Saturday, August 02, 2008

Scanner for the Blind

Just a quick reminder to go to the Visual Independence website
They are the Australian charity who have brought the I.D Mate Scanner to Australia.
The scanner allows blind people to know what products they are looking at in supermarkets and around the home, and can be customised to include information not just about supermarket (and the sort) products with a barcode but items around the home as well like clothes and the dishwasher.

To find out more info- go to the website at or contact your local vision industry (ie: Vision Australia)

All the best to all our tech groupies, Feel free to send us a message!


(Don't forget to listen to Homepage on your local community radio station across Australia)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Senior Surfers

The internet is often seen as a place where everyone in the world can be connected to each other.

With all the services the internet offers including search engines, email, instant messaging, and forums it seems there is something for everybody.

The reality is that not everyone is in the situation where they can simply buy a computer and access the internet.

Seniors are often perceived to be marginalised by the youth-orientated technology industry. In fact, despite the obstacles that deter some seniors from technology they are actually the fastest growing group purchasing and using computers.

According to Tony Lenn, from the Australian Seniors Computers Clubs Association, the internet and computers can be daunting for older seniors who haven’t grown up with exposure to technology.

It makes them a little apprehensive about getting started. But I think they realise that the internet is there and if they want to live in this world they have to get up-to-date. Most of them a fairly practical in that respect and they are only too keen to get going.

What initially deters some seniors from using computers and the internet?

The complexity, fear of the unknown is probably the main thing. They see computers as all ‘whizz-bang’ lights and whistles and lights and flashing things and they don’t know anything about it so it’s a little bit daunting at first.

What is the main motivation for seniors to start using the internet and computers?

It’s twofold. One is to find out information that is often referred to in other media and publications and on the television and probably the overriding reason is for communication with family and friends via email and the internet.

What are the most common tasks that seniors use their computers for?

Emails, internet browsing and searching for things on the internet. Researching family history and also for writing the memoirs their life stories, incidences they can recall just for posterity.

How does the way seniors use the internet differ from the way other groups do?

Very little. Except that we’re a little older and have a broader range of background to fall to. So I suppose that makes us a little special.

What do seniors value about online social interaction?

I think the biggest value is that they are able to communicate with others either by email, using internet telephones and so forth. It’s great to be able to get a quick response to a query or question or response from someone you’re trying to contact.

Are the things that seniors value about the internet different to the things that other age groups value?

No. I think they’re very common. It’s a basic human requirement I think rather than an age based thing.

Does the way seniors communicate over the internet differ from the way other age groups do?

Maybe the topics they look for. But the actual way they use it I don’t think varies very much. They’re not into MySpace and Facebook and things like that or they’re not so much into to downloading the latest pop tunes off one of the networks on to their iPod. But they use the internet as a communication tool which is exactly what it is.

Do they use the same type of language? Like the ‘lols’ and the shorthand that younger web users use?

Only if they are really into that scene. Generally they don’t. They tend to use longhand. Which is a bit old-fashioned I guess but at least people can understand what they are talking about. It’s hard for us older people to understand the language of the young people these days.

Do you think the internet offers a connection between the older generation and younger generations? Such as grandparents and grandchildren?

Yes that’s very important especially where there are distances between parts of the family. To be able to talk to them via the internet and see them over things like Skype and is a great bonus for everybody. A friend of mine has video conferences with her son and sees the grandchildren. The main advantage of that is that when she goes to visit the grandchildren know what she looks like.

How does online interaction benefit seniors?

It improves access and for seniors who have some sort of disability or who aren’t as mobile as the younger generation it allows them to get out an reach people much more easily without having to have the problems of physical distances.

Does online interaction change the way seniors interact in the real world?

Yes. It keeps them more up to date and better informed about what is going on in the community.

How can the internet and computers impact upon seniors lives?

It improves their communications to all parts of the community not just family also friends, colleagues and other social groups.

Although seniors are stereotyped as having little computer experience. The level of computing skills often varies depending on when they left the workforce. Some Younger seniors may have years of experience from their time in the workforce whilst some older female seniors may never had the opportunity to work at all.

Computing Clubs for seniors are a popular way for those interested in learning more about computers to do so with support from their peers. The Australian Seniors Computing Clubs Association is the parent body which individual clubs join.

The association connects the clubs to one another, seeks discounts for its members and communicates with relevant government agencies

Probably the biggest thing that seniors computing clubs do is provide training for seniors to help them keep up to date with what’s going on in the internet and technology. In that way it becomes a learning thing, a social thing and a retirement activity. It keeps them busy and keeps their minds active. Often people with more experience join us as trainers where they can pass their information on to other members of the community who don’t have those skills.
Do you think that the fact that trainers are in their peer group helps them learn and appreciate the technology?

Absolutely, because they are working at the level that seniors work at. We’ve had seniors go to more vocational type courses to try and learn computing ant they say it’s useless because the young people are there and they go a thousand miles an hour and the older people have to try and keep up because the teacher just goes with the majority of the class and the older generation is left out. So by having someone of their own generation work at their own speed is a big plus.

What other ways can seniors improve their computer skills?

By participating in computer related activities. The Australian Seniors Computing Clubs are run by seniors on a voluntary basis and we keep the costs down to a minimum so we are able to provide access to many seniors particularly pensioners who would not be able to afford that sort of facility.

Other places where seniors can find support on the internet are sites dedicated to older internet users

GreyPath is an online community created and managed by seniors. The site allows people from all over the world to engage with each other through forums, online chat, Blogging, and email pals.

Besides its social networking uses the site also gives its members access to free-courses which they can complete online.

One course provided by the site is an introduction to computers and the internet which allows seniors to learn at there own pace.

The founder and CEO of Greypath, Ray Lewis, believes that websites aimed at seniors offer many attractions including the opportunity for seniors to connect with their peers from all over the world

We’re developing a pretty substantial world reach. People from 40 countries visited us over the last couple of weeks. That’s always interesting when you catch up with them. Generally speaking word of mouth is keeping the site growing pretty substantially and with got lots of new offering coming. One of the biggest things we hope to do is rebuild our 3D senior’s community a version of Sim Life but more leaning towards seniors.

Do you think that seniors are looking for something different to the social networking sites already on offer?

I think the initial motivation is about 65% social. But we seniors are becoming rapidly more sophisticated in our expectation of the internet and the sort of internet supermarket that GreyPath has become has tangible value for us now. With 1800 visits a day and growing new members at about 5-15 new members each day. I think it supports the idea of a greater need then just simple networking. I do a lot more video on the site these days as a result of reflecting on what seniors want over the last five or six years. We’re now providing routine video editing tutorials. The profile of site visitors is that 50% are between sixty and seventy and 25% sit on either side of that.

How does GreyPath differ from sites aimed at any age group?

Many of our members are non computer literate whilst most other age groups are computer literate. We try and take special care in a non patronising way to coax people along slowly and avoid jargon. Many have to consciously think of the new meanings of words such as program, application, and accessories. For them accessories means bangles and bags. They have to learn the new meanings of these, plus words such as bandwidth and even words like mouse. It’s a new and unnatural medium to begin with. It’s non intuitive at ones first exposure so we have to keep that in mind with the site design.

As the size of the 55 plus age group increases the number of older people using the internet will also increase. Although many seniors have missed out on the opportunity to learn about computers at school or work There are many places that can help advise on the purchase of the right computer, and help those unfamiliar with the internet get started.

Contact the Australian Seniors Computing Clubs
On 02 92863871 or


Friday, June 20, 2008

Craft Communities Online

It seems that there are online communities for almost everything from new mothers, to political activists, but how would a craft community, so focussed on an activity that is done physically, translate online?

Helen McLean runs a quilting website from her home in Victoria; after her husband passed away she wanted a project and something to bring in a bit of income. Her son and daughter both, who are web designers, set her up a quilting website. Helen’s site offers a whole range of resources and a place for quilters from around the world to come. Helen told me she has people from all over accessing her site

“Old, young, I had quite a big order from a shop in Norway, in almost all countries. One of my very first customers lives in Cloncurry, way out back in Queensland; a lot of ladies say ‘there’s nowhere near me’”.

The ability of online communities to break down geographical barriers is one of their main advantages, Greg Wadley, associate academic and researcher in the Interaction Design Group at the University of Melbourne is researching online communities and he says one of their advantages is that they can create community for people who would otherwise be isolated from a physical one.

“In your local neighbourhood there may not simply be enough people to form a community who share that interest, but the internet means a much larger group of people who can get together and discuss the interest and share resources of various kinds. Another advantage of online communities is you don’t have to be at a meeting place at a particular time, you can just log in when it’s convenient to you, and take turns in a conversation that might spread out over days or weeks.”

Education and the transfer of skills online is something Greg has been exploring and is something craft communities are often trying to do, I asked him what major difficulties he had come across in transferring practical skills online?

“The problem is that social information doesn’t get broadcast through the internet, by that I mean; if you’re sitting in a room with your social group then there’s much more information flashing back and forth between the people, there’s a lot more communication going on than we’re even consciously aware of. Online there’s far less information getting through.” Greg said.

So with all these communities going online is it likely that we’ll see what has traditionally been serviced by physical communities be taken over by online ones? Both Greg and Helen are doubtful.

“There have been researchers arguing a dystopian view of online community, saying that people will spend all their time sitting at a computer and the more time they spend online the less time they’re communing with others offline, but I don’t know that our experience is baring that out. There’ll always be a small number of people who will do anything to an extreme way, but most people aren’t affected by it at all. Most people find a way to utilise online and offline communities in the most appropriate way and make them work together.” Greg Said

Helen said online communities could never replace offline one’s for quilters.

“I don’ think they would replace them at all, because women just love to get together and swap patterns person to person, see what each other are doing, and I don’t know why it is but as quilters we love to feel things, I see a fabric the first thing I want to do is touch it and I don’t know why cause they pretty much all feel the same. I really don’t think it would stop (physical) groups, but if you were really isolated and you didn’t know where there was a group then yes maybe”

While it seems online communities can never completely replace physical communities, it is clear they can broaden them. In an era where people find physical communities can be difficult to coordinate, online communities are offering the opportunity to people with all kind of interests to find each other. So whether you like quilting, scrap booking, model train making or hobbytex there’s likely to be an online community for you.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Future of News as We Know It

“Popular news papers, the ‘mass newspapers’ are dying and will die, they have got no future what so ever…” Roy Greenslade Future of Journalism Conference May 2008

The Future of Journalism Summit, recently held by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, together with the ABC, hosted journalists and media industry professions from around the world.

All forecast major upheaval in the media and news industries, with predictions like Roy Greenslade’s (a greatly respected journalist with the Guardian in the UK), that with the increasing influence of the Internet, newspapers are on their last legs.

I spoke with Jonathan Este from the MEAA and formerly a journalist with The Australian and The Independent (not The Age as mistakenly mentioned in the broadcast sorry!), about some of the issues raised at the conference, to try and gain a picture of what media consumption might look like in the near future.

Jonathan said he believes much of the fuss is without cause.

There’s a lot of pessimism about the future, and I think that’s a bit short sighted. … To say "its all done and dusted, the Internet’s here, news papers are dead" that’s a very pessimistic view.

Roy Greenslade said at the summit that the decline of newspaper consumption has a lot to do with changes in societal and cultural structures, rather than a lack of interest in news.

Young People don’t red news papers and have never read news papers… (People) didn’t really start to buy newspapers until they got married, the problem now is they’re not getting married, and therefore they’re not forming the family unit around which a newspaper was a key part.

Jonathan hosted a discussion at the summit entitled ‘Digital Natives in the Wild’, featuring three leaders in the new media field; Cinnamon Pollard (Youth Fairfax digital), Rebekah Horne (MySpace Australia) and Kath Hamilton (Yahoo7).

Jonathan explained that all three women spoke about the new audience’s desire to be a part of the process of producing and distributing news.

What they’re saying is that (generation Y) see media as being a conversation, not a lecture, they’re just as likely to be brought to stories by their friends as by newspapers, they’ll email each other saying “have you seen this story?".

They see this as an all round media experience, they’re creating media themselves, they’re creating film clips, sharing stuff, they’re creating their own networks to share news.

This new way of consuming news was referred to in the discussion as “information snacking”, I asked Jonathan if this could lead to a “malnourished” audience.

I don’t necessarily think that ("information snacking") is a reflection of disengagement, I think it’s more a reflection of convenience. People don’t want to wait 'til 6 pm to read the news. Jonathan said.

If you look at the election campaign in Australia last year, there was this huge push, the ‘Get Up’ movement, there were a lot gen’ Y people there, and they were very engaged and committed to the principle process.

I actually think that people are going to get a better quality news service, I just have the faith that journalists have the vision and the courage to maintain that investment.


Anther shift discussed at the summit was that of an increase in audience participation, as Jonathan Este said people are seeing news as a conversation, not a lecture.

This shift is making some journalists fear for their jobs, and audiences fear for the credibility of their news sources, so will more audience participation have this feared detriment on the profession of journalism?

Roy Greenslade at the summit said that Journalists roles are not becoming irrelevant, just changing.

I want journalists to think about the fact that they are no longer secular priests, who hold journalism to be some kind of mysterious activity. Anyone can be a journalist, anyone can contribute to journalism, but, that participation, cooperation, crowd sourcing, mash ups, all the other ways now of enlarging journalism, empowering people to be journalists, are very important.

Journalism, reporting on society, telling people about things they didn’t know, and also discovering things that people don’t want you to know, which is obviously what journalism is about, are not going to be things that only professionals do, in future, and they are already not things that only journalists do.

Jonathan Este pointed out there is still plenty of work for Journalists to do in this era of public participation.

You still need people who’s job it is and who’s skill it its to find things out, and I think you need people who’s job it is and who’s skill it is to edit and moderate that.

What’s different now is that what Jay Rosen calls “the people formerly known as the audience”, they’re no longer this big, homogeneous mass, they’re a whole number of different communities and they’re coming back to you.

In a sense there is this potential for journalism to get a whole lot better, because the feedback will throw back very valuable additions to stories, or corrections.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Is eBay being anti-competitive?

Online shopping site eBay recently made a decision that will see the company's online credit agency PayPal handle most of the purchase transactions made on the site. With this announcement has come claims the decision is anti-competitive.

Homepage producer Matthew Heffernan recently investigated the issue and the claims of anti-competitive business management.

eBay's user friendly chief, told Matthew the decision is based on improving user safety. PayPal is universally praised for its security measures and it makes good business sense for eBay to require sellers to give their buyers the option of using the safest method of payment.

PayPal allows a user to register their bank or credit card details to establish their online shopping balance. A user can then access funds from that balance to purchase items off the net.

eBay's decision to make PayPal the preferred option for transactions does not exclude other credit agencies from the service - but rather requires those credit cards be used through PayPal for greater security for users. According to eBay a user is four times less likely to run into a transaction problem if they use PayPal when shopping online.

eBay suggests the change to PayPal ensures better transaction security for buyers and sellers.

It's important to note that users can still pay for their goods in person for 'pick up' only purchases. So there is a cash payment option available for buyers and sellers who choose not to use PayPal.

The ACCC is currently investigating the eBay / PayPal case and has declined to comment at this time.

However, Matthew was able to speak with Jerome Fahrer from the Allens Consulting Group about the anti-competitive business claims. The Allens Consulting Group is an independent agency that examines cases like this and offers recommendations to clients on how to proceed in such cases.

Mr Fahrer suggests eBay is well within its rights to make this business decision. He further adds that because eBay is not the only online shopping site available, the company has the right to impose whatever payment system they prefer.

Jerome compared the eBay / PayPal issue to buying a car. When buying a new car you often don't get to choose what radio it comes with, but nobody is forcing you to buy that car and there are others available to you to buy.

Users shouldn't really be too worried about the decision by eBay to introduce a PayPal exclusive payment option, because PayPal offers optimum security features.

As for the claims of anti-competitiveness, we'll await the decision from the ACCC.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Invisible Web

For many of us, we peruse and search the internet using only our favourite search engine.

But did you know that by doing this, you are only covering a small portion of the web?

So, even though there may be thousands of websites popping up from your search, there could be even more vital websites you’re missing out on.

Basically, the internet can be classified into two categories – the surface web and the invisible web.

The surface web is what search engines index and dig up for us to see and what is easily found.

But the invisible web is an exception. Also known as the deep web, these websites are made to be much harder to find. They won’t show up in a typical search engine search, and if they do, they are hard to access.

These websites might be deliberately excluded by the owners using code, or the websites might be invisible because they don’t hold much significance.

It is expected that invisible web is several times bigger than the surface web, although it is hard to measure that isn’t clearly visible.

Amanda Spink, who is the professor of information technology at the Queensland University of Technology will be joining us on the program today to delve into the details of the invisible web and discover what kind of sites there are.

She says there are a number of websites you can’t access for many reasons. Organisations on the web might host their valuable company information online for easy accessibility for employees, but it usually restricted access with log-in protection.

Cyber criminals also convene online but these sites won’t be found easily.

These websites can be kept hidden embedding codes into the HTML, such as Meta Tags, which stop web crawlers from finding them.

Although there are some pages on the web that might not technically be made invisible; but become invisible as a result of narrow search techniques.

Amanda Spink says search engines don’t index every website and only cover a portion of the web. So one search engine might cover a portion of the web that another search engine might not.

There are ways to combat this and expand your searches, by using a unique and versatile type of search engine called metasearch engines such as Dogpile. These search engines are a quick and efficient way to do searches because they utilise multiple search engines.

Amanda Spink says the information on the invisible is in no way substandard to the information on the surface web. In fact the information is actually a lot more valuable.

So next time you do a search, keep in mind that there is more than meets the eye. What might be available on one search engine may not be available on another and the web stretches much further than what we normally see.

There are many other ways to do searches and get the most of what you’re looking for.

All you need is to find the right search tools, which may include federated search engines such as databases; or by using human crawlers instead of algorithmic crawlers such as StumbleUpon.

Religion Online

Religion for some has taken a back seat in our fast paced, technology addicted life styles – but now it’s making a come back.
Religions are embracing the online environment as we’ve never seen before – and it doesn’t stop there. We’re talking podcasts, social networking, SMS calls to prayer – religion at your fingertips and in a form that is second nature to many people today – particularly generations X and Y.
When you think about it, the potential for religion online is just about limitless. You can find about all kinds of religions, experience other cultures, participate in online sermons and in fact, there are now some faiths that only exist online.
In Insight, Homepage producer Amy Spear chatted to World Youth Day Spokesman Jim Hanna and Doctor Kathleen McPhillips, Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of Western Sydney about religion’s shift into cyberspace…

So just to get us started today, Kathleen, are more people turning to technology to learn and practice religion?

It’s a good question. The answer is a little bit complex because part of the problem with the internet is that it’s so diverse and large, so it’s very hard to research. But I think what researchers have found is that there is an enormous amount of material on the internet, covering a very large area of topics and religious traditions and people are very engaged in virtual religion.

Is it all kinds of religion? Different religions?

Yes, it is. Well, major religious traditions, all of them have websites. Then you get new age religions, so lots of pagan websites and you get lots of witch websites and so on. Then you also get lots of religious healing sites, sects and cults are on the internet. There also very productive websites, such as interface dialogue discussions between faith tradition. So it can be a space where there is a lot of diversity and tolerance.

Are you able to tell a particular demographic that uses these? Or is it across the board?

It’s hard to know but it’s probably generations X and Y that are more active on the internet then other generations, particularly in relation to religion. I mean, one of things about religion on the internet is that it does probably encourage a more individualised use or attention to it. So the older generations may be used to going to church on Sunday or Saturday, or whenever it may be, and having a more traditional, physical relationship with their congregations. Whereas younger people are probably more adept at using the internet as a form of community and communication.

Is it that religion is changing? Or is it just taking on a new form of communication?

This is a very good question and it’s one of THE questions – does the internet change the nature of religion and religious practice? I think the answer to that has to be yes. I mean, first of all, there’s the question of the internet itself. It is a kind of mysterious technology. It’s a form of virtual or cyber space – we can’t see it. It isn’t magic – so how does it happen that we can connect up with people that live so far away from us in less than a second? So there’s a question about whether the internet itself is a kind of religious experience and may encourage people to believe in something that doesn’t exist. Then there’s another question about whether people can have religious experiences on the internet using some of the sites. So these are really interesting questions to ask. I think we have to say that it does change the social context in which we practice religion.

Religion amongst younger people has, in some cases, lost relevance over the past few years. The internet, then, could be a way of bringing it back to them – communicating through their means and providing a whole range of info.

Absolutely and I think that’s one of the things that religious congregations are hoping for – that by using these technologies that young people are much more familiar with and comfortable with, that they will be able to reach out to them. Whether they’re successful or not is hard to define. I don’t know if there are any studies done in this area. I mean, one of the things is that there would be a significant group of young people, we know this from the census, that, while they may have been raised in a religious tradition, they don’t practice it. It’s their parents who continue to practice it. So there is an element of alienation amongst young people and the internet might be one way they can keep a connection with a religious tradition active, while not feeling so disoriented and alienated by the weekly practices of that tradition which may not speak to them at all.

In your opinion, what are the most common ways people are using the internet for religion?

What I know about is the New Age sites and I think they’re using them for a lot of different things. You can set up your own website for starters and you can advertise yourself and your religious preferences. But I think for information, to join a group, to do healing practices and also to have fun. You can access things like an Ouija board, so the black arts are there as well. I mean some religious groups only have an existence on the internet and there I’m particularly thinking about Jedi Religion. Now I don’t know if you recall but in the early 2000s (2001 Census) 70 000 Australian nominated Jedi religion as their religious practice and it was a phenomenon that also happened in other Western countries like Britain. From that developed a number of internet sites on Jedi religion so you can actually join a group and become a Jedi Master or practice some of the more esoteric practices associated with Jediism.

To take a closer look at how religions are using technology, I spoke with Jim Hanna from World Youth Day about the initiatives they’ve been using to get their message out there.

World Youth Day is targeted at young people all around the world and, especially in Australia, young people are more tech savvy then the older generations – then their parents and teachers. So we know that if we want to reach people effectively, we’ve got to use the communication tools they use. That used to be radio, TV and maybe some youth magazines but now it’s the internet, it’s mobile phones and it’s a range of different things on the internet. You can’t just say the internet anymore – you’ve got to talk about chat rooms, forums networking pages etc. So we’re looking at the whole range of things and we’ve come up with a few ideas that we hope will appeal to young people and be things they will use.

In what has been termed by some as the Big Prey Out, over 60 000 Aussies from outside of Sydney will join double that from all over the world in this years World Youth Day. So are more people jumping online to find out about it and to connect with other people?

Yeah, I think it’s more the second thing that you said. It’s more connecting with other people and I think a really effective way for young people to get involved in their faith is if they see and hear other people in their own age group taking part in it and this is a great way to see other people do something spiritual. If you’re not talking about a strict religious sense, it might just be looking for guidance and I think getting online is a great way to communicate with other people but still be yourself. There’s still a reasonable degree of anonymity and you can preserve your privacy – you can be yourself a little bit more than you can in a group situation, around a table or at a restaurant or something.

Has this level of communication ever been possible before?

Well that’s right. This is going to be a first for WYD. We’re going to have a social networking space called, that’s going to be launched this month, and for the first time Pilgrims from all around the world will be able to get online and become friends before they actually arrive here in Sydney. They can start meeting each other, getting to know each other and getting to know something about each other. We’re also going to have daily text messages from the Pope. The Pope will write something and we’ll get it out to people so it will be a direct communication to them from the Holy Father, which I think is going to be pretty cool. The other thing that I think most people are finding very innovative is an idea we got when U2 were out here the last time, where you could text your phone number to a particular number and you could see your name come up on the big screen at the event. Well what we want to do is do that in a Catholic sort of way. Often people want other people to pray for something, some intention or other, it could be world peace, it could be freedom from hunger, it could be for a sick relative, it could even be for their footy team to win – and Lord knows I’ve been doing a lot of praying for my team! They had a win last week so that’s good – it does work everyone! So what we’re doing is a Digital Prayer Wall where you can text your prayer to a particular number and it will come up on the screen where a couple of hundred people are gathered. It’s great to know that at least some of the people in that crowd would all being praying for that same intention. It gives people a sense of warmth and reassurance. So that’ll be a first and hopefully that will be something that continues on to the next WYD. We’re also going to be bringing people together who might live in regional Australia, by having some sort of webcasting (like a teleconference but on the internet) and we’re hoping to do one of those before WYD. So the Bishop here in Sydney will reach out to people further out in Australia. We’re going to work with Telstra on that.

Jim agrees that religion is now a lot more accessible, particularly to those younger people.

Yeah and I think it needs to be. I think the Church needs to enter the 21st century and I think it’s trying to do that. It needs to appeal to younger people who, as I said before, they just read and hear and see things differently. They still use the old media forms like TV and everything else but I think young people especially work in their own space. If the Church wants to be relevant to them it’s got to come to those spaces and be part of their lives.

Religion, in all its shapes and forms, is certainly taking on a whole new look. And it’s much more accessible in today’s lifestyle to boot. There is still much debate surrounding the issue, so keep an eye out for new developments.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Amy takes a look at Online Image...

Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder.
But knowing there could be millions beholding your image at once?
That’s a pretty daunting concept!

However that’s the reality of the internet today and image certainly plays a big part – whether it be through social networking, virtual worlds or gaming.

This week on Insight, Homepage producer Amy Spear explores the complex world of online personal image and discovers the impact that it has on users, particularly the younger group.

She chats to Dr Nadine Pelling, a senior lecturer at the University of South Australia and Dr Ashley Holmes, Senior Lecturer in Multimedia at Central Queensland University.

So, Dr Pelling, could you explain what kind of impact this has on internet users?

I think adolescents to begin with have a lot invested in their image and how they’re portrayed to others. So, indeed, a medium like the internet where you can control how you’re portrayed in your own pages at least, could actually be quite popular and have quite an impact.

Is a positive or negative impact? Or is it too hard to generalise?

Well, I’d say it’s probably hard to generalise but from a psychologist point of view, I’d actually prefer it if someone was to put forward their ideas, their thoughts, their feelings and their actions simply a little more than just a simple appearance on a photograph that could be touched up, a photograph that could be posed and carefully chosen to portray an image that someone wants to present based on their appearance vs their actions.

Going on from just straight websites these days, we’ve got virtual worlds and places where people can go online and be a whole different person. Particularly for young girls and guys, there’s been a bit of debate about how they can dress and act older. Is this a concern from a psychological perspective?

I think a lot, of people, when you think of children, they play ‘pretend’, they play ‘dress-ups’, they imagine things and I don’t see much difficulty in that. I think when it becomes something that’s overwhelming, when it takes on a very large part of someone’s existence and when its not age appropriate, it might be when we start being slightly concerned.

There’s been a bit of attention given to controversial sites such as ‘Miss Bimbo’ lately, where gamers can dress their dolls in any fashion they choose and buy products such as diet pills. The main concern aside from the ideas portrayed, stems from the concept that people begin to lose the distinction between real and online life.

I think some people realise that it is, quote, “just a game” and other people get too involved in it. Unfortunately there are always going to be people that take any activity that is meant for fun and take it to the extreme. From a feminist, psychologist point of view, I would have some concerns regarding a page that obviously that is dealt purely on appearance and appearance not in a healthy manner, but in an overly sexualised manner personally.

What are the impacts of everyone having a piece of this celebrity culture and the repercussions down the track do you think?

I don’t know about repercussions for the average person down the track. I think it’s more likely to have repercussions for those that are famous, for those that become famous. For the average person, simply putting out a few photographs describing themselves, I don’t see that as a difficulty. It’s the people that go overboard, the people that spend way too much of their awake time involved with such a difficulty, that I see as a problem.

Is there a concern about the rivalry? Having the most friends, having the best photos? Is the competition aspect of it a concern at all?

Once again it probably depends on how far you take it. I personally would be more concerned, and if I had clients that were discussing were discussing competition on such webpages, I’d probably try and focus them on the quality of their relationships. Not the quantity.

Do you think spending so much time and having a whole other persona online can have positive or negative impacts on your mental health and who you are as a person?

I’d say it’s more likely to have a negative impact. When you talk about psychological health, when you talk about health in general, we like to take what’s called a bio-psycho-social approach. You want to be healthy physically with your biology. You want to eat well, you want to exercise, you want to take care of your health. You want to take care of yourself psychologically as well. You want to have a good self image, you want to do what you believe is right, you want to think positively but not in a Pollyanna sort of manner. And you want to be healthy socially, you want to have real social connections, real friends, real family connections. You need to have people to talk to, so you can discuss not just problems but positive things that are going on in your life. Now, if you are well-rounded in a bio-psycho-social manner, I don’t see such things having a difficulty in your life. However, if you are not healthy physically, if you are lacking some of that psychological reliance, if you are lonely and you don’t have those connections, that’s when involvement with the internet, involvement with drugs, involvement with sex, involvement with just about anything can cause problems because you’re not healthy enough to handle it in a balanced manner. That’s probably when you need to get some professional assistance, not on the internet.

Dr Ashley Holmes, Senior Lecturer in Multimedia at Central Queensland University, points out that this idea of personal image online isn’t necessarily a new one. Let’s face it, image is something that concerns just about everyone and it’s been around for a little bit longer than the internet!

I believe that the internet is really just facilitating or enabling people to do more in terms of their social connections than they have been able to in the past. This happens at the level of even just keeping in touch with family, email, that sort of thing. But it also happens with the creation of new social groups or activities. Of course we all know that people like to share videos these days, which in the past they haven’t been able to do easily. Young people in particular like to participate with various types of gaming activities. Sometimes these are done on their own, as individuals, and sometimes they’re done in groups and indeed with huge groups. So there’s quite a wide variety of activities and social activities that people can engage in and they’re just enabling us to do what we’ve always liked to do really.

So it’s not a new phenomenon, it’s just an old phenomenon in a new medium?

Well I think so yes. Certainly there’s a lot of people that say that this is the case. There is nothing new in it. There is greater individualism, possibly, in the way that people are working online. We know this because we have this almost one-to-one relationship with the computer itself. But in that we’re not working in isolation or in alienation if you like. There’s a source of meaning constructed around the projects and desires of the individual. But this doesn’t substitute for face to face sociability, it just adds to it. It also doesn’t counteract forms of social disengagement that exist. In other words, if people are socially dysfunctional, it’s not going to necessarily help or improve their situation. So on the whole people are using it for fairly normal activities.

So what about this idea of having another image or persona online or getting to involved with this portrayal of yourself or other image-driven activities, such as the ‘Miss Bimbo’ game we’ve been speaking of. Dr Holmes points out that this is a line most people can distinguish.

I think being able to differentiate between play and reality is a skill that we all have. I believe that to some extent and, indeed, some philosophers would argue that we all share an illusion for our cultural activities that somehow we call actuality or a shared reality. So it’s kind of ironic really that people that the things we do engage in when we do this sort of gaming can be a bad thing. I mean certainly there are image types that one doesn’t like to encourage and I think that the site you mentioned has come to the attention of the world media for those very reasons. But it don’t seriously believe that there would be many girls who take that ‘game’ play and the role playing that is part of participating in that site to be something that they take as a real situation.

There certainly is a whole other element to the way we see ourselves when it comes to the online world – be it for better or for worse! As Amy Spear discovered the impacts of personal image on the net can be quite varied – from good to bad and all that’s in between.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Disconnected? Here are some ways to connect.

Approximately a third of Australians don’t have direct internet and/or computer access in their home, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics: Household use of Technology 2006-07.

There are many reasons for this depending on individuals and their situation; but for some Australians it is a matter of:
- Not being able to afford the technology
- Because they feel daunted by the thought of turning on the computer
- Or because their situation living situation does not allow it.

As information technology become increasingly important in today’s society- State and Federal Governments, educational institutions and social support networks are have recognised its importance and are developing resources and services to help the disconnected become connected with technology.

In Insight, we will be looking at these initiatives, what they provide and how they can help more Australians get in touch using technology.

Firstly, there is the Street-Connect Outreach Technology Bus, run by the Salvation Army and it is a response to the growing demand in access to technology.

The technology bus is a van taking technology out to the people. It was developed in 2004 and circulates through cities and towns in NSW.

Reg Hierzer - the chaplain and coordinator of the street connect outreach technology program said the internet is essential in today’s society. Almost everyone uses it to commuicate and to look for information. Services on the bus include teaching computer skills on the spot with ongoing encouragement and to help them perform tasks on the computer (eg. Paying bills, doing tax, looking for accommodation). The bus has six laptops and a printer and they are all connected wireless.

Reg Hierzer said the main aim is to encourage users to utilise computers without any assistance.

The internet is proven to be a valuable information resource, even for those who may not have a home with the website: Rebeccas community (, which offers information resources and help for the homeless to get in touch with others in the same situation. This is just one of the many websites and services online that show why the internet is such a valuable resource to use.

However for those who feel disconnected because they do not have the experience with technology or aren’t comfortable with using it, TAFE NSW offer a wide range of courses that are subsidised and funded by State and Federal Governments to those who have an important need to develop their skills.

Kinga Macpherson is the head teacher of Access and General Education at Bathurst TAFE which runs a variety of programs and classes on IT and they’re not just limited to computing skills. Skills also taught include how to use a mobile phone, sms, ATMs, troubleshooting, word processing and how to be more comfortable with technology.

Courses include Access To Work and Training, and Skills to Further Work and Study, which are available to help people brush up on their IT skills for the workforce. Unlike other courses, they are not formal but instead they're there for people to meet their own specific goals.

Kinga Macpherson said if programs and services like these didn’t exist, some people would become isolated and disconnected because a lot of what people do now is on the computers and therefore it is an important skill to develop.

She also pointed out the main problem might be that people just don’t know where to get computer access. Some local libraries and neighbourhood information centres have free computer access.

The services pointed out in this segment are just a select few that are available in Australia. There are many services out there to cater for those who don’t have the skills or technology – some classes or courses are designed specifically for different skill levels, needs or even age groups.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Internet Censorship in China

The Chinese government is notorious for having extreme censorship laws on public and private communication and information sources. The internet has not been immune from this censorship and in recent times people within China have been punished for accessing resources or publishing material the Chinese government deem inappropriate.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics will bring a flood of foreigners to China who are used to basically unrestricted internet access, however China is known for its stringent censorship laws. Aimee McIntosh spoke with David Tien a Chinese expatriate and Annamarie Reus a journalist about what effect Chinas watchful eye might have on tourists and journalists coming for the games.

David said that China’s current internet access rate is at about 12%, and that that would mean almost all people in cities access the internet. He explained how internet censorship in China works:

“There are two levels, one level is quite similar to the west, they don't want child pornography or how to make bombs for example. The other level has political concern; the (Chinese) Leadership don't want rumours spreading around. For example if you do a search on the Falun Gung movement, a lot of articles are blocked.”

One of the reasons internets is so often criticised or praised is because it is so difficult to police and monitor, Aimee asked David if people within China are finding ways to access information that is prohibited, In spite of heavy policing?

“There are ways to elude censorship; one of the common ways is to use a proxy server, which is located between the user and the website. The three well known ones are called the three musketeers.”

When China have hosted public events in the past, such as the APEC summit in Shanghai in 2001, China are said to have eased censorship laws and allowed access to banned websites temporarily, David said it was likely the same would happen during the Olympics but that it would be a temporary change.

“Even in Sydney during the Olympics everyone was on their best behaviour. I say that will possibly happen in China as well but once the games finish it will probably reverse back to normal.”

Annamarie Reus has worked as a journalist both within Australia and overseas for over a decade, she currently works for national radio news, Aimee spoke with her about what impact internet censorship might have on covering the Olympic Games.

Annamarie said the internet has become central to reporting on any event.

“Since the introduction of the internet I think it's not just about levelling off freedom of speech for different countries but it’s also about helping the work of a lot of journalists in different parts of the world. In particular technology has allowed quick access to information. I can't begin to emphasise how important the internet has become to journalists.”

“I remember when the Olympics happened in Australia, the moment any negative information came out about China, suddenly you couldn't access any comprehensive background information about those athletes.”

Annamarie said she thought it was essential for journalists to be familiar with China’s internet censorship laws so they could be sure their material was going to be accessible within China.

“I have been studying how I as a journalist can cover China, I have started looking up possibilities of where I could get my information from, and I have discovered just how difficult it is to get information. There’s already a few journalists (within China) who have ended up in gaol because they have used certain words. Words like freedom, democracy, Tianamen, human rights and democracy.”

“There is what they call the great firewall of china. There is actually an existent firewall in China that you can't get around. The people that recently ended up in gaol were the people who understood how firewalls worked and actually got around it. But after their reporting China pressured the service provider to provide the information and trace the journalists, and they all ended up in gaol.”

Friday, January 11, 2008

satellite imagery...

Recently on homepage, producer Amy Spear took a look at Satellite imagery and how this could potentially help to monitor and protect the environment...

Satellite imagery is an amazing technology used by a number of organisations – as they say a picture paints a thousand words and there are many benefits to using this technology.
She spoke with David Moore, the managing director of Terranean Mapping Technologies and Len Banks, Executive Director for Scientific Services in the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change.
To begin with, David Moore explains just how a satellite image is taken:
“Remote sensing satellites take images of the earth and it’s like having a big scanner orbiting the earth at about 700km above the service and scanning lines backwards and forwards and measuring the visible light and infrared from the earth’s surface. That is transmitted back down to the earth to a ground receiving station and put together into an image which looks like an aerial photograph covering a very large area of the earth’s surface.”
There are certainly many benefits for analysing the environment…
“Mapping the environment and land use is a big one and, for example, a local counsel who is doing their planning not only wants to know where the native forest and native vegetation is now, but they want to put that into a historic context and go back and see how it was in the 1970s and see the changes that have occurred since then. There’s a nationwide program that is being run where every two years they actually measure the number of trees or the amount of woody vegetation over the whole country. They can calculate from the changes in that how much extra CO2 has been released from the tree clearing or taken back in by regeneration so that they can actually account for the changes in CO2. Also they’re using them for monitoring tree clearing – different states have different tree clearing legislation and using satellite images from two different times (before they brought the law in and after they brought the law in) they can see very clearly where trees are being cut down. It’s very good for monitoring in that sense.”
David’s background is in ecology – so while it’s interesting to see the way landscapes fit together and interact, he says it can also be very sobering to see the impacts of industrialisation from 700km in the air. He believes that these images, particularly in historical context, could be more readily available to the public.
So what can we expect from this technology in the future?
“Some of the things that are really driving this are getting quick turn around images – so people are now looking at the idea of putting a geostationary satellite up which is always looking down at the same time and just sending the images down so you’ll be able to see people driving along in their cars and get information in real time.
The other thing they’re looking at is measuring the entire spectrum in very great detail so that you can get very subtle differences in plant health, different soil types and geology and be able to do a lot more detailed scientific analysis of things.
As every one or two years goes past there’s a new satellite launched with even higher resolution of detail so we get can closer and closer to centimetre type scales of resolution.”
The NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change, in conjunction with the rest of the State Government, is one of the organisations making full use of this technology. Len Banks, the executive director for scientific services in this department, explains why it is an important tool in the field.
“The NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change uses satellite imagery so that we can get a digital representation of the landscape. The satellites pick up different reflections from the various features of the landscape. So whether they be trees or soil or water or buildings and so on, that builds up a picture of those different features. So being digital data, we can analyse the various components that come through in an image to measure, for instance, areas of particular density or features so that we can combine that then with other digital data like soils information or roads or planning decisions and approvals that might be spatially referenced and therefore in a digital format.
We can produce multiple layers of information about the landscape so that we can then compare differences over time or make investment decisions about where’s the best place to make changes in the landscape.”

There are, of course, a range of reasons this technology can be used. One example that is becoming apparent at the moment, is the use of imagery to capture land clearing crimes.
“One of the uses we’re putting the imagery to – we use it for a whole range of reasons – but an important one is to identify areas where there has been a change in vegetation. The satellite will tell us where there has been tree loss or perhaps even regeneration. That area of tree loss… could be through fire or land clearing or trees dieing from drought for instance. It tells us where people on the ground can go and check it against land clearing approvals and see where investigations need to take place. So it is a useful tool in pointing those investigations in the right direction and making those investigations much more efficient.”
Len says the NSW government is moving forward from the LandSat Imagery, which gives a resolution of about ten metres, to getting images through the Spot 5 satellites at about 2.5 metres squared. So now instead of seeing clumps of trees, they’ll be seeing individual ones on the landscape.
It will be interesting to see what is spotted in the future by this incredible technology.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Rise of the Digital Tune

It's time to face the facts: the digital era is here and it's affecting nearly every aspect of our lives. How we order our food, how we talk to people and even how we relax - all have been changed by digital in some way.

Thankfully the advent of digital has been largely for the better. But there's some concern about digital's impact on the world of music.

Homepage producer Matt Heffernan investigates.

Just like the CD killed the vinyl record, digital music downloads are beginning to kill off the CD. Disc players have been almost completely replaced with MP3 players and now the medium is undergoing the switch to the digital MP3 format.

But should this be a cause for concern?

Well, first of all, one must consider the audio quality of a digitally downloaded track in comparison to that of a CD. Generally speaking, a retail CD will nearly always beat out an MP3 download in the quality department. This occurs as a result of MP3 compression.

But what does that mean?

Essentially, compression requires the quality of the music to be shrunk down in order to keep the file size of the MP3 as low as possible, creating for faster downloads. A common quality, or bit rate, for an MP3 is 192 kilobits per second.

If you have iTunes installed and you're a little curious about the quality of some of your downloaded tracks, simply right click on a song and select "Get Info" and the bit rate information will be displayed on screen.

Most people, however, simply cannot notice the difference in quality between CD and MP3 audio when the music is played through an average sound system. The differences in quality become much more glaring, however, when MP3s are played through a classy car audio or well set up home entertainment system.

Essentially, the louder you bump low quality MP3 tunes the more they may begin to distort.

But what do the musicians themselves think about the rise of the digital era?

Matt had a chat with experimental band A Stranger's lead guitarist Brendan Smith about the issue of quality.

"I think it's a natural is advancing so fast now, it probably won't even be that long until MP3 audio is on a par or even better than CD audio... interesting times".

If musicians aren't too worried and the average listener can't pick up the difference in audio quality, there probably isn't too much for you to be worried about just yet. Although there is no doubt that the CD will one day be replaced by the MP3, there is still quite a long way to go before the CD is completely forgotten and thrown upon the musical scrap heap.

And for those of you shaking your heads, wondering what on earth you're going to do with all your old CDs when retail albums are finally replaced, don't worry because you can simply convert your CD's to MP3 on your home PC by using programs like iTunes and Windows Media Player. But don't fear...the digital changeover is still a few good years away.