Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update





BFTP: One big room, redux

80 per cent of young people are looking at sexual images online on a regular basis. The average age to start viewing pornography was about 11 or 12 while sexting was considered almost routine for many 13-14 year olds. ... Research has found that 50 per cent of youngsters had taken part in some sort of webcam sexual experience.  Pornography online is warping children's minds, teachers warnThe Telegraph, March 17, 2013

As a grandfather with a soon to be 12-year-old grandson, I find these sorts of numbers disturbing. Despite having active, caring parents, Paul lives and participates in a brave new world - and at age 11, seems to already exhibit some adolescent behaviors and attitudes. But even in 2006, I wondered if trying to keep kids out of unsuitable Internet content (at least through blocking and filters) is a fool's errand: 

Sorry folks. Anyone who thinks he or she can control kids' access to online information or experiences through legislation or a filter is spitting in the wind. We are not facing a simple technical challenge. We are swimming against a cultural tide.

Neil Postman explains why in his book The Disappearance of Childhood (1982). It's been a while since I have read this book, but as I remember, Postman's arguments go something like this: Childhood is a social construct. Before the Industrial Revolution, children were simply treated as small adults. They dressed like adults; they worked like adults; they lived where adults lived; and they saw what adults saw. Adults and children before the second half of the 19th century all pretty much lived in one big room.

The rise in industrialization also gave rise to the concept of "childhood." Society started treating children differently than it did adults; separating them by dress, by activity, and especially in experience. We kept kids in their own rooms with very limited access to adult rooms -- for their own safety, of course.

Postman argued that with the ubiquity of mass media (pre-Internet days), society no longer has the ability to keep children away from adult venues, sights, and experiences. We've all been pushed back into one big room, as it were. Once again, kids see and experience what adults see and experience.

When I first started speaking about Internet filtering back in 1994, I'd ask workshop participants if they felt the following materials were appropriate for children to have access to:

  • "Sex After 35: Why It's Different, Why it Can be Better"
  • "Men & Sex: Their 7 Secret Wishes"
  • "How Our Sex Life Was Saved"
  • "Major New Sex Survey: What You Don't Know..."
  • "The Sexual Games of the American Male"
  • "He Wants What? Men's 6 Biggest Sexual Fantasies"
  • "The Sex Skill Men Adore (& How to Do It Well)"
  • "The Hugh Grant Syndrome: Why Guys Pay for Sex"
  • "Five Total Turn-Ons Men Can't Resist"

Everyone agreed that those were not materials suitable for children -- and that they should be denied access to them.

"Too late," I'd say. "Each of those are headlines were splashed on the front cover of popular magazines easily found near any supermarket checkout lane." And last I checked, those magazine headlines have not become less explicit.

This cultural shift that is removing the wall between the kids' and adults' rooms is unnerving to say the least. Our natural inclination as parents and educators (and even politicians, I suppose) is to shelter and protect. But responsible adults also recognize that it is in their children's best interest not to shelter, but to teach children how to protect themselves in the big, bad world. One Big Room

When the adult bookstore (or nut-case militia or lunatic-fringe religious group) is only a click or two away, when wireless access in homes puts the Internet into every child's bedroom, and when work-arounds, proxies, and VPNs make filters ineffectual, we can only teach and practice our adult values - and hope out children learn.

Image source

Original post March 20, 2013


Scam season

I sent the message below to all my district's employees this week:


Hi folks,

If you don't see much of me in the coming weeks, it is because the IRS has a warrant out for my arrest for tax evasion and they will have caught me and I am sitting in a jail someplace. At least if the voice mails I have been getting lately from a rather sinister robotic voice are true. 

That is one example of scams and phishing attempts that seem to be growing increasingly common, spread through both email and phone calls. Here is another example sent from one of the security gurus at our regional support center:

Please be aware there is new Phishing Scam going around this week, where the bad guys are using “Active Shooter” and “Security Alert reported on campus” as the scare tactic. Please handle this scam with care as it has the potential to cause serious panic and disruption to your facilities and districts.

Please remind staff of the proper protocol for notification of an on campus security event, and to remind them this scam exists and NOT to forward it if they receive it but to notify IT immediately so you can begin to combat it.   

Some of the subject lines we have seen in this attack are:

“IT DESK: Security Alert Reported on Campus” “IT DESK: Campus Emergency Scare” “IT DESK: Security Concern on Campus Earlier”

    • “IT DESK: Security Alert Reported on Campus”
    • “IT DESK: Campus Emergency Scare”
    • “IT DESK: Security Concern on Campus Earlier”

As the ISD191 staff, I believe we have all become much smarter about responding to false requests for information and actions. Please remain skeptical of offers that look too good to be true, requests for releasing any personal information or any data about your students, or being asked to click on links from unknown entities. You are always welcome to contact the tech department if you have any questions about a suspicious message.

Firewall and spam/virus filters will never be 100% effective. "Social engineering" remains the most common means for the bad guys to get into systems and to obtain confidential data. 

Be cautious and help your students get smarter about these scams as well.

All the best,



The security alert scam phenomena seems to have reached a new low in the malicious use of telecommunications. I cannot imagine the fear such an email going out to a school might cause. And the potential for "the boy who cried wolf" effect might further endanger students if genuine alerts are always viewed as hoaxes.

Senior citizens are often the target for online and phone scams as well. I alway try to alert my 85 year old mother when I hear of a new one.

Kevin Mitnick's book The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security was a real eye opener for me and I would highly recommend it.

As technology director, I feel it is my responsibility to remind all my staff that they need to be continuously on guard when it comes to odd email requests and unknown links. I honestly do believe they are getting better all the time. 

But the job may never be completely finished.

Oh, after sending the message to staff, I did an offer from a teacher to post bail for me after my arrest by the IRS. I was honored.


Google's Talk to Books - blessing or bane


I am truly excited about sharing this new approach to search!  Imagine if you had the power to ask authors across time and disciplines your most burning questions or for their best advice.  Now you can. Joyce Valenza, Google's new Talk to Books: Semantic search for book and idea discovery

I've been playing around with it [Talk to Books] for a few minutes this morning. While it was interesting on a tech level, I couldn't see a practical use for it at first, but then I got into it and I was reminded of my high school English Lit class. The sample questions provided by Google, and the answers found in the books, remind me of test questions from that class. This could make it a whole lot easier to crib your way through class without learning anything ... Nate Hoffelder, With "Talk to Books", Google Wants to Replace English Lit Professors.

These two blog posts came up in my Feedly list, one right after the other. And they summarize nicely both the positive and negative views and uses of any new technology.

Will Talk to Books be a marvelous resource for us to examine serious questions across time and space and make connections we might no otherwise be able to do?

Or will it be CliffNotes and TermPaperEasy on steroids, allowing students to finish assignments without really grappling with questions they are designed to ask?

My guess? It depends. As I have argued for many years. it depends on the nature of the assignment. For my article Plagiarism-Proofing Assignments Phi Delta Kappan, March 2004, I designed a rubric for evaluating the quality of a research assignment:

A Research Question Rubric

Level One:     My research is about a broad topic. I can complete the assignment by using a general reference source such as an encyclopedia. I have no personal questions about the topic.
Primary example: My research is about an animal.
Secondary example: My research is about the economy of a state.

Level Two:     My research answers a question that helps me narrow the focus of my search. This question may mean that I need to go to various sources to gather enough information to get a reliable answer. The conclusion of the research will ask me to give a supported answer to the question.
Primary example: What methods has my animal developed to help it survive?
Secondary example: What role has manufacturing played in an assigned state’s economic development?

Level Three:     My research answers a question of personal relevance. To answer this question I may need to consult not just secondary sources such as magazines, newspapers, books or the Internet, but use primary sources of information such as original surveys, interviews, or source documents.
Primary example: What animal would be best for my family to adopt as a pet?
Secondary example: How can one best prepare for a career in manufacturing in my area?
Level Four:     My research answers a personal question about the topic, and contains information that may be of use to decision-makers as they make policy or distribute funds. The result of my research is a well supported conclusion that contains a call for action on the part of an organization or government body. There will be a plan to distribute this information.
Primary example: How can our school help stop the growth in unwanted and abandoned animals in our community?
Secondary example: How might high schools change their curricula to meet the needs of students wanting a career in manufacturing in my state?

So yes, Joyce, your excitement is right on. And yes, Nate, so is your concern. Depending on how well the assignment is designed.

Remember the Blue Skunk's First Rule of Homework: