The one thing we can be confident of is that history is not over, and that wherever the most exciting new ideas of the next century come from, it will almost certainly be from someplace we don’t expect. The one thing that’s clear is that such new ideas cannot emerge without our jettisoning of much of our accustomed categories of thought—which have become mostly sheer dead weight, if not intrinsic parts of the very apparatus of hopelessness—and formulating new ones. David Graeber ‘Debt’

Debt is philosophical inquiry into the nature of debt. It continues on from the work of Marcel Mauss, who initially pushed back on the myth of barter. Debt is made up of two parts, the first addresses the different myths and lens for thinking about debt, while the second provides an overarching history.

In the first part, Graeber explores what it is we talk about when we talk about debt. He discusses the myth of the barter economy stemming from Thomas Paine, the primordial debt to society, the redemptive debt to god, the moral nature of hierarchical debt, and the human debt associated with death and slavery.

In the second part, Graeber divides the history of debt between four stages: the axial, the middle ages, the capitalist empires, and the present, which is yet to be properly determined. This history encapsulates Europe, the Middle East, India and China. It also regularly brings in other examples too that serve to contrast things. All in all, he traces the existence of debt as relating to sex, violence and politics.

For me, one of the interesting things was how fragile the various systems are. It often feels like ‘this is the way it always was’ when the mortgage comes out of my salary, but then after reading Graeber’s book I was left thinking about how these things continue to change.

The other point of interest were the stories we tell about money and how they serve as a form of colonialism. For example, Batman’s treaty involves the exchange of goods for land:

Batman’s party met with Aboriginal people several times, presenting gifts of blankets, handkerchiefs, sugar, apples and other items, and receiving gifts of woven baskets and spears in exchange. On 6 June, Batman met with eight elders of the Wurundjeri, including Ngurungaetas Bebejan and three brothers with the same name, Jika Jika or Billibellary, the traditional owners of the lands around the Yarra River.

For 600,000 acres of Melbourne, including most of the land now within the suburban area, Batman paid 40 pairs of blankets, 42 tomahawks, 130 knives, 62 pairs of scissors, 40 looking glasses, 250 handkerchiefs, 18 shirts, 4 flannel jackets, 4 suits of clothes and 150 lb. of flour.[4]

Source: Batman’s Treaty – Wikipedia

However, this possession was not just about ‘land’, but also the way in which land was envisaged.

Overall, Debt serves as a start of a conversation, a book to be mined. Although there are always going to be limits or conjecture to such a book. See Juan Conatz’s review for an example of an alternate view.

David Graeber’s Debt, The First 5,000 Years, is an interesting and thought-provoking book. It is worth reading as a history of debt, credit, and money. However, it has a mistaken basic concept, that debt is at the center of human economics and society, generally downplaying the significance of human labor (which was correctly emphasized in Marx’s economic theory). For this reason, Graeber has a mistaken analysis of the Great Recession and the current economy. He presents a limited and nonrevolutionary vision of a post-capitalist future, quite in contrast to the revolutionary anarchist-communist (libertarian socialist) program of Kropotkin and others.

Source: Review of Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber by Juan Conatz

Personally, I find books like this hard as I do not have the background to be critical. For me, it is as much about debt as a topic as it is about how we got to now.

Debt is one of those books that I had seen referenced to over the years, however I had little idea what to expect when I took it on. I guess I had never really thought that much about the concepts of debt and money. However, on completing the book, I am not sure how I could see the world again without considering it.


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Something happened today that led me to finally write this reflection on my ‘one word‘ for 2023, I accidentally marked all my posts in Inoreader as read. This in itself might not seem like much, but for so long my RSS feeds have been the dots that have seemingly helped me make sense. I have worked tirelessly over the years to collate my list. Yet, lately, something has not quite seemed the same. Althought I had seemingly given up keeping on top of my feed, I was still going through every now and then to flick left and right. However, after clearing my lists, that is no more.

It feels like so many have spoken about quitting Twitter of late and moving to Mastodon. That is fine. However, I think there has been a bigger change in the social media space for me beyond the purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk. Although with a focus on RSS I may not be constricted by the usual templated restrictions associated with social media, I have come to feel that my habit of staying on top of my feeds has come to serve as its own sort of restriction.

For nearly seven years I have maintained my Read Write Respond newsletter. This involved reviewing all ‘my dots‘ across the month to identify the key points. This served as a regular point of reflection. Although there have been changes in that time, such as including quotes, a focused section, extending the summaries, writing a monthly update, over the time I feel that the dots and habit itself have somehow come to take more precedence than the greater purpose that they were meant to serve. I was intrigued by a comment that Ian O’Byrne wrote about his newsletter:

Each week I write a love letter to the Internet. You can subscribe here. Spoiler alert!!! It’s not all good.

Considering the Post-COVID Classroom | Dr. Ian O’Byrne

I had long described my newsletter as:

My newsletter of ideas and information associated with all things education, mined and curated for me and shared with you.

I just wondered if this really mattered anymore? A few years ago I wrote a piece on ‘becoming informed’:

I would argue then it is a constant state of becoming more informed. In an ever changing world, with goals forever moving, it is a case where we can never quite be fully informed.

Secret, Safe and Informed: A Reflection on Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the Collection of Data | Aaron Davis

Although I still agree with this, I wonder if the real challenge is learning to live in a world where you do not and cannot know everything? I feel that my newsletter had become my means of trying to control the present, rather than admitting that it is ok to not know that latest update regarding artificial intelligence or whatever it maybe. This is not to say that artificial intelligence is not important, but that maybe in trying to stay informed about everything, you never really know anything.

So to return to the beginning of this piece, for a few years now, I have been choosing one word as a focus for the year. As the new year comes and I am not sure what the new word will be, I always feel there is something that stands out. This year, the word that stood out was ‘vulnerability’. This was solidified while reading Nick Cave’s Faith Hope and Carnage. I was struck by Cave’s discussion of vulnerability and the willingness to being open to failure:

It’s not so much the creative impulse itself that is so compelling, but rather doing something that feels challenging and vulnerable and new, whether that is ceramics or a different-sounding record or The Red Hand Files, the In Conversation events, Cave Things, this book, whatever. There is a risk involved that generates a feeling of creative terror, a vertiginous feeling that has the ability to make you feel more alive, as if you are hotwired into the job in hand, where you create, right there, on the edge of disaster. You become vulnerable because you allow yourself to be open to failure, to condemnation, to criticism, but that, as I think the Stoics said, is what gives you creative character. And that feeling of jeopardy can be very seductive.

Faith, Hope and Carnage | Nick Cave | Page 224

I think that over time I have become wedded to the present, rather than opening myself up to going deeper into various ideas. Therefore, some of the ways that I envisage being more vulnerable include:

  • Putting my newsletter on hiatus.
  • Write for myself and when I can, rather than feeling I have to.
  • Reviewing the dots and feeds that I consume, accepting that sometimes it is ok to miss out.
  • Read more books and get deeper into ideas, a return to responding.

As always, please let me know if you have any further suggestions.


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Some bands peak early. Almost all the great ones, however, take several years to hit their stride. Andrew Stafford ‘Pig City’

Andrew Stafford explores the Brisbane music scene between 1975 and 2005. The book discusses the place and politics that laid the foundation to the music scene. Stafford dives into groups such as The Saints, The Go-Betweens, The Apartments, The Riptides, Died Pretty, Kev Carmody, Tex Perkins, Screamfeeder, Custard, Regurgitator, Powderfinger and Savage Garden. This is tided together with investigations of various cultural and historical institutions that were integral to the change, such as the Curry House, Triple Zed, the Fitzgerald Inquiry, and the Livid Festival.

Although I had read David Nichols’ The Go-Betweens, Robert Forster’s Grant and I, Tracey Thorn’s My Rock n Roll Friend, and Clinton Walker’s Stranded, I did not really appreciate the politics of Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Although not quite East Berlin described in Anna Funder’s Stasiland, it certainly seems a world away from the Melbourne music scene. For me, it really put criticisms of ‘Dictator Dan‘ in perspective.

I also enjoyed Stafford’s book for the insight it provided to various artists, such as Custard and Powderfinger. For example, I was shocked at Darren Middleton’s glam metal beginnings:

Darren Middleton was recruited to add the requisite metallic flash after the band discovered him strutting his stuff in a glam-metal band called Pirate. Middleton, now probably the least showy member of Powderfinger, has never heard the end of it since.

Ian Haug: He was doing the shred thing, dancing on the tables with a wireless guitar. He was into Dokken and all those terrible bands and we thought he was just the sort of idiot we needed! He was really funny.

While I was intrigued by the endeavor of the COW (Country Or Western), Dave McCormick’s band before Custard, to be the something akin to the Wild Bunch.

Robert Moore had imagined COW as a musical collective similar to the Wild Bunch behind the first Massive Attack album, where a virtual reserve bench of musicians would be on call to play gigs or recordings. Often the band would be joined on stage by backing vocalists the Sirloin Sisters, twins Maureen and Suzie Hansen; at other times, former Go-Between John Willsteed and occasional Queensland Symphony Orchestra violinist John Bone would jump up to add their own flourishes.

All in all, Pig City is a great read that helps with appreciating some of complex the roots to Australian music.


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Basically there's night and there's day, and you try and go between that, and you find the twilight zone—and there lies the Go-Betweens. (Robert Forster) David Nichols ‘The Go-Betweens’

David Nichols’ book on The Go-Betweens was first published in 1997. Capturing their rise in the late 70’s until their initial demise in the late 80’s. I read the third revision published in 2011, which included a postscript discussing the reforming of the band in the late nineties until McLennan’s death in 2006. It often ties together original source material with more recent interview material from those in and around the band in a similar vein to Clinton Walker’s Stranded.

Although Nichols’ captures The Go-Betweens rise and fall and rise again, it is feels somewhat lopsided towards the bands initial rise. From Robert Forster and Grant McLennan meeting at university, the early desires to form a band as a flagship for other endeavors, the various local and international influences, and the roll of Lindy Morrison. Once the band started producing records, the book becomes somewhat more methodical.

In some ways I could imagine this book just being about the band’s early years. In regards to ideas, I think that this early period is often more telling. I think this is why Jarvis Cocker’s memoir Good Pop, Bad Pop works. Although as Tracey Thorn captures in her book on Lindy Morrison, this retelling can often lead to mythologising.

I remember reading an online comment left by a reader prior to starting it, criticising the fact that it did not provide anything about the band that you could not find online. This is not something Nichols’ necessarily denies. However, when it was first released in 1997, the internet was only in its infancy. As Nichols attests,

This book is largely a pre-internet work and, it turns out, one of the last of its kind. – Page 270

Additionally, I wonder how much credit needs to go to people like Nichols for the fact that you can find so much information on the band online. He talks about the fact that he actually donated his research to the National Film and Sound Archive. I feel that Kriv Stenders’ documentary Right Here would not be possible without Nichols’ work.


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These are the ways in which the stories of women get told – in music, in art, in literature, in science. I think about the women who are silenced by encounters with disparaging, or predatory, men; the women who think they are working as equal partners only to find their names left off the credits; the women who work to their own rules and are then patronised for not knowing the real ones; and I remember how much sheer bloody determination it takes to keep forcing yourself back into the narrative, back to centre stage. Tracey Thorn ‘My Rock 'n' Roll Friend’

My Rock ‘n’ Roll Friend is the story of Lindy Morrison told by Tracey Thorn. It is compiled from a range of sources, including interviews, letters between the two artists, diary entries provided by Morrison herself, as well as existing accounts of The Go-betweens, such as an interview with Andrew Denton and Kriv Stenders’ documentary Right Here.

On the one hand Thorn goes into Morrison’s life in The Go-Betweens as you would expect. However, she goes beyond the tales told by and about Robert Forster and Grant McLennan as ‘the indie Lennon and McCartney’ to provide a different perspective on how things were with an attempt to correct the record.

I have carried with me all the way through the writing of this book this particular line from Rebecca Solnit’s essay [Grandmother Spider] as a template for what I’ve tried to do, the way in which I want to reclaim Lindy’s story, to save it before it’s too late and to add it to all the other lost stories. To spin the web and not be caught in it, to create the world, to create your own life, to rule your own fate, to name the grandmothers as well as the fathers, to draw nets and not just straight lines, to be a maker as well as a cleaner, to be able to sing and not be silenced, to take down the veil and appear: all these are the banners on the laundry line I hang out. Why does it matter that Lindy has been partly written out of the story of the band? Because it happens all the time. LOCATION 2618

Thorn makes the claim that the band were always really a classic three-piece, with other members coming and going:

It is Lindy, Robert and Grant who are the original Go-Betweens. It is their band. In the future they might get in backing singers, or keyboard players, or violinists, or sax soloists, or a full-blown bloody orchestra, but the essence remains. They are a classic trio, whatever anyone might say later. LOCATION 485

Appealing to the reality beyond the myth surrounding Forster and McLennan’s friendship, Thorn suggests that denying Morrison’s contribution is the ‘final act of self-sabotage’.

Underplaying Lindy’s contribution does not just do her a disservice: it is self-defeating. It makes them a less interesting band, saddling them with a dull identity when they had a bright and interesting one. It is their final act of self-sabotage. LOCATION 2481

Thorn, also broadens out to provide a different perspective on Morrison, one that goes beyond the ‘force of nature’:

When it comes to describing you, everyone uses the same phrase: a force of nature. I do it myself in Bedsit Disco Queen: ‘as for Lindy, well, she was a sheer force of nature, an Amazonian blonde ten years older than me, unshockable, confrontational and loud’.

Your friend Marie Ryan says in the liner notes to a Go-Betweens box set: ‘She was a force of nature, brash, opinionated and loud.’

Writer Clinton Walker says: ‘Lindy, is, as we know, this force of nature, and she’s very attractive in that, you know, and she can be a FUCKING NIGHTMARE.’

Peter Walsh doesn’t use the actual phrase, but comes close:

Lindy Morrison. Her great, upending, tumultuous, machine-gun laugh . . . SHE SPOKE, IF NOT LIVED, EXCLUSIVELY IN CAPSLOCK, a Klieg light in a roomful of 40 watt bulbs. Describing her quickly exhausted all possible weather metaphors. Gales of laughter, gusts of enthusiasm, a storm of personality that broke in every room.

An interview in Hero magazine says: ‘Lindy Morrison is an excitable girl. Some would say volcanic.’ LOCATION: 924

Thorn explores Morrison’s life before The Go-Betweens, her discovery of feminism, work with Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service, relationships with Denis Walker, activism in Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland, participation in the world of theatre, hitching around Europe, and playing in punk group, Xero. However, most importantly, Thorn captures a more more human fragile side to Morrison, especially when exploring Morrison’s letters she used to write to herself when growing up.

When I learn about the child and teen she used to be, they are not immediately recognisable to me as the Lindy I thought I knew. The uncertainty, the self-doubt, the miseries suffered over her appearance – they’re at odds with my image of her. I had formed a first impression of her as a textbook heroine: a bold adventurer, no one’s plaything, no one’s victim. But I created that myself, out of almost nothing. LOCATION 1607

As Kitty Empire highlights, “this is a book about more than music.” It captures identity, friendship, culture, Gina Arnold suggests that, “the book is a reminder of the present, with Thorn using Morrison’s story to show the myriad ways that women continue to be underserved in the world of rock, despite being integral to it on every level.”

Listening to The Go-Betweens albums, I have always felt that they all seemed to lead to 16 Lovers Lane. However, after reading Thorn’s account, I have been left thinking that another way of viewing the before and after 16 Lovers Lane is a story of Lindy Morrison and everything that she brought to the ‘three piece’. I was also reminded about Ann Powers’ discussion of ‘band guys‘ wondering what she might add to this conversation.


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Hope is optimism with a broken heart. Nick Cave ‘Faith, Hope and Carnage’

I stumbled upon Faith, Hope and Carnage via an interview Nick Cave did with Richard Fidler. There was a part of me that thought I knew Nick Cave. Maybe this was from following his blog, The Red Hand Files, or just the nature of him as an artist. However, there was something about the conversation with Fidler that really caught me. That lead to reading the book.

Faith, Hope and Carnage is a meandering on and off conversation between Nick Cave and journalist, Seán O’Hagan, captured on the page through fourteen chapters. Beginning at the start of the 2020 and carrying on through to the end of 2021, Cave walks through the process of creativity as it happens, as well as reflecting upon the death of his son, grieving, life and music. It is very much a pandemic project brought about by the strange times.

It really did feel like the end times had arrived, and the world had been caught sleeping. It felt as though, whatever we assumed was the story of our lives, this invisible hand had reached down and torn a great big hole in it.

Cave goes into how he wrote Ghosteen, the writing of Carnage, the creation of his ceramic figures and The Red Hand Files. He reflects upon the change to a more disruptive narrative after his son died, “narratives pushed through the meat grinder.” Cave also talks about the various inspirations, such as Stevie Smith, Elvis, Flannery O’Connor, and Rodin.

Built around conversation, the book seemingly goes where it goes. I imagine in another world, it might have been scrubbed of its contradictions, repetition and edges, but I feel that it is this disjointed nature is what makes it special. It provides an extension to Nick Cave the musician, extending the usual approach to his music to the actual text. Just as he explains that the wider “creative process is life and all it brings”, in some ways this all or nothing approach applies to the act of creativity.

Strangely, Faith, Hope and Carnage is a book that would not have worked any other way. The conversational nature allows the book to go to places and explore topics that might have otherwise be cut by the editor. It really feels like sitting in on a personal conversation. I think this is epitomised by the conversations about his mother or Anita Lane who both died midway through the project.

O’Hagan tries to structure the conversation. For example, there are times when he brings up old quotes which demonstrate this. However, as each chapter unfurls the topics stretch beyond any sense of expectation. Capturing this generosity, Richard Fidler describes the book as an ‘act of kindness’ for the reader.

Throughout, there are many themes explored:

Grief

Although grief involves ‘some kind of devastation’, Cave explains that grief often defines who we are and how we see the world. Working through this is usually about getting on top of the small things. On the flipside, grief provides a gift and opportunities, a ‘reckless’ and ‘mutinous’ energy, a sense of ‘acute vulnerability’, defined by the fact that the worst has already happened. In the end, we may not have a choice over life’s circumstances, however we do have a choice as to how we grieve.

A choice, a kind of earned and considered arrangement with the world, to be happy. No one has control over the things that happen to them, but we do have a choice as to how we respond. Page 103

Life

Like the gift of grief, for Cave, ageing is about growing into the ‘fullness of your humanity’, continuing to be engaged and respecting the ‘vast repositories of experience’. One experience that leaves its mark on us are those who die, leaving us like ‘haunted houses’.

I think these absences do something to those of us who remain behind. We are like haunted houses, in a way, and our absences can even transform us so that we feel a quiet but urgent love for those who remain, a tenderness to all of humanity, as well as an earned understanding that our time is finite. Page 148

Alongside the respect for experience, Cave suggests we need to celebrate regret as a sign of self-awareness or embracing uncertainty and the world of possibilities. We also need to be able to make mistakes and with that forgive.

We need to be able to exist beyond disagreement. Friendships have to exist beyond that. We need to be able to talk, to make mistakes, to forgive and be forgiven. As far as I can see, forgiveness is an essential component of any good, vibrant friendship – that we extend to each other the great privilege of being allowed to be wrong. One of the clear benefits of conversation is that your position on things can become more nimble and pliant. For me, conversation is also an antidote to dualistic thinking, simply because we are knocking up against another person’s points of view. Something more essential happens between people when they converse. Ultimately, we discover that disagreements frequently aren’t life- threatening, they are just differing perspectives, or, more often than that, colliding virtues. Page 246

However, the greatest challenge is to keep turning up again and again.

if I look back at my past work from the certainty and conviction of the present, it appears as if it was a series of collapsing ideas that brought me to my current position. And what’s more, the actual point I’m looking back from is no more stable than any of the previous ones – in fact, it’s being shed even as we speak. There’s a slightly sickening, vertiginous feeling in all of this. The sense that the ground is constantly moving beneath your feet? Yes, exactly. So how do you deal with that? Well, I have learned over time that the creation itself, the thing, the what, is not the essential component, really, for the artist. The what almost always seems on some level insufficient. When I look back at the work itself it mostly feels wanting, you know; it could have been better. This is not false humility but fact, and common to most artists, I suspect. Indeed, it is probably how it should be. What matters most is not so much the ‘what’ as the ‘how’ of it all, and I am heartened by the knowledge that, at the very least, I turned up for the job, no matter what was going on at the time. Even if I didn’t really understand what the job was. Page 247

This reminds me of Austin Kleon’s book Keep Going.

Religion

For Cave, religion is ‘spirituality with rigour’. With this, faith and God are the search itself, where God is both the ‘impetus and the destination’, and the question is itself the answer. He suggests that religion often serves a utility beyond sense.

Why would I deny myself something that is clearly beneficial because it doesn’t make sense? That in itself would be illogical. Page 78

For example, It provides a language of forgiveness often missing in secularism.

Challenged on his belief, Cave argues that scepticism and doubt are actually a means of strengthening belief. Interestingly, Cave talks about prayer as a form of listening.

Prayer is not so much talking to God, but rather listening for the whispers of His presence – not from outside ourselves, but within. It’s kind of the same with the questions that come in to The Red Hand Files. I think they are singularly and collectively trying to tell me something, which may just be ‘I am here’. I think they reflect my own needs. There is an exchange of a sort of essentialness, wherein we attend to each other through a sharing of our collective need to be listened to. Page 190

Music

For Cave, music is about transcendence, spiritual yearning and the sacred essence. It fills our ‘God-shaped hole’, our desire to ‘feel awed by something.’ It has the ability to ‘improve the condition of the listener’ by uniting people and ‘putting some beauty back into the work.’

Music is one of the last great spiritual gifts we have that can bring solace to the world.Page 204

Reflecting upon his current process of writing music, Cave discusses the way in which he makes music from the disparate parts found through improvising.

The nature of improvisation is the coming together of two people, with love – and a certain dissonance. Page 57

Associated with this, Cave talks about the ‘ruthless relationship’ he has with his initial ideas and his willingness to discard words.

the lyrics lose their concrete value and become things to play with, dismember and reorganise. I’m actually very happy to have arrived at a place where I now have an utterly ruthless relationship to my words. Page 15

He actually suggests that he has a physical relationship with his words and knowing what is right. This all reminds me Jon Hopkins’ process of building something to destroy it.

Surprisingly, writing music for Cave is not continual, but a deliberate time-based process. Something that reminds me of Mark Ronson who I vaguely remember suggesting that it was time to write a new album regarding Uptown Special. With this, the challenge with a new project is getting beyond the easy residual ‘deceiving ideas’, to “write away from the known and familiar”.

I tend to find that when I first sit down to write new songs there is a kind of initial flurry of words that appears quite effortlessly. They seem to be right there, at hand, so there is a cosiness about them, a comfortableness. And because they aren’t too bad, really, you immediately start thinking, this is all going to be easy. But these are the deceiving ideas, the residual ideas, the unused remnants of the last record that are still lurking about. They’re like the muck in the pipes, and they have to be flushed out to make room for the new idea, the astonishing idea. I think a lot of musicians deal in residual ideas, because they’re seduced by the comfortable and the familiar. For me, that’s a big mistake, although I can understand the temptation to create something reassuringly familiar. And, in a way, the whole industry is set up to cater to that – to the well-known or second-hand idea. Page 144

All in all though, Cave explains that songs change when played live, it is when the fullness presents itself. A record is only ever one part of that journey.

Creativity

Cave talks about the way different mediums, such as The Red Hand Files or The Devil – A Life series of ceramic figures, allow him to step outside of his expectations.

My best ideas are accidents within a controlled context. You could call them informed accidents. Page 23

He explains that it is important to have an element of risk, such as taking on new and challenging projects or just being naïve, to produce creative terror that helps drive things forward.

I think to be truly vulnerable is to exist adjacent to collapse or obliteration. Page 45

The problem is that ideas often slowly rise and hold hands, with the gap between boredom and epiphany being very close. Astonishing ideas usually require faith and and patience. Sometimes ideas just need air in order to prove their validity. This is why conversation is so important. In the end though, although writing music may start with a ‘date in the diary’, Cave explains that the wider creative process is life and all it brings.

I really don’t think we can not talk about it if we are talking about the creative process. It’s simply part of the whole thing. The creative process is not a part of one’s life but life itself and all that it throws at you. For me, it was like the creative process, if we want to call it that, found its real purpose. Page 104

This reminded me of Damon Albarn’s description of ‘creativity as a condition.’


What I liked about the book is that in itself it felt like a form of conversation with the reader. With Cave seemingly changing stride mid-sentance, the reader is invited in almost as an equal. This had me thinking myself about grief and the importance of being vulnerable.

Additionally, I appreciated seeing a different side to Cave, not a real side, but a different presentation of ideas and thought. I think that this is also captured by the Cave and O’Hagan in the epilogue:

O’Hagan: I thought I kne you

Cave: I didn’t know that either until I opened my mouth.

I had a similar experience with Damian Cowell’s Only the Shit You Love podcast and Jarvis Cocker’s Good Pop, Bad Pop.

Written during lockdown, it also provides a reflection on life lockdown during lockdown as it happened, not as some retrospective. The initial positive potential to be able to do nothing, to put aside our issues, but then the growing frustration of such strange times.

We blew it. We squandered it. Early on, many of us felt that a chance was presented to us, as a civilisation, to put aside our vanities, grievances and divisions, our hubris, our callous disregard for each other, and come together around a common enemy. Our shared predicament was a gift that could potentially have transformed the world into something extraordinary. To our shame this didn’t happen. The Right got scarier, the Left got crazier, and our already fractured civilisation atomised into something that resembled a collective lunacy. For many, this has been followed by a weariness, an ebbing away of our strength and resolve and a dwindling belief in the common good. Many people’s mental health has suffered as a consequence. Page 154

I cannot remember the last time I read a book where I wanted to begin again as soon as I had finished it. I wonder if this says as much about me as it does about the book and Nick Cave.


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The Web is binding not just pages but us human beings in new ways. We are the true "small pieces" of the Web, and we are loosely joining ourselves in ways that we're still inventing. David Weinberger Small Pieces, Loosely Joined

Each year in my work, we ask the question as to how might we improve efficiencies associated with the end of year process. In the past I have created a database of school contacts, a process for generating timetables and a template for reviewing data. Two particular requests that were raised this year were the desire to reduce emails associated with updates and personalise correspondences sent to schools.

A Dashboard of One’s Own

In the past we used to have a dashboard with a dropdown as to who completed each task for each school. The problem with this was two fold. One, schools had no visibility to where the end of year process is at as this was only visible to support staff. Two, there was a lot of dependency on emails to know where things are at.

Associated with this, we shared a template with each school which included form allocations. My solution was to create a tab in the school template with a checklist that provided schools with clarity where the process was at and then pull this information into a shared spreadsheet so that the support team had an understanding where things were at. The challenge with this was to create and collect the templates in an efficient manner.

The process for generating the templates in the past was to manually create a copy using the /copy method and then sharing this with schools. This always felt cumbersome. I wondered if there was a more efficient method for creating the templates. I also wanted a more efficient method for collecting all the links. I remember Alice Keeler created a Google Sheets Add-on for making a copy of rubrics, so I knew that it was technically possible. Googling the problem, I found a video (and template) from Carl Arrowsmith that walked through using Google Apps Script to make multiple copies of same file.

What I like about finding such resources is getting into the code and unpacking how it all works, and then making my own changes, especially when the person sharing leaves various notes within the code to guide you. I have always wanted to dig further into Apps Script, but never really found the time to start from scratch. A couple of changes I made was including the school name and school number in both the template and title of the document. You can find a copy of my updates here.

Once I had made the changes, I generated a template for each school. This not only created all the copies, but also provided a copy of each URL in the spreadsheet. I then brought this list back into a dashboard and imported the checklist using the following formula:

=TRANSPOSE(IMPORTRANGE("school spreadsheet","Sheet1!B3:B")

In addition to adding conditional formatting to highlight whether the task was complete or waiting, I added a status cell to provide an update at a glance:

=IF($S2=FALSE,"Waiting on Support",IF($T2=FALSE,"Waiting on School",IF($U2=FALSE,"Waiting on Support",IF($V2=FALSE,"Waiting on Support",IF($W2=FALSE,"Waiting on School",IF($X2=FALSE,"Waiting on Support",IF($Y2=FALSE,"Waiting on Support",IF($Z2=FALSE,"Waiting on Support",IF($AA2=FALSE,"Waiting on School",IF($AB2=FALSE,"Waiting on Support",IF($AC2=FALSE,"Waiting on Support",IF($AD2=FALSE,"Waiting on Support","All Complete"))))))))))))

Although this summary did not provide details about who completed each task, it did however provide more visibility. I guess you can’t have everything?

Personalising Emails

The other improvement related to sending out an email to 300+ schools. In the past we would just use an Outlook template. However, as each of the emails contained a unique link, this no longer worked. As I had a list of these links in a spreadsheet, I worked out that I could just create a unique email for each school, with the link being a variable:

="Dear to whom it may concern,</code></p>
Below you will find a link to the Google Sheet.</p>
"&Sheet1!R4&"
Instructions for filling in this information can be found in the End of Year guide.</p>
School Support"

It then occurred to me that as I had a list of the staff associated with each school that maybe I could replace the cold ‘Dear to whom it may concern’ with ‘Dear NAME’. The problem I was faced with though is that I had all the names in one cell, with each on a new line:

Mahatma Gandhi

Virginia Woolf

Fiona Hardy

My first step then was to SUBSTITUTE the new line (CHAR(10)) with a comma:

=SUBSTITUTE(C4,CHAR(10),", ")

However, I was then left with the following:

Mahatma Gandhi, Virginia Woolf, Fiona Hardy

My next task was to somehow replace the last comma in the string with an ‘and’. Unsure how to go about it, I went online and found a REGEXREPLACE on the Infoinspired website that achieved the desired outcome:

=regexreplace(A1, "(.*),", "$1 and")

This then provided me with the following:

Mahatma Gandhi, Virginia Woolf and Fiona Hardy

I then wondered if I could somehow remove the surname and leave only the first name in the list. After scratching my head for a while, I wondered if I could QUERY the list and select only the names that were not followed by a comma. I found the following REGEX formula:

"^[^,]+$"

I subsequently, SPLIT and TRANSPOSED my list of names and used a QUERY with a match containing the REGEX formula.

=regexreplace(SUBSTITUTE(JOIN(", ",QUERY(TRANSPOSE(SPLIT(SUBSTITUTE(C4,CHAR(10),", ")&","," ")),"SELECT * WHERE Col1 MATCHES '^[^,]+$'")),CHAR(10),", "), "(.*),", "$1 and")

Returning to my email template, I then replaced the ‘to whom it may concern’ with the formula. This meant I could quickly and easily create an email that addressed the actual users and included their spreadsheet.

="Dear "&regexreplace(SUBSTITUTE(JOIN(", ",QUERY(TRANSPOSE(SPLIT(SUBSTITUTE(C2,CHAR(10),", ")&amp;","," ")),"SELECT * WHERE Col1 MATCHES '^[^,]+$'")),CHAR(10),", "), "(.*),", "$1 and")&",
Below you will find a link to the Google Sheet.
"&Sheet1!R2&"
Instructions for filling in this information can be found in the End of Year guide.
School Support 

Providing the following outcome:

Dear Mahatma, Virginia and Thomas,

Below you will find a link to the Google Sheet.

UNIQUE LINK

Instructions for filling in this information can be found in the End of Year guide.

School Support

I am sure there are more efficient ways to achieve the same outcome using different applications that I do not necessarily have at my disposal. For example, it would be even better to automatically send the the email from the Google Sheet, rather than copy and pasting the text into Outlook. I also must be honest, even though I completed Ben Collins’ REGEX course, I still have not got my head around it all yet, but I feel that the first point of learning is not always knowing how to do something, but actually knowing that it is possible.

As always, comments welcome.


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I snickered at QR codes because I couldn’t see any real use for them. It took a pandemic to reveal their serious utility. And while I generally avoid predicting the future, I suspect QR codes might be with us for a while, because they’re turning out to be extremely useful even outside of the realm of pandemic-adaptation. Restaurants are enjoying not having to print and reprint menus; contactless payments are super convenient even in situations where you’re not worrying about fomites. Clive Thompson ‘4 Lessons From the Improbable Rise of QR Codes’

One of the things that I often struggle with is with the purpose my online meanderings. Although I agree about ‘collecting the dots‘, it can sometimes be hard to justify in amongst the everyday hustle and bustle. However, again and again I find myself diving into something I read long after the fact.

Today I was testing barcodes with an electronic sign-in system. I had a Crystal Report which produces student cards that included a barcode associated with the ID. However, I found that although I could get them to work with the scanner, it was very fiddly and was far from optimal.

Knowing that any adjustments to the Crystal Report would take some time as it involved a number of teams and processes, I wondered if I could produce my own cards using a spreadsheet. I noticed that the third-party application used a QR Code when enrolling a new device which has really quick, so I wondered if I could also use a QR Code for the student cards. After doing an initial test with one student ID to confirm that QR Codes would work, I searched up a post from Ben Collins regarding the generation of QR Codes using Google Sheets. After exporting a test copy of the student data and importing this into the Google Sheet in Sheet1, I created a template where a QR Code was generated for the each student ID:

=ARRAYFORMULA(IMAGE("https://chart.googleapis.com/chart?chs=250x250&cht=qr&chl="&ENCODEURL(QUERY(Sheet1!A2:A,"SELECT A WHERE A IS NOT NULL")) ))

Then in the next column I entered the student details, including first name (Column L), last name (Column K), class/form (Column I), year (Column F) and ID (Column A). I also used Char(10) to separate this information onto different lines.

=ARRAYFORMULA(QUERY(Sheet1!L2:L,"SELECT L WHERE L IS NOT NULL")&" "&QUERY(Sheet1!K2:K,"SELECT K WHERE K IS NOT NULL")&""&Char(10)&"Class "&QUERY(Sheet1!I2:I,"SELECT I WHERE I IS NOT NULL")&" / Year "&QUERY(Sheet1!F2:F,"SELECT F WHERE F IS NOT NULL")&""&Char(10)&"ID "&QUERY(Sheet1!A2:A,"SELECT A WHERE A IS NOT NULL"))

I was then left with a list of cards, the problem is that I wanted to print two columns to a page. To achieve this I created two dynamic named ranges, one for column one:

"Sheet2!A1:C"&(ROUNDUP(COUNTUNIQUE(Sheet2!B1:B)/2))

And column two:

="Sheet2!A"&(ROUNDUP(COUNTUNIQUE(Sheet2!B1:B)/2))+1&":C"&(ROUNDUP(COUNTUNIQUE(Sheet2!B1:B)))

Then in a new tab I used the INDIRECT formula to bring in the two columns.

The last step was to adjust the printer settings. This included extending the margins and changing the scale to 55%.

Knowing that this would be used by different people, I made a copy of the template and deleted Sheet1 that could be used as a master. I then put together the following instructions for how it could be used from scratch.

  1. 1. Create a copy of the QR Code Google Sheet https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1lzfHDR9229g5xWTb16JPRjKDTBHlix1NmOTJE9fp-ck/copy
  2. Import the student spreadsheet previously saved and Insert a New Sheet
  3. Click on Sheet2
  4. Click on Cell A1 and press Enter
  5. Click on Cell B1 and press Enter
  6. In Cell E2 add ‘=’ at the start of the formula
  7. In Cell F2 add ‘=’ at the start of the formula
  8. Click on StudentCards tab
  9. Click on FIle > Print

Not sure if anyone else has used Google Sheets for similar purposes. Comments appreciated.


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Clay Shirkey on the need to continually rethinking our workflows

I have really been enjoying following Chris Aldrich’s exploration of note-taking, commonplace books and Zettelkasten. Whenever I read about the various ideas, I feel like I do not necessarily belong. Thinking about my practice, I never quite feel that it is deliberate enough. For example, I do not sort my book notes by colour or anything, I do not collate information using index cards to organise my thoughts and ideas, and I do not methodically reorganise my pieces. Yet, as I read about the different methods, I feel like I can see myself in there somewhere. What I wonder is whether note-taking is a constant practice or something that should evolve over time?

When I read about the various historical cases, one of the things that intrigues me are the origin stories that seem to be washed over. Did people find their particular flavour and stick to it for life? Or is it just history that provides that perspective? Aldrich himself reflects on his early experience of note-taking with index cards:

My own anecdotal experience of research and note taking with index cards dates to 1985 when, in sixth grade, I was admonished to take my notes on index cards so that I could later string them together in outline form to create a narrative.

Unlike these static stories of method, Aldrich’s personal journey seems like a case of trial and error. For me, his reflections documented in his blog tells a tale of what Angus Hervey describes as ‘holding on tightly and letting go lightly‘.

Don’t say “I’m right, and you’re obviously wrong.” Say “at this point, given all the evidence I’ve considered and having made a genuine effort to try and see if from the other side (point to some examples), the balance of the argument seems to rest on this side for these reasons, so for now that’s what I am going with. If new evidence, or a better argument comes along I am totally willing to change my mind about this, and I’ll also be pleased because it will mean I’ve gained a deeper understanding about the world.”

Aldrich always seems to be tinkering with a new process or application to work differently. As technology ebbs and evolves, he seems to work out what works and what does not. The process of coming up with the right workflow seems just as important as the workflow itself. In some ways this reminds me of Clay Shirky’s tendency towards ‘awkward new habits’.

I actually don’t want a “dream setup.” I know people who get everything in their work environment just so, but current optimization is long-term anachronism. I’m in the business of weak signal detection, so at the end of every year, I junk a lot of perfectly good habits in favor of awkward new ones.

This reflection makes me think about my own journey. Personally speaking, I have written before about my journey to being a ‘connected educator‘. However, I have always felt that focusing on people overlooks connecting through the page. With this in mind, I am taken back to a time when I used to collect clippings of reviews and readings inside books. This is a habit I inherited from my grandfather. For a time, this led to scanning documents to keep them digitally. I also kept a book of quotes. This was not really organised, more of a collection of random dots. Each of these acts could be seen as being a part of the journey to now.

In the end, just as defining digital literacies is as important as engaging with digital literacies themselves, I wonder if discussing and defining what we actually mean by concepts such as ‘commonplace book’ is just as important as the commonplace book itself?


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Privacy is like closing the curtains or blinds on a window in your house. Security is like locking the doors and windows on your house. Ian O’Byrne ‘Understanding the differences between privacy and security’

Below are my responses associated with the Cyber Security & Awareness – Primary Years (2021) MOOC. As is my way with MOOCs, I have dipped in and out of the course when time allowed.

Unit 2 – Computer Science Fundamentals

Explain what you think are some of the key differences between cyber security, cyber awareness and cyber safety. To what extent are you teaching these in the classroom or to what extend do you think they should be taught and why?

For me, Cyber Security is about the solutions and services that keep us protected. This might involve people and programs. It can be understood as being a part of what Ursula Franklin described as technology as a system:

Technology is not the sum of the artefacts, of the wheels and gears, of the rails and electronic transmitters. Technology is a system. It entails far more than its individual material components. Technology involves organization, procedures, symbols, new words, equations, and, most of all, a mindset.

Cyber Awareness on the other hand is having some knowledge and understanding of this system and how it fits together, while Cyber Safety is the action of this knowledge and understanding.

One way of appreciating this divide is to divide the topic between mindset and skillset. This is something that Doug Belshaw touches upon in his exploration of digital literacies.

For example, consider an application like Hapara. From the perspective of mindset and understanding:

  • Cognitively and confidence involves appreciating new ways of working. Although it may be more efficient, if you have been using GSuite, these are still habits to unlearn and relearn.
  • From a critical and civic point of view, it is important to consider why there is a need to manage learning at all and the consequences associated with such actions.

Whereas from the perspective of skillset and actions:

  • From a cultural perspective, Hapara posits that teachers are largely responsible for creating the conditions for learning.
  • Constructively, there is a blur between empowering students with the power to participate in actions and the dangers in excessively moderating their learning.
  • From a communicative point of view, GSuite allows a number of ways to engage, Hapara provides the means to manage and moderate this within different cultural norms.
  • Connecting with GSuite through the use of APIs, Hapara has the ability to both hinder and help the creative process depending on how it is deployed.

I have elaborated this more here.

Share with the community a way you would like to introduce networks into the classroom to make it tangible or visible for primary students. It could be using a resource you have found or your own idea or thoughts.

Two activities that I have used in regards to helping student appreciate networks are paper blogs and mapping the internet.

PAPER BLOGS

Students use the a template to create a paper blog post. They then post it on the World Wide Whiteboard.

Paper Blog Template inspired by Bianca Hewes

Students then walk around the room and read the posts leaving various data traces, such as:

  • Tick to mark they had read the post.
  • Star if they liked the post.
  • Sticky Note with a comment

This was adapted from the work of Bianca Hewes.

MAPPING THE INTERNET

In response to Marc Prensky published two articles in 2001 in which he coined the terms digital native and digital immigrantDavid White and Alison Le Cornu offer a more fluid typology with their notion of digital visitor and resident.

When in Visitor mode, individuals decide on the task they wish to undertake. For example, discovering a particular piece of information online, completing the task and then going offline or moving on to another task.

Where as:

When in Resident mode the individual is going online to connect to, or to be with, other people. This mode is about social presence.

Students are given a copy of the the map of the internet and are asked to plot the various spaces they exist in online and where they sit along the continuum.

This is activity is useful for thinking about the networks they are a part of and the way in which their data is spread across the web.

Thinking about this activity now, it is interesting to consider this in regards to cyber awareness and what data we share even when we are just ‘visiting’.

Share an activity idea or classroom resource that you have found online or created yourself that involves primary students exploring private and public information sharing. It could be a video, lesson plan, storybook, song or anything else!

One resource that I have found really useful in exploring the divide between public and private sharing has been blogs using Global2/EdublogsStudents created blogs focusing on a passion. The sites were viewable by other students in the class, but not anybody outside of that. These were all connected by a classroom blog, which was made public. This served as a resource as well as a example. For me, the interconnected nature of these sites allowed students to interact through the Dashboard Reader, helping create something akin to a social media space. Blogs served as a tool to learn with in that students were able to share their ideas and learnings, as well as learn about sharing information, both private and public, and how we interact with this information.

Unit 3 – Information Safety and Security

We have shared a few examples of how information can be extracted from data (such as in your images). What are other ways humans can leave traces of information with the use of technologies? Share an example or examples with the community.

Some other examples of where information can be extracted from data include:

What other interesting examples of codes from history or the modern-day (digital or non-digital) can you find to inspire or support a lesson about encoding and decoding messages?

For those wanting to go to the next level in regards to encryption could look at the Enigma Machine from World War II.

This coding machine used by the Germans in World War II involved a two step process. Firstly, the machine itself had a keyboard which once pressed ran a signal through a number of variables, including rotors and plugs, which helped to scramble the code. This all depended on a second documented which stipulated how the rotors and plugs were to be set. So in order to break the code you would need both the machine and the current configuration. In some ways this has similarities with private and public encryption, where somebody maybe able to get access to the ‘public’ machine, but unable to make any sense of this without cracking the ‘private’ configuration.

Paul Scruton has visualised how the Enigma Machine worked in this Guardian infographic:

Workflow for how the Enigma Machine worked

While Tom MacWright has created a virtual model of the machine which allows the user to not only configure the machine and enter a message to be encrypted, but also follow the signal as it passes through the various stages.

Find and share a resource to support teaching students in primary years about information sharing or safe communication. Include a brief description.

COMMENTING ON BLOGS

When introducing blogging in the classroom, I used to follow up my focus on paper blogs with a focus on commenting and communication. This began with a ‘turn and talk’ about why we communicate online? I would then watch Linda Yollis’ video on quality comments.

After watching this, students worked together to complete a Found Out, Made Me Think.

Once the class had thought about comments, we created a set of guidelines which were then used in the creation of a rubric that students could be used as a reference. To support this students refereed to the Rubric for Rubrics to help them.

BIE Rubric for Rubrics

What mattered most for me was creating a space where students could learning through the experience of commenting, especially as some of my older boys were already engaging in 4Chan, meme and trolling culture. Therefore, this rubric was something that we returned to regularly as particular situations arose.

Thinking about this now in regards to the challenges of moderation on social media (see posts about YouTube and Facebook), I wonder about extending this by discussing what changes they would make if they were moderating comments for every class in the school (or even whole world) and what a digital solution for this might look like?

Unit 4 – Internet Security

What are some primary-friendly “scam scenarios” that you could use in the classroom for encouraging students to critically think about messages they receive? Create your own “fake scam” to share with the community so they can try and spot the tell-tale signs!

Rather than Nigerian prince or stranger danger, I think that the best scam that children need to learn to be aware of are the surreptitious scams they learn to live with every day. These are what Harry Brignull coined as ‘dark patterns‘.

Dark Patterns are intentional user interfaces to trick you into doing something. As Brignull explains:

Normally we think of bad design as consisting of laziness, mistakes, or school-boy errors. We refer to these sorts of design patterns as Antipatterns. However, there’s another kind of bad design pattern, one that’s been crafted with great attention to detail, and a solid understanding of human psychology, to trick users into do things they wouldn’t otherwise have done. This is the dark side of design, and since these kind of design patterns don’t have a name, I’m proposing we start calling them Dark Patterns.

In an interview with Brignull, Per Axbom and James Royal-Lawson provide their own definition of dark patterns as,

A gap between perception of what you are doing and the reality of what you have done. – 30 mins

While in Mike Monteiro’s book Ruined by Design, he argues that:

Dark patterns are the canaries in the coal mine of unethical design. A company who’s willing to keep a customer hostage is willing to do worse.

Arvind Narayanan, Arunesh Mathur, Marshini Chetty, and Mihir Kshirsagar suggest that such patterns have developed over over over time:

Although they have recently burst into mainstream awareness, dark patterns are the result of three decades- long trends: one from the world of retail (deceptive practices), one from research and public policy (nudging), and the third from the design community (growth hacking).

Harry Brignull has created a site dedicated to all things dark patterns, including a list of examples:

  • Trick questions while filling in a form
  • Sneak into the purchase basket
  • Roach motel
  • Privacy sharing
  • Price comparison prevention
  • Misdirection and distraction
  • Hidden costs
  • Bait and switch
  • Guilting users into opting into something
  • Disguised ads
  • Forced continuity
  • Friend spam

Colin Gray summarises these in a presentation on the dark side of UX design:

Alternatively, the research team at UXP2 have broken Brignull’s list down into five particular strategies:

  • Nagging
  • Obstruction
  • Sneaking
  • Interface Interference
  • Forced Action

In the end, Daniel Fitton suggests that what is most important is a critical understanding.

Dark design is used to influence our decisions about our time, our money, our personal data and our consent. But a critical understanding of how dark patterns work, and what they’re hoping to achieve, can help us detect and overcome their trickery.

The question is what this all means for young children. When you scroll through the abundance of examples shared in the subreddit community and in Brignull’s hall of shame, they seem beyond the world of a twelve year old, let alone a five year old. However, it could be argued that so many habits actually stem from what actually happens during the early years and how technology is approached. Thinking about this from the perspective of digital literacies, so much time is spent on skillsets, such as being creative and communicative, but mindsets, such as critical and cognitive thinking, are just as important.

Therefore, thinking about patterns in general, the focus at at F to 2 could be to explore the shapes and colours used in applications. Investigate the ways we represent information about applications using software and digital systems. Use software to create a positive and a negative representation of data. Investigate in-app purchases and the ways users are enticed to sign-up or purchase add-ons for additional features, like stickers and bonuses.

In 3 to 4, students might explore the different types of data engaged with in online spaces. This could include something like paper blogs and leaving physical dots to represent engagement. As well as continue to explore the representation of different types of data and information, including the application of ethical and social protocols.

In 5 to 6, students could form a definition of dark patterns and how they impact users. This could include the developing solutions which demonstrate such patterns. Associated with this, they might develop protocols for how to respond to such patterns.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Create or find a classroom resource that teaches students about creating strong passwords, passcodes or passphrases.

There is so much written about passwords, what makes a strong ones, how to go about maintaining them. For example, the Twinkl team recommends six rules:

  • include numbers, letters and symbols
  • use at least one capital letter
  • make it something you will remember but others won’t think of
  • make sure it has eight characters or more
  • never use obvious names or dates
  • never write down or share your password

While Charlotte Empey’s provides the following tips:

  • Stay away from the obvious
  • Make it long
  • Use a mix of characters
  • Avoid common substitutions
  • Don’t use memorable keyboard paths
  • Avoid using single words

Associated with these tips, she puts forward some particular strategies:

  • Revised passphrase method where you compose a phrase using bizarre and uncommon words a phrase that gives you a mental image.
  • The sentence method combines a random sentence with a rule that makes it gobbledegook.
  • Muscle memory method where a random group of characters is memorised as a pattern.

Micah Lee elaborates on the discussion of passphrases, discussing the Diceware method:

First, grab a copy of the Diceware word list, which contains 7,776 English words — 37 pages for those of you printing at home. You’ll notice that next to each word is a five-digit number, with each digit between 1 and 6. Here’s a small excerpt from the word list:

24456 eo
24461 ep
24462 epa
24463 epic
24464 epoch

Now grab some six-sided dice (yes, actual real physical dice) and roll them several times, writing down the numbers that you get. You’ll need a total of five dice rolls to come up with the first word in your passphrase. What you’re doing here is generating entropy, extracting true randomness from nature and turning it into numbers.

If you roll the number two, then four, then four again, then six, then three, and then look up in the Diceware word list 24463, you’ll see the word “epic.” That will be the first word in your passphrase. Now repeat. You want to come up with a seven-word passphrase if you’re worried about the NSA or Chinese spies someday trying to guess it (more on the logic behind this number below).

Using Diceware, you end up with passphrases that look like “cap liz donna demon self,” “bang vivo thread duct knob train,” and “brig alert rope welsh foss rang orb.” If you want a stronger passphrase you can use more words; if a weaker passphrase is OK for your purpose you can use less words.

In Richard Barnes’ guide to safer logins, he suggests

  • Use random passwords, and use a different password for every site
  • Use a password manager to make creating and remembering passwords easier
  • Make your answers to security questions just as strong as your passwords
  • Use “two-factor authentication” wherever you can
  • Pay attention to the browser’s security signals, and be suspicious

Elaborating on two factor authentication,  Chris Betcher explains it as ‘something you have and something you know‘:

The something you know is the password, and yes it’s still a good idea to have a strong password, something with enough length and complexity that is hard to guess but easy to remember.  But it’s not enough. It’s just one factor.

The second factor is something you have, or something you physically carry with you, such as a phone or touch key. Unless the hacker or foreign power actually has your phone, they can’t access your data, even if they know your password.  Just like the two keys for the front door, they need both your password AND your phone at the same time. If they have both those things, you may just have bigger problems to deal with.

All this advice is helpful, but not necessarily practical for young learners. Although a passphrase made using the Diceware method used in association with two-factor authentication may be considered an ideal outcome, the question remains how young learners are supported with building up their confidence and constructive capacity to manage such workflows?

In regards to learning activities, there are various resources available, however too often they come across as one-off lessons, a passing of the knowledge akin to the Matrix, rather than a gradual release over time.

The risk with this approach is that if a student was not there for this one-off experience, then they can miss the transer of knowledge.

One person to approach the problem differently is Audrey Nay, she has put together a continuum of learning starting at Prep and going to Year 6. The journey starts with a basic passwords letters and ending with a 6 character mnenomic with a mixture of numbers, upper and lower cases, and punctuation. Although I like how she has broken down the sequence of steps across the years, I wonder about the outcome of a 6 character mnenomic, as opposed to a passphrase. As Micah Lee explains:

Not too bad for a passphrase like “bolt vat frisky fob land hazy rigid,” which is entirely possible for most people to memorize. Compare that to “d07;oj7MgLz’%v,” a random password that contains slightly less entropy than the seven-word Diceware passphrase but is significantly more difficult to memorize.

In regards to passphrases, Ian Addison talks about getting younger students to combine two unrelated words that they can spell, while the eSafety team suggest providing multiple columns, where students choose one option from each. I wonder if a useful approach is to start with one word chosen from a simple list and progressively build up to something like four words taken from a more complicated list of words.

Supporting the process of reflection, passwords resource developed in conjunction with Code.org and Common Sense Media flips the various requirements into a series of statements. An approach could be used where each stage is defined by a different set of questions built up across time.

One of the other challenges to passwords being a ‘once-off’ activity is that such activities are often done to students, rather than with students. This often stems from the ramifications of poor passwords. For example, sometimes platforms have built-in feedback mechanisms that force users to enter a number, character and symbol. Also, based on logistics passwords are often managed for students using generators like Dinopass or Google Sheet tempaltes.  Digital Technologies Hub’s answer to this is to go beyond a mere list of rules, suggesting that students create an artefact (i.e. a poster) explaining their understanding. Alternatively, sites like How Secure is My Password can be useful to support students for testing processes.

This all has me thinking about alternatives for logging in, such as the use of biometric informationpatterns and images. I wonder what ‘passwords’ might look like for students in ten years time?

Share your thoughts on what you imagine to be the future of cyber attacks. Consider the types of information we store and share online today. What information will hackers try to get in the future? What approaches do you think they will use?

I think the future of hacking and cyber attacks is the linking of different datasets that we openly share online through data brokers to provide an insight and awareness of individuals that will open up new possibilities.

These companies often acquire the information through purchase, licensing, or other sharing agreements with third parties. Oracle, for example, “owns and works with” over 80 data brokers, according to a 2019 Financial Times report, aggregating information on everything from consumer shopping to internet behavior. However, many companies also scrape data that is publicly viewable on the internet and then aggregate it for sale or sharing. “People search” websites often fall into this latter category—compiling public records (property filings, court documents, voting registrations, etc.) on individuals and then letting anyone on the internet search for their information.

This impact is only amplified by the influx of connected devices and online accounts.

Unit 5 – Cyber Ethics

Find a resource (a website, video or storybook) for teaching a topic related to cyber ethics and share this with the community. Provide a brief explanation.

A useful post I have found in regards to cyber citizenship (and ethics) is Kathleen Morris’s Teaching Digital Citizenship: 10 Internet Safety Tips For Students (With Posters). Morris outlines her four layered approach to teaching digital citizenship. This focuses on integrating the various skills within the curriculum, providing real world stories to reflect upon, building up student toolkits and developing lines of communication. Associated with this, she also provides ten tips for students.Poste


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