Storage Informer
Storage Informer

Tag: Internet

The Internet May Cause Distraction and Inability to Learn

by on Jul.11, 2010, under Storage

Warning: The Internet May Cause Distraction and Inability to Learn

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If Nicholas Carr is correct in his recent book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, you will not read this entire blog post. The main idea of the book is that the internet causes our brains to be easily distracted and also makes us less able to learn deep ideas as we skim more and read deeply less.  The book digs into the science of how the human brain learns.  The brain has “plasticity” – meaning that it will adjust to the activities that it does often, similar to what our muscles do.  Carr lays out the history of communication from the first written world, through the mass production of books, to the internet age and analyzes the impact that these technologies have on society and the human brain.  As he points out in the book, for every new technology, there have been those that have said that it will doom the way that we think or take away the very things that make us human.  But this time, according to Carr, there are real issues.

The Internet Distracts People with…SQUIRREL

Like the dog Dug in the movie Up! (SQUIRREL!) – internet users can find it hard to stay focused.  While I agree that almost any repetitive activity can potentially become addictive, I believe that most people can take control of the tools that they use for communication rather than letting them control you.  Even in pre-internet days, the draw of interrupting technologies was there – do you finish the task that you’re working on, or answer the ringing phone or watch TV (or even read a book)?  The brain can get so used to a stimulus that it will make you crave it when it’s not there – this even affected Dilbert back in 1996.
The difference with the internet is that it is everywhere and people can become like a mouse pressing a lever for a pellet by constantly checking email, RSS, Facebook, or Twitter.  These activities can be properly worked into the flow of the workday rather than as a distraction from getting things done.  Personally I know that I have a tendency to want to stay connected and respond rapidly to messages. (Disclosure: Hi, I’m Stu and I’m an internet addict, see me on Twitter)  The more we allow ourselves to be interrupt driven, the more our brains will see that as “normal” and it will become harder to stay focused for longer periods of time.  Recent studies (including some in the book) show that the cost of context switching is larger than any gains for multitasking.  You have the power to take control of your environment: finish conversations without interruption, check messages when you’re done with a task, not when an alarm tells you that it comes in.

Reading vs. Skimming

If you’ve read this far, congratulations!  In the age of the internet, most people skim rather than read.  The book describes that people read in an “F” shape, that is that they read the first line or two, then partial lines and eventually just start scanning down the page.  As a blogger, I try and keep my posts short (500 words for most posts or 1000 for a deeper discussion) and also try and break up the text visually with some bolding, italics, headers and photos.  Carr also says that even the basic web format with hyperlinks is very distracting.  Each hyperlink that you reach makes you think about clicking it and if you do will you ever get back to where you started (for this article, I put some links at the bottom rather than throughout the text).  There is fascinating research in the book which explains how memories are created and the science behind short term and long term memory.

“How do users read on the web?”…”They don’t”

While in general I feel that Carr is a bit of a pessimist about technology, I do believe that he is correctly raising an alarm on this topic.  The argument in the book is that as we skim more and rely on the internet to store information rather than our brains that our brains will have less context for problem solving or deep thoughts and that we become shallower.  Mass production of books brought learning to everyone, the internet increases information flow, but potentially we understand and internalize less.

There are a few ways that we can still absorb information in the internet age.  Of course the first is to read deeply – I’d recommend picking up The Shallows if you’ve found this discussion interesting (I think that it should be required reading at colleges). Another way is to write; the process of organizing your thoughts and translating them into words helps your memory and critical thinking.  A third way is to have deep discussions with friends and family – nothing like a lively debate to get the brain going.  A final way is just to give yourself some free time to think – where new information isn’t flooding in so that you can sort and process what you’ve brought in.

I consider myself a pragmatic optimist on the new technologies.  Like some of the optimists in the articles listed below, I believe that the internet age brings proliferation of information and opportunity for a globally connected community.  It’s the core of the company that I work at now.

Where do you stand?  Are you an internet optimist? Do you believe that there is validity in Carr’s positions?  Will the internet turn people into shallow shells that can’t function without computers?

Here are some related articles that I’d recommend:

Are You An Internet Optimist or Pessimist? The Great Debate over Technology’s Impact on Society by Adam Thierer  (Adam also reviews The Shallows)

I Know I’m Not the Only Internet Optimist… by Andy McAfee

Carr’s article from The Atlantic: Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Does Multitasking Lead to a More Productive Brain? from NPR

A couple of posts of mine discussing similar topics after reading a book by Neil Postman

Nicholas Carr on The Colbert Report


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Transport Layer Security – a novel approach

by on Oct.19, 2009, under Storage

Transport Layer Security – a novel approach

Transport Layer Security (TLS) is widely used in Secure Internet communication, especially for securing Web / HTTP traffic. TLS is a replacement for the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol, which provides similar protections. TLS provides cryptographic services to application traffic payloads in the form of data authenticity and optionally data confidentiality. Each pairwise (P2P) secure session maintains independent cryptographic state for that session, which can aggregate to a large amount of state held on TLS terminators / servers, when millions of TLS connections are terminating at the same destination or domain (e.g. ecommerce / banks / eBay /etc.). Furthermore because TLS operates at the application layer, all cryptographic operations are performed on large application buffers, which require reassembly of all network packet fragments before operating on that buffer. This results in the need to provision expensive TLS aggregators at the front of each domain providing secure web communications and the solution does not scale well with increase in demand.

In this video, researchers from Intel Labs demonstrate a novel approach for providing a cryptographic scale free TLS solution, which can scale with increase demand. This is achieved by using a cryptographic key derivation technique, where using a ‘master key’ and some identifiers located in the packet, we can dynamically compute unique session keys on a per packet basis, instead of storing individual session keys for each and every session. The technique essentially trades compute for storage, thus allowing a larger number of TLS connections to be supported to a given server / domain. Furthermore, by providing the cryptographic operations on a per-network-packet basis (instead of operating on application payload buffers), it allows early validation of data integrity, allowing bad packets to be rejected without having to wait until the application buffer is reconstructed and applying the crypto operations / buffer validation at a later stage of the network pipeline.

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MotorWeek Pulls into Intel, Fills up on Atom

by on Oct.16, 2009, under Storage

MotorWeek Pulls into Intel, Fills up on Atom

PBS-TV’s MotorWeek visited Intel headquarters recently. Steven Chupnick wanted to learn how the tiny, mighty Intel Atom processor can help automakers stay in step with consumer trends. He met with Staci Palmer, director of Intel’s In-Vehicle Infotainment, Embedded and Communications Group, who talked about how computer technology can connect autos to the Internet to bring information, entertainment and even maintenance services anywhere the auto goes.

Here’s a quick video and photo slideshow I captured while taking Steve around the Intel Headquarters.

During the recent Intel Developer Forum, Intel CEO Paul Otellini showed that the Atom processor is driving advanced technology into new areas from hospital patient monitoring to avionics applications to audio systems, including Harman International Industries, the provider of a wide range of audio and infotainment products for vehicles.

Harman International recently announced new in-car devices based on the Atom core that will enable full Internet access, 3-D navigation, brilliant graphics and high-speed wireless connectivity.

In Otellini’s IDF keynote presentation, he pointed to a chart showing how fast in-vehicle infotainment systems are growing – a 17 percent range even during a time of depressed automotive sales. He pointed out that many of the automotive manufacturers and the suppliers to that industry have come together on is a new alliance called GENIVI, which is focused on creating interoperable standards for in-vehicle infotainment across the automotive industry.

Paul revealed that Intel with working with Harman to put Atom-based systems into BMW and Daimler. He said that Daimler will put it into their S-Class and C-Class series starting around 2012, and BMW is developing a cross-platform, which means it goes across all their models, as an option for 2012 and beyond.

I’ve heard talk and seen demostrations about embedding Internet technologies in cars since I joined Intel in 2000. I even got to work with Mad Mike from the then-MTV show “Pimp My Ride” in 2005 when we built an Intel Centrino mobile technology computer system into a Chrysler 300C. But what we learned at IDF in September was that we’re seeing momentum behind building standards-based technology that can — well, hopefully — someday become standard in new cars.

I’ll keep watching this and learning more about progress as the auto industry buckles up and gets back into shape after a very difficult time in 2009. Meantime, here are some Intel resources:

  • Intel’s In-Vehicle Infotainment Web page here
  • Intel’s In-Vehicle Infotainment related stories being collected on Delicious
  • The Intel Embedded Group’s quest to put the Internet inside 15 Million intelligent, connected devices

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