Tuesday, December 26, 2006

a challenge to connectivism

George Siemens has invited me to present to the Connectivism Online Conference that he is organising in February 2-9, 2007. Thanks George, for being prepared to listen to a critical voice.

I'm collecting my thoughts at the learning theory evolves wiki so go there for more detail. Find links to George's original paper and other resources here

Here is a summary of my current position on connectivism (subject to change as I learn more). I'd rather see the discussion start now than wait until February so please post your comments and criticisms here or on the wiki (after joining)

A challenge to connectivism
Networks are important but haven't changed learning so much that we need to throw away all of the established learning theories and replace them with a brand new one. How do we test whether a new idea is an interesting speculation or something more substantial? A good learning theory should:
  1. contribute to a theory/practice spiral of curriculum / learning reform,
  2. provide a significant new perspective about how we see learning happening
  3. represent historical alternatives accurately.
Connectivism fails on the first count by using language and slogans that are sometimes “correct” but are too generalised to guide new practice at the level of how learning actually happens.

Connectivisim does contribute to a general world outlook but we already have theories and manifestos for that view (systems theory, chaos theory, network theory, cluetrain manifesto), so we don't need a new -ism in this respect.

Finally, connectivism misrepresents the current state of established alternative learning theories such as constructivism, behaviourism and cognitivism, so this basis for a new theory is also dubious.

Monday, December 25, 2006

a flower for seymour

This logo flower is out of Seymour Papert's first book Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas. I've sent it to the flowers for seymour flickr group and have also signed the MIT card.

I used George Mills MSWLogo to make it, which is built on top of Brian Harvey's Berkeley Logo.

How to make the flower using logo:
First make a quarter circle
to q_circle :size
repeat 90[fd :size rt 1]

Then use the quarter circle to make a petal
to petal :size
q_circle :size
rt 90
q_circle :size
rt 90

Then use the petal to make a flower with 10 petals
to flower :size
repeat 10[petal :size rt 360/10]

Then add a stem and an extra petal to make a plant
to plant :size
flower :size
bk 135 * :size
petal :size
bk 65 * :size

Finally, save it as a gif
to saveplantgif :size
setactivearea[-100 -200 100 100]
plant :size
gifsave "flower.gif

an atheist celebrates

I try to keep my religious view (atheism) out of educational lists but it is hard when others introduce them there. To respond is likely to cause offence but to ignore it, to not challenge it, seems like complicitly in mythology and also wrong. Atheists have as much right to propagate their world view as Christians. I'll compromise by posting to my blog rather than the list.

Recently, some educators have asked me to pray for the recovery of Seymour Papert, who was seriously injured in Hanoi, Vietnam, when hit by a motor cycle.

I didn't pray. Fortunately, Seymour is now making a slow recovery. I hope that those who have been praying don't claim the credit because in all likelihood Seymour is an atheist. I don't know that for sure and it's really up to him but I would be very surprised if a pioneer of AI was not an atheist. Certainly, his close collaborator Marvin Minsky has attracted hate mail for describing the human brain as a "meat machine"

I think the flowers for Seymour project is much better way to go. Check out the fractal fern, done with logo.

At any rate I was inspired by Daniel Dennett, my favourite living philosopher, who also had a recent near death experience and said this (Thank Goodness!) about those who prayed for him:
What, though, do I say to those of my religious friends (and yes, I have quite a few religious friends) who have had the courage and honesty to tell me that they have been praying for me? I have gladly forgiven them, for there are few circumstances more frustrating than not being able to help a loved one in any more direct way. I confess to regretting that I could not pray (sincerely) for my friends and family in time of need, so I appreciate the urge, however clearly I recognize its futility. I translate my religious friends' remarks readily enough into one version or another of what my fellow brights have been telling me: "I've been thinking about you, and wishing with all my heart [another ineffective but irresistible self-indulgence] that you come through this OK." The fact that these dear friends have been thinking of me in this way, and have taken an effort to let me know, is in itself, without any need for a supernatural supplement, a wonderful tonic. These messages from my family and from friends around the world have been literally heart-warming in my case, and I am grateful for the boost in morale (to truly manic heights, I fear!) that it has produced in me. But I am not joking when I say that I have had to forgive my friends who said that they were praying for me. I have resisted the temptation to respond "Thanks, I appreciate it, but did you also sacrifice a goat?" I feel about this the same way I would feel if one of them said "I just paid a voodoo doctor to cast a spell for your health." What a gullible waste of money that could have been spent on more important projects! Don't expect me to be grateful, or even indifferent. I do appreciate the affection and generosity of spirit that motivated you, but wish you had found a more reasonable way of expressing it.

But isn't this awfully harsh? Surely it does the world no harm if those who can honestly do so pray for me! No, I'm not at all sure about that. For one thing, if they really wanted to do something useful, they could devote their prayer time and energy to some pressing project that they can do something about. For another, we now have quite solid grounds (e.g., the recently released Benson study at Harvard) for believing that intercessory prayer simply doesn't work. Anybody whose practice shrugs off that research is subtly undermining respect for the very goodness I am thanking. If you insist on keeping the myth of the effectiveness of prayer alive, you owe the rest of us a justification in the face of the evidence. Pending such a justification, I will excuse you for indulging in your tradition; I know how comforting tradition can be. But I want you to recognize that what you are doing is morally problematic at best. If you would even consider filing a malpractice suit against a doctor who made a mistake in treating you, or suing a pharmaceutical company that didn't conduct all the proper control tests before selling you a drug that harmed you, you must acknowledge your tacit appreciation of the high standards of rational inquiry to which the medical world holds itself, and yet you continue to indulge in a practice for which there is no known rational justification at all, and take yourself to be actually making a contribution. (Try to imagine your outrage if a pharmaceutical company responded to your suit by blithely replying "But we prayed good and hard for the success of the drug! What more do you want?")

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Galileo was right but the doubt lives on


Video of US astronauts giving tribute to Galileo as they drop a feather and hammer on the moon

In the YouTube comments they are arguing whether the video is a fake or not! Here are some sample comments from the sceptics. Maybe it's just a joke:
This looks like it was set up to answer all the questions about rather it was real or not. WHy would someone do a video like that? It reminds how we keep suddenly getting more video footage of the Pentagon being hit by a plane when people start to question rather a plane really hit. This footage keeps coming up to prove it happened and yet....no plane is EVER seen in the video.... Question the facts - Demand the Truth!

It would be alot cheaper to build a giant studio than to send a crew to the moon, guess you didn't think about that. We are idiots for being doubtful we landed on the moon ? And why are you so sure we did land on the moon, because you where told so ? Guess you must believe in Jesus also, it says so in the bible. Think about that.
Anything is possible. Nothing is easy.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

guidance, challenge, play

Play is OK but is not enough.

We can't expect children, without guidance, to rediscover the best efforts of the most advanced human minds over thousands of years. But we also don't want to shove it down their throats (rote learning) because that doesn't lead to deep or meaningful understanding, either.

Alan Kay suggests a three point solution to this problem:
1) guidance
2) challenge
3) play
"Human beings (even really smart ones) have a hard time coming up with ideas that are better than mediocre. For example, if you put a piano in a classroom, the children will explore it, and develop a "chopsticks culture" with it, but they won't invent for themselves how to play a keyboard instrument (it took centuries for experts to work it out). But every child can be taught to play the piano. Similarly, the children will not invent or discover important ideas in mathematics by themselves. But every child can be taught a powerful version of the calculus of vectors, and many other kinds of advanced mathematics. And both of these can be taught as a kind of play.

If you give children a medium to explore, they will generally wind up doing stories and games with it (in large part because that is how nature has set all of us up to learn when we are children). For example, Etoys is used widely in a number of places in the world. The places that emphasize "creativity", "discovery learning", "free exploration", etc., all wind up with lots of stuff done by children, but virtually all of it uses simple animations and multiple tasking to act out stories and games. This is no surprise (it took humans 100,000 years to invent math and another 2000 to invent science). If we are interested in having children learn non-obvious powerful ideas -- e.g. in math and science -- we have to scaffold their learning and discovery by careful curriculum design.

This teaching doesn't have to feel like the kids are being put in a lock-step chain gang. It can be much more like teaching and learning an established sport or musical instrument. There are parts that are almost impossible to invent, and thus have to be shown and practised. But with these parts there are large elements of free joyful play.

We suggest using at least 3 phases for each idea.

- The first is a guided creation of something interesting -- for example, how to make a robot vehicle on the screen that will follow edges. This can be done in a number of ways including Socratic leading questions, but basically it is giving the children something they would not think up for themselves. But as David Ausubel pointed out "People learn on the fringes of what they know".

- Now that the children know something, they can be given a specific challenge -- such as "Come up with a car and a road where the car will stay on the road". There are 5 or 6 ways of doing this and most children working singly or in pairs will find one of them. A few of these are elegant, and a few children will find these. Sharing the solutions as demos gives the children a sense that such problems are not only solvable, but there is more than one solution.

- The third stage is open play, where the children now know enough to think of many different fun ways to use what they've just done (and many of their ideas will be in the forms of games or stories). For example, some of the "middle of the road" solutions lend themselves to making a multilane racing track with multiple vehicles and using the random number tile to generate random speeds to make the race difficult to predict."
I like what he is saying, that he uses timely multiple approaches, but also think that the importance of effortful study is being missed out here.

"Point of view is worth 80 IQ points" explained

"Point of view is worth 80 IQ points"

I didn't understand what alan kay meant by this for a long time. The bit about IQ points distracted me because it's not politically correct to talk about IQ as a way to measure intelligence.

So, maybe this slogan could be improved?

What he is saying is that if we can look at things in new and different ways (multiple representations), then we will understand them much better. If we use the computer in this way (as a rich, powerful medium rather than a mere tool for word and number crunching) then remarkable things will start to happen. Hence, the computer revolution hasn't really happened yet.

I found a couple explanations of this slogan by alan kay on the web. It becomes a lot more powerful when he adds the historical context, in Roman time you had to be very smart to multiply two numbers together.

explanation one:
At PARC we had a slogan: "Point of view is worth 80 IQ points." It was based on a few things from the past like how smart you had to be in Roman times to multiply two numbers together; only geniuses did it. We haven't gotten any smarter, we've just changed our representation system. We think better generally by inventing better representations; that's something that we as computer scientists recognize as one of the main things that we try to do
. explanation two:
what is special about the computer is analogous to and an advance on what was special about writing and then printing. It's not about automating past forms that has the big impact, but as McLuhan pointed out, when you are able to change the nature of representation and argumentation, those who learn these new ways will wind up to be qualtitatively different and better thinkers, and this will (usually) help advance our limited conceptions of civilization

Reference (for later):
Minsky explains the same concept better in 18.8 Mathematics made Hard (Society of Mind)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

join the Free Software Foundation

Microsoft is stepping up their campaign to undermine linux (by claiming patent rights against the linux kernel and subverting Novell to the dark side). The centre of the resistance to this move is the Free Software Foundation. The fight back, led by Eben Moglen, is based around changing the GPL license, ie complex legal manouevring. One way to help is to become a member of the FSF, which involves a yearly donation. I just joined.

Some of the ways to become involved are:
  • increase your understanding of the huge battle being waged over intellectual property - recent changes to Australian copyright law, Digital Right (Restrictions) Management issues, increasing invasion to privacy by companies like MS spying on computers through their automatic updates
  • understanding the importance, history and dynamics of the battle over software rights - proprietary, free (Richard Stallman), open source (Eric Raymond) - many blogs and books, eg. Benkler's The Wealth of Networks, are now being devoted to this topic
  • You don't have to be a software hacker to get involved. Publish your own work under the Creative Commons license scheme, developed by Lessig and others.
  • DIY by using linux and free software, it is becoming more user friendly all the time. I have recently installed Ubuntu linux on a second computer and it was relatively hassle free process. btw see my blog about Mark Shuttleworth, amazing biography!
  • join the FSF
  • join the pirate party of your country. I have joined the Australian pirate party, which is ridiculously small but which is based on the Swedish pirate party which gained 34,918 votes, or 0.63% of the popular vote in their September 2006 elections - they needed 4% to get someone elected
Raise awareness, get involved, support those who are battling for the rights of free software.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

the economic quirkiness of information

A commodity is something that you sell and/or buy. For example, MS Office is a commodity. Open office is not a commodity, its' cost is free.

Information aka "intellectual property"

Digital information differs from physical commodities, such as cars and pizza. The marginal cost of information is zero. Marginal cost is the cost of producing an extra copy.

For non digital information such as books and magazines the marginal cost of the information is zero too. Even though the paper and ink have cost, the information itself costs nothing to reproduce.

This is the first quirk of information. Having it does not interfere with sharing it. Digital information is a nonrival good. If you eat my pizza or drive my car then I am deprived. However, if you read my blog then that doesn't prevent me and others from reading it at the same time.

So, why do we charge for information, above and beyond the cost of delivery of that information to the user? How does this work? eg. that MS charges good money for every copy of Windows and MSOffice that it distributes and becomes very wealthy in the process, since the marginal cost to them of all those copies is zero, apart from the packaging.

This is an artificial economy based on the general idea that we need to reward the creators of good software. Otherwise, it is argued, in our society, where money is important, there is no incentive for MS to produce and to keep improving MSOffice. It doesn't make economic sense but is written into Law: proprietary rights of publishers, copyright law, patent law.

However, it has already been shown in practice that the free and open source model of software production also works very well. Linux is a more reliable operating system than Windows. There are many such examples, too many to be ignored. FOSS is a well established, alternative and successful model of software production.

The second quirk can be described with the phrase, "on the shoulders of giants". After Newton:
"If I have seen further it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants"
Information, when shared, inputs and outputs onto itself and in this way can be further developed. This is how progress through innovation and creativity happens. All innovation and creativity is a derivative work, built on the work of others. There is no such thing as a brand new idea.
"The crux of creativity is variation on a theme" - Hofstadter
I don't have to work out the theory of Darwinian evolution from scratch because Darwin and others have already done the hard thinking. Once an idea is "out there" it takes on a life of its own and can be further enriched. In copyright law this is called "derivative works". It is illegal for me to make a variation of Mickey.

Hence, we can view information ("intellectual property"), especially digital information (bits), as different from other commodities like cars and pizza.

Firstly, it's important that information be shared as much as possible because that is good for the creative and innovative development of society. This is the "on the shoulders of giants" factor.

Secondly, it's possible for information to be shared fully because it is nonrival. Anyone can make a copy for zero cost and the holder of the original copy still has full access to the information.

These two facts make digital information different from other commodities.

We would be better off treating software like maths and science knowledge. Bits are becoming our new main medium of discourse. We need to keep the bits free.

There doesn't seem to be any real evidence that proprietary rights, copyright law and patent law actually contribute to an increase in society's innovation and / or creativity. Innovation and creativity comes from non market forces and from market forces who do not depend on Intellectual Property rights. For example, see my article, software patents stink

Here is a thumbnail sketch of the growing multilayered battle over information:
hardware - tampering with hardware to prevent copying (DRM, TPM)
economic - locking in users to proprietary brand, eg. MS schools agreement
standards - locking in users to use particularly formats, eg. *.doc rather than *.odt
legal - copyright law strengthened
software - spying on users computers through automatic updates
cultural - demonising those who resist all this as "pirates"

Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, pp. 35-41

Friday, December 15, 2006


the blue shows ubuntu growth, cf. Red Hat and SUSE, more graph details here

I'd rather use the Operating System developed by Mark Shuttleworth than Bill Gates

Check out his amazing biography
  • successful IT entrepeneur / venture capitalist (digital certificates and internet privacy)
  • first African Cosmonaut
  • founder of The Shuttleworth Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to social innovation in Africa with a particular focus on education
  • founder of the Ubuntu project ("Linux for human beings")
  • founder of HBD Venture Capital, "Here Be Dragons", which legend has it was used to describe uncharted territory on early maps ...
  • promoter of the Hip2BSquare brand, which aim to make mathematics and science sexy to pupils who are choosing their subjects for high school
"My current project, aims to produce a free desktop OS for the world. Everything you need on a single CD"
Why is the default desktop in Ubuntu brown?
Yes, that's rather unusual in a world where most desktops are blue or green, and the MacOSX has gone kitchenware. Partly, we like the fact that Ubuntu is different, warmer. The computer is not a device any more, it's an extension of your mind, your gateway to other people (by email, voip, irc, and over the web). We wanted a feel that was unique, striking, comforting, and above all, human. We chose brown. That's quite a high risk choice, because to render brown your screen has to render subtle shades of blue, and green, and red.
Likes: spring, cesaria evora, slashdot, chelsea, finally seeing something obvious for the first time, daydreaming, coming home, sinatra, sundowners, durbanville, flirting, string theory, particle physics, linux, python, mp3s, reincarnation, snow, mig-29s, travel, lime marmalade, mozilla, body shots, leopards, the african bush, rajhastan, russian saunas, weightlessness, broadband, iain m banks, skinny-dipping, fancy dress, flashes of insight, inexplicable happinesses, post-adrenaline euphoria, fast convertibles on country roads, clifton, the international space station, artificial intelligence.

Dislikes: admin, legalese, running, wet grey winters, salary negotiations, public speaking.

design for the creative spirit

Personal Mastery: If a system is to serve the creative spirit, it must be entirely comprehensible to a single individual.

The point here is that the human potential manifests itself in individuals. To realize this potential, we must provide a medium that can be mastered by a single individual. Any barrier that exists between the user and some part of the system will eventually be a barrier to creative expression. Any part of the system that cannot be changed or that is not sufficiently general is a likely source of impediment. If one part of the system works differently from all the rest, that part will require additional effort to control. Such an added burden may detract from the final result and will inhibit future endeavors in that area. We can thus infer a general principle of design:

Good Design: A system should be built with a minimum set of unchangeable parts; those parts should be as general as possible; and all parts of the system should be held in a uniform framework.
- Design Principles Behind Smalltalk by Daniel Ingalls
A enormous amount of time is spent learning a new upgrade, learning the user interface (which can vary between different apps and systems), agonising about whether to use Windows or Linux (is it worth the time to learn a new OS when you are locked in at work), should I use proprietary or standard data formats? (send a *.doc attachment or an *.odt attachment?)

Smalltalk seems to be an attempt to do everything within the one program, for example, in the discussion about user interface:
Operating System: An operating system is a collection of things that don't fit into a language. There shouldn't be one.
Is this a good idea or grandiose? Or both? It would be nice to have less mess.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Squeak entry points

I am taking a hard look at squeak. I've installed Ubuntu linux on a second computer and am playing with squeak there. But it is available on all platforms.

This post is not a rationale about using squeak, what it can do or the philosophy behind it (later) but some notes about resources, where to look first, where to start etc.

One reason I'm doing this is that the documentation on the site is messy, not very well organised.

Etoys and SimStories in Squeak by Alan Kay (simple interactive online demonstration)
Etoys are computer environments that help people learn ideas by building and playing around with them ... SimStories are longer versions of Etoys that string several ideas together to help the learner produce a deeper and more concerted project.

Video of squeak being used in the classroom in Spain. Extremadura is a rural region in the South West of Spain. Linux and Squeak are being used throughout the whole region by government policy.

Etoys tutorials
"You will have the most success if you go through these tutorials in this sequence: Paint, Handles, Make your own car"

Basic squeak development tools - systematically lists the tools that ought to be learnt first

A self-study course in squeak, could be a good place to start

Squeak for non native speakers - introductory booklet, 39pp, screenshots are version 2.7, so it might be a bit dated

Learning squeak step by step
- introduction to squeak programming, for beginners

Squeak FAQ

Squeak cookbook, this is mainly a list of recipes to do different things

The Newbie Page - patchy but some useful things for newbies like myself in there

BOOKS (I haven't bought any yet)
Conn and Rose. Powerful ideas in the Classroom. How to project book. Grades 3-8 ($15)

Ducasse. Squeak: Learn Programming with Robots ($28). There is a wiki, BotsInc devoted to this book which includes examples, screenshots and sample chapters.

The full list at Squeak books in print includes three other books, which are more expensive (39, 54, 57 dollars respectively). Of course, they might be better but I thought they were rather pricey.

Monday, December 11, 2006

bug one

Microsoft has a majority market share in the new desktop PC marketplace.
This is a bug, which Ubuntu is designed to fix

Microsoft has a majority market share | Non-free software is holding back innovation in the IT industry, restricting access to IT to a small part of the world's population and limiting the ability of software developers to reach their full potential, globally. This bug is widely evident in the PC industry.
Steps to repeat:
1. Visit a local PC store.
What happens:
2. Observe that a majority of PC's for sale have non-free software pre-installed
3. Observe very few PC's with Ubuntu and free software pre-installed
What should happen:
1. A majority of the PC's for sale should include only free software like Ubuntu
2. Ubuntu should be marketed in a way such that its amazing features and benefits would be apparent and known by all.
3. The system shall become more and more user friendly as time passes.

- https://launchpad.net/bug1.html
  • Mark Shuttleworth wiki
  • Mark Shuttleworth blog

Saturday, December 09, 2006

what should schools teach?

In part 2 of the alan kay video he came up with a simple yet profound analysis of this question.

From anthropological research of over 3000 human cultures, he presented two lists, the first were universals, the things that all human cultures have in common. This list included things like:
  • language
  • communication
  • fantasies
  • stories
  • tools and art
  • superstition
  • religion and magic
  • play and games
  • differences over similarities (?)
  • quick reactions to patterns
  • vendetta, and more
He then presented a list of non universals, the things that humans find harder to learn. This list was shorter and included:
  • reading and writing
  • deductive abstract mathematics
  • model based science
  • equal rights
  • democracy
  • perspective drawing
  • theory of harmony (?)
  • similarities over differences (?)
  • slow deep thinking
  • agriculture
  • legal systems
Schools ought to be mainly about learning the hard to learn things.

Friday, December 08, 2006

alan kay's plans for world conquest

Video of alan kay's talk about children first and the $100 laptop at EuroPython2006 (part one).

I'm gradually coming to understand that Alan Kay and the 100 dollar laptop group are planning to conquer the world by putting children first!

Society says we care about children. Our deficient education system shows that we don't really care about children.

His story about the tremendous impact that Papert's method of drawing a circle had on his thinking ...
repeat lots [forward 5 right 5]
...as an illustration that vectors and differential calculus can be taught to young children is both charming and naive. This is how a mathematician conquers the world!

The aim of the $123 laptop is to create a radical discontinuity in the operating system and user interface, "to change the balance of software and hardware in the world". He anticipates sales of 16 million laptops in 2007 and 50-100 million in 2008!

He explains that 50% of the price of a western laptop goes to sales, marketing, profit and distribution and another 25% goes to Microsoft software profits. They further trim the cost through display innovations and using flash memory rather than a hard disc and voila! $123.

I liked the bit where he points out that the hardest issue will be the messiness of people, not the hardware, the software or the pedagogy.

His clever illustration of how we mis-perceive the world (rotating a table) resonates with the other messages in a haunting manner
We see things not as they are but as WE are
He can see a world which is not dominated by Microsoft. Once again he is doing a transformation from the science of perception to the economics and politics of world domination. I hope it works!

Towards the end of part 3 of the video he says that both the $100 laptop and Mark Shuttleworth's Ubuntu Project are python based and that there are many times more python developers in the world than Squeak developers. This is why he is presenting to a python conference.

Guido van Rossum's report of the presentation, includes some good comments in response. In one of the comments, Alan Kay says:
We have had good results over the last 10 years with one of these (called Squeak Etoys)which has features that allow it to be localized to many different languages, used as a "WYSIwiki" on the web, and to dynamically share in real-time for mentoring and collaboration.

The next wave of projects in the 3rd world will be large enough to create real problems in distribution, localization, maintenance, extensions, etc. I think that the more widely established open source communities (like Python and Ruby) are better set up to provide the large number of programmers needed to help spread these ideas by the millions. Neither Python, nor Ruby, currently has a children's environment, and the poor quality of the DOM in the browsers means that it will be a very long time before a children's environment as good as Squeak Etoys will be built there.

However, since our new file format uses OpenDoc (with code hidden) the "player/authoring" kernel plugin for this content could well be written in Python or Ruby. And this would make things much better for the children of the world for the above reasons.

BTW, Squeak does have a very good foreign function interface, and we do use OpenGl, etc., heavily in our Croquet system. So I'm not suggesting that Python be used because of something that Squeak can't do (and has obviously already done). I'm suggesting this because I'd like to see the dominant communities in open source get interested in children and to start from current best practices.

alan kay video part 2
alan kay video part 3

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Ruddocks copyright FAQ

News today that Attourney General Ruddock has modified some of the worst aspects of the new Australian Copyright Law. His FAQ. We are now allowed to sing "Happy Birthday" in public without on the spot fines, record programs to watch them later (but not allowed to keep them or show them to any public audience - bad luck for teachers who tape a good show for school), you can copy music you buy to your ipod (wow!) and you are allowed to listen to it with a friend but not allowed to lend it to your friend, let alone make them a copy, but you are allowed to lend it to a family member (well, yes, we do need to teach our young people the importance of family!!). Even if you have bought a CD you are not allowed to make a copy if it has a TPM on it (technological protection measure). No backups allowed for your own property.

Some of the worst elements have been removed but the Attourney General's FAQ churns my stomach because it means that a generalised fair use provision has been abandoned in favour of a futile attempt to define each and every case. We can no longer sloppily assume that what we are doing is "fair use", it is now being defined in exact terms in each and every case - in practice, impossible, the law cannot achieve that. We are now locked into an FAQ lifesyle wrt copyright where we go cap in hand to the Minister asking is it alright to do what comes naturally and which is core to teacher's work - copying, modifying and distributing information.

I think we need an overview of what copyright ought to be about from our perspective as knowledge workers, starting from these sorts of big picture perspectives:

1. Copyright as the natural, inalienable right of the owner
2. Copyright as a balance between the rights of the owner and the rights of society
3. Copyleft, expand the commons

Attourney General Ruddock supports (1). I don't and this has not been the historical rationale for copyright.
In fact, Mr Ruddock said his reforms made Australia a world leader on copyright reform.

"Australia's approach is in contrast to those countries which have a general 'fair use' right or which put levies on equipment for private copying," he said in a statement.

"Many countries have not yet tackled the issue of fair use in the digital environment. Australia's approach is fair and certain for all concerned."
- from The Age Report, FAQ address copyright concerns
Note the use of the words, "fair and certain" - ie. trying to achieve certainty where it cannot be achieved and where you need to have a safety valve fair use provision.

This is exactly what google was warning us about in their submission to the australian copyright act - that there would be an attempt at certainty where it is not possible to achieve certainty.

Google presents a very strong and convincing case for maintaining fair use ("safety valve") provisions as well as exceptions.
... it is difficult to identify all current problems ... and impossible to prophesy future problems . An exclusive list of specific exemptions will inevitably run afoul of technology's rapidly changing reality ... such boundaries are inherently artificial and are not in accord with the nature of creativity ... Creativity is sui generis (of its own kind, unique in its characteristics, cannot be included in a wider concept) and contextual. An arbitrary limit on the number of words that can be copied ... runs roughshod over the way innovation arises ..."