September 18, 2008

The Onion delivers

Category: Humor — Biella @ 10:37 am

Ok, this is really funny

September 16, 2008

Playing for social good

Category: Games — Biella @ 3:30 pm

When I was in Montreal in August, I got to spend some time with Simon Law, one of the first Free Software/Debian developers I met in full flesh and blood back in 2002. In August he was a bit worn but there was a definite sparkle in his eye. He was working at a new company doing some interesting development but he could not reveal just what had been up to.

Just recently he clued me into what he was spending his night, days, and dreams working on. I have to admit, I am at once intrigued, puzzled, and surprised by this new reality based game, which won’t fully come out until 2009 but they are accepting beta testers. As you can read here, Akoha it is a social reality game which uses real world, mobile, and web technologies to engage people in game, play, and do-good type activities.

As many others have written about, games are not just about play but they are economically lucrative enterprises. But economies are not only built around finances, money, and gold but can be moral economies based on reputation and also doing good. Akoha is thus directing the energies of fun and play in a combined digital and non-digital environment to build up just this playful moral economy. I look forward to seeing its path develop once it is finally released.

If you are still confused as to what Akoha is, this video will shed some additional light on this social experiment.

What Generation?

Category: Academic,Internet — Biella @ 10:40 am

Siva Vaidhyanathan has written a short piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education that make a simple but very important move: he demystifies the idea that most youth in the US, much less the world, are part a tech-savvy generation.

The point should be made as there are a slew of not only journalists (who let’s face it, exaggerate and simplify and well, there is not much we can do about it) but academics making making and circulating claims. These not only don’t hold much water, but also hide some serious disparities out there when it comes to access and also hides the fact that the phenomena people extend to wide swaths of the population are usually far more circumscribed and cultural in their orientation.

I think his point hit home recently because my class on an uber-techie subject, hackers, is primarily composed of students who have never started a blog, don’t read blogs, have never used much less heard of RSS feed etc. I am not saying this either to disparage this fact (I am envious of these students in fact) but just to say note that those who are quite intimate with technology (and there is a small cluster of students in my class who represent such groups) are in fact a slice of the pie. This is an interesting slice and one that I study and one that I find really really interesting and can be used to track some braoder shifts and changes but in a far more limited register.

But I think we should be suspect of any move that takes the slice to stand in for the whole pie. This rhetorical embellishment is one that I have come to expect form journalists (for better or for worse) but I am less forgiving of the academics who partake in this problematic form of puffery, in what is a leap over people’s everyday reality and into the realm of imagination, which is better left to fiction.

The Jury is Out

Category: Uncategorized — Biella @ 8:30 am

As someone who spends a lot, perhaps too much, time thinking, writing, and teaching about the politics of science and technology, I can’t help but feel flat out and down right infuriated when I read about the recent controversies concerning Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in plastics and now suspected as playing a role in causing a small blizzard of health problems from type 2 diabetes to ADHD.

Recently there have been a slew of tests and experiments that, while not conclusive, indicate that Bisphenol A may indeed be behind some ill health effects, reports of which pop up in the news at least every few weeks. And, yet the FDA has had the c*j*nes to declare the matter closed, they have ruled that Bisphenol A does not pose a hazard. (In their own words: “”safe and that exposure levels to BPA from food contact materials, including for infants and children, are below those that may cause health effects”)

It seems like this not the time to unfurl such public declaration of confidence when clearly, if nothing else, the Jury is Out. No declaration is better than what the FDA has done.

What is a least somewhat heartening is that recently the press, I think, has drawn on a panoply of experts, some of whom convey the danger and idiocy of letting the FDA be the ultimate arbiter in these (still) controversial matters:

Another expert, Dr. Rick Stahlhut, from the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, agreed this study does not provide a causal link between BPA and heart disease and diabetes, but it’s the first step toward discovering such a link. “The findings are intriguing, but they have to be validated,” Stahlhut said.

Stahlhut said he expects the controversy to continue. “It’s just like every other environmental exposure problem. We are always two decades behind. Ten to 20 years after the chemical is produced, suspicions start to rise. By then, it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry, and now there are forces whose job it is to keep it going — and that is what is happening now,” he said.

Until all the facts are known about BPA, Stahlhut recommends not exposing yourself to things you do not need. Don’t take it for granted that because some “smiling guy on TV” says it’s OK, it is, he said.

September 12, 2008

Phreaks and Geeks

Category: Academic,Hackers,Phreaking,Tech — Biella @ 9:02 am

My class has started with the “reportage” of our class with this excellent post and overview, which covers our initial comparison of the early phone phreakers and the early MIT hackers. I am excited to see the blog develop.

September 9, 2008

STDIN, My Hacker Class Blog

Category: Academic,Hackers,Tech — Biella @ 6:41 am

So, I am pleased to announce that my course on hackers, which has already started, will be hosting a class blog, STDIN.

Starting next class when we address phone phreaking, we will have one entry summarizing in some details each class readings and discussions. There is one student in charge for every class and then anyone else can post as they wish. I am also making an effort to post various definitions and examples of hackers, hacking, hacks and compile a master list at the end. I am not sure it will produce anything interesting except a list of definitions, but sometimes you see new associations and meanings when with such a comparative potpourri.

September 1, 2008

Getting there

Category: Academic,Hackers,Teaching — Biella @ 8:19 am

The fall semester is right around the corner and I have spent the last week obsessively tweaking my hacker course. I think I finally crafted a syllabus I can live with for the rest of the semester.

I say “live with” because of what I excluded, which I simply did not want to (notably there is no material on DeCSS/DMCA, hacking the I-Phone, and I wanted to do more on encryption). But the good thing is I will be teaching this again in the future and will learn how to rotate in and out some of this material. Now I am off to enjoy a final free day before teaching responsibilities really begin.