Laptop bans in class seem to be topic of the week:
Why I’m Not a Fan of Laptop Bans | Confessions of a Community College Dean — Naturally, I’m not a fan either. Neither can I concede the point about not shining a light on accessibility users. I can’t see a way in which a ban that included an exception for only a few users with different abilities wouldn’t be a floodlight that says ‘this person is not the same’. Here’s an idea, make your class interesting enough for students to pay attention and you won’t have as many on Facebook. Sure, that’s not easy, but banning technology won’t make your material worth absorbing.
Lecture, Attention, Recall … It’s Complicated | Just Visiting – I’ve been thinking a lot about attention lately, and very little about teaching. Then again, I have plenty of thoughts on teaching to turn to. One recurring thought is triggered when I hear this nonsense about banning devices I lectures. I know I’m repeating myself. But, when I come across such a proposal, it recalls the overwhelming sense one gets that universities, and their most institutionalised educators are so often of the mind that there is something wrong with the student. The student must be fixed. Indeed they must be saved from attention grabbing technology. I call bullshit, which is why I was so pleased to read this paragraph:
If we’re going to lecture, aren’t we better striving for triggering a mind-blowing experience and not worry so much about recall. Let the mind-blowing experience that sends the student into a vortex of thought and reflection so deep they can’t pay attention to whatever else is happening be our goal.
This article from The Washington Post is doing the rounds. It’s impossible to stay away from the implications of this. If you have even the slightest inclination to think critically, the sharing of facial recognition data should raise questions for you. Something that bothers me about a lot of so-called critics in the Apple space, they don’t so much give Apple the benefit of the doubt, as simply overlook critical details in favour of the hype machine. I’m enthusiastic about technology, but I’m much more enthusiastic about thinking for oneself.
I made a throwaway remark about the Warby Parker app, hidden in the show and tell links a couple of weeks back . 1 It has been on my mind since, not least because there seems to be a lack of nuance in a lot of the coverage on this stuff. You either get the cheerleading for what the technology can do, or the fear and doubt clickbait. Neither is helpful. While it’s early days, it’s not hard to see there are some sticky contradictions at play.
Apple has no need of the data for monetisation itself. They make the big numbers from their hardware, but the software is what gives the hardware itself value. 2 Privacy is part of that value. In other words, privacy is important to Apple because they can trade on it. It was a smart decision to make privacy and security a point of difference, regardless of how effective it might ultimately be. Where the lines start to blur is where apps and services operate on a contradictory model. Where data is the thing that Make no mistake, that data is extremely valuable.
Indeed, Apple—which makes most of its money from selling us hardware, not selling our data—may be our best defense against a coming explosion in facial recognition. But I also think Apple rushed into sharing face maps with app makers that may not share its commitment, and it isn’t being paranoid enough about the minefield it just entered.
Navigating these contradictions is vitally important, making mistakes with it now will have serious consequences,
Apple’s face tech sets some good precedents—and some bad ones. It won praise for storing the face data it uses to unlock the iPhone X securely on the phone, instead of sending it to its servers over the Internet.
Less noticed was how the iPhone lets other apps now tap into two eerie views from the so-called TrueDepth camera. There’s a wireframe representation of your face and a live read-out of 52 unique micro-movements in your eyelids, mouth and other features. Apps can store that data on their own computers.
Incidentally, I have no interest in being another ‘called it’ ego tripper. My concern is that people are thoughtful, and careful about what they give access to, and how. ↩
Prof Hacker just posted a follow up to their reminder on the Github plans available to education users. The previous link made it into this week’s Show and Tell, but that is akin to burying a note in my back yard. Coming across this latest post prompted me to dig up that recommendation and dust it off a little. The Profhacker post is essentially a summary of a more detail ‘how to’ guide from the Storybench site. Their solution is a touch esoteric — they’re using the statistical language ‘R’ for its value to certain kinds of academic work. But think of it as a case study for using Github Pages, the point is to illustrate the kinds of things you can do with Github in general.
Accessing Developer Tools and Building Static Sites
Github is useful regardless, but the student developer pack is a fantastic resource. It includes things like $50 worth of Digital Ocean hosting, credit for AWS, and a year of free Bitnami access. The GitHub part of the plan includes unlimited private repositories. Think of the freedom of not having to share your dodgy, cut-and-paste, hacked code with the world at large. Even if you’re doing little more than forking libraries and messing them up in an effort to learn (like I do), I would recommend signing up for an account.
There are some really intriguing uses for Github. One that should be of particular interest to readers of this site is using it for collaboration. It doesn’t have to be for coding either. Text is text, no matter what ends up parsing it; be that machine, or human. For example, by using Working Copy the folks at Macstories.net use Github as a weigh station for their editing process. For them, Github has been one of the building blocks of a complex iOS only workflow. While there are a couple of remaining considerations for an iOS only academic, but I see no reason that all student work can’t be done on an iPad. Github can certainly play a role, should you want it to.
Github Pages as a Blogging Platform
While the Profhacker example is probably only relevant to a subset of users, there are more accessible routes for prospective bloggers. Github is growing all the time as a blogging platform. Using Github pages and a static site generator like Jekyll, anybody willing to follow a few instructions can serve a super slick plain text based website. This brings together more traditional uses of code versioning with the drafting and editing process of web publishing. Static site generators have been supposedly catching on for a while now, but they remain a relatively niche solution that attract more technically minded users. Still, I can honestly say they are not difficult to use. Platforms like Netlify simply the process down to one-click deployment.
You don’t have to go far to find examples of interesting static sites. There are specific academic tools primed for use, whether you want to use Jekyll, or another generator like Hugo. GitHub is also being used to mitigate the difficultly of using a more complicated CMS with the touchscreen interfaces of iOS, with bloggers putting Workflow to good use. In fact, the entire process can be managed from an iPad these days. But, as I say, blogging is just one use for Github; albeit a very good one.
It’s not difficult to get started. Whether its for accessing developer tools and building static sites, or glueing your iOS workflows together. Take a look at Github Education and start breaking things!
Something is wrong on the internet | James Bridle – Medium — You don’t need to be a parent to find this deeply disturbing. Being a parent makes it doubly so. Buzzfeed reported this week that ‘YouTube Is Addressing Its Massive Child Exploitation Problem’, but this smacks of PR to me. Experience tells us they will do the minimum amount necessary to hush the growing noise.
Last Thoughts on Modifier Keys | All This – The doctor continues his philosophical dive on shortcuts and modifier Keys. Like I said, the detail is delightfully nerdy. However, there is something a little obvious I want to point out. I suspect The modifiers are represented as an analogue of their physical location. The Command key is closest to the letter keys, and so on. Not that I care to enter a holy war on programmatic symbolism, it’s more that something’s don’t actually have any real deep meaning. They simply are as they appear to be.
Two Major Cydia Hosts Shut Down as Jailbreaking Fades in Popularity – Mac Rumors – I can understand why interest is waning in jail breaking. The restrictions in iOS are no longer as severe as they once were, and with tools like Workflow it is becoming less and less worth trading off your security for unrestricted access to the file system. Improvements to Android probably have something to do with this too. Android has the ugly but ridiculously powerful Tasker system for automation for those who really want to go nuts
More than 15% of Internet users have reported experiencing the takeover of an email or social networking account. However, despite its familiarity, there is a dearth of research about the root causes of hijacking.
How to Draft a Dissertation in a Year | GradHacker — I don’t necessarily agree with the methods, and others are just plain obvious. What works for some, will not for others. Nonetheless, I have no doubt there are people breezing through here looking for shortcuts. If nothing else p, take from this the idea you need a plan
What Else Floats on Water
Command-E | All This — A knowledge base document has been doing the rounds, highlighting the depth of keyboard shortcuts available on the Mac. Dr Drang offers a way into it with one shortcut in particular. There is something oddly delightful about this site, these unique meditations on detail will not be for everyone, but I couldn’t tell you how much I pick up from them. If you just want the support document for the full list of shortcuts, look here
K Machine on the App Store — I can’t help stumbling across interesting music apps. I decided I will add a music app of the week to this collection of links. This is a mixed media app. A sampler, sequencer, and beat maker. If you have problems with inertia, or you were traumatised in the nineties by psychedelic screen savers, this app isn’t for you. If you had the opposite experience, check it out.
How Facebook Figures Out Everyone You’ve Ever Met – The lengths to which Facebook go have become so creepy that people are convinced they are listening to everything we say. Recently the hosts of Reply All spent an entire episode trying to convince people they aren’t literally listening. The point is they don’t need to, with so much self surveillance happening Facebook has all the context it needs to know what you are talking about.
Idle At Work
Fuck Twitter | Macdrifter – I like decisiveness. There a has been a lot written about Twitter lately, this piece is unique. I am unequivocally awful at Twitter, I have never made an effort. In fact, I didn’t have an account of my own until this year. And, I don’t give any compelling reason to follow me. It used to be because I thought there was a clue in the name. Now people are telling me it’s worse.
Social networks, though, have since colonized the web for television’s values. From Facebook to Instagram, the medium refocuses our attention on videos and images, rewarding emotional appeals—‘like’ buttons—over rational ones. Instead of a quest for knowledge, it engages us in an endless zest for instant approval from an audience, for which we are constantly but unconsciouly performing. (It’s telling that, while Google began life as a PhD thesis, Facebook started as a tool to judge classmates’ appearances.) It reduces our curiosity by showing us exactly what we already want and think, based on our profiles and preferences. Enlightenment’s motto of ‘Dare to know’ has become ‘Dare not to care to know.’
Using iPhone X TrueDepth Camera to Find Your Ideal Specs | Mac Rumors – This illustrates, excuse the pun, the divergence of use cases for this tech. One fork includes usefulness, the other concern. Where they will ultimately come together is through manipulation. Our economic and political system, not to mention our social milieu mean that it is inevitable that this technology will be used to track people for one reason or another. On the other hand, your new glasses will look better on your face.
Apple’s ten years of iPhone mocked by Samsung – In case you missed it. An antidote is in order when you can’t seem to get away from the noise. The iPhone fetish is in overdrive at the moment. Some of the stuff I have read has been ridiculous. I’m not going to call them out here, but I read one article that suggested the iPhone 7 was ‘garbage’ now that the iPhone X is out. If that is not losing perspective, I don’t know what is.
Fraud Detection in Pokémon Go | Schneier on Security – This is a bit of a digression for Bruce Schneider, an intriguing one. Hopefully I can find some time to come back to this, I feel it has come interesting implications for an education context. Consider that analogy when Schneier writes,
Cheating detection in virtual reality games is going to be a constant problem as these games become more popular, especially if there are ways to monetize the results of cheating. This means that cheater detection will continue to be a critical component of these games’ success. Anything Niantic learns in Pokémon Go will be useful in whatever games come next.
Cardhop — I don’t have a great need for contact management at the moment, but it is an important area of administration for academics. If you have unruly contacts, this will be worth a look. I wrote up an alternative to Fantastical a couple of days ago. But when it goes to natural language parsing, Flexibits really have nailed it.
There was a time that Safari was a clunky, annoying browser that you could install on Windows. To be fair, pretty much all browsers met that criteria at one time. Things change. In this week’s show and tell I included a link from The Verge, who are shipping Safari as the best reason to upgrade your Mac to High Sierra. So far it’s hard to argue with that. With features added to both iOS 11 and macOS, there is a lot to like about the development of Safari. Of particular interest is the new ability to control some of the internet’s more annoying tendencies with Safari’s iOS style permissions
This is one of the areas that I have tried to balance security concerns with usability. I haven’t always felt comfortable with the results. For a time I used a tricked out install of Firefox, in accordance with one of my favourite privacy resources. The industry around tracking and data collection is so cunning that extensions can become a data point for tracking in themselves. This is one of many reasons the evolution of Safari has become so interesting, moving protection to within the webkit framework brings that balance a little closer.
Safari’s iOS Style Permissions on macOS
It is the new granular approach to permissions that I am most impressed with. Particularly on macOS. Safari itself now contains the kind of detailed permissions that we are used to applying on a per app basis for iOS. Something I find incredibly annoying — and invasive — is having websites try to send me push notifications. Who in their right mind would want their browser to badger them all day long? It’s more than just an annoyance, though. While some of the older security issues of Push have been incrementally addressed, by design they provide another means for tracking. Look closely and you will notice there is an irony in the way Apple is implicated in the origins of this. Thankfully, they are getting better at addressing these — perhaps unintended — consequences. Notifications are among the many things addressed in the new ability to control permissions for Safari. The upside of Push, it is a permission based protocol. So ultimately, it is one of the web’s annoyances that we can actually opt out of, and now without much trouble. It is not the only one.
The influence of the mobile platform on macOS is becoming more and more obvious. The rollout of Continuity has no doubt made this inevitable, but we have seen more and more features make the crossover. From small, but important additions like Night Shift, to the way iOS devices have been the testing ground for significant new technologies. From a user standpoint, I feel the most significant, visible influence right now is the approach to permissions. The improved preference allow a user to block an entire category. Or you can manage them on a case by cade basis. Like iOS, you can manage access to the microphone and camera, access to location, and notifications. Then there are usability features, like the ability to turn on Reader mode by default for particular sites. And, you can now put an end to those pesky auto-pay videos — you know who you are… Macworld.
You can access all of these permissions in Safari’s preferences. Or, if you want to change settings on the fly, you can right-click — or ctrl + click — on a website’s name in the omnibar, and select Settings for this Website…
The reality of the modern internet is it is a cesspit of shady behaviour by supposedly legitimate actors. Without even getting into the relevant arguments, the performance of websites is a case in itself for having control over the excess. I won’t lean into the rest of the story here, I can make my case another time. Suffice to say, there are good reasons to have some control over this. I will say that Apple’s interventions are doubly interesting, considering the industry built up around its fandom. Apple related sites are some of the worstoffenders too. My sense is there is much more nuance to this than you can glean from the exploding heads who are worried about their wallets. The argument that Apple is doing more to save advertising than harm it in these moves, should carry water with anyone thinking clearly.
But Webkit more generally has ushered in significant, positive changes. Especially when it comes to performance. Webkit also provides significant advantages for the implementation of content Blockers. One of many reasons Safari is starting to back up some of it’s claims.
Reasons to use Safari Browser on iOS
iOS users have had good reason to keep an alternative browser around. I still keep iCab Mobile on hand, for all the little things it can do. It has always been like a browsing pocketknife. It really is the only genuinely extensible, standalone browser on iOS. 1 The built-in download manager retains its utility, even as we move into the brave new world of the iOS Files App. For as long as I have been an iOS user, anytime I hit a road block while browsing, I knocked it over with iCab. However, Safari is extensible insofar as iOS itself is extensible. As the operating system has improved, so too have the default apps. Like other native apps, it is the system wide hooks that make it so useful. 2 From handoff, to iCloud synced history, bookmarks and reading list. All of these features are available system wide. Where third-party developers have cottoned on to the beauty of app extensions, iOS has improved out of sight. With Apple taking possession of Workflow, this is only going to get better.
From the more incremental improvements in iOS 10, it is hard to argue that Safari is Apple’s most mature, even its best iOS app. In iOS 11, Safari comes loaded with all kinds of new tricks. Like macOS, there is further control granted to user permissions. Although, it is more clear the influence iOS has had on the Mac. There is also the addition of WebRTC and media capture, and even access to experimental features. Nobody could argue that iOS — the iPhone in particular —hasn’t significantly influenced web technology. One of its most significant achievements is surely that hand it played in burying Flash. I would argue that this trend is going to continue through the extension of new features in Safari.
If, for whatever reason, you have held on to the impression that Safari is a clunky waste of time, trust me it is worth another look. You don’t have to go far to find lingering impressions of the browser are outdated. 3 I know, I was a subscriber to that view. Even for established users, there are new reasons to to use Safari. The changes in macOS High Sierra and iOS 11 are impressive. Apple has found a way to make privacy its point of difference. While I would urge people to see that for what it is, I’m not churlish enough to overlook the way it benefits users. These a big improvements.