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Posts Tagged ‘internet

I read Lisa Lane’s lament The internet’s not for learning?

After reflecting on an Economist article on how people use the Internet, she reflected:

People everywhere do the same thing: use the internet mostly for “timepass” – passing the time by communicating with friends and family, playing games, and watching videos. I’m not saying these things don’t cause learning. They do. But the purpose is entertainment and emotional satisfaction, not becoming an educated citizen.

It just serves to remind me how truly wide the gulf is between those who value education for its long-term benefits, and those who just want to pass the time. Are the people who get satisfaction from intellectual challenges rare? If so, will the smartphones make them even more rare?

She concluded that there was still so much more trivial consumption than meaningful self-education.

About a week ago, I might have expressed myself with the same resignation. But between then and now, I have been listening to podcasts that have tweaked my outlook.

Who is to say that a general utility must have a specific use? Who can insist that cars only be used when optimally occupied and configured so as to transport only the best to school or work? There is still much aimless, irresponsible, and even dangerous car use.

Who says that the Internet must be harnessed for self-improvement? Well, not many, really. But more are likely to hope that it be used to make lives better.

Like Lane, I do not object to that ideal. Like Lane, I recognise that self-education and improvement does happen, but not nearly as much as educators might want. So I remind myself of my role by seeking answers to two questions:

  1. Who is to say that a general tool must grow to have this specific use?
  2. What can I do to promote specific uses (like education) of this general tool?

The first episode of CrashCourse’s series on artificial intelligence (AI) is as good as the other series created by the group.

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The introductory episode started by making the point that AI is not the scary robot made popular by books or movies. We use everyday AI when we ask a voice assistant to play some music, sort photos using facial recognition, or vacuum clean our floor with a Roomba.

These are ordinary events that we do not question or fear, but it is still AI at a low level. Regardless, how did basic AI become commonplace?

AI has no sense organs, so it needs to be fed a lot of data. The availability of now ubiquitous data has enabled the rise of AI.

Then there is the constant improvements in computing power. What a current supercomputer might process in one second would take the IBM 7090 — the most advanced computer in 1956 — 4735 years to solve.

Finally, the commonness of AI is due to the information that we create and share, and how we transact on the Internet.

So the seemingly rapid rise of AI is due to three main things: Massive data, computing power, and the Internet as we know it.

AI is not terrifying in itself. What should scare us is ignorance of what it is and what it might become through irresponsible design.

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I am looking forward to watching Werner Herzog’s documentary, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, which premieres 19 August.

In his interview with TechCrunch, Herzog provided candid and provocative answers that offer lessons for those of us in schooling and education.

When asked whether he considered the Internet good or evil, Herzog replied that it was neutral and that it was humans that made the difference. This comes from a man who does not own a smartphone. Compared to some leaders in schooling and education that I know, his response is an enlightened one.

His thoughts on virtual reality (VR): We should not simply transfer existing methods to the medium. Again, this was a pearl of wisdom that few possess unless they realise that technology is not just about doing the same things differently. It is also about change.

His best response was what technology held for the future of the classroom. With a twinkle in his eye, Herzog simply replied that the face-to-face classroom was the best venue for releasing “criminal energy”. This is so different from how teachers see their current classrooms.

Probably one of the most well-known movie memes is Jack Nicholson’s character shouting “”You can’t handle the truth!” in A Few Good Men.

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Today I reflect on something “truthier” than the truth.

One of the most talked about news bites yesterday and the day before was how Singapore’s public servants will have limited Internet access in government offices in a year’s time.

The news spilled from our shores thanks to the same Internet pipes that will run dry in those offices. CNET reported this:

“There is no right or wrong approach around banning the internet,” says Tony Jarvis, Check Point Software Technologies’ chief strategist for threat prevention APAC, Middle East & Africa. “At first glance, the decision to ban internet access might seem extreme. However, it is important to note that this decision will have been made after careful review.”

He says that the removal of internet access will bring “the benefit of reducing exposure to many threats” at the cost of productivity and organisational efficacy.

There was a fallout among those who will be affected by this policy. Here are examples from a TODAY report:

Calling the move regressive, civil and public servants TODAY spoke to said cutting off Internet access in such a manner was also disruptive.

“It’s like saying ‘your house could get burgled, but don’t spend money upgrading security features like cameras or locks; just move out’,” said one civil servant, who did not want to be named.

Another civil servant who also wanted to remain anonymous said: “I feel like there are relatively simpler solutions but they just decided to use the nuclear option.”

A public servant said that without Internet access on personal work computers, it would be unfair to expect public servants to have to pay for their own mobile data to carry out the work.

A spokesman for the local agency responsible for move responded that the policy “should not be seen as a move backwards”.

I wonder if he would have back-peddled if he could feel the collective disbelief of workers, public servants or not, sweep his way.

The agency prepared a poster that highlighted five myths and five corresponding truths about the move.

I wonder if the agency can handle the “truthier” truths I offer in response to each of their “truths”.

  1. Any agency-provided device will be crippled. That is why the rest of the world has moved on to BYOD. Even if you BYOD, agencies can stifle or block wireless signals. Sometimes they need not do anything; the poor reception is security enough.
  2. SharePoint is an alternative? Is the phrase “enterprise tools” now synonymous with poor design and usability?
  3. Is there a condescending tone to “separating Internet surfing”? As in, disconnected activity is work while your surfing is not serious or important. Modern and connected workers need to “surf” in order to work. Do not take my word for it. Conduct studies and measure it.
  4. Are their email servers are going to be able to distinguish classified and unclassified messages? If so, good for them. Are there no other ways to copy, transport, or manipulate classified messages? If so, they must ban BYOD outright.
  5. There had better not be a drop in e-services and citizen engagement. Otherwise the people will complain and their feedback will go nowhere because the public servants cannot surf the Internet.

In short, the effort looks like one of reducing connectivity, providing options with poor usability, siloing work tasks instead of integrating them, letting policy dominate logic, and travelling back in time. How is limiting Internet access to workers not a move backwards in policy and practice?

All this is not to say that we should ignore computer security. However, there could have been more measured responses.

If you detect a cockroach nest in your otherwise spotless house, you do not chase everyone out, prevent people from bringing food home, or dictate that food only be eaten in an outhouse. You take more reasonable and everyday actions like bagging and promptly disposing of rubbish, storing food properly, and showing others in the household know how to do these things.

The smart thing to do is also the more difficult thing. Before embarking on a multi-pronged strategy, the agency could have asked for stakeholder inputs. Treat people like children and they will behave like them. Treat people like adults who care about their work and you will increase your options.

Among those options will be ideas with strong ownership because they come from the ground up. This is almost always better than poorly understood policies from the top down. That is the truth. Can you handle it?

This tweet woke me up yesterday morning like no alarm clock could.

Here is the short version of the article:

  • By May next year, civil servants* in government offices will only be allowed to access the Internet via dedicated terminals
  • These workers will be allowed to use their own personal mobile devices for “web surfing”
  • “Public servants will be allowed to forward work e-mails to their private accounts, if they need to”
  • The Asia-Pacific executive vice-president of global computing security association, Cloud Security Alliance, described the move as returning to the 1990s
  • The move is by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) and could affect 100,000 computers

*These do not include mainstream schools teachers.

Part of me wants to react emotionally and scream why not also limit workers to electricity, water, and toilet breaks? Have the authorities not caught on to the revised hierarchy of needs?

Another part of me is confused. Did the same agency not trumpet our plans to be a Smart Nation?

Are we sending a message that we want the Internet of Things but not the Internet of People? Perhaps it is wise for just objects to communicate with each other. The weakest links tend to be the humans after all. If you do not believe me, imagine what has happened, already happens, and will happen with the forwarding email policy.

Perhaps this is an accidental conspiracy by the IDA to get civil servants to use their own mobile devices. That way government agencies spend less on digital bandwidth and can claim that they have people-centric BYOD programmes. Smart, eh?

Since we like to call these devices smart — smart phones, smart boards, smart rooms — we can stop thinking altogether.


The powers-that-be might not have embraced the fact that the Internet is a socio-technical system. The clampdown is an attempt to minimise stupid human behaviour like security leaks by addressing the technical component. This will still allow ignorant people access to limited terminals and their own “smart” devices.

Where is the long-running, long-term educational or professional development programme in all this? Perhaps there is one and the press found it too mundane to highlight.

Whatever the scenario, anyone who has worked in a large organisation knows how their IT departments operate. Instead of supporting work and learning, they end up determining policy and creating more red tape. They would rather dictate than educate.

Computer security is important in the modern workplace, but it should not be an excuse to revert to dumb or blind practice. The very people that security policies seek to control are the same assets it needs to inform and educate instead.

We need to play the long game of creating a culture of tech-savvy and actually smart practice. A policy like restricting access has immediate returns on the security front, but it does little to nurture a long term culture of trust, critical thinking, and ethical practice.

My cat by Anguskirk, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Anguskirk 

I was a very unhappy broadband customer for the last six days. But I did NOT do something I would normally do and that saved me some embarrassment.

When my Internet connection became intermittent earlier this week, I opted not to call the customer help line. Previous experience reminded me how long that would take and how much longer the response would be after being handed from one party after another.

Instead, I tweeted my information to the ISPs customer care. They said they would get back to me by phone but I did not hear from them. That bought me time to investigate.

When the intermittent connection finally became no connection, I was ready to go on a calling rampage. But something stopped me.

All the usual remedy actions (recycling the power to the boxes in proper time and sequence) did not seem to work. My Internet connection kept dropping, but my home phone (connected to the same box) worked fine.

I disconnected the router and reconnected directly to a desktop. After a few restarts, I had a stable connection to that desktop. I realized that the router was in its death throes.

If I had called the customer care folks and screamed down the line, I would have ended up with egg on my face. Sure, they did not respond as promised. Sure, 99 out of a 100 times this has happened before the fault lay in a factor or incident at their end. This one time my router had failed.

The moral of the story: Take the time, observe closely, get information, connect the dots, solve your own problem.

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There are ideas and then there are IDEAS. Big and seemingly crazy ideas.

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I am glad that some of Google’s money is being put to the good cause of providing Internet access to those who do not have it.

I just wonder:

  • if this was someone’s 20% time project
  • how many times potential collaborators rejected the idea
  • how far outside the box ideas need to be for them to work
  • what lessons we will learn from it whether it succeeds or fails

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