I'm Not a Bot

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


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

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

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

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

capcha

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

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

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

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

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

no captcha
           The NoCAPTCHA reCAPTCHA

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

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

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

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

Revisiting the One Laptop Per Child Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

laptops
                       via Twitter 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Blockchain on Campus

blockchainBlockchain is sometimes described as a secure public ledger. I wrote last year about blockchain and its possible uses on campus, but I have not seen evidence of its application on the campuses I have visited. Of course, it is possible it is being used behind the scenes since this is a technology that would not be evident to end-users.

I read an article about Oral Roberts University's recent conference intended to educate and persuade schools to learn about the technology,test it out and collaborate. Their CIO, Michael Mathews, believes blockchain will be as important to transforming education as the Internet was and early adopters will benefit the most.

The first blockchain was theorized by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008 and applied the following year as a key component of the digital currency Bitcoin. That connection to the alternative currency that has a still unclear reputation may have influenced some to associate blockchain with had some negative of that rep rub off on it. In fact, it is a technology that adds levels of trust, authentication and recordkeeping. As a public ledger of transactions, it uses a peer-to-peer network (another idea that picked up a bad rep through pirating software and music) to build a decentralized, distributed database. (A more detailed definition here.) Block chain offers an unalterable (for now, at least), public record (that can be made only semi-public) of digital transactions.

Though financial transaction are blockchain's main uses, for a school, the immediate applications would likely be student application processing, transcript evaluations and articulation agreements. 

The conference program may be correct that blockchain is not only the future business model of supply chain, but may be applied to a large education value chain.

This post first appeared on LinkedIn

Tech Design for Seniors

In my previous post, I wrote about andragogy, the theories behind adult learning. Today, I'm writing about what might seem like an extension of andragogy, especially when dealing with technology.

Many (too many) people assume that learning about and using technology is very different for older adults. I am a "Baby Boomer," one of a large group born between 1946 and 1964. I consider myself to be very well versed in technology, but fter all, I have been using and teaching with and about technology for 40 years. But many of my peers are not so comfortable with technology and often come to me for recommendations and help.

Some companies have realized that generally companies and probably educational institutions are underinvesting in, and underserving, older adults. On the educational side, this is a great disservice to this large group of people. But on the marketing side, companies (and colleges?) have discovered a large market and opportunity with the growing over-65 population.

There are approximately 46 million people aged 65 and over living in the United States, and that number is projected to more than double to 98 million by 2060.

This group grew up with 20th century technology that has radically changed in their lifetime. Think of the present-day automobile or phone. They adapted to banking via an ATM and cooking with a microwave — though they may still prefer a teller and a gas oven.

Looking back on those andragogical principles and moving the adult number up 44 years, some seem particularly relevant. For example, when the content and processes have a meaningful relationship to their past experience.

Designers and technology entrepreneurs are most often in their 20s, 30s or 40s. They are not thinking about older generations. But they should. 

 

Being Secure on Chrome

The Chrome browser’s “not secure” warning is meant to help you understand when the connection to the site you're on isn’t secure. It is also a bit of a shaming motivation to the site's owner to improve the security of their site. But that process of getting the httpS site is not really easy in some cases and for non-tech average web users. 

Google made a warning announcement nearly two years ago and there has been an increase in sites that are secured. They started by only marking pages without encryption that collect passwords and credit card info. Then they began showing the “not secure” warning in two additional situations: when people enter data on an HTTP page, and on all HTTP pages visited in Incognito mode.

Their goal is to make it so that the only markings you see in Chrome are when a site is not secure, and the default unmarked state is secure. They will start removing the “Secure” wording in September 2018, and in October 2018, they will start showing a red “not secure” warning when users enter data on HTTP pages.

Source: https://www.blog.google/products/chrome/milestone-chrome-security-marking-http-not-secure/