The danger your children escaped! Technology!

At school, I was largely a goodie-two-shoes – however, that is to say – I was was aware of the line, and however close I was to it, I did my best to ensure I wasn’t caught crossing it. I’m dubiously proud to say that I never got a detention.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t always successful, and after a particularly creative, episode of circumventing content filtering systems so I could access my webmail (which for some reason was blocked), my parents and I were called into the headmasters office.

Tut. Bad Tim.

After I explained how I simply wanted a way to check my webmail account every day at school during my breaks, the headmaster suggested I might be “addicted” to technology.

Me, being a being a hot blooded young man, retorted:

I’m not sure comparing an interest in technology to illegal substance abuse is appropriate to this conversation.


In hindsight, whilst that clearly wasn’t the way in which they intended the word, I feel this speaks volumes.

During those years of school, I spent many waking hours playing with technology. I certainly spent more time playing with technology than any other single activity, but I wasn’t “addicted” – I was interested, and thirsty to learn.

For inexplicable reasons, there were absolutely no academic opportunities for me to develop these skills, and so using Portable Firefox and Tor to bypass content filtering and access Gmail in my spare time, seemed a relatively productive.

Suggesting I was “addicted” to computers, was just as shortsighted as it would have been to suggest that my more academically studious classmates were “addicted” to revision.

Whilst my punishment (downgraded from suspension to effectively being banned from using any computer in the school), let them keep the perception that content filters work, and stopped me breaking their AUP on a daily basis, they failed to recognise the problem – that they were just years away from being asked why they did not teach “app development”, or indeed any technology subject.

Essentially they were sealing the middle fingered handshake goodbye from me as just a year later, I moved schools, and 18 months later was working in industry.

I hope that in the future, my grandchildren won’t be accused of “being addicted” to their “Raspberry Pi 3000″ – simply because they’re fascinated by how it all works. Please help us make that future.

HOWTO help children imagine they are at home *OR* HOWTO setup a home computer like they are at school (for adults)

I recently spotted a message to the BECTA Safetynet Mailing list from Miles Berry and Terry Freedman.
The message mentioned how they are doing a presentation at BETTS conference in January (apparently some big education conference thingy!) and since they are doing it on

What are your kids learning when you’re not looking?

where they explore things young people learn using computers and IT outside the formal education sphere and activities widely recognised as being educationally beneficial.

To get some hard figures on this they set up a questionnaire for young people to fill asking them of their experiences of how they could and do use computer facilities at home and in educational establishments.

Due to my work with DFEY, I couldn’t help but see the funny side of this, so I wrote these satiric HOWTOs:
(this is not the first time I have written satire!)

Ways to make The School Internet Experience™ more like The Home Internet Experience™:

  • Install Windows XP home on a Celeron 900mhz with 192mb of RAM
  • Network using wifi to the unecrypted wifi AP at the other end of the building
  • Get the least expensive “unlimited” broadband package. (1GB/month is enough for anyone!)
  • Install 5 different p2p programs, 3 of them spyware loaded versions and set them to start on startup.
  • Install 30 day trials of several different antivirus packages but completely ignore them.
  • Install Windows Live Messenger (latest version) and MSN Plus (with the adware)
  • Install the version of Microsoft Works you got with the computer. save all documents in .wps
  • Make sure the only browser you have is IE 6.0 with 3 visible third party tool bars including smiley central and coolwebsearch.
  • Arrange the desktop so the default wallpaper has icons for programs and assorted forgotten files all over it.
  • Never empty the recycle bin
  • Install iTunes, buy some songs, transfer them to iPods(tm) but complain, confused to non-technical people when these songs don’t work on phone mp3 players.
  • Buy a box of tissues for the poor guy who is called to fix it. He will need post-trauma counselling.

Ways to make The Home Internet Experience™ more like The School Internet Experience™:

  • Buy a a RM Branded Stone desktop with 8GB RAM and a 2.8 GHZ Pentium 4 loaded with Windows Vista [Ultimate] and MS Office [student version] 2007 for twice market price (even with Tesco vouchers)
  • Buy Windows XP Professional and Office 2003 from RM and install.
  • Leave the ‘designed for Vista’ sticker on.
  • Buy RM’s Safetynet Content filtering system and install
  • Block anything fun.
  • Block anything useful.
  • Block anything that might possibly contain unverifiable facts. (blogs forums).
  • Block anything that might use lots of bandwidth
  • Block anything that might allow people to communicate
  • Block anything you don’t agree with
  • Forget to block foreign language websites
  • Whitelist all the popular advert providors and block the rest.
  • Whitelist a few file extensions to download from the internet and block the rest.
  • Block everything with the word ‘free’ in it
  • Block URLs containing a word, chosen randomly by week – this week it’s “dragon” ?!
  • Block anything that might be offensive to everything from fleas to ants.
  • Fail to block web proxies through URL patterns and just block domains
  • Block anything that isn’t http traffic (including https)
  • Block school webmail for several days by accident (no one can email you to report the problem)
  • Ask RM to buy you the software they think your computers might need and install Adobe/Macromedia megasuite + Symantec Antivirus Corporate Edition.
  • Remove most useful functionality from the start menu
  • Make all users sign an AUP which is hard to break if you are to do your job/complete your course.
  • Display full screen message if USB devices is inserted saying it should be removed instantly citing security concerns.
  • Remove computer access from anyone who attempts to outsmart you you
  • Buy and Install remote desktop spying software (RM re-branded Citrix product)
  • Install IE 7
  • Refuse to install OpenOffice.Org or Firefox and cite “Security Concerns”.
  • Put out a few press releases exclaiming how much you have spent on IT facilities and thus infer you will get your best ever results next year and massively exaggerate what ICT means to you.

With all due respect, I wish Mike and Terry the best of luck with their seminar, and look forward to seeing the results! I think the outcome should be especially insightful after the recent study released by the MacArthur foundation.

Blog Post on Educational and Home Computer Systems © Tim Dobson 2008
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