Archive for May, 2006

Open/free/libre pedagogy and the right to play (leikkiä)

Monday, May 22nd, 2006

Ulla-Maaria Mutanen wrote a piece about design as play. The article is published in English in the Finnish Design Yearbook 2006. There are seven themes in the book: imagine, ease, flow, respect, play, dare and share. The terms would make a nice tag cloud.

Ulla-Maaria’s article is about “play”. In Finnish language there are two terms that are both translated into the English word “play”. These are “leikki” and “peli”. I assume that in Finnish Ulla-Maaria would have used the term “leikki” – not the word “peli”. The meaning of the word “leikki” is actually rather different from the English word “play”.

In a “play” (Finnish: peli) there are “voluntarily accepted but absolutely binding rules” (Huizinga, 1949). In “leikki” there are rules that can be changed anytime during the play (leikki). For instance, when children are playing with a dollhouse it is “leikki” (play), but when playing football it is a “peli” (play). When playing with dolls there are hardly rules. Boys can be girls and cows can fly, as long as the players agree that it is possible in that particular play (leikki). But when playing football you are expected to follow binding rules. There are exceptions. E.g. children playing football on the streets of Ciudad Bolivar in Bogotá may adapt the official rules of football to fit to the environment where they are playing at. Even in this case you do not have a right to change the rules while playing. In “leikki” (play) this is possible.

Ulla-Maaria wrote that free/libre/open source software development is for many developers some kind of “play” – again in Finnish I would call it “leikki”. In free/libre/open source software development peer review, collaborative authorship and the practice of releasing draft-versions during the process are essential. You try out (add your dolls to sit in a dinner table), you explain for your friends what you are doing (now the family is going to have dinner), your friend may intervene (I’ll put the mother to sit in the end of the table, because she is the head of the family), you may agree or negotiate about it (I think the dog of the family is the leader, let’s put him to sit in the end of the table) and you may anytime jump out of the box and make the whole family to live in a doghouse.

A real creative play (leikki) requires open space with very tiny objects and some tools. A sandbox or a beach is a good example. UNIX operating system is another good example. With a very little practice and with simple tools you can build a cake, castle or a whole city. Of course you must have the spirit to play and some friends to play with, but after this it works out pretty well.

So, am I now proposing that we should move from the current school practices to play in sandbox and with UNIX operating system? No, I am not. But when promoting innovation – cultural, social and technological – we should understand the role of playing (leikki) in it.

In pedagogy I would promote a harmony and balance between “serious study work” and “creative play” (leikki). They feed each other. If you have done (some serious) studies of sculpturing and art you probably will master better in a sandbox play. If you know your basic math and logic it will help you in the UNIX environment. Still the innovations are done in the sandbox and in the Unix environment – not while reading a textbook or sitting in a lecture room.

What I am worried about is that we are loosing the time and space for playing (leikki). University programs are full of courses, which you are expected to pass in a tight schedule. There is a pressure to make school days longer and to have more and more supervised extra-curriculum activities.

Fight for your right to play (leikkiä!)!

IP in an Open Source Society; who is paying who?

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006

Kebede Mergia from the University of Art and Design Helsinki asks me the question, who is paying who in the Open Source society?

Unfortunately
it’s impossible for me to answer this open question in the length it
deserves, but I can point to a few resources on which I build my own
understanding of the topic. This is also good reading for anyone who wants to understand the larger picture related to intellectual property in an Free and Open Source Society.

What is your list? If you can recommend some additional sources, please comment below.

Intellectualy property and the societal concept of Open Source.

To understand the societal implications of Open Source, you need to understand the difference of Free Software and Open Source.

Free
Software, the concept put forward by Richard Stallman long before the
term Open Source was invented, tackles the freedom aspect. This is well
documented in the book by Mr. Stallman, entitled “Free as in Freedom”, available online.

To
understand intellectual property, there is probably no better source to
turn into other than Lawrence Lessig. In the roots of the philosophy of
Free Software there is the requirement to understand the importance of
free culture, how it’s preserved and how it develops further based on
earlier generations. IP can be an enabling or disabling factor
depending of how it’s used. This is further examined in Lawrence
Lessig’s book, “Free Culture”, available online.

While
Free Software is about freedom, Open Source is about practical use
value of the source code and the shared production model. It was also
invented to satisfy as a term the business use of free software, as FS
was politically very colorful until 1998 (when the term Open Source was launched), almost like a religion and as
such not very suitable for business types. The practical use value and
the birth of Open Source is well documented in the book by Eric S.
Raymond, “Cathedral and the Bazaar”, available online.

The financial flows, in other words, who pays who.Yochai
Benkler coined the term commons-based peer production, which examines
the economics behind Open Source development model. He analyses this
concept in his paper, “Coase’s Penguin and the Nature of the Firm”, available online. This concept is furter investigated in his book, “Wealth of Networks”, also available online.

He
gives much credit to Ronald Coase, who invented the transaction costs
theory. Anyone who wants to understand the transaction costs in any
business, should look in the work done by Ronald Coase, later improved by Oliver Williamson.

The
absolutely central thing to understand here is that production logic of
the industrial era is changing from centralized (central IP control,
centralized production, controlled distribution, few developers) to
decentralized (decentralized production, distributed costs, lots of
developers, IP in the commons). The driver here is that as you benefit
from the commons, you are likely to contribute something back to the
commons. This is technically enabled by the licensing, which often requires that
you give the next person the same rights you received in the first
hand. It’s a gift economy, but driven by economical benefits. It
supports free markets by creating an open market, rather than a closed
market. Bruce Perens, the author of Open Source Definition has also written about the economics of Open Source.

OLPC – Please, some cultural respect!

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006

In an earlier post I was claiming that the designers of the MIT’s 100$ laptop do not understand the context in and for what they are designing their tool. They seem to ignore all cultural and social factors and considerations.

Now the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) website is available in fourteen languages. Among those there is a Finnish (Suomeksi) version. Great! – Doesn’t this show that they take the cultural issues seriously? …uuhh not really.

olpc front small OLPC – Please, some cultural respect!

The Finnish translation is totally bizarre. It is something that makes the Finnish language teachers to squirm! It’s not a machine translation. Machines do not make mistakes with spelling. I guess an American-Finnish person who basically does not know the language very well anymore made the translation with a dictionary. All respect for the person, but…

olpc kysymyksia OLPC – Please, some cultural respect!

Does this tell something about the people in the OLPC project? Do they show respect on my culture and language? Does this show that they will consider people’s – they are those things often called “users”- social and cultural matters when designing the laptop?

I am not sure, but at least they could hire professional translators to do the translations.

Next Tuesday, May 9 at AM 9.15-10 in the University of Tampere (Finland), lecture hall C 8 (main building) Walter Bender, Executive director of the MIT Media Laboratory and the president and COO of the One Laptop per Child foundation will give a talk with the title “imagine if all children were given a hundred-dollar laptop…”.

Use your right to attend to university lectures and be there! I’ll be there, if I am not dead tired from my trip to Bogotá.