Nick Heer on web hosting and user data

These are all concerning avenues for users. Adding advertising tends to mean user privacy is compromised, as ads become increasingly targeted by the day; shutting a company down means all user data gets removed, and it’s up to each user to find a new product or service to fill the hole. Rinse and repeat.

Arguably worse is when the company and all attached user data is acquired. There’s very little control any user has over that decision: they may like the original product, but are uncomfortable with the new owner. These decisions are impossible to foresee: if you signed up for Flickr ten years ago, or Tumblr five years ago, would you be expecting your photos and blog posts to end up in the hands of Verizon today?

Source: Don’t Cry for Yahoo — Pixel Envy

We see the same thing in education. Hopefully, a vendor is successful and things go smoothly. But, corporate (or open source) failures, acquisitions, or changes of terms will all impact what happens to student data.

We need to make sure we own our data, or at the very least have workable backups and/or exports that can be quickly spun up if things go south.

Zygmunt Bauman: “Social media are a trap” | EL PAÍS

Q. You are skeptical of the way people protest through social media, of so-called “armchair activism,” and say that the internet is dumbing us down with cheap entertainment. So would you say that the social networks are the new opium of the people?

A. The question of identity has changed from being something you are born with to a task: you have to create your own community. But communities aren’t created, and you either have one or you don’t. What the social networks can create is a substitute. The difference between a community and a network is that you belong to a community, but a network belongs to you. You feel in control. You can add friends if you wish, you can delete them if you wish. You are in control of the important people to whom you relate. People feel a little better as a result, because loneliness, abandonment, is the great fear in our individualist age. But it’s so easy to add or remove friends on the internet that people fail to learn the real social skills, which you need when you go to the street, when you go to your workplace, where you find lots of people who you need to enter into sensible interaction with. Pope Francis, who is a great man, gave his first interview after being elected to Eugenio Scalfari, an Italian journalist who is also a self-proclaimed atheist. It was a sign: real dialogue isn’t about talking to people who believe the same things as you. Social media don’t teach us to dialogue because it is so easy to avoid controversy… But most people use social media not to unite, not to open their horizons wider, but on the contrary, to cut themselves a comfort zone where the only sounds they hear are the echoes of their own voice, where the only things they see are the reflections of their own face. Social media are very useful, they provide pleasure, but they are a trap.

Source: Zygmunt Bauman interview: Zygmunt Bauman: “Social media are a trap” | In English | EL PAÍS

SSL certificate updated

The SSL certificate I’d been using for this site had been about to expire, so I tried yanking it so I could replace it with something powered by Let’s Encrypt (which is backed by the EFF, Mozilla, Automattic, etc…). But, Let’s Encrypt doesn’t launch until the fall, so the timing wasn’t right. In the meantime, some browsers were throwing fits as some of the parts of my site were still trying to load via secure HTTPS connections, while others weren’t. Chaos and hilarity ensued. darcynormandotnetsslSo, I just threw some money at the problem to get a shiny new certificate from SSL2Buy to get the site back on the air. I’d been trying to set up a free certificate through StartSSL, but that just didn’t work (and Firefox still freaked out with the free certificate).

SSL really needs to be easier if it’s going to be used by more folks – especially important, since Firefox is trying to deprecate non-secure HTTP.

finding the balance between smothering with support and complete DIY

Social learning was one the major bets we made at HBX. It also yielded some of our most profound learnings. When students asked a question on the platform, we resisted the urge to jump in, instead leaving it to peers to do so. When students struggled with a concept, we resisted (even more) the urge to jump in and correct the group, but relied on peers to do so. The results were remarkable (and somewhat humbling if you’re an expert): in more than 90% of cases, questions were precisely and accurately answered by the peer group. One of our HBX CORe students had previously been the head teaching assistant (TA) for one of the most popular MOOCs (massive open online courses). He noted that a typical approach to intervention in online courses was to amass larger numbers of TAs, so that some “expert” was ready to intervene quickly on any question as it arose. One unintended consequence? “Soon, everyone expected the TA’s to answer questions. No one took it upon themselves to do so.”

“Trust the students,” we preach in our classrooms. It’s one of the hardest axioms to follow. The temptation for an expert, or a teacher, is to help at the first sign of confusion. But letting it simmer can aid learner discovery. Indeed, the power of collaboration comes when you trust the group so that they are strongly encouraged — forced, even — to resolve problems on their own. Let an expert intervene, and you could undermine collaboration itself.

Source: What Harvard Business School Has Learned About Online Collaboration From HBX – HBR (via a link from Scott McLeod)

I’ve been thinking about this article a lot, as I work through a proposal to set up a support program for instructors adopting various learning technologies. If we set up a bunch of infrastructure and people to answer all of their questions, they would become dependent on it. If we don’t set up any, they won’t be as likely to succeed. Somewhere in the middle. Somewhere.

In the proposal, I’m trying to set up a seed of “in the trenches” support out in the faculties, to work with instructors and take advantage of a direct understanding of pedagogy in various fields. I’m also trying to set up central and community supports to enhance what people are doing more broadly across our campuses. But, how to do that without short-circuiting collaboration that could (and should) be happening Out There™? We need to help to build capacity – in individual instructors, in teams, programs, departments, and faculties – without inadvertently training people to rely on Technology Experts That Know Everything™ (because they don’t exist, nor should they).


Downes on lectures

The point of a lecture isn’t to teach. It’s to reify, rehearse, assemble and celebrate.

via Stephen’s Web.

Stephen ended his post linking to Tony’s blog post with what appears to be a throwaway line. It’s not. This is where the tension is centred when it comes to teaching. Lectures aren’t teaching, but have been used as a proxy for teaching because how else are you going to make sure 300 students get the appropriate number of contact hours? Butts-in-seats isn’t a requirement anymore. We can do more interesting things. And we can then use lectures for what they are good at. To reify, rehearse, assemble and celebrate.

Windows 8 and office 2013

Installed windows 8.1 in a VM today for testing. Surprisingly, not hating it. Especially when running on an SSD, it’s quick. And I haven’t seen that damned spinning blue cursor yet. Kind of love the weather app with built-in ski reports… And writing blog posts from Word? Feels… wrong… but it might work. Never thought I’d say this, but I could actually use this without ranting non-stop (as I did during my last foray into Windows 7 – had to give up the Dell laptop because my blood pressure kept rising…)


UofC budget

I haven’t seen an official breakdown of the impact of provincial budget cuts on the UofC itself. Saw this mention in a related article on executive salary freeze:

In its 2013 budget released two weeks ago, the province cut the University of Calgary’s operational budget by about $32 million, or seven percent.

The university states that is equal to a nine percent difference in funding when it includes a two per cent increase which was promised in the 2012 budget.

via Wage freeze for U of C executives – Calgary – CBC News.

also, the 9% difference is even higher, when accounting for inflation. likely more info available in tomorrow’s town hall meeting.

glad I’m not an executive…

Gehl, R.W. (2013). What’s on your mind? Social media monopolies and noopower

Gehl, R.W. (2013). What’s on your mind? Social media monopolies and noopower. First Monday. 18(3).

On noopower1 through marketing and repetition extended into ubiquitous social media:

Operating within the larger political economy of advertising–supported media, it is not surprising that Facebook, Google, and Twitter mirror marketing’s penchant for experimentation and repetition. Software engineers working for these firms pore over data about what actions users most commonly take — that is, what is most often repeated within the architectures of the sites. These engineers then constantly tweak their interfaces, APIs, and underlying software to reinforce these actions and to produce (they hope) new ones. The tiny changes in the Google homepage, for example, are akin to ripples on the surface of a body of water caused by motion deep underneath, as software engineers seek to increase the attention and productivity of users of these sites.


Real–time data collection on links clicked and videos watched provide marketers with the data they need to experiment with different messages, images, sounds, and narrative structures, allowing them to tailor messages to target publics, and then this process is repeated, ad nauseam, in a cybernetic loop. Behavioral tracking of users allows marketers to repeat messages across heterogeneous Web sites as users visit them, as well as make sales pitches via mobile devices as users travel through space. The messages that result in sales are repeated; those that do not are archived (perhaps they will be useful later). Liking, “+1”ing, or retweeting an ad enters users into a contest to win a trip to the theme park built around the movie that was based on the video game currently being advertised, a game in which the main character must use social media to build a following to solve a crime. All of this is, of course, a marketer’s dream: the observation, experimentation upon, and ultimate modulation of the thoughts of billions, the chance to increase what they call (in some of the most frightening language imaginable) “brand consciousness” over other forms of consciousness and subjectivity. It is the reduction of the scope of thought to a particular civic activity. It is the production of the flexible and always–willing global consumer as the real abstraction of our time. Consumption über alles.


Thus, to counter the reductive noopower operating in and through the social media monopolies, activists and technologists must create systems that allow for radical thought and heterogeneous uses, for differences that make a difference. The alternatives to social media monopolies must be built with protocols, interfaces, and databases all designed to promote new political thinking — noopolitical thinking — and to resist reduction of thought to repeated marketing messages of all varieties. We all can agree that this is probably impossible, but we always must keep a better future on our minds as we work with what we have on our minds.

  1. “power over minds, power over thoughts” []

Bassett, C. (2013). Science, delirium, lies?

The potential for thinking through new re–combinations, new ways to draw up code and language into a new media politics are suggestive. But I want finally to return to the question this article began with: more or less? This text has been framed by a belief that social media monopolies ought to be disrupted — and in the name of at least two of the things they are axiomatically understood to promote (social justice, solidarity as a form of community) and do not. It has been argued that this disruption might be attempted through a toolset — silence, disruption of language, and the exploitation of language’s capacity for polysemy (the metaphor and the lie) — that is not often considered as apt for such a task. My conclusion, and here I return to salute Ivan Illich, is that these tools can be deployed to produce other kinds of more convivial engagements — a better commons — than our apparently ‘social’ media enable. Above all, I have wished to take seriously the idea that communication density, and increasing communicational volume, does not — in and of itself — indicate more understanding, freedom, openness, or ‘good’. To make this case demands also taking seriously the idea of a media politics that begins with silence.

Bassett, C. (2013). Science, delirium, lies?. First Monday [Online]. 18(3).

Post-secondary budgets cuts a surprise, U of C president says – Calgary – CBC News

Operational grants for Alberta colleges and universities are being slashed by about $147 million for the next year — almost seven per cent.

University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon told CBC News the university was expecting a two per cent increase for each of the next three years.

via Post-secondary budgets cuts a surprise, U of C president says – Calgary – CBC News.