Black Supremacy

The title is inspired by a goofy tweet from Terry Crews, something along the lines of “we need white participation (true) else Black Supremacy will take over (what?)”

Not going to praise or bury Mr. Crews here, though I do think his presence in Hollywood and how it plays out is worth paying attention to. Note that he is the most famous (non-football playing) person with his sort of appearance, and it’s unfortunately 100% clear that the American Fame Machine has demanded him to “be non-threatening” to a ridiculous extreme for him to retain the place he has in showbiz. If he wants to do it, it’s fine, that’s his personality. But it’s now the job of the USA to realize what an absurd standard it is, and, of course, not hold all black men to it. But, actually, that’s not really what I wanted to talk about.

“Black Supremacy.” There’s a bit of truth to it, at least in one regard that I can easily identify. It, of course, doesn’t exist in force of power — but it does in “collective political wisdom,” and now it is time for all good people to defer to it. Put simply, we discuss and vote correctly about politics far more than any other easily identifiable demographic, check the numbers.

The irony, or perhaps the cause, even — is how the Black vote gets questioned time and time again as if it could be fooled. I’m thinking way back in ancient history when there was a discussion over whether Pete Buttigieg would have to deal with black homophobia in the ballot box. The answer (if it had come to it, i.e. if he had been the nominee) was always “hell, no” — but it’s funny and perhaps bizarre that the question would always come up.

Which, again, may be the cause. We discuss, we rant, we rhetorically fight, and generally, that gets us where we need to be (on which direction to vote, if nothing else.)

I feel the need to point out that this is also true in regard to some of our more colorful politicians, e.g. Marion Berry. I will simply say as I’ve said before; whatever he was doing the night before, he got up in the morning and fought like hell for black folks. Which is the only truly intelligent way to vote (i.e. Oh, you’re paying attention to what they do in their private life? Good chance you just got played.)

Perhaps that’s what this moment is; everyone waking up to the fact that we were right all along in so many ways. Let’s keep that up, for sure.

Quick thing I’ll discuss in detail later on. Sorry but definitely not sorry for making you come to my domain, jrm4.com, to read this — we should all be doing it this way because this is a self (in my case, Black) ownership type of thing as much as any other. Zuck loves Trump.

An iPad is not a computer.

Have an honest-to-gosh iPad in the home for the first time (we’ve reached the stage where dad just had one lying around and another Zoom box is useful)

My snarky-but-honest social media ready thought:

“Stop being impressed that your child can use one. Be troubled that the thing is exactly calibrated for minds working at a child’s level.”

But will focus less on that — was recently regaled with an ad for the iPad Pro, and pleased to see a point that Apple and I agree on: An iPad is not a computer.

Let’s go ahead and lean into this distinction because, hardware notwithstanding, I think it’s a good one to use. An iPad is not a computer, nor is an iPhone. Also not computers: Android devices neither. Mac and Windows laptops and desktops generally are, at least for now. Linux (lets be pedantic for a sec, GNU/Linux) computers absolutely are and will likely will be forever.

The main distinction in a general form: You own and control computers – which are *general purpose machines* — and have at least the option of great deal of control in their operation and underlying systems. The other things are limited use appliances – in which (despite being made of computer parts) the owning company has deliberately disabled “general use,” partly to make them easy to use and partly to retain a great deal of control over them.

Going further – every household needs at least one computer, on which you save the stuff you care about, OUTSIDE of “the cloud.”

No excuse for most of you. You can perhaps use a Windows or Mac machine (less safe) or get a Raspberry Pi. (very safe and cheap).

Further, then. Every household should have at least one computer — on which you save the things you care about, outside of “the cloud.”

The Mac and Windows machines are okay for this — but even better is a Linux machine. The very-cheap Raspberry Pi is a great candidate for this; get on it.

Your kids should be able to have a tablet that doesn’t spy on them…here’s how.

This is how I’ve done the tablets for my kids; there’s no reason at all that a kids toy should be able to spy on your child, and as a tech guy and skeptic, this is how I do it.

Go Android, go cheap.

Sorry Apple users, but it’s impossible to use ever use their devices without giving up LOTS of personal info. I will admit, this makes them slightly better stewards than the Android world in terms of keeping it safe (for now) — but for this with Android we have the ability to essentially never give them anything; they can’t mishandle what they never had in the first place.

So it’s fine, even better, to go cheap! Even if we mess around and get malware or whatever, it’s not going to majorly affect us -worse comes to worse, do a hard reset or just return it. (Make sure you don’t mess up and get a cheap Windows tablet, this will become crushingly slow upon doing nearly anything)

Fake email? Pssssh. NO EMAIL.

You turn it on and it will beg you to enter your Google/Gmail information. RESIST. Eventually you should hit a home screen, despite the desparate begging and pleading. A less great alternative is to do a fake one, but it doesn’t need to be done.

How to get apps without Google?

We’re going to get old school and do the thing that your IT mama always warned you about — we’re going to download things from the internet and just put them on there. Again, since you’re not putting personal info on it, the worst danger from malware et al is you possibly having to do a hard reset if things mess up.

A bit on this; app stores like Google Play can be bypassed by directly downloading files, (known as apks). Google doesn’t like you doing this, partly for safety from malware etc. (admittedly true) but also for being able to lockdown the app market and extract rents from app creators.

You’ll have to “Enable Unknown Sources” and Google is going to try to scare you out of doing this. It’s basically a setting (that gets moved around a bunch in Android), here’s a guide.
https://www.wikihow.com/Allow-Apps-from-Unknown-Sources-on-Android

Our first stop should be the same first stop as it should have been on your Android phone – the alternative app “store” (they’re all free) F-droid, at http://fdroid.org/ It’s (IMHO) SAFER than Google Play.

This is a repository for free and open source Android apps, and you should always check here first. It’s admittedly pretty limited (especially if you’re used to Facebook, etc. apps, but there are a ton of great utilities here.) It has it’s own installer app that you can use.

BONUS and honestly this may be all you need: PBS KIDS. Watch for “Wrong links” — the tiny “if the download doesn’t start click here” link should be do it. You may need adblockers and such.

Movies and videos and music?

First, definitely get VLC, available on all of the above or directly here: https://get.videolan.org/vlc-android/3.2.9/ (this is their official site) for playback.

You’ll have to get them on your device, get familiar with how your particular tablet works here — some can be mounted as if they were flash drives, some can actually mount flash or Micro SD drives, some can do both. As for the copying, I will leave it up to you whether or not you choose to do it; the legality is unclear but “enforcement” of this is rare. Here are the options:

I like Handbrake a lot for physical media. https://handbrake.fr/

Also, there is the possibility of grabbing media from Youtube with https://ytdl-org.github.io/youtube-dl/index.html

Okay, but they can’t live without Netflix / Hulu / etc.

A little dicier, but I’ve done it succesfully every time – basically, you’ll have to find “non-official” apks from non-official sources. Right now, I generally trust http://apkmirror.com for these, but as you google (or better yet, duckduckgo) definitely use your adblockers and such (next, I’ll write up a thing on browsers).

ENJOY.

Online Teaching Guide

My thoughts, tips, and guides on teaching and administering instruction online, please see notices below*

I am posting this for the benefit of colleagues everywhere, largely in response to many schools switching to online teaching due to the COVID-19 / Coronavirus pandemic. The first best time for me to do this would have been years ago, the next best time is now. My goal is to edit this as needed.

 

IDEAS AND TIPS FOR ONLINE INSTRUCTION

 

On content/learning management systems, e.g. Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle, etc. These have their strengths and drawbacks, but after a decade plus of experience using these systems, I generally never trust them to work as intended. Because they are closed, centralized systems, features and services can’t always be relied on to work or work well*.

ADDENDUM: In line with what I’ve said here — to the extent possible, use any internet tools and/or “the cloud” for communication (and perhaps backup) — but not as your primary storage. My current real-life example: I’ve been putting grades and comments into a local Excel-type (really LibreOffice Calc) spreadsheet first, and then transferring them. Right now, as I’ve been trying to get them in, my LMS (Canvas) is throwing errors, unable to save my grades and comments, but I’m not losing much work or time because I did it this way first. A lot of very fine people and sources will not tell you to do this, and may actually warn you against it, but it serves me well and I think it will you, too.

Even if, backups are always good. A good way to start is to consider precisely what you need to do, and then figure the most consistent and cross-compatible way to do so. 80% of this is the following: When you need to communicate privately, use email. When you can communicate and relay material publicly, use HTML.

 

EMAIL

Hopefully, this is mostly self explanatory. Gather your students’ emails if you have them, now. This will ensure you can communicate even if (when?) your LMS goes down. Email certainly has its warts, but there’s a reason it’s the only “social media slash communication platform” that’s remained relatively unchanged for about 20 years or so, and why it’s still the one most of your services defaults to as a back up. It. Just. Works.

 

HTML

The simple beauty of HTML is that it tends to work everywhere — if you know a bit about web hosting, you can do it yourself that way — but even if you don’t there are a number of services, public, private, free and not, that will let you host your stuff. Finally, all (at least that I’ve seen) LMS’ do support HTML very well. Thus a very good strategy that works consistently is:

1) Develop your material in a format that at least exports to HTML.
2) Publish your material, optionally by multiple means.

Note: I certainly DO NOT mean that you should be writing raw HTML. There are a plethora of methods that allow you to edit conveniently. The following is a mix of technologies, standards, and services. I use all of them to various degrees.

  • WordPress – More websites in the world use WordPress than anything else, with good reason. It’s probably the only good content management system, precisely because it didn’t set out to be one — it evolved naturally instead of trying to be a top-down thing.
  • Other Web enabled HTML editors. WordPress and LMS’ frequently have in-built editors that will let you do a What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) approach, but can also drop you in to a raw HTML editing mode. Mixing these can work very well.
  • Markdown. Markdown is *wonderful* — it’s a very simple markup language that allows for decorated and formatted text with simple text methods, eg _underline_ *bold* etc. You still have to find a way to convert. (In a sane world, we’d all be using something like this instead of e.g. Microsoft Word.)

And the main thing I use:

  • Zim. I rant about this program frequently, I think it’s the greatest program ever created – it’s both easy for a beginner to pick up and still infinitely extensible because it relies on simple text. It can do a lot of things, but one thing that it can do especially well is to create digital “notebooks” in a Markdown-esque format that can be exported to HTML to create full websites. It’s what this website primarily uses (though if you see my face on the side and a comment box below, you’re on the WordPress version of this page, which I’m doing to accommodate comments. Go here for zim in action, and for how it’s done, here: https://jrm4.com/Tech_Guides/How_I_publish_my_website_(Zim_and_Rsync).html

 

LIVE TEACHING / VIDEOCONFERENCING

 

It’s really curious (and not necessarily bad) that the world has not been able to settle on one “live videoconferencing” platform. Before I get into the individual services, there’s one major tip I have, cross-platform agnostic.

If you are using anything visual – slides, pdfs, videos, boards, live-coding, etc. All of the systems are going to have their own quirky ways of handling them — but the saving grace is that just about all of them will let you share a window from you computer– thus you can avoid all of this pain by making and using a virtual machine. As it sounds, its like a separate baby computer inside your real computer That “computer” is its own window and it’s walled off from everything else, so you just “share” the entire “computer.”

Complete guide here: Tech Guides:Linux:Virtual Install Complete Instructions

Video Platforms

As for platforms, you obviously may be limited by your institution, but here’s what I am familiar with in an official capacity: Blackboard Collaborate (Classic), Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, and Zoom. In order of preference.

Blackboard Collaborate Ultra – In my view, provides the best balance. Screensharing works well, breakout rooms are usable, recordings are generally done well, and most importantly, it does work on non-computer devices like phones and tablets.
Blackboard Collaborate Classic – Battle tested, everything tends to work pretty well, but the biggest drawback is that it requires Java, which makes it unsuitable for anything other than computers. Lack of phone and tablet compatibility is the dealkiller here — but if everyone has a computer, it’s good.
Zoom – Zoom is excellent for “meetings,” that’s what it was designed for. If you have no need for breakout rooms or group work, it should work fine. But its breakout room features for teaching are (as far as I can tell) quite confusing and difficult and generally a mess.

I’m not familiar with the other official ones, but I’ve also seen consideration of other “unofficial” methods that are battle tested for other realms, e.g. Slack, Discord, Twitch, etc. I use Slack and Discord in real life for other things, I may post more here.

 

That’s it for now, this is a work in progress — if you’re on the WordPress version, please feel free to comment below and if there’s interest I’ll keep updating this.

 

Copyright 2020, John R. Marks IV. All rights reserved. I likely won’t strongly enforce copyright, especially if your sharing is in good faith. This does not represent any official school or school policy, but as I am an instructor in information technology, I do claim this is covered by academic freedom provisions of Florida’s UFF bargaining agreement and elsewhere.

Andrew Yang’s $1000 a month UBI is a very good idea.

What I’m of course, not thrilled about is the inevitable epically effluvial chants of “BUT INFLATION” that are sure to result from such a proposal. (These chants are why I often tell students that one or two semesters of College-level Economics is usually worse than none.)

The short version of why inflation is likely not a concern: At the risk of going all American Exceptionalist; we are presently a nation of hustlers, for better or (probably) worse. I recall Trevor Noah, deeply interesting and useful outsider, remarking on the quintessentially American way we greet one another — “What are you working on?” Because, you know, you always have to be working on something. Better make something up if you don’t have an answer at the ready.

This follows. Despite what you may hear from welfare naysayers and other incorrect people, there is very little on this side of the pond that closely resembles persistent reliance and trust that the state will take care of you.

Bills will get paid. Debts will get settled. More bills will get paid. Brilliant business plans will get planned and put into action. Awful and stupid business plans will also get planned and put into action, and even those will contribute to the economy through b2b investment (and perhaps negative learning as well.)

Regardless, those extra dollars are going to bounce around and serve regular folks far better than the stagnant chunks of wealth hoarded by the 1%, in fact, this precisely makes those chunks less valuable, which they ought to.

So yes, bring on the Free Money. It’s not magic, but it’s better than what we’ve got.

SSH without passwords, an intuitive explanation

..because I’ve never seen one.

LOTS of things in computing are badly named. I’m going to fix that. Public/private keys are certainly one of them. Let’s focus on when using them to log in to remote servers with SSH without a password.

Here’s a good way to think about it: Forget the idea that you’re creating two keys. You’re creating a lock and a key for that lock.

The “public key” is NOT a key at all. It’s a *lock*. Think either a padlock or combination lock.
The private key IS actually a key, it’s the key or combination for that lock.

Let’s say you’re trying to connect to a server called “remote” from a computer at “home.” Thus, “home” needs a key, and “remote” needs a lock. Here’s what needs to be done.

1) create the key and the lock at “home” (which you do at the same time.)

ssh-keygen -t rsa

(all the defaults are fine)

2) Next, put your new lock on “remote.”

ssh-copy-id user@remote

Done. That’s the *necessary* stuff. Now, because you are disabling passwords, here are some things you’re going to want to think about that I’m not going to cover here:

– You’ve made a key that can open a server, so now whoever has that key can do so. Keep it safe. Think about permissions and who has access to “home.”

– If you have multiple clients and multiple servers? The analogy sort of fails a bit here, multiple locks on one server means EACH individual key can open it, you don’t need all of them. That being said, you still probably want to do it this way, i.e. make one key(pair) for each home/client, not for each server.

On trusting technology

There is a large metal mechanical door; it has the potential force to medically decapitate a human being, more than enough to crush a human hand. Yet, as it closes, a guy waves his hand in front of it without thought. In order to let me, a stranger, inside. It magically opens, as it has been taught to do.

Inside, another guy, presumably in a hurry, presses the “close door” button many times in rapid succession. Presumably, this is to try to make the door close faster. Though, I bet if you asked this guy if he really believed this would work, he’d probably say no.

A strange trust relationship we have with technology.

A person, in the privacy of their home, creates a private document intended for one other person. Along with its deeply personal value, in the wrong hands, this document could potentially be sold for an amount in the range of six figures.

This person more-or-less trusts the process by which this happens, kind of. Here is what happens. The document is locked down and sent on its way. Law enforcement secures and unlocks a copy for themselves.  Regardless, most of the rest of the way to its destination, it is mostly secure.

But the first destination isn’t the final destination. The first destination is a storehouse, somewhere. Again, the document is unlocked and multiple copies are made and sent to other storehouses. Only after that is the document repackaged and sent to its intended recipient.

The system that did this, its entire purpose could be summed up as “A large robust international network designed for the sole purpose of making perfect copies of things and sending them everywhere.”

A popular metaphor for part of this system is quite literally nebulous; an amorphous vapor mass out of arms’ reach, completely ungraspable, forming and disintegrating with the wind.

A thief steals the document, naturally.

People are outraged, disgusted, titillated, concerned.  But nobody, really, is surprised.

The original sender has made casual statements about these sorts of documents, a fair paraphrasing would be, “I do not know how to make copies of my own documents for my own safekeeping; amorphous blob, just figure it out for me.”

With all due apologies to Jennifer Lawrence, the subject of the second example if you haven’t figured it out by now.

Skeptical tech geeks will be tempted to wag fingers. “I told you so, this is what you get for trusting the cloud.”  (Count me as one of them, I have done this before and will almost certainly do it again.)

This may be correct. But of course, this isn’t good enough; this isn’t something that dumb people do, this is a paradox (everything can be hacked and I’m trusting it anyway) that basically *everyone* is doing.

The major questions we ought to tackle: How did this happen? (not just the hack, but *all* of it?)

And what are we going to do about it?

 

 
– remarks from the first lecture of my Fall 2014 “Technologies for Information Professionals” class