My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

40 Articles Tagged with “technology”

  1. Happy Ada Lovelace Day, now dismantle the tech patriarchy

    I just started writing my review for Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet, by Claire L. Evans. If I had timed things better, I could have written this review earlier and published it today, on Ada Lovelace Day. As it is, I’ve paused writing my review of this amazing book for a quick blog post about this day and women in STEM in general.

    Ada Lovelace, by the way, is often called the world’s first computer programmer. This is because she designed the first algorithm for Charles Babbage’s never-built Analytical Engine, which was itself the first stab at a mechanical computer. Additionally, Lovelace was a kickass mathematician—although she was reluctant to draw attention to herself by publishing her own work, she ended up translating a bunch of other work and adding annotations of her own that were often longer, in total, than the original work!

    Lovelace, and the many women who follow her (read Evans’ book for more!), demonstrate that women have always been a part of tech. Women don’t just belong in STEM; women are an essential component of STEM and have been from the very beginning.

    Yet we have what…

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  2. What's the point of education?

    Last week The Globe and Mail ran an opinion piece calling for coding to become a mandatory subject in Canadian schools. I’m sympathetic to the idea, for I agree that computer literacy and an awareness of how the algorithms and programs that increasingly influence our lives is crucial to being an informed citizen. That being said, I disagree with almost all the points made in that article. More generally, as I continue to think about my own opinions of the state of education here in Ontario, particularly when it comes to math, I keep coming back to the question that heads this post.

    The entire article rests on a premise that Canadian kids are less prepared for jobs that involve coding because of its omission as a required subject. Frelix starts with a strong and confident statement:

    Parents have certain expectations when they send their children to school. They’ll learn to read, write, do math, maybe learn a second language, generally prepare for postsecondary education and build a foundation for entering the workforce. But most Canadian kids aren’t getting everything they’ll need for the working world that will await them upon graduation.

    This seems uncontroversial if you take as…

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  3. Trends I'm sensitive to in current science fiction

    This post began as part of my review of The Man Who Sold the Moon. I began contrasting Heinlein’s subject matter with what’s hot in SF these days. Gradually I realized I was eliding too much in my attempts to be as succinct as possible, so I was faced with the choice of expanding an already long review … or excising most of the discussion. Fortunately, I have a soapbox all my own where I can put this kind of stuff.

    First, a disclaimer: science fiction is a diverse field. Nor do I claim to have a comprehensive knowledge of recent SF works. I’ve been pretty good about reading some of the most notable releases each year, mostly thanks to my Worldcon membership for Hugo voting. Nevertheless, this is not intended to be a survey of the current state of the field. Instead, I’m looking at some of the current obsessions within SF based on my own particular lens.

    It’s a truism to claim that science fiction becomes hung up on the future of the technology fetishes of the present. Heinlein, of course, talked a lot about atomic power, the bogeyman of his day. Probably the most memorable recent

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  4. On binge-watching

    Two interesting television-related things happened this weekend that have me thinking about our (and by that I mean, my, I suppose) relationship with consuming new television shows in 2015. Firstly, Netflix released the first season of Daredevil, a “Netflix original” series it produced with ABC Studios for Marvel. Secondly, the first four episodes of season 5 of Game of Thrones leaked (one day prior to the premiere).

    In both cases, I see a lot of posts on social media about people “binging” on these episodes. Some people are even suggesting that HBO should release the season—or at least the four pirated episodes—all at once to level the playing field, so to speak. The alternative being a post-apocalyptic dystopian future in which the people who binged on the leaked episodes spoil everything on the Internet for everyone who hasn’t seen them yet. And by “future,” I am clearly referring to “Monday.”

    Now, I’m not actually interested in what HBO is going to do. I’ll watch the episodes as they come out (mostly because I am too lazy to pirate, and also for reasons discussed momentarily). Rather, I want to discuss the rise of binge-watching, and the tectonic shift in the…

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  5. Fighting CryptoWall on Windows XP: caltrops, scorched earth, and triage

    How was your Easter break? I spent a good portion of my four-day weekend fighting a ransomware attack.

    My boss's computer at the art gallery (not at my other job) is still running Windows XP while connected to the Internet. This is, no joke, a terrible idea. But they are a not-for-profit organization with very little money—she is finally getting a modern computer in May.

    Not soon enough. Last week her computer was hit by CryptoWall 3.0, the beefier descendant of CryptoWall 2.0, which was hitting computers last April. Seems like this is going to be an annual event. This ransomware is so pernicious it has been hitting police departments in the United States, with some of them even paying the criminals because they had no other way to retrieve their files.

    Ransomware is exactly what the name describes. It is a pernicious virus that infects your computer, disables as much security as possible, and then it encrypts your files so you can’t access them until you pay its masters for the decryption key. If you refuse to pay, then tough. It’s RSA encryption: you can’t just brute-force your way past it and get your files back. The only…

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  6. Is this the future? I like it

    Last time … on Ben’s blog! I got a Nexus 5.

    I spent most of that post rambling about why I got a new phone, why I chose the Nexus 5, and my initial reactions to unboxing the phone. Now I’ll go into more depth regarding my thoughts on the Nexus’ hardware and the software—Android 5.0, codenamed Lollipop. A lot of this will be framed in terms of comparing Hadamard, my new phone, to Noether, the old one.

    Samsung Captivate and Nexus 5 side by side

    Overall Hardware

    When the Samsung Captivate first came out, it was praised as being one of the most advanced phones of the time. (That alone says volumes about how fast smartphone technology improved during the past three years.) Here’s a snippet from the Samsung Captivate forum on XDA Developers:

    The Samsung Captivate is the AT&T specific version of Samsung's Galaxy S. Released in July 2010, the device sports a 4.0" WVGA Super AMOLED display, driven by a PowerVR GPU, which was the fastest graphics processor available in any smartphone at the time of its release. The Captivate is powered by a 1GHz Cortex A8 processor, with 512MB RAM and 16GB storage, along with a microSD

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  7. NSA doesn’t need to tap the wires to see your passwords

    I feel like I haven’t been doing much in the way of online consuming lately. I’ve been creating a lot, mostly writing; and most of my consumption has been in the form of good, old-fashioned literature. Still, here’s a few things that caught my eye!

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  8. Universal fat jokes, Doctor Who will be everywhere, and apparently the Internet is no longer for porn

    I’m comfortably ensconced (this is the correct word) in the well-worn couch in my grandparents’ basement. In a few hours I’ll be on an Air Canada flight to Thunder Bay, where I shall while away my summer in whatever manner pleases me (think coconut milkshakes, ninja dance parties, and suffocating under a massive pile of library books). Until then, though, things happen on the Internet.

    • We should be getting a Doctor Who 50th anniversary special trailer any time soon, because they screened it at Comic-Con. But apparently, according to the comments section, that isn’t going to happen. However, I am somewhat assuaged because the special will be simulcast around the world, which means I don’t have to worry about spoiling it for my dad (or Twitter spoiling it for anyone else).
    • Watch this “in memoriam” video for the myriad characters who have died during the first three seasons of Game of Thrones. Spoilers, obviously.
    • In an interesting spot of science news, evolution might be more predictable than we thought. It’s hard to get testable hypotheses out of macro-evolutionary theory, thanks to the time scales involved, but scientists are always finding ways around that.
    • Also, on the

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  9. An open letter to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

    Recently I talked about the threat to Canada’s public domain. The following is a letter I have sent in response to the government consultation on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). As with all my blog posts, it is published under a Creative Commons Attribution license. I encourage you to speak up by February 14 and write your own letter declaiming the desecration of the public domain! Email [email protected]


    Hello,

    I am writing as a concerned Canadian citizen, as well as a student and future educator, with regards to the effects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on Canadian copyright law and the public domain. I am aware of the potential benefits of the TPP for Canada’s trade and economy. However, analysis of the proposed agreement reveals that accepting the TPP would commit Canada to extending its copyright term from life of the author plus 50 years to life of the author plus 70 years. This would effectively leave the public domain in Canada stagnant for 20 years. Beyond that, the increase in copyright terms will mean an additional delay—in some cases, more than a century—between the publication of a work and its entry into the public domain. Many Canadians,…

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  10. Please, protect the public domain!

    My New Year’s Eve was pretty good. As I am not much of a party-goer I did not plan on doing anything special. My two friends Cassie and Carly had extended a casual invitation to perhaps do something. Eventually they decided to watch the hockey game, and having no interest in hockey, I did not go over to their house. But I asked them to “alert me in the event of an impromptu snowball fight”. Sure enough, around quarter after eleven, I received a pushy text message explaining that they were coming over to my house! This was followed by one that advised me to have my coat on—at that point, I knew the game was afoot, and I prepared to ambush their ambush. A snowball fight ensued, followed by the more constructive act of creating a snowman. Later we went inside and played a card game, Dominion, that their other friend had brought. It was intense and interesting, and it was a good evening.

    New Year’s Day is always better than New Year’s Eve. Always. Because New Year’s Day is Public Domain Day. Every year, children and adults alike gather round to give thanks and feast, to…

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  11. I have the power

    Yesterday my laptop power adapter died. It was fine all day at work, but when I plugged it in after coming home, there was no joy. My computer blithely informed me it was draining its battery, oblivious to the fact that, if I did nothing, it would only have a few hours of life left. I suspect that the adapter was miffed that I was making a big deal of my computer's fourth anniversary and ignoring it, the real workhorse. No matter how much I wiggled the many and various connections on the adapter, there was no joy. While part of me was freaking out, the rest of me calmly formed a plan to go to Future Shop and spend ten minutes standing awkardly in front of the display of adapters until someone noticed I could use some help. And so, while my plans for a quiet evening reading outside were thrown into disarray, I managed to ensure my computer continues to receive an uninterrupted supply of yummy electricity. You're welcome.

    I'm sorry, power adapter, for taking you for granted. You are a marvel of physics and engineering, converting day in and day out Tesla's treacherous AC into Edison's DC

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  12. I kind of want a tablet--in 3 years

    I have to say, I'm experiencing some strong technology lust for the new wave of Android 3.0 tablets, beginning with the Motorola XOOM, that are hitting the market. Future Shop's tech blog has posted some video reviews by rgbfilter that show off the XOOM, and there's a part of me that's saying, "Want. Want. Want." It's exciting to see competitors for the iPad running the first version of Android that's "optimized for tablets," and along with the release of the BlackBerry PlayBook, the tablet market is starting to get very interesting.

    I have been somewhat sceptical of the niche tablets fill since the release of the original iPad. In retrospect, I think that was as much a reaction against the hype surrounding the iPad itself than any qualified evaluation of tablets in general. The idea that the iPad is a "game-changer" (whatever that means) was silly to me; yes, it's a significant new product, but tablets are still in their infancy. They haven't even started teething yet.

    I've had my Samsung Galaxy S for about six months now, and I love it. This experience with an Android smartphone, and some good observations regarding the utility of tablets, such as

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  13. My father was a nondeterministic polynomial-time algorithm

    xkcd 329: Turing Test Extra Credit

    For perhaps the first and last time ever, "Oxford English Dictionary" was trending on Twitter last Friday. Why? Well, aside from an overdue recognition of this authority's awesomeness, the OED was trending because its latest update adds entries for online initialisms such as OMG, LOL, and FYI. As if that were not enough to send language purists into apoplexy, but the OED now recognizes "heart" as a verb meaning "to love; to be fond of," in the sense of "I heart pyjamas." That's right: Internet diction has taken over our most beloved of English language institutions. We must draw the line in the sand and say, "Enough! This far and no farther!"

    Or not. Rather than looking at this as a compromise of the OED's purity, we could take it as evidence of how our usage of the Internet has shaped language. I admit to uttering "OMG" aloud, telling people I "heart" things, and while I tend not to say "LOL," because I'm not sure how to pronounce it in a way that doesn't sound stupid, I do love me some "for the win" (FTW, for those of you playing initialism bingo at home).

    As the school year draws to…

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  14. Is that a heterotopia in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

    Let's talk about porn.

    Er, I mean, I didn't just wake up today and say, "Hmm, I think I'll write a blog post about porn." Though that would be totally OK.

    No, for those of you keeping score at home, this is my third critical response to a reading from my Philosophy & the Internet course. Last week we read "Pornography in Small Places and Other Spaces," by Katrien Jacobs, first published in Cultural Studies, Vol. 18. A PDF version is available on her website. It's an interesting article; go read it.

    Back? Good. So, we're talking porn. Specifically, online pornography analyzed through the lens of Foucault's heterotopias. Jacobs approaches pornographic sites as spaces online. She differentiates between place and space by drawing from Michel de Certeau's distinction:

    Whereas places are distinct locations and imply an indication of stability, spaces are constituted through movements and operations of bodies and minds.… De Certeau's "spacing" allows us to conceptualize complex attachments and reflect on networked agency.

    In this sense, we might be able to consider websites "places," because they have distinct locations in the sense that, when one directs one's browser to a static URL, one expects…

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  15. Submission to the legislative committee on Bill C-32

    Today is the last day that the House of Commons legislative committee on Bill C-32 is accepting submissions regarding possible amends to Bill C-32, our latest attempt to amend the Copyright Act. What follows is my submission to them. It is definitely not very formal and contains no real proposed amendments--many more knowledgeable people have already made such submissions, and I defer to them in that area of expertise. Nevertheless, I felt that it was important to have my voice heard.

    Dear Legislative Committee on Bill C-32,

    I am not a pirate.

    Hard to believe, I know. The current draft of Bill C-32 seems to imply that piracy is rampant in Canada, and in particular among the demographic to which I belong, that of the 18–34-year-old university student. Curiously enough, this perspective corresponds to the one advanced by the industries who distribute music, movies, and media, the very industries who are now complaining that Internet piracy is destroying their business model. While I expect such heated, anti-consumer rhetoric from those industries, who after all are obligated by their shareholders to demonize and portray consumers as immoral beings who will only partake in legally-provided media if they have no other option,…

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  16. The federal government hates blind people and web designers

    Originally I was just going to tweet a link to this CBC news article and leave it at that. The more I thought about it, however, the more outraged I became. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's out of some need to feel vicariously oppressed, on account of the fact that I am a tall white male and thus systemically unoppressed. Maybe it's because, although I am not a professional web designer, I am familiar enough with the field to weep over the attitude displayed here by the government. It is 2011. Last December, the Web turned twenty years old. And we still can't support blind users? Seriously?

    That is what the federal government says. Apparently, rather than spend taxpayer money to pay web designers to update its websites, it would rather spend that money paying lawyers to appeal this court decision. Rather than offer equal services to blind users, it would rather go to court and spend our tax dollars to ensure it can continue discriminating. The government is making us accomplices to discrimination. And here I thought I lived in Canada, not the United States.

    I am taking a Philosophy of the Internet course this term, online of…

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  17. Swype: The compromise between QWERTY familiarity and touchscreen elegance

    Back in grade four, something miraculous happened. Our class at Isabella Street School descended down to the library, which was nestled in one corner of the unappealing, rather dingy cement and concrete basement. I already loved the library, and reading in general, by that time. It was through this library that I devoured those Hardy Boys books that my dad did not have, read my way through Nancy Drew, had my first experiences with Tolkien and Lewis and, in later years, Agatha Christie. There were several shelves full of colourful books on mythology when I went through that phase, and even a pop-up book about Star Trek, a copy of which I bought for $10 on Abebooks during a bout of nostalgia in the summer, which has not actually arrived yet, and now it occurs to me I should probably ask someone about that....

    But I digress. On that fateful day, my grade four class was not there to browse the bookshelves and sit at our octagonal tables in chairs now much too small for me. No, we instead turned left at the doors to populate the "computer lab." This must have been 1998 or 1999, so the…

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  18. Old and busted/New hotness

    My two iPods, side by side

    No, what you see above is not the result of an evil exercise in cloning first generation iPod nanos. I do indeed have two. Here's why.

    Last week after I arrived home from work, I dropped my iPod. It landed butter-side-down on the asphalt driveway with a dull, unassuming thud. Immediate inspection revealed no damage to the exterior, but when I turned it on, only the bottm left quadrant of the screen was working. I had broken my iPod.

    This was my first MP3 player, bought in the summer of 2006 for the 20-minute bike ride to and from work. Sure, it's only got a gigabyte of storage, but that has always been enough for me. Even as newer models came (and went), I stuck firm to a resolution that I would not upgrade until my iPod itself would no longer do what it was designed to do: play music.

    A broken screen did stop my iPod from playing music, incidentally, and at first I thought that was the extent of the damage. Although this was inconvenient--I could no longer see how much of the battery remained, for instance, and selecting songs became an art instead of a science--it still…

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  19. My doomed love affair with the Kindle

    Some big news in the Canadian tech industry this week was the advent of the Amazon Kindle in Canada. I've mentioned my mad love for the Kindle previously as well as my discomfort with Amazon's approach to tethered appliances. So, now that the Kindle is finally available here, will I be getting one?

    The short answer is no, not right now. Technologically, I think the Kindle is an amazing device that uses some pretty interesting physics to make reading easy and comfortable. It boggles my mind that we have the ability to store so many books in such a small, slim shell and take it anywhere with us! However, I still have reservations about whether an e-reader is necessary, and I'm still set against tethered appliances. So here's the long answer.

    One More Piece of Luggage

    When you leave the house, what do you check to make sure you've got with you? Keys, mobile phone, ID, maybe money? What about your Kindle?

    I've got this bizarre notion that, if I one day get a smartphone, I could use that device as my e-reader as well. It makes sense to combine them; we've already rolled music players and cameras…

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  20. Windows 7 is Windows Vista After Rehab

    My copy of Windows 7 Home Premium arrived on Friday. On Sunday night, I began doing some housekeeping on my computer to prepare for the upgrade: I uninstalled programs I was no longer using, cleaned up unnecessary files, defragmented, etc. To finish it all off, I decided to finally delete that 10 GB recovery partition Dell put on my computer when I bought it. I've never used it and probably will never need it, so I got rid of it.

    That was a mistake. Or rather, I didn't anticipate the problems it would cause, which was my mistake. When I rebooted the computer, rather than faced with the choice of booting Windows Vista or Kubuntu 9.04, I saw "Grub Error 22," and my heart skipped a beat. I had killed my boot record!

    The good news in this situation, of course, was that my filesystem was intact. I cast about for the Kubuntu 9.04 Live CD from which I had installed Jaunty back in April . . . and couldn't find it. Fortunately, I did find the CD for Kubuntu 7.10--old, but perfectly usable. I booted into Gutsy Gibbon and verified that yes, my Windows installation was intact. I just…

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  21. Welcome to the Walled Web 2.0

    As much as I am in love with the technological achievement that is the Amazon Kindle, I have to chastise Amazon and the producers of other eBook readers for what I see as a step backward.

    You may have heard last week about Amazon deleting books off Kindles. This is worrisome because--as Jonathan Zittrain explains--it emphasizes how much you don't own what you "buy" from Amazon or any other company that digs its claws into you by selling you tethered goods. We sacrifice our freedom to keep what we purchase in return for a little convenience in the purchasing.

    That's not all though. Barnes and Noble, bookstore rival to Amazon, plans on launching its own eReader from Plastic Logic. Now, I'm all for competing eReader devices and competing eBook stores. Competition breeds innovation. But what I don't like is this:

    At this point, B&N's plan becomes clear--the books will be tied to the B&N e-reader, and not downloadable by Kindle or Sony Reader owners. Essentially B&N is trying to set up a closed ecosystem that's a direct rival to Amazon's, and that's based from its bricks and mortar stores and a website, versus Amazon's 100% cloud-based solution.

    A synonym…

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  22. What We Learned from #amazonfail

    I quite enjoyed on Easter weekend watching the instantaneous outrage across the Internet, particularly #amazonfail on Twitter, as it became apparent that Amazon had removed sales rankings from books with "adult" content. The outrage stems more from the fact that the application of the "adult" label seems skewed toward books with homosexual content; the heterosexual books are safe. In the ensuing light-speed confusion: Mark R. Probst shared his limited interaction with an Amazon rep, in which the rep revealed the "adult content" policy; the LA Times book blog covers it, then covers it again when sources claim that Amazon has blamed a "glitch"; and some posited it was the result of gaming the system.

    Take the time to read the above articles before reading on.

    What Definitely Happened

    In lieu of any definitive statement from Amazon regarding this debacle, it would be irresponsible to say, "This is what happened." At best, we have theories. But all theories start with facts. Here are the facts, what we know did happen, even if we don't know why it happened.

    Amazon Has a Safe-Search Policy

    As evidenced by Mark Probst's post, a representative for Amazon has confirmed that…

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  23. Digital Water Pavilion

    It's a Wednesday. (That doesn't mean anything particular. I just wanted to point it out for those of you who hadn't noticed.) I haven't posted a new blog post in a while, so here's something I wrote a little while ago and never got around to posting.

    I first read about this in an issue of TIME magazine covering the best inventions of 2007. Recently it was featured in an episode of Daily Planet, so I thought I would share its existence with those of you who haven't heard of the Digital Water Pavilion.

    The Digital Water Pavilion is exactly what it sounds like. It's a pavilion, built in an outdoor space, with a floor and a roof supported by a couple of columns that double as an information point and office. Water running off the roof forms "walls" along the pavilion. But that's not the cool part. By controlling the flow of the water, the pavilion operators can actually use these water walls as a display device:

    The entire surface becomes a one-bit-deep digital display continuously scrolling downwards. Something like an inkjet printer on a huge scale.... The water itself is dynamic: it can display graphics, patterns and

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  24. Online/Offline is a false dichotomy

    Two months ago I read The Numerati, in which Stephen Baker discusses how technology--particularly the Internet--is affecting marketing techniques and how businesses and individuals manage their data. Now that we have the tools and understanding to mathematically model more behaviour than ever before, there's a new group of people--the eponymous Numerati--at the forefront of this information revolution.

    One of the concerns Baker briefly addresses is privacy. On the Internet, this has always been an issue, but the surge in popularity of social networking this year makes it even more relevant. MySpace and Facebook have made headlines with the Lori Drew case and the launch of identity management Facebook Connect.((Google Friend Connect gets no respect. Poor OpenSocial!)) What was once a matter of "privacy" is now a question of the most appropriate mechanism for managing the convergence of one's offline and online personae.

    And I can't help but feel that some people are missing the point.

    What is Privacy?

    Like "Web 2.0", we tend to throw the term "privacy" around quite a bit without much thought to what we actually want when we demand it. Does this merely mean we want our bank account details safe? Or do…

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  25. An argument for immersion

    Lately Merlin Mann has been helping Spark listeners build their "Digital You." Implicit in this new series is the fact that technology is now an ingrained part of us--how we appear online is as important as how we dress in public. Your online presence, like your personality, can be diverse: open and inviting, cold and formal--whatever works for you and gets you the audience you want.

    The era of ubiquitous technology is upon us. Smartphones are getting smarter, the Internet is (at least in places other than Canada!) getting faster. And thanks to this ubiquity, we can always be connected.

    Often people claim, however, that disconnecting is the best way to improve productivity. Close all those email programs; close the chat program; don't go on Facebook; don't update Twitter. Multitasking, after all, makes us lose focus and be less productive, right?

    Those people are right. When it's possible for anyone to reach you, anywhere, at any time, you've become too connected. I love technology, and I love the Internet, but there is a point at which immersion makes it harder to sit down and focus--or even just relax.

    But I said that this was an argument for immersion, so here…

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  26. The afterglow of my first election

    The polls are closed, and the votes are mostly tallied. Last month, Stephen Harper called an election; this month, he was re-elected with yet anohter minority government--a stronger minority, but still a minority. In the ensuing chaotic coverage, some interesting trends have emerged. The new hot issues are Liberal leadership, government functionality, voting reform, and voter turnout.

    The Liberals lost eighteen seats (at the time of this writing), which is a blow for them. Still the official opposition, yet weakened. Additionally, Dion declared in his concession speech that he would be willing to work with the Conservatives on the economic "crisis" that we're facing. While I commend Dion for extending the olive branch, two questions come to mind: does this mean the Conservatives will have a de facto majority? And will this matter at all in a week or two when the Liberals get a new leader? For indeed, if there was anything the majority of pundits agreed that Dion is done. My opinion of Dion improved during this campaign; however, that still doesn't mean he's a strong leader.

    The next question is: will this government be functional? Harper's cited reason for calling the last election was that government no…

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  27. Addicted to inventing the future

    I'm addicted to a new game called Superstruct. It's a "massively multiplayer" forecasting game. Sort of like a role-playing game, Superstruct is set in 2019 and concerns five "superthreats" that together weaken humanity enough to make our survival outside of the century unlikely. But you aren't playing as a superhero or a zombie: you're playing as you--or as you will be, in 2019.

    Created by The Institute for the Future, Superstruct is more than a game. It's a collaborative problem-solving exercise. And it's an experiment. I learned about it from this week's episode of Spark, where Nora Young interviews Jane McGonigal, the game designer. I was immediately intrigued. The goal of the game is to create possible solutions for the likely threats of our near future. It's designed to be realistic. While making accurate predictions isn't always possible, the game gives us scenarios extrapolated from humanity's current global situation. Watch the videos for each superthreat; they sound very plausible.

    As McGonigal explains, the game's serious. It's designed to get people to think about issues we might not otherwise consider in our daily lives. By focusing on the environment as a game, one in which people…

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  28. My Digital Wish List

    CBC radio show Spark wants to know what Canada needs to do today to become a major innovator tomorrow. This is an important issue with the election looming. In addition to interviewing technology experts, the Spark blog has asked listeners to submit their own "Digital Wish Lists". Here's mine:

    • Establishment of a Minister of Technology. I agree with Mitch Kapoor. We have a Minister of Health, a Minister of Industry--why not someone in charge of the country's technological infrastructure?
    • Better copyright reform. Bill C-61 has demonstrated that many Canadians care about copyright reform. Even if one is in favour of the copyright protection measures outlined in Bill C-61 (I am not), critics have pointed out numerous flaws that make Bill C-61 a poor piece of legislation. I want our government to have open consultation with the public to craft viable, enforceable copyright legislation that balances intellectual property ownership with the need for access to information.
    • More competition in the telecommunications sector. I am not a capitalist, but a lack of competition does mean that consumers have less choice. Here in Thunder Bay, we have one choice for cable TV service: Shaw. Until recently, only local TBayTel provided home phone

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  29. Using a Wiimote to control iTunes

    A couple of months ago, I stumbled across a way to create a low-cost interactive whiteboard using a Wiimote. All that was required was a Wiimote (for its infrared camera), an infrared-emitting pen, and a flat surface. The Wiimote would track the pen across the surface and report its coordinates back to the computer program, which could then draw, trigger controls, or whatever you wantetd it to do.

    I don't own a Wii, so I bought a Wiimote alone. I couldn't get the pen working properly, however (I tried building one myself rather than buying one). So I shelved my Wiimote, where it sat gathering dust, forgotten. Until yesterday.

    Often I like to read in my comfy chair that's on the other side of my desk. I'll have iTunes playing music, and I don't like having to get up and go to my computer to adjust the volume or skip a song. It's even more inconvenient if I'm outside and playing the music through the window. I don't have a multimedia remote (when ordering this computer from Dell, I didn't think I'd ever want one--foolish me).

    Last week, Lifehacker published an article about using the Wiimote with your computer

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  30. Google Chrome, Part 2: All Your Base Are Belong to Google

    Yesterday, I explained why I was excited about Google getting into the browser game. Of course, no new Google venture is complete without some people taking issue with Google's privacy policies. In this case, the controversy was around Google Chrome's EULA, specifically section 11.1. Now, since everything on the Internet happens at the speed of light, Google has already changed the wording of that clause and applied it retroactively, claiming that it was all a mistake by the lawyers behind the curtain. However, this incident reminds us of just how much data Google collects, not to mention privacy issues online as a whole.

    I should begin with the disclaimer that I am not a Google fanboy. I love some of Google's services--I use Gmail, although I prefer to check my mail through Mozilla Thunderbird's interface, and Google Calendar is my favourite calendar application. However, I'm perfectly willing to criticize Google. I try not to be a fanboy of anything, but if I were, I'd be a Joss Whedon fanboy. So I'm going to hijack this post to mention that the Dr. Horrible soundtrack is available for purchase on iTunes. That is all.

    The Internet is transforming…

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  31. Google Chrome, Part 1: Polish that perspective

    Google made a splash on Labour Day when it announced the release of its own browser, Google Chrome.

    It's important to note that this is only a beta release, and Google's made it clear that they are going to make major improvements to it. Check out the comic book that explains Google Chrome for techie details. A comic book--how cool is that?

    Of course, Google has set a high standard for itself in the past. Reaction to this "beta" has been negative from some people (particularly those less tech-savvy who are underwhelmed by the interface), and Google has itself to blame for ruining the "beta" label with stable services like Gmail. However, it's important to look beyond Google Chrome as just a product and examine its significance to users and the Internet as a whole.

    For me, Google Chrome is significant because it is open source. Google has a history of supporting the open source community, but this is the first really big open source Google product. I love Google's other apps, but their proprietary nature has always made me slightly uneasy. By making Google Chrome open source, Google is signalling that it isn't entering the browser business just…

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  32. Spark

    Lately I've been listening to CBC Radio's new show Spark.

    Some of you may recall that I'm not always fond of the CBC, but they've got something good going with Spark. It's the sort of show that would appeal to demographics that might otherwise view the CBC as stodgy and uninteresting. Spark's host, Nora Young, discusses the latest technology and technological phenomena with guests. Specifically, the show focuses on how technology integrates into and impacts our daily life. So even if you aren't a technowizard, you could still find the show interesting (and perhaps even informative).

    Take a look at the Spark blog to get an idea of what sort of topics the show's covered in the past. Even if you don't get CBC radio where you live, you can listen to Spark via podcast--that's how I listen, because then I can just put it on when it's convenient.

  33. How I got Twitter to work with TBayTel

    Last night I signed up for Twitter, an increasingly popular online service that allows users to send status messages from a variety of platforms--mobile, web, IM, etc. Big deal, you say. So what--who cares? The neat thing isn't so much what Twitter does as how you can use Twitter elsewhere on the Internet.

    For example, thanks to a Facebook application, I can update my Twitter status and have it show up on my Facebook profile page. Once I redesign my website (coming soon, I promise!) I'm going to add a status box to the front page, and it will draw the status from Twitter. So instead of updating Facebook and my site, all I have to do is update my Twitter status, and anything that draws my status from Twitter will change.

    But wait, there's more. Twitter is following the trend of moving the Web off the Web and onto phones. You can text Twitter from your phone. I'm online a lot, so of course it's quite convenient to use the web interface. However, the real power from Twitter, in my opinion, is the fact that I can update it without access to a computer. This way if I…

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  34. Todoist: The solution to a problem

    My to do list

    I have a lot of projects going on all at once. I'm coding VSNS Lemon, trying to code another site, managing a couple of other sites, trying to redesign this site, doing support at InvisionFree/ZetaBoards--and that's just in my free time. I've also got school and work to balance. So time management is a big deal for me. Unfortunately, I'm the sort of person who, instead of doing the things on his to-do list, spends his free time finding shinier ways of creating to-do lists.

    Now my hunt is over. Today I came across the neatest little site for making to-do lists, and I am very satisfied. Todoist is an excellent example of how one person can turn a personal need into a useful service. I did something similar when I first made VSNS Lemon, although on a smaller scale. Since I don't have the time to create a task management application, I'm very glad Todoist exists.

    The interface makes use of well-designed JavaScript to be both flexible and intuitive. There's keyboard shortcuts, but most of the functionality is obvious, so you don't have to worry about getting lost. The best part, though, is how you can organize your tasks.…

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  35. JPod and PVR

    I had a very good day today. Everything just seemed to go well. Sure, there were some rocky moments--I got stuck behind a tow truck trying to hoist a vehicle on two separate occasions--is that weird or what? But I won't let that ruin the rest of the good moments.

    If you come up to a group of people waiting outside a room, don't assume they're waiting because the door is locked. Until you actually try the door yourself, you don't know it's locked--maybe the first person to show up didn't try it, and people just followed along. That's what happened today at my English class. I've learned this lesson before, however, so I tried the door--and it was unlocked. I turned on the lights, and the rest of the class followed me in. Now all we need are textbooks.

    I had a pleasant lunch with my dad, then I submitted my passport application. ^_^ The person at the passport office told me that everything was in order, so I'll get my passport in a couple of weeks when they do their next mail-out. :w00t: Since we're already required to travel to the U.S. with a passport if we fly,…

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  36. I surrender. Now stop sending me emails.

    Great Bird of the Galaxy, forgive me.

    It was just a matter of time, of course. My willpower is far from legendary or anything, and I knew that I was going to "cave", as Cortney so eloquently puts it, sometime or another--I fully intended to, since once I'm done high school I'd like to preserve my connections with my friends through whatever means available. And, as much as I hate to admit it, social networking sites help.

    So I joined Facebook.

    That's right. I'm tired of those snarky little "I've added you as a friend on Facebook..." emails finding their way into my inbox, begging me to get an account. -_- Fine. I surrender. Now stop sending me emails. (I have a feeling I'm going to continue getting them anyway, since that's the nature of the beast).

    However, an interestingly paranoid Orwellian thought occurred to me. As our technology increases, the government institutes increasingly complex methods of keeping track of us. The day is not far off when some sort of "national ID" system will be implemented. We already have several numbers associated with us--driver's licence, SIN, health card, etc. Naturally people start to get paranoid about the…

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  37. *huggles Portable Apps*

    Nearly a year ago, I first blogged about Portable Apps. Now I'm going to once again declare: Portable Apps rock! :drool:

    They are an excellent way to carry your favourite programs with you on your USB key (or other portable method; I just prefer that). I love Firefox Portable, which is just want it sounds like. I've also got FileZilla Portable, Portable GIMP, Portable OpenOffice.org, and Portable Gaim. :jay: Although I haven't figured out how to use it at school yet (and might not be able to, thanks to the restrictions they put on the computers), it's useful for anywhere else that I don't have my computer with me.

    I wub Portable Apps! :wub:

  38. Will do English work for a cell phone

    I've learned a life lesson today: People will give you cell phones if you take English classes.

    Go back and read that sentence. Yeah. Crazy, eh? You see, my brother is in grade 8 and shall be going into grade 9, so he has his option sheets for next year. He originally intended on taking several applied-level courses (if you don't live in Ontario, you probably don't understand this part, but you'll get the gist of it). We managed to talk him into everything at the academic level, save for English. My parents finally got him to take academic English (on the theory that it's easier to drop down into applied than it is to move into academic) by promising to get him a cell phone.

    Society triumphs again. I think.

    So yeah. My plan is pretty simple: send me a cell phone and I shall do your English homework. Not that I actually want a cell phone (it's not like I'd use it). But the money you lose buying me a cell phone can be considered the just punishment for even thinking about getting someone else to do your work for you. Only politicians can get away with that.

  39. Hmm . . . BOINC?

    My day was a good day. I'm really only stressed about drama. Four more school days to go.

    Rat dissection tomorrow in biology. If those rats arrive. . . . We order them from Boreal Laboratories in Toronto, and they're late. >_<

    Anyway, so in a moment of idleness I downloaded BOINC and joined up for Climateprediction.net, [email protected], and [email protected]. I want to participate in SETI@home, but something seems to be wrong with their server at the moment. . . .

    Muwahahaha.

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