Saturday, March 31, 2007

1:1 computing in education a step closer

Tom Hoffman points us to this article and advises schools to "Hold Those Purchase Orders!"

I was just writing a little on this not too long ago. I wasn't expecting progress quite this rapid. Good news indeed.

Update 1: Digital Rights advocator Russell McOrmond says
"[...] an inexpensive laptop that is designed from the ground up to be lower-powered and run FLOSS is important to me."
and points us to another article by Ryan Paul here.

Update 2: Bill Kerr says
"The mere existence of the OLPC is changing the way we think about what is possible"
and points us to another article by Ron Teitelbaum here.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Death for the Death Star?

Han Solo is rethinking the situation. Things are looking much better than before but he's clearly not entirely convinced of our intent.

Han confuses the rebel alliance when stating -
"The 'we control not just the software, but also the hardware it runs on' parts [of GPL3] still drive me up the wall."
GPL3's intent is no different than GPL2 or GPL1. The intent is to restrict through copyleft how our software may be distributed, not how hardware that runs it actually functions. That is, all we ask is that distributed GPL3 software grants the recipient of that software the right to modify, study, share, and run for any purpose their copy. This is fact.

Some say Han is wise and will grasp the intent of our license given time. We're gonna try poppin' a couple proton torpedoes down the thermal exhaust port of the Death Star regardless. Other plans (market power and lobbying for legal change) are not viable given the galactic landscape. We could really use Han's help in blowing the reactor core.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

GPL3 Draft 3

...has been released. In cyberspace (like in meatspace), a consequence of freedom is the negation of profit-making through exploitive oppression. Cash (euphemistically referred to as "business") is at stake. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the FUD over GPL3 has been extraordinary.

A reminder: We are not against making money. In fact, there are proven ways to do so ethically with free software - and GPL3 won't deny that. But we will not accept business practices that abuse the rights of computer users to study, share, modify, and run for any purpose their software. This is why GPL3 is soon to become reality.

Read and understand GPL3 draft 3 here. Cut through some FUD here.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

rhinophytophilia and GPL3

If interested in sex with flowers and/or cutting through the FUD over GPL3, a must-read article by Bruce Perens is here.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

not on the test

"Thinking's important. It's good to know how.
And someday you'll learn to, but someday's not now.
Go on to sleep, now. You need your rest.
Don't think about thinking. It's not on the test.
Download Tom Chapin and John Forster's "Not On The Test" here.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

free software: the best defense

Spyware and malware survive and thrive on ...

(This post has been reworded and updated here)

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

achieving 1:1 computing in education

Tom Hoffman adds to Miguel Guhlin's thoughts regarding 1:1 computing initiatives in schools and the "entrenchment of anti-technology" attitudes that often come when administrators/coordinators feel pressure to prove the value of such investments. Tom ends his post saying:
"We need laptops that are cheap and functional enough that nobody thinks they will go away, that we can afford whether or not they are being used perfectly."
This gets right to the heart of the matter. One imagines a future where computer life-span is extended considerably and machines are so affordable that a school's tech budget no longer sticks out like a sore thumb. We need cooperation and vision to reach Tom's described goal.

So how do we get (the sooner the better) there? We support projects like this. The OLPC project is visionary in a couple of ways. First, it actively increases the value of the computer by removing all mechanical devices. That's right. No hard disk, no CD, DVD, or floppy drives, not even a fan. Less moving parts means less wear-and-tear. Less wear-and-tear means less repair which translates into financial savings. Second, OLPC machines are designed around FLOSS. While giving the user the freedom to study, share, and tinker (can that be any more educationally sound?), FLOSS is usually obtained for low or no cost and avoids proprietary licensing arrangements that often force costly upgrades and anti-virus software. Furthermore, machines that can run FLOSS are typically useful for longer periods of time. That is, proprietary upgrades often make otherwise useful hardware obsolete sooner than need be.

Tech coordinators (and administrators/teachers) dislike the worry over whether or not the ability of the teaching staff to skillfully utilize computer access will justify the tremendous financial expenditure involved in sustaining a 1:1 environment. The concern should be pedagogically, not fiscally, focused. Nonetheless, it's an unavoidable worry that must be least for now. Unfortunately, this often leads to awkward and artificial pressure (whether consciously or not) being placed on teachers to "step in line" with the institution's tech requirements. Of course, teachers should be encouraged to use technology when appropriate and good teachers will do so regardless. But this process will work best when it comes about naturally. Meeting Tom's goal implies that natural scenario for teachers to dive right in. Support for innovative, FLOSS-based laptops is the most expeditious and socially sound way of bringing about the change schools need to realize a sustainable and effective 1:1 computing environment.

See more about OLPC here and the Taiwan-based ODM (Original Design Manufacturer) Quanta Computer Incorporated here.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

GPLv3, DRM, and Han Solo - Part 2

Charles Babcock has posted an article concerning GPL3 and Linus Torvalds' criticism of it. Charles says -
"I am struck by the contrast between the lofty ambitions that Stallman and the Free Software Foundation are now placing behind GPL 3.0 versus Torvalds' common sense."
First of all, I find it somewhat generous to state that Linus is exhibiting "common sense" in regard to GPL3, but I'll address that later in this post. With regard to "the lofty ambitions", I must say that this mischaracterizes why GPL3 is being implemented. GPL3 is not striving for anything more (i.e. "loftier") than GPL2 ever did. GPL3 is a response to unforeseen attacks upon computer users' freedom that GPL2 doesn't cover. Unfortunately, it seems quite common to paint the GPL3 process as an act of reaching - as if the license goes "too far" in trying to take something from software developers that they have a right to. This is false. GPL3 is simply protecting our freedom. The GPL is a shield. GPL3 is a more comprehensive shield than GPL2, but it does nothing offensive whatsoever.

Babcock ends his article by saying -
"Or maybe we should pause in our rush toward the bans, the prohibitions and the rules being discussed for GPLv3 and consider the wisdom inherent in GPLv2's minimalist approach."
Clearly Babcock has been mesmerized by Torvalds' meaningless praise (found often in the article) over the now-archaic GPL2. The "wisdom" of GPL2 is of an identical nature as that to be expressed through the upcoming GPL3. The GPL has always been about protecting the users' rights to study, share, modify, and run for any purpose the software in possession. That is all. GPL3 asks for no more and no less. The basic nature of what we ask has not changed since our movement started decades ago. What has changed is the degree of cleverness of those who wish to profit from the revocation of our freedom. We're not making any transgressions - it's the same old story from our end. We're simply plugging leaky holes in a roof (i.e. GPL2) that served its purpose well for its time.

Babcock is fortunate to have gotten Linus Torvalds' permission to post parts of his email exchange. Linus did not grant me that opportunity - so for all the reader of my post knows, the following is totally made up...

I calmly went back and forth with Linus (CC:ing Stallman and Moglen) over 6 months ago regarding the DRM provisions in GPL3 and for the most part agreed with Linus' logic. After about 5 or 6 exchanges, it came clear that although Linus didn't necessarily think DRM was a good thing, he felt strongly that if one wanted "hackable hardware", then one should vote with one's wallet and leave copyright licenses out of it. That is, he felt buyers who want "hackable hardware" should simply demand so from manufacturers. To be honest, I thought Linus made a lot of sense. Well, a lot of sense in a reasonable world. My last email to Linus was as follows:
"You say buyers should make clear their desire for hackable hardware and that they should not pay for hardware they cannot modify. Fine, but I the copyright holder am going to take you, the hardware manufacturer, to court if you dare make this "hackable hardware" and have you charged for "circumvention" under the DMCA. How is the buyer who desires "hackable hardware" going to stop me?"


P.S. May I have permission to publish parts of our conversation so that others can benefit from hearing your thoughts on this issue?"
Linus never responded.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

ugly hack

One keyboard key (in this case, "1" and "!") on an otherwise well-functioning mobile computer running Gnome on gNewSense is not working. Of course, the optimal solution is to physically fix the key. Perhaps another day.

Until then, the user is stuck selecting their "1"s and "!"s to copy and paste from other sources when needed.

Here's an ugly hack...

Go to System > Preferences > Keyboard and choose the "Layout Options" tab. There you will see a "Third level choosers" heading. Open it and select a key to act as a chooser. We chose the right "Alt" key.

Then you will want to edit your keyboard layout file (ours is "us") located at /etc/X11/xkb/symbols/ following the description under "Creating a custom keyboard layout" here.

For example, we turned two key sequences (right-Alt-a and right-Alt-q) into "1" and "!" substitutes like this:

key <AC01> { [a, A, 1] };
key <AD01> { [q, Q, exclam] };

Ugly until one finds the time and/or tools/money to fix the offending key(s), but this can make life easier in the meantime. Thanks to Daniel O'Donnell for the knowledge and Buck for helping hunt it down.

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Friday, March 02, 2007


I'm going to watch this for a while.

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