The Web Index

An interesting set of statistics about access to the Web as well as many other metrics relating to use, availability and freedom on the Web, ranking nearly every country on various different scales. Canada makes a mediocre showing at 15th overall, with a disappointing nearly-80% having access, and falling well short of perfect on most other metrics too. The recent CBC report that ranks Canada 53rd in the world on upload speeds is also sobering. Like all such statistics, these need to be looked at critically and considered in context, but it is none-the-less a good starting point for discussion. See for more on the project, and how the figures are calculated.

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Media Multitasking Behavior: Concurrent Television and Computer Usage

This study looks at multitasking behaviour measured by the amount and frequency of attention paid to a computer screen and TV. It is interesting, if flawed, at least partly because of the differences it claims to show between multitasking behaviour in older and younger people. The researchers claim to show that there is not much age-related difference in overall time spent looking at things when multitasking, but that younger people’s gaze tends to flit much more frequently – the differences between age groups on this measure are actually quite huge. The researchers don’t make any notable claims about whether this is a good or a bad thing, but it is a result that helps to explain other findings that older people are better at multitasking, inasmuch as they retain more of what they have been paying attention to and are typically less easily distracted (I think I may be an outlier here!). However, the big flaw that I see in this study is that it used staff and students at a university as subjects. University staff are trained to concentrate in quite peculiar ways because that is what scholarly study is all about, and have typically spent a great many years acquiring that habit, so they are not at all representative of older people in general. It would at least be useful to compare this demographic with other older people who do not habitually concentrate very hard and very persistently on one thing for a living.

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China Wholesale – Wholesale Electronics – Dropship From China

Thanks to my friend Richard for pointing me to this great site for total geeks. Electronic toys galore, at knockdown prices, direct from China. Important proviso – almost all look pretty awful, but the site is honest about their failings and ridiculously rich in information about them, so it is easy to decide not to buy things. But who needs Apple, Samsung, or Sony when you can get a no-name budget dual SIM Android phone for $70? Or any number of watch-phones, projectors, remote controlled doodahs and accessories to fit any need? Well, me. But I like browsing this site.

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EdTechnology Ideas – Education Technology Journal

A new open-access educational technology journal. Looks slick, CC licence, a social approach, and I know and respect a couple of the editorial team, so I think it should be reliable and interesting.

Slightly less clear about the need for yet another journal in a crowded market though I guess it’s good to have a thriving ecosystem with plenty of competing species. However, there is a balance between those benefits and the relatively small amount of attention that can be spread around. Now that there are plenty of open-access journals of this nature I see a strong place for metajournals that consolidate writings around particular themes and/or that use curational skills to identify the best of the best. To some extent this occurs in isolated pockets like blogs and curated sites like Pinterest etc, but there is scope for more concerted and formalized efforts in this field.

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Fiverr: Graphics, marketing, fun, and more online services for $5

A marketplace for services, many of which start at $5, hence the name. Compared with long-established competitors like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk this is very simple to use and easy to understand – you hire someone for a ‘gig’ and they do the work for you, whether it is proofreading, choosing a gift, teaching you to juggle, turning your room design into a CAD drawing, correcting your code or whatever. Mostly, you pay $5 or some multiple of $5. Being a global site, some of the prices are amazingly low. It has a simple collective approach to reputation management so, like most such sites, it is not too hard to find reliable service providers. I’m torn between concerns about the ease with which it can handle contract cheating and delight that people can distribute workload in such a simple and convenient manner. I’ve not come up with a personal use for it yet but can see the potential value in many different areas.

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When Did Human Speech Evolve?

Balanced critique by Barbera J. King for NPR of a study that reveals strong correlation between brain processes for technology use (flint knapping) and those for language. The study itself uses fTCD to show brain activity while engaged in language and tool-use tasks, with remarkably consistent patterns for both.

The authors suggest that  ‘tool-making and language share a basis in more general human capacities for complex, goal-directed action’. The critique linked here provides grounds for being wary of drawing firm conclusions of this nature because there are other confounding factors (we already use language so it is possible that we are using it to conceptualize how we go about using tools) and the fTCD approach is a bit coarse. However, the study’s results accord well with the widely held view that language is a technology. Whether tool use or language use evolved first is still up for debate, though I strongly suspect that they evolved in tandem. Language is a technology that makes other technologies possible and vice versa: all technologies are mutually constitutive assemblies, evolving as a result of being combined and recombined.

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Doug Engelbart, American inventor and computing legend, has passed away — Tech News and Analysis

Sad news of the death, at 88, of one of the greatest thinkers and inventors of the past century. Although the headlines all proclaim him as the inventor of the mouse, that was only one of his many achievements that were more profoundly influential. Among the many other things that he invented or played a significant role in inventing were the first working hypertext (and hence the Web), the word processor, the Internet (his lab was the second node on its forerunner, the ARPANET), email, video conferencing, windowing systems like the Mac and Windows, and much else besides. A modest and inspiring genius whose vision of augmenting, not replacing, human intellect reverberates loudly to this day.

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Learning Locker

Very interesting new development, not quite finished yet but showing great promise – a simple means to aggregate content from your learning journey, supporting open standards. This is not so much a personal learning environment as a bit of glue to hold it together. The team putting it together have some great credentials, including one of the co-founders of Elgg (used here on the Landing) and the creator of the Curatr social learning platform.

Currently it appears that its main open standard is SCORM’s new TinCan API, but there are bigger plans afoot. I think that this kind of small, powerful service that disaggregates learning journeys from monolithic systems (including those such as the Landing, Moodle, MOOCs and Blackboard-based systems) is going to be a vital disruptive component in enabling richer, more integrated learning in the 21st Century. 

This is the description of the tool from the site itself:

“It’s never been easier to be a self-directed learner. Whether you’re in school or at work, you’re always learning. And it’s not just courses that teach. The websites you visit, the blogs you write, the job you do; it’s all activity that contributes to your personal growth.

Right now you’re letting the data all this activity creates slip through your fingers. You could be taking control of your learning; storing your experience, making sense of what you do and showing off what you know.

Learning Locker helps you to aggregate and use your learning data in an environment that you control. You can use this data to help quantify your abilities, to help you reach personal targets and to let others share in what you do.

It’s time to take your data out of the hands of archaic learning management systems that you can’t reach. We use new technologies, like the xAPI, to help you take control of your learning. It’s your data. Own it.”

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Texting frequency and moral shallowing

An interesting study that reveals, in accordance with Nicholas Carr’s predictions, that there is a close positive correlation between what most of us would consider moral ugliness and frequent texting, at least among young people in Winnipeg. The correlations between frequent texting and moral dissolution are unsurprising, as the study appears to suggest that 42% of students in Winnipeg appear to text more than 200 times a day. 12%  of them do so more than 300 times a day. That leaves little time for thought. It averages out at once every 3 minutes for 15 hours of the day. I guess they read the replies too And eat and use the bathroom (I don’t want to even think about that in the context of texting). And indulge what appear to be quite prodigious and positively correlated sexual appetites (or that). Luckily for the rest of us, that leaves little time to pursue their interests in wealth and status.  My suspicion would be that most activities apart from breathing that that we engage in 300+ times a day are unlikely to do us much good. 

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Elgg source code evolution (before 4th May 2013) – YouTube

A fascinating diagram showing developer contributions to the open source core of the Elgg project (used here on the Landing) over the past 5 years or so. Quite fascinating to watch, and especially pleasing to see how the number of contributors has grown over the past year or so, probably as much due to moving to Github from Trac as anything else, though the great work of the Elgg foundation team in building and employing the work of the community goes hand in hand with that. Makes me feel quite a lot more secure about the future of the technology to know that so many people are active in pushing it forward. It would be intriguing to look at the larger ecosystem of plugins that sits around that using a similar visualization.

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