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June 2007


David Weinberger:

I do tend to believe that the Web touches us so deeply because it more clearly expresses what we’ve known all along. That was the point of Small Pieces Loosely Joined.

Tim Spalding:

Learning and knowledge, at least important learning and knowledge, are a conversation. … The education of scholar is an ascent through this conversation. We start with encyclopedias and straightforward books of facts—books that talk at us; certain books. We move to monographs, which seem at first like books of facts, but which we soon learn are really "arguments." We learn to write papers that are arguments too—"Don't just say what you know, have a thesis!"

At some point we discover academic journals, and our eyes are opened to just how complex and contentious and uncertain this certain thing is. And, if we go on long enough, we graduate to conferences, and we learn that knowledge is an actual conversation, usually with alcohol.

Conversations work because, at their best, they know more and produce more than their members. They work because the knowledge is in the conversation. It happens in the very interplay of ideas—asserting, contesting, extending, simplifying and complexifying the dizzying whirl of fact and opinion, creative and synthetic, smart and dumb, right and wrong, from this angle and that. Literature works like this too, but can be even more meaningless without "conversational" context—genre, allusion and imitation and so forth.

So, quiet or not, the library is a buzzing cocktail party—better and better the more people are there and the more they interact. It is already "hive" this session promises. It is, in point of fact, very much like the web.

And on libraries and their catalogues:

… the greatest thing the library has to offer—has ever had to offer—is not the relative fixity and contested reliability some now stridently set against the web, but the bubbling river of conversation it embraces.

… in finding books, we ascend through a conversation. The library catalog is too often an encyclopedia, talking at you. It's useful in the first staged of discovery. But as we ascend through a topic we gravitate to more conversational forms of discovery—reviews, articles, footnotes, bibliographies and the recommendations of others. And, I think, we leave the catalog behind. For some things, like finding new fiction, almost everyone skips the catalog right off, and reads reviews and talks to friends.

I find all that to be very good. (As is Spalding's footnoted point about David Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous: "Digitization has kicked things up a notch—made us more aware of the arbitrariness of categorization, the necessity of thinking for yourself and the value of conversations—but these are old lessons.")

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School's out

Knowsley Council in Merseyside, which - for years - has languished near or at the bottom of exam league tables, has abolished the use of the word to describe secondary education in the borough. It is taking the dramatic step of closing all of its eleven existing secondary schools by 2009. As part of a £150m government-backed rebuilding programme, they will reopen as seven state-of-the-art, round-the-clock, learning centres with the aid of Microsoft - which has already developed links with one school in the borough, Bowring.

The style of learning will be completely different. The new centres will open from 7am until 10pm in both term-time and what used to be known as the school holidays. At weekends, they will open from 9am to 8pm. Youngsters will not be taught in formal classes, nor will they stick to a rigid timetable; instead they will work online at their own speeds on programmes that are tailor-made to match their interests. … They will be given their day's assignments in groups of 120 in the morning before dispersing to internet cafe-style zones in the learning centres to carry them out.

The 21,000 youngsters of secondary education age in Knowsley will also be able to access their learning programmes from home. … The youngsters may find themselves working beside adults - possibly even their parents - who can enlist for courses to update their skills. Independent

Hmm … See Graham's comment: 'I see this as the first big crack in the present model of schooling which dates from the first industrial revolution. And it won't be the last.'

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Ice Age art

Something beautiful …

Archaeologists at the University of Tübingen have recovered the first entirely intact woolly mammoth figurine from the Swabian Jura, a plateau in the state of Baden-Württemberg, thought to have been made by the first modern humans some 35,000 years ago. It is believed to be the oldest ivory carving ever found. "You can be sure," Tübingen archaeologist Nicholas J. Conard told SPIEGEL ONLINE, "that there has been art in Swabia for over 35,000 years." Spiegel Online

Mammoth 1
Universität Tübingen 

The figure of the woolly mammoth is tiny, measuring just 3.7 cm long and weighing a mere 7.5 grams, and displays skilfully detailed carvings. It is unique in its slim form, pointed tail, powerful legs and dynamically arched trunk. It is decorated with six short incisions, and the soles of the pachyderm's feet show a crosshatch pattern. …

The geological context of the discoveries and radiocarbon dating indicate that the figurines belong to the Aurignacian culture, which refers to an area of southern France and is associated with the arrival of the first modern humans in Europe. Multiple radiocarbon dates from sediment in the Vogelherd Cave yielded ages between 30,000 and 36,000 years ago, the University of Tübingen reports. Some methods give an even older date. Spiegel Online

Mammoth 2
Universität Tübingen 

These tiny artworks, recently unearthed, are among the oldest examples of figurative art ever found. (For comparison, the oldest known cave/rock paintings go back to 32,000-40,000 years ago. The paintings at Lascaux in France and Altamira in Spain are somewhere around 15,000 years old.) Thinking Meat

via 3 Quarks Daily

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Interesting2007: pattern recognition

I need to write up something about Reboot 9, but meantime here's a different something … about , Russell Davies' visionary "conference" (his Interesting2007 posts are here). In fact, for reasons Grant and Lee suggest (below), the two conferences hang very well together.

The programme/speakers are  - or get the running order at Roo Reynolds' . There are masses of pictures on Flickr and a Flickr Interesting2007 group. (The attributions of the photos below are visible if you hover your mouse over each.) Rod's sketches are here.

Photo by tim d (Flickr)


I had this spooky feeling as I sat in the Conway Hall that my parents would have been there at some point in their lives — and indeed they had. I hope that was in the pre-WWII years when I know they hotly debated socialism and visions for a better century. That's how I imagine it, anyway.Photo by tim d (Flickr)




Everybody's favourite hit of the Interesting2007 day seems to be Rhodri Marsden playing along to Wichita Lineman on a saw. Roo Reynolds has this of it:

The Independent's technology correspondent, Rhodri also plays keyboard with Scritti Politti. See Wikipedia for more.

Just so much to enjoy! I particularly liked …

Photo by tim d (Flickr)Jack on comics (the picture shows Jack discussing one of my all time favourite images, a spread from Desolation Jones by Ellis/Williams — see Jack's and Matt's for more details). Hypertime! I must get reading (Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis) and find that Hockney film, 'A Day on the Grand Canal with the Emperor of China'.

Anne Ward on how everything's interesting. (Throughout Interesting2007, I kept thinking of Andrew Keen and how this day, and Anne in particular, was a perfect riposte.) See I like and Nothing To See Here.

Photo by Naked Faris (Flickr)

Tom Lewis-Reynier's surreal history of knots. (I want a copy of that maypole shot with every child's face hidden.) Chris on cooking in the El Bulli way. (May have transformed the way I think of cooking!) Tom on tubes as not at all a bad metaphor for the internet. Fiona on the planning and preparation of the Science Museum's Science of Spying exhibition (the slide to the right here is from her talk). Matt on The Vernacular of The Spectacular (great overview of formative influences, lynchpin ideas, striking words and images … and play). 

Special mention to Dave Funkypancake's weird and wonderful collection of photos with killing commentary. This is Roo Reynolds' favourite slide from Dave's presentation, and also mine:

Photo by Roo Reynolds (Flickr)

It was a pleasure to meet Grant McCracken at last and his post-Interesting2007 caught my eye:

My second guess was we were looking at the reinvention of the conference.  Many cultural artifacts that have been dislodged by our new world.  Our world has been decentered, flattened, destabilized, distributed, and made participative, anarchical, elite indifferent, cloudily networked, self organizing, and concatenating.  So it's natural that we're having to rethink entertainment, information, elites, experts and especially speakers.  Who now wants to sit in a room and hear someone hold forth?  Certainly, there are a couple of people who we would like to hear speak in this way.  But how often do they turn up to the conferences we go too?  Mostly what we get is two things: 1) badly concealed self advertisement, and 2) a view of the world that means to be comprehensive but proves to be alarmingly (and unwittingly) partial. 

Conferences used to create value by giving us the benefits of a sorting exercise.  The organizers would choose experts and the experts would choose topics and treatments.  We the audience would undergo edification mixed with a couple of moments of epiphany (with the opportunity to build networks over drinks).  The trouble is we are now fantastically good at sorting for ourselves.  What we want from a conference is not a surrogate intelligence of a big name speaker.  What we want is a tide that delivers new and interesting things that present themselves in fresh and unexpectedly formed ways.  …

Put us on the Kauffman continuum, the one that arrays the world between fixity at one end and chaos at the other, and it turns out that we most of us have paddled our way away from fixity towards chaos, and now tread water here in rougher, whiter waters with no discernible effort or difficulty.  Experts be damned.  We can read the world quite nicely on our own, thank you very much.  It doesn't have to be very fully formed for us to "get it." …

… those of us who actually make and manage meanings in the world know the truth of our present condition, and this is that if you have the right powers of metaphor capture and pattern recognition the world is still a relatively intelligible place.  The thing to remember is that the coherences are multiple, the interpretive frames many and conflicting, and the world changeable and fluid.  And when all of this is true, then not only is the sky not falling, but Red Lions Square and Conway Hall when filled with speakers by Russell, is a very interesting place to be.

Compare Lee's about what Reboot 9 means to him:

I think we suffer from having a well-established conference organising industry for whom conferences are conceived in spreadsheets, not in the heart, whereas Reboot, LIFT and even the O'Reilly events in the USA are led by people who care passionately about the subject of the event. I think Reboot and similar European conferences also benefit from being non-commercial in the conventional sense. Events like Interesting 2007, which I will sadly miss, and Hack Day at Alexandra Palace, and indeed even the semi-shambolic NotCon events of a few years ago are all a better model to build on, and I hope business conference organisers will take a few leaves from their book.

Last "word" to Matt:

Photo by blackbeltjones (Flickr)

Lenovo blogs … and decision time

Currently, the blogs :

The About Lenovo site is here and Lenovo Products is here (both are US).

It's getting to that point in the cycle (2.5 years) where I'm noticing my current ThinkPad's not handling the new demands I'm making of it with quite the same speed and efficiency I expect from it, and I'm beginning to think about upgrading. Mac has such interesting OS/software, but for build there's nothing I know to compete with ThinkPad. (Now, if Apple were ever to release their OS for sale separately from their machines …)

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As I was wondering …

Via Don Park, this comment on OnlineSpin's post, Deconstructing Facebook:

I’ve noticed a surge…and consequently a mass exodus of their core users. My 20-yr intern summed it up best: when I asked her why she deleted her facebook profile/account this week, she said, “My 6th grade cousin tried to friend me on facebook and that was it. Facebook’s over.”

Earlier today I dug out, for a friend, this from danah boyd (written last September):

I do not believe that social network sites are able to sustain lots of conflicting social contexts. Or, rather, i don't believe that they can continue as a hang-out space. I know that Facebook will continue to grow but i believe that the core value of it will be lost for the sake of growth.

There are some good comments on danah's post. As far as I can tell, the jury's out — that is, the young are still in.

Talk at St Paul's

I spoke this morning to our first two year groups — years 9 and 10 (14 and 15 year-olds) about some aspects of the web and digital life, generational gaps in understanding these, search, mediated publics, Facebook … and schools. The slides are available online here. (I wish Slideshare could also make my slides' notes available — or maybe I've missed something? I've added the notes in the comments to the slides.)

I was finishing the slides early this morning when I finally ran through Tom's for his Reboot talk. I'd already included several shots of Facebook's privacy pages/options; inspired by Tom's coverage of the same, I added a couple more! I think I Twitter'd earlier this year that privacy options within Facebook were rendering me battle weary.

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Facebook's secret?

Jeff Jarvis in today's :

What is Facebook's secret sauce? I think it starts with identity. On the otherwise anonymous and pseudonymous internet, this is a place where real identity matters: I use my name and I associate with people whom I actually know. Soon after I started, I got invitations from strangers and asked my blog readers about the etiquette of responding. I was told that, in school, one accepts all invitations, because you are all in the same institution and it's rather like an arms race; school is, after all, a popularity contest. But we newcomer adults already seem to be developing a rule (borrowed from the similar business site LinkedIn) that we should befriend only those we know; it is an endorsement. So we are the masters of of our identities and our communities, which establishes trust. I think internet users have been yearning for such control.

Meanwhile, I think Stowe's spot on when he :

Why does Facebook only allow me one blog to be imported?


What I really want is a Twitterific-type desktop app that takes my Facebook stream, and pops new stuff via Growlr. Or, alternatively, a richer notification system: I can't get notified when new material is posted to a group that I administer, for example.

Well, I'm (still?) on a Windows machine and can't comment on Twitterific or Growlr, but a richer notification system — YES! I hit a point yesterday when I found myself asking — 'Now what?'. I wanted more … feedback.