Book Review: Information Doesn’t Want to be Free

Information cover final web

I realize the irony here, that I paid top dollar for Cory Doctorow’s book — Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age – when I probably could, with just a bit of searching and tinkering, find a free and pirated version of the book somewhere and be reading Doctorow’s engaging missive about copyright law and information flow in mere minutes of a search.

I could of done that, but I didn’t.

Here’s why:

  • First off, I want to support McSweeney’s, Dave Egger’s publishing arm that also supports youth writing programs around the country with its 826 Valencia network.
  • Second, I want to support Doctorow as a writer, although I suspect he is doing just fine without my meager money … this is a principle thing about supporting artists at work.
  • Third, I like the tangible feel of a book in my hands (and this one traveled with me from my sons’ baseball games, as its short chapters were perfectly tuned into the breaks between innings.)

And it turns out that my move to avoid the free, pirated copy of the book is right in line with Doctorow’s ideas around the Information Age, and how artists can still find and reach an audience that is willing to pay for art, even if it is freely available elsewhere. This is part of his point: in the age of the Copy, how do musicians and writers and artists still make art that is meaningful and make a living at it, too?

Amanda Palmer’s foreword (coupled with her husband, Neil Gaiman’s companion forward) continues to resonate with me in context to Doctorow’s ideas around copyright and publishing, and how innovation is always bound to upend the status quo, and the status quo is always going to fight that change with lawyers and money and political influence.

Palmer writes about her time as a street performer in Boston (she was one of those lovely painted statue people that we gawk at) and her observations of passersby, and how while many would ignore her, the few that observed and appreciated her art, and put some money into her collection bin, was more than enough to sustain her with a regular income.

“Like clockwork, people were generous. Nobody asked them to be. I just stood there, literally silent, waiting for them to tip me out for the weird, loving act of randomness I was making to humankind …. People actually like supporting the artists whose work they like. It makes them feel happy. You don’t have to force them. And if you force them, they don’t feel as good.” (Palmer, page xiii)

Doctorow not only shows how the current system of stifling customers from access on their own terms to the art they love is stifling art creation itself, he also shows how a revamping of copyright law might be one of the fixes. He also freely and open admits that not every artist will find a niche and that there is no real “fix it” for all of the disruption. But a closed system of art, he argues, is bound to fail on many levels and leave media industries crumbling.

Instead, he argues for the idea of “blanket licenses” (such as are used in bars and music establishments for the use of playing copyrighted music by cover bands and the jukebox and karaoke machines) that would compensate artists and publishers for media on the Internet while broadening reach to different audiences. He notes that while the publishing industry has traditionally taken advantage of the complex analytics to pad their own pockets, this age of information is also the age of data analysis, and that there should be a way to determine fair use of media, set up a payment system with ISP providers and provide compensation for the creators of art.

Will this work? I have no idea. It sounds good on paper, if I understand it right. Reality might be different. Remember hwo has the money and power right now. It’s not you and I, alas. But Doctorow has a phrase of words that has stuck with me since finishing the book.

“Think like a Dandelion.” (Doctorow, page 142)

What he means that since there is no turning back the clock on copying — and in fact, copying movies and music and more will only get easier as time moves on — an artist needs to find a new way to think about distribution. Instead, he suggests, think of art as the dandelion, which produces thousands of seeds that it lets loose into the world, in hopes one or two or a few will find a nurturing bit of soil on which to plant itself.

“There are lots of people out there who might want to buy your work or compensate you in some other way — the more places your work finds itself, the greater the likelihood that it will find one of those would-be customers in some unsuspected crack in the metaphorical pavement.” (Doctorow, page 143).

Of course, the publishing companies would see the dandelion in another way: as a weed that needs to be eradicated or controlled, right? Such is the world right now. Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free (title reference is to the idea that information doesn’t want to be free — it’s data — but people want to be free to make their own choices about technology and art) is another way forward.

Peace (taking root),

Typing with My Voice: A Poem Constructed on the Fly

(This is for Slice of Life, a writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers)

Using Speech to Text tool

I wanted to try out the new feature in Google Docs that allows you to speak so that the computer will type for you. (See the Google site for more information). I have to say, speech recognition has sure come a long way, and now I am wondering how I can bring this into my classroom for struggling writers once we get into our Google Apps for Education accounts this year.

The Voice tool wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough for me to write this poem on the fly and then do some quick editing on it. I wrote a poem, inspired by flowers on the table. I realized later that you can add in some simple commands for line breaks and punctuation. I’ll remember that for next time.

Peace (you hear me?),


Wired Magazine: The New Professors

I enjoy Wired Magazine, most of the time, and every now and then, they come out with a special issue that really gets my attention. The latest (Sept. 2015) is an interesting take on how people learn, with Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine on the cover.

Sure, the cynic in me thinks, it’s an advertising place for their Beats headphones and for the new Apple Music (and Dre’s story in Straight Outta Compton), but the article itself about Iovine and Dre is about how the two are investing in a media program in a California university to give students experience in media making and creating a pipeline of talent for entertainment production for the future. I wish I could go there. (Dogtrax Scholarship Fund?)


The magazine then moves into its “Cultural Literacy” section, with focus on Culture, Design, Business, Science and Security, with the lens on people making a difference in the world and ways that people can get engaged in learning on their own terms in these various emerging fields and subfields.

It reminds me, yet again, of how I am teaching to my sixth graders literacy practices that have to be applicable to a world that may not yet exist. As I read through the magazine, it seems as if many of the topics were barely if even on the radar screen five or ten years ago. Flexibility around writing, reading, creating media is a key element, and finding that ground is a challenge for any teacher.

Peace (on the pages),

Robots As Publishers: Curation Conundrums in the Digital Age

NWP Daily NewsIt’s been some time since I shared out my curated NWP Daily News via, and I use that word “curate” very lightly here, as the robotic overlords who feed on algorithms are the ones who gather up news and sharing from a Twitter list of National Writing Project folks (670 peeps, listed as of this morning … wait .. make that 669 … see below), and somehow, it comes together in what I think is a moderately interesting daily collection of media, tidbits and more.

But I received a direct message on Twitter from a person in my NWP network about their inclusion into the “newspaper”  this week and the notice of their Twitter handle in an auto-tweet that comes out every day. They clearly were not happy with it, and they wondered how their Twitter account got so entwined with mine. They suggested that it was a misrepresentation of both of our Twitter accounts. I think they thought I have been intentionally scraping their content and representing it as my own.

Have I, inadvertently, doing that? Not in my mind.

I messaged back to them, politely, and then removed from them from my NWP List, so as to avoid putting them in the same situation in the future. The last thing I want to do is make anyone uncomfortable when the robots take over. To be honest, I’m not sure bringing other NWP folks to their Twitter account or bringing a small spotlight to something interesting that they shared out or wrote about is such a bad thing, but that’s not for me to decide.

Or is it?

Here I am, making a “newspaper” of Twitter folks who self-associate with the National Writing Project, and that message reminded me that I never do ask permission of anyone to become part of my NWP Twitter List. I just add them in. I also assume that the tweets from public accounts are public and that if you tweet something out into the open, then you are signaling your approval in having it viewed and collected  — or, in this case, curated under an unofficial NWP umbrella (“unofficial” because NWP bigwigs did not sanction me doing this, nor did I ask permission.)

I realize now that it is a bit of a can of worms, indicative of the Information Age.

On one hand, I hate the lack of agency I have in actually curating the darn thing. I don’t think I can manually add content, just people’s streams of information (or at least, I can’t do that with the free version I use. I’m not sure about the paid version.) On the other hand, I am grateful that the algorithms do all that work on my behalf, so that I don’t have to spend the time each day. Because, you know, it wouldn’t get done, otherwise. I’m a realist.

It’s the typical Digital Age Cunundrum, right? How much agency do I give up to technology in order to achieve what I hope to achieve with the smallest amount of effort? And if I give up too much, am I really achieving what I wanted to achieve?

I don’t have the answer to that. (Do you?)

Instead, I just read my NWP News most mornings, and think, these NWP folks are doing some amazing things, and I enjoy reading about it. I get inspired by them. I learn from them. I guess you could say, I made this “newspaper” for me. But I am happy if others enjoy it, too. I even get a kick when someone who get mentioned shouts out some thanks to me, via Twitter, and all I can do is say, “You’re welcome. I had little to do with it. The robots are in charge!”

What I hadn’t realized, until this morning, is that not everyone would be so open about it and grateful to be part of my NWP experience. I guess that part of curation — the view of the skeptical curatee (is that a word? The one who is being curated?) — never crossed my mind until this morning. Maybe it should have.

Peace (on the page),


Hello There, Hypertext

I’m in the midst of reading an interesting interview with Ted Nelson, who coined the phrase “hypertext” and then presented about it in a paper in 1965 (the year before I was born). In my mind, I think of the hyperlink/hypertext as the significant element that makes the Internet different/unique from other kinds of texts, and yet, we often forget about the magic of the idea.

A hyperlink, which is just one element of hypertext, not only transports us to other online spaces and media, it creates an associative element to how we write (this will connect to that) and how we read (this will bring me there). It also creates rabbit holes for readers (this will be bring me here, which brings me here, which brings me here, and now, where was I?).

Interestingly, Nelson, who identified himself early on as a filmmaker with screens as storytelling platforms, thinks we have become too narrow-minded on the Web by associating “hyperlink” with “hypertext” and his original idea of connected documents, seen on the screen at the same time along with the “bridge” that connects the documents reminds me of the FedWiki project, in a lot of ways.

In the interview with Nelson on Boing Boing, celebrating the 50 years of the introduction of the concept of hypertext at a conference, some of his answers to questions were very interesting, and worth collecting.

Oh. Yeah. The hyperlink to the interview is here.

No one could imagine what an interactive screen would be. No one I talked to could imagine what an interactive screen would be, whereas I saw and felt them sensually in my mind and at my fingertips. Yet to me this was an extension of literature as we had always known it. – Ted Nelson


There was nothing standing in the way of computers for the public except for imagination, it seemed to me, and so I was trying to supply that. – Ted Nelson


Movies are events on a screen that affect the heart and mind of the viewer, right? And software—interactive software—is events on a screen that affect the heart and mind of the user, and interact, and have consequences. – Ted Nelson


I thought hypertext would lead to a millennial system of changes, and so it has, but much less influenced by my own work—my designs and ideas—than I’d hoped. – Ted Nelson


Other people’s hypertext just use jump links—that’s what the World Wide Web is, just jump links—whereas I consider it essential to see pages side by side, as in the Talmud, as in medieval manuscripts, as in any number of documents over the centuries. This is an essential part of the electronic document which we don’t have yet. – Ted Nelson

Peace (in the text),


Using PicMonkey to RangerMe

I am sure some of my CLMOOC friends would like to join in on the RangerMe impromptu make. So, here is a tutorial using the free but powerful PicMonkey photo editing. I chose online so that it can cross platforms.

First, you need to have the template ready for upload. Go to the photo in my Flickr account and download it.

Rangerme Template

Second, go to PicMonkey and click on “edit for free” link in upper right corner of the page (or create an account). Now, follow this visual tutorial:

How to RangerMe with PicMonkey1How to RangerMe with PicMonkey2How to RangerMe with PicMonkey3How to RangerMe with PicMonkey4

And be sure to share out!

Peace (in the make),

Views from a Digital Writing Marathon

Last week, I facilitated a Digital Writing Marathon through our Western Massachusetts Writing Project. Part of the intent was to invite folks from various ongoing WMWP initiatives together to play and tinker and reflect on technology.

I began by sharing the Gary Hayes Social Media Counter as a visual reminder of why we need to be at least considering the impact of technology on the lives of ours students. This sparked a discussion about the Media Lives of young people, and the important role that teachers play in helping students navigate technology.

We then moved into some collaborative writing, and we riffed off the recent #celebrateteachers concept of teachers writing about educators who influenced their lives. I really love this kind of reflective writing, and we used a simple Google Slides format to collaborate together on a single presentation. Although nearly everyone in the marathon has Google Apps for Education in their school, very few have tapped it for its collaborative power, and this activity sparked some great conversations about possibilities for shared projects and more.

From collaboration, we shifted into identity in digital spaces, and how best to help students think about how they represent themselves — and protect themselves — in various social spaces they use outside of school. I brought the group from the Digital Marathon into our Bitstrips for Schools space, and we spent some time making avatars to represent ourselves, and then shifted into how teachers might use online webcomic sites for engaging writers. Bitstrips was a hit, with lots of laughter and making.
WMWP Tech Marathon comicsWMWP Tech Marathon comics
I wrote about the next activity the other day, as a WMWP colleague led us through an activity that turned a math word problem into a Google Sheets learning experience and ended with a video essay format to check for understanding.

Wmwp tech workshop 2015We then moved into the world of coding and programming as literacy practice, and I introduced the Hour of Code and the Flappy Birds game activity that ends in the creation of a Flappy Bird game. I framed it as another way to engage students in technology in a meaningful way. This activity was sort of hit or miss, as some seemed to get bored with it or not all that interested in programming elements (whereas my students get highly engaged). Wmwp tech workshop 2015

Finally, I showed them Padlet as a place for exit tickets and reflection, and I asked them to leave some thoughts on technology and learning, and a few knew of Padlet, but many did not.

WMWP Reflection

The day went by quick, even for four hours of PD, and I think it had just enough balance of play and reflection to make a ripple in some classrooms this fall.

Peace (in the tech),

PS — here are some extension activities I put in play for them. We never got to them, but they have our website to refer back to and share with colleagues.

The Internet as Public Space 2: We, the People

The Internet Map

The Internet global network is a phenomenon of technological civilization, and its exceptional complexity surpasses anything mankind has ever created. In essence, what we are dealing with here is a huge quantity of utterly unstructured information. The Internet map is an attempt to look into the hidden structure of the network, fathom its colossal scale, and examine that which is impossible to understand from the bare figures of statistics.

The Internet Map is an interesting site that calculates the connections made of people moving between websites to create a visualization of the Internet. Sort of.

As the developer says:

The Internet map is a bi-dimensional presentation of links between websites on the Internet. Every site is a circle on the map, and its size is determined by website traffic, the larger the amount of traffic, the bigger the circle.

Use the search engine at the Internet Map to look up countries and you quickly notice a trend: Google is everywhere. Seriously, if we open up our definition of Public Space to include the Internet (which we should), then it becomes clear rather quickly how enormous a reach Google has on the world through our search engines.

What does it say about us that we let a private, for-profit company have such a hold on the public sphere? It says we (me, too) value speed and convenience over privacy and data protection. It says that most of don’t even recognize the changed world from this vantage point because we don’t take the time to see the world this way.

But if the Internet is a public domain, or if it should be, then we all need to do more to protect that space from the encroachment and control of private companies. Are governments up to the challenge? Not likely. That just means we, the people of the world — the People of the Internet — need to be more vigilant and informed about our elected officials. We need to ask questions about privacy and Internet freedoms and more.

I also came across an interesting chart in a post the other day. It is entitled “Where the Internet Lives.” While the focus of the piece was on the visualization of who has connectivity, I kept wondering about the opposite: who does NOT have connectivity and what does that mean for the future of those places? I’m not saying the world is turning on technology alone, but lack of access should be a major concern of all of us.

Image: Ralph Straumann, Mark Graham, Oxford Internet Institute

Peace (and insight),

Exploration of Public Space: Chapel Falls

The facilitators of this week’s Make Cycle of Making Learning Connected MOOC are encouraging folks to use digital storytelling to capture and document the public spaces around them. I’d encourage the use of the free Adobe Voice app, which has to be one the most simple-to-use digital story apps I have come across.

Here, I took my boys (and our dog) to Chapel Falls, a remote series of waterfalls perfect for swimming and the returned home to document our fun day.

Chapel Falls

Peace (in the outdoors),

PS — this kind of Make will also be perfect for next week’s Make Cycle (hint)

Feeding the Dawg: A Contraption Maker Contraption

Dang. This is fun. I learned about Contraption Maker from a friend, Melvina, in the Making Learning Connected MOOC when I was sharing out a Rube Goldberg contraption the other day as part of systems thinking (the train of ideas just keeps on rolling), and decided to give Contraption Maker a try.

Am I ever glad I did!

making the dawg

First of all, it solves my own puzzle around teaching Rube Goldberg contraptions: how to move from the visual literacy component of systems thinking and design to having students construct a contraption without spending weeks on a project? And how to move even more science, and Next Generation Standards, into our writing class in an engaging way?

Second of all, Contraption Maker folks reached out immediately to an email I sent them via the educator section of their website. Seriously, Deborah, their helpful educational outreach person, was responding not long after I sent a query with helpful advice on how to get started. And they gave me a free license. Listen: I’m not that special. They apparently are giving free licenses to teachers … and licenses for all classroom computers for students!

Say that again? Free for schools? Yes. I guess they make money when kids get hooked and want it at home, which is where a family would have to purchase a license. I’m fine with that model.

Third, I was pleasantly surprised that you can record a video of your contraption in real time and export it to YouTube for sharing out (see above). It was a great motivator for me as I was tinkering. There is also multiplayer mode.

Now, the Contraption Maker program is a software download, so keep that mind, but there is a teacher dashboard for keeping track of student progress and work, and plenty of video tutorials, and it has play modes and design modes (my focus) as well ways to go even deeper into the code design (I think … still going over it all).

Overall, thumbs up for Contraption Maker.  I found it to be a perfect way to play with systems thinking in the CLMOOC this week, too, and can’t wait to show it to students. Go ahead. Give it a try.

Go, Dawg, Go.

Peace (in the engine room),