By Stephen Downes
August 12, 2003

It seems like an odd use of billions of dollars worth of technology, but Google can now be used as a calculator. "To use Google's built-in calculator function, simply enter the expression you'd like evaluated in the search box and hit the Enter key or click the Google Search button. The calculator can evaluate mathematical expressions involving basic arithmetic (5+2*2 or 2^20), more complicated math (sine(30 degrees) or e^(i pi)+1), units of measure and conversions (100 miles in kilometers or 160 pounds * 4000 feet in Calories), and physical constants (1 a.u./c or G*mass of earth/radius of earth^2). You can also experiment with other numbering systems, including hexadecimal and binary." By Unknown, Google, August, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Gentoo Package Accused of Violating DMCA
Before demanding that service providers "remove or disable access" to internet accounts, publishers should actually determine whether a file such as INFMapPacks123FULL-MAN.zip is an unauthorized copy of PacMan or whether it is (as it is in this case) something else entirely. This is just harassment. I agree with this commentator: "Companies that have made invalid claims such as this one should be punished. At least they should be held liable for any damages if an ISP removes contents that they claim are infringing." In an unrelated story, Microsoft was ordered to pay $521 million for patent violations. Some example, eh? By CmdrTaco, Slashdot, August 12, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Copyright and Digital Media in a Post-Napster World
This paper on copyright in the digital age takes on a relentlessly legalistic point of view, perhaps understandable given its source, but quite dissatisfying to the reader. It's a good overview of the legal opinions in the United States regarding copyright, but the paper has an unfortunate tendency to convert legal opinion into fact - for example, the declaration of a U.S. court that Kaaza falls under its jurisdiction does not make it so, nor does the declaration that 'shrink wrap licenses' are enforcable mean that people have somehow "agreed" to thereby waive their right of fair use. The paper almost completely ignores decisions outside the United States (except (eg., p. 33) where the decision "brings them into line" with U.S. directives). The discussion of digital rights management is a bit more balanced, but dwells excessively on the question of how such "rights" are enforced. The paper ends with a plea to "stop the rhetoric" but, from where I sit, to do so would be to abandon the field completely to the publishers, since like most people, I am not in a position to create law or even have my say in court. By Unknown, GartnerG2 and The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, August, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Symbol Grounding and Extensible Aggregators
This is a difficult article (you can tell by the fact that even the title needs a little interpretation). But it gets at the heart of a debate that is gradually engaging the entire XML community. In a nutshell: how do you know what the names in XML tags mean? In traditional XML, they are defined in a fixed vocabularity (such as IEEE-LOM). In RDF, they are defined by various name-spaces, which may be mixed and matched. For myself, I fall firmly into the second camp, though I am not dogmatic as to whether RDF is used, just so long as I can define terms on the fly. I will have more on this and will try to find a nice outline. Tim Bray advances, by way of reply, the sceptical line: only humans do semantics, and the namespaces themselves don't matter one whit. Bray is partially right, but for the wrong reasons. For my own part, I have been re-reading Ludwig Wittgenstein recently in this regard. Because, while I think that we can't just define our way into meaningful metadata, it doesn't follow that we must therefore do without meaning. Meaning is use, according to the famous slogan, and while I don't think it makes a great theory of cognition, I think it makes a fantastic theory of metadata. By Jon Udell, Jon Udell's Weblog, August 11, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Those Who Can't
I passed on this article when it came out last week, but it has since attracted a raft of commentary on the WWWEDU mailing list, so perhaps I have misjudged the mood (hey, it happens sometimes). The gist of the article is that "Teacher training is lagging the adoption of technology." The majority of posters on WWWEDU agree, citing examples where students take over the operation of projectors and other equipment. Still, as one writer comments, "Let's critically judge teachers in terms of their technology integration skills once the technology has arrived at a maturity that makes it possible to guarantee some kind of stability and continuity!" By Frank Catalano, Seattle Weekly, August 6, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2003 Stephen Downes
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