Tuesday, March 15, 2011

iPhone Apps for the Needy

Being a foreign student both in high school and college in the U.S is not a simple task. Writing papers for classes and finding the right words to express my thoughts are always a struggle. However, since I got my iPhone, I do have a portable translator with me at all times. Thanks to the Hebrew Translator app, when I get stuck mid-sentence or when I come across an unfamiliar word during class, I have an immediate access to an answer.
Other than being a useful translator for foreigners, iPhone apps can be great “life-savers” to other groups in society. For example, an innovative application came out this month which helps drivers or bikers to find parking spots in big cities in the U.S and also gives them information about the parking space, the fee and the detailed timing of when the spot becomes free. This iPhone app is mostly used by tourists who are new to the city and not familiar with the city rules.
In addition to the hopeless newcomers, physically disabled people utilize multiple iPhone apps in order to perform their daily activities. A brand new app is now available for the blind which recognizes currency bills using the camera application on the iPhone and audio to announce the worth of the bill. Now, instead of folding bills in a certain way, blind iPhone users can simply rely on this magnificent technology to determine the bills’ values.
While people criticize the constant usage of smartphones and the negative consequences they have on future generations, some of us forget about the potential benefits they have on some groups in our society. Once again, the great power we have in our hands called “Technology” needs to be treated with a lot of care and be used with caution and reasoning.

Online Shopping Spree

You are driving to the mall, trying to find a parking spot in an endless lot, fighting over the one shirt in the right size at the crowded store, and finally, you are waiting in the infinite line for the fitting rooms. Why do all that when you can simply go shop online?
This is the new social trend which is taking over our shopping experience. Costumers feel more comfortable and efficient when they can click on the product they are interested in while sitting at home, and after couple of days get their purchase in the mail. It does not get more convenient than that. Or does it?
Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, came up with a new online program called “Pick Up Today” which is expected to increase online purchases and store sales as well. This program enables customers to choose from thousands of products online and receive a text message when their buy is ready for a pick up at the costumers’ local stores. This new marketing tool is handy for the shopper who gets free delivery to a close to home location, and is ultimately beneficial for the store as well. By requiring the buyer to physically enter the store, Wal-Mart increases the flow of customers and eventually increases its sales.
Interestingly enough, there is a paradox in this marketing method. Wal-Mart relies on customers to be constantly connected and shop online. Yet, Wal-Mart developed this application to enhance its at-the-store purchases in addition to the online buys. This recent marketing innovation represents the balance our society seeks of “old-school” habits and new technology. After all, every form of life on earth has to reach equilibrium at some point. As a society, we need to find a way to maintain our traditional life style while still pushing for higher life quality. This juggling around of events will eventually lead us to an ideal equilibrium.

Constantly Connected Cell Phone Use: Brain or Boom?

Are cell phones safe? A long-standing debate exists about whether or not extensive cell phone use is possibly related to rare brain tumors, though many major medical groups have concluded that cell phones are safe. As technology progresses and cell phones become small portable computers to which we find ourselves constantly connected to, it's important to ask ourselves whether research is conclusive on this issue.

According to a recent New York Times article,
Researchers [from the National Institutes of Health] tested 47 people by placing a cell phone at each ear. After 50 minutes, brain scans showed increased consumption of glucose, or sugar, in areas of the brain near the activated phone.

This study is among the first to discover that weak radio-frequency signals from cell phones have the potential to alter brain activity. It remains unclear whether these signals have beneficial or detrimental impacts. The point is that cell phone use is affecting the brain. One theory about how an artificial increase in brain glucose metabolism could be harmful is that it could act as a catalyst for the creation of molecules called free radicals, which can damage healthy cells. Another theory is that repeated stimulation by electromagnetic radiation could cause an inflammatory response, which studies suggest can cause health problems, including cancer. These theories thus suggest that extensive cell phone use may have seriously detrimental effects on health.

In truth, there are everyday situations in which the overstimulation of the brain, as provided by cell phone use, may play a role. In addition to possible connections between cell phone use and health problems as significant as cancer, there are also probable connections between overstimulation of the brain and sleep disturbance. The concept of sleep deprivation occurring when lights are left on (even small power lights on devices), or when our cell phones are resting by our head as we [attempt to] sleep, is a belief held by many. Effects may not always be negative, though. Dr. Volkow, interviewed for the same New York Times article, explains that future research may show that the electromagnetic waves emitted from cell phones could be used to therapeutically stimulate the brain.

Ultimately, more research needs to be conducted in order to determine conclusively whether constant connectivity by cell phone use detrimentally affects the brain. Personally, I feel that while an increase in brain glucose isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's also probably not a good thing. Will I use my cell phone any less? No. Will I opt for the impersonal means of text messaging? No way! However, I feel more aware now of how much time I spend talking/listening directly on or from my cell phone.

It's frightening to think that something that we are so dependent on may potentially be harmful for us. What exactly are we doing to ourselves when we employ such technology? Even scarier is the thought that an entire generation is glued to their devices, with children being introduced to cell phone technology at a younger age than the previous generation. OUR MINDS ARE BEING ALTERED-LITERALLY! For the time being, those of us who remain skeptical about cell phone use not negatively affecting the brain are advised to use a headset or earpiece every now and then to alleviate concern. Thankfully, I rely heavily on my headset, though I hope that research in a few years won't show that headsets also cause brain damage. So it remains to be seen whether relying heavily on such technology is "brainy," or if it causes for a mental/physical "boom" that is negative. What do you think?

For your consideration, Christina Breitenbuecher posted a similar article on Monday, February 28th. She also addresses the possible health issues associated with constant connectivity via extensive phone use.

A View Towards Hacktivists

Hacktivists love them or hate them, have recently become much more active in the public. Mostly rallying behind the group known as “Anonymous”, these hackers use their expertise in an effort to expose to cover-ups and lies of different organizations. According to their own manifesto, they seek to bring about a “peaceful revolution, a revolution of ideas and cooperation”. Their targets recently have included MasterCard, Visa, PayPal, and HBGary Security. I highlight these attacks in particular since they reveal a change in the Anonymous thinking, and possibly reveal how they will change in the future.

4chan is commonly portrayed as being the same group as Anonymous, but such a representation is slightly off. It would be inaccurate to suggest that 4chan has not influenced Anonymous, but it would be even more inaccurate to suggest that Anonymous and 4chan are synonymous in their ideals and methods. 4chan is the popular online image board that millions of visitors go to each day, creating an online community that talks about everything. Popular topics include /a/ (anime), /w/ (wallpapers), /s/ (sexy beautiful women), and area that has come to define 4chan in the media, /b/ (random). According to its founder, Christopher Poole, 4chan is meant to be a place where users can anonymously create content without the fear of public failure. It would be wrong to claim that 4chan is an innocent or even legal place at all times, but at heart they are a group of people who are looking for a laugh, and even follow their own moral codes. However, whenever they commit to an attack, it is often not for moral or even logical reasons. Unlike Anonymous, 4chan does everything out spur of the moment decisions, doing whatever it thinks is funniest at the moment without any regard to the consequences.

Anonymous is a much more advanced group found within 4chan. Composed of hackers of various age groups and backgrounds, they are an extremely secretive, leaderless, and now active group. For a long time, Anonymous was a term used to describe the active portion of 4chan, but there has been a recent shift in their ideology. Instead of doing things just “for the lolz”, they have now choose their attacks in a much more organized manner. Being leaderless does have its problems, with smaller groups within Anonymous attempting something that does not represent the decision of the group as a whole. However, these groups are rarely part of Anonymous for a long period of time, and are just using the name to gain notoriety for their attacks. The main groups however know each other online through various communities, and through that, are able to plan their attacks.

The most publicized attack came as a response to HBGary. HBGary claimed that they had infiltrated Anonymous at the request of the FBI and had the names of all its inner members. Anonymous later came out with a statement, reasserting that it is a leaderless organization, and that if HBGary continued this harassment, they would retaliate. HBGary continued to assert that it had found information that it deemed accurate, and continued to showcase this as a success of their firm. In response, Anonymous gained access to all the emails from HBGary and proceeded to publish them online. Most startling were the tactics revealed in the emails, detailing that it was a common practice to mislead consumers into believing certain attacks were occurring, attacking their own systems to show how well it was defending against “hackers”, going so far as to provide fake data to prove a point. After this highly publicized failure in the online security communities, HBGary has now withdrawn all its statements and its CEO has resigned.

Now the question becomes, is Anonymous doing the right thing? It is clear that what they are doing is illegal, using various cracking methods in order to gain access to servers and information they should not have. However, if someone didn’t make that sacrifice, would such information be public? They are an organization that hides behind the Anonymous mask of the internet in order to carry out what they see as the “greater good”. The arguments against them are completely valid, and many of their members are ready to for the punishments that will go their way should they true identity ever be revealed. Anonymous carries a certain amount of class amongst the online communities, being an ethical hacker that none strongly dislike. None of them will say that what they are doing is perfectly legal, but rather, it is a necessary evil.

They will use what skills they have in order to promote their goal, the freedom of speech regardless of the content. During an interview, a representative of Anonymous takes time to remind the world that they are not on a particular side of any debate, but rather, they only believe that there must be the freedom to express what everything that one believes in. They even go to quote Voltaire at the end of their “Letter to the World”, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.” At heart this is the sole function of Anonymous, giving everyone the right to share their story so that an informed decision can be made.

Personally, I am quite envious of the people who are able to populate Anonymous and help coordinate their attacks. They are a group of people who have a skill that they could easily misuse for their own purposes, infiltrating banks instead of people who are deceivers. But instead, they use their “powers” for the greater good, looking for places where people are being silenced so that their voices may be heard. They are the Robin Hood of the internet now, and though I am probably too afraid to publicly support them, I can express my gratitude online, behind a similar mask that we all share.

The Evolution of Advertising

With the rapid advance of technology, advertising has evolved. Marketers can track facebook users interests and provide them instant personalized advertisements. Most facebook users have caught on to this phenomenon, and most ignore the advertising. The advertising on twitter, however, is far more subtle. It has recently been discovered that advertisers pay twitter stars to tweet about their product. Advertisers like ad.ly claim that they’re trying to help users see the resources available to them: but at the same time they never state that they are paying celebrities to “share resources”. Charlie Sheen decided to make his twitter account after advertisers impersonated him to sell products. In today’s day and age people can instantly read a celebrities opinion, and marketers are using this to their advantage.

The Need for Speed

I have noticed a trend in the younger generation: the need for speed. The younger the person, the more they need the world around them to be fast paced. This was brought to my attention when I went to see the movie Inception with a large group of friends and family members. Those over the age of 40 thought the movie was too fast paced to follow, and my dad claimed that once the movie started giving him a headache he stopped trying to understand it. My sister, who was raised around far more technology than I was, was able to follow the fast plot changes better than I was. It is also apparent that the simpler the form of entertainment, the less a child is drawn to it. My little cousin finds the music of The Beatles to be too slow and repetitive, while my younger sister claims that older movies have “no plot”. New technologies always advertise that they are faster than the trend that came before. The iPad2 advertises that it is faster than the original iPad, and even turns on without the user having to click a button. The iPad2 has a “smart cover” that automatically turns on the iPad when removed, saving the user seconds. This screen is the main advertised difference between the iPad2 and original iPad, causing the iPad2 to cost $100 more than the original iPad: and many people are willing to pay the $100 to quench their thirst for instant gratification. While I tease those with this desire, and those willing to pay $500 for an iPad, I too become impatient waiting a few minutes for my computer to boot. In fact, my impatience has caused me to rarely turn off my computer, and to simply put it on standby. Having the world at our fingertips has its consequences, and the need for speed is only one of them.

iPad Etiquette

My sister recently got an iPad. In my opinion, for a girl who already has a blackberry, an itouch, and an ipod, this is quite possibly the biggest waste of money. My sister basically transferred the applications she already had on her iTouch to her iPad: meaning that an extra $300 got her a larger screen. But while I relentlessly tease her (and all other iPad users), I soon discovered that the jokes on me. My sister is not only the center of attention wherever she goes (for some reason everyone feels the need to touch an iPad), but my family has decided that spending time engrossed in an iPad is socially acceptable. While I have been ordered to put my phone away, my sister’s iPad use is never frowned upon, because it is “for school”. Apparently my parents are not the only people who think this. An iPad is assumed to be used for “professional reasons”, while using a cell phone or iTouch mid-meeting would surely get some dirty looks. In any case, if you are a consistent iPad user, I suggest you familiarize yourself with the proper iPad etiquette.

Facebook Stalking

Stalking used to be a term that was used seriously. Now, the terms is loosely used to describe everyday activity on the popular social networking site: facebook. The term “facebook stalking”, while not a legitimate legal term, is brought up in everyday conversation. It is typically used to refer to the harmless checking of a users profiles to see their interests, life updates, and even location. However, facebook stalking is not considered a crime. Cyberstalking is defined asUsing the Internet, through chat rooms and e-mail, to find, identify, and arrange to meet a person whom one intends to criminally victimize.” While users who “facebook stalk” are not attempting to victimize a user and “cyberstalk” them, using the term facebook stalking casually could cause concern from those not familiar with this term. Since most young adults use this term consistently, I think it is important for them to be aware of who they use it around.

Another effect of computer use

From playing games to reading homework: children of today’s times are raised in front of a computer screen. Most adults have to read or do work on a computer to make a living. However, many don’t consider that by doing this they are training their eyes to be more short-sighted. Experts state that vision damage is not a threat unless a person spends an excessive amount of time in front of a computer. However, there is a greater worry is for children with developing eyes. Now, more than ever, children are in front of a computer daily. The affect of computer and technology use on vision has been a fear of the older generation, but children are the only ones really at risk. My mom needed reading glasses after she held a job that required her to read from a computer screen, and blamed her forced computer use for her glasses. However, recent studies show that any large amount of up-close reading has the same affect, even if from a book. In addition, after the age of 45 vision tends to become more shortsighted regardless of reading habits. Therefore, instead of blaming technology for vision problems, we should start reconsidering how much time we spend focusing on up-close objects.