Monthly Archive for October, 2004

iPod Photo, U2 & Socks

New iPods and Socks

Among the new iPods that were released yesterday (an impressive Photo iPod and a so-so U2 iPod), were the magnificent iPod Socks. Yessiryeee, $29 for a pack of colored socks made just for your iPod! Ohmygawd… it’s only coming out in mid-november!?! What am I gonna use to protect my iPod in the mean time? Apple, you wicked wicked company… seriously though, like my friend Peter said because it’s Apple, people will buy it.

Spam, Phishing & other Sadistic Joys of the Internet

As of today, all my blogs have been spammed by poker pushers… these include technohappymeal, etc.isthereason, theory.isthereason, and blog on blogs. While I have access to most of them in order to install spam comment blocker plug-ins (except blog on blogs where blacklisting doesn’t seem to be enough), it’s incredible how every “hole” on the fabric of the Internet is being exploited as a result of the dark side of human greed.

Just a few minutes ago, I received what I believe was a phishing email. Phishing is the art of email scamming where the con artist literally “fishes” with mass emails to grab pin numbers and other personal goodies off unwary Internet users. My fear is how convincing phish emails have become since the early days of PayPal scamming. Just look at how realistic this phish is below… wouldn’t you have been scammed?


The HSBC email. Looks legit right? BTW: I do get my statements online now.


The email link to the HSBC site… looks peachy right?


Looking at the source code for the email’s link reveals a strange IP address!


For fun, filling in a fake username and password reveals this scary page! No. 1 rule of online transaction is to never ask for this level of personal information. See the same strange IP address, misspelling of “Step 1″, request for social security and PIN number!?! YEAH RIGHT BUDDY!


Just where does that IP address lead to originally? In the words of Neo… “Whoa.”


Phishing is on the rise! Be wary!

If you want to prevent being phished, check our FTC’s site on phishing. The Internet Anti-Phishing Group has more plus statistics on phishing.

Diffusion of Innovation

Inspecting Hybrid Seed Corn What do corn and communication have in common? Together, they helped piece together one of the most popular general systems theories in the field of communication, namely the Diffusion of Innovation. Back in 1943, Bruce Ryan and Neal Gross studied the diffusion of hybrid seed corn innovation amongst farmers in Iowa (Lowery & DeFleur, 1995). Their investigation included four main elements of diffusion, including:

  1. a specific innovation
  2. processes of interpersonal & mass communication that created awareness of the item
  3. a specific kind of social system
  4. Different individual types that make decisions at various stages of diffusion

Their findings suggested the important role of interpersonal networks in the diffusion process in a system. Within the farming community, they found that the exchange of farmers??? personal experiences with hybrid seed was at the heart of diffusion. This was illustrated by observing that when enough farmers adopted hybrid seed corn, the rate of adoption took off. In 1962, Everett Rogers contributed on their findings by studying this diffusion phenomenon in articles across the disciplines and producing the five stages of the adoption process, namely awareness, interest, evaluation, trial and finally, adoption. Rogers also refined their distinctions between the early accepters, early adopters, the majority and later accepters by producing the popular Diffusion of Innovation Curve and a corresponding defined set of individual adopter types, including innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards, each with their own location on the adoption curve.

Adopter Types

S Curve

Everett Rogers explained Diffusion of Innovations as a theory that analyzes, as well as helps explain, the adaptation of a new innovation. It helps to explain the process of social change. An innovation is an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption. The perceived newness of the idea for the individual determines his/her reaction to it (Rogers, 1995). As a result, diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system. Thus, the four main elements of the theory are the innovation, communication channels, time, and the social system.

The realization of the Diffusion of Innovations theory might seem simple at first, but various other earlier works were critical in helping communication researchers arrive at it. The Two-Step Flow of Communication was a hypothesis that was under considerable examination. Elihu Katz (1957) hypothesized that ???ideas flow from radio and print to opinion leaders and from these to the less active sections of the population???. Through a series of studies which were increasingly more refined over time, researchers found that the two-step flow model only accounted for one aspect of interpersonal relations, as a channel of communication. Interpersonal relations influences decision-making in more ways including as channels of information (two-step flow emphasized on this only), as sources of social pressure, as well as sources of social support. The Two-Step Flow of Communication was an early hypothesis (similar to the magic/silver bullet theory of communication) which is dated, but served as a stepping stone in developing the more defined Diffusion of Innovation Theory.

Couple the Diffusion of Innovation theory with the network metrics from the Network Level Analysis (Monge, 1987) and the various groups and affiliations as illustrated in Georg Simel???s ???The Web of Group-Affiliation??? (1955), we now have a comprehensive set of tools for understanding and managing communication within networks. We can see how useful these theories are especially in the age of the Internet, where a trend has been to understand social networks in an online environment. One advantage of the measuring social networks on the Internet is that the data we need is quite accessible as tracking web links, server logs, tracking email relationships, and so on.

References
Simmel, G. (1955). The web of group-affiliations. Conflict and the web of group-affiliations (pp. 128-195. New York, the Free Press.

Lowery, S.A. & DeFleur, M.L. (1995). The Iowa study of hybrid seed corn. Milestones in mass communication research: Media effects (pp. 115-134). White Plains, N.Y.: Longman.

Katz, E. (1957). The two-step flow of communication: An up-to-date report on an hypothesis. Public Opinion Quarterly 21, 61-78.

Monge, P. R. (1987). The network level of analysis. In C. R. Berger & S. H. Chaffee (Eds.). Handbook of communication science (pp. 239-270). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Flawed M$ designer mice

Flawed M$ designer mice

Philippe Starck designed a cool looking computer mouse but upon trying
it, I discovered how the buttons clicked too easily under the weight of
the finger. Too bad for Microsoft. :p

eBay in a Box?

InQBox1 I found this pretty interesting… just like how the Internet serves as a platform for people to publicly trade goods (e.g. eBay), here’s a new kind of store that helps you sell your stuff.

As seen in “the electric new paper” (Singapore) on 13th Oct 2004:
Too expensive to rent retail space? Display your wares in a shop within a shop. A new shop called InQbox in Far East Plaza (Singapore) has 180 modular shelving boxes open for creative types to showcase (and sell) their wares. Owner and founder Miss Danas Njoto, 27, said: ‘I was inspired by many young and talented people who have great enterprising ideas but simply not enough funds or support to make their dreams come true. ‘I wanted to create that bridge to take them from their dreams to reality’.

Her tenants include artists, traders, and even executives who make things as a hobby, and who won’t give up the day job but want an outlet for their creativity. Some of them have tried selling on the Internet, she said, but found it too much of a hassle.

Each box costs from S$80 to S$138 a month, depending on size and location, and tenants have to take the space for three months minimum. That’s less than the $50 required for a spot at Tanglin Mall flea market for five hours, said Miss Njoto. So far, 60 per cent of the boxes have been taken up and a few are already filled with fashion, jewellery, second-hand designer bags, and retro clockwork tin toys.

InQBox2 Not everyone is guaranteed a place. There’s quality control. Miss Desiree Low, the store’s marketing manager, said: ‘We want to make sure things are of some value, and look good, and appeal to customers. And, of course, if we suspect they’re illegal, we will reject them.’ Mr Clement Ng, a volunteer with the Spastic Children’s Association, will be using InQbox to showcase and sell art created by children with the disability. ‘We want people to realise that spastic people can do art, and to give it a chance,’ said Mr Ng, a 37-year-old interior designer.’A lot of corporate clients come to us to buy the art, and we charge $500, but for the public, we want it to be around $250.’ All proceeds will go back to the charity.

RSS feeds + Audio = Podcasting

Apple 20 GB iPod M9282LL/A As seen in a blog near you, podcasting is all in the rage now. According to Playlist (new magazine for iPod owners), podcasting is the process of automatically recording audio from an RSS feed and transferring it to a portable audio player. Buzz-worthy as it may be, however, it’s still in its infancy. In its purest form, the scheme requires that audio is pushed to your computer (an iPod or equivalent) from an RSS-feed, yet feeds that contain material that most people would be interested in listening to are sorely lacking, which shows how new this is! Like many pioneering podcasters, I would agree that what podcasting is doing for radio is what blogging is doing for mass media, that is breaking down the barriers to entry in reaching out to the world and providing the public with great choice. If all goes well, I will be trying to start out my own podcast soon focusing on the Mac geek lifestyle as seen in my technohappymeal blog some time back.

In short, think of podcasting as Tivo for your radio. Your get to listen to exactly what you’re interested in and it’s mostly free! You don’t need an iPod or a Mac to get or send out podcasts, just something equivalent to a media device and a personal computer. Podcasting is just a name that caught on and we are stuck with it… no complaints from me!

Serious Games that Solve Problems

Halo
As of today, pre-orders for Xbox-exclusive title Halo 2 have passed 1.5 million preorders in the United States alone (not counting international pre-sales), breaking videogame records and guaranteeing first-day revenues higher than any movie in history. Being a big HALO fan, this is incredible news to me! On a serious note though, what does this mean for us the Gamer Generation? Are we on a social decline, or is this a good thing?

According to Mercury News, gaming isn’t as bad on children as we think. While video games may have become mainstream entertainment, their image still suffers from the notion that they’re particularly detrimental to children. The issue may have been blown out of proportion and perhaps a more balanced attitude exists. That’s one conclusion you might draw from a recent national survey conducted by Menlo Park’s Kaiser Family Foundation. When parents were asked to pick the medium they were most concerned about in terms of inappropriate content, video games were at the bottom of the list. About a third (34%) picked television. All mediums “equally” was second, at 20%. The Internet was of most concern to 16%, movies to 10%. Music was the choice of only 7%, and video games and “not concerned” each registered at 5%. Fractions of percentages and non-answers account for the remaining 3%.

OK, so video games are not that harmful to impressionable minds, but what use does it have? Is it a waste of time for someone to escape reality all the time? I’ve been playing a lot of games, and I realize that every good game has something important to share that might not be built into the game consciously. I’m talking about how games teach, how games bring people together and how games, like movies, tell a story.

Full Spectrum Warrior Today, a Serious Games Summit convenes in Washington, bringing together more than 500 game developers and people interested in their use. The summit will feature sessions that include “How Can Games Shape Future Behavior?,” “The Potential of Games in Healthcare,” “Inside Infinite Teams: Game-Based Team Training,” “Real, Reel, Surreal: How Games Impact Perception” and “What Happens When Games Go Into Any Classroom Situation.” The Washington Post reports that in the past three years, the U.S. military, with increasing popularity, has capitalized on simulation, developing games like Full Spectrum Warrior and America’s Army to train soldiers. American’s Army was developed under Michael Macedonia, chief technology officer for the U.S. Army’s Orlando-based Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation. There, the motto is “All but war is simulation”. According to Michael Macedonia, these aren’t first-person shooter games, but “first-person thinker games”, capturing the subtleties of situations. “A 19-year-old private has to master a wide range of skills,” he said. “He’s a negotiator, a Third World economist, a diplomat.”

Amongst the games that glow of positive effects:
The Sims, as well as SimCity, SimLife, SimAnts, Simwhatever. Glucoboy, a glucose meter that can be connected to a Nintendo GameBoy, will be available for kids with diabetes this spring. SuperCharged!, released last year, helps physics students understand electromagnetism; Virtual U, released in 2001, lets players take on the role of a university president.

Do you know of any more games of this sort?

You’ve Got Blog-Spam!

New comment on your post #9 “Applescript: Daily Print for Epson Stylus Color 3000″

Author : texas holdem (IP: 133.146.32.18 , sj000026.nissan.co.jp)
E-mail : sunny@moonlightshadow.us
URI : http://www.texas-holdem-0.com
Whois : http://ws.arin.net/cgi-bin/whois.pl?queryinput=133.146.32.18
Comment:
What every genuine philosopher…craves most is praise – although the philosophers generally call it ‘recognition’!

You can see all comments on this post here:

http://etc.isthereason.com/index.php?p=9#comments

I’ve searched high and low for a solution today after one of my blogs got spammed repeatedly every 15mins or so. Basically the comments would be filled with gibberish text while the spammer’s URL led to some gambling site. His/Her IP address also kept changing, and judging from the frequency, it seemed to be the work of an automated comment spam software. The only long term solution that was up to the challenge seem to be a WP blacklist plugin. It not only imports a public blacklist of known spammer details, but also adds regex search on your comments to detect spam then adds it to your blacklist database before deleting it.

Download WPBlacklist 2.6 plugin if you want protection from spam.

The Looking Glass of General System Theory

Swarm Intelligence In the 20th century, there was a need to build more complex machinery which required components from heterogeneous technologies such as from mechanical, electronic or chemical sources. Such machinery might be an aircraft, which would also involve the interaction of man and machine, as well as a host of economics and social issues. The number of issues to be considered can often be innumerable, and as such another approach was needed in order to solve such problems.

Enter the Systems Approach, which essentially focuses on the ???big picture??? of an issue at hand. Given a specific objective, the systems approach allows us to look at a complex network of interactions then consider the most optimized solution at maximum efficiency and minimal cost. This approach appeared very general and it appealed across various disciplines which is rightfully so because of how the approach required the re-orientation in scientific thinking to deal with complexities with wholes or systems in all fields of knowledge (Bertalanffy, 1976).

Before the development of the General Systems Theory, the ways in which we explained certain phenomena in our world were somewhat limited. For example, in Second World War, we simple blamed Hitler as the cause of people???s suffering. Applying the Systems Approach, we can see that Hitler was no super human as the World War was not started by one man alone, but by a combination of forces (prejudices, ideologies, social trends, etc) within several related systems. From this example, we can see how the systems approach is innovative in that it studies systems as an entity with open interactions to other entities and by doing so, we are taking a phenomena and slicing it into manageable pieces for examination rather than to deal with it too narrowly or to broadly.

As the General Systems Theory is isomorphic, some might argue that it discovers nothing new and worse still, it cannot be reduced to lower level science for analysis. It is true that this danger of meaningless analogies exists, but one must recall that the theory is actually for scientific interpretation and theory where none existed. The systems approach should be seen as work in progress and in constant need of ideas and exploration. To date, three popular contributions to it have emerged, namely Wiener???s Cybernetics (1948), Shannon and Weaver???s Information Theory (1949) and Morgenstern???s Game Theory (1947). These theories have been well used in various disciplines and are testaments to the utility of the Systems Approach.

We can find real-world applications of general system theory in the book ???On our Nonexistence as Entities: The Social Organism??? (2001). Author Kennedy talked about how systems can be seen a multiple ???zoom angles??? (frames of references) and at different levels (microscopic to cosmic). The main idea behind this chapter seems to be about adaptability or survival, as seen from the microscopic germ, to the rats & roaches that survive natural disasters, to human being who are said to be the most adaptable in any environment and even to Gaia (Mother Earth). In studying social behavior as optimization as seen in flock, herds and swarms, I enjoyed how Kennedy applied what was seen in nature to how we could do the same for robots. He suggested how cheaper mini robots a singular robot (i.e. Dante II) should be made for harsh terrain exploration as by process of trial and error, it would be quicker for the multiple mini robots to communicate and adapt to the environment as compared to one robot making mistakes.

Just this weekend, I was driving along the highway around campus when I saw a flock of swallows fly together in a haphazard yet beautiful pattern, as if it were a coordinated dance. Indeed when I went home to work on my computer, there on my screensaver was the exactly same pattern of streaking colors. While it is possible to simulate the behavior of nature with a few simple rules (pg 112, fig 3.6), given a decent feedback mechanism, this apparently disordered behavior might be what holds the key to good optimization processes. Like how a rabbit runs away from its predator in quick random scurries, an example of how this behavior could be employed is in computer gaming. The essence of playing a game is to encounter situations in which we had to find creative ways in which an objective could be met. If the situation were the same, there would be little time before the best way is discovered and the player would find little reward in playing that game. This is why multiplayer games have such staying power. Good multiplayer games allow for players to challenge each other???s strategies in which they can be ever changing and unpredictable. With each round (iteration) of a multiplayer game, players who are more willing to try out different strategies should fair better each time because by process or trial and error, they would start to discover their opponents??? strengths and weaknesses. In order to survive, trial and error tactics works great as a learning ability for both predator seeking its prey and prey escaping its predator. By understanding this overarching pattern of disorder, we have in a sense created order in chaos which benefits us, without the need for us to even be conscious of it.

References
Kennedy, J., Eberhart, C., & Shi, Y. (2001). On our nonexistence as entities: The social organization. Swarm intelligence. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann.

Von, Bertalanffy, L. (1976). General system theory: Foundations, development, applications.New York: Braziller. Selection.

Information in its Purest Form

We often associate the word ???information??? with both the facts and communication of facts. However, according to ???The Origins of Information Theory???, information in this sense has nothing to do with the concept of information as used in the information theory and computer science (Pierce, 1961). For example, Claude Shannon, having worked for Bell Telephone, formulated a classic concept of information that is actually an expression of the volume of information carried by a telephone network. The Shannon-Weaver Model (1947) proposes that all communication must include six elements, namely source, encoder, message, channel, decoder, and receiver. As Shannon was researching in the field of information theory, his model was initially very technology-oriented. The model was produced in 1949, and you will immediately see the similarity to the Lasswell Formula:

Lasswell

As you can see, the emphasis here is very much on the transmission and reception of information. The term ???information??? is understood rather differently from the way we would normally use it. Still, this model is often referred to as an ???information model??? of communication. Apart from its obvious technological bias, a drawback from our point of view is the model’s obvious linearity. It looks at communication as a one-way process. That is remedied by the addition of the feedback loop that you can see in the developed version of the model:

Shannon Weaver Model

While it is fine for discussing the transformation of ???information???, when we try to apply the model to communication, problems arise with the assumption that meanings are somehow contained within the message.

Shannon thought that:

???the fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another point. Frequently the messages have meaning; that is they refer to or are correlated according to some system with certain physical or conceptual entities. These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem. The significant aspect is that the actual message is one selected from a set of possible messages???

Just as in most information theories and computer science, Shannon???s concept is purely technical and does not take into account the content or meaning of information. His interest was whether the character ???A??? sent is the same character ???A??? received. This is why his model is suitable for computers, whereby the binary ???1???s and ???0???s are all that defines messages. In deduction, while software ends up decoding the data received, it is entirely up to the person to interpret the information on screen.

This information would be subject to various other factors that could affect it???s meaning and such is not covered in the model. There are two entirely distinct levels of the message. One level is what is on the computer screen, be it words, numbers, images; such is information. The other level is how humans interpret what they see on the screens; such is knowledge. To a human being, an “A” sent and received may be interpreted as anything he deems reasonable. It sparks off a whole series of associations, depending on the context, earlier experiences and the emotional well being of the interpreter.

On the whole, I find it interesting that while we study information theory in order to improve data rates and accuracy in communication media (in order to reduce entropy / uncertainty), you still cannot escape the reality where one person’s interpretation is never the same as another’s. Even so, readings in the field of knowledge management have shown that setting up or creating a context (or providing metadata) for information helps the sender and receiver to frame the information that is sent or received. Such context can come in the form of a story (e.g. conversation), or through the use of multimedia such as images, videos and sounds. We might not ever share similar meanings, but I believe given the current state of technology (e.g. story-telling through blogs), we can get really close.

References
Pierce, J.R. (1961). The origins of information theory. A mathematical model. Encoding and binary digits. Symbols, signals, and noise: The nature and process of communication (pp. 19-77). New York: Harper & Row.

Wiener, N. (1961). On learning and self-reproducing machines. Cybernetics, or control and communication in the animal and the machine (pp. 169-180). 2nd ed. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Claude E. Shannon, ???A mathematical theory of communication,” Bell System Technical Journal, vol. 27, pp. 379-423 and 623-656, July and October, 1948.

Claude E. Shannon and W. Weaver, ???The Mathematical Theory of Communication,??? University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Ill., 1949.