Archive for April, 2005

CNN on Global Warming

Thursday, April 21st, 2005

I notice CNN has a new ‘feature’ on Global Warming up.

It presents three sections, Science, Impact, and Policy, and while it generally doesn’t present anything other than a few flash timelines and a collection of articles which have already been published, but its semi-presence is interesting. If you check the CNN entry webpage, it occaisonally appears just below the main headline if you have no cookie set on your machine, but if you’ve chosen the international CNN edition, a different article appears in the same place about e-waste, and the global warming article doesn’t appear at all. I wonder who they’re targeting?

I am guessing it’ll be some time before the FoxNews climate change special comes up.

“Don’t be Evil” Corporate Culture

Thursday, April 21st, 2005

From the Globe and Mail, in a bit of Canadian understatement:

Google Inc., Silicon Valley’s latest garage-to-riches story, is metamorphosing before our collective eyes into the single most important company on the planet, if it hasn’t claimed that title already.

But what strikes me—and this is from the slashdot entry that alerted me to the Globe and Mail article–is the corporate ethos of Google:

“If Sergey and Larry stick to their corporate mantra — Don’t be evil — and are able to stem degeneration into the typically corrupt corporate ethos, who knows, they may just succeed in assuming the fair and honourable dominion over the world’s information they so naively set out to achieve eight years ago in their garage.””

Is there something inherently good about Internet companies because they increase the accessibility of information? Will the success of Google over its new rival, Microsoft, be the success of good corporate culture over presumably evil corporate culture?

What do we do?

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

In this course, and more generally, it has seemed that many people believe that substantial change can be effected simply by providing more information. It is our hope that people will change their behavior when are informed of the terrible consequences their actions are having both on themselves, but also the environment, and others. This is not confined to environmental discussions, but politcal and economic policy as well.

The problem is, this information has, and is, available. Despite the common complaint about the bias, which I notice (for Americans) tends to invoke FoxNews and Rush Limbaugh from the left, and CNN, The New York Times and NPR from the right (I feel an excellent example of how the right has been able to muddy the waters in the past few years), there are still excellent articles written about the climate change, economic violence, and political corruption. However it does not seem that any of this is having any effect except to fuel partisan bickering in the US.

The discussions I watch tend to be on the internet, and occaisonally when I’m around cable TV, on the news networks. And commonly it is like both sides are debating with entirely different sets of facts. I once tried to argue for gay marriage on an online bulletin board, only to have the argument made that downfall of the Roman empire was directly attributable to homosexuality. When I expressed amazement, I was told it was surprising I had not learned about it in high school, as it is apparently common knowledge. I proceeded to look up in various indexes accounts of the fall of the roman empire, and saw no evidence. Evidently this knowledge was in a parallel knowledge universe, which I was simply unable to find.

Undoubtedly in this parallel universe, I would find answers to many baffling questions, what good is restricting the rights of gays, why is having guns a pre-requisite for freedom, why should the lives of people in other countries be worth less?

How can we convince someone of anything political when they believe Vietnam was not only required, its results were positive, that Reagan was singlehandedly responsible for the downfall of the evil empire of the USSR, and that global warming is the creation of alarmist ‘activist’ scientists. It is like trying to talk to aliens, it’s hard to find the common ground.

We need something to fight FoxNews. It sounds elitist, but many right wing issues make considerably nicer sound bites. The elitist intellectualism on the left is alienating to those who can’t decipher it, we’re not going to change the world with Chomsky like treatises, or even with friendly pie charts the only people who would read them are already convinced, and those whom we’re presumably trying to convince would dismiss it faster than we would a Rush Limbaugh explanation of why abortion is evil. The source, and the image, now count for far more than the message. The last US election convinced me that changing the world (in North America at last) depends not on better informing people of the statistics and issues, but by appealing to their ego and sense of being correct. People are not voting for George Bush and Ralph Klein because of their elegant writing or complex grasp of issues. People are doing so because they identify with the constructed personas of those leaders, and believe that they themselves know best.

where’s the line?

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

As I think I have mentioned, I am helping to organize a youth conference on climate change. We have a fabulous website up and running and like all websites is available to Internet users in most parts of the world. While the conference is geared towards Canadian youth, we have had inquiries from environmentally minded youth in Kenya and Vietnam. In both cases the youth are involved in environmental issues in their home and country and are interested in coming to the conference in order to gain insight and an enhanced perspective through collaborating with others from another country.

There is no doubt that this is yet another example of globalization – the internet has allowed people from various countries to come together and communicate – possibly even meet face to face. Globalization is generally considered to be a “bad thing”… resulting in culture disintegration and corporate takeover. But is it necessarily a bad thing? In this instance, is it bad because two international youth want to come to a conference in Canada and then take what they learned back to their home countries and improve their inspiration for the projects they are working on?

This is only one case of Internet-mediated communication enabling an entirely unprecedented communication regime with participants from all around the world. This is globalization. Maybe with a little direction pointing, we can turn this into a really good thing… not something that ruins culture but enhances understanding and appreciation of the varying cultures of our world; or maybe something that allows for positive cooperation and collaboration on environmetal projects… The possibilities are endless. We just have to get rid of that ignorance!

as if it couldn’t get any better

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

Good news everyone! The blackberry is being improved… phew! I was getting really tired of dealing with that aging blackberry I don’t have. Wallace wireless is coming out with new capabilities for black berries – instant notification, web cam capability and the like. Personally, I am in no way affected by this news… I wonder how many people are.

Is increasing computer technology just increasing the social divide between the rich and the poor? Not only are the economic disparities already in place but now, these two communities (rich and poor) have even less things that they spend their time thinking about. For instance, at one point maybe both the rich and the poor would have spent a significant amount of time thinking about the value of having a public park in the middle of the city, possible for different reasons, but nonetheless. However, now, the rich – I say this only because they are the ones able to access technology, generally – are spending more and mroe time being wrapped up in thinking about the latest technology to add on to their computer or blackberry or the newest cell phone with the latest features. Is this good for social cohesion amongst communities, is this even good for the social health of the people within one community?

Blog review: Free Nature Blog

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

This is my dream blog ! Well… you know. Anyway, this blog is contributed to by avid outdoorspeople, naturalists and adventurers from around the world. Contributors tell stories, discuss natural history and debate identification of sightings, “no! that’s not possible you couldn’t have seen a cougar in nova scotia.”… you get the idea.

An added feature of this blog is that there is sort of a photo journal as well. Users can add pictures from the time spent in the outdoors.. A section of the photo blog is dedicated to animal tracks. There is one photo of heron tracks… who would ever think to look at the tracks of a heron, some people may not even put two and two together and not consciously realize that herons even make tracks! We are always so much more interested in the big, powerful and charismatic – be it the biggest and most powerful computer or the big grizzly bears in the forest! What is wrong with us?

microsoft imitates wiki

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

Microsoft has added a new feature to its Encarta encyclopedia software whereby users can suggest changes or improvements. The changes are vetted and approved by the Encarta editors. I think it’s an attempt to win over many wikipedia fans who like the concept of being able to contribute to a communal body of knowledge. There is also the benefit for Microsoft that others will be doing most of their work for them. I wonder now if Encarta is a virtual public space? a virtual community?

Looking for “coldspots”

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

There has been a few posts on the blog about wireless networking of whole cities. Montreal is not fully networked yet but most places where I use my computer (university, home, coffee places) are. So basically all the time my computer is open, I am connected to the Internet. Although I initially thought it was a great idea, I’m now starting to have some reserve, because now I get disturbed all the time. Skype messages, email
messages, or just the urge to go check if there is new post on the blog. When I reeeaally have to get the work
done I manage to forget about all that, but when I’m not under some pressure I always manage to get distracted and not being productive. I discussed my problem with my housemates before to find out they had the same problem.
So I started to hunt down coffee places that do not have free wireless Internet so I can work undisturbed.
As wireless Internet as now become a competitive advantage, they are getting rarer and rarer.
All this, just to say that I was wondering if in a fully networked city, we would find “Coldspots”,
(in opposition to “hotspots”) where we are not networked and I can happily work.

Creditencia talk on privacy

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

Privacy and security on the Internet and with ITC in general are becomming more and more of an issue. However there is already some technologies existing to address some of these issues.

This semester in the CS department we had a talk by a Mcgill adjunct professor who is one of the founders of Credentica, a company specialized in identity and access management. Their technology is quite interesting; it allows for example, multiple parties to exchange information about an individual between parties, but only with the individual concent. They call this non-intrusive identity services. The speaker gave us a hint
that the main reason these kind of technologies are not used much yet in governmental agencies for example are mainly political.

human cloning = computer use?

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

After reading this article about human cloning. I got thinking about just what we use computers for. The article is about harvesting organs from “made to order” humans. In essence, if one of your organs breaks down, it would be easier for you to find a new one, or have a new one found for you.

My question is, are we using computers as substitute brains? I realize that this may seem like a pretty bizarre question, but seriously, is it that we find our brains can’t work fast enough or think of enough ideas on their own that we must turn to computers – to check our spelling, to check our grammar, to translate things from one language to another, or to reserach ideas?

Is it that there should be just as big of an ethical concern regarding computers for use by brains as for cloning humans for new organs?

of earthquakes and computers

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

All earthquake recordings today are recorded digitally by digital seismographs. All the records and stored digitally and any warnings issued by earthquake centres are based on digital information. I don’ t know about you, but my computer hasn’t exactly been ms. perfectly faithful during the last few years.. is it not possible that these computers that are used in earthquake science might break down, freak out or freeze up (back to personifying computers!). So while the early warning systems that are in place in some parts of the world may seem like a good idea, it is theoretically possible that they could just stop working – without warning. What would that leave us with? a lot of money spent for no good.

Computers and emotions (again)

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

I’ve been pondering this for a while. In an age where computers are being used more and more for communication, is it actually possible for a human to convey to another human their emotions, feelings, sentiments, underlying meanings, etc. In person to person communication there are so many signals to help us interepret what the other person is saying: body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, etc… when we use computers there are only the words (unless you get into webcams) that are available. For instance, can you tell how i am feeling write now as i write this? What if I were crying? If i was actually writing, with a pen and paper, you might be able to see evidence of tear drops. Not on a computer though…

Sony launching Virtual Goods Auction Site

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

We discussed to auctioning of virtual goods already, but now it’s apparantly becoming so big business that Sony is getting into it.

“Late Tuesday, the company unveiled Station Exchange, an auction site that allows players to spend real money on virtual weapons, armor, coins and new, high-level characters.”

Check the story on Wired

Blog Review: MAKE

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

For my blog review I decided to review the blog of a new magazine by O’reilly, the magazine “MAKE”.
Make is self proclaimed: “The first magazine devoted to digital projects, hardware hacks, and Do-It-Yourself
inspiration”, the blog is basically an extension of the magazine, it seems like the magazine editors
are the posters. It teaches you how to hack and make interesting, although sometime useless things
with the technology around you, how to make the technology do things they are not meant to.

Here’s a few example of the kind of stuff you can find on the blog:

– How to turn the portable play station into a web browser
– How to make panoramic photos with your camera phone
– How to overclock (make faster) your Texas instrument calculator
– How to load wirelessly homebrew application on your Nintendo DS
– How to turn your cellphone in a magnetic stripe card reader.
– How to make Halloween decoration using wiper motors
– How to make an infrared web cam
– Solar powered iPod shuffle
– How Swatch watches work
– How to install a VSAT in Iraq

And the list just goes on and on…. there’s a few post a day.

I found that blog quite interesting, in the first place because although we often see electronic technologies
around us as black boxes, this blog shows that the black box is not that hard to break.
I think it is also a great potential source of ideas on how to recycle electronic devices.
I’m not sure of the popularity of that blog and the MAKE magazine, but it seems like hacking have turned
into a mainstream hobby.


Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

I came across that interesting article on “Egocasting”.
Christine Rosen explains how we went from broadcasting (initial TV chanels) to narrowcasting (specialized channel MTV, ESPN, etc..) to egocasting (TiVo, iPod, etc..). She explains the control that the new technologies have given us over the content that we consume and the danger of it.

“the Walkman, the Video Cassette Recorder, Digital Video Recorders such as TiVo, and portable music devices like the iPod—have created a world where the individual’s control over the content, style, and timing of what he consumes is nearly absolute. Retailers and purveyors of entertainment increasingly know our buying history and the vagaries of our unique tastes. As consumers, we expect our television, our music, our movies, and our books “on demand.” We have created and embraced technologies that enable us to make a fetish of our preferences”

“they contribute to what might be called “egocasting,” the thoroughly personalized and extremely narrow pursuit of one’s personal taste.”

“We can consciously avoid ideas, sounds, and images that we don’t agree with or don’t enjoy. As sociologists Walker and Bellamy have noted, “media audiences are seen as frequently selecting material that confirms their beliefs, values, and attitudes, while rejecting media content that conflicts with these cognitions.””

“TiVo, iPod, and other technologies of personalization are conditioning us to be the kind of consumers who are, as Joseph Wood Krutch warned long ago, “incapable of anything except habit and prejudice,” with our needs always preemptively satisfied.”

Sunstein argues that our technologies—especially the Internet—are encouraging group polarization: “As the customization of our communications universe increases, society is in danger of fragmenting, shared communities in danger of dissolving.” Borrowing the idea of “the daily me” from M.I.T. technologist Nicholas Negroponte, Sunstein describes a world where “you need not come across topics and views that you have not sought out. Without any difficulty, you are able to see exactly what you want to see, no more and no less.”

Calling man “the animal which can prefer,” Krutch did not worry about mankind becoming more like machines. He saw a different danger: man might become slavishly devoted to his machines, enchanted by the degree of control they offered him once he had trained them to divine his preferences. “It often happens that men’s fate overtakes them in the one way they had not sufficiently feared,” he wrote, “and it may be that if we are to be destroyed by the machine it will not be in quite the manner we have been fearfully envisaging.”

In addition to what Rosen says I think the Internet as the potential to push “egocasting” even further.

Cataloging Humanity

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

In the same vein as my last post, from the bbc, an article about attempting to catalog human DNA, so as to trace the paths of human migration across the world and through history. It’s an interesting concept, and is estimated to take about $40 million US to perform. It’s being sponsored by IBM, National Geographic, and the Waitt Family Foundation (Ted Waitt being the founder of Gateway Computers).

There’s some resistence by some aboriginal groups to having their DNA collected in this manner, the article mentions previous incidents when they cooperated with scientists, but then quickly moves on to the contributions fo the various corporations. They don’t make mention of the potential for these sorts of studies to be twisted toward supporting who ‘arrived’ first or more ‘evolved’ and other arguments in this vein.

What does IBM get (beyond public relations) for supporting this sort of research? It seems like an unusual thing for them to sponsor, and I wonder if they have any input or contributions other than purely techinical.

You have to log on to stay healthy

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

The US Department of Agriculture has launched a new food pyramid. It’s actually kind of cool. They have an introductory video and a separate site that allows you to track your own food intake over the year compared to your level of physical activity. Usually, the US government is a fairly slow innovator when it comes to technology–a late adopter–but this time it’s ahead in terms of promoting public health.

However, as a Washington Post article reports, you have to log on to stay healthy. Considering that obesity is concentrated among the poor, the people most likely to benefit from something like this may be the least likely to access it.

Who owns the plants?

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

An interesting article in Wired, where it takes a brief look at the implications of pharmaceuticals exploiting the natural resources of ‘foreign lands’. It poses the question of who owns the genetic material found in nature, and how the spoils of beneficial discoveries are split.

It’s an interesting topic, and seems to have a strong basis in modern myths of an Indiana Jones type figure lost in the jungle stumbling on some sort of aboriginal cure for tooth decay. The term bioprospecting, used often in the article, seems oddly offensive, as though the West is going in to the ‘wild’, removing the valuable parts, and then leaving, probably with a suitable amount of cultural and environmental destruction.

It looks an awful lot like modern day colonialism, hidden under the guise of biological research. You can bet if a miraculous Viagra replacement were discovered in Togo, the vast majority of the profits would not be going to the people of Togo.

Sustainablog Review

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

I was surprised to see all of the postings were by Jeff McIntire-Strasburg, is this his own blog, and basically people just comment, or is it open to the public? In just one day, he posted at 7:13 am, then 7:48 am, 10:45am, and 1:22pm, and there are a lot of posts (very long posts, in some cases) every day, with many links as well. He has sure sustained his sustainablog, but it was suprising not to see more comments.

equiveillance through sousveillance

Tuesday, April 19th, 2005

Here’s an interesting idea, fighting
surveillance with sousveillance.

“In an attempt to establish equity in the world of surveillance, participants at the Computers,
Freedom and Privacy conference in Seattle this week took to the streets to ferret out surveillance
cameras and turn the tables on offensive eyes taking their picture.”

“In the stores, as conference attendees snapped pictures of three smoked domes in the ceiling
of a Mont Blanc pen shop, an employee inside waved his arms overhead. The intruders interpreted
his gesture as happy excitement at being photographed until a summoned security guard halted the photography.”

It’s true that cameras, guards are often intimidating, and even if there is none of that, you
still don’t know if you are being watched. Maybe we should use Mann’s approach and fight a sword with a
sword. And apparently the watcher doesn’t like to be watched.