Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Campus Gossip Website Subpoena

Digital Front Online
By: Jeremy Johnson

It's not often that I find myself happy to see a website go under legal fire, but judging by this report, I'm kind of glad something like this has, in fact, happened.

Basically, it's a website that allowed students to be smeared. The site itself said it promises anonymity, but didn't enforce any of their rules which paved the way for outrageous and uncalled for comments. Though, on the flip side, it could be a one-sided story. Then again, I'm not inclined to visit a website called 'Juicy Campus' knowing it's a gossip website.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ryerson Facebook Story Highlights a Solution, Not a Problem

Digital Front Online
by: Jeremy Johnson

So incase you haven't heard, a student at Ryerson University is currently facing expulsion because he managed a FaceBook group with 146 student members to the group. The group, to my knowledge, was suppose to be a study group for science and computer science which helps network fellow students on those subjects incase they need help.

The problem was the entry message specifically mentions the sharing of solutions and work done to get those solutions. When the professor found out about all of this, he flunked the B student and demanded that he be expelled for cheating.

Now I'll admit, the idea of sharing solutions might be a little bit racey in the academic world, but tihnk about it this way - they managed to tie a popular trend amongst people roughly in the 15-35 age group (shooting in the dark on that one) and tie it to academic related studying. Student run, not tied to any particular class, just a Facebook group devoted to learning. Am I the only one who thinks that lightbulbs should be going off in the faculties across Canada when they aren't?

Now, the professor in question said that he had achieved an unfair advantage. Naturally, the debate turns to why there is a difference between a tutorial class or sharing notes in the library and studying it all on Facebook. After talking to a few fellow students, one particular conclusion seems to stick out that everything is recorded. Hot dog, just what a professor would want when a student is having problems - the ability to monitor their progress and guide them along whenever they have a chance to look at what is preventing a student from understanding a particular concept!

The CBC reported on the latest developments where his appeal was heard.

The part that annoys me though is how the debate seems to be squarely on whether or not FaceBook is cheating. I'm thinking that academics should be kicking themselves right now over seeing the debate go this way. When you have a story along side saying that student enrollment is down while the tuition keeps going up, you got to wonder if driving more students away by saying how Facebook is for cheaters is necessarily a bright idea.

Think about it, when grade 12 students get told about how great university life is. It's not always appealing to them when you dish out statistics like student to professor ratios. Some of them feel like school is a waste of time that they are forced into doing because their parents told them to. Now, imagine a selling point being 'Got a Facebook account?'

Who knows? Maybe academics can gradually get them at younger and younger ages. Get them to join study groups of their interests before they are even attending. Then when grade 12 hits, one of the last things they'll think of is 'getting the heck out of this prison called school' and be more along the thinking lines of, 'where can I get more education.' Heaven forbid it, they may even become addicted to learning. Education would be their drug of choice!

In fact, I would go as far to say that any faculty member who has any sense of self-preservation about their job who thinks Facebook is just a threat to academic integrity should have their head examined. Imagine society grows in such a way that whenever some grade school student says 'school sucks', the next response from a student is, 'hey, check out the wierdo who says school sucks!' (insert laughter at complaining student here)

So enrollment would go up, campuses like CNC wouldn't have to go through any more cuts, and suddenly education is the cool thing to do. How in the world could you go wrong with that? Now, I'll admit the flaw in this plan is attracting the right students, but I argue that can be worked out after enrollment to post-secondary educationgrowth goes through the roof and more money starts entering the system. Who knows? Maybe it'll lead to more locals being able to shake the hands of the Prime Minister for their brilliance in some invention they made - OK, if you're in the sciences and the Conservatives are in power, that might be a little dodgy - but the point is, this so-called cheater from Toronto may have found an even bigger solution than you might think.

After all, when you look at the world today, there's always room for more smart people.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Questionable Speaker for Women's Day

by Simran Lehal

In celebration of International Women’s Day, the Women’s Studies Program hosted the first black Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, the Honourable Mayann Francis with her speech on “Strong Women, Strong World.”
Francis, who studied at New York and Cornell universities, has worked for a District Attorney’s office, Dalhousie University, and recently the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. Her drive, she claims, stems from growing up in the poor community of Whitney Pier on Cape Breton Island, where, with a tone strikingly similar to Oprah Winfrey, Francis claims the women of her community “knew how to get things done.”
Other women also knew how to get things done. In 1787, US President John Adams’ wife urged him to include women as equals under the law. Although Adams refused, it represented a start: women’s suffrage was taken up by others, especially after freedom was won by slaves of the south. Slow and steady gradualism predominated as women gained more political power, sometimes by choice, often by chance. Slowly did all women in Canada become eligible to vote.
The decline of male dominance, fought for by strong women, Francis claims, is what provided her the freedom to choose her own career. She admits that she has “made it in politics.” She acknowledges that most other women are still subordinate. Self-titling herself as a “strong woman,” Francis suggests that those unlike her cannot create reform. She argues that those unlike her (those “cautious or careful women”) cannot fight for continued emancipation.
However, this reasoning is flawed. Lt. Governor Francis cannot, under law, comment on politics. As well, the Lt. Governor position is one now frequently handed to minorities or women. The Lt. Governor is a figurehead.
Francis has come far – – but only personally. Not politically. Yes, she has come far from Whitney’s Pier. But, in the grand scheme of women’s liberation, she is but another figurehead, unable to comment on politics like the women of long, long (cough) ago. By taking the Lt. Governor position, she has become “careful and cautious,” a figurehead outside the sphere of continued emancipation. Thus, the title of her speech is flawed: she does not represent “Strong Women. Strong World.”
Thus, gradualism in women’s suffrage still reigns, but this time, the women who think they’ve “made it” are unaware of their own shortcomings.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Hello World/Making Anonymous Illegal?

On the Digital Front Online
by Jeremy Johnson

Hey everyone, thought I'd mention that I'll be adding a little bit of bonus content online to help spruce up the blog. So I thought I'd offer a quick thought on some postings that caught my attention as I go through the news - maybe even make it as a part of my opinion in my usual On the Digital Front column pieces. Who knows?

The latest news story comes from jungle of the Kentucky Legislature. This story probably comes from the department of 'I don't know what an internet is' but I could be mistaking it from the 'wishful thinking' department. Either way, some crazy thinks that they can somehow make anonymous online postings illegal and somehow make that law enforceable. Of course, if you know a thing or two about the internet (and the first Ammendment to the US Constitution for that matter), this law is just completely messed up from the beginning to end.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Could we choose a worse time to be environmental?

by Haakon Sullivan

As you all well know people have been paying more and more attention to the "plight of humankind" which is our tendency to spew out pollutants into our environment. Trying our best to fix this is all well and good but why does the timing have to be so terrible?

With the United States going into recession and about 80% of our exports going to them, our economy can start to see a major slowdown really soon. So, with jobs threatened and financial security at risk, I can completely understand why people get upset when more and more people are talking about creating environmental reforms that will tax people further for their production of greenhouse gases.

Since environmental laws are associated with taxes to people and industry, it becomes harder and harder for governments to accept these laws because of the cost to the economy at a time where every cost hits harder than usual.

You can see why I have to say that the BC Liberals have helped the environment with their new gas tax but at a cost that no one can afford right now. Sure BC may reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a new low level buying the world a few extra weeks, but do British Columbians really want to see a cost of living increase as their wallets get lighter?

It's good to have a clean environment, but at times like these we can't be rich and clean at the same time. Hopefully our governments and voters can see this and make the right choice.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

How Far Would Record Labels Go?

On the Digitial Front
By Jeremy Johnson

If you’re into the copyright debate, the question may have crossed your mind at one point or another. If the major record labels had their way, how far would they go to allegedly “protect” their intellectual property? If you have an imagination like mine, the extremes may sound rather silly or unrealistic. While some of the wild ideas in my wild imagination may be far fetched, there are a few that may be more realistic than first expected.

Of course, I’ll have to make note that I, myself, think that the lawsuit campaign is beyond stupid and simply self destructive on the record labels part. As a matter of fact, I have made music and posted it online for free for others to download and share on P2P networks, so I actually do know what it’s like to sit down and record (or, in my case, render) music to know what it’s like.

Either way, there have been some bothersome attempts from the United States to restrict copyright further. The most recent is a file-sharing case that is now being defended by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Sure, on the surface, a case in court about an alleged file-sharer hasn’t been anything new in the United States – particularly, at the very least, since the case against Jammie Thomas – but this case is different in a big way (and a good reason why the EFF has intervened in the first place)

The record labels allege that if a song is in a shared folder, even if it wasn’t downloaded, that would constitute a copyright infringement and they would be entitled to statutory damages. Of course, the real reason behind this whole argument is to bi-pass even having a need to investigate beyond pointing a finger at an IP address and saying ‘sue!’ if you ask me. I got this off of an EFF press release:

"This amounts to suing someone for attempted copyright infringement -- something the Copyright Act simply does not allow," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Fred von Lohmann. "If the RIAA wants to keep bringing these suits and collecting big settlements, then they have to follow the law and prove their case. It's not enough to say the law could have been broken. The RIAA must prove it actually was broken."

I did a little bit of background checking and found that an amendment by Roberto Gonzales was tabled in 2007 which was essentially outlawing “attempted copyright infringement” I was reminded how there was other speculation which included that some file-sharing programs break files up into tiny increments like BitTorrent. With a law like that, even sitting with a partial file would land you in trouble. Yup, a quite often un-previewable waste of ones and zeros with the number of sources sitting permanently at zero would still possibly land you with a letter from your Internet Service Provider. In my mind, that’s like seeing an illegally imported weapon and suddenly you are charged with trafficking contraband because you saw the thing.

Though, equally crazy things have also happened in the US which, even in the US, it was struck down. The most notable name I can think of is the INDUCE act from 2004. Essentially, if the law did pass, then “inducing” others to commit copyright infringement would mean that you are a copyright infringer. “Say, how about we go up to your place and you can download some of them Britney Spears songs!”

Either way though, it has me wondering how far copyright lobbyists are willing to go in Canada. After all, the Canadian Recording Industry Association represents effectively the same labels as the Recording Industry Association of America. CRIA is currently trying to push for restrictive copyright laws, but claims that it has nothing to do with the DMCA, just WIPO. Ultimately, same thing, different acronym I say. When Bill C-60 arrived in 2005, it was a mirror of the DMCA minus a few details that make the DMCA look good. Back then, CRIA was all for this bill and I doubt much has changed from then and now. Really, though, it’s like saying, “I don’t want water, but I want the liquid that has two Hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom each molecule!”

I suppose this returns me to my question, how far would the record labels go in copyright laws? The common joke online is that, if they had their way, whistling would be copyright infringement. The argument today is that there isn’t a real need to have solid evidence to convict someone (essentially speaking), what would tomorrows argument be if they got their way?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Assimilate, Already

Re: Thinking
Aboriginal Identity in Canada
by Andrew Kurjata

Here’s a thought experiment for you: think back to your high school social studies class when you were learning about pre-Confederation Canada. A new continent is ripe for the taking and two great European powers, the French and the English, are duking it out on the Plains of Abraham to decide who gets it. When you were learning about this, who did you most identify with? French? English? Before you answer, I’m going to make a quick guess: if you were educated in English, you identify with the British. If, however, you were educated in French (either in Quebec or an immersion program) you identify with the French. This is because of the role language and culture has in shaping your identity and making it fit into a broader national identity. Americans learn about the Civil War, Canadians learn about the War of 1812. French speakers identify with French speakers, Mandarin speakers with Mandarin speakers, Portugese with Portugese. Albertans are Canadian and Quebecois are Canadien. As a result of the way our language and education systems work, I’m guessing it didn’t even occur to you that there’s a third group (or rather, hundreds of third groups) you might have chosen-- unless, of course, you’re one of the million individuals who, as the latest census tells us, identifies themself as Aboriginal.

One million being the exciting number that it is, and it having been such a long time since there were a million Aboriginals in Canada (something to do with cultural genocide?), the media has latched on to this story with numerous accounts of the “challenges and opportunities” a growing Aboriginal population presents to Canada. That term-- “challenges and opportunities”-- is actually a code way of saying that we still really don’t know what to do about this group of people who don’t just go on and assimilate like they were supposed to years ago.

Now, I don’t want to turn this into a big debate about who should apologize to whom, and what was where when. What I want to examine is the role that language and myth-making have in the Aboriginal-Canadian divide (this is, after all, the creative writing issue). So let’s go back to the last sentence of the previous paragraph, the part that says “we still really don’t know what to do about this group of people”. Think about that word, “we.” What does it mean? It signals a divide in groups-- there is “us,” and then there is “them.” Right now, if I’m talking about Canada’s relationship with the United States, I could say “We play hockey, they play baseball.” If I talk about Western culture vs. Asian culture, I might say “We favour individualism, they favour community.” And every time I do this, I am subtly drawing invisible lines around identities, segregating larger groups into smaller ones, North Americans into Canadians into British Columbians into Prince Georgers, and so on and so forth. And while you may not think much about saying a sentence such as “What are we going to do about Aboriginal land claims,” every time you do so you are drawing a subtle line between “we”-- the Canadians-- and them-- the Aboriginals.

And it is not always this subtle. Putting aside things like the Indian Act or the fact that someone who identified themselves as “Indian” was not allowed to vote until the last thirty years, think about some of the underlying ideas about what it is to be Canadian that are antitheitical to Aboriginal identity. First, the idea of two founding nations, French and English. This ignores the literally hundreds of nations that had existed prior to the arrival of Cabot or Cartier. Or the multicultural idea that this is a “nation of immigrants.” Yes, you might argue that scientifically speaking First Nations came to Canada by sea, too, but you don’t really hear people claiming that ethnic Germans or Turks or Chinese aren’t really the original inhabitants of their countires because original man was in Africa. As a rule of thumb, if a group of people were living in a place during the time of Ancient Egypt (as the Aboriginals of Canada were), then that group is the original inhabitants. Then there’s the protection of French and English as official languages that need to preserved because they are integral parts of Canadian idenity, while the seventy-odd Aboriginal languages that have managed to hang on this long are on the verge of extinction with very little being done about it. Or pretty much every history book on Canada, where the first five to twenty pages provide an overview of “pre-contact” life, lumping together thousands of years of history and hundreds of independent nations, with the other five hundred talking about pioneers and John A. and the War Measures Act. Which story do you think is seen as being more important? Which one do you think plays a greater role in making students in Canadian schools identify themselves and others who have learned the same things as “Canadian”?

For the most part, the broad strokes of Canadian identity deny any part played by Aboriginal nations. Lip service is paid, but how much of your self-identity as a Canadian has Aboriginal roots? Do Aboriginal mythologies, histories, and perspectives shape your idea of “Canada” in as deep of a way as things like hockey, peacekeeping, having better beer than Americans, or the usage of the word ‘eh’? Do they even enter into the equation?

This is why it’s so frustrating to me to see, once again, ideas being thrown out there about how to make Aboriginals better Canadians. They don’t say this, of course, they just talk about the need to get them into schools, into politics, and into the work force. But, by and large, school, politics, and the work force are still run in a system where the Canadian identity is European-based, and those who don’t adhere to these ideas are not going to go very far.

Canada is a welcoming society. We don’t ask newcomers to give up their religious beliefs, or their languages, or their histories. We simply ask that they learn a little bit of our history, gain a cursory knowledge of our languages, and adhere to our laws and values. Maybe it’s time we extended some of that attitude towards Aboriginal nations. And I’m not talking about letting them keep their language and history and values so long as they learn ours. I’m talking about letting us  keep our  language and history and values so long as we learn some of theirs. Let’s start by rewriting the Canadian story to include more than a superficial glance at the rich heritage that existed prior to Cabot and Cartier. There’s been a lot of talk over the years about assimilating. Maybe it’s time we did.

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