Designed for learning

learning – teaching – research – design – technology

“Smarter world? But how do we make sure that it doesn’t outsmart us?”

I was invited by the Open University of Catalonia to participate in this year’s Open Thoughts discussion. The leading question was:

Internet is all around us. Ubiquitous computing power and telecommunication technologies are growing at an astonishing rate. At the same time, the world is changing rapidly.

Computer simulation, artificial intelligence techniques, cloud computing, green tech-solutions, metaheuristics, location based systems… In this blog, we invite you to explore how technological advances and engineering new knowledge can help us to build new societies, new enterprises, new horizons; a SMARTer ones.

But… are we ready?

Here’s my response (cross-posted, please discuss there):

Are we ready for a smarter world? Well, first, let’s ask: is our world becoming smarter? Several “hot” trends claim it is: big data, internet of things, and the quantified self.

Big data enthusiasts offer vivid examples of how we can harvest, process, and enjoy the fruits of the huge quantities of data which are waiting at the tip of our mouse. We can predict market trends, analyse weather patterns, monitor government spending. In my area — education — we are told that MOOCs (massive open on-line courses) will allow us to apply the same techniques that Amazon uses when it recommend products to guide learners in their education.

The internet of things, a term coined by author Bruce Sterling, portrays a future where more and more objects in the world around us have an on-line presence. Imagine an egg stamped with a QR code as it is collected in the hen-house. At that moment, that egg can acquire an on-line identity, and can be tracked all the way to your kitchen, where it is cracked into an omelette. The farmer can see where his eggs are going, perhaps choose middle-men that market his products locally (reducing environmental impact). Likewise, you can choose eggs that travelled the shortest distance to your grocers. Finally, your fridge can notice that you’re running low on eggs, and add a dozen to your next grocery order.

The third trend — the quantified self — has the potential to make the previous two very personal. It highlights the growing variety of devices which allow us to constantly collect, analyse, and visualise data about ourselves — biometric data, behavioural data, mood and social data, health data.

The combination of these three can literally make the world around us smarter. We are all aware of the physical landscape we live in, its hills and valleys, roads and gardens, private and public land. The manner in which the resources in this landscape are managed, used, abused or protected is visible to all. But, increasingly we are also surrounded by a data landscape, overlapping and interacting with the physical one.

Devices, objects, and indeed our bodies and minds, are constantly emitting data — and this data is piling up in mountains and flowing in rivers around us. Just like the resources in the physical landscape, this data landscape needs to be managed — so that we ensure that its potential value is shared responsibly and fairly for the benefit of all. Yet, in contrast with the physical landscape, most of us don’t see the data landscape in which we live. This creates a huge advantage for the few who do. Those who have access to our data, and those who know how to mine it.

The only possible remedy for this inequality is education. In my school years, I was taught to cook, sew, and saw, so that I would be able, should I wish, to produce the artefacts I need — and more importantly — understand how they come to be if I prefer to purchase them from others. Nowadays, we need to teach our kids to sew physical objects with digital systems and to cook data streams they produce so that they can always outsmart the world in which they live, rather than others using it to outsmart them.



July 23, 2014 Posted by | open source | Leave a comment

Hackit & Bankwell: learn Linux from comix

hackit and bankwellYay! I never have to tell anyone how to install Ubuntu again. I can just send them this comic book (CC PDF).

Issue #1: Switching to Ubuntu – Print Version Available Now

This Issue is especially useful to power users who want to switch to Linux with Ubuntu!
Synopsis: Woody Hackett learns from his business partner, Jerome Bankwell, that they are the new owners of a documentary production studio that still uses Mastersoft, and that he will need to visit their facilities in the desert in order to teach them Ubuntu Linux. At “Interplanetary Pictures,” Woody shows their crew how to get started using the Ubuntu GUI following an installation. Guiding them through some basic software installation, Woody demonstrates to Kaori Soto and her associate Calvin Green basic ideas of GUI operation, so that they can use what they’ve learned to install other programs they might need down the road.

Well, to be honest, I never did have to tell anyone how to install Ubuntu. Just burn a CD and say “stick this in your drive and do what it says”. Still, nice art & it does run you through the history as well as basic ops in a cute way.

February 26, 2009 Posted by | open source, technology | , , , , | Leave a comment

my new sysadmin

I have a new Laptop. Its a work laptop, so it came with XP. I actually paid £25 quid to NOT have Vista, just because I didn’t have the time to figure out how I can transfer the XP licence from the old one. But anyway. I had to set it up. You know, install FireFox, download ubuntu, make it a decent machine.

Luckily its Christmas holiday, and I needed something to keep my kid busy (he’s 12). So I asked him if he wants the job. Of course he did. So yesterday he speant some time fiddling with the XP. There’s some proqota.exe thingy that won’t let us shut down the machine unless we ctrl+alt+del to the task manager and turn it off. Someone at IT must have put some funny disk quota on my account, and I can’t figure out how to kill it. Never mind.

Today we decided he’s done about as much as can do for the XP, and its time to install Ubuntu. I told him: go to the Ubuntu site, download the installer, burn it to a CD and install. Then set admin accounts for you and me, and a regular user for your little sister (I mean, she is 8 years old).

and he did.

  • 11:30 begin download, do the dishes
  • 11:45 download complete. begin disk burn, read some comics
  • 12:00 CD ready. reboot – oops, windows. need to change the boot sequence (I helped with that)
  • 12:05 installation begins, he asks me if its ok to go with the default (leave 15% for XP), I say yes. That’s the last question he asks
  • 12:20 he calls me over to key in the password for my new account
  • 12:30 installs a few games, tests his favorite sites, installs flash plugin & java. I show him the updates notification icon and what to do about it
  • 13:00 we go out for lunch, he leaves the software update thingy running
  • 15:00 back from lunch, a friend comes over. a bit of a disappointment as runescape doesn’t run. He tries all the standard procedures, but apparently runescape is sending him to the wrong download page. Eventually I have to give a hand, but in 5 minutes we’re sorted and happy (and friend is impressed)

Not bad, for his first day on the job.

December 23, 2008 Posted by | open source, technology | , , , , , , | Leave a comment