Wednesday, February 23, 2005

FLOSSE Posse, a new blog focused on Open Source in education

I have created a new weblog which focuses on commentary on Free/Libre and Open Source Software in Education. It's called...

FLOSSE Posse

It's a group weblog consisting of some members of Free and Open Source in Education Association. We also accept guest bloggers.

Our first mission is to do digital audio recordings (podcasts) and analysis of various people in the field of Open Source in education. This is to systematically bring together ideas from people who work on various fields. Open Source in education is a fragmented field. There are certain online communities and mailing lists where people gather but so far not a single weblog has chosen to focus on these issues alone. If you know about one, let me know.

This also means that I'm talking more about Open Source in education over there and the business of Open Source right here.

The first interview is with Alan Levine. I think it came out fairly well. You can hear my compositions in the beginning and in the end of the interviews.

We are starting a conversation here, hop in.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Software should be stuff that gets you laid...

I've been in the business of creating groupware applications and learning management software (LMS, which is the substitute of groupware in the educational world) long enough to understand what they are talking about in the Many-to-Many fame.

Groupware and LMS are both measured the same way: comparing feature lists, amount of features and other parameters useful when selling them to the management.

In the end, the users are not really willing to use these applications unless they are paid for doing so or there is some other benefit achieved through them. There is nothing sexy with a groupware application. Nothings that gets you laid.

Management is not (yet) interested in the social capital some of the software tools might be able to generate or how they are naturally able to network people together. They are interested in how these tools make certain mechanical business issues more efficient (save money and time) and how they are able to control it. They compare feature sheets where the features are listed like..
  • does it have a Todo application?
  • does it have a Project Management feature?
  • does it allow the teacher to track where students are spending their time?
  • etc.
It's all about increased structure. Control. Features. Cost savings.

Nothing bad about that. What is wrong here is that people stop using when the money stops flowing. That is the brokenated nature of groupware applications.

There is also a problem in over simplifying the process of selecting a tool. You simply just can't make a feature comparison chart and check if a groupware application has a feature or not. For example, if you have a LMS called Fronter in your comparison chart and there is a column called "Weblog", often you simply just check that "Ok, Fronter has a Weblog". *check*.

If you look more closely, the so called weblog you have in Fronter has nothing that makes weblog applications cool, sexy and social. In fact, there is nothing you could brag about: it lacks 90% of the characteristics of weblog applications in general that make them so sexy these days.

It's a poor substitute in the comparison chart simply to get the vendor ahead in feature checklist game as the management is able to say, "We have heard weblogs have benefits in education as our teachers are asking for them and students are already using them in their free time: Fronter also has a weblog". *check*.

The reality is that none of the users are willing to use the weblog tool in Fronter for blogging if they are not paid to do so. They use Blogger, Movable Type or Nucleus instead, software that is truly social software and is able to tap one into global conversations. These tools were built with a different mindset.

Building social capital through the daily use of collaborative software is underestimated these days. What managers are forgetting is that the markets are conversations and thanks to the internet, the markets are getting smarter all the time, requiring smarter conversations between companies and customers. A link between the conversation among the customers and the work that is done internally in a company has to be supported.

Ironical comment in the Many-to-Many blog by Will Davies:

"I gave a talk to a global consultancy firm a couple of years ago about what social software could do for them. I suggested that, given that they have several thousand over-worked employees in one building who never speak to each other, the best way to build social capital would be to create an internal dating site. They thought I was joking."

I have worked on an Open Source groupware/LMS.

Not anymore. Nowadays I'm working on social software.

I'm thinking about social capital and smarter conversations instead. I'm thinking about social added-value and smarter conversations instead of software feature checklists. I'm thinking about how my software could get you laid. I guess I wouldn't be able to think like this if I hadn't first learned everything about groupware and LMS.

Best sales pitch ever

Tired of salesman pitches? How about a guitar and a familiar song with new lyrics that deliver the presentation? Very entertaining and fresh for sure.

I can play a guitar but I can't sing at the same time :) But I can juggle some balls, throw sticks around and play a fool. Anyone with good ideas about choreography for my next presentation?

Friday, February 18, 2005

Unlearning, wtf?

There was a meme in the blog community about unlearning: unlearning the past in order to replace it with something new as the lifetime of what you know gets shorter and shorter all the time.

Hugh Gapingvoid mentions that he had to unlearn his career in advertising to come up with something as genious as
Hughtrain. Indeed, it's more than genious, go read it.

I think unlearning is a word from the old world where we used to think learning as acquisition of knowledge. I guess unlearning as a word is reversing that practice and putting something else back in. Yet I argue, you just can't unlearn, as the way how you have constructed new knowledge in the past has already shaped your point of view.

You have to change the way you view the world. My perception is that Hugh just got through the issues he just first mimiced to reveal a completely new level of understanding. The next stack in his understanding is partly based on the past learning experiences but the mindset is very much different, almost anarchic. I think this is the same for many who know their topic very well.

My friend Juhani Anttila has done a lifetime career in understanding Quality. My discussions with him have revealed (to me, at least) that quality is not in the specifications of how to manufacture quality products, services and goods. Quality is a mindset. He knows both sides of the coin better than anyone. He has been part of writing the ISO-9000 specifications and seeing people implement them.

Conceptual change is a better word to describe this. How the concepts through which you perceive the world change at an instant. It's like boiling water. Boiling doesn't happen gradually, the properties of the water change at once when the water reaches 100 degrees. We have to reach for the next conceptual boiling point in our understanding.

Oh yeah. My last major boiling point (atleast as much as I have realized) passed when I understood:

How on earth could a personal journal/weblog/website be social?

Suddenly you see the properties of the experience everywhere. I can't tell you how.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Funny animation for all you Data's out there

When I was browsing some excellent demoscene demos and watching the Demo TV over at demoscene.tv I found this wild animation, presented at the Gathering 2004. It's hilarious, go see "Pat a Mat - Data" :)

Also found this überskillful demonstration of flash wizardry, $21 by Orion. Flash looks competent web technology these days ;)

Btw. sorry for not posting frequently lately, I've been busy working on various projects at work. I try to allocate more time for blogging about interesting stuff.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Exploring Flickr social relationships

Web service APIs rock. These usually XML-RPC based interfaces enable so many creative uses of technology. Take a look at these third party applications made around the best photo sharing service, Flickr:

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Free Software Magazine launched

Free Software Magazine has launched, available on paper and in electronic format. Some pretty interesting articles. Hope this keeps up, visit the website.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Experiences on sound editing

Recently I've been editing my soon to be released Skypecasts of various people in the field of Open Source in Education and also composed some tracks in the process with Skale Tracker.

Knowing how to mix and edit sound can make unbelievable difference in how a recording is experienced by the listener. Especially with podcasts and the increasing ammount of various offerings nowadays (thanks to IT Conversations and others), a listener might also choose the recording based on quality.

With quality I don't mean your MP3 bitrate but how pleasant it is to listen. If there is a lot of background noise, hard to hear words, lots of low-fidelity information (ummm, annndddaaa....) or distortion, it is easy to skip to next one despite the content.

As podcasting could prove to be a quite popular medium, I urge everyone creating recordings and releasing them to learn the basics of sound editing and mastering. Learning basics is easy and really make a difference in the end-product. There are also free tools available to begin with.

Doug Kaye (Via Stephen's Web) has gathered some links to tips on recording and editing. Good stuff to begin with.

I personally found this one very useful for beginners trying to do their work on Audacity.

Jon Udell pointed to Transom which is an awesome resource. If you are interested in movies or overall in how to edit music, talk and ambient sounds together in a way that people can still pick up the different themes without problems, see great article by Walter Murch where he describes audio through an analogy with visual spectrum and describes the unity of clarity and density through real examples from his movies.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Windows Media DRM10 Cracked?

Afterdawn.com has an interesting article about
a rumor that Windows Media DRM has been cracked. Two programs are circulating, claiming to be able to unprotect
the protected media files. Here we go... There is always a way to circumvent a copy protection as long as the user
has access to the protected file and is able to play it on the same machine without a third party (network connection
to some verification server). It's only a matter of time.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

BBS (bulletin board system): The Documentary

ANSI art
ANSI art,
originally uploaded by inf.

I've been fiddling with computers long enough that I remember the glory nostalgic days of pre-internet era called Bulletin Board Systems. You hooked up your 9600 baud modem and dialed through your list of BBSs, hoping that one of them could answer. During that time a phone call at our area charged around 0,08€€ a shot, no matter how long it was (!) As BBSs were mostly _the source_ of interesting files and discussions, you idled in BBSs just after midnight and consumed your precious daily download ratio till the morning, maybe playing some rounds of L.O.R.D at the same time or chatting with the SysOp in a split-screen chat.

The world's largest BBS was MBnet, located in Finland in my local area. It had 1000 nodes. MBnet was great for general-interest files, chat and door games, but the most interesting stuff was found in the topic-specific underground BBSs, often decorated with great looking character-based art.

I operated my single-line private BBS back in the day for a limited number of friends. I based it on the now notorious PcBoard software. First calls were most interesting.. "no one, in any circumstance, answer that phone when it rings, thank you!"

Trivia: Did you know, that the FILE_ID.DIZ files still around today were popularized by the PcBoard software? The reason was to include file descriptions inside the archives to let the users use the FILE_ID.DIZ contents as description of the uploaded file instead of writing their own.

ANSI and ASCII graphics also took off during those glorious days, which are still competed as an art form in the scene. I also got into drawing my own (see the inlined image). I also programmed in PPL, a Basic-like programming language for extending your PcBoard software.

The interesting thing about BBSs is that the glorious days were short lived. The unsung heroes who invented and prospered in the BBS community later affected how the internet formed out. These smart people are now scattered all around the world. That's why the BBS: The Documentary coming out in the following months is an important piece of work. Thank you! I'm so getting this.

This is important. A full-fledged documentary of BBSs does not exist. BBSs are often just a side note in stories like the Hacker Crackdown of a place where crackers meeted and discussed their attacks.

There is some entertaining media already available about the production.

Egology or not

Egology, oh yes.

"In terms how we evaluate schooling, everything is about working by yourself. If you work with someone else, it's called cheating. Once you get out in the real world, everything you do involves working with other people".
-- The Talent Myth

Well said, indeed.

This is about how well the educational institutions prepare students for the business world.

The way students are engaged in groups is still a separate process in the school environment. It needs to be integrated so that when you get out of there, you feel like working your ass off for others, not working your ass off for yourself.