Monthly Archives: November 2005

Ears of another hippopotamus

I’ve observed before that Dave Pollard is prescient. This may be a further demonstration of his powers:

(from Sharing Your Brain: Making Your Hard Drive into a Wiki)

I think the next tipping point will be focused on wikis. We are close to the point where we will no longer have to pick an ‘application’ to create, open or change a document, any more than we have to pick a particular type of writing implement to do so in the physical world. What that will allow us to do is convert our entire hard drive — every document — and all the content we maintain on central servers — every message and blog post, into a single ‘virtual’ wiki, a kind of giant tableau of all our stuff, everything we have created or contributed to, and everything created by others we have filed away or bookmarked or otherwise ‘taken as our own’.

This would be useful, first of all, for personal navigation. Google Desktop is a big help, but it’s still a hunt-and-peck kind of personal content management. A wiki of our ‘universe of knowledge’ with a mind-map-type navigator would allow us to explore and amplify what we know and share with others in a more holistic, powerful way than anything we can do now. It would allow us to ‘get our head around’ everything we know, and care about, everything that has meaning for us. It could literally allow us to ‘expand our minds’.

But — and here’s the really exciting part — it could also allow us to ‘share our brain’ with someone else, to allow someone else to see how we think, and what we think about, and get an idea of the frame of mind that organizes, filters and colours our thoughts. And, if memory becomes cheap enough, we could even ‘subscribe to’ the wikis of those whose thoughts, for whatever personal or professional reason, we care about, and we could then annotate that other person’s ‘brain’, shared consciousness, with our own interpretations, understandings and amplifications, and, if we and that other person were so inclined, we could then share that ‘feedback’ with the person whose thoughts provoked it. A kind of digital, brain-to-brain, dialogue or conversation. What could come of all of this might be some shared spaces, some collective intelligence that two or more people agreed was a synthesis of information, agreement or shared understanding, that they owned in common. So your wiki would then have three ‘flavours’ of content:

  • stuff that you created (more or less) yourself
  • stuff that others created that you have taken for your own, your ‘accepted wisdom’
  • stuff that is ‘shared wisdom’ that you and others have inseparably created in common

We are presumably close to the point where transcriptions of conversations could also be indexed and added to this repository.

Quite a bit to wrap the mind around, and I don’t really see how to get there from here, but this is a posting to put where I can revisit it in weeks or months, and it’s certainly going to affect my scans of emergent wiki technologies and practise. It’s a deal more humane than Ray Kurzweil’s vision of the future in silico.

Otium: Gardner’s mot juste

Gardner tossed me a nice one in his Oook’s on a roll posting:

I hope he won’t dawdle too long in his splendid New England otium.

Now, this is everything I love: a really obscure word (I knew and use ‘otiose’, which springs from the same root –in fact, I recently wrote a tune with the title Otiose Maggie, in remembrance of a goat of my acquaintance) that leads me to a spasm of searching and stringing together, and turns out to be absolutely spot on: le mot juste, as the French foppishly call it…

The fundamental sense of otium is

leisure, ease, peace

…and my Latin dictionary glosses otium as

leisure, free time, relaxation, freedom from public affairs, retirement, peace, quiet, ease, idleness, inactivity

. But the fun really begins when one Googles the word: a glassblowing site says

“Otium”, which literally means “to be at ease”, reflects their desire to create environments that soothe, comfort, and nurture the soul.

Yup, that’s retirement, sure enough. Gardner nails it.

As I’ve so often found in my role as a Reference Librarian, it’s the hunt that’s the real fun. You find gems like this:

Otium cum dignitatem

El ideal de “vida contemplativa” que proponían algunos de los filósofos antiguos se veía reflejado en lo que ellos denominaron “Otium cum dignitatem”, una forma de emplear nuestro tiempo de ocio que nos permita desarrollar nuevas sensibilidades, ampliar nuestros conocimientos, entrar en contacto con otras culturas o contemplar la belleza en sus diferentes formas de expresión.

My Spanish is, well, vestigial, so I accepted Google’s offer of translation and got this:

The ideal of “contemplativa life” which they proposed some of the old philosophers saw reflected in which they denominated “Otium cum dignitatem”, a form to use our time of leisure that allows to develop the new sensitivities us, to extend our knowledge, to make contact with other cultures or to contemplate the beauty in its different forms from expression.

I also found an article in German, translated from Italian, which succumbs howlingly to translated be by Google

Yeah. Worth the price of admission.

And on a homeschool site I found a Latin phrase not entirely irrelevant to the present:

Otium bello saepe non conservamus
‘We do not often preserve peace by war’

I see that the word has snuck into Scandinavian languages –in Swedish and Danish and Norwegian it seems to be a good solid word for ‘vacation’

And I found (among the few Google hits in English) a Christian Science Monitor article from 2002, Richard O’Mara In praise of otium that offers this delicious nugget:

There is an archaic idea hardly ever discussed these days. The Romans had a word for it: otium, defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “the aristocratic mode of leisure. Thinking,” or “dignified leisure,” “the otium of literary pursuits.”

Jeez but this is fun…

Trying out a wiki

For the last few days I’ve been exploring Schtuff, a free wiki environment. The current state takes off from here, and may continue to thrive as I explore the territory of Teaching and Learning. I’m hoping to get several co-conspirators to collaborate.
…and a nudge from Gardner Campbell projected me into creating a Nova Scotia Faces wiki as an extension of the conventional Web page… it’s too much fun.

Back at ya, Gardner

I keep finding gems that ought to be more widely appreciated, and I tuck them away in various Web pages, sometimes sending them on to others who will appreciate them. I resolve to put more of them into the blog, which I’m coming to think of as my very own Commonplace Book.

Today, a curious but eminently typical wandering amongst links took me to this wonderful bit of clarity from Gardner Campbell, balm to those wondering why they don’t Get It, and what to do about it:

…it’s very easy to grow babies in this business. On some level, I want a bit of that “I’m on my own” feeling among the faculty I serve because it helps them take constructive ownership of their use of the tools. In some respects, even a simple hammer in the hands of a single user becomes an occasion for support problems that (here’s the point) anyone who picks up a hammer more than once learns to accept. Doesn’t mean there’s no support, but it does mean that there are no guarantees, and that an acceptable level of risk and an appropriate level of personal resourcefulness needs to be part of any strategic deployment of any tool.

Again, in some respects: “small pieces loosely joined” reveals the responsibility that’s inherent in any kind of significant agency. That doesn’t mean no end-user support. It does mean that this tool we call a “computer” is useful in direct proportion to the amount of learning and risk we’re willing to accept.

How did I get here? The passage is hidden away in a comment on one of Brian Lamb’s postings from September 2005, linked in musings from the fog, which appeared yesterday (“…depending on third-party apps, even well-established ones like Technorati can cause its own form of pain…”). Gardner may not even remember that he wrote it, and Brian may not have been as cheered by it then as I am today.

Rudy Rucker’s writings on writing

I owe Rudy Rucker a lot for his instantiation of wetware, a concept I used as a Leitmotif in every class I taught in the last 6 years at W&L. In today’s blog posting he links to his Writer’s Toolkit, which looks like it’s an education in itself. Just yesterday I was unpacking a box of scifi books and stumbled on Freeware, and thought how it would be worthwhile to reread the whole -ware series, and now I have a pony for that project. Here’s a bit from what he calls “my ever-growing cumulative email interview“:

Science fiction is writing that analyzes some fast-changing aspect of society by extrapolating current trends into the future or into an alternate world. Traditionally science fiction has certain standard tropes that it uses, but new ones are being developed all the time — I’m thinking of things like blaster guns, spaceships, time machines, aliens, telepathy, flying saucers, warped space, faster-than-light travel, holograms, immersive virtual reality, robots, teleportation, endless shrinking, levitation, antigravity, generation starships, ecodisaster, blowing up Earth, pleasure-center zappers, mind viruses, the attack of the giant ants, and the fourth dimension. I call these our ‘power chords,’ analogous to the heavy chords that rock bands use.

When a writer uses an SF power chord, there’s an implicit understanding with the informed readers that this is indeed familiar ground. And it’s expected the writer will do something fresh with the trope.

Broken Higher Education?

In an email exchange with Bryan Alexander yesterday I confessed that I dispair of formal education –its short-sightedness, hide-boundness, bloated pomposities… a familiar litany. There’s plenty of grist for that mill in recent postings to blogs I’ve been following.

Alex Halavais relates a sad tale of administrative mindlessness, all too common on campuses:

We have a new “mobile classroom” for the School of Informatics lab, consisting of a gaggle of tablet PCs for classroom use. However, unlike some mobile classrooms, we have neither a cart nor a wireless hub to allow for this to be wheeled into a classroom. Central computing won’t allow rogue wireless hubs.

The problem is that they also have decided not to provide access to the wireless network in the classrooms. The reason: they say that professors didn’t want students to have access. That they found email checking too distracting…

Cutting off wireless in the classroom is not a pedagogically-driven decision, it is an indication of how broken higher education is right now.

Konrad Glogowski’s Blog of Proximal Development offers a sunnier take on student activity, but concludes with a quote from George Siemens that rings some of the same changes:

…classroom blogging is primarily about responding to texts and not producing them… blogging allows students to think through texts and ideas, that it enables them to use their own writing and that of their peers as a cognitive tool.

This approach is very new. Our students are used to the transmission model of education and have never been told that writing helps process and synthesize ideas or that we learn best when we write and have to defend, reorganize, refine, and further develop our thoughts. They have never been told that interacting with texts composed by others can be a very effective way of thinking through a problem. George Siemens is right: “Our most limiting challenge is our existing views of learning.”

So where’s the hope? Stephen Downes offers what one of his critics (Stuart Yeates) disparages as “a radically different method of distributing resources in education”, detailed in any number of postings and talks available on the Web, via Stephen’s Web, and centered upon the notions of Learning Networks and Personal Learning environments. But how to get those who should hear what Stephen Downes is articulating to commit the time to listening/reading/thinking about what he’s saying? Snagging irresistable snippets is one possibility, and I have a few bits from his recent presentation to the Open Source for Education in Europe conference in Heerlen, Netherlands. If there are any Information Architects out there, these should be captivating enough to encourage a listen to the whole talk:


In any given day I read and listen to a lot of different things, many of which turn out to interdigitate in unexpected ways. Today’s cases in point: I read a blog posting at Savage Minds pointing to STSWiki, which got me started thinking about History of Technology again (I taught a course on that subject in 1999). If I was setting out to teach a History of Technology course in 2005, I’d do it differently: I’d surely use the Wikipedia page as a springboard –and have the students do projects which would extend the page and pages it links to. And I’d also use STSWiki as an adjunct, following how the site develops as members of the conversation elaborate on the beginning.

That’s just obvious, but how did we get there/here?

That question was uppermost in Stephen Downes’ recent opening keynote “On Being Radical” at the Saskatchewan Association for Computers in Education –PowerPoints also available… This from one of the last slides:

To be radical is to grasp empowerment and define a vision based on that empowerment for a better, freer society…
“…a society where knowledge and learning are public goods, freely created and shared, not hoarded or withheld in order to extract wealth or influence.”

The whole presentation, like everything I’ve heard Stephen Downes do, is continuously and consistently interesting and fresh –not just the same ideas over and over.
I extracted three quotations:

Doug Kaye’s keynote address at Portable Media Expo (about ten days ago) offers a quick update of the directions of the absolutely essential ITConversations (“Listener-supported audio programs,
interviews and important events”). He covers some of the same territory as that traversed by Stephen Downes, and their perspectives are complementary. I extracted one bit from his very interesting talk, on the value of free (1:40).

Semasiology Take 2

I’ve listened to r0ml Lefkowitz’ OSCON 2005 keynote (The Semasiology of Open Source [Part 2]) several times, and grokked more with each hearing. It’s a tour de force of allusion and connection, and I decided to snip out some bits that really should have a wider listenership. They pretty much stand alone, though the ones I’ve chosen aren’t mostly about the nominal subject of the changing meanings of Open Source.

He makes repeated use of a favorite bit from Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” (Inigo Montoya [Mandy Patinkin]). This gets across the essence of semasiology very memorably.

To get something of the flavor of a bout with r0ml, here’s a (partial) summary of last year’s OSCON talk (1:43) –and the whole thing is available, and extremely worthwhile.

He discusses Don Knuth’s development of the language APL, and as an aside, mentions Knuth’s instantiation of the term “Web” (0:27)

He really gets going with the example of the history of reading (5:15) –the percentage literate refers to the ability to read the code of programs. He ends with a farrago on reading aloud, and silently (8:13), citing Saints Isidore, Augustine, and Ambrose …and Charlemagne and Alcuin of York too.

Now that’s a Keynote!

You might be interested in r0ml’s blog (Taking IT Personally), and perhaps also in the Wired News story on Isidore, patron saint of nerds.