Reflection:「Node 3」

Hey guys! This one’s gonna be a bit of a short one (sorry). The unit was a bit shorter since we were working on our projects, and I was only able to spend a limited amount of time on it. Though maybe it’s for the best since all my posts are pretty long-winded (yeah, I admit it…).

First, I’d like to kick it off with our coding project: the retro home page! This was strongly inspired by NeoCities and 90s-era MWC blogs that Professor Whalen showed us.

Initially, the URL was going to be crossroadscave.sbarbett.com . However, as you can see, that did not work. I had my site ready to submit on time, though I continued to get permission errors despite ensuring that the permission number values were correct, my html was titled “index,” and the folder I used was correct. I tried to locate the HTML Access file with solutions I found online, though no matter what I did, the issue continued to worsen.

Therefore, I went with a very easy solution: to use a different domain. Please check out my site here at crosscave.sbarbett.com! I wanted to invoke the nostalgia of my mid-2000s child self who somehow made it onto online forums. Glittery text? Check. Tiled background? Check. Forum-dwelling dragons? Check. (Spoiler: Rickroll? Check!)

Visit my site to learn more about these cool cats!

As someone who has the goal of creating my own website, this was a great introduction to the basics of HTML/CSS formatting. I feel empowered to make significant progress on my online acting portfolio. If you scroll down to the bottom of my page, you can see that my site is a part of a webring that encompasses the entire class’s retro home pages. I encourage you to check it out!

The theme of this node was “Connections”. We started off the unit connecting with others on LambdaMOO, a MUD (Multi-User Dungeon). Here is a site that explains it in better detail. I enjoyed getting to move around this space for it reminded me of text-based games such as the one I created for my final project (more on that soon).

Some notes I took on commands you can use in LambdaMOO!

In the class after, we discussed HyperText Markup Language, or HTML. We were tasked to give examples of protocol. Given the existence of HyperText Transfer Protocol (Secure), most things function as protocols, though the one I gave was POP/IMAP forwarding in email. Other examples included FTP (File Transfer Protocol) and SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol).

Here is a video we watched in class about Ted Nelson, pioneer of HyperText.

We also got to discuss Ted Nelson’s Project Xanadu, a concept that redefines digital connection. However, it is not new: it has been around since the 1960s. Nelson visualized links in a space. If the user views one material, more pop up. Logical paths of information connect in a singular space. It was difficult for me to visualize in concept, though seeing a visual representation of it in this video has taught me that there are so many unexplored ways of connection that go beyond the Internet.

I’m going to cut it off here. Hope you enjoyed my home page, and think about how you will be connecting virtually with others over the holidays!

Sincerely,
Sterling

Reflection:「Node 2」

This was supposed to be posted on October 8th, but I didn’t want to change the narrative so as to encompass my thoughts and feelings at the time. My apologies for any confusion!

Howdy folk! Hope y’all have been well. It is almost Fall Break, and I could not be more grateful to be in the home stretch (I stayed up until 4:30 AM yesterday to finish a midterm project… writing this post feels like a dream). Now, I’ll kick off the end of the week by sharing what I’ve done since the last update!

We worked on a node (aka module) that revolved around Artificial Intelligence. Over the past couple of weeks, we worked with a number of different mediums including Perusall and CoLab Notebooks to analyze the functionality and presence of AI. I unfortunately missed completing the first few assignments (which I am making up) due to working on the theatre show and a bit of confusion on my part, though one of the questions we were tasked to answer is “what is AI?”

a GIF from the song "what is love" by Haddaway
Same energy.

It is often painted as a dystopian figure that is set to take over the world and remove human autonomy. My immediate definition was a digital entity with the ability to make complex decisions, though others in class brought up good points such as them having “the ability to possess knowledge” or to have a “measure of learning”. They mirror human learning by following these three actions: possessing knowledge, learning from it, and making complex decisions.

What differentiates this from human learning is to make sure that one accounts for the “artificial” part of AI – that means it is unnatural, and that at its base it is an imitation. Look at these examples of AI in media and real life we compiled as a class. See how almost all of them align with human traits such as gender presentation, possession of a voice, moral alignment, and race/ethnicity?

One of my examples was Pelops II from the anime Godzilla Singular Point. They are a helpful little fellow!

I guess that’s where the imitation and the artificiality comes in. The morality part is probably the most prominent in media today, and as a class we got to try to answer the trolley problem. It revolves around a train that cannot be stopped, and must continue on tracks that can hit a various amount of people. I really enjoyed the narrative of Pippin Barr’s interactive Trolley Problem game that can be played here.

Right? Your decision is very important so try to choose the right thing. […]

You pulled the switch. Okay.

Pippin Barr’s Trolley Problem

The unbiased wording of these phrases somehow sent chills down my spine. What is right? You made a decision, but what does it mean? We did another one in class called the “Moral Machine” which is similar, but brings in more factors like age and gender when making your decision. Here is a summary of the decisions my table and I made. We weren’t even aware of some of these biases in size or gender, mostly focusing on the legality of one’s actions and the number of people involved.

A screenshot from Pippin Barr’s game.

I wanted to now touch briefly on the correlation between AI and race. We annotated a chapter from Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice by Charlton D. McIlwain about the Kansas City ‘burning’ in the 1960s.

Charlton D. McIlwain

Ghettos were not considered too threatening at the time, and while segregated, they were simply separate and hardly dangerous. However, following a peaceful protest consisting of a walkout by black youth who wanted Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral as a day off (the rest of the nation had classes canceled), and the local police responded with force. I commented that it is just like the staging of an algorithm, such as that of YouTube recommendations. By clicking on one video – by taking that one action – it will define further interactions for a long time.

A police beat algorithm with an AI was created to determine where crime is and how it should be responded to. McIlwain notes, very poignantly, that black people had no hand in its creation: and as I discussed in my last reflection, algorithms are inherently biased. In this case, a racial bias exists. We can see in today’s discourse how this image of “black thuggery and lawlessness” persists, which can affect AI interpretations of things like education and government.

Whoops. I am forgetting how long-winded I am, so I will try to make this short(er).

The last subject we discussed was the intersection between AI and creativity. Do they have the ability to be truly creative? Can their artworks, which are synthesized from pre-existing art, be distinguished from that of people?

“Summa Cum Lauda” by Peepster on the AI Art Gallery.

I tried my hand at that. We played a Kahoot in class called “Bot or Not?” where we were tasked to determine if various traditional and written artworks are made by humans or AI. I had a 10-answer correct streak which pretty much encompassed the images, but when it came to the writing, I got most of them wrong. While there is freedom in fine art, how a brush stroke is applied and how an aesthetic is judged is biased through the human eye.

However, I think writing can be easier for AIs to analyze and replicate due to its ability to quantify the natural construction of language. Humans also take advantage of writing on computers to create cool structures, such as various types repetition that can be deemed as “robotic”. I challenge you to give it a shot on a quiz I found here.

The last thing I wanted to share is the featured image of this post, which comes from an assignment where we were tasked to create an image based on an AI prompt generated by Janelle Shane. My prompt was “gangly moonlit grave rabbits lurk outside the windows,” and I used sites such as Pixlr and PhotoMosh for the image itself and the TV monitor GIF effect, respectively.

I used two different rabbits for the parts, including the whiskers, as well as a wolf whose body I distorted for the body. Is it spooky? Or would you want one as a pet?

As you can see, black-and-white filters like the one applied on the final product can make different kinds of lighting and tone appear seamless.

Does this mean that AI can inspire great ideas? Can it be credited for the piece I created? All of these rhetorical questions, which will be tackled more and more over time. This node has made me excited to witness, and perhaps participate, in the growing discourse.

Sincerely,
Sterling

Reflection:「Node 1」

Howdy y’all! Welcome back to my blog. This week’s topic is a reflection on Node 1, part of which I explored through my last post.

Node 1 encompassed a fair amount of ground, including basic coding with dictionaries and the nature of algorithms. I was surprised at how broad some of these topics can be: I have known that algorithms control my interactions with media, but I have never dwelled upon how complacent I am. I sit through five, sometimes more advertisements in a row when listening to Spotify, and while it irritates me, I take it. (And stubbornly don’t invest in Premium. Though is there a point to ‘rebelling’ against it?)

Maybe it’s because I got used to watching Charlie the Unicorn and almost every other video without ads growing up.

Notice how ads, their duration, and placement grew throughout the years?

Because of this unit, we can now consider ourselves more digitally-fluent: I can tell you what some functions are for, and how they work (especially thanks to my basic Arduino background). The most interesting parts to me were when we dipped into digital citizenship, which requires ethical thinking. We got to try to answer the question: “what should we do with or about it?”

And while there is never a right answer, trying to answer these questions (emphasis on trying) has encouraged me to become digitally-fluent. According to Douglas Rushkoff in his talk Program or be Programmed, we can’t tell if the inherent bias in programming is from the media or from the programmer unless we understand the technology. By doing so, the understanding and execution is mutually-intentional.

“The more humans become involved in their design, the more humanely inspired these tools will end up behaving.”

Douglas Rushkoff

I felt as if we could start to see more ‘humanity’ in our code with Code Practice #2. Obviously, the very nature of quantifying traits isn’t very representative of the human condition, but it is the start. I made sure to incorporate different values that represent various parts of myself such as my general physicality, my needs, and my mindset respectively.

Can you tell which value belongs to which category? Should I have rated creativity lower?

In the podcast “Biased Algorithms, Biased World,” Cathy O’Neill calls the process of quantifying different aspects to measure something (ex. success) a proxy. One of Google’s definitions of a proxy is “a figure that can be used to represent the value of something in a calculation.”

Sure, pretty straightforward. But the real key to that definition is the word represent. Your interests, demographics, and even your face are represented by values as part of a calculation. O’Neill further mentions that no one can truly determine if an algorithm is working: there is no standard for them. Now, I’m not trying to paint them in a negative light. I just want to express how all these things I have taken for granted mean a little something more to me now.

My favorite point from “Biased Algorithms, Biased World” is when it is pointed out that the definition of success to the creator of an algorithm is opposite of that of its targets. This was probably the most thought-provoking part for me. Consider where that can be applied in your life.

This can be applied to Season 4, Episode 4 of the TV show Black Mirror, titled “Hang the DJ”. Take a peek at my pseudocode from Code Practice #3:

SPOILERS BELOW. BEWARE.

This episode is about a program that tries to find one’s “perfect” match (with a 99.8% success rate!™) and this example focuses on two of Frank’s partners: Amy and Nicola. The AI, named Coach, collects data from various interactions with various partners. However, as Amy speculates, it seems as if part of the system is to wear its users down from perpetual partnership to the point where they treat s*x as data too – just something to get over with. Of course, this contrasts with the interests of the user, which is to find someone that matches the values they already exhibit.

Coach may consider intimacy and humor as prominent traits, and assign them values such as what was seen in the practice. You can discern Frank’s ‘preferences’ (determined by Coach) in this example.

A fun little tidbit: we got to try StoryFace and its almost-parody of what it means to be authentic. I won’t spoil anything, but I got to keep trying to date Pam Beesly from The Office. See the results below (but try it for yourself).

Thanks for checking out my blog! Even if you didn’t learn something brand-new, I hope you will think critically about how algorithms present content in your everyday life, and the limits of information that can be discerned about your being.

Sincerely,
Sterling

Return + The Soft Truth

Howdy folk! Welcome to my blog. I see that I have been getting some traffic here in the past few days, which is a really nice surprise. I hope some of y’all will stick around for my upcoming content for DGST 395: Applied Digital Studies.

It will be a different kind of work – the stuff I wrote and created for Digital Storytelling was erratic and vulnerable. The posts came from a different person at a different time (of course, I’m still the same in many ways, but my content was last posted in Spring 2020). I hope to invest some of the same creativity and heart in these works as well, though it will revolve more around class readings and activities for now.

I will endeavor to structure my blog in such a way that you can browse my Digital Storytelling and Applied Digital Studies content separately. (Should I keep the 80s/They Live theme? I see some of you come from DS106 – does your class have a theme?) But without further ado, lets get into today’s work!

A video that would have made me hoot and holler a couple years ago, but still fun nonetheless (prepare the ears)!

My first task was to read The Soft Truth by Leigh Alexander, “an ‘algowave’ short fiction.” It is a short narrative written so vividly (despite its surreal elements) that it surprises me that it is a work of fiction. To summarize, the story revolves around a woman who keeps seeing an alternate version of herself: one that she seems to inwardly blame some of her delays, longings, and misfortunes on. This journey to connect with her other self happens simultaneously with her search for a video of a certain “satisfying” gelatin sphere video, as well as the aftermath of her firing from her consulting research job. I don’t want to spoil much, but essentially all three elements come to a convergence point that leaves the narrator feeling satisfied in more aspects than one.

A gelatin sphere such as this. I am surprised the cover isn’t clickbait. Click it. I dare you.
Any fellow players think this would be cool with a gelatinous cube?

If you look at the video, you can see how easy it is to destroy what is often considered the quintessential image of perfection.

Farewell, gelatin sphere. Even the idea of a sphere dissolves. A great and susurrating wave of pleasure washes coolly over the surface of my brain like one of those old mouthwash advertisements, and suddenly everything — I mean all of it, everything I know — makes exquisite sense.

Leigh Alexander, The Soft Truth

To further reflect on the ending of this story, I think it is important to determine what ‘algowave fiction’ is. And the answer isn’t on Google (I checked) – rather, it is in the text. Essentially, the narrator creates her own internal algorithm to pinpoint the aforementioned gelatin sphere video. She has an algorithm for deciding when to answer her boss Veronica, which depended on her state of hire and other factors. Her routine pre-firing is basically an algorithm. I think that the very existence of her “other me” symbolizes how one can make different choices and arrive to the same conclusion: the gelatinous sphere.

Therefore, algorithms are inherently flawed and not self-serving of the user.

I’m still in the learning process so I can’t quite agree or disagree yet. Regardless, it was a neat read that I hope you check out as well! As a writer, here is my favorite section. I am still hanging on such simple yet poignant imagery of the shoe:

The day I got fired, while I was waiting for the bus, I looked in my box of things and saw the Footprint Consulting foam sneaker, commissioned by Veronica as a staff gift. I compressed it in my hand as tightly as possible; I dug in my thumbnail and carved neat rows of shallow gills into it. I thought about how unfair it was that I never, no matter how much I searched and clicked around, got to see the red mesh sink slowly and ruthlessly into the firm face of the blue gelatin sphere.

Leigh Alexander, The Soft Truth

Note how organized the ‘gills’ seem to be. How the only way to deal with multiple very unsatisfying things is to make something satisfying. Anyways, the last part of my assignment here is to discuss my coding process of the assignments we have been working on.

Last semester, I took Honors Intro to Computer Science, which completely revolved around programming an Arduino Uno. Many concepts and terminologies are very similar, such as strings, printing, and if-then conditionals. I’ve been referring to my class notes to help me with the CoLab notebooks. I’m trying to take note of the differences and I try to Google alternative solutions as well to jot down in my notebook or at the bottom of the CoLab documents. Here are some of my Arduino notes (spot any Python equivalences?):

These coding exercises relate to the readings and videos/podcasts in the sense that we must “program or be programmed” according to Douglas Rushkoff. By learning these basic building blocks, we can understand more about Cathy O’Neill’s “weapons of math destruction” by observing how large algorithms such as standardized testing control society. After reading this passage by Leigh Alexander, one can see that we create algorithms in our own lives every single day. And now, we can learn the art of designing choices while always keeping ethics and biases in mind.

Kudos to anyone who stuck around for this long. Thank you for reading, and I hope you found my thoughts interesting!

Sincerely,
Sterling

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