24 December 2007

Requiescat in Pace: Oscar Peterson, 1925-2007

One of the greatest jazz pianists that ever lived, Oscar Peterson, died yesterday at the age of 82. In a 1966 interview, Peterson reflected, "There's an extreme joy I get in playing that I've never been able to explain." This is the extreme joy that his audience worldwide experienced as he shared his virtuosity and inspiration over a fifty-plus year career. The world is a lot less joyful today. On the other hand, heaven will be swinging tonight.

Goodbye, Oscar Peterson.

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12 December 2007

Seeking A Governmental Organization

The response to my first and second calls for participants has been great. I now have four organizations officially signed up and I have begun interviews. The four include a large multinational corporation, a web-based start-up company, a small, but global NGO with a strong social justice and feminist orientation, and a medium-size enterprise that is in the process of transitioning from having been a truly BAH organization to a more valence-y, collaborative organization.

Unfortunately, the governmental organization that was really interested in the research - at least at the line level - officially declined today after two trips through their bureaucratic hierarchy. Given how my request was, shall we say, significantly modified as it made its way through the first time, I have no idea what proposal was actually declined, nor the reasons. But, as the saying goes, tempus fugit.

So I am once again looking for one more organization, and the type is pretty specific. I am seeking a governmental organization - a department that is part of the public service at any level of municipal, provincial, state or federal government. Of course, all identities will be held in confidence, both that of the organization itself as well as the individual participants (three or four individuals from the organization is what I need).

Do you belong to such an organization? Do you know someone who does that might be interested in participating in my exploration of the future of organization? If so, please contact me and I'll be happy to provide more information about the research and the extent of participation, with no obligation.

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10 December 2007

The Geek vs. The Black Screen

I love my Thinkpad - it's been the best computer I've ever owned. I've tricked it out so that it looks and feels sufficiently cool, and configured it so that It Just Works - yes, with Windows XP. Switching over to Mac seems to be the hip thing to do these days, and fellow geeks who have ponied up the money and made the switch claim that it's so much better, easier and, you know, hipper, than Windows. But I hate learning curves, so I'm quite happy where I am. I'll take John Hodgeman over Justin Long in this case.

I keep my system up to date with the latest patches for both my hardware and software. So when Lenovo recommended some patches to both wired and wireless networking, the video driver, and power manager, and Microsoft did their regular "Patch Tuesday" trick, I was right there. And then... nothing. Screen was black (although the fluorescent tube was lit). My WiFi was more like Why? and Fie! And connecting via Ethernet didn't. I figured it was something with the drivers, so I tried hooking up an external monitor, and it sort of worked for a while. I tried rolling back the network drivers (system hung). I tried manually ripping them out and letting the system find the "new hardware" - which worked until I had to reboot, at which point the network connections stopped again.

I took off my critical data and rolled the system back to a previous backup (of course none of the system restore points worked). That allowed me to get the network connections back, but still the Thinkpad screen was black. A variety of posts online more or less left me with two options: wipe the hard disk and start from scratch, or lose my system for a couple of weeks taking it in for service.

I was reluctant to wipe the hard disk, since the screen was black from the get-go - not even the power on logo showed up. And I was equally reluctant to take the machine for service since it didn't feel like a hardware problem (I ran all the hardware diagnostics from the service partition - yes, I am a geek when I want to be). Almost in desperation, and after two days of struggling with this problem, I thought to take a wander through the BIOS. And there it was.

There is a BIOS parameter to specify Boot Display Device. In my case it was set to Analog VGA, with other choices being Thinkpad Internal, and Both. I set the parameter to Both, reboot the system, hit the toggle display control, and voila! I had a screen image! Three cheers and a tiger for me!

The only question that remains: How did the BIOS parameter get changed? (And while I'm asking questions, why were both the Broadcom Ethernet controller and the Intel WiFi drivers bad?)

Update (30 Dec 2007): Nope, I was wrong. Turns out it was a broken main board, as the problem got worse, and eventually, became no screen display at all, under any circumstances. Probably had something to do with a fall on the ice while carrying my computer bag just before this all started.

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07 December 2007

Two Conversations About Relationships and Valence Theory

I had the pleasure of two interesting conversations today with two organizations as different as one could get. The first was with one of Canada’s major financial institutions concerning online training for some of its employees. Institutionally, the organization is quite satisfied with online, distance education – cyber-ed, as I would call it – delivering content to employees in small, individual modules, and testing them to ensure “compliance” – that the material was indeed consumed. The problem with all of this? The focus of the exercise is on demonstrating that information is transferred to employees, not that the employees have actually learned anything. There is no opportunity for employees to learn from each other, or from experiences that they have had in live situations. Although the organization is technically compliant with training requirements, later checks of actual encounters in the live work environment, not to mention employees’ own feedback demonstrate that no actual learning has taken place.

What the organization has yet to realize – and hopefully will thanks to the initiative of the two people with whom I met – is that education is not merely about transferring information. It is about contextualizing that information in the real life experiences of the learners, and in relation with the experiences of other learners. Technological delivery may make training efficient. It does not necessarily make for effective learning. It is the relationships among people and sharing contextualized experiences that create emergent knowledge that is the basis of education.

The second conversation was with a relatively young agency whose aim is to provide funding, guidance, mentorship, and access to more traditional institutions for youth-led organizations. They are especially oriented to those who are marginalized and typically excluded from more traditional access. The challenge they are facing is how to incorporate some of the more important aspects of traditional management practice among their member organizations – things like budgeting, expense control, decision making practices and so forth – without becoming subsumed in the very traditional corporate management paradigm. This is especially important for the youth organizations that are based in non-Western cultures, practices, and communal decision making.

This organization found my ideas of Valence Theory quite compelling, as it provided them a non-hierarchical way of considering the organizations for which they are providing inspiration and incubation. For them, Valence Theory provided a way to minimize the traditional power relations between their organization, that provides funding among other things, and the emerging community organizations that they nurture. When one thinks about it, the last thing you want is to take marginalized youth, and further entrench systemic marginalization through the overall organizational model. Valence Theory gives them an alternative way of conceiving their network of organizations, preventing the dominance of the traditional corporate governance model.

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06 December 2007

"Black-hatted Villans" at Bali

The day when China can lecture Canada about environmental responsibility is the day when our country needs to have a good, hard look at ourselves (and "Canada's New Governement (tm)") in the mirror.

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02 December 2007

Copywrong for Canada

Time to gird for battle, circle the wagons, and (wo)man the barricades. Michael Geist warns us that Canada's copyright laws are about to be devastated by the Harper government, making Canada one of the most backward countries in the world with respect to intellectual and cultural creativity.
Sometime over the next two or three weeks, Industry Minister Jim Prentice will rise in the House of Commons and introduce copyright reform legislation. We can no longer speak of choices because those choices have already been made. There is every indication (see the Globe's latest coverage) this legislation will be a complete sell-out to U.S. government and lobbyist demands. The industry may be abandoning DRM, the evidence may show a correlation between file sharing and music purchasing, Statistics Canada may say that music industry profits are doing fine, Canadian musicians, filmmakers, and artists may warn against this copyright approach, and the reality may be that Canadian copyright law is stronger in some areas than U.S. law, yet none of that seems to matter. In the current environment and with the current Ministers, politics trumps policy.

The new Canadian legislation will likely mirror the DMCA with strong anti-circumvention legislation - far beyond what is needed to comply with the WIPO Internet treaties - and address none of the issues that concern millions of Canadians. The Conservatives promise to eliminate the private copying levy will likely be abandoned. There will be no flexible fair dealing. No parody exception. No time shifting exception. No device shifting exception. No expanded backup provision. Nothing.

The government will seemingly choose locks over learning, property over privacy, enforcement over education, (law)suits over security, lobbyists over librarians, and U.S. policy over a "Canadian-made" solution. Once the bill is introduced, look for the government to put it on the fast track with limited opportunity for Canadians to appear before committees considering the bill. With a Canadian DMCA imminent, what matters now are voices. It will be up to those opposed to this law to make theirs heard.
What can be done? Here are Michael's 30 Things You Can Do. If you are a member of Facebook, join the Fair Copyright group. If you think that this won't affect you because you don't download music or pirate videos, think again: imagine being prevented from recording your favourite TV show for watching later. Imagine being forced to repurchase music you already have if you want to listen to it on both a CD and your iPod. Imagine it being illegal to create a Jon Stewart-like parody of a politician's speech.

Despite the fact that everything the copyright lobby has been telling politicians for years has been a lie, despite the fact that many record labels have realized that DRM doesn't work and are abandoning it, despite the fact that in case after case, people who have legally purchased locked-down electronic content are shit-out-of-luck when something goes wrong with the technology, or when the vendor decides to change systems, the Harper government is planning to proceed with this regressive legislation... unless... unless the public outcry is sufficiently loud to resonate throughout Ottawa. It's time to stop the worst copyright law ever!

And for an inside look on how such a law could come to pass in an enlightened country like Canada, see what the Prime Minister has to say about it.

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