Archive for August, 2008

Here Comes (DRM for) Everybody

August 29, 2008

Just came across an Ars Techina article on DRM and e-textbooks. It reminded me of a recent situation I found myself in.

This summer I bought, read, and enjoyed Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody. Finishing chapter five I soon realized that several parts of this book deserve the attention of my high school technology classes. I set out to buy a digitized version at but was disappointed to find out that if I bought a copy, the Digital Restrictions Management would prevent me from using the book in useful ways with my students.

I wrote to explain the problem and they directed me to Penguin Publishing. Penguin Publishing said the DRM is on “all” of their ebooks and exists to “protect authors”. They stated that they wouldn’t sell me a copy that I could use with students in the ways I needed. Resulting in this “protection” was a canceled $26 US transaction and 60+ minds not exposed to Shirky’s ideas.

I wonder what Clay Shirky thinks of being “protected” this way. I also wonder if Penguin Publishing asks authors to opt-in to this “protection”. After all, if the intent is truly to protect authors, then each author should be free to request that Penguin Publishing distribute their ebooks with or without DRM. That is, they should be free to decline the offer of “protection”.

the AFA is driving me insane

August 25, 2008

First, their homophobia made me feel as though my moral duty was to eat at McDonalds. Now, they compel me to buy cheesy Hallmark cards. Can’t I buy a break here?

Quick, someone tell Mark Shuttleworth to announce Canonical’s support of gay marriage. If Apple or Microsoft beat him to it and the AFA gets wind, that could be my noose.

short-circuiting can be good. very good.

August 24, 2008

So I’ve been learning/teaching Java recently. The neophyte in me is asking all sorts of questions the pros take for granted.

My question was, “What is the difference between & and && in Java?”

In an e-search, I found others who had asked the same question. I began learning how the language expresses bitwise operations and discovered that “&” stops short-circuit evaluation. I thought I’d share this clever demonstration passed on by JosAH in 2007 of why doing so could be disastrous.

PowerPlant harrisburg = new PowerPlant();
if (harrisburg.isSafe() && harrisburg.switchOn())
System.out.println("plant is operational");

Change the && to & and we have a problem.

incentivizing education

August 17, 2008

Dan Meyer salivates at the ringing of Michelle Rhee’s bell.

Employment contingency plans and cash incentives for teachers based on student results on standardized tests are misguided. Most disturbing, this approach creates a conflict of interest in schools seeking to educate the whole student (if keeping my job and/or reaching my desired salary level is contingent upon “achievement” results, why should I take sufficient time to care for my students’ emotional and psychosocial well-being?). But let’s say the “school” mission is limited purely to academic achievement; at the very least, such incentive encourages teaching to the test. While a snapshot in time may portray a particular school system as “achieving” more than another, how much innovative learning/teaching is pushed aside by this narrow, inflexibility?

an unwelcome outbreak of insanity

August 16, 2008

A notable news story: Texas school district lets teachers, staff pack pistols. While this is a step in the wrong direction, it could be worse.

Some are insane enough to propose that all teachers, day-care staff, and other adults in loco parentis for groups of children should be required to carry firearms on the job. They argue that a continued proficiency at rapid-reaction tactical shooting should be a condition of their continued employment. But as all (sane) teachers know, the job of a teacher is to educate children, not protect them. At least, not in any “tactical shooting” sense of the word.

Das Rad

August 13, 2008

A new school year has begun and once again I’ve started my high school technology classes with a viewing of Das Rad. With three sections of the same class, I have ~60 students communicating asynchronously through a Moodle discussion forum.

The film helps get the classes thinking of technology in broader terms than just computing. The discussion gets us past the limited conceptions of technology itself as being ‘good’ or ‘bad’. That is, we begin to see that the beneficial and destructive outcomes of technology use is more an ethical question, intimately connected to human intent.

ethical licensing for electronic voting software

August 5, 2008

Update: Luis Villa was kind to converse with me via email and noted that the AGPL’s language speaks only to networked software as a service. Therefore, while the AGPL may be a good choice for web-based voting, it may not work at all for traditional e-voting machines. A similar-in-spirit license with slightly different wording may be needed (I’m wondering if one exists). Of course, the better approach would simply be to legislate disclosure of the code and the best might be to ban electronic voting altogether.


Dan Wallach:

My question to the peanut gallery: what sort of license would you select for a bright, shiny new voting system project and why?

Lots of mention of the GPL in the comments of that post but it nor any permissive free software license (or the public domain) is appropriate. The GPL does not require disclosure of modifications made to the machine-installed version as the software is not being propagated. Therefore, the software on the machines could be different than the version(s) voters download to audit. To serve democracy, the voters must be able to audit unmodified copies of the software actually used on the machines. A license that will do this is (not necessarily – see update above) the Affero GPL. It would force exact copies of the software used on the machines to become available to users of the machines.

And on a related note, electronic voting needs free software as a service but that’s not enough. A tangible record (e.g. paper) is also necessary as free software doesn’t necessarily prevent tampering of the machines in the possession of those the public must trust.


August 1, 2008

My spouse and I enjoy playing mancala variants. Thing is, we play them in addictive spurts. Once exhausted, we often store our boards for many months before the inevitable fall from the wagon. An undisturbed wooden one of ours once received guests.