Your online footprints

Do you ever perform a google search for your own name on the internet? If you do, you may be surprised to find that you are leaving more footprints behind than you might think.

I sometimes do it just to see what other people would find should they try to learn about me. In my case my first name is not very unique, neither is my surname, but the combination of the two is pretty much returning only results related to me. 

That way I once found that I have co-authored 4 publications, which were derived from my MSc dissertation by my then supervisors. The first two I was aware of, as they had sent it to me by email at the time, back in 1997, when I was still in my first job and they were subsequently published in 1998. But the more recent versions of it in 2004, I found out through google. It seems that it is still a hot topic in the Artificial Intelligent negotiating agent research.

More recently, my portfolio of a course I took at the NIE and that I had posted on my personal website also came up in the search results, and so did my LinkedIn Profile amongst others. Other websites like Naymz and Pipl are also gathering info about persons and if you search for a first and a last name, even a city, country, it returns a list of websites, including social networking sites that you may have signed up with.

I was surprised that even my MySpace account came up, where I am using a nickname to hide my identity and I don’t actively use it, just to link to some music that I’m interested in only.

My Facebook account is also interesting, my profile is only visible to people that are in my contact list, and a limited version of it to networks I belong too. However, it did show some of my friends, as well as book and movie reviews that I had done in the search results on google. So, the identity protection is not as water-tight. Not that I am doing anything on FB that should worry me should others see it.

Some of my wordpress blog entries popped up too and my name also popped up at the digital movement site as one of the attendants to a networking gathering that I participated in.

And the website of the dive school in Thailand I did my Advanced Open Water with in Scuba diving, as they list all their “graduates” by calendar month on their website. And an art exhibit that I participated in back in 2002. 

Last but not least my company website came up too in the search results.

Nothing for me to be worried about, but yet another warning that we should be aware of the digital footprints that we are leaving behind online for future employers, or other people interested in finding out more about you!

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a split blogging personality

Tonight I read this post from Jeremiah Owyang on the other 5 stages of blogging. His take on how blogs evolve and can become successful, go from step 1: Excitement, step 2: Expectation to step 3: Focus, continuing with step 4: Passion and step 5: Achievement. It was his step 3 that set me thinking: Focus. Does my blog have a clear focus?

Funny enough for this blog, my step 1 was the focus, I started this blog with a clear goal as a place to keep track of my research on educational technology. As I was busy with work and some happenings in my private life at the time, the blog became dormant for a while. Only recently I revived it again and at the same time broadened my focus. Including some business related posts, some more on technology not directly related to education and some more on education not directly related to technology.

Some people combine all their writings into a single blog, comprising of personal and professional posts. In my case I have decided to split my writings into several blogs:

whitecat.moblog.com.sg – my personal blog

moblog

The focus of this blog is purely to write about events that are happening in my life and that I want to reflect on. I also do photo blogs, whereby my events are illustrated in the form of photographs. I write in this blog under a pseudonym, to hide my real identity, and protect family and friends that I might write about. Not that I’m writing anything bad, but it’s my personal view on things.

I feel moblog is very good for personal blogging, as it allows the sending of MMS and SMS blogs, so when I’m out and about and see something funny, interesting or worth noting, I snap a picture with my mobile and send it directly to my blog. No need to wait till I’m home, upload to PC first, etc. There are also group blogs, with the option to close the group, so that only invited members can enter and share information, photos, etc on certain topics. The interface can be customised relatively easy to your personal taste.

It would also be a great tool for educational blogging, whereby of course the focus for blogging would be a certain school project. Content Craft, the organisation behind moblog in Singapore, is also setting up blog engines for schools and universities.

whitecatsg.multiply.com – my photo blog

multiply

My multiply blog is my latest online personality. After having had webshots albums online and then my personal website, all were running out of space and I wanted to have one single point where I’m keeping my photos online for sharing with family and friends. I evaluated flickr, photobucket, but found them very similar to webshots and the free amount of photos to share was limited. Multiply it was! I immediately fell in love with the ease and speed of uploading photos, and there is no limit. The only restriction is that the high resolution version of the photo will be automatically deleted from the server when you didn’t order any prints from them within six months. There is even an option to share certain albums or other content only with certain contacts. And creating your own look is fairly easy to do if you know how to use css, and if you don’t you can look at other people’s creations and copy one of them.

Multiply also allows you to create a blog, share music and video content and keep a calendar of events. I’m using the blog option to keep my scuba dive logs, using the reviews section to post my recipe book online, and the calendar to let my friends and family know what I’m doing, if there are any important dates they should know about.

Back to this blog, I am still wondering whether the 5 stages could apply here. I believe that achievement is more pertaining to corporate blogs or people blogging for money or a greater good. In my case, this is just a place where I’m gathering my thoughts and observations. If there are others interested in this, that’s great of course, but not the goal of my blogging. Yet a blog should have a focus, and I think that I have achieved that by splitting up my blogs based on different scopes and target audiences. Should I blog about this in my moblog blog, I’m very sure most of my audience will not be interested in this. Vice versa, if I would add all my personal rantings here in wordpress, I would also draw a different kind of audience. It’s a trade-off, but for the time being, I’ll continue the way I started… a split personality…

my history of the internet and computers

Last week I answered a question on Yahoo! Answers of someone who asked about the history of the internet and when pictures first appeared online. I thought it was quite an interesting question, and triggered me to reminisce about my first experiences with the online world and computing.

I must have been about 13 or 14 years old, in the early 1980’s when we got the first computer at home. That in itself was quite unique to have in those days and my dad had bought it second hand somewhere, because he was interested in this new technology. It came with a B/W monitor of around 10 inches. Its operating system was on a disk (I don’t think it even was  a 5.5 inch floppy, but something before that) and after loading the OS to memory, you could put in another disk to run software. It came with BASIC to create your own software applications. I remember that I tried making some simple BASIC modules, with the classic “GO TO xx”. A few years later the technology already became obsolete and the first PC’s made it to the consumer market. They came with a DOS operating system and large floppy disks. Besides DOS, some applications also became popular in those days, like Word Perfect and Lotus 123. We also got the first computer games: Leisure Suit Larry, which had really amazing graphics, considering that the monitors were ASCII based and had only 16 colours! It was fun going through the adventure and picking up objects that he needed in a later scene. There was also a “Boss key”, by pressing a Function key, it would pop up a complex graph on your screen to pretend to your boss that you are doing something serious and not playing a game.

When I was around 17, I had a summer job at my dad’s office, and got to use a Unix workstation as they used it for some data communication. I learned the Unix commands and how to use the vi-editor. I can’t remember whether I also used email in that time.

Around the same time we also started having computer lessons in school, when I was in sec5 (= comparable with JC1), as an extra lesson carried out by our Maths teacher who was quite interested in this. We did some simple programming as well, calculating with dates and incorporating leap years and summertime / wintertime.

When I was 18, in 1990, I started my university studies and enrolled in a Computer Science degree programme. The first year of my studies we were using Sun workstations with monochrome ascii based screens and my earlier knowledge of Unix came in handy. This was also my first encounter with the internet. We all had an email address and could send each other and our lecturers emails. Practical assignments had to be handed in by email to our practicum teacher-assistant. There were also online newsgroups, which could be accessed by typing the “rn” (read news) command. This was not so much used in our first year in college, but in later years when the practical assignments got more complex, we found ourselves posting questions on the world-wide bulletin boards and searching through earlier posted posts to learn more about certain programming languages. In 1991, my second year in Uni, we got access to Sun X-windows workstations, which used multiple windows and graphic representations with a mouse. Though inside the windows it was still text based commands. It was a huge revolution though, to be able to have 1 window open with your source code and 1 window with your compilation errors. And we had Corel Draw to make graphics to dress up the documents and make diagrams. Initially troff was used as a typesetter to create documents and only at the end of my studies, around 1995 LaTeX (pronounce: lah-tech) was launched, which made typesetting so much easier, using curly brackets with e.g. {heading1}heading text {\heading1}. In troff this would have been several lines of code, I can only remember “.B” for bold face, .I for italic, etc. but there were commands to be added for newline, font type, font size, etc.

But I’m going off topic now, let’s get back to the internet, in the early nineties the first browser came out, which was called Gopher and used hyper text. In those days only a few of the sites were available in Gopher, but we were happy because the Uni library had a search engine for us to search for book and conference proceedings.

Soon after Gopher came Mosaic, which became a more popular browser and allowed showing pictures in between the text. Newsgroup and email were still our main ways of using the internet in those days however and they were still text based. Besides tech-newsgroups, there were also hobby groups starting out and I joined one newsgroup on food recipes in Dutch – nl-culinair. Funny enough I recently found that the guy who had started the group, that was highly popular in those days where only few could use the internet either at work or in university, had put the old threads online and organised them into a modern way. Newsgroups were the predecessor of later day online forums.

In 1996 I graduated from my MSc course and started working. Initially in a government organisation, the Bureau of Statistics in Holland. I was given a PC to work on in the office and was told proudly by my supervisor that it was installed with Windows 95. And since I had studied Computer Science, I should know how to work with it and maybe even help my colleagues to use it. Cold sweat breaking out, I had no idea how to get started, having used Unix for the 6 years before that and done some summer jobs using DOS-based machines with Lotus123 and the latest WP version. Learned fast that Windows was about using the mouse, and not about typing commands. Absolutely hated it in the beginning and Word as well, I had to use the mouse to select and select stuff like font type and size from drop down menus. I did learn fast and was soon able to help out my colleagues with their Windows problems. Was even asked to conduct a training together with a colleague to the entire staff on how to use the Windows version of SPSS, as most were having problems in using it after being familiar with the DOS-based version of this statistics programs for many years.

So, how about the internet in the late nineties? In my office at the time, internet was only available on a standalone PC, that was shared with the entire department of about 80 persons. I had to do some research, so I frequently went over there and used it, printing out the information I found useful. Other than that my PC only had access to the Intra-net. Email could be sent to the outside world, but without attachments. This was a major challenge, as I was still working at the time to publish a paper together with one of my ex-classmates and my two supervisors in Uni. Also I had to get data to work on for a statistical research from the Ministry of Economics. A lot of paper work involved, to get permissions to receive a floppy disk, bring it in, let it be processed by a special security department who put it on the server for me to retrieve.

In 1998 I changed jobs and was stationed in KL, Malaysia. The company provided me with a laptop and a Compuserve email address that served as login to the internet as well, wherever in the world. Internet service providers started booming in those days and one of my first projects was end of 1998 in Shanghai to implement a helpdesk software and business processes according ITIL for Shanghai Online, one of the first ISP’s in China (government organisation). I also had a yahoo account and the first instant messengers came about. It was a way for me to keep in touch easily with my friends back home.

Since then internet has evolved rapidly, and more communication tools became available and in this short time span we are now ready for more interaction, higher end graphics, etc.

Freedom Writers – inspired…


Freedom Writers is a movie about a young, idealistic teacher (Hillary Swank) who is getting a class of children from various races. The elder teachers and the school principal have already given up on those kids, who are struggling daily to survive the racial gang fights that are going on in their neighbourhoods and need to travel more than an hour each way to get to school. The teacher Erin is determined to give these kids a chance to learn something and believes in them. She finds a way let them learn by relating to their world and uses the technique of letting them write personal journals to reflect on their emotions, problems, etc. This empowered them and they got courage to take control of their own lives. And last but not least this is based on a true story! Inspiring…

It’s interesting from an educational perspective, as the teacher uses situated learning (she gives the kids the Diary of Anne Frank to read as she feels they are also living in a war-like situation) and she is using personal journals for the kids to reflect on what they are going through daily and what they are learning, which empowers them. It reminded me of Paulo Freire who used a similar technique to empower the  poor in rural Brazil by using personal reflection.

At the same time I’m wondering whether I should apply this technique in the computer classes that I’m teaching on Sunday’s. On one hand I’m very convinced of the power of personal reflection and that it is a good tool to empower and reflect on learning and daily encounters. On the other hand, how do I implement this for students whose native language is not English? Should I let them write in their native languages (Sinhalese, Tamil, Hindi, Birmese, Tagalog)? In that case they can use it for their own personal usage only and I won’t be able to look at it and review it, to get an idea of what they are going through, what they are picking up from the course. Letting them do it in English will be creating an extra threshold, as well as a learning point, as most of them are also studying English and are not very fluent in it. A new beginner’s class is going to start in June and maybe I should use this as a topic for my dissertation.

I could do a design research (which I also had the idea of exploring) and start of with using the transformative reflection as a technique to empower the students. At the same time I have a few other ideas to improve the course and maybe use a LMS like moodle to give them some assignments. That would be a big project, but it has been shaping in my head for almost a year now.

More updates soon! I set a new target for myself to finalise my topic for dissertation and write a research proposal by end of this month! Then I can start approaching lecturers to be my supervisor, for which I have 2 in mind now, hopefully they are interested….

Only in China

 bamboopagodaoperananpu

Watched the show with this title last night on CNA. 

They interviewed an Austrian woman who started her own dancing school in China. Well actually can’t really say she was Austrian. She had this amazing traveling life since she was 2 years old. She has lived in so many countries and finally ended up in Beijing, China 6 years ago working in advertising for a large MNC. But she mentioned that even though she has never lived in the same country for longer than 9 years so far, she sees herself getting old in China, because it’s such an amazing country with so much culture to be explored.  

There were a few things that particularly struck me in this very casual interview. In the first place, the interview was held completely in Mandarin and I admired her level of Mandarin. At the same time I was happy to realize that I could follow and understand about 80% of the conversation without need to look to the subtitles too much. And shamefully found that my Mandarin has been stagnant for too long and might even have lost some of it due to lack of practice the past few years.  

Secondly, I was struck by the courage of the woman who gave up her steady job at a MNC to set up her own dancing school (one of her hobbies) in a country like China. Not an easy thing to do! I admire people who follow their dreams and also try to follow my dreams. Which made me reflect again whether I’m actually doing this at the moment. The honest answer to myself was yes and no. Yes, I’m following my dream – working for myself, studying something that I’m interested in. But No at the same time too – I’m still not seriously trying to find a job as a parttime lecturer at one of the poly’s, and I also still have a dream that I want to settle in
China ultimately. The latter has been put on a longer term planning though – I’m quite happy with my life as it is now in
Singapore and grown tired to keep moving around. Another factor is my two cats that make me slightly less mobile – not immobile, but I don’t want to move here then there and back again anymore. So, the cats are just an excuse, but it probably defines a new phase in my life in another way.