Archive for December, 2010

What is Wrong with Web-based Networking

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Yahoo Shutting Down, Ning’s recent abandonment of its free service, and the end of Bloglines are just the most recent examples of why it seems dangerous to rely on proprietary solutions to the problem of data storage for web-based networking – and of the shared bookmarking aspect in particular.

And even without the question of stability, there is the ongoing problem of duplication and overlap – whether it’s vs Diigo vs PearlTrees for sharing links, or Facebook vs LinkedIn vs whatever for personal newtorking. For me it seems that the time wasted in trying to decide how to use these things is worth more than all of the benefits they provide.

What I would feel much more comfortable with are open source redundantly distributed solutions which share information in a common format (similar to the design of the web itself) – and which somehow seamlessly blend and extend the contents of the various proprietary systems now in place.



Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Apparently, religion is no more likely than any other kind of group affiliation to be associated with either charity or emotional well-being.

So the argument that religion provides a positive contribution in these areas may like saying that baseball is the medical panacaea because baseball players are healthier than the population average – even though this may only be due to their getting a bit more exercise than the overall population average (but a lot less than they would if they had played soccer instead)

Superman or Supermoms?

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

Davis Guggenheim, director of ‘Waiting for Superman’ has asked for and received some feedback from teachers.

When I saw the film, what struck me as the most invidious distortion (among many) was the failure to acknowledge that the children on whom miracles were being performed came from very special families. They weren’t just selected from the population at random. By lottery yes, but only from those who wanted to do the extra work and had family support in that endeavour. And given their circumstances, the level of support and committment shown by some of those parents was nothing less than miraculous.

With the kind of selection that’s involved, it’s no surprise that the results were better at the special schools – at least for those lucky enough to have the necessary support. But what about the rest? There was actually no evidence given that the KIPP or other special schools would work for them, and taking out the best students and families from the regular schools might just condemn the rest to an even greater rate of failure.

It may be that the KIPP strategy of applying triage to the community is actually the best strategy for overall improvement. And it may be that the current teaching strategies are not optimal for those left behind. But neither of these is demonstrated in the film.

As an ex union member, I must also object to the disgusting ploy of trying to make a political point against unions out of the requirement to discuss and attempt to reach agreement on all aspects of a contract before presenting a unilateral ultimatum to be voted on.

Overall, in the end I felt that the stories of some truly inspiring parents, children, and teachers had been tainted by a dishonest presentation.

Bishop Explains Christmas as Myth

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

In his annual Christmas message the Rt Rev John Davies, Bishop of the Church in Wales diocese of Swansea and Brecon, complained about atheists timing their contrary message so as to “coincide with two of the church’s greatest festivals, Christmas and Easter” and claimed that their criticisms were in any case based on a misunderstanding.

The Chinese Room

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Stephen Downes links to this notice about three free Philosophy courses from John Searle who is famous for his Chinese Room thought experiment.  Now Searle may be a great teacher, and the ‘Chinese Room’ may be a useful paedagogical device, but I’m afraid I have difficulty respecting any dsicipline which ever in modern times treated it as anything more than that.

Hitchens on Assange

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

According to Christopher Hitchens, the WikiLeaks founder is an unscrupulous megalomaniac with a political agenda, and should “turn himself in” in order to accept the consequences of his “civil disobedience”. The character assessment may or may not be true, but Hitchens’ argument that Assange should “turn himself in” on those grounds is nonsense.

Al Sharpton vs Christopher Hitchens

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

This old debate (which came up when I looked up Al Sharpton in response to Obama’s use of his name in contrast with James Dobson) is quite good, but Hitchens’ failure to take up Sharpton’s (repeated) invitation to raise things to a higher level is disappointing. (more…)

Obama Speech on Religion

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

This comes from before he was president. But note that (at 2:30 on the tape) he says “politics involves compromise” and perhaps that is being applied also to the very principles advocated in this speech.


Monday, December 6th, 2010

Over the last three months I spent a considerable amount of time following the #PLENK2010 Massive Open OnLine Course organized by Dave Cormier, Stephen Downes, Rita Kop, and George Siemens.

Before I Forget

Monday, December 6th, 2010

This must be everything or else it will be nothing.