Fun with translucency

I really enjoyed this project, which uses translucency in PNG files to fun effect:

So I decided to do a quick remix:

As part of my Webmaker in a Year efforts, I’ve also started the Javascript lesson in Codecademy, which so far isn’t that intimidating at all.

I’m also browsing this guide on learning Node.js, although it might be a while until I can really do something with it.

Super Mario Wall

This took longer than I’d like to admit (two days worth), but I finally got the positioning down (more or less). Instead of using px as measurements, I switched to em and percentages, so that the objects stay (to some extent) in the same spot no matter the size of the page.

Also worked on cleaning up my code and adding a coin and some links. Learned how to suppress the underline in a link and made an entire div a link. (easter egg!)

The text still isn’t centering properly, so will have to keep playing.

Mario Wall

Today I tried out Google Fonts but think I made a mistake, since they weren’t displaying properly. So then I went crazy trying to recreate a Super Mario scene, using images picked up across the web. I still can’t get the li to align properly. But, knowing it’s far from perfect, still happy with how far I got!

Webmaker in a Year

After publishing this, Laura generously sent me a remixed comic with very cool CSS tricks. Will try these out tomorrow!

Terms and Conditions May Apply

Trailer for an informative and timely documentary about online privacy, a project by Demand Progress. Check it out and take action.

Happy 4th of July! Now Stop Watching Us.

Taiwanese animation about Prism, Stop Watching Us, and an NSA octopus.

Making a difference by making the web

These days, with all the Prism/Tempura surveillance we’re learning about, one can feel quite powerless.

For many it seems that there are just two responses: to either disengage with the web and go completely offline or to shrug and say “I’ve got nothing to hide.”

While it’s only a very small piece of a larger effort, I’m proud to be working with people who care about a third way.

A Third Way: Teach the Web

We believe in user empowerment that balances free expression online with a respect for user privacy.

We want to help people take control of their digital lives—and foster a user-centric web. We can rebuild the web we lost.

To get there, we need to help people discover the joy of making things on the web. It’s important to show that the web is not a scary place. It is fun and useful to participate online while still controlling your data. This is a valuable lesson and one that should trump flashy apps or simple convenience.

I’d like to share some stories about people who volunteer to teach the web. Be it in their homes, their neighborhood shops, their city squares, or wherever, these are real stories about people who want to empower users of the web.

It’s grassroots, it’s modest, but it’s a start.

Teach your family

Activism starts at home. You begin with the people you care about, the people closest you.

Like the activists who install Firefox for their friends and families, teaching the web at home doesn’t cost anything and is sustainable. You don’t have to worry about big budgets or outreach. Just help the people in your living room.

This is Unnati, a 14 year-old webmaker. Under the mentorship of Gauthamraj, she’s gone from learning about the web to teaching it. At home, she’s taught her mother and father how to make the web. And now this year, bolstered by her new confidence in teaching, she’s organizing a bigger event in her city.

And there’s Brendan, who started a maker club with his kids. Together they try out fun projects each week and use the web to blog about them. The web is a platform that helps the family find new things to make and to share them with the world.

Teach your neighbors

Sometimes to make a difference, you want to go outside your home. Teaching your neighbors is a natural next step. It’s about giving back to your community and helping people near you.

That’s what Meraj did. He visited a shopkeeper on the corner, and taught them how to hack. The shopkeeper made a new website for his store, and his whole family left feeling empowered and joyful about the possibilities of the web.

Recently, the Greek government abruptly shut down the state broadcaster, ERT, as part of its ongoing austerity drive. To help keep the news on air, Nikos, Freddy and Pierros ran workshops to teach webmaking and Open News tools to professional and citizen journalists. Set up in a public square, they taught fellow Greek citizens how to be the makers of their own news.

Teach the teachers

Once you’ve taught your family and your neighbors, the next step is to teach other people how to teach the web. This means helping others develop techniques and tools that they can use to teach their family and neighbors.

This step is harder, but ultimately very powerful. It can increase the impact of grassroots engagement by an order of magnitude.

Lawrence and San James organized their first “train the trainer” event in Kampala, Uganda. They wanted to host a multi-stop webmaking tour to local schools, and in order to teach all those students, they needed more mentors.

Using techniques from our training in Athens, Lawrence and San James successfully mentored 40 new teachers. Lawrence noted, “It didn’t feel like a training but like a collaborative exchange of knowledge and ideas on hacking the web.”

To scale these efforts even more, we launched an online training/collaboration called Teach the Web. With nearly 6,000 participants, and despite all the associated challenges of coordinating and mentoring so many people, it was incredibly rewarding to find so many kindred spirits who care about making the web.

These are stories from the participants in this course. And there are many more.

The Web is made by people

As the first iteration of the #teachtheweb course comes to a close this week, we’re asking ourselves: what next?

There are a several promising opportunities. Several mentors are localizing the course and will run the it again in different languages, including Spanish, French and hopefully others.

We’d also like to repeat the course, rolling in what we learned this time around. Likely, the course will be shorter (3 weeks instead of 9) and perhaps involve more tools than just webmaker ones.

I’d also love to see more resources on how to teach privacy. I whipped up a prototype to teach encryption, using material from the EFF. But there’s a lot more we can do to make these topics approachable, fun and easy to learn.

As we look to what else we can do, how we can promote a third way of online participation, I’m reminded of a story Jeannie told. She was helping a young learner make his first website. After publishing on the web, something clicked for him. He said, “Wow, so if I can make and share something on the web, does that mean that everything on the web is made by people?”

Yes, yes it is. And we can do our part to help more people not be intimated or indifferent about the web, but instead to make things together and celebrate our shared, connected humanity.

Orwell vs. Kafka: Against nothing-to-hide

In debates about the need to protect privacy, the most common response from people is, “Well, I have nothing to hide.”

Daniel J. Solove in The Chronicle of Higher Education unpacks this reply and provides nuanced arguments about why the usual back-and-forth on privacy is missing a key point.

Solove argues that usually, when people describe the abuses of personal data, they refer to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. The novel describes a harrowing totalitarian government that watches its citizens obsessively and demands strict discipline. Yet when faced with a Big Brother situation, many citizens may not be troubled by severe government monitoring. Especially if that information is seen as trivial, such as the hotels they stay at, the books they own, or the kind of beverages they drink.

Instead of Orwell, Solove recommends the metaphor from Franz Kafka’s The Trial:

Kafka’s novel centers around a man who is arrested but not informed why. He desperately tries to find out what triggered his arrest and what’s in store for him. He finds out that a mysterious court system has a dossier on him and is investigating him, but he’s unable to learn much more. The Trial depicts a bureaucracy with inscrutable purposes that uses people’s information to make important decisions about them, yet denies the people the ability to participate in how their information is used.

The Solove concludes that the real concern is not necessarily the collection of data, but the processing of it.

Legal and policy solutions focus too much on the problems under the Orwellian metaphor—those of surveillance—and aren’t adequately addressing the Kafkaesque problems—those of information processing. The difficulty is that commentators are trying to conceive of the problems caused by databases in terms of surveillance when, in fact, those problems are different.

The individual, living in our contemporary all-too-real Trial, is frustrated by a system in which they feel helpless and powerless. It’s not about inhibiting behavior through monitoring, but rather the denial of participation in data processing.

Privacy is often threatened not by a single egregious act but by the slow accretion of a series of relatively minor acts.

It’s a great read.

24-Hour Bookclub

[24-Hour Bookclub](24-Hour Bookclub is a reading flashmob organized by Diana Kimball and Max Temkin. Every few months, we pick a book, read it in one day, and talk about it on the internet.) is a reading flashmob organized by Diana Kimball and Max Temkin. Every few months, we pick a book, read it in one day, and talk about it on the internet.

Nice idea. Think I’ll dive into the first read, Jack Cheng’s These Days.

Married

All a-glow still from our wedding last week. Couldn’t be happier, Peter!

PS. Some meme-tastic hadouken images as well.