Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Tuition-Free "University of the People" Now Open

Brainchild of Israeli entrepreneur Shai Reshef -- who has donated $1 million of his own money to the effort -- the UN Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technology and Development (GAID) sponsored University of the People opened for business the first of May, 2009 with programs of instruction in business and computers. The institution is "online only" and opened with 200 students from some 52 countries -- but it needs 15,000 students and $6 million to continue operating.
Admission opened just over two weeks ago and without any promotion some 200 students from 52 countries have already registered, with a high school diploma and a sufficient level of English as entry requirements.

Students will be placed in classes of 20, after which they can log on to a weekly lecture, discuss its themes with their peers and take a test all online. There are voluntary professors, post-graduate students and students in other classes who can also offer advice and consultation.

The only charge to students is a $15 to $50 admission fee, depending on their country of origin, and a processing fee for every test ranging from $10 to $100. For the University to sustain its operation, it needs 15,000 students and $6 million, of which Mr. Reshef has donated $1 million of his own money. _UN
It sounds as if the infrastructure is still being assembled, and the May 2009 opening is actually something of a trial period shakeout cruise. More about Shai Reshef:
Mr. Reshef hopes to build enrollment to 10,000 over five years, the level at which he said the enterprise should be self-sustaining. Startup costs would be about $5 million, Mr. Reshef said, of which he plans to provide $1 million.

For all the uncertainties, Mr. Reshef is probably as well positioned as anyone for such an enterprise.

Starting in 1989, he served as chairman of the Kidum Group, an Israeli test preparation company, which he sold in 2005 to Kaplan, one of the world’s largest education companies. While chairman of Kidum, he built an online university affiliated with the University of Liverpool, enrolling students from more than 100 countries; that business was sold to Laureate, another large for-profit education company, in 2004.

Mr. Reshef is now chairman of Cramster.com, an online study community offering homework help to college students.

“Cramster has thousands of students helping other students,” said Mr. Reshef, who lives in Pasadena, Calif., where both Cramster and the new university are based. “These become strong social communities. With these new social networks, where young people now like to spend their lives, we can bring college degrees to students all over the world, third-world students who would be unable to study otherwise. I haven’t found even one person who says it’s a bad idea.” _NYT
As long as the university is run far, far away from the UN and its kleptocratic bureaucracy, it may well succeed. No doubt some palms are being greased at GAID to allow the use of the UN's name in marketing the concept. But if the behind-the-scenes hands-on managers of the UOP can run things without interference from the Palace of Thieves on Turtle Bay, they may actually create something good that benefits a lot of people.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Where Is Switzerland on this List?

Impact Lab
The top ten most peaceful nations:
  • 1 New Zealand,
  • 2 Denmark,
  • 3 Norway,
  • 4 Iceland,
  • 5 Austria,
  • 6 Sweden,
  • 7 Japan,
  • 8 Canada,
  • 9= Finland,
  • 10= Slovenia.
The Global Peace Index, a report prepared for the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace in conjunction with the Economist Intelligence Unit, ranks 144 countries in a league table of peacefulness.

The index defines peace as “the absence of violence”.

Twenty-three criteria on which the league table is compiled include political stability, risk of terrorism, murder rate, likelihood of violent demonstrations, respect for human rights, internal conflicts, arms imports and involvement in foreign wars. _ImpactLab
The ten least peaceful countries:
  • 1 Iraq,
  • 2 Afghanistan,
  • 3 Somalia,
  • 4 Israel,
  • 5 Sudan,
  • 6 Democratic Republic of the Congo,
  • 7 Chad,
  • 8 Pakistan,
  • 9 Russia,
  • 10 Zimbabwe
Like any such list, it was compiled more for political reasons than to be informative. You have to take it with a tonne of salt. But there is plenty to think about. These are calculations generally done by the subconscious mind, on local, regional, and global levels. Every time we consider a travel route or a vacation plan.

People do not emigrate from Switzerland or the Cayman Islands to Egypt or Gaza.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Pick Any Lock, Fleece Any Flock

You would like to believe in a world that is safe from terrorists, thieves, spies, and busybodies. But that would not be the truth. There is no lock that cannot be hacked. The security procedures of governments, corporations, and homes is more of a convenient fiction than a reality.
Tobias thinks of himself as a humble public servant. When he attacks the Kryptonite bike lock or the Club (or those in-room safes at Holiday Inn or Caesars Palace), he's not a bad guy—he's just Ralph Nader with a slim jim, protecting consumers by exposing locks, safes, and security systems that aren't actually locked, safe, or secure. At least, not from people like him.

The problem, if you're a safe company or a lock maker, is that Tobias makes it all public through hacker confabs, posts on his Security.org site, and tech blogs like Engadget. He views this glasnost as a public service. Others see a hacker how-to that makes The Anarchist Cookbook read like Betty Crocker. And where Tobias sees a splendid expression of First Amendment rights, locksmiths and security companies see a criminal finishing school. Tobias isn't just exposing problems, they say. He is the problem.

But forget bike locks and hotel room safes: These days, Tobias is attacking the lock famous for protecting places like military installations and the homes of American presidents and British royals...

...Kids study Tobias' online video, crack the lock off Dad's Glock, and put holes in things that shouldn't have them. Enterprising junkies embark on habit-feeding crime waves. Hotel rooms, no longer secure, become magnets for burglary and rape. High school truants walk the halls shimming combination locks off rows of lockers. Crime gangs use Tobias' case study to copycat the 2003 Antwerp diamond heist, while tech terrorists simply co-opt the master list of Marc Weber Tobias problems to outwit America's Keystone Kop-homeland security and generally blow stuff up. The world is unzipped. And our innocence—not to mention a good deal of our cash, jewelry, and portable electronics—is lost.

Tobias shrugged off such concerns, along with the hate mail. Scaring citizens to attention is part of his educational program. "Do you really think ignorance will keep you safe?" he asks. "Is it even an option?" ...

..."It's not about me. It's about what these locks protect," Tobias says. "Medeco locks are the best in the world—that's why they're used by the Pentagon, the embassies. These agencies believe that the locks can't be picked in under 15 minutes, that they can't be bumped, that you can't trace keys onto plastic. It's the definition of high security—and it's wrong! We proved it."

"Look," he says, taking it down a few notches. "If we can do it, so can the bad guys. Medeco needs to acknowledge it and let the locksmiths know it—and the DOD, FBI, CIA, Secret Service, and all their clients." _Wired
And so we are left with a world without security. Nothing is safe, not really. But if that is true, are we not better off knowing the facts and learning to take the necessary precautions? Is it not past time for us to outgrow our psychological neoteny, and to move through our rites of passage into adulthood?

That is when the fun really starts.