on academic travel

The muslim ban executive order was a wakeup call. It’s now a different world, and we need to take the time to think through what the implications are.

Personally, I’d probably be largely unaffected. I’m a middle-aged white male with no visible signs of dissent. Well. I have a beard. But I could probably continue travelling to the US without much trouble.

But. I work with people who would be directly challenged by this. And there are students in the computer science lab I’m part of who would be forbidden from entering the US. Which is ridiculous. But it’s a serious problem – academia is strongly based on the conference model – travel to a place, present your research and make connections with other people doing similar research. It’s how things are done.

And now we’re faced with the new reality that the US is openly hostile to a significant proportion of the academic community. Either they wouldn’t be able to participate in a conference in the US, or they’d be unable to return to their families in the US if they participated in a conference elsewhere. That is insane. Absolutely insane.

But – this may be the time to rethink what participation in international conferences means. The whole carbon-spewing travel thing didn’t do it, but maybe the fear of Trump will. How can we change what it means to participate? How can these conferences be recast as blended and inclusive, allowing people to join from wherever they are safely able to do so?

The technology is basically there. We could Skype or Connect or Hangout. Or use telepresence robots. Or do a conference as a playlist of videos with supporting online community. Trump may be the kick in the pants we need to finally and meaningfully rethink what academic conferences should be, rather than saying they need to be bursts of face-to-face international travel with cosmetic lip service of online sessions thrown in. What if online participation was the primary means of being involved with an academic conference?

I’m going to be travelling to Houston for EDUCAUSE ELI in a couple of weeks. It’s too late to cancel. But I have a feeling it will be the last time I’ll plan to cross the border to the US for some time. I’m already trying to focus more on local communities – this is a good reminder to also focus on inclusive online ones as well.

Repatriating my websites

I’ve been thinking about doing this since the last US election. And now, with the words and actions of the Trump administration, I’m just not comfortable leaving my web presence on US servers.

The decision to move my stuff back onto Canadian servers was easy – just a simple exercise in logic. The hard part is leaving what has been the best web hosting company – the best online community supporter – I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a member of. ReclaimHosting (nee Hippie Hosting Co-op) is the best web hosting provider I’ve ever come into contact with. Great company. Even better people. A pleasure to work with on any level.

And, they’ve been working on plans to set up non-US servers. Which is interesting, but it doesn’t solve the problem – any US company is beholden to respond to the whims of the current administration’s policies, no matter where their servers are physically located. So, the only way to mitigate that risk is to move my content and data onto servers in Canada, managed by a Canadian company. I really, REALLY wish I didn’t have to do that.

My stuff is now running out of CanadianWebHosting.com‘s Vancouver datacentre – where I used to run my stuff back in 2008, after leaving DreamHost, and before Hippie Hosting was a thing.

Over the next few days, I’ll be finalizing the move, adding the various databases and subdomains I use daily. The server was under somewhat heavy load as I rsynced my stuff over. It’s showing signs of behaving better, but may need some tweaking to get things running smoothly. I’m not sure if I’ll have to switch plans yet – the shared hosting should do the trick, if it lives up to the marketing info. If not, I may need to move to a higher tier plan.

So. An easy decision that sucked to have to make, thanks to insanity south of the border.

2017 week 4 in review


UCalgaryBlogs was knocked offline for almost 24 hours because IT’s new security stuff suspected it was compromised – it saw me uploading a .zip file via the admin interface, while the server was also under the constant vulnerability probing by Russian script kiddies. It did the math and freaked out. Hilarity ensued. Sigh. Nothing was compromised, and the server was behaving normally.

We hired a second Learning Technologies Coach within the Taylor Institute – the coaches work as informal consultants for instructors, to help brainstorm and plan integration of technologies (from stuff-on-wheels up to wireless collaboration). I am humbled by the strength of applicants we get – our students are absolutely amazing, with such depth of experience already. I was such a slacker as an undergrad.


Kevin Ta gave a presentation on his work on prototyping wearable technologies – lots of interesting ideas there for rapid prototyping and iteration of ideas before getting to the more difficult stages.



Ski day – took a day off and headed out to Sunshine Village again. Must do that more often.

2017 week 3 in review


I did the second orientation to ePortfolios for our new UNIV201 Global Challenges course. First-year students, making connections in an interdisciplinary context. They’ve been asked to document their learning, and to showcase their projects for each other, and our ePortfolio platform is pretty much perfect for that. I was surprised, again, that none of the students had edited a web page outside of Facebook. A handful had heard of wordpress, but nobody had every used it. So many things I have taken for granted, absorbed by the modern social web. This is going to take a long time to repair. We’ve lost a lot as a society when our brightest minds have no personal knowledge of publishing and sharing knowledge beyond Facebook posts.


I’ve started a theme study, getting my head around telerobotics, telepresence, and humanoid androids in an education context. It’s easy to dismiss robots as “HAHA KILL ALL HUMANS” or “REPLACE ALL HUMANS” but there is more to it than that, and I think I have a role to play in figuring out what an embodied presence of a humanoid robot may mean in a social collaborative experience.

Anyway. The robot I signed out was dead on arrival. Working on a backup plan.



I was blocked on Twitter by a Member of Parliament because I politely asked her for a comment in response to her heckling of a member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta at a Student Leaders event on campus. I was polite and respectful, and was genuinely wanting to learn her side of it, rather than just assuming the online buzz was accurate. Her response was to block me. That’s data. Classy.

Reclaim Hosting moved my stuff from the soon-to-be decommissioned Ramones server to the shiny new OutOfStep server. The process was absolutely painless and automatic. All I had to do was change my CPanel/SSH login. Easy. Thanks! The new server appears to have some minor CPU issues, but that will get worked out.