A New Race

•October 30, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Throughout history, humans have designated themselves into groups based on common statistics.  The reasons for this are many and varied, and also delve deep into realms of psychology to which I am not privy.  However, the fact remains that people have always been divided up.

One of the most heated of these divisions is the division based on so-called “race”–the grouping based on skin color and geographical origins.  As this particular division caused a lot of damage, a look at future divisions is warranted.

These divisions are already becoming apparent.  If we are to say that the internet is the future of humanity, we must consider the most basic and natural division caused by it: those who have access to it, and those who don’t.  This is not merely those who have computer and those who do not, but rather those who are capable of studying the Web and understanding its fickle nature.  These people are the leaders of the future: the ones who can control the flow of information on the Web.

This new division could change how we look at ourselves.  On the Web, it is not important if you are male or female, white or black, fat or anorexic.  What matters is your ability to communicate in the new medium.  While this sounds very utopian, it does come with a new problem: the possibility of the creation of a new subclass, those who are incapable of comprehending this new form of communication.

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Downfall of the Internet

•October 23, 2007 • Leave a Comment

It is a fact of life that people who have power want two things: to get more power, and to keep the power that they already have.  Large corporations are no exception to this rule; if anything, they validate and prove it.  A quick look at some of the less savory aspects of Microsoft’s business modal would illustrate this nicely.

But one thing no one has successfully touched so far is coming under attack: the internet.  Corporations fear it for its freeform and open nature, and either ignore it or do their best to use it.  Now, some have gotten it in their heads to try to control it:

“…the AP said that the company was blocking the ability of subscribers to upload files using the BitTorrent file sharing network.”

PCAnswer.com

Although Comcast is not directly blocking bittorrent, they do interfere with it in an active and dangerous way.  Comcast believes that they will reduce bandwidth overuse through the restriction of peer-to-peer transfer.  However, the level of control they are exhibiting is disturbing, to say the least.  Apparently Comcast decided that, rather than adapting to the new medium, they would react to it in the same way large corporations always have: to simply take it over and control it.

Our freedom exists because we want it to.  If we allow corporations like Comcast to take it away from us, they will.  And we can be sure of this: the more power we give them, the more they will try to get.

So Just What Is An Author?

•October 18, 2007 • Leave a Comment

In reading “What Is An Author?” by Foucault, one might immediately wonder on what authority he speaks.  He offers a dissertation on writing, when he himself seems to be under the mistaken impression that the use of nonexistent or simply uncommon large words automatically makes his writing exist on a high level.  With his meaning as obscured as it is, I hope I can be forgiven for arriving at the conclusion that he really doesn’t know what he is talking about, or else I missed something somewhere along the way in my basic writing classes.  Regardless, I have a headache trying to understand him, and I am left extremely confused.

It seems that all he is doing is offering a relatively short definition of the elusive term “author,” and then concludes by telling us why we should care.  He seems to think that an “author” exists independent of himself, to a certain extent, in that he exists solely as a sort of “anchor” for his work.  That is, no one really cares when they find out that an author wrote something under a pen name; that Mark Twain is really Samuel Clemens does not change the fact that certain stories were told by Mark Twain and does not change the meaning of those stories.  This is true only insofar as it is not surprising who the real author is–if we were to find out that Mark Twain was actually Malcolm X, it would change the meaning of his works somewhat.

For me, however, the greatest downfall of Foucault’s rhetoric comes in his conclusion.  Far from offering a useful point, it seems as though he simply outlines some difficulties and then tells us that we should care.  I was wondering why I should care while reading it, and his rhetoric is so confusing that I still don’t understand the point even after reading why I should.  What is this “great danger with which fiction threatens our world?”  Rather than being dangerous, I would argue that fiction is highly beneficial to our world; it helps us to understand ourselves in a new and interesting way.  This is true of fiction in any medium.

Normally I would not mention Foucault’s poor style of writing.  But since he is making (or rather trying to make) a point about writing and the nature of writing, I think that his inexcusably confusing rhetoric detracts from his point and really makes the whole thing seem like a work of highly ironic satire.

The DRM Debacle

•October 16, 2007 • Leave a Comment

With the advent of file sharing on the internet via peer to peer, companies fear loss of profit to illegal copying and downloading.  From video games to music, corporations seek aid from the government to protect their legal patents.  Thus, a new age of digital warfare is born: an ongoing and vicious battle between those who hold copyrights and those who seek to ignore them, with law-abiding citizens caught in between.

The means that companies use to enforce their copyright are referred to collectively as DRM (Digital Rights Management).  This technology attempts to prevent copying of content, allowing the holder of the copyright to absolutely control its use.  The problem with this is that the technology often makes things difficult for those who purchase content legally; for instance, DRM on audo CDs can make those CDs unplayable by certain players.

This frustration can lead to piracy.  As Paul Krill from Macworld says:

It is important to find ways to reward rights holders for doing good stuff

Conversely, it is important to avoid punishing rights holders for doing good stuff.  Regardless of the form it takes, companies seem so concerned about the losses they are sustaining from piracy that they are willing to sacrifice their legal consumers.  This drives more and more legal consumers away.  In this way, companies are damaging their reputations, and ultimately their profits, by enforcing copyright.

Last Wednesday, Valve released “The Orange Box”; a compilation of Valve’s Source engine based games to date.  A friend of mine who commonly pirates software (and pirated two of the five games included in the package) purchased it.  Why?  Because it was so reasonably priced, and Valve’s distribution platform allows for easy and somewhat reliable access and play.  Valve provides a minimum of hassle for its copyright protection, and provides rewards for those who purchase the game legally.

In order to survive in the modern world, companies must stop punishing their true customers in order to catch the pirates.  They must be more concerned about their legal consumer base than about their illegal one.  Otherwise, people will do what is easiest and pirate.

Disney’s “Web 2.0”: A Cinderella Story

•October 2, 2007 • Leave a Comment

The greatest dream of every dictator is to withhold knowledge.  Those in control refuse knowledge to those without it, because they fear the power that comes with knowledge.  So they regulate it, and parse it out only to those deemed “worthy.”Web 2.o does not exist as an actuality.  Rather, it is an invented term describing a recent trend in the use of what already existed.  It is the ultimate Democratic ideal; anyone, anywhere can publish anything and thus have influence on society, regardless of education, race, gender, or nationality.Andrew Keen, author of “Cult of the Amateur,” believes that Web 2.0 is a negative influence on culture.  The Wall Street Journal’s record of Mr. Keen’s debate with David Weinberger, author of “Everything is Miscellaneous,” is interesting:“You see, to use this chaotic media efficaciously, we need to invent our own taxonomies — which isn’t realistic for the majority of ordinary people (seeking to understand the world) who think a “taxonomy” is something that drives us to the airport.”

Yes, because only experts have large enough vocabularies to confuse their audiences.  Although it is perhaps ludicrous to make the claim that Mr. Keen is directly involved in the ancient power struggle between those who have control and those who don’t, he is unwittingly giving enormous aid to those who would keep knowledge from the masses.  The belief that the common man is incapable of intelligently using or even comprehending knowledge is the belief that dictatorships are born of.

America was founded on the belief that individuals are capable of ruling just as well as the “experts.”  With the advent of Web 2.0, those without education are capable of getting one without ever going to a university and spending enormous sums of money to acquire it.  This powerful principle drives the open source movement, and Mr. Keen’s mistaken belief supports no one but large, monopolizing corporations.

Remember, ultimately that knowledge exists for our own benefit.  And we don’t need some “experts” telling us how and when we will use it.

Wikipedia: An Evolutionary Resource

•September 27, 2007 • Leave a Comment

One of the most dangerous and attractive things about Wikipedia is its open nature.  Any user anywhere is allowed to make any edit, regardless of age or education.  This presents both a unique approach and a powerful, evolutionary resource.

Many users who create content for Wikipedia do so because they notice something that is missing in an existing article.  It was this way for me as well; I simply added content to an article that I felt was lacking.  In this case, it was an article about procedural generation, which happens to be a major component in my field.

The article presented an adequate discussion of the use of procedural workflow in games, and ignored its use in film, although procedural generation is more widely used in film.  I added a brief discussion of the use of procedural workflow in film, and then added some links that I felt were useful.  One of these links was to Terragen’s Wikipedia page, and the other was to Ken Perlin’s discussion of Perlin Noise.  Both of these are sites that I feel would be useful to a completely understanding of the subject.

Your New Boss: Technology-Spawned Leaders

•September 20, 2007 • Leave a Comment

In a world that changes so quickly that it is nearly impossible to comprehend the current iteration, we must look ahead to the next iteration and attempt to understand it before it arrives.  In doing so, we can hope to succeed in the next generation.  We can look ahead by examining current trends and trying to predict where they are headed.

I would submit that one of the most major trends today involves the open-source community.  While the open-source community itself might not affect our daily lives much (yet), the attitudes behind it are one of the most powerful and dangerous forces of our times.  This attitude is one of independence and democracy.  Those in the open-source community believe that the general public is not only capable of producing software on par with more traditional corporate endeavors, but that the software they produce is preferable to mainstream software.  This attitude, while somewhat perilous, is frought with potential.

Recently a product of this outlook, called Assignment Zero, was completed.  This project involved the development of articles in on an open basis; anyone was permitted to contribute, and the end results were the product of collaborative effort.

If we look into Assignment Zero in a bit more detail, we can, perhaps, gain insight into our primary question: what will the next iteration look like, and who will be stepping up as the successful leaders in it?  This quote is revealing:

The flood of volunteers made Assignment Zero’s design flaws quickly apparent. Potential contributors — which numbered roughly 500 after the first week — were routed to a single Assignment Zero staffer, a former WashingtonPost.com editor, Steve Fox.

So, we can see that the problem is managing this crowd.  I would submit that the truly successful people of the next generation will be those who are capable of understanding this new trend before it happens and managing it.  It will be the people who are innovative, unafraid of experimentation, adaptive, and willing to take risks on something underdeveloped.  These people will emerge as the bosses of the next iteration.