“We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it… no one deserves a tragedy.”

DCP_5005
Candlelight Vigil on the Drillfield at Virginia Tech, 4/17/2007

“We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

We are the Hokies.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We are Virginia Tech.”

– Nikki Giovanni, 4/17/2007

Does edtech need a cheerleader?

tswizzlecheerleader

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a worrisome trend in the education community– the rise of the edtech cheerleader. I’m not talking about the teacherbloggers who are the first to integrate the trendiest of tech tools into their lesson plans (that’s another post.) I’m not talking about the teachers who champion technology in ways that extend archaic, ineffective practices in the classroom. I’m not even talking about the teachers pre-writing blog posts about how their tech-infused lessons before the lesson ever takes place (that’s another post). And in case you’re wondering, I’m not even talking about a few recent Techcrunch-y additions to the edtech blogging market. (That one’s a shocker, I know!)

Continue reading “Does edtech need a cheerleader?”

Happy Birthday, Facebook: A Thank You

Happy Birthday, Facebook: A Thank You

There is much navel-gazing going around about Facebook today, because today was its 10th birthday. Where will it go? What will it become? What has it done to our society?

While I don’t have the answers to any of those questions, I do have one very, very strong memory of Facebook from a very sad time a very long time ago… a memory and a use case I felt compelled to share, because that’s what you do on an important birthday, you share important feelings and memories to mark the occasion. While my feelings about Facebook are many and complex, its servers are the only place on this earth that friends, classmates and professors still exist and I will never, ever, ever forget what they did for us without even knowing it on what was absolutely the worst day and the absolute saddest week of our lives.

tl;dr Dear Facebook, Thank you for turning Maroon and Orange–I’ll never forget it. Love, a Hokie

Love and thanks to @KimHNorris: the Liebster Award

It’s no secret that I’ve fallen off my own #52weeks bandwagon. Between my day job and a project of passion I’ve undertaken, I’m on the hook for 3-5 blog posts and various communications throughout the week, which leaves me at the end of the day with very little energy to take to WordPress/Tumblr/Twitter with the fury of a thousand ‘saurusrexes.

Continue reading “Love and thanks to @KimHNorris: the Liebster Award”

Say No, No, No to LinkedIn “Intro”

no way

Just a few days ago, a new LinkedIn feature called “Intro” — a series of technological hacks that would display a bar featuring the LinkedIn profile of anyone who communicated with you through email.  As a long-time user of Rapportive, an add-on that shows you the LinkedIn account, Twitter feed, and the last few posts a contact has made across other social media properties, even I was excited about it.

Until I spent some time digging around their engineering blog, that is.  Continue reading “Say No, No, No to LinkedIn “Intro””

Four Reasons To Love A Hacker

Yours truly, soldering for the first time ever. Here, I'm receiving excellent instruction on how to put together a DarkNet badge.
My first-ever attempt at soldering at Def Con 21. (#defconboyfriend was an excellent teacher, as confirmed by every person who surveyed my work for the rest of the conference.)

A few months ago– August, to be exact– I hopped a plane to attend my second-ever DefCon, a renowned hacker conference that entered its 21st year. This year’s gathering of security experts, hackers, makers, and technology enthusiasts from around the world was full of incredible talks (all of which seemed like pretty incredible feats of technology to me, given my current status of Codecademy dropout), hardware hacking, hacking contests, and other shenanigans felt feistier than ever. After having spent ten collective days in the middle of the desert (so, so hot) with hackers, here are the top four reasons I think that everyone should love them: Continue reading “Four Reasons To Love A Hacker”

Edmodo: Securing user data, ur doin’ it wrong #edtech

Awhile ago, I mentioned in an epic rant post that a certain ridiculously well-funded education technology company *coughEdmodocough* should spend more money on its security and less money on, say, things that don’t serve to actually make its product better for its users.

The original article that has inspired hours of passionate ranting can be found here, but its main takeaway from it is this: the biggest K12 LMS out there doesn’t secure its user data. Edmodo (and Schoology’s*) user data can be intercepted and viewed by someone other than its intended audience (students, parents, teachers). While the chances of an actual hacker being out there just waiting to prey on some kid’s homework data are slim, this lack of encryption is deplorable—absolutely unacceptable.

Edmodo’s spokeswoman attempted to quash the issue by saying SSL encryption has been available to schools for some time— and that all they have to do to get it is to “opt-in.”

Instead of doing what is right for all of their users and securing their data with industry-standard encryption, Edmodo is making their users opt into something that should just be standard in their platform. 

Let that sink in for a moment, and then, think about it again.

Instead of protecting their user data, instead of taking the time to build out faster and more efficient ways to do right by their userbase, they’re only offering it on an opt-in basis. In essence, your Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest accounts are more secure than a network you use professionally meant to house assignments and sensitive communications among teachers, students and parents.

Are you mad yet?

Education technology news rarely ever makes the New York Times— this was kind of a big deal, a majorly, majorly big deal— and I’m sad to see that  so many people in edtech dropped the ball on pitching an absolute fit. In the case of education and student data, using SSL or any other method of encryption (pick one, there are many!) is the right thing to do… and that anyone would make it an opt-in feature, not a standard feature that protects all of the users on their platform is absolutely unacceptable

Education technology gets a day in the New York Times, and the usual edtech players fail to point out the obvious. How many four-line stubs of this article did you come across during Edmodo/Schoology/edtechencryptiongate?

Is it half empty or half full? Glass edition.

So this happened today:

White girl wearing Google Glass
Watch out, y’all– white girl wearing Google Glass!

And I’m still not quite sure what to think about it, though I do have a few very important questions for its makers about functionalities that, let’s be honest, should just be standard on all internet-enabled devices:

A little known fact about me: I’m horrible with new technology. At first, I approach it, whatever it is– a coding language, some SQL database thingy, a new app– and I am full of “Ugh! WTF is this?” only to turn around a day or so later and give it another try. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was essite when I got my hands on them and put them on– because I was, how could I not be?!– but I didn’t get that magical transformative feeling that I’ve heard so very many people describe when they got their hands on Glass for the first time.

I’m well aware that my opinion doesn’t matter on this, and that there are many, many others out there ready to tell me what I should think about Glass and why I should think it, but I had a thing on my face today and I’m not quite sure what it was really about. It sat on my head funny, it was totally confusing to use, it didn’t take directions well (and we all know I deal with that) and I just can’t see wearable devices making sense unless the experience is just right. I’ll give it a few more chances, of course, but I didn’t love the distraction that it created or that it very literally got in the way of my being able to focus on and interact with the world around me.

My Love Affair with Betaworks

sweetheart confetti

If you’ve been anywhere near me on Twitter in the past few weeks, you’ve probably noticed one thing: I can’t stop raving about how much I love Betaworks.

Have you ever played Dots? Have you shortened a link with bit.ly, saved an article for later reading with Instapaper,* used the new Digg, clipped a quote with Findings, or chased down a much sought after GIF on Giphy? If you have, or you’re crossing your fingers and toes in anticipation of their Google Reader replacement (because I am not down with Feedly, oh HALE no) you’ve used or hoped for a product in the Betaworks family, one of my most favorite ever companies that builds and ships beautiful, beautiful products. (Note: Instapaper was a Betaworks acquisition, and thus was not a product of their own creation. Thanks for helping me keep the facts straight, Allen!)

When we think of engineers, we very rarely speak of them in the same terms that we use for people commonly accepted as creative– artists, musicians, architects, writers, etc. Most of the reasons that we don’t consider our engineers and coders creative, however, have to do with the incredibly poor state of web literacy, and a widespread miscomprehension of the basic underpinnings of the web and the many technologies we use as a part of it every single day.

The building and shipping of technology products is both an act of creation and a creative act. Every bit of technology that we use on the web was created by a person– or by many, many persons. There is very, very much creativity there, behind the scenes, though that creativity is not signified through the commonplace tools that serve as tokens of an artist or creative. Instead, the invisible tools that solve the problems of a technologist– Python, C++, PhP, Javascript, Coffeescript and Node.js– are all unspoken languages filled with the awkward use of semicolons, parentheses, brackets and quotation marks that mean next to nothing to the rest of us, yet power so very many things that have become necessary parts of our daily lives.

When it comes to technology companies and the products they build, it is no surprise that I am full of opinions. Being on the technologist side of the equation– I’m forever teaching myself to code, though I’m not quite there yet–  I am the first to analyze the hell out of a product, a company, a terms of service agreement or a privacy policy to determine whether it is good for users. One of the first ways I can tell whether technologists care about their userbase is through product and Ui/UX design; a well thought out user experience and feature set can tell a user everything they need to know about the people behind the product they’re using. (The second way to tell whether technologists give any fucks care about their users is through security– given my propensity for security engineers, however, that is a whole ‘nother post for another day.)

All of that being said, it’s incredibly, incredibly rare for me to develop the kind of affinity I have developed for Betaworks for any company, and yet they have absolutely won my heart. Every single Betaworks product I’ve used (even the ones in beta!) I’ve loved, and every time, I still walk away thinking “Damn, that was good.” That they care about their users in the most important ways is easy to see. And as an avid reader, how could I not love a company that has this to say about the act of reading?

“We believe that reading as an activity still matters: the display and delivery may change (from paper to big screens to small screens and tablets, from human carriers to wires to wireless), but reading remains one of the most wonderful parts of civilization. We’ve bet on reading in the past and we’re going to keep making those bets.

No startup nor codebase nor user interface nor user experience is perfect– they are the work of humans, after all– but together, these things can be studied and analyzed to determine whether an idea, a company or a team are deserving of the time a user may invest in their product. When it comes to technology, the better the design and the user experience (and the better the security), the better the chance that the technologists behind the product care about their users.  When it comes to Betaworks, more than any other group of builders I’ve seen out there, they just get it– they nail it every single time, even when they’re experimenting and rebuilding and launching, and even when they pivot a product entirely. I won’t say that they can do no wrong– everyone, everywhere can still come up with a way to do something wrong– but I have absolutely fallen for their artistry, their creative spirit, their cleverness because it is all so very prevalent in everything that they do. I’m incredibly proud that (because they funded the company that I work for) that they are somehow part of my startup family tree, though they may need to apologize to Couple for blowing my mind and rendering me useless if I uncover another artist-inspired dots badge, say… one by Damien Hirst for getting a score of eleventy million.