Posts Tagged ‘Ars Technica’

E.T. LandfillThirty one years ago, Atari took some of its trash to a landfill. Although things get dumped in landfills every day, this particular landfill became a legend among those who play video games because it occurred in the midst of Atari’s video game crash and included unsold copies of E.T., which has frequently been cited as one of the worst video games of all time. The other day, a documentary film crew dug up the landfill to see if the story was true (even though it was pretty clear that it was).

Not surprisingly, the dig revealed a bunch of trash that Atari had disposed of in 1983. What may be surprising to anybody who regularly throws things away, though, is the fact that Atari’s 31-year-0ld trash is essentially unchanged from the day that it was buried in the ground. Does the image above look like something that has broken down even a little? Yes, things are sort of rumpled, but that is more likely the result of a trash compactor than sitting underground for 31 years.

Kyle Orland at Ars Technica asks what this can teach us about the creation of legends, since unlike many urban legends, the facts in this case were well-documented. I think that the more important question, though, is how we can use this as a lesson to encourage others to recycle. E.T.’s “home” supports WALL-E’s message that in the future, most of the trash you throw away is not going to look like fertile soil, it is going to look just like it did when you put it in the garbage.

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In the grand scheme of things, keeping your computer passwords in a notebook near your computer is probably not the stupidest thing you can do. Trying to sell a $10 notebook in which people can write their passwords is probably more stupid. As a result, it was not a huge surprise to read on Ars Technica that Password Minder appears to have come and gone. Actually, it is unclear whether Password Minder ever really existed:

Yes, the idea was real. So was the infomercial. One of the ways Telebrands tests its products is by generating a commercial to gauge interest, a Telebrands PR representative told Ars. “In this case, the company created a test infomercial to determine interest in the product,” the rep said. “Since there was minimal interest, the product was not produced for public distribution.”

If this is the case, there are probably a few people out there who are really disappointed that they have never received their Password Minders! I guess that they will just have to watch this clip from Ellen and dream about what might have been:

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Your students aren’t reading, what are you going to do about it? If you teach a class with an online textbook linked to CourseSmart, you may soon have the option of checking up on them, whether you use this ability to assign grades, decide whether you’ll answer their questions, or just give helpful advice on study habits. Technology from CourseSmart that is currently undergoing testing at eight schools will allow professors to see a number of things about their students’ reading habits, including an “engagement index” based on whether students had opened each page, how often, how long they’d spent on it, and whether they’d taken electronic notes.

Slate plays up the Big Brother aspect, while Ars Technica focuses on students’ ability to game the engagement index. Perhaps the most telling quote comes at the end of the New York Times article:

After two months of using the system, Mr. Guardia is coming to some conclusions of his own. His students generally are scoring well on quizzes and assignments. In the old days, that might have reassured him. But their engagement indexes are low.

“Maybe the course is too easy and I need to challenge them a bit more,” Mr. Guardia said. “Or maybe the textbooks are not as good as I thought.”

I vote for that.

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The recent shooting in Newtown, CT, caused many to think about gun control laws. Of course, the NRA held a press conference blaming violence in the media – including movies and video games – and arguing, as always, that the solution is actually more guns, this time in the form of armed school guards (overlooking the fact that armed guards do not always prevent school shootings). Earlier this week, Senator Lamar Alexander reiterated the claim that media violence, particularly video game violence, is worse for us than the presence of guns in our homes, stating “I think video games is a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people. But the First Amendment limits what we can do about video games and the Second Amendment to the Constitution limits what we can do about guns.”

While it is nice that he recognizes first amendment rights as well as second amendment rights, his statement fits into the larger narrative that we should look everywhere but at gun laws in order to prevent gun violence. The fact that video games are playing a role in this narrative is also interesting because it demonstrates the extent to which they are still seen as a fringe activity. As the previously linked Ars Technica article points out:

“[I]f Alexander had said, “I think TV is a bigger problem than guns, because TV affects people,” he’d have been laughed out of the room. That’s because TV has been an established part of the cultural landscape for the entire memory of almost every person alive today. Thus, TV’s effects, both good and bad, are a well-known quantity to practically everyone. Video games, on the other hand, are still seen as a new and hard-to-understand media bogeyman by many of the elderly voters who vote in disproportionate numbers and, consequently, by many of the politicians they help put in office.

When discussing the media in class, I like to use the following quote by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from 1811:

“Where the reading of novels prevails as a habit, it occasions in time the entire destruction of the powers of the mind: it is such an utter loss to the reader, that it is not so much to be called pass-time as kill-time.  It conveys no trustworthy information as to facts; it produces no improvement of the intellect, but fills the mind with a mawkish and morbid sensibility, which is directly hostile to the cultivation, invigoration, and enlargement of the nobler faculties of the understanding.”

I first present this to students without the bolded words and ask them to guess what it is about. They provide a wide variety of responses, but nobody has ever guessed that it is about reading novels because today reading novels is seen as a valuable use of one’s time, not the “kill-time” that Coleridge saw it as. The Ars Technica article also links to an article that I wasn’t aware of discussing the broader moral panic surrounding novels. Maybe the NRA will bring us full-circle and blame murder mysteries for the next school shooting.

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There have been a number of times that I’ve discussed the ways in which public information on the internet is not private.  If you make photos or information about yourself publicly available, you have to recognize that others might take it into consideration when forming an opinion of you.  Now, however, the city of Bozeman, MT wants to know what private information you have, too.  As noted by Ars Technica, the city’s background check waiver form includes the following request:

“Please list any and all, current personal or business websites, web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc.” the form reads. But Bozeman isn’t simply interested in finding out where to look for potentially embarrassing personal details; the city wants full disclosure, since the form demands username and password information for each. City employees will apparently be able to dig through any information applicants have put online, regardless of whether it’s accessible to the public.

Applicants need not worry about their potentially sensitive private information, though, because the city won’t look at “protected” things:

A local news station spoke to Bozeman’s attorney and asked about the potential for problems of this sort. The city’s answer? Trust us! “One thing that’s important for folks to understand about what we look for is none of the things that the federal constitution lists as protected things, we don’t use those,” said attorney Greg Sullivan.

An examination of private information like this is ridiculous and the recent media attention will hopefully end Bozeman’s use of this practice.  If not, your next employer may want to come to your house and take a look through your belongings before deciding whether or not you should be hired.  Who doesn’t love Big Brother?

Update: Bozeman rescinded this policy on Friday, June 20, stating:

The extent of our request for a candidate’s password, user name, or other internet information appears to have exceeded that which is acceptable to our community.  We appreciate the concern many citizens have expressed regarding this practice and apologize for the negative impact this issue is having on the City of Bozeman.

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