Category Archives: education

Virtual Goods Summit 2007: One Last Plug

Click to learn more about the Virtual Goods Summit 2007

I’ve been spending an increasing amount of my time the last couple of weeks helping to pull this thing together, so here’s one last plug for the Virtual Goods Summit 2007, which I mentioned here a few weeks ago. In short, my friend Charles Hudson is organizing this conference and Student Computing at Stanford University (the department I work for) is serving as the event sponsor. The one day conference is shaping up to be a very interesting and exciting one on virtual goods and economies and will include speakers from leading companies in the social networking, virtual worlds, and casual gaming spaces. A number of interesting questions and issues will be raised and discussed, including:

  • How will virtual goods and virtual currencies impact social networking?
  • Are virtual goods the next big business model?
  • What does it take to successfully launch a virtual goods offering?
  • Are virtual goods poised to go mainstream?
  • What does it take to nurture and develop a successful virtual economy?
  • Why are users embracing virtual goods?

The conference is this Friday, June 22– please register in advance (since we don’t know how many on-site registrations we will be able to accommodate)– and if you’ve already registered/once you’re registered, remember to try to join fellow conference attendees on Thursday for happy hour at Blue Chalk Cafe in Palo Alto from 8-11pm.

For more info on virtual goods, check out: Virtual Goods: the next big business model, a recent article posted to TechCrunch by Susan Wu, a Principal with Charles River Ventures and a special advisor for the conference itself.

Virtual Beer Pong and Keepin’ It Real

Beer Pong
Originally uploaded by sindy

I stopped by the CS 194 Senior Project Faire today– for those of you unfamiliar with it, Stanford computer science majors are required to complete a senior project to graduate. The course serves as a capstone to their years of study and the projects are displayed and demonstrated at a type of trade show for students, staff, faculty, and visitors from industry. Prizes are also awarded in a number of categories (and not to brag, but back in 2001, I was also an award winner).

One of this year’s projects was a virtual version of Beer Pong (also known as Beirut by some), by Ned Rockson, Luiz Pereira, and Fred Thompson (and a special shout out to Fred, a member of the Residential Computing family). The demonstration showed a very impressive implementation with realistic physics and polished graphics and the use of the extremely popular Nintendo Wii remote as the input device. Check out this photo of one of our coworkers, Becky, in action.

Of course, in the end though, what’s the fun of beer pong without the beer (and usually cheap beer at that)? And especially the resulting increasing inebriation, spilled beer, and all the mess that goes with the aforementioned?

Interestingly, most of the project team hadn’t even played beer pong in real life and they relied on one team member’s “expertise” for their requirements gathering and analysis. I’ve never been much of a beer pong player myself (I don’t need a game for an excuse to drink), but as I watched people take their hand at lobbing the virtual ball into a virtual cup, I reminisced about the many games of real beer pong I’ve watched in my day. Perhaps the most memorable was at a party last Thanksgiving weekend in my hometown: like most games of beer pong, the table wasn’t a ping pong table. However, in this case, the table was a retired kitchen counter that’s seen better days (including the hole for the sink) with a makeshift net and resting on two sawhorses. I think the beer was Coors Light or some other reasonably cheap analogue and the setting was an unfinished basement. You can’t get more ghetto fabulous than that. I wonder if version 2.0 of Virtual Beer Pong will have an option for something like that.

Stanford’s New DMCA Policy and changing the discussion

On Tuesday, May 15, 2007, Stanford announced to its student body a new DMCA complaint policy– specifically, the policy includes implementation of “reconnection fees” and represents a significant change in the way the University has handled complaints thus far. For complete information on the new policy, go to: (and if you have questions, contact Senior University Counsel Lauren Schoenthaler at lks at stanford dot edu).

Obviously, I’ve been sitting on commenting on this announcement for a couple of weeks, partly because I’ve been busy with my own life and partly because I wanted to be sure about what I wanted to say on the issue. On one hand, I’m a current employee of the University– I work for Student Computing and Residential Computing— and no matter how I feel about the policy itself, I have to enforce it to whatever extent my job requires. On the other hand, I obviously have an opinion about the policy, one way or another, just as I have strong opinions about file-sharing, copyright, the DMCA, and especially how they all relate to students and universities, and feel that this is an important issue to comment on, as I have before on previous University policies. On top of that, in addition to being an employee, I’m also a Stanford alumna (class of 2001, BS in Computer Science) and often find myself deeply invested in University policy and how it generally treats its students. That’s not to say that other Stanford employees who are not alumni don’t feel this way as well, but I mention it to point out why I find myself so frustrated so often– my four years at Stanford as a student were an extremely important part of my life, as college years are for most people, and when faced with policies such as this one, I am particularly bothered because I see them as the University stepping away from what I valued so much about my undergraduate experience and why I’m (for the most part) proud to call myself a member of the Stanford community. In any case, my point is that the above touches on the complicated relationship I have with the University, probably why I don’t sleep at night as well as I should, and why I haven’t blogged about the announcement yet despite a fair amount of national press coverage.

The truth is that the blogosphere commentary that picked up the story within two days of the announcement hit on a lot of the immediately obvious issues– the appearance that Stanford is turning DMCA complaints into a money-making business (modifying the Stanford S into a dollar sign was a particularly nice touch), that Stanford’s policy is particularly harsh and perhaps a disproportionate reaction to being placed on the MPAA’s 25 most wanted list, and the general feeling that the policy reflects poorly on the University and how it treats it students. DMCA complaints are, after all, allegations only (and there’s been plenty of stories of, in one way or another, bogus complaints) and to take such a hard line against alleged complaints as opposed to proven offenses/violations of the law sends a negative message about Stanford’s attitude towards its students– at least when it comes to choosing between bowing to the legal pressures and threats of the entertainment industry and standing behind treating students honestly and fairly. (To be honest, I think the “three strikes” policy already in place where students lose Stanford network privileges, including their network logins, after three DMCA complaints is overly harsh and started us down this slippery slope.) Slashdot coverage and comments even include thoughts such as students choosing to apply or attend other schools competitive with Stanford because of this policy and what it reflects about the University.

For me, the sad thing is when I found out about the policy change– only about a day in advance– I actually wasn’t that surprised. A year or two ago, my head would probably have exploded, my blood pressure rising, and there would have been a lot of yelling and swearing. But somewhere in the last couple of years, like I said, we already started down that slippery slope and to be honest, it’s not like we reinvented the wheel here– other schools have had similar “reconnection fee” systems in place for a while. My only point would be that calling it a “reconnection fee” doesn’t make anybody feel any better and, in the end, is simply misleading (at least for the first complaint, you can get reconnected without paying a fee). We should call it a fine because that’s what it is and that’s what it’s meant to be– I don’t agree with it, I don’t like it, but I at least understand it. The University has obviously decided that the current system is not sufficiently punitive, that inflicting fines is the only way to further discourage illegal file-sharing, and that $100, $500, and $1000 today as prices are measures of how severe the punishment should be and/or how important discouraging file-sharing is. In hindsight, I would have probably preferred this measure over taking someone’s network privileges away– it’s nearly impossible to be a student in today’s computing environment without network access; it’s probably a lot easier to scrape together some money.

The interesting thing about all of the negative coverage surrounding Stanford’s new policy is that I have seen some change in the national discussion– maybe it took Ohio University completely shutting down p2p file-sharing on its network or Stanford implementing this new policy, but the discussion is finally turning to why colleges and universities are bearing the burden of policing copyright for the entertainment industry and why all of their measures so far have failed to satisfy the RIAA, MPAA, and Congress itself. Not only are these already under-staffed, under-funded non-profit organizations being asked to spend precious resources policing networks, responding to complaints, and shutting down repeat violators, but they are now being asked to start inflicting monetary fines and even academic disciplinary actions, including expulsion, an area I think is far beyond the reach of the entertainment industry or Congress. When is it enough?

Finally, as I sit here listening ironically to Public Enemy at this very moment, I really do wish and hope that people start to fight the power. The policy announcement did not contain any stipulations on exactly how to challenge the complaints going on your Stanford record (as opposed to a legal counter-claim, e.g.), how to challenge the “reconnection fee” assessment, or the ensuing process thereafter. I think students are entitled to due process and they’re going to have to start demanding it. I hold no hope that Stanford is going to change or take back this policy, but I wish one of our sister institutions would stand up and start the fight– those schools didn’t make it on the top 25 because those student bodies objectively have the greatest amount of file-sharing. They made it onto that list because the RIAA and/or the MPAA targets those schools and in the same way that they target students– people who have little knowledge about their legal options or resources to defend themselves– they target specific colleges– institutions that have enough name recognition to make the papers, but that are afraid enough of what would happen if all of the entertainment industry’s lawyers came crashing down on their heads. But if top-tier schools that have large endowments and profess themselves to be leaders in technology, politics, law, and social awareness don’t start standing up for their students and for themselves, we’re only going to continue losing this battle.

Read: Stanford to hit P2P users in the wallet with reconnection fees
Illegal Internet users to face fines (The Stanford Daily)
Copyright Silliness on Campus By Fred von Lohmann (EFF)
A Rough-and-Tumble Debate on File Sharing

Virtual Goods Summit 2007

Click to learn more about the Virtual Goods Summit 2007

Somebody once told me I was one of the realest people she had ever met, so it’s odd that I find myself as one of the sponsors of a conference on virtual goods 🙂 From the website:

The Virtual Goods Summit is a one day conference focused on the emerging market opportunity for virtual goods and economies. Once restricted to the world of online gaming, virtual goods and currencies are beginning to influence the development of social networks, community sites, and many other new and exciting markets.

This year’s conference will bring together leading entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, technologists, and industry participants to spend the day discussing the present and future of this exciting new space.

The department I work for– Student Computing at Stanford University— is serving as the event sponsor. College students and soon-to-be college students (and definitely the demographic that will end up studying in the heart of Silicon Valley) are huge consumers of virtual goods and make up a large part, if not the majority of virtual communities. Hopefully, there will be more discussion for the academic at the conference, but the program and list of speakers are shaping up to look pretty good.

For more information on the conference, contact my friend and the event producer Charles Hudson (and visit his blog too while you’re at it).

“Sindy is graduating” (Part 1)

Bill Cosby giving the Keynote
Originally uploaded by sindy.

That’s what I updated my Facebook status to via Blackberry as I waited in the Processional. So, in additional to being a Cardinal alum, I’m a Tartan alum now too. How did I end up going to two universities that used “colors” as their mascots? (Although, CMU has just adopted a Scottish Terrier as their official mascot similar to the way Stanford has the Tree.)

In any case, I have more to say in terms of reflecting on the last two years at CMU and what I think of the program now that I’ve come out the other side, but just a few thoughts on Commencement itself:

  1. First, two years of juggling work and school plus $50,000+ later: totally worth it to get to wear the special gown (with nifty Harry Potter-esque sleeves) and gold hood as a Masters candidate at graduation.
  2. Also kind of a novelty: to participate in a semi-orderly Processional. Masters and Doctoral candidates at Stanford enter the stadium with an orderly Processional, but Bachelors candidates enter with the famous Wacky Walk.
  3. Just in case you forgot how Scottish Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon were, there was plenty of bagpipe action and Tartan plaid around to remind you. In fact, you can actually get a BFA in Instrumental Performance in Bagpipes.
  4. Gold– really a bright yellow– is the hood color for the School of Computer Science. I’m sure the color was chosen a thousand years ago and not to feed into stereotypes, but it’s not a particularly flattering color for Asian people. The irony.
  5. Instead of receiving my diploma on Sunday, I had it mailed to me. Why? Because a) CMU West graduates have their departmental ceremony in August out here on the Moffett Field campus and b) the diploma itself is apparently ginormous and it would have been too unwieldy to carry back on the plane with me. Why does it have to be so big? Are we trying to compensate for something?
  6. Sorry, Pittsburgh, but I see why they call it “the Pitt.” Getting a CMU education while also getting to stay in northern California was definitely worth it.

Otherwise, graduation was fun– there were a few showers early in the morning, but the weather cleared up in time for the Processional and Ceremony and I walked and sat with two of my former teammates. As I had mentioned before and as you can see from the photo, Bill Cosby was the keynote speaker as well as recipient of an Honorary Degree (Doctorate of Humane Letters). You might think it weird that a comedian and man who spent many years selling Jell-O pudding pops would be the keynote speaker at a college commencement ceremony, but what people don’t know or forget is that Cosby, aside from being a particularly influential and brilliant comedian and entertainer, is Dr. Cosby. He earned his BA from Temple University and then his MA (1972) and Ed.D. (1977) from the University of Massachusetts. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids were an integral part of his Ed.D. dissertation and a commitment to education has always been reflected in his work. Definitely a recurring theme in The Cosby Show: remember all the college t-shirts and sweatshirts? Remember the episode where Theo thought that college wasn’t for him– that maybe he just wanted to be a “regular person?”

My point is that Cosby was an apt choice on a number of levels and in short, here’s a summary of the his address:

  • You are nerds. Embrace it. When high school ended and everybody else quit, you went on because you’re nerds. That’s a good thing.
  • Graduations, weddings, funerals– these are big events in your lives, but graduations are special in that there are less likely to be fights.
  • Now that you have graduated, don’t go back home. Get a job.
  • Cosby told an anecdote about when he was rising as a young comedian and was given a big opportunity, he lost his confidence and bombed. In the end, the lesson: be yourself.

All in all, pretty sound advice.

Anybody can be well-groomed and wear nice black shoes

In this last stretch of my Masters program, the cheesy marketing lines I first heard a little over two years ago are actually holding true to their word– I’m learning about one thing in the classroom and immediately applying it in the workplace the next. (Well, not exactly applying it because I’m about to talk about hiring practices and I just finished a big round of hiring, but you get my point.) In some ways, this is good– I’m getting my money’s worth, I’m learning and all that rot– and in some ways, it makes me want to bang my head on my desk– you start seeing even more all the broken things around you. If you’re in a position to fix it, that’s empowering; if you’re not, well… let’s not even get into that right now. In any case, I thought I’d share some of these pearls of wisdom as I countdown the days until graduation.

This one does not make me want to bang my head on my desk until something comes out because I’m actually really happy with my latest round of hiring– it’s from an article on The Most Common Hiring Mistakes and How to Prevent Them. Mistake #2 is on using successful people as a model– basically, using top performing people as a model for success is not as simple as just looking at them and copying their traits or characteristics. When trying to figure out what makes high performers high performers, you have to determine what differentiates them from everyone else. As the article says (paraphrasing here):

A major study showed that good salesmen were well-groomed and wore conservative, black shoes. But so did bad salesmen.

Zimbardo on The Daily Show, Viacom vs. YouTube

For those of you who may have missed it last Thursday night (3/29), a shout out to Stanford Professor of Psychology (Emeritus) Philip Zimbardo on The Daily Show talking about his new book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil and similarities between the famous Stanford Prison Experiment and Abu Ghraib.

Note the copycat version of video sharing: Viacom’s replacement for all those video clips pulled after the mother lawsuit against Google over their YouTube clips. It’s not a bad reproduction of YouTube functionality in terms of letting me embed this clip here or pass around the URL, but I certainly don’t get my pick of clips, which I suppose is part of the point, but also the ultimate price. Case in point: again on The Daily Show, Larry Wilmore and John Oliver did a great piece last week on the proposed N-word ban in New York City. The piece quickly made it onto YouTube and was subsequently taken down due to copyright complaints by Viacom, but it wasn’t in turn made available by Viacom on the Comedy Central site. As a result, another brilliant combination of comedy, journalism, and social commentary is lost in the endless bowels of cable TV history, only to be re-experienced or heard of again by the lucky re-run watcher. Are you happy Viacom?