Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rosie O'Donnell and 9/11

On Digg today was a link to a story about Rosie O'Donnell and how she "is certainly not backing away from her public stance about 9/11, and this morning on The View went on a 9 minute rant about the many questions surrounding the attack, reaching around 30 million viewers in the process." For those interested, the Digg link can be found here

I'm not writing to comment on Rosie or her views, nor am I interested in debating whether or not 9/11 was "an inside job" (quote from various users on the Digg forums). What I am interested in talking about is the impact of the Internet and "web 2.0" sites like Digg on freedom of expression and society at large.

As some people reading this know, I live in Canada. Canada, much like our southern neighbours, puts a very high importance on the freedom to express what we want, how we want, when we want. So much so, that we enshrine it in the highest laws of the land.

However, there is a pricetag attached to that freedom. There has always been, and always will be, people who fall victim to "popular theory". "Everybody says this is the case, therefore it must be the case". There's even a name for this form of reasoning: "Argumentum ad populum", which is latin for "appeal to the people". Sounds nice, doesn't it? After all, aren't the "people" the best decider of truth, justice, and what's right and wrong? Isn't that what democracy is all about?

I am a very big proponent of freedom on the Interent. I believe very strongly that regulation of content online is a very bad idea. I believe everyone, whether they are the Prime Minister of a country, or a "bum" living in the streets, has equal right to express him/herself as they see fit.

However, seeing stuff like what is becoming increasingly common on sites like Digg, really makes me question the wisdom of that position. Flaming has been a part of Internet discussion for as long as I can remember, but it seems to me that the world is increasingly becoming confrontational in argument. The goal in most online discussions now seems to be to silence the other guy, rather than make your points in a reasoned, logical manner.

Digg takes this to a new level. For those unfamiliar with Digg, how it basically works is that stories are posted, and people either "digg them" (ie vote that they are good), or "bury" them (vote that they are bad). The same digg up/digg down scheme works for comments in the forums. The idea is that rather than having a central, authoritarian, heirarchical entity telling us what is good and bad, we now have the "people", that arbiter of truth and justice, telling us what is good and bad. No longer do we have Fox News telling us only those stories which fit its republican-biased views, now we have Joe Blow truly empowered to tell us what's really important. No more censorship of the stories that should be told.

The problem of course is that in practice, it only takes a small minority of people to essentially silence the opposing view. Reading the forum attached to the Rosie O'Donnell story, most of the comments which are "dugg up" are ones which support Rosie's position. The ones that are "dugg down" are those which don't support Rosie's position.

This seems to fly in the face of what most philosophers and academics believe is the way to arrive at truth -- reasoned debate from both sides. Since the "anti-rosie" comments are dugg down, nobody sees them, thus only one side of the issue is represented. While I suppose this is democratic, it is far from ideal, as essentially you have "Argumentum ad populum" again, which if you clicked the Wikipedia link, you'll know is actually a common fallacy in arguments.

I sometimes wonder what effect this will have long-term on the political landscape. Will elections in the future be decided by discussions that take place on Internet forums? Will those politicians who can best make use of web technology have a distinct advantage over less technically-saavy (but more reasonable) opponents? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Okay, I guess that's enough of a rant for today. As always, comments are welcomed and appreciated (after all, I want to know what the "people" think).... ;)

Monday, March 26, 2007

BSG Does it Again

For those of you out there who are fellow geeks, you probably spent last night watching the season finale for Battlestar Galactica (if you didn't, shame on you....).

I was very critical of the show this season, particularly the post-xmas break episodes were very slow, doing little to either build characters or convey the main story arc.

Having said that, last night's finale was absolutely awesome, and January 2008 can not come soon enough. Man, I thought Heroes was being cruel leaving us with a cliffhanger for 5 weeks, BSG leaves us hanging for almost a year!

Recordings in the classroom

I recently visited the blog of an instructor at the University I attend (University of Victoria), and in his blog he (awhile back) talked about an instructor in the US who was selling recordings of his lectures to students. I thought this was an interesting story, as given that I'm a TA and occasional sessional instructor at UVic I often use my MP3 player to record my lectures and have always wondered what the reprecussions would be in terms of student attendance and involvement if I made the recordings publicly available.

I know for myself as a student I would still attend the classes, but OTOH I know a *LOT* of students who would fall into that trap of "well, if I can download a recording of that lecture later, why should I go to class?" I do think that there is something to be said for actually attending a lecture over just hearing the audio of it, as things such as body language and the like convey almost as much as what we say. Additionally, you lose the benefit of whatever overheads & the like the lecturer used (unless they are made public as well). Besides, you can't interact with an MP3 recording by asking it questions (or at least not last time I checked). ;)

OTOH, as a student I would very much appreciate the ability to "review" for exams and such by re-listening to entire lectures again. Like podcasts, it would be convenient to be able to listen to lectures as background noise when I'm doing other work, or walking to school, etc. Just seems like it would be an excellent way to reinforce information covered in a class.

It seems to me that there is always a trade-off facing instructors in regards to how much material should be made available to students outside of the class. Too much, and nobody will attend class; too little, and students will artificially struggle with material that perhaps they otherwise wouldn't struggle with.

I sometimes wonder what other instructors think of voice recorders and the like as well. Do instructors have problems with students recording lectures themselves? I personally couldn't care less if a student wants to record what I say in a class (of course, that's probably a dangerous attitude, as sooner or later I may say something in a class which I will later regret saying). I've never seen any students walk into a class and plop a voice recorder on their desk to record a lecture, but I would actually be quite surprised if it never happens (given the proliferation of MP3 players, cell phones & the like with voice recorders built in).

Any thoughts?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Xbox360: Heavy Weapon Achievement Guide

I'm over on the website, and came up with an achievement guide for Heavy Weapon Atomic Tank, and thought I'd put it up on here. You can find it by clicking here