Monday, December 27, 2010

TechDirt Moments

One of the nice things about comment registration is that if you are a regular visitor to a website, you can eventually see all of your comments in one place. Hence, with this set from TechDirt, which I 'claimed' today.

TechDirt covers mostly law and markets related to online technology, and does so from a rigid free-market point of view. I enjoy the coverage, but (as the comments show) am frequently critical of the point of view, which I consider naive and mistaken. A look at these comments gives the reader a good sense of my point of view on a lot of these issues. The use of '>', as always, indicates a quote from the article I am criticizing.


On the post: NY Times Finally Speaks Out Against Financial Firms Blocking Wikileaks Stephen Downes (profile), Dec 27th, 2010 @ 8:12am

  • You find this worrisome because it may lead to the conclusion that banks may need to be regulated?

    Have you not been following recent events? Banks need to be regulated, because otherwise they will crash the economy and then hold it for ransom, demanding billions of dollars in payouts.

    Any time anything gets too powerful, it needs to be regulated. Governments, telcos, and yes, banks. Because, otherwise, they *will* deprive you of all your money, and hold you in indefinite servitude.

  • ------------

    On the post: US Lobbyist: If Canada Just Implemented US-Style Copyright Law, US Would Drop 'Buy American' Provisions Stephen Downes (profile), Dec 9th, 2009 @ 2:55pm

    Nobody in Canada believes that signing any agreement with the United States will be sufficient to cause them to drop "buy America" provisions.

    Canada signed NAFTA fifteen years ago explicitly to avoid U.S. protectionist measures, and the experience has been that (a) the United States doesn't abide by the provisions of trade agreements when it doesn't feel like it, and (b) American protectionism continued unabated.

    That said, American lobbyists are spending a lot of money attempting to buy legislation here in Canada, and there is significant concern that they will be successful.

  • ------------

    On the post: In Going Free, London Evening Standard Doubles Circulation While Slashing Costs Stephen Downes (profile), Nov 20th, 2009 @ 3:36am

    > Charging can be expensive. It takes quite a bit of effort to charge, to take money, to manage the money, to set up the accounting and bureaucracy for managing each transaction.

    The same is true of government services, which is why it makes more sense to offer government services for free, rather than to charge a user fee.

  • ------------

    On the post: Congressional Study Says $42 Billion Could Be Raised By Legalizing Internet Gambling Stephen Downes (profile), Nov 6th, 2009 @ 5:40pm

    Well, if you're going to do that, you may as well just raise taxes by $42 billion (out of an overall budget that's $2,979 billion, it won't even be noticeable).

    I mean, really, the money comes from the same place, no good or service is exchanged for it, and it is exactly the same sort of drain on the economy. Except that the collection service is really inefficient, probably tied to the mob, and tends to tax the poor and uneducated disproportionately.

  • ------------

    On the post: Carly Simon Sues Starbucks For Not Promoting Her Album Enough Stephen Downes (profile), Oct 13th, 2009 @ 12:39pm

    The question is not whether or not Starbucks promoted the album - we know it didn't - and not whether or not some other label would have promoted the album - we know they might not have - but whether or not Starbucks had a contract with Streisand where it promised to promote the album. And that bit if information, really the most important bit of information, is missing from the story.

  • ------------

    On the post: New Infringement Defense? 'We Don't Roll That Way' Stephen Downes (profile), Sep 11th, 2009 @ 3:04pm

    > the labels are almost certainly right here, and will almost certainly win

    Not if they're just short clips. I think it's well established that you ran run 30 seconds without paying a royalty. Though some pay anyways, just to be on the safe side - that's why the "we don't roll that way" is actually a credible and meaningful response. And clever, too.

  • ------------

    On the post: What's Next? Can Senators Ban Stupidity While Driving? Stephen Downes (profile), Jul 30th, 2009 @ 3:29am

    No, sorry, texting while driving belongs in a category by itself and deserves to be banned.

    Whenever I see a car weaving on the road, missing stop signs, etc., these days (and I see it a lot) I look at the driver and he or she is texting or jabbering on a hand-held mobile phone.

    It used to be, drunk drivers were the most dangerous thing on the road. No more. Texters are.

    The law is not intended to ban stupidity. It is intended to ban stupid behaviour. And that - when it so obviously endangers other people - is a good thing.

  • ------------

    On the post: Court Strikes Down Blackboard E-Learning Patent Stephen Downes (profile), Jul 29th, 2009 @ 6:49am

    > why doesn't anyone ask how such a patent got approved in the first place?

    What, you think nobody asked this? You think nobody in the learning community has been talking about this? D2L got a big boost from the community in this case as people got together and argued - via a wiki - that the patents should never have been approved in the first place. This page - - was created specifically in response to the question you say nobody asked.

  • ------------

    On the post: Oh Look, Citizen Journalists Can Do Real Investigative Reporting Stephen Downes (profile), Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 4:06pm

    Actually, that's rather more care than the traditional newspaper or media would take.

  • ------------

    On the post: Student Found Guilty Of 'Disturbing The Peace' For Sending Nasty Political Email To Professor Stephen Downes (profile), Jun 18th, 2009 @ 2:46pm

    The original debate? No problem. The anonymous attack emails with the rude sender username? Harassment.
    The two cases should not be confused. And indeed, the presentation of the first case simply serves to prejudice discussion of the second.

  • ------------

    On the post: Too Big To Fail Isn't The Problem... It's The Hidden Risk That's The Proble Stephen Downes (profile), Jun 18th, 2009 @ 7:51am

    > The answer isn't to stop companies from getting so big. It's to provide more transparency into the actual risk.

    No. Wrong. The problem isn't that we are unable to see what the consequences might be. The problem is that the consequences can't be determined, and could not be determined, even if we had perfect transparency.

    You are talking as though what we have is a complicated system - there are many moving parts, but if we look at it closely enough, we can figure out what's happening. Watts is saying that it's a complex system - the parts depend on each other and influence each other recursively, which is essentially a chaotic system, which cannot be predicted.

    When you have a chaotic system, you cannot prevent or mitigate conseuqneces. Your only defense is to minimize the influence of each part, and in addition, to lower the probablility that one part will directly impact another part (i.e., to regulate the market).

  • ------------

    On the post: The Economist Debate On Copyright Needs Your Input Stephen Downes (profile), May 7th, 2009 @ 2:17pm

    Why do we care what the shills hired by the Economist to generate publicity have to say? The much more interesting - and free - debate is happening elsewhere.

  • ------------

    On the post: UK Says Street View Is Fine... As Canadian Politicians Get Worried About It Stephen Downes (profile), Apr 27th, 2009 @ 4:27pm

    Yeah, well, if I stood on the street outside your house and started taking photos into your livingroom window, you'd freak out too.

  • ------------

    On the post: Surprise, Surprise: Canadians Aren't Interested In ISP Levies Stephen Downes (profile), Mar 21st, 2009 @ 8:00am

    Nobody wants levies, sure.

    But if you word things a bit differently you'd get a very different result. Because Canadians have been paying levies for years without complaint.

    Ask Canadians this: would you be in favour of retaining current pricing on media, with this ensuring that there will be no lawsuits, restrictions on downloads, or DRM?

    You would get huge approval ratings.

    This, though, is the current state of affairs in canada, and it does include a levy.

    Even if the choice to increase the levy were offered, if it were given as the alternative to lawsuits, restrictions and DRM, I have no doubt most Canadians would choose the levy.

    Surveys are always a very questionable foundation on which to base a story, and this article is proof of that.

  • ------------

    On the post: Jill Sobule Shows She Can Create A 'Professional' Fan-Financed Album Stephen Downes (profile), Mar 21st, 2009 @ 7:23am

    Done earlier and better. Issa (formerly Jane Siberry, a well known Canadian musician) solicited fan contributions for production of her recent album, Dragon Dreams, recorded it and released it, and now sells it using the self-selected pricing system she has used for a number of years now.

  • ------------

    On the post: Florida Red Light Camera Law Doesn't Care Who's Driving: Car Owner Fined Stephen Downes (profile), Mar 11th, 2009 @ 11:56am

    The principle is, if you are the owner of a car, the you are responsible for what the car does. This is an extension of the same principle applied elsewhere.

    If somebody is driving your car and gets a red light ticket, sue them. That's what small claims court is for.

    As for people complaining about their rights - I am totally tired of having to watch for people running red lights. They are endangering everyone's safety for a few seconds saved - and they have the nerve to complain about _their_ rights. Pfaw.

    Oh - and for those complaining about due process - you _can_ have your day in court. That is your right. And at that day in court, a photograph will be presented with your car (probably with you at the wheel) easily visible running a red light. Fight it if you want.

  • ------------

    On the post: Why Government Backed Businesses Will Always Be Inefficient Stephen Downes (profile), Mar 2nd, 2009 @ 3:30am

    As it turns out, not scrutinizing non-government business turns out to be a false economy. Or have you not noticed the financial crash happening all around us these days?

    And in non-scrutinized enterprise, business decisions are not made according to sound business judgment, but rather, based on the short-term greed of the person making the decider. Or, again, have you not noticed the crash.

    I think that if this crash teaches us anything, it is that the tired old reasoning recited in this post is simply wrong. Private enterprise is not inherently better. Life and economics are more complex than that.

  • ------------

    On the post: Government Already Overpaid By $78 Billion In Bailout Money Stephen Downes (profile), Feb 6th, 2009 @ 7:57am

    I think in posts like this you need to distinguish between "the government" and "the Bush government".

    So when you say "The government isn't just throwing money at a problem that might not need money -- it's doing it badly" what you mean is "The Bush government wassn't just throwing money at a problem that might not need money -- it was doing it badly."

    The current government, which has a clue (unlike the Bush government), is far less likely to make $78 billion simply disappear.

  • ------------

    On the post: Is Someone Playing A Joke? Why Would Penguin Force Colbert To Take Down Lessig's Remix Stephen Downes (profile), Jan 9th, 2009 @ 2:26pm

    Please do not use Hulu, not even if they pay you. Hulu just throws up a big error screen outside the U.S. - where 95 percent of people live.

  • ------------

    On the post: Patent Lawsuit So Bogus That The Judge Ordered Sanctions And Attorney's Fees Paid Stephen Downes (profile), Dec 8th, 2008 @ 6:06pm

    Actually, all this will do is limit the frivolous lawsuits to companies that are large enough to afford risking the costs.

    • ------------

      On the post: When Life And Work Blend, Everything Is Commercial Use Stephen Downes (profile), Dec 8th, 2008 @ 2:59pm

      > it seems that the distinction between personal, professional, commercial and non-commercial are becoming increasingly meaningless -- and that's not a bad thing.

      Yes it is. It is, because it means that everything is becoming commercial. And that's a bad thing.

      We need to have some space in our lives - and some space on the internet - that is not dedicated to dog-eat-dog scratching for a living.

      We need space and time in our lives to do things simply because we love them, not so they can be monetized.

      The conversion of everything on the web - or anywhere - into a commercial good is a sympton of a society that has collapsed in on itself, not one that is healthy and vigorous.

    • ------------

      On the post: Sorry, But Google Ads Aren't Driving People To Gamble Stephen Downes (profile), Oct 17th, 2008 @ 3:08pm

      > An ad on Google is not going to drive someone to gamble

      If advertising didn't work, companies wouldn't buy them. But they do buy them, in droves.

      The simple little causal picture depicted in the quote isn't how advertising works - and nobody thinks it does, except for people who wish to make statements contrary to the obvious.

    • ------------

      On the post: AT&T Says It May Inject Its Own Ads In Your Surfing... And You'll Like It Stephen Downes (profile), Aug 15th, 2008 @ 3:10pm

      The irony is reading this article in my RSS reader with an advertisement injected (by Techdirt? By Feedburner? By Google?) into the feed.

    • ------------

      On the post: Is The iPhone App Kill Switch Really Such A Surprise? Stephen Downes (profile), Aug 12th, 2008 @ 4:47pm

      > if this is such a big deal, don't buy the iPhone.

      Sure. Just try saying that when they all have a kill switch.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Charity in the Maritimes

Responding to this local news article, which in turn responds to a Fraser Institute report stating "I and my fellow New Brunswickers are among the least charitable people in Canada."

> Out here on the East Coast of Canada, we take care of one another.

No, this isn't true. It's a nice myth, but it isn't true. Perhaps Maritimers help family or high school buddies, but when it comes to any sort of wider charity, we hear (as we heard last night on the local news) the phrase "charity begins at home."

> In 1867, we ceded our industrial and mercantile capacities to York and Mount-Royale.

No. Upper and Lower Canada, around the time of Confederation, overthrew the 'Family Compact', the wealthy group of families that through mutual support controlled all industry in the provinces.

That never happened in the Maritimes. So while the Canadas were free to grow and develop, the Maritimes struggled under their own family compacts, which exist to this day.

In the Maritimes, charity begins at home. Helping our families and friends. And because we are otherwise skinflints, we never grow beyond those original last names.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Personal Passion Trajectory

John Hagel hits on an interesting thing, a way of describing how his interests have changed through time, merging to create his unique perspective on the world. Mine, too...


Perhaps because we lived in a subdivision when I was young, and watched the houses on the next street, then the next block, and so on, being built from scratch, construction was an early interest of mine. Perhaps all young boys want to build forts, but we had an entire subdivision's worth of scrap lumber and nails to play with. We built a fort in the back yard, one down the road, several tree-houses -- and then, when we moved to Metcalfe, the process started anew, using the wood from a woodpile that was all that was left of a demolished barn.


Moving the Metcalfe put us in the country, and greatly increased my scope of activities. I had always explored to some extent, but living in Metcalfe meant following the creek one way to its source, and the other way down to the river, and the river down as far as we could go. It meant visiting one village after another by bicycle - Vernon, Kenmore, Russell, Embrun, Edwards, Osgoode, and in one challengingly long trip, Cassleman. It meant exploring the north woods two fields deep from the house, tracking through the swamp to highway 31. It meant creating local maps, and then buying World Almanacs and creating maps of the world. I cannot count the hours I have spent creating maps and diagrams of everything from fictional cities to plots to relations between people and more. It meant being in the outdoors, camping and canoeing, and above all, exploring.


I'm not sure what first got me on to writing but I do remember writing children's books as a child (which seems appropriate) - "Voyage Under Water" was my first, followed by several others. By grade 5 I was producing my own newspaper, "The Eagle Report", which went hand-in-glove with my after-school job delivering newspapers. In Grade 10 this interest took off when my English Teacher, Jamie Bell, had everyone keep a journal - this could be anything, he said, so long as it was something. So I wrote a series of stories - "The Adventures of Homer Higgens" - created crosswords, drew pictures, wrote poetry, and more. I would write hundreds of (bad) poems over the next five years.


My father worked for Bell Canada and always encouraged my interest in information and communications technology, which, by the time I was old enough for college, meant computers. My first foray into post secondary education was a three-year certificate program at Algonquin College, majoring in computer science. I ran out of money and employment, though, and moved to Calgary, where I found a job with a computer company. I was right at home in the machine room filled with desk-sized Texas Instruments 'TIMAP' processors crunching geophysical data. I mapped out the sequence of programs we would run, got pretty good at debugging the card decks submitted by 'users', learned 'Multiple Virtual Systems' (MVS) and 'Job Entry Subsystems' (JES) and how to program some of the first TI computers - including one summer spent filling a cassette tape with 'the ultimate Star Trek program' running on Rex Hayes's TI-99. I also took more computer courses at SAIT, learning Fortran and - yes - doing more work on the card-punch machine.


Passed over for promotion, I quit my job (and it would be 15 years before I would earn the same salary - $1300 a month - again) and went to university. On my first day on campus I sought out the student newspaper and signed up. I started on news, covering education issues - my first story was a front page headline '$1.5 billion program cut' on reductions to Established Programs Financing transfers for education and health care. I spent more time at the Gauntlet than I did in classes, writing regularly, learning layout and graphic design, taking news photos, and arguing politics with the other 'Gauntleteers' in the office. I was sports editor for a year, the first year our football team won a national championship, and was editor for two terms. I took my journalism seriously; I learned how to write well and quickly, I learned about propaganda and fallacious reasoning (the film 'Not a Love Story' and Eleanor Mclean's book 'Between the Lines' were major influences), and, well, much more. In the end, I wrote hundreds of articles, editorials and features.


I enrolled in university as a physics major, even though I needed to take remedial math, because I wanted to be a scientist. I aced the remedial math but bogged down on integral calculus and was overall a struggling B student. Except in philosophy - a subject I had taken only because English was full. It turned out that I was very good at philosophy (I rarely got less than an A) and, moreover, found it interesting as well. My interests and inclinations leaned toward the philosophy of knowledge (epistemology) and philosophy of science. I learned logic and analysis from some unrepentant logical positivists and got a very good gounding in scientific method, paradigm shift, models and representation. My interest in the philosophy of mind would follow. meanwhile, I came within a course or so of minoring in religious studies, examining things like religious experience, redactive criticism and Biblical analysis, world religions, and more. I found no contradiction in the different areas of study (or perhaps, more accurately, learned to live happily with contradiction). More and more I looked into the nature of mind and knowledge, cumulating with a connectionist theory of mind and similarity-based theory of knowledge, summarized in 'The Network Phenomenon'.


No journalist is far from politics, but after an unsuccessful run at student office in my second year I left it alone until graduate school. In my Master's program I became our department representative on the Graduate Representative Council (GRC) and was thence drawn (willingly) into the debates and demonstrations over tuition fees. When I went to Edmonton to study for a PhD I went on my very first day to the Graduate Students' Association and within a few days found myself the Communications Officer, a low-grade VP position. Before the end of the year we had overturned the president and embarked on a more radical agenda; I was VP Communications my second year and President for the two years following. I also ended up sitting on the university Board of Directors for a couple of years, as well as the Faculty council, some very eye-opening experiences. We were a very activist and very successful Council; I reformed the organization of the GSA based on democratic principles, made student support and lobbying our primary function (the GSA had been basically a well-funded social club before that), launched a (successful) lawsuit against the university, and for more than two years was in the newspaper at least once a week. I ran unsuccessfully for a nomination as a federal candidate in Edmonton Strathcona, worked on campaigns when I lived up north, and when I moved to Brandon, ran for mayor. The suicide of my close friend (and campaign manager) pretty much ended my interest in a political career, but I still have an (angry) interest in politics.

Distance Education

While studying for my Masters I earned money as a teaching assistant; this, combined with summer jobs as a programs coordinator for a local development education centre (the Arusha Centre) led to my being interviewed for a job with Athabasca University (I had wanted to focus on development education much more, having been very influenced by Francis Moore Lappe, but was told I would need to travel internationally before I would be considered, something that put it financially out of reach for me).  There was nothing open in Calgary, but when I moved to Edmonton an opening was available almost right away, and so I spent the next seven years as a tutor for Athabasca University. I learned a lot about education and education theory and got a lot of practical experience teaching by telephone, in person (in remote northern communities) and even over the computer. I did some course development and a pilot program in computer audiographics. I also got involved with the Tutor's Association (a branch of the Canadian Union of Educational Workers) and ended up sitting on Athabasca University's governing council. In retrospect, my focus on distance education was pretty narrow, but it was very deep, and I learned a lot.

The Internet

While studying at the University of Alberta, Jeff and Istevan told me about this thing called a 'MUD' I could access using my University computer account. I had been using computers for years by this point, as they were invaluable for writing articles and philosophy papers (as well as for creating games, which I had never stopped doing). The modem thing wasn't too difficult; I had set up a Bulletin Board Service (BBS) to support my distance education work. 2000 and I was in to Muddog Mud. Jeff, Ishy and I would keep build MUDs for the next few years; I figured out how to compile and run my own MudLib (most notably the Nightmare Mudlib) while all three of us were proficient in 'LPC', the standard code library. I spent half the time I live in the north connected to the internet, spending every cent I had on long distance and connect charges.

The Web

My interest in the internet - and in distance education - got me a job with Assiniboine Community College and I finally started making the same kind of money I was making with Texas Instruments. At the same time the World Wide Web arrived on the scene, so when I joined Assiniboine the first day of 1995 I almost immediately began working on a web site. The web was still a hard sell in the early days, so I had to do everything myself, installing my own server,m creating my own pages, then a College web site, then demonstration courses, then our own learning management system. It was relatively straightforward to learn Perl, the web programming language, and web servers and CGI programs installed and compiled pretty much like Mudlibs. I was also drawn into the whole ethos of the web, partially influenced by the first few years of Wired and partially influenced by those first garish gushing web sites. I created course sites, Start trek sites, a City of Brandon sites, some association sites, and more. I went to a bunch of NAWeb conferences and won a few NAWeb awards. The first, good, simple days of the web.

Online Learning

As I worked at Assiniboine I found myself connected through mailing lists like WWW_DEV and DEOS to distance and online learning practitioners worldwide. It was not a large community, and mostly an offshoot of the already large and well-established distance education community (so I knew the jargon and was familiar with the concepts). This brought me into the realm of learning theory, which was mostly new to me, but which fairly consistently was derived from the philosophical concepts I had studied. I did a few papers describing how we were building online courses and such, but basically things came together when I was asked by our own management to explain exactly what I was trying to do. This lead me to write 'The Future of Online Learning', which almost overnight made me into a futurist and internet theorist. Another paper, written while I was working a year later at the University of Alberta, Learning Objects, established my tech credentials. I've spent rather longer on online learning than I ever intended. I certainly didn't expect to make it a career.

Blogging and Social Networks

I come into the field of social networks as an outsider. Blogging was a natural for me, and from the day I created my first website in 1995 I started posting my writing online. To this day, I don't follow the 'standard form' of blogging because blogging didn't have a form when I started, and by the time it was reified by services like LiveJournal and Blogger I was too set in my own way of doing things (with my own software) to change. As my term at the University was ending I had a chance to go to Australia to do some web development for a philosophy course (which gave me that magical and elusive international experience) and it was while there I decided to start my newsletters. I had been, since 1998, involved with a group of friends on a news and politics website called NewsTrolls, which was a big part of my life, and I transferred that experience over to create OLDaily, a newsletter I have been running to this day. I wrote 'Educational Blogging' and then 'E-Learning 2.0' and began to be asked to attend some education technology conferences. I won a few blogging awards and began to think more seriously about the link between connectionism, networks and pedagogy.


Ever since my days bicycling to neighbouring communities I have had an interest in photography. As a child I had an enlarger and developed some of my own film. I still have some prized aerial photos taken from the day as a 14-year old, determined to at least experience my first flight, I cycled 10 kilometers to Embrun and hired a small plane for the 15 minutes I could afford with my 25 dollars. The 15 minutes became an hour looping back around Metcalfe and I emptied the roll. Working with the Gauntlet gave me the opportunity to work with free film and developing, but only in black and white. The arrival of digital photography - and the opportunity to travel, which finally came with my first international experience - created a renaissance in my photographic career, an interest I pursue to this day. While I've done some videos, I think, honestly, that I'll stay with photography; there's a beauty of a still image that can't be matched with a video.I surround myself these days with my own photos, and I have to admit, I had never known the world could be filled with such stunning beauty.

So that's the summation of my passions to this point in my life. the major ones; I haven't touched on some of the less major ones, like science fiction, darts, hiking, camping, cycling, old time radio, birds, gardening, flying, architecture, and more. I'm overdue for a new passion, though honestly, there's still a lot there in those other passions to occupy me for a lifetime. These passions have always driven me to distraction, the need for things like a stable income or home life taking very much a back seat. And I have some unfinished business - the novels I want to write, the philosophy I want to complete, the art and media I want to create, the places I want to see, and the house I want to build out there somewhere in my forest.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Knowledge Hunters

 Responding to (I have attempted to post this there as well, but the comment system rejects it, first because the comment is too long, then because the URL is too long.)

As the theorist behind this Downesian fanatical training agenda I feel I ought to make a few points.

First, it's always pretty easy to show that something we say has already been more or less said before. Consequently I am not particularly concerned about whether what I say is novel or merely a rehash of something already said. What matters is whether it is right.

Personally, I doubt that 1970s progressives were saying the same thing I'm saying, mostly because the mathematics, science and terminology did not exist. And I *do* address the criticisms they faced. But it doesn't matter. If they were prescient, great! It's not a competition.

Second, I have addressed the question of the skills and attitudes needed to succeed in a connectivist environment on numerous occasions. If people presenting the ideas and theory did not cover this, they can hardly be blamed; a one-hour presentation doesn't allow coverage of everything.

But last summer I addressed an entire course to 'critical literacies'. I've looked at the subject in numerous presentations. I wrong a very popular article, 'Things You Really Need To Learn', which describes what ought to form the foundation for a 21st century education.

I know, oh I know, that many students and even adults are not in a position to manage their own learning. They do not have the skills and discipline. This is unfortunate, because it leaves them dependent and unable to adapt.

But the argument that we are currently doing it wrong should not stand successfully against the argument that we should be doing it correctly.

I have long argued - and many others before me! - that children should be encouraged to learn creative and critical thinking, logic, analysis and reasoning, scientific method, and those other tools an autodidact will have in plentiful supply. That they do not have these tools today is no reason to continue to teach them specific dates and places, or to have them memorize formulae by rote.

Third, at the core of connectivism is the idea that learning is not a matter of transferring knowledge from a teacher to a learner, but is rather the product of the learner focusing and repeating creative acts, of practising something that is important and reflecting on this practice. Not that I'm the first to say this either! But it continues to astonish me how this basic point eludes so many thinkers.

Take, for example, the proposal that:

"I discourage my own language students from taking too many notes. I want them to be there with me in the moment, hopefully engaging me or the material I present directly, thinking through and subsequently coming to new personal understandings for themselves."

This sounds like a desire to engage students in creativity and participation, but is actually a countervailing edict. Unless there is an active discussion taking place (in which case we might still see some note-taking, but demonstrably less) what is being lost is rather their rapt attention as someone feeds them 'the facts'. That's not engagement, activity, or anything of the sort. It's receptivity.

Oh, I've attended many of those conference presentations, and you'll hear me tap-a-tap-a-tapping at the back of the room. I'm taking notes - hardly a passive activity, but an active engagement with the material, a working through of what is being presented into my own wording and my own vocabulary, in real-time. It's a defense mechanism against the pedagogy of presentation, a way to keep myself from falling asleep while waiting for the speaker to catch up with her idea.

When we discourage note-taking, we are making it about *ourselves* as teachers, which is exactly the opposite of what it should be.

Fourth, even for a polymath such as myself, the road of the autodidact is lonely and frustrating. I know this because of, for example, the hours I have spent discovering that the number of variables in the template must match exactly the number of variables passed to the function filling the template, an error that will be logged with the unhelpful (and incorrect) notification, "syntax error."

One of the differences between the 'discovery learning' of the 1970s and the network learning of today is that today you're supposed to ask people when you run into something like that. You post your code to your blog or a discussion board, or email it to someone you know, and ask, "why won't this work?" And so forth, with all the other frustrations you encounter on the way to mastery of your domain.

In a very real sense, the attitudes and skills lacking in those students who do not succeed in network learning are precisely those surrounding how to frame a question, how to pose it to a community, and how to interact with them in such a way that they'll respond to you. These are no easy feats for a generation that thinks asking for help is cheating!

What distinguishes network learning from the discovery learning of the 70s is that it's not about the discovery at all. There's no extra reward, no supposition of improved recall, no morally superior consequence, to having discovered something yourself as opposed to have asked someone how to do it. It's about acquiring, through practice, a certain set of skills: of experimentation, of enquiry, of testing and observing, of communicating. The principle being 'discovered' is the least of it! These are a dime a dozen; human knowledge is filled with them, far more (especially in the 21st century) than anyone could remember. Getting at these principles, teasing them out, working them - these are far more important skills, and they will not be learned, quite frankly, by paying attention in class.
Finally, fifth, I speak and write to educators, and the vast majority of them are older people, adults in their 50s, as I am, or those to whom a synonym for 'millennium generation' is 'youngsters'.

I don't talk to these people about how to teach, even though the majority of them are educators. My primary concern isn't the young at all. Rather, I am most interested in these older people, these teachers, themselves. I talk to them about "How to manage your own thinking and learning." Because, I figure, if they can understand and acquire these habits themselves, they will be more able to *demonstrate* (rather than hopelessly try to *tell*) their student show to learn.

Of course, you can hardly blame those people who in fact *are* younger from restraining themselves from taking this approach. Either they suppose that older adults are, in fact, able to learn things for themselves, or if not, hardly feel in a place to correct them. Nor should they.

Finally, I should be clear, none of what I recommend is fact or easy. True, no end of salespeople will try to tell you that this or that educational theory or reform will solve the problems in the workforce (or with our kids, or whatever) in just a few years. But you don't lose weight quickly, you don't build muscles quickly, and correspondingly, you don't train your mind quickly. These things take time, for some very good biological reasons, and on understanding that we can make remarkable, if slow, progress.

And in all of this - and here we are probably very much in agreement - there is very much a contradiction between what I would encourage in an educational system and what those who envision a fleet of learning management systems, core vocabularies and competencies, and standardized assessment mechanisms would envision.

At its heart, what I have to write about is a theory of education based on personal freedom, empowerment and creativity - and I positively *know* that 70s progressives talked about this, and I am wholeheartedly in agreement with them, and arguably the product of such an education.

That's why I am dismayed when people say that students today just don't have the chops to manage their own learning. It's a denial of the sort of education, of the sort of life, that is worth living. It is to suggest, contra all the evidence to the contrary, that there's no point teaching them to live their own lives, because they'll never learn.

And if that's not new - that's fine. It's still worth saying.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Dystopian Future

Borrowing liberally from Jack Uldrich...

Herewith, the sad state of affairs in the year 2025, clipped from the major newspaper of the time (* I'd tell you its name, but in 2010 that combination of words is still considered a profanity).

Regulators admit defeat: now no practical means to license lawyers and physicians. Government regulators admitted today that no test exists to distinguish between 'licensed' and 'unlicensed' practitioners of law. This development occurs as the government continues to reel from scandal following revelations of widespread hacking and alterations of the government central data bank. Imposters without credentials are able to acquire enough knowledge online that they cannot be detected, said a top hospital official. "Frankly, if they hadn't also hacked into our payroll system, we'd be happy to have them," he said.

Robot police kill great-great-grandmother, 124. Robots originally used in the successful deployment of drones in war-torn regions of south Florida have fired randomly into a crowd of anti-illicitist demonstrators in Providence, killing one and injuring 25. The woman, a 124 year old great-great-grandmother, was passing by the demonstration and not involved. FOM news sources, however, reported that she was wearing a shield-set and ibursting a message reading, "No IBON murder board appointed mayors". Free Vote representatives called her death an assassination and demanded that the corporate-appointed municipal official resign.

Three blinded in targeted messaging error. Panic struck for the second time this week as an automated billboard was left at the wrong setting and beamed high-powered lasers into the eyes of passers-by, blinding three. The billboards were programmed to aim low-power laser messages directly to the eyeball, scrolling local advertising messages at the base of the visual field. The used power couplings, obtained from returned laser scanners, were left at a macro setting, however, and cut into the flesh, rather than merely beaming an innocuous message. A spokesperson for Google said the advertising campaign will continue.

Demobilize health risks gradually, argue free-street advocates. Elderly people demobilized by their clothing are a hazard on streets and sidewalks and should be given a way to gradually move out of the way, argue proponents of 'free street' laws. "We support the use of health monitoring applications in clothing, and nobody would deny that people in imminent risk of stroke or heart attack should be immobilized immediately, but you can't just freeze them where they stand, " said Jake McKer, president of the lobby group for personal mobile devices. Elderly citizens frozen by their clothes have also complained that the suits replace their punk music selections with soothing trance and lower their bodily temperatures too much. "I'm too cold and I can't stand the music," said one woman, locked down by her velour suit at the corner of McCain and Crystal.

Ship manufacturing jobs overseas, demand protesters. "Manufacturing facilities are driving up power and water rates," argued Lint-Free Economy supporters at a rooftop meeting last night. Production plants and the jobs they produce should be returned to China and India, where they came from. "We recognize that some place has to be the industrial heartland," they said, "but why us?" Protesters are arguing that since the factories only employ five people for each square mile they occupy, they are a net drain on the community and should be moved to a regions with a strong enough economy to support them. "Put them in Delhi," yelled one angry protester. "They can afford it. Chicago can't!"

Party all night, lose your insurance. Texas residents have been warned that their health insurance could be suspended if their tracker chips report them out of the house overnight. "Those without valid night-work permits will be presumed to be abusing their health and will have their policies re-examined," said an insurance industry spokesperson yesterday. Consumer advocate groups opposed to the measure blame the corporate profit acts of 2019. "Corporates may have a right to a certain level of earnings, and we support that," said Judy McDonald, "but at the same time, these rights must be balanced with the rights of individuals to personal enjoyment."

Extra limbs an unnecessary expense. With the exception of tails, extra limbs cause undue strain on the biohealth system and should not be requested unless needed for employment purposes, said representatives from the American Biohealth Association Tuesday. "Ever since we began reattaching limbs, there has been a tendency to abuse this privilege," said spokesperson Victoria Merhorn. "We cannot condone the attachment of additional limbs purely for entertainment purposes." Representatives from the 4-Handed Piano Players' Association challenged the doctors in a statement of their own. "What's the definition of entertainment," they asked. "What's fun for you is work for us."

Phaser incident sparks calls for VR reform. "You have to take care. Not everybody shares your reality," warned police after a phaser-sparked melee sent 15 to hospital in Richmond Hill. The incident began when 27 year old Gunther Hall poked a pool cue into the midsection of an opposing player during a MacTrek tournament Saturday. "His VR displayed it as a mild phaser," explained the tournament operator, "but the other player had flipped zones and received it as a '38 calibre slug." Given a substantial jolt by his stimbelt, the man reacted, beginning a fight that matched Vulcan against Wookie, droid against dabo girl.

"To every season, turn, turn, turn." A new game has spung up in scorched earth areas involving used hospital equipment. Operating exoskeleton 'waldos', opponents try to execute a "lift-and-turn' maneuver on each other. Local residents have complained about the noise as the heavy-duty steel skeletons clash against each other. But everybody agrees that 'turning' is good healthy fun. "My muscles get a workout," said 'turner' player Pat Thompson. Others, though, are calling for the activity to be relocated to grass fields or stadiums, as dust from the former subdivisions, reduced to ashes in the reconciliation of 2015, might be harmful if inhaled.

Genetic advertising trials to begin Sunday. Genetic testing and modification services are joining forces with advertisers in an exciting new trial next week to begin work on genetic modifications that create psychological needs for consumer products. Children inheriting the genes will be required to pay an annual fee for the improvement, which ensures that they will seek out the best in nutrition and entertainment products throughout their long life. A spokesperson from Fox Opinion Modification services suggested that attitudes and opinions might be next. "We want them to believe what's right," he said, "and a genetic predisposition to certain pitches will ensure that."

That's all from the * today. On behalf of Prexy Palin, good night, and God(tm) bless.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Health Care in NB

David W. Campbell writes, "We have over 11,000 more workers in health care today in New Brunswick compared to 1999 with no real evidence of better outcomes. We are spending $1.2 billion more this year than in 1999 on health care." Implicit in this argument is the supposition that the level of health care in 1999 in NB was adequate. It was not.

I moved here in 2001 and it took me years to find a family doctor. We simply could not obtain prescriptions for things like asthma medication. It still takes far too long to obtain service on some kinds of treatments.

I don't know what the evidence is (or isn't) that there is "no real evidence of better outcomes" but I'm quite sure I'd like to see it presented. In my own household, the level of health is much better today than even five years ago. I can document it pretty easily. But I am not sure how this would translate into evidence of outcomes.

Yes, I use health services more now than in the past. That is because, in the past, I was not able to access health services at all. There were no clinics, there was no way to see a physician, the only point of access was through the emergency room.

I would want to see more evidence that 'greater awareness of the costs' would impact usage of the health care system. When you're sick, you're sick. People would love to be less sick, but it doesn't work that way.

I'm sure there are ways to reduce health care costs and to improve outcomes, but they are a far cry from the sort of solutions the privatization set proposes.

- address income inequity. The gap between richest and poorest in NB is among the widest in Canada. There's plenty of research showing health care costs are reduced with income gaps are lowered. The Globe and Mail published more evidence of that today.

- improve points of access. The biggest shock for me on moving here from Alberta was not the hospitals (though, honestly, NB hospitals were 20 years behind Alberta's). It was the complete absence of drop-in clinics. Now we have more clinics, but they are not well-advertised and you still have to book an appointment.

- manage bookings and appointments with computers. Make (and keep) appointments. I mean, seriously now. The NB system has yet to enter the computer age. Here's how bookings work now: your doctor will send a referral (by paper) to the specialist, and then some time in the future, the specialist will phone you. Appointments? Scheduling system? Not in NB. Those of us who are newcomers are quite certain that locals are called first, with the rest of us getting the leavings.

- invest in education. When you launch services like tele-health, advertise it (I learned about it originally only when my doctor told me). Use the media to describe the system to people, the different ways to access it, and the appropriate ways to do so. Also, media about general health, health issues, and similar campaigns is essential.

- stop threatening people with privatization. Big business would love to own the hospitals and insurance system. We get that. But it doesn't help anyone to have them constantly lobbying for reductions in services, reductions in expenditures, methods for tracking fees, etc. Make it clear that the hospitals are a public service, for the good of NB, and will not be privatized.

Remember, investments in health care are net gains for the province, not line-item expenses. Health care is absolutely essential in order to attract and retain population and industry. We should be using our health care as a selling point, not trying to explain away the expenses as mismanagement and abuse. Health care can form the basis for an economy - a big part of the resurgence in Moncton over the last decade is the provision of health care services around the hospitals - everything from clinics to pharmacies.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Innovation in China

Responding to China Is Not About to Out-Innovate the U.S. in Harvard Business School Blogs.

Patents are a poor standard for measuring innovation, agreed. But while this article successfully refutes the point about patents (the focus of the Economist article, but which takes up less than one paragraph of the longer WSJ article) it does not establish its main point, that China will not overtake the US in innovation.

To make the larger point, the author needs to show that the quality of Chinese innovation is less than that of the Americans'. But while making one part of that - that Chiense patents are of low quality - the author does not make the other part of it - that American patents are of high quality. Indeed, there is actually a comparison made to other low quality business-method patents filed in the U.S. And while the statement is made that the American and European offices are where all high quality patents are filed, nowhere is this supported. The author simply appeals to a natural prejudice on the part of the reader.

The WSJ article has a much more interesting take on Chinese innovation than a reading of the response here would suggest. The author describes six "killer apps" that propelled western economies ahead of the Chinese at the dawn of the industrial age, developments like democracy, competition and scientific method (and none of which, interestingly, were patented, or even patentable).

The WSJ article does not note, but it should be observed, that these six apps are all based in what might be called the atomistic view of the world, or more broadly, an approach to the world that viewed counting and quantity, and not essence or quality, to be key to understanding. The dawn of a new world view spawned the Copernican revolution, Cartesian method (and geometry), market economics, and representation by population.

According to the WSJ, the Chinese response in the 21st century is to catch up by doing 'more' - "consume more, import more, invest abroad more and innovate more". I think that's correct, to a point. But the Chinese have also embraced a world view that is probably the next step beyond quality and quantity.

The Chinese do not govern themselves merely by counting. I think (and here I speculate) that such a form of government would be seen as crude and cumbersome. We know from observation that Chinese politics requires negotiating a complex set of relationships. Chinese foreign policy also appears to operate in that way; no tactic is ever employed to obtain a simple cause-effect response, but rather to influence numerous variables at once, with an eye not merely to the short-term but also to the long game. This is why, for example, China is "the world's leading manufacturer of wind turbines and photovoltaic panels."

Now of course the merits of this argument could be debated. It could be questioned whether the Chinese are adopting a more network-based approach, built on consensus and cooperation. And it could be questioned whether such an approach is more effective, and would produce more innovation. And then, finally, there is the question of whether this approach would show up at all in the form of patents, or whether - like the dawn of the industrial revolution - this manifests itself through cultural and social change.

But because these are open arguments, and because the possibility that the Chinese may be pursuing new forms of innovation is not considered at all by the author, not even to the point where they are at least countenanced in the WSJ article, the author fails to make his point. Americans depending on their country's innovative capacity will have to look elsewhere for reassurance.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

On Wikileaks

Posted to HBR Blog, which states,
 U.S. administrations for years have portrayed themselves as supporters of democracy, freedom, and human rights. The telegrams tell a different story of intimate and co-dependent relationships with unpleasant and repressive regimes in Riyadh, Cairo, and Rabat.
Many people - including myself - have long called on the governments of the western world to actually support human rights and democracy, rather than merely giving lip service to it in public and subverting it behind closed doors.

The response has typically been that our allegations are unfounded, that we are being unnecessarily cynical or sceptical, and that if we understood what is really happening, we would be thankful and supportive of our government's efforts.

Now in the wake of Wikileaks, it seems appropriate to once again ask that our governments actually support human rights and democracy, and to mean it this time. In the same breath, it does not seem misplaced to ask that corporations actually behave ethically, and that the very wealthy and the very powerful behave responsibly, working for the good of society, rather than to further their own interests by whatever means at the expense of the rest of us.

The people who decry openness and disclosure complain that it makes it impossible for officials to be honest in these closed door meeting, to have frank exchanges of ideas, and to make the difficult deals that are necessary. But the converse is that it entitles them to lie in public, to misrepresent the purpose of their actions, and to engage in activities that, if the public were informed, it would find deeply disturbing.

Wikileaks should not be necessary. That's not to offer a blanket endorsement of openness, but the rather routine betrayal of trust Wikileaks reveals makes it clear to me that the level of openness is far less than what is needed, the right to privacy abused in order to allow the criminal and corrupt to ply their trade in our names and with our tools. It has to stop.

Rilke and Wittgenstein

Rilke is a great read, for sure, and this is a nice take on his ideas.

I've run across Rilke on a number of occasions.

    I would like to step out of my heart
    and go walking beneath the enormous sky.

Most recently in Ray Monk's biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Rilke was supported for a short time by Wittgenstein, who subscribed to the idea that you have to earn your place in the world, that it is not just given to you, but you have to take it.

Part of that - and the part I like about both Rilke and Wittgenstein - is the idea of giving yourself over completely, whether to an idea, an activity, or most ideally, to the ordinary and mundane, in which the greatest wonders are found.

Most people merely walk under the night sky; people like Rilke and Wittgenstein lose themselves in it.

I can't recall at the moment where I read it, but there was the story I read of how the student singing was unable to reach new heights, until that one day he simply dedicated himself to the task with all abandon, losing the sense of self, and dedicating himself completely to the performance.

It's not about augmentation. None of this - being human, being digital - is about augmentation. Of such there are tools and technologies that can extend our reach, amplify our voice - but in the end, it is up to us to completely involve ourselves in the performance, the communication, the use.

No matter ho loudly you can amplify your voice, Wittgenstein would say - and probably Rilke with him - that this voice will represent nothing more or less than who you are, and that you must deserve to have that voice, and when you do, the greatness in the voice will shine through.

I think... I think... I think I believe this too.