Tech in the Duff

Engineers practically live in Duffield.  Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration for most of us, especially me, but I do spend a decent amount of time there eating, doing work, and meeting with project groups.  It’s in a convenient, central location and it has wonderful aesthetics from the large windows and natural light.

Duffield’s interior is clean and uncluttered; there are no posters, advertisements, or fliers for student groups aside from an occasional display.  Instead, ads are displayed on flat screen TVs and cycle through many topics per minute.

Walking down the main corridor into the atrium, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that you are surrounded by technology.  Laptops are everywhere; headphones dot the occasional ear, and many are texting or chatting on their phones or using calculators to finish a problem set.  Duffield is a modern building, completed in 2004, and it was built with these expectations in mind.  Electrical outlets abound for powering laptops.  Wifi permeates everywhere, allowing students to connect to the world.  Tables, lounges, and nooks are plentiful.  Despite the open architecture in the main atrium, I never feel like I am being watched there; everyone else is too busy, speaking with their peers or buried in a computer screen, a book, or a newspaper.  I don’t mind this, as I don’t think anyone comes to Duffield just to socialize like those silly lib arts students and their Libe Cafe.  And if you really need to buckle down and do some work, there are two public computer labs nearby (Upson B7 and Philips 318) as well as restricted labs like the CS Undergrad lab in Upson 361 (one of my favorites).

But that doesn’t mean engineers aren’t friendly and welcoming.  Drop by Duffield and say hi!

Rated: from 4 votes

3 comments Posted in  Uncategorized April 27, 2010

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, it’s…

A tag cloud!  I arbitrarily chose to study the Wikipedia entry on tag clouds, a Web 2.0 phenomenon.  You can see one below.

These “clouds” are boxes full of hyperlinks to various tags – words that people use to categorize pictures, blog posts, and other forms of media.  The more popular a tag is, the larger its font size is.  The Wikipedia article on tag clouds was created in 2006 and has been edited by more than 250 people, but only 4 have more than five edits and wrote significant content.  This article is well-sourced, having 19 external citations and links.  Overall, it seems to rather unbiased – partially because it’s an informative article on a non-controversial topic.  The “controversies” on the Talk page were fairly mild – some were concerned that the “external links” section had too much fluff and was becoming a link farm.  There was also some discussion as to who came up with the first tag cloud – the first major site to use them was Flickr but small websites may have developed them earlier.

Though Wikipedia claims that “anyone” can edit it, the vast majority of articles are written by a relatively small group of people who adhere to strict content and style guidelines.  This generally improves the quality of submissions and makes it sound like they are all written by a similar “voice”.  In my opinion, in the past five years Wikipedia has become more reliable and has more citations and support than ever before, and it is my go-to source for information on random topics that I want to research.

Rated: from 1 votes

2 comments Posted in  Uncategorized April 21, 2010

There are 10 types of people: those who know binary and those who don’t.

And there are 2 types of people who read online news: those who get their news from aggregators like Google News, and those who get all of their news from one source.  When answering the question “Are college students more informed now than they were ten years ago?” it is important to note that distinction.

Those in the first category who are partial to Google News and similar services are probably better informed – they have access to a wide range of stories from varying subjects.  Note that I don’t really count Reddit and Digg users in this category – though those sites aggregate news links, they have insular like-minded communities that push certain types of stories to the front page.  Some of the major news outlets offer a wide variety as well – AP, Reuters, and the BBC come to mind.

Some others prefer to get their news from one source – whether it is a professional news organization, a blog, or an opinion site.  I would argue that those who spend all their time reading the Drudge Report or Talking Points Memo may be well-informed on a small range of issues but would not have the breadth of knowledge of those ten years ago.  Back then, the services that partisan sites and blogs provide now were primarily provided by political magazines.  Since few, if any, of those printed content daily, they were not often used as a primary news source.

Note that I discount those who don’t read news stories at all – I don’t really have any data on how many people read now vs. how many did ten years ago.  I’m only focusing on the differences between a world with online news and a world without.

As for myself, I am an avid consumer of news.  I probably read over ten news stories online per day – linked from Google News, Google Finance, Reddit, and Digg – plus random blog posts and other stuff – plus on weekdays I will read the Cornell Daily Sun and some of the New York Times.  Thanks for the free newspapers, Cornell!

Rated: from 4 votes

Add comment Posted in  Uncategorized April 14, 2010

I debated for a while with myself about what internet controversy to talk about for this week’s prompt.  The first thing that came to mind was Facebook deleting pictures of breastfeeding mothers back in ’08, but I decided that since I am not a woman nor will I ever lactate, I lacked the expertise to pick a side on that debate.  My second thought was the controversy when Wikipedia refused to remove images of the prophet Muhammed, but I decided against that too since I’m not well versed with Islamic law or customs.  The third topic I found is what I chose – Apple deleting Google Voice apps from the iPhone app store.

A bit of background: Google Voice is a technology that basically allows you to make calls and text messages for cheap – all you need is a phone number.  Apple is rejecting all apps submitted to its app store that use Voice’s platform to make calls and send texts, because they say the apps duplicate the iPhone’s features, which is forbidden.

Why is this relevant to free speech?  There are many parallels between Apple’s position as sole arbiter of the app store and, say, that of Facebook.  They both provide a platform for user-made content, and they both can (in theory) remove, censor, and control content that is posted.  It just happens that instead of providing text, Apple is providing applications.

Should Apple have removed Google’s apps?  Is it a violation of free speech?  My initial response is that Apple shouldn’t have removed it – though I’ll admit that I’ve always been a bit of a Google fanboy and I don’t care much for Apple (the iPhone and iPods being an exception).  Blackberrys and Droids run Google Voice and they seem to be doing just fine.  There are rumors that AT&T pressured Apple to remove the app – this is supported by the fact that Apple initially approved the official Voice app (by Apple’s VP of Marketing no less) and then removed it.

I don’t think corporations really care one way or the other in regards to free speech, for the most part – they just follow the money.  We’ve seen it with Comcast and the Net Neutrality controversy and we’re seeing it again here.

Rated: from 2 votes

Add comment Posted in  Uncategorized April 7, 2010

The Place for Polls

The political site I frequent the most is not run by a politician, nor a pundit.  It’s surprisingly neutral, in fact – probably because its author loves statistics even more than politics.  I speak of Nate Silver’s site,

538‘s main goal is to aggregate political polls and derive some meaningful sense out of them, and then make predictions about elections by weighting polls based on various factors.  It rose to popularity during the 2008 US presidential election, and it correctly predicted the presidential pick of 49 out of 50 states and all Senate races.  538‘s name derives from the total number of electoral college votes up for grabs in presidential elections.

538 is not designed to be an interactive site, but users can write comments at the end of every post, just like nearly every WordPress blog.

During the political “off-season” Silver will discuss polls for various hot-button issues such as health-care, and even non-political issues such as the 2010 World Cup draws.  There is some editorial posts such as this one – most with a center-left slant – but Silver and his staff usually back up opinions with poll data.

Though politics can be frustrating at times, cheering on polls and making predictions can take the edge off it.  I go to 538 to be informed, and even entertained.

Rated: from 3 votes

Add comment Posted in  Uncategorized March 31, 2010


In my last post I talked briefly about Viacom’s lawsuit against Youtube.

Things just got a lot more interesting.

Viacom was secretly uploading its videos to Youtube, covering its tracks, and making it look like they were submitted by amateurs.  THEN they sue Youtube for not taking down their copyrighted content?!?

Pass the popcorn.

Rated: from 1 votes

Add comment Posted in  Uncategorized March 18, 2010

Old vs. New

An excerpt from my paper on the Internet’s influence on the “public sphere”, discussing the backlash of old media against new technologies and how they’re damaging the public sphere.  I reference this article regarding the Murdoch/Google feud, which is definitely worth a read.

“The rivalry between old media and new technology is not limited to news and political discourse.  While YouTube has never aspired to replace television or old media (in fact, many old media companies have their own YouTube channel), they have butted heads with those companies on occasion.  YouTube is a massive conglomeration of professional and amateur videos, and its size and scope makes it very difficult to moderate.  Google, who owns YouTube, does not moderate or delete content unless specifically directed to by its users.  In 2007, media conglomerate Viacom sued Google for $1 billion, citing that users viewing Viacom content on the site violated their copyright.  Last year, Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corporation, lashed out at Google News, claiming that it was “stealing” content and news stories. (Johnson) Google claims that it reproduced sections of stories under “fair use” rules and did not violate any laws.  No lawsuit has resulted from this, but Murdoch has threatened to pull content from Google’s news index.  This seems rather counter-intuitive, as Google News directs traffic to News Corporation’s sites; regardless, Murdoch’s attitude serves as a clear reminder that battles are still raging between new media and old.”

Rated: from 2 votes

Add comment Posted in  Uncategorized March 18, 2010

Information for All

In 2003 and again in 2005, the UN sponsored the World Summit on the Information Society, a meeting designed to bring the world together for a common cause: to make information available to everyone.  It’s a daunting task, and one that certainly won’t happen overnight.

I’d like to focus one one key point that the document linked above makes:

“A well-developed information and communication network infrastructure and applications, adapted to regional, national and local conditions, easily-accessible and affordable, and making greater use of broadband and other innovative technologies where possible, can accelerate the social and economic progress of countries, and the well-being of all individuals, communities and peoples.”

It’s an obvious statement: more infrastructure = more information = more educated population.  We have the technology, but not the money to provide this infrastructure.  Right now only 25% of the world has internet access, but fortunately that number is about five times what it was in 2000.  That means people are getting access, fast.  Furthermore, four in five people see internet access as a fundamental right.  If we want to get internet access to developing countries, we’re going to have to do our part to help.

Rated: from 7 votes

Add comment Posted in  Uncategorized March 10, 2010

Striking a balance between privacy and power

Turow’s article brings up the interesting point that as content becomes fragmented on the Web, advertisers are looking more toward direct advertising to generate revenue – and their main weapon is surveillance.  Before discussing privacy issues, I ask a question – do we want to be advertised to in the first place?

I think the answer for most people is “sometimes”.  There’s a reason why I use FireFox with AdBlock – I don’t like to see, hear, or click through obnoxious ads.  Clearly, advertisers are worried about this just as much as they were worried about TiVo skipping over their television ads.  And if advertisers aren’t making money, they won’t host ads, hurting content providers.

Is direct marketing the answer?  I think the answer is “maybe”. (I think I’ve hit my ambiguity quota for today) I personally am fine with choose-your-own-ads and limited surveillance, provided that advertisers will not sell any of their data to other companies.  Hulu is doing a great job with their ads in my book, although they are still struggling to find consistent advertisers.  If the ad companies truly won’t sell their data and make that known, then direct marketing can work.  Otherwise, it will be seen as an invasion of privacy and abandoned.  Things didn’t work out so well for Beacon and Facebook, though they seem to be bringing in revenue now (estimated one billion for 2010).

Rated: from 1 votes

Add comment Posted in  Uncategorized March 3, 2010

One gross, minus four, plus rhymes, in one post.

Twitter’s kinda neat,

But it gets a lot of hate.

You can write a tweet

About the sandwich that you ate.

Don’t write too much or you’ll get cut o

Rated: from 2 votes

Add comment Posted in  Uncategorized February 26, 2010

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