#refugeeswelcome – why and how

A dear friend of mine told me one day after the recent Terror attacks in Paris that a friend of her brother has just died, by doing nothing else but going to see a concert. When she told, me I felt that cold grip of terror. I was mortified, and I’m only slowly finding words right now, none of which are suitable to describe that feeling. And first and foremost, such terror has to be condemned, such heinous acts of hatred can never be tolerated. My heart sank, for worry about my friend – and for fear of what might be to come. I think that it is paramount now to not draw what I see as the wrong conclusions – sometimes, the acts of a very very few decide the lives of the many, and I think those very few should be those chosen by the people to represent them. A state should not be held hostage by terrorists, and it should not hold it’s people hostage because of terrorists either. This post, then, is about #refugeeswelcome, why I think it makes sense and what I see as our role within a democratic system.

Preservation vs. Integration

If we as Europeans want to preserve what is good about our culture we should probably show how and why it is worthy of such preservation, as there are a great many good things about it. Preservation, from my point of view, is about keeping things with no regard whether that something is good or can become better if changed, no matter what the cost of preserving it is. I think that, much like at every other moment of our lives we now again have a chance to do things better, to make our own lives and those of the people we care about better. But this can only happen when we do not give in to fear.

But why #refugeeswelcome still?

Slamming doors into people’s faces might lead to them not wanting to enter the house, but one has to presume that it could just as well also make them hate not just the door, but also the house and quite possibly everyone in it. This then, quite comprehensibly, becomes a fertile ground for the desire to terrorise those who, to the person wanting to get in, will be seen as “hating them in the first place. This is a hatred for no reason obvious to those who are fleeing a place where losing those they love is not a faraway thing but cold reality or even just aspiring a better life. This is why I think presenting oneself as “harsh” and “unattractive” (which is the current strategy of Austrians Minister for internal affairs) seems to me like a fairly short-sighted approach. Building fences, creating walls and slamming doors into faces probably won’t do much to create a desire to get to know and appropriate a culture that in some respects will certainly be different to that the refugee (or, if you want to talk about two separate issues at the same time, migrant-for-whatever-reason). I personally often find it rather hard to follow procedures that seem to me arbitrary and unnecessary, but generally once I understand the why and the how of doing something differently, it always became much easier to do in that different way: this is then where I see the leverage point leading to successful Integration, and in turn, the continuing development of our European Culture and Values.

of course you might now say,

“well roared, lion, but how do we do that?”

I’ve recently seen the political discourse in Austria become quite a bit more like the one I encounter here in the UK – where often, the political “enemy” is dehumanised, demonised even, and insulted. Rather than having a discussion using facts and information about issues, it seems viable to attack the persons representing these issues, rather than talking about what they stand for. This, in turn, might then lead to the people going away (but does it really?) but the issue still persists, thus in the end it might only be the face that is changing.
I myself have found it rather hard to change someone’s mind after intentionally insulting them and their intellect, hence I try not to do so – we all make our own decisions, judgements and conclusions based on what information we have at our disposal at particular, situated points. I therefore like to think of the world as consisting of resonable actors with much the same ability to think and reflect as I do. And since I’ve found it hard to reflect and think “rationally” when emotions come into play, I think it is probably the same for others. So why, when I want other people to change their behaviours, would I think I’ll change their mind by insulting them? This is something I don’t really understand: Any discussion becomes charged with emotion, and a critical reflection of one’s personal stance becomes impossible from the get-go. I think there is very little to be gained in walking this path.

“You never know till you try to reach them how accessible men are; but you must approach each man by the right door.”- Henry Ward Beecher

In this way, I think a better approach is to try and assume that we are all reasonable people, after all the person we are talking to came to her or his conclusion and perspective in much the same ways as we did: by talking about things with other people, by reading and watching media (newspapers, TV series, movies), by going to school. Let’s think about occasions that made us change our minds, and then have a chat on that basis. Let’s try and find what we can agree on, and build from there – this, I’ve found, works the best. And you don’t have to do this every single time, I mean obviously the more the better, but every little bit helps. This might be what Tolkien meant when he let Gandalf  say “I’ve found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love.”

Because it can be you who starts changing the world, in the things you do and in the ways you do them. And carry them over into how we talk to each other, carry them onto the streets, into the pubs, onto Facebook and into the Wirtshaus. It is there where we have to start – Austria and the European Union both are democracies, and as such every single citizen has a way to influence that power, and that is not just done by voting: you can send messages to those representing you, those you agree with and those you disagree with, and you might be surprised to find them actually responding! I mean, after all, they’re people just like you, like me, like any other human being. A little kindness when they did something you think is worth supporting or a polite notice telling them why what they’re doing is uncool and maybe even how you think it could be done better might go a long way. And alternatively, if you don’t like what is available at all, then you can go and create your own alternative and gather support for that. You can do that.

 

 

 

Post Scriptum – a few thoughts that crossed my mind during and after writing this post:

Judging from my own experience as an Austrian living in the UK, I think that by now I’ve come to realise quite a lot about the UK, and how it works, what I deem its good and its bad sides to be. But, as I’ve mentioned in an earlier, possibly a bit confusing post, I’m also now quite a bit more sensitive to what I like about my own home country and its people – but also how it could be different, and how it could be better for everyone.

Different organisations serve different purpose, that is a good thing and should be preserved: nations, states and religions are of course intermingled, and every one of us is part of a great many such categories. I think we would not be doing ourselves a favour by making one into the other (when a company fails, the people can find other companies to work in – but virtually all scenarios of when states failed seem much more grim…)

much along the same line of thought, I think it would be a treacherous mistake to think that any organisation attaching a religious label to itself (such as IS) is interchangeably representative of what that faith and belief is as a practical matter – after all, for us humans, the symbols we use (such as words in everyday language, or langue) get their meaning through human action and interaction. This leads to two effects: 1) the meaning everyone of us attaches to a symbol changes ever so slightly whenever we use it and 2) the symbol’s meaning is thus influenced by when, where, how, by whom and to who the symbol is summoned. (for lack of an actual example in data publishable on my blog, I had to resort to theory – in case you’re interested, I recommend reading the following: Blumer, Herbert (1969): Symbolic Interactionism. Perspective and Method. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.)

 

answering “what are you doing right now?” – Research Highlights

We’ve recently been asked to write about our research highlights as part of the Nottingham University’s Horizon CDT (Centre for Doctoral Training) process, which I took as an opportunity to explain in simple words what I’ve done so far, what I’m doing now and what I aim to do in the future!

If you’re curious about all these questions, click here!

And if you have more questions, contact me🙂

Big Data, Big Responsibility – or “Ten Things you didn’t know about Data Security”

Here’s an image search result for the term”Hacker”

Ryan Ackroyd, a member of LulzSec who has done time in prison for his hacking activities, held a talk yesterday at Sheffield Hallam University – and it was a good talk indeed!

What follows here now is what me and a friend of of mine discussed on the way back to Nottingham afterwards, and the TL;DR (too long, didn’t read, so this is the summary:) can be subsumed in a quote from the talk (but knowingly taken out of context here): “Data Security is non-existent.”

Ryan was part of the LulzSec team, a Hacktivist splinter group of Anonymous most well known for attacking and downing major websites, such as Paypal etc. in the wake of Private Manning’s leaks to WikiLeaks.

One of the main points of Ryan’s Talk was focussed on how simple some of the vulnerabilities found in today’s software are – especially SQL Injection attacks (where web applications and web sites don’t check the text (or other content) that users are feeding them, which allows attackers to run their own programs on your computer).

Protecting yourself from this kind of attack is actually very simple, and it’s really surprising how many of the sites we use daily don’t actually check for it.
Why don’t they do it, you ask? Well, there’s a great many excuses not to program in a safe way, the most common one is “this needs to work, and it needs to be working soon”.

And this is what I wanted to talk about. In industry, data security is sometimes seen as something of a “necessary evil”, because it is something that will not earn you money, but protects you from losing it. Start-ups in the digital economy are usually focussed on getting something demonstrable (it’s even called the “minimum viable product”) running quickly, deploy it early, then keeping their ears to the ground to find out what users like and dislike about the product, and using that to improve the idea you started off with.  And that is one thing of concern here: when someone manages to infiltrate your digital home (a.k.a. Server, or Facebook account, or Google search history), you usually don’t see shards of broken glass on the floor, and all of your assets will (usually) still be there – it’s just that they’re somewhere else as well.

Data Security, as well as privacy then, is sometimes a conscious decision in the trade-off between how much it costs to keep something safe versus the “worst-case scenario/prediction” of how much it would cost if data was to be stolen.

Now, something I find quite interesting in this topic is the original meaning of the word “data” – it stems form the Latin word “datum”, and means “something given”.

And in my opinion, this is how data should be treated: as something that is given to us who develop and maintain platforms – a present from someone else. However mundane, presents like these hold meaning, and also, hopefully, instill a sense of responsibility for that which you were given. In other words, leaning on Voltaire’s (and also, later on, Peter Parker’s uncle Ben): “With Big Data comes Big Responsibility”. And that responsibility is, inevitably, on us, the developers and those designing and creating systems.

Now, that is somewhat of a bombshell, and I know that to some this kind of radical stance might seem a bit overzealous, but I’m trying to be honest here. I think everyone using computer systems deserves to know this is the case right now, and most importantly software developers need to be aware that they need to keep their windows closed (as in: do at least some security proofing of your own servers -developers, please sanitise all your input interfaces, try to make the easy attacks harder (as in “use penetration-testing tools on your own services” and “get friendly others to try and penetrate your services”) and, for god’s sake: everyone, please use (and don’t re-use) safe passwords.)

This way, even though it still is the wild, wild west out there, we at least get to live!

 

And as always, please let me know what you think about this by leaving a comment below.

Talk – or “Because the face, it ain’t listening”

Picture of a Hand with a drawing of a Manga Heroine and

High fives! Pic by Laurixi28 @ deviantart

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Talk recently (that’s right, capital T!), and how it affects life in general. The reason for all this thinking is that my PhD supervisors thought that it would be a good idea for me to read a book that focuses exactly on Talk (The book I’m talking (hehe) about here is Julian E. Orr’s fascinating workplace ethnography “Talking about Machines”). And oh wow, were they right! So many reflections on my past life in various roles related to helping people use, come to grips with, or understand technology within organisations!

What they wanted me to realise is that Talk is done in order to do things. We catch up with people through Talk, we show affection through Talk, and in the case of the book, we (putting myself into my old Technician shoes here, and seriously, if you have ever done or supervised any customer-facing field service work, go and read that book! Now!) construct narratives that help us solve problems – through Talk.

But Talk is imprecise. The way each one of us humans does Talk is shaped by our previous life experience, by our surroundings (scientifically speaking, contexts), and of course our vocabulary. This is probably one of the reasons why subject experts tend to talk using different words for certain things – and also, why our own Talk changes as we get better at things (I still remember when what used to be simple plastic for me became a multitude of different things – PVC, ABS, you name it – all with different properties). So when I, as a young kiddy engineer in school, talked about plastic before, I really talked about an abstract thing that actually did not really exist – it only existed in my own reality, because those who knew what it really was, called it by a different name. Their Talk was different to my own Talk!

And this is where things get gritty. If my own word “plastic” means something different than my neighbors’, how can we make sure that we end up talking about the same thing? (There’s at least one other angle on this as well – see Schopenhauers “Eristische Dialektik” for his sarcastic treatise on how people use foul moves to “win” discussions – a funny and priceless (as in possibly free, because old) read for anyone whose work involves Talk… but wait a minute, isn’t that everyone?!)

So, the first step to communicating and discussing effectively is probably to realise that a mismatch of wording has happened (hopefully this happens before items are being flung around the room), and then explaining to one another what was meant in the words that were used. And this explanation needs to take into account the person we’ve been talking to – their history and context (you know, their surroundings ;) )!

Therefore, and this is the heart of this post, the key to effective Talk (which can lead to Change, oh yeah, capital letters, folks!) is understanding others, either through acquiring the way they Talk and using that, or through enabling them to use your way to Talk – which, by the way, is one thing effective teaching (and its counterpart, learning) does.

And that’s that! That’s what I wanted this blog post’s Talk to be about.

Now, if you have any thoughts about this, let me know! I also, of course, don’t mind you sharing it😛

mountain peaks and the future of education

good thing it was summer.

school was having a break, students enjoyed the weather (if and when it indeed was enjoyable) and farmers were busy bringing in this year’s harvest.

somewhere in between all these, I was doing bits of everything – helping out at my parents farm, hiking up lots of mountains and slowly getting my research on the way. and do even more hiking in the beautiful alps.

Andreas atop a mountain

A Reiter in the mountains

However, something has caught my eye recently:

Education

Open schools, forest kindergartens, waldorf and montessori schools are examples for this change in the school world. they allow kids to discover the world guided by their interests, with or without control, but with full responsibility for their progress. models like these naturally depend a lot on the teacher (this is not unique to this model, but true for all forms of education), which brings us to the next quote in this post: “there is no need to educate our kids. these idiots just follow our example anyway”.
So one important fact to keep in mind is that the best way to lead is to lead by example. After all, this is how humans learn: we see how something works and then we repeat it… Or do we? I remember a paper that concluded in stating that if we learn from experts, we are able to apply the more abstract concepts in different but similar situations – so-called transferable knowledge/skills.
If learnings happen amongst peers (communities of practice? i really need to read more about those..), or if you gather people who face a certain challenge and let them learn from each other, they quickly become capable of solving this exact problem all in the same way; however, if the challenge is altered slightly, success rates are dropping.
I wonder whether this also extends to self-help groups (possibly even groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous). Furthermore, how does this apply to Maker Communities? Is it experts vs. novices, or is it communities of peers? I guess it’s probably bits of both…

So a few weeks ago I attended a public discussion on the future of art, culture and science in rural areas. The people invited to the podium included Xenia Hausner, a distinguished artist and one of the organisers of the summer academy in traunkirchen, Anton Zeilinger, distinguished physicist, internationally known for his discovery of instantaneus transmission of information, or “beaming”, and Martin Hollinetz, the founder of the open technology labs OTELO.

The OTELO educational workshop types and the Traunkirchen summer academies share some characteristics (though they are aimed at different audiences, and the processes of their inception worked very differently), in OTELO being a bottom-up approach based on individual interests of local community members, and the others taking a rather classical seminar style. Both of these apoproaches in combination would, in my opinion, work very well together…

OTELO and frag den freak

The reason why I’m thinking about these things is because of my own work in the open technology labs OTELO.
My role as the organiser of workshops at the open technology enabled me to create a format called “Frag den Freak” (no, not first-person-shooter fragging, it just means ask-a-freak). The goal here is to bring experts together with complete newbies and have questions answered that laypeople do ask themselves but usually can’t find answers to themselves.

This has been received exceptionally well and has expanded to topics such as bakery, acoustics in the household, to the design of functional clothing – and many more to come!

Find anything in here you don’t agree with?
Want to know more about the OTELOs?
let me know!

🙂

A new Hope – travelling to Tansania

Last weekend I’ve abandoned my comfort zone yet again. I’d been given the opportunity to go and work with the lovely folks in the Taarifa Project. This blog post is aimed at letting you participate in the first day of my journey to Africa.

Room with a view

Dar es Salaam, as seen from our first Hotel room

My first steps on non-european soil were loaded with new impressions, and the thing I found most interesting in the beginning, even more than the warmth at 10pm, was this very different smell of everything.
It was sweetish sensation that massaged my nostrils and filled my lungs with anticipation and excitement. Even though I had gotten up at 3am, I was wide awake, to an extent I probably couldn’t even reach through coffee. Everyone else had left the plane before me, because I didn’t realize the people that were still staying in were actually flying onwards, back to Amsterdam where I had just come from. It was a solitary experience, the walk to the (immigration?) point, where you handed in the forms saying you were entering greater Africa, but it also was my first encounter with a very different culture.

When I finally did catch up with the folks who were on the plane with me, I realised that I really should have filled out those forms they gave to us on the plane already too –  leading to a frantic exercise in filling out forms that clearly were not made to contain a place of birth with 12 letters. But eventually I made it through, and it turns out I was too nervous to even notice what my fellow traveller Jeremy Morley pointed out how different everyone began to act when I answered the question of where I would be staying – the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Dar es Salaam, where a room was ~USD120, and a single breakfast USD45.

We were picked up by a cab driver who, in a very friendly tone told us he had someone else to pick up at the airport in 15 minutes time, which was clearly not doable. I didn’t pay too much attention, too astonished by how subtly different everything outside was. a huge billboard in a language I had never seen before, next to a small but brightly lit ad for my former employer, Bosch. The roads were good, at least the vast stretches between the potholes wider than a witches cauldron, and probably just as deep. The product of short but wall-density-like rainfalls in the weeks before, as I was told.

“So if you’ve only ever seen the mediterranean once, then this is probably the first time you see the indian ocean too, right?”, Jeremy said,  pulling me out of my pondering and gazing. “Where is it?” “Just over there, on the right” – and I saw it and what I presumed to be city lights in the distance turned out to be reflections of the stars on the water. (OK, this might sound a bit cheesy, but I swear I’m only making a third of it up😉 )

After 20 more minutes of traffic that had me noticing how different the license plates were, marvelling at the traffic lights (that for some seemed to be of a rather suggestive than imperative nature) the cab dodging cauldrons, being honked at and honking at others (It seems like almost a social thing, people simply using the various communication facilites of their cars a bit more than back home) we arrive at an indian restaurant where the rest of the party had been waiting for a while already.

So first contact with food in Africa was made, and while the food itself was very good, the experience itself was as if we had entered another world. It was very clear that some of the group had gotten used to how we were treated, I however was not at all. The restaurant, apart from two other tables was empty and in my memory had what felt like the size of a quarter of a football field. Five staffers made sure we had everything we needed, without it being intrusive – just incredibly friendly.

After finishing the dinner, we left for our Hotel, which didn’t turn out to be the Hyatt after all, but the Rainbow Inn, substantially cheaper, and, as it turns out, still a bit overpriced. “They really saw you coming”, as it was put. Our vehicle on the journey, a tuk-tuk sporting three of us in the back, plus my overzealously packed big piece of luggage, braved the very calm roads, and we arrived in the city center, in a scene that could have been out of a movie. Well, actually, it’s probably just that that’s the only means I have to compare the two.

The hotel wasn’t as bad as everyone told me hotels in africa would be, but that could be just because they did so beforehands. The duvet sported a few faded stains, and when I saw the bathroom wet cell I realised what they were going for when they designed Mos Eisley in Star Wars: A New Hope (yes, that was the movie I was talking about earlier😉 ). But it was fit for the job, I washed my feet and felt good. After brushing my teeth with water out of the bottle – good practice in africa, as the tap water doesn’t have drinking quality.

I went to bed, tired, excited, and most of all happy that after a long time of thinking about whether or not I should do it, I overcame my initial doubt and made the decision to work with the Taarifa Project.

Rooftop view of Dar es Salaam

Rooftop view of Dar es Salaam

 

checking out @ShrimpingIt's self-made Arduino during the break

Meeting maker researchers – the DENs DIY researchers colloquium

I’ve organised a RCUK Digital Economy CDT Network- funded workshop leaning on the principles of a barCamp for researchers across the UK who are interested in making/crafts/hacking and maker culture on the day before MakerFaire UK 2014 last weekend (if you want more information about it, either ask me or check out the webpage), and the feedback I’ve received was quite good – My aim for this workshop was to get a feel of what “maker research” in the UK is focussing on and what the topics of interest from an academic perspective are, and I do think that goal has been achieved, thanks to everyone who participated and shared their thoughts on the subject!

We’ve had quite a lively mix of participants, from hardware hackers to documentary makers, creative communities such as the comic maker scene to crowdsourcing topics, textile crafters and many many more.

The entire event was organised in a very ad-hoc manner, with only two weeks time from registration opening to the event happening, the turnout turned out to be very good, and we’re going to keep the conversations we’ve started alive, so I’m as happy as I can possibly be!

MakerFaire itself was awesome too, had good chats with awesome folks, among those the EPIK project, who are enabling kids to learn programming in Java by developing mods for Minecraft, and the always-inspiring Nottingham Hackspace  as well as the Hackspace Foundation folks, who are trying to connect all hackspaces across the UK to share knowledge within these.

checking out @ShrimpingIt's self-made Arduino during the break

checking out @ShrimpingIt’s make-your-own-Arduino kit during the break

A big thank you for everyone involved in making this happen, especially David Green and the Digital Interaction Group at Newcastle University’s Culture Lab, who provided us with their workshop area to set the proper scene for our gathering!

 

[edit: the RCUK Digital Economy Network now has its own website, therefore I updated the link]