Archive for the ‘Media and News’ Category

The computer program billed as unbeatable at poker

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

The Toronto Star has a nice story, The computer program billed as unbeatable at poker, about a poker playing program Cepehus that was developed at the Computer Poker Research here at the University of Alberta. Michael Bowling is quoted to the effect that,

No matter what you do, no matter how strong a player you are, even if you look at our strategy in every detail . . . there is no way you are going to be able of have any realistic edge on us.

On average we are playing perfectly. And that’s kind of the average that really matters.

You can play Cepehus at their web site. You can read their paper “Heads-up limit hold’em poker is solved”, just published in Science here (DOI: 10.1126/science.1259433).

Trolling and Anonymous

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

Useful research is finally emerging about trolling in its different forms. The Guardian had a nice overview article by a professor of business psychologies titled Behind the online comments: the psychology of internet trolls. Researchers at the University of Manitoba and UBC have published an article with the title Trolls just want to have fun (PDF preprint) that found evidence that sadists like to troll. They conclude,

The Internet is an anonymous environment where it is easy to seek out and explore one’s niche, however idiosyncratic. Consequently, antisocial individuals have greater opportunities to connect with similar others, and to pursue their personal brand of ‘‘self expression’’ than they did before the advent of the Internet. Online identity construction may be important to examine in research on trolling, especially in terms of antisocial identity and its role in trolling behavior. The troll persona appears to be a malicious case of a virtual avatar, reflecting both actual personality and one’s ideal self . Our research suggests that, for those with sadistic personalities, that ideal self may be a villain of chaos and mayhem – the online Trickster we fear, envy, and love to hate: the cybertroll. (Buckels, E. E., et al. Trolls just want to have fun. Personality and Individual Differences (2014),

By contrast, McGill professor Gabriella Coleman recently published a book about Anonymous, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous. Coleman also compares the trolling of Anonymous to traditions of the trickster, but is far more sympathetic as she tracks the politicization of Anonymous. About trolling she writes,

Trolls enjoy desecrating anything remotely sacred, as cultural theorist Whitney Phillips conveys in her astute characterization of trolls as “agents of cultural digestion [who] scavenge the landscape, re-purpose the most offensive material, then shove the resulting monstrosities into the faces of an unsuspecting populace.” In short: any information thought to be personal, secure, or sacred is a prime target for sharing or defilement in a multitude of ways. Lulz-oriented actions puncture the consensus around our politics and ethics, our social lives, and our aesthetic sensibilities. Any presumption of our world’s inviolability becomes a weapon; trolls invalidate that world by gesturing toward the possibility for Internet geeks to destroy it—to pull the carpet from under us whenever they feel the urge. (Location 491)

She sees anonymous hacking as one of the ways we can resist the blanket surveillance that Snowden revealed. Anonymous may be the future of resistance even as it emerges from the nasty side of trolling. I can’t say that I’m convinced the ends justify the means, at least when you aren’t willing to take responsibility for the means you employ, but, she is right that it has become a form of resistance for the surveillance age.

Anonymous is emblematic of a particular geography of resistance. Composed of multiple competing groups, short-term power is achievable for brief durations, while long-term dominance by any single group or person is virtually impossible. In such a dynamic landscape, it may be “easy to co-opt, but impossible to keep co-opted,” … (Location 5691)

Trans-Atlantic Platform

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

The Trans-Atlantic Platform: Social Sciences and Humanities is a collaboration among social science and humanities funders in different countries. In their About Us page they describe the purpose of this collaborative platform thus:

This Trans-Atlantic Platform will enhance the ability of funders, research organizations and researchers to engage in transnational dialogue and collaboration. It will identify common challenges and promote a culture of digital scholarship in social science and humanities research. It will facilitate the formation of networks within the social sciences and humanities and help connect them with other disciplines. It will also heighten awareness of the crucial role the social sciences and humanities play in addressing 21st century challenges.

The T-AP is co-chaired by the (then) President of SSRHC and the Netherlands social sciences funding agency. It likewise seems to be co-administered by SSRHC and NWO Social Sciences. The T-AP got funding that helped launch it from the European Commission 7th Framework Programme.

What is interesting is who is in T-AP. The German DFG and Americans NEH/NSF are down as “associated partners”. Brazilian, Canadian, Finish, French, Mexican, Dutch, Portuguese, and UK funding organizations are “key partners.” (See Partners page.)

I also have questions about T-AP:

  • Does this mean we will see more programmes like Digging into Data that can fund teams across countries? Wouldn’t it be great if a project could include the right people rather than the right people in Canada?
  • Or, will we see thematic collaborations like call on Sustainable Urban Development?
  • Will they try to harmonize research data policies?

Adobe is Spying on Users, Collecting Data on Their eBook Libraries

Sunday, October 12th, 2014


Nate Hoffelder on The Digital Reader blog has broken a story about how Adobe is Spying on Users, Collecting Data on Their eBook Libraries. He and Arts Technica report that the Adobe’s Digital Editions 4 send data home about what you read and how far (what page) you get to. The data is sent in plain text.

Hoffelder used a tool called Wireshark to look at what was being sent out from his computer.

Gamergate: the community is eating itself but there should be room for all

Friday, September 5th, 2014

The Guardian has a good story summarizing the Gamergate controversy. This follows an essay about How to attack a woman who works in video gaming that outlined the attacks on Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency and Zoe Quinn. A hard-core of gamers seem concerned that game journalists are falling for political correctness and that so they are abusing and threatening women designers and critics.

The abuse mirrors the violence against women that Sarkeesian points out in the video essay above. Abuse of women is used as background plot decoration. The abuse provides a “quick emotional punch to the player” making it quickly clear who are the bad guys players can kill so they can save the women (or watch them be abused first). Now that the abuse is happening for real in the gaming community we should ask if some trolls have started to behave in imitation of game worlds they take as normative. Life imitates arts when we take an art too seriously. It is time to study the homosocial environments that have evolved around gaming and in gaming to understand the ideas of masculinity that have become currency.

And the abuse should stop.

The clock is ticking for an aging Asia

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

George Magnus has written two insightful articles in the Nikkei Asian Review on the impact of an aging population on Asian countries. The first, The clock is ticking for an aging Asia goes beyond the usual stories on Japan to look at other countries including India. The second, Strategies for winning the demographic battle looks at what is being done and what could be done.

What does this mean for the games industry in Japan and, more generally Asia? First of all, we need to remember that the Asian games industry is growing dramatically as the large countries like India and China get wired and videogame-capable systems (smartphones and tablets) become accessible. It will be interesting to see what happens as this audience ages. Second, we in the West are not necessarily the obvious export audience for Japanese games – Japanese companies may turn to focus more on South Korea and China than North America and Europe. There are cultural continuities that make certain types of Japanese games more likely to appeal in Asia than in the west. For example, warring state games – ie. games that have as a background the shared mythology of medieval warring states (whether the period of civil war in Japan or that of China.) Third, we could see Japanese companies developing games for the west in the Philippines as they move development offshore the way they have moved ship building.

To be honest, I am just guessing. I feel we need to understand the Asian game market to understand Japan (rather than thinking of Japan as our other), but I’m not sure where things are going. Magnus’ articles are the best news I’ve read on the issue of aging populations for some time.

NovelTM: Text Mining the Novel

Friday, August 29th, 2014

This week SSHRC announced the new partnership grants awarded including one I am a co-investigator on, NovelTM: Text Mining the Novel.

This project brings together researchers and partners from 21 different academic and non-academic institutions to produce the first large-scale quantitative history of the novel. Our aim is to bring new computational approaches in the field of text mining to the study of literature as well as bring the unique knowledge of literary studies to bear on larger debates about data mining and the place of information technology within society.

NovelTM is led by Andrew Piper at McGill University. At the University of Alberta I will be gathering a team that will share the resulting computing methods through TAPoR and developing recipes or tutorials so that others can try them.

Around the World Conference

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014


Today we are running the Around the World Conference from the University of Alberta. This year’s topic is privacy and surveillance in the digital age. The Kule Institute for Advanced Study is hosting this online conference. Here are some of my opening comments,

I would like to welcome you to our second Around the World Conference. This year’s conference is on Privacy and Surveillance in the Digital Age.

The ATW conference was the idea of the Founding Director of KIAS, Jerry Varsava. The idea is to support a truly international discussion around a topic that concerns us all around the world.

This year we have speakers from 11 countries including Nigeria, Netherlands, Japan, Australia, Italy, Israel, Ireland, Germany, Brazil, the US, and of course Canada.

This ATW conference is an experiment. It is an experiment because it is difficult to coordinate the technology across so many countries and institutions. It is an experiment in finding ways to move ideas without moving bodies. It is an experiment in global discussion.

Waging Culture: Comparison of 2007 to 2012

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

The agYU (Art Gallery of York University) has posted a summary comparison of how much artists made in 2007 and in 2012. See Out There – Waging Culture: Snapshot comparison of 2007 to 2012 results. There hasn’t been a lot of change in the bottom line for artists (they still don’t make much.) What is depressing is how little the average arts practicioner makes from their practice. The mean for 2012 is $2,300 a year (after expenses.) Most artists are surviving from art-related income. Even then, the 2012 mean for practice and art-related income is $21,490.

In a different blog entry on Methodology in Short they talk about the purpose of the Waging Culture survey,

There are some significant issues with using Census data in researching visual artists. As the Census accounts only for the “main” occupation of an individual, those artists who hold day-jobs are not counted as artists, and thus a significant set of artists simply disappear into the need for simplicity in defining occupation. In addition, there is no breakdown of the various source of incomes for those who are identified as artists. In both instances, these lapses can and do lead to significant misunderstandings of the socio-economic health of artists. For example, while the median income of artists in the 2007 study was $20,000, this included income from all sources. Income from studio practice alone, however, was negative $556.

Front Row to Fashion Week –

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

The New York Times has an interesting way of visualizing fashion that you can see in their article Front Row to Fashion Week – Interactive Feature. They have abstracted the colour hues to create small swatches of different designers who showed at the New York Fashion Week. These “sparklines” or sparkboxes are an interesting way to compare the shows by designers.