DIGITAL AMERICA

Author Archives: SarahP

The alarming trend of e-waste in developing nations

// Posted by SarahP on 06/11/2015 (6:02 PM)

 

In today’s society, “waste not want not” is incorporated into our collective psyche, encouraging recycling and reusing products whenever humanly possible. As the Australian newscast and Slade’s “Made to Break” both indicate, the culture of disposal is an… Read more

 

In today’s society, “waste not want not” is incorporated into our collective psyche, encouraging recycling and reusing products whenever humanly possible. As the Australian newscast and Slade’s “Made to Break” both indicate, the culture of disposal is an American invention but has spread worldwide. The American cancer of disposability began with simple sanitary objects such as razors, tampons, and tissues, but moved to heavier industry as fast as Model T Fords could roll off the assembly line in Dearborn.

The rapid growth of technology has led to an international obsession with technological obsolescence, as consumers in more affluent nations want the newest, trendiest things that the advertising agencies convince them that they can’t live without. These range from flat screen TVs to 4G smartphones, and the consequences for not recycling the now-retired electronics are proving dire in many countries. However, Searle’s prediction that the 2009 DTV transition in the United States (as well as later ones in other countries) would cause a massive surge in e-waste containing analog television sets has been somewhat less than predicted, as converter boxes have given outdated sets a new lease on life.

Prior to the Basel Convention, the main practice was for Western nations, Japan, South Korea, and Australia to send their obsolete electronics to developing nations, where cities such as Guiyu in China and Accra in Ghana are subject to dangerous air and water pollution due to the harmful components used in the production of cathode ray televisions and older cell phones, as well as lead-based acids used to melt precious metals out of circuit boards. The Australian report indicated that air pollution in Ghana makes it difficult to breathe, and illnesses due to lung sensitivity are at all-time highs. In Guyiu, the blood of many local children was tested, and extremely elevated levels of lead was found, especially compared with blood from children in another nearby town that does not act as a dumping ground for Western e-waste.

Proper recycling of electronic waste has not been regulated nationwide in the United States, resulting in confusion across states, where different recycling laws exist for outdated electronics. Attempts at a national standardization failed in Congress in 2004, and have not been properly reintroduced. If the federal government, as well as the states, were to properly follow the Basel Convention protocols (especially if they ratified the accords), then they would have better plans for internal disposal of hazardous e-waste, reducing the threat of health damage in the United States, as well as developing nations that have spent years receiving these devices.

Electronic waste has been the fastest-growing environmental threat of the last fifty years. As computer, telephone, and television technology rapidly improve and streamline, the newly-obsolete predecessors (just the latest victims in the American cult of obsolescence) are improperly disposed of, often sent to the world’s developing nations, where they are burned or washed in acids, resulting in severe pollution for miles around the dump sites, leading to widespread illness of the local population. The Basel Convention, which the United States has yet to ratify, works to curb the e-waste problem by improving internal disposal of hazardous wastes and regulation of their sites, but does not fix the long-term health problems in Accra or Guiyu.

 

Sorry I could not find a video clip of this, so the sound clip will have to do… This is the “Recycle” song from the 90’s Nickelodeon cartoon Rocko’s Modern Life. Enjoy!

http://www.hark.com/clips/fspbpyhqzg-rockos-modern-life-r-e-c-y-c-l-e

 

 

 

 


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The Internet: Is It Moving Too Fast for Those Non on Wall Street?

// Posted by SarahP on 06/06/2015 (4:45 PM)

 

I believe that the average person, let alone the average stock trader, is not likely worried about a fraction of a cent. The ordinary consumer is interested in the overall performance of their stocks, but rapid, massive changes… Read more

 

I believe that the average person, let alone the average stock trader, is not likely worried about a fraction of a cent. The ordinary consumer is interested in the overall performance of their stocks, but rapid, massive changes of stock prices (either high or low) are quite rare. Usually, the price moves slightly up or down, and stock value remains somewhat steady during the trading day.

 

I further believe that computers reduce some of the fear factor in trading via the NYSE. Potential investors have the chance to research the longer-term performance of a stock before making the decision whether or not to buy. People with some stock already can also use this option before buying more or even selling.

 

There will always be a place for the average individual in the modern digital expansion. While the Internet advances forward around them, there will be a market for programs and websites that help less tech-savvy people transition from one era of the Internet to another. The capitalist mentality of Internet expansion and development would dictate that alienating ordinary customers who do not use the Internet for things such as stock trading is not a good business practice, as a shift away from particular websites and services will see these people leave for other sites, or even taking their business offline.

 


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High Frequency Trading: The Wolf of Web Street

// Posted by SarahP on 06/04/2015 (1:42 AM)

The idea of information traveling past the speed of light, while still proven impossible, is a tantalizing idea of increasing the speed in which the digital world can move… Read more

The idea of information traveling past the speed of light, while still proven impossible, is a tantalizing idea of increasing the speed in which the digital world can move even faster. For example, making stock transactions instantly, buying an item online in nanoseconds, and further revolutionizing technology.

 

Immediately moving information means that a tweet can replace a newspaper article or waiting for the pictures at eleven. The shocking events of the Arab Spring demonstrated the newfound power of social media, which can mobilize people together in order to demonstrate against long-oppressive governments. Where the Eastern European protesters in 1989 had handbills demanding change from their governments, Middle Eastern demonstrators in 2012 had smartphones and Facebook.

 

Brokers and computer experts are using the newest computer technology in order to play the stock market with greater speed. With the ability to make trades at nearly the speed of light, investors often make split-second decisions whether to buy or sell shares, often assisted by specialized computer programs.

 

Improvements in fiber optics, as well as the increase of communications speed, has allowed for companies to compete against each other in selling bandwidth to Wall Street clientele. Firms charge over $200,000 for a space in faster bandwidths, knowing that quicker communication between their boardrooms and the stock exchanges means the absolute fastest transmission of information about a company and its stock.

 

Wired already warns that the risks of light-speed stock trading are great, as one miscalculation could crash an entire company into bankruptcy. Computers make blink-of-an-eye calculations on stock predictions, and drive speculation for prices up or down.

 

I found it amusing that the workers laying the transatlantic cable feared the possibility of sharks eating the sensitive cables. While sharks are often considered predators to marine life, I had not considered them as threats to international stock trading. This jokingly reminded me of the TV series “Shark Tank,” in which three high-dollar investors are referred to as “sharks” for their corporate know-how. These metaphoric sharks are helping global commerce, as opposed to North Atlantic ones who could hinder it by simply eating a piece of fiber optic line.

 

 

Trading via computers has already proven risky before the advent of high frequency trading. During the Internet bubble of the late 1990s, companies loaded up stock data onto servers, and yet were often bankrupt shortly thereafter. Companies such as Value America, Pets.com, and Webvan disappeared into Internet oblivion as fast as they arrived.

High Frequency Trading is definitely improving the speed at which company information reaches trading floors and shareholders. However, the small digital lag of eight milliseconds per mile on a fiber optic line, plus the aforementioned risk of Atlantic sharks, is leaving the potential for massive chaos on Wall Street. The rapid speeds themselves can be a challenge to investors, as the price of a stock can drop dramatically in the milliseconds between the purchase of a share and its digital receipt for the broker.

 

Stock trading has rapidly evolved from the days of controversial tycoons such as Michael Milken or Jordan Belfort. Trading now occurs faster than the blink of an eye, and shares travel between brokers and investors in fractions of seconds. While some corporate sharks (unlike the ones threatening the transatlantic cables) enjoy eating up large quantities of stock, all investors using the new fiber optic technology must make extremely careful decisions, as the speculation can go from riches to doom in seconds.

 


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Internet Security: How to Avoid Being Phish Bait in the Digital Age

// Posted by SarahP on 05/30/2015 (4:06 PM)

 

The internet has become a hub for rapid international commerce, as well as an easy source for unprotected credit card data, as well as underlying information that is tantamount for the hacking of personal accounts. It’s not uncommon… Read more

 

The internet has become a hub for rapid international commerce, as well as an easy source for unprotected credit card data, as well as underlying information that is tantamount for the hacking of personal accounts. It’s not uncommon for people to use online banking, bill pay, as well as purchase goods and services such as through Amazon or Groupon. However, companies such as Target and Home Depot have experienced data breaches, allowing hackers access to their customers’ sensitive information.

In order to protect ourselves from being victimized in online scams and schemes, it would be within the user’s best interest to frequently change his or her password for major accounts. Also, using unique passwords for each count, while sometimes difficult to remember which password goes where, is a wise idea. These passwords, such as ones with combinations of letters, numbers, and special characters, are useful ways to thwart phishing and spambots.

Since so much information is put online when purchases are made, that it is difficult to maintain total privacy from the small possibility that some rogue employee in a call center, or a hidden piece of malware, could steal precious data.

I don’t generally use online bill pay, except for Care Credit (which is basically a medical payment system, usually used in emergency situations when ordinary payment is not immediately available), and don’t actually see the option for online billing that often. I would never stop emailing, texting, or using social media, as I don’t have anything that I am ashamed of, and thus I am not concerned with others seeing my interests online.

If I wrote something that was flagged by the NSA, I would save a copy for potential interrogation, remove the content if it is online, and alert the NSA that a mistake has likely been made. If I accidentally released a worm, I would contact an antivirus programmer, as well as the media (in order to get people aware of the problem), using a different device in order to safeguard others through social media.

Personally, I’ve been hit many times with malware and viruses, as I am TERRIBLE about remembering to update my antivirus software. Those little balloons pop up in the bottom right corner reminding me to run updates, but I do tend to dismiss them. My old desktop computer was bombarded with spyware/malware- the last time I ran antivirus software, there were over 400 items flagged! These include a difficult-to-remove adware file called “Aurora,” which slowed down the computer for over a year. As I mentioned in a previous post, the same computer was infected with a rootkit, masking a virus containing images considered “not safe for work,” which also required a lengthy removal process.

The Internet, while allowing for the fastest source of commerce in the world, even permitting the conclusion of international sales in seconds, is far from perfect in commercial security, and has had its vulnerabilities exposed many times. Internet users can use different complex passwords and stronger, frequently updated firewalls to maximize their protection from the latest cyber threats.


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Worms: Not just in dirt anymore

// Posted by SarahP on 05/28/2015 (2:47 AM)

Computer viruses have long been the bane of the computer user’s digital existence. Ranging from minor nuisances to multi-billion dollar damages, these “bugs” have wreaked havoc on the global infrastructure, and are usually deployed with malicious intent. For example, the… Read more

Computer viruses have long been the bane of the computer user’s digital existence. Ranging from minor nuisances to multi-billion dollar damages, these “bugs” have wreaked havoc on the global infrastructure, and are usually deployed with malicious intent. For example, the Stuxnet virus, which baffled programmers the world over, as it silently slipped through unnoticed. Stuxnet, according to Time, was utilized by the American and Israeli governments in order to thwart uranium enrichment at Iranian nuclear power plants, which have long been believed to harbor clandestine atomic weapon programs.

Computer scientists  O’Murchu, Chien, and Falliere, employed by Symantic, worked around the clock in an attempt to tap into and solve the Stuxnet puzzle. Worms such as Stuxnet, which are operated with zero-day technology, require the advanced specialist study of scientists such as O’Murchu. The Stuxnet program was larger than most malware, and did not rely on image files, unlike common phishing programs. Symantec believed that the Stuxnet malware could create serious repercussions for customers of banks and utilities worldwide if it fell into the wrong hands. Thus, the firm and its researchers continued the difficult research on the malware, which used two websites disguised as soccer sites as reporting bases for information on the newly-infected computers.

The Symantec researchers discovered that the overwhelming majority of the infections were located in Iran, with very few in the United States. The Stuxnet outbreak was the first to have its epicenter in the Middle East, as opposed to all previous ones centered around the United States or South Korea, where the majority of the world’s computing activity takes place. Thus, the Symantec team believed it was the work of a government conspiracy against Iran. Similar to Edward Snowden’s leak of the secret intelligence documents, the Symantec scientists felt a duty to global computer safety outweighed any patriotic activity by letting the malware remain intact. These researchers, however, are not considered to be abetting the enemy by attacking a virus targeted for Iran, despite the potential indirect benefit to Iran’s nuclear program.

My first personal encounter with a computer virus was on my grandmother’s old Gateway desktop computer. She opened an attachment from someone she thought she knew, only to be infected with the “Happy99” worm, which appeared to be a digital fireworks show, unfortunately resulting in the demise of her beloved processor. Ever since discovering that computers, like people, can become sick, I’ve been a stickler for using anti-virus software, as well as maintaining somewhat of a “stranger-danger” philosophy when it comes to email- if you don’t know who it is from or it looks strange, don’t open it!

In the years since the incident with the Happy99 virus, my newer desktop computer was infected with a rootkit virus, a more challenging one to remove. Rootkits imitate as normal files, secretly allowing malware into the system. A specialized, yet quite expensive, program was necessary to remove the rootkit system and its virus files in my computer. One of the viruses in the file hosted files that do not reflect my personal tastes in art or computing.

 

Computer viruses, in the most basic terminology, are a form of cyber terrorism. From their origins over the primitive ARPANET (such as the Creeper) to the early 2000s I Love You virus, even to government-sponsored programs such as Stuxnet, viruses and worms have long been used to hinder the performance of computers.


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Somebody’s Eyes Are Watching…

// Posted by SarahP on 05/26/2015 (8:48 PM)

Government surveillance has remained a controversial topic since the implementation of the USA PATRIOT Act shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The controversial act has allowed for the National Security Agency (hereafter referred to as NSA) to investigate and intercept… Read more

Government surveillance has remained a controversial topic since the implementation of the USA PATRIOT Act shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The controversial act has allowed for the National Security Agency (hereafter referred to as NSA) to investigate and intercept potential terrorist activities by monitoring such activities as phone call and library checkout records. Despite Obama administration reassurance that actual content of calls is not being recorded, the act remains an overreaction to the attacks. While preventing terrorist activity (both foreign and domestic) is important, the government has taken an Orwellian approach in overreacting.

The government attempted to show it “knew best’ for the American public in ensuring that terrorist attacks with the magnitude of 9/11 would never happen again. Thus, the government overreacted to the violence and enacted the Patriot Act by wide margins in both houses of Congress.

Edward Snowden, a former computer contractor to the NSA, came into possession of top-secret government documents that discussed the NSA’s surveillance programs, including those that centered on government spying on of phone calls. His releasing of these sensitive documents to WikiLeaks is considered an act of high treason by some, and heroism by others. Snowden wants Americans to live in peace and freedom, but does not want the government to take secret operations against its own people. He told Wired that he did not want “…the law to become a political weapon or…to scare people from standing up for their rights…”

Snowden’s fears for the American people are coming true in a sparsely-populated part of Utah, where a large data collection center being used for code-breaking and analysis of call records is opening soon. This secret government facility is adjacent to a town that believes old Mormon tenets that were officially ended prior to Utah’s statehood in 1896.

Mass surveillance is important to protect America, its people, and interests from terrorism, as the nation has had a long reputation of a stable government, which it is trying to protect as well. Snowden wants an informed American public, one that questions the interference of the government in its daily lives, and that is prepared to take caution against threats both internal and external.

 

Glen Greenwald interview with Edward Snowden

Glen Greenwald interview with Edward Snowden

Snowden, in his interview with Greenwald, discussed that people are under constant danger of governmental interference due to the possibility of NSA agents being able to search long-lost Internet files in order to theoretically incriminate anyone.

The Internet has come a long way since the ARPANET and the beginning of the WELL and Usenet. The earliest versions of the Internet were used by major research universities and government entities to perform scientific and technological research and report the findings rapidly to each other.

The concept of an unseen entity spying on the masses brings to mind lyrics from the musical “Footloose“- “somebody’s eyes are watching,” as well as The Alan Parsons Project’s “I am the Eye in the Sky, looking at you. I can read your mind.” The idea of unauthorized surveillance has long been a threat to humanity and a tool for dictators, often using secret police agencies such as the Gestapo, KGB, or Stasi. The United States uses the NSA as an agency with the open mission to seek potential terrorists and bring them to justice, invoking images of Big Brother seeking “thought criminals” who have not yet performed misdeeds, but only have thought of them and committed their plans to words. Edward Snowden seems like an ordinary man on the surface, but is contempt on his mission to warn the American population of the dangers it faces from its own government in the guise of the government protecting the people from terrorists. In creating a fear state, the American government is able to will its people to stand in favor of its highly questionable security tactics, many of which are likely illegal but carried on in secret.

Somebody’s Eyes from the musical Footloose

Somebody’s Eyes from the musical Footloose

 

 

 


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The WELL, Chatrooms, and Message Boards: The Birth of User-Generated Digital Media

// Posted by SarahP on 05/21/2015 (2:35 PM)

 

The internet as we know it today is a bustling metropolis of commerce and entertainment. It is a gathering point for like-minded individuals to convene and share their thoughts and opinions. While the internet was evolving, chat rooms and… Read more

 

The internet as we know it today is a bustling metropolis of commerce and entertainment. It is a gathering point for like-minded individuals to convene and share their thoughts and opinions. While the internet was evolving, chat rooms and online forums have been an important part of the online culture, bringing people all over the world that would otherwise not have an opportunity to converse together

In chapter 5 of  From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Turner discusses at great length the evolution of the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, otherwise known as the WELL. The WELL evolved from the Whole Earth Catalogue (which someone in class likened to a primitive, paperback, non-digital form of Amazon) and served as a cyber-playground for anyone and everyone- from highly advance computer technicians to twenty-something year olds educating themselves in the ways of the hacker.

Chat rooms and forums have always been a vital part of the internet and its presence. I can recall (again, as mentioned in my previous post) using the America Online “Kid’s Only” server to converse with other youths about Sailor Moon, Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers, and, of course, Ty plush toys, all under the username of “BeanieBabe84” (the number 84 signifying how many Beanie Babies I owned at the time of creating my screen name. Yes, I am a child of the 90s!)

 

This is a screen cap of the Kids’ Only Section on AOL 4.0

It was after creating my first public profile on America Online that I realized the internet wasn’t as safe as I initially thought. On my profile, I listed my interests as “ballet, reading, and movies.” One evening, I received an email from a man saying it was the craziest thing he’d ever done, but wanted to know if I would go out on a date with him to see a local production of Swan Lake. My grandmother so very eloquently wrote back, informing him that he had requested a date with a 9 year old girl, and that while I was a mature 9 year old, I would respectfully be declining his offer. Needless to say, my profile was deleted that evening…
Online Forums have also been an integral part of bringing widespread internet users closer together. Topics from religion, to recipes, to politics, to kittens all house their own communities for gabbing. For example, there are many forums dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, such as Straight Dope. Straight Dope works to correct common misconceptions in a public forum. Also, the influence of WELL on Reddit is present, as Reddit is an open site where anyone can post on any topic. People have serious intellectual conversations upon the electronic marketplace of ideas, while others share the latest viral video or pop music single.
I feel like Brant and Brilliant (what a wonderful name for an inventor, if I do say so myself!) created the WELL as a means of communication that would be simpler than having face-to-face meetings. It later expanded from a corporate feel to a home-y cyber environment, giving the user, to quote Reba Wiese, the “gift of an extended family.”


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From modem screech to Mark Zuckerberg: the evolution of the internet.

// Posted by SarahP on 05/15/2015 (11:53 AM)

The internet is an ever-evolving system, bringing people from all over the world and all walks of life together. It serves its purpose as a means of entertainment, ranging from gaming sites such as Pogo and Minecraft, to video sharing… Read more

The internet is an ever-evolving system, bringing people from all over the world and all walks of life together. It serves its purpose as a means of entertainment, ranging from gaming sites such as Pogo and Minecraft, to video sharing pages like Youtube. It brings relatives far and wide together through social media (ie., Facebook, Skype, Facetime) I’ve always been fascinated by the internet and its sheer vastness, dating back to my first AOL account on my Grandmother’s ancient Gateway 2000 computer, waiting with eager anticipation while listening to the modem screech and moan while the animation of the electricity striking the key played on the screen. Following the screech came the robotic man’s voice with a “Welcome!”, though it was more exciting when the greeting was accompanied by “You’ve got mail!” (After all, I may already be a winner of the Publisher’s Clearing House, and I was only 8 years old!)

 

My fascination with all things digital began to expand and branch away from the Kid’s Only games on AOL, as I began to explore fan-sites for things that interested me. It was around this point that I discovered and introduced my mother to eBay, the addictive auction site where you could find anything and everything.

 

The internet is also a cyber-playground, so to speak. Friends, both in the outside world, as well as those whom have never met, can gather and chat or play games together. Games on social media, like Farmville and Mafia Wars, allow interaction with other people, forging new friendships globally.

 

Aside from the social aspect, the internet is also known as the information superhighway. News sources from all over the world are accessible, keeping everyone abreast as to the goings on in practically every country.

 

Since I first touched a keyboard,  I’ve considered myself to be somewhat of a computer geek, always wanting to soak up the latest technology and learn as much as I possibly can. Like society, the internet is always changing and morphing into something new, adding new means of communication, entertainment, shopping sites, and ways to learn new skills or trades. However, the internet also harbors some less than innocent instances as well, with cyber bullying on the rise. It is absolutely imperative while communicating with someone online (whether or not you know him or her in the “real world” as well) that caution is exercised- never give out too much personal information!

 

It’s really difficult to definite the internet, as it can be so many different things. In my opinion, the internet perfectly embodies the definition of noun- a person, place, thing, or idea. While it is not specifically a person, there is constant interaction with other people. It is a place, in a sense that it is somewhere you “go” to look for information or media. It is a thing when you see it as a tool for communication, entertainment, news, etc. Lastly, the internet is a place where ideas are born.

 

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT:

 

The online portion of the class should entail setting specific dates for completing the blogpost, such as Friday at 5pm as with this first posting. Also, a minimum of either a page, or 500 words, whichever occurs first should suffice for getting one’s point across.

I personally prefer learning and reading from my computer, as I can look up things I find confusing or don’t completely understand in another tab, eliminating the risk of losing my place in a book.

I expect my peers to give thoughtful responses to blog posts, but not necessarily agree with everything that is said. It was mentioned in class that with the discussion boards on blackboard that often students feel forced to give positive, almost canned sounding answers of “Oh yes, I agree with you” and “great job”, without actually explaining why they feel in such a way.


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