By Stephen Downes
April 28, 2003

The Cats
After a number of days of silence (no purrs, no meows) it is now chaos here in Downes manor as on Saturday we became the new home of three (yeah, count 'em) kittens: Bart, Polly and Nadia. Pudds is, of course, never forgotten. But is is so nice to hear the pitter patter of tiny feet tearing around the living room. No guarantees on the video - if you have dial-up, don't even bother (streaming media server coming some day soon, I hope). But everyone should enjoy the photos. By Stephen Downes, Stephen's Web, April 28, 2008 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Scientists Protest EU Software Patents
What Europe does not need is a U.S. style patent system in which such nebulous concepts as business methods can be owned. This according to a group of high profile European scientists who have launched a protest against proposed reforms to the European patent system. "The fate of the proposed patent plan could have a dramatic effect on the way software is developed in the EU, with many developers and small businesses fearing a U.S.-style system in which large companies with thousands of software-related patents are able to force smaller competitors to pay for intellectual property licenses." By Matthew Broersma, CNet, April 28, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

A quick comic-book introduction to the Party line on copyright. Some days I wish I had access to the same propaganda machine to get the other side of the story out. PDF format. By Juan Acevedo, WIPO and INDECOPI, October, 2001 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Will Plain-Text Ads Continue to Rule?
Jakob Nielsen examines the phenomenon of text-based ads. They have been a success on Google and are beginning to infuse blog-space. I think there are two sides to this story. The first is that, since text-based ads load quickly and don't distract the reader, they are more tolerable. But equally importantly, the Google ads (at least, though not the blog-space ads) are contextually relevant. This, plus a clear message, is what encourages readers to follow the link. I have toyed with the idea of text-ads for this newsletter (more as a mental exercise, not with any intent of actually doing it). What would work? They would need to be differentiated, otherwise they will cost the newsletter trust. And they would need to advertise items of direct (though commercial) interest to readers that I do not otherwise cover - things like conference announcements, course announcements, and (to a lesser extent) products. I think they would work - but they will work only if subscribers read the newsletter, rather than merely receive it. By Jakob Nielsen, AlertBox, April 21, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Writing History With Microsoft's Office Lock-in
There's XML and then there's Microsoft XML, and in future Office produces there will be Microsoft XML and user-defined 'arbitrary' XML that can be read by some, but not all, versions of Microsoft Office. Despite what Microsoft may say about its support for open standards, the reality is that the Redmond software company weaves its own proprietary, locked-in flavour, condemning its many users to data purgatory. " We continue to live in a world where all our know-how is locked into binary files in an unknown format. If our documents are our corporate memory, Microsoft still has us all condemned to Alzheimer's." By Andrew Orlowski, The Register, April 25, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Priming the Pump for Better Classroom Performance
This is an interesting article and worth reading, not because it advances the field to any great degree but because it so vividly illustrates the dangers of working in a vacuum. The story is simple: a Stanford business professor, Paul Romer, developed a tool that assigns and grades student work. Nothing unusual here, though the article makes it sound as though Romer had discovered fire. But thoughout this intervew what emerges most clearly is a lack of awareness of other work in the field. For example, Romer asserts that "Nobody is actually building a business around providing high-quality software for teaching." Where has he been for the last five years? His knowledge of open source (he spends much of the article defending his for-profit model) is equally suspect. "For the most part open-source software is usable by geeks, but it isn't very user friendly for others." Maybe he saw a command line processor once. I don't know. By Kathleen O'Toole, Stanford Business, May, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

New Technologies, New Ways to Learn
Replete with resources, this article examines the changing nature of learning as new information and communication technologies are added to the mix. I really like the theoretical approach followed by this article, which begins with a summary of Lawrence Lowrey's The Nature of Learning:

  1. Learners construct understanding for themselves.
  2. Understanding is to know relationships.
  3. Knowing relationships depends upon prior knowledge.
From this perspective, we can see at a glance why educational television failed to live up to it promise, and why new technologies might succeed. By Graeme Daniel and Kevin Cox, Web Tools Newsletter, April 28, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Grants Promoting Unfettered Innovation
The focus of this article is the funding of works by charitable foundations, but I would argue that the logic applies equally to government funded initiatives. The author argues that "it's essential that the foundation community recognize a crucial need: to keep tomorrow's information architecture as open, as free for all to use, as possible." The reason for this isn't that the free market is bad; quite the opposite. But "markets have failed to serve some genuine needs, such as treating diseases of the poor and dispossessed." Thus, in areas where there is a significant social benefit to access - such as in education and health care - foundations and government programs ought to ensure that this access is provided. Sounds reasonable to me. By Dan Gillmor, San Jose Mercury News, April 27, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2003 Stephen Downes
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