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Technology

Now your first question is probably why on earth are you writing/am I reading an essay about QR codes. My response on that is wait and see. This is not only an piece on QR codes, but on technological innovation.

The QR Code, abbreviated from Quick Response Code, was actually invented in Japan in 1994 by a Toyota subsidary to track vehicles during the manufacturing process. However, it iss not been until recently that we’ve seen QR Codes appear in everyday life. Now, it seems like you can’t get away from them, they’re on billboards, signs, doors, magazines, newspapers, and more. The question many people have is; what is this? What do I do with it? How do I use it?

The first key thing to remember about a modern QR code is that it’s primarily an advertising tool. You scan the code and you’ll be taken to a company’s website or some third party. The problem with using a QR code as an advertisement is that it’s difficult for the consumer to use it. A user must first have a smartphone, they must then download a QR Code reading app, and then they must scan the code using the app they downloaded. Having to fish your phone out of your pocket or purse, unlock it and then find the right app to open may just be to much for some people just to look at some website. Viewing advertisements should be easy and hassle free, like watching a TV ad or a banner on the side of a website. In fact, according to a study by Archrival, a research group that focuses on youth marketing, only 20% of college students who own a smartphone have ever successfully scanned a QR code. Even more, 75% of the students who owned smartphones said that they were unlikely to scan a QR code in the future.

It’s obvious that the tact that many advertisers are using isn’t working and is a waste of time. However,  advertisements are not the only medium that a QR code is used through. In the past two months, I have come across QR codes in two completely different ways and both worked brilliantly.

Boarding Passes

Last month while handing my boarding pass to an airline employee to scan to allow me on board a plane I glanced at the women behind me. She didn’t have a boarding pass out, all she had was her cell phone (and iPhone to be exact). I then watched, walking slowly down the aisle as not to take up space, her as she flash her phone under the scanner, heard the familiar beep sounding the ok, and went along her merry way down the aisle. Curious, I asked her what just happened. She said you could do an online check-in and instead of having your boarding passes printed, you could have them emailed to you with an attached QR code that you scan to get on-board. I thought the concept sounded great and promised myself to use it on the way back from my trip. The idea of how easily this worked really resonated in me. I then thought for a moment thinking back to a recent Apple press conference. They were unveiling a new in-house app called Passbook that was supposed to store all your cards and gift card balances in one online format. Furthermore, it was supposed to be able to hold your boarding passes for airplanes in this same, simple to use, QR code format which is just a scan away. I finally grasped the idea that confused me when I first heard about it. Apple’s Passbook app is trying to streamline your experience in a store or airport by using QR Codes (in the instance of the airport), and I think it’s really great.

Munzee

While attending a large conference a couple of weeks ago (approximately 8000 people), I was introduced to the phenomenon which is Munzee. According to the company’s site, they release QR Codes into the wild (buildings, posters, websites, magazines) and people scan them to receive points competing on a virtual ladder to win prizes. The company’s definition of a Munzee is below:

Munzee is a real world scavenger hunt game where items are found in the real world and captured using your smartphone. You then level up and gain rank based on your score. Points are obtained by capturing other people’s munzees or when your deployed munzees are captured by someone else. Munzee is based off of the fundamentals of geocaching and adds another layer of fun to the hunt. Badges can be earned by unlocking specific achievements.

At my conference all participants were handed an original code to pair with his or her smartphone (Munzee app is necessary). The objective is to scan other peoples codes for points while in turn meeting new people and talking to them. While of course there were those who abused the system and only participated to win the prizes at the end, I personally got to meet many people that I would never have met otherwise playing this simple, fun, and dare I say addicting game. Now I’m not saying that this game has any sort of important relevance in the world, nor is it something that will appear in our daily lives. But it is an innovative and unique way to take advantage of what a QR Code has to offer and to allow human interaction that otherwise would not have happened.

In conclusion, the experiment of using QR Codes in the advertisement industry has been tried and has failed miserably. People either don’t know how or are not willing to waste the time to activate a code. However, QR Codes are being used in extremely resourceful ways  in other practices around the world. QR Codes have a high potential of being a part of our every lives and I for one think that they will. Count on it.

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A couple of years ago you may never have thought that social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter would be igniting and fueling real world rebellions. Well now that’s happening: from Tunisia and Syria, Russia and England, to even here in America. Groups have taken to social networks to get the word out, promote their beliefs, and fuel revolution.

While people have been pegging our generation and this century as ‘The Digital Age’, nothing has so profoundly blended culture and technology like the events of the past year. The beliefs, passions, ideas, and needs of the oppressed (for lack of a better word) have not suddenly spiked. These rebels have not all of a sudden decided that 2011 was the year to protest. 2011 became the year that all these protests finally got substantial attention. People all over the world came in direct contact with the people on the streets. When protestors saw themselves and their actions broadcasted all over the world, it served only to fuel their revolution.

Before, these revolutions were isolated events known only to those present and the few reporters available. This led to a world of censorship as corporate media companies spun events however they wanted because nobody ever knew what was actually happening. The introduction and usage of social networking sites have served to ‘cut out the middle man’ and allow people all over the world to see the events in real time.

Egypt is the first example of social media being both a spark and an accelerant to the movement. Did social networking sites cause the revolution? No. But they did help speed up the process by helping to organize the protest and transmit their message to the world. The key to Egypt’s revolution was that the regime in power underestimated the ability of technology to organize and sustain the movement. The leaders of Egypt were 60, 70, even 80 years old. None of them had ever used Facebook or Twitter, nor understood the potential behind them.

Here in America, Occupy Wall Street began when the anti consumerism magazine Adbusters posted a suggestion on Twitter about a march in New York on Sept. 17th, inspired by the Egyptian Tahrir Square uprising. From there, a massive Twitter onslaught began. The hashtags #occupywallstreet and #ows were trending for months. Worldwide attention was captured within a matter of days. To host different occupy protests around the country, the meet up site www.meetup.com was used as a tool to gather people and organize events. There are currently over 2,800 occupy together communities on meetup. This type of organization and execution of protests has been seen before.

In conclusion, social networking sites did not cause these uprisings to happen. What they did was help organize the protests, capture worldwide recognition, and fuel these uprisings like never before. The term ‘Digital Age’ is thrown around a lot, but in the near future we will truly begin to see what the Internet is capable of. People all over the world have seen the success of Egypt, Tunisia, and others and will start their own. This is only the beginning.

The Logic of Terrorism: Is International Terrorism a Significant Challenge to National Security? (HHM 125-47)

As mentioned in class and in many articles concerning terrorism, definitively defining terrorism has not been accomplished and we are stuck today with hundreds if not thousands of definitions of what terrorism is. For this paper I will be using the United States legal definition; perpetrated by a sub-national group, targeted against citizens, politically motivated, and intended to influence an audience. In this article, there are two university professors weighing in on whether or not international terrorism is a significant challenge to our national security. Scott Atran, University of Michigan, argues for this motion mainly focusing on the effect terrorism has on the public. On the contrary, John Mueller, Ohio State University, argues against this motion again citing terrorism’s effect on the public but instead says that policy makers must not play into the terrorists hands by enacting policies that provoke fear of terrorism. Mueller also mentions the lack of a real leader in the terrorist movement as well as the low amount of casualties it actually creates. However, it is interesting that both the pro and con articles mention the effects terrorism has on the masses. For this reason I will argue that yes, international terrorism is a significant challenge to national security for its ability to play upon the publics emotions and fears without exerting significant effort and the possibility of intimidating our country into submission.

The amount of people that are killed by terrorists is paltry compared to other much less advertised causes of death. This is signified in Mueller’s brilliant comment comparing the amount of people who have died from terrorist acts since 9/11 to the amount of people who have died drowning in their bathtubs. Another stroke of brilliance was the mentioning that more people have drowned in toilets than have died in the United States from terrorism in the same time span. Mueller is correct in the fact that the amount of people who actually die from terrorist actions is not very much (Atran also says this). However this is not what is important. It is the capability of extremist groups to do such actions and their stranglehold of American emotions and fears following doing so.

Therein lines the problem that faces our counter intelligence community. As stated in the article, many so-called ‘experts’ make many false assumptions about terrorism. Almost no terrorism occurs in the poorest countries in the world. Furthermore, even in the most oppressive regimes such as the Soviet Union and Germany under Hitler was there not a large influx of terrorism. Terrorism’s roots lay in groups of teenagers around the world and that’s who we need to be reaching out to. It is obvious that Al Qaeda or any other terrorist group will never overthrow the American government or defeat the American military. However it’s successes can be seen in the scope of American foreign policy over the past 10 years. Almost immediately following 9/11 President Bush sent forces into Afghanistan and two years later in 2003 sent forces into Iraq. All the chaos and deaths of American lives over the past 10 years has been caused by groups of extremists who although immensely underpowered, have significantly influenced nearly all American lives.

An alternate form of international terrorism which is not widely talked about is cyber terrorism. Putting away the fantasy pictures that invade ones head when hacking is mentioned, we must truly realize the capabilities and implications of cyber attacks. Cyber terrorism saw its biggest and most dangerous case just one year ago and this time it was directed at Iran with the possible attackers being none other than Israel and the United States. This ‘hack’ was a virus known as Stuxnet which was a computer worm that embedded itself into computers in Iran’s nuclear facilities and caused the malfunction of centrifuges. The United States has been on the receiving end of many cyber attacks over the last 20 years but never has an attack been as sophisticated and successful as the Stuxnet virus. The idea that a computer virus can cause real tangible facilities to malfunction or break is something every government facility should worry about and should be a very important part of America’s counter terrorism agency. The one key thing to remember about Stuxnet and other cyber attacks is that most if not all do not fit in with the definition of terrorism that includes the ‘clause’;  targeted against citizens or non militant groups. In fact, Stuxnet did infect many other computers around the world (including a small percentage in the United States) but was mainly targeted towards Iran’s nuclear facilities. A possible exception is certainly in order as I think that although most of these cyber attacks are not targeted towards citizens directly, if they were ever to be successful they would almost certainly attack and affect the entire population (credit cards, social security numbers, etc..).

In conclusion, international terrorism is a serious problem for the United States and until something else comes along, it should be one of the main focuses of our counter intelligence community and a main aspect of our foreign policy. Although not easily combatable, we must rely on unorthodox measures to counter attack the global terrorism problem. If we don’t, the American public, not the government or military, will be in shambles and these terrorist organizations will have successfully terrorized our country into submission.

Works Cited

[HHM] Haas, Peter, John A. Hird, and Beth McBratney, eds. Controversies in Globalization: Contending Approaches to International Relations. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2009.

Note – This letter was originally written for a class of mine, hence the references to ‘class’.