Teens, Schools, and Blogs [en]

Teenagers are getting in trouble in France for saying insulting things about their teachers on their blogs.

[fr] Un article dans Le Monde et un passage sur France 3 pour les ados virés de l'école à  cause de leur skyblog. Cet article fait un peu le tour de la mauvaise presse de Skyblog, et de la problèmatique générale des ados et des blogs telle que je la vois.

As I mentioned yesterday, the French press is talking about the fact that more and more school kids are being chucked out of school for having insulted their teachers on their skyblogs. After the article in Libération on Tuesday, today we have another (very similar) article in Le Monde, and coverage on French national TV midday news.

No big surprise for me. First of all, despite employing three full-time moderators (my sources will remain confidential), Skyblog’s prime interest remains money, and is in no way trying to provide a service where teenagers can be constructive, learn, and be protected.

This isn’t the first nasty blogging story they are involved with: a few months ago, two teenagers reportedly commited suicide after having announced it on their skyblog. A few weeks later, when the documentary for Mise au Point was being prepared, the journalist was investigating an episode in Geneva where racist statements on skyblogs leading to real fights made a youth centre decide to forbid access to the platform from their computers. Skyblog refused to comment, when he contacted them to enquire about their moderation policy. As I stated in my interview after that, moderation is technically possible. You only need to decide to attribute sufficient ressources to do it properly, which means it must be pretty high up on your company’s priority list. 🙂

The two incidents I’ve had first-hand accounts of in local schools involved skyblogs, too.

The second reason I’m not too surprised this kind of issue is coming up is that teens are left to explore the internet and blogging on their own, for the most part. Parents don’t know much about what is going on online, though they probably do know about e-mails and search engines. I remember an article (unavailable now, thanks to paying archives) which stated that many consumers of child porn are in fact teenagers. Teachers don’t know much more. Of course, schools do the usualy prevention stuff (don’t talk to strangers, don’t give your name, beware of porn and pedophiles), which is good — but it is not sufficient.

Teenagers are content providers on the internet. They are putting loads of their photographs online. (I’ve noticed that the representation teens around here have of a weblog is in fact a “skyblog”, meaning an online photo album where friends can comment.) They are talking about themselves. For them, blogs are an extension of recess talks, text messages, and MSN messenger.

As I’ve said before and will keep saying, blogging is good, teens need to “learn” it, but they need guidance — and for that, they need to come in contact with adults who know what they are talking about. And we need people amongst those designing the “internet prevention” modules who are experienced bloggers.

The nature of the internet is tricky when it comes to privacy (I mean, we as adults have a hard enough time dealing with some of these issues!) and teens tend to consider that what they put online is personal, in a sense that school shouldn’t meddle with it. They don’t realise they can be held accountable by their school or justice for silly things they write on the net, even when it is done outside school hours.

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Podcasting and Beercasting Thoughts [en]

Some thoughts on podcasting, and audio vs. text. A failed attempt at beercasting last Saturday, with link to the (very crappy) audio files.

[fr] Quelques réflexions sur le contenu audio (podcasting) dans les blogs, en particulier sur le fait qu'on ne peut pas "écouter en diagonale" et que cela impose donc une exigence de qualité plus grande pour le contenu audio que le contenu textuel. Première tentative d'enregistrement de conversation (beercasting au jus de pomme) lors de la rencontre de bloguers à  Bâle, samedi passé.

During the Basel Blogmeet, somebody mentioned podcasting.

I’ve got my thoughts and theories on audioblogging (of which podcasting is one form). I think it’s great to hear people talking. I’ve got some audio content on my site (whether provided by me, or by third parties) and if I wasn’t in want for a mike and sound editing skills, I’d be providing more. However, audio blogging will never kill text blogging (if anybody out there was having such a preposterous thought).

The great disadvantage of audio content is that you cannot skim it. You can fast-forward, of course, and jump sections, but you can’t go quickly through the content and resume a normal speed if something catches your ear, as you do with written content. Audio is a “fixed speed” medium (ok, you can accelerate it slightly, but it becomes unintelligible quickly). It takes longer to listen to something than to read it.

The big advantage of audio, however, is that it doesn’t use your eyes. Audiobooks haven’t taken over the market share of normal books, but one might find it nice to listen to an audiobook in the car (where one cannot read whilst driving). If you’re sight-impaired, of course, the issue takes a different colour, if I may say.

Transcripts and indexes of audio content are precious… but what a huge amount of work!

This means, in my opinion, that your audio content must be good from start to finish, if you want to keep people hooked.

If I start reading a blog post and it doesn’t catch my attention after a few lines, I’ll skip to the next paragraph, skim a bit, and maybe decide that it is worth reading after all. If I’m listening to audio content and it gets boring, I might fast-forward a bit, but I’ll land blind. The index will help me sort through the topics that may interest me, but it won’t help me deal with intermittence or absence of quality. If I listen to your podcast and it’s lousy, am I going to keep listening in hope that it gets better? Will I try again if I’ve listened to 30 minutes of it and it wasn’t worth it? I think that if you want a podcast to be successful, you have to be much more strict on quality than with written material.

Anyway, back to beercasting. When Suw and I met in London last summer, we talked about audioblogging (one word or two?), and agreed on the fact that one of the departments in which audio could shine was in reproducing conversations. We had a half-hearted plan to call each other and record the conversation, but we never did it, of course. We’ve got a more serious plan now to do it on Skype (less technical difficulties). Have you realised how talking with somebody helps shapes ideas and thoughts, and express them clearly? There is something about being more than one that cannot be duplicated when one is alone. It introduces a dynamic.

Well, that’s what beercasting is about. Get together, have a conversation, and stick it on the web. So when we started talking about podcasting on Saturday evening, I suddenly remembered beercasting, and must have said something about it, because Ben whipped out his phone, switched on the recording function, and set it on the table. He had been provoked by my statement that podcasting (and beercasting) was done with an iPod 🙂

Well, a few audio files are now online one Ben’s site. If you’re interested in loud static and café background noise, and in hearing me yelling my head off to try to communicate with my fellow bloggers (with bonus German content), I recommend you start with Recording2. It’s bad, remember. Don’t say you weren’t warned. We’ll do better next time!

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The Lee Bryant Experiment [en]

An account of the “Lee Bryant Experiment”, where I posted his write-up of his talk into SubEthaEdit bit by bit as he was talking. Some ideas about note-taking, talking, presentations, and write-ups.

[fr] Lorsque Lee Bryant a donné sa conférence à  BlogTalk, j'ai collé la version écrite de ce qu'il disait dans SubEthaEdit, à  mesure qu'il parlait. Cela paraissait une idée intéressante à  expérimenter quand j'ai offert de le faire, mais l'expérience n'était pas concluante. Cela m'a cependant amené à  m'interroger sur les rôles respectifs du discours proprement dit, du support visuel (dias, présentation), de la prise de notes, et de la publication par écrit du contenu d'une conférence.

So, what was this “Lee Bryant Experiment” I was talking about? No, we did not replace Mr. Bryant by a cyborg-lee during the conference so that he could go and have coffee during his own talk. We simply pushed the whole collaborative note-taking experience one step futher.

Lee mentioned during the first afternoon or BlogTalk that his talk was a bit long, and that he was debating whether to rush thr0ugh it or cut stuff out. I of course suggested cutting things out, but then, that meant that some of the things he wanted to say would not reach the audience. Then we had this idea: paste a written, more detailed, version of his talk into SubEthaEdit while he was talking. I offered to do it. We would annotate his notes, and then stick it all up on the wiki. It sounded like a great idea, and a fun thing to do.

I had a few doubts about it in the morning (so had Lee), worried that it would divert the “note-taker’s” attention from what he was actually saying. However, we decided to go ahead and do it, to see what happened.

I didn’t have much trouble keeping up with Lee’s talk and slides and pasting chunks of his text into the common document as he talked. However, I quickly noticed that this completely killed the note-taking. And it got me thinking.

Was that a problem? Is note-taking important, if you get a transcript or detailed paper of the talk afterwards? I think it is. I think that note-taking as a process is important. I know I listen differently whether I am taking notes or not. There is something to be said for reformulating what you’re listening to on the fly. To me, it clearly aids the integration of what is being said. Now, to what extent does collaborative note-taking defeat that? Open question.

Notes are also more succint than the presentation. One interest of note-taking for me is that I summarize in quickly-readable form what I got out of the presentation. Great for refreshing memories.

So yes, I think that was a problem. I don’t think it’s a good idea to give the audience too much text to read during a talk. That goes for slides too. For me, slides should give visual cues to help the audience keep track of where we are in the talk, and what is being said. They shouldn’t contain “stuff to read while you listen” — you can’t read and listen at the same time. If slides are content-heavy, then the talk should be a comment of the slides, and not something done “in parallel with the slides in the background.”

I think a written version of a talk, especially if it is more detailed than the talk itself, should never be made available before or during a talk. I was told that, by the way, in the 3-day project management course I followed while I was at Orange: when presenting something, don’t hand anything out to people unless you want them to stop listening to you.

What would have made more sense, in hindsight, would have been to put up the written version of Lee’s talk on the wiki in parallel with the notes we would have taken, and allow people to comment the paper. Another thing to try, maybe, would be to put only the outline in the SubEthaEdit document — but then, I noticed that when people are writing they rarely scroll down to see what is written below in the document. Note-taking in a text editor does tend to remain a pretty linear operation.

To summarize, I would say that for me, this experiment was a failure. It was not a failure in the sense that we managed to do what had planned to do, and that it worked, but it was a failure in the sense that what we did failed to give any added value to Lee’s talk.

Think otherwise? Open to discussion.

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A Tourist in India [en]

Some thoughts about being a tourist in India, and how I hate being a tourist.

– ‘Your country?’ Asks the man on the bus.
– ‘Switzerland.’
– ‘Svizerrland!? Ooh. Why you are not staying there?’
– ‘I am staying there. I came on holiday to visit some friends. I used to live in Pune.’
– ‘Ooh, so you are just tourist, then!’
– ‘Well, er…’

That was a week or two back, on the overcrowded bus which was finally taking me down to E-Square to see Ek Haseena Thi. I’ve always hated being associated with ‘tourists’, in India or elsewhere.

Tourists come to see, not to share. They watch the world outside from cozy A/C boxes. They are impolite, they don’t know how to dress or behave, they can’t eat the food or find their way around without a map. They see what they are meant to see, stay in places specially designed for them, and buy things in shops that nobody else would buy. They have money, lots of it.

In some ways, I have to admit that I am indeed a tourist. I take lots of photographs. I buy loads of stuff in shops to bring back to Switzerland for my enjoyment and that of others. I don’t really keep an eye on what I spend, I eat in nice places, I go to the cinema as often as I like.

But on the other hand, I much prefer trying to share the life of ‘normal’ people or just walk around the town I’m staying in, rather than sleep in expensive places and do the things that only the tourists do.

I like people. I do my best not to turn them into objects. I like everyday life. I like soaking in the atmosphere of a place or time.

I’m very suspicious of other foreigners I come upon in India. I kind of assume that they are not like me, more the ‘hippy-dippy’ type, as Aleika and I used to call them. Some sort of anti-tourist snobism, in a way.

Of course, I’m wrong. Lots of foreigners in India are certainly nice people. I almost walked off for ever after saying hello to Aleika, mistakenly assuming she would be ‘at the ashram’. Quite a few of my friends from Switzerland or elsewhere have been to India, so they would therefore certainly have been ‘foreigners nice to know’ had I met them in India.

Ironically, I find myself looking at other foreigners with as much curiosity and maybe more questions as many Indians who see me walk by. Why are they here? What brought them to India? What are they looking for? How long are they staying? Do they ‘fit in’ or not in their home culture? What is their life like here?

The result is that I’ve had very little contact with other foreigners in India, and I’m aware that I’m probably passing by people who would be interesting to know. I keep myself ‘aside’, comfortably settled on a jute bag full of preconceptions and marked ‘Fab India, Pune’.

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The Very Thirsty Camel [en]

Once upon a time there was a camel, who lived in the dry, scorching desert. Long ago, he had drunk poisonous water out of an oasis, and it had made him very, very sick. What a bitter experience! He had very nearly died.

So this camel had become a very cautious camel: he avoided water so that he wouldn’t be sick again. He was thirsty, of course, but he preferred that to risking death again. He would wander around and go past the oases without so much as touching their water. He was a very thirsty camel.

Once in a while, however, he would reach an oasis where other camels were drinking. When that happened, he would start drinking there too, as the water was obviously safe. But this camel was so thirsty that once he started, he would drink up the whole oasis, leaving nothing behind him but a dry patch of mud.

But, will you ask, how did we get to know about this camel and his strange behaviour? Actually, the answer is pretty simple (aside from the dried-up oases, of course). You see, as this camel drank only so very rarely, and so much at a time, he had developed no less than twenty-seven humps on his back, attracting the attention of all the camel-watchers in the desert.

Parable told by J.-F. H.

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Keeping The Flat Clean: Living Space As User Interface [en]

How I applied what I have understood about designing user interfaces to organising my flat so that it too is ‘usable’ and remains clean.

One of my ongoing post-study projects is reorganising my flat from top to bottom, hopefully throwing out half my stuff in the process. I have been thinking a bit about the way I store things.

First of all, I tend to try to minimise waste of space. I will organise things into cupboards and drawers so that they occupy the less space possible. Second, I tend to organise things with taxonomy rather than function in mind. I will try to store objects of the same type together, regardless of their respective frequency of use.

The result is a perpetually messy flat, with whole areas that I never use (places I do not go, cupboards I never open).

I have therefore been rethinking my whole living environment in terms of function and process. What do I use this thing for, and when? How do I deal with common tasks like washing up or doing my mail? And most important, how does clutter arise? An environment where each thing has a place is not sufficient to prevent clutter. If clutter arises, it is not due to “laziness”. It is because the storage system is not usable enough. It was not designed with the user in mind.

I have switched to considering my living space as a user interface rather than as a library of categorised items.

If I catch myself dumping something on the table instead of putting it away, I’ll try to identify what is preventing me from putting it where it belongs. I’ll try to bring this “where it belongs” closer to where I am naturally tempted to put it. (Instead of thinking “ooh I’m a bad girl, I’m not putting things away as I should,” which we all agree does not help in the least.)

Here are a couple of examples of what I have been doing.

First, I identified the main sources of clutter in my flat: dirty kitchen things, clothes, papers and books. Then I tried to analyse how these things ended up lying about my whole flat. I know that I can clean my flat spotless, and that within a couple of weeks it will be messy again. So obviously, there are things I do mechanically which create clutter. Something which breaks the natural “keeping clean” flow.

Let’s take the dirty dishes to start with. (Not the most glamorous example, but I’m sure there are many of you out there who can relate.) Why do I leave cups, glasses, or even plates lying around in various places? A first reason for this, obviously, is that I do not only eat in my kitchen. That’s a fact we will just have to live with. But why don’t I bring things back to the kitchen? Well, more often than not, the kitchen is in such a state that there wouldn’t really be any place to put them. The sink, of course, is already full of dirty dishes. We have here are perfect example of how disorganisation in one area leads to clutter elsewhere.

One factor which helps stuff pile up in my sink (despite my “fool-proof” method for taming dirty dishes) is that I usually have to make space on the drainer before I start washing up. (I’m one of these people who don’t dry dishes but leave them on the drainer to put them away “later”.) And putting the dishes away is a pain because my cupboard is so crammed with stuff that I have to empty half of it before being able to put my plates were they belong. That is where the bottleneck is. Or the limiting factor, if you prefer.

I realised that out of my four kitchen cupboards, there are only two that I regularly open. I proceeded to empty all the junk out of the others and get rid of the most of it (if I never open the cupboards, then I can’t really need what’s inside them, can I?) I then reorganised the things I use on a regular basis in all the available cupboards, focusing on “how easy will it be to put it back there?” rather than “could I use less space for this?”

One significant result concerns plates. (Don’t worry, we’ll soon be done with the kitchen things.) I have big plates and small plates, four of each. I used to keep the small plates piled up on the big ones, which meant that each time I wanted to put a big plate back in the cupboard, I had to lift up all the small plates first (see what I mean?) That didn’t help prevent things from accumulating on the drainer. Now I have the small plates on one shelf, and big ones on another. I use up more storage space, but it’s easier to put things away. I have rearranged all my kitchen cupboards along the same principle, and the kitchen is now much more usable.

This post is getting much longer than what I expected. However, I don’t want to leave you without letting you know what I have come up with for dealing with my incoming mail. I have been using a tray-based system for sorting paperwork for a long time, but it has shown its limitations regularly over the past years. The new system still uses trays, that groups papers according to what I have to do with them instead of what they are. So now, this is what my trays look like; I’ll see as I use it if it needs any modifications:

  • to do (bills to pay, things to investigate or have a closer look at)
  • to do, ASAP (anything urgent)
  • to file, daily business (bank papers, medical papers, salary slips)
  • to file, important (tax stuff and other important things)
  • to look at (optional) before throwing out (various newspapers, information leaflets)
  • to throw out (envelopes and anything else I don’t keep; the bin is often not close at hand)
  • to sort (anything unopened; sometimes I fetch my mail and don’t deal with it straight away

In conclusion, here is my line of conduct:

  1. pay attention to cupboards that are never opened or shelves that are never reached at
  2. keep an eye on what I do automatically and try to adapt the environment
  3. think “actions”, “process”, and “frequency” instead of “categories” and “families”
  4. accept my limitations

The last point is important: there will always be clean washing waiting to be ironed, because no matter how hard I try, I’ll never get around to ironing and putting it away as soon as it’s dry. I therefore need to take this into account and explicitly plan a space for my huge pile of Clothes Waiting To Be Ironed, even if in an ideal world, Clothes Waiting To Be Ironed should not be around.

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Nuits entre amis [en]

Hier soir au Château (un lieu à  ne pas rater si vous visitez ma belle ville), question de nos voisins de table suite à  une anecdote racontée par ma soeur adorée: “Le mec qui passe la nuit dans le même lit qu’une fille qui lui plaît sans la toucher, il marque des points, ou bien?”

Réponse d’Isabelle avec démonstration en quatre points: oui, dans tous les cas de figure il marque des points. Regardons ces quatre hypothèses:

Petit “a”: la fille n’a en fait pas envie.
Le mec marque des points, parce qu’il reste “correct” et ne lui fait pas d’avances qu’elle refuserait, ce qui mettrait à  mal la relation “amicale”.
Petit “b”: la fille aurait envie, mais elle est timide et a la trouille.
Le mec marque des points, parce qu’elle se sent respectée et pas brusquée. Du coup, elle peut avoir moins peur et plus envie pour la prochaine fois.
Petit “c”: la fille aurait envie, mais aimerait qu’il fasse le premier pas.
Le mec marque des points, parce que la fille sera monstre frustrée, ce qui ne manquera pas de verser de l’huile sur le feu de son désir.
Petit “d”: la fille en a envie et n’hésite pas à  prendre l’initiative.
Le mec marque des points, parce que bingo!


Moralité, les mecs: dormez “entre amis” avec les nanas sans vous jeter sur elles, ça ne peut pas faire de mal! 🙂

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Souvenir élastique [en]

Les souvenirs se modifient avec le temps. C’est un phénomène connu, recherché et documenté. Pourtant, on croit à  nos souvenirs. Il est dans leur nature de nous paraître le reflet exact de ce qu’il s’est passé ou de comment l’on s’est senti.

Mes souvenirs sont en train de tricher. Je le sais, parce que j’ai pris des notes sur le moment. Mon intellect a tout enregistré et sait très bien comment je me sentais à  ce moment-là , mais je me mets à  croire ma mémoire qui me dit que c’était autrement.

Alors les regrets commencent à  prendre le pas sur ma certitude d’avoir agi au plus près de mes émotions, d’avoir été fidèle à  qui je suis, et de ne pas avoir abdiqué une part de moi-même pour un possible qui semblait s’offrir.

Ou pas.

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Du respect de la peur [en]

On obtient bien plus des gens en respectant leurs peurs, plutôt qu’en tentant de les nier ou de les minimiser.

C’est valable également pour soi-même.

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Dehydration [en]

Last night, I came home from a pretty intensive judo training hardly feeling thirsty at all. (As I am pretty out of shape, it doesn’t take much to make training “intensive”.) I remember that pre-India, I used to rush for the tap at the end of my judo classes — when I was on to thirsty to wait for the end of the class.

My experiences with dehydration in India taught me a couple of things. I think the revelation came to me when recovering from my sickness after the vedic sacrifice.

First of all, I learnt to recognise the signs of mild dehydration (aside from fainting in airports, of course). As far as I’m concerned, a sure sign that I am starting to be dehydrated is when I feel thirsty, drink until I am not thirsty anymore, and feel thirsty again ten minutes later.

The corollary of this remarkable observation is that you build up your “water capital” over the space of days, not hours. This means that if you know that you are going to dehydrate yourself a bit (for example by sweating on judo mats) it is no use to make sure you drink “enough” a couple of hours before you start. You need to drink “enough” during the previous couple of days. I’m not teaching anything to those of you will run marathons.

I am aware there is nothing revolutionary at all in noticing this. It is pretty simple and straightforward. I am actually amazed that it has not always been obvious to me. I wonder at the fact that I didn’t understand why judo classes sometimes made me thirsty, and sometimes not. Now I know.

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