Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
June 11, 2002

Canada Makes Little Headway Against Piracy: Study I would like to see one day a report on how the issue of copying content and software is given a biased treatment in the news media (which clearly has a vested interest in the dispute). A case in point is this item, which uncritically repeats statistics released by a business lobby group, to argue for increased fines for "software piracy" (good reporting used to consider the countervailing view, but this is no longer necessary, it seems). I won't dwell on the article's repeated statistical and argumentative errors. They key item in this article is this: "Ms. Scott said that the group's education tactics are not working. It needs to be tougher with violators, she said, who tend to be small and mid-sized businesses that look for cheap or free software to run their computer operations." Two responses. First, if you cannot convince a population that an act is wrong, only repressive sanctions will prohibit the act, and those only temporarily. And second, there was once a day when the desire for cheap software - or anything else - would be loked at as a business opportunity, not as grounds for increasingly severe legislation. By Jack Kapica, Globe and Mail, June 10, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Programmers Enroll in Political Training If you think education and public policy are unrelated, then you should read this item about a new computing science class being taught at Stanford, a policy research seminar taught by Barbara Simons and Edward Felten, a programmer who last year cancelled a speech because of legal threats from Hollywood. A question worth asking is whether a Disney University (or any counterpart) would ever teach a course which allowed students to fight against copyright restructions. By Lisa M. Bowman, CNet News, June 10, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Best Practices: Community Organization Though this overview article is directed toward the creation of smart communities - that is, cities and towns that provide online public services and governance - the overall lessons should be taken to heart by educational institutions. Foremost among these is the need for a vision and a plan that is genuinely created by and adopted by all constituents: in educational institutions, this means that administration, staff and students must all be a part of the plan. By Smart Communities, Industry Canada, May 24, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

A New System for Storing Data: Think Punch Cards, but Tiny Think briefly about the implications of rewritable storage device that holds the equivalent of 200 CD-ROMs on a chip the size of a postage stamp. The system reads and writes by making atom sized dents in a piece of plexiglass. Right now it is too slow to be useful but "it's in a state where all the big problems are solved." By Kenneth Chang, New York Times, June 11, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect] to Relaunch Originally formed to pressure browser software companies (notably Microsoft and Netscape) to comply to web standards, the relaunch of the Web Standards Project (WaSP) will direct its energies doward bad website developers. "Thousands of web designers and developers are still using old school methods that disregard document structure, ignore accessibility, and favor proprietary code over standards such as the W3C DOM." Yeah, OK. I will look forward to the useful tools. But if someone tells me I have to ditch my nice copper background because it's not standard, well, it's not going to happen. By Andrew King, WebReference, June 11, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Torwand Challenge OK, I probably should not have spent a good chunk of the afternoon learning how to play this game. It involves kicking moving soccer balls into a small target protected by a goaltender (you may have seen it on television; it looks impossible). It is worth noting, though, that I got pretty good at it after about an hour. This game steps you nicely through progressively more difficult iterations. It's learning theory at its best, completed without a word of instruction (or if there were any instructions, they were in German). By Unknown, Neue Oz Online, June, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

E-learning Companies SmartForce, SkillSoft Combine The big e-learning news making the rounds today is the proposed merger between Smartforce and Skillsoft. OLDaily readers, of course, have been expecting such a merger. Though the announcement says Skillsoft will become a Smartforce subsidiary, the optics say otherwise: Smartforce is trading 2.3 of its shares for each Skillsoft share, the Skillsoft CEO becomes the merged company's CEO, and Skillsoft gets the deciding vote on the board. The new company is projecting losses even before merger expenses. Expect layoffs and more changes before this is through. By Reuters, InfoWorld, June 10, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2002 Stephen Downes