Pay It Forward

tl;dr… just click here and do the right thing.

I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it too.  You’re making some kind of digital product and you needed a digital asset of some sort to use with it. Maybe you were putting together a short video and needed some music for the soundtrack, or maybe you were working on some kind of poster and needed an image to include on it. Fortunately, we live in a world where we have access to amazing digital tools that make it easy to create, as long as you have some raw materials to work with.

While it’s technically quite simple to just find what you want online and use it, there are some ethical (and legal) questions about just taking anything you find on the web and using it as your raw material. Unless you have permission to use those resources you really shouldn’t use them. It’s effectively stealing.

Thankfully, that’s where Creative Commons comes in. Creative Commons provides a legal and ethical solution to this problem by allowing creators to licence their work using a simple and flexible set of permissions so that when others want to use or remix their work, those permissions and conditions are clearly stated up front. It’s a very good system, and the best attempt at copyright reform that we’ve seen succeed so far. I’m a huge fan of Creative Commons, and could not have produced most of the stuff I make without it. It’s also one of the reasons I publish most of what I make with a Creative Commons licence as well, so others can take, use and remix. It’s just good karma.

So, have YOU ever used Creative Commons material? Have you ever gone to Flickr or Jamendo or Wikimedia Commons or CC Mixter or Soundcloud or YouTube, or any of the many other sites that allow creators to provide their content freely for you to use?

I’ll bet you have. So here’s your chance to show your appreciation for what Creative Commons provides for you. The Creative Commons people are raising funds to produce an ebook about open business models. I want to encourage you to head over there right now and back them. For 10 bucks you’ll get a copy of the ebook when it’s released. And of course it’s on Kickstarter so more money gets you more stuff if you want to back them for more.

The book will no doubt be a really interesting read, so please make sure you get a copy. But seriously, even if you don’t need the book, consider it an opportunity to make a donation to Creative Commons as a way of saying thanks for what they’ve done for all of us over the last few years. They are helping keep our culture free and open and shareable.

Update: I just checked and they have just hit their 50k funding goal! That’s awesome news, but is no reason to stop backing them. Go show them that you appreciate what they’ve created for us all.

Header image by Kristina Alexanderson
https://www.flickr.com/photos/kalexanderson/6153035729/in/album-72157627559005689/

Why Is This Even A Debate?

On TV tonight I saw an ad from some group that calls themselves the “Marriage Alliance“. I looked at their website which seems to be a thinly veiled attempt to be open minded when really all they want to do is oppose same sex marriage and maintain the unfair status quo…

Their site poses a number of open questions about marriage, and while they purport to being just trying to encourage a healthy discussion about the value of marriage in general, it’s pretty obvious what their agenda is. They are clearly in opposition to same sex marriage.

So, since they asked, here are my answers to the questions on their website…

Should children have the right to know their biological history?

Yes. As an adopted child myself, I should have the right to know my history if I choose to. Some choose to and some do not. But what’s your point?  So what if a child of a same sex couple knows their biological history and where they came from?  You think that will be a problem? You think a child will not be able to deal with that information? I believe you’re 100% wrong about that. Children don’t need to be protected from the truth, they need to be protected against those that think they cannot handle the truth.

Do we know the impacts of raising our children in a changed society?

No. And neither do you. But this proposed change to same sex marriage laws are about respecting people’s rights to acknowledge who they are as people and to give them the same rights that the rest of society already enjoys. If that means that society needs to change a few things to accommodate that shift then so be it. It’s not the first thing that has ever caused a “changed society” and it won’t be the last. The fact that you are so concerned about a “changed society” shows your true colours… you just don’t want anything to change from the way it is now. Sorry, but I have bad news for you…

Are you happy to have your family redefined as a social unit?

Yes. Perfectly happy. And by the way, I’m not gay myself just in case you were wondering. I have two children that were raised to be tolerant, open minded and respectful of others. My children understand that people are all different. They also understand that society changes. And they can cope with that. I’m a man married to a woman and I’m happy to be who I am. But I have many friends who are same-sex attracted and I want them to be happy with who they are, and to have the same rights that I have. I cannot think of a single good reason why they should not have the same rights as me, and that includes marriage if they so wish.

Are we asking the right questions about the proposals to redefine marriage?

I’m not sure what question you’re asking, since you haven’t really asked any good ones so far… but here’s what I think is the right question. Is it fair to deny same sex couples the right to be married? I happen to believe that to deny that right to anyone just because it doesn’t fit your own world view is unfair and unjust. If two people feel strongly enough about each other that they want to be married, who are you to deny that right? What higher authority granted you the right to be so bold as to suggest that you know best about who can and cannot be married?

I’ve Seen The Future

I just had a couple of thoughts on Chromebooks that I wanted to share. There has been a growing interest in Chromebooks over the past year or so. I ran a Chromebook session at the IT Managers Conference in Canberra earlier this year and there was quite a bit of interest there, and I hear of a growing number of schools here in Sydney that are starting to look at Chromebooks as a possible option for student devices.

At PLC Sydney we started with a small set of 10 Chromebooks about 2 years ago, and have been steadily adding more, mainly in our junior school. They have been a major success with students and teachers alike. Easy to deploy and manage. Robust and reliable. Simple to use, and they do most everything we need.

You might notice I didn’t tout price as the advantage… while Chromebooks are quite inexpensive (around $300 each) I think it would be a major mistake to view them as nothing more than “a cheap alternative” to a “proper computer”. Being inexpensive is a nice benefit, but it’s just that; a benefit, not a feature.

The real features of Chromebooks are all the other reasons I mentioned above. We are choosing to use Chromebooks, not in spite of the fact that they don’t have a full blown conventional operating system, but BECAUSE they don’t. The speed, security and simplicity of ChromeOS is the real attraction, not just the cheap price.

After dabbling with cheap Chromebooks over the past 2 years, I bought myself a Chromebook Pixel 2 when I was in the US a few weeks ago. The Pixel is often criticised as being far too expensive for a computer perceived as being “just a browser”. At $999 USD for the cheaper model (the one I got) it works out at over $1300 AUD, which many might say is stupid expensive for what it is.

That said, even after just a week of use I have to say the Pixel is the best computer I have ever owned. It has the best screen, the best build quality, is fast, responsive, and delightful to use. I love it, and although it seemed expensive at first, and a bit of a luxury purchase, I now think it was actually very reasonable for what it can do and how it does it. I can see it redefining the way I use a computer.

Which got me thinking about the place of Chromebooks in schools over the next few years. I think the Pixel is a glimpse into the future of computing. I predict that over the next few years, as the hardware on Chromebooks grows exponentially better and the cost of producing a quality Chromebook drops exponentially lower, and the capability of what you can do in a browser grows exponentially more amazing, that this will be the future of modern computing. The Pixel is a little glimpse into that future right now.

2 years ago, based on the Chromebooks I was seeing at the time, I would not have said this. The idea of working in nothing but a browser, and all the limitations that implied at the time, was simply not good enough to be my primary machine. Now, when you look at browser based applications like Wevideo, Soundtrap, LucidPress, Polarr, etc, as well as the increasingly powerful core applications in Google Apps for Education, and you see just how incredibly capable these apps are running in nothing but a browser… well, it’s kind of mind blowing.

Right now, the difference in “going Chromebook”, compared to what was possible even 6 to 12 months ago, is astounding. And I have no doubt that the difference between the Chromebook experience now and what it will be in 1, 2 or 5 years from now will be even moreso. Right now, ChromeOS on cheap commodity hardware is adequate. But the Pixel has shown me that running ChromeOS on great hardware can be simply amazing.

I feel like I’ve seen the future.

Getting out of Password Hell

A while ago I realised that my online life was in password hell. I was using literally hundreds of sites and services that required passwords, but they were held together with a confusing mess of old passwords that I’d mostly forgotten, numerous passwords which were being used on more than one site,  passwords that didn’t meet the usual complexity rules usually required across the Internet, and so on. I often found myself having to do a password reset just to access a site, and of course that new password became yet another one I had to remember. Or forget.

I felt things were a little bit out of hand so I finally took a few steps to clean up my digital life.

First, using the same password for everything is an exceptionally stupid idea. Instead, I came up with my own system that helped me create hard-to-guess, but easy-to-remember passwords that I could apply to any site.  Having a clear system for this meant that when I signed up for some new online service I could quickly come up with a password that was memorable while also being unique to that site. It really helps to have a system. I made sure that my system always met the minimum complexity rules usually found online… that is, they contained uppercase, lowercase, numbers and symbols and were at least 8 characters long. If you do nothing else, come up with a system for your passwords! It’s so frustrating when you attempt to log in to a site that you’ve been to previously and can’t remember your password. So come up with a system for yourself, and please don’t just use the same password everywhere!

Secondly, I turned on multistep or 2-Factor authentication  for passwords on every site that offered this option (and there are a lot of them now). This is probably the single biggest thing you can do to improve the security of your online life. If you go online and don’t use 2 factor authentication, you’re not really serious about your online security. It’s that simple. I find it both amusing and frustrating when I hear people questioning the security of online services, and then find out they don’t use 2-Factor passwords. If you don’t use 2-Factor on every site that enables it,  please, don’t ever complain about the dangers of online security.  It just makes you sound silly. It’s not hard to set up, and if you use something like Google Authenticator to manage your second factors, it’s very simple to use.  The minor inconvenience of having to enter the second factor is far outweighed by the added security. Trust me on this. Turn it on. Now.

Finally, I set up a password manager. I chose LastPass,  but there are others. It took a while to get my head around how LastPass works but once I did, it made life so much easier. If you want to try LastPass for yourself you can get it on this link.
https://lastpass.com/f?7253846

If you are in password hell like I was,  take some of these positive steps to sort it out.

Just Maui’d

I know I haven’t written much here on the blog lately. I’ve been a little consumed with some other things, like getting married to my sweetheart LInda :-)

On May 20, Linda and I stood on beautiful Makena Beach in Maui and tied the knot in front of a few close friends. It was a lovely ceremony full of symbolism, fun and joy. Here’s a few photos (you can click them for a closeup)

Special thanks to Jennifer from Marbelle Photography for these wonderful photos (all of them!), to Derek Sebastian for the fabulous ukulele music, Joe Miles for his touching ceremony, and to Lori Lawrence from Tropical Maui Weddings for helping us pull it all together from afar.

We have a bit more celebrating to do yet, with a post-wedding party back in Sydney on June 20 and then another in Toronto on June 27.

Exploiting Opportunities

The following is from an email I wrote to someone who asked if I was going to be presenting at the EduTech conference in Brisbane this year. As you can see, my answer is no, but I think what’s important is my reason for saying no. If you’re planning to present at EduTech, I hope you consider the effect of saying yes.

To be honest, I am not a big fan of EduTech, mainly because I really don’t like their policy of non-payment for Australian speakers. I find it quite insulting that they are willing to pour outrageous amounts of money into getting overseas speakers but are not willing to pay anything for local speakers. I think they need to approach this with greater equity and offer ALL their speakers some form of payment, even if the locals just get a token amount. As I’ve no doubt pointed out before, this is a (very) commercial event run for profit by a professional conference-running company, and yet they expect the vast majority of what they are offering to their customers (at a significant price) to be provided to them for free.

On http://www.edutech.net.au/apply_speaker.html it clearly states that “in the vast majority of cases, we do not pay speakers”. Obviously that blanket statement is not true, as they pay many of their “big name” overseas speakers. What they mean to say is that they don’t pay local speakers because they feel they can get away with that. They also make the very generous point on that page that they “don’t charge speakers to speak”. Woop-de-do, EduTech.

While I’d be very happy to present something, on principle I’m not really willing to be exploited by the EduTech organisers who expect that all Australian presenters should be willing to present for them for free. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I’d love to see all Aussie presenters just say no to EduTech but it probably won’t happen.

There are many many great things I’m happy to give my time freely to… helping other teachers, sharing resources, giving time and energy at the grassroots level. But I’m not ok with helping EduTech carry on their culture of exploitation of Australian presenters just so they can make more money.

Featured image: CC BY-SA www.flickr.com/photos/neubie

Lipstick on a Pig

I was looking at school websites tonight trying to find some information I needed and I stumbled across a school that I won’t name, but on the front page of their website they had these two rather ironic images on display in a slider…

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I’m fairly sure that neither of these images qualifies for the claim they make of “Best Practices in Education” or “Advanced Learning Environment”.

Is it that schools simply don’t get what those terms mean? Or are they just marketing to parents who don’t understand what those terms mean? I’m not sure, but I do know that images like these completely devalue any real sense of best practise or advanced learning environments because the school clearly doesn’t know what those terms actually mean.

A school is not innovative or modern or advanced or “best practice” because it says so in their marketing brochures. It needs to actually BE those things it claims to be.

Adding phrases like that to images like this is simply just putting lipstick on a pig.