Scott Alan Miller

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Berry Company Slamming Customers

I had to get up and deal with a scam this morning. Just the way I wanted to start my day. Dad got a bill from The Berry Company who run the yellow page racket up here. We have been advertising in the yellow pages for the last several years and have decided that it is a totally ineffectual way to drum up new business. After three or four years of ads we have found that we get more and more calls from people looking to get free service from us and absolutely no serious customers who even understand what it is that we do. Almost everyone that calls is just a kid looking to get free advice or to ask us to fix their computer for free since somehow that is our responsibility even though we have no connection to these people at all, live in a different county and they bought their computer from a competitor of both us and our hardware partners. Anyway, I digress. My recollection of my last dealings with the Berry Company was that we had talked and they were going to send us some paperwork to look over so that we could make sure everything was correct and then we could confirm that we wanted to go ahead with another year of advertising. I remember this pretty clearly because we were in the process of trying to change our company name and never talked to them about it because we were going to do that when we confirmed or didn't confirm. Well no confirmation ever came. We assumed that they had forgotten about us or we had waiting too long and the spots had filled up. We really weren't concerned since we had decided not to do the advertising anyway. That was in June of 2005. Then two weeks or so ago Dad gets a bill for our yellow page ad. Great. This is what is called slamming. Remember when telephone companies used to call you and change your telephone service without your permission. Yeah, same thing here. So I called the Berry Company knowing that under no conditions would they be able to produce a signature.

Well, they had no signature and they had no confirmation from us. They had a voice recording of me agreeing to have a confirmation sent out for me to look over but nothing of me agreeing to service. The Berry customer service woman said that contrary to what I was told it wasn't actually a confirmation letter just a letter than was sent out. The confirmation was the voice recording even though I hadn't agreed to service in the recording. They had "records" of the mail being sent out and she said that they rely on the postal service and there is no confirmation system. The whole thing is a scam. She knew full well that there was no mail ever sent out. She had her lines rehearsed. Obviously this is how they do business at the Berry Company. They knew that if they reported us to a credit reporting agency that it would cost us more to clear the record than it would be to just pay them. This is clear cut extortion. Rochester's own version of the mob. Oh wait, we have one of those. Well, maybe they work together.

So we are stuck paying for a full year of yellow page service that does us absolutely zero good. To make matter far worse we changed our company name this year and they didn't change it in the yellow pages so we are now paying for an ad for a company name that we don't use. And to really rub our faces in it they raised our rates by 22% (their punishment for being a fool for another year.) Well, lesson learned here. No more yellow page ads for us. No more phone calls, no more meetings, no more chance to even talk to us. We don't do print advertising anymore, anywhere. Time to leave the dark ages and time to stop advertising to people who are stuck in them.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Netgear WG311v2 Wireless Adapter on SUSE Linux 10.0

I know that I am not the only person out there who has to get a Netgear WG311 version 2 wireless 802.11g adapter working on Novell's SUSE Linux 10.0 so I thought that I would share some quick notes that pertain directly to this combination so that others wouldn't be caught struggling with the same things that I did. I had this combination working with SUSE 9.2 a year ago but I updated the machine and it broke the wireless so I had to start from scratch.

First of all, yes the WG311 does use the Texas Instruments ACX111 chipset that SUSE and lspci so nicely detect but that driver does not work with this card, at least not the driver that comes with 10.0. So even though that auto detects the card do not get your hopes up that it is just going to work. If anyone has gotten a Linux driver to work with this card I would love to hear about it.

What I had to do was use ndiswrapper to encapsulate the Windows XP driver for the Netgear card so that I could use it under Linux. A lot of sites and forums said that you would need to scrap the included ndiswrapper package and get a new one directly from the ndiswrapper project but this was not the case for me. I went into YAST and installed ndiswrapper and all of its dependancies and those ended up working just fine for me. I believe that the included version is 1.2 but I am not positive. Installing the included packages is by far the easiest option if it is going to work.

Here is the real trick that I didn't find on any other site: the newest 2.x version of the driver does NOT work. The error that I get is that the hardware that I have is invalid. I read that someone had been having good luck with the older drivers so I tried the oldest stable driver that Netgear offered from their site which was something like That driver worked great - found the card immediately.

After that I had one additional issue: smpppd kept crashing for some reason which was super annoying since it wasn't really needed for anything. You can't use kinternet without it but that isn't very important for most of us. It didn't matter in the least for me. So I had to disable smpppd altogether or it would eat almost all of the processor at way too high of a priority and make the machine impossible to use. I went into YAST and disabled it from startup and then manually removed it from /etc/init.d/rc.d/rc5 and everything was fine.

So the procedure went roughly:

1. Download older stable Netgear drivers (be sure that you get right version as there are three chipsets in these cards and they cannot share drivers.) I was working with version 2!

2. Unzip the driver package to someplace handy that you can get to.

3. Using YAST install the ndiswrapper packages. I don't think that there was anything extra needed.

4. Load the driver into ndiswrapper (the driver is the .inf file under Driver/Windows XP)...
ndiswrapper -i wg311v2.inf

5. Check that it loaded correctly...
ndiswrapper -l

6. One last thing...
modprobe ndiswrapper

7. Now, go into YAST again into Network Devices and set up your wireless card as usual. Manually select the driver and choose 'ndiswrapper'.

8. Once YAST runs you might find that smpppd has fired up and that you will need to kill it. This is easy as long as your mouse and keyboard are responding.

ps ax | grep smpppd
kill -9 'whatever pid the last command gave you'

9. Now go into YAST and disable smpppd from startup. Be sure to remove kinternet as well since smpppd is a dependancy.

I did all of that from memory so if there are any problems just comment and I will try to help you out. I know what a pain this procedure is.

Friday, November 18, 2005

AoE2 or Age of Empires II over the Internet

I realize that at this point this is a really old, legacy topic to talk about but it has been an ongoing discussion for years and I am getting tired of trying to support this and not being able to find anything written about it online so I am posting the necessary information here.

What is the issue? The issue is that Age of Empires 2 supports up to eight players in a "LAN" setting. Players with public IP addresses can play with each other as well. However, most players would like to be able to host their own game without needing to use the horrible "online" system that Microsoft came up with and need to be able to use regular networks that exists for home users today which include a single public, dynamic IP address with one or many users behind that firewall connected over the Internet to one or more other public IP addresses each with one or more players assigned to it. The issue is that AoE2 using Microsoft's DirectPlay peer to peer architecture which does not, in any way, support this structure.

What can be done easily is connecting many players playing from many sites as long as there is only a single player behind each public IP address. This is easy. Simply use port forwarding on each firewall to make each player's computer appear to be on the public Internet. A simple Google search will turn up which ports need to be forwarded.

The real challenge comes in when you want to have more than one player behind a single public IP address. There is no straight-forward way to do this. You cannot do this with port forwarding because of the dynamic and overlapping port assignments used by DirectPlay. Host based VPN solutions are difficult at best to attempt. DirectPlay does not appear to support the architecture necessary for many host based VPN solutions.

What is the real solution? After years of attempting to find a good solution to this problem I have found only one really useful solution. That is a network to network VPN solution using a transport such as IPSec. The option that we decided to try is the IPSec VPN hardware solution available from Netgear. The Netgear solutions that we tried our integrated router/VPN units that are simple to use and decently inexpensive. We have used them in a variety of configurations and they have worked reliably and solidly.

How does this work where other solutions do not? Unlike any other solutions, the IPSec N2N VPN solution works by hiding all levels of the VPN process from the host computers which are running AoE2. The public Internet is hidden 100% and all of the computers on the new virtual LAN are unaware that they are going over the Internet and they interact exactly as if they were on the LAN (although the broadcast domain is chopped so you do have to enter the server IP address instead of using broadcast based discovery methods.) This is different from host based VPNs because any host based solution has an opportunity for the DirectPlay layer to be "confused" or to detect the VPN and can "disallow" the communications.

Currently I have been working with someone who is trying to find a host based VPN solution to allow AoE2 to be played over the Internet with multiple users at a single site but, as of yet, the problems have remained consistent over the years. I am sure that there are many N2N VPN solutions that will also work but I have not had time to test any others. I am interested to see how well a SmoothWall firewall IPSec VPN will perform, for example.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Pushing the Boundaries of Personal Publishing

Normally I write about technology issues and topics. Today I am going to mention a small project, very briefly, that I am involved in that I think may interest a number of my readership. I have been involved in web logging (blogging) and personal publishing online since 2000 and have been an active part of the Internet community since 1994. In the past year I have expanded the scope of my blogging to include sites like this one as well as podcasting (on-demand syndicated audio blogging). I have come to really enjoy these activities and am going to be teaching a six week class on "New Media and the Internet Lifestyle" sometime in the very near future.

My new project this week is this: My wife, Dominica, and I are travelling to Walt Disney World for seven days. During that time, if Internet access deamons allow, we will be posting to my blog, recording a joint podcast, doing a "live" phone in podcast, providing daily photographs on our Flickrcast and finally doing daily movies of our trip on my vlog.

I think that this is going to be a lot of fun so take a look around at all of the media that we are creating and enjoy!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Response to an Anti Blogger

I was doing some research on people who were talking about the school that has banned blogging and I came across a parent, not a parent of a child at that school, who thought that it was probably a good idea and that they wanted to, but did not, keep their own children from using the Internet altogether. She also thought that no one ever read her blog. So that fact that I commented on it probably did not convince her of the safety of blogging. But she also was apparently not aware of how to be safe with blogs herself as she had far too much personal information posted on her blog about herself. Now, she might have made that information up. But that is probably not the case. Anyway, here is my response to her:

But isn't the real issue here that students should be taught not to post personal information in public areas regardless of the technology involved? If those students took pictures of themselves and wrote their phone numbers and address on them and posted them around the town that would be far more dangerous than doing the same on the Internet. The reality is that students need to be educated not to do that anywhere. Don't talk to strangers and all of that. Don't COMMUNICATE with strangers.

Blogging has nothing to do with posting personal information. Like any communication medium it CAN host personal information. Or it can be a format for commenting on news items, reviewing movies, telling fictional stories, providing access to a novel as it is being written, poetry, just about anything you can imagine. Personally, I blog a lot. I have been blogging for over five years. I have several blogs, a few with regular readership. I podcast as well and have up to forty people listen a day. Now, I am an older, male blogger who isn't afraid of having a decent amount of personal information available on the Internet. I am totally aware of the risks and act accordingly as an adult. Children must be far more careful but if we don't teach them to be careful doesn't that do the most harm?

What will happen when those children MUST use modern forms of communication for college, for work, for a normal life? It may not sound normal to those of us who grew up without it. But to children today the Internet is simply the entire world of communication. Not blogging today is getting closer and closer to being the kid whose parents had no telephone when we were kids. Think about how you would feel if that was YOU. You would probably run out and get a party line the day you turned eighteen. And very little on the Internet has ever come close to the dangers of the telephone party line.

The Internet allows a lot of anonymity. But if we chose to over shelter our kids and do not let them know how to be safe - how will they ever know with experimenting. And safety is not an area to learn from mistakes. Best to learn by example. Leave learning by mistake for things like bicycles.

Blogging Banned by Catholics

In the news today is Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta, NJ where the school has decided to step directly into the personal lives of its students and ban them from blogging. Not ban them from blogging in school but to ban them from keeping digital journals. Now, when I was in school it was the school that required me to keep a journal. I guess they are now claiming that that action was a mistake and recording one's life is dangerous.

The school makes the outlandish claim that it is doing this for the student's protection. The student's protection? Is blogging now a dangerous passtime? What is really happening is the school does not want to take the time to train its students to be intelligent, responsible and safe Internet denizens. That would be too hard. They don't want to teach students how to do complex web searches so that students understand how people can use information posted to the Internet. They don't want to teach students about the dangers lurking in the world at large. They don't want parents to have to be responsible for their own children. They also don't care about the actual safety of the students.

Don't care about the safety of their students? Yes. What is happening here is the ostrich with its head in the sand. It only seems like safety when your eyes are shut and you don't know how fast a predator is approaching. These students are not learning about the world the way that other students of their same age are. They are not growing and learning in the same ways. They are avoiding issues in the hopes that when they get to be adults (adult being eighteen, of course) that they won't need to be safe anymore. You can't protect someone by sheltering them from normal communications. Sure there can be terrible serial killers who find you by calling your house and seeing if you answer the telephone. But no one ever thinks of not answering the telephone because of it. The US Postal Service can be used to exchange the same "dangerous" personal information as the Internet can. But we don't ban children from using that. But the difference is that we understand that we absolutely must teach our children to use those services in a safe, responsible way. It would never occur to an intelligent person to keep their children from learning to speak just in case they say something that might put them in harms way. Communications is good, it is important, it is vital. In ten years these kids will be behind and may not understand the standard communications mediums being used around them. They might miss out entirely. Or they might experiment without supervision. But I guess experimenting on your own without supervision is safer than having someone teach you how to be safe. At least according to this private school.

Worse yet, by banning blogging the only thing that is happening is a disruption to the normal development of students in the early part of the twenty first century. The school didn't make a rule about giving out personal information. It is totally acceptable to give out that information as long as it isn't in a web based, journalled format. The "home page" paradigm of the 1990's which is just as dangerous is not in question here. Using the telephone isn't in question. Commenting and signing guestbooks on other web sites isn't being banned. This isn't an attack on dangerous Internet usage at all. In fact it is promoting it, in the long run. This is an attack on a piece of modern Internet culture by uneducated and backward educators who find it easier to attack than to learn.

This is a black mark against the private school sector and I hope that this school is truly embarrassed by their foolishness and that other private schools look to them as an example of the dangers of not educating the educators.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Xerox Gives Away Customer Identities

Shame, shame on Xerox for tattling on their customers. Turns out that Xerox got caught by the Electronic Frontier Foundation putting secret tracking codes onto every piece of paper being printed on their colour laser printers. This code tells anyone who cares to look on what printer the paper was printed. Now, the theory is that this is used to track people who are producing counterfeit money. But lets be reasonable. Counterfeiters do NOT use things like laser printers to make false currency. What a ridiculous way to try to scam the system. But what really does come of this is that regular everyday people who are printing things at home are not being tracked. This is America. A country founded on "Common Sense" - the pamphlet not the real thing. What if you could no longer make political or religious statements without being tracked down? More importantly how is this going to affect people trying to start democracies or support churches in other countries where those things are illegal? Now those goverments can track down all of those unwary "revolutionaries"? Apparently Xerox doesn't want Christian churches in Pakistan or free elections in China. They don't want them enough to put the lives of their paying customers on the line for it. I am picking on Xerox because they were the first to get caught but there are many other printer manufacturers doing the same thing like Dell, HP, Brother, Epson, etc. I am truly offended that these companies think so little of their customers. It would be one thing if these companies were clearly making it known that they were providing this tracking information and that it was only (we think that it is only) on colour laser printers and not on black and white printers which cannot be used at all to counterfeit currency. But since there is a rumor that this technology is being used to track things like copied papers who knows what all devices are doing this now. I think that the public deserves some answers. Xerox refused to talk to the media today claiming that they could not disclose any information about what they are involved in for security reasons. Security reasons! They might be selling information about their customers to anyone and everyone and their only answer is silence! How many missionaries or governmental visionaries might die at the hands of evil governments because Xerox helped anti-democratic regimes track them down? Could America have ever been founded if our founding fathers had every note that they wrote or had printed marked so that could have been identified? Xerox has made a strong statement about how they feel about our freedoms. Individuals freedoms as well as those of society. They also are giving Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, et al a big slap in the face. Well, here is one technologist that won't be doing business with Xerox and one Rochestarian that is embarrased that they are located here in our city.

This article is a reprint of the original found on Sheep Guarding Llama.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Open Office 2.0

The great people over at the project have silently released the second stable primary version of their wonderful office suite this morning. It is all ready out on the servers but no official announcement has been made. You can find the version that you need over at ibiblio.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Disk Expansion on Windows Server 2000 Cluster with SAN

Issue: A Windows 2000 Advanced Server Cluster running an MS SQL 2000 database using a Storage Area Network (SAN.) The current logical drive on the SAN needs to be expanded. This cannot be accomplished using standard Windows 2000 tools because Windows 2000 Server does not support resizing of Basic volumes and it also does not support the use of Dynamic volumes in a cluster (or at least they are highly not recommended.)

Solution: With the release of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, Microsoft offers a disk resizing utility called DiskPart.exe. This utility is designed around Microsoft’s “just in time” storage model and makes up for the deficiencies found in early Microsoft products. Diskpart.exe allows for drive resizing on both Basic and Dynamic volumes and, most importantly, supports usage on SANs. Diskpart is a command line utility and is scriptable if the operation is expected to be performed repeatedly.

There are some basic limitations to Diskpart. Most notably, the file system on the volume to be resized must be NTFS and must not have been converted from FAT32. Volumes can only be extended. They cannot be reduced in size. On Basic volumes which includes any use with a SAN, the unallocated space must be the next contiguous space on the same disk.

Diskpart is available as a free download for Windows 2000 Server.

Information on using Diskpart can be found at Knowledge Base article 325590.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

CMP Publishing and Cold Calling

A few weeks back, I received a phone call from some proporting to be calling on behalf of CRM Magazine. Now, I have subscribed to CRN for several years as it is a pretty popular publication amongst the VAR/System Integration crowds covering the going-ons in the VAR relations industry. CRN is a free magazine. One of those publications that makes all of its money through advertising - a model which I totally appreciate as it allows industry professionals like me to receive a large amount of published works without having to spend a significant fortune to subscribe to them. I probably get a dozen or maybe fifteen trade magazines in this fashion.

Recently, I have started to reconsider the number of publications that I receive in this manner. I find that I often do not have the time to dedicate to read them and I often, at best, skim them for one useful article and hope to throw them out while I am at the office or a client site so that I don't have to pay to have them all disposed of at my home (currently there are two giant stacks of them waiting to be recycled as it is.) Even moreso, I have recently noticed that a staggering number of the articles are not technical or business related at all but are actually unprofessional writers filling space with political rantings. It was brought to my attention by a developer friend of mine that over half of all of the articles in Software Developer had absolutely nothing to do with software development but were sexist, left-wing political soap boxing complaining about hiring practices in the software development industry. Not only was it political, but almost every article pointed the finger at developers, not hiring managers, educators or anyone else who is creating the "so called" problem. But they blamed the professionals who are doing the work for being better than other more deserving but unqualified people who need money. They even went to far in one article to point out that the people not getting jobs were not at all qualified and, more importantly, didn't want the jobs. But that didn't matter. So, we agreed that SD was a worthless rag and let it go. But the story continues.

In a recent issue of CRN, I had been offended by an article written by someone clearly uninformed about the industry and desperatly attempting to fill some space or to meet a deadline. The article itself wasn't necessarily disagreeable but I was not happy to find an article in a magazine such as CRN making such statements. I get industry trade magazines for a reason. In addition to this, I have often compained that CRN is published in an annoyingly large scale, much larger in physical form than a regular magazine. This makes it unwieldy, difficult to pack and, in all honesty, a little embarrassing to read in public. It is like the Rolling Stone of the IT industry - well known, too showey and full of pictures of rich, trashy people complaining about being rich and having nothing useful to tell the rest of us. So I had decided to stop receiving CRN when my subscription ran out - I would simply not fill in the subscription form again and all would be well. Or so I thought.

But then this phone call came. The woman said that she was calling to talk to me "about my subscription to CRN" as if she knew that I had one. I said "Ok" and she began to ask me questions about myself and my business (not exactly talking about my subscription to start with.) I politely informed her that I was not interested in receiving the magazine anymore. She informed me that I did not receive this magazine. Now, this may be true. The CRN that I receive might actually be in another employee's name and I might just steal it from them. I do that with some magazine and I just can't remember which one it is. But more importantly, if I did NOT receive this magazine according to CMP Media, its publisher, then why were they "calling to talk about my subscription" instead of calling to offer me one? I continued to explain that I did actually receive it but that I was not interested in receiving it anymore because... and the caller hung up on me. She actually hung up on me. I was about to tell her the useful information that I found the paper on which the magazine was printed to be large and cumbersome but apparently CRN isn't interested in knowing why its readership decides to leave it. No big loss, I didn't want to receive CRN anymore anyway. But it got me thinking.

So, I dug out my magazine archives. Yes, I keep magazine archives. And I started going through them looking to see which magazines I liked and which IMHO were just full of fluff, were poorly written or, in a rare few cases, actually crossed the line into offensive and inappropriate to maintain in a business environment. Now, up until now, I have received a large number of subscriptions many of which are extremely similar in look, feel, style and content and I have found it very difficult to distinguish between them. But now I really sat down and took the time to determine which ones were good and which ones were not. Lo and behold, I discovered almost instantly that none of the magazines that I felt had high value were coming from CMP, even though I subscribed to EIGHT of their publications including CRN, Information Week, Network World, Network Magazine, Software Developer, Dr. Dobbs Journal and a few others. Of all of these, only Dr. Dobbs had any quality to it at all but even that I found to be highly irrelevant and not a useful way to spend my time.

So what was the final outcome of this rude phone call? Well, I immediately stopped subscribing to all CMP Media publications. Even those that fell on the fence I felt compelled to no longer support. I have better ways to spend my time. And, more importantly, now you too know about CMP Media. There are plenty of good, high quality, free or low cost publications available so there is no reason to waste time on pulp like CMP.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Inherent Danger of Radio IDing Children

In recent months, the US government looked into the possibility of putting active RFID tags into all US passports. Fortunately, this program appears to be a no go. But now, apparel maker Lauren Scott California is beginning to put active RFID tags into children's sleepwear that should be headed for retail outlets around Christmas of this year, according to Information Week magazine.

Now, a little background on RFID. There are two types of RFID tags in general, active and passive. Passive tags are simple and cheap. They are roughly analagous to barcodes. You must get incredibly close to them and blast them with a burst of energy in order to get them to "reflect" a signal that identifies one tag from another. Active RFID tags are quite different and contain their own power source and broadcast their identification sometimes over very short distances but potentially over extremely long distances. The real distance is a factor of the design of the tag as well as the reading device.

Lauren Scott California is going to be putting active RFID tags into chilren's sleepwear using a solution from SmartWear Technologies Inc. The idea, as claimed by the clothing manufacturer, is to give parent's the ability to know that their children are safe in their homes by purchasing a $500 monitoring package that will tell them that their children are still in their bedrooms. This, however, is not what a technology like this does at all. What will actually be told to the parents by this monitoring system is that their children's clothing is still in the room and will give parents a false sense of security.

The harsh reality of putting an active RFID tag into children's clothing is that anyone can get an RFID reader, or even make one themselves. And with active tags that, in this case, broadcast location and identification information 30 feet in every direction, a potential kidnapper can sit outside of the house (or place an RFID reader there so that they only need appear in person to actually commit the crime) and know exactly where the child is without ever having to peer into a window and make his or her presence known. And then, knowing that the parents believe the child to be safe can take off with the child leaving the RFID sleepwear behind in the bed giving the kidnapper an eight hour head-start on authorities as most parents won't check in until morning.

To make matter worse, SmartWear is working to come up with newer technology that will allow the garments to broadcast for closer to 600 feet! This is a far enough distance that kidnappers could monitor multiple homes at once or even monitor a child's movements from another building. SmartWear hopes to increase the use of these RFID tags for use in military and law enforcement uniforms. Imagine the glee of high tech criminals once they are able to detect the approach and identification of police coming to nap them! Always being able to stay one step ahead of the police because you know exactly where they are at all times. The implications of IDing humans is enormous.

And, if that wasn't enough, SmartWear is planning to implement a child database that will carry detailed information about each child (through a voluntary system with parents sending in the information, of course) that will be made available to law enforcement agencies, Amber Alert or potentially other companies. The real concern here is, if this company is already willing to make your child a top target for kidnapping, how much effort are they really going to put into securing this database? Sure, they might do a wonderful job and it might never be hacked. And they might never share that information with anyone inappropriate. And all of those people that they share the list with might likewise protect it with the utmost of security. Or, it might be hacked in the first week and all of the information about children including their tag ID's, addresses, names, ages, sex, etc. will be available for potential child slavery rings in a a nice convenient format with hooks into the ID tags so that kidnappers can look up the child that they are about to kidnap on their laptop and make sure that they fit a high profit profile. Few ideas have more potential for horrific failures like this one does.

This follows on the heels of a high school that decided to require students to carry active RFID ID badges in order to enter their high school. Fortunately, the danger of the situation was realized before any students were actually hurt because of the program. What was happening was this: since students had to have active RFID tags in order to enter the school, that meant that they must also carry the tags with them as they travelled to and from the school. Because the tags were active, they were broadcasting the indentification and location of each of the students. Because all students had to have them, the system could even be used to identify students as being in a group or travelling individually. Since the tags were active, they could also be used to find student's homes, in theory, although this would be extremely difficult but very much in the realm of possibility.

The greatest fear to arise from this program was that of the many students who would travel, on foot, past wooded areas of town where there was very low visibility. Using an RFID reader, a potential abductor could, over a period of days, identify students that he was interested in abducting. Then, while hiding in the cover of the woods, could utilize RFID to determine when the student that he was after had been left alone by other students. The ease of abducting student during their travels to and from school was at an all time high. Imagine when parents realized that their students safety was at high risk and that the system had no security advantages over far cheaper and simpler solutions like barcoding or mag-striping. Someone in the district likely thought that RFID was "hot" and that a system like this would be a ticket to a promotion. As adults we need to be aware of the dangers of broadcasting the identity and location of our children. Any technology that uses radio frequency can be seen by anyone using extremely low cost equipment.

Another example, fortunately not involving children, that did end in disaster was that of a government agency in Mexico City. This certain Mexican government agency decided that in order to be absolutely sure that only autorized personnel were able to gain access to their office building that they would have active RFID tags inserted under the skin of their employees. At first, this sounded like a great idea, at least to those who did not have to have the surgery performed on themselves. However, it took very little time before the problems of a system such as this began coming to light.

Criminals seeking to gain entrance to the department found that they were able to frequent the local bars, restaurants and coffee shops and were able to identify department personnel from their RFID broadcasts. Using this system they would also have been able to learn their break patterns, clothing, hair styles and other information necessary to impersonate someone. Then, they were able to make their own matching RFID tags that they could simply slip into their pockets. Using their RFID readers they would then determine when a person had definitely left the government building and had entered a restaurant or bar and then would enter the building themselves. There were security guards in place who would look at the badges and, one would hope, would recognize the people that they saw every day. But, because of the false sense of security providing by an RFID system, the guards stopped checking people as carefully and criminals were able to easily come and go in the buildings with the sense of security of knowing that at least THEY were aware of the movements of the people that they were attempting to impersonate and could be sure that they had not tried to re-enter the building yet.

The bottom line in RFID is that the use of active tags is great for items like palettes of canned goods, dorm refridgerators, car parts, etc. They are great for tracking all kinds of objects. But when it comes to tracking people, active RFID is extremely dangerous. There is a reason why, in the past, only seriously dangerous criminals were ever tagged with a system such as this. Only criminals dangerous enough that the public deemed their safety of little concern. We should hardly treat our children in the same way. These were systems not designed to protect criminals from the public but to protect the public from the criminals. Tagging children or children's clothing is hardly going to protect any adults on a cold night in a dark alley from being jumped by four year olds looking for a wallet and car keys.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Apple Moves to Intel PC Architecture

Well folks, the rumors are true - at least according to Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Apple has finally decided that it is time to abandon the PowerPC architecture in favour of the more highly supported industry favorite Intel PC architecture. Rumors of this defection have circulated among the industry for several years but few thought that it would ever actually happen.

Apple has long used its PowerPC architecture - designed and delivered through its partner, IBM - to lend it an air of mystique. Supports of the Macintosh have used its unique architecture to argue that it had higher performance than its x86 competition. Apple even managed to convince its loyal masses that processor clock cycles were not an accurate measure of performance. This is absolutely true. But Apple's followers then ignored the fact that Intel and AMD processors were consistently out-performing the IBM processors PER CLOCK CYCLE as well as having higher raw cycle numbers. But now things are changing. Apple has signed a deal with Intel for Intel to provide the next generation processors for Apple's Macintosh line of personal computers.

So what does this mean for the computer world moving forward? The first change that we are likely to see (come June 2006 when these new machines are scheduled to first be available to the public) is a drop in the price of new Macintoshs along with a performance increase. Intel architecture is simply less expensive than PowerPC for the same performance.

Maintenance costs for Macintoshes is also likely to decrease as Apple will now have the large base of "A+" PC Technicians that are already in the market that will be instantly familiar with the architecture. No longer will Mac Techs require specialized hardware knowledge to do their jobs. No longer will normal Mac home users be at a loss for hardware information on their computers.

Perhaps the biggest advantage that will come with the Intel transition is that Apple Macintosh will now be able to emulate Intel machines at blinding speed. Unlike running Virtual PC on a Mac and getting a slow PC, you will be able to run Windows, Linux or another Mac in a virtual machine at near native speeds (you can define "near native" as you see fit - but orders of magnitude faster than previously across disparate architectures.) This will help make the Mac desktop a more useful tool to a greater number of users.

Another large advantage of the Apple move to Intel is that the Machintosh platform will now support dual booting with Windows. This means that a user who currently must maintain two separate computers, one for Mac and one for Windows, and who is unable to meet his or her needs through emulation techniques, will now be able to run both operating system natively on the same computer. For the first time, triple boot machines with Windows, Linux and MacOS will be possible. This is a huge boon to users who have needed to maintain a separate Windows machine for occassional tasks but want to work on Mac most of the time.

Apple will now also be able to manufacture machines of a more reasonable size. Current Mac beheamoths are ridiculously large compared to the generally compact size of most PCs. The G5 (Power 4) process is very large and requires a lot of space for cooling. The Intel platform will allow for smaller sizes and lower heat dissipation.

Apple laptop users will also be happy to know that unlike current IBM processors, Intel is able to make low power consumption, high performance laptop targetted processors. For the last several years, Apple laptop users have had to suffer with only having access to the G4 (Power 3) processor. The G4's performance is similar to the Intel Pentium III for the PC users out there. Apple laptops are generations behind the PC world which is already running on high speed, low power consumption 64-bit laptop processors.

Overall, I think that Apple move to the Intel platform is an incredibly wise one. It is true that the novelty of Macintosh running on PowerPC has been a draw for those of us who find alternative architectures to be interesting for their own sake. But people like me are few and far between. Most users will be extrememly happy with the lower cost and higher performance of the new machines.

I am saddened to hear that Apple chose Intel over AMD as AMD has outperformed Intel in their own architecture now for several years and provides chips at lower cost. However, Apple users are so used to expensive, low performance platforms at this point that the smaller difference between Intel and AMD's implementations of Intel's architecture will be nominal to them.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A Computer Buying Tutorial

As an IT industry professional of eleven years, I have spent a considerable amount of time since 1994 in the pursuit of purchasing personal computing devices. I have purchased many for myself, some for my wife who could be classified as a "prosumer", interacted with countless other professionals as they purchased numerous computers for themselves, aided many friends and family members as they sought new computers and have overseen the purchasing for several companies. My desktop and laptop purchasing experience could be considered fairly broad. Throughout my career, I have found that there is a common set of tips that can be used as a baseline for anyone seeking to purchase a computer. These tips are as general as I can make them so I won't be suggesting specific models or even manufactures although there are definitely some that I almost always recommend and many that I work diligently to steer potential customers away from. This tutorial is designed to help just about any computer shopper ranging from a simple home user to a mid level tech to a small business owner who is looking for machines for her company.

Buy What the Pro's Are Buying IT professionals tend to be very interested in computers and they tend to do a lot of shopping around before purchasing machines for themselves. Even more importantly than that, they are often exposed to large numbers of different types of machines and so they will often have first hand experience in areas where other people may only be familiar with reviews, specs and marketing material. IT Pros also have the advantage of having a deeper understanding of the technology variances between models as well as often having insight or even foreknowledge of industry developments that may affect the market in the near future. When buying a car you would trust the opinion of your trusty mechanic, right? Why? Because he knows more about cars than you and sees more of them. Same reason to go to an IT Pro when buying a computer. Now, that doesn't mean that just anyone who works with computers is an IT Pro. A desktop salemen at your local (or national for that matter) computer store is NOT an IT Pro and may possibly not have ever even seen a commercial computer before. I mean real IT Pros, the kind that bring their work home with them and live to work on computers. Whether they are analysts, programmers, PC Tech, engineers, architects, admins, whatever - you will know a true "geek" IT Pro when you meet one.

Buy Commercial not Consumer Just like IT Pros, companies have their own set of criteria for purchasing computers. For the most part, those criteria are very good. Factors such as low "Total Cost of Ownership", high reliability, highly configurable, attractive, quiet (to meet OSHA standards), etc. Companies pay big bucks to IT Pros to make good determinations for them as to what technologies to buy and then check those recommendations against economic models. Corporate America is pretty good at buying computers by now.

One of the biggest factors separating corporate purchasing from regular personal purchasing is that corporate buyers go through reseller channels to get commercial models. Typically a computer manufacturer will make two entirely independant lines of computers. One targeted at low end purchasers who will go to their local chain computer store and who will not shop around carefully. The other line is targetted at corporations who are looking for simple, high quality, reliable, low cost computers and who are very well educated about what they looking for. As a consumer, you have the option to buy from the higher quality commercial line - but most computer manufacturers aren't going to make that information widely available since their margins are far larger on the lower quality equipment.

Often the differences between commercial and consumer product lines can be rather significant although you would never notice any of it from the types of descriptions that manufactures give consumers about their products. Most consumers look at the clock speed of the processor and ignore many far more important factors when purchasing and manufacturers know this fact and cater to it. Commercial machines generally outperform, sometimes significantly, their consumer counterparts even when their "specs" are the same. This is caused by support hardware that is of higher quality. Commercial equipment often has a better warranty and a longer lifespan. Commercial hardware is often equipment with more well tested technologies and less experimental ones although it will often get high end technologies sooner as those technologies trickle down from server lines.

Commercial equipment is seldom, if ever, "bundled" with other products to increase its perceived value. For example, it is very common for consumer machines to be sold including a "free printer." What you are not told is that that printer only has a value of a few dollars and, in fact, is a good investment for the manufacturer to give away because the real money is made on the extra expensive ink that they make only for that "free" model at twice the cost of any other ink. It would often save you money in just one or two ink changes to have purchased a better printer in the first place. The same goes for other free components. Keyboards and mice included with commercial machines are often of far superior build and ergonomic value although they are often less "flashy" than consumer models.

Do Not Shop Based on Clock Speed It is a myth that the speed of a computer is measured by the speed of its processor. It is true that, all other things being equal, a PIII 1GHz processor is faster than a PIII 933MHz processor. But all other things are seldom equal. That kind of comparison is only really useful when comparing between processor options within a single product line. There are many factors that determine the speed of a computer and one of the most important ones is usage. One system might be ideal for one situation and not at all appropriate for another. You need an IT Pro to help you determine what you need. Clock speed is marketing hype generated by the low end processor makers that make low performance chips designed just to obtain high clock speeds regardless of overall performance characteristics.

Buy Less, More Often People often want to buy a computer that will last them five years or more. Maybe seven or eight. The bottom line is, this just isn't possible. The machine that you buy today will be obsolete tomorrow. Period. That is just the way that it is. It is true that machines today stay useful for far longer periods of time than they ever have before and that trend is likely to continue. Ever computer buying cycle seems to add a little more useful life unto the machines that we buy. But it will take a long time before they are lasting ten years. But there is a way to combat this problem and it is the exact opposite approach from what most people take.

Many consumers attempt to buy an extremely expensive computer that is "top of the line" (although be careful, what CompUSA calls top of the line and what an IT Pro considers a high end workstation will vary drastically as the national chain employees aren't even aware of the technologies that go into mid to high end equipment.) So lets look at an expamle. Joe wants a new computer and he wants it to last him six years. He spends $3,500 and a new, super fast desktop machine. It is awesome. But in just six months, that same machine is only worth $2,000. And in a year it is a bargain machine for $500. Joe could have bought a lower end model for $1,750 that had about 90% of the performance of the high end model at the same time. He could have put the other $1,750 that he had been planning to spend into a savings account or maybe even into some investments for three years. In three years when that mid-level machine is only just barely starting to seem slow, he could take that money that he set aside and buy a brand new mid-level machine that will blow away his old one. That new machine at the three year mark will be worlds beyond the high-end machine that he could have bought at the beginning. By spreading out his spending, he has managed to have an almost new machine all of the time instead of peaking with a barely impressive new machine once every six years that is ready for the garbage heap a year before he has the money to replace it. Additionally, by going the second route, he now has two usable machines. His secondary machine - the one he bought originally - is still usable for some tasks for years to come. His total value from the same money is far superior spread out over a few years.

Now That I Know I Want A Commercial Machine - How Do I Get One? Good question. Chain stores like CompUSA and Fry's do not have access to high quality commercial machines. Most local ma and pa computer dealers do not either or else they try to sell "whiteboxes" which are often built in dirty back rooms using bargian basement parts (this is, of course, not always true and many of the top workstations are built in a whitebox fashion - but you must be a very careful shopper when buying whiteboxes.) Look for local or regional IT firms that are also dealers. Contact HP, IBM, Lenova, Acer, Fujitsu, SUN, etc. to find a reseller near you. Or look in the yellow pages or online. They are easy to find. You can also buy from most companies direct online and this can be a good option. But working with a local consulting firm, even as a home buyer, can be very beneficial to you. It means that you have a relationship to foster, someone to turn to and local, native language support available when you need it. If you do shop online, look for links to "Business Desktops" or go to the "Small Business Center." It should be obvious which machines are in which lines. For example, if you go to HP, you can reach their commercial lines by clicking on "Desktops and Workstations" and then on "Business Desktop PCs".

I hope that this buyer's guide has been helpful. I know that all of you have to buy computers often and it is important to have industry insight into how to buy them.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Six Lessons of the School Teacher

Art and Danielle sent me this article in an email recently and I thought that it was so good that I wanted to post it on here.

The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher

by John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year, 1991

*Call me* Mr. Gatto, please. Twenty-six years ago, having nothing
better to do, I tried my hand at schoolteaching. My license
certifies me as an instructor of English language and literature,
but that isn't what I do at all. What I teach is school, and I win
awards doing it.

Teaching means many different things, but six lessons are common to
schoolteaching from Harlem to Hollywood. You pay for these lessons
in more ways than you can imagine, so you might as well know what
they are:

*The first* lesson I teach is: "Stay in the class where you belong."
I don't know who decides that my kids belong there but that's not my
business. The children are numbered so that if any get away they can
be returned to the right class. Over the years the variety of ways
children are numbered has increased dramatically, until it is hard
to see the human being under the burden of the numbers each carries.
Numbering children is a big and very profitable business, though
what the business is designed to accomplish is elusive.

In any case, again, that's not my business. My job is to make the
kids like it -- being locked in together, I mean -- or at the
minimum, endure it. If things go well, the kids can't imagine
themselves anywhere else; they envy and fear the better classes and
have contempt for the dumber classes. So the class mostly keeps
itself in good marching order. That's the real lesson of any rigged
competition like school. You come to know your place.

Nevertheless, in spite of the overall blueprint, I make an effort to
urge children to higher levels of test success, promising eventual
transfer from the lower-level class as a reward. I insinuate that
the day will come when an employer will hire them on the basis of
test scores, even though my own experience is that employers are
(rightly) indifferent to such things. I never lie outright, but I've
come to see that truth and [school]teaching are incompatible.

The lesson of numbered classes is that there is no way out of your
class except by magic. Until that happens you must stay where you
are put.

*The second* lesson I teach kids is to turn on and off like a light
switch. I demand that they become totally involved in my lessons,
jumping up and down in their seats with anticipation, competing
vigorously with each other for my favor. But when the bell rings I
insist that they drop the work at once and proceed quickly to the
next work station. Nothing important is ever finished in my class,
nor in any other class I know of.

The lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care
too deeply about anything? Bells are the secret logic of schooltime;
their argument is inexorable; bells destroy past and future,
converting every interval into a sameness, as an abstract map makes
every living mountain and river the same even though they are not.
Bells inoculate each undertaking with indifference.

*The third* lesson I teach you is to surrender your will to a
predestined chain of command. Rights may be granted or withheld, by
authority, without appeal. As a schoolteacher I intervene in many
personal decisions, issuing a Pass for those I deem legitimate, or
initiating a disciplinary confrontation for behavior that threatens
my control. My judgments come thick and fast, because individuality
is trying constantly to assert itself in my classroom. Individuality
is a curse to all systems of classification, a contradiction of
class theory.

Here are some common ways it shows up: children sneak away for a
private moment in the toilet on the pretext of moving their bowels;
they trick me out of a private instant in the hallway on the grounds
that they need water. Sometimes free will appears right in front of
me in children angry, depressed or exhilarated by things outside my
ken. Rights in such things cannot exist for schoolteachers; only
privileges, which can be withdrawn, exist.

*The fourth* lesson I teach is that only I determine what curriculum
you will study. (Rather, I enforce decisions transmitted by the
people who pay me). This power lets me separate good kids from bad
kids instantly. Good kids do the tasks I appoint with a minimum of
conflict and a decent show of enthusiasm. Of the millions of things
of value to learn, I decide what few we have time for. The choices
are mine. Curiosity has no important place in my work, only conformity.

Bad kids fight against this, of course, trying openly or covertly to
make decisions for themselves about what they will learn. How can we
allow that and survive as schoolteachers? Fortunately there are
procedures to break the will of those who resist.

This is another way I teach the lesson of dependency. Good people
wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. This is the most
important lesson of all, that we must wait for other people, better
trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives. It is no
exaggeration to say that our entire economy depends upon this lesson
being learned. Think of what would fall apart if kids weren't
trained in the dependency lesson: The social-service businesses
could hardly survive, including the fast-growing counseling
industry; commercial entertainment of all sorts, along with
television, would wither if people remembered how to make their own
fun; the food services, restaurants and prepared-food warehouses
would shrink if people returned to making their own meals rather
than depending on strangers to cook for them. Much of modern law,
medicine, and engineering would go too -- the clothing business as
well -- unless a guaranteed supply of helpless people poured out of
our schools each year. We've built a way of life that depends on
people doing what they are told because they don't know any other
way. For God's sake, let's not rock that boat!

*In lesson* five I teach that your self-respect should depend on an
observer's measure of your worth. My kids are constantly evaluated
and judged. A monthly report, impressive in its precision, is sent
into students' homes to spread approval or to mark exactly -- down
to a single percentage point -- how dissatisfied with their children
parents should be. Although some people might be surprised how
little time or reflection goes into making up these records, the
cumulative weight of the objective- seeming documents establishes a
profile of defect which compels a child to arrive at a certain
decisions about himself and his future based on the casual judgment
of strangers.

Self-evaluation -- the staple of every major philosophical system
that ever appeared on the planet -- is never a factor in these
things. The lesson of report cards, grades, and tests is that
children should not trust themselves or their parents, but must rely
on the evaluation of certified officials. People need to be told
what they are worth.

*In lesson* six I teach children that they are being watched. I keep
each student under constant surveillance and so do my colleagues.
There are no private spaces for children; there is no private time.
Class change lasts 300 seconds to keep promiscuous fraternization at
low levels. Students are encouraged to tattle on each other, even to
tattle on their parents. Of course I encourage parents to file their
own child's waywardness, too.

I assign "homework" so that this surveillance extends into the
household, where students might otherwise use the time to learn
something unauthorized, perhaps from a father or mother, or by
apprenticing to some wiser person in the neighborhood.

The lesson of constant surveillance is that no one can be trusted,
that privacy is not legitimate. Surveillance is an ancient urgency
among certain influential thinkers; it was a central prescription
set down by Calvin in the Institutes, by Plato in the Republic, by
Hobbes, by Comte, by Francis Bacon. All these childless men
discovered the same thing: Children must be closely watched if you
want to keep a society under central control.

*It is* the great triumph of schooling that among even the best of
my fellow teachers, and among even the best parents, there is only a
small number who can imagine a different way to do things. Yet only
a very few lifetimes ago things were different in the United States:
originality and variety were common currency; our freedom from
regimentation made us the miracle of the world; social class
boundaries were relatively easy to cross; our citizenry was
marvelously confident, inventive, and able to do many things
independently, to think for themselves. We were something, all by
ourselves, as individuals.

It only takes about 50 contact hours to transmit basic literacy and
math skills well enough that kids can be self-teachers from then on.
The cry for "basic skills" practice is a smokescreen behind which
schools pre-empt the time of children for twelve years and teach
them the six lessons I've just taught you.

We've had a society increasingly under central control in the United
States since just before the Civil War: the lives we lead, the
clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the green highway signs we
drive by from coast to coast are the products of this central
control. So, too, I think, are the epidemics of drugs, suicide,
divorce, violence, cruelty, and the hardening of class into caste in
the U.S., products of the dehumanization of our lives, the lessening
of individual and family importance that central control imposes.

Without a fully active role in community life you cannot develop
into a complete human being. Aristotle taught that. Surely he was
right; look around you or look in the mirror: that is the

"School" is an essential support system for a vision of social
engineering that condemns most people to be subordinate stones in a
pyramid that narrows to a control point as it ascends. "School" is
an artifice which makes such a pyramidal social order seem
inevitable (although such a premise is a fundamental betrayal of the
American Revolution). In colonial days and through the period of the
early Republic we had no schools to speak of. And yet the promise of
democracy was beginning to be realized. We turned our backs on this
promise by bringing to life the ancient dream of Egypt: compulsory
training in subordination for everybody. Compulsory schooling was
the secret Plato reluctantly transmitted in the Republic when he
laid down the plans for total state control of human life.

*The current* debate about whether we should have a national
curriculum is phony; we already have one, locked up in the six
lessons I've told you about and a few more I've spared you. This
curriculum produces moral and intellectual paralysis, and no
curriculum of content will be sufficient to reverse its bad effects.
What is under discussion is a great irrelevancy.

None of this is inevitable, you know. None of it is impregnable to
change. We do have a choice in how we bring up young people; there
is no right way. There is no "international competition" that
compels our existence, difficult as it is to even think about in the
face of a constant media barrage of myth to the contrary. In every
important material respect our nation is self-sufficient. If we
gained a non-material philosophy that found meaning where it is
genuinely located -- in families, friends, the passage of seasons,
in nature, in simple ceremonies and rituals, in curiosity,
generosity, compassion, and service to others, in a decent
independence and privacy -- then we would be truly self-sufficient.

*How did* these awful places, these "schools", come about? As we
know them, they are a product of the two "Red Scares" of 1848 and
1919, when powerful interests feared a revolution among our
industrial poor, and partly they are the result of the revulsion
with which old-line families regarded the waves of Celtic, Slavic,
and Latin immigration -- and the Catholic religion -- after 1845.
And certainly a third contributing cause can be found in the
revulsion with which these same families regarded the free movement
of Africans through the society after the Civil War.

Look again at the six lessons of school. This is training for
permanent underclasses, people who are to be deprived forever of
finding the center of their own special genius. And it is training
shaken loose from its original logic: to regulate the poor. Since
the 1920s the growth of the well-articulated school bureaucracy, and
the less visible growth of a horde of industries that profit from
schooling exactly as it is, have enlarged schooling's original grasp
to seize the sons and daughters of the middle class.

Is it any wonder Socrates was outraged at the accusation that he
took money to teach? Even then, philosophers saw clearly the
inevitable direction the professionalization of teaching would take,
pre-empting the teaching function that belongs to all in a healthy
community; belongs, indeed, most clearly to yourself, since nobody
else cares as much about your destiny. Professional teaching tends
to another serious error. It makes things that are inherently easy
to learn, like reading, writing, and arithmetic, difficult -- by
insisting they be taught by pedagogical procedures.

*With lessons* like the ones I teach day after day, is it any wonder
we have the national crisis we face today? Young people indifferent
to the adult world and to the future; indifferent to almost
everything except the diversion of toys and violence? Rich or poor,
schoolchildren cannot concentrate on anything for very long. They
have a poor sense of time past and to come; they are mistrustful of
intimacy (like the children of divorce they really are); they hate
solitude, are cruel, materialistic, dependent, passive, violent,
timid in the face of the unexpected, addicted to distraction.

All the peripheral tendencies of childhood are magnified to a
grotesque extent by schooling, whose hidden curriculum prevents
effective personality development. Indeed, without exploiting the
fearfulness, selfishness, and inexperience of children our schools
could not survive at all, nor could I as a certified schoolteacher.

"Critical thinking" is a term we hear frequently these days as a
form of training which will herald a new day in mass schooling. It
certainly will, if it ever happens. No common school that actually
dared teach the use of dialectic, heuristic, and other tools of free
minds could last a year without being torn to pieces.

Institutional schoolteachers are destructive to children's
development. Nobody survives the Six-Lesson Curriculum unscathed,
not even the instructors. The method is deeply and profoundly
anti-educational. No tinkering will fix it. In one of the great
ironies of human affairs, the massive rethinking that schools
require would cost so much less than we are spending now that it is
not likely to happen. First and foremost, the business I am in is a
jobs project and a contract-letting agency. We cannot afford to save
money, not even to help children.

*At the* pass we've come to historically, and after 26 years of
teaching, I must conclude that one of the only alternatives on the
horizon for most families is to teach their own children at home.
Small, de- institutionalized schools are another. Some form of
free-market system for public schooling is the likeliest place to
look for answers. But the near impossibility of these things for the
shattered families of the poor, and for too many on the fringes of
the economic middle class, foretell that the disaster of Six-Lesson
Schools is likely to continue.

After an adult lifetime spent in teaching school I believe the
method of schooling is the only real content it has. Don't be fooled
into thinking that good curricula or good equipment or good teachers
are the critical determinants of your son and daughter's schooltime.
All the pathologies we've considered come about in large measure
because the lessons of school prevent children from keeping
important appointments with themselves and their families, to learn
lessons in self-motivation, perseverance, self-reliance, courage,
dignity and love -- and, of course, lessons in service to others,
which are among the key lessons of home life.

Thirty years ago these things could still be learned in the time
left after school. But television has eaten most of that time, and a
combination of television and the stresses peculiar to two-income or
single-parent families have swallowed up most of what used to be
family time. Our kids have no time left to grow up fully human, and
only thin-soil wastelands to do it in.

*A future* is rushing down upon our culture which will insist that
all of us learn the wisdom of non-material experience; this future
will demand, as the price of survival, that we follow a pace of
natural life economical in material cost. These lessons cannot be
learned in schools as they are. School is like starting life with a
12-year jail sentence in which bad habits are the only curriculum
truly learned. I teach school and win awards doing it. I should know.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Draconian Copyright Laws

Slashdot ran a story today about a bill expected to be passed by the President soon that makes it a very serious felony, punishable by up to three years in prison, for placing any film, music or software onto a shared directory on a computer. Beyond the complete annihilation of the fair use rules that have protected us thus far, more or less, this law leaves out some really critically thinking. The most important thing is that it immediately makes Microsoft Windows illegal as all software is installed onto the hard drive and all hard drives are made available through a hidden shared directory. I am sure that the government would allow some leniency for computers that did not even have a network card or modem installed and had never been on a network. But that would be through leniency - the law would not even protect those people. This is one of those "everyone is a criminal" laws that allows the government to prosecute anyone, anytime. Even the most innocent, accepted fair use practices are blown away with this law. I realize that the widespread theft of intellectual property is completely out of control. But why is the government so unwilling to prosecute based on theft and not on new, unfair use laws? Why are the laws that have made stealing for the past two hundred years inadequate? Nothing has changed. Stealing is stealing. In fact, the government has yet to address the incredibly inappropriate actions of many school and library agencies that are encouraging, assisting and educating would-be thieves on how to operate and providing moral justification for these actions. If the authorities are not honestly concerned with the theft of intellectual property then we have no recourse but to believe that these laws are being proposed for the sole purpose of allowing the initiation of military control laws giving powers to the government at their own will. The disaster of 9/11 allowed the implementation of the revocation of our constitutional rights through the "Patriot Act" and we see that this trend continues. Make Americans live in fear by making everyone a criminal. Target the IT industry first because Americans are simply too lazy to understand what is happening and soon our rights will be gone and we won't even have complained.