Friday, December 5, 2014

Final Comments: Open Knowledge - Changing the Global Course of Learning


This is primarily aimed at the people I coach and mentor

I am now at the end of this course.  What am I taking away from it?

Before I commit to that, it is pertinent to repeat that I am not in the business of ‘scholarly research and publishing’.  I am a coach and mentor working with people who live and work in Zimbabwe.  My work is to help people to learn how to do their jobs better and how to build their personal capacities. 
So some of what I learned is relevant, but certainly not all.  What is relevant is “open access” and the growing body of people and organisations committed to providing that access.

What is also very obvious – and very relevant – is that scholarly people and scholarly institutions in Zimbabwe are way behind the curve on these developments.  While there may be some limited understanding of the principles, there is no evidence at all that it is being applied.

Should I care about this?   Yes.   Should I try to do something about changing it?  Perhaps.  But as I am outside this field of academic learning, I can do little of substance and if I try to do so, I will deflect myself from my purpose.   So let me stay with my purpose.


One of the early learning notes I have is that the concept of ‘openness’ does not mean simply freedom from payment.  It has a larger meaning – free to collaborate, discuss, explore, create.  It is this ‘freedom’ that is being made available by scholarly institutions and the Internet.

Another significant piece of learning is that the ‘digital divide’ is not a division of data ownership; it is a division of who can put the digital data to work.


Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today

Open Access

From David Wiley I learned that Open Access is about the ‘4 R’s’ – the openness to Re-use, Revise, Remix and Redistribute

Digital Ethics

Latterly I have learned that the growing privacy concern – identity theft, fraud, genetic testing, cellphone tracking, credit and card fraud and internet privacy and security.  These concerns have the capacity to destroy the internet.

Coincidently I learned from outside this course about Digital Ethics which has a direct relationship to the privacy concern.  Gerd Leonhard who describes himself amongst other things as a ‘futurist’ taught me something about the future of humans in a connected world.  Technology does not have (or not have) ethics.  It is people who behave ethically or not.  Ethics are moral principles which govern a person or a group’s behaviour.  Value systems, dictates of conscience, virtues, moral code.  The future of the Internet depends on ethics.  And as I followed Leonhard’s views, it dawned on me that the Internet – and the country in which I live – is filled with immoral behaviour.  I reflected on how to change this behaviour.  Clearly Leonhard is trying to do so.  What can I do to help?  The future of the good that the Internet provides depends on it.

Some interesting statistics: -

1.       We don’t have a choice on social media – the choice is how well we do it
2.       Worlds Populations – 1. China, 2. India, 3. Facebook, 4. Tencent 5. WhatsApp.  6. USA, 7.Google
3.       More people own a mobile device than a toothbrush
4.       1 in 5 couples meet online
5.       The fastest growing demographic on Twitter is grandparents
6.       Two new people register on Linked-In every second

Amazing Learning

Alec Couros was an introduction – for me – into how some people are using the internet for the most amazing learning projects. 

Personal Knowledge Mastery

Suggests that we learn more if we ‘learn out loud’.  Share your learning and you will increase the depth of mental processing.

Paradoxes (Inconsistencies, Ironies, Contradictions)

Andrew Feenberg gave a boring presentation that many people did not like.  But he is an intellectual who needs to learn how to present himself.  Perhaps there are many intellectuals who need to develop this skill.  He taught me about some paradoxes –
a.      The paradox of the obvious says that what is most obvious is most hidden. 
b.      The paradox of Origin tells us that behind everything rational there lies a forgotten history. 
c.       The paradox of the frame says that efficiency does not explain success.  Success explains efficiency. 
d.      The paradox of the means – the means are the end.  I am what I drive. 
e.      The paradox of complexity – simplification complicates. 
f.        The paradox of Value and Fact – Values are the Facts of the future. 
g.       Finally the paradox of Conquest – the Victor belongs to the Spoils.  (Something we know in Zimbabwe where the victors enjoy enormous ill-gotten wealth at the expense of the ordinary people).

Anyone can Make a Difference

Chandra Clarke told us that anyone and everyone can get involved in bringing about a difference.

With Empowerment comes Responsibility

Brian Conly’s parents taught him that he could do anything but with it (whatever he does) comes responsibility.  We need more of that understanding in Zimbabwe.  ‘Empowerment’ does not mean the freedom to do anything.  With empowerment comes responsibility to do ‘the right thing’ (ethics)

The Internet will bring Freedom

Evgeny Morozov thinks that the Internet will bring democracy and through it, we will never have another Rwandan genocide.  Nice thoughts.  I don’t agree. There are far too many places in this world that are still ruled by fear and it is likely to continue.  (I keep asking myself how we can change the behaviour of unethical people and governments within the boundaries of ethical behaviour change.  The Christian Church has been trying to do it, without success, for 2000 years)

The “Prosumer”

Vincent Manzerole was somewhat oblique but I understood the overall message – consumers are being led by the nose by the ‘capitalists’ who market and sell their products and services. Consumers want what everyone else is perceived to already have, so the smartphone has been developed to create an audience for advertising and marketing products.  We can see this in the release of the iPhone 6. Once one person buys one, everybody on the globe must have one too. Do we really need one? Probably not, but the perception that we must have one is generated through social media. So the rich become richer and the rest of us go back to work to earn more money to buy the next version of whatever it is we already have.  We are now described as ‘prosumers’ – people who produce and consume all at the same time.  Are we on this free MOOC at Stanford prosumers? I guess we are. We are consuming knowledge and at the same time producing it in some small way, as well providing Stanford with a multiplicity of data analytics, which is why are getting a ‘free lunch’ perhaps?

Citizen Journalism

Henry Jenkins told us that the Internet brings hidden challenges to ethics.  “If it’s on the Internet it must be true”.  Citizen journalists are at risk of telling untruths to get attention.  (In my experience it is also ‘professional’ journalists.  A look at what The Herald publishes almost daily will tell you that. We need to help young people learn ethics (hear, hear!) and to have enquiring, research oriented minds.  We need to teach children to play, to simulate, to perform, to appropriate, to multitask, to distribute cognition, to work at collective intelligence.  We also need to teach them judgement to network and to negotiate across diverse communities.

Copyright and Fair Use

We learned about copyright and fair use.  How the Internet is changing the face of scholarly publishing.

Social production is a real fact, not a fad. It is the critical long-term shift caused by the Internet. Social relations and exchange become significantly more important than they ever were as an economic phenomenon. In some contexts, it's even more efficient because of the quality of the information, the ability to find the best person, the lower transaction costs. It's sustainable and growing fast. But it is threatened by the incumbent industrial systems in the same way that everything new is threatened by the status quo.

Intellectual Property Rights and the History of Publishing

Richard Stallman told us that ‘intellectual property rights’ are nothing more than monopolistic policy rights introduced by the rich against the poor.  Hmm!  I wonder if that idea will take hold.

John Willinsky gave us insight into the history of publishing.  The most interesting learning for me was that in the 17th Century, John Locke created the concept of ‘common property rights’ – and the first time in history property did not belong to the King, but to everyone for his labour.  What a pity that John Locke’s principles do not apply in Zimbabwe where property still belong to “The King” and he has the right to distribute it to whomsoever he sees fit.

The Polymath Problem

From Michael Nielsen we learned of the ‘polymath’ problem – a successful collective solution was enabled through collaboration online.  This project gives rise to the idea that collective learning  and ‘crowd science’ will solve more and more problems in less and less time than hitherto and we are on the threshold of a massive spike in global knowledge.

The Khan Academy

Khan is changing the rules of education.  Others – opponents to the status quo – are calling the Khan Academy ‘hacked education’.  What matters is does it help people to find and/or create opportunities.

Open Educational Resources (OER)

In October we were asked to engage in an activity – to access an OER (Open Educational Resource) and evaluate it.  I looked at an OER on Emotional Intelligence.  I rated it highly, albeit that I found some parts of it that I did not like at all.

Later I found myself in conversation with two of my colleagues.  This was a huge step forward in my educational progress on this course – the opportunity to collaborate!  Professor Peter Johnston suggested that in the past and present people have been and are judged on pieces of paper but in the very near future people will be judged by continuous assessment – on what they can do – rather than on whether their parents were rich enough to send them to a particular college.  Thus the people who are willing to adopt a policy of ‘lifelong learning’ will rise to the top.

The three rules to spark learning: -

1.       Inspire curiosity
2.       Sort out the mess (by trial and error)
3.       Encourage reflection

Open Journal Publishing

The last month of the course was devoted largely to the progress being made in Open Journal Publishing as it relates to scholarly publications.  While this had its points of interest, it is largely outside my personal frame of reference.

But some gems: -

Predatory publishers

Predatory Publishers are, just like e-mail spammers, corrupting Open Access.  These predators exist mainly in Nigeria, India and Pakistan.  Scholars must be wary of them for they seek to seduce research scientists to publish in exchange for tenure at a university.


Publishers do much more than publish.  If you want to know anything and everything about publishing look no further than

Information Overload

In Week 10 we learned of ‘Information Overload’ and its cause – ‘Filter Failure’.  Clay Shirky tells us we need to learn how to filter.  Easier said than done but a worthwhile lesson.  Howard Rheingold told us how to detect ‘crap’ information through ‘critical consumption’.  Simply put:  Don’t believe everything you read/hear.  Be critical in your consumption of knowledge.

During my research on Information Overload I came across an article from one of my student colleagues.  One Dave Pollard told us that he believes we are in the early stages of collapse: -

1.    Corporations have given up the pretence of being ethical
2.    Politicians have given up the pretence of being representative
3.    Lying has becoming rampant, overt and even socially acceptable.
4.    Widespread use and acceptance of “ends justify the means” 
5.    Human activity (litigation, security, financial “products” etc.) is focused on defending the status quo rather than producing anything of value. 
6.    The illusion of growth has become totally dependent on increases in oil and in debt
7.    Acceptance of obscene inequality
8.    Denial of reality, across the political spectrum
9.    Widespread cynicism and acceptance of conspiracy theories
10.  Search for and willingness to believe in charismatic people and magical solutions
11.  Ubiquitous spying and corporatist surveillance
12.  Self-colonization and the emergence of “apologism” and mandatory optimism
13.  Widespread anomie and the trivialization and co-opting of dissent by professional activists

I had to look up the term ‘anomie’.  It means a disconnection between one’s personal values and one’s community’s values. 

In winding up Pollard tells us: -

“Today, after several centuries of adversarial strife, we are left with several classes of professionals who practice politics for profit, and who are bent upon revenge. They seem to measure their success exclusively by the failure of their opponents, and their only interest is in gaining some kind of advantage, regardless of its effect on the country as a whole. They do not fear the voter because history has taught them that the U.S. voter has a very short attention span and can easily be misled, bamboozled and confused.”

This is not pleasant reading.  It enters the realms of ‘state of fear’.  Pollard is talking about America, not Zimbabwe!  Apply the 13 reasons to our own system of governance.  What do you come up with?  What can we do – all of us – to change this?   Do we have to change the system?  Perhaps we do.

Adults are like Children (and vice-versa)

I sent Pollard’s URL to my son in the UK.  He didn’t like its pessimism but he sent me another URL titled ‘The Printing Press, Literacy and the Rise and Fall of the Secret Society of Adults’.  A fascinating look at how the Internet and television have made children more like adults and adults more like children  If you have the time and the inclination: -

Information Literacy

Through the Internet we also learned how ‘critical information literacy’ enables students to believe that they have the ability to change the world.   The Information Literacy Users Guide: -
1.       Identify:                               Understanding Your Information Need
2.       Scope:                                 Knowing What Is Available
3.       Plan:                                      Developing Research Strategies
4.       Gather:                                Finding What You Need
5.       Evaluate:                             Assessing Your Research Process and Findings
6.       Manage:                              Organizing Information Effectively and Ethically
7.       Present:                               Sharing What You’ve Learned
8.       Visual Literacy:                  Applying Information Literacy to Visual Materials
9.       Science Literacy:               Information Literacy in the Sciences

The Intentional Learner

And then – “The Intentional Learner”.  INTENTIONAL LEARNERS can adapt to new environments, integrate knowledge from different sources, and continue learning throughout their lives

Are YOU an Intentional Learner?  Learner Centred Education places the STUDENT at the centre of learning, and the teacher (trainer/mentor/coach) takes second place.

Information Literacy

Michael B. Eisenberg told us that “Information Literacy” is the set of skills and knowledge that allows us to find, evaluate and use the information we need, as well as to filter out the information that we do not need.  And Jagtar Singh told us that people may have different viewpoints of Information Literacy but it is a hard fact that only the info-literate’s can stay ahead in this era of discontinuous change and fierce competition.

The Social Progress Index (SPI)

From Michael Green we learned of the “Social Progress Index” (SPI) which he suggests is a more relevant index for judging the state of a nation’s progress than the GDP.  I Googled the SPI and found hundreds of countries with a measure.  But Zimbabwe is not one of them.  We are not on the list!


Dr Maria Martin from South America writes an open article suggesting that the MOOC would soon become the norm for Higher and Vocational education.   Maria Konnikova disagreed.

Closing Remarks

If I am to practice what I preach I must now ‘Learn Out Loud’ and share what I have learned by passing this on to you so that you can learn. 

There are some learning gems here.  On what we should be doing as learners.  On Intentional Learning, on learning so that we can take care of the future (which is more important than what we know today), on being critically competent.    On putting the learner at the centre of learning and letting the ‘teacher’ take second place.  This means taking our own responsibility for learning and not asking or waiting for others to do it for us.

If you want to change the world or perhaps just change yourself and help your business to grow – you know now what you have to do.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Week 11 : Academic Research in Zimbabwe


I made a blunder!    I completed Week 13 before I had completed Weeks 11 and 12.  So here I am back at Week 11 where we have been covering academic research in developing countries and more specifically, Africa.

In our videos and readings there was nothing at all about Zimbabwe

What is Happening in Zimbabwe?

So I did some rudimentary research on Zimbabwe’s preparedness for Open Access and the current state of affairs relating to the dispensation of scholarly knowledge.   I started by contacting an old friend, Howard Dean.  Howard was at one time the Director of the Institute of People Management of Zimbabwe (IPMZ) and had, and still has, a deep interest in scholarly research.  He started a journal under the umbrella of IPMZ which I recall reading in years past.  It was titled "The HR Journal of Academic Research in Zimbabwe" and Howard published HR related academic research through the journal.   However, in the midst of the Zimbabwe hyper-inflationary spiral of 2000-2008 he was unable to continue to finance the journal and it is now very much extinct.

Howard had his own take on the current state of affairs which was depressing.   The Zimbabwe economy is once again in disarray and he was of the opinion that little is being done in academia to promote and publish academic research.  But he put me on to Roger Stringer, a former Director of the University of Zimbabwe Publishing Department.

I spoke with Roger at some length on the telephone and he had similar views to current activity as Howard.  But he was aware of the work being done in Zimbabwe by INASP, AuthorAID and AJOL.  He told me of a journal titled Zambesia which published research done in the humanities and the Zimbabwe Journal of Agricultural Research both of which have, he believes, disappeared from the landscape.

Roger is still publishing under the name of ‘Textpertise’ but his work is largely in support of Aid Agencies. 

Google Searches

I then Googled a few sites and came across: -

The Zimbabwe Country site: from which I discovered that a few ‘research’ articles have been published of late but unfortunately they lack empirical research of any kind and are more anecdotes than scholarly research articles.  Nonetheless they were of interest and I read ‘Reflections of a Trainer’ who trained the Zimbabwe Parliamentary staff in on-line research practices and  the abstract of “Building a Digital Library at the University of Zimbabwe”, a Book by Buhle Mbambo-Thata, published on June 3, 2007

Once again this book is purely anecdotal.

I Googled 'Zambesia' and found several links to bird life.  There was also reference to a main belt asteroid named Zambesia and discovered in 1932 by C Jackson in Johannesburg. 

Nothing related to academic research of any kind

I then Googled the University of Zimbabwe and ZULC – the Zimbabwe Universities Libraries Consortium.    I learned from the ZULC website that in June 2012 they were calling for papers to present at The Zimbabwe International Conference on Open Access, June 15, 2012.  Unfortunately it was not clear whether or not the conference was ever actually run as there was no follow up information of any kind.

Where to now?

So what is happening in Zimbabwe vis-à-vis Open Knowledge, Open Access and scholarly publishing?    The questions are yet to be answered.   I have e-mailed the author of ‘Reflections of a Trainer’ and hopefully this will result in future contact.  I shall also make it my business to visit the UZ Library in the near future when time permits.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Open Learning: Week 13


This week has been a little easier to handle than previous weeks –perhaps less to digest.

The Opportunity of Abundance

From “The Opportunity of Abundance” with Brian O’Leary I learned that the publishing business in the USA and probably worldwide – is in turmoil with the advances being made by digitalization.   Here in Zimbabwe publishing is not big business and is largely confined to newspapers.  The Zimbabwe Independent (newspaper) is having its problems.  Probably more because of the depressed Zimbabwean economy than the technical revolution.  But they have to publish online to be visible, yet they obviously don’t make much money publishing online.  Advertising is limited.  So they delay the digital copy by a few days in an effort to get readers to buy the hard copy.  The hard copy has a lot more information than the digital.  The Zim Independent is caught between a rock and a hard place – in order to survive they have to make money to pay the staff and the other overheads.  Yet in order to survive they also have to be online.

Openness: Decoupling the Future to Radically Improve Access to Education With David Wiley

I have ‘met’ David Wiley before on a previous MOOC so much of this presentation was not new to me.  But it did reinforce his views.  One question which Wiley raised but never answered is that college fees in the US have risen way above national inflation levels.  Why are college fees rising so steeply against standard inflation?

It was worth visiting Wiley’s website.  I sent him an e-mail asking him to answer this question.  So far no response!

Perhaps the most valid comment from this video: “The future is already here – it just isn’t evenly distributed yet”

Knowledge Unlatched

We were introduced to ‘Knowledge Unlatched’ through two short videos that were easy to follow. The principle behind the movement is Libraries pay a Title Fee to an author.  The Title Fee is fixed.  The more libraries that join Knowledge Unlatched, the more shared the costs and the lower the overall cost.


The readings focused on changes happening but not yet solidified in the publishing of scholarly articles and then a short discussion on MOOCs – the past and the possible future.  The most interesting discussion was brought to me by a fellow-student -  LauraF888.  In the discussion she referred us to which is a recent (7 November 2014) critique of the MOOC phenomenon.  It brought to mind my first e-learning experience which was on a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) with ILM (Institute of Leadership and Management).  Before we started the organisers told us what was needed to successfully learn online.  So for the benefit of my two readers here’s the requirements as so succinctly stated by ILM: -

Successful distance learning, particularly online, requires the learner to have certain characteristics, in order to fully engage in the learning process. These are:
1. academic and emotional maturity
2. specific goals
3. the ability to work alone
4. the capacity for self-starting
5. self-understanding and self-motivation
6. persistence
7. patience
8. self-confidence
9. reading and writing ability;
10. Contacts who can help with content problems; and an academic support system (at home and at work).

I have found these characteristics to be largely correct and I recall discussing them with a fellow-student in China on my first MOOC – E-Learning and the Digital Space.  She suggested that ALL learners in whatever environment needed all these characteristics.  I argued that a lot of students (in classrooms) do not have these characteristics and the work of the teacher very often, is to instill them.  This led to another discussion which is not important here.

But what is important is that those who enroll on MOOCs need these characteristics to succeed and when they don’t have them, they are likely to drop out.  Perhaps what is needed to keep them on track is a mentor.

Will the MOOC die a natural death because it is not fulfilling the perceived objectives of the organisers?   Remembering that the perceived objectives of the organisers is to bring education to the ‘developing world’ and to those who ‘need it most’

That remains to be seen.  For the moment there are still thousands of people enrolling on MOOCs from all over the world and when the success rate (completion rate) is only 10%, when 100,000 people enroll and 10% succeed, 10% translates into 10,000 – a large number of better educated people.

Final Thought

As a final thought:  I am not sure who put this in my head but it has great significance

“The quality of education depends on the depth of mental processing”

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Open Knowledge: Week 10

Information Overload and More

This has been a useful week of learning on Information Overload, Filter Failure and Information Literacy.   The problem with overload is not all that new.   There is so much to learn.  This course has also been a case of ‘information overload’ and I have seen a few comments from people who have become lost in the myriad of information that has been presented to us.   Without my Learning Log I would be in deep trouble.  I passed on the idea of the Learning Log to one troubled learner from Asia and he has thanked me for it.

Clay Shirky tells us that it's not Information Overload - it's 'Filter Failure'  

I find there is a disconnect between what we were told by Dr. Levy in his short presentation in the street where we saw dozens of people walking across the street while texting/talking on their mobile phones or sitting on street corners working on their laptops and what we are told by Shirky and his ‘filter failure’.  I am suffering from information overload right now, not because of filter failure but because I want to learn while I am also working.  I have been on MOOCs before and had to do a lot of extra work to learn, but I have not been bombarded with as much information previously.  On this course I have personally filtered OUT the ‘Additional Resources’ simply because I have to filter out something to remain sane.

In consequence I have learned of additional values to the use of learning logs as a result of this last week.   I now realise the LL has enabled me to move from being a nondescript learner to what the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) terms an INTENTIONAL Learner.   An Intentional Learner, according to ACRL is one who ‘can adapt to new environments, integrate knowledge from different sources, and continue learning throughout their lives’ and it has also enabled me to (partially) deal with the massive information overload that many of my colleagues on this course must be experiencing.

A Learning Log

I commend the Learning Log to all my blog readers (well, both of you).  In a nutshell (to avoid even more information overload): -
1.  Write up your learning experience
2.  Record the source of learning and in this day and age, include a URL link
3.  Write up your thoughts about what you have learned – do you agree with the source?  Does the information have value?  If yes, what kind of value?  Do you need to explore more from other sources?
4.  How and where will you use what you have learned?

Another very useful piece of learning was to identify the traits/skills/habits of ‘Information Literacy’.  IL is the set of skills and knowledge that allows us to find, evaluate, and use the information we need, as well as to filter out the information we don’t need. 

So filtering is a key IL skill.

Crap Detection

Howard Rheingold introduced us to 'Crap Detection' and the need for curiosity.  It's not only on the Internet that one needs to beware of 'crap'.  We get enough of it from news agencies the world over.  It struck me that because of 'crap' all of us need a mentor, whether young or old, rich or poor, we need to discuss what we are learning with someone else. 

Jagtar Singh 

Jagtar tells us that IL should include learning to know, to do, learning to work together, and learning to be better than the best.

I can’t put it better (or shorter) myself

Doherty, J.J. and Ketchner, K. 

in a 2005 paper titled ‘Empowering the Intentional Learner: A Critical Theory for Information Literacy Instruction’ tell us more about the IL person:

“in order to thrive in the 21st Century, the intentional learner should be: -
1.  empowered through a mastery of intellectual and practical skills;
2.  informed by knowledge about the natural and social worlds and about forms of inquiry basic to those studies;
3.  and, responsible “for their personal actions and civic values.”

I like the reference to responsibility for all too often in Africa I hear about ‘empowerment’ but so rarely about ‘responsibility’ 


To conclude this has been very useful to me this week because I was approached by a former friend who has a son who has been given management responsibility at his place of work and he needs to learn the basics of management.  I have been able to apply some of the principles of Intentional Learning to help this young man achieve a better future.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Week Nine: Scholarly Publishing

We have focused this week on scholarly publishing.  The old and the new.  The traditional and the Open Access. I think that my major learning point this week is that publishers do a lot more than just publish.

1.       They register – and time stamp to officially note who submitted scientific results first
2.       they certificate through peer-to-peer reviews,
3.       they disseminate scholarly articles
4.       And they preserve them for posterity.

Elsevier – one of the world’s largest scholarly publishers employs and/or supports thousands of people – editors and staff,  editorial board members and 300,00 referees and 600,000 authors

Then we have ‘predatory publishers’ emanating from the third world, disrupting and corrupting the business – although I suspect the predatory publishers can be quite easily identified.

We also learned about the peer review process.  The complexities, the differences between blind, double blind and ‘OPR’ (Open Peer Review).  We also learned that the peer review process, which is considered an essential element of ensuring quality of scholarly publications, doesn’t work very well at the best of times.

In the end the future of publishing will come down to ‘money, money, money’.   Will the Open publishing houses survive?  Will the massive publishing businesses put open publishing out of business?  Will the University press survive?  Or will the demand for ‘open education’ smother the demand for money?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Open Knowledge and Wikipedia

Catch Up

I need to write a summary of Week 8.  I have been busy at work, I have been busy at home and I have been busy on the golf course.  I haven’t devoted the time that I should have to the week, so now here I am at the end of Week 8 and I had a lot of catching up to do.

I am fascinated by Wikipedia.  I have used the site time and time again over the last two or three years and never really thought too much about veracity, quality, gender bias, management of the site and who does and does not contribute.  I have never made a contribution.  Perhaps I should one day.  Recently I visited the site of some dinosaur footprints in Zimbabwe and found something original that I could contribute to Wikipedia.  However, not for now as I am too busy on this course – and as I have stated already, other activities in my abnormally busy life of a 70 year old.


I read Tom Simonite’s critical comments about Wikipedia, and yes, there just has to be some holes that need filling.   His report is not concise but it is surely complete.  Titled 'The Decline of Wikipedia' he complains largely of the quality of information, the disillusionment of many of the contributors, the gender bias of the contributors and the authoritarian management by the administrators.

From the Editor

Then I listened to Jake Orlowitz - a Wikipedia editor and administrator.  His passion for his work is obvious.  I liked his talk about the Medical facts, the opportunities and challenges of producing information that is of high quality and most of all, correct.   One of my friends went to the doctor the other day and was told he had the beginnings of what might be a cholesterol problem.  His doctor told him to search the web for information on diet.  He found what he wanted on Wikipedia.  Hopefully the information was correct, but then every dietician and health fanatic has a different take on what we should and shouldn't eat.

In a You-tube video titled Community, Cooperation, and Conflict in Wikipedia – with John Riedl a report was provided but at 1.25 hours long and my limited internet speed, this was not reviewed by me.


To summarise my view – for ordinary people like me to ‘find what I’m looking for’ in sometimes very obscure requirements for knowledge, Wikipedia definitely offers a starting point.

The originators and the current management team must be commended for their vision of a world in which every person on the planet shares the sum of all human knowledge

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Open Knowledge Week Six - Open Science, Data, Access, Scholarship

Michael Nielsen

I wrote about Michael Nielsen in a previous blog.  Suffice it so say he was our introduction to this week's work.

Next came a video that was 1.25 hours long and too long for me.  If you want to look at it here's the link.  This was a recent discussion/debate on Open Knowledge

David Cameron Neylon

Neylon - an Australian - took us through "From Network Architecture to Concrete Action".  He was riveting in his enthusiasm.  I have but one reservation.  Neylon assumes that we are all doing research for the common good (otherwise we wouldn’t get the funding) but what of some scientists doing research not for the common good.  After all, Openheimer was funded to create the atomic bomb and in the end it may have saved lives but it created the most destructive force on this earth.

And there are destructive people out there.  Many of them.  I won’t politicise this debate by naming them or their organisations.  The fact is they are there and they could use ‘Open Access’ for destructive means.

How do we deal with that?

Jack Andraka

Andraka is a 16 year old who, through Open Access came up with a way to detect pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer in a new inexpensive and foolproof way.  If this doesn't sell 'Open Access' nothing will.

Towards another Scientific Revolution was a paper that brought all the video material in to focus.

Peter Suber

Peter Suber has written a book on the subject of Open Access.  He is easy to read and clearly an expert in his field.  Apart from the book, he lectures on OA around the world and has submitted many contributions to the Internet in the past.  Some excerpts from his book

“Digital technologies have created more than one revolution. Let’s call this one the access revolution”

“Imagine a tribe of authors who write serious and useful work, and who follow a centuries-old custom of giving it away without charge. I don’t mean a group of rich authors who don’t need money. I mean a group of authors defined by their topics, genres, purposes, incentives, and institutional circumstances, not by their wealth. In fact, very few are wealthy. For now, it doesn’t matter who these authors are, how rare they are, what they write, or why they follow this peculiar custom. It’s enough to know that their employers pay them salaries, freeing them to give away their work, that they write for impact rather than money, and that they score career points when they make the kind of impact they hoped to make. Suppose that selling their work would actually harm their interests by shrinking their audience, reducing their impact, and distorting their professional goals by steering them toward popular topics and away from the specialized questions on which they are experts”

There was one other highlight in the reference to the Budapest Open Access Initiative which lays down guidelines for OA.  

Crowd Science

Finally here's a link to a very interesting article on 'Crowd Science' and some of the projects that have worked in the recent past.

It seems to me that OA is here and here to stay.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Michael Nielsen and Open Science


This is a 2006 Ted Presentation.  Michael Nielsen talks first about the Polymath problem which was initiated by a mathematician at Cambridge University – Tim Gowers.  Gowers posed a mathematical problem on his blog and invited others to contribute.  After a slow start the project took off and in a very short time the mathematical problem was collectively solved.

Nielsen then talks about other similar type projects which failed – the Qwiki project failed.  This was a proposal to host a Wiki site for scientists for them to share their knowledge.  But they didn’t.  Nielsen suggests that this is because of professional jealousy of a kind and where individuals seeking good jobs woukld not share their knowledge lest they fail to secure the good jobs they are seeking.  He goes on to describe how scientists from the past including such giants as Galileo, Newton and Da Vinci also failed to share their knowledge with other great scientists of the time.

Nielsen then goes on to suggest that scientists can be motivated to share their knowledge.  One way fo doing so is for others to always give credit to those with original ideas and discoveries.

My Take

Why don’t scientists like to collaborate?  Perhaps it is not as Nielsen suggests.  Perhaps it is because most scientists are men and men are traditionally not the kind of people who share ideas and knowledge.  It is women who are driving Facebook and now even Linked-In.  It is women who communicate sometimes with feverish abandon.  My experiences on MOOCs has been that the majority of players are women, not men.

Perhaps also when a scientist has a new idea or discovery he is not immediately convinced himself that his idea or discovery has real merit and rather than expose himself to ridicule, he hides his idea waiting to see if others can generate anything similar?

If I am anywhere right on these thoughts, then these issues also need to eb addressed to ensure the scientific collaboration works in the future.

One final thought.  

The world is being shaken by the Ebola pandemic.  What is being done, collaboratively, to find a vaccine and a cure?  Or are scientists around the world working on this problem in traditional isolation?

Monday, October 6, 2014

An Interlude with the Footprints of Dinosaurs

Day One

It is Thursday the 2nd of October 2014 and now three-thirty in the afternoon.  We have arrived, at last, at Masoka camp on the shores of the Angwa River in the Zambesi Valley. It is tranquility personified.  There is a gentle breeze flirting through the Natal Mahogany trees bringing a relative coolness to the three of us.  We are Tony Wood, an old friend and former colleague at Tulley's back in the 1980's, Andrew Scothern from England.  Andrew lives on the south coast near Poole and he is here for a fortnight because he loves Africa.  All three of us love the true Africa.  The bush, the wild, the freedom and the raw nature

We set out from Harare just after half past eight and we have travelled some 350 kilometres past the somewhat hideous National Army Defence College built some years ago by the Chinese, down the Golden Stairs road and through the Mazowe Valley once resplendent with ploughed fields, orange orchards and agricultural plenty.  Today we see some signs of land preparation for the coming rains but not much.  Then on through Mvurwi where I lived as a 6-7 year old back in 1951.  We find Mvurwi to be an untidy, unplanned, grubby village - they call it a town.  The buildings are dilapidated.  A fairly typical African township of this century.  Back in 1951 there were just three buildings of substance.  The house where we lived, the postmaster’s house next door and the post office.  A little later came a Police Station.  We manage to find our old house.  I recognise it because of the 'porthole' windows in the passageway that led from the living room to the bedrooms.  And I also recognise the double wooden garage door where one day long ago a policeman shot a rabid dog that had found its way into our unfenced garden.  And on another day a massive Egyptian Cobra.  The paint - what's left of it on the garage door - is flaking off.  There is a broken old car that surely will never move again sitting in the driveway, a woman in the garden with a little 'picanin' who looks much the age that I was in 1951.  I was the 'picanin boss' way back in 1951, so called by Gandy, the borehole pump attendant.  Gandy used to take me wandering through the bush in 1951 looking for crickets, frogs, beetles and other equatorial bugs that thrived in the lush veld.  Somehow the veld doesn't look lush today.  The veld is dry, much of it has been recently burned by bush fires, there is rubbish everywhere in the township, on the road verges, in the vicinity of buildings. 

We drive on to Guruve - formerly Sipolilo.  Today the road is 20 foot tarmac all the way.  In 1951 it was nothing but dirt but once we pass through Guruve the road narrows and eventually the tarmac is so broken that we drive on the far left on the dirt.   We pass the farm where I learned to swim with Mrs Francis and her son Malcolm who was my first real friend.  Malcolm and his daughter were brutally murdered on the farm only six months ago.  We reach the top of the Zambesi Escarpment and stop for a cup of coffee and a pee.  Then on down the road which long ago used to be known as the 'Alpha Trail'.  Now though we are on good tarmac road.

Soon we are down at Mahuwe.  I visited Mahuwe as a Section Leader of a Police Anti-Terrorist Unit in 1973.  Then it was just a Tsetse Fly Gate where one had to stop to have the vehicle sprayed for Tsetse Fly before proceeding southwards up the escarpment.  Today it is much more.  A Police Camp, a Post Office, a school and several stores selling basic groceries and beer.

The bush seems different.  Very sparse.  I recall in 1973 one could not really see much more than 100-200 metres because the bush was so thick.  But as we move on so the bush returns to its old self.  I realise that the bush around Mahuwe has been partially denuded by human hand whereas beyond it has not yet met such fate.  I am reminded of flying in to Lubumbashi in the Congo some years ago.  Descending we were over thick tropical forest but as we neared Lubumbashi so the trees thinned out and by the time we arrived at the city airport there wasn't a tree to be seen.  Only huts with tin roofs and dirt roads. 

As we drive on to Mashumbi Pools on the banks of the Manyame River we pass through areas of virgin bush interspersed with human habitation.  In some places where there is habitation we see the remains of last winter’s cotton crop.  At one stage a 30 tonne lorry passes us heading towards Harare loaded to the gunwales with cotton bales.  Good to some agricultural activity.  Near Mashumbi we pass a road sign "Mr and Mrs J Nzou and family" pointing towards a traditional African kraal.

We have been travelling north towards the Zambesi but at some point we turn west and eventually we are heading South back towards the Escarpment.  The road is now a track.  Once again we pass the odd settlement in between miles and miles of virgin bush.  We are in Mopani and Baobab tree country.  Tony tells us that one of the unusual trees we see is an African Star Chestnut.  The baobabs are beautiful in their ugliness and massive size.  Andrew asks if the baobabs make good wood for fires.  No, says Tony, that's why they are still here.

From time to time near habitation we pass schoolchildren in their uniforms.  They all wave cheerfully at us and we wave back.  It is not only the schoolchildren - it is everyone who waves in cheerful salute.  We see a satellite dish at one school, solar panels at another.  Some form of technological advancement gets everywhere it seems.

We stop for a bite to eat and something to drink under one of the African Star Chestnut trees which is perched on top of a massive anthill.  We are attacked by Mopani bees swarming around our eyes and ears.  We have seen thousands of weaver bird’s nests but not many birds themselves.  Tony, a bird enthusiast, tells me that they are White-Browed Sparrow Weavers.  He doesn’t particularly like them because they are so plentiful.  Perhaps the birds are resting at the moment from the heat of the mid-day sun.

And then we arrive at Masoka to be met by Mac, the owner, Teach and Animal.  Tony tells us that he booked us ahead by means of an sms to Mac who now owns this little camp on the banks of the Angwa.  Mac, Teach and Animal help us with our kit to our rooms, show us the shower and the toilet and where to hang our clothes.  Then they disappear and leave us to contemplate the view with a beer in hand.  We are free for the rest of today.  Tonight we will have curry but no rice.  Jan, Tony's wife, forgot to pack the rice!  Tony suggests we could have salted chips with the curry seeing there is no rice.

Tomorrow we have Chapter 2 of this adventure ahead of us.  Andrew does not know what lies ahead. I have some idea and nearly let the cat out of the bag in the Land Cruiser but I remember and keep it to myself for now.  Tony wants to spring a surprise on his old friend from a previous life.

Day Two

It's morning.  We had a great evening.  Tony managed to buy 2 kgs of rice at the local store for $2.00.  But before we had dinner we had much excitement.  A herd of elephant came down to the river.  The river is dry with nothing but sand to be seen.  It is a hundred and fifty or more metres wide.  Under the sand there is water which it seems has attracted the elephant.  They hung around for a half hour or more before wandering back to their preferred habitat for the night.

Later it was curry and rice a la Tony Wood.  Good wholesome stuff.  Followed for me by a few whiskeys while Tony consumed several beers before it was off to bed.

This morning it is overcast.  Tony doesn't like that.  Nor do I. We both want sunshine.  After a light breakfast we head off through the bush.  We see birds of all kinds.  A Carmine Bee-Eater, a Southern Black Tit, a Western banded snake eagle, a Racquet-tailed Roller, Boehms Spinetail and several of the ubiquitous White-Browed Sparrow weaver - some from the millions of nests visible in the trees.  The nests are all facing westward on the westward side of the trees.  Could help with navigation on an overcast day.  Why do they prefer the western facing nests?  Tony doesn't know.  Neither does his Bird-App on his phone so there is something for him to find out about them.

Two hours and sixty kilometres later, and now in bright sunshine we stop first to buy a 'visa' to enter the Chewore controlled hunting area.  I ask the Game Warden about wildlife in the hunting area.  He tells me that they used to have 400 rhinoceros but when the number dwindled through poaching to just eight, they relocated the remaining to Gona-re-Zhou in the south of the country.  But the hunting area is filled with lion, kudu, impala and other game.

A half hour later we arrive at a river bed and stop on the rocks.  There to our delight and to Andrew’s complete surprise embedded in the rock are several dinosaur footprints fossilized in the stone from several million years earlier.  It is a wonder to consider how long ago it might have been that this dinosaur that made these footprints walked the earth.  How it had walked in what was then mud that later solidified and eventually fossilized under the weight of the increasing layers of silt.  Then millions of years later the river started to flow and over the eons washed away the covering soil eventually exposing the footprints to the surface.   And today we three are some of the very fortunate few to witness them in this, one of the wildest remotest places in Africa.

If my memory serves me correctly these footprints in the stone were first discovered by Mick Raath in the mid-sixties.  Mick was a student with me in Jameson House at Prince Edward School.  On leaving school he went to the University of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and it was while he was there that he made this incredible discovery.  What kind of adrenaline rush did he experience when he first saw them, I wonder?

We take photographs, consume some biltong, swallow a litre of more of ice cold water and/or beer and then head back stopping first at a viewpoint looking south over the forest of Mopani sprinkled with a few green Msasa trees to the faraway hills in Zambia.  Then on to Murara Hill where there is an airstrip, a safari camp and a recently dead baboon.  We have also seen Kudu earlier this morning and later we see some Impala.

From Murara we head back to Masoka stopping once more on a river bank and walking into a Mahogany forest which is clearly a favourite place for elephant and buffalo judging by the amount of dung and the flattening of the grass.

Now it is four in the afternoon. We have had an experience of a lifetime to remember forever.
Tomorrow we are heading home but tonight we look forward once again to the elephants rumbling their way down to 'our' river.

Somehow I feel enriched.  The unusual sight has been well worth the tortuous ride in Tony's Land Cruiser - conveniently fitted I might add, with a very superior fridge which operates off the car battery. Hence the earlier cold water and beer!

In the dusk evening light we consume our ‘sundowners’ and later enjoy some delicious sirloin steak and chips.  Tonight we don’t see the elephant.

Day Three

We rise early, consume some coffee and muesli and pack up our bits and pieces.  The elephants appear in the river to say good-bye.  The driver’s side rear wheel is soft and Tony produces an electric pump that operates off the car battery.  We pump it up to 2.5 bars, say good-bye to Mac, Teach and Animal and head off back to Harare.  I try to read my homework from a course I am attending on the Internet.  I have pre-printed my homework but the Land Cruiser lurches along so violently that it is almost impossible.  Eventually we reach the tarmac after a tortuous two hour ride.  We stop to pump up the tyre again with the Escarpment visible in the near-distance.   At Mahuwe we are stopped by the police for a moment, then cheerfully waved on.  On and up the Alpha Trail to the top of the escarpment, through Guruve and on to Mazowe.  I gaze at the landscape.  We see acres and acres of once ploughed land, now vacant and unutilized.  In some lands the trees, stumped out years ago are showing signs of re-growth, up to two or sometimes three metres high.  There are a resurgence of ant-hills.  From time to time we see new traditional African huts have been constructed.  There is a change though.  While the roofs are all thatched, some of the hut walls are constructed with bricks.  Only here and there some small area of land has been ploughed by hand ahead of the coming rains.  No wonder Zimbabwe cannot feed itself anymore.

At Mazowe we stop at the junction which meets the Bindura-Harare road to allow for an oncoming 4 x 4 to pass, then turn right and head towards Harare.  A hundred metres on we are stopped at a Police Road Block.  A policeman asks Tony for his driver’s licence which he promptly recovers from the side door pocket.  The policeman stares at it for a few moments, then returns it.  “You did not stop at the Stop Sign” says the policeman referring to the junction 100 metres away.  Tony and I are furious at this brazen attempt to solicit a bribe – for that is what he is after.   We both tell the policeman that he is a liar and a thief and we drive on leaving him standing in the road to attempt to fleece another driver.

Here in Mazowe there is a service station and we stop once more to pump of the tyre with the slow-puncture, then head up the hill, past the Mazowe dam and on to Harare.  Our three day sojourn into the previously unknown is over.


Back home I get on to the Internet.  I am wrong about Mick Raath.  Mick was not the discoverer of the Chewore Dinosaur footprints. Mick discovered dinosaur fossils in Nyamandlovu and elsewhere in Zimbabwe but the discoverer of the Chewore footprints was an Australian on a hunting safari – a Mr Mike Aldersey.  The footprints are said to be from a 3 metre high carnivorous dinosaur called ‘Allosaurus’.  A ‘biped’ in that it walked on two legs, not four.  The site is the ‘Ntumbe River Bed’ and here are 14 footprints to be seen. Later after clearing the bush a total of forty-five footprints were discovered.  What we saw was the original 14 prints.  The site is also said to be frequented by lions and one researcher who visited the area was attacked by lions.  According to the Internet visiting Chewore without firearms is not to be recommended.   Now they tell me!