Geoffrey Rockwell

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Research notes taken on subjects around multimedia, electronic texts, and computer games.
Updated: 8 hours 39 min ago

Opinion | America’s Real Digital Divide

Mon, 12/02/2018 - 23:49

The problem isn’t that poor children don’t have access to computers. It’s that they spend too much time in front of them.

The New York Times has an important Opinion about America’s Real Digital Divide by Naomi S. Riley from Feb. 11, 2018. She argues that TV and video game screen time is bad for children and there is no evidence that computer screen time is helpful. The digital divide is not one of access to screens but one of attitude and education on screen time.

But no one is telling poorer parents about the dangers of screen time. For instance, according to a 2012 Pew survey, just 39 percent of parents with incomes of less than $30,000 a year say they are “very concerned” about this issue, compared with about six in 10 parents in higher-earning households.

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An Introduction to Digital Computers

Wed, 24/01/2018 - 18:37

On Humanist there was an announcement from the Hagley Museum and Library that they had put up a 1969 Sperry-UNIVAC short film An Introduction to Digital Computers. The 22 minute short is a dated, but interesting introduction to how a digital computer works. The short was sponsored by Sperry-UNIVAC which had its origins in the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation founded by Eckert and Mauchly of ENIAC fame.

The museum is in Delaware at the site of E.I. du Pont gunpowder works from 1802. The Hagley library is dedicated to American enterprise and has archival material from Sperry-UNIVAC:

Hagley’s library furthers the study of business and technology in America. The collections include individuals’ papers and companies’ records ranging from eighteenth-century merchants to modern telecommunications and illustrate the impact of the business system on society.

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Social networks are creating a global crisis of democracy

Sun, 21/01/2018 - 17:35

[N]etworks themselves offer ways in which bad actors – and not only the Russian government – can undermine democracy by disseminating fake news and extreme views. “These social platforms are all invented by very liberal people on the west and east coasts,” said Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s digital-media director, in an interview last year. “And we figure out how to use it to push conservative values. I don’t think they thought that would ever happen.” Too right.

The Globe and Mail this weekend had an essay by Niall Ferguson on how Social networks are creating a global crisis of democracy. The article is based on Ferguson’s new book The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power from the Freemasons to Facebook. The article points out that manipulation is not just an American problem, but also points out that the real problem is our dependence on social networks in the first place.

What happened in 2016 was much more than just a Kremlin “black op” that exceeded expectations. It was a direct result of the profound change in the public sphere brought about by the advent and spectacular growth of the online network platforms. In many ways, the obsessive focus of the American political class on the Russian sub-plot is a distraction from the alarming reality that – as the European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager argued earlier this month – the big tech companies, and the way their services are used by ordinary people, pose a much bigger threat to democracy. It is the threat from within we really need to worry about – not the threat from Putin.

Our public sphere is managed by companies whose interest lies in maximizing the data they can milk from us and they can do that by encouraging division and partisanship. They amplify polarization by networking people into sides. The public sphere is not one meeting place where we are all networked, but hundreds of silos that politicians can target directly without any public scrutiny. Social media are not really either social or media. They balkanize us in ways that makes it hard for any public will to emerge. Only those who can afford to pay for the data and the tools for targeted messaging will do well in the emerging political environment.

Some links:

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Python Programming for the Humanities by Folgert Karsdorp

Sun, 07/01/2018 - 00:00

Having just finished teaching a course on Big Data and Text Analysis where I taught students Python I can appreciate a well written tutorial on Python. Python Programming for the Humanities by Folgert Karsdorp is a great tutorial for humanists new to programming that takes the form of a series of Jupyter notebooks that students can download. As the tutorials are notebooks, if students have set up Python on their computers then they can use the tutorials interactively. Karsdorp has done a nice job of weaving in cells where the student has to code and Quizes which reinforce the materials which strikes me as an excellent use of the IPython notebook model.

I learned about this reading a more advanced set of tutorials from Allen Riddell for Dariah-DE, Text Analysis with Topic Models for the Humanities and Social Sciences. The title doesn’t do this collection of tutorials justice because they include a lot more than just Topic Models. There are advanced tutorials on all sorts of topics like machine learning and classification. See the index for the range of tutorials.

Text Analysis with Topic Models for the Humanities and Social Sciences (TAToM) consists of a series of tutorials covering basic procedures in quantitative text analysis. The tutorials cover the preparation of a text corpus for analysis and the exploration of a collection of texts using topic models and machine learning.

Stéfan Sinclair and I (mostly Stéfan) have also produced a textbook for teaching programming to humanists called The Art of Literary Text Analysis. These tutorials are also written as Jupyter notebooks so you can download them and play with them.

We are now reimplementing them with our own Voyant-based notebook environment called Spyral. See The Art of Literary Text Analysis with Spyral Notebooks. More on this in another blog entry.

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At this year’s MLA, many sessions focus on fake news in present and in literary past

Fri, 05/01/2018 - 17:06

At this year’s MLA meeting, many sessions will focus on fake news, both in the present and in the literary past. Can scholars of fiction change our understanding of current events?

From Humanist a link to an article by Scott Jaschik about fake news and the MLA. The article is in Inside Higher Ed and is titled, ‘All Ladies Cheat… Sad!’:At this year’s MLA, many sessions focus on fake news in present and in literary past. The article talks about sessions at the MLA taking on the issue of truth. It points out that poststructuralist scholars like the late Derrida have appeared to undermine our notions of truth leaving us with the idea that truth is constructed.

One irony is that, in many of those discussions, conservative commentators accused humanities scholars of the left of ignoring issues of truth. And Ben-Merre acknowledged that some may say poststructuralists such as the late theorist Jacques Derrida may have contributed to the current situation by questioning then-prevailing attitudes about what constituted truth.

If the truth is ideologically constructed then what’s wrong with Trump’s base constructing their own truth? Are we doomed to our silos? These MLA talks seem to be a rich set of ways of understanding the issues of fake news in terms of fiction and truth, but I think we also need to think of ways of bridging the truths which is why I liked In Conversation: Robert Reich and Arlie Hochschild (video of conversation from 3quarksdaily.) Hochschild talks about her new book, Strangers In Their Own Land which listens to a Tea Party community in Alabama. Hochschild also talks about how one can build bridges by stretching values so they can be shared and provide a ground for dialogue. Yet another way of making truths.

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Transverse Reading Gallery

Mon, 01/01/2018 - 20:00

From Alan Liu I learned about the Transverse Reading Gallery , a project mapping interactive narratives from the Demian Katz Gamebook Collection led by Jeremy Douglass. In an background paper on the project titled, Graphing Branching Narrative Douglass starts by asking,

What are the different forms of interactive stories? Which are the biggest and smallest, the simplest and most complex? What are the most typical and the most unusual? When we consider the structures of interactive narratives, are there local features or overall shapes that correspond to particular genres, authors, languages, time periods, or media forms?

The project web site is simple and informative. It includes a blog with short essays by research assistants. What you can see is the different topologies of these gamebooks from the tall ones with lots of choices but little narrative to the wide ones with lots of story, but little branching.

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Are Algorithms Building the New Infrastructure of Racism?

Thu, 28/12/2017 - 15:08
Robert Moses

3quarksdaily, one of the better web sites for extracts of interesting essays, pointed me to this essay on Are Algorithms Building the New Infrastructure of Racism? in Nautilus by Aaron M. Bornstein (Dec. 21, 2017). The article reviews some of the terrain covered by Cathy O’Neil’s book Weapons of Math Destruction, but the article also points out how AIs are becoming infrastructure and infrastructure with bias baked in is very hard to change, like the low bridges that Robert Moses built to make it hard for public transit to make it into certain areas of NYC. Algorithmic decisions that are biased and visible can be studied and corrected. Decisions that get built into infrastructure disappear and get much harder to fix.

a fundamental question in algorithmic fairness is the degree to which algorithms can be made to understand the social and historical context of the data they use …

Just as important is paying attention to the data that is used to train the AIs in the first place. Historic data carries the biases of these generations and they need to be questioned as they get woven into our infrastructure.

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Missed the bitcoin boom? Five more baffling cryptocurrencies to blow your savings on

Sat, 16/12/2017 - 00:24

One of the oddest Ethereum projects in operation, CryptoKitties is a three-way cross between Tamagotchis, Beanie Babies and animal husbandry. Users can buy, sell and breed the eponymous cats, with traits inherited down the generations.

The Guardian has a nice story on Missed the bitcoin boom? Five more baffling cryptocurrencies to blow your savings onThe article talks about CryptoKitties, a form of collectible pet (kitty) game that is built on blockchain technology. If you invest you get a kitty or two and then you can breed them to evolve new kitties. The kitties can then be sold as collectibles to others to breed. Apparently 11% of Traffic on the Ethereum Blockchain Is Being Used to Breed Digital Cats (CryptoKitties). If you missed investing in bitcoin, now is the change to buy a kitty or two.

The question is whether this is gambling or a game?

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Read the dissenting statements of the Democratic FCC commissioners slamming net neutrality repeal – The Verge

Thu, 14/12/2017 - 19:04

It is abundantly clear why we see so much bad process with this item: because the fix was already in. There is no real mention of the thousands of net neutrality complaints filed by consumers. Why? The majority has refused to put them in the record while maintaining the rhetoric that there have been no real violations. Record evidence of the massive incentives and abilities of broadband providers to act in anti-competitive ways are missing from the docket? Why? Because they have refused to use the data and knowledge the agency does have, and has relied upon in the past to inform our merger reviews. As the majority has shown again and again, the views of individuals do not matter, including the views of those who care deeply about the substance, but are not Washington insiders.

The Verge has a moving collection of dissenting statements from FCC commissioners regarding net neutrality. Read the dissenting statements of the Democratic FCC commissioners slamming net neutrality repealThis is powerful stuff. It is appalling how this decision has ignored complaints and data.

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txtlab Multilingual Novels

Mon, 11/12/2017 - 18:00

This directory contains 450 novels that appeared between 1770 and 1930 in German, French and English. It is designed for us in teaching and research.

Andrew Piper mentioned a corpus that he put together, txtlab Multilingual NovelsThis corpus is of some 450 novels from the late 18th century to the early 20th (1920s). It has a gender mix and is not only English novels.  This corpus was supported by SSHRC through the Text Mining the Novel project.

 

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America is about to kill the open internet – and towns like this will pay the price

Wed, 29/11/2017 - 21:09

Residents of Winlock, Washington can barely stream Spotify and Netflix. Changes to Obama’s net neutrality rules are going to make things even worse

There are lots of stories right now about net neutrality and how the FCC (of the USA) is repeal requirements of ISPs. I find it hard to explain why net neutrality is important which is probably why there isn’t more a public outcry. The Guardian has a story that makes this real,  America is about to kill the open internet – and towns like this will pay the price. Global News has a nice story about Net neutrality: Why Canadians should care about the internet changes in the U.S. This story describes what happens in countries like Portugal which don’t have net neutrality regulations and it includes some John Oliver segments on how the FCC is going to fix the Internet (which isn’t broken.)

 

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Plato’s Virtual Reality

Wed, 29/11/2017 - 06:22

From a Humanist note I came across the fine essay on virtual reality, The Promise and Disappointment of Virtual Reality. It starts and ends with Plato’s cave and the responsibility of those freed from the cave to go back in and help others. Alas the state of VR technology doesn’t yet seem good enough to free us from reality and in this case the reality of VR is the commercialism of it.

But Plato’s Cave presupposes that those freeing the prisoner from their chains to reveal the true nature of “reality” are altruistic in their intent—that the world being shown the freed prisoners is indeed the truth. It is an allegory that does not allow for the world as it is today, or the pervasive desire to escape it.

The continued commercial failure of VR may represent an unconscious resistance to jettisoning our connection to the real. Maybe we are waiting for that blockbuster game to drive mass-market appeal. Perhaps the technology simply is not good enough yet to simulate a truly authentic—and profitable—experience. In this sense we are trapped. We crave authenticity of experience but, despite the efforts of philosophers, authors and auteurs, our imaginations appear limited to what we can individually consume and identify with. While capitalism lumbers on, we cannot see anything but the shadows on the wall.

What is nice about this essay by Mark Riboldi is the tour of the history of virtual reality technologies and dreams. What he doesn’t talk about is the sense of disappointment when the first generation of VR didn’t live up to the hype. I remember in the 1990s believing in VR (and lecturing on it.) When it proved clunky and nausea-inducing I felt let down by technology. Perhaps I and others had dreamed too much into VR led on by novels like Neuromancer. I was convinced VR was the logical next thing after the GUI. We had gone from a one-dimensional calligraphic screen to a two-dimensional desktop … wasn’t the three-dimensional virtual world next?

It is also worth mentioning that there have been a number of people writing about gender differences in how VR technology affects us. See Closing the Gender Gap in Virtual Reality. The technology seems to have been designed for men and calibrated to the male experience of reality.

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Common Crawl

Tue, 28/11/2017 - 17:24

The Common Crawl is a project that has been crawling the web and making an open corpus of web data from the last 7 years available for research. There crawl corpus is petabytes of data and available as WARCs (Web Archives.) For example, their 2013 dataset is 102TB and has around 2 billion web pages. Their collection is not as complete as the Internet Archive, which goes back much further, but it is available in large datasets for research.

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Oculus and our troubles with (virtual) reality

Wed, 15/11/2017 - 16:57

Will the arrival and popularity of Oculus Go and other VR systems make us think differently about alternative realities and so-called alternative facts?

Matthew Flisfeder from the University of Winnipeg has penned a nice essay for the The Conversation on Oculus and our troubles with (virtual) reality. He starts with the new Oculus Go that brings virtual reality hardware down in cost to US $199. He then goes on to talk about fake news and alternative facts and how the portrayal of VR in popular media (Neuromancer, Matrix) has generally questioned the impact of the new media as it creates an alternative or fake reality. He also makes an interesting connection between fake news, social media and VR. Much of the discussion of the distorting power of fake news has focused on social media like Facebook and Twitter and how they seem to have manipulated the political reality for many. Facebook has become the site of internet reality for so many that when it distorts things it is people’s news of the world that is distorted. Facebook has ceased to be just one web site among many for the many becoming the platform for reality that frames what can be reality. Which raises the question of what they will do the VR hardware they control? How does the Oculus Go fit with Facebook? Could Facebook become the operating system a social reality you experience virtually? Could it become so immersive you don’t bother with alternatives?

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Quit Your Technology Job and Get a Humanities Ph.D.

Tue, 31/10/2017 - 20:07

Stanford has put up a video of a talk on why you should Quit Your Technology Job and Get a Humanities Ph.D.. The talk is by Dr. Damon Horowitz who did just that. He quit doing AI and got a Ph.D. in philosophy. He argues that it has given him perspective on what AI can and can’t do, in addition to helping him think about his life and some of the things that make him uncomfortable about the tech world. It isn’t a ground breaking talk, but it is delivered with humour and addresses technology folk where it matters. Are you really that happy with your job and the hype around what you do?

Thanks to Humanist for this.

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Nazis as the bad guys in videogames? How is that controversial?

Sat, 28/10/2017 - 15:00
Screen shot from Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

In response to the US president, Wolfenstein’s marketing used his own words to market the game: “Make America Nazi Free Again”, “There is only one side”, “These are not ‘fine people’”, and so on. Many of his supporters have taken exception to this, decrying the notion that Nazis support the current occupant of the Oval Office. Unfortunately, the fact that white supremacists and actual Nazis support Trump and march openly in America doesn’t help their claims.

The Guardian and others have stories about how the marketing of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus has angered Trump supporters: Nazis as the bad guys in videogames? How is that controversial? The issue is partly how Wolfenstein adapted Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.” Alt-Right gamers would like games to not be political, but they always have been; it’s just that certain demographics weren’t bothered by the politics before.

It is also worth noting the reference in the game title to the poem by Emma Lazarus at the base of the Statue of Liberty titled The New ColossusI knew the famous line about “Give me your tired, your poor …”, but not the whole poem that starts:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. …

The larger story is how the gamergate community began to affiliate with the alt-right. Motherboard has a story about the shift in the r/KotakuInAction (KiA) subreddit.

So where does that leave Gamergate? Some people within the community are embracing the alt-right, others are peeling off in disgust, and most, it seems, continue to deny the link vehemently while paradoxically allowing that ideology to supplant Gamergate’s identity.

Cross, who even some Gamergaters would now agree was right about the nature of the movement from the very beginning, thinks that it’s going to be completely absorbed by the greater alt-right, and that this process has already begun with KiA essentially becoming a sub forum of r/The_Donald. The standard around which Gamergate organized—fighting for video games—is no longer the driving force behind KiA.

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