Ed Bilodeau

This weblog had moved: http://www.coolweblog.com/bilodeau/

# Notice (Oct 19/05): So ends my stay here on Blogger. This morning Google implemented an anti-spam 'feature' that forces me to answer a challenge phrase when I want to post to my own blog. No notice of the change, nothing. Worse is that it doesn't even work! I type the phrase, submit, "An error occured", post deleted. Damn you, Google. Chances are I will revive my blog somewhere else, sometime soon. I'll post the new coordinates here as soon as they become available. (BTW, I'm unable to post anything to my RSS stream, so I'd appreciate it if readers could spread the word and ask people to take a look at this notice)

Update (Oct 19/05, ~noon): After a frustrating few hours (and not just trying out alternatives to Blogger), I've decided that this is a good time to take a break from all this. A day? A week? Who knows. But I need to step away from it before I pass a heavy magnet over the whole mess.

Update 2: According to this post, the reason I'm seeing the CAPTCHA (challenge phrase) is that Blogger has classified my blog as spam. Thanks. User for five years and now I'm spam. I searched the Blogger site, but there is no mention of how to get the spam flag turned off. There is also no way of contacting anyone at Blogger. Wow. Spam they say I am, so spam I must be. Maybe it is time to take a break.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Oops : Messed up the CSS. No backup, and I can't seem to get even super-simple CSS to work. Picking a canned template. Will have to do for now.
Aftershocks : As the rumblings die down, the dust settles, and the landscape comes into view, I am realizing that the decision to stop persuing my PhD and instead finish up my Master's degree has changed my situation, my environment here at work. Most of this, I cannot discuss in public. What I can say is that I doubt I will be able to spend much time working on "learning environments" or other ideas or projects along those lines. While these are important to me, they are marginal concerns within my work context. I doubt that I will be able to achieve the focus I was hoping for any time soon.

(Hence the modification to the title and byline of this site.)
Stategy+Business: Beware Product Death Cycles :
"Instead of facing competition from high-quality Japanese manufacturers, companies in industrialized countries face tough competition from low-wage countries and high price-cutting pressure from global retailers. Even when producers do promote quality, far fewer consumers seem to care. In this environment, many firms now seem to perceive the production of inferior products as an effective bottom-line strategy. But giving in to this increasingly irresistible temptation can put a company's future market share and profits at risk."

Chinese and other low-cost manufacturers have shown that you don't have to offer quality to compete if you can slash prices enough. "I see no evidence of the managers and workers at these facilities having the slightest concept of quality'" says John Dowd, an American quality expert who has visited dozens of Chinese factories. "They will comply with customer requirements when they are monitored closely, but left alone, it's strictly 'Get it out the door.'"

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Google Turns Attention to RSS :
The search giant started testing a version of its contextual ads that would help advertisers tap into new inventory on RSS or Atom feeds, and potentially help publishers monetize content distributed through that channel. Though Google declined to comment on the new implementation, word spread via its publisher partners.

Although I'm still not through my second cup of coffee, I have enough of my wits about me to know that this is a Bad Idea. My RSS reader is like my e-mail: a private space that I work hard at keeping free of distractions and other garbage.

With e-mail, I'm more or less a sitting duck, since anyone can try to put stuff in my inbox. Less now, with all the blocking and filtering software, but the usefulness of e-mail requires that I keep it more or less open.

My RSS reader is another matter entirely. I have total control over which feeds are included. There are no lack of feeds, so I'm quick to prune away any feeds that are more trouble then they are worth. A feed that includes advertizing definately falls into that category.

"Hey, let me show you something interesting!"
"Hey, let me show you something interesting!"
"Hey, let me show you something interesting!"
"Hey, let me sell you something interesting!"
"Hey, let me show you something interesting!"

No thanks. Policy update: any feeds including ads will be automatically unsubscribed from. I may bookmark your site to visit manually, but, for having abused the priviledge of talking to me, you'll no longer have access to my primary inflow.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

CNet: Firms see negatives in accounting language (XBRL) :
Critics, however, say XBRL's developers bungled what could have been a great idea with a needlessly complicated design that virtually ensures the need for consulting services offered up by the same companies that created XBRL.

'It was developed by accountants and technologists with little to no input from the financial analyst community,' said Eric Linder, a hedge fund manager who calls himself XBRL's most involved outsider. 'Nobody can understand it except for the six guys who wrote it.'
CBC Montreal - Free internet access on St-Laurent :
"St-Laurent Boulevard is marking its 100th anniversary by becoming a hotspot - a wireless hotspot, where anyone with a portable computer can surf the web from anywhere on the street."

Very cool, although I am rarely in that part of the city. I wonder if it will catch on in other parts of town?
Jason Kottke: A whole new internet? :
Consider Six Apart as an example of what I'm talking about. 6A is like a black hole for creative people. Folks who, a year or two ago, were among the leading voices in the discussion of how weblogs were changing our culture, were coding all sorts of useful plug-ins for Movable Type, or were pushing the edges of web design are now focused on making software that generates revenue and aren't saying a whole lot about it. (Sort of ironic that working for 6A kills the weblogs of their employees, isn't it?) That's great for them, for Six Apart, their customers, and their partners, but it kinda sucks for the community as a whole.
Scott Leslie: WebCT Announces the Beta Release of WebCT Campus Edition 6 : Scott's take is that CE6 is a merge of the CE ad Vista product lines. Here at McGil, we are slated to begin migration to Vista this coming fall. We're already out of date!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Benefit of system integration on campus :
At many institutions, there is little to no integration between an administrative system, like SCT Banner, and a learning management system, like WebCT. This lack of integration requires faculty to perform duplicate administrative tasks in both systems. To address this issue, we implemented the SCT Luminis Data Integration for e-Learning solution. This solution provides real-time, standards-based data integration between learning management systems and SunGard SCT administrative systems. The integration simplifies administrative tasks for faculty and reduces data entry redundancies.

We've had this kind of integration (Banner/WebCT) at McGill for a few years now. It does make things a lot easier for everyone involved.

No portal integration yet, however, but the selection of Oracle's portal software was only made recently. No word at all on timelines, features, etc. Nor am I holding my breath. Besides, I expect most people will be more focused on making use of the new functionality provided by WebCT Vista, which will start to roll out in the fall. From what I can tell, the portal is fairly low on most people's priority list.
CBC Montreal - City rejects Concordia's downtown building plan :
Concordia wants a 22-storey building, and city councillors for the downtown borough have approved the plan, but the building is too tall and too large to meet city standards.
DHTML/ AJAX / Multimodal Architecture and Interfaces : I've only skimmed it, but this W3C initiative sounds like another way of talking about AJAX (which is more-or-less just another way of talking about DHTML).

On the topic of the naming of Ajax, consider also the "new web" creed coming out of Adaptive Path. Their business is dependant on people being excited and optimistic about the Web, and investing in it as a result. It should come as no surprise, then, that they should try to revitalize the brand of the Web by making what is there seem new again.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Sony VAIO VGN-T140P/L Notebook Review - PCStats.com :
The 10.6' widescreen display has a default resolution of 1280x768 (WXGA) pixels, and is easily the best aspect of this notebook. Assuming you have the eyes for it, this resolution offers plenty of screen real-estate, even on this tiny screen.
Microsoft dreams up low-cost mini-tablet PC : I'm looking forward to seeing some of these prototypes. Any kind of innovation in the PC form factor is good news, and sure to have an impact on education. For example, here on campus we're starting to see a desire to move away from the computer lab model to portable/wireless/distributed model. New portable PC designs (not PDAs or phones, but real, functional computers [*ahem*] will help move that along.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Lacking KM texts : I'm working on my summer course, and realizing that my bookshelf is almost devoid of KM books. It's all IT, webdev, and ecommerce. Even the library's collection leaves a fair amount to be desired. Now that I'm officially teaching a KM course, however, I should be able to start looking to publishers to provide desk copies of some of their texts.

For the summer I'm using the text currently being used by the faculty of mgmt: Davenport's Working Knowledge. It's a good text, but a bit dated and a bit light. I'm hoping I'll be able to find something more substantive for the next time I teach the course.

In the meantime, I've dug up my coursepacks from the KM courses I took at GSLIS. Most the key articles are there so I should be ok, at least for the work I'll be doing this evening and over the weekend.
David Wiley: Freire, the Matrix, and Scalability :
Reflecting on the experience of attending this session brings me back to one of my favorite topics - the automation of the delivery of instruction and the provision of feedback. As I interact with an intelligent tutoring system, what will be the source of my inspiration? Who will be the teacher I remember forever, with whom I form a transformative bond of trust, who I know cares and worries about me? Where is my connection to an other? Where is the modeling of competent, passionate living? Where is the enculturation into a community of meaningful practice?

The automation of education is one of my bugbears. Read the whole post.
Purposive environments: Engaging students in the values and practices of history : Abstract (partial):
Recent research on student learning has given close attention to how student's experiences and actions are mediated by the whole university learning-teaching environment in which they find themselves. The current article pursues this focus on learning-teaching environments in two stages. Guided by socio-cultural perspectives on learning, the first part:
* examines issues surrounding how best to conceptualise university learning-teaching environments,
* highlights the need to take account of central disciplinary purposes and
* presents a framework for representing disciplinary practices within higher education.

Citation: Charles Anderson, Kate Day, Purposive environments: Engaging students in the values and practices of history, Higher Education, Volume 49, Issue 3, Apr 2005, Pages 319 - 343

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The ease of recording lectures : This article, When iPod goes collegiate, raises concerns relating to how easy it is for students to record lectures.
"This concern exists at any school where students have iPods, whether they were gifts or not. Professors should be aware, Mr. Albright says, of how easy it is today for students to record lectures or any downloadable class materials and broadcast them over the Internet."

While it has been long possible for students to record lectures, today's technology makes it increasingly easy for them to do so, in many cases unknown to the teacher. Not a big deal, you might say, until someone takes these recordings and resells them as part of their e-learning product/service. I think this will become a bigger issue as more teachers become aware of the problem.
McGill in the news: Five Giant Impact Basins Reveal The Ancient Equator Of Mars :
[A] Canadian researcher has calculated the location of Mars' ancient poles, based upon the location of five giant impact basins on the planet's surface. Jafar Arkani-Hamed of McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, has determined that these five basins, named Argyre, Hellas, Isidis, Thaumasia, and Utopia, all lie along the arc of a great circle. This suggests that the projectiles that caused the basins originated with a single source and that the impacts trace the Martian equator at the time of impact, which was prior to the development of the Tharsis bulge, he says.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Cost of course content : I was reading The Case for Creative Commons Textbooks and came across these interesting figures on the cost of content development:
"At present, the UKOU spends on average $3 million dollars (US) per course on content development, and they have over 200 undergraduate courses in their inventory, which comes to a total investment of over $600 million. They also keep their content updated on a regular basis, which, among other things, means replacing each course from scratch after eight years. In other words, the UKOU currently spends around $75 million per year on content development, which amounts to around forty percent of their budget."

You'd have to drill down to see just what they are developing for 3 million dollars, but no matter how you slice it, that's a lot of money!
Summer course: Managing Knowledge with Information Technology : This summer I'm teaching INSY 444 Managing Knowledge with Information Technology. Here is the description:
Types of organizational knowledge and their value for organizations, analyzing knowledge processes, and assessing tools and technologies for managing knowledge.

While not a new course, it is a new course for me. I'm excited and (a bit anxious) about teaching KM. My main focus for the next two weeks is to pull together the preparative work I've been doing into a more useful structure for the course. Should be an interesting process!
Update : Sorry for the lack of posts. I've been away from the office for a few days, and am getting back into the swing of things. One semester is ending, another beginning. And I'm helping out with in-person registration next week. Unfortunately, that hasn't left much time for blogging here. Can't say for sure how much that will change over the next week or so... we'll see.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Encarta Encyclopedia Tests Edit System :
Readers can suggest edits or additions to entries, although the changes are vetted by editors before they reach the page.

No exactly a wiki, but probably the best compromise Encarta could make. The benefit to Encarta is spelled out later in the article:
"The truth of the matter is, we have 42,000 articles in Encarta and somewhere around 60 million words, so even if I had a staff of 1,000 editors we wouldn't be able to look at all of the content all the time," [Encarta's editorial director] said.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

New personal blog: Machineries of Universe Maintenance : I've decided to move my personal blog posts over to my MSN Spaces blog.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Vacation : BTW, I'm on vacation, back on Wednesday, April 13. I'm spending most of the time painting the new apartment. Dead tired, and not much time for blogging and the like. Expect few posts.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Yahoo to support Wikipedia : And in case you thought this was just another case of Yahoo trying to catch up to Google in the 'do no evil' race:
'Yahoo has been Wikipedia's longest-standing corporate supporter, and with this dedication of resources we will be able to offer Wikipedia content to a growing worldwide audience, while maintaining full flexibility in our ability to expand relationships and freely distribute our works.'

Wales said in a Yahoo blog that Yahoo's donation was 'purely charitable,' adding that it came with no advertising requirement and 'no ownership or control of our work by Yahoo of any kind.'
Japanese retailers using electronic paper to post prices : From the retailer's point of view, this is a god-send. Just having daily price changes implemented immediately and accurately is a huge benefit.

I can remember in my retail days walking through our stores and cringing whenever I saw product still ticketed with old (usu higher) prices. We were fairly agressive at getting better costs from our vendors, which almost always translated into lower prices for our customers. So when the store failed to advertize that lower price on the shelf, it was a bit of a kick in the teeth, since it meant lost sales and left-over inventory that would have to be marked down or returned.

From the consumer's side, though, I can see reason to be wary of this technology. There is lots of opportunity for retailers to abuse this power (ex. price changes continually, so the price at the cash may be different then the price you saw on the shelf).

Also, you can't argue with a printed piece of paper. An electronic price tag? Must be something wrong with the system.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Dabblers and Blowhards : All I can say is... ouch!
Powazek: Just a Thought: Bloggers Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Journalists :
"To become a journalist, you have to go to school, go to college, intern at some crap paper, work for crap wages, write whatever dreck the established writers don't want, put up with ego-maniacal, power-mad, amateur Napoleon editors who will freak out if you put a capital letter in the wroNg place, and do this all for years and years before they let you near a story that matters.

To become a blogger you have to register for a free account, slam your index fingers into a keyboard a few times, and click POST.

Tell me again how those things are the same. Tell me again how they both deserve equal protections. I mean, with a straight face."

Monday, April 04, 2005

Economist.com: UN set to waste lots of money on digital divide :
"Fewer people in poor countries than in rich ones own computers and have access to the internet simply because they are too poor, are illiterate, or have other more pressing concerns, such as food, health care and security. So even if it were possible to wave a magic wand and cause a computer to appear in every household on earth, it would not achieve very much: a computer is not useful if you have no food or electricity and cannot read."

The state of Canadian B2C e-commerce :
"About 48% of the Canadian online buying population are information seekers who had an idea of a product they wanted to buy, yet needed more information through comparison shopping to make their decision, the survey found. About 41% of online buyers are shoppers on a mission who know what they want to buy and where to buy it. And 11% of online buyers are impulse shoppers who did not have an intended purchase but came across something they saw online and bought it."

Sunday, April 03, 2005

bopuc/weblog: Purple Cross : Apparantly the lights on the cross atop our fine city were rumored to be set to purple when a pope passes away. Click through to see the photographic evidence.
What if the users decided where the books should go? (PDF) : Here are the slides from the folksonomies talk I gave at GSLIS last month.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Wireless in the classroom : Last week I was talking with a few other folks on campus about the use of wireless access in the classroom. There are a few pilot projects currently underway at the university, with some preliminary results coming back already. The response from those teachers involved has generally been positive. Only a minority and issues relating to classroom management (ex. students surfing and checking email when they should be paying attention.).

I'm not sure how much value I would place on having wireless access in the classroom, especially in I am a big believer in never demoing anything live. Screenshots all the way. Less interactive, but less likely for something to go wrong.

Now if there was some kind of application that the students could make use of during the lecture, that could be useful. Maybe something like an IRC chat backchannel that would be recorded and saved to the class website. Or maybe something more elaborate, like the Marquee annotation system developed at Xerox Parc or the eClass initiative at Georgia Tech.

In considering these applications, though, I think it is important to question whether we are addressing a real deficiency in the classroom experience, and if technology is in fact the best way for the problem to be addressed.

Maybe having an application isn't so important. Maybe wireless in the classroom is more of a convenience factor, just like installing an electrical outlet or phone in the classroom. Some teachers may make pedagogical use of it, but mostly is just makes it easier for teachers and students to do the things they normally do.
Gizmodo: Dell Sells Samsung Q30 as Latitude X1 : Earlier this week I pointed to the new Dell Latitude X1, and made a comment about Dell probably picking the design "off the overseas shelf", and not it turns out that not only was I correct, but that Samsung has a laptop using the same design!

I have to admit that I'm a bit disturbed by this trend. I prefered the idea of computer companies actually designing and manufacturing their own products. I know this is a dated idea, but it feels more reassuring then the idea of Dell, Samsung, etc being simple resellers.

It would be interesting to know which of their products they still engineer themselves.
Laptop lacks powered USB ports : I dropped by the McGill Computer Store yesterday to give the iPod shuffle another look. Someone there was kind enough to call IBM and ask if my Thinkpad X30 had powered USB ports. As I feared, it doesn't.

I was willing to deal with a slower xfer rate over USB 1.1, but not being able to recharge the iPod while it is plugged in is a deal breaker.

My top choice right now is Creative's MuVo Micro N200.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Medical graduates can't find work in Quebec :
"Problems arise because the Federation of Medical Specialists works with the province to come up with the number of specialist positions needed, but the total is deliberately underestimated. The reason is that experience has shown not every graduate immediately steps into a job."

My question: why are job openings based on availability of graduating professionals and not on need?
Etienne Wenger talk at GSLIS : Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of sitting in on Etienne Wenger's talk at GSLIS. It was a small, informal get-together which made for some very good conversation.

It did feel slightly ironic that I should get a chance to meet Wenger just days after deciding to stop my doctoral research, which was to be based primarily on his theories of communities fo practice. After his talk, I did have a chance to give him my elevator speech, and he seemed to feel that it was a very interesting and worthwhile topic.

The event left me feeling energized and even more interested in communities of practice then I was before. My focus now will be to find ways to apply my ideas, rather then having to spend the next several years of my life thinking about them in a more detached manner.