September 2011

The New Scientist post has the headline: “Amazon harnesses cloud with Kindle Fire tablet”

I don’t think that “harnessed” is the right word. It ought to be “shackled.”

The DRM consistently applied to the ebooks delivered from Amazon will be added to the DRM of the games, the videos, the whatever. Digital Rights Management is a lock put on the content you buy from Amazon. It is available from Amazon — as long as Amazon continues to offer it.

If Amazon no longer offers the game or movie or ebook, it will disappear from the vaunted cloud and no longer be available. You’ll have no backup copy if your Fire “goes out.” You won’t, in fact own anything. You will effectively be a renter, a borrower, a contract worker without any benefits. Here today, gone tomorrow.

The promise of the “Personal Computer” was that it disconnected us from the mainframe. We not only installed software on our very own general purpose computer, we could hire programmers to make our business run exactly the way we wanted, using the software that our local experts developed. We could write that software ourselves, too. The PC granted us power. We broke free of the shackles. Some of us even broke free from the shackles of proprietary file formats and proprietary software. We eagerly joined a philosophical “software freedom” movement and attained even more creative control over our lives. It has been an exciting time.

Current thought is that we are seeing the decline of the PC as a “desktop” unit. “Death of the PC” [Forbes] [Seeking Alpha] I’ve had a personal computer since 1978. I’m not ready to give up my freedom.

I’m worried that we need, more than ever before, to jump aboard the software freedom bandwagon. We need to support the expansion of open hardware, open software, open networking. We need to take charge of the Internet and the “cloud” so we are not at the whim of corporations who will be the gatekeepers to our common wealth of information. Copyrights have been extended, not lessened in our fast-paced world where yesterday’s data is buried under twice as much produced today.

If every shred of access to that information is shackled to the cloud, if I cannot have my own personal, un-reclaimable copy, I am made culturally poor. The cloud, offered as a boon to us, may instead, become only an ephemeral glimpse through the fog. Data behind a paywall isn’t what I’m after. Culture shackled to the corporate cloud is anathema to me. It should be unacceptable to us all.

Clear your mind. Decide whether you want Amazon to own your books for you.
Think whether you will rush to buy into their walled garden just as millions have bought into the iEverything craze of the Apple Corporation. I owned an Apple IIe which let me program it, add electronics, make it MINE.

By the way, I am not singling out Amazon or Apple. They just represent the most current appropriators of access. Many others have convinced us that they should hold tightly to our culture. After all, don’t the big corporations know best?

I don’t think so!

[Did you know, you don’t own second generation seeds from your own field after you originally buy seeds from Monsanto?]

The Practice Effect – Releasing Early and Often

Education is mostly an open source business. Children spend their time in and out of classrooms exploring the culture and knowledge of our world. That culture and knowlege is a heritage passed along by parents and educators. Children are encouraged to manipulate the material with comments like, “Practice makes perfect.” Of course, the children frequently mangle the stuff they learn. Patient educators and parents adjust the experience for a child and encourage more practice. Over time, support makes children persist until they achieve a level of mastery and move on to the next challenge.

[UNICEF Canada on Flickr]

Chaos is inherent in learning. Very few elements of learning are accomplished by a single effort. “Failures” occur on a daily, hourly or even moment-by-moment basis. The business of education is managing the chaos, the setbacks, the productive failures. That’s right “productive failures.” Instant success isn’t normal. Iterative effort supports incremental improvements. Steady improvements lead to confidence and success. Children deserve to have steady support for their explorations, their chaos, their mangling of the current topic. Children need to understand failure the way that open source developers are encouraged to see their own failures. “Release early and often” is a major open source software mantra. Let the process be as transparent as possible. Submit trial code for others to examine and put through the stress tests of use. Oh, and users, please send back bug reports. Children learn the same way. They submit homework, written assignments, drawings, reports, all the elements of a product. They get evaluation, and theyneed, next, to be encouraged to push ahead to the next evaluation. Learning isn’t a singular accomplishment, it is a series of chaotic early-and-often releases. “Yes, that’s great. See if it can be made better. Would it work better if…”

Parents and educators must avoid inserting blockers. “What, you got a C- on the test? That’s unacceptable!”

Dropping that kind of blocker on a regular basis does NOT encourage children to enjoy the work. Instead, they do what it takes to avoid the “failure.” That avoidance may include working to get a C+ if that means a parent or educator will then say, “At least it’s not C-.” Low grade avoidance is not the same as “release early and often.” Avoidance of low evaluations is avoidance of “failure.” Avoidance of “failure” frequently also leads to avoiding challenge. Instead of taking the chance to learn calculus, sign up for the consumer math class during high school senior year, for example. The enthusiasm for making improvements is missing. Getting by, avoiding failure, escaping from the hard work, that’s the new goal.

[Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory on Flickr]

Parents and educators have the difficult job of managing chaos. Parents and educators need to carefully tread the path of effective evaluation, effectively encouraging children to keep moving ahead. Children, adolescents, young adults (even adults) need support to encourage them to take the next challenge, one which they can “fail” to finish in version 0.01, ver. 0.3.2, and possibly even version 0.99. Parents and educators cannot be expecting efficiency and productivity from their children. Those are terms of the conservative adult world. Learning is chaotic and messy, not often efficient. Productivity is a term of late-stage business activity. It happens when the job is well understood, probably even repetitive. Now that a worker knows how to make a widget, let’s see how much faster it can be done.

Think carefully, adults. Is rote repetition of a well understood skill your actual goal for the education for your children?

Work hard parents. Work hard teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards, legislatures, federal education officials. Keep your focus carefully on educational realities, the chaotic, failure rich, iterative process of releasing early and often and the excitement and joy of getting to the next challenge.

The Practice Effect – An article which inspired this one.

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What other social networks are you using as an individual?
Do you use social networking professionally? Twitter, etc.
Does your school have a social network policy?

Have you heard about Diaspora? It is something like Facebook, and the newer Google+ shares many features of Diaspora* (sometimes written with an asterisk, sometimes not.)


A few things that separate D* from the others is: controlled privacy, open source, federation.

Diaspora users set up “aspects” which determine which posts will be shared with members of that group. Things posted can be made public, but they can easily be kept restricted…to a group of classmates, a grade cluster, a school, a district.

Diaspora is a free software project.
Diaspora is in the early stages of development, “alpha”, though I’ve heard it is soon to go to beta status.

Diaspora can and will be federated. That means your school can/will be able to install a pod of their own, controlling it, inviting participation from faculty/students. It might be possible to establish a federation that was district oriented, town linked, education only!

The whole issue of sharing with students is a big thing in district/principal’s offices. Could Diaspora be part of the solution, easing districts into the modern world without plunging into the very uncertain waters of Facebook, etc.?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.