Month: November 2014

PAX 2014

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So a week before the start of PAX Australia 2014, my mate told me that he couldn’t go any more, and I was welcome to his 3 day pass if I wanted it. So I did the mature adult thing, took unpaid leave from work because I have no annual leave left, borrowed money off of my Nan to pay my bills, and headed down to Melbourne. I’m not really sure what I was expecting from PAX, but it was worth it.

Just even the panels to start with. 3 days worth of panels that I could have gone to almost every one of them. Panels on games journalism, feminism in games, LGBT representation in games, horror games, Geek culture, how to be a political activist within Geek culture, transmedia, it was just this extensive list of panels that I could have easily filled all my time with. I had to cut down the amount of panels I went to, so that I could still see everything on the showroom floor.

And really, if PAX Australia did anything for me, it reiterated for me just how far reaching and dynamic video game culture is. Sure, there were the stereotypical neckbeard, fedora tippers, whatever-you-want-to-call-ems, but there was such a diverse group of people there. Singles, couples, women, men, cosplayers, families with young kids, business people in suits, hardcore gamers, casual gamers, pc gamers, console gamers, tabletop gamers even some elderly people. All there for one reason. Because games are fun.

For me, it was refreshing to be part of a like minded community. I will admit that if you had a scale of gamers, ranging from casual gamer to hardcore gamer, I would probably fall a bit closer to the casual gamer side. This means for me as a casualish Xbox gamer, its hard to really “identify” with gaming culture. It leaves me stuck somewhere in the middle of being told constantly by people who hardly know me “games are for kids, why don’t you get out and go to the beach?” and being told I am not a real gamer because I’m a girl and I don’t play on PC.

But at PAX, it sort of felt like it didn’t matter. For a community that has been renowned for being so divisive and exclusive (see: Gamergate), PAX was an atmosphere where it didn’t seem to matter who you were or what games you played. Everyone was just really nice and happy, and wanted to play some video games. Seemed to be that regular society could have learned a lot from it.

Ultrahouse 3000: The Internet of Things

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The internet of things is the idea that once an object can connect to the internet, it can then become a sort of participant in the Internet world. It is assigned its own network address, plus the sensory ability to register changes in its environment, and most importantly, act on those changes. So all your devices can talk to each other, independant of your input. Admittedly, its a bit of a hard concept to wrap my head around. It reminds me a bit of the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode “Ultrahouse 3000”, where their space age, British voiced house grows an attraction to Marge, and tries to murder Homer.

Once “Things” are connected to the Internet, they can only but become enrolled as active, worldly participants by knitting together, facilitating and contributing to networks of social exchange and discourse

– Bleecker (2006)

Looking around this room I am sitting in writing this, I can see seven things that can connect to the internet. All of these devices belong to me. In one room. In a world where you can buy fridges that connect to the internet, it is estimated that by 2020, there will be 50 billion devices online. (Mitew 2014)

The Internet of Things is the idea that your GPS can send a note to your phone saying “hey, there was a crash on the Princes Highway near Dapto, traffic is slow going today”, so your phone can set your alarm 15 minutes earlier so that you can get to Uni on time. Then your car can send a message to your phone saying “hey, you know how I was supposed to get filled up last week, but you spent all the money on retro night at the Illawarra? I really need that petrol, or we won’t get to Uni today”, so your phone sets your alarm even earlier. Then maybe your phone can do a quick search of the average petrol prices around, find the cheapest servo (note: its Woolworths Petrol in Shellharbour), and send a note back to your GPS saying “hey, we are going to stop in here on the way to Uni tomorrow, can you put that in the route?”.

Sound creepy to you? Me too. Just beware of automated British voices.

Dipping a Toe Into the Deep Web

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The internet is divided into two sections. The “surface web”, the section of the internet that is indexed and reachable by search engines. The flipside of this is the “deep web”, the larger section of the internet which is not reachable by conventional means. For an internet simpleton like me, the Deep Web can seem like a dark, and terrifying place. That might be because it is. Just googling what the deep web is is enough to convince me that the fact that that is in my search history has me on some sort of government list. And not a good one. This infographic gives you somewhat of an idea of the sorts of things you can find on the deep web.

After looking at this, I realised deep web is quite a fitting name for it. Because as you get deeper, you see more and more horrible things you wish you had never seen. But instead of Anglerfish and Goblin sharks, its cannibalism and child porn.

The deep web allows for the proliferation of online communities that cannot exist on the indexed web. This includes things such as child porn rings, serial killer rings and cannibalism enthusiasts. It also allows for trading that is impossible by conventional means. Mitew notes that “Matsik”, an online seller of stolen credit card details, “earned” 11 million dollars in two years. This is made possible by deep web black market trading marketplaces such as the Silk Road, which was shut down in 2013 and later reopened as The Silk Road 2.0. The Silk Road is a marketplace on the deep web that allows for the trade of illegal goods, such as prescription drugs, recreational drugs, weapons, hacking guides, passports, credit card details and more sinister things like child porn and hitmen. These could be delivered straight to your doorstep. The Silk Road works a bit like ebay, with crowdsourcing providing information about the best and worst sellers. At the time of writing this, The Silk Road 2.0 was shut down, and the founder arrested two days ago. Somehow I do not think that will discourage them.

50 Shades of Grey – the ethics of hacking.

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Ethical hacking. Two words that do not really seem to fit well together. But does it exist? Can hacking be justified if it results in something good, like exposing corruption? Should hacking be a means to an end, and should the legality of hacking depend on what that end is?

Hacking is, at its very core, illegal. It is using a computer to get unauthorised access to data or personal information. It is exploiting a security flaw in a network to gain access. It is a bit like finding someone’s dropped house key on the street, and then using it to get into their house. Because its not breaking in if you have a key, right?

Sometimes hacking is quite obviously illegal, immoral and unethical. Things like The Fappening (which I will not hyperlink to because it does not need more traffic), a website made up of solely leaked nude photos of women is proof of that. But sometimes hacking is a bit more of a grey area. Seriously, there is black hat hacking, white hat hacking, and grey hat hacking. What about when the hacking results a win for society and social justice? Do we have a bit of Ned Kelly-esque sympathy for our misunderstood illegal hackers?

In May 2014, a 21 year old Communications student Freya Newman (not me, unfortunately) hacked the computer system of the Whitehouse Institute of Design, where she had access to over 500 student records. That 500 included Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s daughter, where it was found she had been awarded a rather questionable $60,000 scholarship.

While the result of this was obviously a positive one, where some dodgy dealings were uncovered, what if that were not the case? What if Freya had hacked into the private details of 500 students, had a look around and nothing was amiss? Is that akin to going into someones private domain, like their house, and having a look around to check nothing illegal is going on? Why is hacking someones online information considered not as bad as hacking their physical information? You wouldn’t look through someone’s physical handbag for illegal going ons, why is it better to look through their “digital handbag” so to speak?

When looking at the ethics of hacking, it really is 50 shades of ethical inconsistencies.

#Occupy.

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We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate and Youtube to tell the world.
– Anonymous Cairo protester.

Social media allows for ordinary citizens who may not even usually be politically aware, to become involved in political and social movements globally. Seeing a certain political party, social injustice, or otherwise protest-worthy, anger-inducing thing plastered all over people’s newsfeeds and twitter feeds can garner a sense of empathy that may not be able to be felt when a person is only consuming traditional media. This can inspire Facebook likes, retweets, Change.org petition signings, and angry reddit posts. But can it inspire real world change?

As Ted reiterates, the role of social media in activism is to mobilise, coordinate and disseminate. Social media allows people to talked to other similar minded people based on location, who can them organise and carry out protests. These can be rather small, such as the March Australia protests, or enormous protests like the ones we have seen in Egypt and Tunisia.

Probably one of the most notable protests organised through social media is Occupy Wall Street. While the outcomes of this protest remain contentious, with “Occupy Wall Street failure” being one of Google’s top suggestions for “Occupy Wall Street”, it is certainly a sign of the sorts of major scales of support and action that social media can gather. Their slogan “We Are the 99%” gained enormous recognition and support globally, despite the actual goals of the Occupy movement being somewhat murky.

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At its peak, the Occupy movement was occurring in nearly 1000 cities over 82 countries. For a movement which started from a Tumblr page “We Are The 99%”, aiming to bring attention to economic inequality in America to sweep the world in such an enormous fashion was really amazing. It was a movement that was facilitated through Twitter and Facebook, with hashtags allowing you to follow events live, and allowed for the viral spread of what I believe are two of the most iconic pictures of the Occupy movement.

The first being the unprovoked pepper spraying of UC Davis students

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The second being the pepper spraying of an 84 year old woman in Seattle

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In my opinion, those are two of the most unforgettable photos to come of the Occupy movement. But despite having a valid premise, enough people behind it, and social media to facilitate it, an unclear sense of direction lead the Occupy movement to bite off more than it could chew.

Citizen Journalism

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Citizen journalism is the idea of normal, everyday people in the general public playing an active role in the collection and presentation of news. This is done over social media sites online, like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram and Tumblr. Citizen journalism has been instrumental in changing the presentation of traditional news reporting. News reporting has gone from being a monologic broadcast media, to being one where anyone with a cameraphone and an internet connection can contribute to global news.

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Citizen journalism is, for me, a sketchy topic. Its very hard to get into a discussion about citizen journalism without reflecting on the fact “well, sometimes it is good, but look at all these times when it was actually really bad”. There have been times where citizen journalism has started with “noble intentions” and ended in people getting blamed for a bombing.

There are some very divisive pros and cons of citizen journalism. The great thing about it is that you’re getting immediate news that is free from any political or social bias that a media outlet might have, and it is (hopefully) straight from the source. The downside of this is that traditional media outlets are fact-checked, citizen journalism is not. There are no gatekeepers, meaning that you are getting with citizen journalism is raw, unprocessed and not necessarily true or accurate information.

So how do we determine the accuracy of what we are reading?

Because of the immediacy of citizen journalism, traditional media outlets have been forced to adapt to compete with this. As Bruns touches on, traditional media outlets have taken to drawing on the work of citizen journalists, by aggregating and displaying lists of tweets, posts and photos from social media sites, it allows users to get the best of both words. The immediacy and candidness of citizen journalism, coupled with the trusted name of a traditional news outlet. This also allows news outlets to save money, as they need to employ less infield journalists and photojournalists. However that is another topic, for a much longer and angrier post.

Rabbit Season or Duck Season?

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The Apple v Android debate has been raging strongly since the rise of iPhones in 2007. The iPhone is seen as the dawn of a new era of mobile telephones, with the first Android phone, the HTC Dream following in 2008. Today there are over 1 billion Android devices in use, making up 85% of the smartphone market. (Mitew 2014) While I would like to think that a lot of people are drawn to the open source software of Android, the reality of it is that you can buy an entry level smartphone running Android for $50. In comparison, the cheapest iPhone on the Apple website starts at $749 AUD. But price aside, cutting it down to simplistics, what is the difference between Apple and Android?

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Apple is a closed system, and they control and define pretty much any applications and content that you want to put on your phone. On release in 2007, Apple said that they did not want your phone to work like a PC. Apple’s app store is a walled garden, only allowing the applications they deem appropriate for Apple users to be offered for download. Any and all apps must be run through Apple first, before being offered for download. Apple defends this walled garden stance as being a way of protecting users from any untoward content, however many users do not appreciate this protection.

Android on the other hand, are an open source software, available for free to anyone who wants to use it. Their appstore is the same, with the official Android Market being open to anyone who wants to develop and upload an application. This allows more millions of independent developers to profit off of Google’s Android platform. The only people who profit off the Apple iPhone platform is Apple.

The difference between Apple and Android is also obvious when it comes to actual phone choice. If you want the security, complacency and simplicity of Apple’s walled garden? Better buy an iPhone. You don’t want an iPhone? Then you’re stuffed.
Do you like the open source, user friendly platform of Android, but you don’t like a particular phone brand? Choose any of of these

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For me, the choice is pretty simple.

sent from Sony Xperia smartphone