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iPhone U

Since the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri is now "requiring" iPhones or iTouches for the incoming freshmen class, it seems like a good time as any to talk about the influence of technology in higher education. The argument presented by Brian Brooks, the associate dean of the Journalism School believed that putting the device as part of the required materials that the students could put the cost into the financial aid package that the typical freshman signs up for before attending their first class. Now MU could have taking the road that Abilene Christian University chose by giving all of their incoming freshmen an iPhone or Itouch or even giving students iPods like Duke did. However, the question that should be the focus is how universities are promoting "brand loyality" to college students.

WolframAlpha's Future

I was made first aware of the WolframAlpha project by a couple of colleagues who were looking into artifical intellgence and were really impressed with this new search engine that could understand questions and respond back with natural responses. As of right now, all search engines have a tough time with translating nature language questions into data from analysis. A typical search can be tripped up with the choice of words used by an individual and may get the individual user incorrect results to their search query. This can make search for the correct information on search engine especially difficult to those who do not have the background in library and/or information sciences.

A real language (as opposed to a search language) method of finding information on a search engine would be extremely handy and would advance how the Internet could be used. This would make WolframAlpha a “computational knowledge engine” for the Web. Because of its ability to go beyond the simple regurgitation of documents that contains parts of the answer. If Wolfram Alpha can actually compute the answer to a posed question in the time it takes a user to scan through the other open frames on their web browser, WolframAlpha could redefine how we interact with the Internet.

If we are to believe that the web is a conversation from one-to-few or one-to-some, then the design and organization prevents an interactive conversation between the two parties. Web artifacts are framed in a context in a similar nature to the traditional publishing of a book or a magazine. The difference is merely the addition of other forms of media (audio, video, animation). To create a conversation, one must have (surprising enough) two parties communicating with each other. Since WolframAlpha should have the ability to answer certain kinds of questions in a form that is close to natural communication, it could be the starting point to the "Web as Conversation."

It is important to note that this is not the first attempt at such a service. Cuil was designed based on the same principle early and really was considered broken as it could not handle the strain of a large group of individuals using the site at the same time. If WolframAlpha can support being Dugg or SlashDotted or even an onslaught by the Twit Army and can maintain the same level of service, it will be huge.

 

Cyber C&C

According to Ellen Nakashima, the Pentagon is looking at the creation of a "Cyber Command Center" designed to be the central resource on the war on cyber-terror. The U.S. Military is discussing how they could best protect the national military cyber-assets, national security online resources and the civilian government in the chance that there would be a cyber attack on civilian computer networks.

The centralization of any type of online protection leads to questions regarding individual privacy and civil rights. The NSA used the "War of Terror" as a justification to warrantless wire-tapping, which has not be revoked by the current administration. Another problem this raises is that a centralize focus is not effective with this type of attack. Richard Bejtlich makes several excellent points regarding this subject. The major point is a specific goal or objective designed by the military maybe virtually impossible to pull off. Only an informal structure that is the basis of the hacker community would be able to work out a solution that would provide the same effect. But, that type of structure is in direct conflict with the formal structure of the U.S. Military's C&C. A military cyber C&C, based on former case studies, would more likely than not fail at objective goals.

An Open Source Milestone...

I admit, for being a student of cyberstudies and a strong supporter for open source, that I was late in the whole Linux party. I finally have a Linux computer in my office and it has been working great. It seems that most of the barriers to entry with regards to Linux have been worked out. This is thanks to an easy installation process and a friendly user interface. I use Ubuntu and it seems a lot smoother than Windows XP and I've had none of the glitches that popped up when I used Vista. But, I have to admit that I was surprised to learn that Linux now has a 1% share on user's devices.

What this means is that one out of every 100 computers accessing the web will be running some version of Linux on it, called a distro. It seems, in hindsight, that this trend was a long time coming. I would argue the entry point to open source software for most people is Firefox. Firefox is simply a browser that allows for customization that the typical web user could apply easily and a typical web user could add add-ons created by third parties to personalize the web browsing experience.

The next step for me, and several of my colleagues, was OpenOffice.org. I discovered this little gem when creating my USB boot-able drive and adding Portable Apps on it. I am a long time user of Microsoft Office (more than a decade to be honest) and I found that OpenOffice.org performed like Office 2002 and ran smoothly. I still use Office, but I normally use OpenOffice.org when I'm on the road using a hotel computer.

Linux was the next logical place for me to play in. I've been doing research in creating a Linux box for over a year and I finally bought a cheap computer to install Linux on and run my BOINC/GRID projects. For the most part, it seems like a smart investment. With the ease of my transition to an open source computing lifestyle and how many of my colleagues adapting open source computing, I wouldn't be surprised if Linux hits 5% of user share by the end of 2015.

Cyberbullying and Sexting

It seems that the issues that I get requested to speak on most during the last couple of months has been the issues of cyberbullying and sexting. Most of the time it comes in the form of an educator who has heard of me and wanted me to talk to other teachers about these technological issues. There was a rare occurrence that I had the opportunity to discuss these issues with high school students.

When I address the issues with educators, what they want to focus on is how they can recognize when somebody is a victim of cyberbullying or if somebody is in a sexting relationship, especially after the focus on both of the subjects by the media. It seems hard for me to separate these two issues as both deal with identity online and others' perception of that created identity. I am not saying that both are the same or even that both have the same social impact. The point is that both of these issues are popping up as teenagers attempt to create their own space in a virtual realm. 

Cyberbullying is really a mechanism that a individual would use to force someone else out of website, social network or the entire Internet structure through the use of negative interactions. It is a power play used to claim control of the area that is hard to regulate and harder to control. The major problem occurs that cyberbullying is often reinforced in the real world setting and forces the individual target of the cyberbullying to protect themselves far beyond their ability to do so.

Sexting, on the other hand, is a mechanism used by a few as a form of individual expression and exposure. I am not saying that this is harmless exposure, rather there are risks that the individual may not be aware of. Once a picture, a video or even a simple note is sent, it can not be retrieved. It remains online forever. This is why I encourage individuals to think before they post anything online.

Both of these issues come back to the idea that one should be manage their online identity and interactions carefully. It is extremely easy to find yourself in a sititution that can be too much to manage if you are careless with what you say or post online.