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Paris and how we get breaking news now

On Saturday night I visited Paris in Second Life, joining the impromptu gathering of people from all over the world.

Paris Nov 14 2015

Avatars wore pins and held candles or signs showing their support for the people of Paris. Many dressed in blue, white, and red. There was also one avatar in a party hat, bathing suit, and rubber ducky float… but it is Second Life, after all. I stayed for a while until someone tried to pick me up. (I know it’s hard to open conversations — I stink at it, which is why I wandered the grid alone after this though I would have liked some company — but ffs, it was completely inappropriate to pull out cheesy opening lines in virtual Paris the night after the attacks.)

Remember Paris

When news about the attacks broke on Friday, my husband and I were finishing dinner. I glanced at my phone before we went up to our home office for an evening of listening to music together and playing separate games. I flipped by a headline about attacks in Paris in feedly; we live in a world of unrest, and I thought nothing more than, “I’ll read that later.” Just after that, my husband got a text from his mom asking if he was watching the news about Paris. I tried to load CNN.com on my computer and got an error. Fine. Tried BBC.co.uk and found a short video that we watched. Eventually I arranged three windows on my side monitor: a subreddit of Paris attack news, Twitter open to hashtag #ParisAttacks, and the live feed from France 24 in English. The Twitter feed gave me information before the anchors and the subreddit provided other sources, but the France 24 coverage was competent and non-alarmist even in the midst of tragic uncertainty.

I tried different TV news channels the next morning. BBC World News and Al Jazeera America had consistent informational coverage. CNN had a report from Christopher Dickey as I flipped by — my path crossed with his 20 years ago at a magazine site I managed and he’s still helping Americans understand Paris — so that piece was good. Then I went to Fox News. Oh holy hell. Instead of “Attacks in Paris” and “Breaking News” , which other networks had used as identifiers, Fox had a big yellow “ALERT” banner like police tape and the headline “Bloodbath in Paris”. I only watched for a few minutes as speculation and opinion were presented as news, with the ticker at the bottom of the screen pulling out the most explosive, ridiculous quotes. It was disturbing, especially since that’s the channel my husband’s mom and many other Americans watch for news.

When I was a kid, a crisis like that would have meant a breaking news alert interrupting the TV program that, most likely, my whole family would have been watching together. They probably wouldn’t have cut away completely, but offered regular updates through the Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas as the night continued. By the time the first Gulf War started, we had CNN and 24 hour coverage. Now there are more news sources accessible all the time from almost everywhere, but many have tried to be competitive with sensationalism, pandering, and divisive opinions presented as fact. It takes some savvy and self-awareness to choose a mostly neutral source or one that challenges our own view of the world.

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Posted by on November 15, 2015 in In the News

 

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Roundup: Anomaly, al-Asaad, Ashley Madison, Project Sansar, and a personal update

I have a bunch of small commentaries floating around in my brain and one massive post underway, so I think it’s time for a roundup. First though, a film. Anomaly takes place in the 1960s and is hard to explain. There’s a near-miss comet, an astronaut, a scientist, and the women they love. The pace drags a bit at times, but it’s very well made for a Kickstarter-financed independent project and it’s also a selection in the Sploid Short Film Festival.

 

Khaled al-Asaad

If you know the names of any archaeologists, I suggest that al-Asaad should top the list above grave robbers like Indiana Jones and Howard Carter (no matter how much we enjoy what they gave us, both fictional and real). In the American educational system, archaeology is a subset of anthropology; my university anthro department had an annual dig in the Middle East, a number of projects in the US, and a staff that was 40% archaeologists. I can understand the dedication it must take to work for a lifetime on discovering and protecting our shared cultural heritage. I can’t begin to fathom the resolve, courage, and selflessness Dr. al-Asaad showed in refusing to reveal the location of artifacts to criminal savages.

Ashley Madison hack

Is anyone else feeling ambivalent about this? I’ve seen vicious comment threads on articles about the hack and there certainly isn’t a consensus of opinion. Personally, I think it’s awful that private information is being revealed by the hackers. Infidelity can be devastating, but isn’t that an issue for the people involved and not the whole Internet? Ashley Madison is vile for a number of reasons, yet I can’t fault them for making money off an existing market; if you spent time on any Internet dating sites — as I did off and on in the late ’90s and early ’00s — you know that married people looking for a fling on the side can be found anywhere. AM grouped them together, tossed in some fake profiles to make the site more appealing, and made as much cash as possible off of it. I hope the company is sued into oblivion for their lax security and for the lie about completely deleting users who paid for that service, which allegedly inspired the hackers.

But on the other hand, the data-loving nerd in me is hungry for the details coming out about how many idiots used their work and government email addresses to register on the site, and sure, part of me wants to pump my fist when yet another “voice of morality” is revealed to be lying, cheating scum.  When private celebrity photos were leaked, I chose to look away. I won’t ignore the news stories that come out of this hack, but I won’t be combing the data for the names of friends, relatives, or colleagues, as I know some people are doing. That’s not my business. Some tips for anyone it may benefit: if you’re doing something on the Internet that you don’t want revealed, for heaven’s sake, use a throwaway email address! Buy a reloadable Visa gift card at a drug store if a credit card is required, and register with a fake name, address, and phone number. Use Tor or a heavily secured browser, lock your smartphone or get a burner phone, and don’t forget to turn off automatic backups. And, maybe you shouldn’t trust a company with a business model based on lying.

Linden Lab and Project Sansar

Someone sent me a note asking my opinion on Project Sansar and I really don’t have much to offer. I haven’t written much about Second Life or the next Linden Lab project in months. With my vacation and then accident, plus Jakob’s illness, I simply haven’t been spending much time in SL. My enthusiasm is currently ebbing, but I’ve had an SL avatar for 10 years now and know that cycles of excitement and boredom are normal for me. I’m sure the next time I go back in-world and explore, I’ll be struck by the creativity and beauty again. That said, there are SL bloggers who are covering the topic to death and back. I won’t be one of the early invitees to try Sansar as I’m neither a creator nor have I sought out a relationship with the Lindens, but I’ll be excited to see what’s there once I can have a look.

Personal stuff

Jakob is conscious and talking after a blood sugar crisis sent him to the hospital over a week ago. However, the doctor says that cancer is now active and growing in his stomach, brain, and liver. He is fighting pneumonia and cannot swallow solid food yet. Since Jakob doesn’t know or acknowledge that he still has cancer, he is demanding to go home (no way) and making life hell for his sister, the only person who visits or helps him. This is something I know well from the two weeks I spent with him in May: his illness has stripped away most of his kindness and intellect, leaving a selfish, arrogant, paranoid man. Those qualities were always part of him but now they are prominent. Even though this is not his fault, it’s a huge challenge to sustain empathy when he’s being an asshole. I’ll admit that I’m relieved he isn’t well enough to read or write yet, but I feel for his sister. Her latest text to me was anguished both from concern about his health and hurt from his behavior toward her. It’s possible to care about him and also want to tell him to get stuffed.

As for me, I took my dog for a short walk today! I’ve been cleared to put 25% of normal weight on the leg that had a tibial plateau fracture, which means that I wear a thigh-to-ankle hinged brace and I lean heavily on my walker whenever I step on that side. It’s slow and very tiring, but I know I need to rebuild my stamina. Of course, my wheelchair is still a necessary tool for longer travels or when I need to use my hands. I start physical therapy next week.

 

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Wednesday films: Chef, phlebotomist, and dubstep robots

Three short videos for your Wednesday enjoyment! The first is a cute musical film (wait for the drop).

 

Dubstep Dispute from Fluxel Media on Vimeo.

The next two are recently released robotic news videos. One is for a robot chef, or at least, an automated kitchen system that uses robotic arms. I don’t see it being practical, but the suspended robot arms are similar to something in a story I’m writing. The last video is for a robotic phlebotomist. I saw an article suggesting that this would be good for people with fear of needles. No, it would not be!  Dear heavens. I have a fainting response to needles and the slow process of holding my arm in place and then the machine putting in the line would be awful.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2015 in In the News, Our Robot Overlords

 

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Roundup: Ex Machina, thoughtcrimes, Con Man, personal stuff

It’s Monday and after days of being deeply involved with the conference, I need to get back to my writing.  Just a few short things to share:

Ex Machina

I’ve had mixed luck with future tech movies lately. Big Hero 6 was fantastic, Transcendence was a mess, and after reading the reviews, I couldn’t bring myself to see Chappie in the theatre (though William Gibson liked it, so I might have made the wrong choice).  My hopes are high again for Ex Machina, which hits theatres next month:

Thoughtcrimes

Gizmodo just published When Does Online Fantasy Become Criminal Conspiracy? (originally published on EFF). If you don’t know the story behind this, a very high level summary is that a NYC police officer and several other men had graphic online discussions about kidnapping, killing, and eating women. Some of the conversations moved into “plans”, though the men claim they never intended to follow through. The officer was convicted of criminal conspiracy by a jury, but the verdict was thrown out by a district court judge who said, “the nearly yearlong kidnapping conspiracy alleged by the government is one in which no one was ever kidnapped, no attempted kidnapping ever took place, and no real-world, non-Internet-based steps were ever taken to kidnap anyone.”

One of the world-changing qualities of the Internet is that it allows people with similar interests to find each other, not matter who or where they are. I’ve been online for a long time and I’ve had discussions with people whose fantasies were most kindly described as gruesome. Some of them might have been terrible people, but it seemed to me that the majority were processing something that thrilled them in what they perceived to be a safe way. On the other hand, there are people incapable of discerning reality from fantasy. For one awful example, take the current case of the two young girls who tried to kill a friend as an act of devotion to Slender Man (at their age, my best friend and I were building structures to try to harness “pyramid power”; not all tween girls are logical).

I won’t claim to have answers or even suggestions. It’s hard to tell if someone ranting online is full of hot air, serious, or unhinged. If you overheard the same conversation at the next table in a restaurant, you would have context, body language, and tone to shape the decision to roll your eyes or call the cops. Does driving fantasy conversations deeper underground give them more taboo power? Are fantasies less potent if they are discussed with others, or obsessed about in private?  In this era of omnipresent government surveillance I am much more careful about what I type and I don’t think that’s a good thing, but I can’t speak for the effect it has on others.

Con Man

Back to a lighter topic! I can’t imagine that if you’re a fan of the TV series Firefly (too soon), you have missed the news that Alan Tudyk, Nathan Fillion, and PJ Haarsma are making a web series. They’re crowdsourcing Con Man through Indiegogo and now have funding for twelve ten-minute episodes.  Here’s a teaser:

 

What I really wanted to mention was how these guys have shown a real understanding of fan culture. It doesn’t hurt that they’re all charming and funny and that Firefly has a notoriously enthusiastic fanbase. The perks they created have elements that many fans appreciate, like insider information, collectibles, early access, and contact with the stars. I’m a funder at a relatively low level, $25; I wanted to support them and see all the videos, but I didn’t want any physical “stuff”. I laugh at the gifs and videos they’ve released and yes, it’s fun to get a Hang w/ request from Alan Tudyk or PJ Haarsma on my phone.

The first Hang w/ I did, there were fewer than 35 people connected while Alan gave us an update, but with over 33,000 funders so far, the sessions now are crowded and they’ve pushed the technical limits of the service. I’m not the sort of fangirl who goes to great lengths to be near entertainers I admire; I’ve been a background actor in a number of movies and truly enjoyed seeing some of them work (and I will tell the story of having lunch with George Clooney until the day I die), but I don’t go to conventions or lurk outside theatres or hotels. Still, to have Alan sit back on a couch, dogs running in and out of frame, and talk to us about progress on Con Man is much more powerful to me than getting an update video now and then. I haven’t yet watched a Meerkat stream but I’m guessing it gives the same sense of immediacy and intimacy, regardless of how many people are connected. The entertainment industry has changed and I think this is one example where a producer/artist/fan partnership can be better for everyone than the network model.

Personal update

Jakob had his second round of chemotherapy for stage IV stomach cancer last week. The treatment is taking a heavy toll on him, most notably in the pneumonia, hypercalcemia, and anemia he’s fighting now, too. We’re both struggling with the fact that I’ll be there to see him in 8 weeks and our existing vacation plans include reservations for a walk-up flat in a pretty mountain village, far from his doctors. Such lousy timing.

I was forceful in pushing him out of denial yesterday. I couldn’t take any more of his insistence that he would be perfectly capable of doing everything we had planned — which include a long drive, biking, and hiking — when he gets winded from walking across a room and doesn’t know how many more cycles of chemo are planned. I’ll be traveling with my husband for two and a half weeks before meeting Jakob and his health can change dramatically from one day to the next, so I wanted a Plan B. “If we can’t go to ____, then we will _____.” From my point of view, it would be better to have plans we can go beyond than plans that are unreachable, leading to frustration, guilt, and sadness.

Confronting that was very hard for him. This is a damned tragedy, it absolutely is.  He convinced me that he needs the vacation. He’s clinging to it. … [insert sound of heartbreak] … Ok. I understand that.

I never wanted to cancel the trip, but only to have him acknowledge that we might need to change some things because of his condition. Maybe I’ll take the train to a city closer to him and do the driving from there, for example, to make it safer for both of us and less exhausting for him.  He said he’ll be less passive about his health, I’ll try not to stress about the uncertainty, and maybe we will have a burst of luck. We need it.

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2015 in Culture, In the News, Side Topics, Video

 

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Making the most of Safer Internet Day

It’s Safer Internet Day. Since this international effort — primarily about the safety and positive online interactions of young people — is co-funded by the EU, many of us in the States may never have heard of it, but I expect wider awareness since Google took up the cause by suggesting that account holders do a 2-minute security checkup today.

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The online interactions I have with others are generally thoughtful and interesting. Every now and then I’m reminded how many hyperbolic, hostile, clueless, and nearly unhinged trolls there are, but I appreciate that I rarely have to deal with them. I still take it very personally. That’s my nature. Perhaps because I am introverted and shy, I am very sensitive when I extend myself into the public arena and a brush with idiocy makes me want to retreat into my shell.  I wonder how I would have gotten through my tween and teen years if the Internet had been around, with the added drama of hormones, a maturing brain, and lack of perspective. While I think a lot of younger people understand online culture intuitively because it always surrounds them, many more are damaged by cruel interactions than those we see in highly publicized cyber bullying cases.

Messages about online respect and safety are important for children but there is no age cut-off. I’ll make use of this reminder to do a security update on my important accounts: changing passwords and adding 2-step authentication where I can. I’d also like to thank the people who have commented on this blog with civility and insight, even when disagreeing with me (hell, I disagree with myself much of the time, so I don’t mind that at all).

I went through Google’s 2-minute security check-up this morning and it was useful, though I couldn’t help thinking of this XKCD cartoon:

It'll be hilarious the first few times this happens.

 

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2015 in In the News

 

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Teledildonics, VR movies, holograms… what a roundup!

I’m trying to be more active on Twitter lately because I find fascinating articles daily but don’t have time — or enough insightful thoughts — to write a lot of commentary. You can follow me @AvatarAnthro if you want to keep up with that.  In the meantime, here are some very recent favorites:

  • Finding the future of sex tech at the Adult Entertainment Expo from The Daily Dot.  NSFW, obviously. Teledildonic (yep, it means what you think it means) products have existed for some time, but the latest entrants in the market claim short latency and use sexual stimulation devices on both ends of the connection: a vibrating dildo or egg for a female user and an enhanced silicon-cushioned tube for a male. The article also talks about VR porn, tools for cam models, and one manufacturer who insists that the mainstream doesn’t want their toys to connect to the Internet. I think there’s a larger market than he believes, and it’s growing.
  • At Sundance, a Virtual-Reality Movement Soars from the Wall Street Journal Digits blog. This article is about filmmakers beginning to explore what storytelling can be in an immersive VR experience. They’re learning some things that SL creators could have told them a long ago, like how to allow the viewer to get his bearings first and that aggressively driving a single story line is a waste of the environment. One filmmaker mentions that tech is changing so quickly now that by the time he finishes a project, it looks outdated and hard to watch on new equipment. It’s a risk of rapid change but oh how exciting.
  • What is holographic, and what isn’t? from the blog Doc-Ok.org. This is a technical analysis that looks at the hype of various products and “holograms” appearing in the media and defines what is actually holographic based on six depth cues that tell our eyes an object is 3D. I learned some things and it also gave me a better understanding of the different display products currently in development. Especially relevant when the Microsoft HoloLens is the latest focus.
  • Some personal news: Jakob will be out of the hospital in a couple days! He’s been in since November for tests, surgeries, and radiation treatments, but they’re letting him go home. He’s excited to be able to “come home” to our place in Second Life as well, and I can’t wait to have the first full conversation with him in months.
 
 

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Blending physical and holographic worlds with the MS HoloLens

I can’t help it; I’m a complete fangirl about some speculative technologies that could revolutionize the way we interact online and in the real world in the next 5-10 years. Even though Microsoft has broken my heart many times before, the promo video for the HoloLens has me bouncing in my desk chair with excitement.

 

See what I mean? TechCrunch has more information and another video.  Of course I’m skeptical for all the basic reasons: another headset with a camera, pricing and battery life concerns, realistic applications beyond design.  But it’s still awfully damn cool to realize we live at a time where things like this are possible.

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2015 in Digital Devices, In the News

 

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