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Friday
Feb082008

Is there a place for fear mongering?

Yesterday's keynote speaker at a small tech conference in Marshall, MN, was Mike Detloff, a police officer from Moorhead, MN, working in the Crimes Against Children Unit. His topic was, of course, the dangers children face online.

Now I tend to dislike these sorts of presentations for a number of reasons, and Mike's talk was very similar to many I've heard from law enforcement agents - FBI to the local folks. Heavy on the gory stories of the repulsive acts of pedophiles.  The innocent child snatched from the jaws of an online predator in the nick of time. A strange brew of information about online predators, child pornography, child abuse, public masturbators, missing and abducted children and even serial killers. Of today's popular evils, only Bin Laden usually seems to be missing.

MIke's view of the civil rights of criminal suspects was, shall we say, at odds with the ACLU's. Some of the uses of hidden surveillance cameras he bragged about seemed like entrapment to me. His conclusion that reading books about serial killers showed a propensity to become one did not seem exactly logical. (If we become what we read, I should by now be a gumshoe or a space alien.) And since these things were being addressed at a tech conference, all technology was guilty by association.

11th.jpgI guess I am weary of the use of fear by the government and businesses in this country to sell an ideology or a product. Were one to listen only to law enforcement, the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or the manufacturers of webblocking/monitoring software, pedophiles lurk behind every web page and every click pushes a child closer to defilement or death. There are too few objective studies and analyses done in this area to help us gain some perspective. I appreciate the Nancy Willards and Ann Colliers and Larry Magids. (The ConnectSafely website has a good list of less sensational articles about Internet safety.)

But Mike made me think as well. More than I really wanted to. I don't want to think about this topic! 

  1. Mike asked: If you are heterosexual, how many years of therapy would it take to make you homosexual? If you are homosexual, how many years of therapy would it take to make you heterosexual? If you are a pedophile, how many years of therapy would it take to make you no longer sexually attracted to children? (Why sex offenders are regarded as such for life.)
  2. Lonely, neglected children are those most at risk from the solicitations of online predators. His line was memorable - "If you don't tell your children you love them, someone else will." YIkes!
  3. He showed the video, The Eleventh Commandment: Honor Thy Children - a wrenching music video on child abuse that is nearly unbearable to watch. (Which also made me feel guilty for ever hollering at my kids.)
  4. I don't know how a person like Mike can work in crimes against children field for years. I have the highest regard for his sense of mission and dedication. I know he does this work for his own children's sake as well.

When I do workshops on Internet safety, I tell participants that while I believe the threat of online predators is over blown, even if there is only ONE such creature, we need to help kids learn to guard against such a threat. It's an unpleasant, uncomfortable topic. But it is one we need to acknowledge and understand. Even when we don't really want to.

Did I mention that Moorhead is the sister city to Fargo - just across the Red River? When Mike is working to protect the area's kids, those kids include my two grandsons. We may not agree on a lot of things, but I am awfully glad Mike is on the job.

Wednesday
Feb062008

And I quote (again)...

Dance like it hurts,
Love like you need money,
Work when people are watching. - Scott (Dilbert) Adams

As readers of the Blue Skunk know, I like quotes. And I am a collector. For others who enjoy quotes, the feed at Quotes of the Day <http://www.quotationspage.com/data/qotd.rss> will plunk a few pithy statements into your RSS Reader a few times a week. Great fun.

I've also been enjoying Canadian Paul Cornies's quoteflections blog. He opens each of his posts with a quote or two on a wide variety of topics - and then personally reflects for a few paragraphs. Always worth reading!

Have a great Wednesday! 

Tuesday
Feb052008

Making a living in a post DRM world

It is always with great trepidation that I venture into the shark-filled waters of Digital Rights Management commentary. (Warm up your keyboards, Stephen, Tom, and Peter!) I am still unconvinced that the inability to control one's creative work is in the best interest of either the producer or the consumer, but I am doing my very best to be open-minded about the issue.

Kevin Kelly's latest post in his Technium blog  "Better Than Free" (via Stephen's Lighthouse) attempts to answer the question that bothers me as well:

"...the previous round of wealth in this economy was built on selling precious copies, so the free flow of free copies tends to undermine the established order. If reproductions of our best efforts are free, how can we keep going? To put it simply, how does one make money selling free copies?"

Kelly suggests eight "generatives" that are better than free:

  1. Immediacy
  2. Personalization
  3. Interpretation
  4. Authenticity
  5. Accessibility
  6. Embodiment
  7. Patronage
  8. Findability

He details how each of these qualities can be used to generate revenue. For example Personalization:

"A generic version of a concert recording may be free, but if you want a copy that has been tweaked to sound perfect in your particular living room -- as if it were performed in your room -- you may be willing to pay a lot. The free copy of a book can be custom edited by the publishers to reflect your own previous reading background. A free movie you buy may be cut to reflect the rating you desire (no violence, dirty language okay). Aspirin is free, but aspirin tailored to your DNA is very expensive. As many have noted, personalization requires an ongoing conversation between the creator and consumer, artist and fan, producer and user. It is deeply generative because it is iterative and time consuming. You can't copy the personalization that a relationship represents. Marketers call that "stickiness" because it means both sides of the relationship are stuck (invested) in this generative asset, and will be reluctant to switch and start over."

Stephen Downes made some similar observations in his blog post, "Economics in a DRM-Free World" a couple months ago. John Perry Barlow in The Economy of Ideas (Wired, Mar 1994) and Ester Dyson in Intellectual Value (Wired, July 1995) were to my knowledge among the first writers addressing the "when everything can be duplicated" issue and its impact on livelihoods.

My sense/hope is that DRM is a short-term stop-gap measure in the longer economic/cultural/legal picture and that variety of sensible economic models will replace selling large volumes of one's creative work.

Figuring out these models, however, will be a learning experience for our students (and for many of us!)

............................ 

Oh, I worry about the patronage model that both Kelly and Downes mention. This is from Bill Bryson's book, Shakespeare: The World as Stage in a footnote on James Stow, author of the "great and stately" book Survey of London:

A tailor by profession, Stow spent a lifetime and endured decades of poverty to to put together his great history. He was seventy-three when it was published. His payment was 3 [pounds] in cash and forty copies of his own book. When James I was asked to provide some charitable patronage for the old man, he merely send him two letters giving him permission to beg. Stow actually did so, setting up alms bowls in the streets of the City, though without much effect. p. 48

I hope I get a good corner.

beggar_seated_on_bank_282x470.jpg Rembrandt. Beggar seated on a bank, 1630. Etching; 116 x 70; only state. © Trustees of The British Museum.