Tuesday, November 27, 2007

1 minute on OLPC

Read this WSJ analysis on the One Laptop Per Child initiative
Read this Hardware comparison of the OLPC and the Asus Eee PC

A lot of smart people worked on the OLPC, but is it enough? Does it have a life span? Is it too clever?

Getting in the hardware business is always tempting -- building a ecosystem where you can control the platform. Make something that is in a box, you can hold in your hands. Wouldn't it make more sense to just open source the whole damn thing? Let anybody make them?

I think it is instructive to consider the role of conventional technology -- and how the cost of the mundane drops. $19.99 DVD players, for instance. Consider the complexity of a mechanism that uses a laser to decode bits of data on a disk, convert it back into video and audio, and throw in a modest amount of interactivity.

This is a model that really blows things apart. The hardware becomes secondary to the content. This is what has to happen with OLPC. The hardware has to cease to matter. The operating system and it's core functionality should run on almost anything that people have lying around, or are willing to make is the quantities of a $19.99 DVD player.

I don't really agree completely with the WSJ because of this. I do think OLPC will not be the specific device that fuels a revolution, but it will fuel something -- the next EEE PC will probably cost half of what it costs now - using conventional, off the shelf technology. It will run whatever OS someone wants. Including OLPC. That is a good thing.

The goal should not be to build little green laptops, but to make computing like that $19.99 DVD player.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Microsoft Box

This posting in Engadget
gave me a moment of pause. The Microsoft UMPC platform has only been around for a couple of years, but it seems that it never really caught on, and while companies are continuing to come out with new versions, that this device has dropped to over half of what one cost new in less than a year tells me that they simply aren't selling. It is a problematic device to be sure, something that Microsoft has concocted that is still in search of a market.

I think this is another example of imagined functionality. What I mean by this is that we imagine times where technology would be useful, but in reality that extra functionality is never really utilized. 4x4 SUV's in Florida, for instance -- there are only a small percentage of people that need that functionality in a state where it never snows. This device of course runs Windows apps, but none of these applications are optimized for a tablet experience. They use a 30 year old desktop metaphor that severly compromises user experience. We are stuck with an on-screen keyboard that cripples our ability to type as easily as a laptop. The small screen necessitates squinting at times, because the software that will run on these devices is designed for larger screens. Of course, we can hook it to a monitor or projector to get a bigger display, but with $400.00 solid state laptops, what is the advantage of this device? We can imagine all the ways we *could* use this device, but I doubt anyone here actually has put down cold, hard cash on one. That is because at the end of the day it doesn't really replace things we already have or expand opportunities. I have used my iPhone to check pricing and reviews on an item while shopping at Target. I can't see myself doing the same with this gizmo.

Microsoft is stuck in a box, and they simply can't get out. They take a form factor that has never caught on widely (the tabletPC), try to shrink it with some vision that people will take these everywhere, but I have never seen anybody with one. That is because given the cost of this device, and a slightly more expensive laptop, it is a slam dunk. One is a series of compromises with too big a form factor to slip in a shirt pocket (which means I will take it with me everywhere). The laptop is bigger, but is much more functional. There is a formula for functionality versus size, and Microsoft simply can't find it. Witness the failure of the Zune -- again, a bunch of technology pieces that don't add up to a coherent whole.

Friday, November 02, 2007


I went to a great presentation last night by Ellen Lupton. She is a academic -- typographer/ designer -- and half of her presentation was on abuse of typography -- the other half was on diy -- particularly crafts and pet peeves. She brought many "out of real life" examples about typography and drilled home a few critical points -- what bad things happen when we smash fonts (but sometimes it does look cool), spacing and more.

From my notebook:

diD YoU KNow that there is a thing called "Church of Craft"?

some more random notes


diy kids

and others -- do an amazon search on ellen lupton.

She was awesome, and gave me ideas for something I am working on for next year's DE conference and maybe something a little more.


I went to a great presentation last night by Ellen Lupton. She is a academic -- typographer/ designer -- and half of her presentation was on abuse of typography -- the other half was on diy -- particularly crafts and pet peeves. She brought many "out of real life" examples about typography and drilled home a few critical points -- what bad things happen when we smash fonts (but sometimes it does look cool), spacing and more.

From my notebook:

diD YoU KNow that there is a thing called "Church of Craft"?

some more random notes


diy kids

and others -- do an amazon search on ellen lupton.

She was awesome, and gave me ideas for something I am working on for next year's DE conference and maybe something a little more.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It is not free unless I say so

An upcoming presentation/panel at TLTR here on campus is titled "Free Culture* (*while supplies last): Mashups, Remixes, and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines".

While I understand that the intent is to let people know about the state of copyright law, education and - that term again - Mashups - there are some things about the topic that I am sure won't be covered.

Of course, everyone (except perhaps Andrew Keen) is down with the idea of Free Culture (unless it pertains to my own work of course!). Higher education is at it's present philosophically believes in Free Culture, but the busines of Higher Education is diagrammatically opposed to Free Culture.

I will spend some time talking about why that is, but there is quite a bit of hypocrisy to go around. I struggle with this quite a bit when it comes to my own work, I am still not how this could work.

But, it appears that there is no one on the panel that actually makes stuff. We get a presentation about copyright law and education, and the problems here. This is quite the wrong discussion to have -- even the title is in the wrong place. It's to let people know what the deal is, what can be done -- but things are so beyond screwed up that it is almost like explaining the war in Iraq (support the troops, support Amurica!) in a way that is acceptable for a pacifist. It just can't be done. Copyright and intellectual property is beyond broken, it now points to deeper problems with how we approach knowledge and content in society -- not a particular country's laws -- but how we as a species consider it. So much is assumed.

I wish for Free Culture, I really want to believe -- but the data keeps saying otherwise. RadioHead's "pay what you want" album is widely pirated. But wait -- maybe that is not a bad thing -- the album is really on a small portion of a band's income -- it is touring where the money comes in -- so they may come out of it okay.

Film, video and text definitely have a problem here. Each performance of a recorded work is the same. There is no variation. You go once/read it and you have seen all there is to see. How can a filmmaker/writer make money in this environment? Let's face it: if a big name director/filmmaker puts a film out there with the same model as RadioHead, it is doubtful they will even begin to recoup costs. Free Culture be damned when we talk about new media.

Lev Manovich trys to dispel the belief that digital media is different from analog media because it doesn't degrade. I disagree -- he focuses on "lossy compression" in jpeg to illustrate is point that new media is capable of degrading like analog, but but but that is a pretty weak argument -- I just downloaded a jpeg of ronald reagan, and there it is -- in all it's digital glory. I made a copy and it is just like the original. Yes -- if I open and resave as a jpeg, it is damaged -- but this is just an exception, not the rule. It circumvents the bigger question with a technical argument, which is that we are a point in time where things can indeed be moved fluidly with little or no loss of quality, but perhaps with a large loss of context. That I think is much more worth considering.

Again, there is no one on this panel that actually *makes*. This is a problem. Let's not talk about all the different ways someone can go to jail for reusing content -- audio/visual quotes, outright re-visioning of work. Let's not talk about how we can "push back". Let's just do it. Run the red light because the traffic light is broken, and won't get fixed. There is no incentive to do that, but there is plenty incentive to keep things the same.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Beyond the Mix

I'm half-way through reading Language of New Media again, and I have decided that while it is one of the best books I've read in the next five years, the fatal flaw is not getting down with the analog. I talked about that (perhaps elliptically) last week. The digital is dead until we make it live.

Out of this comes the following realization. Mix Culture as a revolutionary form of media does not exist.

We have always been a sum of our parts -- bits and pieces of culture, text, images, sounds, thoughts. These things flow through us, we give them an identity and a life.

We cull fragments and it makes up a big part of who we are. It is our history.

The digital does change things. I will not deny that. We touch it and it changes us.

We put much on the manifestation, the tools....not the message. "Mix culture" as a term is all about the digital. It denies something much more fundamental about ourselves. We look, listen and learn. Stories come from this.

We come from the sum of our parts. We see something new, and it is different, but the thing that drives it, that which makes it intriguing or useful, is ourselves.

This is why I reject the term "mix culture". We have collapsed thousands of dollars worth of equipment and access to a desktop computer. The underlying output does not change. Our palette increases, but if we let the digital define things, we see it's parts as well as it's combination. We need to see the message. We will get over seeing it's components soon enough, and then we can get on with using it effectively.

What I am getting at is that these discussions of "appropriation" of media for re purposing get bound in legal discussions. Laws are these things we make up for a variety of reasons. We need to examine those reasons, not the laws themselves.

We need to get down with our analog selves. Doing digital allows us to pretend that somehow, maybe, this time, technology will make us a better version of ourselves. A Hal 2.0. We better get down with some "mix culture"!

I don't think any of us are really prepared for these kinds of discussions. Forget laws for a minute. What do we want to do? How do we want to treat contributions to our knowledge and our culture? What is language, and can anyone own it? Can we at least share?

"Mix Culture" acknowledges sources (which is good) but somehow sets that apart from what came before -- it is seen as a mongrel, but that is not how these things work. All that has changed is the way that it is done. One person can make a cartoon, not a shop of 12. This is a change akin to the rise of textile mills. Manufactured fabric tore apart a economy -- a way of doing business. This is happening now.

We find this power in the individual liberating but threatening.

Cinema changes, books change, economies change, culture changes. How we think of ourselves changes. This is disruption.

If we give it a name, something unique, we can perhaps embrace the new. See it as a new way of thinking about what we have done before.

What I am asking for is to look ahead.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Between the glass

I have been re-reading Manovich's Language of New Media -- it is still a great book. It's a year later and I have had some time to consider some aspects of what he has to say.

In our presentation in August, my buddy Alan Foley and I talked about DE Edcucation and the challenges/opportunities when we consider online education's potential to be better than, not just as good as -- conventional education. I have said enough on this point. But the message that we repeated is that in moving to the digital -- it is different in many ways.

I guess, now that I have spent so much time in the the digital, I am ready to revisit the analog. A friend and I were talking about graphic design, and I told him that designers "had to get down with their bad selves" -- it is about honesty, directness, clarity.

But l need to take the same advice.

What I mean is that it is time to consider the analog. I am interested in that space between the analog and the digital. Digital is....well read Manovich's book. I get stuck on terms like "sampling error" and "quantization". In converting the analog to the digital, it becomes something else. In that moment where whatever is between the two worlds, that is an interesting place.

I am back to where I was several years ago, dissatisfied with technology, and what we have chosen to do with it. A virual world run by one company, with a fake, consumerist, capitalist hype machine. So many messy questions here not answered.

Resolution. We are built for large movements, but we type on little keyboards just as I am doing right now. We are fortunately good at adapting to the things we make, but that does not mean it is ideal. We celebrate frames per second, color depth, but it still digital. It is sampled.

Between the glass lies the phosphors or lcd pixels that are activated -- by an electron beam or an electrical charge. That space is where the patterns reemerge, are stitched together by our brains. The digital is dead until we give it life.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Living in the iPhone Ghetto

I finally succumbed and bought an iPhone. It was the price cut combined with the $250.00 of gift cards that I got for my birthday a few months back. It was the untimely death of my nokia -- although one friend suggests that I wanted the phone to die so I could buy an iPhone.

What strikes me about this device is not the usual stuff that technogeeks coo over -- the multitouch screen, the thoughtful engineering (hardware and software). What strikes me is that this is perhaps the most closed device that Apple has sold in recent memory.

I think it started back a few months ago, when at Apple's developer conference, people were waiting for a development kit for the iPhone....and instead were told to develop web applications optimized for the phone. The argument was that customers using cell phones were not used to their cell phone crashing. Having an open application environment would potentially allow that to happen.

But really, we know now that this hasn't stopped legions of iPhone users from potentially voiding their warranty to install applications on their phone, and even further, untether their phone from AT&T -- which would then allow them to use their phone with T-Moble, Orange, any carrier worldwide that supports GSM.

There are other peculiarities. You can't download content other than that from the iTunes store to your phone wirelessly -- in fact, the sheer ease of which you can pay a $1.00 for a song gave me pause. I doubt I will be using that feature. This means, for instance, that while the phone is capable hardware wise of playing back streaming audio -- such as from a internet radio station -- that feature is disabled. You can't download pictures from the internet to your iPhone.

But -- I think, for myself, it comes down to the ring tone.

I have been able to upload ringtones to my cell phones for a while now that I created. Myself. No copyright issues involved. Well, with the iPhone, you can't do it. You must buy a ring tone if you want more than the one's that ship with the phone. That is ridculous.

I noticed that accessories that use the dock connector no longer work -- my two FM transmitters, my boombox that has video out -- I get a message that these devices are not designed for iPhone.

Perhaps this is because Apple is plugging the analog hole. This is where video/audio equipment has analog outs -- which allows users to re-record content, admittedly at a degraded quality. It is possible they have conceded to the media conglomerates that would like to see the removal of all analog ports (save for a head phone jack) from equipment -- so that people will only be able to transfer content digitally -- and there potentially be prevented to make copies.
My theory is deeply flawed. I know that for every encryption scheme, there is likely a way to break it, for at some point the stream has to be unencrypted for playback. So, perhaps I am simply over-reacting to the needless disabling of my current devices.

One other thing -- the ability to use the phone as a flash drive has disappeared. I know that most won't care, but I find this strange.

I think the iPhone hints at a future direction for Apple -- a further closed ecosystem where things live in this ecosystem, but can't escape easily. They will deliver what the entertainment industry has wanted for a while -- but with a Apple spin -- just enough freedom (you can copy over your existing mp3's and mpeg-4 video to the iPhone) but with some interesting restrictions.

This way of thinking is what is crippling the AppleTV by the way.

My guess is that Apple will go into the subscription business -- with ephermal downloads (watch the TV show, and it disappears in 48 hours). Plugging the analog hole makes this more feasible.

I don't hate my iPhone. It's pretty much what I've wanted in a mobile device for some time -- a phone, web browser and email client. But I am a little bit concerned about this direction, for Apple is not the only company taking this tact -- we only have to think of Microsoft's struggling Zune -- with it's potentially killer feature, 802.11 wireless -- which is hopelessly crippled.

My guess is that within two years, and likely a year, everyone who makes cell phones (Samsung, nokia, etc) will have their own iPhone device. It will be interesting to see what the rules are then.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

More on Innovation

While I am completely skeptical of the terms "Web 2.0" or "millennium learners", I think this article is an instructive example of the process of innovation, and how it is twarted.

Damn those pesky users.


Living with Anti-Innovation

Our organization is undergoing a re-organization. It is an opportunity to rethink, or retrench. Retrenching is the comfortable solution, because it is feels somewhat the same after the dust has settled. It may seem different from the outset, but it is fostered by assumptions that were prevalent before the reorganization.

This is not because we don't have smart people working on this. It is not because we don't want to change. It is because we, like most people, want to define the future by what is in front of us.

I had a conversation yesterday with an instructor who teaches painting. We talked about the digital and the analog. He made an excellent point -- that digital interfaces encourage small movements; typing on a keyboard, using a graphics tablet that is defined by the size of sheets of paper. In his world, you can involve the whole body in the process if you want, and he argued that this was better because it matched the way we are made.

Once you accept this premise, it becomes a slippery slope. Why do we use little keyboards. Sometimes it is portability -- but what about our desks? We use tools that conform to technological assumptions, and we make them work, because we are so extraordinarily able to adapt.

But, we define things based on what came before, until someone breaks the mold. Afterwards, there is the hindsight that allows us to see that "of course! it was a logical progression!", but at that point of flux -- it might seem a little disturbing, or even scary.

I think at these times, there are many forces in place that do not see themselves as "anti-innovation" -- but again, in hindsight, that is what they are. Things can't change, because that is too messy! It works well enough as it is, says the steamboat operator to the airplane pilot.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Unplugged Schools

This article from the Orion gave me a bit of pause. I think it strikes a chord with me because it is the beginning of a new semester, and I have spent the last 3 days in front of a computer wrapping things up. I start to wonder -- is this the way I want to live my life? Is this the way any of us should live?

Those who have read my blog regularly know that while I use quite a bit of technology in my work, I remain concerned about how it is used in teaching, and whether we put too much emphasis on technical skills, at the cost of other skills that are important -- critical analysis, storytelling and more.

The idea of disconnecting from technology when teaching kids has a lot of appeal. They will have the rest of their lives to play video games, order pizza online. The core skills to use technology effective actually have very little to do with actually learning software itself. I struggle with this myself in my own studies -- I am much less interested in becoming proficient with something like Maya than understanding how color, light and composition work to convey information. If I understand that, I can tackle the mechanical skills of learning which button does what.

I think there is a confusion about learning technology and learning how to use technology. Teaching someone to use powerpoint, and teaching someone how to communicate effectively -- which one would you rather have?


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Audio From DE Presentation 07

Alan Foley and myself gave a talk at the DE Conference in Madison WI a bit over a week ago titled "MySpace is not YourSpace". I've included an acrobat file of the slides in the last posting, but here's the audio combined with the slides as an enhanced podcast (but not actually in a podcast ;-)). Right-click (or control click for onebutton people) and select "save as" to save a copy to your computer(it looks much nicer in iTunes).

For those interested, this was recorded with a Sanyo CG-65 digital video camera configured to record just audio, using the built-in microphone.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Leaders, Managers and Neither

I just came from a 1 hour presentation on our organization's CIO search committee. The report was fairly brief, and decidedly non-controversial.

One of the presenters of the report repeated several times the statement "We need a CIO with vision, that will lead our organization to greatness".

After approximately the fourth time he repeated this, I mentioned that there was a difference between leaders, visionaries, and managers. I suggested that we did not want a visionary/leader, that instead what we need is a good manager. "That is what I said" he replied. But, of course, that isn't what he said.

I used to get these things confused myself, until I listened to this talk by the father of modern management, Peter Drucker. He has since died, but I think this was an important moment for myself, where I realized that I would never be a manager. I am just not that person. But managers are very important -- it is just that their role has changed, but not as much as some would expect.

What we need is not a leader with vision, but an organization with vision. This is a critical difference. One is a one-trick pony. It is Steve Jobs. The other is a sustained culture of innovation, where a CIO protects this culture, and lets it flourish, even it means that things have to change in ways that make people uncomfortable. It is a bunch of Steve Jobs in an ecosystem that can support them, let them do what they do best.

This does sound a bit overly optimistic (and a bit corny) when I read it just now, but I think it is what makes some schools better than others.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


I can't complain based on politics. That is the problem. The expectation is that logic, reason and facts can somehow *be* biased. History is indeed open to interpretation. It is continually revised -- but for the better,for the worse, or simply spun?

Post Modernism tried to approach this problem, and in the end became a victim itself.

Blindly accepting anything written online without substantiation is a critical problem. It is a problem with wikipedia, or any service that offers "information" -- but is it manifestation itself -- or is it how the information is presented?

That is what confuses me about Conservapedia. Why does it need to exist? It seems to me that what wikipedia could always use are people who are willing to rigorously interrogate content -- make sure that it is clear, the citations are clear, that it meets muster intellectually. This is not a conservative or liberal thing. These things have nothing to do with whether someone is liberal, conservative, republican, democrat, christian, buddist or agnostic. It is necessary to think clearly and critically.

But, sadly, the folks that set up Conservapedia think differently about this. That separate can be equal. Or better.

Frankly, I find this sort of thinking quite scary.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

52 Reasons to stop using Windows 2000

It is memorial day weekend, so I doubt many will see this, but thought it might be good to generate a little traffic.

A quick story. My nephew's Win2kPro machine quit booting -- blue screen on bootup (drive missing error! -- which is of course not true -- because it was booting from the drive to get that message). Yeah, a virus had mangled the master boot record -- fixed that.

Lots and lots of viruses -- lots. I used Avast Home Edition (not a plug here, but it does work and it is free) to remove stuff.

Windows Update Installer however doesn't work -- you see -- it was disabled as well by the virus software. I spent at least 45 minutes in microsoft help figuring out what to do (clean registry, spin 3 times, clap hands, take a drink of water, throw salt over my shoulder).

After many gyrations, I uninstall it, and install a new version. After a couple of reboots, it works!

So, as the title goes -- Windows then proceeds to download 52 updates in one sitting.

A reality check is good once in a while.

I have Vista installed under Parallels on my Mac. I am sure it will be better.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Ethics and Cocaine

This post on the blog "Innovation Online" (humpf) about the energy drink "Cocaine" was interesting, but perhaps not for the reason that the author wanted to be.

I find the moral indignation expressed slightly offputting. Really. Is naming a drink after a illegal substance a violation of ethics, or simply in Bad Taste? And who gets to decide?

This popped into my head, because I know there have been other products named after illegal acts/substances (Grand Theft Auto, the perfume "Opium"). I am sure they caused outrage as well, but they certainly didn't cause our society to collapse.

It seems to me that the outrage that this author expresses is quite misplaced. Instead of targeting a specific energy drink that likely tastes quite bad (citric acid and high fructose corn syrup), let us talk about some REAL violations of ethics. There are much worse things to focus on than a tacky energy drink. I will leave it up to whoever reads this to make up their own imaginary list -- mine is brief, but I am sure you can think of what it might contain.

The reason I write this is that more than ever we are distracted, we can't keep our eye on the ball. We expend mental energy over a badly named energy drink, because we can't seem to fix the bigger problems. The violations of ethics are so large that we can't see them, so we fret over a badly named energy drink -- but it is really just a distraction.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Mixed Media

You know it has hit prime time when educators talk about "mix culture", a term that has been used by many (including Lev Manovich) to describe the phenomena of combining media sources in unexpected ways -- creating juxtapositions -- hybrid creatures. In music, mix culture goes back a long, long ways -- as soon as crufty 12 bit Mirages hit the scene -- a decent sampler everyone could afford. HipHop was important to it. But we can go back even further to composers in the 30's, 40's and 50's who used "found audio" (Cage et al).

Most think of mix culture in the context of YouTube, or techno music, but it is more profound that this. I give you Okapi, who I think shows what this really means.

The music is clever, juxtaposed, but it is very musical. It leverages acoustic sounds much more than most who work in this medium -- it is a nice refresh from the usual remixed drone. It seems to me to be at times quite cinematic.

So, again, like Edith Frost, you can download a nice packaged sample of his work, or you can actually buy one his CD's.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Dick Dale

Dick Dale is the king of the surf guitar. Listen kids, to his advice. He says -- make your own CD's, book your own gigs, don't be afraid to do gigs for free, don't worry about being on the cover of Rolling Stone (or, I will add, a music video in rotation). Just make stuff, don't sign with a label (or create your own label like Fugazi), sell out of the trunk of your car like Johnny Cash.

He has always been one of my guitar heroes, but now I respect him even more.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

What Does EMI's DRM Free Songs Mean for Artists?

I am as pleased as anyone else that EMI will begin selling their digital download music as DRM free. Apple's iTunes store will deliver them as 256 kb/s AAC files, which just happens to be the bitrate I use to rip music into iTunes. So....I will finally give iTunes some of my hard-earned cash.

But....it really doesn't change the fact that the reason this is happening is that there is a bit challenge facing music companies. I have been thinking about bigbox retailers such as BestBuy -- this is not a good thing for them, as CD sales continue to shrink.

Perhaps the most bone-headed reaction I have heard to this announcement is the comment that all it would do is fuel more piracy. I doubt that things could be worse than they are now -- anyone can rip their CD's into iTunes quite easily. If anything, I think people really want to pay for music. I know that I do. My main gripe these days is the stuff that you can't get on CD -- Lime Spider's "The Cave Comes Alive", Bill Nelson's debut album "Northern Dream". I actually just lost a bid on ebay for that particular album -- which ended at $26.00.

Add to this the dilemma of the working artist. They need a distribution company perhaps for promotion -- but do they really? I think about this as I listen to Edith Frost's demo album, full of sad, bare and beautiful music. It sometime evokes memories of all things "Twin Peaks". It is worth a download. I like the spareness of it, although a little less reverb would have been nice.

I found her through a now-defunct site "Comfort Stand", which was a brave idea -- sort of a "Creative Commons" of music. Some of the content there has found it's way to my iTunes list forever. Okapi -- cinematic music music indeed.

So, sorry to cop out based on the provocative title. I don't know what it means. I think the industry will look a lot different in 20 years, hell it might not even exist as it does now.

Now, go download some free music please, and buy something to support those brave enough to take advantage of the internet.

Friday, March 30, 2007

I Know Nothing

I created this after someone sent me a powerpoint presentation that has been making the rounds. You can watch it here. While some of the information was interesting, I found that the underlying simplification and powerpointing (see, a new word)quite disturbing. It inadvertently and quite unwittingly made a more important point -- that constructs like this do nothing more than entertain -- they do not really offer any information or insight of value. That we confuse these things with real knowledge is quite worrisome to me.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Second to None Life

I am Unh Oh.....in Second Life.

Unh Oh is a chap that just got a pair of pants. I have been told that there are plenty of people walking around with no clothes. Bully for them.

It seems that while it first appears that Second Life is free, they press you to give them financial information with the incentive of Linden Dollars. It is an artificial currency inside of Second Life, but it could be argued that the American Dollar is an artificial currency (particularly after going from the gold standard).

In fact, pretty much everything ends up costing money at some point. The assumption underneath is that there really is only one form of legitimate economy -- captitalism. You can pick up some spare change here and there -- but no evidence of barter economy (I would guess it's out there), certainly no trace of socialism, marxism or arnarchy. I want to figure out a way to raise $1000 Linden dollars -- the cost of an island -- so that I can create Anarchy Island. We will see what happens there.

It is really fake feeling. Movement is clunky. I will be pairing it with my WiiMote on my Mac pretty soon to make it easier (another posting, another day).

Educators are giddy about it. Something they can figure out, and perhaps invest in this "cyberspace thing". It is a box. A commercial box. It is not what I had in mind, nor was it what the homebrew computer club that Steve Wozniak was in had in mind. This Second Life is a company selling stuff under the guise of "empowering users" -- but only after signing a bunch of forms. The end user agreement is quite interesting, including the "Big Six" -- I will spare you, but it's the typical stuff -- harassment, intolerance, assault, disclosure (privacy), indecency and disturbing the peace.

I think this list is quite funny. It seems almost like a kiddie version of the 10 commandments. Privacy -- really? Indecency -- I can show you pornography that contains no naked people. So what is indecency?

It seems to me that these rules are not just in place to make "Second Life" a fun place for everyone, for if it actually had the danger, randomness and texture of real life, then the the company would make much less money. People want to go somewhere happy, where everyone is tanned and trim.


I can fly. I can walk around in the water. I can take my clothes off. But since I can't drown, can't break open my head when I land, don't have things that need to be covered up -- it's just not that compelling to me.

But......let me tell you about Animal Crossing for the Nintendo DS. Another time. Very Soon.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Even Gumby Gets It

A continuation of my Viacom rant. Watch Gumby episodes legally and for free.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Learning is not a Game, but it can be fun

Educators look at the time students spend in video games, and of course wish that these students would have the same level of engagement in traditional learning as a game.

There are several problems with this.

1. Video games often do not successfully mirror real-life decisions. I *know* I am playing a video game. I might be upset that things don't go well, but it is nothing like getting a bad grade on a project I have spent some time on.

2. Most educational video games suck. They lag behind cutting edge stuff. The most engaging games often are the most controversial.

3. Educators don't play video games. They have not immersed themselves in that environment. They read books, talk to game designers, but they often don't really take time (and I mean a lot of time) to play, observe and engage.

4. Educational experiences often do not successfully lend themselves to game technology as it exists today. Using a 3d engine to hammer out some sort of social construct is a good first stab, but students see it for what it is -- candy coated spinach.

The real problems are:

1. Teachers shouldn't be making the games. Students should be. Let them build rule sets, simulations that other students play, let them work through the difficulty of making something that is engaging and tells a story. The bad news is that this takes time.

2. It is tacked on. We are stuck with the same old educational system that hasn't budged since the last big innovation - in my opinion, 100 years ago when progressive education (Dewey) was in vogue. No child left behind is rooted in thinking from the late 1800's, cursed with the desire to teach things that are easy to quantify, easy to test. Our testing tools and learning expectations shape how we teach.

3. There is a denial of multiple forms of literacy. Visual literacy -- it is quite dead in a time when more than ever before it is needed. This is a much longer posting, but go read some Barbara Stafford if you haven't already. Games hook right into visual literacy, but they don't go far enough. It is a passive form of literacy. Students need to make to learn, and that takes time, and time is expensive.

I wince everytime I hear about 2nd life as an educational environment. 2nd life is very fake, a myopic contraption that reinforces specific assumptions - such as the only viable economic system in the world is capitalism. Students don't get a chance to see all the possibilities. Unfortunately most educators are blind to this. I will be writing more about 2nd life soon.

James Paul Gee is a good place to start -- but I think people are being too literal. We should look at games, and learn from them what helps people learn. It doesn't mean that we need to make video games to teach kids -- but that we need to look at successful ones (including Vice City) and figure out what works, and how that can be applied to learning.

My guess is the attraction of using video games to teach is the same as any other technology that is thrown at the task of teaching kids -- it is always about scaling. If we sit students in front of "learning simulations" then we may need fewer teachers, or we can have bigger class sizes. I am not denying that the use of something such as the eternal classic SimCity can't be valuable. If I had a kid, darned right I would have them playing Sim City, but we would play it together, and talk about it. I don't think this can happen in a class of 30 students.


Saturday, March 17, 2007


ViaCom last week chose to sue YouToogle for 1 gazillion jillion dollars due to illegal posting of content, notably content such as small chunks from the Daily show.

Wow. I could have predicted that!

So -- I have been saying this again and again -- it is almost like the Dinosaurs saying --"Hey, do you guys feel a slight dip in the temperature?".

They chose to go after the biggest target for the obvious reason. Precedence. It gives Viacom all it needs to get everyone else to knuckle under. After all, the law is clearly on their sides, and it is not, I am sure that the laws can be changed to ensure that!

IS there lost revenue from a 3 minute clip from a half hour show? I would guess not. In fact, it is easy to make the argument that it actually helps Viacom. It seems to me like they have to draw the line in the sand right now, even if that line is 3 feet out of the shoreline, and into the water.

Is it a couldashouldawoulda? You bet. Viacom has to clear the decks of potential competitors. They have the partnership with Apple/iTunes -- and sure -- they are looking down the road at their own initiative to distribute content online. This is likely the only window of opportunity they will have to take on their nearest competitor, which right now is much much bigger than Viacom's own eventual scheme could ever be, for it is tied to old business models which are quickly being eroded by new models. We are back into the era of advertising supported entertainment, a familiar ground -- but without the opportunity to sell people things they might already be able to get for free.

The twist of course is that the revisiting of the advertising supported model is that it is the audience that decides what will survive and which will not. This happens indirectly through arcane ratings systems -- but the directness of popularity ratings in YouTube is merciless. If something sucks then it doesn't live for long. At least a mid-season replacement series has 3 months to prove itself (or maybe not).

The smart thing, of course, for Viacom is to ride the wave. They have stuff that people like so much that they will take time out of their busy day to re-edit, excerpt and post. This is the participatory culture that everyone talked about happening right now. It makes everyone a potential media conglomerate. This is a very very very bad thing for horizontal structures like Viacom -- it means that the content producers -- which Viacom either pays or contracts to create content -- are free to cut the middleman out -- Viacom being the middleman here. That day is rapidly approaching. This is bad bad bad.

The funny part is that Viacom and Google will come up with some sort of agreement that will stave things off for a little while, a little dam made of mud that keeps the flood waters at bay for....perhaps an hour or so? Google probably understands this much better than Viacom.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Access Disrupts

I think about this a lot, in fact this is likely one of the most basic things that motivate me.

I am for access. When a technology becomes common as dirt, then it is significant. HD is cool and all, but when you can't buy a standard resolution video camera because HD is so cheap, then HD will have a big impact. That is just beginning to happen.

There is a lot of resistance to this. Part is built on assumptions previously held about how something should work. This can be technology, this can be a medium. I like to talk about how Michael Moore broke the documentary forever. There really was no illusion of objectivity before, but putting the cameraman into the story as an actor -- well that changed things forever. The illusion of the impartial observer is broken, but a new illusion is born, that we are seeing a well thought out, well considered story. That may be true. Or we may search for meaning, and make our own sense out of it. But the important tie-in here is that Michael Moore could not have accomplished what he did in Roger and Me without cheap, affordable video technology.

This forum discussion really got be thinking about access. I find this bit interesting:

That's the problem, I've been to Arts college as well, and you find yourself surrounded by some pretty "interesting" people in class, and giving the classes (well, especially in some parts of Australia) who have some "interesting" ideas that are totally unrepresentative of what the audience wants ;

Well, I am in Art + Design. Perhaps I am one of those interesting people with "interesting" ideas. I maintain that audience (perhaps another antiquated term -- can we talk about the individual?) often doesn't know what it wants.

I am in the market for a new video camera. I sold my tape based camera 4-5 years ago. I did this for several reasons, most important was the most practical; I had grown tired of shooting video. This had been an old thing with me, going back 15 years or more when I shot/edited video for money. I began to see it as a mechanistic process. It almost killed it for me.

The camera intrudes. People do not like it. Michael Moore used that to his advantage, a weapon of intimidation at times. I want to avoid that, instead drift into the background. I am not being coy here. I understand that I drive the camera, and I understand the audience gets that too.

However, in shooting Ideation a year and a half ago, I used a cheap Pentax Optio MX that shot sort of mediocre NTSC resolution camera. It looks like a remediated Super 8 Movie camera, and that is exactly what it is.

The inspiration for working this way comes directly from French New Wave filmmaking. The loose group of movie makers were simply taking advantage of the fact that film technology had become quite affordable, if not quite perfect. It didn't need to be, and the imperfections could in the end be part of the presentation.

I think things like the Pentax Optio MX and the Sanyo HD1a represent something that purists will hate. It is not state of the art. It is cheap. It has noticeable flaws. It will end up the hands of everyone.

I heard this same discussion 6-8 years ago when MiniDV tape first showed up. It was not "broadcast quality", the video professionals would tell me. Really, how could a cheap consumer camera compete with a $10k Sony Betacam camera.

Access. It Disrupts. People get that.

Okay, enough. History is littered with this stuff.

I think the future is indeed form and motion. It is something we want to utilize. Just like the cell phone lets us of sort of teleport (at least our voice), cameras let us manipulate time, light and space. That is access. It is disruptive. It is profound. As I mebtioned in my last posting, media changes people's perception forever. There is no going back.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Illinois secedes from Myspace

In a bold act, this bill proposes to block access to social computing sites in all public schools and libraries.

Most will focus on the difficulty of using technology to solve a problem. Some will decry the impingement of liberties. I won't deny that either is not important.

For myself, it is another signpost. Things are changing. I've talked about media changing, our expectations of technology changing. Etc.

This is a moment that illustrates how far we have come. Myspace is just another mashup, one of many to come and go at the end of the day. What it represents is not new at all.

The collision of internet space and education space is spectacular right now. I can't believe that no one has noticed this. It is well beyond the blah blah of netgen bs, which is a term coined by the plus 40 crowd in an attempt to understand the sub 30 somethings on their terms (pejoratives like multitasking, short attention). Where is visual learning? Where is the old school making stuff to understand concepts?

Things have changed. Things will continue to change. Netgen denies this in my opinion. The term is for those that analyze, without really understanding that it is not a trend, but continuation. Media and technology can have profound impact on how we see the world in ways that are irreversible. Books change people's lives. Movies do that too. Of course Myspace and other things will have the same effect.

This bill is of course stupid. But it will come up again. People will talk about it. Maybe someone will actually succeed in passing and implementing it. It really won't have much impact in the end, and maybe the person who drafted it understood that -- it's just a cheap attempt to get some cred.

But the fact that it has gotten this far is important. Something is being said here. And it will come back again.


Thursday, February 01, 2007


Convergency typically represents combining of functionality of several components, tasks or media into a single point. Typically we are talking about a device, because we by nature focus on the technology because it is tangible and finite.

But convergency really represents something else. The device is really an artifact, a result of convergency.

These are not dictionary definitions. You won't get those from me.

Convergency represents several things.

Combination of forms of media and delivery. Television and social networking converged in American Idol.

Programming and Visual Art combined to make Photoshop.

It is more than just a fusion of things; it's the isotopes that get created. IT IS THE REAL CONVERGENCE.

High Definition TV sets have both a VGA and DVI port on them. It is available but not commonplace for things like DVD players, cable boxes. It is there because the intent was to hook up a computer or device based on a computer.

But is not so that you can run windows, or even windows media center.

What it represents is that content can come from somewhere else than cable, satellite or over the air. It can come from the internet.

This is convergence. It is not about the TV, the Tivo or the couch. It is about melding of mixed media, and flat publishing. The context for what a TV represents is modified. It becomes a device that is tremendously expanded in content. And you (pointing finger) can publish content that others can watch.

This is the challenge for education. The output are not podcasts. It is making them. Having students make them. Making sense of the opportunities, helping people think and understand (in both logical and illogical sense) what it means to be not just a consumer, but a creator and publisher. The TV set is just a vessel. The ipod is just a vessel. We tell the story.

(Deep Breath)


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Doug Engelbart: The Demo

If you have never seen this, I recommend hanging with it as long as you can. It is much like science fiction in my mind.

I also recommend reading the companion piece "Augmenting Human Intellect".


(thank goodness for google video)

Monday, January 01, 2007

10 Stunning Predictions!

1. Apple will ship a phone, but without FCC approval, it won't be ready in January. It will be less than people will expect, because that is what apple does well. Zune vs. iPod? iPod has fewer features, but is thereby more focused on the 90% of what the device will be used for. It will not run Mac OS X. It will not be a PDA, but will run a form of dashboard widgets (remember Nokia's apple technology based browser?), will talk to all the iApps, with a value-added proposition tie-in to .Mac accounts (online chat, email, blogging, image/video sharing). Specific hardware details? Who knows? My hunch is that they won't launch their own network aka ESPN, Disney or Helio, by buying services from someone else. It would solve some problems but create others. They may simply sell it outright, an unlocked device that will be a $150 premium over the price of the equivalent storage iPod Nano. It will be perceived as an iPod with something extra, so people won't wince at the price. Very few in the US will buy a $500 smartphone, but they will sign a 2 year contract to get a discount on one. Apple's strategy will be a value proposition -- if you will spend $249.00 for a nano, it's not a big leap to the same capacity, but with a phone built in, and some nice mobile focused functionality (again, simple, simple simple!). It won't be called the iPhone for sure.

2. The other bit of Apple news has been much less discussed. What is with Apple's online TV strategy? Apple has shown a preview of a set top box, iTV (or MacTV, or whatever it's called)? It will be unveiled next week. Watch for a tie-in with Google/YouTube, and then consider Google/YouTube and Apple's partnerships with industry. Suddenly, a competitor to traditional broadcast invades the living room, and it's appeal is that it is not solely a trojan horse delivering DRM laden content (that will be Microsoft's job), but will strike the same balance as the iPod -- for fee content that is mildly locked down, and lots of stuff that people can just watch for free. Expect to see tie-ins with traditional broadcasts looking for new outlets for content. Some customers will drop cable/sat, get over the air digital TV and iTV to supplement programming, perhaps a Netflix account, and never look back.

3. Microsoft's Vista rollout will be mostly uneventful, but uptake will be very slow after the initial spike, because many people will need to upgrade their computer, and like the move from Win2k to XP, it simply is not a compelling argument for upgrade. Vista will be successful, but it really is the last gasp, a chapter in the history of Microsoft that demonstrates that things have to be done differently in the future.

4. Everyone will be attempting to figure out how to tap into social computing. Expect to see a lot of very dumb variants on YouTube, MySpace, meetups, Amateur Music, Six Degrees of Separation stuff. Business will see it as a captive audience to market to. Education will really struggle with this one -- there will be attempts to apply social computing to traditional semester segmentation, and it won't work of course, because these things are like coral reefs, they take time to grow, and can die quickly. Throwing a bunch of old tires in the same old sea won't make it happen faster. Worse, some of the best aspects of these online entities work against education's standard operating procedure - the one to many approach (lecture, etc).

5. Linux will still not invade the desktop, but Mac OS X will continue to make modest gains in numbers.

6. Nintendo Wii will outsell the PS3 for some time to come, as the DS has outsold the PSP, because it is less expensive and appeals to a much wider audience. Sony will release a new PSP. It will probably still have UMD although Sony should kill it, it will have an HD as well, because Sony is going into the downloadable media market (video, audio and games) and it believe it needs to turn the PSP into the target platform. They need to partner with Apple, but Apple won't share the sandbox outright.

7. The Zune will get a big software upgrade that fixes it's most egregious problems, and opens up capabilities for it's built in wifi, plus some tie-ins to Vista. The brown zune will disappear, and in it's place will come some color that is actually appealing to people who might buy a digital media player.

8. Accessibility will continue to make strides due to embracing of more fluid ways of structuring and displaying content (been talking about this for a while). CSS is now an expectation, not an extra. Expect to hear the old saw "maintainable code" become the mantra of web designers, simply because sites have become so complicated.

9. RSS everything. It will show up freakin everywhere, even where it may not make sense, simply because it will be so easy to do. It will be the equivalent of bran or no-carb diet (enhanced with RSS!).

10. We will still be in Iraq in December 2007, and it won't look much better than it does now.