Tuesday, July 29, 2008

anti politics

I can see these parallels between Rudd and Obama:
  • Cross cultural sensitivity, rather than real policies to achieve clear political goals (Rudd is multi-lingual and speaks Mandarin, Obama has mixed racial background)
  • Sorry talk - sorry to indigenous people, sorry for destroying the environment (and for rising petrol prices even though that helps the environment), sorry for the Iraq war, sorry kids that you don't all have computer access, sorry for the economic downturn. Don't expect us to actually fix any of this, but sorry.
  • End of unilateralism, replace it with global concerns and reaching out - if only we could all come together, end racism, join hands and save the planet (particularly noticeable in Obama's recent Berlin Wall speech)
At this stage the voters support Rudd's contribution to saving the planet through an emissions trading scheme: "... 77 per cent believe Australia should press ahead and cut its greenhouse gas emissions, regardless of what other countries do" (SMH)

The weakness of this sort of politics is that it is anti politics. It is hollow. Our political crisis is that the politicians are afraid to be political, to act decisively to change the world. It's too hard to change the world because not everybody agrees about what to do. But everyone can see that we are decent, caring people who are doing our best.

I like the Piping Shrike blog for it's analysis of the Australian political scene:
Flaws in the Machine
Rudd's Agenda
The Lurch

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Raymond Lister's paper

After the Gold Rush: Toward Sustainable Scholarship in Computing (pdf, 16pp) by Raymond Lister, Faculty of Information Technology, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia

Mark Guzdial, on his blog, described this as a "great paper" and then uses it to promote Cognitive Load Theory and its critique of constructivism or constructionism (link to Mark Guzdial's post)

Cognitive load theory keeps coming up again and again as an alleged refutation of constructivism. So, I read the Lister paper with that in mind. I have previously written a rebuttal of the Kirschner et al paper which claims that minimal guidance during instruction does not work (one of the relevant paper cited by Lister)

The Lister paper is about the authors journey from being a bad teacher of computer programming to a better teacher and some of the attitudes and pitfalls encountered along the way. It's an admirable paper from that point of view, of someone becoming aware of what emerges as rather extreme deficiencies of many teachers and deciding to begin to tackle this seriously.

Here is a brief summary of some of the problem attitudes identified, at length, by the author:
  1. the assumption that all students learn in similar ways (one mould fits all)
  2. the reluctance of those who have been successful within a system to question deeply the way that system does things
  3. more years of teaching means you teach better
  4. the most outspoken individuals often dominate curriculum change
  5. teachers don't criticise other teachers, the culture of silence
  6. Anecdotal flag planting, I tried this and it worked
  7. Lack of real evidence
  8. Systemic separation of the theory of teaching and learning from particular disciplines
  9. Teachers resist researching their own teaching
  10. Teachers blame their colleagues at lower level levels when their students don't know stuff
  11. If students fail then blame the student, not your teaching. Students might be lazy, spend too much time in paid work or are genetically deficient (common belief amongst teachers when it comes to learning how to program)
  12. the need to move past the industrial model paradigm to a more ecological model, in harmony with the teaching and learning environment
For the author the wakeup call was too many of his students failing and students not learning how to program.

He describes some ways in which his teaching has become more interactive with his students and various papers he has read in his search to become a better teacher and also to understand the reasons for the decline in IT enrolments. He takes the trouble to find out the real reasons why students are obtaining wrong answers to "easy" questions and explores some interactive techniques, such as asking students to explain "in plain English" what a short piece of code did.

So far, so good

But along the way the author has quoted from some papers on Cognitive Load Theory and agrees with those authors that constructivism is deficient. He goes onto say that the Australasian University Teaching and Learning (T&L) communities are heavily influenced by constructivism and contrasts this with "discipline based academics" who tend to focus mainly on their disciplines at the expense of teaching and learning theory. Towards the end, however, the author repeats his call for the bringing together of theory and practice based on a "social constructivist view of the world"

The authors view of constructivism is taken uncritically from the Cognitive Load Theorists (link to the original Kirschner, Sweller and Clark paper) and is then oversimplified further by him to equate constructivism with problem solving:
On the basis of that definition, computing education has used constructivist approaches for decades. For example, many of us introduce students to programming via the problem-solving approach, which McCracken et al. (2001) defined as an approach where we provide students with a problem description, and then require them to decompose it into sub-problems, implement them, test them, then assemble the pieces into a complete solution (Lister, p. 6)
Hence, Lister misunderstands the issue of what the Papert version of constructionism is because he relies on the inadequate definition emanating from these critics of constructivism. (Rather than researching what supporters of constructivism are saying.) As I pointed out in my earlier rebuttal there is only a single Papert reference in the Kirschner, Sweller and Clark paper even though Papert is recognised as an authority and has authored many papers, books and supervised many PhD theses. Now we see this harm being spread to Lister and then onto Guzdial.

Most tellingly, many of the positions that Lister puts as problems to be overcome are in fact similar to issues that the constructionist Papert has long ago identified as problems to be overcome. For example, Lister explains at some length about the problem of constructivist theory (T&L departments) and the practice of disciplines being kept separate. But Papert has famously said:
You cannot think about thinking without thinking about thinking about something
In their paper, Software Design as a Learning Environment (1990), Idit Harel and Seymour Papert, focus on and discuss in detail four important issues in developing constructionist learning environments, in this case, in the learning of fractions:
  • Development of Concept - the need to move beyond rigid, particular and isolated understanding to more flexible, generalised and connected understanding
  • Appropriation of the Project - taking personal ownership enhances learning
  • Time Frame and Rhythm of Work - School time is organised in rigid and fragmented segments, whereas experts and an apprenticeship model has a totally different feel to it
  • Metacognitive Awareness - thinking about ones own knowledge and understandings is an important part of learning
Plenty of scope for interactive teaching here.

One final point, briefly. Having now read Marvin Minsky's book The Emotion Machine, I can now see ways to improve my rebuttal of the Kirschner, Sweller and Clark paper. This does connect to Lister's concerns about the relative inadequacy of "folk pedagogy" and citing Cognitive Load Theory as an antidote. I can see now that Cognitive Load Theory might just be another form of folk pedagogy with pseudo scientific terms like "working memory" and "long term memory", concepts that sound scientific but have yet to be explained. See Minsky, page 243.

At any rate, to suggest, as the Lister paper does, that Papert's constructionism is a theory that eschews a deep study of interactivity with the learner, that it means something like give them a problem and walk away, is a gross misrepresentation. (although, to be fair, this may well be true of some of the University based Teaching & Learning faculties, so muddied have the constructivist waters become)

Monday, July 21, 2008

fight for life

Addressing Indigenous Disadvantage in Cape York - “Fight for Life” (pdf, 14pp)

Listen to the people on the ground who are telling us how bad the situation is in Cape York and other remote indigenous communities

Dr Lara Wieland: Medical Practitioner who has worked for years in Cape York as both a doctor and doing volunteer youth work

Dr Richard Heazlewood: Established Paediatric Outreach Team to Cape York, Torres Strait and Tablelands providing remote paediatric services for over 15 years as well as sitting on SCAN child protection team for the region
For some of these diseases of social disadvantage and the third world, Cape York has the dubious honour of having some of the highest rates in the world.

So much of the damage done and that is being done is intergenerational and potentially permanent and we are faced with a time in history where we believe we have one last opportunity to provide the platforms needed to give Cape York people the choices they are entitled to as human beings....

The following eight areas of suggestions through which to address Indigenous disadvantage in Cape York are a synthesis of Ken Henry's seven platforms for addressing Indigenous disadvantage, the Canadian Aboriginal Horizontal Framework and Dr Richard Heazlewood's 2020 summit submission on an intervention into Cape York communities as all three have a large degree of overlap. It also contains personal thoughts gleaned from observation and thousands of conversations over years with people in Cape York ranging from specialist doctors, principals, elders and police through to parents struggling with alcoholism and children of all ages who speak frankly and honestly from their heart. I have found people's thoughts and hopes and aspirations in private are astonishingly similar across this range.

Colleagues who work closely with Northern Territory (NT) communities have stated that the rhetoric surrounding the NT intervention and it's implementation was damaging and hurtful, disempowering and not well thought out, but the flow of resources and a lot of what has been done has been very positive. Surely there is room for an 'intervention' that is done 'right', that has the sense of urgency and cuts across bureaucratic barriers but without being threatening, hurtful, disempowering and poorly implemented?
  1. Health
  2. Substance abuse
  3. Child protection
  4. Learning
  5. Safe and sustainable communities
  6. Housing
  7. Economic opportunity
  8. Accountability
(far more detail in the full report)

Taking action on the situation in Cape York requires courage, risk-taking, political will and high level leadership as well as ensuring effective implementation on the ground.

Each month that goes past means more lives damaged, often irreparably. If something radical is not done soon, we will be judged far more harshly for this and the effects will be far more damaging and far-reaching than anything that has occurred in generations past

Sunday, July 20, 2008

mental modelling, all the way down

Some of the language of the following quote is mangled (bits missing) but the meaning is still clear:
Education is another area in which the computer scientist has confused form and content, but this time the confusion concerns his professional role. He perceives his principal function to provide programs and machines for use in old and new educational schemes. Well and good, but I believe he has a more complex responsibility–to work out and communicate models of the process of education itself.

In the discussion below, I sketch briefly the viewpoint (developed with Seymour Papert) from which this belief stems. The following statements are typical of our view:

– To help people learn is to help them heads, various kinds of computational models.
– This can best be done by a teacher who has, in his head, a reasonable model of what is in the pupil's head.
– For the same reason the student, when debugging his own models and procedures, should have a model of what he is doing, and must know good debugging techniques, such as how to formulate simple but critical test cases.
– It will help the student to know something about computational models and programming. The idea of debugging [note 2] itself, for example, is a very powerful concept-in contrast to the helplessness promoted by our cultural heritage about gifts, talents, and aptitudes. The latter encourages "I'm not good at this" instead of "How can I make myself better at it?"

These have the sound of common sense, yet they are not among the basic principles of any of the popular educational schemes such as "operant reinforcement," "discovery methods," audio-visual synergism, etc. This is not because educators have ignored the possibility of mental models, but because they simply had no effective way, before the beginning of work on simulation of thought processes, to describe, construct, and test such ideas
- Marvin Minsky, Turing Award Lecture, 1970
Teacher and student mental modelling are rather important, including debugging, and can be facilitated by computers properly used. But this requires a teacher who can both program the computer and understand the importance of mental modelling. If those prerequisites are missing then it's not all that surprising to discover that someone has done a research project showing that "it doesn't work".

Saturday, July 19, 2008

scratch resources

This page (teaching children computer programming by using scratch) on kidslike.info contains a number of links to good Scratch resources, the best of which I'll summarise below

1) Programming concepts and skills supported in scratch (pdf) (doc)
What problem solving, project design skills, fundamental ideas about computers and programming, and specific programming concepts does Scratch support (and for the latter does not support)? This is an excellent summary, highly recommended, you need to download for the examples (code snippets) provided too, which are really good. Also note this discussion thread on the Scratch forum about this document, especially the comments by kevin karplus and responses by natalie, the document author, to his suggestions

Scratch supports these Specific Programming Concepts:
sequence, iteration (looping), conditional statements, variables, threads (parallel execution), synchronisation, real-time interaction, boolean logic, random numbers, event handling, user interface design

Scratch does not currently support data structures (arrays, etc.), procedures and functions, recursion, inheritance, defining classes of objects, exception handling, parameter passing and return values, text input, file input/output

2) Scratch Programming Projects
Ten excellent projects described in just the right amount of detail, with requirements and extras:
  1. "Chasing/Eating" (Pac Man Type Game)
  2. Red Light/Green Light
  3. Pong
  4. Target Game
  5. Communication Project
  6. Animation of a short story
  7. Virtual Musical Instrument
  8. Virtual Board Game
  9. Basic Space Target Game
  10. Shape Drawing Robot (Polygon Robot)
3) Shark eats fish
Introductory tutorial, clearly explained with screenshots

4) Comparison of different languages (thread in Scratch forum)
This comment by pkimelma presents a well thought out sequence for teaching Scratch using a games theme.

Other comments in this thread compare Scratch with Phrogram (which has 3D graphics), Alice, Starlogo and others.

5) Kevin and Abe Karplus Scratch page looks to have a nice collection of scratch exemplars

reading Minsky

The Emotion Machine by Marvin Minsky

Minsky has studied many great writers who have thought deeply about the human mind. Not only contemporary thinkers but he ranges across the centuries (Aristotle, Augustine, Descarte, Darwin, Franklin, Poincare, Freud etc.). Many of the sections of his book begin with quotations and summaries from these writers and then proceed onto Minsky's own independent evaluation of them.

To provide just one example (there are many) in section 7-7 he uses quotations from a book written by Henri Poincare in 1913 as the basis for a discussion and presentation of his own views on a 4 stage model of unconscious processes (preparation, incubation, revelation and evaluation)

In reading Minsky, carefully, I obtain a strong feeling that I am receiving a distillation of some of the best thoughts from the best thinkers in human history from one of the current best thinkers who also happens to be a great writer

As well as that I'm discovering a very plausible view of what the research agenda for our understanding the mind ought to be.

I've been summarising some of it on the learning evolves wiki. In some ways it's a deceptively simple book but quite hard to hold all of it in your mind as an integrated whole.

Friday, July 18, 2008

iraq war planning

A new book, war and decision by Douglas J. Feith Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from July 2001 until August 2005 seems to provide an authoritative account of what really happened inside the Bush administration whilst planning the Iraq war.

The misconceptions page is interesting

Here is a critical and serious interview (video) by jon stewart of the author

Thursday, July 17, 2008

evaluating Sugar in the developed world

How teachers in the developed world can run the Sugar software and activities in our computer labs which run only Windows!!

Problem: Shortage of OLPC machines in the developed world, ie. you need to be able to play with it, immerse yourself in it in order to be able to evaluate it. That's how computer learning works.

Educational objective: I will get my year 10 IT class to systematically evaluate the Sugar software and activities

Summary: Make a bootable USB key of the XO-LiveCD image and setup the BIOS on each computer to boot off the USB key

  1. Download the bleeding edge joyride version of the XO-LiveCD, currently XO-LiveCD_080607.iso
  2. Burn an image CD
  3. (It's not practical for me to use the CDs at school since the CD drives have not been enabled due to student vandalism in the past)
  4. download unetbootin-windows-241.exe from http://unetbootin.sourceforge.net/
  5. format your usb drive under windows (or delete all the files of it if already in windows format)
  6. run the downloaded file unetbootin-windows-241.exe
  7. it should find your usb drive
  8. click on the diskimage radiobutton
  9. browse to your XO -live CD iso (must have it in iso format - cant use a burnt cd)
  10. click on OK
  11. wait till files are copied (it takes a while)
  12. go into BIOS and setup to boot of USB-HDD key
  13. reboot off USB Drive
Update:(7th August)
With the above there is a problem that the USB key does not boot into the introductory menu seen on the bootable CD, which enables you to select the bleeding edge joyride version and choose your language. It boots into the default German language standard version of Sugar.

To fix this problem:
  1. Open the syslinux.cfg file (on the USB key) in notepad or some other editor
  2. Change lb_country=6 to lb_country=1 (German to English)
  3. Change lb_config=update.1 to lb_config=joyride
  4. Change lb_system=build-708 to lb_system=joyride-2024
  5. Save and reboot
A one gig usb drive is the minimum requirement because the joyride CD is 700 mb

Update (30th August):
Don't use cheap LASER USB keys, they are unreliable (failure rate 1 in 3) and slow. Kingston USB keys are far more reliable and about 5 times faster in transferring data to them.

Thanks to tony, joel and paul for help with this

OLPC Pacific rollout links

OLPC Oceania
starting point, overview ... 8 Pacific countries listed for trial deployment of OLPC ...Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Kiribati, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Niue, Tuvalu

RICS - Rural Internet Connectivity System
RICS is designed to provide 2-way Internet connectivity to all Pacific Island Countries. It uses 1.20m Satellite Antennas and provides average speeds between 128 to 512 kbits per second

OLPC Solomon Islands
This page provides a comprehensive overview of the Pacific trial process, more so than any other Oceania page on the OLPC wiki.

Ian Thomson
"Mr Ian Thomson has been appointed by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) to coordinate its work on the Pacific Rural Internet Connectivity System (Pacific RICS) and Oceania One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) projects ...

The Pacific RICS aims to provide Internet access to rural and remote Pacific communities that are currently not serviced by commercial operators. The technology uses small 1.2 or 1.8 metre satellite dishes and therefore requires low power to operate, which means it can be solar powered. A ‘network-in-a-box’ server provides the networking capability that allows Internet connectivity, a laser printer, WIFI wireless access and computers networked via cables.

Ian will be establishing the 16 RICS pilot sites across the region. The first site was launched a month ago in Gaire, a rural community located an hour’s drive southeast drive of Port Moresby. The other pilot site in Papua New Guinea is in Bougainville, with the remaining sites in Cook Islands, Kiribati (2), Federated States of Micronesia, French Polynesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Solomon Islands (2), Tokelau, Tuvalu, Tonga and Vanuatu"
David Leeming
has been developing infrastructure in the Solomon Islands (Solomons PFnet pdf) for some years. He stresses the need for a bottom up approach.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

control through scarcity

Christoph Derndorfer:
OLPC Boston (and close associates, like Brightstar) appear to have all the power. All that power is in one single nerve pressure point which is very easy to control: the availability of XOs
- The Lost Tribe of OLPC, Continued ...
On the surface initially making OLPCs only available to children in disadvantaged countries seems admirable and egalitarian. One of the side effects was that it made it difficult for someone like me, a supporter in the industrialised world with mainly educational knowledge (not a python hacker), to get involved. OLPCs are still quite rare in Australia.

Until Christoph's post I hadn't seen this clearly as a means of controlling potential supporters. But in any organisation control is exerted through the way in which things of value are distributed. Be it information, hardware or something else.

I used to be a member of a communist party which had a very top down, unelected, hierarchical leadership and which encouraged its members to go into the workplace or to be activists, to look outwards to the needs of "the masses" but not to look inwards at the quality of the leadership. There are lots of ways in which "leaders" can pretend to be doing great work for the people while at the same time shoring up their position as important leaders. It boils down to a division of labour where an elite group does the important ideological, thinking work while the rank and file members are expected to be workers, activists etc. ie. it's just a reproduction of the boss-worker relationship which the "communist party" was meant to be overthrowing. Easy enough to see how this could be translated into the OLPC community - hard working software developers who aren't all that interested in the politics of it all, in the first place. It can be hard to sort out and devastating when you finally figure out you've been led down the garden path.

I mentioned earlier, Ursula LeGuin's, The Dispossessed , where she describes perfectly how groups founded on equality and continually proclaiming equality can generate incredibly sophisticated and devious methods of power seeking

btw I like the open and above board style in which Walter Bender appears to manage the Sugar project (without knowing a great deal about it but my first impressions are positive)

paul goodman

Tom Hoffman has a series of very interesting quotes from paul goodman on his blog, illustrating the point that a quality writer from 1964 might be thinking more deeply about the present than 99% of the blogosphere:
Very rich quotes, please click.

I looked Goodman up on wikipedia and googled around

I found it difficult to situate him with regard to the double headed monster of progressivism until I realised that at first he was embraced by the new left as saviour but later he turned against the new left when they jettisoned content from the Enlightenment and began to see all social thinking as brainwashing

These reviews helped, and the one by susan sontag is very touching:

under the sign of saturn by susan sontag
the relevance of paul goodman by john judis

This Goodman quote from the john judis article:
"If we start from the premise that the young are in a religious crisis, that they doubt there is really a nature of thing and they are sure there is no world for themselves, many details of the present behavior become clearer. Alienation is a powerful motivation, of unrest, fantasy, and feckless action. It can lead.. to religious innovation, new sacraments to give life meaning. But it is a poor basis for politics, including revolutionary politics."
And this one from the wikipedia entry:
For instance, after a hostile exchange with student radicals who had heckled him "heatedly and rudely" at a campus appearance in 1967, Goodman wrote, "suddenly I realized that they did not believe there was a nature of things. [To them] there was no knowledge but only the sociology of knowledge. They had learned so well that physical and sociological research is subsidized and conducted for the benefit of the ruling class that they were doubtful that there was such a thing as simple truth, for instance that the table was made of wood--maybe it was plastic imitation...I had imagined that the worldwide student protest had to do with changing political and moral institutions, and I was sympathetic to this. But I now saw that we had to do with a religious crisis. Not only all institutions but all learning had been corrupted by the Whore of Babylon, and there was no longer any salvation to be got from Works."
I renew my request for people to read Furedi, one of the few modern writers who is applying this sort of analysis to today's world:
how the left became conservative
truth slips from view in the sea of post modern knowledge

Friday, July 11, 2008

XO study in Ethiopia

Ethiopia Implementation Report, September - December 2007 (pdf 14pp) by eduvision ("a Swiss company that offers an innovative turnkey solution for state-of-the-art education")

This report does provide some evidence for success in a method used to break down rigid, hierarchical teaching methods, which are part of a culture where it is seen to be impolite to question a teacher

In broad terms the method was to find ways of establishing some continuity with the existing culture and then, down the track, ask questions about what learning is being achieved through existing instructionist methods. In this case the way of joining but tweaking the existing culture was to provide interactive digital textbooks, rather than paper textbooks. The interactive features began to be used and appreciated by students and teachers

Melepo, an interactive book reader developed by Eduvision (http://www.eduvision.ch/en/OurService/melepo.php) was added to the OLPCs and for the older classes seems to have been the main software used (younger kids used games too). I think this software is commercial so, in that sense, it is difficult to generalise too much from this study.

Also, the school was atypical in a sense (page 11, "the prestigious nature of the schools served to attract unusually experienced and dedicated teachers") - the above average teacher quality would have contributed significantly to the success

Duration of the project seems to have been fairly short --> 3 weeks (page 7)

The authors of the report are cautious about their claims:
"There was great willingness to please amongst the teachers and the students. This resulted in difficulties obtaining honest and accurate feedback. Whilst methods were devised to overcome this constraint it remained a constant factor through the trial ..." (page 12)
"it would be premature to draw summative conclusions concerning the overall efficacy of the programme at this stage ... " (page 13)
Some good discussion by Mokurai about this paper on the OLPC wiki:
The reported test results mostly concerned Eduvision's Melopo activities, rather than Sugar Activities. Since Melopo is also somewhat collaborative, the results should transfer.

The most important observation is that teaching with the laptops, even under the constraints of the prevailing system, changed teacher behavior toward more effective methods. Instead of reciting instructions without a chance to try them out, students began to be encouraged to work on the computers, following instructions as they are given.

Teachers began to use structured group activities and competitions, and to ask students to present material to the class. The structured techniques that the teachers put into their XO lesson plans then spilled over into their non-computer classes. Where before any question from a student was seen as an insult to the teacher, teachers began to offer individual instruction while other students were occupied on the computers. Students were encouraged to work in small groups, and began to help each other. After a time, teachers began to allow questions generally, and to set aside time for them.

Student motivation was observed to be higher because they could mark up their electronic texts with notes and highlighting. This is a critical software function. Document readers alone are not sufficient. Eduvision recommends adding hyperlinks and some software functions to electronic texts. (I recommend adding way more software functions.)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

american democracy (FISA Bill)

The new FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) bill amendments have just been passed by the United States Congress

This enables electronic surveillance without approval being issued by a court (provided the government files required papers within a week) and provides retroactive immunity to telcos who have been breaking the old law at the behest of the Bush administration. According to Ellsberg this law breaking preceded 9/11 and has been revealed by leaks to the New York Times.

This represents an undermining or "gutting" of the Fourth Amendment of the American constitution which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures

(1) american democracy
(2) Obama, for his reversal of his previous committment to filibuster this bill
(3) it undermines credibility from the US efforts to help establish democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq

Daniel Ellsberg: You can't maintain a democracy while the State can spy on its citizens without independent approval from a judge (paraphrased)

update (11th July):
This article from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provides more detail about the inadequate checks on wiretapping:
The FISA Amendments Act nearly eviscerates oversight of government surveillance by allowing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to review only general procedures for spying rather than individual warrants. The FISC will not be told any specifics about who will actually be wiretapped, thereby undercutting any meaningful role for the court and violating the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

The bill further trivializes court review by authorizing the government to continue a surveillance program even after the government’s general spying procedures are found insufficient or unconstitutional by the FISC. The government has the authority to wiretap through the entire appeals process, and then keep and use whatever information was gathered in the meantime.
Daniel Ellsberg on FISA (video). People of my generation remember Daniel Ellsberg for his role in leaking the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971, which "demonstrated unconstitutional behavior by a succession of presidents, the violation of their oath and the violation of the oath of every one of their subordinates"
FISA Amendment Acts of 2008 (wikipedia)
Senate Joins House in Caving to White House Immunity Demands (eff site)
strangebedfellows: a unique and diverse left--right coalition which has come together to put a stop to the eradication of civil liberties in America
The FISA Protest and myBO Interesting detail here about the interactive features and dynamics of Obama's website

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

OLPC rollout

Community News July 6, 2008, provides an overview of the current OLPC rollout. Have a look at the pdf for a better graphical representation (and some pics of OLPC in Oceania):

Uruguay 130,000
Peru 70,000
Mexico 50,000
Birmingham, USA 10,000
Ethiopia, Rwanda, Haiti, Mongolia approx 5,000 each provided by the Give1-Get1 program

Oceania rollout (of interest to me because close to Australia)
Trials have started or are in planning for these countries:
  • Solomon Islands
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Nauru
  • Kiribati
  • Vanuatu
  • New Caledonia
  • Niue
  • Tuvalu
More Oceania details here

Thanks Joel, for pointing out this information

creating a piano keyboard using scratch

One of my year 10 students showed me the basics of how to do this. I then asked him to teach it to the class.

When you mouse over the Scratch 'play note' tile drop down keyboard the key identifier, such as C, pops up, with an associated number. This pop up feature makes it easy to obtain an overview of a music keyboard even for someone like me who knows very little about music notation.

You can map this piano keyboard onto the computer keyboard using Scratch sensing, sound and control tiles, shown below:
Then map this onto two rows of the computer keyboard, using the middle letter row for the white keys and the top letter row for the sharps and flats

One problem is that there are 15 white keys, so there are not enough keys in one row of the computer keyboard for all of them. My workaround here was to use the space key in combination with the middle row letter keys to fit all 15 keys into the one row. The pictures just show the method for upper C and lower C:

I could take this a step further by making lots of versions of the image below showing individual keys being depressed and then mapping those images to synchronise with playing the computer keyboard. I'm thinking of writing that up as a project for the class.

At this stage, the task I have set my students is to make the cat or some other sprite dance in interesting ways as they play a tune.

Monday, July 07, 2008

science transcends "normal" (alan kay)

Read the comments on these posts from Mark Guzdial, mainly for the extensive comments by Alan Kay about the failures of the university system to achieve the education required for future social progress in science and computer science (reasons outlined in selected quotes below)

Prediction and invention: object-oriented v. functional
Recap:Prediction and invention: object-oriented v. functional
Neil Postman wrote a number of essays lamenting the huge change in universities -- which have pretty rapidly shifted from being the definers of "what higher education means" to vendors serving customers. He pointed out how ludicrous it could be to have uneducated people demanding courses and rejecting others, largely driven by perceptions of what would help with future jobs as opposed to future abilities to think well and with perspective (Kay)

... the present "normals" are much more arbitrary and accidental constructs than most people think (Kay)

vocational pressure today from students is greater than before (Guzdial)

we need educated adults not skilled children, quotes Jefferson:
"I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education." -- Jefferson (Kay)
The 1-8 and now K-12 system has quite broken down, and the universities are well on their way to breaking (Kay)

Science is a pretty good model ... The first level has to admit any and all ideas for consideration (to avoid dogma and becoming just another belief system). But the dues for "free and open" are that science has built the strongest system of critical thinking in human history to make the next level threshold for "worthy ideas" as high as possible (Kay)

"needs" are not the same as "wants" (Kay)

Because of the whacky way our brains work, the pooled diverse human opinions for a hundred thousand years on the planet don't get above threshold compared to the invention of better thinking and discerning with the advent of real science only 400 years ago. This invention was very rare in human history, and it is so far away from normal ken that it is dangerously fragile, and actually invisible to most people even today (Kay)

it would be unthinkable for a physicist not to either know what Newton did, or be incurious about what Newton did. But I found in visiting and giving talks at many conferences, universities and businesses in 2004 that most computer people I talked to (including the academics) were both hazy and incurious about what Doug Engelbart did. A few thought he might have invented the mouse, some were aware of hyperlinking -- but astoundingly, I could not find anyone who actually knew about Engelbart's ideas (Kay)

Another part of the problem has to do with the psychology of being a programmer (I worked my way through college as one) and it's mostly about *coping* (with someone else's computer, OS, programming language, problem, techniques and architectures, etc.). I did just that until I got into an ARPA grad school by complete accident and into a culture that was as "anti-cope" as one could imagine -- they were quite happy to invent everything they needed, and to build from scratch everything they needed, including every gate of the HW if necessary, and every bit of the SW (Kay)

... the biologists absolutely did not dilute their field by devolving into an "air guitar" pop culture. (Having an unforgiving Nature as the ultimate critic really helps here. Computing, being a synthetic design oriented field is not governed strongly by Nature and is all too prone to mindless fads and enthusiasms.) (Kay)

... my main observations in this thread were about the incuriousity, not of the general public, nor of pop computer wanabees, but of folks with PhDs in universities "professing" CS (Kay)

if Neil (Postman) were alive and going to write another book along these lines today, he would title it "Distracting Ourselves To Death", and would focus on the difficulties for serious thought in an age of over-information and under-content (Kay)

... it is possible for students to spend their entire undergrad career doing nothing but learning parts of the Linux world -- or parts of the web world -- or parts of the Java world, etc. All of these have millions of lines of code and all are in use and in play. ... They could easily miss most or even all of the big ideas in computing in their efforts to cope-and-join with what already exists. (Kay)

As Susan Sontag once remarked, "All understanding begins with our not accepting the world as it appears." And, conversely, the lack of understanding that we see so much of through history and our own time in no small part is caused by people accepting the world as it appears (Kay)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

waterboarding: DIY

Christopher Hitchens, who supports the Iraq war, but is critical of many aspects of the Bush administration has done something which I think is amazing, admirable and enlightening

He wanted to be able to assess whether waterboarding was torture and so he organised himself to be waterboarded and has written not just a descriptive but also a reflective piece about it - and also released a video of the event

Believe me, it's torture (article)
on the waterboard (video)

Some might dismiss this as a publicity stunt or as a way for an already controversial character to become more controversial and widely read. That may be partially true - (nevertheless, I admire his guts for submitting himself to something which he now acknowledges is torture) - but read page 2 of Hitchens' article where he canvasses in detail the two opposing opinions of whether the United States should use waterboarding. I won't quote since to do this topic justice you need to read the whole of Hitchens' article. The deeply reflective aspect of Hitchen's writing, which is always present, should not be missed in this case.