June 2009

The move to digital textbooks is under way.

Two of the biggest textbook buying states have initiated funding plans that encourage schools to use digital editions of textbooks instead of paper.



I personally wish Massachusetts had been in the forefront of this move, but Massachusetts doesn’t buy enough textbooks to dent the market.

What technology will work best with this trend?

      How open will this move be?

      KDE Interactive Geometry Program (KIG) is a great tool for teaching math. Here is a good set of directions on how to do it.


      If that article interests you, but you don’t use Linux, check out GeoGebra which is a program written in Java so it should run on any operating system that supports  Java Runtime 1.4.2 or later. You can even do a launch of the program from the Web.


      [Geogebra link updated May 15, 2011]

      Sugar on a Stick is the software originally available on the One Laptop Per Child project. Now it is separate. Walter Bender formed Sugar Labs to develop the Sugar educational interface and activity programs separated from the hardware development.

      The big idea here is that SoaS makes one-to-one computing more viable. It does not need a fancy computer, just one that boots from USB (or can boot from CD with the extra ISO boot CD). The older computers being sidelined in schools can have longer life. The hard drive isn’t involved at all. Each student can have a complete learning system on a thumb drive. Prices locally (Boston, MA) for generic 8GB thumb drives have recently been around $8.00. That’s in single quantity. That’s affordable.

      SoaS version 1 is now available. If you have not looked at it before because you didn’t have an OLPC, go through the steps to download the ISO image. At the very least, try it out on a regular PC by burning that image to CD. You can test the interface and find out about it. Then take the steps to make the USB thumb drive (minimum 1GB) which will let you go to any computer with a USB port and have a directory on the thumb drive to store your work.


      If you track open source projects, you are probably familiar with the Sourceforge site. It is a location on the Web which is designed to give developers space and an organizational structure to support the effort of building not only the software itself, but a community of users, supporters and team members.

      It is currently time to vote for projects hosted there to give your opinion about which projects you find most useful or are the best in their category.


      Your input gives the projects emotional support and good press. Go ahead. Check out the nominees and vote.

      If you are following the ebook reader story, you may want to check this video that is a demo of the Plastic Logic product which is expected to be on the market in 2010.


      This ereader would fit right inside the flip-open notebook I carry. I could stick it to the inside with a bit of hook-and-loop (Velcro).

      Here I was thinking that Open Access was a relatively simple thing in support of the broad education community. An increasing number of scholarly articles and their data are being published in an Open Access way. Free is good.

      However, the term “free” is not a clear enough term. It is the imprecise, multiple-meaning problem of English. There is “free of cost” which has also been expressed as “free-as-in-beer” and more recently the more international term “gratis”. There is also the very different “free-as-in-freedom” which is “free of conditions for use” and the more international term “libre”.

      Some good posts to explain the issues of Open Access vocabulary:


      and a pair of others.



      Know your rights. Learn the vocabulary of Open Access.

      Can Twitter Count?

      I recently signed up for Twitter, already was on Identi.ca. Both are micro-blogging sites/tools.Micro-blogging is a recent addition to the arsenal of social networking. Both services have educational potential. They are a great way to do small messages to students and parents without needing a big blog (though I recommend them, too) or a Web site (Yes, I recommend you do one of those, too). Micro-blogging takes little time. You cannot write more than the 140 character limit. That keeps your effort brief, a good thing. It also makes you be concise, another good thing. Students and parents can read your daily post in almost no time, yet another good thing.

      Twitter is the more popular one, but I suspect it has issues that need to be resolved before I can give it my full support. Twitter has a public timeline page, too, like the main identi.ca page. If you check the links, you can see they are pretty much alike.

      • After I signed up for Twitter, I did a search for two people who recommended I try it. I couldn’t find them by last name. I couldn’t find them by user name.
      • Today I got a follower notice by email from Twitter. I went to check the profile. The follower had only one post from two days ago, but already had 189 followers and was herself following 1253 other people. Because URL links are compressed automatically to save space, one cannot quickly judge the real address. It isn’t wise to visit a site blindly unless you trust the person who has done the post. As I didn’t know Lucy Khong [lucyhong], I decided against following the link on her lonely post. Then I noticed her avatar image. It had significant cleavage, and though that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it made me even more certain that this was Twitter-SPAM. I made the decision to block Lucy from following me. Update: June 19, I am more convinced that Lucy Khong is spam. Yesterday and today the blog was visited after searches for her name. I hope my comments have been helpful to anyone who visited.
      • When I went to my own Twitter profile, it said I had two followers, one of them is the guy who convinced me to sign up. There was no number two.

      I reiterate the title: Can Twitter Count?

      And even more serious, can we count on Twitter?

      Another factor for me is that Identi.ca is run on open source software from Laconi.ca. I am a fan and advocate of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) which I hope you guessed when you came to this MOSSSIG site.

      Are you doing micro-blogging?
      Is micro-blogging a tool in your communications with parents and students?

      Do your homework. Check out the possibilities.

      Publishers are in a quandry. How can they make money in tough times?

      What if McDonalds gave ebooks away with a Happy Meal or Big Mac?

      They would not need to give away files through the drive-through window. This would work like the Monopoly game with little pull-off tabs on the drinks, food boxes, fries, etc. On the tab there would be a code that would be entered at the McDonalds Web site. The code would entitle the tag holder to select from a group of ebooks. Happy Meal tags would lead to a list for kids. Big Macs another list. The list might vary from day to day or be modified on a weekly or monthly basis. Either way, McDonalds would be getting Web traffic, and a small amount of the cost of the Big Mac would go to pay a publisher or author. With “Billions and billons” sold, the potential income for publishers and authors could be significant over time.

      Because the access is through a Web site, customers could even be given the opportunity to request titles. Imagine the impact on currently out-of-print titles, books that don’t make money for anybody, except for a few used book dealers.

      The code could be randomized and time-limited in such a way that it could only be used once, avoiding unwanted “theft”.

      The “inventory” cost would certainly be lower than the current cost for the little toys given out with a Happy Meal. Real cost would be the disk space and network charges incurred for delivering the ebook file.

      The file would best be available in an e-reader agnostic format. I wouldn’t want McDonalds to need to sell or distribute a Ronald-McReader, though they might want to, come to think of it, especially for the kids’ books.

      Maybe this is a chance for competition, too. If Burger King got behind some authors, with other authors for McDonalds and Wendy’s and Taco Bell and Ken’s Steak House and Arby’s and…you get the idea. Publishers could pit these retail giants against one another. “GET STEPHEN KING’S LATEST HERE!”, “WHERE’S WALDO?…WENDY’S, OF COURSE!” Maybe an author or agent could boost the per copy price to the author that way.

      Is fast food even the “best” choice for doing publishing sponsorship? All you need is a company willing to pay for the right to distribute copies of ebooks. I’m not sure it would need to be an exclusive right. The method would drive traffic to a company’s Web site, for sure. Would romance novels be a hit with customers of Ralph Lauren or Victoria’s Secret? Teen authors at Hollister?

      E-reader sales could really take off, too. The classic chicken and egg dilemma might be solved. Both are now on the menu at most fast food restaurants along with “the beef”.

      Update (June 18, 2009) Just for the fun of it, I sent the suggestion to McDonalds through their Web site. The sent a reply (looked like boilerplate) saying they don’t acknowledge or accept suggestions from outside the restaurant system. It sounds like legal battles over ideas have happened before. But, hey, this is an open source/open education/open idea blog. Maybe McDonalds or somebody else will follow up on it anyway.

      Two dates are looming and may make the job of school technology leaders a bit more complex. Windows 7 is due in October 2009. More important, Microsoft says that after April 2010, you can’t downgrade to Windows XP, only Vista.


      Conservative school leaders have been downgrading new computer purchases from Vista to XP, and may also not want to jump too soon on the Windows 7 bandwagon. The “latest” hasn’t always been the “greatest”.

      Will these two dates impact the way school leaders look at the GNU/Linux alternatives?

      UPDATE: Within a day of the original date announcement, the ability to downgrade to XP has been extended. Now it is 18 months later April 2011, instead of just six months.

      Apparently, Microsoft heard from somebody about the issue and paid attention!

      I don’t really understand economics. Why gas prices go up in the summer eludes me, for example. But I was very interested in Ransom Stevens’ clear analysis of the economics of the publishing industry in this age of Internet and ebooks.


      [I am going to go back to do more scanning of the content of the parent site: OpenDemocracy.net whom I thank for Stephens’ article which is released with a Creative Commons license. Good.]

      Ransom Stephens isn’t described as an economist either (the article link of his name leads to his ID as a technologist and physicist, but his article is both enlightening and clear. His analysis may be controversial in the era of Digital Rights Management and expanding copyright terms. But new authors come along all the time. A few of them get a book published through the current system. Stephens envisions that all authors would get their shot and a new “word of mouth” in the Internet would give more of them a chance. He does have the following statement of publishing gloom though.

      Except for the case of textbooks – but that’s a different article (the answer: textbooks in printed form will truly, conclusively die).

      Is this a future of books you can live with?

      Do you have a different view, and how open do you think the process needs to be?

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