Today I saw several mentions of this blog post, which boldly asserts that the iPad is “99% more open than any other computer”  After a good double take, I was determined to reserve judgement until I’d read the whole thing.  In rge next to last paragraph, the author finally explains his provocative title.

The iPad is actually opening up technology to more people. None of this crap about it being closed is accurate. By giving people freedom to explore the app store without having to worry about anything (except their wallets), Apple has possibly made the best move they could make by locking down the iPad’s installation sources…..The iPad only does less than a regular computer to us geeks. To everyone else, it does more. This is what Motorola and Google and Samsung and BlackBerry and everyone else, with the sole exception of Apple, do not get about “open” computing. It’s powerful, but for ordinary people, it’s too powerful.

To geeks like us, open means something very specific.  It has to do with things like Stallman’s four freedoms.  I think the author means something different here.  He talks about “freedom to explore the app store” and makes the quite valid point that many people do more with an iP*d than they do with a “computer” because the ease of use and integrated application management system make non-technical users more willing to try things.

This has value and is for some a reason to buy an iOS device, but call it ease of use or flexibility or shallow learning curve.  Don’t call it opennness. Given the connotations that “open” has in the technical community, if you must use the term in a different way, you should make it very clear how and why you have chosen to do so.

The author,as an open source developer, knows that Stallman’s freedoms matter. His FLOSS project won’t run on an iOS machine. It almost seems as if he envisions a bifurcation into a large group of users with locked down devices and a small group of programmers with general purpose computers who create everything.  Even though that may how things are de facto at the moment, the huge installed base of programmable machines means that the user who decides he wants/needs to program has the tools available. Someone who owns an iOS device and makes that decision needs to get access to another machine. Is that what Mr. Teti wants?

I got the idea to reformat DS106 assignment instructions. Here are the audio assignment instructions  in alliterative verse.

Listen here (Source Material)

It occurs to me that I maybe should explain how this came to be.  I’m in the midst of reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to my oldest child, and we got to Book V, Chapter 3 last night, which contains examples of Tolkien’s modern English alliterative verse.  This morning ,in the madly creative spirit of DS106, I got it into my head to do something in this form, but what?

My first thought was some sort of technical tutorial, and I even tweeted seeking suitable material.  I worried that trying to poetically render things like “mouse click” and “command line option” might be nearly impossible and create something forced.

Then I considered some iconic quotation.  Donald Rumsfeld’s “Known knowns…..” seemed too short.  I then considered the Gettysburg Address.  It was too iconic, and the Lincoln was from an era when rhetorical alliteration was part and parcel.

Whose words would work?  At last it was obvious — Jim Groom.

Looking at the Audio Assignment instructions, I made the decision right away that I’d post audio rather than text, since I was working within an oral tradition, even though I wrote it out.

The trickiest part was the hard data.  I decided it wasn’t really a challenge if  one was allowed to transform the instructions into something unrecognizable.  I laid down another ground rule. Whatever I ended up with still had to be usable as instructions.

With this constraint, there were two tricky spots.  One was handling dates and times.  Although one could say five o’ clock or March 11, it didn’t seem to fit the style. Dates ended up being trickier than times. I considered using ancient Roman convention and putting dates in terms of days before the Ides, but it seemed to not mesh with the Germanic origins of the form.

I actually settled on two different solutions. One was to return to the church calendar. Today is, fortunately, St. Mathias’s Day. Unfortunately, it couldn’t find a church feast for the final deadline on March 11.  I thought briefly about making it “six days before the feast of St. Patrick”, since the date is well known.

Then I thought of something else.  Lunar cycles.  Tolkien used this timekeeping mechanism in the chapter I was reading last night. So it was off to search for full moon dates for Fredericksburg. Add that to things I never imagined I’d be looking up.  That led to ….”the full moon filleth the land with light”.

The other thing I worried about was the specific instructions for filenames.  Thankfully the inclusion of the group names in the filename led to epithets.  It’s very much within the style to refer to a person by several names given to them (terror of enemies, gift giver, etc.) sometimes consecutively.  So of course epithets had to be found for Jim and Martha.

Usually the epithet was given by someone else rather than being self claimed. So it was off to Jim and Martha’s blog to research.  Jim has handy testimonials on his front page. so he became “Internet Midas” as well as his usual Reverend.

I don’t know Martha nearly as well, but her blog mentioned her kids (Martha the Mother) and her VW van (Moby’s great Mistress).  Finding the epithets was probably the most fun.

I need to make one correction.  I said “from Richmond a day’s march distant”. The sixty miles from Richmond to Fredericksburg is probably at the absolute limit of what someone could march,so it should have been “a day’s ride distant.”

In my last post I referenced an opinion piece by Glenn Harlan Reynolds in which he wrote, among other things:

“Post-bubble, perhaps students — and employers, not to mention parents and lenders — will focus instead on education that fosters economic value.”

Reynolds also makes interesting points about the distributional benefits of college to the individual, but that’s another post.

When Reynolds writes, “…focus instead….economic value.” I have a troubling vision of a world in which individuals, empowered by a more free educational market, whether it comes from DIY models or leftward shift of the demand curve for higher education or both, design education experiences based almost solely on their “economic value.” For a specific example of why that would be a bad thing, I want to look at computer classes.

First the disclaimers. I am not a computer instructor, but as a distance learning director whose department handles instructional technology support for students, I have some awareness of what students do and don’t know how to do with  computers, and discuss what gets taught in computer classes with  my colleagues across the hall who do teach those classes.

Many colleges require students to meet some sort of computer literacy requirement. Often the course which meets that requirement consists of producing various types of documents using a (most likely Microsoft) application suite on computers running some variety of Windows (though when I took said course it was Apple IIe’s running AppleWorks). On the face of it, this has quite a bit of economic value, to use Reynolds’s term.  Many job advertisements list familiarity or proficiency with one or more parts of the Microsoft stack as a requirement. However, much of what students learn in such a class will be obsolete in three to five years. What then?

Now imagine with me a different class about computers,  one in which students research, discuss, and try to come up with thoughtful answers to questions such as:

  • Should bandwidth providers be allowed to prioritize carriage to/from customers who pay more?
  • Should there be an “Internet kill switch”? If so, whose finger should be on it?
  • What are the benefits and risks of storing my personal data with Software -as-a-Service providers like Facebook and Google?  Am I comfortable with those risks and benefits for myself? Am I comfortable with them for my children?
  • How do we balance device makers desire to optimize user experience with users desire to modify devices they own? Does the answer to that question depend on the methodology? (Microsoft cryptographically signing application downloads for mobile devices as opposed to Apple using non-standard screws)

Unless an individual is going into the IT industry, the knowledge that will allow and encourage thoughtful answers to these questions is unlikely to provide individual economic benefit.  However, as a society, we must address these and other questions in an informed and thoughtful way  as we move through the twenty-first century. So where will we all learn, and why?  In an educational system driven firmly by economic benefit, the individual has no incentive to do that kind of learning.


Last Week Anya Kamenetz announced her new project, The Edupunk’s Guide to a DIY Credential.   Jim Groom, credited with coining the term edupunk, was less than enthusiastic.  At first glance, writing, and presumably selling, a book about DIY education seems as naively ironic as ****ing for virginity.  But I went back to read Anya’s whole post. She indicates that the Gates Foundation will own the copyright but allow her to freely distribute the content.  If everyone has that option (one of the commenters has already asked about whether the right to redistribute transfers with the content), you have a document that is essentially released under a CC license.  This made me feel better about the whole thing. Jim, not so much. Anya then raised the issue of definition control.

Jim has promised a blog post,  and I thought about waiting for him to weigh in, but I’ve decided I want to start working through this in my head/blog.  The first thing I wondered was, “Why is Jim upset if the resource will be open?”  I think I have a decent handle on what edupreneur (the term Jim suggested be used instead) means, so I went back to edupunk.

Etymology doesn’t help much.   “punk”, outside of music references, has tended to refer to some combination of youth, prostitution, and antisocialness.  Bruce Sterling provides a more useful explanation.

” The term “-punk” doesn’t mean that people are historical counterculture punks, musicians with razor-blades and torn clothing.  It means that people are using modern social networks to route around established disciplines, so as to appropriate technical knowledge for their various street-level purposes.  That practice is not old-fashioned.  That practice is intensifying.  It will go on no matter what names it has.”

I then went back to Jim’s first post that used the term . The first thing I took away is that edupunk, at least as Jim originally envisioned it, is anti-corporate.  This can explain at least in part, Jim’s criticism of the Gates foundation. Even before you consider the educational initiatives Gates currently advocates, you have to acknowledge that it has grown out of money which came from Microsoft, a corporation that used its market position to exert control over how people used their computers. When you then look at how the term has been used more recently. It seems to have two rather distinct meanings.

In a September 2009 Fast Company article, Kamenetz seems to focus on edupunk as representing a change of business model.

“The edupunks are on the march. From VC-funded startups to the ivied walls of Harvard, new experiments and business models are springing up from entrepreneurs, professors, and students alike. Want a class that’s structured like a role-playing game? An accredited bachelor’s degree for a few thousand dollars? A free, peer-to-peer Wiki university? These all exist today, the overture to a complete educational remix.”

Notice that she still uses terms like class and degree. Jim also points to this article about the higher ed bubble, although my money quote isn’t the same one he picked.

“Post-bubble, perhaps students — and employers, not to mention parents and lenders — will focus instead on education that fosters economic value. And that is likely to press colleges to focus more on providing useful majors. (That doesn’t necessarily rule out traditional liberal-arts majors, so long as they are rigorous and require a real general education, rather than trendy and easy subjects, but the key word here is “rigorous.”)

My question is whether traditional academic institutions will be able to keep up with the times, or whether — as Anya Kamenetz suggests in her new book, “DIY U” — the real pioneering will be in online education and the work of “edupunks” who are more interested in finding new ways of teaching and learning than in protecting existing interests.”

Both of these quotations point to edupunk as a change in means rather than a change in ends.  The goal is still to end up with documentation of economically valuable skills. I think Jim’s vision of edupunk goes beyond that.

In this explanation of edupunk, Leslie Madsen-Brooks describes the movement thusly:

“In short, edupunk is student-centered, resourceful, teacher- or community-created rather than corporate-sourced, and underwritten by a progressive political stance. Barbara Ganley’s philosophy of teaching and digital expression is an elegant manifestation of edupunk. Nina Simon, with her imaginative ways of applying web 2.0 philosophies to museum exhibit design, offers both low- and high-tech edupunk visions.

Edupunk, it seems, takes old-school Progressive educational tactics–hands-on learning that starts with the learner’s interests–and makes them relevant to today’s digital age, sometimes by forgoing digital technologies entirely.”

This ties in, to some degree, to the unschooling revival.

I see the split  as whether edupunk is mostly about how we learn (choosing MIT’s OpenCourseWare and a CLEP test to build a credential rather than traditional classes) or whether it’s more fundamentally about why and what we learn*.  If edupunk is a new map for learning, do we use it to pick a different route, or a different destination?  That makes the discussion between Jim and Anya important.  Nothing will create misunderstanding and acrimony faster than two groups of people hearing the same word and perceiving two very different meanings.

* Alan Levine asks some important questions about the limits of self-directed learning.

Inspired by Colin’s Mount Doom poster, I chose another Lord of the Rings location.  I’m now doing extra work , just to show how addictive ds106 is.  Since nobody had trouble with my four icon challenge, I’ll give no further clues and let you guess the location.

OK. Name that film.

1. 2. 3. 4.

This morning, my Twitter stream was peppered with expressions of concern over a possible takeover of the well known microblogging service by Facebook or Google. My advice to everyone — Don’t Panic.

I’ll go so far as to suggest that Twitter getting absorbed might be in some ways a good thing.  Although Twitter has been a comparatively good corporate citizen ( for example, challenging the secrecy of Justice Department requests for user data), it’s centralized design still carries risks.

  • The entire ecosystem has a single point of failure (bring on the fail whale).
  • Should the ownership of Twitter change, new management may have less interest in protecting user privacy.

The good news is that alternatives to Twitter are more robust than those challenging , say, Facebook.  Most notable is StatusNet (formerly laconica). StatusNet already federates, and can read Twitter streams via the Twitter API. My personal sense is that OStatus , StatusNet’s answer to OAuth, has a much wider adoption gap. Nevertheless, most of the pieces for an alternative are in place.

If Twitter were absorbed,  concerned users could migrate to their own (the code is open source) instances, figure out some way to communicate their federation information to followers, and go on their way. The resulting system would be less convenient, but more robust than what we have now.



Source Image

Here’s my 5 card Flickr assignment.  Thanks to all the photographers who contributed.

I saw Jessica Masulli’s Flickr inspired minimalistic storytelling, and was reminded of another famous example of narrative distillation. I’m sure everyone will get the reference.

Image 1 (flickr user thinkpanama CC-BY-NC)

Image 2 (flickr user Saint Hsu CC-BY-NC-SA)

Image 3 (flickr user Saint Hsu CC-BY-NC-SA)

Header image credit: Flickr user BotheredByBees CC-BY
March 2017
« Sep    

My Flickr Photos

Out of focus

Drip drip

Open Sky

More Photos