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Mailing Number 25 - 31 October 2003

146 subscribers on publication date

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Software Patents. I went to hear Richard Stallman founder of the GNU Project, speak about software patents in Sheffield on 25/10/2003. Nursing a recently acquired multiple fracture to his arm, which was evidently giving him a great deal of pain, Richard spoke eruditely for over an hour, without notes. He certainly convinced me that it will harm all bar the largest software companies if the European Union's Council of Ministers supports the patenting of software when it meets on 10/11/2003, and he urged people to write to their MP, even at this late stage, summarising the arguments against the patenting of software. UK readers needing a template for a letter to their MP may wish to use the letter which I sent [54 kB PDF] as a basis for their own.

Under US law, software can be patented, unlike in Europe, and in previous issues of Fortnightly Mailing I have covered the recent Eolas/University of California patent court "success" against Microsoft, as a result of which Microsoft will be altering its Internet Explorer browser to avoid breaching the patent. To work in the altered browser, large tracts of the web will need to be altered, if pages using, for example, Macromedia Flash, Apple QuickTime, RealNetworks RealOne, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Sun Java Virtual Machine, and Microsoft Windows Media Player are to continue to function properly. Reacting to this situation, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has taken the unprecedented step of asking the US Government to take action to remove the patent. The letter sent by W3C Director Tim Berners Lee, and the W3C briefing on the issue are both worth reading, and each provides evidence of the harm which making software patentable is likely to do.

Open Source Deployment and Development (OSDD). On 11/12/2003, the JISC funded Open Source Software Watch, featured previously in Fortnightly Mailing Number 20, will hold its inaugural conference, in Oxford. The OSDD conference will explore some of the important aspects of deploying and developing free and open source software in UK higher and further education. It is aimed at IT managers, software developers, and senior managers at UK higher or further education institutions, as well as anyone with an interest in free and open source software development and deployment. Register.

Resources [back to top]

Port Cities. Just launched, PortCities UK explores the history of five ports (London, Bristol, Southampton, Hartlepool and Liverpool), the events and people who shaped them and the communities that developed around them. Provides public access to images from the historic archives, museums and libraries of the five partner cities, including over 60,000 photographs, paintings, drawings and documents, most now displayed for the first time.

New UK web archive. The UK Central Government Web Archive is a selective collection of 51 UK Government websites, archived from August 2003, which has been developed by the National Archives of the United Kingdom, using the services of the Internet Archive. Described as "a representative sample of the entire UK Government web domain", 10 are harvested every week, and 51 are harvested every 6 months.

"How to" articles and other e-learning resources. Here are the index pages to the large number of sometimes (helpfully) iconoclastic articles about e-learning and white papers about e-learning on Kevin Kruse's "e-learning Guru" web site.

e-Learning Policies. The UK Ministry of Defence has recently published a well-diagrammed, terse (19 paragraph) e-Learning Policy, which might provide a useful template for other organisations.

How to produce high quality e-learning materials? The National Learning Network (NLN), is a Government backed and funded programme to increase the use of e-learning in the post-16 education in England. NLN has just published Paving the way to excellence in e-learning: standards for high quality content from the NLN. You can download this as a 2 MB PDF file from the NLN web site. The focus of the document is on the production processes for the creation of expensive, media rich chunks of content, rather than on whole courses. The question mark in the heading to this item reflects my caution about the long-term value of much media-rich e-learning content. For more on the latter see David Khan's How Effective is Multimedia in Online Training? [116 kB PDF], on the e-learning Guru site referred to previously.

Interesting fragment concerning learner engagement. In this contribution to a discussion on the IEEE's International Forum of Educational Technology and Society, Gary Boyd from Quebec's Concordia University, identifies seven main factors on which learner engagement over time depends.

Why web standards matter. Brief, clear, 21/3/2003, explanation of the business benefits of conformance to web standards i.e. those put forward by the World Wide Web Consortium.

Using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) instead to generate tabular web site design. Via George Siemens comes this thorough, convincing, non-doctrinaire, 33-page tutorial by Bill Merikallio of Scott Design, Inc., and Adam Pratt of Adobe Systems Inc., describing how and why to use CSS to control layout on web sites. The tutorial contains plenty of sample code, extensive links to exemplar sites, and to sites containing supplementary resources. If the tutorial had included a contents page, and fewer irritating graphics, I'd have been even more complementary!

Migrating to Open Source Software (OSS). Via Simon Pavitt come these IDA Open Source Migration Guidelines, which "have been designed to help public administrators decide whether a migration to OSS should be undertaken and describe, in broad technical terms, how such a migration could be carried out. They are based on practical experience of a limited number of publicly available case studies, and cover a wide range of management and technical concerns."

Open Source Content Management Systems. Via George Roberts comes Karl Dubost's list of open source content management systems, last updated in July 2003, and categorised according to the process or technology underpinning the content management system.

Oddments[back to top]

Occasional download difficulties. 2 readers recently reported that they occasionally find that the Fortnightly Mailing announcement email gets "stuck" when they download their email, causing them subsequent hassle, since the stuck email stops them accessing emails queued behind it. I have been investigating the problem. Firstly, the announcement email is a simple plain text email which should not get stuck under any circumstances. Secondly, both readers use McAfee anti-virus software, on a PC. Discussions with the ever-helpful support desk at TridentList (who provide the mailing list service for Fortnightly Mailing) suggest that the "sticking problem" may result from how McAfee scans incoming emails. If any other readers have experienced this problem, please contact me, indicating whether or not the are using McAfee, and whether they are using a PC or a Mac, or something else to read the mailing.

How conflicts between the Bush Administration and the intelligence community marred the reporting on Iraq's weapons. Excellent, thorough, depressing, article from the New Yorker by Seymour M. Hersh, reporting on the US Senate Intelligence Committee's attempts to understand the disparity between the Bush Administration's prewar assessment of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and what has actually been discovered. (Via the Rational Enquirer.)

The "sound" of the the first 760,000 years of the birth of the universe. Here are links to 781 kB .wav and 1600 kB .mpg files containing a simulation of the sound of the Big Bang, explained in John G. Cramer's Alternate View Column number 104, according to which you can "hear the falling frequencies as the universe expands and becomes more of a bass instrument", the rise and fall of cosmic microwave background emissions, and the "interesting counterplay of the frequencies". Hmmmm.

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Last updated - 10/11/2003; © Seb Schmoller, but licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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