December 2008 Archives

My Ongoing Identity Crisis

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Cole Camplese's word of the week is identity, which is an interesting follow-up to community. As I commented in my posting on the word community I believe that each person is actually a member of multiple communities and may have multiple "identities."

The next question is how does the community define identity? For me, I think the key point is what beliefs commonly shared by the community are also shared by you. Even though I've been an instructional designer for almost a decade, I still feel connected to an "inner linguist" because I feel that many of the values of that discipline are still important to me that aren't always expressed in instructional design (e.g. the need for exact phonetic transcripts).

On the other hand, I do have an instructional designer identity (especially in terms of project planning and course development). If I'm feeling like a lost linguist sometimes at ETS, I know I would be in conflict with my inner instructional designer at a linguistics presentation (the land where we don't use PowerPoint only because we don't use any classroom tech at all).

I know I can define my identity by the communities (or communities of practice) I participate in, but I also seem to define identity by where I'm NOT (a way to contrast myself with others). Although contrast is vexing, I would say that it can be interesting for defining your internal identity. For instance, I didn't really feel like a full-fledged member of the American community until I had a long summer trip to Europe.

Triannual DMCA Exemption Fest

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One provision of the DMCA act is that every three years, the community can petition for exemptions to the no-hacking clause. A popular theme this year is a request of exemptions which allow users to unlock DRM if the authentication scheme goes awry (e.g. the central server crashes, the vendor goes out of business, or you lose your license in a disk crash.) Another is a request to expand the rights of instructors to rip clips from DVDs (even if they are not doing a film studies course).

Interestingly some requests are for continuations of exemptions already granted (e.g. Braille readers).

Defining "Community" vs Diversity

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Cole issued a challenge for the community to define "community". As it turns, out this question is also relevant to discussions we have been having about whether there is a divide in our community.

I think everyone agrees that "community" is some sort of group, but which kind? The main problem in defining "community" is that "community" is so widely used, it now has a variety of meanings some of which may contradict each other. Some communities interact voluntarily (e.g. my embroidery group), others semi-involuntarily (e,g, the contestants on most reality shows) and others just share just one trait in common (e.g. the American community).

In terms of identity also, most people are members of multiple communities. Even a woman in a "simple" nomadic tribe is both a woman and a nomad. Which community is more important to her? It may depend on the situation.

Are there any generalizations about multiple configurations of communities? I think for me it's important to remember that any community is really a group of individuals, each with the potential for unique quirks and needs. Sometimes each member of the community wants the same thing (more Christmas vacation!), but not always (or even frequently).

And not every member of a community has to share all the traits. A community of students is defined only by student hood, but other traits such as iPod ownership, Windows usage and so forth are up for grabs. You can design a course for the perfect Windows user with an iPod, but don't be surprised if you get a question from a Mac user with a Zune player.

In the rush towards more community engagement, I hope we don't forget the individual aspect. There is a fine line between reaching consensus (healthy) and group think (not so much). Community conflict is an inevitable byproduct of diversity within the community, but I'm learning that this may be a good thing.

Although few people like conflict, I think it's the real strength of what diversity brings to us. I think a lot of us think of "diversity" as the side dishes different regions or cultures choose to eat with their Thanksgiving turkey. That is, minor differences which mesh together and enrich everyone, but don't necessarily force us to change our own behavior or attitudes.

But diversity also means conflicting points of view, often within the same community. Understanding and accommodating divergent points of view necessarily means that a person has to challenge an assumption somewhere, and we all know how painful that can be.

People who argue on behalf of a divergent point of view may actually benefit the entire community. I am constantly amazed at how many of my individual civil rights have been protected by members of the American community I otherwise cannot stand. Larry Flynt of Penthouse fame ensured the right of parody as free speech. Communities wanting to teach creationism in charter schools ensure that we can also teach environmentalism or an indigenous heritage in other charter schools. Strage consequences indeed.

I've talked about how communities can split apart, but can communities also come together? I certainly hope so, because being involved in a functioning community is great thing. But I sometimes think it's something to be earned, not necessarily assumed.

P.S. Aren't you glad you were able to skim this lengthy passage instead of reading ALL of this text?

MathML for IE7 Update

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My last write-up on MathML indicated that I was having problems implementing MathML on Internet Explorer 7.

As it turns out I did get a rapid note from Design Science, the creator of the MathType equation editor which explained that MathML could be implemented on Internet Explorer 7 and they sent me a link to their MathML documentation at :

I did want to expand my horizons, so I read their information. First, they did admit that there is no set of code that will work on all browsers (Math ML in IE 7 has a slightly different syntax). Fortunately, they do provide Javascript code for a browser sniffer.

In terms of viewing page in IE 7, you may have to download the MathType plugin. The first time it runs, you will likely get a security warning. You need to right-click and agree to run the Active X control.

IE Math ML Test Page

I did get MathML to run on my version of IE 7 (finally), but it looks like developer will be creating double versions of MathML for a while.

Comment on Future Support

As with any browser war, there is a question of which version of MathML within HTML will be supported in the long run. Both implementations have their annoying quirks, I am placing my bets on the Firefox raw MathML win HTML version. One reason is that it is supported by Firefox and Opera which are known for promoting cross-platform standards. Indeed, the Firefox solution is the one used at the W3C MathML Test Suite. Also It's also the only method which works on any Mac browser at all (and yes there are technical researchers who do use a Mac). If you want Mac & PC, this is the only route.

A key player may be Safari - it would be interesting to see if they developers at Apple choose to implement the Firefox solution, the Microsoft solution or nothing at all.

Time for a Montenegran Web Site?

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While I was Brett's Gaming Commons blog entry on the totally awesome RJDJ interactive music application for the iPhone, my inner geek noticed that the download was actually from with the .me domain

I knew about the .tv domain (which is really the South Pacific island Tuvalu), but this was new so I checked it out. The .me domain is in fact from the country Montenegro (one of the many republics formed from the former Yugoslavia), and it has only become available in January 2008. from

By July though, it turned out that GoDaddy was having a little problem sorting out multiple applications for and other popular .me ideas. It's always great to see how international protocol interacts with the marketplace.

Speaking for the former Yugoslavia though, we did lose a potential domain treasure when their original domain .yu was discontinued. Alas, there will not be any over18funfor.yu sites coming our way any time soon.

MathML Testing & One Weird Benefit

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Math ML is one of those standards that has been waiting for implementation for years. It's been on my list to try "one of these days" and I used an engineering course to try it out. First, it helps that modern equation editors are not exporting MathML files - I wouldn't want to try and code these by hand.

Browser Implementation

Unfortunately, I was disappointed to learn that MathML is inconsitently implemented on the different browsers. It works best in Firefox, but only if you embed the HTML & MathML together in a true XML page (with the <?xml version="1.0"?> header) and change the extension to .xml or .xhtml). The good newa is that If you're comfortable with CSS, you can apply styles to get some very nice effects (either in a DIV or directly on the tags).

See Fake Blog Test Page with MathML (with .xhtml extension)

Update on Feb 4, 2009 - Firefox users should install an MathML font. For now I recommend the font from MIT (scroll down), but the Stix font should be available at some point in the future. I also recommend upgrading to Firefox 3.

The same file will also work in Opera, but with some display quirks (at least for exponents). Safari has no MathML support, but you can kluge some results with the right CSS stylesheet...but that page will look weird in Firefox (sigh).

As far as I can tell, IE 7 is hopeless. Once you change the extension from .htm/.html, IE 7 treats the file as a "random" XML file and can no longer parse the HTML tags properly - everything runs together on the page. I think you could fix the HTML part, but recreating a CSS stylesheet (e.g h1,h2,h3,h4,p,ol,ul: {display:block}...but is it worth the hassle? The real problem is that the MathML does not display correctly.

In theory, there are plugins for MathML for IE 7, but they were designed for older versions of IE. The one I tried hasn't worked so far. To make it worse, when it did work, you apparently had to use an OBJECT tag (in an .html page) which then makes it stop working in Firefox - Arggh.

Update on 8 Dec - I was able to view a version of MathML of IE7, but the syntax is not the same. See the IE 7 and MathML Update entry for details

Weird Benefit

If it ever works, it will be great because the MathML versions display much better than the GIF/JPG files generated by the Equation editor (see below for comparison). You can also make minor edits in the code to fix any typos/formatting issues (such as super tniny exponents)

Image Generated by Equation Editor (Fuzzy)

Fraction - a = 27 r squared times T sub c squared over 64 P sub C

Image of Equation Generated by MathML (Sharper)

Same Fraction Rendered in MathML/Firefox

Which leads me to the weird benefit - I CAN use MathML in Firefox to post the equations and take screen captures for all other browsers. Plus, you can then have a record of the MathML to use for quick corrections. Then...when everyone gets to the same place, it will be nice to have a repository available to plug in later.