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Comment Re:An informed democracy - the role of education (Score 1) 387

Thanks for the long thoughtful response. You took this to a lot of places. The problems of the nation are big complex and connected. Its only with work from many directions at once that there will be progress. Many of these issues are not new, but the sort of things which must be addressed again and again as the times change.

I thought I had a rather bad history education in high school because it was the one subject where everyone was in the same class, regardless of academic level. There was no honors or AP history, etc. But from talking to people who went to other schools, especially more recently, I now realize I got a pretty good history education. Not only did we cover a lot of topics, there was a much wider range of opinions, questions, and points of view than in my other classes, and it made for much better debate. That bit about public education being to create informed citizens was something I heard in that class. It was something I heard from many teachers, and even some administrators.

Maybe being part of the "baby lull" (in 76 when I was born, there was a zero birth rate), there were more resources, and smaller classes, for fewer students. We do seem to be coming up on an other "baby lull", and I know some local high schools now have fancy new additions but not the students to fill them.

Education will always be "broken" because someone will always have something to sell to "fix it". Getting back to some basic principles and building from there will do us more good than chasing after the whims of industry. It seemed like from 2000 on we had this period of reinvention, where anything could be innovated, anything tossed out and tried a different way. it has produced plenty of failures, along with a few things that have worked, but when it comes to education, we are experimenting with people's futures. We are now remembering why things were done as they were, and suffering for it, but I also think we are slowly coming out of our "venture daze".

So, one little piece of that whole big knot of mess is that kids need to be literate. That includes textual literacy, media literacy, and computer literacy, at a deep enough level, knowing how each is constructed and some practice in building it. If you do not understand how a medium works or is constructed, you can more easily be fooled and controlled by it.

An yeah, I miss USENET, and I miss FidoNet.

Comment An informed democracy - the role of education (Score 1) 387

I believe the primary purpose of public education is to ensure the functioning of a democracy by having citizens who can make informed decisions about how they are governed. Job training, personal improvement, etc, are incredibly important, but secondary benefits that arise from that main goal.

If citizens are going to have informed opinions, debates, and votes on issues of government that increasing involve technology, it is important there there be an understanding of technology. When so much of how society is regulated and monitored is mediated by code, and so much of our interactions with each other and government is mediated by code, it becomes imperative to know something about how code works.

This doesn't mean everyone needs to have a deep or masterful understanding of how to code. What is important, is some understanding of how computers deal with problem solving and information processing, from simple procedural programming, to networks, and varying kinds of abstraction. There are lots of great simple visual programming systems and other tools which provide a view into this. Being able to actually write working code in a particular language is less important than an understanding of how code is written. Just as we read literature and history to understand society and politics, and it does not mean we will all be expected to be writers or politicians, students should be exposed to software design and have an opportunity to do some small amount of it hands on, even though they will not all become programmers.

So lets get the goals right, and build curricula that move us toward those goals.

Comment find his killer app (Score 2) 370

I got my dad n his 70s a Nexus 10 for father's day. He opened it and had this look of, "Thank you, but what am I going to do with this?". We went through the long process of setting it up. To many accounts, passwords settings, agreements, etc, and his look keeps getting worse. We set up Skype, and I show him how it works and he is still bewildered. So we leave for dinner.

We get back and Skype is ringing on the tablet. Its his brother from California. We answer and he is amazed and delighted. He brings it home and starts spending lots of time Skyping with his family around the world. After a couple weeks he figures out there are other apps, for news and email and the web. He loves it now and thinks it is the best gift ever.

So find your Dad's killer app, and give him a little time and support to discover all a tablet can do.

Comment Re:Surface 2 Pro, for Pros (Score 1) 616

Its not about price. Apple is clearly going for a mass market. They want things that people who are not particularly technical, creative, or otherwise would be engaged in technology can relate to and use. Their stuff does have some pretty amazing power under the hood often, but they really do hold back the potential of what can be done with it because of their very strict curatorial approach to everything. It is most important that it be beautiful an simple. While pros can appreciate those things, what makes a complex tablet computer accessible to grandma doesn't necessarily translate well to the person who might want to use it to edit a magazine or a video. Apple used to dominate in this market, but they have seen the other side, and it is wildly profitable, so that have kind of become the first technology fashion brand, which is what lets them charge what they do.

Microsoft I think is doing a lot more to be innovate with their devices because they aren't worrying so much about fashion or about pleasing absolutely everyone. Its like Apple's old strategy of really concentrating on the pro market, and then letting what comes from that let them move into more mass market categories.

Comment Surface 2 Pro, for Pros (Score 4, Informative) 616

The Surface 2 makes no sense, but the Surface 2 Pro, it could be the sleeper device of the year if Microsoft can market it correctly, and get some good software on it.

I went to a local Microsoft store and they demoed the Surface Pro to me, and I thought, oh that's nice, but its kind of a too thick and heavy to be a great tablet, and too small and quirky to be a great laptop. Then the salesman brought out the pen. "What? This thing has a pressure sensitive pen? That is amazing! Why didn't I know that?".

Imagine a tablet that can run Photoshop. Real Photoshop, not some express version. A tablet where I can do real work on serious projects using serious software as easily as I can just flip through web pages. A tablet where I can switch between touch, pen, keyboard, and mouse easily, using the mode that is best for me to get my work done. A tablet that is not just a device to consume content, but to create it.

That 6x video streaming demo and DJ pad shows that Microsoft is starting to get it. The Surface Pro is a device for creative professionals, and those who want to be one. While Apple has always been for that crowd, they haven't been paying attention to their needs quite so well lately. You have to use esoteric things like Thunderbolt. There are no tablets, or touch screens, or pen screens, and its all rather expensive. Plus, the surface actually looks cool.

So Apple, a high end company, became a device company and its been pulling them down to the lowest common denominator. Microsoft, which was the lowest common denominator, becomes a device company and its pushing them toward the high end. Its interesting how changes of fortune have reversed their roles.

Anyhow, I'm a Linux guy so I probably won't be buying one, but I am glad someone other than Apple is finally paying serious attention to the market for creative professionals.

Comment When livelihoods depend on doing the wrong thing. (Score 5, Interesting) 380

There are an enormous number of cases where government cannot find the will to do the right thing because so many people's livelihoods are dependent upon doing the wrong thing. Fixing healthcare, ending the war on drugs, reining in surveillance, saner military and foreign policy, a lot of people stand to loose well paying jobs if these things come to pass. This isn't just come greedy CEO who isn't going to make as huge a profit. Its middle class professionals and skilled workers who will be obsolete because what they do is harmful to the world.

How do we structure plans to do the right thing in a way that deals with this problem? A lot of the political pushback comes because of this issue. Congresspeople need to protect jobs in their districts, even if they are jobs that make the world a worse place. How do we do better while having a plan for the people and communities left behind?

The flip side of the argument in those in this position take a big gamble. A small town with a sustainable fishing economy expands to support a new nuclear industry that won't be there forever, but never really establishes or expands parallel industries that can survive independently. When nuclear goes, the infrastructure for it is still there, costing money, but the people and taxes to support it are not. In the meantime, its original economy from before the nuclear plant has gone through change and neglect. Its a story that plays out again and again in small formerly industrial towns. The clock turns back, but there is no support for doing that sanely, and so negative feedback loops happen, and as a nation we loose the stomach for change. If we better addressed this issue, maybe more could get done.

Comment Good design is simpler than no design (Score 2) 381

Simplicity is word that gets batted around a lot. When it used to mean "the shortest distance to a solution to the immediate problem", you are often trading immediate simplicity for longer term inflexibility.

I've found the simplest solutions are those which are well designed, which take into account not just the immediate problem at hand, but reasonable future variations of that problem. The up front investment in thought and design and pay off in a big way down the road when new problems can be solved more elegantly, quickly, and be more maintainable.

Its like someone who collects books. You could just stack them up on the floor, but finding one or adding more is going to increase the chance that they all fall over. If you take the time to get some bookshelves and think of a cataloging system, your book collecting is going to scale much better.

Good design and good structure benefit simplicity. If you ignore it, you are just pushing complexity into the future.

Comment Pre internet, you bought a computer to make things (Score 3, Insightful) 704

Before the internet, computers were a tool and not just a screen to get you to what someone else already had made. You got a computer because you wanted to make things. It could be a document, an image, a song, software that could be used to make more and other things. Computers were mainly purchased by those who wanted to use them as a tool for creative and practical purposes. All you could consume on computers in the pre-internet age were games, and consoles were usually cheaper and better for that, or the few expensive and slow online services that you could reach over dialup.

So this made a huge difference for early software. The windowed GUI interface that is everywhere today was designed for desktop publishing, by Xerox, a company whose business is making documents. The phone and tablet interfaces that are growing now and the first centered around consumption of data instead of creation of data. This is a huge switch which makes it even more important to remember software history.

So a few titles I think are of note:

The Print Shop - One of the most popular programs in the 80s. Most people's first experience with anything like desktop publishing.
BASIC - This language introduced many people to programming, and was a default built in feature of most early computers.
Deluxe Paint - Bitmapped graphics program by Electronic Arts -
HyperCard - Multimedia software
SuperPaint - Combined bitmap and vector graphics in one program -
SoundEdit - The first popular GUI sound editor -
TheDraw - Text editor for making ASCII/ANSI art -
ResEdit - GUI builder for early mac -

That's just what I can think of so far.

Comment Re:carpool discount, possible reason for the camer (Score 1) 475

Well, the toll attendant at the toll plaza can see into my car to check that I qualify for the discount. Toll plaza already have a ton of cameras trained on your car. The transceiver camera provides an automated means to do the same thing.

I agree, its till really weird and creepy, just I think a cover would provide some balance in implementing a solution with the goal of car pool discounts. I also worry lots of people would just leave the cover open all the time. Also what is there to stop them from enforcing whatever else they feel like this way, like seat belts, etc?

An other choice might be to make each passenger carry an special ezpass transmitter, and the toll booth would count how many it detected in each car. That count could be randomly checked against photos of cars going through the tolls (something they do already) to spot cheaters.

The reality at the heart of all this is that owning a car is awful for your civil liberties, and it always has been, and that awful can creep into the rest of our lives. They need to be highly regulated so they don't kill people and all that massive infrastructure is paid for. It gives the government a huge excuse to intrude in your life that you don't get if you walk or bike everywhere.

Comment carpool discount, possible reason for the camera (Score 5, Informative) 475

In the NYC area there are many toll discount programs for call pools with ezpass. In order to get the discount, you must use a cash lane even though you have an ezpass, so an attendant can confirm you are driving with the required number of people for the discount. So you pay less, but you get stuck in traffic with all the people paying cash. If a transponder had an inward facing camera then it could provide a way of letting you use ezpass only lanes and still get the discounts.

This application makes it no less freaky. I would only ever consider it if there were some technological privacy safeguard. For instance, a built in manually operated only door over the lens. When I approach a toll, I have to slide it open to allow the picture to be taken to get my discount. After the toll, I can slide it back closed.

There are lots of people who keep their ezpass in the metal coated bag and only mount it when they are near a toll, and there are non-toll ezpass readers all over the place, with the stated goal of monitoring traffic flow. Wanting to pay tolls faster and get discounts should not mean having to submit to random and capricious tracking and a total loss of privacy when traveling.

Comment Who does that server really serve? (Score 3, Interesting) 191

All I am going to say to those of you who think "open source" does not matter is read Richard Stallman's paper "Who Does That Server Really Serve?"

Having open and honestly published API's and protocols is important and certainly better than nothing, but there are so many other reasons why access to source code is important for trust and freedom in computing.

Comment companies used to make their own parts (Score 3) 350

Remember back when companies actually owned their own factories, made their own parts, and assembled them? Computer companies too, had all sorts of factories making tons of their own components. That set up exactly the same situation but worse, because to make an equivalent part you would have to build it elsewhere, as no one was going to sell to their competitor.

This outsourcing of all production is a new thing which was brought on by globalization and the availability of cheap labor in places like China and South Korea. So Apple invests in building a factory, and gets a big amount of its output, but in the end it is not Apple's factory, and they can make contracts with others once their deal with Apple expires.

Not that I like Apple doing this, but they have really figured out how to get the best of both worlds. They get the cheap prices of globalization, and the competitive edge of controlling their own production.

Comment geek arrogance (Score 1) 949

I think this is just a facet of the also typical arrogance of geeks. Look at Steve Jobs and Apple, making really wonderful devices that work well, but force you to play by their rules. He knows better. Bill Gates and his foundation, where he feels he can take his success in business, which was rather amazing but ruthless, and apply it to social causes, by jumping in with lots of money. The Gates foundation does lots of good, but its hardly a democratic exercise. Gates knows better about how to save the world than its citizens. Mike Bloomberg is a technocrat who gets to run a whole city.

So its not so much anti-intellectualism but it is the arrogance of personal intellectual experience and achievements over any collective or institutional approach to the same. For example, "I succeeded without college, so no one needs college to be meet my criteria for success". If what has caused me wild success works for me, then it can work for anyone. Simply forge ahead with the courage of your convictions and all else be damned.

Colleges are by their very nature collegiate, a collaborative and community experience in learning, that involves not just getting information, but integrating it into yourself. The phrase "fake it till you make" it is the ultimate rejection of that approach. There is something missed when you only focus is getting ahead at the task at hand, by any means you can.

This Technorati individualist approach has produced great things, and good things. It is certainly appropriate for certain individuals who have the wherewithal to handle it and come through. Many more people fail taking the same approach. There is also the issue that success is not defined the same way for everyone. It is certainly I think it is no way to run government, or certainly every business or every career. Our successes are build on the successes of others, on the history of their work, their contributions, and their knowledge. To say you know better so you won't pay attention is a dangerous thing.

The goal of education and intellectual pursuits are to make you a better and more whole person. The goal is not to be just be a good worker, to make the most money, to have the most power. It is to improve thought and understanding. The specific nature of knowledge and learning is changing due to technology, that is inevitable, but those are just details. The purpose remains the same, and our intellectual institutions that are truly the best (not just in name) strive to advance that purpose. By abandoning that history and being arrogant towards it, we loose its benefits.

So I am sure some people will yell at me over one part or an other of this post without considering the whole thing. That always happens online. My point is, no persona can say they know better, that they can ignore some existing knowledge, experience, or opinion, because they have such certainty, even if that certainty is backed up by success or accomplishing what may be considered good. There is a bigger world than yourself, and it needs to be let in in order to obtain true and lasting success and meaning as a person on this Earth. Humble geeks can do amazing things.

Comment open desktop, closed cloud (Score 1) 511

Canonical's similarities to Apple on the desktop are rather superficial. Unity is a rather awkward copy of parts of the Mac OS X UI. I do give them a lot of credit for trying, and I think Unity is salvageable, although with some work. As much as I am tempted to go on about how Unity is not really ready for prime time, except for maybe the most basic users, I won't.

While most of the Ubuntu client side stuff is FOSS, the server side stuff specific to Ubuntu One from what I understand mostly is not. This is a big problem in the free software world right now, closed servers. You give up your data to a server without any ability to know what it is running. This denies you of the ability to verify what it is doing, to set up your own alternative servers, or use someone else's alternative server whom you may have a different trust relationship with.

There are many attempts out there trying to rectify this, from distributions like freedombox, to new architecture like unhosted, to distributed networks like diaspora. All of this stuff is kind of early on. I don't blame Cananonical for going with what they know on the server side, but I do think they could do better. It feel like the cloud stuff is all about monetization to them, and not about also pushing and promoting a different approach to technology, which is what free software is all about. In that regards they are behaving like Apple, and really like most companies tend to behave.

Its the "the successful know better than you" attitude that is really pervasive in the world right now, from computers to politics. Free software is more about a participatory democracy, with code given the consent of trust by its users, and that consent can only be given if it is informed and all have equal access. You see it in Unity too, a UI that has almost no configuration options without having to install other tools. It says "we know better than you". I am hoping that Canonical's plan here was to start with it locked down and then take the best mods from the community and work them in. Unity is at least free software, so it has the possibility of the community fixing it. The stuff running on their cloud servers is not so lucky.

I have always liked how Ubuntu "just works", giving a good balance of a lot of competing requirements, realities and philosophies to come up with a pragmatic solution to having a useful Linux with little fuss. I feel they are going in a direction where they could end up getting this balance wrong, and people may end up going elsewhere once someone fills the vacuum they leave.

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