I'm Not a Bot

captcha
This early version of a CAPTCHA uses a nonsense word "smwm" and obscures it from computer interpretation by making it an image, twisting the letters and adding slight background color gradient.


CAPTCHA (/kæp.t??/ is an acronym for "Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart"). It is the general name for a type of challenge–response test used in computing to determine whether or not the user is human. 

You have encountered them when logging into sites. The early versions were scrambled words as images. But they have become more complex. 

I suspect that the acronym was formed with the idea of capture+gotcha. That is especially true of a newer form known as an image identification captcha which may be better at fooling robots, but is also better at fooling and frustrating me.

For example, you may encounter ones asking you to "select all the images with a fire hydrant" in them.  (It could also be automobiles or road signs or...)

capcha

The problem with this type is that the images are small and low quality. On the example shown here I can't tell if there is a fire hydrant hiding in the image. And the captcha will keep giving me new ones if I'm not correct. The result? I give up at trying to use the service.

This user identification procedure has received criticism since it was first introduced in 2003. It certainly has accessibility issues for disabled people. But everyday users also balk at having to use it.

We use a simple version on this blog to try to prevent bots from posting spamming comments. That didn't work very well and we had to shut down commenting. We'll never know how many legitimate comments never were posted because the captcha stopped the commenter.

Do they work? I don't know their effectiveness score, but there approaches to defeating CAPTCHAs. The simplest is to use cheap human labor to recognize them. There are many algorithms and types out there now and some have bugs that have been exploited to allow the attacker to completely bypass the CAPTCHA. Good old AI and machine learning has allowed people to build automated solvers.

Is there a need for this technology? Yes. Anyone with a blog knows that spam comments are a problem. 

no captcha
           The NoCAPTCHA reCAPTCHA

And then there is the "No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA." In 2013, the updated reCAPTCHA began implementing behavioral analysis of the browser's interactions with the CAPTCHA to predict whether the user was a human or a bot before displaying the captcha, and presenting a "considerably more difficult" captcha in cases where it had reason to think the user might be a bot.

Public Google services started using it the following year. The first issue with its use was that because NoCAPTCHA relies on the use of Google cookies that are at least a few weeks old, reCAPTCHA has become nearly impossible to complete for people who frequently clear their cookies. An improved version introduced in 2017 by Google is called "invisible reCAPTCHA".

We will continue to make ways to block bots and people will continue to make ways to defeat them. A new project, Mailhide, is being developed to protect email addresses on web pages from being harvested by spammers. It converts the address that doesn't allow the bot to see the full email address, so "captcha@gmail.com" becomes "cap...@gmail.com". A human would have to click on it, and solve a CAPTCHA to see the full email address.

Can this be defeated by cheap human labor too? Yes. It's like putting a strong lock on your door. Someone can bust it if they are determined to get in, but you hope to discourage others.

Work FOMO

#workFOMO

FOMO is the acronym for Fear of Missing Out which is defined as "a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent."

Another characteristic of this form of social anxiety is that a person compensates with a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing.

Of course, we associate this social anxiety with social media but, though the acronym is new, the fear of missing out on things has surely been an issue since ancient times. People of the past were lucky - or unlucky, depending on your point of view - because they didn't have social media. Today we are much more aware of what others are doing.

I have written here about people I call "The Disconnected" but today I'm writing about people who are too connected. And yet, there is overlap in those two groups because the connections that "The Disconnected" often still maintain are social networks. 

Some people call the younger generations (Millennials and Gen Z) generations that are "always on," as in always online and always on their devices.

We associate much of this activity with "social" usage such as activity on Facebook and Instagram and updates on where we are, what we are doing and who is with us. Lately, I am seeing more attention paid to the "always on" aspects of work life

Part of that work condition comes from what I will call "Work FOMO." This is when we see people checking their phones, and reading work texts and email long after they have left the workplace. When does the work day end? Perhaps never. And that isn't healthy mentally or physically, and it might not be even helping their career.

You have seen those studies that show that social media can reduce young adults’ sense of well-being and satisfaction with their life. How does checking work messages all day and night affect your well being and satisfaction with your job? Does this increase our fear that our fellow employees are doing things and connecting with others and getting ahead of us in the workplace?

Both social and Work FOMO research probably suffers from correlation and causation issues. Does being on social media make you feel less happy, or do unhappy people spend more time using social media? Does Work FOMO cause you to keep checking in, or does checking in just increase your fear that you're missing out on that important message?

It is popular to post advice on how to overcome FOMO. (Here's one from psychologytoday.com.) The advice sounds reasonable but not always easy to follow. Are you "willing to not have it all?" Can you accept that your needs are limited, but your desires are endless?

There is one piece of advice that sounds reasonable and doable. Focus on one thing at a time. A decade a or two ago, "multitasking" was the thing to do. Then, we started to get research in the late 1990s that showed that we are not good at multitasking. Subjects exhibited severe interference when asked to perform even very simple tasks simultaneously. The human brain really can only respond successfully to one action request at a time. If you have a fear of missing out on something important at work, maybe you should turn your attention away from the screen.

Teaching the Language and Grammar of Film

The past few years, I have gotten back into teaching filmmaking. When I was doing graduate work in media with a focus on film and video, I came to believe that films can be treated as "texts" and that they can be "read" and analyzed, as I had done in my undergraduate studies in literature.

If films can be read like texts, then the language that films use must also have a kind of grammar that can explain its structures.

Roger Ebert used to do "shot at a time" workshop where he would examine a film closely. A film, like a novel, is very controlling. I think a film is even more controlling than a novel. When I read The World According to Garp, I had an idea about how Garp looked. My original sense was he looked like the author, John Irving. But after I saw the film version, Garp became - and still is - Robin Williams. Atticus Finch is Gregory Peck. When you watch a film, you only see what the camera’s eye shows us. The director, editor, cinematographer, actors, set designers, costumers and many others control (and at times manipulate) viewers. 

Knowing about the grammar of film allows you understand how that is done and can give you back some control over the way the film works. Part of the grammar is knowing the reasons why a long shot, medium shot, close up, or an extreme close up was chosen. Studying the language and grammar of the shot, the grammar of the edit will make you consider whether a high angle, a low angle, or eye level is used. Is the camera being objective or subjective? When the camera is subjective, we become one of the characters, and that can be like reading a first-person narrated novel. How does the pace of the edit affect an audience?

Citizen Kane
Citizen Kane offers many opportunities to illustrate film grammar

Every language teacher talks about composition. Every film teacher talks about the composition of shots and scenes. Look at how the director has arranged actors, objects and lighting.

Besides showing and discussing films, to teach the grammar of film you should really have students make films. Otherwise, you are teaching grammar in isolation. I learned through decades of teaching writing that grammar should be taught along with writing. Teaching grammar in isolation is not only boring, it is not effective.

You can start to teach students to make films on paper. Not every teacher has access to filmmaking gear - although today, many students are carrying a video camera in their pocket that is many times more powerful than the Super8 film cameras and video camcorders I first used in classes when I started teaching. Then and now, I have students use storyboarding as a way to really think about shots and angles and building a scene.

A wonderful "side effect" of teaching how to read a film and make a film is that it fosters critical thinking.  

I recently discovered Pixar in a Box which is a behind-the-scenes look at how Pixar artists do their jobs. It allows you to animate bouncing balls, build a swarm of robots, and make virtual fireworks explode. The program connects to math, science, computer science, and humanities in very natural ways. The project is a collaboration between Pixar Animation Studios and Khan Academy and is sponsored by Disney. 

One part of the Art of Storytelling section is on the grammar of film

Basic Shot Types

 

Get Deeper Into This

How To Read a Film

Film Studies

Film Analysis

 

Revisiting the One Laptop Per Child Movement

students using
XOs being used at a primary school in Kigali, Rwanda using the Scratch programming language (Photo: Wikimedia)

One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is a non-profit initiative established in 2005 with the goal of transforming education for children around the world. The plan was to achieve this goal by creating and distributing educational devices for the developing world, and by creating software and content for those devices.

In 2005, the typical retail price for a laptop was considerably in excess of $1,000 (US). Prices have actually decreased since then and laptops have become far more powerful, but the OPLC objective to create a $100 laptop is still an ambitious one.

The OLPC project was started by Nicholas Negroponte at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a core of MIT Media Lab personnel. The organization has grown to include passionate people creating software and hardware and sustainable community involvement to fulfill the educational mission of OLPC. 

What they created was the OLPC XO Laptop, a low-cost and low-power laptop computer. The project was originally funded by member organizations such as AMD, eBay, Google, Marvell Technology Group, News Corporation, Nortel. Chi Mei Corporation, Red Hat, and Quanta provided in-kind support.

The OLPC project has been the subject of extensive praise and criticism. It was praised for pioneering low-cost, low-power laptops.

It can be given some credit for inspiring later variants such as Eee PCs and Chromebooks.

It certainly generated interest at high levels of government and educational leadership in computer literacy as a mainstream part of education in many poorer countries.

The OLPC group and others have created interfaces that work without literacy in any language, and particularly without literacy in English. And it has increased the attention and production of free and open source software.  

My partner on Serendipity35, Tim Kellers, bought an XO laptop. At the time, your purchase funded a second XO going out free into the world. When Tim left NJIT where we had both worked, he passed the XO on to me. I can't say that I find the device to be much more than a museum piece for my purposes. Then again, it was not designed for me or my purposes or my situation.

laptops
                       via Twitter 

I was reminded of the OLPC movement by a post by Allie Cooper on the topic. She wrote:

According to One Laptop Per Child’s Chief Financial Officer Robert Hacker, the most important thing about having these laptops is the capability to access the Internet. “When we think about the causes of poverty, access to information is essential,” said Hacker. “That opens up a huge resource for learning.”

The laptops being given to students are uniformly designed all over the world. The signature mint green color is used by almost two and a half million impoverished children spanning over 40 countries. Called XO Laptops or the Children’s Machine, these low-cost devices function both as traditional notepads or tablets. It has an open-source operating system which is compatible with a plethora of educational apps included in the Sugar software suite. Sugar is designed to be a tool to help students even without the aid of a teacher.

 

By 2015, OLPC reported that more than 3 million laptops had been shipped. That is a success, but the project also met with criticism. My initial criticism of the laptop was that it was not intuitive to use, and the organization has been criticized for its lack of troubleshooting support. 

Back in 2005 OLPC received concerns about the environmental and health impacts of the hazardous materials found in most computers. OLPC said that it aimed to use as many environmentally friendly materials as it could. The laptop and all OLPC-supplied accessories would be compliant with the EU's Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS). The unit would also far less power than the typical consumer netbooks available. The XO-1 is the first laptop to have been awarded an EPEAT Gold level rating

Over 2 million children and teachers in 42 countries are learning with XO laptops today.

You can learn more about OLPC at:
laptop.org
wiki.laptop.org/go/The_OLPC_Wiki

 

How We Work

wework
WeWork space or studying in the campus cafe? Maybe it is both.   Photo: Wikimedia

I have been in WeWork spaces in New York City and Washington, D.C. because I knew people who were using these coworking spaces. I didn't have any conversations about education there. It was all about work.

But the WeWork people have been having conversations about education. They acquired Flatiron School (a coding bootcamp) and MissionU, which was a one-year college alternative. They formed a partnership with 2U, which is an online program management company.

MissionU has been shut down by WeWork, and they plan to start a network of K-12 schools called WeGrow. I imagine that all these parts will be used together. For example, 2U students can use WeWork’s office space as study spaces.

This is not traditional schooling and Michael Horn, writing in Forbes, thinks that it points to the future of online learning in higher education.

He says that the future is "in bricks, not just clicks." He means that he views traditional colleges as going through a hybrid phase. In this current phase, they are using online learning to sustain their current business model. Students don't save money or time. But they could.

One way Horn thinks online learning might be able to improve would be to give it a physical component. Yes, this is a blended-learning option. Well, that is hardly a new idea. Proponents of blended (or hybrid) learning have always promoted the format's ability to allow online students to connect with other students in-person to create community and a learning network. Where it is that "we learn" is changing, as are our ideas about what a learning space looks like. That space looks less like a "classroom" every year.