it is almost there

I have been editing a book on Mobile Industry in Pacific-Asia region. It is almost done, although it took too long. Once it is out, I will link its Amazon page here.

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Blackberry 8830

I got Blackberry 8830 World Edition. Alas, it does not support Korean characters, yet. Other than that, it is a nice device. I will how the worldwide e-mail support works when I go to Egypt next week.

Scratch — a wonderful open source programming platform for kids

I just came across scratch, a programming environment developed by people at MIT media lab. It is wonderfully designed, fun, pleasant and powerful program environment, specifically designed for kids to learn how to program. I downloaded it and showed it to Daniel (11 years old), in few minutes he started making his own games and animations. It is an open source environment so kids can peek into how other more mature programmers wrote their program and learn from them and try to improve them. It also has tagging and ranking feature, just like YouTube. In fact, the user interface of the web site looks just like YouTube. It also has tremendous educational possibilities for kids to express their ideas in a rich-media environment. The project was funded NSF. This is a wonderful use of the taxpayers’ money.

mobile phone number portability

It has been few years since people are able to switch their mobile carrier without changing their mobile phone number. I recently got a Blackberry 8830 from Verizon Wireless. My old number was a part of a family plan. My new phone is a part of the Temple business account plan. And, I was told that I am not able to keep my old number. It seems really strange when they can let their customers who are switching over from another carrier keep their old number, while cannot let their own customers keep their old Verizon number. Something is not quite right in this picture.

Pictures with Geotag

I am experimenting with Nokia N95 for a project. One of the features we are looking at is how people use digitized information about time and space. N95 has integrated GPS system and 5 megapixel digital camera. With this, you can geotag every pictures you take and upload them on Flickr service.

The picture below is taken right outside of the Temple University campus.

And, you can see the map of the picture here. From these experiments, you can begin to see how digitized stream of information can powerfully transform the way we experience time and space collectively.

Removing Laptops and iPods from School

Today’s New York Times has a story about an increasing trend that schools around the country are removing laptop computers from the school. Not only computers distract students from learning, but they have not enhanced the testing scores, according to the article. Here are some really neat quotes from the article.

“After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none,” said Mark Lawson, the school board president here in Liverpool, one of the first districts in New York State to experiment with putting technology directly into students’ hands. “The teachers were telling us when there’s a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It’s a distraction to the educational process.”

“Last month, the United States Department of Education released a study showing no difference in academic achievement between students who used educational software programs for math and reading and those who did not.”

Mark Warschauer, an education professor at the University of California at Irvine and author of “Laptops and Literacy: Learning in the Wireless Classroom” (Teachers College Press, 2006), also found no evidence that laptops increased state test scores in a study of 10 schools in California and Maine from 2003 to 2005. Two of the schools, including Rea Elementary, have since eliminated the laptops.

Well, have these people considered their way of teaching might have to do with this? Sure, when you teach kids exactly the same way and for the exactly the same outcome (standardized test), sure, there will be no change. Why would there be any change?

But, then I came across an article by Mike Elgan, about the growing trend of school’s banning iPod in the school (I see a trend here. I guess anti-technology is cool among school administrators in some parts of the country. It will be interesting to see what will be banned next.) At any rate, in that article, Mike Elgan argues that schools in fact should encourage students to use iPod during the exam.

“So many college students I’ve met — even at some of the nation’s top universities — are there because they have an aptitude for memorization. Many straight-A high school students have few interests, little curiosity and zero inclination toward intellectual discovery. Our system rewards the memorizers and punishes the creative thinkers. An iPod, when used during tests, is nothing more than a machine that stores and spits out data. By banning iPods and other gadgets, we’re teaching kids to actually become iPods — to become machines that store and spit out data. Instead, we should be teaching them to use iPods — to use that data and to be human beings who can think — and leave data storage to the machines. By banning iPods, we’re preparing our kids for a world without the Internet, a world without iPods, a world without electronic gadgets that can store information. But is that the world they’re going to live in?”

I love the way he thinks. This is from Professor Makr Warschauer in that NYT article.

“Where laptops and Internet use make a difference are in innovation, creativity, autonomy and independent research,” he said. “If the goal is to get kids up to basic standard levels, then maybe laptops are not the tool. But if the goal is to create the George Lucas and Steve Jobs of the future, then laptops are extremely useful.”

Few years ago, there was a big scandal in South Korea, when few high school students were found cheating using SMS during the national college entrance qualifying exam (like SAT). They criminalized the students and their collaborators. And I agree that students who unfairly cheat during the exam should be penalized. Yet, a bigger question that should have been asked is this. Given that one can easily answer the question by using SMS, shouldn’t we ask ourselves whether we are asking the right kind of questions to these new kind of kids who grew up with technologies in their entire life? While the ethical dimension of this problem is not insignificant, equally significant is the structural aspect of that incident. That is, schools are not asking the right kind of questions. The schools should be asking the type of questions that cannot be answered easily by simply pressing few buttons on your cell phone. If one can get the “right” answer that way, that question is not worth asking to begin with. Again, Mike Elgan ends his article this way:

“A revolution has occurred. In one generation, we’ve transformed a world where information is scarce and hard to find to a world where nearly all knowledge can be available to everyone, all the time. Instead of pretending that revolution never happened, let’s take advantage of it to propel students into a successful future. Let’s teach them how to deal with the new problem of too much information. Let’s stop banning iPods and start requiring them.”

With that spirit, watch this video.

How do we know it will be better this time

Yesterday in my class, I showed the video on globalization and technology. One student wondered if people in 1900 might have similar optimism about the future and how they would use technology for the betterment of human race. This is a great point that made me think.

The modernistic utopian view of technology that came out from the industrial revolution was shattered by two world wars, atomic bombs, Cold War, pollution, new disease, urban slums, and most recently global warming. Such realization led to the rise of post-modern philosophy and much more cautious (if not critical) approaches to technology to solve our problems.

The reality is that, whether we like it or not, there are people who keep pushing the edge of the technology. And, with the continuing development of digital technologies, we now have the second chance (not the Second Life). Efforts like Massive Change by Bruce Mau, Collective Intelligence at MIT, and We Are Smarter than Me are some of the examples where we are trying to get it right this time around.

What’s different now? There is a much wider recognition that informed collectives can make better decisions than a small group of smart individuals who have monopolistic access to information. Radical reduction of communication cost through the use of modern information technology have made it much less costly to share information among many and to coordinate among those informed individuals. Whereas the modernistic organizations used technology to empower the small elite in organizations, these new attempts are to inform distributed many.

Second, such distributed intelligence enabled by large scale information technology will allow us to envision new organizing forms that can address the needs that arise from the Long Tail Phenomenon. Whereas the modernistic organizations used technology to support organizing forms for mass production, these new attempts are to support extreme niche markets.

Finally the rapid digitization of physical world obliterate the traditional boundaries across the industries. Digitized information can be stored, transformed, decoupled, and re-coupled in many different ways. Whereas modernistic organizations attempt to use technology in order to separate the real world from the virtual world and technology world from social world, these attempts are to mix them to create a new forms of world that are neither real nor virtual, social nor technical.

So the question is, how are we going to use these new resources for a better future? How can we promote new forms of organizing that are more desirable through design, experiments, and education? How can we put these new resources into work to save the earth, remove poverty and reinvent the cities? What can we do differently so that the future with new technologies will not be the repeat of what we did in the last century? To me, that is a design question that is worthy of one’s whole carrier.

two classic music related innovation stories

Since I used to live in Cleveland and now live in Philadelphia (well actually on the NJ side), it is only appropriate that these stories come from these two great “classic” cities.

Last Saturday, there was the first orchestra performance in Second Life. The Red {an Orchestra} from Cleveland performed in Second Life. The performance was supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, OneCommunity, the New Media Consortium, Leonard Steinbach Cultural Technology Strategies, MediaAffect.com, JaredJared.com and the musicians of Red {an orchestra}. It was watched from an “amphitheater” at Case Western Reserve University or Machima Studio in Learning on the NMC Campus, each with 50 seating capacity of avatar. The goal of the performance was to introduce classic music to the emerging generation who may have not seen “real” orchestra performance.

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And, Philadelphia Orchestra started its own podcast. Surely it may not be as interesting as the performance in Second Life, but this type of innovations by cultural establishments should be encouraged and supported. Technological innovations like blog, flickr, and YouTube have enabled the production of various creative works by average Joe and Jane. A critical question is how the cultural elite institutions who used to dominate the means to produce such creative works in the past respond to this radical change.