Book Meme – A little 6am navel gazing

Well… Doug Belshaw through my name on his list of people he would like to have answer ‘the book meme.’ It’s now 6:08 here on the East Coast, and i thought i might do a little book history on myself. Funny, I had my students do this for themselves this spring, and now realize that i never did one myself. This is mostly going to be stream of consciousness, and probably not terribly compelling reading for most of you… but… hey. I like navel gazing. 🙂

1) One book that changed your life?

Steppenwolf – I come from a very small town in Northern New Brunswick. My parents are wonderful, pragmatic people. Acadians who broke molds in their society – my mother was my baseball and hockey coach, my father… well… lets just say that the one motto that I’ve stopped having to repeat to myself, that i learned from him is simple – If it can be done, i can do it. I took this pragmatism to university with me and started in Computer science (programming). I hated it. There was a point in my second year of university where i read this book, cover to cover, twice. Haller’s fate, of the tortured writer yearning for a cut off point for his life, was one that in the mellodrama of a 19 year old, was very present indeed. My writing was supposed to be the outlet for that confused time in my life, to balance off the pragmatic work that i was trying to force myself to like. That was a strange, transitional year, and this book probably takes a chunck of credit for moving me out of the cold science of programming (as it was being presented to me) and on towards philosophy.

2) One book you have read more than once?

Ha. I have a bit of a book rereading problem so this is gonna be a bit of a toss up. By shear volume, i suppose LOTR is the book I’ve read many more times than once. One book i find myself going back to just to get my mind around what it might mean is John Keegan’s ‘History of Warfare‘. There’s some link between the evolution of war and the evolution of education (of society as a whole) that i’m still trying to come to terms with. Just for fun, I’ll throw a phil book in too… The blue and brown books. Wittgenstein is the most… useful philosopher on my shelf.

3) One book you would want on a desert island?

Maybe this one? If it has to be one that’s already on my shelf… Millman’s Gibbon’s Rome, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. i particularly like Millman’s edition, as he is quite stodgy about Gibbon’s fantastic sense of humour.

4) One book that made you laugh?

The one book that can make me laugh when i pick it up, at any point in the book, at any time is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Douglas Adams is one of my heroes. Here’s a guy who put his hand to everything, wrote some very entertaining and philosophically interesting books… and was a real lover of his fellow person. His is the kind of soul that makes you wish for an afterlife.

5) One book that made you cry?

Log from the Sea of Cortez this book starts with a 50 dedication to a close friend. Some of the best writing of the twentieth century IMHO. For fun, I’ll throw in another Steinbeck. East of Eden.

6) One book you wish had been written?

I’d go in for a little “Lets Go’s guide to the ancient world copyright 500 AF (after flood)”.

Ack! edit. I read this as “you wish you had written”.  Here’s the old text for that.

Ha. Any book would do. 🙂 I actually did write one i suppose, but it was never released. (fortunately, in retrospect it was pretty… um… come to think of it, like this. navel gazing) Foucault’s Pendulum. That would make me Umberto Eco. And that’s cool. And it would mean that i actually understood all the stuff in that book, which i clearly don’t. Still… a fantastic novel. If you’re not familiar with it… it deals with the same material as the Davinci code, except, if it was turned into a film, it would look more like Nouvelle Vague.

7) One book you wish had never been written?

I’ll let aside the freedom of speech, all texts are good texts argument and play along with this one. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say Plato’s Republic. That book has been the cause of alot of bad government, his ideas of ‘governance by the philosopher king’ sounds nice (maybe) but in practice, everyone always thinks that THEY are the people who should be ‘taking care of everyone else’. Plato also, if i remember correctly, believed that plays etc… should be banned as they only stir up unrest and don’t support the bettermeant of the state. I should add… assuming anyone has gotten this far in this post, that the Socratic Plato is some of my favorite reading.

8) One book you are currently reading?

The one, the only, the incredibly long, fantastically well written (maybe TOO well written, ‘In Search of Lost Time’. (Otherwise known as the Remembrance of things past) I love the novel, but get so caught up in the descriptions i spend more time rereading than I do finishing it. If you’re not familiar with it, read through some of those amazon reviews… no need for me to gush.

9) One book you have been meaning to read?

Too much stuff to catelog. Let’s say Ulysses, Deleuze and that damn friedman book that i feel like i know cover to cover but have not read.

10) Now tag five people.

Again, too many people to name. I’ll say bonnie stewart, by partner and best pal. Let’s try , Josie Fraser, bud hunt, Michael Feldstein and Leigh Blackall. There are bunches more, but some, like Barbara Ganley have been picked already :(. cheerio.

Comments, notes and a… ah… correction

I’ll start with the correction. In returning to David Jakes’ post from a few days ago I saw a comment from a reader of my blog saying that he thought I’d made an unfair representation of David’s position. While i did say that i agreed that the patent office had dropped the ball, I forgot to include this text…

  • I think Mark Oehlert gets it right in his post title about the situation, appropriately entitled “LMS Patented!! Is anyone home at the Patent Office?” (my emphasis)
    Shouldn’t we be blaming the patent office for allowing the patent? Isn’t Blackboard, Inc. just taking advantage of what is available to them as a corporation?

above my third comment… which, in retrospect, makes David’s position much clearer. He’s saying (I guess) that if fault their is, it lies in the system. A publicly traded corporation must, by its structure, take advantage of every legal opportunity. And it is the fault of the patent office for offering this legal opportunity. I’m not sure i agree, and i’m not sure that it counters the majority position taken up in the edubloggosphere, but I apologize for not fully representing his position. (As Cory Doctorow says, that’s the great advantage of blogs

  • Blogs, Wikipedia, and other online media fail gracefully indeed. When a newspaper gets a story wrong, it can take 24 hours to get a correction out – if it corrects it at all. There’s no ready way to link criticism of a newspaper article with the article itself. Certainly, you can’t make the edits yourself.

Props to Stephen Downes for highlighting the fact that this is not exactly the first time that educators (and edubloggers) have been talking about this for a while in response to the claim of some edubloggers that the community has been sitting idly by ignoring patents until a few weeks ago.

I would very much like, speaking of edubloggers, to get a community activity together for creating that page on wikipedia.  Should be pretty simple, all we need to do is go there and create the page. The problem is, my creations have been getting deleted lately, (the first ones i’ve made) and i’m thinking i’ll need more people around to make it happen. Anyone interested…? (Not like i’ll be obsessively checking the page or anything)

We’re ramping up our edu-projects for the fall over in the worldbridges community. We’re being much more careful about how much we take on this year, but if you are interested in taking part, drop by on of our shows , come to the edu-elgg or send us an email.

Blackboard patent – a reply to David Jakes (and jeff utecht)

I was wandering through blackboard stuff and came across this post from David Jakes. In it he declares that he uses blackboard, he likes it and that they also take him out to nice dinners (his disclosure, which i appreciate) There’s a line of argument in it (and particularly in the first comment by mr. utecht) that i don’t know enough about to counter. It seems to go like this

Blackboard has a right to do this. And if they don’t have the right trying to get away with it anyway is what being american is all about.

  • Do I like what blackboard is doing? No. Can they? Yes. And all you can say is God Bless America. You might disagree with me but it’s things like this that make America great.(from comment one)

It was my understanding that, in America, making a monopoly was illegal(whether or not blackboard is doing this, David and Jeff seem to be acknowledging that blackboard is ‘cornering the market on elearning). There is a great deal of debate going on as to whether people being in a corporation gives them a right to stop being ‘ethical’, that somehow the making of money cancels out all other considerations – because business is all about making money. In the final analysis, I think i’d prefer the world if being ethical was something we did all the time, but as i can’t seem to even do that everyday in my own life, perhaps its unrealistic for me to expect corporations to do so.
In the rest of his post Mr. Jakes discusses other patents awarded in history, and that some of those patents were educational. He also mentions that other, more important things are going on in the world, and suggests that perhaps we should be focusing on them instead of on the blackboard patent.
lets walk back through the argument…

  • 1849, to find out that a future president who invented a mechanism for floating a ship through shallow water received a patent for that design. That man was Abraham Lincoln.
  • A simple search of the U.S. Patent Office database returns 11,747 patents that include the word “education.” Where are all the blog posts screaming hatred and damnation at these patent holders? Or is it just a Blackboard thing?

1. Are ‘software patents’ evil? which is the discussion that many people are having. A software patent is not like Lincoln’s water thingy or an airplane. And a patent is not like a copyright. Their product was already copyrighted. If you’d like a comparison… its more like Wells patenting the novel because he was writing science fiction. Or, more to the point, if Microsoft patented ‘the operating system’ and started suing mac and linux. One patent, or 11000 patents being awarded, does not make 11001 a good patent.

  • If it was me, I’d design some peace graphics for Israel and Lebanon, or make some graphics about how the oil companies (and all their patents!) are making obscene profits by ripping us all off by charging $3.50 a gallon for their product. I might think of all the servicemen and women the U.S. has lost in Iraq, and design some graphics for them. Or I might design some graphics about the terrorists who want to blow more planes up. You know, maybe some graphics about something really important….

2. I also find it confusing how because the American government went to Iraq, I somehow shouldn’t spend my time working on education issues. Should the whole world now only focus on American foreign policy?

3. No one is debating that the patent office dropped the ball on this. And not just the one in America. That’s why were collecting prior art.

  • I’ll even admit to being pretty upset after we received a significant cost increase for the product and then at their national conference in Phoenix in 2004, watching them load up motor coaches outside the client party downtown (which was also over the top) and truck off their 28-33 year old staff to a private closed party while over a 100 people stared in disbelief…not good business

4. I too think blackboard is in this for the money. As you say, they increased your fees in 2004. And that’s what they did when they had competition. Ask yourself what they will do if they have NO competition. How many programs will you have to cut in your district to keep your blackboard licence after it quadruples again? This is the problem.

  • OK, take a trip back in time with me to look at a little history. Let’s consider how outraged bloggers would have been in ____ …. (had blogging existed, of course…) . Fill in the blank with the date below:

5. And the american government broke up standard oil as well… for antitrust (see microsoft et al.)

6. Finally, as you are defending your product, many people are defending the one that they like… that has been good for their students and teachers. For many of us, these are projects that we’ve worked on – significantly for some, peripherally for others. We are defending a product we love and you are defending a product you pay for. We would also defend your right to use whatever product you want. We are trying to do the same for ourselves.

That being said, I’d love to discuss it with you further ( Sunday night 9pm)

ps. i hope i’m wrong about the quadrupal thing… but it does concern me… as you say they are in it for a buck but with this patent, (and more importantly the next one (see michael feldstein)) there’s nothing to stop them.

Now, as for people ‘making fun of you in their posts’ I hope they don’t actually do that. But i would like to address one more issue. The subtitle of your blog is “Everyone participates. Everyone contributes. Leveraging the power of digital networks to connect people, resources and ideas to drive creativity and innovation forward…” I too would like this world. This patent does not support anything that you clearly wish to be representative of. Not universality, not connectivity, not creativity or innovation. Patents kill those things… particularly software patents.

(all bulleted items from

The Edubloggypodlearnonlinosphere – Are we a ‘field’ and if so…

I’ve got my right foot on the front of oscar’s rocking chair, in the dark, trying to coax an hour of sleep out of the little tyke. Things have been a little busy here in potato land, and i haven’t gotten nearly all the things done that I would like to… but this has been spinning in my head for a while so…

If I was to ask you folks who were the leading people in our field (which i’ve so carefully defined in the title) a familiar list of names would probably pop up. A list of people who have affected our practice, who have given us the feeling that the things that we are trying to do, the changes we are trying to affect, are possible and worthwhile.

I was wandering around wikipedia yesterday after the thought occured to me again that few of the people in our ‘field’ were actually in wikipedia. I was looking for an appropriate category for an entry on another valued member of our community and failed to find a point of reference for it. Will Richardson, who thousands of people a year come out to listen to speak, is not there. I came across Stephen Downes’ entry and was shocked to discover this

If we think that we have a field at all, then, agree or disagree with Mr. Downes, he is certainly “a widely recognized contribution that is part of the enduring historical record in their specific field.” That is… if we are a field. Which we’d better be if we want people to listen to us.

My concern about this is linked to comments by michael feldstein “we all need to prepare and hunker down a bit. We’re in a trench war.” If we are indeed part of this ‘field’ and we expect to be listened to by folks at large, we need to do a better job in defining that field. Those are the folks that we will need in the blackboard issue, when we discuss DOPA or edublogging, questions of voice… all of it.

I think we need some new wikipedia entries. I think we need to have an entry for edublogging that will give us the list of names that we can use to start getting those biographies out there. The posts on education that i see in wikipedia

are wholly inadequate to describe what is going on in our field. I have a strange feeling that the wiki-ers are not going to like me re-writing the entire field, so here is my call out to my peers. Support our Peeps. Go to wikipedia today and lets start getting the word out – outside our community.

Blackboard patent – The sky, my friends, is falling.

I read two not so cheery blog posts this morning that indicate that things are now actually starting to get seriously bad. Michael Feldstein is telling us about another patent pending for blackboard and i got this blog post dropped into a comment from my second post on blackboard.

So, it seems that blackboard is also trying to patent ““Content and portal systems and associated methods.” This would pretty much mean anything on the internet that’s associated with anything. Anyone who believes that their system is going to escape and all they have to do is wait around for the LMS industry to implode should really go over to michael’s blog and read his post.

How? This can’t happen. I’ll call my… well. It seems that that option isn’t looking so good either. A quick look at the shareholders of blackboard includes some rediculously heavy hitters, including the Carlyle Group. It would seem that blackboard has shareholders at THE highest level (check out political affiliations for the Carlyle group on that wikipedia page). I firmly stated during our rundown on this on Sunday night that i did not believe that there was any kind of conspiracy between DOPA, Net Neutrality and the Blackboard filing… I am here to say i’m no longer convinced.

If the next blackboard patent gives them rights over “content and portal systems and associated products” and DOPA cancels the personal voice and expression were talking about kids having in our classrooms and the ‘series of tubes’ (net neutrality thingy) makes it so that we have to pay for using bandwidth, essentially allowing the tube owners to turn on and off the taps according to how much big money you have… what, I ask you, is left?

Do we take our ball and go home? start a new net?

Michael was saying $1 to 2$ million dollars to fight the court case. Is that real money to the Carlyle Group? (not to mention the other shareholders in Blackboard).

If I wanted to control everything that was happening on the internet this is exactly what i’d do.
That’s not to say there is a conspiracy, just that if i was going to get a group of pals over to have a conspiracy and my conspiracy wanted to shut down free expression and voice on the internet… I’d probably do it this way.

  • I’d say “let’s stop the online predators”.
  • I’d say “lets lock down the websites that are violating legal patents”.
  • I’d say “people are essentially stealing bandwidth right now, lets put a tap on that hose”.

Are software patents evil? (an introduction by a man who MAY know what he’s talking about)

Is education as we know it going to be erased from the surface of the earth?

Will the interwebs asplode into a flaming ball of knowledge slurry?

Are we decending into the heart of an impenetrable darkness?

well… probably not. And, i imagine, the medieval imagery is lost on many people. As i tramp around the internet trying to get my mind around what all of this (Net Neutrality, DOPA, blackboard patent) is going to mean for education, I keep seeing one line over and over that I’d like to explore… “Software patents are evil.” I’d like to spend a couple of minutes explaining why i think people are saying that.
First of all, any software language is just that, its a language. There are people out there who speak PHP as well as they speak English or… Klingon. Since the dawn of the internet, people’s software code has been under the same protection as the language that people use, there’s even a whole big organization that deals with the fine tuning of licenses on the internet. So, if i wanted to publish some of the code for this website

Theme Name: Connections
Theme URI:
Version: 1.0
Description: A Theme from wpthemes.Info
Author: Patricia Muller
Author URI:
body {
font-family: 'Trebuchet MS',Georgia, Times, Times New Roman, sans-serif;
font-size: 0.9em;
background: #F3F6ED;

I should really include Patricia’s name (not that i know her) as she designed the wordpress theme that i’m using. the difference between the software i’m using here (wordpress) and some like blackboard’s software is that this software is “open source software” which means (among other things) you and i can look at the code very easily… and no one minds. That does not mean i can steal the code… it just means i can see it. Her code is still protected by whatever copyright she chooses to put on it…

My own code, of which i’ve written precious little, is protected the same way anything i’ve written on this blog is… any way i damn well please. All you need to do is declare a copyright and its protected by law… the same way that all of the moodle software is protected by their copyright.

Now, moodle’s source code is open… anyone can see it. This is not true of blackboard. Their source is, as it were, closed. And all of their code is protected from theft already. No one can see the code and, if they could, it would be illegal to use it. Desire2learn is not being sued for stealing blackboards code… or work… directly.
What Blackboard has done is patent the the ideas involved in learning online. To use an oft used comparison…

The bricklin was an… interesting car built in New Brunswick in the 70’s. If we imagine the Bricklin as Blackboards software suite, as soon as they built it, they owned a copyright over the design and over all the decisions they made in the manufacture… Now, to carry on our analogy, imagine that the people at bricklin filed a patent on THE CAR. And in their patent application they said “we’ve spent alot of money designing these gull wing doors, therefore anyone who uses a DOOR is infringing on our copyright.”

This is what the blackboard patent does… it patents the learning management system equivalent of doors and windows. While Blackboard may have done different things with their software they did not invent the IDEA of ‘doors and windows’, they worked on ideas that already existed and added their own twist. Before they were granted this patent, their ‘twist’ was already protected. What they’ve done, people are arguing, is that the ideas that belong to the community of people who have worked together to develop those ideas… and that should never be patented… as it doesn’t really belong to anyone. Kinda like gravity or calculus.
That’s why, in a nutshell, i think people are so mad about this patent.

(those of you who understand this better (and those who just think you do 🙂 ) please feel free to add corrections…

Blackboard patent – community update.


The blackboard patent fun continues. The first email i sent to the company to invite them to our meeting this weekend bounced back at me. I’ll continue to try and contact them. I was reading through ‘an explanation of the CMS patent‘ on their website (notice the use of the term CMS (course management system) as the one used by moodle) Anyone who is not in the US and thinks this is a US only issue might want to reconsider. The following from the Blackboard website.

  • What other countries are covered by the patent?
    Patents corresponding to the U.S. patent have been issued or are pending all over the world including in the European Union, China, Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand India, Israel, Mexico, South Korea, Hong Kong and Brazil.

There are also many people in the community who have suggested that the ‘bad press’ that will come out of this will be bad for Blackboard inc. I would also ask that they reconsider their position. If someone has managed to secure a monopoly ‘bad press’ is not very relevant. Those of us who are familiar with the University CMS/LMS/VLE decision making process know that a secure solution is a VERY important part of that decision making process. If we can’t guarantee that it will be legal to use a given product, how can we guarantee the longevity of that product. Blackboard wins either way… all they need is the suggestion that they might sue…
The third thing that I am reading is that people are suggesting that this is an opportunity to move beyond the CMS into a brave new world of online education. It’s important to remember that the ‘series of tubes’ argument coupled with DOPA would make that difficult for many educators. However, i must agree, it is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for many agendas. It’s also an opportunity for those who have been resistant to the change to dig their heels in and point to this situation as a reason to stick to old ways of teaching.

Following my blog post yesterday… we’re going to cover three things on Sunday over at edtechtalk (link above). What is going on? What can we do to stop it? What do we do if we can’t stop it?

We’d like to finish that show with a community response statement.

Education After Blackboard (blackweb) and DOPA – A Conference


In the span of a couple of weeks the educational landscape we’ve all come to know and care about has taken an awful beating. It seems that DOPA is taking away our open ed-web and blackweb is taking away our walled gardens. For DOPA discussions check out will richardson and for blackweb Harold Jarche and the post on the moodle forums (sign in required… but if you’re not signed up, sign up now, the more the merrier) The important thing to draw from that discussion is that Blackweb has already filed for patent infringement (desire2learn).

So here’s the thing. Individually we’re just a bunch of bloggers/educators/interested folks looking at a bunch of rapid fire legislation and going… wait. you can’t do this. What we really need is some kind of united response… we need to react in a way that is focused. We need to gather the experience and intelligence of the community and decide what needs to be done.

In the interests of this I suggest two things.

  1. Continue going over to weblogg-ed and posting about what you think we all need to do.
  2. Come to our planning conference this weekend at 8pm EDT on Sunday.

During our conference we’re going to discuss the three issues.

  1. First, we’re going to want to understand exactly what the issues are
  2. Second, we’re going to want to talk about what we can do to oppose these two legal thingies (if necessary)
  3. Third, where do we go if we lose both. What happens to e-learning?

Everyone is invited. We’re gonna contact blackboard. We’ll contact moodle, desire2learn, and anyone else who wants a voice on the subject. Come out and make your voices heard.

cheers. dave.

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