Friday, October 31, 2008

Capturing the Captcha

A CAPTCHA or Captcha (IPA: /ˈkæptʃə/) is a type of challenge-response test used in computing to ensure that the response is not generated by a computer (Source: Wikipedia). During my search for new, interesting technology based learning solutions it's often needed to create an account to take a closer look. In most cases I need to confirm that I am real human by entering a Captcha. However, spammers already found possibilities to crack the Captcha coding and create usernames by a robot (e.g. at Live Hotmail). This is probably one of the reasons why Captcha's are increasingly difficult to read. The ultimate consequence is that the human reader cannot identify the characters he needs to enter. Only this week I had two experiences in creating test accounts in which a Captcha confirmation was included. Both times I was not able to read the Captcha code the first time right. It took me three times before the Captcha code I entered was right. Is this just my subjective impression, do I need glasses, or is this something that other also encounter?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Reflecting on the financial crisis

I just submitted my conference presentation for NOC 2008, so I thought I take a moment to reflect on some remarkable issues in the financial crisis. Although I don't experience any personal damage yet, it all looks quite distressing if you would only look and listen to all the news flashes. Nowadays, it should be quite easy to select a number of RSS feeds in order to get you into a deep mental depression. For someone who is really working in the financial business, I can imagine that it must be quite depressing to see how things drop down for days in a row. The thing that happen seem to go beyond their span of control. On the other hand, I sometimes get the impression that the 'panic of the crowds' is the only leading driver for everything that is going on. I wonder if there is really any reflection, or is it just blindly following the crowds in a sort of belief that this will get you into a save place where you can wait until the crisis is over. Another factor I noticed is the role of the media. Listening to radio interviews I sometimes get the impression that it is not interesting enough to make a report on companies that are doing relatively well. The tone of voice also contributes to how news items are perceived by the public. For example, the 6% decrease of the Nikei index on Oct. 28 was considered "dramatic" and "historical". One day later, the 6.4 % increase was mentioned only a "light recovery". If I would only have read the header, I would think about an increase of 1 or 2% maybe, but not 6.4! This is not helpful to create a more positive context in which structural recovery of the damage can be established. It's not a coincidence that the possibilities for short selling have been restricted.

The financial crisis has already infected some real 'economies', such as the automotive and hospitality industries. A rather unexpected thing is that - so far, so good - the ICT business is not mentioned very much (read a Dutch review on this by Irma Borst). In the 2001 crisis we got the full blow. But what about this time? Will we remain in the periphery of this financial hurricane? Cutting costs on training and education is one of the things that are always a risk, unless there is a clear business case that supports the idea that the benefit will be larger than the costs. Especially for the e-Learning business the definition of clear business cases may become essential drivers for investments in the near future.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Microsoft as a virus distributor?

Reading today's newspaper I noticed a small article about Chinese computer users who are angry with Microsoft. What's new you might think? Well the case is that Microsoft has developed a Windows Genuine Advantage application that is automatically installed through Windows updates. The program detects whether or not you have a legal version of the Windows OS. If not, the user gets a black wallpaper every hour, during 45 days. You may change it to a wallpaper you like more, but it will be replaced by the black wallpaper in the next hour. This type of computer behavior reminds me of a typical, rather innocent category of computer viruses. It's Microsoft's way to strive against illegal use of their OS. On the one hand they may be right to protect their legal rights, on the other hand it is questionable whether they have the right to infect millions of computer users this way. It seems like taking the law into their own hands, instead of sending out legal claims. Trying to imagine how this would be in a more physical metaphor I can think of a situation that a manufacturer would come into my house to shut down my cd player, so I cannot play copies of CD's anymore. How would that look like? You cannot pop into somebody's home and do things that you believe are right, it would be considered trespassing. Is the Microsoft example a case of digital trespassing?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sakai re-visited

My career at the University of Twente is now exactly 10 days behind me - it was a nice "say goodbye" reception by the way - and I shifted to 6th gear in working for Stoas Learning. The past few days I contributed to a proposal for an enterprise learning solution based on Sakai. Last Wednesday we had an intensive 5-hour information session with representatives from our potential customer. Besides taking a close look at Sakai, they were also very interested in the way Stoas may act as a partner organisation, making the implementation of Sakai a success. Yesterday and today I have been working on the contents of a proposal together with some colleagues at Stoas. In the meantime several additional questions popped up, which also need to be addressed in our offer. It was a deja vu to re-visit familiar webpages like confluence, collab and jira, and to take a closer look how Sakai 2.5.3 has developed, compared to the last version (2.3) I have worked with. Some new tools in combination with GUI skins and didactical templates for deployment of Sakai sites (both developed at Stoas), gave a promising perspective. Of course we have to wait if our proposal will be accepted, but if so, it will probably mean quite some Sakai-related work for us.