Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Fightin' the Man (Smallish Post 8)

Did recording companies bring condemnation down on their own heads? When CD-Rs started to become more readily available, the average consumer noticed that the cost of a physical CD was not just a little less than the cost of one produced by a recording company; the cost of producing a CD was miniscule. I feel that this underscores a corrupt collective corporate environment in the recording industry. If this is my perception, it may well be others' also. The main motivation for the rabid enforcement and reinforcement of copyright law is the recording industry's fear of losing control of work that they could never produce in the first place. The "service" they provide reminds me of my experience trying to buy a Nintendo Wii -- people who had the time to camp out at stores would buy up all the units they could, then resell them online for significantly higher (often at least doubled) prices. The only "service" that they rendered was making it more difficult to buy a Wii at retail price! Similarly, with the advent of digital media in connection with the Internet, the only service that I feel these companies provide is a higher price than what I would pay if the artist were selling to me directly. Had the companies not inflated their prices in the first place, the conflict of copyright law and digital media may well have never come into being.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Open Source (Smallish Post 6)

My roommate just asked me when the last time I used Windows Vista on my new laptop was. I thought about it and realized that I hadn't used it since the day I first bought the computer! I wanted to learn and use Linux, and got excited about it pretty quick. I had more features than I could get on Vista, and all for free; anything I need, I can just go get. The "bazaar" approach of open source is working well, I thought. Then I thought of another problem: what happens when Red Hat becomes "old hat"? Since compensation for work on open source is generally nil, it is more of a hobby than a source of income. Developers do love to fix the problems they see and create tools that help everyone, but they also like to eat; if everyone can just get tools for free, will the open source community eventually make it prohibitively difficult to get work as a developer? Even open source companies could be in danger once more advanced tools than their commercial versions are made available for free, and the improvement of forums and help sites could doom their efforts at making money on servicing. I love Linux and open source programs, but I sometimes wonder if I'm not putting myself out of a job.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Double Majors Aren't So Odd Anymore (Book-Inspired Post 2)

I found that Thomas Friedman's description of the changes to Georgia Tech's computing college confirms that my aspirations to a double major are not pure stupidity. In the ever-shrinking world (I don't care much for Friedman's "flattening" terminology), people in developed countries will need to be on the cutting edge of innovation and new design. Friedman made some very good points in "The World Is Flat" about how computer scientists can't just deal solely with hardware and software anymore. In an increasingly competitive global market, it is those who are able to make unique connections across disciplines who will succeed.

I never read "The World Is Flat" before this class, nor did I consider globalization at length, yet I find myself naturally gravitating toward a mix of skills which that book highly recommends: computer science and humanities (in the form of German linguistics), with a minor in business. My language and linguistics skills have already been helpful as I develop second-language acquisition software. My experience gives me a different programming perspective than most programmers and a different linguistics perspective than most linguists, yet none of this was planned; I just went with what I knew I enjoyed.

America's jobs are changing rapidly and demanding a different type of education, but my experience shows that the rising American generation is educating itself in more and different ways than ever before. Many have "learned how to learn" and combine their varied interests to invent new products and services -- all without ever being told to. This gives me reason to believe in Friedman's optimistic appraisal of the United States' future in a smaller, more connected world.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"Hey! Stop killing people...we don't like it." (Current Event 4)

A Christian archbishop in Iraq was murdered by kidnappers, and apparently Iraqi Christians in general are targeted by Muslim rebels, yet the only response I read about in this article (and a couple others on the same topic) was "The kidnapping had been condemned by the Vatican, Jordan's Prince Hassan, and the United Nations, among others." What exactly is this "condemnation" supposed to accomplish? Those like the kidnappers, who are so quick to do violence, need to be dealt with severely; they won't understand anything but hard consequences. If you get mugged on a city street, can you simply take the mugger aside, tell him that you don't approve of his actions, and expect change? You can't, and so we arrest thieves and imprison them. Similarly, terrorists need to see their tactics bring consequences they don't want until they are broken enough that they can be reasoned with.

Article: Kidnapped archbishop found dead in Iraq

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sexism With Good Intent (Smallish Post 5)

When I read what I considered to be the rabid rantings of a crazed politician, I was incensed by the author's total lack of concern for the free will of women. He wanted to use Title IX to "encourage" girls toward the sciences, yet I have not seen impediments to women entering the field. I have asked women about whether they feel there is some social stigma against them entering scientific or technical fields, and without fail, they told me there was not. If that is the case, then women are choosing to not be involved with computer science, and what right have we to try and force them to choose a career that pleases the sociologists' statistics? There are differences between men and women, and I say that's OK; men tend to not want to be nurses, and women tend to not want to be computer scientists. That is not to say that men cannot be nurses and women cannot be scientists; yet just because there is a tendency for one sex to prefer a certain field does not mean we have the right to force the other sex into careers they don't enjoy. Is it not also sexist to say "we want more scientists, and they must be women"?

Source article: Title IX and Women in Academics

Thursday, February 28, 2008

That's No Moon...It's a Water Tower (Current Event 3)

I get pretty excited about space exploration and the thought of colonizing celestial bodies, so I think the search for water on the moon is a great project. Nonetheless, I recognize that there are those who disagree, and I wonder if the environmentalists will be joining their numbers. This article discusses a continuation of NASA's search for water by means of smashing the crust of the moon at points, and some reactions seem to indicate that there are concerns about the destructive nature of this probe. It raises interesting questions as to the scope of our stewardship; I believe most would agree that we need to use the Earth's resources responsibly (though I believe the environmentalists tend to go to extremes), but does that change as we are able to influence other parts of our solar system? I personally believe we should exploit the resources of the solar system as we are able for the benefit of mankind, but I am certain there will be opposition (not entirely unfounded) to that idea.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On the Delay of Security in New Technology (Book-Inspired Post 1)

It's interesting to see how long it can take before people will recognize problems with new technology. When reading "The Cuckoo's Egg", I was repeatedly shocked by how both government agencies and the self-proclaimed "enlightened" academics of Berkeley were sluggish in their response to Cliff Stoll's warnings about hackers. It seemed like the problem was so new to them that they had not considered the damage that could be done, so Stoll was dismissed as being overly concerned about the hacking for a good long time.

I suppose that this is true of any new technology -- as seat belts and other safety devices for cars didn't come about until long after automobiles were prevalent in society, so measures for computer and network security didn't really concern the average person until computers had become more common in society (as we saw in the book). I think that one cause of this is excitement about new technology; we become so enthusiastic about the good things that we can do with these new tools that we don't think about how they may also be used for ill. Conversely, there may be some who think that a new technology is just a fad and therefore doesn't merit the time and effort needed to improve security and safety. Fortunately, people like Cliff Stoll see problems with new technology that need to be addressed and (perhaps more importantly) have the persistence to ensure that they are indeed dealt with.

I wonder what the next big technology will be, and how long we'll take to make it safe.