Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Careful with the New Leopard Guest Account

From "A Roundup of Leopard Security Features:"

Guest Account

What It Is.

The Leopard “Guest” account erases itself at logout, providing an ostensible “clean” environment for people to use your machine without cluttering it with garbage, accessing your personal information, or betraying their own personal information.

Why You Care.

Sometimes people want to use your computer. In Tiger, if you let them, they can hijack your machine.

What Leopard Gets Right.

The idea of a secure guest account is useful.

What Leopard Gets Wrong.

Everything but the idea of a secure guest account.

For example:

  • Leopard Guest users can install cron jobs. These are scheduled background tasks, run out of launchd, that will execute even if the Guest user is not logged in. Leopard Guest cron jobs persist after logout.

  • Leopard Guest users can change the wireless network you’re connected to. Even after logout, when you switch to your “real” account, your Guest’s wireless network selection appears to persist.

  • Leopard Guest users can mount remote filesystems. Even after they log out, the mount mount in “/Volumes” remains.

The long and the short of it? Leopard Guest users can remain resident on your machine, even after their home directory has been deleted by the Leopard log out process. They can install daemons that listen on network ports to allow themselves back in. Or they can wait in the background for the next “Guest” to log in and steal all their information.

My Verdict.

Pretend like this feature doesn’t exist.

A slightly less harsh verdict would be this is ok for when your mom wants to use your computer, or vice versa, but it does not mean a student can borrow your computer without your having to worry about him or her screwing up your system intentionally (particularly) or accidentally.

Google's Power to Set Standards

I've been wondering if Google is willing and able to start using its considerable influence to start promoting a new generation of web standards. The OpenSocial API suggests yes, at least in areas where it is at a competitive disadvantage. Of course, they're least likely to have success where they are at a disadvantage, so this doesn't mean much.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"based on an open source development platform"

eSchool News on Prologic TEAMS Student Management:

Another attractive feature is that it's based on an open-source development platform, Hirsch says, meaning it's available to the general public with relaxed intellectual property restrictions. This allows users to create additional features through incremental development or collaboration. Hirsch has taken advantage of this ability by embedding Web 2.0 features such as blogs and wikis within the software's environment. (emphasis added)

The first "it's" refers to TEAMS. The second "it's" apparently refers to the "open-source development platform," which apparently is J2EE. On the first reading, it is pretty easy to get the impression that TEAMS is what is open source, but that's not the case. Users can "create additional features" to J2EE "through incremental development or collaboration," users cannot "create additional features" to TEAMS "through incremental development or collaboration."

Presumably one can write J2EE applications (and maybe by other methods) that access TEAMS's database and integrate with it in various ways, which is nice. I don't know exactly what they mean by embedding features "within the software's environment," but I don't think it means, "you can view and modify TEAMS's source."

Having your school's data in a database which you can access as you see fit is clearly a good thing, but the mystery is why anybody would have ever accepted not being able to do this.

I wish eSchool News would be more clear about what is and is not open source software.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Glitches: Power & Data

I'm en route to Vilnius for five days and Brussels for two, checking to see how our test deployments of SchoolTool are going.

So in preparation I took out my extended battery for my laptop. When I'm at home my laptop is almost always plugged in, so the regular battery gets worn out pretty quickly. So when I bought this laptop a year and a half ago, I bought the extended battery which I'd only use on trips, just letting the regular one crap out. As long as it can get me from the living room to the office, that's all I need from it.

Anyhow, I just used the travel battery on Monday for the trip to Philly. It worked fine, and since I try to treat the good battery well, I drained it completely, as you're supposed to do periodically. Well, today when I popped it in the battery applet says it is 85% charged, but the little hardware LED on the laptop itself is flashing like it is dead, and it won't charge at all. I remember that I still have Windows on this thing and switch over to check the more comprehensive battery diagnostics over there and am told that the battery is irreparably damaged. In what way, I don't know. I guess it is something to research... or maybe the POV guys know something about batteries. Actually, this happened to the original battery for the laptop as well, but I just wrote it up as the end of that battery's long deterioration.

So then, I got disgusted with the whole matter, slapped my working battery in and stuffed the laptop into the bag. Once we were half way to Boston I realized I hadn't subsequently packed my power cord. So I'm now the not terribly happy owner of an iGo Juice 70 universal adapter, conveniently available at a Brookstone Kiosk in the international terminal at Logan. At least now I can plug into car and airplane power adapters now, and I can leave this cord permanantly in my bag.

My other small disaster today (are you on the edge of your seat?) is that I discovered that I'd deleted about 75% of the meticulously compiled song ratings from my iTunes. My iPod's capacity is much greater than my G4 PowerBook's, so I had started storing most of my music on an external hard drive, but I had done this by making a copy of the library from the original drive, but putting new music onto the external drive. So when I needed more space on the laptop, I just fired up iTunes without the external drive connected and deleted all the songs rated *** and lower. Unfortunately, the two song libraries share the same metadata, so while the songs are still on my external drive, as far as iTunes is concerned they're gone. Which isn't that much of a problem except that all my ratings of songs *** and lower are gone.

I tend to react to this sort of situation by starting completely over, taking it as a sign that my entire approach is flawed.

So I'm considering my options. I could move my library over to Linux on Rhythmbox at this point, perhaps re-ripping everything in mp3 to get rid of the hodgepodge of bitrates and formats I've got now. I've only bought a handful of tracks from the iTunes music store, nothing I'd miss. I'm actually more interested in seeing if I can put enough music to satisfy myself on the 75 gig iPod using Apple Lossless Compression. I spend far more time listening to music from my iPod on reasonably good stereo equipment than I do on the earbuds. Using a unfree format isn't a big deal in this case because I can always re-rip things from cd if I finally completely disengage from Apple. I'm going to have to check and see just how big those files would be.

Flight delayed a few minutes... I'm actually going through Dublin on Aer Lingus.

Later... the fact that I forgot my iPod charging cord and can never find my phone charger makes uniting my charging needs under iGo seem like not such a bad idea, albeit an unexpected expense.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Hey, We're Neighborhood of the Week!

According to the ProJo, at least, Neighborhood of the Week: A diverse area, primed for renewal, reinvestment. There's some not-good news here too, though:

Elmwood has been hit by a high number of foreclosures in recent months, according to real-estate agents who work in the neighborhood. “Right now we need a miracle,” said Jose Batista, broker-owner of the Remax Reality agency at 1445 Broad St., in nearby Washington Park.

“There’s been more investment, more disposable income in the neighborhood” in recent years, Grant said. “With the current mortgage crisis, we’re not sure where that’s going to lead us. … I do know that Rhode Island Housing is working to help people stay in their property and get them out of bad mortgages,” she said.

“There’s a lot of foreclosures; it’s not the way we want it to be,” Batista said. He said that even though foreclosures are driving down prices, tightened credit and higher local property taxes are barriers for many potential buyers.

Creating a C|Net for Education

Dean Millot:

On October 4, 1105 Media (among other things publisher of T.H.E. Journal) announced its acquisition of Education Plaza.

The site is still a shell and the new buyers have a choice. They can look to C|NET for inspiration, or they can move the k-12 print publication model to the web.

Most k-12 magazines are written not to upset advertisers. There's nothing wrong with the stories, and the ads bring firms to the attention of buyers, but the reader would hardly rely on the magazine to make a buying decision.

Judging from the site, I fear Education Plaza's new owners will be inclined to do what they know. Sites that are essentially a database of providers linked to product and service categories are no great technical feat, and not much of a barrier to entry to rivals. (1105 Media already owns EduHound.)

Education Plaza's competitive advantage is supposed to be exclusive ties to state education agencies and boards of education, and I think it's helpful, but absent something really useful to buyers, its just not a compelling "must visit" destination. It might make some money, but 1105 Media will miss out on the much bigger business possibility of dominating k-12's online marketplace.

K-12 education needs its own C|NET, and 1105 Media could build it with Education Plaza.

I can't say I've ever thought much of C|Net, but the general point is well taken, probably even moreso in ed-tech. Our market is just completely broken. It is vendor driven and vendor controlled (and this, unfortunately even extends to Web 2.0, where it is all about repurposing whatever falls from the sky). I've never seen such unilaterally disempowered customers. This is, to a certain extent, due to legal concerns about handling RFP's and bidding, but it really goes beyond that. People literally seem afraid that Microsoft will retailiate against them if they talk to loudly about alternatives. It is weird.

I agree with Dean that there continues to be a huge opportunity for someone, anyone, to create an honest and open source for reviews, customer experiences, price comparisons and other information on the marketplace.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Alice, Storytelling, Motivation

Mark Guzdial:

And yet, teachers love Alice, and seem more likely to adopt it for their classes than our Python Media Computation.  Why?  That's part of Lijun Ni's research, which I've mentioned previously in this blog -- and there's more to talk about there, as well.  Let me suggest here one big part of it.  Alice is about storytelling, and we teach Python for media computation.  Storytelling is an even bigger motivator, an even more fundamental driver of human behavior, than manipulating media.  I continue to believe that the most significant bit in helping people learn programming is the motivation.  What are you doing with programming?  The language can get in the way, but people will go through a huge amount of effort to do something that they want to do.

"Literacy" Considered Harmful

I think we're well past the point in this community where use of the word "literacy" is helpful in communicating one's meaning. It is a crutch, a cliche. If everyone would stop using that word we'd be forced to be more clear about our ideas.

Phrases like "new literacies," "digital media literacy," or "21st century literacies" don't really mean anything. If "literacy" was removed from the lexicon, people would be forced to come up with more specific ways to express themselves.

And we'd also get rid of annoying redundancies like "writing literacy." "Writing" is just fine, thank you.

Also, the whole habit strikes me as self-defeating, because traditionally, only early elementary teachers think of "literacy" as actually being their job. High school English teachers, for the most part, know nothing about "literacy" and don't want to.

Of course, a new word would have to be invented to describe the ability to read and write, but I think the inconvenience would be worth it.

If you want a better framework for understanding reading, writing and the discipline of English, you need to read Textual Power: Literary Theory and the Teaching of English, by Robert Scholes.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Lesson Study, not Conferences

Tim Holt's got a post up on his problems with ed-tech conferences, mostly revolving around cost (they should be free!), size (smaller!) and target audience (not the already converted).

I'm sympathetic, but I don't think he quite hits the mark.

I think the core problem is less with how conferences are run and more with ed-tech's dependence on conferences, because other routes are just weak in this field. The journals don't seem very influential, the academic programs seem weak, the market is unresponsive and opaque, even online sources are still underdeveloped. We depend on conferences to do more than we should require of them.

Beyond that, I think Tim gets the relationship between national and regional organizations and the conferences they host backwards. As far as I can tell, a lot of these organizations practically exist to manage these conferences. The idea that they could hold them for free implies that they have some other significant source of income which could underwrite the conferences. I don't think so. I think these organizations primarily make their budget by holding the conferences, and without the conference, they wouldn't really exist.

We don't need to try to drag non-technical teachers to ed-tech conferences. We need better professional development in schools. We need, for example, lesson study.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Visiting SLA

I spent Monday hanging out with Chris, Marcie and the gang at Science Leadership Academy to conspire with SchoolTool developer Alan Elkner on how to make SchoolTool Chris's "Killer App." I think we worked out a good basis for a proposal to Mark. We had been planning on collaborating last year, but we learned that year that without a developer in the same city, it is too difficult to pull off. Luckily, Alan moved to Philly in the meantime, so now we should be ready to roll, once I work out all the details.

The school is very nice. I can't quite gush as enthusiastically as most SLA visitors, simply because it has been a long time since I've had a reason to be in a school that wasn't an interesting progressive one, so everything there is pretty familiar, but in a good, feeling at home kind of way.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Cheap Laptop Labs?

Vicki asks:

Is it possible to have an effective, working laptop lab with 20-25 computers -- a projector and printer for less than $30,000 -- or less than $20,000?

I'm not sure, but it is unlikely that using free software is going to be the decisive point, particularly if your school does not have any other experience with Linux.

There are only a few laptops on the market that ship with Linux, which basically means if you don't limit yourself to one of that handful of choices, you're paying for a Windows license whether you want it or not. And you're probably also paying a Windows site license of some sort anyhow. I don't understand how that stuff works.

You can save some money using Open Office, of course, if you aren't already. If you've got per-seat licenses on a bunch of other software (Inspiration, etc.) I could point out open source alternatives, but a) you probably don't already spend a lot on this, and b) if you do, you really don't want one lab which has all different, even if ostensibly compatible, software.

Whether or not you can do this depends almost entirely on hardware costs. There are certainly cheap consumer laptops that will fit in the budget, but they'll be prone to breaking, particularly after the three year point, you'll have to refresh the batteries every two years or so, and generally, you'll spend an increasing amount of time castigating everyone for not taking care of the laptops properly, when in fact you're expecting them to hold up to stresses they weren't properly designed for.

More options will be available Real Soon Now, but currently, this is still a not well served niche.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Return of the N-Gage

Soon I will be able to upgrade my N-Gage. I'll only buy one if I can talk into the side of it. Otherwise, it just isn't an N-Gage.

Leopard Wiki Server

You know, I've been a bit surprised I haven't heard of anyone using the blogging engine built into Mac OS X's Tiger Server. Will anyone try the forthcoming Leopard wiki server? Also, iChat Server looks more and more useful as schools block chat options that aren't auditable. I don't think too many schools are actually running their enterprises on Mac OS X server, which probably explains the lack of interest.

The Inefficiency of the StarLogo TNG License

A new beta of StarLogo TNG has been released by the MIT Teacher Education program. The Linux version seemed to install and run OK on my Feisty laptop, although it did peg one of the processor cores and generally seemed slow. My laptop doesn't have much of a video card, so that might be an issue. I don't have time to play with it right now, but one key question is whether or not students would find it easy to transfer the visual lego-block programming techniques between Scratch and StarLogo TNG. Introducing StarLogo TNG on Scratch's coattails would be helpful.

StarLogo TNG is released under the StarLogo TNG v1.0 license, which is a non-commercial license that allows use, modification and redistribution for educational or research purposes. The problem with this kind of license is that it prevents the software from being redistributed through free software distribution channels, such as Linux distributions, because non-commercially licensed software does not fit the definition for either free or open source software. Every year, these global channels get stronger and more far-reaching. There is no equivalent for non-commercial un-free software, and there is unlikely to ever be one. Adopting a non-free, non-commercial license closes off the two most reliable ways of disseminating software.

That MIT would choose such a license is not surprising. The failure of US universities to not only not lead in this area (particularly wrt K-12 ed-tech), but to not follow the commercial or increasingly governmental sectors is unfortunately quite evident. Fine. What they do with their IP is their business. However, this project is funded by an National Science Foundation grant. I don't understand why the NSF allows grantees to limit the distribution of software written with public funds in this way. It is a waste of my tax dollars.

Ethics & Free Software

There seems to be a perfectly reasonable consensus that the ethical argument for free software is not very effective as the prime mover of advocacy toward institutions. That is, getting up in front of your school board or IT staff, explaining that you should stop using Windows or Mac OS X because it is morally wrong to do so, and sitting back down is probably not going to work. This is an empirically observable fact. So free software advocates are told to tone it down, at least until we get our foot in the door, and that's probably good advice.

What is annoying, however, is that people who have made it their vocation to talk to educators about the ethical dimensions of the information ecosystem also don't talk about the ethical argument for free software, even when it is quite relevant to the discussion at hand. Since such people are presumably not doing advocacy one way or another, they shouldn't have to worry about whether or not the argument is literally persuasive in the short term, just whether or not it is important to the conversation, and one would be hard-pressed to deny that free software has not been a (if not the) key innovation in the field of "information ethics" in the past few decades.

Moodle Web API?

So the Moodle Web Service API (in Moodle 1.8?) is essentially "expose all functions via XML-RPC?" I suppose that ought to work. It would be nice if the API and Moodle Network were better documented. I mean, documentation is always needed and there is never enough, but one should really focus on generating documentation for things like external API's since the whole point is to make it easy for external applications to interact with yours without mucking around the internals. If I have to muck around the internals to figure out what the API does, I'm losing half the benefit.

Anyone have any further insight into this?

What Happened to JotSpot?

I'd like to use JotSpot to re-do the Providence Grays website. It was absorbed into the Googleplex a year ago, but hasn't resurfaced. Of course, there are other alternatives, but a nice "structured wiki" integrated with Google Apps for My Domain would be perfect for our needs.

I guess I should probably work on doing a front page using some other method, since we probably wouldn't need to use a wiki for that anyhow.

Why Am I Paying Twice for Software?

If the federal government is going to pay for the development of software for schools, shouldn't it require that the software be issued under an open source license? Otherwise, taxpayers are paying twice: once to write the software and again to use it. Actually, we're paying a lot more than twice, since every locality pays for it separately.

Our friends in Europe use "paying for it once" as a key argument for government funding of open source software for schools. It is cheaper (and way more efficient overall) to pay someone to write a piece of software that can then be used throughout the country at no additional cost than to pay licensing costs separately in every locale (and perhaps every year).

For the Teacher on the Bleeding Edge...

The first Chumbys are shipping. This beanbag of a computer is almost all open source software and hardware, except the main way of programming it is Flash, which kind of ruins it for me, from a hacker perspective. I may eventually get one as a fancy alarm clock. But anyhow, it could be a fun form factor for the elementary school in particular, since it would be good for, say, games that involve passing it around while sitting on the floor.

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

I was wondering why the gas company was occasionally pulling up on our street and digging at odd hours. Yesterday they finally dug up the sidewalk and part of the driveway in the house behind ours. Upon inquiring, I was told that they had to put a new line in because their service had been shut off and the neighbors were stealing gas. Also, their electricity was off and they were drawing all their electricity from a neighbor's house. The gas can't be turned on without the electricity being on. It was apparent that things were getting weird, but I hadn't realized that things were that bad. Nobody has been in the house since then.

I don't think this family's problems have anything to do with the housing market (things went south when dad moved out), but it is more worrisome to have a somewhat trashed abandoned house next door now than it would have been two years ago. We've also got an empty carriage house across the street, and a couple doors down is a house that seems to be stalled in a half-gutted state with a big hole in the basement wall. That one might be due to an ill-advised mortgage or someone watching too many shows about flipping houses for fun and profit.

There hasn't been a hard downturn here since I moved to Providence. I don't want to find out what that's like here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Why We're Screwed, Part XVII

Two of Miguel's posts today nicely encapsulate the bind. In one post he says:

Skype is blocked in my district. I am often told that it's because it has an uncontrolled chat features. I've decided that such an assertion, while sounding good and rational, is so much baloney.

In another he discusses an inappropriate schoolyard comment in litigious terms:

"Does that seem appropriate to you, to use that term during school? Harassment is determined by how the person who is offended perceives it. If that term had been used in a work setting, there would be serious consequences. How about some diversity or multiculturalism instruction that is respecting of different ethnic groups?"

So, tomorrow, my wife and I are meeting with the headmaster. When we shared this story with another parent in the class--an American of African-American descent--she stated that was a big "no no" and that wouldn't be tolerated if similar terms had been used to describe him. When we shared the story with another Hispanic parent--whose husband is a police officer--she stated that she had encountered the same kind of problem with her son. She stated that we should file a police report.

Regardless of whether or not Miguel is right or wrong in one or both of these cases, they contradict each other. The ostensible legal reason schools need to block Skype is because they might need to produce chat transcripts as part of a civil suit over something like, say, harassment. One can argue that we should just become less litigious, but realistically, that ain't going to happen.

Monday, October 15, 2007

On Modernism

I had a feeling I was going to hear about this line:

One thing that drives me crazy about our favorite ed-tech K-12 Web 2.0 rhetoricians is the exclusion of modernity and modernism from the discourse.

The problem is you'd have a tough time finding two people who agree on what "modernism" means, even within the same discipline, so the sentence means considerably different things to different readers. But it was just a comment, so I figured I'd just say what I was thinking without bothering to define terms. Defining modernism would take at least a paragraph, pulling some books down off the shelf, etc.

So anyhow, I don't really like the Wikipedia entry on Modernism. I was thinking of a very broad definition of Modernism. Essentially, "the response to modernity." Or, to quote the last book I read (well, in part) on Modernism:

This was the period, then, in which writers and artists were trying to define a Modernist aesthetic practice that would be an adequate response to the new conditions of life, the conditions of modernity. These conditions included increasing industrialization and urbanization, the growing power of materialistic capitalism which generated labor unrest, the rise of new media of communications, and the struggle of women for equality and independence.

If I wanted to be more specific and concrete, I could have just said "It drives me crazy when history teacher David Warlick (to name one) writes as if the 20th century was a period of tradition and stability until the invention of the Apple II."



Comments on Will's "Random Thoughts and Admissions"

Since I'm singled out as a source of Will's blogging ambivalence, I might as well offer my own thoughts on the matter.

I find Will's endorsement of Twitter exasperating. Will and I used to argue about his insistence on stressing that the "right" way of blogging was to write well thought out little critical essays. I felt this would tend to lead to people not blogging, and it just seemed unnecessary, since many, if not most, successful blogs have short informal posts. If you want to write quick posts, can't you do that as easily with WordPress? I'm not saying Twitter and blogging are exactly the same, but nobody is forcing you to write long blog posts.

Also, I've always configured my news reader to use the "river of news" style that Twitter encourages. I never read individual feeds out of sequence, and if I thought I could save a feed for reading tomorrow, I'd unsubscribe immediately. There are some feeds whose posts I skip over 80% of the time, but I keep around because I have some personal connection, but I never, never, never let anything pile up in the aggregator. So my reading experience has always been relatively Twitter-like.

Concerning Will's broader ennui, I don't think the traveling consultant/speaker role is healthy, and the fact that this role can be so influential in our business is a double curse. You have to be kind of crazy to want to do it, and doing it will only make you crazier, making the whole discourse less and less sane.

The fact of the matter is that Will has maxed out how far this online community can take him intellectually. He's gone as far as he can without embarking on serious scholarship of the kind that just doesn't take place on blogs. And by that I don't mean that serious scholars don't blog (although few do in this discipline), but in particular they don't blog about the foundations of their discipline. We blog about things that are current, not fundmental (unless they overlap). It is the nature of the medium.

Essentially, Will needs to go to graduate school. Unfortunately, graduate school sucks in general, and in particular, graduate schools of education overwhelmingly suck. So you'd need to find the right one. Also, he is too old to go to start a new graduate program. On the whole, this is useless advice. But it is what ought to be the next step. Alternately, one could make a list of 50 not very easy books to read on education and plow through them on one's own, but it is not really the same effect.

I am always amazed when teachers write about how much more they've learned from the online community than their teacher education program. I learned vastly more about teaching and learning in my year at Brown than I have reading blogs. There is really no comparison.

25,000 XO's for Christmas, Not Total

At some point I got it in my head that the OLPC Give 1, Get 1 program was limited to 25,000 units TOTAL. It isn't, but only the first 25,000 are promised for Christmas delivery.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

"Open Sourcing Your Home Grown Applications" Slides

Here are the slides from my talk at K-12 Open Minds Conference. They are probably useless since they're more the "couple words per slide" style than the "lots of bullet points I'm reading" style. I think there was a recorder I was supposed to press "play" on to make a podcast, but I was unaware of this at the time. You might find my "choosing a license" flowchart useful on its own though.

Eee PC

In Indianapolis, I did get some hands on time with an Asus Eee PC. It makes a good first impression. Nice customized Linux interface. Feels solid.

Rambling K-12 Open Minds Overview/Recap

The first K-12 Open Minds Conference was ginned up on short notice, with poor promotion, little sponsor support, dreadful early pre-registration numbers, scheduled into a time of year that makes it difficult for many teachers to leave school for several days, in a nondescript hotel in the generic suburbs of an unremarkable midwestern city, with a lousy online registration system, and on-site internet access that was sporadic at best.

And it was a big success, at least to the 350 or so people who made there way to the Sheraton Indianapolis, one way or another.

There will be another one next year, same time, same place, and you need to start figuring out how you're going to get there.

Mike Huffman managed to pull together a core of about 35 people from the US and Europe who have serious, long-term, ongoing projects and deployments of free and open source software in K-12 schools. Realistically, it was probably about a quarter of the key players in US K-12 open source, but it was still a higher concentration than we've had in a small space for an extended period of time. The bulk of the attendees, about 200, were Hoosiers, mostly tech coordinator types involved in the inACCESS program, so while there was a lot of big idea strategizing flying around the folks I spent most of my time with, the conference as a whole was grounded in the practical and immediate.

The tone of the conference as a whole reminded me of a Coalition of Essential Schools Fall Forum: very teacher to teacher, with lots of practical, if workmanlike, presentations by people actively grappling with the same problems their audience is. A high ratio of concurrent talks to attendees (like, 10 talks at a time) made for small sessions that easily flowed into small group discussions.

The conference was noteworthy for a lack of annoying people. Even the guy from IBM was quite affable. Indiana University was a key sponsor, but we didn't have to deal with any pushy, annoying academics who don't understand K-12. There were a dozen or so vendor booths, but they were small and low-key. Nobody knows how to deal with this phenomenon as a market in K-12 yet. It is a welcome respite, kind of like that brief pre-Nirvana window where nobody knew how to aim a commercial at my demographic. I don't remember anyone in attendance from the world of philanthropy, who seem stalwartly determined to sit out this particular revolution. It was Indiana Department of Ed that made this happen; K-12 teachers and administrators are just going to have to do this for themselves.

Mike's secret weapon was his clutch of international guests. He paid to bring over about a dozen veterans of some of the big, successful free software in schools projects, including Skolelinux and Extremadura. This was particularly nice because our European peers have much tighter bonds to the free software community. They are more hard core than we are; if you invite Europeans to the party, you're going to get much more strident free software advocacy, which I, of course, welcome. But ideology aside, I think everyone was energized by hearing about what our friends in Europe have achieved. I do think it is fair to say this was not just the most significant national open source in K-12 conference, but also the most important global one yet, although there is certainly room for even more improvement in that regard.

Overall, what motivated the people at this conference, including me, is the prospect that we've got in our grasp the tools to finally vastly increase access to computers in schools in a fiscally responsible, sustainable way, as evidenced by the first hand experiences of the 200 or so Hoosiers in attendance.

The Open Minds Conference is the one we've been waiting for as a community. See you next year, in Indianapolis.

Still More for Did You Know 3.0

The American Prospect: Schools as Scapegoats.

On what actually happened following A Nation at Risk et al in the 80's & 90's:

Yet the response of American manufacturers to these analyses was curious. Automakers moved plants to Mexico, where worker education levels are considerably lower than those in the American Midwest. Japanese manufacturers pressed their advantage by setting up non-union plants in places like Kentucky and Alabama, states not known for having the best-educated workers. But high school graduates in those locations apparently had no difficulty working in teams and adapting to Japanese just-in-time manufacturing methods.

And on the current situation:

Another too glib canard is that our education system used to be acceptable because students could graduate from high school (or even drop out) and still support families with good manufacturing jobs. Today, those jobs are vanishing, and with them the chance of middle-class incomes for those without good educations.

It's true that many manufacturing jobs have disappeared. But replacements have mostly been equally unskilled or semiskilled jobs in service and retail sectors. There was never anything more inherently valuable in working in a factory assembly line than in changing bed linens in a hotel. What made semiskilled manufacturing jobs desirable was that many (though not most) were protected by unions, provided pensions and health insurance, and compensated with decent wages. That today's working class doesn't get similar protections has nothing to do with the adequacy of its education. Rather, it has everything to do with policy decisions stemming from the value we place on equality. Hotel jobs that pay $20 an hour, with health and pension benefits (rather than $10 an hour without benefits), typically do so because of union organization, not because maids earned bachelor's degrees.

It is cynical to tell millions of Americans who work (and who will continue to be needed to work) in low-level administrative jobs and in janitorial, food-service, hospitality, transportation, and retail industries that their wages have stagnated because their educations are inadequate for international competition. The quality of our civic, cultural, community, and family lives demands school improvement, but barriers to unionization have more to do with low wages than does the quality of education. After all, since 1973 the share of the workforce with college degrees has more than doubled; over 40 percent of native-born workers now have degrees beyond high school. Additionally, the proportion of native-born workers that has not completed high school or its equivalent has decreased by half to just 7 percent.


These are not problems that can be solved by charter schools, teacher accountability, or any other school intervention. A balanced human capital policy would involve schools, but would require tax, regulatory, and labor market reforms as well. To take only one example, in the daze of college-for-all, what used to be called "vocational" or "career" education has been discredited. It should be brought back. We recently analyzed a group of 21st-century occupations not requiring a college education that, at least for the time being, still provide middle-class incomes. These include firefighters, electricians, machinists, aircraft engine mechanics, electronic technicians, licensed practical nurses, and clinical laboratory technicians. We found that white non-college youth were 50 percent more likely to land one of these "good" jobs than black non-college youth. Equalizing this access will require a combination of stepped up anti-discrimination efforts, job placement services, and skills training directed at schools serving minority youth.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Postel's Law for Web 2.0 in Schools

Jeremy Keith:

Allowing users to import contact lists from other services is a useful feature. But the means have to justify the ends. Empowering the user to import data through an authentication layer like OAuth is the correct way to export data. On the other hand, asking users to input their email address and password from a third-party site like GMail or Yahoo Mail (As Facebook does, for example.-TEH) is completely unacceptable. Here’s why:

It teaches people how to be .

This issue was raised by Tantek at Fundamentos Web. Rigo Wenningprivacy activity lead at the W3C—was quick to back Tantek’s position. While we can’t protect people from themselves, we have a duty not to deceive them into thinking that throwing passwords around like confetti is acceptable behaviour.

I would suggest that schools and teachers should take an attitude about Web 2.0 applications reminiscent of Postel's Law, which states:

Be conservative in what you do; be liberal in what you accept from others.

Except in this case it would be:

Be liberal in what services you allow, be conservative in what your endorse or require.

A case like this is not in itself a good reason to forbid Facebook in a K-12 school, but it is a good reason not to require it. We don't need to teach kids how to socialize online, they're pretty good at figuring that out, but we do need to teach them how to maintain their security and privacy online.

Kids are, with justification, going to see a requirement to use an online service as an endorsement of its practices, and it is the nature of web services that users cannot control what practices a service may adopt in the future. Therefore, schools may inadvertantly teach bad practices if they require the use of services they do not control.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

5 More for "Did You Know? 3.0"

5 Myths About Sick Old Europe (via Atrios):

Europe is more of a "workfare state" than a welfare state. As one British political analyst said to me recently: "Europe doesn't so much have a welfare society as a comprehensive system of institutions geared toward keeping everyone healthy and working." Properly understood, Europe's economy and social system are two halves of a well-designed "social capitalism" -- an ingenious framework in which the economy finances the social system to support families and employees in an age of globalized capitalism that threatens to turn us all into internationally disposable workers. Europeans' social system contributes to their prosperity, rather than detracting from it, and even the continent's conservative political leaders agree that it is the best way.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Why I Don't Like TinyURL


That’s all fine. But the tinyurl giveth and the tinyurl taketh away. When you encode a Web address as a tinyurl you’re hiding its target. Normally, when I read an article on the Web that has a link, I’ll hover my cursor over the link to see where it points. Even on a site with human-unfriendly URLs like CNETs, at least I can see that the link points to CNET.

With a tinyurl, I know nothing about the link except what the author chose to say about it. I can’t tell if it’s a reference to an article I’ve already read. If I want to find out, I have no choice but to click.

Another Item for Did You Know 3.0

Yglesias/Krugman/National Bureau of Economic Research:

And it gets worse. "The paper also shows that in the United States the well-being of successive birth-cohorts has gradually fallen through time," reports the abstract, "In Europe, newer birth-cohorts are happier."

Pogue OLPC Article a Landmark

David Pogue's glowing review of the XO laptop in the Times is a big deal. He's probably the #2 personal computing columnist in the US, after Mossberg, and he's just given the XO his stamp of approval for use by US kids. Remember here that this is David Pogue we're talking about. He's a Mac guy. You can search in vain for his articles about Linux on He likes things that work intuitively; he hasn't made his career turning people on to idealistic projects that don't actually work.

So... the stage is set for a very quick sell out of the first 25,000 XO's made available for order in the US come November. What comes after that is anyone's guess. As long as they can keep the production lines running at Quanta, the project can stay alive. I think they'll find a way to do that. With a substantial consumer market proven in the US, it seems virtually guaranteed.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Southeast Kansas Doing Pioneering Work in 3-D Virtual Worlds for K-12

The Greenbush Southeast Kansas Educational Service Center is developing what I'd call a distribution of Croquet called Edusim. It is packaged for (newer) Mac's, and they've particularly been focused on using a smartboard to interact with the virtual world. Check out the videos, and if you've got a G5 or later Mac download it and try it out (the modifications to make this work on Linux and Windows would be minor; unmodified, it starts up but doesn't quite load the 3-d environment on my Ubuntu laptop).

One little feature I noticed in the video that I wasn't aware of in my previous experiments with Croquet is dragging and dropping images directly from your desktop into the Croquet world. Very nice. That's the kind of "intuitive" feature I assume wouldn't work.

I'm particularly excited that this work is taking place at an "Educational Service Center." These organizations are well positioned to pioneer open source development and implementation in US K-12 schools and should be an important vector in the future. And yes, they do have a proposal in to the Digital Media and Learning Competition.

Moral Panic in Connecticut!

The Region 19 BOE Gazette, in its role as The Scourge of Hypocrisy and Moral Cowardice in Eastern Connecticut, has been all over the Nate "not the one from Six Feet Under" Fisher story. for the past two weeks, wherein a well-regarded ninth grade English teacher resigns under pressure after giving a female student a copy of Dan Clowes' Eightball #22.

It is very much a "There But the Grace of God go I" situation for me. My Connecticut sojourn ended when I came to Providence to become an English teacher, but I subbed and worked in the library in Coventry, CT, and if I had stayed there it would only have been a matter of time until I found myself in a similar mess. Eastern Connecticut is tricky, you've got a mix of very savvy, erudite kids (e.g., I knew one student who was a huge Legendary Pink Dots fan) and self-consciously willful provincials. In Providence, the cultural distance gives the Anglo teacher a safe buffer in this regard. A student is unlikely to tell you they like Ghost World, so one is unlikely to go to one's comic collection and pull out another work by Mr. Clowes to further encourage the reluctant reader.

If Mr. Fisher is guilty of anything, it is of second-order bad judgment. Not of doing something potentially harmful to a student, but of doing something that someone else may perceive as bad judgment. Holding teachers to the first is an administrator's job; holding someone to the second is to keep a knife at their throat every day.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

My Somewhat Crappy, Off-the-Cuff, Un-proofread NECC Proposal

I felt extremely unmotivated to make a proposal for NECC, but I figured I should follow through on my threat to propose a talk on using the XO in reading/writing workshop. Thus, I dashed this off:

Using the OLPC XO in a Reading and Writing Workshop

The XO "$100" laptop's unique design provides a key to effective reading and writing workshop: radically simple, direct, reliable collaboration between students and teachers.

The purpose of this presentation is to demonstrate the unique capabilities in a reading and writing workshop of the One Laptop Per Child XO laptop and its included free software, including the Sugar desktop, the "Write" activity and the user "Journal."

Reading and writing workshop methods demand high levels of organization and often complex procedures to bring student writing through the writing process, including brainstorming, drafting, peer and teacher editing and publication.

Conventional information technology methods for even simple tasks in a writing workshop like sharing a student's writing for peer editing require accounts on file or web servers, passwords, reliable internet connections and other hurdles. In the XO's Sugar interface, sharing a document is as easy as sliding a piece of paper across a table. Collaboration is built in from the bottom of the hardware to the top of the software. Formerly complex tasks like tracking changes over multiple revisions, commenting and backups are automatic.

OLPC is generally thought to be only appropriate to the developing world; participants will leave understanding this inexpensive and accessible technology's advantages in American English classrooms as well.

Of course, just because the proposal is crappy, doesn't mean it wouldn't make a great talk!

Monday, October 01, 2007

The (Bad) Economics of Educational Gaming

Sylvia Martinez takes the occasion of the mega-release of Halo 3 to post on how the economics of commercial educational gaming don't seem to add up. She's right, but I think the obvious next step in this argument is that open source educational gaming might just work.

Avoid the Lloyd

This is just weird (see the comments).

Uva Core Open Source SIF ADK

An alpha (0.1) release of the long awaited Uva Core Open Source SIF Agent Development Kit finally landed today, bringing a bit more life to the open source SIF world. This is a good thing, because I've been getting a bit bored with it. I'm not sure I can make any sense of the Java, but regardless, this is progress.

They have released the code under GPL v.3 and are also offering commercial licensing for those who want to integrate this into a commercial product. Overall, the licensing makes perfect sense and demonstrates what an obvious fit open source processes and SIF are.

Critical Thinking for Establishmentatians

Andy points to, an educational offshoot of

I really can't stand This is partly because of how narrowly they've defined their mission:

We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases

This allows them to choose from what would under any circumstances be an endless and evenly balanced (numerically) supply of statistical gaffes and stretches, like Bill Richardson saying he created 80,000 jobs when their research shows he created 68,000. They can remain safely "non-partisan" by keeping these posts numerically balanced. But this approach leaves them unable to make any larger analysis. Their coverage of the probably decisive Swift Boat ads of 2004 is non-committal. Their approach doesn't allow them to handle character assassination, which is much more of a threat to our democracy than fudging numbers. Their narrow parameters cause them to miss the forest for the trees:

Kerry would be correct to say the cost of the war in Iraq "is now $120 billion and counting." He would be well within the bounds of argument to say "this war will cost $200 billion," by some unspecified date in the future. But when he says the cost "is" $200 billion, he's straining for effect and going beyond what the facts will bear.

Given what the war has actually cost us, I can't say I see Kerry's 2004 statements on this as being a threat to our democracy.

And if you're going to stick to "just the facts, ma'm," I don't agree with this kind of post, either:

The Democratic National Committee released an ad Aug. 6 saying 2.7 million manufacturing jobs had been lost under Bush. That's true, but ignores the fact that manufacturing jobs started their decline three years before Bush took office...

The Democratic National Committee ad uses the time-honored tactic of putting the opponent's worst foot forward. It's a one-sided presentation that doesn't give the full picture.

You can't selectively decide that it isn't appropriate for a political ad to present a "one sided presentation." That means you can essentially critique any political ad if you need to meet your balance quota.

Getting back to, there is a real problem with how they categorize sources. Their relatively trusted "Policy Wonks" section spans from hard right libertarian and conservative think tanks like Cato and the American Enterprise Institute to establishmentarians like Brookings, which they manage to label as both "leaning liberal" and "free from partisan slant." What you don't get on this list is a proportional representation of any liberal, working class, minority or heterodox organizations.

The mouthpieces rich white guys and business interests are reliable "wonks," everyone else is "for the cause" and must be treated with caution, such as the Center for American Progress, Public Citizen or the Innocence Project.

As for their curriculum materials, I've wasted too much time on this already to look through all the worksheets. I don't like this from the Finding Premises and Conclusions worksheet:

• You can also try acting like a 3-year-old: 1. Read a sentence and ask, “Why should I believe that?” 2. Look at the rest of the passage and see if you can find anything that looks like an answer to the why question. 3. If you find an answer, then the answer is a premise and the original claim (the sentence about which you asked why) is a conclusion. 4. Repeat the process for each claim.

That's acting like a 3-year-old?

Anyhow, I'd do Urban Debate League instead.