Just Rambling

Feeling Safe and Secure?

Who hasn’t walked into a computer room and seen the sign –

I Haven’t Lost My Mind – It’s Backed Up On Tape Somewhere

Or, the more contemporary backed up to disk…

As you can imagine, you can buy T-shirts with this slogan at any of your favourite geekery  stores.

Hopefully, you didn’t miss World Backup Day yesterday and took the time to make sure that your computer disaster plan is good.  (and working)

As I look around here, I smile when I think that even the concept of backing up has changed over the years.  In the best business sense, it meant backing everything up to your favourite removable media, and storing it offsite. 

That’s probably a little overkill for the casual home user but creating that backup is indeed important.  But slipping a disk into the computer and making a copy belongs to a time long gone.

Around here:

  • my iPad is backed up to my MacBook;
  • my old iPod used for dog walking is similarly backed up;
  • my Macbook is backed up to an external hard drive;
  • my Ubuntu data is backed up to my Windows partitition;
  • my Phone pictures are backed up to Dropbox, with a copy on my Windows computer;
  • my Google Documents are in the cloud @ Google where I’m sure they’re well taken care of – local copies are made here, just in case;
  • my blog is backed up on BlogBooker which is stored on my Windows computer;
  • my Windows computer is backed up to an external hard drive.  It takes the most responsibility but it also has the biggest hard drive.

With all this paranoia, you might think that I’ve been burned.  Knock wood, I haven’t in a big way.  There have been a few minor losses but that’s due to operator error with things like improper versioning.

Things are different these days.  Rather than shipping a piece of media with your computer, manufacturers are putting a restore partition on the hard drive rather than the 2-3 cents a real DVD would cost.  The real test of a backup plan is to actually restore things.  I do that with my data but am hesitant to do that with the operating system itself.  With slow download speeds, it could be days restoring all the updates.  My exception to that is Ubuntu where I do a complete install with each update.  Why?  Each six months, it’s a total refresh, so why not?

Days like the World Backup Day are a good reminder of a management habit that should be done far more regularly than annually.  If you do have a plan, it could best serve as a reminder to check your procedures and test your backups to make sure that you’re not just backing up empty files.

How did YOU celebrate World Backup Day?

Just Rambling

The Last Asset

We do it all the time.

We make a major (or minor) purchase and we want it to last forever.  So, we fill out and send in the warranty card.  Or, perhaps our address and phone number are collected and put into a database at the Point of Sale.  We leave with the peace of mind that we’re covered – and the company has one new addition to its customer base.

We’ve all seen the words “We take your privacy seriously.”

Lest you feel overly comfortable with that, check out this story “RadioShack is selling tens of millions of email and home addresses“.  As with most stories like this, the comments are worth a good read as well as the original story from Bloomberg.  It’s not a slam towards Radio Shack; goodness knows that they were my primary source of computer material from my early Tandy days.  It’s the whole business concept that we need to point an eye to.

Of note in the post are the people who claim that this is a non-story – your information is bought and sold all the time.  It’s the stuff that makes for meal time unsolicited marketing phone calls. 

We live in a world where information is freely traded and used.  As an example, we owned one of the Cobalts that General Motors recalled because of the ignition switch problem.  We went back to the place of purchase which is no longer a Chevrolet dealership and were told that they couldn’t do the repairs; we had to go to an authorized General Motors dealer.  It made sense.  Now, since the repair (and addition to their contact database), we get regular contact from the sales department offering deals to get us to trade it in.  The contact information certainly has gone a long distance from us originally supporting a local dealer who has been great and supportive over the years.

In the article, there is an indication that it could get political with moves to block this.   It would be nice to get a definitive ruling, albeit in the United States.  But, we’re so close to each other in the form of business that it would catch the eye of our politicians as well.  While the original vendor may “take your privacy seriously”, your information may be the final asset that they have to address their bills.

As an individual, there’s not a great deal that can be done in the big scheme of things.  With all purchases, it’s OK to indicate “I’d rather not give you that information”.  Online, why not open an additional email account (in your name, of course, but separate from your main email account) for those services that require an email for access? 

It’s just another reason to keep your eyes open and consider the consequences should the worst happen.

As one of the commenters in the original post mentioned, “could you imagine if Google went bankrupt”?


Computers, Education, Just Rambling, learning

Cheaper Than a Psychologist

As more people turn to social media to get their message out, emotions flow as well.

It can come through in the messages that you share as well.

I just finished my morning read through my Flipboard account and thought that the time might be right to have my Twitter messages that I just shared analysed.  The utility “Analyze Words” is here to do the heavy lifting for me.

It’s just a matter of visiting the site and enter your Twitter ID and let it do its thing.  Here’s my current analysis.

I’ve been playing around with this for a while and it’s interesting to see how the results change depending upon the time of day, what I’m reading and sharing, and how I interact with others.  I just counted and read/shared about 20 news stories to my timeline so, presumably, the analysis comes from that.  Normally, my arrogance score is much higher.  <grin>

Even more important than the “what” is the “how” and the page devoted to the Science behind the site is interesting reading.

Hopefully you’re still here and haven’t run out to test yourself just yet.  Like all testing data, the results are from a moment in time.  Repeated application should provide more reasoned results.  I can’t help but think that, if you have a classroom Twitter account, this would be a very interesting way to analyse class conversations and to improve the use of Twitter as a reporting / annotation tool.

In the meantime, enjoy analysing yourself and you just know that you’re going to check out your friends and colleagues….

It’s so much cheaper than a session on the couch.

Just Rambling

Barn Doors and Tracking

A couple of days ago, I saw a retweet from a colleague who focuses on the negative educational things online about a new post from Audrey Watters “(Why) Does Your Education Website Collect Information about Visitors?“.  I read her article and, as usual, it’s well crafted and raises good issues along with concrete examples.  She does her homework.

I guess I share a bit of her carefulness with my own habits.

I use many of the same tools except that I use Ghostery instead of Privacy Badger in an attempt, I guess, to keep my browser from full speed. I use Lightbeam and check it periodically just to visualize the connected world in which I walk around kind of aimlessly at times.

So, I thought, he’s probably made his blog squeaky clean as a result of reading Ms. Watters’ post.

Well, not really.  According to Ghostery, there were 10 trackers that it blogged.  After typing that sentence, I went back just to make sure that I had the number correct and it was up to 11.  Interesting.

Of course, pointing fingers only counts when you point at yourself so I looked at this blog.  The results were a little different because I had whitelisted this site.  I actually remember when I did it.  I wanted to confirm that the Twitter button was working and so I whitelisted it to be sure and then just never turned the feature off.  Ghostery reports 5 trackers.

So, I scanned the list and wasn’t surprised with what I had seen.  In my mind, I knew the rationale – the Twitter button so that people could follow me; the Twitter list and Diigo list showing my interactions which may be more interesting than the actual content of the blog; Revolver maps just because I like the cool little map and the list of recent visitors.  It’s there to feed the narcissist in me.  But, if you ever want Exhibit A for a utility that knows where you are, this is it.  It even plots your login location.  Aside from all that, it’s a great utility to talk about IP addresses and location with students.  Then, there’s that graphic for Ontario Edubloggers.  What’s going on with that?  What information is being collected behind that?  (Nothing I can assure you – I personally made it as an image)  The content that is there is designed to make whatever I do easy to access.

Is there a call to action from this exercise?  Would clearing off all that make for a better experience?  Is it the noble thing to do?

It certainly would make loading the page a bit quicker!

I flipped to the Admin panel on WordPress.  It collects and displays a rich summary of activity to the website, including maps…  Here’s today’s visitors.

But that’s only the end website we’re talking about.  How about your browser?  After all, Internet Explorer is written by a huge corporation that stays in business by selling things.  Chrome is written by an equally as big corporation that makes money selling advertising.  Now, I’m not selling anything here except ideas.  In the original article, Ms. Watters points to a blog that does sell advertising.  Those advertising pieces are really intrusive and annoying.  I do like the fact that the addons that I do use blog them from ever appearing.  When you have slow internet access, you really appreciate it.

It’s a tough call.  It would be easy to say “get rid of it”.  Thinking it through though, it just gets rid of the outwardly visible.  If you’ve messed around with analytics, you know that you can minimize them to a single pixel on the screen so that nobody would see it.  I keep going back to the Lightbeam graphic.  It would be like closing the barn door after the cows are loose.  We’re well done this path.  Even if a single site stopped it, what about the rest?  And, would it be the end of the world if some advertiser knew that I was reading Ms. Watters’ content?  I guess they’d know I was much smarter after every visit.

As I dug into the analytics even further, I realize that there are far more people following the blog through email and other methods than that physically visit anyway.  Does their email program know what they’re doing?

Where does it all end?  I know my dog’s answer about shutting down and going for a walk is his answer to everything.  Perhaps he’s right.

Just Rambling

You Can’t Have It Both Ways

These are great words of advice from my father that seem appropriate to lead into this topic.

Social media was beside itself over the revelation that Pearson had monitored Twitter messages about its PARCC Testing.  (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers)  Confession – I had to do some research to understand just what PARCC is.

I think, like many people, I ended up on this blog post “BREAKING: Pearson, NJ, spying on social media of students taking PARCC tests“.  But that certainly wasn’t the only place to read the details.  The list goes on and on.

There was outrage directed at Pearson, the state education authority, school district, and the list goes on.  Read the story to get the details from that author’s perspective.

Let’s step aside from this for a moment and revisit this from a few years ago.

This video spawned all kinds of additional media.

According to the count, the original video has been viewed over 14 million times.  It’s spawned a book, a speaking job, additional videos…

You can believe that it certainly caught the attention of United Airlines.

We live in a time when people are not shy with taking their frustrations online to social media.  It’s one quick and effective way to get your message out and discover those who have similar opinions.  So, it’s not out of the ordinary to think that a student would use this as an outlet for whatever reason.  (The original post was taken down)  I don’t think that it’s equally out of the ordinary for Pearson to monitor the conversations around its business. 

So here’s where it gets interesting.  Social media is fine for taking on an airline but not for taking on educational testing?

Can you have it both ways?  If so, then someone needs to define the line between what’s right and what’s wrong.  That’s certainly not a decision that I would want to make.  How could you ever win?

If there’s something good to come from this, let me offer this.  We often hear the wisdom that if the answer to a question is “Google-able”, it’s not a good question.  Could we extend that to indicate that if, “a student Twitter message causes a whole system to crumble because of suspected cheating”, that it’s not a good test?

Is there a better alternative – like relying on the professionalism of teachers to teach the curriculum?

Just Rambling

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

When I went to university, my wife and I coined an expression on our trips in and around Waterloo.  “Super Snow”  It’s the stuff that remains when most of the other has melted.  Of course, you’d expect to see a lot of it at Chicopee but, this time of year, it’s in the ditches where the warmth of the weather is doing its work but the sun hasn’t found it yet.  As I look out the window, I see just a bit of Super Snow in the backyard.  Could this winter be coming to a conclusion?  Today is spring (and a bunch of other things…)

One thing remains consistent.  Even though it’s March Break, there’s still lots of thoughts and ideas from Ontario Edubloggers.

Our First Magazine Article!

Yet another great use for a blog.  Neil Finney and family are on an exchange in Australia and making a record of things by blogging about them here, on this blog specially crafted for the occasion.

Apparently, they’re celebrities and were interviewed for an Australian magazine.

Are Students Communicating?

That’s always a good question.  In this post devoted to the topic, Rola Tibshirani takes a look at some of the activities in her grade 5/6 classroom and reflects on that.

There’s a great deal to get your head around in this post.  Very Google intensive, Rola describes how the students are using mind mapping in Google Drive as well as using Google Forms as a platform for their reflections.  The activities were video recorded and included in the post.

Of particular interest were the sampling of student reflections that were shared at the bottom of the post.

I really enjoyed the post as it really demonstrated how you can pull various components together for a very rich learning experience.

Ontario Needs Teacher-Librarians

I once worked for a superintendent who told me once that a school would be well served if the principal took the best teacher in the school (however defined) and put her/him in the library as a resource for the entire school.  His logic was that this would be the best way to spread best practices and innovation across an entire school.

As we know, the talk and direction in many school districts is anything but this.  Get rid of teacher-librarians; move the books into the classrooms; put a lesser paid technician in the library to shelf and check books in and out…

I think these plans are made by administrators who were shushed too many times in elementary school so that those in the library could quietly sit and do their research on 20 year old encyclopedias.

I’ve seen so many resource centres / learning commons that blow that mindset out of the water.  Once again, though, a school district in financial problems is looking to solve them on the back of students.  You know the logic – “the kids can go to the public library instead”.  We never hear of a desire to get rid of physical education teachers with the logic “they can play baseball for a community team”.  Libraries always seem to be such easy targets.  The blame always gets passed along to funding formulas and policies.

Anita Brooks Kirkland takes on these and many other issues in this post that’s not a quick or easy read.  It’s well worth the time to read two or three times and then sit back and truly think – what would a school be like without a library and a passional teacher-librarian there to run it, collaborate with teachers, assist students, push classroom learning in non-traditional ways, teach and encourage digital literacy, provide learning space outside of regular classroom hours, support Canadian authors, evaluate and recommend new software and classroom computer approaches, …

Which Digital Overlord Do you Bow To?

Tim King’s recent post had me smiling.  When I read the title, and before reading the content, I looked around the place and I figured – a lot but equally.  Sony, Apple, Bose, Microsoft, Ubuntu, Bell, LaCie, and Wacom are immediately visible.  I know there’s Logitech in the drawer if I opened it.  I thought that might be the content of the post.

I was pleasantly surprised that this trip went beyond that to cell phones, digital rights, reading sources, unbricking, …

We’re pretty much screwed, I guess.  The refreshing part of the post was reading about some hacks.  Maybe there is hope somewhere.

My Digital Assessment Workflow With Google Drive & Sheets

You can always count on Kyle Pearce for a post with lots of screen captures and out of the box thinking.

In this post, he shows how he pulls together various online and digital resources to streamline his workflow.  The embedded YouTube video fleshes the content out even further.

As with most things, there is work for the teacher in the background to lay the groundwork and try to design an intuitive experience for the student.

He’s looking for thoughts and comments and suggestions.  Got some?  Share some!

Top 5 reasons to use #OneNote in your classroom

Cal Armstrong shares more of his learning with Microsoft products.  This time, it’s OneNote.

Check out his list of ideas.  You’ll see from the examples in the captures that Cal uses it pretty heavily in mathematics.  He’s got some interesting thoughts about Digital Ink, in particular.

As I indicated last time I shared some of Cal’s work, it would be nice if there were more folks talking about how they’re using the Office 365 product in their classroom.

As always, this week provided a wonderful collection of sharing and thoughts from Ontario Edubloggers.  Dig in and read the great content shared.

To my Ontario friends, I hope that you had a wonderful March Break and wish you all the best back in the classroom Monday.

Just Rambling

How Smart?

Are you old enough to remember the commercial “Is it live or is it Memorex?”  If so, you can probably appreciate how we work to get technology to do its best.  If not, you probably believe that it’s always been this way.  Either way, we know that it’s only going to get better with time.

Your reading today in this vein should include this article from the New York Times.  “If an Algorithm Wrote This, How Would You Even Know?”  Of course, articles written for the media are created by humans.  Right?  Read the article and you may never feel the same way about it again.

Computers try.  They try hard, and they’re getting better.

Now, on Twitter, I always encourage Ontario Educators to follow other Ontario Educators.  There’s huge power in learning from others who have the same conditions.  But, for today, I’m going to ask you to consider following another Ontario entity.  It’s the user Interesting_JPG.  From the University of Toronto Deep Learning on the Computer Science website, it’s part of a demonstration of a project to turn images to text.  I spent a great deal of time poking around their website to get a sense of how this might work.  It’s absolutely interesting and I’m guessing that the point is to make image recognition smarter by learning.

Attempts are posted to Twitter with image and descriptor.


In the beginning, it will be tough going, I suspect.  The images I’ve seen so far are not easy to interpret, but what happens as the machine learns and gets better?

By the way, I keep enough spelling and grammatical errors in this blog just to confirm to y’all that this is written by a person…