Cookies and privacy

I find myself in a strange situation when it comes to ads and privacy. I am not a supporter of ad blocking because I believe content producers are entitled to revenue for their efforts and including ads with their content are about the only way to seek compensation. There are different kinds of ads. Some bloggers secure compensation for ad views by making deals with those willing to pay to include ads. Typically, these ads are the larger image ads you see on popular sites. Image ads may be displayed for other reasons, but those paying for just the display of ads want their message to unavoidable. Link ads typically result in payment only when clicked. These ads are much less obtrusive.

Aside from the screen space taken and ads that obscure viewing, ads themselves are not a major concern to me. Cookies are another matter. To offer you ads you may be more likely to be influential, it is very useful to know something about you and your interests. A way companies acquire this information is by access to information about your browsing history. There are likely situations in which you are willing to share information and situations in which you are not. At least for me, the issue is really that I know very little about whom is collecting information.

Ghostry provides one way to learn more about who is collecting information as you browse. Ghostry reveals the cookies that are active when you browse a particular web site (see image below) and categorizes the purpose of these cookies.

Adding Ghostery as an extension to your browser allows you to access the type of information I show here. If nothing else, it is informative to see what cookies are active when you view different sites. This display was generated by from one of my blogs. I use and trust Google ads. This display allows you to select individual cookies and block if you want. I would pay closest attention to the Advertising category.

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Google photos image search

The search capabilities of Google photos are pretty amazing. We, like so many, are watching the coverage of Hurricane Harvey. One of the most devasted areas is Rockport, Texas. Cindy suggested we had spent time exploring that area and we were trying to remember if this were the case. On a whim, I decided to search my Google Photos account. I have not labelled or tagged most of the images I keep there, but I did find photos taken in Rockport. These were phone photos and I assume the search makes use of the GPS metadata I want my phone to record.

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Download, cleanup and organize Kindle notes

This post is a tutorial for my IDT 510 students because I have assigned several Kindle books. This technique is based on a post from the Diigo blog. The technique requires Diigo and the Diigo extension. If you highlight and annotate content from within your browser to add a bookmark to Diigo, you probably are already using this extension.

If you highlight and take notes while reading Kindle books, Amazon stores your notes for you. You can access these notes from

If you have the recent Diigo extension installed, you should see something interesting when you open the stored notes. There should be a button for moving these notes from the Amazon site to Diigo.

The notes should come into Diigo as a bookmark that when expanded contains your Kindle notes.

You could read your notes in this form, but the Diigo post recommends something else. The idea is to take advantage of the Diigo outline tool to do a better job of organizing these notes. The first step is to create an outline for the new notes. The outline heading should offer a large + that can be used to create an outline.

Now return to the expanded bookmark for the Kindle content. Open the three dot dropdown menu at the upper, lefthand corner or the entry and you should find an “add to outliner” option. Select the outline you created for the book.

The entire collection of comments will come in as a single heading.

Expand this heading and you will find your collection of highlights and notes. You can now add headings. Move elements of the outline around, indent and outdent entries, etc.

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Fake news and critical thinking

The News Literacy Project (NLP) is a nonpartisan national education nonprofit that works with educators and journalists to teach middle school and high school students how to sort fact from fiction in the digital age. NLP provides these students with the essential skills they need to become smart, active consumers of news and information and engaged, informed citizens.

There may be no more authentic way to teach and develop critical thinking skills than the consideration of online information. Whatever issues existed before, the attention to what is now described as fake news makes careful and self-directed analysis of information even more important.

The News Literacy Project is an effort to teach the skills important in carefully evaluating online content. Take some time to explore the site. Even the background information provided to establish the need for the development of critical thinking skills should be relevant to educators.

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Attention merchants – Tim Wu

I think Leo Laporte does great interviews. If tech-related issues are your thing, it is worth checking out the podcast “Triangulation” which is his series of interviews.

To get started consider the discussion with Tim Wu author of “The Attention Merchants”. The discussion is wide ranging but the book focused mainly on the history of how we have been willing to trade our attention for free or inexpensive content.

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Politics and educators

This is a political post. I seldom write about politics on this blog because I try to focus here on education issues. I do write about politics elsewhere. Those of us who are or were educators are pressured to make this distinction. I understand this rationale at some level because we are in a position of power when it comes to influencing others. This is regarded unfair when it seems we can express our opinions in order to influence students who it is argued are in a bad position to disagree. I guess I do not necessarily see this as accurate. The undergraduate and graduate students I work with seldom have trouble expressing their disagreement with me when they believe the issue in question is important enough. I suppose what is unfair is that I get to broach topics and I say more on topics than do my students.

The problem here is that core issues get ignored. I understand the importance of avoiding issues such as religion in most classroom settings. I don’t see religious and political beliefs as equivalent. The argumentation surrounding political positions should be based in reasons and justification. I see argumentation as crucial to the higher order cognitive skills we need to be teaching. Argumentation is at the core of science. While certain conclusions of the processes of the sciences may be inconvenient, it is seldom overly controversion to address the findings of science and examine even the inconvenient consequences. Issues of race, inequality, biases of all types can be understood from psychological, sociological, historical and I am certain many other perspectives. Positions taken and explanations offered within any of the disciplines may be inconvenient or contrary to the positions students encounter elsewhere. Being educated involves developing insights into positions on topics influencing behavior in society and if existing beliefs are shown to be flawed in the process the process of education has been successful.

Present awareness and uneasiness brought on by recent events in Charlottesville have again brought political issues into daily discussions. This seems to be happening a lot lately. The core issues involved need to be addressed and carefully considered. This is a very serious and uncertain time that reminds me of the level of concern during the 1960s. I am not of the opinion that educators should keep their heads down and do their work as usual. I regard this as a kind of Maslow’s hierarchy kind of issue – if basic problems are being ignored there is little hope of being successful focusing on other things.

I just came across this post from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTM) titled “There is no apolitical classroom”. Their post offers an opinion similar to my own and includes a list of instructional resources for “teaching in these times”. I hope other professional organizations will come forward in a similar manner.

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We missed coding by 30 years

This is a short tech history lesson. Thirty years ago Bill Atkinson gave us Hypercard and the opportunities for personal participation in technology changed. Hypercard is difficult to explain to folks who have never had the opportunity, but the closest I can come is to suggest that Hypercard is what  PowerPoint could have been. It was a product perfectly created and scaffolded for educational settings – the perfect embodiment of the low threshold, high ceiling product. On this anniversary I encountered a post that explains Hypercard far better than I could. I still miss the opportunities this software provided and cannot understand why Apple did not continue to upgrade this product.

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Stress of advanced degrees

The cost and risk of committing 8 or more years in pursuit of a PhD is more stressful and demanding than many realize. This study indicates that PhD candidates are twice as vulnerable to mental health problems as other well-educated individuals. My last PhD student just left for his first tenure-track job and after watching many students go through the process, I understand the stress that is involved. I suppose academic institutions allow more students to take on the process than is wise. Some would argue we do this to support our own needs for research colleagues and this would be one way to spin the logic. I suppose this can happen, but not in my personal experience. If there is a negative here, it is probably most often not asking potential students to consider the odds that exist. PhD students bet big on a job being there and they being able to compete.

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Limit the evils you are willing to embrace

Andrew Keen has generated several books focused on the Internet (e.g., The Internet is Not the Answer) and seems to be saying that Internet companies operating in their own interest have to work against working in our best interests. They must find ways to attract our attention. The commitment of our attention is necessary for their success. When considering what can be done, he offers the following.

According to Harris, there are two critical strategies for fixing these problems. The first is for all of us to recognize that we are all vulnerable and for us to all “curate our own lives.”

And the second is for the platform companies to recognize that their users have “vulnerable minds” and for them to make a conscious effort to avoid feeding our “lizard brains,” Harris says.

Since the middle of the 2016 election season, I have fallen into the attention trap – I have started posting to Facebook. The way Facebook works is quite scary. It tends to tell us what we want to hear partly because of the individuals we friend AND it does not make clear what of the content we might see appears on our timeline. It is likely this combination influenced this election.

I have no easy technical solutions to offer, but I would make this logical suggestion. It amounts to accepting the lesser of two evils. If we can be misled by our own selection of biased sources and by the lack of awareness of the content Facebook selects to forward to us, it seems to me we would be better off at least eliminating the Facebook awareness issue. We would be somewhat better off limiting the problem to the personal willingness to select our content sources. We have abandoned what used to be the way to do this – RSS (my suggestion would be Feedly). This would seem similar to the proposed approach of curating your own life.

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Facts, lies, propaganda, and fake news

I listen to Jeff Jarvis weekly because participates on a podcast we follow (This Week in Google – TWIG). He is a faculty member in the journalism school at the City University of New York. The YouTube presentation I link here is far more academic than his TWIG contributions, but his presentation of transitions in the media is quite interesting.

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