Sunday, November 30, 2008

SVG course outline

I've written an outline for a course in SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics)

Some of the points from the rationale:
  • students like working with images
  • animations are fairly easy to achieve (SMIL or Synchronised Multimedia Integration Language is part of SVG)
  • it offers a path into some core web techniques and standards: HTML, CSS, JavaScript and SVG
  • It's mathematical - both simple co-ordinate systems and more complex maths such as bezier curves. I like the fact that art can be done with maths
  • good free software is available, eg. inkscape
  • the small size (low bandwidth) and scalability of SVG graphics means they have a big future, eg. in the mobile phone industry
I've recently discovered some very interesting essays and SVG examples at this dev.opera page (view these pages using Opera browser)

How to do photoshop-like effects in SVG
Using animateMotion in SVG - develop a solar system animation
Playing SVG Darts
Animating your SVG - nice example of how to make an SVG clock

40th anniversary of the dynabook

Alan Kay, Chuck Thacker, Mary Lou Jepsen and Steve Hamm (moderator) at the Computer History Museum (one hour 45 minutes), 5th November, 2008

Alan Kay outlines the history from 1958 (John McCarthy) through the personalities and inventions to circa 1972

The Dynabook plan (not yet realised):
  1. What are powerful ideas?
  2. How can they be learned with the aid of computing media?
  3. Can this work with human mentors?
  4. Can it work with computing mentors?
Alan Kay at 1:15
Points 1, 2 and 3 above have been solved partially but not yet point 4. Hence, there is a problem in deploying to the third world, since the teachers are not there in sufficient quantity or quality

"The person who only knows his own generation remains forever a child"
- Cicero

scratch license disappointment

If there could be a synergy between free software and the best constructionist software then that would be so much better for the poorest children of the world ...

Unfortunately, the Scratch team at MIT Media Lab does not appear to support that. Very unfortunate because Scratch is currently the best available beginners constructionist software IMHO ... and Mitch Resnick is a great populariser of Scratch and has interesting theoretical ideas about learning (kindergarten metaphor, low floor wide walls)

However, I recently discovered (through Tom Hoffman), that the Scratch license has been changed from free to non commercial

The new license (1.3.1) says:
"Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and accompanying documentation and media files (the "Software") to distribute the Software for non-commercial purposes, including the right to use, copy, publish, or distribute copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so ..."
[[update (2nd December 2008): The Scratch binary license has been changed to allow commercial use]]

The previous license said (wording obtained from the folder containing my old copy of Scratch):
"Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and accompanying documentation and media files (the "Software"), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so ..."
The right to modify Scratch has been taken out.

[[update (2nd December 2008): There are two Scratch licenses, one for the binary and another for the source. The source code license does allow modification. See comment by Mitch Resnick in response to this blog]]

This will effect the distribution of Scratch on Sugar, the software originally developed for the OLPC and now being ported to other platforms, to Debian at least and other Linux distributions. See Debian Bug report #471927

Tom Hoffman wrote in his blog on October 14th:
"Since it is un-free software it cannot be put in Debian, Ubuntu, Red Hat, or any other free software distribution. Can it be shipped on the XO? This license significantly restricts the distribution of Scratch to children around the world, and to what benefit?"
I posted my query to the Scratch forum and received this reply from Andres Monroy-Hernandez of the Scratch Team at the MIT Media Lab:
There has been some discussion in the Scratch Team about this. Overall our concern is to avoid forks. In general forks are good because bring diversity but since Scratch is a tool for beginners we're worried about having multiple versions out there. This happened a little bit with Scratch's predecessor LOGO, there were a lot of versions, some of them incompatible.

I am an Ubuntu user and I appreciate the choices I have for every element of the OS, but I do spend hours trying to figure out between apt-get and aptitute, Compiz vs no compiz, KDE vs Gnome vs Xfce, etc, etc. In some ways, Ubuntu has been able to succeed by providing something that works out of the box without forcing users to choose.

I think we are going to change the license of the binary distribution to allow for commercial use but we're uncertain about the source. What do you think about forking in Scratch?
This issue was then discussed on the IAEP (Its an education project) list and here are some of the responses:

Tom Hoffman:
Scratch is, or should be a trademark. Only MIT, or people they give permission to, can use it. Anyone else can fork their code, but they can't call it Scratch without permission. An example of this is from the Apache License:

6. Trademarks. This License does not grant permission to use the trade names, trademarks, service marks, or product names of the Licensor, except as required for the reasonable and customary use in describing the origin of the Work and reproducing the content of the NOTICE file.

Mozilla has very strict terms for trademark use -- so much so that it is called Iceweasel in Debian:

I suspect Scratch would want to find some language which says "you may only call this Scratch if you have not modified the source." Ultimately, IANAL, and I don't know *exactly* how to do it, but it is in this ballpark.
I'd like to see the widest possible distribution of the current or up-to-date version of Scratch to the children of the world. This includes distribution through the OLPC and Sugar (which are no longer the same thing and Sugar is now being ported to various platforms). From my understanding this will not happen if you keep the new non commercial license since some Linux distributions will not include Scratch under that license. Ironic voice: The Scratch team has forked Scratch by changing the license.

I don't follow why Scratch is special because it is for beginners.

It also seems to me that FLOSS has a far bigger and more influential footprint now than when Seymour Papert / LCSI went commercial with LogoWriter / MicroWorlds and you need to take that into consideration. Thanks, of course, to the hard work of FLOSS advocates

Comparison with LOGO: Well, the versions of LOGO that are going out on OLPC / Sugar are Turtle Art (cut down, developed by Brian Silverman) and Brian Harvey's logo (powerful but non intuitive user interface last time I saw it). It's the Open Source versions which will go out to the poorest children of the world. In that sense it's very fortunate that there were forks in logo, that the commercial versions were not the only ones.

I love logo and used it for over a decade as a school teacher, mainly LogoWriter, then MicroWorlds, ie. commercial versions. Eventually I stopped using Logo because it wasn't free and another free (but not open source) alternative came along (Game Maker) which had a great UI and a lot of appeal for many students (but not as good in terms of its deep educational philosophy). But now I have stopped using GameMaker, partly because it went commercial, and now use Scratch (which I see as a version of Logo and has the best UI yet) as my main introduction to visual programming for students. Teachers will chop and change like I have. In general they are committed to easy to use software and are not tuned in to complex legal arguments about licensing and its implications.

However, as a teacher I would like to be able to use the latest version of Scratch in Australia and use the same version if I decided to travel to a developing country to work on the OLPC project. Another hypothetical: It would also be great if African kids in refugee camps working with XO's were working on the latest version of Scratch before they came to Australia.

More and more people, teachers and youth, are using Open Source and nderstanding the politics of Open Source more. By changing the license as you have you diminish the enthusiasm of some of those people for Scratch. People chose software for a variety of reasons. The perception of support for freedom being one of those reasons.
Pamela Jones:
If you are trying to avoid forks, why would you want to allow commercial? That inevitably results in forks, with some code going dark.

Have you thought about LGPL? It allows commercial entities to use the code without worry while protecting the codebase.

I would strongly suggest you speak to Software Freedom Law Center. This is exactly what they do. If you want an MIT-style license, they can help you with this too. It's ultimately up to you, but doing a license without a lawyer never works.
This was weeks ago now and the response from the Scratch team is ... silence

Tom Hoffman has been arguing for a while now on his blog that MIT does not lead when it comes to software license issues. For example, this post about the StarLogo TNG License (October 17, 2007):
That MIT would choose such a license is not surprising. The failure of US universities to not only not lead in this area (particularly wrt K-12 ed-tech), but to not follow the commercial or increasingly governmental sectors is unfortunately quite evident. Fine. What they do with their IP is their business. However, this project is funded by an National Science Foundation grant. I don't understand why the NSF allows grantees to limit the distribution of software written with public funds in this way. It is a waste of my tax dollars.
What a pity. If there could be a synergy between free software and the best constructionist software then that would be so much better for the poorest children of the world ...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Defending Scoundrels

Defending Scoundrels

I've added Dale Clapperton, internet freedom fighter, to my blog roll. Dale has some very funny videos on his blog as well as expert commentary on the law and internet censorship.

Check out:
What if the Matrix ran on 'doze (very funny anti windows, pro linux, spoof)

Hitler on 'clean feed' and ADSL2 in Tasmania
(politically incorrect, bad language and totally hilarious)

do you really want to be free?

Clive Hamilton and I: Getting Personal about Sex, Lies, Hate and Censorship by Syd Walker

Some background:
The current push to censor the internet in Australia was initiated by secular intellectuals Clive Hamilton and Michael Flood in 2003. The EFA site has the timeline and the analysis. A recent article by Kerry Miller, initially at StrangeTimes and reprinted at ON LINE Opinion argues that the Labour Party (so called progressives) is far worse than the Liberals (so called conservatives) on this issue.

I see this as part of a more general pattern where the "caring parties" advocate policies which end up destroying our freedom and initiative - net nannies, risk aversion, artificial inclusion, welfare dependency, cultural relativism (the freedom of other cultures to suppress women, practice honour killings, genital mutilation etc.), the State as big brother who will keep an eye on you under the guise of protecting you. The caring collectivist parties like the Australian Labour Party are far more likely to support these sorts of policies than the parties that are more ideologically aligned with the notion of individual liberty.

In this case of internet censorship it's good to see The Greens and the Liberals are opposed to our current Labour Party government.

I've been contributing to the comment thread of this article at On LINE Opinion.

As part of my research I came across the above article by Syd Walker. I think this article is important because it directly answers and refutes the secular moral argument put by Clive Hamilton.

In the ON LINE Opinion comments some contributors have been critical of the focus on Clive Hamilton. Q&A described it as "attacking the messenger", dickie saw it as an unfair head butt of Clive and Steel said the problem was not Clive but religious lobbyists

Syd Walker's article responds to those views.

Firstly, he points out that the Minister (Conroy) is pretty much incompetent and relied on Clive Hamilton to put the secular argument for censorship on "Australian Talks", ABC Radio Talkback. If you think I'm being unfair on Conroy then check out the letters by Mark Newton which demonstrate beyond question his incompetence

Religious lobbyists will mainly appeal to religious people. The pro-censorship camp needs a secular advocate. Given the incompetence of the Minister that person is Clive Hamilton, along with his co-author Michael Flood

Syd Walker repeats Clive's most persuasive arguments and responds effectively to them. Clive's main argument is this:
“What’s so special about the internet? All but the most unthinking libertarians accept censorship laws that limit sexual content in film, television, radio, books and magazines. Yet the hysterical response from the internet industry and libertarian commentators to the Government’s proposal to require ISPs to filter heavy-duty porn shows how the internet has become fetishised.”
Syd's response is along these lines:

The world wide web is without precedent. The analogy with most other media does not hold up. If you are going to make an analogy then the best one would be the postal service. Censoring the WWW is more like censoring a public mail service. Big Media is controlled by a handful of people. The web is grassroots information liberation. Any censorship means that some of the vast array of web pigeon holes may be blocked without us knowing what is being blocked. This directly threatens the most significant information liberation experiment in the history of humans.

It is well known that any attempt to block part of the web will also have "unintended consequences" (which the advocates of censorship are aware of so they are not really unintended) of blocking other parts as well. We don't know what is being blocked until the blocked list leaks, which inevitably it will as Mark Newton has demonstrated. A similar list in Finland was found to contain an anti-censorship site.

Also Syd's section about the impossibility of defining a hate site is very good - not as an exposure of Clive's position (CH does not support censorship of such sites) but as an exposure of Clive's thinking (for unthinkingly suggesting that such a category is definable)

The core issue is this: Do we dare to be free? Being free does mean being exposed to unsavoury things. Do we as adults want some other adults to protect us from those unsavoury things, without even full knowledge of what they are. That is the core issue and Syd Walker's article articulates that core issue at length.

If another adult is going to protect me from unsavoury things then I want to know why that adult feels that he or she is superior to me? Why does that adult feel that he/she can handle freedom but I can't?

btw I disagree with Syd about many of his beliefs expressed in that article - that reinforces the central point that I support his right to propagate those beliefs, as he does mine.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mark Newton applies the blowtorch

Mark Newton is angry and he isn't going to win any diplomacy awards. But he sure knows what he it talking about when it comes to the Australian Labour Party's proposal for mandatory internet censorship at ISP level. He applies real heat to the government because he is expert, determined and they can't answer his comprehensive critique.

Mark Newton's letter, without the footnotes, see the full letter (pdf) at the EFA (Electronic Frontiers Australia) site (there is also a link to Mark's earlier letter there):

17 November 2008
The Hon. Kate Ellis, MP
Minister for Youth and Sport
161a Main North Road
Nailsworth SA 5083

Dear Ms. Ellis,
Thank you for extending the opportunity for me to meet with you on November 3rd 2008 to discuss the ALP’s moves towards implementing a national Internet censorship scheme.

Sincere apologies if you think I came on a bit strong. I had been advised that I had only 20 minutes, and I had a lot of territory to cover, and you kept me busy by providing more inaccuracies which required corrections which added even more time pressure. I hope I managed to get my message across, and I intend to use this letter to reinforce the key points.

One aspect of our discussion which became abundantly clear during the meeting was that your party has lied to you. Many of the responses you raised in the meeting are the same responses which are found in the standard “form letter” replies which other Australian electors have received from their ALP local members across Australia. It seems obvious to me that your party has distributed some kind of briefing pack to all members of the Parliamentary Labor Party, and that that briefing pack is rife with errors and misleading statements. For example:
  • You asserted that the Government is only interested in banning material which is already illegal offline; and
  • I spent significant time debunking your assertion that other countries have implemented systems similar to the ALP’s proposal.
Both of those assertions are factually baseless. Even Minister Conroy has backtracked on them in recent days, in response to questions in Senate Question Time from Western Australian Senator Scott Ludlam, which accused the Minister of making false and misleading statements in Senate Estimates on October 20th and enquired whether the Minister would be issuing a retraction1. The Minister followed up on November 13th 2008 with a clarification2 which backtracked on his previous assertions by distinguishing his (and your) International examples from the ALP’s proposals. I feel confident that if we had had our meeting today rather than two weeks ago you would have said different things about the ALP’s proposals, in response to Senator Conroy shifting the ground beneath your feet, and I have sympathy for the difficult position he has placed you in by embarrasing you with misleading, inaccurate and incomplete information.

It is further interesting to note that the Minister has now added the term “unwanted” to his rhetoric, after having had it pointed out that the ACMA blacklist he keeps waving about is not actually a list of “illegal” material3 4. I trust you will agree that his replacement term, “illegal and unwanted,” reinforces community concerns about the scope of the ALP’s proposal, especially given that the Minister has refused to clarify what, exactly, the new term means, and who gets to decide what is “unwanted.”

I understand that you are a mere cog in a larger Party machine, but I would guess that you would be professionally (if not personally) offended by the inaccurate information which your Party has provided to you, and which you are in turn providing to your constituents. Senator Conroy’s repeated inaccurate and misleading assertions have painted him in a very bad light, and you might perhaps do well to consider whether repeating his Ministry’s discredited rhetoric is likely to damage your own reputation.

During our meeting, I outlined several points against the adoption of the ALP’s policy. I will briefly address each point below, and request that you, in turn, address each point in your response.

The Government has claimed that the purpose of the policy is to protect children5.

As I discussed in my previous letter, Australian parents appear to be sufficiently skillful that they do not require this form of Government assistance to protect their children. In my recent ABC Opinion piece6, I posed the question to the Government, “Do you honestly believe that Australian parents are so uniquely incompetent that we, unlike literally every other Western democracy on the planet, need to go down the ALP’s proposed path to protect our children? After spending 30 years proving that our nation can successfully raise children in an environment of ubiquitous access to uncensored online services, are you able to explain how profoundly Australian parents must have failed to justify this radical proposal?”

They were not rhetorical questions. I believe the Australian public deserves to have them answered. Please answer them.

Polls conducted by the Channel 7 Sunrise programme7, the Courier Mail8, and Derryn Hinch’s show on 3AW9 have all shown more than 80% opposition to this proposal. While these are not scientific polls, I expect you will agree that anything over 80% is as close to unanimous as any poll is ever likely to produce, and that it’s difficult to imagine any other Government issue which unites so many differing individuals and
community groups.

A worthy demonstration of the lack of public desire for filtered Internet connectivity was provided by Mr. Steve Dalby of iiNet on MMM’s “Spoonman” show10 when he asserted that iiNet’s website has been offering free filtering software for four years and zero customers have downloaded it.

It is my observation that the Government has identified an alleged problem then committed itself 100% behind the first, dumbest solution that popped into its head. In all seriousness, is the Government’s vision so stunted that it believes that this policy is the absolute best way to spend $44m to secure a child protection outcome? What happened to the “Government of New Ideas?”

Interviews11 with senior executives at three of Australia’s largest ISPs have ridiculed the ALP proposal on practicality grounds. Simon Hackett, MD of Internode, helpfully pointed out that “... most families diagnose their computer problems by getting their children to fix them. So their children will know about anonymous proxies, they will work around this stuff. So it’s not that it’s not a problem to solve, but you can’t make it a technical game, because the very people you’re trying to protect are smarter than you.”

The Sydney Morning Herald has reported12 that iiNet CEO Michael Malone has publicly committed his company to provide “... hard numbers demonstrating how stupid it [the ALP proposal] is.” He has described Senator Conroy as “... the worst Communications Minister we’ve had in the 15 years since the [internet] industry has existed.”

Since the implications of this policy came to light, the Internet community in Australia has been working hard on free and effective circumvention methods13. Websites devoted to bypassing mandatory ISP censorship have been erected, and the ALP’s policy has been rendered useless before it has even been implemented. It is safe to say that everyone who is inconvenienced by the ALP’s censorship system will routinely bypass it at will.

The Government claims to have committed $44m to its “clean feed” proposal. However, the Minister has not been drawn on whether the money remains available in the wake of budget “refactoring” due to the financial crash; and even if it is available, he has not provided a breakdown of how much would be available for ISP compensation and how much would be swallowed up by the ACMA bureaucracy to run the scheme.

My personal direct experience is that it will cost in excess of $2m in the first year to fit-out an ISP which provides service to 2% of the Australian market, with a 50% premium in subsequent years for ongoing licensing fees. With conservative allowances for network growth, that easily turns the five year process into a $500m scheme, with the Government providing less than a drop in the ocean, leaving the remainder to be provided to the Industry by ISP customers in the form of higher ISP bills.

In the current financial environment, imposing a half billion dollar mandate on ISPs to provide an unwanted solution to a nonexistent problem is disgraceful. Doing so with the full knowledge that it won’t work is lunacy.

Despite Mr. Conroy’s repeated misleading statements about the infallibility of the ACMA blacklist, the current scheme is already implemented poorly. According to the ACMA “Report on the Co-regulatory Scheme for Internet Content Regulation”14 covering the first six years of the scheme, less than half of the URLs gathered onto the Prohibited Content list by the ACMA were arguably illegal material.

Note that since the Act does not require the ACMA to seek a classification decision from the OFLC before adding overseas content to the blacklist, this really is a case of one public servant’s personal discretion deciding whether a content item should be banned in Australia, with no mechanism for notification or appeal. In your opinion, does that represent good governance? Shouldn’t we expect better? As I asked in my first letter to you, is it wise to place the same calibre of bureaucrat who decided Mohammad Haneef was a terrorist suspect or that Bill Henson was a pornographer in charge of a secret, unaccountable blacklist? During our meeting you scoffed, but that really is what we’re talking about here.

If we suspend disbelief for long enough to accept that the scheme will be administered by perfect public servants with perfect discretion and perfect oversight, then we would clearly end up with a hypothetical blacklist containing only illegal material.

The Government would then require that blacklist to be distributed to several thousand employees at several hundred ISPs, whereupon it will certainly leak. I am prepared to accept debate about how long it will take to leak, but the fact that it will leak is beyond question.

As I pointed out in my original letter to you, once it leaks it will be available to every Internet-connected pervert on the planet, and any Australian perverts who avail themselves of circumvention methods. With any perceived positives accompanying the scheme undermined by the fact that it won’t work, the negatives will be all we have left. Is increased world-wide child abuse an acceptable price that you, personally, are prepared to pay for the implementation of this policy?

During our meeting, you asked whether there were any policy alternatives which you could take to Mr. Conroy as a constructive addition to the criticisms contained herein.

I pointed out that the Internet Industry Association (IIA) already runs a “Family Friendly ISP” programme15, which provides accreditation to ISPs which conform to the programme’s Family Friendly ISP policy. These ISPs offer a variety of services, including “clean feeds,” to members of the public who desire them.

It is worth noting that these ISPs’ services tend to be more expensive than “traditional” ISPs’ services16, and that extra expense may represent an obstacle to families acquiring their services. My recommendation during our meeting was that the Government should find a way to encourage and promote those kinds of companies, perhaps using the $44m in “clean feed” funding to assist existing “clean feed” ISPs with advertising.

On November 10th 2008, the System Administrators’ Guild of Australia (SAGE-AU) made an alternative proposal, suggesting that the Government’s budgeted $44m could be redirected to accredited “Family Friendly ISPs” by means of a grant programme modeled on the Australian Broadband Guarantee, “... wherein a participating ISP is subsidised for each subscriber.”17 The Guild also pointed out that a side effect of the Government’s current proposal would be to destroy existing family-friendly ISPs by “commoditizing” their industry niche, thereby punishing the companies who have already done the most to support the aims of the Government’s policy, and their alternative proposal cures that deficiency. The IIA and the civil liberties community have supported SAGE-AU’s proposal, and it seems to me that it would be an honourable and controversy-free way for the Government to extricate itself from this mess.

The fact that Government representatives keep making wildly inaccurate statements about their Internet censorship proposal makes it abundantly clear that the ALP did not think this policy through before adopting it. Other organizations and individuals have clearly applied a lot more thought to these matters than anyone in the Government ever has, and my strong recommendation is that the Government should listen to them.

The final point in our meeting concerned Mr. Conroy’s inappropriate behaviour towards me, the IIA and my employer.

I must admit to being slightly stunned by your claimed unawareness of this conduct, because I had drawn your attention to it on the cover sheet of the faxed copy of my letter, which was sitting on the table in front of you even as you denied any knowledge of it.

It has been widely reported18 that during the week of the 24th of October 2008 Senator Conroy’s Chief Political Adviser, Ms. Belinda Dennett, emailed a board member at the IIA to express “... serious concern that an IIA member would be sending [my criticisms]...” and labeling the expression of my political views as “... irresponsible behaviour.” The email message was accompanied by a phone call demanding that it be passed on to the owner and Managing Director of the company which employs me.

It was grossly inappropriate for the Minister to use the IIA as a tool to place pressure on my employer over my personal political views. That reprehensible style of conduct is beneath the dignity of a Minister of the Commonwealth, and cheapens the professionalism of Mr. Rudd’s entire front bench.

As a fellow member of that front bench, and one of Mr. Conroy’s colleagues in the party room, your choices are to either publicly distance yourself from his outrageous behaviour, or, through your silence, indicate your acceptance of his excesses. If you have any integrity you will speak out against him, but if you do not then Australians will know exactly where you stand.

Regardless of your personal judgement on the matter, I require you to convey to the Minister my demand for a written apology for his unprofessional and inappropriate conduct, and for the conduct of his subordinate Political Advisor.

I also ask that you communicate the matter to the Prime Minister, Mr. Rudd, and convey my belief that if Broadband was half as important as he said it was before the last election perhaps it would be a good idea for him to put a grown-up in charge of the Broadband Department.

In my previous letter, I stipulated that there were a great many serious, well-considered, thoughtful and well argued reasons against the Government’s Internet censorship policy. I also expressed disappointment at the fact that we have been debating this issue for over a year and none of those issues have been addressed by the Labor Government in general, or Mr. Conroy in particular.

By the time you read this letter, another month will have passed since you took receipt of my original letter. And, despite the increasing public profile that this issue has been receiving, the Labor Government in general, and Mr. Conroy in particular, still refuse to address any of these concerns on their merits.

This is an appalling display of basic governance skills, and is inconsistent with Mr. Rudd’s oft-repeated claim to be running “a Government for all Australians.”

The Minister’s continuing poor conduct over this issue does little to inspire confidence that any of these criticisms will ever be addressed rationally. In addition to the accusations of unprofessionalism I have made above, Mr. Conroy still misleads (3 Ibid.), omits19, attacks (18 Ibid.), and accuses his opponents of supporting child molesters20. These degenerate behaviours cast a pall over the Rudd Government’s approach to the Internet, highlighting poor judgement on Mr. Rudd’s part in selecting Mr. Conroy to represent him him in these matters.

In conclusion, I reiterate and expand the requirements I stated in my first letter. I require detailed responses to the criticisms contained herein, prepared with at least as much care and research as I’ve invested in preparing the criticisms in the first place. I require you to represent my interests as a constituent and one of this policy’s stakeholders during party room deliberations on the matter. I require you to convey to Mr. Conroy my demand for a written apology for his unprofessional conduct; and for your own public condemnation of same. And I request and require that you privately approach the Prime Minister, Mr. Rudd, with my call for Mr. Conroy’s resignation.

Sincerely yours,

Mark Newton

Thursday, November 27, 2008

first use of moodle

I've only just started to use moodle. The whole idea of a "learning management system" didn't appeal to my contrarian attitudes. I often find that "educational systems" are not best for education and where possible I prefer to swim in the big ocean rather than a regulated pool

However, moodle has become very popular (and is now being advocated by some members of SugarLabs) so I decided to check it out.

It's always hard to figure out where to start with a new system and moodle has lots of features

After playing with the system itself, this teacher documentation page turned out to be a good starting point.

There are some good teaching ideas in there which enable teachers to digitally enhance the sort of things that they already do in classes. This section about Creative Glossary Practices appealed to me:
Instead of creating a glossary on your own, why not have the students create them as they encounter unfamiliar terms? A collaborative glossary can serve as a focal point for collaboration in a course ...

When students are responsible for creating the definitions, they are much more likely to remember the word and the correct definition. Engaging in the process of learning, debating, and refining a glossary can go a long way toward helping students begin using new terms ...
I thought this was a great idea - not too difficult to implement, one which would appeal to the students and which had a good chance to enhance the learning of something which in more traditional teacher directed classroom settings can be dull

In setting this up I found that moodle has Glossary activity features such as:
  • Duplicate entries allowed
  • Allow comments on entries
  • Ability to grade entries
  • Able to attach images which are shown inline (using Encyclopedia format)
  • Auto linking so that words in the glossary are highlighted when used elsewhere, such as in Forums
This is my first activity using moodle with students. We started today with creating a Glossary of terms to do with the Human Body, my Year 8 Science class. The students enjoyed it, being able to type in their own meanings and to see the meanings that other students were entering. I'm off to a good start with moodle.

What I am doing does fit with the moodle philosophy page which defines (extracts only):
Constructivism - people actively construct new knowledge
Constructionism - learning is particularly effective when constructing something for others to experience
Social constructivism - extends constructivism into social settings, wherein groups construct knowledge for one another

I felt these terms had real meaning in the context of the activity I chose to begin with - that this section of the teacher documentation page reflected a real understanding of these concepts.

Friday, November 21, 2008

disability access to laptops is also a hardware design issue

Janet told me that David Wallace wanted to check out something on the XO. "Who is David Wallace?". I was informed he was a quadriplegic and blogger. Here is David's About Me.

Before the visit I read an earlier blog David had written about how his hopes for disability access to laptops had been raised on using an early model of the XO: Lifekludger with the OLPC

But I didn't really begin to understand the issues David was raising until I visited him at his home and he explained it to me

The main issue is touch, more specifically touch with skin, that nearly all laptops / mobile devices are not catering for people who can't touch a touch pad or a screen with their finger

I had no idea. That is, no idea of the requirement of skin to make a touchpad respond. With a finger the pointer moves easily. But when I scrapped with the back of a pen over the touch pad and stylus area nothing at all happened. The things we don't notice.

David wanted to check out the stylus function but unfortunately stylus development seems to have been discontinued. A phone call to Joel confirmed that. The picture below shows what was intended initially but as I say the stylus development has been discontinued.

Once again I had no idea about the importance of the design of hardware, not just software, for people without the ability to touch with the skin. I've since read a few of David's blogs and will try to summarise some of the key points below:
  • need for an input pad that doesn't require using a finger, a dual touch pad that responds to both finger and stylus
  • need for a track-point pointing device on the XO
  • need for a key-modifier program to hold the shift, alt, fn keys while hitting another key (’sticky-key’ software that emulates two or more finger presses on a keyboard)
  • need for a push for accessibility guidelines or standards in hardware design
  • Voice recognition software thats good for dictation may not be great for software control, and vice versa
  • plugging in a trackball to a laptop defeats the purpose of the compact, portable nature of a laptop
  • attempts have been made to develop "touch pencils" but they have not been successful
Read these blogs by David Wallace for more detail:
Lifekludger with the OLPC
The Touch Barrier
Revisiting touch on the OLPC XO laptop and hardware access design

Sunday, November 16, 2008

chrome comic

The google chrome comic (38 pp) is pretty interesting, from various perspectives, mainly adapting the browser to the new world of web applications, moving on from a static web page paradigm
  • improved browser stability through multiple processes
  • faster through better memory control
  • more sophisticated use of JavaScript (virtual machine, better garbage collection)
  • better security from malware and phishing using sandboxing
  • clean, efficient UI (streamlined search features)
  • open source
The comic explores these issues in considerable detail

In a matter of days I've gone from using one browser (Firefox) to four (Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari)

Firefox - best for Add-ons
Chrome - best promotion
Opera - best for SVG and probably CSS
Safari - best for The Lively Kernel

Saturday, November 15, 2008

the lively kernel

The web could be different. It started with structure (HTML) and then progressively new things have been added (CSS, DOM, XML, JavaScript) to make it more dynamic.

Sun Labs Lively Kernel

You need to download safari browser(now available for Windows too) to explore this. Then click the "enter lively kernel" tab at the above site.
"Lively Kernel is alive on the web, meaning that you do not download it or install it"
It's all done with JavaScript and SVG. It demonstrates that browsers will behave very differently in the future - bypassing the HTML, CSS, DOM etc and using JavaScript to develop direct visual drag and drop web programming

It's fairly amazing but needs more development. Not all of the commands work on my keyboard, by the look of it you need a Mac

Dan Ingalls explains The Lively Kernel on this You Tube presentation:

It's a long video but if you watch the first 10 minutes you'll get the idea.

You can move objects around on the screen by dragging, copy objects, edit objects, compose objects (drop one object on top of another and they stick together), scale objects, rotate objects, resize, write scripts, objects can inherit behaviour from other objects, etc.

Fun is one goal of this project

Thanks, Jecel

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stop Internet Censorship in Australia

Take one

NO CLEAN FEED: Stop Internet Censorship in Australia

Electronic Frontiers Australia has done a pretty good job of clearly and objectively summarising the state of play of the great australian ISP level censorship battle, under these headings:
  • What is the Government's Plan
  • What do we know so far?
  • What we don't know is just as important
  • There are technical issues
  • There are free-speech concerns
  • The Clean Feed is bad policy
  • Informative footnotes

Take two

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam asked Senator Conroy (our Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) to explain why he had made an incorrect statement that Sweden, the UK, Canada and New Zealand had similar filtering systems to the one being proposed by him for Australia, pointing out that the systems are not mandatory in those countries. This question was on notice so Conroy had time beforehand to prepare his answer. Conroy read a prepared answer to the House but did not answer the point made by Ludlam about mandatory filtering. Scott Ludlam then followed up with four more questions, which Conroy declined to answer at that time.

Check out this exchange for yourself to evaluate the competence of our Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy:

Thanks to Joel for this information, more here

Monday, November 10, 2008

ignorance and falsehood in australia's internet censorship battle

Filter advocates need to check their facts

Mark Newton exposes some howlers from advocates of Australian Internet censorship at ISP level

(1) No one has advanced a valid argument as to why ISP level filtering is superior to PC level filtering

A former Victorian Family First candidate, Anh Nguyen, suggested that there was a different technology involved in filtering at the PC level compared with the ISP level. Well, according to Mark, who is an expert, there is no real difference. Except that the ISP version will slow everything down and make it harder for parents to set home filters at levels they want

(2) Senator Conroy (our Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) has recently claimed that Sweden, the UK, Canada and New Zealand have already implemented something like what he is suggesting.

This is simply false (read the link for details). Rather, the countries which have introduced government-imposed internet censorship are nations which place more emphasis on opinion suppression than internet access, such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran

australia's digital counter-revolution

Sunday, November 09, 2008

more ice

Sea Ice Growing at Fastest Pace on Record

Click on the image for a larger view. The red line shows that recently sea ice has been growing rapidly in the Arctic and is now back to an average amount.

Perhaps this is connected to an earlier report of abnormal sunspot activity causing cooling

Damn weather, it's always been hard to predict. I'll think about this report next time I see some dramatic footage of an ice shelf crashing into the ocean. I suppose it's difficult for the media to organise a dramatic video of ice freezing. Nothing is proven but skepticism and openness to information which contradicts the global warming hypothesis still seems important to me.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Pearson on Obama's domestic policy challenges

Noel Pearson has this ability to identify the key issues, in this case, the domestic policy issues facing Obama in very challenging times:
Beyond the question of race, there are three domestic policy agendas that confront the US in this time of crisis, to which Obama must forge solutions: the problem of the American underclasses; the problem of the American working poor; and the need for a national gain-sharing deal between those who take the upside and those who wear the downside of globalisation.
- Man with his work cut out
Read the whole thing for Pearson's elaboration of these three domestic policy issues

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

inspired by SVG

SVG = Scalable Vector Graphics

In the last couple of weeks I've spent some time (re) reading David Eisenberg's book SVG Essentials, writing SVG markup, writing SVG tutorials and ranting to various teachers and students that we should be doing more of this in school.

I've put my case that it's rather reasonable that I be able to teach with a standards compliant browser (meaning Opera) and why not an open source vector graphics editor as well --> inkscape

As an interim workaround I've put the USB version of Opera (this is a separate site to the official Opera site) on the USB keys that I'm also using to boot Sugar, so at last my students can see what an SVG animation looks like
  • Tutorials are on the xo-whs wiki SVG page (quite a lot there, more to come)
  • SVG display is on my website SVG page - but get Opera first, otherwise you will see error message or you won't see the animations or if you use IE you won't see anything much at all
Janet, who has considerably more artistic ability than me has also contributed some nice graphics, drawn using inkscape. Thanks Janet

So, why am I inspired by SVG?

It appeals to my sense of economy, that graphics can be represented by algorithms, which makes them small and elegant.

It appeals to my sense that web standards are important and this is an area in which MS falls down not just a little bit but totally. I became aware of this a few years ago by reading Jeffrey Zelman on web standards, the hard struggle to implement CSS, and also readingTim Berners-Lee on the history of the web.

It's mathematical - both simple co-ordinate systems and more complex maths such as bezier curves. I like the fact that art can be done with maths. So are I've only just scratched the surface of SMIL, Synchronised Multimedia Programming Integration Language, but I can see more potential there.

My students have been receptive and patient and in due course I hope to publish some of their pics of weird cats.

interviewed by Phil and Belinda

Recently, Phil and Belinda, two Flinders University education students visited my year 10 class, interacted with the students and after lesson interviewed me. It was for a project for a Digital Media course run by Trudy Sweeney who is also currently President of the Computers in Education Group of South Australia (CEGSA)

The questions were about Scratch, learning environments, etoys and the OLPC. The interview goes for about 30 minutes and is available as an mp3 on this page (also available as smaller question length segments)

Belinda and Phil's whole project about Squeak, Scratch and Etoys is available here

I was impressed by Belinda's ideas for using Scratch to teach Japanese and Phil's expert linux knowledge - and the fact that he went to an anti digital censorship campaign back in the Senator Harradine moral crusade days when he (Phil) was 15 yo! (unfortunately we now have new moral crusaders pushing the same barrow today)