Writing Machines is the course website for English 170L at Pomona College in Claremont, California.
Apparently, Americans consume a whole bunch of it.
In the spirit of end-of-the-semester blog-posting, check this out.
So, Americans drink more bottled water than beer, are more likely to get whacked by a wheelchair than run over by a lawnmowers, and are only slightly more likely to get into an accident with a bicycle than with a bed...
Hmm. That bed one makes me suspicious.
But! Still more: "Adolescents and adults now spend, on average, more than 64 days a year watching television, 41 days listening to the radio and a little over a week using the Internet. Among adults, 97 million Internet users sought news online last year, 92 million bought a product, 91 million made a travel reservation, 16 million used a social or professional networking site and 13 million created a blog."
I ran across yet another serious use of blogs while reading the news today. It seems like our friend the blog, whom we tend to think of as fun-loving, gossipy, and a bit ADD, has a serious side, too.
This article in the New York Times is talking about how a grassroots organization, Perverted Justice, which runs a blog by the same name (http://perverted-justice.com), has been remarkably effective in catching pedophiles. They have a group of 65 trained adult volunteers who pretend to be underage girls and boys in chat rooms, and when a pedophile agrees to meet the "child" in a certain location, he ends up meeting (and being arrested by) the police instead.
When I was at the gym a few days ago, I read the New York Times magazine that someone had left in the magazine racks. The cover story was about how wikis and blogs could change how we gather intelligence in the future, and I thought, "I actually have some experience with wikis and blogs-- I might understand this!" and read the whole article on the elliptical trainer. Alas, the article, which is called "Open-Source Spying," is now archived, so you can only access it if you have TimesSelect. So much for open sources, NYT...
Basically, one of the big problems facing the various U.S. intelligence agencies-- the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, you name it-- is the difficulty of sharing information between agencies. There is a program called Intelink that tries to promote this sort of information sharing, but because no agency requires that its analysts post anything to it, it's of limited use. Our intelligence agencies, as you may recall, took quite a lot of (probably justified) heat after September 11 when it was discovered that individual analysts had been in the possession of clues that, had they been shared, might have been able to foresee or prevent the terrorist attacks. Information-sharing is also more important today than it used to be during the Cold War because security threats materialize much more quickly and because these threats are global in nature, so one person can't be an expert in them-- you need many people collaborating to get a full picture.
I'm not sure if this is (well, actually, I'm certain that it's not) relevant to the class in any way, but I wanted to share it because it was really funny (to me)--
Apparently there are some morons (hard-core athletes??) who think it's a great idea to go surfing in Cleveland (my hometown) in the middle of December.
There are forty mile per hour winds... the water is (at its most lovely) described as "chocolate" (I finished my scuba certification by diving in Lake Erie... I could see, at most, a grand total of five inches)... The temperature is frigid...
This 21 year old kid, Brian Stelter, has been running the-It blog for the television industry for the last couple of years--it's tvnewser.com. And this kid is seriously high profile, as one of the article's interviewees attests:
"'The biggest TV executives, the men and women who run the top networks, look at this kid's Web site all the time,' said Joe Scarborough, the host of the talk show "Scarborough Country" on MSNBC. 'And the genius of it is that everybody thinks they own him. Everybody says: "Oh, I've got a great relationship with Brian. Let me leak it to him."'"
Here's some more election-oriented stuff from the NYTimes.
The authors speculate about the role that blogs and "netroots" played in influencing the outcome of the last election. They basically conclude, starting with Howard Dean and moveon.org back in 2000, that "Though the netroots have forever changed how campaigns raise money and find votes, the [2006 election] results demonstrated that they cannot yet win elections on their own. But the Democratic Party cannot win major national elections without the netroots."
Sort of an interesting idea--that net is changing the politics, but it's also changing it most profoundly for one party. I know that it's generally accepted that the Republicans have a stronger "get out the vote" machinery--better databases, more efficient methods, smarter people at the phones, or something similar overall--so I find it interesting (although an obvious trend) that the internet would be seen as the main support mechanism for the Democratic party.
Could the entire web one day be less like a catalogue and more like an incredibly knowledgable, helpful person? This is the possibility that is driving proponents of a new movement, Web 3.0, which I read about in a New York Times article this morning. Apparently, our current web is version 2.0, and is characterized by its ability to seamlessly link many different documents, pages, and forms of media. Web 3.0 refers to adding a new layer to the web-- that of semantic meaning, or 'intelligence.'
The author of the article explains, "Their projects often center on simple, practical uses, from producing vacation recommendations to predicting the next hit song. But in the future, more powerful systems could act as personal advisers in areas as diverse as financial planning, with an intelligent system mapping out a retirement plan for a couple, for instance, or educational consulting, with the Web helping a high school student identify the right college."
I just came across an article in the Washington Post about Saudi bloggers. You might think 'Saudi blogger' is an oxymoron, given that Saudi Arabia is an incredibly restrictive place when it comes to communication and free speech. But blogging has been growing incredibly rapidly in the Arabic-speaking world, just as it has in the Western world, during the past several years.
Arabs use blogs for the same purposes as Westerners do: criticizing governmental policies, organizing protests, debating topics like religion, and simply sharing their personal stories. What's particularly interesting about Saudi Arabian bloggers, though, is that equal numbers of women and men blog-- very surprising in one of the most conservative countries the world, in which women are prohibited from travelling without a male guardian or driving a car.
I like that word a lot ;)
There's a short blurb in the New Yorker this week that's worth looking at, especially because our next topic is social software.
The article is about Wikipedia (hence "Wacktivists") and the use that certain political candidates (primarily the two men who were running for senate from New Jersey) made of their Wikipedia entries.
Some of the hijinks are pretty funny--certain entries have at times been changed to read: "He funny looking" (apparently grammar isn't a forte) or to report that a candidate lives in "Flatt Butt, Nebraska, with his husband, Joe."
So election day is this Tuesday, and there's this interesting article in The Washington Post Outlook section today called You Tube? It's So Yesterday about what the authors think some new uses of technology in politics will be in the somewhat near future.
They give a lot of examples, but three in particular were really interesting (and pertinent to this class.) The first is their discussion of the incredible popularity of MMORPGs and how they have already started to play a role (no pun intended!) in politics. Here's a (longish, but fun) quotation: