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Mailing Number 60 - 28 December 2005

313 subscribers on publication date. 13336 page-views since publication.  RSS feed for this site

Fortnightly Mailing summarises and comments on resources and news that I find in the course of my work that I think will be of value to others. It focuses on online learning and on the internet. It has over 300 direct subscribers; and different issues of Fortnightly Mailing have been accessed over 30,000 times in total since the beginning of 2004.

An always useful guide - Stephen Downes, Canada.   There is something for everyone in these mailings - Jane Knight's e-Learning Centre, UK.   Recommended reading - Caroline Kotlas - CIT Infobits, USA.   A useful source of market and academic information. Highly recommended. - Epic plc Email Newsletter, UK.   Intelligent commentary and resource about the distance education and online learning scene - Michael Scriven, The Evaluation Center, Western Michigan University, USA.

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Oxfam logo   Oxfam's Asian Earthquake Emergency Appeal

Extending access to learning through technology - Ufi and the learndirect service. This 4/11/2005 National Audit Office report on Ufi provides a comprehensive and critical summary of what Ufi learndirect (the largest public sector provider of on-line learning in the world) has acheived, and not, since its inception in 1998. Following the publication of the report the UK Parliament's Committee of Public Accounts subseqently took evidence on 21/11/2005 from Susan Pember, Director of Learning and Skills, Department for Education and Skills, Mark Haysom, Chief Executive, Learning and Skills Council, and Sarah Jones, Chief Executive, and Pablo Lloyd, Deputy Chief Executive, Ufi/learndirect. The Members of Parliament on the Committee on Public Accounts are not there for their educational expertise, as you will realise if you read the rather turgid uncorrected record of the session. For me, with hindsight, the key question is whether the more than £1 billion spent to date on getting Ufi learndirect up and running could have resulted in bigger uptake of online learning and better educational provision for more people if it had been spent within the UK's Further Education colleges, rather than on the creation of a separate entity, that year-on-year has absorbed approximately 5% of the entire UK Further Education budget. Executive Summary of National Audit Office Report [340 kB PDF].  Full National Audit Office Report [1.4 MB PDF].

DfES to build index of the UK's kids - all 11 million of them. John Lettice writes in The Register on 9/12/2005 that the UK Government plans an "Information Sharing Index" identifying every child in England, with a full scale system intended to be live by the end of 2008. For Lettice a key concern is security. "The Index does however look rather like a privacy (or worse) disaster waiting to happen..." He concludes: "So large numbers of people from numerous organisations throughout the country will be able to obtain basic information about any child in the country from the Index, which will make the system extremely difficult to secure and police, even if mobile and/or remote access isn't allowed. If (or should we say "when"?) security is compromised, then it would be possible for someone to get a child's home address and phone number, and to obtain more detailed information by spoofing the contact details of the professionals who know lots more about the child, or indeed the child's parents. We trust that the DfES will provide a detailed explanation of why all of this will be impossible, before the system goes live."

Is the Government waking up to the poor accessibility of public service web sites? From time to time, someone issues a wake-up call concerning the inaccessibility of public sector web sites. On 24/11/2005 the UK Cabinet Office published eAccessibility of public sector services in the European Union. This reports on the (in)accessibility of government online services across the European Union (EU), and was commissioned during the UK's current 6 month stint holding the Presidency of the EU. The report summarises the deplorably inaccessible state of most public sector web sites in Europe, and makes a range of recommendations, the most important of which is probably:

Ensure that government policy now builds applicable W3C WAI guideline requirements into all public procurements of new website designs, major upgrades, and all outsourced content production (such as reports, publications etc). In the case of software procurement, such requirements should apply equally regardless of the licensing model (open- or closed-source).

View recommendations in full (speech enabled web site).  Report home page.  W3C Web Accessibility Initiative.

Interrogate the whole web. Well some of it anyway. Alexa, a company owned by Amazon, has recently started to make the data it collects during its monthly crawl of around 5 billion files on the World Wide Web available for rent, together with a platform on which a competent programmer can, it is said, run queries on the data. (This is also a concrete example of "grid" or "utility" computing.) I do not pretend to understand what is involved at the technical end of the process, but what Alexa is doing is in marked contrast to Google, which is building business advantage with what it knows about the data it has collected, and by keeping users at arms length from that data, forcing them to access it using search algorithms developed and controlled by Google. Worth keeping an eye on.

Resources [back to top]

The Success of Open Source. Steven Weber's 2004 book The Success of Open Source (ISBN 0674012925) is terrific, and many readers of Fortnightly Mailing would enjoy and benefit from it. Weber is Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and this book won the 2004 US Professional/Scholarly Publishing Annual Award Competition for Computer and Information Science.

Weber's book is broad in scope, analytical, thorough, and written from a political economy rather than a software perspective. After an overview of the history of open source, Weber uses a wide range of examples to explain and analyse, various models under which open source software, such as Linux, Apache, or Moodle, is created. Whilst Weber is clearly sympathetic to the ethos of the open source movement, he comes across as scrupulously un-zealous.

Two useful aspects of the book are its:

  • emphasis on the distinctive notion of property rights around which the production of open source software is organised specifically the "right to distribute" software in contrast to the "right to exclude" that characterises a conventional notion of property;
  • clarification of the differences between the production and nature of open source software and of other "open" intellectual assets (for example Open Access Journals, and Wikipedia), which, Weber argues, are mostly not organised around the "right to distribute" property regime that makes the open source process distinctive.

Could an "open source" mode of production spread beyond software? Rather than answering this question unequivocally, Weber concludes by listing the sorts of tasks for which he thinks an open source process is more likely to work effectively, and the circumstances in which those involved in an open source process are likely to be motivated to contribute. Both lists would be useful for anyone wanting to increase the chances of success of using an open source process for some the production of some (non-software) intellectual assets. Certainly, and from my point of view depressingly, they call into question whether the use of an open source process for the production of learning materials has as much going for it as is sometimes suggested.  Table of contents.  Order book from Harvard University PressOrder book from Amazon.

How to retrieve a lost password in a Windows machine. Last week I needed to use my old laptop. I had lent it to a relative prior to which I had changed the administrator password, which neither he nor me had written down. I found it simultaneously alarming and gratifying that it took only £11.75 and less than 24 hours to recover the password, using a service provided by, from where you can download a small piece of linux-based software to a floppy disk. Next you boot up your machine from the floppy disk, whereupon its encrypted administrator and user passwords are copied to the floppy. You then upload the encrypted passwords to, and pay £11.75 online. Within a few hours you can then download the unencrypted passwords. Whilst I'm not about to stop password protecting my PC, this experience shows what very thin security password protection provides on a Windows XP machine, and how important it is to control physical access to computers.

7 Things You Should Know About ......   Commendable series of 2-page PDFs from Educause, aimed at non-specialists in education, giving a brief overview of newer technologies and their potential uses in teaching and learning (see also this thoughtful piece from David Jennings). Current titles, all accessible from the series home page on the Educause web site, are as follows:

Google Newsletter for Librarians. I came across Google's occasional Newsletter for Librarians, to which anyone can subscribe. The December 2005 (first?) edition is mainly about how Google says its page-ranking technology works. You can subscribe to it from the so far rather empty Google Librarian Centre.

Access to Archives. The A2A database contains catalogues describing archives held throughout England and dating from the 900s to the present day. I am certain that it would get even more traffic than it already receives if its records could be exposed to Google or other search tools. Currently this is not the case.

Digg. Thanks to Dick Moore for mentioning Digg. "Digg is a technology news website that employs non-hierarchical editorial control. With digg, users submit stories for review, but rather than allowing an editor to decide which stories go on the homepage, the users do." Through it I found this handy large and complete pantone chart.

Oddments[back to top]

Post Modern Farm

Post modern farm road-sign

Not sure what a post modern farm would be like. But near Rufford in Nottinghamshire there seems to be one, and after several years of driving past this sign, I finally photographed it.

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Last updated - 8/11/2008; © Seb Schmoller, but licensed under a UK: England and Wales Attribution, Non-Commercial, ShareAlike Creative Commons Licence.

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