Archive for April, 2010

Personal and Professional, All Mixed Up

April 22, 2010 8 comments

When my friend Ian Strain-Seymour made a private twitter account, separate from his professional one, I thought that was a pretty great idea. I tried it too. I’ve written about that here before. I was optimistic about it: put personal info on the personal/locked account, talk about work on the public/open account. I had a simple rule for who to add on my personal account: people who were invited to my wedding (and don’t work with me currently). Ie, real close friends. It seemed like a good idea.

I’ve tried it now a while, and it’s not really working. There’s one main reason: my friends (other than Ian) are not doing the same thing. So while I was posting cute kid stuff there (that I wouldn’t inflict on the general public), high-school buddy Paul Haahr was posting mostly work stuff. If Paul and my other wedding invitees had two accounts, it might’ve worked. But with social media technologies, you can’t just choose how you use it–how everyone else uses it shapes what makes sense for you too. It’s hard to unilaterally decide to be different.

At the same time, my Facebook usage has gotten somewhat more personally oriented lately. As more family come on Facebook, I’m more likely to post the cute thing Evan (4) said, and get responses back from Evan’s aunts and grandparents. My cousin Gilda never says anything on Facebook, but whenever we talk on the phone she says “oh, I saw that on Facebook!” I like sharing personal stuff with my cousin and extended family. A short article mentioned this blog in Le Monde a few weeks ago, and one of my french cousins was kind enough to assure me that the article made sense (I don’t remember as much from french class as I wish!) This is new for me and it works. Except  now it puzzles me why I’m sharing this stuff with my professional friends.

Maybe I should try having two Facebook accounts. No, wait…. 😉

No One Reads Terms of Service

April 18, 2010 1 comment

Nope, no one reads terms of service (TOS). According to boingboing, on April 1st, added to its TOS that by clicking, you give them your immortal soul. Check this box to opt out. 7,500 users didn’t check the box!

Even if people did read TOS, most people probably couldn’t understand them anyway. Carlos Jensen and Colin Potts showed that the reading level of most TOS is well above the reading level of most Internet users. Of course whether people can read or understand something doesn’t affect whether it is legally binding. But a further complication is that there’s nothing stopping people writing TOS from putting in terms that aren’t enforceable. The only way to tell if something is enforceable is to litigate it which, doesn’t often happen just cause it’s so expensive. Even experts often can’t agree which ones are valid.

So welcome to the bizarre present: we are ruled by documents that no one reads, that most folks couldn’t fully understand if they did read, and that are filled with conditions many of which are not legal/enforceable anyway!

iPhone Application Censorship

April 15, 2010 7 comments

Call me a romantic, but I believe in the value of hearing many voices. And I believe in the power of the Internet to help those voices be heard. Which is why censorship of iPhone applications by Apple is such a disappointment.  Laura McGann writes that SFGate cartoonist Mark Fiore can win a Pulitzer Prize, but he can’t get his cartooning application approved for the iPhone.  Fiore’s work is political satire–and making fun of public figures is, according to Apple, potentially defamatory, and therefore against the iPhone Terms of Service (TOS).

It’s nothing new for corporations to control what we can and can’t see. Since the invention of the printing press, that’s been the way things work. Someone owns the press. The press exists in some political jurisdiction. And both the owner of the press and the government can dictate what ideas you can and can’t disseminate. But online, there was at least a glimmer of hope that, in some jurisdictions, that might change. But not evidently if you get your information on your iPhone.

The irony here is that you can still get Fiore’s cartoons on a general-purpose website. You just won’t have a nice interface to access them. Apple’s brand stands for usability, but they’re enforcing bad usability for accessing content that won’t get past the iPhone TOS.

Also banned from the iPhone this week is the Scratch player. According to developer Andrés Monroy-Hernandez, the stated reason is that it is an interpreter. Scratch is a programming language for kids developed by Mitchel Resnick and colleagues at the MIT Media Lab.  Kids can use it to make their own animations and games. Kids making cool media–what could be more in the spirit of Apple Computer, right?  Evidently not. Mark Guzdial writes, “Discussion on the Scratch forums suggests that it’s because Apple wants to focus on consuming media using these devices, not producing media.  Want to be truly computing literate, where you write as well as read?  There’s no app for that.”

Apple wants to control the iPhone experience–make sure it’s always squeaky clean and perfect. But people aren’t stupid–they know if an app crashes your phone, it’s the app’s fault, not the phone’s. They can leap to brilliant conclusions like, “hey, I think I won’t use that app again.” If there’s something offensive, they can make better choices about what to install next time. The content of a web page viewed on your iPhone doesn’t reflect on the Apple brand–why should the content of an application be any different?

This may seem like small potatoes–a few political cartoons here, a media player there. No big deal, right? I think it’s a huge deal. Because ultimately it’s about who we are as a culture, and who gets to make value decisions that shape that culture.

Categories: censorship

Tech Setup, 12 years later

April 2, 2010 1 comment

Every April the Undergraduate Research Opportunities in Computing (UROC) program at Georgia Tech holds a research symposium where students show off their work. We take over the picnic area of the college’s main building, and set up live demos. When we first started in 1998, this was a herculean effort on the part of of our Technology Services Organization (TSO). Large computers and monitors were borrowed from labs. Cables were run for net access.  Project requirements had to be matched to borrowed hardware. Project one needs more RAM, but project two needs the better video card…. It was complicated.

Today was our planning meeting for UROC 2010, and our loyal TSO rep showed up as always, ready to do battle. And we couldn’t find anything for him to do. Not a thing. Computers?  Well, almost everyone’s project runs on their laptop. Net access? We have wireless. Here was our final technical to-do list: have some extra ethernet cables handy, in case someone wants to switch to a wired connection.  That’s it.

A bit of perspective on how things have changed!

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