Muzzled

For over a month now my team has been heads down to provide some sandbox environments for the University System of Georgia Learning Management System Transition Task Force. The evaluators are looking at a sandbox for each contender. Various technical teams are also determining how the product fits with our experience and our operations. Growing new skills and abilities is probably a good thing as long as it fits the organization.

My inclination is to blog about every discovery whether good, bad, or ugly. Yet this whole processes is overshadowed by fear. Fear of the loser initiating a lawsuit and anything I write being taken out of context to support a case is the main reason I have muzzled myself about it. Probably even private blog posts on a private blog could be requested by a subpoena.

I guess there will be plenty of time to gripe about it all when the decision is made and we surge towards meeting an absurdly short timeline to implement a production environment. That is a whole other blog post I probably should never write.

Every Movie Geek Needs His Quotes

GeekDad published a list of top 100 Geek quotes. I happen to like movies and quotes. However, this list seems lame. None of my favorites even made the top ten.

  1. “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” Obiwan Kenobi, Star Wars. Of course, I got more attached to this quote when a coworker used this to perplex our boss. I’m sure there are days he regretted hiring so many twenty somethings.
  2. “Half of writing history is hiding the truth.” Mal, Serenity.
  3. “I’ve done far worse than kill you. I’ve hurt you. And I wish to go on… hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her. Marooned for all eternity, in the center of a dead planet… buried alive. Buried alive.” Khan Noonien Singh, ST:TWOK
  4. “I must not fear. / Fear is the mind-killer. / Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. / I will face my fear. / I will permit it to pass over me and through me. / And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. / Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. / Only I will remain.” – Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, Dune
  5. “How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn’t you say?” Captain James T. Kirk, ST:TWOK
  6. “Do or do not. There is no try.” Yoda, SW:TESB. Yes, I have a teeshirt about this.
  7. “Raspberry. There’s only one man who would dare give me the raspberry: Lone Star!” Dark Helmet, Spaceballs.

What are your favorite movie quotes?

The Ares Imperative

The Ares ImperativeA friend of mine, Steve Ekstrom, is the writer of this comic which I enjoyed for the this first 8 pages. I’m looking forward to the next installments. Check out The Ares Imperative! (And vote for it if you like it. The winner gets published by DC Comics.)
Interview:

Synopsis:

It’s the early 21st Century and corporations continue to manipulate world governments as emerging quasi-religious science cults and techno-centric international terrorists are beginning to develop their own biological weapons mapped out in human genomes. Special Agent Adam Geist operates covertly within the framework of the ultra-classified PROJECT ARES division of the C.I.A. under the supervision of Deputy Director Ted Gerard and his assistant Maxwell Clearwater.

Geist does not fully comprehend the processes, which he has undergone as a part of PROJECT ARES but numerous studies have revealed that alien mitochondria have asserted control of his DNA—altering his higher intelligence functions and his nervous system receptor processing speed. He has become sensitive to electromagnetic fields and has developed heightened senses, which include something akin to Wi-Fi reception. His skin is capable of rapid, localized cellular density adaptation—making him virtually bulletproof.

Due to the secret nature of his existence and the fear that a “super-man” would create in light of the unstable relations between the U.S. and other world powers, Geist is under strict orders: he must eliminate anyone—friend or foe—who learns of his uncanny abilities. Sadly, as he grows in power, his own humanity diminishes from the actualization of his computer-like brain—and now, evidence is beginning to surface that his own strange biology may, in fact, be malevolent in nature…

Blind Not Insane

The National Federation of the Blind is upset about a movie portraying people who are blind as behaving badly.

Pyyhkala, 36, of Boston, said he has read the book and seen parts of the film. He said his grievances stem from the film’s potential to sway public attitude about blindness. He said the movie exacerbates stereotypes and gives false information to uninformed viewers. [Link] (Since starting this post now requires a login?)

I haven’t seen the film or read the book, but the trailer for the films shows the people being put into quarrantine for a medical epidemic where people go blind. Stories generally portray people as acting incompetent and fearful when they are trapped in an unfamiliar situation. The whole point is to create an environment whereby a person, the hero or heroine, who is the bright light of reason and to whom everyone else appeals can rise to the challenge.

Blindness happens to use people who are blind, most likely because a the author was trying to be creative and use something readers would find new. Jose Saramago: “Stupidity doesn’t choose between the blind and the non-blind.” [Link]

Chris Danielsen, a national federation spokesman, said while he understands that the film plays on the public’s fear of sudden blindness, the idea that loss of sight is equal to incompetence and immorality is “outrageous” and “vicious.” Everyday tasks like getting dressed and using the bathroom do not become impossible if a person loses their sight, Danielsen said.

Works of fiction do not depict reality. Otherwise… they would not be fiction. Stop giving movies more meaning than they actually have. Otherwise, you give them power they didn’t already have.

The Catholic Church’s opposition to the Golden Compass made me read the book and go see the movie (latter was awful). I wouldn’t have cared otherwise. Denouncing it made me wonder what they had to fear from something so silly as a book and movie. After seeing the trailer, I wasn’t interested in Blindness. After reading about the opposition, I am interested. I don’t have much luck with movies from books lately, so I may go book first.

Labels

This started out as a comment to Adrian, but I it got so long it may as well be a post on its own….

The significance of racial labels is not in identifying the genetic makeup of individuals. The significance is in how the labels were used to enforce segregation long before the American Revolution. Before slaves in the United States were freed in 1865, defining who was Black was to identify who was eligible to be held in slavery and have ownership of property. There were grave concerns about mixing owners and slaves resulting in slaves gaining their freedom, especially once capturing them from Africa was no longer allowed. Defining race was about control then. Even in the more than one hundred years after the slaves were freed, defining who was Black was about control. Instead of who could be forced into slavery, the definitions of who is Black identified who could be excluded from power.  The fear was mixed people using the laws to somehow get access to power. Only since Affirmative Action has it become in any way beneficial for others to have less than pure European descent.

Adrian remarked many of us have ancestors which keep us from being purely from one or another group. Chatting with George and Lorenia yesterday, George pointed out even in Europe, southern Spain and Italy confounds the stereotype. Our increasing understanding of genetics and culture invalidates race as a useful means of describing individuals. Individuals have genetic markers linking them all over the globe. We are one species. My favorite example PBS show indicating the women described as Amazons moved to western Mongolia.

“The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.” – Baha’u’llah

Monopoly Fears

Something brought up my abandoned Friendster blog, which had a link to fiftymillimeter which used to be my favorite photography site by people in Athens prior to me even moving here. Why “used to be”? Well over a year ago, they stopped posting to the site. Sad, I know. Still, I was curious, Where are they now? I ran across Twitter-Free Fridays looking for Toby Joe Boudroux.

What I found interesting about this post was his approach to whether or not Twitter is or is not a monopoly. I agree with the first part. The last sentence surprised me.

Being at the top of an emerging market segment does not constitute a monopoly. Unfair practices, abuses of that dominance to limit fair access to resources and outlets – those are monopolistic. If Twitter struck a deal with Mozilla that blacklisted other microblogging services, we’d have something to talk about. Opening APIs freely and allowing supplemental markets to emerge hardly seems consistent with railroad barons.

Supplemental markets would be the equivalent of a railroad baron allowing new train stations or business to sell to the customers using the trains. Open APIs allow other corporations to find a niche. However, they are not a direct competitor. For example, with Twitter, the API is not used by Pownce or Jaiku. Friendfeed who fits in both the lifestream market and the micro-blog markets does use the API. More commonly, the Twitter API is used by companies like Summize or Twitpic in searching or posting content.

If economists or lawyers determining whether a company with a large market share is monopolistic are influenced by open APIs creating supplemental markets, then this could be a strategy to avoiding DOJ further scrutiny? At Bbworld / DevCon, a frequent point of pride from the Blackboard folks was the anticipation of Bb9 to have a more open, accessible, and useful API. This API will be able to do everything the current one in the Classic line can currently do. The anticipated additions to this API could benefit many supplemental markets. (Let’s just forget at the same time, they are saying API for the CE/Vista products is a dead-end development path.)

Scoring points with the DOJ (and more importantly the court of public opinion) could never hurt while trying to sue a much smaller competitor like Desire2Learn. Some characterize Bb as not likely to stop until D2L no longer exists. Who knows? I doubt even Chasen knows. Still, it would far fetched to characterize just this as making Blackboard a monopoly.

There are pleny of alternative LMS products to the Blackboard Learning System: Moodle, Sakai, ANGEL, eCollege, and many, many more. Heck, the rumor mill would indicate more and more higher education institutions are considering and even changing to the alternatives. Blackboard acknowleges institutions likely run multiple products. With Bb 9, they encourage people to use the Learning Environment Connector to single sign-on to into the other products. With the Bb9 frame remaining so they know who got them there, of course.  Don’t forget about a Personal Learning Environment,

Certainly I dislike that Blackboard hears my objections and continues to act in ways contrary to them. However, that happens within my own team. Neither group are criminal for ignoring me.

Saying No

The point of this is not directed towards anything or anyone specific other than myself. While I do use the example of IT, it is purely a generic metaphor. Probably I have spent too much time in IT and not enough diversifying my experience.

With infinite time, manpower, or money, then we could pull off whatever we wish. In reality, we rarely are blessed enough to have even large amount of one. Therefore, decisions have to be made about what is or is not feasible to accomplish.

Information Technology is a field which often is a victim of its own success. Pulling off a feat means they should be able to pull off the next completely different feat. All too often, every difficult feat is “required” so IT can continue to appear relevant. Choosing not to do it is not an option because the players in IT will just be replaced with someone more willing to say yes. Whether new management or an outsourcing vendor, someone is too willing underestimate the difficulty and agree to do the feat.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Litany against fear from Dune by Frank Herbert

I find myself in a similar situation of being asked to assume responsibilities I doubt myself capable of undertaking, but in fearing becoming irrelevant, I agree to do them anyway. From serving in the Baha’i community to getting asked to photograph a wedding, I do not say no very well.

Is this really a good thing?

Blackboard Won Suit Against D2L

Blackboard acquired patent ‘138 and brought a lawsuit against Desire2Learn. I would say 80-90% of the commentary about this case has been from anti-Blackboard crowd with about 90% of the rest from the let’s-wait-and-see crowd. Blackboard very much has been mum on the subject. I do not recall a blog of a single Blackboard supporter saying how great it will be for them to win this case. All I have seen are assurances from Bb they do not intend to sue into the ground open source (after EDUCAUSE got on Bb’s case).

I understand motivations for filing a patent request. I understand why they started the lawsuit after getting the patent. What I don’t understand is the reasoning for why the patent was awarded. Also, I don’t understand why Blackboard won the lawsuit. In truth, I probably both have more and less information.

  1. Examiner’s notes would describe the other bases of information about the decision.
  2. Transcripts of the trial would describe what information the jury heard.

Lacking, this information, I cannot really put myself in the shoes of the people who made these decisions to understand why they were made.

In the realm of public opinion, Blackboard certainly has given its vocal detractors very strong ammunition. Mainly the complaints are about using lawsuits to suppress smaller companies and establish dominance rather than innovation to win over new customers. It is about fear and uncertainty.

Drink the Kool-Aid!!

Programmers

Gave a former coworker, Stu, from my Valdosta State days a heads up about a complaint my brother heard from a close friend of his. Stu is working with Sakai these days at Georgia Institute of Technology. He made an interesting comment:

It would be great to have all the energy your team puts into Blackboard be put into Sakai instead.

One of the unknowns which always seems to come up in talking about Sakai or Moodle is hiring a development staff. How many programmers we need depends on how much customization we will need to implement. Certainly finding the programmers is another problem. A large fear is we’d need 10 programmers and years to implement all the features people insist are critical. People need to be told. “No, you will have to live without that feature,” which would be very cool… However, it would be like your ISP telling you, “Sorry, we turned off port 80. You will have to live without it.” Finding the balance between features we can abandon, features which would need to be created pre-go-live, and features we can post-go-live? Difficult enough when you have 15,000 users. It seems more than 10x harder with over 150,000 users.

Surely people have cracked this nut?

Merry Christmas

MERRY CHRISTMAS Back when I was Catholic, the two masses I enjoyed the most were Christmas and Easter. I listen to Christmas music throughout the year.

Birth and death are a fascinating duality of life. A material death is simple… The Second Law of Thermodynamics represents the scattering of the particles of which we are composed. Life at one time represented an enigma to the law. Creationists sometimes use the lack of a oppositional scientific law to describe the attraction and building complexity in the Universe as the evidence for a Creator. Evidence of absence is a tricky thing. 😀

Birth is a important milestone for amazing biological processes to compose an all new living creature. Two sets of DNA combine in a single cell. This cell divides until with a solid foundation, where they start building organs. Over time, coordinating with the mother’s body, this individual reaches a state of readiness to leave the mother’s body: birth. Countless opportunities for something to go wrong, and yet, most go right. Such a spectacularly subtle display of the power found in the Universe. We take it for granted.

Christmas is the best birth. The Nativity Story is a major part of what makes Christmas so fantastic. You have the Immaculate Conception, the Star of Bethleham, fulfillment of prophecy, fear of monarchs, and one of the most revered people known to us born in the most humble of places. Though can someone explain to me the lobsters?