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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Grouse with the Sky

On Sunday, I was playing a game of Innovation.  Innovation is a unique card game where player’s quest for achievements, the person who score five achievements wins.  This was the first time I was playing the game and as usual in a new game, it took me a while to figure out what I was doing.  As I proceeded through man’s history of innovations, represented by cards separated by ages, I found myself doing better as later age cards came my way.  An opponent, who had done well in earlier ages, found himself reeling from the cards I found myself with in later rounds of the game.  As he stayed in the past, using his older technology, my newer technology found a way to catch up and help me win the game.

One of the things I love about games is how they take something in real life and simplify it.  Laying it bare before you and sometimes letting you see the hidden truth of life.  In Innovation it was about how technology, man’s innovations changed society, how those who stayed behind and did not change were left behind.  Moreover, no one died, but not all opponents fared as well as others.  There were winners and losers.

Some people who read my articles will think I just side with technology, always seeing the positives and never seeing the disadvantages.  I will take that assessment and live with it, I do like to see the positives in the possibilities, because of the negatives of the realities.   That is to say, what could be done for the benefit of the whole is often ignored for the benefit of the few.  We have so many leaders who say they are looking out of the best for all, when reality is they are looking to the benefit of themselves.  This selfishness becomes a detriment to them in the end.  In addition, so many times in my life I have seen those who put selfishness to the side, ultimately prosper more.  Moreover, because we are a society that values a good cover, we sometimes never see the truth.

Every week, sometimes every day, I am reminded of how things are changing because of the current revolution we are going through.  Technology is once again changing us and it amazes me those who complain or use fear to dissuade the change.  Especially those who complain the loudest from their air-conditioned house, while using a phone or using a pencil and piece of paper to complain about the future.  Never once considering the things they are using to complain are the result of technology and change.  What is even sadder is the realization that those who are older or in power are using fear to prop up that which is obsolete and must go.

One such recent example of this is the Post Office.  The Post Office is becoming endangered and soon will no longer serve a good purpose.  One of the reasons the Post Office still exists is because of the slow growth of reliable broadband access in the country.  People just do not have the need for paper form of communication like they did before, when more direct and quicker options such as Texting, IM and E-Mail exist today.  And when you the reason for saving the institution is that senior citizens need junk mail to keep them company is a never a good sign.

Someone will be quick to point out that you cannot send a package any other way.  And while that is true, I will be quick to point out other companies who do that job also.

Another thing I am noticing is the fact that corporations and institutions (I am starting to think this is a very bad word) who have had a lock on certain sectors are starting to watch their grip fall away.   We have seen news agencies lose some of their grip to the rise of the blogger and man on the street reporting.  We are also seeing delivery of things like entertainment (music, movies) completely change power structures.  The traditional is becoming the old, and the ancient before our eyes.  Moreover, those who are not careful to watch the changes are going to swept up and left behind.

It is ironic to see the complaint about unfairness of current power structures towards those not in power, when the system that is so unfair is being made fair on its own.   It is almost as if the system finds a way of balancing itself out.  We are seeing the Horse and Buggy makers laughing at the Automobile makers in modern day.  Moreover, in the end those that put themselves ahead of others, ultimately find themselves the real losers.  In a world of “dog eat dog”, everyone loses.

In experiments at six public universities, students assigned randomly to statistics courses that relied heavily on “machine-guided learning” software — with reduced face time with instructors — did just as well, in less time, as their counterparts in traditional, instructor-centric versions of the courses. This largely held true regardless of the race, gender, age, enrollment status and family background of the students.
http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/05/22/report-robots-stack-human-professors-teaching-intro-stats

This past week I found this story among my daily reads.  The article is about how machine guided instruction can be cheaper and more beneficial students then traditional forms of education.  Moreover, as with anything that disrupts the current, the shore of dissent arises.  Reading the comments to the article it is clear that those in power and those that have a vested interest are going to be resistive to change.

Now I will be quick to point out that:

The robotic software did have disadvantages, the researchers found. For one, students found it duller than listening to a live instructor. Some felt as though they had learned less, even if they scored just as well on tests. Engaging students, such as professors might by sprinkling their lectures with personal anecdotes and entertaining asides, remains one area where humans have the upper hand.

Change is not going to happen overnight and testing will need to happen to balance the two out.  Machine Guided Learning (also known as Online Learning) has a lot of bugs to iron out, but it is the a solution to a problem traditional learning cannot solve.  That is, those students that do not fit the averages of learning, and want to move forward on their own.  In the last five years there has been a movement towards Open Source Learning, that is higher education allowing anyone access to their educational materials to learn on their own.

I almost (sadly not) enrolled in Stanford’s free Introduction to Artificial Intelligence.  This was a free Online Course.

One thing that I ponder is why this is such a bad future for society as a whole.  The traditional would say that you get what you pay for, but is it not in our best interest to do what we can to pass on the next generation better opportunities in areas such as education, even if that costs society more.  Now when I talk about bigger costs I am not talking just about money, but about jobs.  Just as the Industrial Revolution cost jobs, I see the same happening now.  The traditional is becoming obsolete and that is not always a bad thing, as people will make it out to be.  In addition, looking at the situation as a whole the benefit to the whole of society outweighs the benefit of the few.

A few years ago, I was reading a book about how people romanticize about the past.  The never look back on the past with the proper light of truth.  People fantasize the past, looking at it through rose-colored stained glass windows never letting the truth come to light.  Because as we know fantasy is always better then reality…

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Technology

 

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The Same Never Changes

“If the media had given the Progress Party a fair chance without demonizing them before an election, then I wouldn’t have carried out the attacks,” Breivik told defense attorney Vibeke Hein Baera.
http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2012/0420/Norway-killer-Breivik-Voices-in-my-head-told-me-Don-t-do-this

The 33-year-old said he practised his shot using a “holographic aiming device” on the war simulation game, which he said is used by armies around the world for training.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/19/anders-breivik-call-of-duty

Again for the second time this week an article on CNN has caused me to want to put my head through a wall.  This is conclusive proof that news does cause violence!  Okay I’m being sarcastic, but in the many year of my life I’ve seen this topic come up too many times.  Let’s just go to what the article says:

Young men — who play video games and use porn the most — are being digitally rewired in a totally new way that demands constant stimulation. And those delicate, developing brains are being catered to by video games and porn-on-demand, with a click of the mouse, in endless variety.
http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/23/health/living-well/demise-of-guys/index.html

Fair Warning: I am not going to deal with Porn, because Porn was invented yesterday.

When I was growing up my Dad did a number of things, one was eating an orange.  Another was to watch nightly news at 6 pm on the dot, he enjoyed reading books and he liked to smoke a lot.  Also growing up I was always exposed to some family member at a reunion or wedding getting drunk.

Now sitting here typing this as an adult I must confess the harshest of truths!  I do not do any of the above.  One could argue that it is because of what I saw growing up I chose not to do those things.  For one I am not one who likes to do what I think is the norm.  This is not because it is the cool, rebellious thing to do but because I am a person who likes to taste and try many things.   For example, as a board gamer, I try to play anything and everything put before me.  If you tried to pin me down to saying what my favorite game is, it would have be dependent on the season of my life.

My life is a contradiction of what these studies say.  I should be a smoker, watch nightly news and probably drink.  I would venture it was probably because of over-exposure that caused me not to want any part of those activities.  For one I never liked when my Dad would start to cough from his body trying to expel the smoke from his lungs.  Thinking your Dad was going to keel over and die at a young age is never a fun experience.  Also seeing a person at a wedding get his head split open because he was drunk probably helped my teetotalism.  Even when I finally was able to try drinking, I did and never found it to my liking.  And I’m not talking about that get drunk trial period, I’m talking drinking one beer.  It’s just not my thing.

And because of these stances I don’t think I’m abnormal in the choices I made, or it makes me superior to others that chose different routes in life.  But maybe it does make me superior and maybe I should go on a crusade to rid the world of the evils of drinking!  That’s the ticket I’ll go on a crusade telling the world that drinking causes violence and….

Someone: Kevin!

Me: Yes.

Someone: Stop It!

Me: okay

One of the things that is disheartening, reading these articles and studies is how much it seems the same flawed, common sense, facts are treated as filthy lies.  One of the reason I feel like banging my head is because in over a decade of reading these studies and conclusions, even after proven wrong, they still persist with their claim that they have some miraculous way to ensure children will not become violent.  It is like those studies that said playing Classical Music will make your child become smarter.  It was flawed because truth be told (boy do I hate that cliché) there is no one set path to a child becoming anything.

Well actually there is, control.

Over a decade ago, I remember watching a programs on TV about MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and how it needed to be stopped because it was too violent.  What was interesting was how some things were glossed over, while critics wanted to say MMA was nothing but the Roman Coliseum come true in modern day society, Boxing was given the free pass.  It was interesting to see that MMA had rules to keep people from being beat senseless, while Boxing was the opposite.  It was also pointed out that people who opposed MMA and tried to get it outlawed were big supporters of Boxing.  A simple truth came to me that day, question everything.

I am not going to sit here and argue that all children should be exposed to hours of violent media.  I could do my own studies and prove this a good thing.    I once joked many moons ago, that I could do a study proving teaching a two year old how to use a shotgun would benefit society.  I have since learned I could.  A good study will lead to more questions, because there are no easy answers to life.  In addition, we as humans need to fail and learn from mistakes to grow.  When I read studies that say just remove this one thing and all will be better, I get scared because answers are never that easy, because these studies and conclusions tend to gloss over a lot data to get to their answer.

Moreover, questions that arise are never answered, or key information is left out.  Such was the case with the people who said video games caused Breivik to kill.  Sure he played Call of Duty and trained on it, so naturally we can conclude that there are millions of killers in waiting because of this epidemic, right?  Because a game that is played by millions means that there is an army being trained right now.  I actually don’t know if this is a bad thing, because glossing over which of the many Call of Duty game (this a multi-game franchise) one can’t tell which plot he was training for.  Was he training to stop Hitler, or was he training to stop some mad man who wanted to start nuclear war?  Is this a bad thing?

On the other hand, can we deal with the reality that Breivik had to use a device to turn the game into a true simulator?  Probably not because that would defeat the purpose of these studies, that there are many factors that come into play when real life violence happens.  Breivik also wrote a manifesto, he also read book, do we need laws to prevent the dangers of reading and writing?  Do we need to go on crusades to stop the “future” violence that can occur.

I think Penn & Teller summed up the real issues with this kind of thinking:

WARNING: This has some language

There is one last take away from these kinds of articles; Fear.  I have to say that I do not believe all the people who do these studies are “evil” and trying to manipulate people.  Yes there are some who do, but I believe most of the time these studies are a quest to find answers to problems in society.  However, an undercurrent in most of these studies is fear.  That is what is not understood must be the problem, or simple put we judge the front of the book too quickly.

This is no different then what people do when they play sports.  You know the stories of sports players who will not wash their hat because they’ve just won 20 games in a row.  Somehow that hat is the reason for the wins, so if the hat changes therefore the team will lose.  I see this done so many times in these studies, the new factors are treated as the cause of the problem and then the root is never looked at.  Just like the player who doesn’t wash his hat never looks at the reason for the wins, the raw talent of the players assembled, so do these studies gloss over root causes to get the quick and easy answer.

It would have been so easy to say Columbine happened because two people played a violent video game and watched a violent movie.  However, to get to that point you have to gloss the research they did to construct bombs, learn how to fire guns.  In addition, you have to gloss over the journals they wrote and then the therapy the killers got for their depression.  Moreover, when you think about it why were these things glossed over: Why wasn’t writing the problem?  Why wasn’t reading the problem?  Why wasn’t the drugs prescribed the problem?  And finally why wasn’t the Psychologists the problem?

Could it be that it’s easy to blame things that we don’t personally like and have no care if they go away.

Nah, how ludicrous for me thinking such a thing…

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2012 in Gaming

 

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Oh NOES The ____ beat me up…

Not only is the internet hurting children, it is also leaving the lights on when it leaves the room, and forgetting to put down fresh water for the cat. And I’m pretty sure it was the internet that keyed my car in a parking lot last month.
– John Titor

On Monday Chelsea Clinton and James Steyer, decided to write on the (QUOTE) “very real” (QUOTE) threat the Internet poses our children and teens.  Of course don’t forget the teens; you know they can’t think for themselves.  The great “truth” they want you know is this:

We need legislation, educational efforts and norms that reflect 21st-century realities to maximize the opportunities and minimize the risks for our kids. Only then will we be able to give them the safe, healthy childhood and adolescence they deserve.
http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/21/opinion/clinton-steyer-internet-kids/index.html

I tried my best to read the article with all seriousness but just could not.  Again we have the cry of “for the children” by people who want to see the best for our children.  As an aside the group they are a part of (Common Sense Media) was a big supporter of the recently struck down violent video game law in California.  This was the law that would have banned the sale of “violent” video games to minors.  I think this is part of the reason I could not look at the article with any seriousness.

Another part of the article is that it is so data driven with little argument towards reasoning for law.  One thing to remember when someone pulls out a slew of data is to ask yourself what the controls were.  Number data can be good but only when you know how the numbers were generated.  Then there is the problem of averages, sure 7 out of 10 people like this soda, but what about 8, 9 and 10?  See the problem with numbers is that those who don’t fit those averages are a world of data unto themselves.  In simple terms: 50% of 8s enjoy this soda, while 35% of the time enjoying this soda…

Now mind you that I am not against Government laws and regulations when called for.  However, the laws need to be based on solutions and not just quick fixes to problems.  Calling for some law to take care of a present day problem on the Internet is narrow minded and will become obsolete shortly.  Another problem with the article was while it was great in pointing out the negatives, it never pointed at the root cause.  Moreover, that is my problems with articles, it goes at great lengths to explain the problem, but never explains why it happens.  A problem, like a tree, always has a root that caused the problem to show itself.  If you want to kill the “problem,” attacking the root is the only way to take care of the “problem.”  It is funny how such an important issue like this one cannot take a few words to say the real issue: Parents are the problem.

That is what the article does not want to say, but does.  If children are spending so much time in fruitless pursuits, where are the parents?  But of course if it did that how many would listen?  Easier to blame the big ____ as the ultimate enemy, because it cannot defend itself, an inanimate object really has no voice to argue back.  Easy to beat up the scarecrow when you know he does not fight back.  Now mind you, if you find yourself in Oz I would think twice, he might punch back.

The other issue I have is the “urgency” for a conversation on an issue that has existed before the public knew it did.  The social part of the Internet did not just pop up overnight, and it did not start with Facebook.  Looking past adults, children have been on computers and technology since their invention.  If you do not want to buy into that, then I can assure you that since I was in elementary school I have been exposed to computers almost every day of my life.  Computers and the new technology, which is in constant flux, is now the normality of life and will not change barring complete collapse of society.

Moreover, this “conversation” is always urgent with those who no longer have control, nor should have control.  I again am not saying that the conversation is not needed if there were legitimate concerns.  But when the concerns seem to be geared towards “I don’t like how children act today” is not a good reason to stop the world so you can have your say.

In addition, that is not to say that all the arguments brought up within the article are bad.  For example, children understanding privacy, and the understanding of what they share is important.  But does that go to the extent of stopping them before failure and mistake?  When did it become necessary to stop children from making mistakes and sometimes failing?  I for one understand not giving a four year old the keys to the car and say go, boundaries are good no argument there.  Nevertheless, if steps are in place to keep children from bad things and they still go to those places, where do we put blame and what do we do to solve it?  Moreover, does that mean we always need Government to answer that problem?  As I pointed out before, if sexting crimes were allowed to continue the way they were, we would face a future were the majority of future adults would be sex offenders.

This whole issue comes down to this: Have you ever played the game of: Good or Evil?  Simple take an item, any item, and ask yourself this question: “Is it good or evil?”  Start with a knife and see where it takes you.

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2012 in Technology

 

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Julia: A new note

This is going to be short but it seems a very interesting aside to my story on Julie, came out:

Meanwhile, the federal government has made scant effort to enforce the requirement that companies give the preferential rate to schools. The Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the program, has yet to bring an enforcement action against any carrier for violating the low-price rule, according to interviews and documents, some obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. And the FCC, acting through the private company that administers the program, has provided little if any guidance to companies on how to apply the best-price rule. Indeed, in 2010, companies such as AT&T and Verizon sought clarification on the rule.

“Time and again, we find that schools are rarely advised by the telephone companies of their best available rates,” said Howard Rotto, whose New York consulting firm has represented dozens of schools in the Northeast for four decades. “When representatives of the carrier do not even know of the existence of their best pricing,” Rotto asked, “how can such a rate ever be offered or known?”
http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2012/05/att-feds-neglect-low-price-mandate-designed-to-help-schools/

I would recommend to read the article in it’s entirety.  It seems the E-Rate program, which requires CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act,) that provides school low rate telecommunications is not being followed by providers.

So the question I am left to wonder if the program is not being used properly, nor enforced, why are we as parents being forced to agree to terms and conditions apart of a program that is not being enforced?

More on this later after some more thought and reading.

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Technology

 

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I’m old…

I am a gamer, as some who know me personally.  However, more so over the past few years I have found myself in the analog (board) world of gaming, versus digital (video) games.  Also being an aspiring designer in the analog world of gaming, I tend to spend my free gaming time playing analog games.  In addition, it is a funny thing but as a game designer, you feel you never get to play games anymore.  Outside as a regular gamer, if you got the design urge you clamor to be on the inside developing, and then when you get there you find your time slipping towards development.  Other things get in the way as one gets older (house, kids, etc.) and if you are smart you find ways to combine the two such as playing games with the kids (and not telling your wife the game console is really for you and not the kids (shhh).)

😉

One thing I find that has suffered the most is that of reading gaming sites and news.  Sure from time to time I do, but since a lot of my inspiration for game ideas actually comes from real life and day to day news, I tend to find my casual reading slipping away from gaming related journalism.  Years ago I read, and read (and read) every piece of gaming related print media I could get my hands on.  If I could not play it all I was certainly going to read about it all.  When Nintendo Power did not satisfy, there was GamePro, then EGM.  Not only was I in a good position being born when I was in terms of digital gaming, I had the privilege of watching the journalistic side of the industry grow up.  I also had the side benefit of building up a timeline of history from all the reading I did.

However, with all that excitement as I grew up, certain realities started to creep in to my view.  One was the understanding that these gaming magazines had their biases.  I still remember the day, as a young boy that I finally realized that Nintendo Power was not out for gaming as much as it was for a certain company.  I noticed the tell-tale signs from that point on that certain things were amiss with my favorite magazines, as games that advertised seemed to get the most press.  As I got more freedom with money and age, along with the advent of the Internet, I shed these magazines in favor of my mobility and new source of abundant game information choices.  I found that as I got older and engaged the world community of the online, that people saw the same things I did.  It was sort of that underlying hidden “we don’t talk about those things” between gamers.

The tradeoff I accepted during this whole period was the information in pictures.  Since digital gaming was a visual medium, the pictures could make up for what was not talked about.  Moreover, as is the custom with slight wrong doings, solutions were found for the problems.  Review agitating (collection) sites like MetaCritic sprung up and gave a more balanced picture of how good games were.  The underlying issue of bias was there, but since it was an unspoken truth it didn’t matter.  It wasn’t until a little event known as Gerstmann-Gate hit.

Jeff Gerstmann was an editor for Gamespot and on that fateful day in 2007, Gamespot was decked out with ads for the newest Eidos game, Lynch & Kane.  He gave the game a very low score, which led to his firing.  What was not talked about suddenly became a spoken truth with this concrete proof.  It was not so much vindication of a thought going back to my teenage years, but more a surprise that a well hidden thought in public would emerge from it’s shadows.  A great summary of the event is found here.

And the world moved on…

This week I was caught off guard by the launch of Diablo 3.  No, I was not taken back by the game launch itself, but the fact that within hours of release there was a number of problems.  Now at this point I could be writing about a number of things, including how sad the state of affairs in modern gaming is when it comes to things like DRM (Digital Rights Management) or how Blizzard took a hit on its PR front with the miscalculation for server capacity on launch day.  Something else caught my eye.

I don’t blame gamers for being angry that their $60 doesn’t get them a working product out of the box, especially when they were told and advertised by every single website and their cousin that the product would work as advertised. I don’t blame gamers for being savvy enough to find outlets to express this rage, it certainly beats being spoon-fed patronizing notions that the publisher is always right; video games are just a luxury; consumers should never be outraged at faulty products, or demanding quality equates to being a whiny, entitled brat.
http://www.cinemablend.com/games/Diablo-3-Launch-Fiasco-Proves-Video-Game-Journalism-Fails-42624.html

It was amazing to see where we are now from reading that article.  See what has changed is, well nothing.  If anything some journalists in gaming have taken their a more incredulous approach to criticism to games they cover.  If anything was surprising to me was that some gamers out there didn’t get the memo about Gerstmann-Gate and that unwritten rule of journalism.  Bias will, and always has existed.  I understand that as a part of the game you need advertising to pay the bills.  And that advertising will come into conflict with truth in journalism.  As much as a critic wants to be honest, fair and truthful when you have an ad of the movie sitting next to the glowing 4 star review, you as the reader have to take it with a grain of salt.  Moreover, I thought this would go without saying.

But to my surprise, I guess it does need to be said.

There is a section of the gaming community for those on the outside would look at as fanatical, these gamers we call “fanboys.”  Fanboys will latch on to a company or developer and defend them with all their might.  What surprised me, or I should say felt weird, was that there was now fanboys of the sites and journalists themselves.  It was weird in a way because normally these sites will bear the brunt of the fanboys of companies they like.  I guess it really is a vicious circle that I forgot about, or my mind told me to forget, but it certainly is perplexing.

Years ago I entered my adult years with wonderment.  And then this weird thought hit me when I turned 21 – Why don’t my parents go to the movies anymore?

Now I understand.

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2012 in Gaming

 

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Julie continued…

This is a continuation of the topic I started on Wednesday that can be found here.

Acceptable Use…
As I said before what happened to Julie can happen to anyone in a public position.  Shortly after I discovered Julie’s story, I was presented with the Acceptable Use Policy for my children’s school district.  This document was the contract that I was to sign, acknowledging I understood what the school’s policy was on technology and Internet use in the school.  My first thought was to ponder why elementary school aged children would not be supervised, thus providing the need for signing of such a document.  Then I went through the process of reading the document thoroughly.

Now mind you, as tech savvy as I am, EULAs and licensing agreements on software are something I barely put thought to.  Nevertheless, this document had me curious, what did it contain and why did it need my signature as a parent?  So I went through the document to see what it contained.  In great detail it listed what would be provided, what would be the responsibility of the user and even tried to curtail my criticism of the school district.  It was troubling to say the least.

Moreover, protection for my children when they did wrong doing, was the shortest part of the document.  This was the most troubling aspect of the document for me.

I decided I needed to speak with someone at the school.

Bumbling, fumbling, mumbling…
Right up front, I must admit I am not the most elegant speaker.  My meeting with a school official did not go well.  I was passed on to the school’s IT Administrator.  This time I prepared myself much better and was able to communicate my concerns much clearer.  I was assured repeatedly that my children were in no danger from Internet threats like porn and malware.  Nevertheless, I pressed forth and expressed my call was not about the school offering these protections, but what would happen if my children were caught doing something wrong, what investigation would be done to make sure.  I was assured things would be investigated thoroughly and only if they did something then they would be in trouble.  It was then that I asked for that to be put into the writing of the document.  It was at this point that the conversation ended and I was told I would receive a call back to further discuss the matter.

I never received a call back, and I never called back.  I chose not to sign the agreement from that point on.

CIPA
I stepped back from the conversation realizing what situation I was stepping into fully.  First, I do not put blame on an IT Administrator reacting the way he did.  Understand first that as with any job, there is only so far anyone wants to take the job.  My asking for change of policy was something of monumental change and disruption to a system that was probably running smoothly for those in charge of it.  Secondly, and sadly, schools are running scared of parents and lawsuits.

This does not excuse their non-response, nor does it excuse my lack of follow up.  At the time I did not feel putting this issue out there was worth the fight and what it could mean for my family.  At the same time I was discovering and dealing with this issue, was the same time the Lower Merion Web Cam lawsuit was going on.  That was the lawsuit where Lower Merion School District was accused of spying on children through web cams on Laptops they provided to students.  In turn some local news outlets decided to drag the parents involved in the lawsuits through the mud, so to say.

I since then have learned why Acceptable Use Policies are distributed to parents to sign.  It is because of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA.)  CIPA required schools and libraries who received E-Rate discounts on telecommunication services and Internet, must in turn use Internet filters and other measures to protection children from harmful online content.  If memory serves me this was one of the hot button issues right before 9/11 attacks.  Libraries had been arguing filtering the Internet was un-constitutional; a lawsuit was brought and argued all the way to the Supreme Court where CIPA was upheld.

Acceptable Use Policies are fulfillment of CIPA.

Now that the cause is out of the way…
The main problem with the Acceptable Use Policies is that they do not go into much detail as far as protection goes.  As far I see it they do everything to protect the school itself, to a) ensure funding and b) protect from lawsuits, but little concern has gone into situation like Julie Ameros that can still happen.

What has to be understood, that anyone can be wrongly accused on accessing something illegal on the Internet, and right now, we do not have legal understanding of our current technology in relation to current society.  There is still argument as we speak about whether an IP (Internet Protocol) Address can lawfully identify an end user.  Judges are finding it difficult to understand the complexities this new age is bringing.   Just a few years back we were looking at the prospect of minors being charged with sex crimes for Sexting (Sex Texting.)  The problem with such prosecution was the rampant spread of such crimes, leading to a majority of future society being sexual predators as defined by current law.

Going forward…
One thing I do not understand is why elementary aged children cannot be introduced to technology in a controlled environment.  Intranets (that is an internal network) could serve controlled web pages that would be school controlled, thus forgoing the necessity of such Acceptable Use Policies for elementary children.

One thing that is apparent to me is that with CIPA we have another example of a law passed without proper research or thought.  CIPA does nothing to offer protection for neither children nor adults from unfounded accusations.  One thing I am finding in my research in multiple districts is this:

Due Process
a.  The School District will cooperate with the School District’s ISP rules, local, state, and federal officials to the extent legally required in investigations concerning or relating to any illegal activities conducted through the School District’s CIS systems.

b.  If students or employees possess due process rights for discipline resulting from the violation of this policy, they will be provided such rights.

c.  The School District may terminate the account privileges by providing notice to the user.

The problem is this is not strong enough language as it does not define what legal responsibility they are speaking of.  While the Acceptable Use Policy goes into great detail on other subjects about exactly what can be done and how it is done on their network, these are the words of protection being offered to the end user.  There is no word of what kind of investigation will be carried out and how it will be done.  Who covers the cost and what protections exactly will be offered during the investigation.

What needs to happen is for all concerned to have Due Process fully explained and exactly what legal protections are there for the end user.  How the investigation will be handled and carried out.

Final Thoughts
I save this for last because I feel it is most important. I have not named officials I have spoken with, or districts because their names and persecution of them is not needed.  My bringing to light this subject is out of concern for innocent people, such as Julie Amero, being prosecuted for crimes they are not guilty of.

One of the scenarios, I know is possible, is for a child in school at a library computer to walk away from their computer for a second and have another student go on their computer and do something illegal.  Now this is all logged under the login of the innocent child who made a mistake of walking away for a moment.  I know because this sort of thing happened while I was in college.  Someone would forget to log out of their computer and as a prank, other students would change the wallpaper to potentially offensive images.

Some might argue that children should know better than to leave a computer unattended.  But don’t we live in a society where we allow children to learn and grow from their mistakes?  As it is, we do not send minors to adult jail when they commit crimes, but choose to try to rehabilitate first in most cases through the Juvenile Court System.  We as adults should do our best to protect children and that means having laws that not only protect what they are viewing, but what happens when they are caught doing something illegal.  CIPA just does not go far enough in protection and our schools are doing no better.

Furthermore, we need to offer protections to all in public positions in society such as teaching.

A Final Lesson

The stigma of possessing child porn means that such allegations, even if later proven untrue, can be damning. And the allegation can indeed turn out to be untrue. In 2002, UK police accused over 7,000 people of purchasing child porn from a website, but it later turned out that hundreds of them were merely victims of credit card fraud. Their credit cards had been stolen and used to purchase child porn, so they ended up getting caught in the police dragnet. One of those victims was Simon Bunce, a UK resident whose identity was stolen by a pedophile. Bunce was caught up in the aforementioned pedophile sting, dubbed Operation Ore. Before being fully cleared by the police, Bunce lost his high-paying job, and his family members disowned him. He may never be able to repair the damage to his reputation.
http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2010/08/disgruntled-brit-plants-child-porn-on-bosss-computer-calls-cops/

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2012 in Technology

 

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Julie

It was a perfect storm of almost farcical proportions. Almost anything that could go wrong, did go wrong: Kids who exaggerated what they saw on Julie Amero’s screen. A school principal who overreacted and called the cops when an administrative rebuke would have been sufficient. An IT administrator who was dangerously out of touch. A DA who overreached in applying a felony charge to what was at worst a misdemeanor. A police computer forensics “expert” who was anything but, and a defense expert who was even worse. And Amero herself, more clueless about technology than the students she was supposed to teach.
http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/154768/the_julie_amero_case_a_dangerous_farce.html

As with many subjects, background is needed and this one needs as much as any.  Moreover, this is probably one of the most important issues for anyone who is involved in education.  If you are a Teacher, Administrator or have a child in a school, you need to understand this issue.  The issue is the application of the Internet in our classrooms and policies towards the use of technology in our schools.

I became aware of Julie Amero’s case and situation a few years ago actually after taking security courses at college.  It was jarring, to say the least, but not surprising.  It was a case of all parties involved not having a clue about technology, a clue about the Internet and fear.  It was a story of people in power, not understanding technology.  Moreover, it was a story of overreaction by those in power who did not understand what they were dealing with.

One day at school…
On October 19, 2004, Julie Amero was a substitute teacher who had just come to work, another teacher had logged her into the classroom computer, as she had no login id.  She left the room to use a bathroom, when she came back to her horror, pornography images had begun popping up and never stopped.  She tried to stop them but as she did more and more and more replaced each one.  Instead of doing what most would have done, which was power off the computer, she told the Vice Principle of the incident.  She did not turn off the computer, because she had no knowledge of computers, and it was against school policy.  She had sought out help during the day, but was told pop-ups were normal; No one ever came to her aid to help.  She also turned the monitor away from students eyes, but this was to no avail.  She would let the Principle know of the issue the next day.

Once students let their parents know of the issue the situation exploded.  Julie found herself charged and looking at real jail time.

What went wrong
In the beginning of the investigation no care was paid to what caused the porn pop-ups to start.  As far as investigators and the school were concerned, Julie had been surfing porn sites all day and exposed minors to pornographic material.  The truth was far from that simple.

Not because of the district, or investigator intervention, but outside of the school district the real truth came out.  The school IT Administrator never updated the anti-virus software, which was a trial version of the software.  The network also did not have a proper firewall.  The cause of the porn pop-ups was discovered to be the work of malware, which upon activation would non-stop flood the computer with porn images.

The school did not have the knowledge, nor had a qualified professional in their IT department.  The school was also looking to wash their hands of the matter.  The detective who investigated the case had little understanding of Browser technology and relied upon network security experts who could not prove Julie had intentionally caused the pop-ups.  In the end Julie was initially found guilty in her court case and facing a prison sentence of 40 years.  It wasn’t until an outside security expert stepped in and proved that the prosecution had overlooked a lot of facts in pursuit a conviction.

In the end Julie was granted a new trial, ending with a disorderly conduct guilty plea, $100 fine and had to forfeit her teaching credentials.

Lessons not learned
When I first discovered the case and read through all the opinions I was as outraged as many others were.  There was so many things that came together to create a perfect storm of fallacies in this case.  If it were not for an outside security expert doing voluntary work, the facts of the case would have never come to the light of day.  It also highlighted to me that we still have those in power who do not have the basic understanding on technology and what can be done to innocent people through malware.

Almost 15 years ago one of my friends went through a nearly similar incident.  Now his incident was not dealing with pornography, but something as serious.  His friend had hacked into the New Jersey State Police and proceeded to give all the police officers records.  The investigation led to the police interviewing my friend about software he gave his friend at the time.  This software could be used for illegal activity, but at the time its favored use was to ping computers to find out connection speeds for game servers.  Because my friend had given the software to his friend, police were interested in the software and what it was used for.  My friend co-operated and gave them all the information they needed.  At first the police told my friend that he was in no trouble being he had co-operated and did not do the hacking personally.  A week later the police decided the rules had changed and my friend was now an accessory to the crime.  Being a minor, he was given probation and community service.

What I learned then was that those in authority did not have a grasp on technology, nor how it worked.  A decade after my friends community service, the case of Julie Amero proved that those in power still didn’t understand the technology they were dealing with.  Not even Julie herself understood how a computer worked, or how to turn off the computer.

What prosecutors failed to see was that they were dealing with malware that was a Porn Trap.  That is malware that is intended to infect the computer with a Internet browsing history of porn websites.  For those that may ask why such malware would exist, this malware could be used to destroy someone’s career in any public position from educators to politicians.  As seen with Julie it almost did.  This is one of the reasons I am never quick to judgment when reading stories about people caught with child-porn or similar situations.  Unless there is substantial, concrete evidence, you can never be sure about guilt or innocence.

Still not getting it
On Friday I plan on going to into detail with what is happening in our own local schools with this issue and how it can possibly happen to any parent or educator in our schools today.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2012 in Technology

 

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