Weekly Web Harvest (weekly)

  • “These are satellite dishes, but they aren’t for TV. They’re meant for dispatching “mindfiles,” the memories, thoughts and feelings of people who wish to create digital copies of themselves and fling them into space with the belief that they’ll eventually reach some benevolent alien species.”

    Flinging mindfiles in to space in pursuit of immortality http://t.co/PHkFcvCzzj h/t @DavidRCroteau #english #philosophy #writingprompt

    — Tom Woodward (@twoodwar) April 18, 2014

    tags: IFTTT Twitter weekly technology self immortality

  • “(This is a long post, born out of years of frustration with ineffective institutional collaborations. If you only want the highlights, here they are: grow your network by sharing, not planning to share or deciding who to share with; the tech doesn’t determine the sharing – if you want to share, you will; weave your network by sharing what you can, and they will share what they can – people won’t share [without a lot of added incentives] stuff that’s not easy or compelling for them to share. Create virtuous cycles that amplify network effects. Given the right ‘set,’ simple tech is all they need to get started.)”

    tags: weekly sharing

  • “His original concept was called the Action Office, and it was meant to be a flexible three-walled structure that could accommodate a variety of ways of working—his idea was that people were increasingly performing “knowledge work” (a new term in the 1960s), and that they needed autonomy and independence in order to perform it.

    In other words, the original cubicle was about liberation. “

    tags: weekly office design intent

  • “In studying this systematically, Harvard neurobiologist Margaret Livingstone found that “if you look at this painting so that your center of gaze falls on the background or her hands, Mona Lisa’s mouth — which is then seen by your peripheral, low-resolution, vision — appears much more cheerful than when you look directly at it, when it is seen by your fine-detail fovea.

    “This explains its elusive quality — you literally can’t catch her smile by looking at it. Every time you look directly at her mouth, her smile disappears because your central vision does not perceive coarse image components very well. People don’t realize this because most of us are not aware of how we move our eyes around or that our peripheral vision is able to see some things better than our central vision. Mona Lisa smiles until you look at her mouth, and then her smile fades, like a dim star that disappears when you look directly at it.””

    tags: art science weekly monalisa

  • “3. Granted, Madonna has adopted two children from Malawi. According to the record, this gesture was humanitarian and of her accord. It, therefore, comes across as strange and depressing that for a humanitarian act, prompted only by her, Madonna wants Malawi to be forever chained to the obligation of gratitude. Kindness, as far as its ordinary meaning is concerned, is free and anonymous. If it can’t be free and silent, it is not kindness; it is something else. Blackmail is the closest it becomes.

    tags: weekly language english manners protocol

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

What Teachers Make?

I know I head further out on the fringe each hour of each day but I’ve always had a problem with the Taylor Mali’s “What Teachers Make“. I’m sure you’ve seen it on facebook or on some email forward.

Essentially, he’s responding to a jackass at a dinner party who’s criticizing teachers and I’m ok with that but the details of the response anger me. It is most of what I dislike about teaching.

I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor
and an A-­? feel like a slap in the face.

Grades. I hate grades.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won’t I let you go to the bathroom?
Because you’re bored.
And you don’t really have to go to the bathroom, do you?
I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:

Such command, such control, such an amazing ability to see another human’s bladder level, all that and instilling fear in parents- how proud we must be of our mastery.

I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.

Perhaps the saddest line for parents.

You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write.
I make them read, read, read.

This is almost positive other than the fact that ever sentence starts with “I make”.

I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.

And I know it’s a poem and I’d give license poetic or otherwise if this wasn’t really an embodiment of how most teaching works. Fear, force, reward, coercion in endless cycles and all, of course, for the best. It is for the children. Their shiftless beasts and will run amuck1 if not forced to do right.

It just seems strange to me. If education really worked well I’d see a different world. I’d see less depression, less poverty, less mindless pursuit of profit . . . I’d see people proudly saying how much school made them realized they loved reading/math/science/history. Far too many people I meet tell me they’re awful at math, hate reading, are no good at science. I don’t believe them but the guilt and lessons are sunk in deep.

Mali could have said I make the very people who don’t recognize the value of teachers at dinner parties.


1 1. A name for: a frenzied Malay. (Found first in Portuguese form amouco, amuco.) – OED etymology

Butcher’s Human Predator Fact Check

I passed on this Wikipedia list of people who mysteriously disappeared 1 on Twitter last night which led to the following reply from Luke Neff.

“Last year in the U.S. alone more than nine hundred thousand people were reported missing and not found…
That’s out of three hundred million, total population. That breaks down to about one person in three hundred and twenty-five vanishing. Every year….
Maybe it’s a coincidence, but it’s almost the same loss ratio experienced by herd animals on the African savannah to large predators.”

? Jim Butcher, Dead Beat

I actually read this novel at one point and I meant to see whether this was true (it’s a great writing prompt either way). I did’t know how many people go missing each year in the U.S.A. or what the predation rate is on herd animals on the African savannah.

The first part seems pretty straightforward. I did a search for missing person statistics us site:.gov

During 2013, 627,911 missing person records were entered into NCIC, a decrease of 5.1% from the 661,593 records entered in 2012. Missing Person records cleared or canceled during the same period totaled 630,990. Reasons for these removals include: a law enforcement agency located the subject, the individual returned home, or the record had to be removed by the entering agency due to a determination that the record is invalid.

-NCIC Missing Person and Unidentified Person Statistics for 2013

Even if we pretend that the nearly 630,000 entries were all missing permanently, we’re still about 1/3 short. When you look more closely at the numbers, you’ll also see that at the end of 2013 there were 84,136 active missing person records which is considerably short of 900,000. I did find the 900,000 number here (You must read the comments.) but there’s no references or anything to where their numbers come from.

I did want to know some things about predation rates on the African savannah. That took a bit more effort. I found this reference to predation rates on African livestock – between 2-10% in the 1970s – which was a good bit higher than the .3% Butcher references. There are variety of percentages and any number of interesting opportunities for more exploration. Another study, in Bhutan rather than Africa, found 2.3% losses to wild animals. And finally, closer to the mark, The Wildebeest in Western Masailand tells us that the bulk of the roughly 8% yearly turnover in the herd is due mainly to lion predation.

LMS Metaphors

Blackboard/LMS is like a -

It seems there are whole papers written on metaphors for Blackboard.

I saw Jon’s LMS-as-training-wheels metaphor and Britt’s response- both as a result of Jim’s talk. I’ve been thinking about it a bit and I think it ends up giving the LMS the wrong kind of credit. It implies a temporary guide, a training ground to get you used to using the Internet to teach. I don’t think that’s the goal at all.

Ronald M.D.

It seems to me that the LMS is a fast-food franchise kitchen. It does exactly what it is meant to do. It is built for people with minimal skills to make cheap food quickly at scale. It isn’t meant to be a training ground so people can move up to gourmet cooking. These skills don’t transfer. You aren’t even meant to graduate to being a line cook at Friday’s.

The LMS reaches the minimum quality people will tolerate in exchange for convenience and low cost.1 The LMS focuses on making the very things I find most problematic easy. Blackboard tells you what it thinks is most important for teachers with their own lead copy.

Efficient Teaching Tasks
Blackboard Learn enhances basic teaching tasks like grading and creating assessments. And with an intuitive design, this is one LMS that will save you time in and out of the classroom. – love Bb

It’s pretty clear why Bb exists. Every bit of that language reeks of unpleasant things done efficiently at scale.

Now you can take fast food and do big campaigns about serving up some semi-healthy stuff. You even have people with energy and creativity using fast food ingredients to make gourmet food. But when it comes down to it, the ingredients, the hardware, the thinking behind the layout is focused entirely on a scale delivery of certain kind of “food” and that purpose drives most everything that will ever happen in a fast food kitchen.2

It’s also pretty clear that our society is perfectly ok with fast food. We eat liquid meat paste after all. Putting multiple hundreds of students in a class, the wild popularity of video/quiz MOOCs, certainly indicate we have a very low bar for education. Most people have not had much but fast food education and any move away is likely to create dissatisfaction of various kinds.

Zombie Ordering at McDonald's

Anyone can put content online now. I think YouTube comments prove that conclusively. If not, there’s always Literally Unbelievable or your 2nd grader of choice. So the technical threshold the LMS was supposed to get faculty over isn’t really there but the LMS ceiling remains. There’s no real bump coming into the LMS but be prepared to stoop the entire time you’re in it. It does make scale assessment easy. It does put the focus clearly on grades and an ever tightening feedback loop. It does allow us to scale faculty to greater and greater numbers of students.

The LMS tool shapes what faculty think they can and should do both online and off. It shapes how courses are designed,3 how assessments are designed. It shapes what students and parents expect. It shapes how Universities structure course loads and enrollment. It shapes far too many things in a reciprocal loop of “practical” choices and low bars. That’s a terrible thing to standardize. The LMS is a symptom of larger issues, a cause of larger issues, and a way of understanding these issues. That scares me. The “solution” that contributes to the problem it solves is a hard one to untangle when it’s enmeshed in the understanding of the problem like this. Yet we keep bringing more people into it, becoming more reliant while simultaneously limiting the understandings and aspirations that would enable us to do something different.


1 Choose your own cost metric.

2 I will opt not to explore the horrific things that take place in fast food kitchens.

3 Many sites built outside of Bb in other tools look just . . . like . . . Blackboard courses.