How data-sharing era puts our privacy at risk – The Globe and Mail

A study cited in the paper notes publisher websites utilize an average of 13.5 (and up to 70 in some cases) third parties. A visit to one popular U.S. tabloid triggered a user interaction with some 352 other web servers, according to a 2014 U.S. Senate subcommittee study of the issue.

Many of those interactions were benign; however, some of those third parties may have been using cookies or other technology to compile data on consumers without their explicit consent, according to the study. Data mined by the practice can include users’ interests, browsing history, location, and past-purchase history.

Source: How data-sharing era puts our privacy at risk – The Globe and Mail

Even anonymous data can be de-anonymized with enough data points. The web is broken, in that we think it’s doing one thing (letting people publish content) when it’s actually doing something else (surveilling everyone who comes within 100′ of a website, and using that data with no oversight or visibility).

For a real eye-opener, try running the Lightbeam Firefox add-on. It builds a visualization of the collusion between websites and data-miners.

Update: Nick Heer pointed out that the Globe and Mail article about privacy-invading trackers had an impressive 18 trackers itself, as reported by Ghostery. Awesome. (It’s showing 9 trackers for me now)

Introducing Hypercardinator

For some reason, I felt like turning my blog into something reminiscent of Hypercard. Maybe it’s nostalgia? Maybe it’s a throwback to an era from before the web? Maybe it’s an ironic attempt to de-emphasize design over content? Maybe all of those.

Anyway. I found this great Chicago-inspired webfont, released under a Creative Commons license by Giles Booth. At first, I just used a local stylesheet to force it to be used on any site, but then I realized I wanted it running on my blog full-time. But I didn’t want to have to create a new theme to do it. So, a plugin!

Hypercardinator was born. It adds a stylesheet to force ChiKareGo to be used for all content and navigation on a site. Which was a great start, but didn’t feel like it went quite far enough. So I added some styles to attempt to non-destructively force all images to render in high contrast black and white (I couldn’t figure out a way to use the more Hypercard-native Atkinson dithering, and didn’t feel like spending more time at the moment to figure it out).

It’s a trivial WordPress plugin. Try it out – if it doesn’t float your boat, just deactivate the plugin without wrecking any of your site’s config or layout.

Not using WordPress? Check out Bryan Ollendyke’s webcomponent that implements the stylesheet and webfont.

Blogging, social media, and ambient humanity

Tim Carmody, posting on, about Dan Cohen’s “Back to the Blog” post.

…blogging either needs its own mechanisms of ambient humanity — which it’s had, in the form of links, trackbacks, conversations, even (gulp) comments, all of which replicated at least a fraction of the buzz that social media has — or it needs a kind of escape velocity to break that gravitational pull. Gravity or speed. Or a hybrid of both.

Source: Blogging, social media, and ambient humanity

We’ve seen another way. It’s possible, and we know that because it worked for years, at internet scale. But the mechanisms of ambient humanity in the Big Silos won because most people really don’t care about the infrastructure. People just want to feel connected to people, and there was less friction in the silos – at the cost of giving up and/or losing control.

There are absolutely parallels in edtech. Instructors and students largely interact with each other online via the institutional learning management system, rather than richer distributed venues designed for each individual context. Or, rather, some courses use those interesting non-sanctioned venues anyway, because they suit their needs, but without the blessing of the institution and at risk – both personal and institutional.

Student data (names, emails, ID numbers, grades, etc) needs to be tightly managed by the institution for very good reasons – we can’t violate the privacy of our students, either through active leaks or from passive breaches due to data becoming siphoned off into other tools without our control. I get that we need to control the data. But we’re also setting up a mirror of the social-media-to-corporate-silo model, which has been shown to be harmful in so many ways.

So. How to support the decentralized needs of an incredibly diverse and interesting ecosystem of communities, while protecting sensitive personal information, without stifling the interesting and creative activities that are possible when students and instructors have more control over their own environments?

Road trip to the end of the world

Arizona is an amazing place. Driving south from Strawberry, we passed through about a dozen distinct biomes, and ended up in a landscape that would be at home in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon.

The drive left some quality time for mobile playlisting…

And winding up in Winslow, arizona, where it appeared as though we formed a Conga line of tourists waiting to be photographed next to a statue commemorating some obscure song by a no-name indie band.

All part of Old Route 66…

And then, back through the Crazy Cavalcade of Ecosystem Biomes on the way back to the northern highlands, through spatterings of snow.

Finally, winding up at THAT Brewery in Strawberry, where Alan is some kind of Internet bigwig or something.

TILT Episode 002 – Richard Zach and Aaron Thomas-Bolduc introduce OERs

As part of Open Education Week at the University of Calgary, Richard Zach and Aaron Thomas-Bolduc gave a presentation to introduce the concept of OERs, where to find them, and how to make them. Lots of love sent to BCCampus’ Open Textbook initiative and Pressbooks.

volumetric video of a (jazz) performance

For my PhD research, I’ve been bouncing ideas around for how to volumetrically capture a performance or classroom session in 3D, and then layer on additional contextual data (interactions between participants, connections, info from dramaturgy, info from SoTL, etc.).

This NEBULA experimental jazz video by Marcin Nowrotek kind of gets at some of what’s in my head. Imagine this, showing a group of students collaborating in an active learning session, and instead of notes/percussion visualizations, some kind of representation of how they are interacting etc… Also, since it’s all in 3D, imagine being able to interact with the recording in 3D using fancy goggles.

Thanks to BoingBoing for the link!

notes on setting up a podcast in 2018

I hadn’t published a podcast since 2005, back when podcasting meant “automating downloads of audio files to an iPod because there’s no internet connection when you’re mobile” and not “any kind of media, and nobody even remembers what an iPod is anymore, and why on earth wouldn’t you have an internet connection all the time?”

Anyway. I’d assumed the passing decade would have meant audio production tools and podcast publication tools would have matured significantly since the good old days. Nope. Audio editing still basically sucks. Audacity works, but is destructive and fussy and a pain sometimes. GarageBand is so horribly designed for actually editing audio that it’s worse than Audacity. There are other editing tools, but they all seem to suck in various ways. Where’s the simple, non-destructive, easy audio editing tool that lets you remove noise and make the audio sound good? iMovie does it well for video. Where’s the audio version of that? I want my hovercraft.

For publishing the podcast itself. Holy. There’s third-party solutions like Libsyn etc. but they require you keep your eggs in their basket. I’m not about to do that – I learned that lesson long ago. For self-hosted podcast publishing, it looks like PodLove for WordPress is about it. It’s close, but requires you to have FTP access to a directory, so I can’t run it on UCalgaryBlogs. So. I’m self-hosting my podcast here on my own blog. It works.

Then, there’s submitting it to the iTunes podcast directory, so people can find it. There’s a validator, but it was barfing on my feed. It complained that my server couldn’t handle “HEAD requests”, which, of course, it can. So I figured one of my caching or security plugins was helpfully blocking the byte requests. Yup. Disabled WordFence, and the iTunes podcast feed validator worked. I’m a bit nervous about having to turn off WordFence, though…

It’s been awhile. Nothing much has changed. Weird.

TILT Episode 001 – Brian Lamb and RRU’s LRNT 525 class

It’s time to kick off the Taylor Institute Learning Technologies (TILT) podcast series. I was fortunate to be invited to chat with Brian Lamb and Royal Roads University’s LRNT 525 class, nominally to talk about institutional change management and decision making, but it turned into a wide-ranging discussion of innovation and the tension between creativity and enterprise-scale.

ps. I’ll be moving these podcasts onto UCalgary media servers, once that’s a thing. For now, self-hosting to get things started…

pps. Some of the links mentioned in the webcast:

Introducing the new look for D2L at UCalgary

We’re getting ready to roll out the new “Daylight” interface for D2L, which will go live on May 4, 2018. The biggest benefit is a responsive design, which will make the experience on mobile devices much, much better. And, it will also make it more usable through screen readers and other accessibility devices. Also, it’s very shiny.

I’ve given versions of this intro many times in committee meetings, and it’s time to have a quick video version so we can just email people a link. So, after spending a few minutes in our beautiful new audio booth, and a couple of hours messing around with Camtasia

This (or a less cringeworthy version of it) will likely get posted as an embedded video in a News item on our main D2L server sometime before May 4, so all people who use D2L will get to see the new interface before it becomes active.