The coming war on general computation


our regulators go off, and they blithely pass these laws, and they become part of the reality of our technological world. There are suddenly numbers that we aren’t allowed to write down on the Internet, programs we’re not allowed to publish, and all it takes to make legitimate material disappear from the Internet is to say “that? That infringes copyright.” It fails to attain the actual goal of the regulation; it doesn’t stop people from violating copyright, but it bears a kind of superficial resemblance to copyright enforcement — it satisfies the security syllogism: “something must be done, I am doing something, something has been done.” And thus any failures that arise can be blamed on the idea that the regulation doesn’t go far enough, rather than the idea that it was flawed from the outset.


As a member of the Walkman generation, I have made peace with the fact that I will require a hearing aid long before I die, and of course, it won’t be a hearing aid, it will be a computer I put in my body. So when I get into a car — a computer I put my body into — with my hearing aid — a computer I put inside my body — I want to know that these technologies are not designed to keep secrets from me, and to prevent me from terminating processes on them that work against my interests.

Excerpt from The Coming War on General Purpose Computing

I have been using my blog more and more as a locker for media that is important to me, linking to the original while taking a copy and retaining it here at  I have resolved to do this more as I find increasing frequency of link rot in my bookmarks and RSS feeds – most notably within MP3 blogs. This talk is over 2 years old and is all over the internet … but what if it was pruned by a swath of ToS takedowns or another raid?  I keep returning to this talk to reflect on how these conditions impact my kids so I’m doing my part to ensure this important talk remains downloadable, geo-block-free, & DRM-free and will be making an effort to do more of this here.

What prompted me to return to this talk? I listened to the CBC Spark episode The Digital Skills Divide with Anabel Quan-Haase.  The research referred to in this episode noted how the rise in popularity of smartphones has negatively impacted digital literacy and skills in youth.  This notion of the digital divide isn’t simply about information access, it also considers how increasingly the personal computing platforms we use are black boxed and app-stored.  This move away from general purpose platforms is impacting digital literacies and running counter to what we are trying to achieve as educators.  Ababel says,

We need to think of children not just as users of information and consumers, but rather we need to think of them as being the creators and developers of what the internet of tomorrow will be. For that, they’ll need a wide range of skills that are a combination of the hard and soft skills that are so important for young people to learn.

Luckily there is pushback to be found online like Team DTLT‘s Domain of One’s Own and the diversification of maker culture – putting more general purpose computing back into the hands of not just users, but learners and creators.  More on this topic also at The Coming Civil War over General Purpose Computing.

The Coming War on General Computation [mp3]



The Langley Schools Music Project

I knew virtually nothing about conventional music education, and didn’t know how to teach singing. Above all, I knew nothing of what children’s music was supposed to be. But the kids had a grasp of what they liked: emotion, drama, and making music as a group. Whether the results were good, bad, in tune or out was no big deal — they had élan. This was not the way music was traditionally taught. But then I never liked conventional ‘children’s music,’ which is condescending and ignores the reality of children’s lives, which can be dark and scary. These children hated ‘cute.’ They cherished songs that evoked loneliness and sadness.”

~ Hans Fenger

In 2000, a WFMU fan in Vancouver by the name of Brian Linds submitted a vinyl rip of songs from an album he picked up in a thrift store titled The Langley Schools Music Project to WFMU DJ Irwin Chusid. He played it on his radio show to enthusiastic reactions from station listeners and staff, prompting Irwin to request further tracks from the record.  Brian sent a rip of the entire album to Irwin along with a photocopy of the album sleeve. Irwin starting tracking down some of the names on the album in hopes of getting more information on the project – and hopefully re-releasing it.

Irwin managed to find one school administrator who knew of Hans Fenger – listed as “musical supervisor” on the album.  When he managed to get in touch with Hans, who was at that time teaching music at an elementary school in Vancouver, he expressed his wish to re-release the recordings on CD and got the green light. Through Irwin’s determination, the recordings were released on Bar None Records, spinning a further incredible series of events into play.

I have found mentions of this project and a few tracks on MP3 blogs over the years, but this weekend I came upon a short documentary featuring more context, history, interviews with the students (now well into their 30s), and reflections from Hans Fenger.  I gathered the documentary pieces and stitched them together below.

There are so many things I love about this story: reclaimed vinyl treasures, the role of the freeform radio DJ, the crucial role of arts education in children’s lives, and the profound impact of good teachers.

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