Learning is Change

Ben Wilkoff and Kara Wilkoff’s House Bill 21-1310 Testimony

We were asked by ACLU Colorado to provide testimony for The House Transportation & Local Government Committee hearing on May 25, 2021. Here is the transcript and an audio recording of that testimony.

Dear esteemed members of the House Transportation & Local Government Committee and bill sponsors, Cutter and Rodriguez, thank you for holding this important hearing to listen to and learn about how this issue of free speech is directly affecting your constituents.

My name is Ben Wilkoff, and I am here today because I believe there is no institution in American life that the has standing or power to strip the rights afforded to me by the constitution of the United States of America. And yet, that is exactly what our Homeowners Association claims. This organization which oversees 71 homes and whose supposed purpose is to provide access to reliable trash service and to keep the front entryway to our neighborhood looking clean, has baselessly asserted that they have the right to limit any speech they deem inconsistent with, as one HOA board member put it, “a family-friendly place where people have established deep roots.”

And yet, the current HOA policy of selectively enforced content-based flag censorship is not friendly to my family. In fact, we have felt, in both the words and actions of our HOA, that the policing of our speech is meant to intimidate and select for only specific types of families to live in our neighborhood (and again, I’m quoting) “promote rising property values.”

We have lived in our neighborhood since 2009, and in that time, we have seen flags waive to show pride in a favorite sports team or signs put up to show pride in a graduating senior. These things are worthy of showing pride. We are proud of our children. We are proud when our favorite team wins. But so too are we proud of who we are, as Americans and members of a diverse society and democracy. And yet, when my family chose to express this pride in our multi-racial makeup and chose to proclaim, despite much evidence to the contrary, that Black Lives, do indeed, Matter, our HOA has declared this type of pride is not allowed. This type of solidarity will somehow lower housing prices. And this type of identity is worthy only of censorship.

And that is why I am here in support of HB21-1310. Passing this bill will mean that no other families will receive letters on official HOA letterhead telling them that their identity is “not approved.” Passing this bill will mean no other households have to hide who they are in order to be accepted within a community. You have the power to de-politicize our neighborhood. You can, with this vote, remove the illusion that a Homeowners Association can govern the content of a flag in the hopes of whitewashing a history of violence and exclusion.

Ultimately, though, our flag is not just a symbol to black members of our community that they matter or to my wife and children that they matter. It is a symbol that free speech matters; that the constitution matters. And, that is why your yes vote is so important to me and to my family. Thank you for your time, your attention, and your passion for making Colorado and my neighborhood of Kensington Ridge a place I am proud to call home.

Ben Wilkoff

Thank you to the House Transportation and Local Government Committee as well as the bill sponsors Representative Cutter and Rodriguez for being here today. Your service is greatly appreciated. My name is Kara Roux Wilkoff and I’m a resident of Littleton, CO.

Our first amendment clearly states that our freedom of speech shall not be abridged. This right, guaranteed over 230 years ago stands both true and unalienable today as much as it did then. My HOA, Kensington Ridge and Cobblestone Village, believes differently. They believe that they can choose which content and whose freedom of speech is allowable.

I would never have known this about my HOA had it not been for my family’s decision to fly a Black Lives Matter flag. The details of Elijah McClain’s murder in Aurora was the last I could handle in what has been a horrible time for people of color. As a half black woman, it is important to me, that I do something. Something to represent inclusion, acknowledgement, love and support of Black lives, of both my people and those of the world. Hanging our flag, albeit a small gesture was one of the possible way we could support and so we did.

My HOA has had flags since we’ve lived here; over 12 years. Athletic flags (like the Avs), American flags (which were expressly protected by the State Law) and many signs. Signs that show these neighbors are proud of who they are and even more proud to display them on their own property. This felt no different to me. My flag.

Then, we got the first letter from the HOA telling us we must take it down or get it approved. We jumped through all the hoops — dotted i’s crossed more t’s than were written. We were told our flag was not approved. We were told signs were not allowed based upon our HOA covenants. How could that be when for over the past decade we have seen many flags just like we can right now – all without any enforcement from the HOA.? It was then I realized that it was the “content” of our flag that was the deciding factor.

To be clear, that content states: BLACK LIVES MATTER. And they do.

Since then, I’ve received letters from neighbors telling me they are not racist with what I find to be painful anecdotes such as, “I used to date black men” but I just don’t agree with BLM. I have had neighbors, get into my personal space to tell me their story that inevitably has something to do with an experience they have had with a person of color. I have been told that a neighbor said, “Not that it matters, but George Floyd wasn’t that great of a person.”

And I weep.

Neighbors have consistently touted that they want “a quiet good life.” As if somehow a sign supporting black lives leads to not living a quiet good life. I’ve had neighbors tell me that they don’t feel comfortable (with my flag). Does my skin make you uncomfortable too? I still weep.

Members of this committee, passing HB 21 13 10 will make it so that the “association” will not be able to prohibit or regulate the display of flags based on their subject matter, content or message.” This is what our constitution protects. The HOA is abusing its power all over the state and using the current statue as a shield and we need your help, your courage, your fight to shift it back. To us, the citizens. So that we can continue to proudly fly our flag in support of Black Lives like our neighbors have done since we’ve lived here for causes that matter to them. Thank you.

Kara Wilkoff

A Hobby Computer

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I have always been given a work computer. In every single role, since I began teaching in 2004. This is what they have been since I (or rather, my Apple ID) started keeping track:

  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2017, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports) – University of Colorado
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016, Four Thunderbolt 3 ports) – Aurora Public Schools
  • Apple MacBook Pro “Core i5″ 2.5 13” Retina 2012 – Denver Public Schools
  • Macbook Air – Northstar Knowledge
  • Apple MacBook Pro “Core 2 Duo” 2.4 13″ Mid-2010 – Edmodo
  • Apple MacBook Air “Core 2 Duo” 2.13 13″ (Mid-09) – Douglas County Schools

Before that, they were iBooks or eMacs or some other thing that allowed me to get my work done.

And yet, I have always used these machines to do other things too. From writing to socializing to doing the slightest bit of gaming. And yet, when it comes to actually making a living from a machine of my very own, I have never had an easy way to separate things out. Sure, I have always had a home computer or device.

I have multiple Macs and a few iPads, all nearly 10 years old by now. And they have served me well. But, I’ve never been able to put away my work computer, my day job life, and then open up a hobby computer, the one that I want to build into what I become.

I have made a few attempts with a 2010 iMac, but every time that I boot it up now, it seems to be mocking me with the amount of time it takes between clicks to get anything done.

And yet, I may have found a solution for just such a (first world) problem as this:

My partner, Kara, purchased a Macbook Pro this past year. It is was the perfect computer for her combination of Nursing, Acting, and Production work. And yet, because she stopped running her own business (mostly), it has now been relegated to sitting in the corner of our wet bar, gathering dust.

And even though I have wanted a space of my very own to work from, whenever I feel the inspiration strike, when Kara tasked me to figure out what I wanted to do with this computer, I couldn’t.

I couldn’t think of any way to productively use this MacBook Pro “Core i5″ 2.3 13” Touch/2018, one that is exactly one year older than the amazing machine that my day job has paid for.

And then it struck me: this is the perfect development machine. This is the machine that I can use to finally build an app that I can call my own. This is the computer that I can use to make my own way in the world of developers and designers. Of writers and builders. It is fast enough to do anything I can throw at it, and light enough that I can carry it around to anywhere in the house that feels most productive.

It feels like the new way of interpreting Virginia Woolf’s, “A Room of One’s Own.” Except, this time, it is a laptop of one’s own. And yet, I will still share this machine with others. It is not just mine and it is not something that I alone will build things upon. Kara will continue to make things here when she wants to.

And if my kids want to help me to build apps, then they can do that with me here too. For now, this machine will rest underneath our couch, just waiting for one of us to grab it and learn or build something with it.

 

Finally, a replacement for Hangouts on Air (that works on mobile too)!

I’ve been trying to figure out how to stream to YouTube from a mobile device for years. For a while, I was using a mobile version of Wirecast, but it was really limited and hardly ever updated (April of 2018 was the last time). And when Wes Fryer brought the imminent shutdown of Hangouts on Air to my attention about a month ago, I felt some further urgency to figure it out.

Ultimately, I wanted to keep streaming to YouTube but not lose the ability to add participants and have a great video “roundtable” experience. Furthermore, though, I wanted to finally have a way to stream a video conference while on mobile. Hangouts on Air never made the jump from Desktop/Laptop-based browsers to mobile, and I think in 2019, going fully mobile is probably the best way to approach video streaming. 


After a lot of trial and error, I think I finally figured it out. Now, given my bias toward using iOS devices (iPhone and iPad), this is a solution that currently only works for those. However, I did some preliminary searching and it does look like there are some options for using the YouTube live streaming server (RTMP protocol) on an android device (or chromebook that can run android apps). Someone else would have to verify that, though.


Regardless, here is how you set it up on iOS:

  1. Go to your Live Dashboard in YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/live_dashboard?nv=1
  2. Scroll down until you see the Server URL and Key and Copy both of those to something you have access to on your iOS device (Google Keep, Apple Notes, etc.)
  3. Download the EveryCord App from the App Store ($1.99, but it really does an amazing job and, in my opinion, is totally worth it!)
  4. Open the app and tap the Broadcast section.
  5. Paste in your Server and Key from your notes document. 
  6. Use the “settings cog” to configure your stream for audio and video.
  7. Open Control center and long press on the Screen Record icon (Swipe down from top right corner of screen on anything iOS 12 or newer).
  8. Select EveryCord and make sure you have microphone turned on. Press Start Broadcast – Your Live Stream is Up and Running to Youtube (but, you can go back to your dashboard link to make sure)!
  9. Open Hangouts Meet (or any other video conferencing system you want to use) and invite your colleagues to join you.
  10. Use your iPad/iPhone however you want, but remember, if you navigate away from Hangouts Meet, you will only get the audio and not the video sent to YouTube.

I hope that all makes sense. This may be too many steps for some folks, but it actually presents a lot more opportunity than simply having Hangouts on Air limp along any further. I mean, you now can stream anything you want from your mobile device, including a hangouts call from anywhere!
 If you are looking for a full tutorial that walks through (or just shows) how to make this all work, here is a live streamed version where I demonstrate how to live stream with this process (how’s that for meta): 

Sorry for Low Resolution, but you get the idea!

I need to write.

I write when I need to write. And lately, that has been all of the time.

I guess I'm trying to see just how easily I can write when there is no one watching, when I know that it really will only be stumbled upon and not actively sought out.

I'm testing out what works best, to see where my "work work" stops, and "the other work" starts. The other work is making contributions to the world from here, with raindrops on the window and the dark night outside.

I know that I am simple in these moments. The same kind of simple that I see in other folks when they want to be left alone. When there is something that is in their heads, when it will not be shook free except with a great deal of concentration, and perhaps a little bit of love for what is being created.

I often see those who are looking to give of themselves with a very specific kind of return on investment. I don't begrudge those who wish to have a good time or to feel good in their giving, but I do find it odd to frame that good time in the guise of giving back to the community. Giving should be something that truly matters to others, and not as a check box to be crossed off. And that kind of giving can be a lot harder. The box is so easy to check off and be done with. The work of building community or tending things that no one else will tend to is really hard.

The kinds of things I want to give are intentional and specific. I want to know who I am giving to, and why.

I do not want to be a bundler. We need fewer bundlers. Of money, or ideas, or of experiences. We need more folks who can unbundle. More folks who can take the wrapping off and separate out the purposeful from the perfunctory.

I often pat myself on the back for doing a good job of parenting, or not drinking, or even just finding ways to stay balanced within my life. But the enormous pats on the back that I hear from all around Twitter or in physical spaces of privilege are so loud in my ears. They are frequent and sound like clapping. A cacophonous refrain that seems to drown out all others when I am with them.

So, I try not to be with them always. And I try not to join that sound when I feel good about reading to my children or making time to answer questions or help others to make meaning. Those are things I should be doing anyway. Those are things to be built upon and not rested upon.

And so I write. I write for myself and I write for my future. I write to help uncover "the right work." I write to make sure that my blind spots are not too large or my bundles of privilege too big. I write to make sure my contributions are meaningful, if only to those who stumble their way across them.

Embedding video within a Markdown Document

Markdown is supposed to be a way of “writing for the web.” And the idea is not to try and recreate all of the tags that already exist in HTML, like <iframe>.

So, the following video should just embed correctly with the code that I paste in from Youtube:

The code itself can show up like this:

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_D6fUxgEju4" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Demo Time: Wonda VR for Creating robust 360 degree video experiences

Wonda VR Demo

“Next-Gen Social Learning XR Platform” – Demo from Maria Gemayel from Wonda VR

  • We have a philosophy of democratizing immersive learning.

  • VR is no longer a technology that is unknown or hard to come by.

However, the creation tools are still really hard!

Use Cases:

  • Language Learning “Immersion Programs”

  • Creative Writing
    • Capturing videos and using them to present multiple environments for storytelling

  • Leadership Training – Hearing the “internal monologue” of individual participants within a meeting

  • Campus Tours

  • Medical Training – Branching for how to interact with patients or other roles

Creation Tools:

  • Collaboration features within the web-based environment

  • You can also see “results” for who is watching/experiencing the sessions

  • Multiple viewers can see the same experience at the same time

Platform Availability

Roadmap for Wonda VR

I’m super intrigued by this platform, and I am excited to play around with it. I wonder how the collaboration tools work. The branching scenarios could be huge for building rapidly and creating more robust experiences.

Special thanks to @maria_gemayel for conducting this demo and for helping to share the work that Wonda VR is doing to democratize Virtual Reality for students and faculty.

Posting with Markdown

This is my first attempt at posting and updating posts with Markdown.

I’m currently making this attempt on my iPad Pro with a wonderful app called mWeb.


Watch as this post grows throughout the day as I try more Markdown kinds of things. Here are the resources that I’m using to learn Markdown and get all of the syntax right, which is something I have wanted to do for years!

The part that I like most about this setup is my ability to continue to edit the post and have it synced across all of my devices as a plain text file. There is no need for logging into WordPress or to mess around with the WYSIWYG editor.

In order for this to work as an ongoing workflow, however, I need the following things to occur:

  • I must learn all of the syntax for robust markdown editing
  • I must keep an organized folder of my writing
  • I must continually come back to this process to ensure it works with new hardware and software (I can’t wait to see what new functionality will come with iPadOS 13.)
  • I must not rely upon merely the plain text, but rather think about how I can expand to embeds and other types of robust elements within my writing.

Blogging from the Original iPad in 2019

The original iPad has always held a special place in my heart.

Sure, it is ugly by modern standards, and the software that it runs is quaint and outdated at best. And yet, it is still highly functional. It does everything that it did when I got it in 2010. It browses the web. It reads and can send email. It can download apps. It also still has much of the same text manipulation features that my new iPad Pro does (copy-paste, selection and contextual menus, etc).

I find that amazing. The fact that a piece of hardware that is nearly a decade old can still feel fresh and inviting is truly a testiment to the enduring design. Even more so, it is a testament to those folks who are still maintaining software that can run on it. One such piece of software is called Blogpad Pro

It is a highly robust blogging platform that connects to modern WordPress sites and allows for auto-saving, image inclusion, and visual editing of your posts. The same app that you can download for your modern iPad is the one that functions on the original. 

And so, I am blogging with it. In 2019. I have decided to dedicate a special spot in my home office to creating regular blog posts from this “antique” technology. It is now a dedicated machine for writing. And it is exactly what I need. 

I do not need another machine that does everything. I do not need another computer or touch-based device that distracts me while I use it. Rather, I need something that I can quickly turn to and write with. I also need something that I can start writing from and pick up the writing from any other device. One, that will sync with the modern world, and I think I have found it. 

And all it took was realizing that one of the best keyboards that Apple ever made was the one that they attached to an iPad 1 dock:

I bought this dock/keyboard on ebay for $10 (with free shipping!) and it was possibly the best money I have spent in quite a while.

This setup now sits on my desk, and I can fire up the Blogpad Pro whenever I want in order to write down my thoughts. It is a distraction-free environment, with a lovely keyboard. In fact, given that it sits there as a “dumb terminal,” it is all the more likely that I will turn to it for reflection and idea sharing. Everything I do on this device has to be intentional. I cannot quickly do much of anything except for write. And write I shall. 

I wonder, what other types of devices could I be putting to better use. Ones that I believe are past their prime, but might serve as wonderful additions to the overall environment of intentional technology use within my home.

#DigPINS Week 4: Scholarship is User-Hostile.

I’ve been in a feud with The Denver Post, one that they mostly don’t know they are a part of.

I keep on tweeting at them, telling them to remove their requirement for me to disable the “anti-tracking” features of my browser, just so that I can read an article on their website. For the record, I refuse to do this and I will live with the consequences. I will live by pushing the articles from their website into Pocket, which has a far better reading experience anyway. The consequences of this decision are that I do not see ads on their website, I do not see any of the other articles that are vaguely related to the one I wanted to read, and I see their content and service as something to avoid in the future.

Unintentionally, I found this idea of “User-Hostility” worth exploring for our #DigPINS Week on scholarship. While I do not see News and Scholarship as the same, I do see the same type of user hostility that The Denver Post is attempting here every time that I try to find a research article on Instructional Design or pedagogies for Authentic Learning.

So, I would like to set up some tenets for user-hostility I see living within our modern Scholarship ecosystem. Some may resonate more than others and some you may have heard before:

PDFs and Printed Journals Are User-Hostile formats

While I do love listening to a PDF using Voice Dream on my way into work, the PDF leaves a lot to be desired in terms of what the Open Web has to offer us. PDFs, and particularly, research PDFs (that form the vast majority of the scholarship I see online) are a DEAD medium. The words may as well be written on stone for all that they change after they are published. PDFs, once accessed and downloaded, will never change. Unlike a webpage that can be easily updated, reformatted, or shifted between platforms, a PDF is not adaptable to fill the needs of the learner or of the scholar herself. Once it is created, it is left untouched. By formatting the words and ideas into a page-based format, whether they end up being printed on paper or not, we are saying that there has been no advancement in the technology of sharing knowledge since the printing press. Page 1 of our writing does not have to the same on every device and it does not benefit the experience that it should be thus. Furthermore, our scholarship is more than just text and images. It is embedded conversations and video and manipulatable data. PDFs take all of that away from us and present a user-hostile learning experience without an alternative to access the content.

Pay-Walls and On-Campus Network access create User-Hostile platforms

For the most part, the scholarship that I most want to read requires one of two authentication methods. Either I need to have direct access via my own login and membership information OR I need to be on the wireless network for my institution (which show up as the partial screenshots above). Either of these things allows me to download full-text versions of research articles or to do advanced searches throughout all of the Pay-walled materials of a given repository. Clearly, I am grateful to our library for having the forethought to work with all of these partners to keep me from having to sign up (and pay for) each scholarly resource I would like to read or use within my work. But, this doesn’t change the fact that the moment I am off campus, I no longer have the “global credentials” that I require in order to conduct my research.

This has the (perhaps intended) consequence of forcing me to be on campus for all of the extended sojourns into academia. Alternatively, it also makes me put off doing this work until I can get a good chunk of time set aside. It makes me actively not want to do this type of work, and so I often will find (and use) lesser resources because I am able to do it from my phone or from my home. This kind of gatekeeping makes it so scholarship is more rarely seen by those outside of institutions of higher education. It feels like these platforms are actively discouraging scholarship by forcing a geo-fence around reading and interacting with existing works.

References/Works Cited/Citations without hyperlinks are User-Hostile practices

References are the stuff that great scholarship is made of. Building upon decades of learning from your peers is how giant leaps in knowledge and process happen. And yet, all of the references found within nearly every piece of research I read are simply lists of authors and dates. It feels like taking a time-warp back to my middle school days trying to look up MLA-style for my encyclopedia entry every time I look in the references to learn more about a particularly poignant author or idea.

And yet, there is a simple solution. Hyperlinks have built the web into the vast (and searchable) repository of the world’s knowledge. They help preserve connections between thoughts and build a through line across years of progress. References are not mysterious. They are how we build an argument or show our work. We should be able to hyperlink to individual articles, to paragraphs, to annotations, or to diagrams within another’s work. It shouldn’t be hard, and yet because most research is published as PDFs (see above for more ranting), these kinds hyperlinks break all of the time. It makes me think that perhaps we should be building canonical solutions for annotation built upon open standards that allow for us to reference specific words within a PDF. Oh wait. That already exists.

Regardless, this can’t be the way that we become modern scholars. Our world is hyperlinked. So too, should be our writing.

Siloed Publications/Sources create User-Hostile Research and Literature Reviews

As good as Google is about trying to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” they really struggle with doing this for materials that are stuck inside files not publicly accessible on the web. They also struggle to create the kind of robust filters and citation searches that a single publication or research aggregator can do for the works housed on their site (because they own all of the meta-data too). And so, as any good little researcher should, I go to the half-dozen sources I know will house the best research on a given topic and I do separate searches there.

In doing this, I know that I miss things. In fact, I probably miss more things that I find because this method of search (and taxonomy and repository) is so broken. Even if I diligently use my bookmarks and create custom search feeds for the different publications I trust most, I do not have any confidence that the materials I find will be exhaustive (or even robust enough to be considered thorough). And that is both user-hostile and incredibly frustrating.

Now, I’m not advocating for all research to be catalogued directly with Google. Rather, I’m advocating for treating scholarship as a first-class content type on the open web. Just like files or web pages or images or videos, research should be searchable (from anywhere). I should be fairly certain I will find the best resource if I search with the right terms, not search in the right repository.

Let’s make scholarship less like The Denver Post and more like #DigPINS.

The open network of learners that I have been learning alongside for the last four weeks has been amazing, and I want to thank each person I have interacted with on Twitter and in the Pedago.me Slack. Here are a few good ones that I can link to because they are an on OPEN PLATFORM: