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All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

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My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

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EdTech Update





Game cheats – and an encouraging discovery

I received the following e-mail today from a reporter:

I cover the federal court system for The Denver Post and I'm working on a story about a lawsuit involving game cheats. Specifically, one cheat site is suing another on copyright grounds…

I've heard about the book you've written, Learning Right from Wrong in the Digital Age and I suspect you would have some thoughts on some of the other issues I want to touch on in my story.

Beyond the issue of cheat sites cheating each other, I'm also interested in exploring the question of what children make of using cheat sites and how parents ought to view it. Game makers frequently embed cheats into games for a variety of reasons, including access for users. Are there circumstances under which it is ethically acceptable for kids to use game cheats? When not? Some make the argument that violent games beget violent kids. Do video game cheats beget dishonest children?

Since I have not played a computer game since the days of Zork, I gave a somewhat lame opinion based on what I know about my son's gaming and use of cheats. But, I also forwarded the question to Brady, now 19, himself. His reply:

I never thought cheating in video games was much of a problem unless you're playing with other people (multiplayer) This is normally viewed as dishonorable and down right annoying. Cheating in a single-player video game is only as bad as skipping a pages in book or knowing the ending of a movie before you see it. [He found the analogy I tried to find, but couldn't! - Doug]

Also there are two different types of cheating. Developer's cheats are the ones the creators of the game want you to find. The other type are the hacker cheats, which you have to buy special software for. You can buy these devices (Action Replay, GameShark) at any dealer that sells games. I sometimes use both when available, but only for difficult or frustrating games. Also, sometimes there are some interesting secrets that developers don’t want you to find. (Grand Theft Auto’s notorious Hot Coffee scene, and debug rooms)

I have never made the connection between cheating in games and cheating in real life. I always knew cheating was wrong and I never really remember cheating in school. (Well maybe I scribbled some vocab words in my hand once or twice but I never made a habit of it.) I guess I always had a clear understanding of what is fantasy and what is real-life. (I don’t leap off buildings expecting to respawn close by; I don’t jump on people’s heads in hopes that spinning gold coins will come out of them; and I don’t have a pause screen.) [Parallel construction! - Doug] The bottom line is school and work are the exact opposite of video games and recreation, and I think that’ s how most people view them. I just don’t see the connection of cheating in video games to cheating in school – there’s just too big of gap…

I was impressed, as only a father can be, that my son has both writing skills and a good intellect. And has perhaps inherited my writing style – for good or ill. (Who are you and what have you done with Brady?)

This also tells me that kids are capable of more sophisticated reasoning and ethical thought than we might think.

Can your students tell the difference between games and reality? Are we worrying too much about raising an amoral generation who have gotten their values from Mario Brothers?


The fate of libraries - an international question

When we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings. Wendell Berry
National Library Board of Singapore conference – Day 2
Michael Keller, Stanford University,  began the day with a keynote, "A Knowledge-Based Web." One of the key things he mentioned was the emergence of what is being called Web 2.0, as described by O’Reilly. (A little reading for when I get home – why am always the last to know about these things?) Keller elaborated on the challenges of describing and organizing the web and is a champion for the Google Print book digitalization project.
After the keynote, I headed to the new National Library of Singapore building that recently opened, accompanied by my able guide, Mr Lau Kai Cheong, Director of Infocomm for the NLB. He gave a great tour including a visit to the “Pod,” an observatory at the top the building that gives commanding views of the city – even from the women’s restroom. (Don't ask.) The building is 16 stories tall and houses the library offices, a drama center, a public library area, traveling exhibits, and outstanding collections of Far East materials.

The architecture’s white, geometric structure is tempered by green plants throughout, including “sky gardens,” visible from the exterior of the building. It was interesting watching people do self-check-in and self-checkout of materials – a process using the RFID chips in the books. The kids seemed to enjoy the process especially. Despite the it’s high tech approach to library services, Dr, Varaprasad, the CEO of the National Board, believes his library is not cutting edge. (“But we  are not using RFID to do sorting for reshelving of materials!”) Cutting edge or not, Singapore has a world-class library that is obviously the end product of both visionary and humanistic thought.
After the tour, Mr. Lau treated me to lunch at the library’s café where visited about jobs, kids, and housing prices. Yup, we are more alike than different. We worry about our kids and think health care costs are too high. Mr. Lau exemplifies the spirit of hospitality (and even honor – deserved or not) I encountered in Singapore. There is a talent to making a guest feel welcome, especially one so far from home. Singapore may well serve as a model for the post-industrial age. It a country (city-state) without raw materials or a large cheap labor pool. It's vibrant economy is built entirely on the intelligence and creativity of its citizens.

The afternoon’s sessions revolved around the Knowledge Worker of the future. Some real commonalities among the three presenters:
  • Putting information into context and being able to use it purposefully and creatively are the hallmarks of the successful “knowledge worker.”
  • All librarians will need to see themselves as teachers.
  • And it is our EQ and interpersonal skills, as much or more than our technical skills, that will separate the successful from those less so.

A major thread of the conference was speculation (and concern) about the future role of the librarian. As one participant asked,  “When everyone is a “knowledge worker,” where does that leave us?" A great question that I hear everywhere I go – and asked not just by librarians, but by teachers as well. (I closed my part of the Q&A session with Wendell Berry’s great quote at the beginning of this entry instead of a pat answer - which I surely do not have.)

International conferences such as this one, are fascinating events.  Try one some time. (IASL is in Lisbon this summer and Sydney in 2006. Great excuse to see some places you've always want to see.)

Oh, I learned that one needs be accurate in one’s blog, even when reporting about a distant event. Another set of reactions to the conference can be found on Ivan Chew's The Rambling Librarian blog. Interesting to see another (valid!) perpective of the sessions as well as how one is perceived as a presenter. I was blown away  to read his posts! Thanks, Ivan!

Back in Mankato. Reflecting that two places where boredom is preferable to excitement are on airplanes and at the dentist office. 


I Hate Books

It’s fun to watch the expressions on librarians’ faces when I start a talk with the statement, "I hate books!" I had the chance to do that yesterday at the National Library Board of Singapore conference when giving the abbreviated version of my presentation, "E-Books, E-Learning, E-Gads." (Handouts)

I back off the statement pretty quickly, by explaining that what I hate about books is their current cellulose format. Paper books are heavy, get dirty, get lost, go out of print. I need to find my reading glasses before I can access them. Printing, storage, shipping and remaindering make them more expensive than they need to be.

I then extol the virtues of a truly practical e-book and the challenges it may bring to schools and libraries. I am not sure I made many converts to silicon over cellulose, but I think I had the group’s attention.

The day started with a keynote by futurist, Paul Saffo, who everyone seems to have heard of but me. Good speaking style. Some intriguing points from his talk:

  • Even the most anticipated futures arrive in unexpected ways.
  • Given that technology use increases exponentially and human expectations rise linearly, the magnitude of change brought about by a technology is always overestimated in the short term and underestimated in the long term.
  • Drop “information” from your vocabulary. It’s all about “media” – information and knowledge that surrounds us, is intimate, and ubiquitous.
  • There is a huge shift from “mass” to “personal” media. The US is losing its common or shared knowledge. Republicans and Democrats almost exclusively read different books. The same folks who read the DaVinci Code are unlikely to have read the Left Behind series and vice versa.
  • When new media arrives, there is always the concern that too much of it will make us crazy. Popular novels and romances were blamed for both Don Quixote’s and Emma's (in Madame Bovary)  problems.
  • Libraries' future customers may be machines, not people.
  • Were it a country, the online game, Everquest, would have the world’s 70th largest GNP.
  • We need to have librarians populating the online world, 2nd Life.

Saffo’s session was followed by an architect explaining the design of the new National Library Building which sits across the street from the conference hotel (I hope to get over there today.) The attempt has been made to make it a complete ecosystem with the careful selection of plants distributed through out the giant structure.

After lunch, a cataloging guru talked about things like quality of metadata, the Dublin core, and other things that I probably should be deeply concerned about. Sorry, I didn’t take notes on this one. The director of the National Library of China gave a talk about his organization’s efforts to make all information available to China’s citizens. Then my talk ended the day.

I did workshops in Malaysia a few years ago, and had forgotten how much this part of the world loves to eat. (Wouldn’t know it by looking at their waistlines.) Along with lunch, the conference offered both a morning and afternoon tea that were reminiscent of the coffee breaks given to the men putting up hay when I was a kid – sandwiches, cookies, etc. – nearly full meals in themselves. My friend George, who sponsored my trip here before, said conferences are highly evaluated on the quality of the food. A manager may send an underling to the conference to check the food out the first day before he himself will attend on the second day.

Oh, last evening the president of Singapore had me over to the palace for supper. Nice of him. Of course, there were about 200 other people there as well and he didn't actually let me in the house. I did get the chance to say "So, how you doin' then?" and he, too, said he loved Minnesota. Damn, I think more people from Singapore have been to Minnesota than Americans!


President, front and center. Me, back far right.
(Didn't want you to get confused.)

Looking forward to today’s sessions that start in a couple hours. Thanks to jet-lag, my days always start about 4am if there is more than a 6 hour time zone difference. I hope to be over this before I head back tomorrow, so I can experience jet lag going the other direction too.