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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Hysteria, psychology and ethos

I’ve missed a couple of days, several things have happened. Mainly is this hysteria of this “first mac” virus. Since I’ve become a mac zealot I’ve vowed to change the institution where I work to macs one machine at a time. I’m no fan boy, and I am the first to point out I couldn’t do my job without a PC, mainly for the window into SQL server with MS access, secondly the rest of the institution is PC based so I have to do some testing. When I first start badgering people into looking at the mac platform the first question I have to reassure them about is “Will all my documents work on a mac” Well with work’s MS license they can pick up mac office from stores and boom it just works. The second thing possible converts ask is “Why bother ?” Along with the snazzy interface and the stability is the following very powerful argument. “There hasn’t been a virus that has propagated and survived in the wild for the mac OS X.” Now that sentence is somewhat guilty of the technical speech I’ve decried in previous blogs, I then explain what that means to the laypeople. Firstly you end up explaining what a virus actually is; malicious code followed by the fact that a computer virus like a natural one is an interloper it attacks you without knowing living insidiously off your resources and then uses you as a host to get to other people. So is this, Umpa lumpa, a virus, well it’s malicious code certainly, do you know about it, according to the accounts from people who’ve got it no – it sits there pretending to be a picture archive that needs your password, alarm bells should be ringing, do you know of it’s presence – yes you’ve had to accept the file, run it, not notice it’s a picture then give it your password. So is it by all accounts a virus, I don’t think so – it just doesn’t tick enough boxes so for all the apocryphal predictions lets just see how long it survives in the wild – which I doubt is gonna be long. Does my statement still hold, yes, Yes, YES. Should we consider ourselves immune ? No, hence I feel my statement is truer than that I’ve heard coming from the mouths of Apple Store employees, they don’t put anywhere near as many caveats into their sales pitch, “Macs don’t get viruses, viruses don’t exist for macs” They do but they can’t propagate, linux has viruses, everyone has viruses but given the in built security you really have to help them along to do any real damage.
Next excitement for me was the fact MBP, mac book pro for those with a problem with it’s name… SO WHAT? Have begun shipping with upped specs, it’s not newsworthy anymore but still exciting so I ran, neigh sped, 33 MPH all the way to my apple store to see the demo model they’d claimed they were getting in, but to no avail it’s still not there – but they do have a fookin’ massive poster introducing it, but I was asked to leave after stroking it for a period of time.
One of my converts, lets call her Shirley, had their mac arrive yesterday 20” of glorious apple plastic with inbuilt iSight and Intel Core Duos. After some confussion with mounting drives and installing applications was over with I convinced them to get an iChat login. We use skype all the time but to see the quality of iChat to iChat with dual iSights was a joy to behold. Smooth, quiet, and pretty decent effective noise cancellation. OK Now I’m not a big iChat convert – small user base, limited functionality slightly prone to crashing, but it was nice to use. We had it on again this am and were discussing the sociological and psychological implications of video conferencing. Which could when the other prime online VOip user I chat to gets their mac… SOON could come into play. Firstly with voice it’s fine we have a model for that that we’ve been using for hundreds (?) of years, the lowly old telephone. We don’t see the person we only hear them so we judge their reactions of other metrics, response time, volumes, pitch etc. It’s a perfect fit other than a bit of latency with online voice chat. Initially you try to compare video conferencing to a model, and you immediately think of the second word, conferencing. It’s not accurate though, interesting things happen like a lack of eye contact, cameras are off centre, the new iMac with built in iSight tries to combat this it’s not that much better, and you’ve lost 60 pixels for the pleasure to, to be honest I think that is a good trade off. Network latencies play a part even with the slickest phat 8 megs a second you still can’t interrupt like in real life. Probably says a lot about my conversational ability than it does about video conferencing. We recently did a substantial amount of testing of video conferencing systems at work, and one company supplies a document titled “Pushing forward change.” It is an attempt to mitigate the shortfalls I’ve described and suggests strategies for working round them. I thought that was useful of them to publish. Video conferencing is ok for an online chat, it’s ok for disseminating information in a lecture format, and you could possibly get some interactivity in an online learning situation for small groups. Can it replace real meetings, no. Not without spending hundreds possible thousands on a large room sized suite with multiple camera etc, even then it’s only second best to the honest a god face to face. It’s a human things I’m sure small signals that we emit during conversation and interaction, that can’t be picked up by a camera or a mic and certainly can’t be transmitted electronically. Interestingly I heard of a study this week on one of my multitude of podcasts about a group of students who took 20 emails and had to send them with either a “sarcastic” or “serious” tone and the recipient had to state what the tone was, and apparently we have only a 50/50 chance of getting it correct. This I think is to do with the casual attitude we give to electronic written communications in this day and age. In the age of the letter it had repercussions, it was taken more seriously because it took time to arrive so you had to write it with more care and less frivolity an attitude we should maybe consider when we ‘pen’ e-mails. We believe we can recover a misunderstanding within moments an e-mail doesn’t carry as much weight, we believe people treat the words in an e-mail with less seriousness, how often have friends been caught out with a misaddressed e-mail find one and ask them if an e-mail is taken less seriously ? Be warned.


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