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Category Archives: Disruptive

War of the Worlds, fought in Zeros and Ones

Cyber War is a hot topic once again. It has been covered by the BBC (“Silent War’), and even by TR (Russia Today) which cites Edward Snowden, and Defon. Also CNN, has covered it –scary CNN style!– about attacks on individuals via social media.

Last month, I was asked to cover this topic for an upcoming special feature in LMD Magazine. I found out some disturbing activities, and reality-checks that the public doesn’t seem concerned about. After all, we are busy worrying about how corporations’ databases are being attacked, and personal information stolen, because that’s what the popular news networks latch onto.

“But make no mistake: America is under attack by digital bombs,” noted Senator Michael McCaul last year when calling for cybersecurity legislation.

In his book “@War: The rise of the military-internet complex.” Shane Harris gives us one example of how governments fight a War of the Worlds scenario. The Chinese have been hacking sensitive US databases for some time, but in one such attack, the government initially withheld this information. Possibly so as not to tip-off the Chinese hackers, he says.

This was a de-facto military assault on a military target. And the target? The design plans for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet in 2007, the so-called ‘fighter to end all fighters,’ that had a price tag of $400 million. It’s well reported today that more than 100 of the world’s militaries indulge in some sort of cyber war tactics. For more on this see Peter Singer’s excellent article in Popular Science.

For this article I interviewed Cornel Ruston, a Sri Lankan-born, California-based network security consultant, who talks about how why all organizations, not just government agencies need to protect their ‘crown jewels’.

The problem is, despite all the fancy communication technologies in our arsenal, we have become sluggish, in the way we communicate with all those who might help thwart cyber war-styled attacks. We tend to put more emphasis on the locks instead. But for every lock, there are a hundred lock-pickers.

If you like a sneak preview of the article, it will be released on Feb 26th.

 

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Cool or Creepy, the ‘Internet of Things’ is here

The Internet of Things,’ a buzz phrase slung around for some years now –now known by its equally fancy acronym IoT —  is deeper and broader than shaving mirrors that display the weather, or activity trackers worn as wrist bands, and tethered to a mobile device.

I just wrote an article on this for a magazine, and used as my working definition this from a Gartner report: A network of physical objects that could communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment. 

Hooking up these ‘things,’ small enough to lie beneath the skin of a plastic toy or shell of a small appliance makes manufacturers and retailers salivate. They could use the data from these devices to ‘inform’ them as to how we make our purchasing decisions, or even interact socially. An internet of people, and an Internet of things, in one continuous happy loop.

Here’s a fascinating example of how it is being used. I once spoke to a young entrepreneur whose business model was based on the ‘data’ retrieved from towels and linen in a hotel room. Fluffy stuff, mind you, not hard objects, wired to the cloud! Here’s how it works. Ultra High Frequency (UHF) tags are sewn into sheets, towels, and pillowcases,

I was tempted to make light of the surveillance possibilities of fluffed pillows – Wiki Leaks for dirty sheets. But really, there are places where data gathering could help in such inventory control. Tracking the path of soiled, laundered, lost and replaced linen like FedEx packages!

Whatever next?

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2015 in Disruptive, Technology

 

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Podcasting is hot stuff. Again!

There seems to be a growth spurt for podcasting.

I love the fact that the audio format has been on the upswing, even despite the explosion of screen-based communication options. Depending on who you ask, they will tell you video didn’t assassinate the radio star for various reasons. Such as

  • Podcasts is immensely portable, and does is perfect for multi-tasking
  • Podcasts capture the ‘authentic’ voice of the person or the moment being represented – no fake ‘DJ voice’ required
  • Podcasts have in their DNA something akin to long-form journalism – deep dives into content, rather than skimming a topic

  • Podcasts lend themselves to drama, even while being authentic. The nearest thing to the documentary.

My recent favorites are Snap Judgement, Serial, Invisibilia (former radio Lab producers), and Star Talk.

Apart from the usual line up of This American Life, For Immediate Release, and EdReach, an education podcast for Ed-tech matters I now dabble in.

 

Interestingly this year will be six years since I first got into podcasting. And this year may be the year we begin podcasts at my school. More on this in a later post!

 

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When “Off-the-Record” is suddenly not

The ‘microphone is always on’ rule has always applied, whether you worked for the media, with the media, or anything in between.

The story unraveling the uber-weird story of ride-share company Uber and an off-the-record meeting, gives us something to chew on. It is a gray area, with journalist Michael Wolff observing (or at least respecting) the rules of engagement in off-the-record agreements, while one of his colleagues Ben Smith does not.

The PR industry makes a better distinction of not just off- and on-the record, but ‘attribution.’ This is worth a read in case you are speaking to anyone, and are tempted to say “don’t quote me on this.”

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2014 in Disruptive, Social Media

 

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Screens come under scrutiny – again!

I knew we’d be talking about this sooner or later: Do touch screens reduce how much we absorb, while paradoxically increasing ‘engagement’? Or, are the dumb things that happen in Real Life better teachers than VR, or smart screens?

Researchers have been warning us –from pre-Internet days–  that excessive screen time was having negative effects on children’s attention, learning (cognitive skills, language development), and sleep.

A screen is a two-dimensional (2D) experience that is hard to resist, across all age groups. Yet, a recent report tells us that screens “do not inherently provide (children under 3 with) rich opportunities for whole mind-body learning.”

For instance, it says:

 

“Researchers who study how children learn have concluded, however, that it is easier for young children to comprehend information from real-life experiences with people and objects compared with information delivered via a screen.”  (“Screen Sense. Setting The Record Straight”)

No one is asking us to eliminate screen-time. But we could rethink how creative thinking, problem solving and experimentation could work without pixels.

 

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Besides a pencil sharpener and white board, the new must-have: 3D Printer

File this under ‘Disruptive’

It’s stunning to see how far we have come with 3D printing.

I don’t know about you, but when the little things break down –the arm of your reading glasses for instance — I wish I had something more than super glue to fix it.

I’m looking forward to a time when we will get back to being fixer-uppers, and print the part that was nicked off our desk, or died right in front of our eyes.

What’s even more disruptive is how Public Libraries are getting into this arena, with the maker-space phenomenon taking root in cities.

 

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2014 in Disruptive

 

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Hyperventilating about tablets in the classroom

You’ve probably read plenty of stories how tablets are shifting the tectonic plates in teaching. And ‘personalized learning.’

I hang around many all-things-digital folk, making rallying for ‘tablets in the classroom! tablets in the classroom!” I also talk to those anxious as desktops give way to touch screens in the class. My daughter’s class now does a math class on Dell tablets. My school has two touch-screen computer hubs.

And though I run a (tablet-free, for now) computer lab, I was a tad irritated by a statement by a fellow computer lab instructor quoted in a TIME article as saying “We don’t care about handwriting.” This was in response to a parent’s concern about screens in a classroom in California.

Not sure who the royal plural ‘we’ referred to, but Matthew Gudenis certainly doesn’t speak for me, or my school’s position. (Read The Paperless Classroom is Coming” in TIME this week.)

Gudenis should’ve read this wonderful piece by Susan Vechon, “Why Learning To Write by Hand Matters,” (in Education Week) who admits she stumbled on the connection between handwriting and the higher-level thinking after many years of teaching.

I’m not dissing tablets, per se. I would be the first to admit that classrooms need to use more of the technologies that young people encounter once they clamber back on the bus after school. But that does not mean dismissing the value of books and pencils, notebooks and research. If we are not careful how we present them, the tabletized learning environment could unwittingly turn students into consumers of knowledge, not producers of ideas and opinions. Touch screens can turn readers into content snackers. We need to create spaces where students could do some thinking and talking, apart from clicking and scrolling.

Twelve to fifteen years from now, these will be our human resources, our intellectual capital. They will be the ones generating your reports, formulating cogent arguments that impact communities, writing persuasive letters, covering the local news.

To say we don’t care about handwriting because kids today know to type, is like saying we don’t need to care about spelling and grammar, because we have auto-correct and spell-check. So let’s stop hyperventilating about tablets, and get excited about what we can do with them.

 

Update: Just came across this Discussion of Screen Time

 

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2014 in Disruptive, Education, Social Media

 

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