Teachers’ lack of fair use education hinders learning, sets bad example

Here's how bad it is: not a single teacher interviewed for a recent study on copyright reported receiving any training on fair use. 苏州美睫美甲

Copyright confusion is running rampant in American schools, and not just among the students. The teachers don't know what the hell is going on, either, and media literacy is now being "compromised by unnecessary copyright restrictions and lack of understanding about copyright law."

That's the conclusion of a new report from the Center for Social Media at American University. Researchers wanted to know if confusion over using copyrighted material in the classroom was affecting teachers' attempts to train students to be critical of media. The answer was an unequivocal "yes."

One teacher, for example, has his students create mashups that mix pop music and news clips to comment on the world around them. Unfortunately for the students, the school "doesn't show them on the school's closed-circuit TV system" because "it might be a copyright violation."

One big problem is that few teachers understand copyright law; they follow guidelines drawn up by school media departments or district lawyers, or they rely on books that attempt to lay down principles appropriate for an educational setting. As the report notes, though, this advice is generally of the most conservative kind, while long-established principles of fair use may afford far more rights—especially in a face-to-face educational setting.

Researchers found that teachers may not understand the law (or may understand it to be unduly restrictive), but that they deal with their confusion in three different ways. Teachers can "see no evil" by refusing to even educate themselves about copyright, on the thinking that it can't be wrong if they don't know it's wrong. Others simply "close the door" and do whatever they want within the classroom, while a third group attempts to "hyper-comply" with the law (or what they perceive the law to be).

The results can be less-effective teaching tools. One teacher profiled in the survey wanted to promote literacy among kids who might not be enthused about it, and he thought that using lyrics from the Beatles and Kanye West might be a good way to do it. The license holders wanted $3,000. The report's authors claim that a robust understanding of fair use would give educators far more confidence about using such materials in the classroom.

Because teachers aren't confident in the rules and have no training in fair use, many rely on rules of thumb with no real basis in the law. One teacher, for instance, told her students, "If you have to pay to use or see it, you shouldn't use it," though uses of such works for commentary, criticism, and parody are explicitly established by US copyright law. The result is students that are even less-informed about copyright law.

Creating a new "code of practice" for educators could go some way toward fixing the situation, especially if such a code were blessed by major library and teachers' associations.

But the basic issue is the fear of lawsuits that could cost a school district tens of thousands of dollars. Because the four fair use principles are intentionally left vague (so that they can cover a huge variety of situations), those in charge of local copyright guidelines tend to issue rules far more stringent than those obviously required by law. This new report hopes to show educators that by learning a bit more about copyright, they can have confidence in crafting a broad array of teaching tools and classroom assignments, even when those involve bits of copyrighted work.

Examining the security improvements in Leopard

There have been several articles on Leopard's new security features popping up on various Mac websites but, so far, they've all been little more than rewrites of the security section in Apple's list of 300 new Leopard features. However, Rich Mogull's How Leopard Will Improve Your Security on TidBITS goes much further. 苏州美睫美甲

Interestingly, Rich starts by touting Time Machine as a big security win. A good way to keep your data from prying eyes is to delete it—don't forget to "erase free space" with the appropriate security options in Disk Utility, though—but that also kind of defeats the purpose of having data in the first place. Time Machine makes sure you get to keep your data to secure it another day.

The next improvement that Rich points out in Leopard is "stopping buffer overflows." Well, that's not actually what Leopard does. Even in Leopard, writers of applications, libraries, and operating system components can still write code that fails to restrict input data, allowing it to be written beyond the memory buffer set aside for this it. Therefore, buffer overflows are still possible. But the whole point of a buffer overflow exploit is to get the system to execute code sitting in that excess data—"arbitrary code" that can do something on behalf of the attacker. What Leopard does is randomize the location of various libraries in memory. This means that the attacker can't simply make the program jump to a known library location as part of the next step in its attack. Library randomization isn't foolproof—an attacker can still get lucky or be very persistent—but it certainly derails the vast majority of buffer overflow attacks.

The article goes on to talk about "identifying and defanging evil apps" in the form of tagging downloads, explains how vulnerable system components run in a "sandbox," and more. Personally, I'm very interested to see what the firewalling improvements amount to. Applications can be firewalled individually in Leopard, but it's unclear at this time how fine-grained that control is.

Using antennas to see really small stuff

A lot of the recent developments in microscopy have centered on visible light (400-650nm) or near-infrared light (700-2500nm). This is because detectors are most sensitive to visible and near-infrared light and most commercial lasers operate in this wavelength range. The problem is that nothing interesting happens in this wavelength range. Most objects are reasonably transparent to light over the visible and near-infrared ranges, so images are generally created by labeling a region of interest with florescent materials, which then glow in the presence of the laser light. Another problem with microscopy is the diffraction limit, which tells us what the smallest resolvable image is. In most cases, this is something like the wavelength of the light (around 400nm) and that is too big to be able to resolve individual proteins or DNA molecules. Microscopy, using mid-infrared light and optical antennas to beat the diffraction limit may enable high resolution microscopy that can also identify the chemical it is imaging. Here, we report on some recent progress in developing the tightly focused light source required for such a microscope. 苏州美睫美甲

As we have discussed in other articles, there are methods for defeating the diffraction limit. For example, light can be guided in some structure that is tapered to a tip whose dimension is much smaller than the wavelength of light (say 10nm). If the outside of the tip is conductive, the light excites the electrons, causing them to collectively vibrate down the guiding structure. At the end of the structure, the electrons release the energy as light, as if it had been conducted down the structure. However, the light is emitted in every direction and is only very intense right at the end of the tip. The intensity of the scattered light can be used to map a surface with a resolution about the same as the tip diameter.

Using this and similar techniques, scientists could, in principle, resolve an individual protein molecule. The difficulty is that the protein is transparent to the light used and if we use a florescent label, we are imaging the label not the protein. In other words, labels are very useful when looking at populations of proteins (or other molecules) but are of more limited use when studying individual molecules.

Enter the quantum cascade laser, which is a unique class of laser that emit in the mid-infrared (3-5 micrometers). These lasers use a very finely structured semiconductor to weakly confine electrons in very small boxes. The boxes give the electrons a set of well-defined energy levels to occupy. When a voltage is applied, the electrons travel from box to box in such a way that they must transition down an energy level with each move. For every transition, they release a photon of light and the presence of photons can stimulate electrons to make the transition, hence a laser is born. The difference is that the wavelength of these lasers are limited only by the physical dimensions of the boxes, meaning that we are no longer stuck with laser light colors given to us by nature. Quantum cascade lasers have found their niche in the mid-infrared and infrared (3-15 micrometers), where they make a lovely reliable source for people wanting to do spectroscopy.

The thing that makes this interesting is that almost every molecule in existence absorbs somewhere in the mid-infrared, making mid-infrared spectroscopy a key tool for identifying and understanding molecules. The problem is that the diffraction limit means that you can only resolve objects around three micrometers big. In principle, the quantum cascade laser could be used to detect the absorption from a single protein molecule, but it can only tell you where that molecule is to within three micrometers.

Now a group of researchers from Harvard, with support from Agilent, have combined the ideas used for high resolution imaging with quantum cascade lasers. To do this, they deposited a couple of metallic strips on the emitting face of the quantum cascade laser, forming an antenna. This metallic layer absorbed a lot of the light from the laser, causing the electrons to oscillate coherently. The light emitted from the gap between the strips is very intense because it gets most of the energy from the antenna. However, it also radiates in every direction, so the intensity is only very high near the gap. Imaging with such a laser will reveal features on the order of the gap size, which is about 100nm. This is still too big to reveal single proteins, but is certainly much smaller than most microscopes operating in the mid-infrared.

Now, there is a downside to this. Unlike normal laser diodes, quantum cascade lasers aren’t really that tunable. If you ask for a quantum cascade laser with a wavelength of five micrometers, that is what you will get. Unfortunately, spectroscopy really requires accessing a broad range of colors, all in the mid-infrared. This means that the light source will have to be different if this is to be employed as a generalized microscopy tool. However, there are plenty of applications where the ability to image the locations of a few key chemicals would be required to obtain useful information. There is certainly room for a specialized instrument utilizing this technique.

Applied Physics Letters, 2007, DOI: 10.1063/1.2801551

ICANN probing “insider trading” allegations with domain name registrations

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has begun an investigation (PDF) into accusations that some insiders may be using inside information to collect data and purchase unregistered domain names that get a lot of DNS lookup requests—nonexistent domains that surfers frequently try to access. ICANN refers to the practice as "domain name front running," adding that it—along with several registrars and intellectual property attorneys—has received a number of complaints from registrants suggesting that such a thing has occurred. While the organization currently has no solid evidence on the matter as of yet, it feels that an investigation is warranted in order to nip in the bud any perceptions that the domain name industry is involved in unethical activity. 苏州美睫美甲

ICANN's Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) likens the practice to stock and commodity front running, which occurs when a broker makes a personal stock purchase based on inside information before fulfilling a client's order. An insider to one of the popular domain registrars can see which domain names are popular with visitors, even if they are not yet registered. That person can then register the domain, knowing how much traffic it could get before the general public does, with the intent to resell it at a profit later.

While the practice is illegal when it comes to stocks and commodities, it is much more cloudy when it comes to domain names. ICANN recognizes the lack of regulation covering this area and makes it clear that a stronger set of standards needs to be established. "ICANN's Registrar Accreditation Agreement and Registry Agreements do not expressly prohibit registrars and registries from monitoring and collecting WHOIS query of domain name availability query data and either selling this information or using it directly," writes the SSAC. "In the absence of an explicit prohibition, registrars might conclude that monitoring availability checks is appropriate behavior."

The SSAC report comes just a day after news leaked that Verisign, a major root name server operator, was considering selling access to select DNS server lookup data. DomainNameNews first broke the story, saying that sources had indicated the company would provide "lookup traffic" reports on specific domains. The sources also said that pricing for the service was not known, but that it could cost up to $1 million per request.

The SSAC is now calling for public discussion of the situation in hopes of gathering more data and coming up with standardized practices on how to manage it. The committee suggests that those involved with domain name registrations "examine the existing rules to determine if the practice of domain name front running is consistent with the core values of the community." If registrants continue to find what they consider to be evidence of the practice, SSAC requests that users submit incidents to [email protected] with as much information as possible, including specific details of domain name checks and copies of any correspondence with the believed to be engaged in domain front running.