Sunday, March 29, 2009

Enabling Technologies Should Matter to us All

What struck me most about Gary Bishop's talk was the line that disabled people are a

“a minority you can join at any time. ” This struck me, as I had taken a first year seminar on wheel chair accessibility at the UNC system schools, and my professor there would constantly remind us that we are all just "temporarily abled." Indeed, we will all eventually, if not through an accident then just naturally, lose our abilities to do what we consider "basic" functions. Our eye sight will fade. Our hearing will deteriorate. Our joints and muscles aren't going to want to make the same walks up the stairs that they used to. And so from this point of view I believe that enabling technologies are important not just for the blind or deaf or those confined to wheel chairs, but for us all--because we are all likely to join the "disabled" list at some point in our lives.

What I also liked about Bishop's talk was his focus on public service--that working on enabling technologies is a great way to give back and make some people's lives a little easier, a little more fun. This is certainly a worthy goal. When working on my project for the first year seminar, the class saw how grossly un-wheelchair friendly UNC-sytem facilities were. At some schools, the disability services buildings weren't even wheelchair accessible. This is why it's so important that enabling technologies work to make people's lives easier, because their lives are filled with constant challenges. And as Bishop enthusiastically reminded the audience, this type of public service can be a lot of fun. I loved his idea for a "create your own adventure" books--these could work well not only for young kids, but for aging adults looking for some excitement and fantasy in their lives. The iDaft game was also extremely creative, but also extremely useful.

What I'm wondering then is what will it take for enabling technologies to receive more support and funding? Do we think the engineers are going to need to show how it helps not only people with "permanent disabilities," but also the rest of us who will eventually become disabled in some way? Or maybe do they just need to get them into more schools so they can show broader ranges of success? Or will this have to be done one computer programmer/engineer at a time?

Friday, March 27, 2009

The "paperless" world...

The presentation on centralized medical databases started my thinking about this topic. Specifically how the group presented the fact that President Obama is requiring all hospitals to become 'computerized' by 2014, and pushing it forward with his administration planning on spending $19billion to modernize medical-record keeping. This would be helpful in many ways, and I fully support this modernization, agreeing with all the positives that the team presented on Wednesday. Also, this week in the DTH there were letter's to the editor about the University cutting back on paper supplies in order to cut back simple expenses in the budget. This letter talked about the ridiculous amount of paper that is printed from the ITS printers each day, much of it for class notes, etc.

The recent activity mentioned above started my thinking about the eventual "paperless world". What will this involved? Basic digitalization of nearly everything, inclduing every form of media and eventually money. Now, some of you may be thinking, "Most media are digitized already, and we use plastic cards very frequently", well yes this is very true, but think about if the hardcopy didn't exist. Hardcopy forms still exist and are printed all the time for mass communication, but eventually will there ever be a time where we use and read digital copies of everything? I think this will happen, sooner than later, and so does Bill Gates. An article ( I found, has Gates quoting that the world is on the verge of this digital age. Though the article is somewhat dated (2005), this still does not change his nor my opinion about this topic.

There are several potential problems with complete digitization, including the ease of corruption by hackers and various other unethical problems we have touched on in lecture that could occur. But if you think about the positivies, and how our society thrives on the ease of gaining information then this really is feasible. It will start with healthcare, as they will eventually throw away (burn) all medical records, and then mass media will begin the stoppage of hard copies. Textbooks will become electronic and we'll all be taking notes on our tablet PCs. What do you think our society will be like when the digital age fully takes over? What are your views on absorbing current media only through the screen on your computer? Do you think a complete modernization into the "paperless world" is even feasible? Do the benefits outweigh the negatives of this ever happening? These are a few of the questions that come to mind as I conclude, so I leave it to you... what do you think about where our technology is taking us?

Wokplace E Monitoring

After listening to the two groups present their two different topics on Wednesday, there was one topic that stuck out more than the other: workplace e monitoring. I always knew that workplace e monitoring existed but until the group explained it. I was shocked at the extent that companies will go in order to secure company information. Workplace e monitoring is a neccesary entity to ensure that the business is functioning as ordered but to what extent does this process become evasive. I believe that workplace e monitoring can help out functioning of a business but I do think that employers these days are taking it little overboard.
For example, I work in a grocery store as a customer service supervisor. One day while I was helping a customer at the desk, I received a phone call from someone at corporate. While I was talking to the person from corporate, I had taken out my cell phone to look to see who texted me. The person from corporate asked me, "Do you have your phone out?". At first, I could not say anything but "Huh" but then he repeated himself and asked if I had my phone out. He then described to the tee exactly what I was doing and this made me a little uneasy. This only made me think about how far a company was willing to go to ensure there was not foul play at their expense.
I think that workplace e monitoring is good overrall but should be limited. When it allows for you to access a person's most personal thoughts and activities, then it has gone overboard. If workplaces are taking the initiative to track their employees, then who's next? Will Universities start tracking the activities of their students to ensure "SAFETY". I don't know but I know that I am not for it at all

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Who's Responsible?

Our speaker on Monday, Gary Bishop, helped make us aware of the usability issues that the disabled deal with on a daily basis. It is obvious that new technologies are assisting with these growing problems, but they are also making it more difficult. Each new technology deals with a new set of issues that the disabled are forced to deal with. I cannot imagine trying to keep up with the world today without eyesight, or be one of the teenagers with cerebral palsy who must sit and watch the other kids read or play games wishing they could participate. Technologies I rely on daily such as text messaging or online news would become difficult to use.

Luckily technology has allowed us to create screen readers so we can get up to date news. And now video games and books can be more interactive to allow disabled kids to play, but these tools come at a great price. Because there aren’t enough users to drive down the price.

Dr. Bishop mentioned the ultimate issue is the cost of keep up with these new technologies. This high need with low number of users has driven the price of these devices to the point that what he believes only the Universities can supply them. The question is does it become our responsibility as an institution to supply the disabled with usability applications and devices such as the ones he presented? And can there be a market for private industry to develop cost-efficient products?

Data mining and googling yourself...

One issue that really struck me this week was data mining. I did not realize that there were private companies doing data mining and collecting information on private citizens. That bothered me more than if it was just the government doing it because at least that is something that is not such a far fetched activity for the government whether it is legal or not. But the fact that there are private companies making logs of where I go on the internet, what I like to buy, etc is really unsettling. The internet creates a false sense of anonymity and reading the text and watching the video made me realize just how much of a trace I am leaving without even realizing it. I know some of it is supposed to make things easier for consumers like by keeping a record of what you buy the store can suggest things you may like but I don’t really find that to be that helpful especially when amazon sends me emails telling about new releases for obscure things.

I started to wonder what kind of things people could find out about me on the internet with my minimal skills. I found out a lot of stuff that I did on the internet just by typing in old email address, log-in names etc. It was crazy the amount of stuff I could find and for how far back. I could trace posts that I made on blogs and forums under a particular name. I even found pictures that I had uploaded on forums that I was not even a member of. I’d never thought before this week to google user names because I figured it did not matter because no one knows who I am, but that really isn’t the case. For one, in some places my email address was visible and in other places my name. If someone happened to find out one of my personal email addresses, they could google and find all of this stuff about me and get a really odd picture of what my interests are. The fact that anyone could read comments left by me is odd since taken out of context they could seem crazy.

During the video, they were asking people on the street about the monitoring that was going on and a lady said it didn’t bother her because she had nothing to hide. But, it really isn’t about that really. It is about principle and about choice. You should be able to chose what sort of information to reveal about yourself. One’s purchasing habits should not be so easily accessible. Do you think that data mining is a serious fringe on personal rights? Does it bother you that it is used for commercial profit? Also would after reading the text, watching the video and listening to presentations about e-monitoring affect the way you conduct yourself on the internet in the future?


               In business, analysts and investors are always looking for the next big thing.  A company with a lot of room for growth has the potential to do very well because it has room to expand and make a lot of money.  Enabling technologies is a rarely discussed industry in the mainstream media, giving it potential to be a diamond in the rough.  If researchers like Professor Bishop are able to create effective enabling technologies with reasonable price tags, there is the possibility for great upside for a worthy cause.  Imagine an extremely effective device developed for autistic children that falls within a reasonable price range.  If you were the parent of an autistic child, you would be very interested in purchasing this device.

The application of enabling technologies could act as an intellectual bridge between those of us who have disabilities and those of us who don’t.  Professor Bishop highlighted the example of Stephen Hawking, whose vast intellectual abilities are misrepresented by the physical challenges he faces in seemingly mundane activities like walking and talking.  One could also look at the case of Kim peek who can read a book in an hour and remember 98.7% of the book’s contents.  Although Kim has the ability to communicate, he does suffer from a rare cognitivie syndrome.  With technologies like Professor Bishop’s tarheel reader, a disabled child’s cognitive faculties could be stimulated resulting in an award winning author or poet.               

                The music applications of enabling technologies are also very intriguing. Children and adults with physical disabilities are extremely limited in mechanical movement and manual dexterity.  This limitations are usually extensive enough to prevent them from operating normal instruments like the guitar of piano.  However, these physical limitations offer no indication of one’s appreciation for music.  There could be scores of disabled patients with extreme musical intelligence but little opportunity for expression.  The chord chaoscillator that Professor Bishop demonstrated could have limitless applications for disabled patients. 

  Who knows the long-term cost benefit for enabling technologies.  There have been millions if not billions of people born throughout the course of history with cognitive or physical disabilities but what has been their contribution to society [through no fault of their own].  If enabling technologies increased the learning capacity or creative expression of disable patients by just 10% who knows what scientific discoveries could be made, what books could be written, or how many musicians could realize their true ability.  Perhaps if enough pioneers like Professor Bishop emerge, enabling technologies could become a viable and invaluable part of developed civilizations.  What other applications of enabling technologies could you imagine?  How likely is it that enabling technologies will become a formidable industry?

The Privacy Issue

Monday's lecture, including the viewing of the ABC documentary, and yesterday's presentation on e-monitoring together provided a thorough overview of the issue of privacy. While I knew this issue was becoming increasingly controversial with the continuous evolution of tracking and information technologies, I was unaware of its complexity from both legal and ethical standpoints. Whether in public, at the office, or "safely" behind the locked doors of our homes, it is now obvious that there is always a watching eye.

Tessa's review of relevant legislation made it apparent that opposing views on the privacy issue result from a difference in opinions, rather than constitutional interpretation. Conditionally, I do not oppose most of the various forms of monitoring. In the majority of instances, it seems that the benefits of monitoring far outweigh the consequent inconveniences and sacrifices.

As an office employee, I would enjoy remaining up-to-date on the latest popular YouTube videos and the status of Ty Lawson's swollen big toe while I carry out my day's work. As an employer, though, I would expect my employees to only perform the tasks for which they are paid while on the clock. In a small office setting, surveillance and Internet monitoring would not necessarily be necessary, and could prove harmful to the work environment by breaching bonds of trust. Due to a less intimate environment, monitoring and Internet surveillance are more beneficiary and appropriate. In such instances, employees should know exactly what is being monitored and in what fashion. While the disguised camera under the statue is completely out of the question, the Keiths of the office need to be stopped from occupying such an extensive amount of server space with their personal files and get back to work.

Likely a more controversial opinion, I am not opposed to the exchange of my information among companies. If I purchase a dog kennel, I would appreciate if the store from which I purchased the kennel would offer my email address to a dog food supply company that will ultimately contact me with coupons and other special offers. This exchange should only occur with my consent, and I should be able to opt-out of receiving any further information from the dog food company if I decide to do so. Companies that acquire the personal contact information of customers should never engage any sort of behavior that could be remotely considered harassment.

One of the most talked about issues among all privacy issues is government surveillance, my opinion is somewhat torn. Prior to understanding the complexities of this issue, I was quick to support unapproved wire tapping and other forms of government surveillance if it meant securing the American people. However, I now realize that excessive use of these forms of monitoring without the proper evidence can seriously disrupt the lives of innocent citizens. Only to the extent that these forms of government surveillance can be used to locate those whom they target should they be used in a casual fashion.

Because the lecture and presentation so thoroughly covered the privacy issue, neither much allowed for class discussion and the exchange of opinions. Because this issue is so controversial and becoming increasingly important, where do you stand on the various forms of monitoring by employers, private companies, and the government? What would you like to see removed, changed, or added by any of these institutions concerning privacy? How does your stance compare to mine?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Enabling Technologies

After listening to Gary Bishop's speech this past Monday, there was one thing that I was left concerned about - funding for enabling technologies.

I feel that all of these technologies that he showed us have the possibility and capability to help many people with disabilities and learning disorders. Even the most basic technological piece of equipment can change the life of someone who needs it to complete and/or understand everyday tasks. These technologies have been found to be extremely helpful in the classroom and the workplace. They are engaging, educational and can help with body and mind stimulation that can be invaluable for future success.

Gary Bishop made the point that in the classroom, students with learning disabilities need one on one attention. The problem is that there is usually only one or two teachers in the classroom at a time. Students suffer from lack of involvement while the teacher is helping another student. If we were able to receive more funding, not only for special education teachers, but for technologies in the classroom, the students would not have to sit there doing practically nothing while they wait to be helped/taught/clarified on a particular topic.

Gary said that these classrooms were like being trapped in a prison because there is nothing to do for the students, but I would go as far as to say that its more like a metaphor for being trapped in their own body. There are so many things that we can do to help people that need it. These technologies can help them come out of their shell and get rid of the restraints that they had in the past - whether physical or mental.

With the low/lowering cost of technology now, I am surprised to find that there is such a lack of funding for enabling technologies. Around 80 percent of organizations that need the support of enabling technologies cannot obtain funding to get it. This funding not only helps in the development and research of enabling technologies, but prevents people that need just a little help and support to learn and develop basic skills from doing so.

What are the solutions to this problem? Should the government get directly involved in the funding issue, or should we rely on Universities and non-profits to help and develop? What other benefits do you see from the help of enabling technologies?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Government Regulation of Social Networking Sites: Is it Worth it?

In short, my answer is no. Aside from my own reservations about excessive government control and spending, I believe that such a course of action would be a practical and technical impossibility. To begin with, do we need regulation of such sites in the first place? Sure, there are predators and phonies out there but these things exist in the non-virtual world as well. As a society we have not found it necessary to regulate and control every possible area where someone can be harmed, and I don’t think that such regulation is required for social networking sites. While there are penalties and agencies in place for when things like identity theft occur there is no overall watchdog like the FCC to keep track of every transaction or claim that is made in the retail world. If one cites pedophiles trolling chat rooms or social networking sites for young prey as reason to regulate the virtual world, I think that the example of children in parks is a good counterpoint. Certainly, those intent on doing harm to young children would be quick to survey playgrounds and the like, but as a society we have acknowledged that and taken proactive measures against such things happening. Because it is not even close to physically possible to have police or guards in every single high risk area, parents either personally supervise their children or educate them to beware of potential predators. By taking on such personal responsibility many parents have undoubtedly reduced the number of cases in which the police might have to be called in. I think that in the case of children using the internet a little education and vigilance on the part of parents can go a long way.
Furthermore, the cost of an agency similar to the FCC would be astronomical. The organization itself estimates that it will need $338,900,000 in order to operate in 2009.( While I’m not an economist or budget expert by any means I can only figure that an agency charged with policing a medium as vast as the internet, notwithstanding the already substantial portion of users on social networking sites, would be even greater. And for what? So that the government might be able and more proactive in perusing our personal information? I’m completely supportive of taking a hard line against pedophiles, identity thieves, and other web criminals but I am not willing to give up my privacy so that (merely for argument’s sake, not seriously) some bureaucrat can try to determine whether or not my favorite movies listed on facebook constitute a risk to children, or maybe even the Federal Government.
I lived in China for 4 months and I can say first hand that intense monitoring of the internet by the government leads to nothing good, unless you’re speaking in terms of state control. While I wasn’t too annoyed by the sites or searches I couldn’t go to (I’d already seen pictures of the tank in Tiananmen Square so I wasn’t disappointed when that was denied), I knew from speaking with an IT Security expert beforehand that my traffic was being monitored and that is just creepy if nothing else. Additionally, all of this monitoring slows internet traffic down and with so many users the censors (even if they are primarily digital) just can’t keep up, resulting in a less enjoyable experience for all. I think my position is pretty clear and I might speak with a little more passion since I’ve experienced intrusive monitoring, but where do you stand on government regulation of social networking sites? While I’m not an alarmist or paranoid, I would also want to think about what slippery slope agreeing to such measures might lead to.

Social Networking: Pros and Cons

Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn—society is more and more connected online, and less and less connected in real life. I'm the pot calling the kettle black though. I have a Facebook account, I "tweet" on a regular basis as a journalism student, and I’m LinkedIn in order to ensure gainful employment post graduation in May. I think what we need to realize is that social networking has both its pros and cons.

In the reading, “Social Networking Offers Free Marketing” we see that these type of sites are above all things—free. Accessibility is a reason why everyone turns to these sites--no membership fees and an offering of infinite web connections. As a small business owner, or large business owner for that matter, wouldn’t you agree that you are crazy not to be on these sites? They’re free and have the most web traffic of any website out there. Sounds like a great business marketing plan to me.

But with all good things, there are the negatives. Personally, I feel that people lose touch with everyday person-to-person interaction. Have you noticed that you text or Facebook message someone instead of picking up the phone to call them? Have you noticed that you find out new information about some of your friends through Facebook? Maybe or maybe not--but it’s definitely happening. And, as we saw in the MySpace suicide incident and the Facebook bullying, social interactions online are not completely harm-free. If anything, people are more inclined to be more forward and malicious because there isn’t a reaction from the person in front of you.

Now I turn to you—social networking: love it, hate it, or a little bit of both?

Ethical Evaluations of Police "Sting" Operations

In this week’s reading, the textbook discusses the ethics of police “sting” operations, addressing the question: “Is it morally right for police detectives to entrap pedophiles by posing as children in chat room and agreeing to meet with them?” In my mind, such behavior on part of the police is no different than other sorts of “sting” operations. If it is ethically acceptable to pose as drug dealers in order to catch individuals who are trying to buy drugs, then it should also be ethically acceptable to pose as children in these sorts of “sting” operations. I advocate a utilitarian perspective. If plenty of people are effectively deterred from engaging in child predator behavior as a result of sting operations, the act of lying in order to catch such individuals is insignificant. However, I am unsure as to whether the sting operations have actually effectively decreased child predator behavior in chat rooms. The book goes into no detail about the subject. If there are statistics showing that child predator behavior has decreased since the advent of the sting operations, then I don’t see an issue with continuing to perform them.

Although I would advocate sting operations if they are, in fact, an effective deterrent against child predators, I have mixed feelings about viewing these people for amusement purposes. For example, on the show “To Catch a Predator,” pedophiles seem to be a source of amusement for viewers. Although it may be funny to listen to the creepy old men’s explanations of why they have shown up at a minor’s residence, I feel morally guilty getting amusement from the show. Pedophilia is a mental disorder, and I feel uncomfortable in gaining amusement from watching them get “busted.” Similarly, the online databases are sometimes used as a source of amusement. Surely, some people use the databases in interest of protecting their children, but there as just as many people who like to look at the photos for fun. Is it morally wrong to put sex offenders on stage for our amusement?