Location! Location! Location!

While there is constant debate regarding the way corporations and the government handle our privacy, we fail to realize how much location information we offer voluntarily. Location technology is a vital feature in applications such as Facebook, Yelp and Foursquare.

Joke - man's lies to boss, his location found out on foursquare

On Foursquare, the location check-in is embedded in a game that could possibly detract from seeing the significance of the application. Foursquare, Yelp etc. are after-all businesses and their goal is to increase revenue. Your check-ins, recommendations and comments are all purposed to draw clients to particular businesses. This benefits the business and also other clients who would be interested in visiting the location. Reading a comment on Foursquare that Salado Restaurant has “killer” brisket tacos might make you consider it even if it is not a place you would typically frequent.

But what harm could possibly come out of that? In Location Literacy & Foursquare in the Classroom Dean Terry points out that such information may lead to a sense of what he calls “unplaceness”. Your location check-in fails to take into account the relevance of a certain place, or the experience you had there outside of the business element. Emerging technologies are working to include the human factor in location mapping. A new mobile app provides a map through the museum, and also provides more information on the art you may be looking at. Hopefully, this feature can be integrated into the mainstream for better documentation of experiences at various locations.

While the benefit of location awareness cannot be understated, there are times when it can be misleading or even downright dangerous. The ability for people to check in at fictional places, waters down the reliability of such location mapping. Location based social applications have the ability of giving away one’s location to unintended persons. Your whereabouts can be pinpointed with relative accuracy and could be dangerous if the information falls into the wrong hands.

While we continue to rip the benefits of location awareness, we constantly need to keep in mind the danger and decide wisely on the information we choose to put out to the public.


Limited Access

Leaving class with my assignment in hand, I doubted that there would be much revelation in using a screen reader to access the web. Since I consider myself a pretty adept “typer”,  I figured this would be a walk in the park. Well it turned out to be much more difficult than anticipated.

I tried my hand at Voice-over after hurriedly going through the tutorial where I learnt a few keyboard shortcuts. My first exercise was to send a blindfolded tweet and this took a good five minutes. I had initially thought the most difficult challenge would be typing blindfolded but quickly realized I was ill-prepared for the challenge of navigating from field to field.

The other challenge I encountered, both on my own and when carrying out the exercise in class, was the speed with which the narrator spoke. The voice seemed to constantly interrupt my thinking and made typing nearly impossible. The tutorial suggested speeding up the voice once comfortable with using Voice-over. Surely I cannot imagine going any faster because I was struggling to keep up!

Of all the exercises I have done in my school years this is one that will definitely stick with me. I gained such awareness of what I take for granted. On the way to school on Wednesday, I had a greater appreciation for the effort of the gentleman in the wheelchair who rides the bus with me everyday.

As a web developer I plan to use this knowledge to make sure I include practices such as using alt tags, higher contrast, maintaining consistency through my pages etc. to ensure that those with accessibility issues are able to utilize my websites.

In any profession we choose, we need to keep in mind and in practice, ways to make accessibility easier for those who fall outside the “normal” range. It is not a favor we would be doing to them but a duty of informed people.

On the Internet Nobody Knows You Are a Dog

The Utopian world envisioned in the early days of the internet as a place without bias, has not yet materialized. Even though there have been some great strides towards equal distribution, minority races still lag behind as regards access to the internet.

Having internet at home may not be financially feasible for many. It requires first, the price of the computer, then the monthly expense of internet service (preferably broadband) and not including the assumption that you do have access to electricity. The cost is limiting for many minorities and almost unattainable for many global communities.

The article For minorities, new ‘digital divide’ seen has some very eye-opening points. While it does seem to promote the stereotype of labeling what minorities do online as not “quality engagement” it does raise one very important issue. Despite many people of minority races now having access to the internet, it is important to note what device it is used on.  Reports show that more Blacks and Hispanics use their mobile devices to access the internet than Whites. Using a cell phone or a public or borrowed computer, limits the functions one can perform online. This is an important aspect to be factored when evaluating any statistics concerning the digital divide.

Nobody Knows You Are A Dog

The early days of the Internet were filled with visions of a Utopian space where race would disappear, famously captured by a 1993 New Yorker cartoon.

An important issue Professor Famiglietti raised is that there is a difference in interaction with the internet among people who were raised with the technology as opposed to those who learned it in a school setting. This is an observation I have made myself as an adult returning to school. I did not grow up using computers or the internet, so for me it has taken a longer time for it to feel natural. On the other hand I see a difference in the way some of my fellow students interact with the internet, like second nature, since they have been exposed to it from an early age. The judgments passed by For minorities, new ‘digital divide’ seen seems to overlook this aspect when assessing the kind of engagement minorities carry out online.

Racial discrimination is less prevalent online than it is in the physical world especially because one can operate with relative racial anonymity. However, there have been some cases of racial bullying I have witnesses online once ones race is discovered. Also, in some games, you might get picked on if suspected of being female. However, for many users online, race or gender does not seem to be a factor.

While the internet has not alleviated the discrimination divide as it set out to, in my opinion, it is the most universal space on earth. Hopefully progress will continue to be made towards greater equality online.

Tag… You’re It!

There is so much information on the web and in the time it takes me to write this blog, it will have grown by great numbers. In an effort to maintain some loose form of sanity, it is helpful to find a way to focus on material that pertains to you. While web creators might have general ideas of topics that are connected, the only person who truly knows what you want is you. In comes Folksonomy! This allows you to tag and categorize your interests so that you can be better organized and access the information easier in the future. User-based tagging allows users to apply tags that are more relatable to their culture, that might not necessarily be the creators’.

My experience with user-based classification was born out of necessity. As part of a class assignment, I am required to keep a “morgue” (I wonder who named it that). This is a record of websites, articles or anything that relates to my career of interest. I began this conquest by diligently bookmarking and scribbling notes about sites I visited. By the time I was at 15, I realized this method was headed for a crash and burn.

That is when I discovered folksonomy in the way of Evernote. I am now able to save useful websites I encounter and even create different categories such as resources, designs etc. Evernote allows me to attach personal notes to these sites. I have also come up with tags that only I would have come with, given the personal nature of my research.

Other sites I have found that offer similar services include Live Binders and Deli.cio.us. Deli.cio.us is cool because it gives you the benefit of seeing what other people with similar interests have used to organize their information.

William Butler Yates said “Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.” Folksonomy takes this one step further; it allows the people to communicate in their own language. As the internet is not getting any smaller, what now seems like a neat perk will one day become necessity.

Don’t believe everything you hear or read or…

What an interesting exercise we had in class! At first glance, The Angry Luddite looked like just another online story. However, within the first paragraph it began to look dubious. The misspellings and formatting errors led us to believe that it was not a reliable source of information. The names on the article could not be verified and any links we encountered led back to the same article.

Upon reflection, I began to question what else I have read online and believed at first glance.  I typically do not counter-check the links and the author’s background. Misspellings have been a mere annoyance, rather than a cause for doubt.

In my opinion, a big problem is caused by the sheer bulk of content we read online. We tend to quickly skim through rather than take the time to read articles in their entirety like we would a magazine article, for example. It is also easier for any fly-by-night to claim knowledge on a subject online than it would be for them to publish a book. The writer’s background is therefore a big part of assessing the validity of information.

When reading a book, you would take time handling the book and this gives you a chance to read more about the author, what else he has written and so forth.  A shift in getting a lot of our information from the internet should be met with a shift in the way we evaluate the information we obtain. Realizing that some online articles are written with the main purpose of driving traffic to particular sites is important in separating the good from the bad. Legitimate articles need to have relevant links so that you can verify their sources.

Overall this has been a good lesson in evaluating online sources. It does not promise to be an easy task as it will take longer to get information than believing the first thing that pops up on Google. I would rather read fewer yet quality articles than many inaccurate ones.

The Googlization of my Brain

The article from The Googlization of Everything by Siva Vaidyanathan enlightened me on the dangers of being absolutely reliant on Google as I have been, mostly through default. The fact that only in hindsight did I realize that I may have been groomed to search the “Google way” is indication enough that it is time to broaden my horizons.

While I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, about to abandon Google, I hope to use it to my best benefit by exploring outside my comfort zone. The first step towards recovery from the Google mindset is to customize my search settings. I have found that taking the time to set my preferences in the “Advanced Search” has yielded much more relevant results.

As Google operates close to a monopoly in the industry, there is eminent danger of control. Regulations are required to ensure that Google operates with other companies on a level playing field, with the consumers’ benefit in mind. I would suggest requiring that Google, and hence the Internet, operate under Search Neutrality. Currently Google gives preference to its big clients and favors them in search result rankings. Under the rules of Internet neutrality, results would be arranged strictly in order of relevance. Priority should not be bought!

Even with regulation, the public needs to be empowered while conducting online searches. Breaking the habit of using just Google and venturing to Bing, Yahoo etc. might yield better results and create a healthier internet overall. Search companies will feel more obligated to provide fairer services when they know they are truly in competition with one another. An idea that Vaiyanathan suggests, that I had previously never considered, was to conduct searches where it is specific to your area of interest. For example looking at Medical Journals for medical searches.

If the public is informed, we have the power to make the Internet what we want it to be rather than impulsively accepting what is given to us.

You Read My Mind

As I turned on my computer on Tuesday morning, the first thing I looked at was my homepage (Yahoo.com). As I do not have time in the morning to sit through a news broadcast or read an entire newspaper, I quickly scheme through Yahoo’s pre-filtered news bullets. If I feel that any story warrants my attention, then I will read further into it. I have also noticed that Yahoo shows more and more local news stories, thus helping me filter the content further to what is relevant to North Texas.

I began to wonder in what other ways my online information was filtered and so decided to conduct an experiment on Facebook. I have noticed that whenever I am on Facebook, I am constantly bombarded with ads that I just cannot resist. If I didn’t know better I would think that Mark Zuckerberg had some clairvoyant wizards in his employ. I get a lot of shoe and clothing ads that are impossible to miss in the right corner of my eye as I hurriedly try to catch up with my friends.

So I decided to pull a fast one on Facebook and log in to my husband’s account. The advertising I received was radically different. The ads I got ranged from phone cards to Cameroon (which is where he from), to a whole lot of ads related to President Obama and one about Catholicism (at which point I was sure I was not on my Facebook profile anymore).

The results of my experiment were a clear indication that Facebook filters its ads to match the particular viewer. Many of my husband’s friends live in Cameroon and thus the calling cards to Cameroon ads. I also didn’t realize how big an Obama groupie he is. I may have learned just as much about my husband as I did about Facebook filters.

High or Low?

The experience I had writing blogs with contrasting distraction environments varied sharply. I wrote my first article about Grand Theft Auto video game actors in the same room as my husband who was attaching T.V. True to his usual fashion, it was turned up a little too high for my liking. The story that he was watching was Micheal Jackson doctor’s trial. This trial hold some interest for me so I could not help but stop severally to listen. This led to me taking longer to comprehend the story than I normally would. Once I started typing my summary I found that I had to keep referring to the text because I hardly comprehended it the first time. Luckily for me, the article was pretty straightforward and so did not pose as much of a challenge.

For my second article, done in low distraction, I read and wrote about  Lisa del Giocondo, the inspiration for the Mona Lisa portrait. I found that with just one reading I was able to comprehend the entire article. The only time I had to refer to the article was to retrieve the Italian names that I could not remember off head. The only challenge I found in a low distraction environment was that my mind kept wondering to things outside the article. I found that it took me a lot less time writing this article.

My observation was that even though I preferred the low distraction environment, the ideal climate would be to have a little distraction that would help my mind stay on task. This exercise made me decide to dedicate my mornings, when I have much less distraction to doing my homework. I think it is important to note that I am writing this article in a very high distraction article, I am in class rushing through my homework!

Low Distraction Wikipedia Summary

Lisa del Giocondo

The story I read in a low distraction environment was about Lisa del Giocondo. She lived in 15th century Italy and is believed to be the woman portrayed in the Mona Lisa painting. Lisa was born in Florence, Italy to a well-to-do, but not necessarily wealthy, family. She married Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo at the young age of 15. He was a prosperous silk and cloth merchant and many years her senior. It is believed Lisa and her husband loved each other because he took less dowry than was usually acceptable for their class in Italy. Lisa del Giocondo had five children together.

Like other families of means in Florence at the time, the Giocondo family were art lovers. Zanobi, Lisa’s husband, commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint her portrait. Leonardo took many years to complete the portrait and was never paid for it.

Lisa’s husband at his death bequeathed all his wealth and her dowry back to her, saying that she had always acted with a noble spirit and so he wanted to make sure that she had all her needs met.

High Distraction Wikipedia Summary

List of Voice Actors in the Grand Theft Auto Series

This article talks about voice actors who have been used in the Grand Theft Auto video game series.The list features mostly the lead actors in these games. Unlike the original Grand Theft Auto Games, I and II, Grand Theft Auto III featured actors who are famous in movies and television. No other video games were using high profile actors at the time. Games began to feature big names in the movie industry like Samuel L. Jackson and Ray Liota. The president of Rockstar Games (the makers of Grand Theft Auto) however soon found that using such high profile actors overshadowed the characters in the game. For example, he says he wasn’t sure if he was playing Tommy Vercetti or Ray Liota. The company has since then chosen to use lesser known personalities in their games or have the big name actors play as themselves.


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