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Showing posts from May, 2014

Academic asides to participating in @ConversationUK and @ConversationEDU

I have been blogging for some considerable time. By my reckoning I have been 'at it' for over eight years, but taking it seriously for the last four.

The readership has been variable, in the early days reaching around 1000 readers a month. More often reaching 2.5 to 3 thousand each month over the time I have been active.

Like all communication mediums, it varies; some months doing well others not so. But, what I have observed in being an active collaborator on The Conversation is the recent surge from what was a doldrum time during Jan/Feb of this year.

Writing for The Conversation means that I can republish (my own work) on my blog, so in an indirect way I am benefiting from a collaboration that offers me a capable editor in Laura Hood. Via The Conversation, my hit rate is very impressive. Via my blog, this is enhancing my reach.

I note that this is also increasing my reach via Twitter, getting many RTs, faves and some new follows.

So, when asked what the benefit is, when pa…

Explainer: is your iPhone at risk after the Oleg Pliss hack?

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By Andrew Smith, The Open University

iPhone users in Australia were greeted with an alarming message this week when they tried to use their devices. They were told that a hacker or group of hackers going by the name Oleg Pliss had taken control of their phone and will lock it permanently unless a $100 ransom is paid.

It’s not yet clear whether the attack is likely to affect iPhone users outside Australia but even if it doesn’t, the attack has raised questions about the security of the iPhone. Apple products have a reputation for being more secure than others and this is the first major attack of its kind.

I recently said the iPhone is one of the most secure smartphones and that is still true. This attack is a very clever compromise but it does not actually hack into your phone.

Instead, Oleg Pliss seems to have found a way of attacking the remote server that supports an iPhone user’s iCloud account. It is through this account that the user has cloud data storage for their phone as we…

Six impossible things ...

From though the looking class ... Lewis Carroll ...  "I'm just one hundred and one, five months and a day.""I can't believe that!" said Alice."Can't you?" the Queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said: "onecan'tbelieve impossible things.""I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day.Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." Are you capable of believing anything that may be impossible? Through faith, scientific perspective or imagination. If you are limited by perspective or horizon, I pity thee.

Quick technical observation ...

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Sometimes the best tech is when it is simple tech and that was certainly the case this morning. Occasionally when I travel I use a local taxi firm to take me to the local airport. As this is often the most cost effective and practical method.

After booking them yesterday evening, I thought no more. Until a text at 04:45 this morning telling me that Taxi is on way. This text included car reg and model of vehicle and a way of GPS tracking its location on my smart phone.

Impressed, more so because with my wife/daughter/son who all also rarely use taxis there is an added dimension of safety as well as assurance. It is quite simple, but sometimes simple is best.



Cattle mode ...

As a seasoned airport traveller, I must marvel for a moment at the bewildered state of many of my fellow travellers. Sitting here at 05:55 having been awake for just over an hour, I am now sipping coffee in the departure lounge waiting for the gate to be called in around 22 minutes.

Looking at the queues in baggage check in and security, experience has long taught me that the little extra for speedy boarding and priority lane in security reduces stress when you are trying to get an early morning flight.

For most local airports, between 06:00 and 09:00 is a peek outbound time. With peek comes crowds, with crowds queues and queues encourage cattle mode behaviour.

While the travel will be paid for by the company, I am happy to pay the extra. Just to reduce stress, enjoy coffee and slide through the system with ease.

It is worth it.

Self deceit ... or is it conceit

Just had a very interesting email from a quality nominee of a large college. As there are over 400 further education colleges; I am sure vague details will leave you guessing. Recently I had to intervene in a dispute between themselves and one of my standards verifiers.

After reviewing the standard verifiers report; I concurred and agreed that the block should stand, seeing that the two points upon which a block could be imposed were valid. As it only needs any one of these two to have been blocked in the first instance.

So, a bit up themselves, the quality nominee decided to go on the attack. Pulling the report apart, but missing the points that the standards verifier shared with them. Because there was a couple of typos, the nominee tried to use this as leverage.

Seeing that we were never going to be on a winner with this college and recognising that the situation was 9/10ths in the favour of the standards verifier. I decided to take over the verification. Mainly to protect the sta…

Motivation ...

Occasionally I am aware that some of the souls I deal with mistake my motives. Often mistaking what I do for duty that comes with my role(s) or as a subordinate responding to an edict from some senior member of my organisation. 
The reality is; that I do many things because it is the right thing to do and often I see the longer term implications. There are many players out there who claim to be working in the interests of computing and IT education. I have noticed a considerable number jump on some common band wagons. Good for them, That is the way the game is played. But alas, the bread and butter reality is that many students need the accreditation via certifications or some form of academic/vocational qualification that will get their foot in the door. Or more often trade their experience for a form of recognition.
But; I think that in spite of collecting a group of souls together three years ago to warn them about the impending issues (back then). The realities are hitting home f…

Massive eBay hack: change your password now ...

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By Andrew Smith, The Open University

eBay is the latest internet giant to have its security compromised. A database containing user information has been hacked, leaving potentially millions of people vulnerable. The revelation is clearly a considerable embarrassment for the world-leading online auction site and worse still, the hack may have happened around three months ago without anyone noticing.

eBay has millions of users around the world, both buying and selling goods. It is not clear how many have been affected but everyone who has an account needs to take action. The database that was hacked contained user passwords and other sensitive details.

No one knows yet which cyber-criminals compromised eBay’s system or if this problem is part of any other ongoing security issues. What is clear though, is that it has taken the company some considerable time to discover the weakness and admit it to customers.
Slow on the uptake The eBay hack happened when an employee’s details were stole…

Explainer: is your Wi-Fi secure? ...

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By Andrew Smith, The Open University

James Lyne from IT security firm Sophos recently carried out a two-day public awareness exercise as part of the InfoSec 2014 conference.

In a low-emission variation of war driving, Lyne cycled around the streets of central London with a Raspberry Pi strapped to his bike. As he rode, he collected all the security details from wireless networks that had been left publicly visible by their owners.

During this two-day cycle ride, Lyne revealed that around 23% of the 81,743 wireless networks he identified were still insecure.

Lyne has done the same in San Francisco as part of Project Warbike, eliciting similar results. Others, such as the Queensland Police, have done it too. All aim to show just how easy it is to access Wi-Fi networks if those running them don’t take simple steps to secure them.
How the crooks get in There are lots of naughty people out there, and while it’s unlikely that your wireless network would be specifically targeted by cybercrim…

Tempting sarcasm

Sometimes it's hard work; hard work that is to avoid sarcasm. I'm sure those of you reading this, understand those situations. Where your mind conjours that immediate sarcastic response. To some mindless comments made by an inane individual.
If you are lucky, higher brain cuts in and the response is appropriate and bhanal. But occasionally sarcasm wins.

Hunting for Unicorns ...

You often see amongst all the cyber trash spewed out by various social media outlets the notion of the perfect job. In my experience, the perfect job is what you make of the one you have and how you develop the next career opportunity.
Anyways, that is not so interesting as what comes next.
The best job one could ever have is 'Unicorn Hunter' ... your sole role is to seek out this mythical creature and capture one alive for the edification of humanity. Before any left wing liberal nut cutlet eating namby pamby eco-animal-rights nut jobs try to tell me that this is wrong.
Remember, Unicorns DO NOT exist. But the perfect job will be to look for them and catalogue ones exploits in the process. I do subscribe to the hunt-it-kill-it-eat-it mindset which means that if you kill an animal, it must never be for sport, only if ... It was a situation where it is a matter of personal survival (not had any of them)When you intend to convert animal in question into dinner; then a swift disp…

Cult of complaining ...

Someone once said; that if they complain, the chances are that you are doing your job properly.

Like many idioms; it was a statement that I have often mulled over and considering a couple of entirely unrelated events over the last few days. I appreciate the value of their wisdom at this current time.

Needless to say, that the detail of both situations are best kept to the minimum. Also, to entertain, it does not relate directly to oneself. But the personal intervention I have to implement to support/reject the complainer in each situation. Means that I am involved at a secondary level.

Complaints are often a defence mechanism. If someone complains, my experienced view is 'bring it on', in most situations, a complaint is the initial thrust that elicits the parry and counteraction.


So my hearing is getting a little worse ...

Had a nice time with the hearing technician at Specsavers. A pleasant young soul who was genuinely surprised to see someone my age there.

It wasn't a surprise to discover what I already knew; that my upper range hearing is on the way out. In an interesting experience a few weeks ago, some friends were showing me how teens use dog whistle 'ring tones' to avoid the attention of their teachers being drawn to their smart phone ring/text/alert tones.

Playing with this app, we all quickly discovered that I couldn't hear the same frequencies that other aged souls could.

For most souls, this would happen when you are older. But for me, I already have monaural hearing loss. In plain terms, my right ear has never worked. What this means, is that having one ear doing the work of two, it has to endure more relative wear/tear as it is working for both.

So, range is out, which saddens me as I like some of the interesting synth sounds of prog rock band Emerson Lake and Palmer.

I am …

Roll up for digital whack-a-mole: Europe can't enforce the right to be forgotten ...

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By Andrew Smith, The Open University

In a digitally connected world, it is becoming almost impossible to remove your digital footprint. The fact that the European Court of Justice has ruled that internet search providers such as Google have to remove content about you if you tell them to does not mean that it will actually happen in practice.

The technological reality is more complex and is likely to mean that this legislation will be ineffective. Implementing the right to be forgotten would be like a Europe-wide, 24/7 game of digital whack-a-mole that never ends.
The internet has a long memory Once data is committed to a web page, social media site or some other internet enabled service and made public, the chances are it will remain visible, maybe forever.

All search engines run using autonomous programs called bots. Their sole task is to collect data from all systems connected to the world wide web. They feed back that information and your search engine displays it as results. Tha…

Sisyphus moments ...

Have you heard of Sisyphus; unless you are up on your classics (which I am not), then it is possibly unlikely.

In super short summary mode : Sisyphus was a king, whom on annoying the Gods by being a bit of a cunning devil. Was condemned to an eternity of rolling a rock to the top of a hill, to have it shoved back down again.

In every day life, do you encounter Sisyphus moments. Either personally, or watching others. Where a metaphorical rock, once rolled to the top of some notional hill, gets shoved down to be rerolled, rerolled and rolled again.

In national education, on a number of levels, there are often Sisyphus moments.

Are you rolling that rock? Will some national effort, notional development or mad idea from sources unknown kick that rock back down the hill.


Malware is everywhere so watch out for the fake healers ...

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By Andrew Smith, The Open University

There is nothing worse than having a fake healer offer a cure that does absolutely nothing. History is full of tales of frauds and quacks offering a cure for all, which eventually turn out to be nothing more than a bitter tasting facsimile of the real thing.

Google has recently removed an Android fake anti-malware application called Virus Shield, fearing that it did the exact opposite. Based on the reports, this app was fortunately benign and did not appear to infect the smartphones or tablets of its users. But it could have been worse, potentially opening up their devices to many undesirable exploits.

The problem is widespread and has been for some time. Cybercrime isn’t just about exploiting technology, some of the most successful scams are those that exploit your trust.

Malware is a term used to cover a wide range of attacks. A virus is one amongst many styles of attack, as it is the oldest and best understood by the majority of computer users. …

What colour would you like it ... @CostaCoffee :

Remaining fair, its not an issue specific to one coffee chain. But having a local Costa and preferring this variety of coffee over that of another chain. One tends to form an opinion about what good coffee should be and how it must be served.

So, here is a question, if I ask for black coffee ... why do some of your baristas ask me if I want milk?

There is white coffee and there is black coffee, if I want coffee with milk I will ask. But its black, not pink, blue or flipping yellow, just plain lovely glorious tasty black.

Today was sadly one of those moments, "would you like milk sir?' ... "um no, I did say black!". I can express various levels of sarcasm, its not the lowest form of wit, as sadly you have to apply more brain to your sarcastic output.

With all of this in mind ... why can't baristas everywhere ask if those who want white coffee, wish to have it black ... the response will soon teach them that those of us who like the full flavour of coffee would r…

Ejecting utterances ...

How often should one eject an utterance into the realms of social media?

Having tried, daily, twice, three times and four on automation. I cannot say what the best number is, but appreciate that there is a need to avoid 'stressing out' the followers. One key area, of personal preference is that so far the 99% majority of messages have been unique when it comes to OUCisco.

With Teraknor, I bleat one automated message a day. Which I note with some historical amusement has confused a couple of souls in the past who were under the illusion that I was away on my travels. This originated from a notion that in this regard I could be seen to be partially active, when I have nothing to say via my blog.

Over time I have collected various witty observations. Which when generated last for around 90-120 days. I have noted that each time, different souls respond to each of the repeated comments. Showing that engagement with social media is never a uniform affair.

Some cunning tricks to get your babble out there ...

So far, I have babbled on about blogging and reach, but sometimes you have to think about how you could increase your reach for some of your posts.

What I have discovered is by no means definitive, I am sure you could add via your comments other ideas.

If you are linking your blog to your twitter output, the words you use in your title are the most meaningful. You can use hashtags and should where possible @mention other twitter users.

Now you enter a new game, you may get a retweet, favourite or be picked up by others via the hashtag you use. I have occasionally attempted this and have had mixed results, but occasionally I get it right and see more hits on the post in question.

Naturally if you are trying to become an academic blogger, hash tagging or mentioning Lady GaGa may not be the right move for you. More as a personal feeling, don't overdo this, it is desperate and has the potential to disengage as many as you may engage.

Try a relevance test, the chances are that if what…

Is there a cure for dependent thinking ...

Politically incorrect I know, but the American phrase 'you cant fix stupid' does make me chuckle. Yet when I see some decision makers wanting their hands held, I do wonder if there is a cure for dependent thinking.

It is as if they need permission.

The combination of a discussion with another senior examiner as well as an email exchange with some other souls in an entirely different context. Has done nothing, except reinforce my cynicism.

So, now to the question, is there a cure?

I have seen some souls improve with age and discover that they do not need to seek permission or rely on the say so of others to make a decision.

Maybe the cure comes with permission, as you allow them to make their own decisions they become less dependent in their thinking.


Getting your drivel out there ...

Recently I posted on (semi) academic blogging. A discussion on delivering your wisdom into the blogosphere. Once you have started generating your pithy wisdom (or drivel, I am sure that I have written plenty). You need to leverage your reach. Not a particular lover of those SEO and Marketing terms; the reality is that you need to link your posts to one or many social media platforms of choice.
Which one should I use, I hear you ask. Really!!! The choice is yours, you are a sentient biped, you have to make the decision. What I can share is what I do and why?
I have two personas on the interweb, me, as in Teraknor, and as 'Open University Cisco' (or OUCisco).
As you may have guessed, I used both differently.
When I blog, I immediately distribute my output to Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Mindful of the times when I write some of my utterances. I do use the platforms scheduling tool to maximise the potential reach. 
I do tweet, this is separate, I do also write posts on facebo…

(semi) Academic Blogging ...

The matter of academic blogging crept into a conversation with a colleague earlier this week. Our discussion focussed on the notion of some academic bloggers/tweeters being fearful of offending others.

I am sure that I do, in some macabre way I hope that I may offend someone.

Some fret that they may not have anything to say, again I am sure that I don't looking back over the last four years. I cannot say that each and every one of my posts has been some revelation. More often they have been examples of my pontification. Some have been popular, others attracting single digit hits.

The trick (in my opinion) is to ...

Write what you want to write ... if you have something to say, I am sure others may want to read itBe committed ... take the time to write at regular intervals, but decide what 'regular' means to youUnderstand that it will take time, readerships do not necessarily appear overnight There is often the conversation about what the theme of your blog is going to be. …

Looking for aliens? Try searching the cloud ... from @ConversationUK with @yijun_yu

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By Andrew Smith, The Open University and Yijun Yu, The Open University

As a species, human beings are obsessed with the idea that there may be aliens out there, somewhere beyond our planet.

This obsession really took off in the late 19th century, when suggestions that there might be canals on Mars and popular books such as War of the Worlds by HG Wells did little to quell excitement over the chance that we might be sharing our universe with others.

But despite this passion for all things extra-terrestrial, we haven’t come up with much. Maybe we’re doing it wrong. It might be time for us to start revisiting old data with new techniques.


Canals on Mars?
Will ET phone us, or phone home? As radio technology and radio astronomy developed, we soon discovered that there are plenty of interesting noises and signals coming from space. These are caused by our Sun and other astronomical objects, such as Pulsars. That prompted us to start listening out for noises that could be something else.

The…

And another one bites the dust ...

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One of those moments when a video says more than my written words.


This is actually good news, for one individual; but bad news for an organisation near by that does not appreciate the value of their workforce. Another soul dwindles from a team that once could shape national education.

Not anymore, who next?

Silly people not understanding the googlesphere ...

Sadly these tales are never unique, but tell us how many often know so little of how the Googlesphere works. Out there the interweb search engines ply their trade, with Google being the most dominant solution. They accomplish their worth by being both independent and arbitrary. Having their own secret potions to decide on what is the best, top hit based on a search term you may use.

Subtle is the art, that nation, region, IP address, who you are logged into all contribute to the results delivered. As well as mining what is currently the most popular, site/page/result for that term. So if you work for an organisation that shares its name with others, unless you are imaginative, you are doomed to discover that other hits will come above your organisation in any search.

Now couple this with the dark art of the SEO soothsayers, who in my view many may as well shake sticks with feathers at a computer screen. For the value they offer the process of interweb presence. There are 'tings&#…

Writing for @ConversationUK ...

As many of you who follow this blog may have noticed, I have suddenly become all 'topical' and 'such like'. The sudden cause of this affliction, has been the lure of writing for The Conversation over the last five weeks.

So, why ... well in my view, why not. After being kindly introduced by Yijun Yu, it has been an interesting and very informative experience. Apart from the pleasure of seeing a couple of very successful articles being syndicated. It has also helped develop my writing style. After all, we have to face the fact that academic types tend to waffle a bit and enjoy literary prevarication. Have you read some of our papers?

With one potential article parked needing to be actioned, another in the wings and some other ideas wandering around my head. What I have noticed is that this exercise is doing no harm in raising my profile via social media and other means.

So, if you have something to contribute, I would commend trying. The editorial staff are very helpfu…