Monthly Archives: April 2010

Is the new iphone prototype theft a tad suspicious …

… or am I over-reacting?

Steve Jobs and Apple are notoriously protective of their gadgets.  All details are kept under very high security wraps until the management are ready to release them in a highly visible marketing event. This makes sense for an organisation that keeps itself so prominent in the computer gadgets business.

Why then would they allow a 20-something year old technician to take it out on the town?  Apparently, this technician took the phone to a bar, introduced it to some German beers and anyone else who might be interested. The beers were so popular the phone got left behind in the bar.  This just doesn’t fit with the Apple high security and protectivism.

The finder sold the phone to a Gizmodo web editor who promptly blogged about it.  Now, the heavy hands at Apple have managed to have a police search of the home of the Gizmodo editor in case he should commit a felony with this phone. It’s all very odd. The fact that the police search is illegal under California law only adds to the strangeness.

Is it all a big publicity stunt?

If it is, is it a good one?  Yes, it gets people taking about the phone. It gets a reputable web site to dissect, analyse and talk about the phone. On the other hand, the parameters are poor – having a young employee lose the phone on a drinking binge is a tad silly.

Maybe, Apple are human after all.  Like in every organisation on the planet, their high level security has a hole in it on occasion? Perhaps.

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Facebook and the Privacy thing

Facebook is popular, very popular.  It has over 400 active million users, 50% of these users ‘facebook’ at least once every day. That’s impressive.  If Facebook is that huge how come it’s so casual on privacy?

Do those who embrace Facebook not care much about their personal privacy?  Do those behind the scenes at Facebook then exploit this relaxed attitude in order to further link up people socially?  Do Facebook not care about their users’ privacy?  Is there something else accounting for the Facebook approach to personal privacy?

At the moment the jury is out on Open Graph.   In essence, if you’re merrily surfing the net and come across something you like, and that has the thumbs-up “Like” option on it, you can choose to click on this Like button.  This action is fed back to your Facebook page.  It is also kept by the website you visit.  When your Facebook friends visit that site they are notified that you’ve already been there and liked it. Is this a good thing?

Yes, it enhances the social web but is it too much?  Do you want your Facebook friends to know that you went on an Icelandic website to learn the correct pronunciation of Eyjafjallajokull.   Does a wife want to know that her husband ‘likes’ dodgy websites?  Perhaps she does, but that’s not the point.

The point is that this is yet another example of the end user not being given the option to opt in or out.  People are not given the choice to say no if they want to say no. People are not given the choice to say yes if they want to say yes.

To this end, an article by PC World should be compulsory reading for all 400 million people on Facebook. The author goes step-by-step through the required procedure to take back control over your Facebook settings. It shows where to look for those settings that govern your privacy and to turn them off if that is what you want.

Some of the Facebook ventures are interesting.  The Docs application is particularly appealing.  Users can “discover, create and share” MS-type documents.  This has exciting potential for us educators.  If there are privacy concerns will educators rush to explore it?   In some cases, perhaps not.

By not giving people control over how social they want to be online, Facebook could find those masses of users dropping off. Of course, no-one is forcing anyone to ‘like’ anything. No one is forcing anyone to click that button.

Buying your own Facebook privacy

What’s going on?

I usually start and / or finish the day by having a look through my web Reader (an allegiance to Bloglines).  The power of Push technology means the news comes to me.  I’d never keep up if I had to go searching for the information that plops in there on a regular basis.

Here’s what Ninth Level had in store for me today –

  • A PhD diary from a student in Galway.  This caught my eye from the statement “Originally the reason for starting my PhD was mainly due to a personal interest in my subject. Now, nearly three years on, my PhD has become a job”. From a purely selfish point of view I need to hear things like this.  It make me feel that the slow death of the enthusiastic buzz that comes with under-taking large scale research into a topic you love is all part of the normal process of PhD study and I shouldn’t beat myself up about it. The buzz comes and goes and comes back again in another form…. !
  • Degrading the academic vocation” has some startling ideas.  One is the “outsourcing of grading to companies who employ graders in Singapore, India and Malaysia”.  One wonders about the quality-control not to mention the bond that arises for the lecturer-student relationship in setting, marking and feeding back on assessments. Outsourcing in the world of IT is part of the syllabus on a Business Information Systems course that I lecture on. The lesson from this field is that organisations should do what they do best, then outsource the rest as long as it is not of prime strategic importance.  Is grading of prime academic importance? I would like to think that yes it is.
  • I could comment on the pension top-ups for senior staff in some public universities but I’m choosing not to – for obvious reasons.
  • The long haul degree – more discouraging PhD news.  The New York Times says it can take 9 years to obtain a degree in the Humanities, and then newly crowned doctors can spend another 9 years obtaining a full time career position, and even then might not get one.  In the USA, “about half who enter a humanities doctoral program drop out along the way. The average student receiving a Ph.D. today is 35 years old, $23,000 in debt and facing a historically bad job market”.  My Phd isn’t in the field of Humanities, but for the sake of my confidence, I had to stop reading this particular article at this juncture.
  • The annual Sunday Times University Ranking for Ireland has been published.  Seeing as my computer insists on crashing every time (I’ve tried twice!) I try to access it…   maybe that’s telling me not to bother.
  • How Are Professors Like Cats? Let Me Count the Ways – “Like cats, professors tend to be highly intelligent, deeply self-actualized, and fiercely independent. They need to be stroked occasionally, but only on their own terms and in their own good time”.  And so what. Surely being intelligent is a good thing, as is independence and a sense of self-actualisation.  The author wonders why administrators complain about having to “herd” their feline lecturing staff, instead of simply letting the lecturers get on with their jobs.  I enjoyed this one and this little story that was linked from it.

Have you friended Kip Drordy yet?

If you have to ask who Kip is,  where have you been?

Ok, you might be forgiven for not having the pleasure…. given that Kip isn’t a real person.

For those not in the know, I’m talking about the excellent Facebook episode that those clever people in South Park aired recently. It really was a very clever account of how truly bizarre and obsessional the whole world of social networking can get.

The character of Stan resists and resists until he is forced to give in and do the Facebook thing.  His Profile (with a capital P) grows so huge that it takes on a life of its own.  He can’t keep up with the constant nudges and winks. His granny gets upset when he’s slow to poke her – Facebook is a strange world and does strange things to people!.

Kyle, on the other hand, is a dab hand at the Facebook. He’s building up his circle of friends and enjoying tending his farm until he commits the most dire of social faux-pas.  He friends the uncool Kip Drordy.  In the shallow world of social networking, a profile is only as trendy as the profiles its friended. Friending someone from the wrong side of the fence can cause friendlessness as Kyle soon discovers.

Despite the snub from Southpark, good things are in store for Kip in the, er, real world.   Kip’s Facebook profile now has a whooping 143,000 friends.  You can visit it here. There is something charming about getting almost 7,000 Likes for posting that you’ve just eaten 2.2 cookies. It’s a nice world after all.

The whole episode and the fall out (Kip’s hugely popular profile) asks some very important questions.

What does it mean to be a Friend?  What is a Friend?  Can one really be friends with 800,000 people, or even a fraction of that?  What do social networks mean for people?  Why is there such pressure to connect with others through an online medium, even those we see face-to-face on a regular basis?  What does it mean and how does it feel to be un-friended?  Why has Farmville become such a huge hit on Facebook?  Are there genuine people to be found on the highly controversial chatroulette?  How many Kip Drordys are out there suffering and struggling the indignity of being shunned for not fitting with the norms of whatever society they find themselves in?

Kip Drordy – what have you done for a Kip Drordy today?

What’s a good book?

There is a competition to find the best Irish book of the last decade.  It’s a nice idea. It gets people reading. It gets people talking about books. It’s publicity for the authors and publishers.

But the question is – what’s a good book?  What exactly is it that makes a book good?  Is it based on sales, on popularity, on critical (who are the critics?) acclaim, the best plotlines, characterisations, or fine writing, or a mysterious undefinable something?

I can’t claim to have all read the entire 50 titles on the short list. This means I couldn’t possibly be an objective judge. I wonder how many people have read all 50 in all their entirety?  There are titles in there that very likely would not be companions on a typical bookshelf.  I can’t imagine a Seamus Heaney fan having much in common with the Cathy Kelly club?  Maybe I’m being too presumptive.They are, after all, on the same list here.

A problem with these types of polls is the Recency-Effect. This competition has a ten-year span. People are more likely to remember those books published in the last 2 years than in the early part of the decade.  I myself am guilty of this.  2 books stand out for me on the list and both are relatively recent. The first is Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture – a book that had me falling our of the bottom of the bed, wrapped in the duvet.  It’s such a beautiful compelling read that you can’t put it down even at 4am when you know you should be sleeping.  The other is Let The Great World Spin by Colm McCann. This has its harrowing moments but is astounding inside the lifes and loves and adventures and entanglements of its characters.

Another example of the recency effect is the last-book-read situation.  I’ve just put down Not Untrue & Not Unkind by Ed O’Loughlin. Let just say that I won’t be quite so dismissive of journals reporting from war-torn under-developed nations anymore. This is a book that made it to Booker longlist and won many plaudits. Yet it is not on this Book of the Decade list.

I know what I like in a good book. I know what I don’t like. I can’t see myself reading either of the sports books books on the list. Are they great books?  Am I depriving myself of greatness by not reading them. Should they be on the list?  I don’t know.

Tweeting for the movies

The year before last I had the privilege of supervising a master’s dissertation on how web-based social media “buzz” can predict how well movie releases fare at the cinema. It was an interesting project and in the limited search, analysis and time allowable for a master’s dissertation, the study proved that a significant correlation exists.

In narrowing down the list of social media tools to analyse, Twitter was placed on rejected pile.  Little did either of us predict the success that micro-blogging would progress to.

Now, some researchers at Hewlett Packard really have taken Twitter to the movies. Read all about it here. They have taken it on themselves to study 3 million tweets, much more than any master’s study could lend to.  The key finding is that Twitter banter can very closely predict the box office success of a movie even before it opens at the cinemas.

The researchers used “sentiment” analysis and a series of algorithms trained on Amazon’s “mechanical turk” to decide if a tweet was positive, negative or neutral.  The proportion of positive, negative or neutrals over time in the lead-up to a movie release reveals a lot.

The study reveals how powerful the collectivism facilitated by online social media can be. Online word-of-mouth can have profound ripple effects that have a very wide reach. Getting people talking online is increasingly a way of generating buzz about a product of service.  Be warned, however, the buzz could be negative.  On the other hand, the expression ‘all publicity is good publicity’ comes to mind.

Online social media and their associated UGC (that’s User-Generated-Content, not the cinema chain) have provided an extensive collective intelligence. Tapping into and analysing it is the challenging and fun part. Twitter-for-the-movies is a really good example of this challenging fun.

Digital Ireland

What’s good about “good” Friday?  It’s a day off to catch up.  It’s a day to read yesterday’s newspaper. It’s a good day.

Yesterday’s Indo carried one of their regular Digital Ireland supplements.  Today, over a nice coffee in a nice coffee shop (with free wireless connectivity!) I get to sit down and read it. It’s done me the world of good (see, there’s that “good” again).  I genuinely feel more confident that Ireland can pull itself out of current difficulties.  Here are a few of the more interesting elements –

  • “Ireland is rapidly becoming the “Internet capital of Europe”.  John Kennedy reminds us that we are now home to the international HQ of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Ebay.  Many are now expanding their operations here. Yes, there is concern that we don’t have the communications infrastructure to support this as much as we might like but progress is being made.  E-Thursday (page 6 of the business supplement of the Indo) carries an interview with Eircom and its plans for 8Mbps for one million users by the end of the year.
  • Mobile innovation continues to evolve.  There are a quarter of a million iPhones in the country. That’s a lot of smart phones and doesn’t even include the smartphones of Nokia, Samsung and others.  Lots of potential for interesting apps.
  • Facebook claims to have 1.4 million users in Ireland.  That’s one third the population, give or take.  Yes, I facebook (you can always judge the popularity of something by its “verb”alisation).  Am I bothered by the fact that 1 in 4 schoolkids have hacked its others’ facebook accounts?  Answer = not really.  I’m reasonably choosy about who my friends are. I don’t put anything personal up there. If I want to say something confidential I do so more privately. Facebook is a really powerful way of keeping up with what’s going on with friends, particularly those I might risk losing touch with otherwise.
  • Finding information remains the number one priority of net surfers (47% of respondents), with interaction and communication coming in second (32% of those surveyed).  These are from a UK study and I Imagine Irish statistics would likely be similar. Facebook and Twitter fit both requirements very nicely. Is it any wonder then that more and more commercial organisations are embracing them?  The wonder is that there is still so much opposition in some quarters. Page 2 has an interesting account of how Lincolnshire police are using social media (facilitated by Dublin software organisation pTools) to police their jurisdiction.
  • In the online world your presence is only as good as your website permits it to be.  Despite well over a decade of good practice building, web design continues to be a problem.  “Vanity Publishing” is the term used – your website screams about how good your designers are at animation, how your CEO has perfected the beaming smile, how your navigation is clear as mud. The problem is that good web design is subjective. One person’s navigation minefield is another’s well sign-posted routeway.  Web design needs to be done with a specific target audience in mind. If your potential customers hate your flash intros you have a problem. If they find them quirky and fun then flash it is.
  • www.digital21.ie is well worth checking out and merits an significance portion of the supplement. There is a strong incentive to change mindsets and realise that concrete efforts must be made to “roll up our sleeves and start innovating”.  Concrete examples are given, most notably the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC). They have recently announced their LaunchPad, an incubation space for start-ups, complete with expert mentoring and advising. Successful projects quoted seem to revolve around mobile apps, and there seems to be a strong commercial aspect to most of the ongoing projects.
  • Digital21 and all the innovative ideas coming through the supplement emphasise the importance of an educated workforce.  Key actions are encouraging science and honours maths at leaving cert level.  The reality in education is very different. More and more schools are dropping science subjects in a necessary reaction to education cut-backs. The leaving cert will continue to be a ‘points’ race with little emphasis on content or any depth of thought on that content unless it can be radically over-hauled. Efforts at Digital Ireland need the support of other aspects of the Irish economy if they are to succeed.
  • Page 5 of the supplement is devoted to the viewpoints of “Ireland’s ICT leaders”.  Of the 10 “leaders” only 1 is female. The entire supplement carries a total of 42 mugshots, only 5 of which are women.  Technology continues to be a male-dominated arena.  Why is that? Why is technology, like gangster movies, seen as the preserve of the male?  Are there still nerd associations?   A lack of female role models in technology doesn’t help (though here’s an exception).

There you go, folks, nothing from me for ages, and then you get 839 words in one shot. It really is a good Friday.