Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Digital manipulation in politics and culture

The Internet demands skepticism. Anyone can publish any "fact," and sites like these:

help us separate fact from fiction.

Media can also be manipulated. For example, Fox News broadcast excerpts from President Obama's recent West Point speech, then accidentally posted a version with the applause removed on their Web site. (Some claim it was not an accident, but the poor quality of the editing supports Fox' assertion -- they would have done a better job if it were intentional).

Images are easily modified. These photos of President Bush reading a book upside down on 9-11 and John Kerry at an anti-war rally with Jane Fonda are Photoshop fakes:

Or, Consider these before and after shots taken from an eye opening Dove soap commercial:

As the commercial shows, makeup plus Photoshop can drastically alter an image. (Stretching her neck is the coolest step).

One might argue that the first examples are the most important -- in a democracy we should be able to trust our news media. But the second has social implications as well -- it sets unrealistic goals for appearance.

Can you find other examples of deception on the Internet?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A novel application -- drone helicopter with streaming cameras merges real and virtual worlds

Parrot, a French company, demonstrated an iPhone-controlled drone helicopter ("quadricopter") at the Consumer Electronics Show.

As you see in this video, the iPhone is used to control the drone and to view streaming video from its on-board cameras.

This is a novel application, using the iPhone to control a physical object and augmenting reality by letting you see what the drone sees -- it blends the real and virtual worlds.

This demo used an iPhone, but Parrot promises to port the application to other phones and tablets -- their goal is to sell the drones.

A few caveats -- Parrot refused to speculate on the price, but my guess is that it will be pretty expensive since it requires a lot of computing and mechanical hardware. The iPhone and the drone use WiFi to communicate, which limits its range. Power requirements will also cap flight length.

Lest those caveats discourage you, recall that the Wright brothers first flight lasted 12 second and covered 120 feet. It only took 66 years to get from that flight to a safe return flight to the moon, and information technology improves faster than aviation technology.

What sorts of devices will you be controlling in five years? What sorts of cameras and censors will be feeding data to your portable device?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Singapore is installing fiber to every building

This figure is taken from a an ITU study on the Internet in Singapore that I worked on several years ago. It depicts the government role as an equity investor in the ISP industry. (The government has played a similar role in the oil, finance, shipping and biotechnology industries).

Continuing that policy, the government of Singapore is investing in fiber to every home, school, government building, business and hospital. Their Next Generation Plan is for 95 percent of buildings to have access to a 1 Gbps connection by 2012.

They will also follow the model of competitors using open, shared infrastructure, which seems to be working well in Stockholm and other cities.

There are caveats. Singapore is a small, city nation, and a very high percent of the population lives in apartment buildings. That makes this plan relatively cheap. Retail connectivity prices are also a question mark -- will there be sufficient competition over the shared infrastructure to keep them low?

If the network succeeds, and 1 Gbps connectivity becomes ubiquitous, what applications might they develop? What would you use a 1 Gbps link for?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

64-bit Windows 7 upgrade -- disk reads are 25% faster

In a recent post, I mentioned that I had a new Dell laptop with a solid state disk (SSD) instead of a rotating magnetic disk (HD). I discussed the advantages of SSD and its relationship to Internet connection speed, and presented some rough benchmarks of disk speed. It was about twice as fast as my desktop computer and 4 times as fast as my old laptop with a hard disk.

Today I upgraded the operating system from 32 to 64-bit Windows 7, and re-ran the ATTO disk benchmark. As shown here, writes are about the same speed, but reads are 25% faster than with 32-bit Windows 7. I did not benchmark application load or boot time with the 32-bit operating system, but it feels noticeably faster now.

Your brain on the Net -- enhanced productivity and pleasure or wasteful distraction?

We discuss the affect of the Internet and information technology on the way we work and our brains.

The New York Times recently ran three articles highlighting some of the psychological research showing negative effects of our use of information technology: The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In, An Ugly Toll of Technology: Impatience and Forgetfulness and Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price.

The latter article focused on Kord Campbell, who seems distracted by information technology while working and during family and other activities. This photo shows his workstation.

The Times also published some online tests of one's ability to switch focus and a video showing Campbell's eye movements while he works.

Articles like these raise questions about our productivity when multitasking and about addiction. Does the Internet make you more productive? Does your attention dart around as rapidly as Mr. Campbell's (see the video)? Where do we draw the line between relaxing play or being in a productive state of "flow" while working and harmful addiction?

Essential ban on new public power companies and projects barely fails -- will public Internet infrastructure be next?

California voters narrowly rejected proposition 16 yesterday. Had it passed, it would have essentially banned new and expanded municipal power projects, by requiring 2/3 majority support from voters before local governments could form or expand municipal utilities.

Pacific Gas and Electric (the power company portrayed in the movie about Erin Brockovich) spent over $46 million on the campaign.

PG&E's non-stop ads claimed to be protecting our right to vote, but blocking competition from municipal power companies was the clear motive. Had their goal been thoughtful debate on proposed public power projects, they would have said so in their ads, and called for a simple majority rather than a prohibitive 2/3 majority.

This was a close call, and it illustrates the political power of a wealthy corporation.

Large ISPs like Verizon and AT&T fight vigorously against public Internet projects by lobbying at all levels and in court. Might we one day see a proposition on the "right to vote on public Internet projects?"

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Twitter writing style improves quickly

I started a Twitter stream for my class on February 17th, and have posted about 125 tweets.

This graph shows the moving average of the length of the previous ten posts. As you see, the average length has grown over time, approaching the 140 character maximum. The average length of my latest ten posts is 139.2 characters, the shortest is 136 characters, and six of them are 140 characters.

I spend about two minutes rewording each post, and find that I can typically get two or three statements or questions into each.

Long posts are not necessarily better than short ones, but in this case I am summarizing and linking to longer articles or other documents. I can help the reader decide whether to follow the link by saying more in my summary.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

FCC survey of home and mobile connectivity -- most people don't know their connection speed, but they are satisfied

An FCC study shows that 80% of US home users do not know their Internet download speed. This is nearly unchanged from the 2006 Pew Internet study on Home Broadband Adoption.

Breaking the FCC survey down, men and young people are more likely to know their home download speed than women and older people:

  • 71% of men do not know their speed.
  • 90% of women do not know their speed.
  • 73% of those between the ages of 18 and 29 do not know their speed.
  • 88% of people age 65 do not know their speed.
There were somewhat less pronounced differences among different races and income groups.

The survey also inquired as to satisfaction with both home broadband and mobile Internet speeds:
  • 50% of home broadband users are very satisfied.
  • 41% of home broadband users are somewhat satisfied.
  • 33% of mobile users are very satisfied.
  • 38% of mobile users are somewhat satisfied.
Regardless of how you slice it, most people do not know how fast their Internet connections are and most people are satisfied with their connectivity, though mobile users are less satisfied than home users.

An important caveat is that they are satisfied with respect to the applications they now use. Would an email and Web surfing user be satisfied if they started uploading videos to YouTube, watching hi-definition movies or sporting events, playing multi-player games or holding family meetings over the Internet?

Do you know your connection speed? Are you satisfied with it? Going beyond your individual need for speed, how might society benefit from higher speeds?