By Stephen Downes
July 23, 2003

Economics, Psychology, and Sociology of Security
My new colleague Seb sent me this link to a PDF file. The author argues that approaching the concept of security from the point of view of formal methods is a fundamental mistake. Formal systems do not allow people to break the rules or interpret the rules, and yet, this is essential. When a DRM system says "do not copy" then you can't copy. period. It wouldn't matter if a life depended on it, you couldn't break the rule. But people do not adapt well to absolutes. This is because people, unlike formal systems, are acutely aware of context, and so know when a rule should be bent or broken (and by the same token, are able to recognize when an inherently insecure system, such as fax signatures, has been breached). We don't see that yet in DRM, and until we do, no DRM system will succeed. By Andrew Odlyzko, Financial Cryptography 2003, J. Camp and R. Wright, eds., December 31, 200-31 8:33 p.m. [Refer][Research][Reflect]

What's In a Name?
It seems like an eon ago that Jay Cross declared e-learning dead, but it was only a couple of months. Kevin Kruse responds to this claim in his July column, arguing that it really depends on how you define e-learning. "If we use a broad definition, we can see the many successes of e-learning and even see how it has permeated our everyday lives." I really like his example: "I turned to my laptop and searched for 'bears nocturnal' on Google, and in a 10th of a second I received 20,500 pages of information. Of course, it only took the first page to let me know that bears are mostly nocturnal (it depends on the season and how hungry the bears are). Was this e-learning? By most definitions, no. There was no support, community, multimedia, tracking or structured ISD process. Were digital technologies involved? Yes. Did my daughter and I learn something? Yes again. To me, that makes it an e-learning experience." This, to me, not merely counts as e-learning, it is definitive of e-learning. Now, if only we could convince publishers that a tenth of a second (or so), rather than two months, is the new norm. By Kevin Kruse, Chief Learning Officer, July, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

RFID Chips Are Here
Two major items make this article worth a read. The first is the clearest evidence yet that RFID tags are upon us. If WalMart is interested, everybody is interested. The second is a very clear description of some of the implications of RFID. An RFID tag embedded, say, in a pair of jeans follows the product for its entire lifetime, broadcasting its unique identity. So when you walk into the Gap they will know instantly (by scanning your Levis) whether you are a regular customer or just a poseur. "Right now, you can buy a hammer, a pair of jeans, or a razor blade with anonymity. With RFID tags, that may be a thing of the past." By Scott Granneman, Security Focus, June 26, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Dan Brickley
This link is to an RDF file (which means it might not display very well in your browser). The purpose of this link is not to discuss the subject (Dan Brickley, who you can read about here) but rather to show an example of a FOAF (Friend of a Friend) file. If you are not afraid of XML squiggles, have a look. I point, in particular, to the <Person> element at the top of the page. What we have here is an XML description of Dan Brickley, including his current email address, date of birth, image, nearest airport, school home page, and more. Now the purpose of FOAF is to create a web of trust - the file includes the identities Brickley knows and trusts; the idea is that, if you trust Brickley, you can probably trust the people he trusts, and hence, trust people who might be (via a FOAF chain) complete strangers. But I am more interested in the concept as a means of identification. think about it. When we enter a value into the <creator> field of a Dublin Core or Learning Object Metadata file, which would be more useful, Brickley's name, typed as a string, or the address of his FOAF file? Keep in mind, his FOAF file is under his control. If he changes his email address, his place of employment, or even his name, this file changes. The answer is pretty obvious. So why, then, are we doing it the other way? By Dan Brickley, July, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Mind of a Teacher
Steven Pinker talks about reaction to his online course, offers reflections on contemporary pedagogy ("Too often, he says, teaching is based on presenting and analysing flaws and contradictions in research data"), and levels some scathing criticism of academic publishers ("[Journal publishers] add virtually zero value, don't pay editors or writers, and make a fortune. All they ever did was smear ink on the paper and put copies in the mail.") It would be just another opinion... but this is Steven Pinker talking. By John Bald, The Guardian, June 24, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

This is interesting. I described last week a system that allows you to publish your own book online. Well, XanEdu is today marketing a system called OriginalWorks, a system that "specializes in publishing academic work for use in your classroom, transforming your own personal work into a professional, high quality book," according to the mailout. Nothing on the site about price - you have to call them or send an email - which suggests that this is not a free service. Still: what do the publishers do? By Various Authors, XanEdu, July, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Schools Rebuke Music Biz Demands
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston College have refused the music industry's demands that they reveal the names of students suspected of file sharing. But let's not get ahead of ourselves: the schools' objections are procedural, not principled. "We are opposing the subpoenas, not in an effort to protect students from the consequences of copyright infringement, but rather to establish the proper procedures to be followed in the future." Yeah, whatever. By Katie Dean, Wired News, July 23, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2003 Stephen Downes
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