Tag: computing

I am not Richard Stallman

Introduction

Yesterday I headed to Lifehacker to get my weekly dose of their excellent ‘How I Work’ series. However, this week they decided to hand it over to readers using their blogging platform (Kinja). I decided to take part and you can see my response here (warning: includes photo of my messy study!)

Marc Scott picked up on this via Twitter and wrote a masterful post entitled How I Do My Computing by !=Richard Stallman. A sample:

The Internet on my laptop runs really slowly and it’s quite difficult to see sites because of all the toolbars that take up half of the screen. Also when I load the Internet I get annoyed by all the pop-ups that suddenly appear for adult dating sites and on-line gambling. I used to get lots of annoying messages on the Internet about things like ActiveX, but a friend showed me how to change my security settings so they don’t come any more.

Class.

I am not Richard Stallman

At the end of Marc’s post he linked to original post by Stallman (of which his was a parody).

Wow. Stallman is hardcore:

I occasionally use X11 for tasks that need graphics, but mostly I use a text console. I find that the text console is more efficient and convenient for the bulk of the work I do, which is editing text.

and:

I generally do not connect to web sites from my own machine, aside from a few sites I have some special relationship with. I fetch web pages from other sites by sending mail to a program (see git://git.gnu.org/womb/hacks.git) that fetches them, much like wget, and then mails them back to me. Then I look at them using a web browser, unless it is easy to see the text in the HTML page directly. I usually try lynx first, then a graphical browser if the page needs it.

That’s as close to tinfoil hat-wearing as it actually gets.

The Moral

As Seth Godin often says, we need to surround ourself (intellectually, if we can’t physically) with outliers in order to challenge our thinking:

The crowd has more influence on us than we have on the crowd. It’s not an accident that breakthroughs in music, architecture, software, athletics, fashion and cuisine come in bunches, often geographic. If you need to move, move. At least change how and where you exchange your electrons and your ideas.

After all, as they say, bad habits are like a comfortable bed: easy to get into but hard to get out of.

There’s a political theory called the Overton window that is used to describe the narrow range of ideas that the public will accept. The degrees of acceptance goes like this:

Overton assigned a spectrum of “more free” and “less free”, with regard to government intervention, oriented vertically on an axis. When the window moves or expands along this axis, an idea at a given location may become more or less politically acceptable as the window moves relative to it. The degrees of acceptance[4] of public ideas can be described roughly as:

  • Unthinkable
  • Radical
  • Acceptable
  • Sensible
  • Popular
  • Policy

So at the start of the year, before the NSA revelations, it would be Unthinkable for an ‘ordinary’ person to adopt anything close to  Stallman’s approach. Now, however, it’s at least Radical if not Acceptable or Sensible.

Conclusion

I’m not suggesting that we crypto everything or become paranoid to the extent that it consumes us. What I am suggesting (and what I’m doing myself) is to review the connected technologies and services I’m using. If you want to do something similar then I highly recommend you check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Who Has Your Back? 2013 and, if you’ve never used Linux before, give elementaryOS a spin.* It’ll probably be an upgrade from what you’re using.

Questions? Comments? I want to read them. Add yours below!

Image CC BY-NC Maurizio Scorianz


*Want to go a step further? Try Tails.

On ‘rigour’ in definitions of digital and web literacy.

Update: For the latest information on the Web Literacy standard work, head to http://mzl.la/weblitstd


TL;DR version: If we define rigour as something that’s ‘unchanging’ and ‘objective’ then it’s almost impossible to be ‘rigorous’ about digital and web literacy. Instead, I propose that instead of being rigorous that we’re relevant, even if that’s at the expense of some objectivity.


Here’s an interesting one. I occasionally get corralled into Twitter conversations as someone who knows about something or other. Today, it was Miles Berry after being asked why the new draft National Curriculum should include ‘digital literacy’. The assumption by his interlocutor (Bruce Nightingale) was that in order for a subject to be included in a programme of study it should be ‘rigorously defined’ with a ‘body of knowledge’ behind it.

When I asked whether rigour means ‘has a definition everyone agrees on’ Bruce pointed me towards this blog post by Jenny Mackness on ‘academic rigour’. The conversation quickly became too nuanced to do justice in 140-character bursts, hence this follow-up blog post. I hope Bruce has time to reply.

In Jenny’s post she talks about finding definitions of ‘academic rigour’ unsatisfactory. I’d suggest that’s because it’s a kind of Zeugma, an ambiguous term. But let’s just focus upon ‘rigour’. The Oxford English Dictionary (probably the best place to resort when faced with knotty problems of definition) gives the etymology of ‘rigour’ as:

Etymology:  < Anglo-Norman and Middle French rigour, Middle French rigeur, rigueur (French rigueur ) inflexible severity, severity, harshness (12th cent. in Old French), strict application (of laws) (13th cent.), feeling of tingling or prickling (a1365 in medical context), (in plural) repressive measures (15th cent.), cruelty (15th cent.), harshness that is difficult to bear (end of the 15th cent., of cold, etc.), exactitude, precision (1580) and its etymon classical Latin rigor unbending quality, stiffness, rigidity, numbness, numbness of the body in fever, unyielding hardness, frozen condition, quality of being stiffly erect, tautness, inflexibility, sternness, severity, uncouthness < rig?re to be stiff (see rigent adj.) + -or -or suffix. Compare Old Occitan rigor (1461), Catalan rigor (14th cent.), Spanish rigor (13th cent.), Portuguese rigor (14th cent.), Italian rigore (a1320).

I can’t help but think when I see words like ‘harshness’, ‘cruelty’, ‘exactitude’, ‘precision’, ‘rigidity’ and ‘inflexibility’ that we’re using the wrong word here. Applying such stringent measures to an ambiguous term like ‘digital literacy’ is problematic as ‘digital’ pertains to many different referents. To talk of rigour (as defined above), then, is verging on the ridiculous.

But does a lack of rigour around a subject, topic or idea make it less valuable? I’d suggest not. Instead, I’d suggest it’s the terminology we’re using that’s problematic. Let’s take another example: the idea of academic ‘impact’. What, exactly, does that mean? You may well be able to draw up a framework or points for this or that, rewarding academics for performing certain activities and publishing in various places. But what about obvious areas of ‘impact’ that lie outside of that rigid framework? Rigour does not mean relevancy. Sometimes the problem is with the tools you are using rather than the thing you are trying to describe. It’s OK for things to be nebulous and slightly intangible.

Having spent several years of my adult life delving into the murky world of new literacies I’d suggest that (for example) helping young people learn how to use digital devices, how to think computationally, and how to stay safe online are extremely relevant things to be doing. Can we boil these activities down to things to be learned once for all time? Of course not. It’s hard enough when you’ve got a single referent (e.g. the Web)

So, in conclusion, I’ll see your definition of ‘rigour’ and raise you a ‘relevance’. Not everything that is valuable can be measured objectively. Nor should it be.

Image CC BY-NC-SA Josh Clark

In defence of digital literacies.

Guardian digital literacies article

Earlier this week the Guardian Higher Education network published something of mine as Resurrect computer science – but don’t kill off ICT. I had originally given it the title In defence of digital literacies as I didn’t want the focus to be upon Computer Science vs. ICT.

C’est la vie.

There’s some interesting and useful comments – and the opposite of that – on the Guardian site. Please do contribute if you’ve got something constructive to add!

Link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2012/jan/24/digital-literacy-in-school

(I also attended #LWF12 this week and have written up my thoughts on it here)

My Computing History

BBC Owl logoSpurred on by Andrew Field’s new ICThistory.co.uk site, Dave Stacey reminisces about the computers of his youth in Early Computer Memories. The venerable Mr Field needs more examples of this to share with his ICT students, and I’m always happy to oblige. It has meant I’ve had to do some thinking about when these memories I have actually happened!

I suppose it’s relevant here to say that at the time of this post being published I’m 28 years old, being born in December 1980.

BBC Micro

My Dad was Deputy Head of the high school (13-18) I eventually attended. I can remember him bringing back a BBC Micro that must have cost the school a fair chunk of cash. Given that the BBC Micro was discontinued in 1986, it couldn’t have been long after that he started bringing it home in the school holidays. I can distinctly remember having to type in lines and lines of code to play a game called Duck Hunt. There was no way for me to save it once I’d programmed it in, so there was more typing than playing going on! I don’t think it was exactly the same as this version for the Nintendo NES, but it was similar…

My Dad also brought an Acorn Computer back once, but as we had no games for it, we (my younger sister and I), didn’t really use it.

Nintendo NES

I was never allowed to have a games console, my parents being of the belief (quite rightly) that I’d just spend my life playing video games. One of my friends who I only saw outside of school time had a Nintendo Entertainment System, which was legendary – Super Mario and the like made me a frequent visitor to his house!

Amiga 600

As my birthday is very close to Christmas, I was in the fortunate situation of being able to combine the money that would be spent on present for me to get one ‘big’ present. Given that the Amiga 600, according to Wikipedia, went into production in 1992 and was discontinued in 1993, I must have received it for birthday/Christmas 1992. As a 12-year-old, I can remember going to Canterbury when we were on a family holiday and my parents buying Lemmings and Kick Off 2 for me. Although, theoretically, the Amiga 600 was a computer and a games console, I never did anything other than play games on it! 😉

Sega Megadrive

Whilst I had my Amiga 600, another friend had a Sega Megadrive. This was my first experience of Sonic the Hedgehog and I found the graphics on it amazing – especially when the 32X add-on was released!

Compaq Presario Pentium 75

My Dad had brought home his 486DX-powered PC during the holidays during 1994 and 1995. It was upon this that I learned how to touch-type with a version of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing that came free on the front of a magazine. Then – and I’m not sure how I managed to do this – I persuaded my parents to spend £1,500 in Bainbridges (now John Lewis) on a Pentium 75-powered PC. I think I promised that it would not only be a combined birthday and Christmas present for 1995, but for 1996 and 1997 as well!

I can remember playing Sim City 2000 and especially, the Secret of Monkey Island on this machine. My sister and I would return from school and be straight on the PC trying to figure out the next puzzle! I also had Sensible Soccer, a flight simulator, and some other games.

It was with this machine, however, and Windows 95 that I began to use the PC as a computer rather than a console. Before Freeserve, you had a choice between paying Compuserve or AOL around £15 per month on top of dial-up charges to access the Internet. My PC had a 28.8kbps modem – twice the speed of the previous 14.4kbps standard.

There was no way that my parents were going to pay this to allow me access to a resource they didn’t see as necessary to my education. I tried and tried and tried to persuade them, but when they didn’t agree I decided to take matters into my own hands. I used my Dad’s credit card to sign up for a 30-day Compuserve trial, and then used the Internet when my parents were not using the phone. This, of course, was slightly dangerous as, if they’d picked up the phone when I was online, they would have been able to hear the giveaway noises. I had to go to a phone box and pretend to be my Dad after about 29 days to cancel my (his!) Compuserve account, and make sure I wasn’t connected for longer than an hour. Billing was only itemised for calls over 60 pence, you see… :-p

In 1997, as a 16-year-old, I was getting a bit fed-up of Windows 95. I’d read about Open Source Software and Linux in particular. Although by now I had a 56kbps modem and my parents allowed me online via Freeserve, downloading anything substantial over this connection speed was painful. I bought a book with a title something like Teach yourself Red Hat Linux in 24 hours. Despite the book that came with it, I couldn’t get Linux to work properly on my PC.

More PCs

I can remember getting an ‘overdrive’ processor. This fitted on top of the existing Pentium 75 processor I had and took it up to something like 150mhz. Then started the period of me building computers to my own specification. I can remember spending the £1000 left to me when my Great Auntie passed away on components for an AMD-K6-2/400 computer I took to university with me in 1999. Of course, I should have invested that money as the computer became outdated very quickly. I had word-processed my essays in Sixth Form on my PC and done some research on the Internet.

I should probably also mention that John Roden, my Physics teacher, introduced our class to Dreamweaver and creating websites. My first was hosted via the webspace I had via my Freeserve account and was basically a Monty Python fan site called BiggusDickus.net. I put sound clips and images on there that I captured directly from the VHS video I had of the Monty Python films. 😀

At university, I continued to upgrade my PC and replace parts until it was pretty much the Ship of Theseus!

LG Phenom Express

Towards the end of my time in Sheffield, I bought an LG Phenom Express. This was a Windows CE sub-notebook that I could take to lectures and seminars to take notes. It was touchscreen too! The only bad thing was that you had to connect and transfer information to your PC via serial cable. It wasn’t really a computer in its own right.

I bought the LG Phenom Express from eBay, and was my most expensive purchase on there during my time at uni. I then sold it for about the same price as I bought it a year later in 2002.

Compaq Presario becomes MP3 jukebox

After my undergraduate degree in Philosophy, I decided to move back in with my parents and do an MA in Modern History at the University of Durham. This was 2002/3.  During this period, with lots of free time on my hands, I hacked and modified my ageing Compaq Presario to turn it into an MP3 jukebox. It was running a cut-down version of Windows 98 and Winamp and the track titles were displayed on a Matrix Orbital LCD I imported from Canada. I got stung for about £50 import duty on that! It worked reasonably well, but took some time to boot up…

Energy efficient PC

After getting married in 2003, my wife and I decided not to have a television. We couldn’t really afford to buy one and pay the TV license and, as we were both training to be teachers, didn’t have time either. We did watch DVDs on my PC, though.

When we moved down to the Doncaster area, I decided that I needed to have a machine that didn’t cost us much to run. I also wanted it to be near-silent. I used the components from QuietPC.com to build a machine that was mainly used for web browsing and downloads. It worked really well. 😀

I was dabbling with Linux again, but didn’t really have much success.

Laptop era

When laptops started coming down in price, I bought myself one. It was a Compaq laptop that I managed to get cheaply via a special offer. It would have been 2005 and I believe it was processor with a speed around 1Ghz. I’d researched it on the Internet and it seemed like a good deal. Of course it was impossible to upgrade in the same way desktop PCs are, but a lot more portable!

I kept on dabbling with Linux, and Ubuntu – the new kid on the block – worked reasonably well. I still couldn’t rely on it for day-to-day use, though. 🙁

Since that first laptop, I’ve many and various laptops. I’ve had a few, mainly cheap, Windows-powered laptops but then, with the release of the Macbook in 2006, I decided to delve into the world of Mac. It wasn’t such a risky proposition as OSX-powered Macbooks can still dual-boot Windows via Boot Camp. Nowadays I run Windows XP on a virtual desktop via VMware Fusion on my Macbook Pro when I need to run a Windows-only program. 🙂

Xbox

I bought a console for the first time in 2005 – but not to play games on! I bought, from eBay, a modified Xbox that could run Xbox Media Center (XBMC). This, in conjunction with a NAS drive, meant we could watch programmes and films encoded in DivX format via our TV! This is largely in disuse now, as Nick Dennis has loaned us his AppleTV (which I’ve also modified to run Boxee and XBMC)

Netbooks

In 2008 I bought my first netbook – an Asus Eee 701. Although this was amazingly small and cool, the 7″ screen was just too small. I then sold that and bought an Advent 4211 that I managed to hack to run Mac OSX. However, when I used my E-Learning budget at school to buy some Asus Eee 1000‘s, I decided to sell it on eBay.

Apple iPhone

In October 2008 I replaced my ageing Nokia N95 with an Apple iPhone 3G. This is my computer and Internet connection on-the-move. It’s a joy and a wonder to behold, and a paradigm shift in terms of always-on, ubiquitous access to online content. 🙂

Conclusion

So there we are. I’ve had many and varied computers, and the pace of upgrade and change has certainly accelerated as I’ve grown older. I’m really happy in an Apple-powered world, as everything ‘just works’ and I can concetrate on being productive and on the things I enjoy doing. My wife has a Macbook, and these are both backed-up continuously to an Apple Time Capsule. These days, if I want to tinker with something, it will be software – usually something to do with my websites – rather than hardware.

As I write this, my son is playing next to me. His earliest computing memory will probably be a more powerful machine than the Macbook Pro he sees me using now. Given the pace of development in the twenty years of my computing history, I can’t even imagine what his will be like when he gets to my age! 😮

 

 

 

 

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