Technolove, kind of

The Internet has changed the way we study, work, socialize, and, even, love. Today being Saint Valentine’s Day, also known as the Day of Love, I feel compelled to write something romantic, kind of, so beware.

Eleven years ago spamming was not as common as it is nowadays. One would still check emails from unknown senders. At that time, I was 16 and still living in Mexico. I was just starting high school.

I had a friend who went on an exchange program to Canada. On his birthday I sent him a personalized ecard. A couple of days later I received an unexpected reply: Hi. I got your ecard, but I think you mistyped the recipient’s address or something. Maybe you want to check it and send it again to the correct person. – X

Huh? – I thought. But my curiosity was aroused. I asked X where was he from. He said he was Canadian and asked me where was I from. And so we began talking. We shared our ideas and our interests. Every day after school I would get home, read his daily email and reply. I enjoyed our conversations. I felt comfortable trusting this person, whom I’d never seen. We became good friends.

Laptop screen with heart

One day he told me: I’m in love with you. I think that there’s a powerful reason why we met in this random way. I’m going to Mexico to meet you.

Uh-oh. In my mind and in my heart, he was only my friend, nothing else. So this story actually had a sad ending. Soon after I rejected his plan, he stopped emailing me. We shared so much, and yet we never met.

But today, eleven years later, I still remember him… and wish him a happy Valentine’s Day.

– Brenda Padilla

Happy Birthday, Internet!

Yesterday, 29 October 2009, marked forty years since the first pieces of data travelled via a computer connection between the University of California in Los Angeles and the Stanford Research Institute. The BBC published an insightful account of the fascinating early years of the internet, which by 1971 was already connecting universities on the East and the West Coast of USA. Looking at the two solitary lines on the map illustrating the early net I could not help but feel overwhelmed by the speed of the change which has thrown us into the super-connected super-fast world of today. And I wonder if in 2050 there might be someone, writing a blog or whatever the communication channel of the day is, reviewing technology from 2010 and thinking “If they only knew what was coming at them…”

Following the links on the BBC website I listened to the oldest computer music recording – Baa Baa Black Sheep - played on a Ferranti Mark 1 computer at the University of Manchester in 1951. Below is a photo of the “Player” followed by a photo of a music player of today. Can you spot the 7 differences?

 Manchester's Baby

ipod_shuffle3

In coverage of the other astonishing talents of the machine, a BBC reporter breathless with excitement revealed that “the electronic brain” could tell you whether 2 to the power of 127 is a prime number in 25 minutes, compared to the 6 months it would take for the human brain to make the calculation.

Every time that I get reminded of the amazing progress that has been achieved since these early days of computer technology, I ask myself – what could possibly come next? Can a music player become even smaller? Or bigger? Or disappear completely and leave the music streaming through the air? Sometimes I discover I sympathise more than I would have liked with Charles H. Duell, the Commissioner of the US Office of Patents who said in 1899 that “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

 Any trip down history lane would be wasted if one comes back without a lesson or two for the future. One of the comments in the BBC material on the early net could turn out to be just that. It is about the initial reaction to the idea for a computer network – “A horrible idea” people thought. Larry Roberts, the MIT scientist who was working on the project said that institutions were opposing the concept because they wanted to keep control of their resources. Now that objection suddenly does not come across as outdated and archaic as the Ba Ba Black Sheep music player, does it? Blackboard, anyone? Are there ground-breaking, rule-bending, mind-blowing innovations at the door step of higher education institutions today that are being shunned because people want to keep control of their resources?  What can we do about it?

Sandra Romenska

30/10/2009

BDRA

Net neutrality – keeping the internet free and open

Last week the USA’s communications control body, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), took a significant step towards promoting net neutrality in that country. Julius Genachowski, FCC boss, said:

I believe we must choose to safeguard the openness that has made the Internet a stunning success. That is why today, I delivered a speech announcing that the FCC will be the smart cop on the beat when it comes to preserving a free and open Internet.

The crux of his speech was in the following points:

In particular, I proposed that the FCC adopt two new rules to help achieve this.

The first says broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications. The second says broadband providers must be transparent about their network management practices. These principles would apply to the Internet however it is accessed, though how they apply may differ depending on the access platform or technology used…

I also proposed that the FCC formally enshrine the four pre-existing agency policies that say network operators cannot prevent users from accessing the lawful Internet content, applications, and services of their choice, nor can they prohibit users from attaching non-harmful devices to the network.

Wired explains that the first proposed regulation is necessary to “to prevent cable ISPs from slowing down online video services and 3G providers from messing with internet calling services like Skype.” (See the Skype blog for more on this.) The second proposed regulation will require transparency of network management policies by carriers.

Up until now the “four pre-existing agency policies” referred to by Genachowski have not been enforced, and have only been seen to be relevant to ISPs offering wired broadband services: now their application to wireless and mobile devices is also under consideration. These regulations, plus the two proposed new ones, are to be discussed by the FCC as part of an official rule-making process in November. The large American carriers (AOL, Comcast, AT&T) are protesting, as are the Republicans, arguing that such government “interference” will “stifle innovation”.

Meanwhile in Europe, a number of organisations are campaigning for recognition of the principles of net neutrality and a petition is up for signature, campaigning for net neutrality to be enshrined in European law.

For those of us involved in online education, especially in the provision of open educational resources, net neutrality is a cornerstone of the openness that allows for the free flow of knowledge, regardless of platform, application or device used to access the knowledge.

Gabi Witthaus

28 Sept 2009

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