Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
January 7, 2003

Jo Cool or Jo Fool The androgynous name was a good idea for this site, but the all-male imagery wasn't. But aside from this - and some quibbles about the way the site represents some issues - I have to say that overall this is a pretty good tool for teaching net awareness. I really liked the examples - they are characteristic of a wide variety of the sorts of sites, tools and situations you find on the web every day. The writing is loose and informal, and the navigation is reasonably intuitive (a couple of glitches there, but nothing a teen can't figure out). The quiz at the end could do without the questions on stats - the content gave you no information about how to answer those - but is otherwise a great way to reinforce the learning that takes place. And the site comes with a downloadable teacher's guide. Great work. Thanks to the Teacher List for another hit. By Unknown, Media Awareness Network, December 31, 200-31 8:33 p.m. [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Teen Cleared in Landmark DVD Case A Norweigan court has decided unanimously that Jon Johansen, a programmer that developed the DeCSS software used to decrypt DVD codes, is not guilty of DVD piracy charges. Johansen argued that he had written the code to descramble DVDs he purchased legally in order to watch them on a Linux computer, a system for which no decryption software had been written. The prosecution, motivated by the motion picture industry's claims that DeCSS is illegal, will appeal the ruling. By Morten Overbye, CNN, January 7, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Online Privacy Is Dead - What Now? You know, it's interesting how the very same people who go on and on about protecting content producers' rights blithely accept that consumer rights are dead in the water. Even if these rights are protected by legislation (and it's not clear that they are), expectations of individual privacy and security are pointless on the internet. The minute you conduct a transaction - or even post your email on a web site - you will get spammed and worse by what this article calls "people with less-than-noble intentions." And it's all very well for the author of this article to advise caution - "become more selective about providing information" - but let's not fool ourselves here. A very double standard is being applied. That's why wise pundits know that the very same company that wants to put tracking and enforcement mechanisms into online content to protect copyright wants to use exactly the same data to create individual profiles and launch personalized marketing campaigns. Or worse. By Keith Regan, E-Commerce Times, January 2, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Making Copyright Ambidextrous: An Expose of Copyleft An interesting discussion of open source licensing which argues that the success of the movement is based on the possibility of using legal sanctions to enforce its terms. "Without some onus on users to give something back for what they get, it is unlikely that a robust software commons will continue to flourish indefinitely." I think there's a point to that, though it's a sad commentary on the state of the world when an explicit declaration must be made to prevent people from stealing from the public commons; it's a lot like requiring that each tree in the public park be labeled in order to prevent people from cutting them down for their own use. It seems to me that permission to privatize and copyright publicly available content or code ought to be the exception, not the rule. By Maureen O'Sullivan, Journal of Information, Law and Technology, December 6, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Bruce Perens' Open Source Series, with Prentice Hall PTR Publishers The people at Slashdot are all over this, of course, as Prentice Hall will publish a series of books under an open source license. "How do we make money? People like paper. We put the paper versions in stores several months before the electronic versions come out. Since the retail channel is filled as soon as the paper versions come out, it removes most of the incentive that a second publisher would have to reprint the books while they are new." I think this is a good idea. I wonder whether they need a book on logical fallacies... By Bruce Perens, January 6, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Columbia's Internet Concern Will Soon Go Out of Business, the commercial company created by Columbia University to provide courses and other material over the Internet, will be folded in April. Why didn't it work? Though Columbia and its partners invested $25 million and created 2,000 courses, the 65,000 students it attracted weren't enough to cover the costs. By Karen W. Arenson, New York Times, January 7, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Hackers Take on MS on Copyright Protection for eBooks A British programmer is walking on dangerous grounds having posted on his website the source code to a program that cracks the highest level of Microsoft's eBook DRM scheme. His objective, however, is benign: he would like to be able to read eBooks he has leagally purchased on his older Win CE device. Leaving aside the question of the legality of his actions, this case should make clear the other major objective of encryption technology: vendor lock-in. If you can't read your own document without the latest Microsoft product, and if it's illgal for anyone else to figure out how to read the document, then you are tied for life (or at least for as long as that document is useful) to Microsoft products. Oh, and belive it or not, I have to issue a language warning before referring people to this article. The Register is just too much sometimes. By John Leyden, The Register, January 6, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Elsevier's Vanishing Act Who made Elsevier the arbiter of history and law? That's what appears to be happening as the publisher is quietly removing articles from its database: no notice, no explanation, no appeal. It used to be, if Elsevier found an article plagiarized a previous source, say, a noticewould be published and, if you didn't believe them, you could check for yourself. No more. The policy of removing articles also conviently allows Elsevier to remove any evidence that its review policy is flawed. That's what allows their representative, Eric Merkel-Sobotta, to assert that the company "has not removed any article from ScienceDirect due to plagiarism." Copyright, the blunt instrument of choice, is the most common ground for removal. But articles have been removed from Elsevier and elsewhere because they criticized corporations or adopted pro-Palestinian terminology. This sort of heavy-handed revisionism is inappropriate and clearly shows the dangers of depending on large, central, commercial (and therefore financially vulnerable) databases of academic research. By Andrea L. Foster, Chronicle of Higher Education, January 10, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Envelope, Please: WebCT Opens Nominations for e-Learning's 'Oscars(R)' What are the chances that a course designed in Blackboard will win an award offered and judged by WebCT staff or appointees? Yeah, that's about what I thought. So claims in this press release that their awards are the "e-Learning's 'Oscars(R)'" are more than a little exaggerated. My advice: stick to the vendor neutral awards competitions and free yourself from marketing hype. By Press Release, WebCT, january 6, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2003 Stephen Downes
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