Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Social Networking and Sex

Yeah that's right!! There's a connection. Social Networking and Sex. There you go.... it's in your face. You can't deny it. The connection is fully there! God love the queen an' all of that in'it?

I was reading out an email I sent to a mailing list to a friend and he asked me if it was a blog post. I'm sitting there... well... it wasn't... yet... but it should be. It's a really in your face kind of issue and one that should be talked about a bit more.

Here it is. Although I have this thing about social networking, kids don't. The social network's terms and conditions don't mean jack to the kids. The Internet is an Anonymous (We are anonymous) playground in which case, some fat 50 year old man can be a 13 year old lithe girl. As scary as THAT is, a 7 year old can be a 25 year old on the Internet. What harm could you be doing to a young psyche because you're unaware it's a young psyche, not a developed 25 year old?

Let that sink in for a second. The terms of service for just about EVERY social networking service is that you must be 13 years old to use the service. To me, even that's a little young. And social networking is still a relatively new enough phenomena that almost all people have no idea how to protect themselves. What's worse than not being able to protect ourselves? It's not being able to protect our children.

So I think we need to change our own attitudes. Sex happens. It's a natural part of life. We seem to spend an awful lot of energy protecting our kids from it (assuming we follow American puritan norms) but we know our kids eventually do it.

So we need to talk about things like protecting them from STD's, unplanned pregnancy and emotional turmoil etc. Abstaining is the best preventative method. But we know it's going to happen so knowing something about condoms - how they work, choosing something with a spermicide is even better etc. - is generally a good thing (unless of course we're going to bury our heads in the sand and rely solely on abstaining - ask Sarah Palin how well that went with her daughter).

Social networking is much the same. As educators, we need to actively discourage the use of social networking at a young age (it annoys me that social networking for youths is appearing about the place as we need to focus more on "how do I keep myself safe?" over "how do I do it?" at this stage). If they're going to do it anyway... What impression do they give of themselves? e.g. it's not uncommon for employers to look at a digital footprint while culling down applicants for a job. Who do they interact with and how? e.g. if the medium is the message, how are they coming across? Basically, how do they keep themselves safe?

On the other hand... where social networking is completely unlike sex - you can see the kids doing it and not get angry. Instead, ask questions around whether they're aware of the terms of use (and if they lie about their age to extremes, ask "adult" questions - i.e. do you have any kids?). Ask to see what they're writing and apply social norms (bullying, respect etc.). In other words, we can guide them through it...

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Spreadsheeting without the Good Bits

I've just spent the last 3 hours trying to do something that should be really basic in a spreadsheet (and have only done half of it)... only I'm limited in that I HAVE to use Google Spreadsheets. Talk about the worst possible way of doing spreadsheets ever!

It's all to do with the clipboard. Take my raw data, collate it (on LibreCalc because let's face it, if you want speed, you're best off doing it locally). Paste it into Google Spreadsheets...

And have it tell me I can't do it - "you've got too many characters" it helpfully tells me...

So sit there and copy and paste the data in arbitrary blocks. Right.. done. Now to manipulate it. I need name in a single field (it's not terribly important information and I'm making it collate with some data from last year) - so do a concatenate (I think it's concat in Google Spreadsheets?). Easy. Done. Vlookups are only slightly more troublesome (remember to put an extra field of "false" in from what you'd do in Excel). Sorted.

Now to copy all of that raw data to separate sheets. Hmm.... Copy and paste doesn't seem to work... There's a message - I need the Google Drive application. "Hold on" think's I. "There is no Google Drive application for Linux." Sod it, click on "install" anyway. Sure enough, it fails.

Try to paste anyway... And it comes up with errors. It can't seem to take the values that the formulas leave behind. Sod it, use Librecalc as a scratch pad. Except that Google Spreadsheets keeps defaulting to using the "web clipboard" - whatever the hell that is - rather than my desktop clipboard (for fornicate's sake... do we need a manager to manage multiple clipboards?).

Why won't Google Spreadsheets work in some way resembling a sane manner?!

I can't help but think that all of this Web 2.0 stuff flies right out the Window with Google. Rather than being able to replace my office suite, I'm trying to figure out which browser (and OS) the office suite might work in (it certainly doesn't on Chrome under Ubuntu).

If the world is supposed to be OS-agnostic, and the web heading towards being browser agnostic, then Google is a huge fail. Sudden thought... perhaps I can load up Chrome OS! [insert mad rantings and ravings and obscenities here].

I just wrote an email to someone explaining why I can't do a task I said that I would do. It included the following:
...I'm about to throw my machine at Google (and then go and find a big rock and throw that at Google and then find a terrorist camp, find out what to do with nail clippers that stop them from being allowed on a plane, go and buy a pair of nail clippers and use THEM on Google etc.)...

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Waking Up on the Wrong Side of the Bed

This morning I woke up in a real grump. There's a couple of reasons for this. Today was supposed to be the first day of my holiday. 2 weeks of playing tourist (though those plans fell through).

Instead, next week, and probably some of the week after, I'm working to fix someone else's mistake (for which they're still not making an admission of fault). Just plain disgusting. Fornicating grow a pair, admit to the mistake, put the resources in to fix it. It's not that hard.

Instead their resources have gone into downplaying the mistake. Get on with fornicating fixing it. Hell, let people know there's a problem so that it can be sorted. Instead, it's delayed my schedule (there'll be some discussion about invoices this week - why am I taking the hit?!?).

Government and business seem to play the naughty child quite often though. That broken glass didn't just break itself... And even if there is a broken glass, you'd kind of like to know so that you can clean it up and perhaps even replace it or do something to avoid having more glasses break.

The National Government's heavy handling of housing issues for example, though there's never been an admission of fault, the ministers associated with housing have been changed in the government reshuffle.

Craig Foss didn't apologise for wasting everyone's time when he decided to go against the select committees recommendation on a blanket ban on software patents in New Zealand and instead added ambiguous wording around it - he's since had to back down (without ever admitting any sort of fault for changing the bill in the first place - I'd be happier if the "as such" clause was removed entirely as it's fringe case use is just that).

The Labour party never admitted they were in the wrong on S92A (though it's since gotten through in one of those "it won't be used for ill intent" kind of guises under National). The funny bit here is that to appear to be reinventing themselves, they have to show that they regret past decisions. Instead, Labour are still languishing under the deadwood that is David Shearer (he isn't approachable and he has a really bad tendency to talk at people rather than to them and is REALLY good at not saying anything at all in an awful lot of words).

This list could go on forever. The Bhopal disaster belongs here - sure, there was an admission of some fault but the getting on with fixing it never really happened.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Authentic Voice, Authentic Audience

I've been spoilt. Oh so very spoilt in so many ways.

The other day someone asked me "What would you say my job is?". I gave a really honest answer. "I really don't know. I'm told my view on your position is so outside the norm because I've seen you go well outside the norm on a regular basis".

The problem with this is that when I say things like "Authentic Voice" and "Authentic Audience" and even, the "learn, create, share" mantra that underpins EVERYTHING in Manaiakalani, I kind of just expect people to get it. It's this great big statement, not due to the words, but more so by the scope on which this is done.

So let's start with Authentic Voice. When I was in Christchurch, going to tech, I had an assignment which involved reading a chapter in a text book and giving an analysis. I was perhaps the most experienced in the subject matter in respect to my peers and argued quite a few of the points and backed up my opinion with analogies and reasons. However, one of my peers was horrified that I would disagree with this obviously superior chapter - and of course, the lecturer would only set this assignment if that's exactly what he wanted us to do and thus agree with.

In other words, her voice was based not on what she wanted to say, but on what she thought the lecturer wanted to hear.

So even us adults (she was 30 at the time) get it wrong. We look out for it. What is the company line? What would the person rather be saying? etc. We read between the lines. Are we always aware when our voice isn't authentic?

And in education, you can almost guarantee, the voice will not be authentic. How often does a teacher say something along the lines of "I want you to write a thank you card to the parents who helped out with our field trip. You might want to say something about how they helped you and kept you safe". And you can almost guarantee that you'll end up with 24 odd cards with the wording "Thank you for helping me and keeping me safe".

We seek out an authentic voice with shared experiences for assessment. "Write about our trip to the zoo".

But what's generally missing, is getting the kids to write about something that means something to them. Some real contextual relevance to their own situation and perspective. So the rather boring term "Authentic Voice" has these rather interesting underpinnings.

Instead of writing having to be a chore, it becomes an outlet for expression.

Which brings us to Authentic Audience. Authentic Audience makes an Authentic Voice a transformative experience. Sharing things with a genuinely interested audience, and knowing that ANYONE around the world may be reading your work ('s visit to the Manaiakalani cluster was in no small part due to the kid's blogs), applies a natural pressure. Who are your audience? It's suddenly not just a teacher, or the very few people who might visit the halllowed halls of a school, but ANYONE! EVERYONE! Is the content appropriate? Is it language that is being used relatable to the audience?

And if you've got people reading what you're writing and are genuinely interested in what you're writing, then the urge to write more is strong. Your views are being respected... The disenfranchised are connected at a global level and their views are out there for anyone to see.

How could you introduce this in other schools? I think anything outside the norm could be documented by the kids online. Show other schools how they might integrate special programmes and the effect it has on the kids and their learning. Suddenly, those things that would be nice but don't find their way into the "3 Rs" (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic - who ever decided to call them the 3 Rs needs more work on their writing) can be implemented with the justification that it's engaging them and can be used for encouraging writing via blogging, or oratory skills via podcasts. Research for these things outside the norm for reading. Any math is a natural part of what's being done (providing a context) thus practical applications explored.

I don't think it'll be all that long until anyone trying the above will find it being implemented in classes as a part of everyday learning. The important thing here is to make sure the authentic voice isn't being censored or restricted (unless it causes harm i.e. insult to people). The idea here is for children to get engaged with writing and expression.

Who would have thought? Something that sounds as boring as Authentic Voice or Authentic Audience being transformative? Can Augmented Reality be that transformative?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Drooling Over Hardware

It's been awhile since I've seen a piece of kit that's had me jiggling about repeating "I want I want I want!". I've now got this thing for single board computers. Starting with the Raspberry Pi with it's extremely modest specs but holy crapballs on toast, I can't believe it's that cheap. Going to the thing I found tonight - Paraellella.

Parallella is a single board computer designed to make parallel computing easy. It's a hardware platform that, at it's very heart, has opensource ideals. But wait: there's more! It has a very specific education focus - to teach parallel programming. It's specs are brilliant and it all comes in at a great price - $100US (for the 16 core model. There's also a 64 core model that's going to be offered...

I'd love to be able to make a half decent render farm for 3d modelling. Kind of a fun addition for kids movies. Hopefully someone's working on a raytracer for ARM processors...

But what's really got me excited about single board computers... scalable servers. For the most part, servers are under utilized and so the trend has been to virtualise servers so that those servers are utilized better. The problem with this is that you then have to buy more infrastructure to add redundancy (i.e. if one bare-metal - computer - fails, you can migrate your virtual machines to another server).

In terms of education, servers are a bit of a playground. Most I.T. types working in schools would be hard pressed to come up with reasonable uses for servers within schools - or rather, to justify the specs they've got to the services they're providing. With the ability to offload a lot of those services to "the cloud" and appliances such as NAS boxes and the like, there's actually very few services that a server caters to and yet, everyone knows, you shouldn't use commodity hardware for this sort of thing. Nor should you have only one because it if fails.... well it's a single point of failure...

So what if you could build a server up as you need it? Need DNS? Chuck in a Raspberry Pi and configure it. Need a file server? Unfortunately there isn't a single board computer that will suit this purpose at the moment (it would need gigabit Ethernet and a couple of SATA ports) - although a NAS could probably fill the niche (you'd be limited in terms of configurability having to rely on what's been provided on the NAS' software). LDAP? Well that's only really sending across little bits of data - so that could be a Raspberry Pi.

It would run on low power being all ARM chips and given that they all tend to use around 5 Volts, the power supply could be a couple (for redundancy) of desktop power supplies. Need some redundancy? For a couple of hundred dollars you could have everything you could possibly need in terms of redundancy - a raspberry pi or two, a spare power supply, a couple of SD Cards etc.

Have another need? Chuck in yet another single board computer, configure it as it needs to be and go for it! All of the craploads of money on a server that is completely overspec'ed for your needs (and the accompanying cost for redundancy) significantly reduces as you grow your server to your needs.

We're a little ways off this at the moment but I don't think it'll be that long until we're essentially playing Lego with our infrastructure.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Democracy Gone Awry

I haven't done a political post for quite a while. This is mainly because I'm out of touch with it again.

Before the Manaiakalani project I had been unemployed. Of course, me being me, this just meant I was busy with stuff... helping put together Tangleball for example. But everything I was doing had some sort of political statement associated with it. With Tangleball, I would say it has to do with using government as an excuse for inaction and how we're all quite capable of working with those around us to yield much better results.

Nowadays I don't watch TV (the ads! THE ADS!), read the newspaper and only occasionally look up on the Internet to see what's going on. If I had the time for parliament TV, I would watch it, but as it is, I'm almost always doing something.

I still get the emails from Clare Curren though. The one this morning was incredibly interesting. If only because it's added a book to my reading list.

While we've been calling for a more open government, it seems that all sorts of information is being kept out of any form of scrutiny. And of course, there's the laws put through under urgency.

To National's credit, this door was actually opened by Labour. Is it's use malicious? I have no idea. When I tell people to only disturb me for something urgent, invariably something "urgent" comes up. And usually it's not urgent to me. So who defines what's urgent or not?

Is this an example of laws being passed with intent being the check? i.e. this law's dumb in that it doesn't define it's scope clearly and could be misused but (at the time) no one's going to misuse it. We've got a lot of these laws being passed and even if they're not misused now, chances are, they'll be misused in the future.

What this means to me is that we need some controls around what can be passed under urgency and what must go through the usual scrutiny. Those rules around bill readings and select committees etc. are there for a reason.

But worse than this - if information is retracted so that not even our elected officials (although MMP puts a whole lot of people not really elected in and those elected are loyal to a party line so even a great, people representing, MP is corrupted to a party's politics) can scrutinize it and make decisions around our laws, then how can anything even near a meaningful law be decided upon?

Should our MP's thus decide to vote against any such laws given the obvious lack of information? They need not cite any other reason than "we can not make anything near a meaningful decision if the information/evidence for such a law is not available for scrutiny". It'd be like convicting someone for a crime without actually hearing or seeing the evidence - just being told that there is evidence there thus, the person must be hanged.

I implore all of those reading this (at least, those in NZ) to go and read Clare's post. I think our actions (or inaction as the case may be) now are going to have an effect on our democracy tomorrow...

Monday, May 20, 2013

Posts Best Forgotten

I'm obsessed with my stats. The trends of them. What people are viewing on this blog. What posts are important to people. The inaccuracies (My stats overview show around 6,000 hits before I even started blogging. Either I'm that popular that people have gone back in time to view a non-existant blog - quite a feat given that a. is time travel even possible? and b. I had no idea I was going to start a blog until I found myself wanting to ring people just to rant and rave about the non-news being shown on the news.) etc. Or there's some inaccurate information in there.

I'm always kind of surprised by the posts that people go for.

For example, I had thought that my post on demotivational posters was a complete throwaway. I was irritated by what was being passed as a demotivational poster - it's not just a joke. It really is a reaction to something. It's the most visited post.

And then there's the whole virus debacle which ended with me being an unemployed bum who doesn't know anything (I think he meant uneducated?). I still maintain that the devil that you don't know is perhaps a little better than the devil you do know to be absolutely shocking. A different paradigm likely yields different results from what we've all been taught to be normal. It's definitely worth testing.

Me being agnostic (I describe it as being a devout agnostic nowadays. I find myself wondering about the effects that a system on unquestioning belief/faith has on critical thinking.) seems to be of interest to quite a few people whereas, by it's very nature, religion doesn't really factor all that much in my life.

The meltdown that lead me to abdicating my role as AuckLUG event coordinator for example.

Meanwhile, the posts I'm REALLY proud of, such as the one that looks at how I.T. can be little more than an expense without anything in the way of value, barely get viewed at all. There's also the one on talking to family which feels like great writing (although I'm sure it's probably mediocre at best - it has this raw honesty to it for me and self actualization - oh and shame. What's an apology without shame?).

It's kind of interesting looking at these trends. The throwaways, debacles and the bits that don't really factor into my life all that much get a much bigger audience than the posts that I consider important. Is this a result of a "When things go bad" (a.k.a. trash, reality tv) culture? Or are we seeing the effects of my own perspective being different than the majourity of my readers?

Anyway - so I've only ever deleted one post. I won't do it. I refuse to. But it means that there are all these lingering posts that I'm really not proud of. That are best forgotten. Of course, pointing them out probably isn't the best of moves... still... people are finding them. So if I guess, if you've found them and are reading them, take them with a grain of salt. I've been evolving along with the blog. An old friend and I had coffee the other day and she was noting how I seemed more confident. The depression is mostly under control (though there's been a bit to sulk about of late). The frustration is probably hammed up a bit for the purposes of writing - it's poetic license.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


I had one of those moments this week where I found myself questioning whether I'm actually doing any good or whether my point is being completely missed. It's one of those things that I ask myself every so often. Here I am talking about a more people approach to support and someone, who I've worked with for a number of years, says something that just feels so completely counter to that point.

I wonder if my readers get it... the idea that those people that help you, the front facing ones at least, shouldn't be kept behind closed doors and restrained by hierarchy. Instead, it's important for those people to be approachable. And I don't mean in terms of personality, though this is incredibly important, but more so on a cultural basis. An entity's culture can sometimes dictate who talks to who about what - scary as it may be.

I've been hearing the term "single point of contact" of late and it has me gritting my teeth. A single point of contact, when they get it in their head to control information, becomes a gate keeper. That gate keeper can grant or restrict access. Think in terms of the CEO's secretary. They're often put into a position where they're having to control the information getting through to the CEO. It becomes a necessity of the job to pick and choose what information goes to that horribly busy CEO who throws wobbly's at having information thrown at them.

So the gate keeper becomes a point of power. It also, strangely enough, can become a coveted position.  The view of others to this position can be one of resentment, that they're not able to get their information to who it needs to go to, or awe, as they start seeing that as the real point of power.

So instead of me being able to be approached by anyone, and mostly at any time (there are provisos - I may be busy though I'll usually listen to what someone has to say, tell them I'll have to get back to them and come back to it at a more convenient time), I found myself being herded away.

The interaction between user and geek is incredibly important. Chances are there's going to be a synergy that has things just kind of working. The geek is happier because they can go straight to the source - i.e. less Chinese whispers type things going on - and the user is happier because they're not trying to sell that information to a third party who can then tell it to the geek.

It also takes something from the user. Instead of feeling empowered, they're feeling restrained. I'm all about empowerment... In fact, I was talking to a friend and telling him that even if the teachers don't all use the KttC sticks for reimaging a computer (changing passwords etc.) it's important that they're given every opportunity to step up and have a go. And sometimes it's an absolute disaster (last year there was one teacher that told me her stick didn't work. So I replaced it. The following week, again, she reported her stick wouldn't work. So I asked her to show me exactly what she was doing as I had tested that stick. It turns out it's easier to get a usb stick into an ethernet port...) but for the most part, once all of the little details have been sorted out, it's not that bad. The worst that happens is that teachers haven't reached for that capability. It's worse having not tried (and not having the confidence to do so) than to have made a mistake. The worse that can happen is that someone has to reimage the machine...

So my approach isn't considered best practice. A single point of contact is important and necessary BUT that single point of contact should not for a second think they should be trying to control information. Instead, they're a point of contact for the rest of the organisation. i.e. the geek should be able to tell that person about any outstanding issues, or anything that the entity should know (i.e. I'm sending a machine away for warranty). Your I.T. people will get much further by being able to talk to the right people.

And likewise, a geek should be giving that point of contact information that allows them to make decisions on issues such as:
  • Have we got the right level of support? Could we do with less or do we need more?
  • Are we getting the right sort of support? I think I mentioned previously that as computers become a normal part of learning (and aren't just taking up space in the back of a classroom) that everyday desktop support is likely to reduce (as people become more empowered) and the need for more professional development support increases as teachers and students alike push what they can do on a computer (hint: it doesn't all have to be presentations and word processing).
  • Is our support working to our ends? i.e. are our users feeling supported.
So I guess you've got to ask yourselves... how does support work in our organisation? How can it be made better?


While Google Reader is disappearing (disappeared?), there's been a bit of a talk about the number of subscribers to each service - it turns out that blogger has a CRAPLOAD compared to Google Reader's 5,000,000 or so.

But other word has emerged. It turns out that the distance between blogger and Google+ is diminishing. In the not too distant future, Google+ and Blogger/Blogspot will be the same thing apparently. Given my objection to Google+, this doesn't bode terribly well.

So it's time to change platform... but will my readers follow me? Will it be a good thing? I've decided it's probably better to register (another) domain. One for my blog (and probably for all of those online apps I want to develop). The change manager in me is thinking about a transition - so register a domain that points to this blog and then switch over to wordpress (I really should have been using wordpress from the get go given that it's a FLOSS solution) after a couple of weeks.

Of course, this can all wait for a little bit while I get the latest Manaiakalani image sorted. I've been struggling on how to write a post on this. Basically, even knowing I was about to get a whole lot of issues that may or may not be related to the image, I kind of got sucked in to the mad panic and have had to make a decision on whether to reimage the cluster (again). From what I know so far though, it seems this is not going to be at all necessary.

Instead, I have to remove a few bugs from the image (things that small scale testing just wouldn't pick up) and issue new sticks to teachers (which should also give me a chance to get the update mechanism on the sticks done). Push any fixes out to the kids via updates and hopefully, with any luck, call this part of the project to an end.

I've actually felt like I've been drowning this week. Between getting the image out there, being a "nice guy" and doing favours around information tools (once offs that are happening again...) and getting started on a new project, I've found myself dropping a ball or 3 while I'm awash with information. My brain hurts...

So the transition away from blogspot/blogger will just have to wait..

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

ChromeOS Obsession

Despite being the very opposite of a fan, I find myself factoring in ChromeOS into a lot of the things I'm doing. My wanting to create an online application for managing Chrome Browser on other devices other than ChromeOS for example.

Or my TED video downloader which sets up web individual pages for each video (though it'd be kind of cool to have it just apply a template and generate the page when requested). Early days yet though I think I could have something pretty functional within a weekend.

And my latest little irritation, Cloud Print. It irritates me that they refer to anything not "Cloud Ready" as "Classic". Don't they just mean, a printer? Should your choice of printer be restricted by whether it's "Cloud Ready" or not? In which case, you're pretty much limited to 6 brands (with "FedEx Office" strangely being listed as a brand - will we see more of this sort of bollocks for what is essentially an online fax machine?).

So the temptation would be to use some old power hungry desktop as a server for getting a printer to talk Google... Failing hardware and power costs (how hot does that old desktop run?) are the reasons for not doing this straight off the top of my head (I'm sure there are a host of other reasons - space...).

A few years ago I was looking for a small little printer server and the damn things cost $100 or more - and you needed one for each printer.

Things have changed somewhat. There are now low cost computers - dare I say it, the Raspberry Pi. Around $50NZD, you'd also have to factor in $10 for an SD card, about the same for a power supply (though I'm thinking it'd be cheaper to take that old power supply from that old desktop so that it could also turn a cheap usb hub into a powered usb hub). And, if you're running something that needs a parallel port (heaven forbid), an adapter on ebay will run you around a whooping $3.

So we're not that far away from it costing about the same as a dedicated printer server except... that it could also share those printers on Cloud Print - EXCEPT that cloud print needs Chrome Browser to share it.... it turns out the functionality is in Chromium browser but is disabled by default. The instructions for enabling it take you on a trip through the interface (which, if you're setting this up as a headless unit, you really don't want to be doing this)... But then... there's a pretty good chance that those settings are stored within the preferences file in which case, refer to the first paragraph of this post...

I'm excited to note that there's a build of tinycore for Raspberry pi in which case, a bit of work around compiling Chromium browser and you'd have yourself one hellishly capable print server (you could even go as far as to share a scanner over the network with it).

Making something suck just a little less is kind of fun...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Small Victories

Today I've been working... I've had one of those horribly frustrating problems which I think I mentioned. I was unable to copy the KttC sticks to the new sticks I brought.

The first thing I realised was that I hadn't been copying over the mbr. So do that - and it fails. Instead of booting it sits there with a flashing cursor.

Right... next! determine whether it's hardware or software. Follow more established methods like using Clonezilla or making a live Ubuntu usb using unetbootin. Same problem...

Argh! I'd spent quite a bit of money on those sticks - 17 of 'em in all (and have ripped them all out of their packaging so a refund is slightly less likely). Right... next approach. Go onto the Internet and see if anyone else has had the same or similar problem.

A few reports of people having much the same problem... Need a solution...

I finally found it. A 30 frustrating minutes later, and I'd tested it. It works! So in case anyone else went down to PB Technology's and brought some quite cheap Toshiba 8 GB sticks, and can't for the life of them figure out why they aren't booting:

It has to do with fdisk trying to guess the disk geometry (why do we still need disk geometry for usb sticks anyway?). You have to specify it's geometry with the following:

 fdisk -H 255 -S 63 /dev/[usb drive]  

To check if you have this particular usb drive, type in:

 lsusb | grep "0930:6544"  

It shows up as a Toshiba Corp. Kings DataTraveler 2.0 Stick (2GB) although it's an 8GB - which probably goes some way to explaining why there's a problem.

Is Handwriting all that Important?

The other day I said "Good Morning" to one of the parents of a couple of kids at one of the schools who I've seen around. It didn't take her long to launch into a tirade of "But writing's important and they should have to do it at school more" etc.

So I got to thinking. Just how important is handwriting? The "I want my son to be able to write me a letter" - which had me chuckling to myself - If there's a quick way of getting a message to a parent i.e. email, then why would you write a letter? That boy just don't love his mother.... But I digress.

Writing is an act of hand eye co-ordination which leads to muscle memory. i.e. you can close your eyes and write a couple of words and chances are they're going to be relatively legible. But do we lose pathways if we don't do more handwriting practice?

For my own experience in school handwriting was something horribly frustrating. I could try and get my ideas down or I could try and make it look nice. I was never a presentation person and so those ideas won out every single time - except when I brought a calligraphy pen which lead to torn out pages as I made mistakes (and drove my teachers crazy as the pages in an exercise book generally aren't thick enough to cope meaning I could only use one side of a page). I don't think I ever earnt my "pen license" at primary school.

I have to wonder how much of my awkwardness with a pen was due to being tall... Longer limbs without the time for muscle mass to develop at the same rate leads to an awkwardness and clumsiness.

Communicating ideas is really important. It's all good and fine having brilliant ideas but if you can't communicate those ideas, they're effectively pointless. But we're not in an age where the focus has to be the form the communicate takes but can instead focus on the content. So our children are able to learn concepts like tense that much earlier. The focus can be on the language, not on the handwriting (or ruling a line between each day).

That isn't to say that handwriting shouldn't be taught - but that we now have the technology to focus on the other bits that tend to get left behind. I remember an English teacher in high school who'd gotten really frustrated that most of us hadn't learnt the most basic structures of English e.g. discerning a verb, noun, adverb etc. This is at the age of 13.

What effect does it all have on our brain? We all know that we have 2 hemispheres to the brain - the right hand side of the brain deals mainly with creative things while the left hand side deals to more analytical activities. Also the left hand side of the brain deals to the right hand side of our body and vice versa. During drinks with friends the other night something occurred to me - while I'm right handed, most of the people I hang around with are left handed. I surround myself with those who are stereotypically more creative than analytical.

Writing is generally done by our left hand side (analytical - linear) while the ideas we're trying to purvey are generally more creative - at least in school where we're trying to encourage kids to write about their experiences or an interpretation. For example, writing assessments are generally done based upon a shared experience - an ice cream during class or field trip becomes a baseline for which every student can write about. And assessment is based not only on the structure of language but the ideas purveyed.

So both sides of the brain, and the ability to communicate between the two are being assessed - taking a bunch of ideas, putting it into words (something very linear - how often on this blog do I say something about "coming back to that"?) but having the words be able to spark something non-linear in the readers head. i.e. a story that contains a whole string of "and then" as in "We went to the museum on the bus and then my friend and I went to the toilet and then...." describes a student who, while they get the language, and are told to write about their trip to the museum, don't quite get how their writing should be giving the reader ideas. A computer can do the "and then's" - the analytical. We'd like to see a more creative/human element to the writing.

Reading assessments assess similar things. Not just the ability to read words off a page, but also the ability to interpret those words (comprehension) into logical/analytical sense as well as being able to expand upon a story i.e. "What do you think happened next?" or "Why do you think that character behaved in that way?".

In which case, does the act of writing create pathways to better enable this communication between the two hemispheres? Even now, I don't think that I can hand write something without knowing exactly what I'm going to write first. Computers have enabled me to do this though - I can have a vague idea of a subject I want to write a blog post about, set myself in front of my keyboard and in about 15 minutes time, have a full blog post (or a dud - something I end up deleting as it was the beginning of something but I just couldn't make it go anywhere). This is in part to the fact that I can cut and paste text, go back over a sentence etc. So the mechanics of writing are less of a limitation and I can then focus more on content (and presentation last - I try not to insert pictures, video clips, do anything with fonts until after I've got the content). I can focus more on the two sides of the brain working to come up with something readable rather than having to worry about the presentation/legibility of it.

Does this mean I don't think handwriting should be taught? Absolutely not. I think we can make it something exciting even. Show off a fountain pen, calligraphy pen. Make it into a module i.e. talk about how people wrote in the past (quill with an ink well and sand jar, dip pen, fountain pen, biro etc.) and how the different instruments for writing influenced the style of writing. Who had access to reading and writing and how was word distributed? (scribes, printing press, online etc.). Hand writing doesn't have to be this completely boring "one of these days I'll get my pen license" kind of activities.

Of course, writing and reading have been at the very center of education for a very long time (I'm not going to touch on the fact that it was only considered important for males for a very long time). The form of it has changed - i.e. desks don't come with a hole for an ink well and misbehaving boys aren't terrorising people with ink anymore. And even when you watch movies with the poor little black African kids finally getting educated, they're looking at the forms of letters and repeating the sounds those letters imply.

No one's looking to displace this. The question is, is handwriting really needed to quite the same degree? Can we not focus on writing more instead? This is definitely something that I think bears some conversation...

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Missing the Classroom

For the last couple of days I've been back in the classroom. I've got to say - I kind of miss it. The enthusiastic kids teaching me a thing or two. Although - I did have that initial shock all over again.

For all of my talk about considering the classroom situation, I was thinking like an I.T. geek. If I can image a netbook in 3.5 minutes, then, given enough imaging sticks, I should be able to image an entire class lot of netbooks in less than 10 minutes, move onto to the next class and be done with the entire cluster (except the high school) within 2 days.

A couple of things changed things.

The number of sticks I have to work with is limited by a problem I've got. While all of the old imaging sticks copied just fine, the new ones that I brought had a great big giant problem - they wouldn't boot.

Given the nature of usb sticks - i.e. their small size - I only got back about half of what were out there. The kids are curious by them and anything more than 3 is seen as having "lots of imaging sticks". I've even caught one kid trying to steal one (and chances are, I've lost a couple to theft - in fact, I lost one today).

So probably not quite enough sticks though I've got enough to keep things ticking along.

Meanwhile I'm trying to figure out what's gone wrong with my code to copy the sticks. I've got a bit of testing to do... Though I'm tired enough that I've been turning into a pumpkin by around 10pm - making getting anything done difficult.

This is mainly due to my over investment in this image. It has to be perfect. My reputation is dependent on it. If I want to show school's how they can be empowered, I need to set a brilliant example of it. So I pretty much lived off V, coffee, a couple of hours of sleep a night for about a week to get this done. Of course, the problem is now, how do I get schools to contact me for a bit of a demo? i.e. Put together a quick branding (only takes me a day or so) package and show them how quickly a computer (desktop, laptop, whatever) can be imaged, how easy it is to do and top it all off with a demo of the software center with blacklisting capabilities.

The other thing that I completely missed is the fact that the new desktop is a little bit different and the effect this would have on the kids. The screen that says "Don't Panic" has kids turning around and saying "Nevyn" in as unsure a manner as I've heard from them which has me turning around and saying "Quick! Don't Panic!". The help screen, which opens on the first time they log in has them asking "What do I do?". Hell, even a teacher asked "Should we just ignore this screen?". Heartbreaking... If only there was a way to turn a bunch of glyphs or symbols into words.... What do we do with words?

So I've just completed the third day and I've only done 2 school's to completion, 2 are partially done and 2 more I haven't yet visited. And the support calls are starting to come through... Obviously every issue has to do with the new image and so there'll be times where I'm having to pop by a school just to show them it's not really an imaging problem. This is pretty normal during times of uncertainty (like a change to an operating environment).

Meanwhile, a weekend with the house to myself which should give me plenty of time to work through the bugs I know about so far (mainly to do with the imaging sticks).

Finding the Right Solution

A friend of mine remarked on how restrained I've been on a recent conversation about Learning Management Systems (LMS). So I figured... why not say what's so terribly wrong with the conversation to the world at large!?

A solution has to fit the problem. But what if we don't really understand the problem? We need to step away from ourselves and think about who we're trying to help. What are the drivers? Even though two different sets of behaviours look exactly the same, the drivers behind the situation may be completely different. What are the desired outcomes?

In the case of an LMS, the outcomes from the various different approaches are quite different from each other. And even the way they've come about are different. Google Apps for Education is probably the most surprising of them all. It's a motley collection of tools which don't really offer much in the way of integration between them BUT with Teacher Dashboard, it offers something that provides probably the lowest barrier to entry (i.e. you can get to a "here's your worksheet online" point really early on with very little set up and from there, there's nowhere to go but to use the tools better - and with a bit of PD {Professional Development}, those tools WILL be used better).

So what every school considering an LMS (and really, you shouldn't be considering an LMS unless you know what problems that LMS is going to solve in which case, you'll probably have a fair idea of which LMS fits your needs) needs to consider is:

  1. Learning is never a one size fits all thing. Trying to teach people in the same way that I learnt almost never works. So what way mostly works for your kids? This can't be answered. Every day we learn in different ways. (And people do learn in spite of us though I can name a few teachers who really got through to me on one point or another).
  2. The people using the tools have to know the tools. What level are your teachers at? Are they more comfortable in an environment that encourages them to try different things? Or do they need structure to function? (in which case, I'd suggest working on empowering these people first - getting them to a point where they're comfortable trying different things in the classroom). This could be considered a driver. If ShinyDevices™/MeaninglessTLA™ (Three Letter Abbreviation) are/is to be deployed, how are they going to be used? Are the teachers confident to use them to deliver the desired outcomes?
I would consider any money spent on solutions well wasted if these questions haven't been asked first.

So when asked, can Manaiakalani be ported over to other areas, my answer is yes and no... The other communities absolutely have to own it - so instantly, it can't be Manaiakalani. It has to be their own thing. Which also means that the solutions and conclusions reached at Manaiakalani need to be challenged. Be the skeptic and find anything that doesn't work for that community's situation. Don't make assumptions. Communities do have a way of surprising you in all sorts of interesting ways when they're on the same page collectively (which can only happen if they're thinking about their neighbours as well as themselves).

And if it's being adopted for a "we need to stay relevant and need ShinyDevices™" sort of a driver, then it's being set up to fail. Yes, it could be pulled out of the fire - but it's REALLY hard work to do so. These aren't problems you can just throw money at. It all requires thought.

And that means, looking at the problem... And yes, people will accuse you of being overly negative - ignore them. You're solving problems. Meanwhile, if you find yourself looking at a set of solutions, ask yourself, what am I trying to achieve? The solution needs to fit the problem (not the other way around).

I could have just as easily written this post on computers... The choice of operating system/operating environment has a huge effect on the users - How empowered are they? How does that effect how they feel and interact with a business at large? What problems is a particular solution trying to solve? i.e. I'm not a huge fan of The Linux Terminal Server Project or Citrix because I think they solve a problem while introducing a huge amount of risk and the problem they solve is usually around the administration rather than the usage (where they generally introduce new problems - some exceptions here i.e. the Raspberry Pi makes a terrible desktop but is probably okay as a terminal).

I was talking to someone about how they were handling warranties and had to do my best not to laugh. If it's taking them an hour to determine whether something's a warranty job, for risk of it getting to the warranty provider and the job being rejected and thus being charged an $80 inspection fee.... at what price per hour does this become practical? At this stage if they sent EVERYTHING that got logged in as a warranty through, with as high a figure as 10% being rejected, they'd still be saving money. i.e. 10 computers inspected for an hour. 1 computer found to not fit warranty criteria. So that 1 computer costs $80 if it had gone through. However, the people doing the inspection would have to be paid $8 or less per hour for this to be even vaguely practical. I'd suggest a much more... organic approach (i.e. listen to gut instinct).

Meanwhile, that hour could be used for other more meaningful support. Go and see the users and have a chat. See what everyday problems can be solved (which they've learnt to live without).

I swear... finding the right solution is almost a science (though much easier once you figure out the problem).

Monday, May 6, 2013

Are Google Really Having Technical Difficulties?

Last night to get the last bits on the Manaiakalani image done and copy 45 usb sticks (yep, you heard me. 45! This is going to take forever.....). Only... I've found a bug. Enter in great gnashing of teeth.

Flash has for a long time been the bane of my life. I can't include the Flash Plugin in the image without violating the terms of agreement. Even when I've found a way around that, I have to then stop it from updating because it also can't be included in the package repositories (for the same reason I can't include it in the image) and as a result, the package manager doesn't really know what to do with it so it fails fairly often.

At one stage I was having to give teachers a set of commands to copy and paste into the terminal to get Flash working again and some kids had it down perfectly - they could go around and fix an entire class quickly. It's great that some school's had both teachers and kids with the confidence to fix it for themselves (I even got chat requests from a few high school kids asking for the solution - note: I take this as a point of pride that they're willing to have a go at fixing it themselves). But it just wasn't right...

Security woes be damned....

Google to the rescue! 

Google Chrome includes Flash support - and can be redistributed. Which means, there are absolutely no concerns about me having Google Chrome with it's all fancy Flash support built in. It was a short leap from Chromium to Chrome anyway.

Given that Firefox proved to be horribly uncustomizable, I had reluctantly dropped it in favor of Chromium where I was only having to edit 2 files (master_preferences and bookmarks) for each entity (school) to deal to any settings I needed. Whereas Firefox required the unpacking of a zip file, editing some files, zipping them back up, only to find that the only thing I was able to change were the default bookmarks (trying to do anything else, such as display the bookmark bar by default, lead to me wanting to find someone from Mozilla and hit them with a "You've got to be fornicating kidding me" stick). I've since become even more critical of Firefox. The default bookmarks are ridiculous! Why the fornication do we need 20 odd bookmarks all leading to the Mozilla foundation?

Google, we have a problem

The included "PepperFlash" in Google Chrome is rubbish. Youtube videos, while the sound is great, the video refreshes every 10 seconds or so. Video without the video (at least the sound works great). And there is a workaround... it involves using the flashplugin-installer and disabling the internal flash support.

But wait... isn't this an Adobe issue? Well no because...

Google's lack of support for Linux has become a trend

Oh yes I did! (Imagine me responding to some attitude filled comment about me having not done it... it's all there in black and white for all to see... I can not deny it). The list is getting longer.

With Picasa, rather than putting resources into developing an application that would actually work on Linux, they chose to try and make the Windows version run under Wine. It was a disgusting attempt. That client has long since been pulled with the following message on the download page:
"Picassa is not currently available for your operating system"
It's worth noting that it's been the same message for a year or so now.

About a year after the launch of Google Drive and there still isn't a Linux client in sight except from 3rd parties. InSync have done what Google can't? Whatcha talking 'bout Willis? That's patently absurd. There's something else going on here (otherwise Google would've beaten InSync to the punch, brought InSyncHQ and all it's assets, or at the very least, had a competing free offering on the table). There is no way in hell that this could even remotely be a technical issue. Not with their resources and their intimate knowledge of the product.

Chrome OS and Android are Linux without the Linux. If you really want to dig, you'll find that Linuxy goodness that some of us know and love - in chains beneath pretty looking GUI's (a woman in chains in a pretty dress is still a woman in chains). The DIY part comes with a sacrifice - especially on the Chromebooks. So what are we getting for all of our Linuxy goodness and it's good name? A locked down OS with a single vendor controlling it's direction...

And now, in junction with Adobe, yet another way to thumb their nose at Linux: Flash... Meanwhile... I have absolutely no idea how to work around this. Some sort of hack involving installation of the Flash Plugin and locking it down to a single version. As well as disabling the Pepper Flash Plugin - the one included in Chrome. Which makes me wonder... why did I opt to switch to Chrome?

Google Chicken meet Google Egg

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Last Few Bits

For the last few months I've been working on an all new and shiny "image" for Manaiakalani - deployment starts on Tuesday! Exciting times. The pressure for this one has been quite high. The expectation set by the last image and it's lack of problems has had me quite stressed.

Everything has to be perfect! To the point that I rejected adblock because upon installation it then shows a screen asking for donations - and I won't have it! (I opted to use Adblocker Plus instead).

Ubuntu this has this thing that's been reported as a bug and then rejected as a bug... and doesn't seem to work on a Mac at all (weird). Pressing down the "super" (windows) key should bring up a list of shortcuts. However, this doesn't work on resolutions lower than 1024x768 - meaning that just about every netbook under the sun is out of luck. I won't have it dang nang it! So I got to writing a program which would swap between a help screen and the wallpaper. As software seems to do, this one's scope crept towards a "first start" type of screen, which changed a little for the guest login to explain what the guest login is.

Anyway, all of these thoughts are going through my head. When this is finished, I'll be able to sit down and read a book! I've just got to find my Kindle. Or play a computer game all the way through! And then reality hits.

There's roll out to go yet (and chances are a few bugs that'll have me kicking myself).

I've got a meeting about another project next week which could be quite involved. And there's the whole "I've got to be working" thing going on - so proposals for jobs and the like (though I'm hoping I can partner up with people and get them doing that sort of work and have me in as a consultant for quite particular bits and pieces - i.e. I don't do Windows).

The side projects folder in my Development folder is looking a little more crowded:-

  • A TED video downloader with a difference - I want it to be able to generate a bunch of pages with a web player so that even if you are using an Internet only device, you'll still be able to access that content.
  • The chrome preferences manager - something that'll allow you to generate a master preferences file for Google chrome as well as manage a bunch of computers by using a client on the users computer to download a preferences file and merge it into their own settings etc.).
As well as a few projects that I want to contribute to. metaTED could do with some TLC (though there's a bunch of stuff in there that I'd have to learn) and it's related to one of my side projects anyway...

But before I get onto any of that there's a leap of faith to make. Open sourcing Gherkin in a more formal way - there's a difference between having the source code available and having the infrastructure to allow anyone to contribute (and diety know's, I could do with all the contributions I can get). Just a note here:- I've considered doing a post on this - the leap of faith. The letting it all hang out there - bad programming, good ideas etc. and how this creates a barrier to Open Source. How we lose out on a whole lot of really great content due to self esteem issues and the like. I think that most of us Open Source people understand that it is a bit of a leap of faith though so are a little more likely to be supportive (and less critical).

And there's a wiki to put up. I want to collect a bunch of information around how to do system wide configuration of a Linux system for deployments. What pitfalls to look out for, places where you'll probably find yourself going for the less open source routes (Firefox, for example, is a real pain to customize to the point that I gave up on it. I really hate the number of default bookmarks which got me into the habit of just not bothering with bookmarks at all - I now have just one bookmark. And the whole Flash thing is just plain painful. Which reminds me - that's another thing to test before I give this image the okay). I think this will probably be even more valuable than any of the programs I've written.

I see a very tired Nevyn in my future...

Waiting to do a Post

I hate Anchor Milk's new bottles. Scratch that. I hate Anchor (and by extension Fonterra) for what they're doing.

Why? While I go about my life trying to reduce the amount of plastic I use, Anchor come out with their "game changing" triple layered bottle. It's bad enough that milk comes in plastic bottles (very seldom reused/"up cycled") in the first place. But it's recyclable right? Does that really make it okay? And by recyclable, they mean it gets turned into road paint!

The reason I was waiting to do this post is that I saw a bus stop ad with a brand of bottled water advertising itself as having reduced the amount of plastic they're using. I wanted a photo of it before doing this post.

There's all sorts of statements and comparisons to be made. How morality is used as a marketing ploy but only so far (why are reusable shopping bags made from synthetic materials rather than more traditional materials like hessian, cotton or linen? - argh - much longer comment to be made here - it's possibly even a blog post in it's own right).

Let's get this right - it goes:

  • Reuse - also called "upcycling". So instead of throwing your stuff away, find ways of using it. For me that's meant a compost bin - NOT a worm farm. What's wrong with worm farms? You've got to be precious about what goes into a worm farm whereas with a compost bin, the worms will come eventually and in the meantime, you have beetles that will do much the same job. Get a bin, start chucking your organic matter in there. In the case of glass - it's a VERY reusable material... Find uses for it...
  • Recycle - Only if you can't reuse it. The carbon footprint on recycling is bigger than any of us suspect and the result is more harmful crap.
  • Reduce - actually I kind of put this one first. Do you really need that packaging? Once you've got the crap, you've got to figure out how to use it.
On the subject of sustainability and it's real cost, here's a TED video - the first 5 minutes or so had me thinking a bit. How much do we take as truth on faith?

It can be argued that the majourity of what we know is taken on faith. I take it for granted that perpetual motion can't exist without trying to prove it for myself.

So of course, that leads to this blog being an opinion piece.

And so here's my opinion:

We should be boycotting the, increased plastic, milk bottles - look for any brand but Anchor. Honestly, can you taste the difference? If you can taste a difference, is that extra plastic really worth that difference?

We are all responsible trying to make a difference. The excuse "but I'm only one person" is a way of retarding yourself and underestimating what you can do. We can lead by example... We can influence the people around us.

Watch enough TED videos and you start to realise that there's enough going on that we could be rid of our oil dependence and that the whole "peak oil" thing is irrelevant given that we could be doing a whole lot more NOW - rather than waiting for that ever so important next development that makes oil irrelevant (i.e. it's already happened. Oil would be irrelevant right this very second if it wasn't for the fact that it's worth so much money. An artificial value if you ask me).

Our environment already sucks. We don't need to be looking for more ways to screw it up. And we should be thinking a hell of a lot more critically about the next big environmental trend. Recycling really isn't all that great for the environment though has probably received a great deal of marketing attention (as opposed to trying to market goods by saying "stop buying our over packaged crap").

Oh - and the whole Cotton thing:-

The last time I was in India I went to an ashram that had been converted to a museum for Gandhi. It irritated the living crap out of me. It was a tourist thing - the language used had been simplified. Gandhi had this thing about using the cotton cloth produced within India. So it came across at this museum as "Why did Gandhi like rough cotton cloth?" as opposed to discussing the moral implications behind what he was saying.

The deal was that Indian's would pick the cotton for very little pay. It was then shipped to England - the shipping cost being quite a bit more than paid to the workers in the field (the only stage at which Indian's profited from this process....). Once it had arrived in England, English built factories (i.e. English jobs in building the factories as well as processing of cloth) would turn the cotton into cloth, which would then find itself once again on a ship, heading back to India - to be sold to the wealthy.... who were wealthy by taxing the poor cotton pickers...

So Gandhi was essentially saying "Why are we working so hard to make the rich (English) richer?".

Friday, May 3, 2013

Permanent as a Tattoo

At the first NetHui I had gone with a focus toward cybersafety. I went with this attitude that bullying is bullying and so the same rules apply - it needs to be stomped on immediately. Less of the "harden up" attitude and more "We will not tolerate bullying".

This isn't to be confused with the very PC "zero bullying" policy I've seen in inaction at some schools. I mean, the absolute, "if I ever see that sort of disrespect ever pointed at another person from you there are going to be serious consequences" kind of stomping on it. The "that language is not only disrespectful, but gives everyone else an excuse to disrespect you" kind of approach.

I was wrong. Oh so very wrong. the problem is that the medium is very different.

Computers have generally been a refuge for those of us who have a little bit of trouble socially in which case, bullying within this refuge/medium can have a bigger effect on the recipient than in the playground - where, if they're bullied on a regular basis, they probably have some coping mechanisms (like disappearing to the library or hanging out with like minded people in order to offer an island of support)... the medium is the message.

Graffiti in the toilets, a carved up desk lid can all be removed... An uttered comment in the playground can be forgotten or ignored. Or can they? More on this a little later...

Firstly though, that bullying on the net can not be removed. Is it on Facebook? Well.. chances are, it's now the property of Facebook. Those images you think you've removed? It's just hidden. It's still there! Facebook own that property and so it's up to them as to whether they chose to delete it - not you.

But worse than this: You couldn't steal a handbag right? But what if you could make a copy that handbag? So everyone can take a copy of whatever. If I'm viewing a web page, it's not unavailable to everyone else. Instead, all that content is copied to my computer (yep... viewing pages is essentially copying). So not only can I not delete that data, everyone who's seen it has probably taken a copy of that data (the exception being a group of friends and I all sat around a single computer).

So there's a certain permanence to the information.

It's getting worse. We've got the possibility of augmented reality becoming mainstream in the very near future. Imagine it. Someone walking around with a pair of glasses (Baidu Eye, Google Glasses etc.) could have instant access to your online profile before even meeting you - using face recognition (though I think we're still a little way off this at the moment. There's a difference between face recognition and face recognition i.e. recognising something is a face and recognising who a person is based upon their face).

But is this all that different from the traditional schoolyard bully? The Internet is an equal opportunity ground for bullying. So while the bully's in my day were generally physically intimidating, nowadays they don't have to be. You too can be a bully online! And while it's undoubtedly quite different from school yard bullying, it should be recognised that school yard bullying has long term effects as well.

I made some silly little comment about someone's posterior a couple of weeks ago and then realised that he'd taken it quite badly (whereas I'd only really seen it as a silly little joke). It turns out that the bullying he'd received as a teenager has stayed with him well into adulthood... Whereas I see it as almost a term of endearment (if I really don't care about someone, they'd get a rolling of the eyes and me doing my best to ignore them).

Anyway, the title of this post... I just watched a TED video which equated an online presence to a tattoo. Can you imagine it? Every post I ever did, every question I ever asked on a forum, every meltdown on a mailing list, every terrible piece of advice I ever gave on any sort of online media etc. tattooed on my body.... Now there's imagery for you...

Is this a way that privacy could be purveyed to children?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Seeking Out Information - Bacteria

This post is going to be a little unusual. Instead of doing a whole lot of research for a blog post, I'm hoping that people can give me a few hints. I was watching a TED talk by Angela Belcher about her efforts in growing batteries - using a virus.
Very exciting stuff - the battery can be grown at near room temperature and initial tests show that it's surprisingly efficient (though I think they've only been able to get it to charge 100 times).

Since 1997 (When I first left high school and was hearing about all sorts of interesting developments) or so I've been hearing the same things over and over again. Organic hard drives for example. People are working on incredibly high density computer storage.

There seem to be a couple of these sorts of things going on. Emulating bacteria... DNA code sequencing...

Chances are there's all sorts of this "death to sci-fi" stuff going on. A friend of mine says that reading sci-fi isn't all that fun anymore as all of the really cool bits in sci-fi have already been done or are being worked on.

In which case, rather than trying to trawl the Internet for myself, I'm wondering if I can convince people to leave links to articles and the like in the comments. Ha! Crowd sourcing on a really small blog based scale.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Disabling the Wifi Button

I just HAD to document this as it's just so cute. Oh - before I start making funny faces at some code - geek speak alert.

So one of the things that soon became horribly annoying when I deployed the first Manaiakalani image was the wifi button. For whatever reason, the kids loved pressing "Fn-F2". It would have me running around frantically just to press a couple of buttons... So I decided that disabling it would be functionality that we could afford to lose.

So up till now it's just been a cron job that runs every minute. Yep - one of those diety awful uses of cron (don't do this....).

Anyway, while playing with rfkill I noticed an "event" option. Which will display events! Only on it's own it's kind of hopeless... I only really want to listen to the next event... tail to the rescue. This is what I came up with:

 #put wifi devices in known state  
 rfkill unblock wifi  
 while true ; do  
   rfkill event wifi | head -n1  
   sleep 0.5  #I was getting a little bouncing...  
   rfkill unblock wifi  

I know... It's probably not all that brilliant. Still.... I think it's cute.