Are discounts ripping us off?

I am an avid coupon collector, a bargain shopper, and a little too obsessed with finding good deals- on top of those “good” qualities, I am also a cheap skate. Not only do I have 5 emails so that I can receive 5 of the same coupons to a store, restaurant, or activity- but I basically run off of “Free 30 Day Trials”. If I see “Buy-One Get-One Free”, I am much more likely to buy one, and if I have a rewards card to a store I am much more likely to shop there.

In class, we discussed the downsides of these “sales“. A lot of the time, it’s not really “Buy-One Get-One Free”, it’s actually “We stuck two together, raised the price, and are now trying to make you feel like you’re getting a deal”– or even, “We knew you wouldn’t just buy one without some incentive, so we’ll take your money anyway and give you two which will make us more money in the long run”. We also discussed free trials of games and software. On my iPhone, I always download the free trial version of a game or app before I download the actual $0.99 version. But is the free trial really free? Is it free if you invest time and interest for a certain period of time?

Although this subject is extremely controversial, I have to admit that I disagree with the notion of “Nothing in Life is Free”– because although I may invest time, interest, effort, or money into something, I gain knowledge, experience, contentment, and usually a good memory. I would have to say that discounts don’t rip us off, because even though the store is gaining money that they might not have without the discount, we always gain something from them as well. Even if a store is ripping me off with what I think is a sale, I still receive that good feeling everyone gets when they find a good deal.

I believe discounts, sales, trials, and coupons have a mutual benefit to the buyer and seller. The seller receives money from of the deal they offer, and if nothing else, the buyer receives a feeling of control from finding the deal in itself and contentment with knowing their “saving” money- when their actually spending it.

Although some people see this as vindictive, deceiving, or dishonest on the sellers part, I see it as an extra level of enjoyment when it comes to spending money- because with or without a coupon or an extra bonus to my purchase, I would be spending money; coupons, freebies, and discounts just make it more enjoyable and make you feel better about what your spending your money on.

Goodbye for Now!

Rip-Off Photo

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are video games art?

In class last Tuesday, we talked about a big debate going on in the game world: whether or not video games should be considered art.

The reason this question has become so prevalent in the world of gaming has a lot to do with new ideas about rating policies and consequences for selling games rated “M” (mature) to minors. Although there is no punishment inflicted onto a worker a a movie theatre for allowing underage teens to get into “R” rated movies- the new idea proposed for game ratings implies that if a employee of a store sells “M” rated games sells one to an underaged teen they can be fined and/or fired.

At first, I didn’t think this new policy had anything to do with art- but it became more clear as the conversation went on.

One definition of art we heard in class was “a way of arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses.” According to this definition, I can definitely agree that video games are a form of art. I have always seen video games as an addictive, time consuming activity– and obviously it wouldn’t be either of these things if it did not have some sort of emotional, sensual affect on it’s players. Video game designers purposefully make games that get the players mentally and emotionally involved, whether it’s Tetris (highly addicting) or W.o.W. (highly interactive), its purpose is to have some sort of effect on a persons senses.

Does that make video games a form of art? If so, is it fair to put these kind of regulations on a form of artwork?

Video game designers are worried about this new law not only because it will limit their creativity, but it will also completely change the amount of freedom they have when creating games. If this new law is enforced on all stores that sell video games, they will probably not be too excited about selling “M” rated games- and will probably discontinue carrying them in order to keep their employees safe from the consequences this law includes.

Knowing these circumstances has changed my opinion on game ratings. I have always been the type of person who is very against violent video games– I think they have a much stronger influence on our younger generations than any movie or TV show can; because when playing a video game, you are choosing to be the person making the decisions. In Grand Theft Auto, you decide whether or not to shoot the cop and steal the car or pick up the hooker on the street corner. However, when watching a movie or television, you just see what the other people do- you don’t control the plot like you do in video games.

While I am very against these violent, inappropriate games being sold to young, easily influenced children- there really is only so much you can do about it; and after spending a semester at UT Dallas and interacting with many ATEC (arts & technology) majors, and seeing all the different, difficult steps that are included in the process of creating a video game– I can definitely see how the idea of this new law would enrage the game artist. (See! They are even referred to as game “artist”.)

The main concern boils down to whether or not video games are art, or merely a bad influence.

What do you think?

Goodbye for Now!

WoW photo

Grand Theft Auto photo

Visual Confections

Being an OCD, artistic person, I have always considered appearance as the #1 priority in any type of work. Whether it’s a paper you’re turning in, a painting you want to hang on the wall, or a website you’re visiting- the appearance is the first thing you see, the first impression you get, and usually the deciding factor on whether or not you like whatever it is you’re looking at.

Have you ever sat through a presentation that might have been interesting, but the way it was presented made it less appealing? Plenty of people do valuable research over various topics, but present it in such a way that makes it seem worthless.Why waste your time coming up with good ideas if you don’t plan on presenting them as if they are worth listening to? On the opposite end of the spectrum, think of all the people who have no idea what they are actually talking about, but present it in a way that makes it seem legitimate. That is why I consider the visual aspect of presentations as something that can be more important than the content.

I have the same opinion when it comes to website home pages. When I go to a website, I want to be able to find what I am looking for as fast as possible, I want it to be easy to navigate through, and I want to be able to see the purpose of the site as soon as the home page loads on my screen.

In class last Tuesday, we got to compare and contrast different websites and explain what we liked and didn’t like about them. When my partner and I showed each other our websites, we both had the same top preferences when it comes to websites home pages- visually appealing and straight forward. No one wants to look at a website that has plain text, no photos, and no animation (or I hope they don’t), and no one wants to look at a website that is confusing or involves 20 different clicks to get to the page you wanted.

One example of a dreadful webpage was the UT Dallas Orion site (screen shot below). Once you log in, you are taken to this screen…
To be honest, I have been using Orion since last March, and I still don’t know where everything is on that dumb site. It’s confusing, all the content is hidden, and the summaries of things like your “Account Inquiry” just restate what the first page said. Orion is presented in a very unappealing way (visually), and really just makes me feel bored and stressed as soon as I pull it up.

On the other hand, an example of a site that I regularly visit and enjoy visiting is my Gmail account (again, screen shot below). Not only can I search through my mail in the search bar, but it has all my mailboxes labeled clearly. Also, you can change the theme and put pretty pink flowers! Visually appealing? Of course!

Basically, when it comes to websites (or anything else, for that matter), it’s very easy to “judge the book by it’s cover”– because if someone isn’t concerned with the appearance of what their presenting, it’s hard to believe that they are actually expecting viewers to take them seriously.

Goodbye for Now!

is Apple on a PowerTrip?

The last few weeks in class we have been talking about all kinds of social networks; whether they are online, at a job, within a family, or through similar interests, they usually have a setup like this:

One central node with users connected to it who share information with other users, who share with more users, and so-on. Normally, networks rely on their users to share with others in order to grow or gain popularity. Networks like the one displayed above give users freedom to use and share however they please with who ever they want, but the network of Apple products and service is ran a little differently.

Today in class, someone drew their interpretation of Apples network on the board, and it looked something like this:

Apples network is centralized. A network like this relies on itself to attract users; since users cannot share information with others, they have to go straight to the source (Apple, in this case) to get applications, help, new features or advice on the product.

Apple is a great example of a centralized network in many ways, some positive and most negative.

The iPad and iPhone were the devices we focused the most on. Since both of these products run off of apps, you have to go straight to the Apple App Store in order to get different features on your device: features that you pay for, features you can’t duplicate, and features you can’t share with others.
Another way Apple makes users rely solely on them is the level of trust they put in their customers when it comes to maintenance on the devices. In the article we were assigned to read, (link @ bottom of page), Cory Doctorow discusses the negative aspects of the iPad and Apple. One quote he gives states:

“Buying an iPad for your kids isn’t a means of jump-starting the realization that the world is yours to take apart and reassemble; it’s a way of telling your offspring that even changing the batteries is something you have to leave to the professionals.”

This quote almost insulted me, since I own an iPhone and have had to call Apple a few times for petty reasons, (for example, how to get the SIM card out of my phone- did I feel pathetic? Most definitely.) but I can’t help but agree with him. By making their own customers rely so much on them, it is almost like they want us to feel powerless: which in turn promotes their centralized network.

The third way Apple “talks down” to its users is by limiting it’s developers so much. Every app has to be approved by Apple before it is released, and in order to get it approved every developer has to go through a very long, restrictive process. By making it so hard to be creative, it seems like Apple isn’t too interested in their developers ideas and wants to keep it as limited as possible.

The only positive thing about this set up we could come up with in class was the idea that Apple can immediately restore your device quickly if you lose all your data, since all your data came from one source. However, like our other negative aspects of relying on Apple, rumor has it that since this has happened to many users, they may start charging you for this restoration process. Fair? No.

Some people choose to bootleg their Apple devices. By “jail breaking” your iPhone, you can get features that you normally wouldn’t be able to get (according to Apples rules and regulations), you can get Apps for free (which usually cost money), and by not allowing yourself to be restricted by Apples rules, you get a lot more freedom. The only consequence of jail breaking your device is not being able to update it with Apple, but is it worth it? Is it bad to technically “steal” from Apple, or do we have the right to rebel?

Jail breaking is not the only way to break away from their regulations. AT&T is technically the only carrier of the iPhone, but people with other cell phone providers have found a way to get around that rule as well- to the extent of having an entirely different app store called “Cydia” where people with bootlegged Apple devices can download bootlegged apps.

Many people don’t find anything wrong with jail breaking, pirating, or bootlegging material from corporations who don’t give their users enough respect: it looks to me like Apple is about to get a wake-up call if they don’t start giving their customers a little more power.

Goodbye for Now!

network diagram

centralized network diagram

Help Wanted iPhone

Cydia Store iPhone

Article: Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either)

PageRANKS

When I use a search engine, I use Google. Partly because the Google search bar is at the top of my Safari page, and also because I have always assumed it’s the best search engine.

Yesterday in class we used the website Ranks.nl to compare and contrast search engines. It’s a pretty simple site to use: You choose what search engines you want to see (up to 5) from a lengthy list, and then type in what you’re searching for.

I compared Google, Altavista, Yahoo, and Bing and I chose to search for puppies- Here’s a screen shot of the results for my search. When I compared all the different results, I realized that they all had almost the exact same top sites but their layouts were completely different. Google and Altavista had similar layouts- image results at the top followed by the different web pages, while Bing and Yahoo had similar layouts- video results at the top followed by the top results, and image results a few links down. It was interesting to me to be able to see the similarities and differences in the search engines since I usually do not use anything other than Google. By looking at different search engines and being able to compare and contrast them on the same page, I was able to see what I like and don’t like about them. Surprisingly, I was impressed by Bing and I was pretty entertained by the video results- (they play when you put your cursor on them!) Although Bing and Yahoo had the exact same image results and page ranks, I liked the layout on Bing more than I did on Yahoo. Google would definitely be my second preference because it is more orderly to me than Yahoo or Altavista, and if you scroll down they also have the video results.

I did find one thing more interesting than the comparison of search engines: how to get your website to the top of their lists. I always assumed that page ranks were based on how many people click on your site after searching, but there is much more to it.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization: SEO considers how a search engine works and what people are searching for in order to improve a websites visibility and promote a higher search engine ranking.

Here is a list of three ways to get your website a higher ranking, it’s called the Three Step SEO Strategy:

1. Make a list of targeted keyword phrases.

2. Create an optimized page for each keyword phrase on your list.

3. Obtain quality back links to each of your pages.

So if you are interested in being the #1 ranked page on Google, keep these three steps in mind.

Our homework this week has been to not use any sort of search engine and just in one day I have realized how much I use Google’s search bar- enough that I have had to break the homework rules a few times. However, I probably rely on the page ranks more than I rely on the search engine itself: thats the whole reason for using a search engine, to get the best results fast. So although the process of ranking pages is long and difficult to fully understand, it is good to know that they take it seriously and are interested in ranking pages accurately– that way I can see the cutest puppies first, without having to go through a strenuous search process.

Goodbye for Now!

Ranks.nl Logo

Screen shot photo is off of my screen.

PRIV@CY(@)PL@CES

When I updated my iPhone, I knew I would get the “Places” feature for my photos, but I didn’t realize how creepy it was until I actually looked at it this weekend.

When you open the “Places” in your photos, little drop pins show up based on where you have taken pictures. Most of my times has been spent in North Texas (Dallas), West Texas (Abilene), and Central Texas (Austin)- so when I open my Places I just see three little red pins. This weekend I decided to zoom in on my drop pin in Central Texas since I have taken most of my pictures there, and as I zoomed, more and more little pins showed up.

Turns out, every picture you take has a specific location on the map based on where you took it. I knew this whenever I updated my phone, but I wasn’t creeped out until I actually saw it on my screen. The other thing that creeped me out about the whole process was the fact that photos I had taken before I updated my phone were also on the map, exactly where I took them.

…I find that a little eery.

Maybe I shouldn’t, since technically I am the only person who looks through the pictures on my phone (I hope, since you never really know), but it still freaked me out when I saw the drop pin for the first picture I took on my iPhone at a friends house in Maytwo updates ago.

So I guess when it comes to location privacy, I am “Paranoid” (proudly paranoid). On the contrary, most of my friends are willing to throw their locations, activities, and plans out to anyone whos willing to listen: keep in mind, my friends are female, college students– A.K.A.: prime victims for all the creeps of the world.

My biggest pet peeve came about when Facebook added “Places” as a way to update your status. Since most of the girls I am friends with on Facebook are not very intelligent, this is an example of what I see on a daily basis:

So-and-So is studying at Starbucks Coffee @ 1:32 p.m. with Her Friend and is about to head back to Her Dorm at Her University, going to a concert at Some-Unsupervised-Place at 9 p.m., anyone want to go?! Text me at 555-STALK-ME!!”

As you can see, (by my dramatized version of a status update), people are not too concerned about what people see. Whether it’s what your doing, who your with, or where you are- people seem to want everyone else to know. Part of me thinks that these types of status posts are to get attention, feel a sense of belonging, or make it appear like you have a life outside of Facebook: but never-the-less it is dangerous.

I put a link at the bottom of this post that has a video on privacy and some tips on how to set your privacy on different applications. I would advise everyone to advise everyone they know about different dangers of revealing everything you do to the general public, which includes stalkers, kid nappers, and perverts. Yes, some people want their friends to know what they’re doing, but be sure to set your privacy on those applications where Only your friends can see it.

Should you probably go check, recheck, and most likely change your privacy settings? Yes. And know that sometimes the only people who are interested in every single thing you are doing are the dangerous ones.

So- Go check & change!

Goodbye for Now!

Privacy Settings <go to this page for a neat video. It is also where I got my photo.

NetworkNeutrality

anything and there isn’t any difference in the content based on what server you use- the only thing your bill reflects is how fast your internet connection is. 
Since the users are the main people producing content, the servers are almost dependent on them in order to keep the internet popular.Today in America, almost everyone watches TV and almost everyone uses the internet, but the TV and the internet are two completely different forms of media.

When it comes to TV, few people produce the programs that many people watch: when it comes to the internet, many people produce programs that many people use.

 

The TV is based off of a fixed set of channels, the number of channels you receive is based off of how much you pay and viewers must incorporate the station, time, and program when making a decision on what to watch. 
With a system like this, the viewers are dependent upon the people who are in charge of deciding what shows come on, when they come on, and which channels are included.

The internet is based off of millions of web pages and one server. Anyone can access anything and there isn’t any difference in the content based on what server you use- the only thing your bill reflects is how fast your internet connection is. 
Since the users are the main people producing content, the servers are almost dependent on them in order to keep the internet popular.

However, the only reason we are free to surf on any webpage we want is because of net neutrality- howwould the world react to a set of rules for the internet? Would people be okay with having to choose a set of websites they want to pay for each month, like they do for TV channels? How would any server be able to build a suitable package for each individual, or would we all be stuck paying the big bucks for a lot of websites (like we do for the 2,000 channels on Direct TV) when you only use a fraction of them?

What would happen to the internet?

Right now, 60% of the content on the internet is made by users. If we had internet plans where you could only visit a strict set of sites based on what package you pay for, most of these smaller producers would fade away- which in turn means up to 60% of content would fade away also. Making internet packages like this would make the internet like the TV and end up upsetting millions of people.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the television and it’s features.. sometimes. However, I also enjoy the internets features and I use them a lot more.

Someone compared the riddance of net neutrality and internet becoming more like TV because of it to the toll roads we drive on (sometimes too often) in Dallas. 
The TV is like the toll roadsyes we pay for it if we decide to use it, but we always have. The internet is like the roads that run through neighborhoods and citiesfree and used by everyone all the time. We would be okay with the government building a new toll road, but we wouldn’t be okay with them changing the road we live on into one.

I am not sure what exactly would happen if net neutrality went away and the internet got a new set of guidelines, but I do know that I don’t want to find out. I think the most important thing is to make other people aware of the benefits of net neutrality and to help spread the word so that when rules are presented (most likely presented in a superficial, positive way) we can be aware of what’s really going on.

Pass it on!

Goodbye for Now!

NetNeutrality Poster

privacy

I just spent an hour trying to figure out how to reset my privacy settings on Gmail / Google.

Is that necessary?

The big question we have been discussing in class is whether or not privacy is more important than efficiency (for businesses). Their excuse is that they need our information in order to gear better ads towards certain people based on their search history, email conversations, and RSS feeds. If the company is able to determine what kind of person we are based on these factors, they can choose advertisements that may be more geared towards what that person is interested in.

But it that okay?

Some people find this creepy, dangerous, or simply as an invasion of their privacy- but isn’t it a good thing that these businesses are interested in trying to make our experience on the internet more customized?

I think it’s a tad ridiculous. I went onto the settings for my Dashboard on Google, and all my privacy settings had automatically been set by Google. Turns out, they don’t bother asking you how you want your privacy settings, so they assume you don’t want to be asked about sharing any of your information- it’s just automatically shared with the Google team to help better their advertising and other “3rd party” users.

After I finished changing all my privacy settings, I was no longer mad. However, the process took a little too long and was a little too hard. Although this made me mad at Google, it also made me wonder how many times I’ve just clicked “accept” without reading through what I was accepting.

I recommend that any Google, Facebook, Twitter, online Photo account, or blog user to go through their privacy settings on each one and see what the rest of the world is able to see.

Or, expose yourself in order to better the company.

Goodbye for Now!

mind mapping

Everyone is willing to apply new routines to their lives if it makes their other routines easier.

In class the other day, we talked about life hacking. I figured that life hacking meant to take over someone elses life by finding out all of their personal information; but turns out its more about self-observation. Life hacking means to apply different things to your life to make other things easier; for instance, keeping an RSS feed on your computer or even just keeping up with a planner to help yourself stay on track.

One aspect of life hacking really caught my attention: ways to improveyourself as a student. One topic we seemed to stay on for a while was “mind mapping”. Other life hacks that are similar to mind mapping are free writing, drawing out a brain storming chart, or making list of words that come to your mind that have to do with the particular subject. However, doing any of these activities almost makes your thought process harder to map out when you have to do it with a pen and paper.

As we all know, technology makes almost everything in life easier (one big life hack in itself), and when it comes to brain storming the internet makes the process much more beneficial.

Bubbl.us is a website that makes brainstorming fun. Not only does it make cool explosion animations when you delete a thought bubble, but it also makes it easy to follow you own train of thought: no erasers, no crumpling up papers, no smearing ink or ucky handwriting– just crisp, clean, organized  thoughts. You can change the color scheme, the order, and the layout to customize it to your own style of thinking.

In class, we partnered up and explored each others blogs with mind maps. My partner had a completely different layout and color scheme than I did, but we had the exact same thoughts. However, a lot of people had similar layouts but got completely different ideas on what the main points were. That’s what makes mind mapping helpful for writing papers, blogs, or even emails- you decide what the main points are before you begin to write and it makes it a lot easier to emphasize them in your writing.

And, it’s really fun! Go try it out.

Goodbye for Now!

MindMap

[wikip{ed(iting)}ia]

Have you ever edited wikipedia?

I never had until last week- and when I did, it made me feel a lot better about using wikipedia.
It’s really simple to edit and move around objects in a wikipedia article; basically anyone can do anything to any article they want. This always worried me, but after seeing what happens after you alter, destroy, fix, or vandalize a wikipedia article, I felt a lot better.

I decided to edit the article on “high heels”. This article needed new citations and sources to show where people got their information because the article was “too opinionated“. I tried to add a citation for the definition of the word “well-heeled”, but I entered the code incorrectly and it wouldn’t work. Being very impatient when it comes to computers, I was not looking forward to having to fix it; however, by the time I had gotten back to the page to fix it, someone had already done it for me

…Sweet!

This also happened to a lot of my classmates, but in a negative way. One of my classmates knew what she was talking about, added a phrase or two to an article, and was immediately “undone” by someone else. Needless to say, she was very frustrated- but I found it a little ironic after all the trash talk we have done in class about wikipedia.

How can we say that wikipedia is unreliable when it is so picky (and so quick about being picky) with new information?

It made me feel a lot better about wikipedia when I saw how fast it was able to revert back to its original form, and how easy it is to fix its original form; while with an encyclopedia, it takes years to get to fix a single article because they cannot waste time, money, and paper by reprinting the entire set of encyclopedias every time a single article is changed.

Editing wikipedia made me realize how up-to-date, correct, and constant the changes on wikipedia have to be.

Go try editing it sometime- it’s suprisingly fun.


Goodbye for Now!

wiki-kitty

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