Cutting Edge ‘Til The Very End

This. is. absolutely. amazing.

Regardless of what you think of his pottymouth upstart to critical acclaim… George Carlin was always one step ahead of the game. In this video, he updates us all on where his life has taken him. Who knew Mr. “seven dirty words” would ever develop into the spoken word poet he so elegantly becomes in this clip? His technological overhaul alone should inspire the most resistant vein in all of us.

Good night Mr Carlin. Boldfaced creativity and cutting edge honesty with humor will always point at least one finger back to you.

The Importance of Being Tech Savvy

“Computer and Network Security,” was an informative look at the various ways that computers and networks can be accessed and manipulated by off-site operators and systems.  It was interesting to note how much of this chapter was similar to what Jeffrey Deaver had written about in The Blue Nowhere, and also how much of this information was discussed in our other reading, Internet and Computer Ethics for Kids.  Reading this chapter helped me appreciate the research that Deaver had to put into writing his novel, because, according to him at least, he is not a hacker by nature, but rather, was a lawyer who later became a novelist.   However, to truly understand the world of hacking – and to not be a participant – Deaver must have spent a good deal of time researching the various complex ways that hackers intervene with people’s privacy.

I found it interesting to learn that hacking began with MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club.  I had no idea that model train builders constructed the term “hacking,” as well as much of the early hacking vocabulary.  The precepts that Quinn mentioned some of those first hackers citing as their code of ethics echo much of what Deaver had built into his novel concerning the attitude of computer cyberpunks.  The idea that all information should be free is quite intriguing.

Another section of the text I found was interesting was 6.4.4 – the section on Blue Security.  This section truly represented what a large problem spam can be, and why it currently isn’t controlled better.  Initially, it seemed as if Blue Security was on to something when they used bots to fight the spammers sending out millions of trash messages.  But one person, “PharmaMaster,” wreaked so much havoc on Blue Security’s servers that they had to discontinue their operations.

One of the biggest questions I had while reading this chapter is what can be done to get our students to take security more seriously?  We are all supposed to know how wonderful today’s students are at multitasking, gaming, operating various programs, etc.  However, I have seen many instances where students don’t even sign out of their e-mails and student servers after they’re done using a public computer.  If they aren’t aware of the need to guard their privacy in this manner, how savvy are they at keeping their personal information safe on the Internet?

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The Good & Bad Inherent in Privacy

In Chapter 5 of Ethics for the Information Age, on “Privacy,” Michael J Quinn presents a broad overview of the laws and acts throughout history the United States has enacted that, in most cases, allow government agencies to access information most people would consider private.  What do most people consider private?  This is actually quite a good question, and Quinn begins the chapter addressing privacy.  Is privacy an entitlement that should be included in our Bill of Rights?  Ultimately, Quinn stated that this should be considered a prudential right; rational people would agree to “recognize some privacy rights, because granting these rights is to the benefit of society” (228).

Quinn also brings up an interesting questions – is privacy a good or a bad thing?  Typically, the word itself has a positive connotation to most people: “free from being observed or disturbed by other people.”  Personally, I cherish privacy in my home – even being interrupted by a random knock on my front door can nearly ruin my evening.  However, Quinn also brings up the point that most criminal activity is conducted or planned in private situations – so privacy can result in harm to society as well.

What I appreciated most in this chapter was the information presented in section 5.8.4 concerning the Patriot Act.  I already knew enough about the act to dislike it, but it was informative to read about the follow-up legislation as well as the act’s successes and failures.  It is especially interesting to note that the FBI/law enforcement agencies can receive warrants without “reasonable cause” as long as the agent states that the information is related to an ongoing investigation.  Even more intriguing is the fact that this can be done, even if the investigation is not linked to terrorism.

Looking back at history, most times an individual person or government agency is given powers that are not limited by checks and balances, abuse of those powers will ultimately occur.  In his brief discussion of failures of the Patriot Act, Quinn mentioned the case of Brandon Mayfield.  It is appalling to read that the FBI secretly entered his home multiple times, made copies of his hard drive, collected DNA samples and took multiple digital photographs, all based on a partial fingerprint found at a bombing in Spain.  This is one case that Quinn mentioned that illustrates an alarming abuse of power and invasion of privacy because of the Patriot Act.  The Patriot Act seems to be one that particularly invites the abuse of power, as well as the invasion of privacy.  However, Quinn does assure readers that the act does specify that government agencies will only use this information on suspected criminals.

Overall, the broad presentation of acts and laws in this chapter was very informative.

The Blue Nowhere: An Ethical Inquiry

The Blue Nowhere is a novel set in the information age in the center of Silicon Valley, a land where savvy computer geeks and genius misfits program/design/hack/crack with fingertips of gold. It offers readers a view into the world of the true Internet, a world beyond the operator friendly menus, shopping sites, and pop-up ads that most users associate with the web. The novel, published in 2001, depicts many scenarios that still strike home in a shockingly realistic fashion today: identity theft, the true availability of personal information on the web, the variability of computer crime, and the lack of viable resources to truly combat computer crime. One of the things I couldn’t help but wonder as I read the novel is how much computer crime has evolved in the seven years since this book was published. For example, “According to an IBM study, by 2010 the amount of digital information in the world will double every 11 hours.”

Global digital information doubling every 11 hours? Assuming that the research findings from the IBM study are reasonable, it begs the question of how anyone could maintain pace with this type of growth. Even taking inventive software creation into account, one wonders how this could possibly keep up with the vast scope of information on the Internet, as well as the seemingly limitless opportunities to do right or to do wrong.

This will make the study of ethics in relation to technology even more applicable. For those who balked at bringing Wyatt Gillette, a convicted computer criminal, into the investigation of the death of Lara Gibson to help with the “hacking,” necessary to solve the case, they must consider what will be necessary or considered ethical in the future. Utilizing the theory of Kantian ethics, bringing in Gillette to help with the case would be considered ethically wrong. Andy Anderson is using Gillette as “means to an end” to help him solve the crime, violating Immanuel Kant’s Practical Imperative, “Act to treat humanity, whether yourself or another, as an end-in-itself and never as a means.”

And yet, considering what would have happened had the enforcement officers NOT used Gillette as a resource, the case would most likely never had been solved. CCU officer Stephen Miller didn’t even catch the fact that Lara Gibson’s computer contained Unix code, the East coast version at that. Had Gillette not noticed this small, yet vital piece of information, the discovery of Phate’s identity (Jon Holloway) would have been greatly delayed, if it had been discovered at all.

Overall, I find this novel intriguing, and I enjoy the various twists and turns that Jeffery Deaver “networks” into this novel. Readers are forced to confront their own ethics when reading this story. Is Gillette “good,” “bad,” or somewhere in between? He potentially breaks the trust of Officer Bishop when he escapes to visit his ex-wife, simultaneously breaking the law as well. Gillette is a man that the law apparently does not apply to, and yet most readers identify him as a hero. Is this because of his curiosity and charming rebellion, or is it in response to the contrast between him Jon Holloway, who appears so glaringly immoral? Readers know that murder is wrong, but what about hacking into your ex-wife’s email, learning about the man she is currently dating, her travel plans, etc.?

I look forward to discovering how Gillette will finally track down Jon Holloway, as well as the plot twists I will encounter before reaching the ending. Where in the “Blue Nowhere,” is Phate truly lurking, and how will he ultimately be found?

A N I M O T O !

Ok, I have to confess. I thought I had better do this sooner or later. ;-)

I have been waiting to expose Animoto for the beast that it is becoming. I just thought it would be nice if you thought my latest two videos were the result of hours and hours of devoted video artistry by yours truly. The plain truth is, I take beautiful photos. There, I said it. I am cocky about my photographical sKiLLz. I took some pretty photographs, chose some particularly dynamic and tasteful music, uploaded them to Animoto and voila… they made the videos for me. Or rather, their computers made the videos for me. The Marine Biology video sitting at YouTube is here, and the leadership retreat video is here. However, many of you have already seen them right here on our own little Ning site.

The self-proclaimed “nerds” at Animoto state on their website that the program works by “automatically generating professionally produced videos using our own patent-pending technology and high-end motion design”. The entire process for the end-user takes place online; there is no software whatsoever to download. When you get in the end result, makes you feel like this is all a big sham, that some video experts sitting in a box in cyberspace quickly made your video and sent it back to you in final form. The service has started quite a buzz.

The official description goes like this: “Animoto uses patent-pending technology to analyze your images and everything about the selected music — its structure, genre, energy, build, rhythm — before developing a blueprint for the motion design of your video. The remaining time is spent rendering your video, using a giant farm of computer processors to custom-generate 15 new images per second for your final video.” In a word: amazing. In two words: amazingly efficient. Three?: amazingly efficient and creative. Ok, so that’s four, sue me.

Here is a very cool Animoto fact: videos under 30 seconds are free. Here’s another cool fact: full-length Animoto videos cost only $3 to make. An even better cool fact: a year-long license to make an unlimited number of full-length videos: $30. Ten in a year and it is worth it by those prices. But wait: *drumroll* for what seems to be the best part: for teachers, the service is FREE. The only thing that could have been better would be to have known that before spending thirty of my hard-earned dollars before finding out that little factoid.

Wow. Animoto. Give it a try.

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