Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Vale Doc Watson

It's always sad when the best ones go, even when they live to a ripe old age.

Today has brought the passing of Doc Watson, whose influence on folk and country flat-picking guitar has resonated and continues to resonate through so much of the music I have long loved. There must be millions of people around the world, like me, whose enjoyment of life has been enhanced by what Doc Watson brought to the guitar and to guitar music over so many decades.

When I was an undergraduate student in Christchurch, New Zealand -- at a time when there was a different kind of shaking going on -- the local folk, country folk, country guitar, and bluegrass maestros, like Jae Renaut and Jimmy Doak, all paid homage to Doc Watson. Some days, for days at a time, all I wanted to do was listen to Jae flat-picking. It was hard to get that music in New Zealand in those days. You had to try import it yourself. It took months if you could even find some place that stocked it. Mostly, it was easier to hit the clubs and listen to to local talent invoking Doc Watson's spirit.

It was easier to pick up on musicians influenced by Doc Watson who were part of more 'commercial' outfits: Clarence White (tragically briefly) with the Byrds (and the Kentucky Colonels), and Ricky Skaggs, with Emmylou's wonderful Hot Band.

There are some times when the nearest thing to heaven is a pint of beer and a fast flatpicking guitarist. Doc Watson brought it closer to heaven.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Maori Pride in Mexico City

The usual suspects were kindly invited by the New Zealand Embassy to an evening function at the National Museum of Cultures in the Centro Historico of Mexico City to view the exhibition of cultural artifacts currently on display as part of the city's annual cultural festival.

Generous -- liberal -- servings of fine New Zealand wines and Mexican finger food set the mood for a most enjoyable time. After speeches by the Director of the Museum and the New Zealand ambassador, the student choir from the Sir Edmund Hillary School in Mexico City presented three songs in Maori that they had learned. they then sang the New Zealand anthem in English, which they had learned, and ended off with two Mexican folk songs.

I shared a stand up table with the Bulgarian ambassador and his partner and we conversed in our respective versions of Spanish. They had acquired theirs in Chile, during their tenure there, and had done considerably better than I have to date. Even after all these years here -- albeit mainly part time years -- I still get a kick out of experiences like conversing with Bulgarians in Spanish in the context of an exhibition of Maori cultural history in the heart of Mexico City. It seems to me that close to the core of a good life are occasional experiences of transcendent joy where everything about one's human being seems to be mobilised in a way that makes one think "now that was really really worth being around for". The event in its context and the afterglow walking through the historical centre on the way home afterwards provided one of those experiences.

Without access to flash the pix are not what they might have been, but they do provide some sense of the majesty of the event at a visual cultural level.

In addition to the carved work there were also paintings by contemporary Maori artists and video presentations of historical and cultural manifestations of "Maori Pride". These included a memorable video presentation of the 500 day occupation of Bastion Point at the end of the 1970s, led by Joe Hawke around the rallying demand that Bastion Point is Maori Land. This brought back strong memories for me, and will resonate powerfully in Mexican states like Chiapas where issues of indigenous land rights claims have still to be faced.

Pleasing outcome in Oracle vs Google

I have to say I am delighted with the outcome of the case between Oracle and Google. I tended to share the view expressed by Google spokespersons that Oracle's suit should be seen as an attempt to grab money when they realised they would not be able to develop their own software for the exploding mobile computing market and, meanwhile, Google was making massive strides with Android.

For me, the most important consequence of the jury finding against Oracle is that it just might help to discourage extortion-like litigations in the future. The practice of buying patents in hopes of holding developers to ransom, while legal, is deeply parasitic. It also raises questions about when 'something' is the 'same thing'. This case was largely down to 9 lines of code out of millions of lines developed in Google's software and, moreover, that the code in question not only fell within the margins of fair use but were from the open source component of Java anyway. Creative appropriation of a tiny portion of something in order to create something entirely different does not in any way look like plagiarism or infringement of property rights to me.

It now remains to be seen whether Linus Torvalds' prediction plays out and Oracle does indeed "pay lawyers to take it to the next level of idiocy" rather than "admitting they were morons in their idiotic suit against Android".

For once, Linus, I hope you are wrong about something. Heaven knows, you were right about/with Linux, bless you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Maybe it is not too late" Some glimmers of light in the Dotcom case

As a New Zealander, albeit one who has long lived abroad, it troubled me deeply to see how quickly the NZ authorities leapt to the beck and call of US agencies in the so-called 'case' against Megaupload and Kim Dotcom and colleagues.

My guess is that the kind of toadyism evident on the part of New Zealand 'agents' is probably likely to thrive considerably more under the current NZ government than it would have under the previous government. And this is a serious concern.

Ironically, it has taken a US lawyer to state what needs to be clearly stated in this and wider contexts: namely, that "New Zealand needs to stand up to US agencies". It is already decades since David Lange's government walked the tightrope on nuclear ships, and that kind of "we'll stand up for our autonomy" approach is already a remote memory.

In Case being fought by ugly tactics US lawyer Ira Rothken says:

"Our concerns are that the United States will have New Zealand take all the data and all the hard drives that have been confiscated and remove them from the New Zealand jurisdiction, essentially making it so the New Zealand judiciary cannot exercise New Zealand's views, New Zealand's values in fairness and due process, and bring it all over to the United States so that it cannot be used in the extradition hearing."

From a personal standpoint, it is good to see a friend from many years ago, Justice Helen Winkelmann, questioning what the NZ police were authorised to take under the search warrant. While police were "clearly entitled to search and seize evidence in relation to the copyright ... that did not give them carte blanche to take everything", she said.

Go Helen!

Hopefully it's not too late for New Zealand to come out of this with at least some tatters of integrity intact.

White House Petition for Free Internet Access to Scientific Journal Articles Funded by Taxes

If you are eligible to create a whitehouse.gov account and believe that citizens should have the right to free internet access to journal articles funded by taxpayers, here is a petition asking for exactly that.

This seems like a fair deal, and it certainly should be easy enough to implement in practice.

Indeed, it should extend far beyond the US, to all countries where taxpayers support research -- which would surely be all countries.

To my mind, an interesting question would be how to extend the same principle to books. At present, if you are lucky and/or discreet, you can push PDFs of book proofs into public space. But many publishers would not like it. Yet, a very high proportion of books must be funded to a significant -- if not total -- extent out of taxpayer contributions.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Chrome OS and Chromebook: What a difference some months make

I posted back in November about the challenges and satisfactions of using my Samsung Series 5 Chromebook up at Bottle Cove in Newfoundland where I only had wireless access at the local library. There was a keynote to write quite urgently in collaboration with Michele, and it got tricky at times keeping the car warm amidst the falling snow whilst picking up the library's wireless signal from the car park after hours. Working out how to move between offline writing with the then very limited apps options available to working online in google docs presented a challenge, but the fun of finding the work arounds reminded me of some of what I most enjoy about computing: finding fixes and keeping things going.

Back then, and earlier, most of the reviews about Chromebooks were, at best, hedged, and in many cases sermons on how Google (and Samsung and Acer, the companies manufacturing Chromebooks) had erred. Gloom was predicted for sales and prospects. It was rare indeed to find anyone -- except the occasional person commenting on articles or blog posts -- expressing anything like the sense of 'this is fun and I reckon it's pretty cool and where I reckon things are going' that I was experiencing.

So now we are in May 2012. Six months on. I cannot believe the growth in the Os and how much easier it is to do the things I want to do -- let alone *need* to do -- on my Chromebook. Apps have multiplied enormously, it is true. But more importantly for me, Google now has Google Drive up and running, and the OS is smooth, fast, expansive, and friendly.

I'm in Mexico City airport en route for a week of teaching in Canada -- in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. And I have waived my netbook and laptop in confidence that there is nothing I won't be able to do, that I need to do, on the Chromebook. My movies are loaded onto the SD card, and there will be ample wifi along the way.

But there is way more than this. In the recent edition of our New Literacies book we wrote about using the Google suite in our university teaching. That was based on work we had done til mid 2011. We mainly wrote about using google docs, google sites, scholar google, and google books. But now, with Google Plus, Drive, and Hangouts it is straightforward to video conference with up to 9 people on cam and as many more as you want on chat. Google Drive gives plenty of Cloud space, and if you get strapped you can buy more. And multiple accounts gives more still. And when more if needed, the cost conscious can drop presentations on slideshare and tap into Windows Skydrive, Amazon Cloud, Dropbox.

This is a vastly expanded range of options from what was on my horizon back in November. At this point I am not even thinking of next November. And I continue to rejoice in the fact that we are able to avoid completely those awful university 'learning management systems' -- you know the ones ... -- and just run with something that works fast and seamlessly and lightly.

A final word on the Chrome OS. With a Chromebook the security is taken care of. When you log on the platform automatically checks against your being compromised (well, at least, outside the pound of flesh you render to Google in return for the resources, but I am fine with that). None of that invasive (albeit prudent to have) invasive clunk of McAfee or Norton. And ditto with the OS upgrades. Seamless and invisible. None of that "please don't disconnect or turn off your power source while 15 upgrade items will come down the pipe over the next 15 minutes. Yes, we know your flight has been called, but please be patient. If the overhead bins are full you'll just have to cramp your feet up a bit under the seat in front of you".

So, last night I looked in on Amazon to see how the Samsung Chromebook was doing. Back in mid 2011 the pundits were going for the Acer version over the Samsung (although user comments often varied). It doubtless helps things a bit that Amazon has the Samsung Series 5 available for $299. That's a $50 saving, and I am guessing that there has to be some subsidising going on somewhere. The machine is beautifully built and a joy to use (having got used to the touchpad now and knowing to keep my digits away from it). But as of last night, the Samsung Chromebook was at number 30 on Amazon's top 100 computing and electronic items, and at number 6 on 'laptops' -- which it isn't. Many of the spaces above the Samsung were taken by tablets of one kind or another. (The Acer Chromebook was as number 139 overall and at 38 in 'laptops' -- which it isn't).

I sense a turning tide, and it's nice to have been surfing it for a while. The potential for educational uptake is enormous. The reality, however, may differ a bit for a while. That mindset thing. In two of the three schools we'll be working in on this trip there is not even wireless access. It's a crime.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy – Call for Papers

Our good friends and colleagues at the Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy have put out a call for contributions for 2013, and are calling for papers on the following themes:

(1) Interactive whiteboards: http://www.idunn.no/ts/dk/2012/01/art01
(2) ICT in teacher training and teacher education: http://www.idunn.no/ts/dk/2012/01/art02
(3) Subject specific use of ICT: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B2COX095ksMkTllscGhWcDc2czQ

 If you are not familiar with the journal and would like to get a sense of it you can access issue 1/2012 here (free): http://www.idunn.no/ts/dk/2012/01 The Journal has played a valuable leadership role in the field of theoretical and practical debate and development around digital literacy since it began in 2006. Our experiences of publishing and working with the journal have been excellent, and we would really like to recommend it to you as a place to consider publishing your work.

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