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NVC and FONT

This week, for various reasons, I’ve been finding out more about Nonviolent Communication, or ‘NVC’ for short:

NVC theory supposes that all human behavior stems from attempts to meet universal human needs, and that these needs are never in conflict; rather, conflict arises when strategies for meeting needs clash. NVC proposes that people should identify shared needs, which are revealed by the thoughts and feelings surrounding these needs, and then they should collaborate to develop strategies and make requests of each other to meet each other’s needs. The goal is interpersonal harmony and learning for future cooperation.

Wikipedia

It’s a difficult thing to search for given, well, fonts, but yesterday Abi Handley gave me an overview of the FONT approach that Outlandish have taken from NVC, which stands for:

  • Feelings
  • Observations
  • Needs
  • Thoughts

Despite the order of this acronym, the aim is to acknowledge your own feelings, observations, and thoughts, and get to the needs you have in any given situation.

I don’t have much knowledge or experience with NVC, but found FONT very useful yesterday when it was important for me to push past what I was feeling to get to a solution/resolution. I simply opened my notes app, and wrote some bullet points under feelings, observations, and thoughts, before getting to needs.

I’m not sure how well it scales to really deep-seated issues we may face in life, but for nipping things in the bud that could escalate, I found FONT useful this week.


This post is Day 48 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com

Kettled by Big Tech?

Yesterday on Mastodon, I shared with dismay Facebook’s decision to impose ‘login via Facebook account’ on the Oculus range of products. If, like me, you have an Oculus VR headset, but don’t want a Facebook account, then your device is going to become pretty useless to you.

The subsequent discussion included a request not to share links to the Oculus blog due to the number of Facebook trackers on the page. Others replied talking about the need to visit such sites using Firefox multi-account containers, as well as ensuring you have adblockers and other privacy extensions installed. One person likened it to needing an “internet condom” because “it’s a red light district out there”.

I struggle to explain the need for privacy and my anti-Facebook stance to those who can’t just see the associated problems. Sexualised metaphors such as the above are illustrative but not helpful in this regard.

Perhaps a police tactic to contain and disperse protesters might serve as a better analogy?

Kettling (also known as containment or corralling) is a police tactic for controlling large crowds during demonstrations or protests. It involves the formation of large cordons of police officers who then move to contain a crowd within a limited area. Protesters either leave through an exit controlled by the police or are contained, prevented from leaving, and arrested.

Wikipedia

The analogy might seem a little strained. Who are the protesters? Do the police represent Big Tech? What’s a ‘demonstration’ in this context?

However, let’s go one step further…

[K]ettling is sometimes described as “corralling,” likening the tactic to the enclosure of livestock. Although large groups are difficult to control, this can be done by concentrations of police. The tactic prevents the large group breaking into smaller splinters that have to be individually chased down, thus requiring the policing to break into multiple groups. Once the kettle has been formed, the cordon is tightened, which may include the use of baton charges to restrict the territory occupied by the protesters.

Wikipedia

In this situation, the analogy is perhaps a little easier to see. Protesters, who in this case would be privacy advocates and anti-surveillance protesters, are ‘kettled’ by monopolistic practices that effectively force them to get with the program.

Whether it’s Facebook buying Oculus and forcing their data collections practices on users, or websites ‘breaking’ when privacy extensions are active, it all gets a bit tiring.

Which brings us back to kettling. The whole point of this tactic is to wear down protesters:

Peter Waddington, a sociologist and former police officer who helped develop the theory behind kettling, wrote: “I remain firmly of the view that containment succeeds in restoring order by using boredom as its principle weapon, rather than fear as people flee from on-rushing police wielding batons.

Wikipedia

It’s a difficult fight to win, but an important one. We do so through continuing to protests, but also through encouraging one another, communicating, and pushing for changes in laws around monopolies and surveillance.


This post is Day 35 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com

Sort-of breaking up with Cloudflare

Cloudflare provides a few services which a lot of the web relies upon. The ones I have been using are free, namely…

1. Content Delivery Network

A content delivery network, or content distribution network (CDN), is a geographically distributed network of proxy servers and their data centers. The goal is to provide high availability and performance by distributing the service spatially relative to end users.

Wikipedia

In other words, a CDN speeds up your site for users, protects you site if it suddenly becomes popular, and can notify you if your site is down.

Cloudflare was down yesterday for a time, and it made me realise that I don’t really need it for my sites. So I removed it.

2. DNS resolution

A DNS resolver, also known as a resolver, is a server on the Internet that converts domain names into IP addresses.

When you use the Internet, every time you connect to a website using its domain name (such as “computerhope.com”), your computer needs to know that website’s IP address (a unique series of numbers). So your computer contacts a DNS resolver, and gets the current IP address of computerhope.com.

[…]

The DNS resolver contacted by your computer is usually chosen by your ISP (Internet service provider). However, you can configure your network to use a different DNS provider, if you choose. This configuration can be modified in your operating system’s network settings, or in the administration interface of your home network router.

Computer Hope

Although I have an awesome, trustworthy ISP, I’ve used a DNS resolver for years. Recently I switched from using Cloudflare’s 1.1.1.1 service locally on my machines, to using 1.1.1.1 for families on our home router. This blocks both malware and adult content.

I’m going to keep using Cloudflare’s DNS resolver for now as it’s useful, fast, and it’s clear that they make their money from upselling to their VPN services.


This post is day nine of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com

Domains, decentralisation, and DNS

Today I attended a session at the OER20 (online!) conference entitled At the scale of care. Not only was it a great session in its own right, but it got me thinking again about ‘untakedownable’ websites.

You see, the problem, as presenters Lauren Heywood, Jim Groom, and Noah Mitchell pointed out, is that, if we use the metaphor of a house, we can never control our address.

Image of house (=website), land (=web hosting), and address (=domain)
A Plot of Land: get to know your new web space (CC BY-NC 4.0)

This is something I’ve been concerned about for ages, but particularly over the last five years. For example, see:

In fact, my thinking around this took me to decentralisation, and directly to my work on MoodleNet.


As Jim mentioned in answer to my question at the end of the session, it’s like the ‘dirty secret’ of the internet is that we’re all sharecroppers in a rentier economy. Why? Because we can never truly ‘own’ our address on the internet; we can only ever (as Maha Bali and Audrey Watters have both discussed) pay money to a central registry.

We can do better than this. I’ve experimented with ZeroNet and, to a lesser extent, IPFS. The latter was actually used to circumvent the government’s crackdown on ‘illegal’ Catalan elections while I was in Spain in late 2017.


I don’t think I’m quite ready to give up on the web as a platform, but I am sick to my back teeth of the way that it is controlled by interests that don’t align with my own. Given that I make my living online, this concerns me professionally as well as personally.

There are several approaches to decentralising ownership of the ‘address’ system on the web. First, let’s just check we’re on the same page here and define some terms. When I’m talking about ‘addresses’ then technically-speaking I’m talking about the Domain Name System, or ‘DNS’:

The Domain Name System (DNS) is a system used to convert a computer’s host name into an IP address on the Internet. For example, if a computer needs to communicate with the web server example.net, your computer needs the IP address of the web server example.net. It is the job of the DNS to convert the host name to the IP address of the web server. It is sometimes called the Internet’s telephone book because it converts a Website’s name that people know, to a number that the Internet actually uses.

Wikipedia (Simple english version)

The DNS system is extremely important, but also, because it depends on an ‘official’, more centralised registry, quite brittle. For example, governments can censor websites and web services, or hackers can target them to take them offline.

As you would expect, many people have already thought about a fully decentralised DNS. Using this system, people and organisations could truly own their address. I actually have one of these: dougbelshaw.bit

Of course, nothing happens when you click on that link, because you’d need a special plugin or separate browser that understands the non-standard DNS system. So this is where it starts getting reasonably technical and regular web users switch off and go back to looking at pictures of cats.


It’s important that there needs to be some kind of ‘cost’ to reserving domain names, no matter how decentralised the system is. Otherwise, someone could just come along and snap up every possible permutation.

That’s why, inevitably, things point back to the blockchain, and in particular, Namecoin. This satisfies Zooko’s Triangle:

CCo Dominic Scheirlinck

This is better than the way ZeroNet works, for example, where each site has a long address more confusing than a unique Google Docs URL.

However, let’s just think about the steps involved here:

  1. Open a namecoin wallet
  2. Buy some namecoins
  3. Use your namecoins to buy a .bit address
  4. Set up your website to resolve to the .bit address
  5. Ask your website visitors to either install the PeerName browser extension or set up NMControl to act as their computer’s local DNS server

So after all of this, you’re still left with the need to ask website visitors to change their browsing habits — and to do so on a non-decentralised DNS site. In addition, the Namecoin FAQ states that .bit ‘owners’ may have to pay renewal fees in future.


So that’s the current state of play for web-based decentralised DNS systems. Outside of the web, of course, things can work very differently. Take Briar messenger, for example:

Diagram of Briar connections over bluetooth, wifi, and Tor

It uses the BTP protocol, meaning it can be fully decentralised, and works over a number of different connection types:

Bramble Transport Protocol (BTP) is a transport layer security protocol suitable for delay-tolerant networks. It provides a secure channel between two peers, ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, authenticity and forward secrecy of their communication across a wide range of underlying transports.

Briar project

So for example, just like other delay-tolerant protocols, such as Scuttlebutt, Briar is extremely resilient.

Sharing data with Briar via wifi, bluetooth & internet

As ever, Open Source projects are more secure and robust than their proprietary counterparts. This is the reason that Open Source software runs much of the ‘backoffice’ services for online services.


The real difficulty we’ve got here, and I make no apologies for highlighting it due to this particular crisis, is capitalism. In particular, the neoliberal flavour that hoovers up ‘intellectual property’ and farms users for the benefit of surveillance capitalism.

Over the course of my career, people have told me that they “just want something that works”. Well, it’s well beyond the time when things should just technically work. It’s time that things ‘just worked’ for the benefit of me, of you, and of humanity as whole.

How domain names resolve might seem like such a small and trivial thing given the challenges the world is facing right now. But it’s important how we come out of this crisis: are we going to allow governments, Big Tech, and the 1% to double-down on their ability to repress us? Or are we going to fight against this, and take back control of not only our means of (re-)production, but our homes online?

Why e-safety isn’t part of digital literacy (and never will be).

Increasingly, I’m realising that there are unsaid words that precede almost any statement involving a connotative element. What are those words?

Let me tell you a story…

Given the potential for almost any word in any language to be used metaphorically, storytelling is happening pretty much most of the time.

So here’s my story.

Digital literacy, despite the heated debate going on behind the relevant page at Wikipedia isn’t computer literacy. It isn’t media literacy either. And it’s certainly not e-safety.

Including e-safety as an input, as a constituent part of, digital literacy makes no sense at all. It’s like defining traditional (print) literacy by describing behaviour in libraries (or what you can do with a book). What lies behind this approach is the assumption that a collection of competencies makes a literacy, which isn’t true: a collection of competencies is a skillset. And one only has to refer to Searle’s Chinese Room argument to see the fallacy behind equating a skillset with any form of understanding.

No, e-safety is an output of digital literacy, something that flows out of it once an individual is fluent. Fluency is the top end of the literacy scale – and fluency is the result of practice. To divorce e-safety from practice, to conceive it as something that can be taught in isolation is ill-advised and, ultimately, futile.

So stop building your creepy treehouses, and start thinking holistically about literacy and education more generally. Avoid digital Taylorism, and start debating about what it is we’re trying to do here. If we’re truly trying to protect and educate our young people we need to know what it is we’re protecting them from, why we’re doing it, and the best ways of going about it.

Scaring people with statistics and horror stories perpetuates the wrong type of responses (e.g. blocking) and avoids the problem. Let’s tackle it head-on. Let’s start focusing on digital literacy.

Update: Fixed incorrect link.

#uppingyourpresentation

Anyone should be able to present on anything of which they’ve got a basic grasp.

That’s the theory.

A group of us at work meet together every so often to improve our skills in a certain area. On Monday it’s presentations. My first thought was to present using a single image related to a random Wikipedia article. However, this is what came up:

Hence my tweet asking for a random subject and method of presentation for an upcoming (informal) peer review session at work:

(click to enlarge)

I hadn’t come across Juxio before, so have decided to use that. As for the subject, I really like Lou McGill‘s suggestion of dandelions as it had a connection to work (I collaborated with Lou on the OER infoKit for which we used a dandelion motif).

**Update***

Here’s my presentation as I delivered it. You may need to turn the sound up as the Flip camera was quite a distance away from me!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4j84T3y2GnA&w=640&h=505]

5 things I can do with my Kindle that you can’t with your dead-tree books.

1. Read things I save for later using Instapaper.

2. Sync highlights and comments to Evernote.

3. Search for a quotation or section in a book.

4. Look up a word in the built-in dictionary or a concept at Wikipedia.

5. Use the built-in 3G to navigate Google Maps via the browser.

UX: 5 valuable resources

I realised recently that the middle of my Venn diagram is ‘user experience’ (broadly considered) user outcomes. This incorporates what’s known as UX:

User eXperience (UX) is about how a person feels about using a system. User experience highlights the experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction (HCI) and product ownership, but it also covers a person’s perceptions of the practical aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency of the system. User experience is subjective in nature, because it is about an individual’s performance, feelings and thoughts about the system. User experience is dynamic, because it changes over time as the circumstances change. (Wikipedia)

Since then, I’ve been looking for resources that will help me sharpen my thinking around UX. Here’s five that I’ve come across:

  1. UX booth – a blog ‘by and for the User Experience community’.
  2. Chris Messina’s Design Patterns – a collection on Flickr of ‘interesting interfaces and design flows from around the web’. Definitely worth checking out!
  3. UX Myths – a collection of user experience misconceptions, with explanations of why they aren’t true.
  4. Smashing Magazine: 25 User Experience videos that are worth your time – the title says it all!
  5. UX Magazine – a really nicely laid-out site (as you’d hope!) settting out ‘to explore, promote & discuss the multiple facets of user experience one article at a time.’

Have you come across UX resources that would help? 😀

The problem with free stuff.

divieto?
Image: ‘divieto?

Background:

I like free stuff. I also like Open Source (OSS) stuff. I especially like FLOSS. OSS has a model that works:

In his 1997 essay The Cathedral and the Bazaar, open source evangelist Eric S. Raymond suggests a model for developing OSS known as the bazaar model. Raymond likens the development of software by traditional methodologies to building a cathedral, “carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation”. He suggests that all software should be developed using the bazaar style, which he described as “a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches.” (Wikipedia)

The trouble is, the only real ‘model’ that non-OSS developers have for making software freely available is freemium: making basic services free whilst charging for more advanced features.

The problem:

Educators get upset when services they’ve been using (for free) get shut down. That’s understandable.

Why are educators using these free, online tools? Because those that are provided for them don’t cut the mustard. Why aren’t they paying for the more advanced (premium) features? Because they would have to pay for them personally.

Solutions:

  1. Encourage/dictate that staff and students use only Open Source software (if a developer leaves, the software is still there and you can find/pay someone to develop it further)
  2. Give staff (and students?) a budget to spend on software/web apps (a bit like a personal version of the ill-fated eLearning Credits system in the UK)
  3. Have a backup plan (what other services could you migrate to if the worst came to the worst?)

Conclusion:

If you don’t pay for it (or, if ad-supported, click on the ads) don’t grumble if it’s not there tomorrow.

Affinity spaces, secondary orality & digital epistemologies.


sfondo spaces azzurro

CC BY-SA misstitina86 @ Flickr

I’ve been trying to squeeze in my Ed.D. research when I can recently, sometimes rising well before the sun does! I’m at the stage (seedougbelshaw.com/thesis) where I’m nearing the end of my first run through my Literature Review. I want to have it pretty much finished when I have a video chat with my supervisor next week.

This post is to summarize what I’ve been learning (and attempting to synthesize) about so-called ‘affinity spaces’, ‘secondary orality’ and ‘digital epistemologies’. Much of the following comes from, or was thinking provoked by, Lankshear and Knobel’s New Literacies (2006). My notes on the books and articles mentioned, as ever, are available at dougbelshaw.com/wiki. 🙂


Literacy is all about communication. Literacy therefore is all about creating or reading texts for a particular purpose. This doesn’t change when we move into the realm of ‘digital literac(ies)’. It was Gee (2004) who came up with notion of ‘affinity spaces’. These spaces are characterized by the following elements (taken from this useful post):

  • A common endeavor is primary, not aspects such as race, class, gender, or disability that can often hinder communication.
  • Newbies, masters, and everyone else share common space
  • Some portals are strong generators (whatever gives the space some content)
  • Content organization is transformed by interactional organization
  • Both intensive and extensive knowledge are encouraged
  • Both individual and distributed knowledge are encouraged
  • Dispersed knowledge is encouraged
  • Tacit knowledge is encouraged and honored
  • Many different forms and routes to participation
  • Many different routes to status
  • Leadership is porous and leaders are resources

In other words, an affinity space is somewhere where informal learning takes place and which ‘bridge[s] barriers of age, race, socio-economic status, and educational level, and allow[s] each user to participate as he/she is able’ (Gee, 2005). They are hotbeds of literate practices.

Some – e.g. Davies (2006) – discuss the ‘Third Space’ that websites such as Flickr allow to flourish:

Third Space … constitutes the discursive conditions … that ensure that … even the same signs can be appropriated, translated, rhetoricized and read anew. (Bhabha, 1994 – quoted in Davies, 2006)

The example that is used time and again in the literature is that of Fan Fiction as the genre is a relatively stable one. Other affinity spaces tend to be characterised by memes. Knobel (2006) mentions that, indeed, affinity spaces are ‘perfect conduits’ for memes and that the former ‘can be fixed or fleeting and are always thoroughly relational in nature’. Lankshear & Knobel (2006:236) quote Gee as saying the following about affinity spaces:

[Affinity spaces are] specially designed spaces (physical and virtual) constructed to resource people [who are] tied together… by a share dinterest or endeavor… [For example, the] many many websites and publications devoted to [the video game, Rise of Nations] create a social space in which people can, to any degree they wish, small or large, affiliate with others to share knowledge and gain knowledge that is distributed and dispersed across many different people, places, Internet sites and modalities (magazines, chat rooms, guides, recordings).

It is clear even from the short introduction above that affinity are at the other end of the scale from the traditional classroom. They are based on interest rather than compulsion, the idea that everyone participating is of equal status rather than one person being in control, and emerging ‘rules’ rather than those imposed top-down.

The driving question behind my Ed.D. thesis is What does it mean to be digitally literate? Lankshear & Knobel (2006:243) make the point that definitions of digital literacy make little or no reference to memes, creativity or ‘digital playfulness’:

[T]he phenomenon of online memes challenges the growing dominance of ‘digital literacy’ conceptions of what it means to be a competent user of new technologies and networks… Digital literacy mindsets do not pay sufficient attention to the importance of social relations in developing, refining, remixing and sharing ideas in fecund and replicable ways, or to the important role that memes play in developing culture and creativity. (my emphasis)

The authors proceed to discuss Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You, comparing books with ‘networked texts’. Digital literacy, of course, is not necessary to read the former – but it’s perhaps the inherently social element of the latter that sets it apart from print-based classical conceptions of literacy.

It is this idea of ‘text plus something else’ that will lead me to bring in the work of Walter Ong to my thesis. Ong (1982, 2002:3) talks of ‘secondary orality’ – i.e. a set of social practices that resemble purely oral cultures but which are predicated upon technologies surrounding literacy:

The electronic age is also an age of ‘secondary orality’, the orality of telephones, radio, and television, which depends on writing and print for its existence.

Ong’s point (summarized well at Wikipedia) is that oral cultures are additive in a way that solely print-based cultures are not. Writing before the dawn of the internet, Ong rather presciently explained that oral cultures allow ideas to be revisited in different ways that books and articles often do not. Positions are less fixed. As Douglas (1998:160) puts it in relation to the internet, ‘when you spin an argument in hypertext, you can choose to represent a world that is strictly ‘either/or’ or one that is ‘and/and/and’.’ Chris Lott made an interesting presentation entitled Closing the Gutenberg Parenthesis related to this recently.

All of which takes us neatly to the question of digital epistemologies. I need to check out A New Literacies Sampler before actually writing this section of my thesis, but I’m fairly sure where I’m going in abstract. Epistemology is, of course, philosophical questions about the nature and scope of knowledge. Digital epistemologies, therefore, refer to how knowledge is different in a digital world. This obviously has an impact and a bearing upon notions of T/truth. Truth (with a capital ‘T’) is received – and often ‘revealed’ – truths about the world that cannot (or should not) be questioned. Education has often been like this, leading to a transmission model of education.

On the other hand, truth (with a small ‘t’) is provisional knowledge, tentative conclusions based upon available evidence. This is the Pragmatist position, a philosophical methodology I’m employing in my thesis. A lot of what happens online – in fact most of what happens online is concerned with truth with a small ‘t’. As Lankshear & Knobel (2006:242-3) put it:

[A] seemingly increasing proportion of what people do and seek within practices mediated by new technologies – particularly computing and communications technologies – has nothing directly to do with true and with established rules, procedures and standards for knowing. That is most emphatically not to say that these matters are no longer important. Rather, it is to draw attention to the fact that today’s learners are increasingly recruited to other values and priorities.

Given the nature of the above, it seems out of place to tie everything together into a neat conclusion at the end of this post. Suffice to say, therefore, that memes and their impact on affinity spaces, the concept of ‘secondary orality’ in respect to the internet, and the links between literacy, truth and epistemology will certainly be featuring towards the end of my literature review.

I’ve still quite a bit of work left to do on this, so do feel free to point me towards any related and useful blog posts, journal articles books, etc.! :-p

Bibliography

  • Davies, J. (2006) Affinities and Beyond! Developing Ways of Seeing in Online Spaces (E-Learning, 3:2, 2006)
  • Douglas, J.J. (1998) ‘Will the most reflexive relativist please stand up: hypertext, argument and relativism’ (in I. Snyder (ed.), Page to Screen, London, 1998)
  • Knobel, M. (2006) Memes and Affinity Spaces: some implications for policy and digital divides in education (E-Learning, 3:3, 2006)
  • Knobel, M. & Lankshear, C. (2006) New Literacies: Everyday Practices & Classroom Learning
  • Ong, W. (1982, 2002) Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word
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