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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘internet

[LINK] The Toast interview with Sarah Jeong on how the Internet is garbage

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The Toast‘s Nicole Chong has a great extended interview with journalist Sarah Jeong, talking about Jeong’s new book examining the new realities and visible downsides of the Internet.

The Toast: If has always been mostly garbage, why did you write this book now? Do you think we’re better positioned in terms of either will or technology to take more of the garbage out?

Sarah Jeong: The book positions online harassment as part of a larger category of long-extant problems, but when it comes down to it, it’s still a book about online harassment. One of the things I wanted to do with the book was to hammer in how online harassment has been around forever — but I don’t think there would have been an audience for the book until fairly recently. There’s a lot more mainstream awareness of harassment and online misogyny in particular.

Why do you think that is? More media coverage, more survivors of online harassment speaking out?

100% media coverage. Part of that has to do with journalists being aggressively harassed — the journalists then turn around and use their platforms to show the world what is happening to them.

But that’s not the whole story. The Internet now includes a much broader swath of the entire population, which means that the old trite victim-blaming along the lines of “it’s just the Internet” doesn’t work so well. We now recognize the Internet as just another arena for our day-to-day lives, a place that’s no less real than the offline world. The Internet’s ubiquity also means that large-scale incidents of harassment become very large-scale, sucking in celebrities, journalists, even entire media organizations.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 4, 2016 at 5:54 pm

[LINK] “Your paper brain and your Kindle brain aren’t the same thing”

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Public Radio International hosts an article noting that people read online and printed materials differently. E-books and books are not perfectly interchangeable after all.

Manoush Zomorodi, managing editor and host of WNYC’s New Tech City, recalls a conversation with the Washington Post’s Mike Rosenwald, who’s researched the effects of reading on a screen. “He found, like I did, that when he sat down to read a book his brain was jumping around on the page. He was skimming and he couldn’t just settle down. He was treating a book like he was treating his Twitter feed,” she says.

Neuroscience, in fact, has revealed that humans use different parts of the brain when reading from a piece of paper or from a screen. So the more you read on screens, the more your mind shifts towards “non-linear” reading — a practice that involves things like skimming a screen or having your eyes dart around a web page.

“They call it a ‘bi-literate’ brain,” Zoromodi says. “The problem is that many of us have adapted to reading online just too well. And if you don’t use the deep reading part of your brain, you lose the deep reading part of your brain.”

So what’s deep reading? It’s the concentrated kind we do when we want to “immerse ourselves in a novel or read a mortgage document,” Zoromodi says. And that uses the kind of long-established linear reading you don’t typically do on a computer. “Dense text that we really want to understand requires deep reading, and on the internet we don’t do that.”

Written by Randy McDonald

January 28, 2016 at 5:11 pm

[LINK] “Webcam search engine raises privacy concerns for connected devices”

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CTV reports on the astonishing lack of security for Internet-networked devices. The search engine in question, Shodan, might be appalled for what it enables, but the manufacturters bear much more responsibility.

A young child asleep on a couch in Israel. Mourners huddled together at a small funeral in Brazil. An elderly woman stretching in a fitness centre in Poland. All available for anyone to watch via the unsecured webcams overhead.

This isn’t “1984,” it’s the world in 2016. Shodan, a search engine that indexes computers and devices rather than information, now allows users to pull screenshots from nanny cams, security cameras and other connected devices around the world that don’t ask for a username or password.

Those screenshots are connected to an IP address, a unique identifier for each Internet connection or device that can be traced back to a general geographic area.

Anne Cavoukian, former Ontario privacy commissioner and now the executive director of the Privacy and Big Data Institute at Ryerson University, said she was appalled when she saw the Shodan webcam search in action.

Yet, she said, it’s only a symptom of the wider problem with the so-called Internet of Things, where many webcams and other connected devices such as wearables, TVs and thermostats ship with a low level of security — and some with none at all.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 28, 2016 at 5:08 pm

[LINK] “Once Upon a Time, Yahoo Was the Most Important Internet Company”

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Wired‘s Julia Greenberg maps the growth, and decline, of Yahoo. That this Internet company, particularly through Flickr, is one I regularly use just makes me nervous.

Silicon Valley is full of giants. But one seems to be slowly disappearing. Yahoo was once an Internet titan, a ruler of the web. Now its future appears to be in question.

Investors worry about what will happen to Yahoo once it spins off its stake in Chinese behemoth Alibaba—or if it can’t. Meanwhile, among consumers, Yahoo has an identity problem—what, exactly, does Yahoo do?

These questions have come to a head again over the past week or so as activist shareholders called for Yahoo to sell its Internet business. High profile chief executive Marissa Mayer’s future is being called into question. A wave of executives have left the company in recent months. And even something Yahoo does right—its popular fantasy sports site—is facing scrutiny from New York’s attorney general. It’s been a long slide for one of the web’s oldest businesses—so long that it can be easy to forget that Yahoo once ruled the Internet.

Yahoo was once a trailblazer: it was here before Facebook and Google. It was here before we texted, tweeted, or snapped. Its place in the history of the Internet is in some ways singular: It was for many the first way they experienced the web.

At WIRED, we’ve tracked the ups and downs of the web since its earliest days. In the process, we’ve traced the growth and decline of Yahoo itself—the rise and decline of an Internet original.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 26, 2016 at 11:58 am

[LINK] “At 15, Wikipedia Is Finally Finding Its Way to the Truth”

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Wired‘s Cade Metz notes Wikipedia’s evolution in recent years, for good and for ill.

Today, Wikipedia celebrates its fifteenth birthday. In Internet years, that’s pretty old. But “the encyclopedia that anyone can edit” is different from services like Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Though Wikipedia has long been one of the Internet’s most popular sites—a force that decimated institutions like the Encyclopedia Britannica—it’s only just reaching maturity.

The site’s defining moment, it turns out, came about a decade ago, when Stephen Colbert coined the term “Wikiality.” In a 2006 episode The Colbert Report, the comedian spotlighted Wikipedia’s most obvious weakness: With a crowdsourced encyclopedia, we run the risk of a small group of people—or even a single person—bending reality to suit their particular opinions or attitudes or motivations.

“Any user can change any entry, and if enough other users agree with them, it becomes true,” Colbert said, before ironically praising Wikipedia in a way that exposed one of its biggest flaws. “Who is Britannica to tell me that George Washington had slaves? If I want to say he didn’t, that’s my right. And now, thanks to Wikipedia, it’s also a fact. We should apply these principles to all information. All we need to do is convince a majority of people that some factoid is true.”

Fifteen years on, Wikipedia is approaching an equilibrium.

To prove his point, Colbert invited viewers to add incorrect information to Wikipedia’s article on elephants. And they did. In the end, this wonderfully clever piece of participatory social commentary sparked a response from Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s co-founder and figurehead-in-chief. At the 2006 Wikimania—an annual gathering of Wikipedia’s core editors and administrators—Wales signaled a shift in the site’s priorities, saying the community would put a greater emphasis on the quality of its articles, as opposed to the quantity. “We’re going from the era of growth to the era of quality,” Wales told the The New York Times.

And that’s just what happened. The site’s administrators redoubled efforts to stop site vandalism, to prevent the kind of “truthiness” Colbert had satirized. In many ways, it worked. “There was a major switch,” says Aaron Halfaker, a researcher with the Wikimedia Foundation, the not-profit that oversees Wikipedia. Volunteers policed pages with a greater vigor and, generally speaking, became more wary of anyone who wasn’t already a part of the community. The article on elephants is still “protected” from unknown editors.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 23, 2016 at 1:01 pm

[LINK] “When a Video-Game World Ends”

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Will Partin’s article in The Atlantic about how video game universes come to an end is an affecting look at a corner of pop culture rarely examined. What does happen when worlds come to an end?

In English, the word “apocalypse”—ety. Greek, n. apo (un-) + kaluptein (-veil)—has three non-exclusive meanings. The first and most common is simply the end of the world, whether by divine punishment or whatever transpires in movies directed by Roland Emmerich. The second is any form of calamity, representational or real, man-made or no, that resembles the end of the world, like the 2010 Haitian earthquake, Chernobyl, or the movies directed by Roland Emmerich themselves. The third is what the Greeks intended apocalypse to mean: the revelation of knowledge through profound disruption, which is why the final book of the New Testament is called “Revelations” (composed, it is thought, to reassure Christians during their widespread persecution by the Roman emperor, Domitian). In other words, the apocalypse either is the end, looks like the end, or helps us understand the end.

Like books, movies, and the visual arts, video games are well acquainted with the apocalypse. Scores of them have been set in the final days of mankind; countless more ask the player to prevent them. Yet, as mere setting, the apocalypse can never be true to its name—when Mass Effect 3 ends and the galaxy has been saved/altered/destroyed, you can always boot up the series’s first act and play it all again. The finale is not the end. In the curious lexicon of games criticism, we often speak of “world-building,” yet rarely do we stop to think about its opposite. Anything made can be destroyed, yet destruction in games is rarely the destruction of games. What masterpiece of eschatological design could possibly convey the all-encompassing, crushing finality of a true apocalypse?

Since the 1990s, when the rise of reliable home Internet access made persistent game worlds both commercially and technically viable, the game industry has developed over 300 massively multiplayer online games, some gargantuan (The Old Republic, etc.) and others slight, like the thoughtful browser-based government simulator NationStates. The majority of MMOs, of course, don’t experience the runaway success of World of Warcraft or EVE Online and eventually adopt a free-to-play model once it becomes clear that subscriptions alone can’t sustain ongoing costs. But a smaller number—44, if Wikipedia is to be believed—have shut down, and with their closure, their persistent worlds simply phase out of existence, beyond the reach of any archaeology.

Star Wars Galaxies launched in 2003 to critical and commercial acclaim. Though video games routinely spoil the player with fantasies of singular greatness (in Elder Scrolls Online, every player is, improbably, “the one”), Galaxies initially set its sights lower. Instead of saving the Star Wars universe for the umpteenth time, the player was asked merely to live in that universe, getting by doing anything from bounty hunting to stripping in dusty cantinas on the Outer Rim. That might seem hopelessly jejune in 2015, but Galaxies was a tremendous success for several years. Alas, in 2005, in response to a lack of new players, Sony Online Entertainment redesigned the game to emphasize combat, trading the game’s supreme sense of inhabitation and belonging for a sense of power (the lure of the dark side indeed!). Players revolted, and, by 2006 barely 10,000 people could be found in Galaxies on any given Friday. The death-knell came in 2011, when SOE announced, to no one’s surprise, that Galaxies would be shut down for good in December of that year (not coincidentally, the same month that BioWare launched its dreary Star Wars MMO, The Old Republic).

Call it pity, or perhaps apology, but SOE used the end of Galaxies to do something meaningful with its apocalypse: It declared a winner for each server based on the relative population of Rebels and Imperials. And in the galaxy’s final moments, before the servers took everything and everyone with them, the players who remained gathered in Mos Eisley and Corellia to wait for the end. Bittersweet celebration ruled the day: Veterans let neophytes try out their finest gear, the sky was filled with brilliant (if lag-producing) fireworks, and the spaceports clogged with groups of friends, some cultivated over thousands of hours, waiting to say goodbye. In the end, though, the final moment was a whimper.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 20, 2016 at 3:20 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Public Works: Replacing Phone Booths With Wi-Fi Kiosks”

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Torontoist’s Peter Goffin notes New York City’s creation of pujblic WiFI kiosks to take the place of payphones.

In New York, they’ve found a way to address both the phone booth’s obsolescence and the continued public need to connect and communicate cheaply and conveniently.

The City is working with tech conglomerate CityBridge to create LinkNYC, a public network that will replace payphones all over Gotham.

Special kiosks, called Links, will eventually take the place of 7,500 phone booths. Each Link will offer free wi-fi, mobile device chargers, and a tablet for anyone to use. Oh and you’ll also be able to make phone calls at these street-side booths, like it’s 1956. And all the Links’ services are totally free.

Each location Links will have a pair of 55-inch HD screens for broadcasting public service announcements and advertising. Ads are expected not only to cover the cost of LinkNYC, but to raise over $500 million USD in revenue for the City.

And for anyone (rightly) concerned about data collection and privacy, the City has said LinkNYC uses encrypted connections between your device and the internet. The kiosks will collect only anonymous data to track usage and serve advertising. And, refreshingly, the City has pledged not to sell or share personal data with third parties.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 15, 2016 at 5:43 pm

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