March 19, 2009

Really? [9:35 am]

Yesterday, I saved an article (pdf) for a potential teaching moment next fall about the fact that the sale of Colorado River water rights means that it’s illegal to collect rainwater for personal use in parts of the Colorado River watershed. Here’s a related article, on a topic more pertinent to this blog: Why Do Girl Scouts Ban Online Cookie Sales? (pdf) (thanks Junjay and Jesse!)

In late January, they posted a YouTube video, starring Freeborn in Girl Scout gear, touting her straightforward sales pitch. “Buy cookies! And they’re yummy!” Soon after, they set up an online order system that was limited to customers within their local area (so Freeborn could personally deliver them). While her online sales strategy took hold, she continued peddling cookies the traditional way—going door to door and working booths at the local grocery store. Within two weeks, more than 700 orders for Thin Mints, Caramel DeLites and Peanut Butter Patties reached the Freeborns solely through the online form.

Considering that the national Girl Scout Cookie Program bills itself as the largest program to teach entrepreneurship to young girls, this e-commerce strategy seems especially savvy. But some families in the community felt threatened by the Freeborn’s unconventional efforts, likely because various prizes (including camp vouchers, stuffed animals and apparel) are given out by local councils to girls who sell a certain amount of boxes. “If you have an individual girl that creates a Web presence, she can suck the opportunity from other girls,” says Matthew Markie, a parent who remains involved in Girl Scouts even though his three daughters are well into their 20s. Markie, and other disapproving parents, brought the Freeborn’s site to the attention of local Girl Scout officials who told the Freeborns to take down their YouTube video and reminded the family of the organization’s longstanding prohibition of online sales. According to the FAQ on the national organization’s Web site, “The safety of our girls is always our chief concern. Girl Scout Cookie activities are designed to be face-to-face learning experiences for the girls.”

See also Girl Scouts Battle With One of Their Own (pdf)

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Design, Emergence and Multistability [9:22 am]

Computer Experts Unite to Hunt Worm (pdf)

The inability of the world’s best computer security technologists to gain the upper hand against anonymous but determined cybercriminals is viewed by a growing number of those involved in the fight as evidence of a fundamental security weakness in the global network.

“I walked up to a three-star general on Wednesday and asked him if he could help me deal with a million-node botnet,” said Rick Wesson, a computer security researcher involved in combating Conficker. “I didn’t get an answer.”

[...] Researchers who have been painstakingly disassembling the Conficker code have not been able to determine where the author, or authors, is located, or whether the program is being maintained by one person or a group of hackers. The growing suspicion is that Conficker will ultimately be a computing-for-hire scheme. Researchers expect it will imitate the hottest fad in the computer industry, called cloud computing, in which companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems sell computing as a service over the Internet.

[...] Several people who have analyzed various versions of the program said Conficker’s authors were obviously monitoring the efforts to restrict the malicious program and had repeatedly demonstrated that their skills were at the leading edge of computer technology.

I’m not sure that the “fundamental security weakness” is in the network, and I’m equally unsure that network (re)design alone is going to resolve it, either. But an easy to identify villain (pdf) always makes for good copy.

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Another Take on Open vs. Closed [9:15 am]

I have to confess — I really wanted to like the new Sony eBook Reader. As a way to carry large volumes of content when on the road (a professional necessity in my case, between teaching materials, paper reading & editing, and other materials), it seemed so much less painful than stacks of dead tree slices or PDFs on a laptop. But the closed architecture (yes, yes — it will take in PDFs, but only in the most limited way possible, and particularly ineffectively for someone with eyes as old as mine) of their file format (not to mention their focus upon the Windows platform - read the fine print!), I had to take it back. Now, we get this odd partnership: Sony and Google Announcing E-Book Partnership (pdf)

Aiming to outdo Amazon.com and recapture the crown for the most digital titles in an e-book library, Sony is announcing Thursday a deal with Google to make a half million copyright-free books available for its Reader device, a rival to the Amazon Kindle.

[...] Google has been working to encode books in a free, open electronic publishing format, ePub, which makes them easier to read on devices like the Reader. The company is aiming to gradually increase the number of copyright-free books in the Google Book Search catalog available to Sony and any other e-book distributor that shares its goals of making books more accessible.

If one could only reasonably expect that Sony will adopt this format for their reader. But, this is Sony — the champions of control over openness (a/k/a willing to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face — so I expect that what will happen instead will be that they will instead helpfully “translate” ePub files into the Sony format. (Note that, in order to get at the Google books, one must employ the Sony eBook Library Software. As the text on the page notes: “PRS-500 [the 1st generation product reader] is not currently compatible with the books from Google.” That could mean many things, of course.))

*sigh* You have to wonder what Akio Morita would suggest.

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