Joho the BlogNovember 2006 - Joho the Blog

November 30, 2006

Abductive reasoning

Never has Euan Semple’s The Obvious blog been so aptly named. You’ll have to go to his site to see a not-to-be-missed snippet of English as it was never meant to be uttered[Tags: ]


Free the space!

I’m sure I’m heading for a D’oh! moment, but, much as I enjoy the ambiguity of the URL, why aren’t spaces allowed in Web addresses? URLs are already delimited by quotation marks in HTML markup, as in <a href=>. In fact, couldn’t we make a rule that whatever is the first character after the “href=” is the delimiter, a tactic I learned about when I worked at Interleaf? That way, you could even include quotation marks in the address, as in <a href=|http://www.lumberjacks me “Carla”.html|>.

Allowing spaces and flexible delimiters would let us express URL’s in ways humans can more easily understand. After all, should Web pathnames be harder to read than Windows pathnames?

In fact, when we need to make it clear that we’re expressing a path and not a space-delimited series, we could learn from Windows’ conventions: Use quotes as delimiters for paths such as “C:\My Programs\Whirligig Anti Virus Pro\read me.txt.” Having to use explicit delimiters on paths on occasion seems to me a small price for being able to use spaces as delimiters between words.

Now, what is the big point I’m missing that’s so obvious that I’m about to go D’oh! ? [Tags: a href=”” rel=”tag”> html ]


November 29, 2006

The safe harbor theory of media literacy – and two discussions about the Net and teaching

I had the honor of keynoting the New Hampshre Society for Technology in Education Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference, and then led two conversational sessions (where “led” means “sat while knowledgeable and committed people engaged in conversation”).

I came away realizing why media literacy programs often bother me. Frequently, the idea even is that we have to teach our children how to recognize the Internet sites that are as reliable and safe as what they’ll find in a library. That’s a useful skill, but the overall picture is wrong. If you want to know what’s going on in a field, the static and credentialed sources generally aren’t where you want to go. The credentialed sources are great for certain types of information—the solid and stolid facts, the commoditized information, the boring truth—but the real intellectual action is usually occuring in the blogs, newsletters, and forums. Confining students to the credentialed sites is likely to kill their interest and enthusiasm.

And then we have them write reports. Is there anything more likely to throttle curiosity than a report?

The two discussion groups this morning, however, were full of good ideas. For example…

Students need help “decoding” search engines, one participant said; she gets bibliographies that list Google as a source. (I’d like to see students build bibliographies together, in a class wiki. That way they could teach one another about how to evaluate a site, and the teacher could always step if they’re going wrong.)

Another participant set up a page for her class.

Someone has his students observe how they talk about the game sites they visit, for they’re evaluating those sites using valuable and sophisticated criteria.

Someone has her students using wikis to create study guides.

One person is concerned about the study that shows that students spend only 20 seconds evaluating a site. That seems to me to be appropriate, although students need our help learning how to evaluate a page in 20 seconds. Or 10.

In an AP calculus class, every day a different student is the note-taker, posting the notes on a blog. The note-taker is also responsible for answering questions on the blog that day.

In an art class, each student has a blog. Peer feedback is encouraged.

A kindergarten teacher uses a blog as a replacement for the traditional bulletin board, writing posts of interest to parents. She also uses to post photos and audio about the photos. She has connected her students with New Zealand kindergarten students where there are no bears and it’s summer in the winter.

One teacher said that a parent printed out his daughter’s MySpace page and told her he was going to post it at the mall. When the daughter objected, mortified, the parent explained that MySpace is as public as the mall.

One teacher has a book club blog for the kids.

The discussions weren’t, however, merely lists of things you can do on the Web. That’s just what I recorded, in a haphazard way. (Where was the note-taker student posting things on a wiki? :)

I so much enjoy getting to hang out with teachers. Along with with librarians and journalists, they are the heroes of democracy, as far as I’m concerned. [Tags: ]


Odd correspondences

RageBoy points out in an email that Amazon recently recommended that he buy a book titled Cataloging and Classification. When RB clicked the link that explains how they came up with that recommendation, he was told:

amazon recommendation explanation

RB thinks this is yet more evidence that Amazon’s recommendation engine is deteriorating. But, RB would like that book on library classification, so maybe it’s evidence that some correlations are non-obvious but useful nonetheless. Or possibly it’s just evidence that RageBoy is outside the hump of normality. [Tags: ]


State-level Net neutrality

Google and “consumer”1 groups are lobbying against proposed laws in Michigan that would let the telcos violate net neutrality and that would likely result in increasing the disparity in service levels among rich and poor communities, according to an article by Tom Siebert in Online Media Today.

The bill would allow the telcos to introduce TV service—along with bundled Internet cable access— without first having to get local or county permission. That was part of the Sen. Ted “Tubes” Stevens’ bill as well. It sounds like a good idea because it would increase competition, but (imo) it needs to be balanced by steps to counteract the invisible hand of the market rhythmically stroking only those communities with the bucks to pay for high-end service. And those offering Internet service ought to (imo) be required to offer true Internet service, which means not discriminating among packets based on who created them.

BTW, I recently spent a day—sponsored by an activist think tank—with a dozen people who understand Net tech deeply, going through exactly which of the 496 permutations would constitute a violation of Net neutrality. Caching packets within a particular application area but not according to source? Caching application-based non-cached application-based packets? Saying “Hi” to all passing packets, but adding, “Howya doin’?” to only the ones you like? Patting all packets on the back but refusing to buy some lunch? The whole thing makes my brain hurt. [Tags: ]

1The quotes are there so Doc won’t yell at me for using the “c” word.

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November 28, 2006

One Laptop Per Child

SJ Klein is giving us a quick overview of the One Laptop Per Child project.

They have deals with five countries: Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria and Thailand. Each will be getting 1,000 laptops.

The monitor can run in ultra-low-power mode, reflecting ambient light. “The display technology is the most remarkable technology in the laptop.” The display “IP” is co-owned with the screen producers.The OLPC is working to make it reusable in 3 years wrt patents.

It weighs 3lbs. A pound of that is plastic. The plastic is 2mil instead of the 0.7mil of a typical laptop, e.g., a Thinkpad.

It comes with Squeak, JavaScript and Python as programming languages. And MediaWiki. (And more.)

Q: What is it missing? What will the critics say, “It’s fine, but it’s missing a ____”?
A: It’s not a normal desktop computer. It has a 512MB flash disk and 128Mb of RAM. It can run lots of apps simultaneously, but not typical office apps.

It has an integrated browser.

Q: Does it run Flash?
A: Yes. There’s a lot out there in Flash. But it’s not an open format.

Ethan points out that the bulk of the machine is behind the screen, so there isn’t a lot passing through the hinge; the hinge is the most common point of failure in laptops.

SJ says that the battery runs about 2 hours if you’re running flat out. But for reading, he hopes and thinks kids will get about 8 hours. The best recharging technique is a pull thingy that’s sort of like a lawn mower starter. The battery is nickel metal hydride.

It’s designed to last six years.

Q: (Me) The social software?
A: WikiMedia. Drawing/chat program that lets you see everyone that’s there is part of the operating environment (= Sugar). Etc. [Sounds like an opportunity. What social software might work in these environments and cultures?]

Ethan worries about students wanting to use them to the max while the teachers want to confine the usage to class-focused activities. Ethan doesn’t want the laptops to assume that education has to be entirely webby and non-traditional.

The OS is a modified version of Fedora. The file system is different because it’s compact flash. E.g., you can’t use swap and they’ve had to write low-level stuff to keep Linux from writing to the first sectors of memory until it burns out.

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$100 buys a lot of laptop

SJ Klein has brought by a working $100 laptop (for the One Laptop Per Child project). It is way cool. You want to pick it up and give it a hug. And the darn thing works.

The screen is pretty bright and very clear. It twists from the usual clamshell into a tablet configuration. The integrated camera works nicely. The chiclet keyboard is small for my fingers, but the whole device is only about 8″ square. It’s got PlayStation controls on either side of the screen. (EthanZ points out that when the antenna ears are up, it acts as a mesh node, using very little power. When the ears are down, it’s asleep.”

There are a zillion questions that have to be answered right for this project to work. The hardware has to be robust and/or easily repaired (although repairing it in remote locations would be a problem). The software has to hit every goal of commercial software and then some. And the whole project has to be fetching.

Fetching they have definitely achieved. And some very smart people are working on those other questions.

Meanwhile, I’m watching two smart adults fail to figure out how to open the case. SJ says it takes three year olds 30 seconds, but adults much longer. My guess ended up removing the battery. “This will be fixed by the next release,” says SJ, who meanwhile is happily making a video of us failing to crack the code.

(See Chris Blizzard’s blog for the continuing story.)

100 dollar laptop

100 dollar laptop

100 dollar laptop

100 dollar laptop
Pictures by J. Thanks!

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[Berkman] Nancy Hafkin on Women in the knowledge society

Nancy Hafkin, co-editor (with Sophia Huyer) of Cinderella or Cyberella: Empowering Women in the Knowledge Society, is giving a Berkman lunchtime talk on the topic of the book. Rather than focus on knowledge societies within economically advanced cultures, she looks at empowering those who need it. (What follows are real-time notes, full of errors and omissions. Sorry.)

“Cinderella works in the basement of the knowledge society,” she says. “Cinderella has little opportunity to reap its benefits and waits for ”her prince’ to decide the benefits she’ll receive.” Cyberella, on the other hand, is “fluent in the uses of technology, comfortable using and desinging computer equipment and software,” finds information to improve her life, becomes an active knowledge creator and disseminator.

Sue Rosser at Georgia Tech outlines 4 stages of ICT inclusion. (1) Women’s concerns aren’t noticed by the IT sector. (2) Women’s issues are “added on” to existing structures. (3) Women are seen as workers, users and designers of ICT. (4) Women are included as equals.

There are few statistics available globally about the situation of woman and IT, she says. “Without data, there is no visibility. Without visibility, there is not priority.” The International Telecommunications Union is the major source of such stats. Until 2003, they didn’t break out women. They haven’t updated it since 2002. And it only covers 39 countries—only one in Africa, one in the Middle East, in Latin America it’s the five richest countries…The data reflects the digital divide., an organization of UNESCO chairs, had a project measuring the info society. In 2005, it tried to look at stats on women. It’s the first systematic data collection about the situation of women. It found that the Internet penetration does not correlate with the the proportion of female Internet users. It happens sometimes but “there are all sorts of anomalies.” France, Netherlands, Germany and the UK have a high level of Net penetration but the rate of women Net users is fairly low. Conclusion: Tech won’t trickle down evenly by itself. “The gender divide and the digital divide do not move in tandem.”

Where is most attention going? In the West, it goes to women in the IT industry, especially the intersections with globalization, e.g., “issues in women and call center employment.” People also pay attention to women in science and tech ed, comparative access of women and men to the Internet, and women using ICs for political empowerment.

The major challenges: ICTs for poverty reduction and for empowering women. ICTs for women’s health, well being and income. ICTs applied to existing business and enterprise (as opposed to ICT-enabled businesses). E.g., Muhamma Yunus Grameen VillagePhone is exemplary. But she’d like to see more of things like Anastasia in Uganda, a 78-yr-old illiterate chicken farmer when she came in contact with a project called Rural Women Earning Money [pdf]. Using sound and graphic interfaces, it showed them many techniques and skills for improving the fficiency, productivity for increasing the income of their existing enterprises. In Anastasia’s case, it helped her be a better chicken farmer. Anastasia has gone on the road as an evangelist for the program.

Why single out women? Because otherwise the myth of gender neutral technology will cause us to ignore women’s situation. While there is growing awareness of the role of gender in development, but not enough yet.

The existing constraints: Little access. Gendered access. Public access in non-women-friendly spots. Lack of education. Language barriers. Geographical location. Lack of disposable time. Limited mobility. Lack of appropriate content. Technophobia. Gender socialization about technology.

There are also policy-level constraints: Women are absent from IT policy. [I missed some points.] “Are the technology choices being made making technology equally available to men and women?”

“So, is info tech a silver bullet for women or the latest problem for women?” As a problem, the Net increases porn, facilitates trafficking, and is “associated with increased domestic violence and assertions of patriarchy” (citing two African studies) because the men see “their” women using the cybercafe as an attempt to break out. On the other hand, ICTs “can contribute much to the process of realizing human capabiltiies, potential, freedom, as basic components of development.” (She notes she’s citing Amartya Sen’s definition of development.)

Q: (Rebecca Mackinnon) Are there useful stats in any country about passive use vs. creation on line, etc.?
A: The info is scattered. One of the best is by WorldLinks. (She refers to Mar Coumba.)

Q: Do you know of any grassroots projects, where women are designing the programs or technology themselves?
A: Not a lot spring to mind. The Village Knowledge Centers in Southern India are an example.

Q: (Ethan Zuckerman) Are there correlations to cultural issues?
A: We’re trying to get funded to do country studies. Obviously, the factors are varying when you see countries like France and Kyrgyzstan with the same rates of women participation on the Net.

Ethan: In the Philipines you’re likely to find that people jumped on the Net for basic communications use: VOIP, etc.

Nancy: Korea does a good job with the stats. Korea has a program called “Train a Million Housewives.”

Q: (Colin McClay) I think the distinction between productive and nonproductive uses is misleading. Use is like a gateway drug.
A: I agree. In developing companies, the Net offers a way out of isolation.

Q: I’d like to see stats about wome ncreating content as opposed to just using the Net, broken down by country. If you had more women creating, you would have more usage.
A: There are no statistics on that, to my knowledge. On a qualitative basis what’s happening is…that it’s happening. Certainly it does lead to greater usage. You can see it anecdotally.

Q: (Rebecca) In many places, cybercafes are not women-friendly. How do you educate men so they can interact with women in a more welcoming way, rather than repeating online the negative patterns of the real world?
A: The only guidelines I’ve seen come from IRDC…

Q: Is there a project along the lines of giving seed money to the neighborhood grandmother to run a little cybercafe in her home?
A: VillagePhone came to be like that. Many of the village kiosks in India are run by women.

Q: It sounds like we’re assuming the Internet is culturally neutral. Maybe the solution isn’t to create cybercafes in a particular culture, but maybe some of the resistance to the tech is because of the technology. We are in danger of imposing an information imperialism. Should we be using a laptop where a book would do? When you import a laptop, you import the heavy, toxic metals.
A: The emphasis on developing local content is a reaction to this.

Q: How many books could you buy for the $100 cost of the $100 laptop? [Brewster Kahle says you could make 100 books for $100. But the $100 laptop will give access to thousands and thousands of books.]
A: (Ethan) Leaders in the developing world don’t want to be left behind on this. You can’t disseminate your info by buying books. Some developing nations see ITC as a way of developing their economies. There’s a lot of pull. In my work in the field, I never had to “sell” what I was doing. The concern about imperialism might be slightly misplaced.

A: It could be intellectual imperialism. It’s the Enlightenment Project spreading itself. E.g., we’ve assumed that extending lifetimes is a good thing…
A: (Ethan) If we’re going to question the Green Revolution and the extension of the life span, there isn’t much common ground for discussion…[Colin sends it ofline.]

Nancy concludes by saying that there’s so much work to be done…

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PrivacyGuard: Scam or Fraud?

I received a notice today from PrivacyGuard (a “service” of Trilegiant), telling me that if I don’t write or call, they will continue to charge me $10.99/month. I did not sign up for PrivacyGuard knowingly; there must have been some box I didn’t uncheck on some form I filled in somewhere.

Fine. Well, not so fine. In any case, I called their 800 number. After the robot gathered my information, I was transferred to a message that said that because of the unexpectedly high volume, due to the “popularity” of the program, they are unable to handle my call at this time. Then they robo-hung up on me.

So, I’m writing to the snail address to unenlist. There is no way to unenroll over the Web. I somehow suspect that my letter will get “lost” in the mail.

These seem to be first-class thugs. If you can avoid them, do. [Tags: ]


November 27, 2006

Web of Ideas – Tags, knowledge, taxonomies, misc.

I’m honored to be giving the Henderson Lecture at the University of North Carolina on Dec. 7. For it I’ve written a presentation that’s a bit more philosophical and lecture-y than usual for me, on my same-old topic of tags and knowledge.It asks how closely aligned knowledge and taxonomies have to be, whether and why some taxonomies have special standing, whether tags can ever be false, and whether folksonomies really have anything to do with knowledge at all.

On Monday, Dec. 4, at 7pm, I’m going to read a draft of it at a Web of Ideas session at the Berkman (23 Everett St in Cambridge [map]), and then throw it open for discussion. Any and all are welcome. We even serve pizza. [Tags: ]


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