Technology

The Net as a knowledge engine

Look up this entry’s title in your favorite search engine and chances are that there is at least a web site that contains an article arguing in the same vein.

The global capitalistic system wants every piece of intellectual property well accounted for, from a robot building robots to a compiled computer code allowing a user to edit text embedded in an image file. I cannot imagine how the current system manages millions of trademarks, copyrights, patents and the like. It is the complex system that has begotten lots of lawsuits that not protect the plaintiffs’ business interests but also bring more cash into their coffers. Patent lawyers bring more money into their purse, too.

I thought that a brainchild that remains hidden in one’s notebook, digital or otherwise, is most likely to be ‘robbed’ by another person, who immediately publishes it on the net, for reasons of fame, nobility in purpose, or whatever. There’s nothing that the ‘original’ creator or author can do to lay claim to such idea. Not unless legal issues come into play.

I therefore argue that the one who publishes first gets the credit. We have this Filipino saying: “Daig ng maagap ang masipag” (The person who rises early finishes first or gets more than the industrious one.)

Of course, with the early publishing comes the responsibility of committing no or minimal factual, logic or even assumption lapses in such exposition of idea. Or s/he will draw flak from concerned netizens. And it might usher in his/her descent to disgrace.

More often than not, I tend to consult the net on concepts that I’m sure incubated from my mind but leave me wondering whether such concepts incubated from other persons’ minds either. At least, such information will help me think how to present the idea in a non-plagiaristic manner.

The Net has become an engine through which historical, empirical and new-frontier knowledge can be searched. If you will, the Net can also be considered as a virtual repository of knowledge creations, including the more technico-legal intellectual property claims. If, after a flash of discovery or as a result of burning the midnight oil, one comes up with an idea, be it revolutionary or fantastic, s/he should find out first whether such idea already has earlier proponents. Consider it a standard practice of research, the digital equivalent to a visit in library.

And to bring this scheme of knowledge creation into proper perspective, I propose that alternative ways of sharing and protecting knowledge on the Net (yes, both can be done at the same time) should be explored. Ever heard of the Creative Commons and sourceforge.net? Go explore.

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2010 elections automation: three takes from civil society

With the Senate and Congress of the same mind for 2010 elections’ automation, with the considerable prodding from the Commission on Elections, it seems there’s no stopping government to finally give flesh to the dream of fully automated elections.

It’s interesting to note that the majority of the Senate has faced an unrelenting opponent in the person of Senator Chiz Escudero. He said no to the proposed supplemental budget as he saw a ghost of the 1.3-billion-peso Mega Pacific scandal in that move.

But what’s much more interesting to note is the fact that three civil society networks have surprisingly taken different positions on the issue of 2010 polls automation.

Kaya Natin! A National Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership is for the automation as the COMELEC has pushed it. Its leaders believe that the planned automation will minimize fraud, cheating, and human error. It will also allow Filipino people to know the election results faster.

The Alternative Budget Initiative (ABI), led by the Social Watch Philippines, is against the automation not for its demerits but for the technicality of and politics behind the move. ABI finds irony in the fact that government is working on the supplemental budget for the automation when the budget for 2009 has yet to be signed by President Arroyo. ABI goes on to say, through the words of Rene Raya of the Action for Economic Reforms (AER): “President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has certified the budget on poll automation as ‘very urgent’, yet the loss of lives, loss of opportunities, more hunger and more poverty caused by the delay in the delivery of social services due to the late implementation of the 2009 budget should be most urgent.”

Transparentelections.org is as critical as ABI but more focused on the technology and software involved. It noted that the Senate approval will not lead to a bicameral process but instead to the Executive level to implement the approved budget. On the technology and software side, Transparentelections.org doubted the openness of the system to be developed (Precinct Count Optical Scan), which will be proprietary, thus, closed-source, much less vendor-driven.

As an alternative, the Open Election System (OES) is being promoted as it is built around open source model, meaning that its source code is open to public scrutiny and that public may have access to election results as it wishes. Moreover, OES is pushed not under a fully automated system, since the  organization sees it as combining manual voting and tallying and automated canvassing.

It is clear that the civil society has not come up with a common stand except perhaps that it is not actually against automation of elections. Unless all three organizations come together and get down to the brass tacks of the issue, at the end of the day, only Kaya Natin! will “win”.

Just my two cents’ worth, I find the stance of Kaya Natin! sounding naive. It’s as if automation under the current system not meeting the prerequisites will be a true success in the end. Moreover, I do empathize with ABI for its pro-poor stance. But I’m more inclined to support Transparentelections.org given my advocacy for free and open source software (FOSS). I’m for social justice and software justice and they are related.

Cluttered desktop: Effect of ‘paperless’ mindset

For workaholic paperless souls like me, chances are that their physical desktops would look like mayhem. I’m an OC for making my computer desktop nifty all the time, with a corresponding efficient system for storing and retrieving files. Thus, my real office desktop has suffered for not being taken care of.

A self-professed environmentalist who cares for the trees, I have this propensity to have every important document that comes my way scanned right on the dot. And what happens to the scanned copy? File it away anywhere it could land.

But I do confess that it’s an unacceptable and mechanical mindset. “Orderliness is next to Godliness” still lingers in my mind. And I resolve to walk that adage.

Terminal Case: Are consoles Is CLI destined to be dead come the era of super Linux desktops?

Gradually but surely, Linux has caught up with the popularity of Windows. Thanks to the valuable and selfless efforts of developers and users as well to make Linux a great alternative. I believe that the direction of Linux development is towards the desktop realm, as it has already made its niche in the service side of things. Ubuntu, for one, is being groomed as providing awesome experience even for ordinary people.

That being the case, what future lies for the command line interface, at least the advanced terminals like Gnome Terminal and Konsole? Will an ordinary user survive Linux without them, like a Mac’er probably does? Or put in another way, will terminals be deprecated, if not made obsolete, say, in a decade’s time? Or will they remain essential feature of a modern Linux box? I ask this from a non-developer’s point of view. Because I’m sure that an ordinary user would hate to see boxes chockful of alienatingly cryptic texts. They’d rather root for mice to get things done.

One criterion for the development of Linux distributions is the ease of use, including the ease with which to administer a machine. And I’m afraid that what used to be a supposedly quick way to do things with a terminal (like assigning file permissions) would be replaced by a graphical user interface.

I don’t know with the rest but I can’t live without a terminal. Even if it were declared illegal to use a console, I would go underground just to do so. Terminals are an essential part of my life. I use a terminal to (in order of importance):

  1. Run my self-written scripts like a journal system.
  2. Install or update applications. (I find the mouse clicks too tedious for me.)
  3. Look up a word or term in dictionaries stored in my computer.
  4. Administer a database.
  5. Tweak configuration files.
  6. Connect to another computer in office.
  7. Write simple text files.
  8. Read simple text files.
  9. File management.

So are you ready to live without a terminal?

Teethlessly restless

Just learned this lesson on the Day 1 of Mekong ICT Camp. In front of a public, it’s not enough that you’ve got a great presentation and prepared mind; you’ve got to have your dentures on.

The morning session of Track 3:  Computer Networking went fine, almost without any glitch. I think I gave justice to the introduction part. (I was overjoyed because I was able to pick up something from the intro Impress presentation to apply to the hands-on exercise later: I naturally was able to determine with the participants the types [note the ‘s’] of computer network that we were going to set up [scale: LAN; connection method: ethernet; architecture: peer-to-peer; topology: fully-connected; and protocol: TCP/IP].)

But, yesterday, I was taking my lunch together with several participants when something horrible happened. My upper denture cracked into two pieces cross-wise. It would have been OK had the crack been length-wise, meaning that there would have been some teeth remaining in front. But almost the entire frontal teeth got lost. It was the fault of the half-cooked vegetable that I found hard to bite into pieces. Ah, no. It was me. I forgot that my dentures are already weak (after about 10 years of use). I should have been extra careful.

When that happened, my blood pressure shot up. I felt crappy and frenetic. I didn’t know what to do. I went to a CR and wished that I’d stay inside like forever until fairy godmother appeared and granted my wish for a repaired denture. My first recourse was to hunt Klaikong and seek help. I wanted to rush to a clinic, which he was able to grant. Good thing he was able to convince his director to bring me to Phiathai Hospital in another place of Chonburi.

While I was in the hospital’s dental clinic (which lasted over two hours while trying to make out Thai teledrama shown on overhead TV), two things kept on taunting me: The cost of the denture’s repair and the afternoon session which I should have facilitated. I also should have learned from the specific part on thin client setup, which my teammate Somsak handled.

I ask you: Can you stand talking to people without that pearly enamel set in your mouth? Because I’m not sure whether your public would stand looking at you looking like doing a stand-up comedy act.

Thanks to the kindness of  Klaikong’s Director and friend volunteer, I am now back in my dentally-complete self. I’ve been talking to people and facilitating sessions with a teethy smile.

Cyber Education Project: The best response to challenges in Philippine education?

There are two ways to take a critical look at the controversial Cyber Education Project (CEP) (See the slide below). One is the process by which it was crafted and peddled in public. The other is its feasibility in the Philippine context. This article attempts the second.

An ordinary folk surely asks: What is that thing called Cyber Education Project? I don’t have an easy answer but based on my copy of the electronic presentation prepared by the Department of Education (DepEd), which unfortunately does not give a one-liner definition of it, I define it as one that provides basic education to all areas in the country through a satellite technology that connects in real time all DepEd offices and public schools, which use hi-technology multimedia devices to facilitate learning process. (Caveat: This definition has to be checked against the expected reach of the project. See below.)

The project contextualizes itself within the challenges in education, namely, low academic performance of students, significant drop-outs, and big population of out-of-school youths and functionally-illiterate adults. Thirty-percent and 60% of children entering Grade 1 do not finish elementary and high school, respectively. Mentioned in the reasons for drop-outs were lack of pre-school preparation, disinterest in the lessons, poverty, malnutrition, and transportation problems.

The rationale cites the difficulty for the DepEd to service the 9.16 million functional illiterates and 12.24 million illiterate youths and adults with its insufficient resources (800 mobile teachers and 0.17% of the department’s budget used for the alternative learning system).

And here’s the proposed solution: Reach the illiterate youths and adults with the aid of electronic multi-media technology. Better yet, use a satellite technology that connects all schools in real time so that contents and processes are standardized. Thus, the CEP proposal, with China’s Tsinghua University as the major partner to lead in the turn-key setup. The Philippine government will rely on the university’s experience in satellite and long-distance education technologies.

The project targets to benefit not all of the public elementary and secondary schools, though, but only 37,794 or 90%. Only about 70% of the schools will be provided with satellite-based facilities. Likewise, if the slide presentation of DepEd is to be believed, only those “outside the 1st and 2nd class cities” will stand to benefit. I’m sure that this will invite backlash from the education personnel and Mayors of the excluded cities. It is not therefore true that the project will benefit all public schools.

The project also targets to reach at least 13 million students and 800 classes for out-of-school-youths.

To realize this project, a total of P26.48 billion is entailed over five years, with equipment and operating cost taking up the biggest share of the pie. To get the project rolling (for year 1), over P5 billion is required, to be sourced from USD100 million soft loan from the Chinese government plus Philippine government’s counterpart of P1.3 billion. DepEd boasts that the investment per pupil is P1.22 per day compared to P15 per hour spent in an Internet cafe. Over five years, the average cost per student per day is 64 centavos.

The projected impact of the CEP on public education consists of improved student performance, savings of up to P60.3 billion in DepEd operations, and new possibilities for the Philippine education sector.

While they are not averse to the role of ICT to supplement Philippine education, various civil society organizations have already raised their criticisms of the project. These focused on a) the unnecessarily high cost of investments, without really building on the existing or previous ICT projects, b) DepEd’s lack of capacity to handle the project, and c) the project’s apparent romance with ICT for its ability to replace face-to-face education activities. (I have with me the draft briefing paper but I don’t have the permission yet to publish it here.)

I agree 100% on the criticisms. I also want to build on some of their criticisms and add mine. Yes, government is wont to introducing a project as if it were novel and had no relation whatsoever to the related previous ones. The CEP has been packaged as though projects like “PCs for Public Schools”, e-skwela, and GILAS have failed. If indeed these projects have failed, then the more the government has no right to delve into this grandiose, waste-of-money undertaking.

Moreover, the CEP is deemed as though it is a stand-alone project. It doesn’t recognize the roles that other stakeholders should play, like LGUs that should ensure sturdier school buildings and stable supply of electricity in far-flung areas and NGOs that could assist mobile teachers in reaching out to out-of-school adults and youths.

The DepEd lacks more plausible ways of convincing people about the project’s cost of investment. Surely, the claim that tens of billions of pesos will be saved in the deparment’s operations sounds like the savings could be used for other noble purposes. But comparing the cost per pupil from the hourly rental fee of Internet cafes is purely ridiculous. Who in this earth has proposed to the government to subsidize students’ Internet cafe activities? And will the CEP’s studios provide the same serendipitous learning that Internet cafes are able accord their student customers?

The CEP claims to be the best solution in addressing the challenges of in Philippine education, which includes poverty, malnutrition, and transportation problems. But how? I wonder if it can really fill in these gaps. Note that the (additional) 800 classes intended for OSYs are set up right in the elementary schools, not in areas closer to the OSYs. So the project’s claim that it will “provide 12 video channels, wireless wide-area networking, local area networking and wireless internet all in one package to the remotest area of the country” is all but propaganda. Poor, mobile teachers, they’ll remain to fend for themselves.

Now, about the equipment. By estimate, a multimedia classroom will cost almost half a million pesos. That is really high considering that half that amount is sufficient enough. That would reduce the project’s cost by over P5 billion.

Clearly, Congress must hold an inquiry into the CEP. It must give it the same importance it has given to the NBN/ZTE deal. Besides, the CEP and NBN/ZTE are closely linked to each other.

Before the government is allowed to implement this kind of huge project, it must:

  1. Give a full accounting of its ICT projects, including their impact.
  2. Have clear guidelines on how the project will be implemented, including procurement of equipment and the software applications that will be used. The guidelines must be clear about open standards, including the software source codes and document formats.
  3. Come up with a feasibility study, which should include DepEd’s capacity to implement the project as well as the project’s assumptions and risk analysis.

Unless the abovementioned are done, the CEP will be another scam in Philippine history. And no one will bear the brunt but the tax-paying Filipino citizens, rich or poor.

Personal productivity and the Internet

Time is gold, so goes the cliche. Everyone recognizes that but finds it hard to really manage time.

Eight-year-old Martin had a school assignment that instructed him to list at least five ways to spend time wisely. He sought the help of his parents. Of course, Mommy would not give it away. She evoked from him what he really thought about the topic. The first two ways came from him. And he could not think of anything else. So Mommy advised the third, which he readily accepted.

Problem was Mommy could not think of any more ways. Martin still needed two. So Dad was forced to think as well. Bubbles, bubbles. Eureka. I found them. Here’s the final list:

  1. Eat on time; eat first before playing.
  2. Do your homework before anything else, like playing.
  3. Do today what you can do instead of waiting for tomorrow.
  4. Have fun while learning. Play educational games.
  5. Go to bed early so you’ll have enough sleep. That way, it won’t be difficult to wake up in the morning for school.

I wonder if adults can in general adopt that list. I think they can, as both kids and adults do need to spend it wisely though in different contexts. Although it’s much more complicated for adults, the fact that there’s been a host of self-help books about time management since the 20th century. (Could it be that the intricacy is brought about by the books themselves? Cannot manage time? Buy this book. Still cannot manage time? Buy this book; it’s different. The cycle goes on.)

I think that adults need to manage time because they need to be productive and effectively manage “scarce” resources. (As far as information resources, the scarcity viewpoint no longer holds.)

Technologies are the culprit

I, for one, am a fan of time management books. In fact, I have in our book case books by Stephen Covey and David Allen. When I read Covey in 1993, I was transformed into an addict of filofax organized according to the principles and techniques of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I was really conscious about my roles from which I planned my activities.

But when Filofax technology went out of fashion in late 90s, I struggled to retain the Coveyian techniques with my Palm gadget. I could not really adopt them because the related software bore a price, which I could not afford. Until I practically lost hold of the system.

When I got my own laptop in 1999, I wanted to relearn the 7 Habits system using a software. I tried the demo version of the Franklin Planner’s system that was integrated with Microsoft Outlook. But when I was exposed to Linux in 2000, my attitude toward Microsoft products changed, the fact that I could not upgrade them using the same low-end laptop of mine.

I was Covey disciple no more.

Although, I essentially remained true to my roles consciousness. I’ve used my roles–Manager, Father, Husband, Networker, Friend, and Self–as my categories for my tasks and activities. In fact, I was able to develop a LAPP (Linux-Apache-PostgreSQL-PHP)-based computer program to help me manage my time. But I’m having a problem running it every time I’m hooked to the Internet on Smartbro. (Too technical to explain here.)

I was introduced to David Allen‘s framework only this year. I didn’t notice him before until I observed that folks have been mentioning jargons identified with him: GTD, the next actions, tickler file, to name a few. I was interested to know how different he was from Covey. So I bought a copy of his famous book “Getting Things Done”.

No, don’t call me Allen disciple yet. Because I’ve not yet followed all his inputs as to organizing “stuff”, which are important things that are in our head and before us that require “processing”. Although, I think that he’s got a point. That I need to clear my head of the things I need to accomplish in certain times. There must be tools and devices that help me handle these things, like a calendar, lists, in-basket, clips, etc.

Allen also leaves to the person all his creativity he can get so long as he’s understood the workflow diagram and got all the basic tools required.

I only am confused at this point as to how to make better combined use of my laptop, office desktop, and Palm PDA and the Internet. Perhaps, I need time to really think it out. (You now wonder that I’ve not managed time to think of time to think.)

Managing time and resources in web-space

Surprisingly, I presently don’t feel any guilt that I’m “mismanaging” my time (and corresponding resources) just because I’m following neither Covey nor Allen. Is it because of lack of work pressure? Nuh. Everyday, every hour, there is. Perhaps, it’s because of the following:

  1. I’m connected to the Internet either at home or in office. And even when I’m out of these places, I can rely on Internet cafes that have mushroomed in the cities. If all fails, I can rely on my mobile phone that allows me to connect to the Internet, through Smart Internet service. That way, I never miss out on important emails and updates.
  2. I got Gmail that allows to me organize my mails according to labels.
  3. I got Firefox and plug-ins that let me to catch up with and scoop news.
  4. I’m using 30boxes.com for my calendar and to-do lists, which are very easy to manage. It’s got many features that I’ve not yet learned.
  5. I’m using 43Things.com to manage my life goals.
  6. I got time to write down my thoughts and experiences, thanks to WordPress.com and Twitter.com.
  7. I got a mobile phone that has features for capturing moments, collecting rich contact data, taking down notes, time alarms, etc.
  8. I’m feeling well, physically and spiritually.

I think that the last item is the most important one. For how can one proceed with managing time when he’s not thinking well? Lastly, I think that there should not be strict rules to spend time wisely so long as one is conscious of his roles in living his life. One basic tool that one should have, whether hi-tech or low-tech, is a calendar with a reminder feature. If he ever wants to go beyond that system, he must acquire the skill of adapting current technologies to his needs.