Tuesday, June 26, 2007

noel pearson on the national emergency response to protect Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory

Politics aside, an end to the tears is our priority by Noel Pearson

Howard's motivation is not the most important thing.
But what do you do when a child is being subjected to abuse this very day? What do you do when a child is likely to be abused next week? What do you when the abuse is going to happen the week after next? What do we do when there are scores of children involved across the communities, the states and territories? If it were your child at risk of this suffering, would you think this a matter of emergency?

This is not a moral panic. The abuse is real. This is not a media or political beat-up. The report from Pat Anderson and Rex Wild confirms a reality of suffering. Something has to be done to relieve the suffering now, not in six months, not in two years. Now.

We can’t rehabilitate people from alcohol or drug dependence immediately. We can’t fix the poor education immediately. We can’t fix up the poor health immediately. But we must stop the suffering straight away. Everyone, from the Prime Minister to his bitterest opponents, centres their preferred strategy or response on the fate of the children. No one can escape this fact: the fate of the children is the bottom line. Whatever one thinks of Howard and Brough, their strategy is justified on the basis of the fate of the children. If not Brough and Howard’s plan to stop the suffering, then what alternative plan should be pursued? Here most of the critics fall into a deafening silence. They have vociferous views about what will not work, but they are silent about what will work. So the sum total of their response—“we don’t need missionary paternalism again”, “prohibition doesn’t work”, “indigenous people must consent to the changes”, “we need more government services”, “we have to provide rehabilitation”, “we have to deal with intergenerational trauma”, “we have to deal with things in a holistic way”—is inaction and procrastination while children’s lives continue to be ruined. It is not that the points made by the critics are wrong—they are often correct—but their criticism does not translate and often cannot be translated into action.
Read the whole thing.

I wrote another article about noel pearson's analysis of aboriginal issues here

kidney tumour

I have a 3.5 cm tumour on my left kidney.

This was discovered by CT scan in early May after a few hours of pain in that spot. There has been no pain and no other symptoms apart from that, before or since.

Recently, I asked to see the x-rays generated by the CT scan and I was shown the slide show (over 400 x-rays) and the tumour was pointed out to me. It looked a bit like these images which I found on the internet.

I'm due for surgery on Tuesday July 3 and the plan is to do a laparoscopic (keyhole) nephrectomy. Due to the position of the tumour and the possibility of cancer the whole kidney, adrenal gland and lymph nodes will be removed.

What I've discovered is that a kidney tumour, which may be cancer, is a Catch-22 situation. In fact, one of my doctors used the phrase, Catch-22, in describing it.

If we don't cut it out then it might be cancer. If we do cut it out then it might turn out not to be cancer

This unsatisfactory situation arises from these factors:
  • Chemo doesn't work on kidney cells because kidney cells are designed to remove toxic chemicals!!
  • The kidney has a rich blood supply (because its job is to filter the blood) and so any attempt to biopsy a kidney tumour will spread it to other parts of the body
  • There is no blood marker for kidney cancer

It is upsetting to have no choice really but to go through with major surgery when I'm not even certain that I have cancer. I am in the process of dealing with that as a psychological issue. I've done my own internet research but at some point you have to trust the experts

My prognosis for full recovery is about 90%

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

how students prepare for mandatory tests and what they learn

from Christopher Bennage:
Friday, June 15, 2007 6:25:18 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
I recently worked on an educational Flash application designed to help students prepare for mandatory tests in the state of Florida. One of the developers on the team googled some of the ActionScript from a previous iteration of the app, and found a forum posting where some 10th graders were decompiling the swfs. They were hoping to get answers to the test.

So that's one way the kids are learning...
- source
(direct link not available, so I have left the date and time information in)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mark Shuttleworth's Ubuntu manifesto

Shuttleworth's Ubuntu philosophy is scattered throughout his blog. I've collected them in one place here.

Big challenges for the Free Software Community
"The real challenge lies ahead - taking free software to the mass market, to your grandparents, to your nieces and nephews, to your friends. This is the next wave, and if we are to be successful we need to articulate the audacious goals clearly and loudly - because that’s how the community process works best"
# 13: "Pretty" as a feature
"If we want the world to embrace free software, we have to make it beautiful..."

#12: Consistent packaging
"... I’d like to see us define distribution-neutral packaging that suits both the source-heads and the distro-heads"

#11: Simplified, rationalised licensing
"I’m absolutely convinced it is free source, not “open” source, which is at the heart of the innovation that will carry free software to ubiquity ... But my voice is only one of many, and I recognise in this world that there are lots of reasonable, rational positions which are different but still, for some people, appropriate ... So what can be done? Well, I turn for inspiration to the work of the Creative Commons. They’ve seen this problem coming a long way off, and realised that it is better to create a clear “licence space” which covers the various permutations and combinations that will come to exist anyway ..."

#10: Pervasive presence
"... turning that haphazard process into a systematic framework - making sure that you (well, more accurately your laptop and your cell phone) know how you should reach out and touch the person you want to communicate with. It’s about an integrated addressbook - no more distinctions between IM and email ..."

#9: Pervasive support
"... why do people say “Linux is not supported”? Because the guy behind the counter at their corner PC-cafe doesn’t support it ... This is why I encourage governments to announce that some portion of their infrastructure will run on Linux - it catalyses the whole ecosystem to make their existing capacity public ..."

#8: Govoritye po Russki
"There are 347 languages with more than a million speakers. But even Ubuntu, which has amazing infrastructure for translation and a great community that actually does the work, is nowhere close to being fully translated in more than 10 or 15 languages"

#007: Great gadgets!
"This world is increasingly defined not so much by the PC, as by the things we use when we are nowhere near a PC. The music player. The smart phone. The digital camera. GPS devices. And many, perhaps most, of these new devices can and do run Linux ..."

#6: Sensory immersion
"What interests me are the ways in which there is cross-over between the virtual world and the real world ... there’s going to be a need for innovation around the ways we blur the lines between real and virtual worlds"

#5: Real real-time collaboration
"... people who work with word processors and spreadsheets have rights too! And they could benefit dramatically from much better collaboration ..."

#4: Plan, execute, DELIVER
"Bugs, feature planning, release management, translation, testing and QA… these are all areas where we need to improve the level of collaboration BETWEEN projects. I think Launchpad is a good start but there’s a long way to go before we’re in the same position that the competition is in - seamless conversations between all developers"

#3: The Extra Dimension
"...an opportunity to rethink and improve on many areas of user interface at the system and app level which have been stagnant for a decade or more"

#2: Granny's new camera
"... the ends of the spectrum - the power users and the don’t-mess-with-my-system users, are already well serviced by Linux ... It’s the middle crowd - the guys who have a computer which they personally modify, attach new hardware to, and expect to interact with a variety of gadgets - that struggle. The problem, in a nutshell, is Granny’s new camera"

#1: Keeping it FREE
"... create something that we’ve never had before, which is a completely level software playing field for every young aspiring IT practitioner, and every aspiring entrepreneur. I believe that’s how we will really change the world, and how we will deliver the full benefit of the movement started more than two decades ago by Richard Stallman"

Sunday, June 10, 2007

what did the printing press change and how quickly did those changes happen?

that could be an important question if we are also interested in this question:
  • what will the computer change and how quickly will that change happen?
John Lienhard argues (what people said about books in 1498 ) that eventually the book ushered in scientific thinking. That it helped us to:
  • rediscover the writings and values of the classical Greeks
  • coupled Aristotle's observational science with illustrations (first, block print, later copperplate engravings)
  • transformed out epistemology from inwardly introspective to outwardly experimental, in part because the message embedded in the medium of books is that knowledge comes from outside ourselves
  • create new observational sciences such as botany, anatomy, geography and ethnography
  • led us away from deductive philosophies
So, the book ushered in a whole new way of thinking - scientific thinking

How quickly did those changes happen?

1450: printing press invented by Gutenberg ()
1454,5: Gutenberg Bible produced (Gutenberg Bible )
1456-mid 80s: classical and religious books were produced, essentially copies of profitable old manuscript books
1484: the first scientific illustrations appeared in books

So, it's reasonable to assume that the older generation has to die out before the new generation can find their own path. Although the older generation has it's share of creative visionaries they are marginalised by the majority.

Lienhard also warns that we have never been able to predict the future, that it is created by the younger generation. So what principles should the adults, who currently control things, follow, in shaping a future we cannot predict? Lienhard recommends:
  1. Seek out our own ignorance, that wisdom is having some awareness of our ignorance
  2. Good people make good machines. Bad people make bad machines.
  3. Don't try to plan the future, rather create a flexible present, so that the future can bend and find its own shape

The current older generation is embedded in print culture and blind to deficiencies in that culture, just like a fish swimming in water is not aware of the water

Greek philosophers who were there at the start were suspicious of print culture.
Socrates complained about writing. He felt it forced one to follow an argument rather than participate in it, and he disliked both its alienation and it persistence. He was unsettled by the idea that a manuscript travelled without the author, with whom no argument was possible. Worse, the author could die and never be talked away from the position taken in the writing.
- Alan Kay: Computer, Networks and Education. Scientific American September 1991
Marshall McLuhan argued that alphabetical and print culture elevated homogenous visual experience and relegated auditory and other sensuous complexity to the background and that this fostered a specialist outlook mentality(The Gutenberg Galaxy )

Print culture has produced amazing things. But we now have a younger generation who have grown up in new media. And we don't really understand what it all means.

The incunabula refers to the infancy of printing, before 1500. Cunae means cradle

We live in the age of a new cradle, the computer. But in Schools everything seems locked down and inflexible. Learn Office. Learn Applications. User Interface is a given. Block the read/write web. At a time when we should be encouraging the young to invent the future and usher in new ways of thinking and doing, the general educational School use of computers is becoming less flexible.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

17 years since the Tiananmen Square Massacre: The Tank Man

17 years since the tien an mein square massacre: the tank man (52 minutes)

His action symbolises the triumph of the human spirit, for freedom against tyranny

CISCO, Yahoo, Microsoft and Google are implicated in their complicity with ongoing repression and denial of human rights by the Chinese government.

Friday, June 08, 2007

a physics teacher begs for his subject back

Wellington Grey, a physics teachers in the UK, has written an open letter about the conversion of physics in his country from a science of precise measurement and calculation into "... something else, something nebulous and ill defined"

He goes onto give examples from the new syllabus of "the vague, the stupid, the political, and the non-science." It's an impassioned and well written letter:
The thing that attracts pupils to physics is its precision. Here, at last, is a discipline that gives real answers that apply to the physical world. But that precision is now gone. Calculations — the very soul of physics — are absent from the new GCSE. Physics is a subject unpolluted by a torrent of malleable words, but now everything must be described in words.

In this course, pupils debate topics like global warming and nuclear power. Debate drives science, but pupils do not learn meaningful information about the topics they debate. Scientific argument is based on quantifiable evidence. The person with the better evidence, not the better rhetoric or talking points, wins. But my pupils now discuss the benefits and drawbacks of nuclear power plants, without any real understanding of how they work or what radiation is.
- a physics teacher begs for his subject back
Also worth looking at Wellington's blog entry on this, Asking for your help, which has attracted some great comments.

This is a big topic. Science and maths education seems to be polarising between a back to basics movement and soft sociological reform, often ineffectual "discovery learning". I believe there is a third way, that traditional science education can be reformed and still remain real science. Student designed computer simulations using software such as Etoys / Squeak could play an important role here.

I've written in my old blog about the decline of science education in Australia, as flagged by astronaut Andy Thomas.

Joel Stanley

In February this year I heard Joel Stanley, a Computer Systems Engineering student, expertly present on the One Laptop Per Child Project at the South Australian Linux Society

Subsequently, I invited Joel to present to our Game Making cluster in Melbourne and he did a great job there too

Now Joel is off to MIT to work on the recharging units for the OLPC batteries

Here are some inspirational words from his blog:
I look forward to not only the technical challenges that this experience will provide, but also the Humanity aspects - a good friend once told me she almost chose to study medicine over engineering, because she wanted to help people who were disadvantaged around the world. However, she decided that through her Civil Engineering degree, she could “build bridges” for those who needed help. I would have never thought that my degree could enable me to do similar things; this is one of the fascinating aspects of the OLPC project
Joel needs to raise some more money for his trip. Have a read of his blog and please consider a donation to this very worthy cause.

Contact Joel directly at joel.stan (at) gmail (dot) com

Saturday, June 02, 2007

just the facts about online youth victimisation

moral panic is well intentioned but ineffective

the cornerstone belief that youth put themselves at risk by sharing their personal information (name, school etc.) on line is wrong

other related beliefs about internet pedophiles lying about their ages, identities and motives, tricking kids into disclosing personal information and then stalking, abducting and raping those children also turn out to be vastly exaggerated

what is the reality?
  • there are almost no victims under the age of 13
  • there is very little violence, abduction or deception involved in online sexual predatory behaviour
  • the offenders lure teens after weeks of conversation with them, they play on teens desire for romance, adventure, sexual information / understanding and they lure them to encounters that the teens know are sexual in nature, with people who are considerably older than themselves
Disclosing personal information on line does not put teens at risk. What puts teens in danger is being willing to talk about sex on line with strangers or having a pattern of multiple risky activities on the web like going to sex sites and chat rooms

So, to prevent these crimes is going to be a lot more awkward, messy and complicated than something as bland as telling teens not to publish their personal information on line

Rather than blaming the internet we are going to have to dig deeper into the real issues of relationships, parenting and social pressures that lead to teens putting themselves at risk. eg. school is boring, how do I get alcohol when I am underage (form a connection with an older person), workaholic parents, no physical places for teens to hangout and have fun, issues like that. It's a complex social issue not a simple issue with simple technological solutions.

just the facts about online youth victimisation (pdf)
download the video or audio of the same thing

Update: (June 3, 2007)
Targeting the Right Online Behaviors
Michele L. Ybarra, MPH, PhD; Kimberly J. Mitchell, PhD; David Finkelhor, PhD; Janis Wolak, JD
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161:138-145.

Objective To examine whether sharing personal information and talking with strangers online or other behaviors are associated with the greatest odds for online interpersonal victimization

Conclusions Talking with people known only online ("strangers") under some conditions is related to online interpersonal victimization, but sharing personal information is not. Engaging in a pattern of different kinds of online risky behaviors is more influential in explaining victimization than many specific behaviors alone. Pediatricians should help parents assess their child's online behaviors globally in addition to focusing on specific types of behaviors

Online Victimisation of Youth: 5 Years Later (pdf)

3. Focus on adolescent desires for love, romance, and companionship.

In addressing the teens who are vulnerable to sexual solicitations, moreover, it is not sufficient to simply emphasize the dangers of assault, abduction, and rape. Internet exploiters know many teens are susceptible to romantic fantasies, illusions of love, and desires for companionship. Unfortunately exploiters also know how to take advantage of this susceptibility when they form close online relationships with youth (Wolak, et al., 2004). Prevention messages about sexual solicitation need to address this vulnerability. Such messages need to remind teens about how adults who use the Internet to meet and form sexual relationships with young teens are often committing crimes and likely to get themselves and their partners in serious trouble. Youth need to understand how some adults “groom” youth to allay anxieties and encourage sexual activity. Moreover youth need to hear about how relationships between teens and adults they meet online are doomed to failure and disappointment if not worse, and, despite what teens may be imagining, are usually more about sex than enduring love