Thursday, April 29, 2010

Facebook and online privacy

I've been thinking about last week's kerfuffle over Facebook's "Instant Personalization" and the concerns it raised over online privacy. One thing that struck me was the dichotomy in the reactions expressed in the comments threads of nearly every online discussion of it.

On the one hand, you had people like the ones writing the blog posts and online articles, and commenters like me, who were various flavors of annoyed at Facebook once again finding ways to make money off of our private information that we thought we'd protected, and forcing us to go digging through account settings to find all the places we needed to change the new defaults so that our private information is protected again. For now, anyway. Until the next time. And on the other hand, you had the commenters who seemed completely dismissive of the whole idea of private information. After all, the online experience is much richer and more entertaining if you and your friends can see all of each other's likes, dislikes, interests, activities...and after all, what's the big deal? What need for this obsessive secrecy about basic information? One commenter explicitly said that privacy is dead and it's no loss, an old-fashioned idea for old-fashioned people who just don't get this whole new online world.

Some of this is the inexperience and lack of judgment of young people who have not yet lost out on, or realized they lost out on, a job or another opportunity because an employer discovered their Facebook pictures of the keg party that got out of hand. Or who do not yet know personally anyone whose identity was stolen, with disastrous consequences for their credit rating and sometimes their employability. One recent example that perhaps few people will feel much sympathy for, but which offers a useful lesson, would be some of the high school students in Mississipi who were involved in the "secret prom" after their high school canceled the official prom rather than allow one girl to take her girlfriend as her official date. The school had, officially, backed down and scheduled a prom---but Constance and her girlfriend and half a dozen other students were the only ones who attended it. The rest of the class attended another event the same night, which publicly they said was "not a prom, just a private party." Unfortunately, several of them posted pictures on their Facebook pages that looked remarkably like prom pictures, and in their comments and status updates described it as a prom. Since they had been allowing everyone to see everything on their Facebook pages, quite a number of sites and individuals captured screenshots and copied pictures before the kids finally woke up and locked down their Facebook accounts. This carelessness will probably affect the court case underway, and will like follow them and be an embarrassment and something of an obstacle for years to come.

The point is not that these students are especially vile and wicked. We all do stupid things, too many of us do unkind and morally dishonest things, when we are young and foolish and the world hasn't taught us empathy yet. The point is that not thinking about their privacy settings, assuming that privacy is an old-fashioned concern irrelevant to the wired-from-birth generation, made this particular unkind act public in a way that is going to embarrass them for years to come.

Situations that more naturally inspire our sympathy include identity theft facilitated by the easy availability of many details of an individual's personally identifying information, but it's the same problem. Carelessness about who may be looking at your personal information that you thought was private can lead to seriously unfortunate consequences. And when Facebook and other social networking sites, as useful and entertaining as they are, compound inattention and inexperience on the part of the user by actively seeking to make it hard for individuals to protect their information, the consequences can be very bad.

You can't enjoy the benefits of online life without some sharing of information, including maybe some sharing of information that in a perfect world you might prefer not to put out there. Further, I honestly do think that there's a grain of truth in the belief that this is a difference in generational attitudes. My generation happily discusses in public things that would have made our grandparents blush to discuss in private. The wired-from-birth generation does not regard as private all the information that my generation considers private. But those are choices that ought to be made by the individual user, on an opt-in basis, what risks they are willing to take in exchange for what benefits.

Control should be with the individual, not with the corporation trying to profit from the individual's information.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

DeCordova Sculpture Park--A Dog-Friendly Art Museum

Only the outdoor sculpture park, of course, not the museum building. But it's still a great outing. Pack a picnic, bring your dogs, bring some friends, and have a great day walking and looking at some impressive and interesting art as well as a lovely landscape. This baseball player graces the beginning of our walk today, near the parking lot and the gift shop:
Baseball player near the entrance

We started the day with a picnic lunch. No picnic tables at the DeCordova, so we brought a sheet to use, which the dogs appreciated:
Addy, Puccini, and Chopper at the picnic

The first installation that stopped us in our tracks was Kitty Wales' Pine Sharks:
Pine Sharks, by Kitty Wales

There were other interesting sights

along the way

but the next installation stop us was this one, called Three Lines. Initially I took several stills to capture the changing positions--and then whacked myself on the head and switched to video mode:

The dogs, also, checked out the art, although canine criticism is strictly forbidden in the park:
Puccini investigates a sculpture

We enjoyed studying this Ent from various angles, although for some reason the artist does not identify it as an Ent, and calls it "Venusvine."
The Ent

Another Kitty Wales piece, "Feral Goose."
Feral Goose, by Kitty Wales

That's just a taste of what we saw today, and as we were leaving we discovered that we had "saved" another entire section of the park for a future visit. Many of the pieces are of course "don't touch," but some are interactive, making this a great excursion for teaching kids that art and museums are fun and interesting, as well as a great way to have an art-enhanced walk with your dogs. As the school year winds to an end, and the weather hopefully gets more reliably nice, start planning for a day there, with kids, dogs, both, or neither. Do plan to carry your own trash (or just move it back to your car before continuing the day) because there are no trash cans. Check with your local library to see if they have passes for the DeCordova; we used a pass that admitted four at no charge. This is a great local treasure, not far from Boston; take advantage of it!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Is Mother Nature annoyed with us?

So far this year we've had major earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Sumatra, Baha California, Spain, the Solomon Islands, and China. That's not a complete list of 6.0 and above earthquakes since January 1.. It isn't even a complete list of the 6.0 and above earthquakes in those places since January 1.

Now, it's worth noting that scientists say this really isn't an unusual level of seismic activity. Six earthquakes of 7.0 or above within the first four months of the year is well within the normal range of variation, apparently. Yet timing, locations, and death toll have been startling and tragic. And the only thing we can do about earthquakes is enforce earthquake-safe building codes in earthquake-prone areas. It's the adoption and enforcement of a sensible earthquake-conscious building code in Chile that helped to make the larger Chile quake less deadly than the Haiti quake.

This week, we have the Iceland volcano. Okay, it's been erupting for a month--but this week, something changed and it started erupting in a different spot, right through icecap, and it's now putting a cloud of volcanic ash into major flight paths all over northern Europe. Scientists can't say how long it will continue to erupt, or how long the eruption will disrupt air travel. Again, this is something we can't control; we can only cope. In this case, that means cancelling air travel for a highly populated area for an unknown period of time. (I should note that what I heard on the news in the last hour suggested that maybe conditions are improving and air travel might start to recover.)

Meanwhile, the ice caps are melting. This March was the warmest March on record. This followed what was, despite the experience of some parts of the US, the fifth-warmest winter on record, worldwide. And that very warming was responsible for some of the American sense of a harsher winter than normal--the melting ice caps means more moisture in the atmosphere, which means storms will produce heavier precipitation, which if those storms happen in areas that are, warmer or not, still below freezing, can result in record-breaking snowfall.

Beyond the obvious yet controversial point that we need to take action to reduce our contributions to global warming if we want to avoid the disastrous effects of some areas becoming much less habitable than they are now while others potentially become more attractive, I have no clear sense of where we go with this. Earth has always been a geologically restless planet; the difference now is that we have both greater means to respond, and greater vulnerability because we depend on high technology and close global interconnections. We need to respect that, and we need to deal with it--intelligently and pragmatically, not ideologically, and not mistake facts we don't like for nefarious political intentions.

We need to start paying attention to what the planet is telling us.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Chinook Dogs visit the Greater Derry Humane Society

Last Tuesday, two Chinook Dogs visited the monthly meeting of the Greater Derry Humane Society. The Chinook Dog is the state dog of New Hampshire, a recreational sled dog whose foundation stud, Chinook, accompanied Admiral Byrd to the South Pole.

Chinooks are medium to large dogs, 55 to 90 pounds, muscular, calm, non-aggressive, affectionate with family and generally reserved with strangers. In addition to sledding, they enjoy skijoring, dog agility, obedience, and search & rescue.

A neat giveaway at Two Little Cavaliers

Over at Two Little Cavaliers they're doing a giveaway for some very cute items from All About Yoshi--hair bows for the dogs among us that need them, or just look incredibly cute in them, and hand painted refrigerator magnets. The items are very cute and Two Little Cavaliers is a fun blog, so head on over there. Also check out Beezer's Bistro, also participating in the Davinia's Birthday Bash giveaway with all-natural homemade treats for both people and dogs.