Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world's entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You'll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier. There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost. That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It's outrageous and unacceptable. "I agree," many say, "but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it's perfectly legal - there's nothing we can do to stop them." But there is something we can, something that's already being done: we can fight back. Those with access to these resources - students, librarians, scientists - you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not - indeed, morally, you cannot - keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends. Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends. But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It's called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn't immoral - it's a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy. Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it - their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies. There is no justice in following unjust laws. It's time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture. We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that's out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access. With enough of us, around the world, we'll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge - we'll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us? Aaron Swartz July 2008, Eremo, Italy via | Open Access Manifesto
Asylum is for people who are afraid to return to their own country because they fear persecution, unlawful imprisonment or even death because of their race, their ethnicity, their religion, their membership in particular social or political groups, or their political beliefs.
Mr. Snowden undoubtedly fears returning home because he would be arrested and prosecuted. But those fears do not qualify him for asylum. And does he really feel safer in a country where Mr. Putin, an increasingly authoritarian leader, has jailed and persecuted his critics?
This is complete newspeak on part of NYT. Mark the last words in the first quote “their political beliefs”. The case of Snowden is not about military secrets, but about his political beliefs. The belief that those in power should not abuse it, the belief that those who have abused the power should be brought to light. It is in fact for these very beliefs they are targeting him.
And why should not he fear arrest and prosecution? As they have done with Manning, they will do with him and Assange. This would be just to set an example, so that no one else does it. Actually Putin and Obama are no different. If at all someone from any other country, lets say Cuba, would come to the US, having leaked Cuban secrets, won’t the US consider giving them asylum. And does giving that person the asylum, has to do anything with how Obama himself is running the show. If spying on your own people, breaching their privacy to the fullest is okay then jailing and persecuting the critics is no different.
A paper from much later Papert IBM Journal 2000
“What’s the big idea? Toward a pedagogy of idea power
Here he distinguishes between the psychological (how a person is
affected by a treatment) and epistemological (about ideas) aspects of
learning and assessment. It is rather unfortunate that researchers (much
to Papert’s dismay) choose to study “effects of programming (or of LOGO
or of Computer)” on children after a certain exposure akin to a medical
treatment. This is certainly not what was envisioned by Papert for LOGO
and computers. He also adds that the third word in the subtitle of
“Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas”, namely powerful
ideas is something that most researchers forgot. They only concentrated
on the earlier two and left the powerful ideas outside the classroom and
Also for the current practices in the fields of research in education
and especially constructvism which is in vogue now, he has following
critique (which I think is prevalent methodology and framework in our
own centre and applies to them as well):
“Consider Michael’s relationship with school mathematics. Learning how
to ﬁnd the common denominator of a bunch of fractions is boring for him
because he is not able to use it in any exciting way. It supports
neither ﬂights of the mind nor “hands-on” projects.
Enter a constructivist who says: Michael will have a better relationship
with the manipulation of fractions if he discovers the rules himself. So
situations are created (often with great ingenuity) that will lead
children to “discover” the rules of arithmetic. But being made to
“discover” what someone else (and someone you may not even like) wants
you to discover (and already knows!) is not Michael’s idea of an
exciting intellectual adventure. The idea of invention has been tamed
and has lost its essence. He
wants to ﬂy, but what this kind of constructivism offers him is more
like decorating the captive bird’s
This failure of the constructivist to meet Michael’s needs represents a
double whammy of disempowerment. Jean Piaget’s very strong idea that all
learning takes place by discovery is emasculated by its translation into
the common practice known in schools as “discovery learning.” It is
disempowered in part because discovery stops being discovery when it is
orchestrated to happen on the preset agenda of a curriculum but also in
large part because the ideas being learned are disempowered. For
example, the idea of rules for manipulating numbers was historically one
of the most powerful ideas ever and in the right context can still be.
But no child would ever
suspect that from its presentation in school as a rather boring routine.
Setting ourselves the task of
re-empowering the ideas being learned is also a step toward
re-empowering the idea of learning by discovery.
The same double whammy is present when the excellent and potentially
powerful intention, that
knowledge is situated, turns into presenting manipulations of fractions
in the guise of “real world” situations such as shopping at the
supermarket. For Michael this contributes nothing to a sense of the
power of the idea of fractions. He cares nothing about shopping in the
supermarket and knows that
in these days of automation at the checkout counter and unit prices on
the labels, no one exercises arithmetic while shopping.”
In this article he also talks about why school reforms are impossible
but change is not.
“So, too, the mega-change in education that will undoubtedly come in the
next few decades will not be
a “reform” in the sense of a deliberate attempt to impose a new designed
structure. My conﬁdence in making this statement is based on two factors:
(1) forces are at work that put the old structure in increasing
dissonance with the society of which it is
ultimately a part, and
(2) ideas and technologies needed to build new structures are becoming
I hope that publishing this paper will help both factors. Public
discussion of the idea-averse
nature of School makes the dissonance more acute. Public access to
empowered forms of ideas and the ways in which technology can support
them fertilizes the process of new growth.”
Most of the people who are averse to technology for various reasons, are
essentially ignoring the fact that new epistemological and relational
structures among the learners and the things to be learned have started
to form due to current technologies, which were impossible earlier. The
very ignorance of the fact that these structures are changing the
dynamics of knowledge and ideas around us, sometimes knowingly and
patronizingly, will not lead us anywhere but keep us in an idea aversion
Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.
Too many wrongly characterize the debate as “security versus privacy.” The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that’s why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide.
“We want to show the world that we are innovators. We want to show the world that cloud storage has a right to exist. And, of course, when you launch something like this, you can expect some controversy. The content industry is going to react really emotionally about this. The US government will probably try and destroy the new business … you’ve got to stand up against that, and fight that, and I’m doing that … I will not allow them to chill me.”
via Kim Dotcom | guardian
Make no mistake, Aaron was a criminal and, despite popular belief, there was no prosecutorial overreach. The US Attorney who oversaw his prosecution described her office’s actions as “appropriate” and, according to the law, she was telling the truth. The job of prosecutors is to bully and intimidate suspects, using the threat of some of the world’s harshest sentencing laws into plea bargaining for a shorter sentence in exchange for an admission of guilt. This is American “justice;” our current system of severe sentencing and mandatory minimums gives prosecutors overwhelming power – power that was once in the hands of judges and juries – to the point that today less than 5% of criminal cases are resolved by a jury (3% in federal cases).
via Common Dreams.
RIP Aaron Swartz.
(This article was written for a college magazine.)
We have a vision for a better society in which the values of sharing and collaborating knowledge and technical know-how form an integral part. There are two aspects to this issue. One is why it should be done, and given the current social structure how it can be done. Though the why question is as important as the how one in this article we will try to focus more on how it can be done with aid of proper technology and what are the possible implications of this intervention to the citizens of the future.
The current education system does little to promote and impart the ideas of sharing knowledge with peers to the students who will be the future citizens. In our educational system it is more like each-one-for-oneself; if you help your peers you will be at a loss in the future. Another aspect is that the educational system by its nature is consumerist. By consumerist we mean that the schools system treat the students more like consumers, who are then passively fed in what has already been produced by others. There is no or little scope left for students to produce or construct anything meaningful. So the platform/technology which will address these issues should have the following qualities:
- It should be based on principles of Free Software (see http://gnu.org/education).
- It should allow for collaboration / sharing of knowledge.
- It should allow for active, meaningful and collaborative production / construction contexts, through which students will learn.
- It should give immediate feedback to the student, not the delayed one (year end) which the current school system has. This is essential as it makes children reflective about the work that they are doing.
Learning in the context of constructing some tangible thing is a philosophy of education proposed by Seymour Papert, called constructionism. Constructionist learning is inspired by the constructivist theory that individual learners construct mental models to understand the world around them. However, constructionism holds that learning can happen most effectively when people are also active in making tangible objects in the real world. A closely related term that you might have heard is that of constructivism, but there are differences though.
The potential for transforming classrooms in a revolutionary way is present in the constructionist way of learning, which the existing CBTs (computer based tutorials) do not challenge but reinforce. The advances in technology have made it possible now to implement constructionist ways of learning to masses. So where are the examples of this?
The Sugar learning platform is just one such example which is specifically developed keeping in mind the above considerations. But the idea of constructionist learning is not limited only to using computers. displayed. The very idea of the platform is centered around the idea of constructionism. Though initially developed for OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) Project, now it can run on almost all computers. Learning in an environment where sharing knowledge is an inherent principle rather than an added externality provides the students with a whole new way of learning. Each activity on Sugar is designed keeping in mind the collaborative, construction context and immediate feedback principles.
The Sugar platform provides construction contexts from different areas to learn collaboratively like language, mathematics, science, drawing, music, games, programming, photography, audio and video recording among other things. For each of this activity can be done collaboratively by the students and can be shared with others. This also provides students to make meaningful connections between different concepts. In this context we have seen a strong urge in the children to share the knowledge and activities that they have with others, but in the current school system there is no or little provision for this. Sharing of activities provides context for feedback from peers, which in turn is fruitful in improving learning. Thus we see that the tools and time is ripe for changing our perspective towards education for a more inclusive and better society, whose core values are sharing of knowledge and collaboration.
There are pilot projects of Sugar running at many places across India, one is the Khairat Project which is running successfully for past 4 years at a primary tribal school of first generation learners near Mumbai, another one is at Merces School near Panaji in state of Goa.
“Success” is not our goal; we’re not here to win a race, we are here to win freedom. I didn’t write GCC with the idea of making a “better” C compiler. I wrote it so there would be a freedom-respecting C compiler, and while I was at it, I did the best job I knew how. We didn’t develop GNU to have a “better” operating system than Unix; we developed it so we could have a freedom-respecting operating system. It’s the same today.
We have earlier seen some quotes from the book The Golem: What You Should Know About Science. There are two companion volumes to this book The Golem Unleashed: What You Should Know about Technology and Dr. Golem: How to think about Medicine. These series of books by Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch provide us with examples from these fields which most of the times are ‘uncontested’. For example in the first volume they discuss about the famous 1920 experimental confirmation of Einstein’s predictions in general relativity by Eddington. This experiment is told as a matter-of-fact anecdote in physics, where petty borders of nationalism could not stop physics and physicists. But in the book, as they show inspite of scanty or almost no positive evidence, Eddington “Concluded” that the predictions were true. This they term “experimenters’ regress”.
The experimenter’s regress occurs when scientists cannot decide what the outcome of an experiment should be and therefore cannot use the outcome as a criterion of whether the experiment worked or not.
– The Golem Unleashed pp. 106
In The Golem Unleashed they present us with many examples of this from field of technology. One of the examples is from the Challenger accident which Feynman made famous by courtroom drama. In this case they call the “experimenter’s regress” as “technologist’s regress”.
Recently I read (all further quotes from the same link)an episode in India which would fit in very with these episodes. This is regarding baggage scanning machines installed at Indian airports. They were brought at 2 crore rupees per unit in 2010. But in August 2011 they failed the tests on tasks they were supposed to do.
The scanners are called in-line baggage inspection systems as they scan bags that go into the cargo hold of the aircraft after passengers check in and hand over their luggage to the airline. They use x-ray imaging and “automatic intelligence” to verify the contents of bags and determine whether they include explosives.
Now one would think that this would be as easy as it gets. Either the scanner detects whether the explosives are present in the baggage or they do not. But it is not as simple as it seems so. Now when the tests were done, the testers found the machines failed.
During the tests, security sources said that a technological specification committee of officials from the IB, RAW, SPG, NSG, BCAS and the civil aviation ministry passed bags containing 500 gm of six kinds of explosives, including PETN and ammonium nitrate, as well as IEDs through these systems. The scanners did not flag any of these bags as suspicious, the sources said.
So after this “failure” the companies which supplied these machines were asked to improve upon the machines or to share the software to recalibrate them. But the companies and interestingly Airport Authortiy of India AAI said that the testing methods were at fault. Now the explosives were passed and the machines did not detect them, then how can companies say that the testing methods were not working?
The machines work on the so called 70:30 principle.
“Though it works on a 70:30 principle, if there is an explosive in the 70 per cent, it will throw up the image of each and every bag that has dangerous substances. We would like to emphasise that the systems supplied and installed by our company at Indian airports are of state-of-the-art technology and are fully compliant with current standards.”
The 70:30 principle refers to the “automatic intelligence” used by Smiths Detection machines to clear 70 per cent of the baggage and reject the rest, according to the Airports Authority of India (AAI). “The machines reject 30 per cent of the baggage, the images of which are then sent to the screener. These systems have automatic intelligence capability and have been tested against a wide range of substances considered dangerous for aircraft. The details and specifications are never disclosed, or else terrorists would understand the software,”
But if anyway machines are doing the job, why not do it 100%? And the funny thing is that they are not sharing the software, which is the main agenda of the proprietary software companies. This is a case where people realize that they are just Users of the software under question. This argument that “or else terrorists would understand the software” does not hold. They don’t need to if the machine is going to reject a whole lot of bags And in anyway if there are bus/holes in the software, a thousand eyes repair them much faster than a few. And this is The companies further say that
“The technology or physics is that x-ray based system can’t detect explosives, it is only approximate detection of dangerous substances,”
Why is the AAI siding (they are rather defending the companies) with the companies is something worth pondering.
AAI people say “The problem could be due to the sheer ignorance of officers who lacked the skills to test for explosives,”
Still with no unanimity in the testing results, the case truly presents us with a “technologist’s regress.”
Educators, and all those who wish to contribute to on-line educational works: please do not to let your work be made non-free. Offer your assistance and text to educational works that carry free/libre licenses, preferably copyleft licenses so that all versions of the work must respect teachers’ and students’ freedom. Then invite educational activities to use and redistribute these works on that freedom-respecting basis, if they will. Together we can make education a domain of freedom.
Mostly people don’t bother about what they get for gratis on the Internet, but institutions cannot adopt the same approach. Licensing is as much important as much as the actual content. But an archaic system will not go down till it is compelled to, and it will fight till the very end.