Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
November 25, 2002

The Making of a Policy Gadfly Provocative article about a Princeton University computer scientist, Edward W. Felten, who became a policy gadfly when he realized that proposed copyright legislation in the United States would make most of his research illegal. And I like the way Felten reframes the DMCa debate: "It's critical in the high-tech world that people be able to talk about this stuff, study it, take it apart, adapt it to their use," says Mr. Felten. "Even if you're not a technologist, it's important that you be able either to get tools that can do this, or you can participate in the debate in the same way that you can participate in the debate about a political issue that has complicated facts behind it." By Andrea L. Foster, Chronicle of Higher Education, November 29, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Flash and Web-Based Applications Jakob Nielsen holds up his end of his deal with Macromedia and tries to make a little cash on the side as he markets his Flash usability report (featuring "117 usability guidelines"). Nielsen seems to have discovered numbers, which makes me uneasy (when he says, for example, "users had an average success rate of 64%," I simply don't believe he can be that precise). His major point, though, is sound: " Most current Web-based applications are ephemeral and must be immediately understandable or users will fail." What this means is that "Ephemeral applications -- and thus most Flash applications -- must be simple; they cannot have too many features." By Jakob Nielsen, Alertbox, November 25, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Is Microsoft Truly Trustworthy? This article gets to the heart of concerns about Microsoft security issues. It's not merely that the current product contains security flaws, it's that I (and many others, it seems) do not trust the upgrades. My unease is not remedied by suggestions that Microsoft may force people to install security patches, especially when they display a cavalier attitude about broken applications and trashed systems. And then there's this whole issue of digital rights enforcement, which my more cynical self is what really lies behind Microsoft's new emphasis on security. I can't see upgrading Windows. No, I can't see it at all. By Lauren Weinstein, Wired News, November 25, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Truth and fiction on the Net Interesting thesis, steeped in Frege and logical positivism: "as a result of its unlimited power of hypertextualisation, the Web is largely 'self- referential' (or 'connotational'), and that the borders between fictional and 'true' or 'verifiable' worlds are thus much more difficult to determine." The author as a consequence argues that a "new pragmatics" of the web must be taken into account, where by "pragmatics" he means "on-line linguistic and semiotic practices [leading] to new human behaviours." Take, this, add RDF, and what you have is my own understanding of web semiotics, more or less. By Yannick Maignien, The Future of Web Publishing, November 25, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Cybertexts and Hyperreadings in Post-secondary Education Discussion of the use of WebCT course packs based on a survey ("done," says the author, "we suspect, with an eye on commercial benefit") conducted by McGraw-Hill. The (original) French version of the article is significantly better, though both contain numerous errors (WebCT, for example, was founded by Murray Golberg in the French version and Murray Globerg in the English). The value of this article isn't so much in the content (which is suspect twice over, as the emphasis on "e-texts" (as opposed to, say, email and communications) suggests) as it is in pinpointing McGraw-Hill's marketing efforts. By Denis Bachand, The Future of Web Publishing, November 25, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Charter Schools Owe State Millions We have seen this elsewhere (Philadelphia, say) but once again we are seeing that one of the major problems with private schooling is private sector ethics and accounting practices. This short item is a case in point, suggesting that lax enforcement and over-reporting by charter schools are costing the state of Texas millions of dollars of unrecoupable losses. "We're investigating multiple charter schools for various allegations of fraudulent activity related to their request for and receipt of state money," Greg Cox, who leads the Public Integrity Unit. By Staff, Austin American-Statesman, November 25, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Disability, Schooling and the Artifacts of Colonialism Life, I'm sure, is hard enough for people with learning disabilities. But when efforts to provide remedial training and other programs are classified as twenty-first century versions of western colonialism and oppression, I don't think their cause is advanced one bit. The article parodies such programs as saying, "You are a broken version of what we wish you to be, and we will attempt to fix you to..." and in so doing relizes, I think, exactly what it fears. It seems to me that as we approach an era when all learning can be customized, a call for some sort of end to specialized learning is regressive and short-sighted. And don't even get me started on the authors' garbled treatment of rationalism and empiricism. By Christopher Kliewer and Linda May Fitzgerald, TC record, November, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Academy Seizes Computers From Nearly 100 Mids Suppose you came home from work one day and found that your computer had been seized because the recording industry suspected you may have illegal files stored on it. That's what happened to about a hundred midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy this week. Is this the sort of regime the Information Age was supposed to introduce? By Jessica R. Towhey, The Capital, November 23, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Know a friend who might enjoy this newsletter?

Feel free to forward OLDaily to your colleagues. If you received this issue from a friend and would like a free subscription of your own, you can join our mailing list at

[ About This NewsLetter] [ OLDaily Archives] [ Send me your comments]

Copyright 2002 Stephen Downes