Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Kevin07? More like Internet911

Minister Conroy on: Promoting a civil and confident society online 22 December, 2008

505 comments, 10 comments per page, 51 pages

This is or was the government blog.

My plan was to read the comments until I reached a comment that supported Conroy. There are some great comments in there. I reached page 10 and every single comment was against Conroy.
  • 100 comments against Conroy
  • 0 comments supporting Conroy
The people have spoken. This attempt by the government to appear tuned in to the blogosphere has turned into a public relations fiasco.

(btw the title of this post is from one of the blogger sigs)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Carl Wieman: optimizing learning

Optimizing Science Education and the Myth of a Necessary 'Super Teacher' by Carl Wieman (an educator who also happens to have won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2001 for creating a new ultracold state of matter, the so-called Bose-Einstein condensate)

This is written from the perspective of University students and teachers. Nevertheless, it is also a very interesting commentary about learning theory and the role of technology in education in general.

I've been saying for some time that there is no unified learning theory and that good teachers cherry pick from a variety of approaches. Wieman's approach plays nicely with my views.

His debunking of Myth 1 is valuable:
Myth I. Optimum teaching and learning styles are specific to each individual teacher and student
He argues that good teaching can be learnt and that the concept of individual idiosyncratic student learning is sometimes overdone

His learning model is built on four principles, which I paraphrase / rehash as follows:
  1. Current state - we build on what we already know
  2. Effort - extended, focused effort it required for deep learning
  3. Motivation - we learn more when motivated and we are more motivated when we know why it is of value
  4. Memory - there are limits to our short term memory and instructional design needs to take account of that
These similarities in how we learn dwarf any alleged differences in learning styles. Individual differences and gaps in knowledge can be systematically categorised and built into the instructional design framework. I'm familiar with this from using the interactive Learning in Science approach (Osborne / Freyberg), which systematically explores children's existing views of various scientific phenomena.

Timely well targeted feedback which directly addresses ones reasoning and says what is right and wrong about it is very valuable. (As part of the optimization approach he subsequently argues that if teachers had marking assistants then this feedback would be more timely and could even make larger class sizes realistic)

I would argue that the principles which comprise Wieman's model are all necessary but not exhaustive. For example, the Idit Harel approach to teaching fractions (Instructional Software Design Project) incorporates all of Wieman's principles, either explicitly or implicitly, but has far more constructionist emphasis
Myth 2. Educational technology is a crutch for poor teachers but unnecessary for good ones
Wieman identifies the value of computer simulations that provide suitable challenges and timely, effective feedback and evaluation of student strengths and weaknesses. He points out that an expert instructor is still essential because computer programs are currently at the point of identifying student thinking and not yet so good at providing regular effective feedback

This fits in with Alan Kay's observation that computer based mentoring systems still have some way to go (... the dynabook is not here yet)

Once again, Wieman's approach is a good one but I think the Idit Harel study cited above is more adventurous in its use of computers

There is more to the Wieman article. His focus is about how to optimize university instruction to increase effectiveness and productivity. His critique of current practices in Universities is most enlightening. The whole article is well argued, well written, worth reading in full and much of it is applicable in other (non university) settings.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Teach for Australia, revisited

I wrote a blog about Teach for Australia in February 2008 and it is still attracting comments, so I'm revisiting it here.

In a recent comment, franith has referred to the last three paragraphs of this article in The Australian, dated November 28, 2008:
"The commonwealth has already committed to funding a $500 million national partnership to improve teacher quality, and Ms Gillard announced on Wednesday night a scheme to attract the best university graduates into teaching.

Ms Gillard called on businesses to support the program, based on the successful Teach for America scheme, which will recruit top graduates to work in disadvantaged schools before they start their careers in areas such as law, accounting or management consulting.

A joint venture between Noel Pearson's Cape York Institute and Macquarie University is expected to launch Teach for Australia next year"
This sounds more substantial than other ALP government initiatives since IMO teacher quality is the central issue - will have to keep an eye on Julia Gillard, she may be evolving into a real educational reformer

The "Teach for Australia" proposal is based on, but, is also different from the "Teach for America" scheme. One important difference is that TF Australia pairs experienced mentors ("Fellows") with new recruits ("Associates"), which, I believe, TF America does not

What Gillard announced was support for a 'Teach for America' type scheme in disadvantaged Australian schools. Then The Australian newspaper added on a separate paragraph about an expectation regarding the Pearson / Macquarie University 'Teach for Australia' scheme, intended for remote indigenous school, in the most disadvantaged areas of Australia. ie. Gillard did not announce a 'Teach for Australia' scheme, which is a significantly bigger commitment to what she did announce. This may well be a newspaper beat up

I should try to contact Macquarie University in the new year to find out more about this

Here are some other related blogs I have written on this topic (most recent first):

staffing high needs schools

learning evolves pyramid

wendy kopp's book

teaching to the test

teacher training

it sounds like a miracle

curriculum reform will not improve education without quality teachers

teach for australia

mckinsey: run schools as you would run a successful business

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bryan Berry's Nepal XO notes

Notes from Nepal’s OLPC Deployments

Bryan Berry raises some important points and conjectures. It is best to read his original, (I left a comment there)

1) Manual dexterity block point
"While the teachers learned how to use the XO very quickly, I miscalculated how difficult certain actions would be for them. Specifically, it took them a while to learn “dragging and dropping” with the touchpad. Many of the best activities on the XO require serious dexterity with the touchpad such as TurtleArt, Etoys, and Scratch. For this reason we couldn’t cover these activities during training. I recommend starting teacher training with activities that do not require a lot of dexterity with the touchpad"
2) What the curriculum demands
In OLPC-land we like to talk about lofty concepts such as constructionism, co-learning, collaboration, etc. Meanwhile, teachers at Bashuki and Vishwamitra have more pressing concerns. The Nepali system does not practice social promotion. Children have to pass year-end examinations to move on to the next grade. Nepali teachers are interested in constructionism, co-learning, and collaboration as long as they don’t hinder their students progress through the educational system. Our teachers are quite happy with the E-Paath suite of educational activities that OLE Nepal developed in accordance with the national curriculum. The real attraction of OLPC for teachers is that in class they can task students with a problem on the XO and then spend much of the period working with students that need help
3) Top Requests from Teachers and Kids
  • Easier way to play music and video
  • A better E-Book reader
  • A lot more activities for learning English
  • All the Nepali textbooks in digital format
  • A comprehensive digital library with lots of Nepali-language reading materials
  • A Typing Tutor program for learning English and Nepali
  • Interactive learning activities that match the Nepali curriculum
  • A car racing game (the kids)
and other very interesting points in his article as well:
  • amazing enthusiasm from teachers
  • ability of XO to diagnose if any particular hardware component has failed (“test-all” command in the XO’s OpenFirmware)
  • it is feasible to train teachers how to fix hardware problems but more difficult to teach them how to fix software problems in the linux kernel or within Sugar
  • The XS (school server) has improved under the leadership of XS architect Martin Langhoff
  • XO project in Nepal expanding to 15-20 schools in 5-6 districts in April 2009

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

universal communications

I've started a new wiki, universal communication. Tony Forster, who understands the engineering side better than me is helping too.

It is for documenting research about bringing communications technology and electricity to the developing world. At this stage it is mainly for notes about understanding concepts / terminology, resources and thinking aloud

It might be useful for:
  • those thinking about how OLPC fits into a bigger picture of third world development
  • more generally the connection between poverty, electricity generation and communications technology
  • understanding the situation on the ground for those planning to visit and / or work in developing world (eg. Oceania, Nepal, Afghanistan, many African countries, etc.)
  • understanding successful models about how it has been done, eg. PFNet in the Pacific

Friday, December 12, 2008

poverty and OLPC affordability

Apart from Australia and DR Congo (included as benchmarks) the following are most of countries to which the OLPC has already been deployed in significant numbers or to which there are reported plans for significant deployments in the near future. The figures are in Purchasing Power Parity PPP$ (adjusted income per person) of selected countries. The data is from the Gapminder site [1]

USA 31,133
Australia 24,219
Uruguay 8,653
Mexico 7,762
Columbia 5,877
Peru 4,670
Papua New Guinea 1869
Ghana 1515
Mongolia 1285
Mali 1084
Nepal 1052
Rwanda 983
Ethiopia 824
Afghanistan 740
Haiti 709
DR Congo (poorest) 230

Here are some figures of the numbers of XOs deployed to some of these countries [2] [3]:

Uruguay 130,000
Peru 70,000
Mexico 50,000
Birmingham, USA 10,000

Colombia is reported to be about to buy 20,000 and Ghana is reported to be about to buy 10,000.

In addition, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Haiti, Mongolia, Afghanistan have approx 5,000 XOs each provided by the Give1-Get1 program.

So far, the governments which have purchased large quantities (not just pilots and not recipients of the G1G1 – Give one, Get one - scheme) of XO’s are Uruguay, Peru and Mexico.

These Latin American countries are not the poorest in the world. Many African countries are the poorest along with some Asian countries. These countries are roughly 5-10x poorer than those which have actually purchased the OLPC

Each OLPC or XO costs about $180 per person. The Total Cost of Ownership is higher and has been estimated at about $450 over a five year period (disputed figure)

Apart from OLPC, other possible information technologies come to mind for poor countries, which are being used for education:

OMPT (one media player per teacher) - One portable media player with speakers and power source costs as little as $50. This small cost can change a classroom of 40 or 50 individual lives

Mobile phones - for example, see the MobileED project

Telecenters - "I found computers in all the centers, but bicycles, books, cell phones, community radio stations, and video tapes were also used to obtain and share information" (olpc-news article by Robert Kozma)

Internet Kiosks - A day in the life of a village kiosk operator in India

I am not suggesting that the OLPC is not a great technology for the poor children of the world. They need personal computers for maximum benefit. But due to the economic bottom line for some countries at the moment it is too much to expect that they will get there without assistance. Also we need to consider transition technologies like the above to bridge the gap.

Another related issue is the best method(s) of electricity generation for poor countries. This is held over for another article.

Reference / Footnotes:

[1] Gapminder provides some great visual representations of dry statistic

[2] OLPC Community News attachment, July 6, 2008 shows a graph of deployments at that time

[3] OLPC:News provides regular information about deployments

engelbart: co-evolution of humans with machines

It's hard or impossible to imagine a world without all the things that Doug Engelbart demonstrated at his 1968 mother of all demos ("... a computer mouse, which controlled a networked computer system to demonstrate hypertext linking, real-time text editing, multiple windows with flexible view control, cathode display tubes, and shared-screen teleconferencing" 40th Anniversary)

But with respect to his vision it does seem clear that we have become far too techno-centric in the way we conceptualise the computer - as a bunch of more or less independent applications to get various jobs done, rather than as an integrated vehicle to augment our co-evolution.
By 1959 he had enough standing to get approval for pursuing his own research. He spent the next two years formulating a conceptual framework for a new discipline that became the guiding force for his 1962 seminal work, "Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework," ...

Concepts such as augmenting human intellect, improvement infrastructure, co-evolution of artifacts with social-cultural language-practices, and bootstrapping evolved directly from this work, as did the following twenty years of applied co-evolution. Motivating that framework were, and still are the assumptions that complexity and urgency are increasing exponentially and that the combination of these two will soon challenge our organizations ...

A myriad of technical and non-technical elements came into play, such as tools, media, language, customs, knowledge, skills, procedures, and so on. He perceived that these elements had co-evolved slowly over centuries, but that with the explosive emergence of digital technology, the technical elements would shoot way ahead of the non-technical and cause a trend toward automating rather than to augmenting peoples' activities
- A Lifetime Pursuit by Christina Engelbart

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I'm from the government, I'm here to listen to you

Senator Conroy (The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy), the filter guy, has created a blog!

Although the stated purpose of the blog is to listen to our
"thoughts and ideas about the digital economy ... We aim to release the Future directions paper early next year"
... nevertheless, most of the comments I have read (there are hundreds) are articulate, well reasoned protests against Conroy's plan for a mandatory ISP level internet filter.

So be it. If this is meant to be an exercise to demonstrate that our government is going to listen to us then let's hope they take the hint.

Monday, December 08, 2008


alan kay:
"Jerome Bruner ... wrote the best book on education that has ever been written, Towards a Theory of Instruction"
- Squeakers video at 2 min 30 seconds, included in this mark miller blog
I followed this up and found a great page (jerome bruner and the process of education) which summarises Bruner's thinking. I notice how Bruner takes concepts from both sides of the conventional curriculum wars and welds them together, for instance, he thinks that both structure and intuition are important. I summarise his approach as briefly as possible as incorporating structure, readiness, intuition, motivation.

I see this as the way forward - building a pyramid made up bits from both sides of the curriculum wars. eg. don't just focus on motivation but meld it with structure and readiness where readiness is "some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development" (Bruner)

Bruner was a key figure in the development of the "cognitive revolution" but later became critical. His thinking became increasingly influenced by writers like Lev Vygotsky and he began to be critical of the intrapersonal focus he had taken, and the lack of attention paid to social and political context

I've just ordered two books by Bruner:
The Process of Education (1960)
Toward a Theory of Instruction (1966)

Could it be that ideas that are 40-50 years old have more relevance to education reform than many of the educational ideas floating around today?

Could it be that ideas from the pioneers of computing (McCarthy, Engelbart, Papert, Kay) have more relevance than many of the computing ideas floating around today?


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Inform 7

I've been playing with inform 7. It is very interesting and I think I'll be using it in 2009. I'd also like to show it to some English teachers and get their reaction.
"Inform is a design system for interactive fiction ... In place of traditional computer programming, the design is built by writing natural English-language sentences"
To make sense of it I had to read Chapter 2 of the Help. My initial unguided effort of "The cat sat on the mat" produced an image of broken cogs and a problem analysis. The Help explains that you have to create a world first by teaching the program where and what everything is using assertion statements in the present tense:
The cat is an animal.
The bathroom is a room.
The mat is in the bathroom.
"The cat sat on the mat" still doesn't work but I'm getting there.

Some analysis at the psychology of planning interest group:

Here is a quick start, from Brian Slesinsky:

Saturday, December 06, 2008

alan kay: after 40 years the dynabook is not here yet

video Personal Computing: Historic Beginnings

I have transcribed a section of Alan Kay's recent presentation marking "40 years anniversary of the dynabook" because I see it as an important contribution to ongoing discussions about the significance and prospects for the XO, or OLPC

Alan Kay visited Seymour Papert in 1968

49 minutes: Slide that involves Alan Kay

About 40 years ago I went to visit Seymour Papert... because I had started to visit people who could be users of a desktop computer ... and Seymour was working with children ... Seymour was a mathematician who had worked with Piaget ... (talks about Seymour's tragic accident from which he has not recovered) ...

Kay's interpretation of Seymour's work: Children are egocentric in a charming way ...they do everything relative to them ... so if they were a co-ordinate system they would be an inertial co-ordinate system ... and an inertial co-ordinate system is the differential geometry of Gauss ... and if you keep track of this in the right way you get the differential geometry of vectors ... and a child is one of those vectors... and so is the turtle ... and he thought, boy(!), this is so close to the way children think already I wonder what would happen if we put some formalism on it and treat it as mathematics

So ask a little kid to draw a circle with their body and ask them what they are doing ... they say they are going a little and then turning a little, over and over

In logo: repeat 360 [forward 1 right 1]

Tell the turtle to do that ... and by golly you get a circle and you can put in different values to get circles of different sizes ... and so we have a differential equation here which is infinitely simpler than (traditional) differential geometry and which can be understood by a young child

This completely blew my mind! Once you've got something which is incredibly powerful that a child can learn you've no longer got an adult tool ... you've actually got something like a printing press that is one of the great 500 year inventions in human history

If children can learn these powerful ideas then you have a chance to not just increment on what is already known ... they will actually help over several generations to invent something new

So, that combined with just seeing this flat panel display with all these wise words of McLuhans in my mind (mentioned earlier in talk) on the plane back to Utah after meeting Seymour I drew this little cartoon with kids out in the grass ...

... because if you are going to make a personal computer for kids don't put it on a desk ... that isn't them ... so I immediately took the fun idea of a flat screen computer and made it paramount ... you had to make a computer that was in every way made for a child, that they could take away from adults and learn by themselves ... it would have to have wireless, a stylus, a touch screen, a keyboard (because even perfect character recognition is not fast enough to do bulk typing), removable memory ... and so all of those things coalesced ....

(describes how he made the model from a cardboard box)

Alan Kay's definition of portability ... that you can carry something else as well as the portable device ... arrived at the figure of two pounds (which is roughly 1kg)

(some information about head mounted display and a wrist detector by Negroponte left out here)

If you think about this as a service idea then what are the actual services ... (stuff snipped) ...


You really have to have some idea of the end users ... leads into new slide


It's a service idea with serious goals about education, especially self education

Kept (?) standards: Fluency in powerful ideas for > 90% of children

powerful ideas and how to learn them ...


... and with the aid of computing media

Human mentors


Computer mentors

[[Alan refers to these, here and later, as "four ideas", which I understand to be:
  1. What are powerful ideas?
  2. How can they be learned with the aid of computing media?
  3. Can this work with human mentors?
  4. Can it work with computing mentors?]]

I was interested in whether we could make computer mentors because my confidence in adults was very low back then ... and still is. The biggest bottleneck to education reform is the adults that are in the system

In the Third World it is the lack of adults ... But in our world it's almost the lack of adults ... almost no elementary school teachers understand anything about maths and science ... in a way things might be almost better if they weren't there because the children would not be getting misinformation about it

It has to be setup to succeed for 90% of the children, not just the 10% who are naturally good at it

The problem with technologists doing it is that we are all setup by nature to be good at it ... all of us here learnt to program within a weeek ... I'll bet you anything ... it's not that hard if you almost know what it is ... but if you don't almost know what it is, it can be really daunting

This is why computing people generally design terrible computing user interfaces ... they're not only willing to cope with something bad, they are pleased to ... because it's a little challenge for them ....
(this section finished at 1 hr 1 min)

At 1hr 15min the moderator asks:
"Why was the dynabook never built in spite of all these people trying to make it happen?"
Alan recapitulates the four ideas outlined above ... then ...

Working on the first two with our 90% success threshold ... led to 25 years of failure ... we were paying for this research ourselves ... nobody would fund the children's research because we did these long projects ... we didn't believe in most forms of testing that are reported in the education literature ... so we wanted to convince ourselves that the children were getting fluent and that 90% of them were getting fluent ... by those sorts of criteria it was one failure after another .... but after each failure we would learn something

And about 10 years ago one of the systems that we did started teaching many more children with adult help in a much stronger way (I think he means etoys) ... so I think after 40 years the first two ideas and a little bit of what sort of human mentoring you need have been solved ...

BUT, when Nicholas started up the OLPC project my heart sank, even as I supported it ... because if it's tough to get good mentors in the USA then it's really tough out in the Third World ... no user interace today can find out who its user is, what its user knows, what it can do ... it can't find out what level of reading the user can do and help find out the next level of reading

There is common sense in the world concept ... so we make a world populated with objects ... but they didn't interfere with the user strongly

That isn't enough ... pure discovery learning took us 100,000 years to get to science ... so you need learning that is facilitated ... and if you can't make thousands of good teachers in a year then you have to have an interactive user interface to save yourself

This dream of having a UI to facilitate is as old as AI ... it is AI ... if we had this we could make up for no teachers and bad teachers (but we still need good teachers) ... so when the OLPC project started I thought OMG, we are lacking the one piece of the technology ... if we could just ship that machine with a program that could teach children to read in their native language ... that would be the killer app and we wouldn't have to worry about anything else for a number of years ... but that technology doesn't exist ... it is that gap which has to be bridged in order to fulfil the educational goals that the dynabook has ... you have to have a way to get around the adults in the system that make educational reform difficult

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

OLPC: give one, get one, australia

Last time around this was only available in the USA and Canada, from memory

This time you can give one get one in a whole host of countries (44+ in this article) and this now includes Australia, through the OLPC-australia organisation

Contact information

Give 1, Get 1 explained
"Purchase two XO laptops. Give one to a needy child in remote Australia or the Pacific. The other is yours to give to a child in your life"

Purchase form

With the fall in the Australian dollar the cost would be something like AUD$700 ($468.95USD), according to this OLPCnews article

update 7th December:
They are charging $399 for a laptop, with the profits going towards OLPC-AU projects

update 8th December:
Wayan Vota has corrected the above information, the total cost for one is $468.95

I did an order simulation on the olpc-au site and the extra charges are:
GST $20
Shipping and Handling $40
Transaction Fee $10

I also notice that it is not a Give one, Get one scheme because if you order two the price just doubles to a whopping $927.90

OLPC-australia people (Geoffrey Anson, Dr. Barry Vercoe, Dr. Vadim Gerasimov, Rangan Srikhanta)

OLPC-australia history

Sunday, November 30, 2008

SVG course outline

I've written an outline for a course in SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics)

Some of the points from the rationale:
  • students like working with images
  • animations are fairly easy to achieve (SMIL or Synchronised Multimedia Integration Language is part of SVG)
  • it offers a path into some core web techniques and standards: HTML, CSS, JavaScript and SVG
  • It's mathematical - both simple co-ordinate systems and more complex maths such as bezier curves. I like the fact that art can be done with maths
  • good free software is available, eg. inkscape
  • the small size (low bandwidth) and scalability of SVG graphics means they have a big future, eg. in the mobile phone industry
I've recently discovered some very interesting essays and SVG examples at this dev.opera page (view these pages using Opera browser)

How to do photoshop-like effects in SVG
Using animateMotion in SVG - develop a solar system animation
Playing SVG Darts
Animating your SVG - nice example of how to make an SVG clock

40th anniversary of the dynabook

Alan Kay, Chuck Thacker, Mary Lou Jepsen and Steve Hamm (moderator) at the Computer History Museum (one hour 45 minutes), 5th November, 2008

Alan Kay outlines the history from 1958 (John McCarthy) through the personalities and inventions to circa 1972

The Dynabook plan (not yet realised):
  1. What are powerful ideas?
  2. How can they be learned with the aid of computing media?
  3. Can this work with human mentors?
  4. Can it work with computing mentors?
Alan Kay at 1:15
Points 1, 2 and 3 above have been solved partially but not yet point 4. Hence, there is a problem in deploying to the third world, since the teachers are not there in sufficient quantity or quality

"The person who only knows his own generation remains forever a child"
- Cicero

scratch license disappointment

If there could be a synergy between free software and the best constructionist software then that would be so much better for the poorest children of the world ...

Unfortunately, the Scratch team at MIT Media Lab does not appear to support that. Very unfortunate because Scratch is currently the best available beginners constructionist software IMHO ... and Mitch Resnick is a great populariser of Scratch and has interesting theoretical ideas about learning (kindergarten metaphor, low floor wide walls)

However, I recently discovered (through Tom Hoffman), that the Scratch license has been changed from free to non commercial

The new license (1.3.1) says:
"Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and accompanying documentation and media files (the "Software") to distribute the Software for non-commercial purposes, including the right to use, copy, publish, or distribute copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so ..."
[[update (2nd December 2008): The Scratch binary license has been changed to allow commercial use]]

The previous license said (wording obtained from the folder containing my old copy of Scratch):
"Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and accompanying documentation and media files (the "Software"), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so ..."
The right to modify Scratch has been taken out.

[[update (2nd December 2008): There are two Scratch licenses, one for the binary and another for the source. The source code license does allow modification. See comment by Mitch Resnick in response to this blog]]

This will effect the distribution of Scratch on Sugar, the software originally developed for the OLPC and now being ported to other platforms, to Debian at least and other Linux distributions. See Debian Bug report #471927

Tom Hoffman wrote in his blog on October 14th:
"Since it is un-free software it cannot be put in Debian, Ubuntu, Red Hat, or any other free software distribution. Can it be shipped on the XO? This license significantly restricts the distribution of Scratch to children around the world, and to what benefit?"
I posted my query to the Scratch forum and received this reply from Andres Monroy-Hernandez of the Scratch Team at the MIT Media Lab:
There has been some discussion in the Scratch Team about this. Overall our concern is to avoid forks. In general forks are good because bring diversity but since Scratch is a tool for beginners we're worried about having multiple versions out there. This happened a little bit with Scratch's predecessor LOGO, there were a lot of versions, some of them incompatible.

I am an Ubuntu user and I appreciate the choices I have for every element of the OS, but I do spend hours trying to figure out between apt-get and aptitute, Compiz vs no compiz, KDE vs Gnome vs Xfce, etc, etc. In some ways, Ubuntu has been able to succeed by providing something that works out of the box without forcing users to choose.

I think we are going to change the license of the binary distribution to allow for commercial use but we're uncertain about the source. What do you think about forking in Scratch?
This issue was then discussed on the IAEP (Its an education project) list and here are some of the responses:

Tom Hoffman:
Scratch is, or should be a trademark. Only MIT, or people they give permission to, can use it. Anyone else can fork their code, but they can't call it Scratch without permission. An example of this is from the Apache License:

6. Trademarks. This License does not grant permission to use the trade names, trademarks, service marks, or product names of the Licensor, except as required for the reasonable and customary use in describing the origin of the Work and reproducing the content of the NOTICE file.

Mozilla has very strict terms for trademark use -- so much so that it is called Iceweasel in Debian:

I suspect Scratch would want to find some language which says "you may only call this Scratch if you have not modified the source." Ultimately, IANAL, and I don't know *exactly* how to do it, but it is in this ballpark.
I'd like to see the widest possible distribution of the current or up-to-date version of Scratch to the children of the world. This includes distribution through the OLPC and Sugar (which are no longer the same thing and Sugar is now being ported to various platforms). From my understanding this will not happen if you keep the new non commercial license since some Linux distributions will not include Scratch under that license. Ironic voice: The Scratch team has forked Scratch by changing the license.

I don't follow why Scratch is special because it is for beginners.

It also seems to me that FLOSS has a far bigger and more influential footprint now than when Seymour Papert / LCSI went commercial with LogoWriter / MicroWorlds and you need to take that into consideration. Thanks, of course, to the hard work of FLOSS advocates

Comparison with LOGO: Well, the versions of LOGO that are going out on OLPC / Sugar are Turtle Art (cut down, developed by Brian Silverman) and Brian Harvey's logo (powerful but non intuitive user interface last time I saw it). It's the Open Source versions which will go out to the poorest children of the world. In that sense it's very fortunate that there were forks in logo, that the commercial versions were not the only ones.

I love logo and used it for over a decade as a school teacher, mainly LogoWriter, then MicroWorlds, ie. commercial versions. Eventually I stopped using Logo because it wasn't free and another free (but not open source) alternative came along (Game Maker) which had a great UI and a lot of appeal for many students (but not as good in terms of its deep educational philosophy). But now I have stopped using GameMaker, partly because it went commercial, and now use Scratch (which I see as a version of Logo and has the best UI yet) as my main introduction to visual programming for students. Teachers will chop and change like I have. In general they are committed to easy to use software and are not tuned in to complex legal arguments about licensing and its implications.

However, as a teacher I would like to be able to use the latest version of Scratch in Australia and use the same version if I decided to travel to a developing country to work on the OLPC project. Another hypothetical: It would also be great if African kids in refugee camps working with XO's were working on the latest version of Scratch before they came to Australia.

More and more people, teachers and youth, are using Open Source and nderstanding the politics of Open Source more. By changing the license as you have you diminish the enthusiasm of some of those people for Scratch. People chose software for a variety of reasons. The perception of support for freedom being one of those reasons.
Pamela Jones:
If you are trying to avoid forks, why would you want to allow commercial? That inevitably results in forks, with some code going dark.

Have you thought about LGPL? It allows commercial entities to use the code without worry while protecting the codebase.

I would strongly suggest you speak to Software Freedom Law Center. This is exactly what they do. If you want an MIT-style license, they can help you with this too. It's ultimately up to you, but doing a license without a lawyer never works.
This was weeks ago now and the response from the Scratch team is ... silence

Tom Hoffman has been arguing for a while now on his blog that MIT does not lead when it comes to software license issues. For example, this post about the StarLogo TNG License (October 17, 2007):
That MIT would choose such a license is not surprising. The failure of US universities to not only not lead in this area (particularly wrt K-12 ed-tech), but to not follow the commercial or increasingly governmental sectors is unfortunately quite evident. Fine. What they do with their IP is their business. However, this project is funded by an National Science Foundation grant. I don't understand why the NSF allows grantees to limit the distribution of software written with public funds in this way. It is a waste of my tax dollars.
What a pity. If there could be a synergy between free software and the best constructionist software then that would be so much better for the poorest children of the world ...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Defending Scoundrels

Defending Scoundrels

I've added Dale Clapperton, internet freedom fighter, to my blog roll. Dale has some very funny videos on his blog as well as expert commentary on the law and internet censorship.

Check out:
What if the Matrix ran on 'doze (very funny anti windows, pro linux, spoof)

Hitler on 'clean feed' and ADSL2 in Tasmania
(politically incorrect, bad language and totally hilarious)

do you really want to be free?

Clive Hamilton and I: Getting Personal about Sex, Lies, Hate and Censorship by Syd Walker

Some background:
The current push to censor the internet in Australia was initiated by secular intellectuals Clive Hamilton and Michael Flood in 2003. The EFA site has the timeline and the analysis. A recent article by Kerry Miller, initially at StrangeTimes and reprinted at ON LINE Opinion argues that the Labour Party (so called progressives) is far worse than the Liberals (so called conservatives) on this issue.

I see this as part of a more general pattern where the "caring parties" advocate policies which end up destroying our freedom and initiative - net nannies, risk aversion, artificial inclusion, welfare dependency, cultural relativism (the freedom of other cultures to suppress women, practice honour killings, genital mutilation etc.), the State as big brother who will keep an eye on you under the guise of protecting you. The caring collectivist parties like the Australian Labour Party are far more likely to support these sorts of policies than the parties that are more ideologically aligned with the notion of individual liberty.

In this case of internet censorship it's good to see The Greens and the Liberals are opposed to our current Labour Party government.

I've been contributing to the comment thread of this article at On LINE Opinion.

As part of my research I came across the above article by Syd Walker. I think this article is important because it directly answers and refutes the secular moral argument put by Clive Hamilton.

In the ON LINE Opinion comments some contributors have been critical of the focus on Clive Hamilton. Q&A described it as "attacking the messenger", dickie saw it as an unfair head butt of Clive and Steel said the problem was not Clive but religious lobbyists

Syd Walker's article responds to those views.

Firstly, he points out that the Minister (Conroy) is pretty much incompetent and relied on Clive Hamilton to put the secular argument for censorship on "Australian Talks", ABC Radio Talkback. If you think I'm being unfair on Conroy then check out the letters by Mark Newton which demonstrate beyond question his incompetence

Religious lobbyists will mainly appeal to religious people. The pro-censorship camp needs a secular advocate. Given the incompetence of the Minister that person is Clive Hamilton, along with his co-author Michael Flood

Syd Walker repeats Clive's most persuasive arguments and responds effectively to them. Clive's main argument is this:
“What’s so special about the internet? All but the most unthinking libertarians accept censorship laws that limit sexual content in film, television, radio, books and magazines. Yet the hysterical response from the internet industry and libertarian commentators to the Government’s proposal to require ISPs to filter heavy-duty porn shows how the internet has become fetishised.”
Syd's response is along these lines:

The world wide web is without precedent. The analogy with most other media does not hold up. If you are going to make an analogy then the best one would be the postal service. Censoring the WWW is more like censoring a public mail service. Big Media is controlled by a handful of people. The web is grassroots information liberation. Any censorship means that some of the vast array of web pigeon holes may be blocked without us knowing what is being blocked. This directly threatens the most significant information liberation experiment in the history of humans.

It is well known that any attempt to block part of the web will also have "unintended consequences" (which the advocates of censorship are aware of so they are not really unintended) of blocking other parts as well. We don't know what is being blocked until the blocked list leaks, which inevitably it will as Mark Newton has demonstrated. A similar list in Finland was found to contain an anti-censorship site.

Also Syd's section about the impossibility of defining a hate site is very good - not as an exposure of Clive's position (CH does not support censorship of such sites) but as an exposure of Clive's thinking (for unthinkingly suggesting that such a category is definable)

The core issue is this: Do we dare to be free? Being free does mean being exposed to unsavoury things. Do we as adults want some other adults to protect us from those unsavoury things, without even full knowledge of what they are. That is the core issue and Syd Walker's article articulates that core issue at length.

If another adult is going to protect me from unsavoury things then I want to know why that adult feels that he or she is superior to me? Why does that adult feel that he/she can handle freedom but I can't?

btw I disagree with Syd about many of his beliefs expressed in that article - that reinforces the central point that I support his right to propagate those beliefs, as he does mine.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mark Newton applies the blowtorch

Mark Newton is angry and he isn't going to win any diplomacy awards. But he sure knows what he it talking about when it comes to the Australian Labour Party's proposal for mandatory internet censorship at ISP level. He applies real heat to the government because he is expert, determined and they can't answer his comprehensive critique.

Mark Newton's letter, without the footnotes, see the full letter (pdf) at the EFA (Electronic Frontiers Australia) site (there is also a link to Mark's earlier letter there):

17 November 2008
The Hon. Kate Ellis, MP
Minister for Youth and Sport
161a Main North Road
Nailsworth SA 5083

Dear Ms. Ellis,
Thank you for extending the opportunity for me to meet with you on November 3rd 2008 to discuss the ALP’s moves towards implementing a national Internet censorship scheme.

Sincere apologies if you think I came on a bit strong. I had been advised that I had only 20 minutes, and I had a lot of territory to cover, and you kept me busy by providing more inaccuracies which required corrections which added even more time pressure. I hope I managed to get my message across, and I intend to use this letter to reinforce the key points.

One aspect of our discussion which became abundantly clear during the meeting was that your party has lied to you. Many of the responses you raised in the meeting are the same responses which are found in the standard “form letter” replies which other Australian electors have received from their ALP local members across Australia. It seems obvious to me that your party has distributed some kind of briefing pack to all members of the Parliamentary Labor Party, and that that briefing pack is rife with errors and misleading statements. For example:
  • You asserted that the Government is only interested in banning material which is already illegal offline; and
  • I spent significant time debunking your assertion that other countries have implemented systems similar to the ALP’s proposal.
Both of those assertions are factually baseless. Even Minister Conroy has backtracked on them in recent days, in response to questions in Senate Question Time from Western Australian Senator Scott Ludlam, which accused the Minister of making false and misleading statements in Senate Estimates on October 20th and enquired whether the Minister would be issuing a retraction1. The Minister followed up on November 13th 2008 with a clarification2 which backtracked on his previous assertions by distinguishing his (and your) International examples from the ALP’s proposals. I feel confident that if we had had our meeting today rather than two weeks ago you would have said different things about the ALP’s proposals, in response to Senator Conroy shifting the ground beneath your feet, and I have sympathy for the difficult position he has placed you in by embarrasing you with misleading, inaccurate and incomplete information.

It is further interesting to note that the Minister has now added the term “unwanted” to his rhetoric, after having had it pointed out that the ACMA blacklist he keeps waving about is not actually a list of “illegal” material3 4. I trust you will agree that his replacement term, “illegal and unwanted,” reinforces community concerns about the scope of the ALP’s proposal, especially given that the Minister has refused to clarify what, exactly, the new term means, and who gets to decide what is “unwanted.”

I understand that you are a mere cog in a larger Party machine, but I would guess that you would be professionally (if not personally) offended by the inaccurate information which your Party has provided to you, and which you are in turn providing to your constituents. Senator Conroy’s repeated inaccurate and misleading assertions have painted him in a very bad light, and you might perhaps do well to consider whether repeating his Ministry’s discredited rhetoric is likely to damage your own reputation.

During our meeting, I outlined several points against the adoption of the ALP’s policy. I will briefly address each point below, and request that you, in turn, address each point in your response.

The Government has claimed that the purpose of the policy is to protect children5.

As I discussed in my previous letter, Australian parents appear to be sufficiently skillful that they do not require this form of Government assistance to protect their children. In my recent ABC Opinion piece6, I posed the question to the Government, “Do you honestly believe that Australian parents are so uniquely incompetent that we, unlike literally every other Western democracy on the planet, need to go down the ALP’s proposed path to protect our children? After spending 30 years proving that our nation can successfully raise children in an environment of ubiquitous access to uncensored online services, are you able to explain how profoundly Australian parents must have failed to justify this radical proposal?”

They were not rhetorical questions. I believe the Australian public deserves to have them answered. Please answer them.

Polls conducted by the Channel 7 Sunrise programme7, the Courier Mail8, and Derryn Hinch’s show on 3AW9 have all shown more than 80% opposition to this proposal. While these are not scientific polls, I expect you will agree that anything over 80% is as close to unanimous as any poll is ever likely to produce, and that it’s difficult to imagine any other Government issue which unites so many differing individuals and
community groups.

A worthy demonstration of the lack of public desire for filtered Internet connectivity was provided by Mr. Steve Dalby of iiNet on MMM’s “Spoonman” show10 when he asserted that iiNet’s website has been offering free filtering software for four years and zero customers have downloaded it.

It is my observation that the Government has identified an alleged problem then committed itself 100% behind the first, dumbest solution that popped into its head. In all seriousness, is the Government’s vision so stunted that it believes that this policy is the absolute best way to spend $44m to secure a child protection outcome? What happened to the “Government of New Ideas?”

Interviews11 with senior executives at three of Australia’s largest ISPs have ridiculed the ALP proposal on practicality grounds. Simon Hackett, MD of Internode, helpfully pointed out that “... most families diagnose their computer problems by getting their children to fix them. So their children will know about anonymous proxies, they will work around this stuff. So it’s not that it’s not a problem to solve, but you can’t make it a technical game, because the very people you’re trying to protect are smarter than you.”

The Sydney Morning Herald has reported12 that iiNet CEO Michael Malone has publicly committed his company to provide “... hard numbers demonstrating how stupid it [the ALP proposal] is.” He has described Senator Conroy as “... the worst Communications Minister we’ve had in the 15 years since the [internet] industry has existed.”

Since the implications of this policy came to light, the Internet community in Australia has been working hard on free and effective circumvention methods13. Websites devoted to bypassing mandatory ISP censorship have been erected, and the ALP’s policy has been rendered useless before it has even been implemented. It is safe to say that everyone who is inconvenienced by the ALP’s censorship system will routinely bypass it at will.

The Government claims to have committed $44m to its “clean feed” proposal. However, the Minister has not been drawn on whether the money remains available in the wake of budget “refactoring” due to the financial crash; and even if it is available, he has not provided a breakdown of how much would be available for ISP compensation and how much would be swallowed up by the ACMA bureaucracy to run the scheme.

My personal direct experience is that it will cost in excess of $2m in the first year to fit-out an ISP which provides service to 2% of the Australian market, with a 50% premium in subsequent years for ongoing licensing fees. With conservative allowances for network growth, that easily turns the five year process into a $500m scheme, with the Government providing less than a drop in the ocean, leaving the remainder to be provided to the Industry by ISP customers in the form of higher ISP bills.

In the current financial environment, imposing a half billion dollar mandate on ISPs to provide an unwanted solution to a nonexistent problem is disgraceful. Doing so with the full knowledge that it won’t work is lunacy.

Despite Mr. Conroy’s repeated misleading statements about the infallibility of the ACMA blacklist, the current scheme is already implemented poorly. According to the ACMA “Report on the Co-regulatory Scheme for Internet Content Regulation”14 covering the first six years of the scheme, less than half of the URLs gathered onto the Prohibited Content list by the ACMA were arguably illegal material.

Note that since the Act does not require the ACMA to seek a classification decision from the OFLC before adding overseas content to the blacklist, this really is a case of one public servant’s personal discretion deciding whether a content item should be banned in Australia, with no mechanism for notification or appeal. In your opinion, does that represent good governance? Shouldn’t we expect better? As I asked in my first letter to you, is it wise to place the same calibre of bureaucrat who decided Mohammad Haneef was a terrorist suspect or that Bill Henson was a pornographer in charge of a secret, unaccountable blacklist? During our meeting you scoffed, but that really is what we’re talking about here.

If we suspend disbelief for long enough to accept that the scheme will be administered by perfect public servants with perfect discretion and perfect oversight, then we would clearly end up with a hypothetical blacklist containing only illegal material.

The Government would then require that blacklist to be distributed to several thousand employees at several hundred ISPs, whereupon it will certainly leak. I am prepared to accept debate about how long it will take to leak, but the fact that it will leak is beyond question.

As I pointed out in my original letter to you, once it leaks it will be available to every Internet-connected pervert on the planet, and any Australian perverts who avail themselves of circumvention methods. With any perceived positives accompanying the scheme undermined by the fact that it won’t work, the negatives will be all we have left. Is increased world-wide child abuse an acceptable price that you, personally, are prepared to pay for the implementation of this policy?

During our meeting, you asked whether there were any policy alternatives which you could take to Mr. Conroy as a constructive addition to the criticisms contained herein.

I pointed out that the Internet Industry Association (IIA) already runs a “Family Friendly ISP” programme15, which provides accreditation to ISPs which conform to the programme’s Family Friendly ISP policy. These ISPs offer a variety of services, including “clean feeds,” to members of the public who desire them.

It is worth noting that these ISPs’ services tend to be more expensive than “traditional” ISPs’ services16, and that extra expense may represent an obstacle to families acquiring their services. My recommendation during our meeting was that the Government should find a way to encourage and promote those kinds of companies, perhaps using the $44m in “clean feed” funding to assist existing “clean feed” ISPs with advertising.

On November 10th 2008, the System Administrators’ Guild of Australia (SAGE-AU) made an alternative proposal, suggesting that the Government’s budgeted $44m could be redirected to accredited “Family Friendly ISPs” by means of a grant programme modeled on the Australian Broadband Guarantee, “... wherein a participating ISP is subsidised for each subscriber.”17 The Guild also pointed out that a side effect of the Government’s current proposal would be to destroy existing family-friendly ISPs by “commoditizing” their industry niche, thereby punishing the companies who have already done the most to support the aims of the Government’s policy, and their alternative proposal cures that deficiency. The IIA and the civil liberties community have supported SAGE-AU’s proposal, and it seems to me that it would be an honourable and controversy-free way for the Government to extricate itself from this mess.

The fact that Government representatives keep making wildly inaccurate statements about their Internet censorship proposal makes it abundantly clear that the ALP did not think this policy through before adopting it. Other organizations and individuals have clearly applied a lot more thought to these matters than anyone in the Government ever has, and my strong recommendation is that the Government should listen to them.

The final point in our meeting concerned Mr. Conroy’s inappropriate behaviour towards me, the IIA and my employer.

I must admit to being slightly stunned by your claimed unawareness of this conduct, because I had drawn your attention to it on the cover sheet of the faxed copy of my letter, which was sitting on the table in front of you even as you denied any knowledge of it.

It has been widely reported18 that during the week of the 24th of October 2008 Senator Conroy’s Chief Political Adviser, Ms. Belinda Dennett, emailed a board member at the IIA to express “... serious concern that an IIA member would be sending [my criticisms]...” and labeling the expression of my political views as “... irresponsible behaviour.” The email message was accompanied by a phone call demanding that it be passed on to the owner and Managing Director of the company which employs me.

It was grossly inappropriate for the Minister to use the IIA as a tool to place pressure on my employer over my personal political views. That reprehensible style of conduct is beneath the dignity of a Minister of the Commonwealth, and cheapens the professionalism of Mr. Rudd’s entire front bench.

As a fellow member of that front bench, and one of Mr. Conroy’s colleagues in the party room, your choices are to either publicly distance yourself from his outrageous behaviour, or, through your silence, indicate your acceptance of his excesses. If you have any integrity you will speak out against him, but if you do not then Australians will know exactly where you stand.

Regardless of your personal judgement on the matter, I require you to convey to the Minister my demand for a written apology for his unprofessional and inappropriate conduct, and for the conduct of his subordinate Political Advisor.

I also ask that you communicate the matter to the Prime Minister, Mr. Rudd, and convey my belief that if Broadband was half as important as he said it was before the last election perhaps it would be a good idea for him to put a grown-up in charge of the Broadband Department.

In my previous letter, I stipulated that there were a great many serious, well-considered, thoughtful and well argued reasons against the Government’s Internet censorship policy. I also expressed disappointment at the fact that we have been debating this issue for over a year and none of those issues have been addressed by the Labor Government in general, or Mr. Conroy in particular.

By the time you read this letter, another month will have passed since you took receipt of my original letter. And, despite the increasing public profile that this issue has been receiving, the Labor Government in general, and Mr. Conroy in particular, still refuse to address any of these concerns on their merits.

This is an appalling display of basic governance skills, and is inconsistent with Mr. Rudd’s oft-repeated claim to be running “a Government for all Australians.”

The Minister’s continuing poor conduct over this issue does little to inspire confidence that any of these criticisms will ever be addressed rationally. In addition to the accusations of unprofessionalism I have made above, Mr. Conroy still misleads (3 Ibid.), omits19, attacks (18 Ibid.), and accuses his opponents of supporting child molesters20. These degenerate behaviours cast a pall over the Rudd Government’s approach to the Internet, highlighting poor judgement on Mr. Rudd’s part in selecting Mr. Conroy to represent him him in these matters.

In conclusion, I reiterate and expand the requirements I stated in my first letter. I require detailed responses to the criticisms contained herein, prepared with at least as much care and research as I’ve invested in preparing the criticisms in the first place. I require you to represent my interests as a constituent and one of this policy’s stakeholders during party room deliberations on the matter. I require you to convey to Mr. Conroy my demand for a written apology for his unprofessional conduct; and for your own public condemnation of same. And I request and require that you privately approach the Prime Minister, Mr. Rudd, with my call for Mr. Conroy’s resignation.

Sincerely yours,

Mark Newton

Thursday, November 27, 2008

first use of moodle

I've only just started to use moodle. The whole idea of a "learning management system" didn't appeal to my contrarian attitudes. I often find that "educational systems" are not best for education and where possible I prefer to swim in the big ocean rather than a regulated pool

However, moodle has become very popular (and is now being advocated by some members of SugarLabs) so I decided to check it out.

It's always hard to figure out where to start with a new system and moodle has lots of features

After playing with the system itself, this teacher documentation page turned out to be a good starting point.

There are some good teaching ideas in there which enable teachers to digitally enhance the sort of things that they already do in classes. This section about Creative Glossary Practices appealed to me:
Instead of creating a glossary on your own, why not have the students create them as they encounter unfamiliar terms? A collaborative glossary can serve as a focal point for collaboration in a course ...

When students are responsible for creating the definitions, they are much more likely to remember the word and the correct definition. Engaging in the process of learning, debating, and refining a glossary can go a long way toward helping students begin using new terms ...
I thought this was a great idea - not too difficult to implement, one which would appeal to the students and which had a good chance to enhance the learning of something which in more traditional teacher directed classroom settings can be dull

In setting this up I found that moodle has Glossary activity features such as:
  • Duplicate entries allowed
  • Allow comments on entries
  • Ability to grade entries
  • Able to attach images which are shown inline (using Encyclopedia format)
  • Auto linking so that words in the glossary are highlighted when used elsewhere, such as in Forums
This is my first activity using moodle with students. We started today with creating a Glossary of terms to do with the Human Body, my Year 8 Science class. The students enjoyed it, being able to type in their own meanings and to see the meanings that other students were entering. I'm off to a good start with moodle.

What I am doing does fit with the moodle philosophy page which defines (extracts only):
Constructivism - people actively construct new knowledge
Constructionism - learning is particularly effective when constructing something for others to experience
Social constructivism - extends constructivism into social settings, wherein groups construct knowledge for one another

I felt these terms had real meaning in the context of the activity I chose to begin with - that this section of the teacher documentation page reflected a real understanding of these concepts.

Friday, November 21, 2008

disability access to laptops is also a hardware design issue

Janet told me that David Wallace wanted to check out something on the XO. "Who is David Wallace?". I was informed he was a quadriplegic and blogger. Here is David's About Me.

Before the visit I read an earlier blog David had written about how his hopes for disability access to laptops had been raised on using an early model of the XO: Lifekludger with the OLPC

But I didn't really begin to understand the issues David was raising until I visited him at his home and he explained it to me

The main issue is touch, more specifically touch with skin, that nearly all laptops / mobile devices are not catering for people who can't touch a touch pad or a screen with their finger

I had no idea. That is, no idea of the requirement of skin to make a touchpad respond. With a finger the pointer moves easily. But when I scrapped with the back of a pen over the touch pad and stylus area nothing at all happened. The things we don't notice.

David wanted to check out the stylus function but unfortunately stylus development seems to have been discontinued. A phone call to Joel confirmed that. The picture below shows what was intended initially but as I say the stylus development has been discontinued.

Once again I had no idea about the importance of the design of hardware, not just software, for people without the ability to touch with the skin. I've since read a few of David's blogs and will try to summarise some of the key points below:
  • need for an input pad that doesn't require using a finger, a dual touch pad that responds to both finger and stylus
  • need for a track-point pointing device on the XO
  • need for a key-modifier program to hold the shift, alt, fn keys while hitting another key (’sticky-key’ software that emulates two or more finger presses on a keyboard)
  • need for a push for accessibility guidelines or standards in hardware design
  • Voice recognition software thats good for dictation may not be great for software control, and vice versa
  • plugging in a trackball to a laptop defeats the purpose of the compact, portable nature of a laptop
  • attempts have been made to develop "touch pencils" but they have not been successful
Read these blogs by David Wallace for more detail:
Lifekludger with the OLPC
The Touch Barrier
Revisiting touch on the OLPC XO laptop and hardware access design

Sunday, November 16, 2008

chrome comic

The google chrome comic (38 pp) is pretty interesting, from various perspectives, mainly adapting the browser to the new world of web applications, moving on from a static web page paradigm
  • improved browser stability through multiple processes
  • faster through better memory control
  • more sophisticated use of JavaScript (virtual machine, better garbage collection)
  • better security from malware and phishing using sandboxing
  • clean, efficient UI (streamlined search features)
  • open source
The comic explores these issues in considerable detail

In a matter of days I've gone from using one browser (Firefox) to four (Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari)

Firefox - best for Add-ons
Chrome - best promotion
Opera - best for SVG and probably CSS
Safari - best for The Lively Kernel

Saturday, November 15, 2008

the lively kernel

The web could be different. It started with structure (HTML) and then progressively new things have been added (CSS, DOM, XML, JavaScript) to make it more dynamic.

Sun Labs Lively Kernel

You need to download safari browser(now available for Windows too) to explore this. Then click the "enter lively kernel" tab at the above site.
"Lively Kernel is alive on the web, meaning that you do not download it or install it"
It's all done with JavaScript and SVG. It demonstrates that browsers will behave very differently in the future - bypassing the HTML, CSS, DOM etc and using JavaScript to develop direct visual drag and drop web programming

It's fairly amazing but needs more development. Not all of the commands work on my keyboard, by the look of it you need a Mac

Dan Ingalls explains The Lively Kernel on this You Tube presentation:

It's a long video but if you watch the first 10 minutes you'll get the idea.

You can move objects around on the screen by dragging, copy objects, edit objects, compose objects (drop one object on top of another and they stick together), scale objects, rotate objects, resize, write scripts, objects can inherit behaviour from other objects, etc.

Fun is one goal of this project

Thanks, Jecel

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stop Internet Censorship in Australia

Take one

NO CLEAN FEED: Stop Internet Censorship in Australia

Electronic Frontiers Australia has done a pretty good job of clearly and objectively summarising the state of play of the great australian ISP level censorship battle, under these headings:
  • What is the Government's Plan
  • What do we know so far?
  • What we don't know is just as important
  • There are technical issues
  • There are free-speech concerns
  • The Clean Feed is bad policy
  • Informative footnotes

Take two

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam asked Senator Conroy (our Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) to explain why he had made an incorrect statement that Sweden, the UK, Canada and New Zealand had similar filtering systems to the one being proposed by him for Australia, pointing out that the systems are not mandatory in those countries. This question was on notice so Conroy had time beforehand to prepare his answer. Conroy read a prepared answer to the House but did not answer the point made by Ludlam about mandatory filtering. Scott Ludlam then followed up with four more questions, which Conroy declined to answer at that time.

Check out this exchange for yourself to evaluate the competence of our Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy:

Thanks to Joel for this information, more here

Monday, November 10, 2008

ignorance and falsehood in australia's internet censorship battle

Filter advocates need to check their facts

Mark Newton exposes some howlers from advocates of Australian Internet censorship at ISP level

(1) No one has advanced a valid argument as to why ISP level filtering is superior to PC level filtering

A former Victorian Family First candidate, Anh Nguyen, suggested that there was a different technology involved in filtering at the PC level compared with the ISP level. Well, according to Mark, who is an expert, there is no real difference. Except that the ISP version will slow everything down and make it harder for parents to set home filters at levels they want

(2) Senator Conroy (our Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) has recently claimed that Sweden, the UK, Canada and New Zealand have already implemented something like what he is suggesting.

This is simply false (read the link for details). Rather, the countries which have introduced government-imposed internet censorship are nations which place more emphasis on opinion suppression than internet access, such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran

australia's digital counter-revolution

Sunday, November 09, 2008

more ice

Sea Ice Growing at Fastest Pace on Record

Click on the image for a larger view. The red line shows that recently sea ice has been growing rapidly in the Arctic and is now back to an average amount.

Perhaps this is connected to an earlier report of abnormal sunspot activity causing cooling

Damn weather, it's always been hard to predict. I'll think about this report next time I see some dramatic footage of an ice shelf crashing into the ocean. I suppose it's difficult for the media to organise a dramatic video of ice freezing. Nothing is proven but skepticism and openness to information which contradicts the global warming hypothesis still seems important to me.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Pearson on Obama's domestic policy challenges

Noel Pearson has this ability to identify the key issues, in this case, the domestic policy issues facing Obama in very challenging times:
Beyond the question of race, there are three domestic policy agendas that confront the US in this time of crisis, to which Obama must forge solutions: the problem of the American underclasses; the problem of the American working poor; and the need for a national gain-sharing deal between those who take the upside and those who wear the downside of globalisation.
- Man with his work cut out
Read the whole thing for Pearson's elaboration of these three domestic policy issues

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

inspired by SVG

SVG = Scalable Vector Graphics

In the last couple of weeks I've spent some time (re) reading David Eisenberg's book SVG Essentials, writing SVG markup, writing SVG tutorials and ranting to various teachers and students that we should be doing more of this in school.

I've put my case that it's rather reasonable that I be able to teach with a standards compliant browser (meaning Opera) and why not an open source vector graphics editor as well --> inkscape

As an interim workaround I've put the USB version of Opera (this is a separate site to the official Opera site) on the USB keys that I'm also using to boot Sugar, so at last my students can see what an SVG animation looks like
  • Tutorials are on the xo-whs wiki SVG page (quite a lot there, more to come)
  • SVG display is on my website SVG page - but get Opera first, otherwise you will see error message or you won't see the animations or if you use IE you won't see anything much at all
Janet, who has considerably more artistic ability than me has also contributed some nice graphics, drawn using inkscape. Thanks Janet

So, why am I inspired by SVG?

It appeals to my sense of economy, that graphics can be represented by algorithms, which makes them small and elegant.

It appeals to my sense that web standards are important and this is an area in which MS falls down not just a little bit but totally. I became aware of this a few years ago by reading Jeffrey Zelman on web standards, the hard struggle to implement CSS, and also readingTim Berners-Lee on the history of the web.

It's mathematical - both simple co-ordinate systems and more complex maths such as bezier curves. I like the fact that art can be done with maths. So are I've only just scratched the surface of SMIL, Synchronised Multimedia Programming Integration Language, but I can see more potential there.

My students have been receptive and patient and in due course I hope to publish some of their pics of weird cats.

interviewed by Phil and Belinda

Recently, Phil and Belinda, two Flinders University education students visited my year 10 class, interacted with the students and after lesson interviewed me. It was for a project for a Digital Media course run by Trudy Sweeney who is also currently President of the Computers in Education Group of South Australia (CEGSA)

The questions were about Scratch, learning environments, etoys and the OLPC. The interview goes for about 30 minutes and is available as an mp3 on this page (also available as smaller question length segments)

Belinda and Phil's whole project about Squeak, Scratch and Etoys is available here

I was impressed by Belinda's ideas for using Scratch to teach Japanese and Phil's expert linux knowledge - and the fact that he went to an anti digital censorship campaign back in the Senator Harradine moral crusade days when he (Phil) was 15 yo! (unfortunately we now have new moral crusaders pushing the same barrow today)

Friday, October 31, 2008

australia's digital counter-revolution

From "digital revolution" to counter revolution in a mere ten months. Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy is threatening to censor the internet of illegal material in Australia at ISP level

Here is Mark Newton's argument against, which leads to the conclusion that Conroy's proposal will lead to increased child abuse:
The online community's argument is a simple one:
  • there's no problem to solve because actual illegal material on the Internet is so rare that nobody ever finds it;
  • even if there was a problem to solve, there's no serious public demand to solve it;
  • even if there was a public demand to solve it, none of the solutions proposed by the ALP will be effective, and the Government has handily provided original research to decimate their own case;
  • even if they were effective, they'll slow down Internet access and reduce Internet reliability, as shown by the same original research released by the Minister on July 22;
  • even if the proposed solutions had perfect performance and reliability, none of them are affordable;
  • even if they were affordable, they'll be implemented terribly by the same underclass of bureaucrat that deemed Mohammad Haneef a terrorist, or Bill Henson a pornographer. The salivating of hangers-on like Family First and Nick Xenophon, lobbying to have the blacklist expanded before it's even in force, demonstrate perfectly how open the system will be to political manipulation and lobbying;
  • even if they were implemented perfectly by perfect administrators, the blacklists will inevitably leak, be published on the Internet, whereupon they'll fall into the hands of nefarious individuals and consequently enable child abuse all over the world, with the direct assistance of the Commonwealth of Australia; and
  • there's no possibility that the blacklists won't leak. Finland's list has already leaked, CyberPatrol's encrypted blacklist is cracked every six months or so. It's delusional to believe that Australia will be any better at securing its officially sanctioned list of Child Porn and Terrorism sites than anyone else. It might take a month, a year, five years, ten years, or two hours. But it will leak, secrets always do. Pressing it into service will be like setting a ticking time bomb, and when it explodes there'll be a thronging multitude of critics pointing at Senator Conroy and saying, "I told you so, you were warned, but you did it anyway".
This isn't a complicated argument. To justify the ALP's policy, cogent, successful arguments against each and every one of those independent points will need to be mounted.
- The perplexing internet debate by mark newton

Further links with brief commentary:

Filtering out the fury: how government tried to gag web censor critics
Documents how Conroy's office tried to silence Newton by directly contacting his employer, Internode

Closed Environment Testing of ISP-Level Internet Content Filtering: Report to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, June 2008 (pdf, 89pp)
I've only read the executive summary, which does claim that filtering technology has improved significantly since 2005 - less degradation, more filtering accuracy and more filtering options for ISP customers. I don't really believe this but it might explain why Conroy went ahead.

But amazingly this report goes onto say:
"ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority) was not asked, as part of the trial, to assess the capability of ISP-level filtering technologies that filter only illegal content. ACMA was also not asked to investigate the balance of costs and benefits associated with implementing ISP level filtering ..."
This is weird. Conroy is talking about filtering illegal material but did not even ask the ACMA to investigate this!

ISP-level content filtering won't work
"The leaders of three of Australia's largest internet service providers — Telstra Media's Justin Milne, iiNet's Michael Malone and Internode's Simon Hackett have, in video interviews with over the past few months detailed technical, legal and ethical reasons why ISP-level filtering won't work."
Dale Clapperton, Electronic Frontiers Australia (video interview, some dumb questions -"Do you have children Dale?" but Dale rises above it. There was another question about how children might circumvent the free government software available at the family level. Dale then turned that around to point out that yes, that will happen at the ISP level, too.

Stop Australian Internet Censorship Petition. Points out that smaller ISPs will be driven out of business by the extra cost

The high price of internet filtering by Michael Meloni
  • 10,000 out of every one million innocent sites will be blocked, figures based on the government report cited above. This will lead to loss of income to businesses. What will be the appeal process?
  • ISPs will need more call centre staff to deal with angry customers
  • There are other more serious threats to which resources could be directed - cyber bullying, identity theft, online predators