Replied to Some quick quotes on #edu106 and the power of #IndieWeb #creativity #edtechchat #mb by Greg McVerryGreg McVerry
....fun to figure out everything I wanted to do with my website,....gained a sense of voice...,...I’m so tired of all the endless perfection I see on social media......my relationship with technology changed....

After my initial posting on this yesterday, Greg shares a few more quotes from his students. It reminds me of the things both teachers and students said at the end of my 2008 project at Rotterdam university for applied sciences. There, a group of teachers explored how to use digital technology, blogs and the myriad of social web tools, to both support their own learning and change their teaching. The sentiments expressed are similar, if you look at the quotes in the last two sections (change yourself, change your students) of my 2009 posting about it. What jumps out most for me, is the sense of agency, the power that comes from discovering that agency.

Next week it is 50 years ago that Doug Engelbart (1925-2013) and his team demonstrated all that has come to define interactive computing. Five decades on we still don’t have turned everything in that live demo into routine daily things. From the mouse, video conferencing, word processing, outlining, drag and drop, digital mind mapping, to real time collaborative editing from multiple locations. In 1968 it is all already there. In 2018 we are still catching up with several aspects of that live demonstrated vision though. Doug Engelbart and team ushered in the interactive computing era to “augment human intellect”, and on the 50th anniversary of The Demo a symposium will ask the question what augmenting the human intellect can look like in the 21st century.


A screenshot of Doug Engelbart during the 1968 demo

The 1968 demo was later named ‘the Mother of all Demos‘. I first saw it in its entirety at the 2005 Reboot conference in Copenhagen. Doug Engelbart had a video conversation with us after the demo. To me it was a great example, not merely of prototyping new tech, but most of all of proposing a coherent and expansive vision of how different technological components and human networked interaction and routines can together be used to create new agency and new possibilities. To ‘augment human intellect’ indeed. That to me is the crux, to look at the entire constellation of humans, our connections, routines, methods and processes, our technological tools and achieving our desired impact. Likely others easily think I’m a techno-optimist, but I don’t think I am. I am generally an optimist yes, but to me what is key is our humanity, and to create tools and methods that enhance and support it. Tech as tools, in context, not tech as a solution, on its own. It’s what my networked agency framework is about, and what I try to express in its manifesto.

Paul Duplantis has blogged about where the planned symposium, and more importantly us in general, may take the internet and the web as our tools.

Doug Engelbart on video from Calif.
Doug Engelbart on screen in 2005, during a video chat after watching the 1968 Demo at Reboot 7

This is an interesting article on how the drop in Bitcoin (BTC) versus US dollar rate may mean that a 51% attack on the bitcoin network is getting easier. According to the article 90% of mining capacity has gone offline, as it is no longer profitable at the current BTC price. It argues that if you buy just part of that now worthless (because single purpose) equipment cheap, you can effectively double the mining capacity of the network in a way that gives you more than 51% of the capacity (at least temporarily). Then that entity would be able to influence the ledger.

Of course the big Asian elephant in the room that is left unmentioned is that such a 51% attack is likely to have taken place already. As the article itself states ‘most miners’ were in China, where you can now get all that mining equipment cheap ‘by the pound’. As most mining was already running on a handful of Chinese superclusters, and given what we know about the data driven authoritarian model China geopolitically pursues, the conclusion is rather obvious: The 51% threshold had been reached in China already. So it’s not an emerging 51% attack risk, it’s just that there now may be a window of opportunity for somebody else to do it.

I still wonder in what instances blockchain is actually really useful, meaning that having a distributed database/ledger AND a transparant log of transactions AND a permanent immutable record are needed for such a use. But where that is the case, I am convinced it is, other than maybe for public records, not needed and even risky (see above) to have it run on a global network or platform. As then others, not invested in your actual use case, may have influence on the validity and stability of your use case.

It makes much more sense to me to have use case specific blockchains where the needed computing nodes are distributed across the network of people invested in that specific use case. For instance I can easily imagine a local currency or exchange trading system (LETS), to use blockchain. But only if it is run by the members of that LETS for the members of that LETS. Meaning a small computing node attached to your home router as part of your membership contribution.

Technology needs to be ‘smaller’ than us, run and controlled by the socially cohesive group that uses it for some specific purpose, otherwise it more likely undermines agency than provides agency.

This is a very interesting article to read. A small French adtech company Vectaury has been ordered to stop using and delete the personal data of tens of millions of Europeans, as it cannot show proper consent as required under the GDPR. Of interest here is that Vectaury tried to show consent using a branche wide template by IAB. A French judge has ruled this is not enough. This is an early sign that as Doc Searls says GDPR is able to, though at the speed of legal proceedings, put a stake through the heart of ad-tech. Provided enforcement goes forward.

A month after the verdict, Vectaury’s website still proudly claims that they’re GDPR compliant because they use the concept of a ‘consent management provider’. Yet that is exactly what has now been ruled as not enough to show actual consent.

This Twitter thread by NYT’s Robin Berjon about the case is also interesting.

Some things I thought worth reading in the past days

  • A good read on how currently machine learning (ML) merely obfuscates human bias, by moving it to the training data and coding, to arrive at peace of mind from pretend objectivity. Because of claiming that it’s ‘the algorithm deciding’ you make ML a kind of digital alchemy. Introduced some fun terms to me, like fauxtomation, and Potemkin AI: Plausible Disavowal – Why pretend that machines can be creative?
  • These new Google patents show how problematic the current smart home efforts are, including the precursor that are the Alexa and Echo microphones in your house. They are stripping you of agency, not providing it. These particular ones also nudge you to treat your children much the way surveillance capitalism treats you: as a suspect to be watched, relationships denuded of the subtle human capability to trust. Agency only comes from being in full control of your tools. Adding someone else’s tools (here not just Google but your health insurer, your landlord etc) to your home doesn’t make it smart but a self-censorship promoting escape room. A fractal of the panopticon. We need to start designing more technology that is based on distributed use, not on a centralised controller: Google’s New Patents Aim to Make Your Home a Data Mine
  • An excellent article by the NYT about Facebook’s slide to the dark side. When the student dorm room excuse “we didn’t realise, we messed up, but we’ll fix it for the future” defence fails, and you weaponise your own data driven machine against its critics. Thus proving your critics right. Weaponising your own platform isn’t surprising but very sobering and telling. Will it be a tipping point in how the public views FB? Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis
  • Some of these takeaways from the article just mentioned we should keep top of mind when interacting with or talking about Facebook: FB knew very early on about being used to influence the US 2016 election and chose not to act. FB feared backlash from specific user groups and opted to unevenly enforce their terms or service/community guidelines. Cambridge Analytica is not an isolated abuse, but a concrete example of the wider issue. FB weaponised their own platform to oppose criticism: How Facebook Wrestled With Scandal: 6 Key Takeaways From The Times’s Investigation
  • There really is no plausible deniability for FB’s execs on their “in-house fake news shop” : Facebook’s Top Brass Say They Knew Nothing About Definers. Don’t Believe Them. So when you need to admit it, you fall back on the ‘we messed up, we’ll do better going forward’ tactic.
  • As Aral Balkan says, that’s the real issue at hand because “Cambridge Analytica and Facebook have the same business model. If Cambridge Analytica can sway elections and referenda with a relatively small subset of Facebook’s data, imagine what Facebook can and does do with the full set.“: We were warned about Cambridge Analytica. Why didn’t we listen?
  • [update] Apparently all the commotion is causing Zuckerberg to think FB is ‘at war‘, with everyone it seems, which is problematic for a company that has as a mission to open up and connect the world, and which is based on a perception of trust. Also a bunker mentality probably doesn’t bode well for FB’s corporate culture and hence future: Facebook At War.

Frank writes about how the Netherlands became the first connection outside the USA on the open net by the NSF (as opposed to the military initiated ARPANET academic institutions used then), thirty years ago yesterday on November 17th 1988. Two years previously .nl had been created as the first ever country top level domain. This was the result of the work and specifically the excellent personal connections to their US counterparts of people at the Amsterdam CWI, the center for mathematics. Because of those personal connections the Netherlands was connected very early on to the open internet and still is a major hub. Through that first connection Europe got connected as well, as the CWI was part of the European network of academic institutions EUnet. A large chunk of the European internet traffic still runs through the Netherlands as a consequence.

I went to university in the summer of 1988 and had the opportunity to early on enjoy the fruits of the CWI’s work. From the start I became active in the student association Scintilla at my electronic engineering department at University of Twente. Electronic engineering students had an advantage when it came to access to electronics and personal computers and as a consequence we had very early connectivity. As first year student I was chairman of one of Scintilla’s many committees and in that role I voted in late ’88 / early ’89 to spend 2500 guilders (a huge sum in my mind then) for cables and plugs and 3 ethernet cards for the PC’s we had in use. I remember how on the 10th floor of the department building other members were very carefully connecting the PC’s to each other. It was the first LAN on campus not run by the University itself nor connected to the mainframe computing center. Soon after, that LAN was connected to the internet.

In my mind I’ve been online regularly since late 1989, through Scintilla’s network connections. I remember there was an argument with the faculty because we had started using a subdomain directly of the university, not as a subdomain of the faculty’s own subdomain. We couldn’t, because they hadn’t even activated their subdomain yet. So we waited for them to get moving, under threat of losing funding if we didn’t comply. Most certainly I’ve been online on a daily basis since the moment I joined the Scintilla board in 1990 which by then had moved to the basement of the electronics department building. We at first shared one e-mail address, before running our own mail server. I used telnet a lot, and spent an entire summer, it must have been the summer of ’91 when I was a board member, chatting to two other students who had a summer job as sysadmin at the computer center of a Texas university. The prime perk of that job was they could sit in air conditioning all summer, and play around with the internet connection. Usenet of course. Later Gopher menus, then 25 years ago the web browser came along (which I first didn’t understand as a major change, after all I already had all the connectivity I wanted).

So of those 30 years of open internet in the Netherlands, I’ve been online daily 28 years for certain, and probably a year longer with every-now-and-then connectivity. First from the basement at university, then phoning into the university from home, then (from late ’96) having a fixed IP address through a private ISP (which meant I could run my own server, which was reachable when I phoned into the ISP), until the luxury we have now of a fiber optic cable into our house, delivering a 500Mbit/s two-way connection (we had a 1Gb connection before the move last year, so we actually took a step ‘backwards’).

Having had daily internet access for 28 years, basically all of my adult life, has shaped both my professional and personal life tremendously. Professionally, as none of my past jobs nor my current work would have been possible without internet. None of my work in the past decades would have even existed without internet. My very first paid job was setting up international data transmissions between an electronics provider, their factories, as well as the retail chains that sold their stuff. Personally it has been similar. Most of my every day exchanges are with people from all over the world, and the inspiring mix of people I may call friends and that for instance come to our birthday unconferences I first met online. Nancy White‘s husband and neighbours call them/us her ‘imaginary friends’. Many of our friends are from that ‘imaginary’ source, and over the years we met at conferences, visited each others houses, and keep in regular touch. It never ceases to amaze.

To me the internet was always a network first, and technology second. The key affordance of the internet to me is not exchanging data or connecting computer systems, but connecting people. That the internet in its design principles is a distributed network, and rather closely resembles how human networks are shaped, is something we haven’t leveraged to its full potential yet by far. Centralised services, like the current web silos, don’t embrace that fundamental aspect of internet other than at the hardware level, so I tend to see them as growths more than actualisation of the internets’s foremost affordance. We’ve yet to really embrace what human digital networks may achieve.

Because of that perspective, seeing the digital network as a human network, I am mightily pleased that the reason I have been able to be digitally connected online for almost 30 years, is first and foremost because of a human connection. The connection between Piet Beertema at CWI in Amsterdam to Rick Adams at NSF in the USA, which resulted in the Netherlands coming online right when I started university. That human connection, between two people I’ve never met nor interacted with, essentially shaped the space in which my life is taking its course, which is a rather amazing thought.

Good to hear Protonmail, next to their own encryption, now also supports PGP.

You don’t need encryption you say? Apart from that itself being debatable (after all you do expect encryption for a wide range of your online transactions), think of it as herd immunity. If only those who need encryption to be safe (investigative journalists for instance, or dissidents) use it, that in itself makes them a visible target. The more normal it is to use encryption, the more it helps those whose lives depend on it. Don’t think that is a remote issue. In the EU for instance, journalists do get murdered when investigating corruption and fraud.

My Applescript to start a new project both in my todo-app Things and my note-app Evernote throws errors for the Things part suddenly. After upgrading Things 2 weeks ago. Have the applescript hooks changed? Or the data structure of Things? Need to explore.

I use an applescript at the start of new activities. Depending on the nature of the activity (client project, project acquisition, internal, learning, personal etc), it automatically populates my folder system, my todo-app and my note taking app with the right information. Folders, standard tasks for a project, templates for documents needed, bookkeeping requirements, setting a consistent name and tag for the project across all tools etc.

Last weekend during the Berlin IndieWeb Camp, Aaron Parecki gave a brief overview of where he/we is/are concerning the ‘social reader’. This is of interest to me because since ever I have been reading RSS, I’m doing by hand what he described doing more automatically.

These are some notes I made watching the live stream of the event.

Compared to the algorithmic timelines of FB, Twitter and Instagram, that show you what they decide to show you, the Social Reader is about taking control: follow the things you want, in the order that you want.
RSS readers were and are like that. But RSS reading never went past linear reading of all the posts from all your feeds in reverse chronological order. No playing around with how these feeds are presented to you. And no possibility to from within the reader take actions based on the things you read (sharing, posting, bookmarking, flagging, storing etc.): there are not action buttons on your feedreader, other than mark as unread or archive.

In the IndieWeb world, publishing works well Aaron said, but reading has been an issue (at least if it goes beyond reading a blog and commenting).
That’s why he built Monocle, and Aperture. Aperture takes all kinds of feeds, RSS, JSON, Twitter, and even scripts pushing material to it. These are grouped in channels. Monocle is a reader on top of that, where he presents those channels in a nice way. Then he added action buttons to it. Like reply etc. Those actions you initiate directly in the reader, and always post to your own site. The other already existing IndieWeb building blocks then send it to the original source of the item you’re responding to. See Aaron’s posting from last March with screenshots “Building an IndieWeb Reader“, to get a feeling for how it all looks in practice.

The power of this set-up is that it separates the layers, of how you collect material, how work on that material, and how you present content. It looked great when Aaron demo’d it when I met him at IWC Nürnberg two weeks earlier.

For me, part of the actions I’d like to take are definitely outside the scope of my own website, or at the very least outside the public part of my website. See what I wrote about my ideal feed reader. Part of automation of actions I’d want to point to different workflows on my own laptop for instance. To feed into desk research, material for client updates, and things like that.

I’m interested in running things like Aperture and Monocle locally, but a first step is exploring them in the way Aaron provides them to test drive. Aperture works fine. But I can’t yet get Monocle to work for me. This is I guess the same issue I ran into two weeks ago with how my site doesn’t support sending authorisation headers.

As a first step to better understand the different layers of adding microformats to my site (what is currently done by the theme, what by plugins etc.), I decided to start with: what is supposed to go where?

I made a post-it map on my wall to create an overview for myself. The map corresponds to the front page of my blog.

Green is content, pink is h- elements, blue u- elements, and yellow p- elements, with the little square ones covering dt- and rel’s. All this is based on the information provided on the http://microformats.org/wiki/Main_Page, and not on what my site actually does. So next step is a comparison of what I expect to be there from this map, to what is actually there. This map is also a useful step to see how to add microformats to the u-design theme for myself.

Mapping microformats on my site

Earlier this week I discussed microformats with Elmine. Microformats make your website machine readable, allowing other computers and applications to e.g. find out where my contact information is, and the metadata from my postings.

It was a discussion that branched off a conversation on online representation and marketing. I currently use the Sempress theme on this blog as it does microformats pretty well as far as I can tell, but it doesn’t look all that nice. Previously I had used the microformats plugin in a regular theme, but that didn’t work really well (the plugin is not at fault, it’s a best effort)

Ideally I’d like to add microformats to other sites I use, not just this blog. That means I’d like to add it to a generic theme like U-design. As I think it would be less effort to add microformats to U-design, than make Sempress look better and more generic for my sites. Elmine approached the creators of U-design, but microformats are not on their list of priorities. They do already support schema.org out of the box.

The steps I think I need to make:

  • Map-out visually where I want to use which microformats where and how. [UPDATE: done]
  • Then take a much closer look at the code of the existing Microformats plugin as well as the functions.php file of the Sempress theme
  • to see how the first hooks into existing themes, and how the second shapes the microformats to be added to the html of the page.
  • Determine if one or the other is usable with U-design as is, or alternatively which parts to re-use / adapt