Weblogs are for learners

tellio II : How I Teach and Why It Is So Hard. Quote: “I have tried to convince them that weblogs are the most protean tool for learning ever made. Like a furnace and anvil, a weblog can make most of its own learning tools. It is self-contained yet all-connected. It is portable yet it is rooted. It is an imaginative journal with a lock and key yet it is fearlessly open to modification and criticism. It is self-governing yet is subject to social control. I am almost afraid of what it will do to certain of my students. Tools transform us whether we will or no. What will this do to them? And more to the point, will it, on balance, do more for them?” [Serious Instructional Technology]

Really nice, reflective post on weblogs in teaching environments and the promise they hold for learning coupled with the fears they generate in those who value order over learning.

I’ve been blessed to be able to learn in some of the best academic environments that exist — ones that truly care about learning. Perhaps because of that it’s taken me a bit longer to grasp how tenous the relationship is between classrooms, teachers, and learning. As I’ve spent time now in front of the classroom, I’m much more sanguine about the role of teachers and overly formal curricula (after all ‘curriculum’ comes from the Latin for running around in circles). I like Terry’s advice:

My teaching is very good when I keep a simple pattern in mind: a question or a problem

And that has to start with a learner not a teacher. That’s why we, and so many others, are so keen on weblogs and learning. Weblogs put the responsibility where it is most effective, in the hands of a learner with a question or a problem.

Murphy’s Law and Design


James Vornov has been posting some interesting reflections on Murphy’s Law over on his weblog, on deciding…better , recently. Here’s where he started.

Murphy’s Law Was Invented Here: It was named after Capt. Edward A. Murphy, an engineer working on Air Force Project MX981, (a project) designed to see how much sudden deceleration a person can stand in a crash. One day, after finding that a transducer was wired wrong, he cursed the technician responsible and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.”

  The Origin of Murphy’s Law: The traditional version of Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”) is actually “Finagle’s Law of Dynamic Negatives.” Finagle’s Law was popularized by science fiction author Larry Niven in several stories depicting a frontier culture of asteroid miners; this “Belter” culture professed a religion and/or running joke involving the worship of the dread god Finagle and his mad prophet Murphy. Since then, the relentless truth inherent in Murphy’s Law has become a persistent thorn in the side of humanity.
  Sod’s Law? While I admit that the name of Murphy’s laws is a pleasant one as is the story of how it came to light, but the original name for ‘if anything can go wrong it will’ was sod’s law because it would happen to any poor sod who needed such a catastrophic event the least.

What I find really interesting is this:

  Murphy’s Law The correct, _original_ Murphy’s Law reads: “If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, then someone will do it.” This is a principle of defensive design, cited here because it is usually given in mutant forms less descriptive of the challenges of design for lusers. For example, you don’t make a two-pin plug symmetrical and then label it `THIS WAY UP’; if it matters which way it is plugged in, then you make the design asymmetrical (see also the anecdote under magic smoke).

I think this statement is true. I hope to come back to it after exploring the more generalized statement of the law.

[OnDecidingBetter News]

What I’m especially intrigued by is the connection between Murphy’s Law and design. While usually invoked against some abstract malevolent force, it’s really about the conquences of not thinking designs all the way through.

More and more, we’re not only living in a designed world, we are all becoming active designers. In the immortal words of Pogo, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”

Getting back to stories

I’m off to California for a couple of days. Fortunately, Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magical Kingdom came in yesterday’s care package from Amazon. Now, I’ll have something to read on the flight.

I’ve also just started Steve Dennings’s The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations. Denning used to be at the World Bank and launched their knowledge management initiatives. He discovered that effective storytelling was a central element in getting from the notion of knowledge management to some actionable organizational change. Not too long ago I got an email from one of my former partners at DiamondCluster reminding me of how I used to used Doc SearlsIt’s the Story Stupid” to anchor my efforts to teach consultants how to find a compelling story buried in their data and analyses. Consultants always want to tell you about all the interesting work they’ve been doing instead of getting to the point. It takes a long time to break them of that habit.

Creators and distributors

Dive into this, sucka!. Dive into Premium. Read it and weep laugh… [Dave Seidel :: Wavicle < 0xDECAFBAD] [jenett.radio]

Some fun for the weekend.

One thought. Once you learn that you can create, I think you become more comfortable with sharing the results of your creation. Don’t worry, there’s more where that came from. If you’re contribution is to simply distribute the fruits of someone else’s creation, perhaps you are more fearful about your value in the mix. Fear makes you likely to grasp at what you’ve got, rather than reach out for what is possible. I think it may be time to go and reread The Future and Its Enemies : The Growing Conflict over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress by Virginia Postrel.

Lovely rant on Jack Valenti

What he said. A lovely rant from the head lemur on Jack Valenti. I’ve excerpted it a bit, so go read the whole thing.

Jack Valenti is confused.

Jack Valenti, the CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America is confused. In a statement released yesterday he said;

‘It s a bit strange that the IT community launches a million-dollar campaign against the movie industry, and their spokesman at a press conference charges us as the enemy. It s strange because the copyright industry has been in good faith negotiations with computer companies and consumer electronics companies for a long time. The MPAA is trying to reach a mutually agreeable conclusion whose aim it is to stop the thievery of films so that a legitimate digital marketplace can thrive.”

“Consumers will be the beneficiaries of a digitally honest world. Consumer satisfaction is our number one objective. We are not the enemy. We are not at war with the IT community. We are hoping that these meetings will produce amiable results. Which is why I am shaking my head in wonderment at this million-dollar campaign to deride us.”

You are the enemy of the consumer and everyone using a computer with an internet connection or a cd or cd-dvd player. From your first notable speech before Congress attempting to get VCR’s off the market, to your continuing support of every restrictive technology from the CSS encryption, Broadcast Flag, the DCMA, the Hollings legislation, and what will come up to restrict consumer choice tomorrow, you have demonstrated that you are anti-consumer. Your members call us thieves and pirates. You continual lobbying efforts to restrict what people can do with their property in their own homes on equipment that allows people to enjoy entertainment in different formats at their leisure on their schedule makes a mockery of anything you have said about freedom.

Solving your problem is easy. Stop offering movies anywhere but in theaters. No VCR tapes. No DVD’s. No Television broadcasting. This will do more to cut down on piracy and unauthorised duplication of your member products than anything else you have tried. It will also render moot such things as encryption chips, broadcast flags, copyright extentions, and other technologies to enable consumers to have a choice in their preferences of using your products. I would beef up the security in movie theaters if I were you. We wouldn’t want another Spiderman episode. You should be able to equip theaters with metal detectors real cheap now as they are the newest thing in public accomodation devices.

The second and far more critical to your members is the loss of revenue by not offering customers movies in a form they are willing to PAY for. See if your members are willing to lose this revenue.

I love movies. …I have over 600 movies in my personal collection. …. I have purchased each and every one of them. Not a single one is a copy that is not in a factory wrapper. …

Make no mistake about this, they are mine. If I want to let my children, friends, or neighbors borrow them, I will. They are Mine. I bought them. I paid for them I own them.

Your problem is control. You want it. You can’t have it on the internet. You can continue to try to legislate around it. You can continue to propose Digital Restriction Monopoly Schemes. Your best bet is to restrict your products to formats that are incompatable with computers. But then you would have to help the theater owners make their venues much more attractive to take up the slack in lost sales, as well as spending more money advertising on the internet to get folks off their computers and into theaters.

[the head lemur’s Radio Weblog]

Do you ever wonder whether folks like Valenti ever actually use any of the technology they decry? If you are an advocate for one position do you make an effort to understand the other side or dig in your heels? I want to believe in a world that operates with reasoned debate to find answers that work now and work in the future as the world and technology evolves. I realize that I don’t live in such a world, but I still want to believe in it.

Insecure door locks

Most Door Locks Insecure. John Schwartz at the New York Times reports on a blockbuster piece of research by cryptographer Matt Blaze. Matt applied… [Freedom To Tinker]

Felten is among the many reporting on this New York Times article on door locks. He makes the critical observation that:

This is why we need independent analysis of security technologies. Manufacturers will keep important information from their customers, even information that impacts the basic security decisions of the customers. Bans on security analysis, or bans on the dissemination of results, just help manufacturers keep their customers in the dark. Thank goodness there is no DMCA for door locks.

He also provides a link to the underlying research article.

Brains, minds, and teaching

Brains, Minds and Teaching. I wish I had the full text version of this item and not just the slide show, because I’m not sure I agree with it in its details. But there is a lot to chew on in this HTML version of a PowerPoint presentation connecting current brain function research and teaching methodology. The best bit is the discussion of semantic versus episodic memory near the middle of the document. My main thought, though, is that what we are seeing here is very much a simplification of what actually happens. We may be able to represent semantic memory using concept maps for the purposes of an entry-level introduction, but readers should not think that we actually have concept maps in the brain. By Massimo Pigliucci, Unknown [Refer][Research][Reflect] [OLDaily]

Good overview material.

Managing for shared awareness

Enterprise Effectiveness. Combat Power and Enterprise Effectiveness Quote: “Companies such as GE that do have it (distributed information for shared awareness) are… [elearnspace blog]

Interesting thinking about what lessons are to be learned from the military about sharing information in real-time or near real-time:

Shared information inside a corporation and with its allies and customers provides greater information richness and reach, and produces shared awareness. Shared awareness in turn enables faster operational tempo and sustainable competitive advantage. This all spells increased competitiveness

An interesting transition from “need to know” to “shared awareness” Hierarchical organizations spend inordinate time and effort trying to work out precise boundaries on who needs to know what and when. Ostensibly about minimizing demands on people throughout the organization, it’s really about the exercise of power and control.

If, on the other hand, your focus is on the external mission, i.e. getting the job done for customers, the issue shifts to how best to let everyone have access to and know what is going on that might be relevant. In part this has to be founded on a deeper sense of trust in all the members of the organization. Trust both in their judgment to make good and appropriate use of information and knowledge and, more importantly, in their capacity to manage the torrent of bits on their own. No need to be paternalistic about it.

Roadwired bags

RoadWired bags kick azz. If we’re gonna talk about laptop bags, I need to mention RoadWired, who make my favorite bags, cable-organizers, PDA cases, bum-bags and other roadwarrier accessories. I’ve never once broken a RoadWired bag, and I break EVERYTHING. I don’t think I’ve done a single trip in the past three years without a RoadWired gizmo: bags, pouches, cables, cable-organizers, etc. Link Discuss [Boing Boing Blog]

As if I needed another source of distraction.