Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Trolls Are People, Too.

Is the internet only populated with trolls, a-holes and the ignorant unwashed masses who happen to know how to click a mouse? In my opinion, no. And, after all, my opinion counts the most /sarcasm

The internet is about community, as much as technology. However, as a widely-reported 2006 study argued, since 1985, Americans have become more socially isolated, the size of their discussion networks has declined, and the diversity of those people with whom they discuss important subjects has shrunk. In particular, the study found that Americans have fewer close ties to those from their neighborhoods. Sociologists Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin and Matthew Brashears suggest that new technologies, such as the internet and mobile phone, may play a role in advancing this trend.

Specifically, they argue that the type of social ties supported by these technologies are relatively weak and geographically dispersed, not the strong, often locally-based ties that tend to be a part of peoples’ core discussion network. They depicted the rise of internet and mobile phones as one of the major trends that pulls people away from traditional social settings, neighborhoods, voluntary associations, and public spaces that have been associated with large and diverse core networks.

But the reality of social connectivity via the internet is here to stay. A Pew Internet Personal Networks and Community survey shined a light on people’s use of mobile phones and the internet as ways to connect with larger and more diverse discussion networks. And, when we examine people’s full personal network — their strong and weak ties — internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with more diverse social networks. [ The Strength of Internet Ties, Boase, J., et al., 2006, Pew Internet & American Life Project: Washington, DC ]

Social media activities are associated with beneficial social activities, such as having discussion networks that are more likely to contain people from different backgrounds. As an example, frequent internet users such as those who maintain a blog are much more likely to confide in someone who is of another race. Those who share photos online are more likely to report that they discuss important matters with someone who is a member of another political party.

The Pew study found that, when one examines people’s full personal network — their strong ties and weak ties — internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with having a more diverse social network. This counters the perception that technology pulls people away from social engagement.

But the internet is also about obscurity. The recent newsworthy reporting on government surveillance of internet and telecom communications has made clear that, while we rely on these two technologies to communicate and collaborate, we have long assumed such dialog occurred in private, much like the whispered exchanges in back booths of caf├ęs or empty aisles of bookstores of the past. The fact that all traffic on these networks, mapped by the Internet Protocol address — the "I.P." address — can be traced to originator and recipient, has largely been ignored by the vast populations using these tools. The obscurity we find with anonymous logins and random user names can be liberating. One can speak freely about topics often found uncomfortable in one's existing social circles, or ask questions that an immediate circle of friends, relatives or colleagues might not answer. But this anonymity is also a free pass to sling vitriol.

Anonymous communications play an important role in political and social discussion. The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the right to anonymous free speech is protected by the First Amendment, such as the 1995 Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission:

Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.

This tradition of anonymous speech ispredates the United States. Founders Alexander Hamilton James Madison and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers under the pseudonym "Publius " and "the Federal Farmer" spoke up in rebuttal.

But the ease by which anyone can fake a name and voice any opinion — no matter how controversial or bigoted — without threat to their reputation is a driving forces behind the prevalence of hate speech online. Free speech does not mean freedom to disparage, libel, or foster hatred.

Anonymity on the internet desensitizes participants in a discussion. Such behavior, while rampant, is not found in the entire population of on-line commentators. Most so-call "trolls" might be easily classified as sociopathic narcissists, showing a callousness and lack of empathy for the objects/subjects of their derision. Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, and perhaps having only contempt for others' feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them, leads such participants in discussion threads to trample over the feelings of others. This reflects poor behavioral controls, found in the typical impulsive nature that can be observed in such personalities. Perhaps from the rage and abuse some of these participants have experienced, alternating with small expressions of love and approval, to produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused. This may as well as foster a sense hopelessness in the victim, who finds an outlet in the obscurity of the vast whorl wide web, but engendered by a believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, with no sense of personal boundaries, nor concern for their impact on others. Particularly with harsh words, submitted so quickly with a click of a mouse button.

Ultimately, people are behind the I.P. addressees that connect us all. What is low-cost approach to decrease the systemic negativity? Empathy, the cure for "trolling".

Wired magazine recently reported on a human rights group that introduced a new version of CAPTCHAs, those little boxes that make you type in a word to prove you are human before you can comment or register for a site. The new version doesn’t just present a scrambled word to be deciphered, but instead forces a person to choose the right word to unscramble based on the proper emotional response to a human rights violation. Civil Rights Defenders, the Swedish-based group that developed the tool, hopes the Civil Rights Captcha will help sites block spiders and bots, while letting humans in — and hopefully educating the humans at the same time.

More about trolls…
Chris Mooney reports at Slate that research conducted by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba confirmed that people who engage in internet trolling are characterized by personality traits that fall in the so-called Dark Tetrad:

Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others). In the study, trolls were identified in a variety of ways. One was by simply asking survey participants what they 'enjoyed doing most' when on online comment sites, offering five options: 'debating issues that are important to you,' 'chatting with others,' 'making new friends,' 'trolling others,' and 'other.' The study recruited participants from Amazon's Mechanical Turk website and two measures of sadistic personality were administered (PDF): the Short Sadistic Impulse Scale and the Varieties of Sadistic Tendencies Scale. Only 5.6 percent of survey respondents actually specified that they enjoyed 'trolling.' By contrast, 41.3 percent of Internet users were 'non-commenters,' meaning they didn't like engaging online at all. So trolls are, as has often been suspected, a minority of online commenters, and an even smaller minority of overall Internet users. Overall, the authors found that the relationship between sadism and trolling was the strongest, and that indeed, sadists appear to troll because they find it pleasurable. 'Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun ... and the Internet is their playground!' The study comes as websites are increasingly weighing steps to rein in trollish behavior but the study authors aren't sure that fix is a realistic one. 'Because the behaviors are intrinsically motivating for sadists, comment moderators will likely have a difficult time curbing trolling with punishments (e.g., banning users),' says Buckels. 'Ultimately, the allure of trolling may be too strong for sadists, who presumably have limited opportunities to express their sadistic interests in a socially-desirable manner.' Perhaps posting rights should only be unlocked if you pass a test.

Reading, specifically works of fiction, can lead to greater empathy. A study by a Washington and Lee University psychology professor has demonstrated that reading a short work of fiction can lead readers to empathize with the work’s characters, to detect subtle emotional expressions more effectively and to engage in pro-social behavior. Dan Johnson, assistant professor of psychology at Washington and Lee, published the results of his study in the November 2011 edition of the journal “Personality and Individual Differences.”

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Still Making Electricity At Your Own Shop? I didn't think so...

In the long-ago past, businesses had to make their own electricity. So we learn in The Big Switch, by Nicholas Carr. He explains how the use of electricity shifted from on-premise systems -- companies had electricity departments, complete with electrical architects and managers, sort of like IT departments today -- to third-party electrical grids that businesses simply tapped into. Electricity went from an item on which a business focused half its time, attention, and labor to a simple utility it plugged into and paid for.

Does that sound familiar? Your IT department may perhaps be going the way of the on-site electrician. Much like water, gas, electricity and the phone company, the concept of computing as utility is emerging with the availability of storage and server virtualization, grid computing, and automated provisioning of platforms. Service oriented architecture takes complex business procedures that could profoundly transform the nature of organizations’ IT services, strategies and infrastructure, and opens up access to complex computing power. With the application of cloud computing there could be concealment of the complexity of service oriented architecture, reduction of operational expenses, and converting of IT costs to variable ‘on-demand’ services.

Now consider the connection between freelance or contract labor and cloud computing: it makes sense for companies to make labor a variable cost rather than a fixed cost. This shift can be seen in the growth in the on-demand labor market. Online staffing is a $1.5 billion-a-year industry; it’s growing 50 percent a year, and it’s projected to be a $20 billion industry by 2020, according to Work Market. With respect to IT workers in particular, one often reads about employers complaining that they can’t find the skills they need, and skilled IT workers complaining they can’t find a job. Of course, the concept of "digital sweatshop" must be considered, such as World of Warcraft farmers in Mexico.

In the ultimate Cloud scenarios, organizations will be able to acquire as much IT services as they need, whenever and wherever they need them. In the near future, labor could also be similarly networked. Taken with secure online apps, this would facilitate “agility-integration” of IT and labor resources within and between virtual companies.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Cloud Can Set You Free... for a Price

Every small business operates on a limited budget. When the objective is to make a profit, and not to spend money on technology, the Cloud may offer answers. However, in today’s world adopting new technologies will help anyone launching or maintaining a small business. For example, many businesses have databases containing customer or prospect records, process or inventory information and other important data. This may require expensive server and storage technology that typically does not fit within a start-up's budget. With the cloud, such organizations can store their extensive data remotely, with no need to purchase costly hardware or hire in-house IT professionals to manage these systems. Plus, because you are are reducing the amount of computer hardware, you are also reducing electricity, licensing and maintenance costs associated with maintaining and running in-house technology.

In this Forbes article, we read,

What’s the role of cloud computing in these digital-driven shifts? Ultimately, cloud provides a foundation that is making things happen. But simply subscribing to cloud — or even building a private cloud — does not automatically transform a company into digital mode. Rather, it is a key step in a long-term evolutionary process, and part of many things that are going on at once. Over the long term, what’s notable about these shifts in business models is the underlying premise that is affecting just about every business: everyone, to some degree, is becoming both a consumer and provider of cloud-based software...

[There will be] a resurgence of middleware — a services layer that will sit between abstracted systems and front-end end-user applications. This is a natural role for cloud computing, but don’t expect cloud to address all these requirements overnight — or even over the next few years. As Accenture puts it: “It’s not possible to use a single platform to handle every business requirement. And don’t assume that cloud will always be the answer either.”

Reading emails is a killer app for mobile devices. This means having a mobile-friendly approach to engaging employees, customers and leads has never been more important. Mobile devices are quickly becoming the platform of choice for computing and collaboration versus sitting behind a desk. By embracing the iPhone and others, you can leverage data and drive service delivery. Deep knowledge of how business owners need to run their shops and the mission critical processes they depend on will be facilitated by the switch to mobile devices for computing needs. Look for solutions to be developed for mobile devices, tablets, beyond traditional desktops. Information and functionality will be available to customers, staff and others in any environment, without having to download or configure platform-specific legacy apps, or by going to the manual or to training programs. And data will be shared among these apps, which will accelerate a move away from on-premises installations of software to software-as-a-service/cloud-based implementations.

The advantages of mobile computing compound the benefits of the Cloud, and small businesses and other organizations have the means to free themselves, from the likes of the IT crowd :-)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Leave it to Micro$oft to want to take the Government backwards...

We've seen some proactive attempts to lower costs and increase choice in the public sector when it comes to the technology tools tax payers must foot the bill for. The U.K. Government's decision to look at open source software, for example, as an alternative to using products like Microsoft Office across entire departments could lead to major cost savings, according to a policy document. The policy is pretty broad, where the UK Government will consider OSS solutions alongside proprietary ones in IT procurements. Contracts will be awarded on a value for money basis and the UK Government will only use products for interoperability that support open standards and specifications in all future IT developments. This approach ensures avoiding lock-in to proprietary IT products and services.

Of course, when the iPhone debuted, the government was fully committed to Blackberry. Getting a new mobile platform in the door at U.S. federal agencies was no small task -- even with Apple's "walled garden" that made secure apps possible, and the "sandbox" memory partitions that keep iOS secure. Microsoft's own phone offering, a laggard in the consumer space, only just recently was able to get certification. Demand for the iPhone drove adoption at agencies -- just like Blackberry did back in 2001-2003. However, a lesson learned from that experience was that proprietary means more expensive -- and, with the iPhone, the concept of Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) was born. Now we see MS trying to roll back the clock, leveraging Exchange dominance to enforce use of its own products.

One of the most interesting things that struck me was that while many companies are developing products and services to help with Bring Your Own Device initiates, quite a few people, either privately or off the record, seemed to feel BYOD in government was a passing phase. So while the focus of many mobility efforts are squarely on BYOD, there is a huge pool of people who apparently don’t think it can, or should, last within government.

That means that instead, government agencies will eventually fall back to the older model where a set of uniform devices are purchased and configured by an agency and then deployed to users. But what devices will be used? A few years ago, the answer was easy: BlackBerry. But with its declining fortunes, it’s safe to say other companies are smelling blood in the water. BlackBerry was so successful at getting into government service because it offered a highly secure alternative, though not necessarily a more convenient one, to every consumer phone on the market at the time.

Windows phones have not done so well in the consumer market compared to Android and iOS devices, so the move toward government and business makes sense

Sometime this spring, Microsoft plans to push out an Enterprise Feature pack to every Windows phone. This heavy set of tools includes the ability to use S/MIME to sign and encrypt email, automatically configure and access information through a VPN tunnel and the important ability to manage, enroll, update and revoke security certificates for users on a corporate or government network.


Let's hope tight budgets and common sense push CIOs to reject a fall-back to the dark days of Blackberry dominance. Read more of John Breedon's view here...

Friday, March 7, 2014

Drones for Commercial Use Ruled Legal

A judge on the National Transportation Safety Board has ruled that the commercial use of small drones is in fact legal, although for the last six years, the Federal Aviation Administration has repeatedly said the contrary.

Over at The Verge,


Today Judge Patrick Geraghty dismissed a $10,000 fine levied by the FAA against Raphael Pirker, a Swiss drone operator who used a camera drone to film on the University of Virginia campus. "At the time of respondent's model aircraft operation ... there was no enforceable FAA rule or FAR Regulation application to model aircraft or for classifying model aircraft as an UAS," the judge writes.


Raphael Pirker had been fined $10,000 by the Federal Aviation Administration for using a drone to shoot a promotional video, won a dismissal yesterday of the charge of reckless flying. An administrative law judge determined the FAA had no authority over small unmanned aircraft when it imposed the first-ever such fine on a drone operator.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Autonomous Vehicles - What would riding in one be like?

The BBC reports on the Geneva Motor Show to show passengers' view of driverless cars. (4 March 2014 / Russell Hotten)

Autonomous cars, robotic cars, drone cars - call them what you will, but the self-driving car is coming to a showroom near you.

It might take a couple of years - it might take a couple of decades - but few people at the Geneva Motor Show would disagree that one day science fantasy will become fact.

However, while the likes of Google, BMW, Ford and IBM work on the technology, less attention has been given to what it means for passengers.



The Swiss automotive think tank Rinspeed has tried to give one possible vision of this future with its Xchange concept car, being premiered at Geneva.

"I wanted to put the passenger at the centre of what is possible, not the autonomous driving technology," says Rinspeed's founder and chief executive Frank Rinderknecht.

"Travelling in a driverless car will no longer require me to stare at the road, but will let me spend my time in a more meaningful way.

"The question then arises, would I like to work, to sleep, to read, to do whatever activities you might do on a train, a plane?

"I wanted to start thinking about how autonomous cars would 'move' people, and not just in the literal sense."

Swivel, tilt, slide
Rinspeed has taken a four-seater saloon and reconfigured the interior into something that would not look out of place inside a small private jet.

Except - and this was the real challenge - it is all done in a standard-sized car, in this case an electric Tesla Model S.

"It would have been easier in a van or stretch limousine, obviously," says Frank Rinderknecht.