Monthly Archives: November 2007

The Aha! moment

Our final paper in ICM501 deals with Electronic Civil Disobedience, hactivism, and cyberterrorism. It’s not quite finished yet, but when it is we’ll publish it on our blogs. This morning I actually looked at some tech news and found an article from PC World which delivered a complete ‘Aha!’ moment for me.

The government has changed its method of dealing with civil disobedience when it comes to electronic forms. Typically civil disobedience was granted more lenient sentencing in the courts, but with the recent ‘zero tolerance’ policies and attitudes toward hackers and disruption of service virtual ‘sit ins’ on the web there seems to be no such quarter given. Alex just mentioned something about broad disruption or denial of service attacks now carrying a life sentence penalty. I’ll have to look that one up today when I get a chance.

My epiphany from the PC World article today was simply this: the reason the government is giving absolutely no quarter in the arena of electronic attacks is because the government has been developing cyberterrorism as a means of attack and espionage. And the internet allows for those attacks to be launched on a scale that makes every computer access point a potential threat. Since the illegal immigration problem in the United States demonstrates just how inefficiently we control access to our nation, every computer, every organization, is being viewed as a potential gateway.

Further implications

If the Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) and Hakim Bey’s The Autonomous Zone (TAZ) are correct in their assessment that political capital is no longer in the physical world but instead resides within the online realms, then this is definitely scary stuff for the US Government. Society is embracing this technology on an unforeseen level, and right now the technological sector is a major player in the US & world economy. The Government most likely feels very vulnerable due to the internet. I’m sure that there’s a contingent in many nations who wish it would just shut down and go away, but because of the consumer interest and the economic development surrounding the internet, there’s no way to just make it go away without severe economic repercussions.

Major fear reaction. After all, the government is already developing malware on its own for use in the espionage and electronic warfare arenas, so it makes sense that they are intimately acquainted with how far this stuff can be pushed. It can no longer distinguish friend from foe, or else it’s no longer interested in doing so.

After all, if the internet can be used to mount an attack on a national scope project, then every hacker has the same potential firepower as sovereign governments do. At least online. In many ways, they have more. A large installation can protect effectively against large threats, but its the lone individuals which have the great machine scared.

There are massive social and cultural implications here if my thinking is correct. Huge. If the machine of the state becomes afraid of the individuals that it is comprised of itself… whew. When an individual becomes paranoid schizophrenic it’s one thing,  but when a nation does so…

Finals. Oy.

It was inevitable, really. Every course in college once begun will soon end with Finals. Whether an exam, essay, paper, or project, there’s always something at the end of the class which requires attention and effort. The blogging is slowing down because of it, but the learning process keeps on. Here’s some lessons that I’ve learned about myself this semester.

Paycheck, Please.

I’m not going on for my PhD. Writing papers is fun, theory is fun, but if I’m going to be pouring this kind of effort into my work then I’m damned well going to get paid for it, and paid well. Maybe when I retire I’ll finish out a PhD, but the Masters is more than enough for now.  Seriously. I can still contribute to the dialogue of the profession and the advancement of interactive communications without the terminal degree. In fact, I’m much more likely to contribute in a meaningful way to the advancement of this field by working than I am by studying. I’ll learn what I need as I go along, and I’ll earn money, too.

If I ever do come back to academia for a final time, it will be after I’ve demonstrated the mastery that a Master’s Degree is supposed to impart. It makes much more sense to me to break up academic schooling with life experiences in between.  At times I look around at my classmates and think… we are sitting in the exact same classroom, we’re in the same school, with the same teachers and assignments, but are we really getting the same education here?  Earlier on I’d do a reading assignment and my brain would catch fire with all of the possibilities triggered by a single paragraph. Others in class would comment about being bored by the reading and not seeing much use in it.  I’m fairly confident that this degree has really put my experiences leading up to it into perspective. I’m not exactly certain whether or not the program would be equally beneficial to students who don’t come to the table with working experiences to begin with.  I have to assume that it is, but students who have never paid their dues in climbing the corporate ladder may be in for some rude awakenings, even with their advanced degrees.

With that in mind, I’m comfortable in saying that if ever I do return to pursue a PhD in academia, I’ll probably end up doing so after another 5-10 years of work in this field, first. It feels like a much more logical progression, to interject life experience and work experience between learning experiences. I believe it will help give a much better perspective on things, and assist in being able to get the learning out of the ivory tower and into practical application.

Collaborative Work is A Different Beast Entirely

Seriously, one major suggestion that I have for any course which is going to assign collaborative projects at the end… assign one at the beginning of class, smaller in scale and scope. Just to be certain that everyone in the class understands what the collaborative writing process entails. Lemme tell ya, this white paper project for ICM501 has really opened my eyes to just exactly how different collaboration really is.

I’m not complaining, but this is my first time working at this level on a project like this with other people. It’s hard mostly just because I have never undergone this process before, and I’m not sure whether what we’re doing is happening in the right direction and on the right timeline. I can’t judge where we are in the process, because I don’t understand what’s involved with this kind of work yet. I’m making it up as I/we go along and praying that it all comes out okay at the end.

On a related note, suddenly the idea of our presentation on Thursday being filmed and shared online is daunting. Scary, even. I don’t want to be videotaped. I don’t want there to be a record of this presentation, even if we nail it. I just want this project to be done and gone forever. Not because it’s bad or hard, but just because I’ve got so much extra crap to do and so many other projects, I feel like I can’t devote sufficient time to anything so everything is coming out late and substandard quality.  Who wants that kind of record to stick around? I’d put in more effort, but again, I don’t understand the process of collaboration so I have no effing clue whether or not more effort is called for or needed.

I’m glad I’ve got my partners for this. It’s a relief to be able to rely on them for help. I just really wish I had some way to gauge the process to tell whether we were screwed or right on schedule, or even ahead of the curve. Working with other people has always been a major challenge for me, and I feel very insecure in this whole process on a number of different fronts. Fingers crossed and get it done. But is it natural that even with an annotated bibliography and an outline that the entire project had to incorporate a major shift in focus last minute because the research we thought was there turned out not to be enough for our original focus?

Such a major portion of our grade, and so difficult without any sense of what the process should be. Tough stuff. First major research paper I’ve had to write in 13 years and it’s part of a collaborative team. Welcome to Web 2.0 culture, sir.

Hands Off, Please. Extremely.

If I never had to open photoshop again as part of my job duties I would die happy. I’m so sick of graphic design, web design, and being hands on. I did that. I’ve got a decade of time put in the bullpen. I don’t want to be the person responsible for the actual doing. I used to think that was where “it” was, but it’s not. When you’re an artist or a Creative or involved in hands-on production skills at all, you are a tool. In art school they talk about learning how to be Creative and learning how to design and how to bring your own ideas out, but the reality of the commercial art world is that the person making the graphics has very little to say about what they’re making.  Even now at my current job I find myself grinding my teeth and resenting to high heavens every time that I’m the one who opens up a production program in order to do something.

Nope, hands off for me. I’m ready for management. I’m ready for strategy. I’m ready to be part of the planning and thinking, the guide and the vision. Let someone else do the making, and let them do it to my satisfaction. Ultimate role reversal given the last 10 years in design where I was, essentially, the bitch of everyone else.  Too bad I’m not a straight white male who plays golf, drives a BMW and has a trophy wife. I guess I’ve got to figure out a different way to gain entry into the ranks of management. I’m counting on this Masters and my previous experience to open those doors. Project Management looks like the way to get ahead for now.

This is key, because for years I was toiling as a laboring corporate wage slave, but the real talents and skills I bring to the table are more along the planning and visionary lines. Gotta work on getting a position like that. *lol* I’ll tell everyone when I’ve discovered that job.

Back to the Grind

It’s time to head back to the grind. I’ve been waiting for the rest of the team to wake up and comment or revise the collaborative paper. In the meantime I’ve got a backlog of design work to do to blow out the individual pages of the website I built wireframes for back in ICM512. I’ve also got ICM504 final project iterations which are due… good luck on that, really. I guess I’ll just have to do one project and make it good, there, but that will happen on Saturday. I’ve got to reach out to the campus contact point again about doing packaging work for part of my Grad Assistantship. And I really need to think of something to do for my final project in ICM508. Some kind of interview on film which lasts for 90 seconds.

But all of that is for later. I’ve got a full day’s work ahead of me at my job, leaving early for a doctor’s appointment in Bridgeport at 6pm, and working on putting together an RFP (request for proposal) for an internet technology build that my company has sold in to clients without actually having the infrastructure or software necessary to implement the kind of solution they want. And the sad thing is, *I’m* the expert. Har har har. “And now, the amazing sPacio shall pull a complete, functional, and profitable interactive solution out of his ass! And for his next trick, he’ll be asked to build it… without using any money or outside resources!”

I’ve gotta find a new job.

Happiness in Leopard form

My home computer was struggling there for a little bit. Strange stuff started happening linked to a disk repair issue which got fixed, but some of the OS apparently went corrupt. Installing OS X Leopard seems to have fixed the issue and also given us a copy of the OS on DVD which can be used for repair disk utilities and reinstalls. Wonderful things to be able to do, I tell ya. Also, I have to say that I really like Leopard. My Mac is a G4, so I’m going to need to up memory and think about upgrading my video card, but I was already toying with that possibility. As for the vacay, it’s been nice, but tomorrow I need to start cranking on the ICM501 paper and finally finish the initial iteration code for the ICM504 project, too. We’ll see how it all goes.  

Come see the violence inherent in the system!

(With apologies to Monty Python, for steaing the title out of the Holy Grail)

I don’t exactly feel one way or another toward the particulars of this particular issue about a blogger accusing Digg of censorship, but it’d be interesting to see which victims of convenience for which sites receive what kind of treatment. Almost looking into things based on a pattern of outrage… which sites tend to get the most complaints, why certain complaints take off while others don’t, see if there’s any way to capture some data and mine it for market trends.

Maybe there’s a pattern. Or maybe it’s not so much of a pattern as it is a trail which can provide insight into the thought process of humanity. Of course, the idea is much more likely to get funding since the results would just also -happen- to coincide with predicting and modeling advertising best practices.

Hmmm…. a future paper on Outrage in the Marketplace might just be in order. If only I truly had nothing else to do during the Winter break already. Well, write it down and come back to it later.

Final Reaction

Okay, I finished the Halavais selection last night. It’s a very interesting work, and I see myself buying it when publication is complete. There are some very interesting implications in the way that Google and other search engines have developed, and there’s some interesting cultural, racial, and socio-economic implications that are raised by the first chapter. It’s definitely a topic which will be huge in further studies, bigger than it is right now.

But I don’t care.

Well, let me rephrase that slightly. I’m not the least bit interested in this aspect of studying the internet phenomenon yet. It’s not that I don’t think it’s relevant, because there are some real social implications in the way that the world is using Search Engine technology, and Alex is great at pointing those out.

It’s just that this field is far too broad already, and this is one topic I’m much happier leaving to the scholars who actually feel called to study it. I acknowledge that study of it is rather important and can have some real impact on social issues and technological development, but there comes a point at which you really have to focus on a topic in order to make any headway or advancement in its scholarship.

Searching as a profession

Part of my reluctance to engage in this particular field of inquiry with any depth comes from the fact that I worked for a year as a Recruiter. If there’s any profession which is itching for the latest and greatest search tools and technology, it’s the recruiting profession.

My daily routine included logging in to Monster.com on the employer side, then CareerBuilder.com. Being a Creative Recruiter (as in, recruiting designers and copywriters), I also would look at Portfolios.com and Coroflot.com. Then I would go to mySpace and do a search for locals who indicated Graphic Design as their profession or interests.  All in an attempt to generate 60 new telephone numbers to call, preferrably. Email was frowned upon as a vehicle for sales communication, seen as fishing, not as selling. You don’t email folks until you already have a relationship with them. Then you’re conveniently “not at your desk” when the contacts call unless they’re making you money, and you conduct the rest of the business over email.

That was the daily routine. Kind of like reading the paper. Then, I would hit “Power Hour” when all I did was call those 60 numbers and leave carefully rehearsed messages. Once that was done, around lunchtime I would then be able to spend an hour or so with my good friend Google.

Google & The Smell of Blood in the Water

Google was like a friend of mine, but it was a friend that you need, not a friend that you like. An uneasy friendship existed between the two of us, Google and me. I had graduated from the simple search, and I would mess around with all of the advanced search features.  I wasn’t looking for recruits every lunch hour on Google. I was searching for the Holy Grail, the mother of all search engine requests. I was trying to come up with the magic formula, the search query which, when perfected, would actually get Google to deliver results to me that I could use in my recruiting efforts. Just like programmers spend years developing algorithms for various programming tasks, I was spending a good portion of my day trying to narrow down or innovate new queries which I could type in, hit submit, and then simply print out all of the web pages of folks desperately looking for work as a graphic designer. In my area. With the right education. And a decent portfolio.

It’s not as easy as it sounds.

That’s my biggest complaint with search engine technology. I knew that those folks were out there. I could smell the proverbial blood in the water. I just couldn’t find it.

I disagree wholeheartedly with the sentiment of www.fuckingoogleit.com. It’s not so simple as just typing in a few keywords and then getting perfect results. The search begins the search process. Halavais mentioned how teens would start searching for one term and then change the search parameters based on the initial results from Google. This was interpreted in the reading as being the search engine shaping the search, which is true. It assumes, however, that the user changed their mind as to what they were looking for, as opposed to changing their mind about what kinds of terms to enter into the search engine to get to the idea which was held.

Human/Computer Communication Gap 

Think about that for a moment. We are accustomed to the idea that computers are wonderful things. Most people also know that there is a communication barrier between man and machine. Was the user in the example changing their search target, or were they using a technique similar to the linguistic technique of circumlocution? I’ll call it ‘circumlocation’. What circumlocution means is trying to define something by describing it, or using words similar to the meaning.  It’s a technique encouraged in students of foreign languages. If you can’t think of the exact word, try using smaller words to describe it. The hope is that it will allow your audience to understand what you mean and perhaps even supply you with the correct way to phrase it. (It works. We do it all the time in English, too, so it’s not just for foreign languages.)

Circumlocation as a search method

Circumlocation, then, would be using a search engine to try and find something that you know you’re looking for, but don’t quite know how to phrase for the search engine. Computers speak a different language, or at least a different dialect even when they do try to parse human language. The user begins the dialogue by asking for what they think they’re looking for. The search engine dutifully performs exactly as asked. The users looks at the results and makes a decision whether or not those results are what were actually asked for. If not, they refine the search using the results given to try a different language tack until they either find what they’re looking for, or they go off to play on Facebook or mySpace.  Circumlocation.

What’s really annoying is that my searches never really got better. There were plenty of people out there who needed jobs in graphic design, and I had jobs to give them. But finding their websites was very difficult, even with the “magic” that is Google. After spending so long trying to use the tool and not really ever finding much success, I just decided to keep trying in the hopes that the technology would upgrade someday and some of those searches would work.

On it all goes

I’m not sure that any search engine, anywhere, anywhen, will ever correct access inequalities. First page of a Google search is going to get a lot of hits. The long tail exists, but you have to want to find it. The ranking system reports popularity, not relevance because relevance algorithms can’t take things into context. If there is to be hope, it’s going to lie in the Metadata processing. But even there, marketing skews the curve because by judicious metadata use you can hopefully inflate the ranking of your site on any given search.

Definitely a thorny problem. The research and results will be interesting and if time permits, I’ll try and keep up with them. But I leave this one area to other scholars more invested in this arena than I.

Wikipedia

Just ran across another mention of Wikipedia as a controversial source of information on the web.

Yes, I’m prepared to accept that designation of it. But what Wikipedia really reflects is the Folkloric Encyclopedia. It’s put together and maintained by the common folk. This is folk knowledge, gathered in one place. Part of that folklore includes the knowledge of some scholarship basics, if not necessarily a strident adherence to the same.

Want to know what the village thinks? Check Wikipedia. Want to know the truth? Well, define ‘truth’ first, but if you’re looking for more scholarly sources, they exist, but they’re not Wikipedia.

However, Wikipedia is a great place to begin all searches from because it usually gives you a set of terms associated with the actual item you’re looking for. So first search Wikipedia to see what the community thinks, look at the words the community is using to describe whichever part of the subject you’re interested in, and then plug those terms into the search engines of choice.

Reading on…

While reading Halavais

Doing the reading now for the FINAL reaction paper post, due tonight at midnight. Yeah. From being all “Hermione Granger” and reading ahead at the beginning of the semester, I’m back in ‘college catch-up’ mode.

Couple of thoughts.

Firstly, Halavais’s paper is a draft. Which we can’t cite. So… how do we cite it for the reaction paper? Believe it or not, posting something on the web counts legally as publication. By running a blog and having even sporradic readership, we’re technically members of the Press. (I can dig up the precedent court case if I have time to search for it). So, like, the responsible thing to do is to include citations. (Whatever… I usually just copy how Alex has the assignments listed on the assignment page anyway. Good enough for the perfesser is good enough for me.)

Second, and more importantly, I’m reading about Google and searching and the development of the internet and going, “Whoa… I can *remember* using Archie and Gopher.” I had no clue what it was for, but I kept trying to make it do something cool. At the time, I was living in VanHousen Hall, 3rd floor, Potsdam College. There was a 2nd floor study lounge without TVs, and immediately to the right of the lounge doors were two computers for general use.

They were old even then (1989-1990 academic year). You had to go all the way across campus to beg for an account. It was technically reserved for CompSci majors only, but if you knew the folks at Campus Computing you’d get an account. I got to know the folks at Campus Computing.

Relay Chat was da bomb, before we said ‘da bomb’

The big to-do was that you could use the old thing (integrated monitor, ugly blue hard plastic casing, green-screen terminal display, big clunky keys that made far too much noise) to connect to Relay @ Cornell. From there, you could enter a chat room that connected students from all over the place. When you joined the chatroom, you signed in anonymously (linked to the IP of the school and the login records, so semi-anonymously I guess) and you set up your screen name. There were no graphical UIs. You just typed ‘to rly@cornellc: <chat message>’ or ‘to rly@cornellc:/<command>’. The screen of the terminal was your ‘application window’. Immediately upon joining a channel, you could do a /who or a /leave or a /join <channel number>. Or a /list, which returned the list of chat channels and the subject. Only 1-99 were “public” channels that got displayed in the /list. The rest were user-generated, and they were not displayed.

Those who were ‘in the know’ got to go to the cool channels. A couple of channels were reserved for specific purposes or specific ‘gangs’ that populated them. The one I recall specifically was Channel 333, for gay chat. Back in 1990, struggling with self realization efforts, never before online, new to the whole ‘anonymity’ thing, it was risqué in the extreme. Especially since you couldn’t have cybersex… the lounge was open to the entire dorm, and it was rare indeed to not have folks in the lounge with you. It wasn’t until Junior year that my roommate had an IBM386 and a girlfriend who lived off campus. Mmm. Yeah, well, college was very different back then, and we were much more innocent. Cybersex doesn’t seem like it would faze many teenagers as a concept today. Back then, few students actually had typing skills, so one-handed typing was next to impossible.

Or so I heard.

Fast forward a couple of years

I remember working for IBM as a Purchasing Agent when my coworkers told me about this great new website called ‘Yahoo!’. Whooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

“Are those graphics?”

“Yeah man. You can download them.”

“Really?! Awesome!”

“They take a long time to load, though. Better make sure you have the top of the line… a 9600 baud modem is -essential- for serious browsing on the web.”

IBM was the company that sent me on my first training session for how to write HTML web pages. I got paid to sit in a day-long corporate training class which was all about extremely basic HTML authoring. I was briefly considered to be cool because in 1995 I could legitimately let drop that I could code HTML. (BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!) Nowadays you only get that kind of street cred from ActionScripting. (*snicker*)

Kinda puts a lot in perspective. A -lot- in perspective. I made what turned out to be a rather prophetic remark once to my fraternity brothers. We were just visited by an alumnus of the fraternity who had dropped off of the face of the earth and showed up unannounced at the hangout spot in the Union. Someone had said, “Imagine how hard it must be to stay in touch after graduation.” I said, “Yeah, but not for us. Ours is the first generation of this fraternity who will graduate already having email accounts and keeping in touch that way.”

I still have a collection of handwritten letters that I relied on to communicate with my college buddies during the summers of my early years in college. It wasn’t unusual. Letter writing was cheaper than phone calls, and I got many discussion threads going that way.

Ah well, on to the reading again.