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1Malaysia email - 1 Identity to rule them all?

OK a rapid one to talk about the just-announced plan by the Malaysian government. Here are some details:
The 1 Malaysia concept is a brainchild of Najib to bring unity among Malaysians when he took power in April 2009.

Najib disclosed today the email account will allow direct and secure communication between the public and the government, and is part of a new one-stop web portal for government services.

Najib said the portal will be developed by Tricubes and provide services such as social networking, online bill payment and citizen application development to some 16 million Malaysians. (The Malaysian Insider)

It's the first time I've heard of a government supplying emails to its people.

I can see one advantage. I've been reflecting more and more recently about how the convergence of on and offline activities is developing a situation where people move seamlessly between these different spheres of social interaction. With smartphones this can be very obvious (i.e. the person you're talking with keeps tweeting while talking to you), and the directions in which the geolocational affordances of mobile telephony are opening up are as yet unclear.

But there are many other more prosaic aspects of the on and offline convergence: doing your banking online, arranging your party on Facebook, ordering a pizza online. These all require identification, and more and more we are seeing Facebook and Google profiles becoming the default 'ID card' online.

The problem is that these are commercial interests, and one's formal, legal, identity should be regulated by a responsible state. Leaving it up to commercial interests leaves open pathways to abuse. Not least, privacy: for example, I wish that there was a law that said that we can delete **all** our details from any website that we registered with - at the moment, you have to register with many websites just to access their services - imagine if a shop didn't allow you in unless you filled out a form with your name, phone number, etc, first? Why do we have to do it online?

So, the answer would be a centralised (or some form of distributed system, for greater security) repository which can confirm our identity on request (e.g. for age, like when YouTube says the content of a video is not for children), but not **share** our data with the website. In other words, like showing your IC to prove your age at a pub - they don't get to keep all your details, but they know you're old enough.

So, I see a future when there is a state-certified online identity system. It could be done through logging on with a fingerprint detector, or some such highly secure mechanism. Embedded chips why not.

Before you start yelling Big Brother! at me, hold on. I agree it is open to abuse, and some governments are not to be trusted. But if it was a situation where you don't need to identify yourself to surf the web, but if you want, you can use this ID to register with forums, shops, banking online, etc. it could be really useful. A way to protect your privacy. It could also be an effective way of separating children from adult content.

There has to be an iron-clad way of ensuring nobody can track your surfing practices based on your secure identity, i.e. no cookies to follow you around online.

So. The only good reason I can think of having a 1Malaysia email account is that it would be verified and connected to one's IC. Then it could start to be the basis of such a verifiable online identity - to be used as the citizen wishes. But without a really careful plan, and a really secure system, it is not likely to succeed in providing that service.

Computational thinking and the digital natives.


The 'digital natives' argument is that people who were born in world of omnipresent computing and internet (let's say born 1990 or later) will be able to intuitively understand computers in a way that 'digital immigrants' like me, who remember writing essays by hand at university, and writing snail mail letters to friend, cannnot.

However, it's my observation that the majority of the 'digital natives' just take computing and the internet for granted, and know little about what goes on behind the interface they are able to use. This says something good about the GUI design paradigm, but also means that perhaps innovation is not happening as much as it could be.

When my son goes to school, I would like him to be taught about computers in the same manner as learning to write and do sums. This is apparently the idea promulgated by Jeanette Wing
The term computational thinking (CT) was coined by Jeannette Wing (2006) to describe a set of thinking patterns that involve systematically and efficiently processing information and tasks. CT involves defining, understanding, and solving problems; reasoning at multiple levels of abstraction; understanding and applying automation; and understanding the dimensions of scale. While the concept has emerged from computer science, students can engage in CT with or without a computer. CT draws on a rich legacy of studies of human cognition, such as systems thinking, problem solving, and design thinking.(The ITEST Small Group on Computational Thinking)

I think this means that computers are designed according to a basic logic, and by teaching that logic one can enable people to engage with computers as reconfigurable technology, not black boxes which only do what they've been sold to you as doing.

It's about empowering the next generation to take technology in a direction that integrates it on an individual level in ways that are given direction by persons, and not by corporations and governments.

So - for example - children could be given their own version of the One Laptop Per Child, a sturdy piece of hardware, with an open source basic platform, and taught how to write their own programs into it. Imagine - they could write programs that help them to learn to read, or do maths.

What do you think?


The 15-minute blog post.
I like to blog, but I can't afford to spend a lot of time on it. Solution: limit myself to 15 minutes per post.
One link, one picture maximum.
All comments, critiques and corrections are welcome. Thank you.

Xpax, Blackberry, Party, Future

Doing research as a blog anthropologist, I get sick of people saying, "But what's happening in 'real life'?"...

I mean, what's NOT real about talking, sharing and ranting with friends and acquaintances? Humans have been doing that since the first barbecue outside of a cave in Africa - is it more real because it's happening in a bar, at work or at school; then when it's happening while you're on the move and keeping in contact with friends around town, overseas, or at home? Does anyone ever say letters aren't 'real'?!

The point is - you can do BOTH of these! You can have a life online AND offline - each one complements the other, and that's the way the future's going to be. Get on the train (or more likely the maglev), and get with the future!

In the future, everyone is going to have presence online as well as offline. They'll even be provided by the government, and kids in playschools will be taught how to play online, just like they're taught how to cross the road safely. The technology will be portable nanocomputers, inserted under the skin and with controls directly from the brain (for example).

OK - we're not there yet :-O

But to get a feel of it you are going to need one thing - that's a smartphone, like a BlackBerry. So you can surf the net, update your social media, call your family, write emails, play games (important that one) - basically, have your own communications centre wherever you go...

OK - any blogger, tweeter or Facebooker wants to be able to chat with friends, do some IM'ing or check Facebook while they're out and about, but... you're going to be worried about the cost, right? I mean, if each tweet, IM message or Facebook update costs money, the bill is gonna be stiff right?

Well - I have to say that Xpax have a good solution here - RM1 per day for prepaid UNLIMITED ACCESS! So - load up with RM 30 at the beginning of the month and you're safe for thirty days.
Check out the details on the Xpax site. The RM1/day deal is for social networking sites - for unlimited internet surfing, etc, it's RM2.50 a day.

"No hidden clauses, no upfront payment" - sounds good enough to me :-D

So - the other problem with switching phones is changing your telephone number, right...? No - wrong! With Mobile Number Portability now available in Malaysia, you don't have to change your number anymore.

At the Xberry party the BlackBerry Curve smartphone 8520 was going at RM888, but if you hurry you can still get a special deal by going to any Blue Cube outlet: get a reload for RM50 and you'll be able to get the Blackberry for RM998, one week free access, and an imported skin.

Wait too long (after November 15) and the price will go back to RM1188.

I'm too skint at the moment even to get it at RM888, but at the Xpax Blackberry party, if I had been able to check Twitter I would have known that the prize draw was going on! And maybe won a free Blackberry!
tweet xpax blackberry party

OK you're gonna say - just pay more attention! But I was!

I was paying attention to an amazing beatboxer Shawn Lee and spotting celebrity bloggers such as Cheesie and and upcoming superblogger/journalist/allround party animal jessie ;-)
shawn lee ringo cheesie benjicajess xpax

and Flizzow couldn't be avoided...
Flizzow xpax

nor could Arabyrd
arabyrd xpax

(not to forget the trips to the VVIP section for free flow, food and dancing...)
(and meeting kruel74, dustyhawk, YapThomas, aprilyim, bernard and others who I forgot...)

So all I can say is thanks Xpax and Nuffnang for the party!

Get a a Blackberry Curve to lead your life from in front - it's your life, your number, and your future :-D

The future of cheating

When I was a lecturer I only remember one specific case where I caught a student red-handed cheating - she had a cheat sheet filled with small and crammed notes on the topic (World Religions 101). No doubt there were some I missed, but generally I don't think it happens an awful lot (at least in the type of place I taught). Copying/passing answers probably happens relatively often, but what I'm talking about is the preplanned full-scale operation.

I remember trying it once, in physics or chemistry: I was scared that I wouldn't remember certain formulas so I copied them onto a small piece of paper and was able to consult it during the test. The thing was, because I had spent the time copying them down so carefully, I actually didn't need the cheat sheet in the test! :-O

Anyway - today's musing is inspired by an article on BBC - China hi-tech exam cheats jailed. Basically, they either got hold of the exam papers from a teacher (who faxed them once the exam started), or scanned them in the exam hall and transmitted them to people outside - then the answers were told to the students using "tiny earpieces"

Invigilating in exams is an extremely boring thing to do, so I would sometimes amuse myself by thinking of different strategies for cheating, and the key thing that stood out was obviously the phone and other wireless devices. The current way of dealing with that is to ban all handphones, PDSs, etc. from the exam halls, but as time goes on - it will become easier and easier to have hidden cameras, transmitter/receivers, etc. (as has been used in China). Looking even further ahead, there will come a time when people can have chips wired in to their brain to 'hear' calls and so on.

Therefore, ultimately, the solution will have to be either use some form of wireless phone jammer, or just go straight ahead and build customised exam halls that are designed like a secure room where no signals can come in or out - i.e. copper in the walls and stuff like that.

The other solution is just to do away with exams - the principle of an exam is that it proves that you have a certain level of knowledge, and you can deliver it in a useful manner while under pressure. This is a very good skill for a doctor, for example, or a lawyer perhaps; but most of us will work with easy access to lots of information, and our key skill has to be able to locate the proper information and use it appropriately. With that in mind, maybe there should be less remember-and-regurgitate exams, and more of the problem-solving type - i.e. you're given a problem, resources (books, certain websites on a restricted intranet) and you have to come up with a solution in a relatively short time.

A cloud over personal computing

I’ve got a problem with so-called ‘Cloud Software’ (e.g. here). Google has been doing it for a while, and now Microsoft is getting into it: basically it means using huge servers of Google or whoever to run applications and store information – so instead of writing your Word document on your computer, you go online and do it via a browser or something.

OK, actually I have no problem with that aspect of it, and it’s probably very useful to someone who doesn’t have a laptop/computer and so on. So good for ‘cloud computing’ in that respect.

My problem is with the name… you hear people saying ‘The data is in a cloud’, kind of like it’s floating in the ether around earth and only you can get at it. In fact, it’s not in a blinking cloud! It’s in Big IT Company’s servers! And they have access to it and can do what they want with it. And you can be sure they’ll have written something into the TOS to say that they can run various algorithms or whatever to ‘improve your service’.

So if you were writing a book, say, or keeping a diary, or planning a new company, or inventing something, and it was all in the ‘cloud’. You actually have a lot less control over it than you would over your own personal computer. It’s back to the old ‘dumb terminal’ days, and if it becomes widespread, the end of the personal computer.

Or maybe, what will happen is that only people rich enough to pay for their own better computer will not have to rely on these services, and everyone else will have to depend on using these 'clouds'. This would mean less choice and less innovation.

At least if they called it something different like… ‘Central Server Service’, or ‘Store-with-us’… or something more realistic. For me it feels like ‘Cloud computing’ is just used to mask the fact that your data will just be stuck with them, and to make it sound all virtual and ethereal, like the term ‘cyberspace’ which makes it sound like anything you do online is in another world unconnected to this one.

OK, just wanted to get that off my chest… :-)

Social software – social intelligence?

Some thoughts…

Consider this quote from Castells, talking about the difference between data, information, knowledge, wisdom, and judgement:

"we must consider how much the recurrent interaction between computers’ programmed decisions and the feedback from their environment can influence future programs, thus modifying the information base and, with it, the knowledge base for decision. In other words, is there self-evolving programming capability?... this does not seem to be the case nowadays. However, there is a co-evolution between the human brain and the computer, learning from each other, but learning from an individual human brain, so that the co-evolution is always specific to a given personality system. So a computer cannot become a subject in its own right, but I could have (actually my grandchildren may have) a computer as an extension of the mind, whose reactions and help affect the mind, inducing individualized co-evolution between people and their machines. So knowledge-management software is a low-level application for routine operations that can be truncated and distributed, but cannot respond to an evolving context, where the critical decisions have to be made.” (Castells 2003:137)

Interesting, and it makes sense to me. My computer has become like an extension of my memory: my memory is not very good, but one could argue that depending on computers has made it worse. How many of you out there know another person’s telephone number off by heart? Apart from your own that is; you probably know a few, but not many. Maybe the ones that you do remember are the ones you have to physically dial a lot (at the office, on the home phone). If you had to depend on your memory for numbers, and didn’t have autodial and all that on your handphones, you would probably remember a lot more. And when your brain has to do the same thing a lot it actually physically changes, different connections are made, and so on – especially when you are younger (see this interview with Jay Giedd, for example).

Therefore, the more we use computers to extend our brains, the more our brains will become less able to perform those functions that the computer takes over. The pessimistic possibility is that we just develop the skills of using a computer (like when you spend ages trying to fix a bug in the wireless connection just so you can send an email…); the more optimistic option is that our brains get liberated from the more mundane tasks and reach ‘higher levels’ – whatever they might be…

Anyway, to get to the social software part. If there is such a thing as ‘social intelligence’, i.e. a form of consciousness that specifically develops with and through dynamic social interaction, then as we use more software to manage our social life (from the contacts function in Outlook, to dating via social networking sites, where ‘compatible’ potential partners are selected for us), what ‘social intelligence’ that we now take for granted will become atrophied? What will replace them? Will it make any difference?

Works cited
Castells, Manuel, and Martin Ince. Conversations with Manuel Castells. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003.
Giedd, J. (n.d.). Interview with Jay Giedd. frontline: inside the teenage brain: interviews: jay giedd, m.d. | PBS. Frontline. Retrieved 27 July 2004, from