Previous month:
June 2006
Next month:
August 2006

July 2006

Cooling down

Travelling back from the foothills of the Pyrenees, where it was very, very hot, and catching up on my feeds and email. Just read this from David Weinberger:

… there is no corrective for fallibility. We live in the breach between the world and how we take it. We are that breach. It closes only when they shovel the dirt over us. Until then, there are only degrees and modes of fallibility.

That doesn't mean the authorities have no authority. It does mean that there is nothing with total authority. We're stuck with always having the argument about what to believe because knowledge is a way to manage fallibility, not to escape it.

Technorati tags: , ,

Reboot 8: II & MicroLearning 2006

Last month I spoke at Reboot and at MicroLearning on the theme of schools, the read-write web and the challenges involved. I have been struck by how many of the issues on my mind then are alive and well in the minds of others — as the last few weeks have shown. I'm on the way to the Pyrenees now and net-connectivity will probably be very restricted. So I'll post my slides here now, en route, but I hope to write more on education and the web once I'm back.

The slides for Reboot are here; a slim, summary version of those for MicroLearning here. (In both cases, these are edited: I'm a novice to conference-speaking and would go about things differently if there's a next time.)

Some quick background to the slides and some narrative …  10 or so years ago, the web was first linked to by schools with the accompanying perception that it was an "inert" body of information, designed to be pulled in and pushed out to pupils.  In fact, Tim Berners-Lee's vision was always of the web as read-write. Now, the read-write web has arrived in accessible form (before, you had to be quite a geek to make it read and write): Will Richardson's 7 "points".  Meanwhile, the digital tail is growing longer not shorter and in schools this is very marked: cue Douglas Adams and Prensky (with an added measure of Susan Greenfield).  The read-write web has profound implications for social practices and institutions, teaching and schools not excepted: it alters the balance of 'control and order', putting much more emphasis on the innovative, collaborative and creative; it affects our sense of what knowledge is and how it is arrived at; it affects our sense of what we (teachers) do and it probably therefore also affects our sense of how we stand vis-à-vis students.  This all needs our attention.

The web will also remind us of something we did know but had half-forgotten: that what is said to be "true" is often only provisional in nature.  To this end, we must acquire much better critical skills as users and readers of the web (eg, use of Wikipedia requires that students and staff understand how to read it as a document that is revised and worked on by many hands) ...

Teachers have their work cut out, to be sure, but the web is enormously enriching, a source of endless discovery: the invisible, or visible, walls of schools have been rendered porous and the outside world is now with us — inside the walled garden.  This is liberating, as well as challenging.  Habits of teenagers, of the digital, always-on generation, mean that much we had all taken for granted is shifting: from the way entertainment is generated and consumed to social and communal practices generally (cue humorous interlude: panic-stricken notes about MySpace, amusing t-shirts, the Onion's parody of MySpace's "security" measures), things are on the move.  The risks are there (eg, slide 14: naive assumptions as to "ownership" of one's own data are commonplace) and schools, staff, parents and pupils, finding themselves in this new order, sometimes resort to, or are the victims of, unthinking attempts to impose controls which either will not work or will deny the young access to the very tools which are shaping the economic and social world they will live in as adults.  An educated, informed and collaborative approach is needed (as befits the new kind of authority a teacher has in a connected world where his/her word is heard amongst the many other voices students can now tune into). A measure of how much things are altering is that our sense of identity is altering as we find ourselves, even within a school, belonging simultaneously to many different communities, leaving us with much to come to terms with. ('Our' = staff, pupils.)

Caterina Fake gave a wonderful account earlier this year of the origins in story of Flickr. I've found the idea of story immensely powerful when trying to help pupils understand how they might view with some coherence such new, apparently disparate patterns of behaviour, learning and belonging.

Given all this, Will Richardson's conclusions are really too modest: the implications of what's afoot seem to me more far-reaching still.

MicroLearning: the pressure of events off-stage necessitated some doubling up, but I shifted the focus more on to microformats — the idea of small things loosely joined, seen not only from the perspective of a school or teacher but also from the point of view of teenage practice.

Technorati tags: , , , ,

Being between

It's no secret that 'people who stand near the holes in social structure are at higher risk of having good ideas':

The argument is that opinion and behavior are more homogeneous within than between groups, so people connected across groups are more familiar with alternative ways of thinking and behaving, which gives them more options to select and synthesize from alternatives. New ideas emerge from selection and synthesis across the structural holes between groups. (Ronald S Burt, University of Chicago; pdf)

David Weinberger picked up on this Boston Globe report (15 July):

A group of top Harvard University professors issued a striking critique of the university's approach to scientific research and teaching yesterday, saying its antiquated organizational structure based on powerful, insular fiefdoms has become so dysfunctional that it threatens Harvard's leadership in science. … In a 99-page report, the group calls for changes that would encourage collaborations in emerging fields … the authors suggest creating a powerful new coordinating committee, independent of the departments that hire faculty today, and give it the power to hire some 75 new science faculty for research that falls between traditional disciplinary boundaries.

David comments:

Disciplines are ways of knowing held apart by models, methodologies and the power of incumbency. Without 'em we wouldn't know how to know. But, we also recognize there's something artificial about the distinctions introduced by disciplines: The chemistry and the biology of animals are united in the actuality of the animal, as are its math, astrophysics and string theory. The space between the disciplines is useful to explore not only because it is, by definition, what the disciplines ignore, but also because it reminds us that we are the ones who have brought discipline to the unitary cosmos. We don't do so arbitrarily — astrology is not a science — but neither is there only one way that works.

Which made me go back to a conversation earlier this year between Peter Merholz and GK VanPatter in NextD:

GK VanPatter: What did you study in school?

Peter Merholz: A little bit of everything in the humanities and social sciences. In high school, you would have pegged me for a math and sciences nerd, but by the time I started at UC Berkeley, I had committed to the softer sciences. I began by pursuing mass communication, but gave that up in favor of anthropology. Frankly, I was more interested in physical anthropology (essentially the study of human evolution) than cultural anthropology. I don't define myself by my degree, though, because it really was just proof that I survived four years of college.

Looking back, I have wondered if the anthro degree did set me on the user-centered design path. Even though I didn't practice UCD [user-centered design] until a good five to six years after graduation (by way of multimedia production and web development), I suspect I developed a worldview that directed how I approached problems. …

In my junior year at Cal, I realized that I was ill-suited to academia. I'm a synthesist across disciplines, but academia rewards those who plumb single subjects deeply. … I have no interest in learning something "properly." Doing so suggests aligning your epistemology, your worldview, with a particular frame of thought. I feared that doing so would close me off to other perspectives. I work best when drawing from a variety of intellectual sources. …

I have no personal interest in the territorial boundaries of knowledge communities. In fact, I think such barriers are pernicious, and they are exactly why I abandoned academia. I think what we're seeing is that in this world of remix and pattern recognition, the notion of a discrete 'knowledge community' is breaking down. … I decided not to pursue anthropology seriously because anthropological practice, as I observed it in school, meant producing material for other anthropologists. There was little interest in engaging the public, or in engaging other disciplines.

Much resonance in all this with my experience.

Technorati tags: , , , ,

IT versatility

The most sought-after corporate IT workers in 2010 may be those with no deep-seated technical skills at all. The nuts-and-bolts programming and easy-to-document support jobs will have all gone to third-party providers in the U.S. or abroad. Instead, IT departments will be populated with "versatilists" -- those with a technology background who also know the business sector inside and out, can architect and carry out IT plans that will add business value, and can cultivate relationships both inside and outside the company.

That's the general consensus of three research groups that have studied the IT workforce landscape for 2010 -- the year that marks the culmination of the decade of the versatile workforce. What's driving these changes? Several culprits include changes in consumer behavior, an increase in corporate mergers and acquisitions, outsourcing, the proliferation of mobile devices and growth in stored data.

What's more, the skills required to land these future technical roles will be honed outside of IT. Some of these skills will come from artistic talents, math excellence or even a knack for public speaking -- producing a combination of skills not commonly seen in the IT realm. …

"For my money, the hot jobs in 2010 will be these enabler jobs: business enterprise architects, business technologists, systems analysts and project managers," says David Foote, CEO and chief research officer of Foote Partners LLC, an IT management consultancy and workforce research firm in New Caanan, Conn. "If I were in IT, I would be in one of these jobs in the next five years. A lot of people can't because they're pure technologists. …"

Computerworld (via Ross Mayfield,

Technorati tags: ,

Storage and backup

It's decidedly unsexy, but as we move now into an era with more and more home users building up significant amounts of (significant) digital data, secure storage and backup become more important than ever.

I was reading Tim Bray's post on home storage and his dream home-storage-device:

Presenting the Databox · The Databox has one or two cheap-ish CPUs running Solaris, ten or so cheapish disks, and offers a half-terabyte or so of completely reliable, completely maintainable, network-accessible storage for your data, which lives in ZFS, striped and replicated across the disks.

Occasionally, one of the disks might fail. When this happens, you won’t lose any data, but a red light on the Databox will start flashing, and it will send mail to a few designated addresses. When this happens, it’s exactly like when your laser printer starts saying “You need to replace the cyan ink” or “You need to buy a new printer drum”; next time you go shopping, you swing by Best Buy or Costco and pick up another disk unit. When you get home, you open the top of the Databox, pull out the disk with the red LED turned on, drop in the new one, and toss out the old one. Now that I think of it, if you get the interfaces right you don’t even have to have the same capacity disks. If you configured this right, you could be really very sure that you wouldn’t lose data; ZFS should sail through power failures and so on.

I’d sell the Databox with some sort of physical locking attachment like some home safes have; you could screw it to the studs in the wall so that it would be too much work for burglars to take if you had a break-in.

(For ZFS, see here.) There's a link at this post to an excellent, earlier posting by Tim, Protecting Your Data: 'Here are my life lessons on keeping your data safe while assuming that The Worst Will Happen. Some of it is Macintosh-specific, but there may be useful take-aways even from those parts, even for non-Mac-hacks'. It's the best single post on backup and storage that I've read, summed up in his four rules:

The Rules · If you follow these, you almost certainly won’t lose data in any damaging way.

  • Don’t use proprietary file formats.

  • Don’t erase anything.

  • Store everything twice.

  • Do occasional ad-hoc and regular full backups.

The whole thing is a must-read.

Just now, Alex sent me a link to Infrant Technologies' ReadyNAS NV Network Attached Storage (NAS) device (with 4 serial ATA disk trays):

Infrant Technologies' ReadyNAS NV is the latest addition to the award-winning ReadyNAS product family. Network attached storage (NAS) devices enable advanced home and business users to easily share large amounts of data in a cost-effective and power-efficient manner. …

The Backup Button
New with the ReadyNAS NV is the Backup Button on the front, conveniently located next to the front USB port. Simply connect a USB storage device to the port and press the button, and all your data in your backup share on the ReadyNAS gets backed up to the USB device. It's as simple as that. Now if you want your USB device backed up to the ReadyNAS instead, simply change the source and destination in the FrontView Backup menu. The integrated Backup Manager allows you to set up even more sophisticated network backups that you can schedule or be invoked with the press of the Backup Button.

The NV Loves to Play
The ReadyNAS NV fits your office needs like a glove. But take it home, and it becomes the center of your entertainment center. Equipped with Gigabit Ethernet with jumbo frames support, you can be sure that multiple HD streams will play off the NV with no problems. Whether you use your Windows Media Center PC or stream data directly off the NV with a network media player, your videos, music, and pictures will look sharp and stutter-free on your HD displays.

At £419.95 (£493.44 inc. VAT), diskless, this is no snitch, but things have got to the point for us that any significant loss of data would be … a loss of significant data.

Technorati tags: , , , ,

Reboot 8: I

As with Reboot 7, Reboot 8 gave me so much to think about. Last year I wrote that Reboot 7 was 'far and away the best conference experience I have known and has so far resisted my attempts to write it up: too much to say, with each line of thought multiplying into several new ones as idea leads on to idea'. There's a brief, '100% personal and biased' history of Reboot here and the program for this year's meeting is here.

What endures from Reboot 8? Again, almost too much! Still, I want to make some points of reference here that I can come back to …

I bumped in to Bruno Giussani in Cab Inn and he has a good series of posts made at the time: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I missed JP's talk (but enjoyed meeting up; his thoughts about Reboot are here) — Bruno summarises it (2nd post):

Three steps of cultural development: the invention of the written language gave culture persistence; the invention of the printing press created a means of cultural reproduction; the Internet allows us to transmit and share. Three things that will/should go to the graveyard in the coming years: locked devices; marketing; and copyright and intellectual property. Three things that will thrive: relationships (are more powerful than transactions); trust; access to information (never been so easy).

And from his third post, about Ben Hammersley's evening "speech":

1. Steal from the best (like Brunelleschi reverse-engineering ancient Roman architecture in order to build Florence's extraordinary cathedral dome (photo) - or like today's web designers hitting the "view source" button on Web pages).
2. Never say no (like Michelangelo accepting the challenge to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel despite his preference for sculpture and little experience in fresco painting).
3. Indulge ("slack, leave early, do other stuff: one of the things in being a Renaissance man is actually not doing your job; in order to create great art, to create great legacy you have to indulge your senses and passions" - example: Filippo Lippi, a XV century painter).
4. Complexity is good ("let your different interests feed upon each other").

"What's holding you back?", Hammersley asks the audience. "We live in the most exciting possible time, can access every corner of the planet and every bit of information, have very powerful tools.  The secret is: consume more data, suck stuff in like sponges, have passion. The secret rule number 5 is: no matter what opportunities come to you, what interest, what encounter, what curiosity, say yes: grasp it, do it, yield to it, and create new things!". 

What I most remember (no significance in the order):

  • Talking to Ben, whilst I was supposedly finishing my own talk, about the Guardian, 'Comment is Free', 'Big Blogger', etc.
  • Chris' talk and demo of Nokia's mobile web server (Nokia's Open Source  page on this here; there's a good piece about it in LinuxDevices). Chris' talk can be downloaded here (ppt). Mobile internet-connectivity is set to become so important and I enjoyed what Chris said about mobiles, connectivity and the social, and the role of the mobile server in presence-awareness.
  • Imity's extraordinary demo. Their blog's here.

Maybe it would be less taxing on the human biology if we didn't have so many tools we had to know how to use but just better surroundings. This involves turning information into a living thing embodied in the spime around us and simply stop thinking of all this data as something we have to know. We can just live in it. I think this idea fits very nicely into the ideas about which of our senses actually afford which abilities. Culturally produced information is just too constrained to live in our focal view all the time, whereas we're effortlessly consuming naturally produced information in much greater quantities through the use of the rest of our senses.

Also, Fabio Sergio: 'In the dawning age of the Internet of Things networked handheld devices will not be used to just search for information on the Internet. They will be used to search for information stored in things.'

  • Jyri: 'the importance of peripheral vision and how enabling that could change our everyday lives and the web and mobile industries' (link). Be heedful — Mobile 2.0 will not be about mutlimedia but about 'enabling social peripheral vision — across space and time' … knot-working -- quick, ad hoc networking. There are some fuller notes on Jyri's talk here (Kars Alfrink — his other Reboot 8 posts can be found here). And yesterday (14 July), Jaiku went live (beta)!
  • Doc Searls' inimitable presentation — with its stimulating distinction of live web (Technorati-read)/static web (Google) and the role of the live web in driving the intention economy. My favourite slide from Doc's talk is this one, which reminds me of Paul Valéry, quoted by Caterina Fake: 'that which is finished is not made'.

    And for good measure: markets are transactions and conversations, but they're also relationships — the latter's the way we're going in Web 2.0.

  • Matt's talk on the senses and software: 'What I want to talk about today is the navigational metaphor, and what the senses are, and how we can use the senses – the human senses – as a model to design better ways to interact with things'. As ever, I came away with numerous new ideas and leads to follow, reading to do, etc. (I've just started on James J Gibson's The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception.)
  • Tom's talk on narrative and blogging.
  • Euan's closing talk with its celebration of ways other than the top-down of organising and running things, of the value of the seemingly chaotic vs the drive to keep order …

Technorati tags: , ,

Looking forward to London

I'm really looking forward to living in London. Some time ago, I looked at this page on Edward Tufte's site about Harry Beck's London Underground Map. Tufte praises Harry Beck's map, but adds:

The Underground Map and Minard's famous Carte Figurative of the French Army's disaster in Russia in the war of 1812 are alike in important respects: both are brilliant, and neither travels well. The Underground Map and Napoleon's March are perfectly attuned to their particular data, so focused on their data sets. They do not serve, then, as good practical generic architectures for design; indeed, revisions and knock-offs have usually been corruptions or parodies of the originals. Both, however, exemplify the deep principles of information design in operation, as well as the craft and passion behind great information displays.

Tufte also praises Mr Beck's Underground Map by Ken Garland:

Looking that up on Amazon (UK) linked me to:

The Way Out Tube Map, Roger Collings


What's in a Name?: Origins of Station Names on the London Underground, Cyril M Harris


London's Disused Underground Stations, J E Connor


The London Underground: a diagrammatic history, Douglas Rose


One Stop Short of Barking: Uncovering the London Underground, Mecca Ibrahim


Underground Maps After Beck, Maxwell J Roberts


London's Lost Tube Schemes, Antony Badsey-Ellis


Subterranean City: Beneath the Streets of London, Antony Clayton


The Subterranean Railway: How the London Underground Was Built and How It Changed the City Forever, Christian Wolmar



Technorati tags: , , , , , ,

Guarding our data


The mass of personal information on government databases must be protected or public trust will be damaged, ministers are being warned.  Information Commissioner Richard Thomas says getting details wrong or mixing them up has huge costs to the people concerned, government and businesses.  Details should not be shared just because technology allows it …

Experts estimate that information about the average working adult in the UK is stored on 700 databases. They include information about people's health records, credit checks and household details. "Never before has the threat of intrusion to people's privacy been such a risk," said Mr Thomas. He said many databases were being used to good effect - such as systems for renewing car tax online rather than waiting in Post Office queues. But there can be problems, such as when the Criminal Records' Bureau mistakenly labelled thousands of people as criminals. …

There were severe consequences for people if information on (a) database was out-of-date, inaccurate, or given to the wrong people, he said. He pointed to the case of a father investigated by social services after his young daughter said he had "bonked" her - it turned out he had hit her on the head with an inflatable hammer. While social services had closed the file, police and health authority records were not updated and said the man had been suspected of child abuse.

Information Commissioner's Office; Annual Report, 2005–6 (pdf).

Technorati tags: ,

Women and children first

March of this year and Wendy Grossman reports in the Guardian on the fingerprinting of children in UK schools:

Last week, news emerged that Primrose Hill primary school in north London had been fingerprinting pupils without their parents' consent. It seemed shocking yet should not have come as such a surprise. Micro Librarian Systems' Junior Librarian has been marketed in the UK since 2002 and is estimated to have fingerprinted hundreds of thousands of British children.

That so many schools have been happy to install such systems, often without thinking it necessary to consult parents, is a reflection of how this technology is infiltrating society. We can expect more of the same, for children and adults, should the ID card, debated once more this week in parliament, become reality.

May, and here's the Yorkshire Post:

A Yorkshire school is taking fingerprints from pupils – to keep a check on payments for school trips. The system, which means pupils can be instantly identified when they touch a scanner attached to one of the school computers, is expected to recoup the £2,500 cost of its installation by saving time on form-filling. If the experiment in "biometrics" works, it might be extended.

… The organisation of trips at Ilkley Grammar involves a turnover of £250,000 a year, mostly collected in £10 or £15 instalments. It means close to 20,000 transactions a year. The fingerprint recognition system means that when a pupil takes a payment instalment to the school office, his or her account can be called up automatically, with no question of any confusion between names.

Head teacher Gillian James said in an explanatory letter to parents that the system would store a number based on a fingerprint reading. No fingerprint images would be stored. The Information Commissioner and the Department of Education and Skills had said they had no concerns.

… 42 of the 1,532 current pupils, aged 11 to 18, had been kept out of the fingerprint registration process for one reason or another. One of the objectors is Christian White, a journalist who reports on Westminster for the BBC but lives in North Parade, Ilkley, and has a 14-year-old step-daughter at the school. He said yesterday: "Mrs James has effectively admitted this is not just a trivial bit of bureaucracy. It is the thin end of a wedge, the start of a process which could eventually enable the school to track our children every minute of the day. And it is a matter of proportionality. You do not give any organisation more intimate information than it needs to do its job and if my bank can manage my salary without getting my fingerprints, I don't see why the school cannot manage a couple of £12.50 payments from a 14-year-old for a trip to Lightwater Valley."

The Ilkley system was installed by Pinecone Associates of Carrington, Greater Manchester. Its marketing manager, Martin Parsons, said yesterday: "It is misleading to talk about fingerprinting children. The fingerprint is just a convenient shape to read to create an identity profile."

That last bit is priceless.

3 July. The Daily Mirror — back to school libraries and Micro Librarian Systems:

FURY erupted yesterday after it emerged an estimated 700,000 children are being fingerprinted at school. Systems in 3,500 primary school libraries allow pupils to take out books by scanning their thumb prints instead of using a card.

But campaigners warn the technology is a massive invasion of privacy and a step towards a "database state". With an average primary school size of 200 pupils, pressure group No2ID says at least 700,000 pupils are regularly having their fingerprints scanned. And there are fears schools having children's fingerprints could lead to the information being stored on government computers with DNA records and personal details. It is also seen as "softening up" resistance before people are asked for biometric data such as eye-scans to put on compulsory identity cards. …

Andy O'Brien, managing director of Micro Librarian Systems which makes the fingerprint systems, insisted there was nothing sinister about the new scanning technology. He said: "Ultimately, this is completely optional. If parents object because they don't like the use of biometrics their children can still use a library card or pin number. But this can make libraries a really cool place to go for children."

Another priceless moment in that last sentence.

Leave The Kinds Alone campaigns 'against schools fingerprinting our children'. ARCH supports 'equality, choice, respect and privacy for all children and young people'.  Thanks to ORG for some of the links here. No2ID is here.

I go back to the end of the Guardian article:

Stephen Groesz, a partner with the law firm Bindmans, has been consulted by parents from Charles Dickens school in Southwark, and believes the system is illegal on several grounds. "Absent a specific power allowing schools to fingerprint, I'd say they have no power to do it." Police legislation, for example, is specific about when, by whom and how fingerprints may be taken and what they may be used for. "The notion you can do it because it's a neat way of keeping track of books doesn't cut it as a justification."

Privacy advocates say these systems have a more subtle danger: habituation. Andre Bacard, the author of The Computer Privacy Handbook, said if he wanted to build the surveillance society, "I would start by creating dossiers on kindergarten children so the next generation couldn't comprehend a world without surveillance." But who needs dossiers when you have fingerprints?

Thank God for the news that it may be a while yet (not 2008!) before ID cards become reality — Sunday Times and BBC News.

Technorati tags: , , , , ,

On Shaving

I'm curious to see bloggers posting about shaving: here's Alex, Merlin Mann and Euan. Shaving is something I was never taught to do — and I can't think of anyone my age or younger who was.

Years ago (when I was teaching at a school in Devon), a German student, new to the school and in the sixth form, went around for a few days with a good growth of facial hair. Asked about it, it turned out he, too, had never been taught to shave — but then it emerged he didn't seem to know anything at all about shaving. Anything. At all.

Given a brand new razor and sent away, he soon came back, clean shaven and wanting to return the razor. 'No, keep it: you can use it tomorrow — or the next day.' Blank incomprehension, turning to disbelief and then alarm.

Somehow we stumble along, discovering that shaving against the grain of the beard upsets the skin and working out for ourselves whether manual (wet) or electric is best. Like both Merlin and Euan, and for some time now, I'm a fan of Taylor's shaving creams. Like Alex, I now use an M3, but still go back to the Mach3. (I don't think the Fusion has appeared in the UK yet, has it? How expensive will that be?)

And I got what knowledge I have via The Gentleman's Shop at Hungerford: lying between the M4 and my home town, Marlborough, it's a barber-shop I passed several times before I decided to stop and check it out. Glad I did, for Robert's a fine barber and he and Charlotte run a mini-emporium of all that's best in 'gentlemen's shaving & grooming products': American Crew, The Art of Shaving, Edwin Jagger, Trumper and many other famous names, including the legendary Simpson badger shaving brushes — browse the range here (I have one of the … cheaper ones).

There's an amusing Economist article on a Moore's Law for manual razors:


Can we take this shaving business far, far too seriously? You bet. But Robert's Guide to the Art of Wet Shaving is definitely one thing well worth reading.

Meanwhile, head-shavers should look no further than HeadBlade (or so I'm told).

Technorati tags: , , ,