Torture can share a structure with a practical joke.
Thirlwell’s piece sketches his reactions to sitting in on the inquiry, taking place in London, into the death of Baha Mousa in custody in Basra in 2003. We live in a country, it seems, that cannot claim to uphold such basic human rights as the right not to be tortured.
The text-cloud application, Wordle, has been taken off-line because of a trademark claim against the use of ‘Wordle’ on the website. I’m not a big fan of Wordle, but I know many people who make use of it, including some who use it in the classroom.
Jonathan Feinberg, the site’s owner, is seeking IPR legal advice and can be contacted <a href=“via his blog.
Luiz Serra, my Brazilian friend and colleague, died yesterday, Thursday 25th February, 2010, after a lengthy illness.
The still above is taken from a very short piece of video of him as he headed to Rio for yet another meeting, and his big smile is how I will remember him. I know our mutual colleagues and friends will remember that smile too for a long time to come.
Luiz was a warm, caring, good-hearted and thoughtful man with whom I and our mutual colleagues and friends had the privilege of sharing many long flights across the world, many enjoyable and productive workshops and meetings with customers, partners and colleagues, and many wonderful conversations of an evening in one part of the world or another, over a beer or two and some good food.
He was passionate about bettering the lives of people in the developing world, and he was passionate about his home country of Brazil. He was a big Europhile too, who loved to visit Europe, and he also loved his tennis, a passion that he shared with his wife, Eliana. His family, of course, were paramount in his life.
The thoughts of everyone who knew him and who worked with him are now with Eliana and their children, Gabriel and Carolina.
Shirky looks at the reasons why the Invisible College of scientists (aka natural philosophers, at the time, and precursor to the Royal Society) were able to supplant the work of ‘their intellectual forebears’, the alchemists, within a period of just a couple of decades in the middle of the 17th century:
The Invisible College, the group of natural philosophers who drove the original revolution in chemistry in the mid-1600s, were strongly critical of the alchemists, their intellectual forebears, who for centuries had made only fitful progress. By contrast, the Invisible College put chemistry on a sound scientific footing in a matter of a couple of decades, one of the most important intellectual transitions in the history of science. In the 1600s, though, a chemist and an alchemist used the same tools and had access to the same background. What did the Invisible College have that the alchemists didn’t?
They had a culture of sharing. The problem with the alchemists wasn’t that they failed to turn lead into gold; the problem was that they failed uninformatively. Alchemists were obscurantists, recording their work by hand and rarely showing it to anyone but disciples. In contrast, members of the Invisible College shared their work, describing and disputing their methods and conclusions so that they all might benefit from both successes and failures, and build on each other’s work.
Greg asks whether today’s teachers are obscurantist alchemists or sharing participative scientists. Shirky’s piece, The Shock of Inclusion, is worth reading in full.
If ABE Books had existed in 1983 when JR Hartley first searched for a copy of ‘Fly Fishing’ he would have been able to avoid trudging the second-hand book shops of Cecil Court (not that such an outing around the heart of London’s second-hand book trade would ever be a ‘trudge’ for some of us). Instead of Yellow Pages, the long tail would have come to Mr Hartley’s help.
The market for second-hand and rare books is one of the best illustrations of the long tail in action. Not only does it enable the JR Hartleys of today’s world to find their out-of-print, rare and vintage books, it also allows savvy book sellers to sell some books for prices above what they would otherwise be worth were they for sale only on the shelves of their shops. And, of course, it enables the existence of booksellers who don’t have shelves and who don’t have shops.
A rare or unusual book on an esoteric subject might only have a potential market of a few hundred, a few dozen, or even just a handful of people from around the world. If that book is placed on a bookshop shelf, lost amidst the hundreds of other titles above, below and on either side of it, it could sit for years unnoticed and, of course, unsold. It might be made a little more attractive to the browsing public if it is offered at a low price, low enough to attract a non-specialist book buyer.
However, placed on an international site such as ABE Books and given a clear description of title, author, condition, year of publication and so on, that book suddenly becomes visible to the handful, or few dozen, or few hundred people around the world who appreciate and understand its worth as an esoteric object. Mouldering on the shelf, it might be worth only a few pounds to the bookseller. Exposed to the long tail online, that book might be sold for tens or hundreds of pounds, because the few aficionados who seek it are in competition with each other to own it.
And it is the long tail that enables a brilliant idea such as Bookdonors to exist and flourish. Bookdonors is a charitable community organization, based in the town of Selkirk in the Scottish Borders, that sells second-hand books through ABE Books and Amazon’s Market Place. They are:
.…a social enterprise trading in used books to help people, charities and [the] environment.…
and in the three years or so since they were founded, they have raised almost £150,000 for the various charities that gather books for it. But, as a Community Interest Company (CIC), a form of social enterprise supported by local enterprise companies across Scotland and the UK, they have also created more than 30 jobs, 40 training placements and many volunteering opportunities. Founders, Lawrie Hayworth and Rona Strathdee have established an ‘inclusive place of work’ that employs a combination of people with disabilities and able-bodied people. As Rona noted in an edition of the Scottish social enterprise magazine <a href=“Good Company [downloadable PDF — 6Mb]:
Our underlying ethos is to treat everyone the same. We look at what people can do, rather than can’t do. We all have equal importance, and everyone has to pull their weight to make it succeed.
Lawrie and Rona have grasped the concept of the long tail and are proving the concept’s worth as a creator of value — in this case for the good of the commnunity rather than for profit:
Demand is high for books in English, the major language in publishing, and this is particularly true for specialist non-fiction titles. If you live in Sweden and are looking for a book on watch repairing, chances are you’ll have to find an English language version.
The Bookdonors model is one that did not exist, could not have existed, prior to the Web. It is wonderful to see the concept of the long tail being put to such enterprising and beneficial use.
Anyone who sees Glow as beleaguered must be talking (or choosing only to talk) to the wrong people. As for a ‘vicious circle of de-skilling’, it’s a phrase that could be put to dangerous use by those seeking to denigrate the project.
Thank goodness there are so many good people out there just getting on with making Glow work in the classroom, and beyond. And thank goodness there are those who remember how many times we said that Glow would not get it right until its second iteration — and the right people are in there already well into the process of working out what that second iteration will look like.
The result is 172 short essays (at the time of writing) from a wide variety of writers, thinkers, scientists and others, including Esther Dyson, Jochai Benkler, Howard Rheingold, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins and a host of others.
Having read a few of the contributions at random, I especially enjoyed the piece by Noga Arikha, described as a historian of ideas (that is a job I would love to do) — here is a rather long excerpt:
I waver between these two positions: at times gratefully dependent on this marvel, at other times horrified at what this dependence signifies. Too much concentrated in one place, too much accessible from one’s house, the need to move about in the real world nearly nil, the rapid establishment of social networking Websites changing our relationships, the reduction of three-dimensionality to that flat screen. Rapidity, accessibility, one-click for everything: where has slowness gone, and tranquillity, solitude, quiet? The world I took for granted as a child, and that my childhood books beautifully represented, jerks with the brand new world of artificial glare and electrically created realities, faster, louder, unrelated to nature, self-contained.
The technologies we create always have an impact on the real world, but rarely has a technology had such an impact on minds. We know what is happening to those who were born after the advent of the Internet and for those like me who started out with typewrites, books, slowness, reality measured by geographical distance and local clocks, the world that is emerging now is very different indeed from the world we knew.
I am of that generation for which adapting to computers was welcome and easy, but for which the pre-Internet age remains real. I can relate to those who call the radio the wireless, and I admire people in their 70s or 80s who communicate by email, because they come from further away still. Perhaps the way forward would be to emphasize the teaching of history in schools, to develop curricula on the history of technology, to remind today’s children that their technology, absolutely embracing as it feels, is relative, and does not represent the totality of the universe. Millions of children around the world don’t need to be reminded of this — they have no access to technology at all, many not even to modern plumbing — but those who do should know how to place this tool historically and politically.
As for me, I am learning how to make room for the need to slow down and disconnect without giving up on my addiction to Google, email, and rapidity. I was lucky enough to come from somewhere else, from a time when information was not digitized. And that is what perhaps enables me to use the Internet with a measure of wisdom.
The newspapers, TV and radio news all feed us with a daily diet of trivialized hogwash about our schools and about the quality of the education offered by the schools to our children and young people. Don, in his video plea above, is looking for anyone with something to celebrate about Scottish education to tell us about it in just a couple of minutes of video.
Teacher, pupil, parent, whatever — it doesn’t matter who you are! If you have something good to say about Scottish education then give Don a listen…and get out that video camera and start talking!
I was able to put Wolfram Alpha to real use for the first time today. Like many, I have only ever really played around with this strange amalgam of search engine and structured data analysis tool to test its limitations (or at least those limitations that fall within my own meagre imagination and capacity to put it through its paces).
I’m flying out to Saudi Arabia tomorrow morning and, while checking-in online for my BMI flight to Riyadh, I was asked for the expiry date on my Saudi visa. Now, the only information available on the visa itself was its starting date — 19th October 2009 — and the length of its validity — 180 days. Rather than dig out a calendar and start to count days off, I simply went to Wolfram Alpha and entered:
19 october 2009 + 180 days
…and immediately back came the response:
Saturday, April 17, 2010
And not only did it give me the date I needed, but I now know that the 50th anniversary of Eddie Cochrane’s death will fall on that same date in April.
Not particularly impressive, I grant you, and it hardly tests the limits of this interesting tool, but for the first time I am able to attest to its genuine usefulness.
My dalliance began with Photoshop 2, using it on an old black and white 9″ Macintosh screen — and I loved it from the moment I discovered it. Now we’re at version 11 with Creative Suite 4 (CS4).
Over the years, I’ve always been fascinated by the Photoshop splash screen that lists the programmers involved in creating this wonderful monster of an application — the list of names has grown, of course, but it has always, to my mind, reflected our diverse world in microcosm, with names that originate from every corner of the globe. The current screen for CS4 isn’t as pretty as the splash screen used in CS2, above.
Dean Groom is also an aficionado and has not only used it since version 1, but still has that first version running! I agree with his sentiments entirely:
I had Photoshop 1, and still have it running on a black and white Macintosh. I managed to hack out a living, largely based on Photoshop, and though the features have long surpassed my needs, it really represents software that has grown with the world’s demand for eCreativity. Unlike Office Automation tools – Photoshop has turned and twisted with the times, from humble beginnings for pre-press, through to amazing effects for multimedia. I never feel using Photoshop as being a chore. While people may say technology is a fad, Photoshop really tells a different story.