Clyde Street

Learning, Teaching, Performing


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Knowledge, Control, Switches

It is forty years since the publication of Michael F D Young’s Knowledge and Control. This week I was reminded of this influential publication by a book on information management, a discussion about a Master Switch and a post from the Scholarly Kitchen. All three items raise important issues about knowledge and who controls access to it.

Ann Blair has written a detailed account of managing scholarly information before the Modern Age in Too Much To Know.

In her introduction Ann observes that:

We describe ourselves as living in an information age as if this were something completely new. In fact, many of our current ways of thinking about and handling information descend from patterns of thought and practices that extend back for centuries.

Ann explores the development reference books as an example of information management. Anthony Grafton says of Too Much To Know :

There has always been ‘too much to know.’ In this lively and learned book, Ann Blair shows us how early modern Europeans managed to survive—and even to surf—what they saw as tidal waves of information. Her insightful comparisons, careful attention to the survival of traditional methods, and clear vision of the new culture of passionate curiosity that took place in the Renaissance give her work extraordinary range and depth.

The Guardian Weekly carried a news item this week about China’s Firewall. The article followed up a US announcement about funds to support Internet access. Fang Binxing’s comments about the robustness of China’s Firewall took me back to Tim Wu’s discussions in Master Switch about how “information industries rise, consolidate, monopolize, capture governments, force out competitors, and, eventually, fragment into something less grandiose, less perfect, but more vibrant, open, and innovative.”

Meanwhile Kent Anderson in a blog post in The Scholarly Kitchen was exploring the debate over “whether the Internet is making us smarter and more capable or turning us into shallow and superficial information parasites.” Kent argues that “throughout history, this fear of losing control has been consistently masked as concerns for higher, even altruistic interests.” He concludes that:

We may argue again and again whether the Internet is changing our brains, elevating us, lowering us, making us smarter, or making us stupid. But at the end of the day, it seems the real argument is about control — who has it, who shares it, and who wants it.

So, despite all the partisans, sophistry, and essays about our brains, our culture, our souls, it’s important to remember that what we’re really arguing about is control.

I thought Ann, Tim and Kent were a great rejoinder to ideas prompted by Michael Young all those years ago and exemplifications of the contest for control.

Photo Credit

A mobile library providing books to rural areas 1947


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Fate and Fortune?

This week has thrown up a number of opportunities for me to contemplate fate and fortune.

In my synchronous life I have attended a selection event for a national team, engaged in discussions about organisational change, worked with colleagues to explore learning opportunities in open spaces and have contributed to an open tender to write a wiki history of paralympic sport in Australia.

My asynchronous life has prompted me to reflect on how I get involved in such events.

Last Saturday (19 February) Radio National broadcast a Radiolab program, Fate and Fortune, about life trajectories.  The program explored the genetic links to destiny:

If destiny isn’t written in the stars, could it be written in our genes? Kids struggle to resist marshmallows, and their ability to holdout at age 4 turns out to predict how successful they’re likely to be the rest of their lives. And an unexpected find in a convent archive uncovers early warning signs for dementia in the writings of 18-year-olds.

The hour-long program includes:

  • Paul Auster talking about rhyming events.
  • Walter Mischel’s marshmallow experiment.
  • Malcolm Gladwell’s discussion of talent.
  • Ian Lancashire, Kelvin Lim and Serguei Pakhomov sharing their work on textual analysis.

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the ideas in Radiolab format.  Each of these topics is a journey of discovery.

Whilst pondering some of these ideas I received a link a few days later to Patricia Kuhl’s TEDxRainer talk on the linguistic genius of babies.

The link from Stephen Downes that took me to the talk directed me to a post about Gary Small’s work too.

Patricia and Gary have a great deal to share about plasticity, fate and destiny. As I was contemplating their work I recalled reports of a study I had seen late last year. The study by Geraint Rees and Ryota Kanai discussed political affiliation.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, Professor Rees and his colleague Dr Ryota Kanai at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UCL (University College London) analysed the brain structures of ninety young adults who had reported their political attitudes on a scale from ‘very conservative’ to ‘very liberal’. They found a strong correlation between an individual’s view and the structure of the brain, particularly two regions.

People with liberal views tended to have increased grey matter in the anterior cingulated cortex, a region of the brain linked to decision-making, in particular when conflicting information is being presented. Previous research showed that electrical potentials recorded from this region during a task that involves responding to conflicting information were bigger in people who were more liberal or left wing than people who were more conservative.

Conservatives, meanwhile, found increased grey matter in the amygdala, an area of the brain associated with processing emotion. This difference is consistent with studies which show that people who consider themselves to be conservative respond to threatening situations with more aggression than do liberals and are more sensitive to threatening facial expressions.

I enjoyed reading a critique of the left wing, right wing brain in this post. I liked in particular the suggestion that:

The brain is a powerful organ designed to help you deal with reality in all its complexity. For a lot of people, politics doesn’t take place there, it happens in fairytale kingdoms populated by evil monsters, foolish jesters, and brave knights.

A link to Ravi Iyer et al (2010) in the post has left me with some more reading to do with regard to psychological predispositions in the organisation of political attitudes.

All in all it has been a great time to contemplate plasticity, rigidity, free will, determinism, genetic endowment and cultural empowerment! Next stop … following up on Kent Anderson’s post about Margaret Atwood and cheese sandwiches. Kent quotes Margaret to end his post:

The book is not dead. Reading is not dead. The human interest in stories is not dead. But we are in the midst of a sea change in transmission tools, the likes of which we have not seen since the Gutenberg print revolution. As with that historical moment, there was a lot of turmoil, and nobody could foresee all the consequences.

Photo Credits

Where do we go from here?

I came when the sun o’er that beach was declining


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Narrative Engines and Personal Identity

I receive a daily RSS feed from the Scholarly Kitchen. Today I read Kent Anderson’s post The “Me at the Centre” Expectation.

Kent concludes his discussion about the personalisation of web experiences with the observation that:

the Web is both mobile and omnipresent in some ways, but the way it’s being deployed is about each user. It’s the antithesis of broadcast, yet it requires broadcast. And the “filter failure” we’re worrying about requires traditional filters, but then gets filtered further.

His post was prompted by Nick Bilton‘s book I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works. Kent links to this post by Nick Bilton in which Nick points out that  “Now you are the starting point. Now the digital world follows you, not the other way around.”

A few days earlier on one of my drives to Canberra I had been listening to Ramona Koval‘s discussions with William Boyd about his new book Ordinary Thunderstorms and the use of a narrative engine to discuss personal identity.(Transcript of the interview.) William points out that the idea for the book is the the hunter and the hunted. He adds that:

it’s a very powerful narrative engine for any novel, and I happily cherry-pick genres for narrative engines as I require them. In this case I was mainly interested in what happens when you lose everything. It’s not so much about Adam escaping, he has to escape, it’s about the process that this involves, that he sheds everything that makes him a modern citizen; mobile phone, credit cards, passport, home, job, reputation et cetera. He runs, but instead of running away north, south, east or west, he goes down, he hides himself in the lowest reaches of society, and in so doing has to lose his identity. And that’s what really intrigued me about this story.

During the course of the interview, William notes that:

It’s extraordinary to me that the population of the missing in England is some 200,000 people. We just don’t know where they are, we can’t find them …  So 600 people a week just walk away from their homes, their families, their jobs, and disappear, 200,000 people, that’s a big provincial city. Where is this population? They’re like ghosts wandering the streets, you occasionally see them as you walk about London huddled in doorways or passed out on park benches, but there is a great population of the missing in this city and it just shows you that you can, even in the 21st century, disappear off the radar completely.

Without forcing the link too much I do think there is an interesting juxtaposition between Nick Bilton’s and William Boyd’s books. In pursuing this idea I came across David Ventura and David Brogan’s (2002) paper on Digital Storytelling. They explore a heuristic for interactive narrative development that aims to deliver a compelling story. Their narrative engine enables users to choose branching of stories whilst constraining these choices to make the story feasible.

Whilst William Boyd uses the craft of authorship, David Ventura and David Brogan explore an optimised constraints-based system. I take Nick Bilson’s point to be that the user-centredness of narrative is embedded on our everyday lives and will be so increasingly. It is an opportunity to move on our digital practice as Luis Suarez and Kevin Jones have argued recently “adoption has to do with context not age”.

Adoption and non-adoption, personalised and personal learning, social connectedness and social isolation are important issues for me in my work. I think volition and intrinsic motivation are keys to engagement and hope that advocacy and support can encourage participation in a digital world. I recognise that there are lots of people, as William Boyd points out through the character of Adam, that do not wish to engage.

For my part I am fascinated by the ubiquitous opportunities many of us have. My next step … I am off to re-read Bryan Rieger’s Rethinking the Mobile Web (another RSS feast from the Scholarly Kitchen).

Photo Credits

Istanbul Market

Phone Walk


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Op Shop, Connectivism and Mutual Flourishing

This is another post that has been waiting to be written! Michael Clarke’s post on Sounding the Revolution gave me the impetus I needed.

I like the idea of Op Shops. Wikipedia points out that:

Charity shops are a type of social enterprise. They usually sell mainly second-hand goods donated by members of the public, and are often staffed by volunteers. Because the items for sale were obtained for free, and business costs are low, the items can be sold at very low prices. After costs are paid, all remaining income from the sales is used in accord with the organization’s stated charitable purpose. Costs include purchase and/or depreciation of fixtures (clothing racks, bookshelves, counters, etc.), operating costs (maintenance, municipal service fees, electricity, telephone, limited advertising) and the building lease or mortgage.

I take connectivism to be a kindred social enterprise. Each day, because of the generosity of others, I discover wonderful opportunities to learn and then share. I have an opportunity to participate in the move from information to coordination.

Recently I was struck by Sally Fincher‘s Op Shop credentials. I found her work through a Mark Guzdial post Tell Sally Your Stories: Monthly for a Year. The Share Project is researching teaching practice. Sally points out that:

we are investigating how academics represent, share and change their practices. One strand of our investigation (this one) is designed to collect material on the everyday lives and normal routines of academics. If you sign up, we’ll ask you to keep a diary for a day—the 15th day of each month—detailing what you do (especially with regard to teaching) and what you think and feel about it.

I was struck by a post by Kent Anderson in the Scholarly Kitchen that prompted me to think that this really is the age of social enterprise:

An interesting change has come in the modeling of society over the past few decades, namely the move from a generation gap to a fixation on youth to a reorientation on youth showing elders the way. Now, a study from the Pew Research Center indicates that older adults are adopting social media quickly, with those 50-64 years old picking it up at an 88% greater rate in just one year. Overall, 47% of people in this age group now use social media, up from 25% in April 2009.

Tools like Greplin are giving us the opportunity to range far and wide in our sharing.

As a conclusion to this post I thought I would add Clay Shirky’s TED video from 2009 about the transformed media landscape and the Internet as a site of coordination.


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Identity and Identification

Recently I have been thinking a great deal about connecting and sharing. I have been following some of the blog posts about identity, identification and privacy in relation to Facebook. The Scholarly Kitchen and Stephen Downes have been rich sources of information for me. This post pulls together some items from the past couple of weeks. Some of them are mulling around in my thoughts about semantic web discussions and the appearance of tools like Diaspora to add to our connection behaviour choices.

During this time Google Wave was used at a Facebook press conference as a live blogging tool (26 May).

26 May

Facebook Addresses Several Privacy Issues (Chris Conley, ACLU) “over 80,000 people to sign ACLU petitions demanding that Facebook give users control over all of the information they share via Facebook and ensure that user information is not shared with any third party without our own opt-in consent.”

23 May

Monkeys vs Robots: The Mysteries of Identity in the Age of Facebook (Kent Anderson, The Scholarly Kitchen) This post has some interesting points to make and links to posts by Jeff Jarvis (Confusing *a* public with *the* public) and Danah Boyd (Facebook and “radical transparency” (a rant)). There were 107 responses to Jeff’s post and ninety comments on Danah’s post when I last looked.

I know we have made a bunch of mistakes (see Robert Scoble).

22 May (archived from February 2010)

You Are Not a Gadget (Kent Anderson, Scholarly Kitchen) raised some fascinating ideas about “participation in social media and electronic commerce, especially the centrality advertising is gaining in the culture developing around online identity”  prompted by Jaron Lanier’s  You Are Not a Gadget.

18 May

Your guide to the Facebook revolt of 2010 (Jon Ippolito, UMaine NMDNet)

13 May

There’s More to Social Media than Facebook (Lana Brindley, On Writing, Tech and Other Loquacities)

Photo Credits

Summer Mayhem

More than a Hundred People


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#HPRW10 Sharing

I have been thinking about a framework for my panel contribution at Day Three of #HPRW10.The topic for the panel to address is How do we make the research effort into high performance sport more effective?

The abstract I submitted was:

There is a wonderful momentum growing around the aggregation of effort in many aspects of social and professional life. Following on from my presentation at the NESC Forum 2009 I am going to propose that a connected network of practice is essential for sport to flourish in Australia. This connected network will be open and through aggregation will ensure that we grow a research culture that has a cumulative approach to knowledge production. For this to be really effective it will require many institutions to transform their Internet presence. I will suggest there is no wealth but life.

The resources I have looked at to develop my thoughts are:

Around the World in Eighty Seconds

(London – Cairo – Mumbai – Hong Kong – Tokyo – San Francisco – New York – London)

Social Media 2

I was struck by a recent post by Seth Godin in which he argued that:

The challenge of our time may be to build organizations and platforms that  engage and coordinate the elites, wherever they are. After all, this is where change and productivity come from.
Once you identify this as your mission, you save a lot of time and frustration in your outreach. If someone doesn’t choose to be part of the elites, it’s unclear to me that you can persuade them to change their mind. On the other hand, the cycle of discovery and engagement the elites have started is going to accelerate over time, and you have all the tools necessary to be part of it – to lead it, in fact. (Original emphasis.)

I looked at a link I received to Virtual Research Networks

and pondered the possibilities of Web 3.0. Whilst doing so I found Kate Ray’s link to a discussion of the Semantic Web (link).

Which led me to this Flickr phtograph of Tim Berners-Lee.

I followed up his Linked Data Presentation just as I received an invitation to a webinar about the Semantic Enterprise. The trail for the webinar identified Four Pillars of the Advanced Computing Enterprise

  • Data management
  • Process management
  • Access management
  • Resource management

The value proposition from the trail was that semantics help adapt and unify databases, web services and service oriented architectures (SOA), mobile devices, and cloud computing.

From other feeds I have been contemplating social media and connectedness.

Social Media: Twitter

Social Media: Facebook

Changes to Facebook’s privacy settings have been creating some very strong responses. Recent examples include Jason Calcanis’s post (12 May) and a New York Times article (11 May).

(Postscript After finishing this post I came across Mark Pesce’s article for the ABC’s  Drum Unleashed Social networks and the end of privacy. I include it here as an important contribution to the discussion of privacy. See too Stephen Downes’ (18 May) detailed special report Facebook and Privacy. Scholarly Kitchen has compiled some resources on this topic too.)

Meanwhile a colleague had shared with me a paper by James E. Powell, Linn Marks Collins, and Mark L.B. Martinez (2009), in which they observe:

We believe that high quality custom collections of content from digital libraries, and the ability to explore it, can be critically important to decision makers and first responders dealing with crises.  These collections become even more valuable when offered with tools enabled by semantic technologies.  These tools can facilitate visual and task-based exploration of the collection, and provide Web 2.0 collaboration capabilities such as sharing, commenting, rating, and tagging, which are typical of online journal clubs.

Their work set me off on an open access track that took me to Sesame (an open source Java framework for storing, querying and reasoning with RDF and RDF Schema).

Thereafter, I pursued:

The Fierce Urgency of Now, in which it is proposed that:

proactive information retrieval tools can play a significant role in information seeking for users in some situations, in particular those where it is important to quickly get a sense of what information might be available about a particular topic. This may be particularly true if a user is focused on a task that benefits from information, but is not itself an information-seeking task. Additionally, the urgency of a particular task may also make it a requirement that the user be made aware of information, rather than be forced to search for it.

I followed a steer from the authors of that paper and found Michael Twidale et al. (2007) Writing in the library: Exploring tighter integration of digital library use with the writing process. They argue that:

Information provision via digital libraries often separates the writing process from that of information searching. In this paper we investigate the potential of a tighter integration between searching for information in digital libraries and using those results in academic writing. We consider whether it may sometimes be advantageous to encourage searching while writing instead of the more conventional approach of searching first and then writing. The provision of ambient search is explored, taking the user’s ongoing writing as a source for the generation of search terms used to provide possibly useful results. A rapid prototyping approach exploiting web services was used as a way to explore the design space and to have working demonstrations that can provoke reactions, design suggestions and discussions about desirable functionalities and interfaces. This design process and some preliminary user studies are described. The results of these studies lead to a consideration of issues arising in exploring this design space, including handling irrelevant results and the particular challenges of evaluation.

Whilst reading that paper on-line I received a tweet from Radio National about its Future Tense program on the digital classroom in Australia. I ended my day enjoying a blog from one of the people in that program, Helen Otway, Assistant Principal for ICT and Student Learning at Manor Lakes P-12 Specialist College.

Just as I was closing my computer I received a link to a YouTube video (two million views in a week) from a Listserv that ilustrated the excitement and dynamism available to us as we connect as researchers and coaches.

Photo Credits

Phone-wire tangle

Linked Data


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A Perfect Mess: on-line communication

I was driving home last night and came across an interview between Michael Duffy and David Freedman on Radio National’s Counterpoint. David Freedman is the co-author of A Perfect Mess. In the interview David outlined his view on the messiness of life. The book “demonstrates that moderately messy systems use resources more efficiently, spur creativity, yield better solutions and are harder to break than neat ones.”

As I was listening to the interview I was thinking about how messiness has contributed to my learning. In the last couple of years, particularly post CCK08, I have accessed a variety of on-line sources to explore learning possibilities. Occasionally I try to collect these sources here in this blog. As I was sifting through my early morning feeds today I happened upon a delightful post on the ABC’s Drum Unleashed page by Helen Razer. Now that I have read her post, Twitter quitter, I lament that I have not been organised enough to find her work!

Helen discussed her decision to delete her Twitter account and contemplate Catherine Deveney’s removal from the pages of a Melbourne newspaper. She observes that:

Derailment becomes possible with the invention of the locomotive. The air disaster becomes possible with the birth of aviation. I don’t know what to call the spite, rage and fervour that unfolds every second on Twitter, but I no longer want any role within it.

You might think professional writers would exercise a little more caution with this push-button publishing. The fact is we don’t. We’re right down there in the mud of the populaire rolling around like malicious, attention-hungry hogs.

This is a medium that has seen journalists of national reputation call me, sans any personal provocation a “Druggie”, “Shameful” and “A crap writer”. The last of which was re-Tweeted by a former editor with whom I’d never differed.

Helen’s post was published on the day she appeared on ABC’s Q&A’s discussion of the Future of the Internet (on a panel that included Kaiser Kuo and Brett Solomon.) I missed that too but caught up with that this morning. Helen’s Drum Unleashed post had received sixty-four responses by the time I read it.

One of the comments was from Beagle:

In the early days of the internet, I used an electronic term to describe what I experienced in my quest for information on “the net”. I equated my experience in locating specific information about a topic in terms of signal to noise ratio. Think about it as if you are in a car, listening to the radio. As you drive away from a rural town, the further you get from the transmitter the less signal you get and the more noise you hear. Eventually, you hear mostly noise and very little of the signal that is being broadcast.

In the beginning, the internet was very noisy (95% noise and 5% signal). My impression as we moved forward into the 21st century, was that companies like Google got much better at how they interpreted our requests and actually gave us a better signal to noise ration (50% signal – 50% noise). That relationship is drifting back towards more noise and less signal as companies like Google give us “Ads” dressed up to look like signal, when they are actually just plain noise. As an example, try searching for something you want to go out and buy, but are looking for local stores close to you that sell it. Almost impossible! Most “hits” you get will be for companies selling something online.

Twitter at the moment is (99% noise and 1% signal), Why anyone would put up with so much noise beggars belief.

The way I overcome the noise in my messiness is to have trusted sources. I find Stephen Downes’ OLDaily an essential part of my day and his links give me enormous opportunities to explore and connect. I have reduced my use of Twitter but follow 332 others who act as my guides in that space. Recently I have added The Scholarly Kitchen as a source of information and was delighted with the synchronicity of two of its feeds today:

I resisted the temptation to follow links from the XML paper but did pursue a fascinating link from Kent Anderson’s Facebook post. I found Ashwin Machanavajjhala, Aleksandra Korolova, Atish Das Sarma’s paper on On the (Im)possibility of Preserving Utility and Privacy in Personalized Social Recommendations. Their abstract concludes that “We … show that good private social recommendations are feasible only for a few users in the social network or for a lenient setting of privacy parameters.”

This connectedness is a perfect mess for me and one that is invitational and volitional. I take from Helen’s post that each of us can choose how we share our thoughts and that we enter any forum with our eyes wide open. I am attracted increasingly by slow blogging but realise that the remarkable efforts of others makes my blogging possible … now I need to understand XML to savour the prospect of semantic connectedness.

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Phone-wire tangle

World Class Traffic Jam