Monday, April 13, 2015

For the Liberty of Free Internet, to the American Government, Concerning Net Neutrality

As we all know, the only people who write in to their local, state, or federal government are either crazy conservatives or crazy liberals trying to get their #crazy ideas heard. It's always for someone who's for or against gay marriage, abortion, or any other hot button topic that has something to do with religion. Rarely do those topics affect 87% of American adults. You know what does?

That's right: the Internet. In fact, 97% of the population between 18 and 29 uses the internet, which means that almost all college students and young adults who have recently entered the workforce are on the internet, connecting, arguing, shopping, realizing their political views, gaming, blogging, etc.,etc.,etc., on and on and on, because the internet has no bounds.

As a female American college student who is twenty-one years of age, obsessed with Buzzfeed, and who has a view on the internet that only a millennial can, I feel that I am one of the best people out there to explain to you, our wonderful government, why it is that the idea of an internet controlled by corporations has most of us going "lolwut." (Which isn't a good reaction.)

For many young adults, the internet is how we connect with each other and the world around us. It's where we get our news, consume our media, meet people with the same interests, and, for college students, how we do our homework. There was, once upon a time, the possibility that one could get by without an internet connection. That idyllic time has passed. 

What people do with the internet varies. Many use it for entertainment, some use it for business, and others use it for lolcats. There are websites that allow people to raise money to eventually, at some point, maybe end up making that one product they think there's a niche for, websites that allow people to sell products they've already made, and websites that don't seem to do much of anything. You can buy anything on the internet. You can sell anything on the internet. You can make any type of website you want to. 

But is this type of freedom here to stay? 

Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as Comcast, Time Warner, and AT&T, want to be able to charge users more based on the content they use, and websites more in order to be in a "fast lane," or to be able to reach users at a faster speed than the websites that didn't pay for this.

I am serious. If they succeed in making this a reality, the internet will no longer be the land of wonderful possibility it is today. Instead, it will become a wasteland of defeated dreams. (Okay, that was a little dramatic. But it will still suck.)

3 Arguments by ISPs as to Why They Should Be Able to Do This (And Why They Are Wrong)

1. It's only fair for websites that use more bandwidth to pay us more. And they'll get to the customers faster. The website is already paying you more just to exist. You are an INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDER. You provide the website with a way to reach its customers. Websites that use more bandwidth do have to pay you more in order to stay up and running. Here, you're saying that you want these websites to pay you even more just so you continue giving them enough speed to be usable.

Using Netflix as an example: Customer pays Netflix so he can binge-watch the Walking Dead for 48 hours straight. Netflix pays an ISP, such as Comcast, so it can reach Walking Dead Fanatic's (Henceforth known as WDF) house. Comcast threatens Netflix: PAY MORE OR BE AS SLOW AS A ZOMBIE. Netflix refuses. Comcast slows down the connection between Netflix and WDF's house. Although WDF likes to watch zombies, he doesn't want his internet to be as slow as one. WDF gives up. Goes to Hulu, which paid Comcast more, to get his Zombie fix instead. Netflix is forced to pay more. Comcast gets more money, Netflix has to raise its price to customers. WDF is happy to be able to watch the Walking Dead at last, but wait. What's that? All of this binge watching is using too much bandwidth? He has to start paying his ISP more? He can no longer afford a monthly streaming service at all? Thanks, Comcast, thanks. Now where is WDF supposed to get his fix of smashed-in zombie heads?

The customer doesn't win in this situation. Netflix doesn't win in this situation. Comcast wins by forcing Netflix into paying more just to keep existing. If this becomes a reality, Netflix will either pay, or only continue to exist in the hearts of its millions of loved ones.

2. If we are the pathway between the website and the consumer, shouldn't we be able to control what goes through our pipes? What about the people doing illegal stuff? Well, ISP, you are not law enforcement. It's not your business if people are doing illegal things. That is the business of our government. It's not as though you're even liable for what goes through your systems, since up until this point you have been treated like a common carrier. Common carriers (telephone companies, mail trucks, and other things that transfer goods and services), legally cannot discriminate against what they are carrying, whether it's physical goods or data hurling through a space time continuum (isn't that how wifi works?). For this reason, common carriers cannot be punished if what they are carrying is illegal.

Are you saying, ISP, that you don't want to be treated like a common carrier? That you would, in fact, like to be held responsible for all of the illegal downloads of Taylor Swifts newest CD, among lots of other illegal things? Because I'm not sure that's the smartest idea, ISP. You would have to be really, really diligent in order to avoid being liable for anything. Really diligent.

3. This measure will only increase healthy competition and end up benefiting the customer. Okay, ISP, here is where you are very, very wrong. And you know you're wrong. You know why you know you're wrong? Because ISPs have a monopoly on the areas they provide to. Time Warner only provides its services to certain areas of the United States, and those areas often do no overlap with the ones Comcast provides to. Or the ones AT%T provides to. Or the ones literally any other ISP provides to. Time Warner is the only option for that area. A costumer cannot shop around to find the right ISP for her unique needs. No, a customer is stuck with the one she's got. If she wants to continue to exclusively use the internet for online shopping (isn't that the only thing women do on the internet?), then she's going to have to pay her ISP whatever it wants.

Once again, it looks like the only winner here is the ISP, not the customer.

What ISPs are trying to do is make more money. Whereas normally our capitalist market would mean it's a good thing that companies control a commodity and not the government, the monopoly situation here gives the ISPs entirely too much power. A free market economy cannot exists effectively if there is no competition.


So, my fine government that only has our best interests at heart and does everything in its power to protect its people, do you see the problem here?

Without net neutrality, ISPs will hike up their prices for both websites and customers, and will probably come up with a billing system that divides customers based on how much usage they want or need monthly, sort of like how cellular carriers do. These prices will, undoubtedly, only continue to expand with the move away from cable television and things you read in print and toward receiving those things through the internet, thus enlarging our average daily amount of usage.

It is not the right of an ISP to control, in any way, what a user is doing on the internet. It should not be able to block us from reaching certain websites because it doesn't like that website, or that website hasn't paid it enough. It should not be able to prioritize large businesses, like Spotify, over independent businesses just trying to make it in this cold, cold world. It should not be abel to prevent us from accessing the internet at all if we go over our allotted bandwidth for the month.

These ISPs, if left unchecked, would essentially end up censoring each and every one of us in some way, shape or form. You cannot let this happen. Right now, the internet is the great equalizer in America. Behind the screen, it doesn't matter what race or gender you are. All that matters is if you prefer The Backstreet Boys or *NSync and whether you are a cat person or a dog person. (That's a trick question: everyone on the internet is a cat person. No exceptions. Also, Backstreet Boys 4Eva.)

Our freedom has Americans to make our own choices about what (legal) activities we partake in is at stake. Protect our freedom, government. Do your job.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Study Abroad at RHUL: Camden Market, Sherlock, and Harry Potter

One of my absolute favorite days in London was the day trip I took with my friend Alex, where she showed me Camden Market and then we went to all of the Sherlock related places we could find. We finished with a trip to Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station.

Saturday October 18: Camden Market

Camden was, by far, the most alternative place I visited in London. Every two feet there was another tattoo and piercing shop, or a clothing store that looked like Hot Topic on steroids. It was awesome!

Since it was a Saturday, it was very crowded and I felt like I had to stick super close to Alex while we were walking around. We went to the "market" part of Camden Market and I wanted to buy everything. There were people selling things from jewelry to soap to mirrors to clothing, and I wanted it all. I did buy a scarf and a cool leather watch that had one strap that wrapped around my wrist multiple times. Unfortunately, I broke it before I made it back Stateside. 

The food stalls were really awesome and diverse. I had a hard time deciding what I would want for lunch, but then I found a mac and cheese stand, which I had to have. They don't do a lot of mac and cheese in England, so it was a little taste of home.

Another thing that contributed to the alternative atmosphere was the graffiti. The picture below features the words "Love is Art."  I also got to take a picture with the awesome tribute statue of Amy Winehouse, which was unveiled in 2014. Camden Market is an overall awesome place and was a great experience, even if it was hard to resist buying things from all of the stands.

Next Up: Sherlockian Adventures

Alex and I are both big fans of the BBC show Sherlock (starring Benedict Cumberbatch, natch), so when we heard that the Museum of London had a Sherlock Holmes themed exhibit, we had to go. The Museum of London is in The City of London, near St. Paul's Cathedral, which I visited the week before. The exhibit itself was focused on Arthur Conan Doyle's original texts, but had some features on the the adaptations. I really enjoyed the pictures and information about what London was like during Sherlock's time.

No pictures were allowed in the exhibition, but I did manage to take a completely against-the-rules picture of a coat that has actually been on Benedict Cumberbatch's body. That was exciting.

Speaking of things Benedict Cumberbatch has touched, our next stop was St. Bartholomew's Hospital, right down the street from The Museum of London. The hospital was featured in the season two finale of Sherlock, so I know Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have both been there and that was awesome.

Some other Sherlock fans had written some messages in the dirt on the windows, which was both weird and cool to see. That's more dedication than I have, for sure! I took a picture of the part of the pavement I think Benedict Cumberbatch probably laid on, too, because why not?

Our next stop was the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street (but not 221B, because that doesn't actually exist). We didn't end up paying to go into the museum, but spent a good amount of time in the gift shop, which had some cool merchandise.

There was a cool sign directing us to the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street.

Our final Sherlock related stop was the actual building where they film the entrance to 221B in the BBC show Sherlock. Here I am, modeling the cool bag I got at the Sherlock Holmes Museum that says "I am Sherlocked," a reference to the show.

The last thing on our itinerary for the day was to go to platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross station. Alex had been there before, but I obviously had not and was really looking forward to it. The line was pretty long to take a picture, but it moved fast, and before I knew it I was getting my picture taken on my way to the Hogwarts Express!

Note: The building on the left is NOT King's Cross Station, even though Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets tried to trick you into think it is. It's actually St. Pancras station, which is right beside King's Cross. It's way prettier than King's Cross, probably why they featured it in the movie.

So, that was one of my favorite, nerdy, awesome days in London! We fit a lot into one day, and I'm so glad I had the chance to spend a whole day with Alex. 

Until next time,

Monday, October 20, 2014

Study Abroad at RHUL: Shakespeare's Globe and The White Cliffs of Dover

I seem to be averaging two trips per week where I leave my campus and Egham, the surrounding town, to explore other parts of England. I think that's pretty good! My third week at Royal Holloway I went to Shakespeare's Globe Theater and the White Cliffs of Dover.

Wednesday October 8th: Shakespeare's Globe Theater

This was one of my solo trips, mostly because I'd only learned a few days before that there were only a few shows left for the season. Due to limited planning time and the fact that I could go on a Wednesday afternoon when many of my friends can't, my options were either go by myself or not go at all--easy decision. To make the most of my trip, I decided to get to the Globe by going to St. Paul's Cathedral via tube then crossing the Thames on the Millennium Bridge.

St. Paul's Cathedral 
Crossing Millenium Bridge
If you're unfamiliar with the Globe Theatre, it is a reconstruction of the theatre of the same name that many of Shakespeare's productions were performed in when he was alive. It was built in the 1990s to almost exact specifications of the original, including a thatched roof. I got lucky and managed to make the very last tour for the day, without even planning to go on one. I even got to see some of the actors warm up!
A model of the Globe
View from the seats
Some of the actors warming up!
The Globe has an open top, so you can either buy seats and be covered by the roof or choose to stand in the yard as a "groundling." I chose to take advantage of the cheap tickets (and the great view!) and stand in the yard, which means that I got pretty wet when it was pouring before the show started. Luckily, the rain stopped right before the play began and didn't start up again for the duration.

Waiting in the rain 
The people behind me in the yard.
My view of the stage (!!!)
There's no photography allowed during the show, but take my word for it that it was amazing. I barely even noticed that I was standing for the full 2 1/2 hours because I was so enthralled. I laughed the entire time, and the actors were wonderful. One of the leads had had a part in Sherlock for an episode, so that was cool.

After the show, I bought a bunch of stuff from the fantastic gift shop. That gift shop is the bomb. I got a Shakespeare's Globe tote bag and some magnets with a quote from each Macbeth and As You Like It, my favorite drama and comedy, respectively (at least, that I've read so far). I wanted so much more, but I do have a semblance of a budget to stick to. All in all, it was a great day and I'm really happy that I decided to go despite having to make last minute arrangements.

Saturday October 11th: The White Cliffs of Dover 

I went to Dover with my friends Lauren and Kiana. We got up early to catch a bus from London Victoria station to Dover that took 2 1/2 hours, which wasn't super fun but was about a fifteenth of the price of taking a train. Unfortunately, the tickets we booked didn't give us a ton of time to explore all of Dover, but we got to spend a few hours on the cliffs taking pictures and walking around reveling in the beauty.
The majestic Dover Castle
If you squint, you can see France!
When we were approaching the cliffs it was raining, but that cleared up fast. Although the skies and view got prettier, the mud did not automatically go away when the sun came out. At the end of the day all of our shoes were covered in mud from walking along the paths and climbing the hills. I would recommend wearing really sturdy shoes if you ever visit Dover. I would also recommend that you visit Dover.

Despite our limited time and muddy shoes, all three of us really enjoyed the trip to Dover. If I had more time in England I would probably even go back, but as it is I think that I need to spend my time exploring other things. We capped off our day with a wild hunt for Mexican food in London, and ended up at Wahaca, a great restaurant where I tried my first ever mojito. Overall, a very successful day.

Until next time,

Monday, October 13, 2014

Study Abroad at RHUL: Trips the First Week of October

I've now been at RHUL for three full weeks. In some ways it feels like I've been here forever, and in others like I'm fresh off the boat. Though I haven't been here super long, I've still found time to pack in four trips to London and a trip to Dover. Not having class on Wednesdays or Fridays really helps, because then I have a whole day in the middle of the week where I can go explore London, and I have more time on the weekends to plan longer trips.

This are the trips from my second week here, the trips from the third week will be up soon!

Wednesday October 1st: Leicester Square and Charing Cross Road

I learned how to use the train and the tube on my first trip to London with Lauren and Kiana. It's practically idiot-proof, so I felt like I could go into London and get around by myself no problem. Of course the first thing I did when I had the chance was go book shopping. I got off the tube at Leicester Square (pronounced Lester) and just walked around all day, exploring the famous-for-bookstores Charing Cross Road and wandering to Picadilly Circus.

Part of Leicester Square
There are a ton of independent and secondhand bookstores in that area, and I went into four or five of them. I found some super cheap editions of Shakespeare plays that I will be reading for class at Henry Pordes, a fairly large secondhand store, and I spent hours in Foyles, a bookstore with six levels including the ground floor. I ended up with four books from Foyles.

The books I bought from Foyles
When I was in Foyles, I noticed that a there seem to be far fewer hardcover books in the UK than in the US. Which was good for me, because they weren't nearly as expensive. It felt a little odd to see so many super thick paperbacks, because it seems like US publishers keep books in hardback for as long as possible. I also rediscovered that in the UK only single quotation marks are used for dialogue instead of double quotation marks. (Sidenote: It might be a good idea for me to see if that applies to academic papers too...).

After I wandered pretty far up Charing Cross Road to Foyles, I went back toward Leicester Square and down a few side streets. I went into a really cool store that had signed copies of a lot of popular books. I was surprised at how recently some of the signed books had been released. I also checked out Marchpane, a store for rare children's and illustrated books, but they were closed when I passed by. They had a signed first edition of Harry Potter in the window, though, so I'll probably be back at some point to see what other treasures are inside.

When I had lunch I discovered that saying you want cream with your coffee means you want whipped cream on it. It was awesome. I started One Day by David Nicholls while I was there, and I ended up continuing to read it on the train back home even though I'd intended to read for class (whoops). 

After lunch I walked to Picadilly Circus without even realizing it. I realized that things are a lot closer together than Google Maps would lead you to believe. It was really busy, but there were a lot of souvenir shops around so I stopped in one and picked up some things to bring back home. 

After a quick stop in Starbucks for a very American Pumpkin Spice Latte, I headed back to Waterloo station and got on a train to Egham. I think it went pretty well for it being the first time traveling to London on my own. 

Saturday October 4th: Bus Tour of London and the British Museum

I went on this trip through Royal Holloway's study abroad office. It was a bus tour where we got to get out and take photos at quite a few different places, while also getting a feel for London as a whole. Our guide, Kevin, was super awesome. He was funny and made sure to tell us the important things and the things we would find interesting. I could tell that he really enjoys giving the tours.
Me in front of Buckingham Palace
I'm really happy I went on this trip, because I got to do some of the more touristy things that my British friends aren't super interested in. Buckingham Palace was our first photo stop, and it really wasn't as grand as I expected it to be. Unfortunately, we'd just missed the time of year they let visitors inside. But it was still Buckingham Palace, so it's automatically cool. I found out that the Queen likes to spent her weekends in Windsor Castle, which is actually really close to Royal Holloway. That is definitely on my list of places to visit.

Big Ben
If you went to London and didn't take a picture of Big Ben, did you really go to London? Fun fact: Big Ben is actually the name of the bell inside the clock tower, not the name of the clock or the tower. 
Tower Bridge

Another fun fact: Tower Bridge is the super pretty one that you want to take pictures of (even when it's raining, like it was when I took this one). London Bridge is just a normal bridge that cars go over like nbd. I was actually taking this picture from London Bridge, so I can attest that it's not very cool.


After we finished our tour of London, we went to the British Museum. It is both huge and free. There are so many exhibits there that we only got to go to a few in our two hours, so hopefully I'll be going back before I leave to spend more time there. 

The chess set that inspired the one used in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
The head from a huge statue of King Ramesses II
I also want to go back for the gift shop, because there were so many awesome souvenirs there. I couldn't even begin to think of what to buy while I was there the last time, so I didn't end up with anything. That will have to be fixed. 

Although I had to get up early on a Saturday for this, it was definitely worth it. I met my friend Sophie on this tour, and now we're planning to go on at least two trips to cities in Europe together! So it was a great experience, though I certainly didn't feel as independent and awesome as I did when I went by myself. 

Until next time,

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Study Abroad at Royal Holloway: Fresher's Week and My First London Experience

Fresher's Week

Fresher's Week, AKA Welcome Week, occurs the week before classes begin and is primarily for first year students. Both the university and the Students' Union host events throughout the week, and every night there are at least two different "official" parties to go to. I prefer a more low-key setting, so I skipped most of the bigger events and hung out with smaller groups to get to know people instead.  I had a lot of fun being able to go out any night of the week without having to worry about class in the morning! The difference in drinking age was a little disorienting at first, since I'm not used to having a university actually sponsor events with alcohol.

Fresher's week isn't only about partying, though. The degree seeking students have introductory lectures for their courses, and other commitments to help them understand the next three years in their department. I didn't have to go to these because I'm a visiting student, so I used my days to get to know the other girls in my hall, learn my way around campus, and explore Egham. 

Part of the High Street in Egham.

Royal Holloway is technically located in Egham, which is a lot like Oxford, OH. It is close enough to walk to from campus, and most of the shops, restaurants, and bars are on one long street. It's really convenient for students studying at Royal Holloway and there are a lot of housing options for upper-class students. There's even a Tesco grocery store, which is like Wal-Mart (but not nearly as big). 

My main motto for this week seemed to by "Buy all the things!" Even though I packed my own suitcase, I think I didn't fully comprehend how little I was actually bringing with me until I got to Royal Holloway and didn't have many of the conveniences I'm used to. Such as full sized bottles of shampoo. And a bed-sheet. And food. Let's just say I've been to Tesco quite a few times.

My First Trip to London

Even though Royal Holloway is part of the University of London, it's actually about a 45 minute train ride to get from Egham to Waterloo station in London. So although it's unfortunate that I can't access it from my doorstep, if I lived directly in London I wouldn't be able to live in my Hogwarts substitute castle, and that would be a shame. 

I made it to London my first full weekend after arriving. I went with two other visiting Americans, Lauren and Kiana. They both go to the University of Florida, but didn't know each other until they got here. Lauren's been to London multiple times on shorter trips, and she showed me and Kiana how to use the tube (it's actually incredibly easy). She  also knew where to go to get the perfect phone booth shot with Big Ben in the background.

Me, doing the tourist thing.

We started the day by just walking around Southbank and taking pictures of the recognizable parts. The crowds were so crazy that it was sometimes hard to keep track of each other. That's what you get for going on a Saturday, I guess.

I didn't ride it on this trip, but I will before I leave!
Keeping with the theme of crazy crowds, we spent the rest of the day shopping on Oxford Street, which is a really long stretch of stores that vary from inexpensive (Primark) to more high-quality (Topshop), but there aren't the super high-end designer label stores there. If you want Chanel or Dolce & Gabbana, you can find them on Bond Street. 

Oxford Street is so long and busy that stores actually start repeating themselves. Walking from Topshop to Primark (less than a mile) I saw many stores three times.

The crowds were crazy, but that didn't mean that I didn't enjoy exploring English fashion. I bought my first pair of ankle boots from a store called River Island. Riding boots, unfortunately, aren't nearly as popular here as they are in America.

One thing I really like about fashion in London, as described by my friend Lauren, is that the philosophy seems to be "if you like it, you wear it." There's a wide variety of what's "in" and I wouldn't say that there's any sort of unofficial dress code at Royal Holloway like there sometimes seems to be at Miami. Most of the students here do dress fashionably, however, so I once again chose a school wear sweatpants are not frequently seen in class. Score.

We were so tired after spending the afternoon shopping that we left London right after we finished on Oxford Street. I'm so glad I have the rest of the semester to go back and see as much as I can before I have to leave, because although I enjoy buying clothes, there's so much more to do in London. Such as spend hours in the bookstores and explore some of the museums.