Friday, March 31, 2006

Who's Your Daddy?

In a recent interview posted at CNNMoney, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is asked -
"Do you have an iPod?"
Steve responds,
"No, I do not. Nor do my children. [...] on this dimension I've got my kids brainwashed: You don't use Google, and you don't use an iPod."

Friday, March 24, 2006

it's so simple

Eben Moglen, pro bono lawyer for the Free Software Foundation was recently interviewed on ZNet UK. Moglen hits the nail on the head in response to Church of Intellectual Property leader Bill Gates. Moglen was asked -
"Various people have accused the free software movement of being anti-capitalist, including Bill Gates. What's your response?"
After pointing out that capitalism is not only making money from free software but also investing money in its development, Moglen goes on to say -
"Some people decided to make knowledge into property. That wasn't capitalism speaking; that was a greedy scam. There wasn't anything normatively acceptable about it. It contravened the freedom of speech and ideas. We didn't engage in it because it was excluding people from ideas.

This is an especially bad thing in the digital world. In the analogue world, excluding people makes sense as you've got to raise money to manufacture something — a book, or a tape. So you have to say to people, "this cassette tape costs a dollar to make, if you don't give me a dollar I can't make another one." In the digital world, nothing has a marginal cost. Once you make the first one you can make an additional million at no extra cost, so you should only have to pay that cost once."

It's so simple.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

OpenDocument Fellowship Petition

My social technology class has been looking at the OpenDocument issue that has eyebrows raised in Massachusetts. The students (and I) are doing research on the various opinions and reasons around either rejection or acceptence of a standard, fully open format for office documents.

Sure enough, I'm informed of a gem by one student. He points out this site. There has been a lot of talk around supporting this move to ODF for some time now but I was not aware that a petition by the OpenDocument Fellowship even existed. That is, until the student taught the teacher.

So please, if you support data integrity and a level playing field for office applications, sign here. If you're not sure, learn more from the OpenDocument Fellowship.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Descartes' Dogma - Soul Searching

17th century philosopher, mathematician and scientist René Descartes once stated - "Cogito, ergo sum" meaning, "I am thinking, therefore I exist."

Implied in the first part of René's statement ("I am thinking") is the existence of a thinker apart from thought. Is this an actual fact? Is it a fact that "I" think and "you" think? Or is the thinker simply another sliver - a sliver not essentially different than other slivers within the whole fragmented process of thinking?

Obviously, different brains have gone through different experiences. Therefore, different brains - different organisms, have been conditioned with different knowledge. But this does not address the assumption of a personal psyche. Is there a thinker? There are conditioned brains, but is there an actual thinker - a "me", an "I", a central psyche, an experiencer of thoughts? Or is the thinker simply another fragment that many believe refers to something foundational, something solid, something centralized round which the process of thinking occurs? Surely Descartes was not referring to the "I" in a conventional, factual sense. Surely Descartes did not mean, as he pointed to his head, "This brain thinks."

Seeing that the concept of a thinker apart from thought is on shaky ground, many then project a soul - an immortal part of man that acts as the enabler of thought. Is there a soul? Or is the belief in a soul the vehicle used to escape from fear? Thought fears death. Or rather, thought irrationally fears the unknown - labeling it as 'death' and placing it in opposition to life. Thought, which is limited - always fractured, always based on the past - cannot possibly bring the unknown into the known. But rather than staying with its limitation, thought has invented and projected the 'soul' or 'higher-self' - a belief concerning the unknown which it uses as an escape from fear.

Fear is a part of what we are. It's a part of our whole house. Yet do we thoroughly explore this basic fact? We spend much time adding and subtracting superficial 'knowledge' to this so-called 'self.' We declare ourselves as christians, jews, muslims, and atheists. We add knowledge of our nationality, race, and culture to the 'thinker'. We expend a great deal of energy accumulating and modifying knowledge about the "me" and then declare this accrued, personalized encyclopedia as 'self-knowledge'. But fear must be watched and understood, not sidestepped through identity or belief. The watching of how the "me" relates to and reacts to life's challenges is essential. Knowing why the "me" identifies, rather than with what it identifies, is infinitely more important. Surely that is what it means to know oneself for such knowledge is not of time.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Concepts Trump Information

Alec Couros has posted a great breakdown of a recent ZDNet article called "Open Source in education: Winning hearts and minds". Early in Alec's post he reminds us of an age-old "argument" against the adoption of free software in school systems. The argument goes something like this...
"The fact is, in the real world everyone uses proprietary software. If you make students learn free software in school, they will be ill-equipped to handle their jobs when they go into the work force."
I can personally testify to encountering this argument twice during my last few years as a free software in education supporter. Further to the fact that this argument erroneously assumes a real world monopoly-lock in every area of proprietary software (should every school purchase licenses for both Quark and Pagemaker?), here's why I find it specious...

I don't teach students to memorize and regurgitate. I don't teach students to use MS Word or OpenOffice Writer. I use such applications to teach word processing. I don't teach students to use Mozilla or Internet Explorer. I use such applications to teach web browsing. I don't teach students Scribus or Adobe Pagemaker. I use such applications to teach desktop publishing. I don't teach students Logo, Guido van Robot or Python. I use such languages to teach programming. I don't aim to have students memorize the 5,6, or 7 steps it takes to perform a specific task. I teach menus, how they are organized and thus, where they would likely find a sought after function in any similar application. This is not to say that memorization does not occur - of course it does. But most of that memorization occurs unconsciously and is secondary to conceptual understanding. There are those (Marc Prensky calls them the "digital immigrants") who aim to memorize step-by-step procedures and consequently struggle when faced with learning a different application that performs the same task. Though understandable, this is the mindset that falsely posits the difficulties students will encounter in the "real world". This is the mindset that carries with it what Prensky calls the "digital immigrant accent". Borrowing another Prensky term, we need to treat our younger students as "Digital Natives".

I read an interesting book last summer called "A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age" by Daniel H. Pink. Today's students will need to adapt to changing technologies all their lives. To argue that we leave them unprepared by not using the "most popular" software is questionable and indicative of putting left-brain thinking on a pedestal. Pink argues effectively that a major shift is occurring, putting right-brain thinking in the driver's seat. Information is not necessarily power - it's how we design and give meaning to that information that will matter. That means students must be well-equipped for easy adaptability to ever-changing technologies. This means they must have a broader understanding of conceptual tasks. They must see interrelationship - and therefore acquire an increased ability in finding equivalent procedures between differing software environments. This means they need the ability to actively help themselves as all needed information will be at their fingertips. That is, students who have simply been taught to memorize one way of doing things will not be ready for tomorrow.

Monday, March 06, 2006

My House

I built my house myself. I have a loyal pet dog to protect it from those who don't belong. As soon as I was able, I began building my house. I started building my house so long ago, I don't even recall the year I began its construction. In fact, I don't even recall why I began building my house but that's not important - because everyone needs a house, right? At least that's what they tell me. I love my house. I wouldn't be without it.

It's not that I feel any strong hatred toward others, but I feel uneasy allowing just anyone to enter my house - unless they get along with my dog. You see, there are rooms in my house which generally, I don't allow access to. But the best guests - the guests that get to see the main rooms - are the ones who have pets agreeable to my dog. And if they have a dog of the exact same breed, they can see any room in my house - except the cellar. Even I rarely go there. I haven't been in the cellar for years - not since I adopted my dog. I have to keep my dog away from the cellar. He barks, yelps, growls and whimpers when near its door.

Indeed, my house is something extraordinary. When sitting in the living room you can see the whole world through an extremely large picture window made of hope. The blinds are woven using only quality thread imported from desire. Attached to the living room is the den where I spend a significant amount of time by the fireplace constructed from pure joy. No matter the weather, my house keeps my dog and I comfortable. The roof and walls are composed entirely of sweet dreams. The kitchen is fully equipped with a dishwasher, oven, refrigerator and sink made using only the finest of bliss. When I have guests, we often gather in the games room. There I have a pool table, dartboard, shuffleboard, big-screen TV, and a fully stocked bar assembled using 100% pure pleasure. And each night I know I'm guaranteed a restful sleep in my king-sized bed - its frame shaped entirely out of love. The mattress? 20% delight, 80% gratification.

The garage is disconnected from my house, though easily accessible. I don't really spend much time in the garage. In fact, I'd never go in it if possible. However, I use it every day to park my car, which I need to get to work. But make no mistake about it, it's a solid garage - built from the ground up using only the best pain and suffering available.

So that's my house. Feel free to drop me a line if you'd ever like to see my house. Of course, first I'll have to check with my dog. His name is Belief. If my dog agrees with you, then you're welcome to come see the place. As long as you don't go near the cellar there shouldn't be a problem.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Follow the Leader, Lead the Follower

If one was without a belief system, without a religious identity - what would one do? If there was no belief in a savior or holy book or guru - no church, temple, mosque or synagogue to attend - no belief in god or gods to worship - no system of rituals to perform to prove our piety - no stories of reincarnation or resurrection - no souls or angels. What would one do? How would one live day to day - Sunday, Monday, Tuesday...week after week, year after year?

When this question is asked - when we ask 'how' - what is involved?

Naturally, if something mechanical breaks down - the car, the washing machine, the computer - I seek a specialist if need be. If I'm struck by an unknown illness, I seek a doctor's advice. In these contexts, I do not know how to resolve my problem. It therefore makes perfect sense to seek someone who has the know-how to aid me. But when I'm confronted with the challenges of life itself, what shall I do?

When we ask 'how' in regards to living life itself, the very question implies a search which in turn, implies a seeker. That is, when I ask another "How am I to live?", I am looking for some method or system to depend upon - to dampen my fear of facing the immensity of life as it actually is. I have not understood myself - my fear, my joy, my desire, my hope, my pain, my pleasure - and because I have not understood myself, I am willing to follow. Or I've put the yoke on so long ago - have learned and refined its dogma so well, that now I'm willing to lead.

The followers create the leaders and the leaders create the followers. When we avoid our fear rather than watch our fear - see it in action and therefore see it for what it actually is, we create this mutually destructive relationship. Human beings need not belief to come together. Belief is divisive thinking though it often wears the cloak of companionship and camaraderie. There is no system, no savior, no guru, no prophet, no book to hold onto - that will act as a blueprint, a formula for day-to-day living. Life itself tells us 'how'. We simply need to listen.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

What's the "right" question?

Is it ethical to distribute unauthorized copies of published works to others?
Proprietary software vendors, the MPAA, and RIAA don't really want you to question the status quo of copyright. But should you decide to, they would prefer you focus on the above question. Of course, this is not an invalid question. It's not that this question is "wrong". In fact, this question is perfectly reasonable. But is it the most penetrating question? The most direct question? The most revealing question?

Notice who the spotlight is on when the question of ethics is framed this way. That's right - the distributor. Or, as some would like to say - the "pirate" (Arr! Grr!). The focus is on the "pirate's" actions but the action of the copyright holder is left unexamined. The question implies that the current legal system and actions of those who use the system to their advantage is not flawed in any fundamental way - that since the advent of digital technology, there has been no need to examine that progress in relationship to the law of old.

I'd like to flip things around. I'd like to ask a question that would make any Hollywood producer, RIAA president, or proprietary software developer nervous about seriously addressing. This is my question...

Is it ethical to prevent human beings from sharing published scientific information or culture?
And why would the consideration of this question make those in power nervous? First, it puts the focus on the copyright holder's actions. Generally, those with the power want you to believe they have the moral right to perfect control. Second, those arguing in favor of perfect control simply don't have a leg to stand on - even if they drop the "moral rights of the creator" argument. The only remaining argument relies upon a belief that not enough progress in the arts and sciences will occur unless copyright holders have perfect control over ideas. This belief is stacked upon the a priori belief that humans are like Pavlov's dog. That is, humanity is productive only when the bell of money is ringing loud enough to make it salivate. But I suppose it's understandable why one may fall into this narrow line of thinking for often, as one sees oneself - one sees the world.