Health warnings on violent games - forgetting the First Amendment

Two members of the US House of Representatives have introduced a bill aimed at putting "health warnings" on video games. The Violence in Video Games Labelling Act would require manufacturers to add the label "WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behavior" to all games except those rated Early Childhood (EC). This includes games rated Everyone (E) and Everyone over 10 (E10+). The labels would be required regardless of the games' content.

If you shoot people in games, you will shoot people in real life too. Or something. Although if you are rich and successful and powerful in games, you are still sitting inside your house on your own in real life. I don't get it.

Unfortunately, those penning the proposal seem to have forgotten three quite important points:

1) The jury is still out on video game violence, with some studies suggesting negative effects, some finding no effects, and others finding beneficial effects from games.

2) Games publishers already use a voluntary classification code which has worked well for over a decade. That "18" on the front of your Grand Theft Auto case isn't there for fun: it's not designed for children, but for grown ups who understand that you shouldn't do these things in real life.

3) Most importantly - the Supreme Court has already classified video games as protected speech under the First Amendment, making proposals such as these clearly unconstitutional. Tsk.

My favourite violent game was always IK+.

Source: EFF

Citizen journalism: some examples

In last Wednesday's class we look at an IB exam question about citizen journalism, and it quickly became obvious that we need to study more examples of this phenomenon. This is also a good example of how wider reading can help students, because those who read the news regularly would have been well aware of the role of citizen journalism in the 2009 plane crash into the Hudson river, as well as the recent "Arab Spring" uprisings in Egypt, and Syria.

Other examples of citizen journalism include coverage of the 2005 bombings in London, including this award-winning image taken moments after a bomb exploded on a bus in Tavistock Square.

Other images showed the aftermath of explosions on the London Underground (subway). Many of these images and videos were quickly picked up by established news organisations such as the BBC, and later many readers contributed their own eye-witness accounts on many news sites. Citizen journalism was the only source of information for some time because security immediately after the bombings prevented journalists from gaining access.
Image: Adam Stacey
Of course, these situations sometimes bring out the worst in people, and there was considerable criticism after the bombings of the minority of people trying to photograph the victims and capitalise on the story.

In addition to the social and ethical considerations, you should also consider the technologies that enable citizen journalism. Mobile phones with integrated cameras and 3G or 4G Internet connectivity, web 2.0 technologies like blogs, and social media such as Twitter are obvious (but still important examples). However, there are also less obvious examples - such as tagging systems, which allow users to quickly categorize their content, and people to quickly find it across many users' accounts or profiles.

These are just a few examples of citizen journalism from the many out there. Remember, wider reading is essential for ITGS to help you improve your understanding of how technology is used all around us, and to provide you with the latest news and examples which may help you in exams.

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Search the world’s government data

Freedom of Information (FOI) acts and a desire for greater transparency have encouraged governments around the world to open up the data they routinely collect. World Government Data contains examples of crime data, financial data, and population data that are available to the public.

What can and can't you say on Twitter?

Recently legal action has been taken against a number of people for things they have said on Twitter. Racist comments, "menacing" threats, contempt of court, libellous  statements....what can and can't you say on Twitter?

PlayStation 4 out next year?

The new PlayStation 4 will apparently appear in the winter of 2013, according to reports online. The new machine will have a 64 bit CPU and high end GPU capable of 2D resolutions up to 4096 x 2160 and 3D resolutions up to Full HD (1920 x 1080).

Games will be available on BluRay discs and online, but in an apparent bid to reduce piracy, it is rumoured that games will be locked to a specific machine and require the player to be online during play. If true, this could prevent users lending games to each other, reduce the game rental market, and hamper second hand games sales - while no doubt be worked around by pirates in 5 minutes anyway.

What's wrong with some classic video games?

Source: Guardian article

Tumblr bans "Thinspiration" sites

Blogging host Tumblr and content sharing service Pinterest have taken steps to ban content which actively encourages self harm, anorexia and bulimia. So called "thinspiration" or "pro ana" sites are relatively common on the networks. Facebook already bans such content while Twitter and YouTube rely on user-reported violations of their acceptable use policies.

Many "thinspiration" sites currently exist online
Tumblr believes such content encourages people who might otherwise seek medical help. It said several thousand blogs would be removed from the service, and future searches for related terms will direct users to sites where they can find help.

An online petition against the content removal was signed by over 1,600 users.

Issues and Questions
  1. How, technically, might this blocking work?
  2. Will this blocking be effective?
  3. Should services decide what type of content we can and cannot view, should governments do something about this content, or should end users be allowed to decide for themselves?
  4. How does blocking this type of content compare to the blocking of sites indexing copyrighted material such as music and films?
Sources: BBC News article, Sydney Morning Herald article

Computing pioneers: 5 people you should know about

Information Pioneers has short but interesting videos on five computing pioneers, including Alan Turing, father of the computer and artificial intelligence pioneer; Ada Lovelace, often considered the first computer programmer (in 1843!); and Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.
Charles Babbage's Difference Engine, using mechanical gears where modern computers use transistors. The design was so advanced that the manufacturing techniques of the time were not precise enough to construct it. Neither the Difference Engine nor the Analytical Engine were built during Babbage's life. (Image: Carsten Ullrich CC-SA)

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Racist Twitter user jailed

A 21 year old student who used Twitter to post racist comments about footballer Fabrice Muamba has been jailed for 56 days. Liam Stacey posted the comments shortly after the footballer collapsed during a FA Cup match on Saturday 17 March. Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest and is still in intensive care.

The comments included "LOL. **** Muamba. He’s dead!!!". It occurs to me that these comments themselves, while undoubtedly inappropriate and indecent, are not racist. Perhaps the full comments have not been released?

Stacey later attempted to remove his Twitter page and claim his account had been hacked, but was arrested after other Twitter users reported him.

Source: BBC News article

Microsoft blocks The Pirate Bay in Windows Messenger

Microsoft has blocked links to The Pirate Bay sent using the Microsoft Windows Messenger service. The software giant was careful to avoid mentioning piracy however, saying instead that the move is part of their campaign to block sites containing malicious content or malware.

Windows Messenger users who send a link to The Pirate Bay will see the message "The link you tried to send was blocked because it was reported as unsafe."

The move raises questions about organisations blocking access to content even if they are not legally required to do so. Previously Google altered its search auto-complete feature to remove references to popular online file sharing sites, including The Pirate Bay.

Worldwide, media organisations such as the MPAA have increasingly changed tactics from attempting to close sites hosting copyrighted content to pressuring governments and organisations to block access. In the UK, the Digital Economy Act controversially required Internet Service Providers to limit the Internet access of repeated downloaders. That act has been challenged in court. In the US, the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) contained similar requirements, making it illegal for advertising and payment services to do business with sites hosting illegal content, and sparked Internet protests. SOPA stalled in the House of Representatives after a consensous could not be reached.

Microsoft has not said whether it will block further sites in Windows Messenger, or whether the blocking will extend to its other services, including search engine Bing.

Source: BBC News article

Hackers mess up election system - but don't worry

"Hackers" delay Canadian election. My favourite part of this article is this quote: "Party officials insisted the integrity of the voting system was not harmed, but acknowledged that the would-be hacker managed to "mess" it up enough to cause lengthy delays. "The system has not been compromised," said former party national director Brad Lavigne." (Note: As of June 2014 the original article is offline. A similar one about the same events can be found here)

Hmmm. External, unauthorised user(s) manage to delay an election by "messing up" the system? That sounds pretty compromised to me. ANY unauthorised user who affects the behaviour of the system = compromised.

The "integrity" statement assumes that the officials are smart enough to detect such an attempt (previous examples of election hacking have gone undetected for some time). I assume that to support the "integrity" statement, a full paper ballot count (assuming there are any) was performed to cross check with the electronic results?

The article supplies the usual bad analogies favoured by government officials trying to explain something they don't understand:

"Lavigne said someone outside the party tried to get access, triggering alarms that caused the system to shut down. "The analogy that can be used is that somebody was trying to break into our house and the alarm went off and the robbers were scared away."" The difference between an election system and a burglar alarm, of course, is that a burglar alarm doesn't shut you out of your own house once it goes off.

The article later describes slowdowns in accessing the system, which might suggest a Denial of Service attack (so much for the "robbers being scared away").

Once again: this is why Internet voting is a Bad Idea.

Via Joyce McCloy

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Binary Tetris

This takes two of the best things in the world: binary numbers and Tetris / Columns / Bejeweled style game play, to produce a fun game for all the family (?).

Create your own expert system - useful tool for AI practicals?

UPDATE 5 October 2013: Due to changes in the latest Java plugin, eXpertise2Go cannot be used in the way described here. However, I have successfully used a similar system, CLIPS, to create expert systems and use the examples, tasks, and lesson ideas described here. Please see Creating an Expert System with CLIPS.

eXpertise2Go (e2g) is a nice little program for creating expert systems. Compared to many systems I have tried this seems quite easy to use (for students too, hopefully).

It runs as a Java applet and the knowledge base is written as a text file. For example, below are the rules and the user interface prompts for a system that chooses the correct title for a person (Señor, Señorita, Señora). If you are used to "traditional" sequential programming, the key thing to remember is that the rules here are not assessed in the order they are written. I've used deliberately long variable names (in square brackets):

REM Test program to show correct title for a person

RULE [Call them senor]
If [the result of the gender test] = "male"
Then [recommended title] = "Senor"

RULE [Call them senorita]
If [the result of the gender test] = "female" and
[the marital status] = "single"
Then [recommended title] = "Senorita"

RULE [Call them senora]
If [the result of the gender test] = "female" and
[the marital status] = "married"
Then [recommended title] = "senora"

PROMPT [the marital status] Choice CF
"What is their marital status?"

PROMPT [the result of the gender test] Choice CF
"What is the gender?"

GOAL [recommended title]
I think this definitely has potential to help students understand expert systems.

Give up trying to secure military networks: you're too late

The chances of foreign spies having penetrated US military networks are so high that the Department of Defense should assume it has happened and give up trying to stop them, according to a Senate subcommittee.

The group said future efforts should focus on data protection rather than network protection, and should look into ways of retaliating against nations who breach their networks. This approach could strengthen security and intruders would no longer have free reign of a network once initial penetration had occurred. Previously the Pentagon has said it would treat cyber-attacks on the US as "acts of war". Perhaps that was before they released that virtually every man and his dog had penetrated US networks.

If the military, with millions of dollars in funding, cannot secure their networks, perhaps Internet voting should be reconsidered.
Source: BBC News article

Rigging elections: Why Internet voting doesn't work and can't work

Interview with University of Michigan Professor J. Alex Halderman, who in 2010 (legally) hacked into an Internet voting experiment in Washington DC. Halderman explains how a mistake in a single line of the voting software's code allowed him full access to change votes, view voters' names and choices, and alter voting software to throw future votes. He was also able to complete the attack in a way which means it could have gone completely unnoticed by the system administrators. Halderman explains how he attacked the software and makes a clear and concise argument that Internet voting can never be secure with current technology. View the video here.

Source: SlashDot

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Digital magic tricks revealed (open sorcery?)

This is pretty interesting. 'Cyber-illusionist' Marco Tempest reveals his tricks. (Embedding not possible, so you'll have to follow the link)

And the geeks have the lead

According to the Electronic Retailers Association (ERA), sales of computer games have overtaken sales of films in the UK - at least in terms of revenue. Games sales totalled £1.93 billion (~$3 billion) in 2011, compared to DVDs and other disks totalling £1.80 billion and the beleaguered music industry which took "just" £1.07 billion. And, unlike the music industry, the computer game industry continues to grow. It's a long way from Pac-Man.

To celebrate, let's watch Sony's advert for the original Playstation.

Source: BBC News article

It's raining. You can buy an umbrella here.

Google has filed a patent for a system which displays adverts based on current weather conditions. The system, which would likely be targeted primarily at mobile devices, could use publicly available weather data and forecasts to select appropriate advertisements. Examples cited include advertisements for umbrellas when rain storms threaten.

It has also been suggested that the patent could open the door for additional sensors in mobile phones. Most modern phones already include GPS and compass systems, but the addition of temperature, humidity, and even air quality sensors could pave the way for adverts touting air conditioners to those in hot, humid climates and different items of clothing depending on the temperature.

Naturally, privacy advocates have something to say about this, with the BBC quoting a Privacy International executive who believes "This is an attempt to turn our devices into personal spying devices, just so a company can try to sell you a coat on a cold day."

Google currently makes 96% of its $2.17 billion revenue from targeted advertising.

Source: BBC article

Olympic Games: Can the Internet cope?

The 2012 Olympic Games to be held in London will put unprecedented demand on Internet bandwidth according to the BBC.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have warned local businesses and home users about reduced connection speeds as thousands are expected to stream the events live over the Internet.

Mobile data providers are also concerned about the demands on their networks (though with roaming data charges as high as they are, operators are surely rubbing their hands together in glee at the potential profits). 25 additional phone masts have been installed in the Olympic venues to cope with the demand, with operator O2 spending £50 million on Olympic preparations.

Individual organisations are also worried: the BBC expects thousands of attempts to stream events live from its web site, prompting fears that its servers will not be able to meet demand. It is preparing for loads as high as 1 terabit (128 gigabytes) per second.

Source: BBC article

Should I cut off my hand? And replace it with a bionic arm?

Nicola Wilding hasn't used her right arm for 12 years. A car crash when she was 23 left her with severe nerve damage, unable even to move the limb. Now she is considering having it amputated to be replaced a a state of the art bionic arm.

In 2011 a 24 year old called Patrick was the first patient to elect to have his arm removed. He had lost use of it after an electrical accident at work. His arm was replaced with a state of the arm bionic device which can sense the nerves in his lower arm and react according. Patrick is able to move the arm in much the same way as he once moved his own arm. He can even tie his shoelaces and open bottle tops.

Now Nicola Wilding is considering a similar fate. It is a risky and expensive choice: any amputation carries risks of post surgery infection, there is no guarantee that her body and the artificial arm will work well together afterwards, and the medical fees are steep. There are also long term maintenance costs to consider.

Her doctor, Oskar Aszmann, checks assesses her carefully in the pre-selection interview. Then Nicola will travel to Vienna to see if she will be lucky enough to be chosen for the surgery.

Sources: BBC article, BBC article

Surveillance at fuel stations: Legality of UK drivers to be checked before buying fuel

According to Cory Doctorow over at BoingBoing, a proposal in the UK will see Closed Circuit Television Cameras (CCTV) being used to automatically check drivers' tax and insurance status when they stop to refuel their vehicles.

CCTV cameras with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) - currently used by fuel stations to identify drivers who drive off without paying - would connect to government tax and insurance databases and look up each vehicle's records before the driver can buy fuel.

There are almost 2 million uninsured drivers on the UK's roads, costing law abiding drivers who must pay higher insurance premiums. A reduction in their numbers should therefore benefit many people.

However, there are obvious privacy issues with this plan, including the collection and potential retention of licence plate data which could be combined with location data, and ethical issues related to automatic database lookups of people suspected of no crime.

In the US, such automatic database lookups might be considered a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches. The situation in the UK is not so clear; the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) gives police the power to stop and search individuals only if they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed or is about to be committed. While these database lookups are not considered "searches", neither are they performed on people suspected of a crime, nor are they performed by police officers.

The Data Protection Act requires data be used for the purpose collected, though it would be relatively easy for the government to argue that fraud reduction is one purpose of their databases. In fuel stations, signs informing people of the cameras' operation could satisfy the requirements of informing people that data is being collected.

Are automatic checking systems like this a reasonable way to reduce tax evasion and the number of uninsured drivers? Do the benefits of these systems outweigh the drawbacks?

Grade 12 IT and Health - How patient simulators are used in medical training

Grade 12, on Monday we will be covering the uses of IT in medical training. This video will give you some background information - it is an iStan patient simulator. It has many advanced features compared to traditional first aid mannequins. Watch how it is used, the features it provides, and the benefits it brings to hospitals over traditional training methods.

Talking directly to you - how the next US president will be a social media expert

SocialBakers graphs the success - or failure - of the US presidential candidates on social media sites. "Likes", "Re-Tweets", "Shares", and "Follows" are all used to build a picture  of each candidate's online footprint. Did you know that 38% of Ron Paul's "interactions" involve photos? Or that in the last month Santorum has made 268 social media posts, compared to just 52 from Gingrinch?

Source: SocialBakers

Whether this data can accurately reflect the election results remains to be seen, of course. However, there is one area where it is becoming increasingly useful to party and presidential campaigns. Such wealth of publicly available data on the electorate is a dream for data miners, whose software can search for hidden patterns, classifying users into groups and sub groups, allowing campaigners to engage in micro-targeting: sending personalised campaign literate to potential voters. Geography, profession, social class, even religion can be used to determine which issues a voter will likely respond to, and - critically - which may turn them off.

Source: SocialBakers
Businesses have long understood the power of targeted advertising. From tracking cookies in the early days of the web to the vast reservoirs of user data collected by the likes of Facebook and Google, millions of dollars have been made from understanding what customers like and what they click on (Google makes over 94% of its revenue from selling advertisements based on this idea). Online retailers such as Amazon and NetFlix have enormously sophisticated systems for understanding customers' likes and making product recommendations. Now it seems the presidential candidates are catching up with the idea.

Remotely monitoring brain injuries

A new sensor device may help doctors monitor patients with brain injuries. The small implantable device is inserted into the patient's brain along with a transducer just under the scalp. Patients use a portable device to read data such as the pressure inside the skull by holding it near their head.

The system allows patients with brain injuries to be discharged from hospital and return to a relatively normal life, but still be monitored for potentially fatal increases in pressure within the skull.

At the moment patients take regular pressure readings manually, but in the future it is hoped that the technology will be developed to allow 24 hour monitoring with data automatically reported to doctors.

Source: FierceHealthIT
Image: Tomasz Sienicki

Gay webcam suicide accused guilty

A US student who secretly filmed his gay roommate and broadcast messages about the film online has been found guilty of hate crime and invasion of privacy.

Tyler Clementi, an 18 year old student at Rutgers University, killed himself in 2010 after his roommate Dharun Ravi twice used his computer's web cam to record encounters between him and another man. Dharun's accomplice Molly Wei was not prosecuted in exchange for testifying against Dharun. Dharun now faces 10 years in prison.
Dharun faces 10 years in prison for privacy invasion and hate crime
 Source: BBC article

Smart tech transforms the kitchen

Smart fridges which remind you when food is going out of date, automatically order more food for you, and look up recipes. In built software could also monitor the food eaten by individuals in an attempt to improve their diet.

Source: BBC Click video

18 firms sued for using privacy-invading mobile apps

18 companies including Facebook, Apple, and Twitter are being sued by mobile phone users in Texas. The lawsuit claims that mobile phone applications created by the companies collect personal data without the phone owner's permission. The data - typically the user's address book - is then transmitted by the apps to the developers. Some of the worst apps are accused of transmitting this data over open (unencrypted) connections.

Apple's policy for app developers forbids the practice of surreptitiously collecting such data - Apple has not explained how apps using these techniques managed to escape its notice during the approval process.

In the US, the use of customer data online is governed by the the Federal Trade Commission. In the UK, the Data Protection Act (DPA) governs the collection and use of personal data.

Source: NYTimes, ComputerWorld

Should Internet access be a legal right?

An activist group in the UK is calling for broadband Internet access to be made a legal right. The group wants the government to ensure that every home in the country has access to at least a 2mbps connection. They are not asking the government to provide or pay for the connection, but ensure that homes have access to it.

The government currently has targets of 25 mbps connections for 90% of homes in the UK, but the campaign group fear that rural homes will be left with much slower access - some still use dialup connections.

Should Internet access be a legal right? Would your answer differ depending on the country or region involved?
Source: PC Pro article

IBM Sends Jeopardy Supercomputer to Medical School

IBM are planning to work with doctors to find new applications for their Watson supercomputer. Watson because famous in 2011 when it won a game of Jeopardy! against human opponents.

The computer uses artificial intelligence techniques to understand questions posed in natural language and provide an answer. Part of its "knowledge" comes from over 200 million pages of information, including a full copy of Wikipedia. IBM have an excellent video explaining how Watson works here.

For Watson's new applications, IBM are working closely with doctors to ensure medical journals and textbooks are appropriately entered into the system. Watson will not replace doctors but will supplement them by suggesting diagnosis's based on patient's history and symtpoms.

Source: Wired article

How students use technology

I don't like "Infographics" such as this one about technology and education (I don't even like the word "Infographic") . They often slap a lot of half-baked or controversial facts together to form a pretty image, usually without context or clarification.

This one includes lots of "students think" "facts", as though 27% of students "thinking" their laptop is the most important item in their bag makes it so. What if the other 73% thought their notebook was the most important item? What if the students "thinking" this are actually wrong? Newsflash: 99% of students "think" getting a detention when they haven't done their work is a bad thing. That doesn't make it true.

38% of students say they can't go more than 10 minutes without using a digital device. Well, they clearly CAN. They do so every night when they sleep and (hopefully) every day when they shower.

3 out of 4 students say they wouldn't be able to study without technology? They LITERALLY wouldn't be able to study? These people aren't serious.

Perhaps the most useful thing to come out of "statistics" like these is a reminder that life is not simply a series of factoids; we should always question the "facts" we are given, try to put them into context, and try to verify sources. This graphic includes sources - if we take a look at Dr Rey Junco's blog, we can see that he performed a survey of 2,500 students to see how much time they spend using technology. Very commendable, except the author himself says his work is flawed "Does a text message conversation last an hour if I’ve sent and received a total of 4 messages in that hour? Or does it last the minute it took me to send two messages and read two responses? There’s really no way to tell until I do some follow-up research." Yet this information is put onto a poster and spread around the web as though it is gospel.

Students Love Technology

The Three Little Pigs: ITGS and Broadcast media

Remember the children's story The Three Little Pigs? This great short video from the Guardian's Open Journalism project imagines how that story might be covered in today's online, 24/7, social media connected world. This could make a perfect starter video when teaching the Published and broadcast information section of the Home and Leisure area. It contains lot of opportunity for discussion related to the reliability and integrity of information, digital citizenship, and other ITGS social and ethical issues, as well as for linking to topics such as citizen journalism and . Smart and fun.

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Wikipedia competition too much: Encyclopaedia Britannica stops printing paper encyclopaedias

After 244 years the Encyclopaedia Britannica is to stop printing its famous volumes. The company cited increased competition from free, online, up-to-date encyclopaedias (read: Wikipedia) for the decision. They will now concentrate on their online offerings, including their subscription-based site which offers a variety of multimedia.

The most recent version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica sold just 4,000 sets, compared to 120,000 sets before the dawn of the Internet in the early 1990s. The 2010 edition features 65,000 articles. Wikipedia - only 11 years old - has over 3.8 million articles in its English language edition alone. However, that does include articles about Mary Toft (a woman who tricked doctors into believing she gave birth to rabbits) and Phineas Gage, an unfortunate man who had a large iron rod driven through his brain during a railway construction accident.
Source: NYTimes

"Enemies of the Internet"

The Reporters without Borders organisation has released its annual "Enemies of the Internet" list, naming countries who try to limit free speech online or monitor their citizens' Internet activities. China, Vietnam, Iran, Cuba, and North Korea all make the list. The efforts of Belarus' government to block web pages and arrest bloggers have also earned it a place.

It's interesting that Australia is on the list because it wants to implement a filter blocking child abuse images, yet the US nor the UK, both of whom already (quite rightly) do this, and both of whom want to extend surveillance capabilities to combat illegal downloaders, fail to make the list.

Bahrain disrupted Internet connectivity in an attempt to curb protests last year.
Source: BBC article

Turning homeless people into WiFi networks

When I read this I thought April Fool's Day had come early - but it actually appears to be real. An Austin, Texas company has created a mobile WiFi network by attaching transmitters to homeless people and having them wonder the town!! The "Homeless Hotspots" plan even has a map showing users where the mobile hotspots are. The public pay for access and the homeless managers of the hotspot get to keep some of the money. Really hard to believe the world has come to this - hopefully it is some kind of joke.
Source: BBC article

Talking of Facebook...

Somebody ("The Chinese") attempted to spy on Admiral James Stavridis, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, by making a fake Facebook account in his name and trying to get his friends to join.

Source: PCPro article

Social media mess-ups

In the US, two women discovered they were married to the same man thanks to Facebook's "People you may know" box. Wife number 1 clicked on wife number 2's profile and saw pictures of her with her husband, cutting their wedding cake. The man has been charged with bigamy.

Facebook gaffs seem to be ten-a-penny recently, with US soldiers warned not to geotag their photos in case the Tabilan see them (shouldn't they just make sure their privacy settings are correct?), a teenager charged for racist comments made on the site, two men jailed for inciting riots on Facebook, the girl who can't understand why she got sacked for posting online that her job was boring, and my personal favourite, the 150 police officers who posted comments online boasting that they beat up innocent members of the public during protests (doh).

Didn't any of these people learn about Digital Citizenship in ITGS class?

These two geniuses posted comments on Facebook encouraging people to riot. Now they're in jail.

Technology that understands sign language

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen have developed a system to translate sign language into text. The system uses a digital camera to record hand movements made by sign language users, and immediately translates them into text which is displayed on a portable device such as a mobile phone.

The technology, which the university hopes will be ready for the market by 2013, could significantly improve the lives of deaf people. Increased ability to communicate could improve their prospects in education and employment, while the portable nature of the technology means it could be carried on a daily basis to help with everyday tasks.

 Source: BBC article

How gaming affects the brain

In chapter 10 of my book, I cover the use of computer games for teaching and learning (section 2.2 of the ITGS syllabus). This was one of the hardest sections to write because concrete evidence - either supporting or refuting the benefit of games, is hard to find. For every article suggesting benefits, there seems to be others showing no benefits, or even describing gaming related horror stories.

This infographic from the Educational Technology and Mobile Learning blog outlines the impact of video games on the human brain and makes interesting reading, even if it comes no closer to providing a definite answer about the benefits of gaming. (via: Learning at the LRC)

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Censorship is inseparable from surveillance

Cory Doctorow discusses surveillance on the Internet, with reference to laws such as the Digital Economy Act, which aim to identify downloaders of illegal content. I recommend ITGS students read this article as it clearly explains why censorship is not only an issue of freedom, but also one of privacy. After all, how do ISPs determine that you have been accessing "illegal" content?

Source: Guardian article via ITGS Online

Facebook and freedom of speech

A Minnesota school punished a sixth grade student for a series of comments she made on her Facebook page, including one about "hating" a staff member at the school. The 12 year old girl - too young to legally use Facebook - apparently posted the content outside of school and using her own equipment, but when the school found out they required her to hand over her Facebook login details and searched her account. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the girl is now suing the school for invasion of privacy and violation of her First Amendment free speech rights.

Lots of ITGS related issues here including posting appropriate content online (Digital Citizenship), policies related to the use of social networks and responses by schools, and of course, free speech.

Source Cool Cat Teacher

Could the 'cloud' ever crash?

This BBC article discusses several ITGS issues related to cloud computing, including security against unauthorised access and protection against data loss. It also gives a glimpse inside the data centers used by organisations like Facebook and Google to store their vast wealth of user data.

Source: BBC article

Celebrating Colossus, the codebreaking computer

The BBC has a very interesting article and video about Colossus - the world's first programmable, electronic, digital computer, developed to break WW2 era encryption.

In early World War 2, British and Polish intelligence (the most famous of whom is probably Alan Turing) made great progress in breaking the German Enigma cipher, codenamed Ultra. However, in 1940 the Allies faced a significant problem as the Germans gradually switched to a new cipher - code-named Tunny. Created by the Lorenz cipher machine, this new cipher was orders of magnitude more complex than Enigma, and cut off the Allies' source of intelligence.

A lucky break came in 1941 when a Lorenz operator made a security related blunder (people are always the weakest link in the security chain!), allowing British cryptoanalysts John Tiltman and Bill Tutte to recover a plaintext sample and reverse engineer the Lorenz machine. However, even with the basic electro-mechanical machines available at the time, it could still take 8 weeks to decipher a Lorenz message - far too long to be of any use.

Enter Colossus, the world's first programmable computer, designed by Tommy Flowers and completed in 1944, shortly before the D-Day landings. Each Colossus consisted of 1,500 glass vacuum tubes performing the work which today would be performed be transistors. The machine was so secret that its existence - and the work of the men and women at Bletchley Park - was not made public until decades later.

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ISPs lose court battle over illegal downloading

Two of Britain's major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) - TalkTalk and BT - have been told by the courts that they must cut off Internet access for users who repeatedly download illegal content such as music or movies. The 2010 Digital Economy Act included this provision, but ISPs have been fighting it in court. Traditionally ISPs have been seen as "mere conduits" of information, with no responsibility for type of content sent over their networks by their users.

The case raises several important ITGS social and ethical issues. In order to determine which users have been downloading illegal material, ISPs would need to closely monitor the communications of all their users - something which raises significant privacy concerns. In addition to the financial impact caused by setting up this infrastructure, ISPs are concerned that such activities will dissuade users from users their services.

ISPs objected to the costs of implementing the system, which also raises privacy issues: how do you know who is downloading illegal material unless you check everybody's downloads?

Source: PCPro article