Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Now Keep Your Hand Up If You Were Being Honest...

Universal Reading Day is a program started a few years ago here at Nolan. The school selects a book that is likely to appeal to the students (so they have an incentive to read it in addition to their other required readings) and it is assigned over the summer. A few weeks into the school year, half day of presentations or activities relating to the book. Last year was Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. This year we selected Suzanne Collin's The Hunger Games. Activities this year included a mock-reaping and Hunger Games (trivia), which was won by the freshmen class, a discussion panel that I wished I could have seen, and a discussion on service and personal sacrifice. 

In addition, the social studies department chair and I gave a presentation which the planning committee described as a "discussion of various government structures and their effect on personal liberty." Below is a copy of that presentation. He did a great job putting the framework together and covering Latin America. (It's kind of his thing, you should follow him on Twitter.) The only contributions I made were on internet technology and censorship (which is kind of my thing) and Syria.

Some of this you just had to be there for, but I still wanted to share it. We only had 40 minutes, but I'm still proud of it.

Favorite thing Mike said: "If Chavez wrote the book, this guy read it." 
Favorite thing I said: "Ben Franklin would be blogging if he were alive today."
Favorite question (from a sophomore): "How close do you think the United States is to that kind of repression and censorship?"

Monday, August 20, 2012

Creative Commons Indeed

Aaaannnnnd....They found it. A student brought this to my attention today. Now I know what accounted for that second spike in traffic from Facebook....
But as one of my good friends put it "That isn't condescending skees, that's normal skees. Condescending skees leaves dents on your soul for the poor choices you've made."


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Creative Commons?

It's the first week of school, and I was so tired this morning I poured cereal into my coffee maker. I needed something to make me smile. The images below are what I found.

The photo of me is from a photography project run by one of the councilor's at my school. You can (and should) read about it over on his website. (That's probably where the student found it) The project is up on a bulletin board in the hall outside the councilor's office. I will admit that I felt good when it was my turn. It meant.....well that thought doesn't quite jive with the rest of this post. I'll keep it to myself. Next to each photo is a quote from the subject. If you want to read mine, you'll have to visit my school (you can read some better selections while you are at it.)

I don't think this is quite what the photographer had in mind. I don't know if he will be happy about this. (I'll bring it up the next time I see him.)

And for good measure...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Go Change Your Password

Here is most of a post I did for a blog I run for teachers at my school on tech stuff in the classroom. I've expanded on it a bit for this venue. Re-posting is something I try to avoid. For one thing, D20 has a more, how do I say this, tech-enabled audience. For another, that blog is more for short-form, how-to, and help posts. But I think we can have some fun expanding on this topic here.

Mat Honan, a well-respected tech journalist, was hacked recently. Hard. Attackers were able to access his iCloud account and erase his phone, iPad, and Macbook while they played havoc with his twitter account. You can read his article on the entire sad episode over at Wired.

His iCloud account, he now knows, was compromised through social engineering. So no matter how strong his iCloud password was (it really wasn't), the attackers were able to get in. What would have saved his Gmail and subsequently his Twitter account from being used to spew racist and homophobic material to his over 17,000 followers, was implementing two-factor authentication.

If I was using this story to teach my students about online security, this is what I would highlight for them.
  • Consider the strength of your passwords. If you can remember all the passwords for all the services you use online, you are doing it wrong
  • Consider the strength of your security questions. Are they something an attacker could answer from your Facebook page or any other source of public information on you?
  • Consider your password recovery options. Most accounts require an email address in case you lose your password. Is that email account the one you currently use? Is that account secure? Services like Gmail will allow you to give a phone number instead of an email address for password recovery. 
  • Consider using two-factor authentication in important services like banking, Facebook, and your email. That would mean an attacker would have to have your phone and your password to get in. 
  • If you are using iCloud or a similar service, consider the strength of that password. Especially if you have remote-wipe enabled.
Imagine you're a teacher and this happens to your student-facing social media accounts. Skip past the fact this bad guy now has access to all the information on your student's Facebook pages (the students that haven't piracy-restricted your account to the nines that is.) The attacker can talk to them with your voice. You're lucky if all they do is send out spam links or uncharacteristic statements to your students. It's embarrassing, but they'll probably get what's happening. (It's probably happened to their friends more than once.)

Imagine you get cracked but you don't hear about it until your administrator calls you in a week later and asks you to explain the printed-out Facebook chat log in his hand...You could probably prove your innocence by pointing to IP logs or other evidence (if the attacker wasn't using an IP in your building). You probably wouldn't survive the accusations of incompetence and irresponsibility if you didn't lock your stuff down. Get your school IT guy in the room and you might convince your administrator, but try explaining it to the parents. Even if they believe it was the attacker and not you, their response might sound something like "you built a door between my child and the wide world, and then you didn't think to lock it?" Depending on what was sent to your students, it might be the police asking you to explain the chat-log instead of your administrator.

But these things happen. Despite our best efforts, despite reasonable and even unreasonable precautions, bad people will do bad things. I think Gina Trapani put it best when discussing the Mat Honan hack on This Week in Google when she said "no matter how many locks I put on my door there is always a way inside the house, it depends on how hard the person is going to try." Teachers always face extra scrutiny. We accept that the first time they fingerprint us. And there are always seem to be people willing to believe in the worst about their neighbors at the drop of a hat.

If you're going to use these tools with your students (if you're even allowed to use them.) You cannot use them in ignorance.

Think of the evil that is committed against children. Consider everything that filled you, a teacher, a person who has committed a portion of your lives to well-being of children with absolute rage or deepest sorrow, now imagine how much easier it would be for the people who do those things if they could speak with your voice.

Now go change your password. And if you aren't teaching your kids about security and the same time you teach them about the tools you use, start.

Friday, August 3, 2012

What We Make It

When some people reflect on what the internet has become, they see it as a repository of embarrassing things you did when you were in college or high school, just waiting to resurface and bite you. I like to think of it as photo albums you can't lose. My wife and I just moved into our first house. While packing up my office, I found a few notes relating to some things I had written and posted online but had forgotten about. The site was still there, attached to an account I no longer use. (I had set it up to share stuff with friends without using Facebook) Like any box of junk you look through when you move, it had one or two things in it worth saving.

One of them was an essay (I guess you could call it, or a eulogy) I wrote on a sushi bar we used to frequent in college that had since closed. It was kind of a secret place. Something shared with friends. Most of those friends have moved away. Some of them are now married. Some of them I see from time to time. Some of them I have not seen or heard from in years.

I put it up last summer, and that feels like a long time ago. So I decided to clean it up (boy do I suck at writing) and re-post it here. 

Reflections on Sushi Place, May She Rest In Peace.
We were both in the car when I noticed it. We were closer now that we had ever been in quite some time, probably more than a year. My wife was driving and I was supposed to be navigating with the use of my iPhone when I recognized the intersection one block north of the hospital that was our destination. "You know," I said, "we're right next to Sushi Place."

"I know!" She said, sounding excited and sad at the same time. Apparently she is more location-aware than I am. I wanted to go see it, to take a picture. We weren't in a hurry, my aunt was being discharged that day after suffering a fall and a broken leg. It would only take a minute. So we went.  

After we visited my aunt and went home, this visit kept nagging at me. I am a teacher on his summer vacation. I'm not in a hurry. So I'll write about it. (I need the practice.)

We knew it was gone ever since it came up on a Google search as "closed" several months back. Reading that made me sad in a way I did not quite understand until I saw the place empty. And that's not because I'm a fat guy who likes good food. (Although It was very, very good here.) 

A good many very happy memories of my college years fall somewhere around visits to this place. My wife and I (before we were married) shared meals here with some of our closest friends. Those of us who know about this place have lost a secret in which to initiate others.

This is how one our typical weekend visits would play out. First, you should know that it is a long way from where we lived at the time, and even further from where we live now, so going there was a journey in itself. Being college students, we would drive in groups in order to bring everyone who wanted to go. We usually got there around noon.

Walk through the doors of the Mae Hua supermarket, past whatever booth was in the entrance (from cell phones to earthquake relief, it was a different booth every time), down the corridor to the left just before the supermarket itself, and into the food court. 

Someone would go into the supermarket itself and pick up a six-pack (or two) of Sapporo or Kirin while the others went ahead. Depending on the length of the checkout line, they would either be sitting around a table, white ordering paper and pens in hand, or at the register, handing over their slips and their cash (They only accepted cash back then), by the time the beer arrived.

Sushi Place was small. It had a bar that wrapped around the counter that enclosed the prep area, a cash register, and a refrigerated display with cans of coke and green tea. The bar was set between another restaurant called Korean Garden and a coffee shop called Escape, with another commercial space that was alternatively a hair salon, a judo studio, or vacant.

If our group was small enough, we could sit there, between the glass display case and wooden models of Japanese sailing ships, and watch the chef prepare our food. In front of it was an open space like a mall food court that it shared with the other restaurants. We would sit there more often than not. They would put our beer in the glass cooler for the soft-drinks next to the counter, and they would even lend us a bottle-opener.

If we had a big group we would sit at one of the large round tables shared by the other restaurants. If you sat with your back to the counter you could look into the supermarket proper through a wall that's top-half was all glass. If you sat with the counter to your left, you could look at the food being served at the other restaurant and think "that looks good, but I will never come all the way out here and not eat sushi." If you sat with the counter on your right, you could look through a set of glass doors into the coffee shop (and think about dessert.) If you sat facing the counter you could watch the people work and the Japanese game shows on the TV. This is all scenery, the frame in which you would sit and talk, eat and drink.

The miso soup would arrive sometime during the first beer, and would be gone before that beer was empty. The first round of sushi would arrive sometime during the second beer. (This time scale could lengthen or shorten depending on the crowd, the complexity and volume of the order, and the joyfulness of the occasion.) The sushi was always delicious.

On our first visit, the friend who brought us  recommended the Tsubasa rolls, and it became our favorite. A different friend on another visit had me try the Uni (sea urchin), which then became my metric when judging the quality of other restaurants. I am not practiced at describing how food tastes. All I can say is that it was always good. That opinion is shared by other (and perhaps more reliable) witnesses.

At some point during the meal, Angela would get up and walk over to a store that had been known to sell Totoros (one of her addictions). Sometimes she would come back with one, sometimes not. After the food, we would sit and talk for a while. We would either finish the beer or tie it up in a plastic bag to take home. Angela would be the first to get up. She would walk through the glass door which was the rear entrance of the coffee shop and order pearl milk tea.

Escape was slightly larger than a Starbucks, but I never saw it as crowded as one. It served coffee, smoothies, and bubble tea. It had couches and tables and bright electric lights. Some people would get tapioca "bubbles" in their drink (like me) some wouldn't (like my wife). When we were finished, we would go out through the front door of the coffee shop and into the parking lot. Sometimes we would stop while one or two people enjoyed a hand-rolled cig. Then drive home.

We spent time here with three couples who would eventually get married (two of those close friends, one acquaintances) We spent time reconnecting with old friends who live far away, and even with friends who hated sushi. I did not lose these friends, only a place, a context in which to hold them. The talented people who worked here will not want long for a job elsewhere, I think. I have no doubt that I will taste food which is as good or better at some point in my life. But I have lost the possibility of repeating history, and that makes me sad.