Posts Tagged ‘Software’

“TV bad”, TV says.

December 29, 2014 4 comments

When we watch “Beavis and Butthead” we mirror the characters. We sit in front of a screen and watch two young men staring at a screen. This mirroring is unique: many books feature characters reading and songs will often reference music and its power to influence. The “ars poetica” is a form of poetry specifically focused on the art of poetry writing. Meta-thinking is reflective on the act of thinking.

In some forms of this “meta-art”, the art comments on itself. A dystopian television show like the UK’S “Black Mirror” warns us of technology’s development despite being the product of a complicated network of technology devices. Film and television often feature dystopian narratives that warn us of our interactions with film and television. Such “finger wagging” warnings urge we caution further development by casting narratives that suggest the dangers of “what could be”.

Are such critiques limited to film and TV? Do books exist that warn the reader of reading? Have songs been heard that warn the user of listening to music? One struggles to find examples. Film and TV are unique in their use of the medium to criticize the medium.

The Misuse is the Feature: Cognitive Tech & Action

December 29, 2014 1 comment

Technology can be categorized into two distinct categories: “cognitive” and “non-cognitive”. In the “cognitive” camp I place items like Facebook and Twitter, which prompt the user to interact with its features. A user of these sites is asked to share their thoughts. One is capable of sharing every thought, desire and idea on the site and it works to encourage the user to do so. The user must choose the level of interaction and one could very easily (and many often do) over-share or over-interact with the site. One could very easily destroy a reputation by publishing every thought on Facebook. To fully interact with the site means to respond to its prompting to share fully. Every half-thought idea, emotional impulse and desire becomes fodder for its prompting and if shared material for public consumption.

In the other category, which I call “non-cognitive”, I group items like cars, cooking equipment and material we often see as tools. These items do not prompt us for their use. The microwave does not display a text encouraging you to use it and the car doesn’t honk to encourage you to travel. Among these devices is an in-built limitation that leaves the user to determine interaction. Though one can very easily do damage to a reputation with these tools (for example a car driven dangerously) the level of hazard is lower than the items in the “cognitive” tools category because the user is less influenced by the actual technology.

My suggestion is that the “cognitive” tools are dangerous because their development outpaces our psychological ability to understand the correct way to use them. One must learn to use Facebook correctly. This learning includes an increased awareness of the material suitable for public consumption and the boundaries therein. One should not share secrets or security information like passwords, bank codes, etc.. on these mediums. We learn just what to share.

Such learning though is not automatic and many do not develop these skills or choose not to use them. Commenters make rash and vile commentaries on the internet but in public maintain a calm, cool demeanor. Would these commenters act the same if viewing the video in a public theater? The user chooses the level of interaction. Wisdom comes in learning how to use the technology and gaining the skills for correct use. Many will not gain this info or will choose to disregard these skills.

This disregard for proper use is common with all technology. An ancient technology like alcohol or sugar continues to be misused despite centuries of use and consideration. One can incorrectly drive and destroy a home with the technology of fire. This challenge of learning proper use is common to all technologies. The distinction remains; however, with the “cognitive” versus “non-cognitive” technology: prompted by “cognitive” technology we are forced to develop skills in spite of its asking. This technology form doesn’t want us to filter our interactions. Perhaps the evidence of our struggles with this form are in the constant slew of comment boards and “over-sharing” where a user misuses the technology. Cognitive technology is dangerous because it battles our development of skills.

By Common Games and Hobbies

March 10, 2013 1 comment

How much can we relate to another by our common hobbies and games? I play basketball and so do you- do we better understand each other via this common behavior? If I have played a game I have likely experienced the same flights of glee and disappointment that you have. We also play videogames. Have you played that certain title? Oh, you have? Wasn’t that one level exciting? Oh, you struggled to? So did I, so did I.

Common experiences may not help us understand another’s perspective of the world, but it remains a shared experience nonetheless. Globalization has allowed culture to spread throughout the world. So vast has this expansion spread cultural items that a North Korean boy can play the same videogame that I can. Of course not all North Korean boys can play that game but certainly one can, and did, as the media has reported.

If reports are true, Kim Jung-un, the recently “appointed”? supreme leader of North Korea, enjoyed playing videogames. Did he play the games that I played? Has he struggled through the same levels that I have? Did he grow frustrated on that one way too difficult mission as I did? Videogames were an essential component of my childhood. They provided me with hours of entertainment and functioned as the dominant source of narrative in my life. What books and film were to older generations, videogames were for me and many in my generation, the major way we learned the narrative form.

Put bluntly, my brain has been where Jung-un’s brain has been. Though separate, we’ve ventured through the same pixelated mazes and puzzles. Do I know him more for sharing this? How much can we assume to be shared via these common behaviors? Do my hobbies make me know you? Do you know me by the games we’ve played?

Subjective Time, or The Value of My Minutes

July 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Are all minutes equal? If one is to utilize the sixty seconds of a minute for entertainment, they are certainly lot. Though the time is objective, the pursuit of filling these sixty seconds varies greatly. Do you aim to fill those sixty seconds with music? A movie or a television program? One can purchase a song for a dollar, rent a DVD for three dollars or skip the charge for both and just download them. What we pay to fill our seconds is wildly unset, but as consumers of media we need not worry about these variations. Our payment for media should be the concern of those who produce this media: consumers exist in a world where paying for content is optional.

In an economic situation where payment is optional, the only power acting against thoughtless consumption is ethics. We all know we should pay, but do we have to pay? If we skip the payment and just download the file, will anyone know? Swaying our decision further is the gross inequality of these opposing views: Yes, we can pay for one movie or one song or we can download an entire season, or, if so inclined the entire professional portfolio of a creator on a whim. We face the decision of paying for a single bite or freely collecting a slew of meals we may never even consider consuming. Such a situation holds only the thin sheet of ethical obligation as protection for those who create content.

Content creators need to recognize this situation and act accordingly. A creator needs to consider the value of an opposing forms. To make this comparison more balanced we must begin by considering the form of stimulation a consumer wants. Where is the predominant stimulation? Is it visual, such as a film or television program? Is it auditory in the form of a song or is it tactile in the form of a baseball game or meal? Considering a single piece of content in these categories helps content creators create logical price points. If a song writer creates a song, he or she must consider the cost or another form of auditory stimulation when setting the cost. Similarly, a creator of a film needs to consider the cost a consumer faces if he or she is interested in visual stimulation. A content creator who makes a visual piece of content is making a gross error if charging five dollars when a different visual item costs three dollars.

Costs of production will weigh into the issue, but consumers recognize the value of high production and will award creators accordingly. Such awards are based on merit and if one finds high cost content failing to garner a return there is an error in thinking- the value of high cost content does not necessarily mean impressive special effects. Interestingly, many of the high-cost features of high-cost productions are of little interest to consumers who desires for entertainment are often more simple than many producers believe. Ironically, a focus on these high-cost item often leads to a failure in creating interesting content or, even worse, an unsatisfactory use of these high-cost items may botch the entire creation. Consider the high-budget action movie so chock full of bad CGI that, while far-reaching and expensive, becomes more parody than valuable entertainment. Creators need to recognize the audience as intelligent creatures, not fools easily mesmerized by loud sounds and bright colors.

Time is not equal. Creators of content need to consider the competing sources of entertainment when creating and marketing content. Failure to do so risks destroying an industry and fails to provide a hungry public with quality content. Consumers exist in an economy where free content is easily accessible on a cost-free basis.

Know Your Knife: Picking the Right Tool for the Moment

January 28, 2011 Leave a comment

One curious contemporary situation is the work-from home form of employment. In these situations an individual interacts with fellow employees through technology. Variable rates exist with some employees working from home a few days to week to some jobs where all work takes place from home. How is corporate culture established in these situations where technology forms the conduit to the experiences and relationships with other employees?

Much of what we feel about our jobs comes from the daily experiences and relationships. Despite being employed to produce a certain item or complete a certain task, these essential activities are actually secondary points of reference when considering if we actually like our jobs. Many workers create things they do not care about or complete tasks that they admittedly know to be useless or destructive to the common good.

It is not the products of employment that define the employee’s corporate culture. The only connection points between the individual and the employer are the daily experiences and relationships.

Working from home invariably involves isolation. Face-to-face interactions are replaced with a collection of technological devices. These devices a hierarchical relationship on terms of personality transfer. A telephone call creates a transaction of human voices while an e-mail, far lower in the “hierarchy of personality transfer” only offers a textual transfer of information.

Knowledge of this hierarchy is essential when working from home. Key to success in a situation where human interaction is at a distance, a worker’s ability to choose the correct tool for the moment is critical. In moments of crisis an employee is best to use the telephone so as to judge tone. Minor situations or daily procedures are best for e-mail where a simple transaction of information is best.

Make it Fake: Artificial Economies

January 23, 2011 1 comment

The essential economic condition of scarcity is the driving force of all economies. Inherent limitations in life create a conflict between desires and pleasure. You want a chocolate bar you can’t afford it or the cocoa crop failed to produce and zero chocolate bars exist. These are just two possibilities in our scarcity model. Such limitations on supply comes in multiple forms: a consequence of our extensive economic network has created a system wherein the delivery of that chocolate bar requires a massive cast of actors. One broken chain in the link and a scarcity can blossom and deny your chocolate dreams.

The fact that we cannot have everything we want whenever we want it leads to economic fluctuation. Rarely is an item completely beyond grasp: there is always a store with chocolate a few miles away or an alternative cocoa grower who can hustle out an extra batch. In such situations our desires can be supplanted but for extra effort comes an expectation of extra compensation. Low supply and high demand means high prices as the efforts and supplies needed to meet demand require extra-effort and extra-work. All remains in balance.

Scarcity is natural and normal. Items like land or other natural resources will always be limited. There is only so much Earth available for out use. Other items are seasonally scarce, for example fruit or flowers. These items exist at certain times of year but then go away for a few months. Herein we see the seeds for economic demand: human psychology tacks onto the pleasures of flowers and fruits but will not accept this issue of scarcity. “Someone has to have flowers,” we’ll say and off a set of feet will move to please our needs at whatever cost is needed. This is the market in action.

Some items are never scarce. For example software or created works of media. Modern technology provides us with the ability to cheaply reproduce a film. In cases of human creation or “intellectual property” we need to create an artificial market, a system of fake scarcity in order to maintain value. If we can get free copies or if access to copies is constant our desire won’t exist. Imagine the cost of the single remaining pencil on American shores. This single device would sky rocket in cost.

Disney is famous for its use of the “Disney Vault,” a term referring to its selective release of its films. In situations were desire wavers the close control of supply can surf the waves of desire and even create demand inside a marketplace. Keen marketeers (working for Disney) can monitor public demand and fan the flames of public interest. All of this makes incredible sense and is the only foundation of safety for companies who primarily create intellectual material.

Artificial markets are tempting to non-intellectual creators, though. Edmund Burke wrote a scathing critique on corn producers who in 1770 were distorting the market to garner high profits. Such behavior has not changed with contemporary society and has in fact expanded. Now the artificial market runs rampant in all economies of human desire and need. We see artificial markets at local gas stations or supermarkets where our needs and desires are used to garner specific responses.

The artificial market is an essential device in the contemporary economy. Though dangerous and unfair, it exists as a common force among all smart businesses functioning today. The repercussions of this behavior is dangerous on multiple fronts: what is value? How is one to understand the true value of an item when so many fake factors weigh upon its cost? What are the dangers of such subjectivity in our economy? The hazards of these behaviors are well-known and widely experienced.

A system of subjectivity in the form of artificial markets is a dangerous one. We can only expect distortion in a system so closely tied to human emotion. Though potential profits are great, the hazards of the artificial market may outweigh the benefits therein.

Enthusiasm’s Era

January 3, 2011 Leave a comment

We live in a time fueled by enthusiasm. Rapid release of beta formats, yearly product updates and endless chains of sequels are just three examples of the ways in which our heightened interests drive us forward. Is the software not working? How should we respond? In the past we’d likely shrug our shoulders and write it off as a sign of a bad product and an error in judgment. Not today though, in our current era we post on a manufacturer’s website, contact the company directly or, if really fired up, launch a mini flame campaign to force a fix.

No longer do we function at a distance from the makers of our toys. We are now closely linked and dictate what we want, how we want it and scream if what we get just doesn’t make the grade.

Networking makes this possible, connecting consumers with creators so that the desires and needs of the end-users can be a crucial dynamic of the design process. In short, companies who produce material for public consumption, whether physical, mental or emotional, are tightly tethered to future users of their products.

This system is not exclusively positive; however, in cases where a product is defective, a manufacturer cannot simply wash its hands of responsibility or issue a major recall for the products. In today’s system of closely tethered relations, a manufacturer’s reaction must come in the form of rapid deployment and extends far beyond the dead-end state of defective. Now a minor bug demands a response and what in earlier eras would be written off as just a bad feature, exists now as an item on a growing list of “bugs” that developers must correct.

Even beyond cases of product faults many manufacturers are expected to provide users with what they hope to see- acting as cyber Santa’s whose latest creation is less about the corporation’s notions of product identity and more about fulfilling the list of demands expressed by a user base. Note a manufacturer’s website for  a discussion board where endless threads exist as virtual Christmas lists for wandering company eyes.

We live now with endless betas and product improvements. Internet Explorer entered the world free from a numeral distinction. IE was IE, it wasn’t IE 6 or 7 or 8 or 9. This development came only as more consumers came on board and explored alternative browsers. One can only assume Microsoft’s intentions for IE in a pre-Chrome and Firefox era, but the program’s slow progression to each major release (in comparison to Firefox and Chrome) suggests a less than interested policy of constant improvement and correction.

Beyond this negative factor a manufacturer does benefit from this close connection to the consumer. Market research now occurs in-house and a population of enthusiastic users can be tapped into to provide product ideas and testing. For many companies the difficult task of improving a product while avoiding a major error that inadvertently reduces use can be avoided with this network of enthusiastic users. In essence, the “in-house” volunteers provide a breadth of services far beyond the stretch of even an employed body of developers. With the investment of cognitive surplus, a body of testers dedicate an immense force to a product and in many ways carry the future of the product on their backs. Dedication and enthusiasm are the power forces that drive this development and are revolutionary in their power. We have not seen this sort of power in previous eras and companies are only starting to recognize its power.

A result of this slow reaction is the growth of third-party developers and small companies. Large companies whose hegemonic rule over the early internet or whose power in the hardware area simply transferred to the online world have been slow to react and as a result suffered significant losses.

In order to fully succeed in our era, a company needs to tap into the enthusiasm of its user base. Consumers have a passion for their products and identify with their gadgets. Companies that recognize this power and support their developing social networks can “use” these individuals to improve product development. Such a relationship benefits both the users and manufacturers. Enthusiasm is a life blood now and working as the fuel of innovation must be recognized as a major driver of the dawning internet hegemony.

The Benefits of Beta

September 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Via a community of dedicated users, software developers benefit from a system that avoids a demand for perfection and allows a slow progression of improvement. This system of releasing “beta” versions allows for a gradual evolution and benefits both the producer and user of a product.

Under this system, a user’s software is updated on a needed basis. If a product has a fault or if a development team has developed an improvement, an automatic update can be established and the update is performed. This is an ideal system- one that exists solely in the software field and one that creates a system of multiple beneficiaries. Just as the user benefits from improved software, the developer can tinker with adjustments and rest assured that the user base is a source of endless feedback. Such a system has rendered immense improvements in the technology culture and should be recognized as a system that other industries should foster.

This “beta culture,” or world in which developers and users work together to improve a product, is one of immense potential. The motor vehicle industry would be significantly improved if users could update the vehicle’s software every six months in order to improve vehicle performance or to simply to alter minimal details affecting non-critical factors of using the vehicle. Can the radio’s interface be updated to make it faster or easier to read? Can the vehicle’s odometer be calibrated to allow for a more accurate analysis of efficiency? With some development these possibilities could be developed and used as significant selling points.

Beyond the benefits of avoiding the need for perfection, the “beta culture” would allow developers to consider user feedback and improve future productions. What better market research exists than the feedback of users with direct experience with previous models. If asked what I want in a new product, I will likely think back to my experiences with a similar product, muster up some improvements and then suggest my mind’s notion of an improvement of what I want. Such a process diverts the responsibility of the developer from producer to consumer. A better process is one that asks better questions. The key is to ask the user what features of the current product don’t work and what things could make Product X better. As a user I can tell you countless things that are wrong with Product X. We need to move beyond the notion that Product X is produced and distributed and then Product Y goes into development.

The “beta culture” allows us to release Product X and then work towards Product X.1. Producers from all industries need to adjust to create this system and switch the paradigm from serial production to a goal of improving what already exists. No longer do we need to build a new trap or re-invent the wheel; instead, we need to improve what we have and let our minds focus on meeting the expectations that have yet to be met.

The LMS: Dinosaur Extraordinaire

May 20, 2010 Leave a comment

The Learning Management System or LMS for those inside the inside is an issue of increasing debate in online education. How should the online classroom be organized? What type of software should unite and unify the students within the educational realm? Is a single piece of unifying software necessary or can this same task be accomplished through the use of multiple pieces of software. Of course both formats can exist; students can learn using whatever software is presented to them and ultimately if the goal of education is accomplished best in this avenue than so be it. In my opinion, the issue boils down to a single source of contention (and one that online learning should more closely embrace): cost effectiveness.

Is it cheaper for a school to use a varied cadre of free-ware? Does the use of a single platform or LMS significantly increase the cost of operating? Well…yes. A school that is forced to comply with the limitations and costs of a LMS enter into a world of middle-man nightmare. No longer is the ideal relationship of student-teacher allowed to maintain with a common goal of learning. With the LMS the relationship is altered, now the software provider enters the fray and hovers over the school with an invested interest. Is the software being utilized correctly? Is the LMS being utilized in a fashion that will allow for further growth and expansion. The introduction of the LMS instigates a conflict of interests. I say ditch the LMS and adopt a policy of “whatever works best works for me.”

I call for an embrace of freeware. No longer do we need an LMS to guide the educational process. Administrators and teachers should be tasked with locating the best resources for their students. As an educator in the field there are fantastic resources at my disposal and anything that improves the student experience is a worthy focus. The LMS is a dinosaur of limitation- let’s ditch it and evolve.

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