Category Archives: Technology

Space to William Hazlitt

Essayist William Hazlitt (1778-1830) observes in “On Going on a Journey” that “the world in our conceit of it is not much bigger than a nutshell…the mind can form no larger idea of space than the eye can take in at a single glance. The rest is a name written in a map, a calculation of arithmetic. For instance, what is the true signification of that immense mass of territory and population known by the name of China to us? An inch of pasteboard on a wooden globe…”

Hazlitt makes the case for several sorts of journeys; if you are headed for a long walk in your own country, go alone, because those who know you will spoil the change of scenery by bringing up the very topics of life you need to escape; when you wander into a new town and meet a stranger, that person is a nonjudgemental part of the scenery who comes to you without preconceptions. But headed to a foreign country, he advises us to take a close friend with whom we can find close relief from the pressures of immersion in everything strange. He closes saying that he wish to have a life of travel abroad, but also want another whole life to spend at home.

Hazlitt would have loved, I think, listening to This American Life’s episode about ex-pat American Kaiser Kuo and others who have lived in China for long periods. Hazlitt would probably begin by being amused at how much we can know about one another today, yet how little we thoroughly process how that information should inform how we view and interact with one another.


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Filed under Inkwells, Looking forward, Technology

Writing in Four Dimensions

To appreciate writing in four dimensions, look at Mike Matas explain in crisp sentences the new generation of digital book that he has developed with his team at Push Pop Press: Our Choice.  Written by Al Gore, the book is a follow up to An Inconvenient Truth, but this time Gore makes his case in an interactive, multimedia e-book. The content bends and flexes, moves and breathes. For the first time, Gore says, he is able to bring together deep research with images and sounds to prove his thesis. Details infuse every key point, down to the bars on bar graphs designed into a natural landscape.

The implications for readers are enormous; we must train ourselves so we do not let the gloss dazzle away our skepticism -not of Gore, I support his concerns on the environment – but of any content presented in such a slick fashion. People believe what they see on television, after all, even if it is not true.

The implications for writers are also enormous: crafting a story or an argument must be done with words and with design and with video and music and graphs and choices. What writers once conveyed using only words to get from their minds to readers’ imaginations, they will be expected to do to a standard of media-rich layers that can be touched and pinched and turned: “Using Push Pop Press authors can weave together text, images, audio, video and interactive graphics into immersive multi-touch interactive books, without dealing with the complexities and costs normally involved in software development. ”

Writers have always had to anticipate what Mortimer J. Adler explained in 1940 in How to Read a Book, “The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading.” Adler tells his readers, “If you have the habit of asking a book questions as you read, you are a better reader than if you do not..Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author…But understanding is a two-way operation, the learner has to question himself and question the teacher. He even has to be willing to argue with the teacher, once he understands what the teacher has to say.” The standard for reading and writing is becoming an immediate two-way conversation.

And while the advice writing teachers have always given – show, don’t tell – now takes on a literal meaning as well as a literary one, a foundation of simple and crisp will always under-gird the glitz. Play Matas’s clip on TED, but do it by choosing a language other than English. Note the correlation between Matas’s sentences and the translations: he explains an amazing complex product with direct, well chosen words that are relatively idiom-free, and immensely clear. As writers consider not only how to incorporate sights and sounds, I believe they will also need to consider how what they write translates, since choice of language is one more dimension to consider in new digital books.

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Filed under Classic, Environment, Technology, Tools of the Trade

Creativity Mash Up and One Laptop Per Child

The debate rages about the intellectual collage today’s computer-privileged students make of information: they cut and paste and mash, but often don’t create their own primary documents. In light of that, and concerns about empowering African students in ways that will upset the social order of their families by providing children with information their parents lack, there are voices rising against the One Laptop Per Child efforts in Africa. These opinions raised several questions in my head.

First, is it right to deprive a generation of information? Whose lives are they anyway? Second, does it ever work to try to keep information or tools from people? Here is a version of the alleged down side:

Right away, it is possible to suggest that inquiry-based learning is independent of a specific technology. In fact, computers and internet access guarantee little in the way of critical thinking. In a new program, children in New York City are taught inquiry-based methods of interacting with IT-based data by school librarian media specialists, who promote critical thinking and an ability to evaluate information as an antidote to the rising tide of a ‘cut-and-paste’ mentality. In other words, by many measures access to IT has had a stultifying effect on independent thinking. Instead of real research and evaluation most students are happy just to ‘google it.’

But listen carefully to this interview in which, ironically, a guy who collects odd, old outdated books puts it all together: the internet, the mash up, the way knowledge moves through history.

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Filed under Around the world while you were sleeping..., Technology

Where are you on the Talent “Food Pyramid?”

In “Class Struggle: Helping Kids Who Hate High School,” Washington Post staff writer Jay Matthews recounts his debate with California educator Chris Peters about a total overhaul of education that would allow students, after their sophomore year, to – after thoroughly mastering important basic skills – choose one of four tracks. One of the tracks is college, another is community college with vocational education, another is more intensive high school tutoring, the fourth is dropping out.  The debate between the two centered initially on the value of vocational education.

The article is well worth reading, but the debate is may be moot if you check out the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. Download the “Standard Power Point” offered on the left side of the page, then go to slide 8 of 34: Profile of Successful US Firms of the Future. It seems to indicate that unless people plan to enter the fields of research, development, design, marketing and sales, or global supply chain management – so-called “creative work” – prospects are low.  Consider those implications while considering Matthews conclusions:

The steady erosion of the social safety net provided by the workplace in the form of reliable, long-term employment, paid sick-leave and vacation, health and retirement benefits necessitates that young people be much better informed about and prepared for the job marketplace.

Don’t we have some obligation to prepare kids for the lives they will actually lead rather than the ones we wish they would lead?

With regard to college, we educators have become exactly like the kind of overbearing parents who insist that all our children play competitive sports just because they did and who can’t imagine a richly fulfilling life without them.

People who have great skills through vocational programs need to be able to find meaningful work near their homes right here in the United States, not only for their well being, but for our national well being. Opportunities need to be here. That is why energy policy and education policy and our collective futures are tightly linked, in my view.

Micro economies need to be developed within the United States, just as they are being used in developing countries so that people with talent for making things as well as designing things have outlets for their natural talents.  What holds us back from local self-sufficiency is that we are all so interdependent on expensive forms of energy. In order to have small economies with local manufacturing, we need locally sustainable and containable sources of energy. The talented, skilled workers coming out of Peters and Matthews plans would have places to ply their trades.

Hopefully, that is what those research folks at the top of the talent pyramid are looking into.

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Filed under Around the world while you were sleeping..., Environment, Just thinking, Technology, Training

Simplicity is Delicious; Diigo can be a bit much

Delicious has served me well for the last couple thousand bookmarks, but I had to try Diigo when it came out. Now that Diigo is serving up its bragging rights on Twitter, I feel I need to come to the defense of Delicious.

Delicious is simple. I find great information to add to my web library, tag it, and find it later when I need it. While Diigo has lots of menus and clouds and features, it takes a few more steps to do, which can be distracting when you are focused. The Diigo groups send me  lots of emails but I have yet to have any really good or new additional bookmarks delivered.

It is nice that Diigo sets in a history-like pane in my browser, but again, it is not as clean to use as my  the bookmarks toolbar link for Delicious.

I recommend Diigo for specific projects, but Delicious for every day use.

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Filed under Technology

Fine, fine example of old meets new: “DC One Web Day” Virtual Time Capsule

A perfect example of what I like to find and to showcase here in this blog: “DC One Web Day.” I came across it on one of my listservs; to find and join, search “DC One Web Day” on Facebook. One of the founders, Nathaniel James, describes it this way:

This year's OWD theme is democratic participation online.  As many of you know, the
DC planning committee has decided to move forward with Laura Hertzfeld's great of
idea of launching an "E-Democracy Time Capsule," using Web 2.0 technologies (a wiki
and/or blog) to host a virtual archive where anyone can post  the best examples of
online political participation to date.


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Filed under Technology

Missed the meeting? Look what I found…

Did you ever hear the expression, “I would love to have been a fly on the wall at that meeting?” Well, no need to give up your species if it was one of these meetings.

These are innovative educational projects, which means that people are trying things without budgets working on the energy of their own convictions. I wonder if they realized that these would be there for all to see. I know I attended a meeting in which I was gawking too close to my camera and generally looking goofy. I will make sure I am spiffed up next time.

Check out the topics. If you wade past the “Okay, testing mikes…where is …” stuff, you can learn not only about the projects themselves, but about how people work. As for flashmeeting, it works really well, from my experience.

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Filed under Around the world while you were sleeping..., Keystrokes, Technology, Tools of the Trade