopping for fancy new clothes for an AEJMC conference we’re attending, and while enjoying some of the finer foods available in the food court, we noticed a group of especially young-looking kids hanging out and playing with their cell phones. All of them seemed to have one, and each had it out, and was rapidly clicking away at it. Of course, Boya and I were astonished, and reminisced about our cell-phone free youth.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, kids have been making up more and more of the cell phone market for years, but with the recent rise of the smart phone, one has to wonder what exactly a 12 year old needs with a blackberry or an iphone. I report from Mashable makes this shift in consumerism even more interesting. According the the statistics they published, 75% of teens age 12 – 17 own cell phones. The report also suggests that 93% of teens in this age group are going online, and are more active in social networking sites than in sites dedicated to content creation, like blogs. This may explain what teens are using their cell phones for. Most phones sold today come with internet capabilities, text capabilities, and cameras. Some come with sound and video recording capabilities. It’s easier than ever to take a photo, go online, post it, and post a update to your social networking site of choice all on your phone, and this is likely why teens want these phones. Plus their friends have them. Plus they’re ‘cool’.

There are two questions I have, in relation to teens and phones: 1.) Where do they get all of this money? Last time I checked, a decent smart phone plan was upwards of $100 per month. I can’t even afford that bill (granted, I’m a student, so I’m not exactly wealthy, but still). It’s safe to assume these kids aren’t paying for these phones. Which leads me to question 2.) Do kids really need this much technology? If you’re in this age group, you’re supposed to be spending most of your time in school. Having taught 7th and 8th grade for one year, I know how much of a distraction a phone can be, and how inconvenient it can be to try to take them away. Parents throw fits when a teacher locks up an iphone in their desk drawer for a week. And rightly so – it’s an expensive gadget, and it’s 25% of a monthly bill completely lost. Even more so, it makes the parent actually have to keep track of their child – they can’t just call them and track them down. But what else is there to do? You have students posting to facebook instead of paying attention.

Another thing to consider, is how this will change the way future internet users actually use the internet. One could argue that with time, with knowledge, and with developed interests, the teens today may grow up to become the next generation of content-creators and follow in our footsteps, but old habits die hard. What may develop is a very limited understanding of what the internet has to offer (limited to facebook, myspace, shopping, and the occasional google map search) as well as the death of the blogosphere and with it the potential for a new take on public sphere communication. It’s hard to understand what the internet will be treated as for the generation of users who haven’t grown up without access, but it certainly shouldn’t be treated like a toy, as it is now (well, at least not as much, the internet can be a cool toy). That will come with education, especially on the responsible use of technology. Giving kids access to this as a treat, or a reward, or a form of allowance, is not the way to teach the younger generation to use technology – they don’t get any of the educational or informative benefits from the web, and they take all of the frivolous, sometimes meaningless crap that  is making the internet seem so small.

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Art Vs. Photography

February 12, 2010

As part of my job as a graduate student at West Virginia University, I teach a section of a lab class on photoshop techniques. As part of the module, I incorporate a presentation on the ethics of photography, photo-journalism, and photo manipulation. I end up asking my students about where the line between ethical manipulation and unethical manipulation is drawn, and it seems to always land near the line between informative photography and artistic photography. As an amateur photographer as well as an artist, I tend to see it a bit differently.

I have problems with the term “fine-art photography” and “artistic photography”. True photography, for me, is a way of capturing a moment, a small flash, of reality. Good photographers have enough experience with the medium, and with the capabilities of their equipment, to understand how to make the reality they’re seeing appear on film in an artistic manner. A recent collection on The Big Picture blog featuring photos from India show how with just a camera and a creative photographer, a picture can be made artistic. Some of the photos are very artistic, some less so, and some are simply photos. And this is why I separate photography from art. Art, no matter how un-artistic it is, is art (just ask Bob Ross). A photograph can be artistic, but it’s always a photograph, and it is always somehow informative.

Technology complicates the matter. We now have digital art that can be made without any physical materials, or with a collection of materials including forms traditional art, photography, and digital media. This seems to be where the line between ethical and unethical manipulations as far as photojournalism goes lies. It becomes the line between photojournalism and advertisement photography, or other informative non-photojournalistic photography. In class, I bring up the famous Kim Kardashian photographs to point this difference. I try to stress that it’s not about her cellulite – it’s about the creation of an image that no longer represents reality. Programs like photoshop are taking a medium that is supposed to be a means to preserve moments from reality, and allowing users to turn such images into pieces of art by removing the reality from them.

I guess the point here is to stress the idea that what we take for granted as true may no longer be an actual representation of reality. I wonder if there are really any ethical ways to manipulate a photograph for journalistic purposes. The technology that accompanied photography always allowed for some manipulation – cropping, dodging, burning, etc – but when you can adjust the saturation of colors, increase contrast, spot heal any flaws that showed up in the image, are you really representing reality? Some would argue yes, that this technology merely allow us better ways to adjust for flaws in the equipment used to take the photo, to correct white balance, exposure, etc and create a better representation of what the situation really looked like, but then we are relying on a person’s perception of the situation, not the actual representation of the moment, and this falls into the realm of art, and out of the realm of photography. Call me a purist, but I almost feel that digital manipulations take photography from the medium of photography to the medium of digital art. It’s concerning, also, that so many student’s don’t recognize this. It’s always interesting to hear student’s responses (those that do respond, most choose to sit quietly and wait for me to give in and give them an answer) because so many are unsure what exactly the technology they’re learning is doing to the image, and are even more unsure of the actual value of a depiction of reality versus a manipulated version of that depiction. Perhaps it’s another effect of the digital age – but it makes teaching this sort of stuff nearly impossible.

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Things to see when in Seattle for Pax

February 9, 2010

Being from Seattle, and being a bit of a geek, I have a deep love for the Penny Arcade convention, and have decided to provide for you a map of all the cool things to do in the area when in attendance at PAX.

Seattle has a ton of awesome things to do. Part of why I love the city so much is because there is always something awesome to do, something cool going on, at all hours of the day (or night). From the convention center, where PAX takes place, its only a few short blocks to some of the best Seattle has to offer. A short walk west down Pike Pl. takes you right up to Puget Sound, and down into the famous Pikes Place Market. The Market has a good deal of tourist attractions, like the dudes that throw fish and the numerous flower vendors, but the real gems of the area are a little harder to find. There is an excellent comic books store deep in the lower levels of Pikes, that will keep you up on whatever manga, comics, etc you are reading. There’s also a magic shop (like magicians, not magic the gathering) and an excellent music store buried down there, so explore and check out all the little offshoot hallways.

Once on the street level at Pikes Market, you can also venture up into Post Alley. If your the kind of geek that has a good paying job, and if you didn’t blow all your money on classic comic books down at the comic store, you can find one of the best restaurants in Seattle there. The Pink Door is famous for it’s delicious food, but also has an amazing atmosphere. If you hold off on going here until Sunday, you can catch a trapeze show done right over your table while you dine. Be advised though, if you go looking for this place, pay close attention. There are no signs to let you know you’re there, it’s tucked away in the alley, and only marked by the pink door in the grey brick walls that make up the walls of the alley.

If you haven’t got enough of the gaming world during the hours PAX is open, you can head over to GameWorks, which is only one block west and one block north of the convention center. GameWorks, a multi-level arcade, is open late on the weekends, and after 10pm, becomes a 21+ only bar, with open access to the arcade. So if you don’t feel comfortable sneaking your flask into the con, you can still get your drunken guitar heroing on after hours. Gameworks is also located near the major shopping area in Seattle, Pacific Place, where you can take care of some fine, city-style shopping and dining before you head home.

Also, if you head south from Pike Place Market, you can hit the Seattle Art Museum. You may have to skip some of PAX so stop by, or schedule an extra bit of time before or after the convention, but there’s always something interesting on display. Walking through downtown Seattle, you’ll pass by tons of galleries, and you should pop in and check out what there is on display, but the SAM is a great place to see some world class art that you can’t usually find anywhere else.

So there it is, a guide to my home town, for those fellow geeks that may be headed out there this summer to check out the most awesome gaming convention ever (no, comic con. is not a gaming convention – so it doesn’t count). Or, hey, skip PAX and just go to Seattle – it’s an awesome city, with loads of innovative and interesting stuff  – from high tech to high art – to check out.

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Blog-A-Day Week – Final Thoughts

February 8, 2010

Our class assignment this week has been to create a substantial post for our individual blogs on a daily basis, starting February 1st and continuing for a week. (The dates on my blog are slightly off, as the clock was set five hours ahead of eastern standard time, so most of the posts are one day off).

Initially, I thought this would be a difficult, time consuming task. I envisioned deep research, hours spend searching the web for just the right thing to write about, and then for more information about my topic to add to my post. But this was not the case at all. Starting from day 1, my posts developed quite quickly. I would find an article that seemed interesting on a different blog, think about the deeper meaning of that topic, then start writing. If I found that I needed more information, a quick google search for key words related to my subject was all that was necessary to round out my information.

I think this assignment has changed my outlook on exactly how big the Internet really is. For the past few years, I’ve used the Internet mainly to check my e-mail, facebook, and myspace (yup, still using myspace… I’m a loser) and occasionally do that ‘other stuff’ (signing up for classes, google-searching for information for school, and shopping, mostly). This behavior on my part developed a sense that the internet was shrinking – that less and less information was available as people were filtering into the major social media sites, and that the bulk of what was left after social media was reserved for commercial or academic purposes. Now I’m realizing this is simply not so. It is easy to fall into a routine where you use the Internet for only a few specific tasks, and simply stop thinking about everything else that is out there, but that doesn’t mean that is has disappeared, or that it is not being used by a large number of people. The ease with which I found fodder for my blog posts is a testament to this fact, and I came away from this assignment feeling like everyone, at some point, should attempt something like this, if only to better understand this tool that has become a part of our daily lives.

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The many faces of Internet Technology

February 7, 2010

While poking through Mashable this evening, looking for something interesting to write about, I came across three posts that at first seemed completely unique, but after consideration, were all connected. The first as a post about Google’s first Super Bowl advertisement. The ad to fun, “Parisian Love” uses google searched to tell the story of a young man’s adventure in Paris. Each search marks a milestone in his live – finding the right study abroad program, finding the cafe where he meets a woman, wooing said woman, finding a job in Paris, getting married, and having a kid. The ad essentially shows the influence Google has on our lives. We get directions, find important places, and make important life decisions based on the information we gather from our google searches. I initially questioned the extent to which this was true, but then recalled how I figured out which university I would attend for graduate school (google search: Journalism Grad Schools).

The second post I came across was a bit more difficult to understand the importance of. It featured a twitter-powered popcorn popping robot. At first, all I could think was “how pointless, and what a brilliant way of developing a new meme”. Tell people that by typing in “popcorn” to twitter, they’ll make this cool little robot start making popcorn somewhere in the world, and that’s possibly all you will be seeing on twitter for the next few days. But, an invention like this is actually cool, at the conceptual level. It’s a way of physically measuring the popularity of something on twitter, and how effectively that thing is being spread across the internet. Whether anyone needs that much popcorn or not is a completely different question (I’m sure it can be turned off at some point) but the idea behind it is kind of remarkable. We can now measure the memes, and get a slightly better understanding of how well and how fast information is spreading. The machine made it to mashable already – and I hope, if it’s still connected, that the guys who made it have a nice stockpile of kernels to keep it running.

The third post was a bit more serious in nature. It discussed the Internet communications slow down (almost shut down) in Iran. Just days before a major protest against the Irani President is scheduled to occur, reports of slowed connections have been coming from the country. The Irani government blames a damaged cable (located conveniently at the bottom of the ocean) for the slow down, and claims that it will be repaired by the end of next week. Text messaging has also been disrupted in the country, which the government claims is the result of “changing software”. These developments are suspicious, to say the least, but are also indicative of the power of an Internet connection. The Irani government learned its lesson from the last major protests against the government, in which the information coming from the Irani citizens spread faster than the government could control. So now, it seems, the Internet has become something governments fear (or at least, is more feared than before – when we take China’s great firewall into account).

The power given to individuals connected to the Internet is the power for individuals to connect with the world. It could manifest itself in a trip to Paris, in a bowl of popcorn, or in global support of an oppressed people. All three of these posts point to one way in which individuals can use the internet to change the world they live in, and it seems, when you take a step back and look at everything that is going on, that despite the loss to human interaction, to face-to-face contact and conversation, that we are all really more connected than we really understand.