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February 2006
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March 2006

A bit of a gap

At my school, the last three weeks or so of the term that's just died are dominated by mock exams for the final year GCSE and A Level groups — and therefore, for us, the teachers, by marking. Hence, in part, my silence. This last week (the start of our holiday), I have been absorbed in things literary: John Burnside came and read for us a few weeks back, and then I wanted to finish his new book, the memoir about his father, A Lie About My Father, before he read from the book at the end of the Oxford Literary Festival (event 136, yesterday).

This is a great book and one that exhausted me: for all the difference between our backgrounds, there is enough in common between my father and John's for the effect to be both illuminating and draining. Blake Morrison reviewed John's book well in the Guardian, but it's to Hilary Mantel in the LRB that I keep going back:

The book ends as it begins, with Halloween, or rather in the light of the day following, as the writer leads his small son along the quay of a small Scottish fishing town on the east coast. We see that this is the child for whom the phantom of fatherhood must be raised. The writer leaves us with a final sharp picture of the man of lies whom the book has transfigured into truth. He sees him, on a distant night, standing on the edge of woodland; white shirt visible against the dark, a cigarette in his hand, he is captured in a moment which holds, on an indrawn breath, all the events and non-events of his life, all that happened and all that ever could. He did not want to die in public, but that was his unheroic fate: collapsing at the Silver Band Club, on his way to the cigarette machine. An ordinary man with an ordinary death, a nameless man with thoughts that few would care to name, he is now one of the ‘spirits’ who ‘feed our imaginations’. To move from the interiority of this memoir back to what passes for ordinary life is like surfacing from under the sea, reshaped by its strong and unforgiving currents. It is a book by a master of language, pushing language to do what it can. Fastidious, supple and unsparing, it is a book about lies that is more true than you can say.

It was a great pleasure to hear John and to have so many friends together: Tim, Colin and Molly, Olly and Ben, Karl, Mark and Georgie … Like that evening when John read at Radley, a couple of weeks back, this one wound up in the wee hours.

The day before, Karl and I had gone to hear Tim talk (event 97; capacity audience) about his latest book, What is the Point of Being a Christian?, and yesterday afternoon we'd taken in Tsotsi, a profoundly moving film — the book of which I'd read over two decades ago. (See also this Guardian piece.)

Tonight, I had the chance to read John's as yet unpublished sequence of poems centred on/inspired by Saint-Nazaire (which he read at Radley a few weeks back). My head is full of these beautiful, resonant poems — annunciation, tradition (Eliot!), the 'actually loved and known' …

On Molly's recommendation, I've just ordered Keeping Mum and am about to start on Memoir — and then news tonight that John McGahern has died. A bit of a gap.

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Goldstein and attention

I have been paying attention to Attention (eg, here). But not enough.

Talking with a colleague the other night, we both referred to Tuesday's Guardian report, Surveillance on drivers may be increased:

The case for cameras to be focused on people using mobiles as they drive is made by the independent adviser to the transport select committee, Robert Gifford, of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (Pacts). … He argues that automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology should be applied in new ways to help defray costs of cameras and to catch offenders. "One of the good things about ANPR is that people are often multiple offenders so it would provide useful intelligence," he said. "Those responsible for 7/7 got to Luton station by car."

Mr Gifford said expanding the use of technology for tracking the movements of cars could lead police to people who had committed other offences in the same way that Al Capone was eventually caught through his income tax evasion. He claimed that for greater safety and "the greater good of society", most people would be prepared to accept "a slight reduction of our liberty".

A slight reduction of our liberty … No-one will mind.

How many times of late have I heard, under this government, a Labour government, the case advanced for small reductions in our liberty, incremental reductions … adding up to something quite other than "slight"?

Think Goldstein, said my colleague. As in 1984.

But hang on, who's behind Root Markets (an attention engine)? Goldstein.

C-o-i-n-c-i-d-e-n-c-e. Of course. (Though apposite).

And the point remains. If you watch me, you may watch me for my benefit — but also to my potential detriment.

Where are we going?

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Clay Shirky @ ETech

O'Reilly Radar > ETech: Clay Shirky

Social software is the experimental wing of political philsophy, a discipline that doesn't realize it has an experimental wing. We are literally encoding the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression in our tools. We need to have conversations about the explicit goals of what it is that we're supporting and what we are trying to do, because that conversation matters. Because we have short-term goals and the cliff-face of annoyance comes in quickly when we let users talk to each other. But we also need to get it right in the long term because society needs us to get it right. I think having the language to talk about this is the right place to start.

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CIO visionary: the four pillars of enterprise architecture

Confused of Calcutta:

Some time ago I started working on a four-pillar model for enterprise architecture, in the belief that everything we do will be classified into one of the following:

  • Syndication: We will subscribe to stuff yanked out of humongous content publishers and consume them via a syndication, alert and aggregation facility. RSS gone ballistic. SAP and Oracle Financials meet Wall Street Journal Europe and Reuters. All stored somewhere both within the firewall as well as without. Text and voice and video.
  • Search: We will do some ad-hoc yanking ourselves, getting used to a Google-meets-StumbleUpon world where collaborative filtering of role and context helps relevance go up, and there are simple yet powerful heuristic tools because we can tag things and vote on them for future reference. Again from storage within and without.
  • Fulfilment: There’ll be a bunch of things where we need to discover what’s out there by syndication, search and learning. Refine what we discover to a set of things we’re interested in. Check out captive and brokered and otherwise made-accessible inventory. Discover price and select item. Provide shipping instructions or logistical information. Identify our right and authority to exchange value. Exchange that value via card or account or wampum. Be fulfilled. Flights, hotels, stocks, consultants, books, music, food. All fulfilled.
  • Conversation: Another bunch of things gluing all this together. Voice. Video. E-mail (though it will decay into pretend-snail-mail and die, I hope). Blogs and wikis. IM. Texting. Whatever. Ways of discovering, co-creating and enriching the value in information. Information that you need to fulfil things you have to do.

None of this will work if the information we need to get pushed to us or get pulled down by us is hidden behind walled gardens. Walls made of weird DRM constructs like Region codes on DVDs. Walls that hold our information and make it harder for us to rip it and mash it and make something useful out of it.

Read the original post — for more about the above and for a wonderful story about Christopher Wren and … four pillars.

Via deal architect (via Ross). I've subscribed to Confused of Calcutta's feed, and not just because of this post. Here's what JP Rangaswami (Confused of Calcutta), CIO of Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, says on his About Me page:

More and more my interests have moved towards education, I keep thinking of setting up a school from scratch. One day. I’m passionate about work (!) , particularly with reference to how work is changing: the paradigms created by globalisation, disintermediation and the web; the implications of virtualisation, service orientation and commoditisation; why publishing and search and fulfilment and conversation are the only “applications” we may need; how telephony becoming software and the wireless internet interact with mobile devices; the terrors of poorly thought out IPR and DRM; the need to avoid walled gardens of my own making; how children now teach me about work; the socialising of information, how it creates value by being shared, how it is enriched, how it is corrupted. How information behaves and what I can learn from it. Ever since I read The Cluetrain Manifesto I have believed in the “markets are conversations” theme, and have had the good fortune to meet and spend time with the Cluetrain gang discussing their views and values. Which naturally makes me passionate about opensource as well. In democratised innovation.

There are many reasons why I love the web, but meeting kindred spirits is at the top of the list.

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Prospect Books and La Varenne

Light blogging of late (but plenty still going through to del.icio.us) — so much on at school and elsewhere. Many things have had to go on hold. Cooking is one.

Returning home on Saturday, I found a fat parcel waiting for me: Prospect Books' newly published translation of La Varenne's three books, The French Cook, The French Pastry Chef, The French Confectioner. (You can get the index here as a pdf file.)

These three books by François Pierre de la Varenne (c. 1615–1678), who was chef to the Marquis d’Uxelles, are the most important French cookery books of the seventeenth century. It was the first French cookery book of any substance since Le Viandier almost 300 years before, and it ran to thirty editions in 75 years. The reason for its success was simply it was the first book to record and embody the immense advances which French cooking had made, largely under the influence (of) Italy and the Renaissance, since the fifteenth century. Some characteristics of medieval cookery are still visible, but many have disappeared. New World ingredients make their entrance. A surprising number of recipes for dishes still made in modern times (omelettes, beignets, even pumpkin pie) are given. The watershed from medieval to modern times is being crossed under our eyes in La Varenne’s pages.

So important was this book that English cooks of the time immediately bought copies and one (anonymous) even translated it into English in the middle of the Puritan rule of Oliver Cromwell. This translation, as is the original, is extremely difficult to understand: there are difficult words, omissions, mistranslations, and other opacities. Terence Scully has solved all modern readers’ problems by undertaking a modern translation with detailed commentary of the original French texts. His work takes cognisance of the early English translation, as well as not ignoring contemporary works available to those early cooks for purposes of comparison and contrast. Even French people will want to buy it for what he tells us of the workings of the French kitchen in the seventeenth century.

That's from the publisher's website. It's a tome and a half (628pp):

So, definitely another holiday job pleasure.

It's a (characteristically) beautifully produced book — kudos to Tom Jaine. If you don't know Prospect Books, you can read about Tom and the history of this independent publisher here. And don't miss the Telegraph's profile of him:

Prospect publishes between six and 12 books a year. "We are not talking Grub Street, we're talking micro-publishing. I never expect to sell more than 1,000 books, and some only sell 50. I edit, re-write, typeset, design; the authors get no advances, only royalties. We just keep afloat."

Alan Davidson's entertaining account of the inception of Prospect Books is here — worth reading for the story of Richard Olney's involvement alone.

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Sharing and enticing

David Weinberger:

I continue to believe that for many companies the best path to blogging is by using them internally as a knowledge management tool. The dream of KM has been that people will write down what they know. KM regimes, however, have assumed they would have to discipline people into doing that. Blogs entice people to write down what they know and to share it widely. A project blog or a department blog not only surfaces and shares knowledge, it also makes it searchable and archives it. And once a company gets used to internal blogs, it's only natural (if anything about a corporation can be said to be natural) to open up some blogs to trusted customers and partners, bringing them into the intellectual bloodstream of the organization. And then why not open some blogs more widely? Thus companies inch their way into the blogosphere.

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