Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Time for an Apology

I know it's too late, and I know that it's not really productive to be looking into the past, but I really think we're due.

I want an apology from Stephen Harper.

And I want an apology from the deniers in the U.S. government, from the think tank economists like the Fraser Institute, the conservative religious right, the oil companies and their lobbies, and all the rest of them.

I want an apology from all those people who - purely to serve their own narrow self interests - denied global warming.

Even as recently as, well, April, people are still engaged in this destructive deception. "Observational evidence does not support today's computer climate models," they wrote, lying through their teeth, "so there is little reason to trust model predictions of the future."

Ah yes, all the criminally conservative newspapers were ready to jump on that one.

The observational data is today what it was in April: "increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, melting of snow and ice, and rising sea level..."

I want an apology and a change of policy from Stephen Harper, who as recently as last November was cutting funds to climate change programs and firing climate change experts, telling them they had to explain to the public why they were no longer needed.

"The Canadian government was helping Canadians reduce their energy bills by one-third, and they were doing it on a daily basis, and (Harper) cancelled the program,'' Bennett said at a news conference."

I want an apology from Stockwell Day, who as recently as last month was ridiculing the science that pointed to the fact of global warming. Yes, Stockwell, you can delete the rhetoric from your website, but you can't deny the fact that, for the last decade, you've been the problem. Fess up! And take some responsibility.

I want an apology from former environment minister Rona Ambrose, who spent her term in office mostly backpedaling on Canada's commitments to the world community, including her shameful display at the climate change conference in Nairobi where she said canada would not honour Kyoto.

I want an apology from government officials who not only refused to listen to thousands of climate scientists on the issue, they actually censored the scientists' warning to the public. These officials should be sent to jail for such a blatant disregard of the public interest!

And I want Stephen Harper to apologize for waging war against the Liberals over Kyoto, for saying the accord was based on "tentative and contradictory scientific evidence" and (in a stunning display of stone-age science) complaining that "it focuses on carbon dioxide, which is essential to life, rather than upon pollutants."

But we're not going to get an apology.

Because Stephen Harper isn't really changing. Climate change scepticism was never about what people believe. It was about what people were willing to say in order to prevent the government from taking action.

Action on climate change would have cost his corporate buddies money, and they were (and still are) willing to pay what it takes to make sure nothing is done.

Harper can pretend to be green all he wants. But he has never had a change of heart on the issue. How could he? That would be going against 'his base'.

That's why we won't hear an apology from Stephen Harper. Because he's not sorry. And he'd do it again.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Oh The Humanity

Jack Layton of the NDP is taking on banks for their service fees. "Why me?" cry the bank owners, essential monopolists in today's electronic transaction world, who were only able to scrape by with $14 billion in profits last year.

Of course, the banks have their useful idiots to defend them. One such is the Sun's Tom Brodbeck (one wonders how long you have to bow and scrape on what Sun pays its reporters before you get to cash in on the Tory big bucks and land a cushy job at a fake research agency).

Brodbeck writes, "I don’t know what kind of glue this guy is sniffing. Consumers have all kinds of choice on where to bank and how to withdraw money. And just like 20 years ago, you can still do it for free."

This is simply not true. If Brodbeck is banking for free, then he's either paying a monthly service charge, or he's keeping some significant minimum balance in his (non-interest paying) account. Of course, on a Sun salary, Brodbeck shouldn't know anything about high income banking.

The bank charges are a recent invention. I remember when there was no charge at all for withdrawing from the teller (and I think it was something like 14 cents to write a cheque). Along came bank machines, and they were at first free to use as well. Great stuff; none of us liked waiting in line for the teller. But then not so long ago - it's really only five years or so ago - banks started charging fees. First to other banks' customers. Then their own customers.

The strategy is of course to blame the customer for running up their banking costs. This is, of course, a con game. When customers doing what they have always been doing suddenly start getting much increased charges, it's not the customers' fault. No, it's the $14 billion industry that's gouging them. Again. And making up bank fairy tales isn't going to change that fact.

Brodbeck says, "Everybody likes a little bank bashing." There's a reason for that. Banks, almost uniquely, deserve to be bashed.

How I Would Organize A Conference

From Internet Time, 2010
The structure would be more like a market or a fair. Mostly, there would not be a schedule. Participants would certainly not get a schedule; organizers would have a bit of one, in order to choreograph the event.

The conference area itself would consist of a largish central area with various side areas with more or less privacy (the presumption is that while people will want to go to the side to chat, etc., they won't want to cut themselves off completely from the main event).

The main area would itself have various types of things, including:
- presentation booths - these are not lined up in rows, but are rather islands, round, surrounded by the attendees - exhibitors don't get a booth for the whole conference, rather, just for certain time slots (lots of rotation in the booths) - at any given time there will be many of these booths in operation - some of these (especially those in strategic areas) are no more than soapboxes, whereon a person stands and makes his/her pitch
- bearpits - where from time to time famous people are surrounded by an audience, where - instead of presenting a lecture - they answer questions tossed in by the audience
- demo labs - again, like the booths, nobody owns these, they are used for a certain amount of time - they consist of a large screen and about a dozen workstations - need lots of these, in various configurations - in the open, so people can stand around and watch
- a great big wall where people can put up any sort of notice or advertisement they please (people who spam the board will have their messages removed)
- electronic games and activities (could even make it possible to win 'tokens' by playing and use the tokens to auction things - check your local laws) -- there would absoluetly have to be a Wii area - but also, there are many video-cam games (eg. the video cam boxing game), have those set up as well, whatever games people want to play
- Big screens everywhere - some of them are showing the games (especially the hockey games, especially the finals from the conference-long tournament), others are showing the conference 'backchannel' where participants (you need a conference login) post their thoughts
- The announcers, of course, on the speaker system, letting people know when an event is about to take place - a '10 minute keynote', a 'Flash video demo', the 'George Siemens bearpit', the 'EA Hockey semi-finals', 'the Wii-learn SIG in the alcove...
- Entertainment, including mainstage shows at noon and in the evening, side stage workshops (esp. with electronic music tools), wandering minstrals, jugglers
- The Vendor's Parade
- plenty of tables and chairs throughout, where people can sit and work or chat
- wireless and numerous ethernet ports with the bandwidth to back them up

There would be numerous side areas, including (pay for meals and coffee, etc., with conference vouchers)
- coffee shops (how much would Starbucks pay to have a coffee shop there?) and cafes (meals tend to be 'ad hoc', not huge 'everybody eats at once' factory-style conference dinners)
- computer stores (Future shop? Apple)
- bookstores - a proper bookstore, not just a few titles on a table
- various types of pubs, some open and lively, others more like lounges, others with quiet out-of-the-way nooks
- very quiet areas, with couches for sleeping
- Art galleries / events (local artists are given a space and told to 'create')

You get the idea...

Now then, what we want participants to do is to add to this, in any way they can - we would want lots of ways participants can contribute...
- code jams - where coders create a new applications
- the participants' art gallery - any art, any way
- the conference radio station / podcast (which plays on speakers in various locations, including some of the cafes, as well as online (of course))
- 99-second presentations

Again - from the participant's point of view, none of this is scheduled ahead of time - what they are intended to do is to arrive and follow what interests them

What about papers? After all, that's how many people get funding to travel to conferences...
- the conference book and DVD - participants will be asked to come and, at some point during the event (probably have to sign up for a slot) go to a studio and record a presentation of their work - they can also bring in audio or video clips to add - these will be facilitated by program directors and hosts - the idea here is to make the presentations less formal, not just a person reading, but rather a person showing, being interviewed, interacting with the audience, etc -- a lot of this would also be the material used for the conference radio and shown on some of the video screens throughout - after the show, you can but the book/dvd from Lulu

- Typically conferences take place in converntion halls and the like -- and there's nothing wrong with that -- but it's worth nothing that a conference as described here can fit into pretty much any (large) location - school, college building, small town, whatever...

Monday, January 22, 2007

Simplicity and Standards

Responding to Wayne Hodgins:

This example shows how elusive the concept of simplicity is.

As one commentator has already pointed out, the measure of '1 cubic mile' is needlessly complicated for a a world based on SI.

Moreover, '1 cubic mile' is meaningless as a measure. Nobody knows how much oil '1 cubic mile' represents. It is a unit outside our comprehension. Consider: off the top of your head, how many barrels is it? How many homes does it heat?

Third, the concept of 'oil' is not static. Oil comes in different types, some of which create more energy than others. Is the '1 cubic mile' West Texas Crude? Or what?

Fourth, one wonders how using a measure of volume clarifies a measure of energy. In an energy-conscious world, it may make more sense to educate people about joules than it does to make them imagine cubic miles of oil.

Keep in mind that one joule is the work done to produce power of one watt continuously for one second; or one watt second. And people *do* understand the concept of the kilowatt-hour - it shows up on their electric bill every month.

The main argument for the proposed system (ie., that we use a CMO as a measure) is that it is too difficult to use other measures. Of course, when they are stated as poorly as the authors state them, one cannot help but wonder why.

Consider, for example, "The Three Gorges Dam is rated at its full design capacity of 18 gigawatts." per yer? Let's suppose so - the authors don't say.

Then in the diagram we see that 1 CMO is equivalent to '4 Three gorges dams every year for 50 years'. Huh? How many Three Gorges Dams is that for one year? 200. Why not say one CMO (which is burned in one year) is equivalent to 200 dams (which produce 18 gigawatts per year).

Or, in other words, 36,000 gigawatts per year (gigawatt-years). One year is about 1 year = 8766 hours. That's 315 576 000 gigawatt-hours. That's 315 petawatt-hours, or 0.3 exawatt-hours (I'll leave the conversion to joules to you).

People can handle mega and giga (they do it when they use computers every day). The way things are going, it won't be long before they handle tera and peta. And - nicely - their system for counting units of energy will be the *same* as the one they use to count units of memory. And units of other things.

And what's so complex about 315 petawatt-hours? Nothing.

Looking at this article, I am face with two questions:

1. Why did the authors use oil as a standard?

2. Why did the authors use the mile as a standard?

It seems to me that such a nomenclature makes people think of energy in terms of imperial units and in terms of petroleum products.

And it makes everything else look like a *lot* - compared to the oil. It only takes *one* oil to make up 32,000 or so wind turbines (for 50 years).

How we talk about something says a lot about how we think about something, which is why there are such disputes about standards and nomenclature.

From one point of view, the use of CMO is 'simple'. From another point of view, the use of CMO is politically loaded and culturally specific.

That's why standards are so hard, and especially why discussions of them shouldn't be limited to engineers and should be presented as a "wonderfully short and simple article" in IEEE Spectrum.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Mark of Wisdom

I think that wisdom is the property of the wise, something a wise person develops for him or her self over time, and therefore not the subject of an external standard. What makes a person wise is not the having of a certain opinion, or even the taking of a certain perspective or point of view. To be wise is to have mastered and to have used successfully for a certain period of time the practices that lead to wisdom. The question of whether someone has become wise (and not, note, 'acquired wisdom') is indeterminate in its resolution. Certainly, there is no acid test that identifies the wise (though we can all think of numerous examples we think would demonstrate that someone is unwise).

As Clark Quinn mentioned in his paper, I have listed the practices that I think lead to wisdom in a column on my blog. It should be noted on reading that each of the ten items describes a skill. It describes 'how' to do something. This is deliberate. The outcome of the application of any such skill must be left to the learner. For otherwise, acquisition of the outcome, rather than practice of the skill, becomes definitive of wisdom, and therefore the tendency will be to focus on the outcome at the expense of the skill, at the cost of never learning the skill.

For example, one of the skills I describe is 'How to predict consequences'. The statement of this principle could be questioned - Jonathon Richter quite rightly argues that the skill needs to apply not only to simple Newtonian systems with determinate outcomes but also to complex and chaotic environments in which the prediction is of only a probability or a range of outcomes. But it would be a mistake to say that the acquisition of this skill entails believing, say, that good intentions lead to good actions, or believing, say, that continued inaction on global warming will lead to catastrophe.

To make the test of the skill the test of a believe is to measure, not the having of the skill, but rather, the adherence to orthodoxy. Not everybody predicts the same effect from the same causes: that this can be the case, and that each of the two predictions can be substantiated is evidence, not of predictive failure, but rather, of the chaotic world Richter alludes to.

In a similar manner, some of the writers to this list have characterized 'humility' as one of the attributes of wisdom. Jan Visser characterizes humility as "the awareness of who we are, of our place in the universe, of what lies beyond our own ephemeral existence." Thus characterized, however, humility is characterized not as a practice or a skill but rather as an awareness that certain things are the case. But this test, then, is of what someone believes rather than how they came to believe it, and hence, is not a test of wisdom but of orthodoxy.

It is possible to be wise without humility. To be honest, I do not know my own place in the universe (and routinely disregard the admonishment "that's not your place"). I do not know what lies outside my own existence, if anything. I consider the following two statements to be equally likely: "I am in the universe" and "the universe is in me". From which it follows that there is a great deal I do not know about myself. Being wise may lie in accepting any of these dilemmas, or in opting, on the basis of faith or intuition, one statement or the other.

Clark Quinn's own argument takes the perspective that wisdom results from practice. "Wisdom is making decisions on a systemic basis..." he writes. And that "it’s very much a journey, not a destination." But in so much of what he writes the outcome, rather than the process, does the heavy lifting. The sentence quoted above reads, in full, "wisdom is making decisions on a systemic basis that are in line with our [interests] in the long-term as well as the immediate moment, and in line with our values for not only ourselves but others and society and the world as a whole." I have had to insert the word 'interests' as it is missing in the original, though it could read 'needs' or even 'fashions' at still make the same point.

And the point is: wisdom is characterized by having a certain type of perspective, of using a certain metric. But it seems to me that this should be an outcome of wisdom, and not definitive of it. Is being wise tantamount to enlightened self-interest? This is what the sentence seems to imply. But being wise may equally entail disregard for one's own self-interest, in rising above one's own self-interest. Certainly some Buddhists are wise, but central to the philosophy of Buddhism is what one might characterize as "the cessation of craving" or the cessation of clinging - taking one's own interest and seeing it as the cause of pain, of Dukkha.

As with humility and self-interest, the matter of values is also one of content over process. Quinn writes that the wise person makes decisions, as noted above, "in line with our values for not only ourselves but others and society and the world as a whole." One could hardly find a more compelling example of a call for orthodoxy! He adds, "We’d need to discuss values and deliberately choose a value system to embody. Whichever one we choose (and this is difficult subject all on it’s own), we’ll want to make it explicit."

Certainly there may be arguments for and against a values-based education, just as (say) there may be arguments for or against values-based government, or values-based religion, or values-based economic systems. But to make basing one's reasoning in values definitive of wisdom seems very much to be over-shooting the mark.

Why would I say this? For after all, people familiar with my own work will be well aware of a set of values that permeates it through and through. Yet deeper study will show that I well regard my own work as deeply situated within a certain society, a certain context, and that the values I espouse recognize this, and hence, do not presume to pass judgment on how the other person elects to live his or her own life. And it is a part of this belief to recognize that another person may not live his or her life according to values at all, and yet may nonetheless be wise.

Consider what it is to live one's life or to make decisions according to values. Quinn helpfully quotes Gladwell: “One of humankind’s biggest problems in decision-making is assigning the wrong weights to the variables…. If I have an ethical system, I have a way of assigning those weights” - Malcolm Gladwell. Having values is depicted as - and indeed, arguably is - nothing more than a system of assigning weights to variables, to possibilities, to options. The simplest of value systems is to assign to all things a binary value: right or wrong, good or bad. More sophisticated approaches assign weightings of good and bad, and allow for an interplay between the entities so judged.

How completely the mercantile philosophy has permeated our way of life, that we cannot even imagine the concept of wisdom without also imagining some way of applying weights and measures to its application! Are the philosophies of epicurianism, of hedonism, wrong not because they are bad values but because they deal in quality of experience, quality of life, rather than with the calculation and measurement of what is right and wrong? Lao Tzu says that the attachments of values to things are nothing more than labels, nothing more than signs, and that wisdom consists in recognizing that there is always another way of representing the same reality. Friedrich Nietzsche describes, in Beyond Good and Evil, the transvaluation of value. J.L. Mackie is explicit, in Ethics Without God, that we are "inventing right and wrong".

The appeal of values, as are the appeal of natural laws and the idea of essences, is the appeal of the universal, the idea that there is some means though which me may abbreviate the complexities of our lives and our universe through appeal to some sort of underlying principle, whether that principle represents the Nature of the world, or whether it represents nothing more than an abbreviation of our experience and beliefs. But this is only one way of representing the world or of determining out course of action. Numerous alternatives exist.

Consider, for example, what you would do were you confronted by a strange creature, one that you had never seen before, consisting of an animal with brightly coloured fur, with sharp teeth and savage claws, and a roar that sent chills down your spine. Would wisdom at this point consist in the application of some set of values? Is there some principle of measurement to which you would appeal in this case? Almost certainly not. We most certainly have not formulated any rules describing what to do in such a case - certainly we do know what to do (run!) but any drafting of a rule would happen after the fact. Our actions would be determined by recognition and similarity. It looks like a tiger, best treat it as though it were a tiger.

If we consider our own actions, even for a moment, it becomes clear how many of them are not determined by any sort of value at all (and which are, nonetheless, wise). We breathe, our hearts beat, our blood circulates, not because we will it to be the case, not because it is good or right that it be the case, but merely because we are the sort of creatures that live and breathe. And surely part of being wise lies in being what you are, rather than what you are not? This is why we thought the characters of 'Flatliners' were unwise.

Others of our decisions are governed by what I would call 'network phenomena'. One of the principles of a successful network is 'diversity' - diverse networks are more reliable than those that are not. Fostering diversity, however, means fostering instances of actions and entities that precisely do not adhere to orthodox values. We've all heard the expression, "The exception proves the rule." We recognize that 'generosity is good' (say) by observing (or telling tales) of Scrooge-like people who are not generous, and observing their fate. There may not have been a King Midas turned to gold, but we are all aware from observation the poverty of greed.

What is important here is not that the value was discovered, nor the specific content of the value, but rather, that a process was followed that would allow this learning to take place. That is, we have the capacity to, should we so desire, learn what values there are, and how to apply them, should this be the sort of life we desire. Other people, equally wise, may choose to live their lives value-free, and will report a very different set of experiences. And it has yet to be shown, without prior appeal to values, that their experiences are in some way 'bad' or 'wrong'. As Nietzsche would say, the Superman makes his own rules - and who are we to say he is wrong?

To the extent that there is wisdom in society, it is the result of certain practices, that make people wise, rather than adherence to certain outcomes, that people (today) say are the mark of the wise. Learning this distinction, perhaps, is the first sign of wisdom.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

On Thinking Without Language

Responding to Dave Pollard:

I have long written on the topic of subsymbolic communication and reasoning. So I think you strike a note here. But it could be more sharply hit:

You write, "What is important is that they are effective, workable, successful. Not necessarily the best decisions, but good decisions. These decisions are the result of intellectual, emotional, sensory/somatic (body) and intuitive knowledge (to use the Jungian model) and integrate the conscious and unconscious."

I think that decisions based on subsymbolic reasoning are the best, and not decisions that are merely good enough.

There is a mechanism that describes subsymbolic reasoning. You suggest that the mechanism is "the result of intellectual, emotional, sensory/somatic (body) and intuitive knowledge (to use the Jungian model)." I think you're flailing here.

Subsymbolic decisions (and subsymbolic reasoning generally) is the result of the experience of perceptual processes (which is where we get emotionl, sensory and somatic influences).

In a nutshell, it is the association of these experiences with previous experiences. Any experience, any perception, is the activation of millions of neural cells. These activations may, depending on the experience, include characteristic patterns of activation. It is the matching of these patterns that constitutes the basis for reasoning.

These patterns may reflect any sort of perception - sights and sounds, music, animals, forms and faces. We may associate characteristic sounds with them - these characteristic sounds - words - are also patterns. But for many of our habitual experiences, there are no words. They are ineffable.

Patterns are created from perception through a process of abstraction - we filter our perception, taking in some aspects, discarding the rest. Formal reasoning is this process taken to a great degree - it is abstraction of abstraction of abstraction. Eventually we arrive at 'pure' concepts - things like conjunction, entailment, existence, being - which form the basis for formal reasoning.

These concepts are extremely powerful, but their power is gained at the price if the abstraction. They express broad sweeping truths, but very little about the here and now.

The reasoning of the master is a subtle dance between these two extremes, between the concrete and the universal, a waltz through the layers of abstraction, drawing subtly on each as it applies to the situation at hand.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Another Update

After waiting several more days for CSoft to respond - through which time my site remained down - I lost patience and decided to change hosts.
Ben Werdmuller said... I've had nothing but good experiences with ev1servers.net for colocation.
So I went with them. Set up the account on Friday. All that fun stuff all over again, switching DNS, learning a new panel (this time, it's ensim pro), setting up the database and uploading the data (which, uncompressed, is 272 megabytes (but an impressive 42 megabytes compressed)).

Stuff began coming back online today. All data requests (for pages, posts, etc - anything from page.cgi) are responding, albeit without pretty CSS formatting. All redirects (edurss02.cgi) are functioning again. All archive pages (that's about 8,000 pages, mostly OLDaily and Edu_RSS archives).

Oh, and hey - the server isn't crashing. There are no runaway perl scripts, even though I'm using exactly the same code. The site is responding nicely, so far (knock on wood, etc) despite being hit pretty hard by the search engines (I found that Yahoo has a nice robots.txt command to slow down its slurping; nothing from Google though).

What's next? I need to get the contents of the /files directory uploaded - that's my biggest gap at the moment. Some of the smaller directories as well. I won't be replacing the massive /photos directory, but I will write some redirects to Flickr (I get about three hits a month on those, so I'm not worried). Then I need to get the newsletters back up and running.

It just goes to show - sometimes you can plan something for a month, have it crash and burn, and start over from scratch working on the fly and do the same thing in three days. That's life on the internet.

The people at ev1servers.net have been, I might add, very responsive and helpful.

Friday, January 05, 2007

OLDaily - January 5, 2006


The downes.ca website is currently unavailable as my new host withered and died under the traffic (they are currently incommunicado, adding to the frustration). I am working behind the scenes to get things going again. In the meantime, I can still send an email newsletter from the desktop (the RSS readers will just have to wait, though I'll post a copy to Half an Hour just to tide them over). Links are direct links; no website redirection (this will make my readers in Iran happy, as downes.ca has been blocked there for ages... I don't know why, though) so you can just click and read. Comments, of course, are not working. I have some good items still in the queue, but I've been slowed down a bit by all this so some good reads will be saved until next week. Thanks for your patience; just another day on the internet. p.s. if you are desperate for a downes.ca link you can access the pages by replacing 'www.downes.ca' with '198.164.40.147' - this is temporary and the pages will not be fully styled.[Tags: ] [Comment]



A new online community, Open Thinking, has been launched. What I don't know is why. Is there some reason we cannot use our own spaces to talk about "open technologies or formats in regards to software, publishing, content and practice?" What's the benefit of going over to your place? Is it that blogs aren't good places for discussion?[Tags: , ] [Comment]



The metaphor is compelling and I really enjoyed the story. "You know, no one comes to Turkey to buy a rug. It's not something that you need. Yet, most people end up buying one."[Tags: ] [Comment]



Kathy Sierra makes the distinction I have been trying to get at with the recent discussion on groups and networks. "Art isn't made by committee. Great design isn't made by consensus. True wisdom isn't captured from a crowd. At least not when the crowd is acting as a single entity. Clearly there IS wisdom in the many as long as you don't 'poison' the crowd by forcing them to agree (voting doesn't mean agreeing)." See also Jay Cross, who reads into this some sort of competitive mantra. "I hereby give you permission to challenge other people's ways of thinking. Learning will emerge... Some people avoid conflict. They are called slow learners. " No, Jay, it's not about challenging - it's about sharing (challenging is 'push', sharing is 'pull'). As described by Graham Attwell. Not collaboration, but not competition either. Cooperation. Like the internet. See also Ewan McIntosh.[Tags: , , ] [Comment]



As Leonard Low summarizes, "Futurelab, a non-profit U.K. based organisation, who previously published one of the best literature reviews of mobile learning, have now published a handbook of recommendations for mobile learning approaches - including implementation ideas and case studies." It's a bit funny reading the summary by Tony Vincent... "the device" this and "the device" that. Always referring to 'the device' as though it were some sort of MacGuffin. Interesting observation: "It is harder and takes more time to manage a small set of devices than it is to manage models of use where each learner 'owns' the device."[Tags: , , ] [Comment]



Good article describing the (coming) intersection of the web browser and microformats. I've covered microformats before: these are little snippets of XHTML that define information structures in web pages. "Rather than going to Craigslist, eBay, and other sales services to post something for sale, you'd post the listing to your blog, in hListing format, and Craigslist and other sales services would scrape the Web, find your listing, and include it in their service." Major potential, and a bit easier than developing RSS. So where does the browser come in? "Web browsers are likely going to associate semantically marked up data you encounter on the Web with specific applications, either on your system or online." Hard to say when this would be rolled out; give it a year for Firefox 3 and, what, 6 years for Microsoft? Oh yeah, and in 2010 Blackboard will claim to have invented it. Via elearningpost. See also David Wiley on this.[Tags: , , , , , , , ] [Comment]



Soon it will be seen as odd that a course would be presented simply as a set of static web pages. Of course a course is delivered as a stream, over time. That's what a course is, as opposed to, say, a manual. Tony Hirst demonstrates more RSS technology that makes this happen.[Tags: ] [Comment]



Interesting and potentially useful in the long term. The article describes a research project to reverse-engineer Second Life in order to "make it open and readable like say, HTTP." It would be interesting to see whether the effort could derive some architectural features that would become like a vocabulary or protocol. What we would get is not merely a proliferation of tools that interface with Second Life but also a set of hosts (websites, whatever) that interact with those tools in some other Second-Life-like way. Alternative alt-reality, if you will.[Tags: , ] [Comment]



Funny how the logic works. Something like this: "Students like X, we want students to come, thus, if we build X, students will come." These days it's MySpace. "From a marketing-gone-wild perspective, this will spark a 1000 colleges to create their own MySpace-like tools. Lots of buzz. Long-term value? Mmmm. And in about 6 months, nobody will come back." Don't build a MySpace-like took. Think deeper - think about how your tool (your class, whatever) could work with whatever tools the students happen to be using.[Tags: ] [Comment]



Reasonable set of principles for good intranet design (or, for that matter, good design generally). Note especially the last item: "users shouldn't need extra sign-ins and log-in steps."[Tags: ] [Comment]

Passion, People and Principles

Responding to David Maister
the motivation spiral. The elements of this spiral are as follows: high motivation leads to high productivity and quality, which leads to marketplace success. In turn, this results in economic success for the firm, allowing the firm to be generous with its rewards, including high compensation, good promotion opportunities and challenging work. This atmosphere of ample reward breeds good morale, which results in high motivation:
Hm. This doesn't sound like motivation to me.

What we have is a cycle. OK. But for any cycle there needs to be a driver, something that makes it go. Otherwise you don't go around the cycle, you just sit there. What is the driver here?

It is this: "high compensation, good promotion opportunities and challenging work". But what if you don't find these particularly rewarding? What if they are not particularly motivating?

Every person needs a reason to perform. But this reason needs to be something over and above things that help you perform, otherwise they don't drive the cycle. But compensation, promotion and even challenging work are just things that help you do other things. But what other things?

It's as though you had a car, and everything you did with the car gave you rewards that had to do with the car - more gas, more chrome, a bigger engine. But eventually you realize, it's just a car, and for it to be of any real value, you might want to actually do somewhere and do something for some other purpose.

Eventually, if you are a high performer, you reach this point in the cycle, the point where you realize that simply working to get ahead isn't enough any more, that what you want is not merely to go faster but to actually go somewhere. And that's what this letter sounds like. And your response sounds like, "Buck it up, soldier." You're asking him to have faith in the spiral. But that's not good advice; it's not even kind advice.

As people become increasingly self-sufficient, this is becoming increasingly true: people do not work for the pay, they work for the work. That is, they do what they do because they believe doing what they do is inherently valuable. The wage is nice, and if they get good pay, that's a bonus.

This is completely absent from many companies today, especially Fortune 500 companies. These entities exist solely for the purpose of earning money for their shareholders. Now there's something to get you going in the morning! "Let's go! I have to go out and earn those shareholders another penny a share today!" Where's the value in that?

And if that's all you have (and if that's what you've been working 24/7 to do) then you're in pretty bad shape once you've realized what's going on.

First of all, you have to find something you actually do value (and making profits for shareholders ain't gonna cut it, not never). This could be something close to home like supporting your family, something more social like promoting literacy or housing or peace, or something spiritual like religion or enlightenment.

This is a hard call. You have to accept some sort of world view to find anything to be of value, and even then, it may be necessary to take what Kierkegaard called a "leap of faith" - you have start valuing something in the belief that this act will eventually lead to your actually valuing something.

Sometimes people have to go off on spiritual quests or into the wilderness or just on vacation to find this. Your writer should take a month off and go to Africa.

Whether or not you have some Big Thing to believe in or whether you have some simple everyday values, you can now look at your work in a new light.

Either your work supports the value or it doesn't. If it supports the value, there's your motivation (and you'll find that if you work with other people who support the value you'll even have a cheering section).

If it doesn't support the value, then it may at the very least be viewed as a resource pump. Your job gives you the money (and network, etc) you need to support your value in your own time. In this case, you need only be motivated enough to keep the pump going; save your real passion for your off-hours work (this is a pretty common approach for people who find their values in their family or their church - most companies care about neither, and never will, so people place their passion outside their work).

You may not like this advice - but I am honestly not going to tell someone to get all passionate about increasing shareholder value.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

In Case You Are Wondering...

No, I have not disappeared and downes.ca is not down for the count.

But...

The CSoft server crashed within a couple hours of going live with downes.ca and has now crashed three times in less than 24 hours (it is currently crashed). And I wasn't even harvesting or sending email!

I have removed all the scripts and replaced them with simply print commands saying that the script is not currently active. The server still crashed. There is no reason for this; I think that it simply is unable to handle the traffic.

It is as usual very difficult to get more than a terse two or three word reply from the CSoft administrators (I really don't understand their reluctance to communicate with me).

So right now, I am again waiting for a response from CSoft. I am also scouting around for a new web host - I am beginning to think that I need a colocation service, that is, a dedicated web server.

Any advice would be welcome...

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

One Laptop Per Child

One person on schoolforge said this:
An interesting article by one of the GNU Classpath Developer Roma Kennke

He thinks what our children really need are:
* Parents.
* Time to learn.
* Childhood.

and they don't need:
* Floods of information and media.
* Plastic toys
* And certainly, kids don't need a computer
Then another said this:
When your world is dominated by where your next meal is coming from and IF your next meal is coming, you probably aren't too concerned about things like PC's, the Internet, etc. This is one project that should die an early and fast death.
This is my reply:

It is true that people in developing nations are most worried about where their next meal is coming from. Computers aren't high on the list.

But that's the problem. These children have no way to earn a living, and when they are parents, they will have no way to care for their children.

It should be abundantly and blatantly obvious that aid to impoverished children should consist NOT ONLY of the basics of survival. At some point, aid needs to focus on how they will grow so they need no further aid. 'Teach a man to fish...' and all that.

The suggestion that they need parents and time to learn and all that is cutesy and all motherhood (quite literally) in a family values kind of way, but is utterly useless. They're not going to to get that (you can't just manufacture parents), and even if they got that, it would not improve their situation at all.

That's why development aid often consists of things other than the basics of survival. You might say that a starving child has no use for a road, and directly you'd be right, but the road is what allows people and goods to travel, and thus enables products to flow out of the community and the food those products pay for to flow into the community.

You might say that a starving child has no use for a power plant, or a furniture factory, or an aqueduct, or even things like a postal service, and you'd be right. But all of these things make it easier, make it more possible, that the child in question will get food.

The question is, WHAT BEST will improve the poor child's chances of being able to make a future for him or her self.

And honestly, it's hard to come up with something better than a laptop and free (or very low cost) internet connection.

The laptop teaches the child. Perhaps not as effectively as a parent or a teacher - but remember, these kids are not going to get parents or teachers. There isn't enough money in the world - have you any understanding of what a teacher costs? For many children, if the laptop does not teach them then nothing will. And a laptop is a whole lot better than nothing.

Moreover, once the child has learned a few things, then the child can use that very same tool to actually earn money. Unlike almost anything else, a computer allows you to make something from nothing. You can create software, you can create designs, you can perform services like translation or transcription, you can answer questions, you can write and make music and so much more.

The cost of this is $130 or so per child, plus whatever the connection costs are over time. That's less than it costs to feed them - a lot less.

And if we're doing comparative costing, well then let's keep in mind that the cost of one cruise missile would pay for every child in a developing nation to have a computer. The cost of the Iraq war could have provided every child in the world a computer (and probably fed and housed them too). The money developing nations spend on arms (usually purchased from the U.S. or France or Britain) would feed and educate their children. So I don't buy this whole 'misplaced priorities' argument. If a country can afford to fight a war, it can afford to provide computers for children.

I'm ready to entertain the argument that a computer might not be the best way to educate a child and to then provide a means of employment. But believe me, family values ain't it. Nor anything else I've seen.