News Opinion Article: “Internet transforms news sources”

 – The Technique, Georgia Tech, 10/31/08, Opinion Article

For a long time now, I have been very interested in information or otherwise being that guy with access to the information. Perhaps it’s from watching the news every night when I was younger, or maybe I just watch too many spy movies.

Regardless, I am fascinated with how news is gathered, re- ported and the variety of methods in the ways it is brought to the public. It seems now the stars have aligned with the growing influence of the Internet and the rise of social news websites like Digg, Slashdot and Delicious.

People, including myself, are now able to get their information fix in a wide variety of ways, as well as participate in the information gathering process by submitting news stories, images and videos to these social news websites. Furthermore, people are able to get their information at a much faster pace that the traditional media outlets, like CNN or NBC.

For instance, there is an upstart news wire service called @BreakingNewsOn that relies on the rapid- fire speed of the micro-blogging web service Twitter to “tweet” out breaking news stories, most of the time much sooner than any other major news outlet. In journalism, the ability to get that breaking news story out the quickest is a fundamental element that makes this field so competitive.

With this new uprising of social media and the Internet as a platform for information and news, these traditional media are scrambling for a way to be included in this new trend and not be left behind in the Internet’s dust. Big media organizations have begun to experiment with social news and citizen journalism to try to compete, and they have so far been somewhat successful.

Perhaps the most notable new form of citizen journalism is CNN’s iReport, in which users participate in submitting news stories, eyewitness videos, photos and other first-hand accounts of news as it happens. CNN iReport has been largely successful, with submissions of the Virginia Tech shooting and I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota among the first re- ports of events.

Citizen journalism is not a new phenomenon in the world of news media. The modern citizen journalist movement began in the late 1980s when a large number of journalists became disillusioned, as did the general public, with the established news media. The establishment of citizen journal- ism was defined by its purpose to have journalism that was for the people. Today, citizen journalism is still going strong with the birth of blogging, allowing anyone with access to the Internet to publish whatever they want, and with that, report on things that they witness and experience.

However, citizen journalism is not without its inherent risks, namely, reporting on false stories. Anyone with a camera or an eye- witness account can now suddenly become a journalist. For instance, the story of the infamous Rodney King video was broken not by a traditional news reporter, but by a passerby who happened to have a camcorder and recorded the event, later spreading it into the traditional news scene.

One might think that citizen journalism is great, and I have to agree most of the time. It allows the people who actually experience the events that the news covers to document and share that experience with everyone else. However, the risk of the “system” being taken advantage of is high.

Case in point: the recent report a few weeks ago on CNN’s iReport of Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs being rushed to the hospital for a heart attack. The report, which was later found to be completely unfounded and downright false, was submitted to the iReport web- site merely claiming that the story’s submitter knew an “insider” who stated that Jobs was rushed to the hospital displaying symptoms of a heart attack.

The story was quickly picked up by multitudes of blogs and as a result caused Apple’s stock price to plummet with investors fearing the worst. Much later, CNN retracted the story after the rest of the iReport community claimed it was false. Apple had to make an official statement refuting the rumor, and the Securities and Exchange Commission is even investigating the report’s submitter claiming that he purposefully tried to decrease stock prices.

This is a prime example of the fact that, while the vision and execution of citizen journalism works the majority of the time, the risk remains of major catastrophes from false reporting. This is some- thing that needs to be controlled.

News Opinion Article: “Twitter leading new internet revolution”

– The Technique, Georgia Tech, 4/3/09, Opinion Article

I’m pretty sure most of you reading this newspaper have heard of Twitter by now, but for those uninitiated few, Twitter is an online “microblogging” service that let’s users post brief messages called “tweets” with a maximum of 140 characters.

Why 140, you ask? Well, that’s the character limit for a standard text message on a modern mobile phone. The purpose of the short and simple approach is that at any given time you will have your mobile phone with you and can text out to Twitter what you’re doing.

Sure, with an initial glance at Twitter, the concept seems really dumb. Why would anyone care what I’m doing now, and do I really want anyone to know these things? I think the answer to this question is largely a generational thing. Look at the demographic of Twitter or social networking as a whole. The large majority of these users are typically quite young—somewhere around the 16-35 age group; most have used a computer for the majority of their lives.

The personal computer explosion began in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and has grown exponentially from there. The people of the information generation are a lot more comfortable with computers and seem to embrace the many things, no matter how seemingly strange or completely random, the Internet and computers can provide. So, it comes at no surprise that someone like myself—and four to five million other users—have embraced Twitter.

Going back to the question of why anyone would care about what I’m doing, the answer is, “Why not?” The whole point of social networking is to meet, connect and socially interact with other people. By posting little snippets about your day, like that cool movie you just saw or that totally awesome restaurant you just went to, other people could find that interesting or find out something that they didn’t know before.

One could, from reading your tweet, go look up more information on that movie or restaurant that they wouldn’t have otherwise known about. It’s about sharing experiences, both the good and bad. There’s something inherent in the new information generation that compels us to want to share things with people.

Twitter turned three years old in March this year, and it has been getting a lot of press time lately—literally. For instance, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez tweets from his desk on air. The media exposure has increased Twitter’s popularity dramatically to the point that members of traditional media and older generations are embracing it.

Yes, my mother has joined and is following me on Twitter. I doubt my grandmother will follow suit, though, as she’s still confounded by my mother’s profile on “Facepage.” One consequence of Twitter’s explosion into the mainstream is the increasing numbers of older people asking about Twitter and what it is. At least now I can show them this article and get back to my “Internetz.”

Not only has Twitter grown simply in the number of users, but it is also becoming a completely new form of communication. This is perhaps the most exciting feature of Twitter for me. I am able to follow newswire services, which in many cases lets me get breaking news many minutes before other news outlets. Want to know right now what’s going on in the world? Head over to Twitter. I also can follow different websites that update Twitter whenever there’s something new to check out on the site. It’s also a great way to find fun and interesting things on the Internet through people posting links in their tweets.

There’s also a way for Twitter to function like a wide open chat room discussion on popular topics or events with the use of “hash tags,” which are denoted in a person’s tweets by a pound sign followed by a keyword. The search function of Twitter is then able to track these keywords and show related users who are also tweeting about it. The possibilities of what people can do with Twitter are astonishing. Go give it a Google and see what you find.

So when someone asks you what’s the point of Twitter, answer back that it’s a new Internet-based communication network where friends and other people can share information. If he or she still doesn’t get it just show him or her this article, perhaps that might help. However, if by some chance, the person just can’t grasp this darn thing, just give a small chuckle, and say: “It’s just the Internet, grandpa.”

News Story Sample: “Golfing for domestic violence protection”

– Rockdale News, 10/26/10

Project ReNeWal, a domestic violence shelter and resource center that serves Rockdale, Newton and Walton counties, will host their annual Project ReNeWal Classic charity golf tournament on Oct. 29 at The Oaks Course in Covington. The event begins with a lunch at 11 a.m., with the tournament teeing off at 1 p.m.

The team golf tournament aims to raise money for the organization to continue providing domestic violence support and services to the community. Last year, the organization provided over 14,000 individual services, sheltered 410 people and answered over 2000 crisis calls from the tri-county area.

"We've been doing the golf tournament since 1995," said Vickie Stevenson, Executive Director of Project ReNeWal. "It's a major fundraising event."

In the past, the organization's golf tournament has been very successful at collecting donations and sponsorships for the event. However, this year, primarily due to the tight economy, the organization is struggling to meet their expectations.

"It's been quite slow. It's the economy. A lot of businesses that have donated in the past don't exist now," Stevenson said. "We have a much larger committee this year trying to get sponsors."

There are a variety of levels of business sponsorship for the tournament. A four-person team sponsorship with recognition on the scoreboard is $400 per team. Bumping up to the Gold Sponsor for $1000, adds additional recognition on the registration banner and scorecards. There are also sponsorships for $100 for a sign per hole, as well as a $50 scoreboard sponsorship.

Project ReNeWal is a non-profit organization, and as such donations may be tax deductible.

News Story Sample: “Magnet School wins national service award”

– Rockdale News, 8/14/10

The Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology has been awarded the prestigious DifferenceMaker award by the Alliance for Student Activities for being the top community service high school in the United States.

In a service project spearheaded by the Magnet students themselves, both students and faculty competed in a food drive project that enabled the Rockdale Food Bank to remain open in a time of dire need.

The Food Bank was facing temporary closure right before the Thanksgiving holidays due to the massive demand. Students learned of the food bank’s predicament during the initial food drop-offs. The original goal was to donate around 500 cans of food. Upon learning of the food bank’s situation, the students rallied and donated around 1,600 cans of non-perishable food by the end of the month-long drive.

"I think it was the first time that Magnet as a community came together across all grade levels and families to do a meaningful, community, backyard service project," said Susan Gary, a science teacher at the Magnet School.

The project involved an innovative twist on the common "penny war" fund-raising competition, where pennies earn teams points, but higher denomination coins deduct points. Thus, the teams compete by putting more of the "negatively-scoring" coins into their rivals' collection. For the food drive, certain foods were designated with positive points and some with negative points. The negatively-pointed goods were the foods that the Rockdale Food Bank needed more. Grade-levels and faculty competed against each other to donate food to the Food Bank.

"This is really something that the kids came up with in the class," said Mary Ann Suddeth, director of the Magnet School for Science and Technology. "We started a community service class last year because we feel that this is something that’s very important and giving back is something that we preach to our students."

In April, the students who organized the food drive applied for the DifferenceMaker award, completing a rigorous application process. Months later, students and faculty were astonished to learn that they had won. The biggest surprise came from learning that the Magnet School topped other schools with larger projects, such as raising $30,000.

News Story Sample: “OIT report: Social networks present threats”

– The Technique, Georgia Tech, 11/7/08

The spread of malware, viruses and other cyber attacks on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace presents one of the main emerging cybersecurity threats, according to a report issued by Tech’s Information Security Center.

The report, entitled “Emerging Cyber Threats Report for 2009,” outlines various forms of computer security threats that have been increasing in occurrence and are expected to become more prevalent in the near future. These new threats include new ways in which users’ computers can become infected with malware, viruses and bot- nets, as well as new ways of conducting phishing scams.

“Based on research that we do here at Georgia Tech and friends that we have in the industry who are top leaders in this field, we identified these major threats,” said Mustaque Ahamad, director of the Information Security Center. “Our report is more what we can do to save face as we deal with the kinds of threats that we are talking about.”

“Malware, basically, is software that will do bad things if it somehow manages to get installed on your finds a stealthy way to get there,” Ahamad said. “A lot of this is driven by the intent to steal sensitive data that you may have.”

Another type of threat addressed in the new report is that of botnets, which are a type of security breach to a user’s computer in which an attacker can remotely take control of the computer. “With a botnet, [the user’s computer] becomes part of a larger network [of computers],” Ahamad said. These computers are often referred to as “zombie computers,” which are taken over and used en masse with other computers for nefarious purposes.

In the early days of computers, typical security threats did not have to be very advanced, as the idea of security protection was minimal. However, today computer systems are more complex, and many people have secure operating systems and use anti-virus and malware protection software.

“The bad guys have become more sophisticated,” Ahamad said. “They don’t try to blindly get you, but try to get to you where you feel like it is a legitimate action.”

Herb Baines, OIT director of Information Security, described some of the methods in which attackers utilize social networking to conduct their schemes. “Things like ‘adspoits’ on these social net- works. You’ll see a lot of various ads, individual ads, corporate ads, things like that...that may have a malware hidden behind it.”

One of the characteristics of ads on social networking sites that makes them potentially dangerous, besides having the ability to be personalized based on the in- formation that users edit on their profiles, is the fact that these ads link to external websites, outside the confines of the social networking site. “All of these social networks will allow you to click on external links [in ads],” Baines said. “In the case of Facebook, they have done a lot to combat malware on their end, but it’s all those external links that they have no way to police.”

One example of a recent exploit using social networking to infect computers with malware occurred in August this year with the Facebook “Court Jester attack,” in which over 18,000 profiles were targeted within a 24 hour period with links posted in “wall” messages that led to the download of malware.

OIT estimates that on a monthly basis, 10 of the 8,000 systems connected to ResNet/EastNet are affected by malware.

“The bad guys tend to take the path of least resistance,” Ahamad said. “Social networking makes it easier.”

There are many things that users can do to protect themselves from these risks. “Go to OIT’s website and download the free software that is available to them,” Baines said. “Make sure your ma- chine is up to date. Use good anti- virus software, use secure browsers, block cookies, JavaScript and popups.”

“There is some protection on OIT’s part,” Baines said. “However, it still comes down to the users’ awareness.”

News Story Sample: “Student job market still steady in shaky economy”

 – The Technique, Georgia Tech, 10/24/08

For those Tech students coming close to their graduation day, Tech’s Career Services provides a wide variety of options to facilitate students at finding the right job for them and connecting them with prospective employers. Additionally despite the gloomy outlook on the national economy and its effects on the job market, the job outlook for recent Tech graduates is still healthy for the majority of majors at Tech, especially engineering and computer-related fields.

However, with the economy constantly slumping in the past few years, many students are concerned about their prospects for getting a job after graduation. According to Ralph Mobley, director of Career Services, the job market for technical skills is still good.

“There’s just as much recruiting [this year] as a year ago,” Mobley said.

He advised that as the times change, the skill set favors certain fields more. At this point in time, technical skills are a focus of employers, which Mobley said melds well with Tech’s engineering focus. The job market for positions in fields like investment banking or the automotive industry are weak sectors according to Mobley, who also described the recruitment for consulting positions as “holding up.“

The last major decline in the job market was back in 2001.

“The bottom fell out in the job market, and continued to go down in 2003. It’s been on a steady climb until 2007,” Mobley said.

“We seem to still be in a strong position. This is particularly true for many of the industries that traditionally recruit at Tech,” Mobley said. Many companies, such as ExxonMobil, Shell and Schlumberger, which have been typical fare at Tech for recent graduates, are still recruiting. Additionally, according to Mobley, many consulting companies and high-tech companies such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Microsoft are still recruiting at around the same level as a year ago.

The job market has declined slightly in 2008, but according to Mobley, it doesn’t seem that dramatic.

“The [job] placement rate for new graduates is around 60 percent, and about one quarter of graduates said they are going on to graduate school.”

According to the Job Outlook 2009 Special Report produced by National Association of Colleges and Employers, the projected hiring rate for the class of 2009 shows a very stagnant level. However, there does not seem to be any indication of a decrease in hiring compared to the 2008 rates.

“I will note that there is a big difference between recruiting and hiring. We won’t have a clear hiring picture for a while yet, perhaps not until January,” Mobley said.

As for any change in the amount of students opting for graduate school rather than testing the job market, there has not been any evidence available yet to show a possible increase in graduate school applications due to the current economic climate. “[In] my experience is that grad school applications increase during tight job markets, but I don’t want to speak for our admissions department,” Mobley said. The admissions department was unavailable for comment at time of printing.

News Story Sample: “Stingerette still coping with an influx of new riders”

– The Technique, Georgia Tech, 10/8/08

Despite the new Stingerette operating hours announced earlier this semester to help make the on-demand shuttle service more useful to students, some have found the service to be unreliable and difficult to use in the last month, especially around the first three weeks of the semester.

Reports of long wait times for the Stingerette and absent dispatchers has frustrated those students who use the service to get safely across campus after dark.

“They rarely pick up their phones,” said Shazia Mohammad, fourth-year CHBE major. “I tried for two hours straight around 1:30 a.m. one night and no one picked up.” Other students, including Mohammad, recalled previous semesters with less-than-stellar service and wait times of up to 30 minutes.

According to the Parking and Transportation office, there are still issues with the Stingerette shuttle service.

“We have had a huge increase, an absolutely huge increase, in the number of people using the Stingerette services this semester,” said David Williamson, assistant director of Parking and Transportation

“The increase in demand is the principal cause of people having difficulty reaching the Stingerette dispatcher, as well as the wait times for rides,” Williamson said.

Williamson described that from around the beginning of August to mid-September, the Stingerette has taken 5,825 call requests and transported 8,292 riders around campus. These numbers represent a 42 percent increase in call request and a 32 percent increase in riders utilizing the Stingerette service. This increase in demand for the service has put increased strain on the current ability of the dispatchers and drivers to coordinate and schedule consistently prompt and efficient service according to Williamson.

Current data from Parking and Transportation shows that the Stingerette staff is able to respond to about 50 percent of all calls for service within five minutes, and about 80 percent of all call requests within ten to eleven minutes. At times the number of calls exceeds the supply capacity. This is the cause of many of the backups, delays and unanswered calls that many students have experienced. Fortunately, the service has been getting better and more reliable as of late, despite the increasingly heavy demand.

“The Stingerette was not working for the first three weeks of school, but it started back up at the beginning of last week,” Mohammad said. “They even pick up the phone now.”

Given that there have been changes with the Stingerette operation hours, combined with the increased awareness toward possible criminal activity, more students have chosen to use the Stingerette.

“Meeting the needs of this type of growth in demand is a daily challenge for our staff, and I would ask that riders be patient during this adjustment period,” Williamson said.

Additionally, many students have experienced problems with long, inconsistent wait times for the Stinger buses, especially at the beginning of the semester. According to Williamson there are many factors that are beyond the control of Parking. The beginning of the fall semester is harder on the buses due to the transition from minimal summer staff to a new full staff. The capacity is an issue with the limited number of buses.

“We are aware of the issue,” Williamson said. He advised that simply hiring more busses would clog the system more.

The current on-time performance of the bus service is at around 70 percent. “This is not where we want to be. We want something around 80 percent,” Williamson said.

Parking is looking into the problem of over-capacity, which occurs when a bus is unable to stop to pick up new riders because it is too full. The current contract with First Transit Company, which operates Tech’s bus services, ends in a year, and Parking is looking into getting larger busses.

There are other options that Parking is hoping to implement to help riders use the bus services more easily and efficiently, such as having more NextBus interactive maps like the one at the Student Center information desk, as well as possibly having text messaging services to find bus locations and stop times. - A Quick Review.

You take photos, right? You put them all on your computer, and probably upload them to places like Flickr or Picasa, right? Do you feel like you’re missing something? Something physical?

An actual photograph perhaps?

This missing element is what new Bay Area startup PicPlum is aiming to fill - provide that seemingly lost satisfaction of holding and sharing an actual photograph. 

The overall focus behind PicPlum is simplicity and quality in the process of printing and sharing photo prints. I don’t think there’s an easier way to make and send photo prints to yourself or a loved one. Just upload your best selection of photos and PicPlum will print and send your photos on their way. Automatically. You don’t have to do anything else. And as for quality, the printing process uses [LightJet] printers on high-quality, non-glossy-yet-non-matte “lustre” paper. The photos look great…for the most part* (more on that later).

By default, PicPlum works as a subscription service. For $7 a month, you get a batch of up to 15 prints each sent to whomever month. You can also do a pay-as-you-go plan, as well as paying a bit more each time you want to go over your monthly 15 ($1.50 for shipping and $0.50 per print).

And while PicPlum is currently focused on targeting new parents and parents with young children, it certainly applies to other people as well. I am approaching this review as a photography enthusiast that simply wants to have some lovely prints of my favorite photos that I take. (I find it quite serendipitous that the weekend I decide to experiment with and old film camera, is the same weekend that PicPlum launched.) Prints from every camera now!

And my first batch arrived in the mail today.


As described, the 4” x 6” prints came in a nice, dare I say, plum-colored envelope. Itself was protected by a stiff cardboard envelope to prevent bending. My photos arrived in ship-shape - no bends, tears or any damage.

Most of the photo prints looked fantastic. The printing process, as described, was very high quality and you can’t see any digital artifacting or dot pattern from the printer. 

I uploaded a variety of photos, most being color, but I slipped in a few black and white photos as well. The black and white photos came out brilliantly. I love black and white photos, so it’s nice to find that this service is not color-only.

Now, did you happen to catch that little asterisk I wrote earlier? Yes, not all the photos looked great, unfortunately. And, good thing for PicPlum, I think the issue was more to do with they way certain photos were shot and edited than the printing process.

I had a few photos that had a pretty strong blue gradient in the sky due to the angle of the sun, as well as one photo that I added some vignetting. I think the strong gradient of these colors, the saturation level of the digital photo, and perhaps some color saturation in the printing process itself caused the printer(s) to reach it’s limit on color level graduations. That’s the best way I can describe it. Now I don’t know what printer(s) were used, so I have no way to verify this. It’s just my preliminary judgement. 


( ^ digital version)


( ^ print version - disregard the dust. I never use my scanner!)

Notice how the vignetting is not a smooth gradient in the print version like it is in the digital version.


( ^ digital version)


( ^ print version)

In this comparison, notice how the blue in the sky, again, doesn’t have a smooth gradient in the print version. The print version seems a bit over-saturated. 

Overall, I am very pleased with the experience and the quality of the prints, and I plan to continue to use the service for the time being. Time will tell if I continue with the subscription or bump down to the pay-as-you-use-it account. From what I’ve seen, as long as you watch how the much the saturation levels of the digital photo and how color levels change in big open spaces, such as the sky, your prints should come out looking fantastic. 

Verdict: PicPlum gets an A.

Apple A4, Intel Atom and Mac OS X - a quick thought.

Ever wonder why Apple removed support for Intel’s Atom processors in the latest update release of Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.6.2)? Even though Apple hasn’t released a Mac that ran on Atom processors, previous builds of Leopard and Snow Leopard would boot and run on Atom machines, noticeably all those tiny netbooks floating around, like the Dell Mini 9/10. The “hackintosh” community was all over this. Now, since the release of 10.6.2, attempting to install (hack) OS X onto a machine running an Atom will simply not work (without some modding at the kernel level of the OS).

Now why would Apple do this? The first simple answer would be that it’s one way to prevent people from installing OS X non-Mac hardware. Yet, you can still install OS X onto computers running other processors. Why single-out Atoms?

Now, after Apple announced the iPad and their shiny in-house-designed A4 chip, another scenario seems to pop into mind. The A4 chip is a competitor to the Intel Atom chip - reasonably fast and super low power. Perfect for those ultra-mobile devices. Perhaps Apple-designed chips are not destined for just iPads (and next-gen iPhones)?

This article from describes this scenario really well. I think Apple dropped support for Intel Atoms from OS X because it has no plans to have a Mac with an Intel Atom processor. Instead they will use their own chips.

How would you like to see the next generation MacBook Air running some variant of an A4 (A5?) chip with nice speed and crazy-awesome battery life? How about a similar iPad-like month-long standby time allowing you to have an “always on” MacBook Air running Mac OS X? While the current A4 is too under-powered for this, perhaps the next iteration ARM design with dual-core (Cortex A9?) capabilities will find its way in there. Who knows?