The Other YouTube

ToDo & Sunday Thought Departments
Small Print Warning: some curriculum theory from a previous life—cleverly obscured—lies ahead. Please ignore. 🙂

Ok, we all know about YouTube–it is that silly-fascinating site where dogs ride skateboards and people spend a lot of time crying for a fascinated public.

Pure entertainment–in the bad sense of fascinatingly mindless distracting pablum.

But there is the other YouTube.

That YouTube that has created a brand new bottom-up educational format: the short video instruction. It’s fun, it’s popular, it works and it’s what entertainment can be in its best sense: a fascinatingly engaging way to learn. Most educational video shorts—let’s call them “instructables” so we have a less akward handle—are somewhere between two and six minutes long. They focus on some small bit of “doing” like making a nifty techno-toy, or showing a dance move, or throwing a pot on the wheel. The producers are most often advanced users and the consumers anyone who wants to learn “how.”

You might have watched some of these but didn’t have a category to put them in. Here is a nice little example for someone for whom the description doesn’t strike a cord:

That “instructable” is an example of “throwing off the hump.” Potters do that when they want to make a series of similar small items. It’s not an easy thing to describe–books, blackboards, and lecture-halls are not good mediums to convey that variety of learning. It’s the sort of thing that is more usefully “shown.” There is a whole class of things that we’d like to teach which are better shown than described; things that are better experienced than conventionally taught. Video isn’t perfect but these extremely short pieces of “conveyed experience” are very, very useful to the learner. The learner can see multiple examples (e.g.: another throwing off the hump). They are repeatable and they are deep. —Repeatable: if you didn’t see how he finished off the rim, watch it again. They are deep in the sense that by watching it a learner who has had his or her hands in clay can “feel” how thin those walls must be and get a sense for how much “wobble” is tolerated and how many times to “pull” up walls and what to do toward the final curve with each pull. All these things are (inadequately) discussed (at interminable length) in conventional classroom settings as preparation. But advisory rules about wall thickness and pulls are rather direct abstractions from experience whose utility lies in allowing the student to move more quickly and effectively to new experience. They are much better taught after as student has learned to throw a few forms as a way to move toward independent explorations.

(If you can’t get into potting, try the Zydeco demo, or the instructions for making cool LED “throwies” and re-read the above paragraph with your example in mind. You could find similar instructables for welding, making lures, cooking creole, or applying makeup. There is a whole DIY section for you to browse. Let your passions rule)

We don’t teach by example in schools because we don’t have the time. There are too many students in our classes for many of the most effective kinds of instruction to be possible. Instructables approach the one-on-one experience of tutorials. You watch at your own pace, you notice what is meaningful to you, and you can get repeated examples until you “get” the right approach. A real tutorial with the added dimensions of individualized feedback and things like force feedback (holding the students hands against the clay to give the “feel” of the appropriate pressure) would be even more valuable. Even so, instructables are new and valuable form.

This is one of the reasons you should want big bandwidth. To really see some of the details on the potting example you’d want HD-quality videos. I can imagine getting more personalized instruction from afar–if we had the bandwidth. A skilled potter (or master welder) in Lafayette could set up a nice shop and market personalized instruction over the net—if both ends had really big bandwith.

Just for the record: the usefulness of this technique is not, in my judgment, limited to vocational topics or hobbies. Showing and having the student find ways of solving a problem is central to good mathematics instruction. Learning to read is something that has to be shown; letter sounds can pretty much only be “labled” correctly after a student has learned sound out letters by example… Much conventional instruction could be replaced or aided by providing multiple, repeatable, deep examples.

So…something ToDo on this Sunday when you really ought to be at Festivals Acadiens if you are an Acadiana denizen. And something to think about.

PS: Yes, yes…we just got a wheel. What of it? 🙂

Update: 7:28: ooops. I just looked at Boing Boing for the first time in weeks and down the list I spoted a nifty link to how to make clear ice cubes. So naturally I followed it (well, naturally for me). The link goes to a site called “instructables!” I thought I had made up that term–but now it seems more likely that I’ve seen a reference to this site. Which is pretty neat place to visit. (The ice cube link? Right here.)

Boosting Lafayette’s WiFi

Worth Thinking About Dept.

Executive Summary: Wireless provider FON’s recent successes provide an intriguing example for those interested in LUS’ still-unformed wi-fi network.

Recently BT (Britain’s dominant broadband provider) and Time-Warner cut deals with the Spanish wireless outfit FON. FON’s goal is to foster wi-fi bandwidth sharing among its membership, “foneros.” These recent deals are considered breakthroughs because they explicitly encourage users to share their bandwidth, something that network companies have previously forbidden.

The FON Idea:
Any foneros that freely shares their access can get on to any FON access point in the world for free. The company’s ground-up, user-built approach to building a hotspot network contrasts pretty dramatically with the top-down methods by major wireless and phone service providers who build, maintain and charge a healthy fee to access their hotspot network.

While the FON plan sounded impractical to some it gained a prestigous group of backers even before the major partnership announcements in Europe, Britian, and the US; investors include: Google, Skype, Index Ventures, and Sequoia Capital. The latest round of investment brought in major Japanese players and BT invested in the company as part of its deal.

The deals cut with network providers BT (#1 in Britain), Neuf (#2 in France) and Time-Warner (#2 cable internet provider in the US) provide instant credibility for FON’s idea. All those networks’ members (Time-Warner has 6.6 million users) are now “foneros” and wi-fi routers supplied by the company have been flashed with Fon’s software. Future broadband subscribers will be encouraged to buy FON routers and share their connections. In Britain, as a result of BT’s dominant position and high adoption rates, speculation holds that dense urban areas will be nearly completely covered by the FON/BT network.

How it Works:
The new FON member attaches the FON-enabled wi-fi access point to the wired network connection they’ve paid for. FON wi-fi access points are cheap (occasionally free) and are software-configured to provide a public channel and a private, seperately encrypted, channel. The owner of the access point uses the private channel for their own, interior, at-home wi-fi network. The public channel’s bandwidth is controlled by the owner; who limits the bandwidth that is shared with fellow foneros to a portion that doesn’t degrade his or her experience. (Note: there is an alternative make some money off your access if a non-fonero member decides to pay for access through your node.)

The users get free wi-fi access across the world in exchange for giving up a little bandwidth that they feel they don’t need. FON makes deals with the big providers. The big network providers get instant, user paid-for and user-maintained wi-fi networks to brag on and sell to consumers.

There are advantages besides the obvious laptop uses you see at any coffee house in the city. Having a widely-available wi-fi network means that users of wi-fi enabled phones and devices (think certain PDAs, Nokia phones, and the iPhone) could effectively make phone calls for free from FON hotspots in addition to surfing the web, using email, and working other data-based interactions over the net. There would be no additional connection cost over what they’d already paid for their home network for the connections made away from home.

Whoa! But there ARE problems:
But eager investors and growing user-base based on huge, established ISPs does not mean that all is rosy in Fonero Land. FON is faced with a perverse inverted reflection of the problems of wi-fi based muni broadband efforts.

I’ve discussed the problems of muni wi-fi at some length on these pages. Some of it boils down to the fact that mesh-based muni networks find it hard to provide adequate backhaul unless they have a dense fiber network to hang it off. (We’ve got that one licked here in Lafayette.) But the second part of the problem is that the constraints placed on wi-fi restrict it to low power and its spectrum allocation is such that wi-fi signals find it hard to penetrate dense vegetation and, especially, houses. Most people compute indoors. A public wi-fi network that has a hard time reliably getting inside homes and that makes for a very hard sell as a primary network. (LUS has tentatively solved this by selling fiber as the primary interior connection and making city-wide wi-fi an appropriately cheap add-on that will not be sold as suitable for in-home use.)

If muni wi-fi’s acess-point-on-a-street-pole can’t get in to homes, by the same token FON’s bottom-up in-home network is going to find it hard to get out to the public areas of the neighborhood.

What’s needed is a wireless system with the strengths of both and the weaknesses of neither…

You see it coming, right?
LUS should either partner up with FON or do something similar themselves. (FON’s software is not unique; other, open source software could emulate the basic capacities of the FON wi-fi router.)

LUS will be in a nearly unique position: it will have a FTTH network and a wireless one. The question, as always, is: How to best make use of the unique resources we are building in Lafayette. So far, in my humble opinion, LUS has mostly been making the smart moves. Fiber First is smart–the smartest basic move possible. That makes a strong wireless network possible. Given that starting point, it is smart to go ahead and build wireless mobile capacity as LUS is planning to do. It’s smart to not pretend that wi-fi can be an adequate substitute for a reliable, wired network. LUS isn’t doing that; instead LUS’ wi-fi will be positioned, as it should be, as a low-cost mobility addition. What is ironic is that Lafayette’s wireless network, while relegated to secondary status locally, will be faster and more reliable than any public wi-fi network in the nation; its dense fiber connectivity and the design decision to avoid more than rudimentary use of mesh re-routing assures that.

But, as smart as all that is, LUS’ muscular wi-fi network will still have trouble getting into the home. Coverage will still be spotty and shifting–like cell phone coverage is, only more so. All that is a matter of physics and federal regulation — no amount of smart network design can completely eliminate the issue.

The smart way to minimize coverage problems is to provide both the muni solution for outside, public space and a FON-style solution for interiors. And because LUS will control both sides we can do what nobody else can: integrate the two. LUS would provide coverage on the streets and in public spaces. Subscribers, using FON equipment or similar router software cover their own interiors and their yard away from the street to exactly the degree they find useful for their own private, locked-down wi-fi channel. Piggybacked onto that would be a second, public, channel that would be available to all LUS subscribers. It’d be used by meter readers, police, friends, and folks visiting town who’ve bought the the three-day pass—and Foneros if we go that route. (If we join FON local subscribers could roam on FON points anywhere.) As long as you were visiting locales that used LUS fiber you’d never have to log into a private network. As a mobile user moved down streets, into offices, and visited friends they could, potentially, remain on the public network the entire time and never have to log into anyone’s private network or use any resources that weren’t public.

Near-ubiquity of coverage would allow VOIP phones could become truly useful in the city, making truly mobile wi-fi telephony a reality. WiFi-enabled handhelds, from iPhones, to Blackberries, to Nokia phones, to Skype phones, to various “smart” PDA hybrids would become reliably useful without having to buy into expensive packages from cellular providers, enabling a whole new class of network devices to become cheaply available to everyday Lafayette users.

The Bottom Line:
LUS could sweeten the pot for its subscribers by providing each broadband customers that agrees to share using the LUS-approved equipment and software with an extra meg of “langiappe” bandwidth so that sharing actually provides a small boost in capacity for the subscriber who bought their own router and occasionally shared their extra capacity. Recall also that LUS will (again almost uniquely) be providing every user unthrottled in-system bandwidth. Wi-fi routed packets that stayed inside our system would be under that local use umbrella. The relatively small bandwidth diverted to wifi sharing will be a mere drop in the bucket for the LUS user in that instance.

Lafayette’s resulting wi-fi service would be as nearly flawless as is humanly possible both inside and outside. Segregating public and private networks would increase the security of the subscribers’ personal networks; making wifi networks more secure for regular users than they are today. Subscribers would understand that coverage inside their homes was their responsibility while at the same time gaining access to the public network everywhere. As users found holes in coverage in places where they needed it they could simply move their wi-fi point or add a cheap repeater.

The net effect for LUS would be that the users would plug many of the holes in the city’s cloud themselves–at their own expense–when they felt they needed coverage and only when they did. The resulting network with public channels available both inside and outside participants’ buildings would be more dynamic and more nearly ubiquitous than any in the country. And ubiquity is the major selling point of any wireless mobility network.

The net effect for users would be a robust public network that was available both inside and outside wherever the people that lived or worked there thought it would be useful. That’s simply unavailable anywhere else. A user’s laptop would be more useful than ever. And mobile devices of all kinds would bloom in Lafayette as the price premium for service vanished.

It would be a very profitable collaboration between the community’s telecom utility and its citizen-owners; a collaboration available to almost no one else.

Worth thinking about, don’t you think?

(And a thanks to reader Jon who first pointed me at the BT story….)

“Slashdot | AT&T Silences Criticism”

Why We Need Local, Public, Internet Providers
Why We Need Common Carriage

A friend passed this on in an email with the subject line: “This must be illegal.” I hope so…

5.1 Suspension/Termination. Your Service may be suspended or terminated if your payment is past due and such condition continues un-remedied for thirty (30) days. In addition, AT&T may immediately terminate or suspend all or a portion of your Service, any Member ID, electronic mail address, IP address, Universal Resource Locator or domain name used by you, without notice, for conduct that AT&T believes (a) violates the Acceptable Use Policy; (b) constitutes a violation of any law, regulation or tariff (including, without limitation, copyright and intellectual property laws) or a violation of these TOS, or any applicable policies or guidelines, or (c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries. Termination or suspension by AT&T of Service also constitutes termination or suspension (as applicable) of your license to use any Software. AT&T may also terminate or suspend your Service if you provide false or inaccurate information that is required for the provision of Service or is necessary to allow AT&T to bill you for Service.

Oh…and by the way:

5.2 Deletion of data after Termination or Cancellation. You agree that if your Service is terminated for any reason, AT&T has the right to immediately delete all data, files, and other information stored in or for your account, including email messages, without further notice to you. (All emphases mine)

Slashdot links to the new AT&T TOS (Terms Of Service) and has an only fair section of commentary—this isn’t in a technical realm in which its readership excels. But it is worth thinking about and talking about…AT&T might well be within its “rights.” We’d only find out through a court battle and the main purpose of the clause might well be less to impose real punishment than to have a chilling effect on any discussion of its failings.

What adds insult to injury, of course, is that AT&T has shown no hesitation to participate in wiretapping of (at best) “questionable” legality. Insults to the company’s dignity are worth draconian posturing. Invasions of your privacy and legal rights are just another thing to be examined in terms of the company’s potential profits. If that seems to be unbalanced to you–well it is. Only a monopoly could think this way.

This would be illegal if it was about phone service. AT&T is clearly a “common carrier” there and this venerable legal tradition both forbids AT&T to deny anyone service on its whim and, in return, absolves AT&T of any legal responsibility for what people talk about on the phone. (AT&T is not on the hook for aiding you if you plot murder.) But that principle is eroding and it is just about gone in the ISP world. Notice that a part of the clause above I didn’t highlight gave AT&T the right to deny you service if something you do could be construed to:

(b) constitutes a violation of any law, regulation or tariff (including, without limitation, copyright and intellectual property laws)

So AT&T reserves the right to not only to nanny you on its own account but to be a nanny-for-hire (enforcement won’t be free, you betcha) for the entertainment industry. (And, oh yeah, the government–but we can’t talk about that….) This is merely carrying through on AT&T’s earlier commitment to Hollywood to enforce it Digital Rights Management schemes. It ties into their hopes to establish a two-tiered internet (fast and notsofast) based on deep packet inspection. If they can get deep packet called a legal necessity to enforce the laws then they can put in place everything they need to route “paid up” packets down the fast lane.

This is serious stuff.

It is also dangerous stuff. Not just for you and me but for AT&T. Does AT&T really want to go down the slippery slope of deciding that it will monitor the taste and legality of action taken over its network? (That is exactly what is promulgated here.) I hope not. And it is dumb, IMHO, to give up the protection of common carriage.

I am IMMENSELY grateful that I will soon be able to cut myself completely loose of such dangerous and foolish petulance. The elephant is dying and I don’t want to be anywhere near its death throes.

That a TOS like this is conceivable and possibly legal is EXACTLY why we need net neutrality and a clear reinstitution of common carriage. And it is a substantial reason to say we need LUS Fiber.

(Just for the record: none of my sites is on an incumbent server, nor is any email account I use. Yours needn’t be either. And soon you should be able to get off their copper.)