Friday 01 August 2008

Failing Etiquette Of Online Anonymity

A great strength of the internet is the online anonymity it offers to its users. This anonymity, when used in proper context, protects us from political or religious prosecution, ensures our freedom of speech, maintains transparency in the democratic process, and guarantees our rights to privacy. Yet, on the internet, anonymity is frequently misused, both intentionally and unintentionally, so to make it difficult for proponents to defend its use. At a minimum, the etiquette of online behaviors has fallen to a new low—bashing, trashing, trolling, and other antisocial misbehaviors that exist solely to confront without just cause—being mean for the sake of being mean. It underlines a fundamental flaw in human social behavior: when we no longer need to answer to our own actions, we naturally choose to be selfish, self-centered, immature, and vindictive. It is not simply a matter of a need to state an opinion honestly and anonymously, but a matter of a need to state one’s own opinion rudely with the sole intent to deflate the legitimacy of others. It may be true that proper online etiquette has never existed, but this must not stop us from pursuing it and holding ourselves to a more civil standard.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under Tech • Under World
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Tuesday 01 July 2008

Full Moon On An Eerie Night

Full Moon On An Eerie Night

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Media
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Sunday 01 June 2008

Leaving My Digital Footprint

Having recently celebrated my birthday, I reminisced about the memories of my own childhood in Hong Kong. After searching long for old personal memorabilia, I only found a handful of dated photographs taken of me as a baby and a young boy. The colors in the pictures had mostly faded, and many of the prints were badly cracked. There were no negatives kept for these photos because of the added film expense at the time. Looking back, I regret for not having kept a better pictorial record of myself—not for reasons of vanity, but for the prosperity of my family in the future.

Today, it is much easier for anyone to create and keep a record of one’s life (even after one’s death). This “digital footprint” can take the form of digital photographs, digital recordings of audio and video, digital scans of handwritten documents, personal blogs (such as this blog I am now writing), personal websites, and many other online presence. As technology and the internet continue to grow, so will our footprint left in this digital world. Unlike our ancestors, our legacy will not be pieced together by morsels of rotting artifacts buried in the earth but by streams of bits and bytes of digital information perpetually stored for eternity.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Family • Under Life • Under Tech
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Thursday 01 May 2008

Should Public Transit Be An Essential City Service?

Last month, the Amalgamated Transit Union of the Toronto Transit Commission staged a rapid strike after its union workers failed to ratify a tentative deal that was negotiated in good faith between representatives of the Union and the Commission. The strike effectively halted the entire public transit system for the city of Toronto (where I live in Canada) and left many in the public stranded suddenly without any transportation. The news brought on an immediate denouncement by the Mayor, who criticized the Union for failing to give due notification to the city which it had promised previously before striking. In response, the Union cited concern over the safety of its workers from possible public retaliation for its last-minute decision (I found it strange that the Union would had not anticipated this before) to proceed with the unannounced job action. While such concern was undoubtedly valid, it also ignored the equally important concern of the larger public who had no choice but to rely on public transportation to travel safely around the city, particularly at night. The controversial strike ended only when the Province of Ontario passed back-to-work legislation that effectively restored public transportation to the city.

Understandably, this fiasco had angered much of the public and reinvigorated the debate on whether or not Public Transit should be deemed as an essential service, similar to the Police and the Firefighters, for the city. As both a user and a believer of public transportation, I fully support such a consideration if a fair compensation can be ensured to all parties who participate in the change; to do so otherwise ignores the balanced responsibility that our government has to all the people who use the system and all the workers who work hard to maintain it.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under World
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Tuesday 01 April 2008

Urban Decay Of Our Language

Having English as a second language, mastering its massive vocabulary and awkward syntax in everyday speaking and writing has always been a personal challenge for me. It is a language full of neologisms, slangs, jargons, slurs, and colloquialisms: rules that make little sense to any outsider (including me) not familiar with the cultural context from which their uses are derived. Those who practice these rules argue that it is in the nature of our language to evolve and to adapt to the changing needs of its users. While I concur that a language needs to be “living” to remain useful, I too argue that modern English is currently suffering a rapid decay rather than enjoying an enlightening renaissance. This “urban decay” (a takeoff of “urban talk") of our language, as I call it, liberalizes words and idioms to carry a wide array of nonspecific (more often nonsensical) meanings that are uttered without any due consideration of their true intent. To have a single cuss word (yes, it is that word) that is a noun, a verb, an adjective, and an adverb all at the same time is neither hip nor trendy. Rather, it speaks only to the laziness of its users failing to be precise, leaving the audience to guess (often wrongly) its intended meaning. We must act to preserve the richness of our language—not to regress it to a collection of monosyllabic sounds.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under World
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Saturday 01 March 2008

When Is A Holiday Not A Holiday?

Last month, the province of Ontario (where I live in Canada) held the first ever Family Day, a statutory holiday created by the Liberals back in October 2007 as part of the government’s election promises from the last provincial election. The goal of Family Day (the third Monday in February each year) was to give Canadians more quality time to spend with their families. Sadly, like many other social agenda put forth by the government, the inaugural Family Day was a near failure in practice. Many employers were unaware of (or chose to ignore) this new holiday, leaving many in the workforce still on the job for this weekday. Worse yet, many civic agencies, including the police, had no opportunity to establish a holiday schedule for the day for its workers. In the end, the hastily planned holiday created more of a nuisance than a blessing for Canadians living in Ontario, many of whom were unable to enjoy the holiday with their families who ended up working on that day. Poor planning of the holiday’s arrival had largely ruined this opportune celebration.

I was among the fortunate few who got to enjoy Family Day. Many Ontarians, however, were not.

Then again, there is always next year…

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Family • Under Life • Under World
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Friday 01 February 2008

Preserving Human Knowledge In The Digital Age

Our desire to preserve the sum of our knowledge in writing begun with the birth of the human civilization. Before the invention of paper (by the Chinese), writings had to be inscribed into stone, clay, bone, wood, wax, papyrus, parchment, and even metal. Reproduction had to be done entirely by hand (wherein the transcription of a single scripture might take up to years), meaning that only a few copies of any work could ever be produced for safekeeping. The advent of the Gutenberg printing press in 1440 (notwithstanding the fact that block printing was already in use by the Chinese before) finally made it possible to mass reproduce copies of printed books for both distribution and preservation. Today, electronic archiving is fast replacing traditional methods of preserving our knowledge previously stored in books and other physical media. Unlike prints, these digital copies are perfect reproductions of the original that will not deteriorate (and thus be prone to be lost) over time. By recording our knowledge in the digital language of 0’s and 1’s, we can assure ourselves that our wisdom will be forever available to benefit generations to come.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under World
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Tuesday 01 January 2008

The Fallacy Of Prediction

It is human nature to think we can predict the future. Perhaps out of our own arrogance, we seek to put order into chaos and uncertainty, however unsuccessful our effort may be. Yet, the “art” of making predictions had been a pervasive practice throughout human history. In 1555, Michel de Nostradamus published Les Propheties—a compendium of self-proclaimed prophecies which predicted many catastrophic world events that were to come true supposedly since then in some cryptic fashions. Even to this date, Nostradamus’ words continue to fuel endless strings of urban myths, grand conspiracies, and fraudulent hoaxes in popular culture. This is despite the fact that reputable scholars have universally discounted these prophecies to be both unprovable and prone to misinterpretation.

Today, we continue to make lofty prophecies, only in more subtle forms. We cleverly disguise our guesses by relabeling them as predictions, prognostications, and forecasts, in a vain attempt to fool ourselves in believing that our foresights are superior than those of our ancestors. Worst yet are individuals who misuse science to defend their claims and to capitalize them for financial, political, or religious gains. After all, human nature rarely changes—we seek to master what cannot control and benefit from it.

By Philip Jong • At 12:11 AM • Under Column • Under World
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Saturday 01 December 2007

Commercialization Of Our Holiday Spirit

As the Christmas holiday season fast approaches for those who choose to celebrate this festivity, so does another busy holiday shopping season for many business merchants. Sadly, the commercialization of the holiday season is not new. Even the custom of sending holiday greeting cards, which once began as a personalized exchange of messages of goodwill that dated back to ancient Chinese times, was commercialized by the modernization of the printing press and the development of lithography that eventually led to the introduction of the first commercial Christmas cards in England in 1843.

Last month, while many in the US celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday, most US merchants were busy striking sales deals on the following Black Friday, a secular non-holiday invented solely in the age of commercialism. In Canada (where I live), many retailers have already started their Christmas sale last month and some have even advertised their Boxing Day deals a whole two months early! I cannot help but chuckle each time I walk by a large sale sign advertising Boxing Month sale—not Day, not Week, but Month! Unfortunately, this is irrefutable proof that our holiday season has been lost deep in the black hole of modern commerce, in an age when we choose to celebrate not the holiday spirit with our family but the best deal we can find with our shopping.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under World
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Thursday 01 November 2007

Ontario Election 2007: Illusion And Disillusion

Last month, the province of Ontario in Canada held its general election for a new government. In the end, the incumbent Liberals won another majority government, while other parties, including the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats, all lost after disappointing supports from voters. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, however, the biggest disappointment for Ontarians of this election was the poor rate of voter turnouts that barely hit over 50%—the lowest in history for a provincial election. This was despite that the fact that this year’s election also included a historic general referendum on electoral reform that would have replaced the existing First-Past-the-Post system with an alternative Mixed Member Proportional system (the latter was ultimately rejected in the referendum). As a proud Ontarian (and Canadian), I take pride in exercising my right to vote freely for my electoral representative and voice my opinion on the choice of an electoral system. Yet, with so many Canadians now disillusioned of our political system, I fear that someday our government and politicians will no longer truly represent the majority of the people’s interests. Protecting our political freedom and liberty must not only be a right, but also a responsibility, for all of us.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under World
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