Het gebruik van Internet in de klas

Clo Willaerts ziet alleen maar voordelen in het gebruik van draadloze netwerken en gsm’s op school. De Raad van Europa wil echter een totaalverbod op elektromagnetische velden doorvoeren omdat uit een rapport bleek dat het de gezondheid van kinderen kan schaden. Clo zegt dat het argument gebruikt wordt door leerkrachten in heel Europa om de jeugd weer bij de les te krijgen. Volgens mij gaat het debat inderdaad over het wel of niet gebruiken van Internet in de klas.

Ten eerste denk ik dat ook andere reden aangehaald kunnen worden om Internet uit de klas te weren. Dan heb ik het over de mogelijke negatieve gevolgen van het gebruik van sociale netwerksites, dat sommigen menen dat user generated content professionalisme vernietigt en kwaliteitsmateriaal onmogelijk maken. Of nog, dat door veel bezig te zijn op Internet, onze hersenen veranderen. Dat we sneller zijn afgeleid, en niet meer instaat zijn om ons goed te concentreren op lange teksten en daardoor ook minder goed kunnen nadenken. Allemaal argumenten die pleiten tegen Internet-gebruik omdat het ons schaadt.

Ten tweede ziet Clo twee mogelijkheden om de internetjeugd weer bij de les te krijgen. Een eerste strategie is dat de studenten notities nemen en bijkomende informatie zoeken via het Web. Alles wat op hun scherm staat wordt geprojecteerd op de muren van de klas zodat de  de rest kan mee leren. Een tweede mogelijkheid bestaat erin dat de klas gadget- en connectieloos is. Vlak voor je de “Walden Zone” binnengaat, hang je al je gadgets aan de stekker in een kastje dat op slot kan. Ik zie echter nog een derde mogelijkheid, ergens tussen de twee in. Een gematigde oplossing. De voorstellen van Clo zijn namelijk alles of niets. Ik denk dat we ons in eerste instantie moeten afvragen wat de educatieve waarde is van het Internet in ons onderwijs. Onderwijs moet een democratisch gebeuren blijven, en zo kan een steinerschool andere opvatting hebben dan het gemeenschapsonderwijs over het gebruik van Internet in de klas. In de roman Little Brother van Cory Doctorow, wordt er gesproken over schoollaptops die uitgerust zijn met op maat gemaakte software. In sterk gereguleerde sectoren is dat ook niet heel ongewoon dat het Internet maar in beperkte mate gebruikt kan worden. Web filtering technieken kunnen hier ingezet worden en corporate policies kunnen het gebruik van sociale netwerksites weren om tot een acceptabel gebruik van informatiesystemen te komen. Dit is in feite precies waarvoor een Demilitarized Zone wordt ingezet. En hoe zit het dan met privacy en al? Ook daar moet over gereflecteerd worden.

 

The Serendipitous Web

Ethan Zuckerman describes in his latest blog post exactly why I love to live in the big city:

It may not sound intuitively obvious to people living in the developed world, but a city like Lagos – with a population of 8 million, over 4% growth a year, living in a dense, crowded, traffic-choken sprawl – is an extremely appealing destination for Nigerians living in rural areas. In a developing world city, the schools and hospitals tend to be far better than what’s available in rural areas. Even with high rates of unemployment, the economic opportunities in cities vastly outpace what’s available in rural areas. But there’s a more basic reason – cities are exciting. They offer options: where to go, what to do, what to see. It’s easy to dismiss this idea – that people would move to cities to avoid rural boredom – as trivial. It’s not. As Amartya Sen argued in his seminal book, “Development as Freedom“, people don’t just want to be less poor, they want more opportunities, more freedoms. Cities promise options and opportunities, and they often deliver.

My roots are in the rural area, but I must say that cities are just more attractive for young people like me. They offer you round-clock opportunities and access to any kind of culture. Cities are often vibrant and dynamic. Cities give me some sense of harmony and structure! Everything seems to be so well balanced: traffic lights control the traffic, the sewer system, the electricity grid et cetera. The naked truth is slightly different however. As everything has its price, massive disruptions such as floods, earthquakes, political unrest or even a plague cannot withstand by a city. An atom bomb or an event like 9/11 can indeed cause some serious damage to people. It has a much bigger impact compared to the countryside. These risks must not be underestimated. But what we really need is more data. Data to support our disaster recovery systems, to increase health and wealth, to foster cultural diversity and basically to give politicians the means to make the right decisions about these topics. However, this will definitely bring tension between the public and private spheres.

Then Zuckerman makes the comparison between a city and communication technology. He touches on the fact that location data is collected through devices like a mobile phone, but also through services like Foursquare. What is more interesting though is that research points out that our lives are actually pathetically limited: “We all filter the places we live into the places where we’re regulars and the ones we avoid, the parts of town where we feel familiar and where we feel foreign. […]What makes cities livable, creative, vital, and ultimately, safe is the street-level random encounter.” So how does this translate to our most important communication technology today: the Web? Well, it turns out that the Web isolates us even worse than the city. The thing is that Web technologies let us digest just what our friends come up with. Since our online lives are just about knowing what our friends know, we might miss out on important stories. Moreover, online services such as Twitter and Facebook collect data about your browsing habits through their widgets (also in recent news in The Netherlands: mobile internet providers track customers traffic and analyse behavior through DPI). This tracking allows the social networking sites to filter and tailor to our personal taste even more, possibly resulting in polarization and extreme views, because we only get to see what web companies think is relevant to us. As a result, our status quo is not challenged and our world view will not be broadened: a threat to our democracy. This is exactly what Eli Pariser is concerned about. Google personalizes your search based on 57 signals about what they know about you (even more when you are logged on), and Facebook decides which information is displayed from our friends. Most people don’t know that Google’s personalized search and the algorithmic decisions Facebook makes, actually isolates us – makes us even ignorant I would say! But people think it’s good because we get to see more of what we already like. Here’s a TED video where Pariser explains what he calls the “filter bubble”:

According to Zuckerman, the solution to the isolation threat of our online experience lies in serendipity. When you live in a city and want to survive, you must be tolerant and open minded towards a diversity of beliefs and values. I believe that certain urban architectures will make you adopt this behavior of openness. At least it gives you some incentive to be more open-minded, even though that might be hard when a stereotypical black steals your bike’s saddle to make you suffer. So in order to remake the Web in the image of the city (note: not the other way around), we need to create online spaces that promote creativeness and innovation. Truth be told, I am not very convinced that the way we have been communicating, living and learning the last decades was so special. We can do much better. The work of activists such as
Mark Surman, pundits like Ethan Zuckerman and Eli Pariser as well as the thinking of writers such as Cory Doctorow, William Gibson and Neil Stephenson should be praised. In particular, on the front of architecture and design I also think of Adam Greenfield, a thought leader in information architecture but who has also been doing work on IT for urban environments through Urbanscale, a boutique practice providing design for networked cities and citizens. A bit closer to home, I am a fan of user experience engineer Alper.

The bottom line is that we need to shape online places that bring us unintended consequences and unexpected discoveries. Make us encounter things by accident. The real challenge for the Web is to embrace these architectures and design patterns of serendipity to connect people and ideas. Only then knowledge sharing will become effective and only then people will finally get of their couch and do something thanks to the Web.

Kseniya Simonova’s zandanimaties

Sommige mensen hebben echt talent. Een goed voorbeeld is Kseniya Simonova. In 2009 won ze de got Talent wedstrijd in Oekraïne, nadat haar business instortte omwille van de economische crisis. Daardoor is ze zeer bekend geworden. Maar wat is haar gave dan precies? Wel, ze maakt zandanimaties!

Ik ben bekend geworden met haar werk op een cultuurevent voor de herdenking van 25 jaar Tsjernobyl in het Theater Zuidplein in Rotterdam. Normaal zou ze hier ook aanwezig zijn, maar dat is dus niet gebeurd. Wel heeft ze speciaal voor de herdenking een video Eternal Tears by Sand gemaakt in HD formaat. Niet te vinden op YouTube trouwens! Wanhoop echter niet, want ze heeft wel een kanaal en website waar je haar kunst kan bewonderen.

Hieronder een video waar ze een animatie construeert die het leven portreteert tijdens de strijd van de Sovjet-Unie tegen het Derde Rijk in de Tweede Wereldoorlog. Te mooi voor woorden.

The Interpersonal Communication Breakdown

As my girlfriend was writing an intriguing piece about Facebook and its detrimental effects on society, a spark of interest was immediately there. That’s why I want to outline some of my thoughts in this blog post.

No doubt that Facebook is an amazing tool for communication. However, excessive Facebook usage might potentially bring serious health, economic and social issues. This being said, I am not talking about things like the loss of privacy or identity theft online. The premise here is that social networking sites like Facebook are very addictive, as they fulfill the basic need for human love, attention, recognition and belongingness. Facebook enhances our self-esteem, but also satisfies our need to know what is happening around us. Scholars Sherry Turkle, Danah Boyd and Susan Greenfield have been writing very eloquently about these topics, and old media dogs such as Andrew Keen and Nicholas Carr have been covering this area too.  The above reasons are obvious and therefore no wonder so many individuals seem to suffer from what is called the “Facebook addiction disorder”. The consequences of this addiction are far reaching too: anxiety, stress and even depression. More and more, people are faced with an identity crisis because of this, reinforcing alienation from the real world.

As I already mentioned, these causes and consequences are not world shocking to me, and rather common sense, but an interesting and remarkable view is that social network sites like Facebook are also causing a communication meltdown.That is quite ironical though, as Facebook’s unofficial mission is Making the World More Open and Connected. A particular interesting view is put forward by Baroness Susan Greenfield. She especially touches on Facebook’s impact on the brain of the young generation.

[…]

In modern life, the appeal of social networking sites to children is easy to understand. As many parents now consider playing outside too dangerous, a child confined to the home can find at the keyboard the kind of freedom of interaction that earlier generations took for granted in the three-dimensional world of the street.

[…]

But beyond any frustration I feel is concern about the future our screen culture might create. One extreme situation could be a rise in psychiatric problems and fewer babies born because people can’t form three-dimensional relationships.

Greenfield rightly points out that interaction on social networking sites like Facebook are two dimensional by design. Greenfield argues then that this is gradually undermining peoples ability to have normal face to face communication which involves skills such as reading body language, voice tone and facial expression.

I can put up with Greenfield and it makes sense, but other studies go much farther and posit screen communication is decreasing the quality of “social interaction”. Communication tends to be more about gossiping than in face to face communication, so it goes. That can count for Facebook, as it looks to me that it is not so much different from real life and the conversations we have on the bus, at the dinner table or in the cafeteria. What is more shocking to me, is that pundit Sherry Turkle seems to put forward the idea in her latest book “Alone together” that online communication lessens intelligent conversations. Why would online conversations be shallow? What defines the quality of a conversation? Simple questions and answers are also prevalent in real life, as we need to be smart and come up with prompt answers in a system where time is money. And when do we have intelligent conversations in real life? Most of our conversations is water cooler talk anyway, be it at the dinner table, in the cafeteria or on the bus. Who decides that the information online is less significant than the information we share in our real world? Does a social networking site like Facebook influence our behavior in such a way that we cannot have “normal” conversations any more? That we don’t understand each other any more?

If social networking sites like Facebook really lower the “quality” of offline interaction and make us more anti social, and as the online playing field is becoming increasingly important, then this perhaps also raises the need for new skills in a society where screen communication is the de facto. I do indeed agree that interpersonal communication will change, but I do not see why that would lessen the quality of our conversations. Maybe we should ask ourselves to what extent skills such as body language, voice tone and intonation are still relevant. Other skills and signals, such as listening, might become more important too as we work more and more distributed and distantly. A new reality requires new perspectives. To put it simple: our nature changes, and evolution takes place. Natural selection is the result.

On licensing

In his latest Guardian column, Cory Doctorow writes about the miraculously drama-free life he has discovered by buying ThinkPads with extended warranties and running the Ubuntu flavor of GNU/Linux.

He raises a fairly good point about how in the commercial software world, we depend on serial keys amongst others. Ubuntu is way less dramatic as it is free-as-in beer: there are literally no costs or efforts involved when for example setting up a new machine or recovering an old one.

Software corporations such as Microsoft require you to use a license key or serial number, every time you do a fresh install of their products.

In fact, serial numbers and license keys are a way for Microsoft et al to lock their clients  in. Of course you can buy their products in any electronics shop,  but when you are a developer you just buy a license through MSDN, Microsoft’s developer service portal.  On MSDN you can procure different types of subscription levels. Say you want to download SharePoint Server: how will you figure out which subscription level you need? Well, there’s one way: the subscription chart that compares the different subscription levels. Based on that information, you would go for Visual Studio Premium with MSDN. An easy job, isn’t it?

However, when you actually purchase the subscription you will be presented with many more options, such as software assurance, languages, number of users and edition (Ultimate, Enterprise, Empower, Retail, Volume Licensing). So cunningly, product availability does not depend on the subscription level alone. And there is no easy way for you to check if that particular software is available through a certain subscription level. There is a way though, and that is by browsing to the Subscriber Downloads section and then searching your product. In the details, you will find out if your level qualifies. Don’t be surprised yours doesn’t. Yes indeed,  subscription levels require an in-depth investigation.

As a matter of fact, in large institutionalized companies, licenses are usually purchased through a preferred vendor. You have to work and deal with them. Well, you better be specific enough. Give them the right instructions, as it’s much more complicated then it looks like if you need to acquire a particular commercial software through a license. Forewarned is forearmed.

Towards a borderless society

He goes to the kitchen window and seems to be looking out, but then he points to the round transparent ventilator fan set into a six-inch hole in one pane of glass. “We don’t have those things. They’re everywhere, here. Always have been. I’m not even sure what they’re supposed to do.” “They’re part of the mirror-world,” Cayce says. “Mirror-world?” “The difference.” “My idea of a mirror-world is Bangkok. Asia somewhere. This is just more of our stuff.” “No,” she tells him, “different stuff. That’s why you noticed that vent. They invented that here, probably, and made it here. This was an industrial nation. Buy a pair of scissors, you got British scissors. They made all their own stuff. Kept import expensive. Same thing in Japan. All their bits bits and pieces were different, from the ground up.” “I see what you mean, but I don’t think it’s going to be that way much longer. Not if the world’s Bigends keep at it: no borders, pretty soon there’s no mirror to be on the other side of. Not in terms of bits and pieces anyway.” His eyes meet hers.”

Pattern Recognition

In William Gibson‘s “Pattern Recognition”, fictional character Hubertus Bigend is someone that I can relate to in the way he envisions the world: borderless. Unfortunately, borders are still prevalent in our world as amedee puts it, after trying to purchase the Tron:legacy soundtrack:

I tried to buy the Tron:Legacy soundtrack by Daft Punk on http://tronsoundtrack.com/, but that website didn’t accept my VISA card. I was also unable to fill in my country (Belgium).
Then someone pointed me to the UK site: http://tronsoundtrack.co.uk. That site is sold out, and it doesn’t offer the download only version. By the way, different websites for different countries = usability failure.
Then I turned to Amazon. I tried .com, .co.uk, .fr, but all of them said that I couldn’t buy the Tron:Legacy soundtrack because of geographical restrictions.
What the… ??? How ironic is this: one of the main themes of the movie is about openness and freedom of information, without any borders. But in the global community of the second decade of the third millennium I cannot spend my hard earned money because of restrictions imposed by outdated, medieval concepts like borders.

The Pattern Recognition fragment above, talks about a “mirror-world”. Hereby Gibson acknowledges a locational-specific distinction in a manufactured object that emerged from a parallel development process, for example opposite-side driving or varied electrical outlets. A typical example would be Japan. It’s an island, that used to be far less connected to the Western world before the Cold War. But throughout the postwar period, Japan’s economy started to boom. Japan embarked on a prolonged period of extremely rapid growth, led by the manufacturing sectors. It rapidly caught up with the West in foreign trade and quality of life. Japanese people are actually good in copying stuff, giving it their own twist (Japanese style). Even today, Japan is still so different from the rest of the world, but because it’s so “mirror-world” and opened up, it has become the world’s fourth largest exporter in the world.

It occurs to her then that the meal has been entirely free of toasts, and that she’s always heard of a multitude of them are to be expected at a Russian meal. Perhapss it’s a meal in that country without borders that Bigend strives to hail from, a meal in a world where there are no mirrors to find yourself on the other side of, all experience having been reduced, by the spectral hand of marketing, to price-point variations on the same thing.

In a mirror-less world I think nations are becoming of less importance. More particularly, I believe un-nationalness, a term introduced by JP Rangaswami, can spawn a more open, more connected and thus better world. I want to write down these emerging ideas in my wary head.

The other day I needed to get access to a clients knowledge base. In modern times, we do this by raising a ticket through the Help Desk. The workflow: dial the call center, explain your concerns, and the first line support analyst will deal with it and route your call accordingly. Well, I found out that my call would be handled by a team in Costa Rica. “Costa Rica, bloody hell!” was my immediate reaction. These practices are however very common sense in a multinational company. People of different nations are able to work together thanks to the democratization of information and communications technology and English is the langua franca.

I have come to the conclusion that the four pillars JP is talking about, really come to mind when I start thinking about the concept of un-nationalness. Let me start with the first principle: the principle of federability.  If I needed to identify myself with a nation, it would be Belgium. Right, that small country which claims to dispose of the capital of Europe: Brussels. After the parliamentary elections from 13 June 2010, our nation still has no formal government and negotiations are currently deadlocked due to disagreements between the Walloons and Flemish.  “It’s complicated”, that would be right to say, but with indifference you cannot do much. Truth be told, it’s kind of contradictory, but I don’t feel much “affinity” with “my country”. The fact that most of us, including our national soccer team, does not know the national anthem by heart, speaks for itself. Our king, Albert II, nicknamed “Bert Bibber” (Bert The Shaker in English), is not to be taken serious either. Even if he recently raised serious concerns, requesting our preliminary government to write new budget in order to calm worries the nation will be unable to meet its budget goals. Such a motu proprio from the king is unseen, but frankly speaking: it doesn’t have much impact. And in fact, the vast majority does simply not care much. At this moment in time, I feel more affinity with expats (I am one), nomads, gypsies and Third Culture Kids then with the people from my own country or neighborhood. Living abroad for about a year now, I don’t feel homesick. No, I have grown up with the Internet and the Web, hardcore bands and Hollywood movies. I’m biased, but the truth is that I really  am a product of a diversity of cultures, covered by a large number of values and beliefs, represented by what I am today. Supply me with an internet connected device, and I am able to do my work from anywhere, communicate with anyone.

As the above paragraph suggests, I am not really proud of my country. I do not know such thing as national pride, let alone that I feel connected to my home country. However, I do know that we are famous for our Belgian chocolates,  Brussels waffles and for the record, French fries come from Belgium. We too have some world renowned and very diverse beers that are brewed with love. One of those beers is Jupiler, a pale lager. The name “Jupiler” comes from its place of origin, Jupille in Belgium. But what does it really mean, made in Belgium? The company that sells the beer, Anheuser-Busch InBev is even no longer “purely” Belgian after the InBev merger with Brazilian Anheuser-Busch. Besides, aside from the chemical industry, there is not so much to export in Belgium. In contrast, we import “mirror-world” products as Gibson would put it. The company’s headquarters is still in Belgium, Leuven, though. For how long and to what extent will traditions still stand?

Another intriguing case is IBM. In 2010, IBM employed 105000 workers in the U.S., a drop of 30,000 since 2003, and 75000 people in India, up from 9000 seven years previous. Soon, it is very likely that IBM is an Indian company in terms of workforce. Why? Because IBM is a global company that wants to increase profits by cutting costs on resources, and people in the BRIC countries are relative less expensive to the rest of the world. But think about Coca-Cola or McDonald’s. These are brands, tight to the United Stated, but not in a way that a water bottle of Spa can be traced back to the source of Spa in Belgium. In fact, in the Netherlands, Spa is a generic name for mineral water, the same as coke is a generic name for the famous soda drink. All of these things are not owned by a nation. Hence, the principle of Unownability.

The third principle is called the principle of emergence. For instance, consider foreign food. I don’t need to travel to China for Dim Sum or to Vietnam for Pho. In Flanders, Asian restaurants have been present during the 60s and 70s, when Asians started to escape their countries due to economical or political reasons. Slowly, these kind of restaurants can be found all over the world. Another pillar: that of emergence.

The last pillar,the principle of simultaneity, is self-explaining. JP talks about the fact that  “Un-national things happen at the same time everywhere; an un-national film is released everywhere and in all format in the same instant. DVDRip”. Things are occurring at the same time. Information spreads across the globe.

Having said the above, I think un-nationalness is undeniable.

But the status quo is slightly different. Governments are locking us in as JP explains:

Which gives governments a real headache. Because they want to lock in their “customers”, the people and companies that pay the taxes that allow them to exist. The traditional swords and ploughshares of government — regulation and taxation — are fashioned into the flowers of freedom, as companies migrate between regulatory and tax regimes at will.

But the governments customers are getting more powerful.

Let me start with the influence of the first customer: multinational corporations. What I see is that institutions and trans-national companies are in charge now, and that the power of noble people like our kings, queens and lords are diminishing, as well as that of governments.  Indeed, multinationals can have a significant impact on government policy, through the threat of market withdrawal. For example, General motors withdrew from Antwerp in 2010. More precisely, on the 15th of December 2010, the last Opel Astra was assembled. Although the Flemish government had waved with a half billion euros  and had provided other means of support, it was not able to prevent the Antwerp Opel plant from closing. Buying or bribing companies to keep their establishments open has been proven to be a strategy that fails in the long term. Furthermore, market withdrawal often causes governments to change their policy at the ease of multinational corporations.

Another phenomenon is the lobbying that multinational corporations undertake. For instance, companies that have invested heavily in pollution control mechanisms may lobby for very tough environmental standards in an effort to force non-compliant competitors into a weaker position. Corporations also lobby tariffs to restrict competition of foreign industries.

So the government has become dependent of multinational, transnational or even communal institutions, corporations and efforts, and lobbying and market withdrawal only makes governments more weak.

The second customer is the individual. It has become increasily easy for individuals to protect themselves. Just think about one man: Julian Assange. I remember a piece from the Economist that clearly captures that idea:

Mr Assange, in his obsession with revealing secrets, has compiled a list of countries with generous whistleblower-protection laws. WikiLeaks’ multiple servers aren’t there to back each other up; they’re there to gather legal protections. Every server is subject to the laws of the state where it’s plugged in, so WikiLeaks routes every submission in a clever pattern to move it through each of these locations.

It’s telling that Mr Assange hasn’t placed his servers in some technically capable autocracy with a desire to thumb its nose at the world, say Iran or Venezuela. He needs liberal democracies. Their laws guarantee the safety of his information. And when trying to solve what looks like a digital problem, the best path is to consider where the problem is physically vulnerable.

The article states that what Julian Assange does, is pure civil disobedience. He breaks the law, but doesn’t publicly accept the consequence. Anarchists like him, who understand the system and are always on the outlook for finding flaws, will be the ones that are in control and can make a change. Increasingly, we are governed by ourselves, not by institutions.

However, there is another important thing to be considered: geopolitics. Policymakers will use geopolitics to protect themselves, and as such they can catalyze the importance of the nation to the people from an economical and welfare point of view, so that they become dependent of that nation. There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about nations that see Information Technology as a threat:

Information technology has been rightly celebrated for flattening traditional boundaries and borders, but there can be no doubt that its future will be shaped decisively by geopolitics. Over the past few years, policymakers around the world have had constant reminders of their growing dependence on—and vulnerability to—the new technology: the uncovering of the mysterious China-based GhostNet network, which spied on diplomatic missions around the globe; the purported crippling of Iran’s nuclear capability by the Stuxnet virus; and, of course, the whole WikiLeaks affair. Governments are taking a closer look at who is providing their hardware, software and services—and they are increasingly deciding that it is dangerous not to develop independent national capabilities of their own.

I always thought that it was all about services nowadays: truth be told, the money is in services, but the code, the software is just as critical and a political weapon.

And then there is another important concept to be considered: that of economic freedom.

Economic freedom is the fundamental right of every human to control his or her own labor and property. In an economically free society, individuals are free to work, produce, consume, and invest in any way they please, with that freedom both protected by the state and unconstrained by the state. In economically free societies, governments allow labor, capital and goods to move freely, and refrain from coercion or constraint of liberty beyond the extent necessary to protect and maintain liberty itself. Imagine living in a Canadian family and your daughter is living in New Zealand. You want to transfer some money to her to pay the tuition fee. Still it is going to cost you unnecessary transaction costs. Another example is that you still have to pay taxes even when you have left your country of citizenship. Or how absurd is it that you have to send an invitation letter before you can even invite your relatives?

Luckily technology is allowing us to drive change. The big shift will come from systems such as bitcoin, a peer to peer currency system that could topple governments, destabilize economies and create uncontrollable global bazaars for contraband. Transactions costs are extremely low, coins can’t be tracked, frozen or taxed. This is the pathway to economic freedom and eventually a border-less system. This is not just creative destruction, disruptive or world-changing. This is a whole new world all together. I can assure you that the transition to that new, decentralized world order will not be smooth.

How to make a change to an InfoPath form

Lately I have been fiddling around a bit with Sharepoint and in particular InfoPath. In this post I will describe the process of making a change to an Microsoft Office InfoPath 2007 form. What you will need is Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2007. Extra software needed is Microsoft Visual Studio Tools for Applications if you want to make code changes.

Preparations

  1. Create a local copy of the form you are going to work in. Take the form from your sources folder and also include the corresponding project from the sources\projects subfolder.
  2. Right click the .xsn file of the form you are going to edit and click “Design”.
  3. You will be presented with a message saying the form was published in a different location. Ignore this for now and click “OK”.
  4. Make sure you store your file locally otherwise you stay in read-only-mode.
  5. Make sure the path to the source code is correct. Go to “Tools > Form Options > Programming”. In the bottom field (Project location for Visual Basic and C# code), browse to the location of your source code. Double click on the correct csproj file and click “OK”.
  6. Optionally, if you want secure access to the form, you have to make sure the correct certificate is used to sign the form. If the certificate is not selected, click select certificate and choose the corresponding one. Select the required security level. You need to have the certificate file installed in your machine to be able to do this.

Making an InfoPath change

  1. In case you need to add a new field, or make amendments to the form, find the view in the “Design Tasks”, by clicking “Views”. Then, find the field name in the corresponding view or go to the view where the additional field(s) need to be created.
  2. Go to “Design Tasks > Data Source” and find the field name or the proper group of fields. Hovering the field name will show you the data type as well as the default value.

Making a code change

  1. Go to the code by “Tools > Programming > Microsoft Visual Studio Tools for Applications”. Visual Studio will be opened.
  2. Add the correct code to the output.
  3. Build your code. Optionally click “Preview” in your code. In the Project Explorer, right click and select “Rebuild”.
  4. If an error occurs in the code, go to the code behind it, by selecting “Debug > Start Debugging”. Set a breakpoint and start debugging.
  5. Fix any other errors that might occur, such as a missing namespace.
  6. When all changes have been made, the form is ready to be published.

Adding controls

  1. In the design view, right click in the form and select “Insert >Rows” or “Insert  > Columns”. For more controls, click “Insert > More controls…”.  Standard controls include text box, drop-down list box, date picker, option button, button et cetera. You can also add file attachments and hyperlinks for instance. Let’s choose an Option Button here.
  2. Choose the number of options to include.
  3. Set correct labels and double click on the radio buttons to set the correct name for the field as well as the value of the field when this option is chosen.

Publishing the form to a SharePoint server

  1. In Infopath, create a published version of the form. Click “File > Publish”.
  2. Follow the Publishing Wizard.  Select “To a SharePoint server without InfoPath Forms Services”.
  3. Enter the location of your Sharepoint or InfoPath Forms Services site.
  4. Click “Enable this for, to be filled out by using a browser”.
  5. Also select the radio button “Administrator-approved” to prepare this form template for an administrator approval.

Batavierenrace

Afgelopen weekend deed ik mee aan de prestigieuze Batavierenrace. Met AIESEC hadden we ons namelijk  ingeschreven voor de grootste estaffeteloop van de wereld. Vrijdag was het dan zover en of ik er zin in had! Er nemen dan ook niet minder dan 7500 atleten deel aan de competitie, en de totale loopafstand is een indrukwekkende 175 kilometer.  En uiteraard wou ik ook meelopen – zij het niet dat ik hier heb verkondigd dat ik ooit een marathon zou lopen.  Er zijn 25 tracks waar team leden verschillende afstanden dienen af te leggen. Zelf koos ik voor een afstand van 11.2 kilometer en dat zou betekenen dat ik ‘s nachts zou moeten rennen.

Met men tent in de handen hortte ik richting Nijmegen vanuit Rotterdam, alwaar we rond half tien verwelkomd werden met een drankje. Wat me opviel is dat de Radboud universiteit best wel groots is. De race startte precies om middernacht, maar zelf moest ik pas rond een uur of vier lopen dus heb ik mijn batterijen maar opgeladen in plaats van meteen gerstennat te nuttigen. Ik startte goed, maar het werd een uitputtende strijd, doorheen een deel van Duitsland zelfs. Uiteindelijk heb ik het wel gehaald, hoewel de laatste kilometers maar uit bleven en het me enorm zwaar viel.  Gelukkig werd je vergezeld door een fietser, dus aanmoediging ontbrak niet. Hoe fier ik was over mijn prestatie! De uitslagen geven aan dat ik er zo’n 54 minuten en 24 seconden over deed, tegen een gemiddelde snelheid van 12,36 kilometer per uur. 176ste in het klassement bijgevolg. Niet slecht, niet slecht, mijn gedacht, maar het kan altijd beter!

Uiteindelijk in Ulft aangekomen werden we afgelost door de ochtendploeg. Tegen dan had ik me al lang opgeofferd om in de namiddag nog zo’n zestal kilometer te lopen, omdat er een aantal mensen niet waren komen opdagen. Op men eentje heb ik trouwens Rotterdam vertegenwoordigd.  Ik kon in feite lekker gaan slapen, en een mens vraagt zich af waarom hij tot het uiterste gaat. Op water, muesli-repen en krentenbollen heb ik me toch weten overeind te houden tot de aankomst in Enschede. Ik heb ons deelnemersbusje in de goede richting gestuurd en ook de stress die daarbij hoort mogen ervaren. Trouwens, het zomerse weer maakte dat iemand in de ploeg bevangen werd door de hitte. We hadden misschien niet de beste renners, maar organisatorisch verliep het allemaal vrij vlot. We schopten het uiteindelijk tot de 189ste positie.

Ik heb dan de heren-finale nog gerend: van de stad van Enschede naar de Universiteit Twente – erg grote, Amerikaans oogende universiteit met studentenhuizen op de campus zelf. Nog zo’n 7,2 kilometer tegen een snelheid van 13 km per uur gemiddeld, werd ik 178ste! Het is best wel indrukwekkend om de arena dan binnen te lopen en massaal toegejuicht te worden. Het was ontzettend vermoeiend wel, maar ik heb er enorm van genoten. Ook wel de blaren mogen voelen, maar het was het waard en ik heb het overleefd! Mag ik mij dan nu oprecht een heuse batavier noemen?

‘s Avonds vond er een BBQ plaats met het supportteam en barsste het grootse studentenfeest los. Maar eerst moest ik mijn telefoon en paspoort nog terugvinden vinden, ergens in het achtergebleven deelnemersbusje. Ook mijn tent was zoek. Je raad het al: ik was mijn team kwijt! Enige tijd later, na een frisse douche, genoot ik alsnog van de BBQ.  Ik was al vroeg onder de veren en liet het allemaal maar begaan.

Langzaamaan ben ik aan het bekomen van dit avontuur, maar de spierpijn in de benen zindert nog na. Nu is het uitrusten geblazen.

Gedichtje

Ik heb kort geleden een mooi gedichtje ontvangen van iemand waar ik jammer genoeg haast geen contact meer mee heb. Het doet deugd om het nog eens te lezen. Ik wil het ook graag hier delen, alvorens ik het verlies. Zo blijft dit gegeven in mijn geheugen gegrift.

Warm en knus lonkt je bed.
‘t verstand wordt even afgezet. Het delen van ‘t licht door zon en maan.
Een mooi tafereel voor ‘t slapengaan.
Die warmte van die speciale gloed, komt stiekem jouw glimlach tegemoet.
Stilletjes sluiert deze nacht, met slechts 1 enkele boodschap en en dat is slaap zacht!

On e-mail encryption

Upon receiving an e-mail from Cory Doctorow, I noticed that he happens to encrypt his messages. To accomplish this, he is using OpenPGP through Enigmail.  In the first place, I thought it was very cool to see that. You know, it is something different, something I had not seen before — especially considering that I am on the Net for quite some time now. So to me it was kind of special, unique in a sense, undergroud, straight from the Net’s darkest trenches  or catacombs I would say. But why do you have to use encryption? And is it safe at all?

Anyway, I have never fully grasped how the mechanisms behind PGP works though, the encryption Doctorow uses. What I understand is that the cryptography is based upon assymetric cryptography, meaning that there are two keys: one to encrypt and one to decrypt the information. But the thing is, encryption doesn’t make much sense when the receiving party does not apply it. You have to add the public key of your receivers to your public keyring. And of course you also need a private key to decrypt the data. That’s one observation.

My point is that encrypting e-mails can be useful, but it is not very secure in the end. In the remainder I will explain you why.

To begin with, the e-mail SMTP protocol is a very little secured protocol as the SMTP protocol requires no authentication. With a scripting language like PHP, you can easily send an e-mail by implementing the mail() function. But it doesn’t have to be that difficult. In fact, one can e-mail from every computer using the network protocol telnet. What is more alarming, is that telnet is present on every Unix machine. So when your colleague is away from the computer, it takes very little effort to open a command prompt when they did not lock their machine. Not only will you then be able to send on their behalf, but also from their IP address and hunting down the SMTP server is also a piece of cake. Regarding a telent session, it is worth knowing though that it interprets character by character, so also when using the backspace for instance, it will be displayed in the message you intend to send. The bottom line is that every character has to be right.

Secondly, e-mails are also insecure because they can be read while they are in transit over networks, or when they are in e-mail servers.  So no real guarantee exists that information in transit is secure. That brings me to e-mail encryption. In the corporate world, it is usually advised to encrypt e-mails that contain confidential information using Digital Certificates. Read for example how to use Digital Certificates in Microsoft Outlook.  I think it is very useful to extend the idea of using e-mail encryption to our personal lives to, for our own sake, privacy and trust, like Doctorow does. Webmail services like gmail can help in this, by enabling e-mail encryption by default. That however introduces another problem here, since it is not always easy for us to make the right decisions on what is to be classified as highly confidential information. In companies, there are usually policies available for this matter, but for the individual it is entirely up to him or her to decide if the receiving party can be trusted with a particular type of information. Let’s just not forget that information indeed is power. Human behavior can be influenced by technology though, and in this case by giving the means, right incentives and tools to use encryption when e-mailing.

If applied correctly, e-mail encryption can be useful for business needs like protecting classified information or to share information with the ones you trust in general. It helps to keep the barrier between our public and private matters alive. However, there is a catch to it. Ironically, just because the e-mail protocol is inherently so insecure by design, encrypted e-mails cannot be checked for viruses by, for instance an exchange server or by any other anti-virus systems. Indeed, the purpose of encryption is that it should be decrypted by the receiver’s computer only and not by the server. And viruses can be propagated not only in attachments, but also in the body of a message. Therefore, also be aware that you should not open encrypted messages from anyone unless you have previously arranged to exchange encrypted messages with them.