In Search Of The Internet Cafe

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Our cruise ship passengers are a diverse lot, from many different countries, but when we hit an island we share one common goal: find an Internet cafe with free wireless so we catch up on our email since the last stop. Amazingly, this is not difficult. Even on the tiny island of Mayreau, population 300, you can find multiple internet options that not only allow to connect with the world but also drink cold local beer — on Mayreau, it’s Hairoun — with Bob Marley playing on the jukebox and views like the one below. Not bad . . . but it is the 21st century after all.

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Webner House On The Web — Literally

Selling a house sure has changed a lot since the last time we did it!

20141107145227103797000000This shouldn’t be a surprise.  As you would expect, technology and social media have been brought strongly into the mix.  Yesterday a professional photographer come out to take pictures of our happy homestead, and now they’re on the web.  You can find the link to the photos, taken on a rainy afternoon, here.  Our realtor also instantly prepared glossy brochures with the photos and a description of our house and neighborhood that are resting on our kitchen island, ready to be reviewed by potential buyers, and there is a basket next to the front door with plastic shoe coverings and a little sign asking that visitors use the booties to avoid tracking outdoor debris into the pristine Webner House premises.

Speaking of visitors, there’s no need to worry about that potentially awkward seller-buyer encounter.  In fact, there’s an app for that.  I downloaded it today, and it is supposed to keep track of when people are going to be visiting.  Our realtor also calls, emails, and texts, too, to make sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to a showing.  The only thing I’m lacking is an ankle bracelet to give me a reminder electric shock when it’s time to hit the road and let the visiting couple roam freely through the house.

How Common Is Plagiarism?

On Friday the U.S. Army War College formally revoked the master’s degree it had conferred upon Senator John Walsh, a Democrat from Montana.  The college found that Walsh had plagiarized significant portions of the research paper that he was required to complete as a prerequisite to graduation.

A review board at the college found that Walsh’s plagiarism was “egregious,” that the paper was “primarily composed of verbatim liftings from other sources,” and that the plagiarism was “intentional.”  According to news reports, Walsh’s office said he disagreed with the report’s findings but accepted the review board’s decision; he also apologized to the people of Montana.  Walsh, who was appointed to the Senate seat, dropped out of the race for election to a full term after the New York Times reported the plagiarism charges.

How common is plagiarism — the act of borrowing someone else’s work or ideas without attribution?  No one really knows.  Some years ago the Los Angeles Times reported that 30 percent of college term papers were plagiarized.  Another piece says that many college students engage in a practice called “patchwriting,” where they don’t simply engage in verbatim copying of prior work but instead try to paraphrase and rearrange.  In either case, of course, the writer isn’t doing their own original thinking.

The internet has made plagiarism both easier and more difficult.  Easier, because there is so much content that can be borrowed with a few clicks of a mouse; harder, because there are now software programs and services that can scan phrases and compare them to see whether matches are found in the mass of words floating somewhere in the cloud.  It’s hard work, but if teachers care enough, they can ferret out plagiarized work.

Of course, the means of accomplishing plagiarism doesn’t explain why people are motivated to plagiarize in the first place.  Perhaps the best indication of the commonness of plagiarism is the fact that you can find multiple articles addressing the most common excuses students offer for their plagiarism.  Sad, isn’t it?

A Small Price To Pay

Today I got a notice from WordPress.com, the website that hosts the Webner House blog, provides the software that allows the easy creation of postings, and keeps an archive of our blog running back to the first posting in February 2009.  The notice said it was time to pay for another year of our family’s little contribution to the internet.

The price?  $20 for 10 GB of space.

What a bargain!

I don’t pretend that the Webner House blog means much in the grand scheme of things.  It’s not setting public opinion or providing essential insight into modern culture.  But it is fun.  I long ago told Richard, who set it up and presented it as a Christmas present in 2008, that the Webner House blog was the best present I’ve ever received.  It allows me to vent and satisfy my nagging writing Jones, it makes me feel like I haven’t totally lost touch with the modern world, and it provides a forum to give an occasional shout-out to people and things that make my life better.  And I like it when I hear from EJ, or am challenged by Winship, Doug, or Marcel.  If you can’t defend your opinions, maybe you shouldn’t have them in the first plact.

As I’ve mentioned before, blogging is great because it allows Joe Everyman to have his say.  It is the First Amendment and Speakers’ Corner writ large, where technology means that anyone with a computer can conceivably reach anyone else with a computer and voice their views.  Their position may be rejected or approved, be treated as enlightened or idiotic, but at least it is made public and, potentially, heard.  And that is a great thing.

All of that for only $20?  Rarely, if ever, will you find more value for the buck.

Fake Wireless Network Names

If you’ve got the wireless function activated on your smartphone, occasionally you’re going to get pop-up information boxes asking if you want to link to some random wireless networks that happen to be operating in the vicinity.  Usually the network names are generic and instantly forgettable, like “mywireless” or “Millerguest.”

Recently, however, my cell phone listed a wireless network name that stopped me in my tracks:  “FBI Surveillance.”

For all I know, it really was a network for FBI agents who were checking things out nearby, but I’m guessing it was a razz by a fellow American who is tired of the government snooping on our every activity and thought such a wireless name might cause the rest of us to develop  enhanced awareness of threats to our liberty.  If so, it worked.  It also got me to thinking:  what are some other fake wireless network names that might give the random cell phone user whose wireless search function is on a bit of a jolt?  Here are some suggestions:

mobileebolatestinglab

123KGBSleeperCell

Satan666

joebidensexden

DronePilotNet

HackMyNeighb0r!

KochBrothers$$$$

Your suggestions are welcome.  C’mon, America — let’s call an end to lame wireless network names!

The iPod At Technology’s End

Earlier this month I went to the Apple store at Easton Town Center and bought a second iPod — now called an iPod classic — because I wanted a spare I could use in my car and at the office on weekends.  Little did I know that I was buying one of the last iPods to be sold in an Apple store.

IMG_3056This week, after Apple announced its rollout of two new iPhones and the Apple Watch, the iPod classic was removed from the Apple on-line storePopular Mechanics reports that the iPod classic has been removed from Apple stores, too.

The iPod was introduced in October 2001, which means it’s ridiculously ancient by modern technology standards.  Technostuds view it as a kind of quaint antique, with its buttons rather than a touch screen and its single-purpose design and its internal spinning hard drive storage unit.  Sales of iPods of all kinds have dropped off, from a high of more than 54 million in 2009 to less than 12 million in 2012.  Obviously, consumers are focused more on multi-purpose functionality and would rather have an iPod app on their smartphone than carry around multiple devices.

All of that’s true, of course, but I love my iPod anyway.  It may be outdated, but the iPod has a certain timeless quality to it.  iPod classic is a good name for it, too, because it is a classic, like a gleaming 1930s sedan or a gorgeous art deco building.  With its crisp lines and sleek appearance, the iPod is simply a beautiful device — in my view, much more attractive than an iPhone or other substitutes.  And I like tinkering with it, creating playlists and shifting songs from here to there.  I like the raw storage capacity that allows me to store 40,000 songs — 40,000 songs! — and listen to any one of them when I’m taking my morning walk.  I don’t care that it only performs that one function when it performs it so well, and in such a cool package.  I’ll use it, proudly and happily, until the spinning hard drive finally gives up the ghost.

I’m glad I bought one of the last iPods to be sold at an Apple store.  I’ll almost hate to take it out of the box.

My Letter To Congressman Tiberi About Net Neutrality

Today is Internet Slowdown Day.  It’s a form of protest intended to educate people to the concept of net neutrality — the notion that all websites should load with equal speed, and access providers shouldn’t be permitted to sell faster access to the those who can afford to pay top dollar for it and relegate the rest of us to the slow lane.  WordPress, the nifty website that hosts our little blog, is one of the companies that is participating in Internet Slowdown Day.

I think this is an important issue, and not just because I’m a blogger who can’t afford to pay for the internet fast lane and who hates the spinning circle of death, besides.  So, I did something that I’ve never done before:  I wrote an email to my congressman, Representative Pat Tiberi, using his website to do so.  Here’s what I wrote, after the initial introductory paragraph:

I found nothing on your website to address the issue of net neutrality. Therefore, I wanted to write to encourage you to support the concept of net neutrality and oppose any legislation or regulations that would allow internet providers to slow down certain websites or prefer certain internet addresses over others.

The internet is a great thing precisely because it allows ordinary people to voice their views and, in some small way, influence public debate and the direction of national policy. The internet therefore is a bastion of democracy and fairness in a world in which the media has become increasingly consolidated and corporatized.  I think bloggers (and, in the interests of full and fair disclosure, I should note that I am one of them) make an important contribution to American culture precisely because they are independent voices. Whatever we might think about the political or social views that bloggers express, we need more independent voices, not fewer.

The blogging culture in America has thrived because bloggers’ views can be delivered to readers, or to anyone who taps in the right Google search, on a level playing field with the titanic companies that otherwise dominate American media. If the principle of net neutrality is not preserved, that will no longer be true. People who might otherwise read a blog to access a different point of view will encounter the dreaded spinning circle that says that no connection yet exists, become frustrated, and move on to some larger website that can afford to pay for faster access without waiting to see what the humble bloggers have to say. In our impatient, hurry-up world, where we’ve come to expect and demand instantaneous internet access, such a result means that the independent voices will effectively be stilled, and the consolidation and corporatization of the media will become even more pronounced. Let’s not let that happen!

Congressman Tiberi, I know that there are many issues before Congress, but I think this is one of special importance where the decisions being made could have significant ramifications for the future of our country and our culture of free speech and open communications. I hope I can count on your support for net neutrality and your opposition to any initiative that would quash the voices of the little guys.

If you also think that the notion of net neutrality is an important one, please write your representative or Senators and let them know of your views.  Let’s try to keep the internet a public forum in which all can participate equally.