General knowledge is social infrastructure, not commodity
For ages, learning was assumed to be social, interactive, oral. Written knowledge, where available and somewhat portable, was a specialized complement that few scholars, recordkeepers, explorers and other specialists used or needed.
As long as you needed a tutor or guide to learn, whether or not good static (lifeless) written material was available was a lesser concern.
In the last three millennia, it gradually became cheaper to produce text, commonplace for scholars to learn to write concisely and convey ideas so that others could learn them on their own. In every field, books eventually replaced ritual and oral record as the standard for precipitating knowledge into a lasting, canonical form, and passing it on. This was driven forward by personal memorials and finance and law – pillars of clan- and city-building.
Certain forms of knowledge were considered a shared good of society – from how to find resources to social and practical norms. And some were actively disseminated as necessary, such as legal and religious dictates. Other knowledge was something that could be sought out, or bought and sold. During the time when knowledge about the world was a scarce resource, yet easy enough to write down and transmit, even basic information about the shape of the planet was bartered and sold like any other good.
Today we both have bounteous knowledge, and pressing problems that better global education can address. The opportunities that could result from a more broadly educated world society are far greater than the short-term opportunities of a commodity market for practical texts.
And we will get more thorough, more accurate, and better texts of all sorts – once we think of general knowledge as a part of culture and civic infrastructure, not as something that can be owned and hoarded. We made this transition with scientific discoveries centuries ago, with mathematics before that, and today we reap tremendous benefits from that. It is time for all knowledge to join their ranks as a cornerstone of our civilization.
How can we help this come about? Take a piece of awesome, inspiring, practical knowledge that you currently buy or rent as a commodity, and make a free version of it. Publish it to a shared commons that makes it easy to maintain and update over time. Tell others who get it from the same source you did. Stop using general knowledge that you can’t repurpose, and your use of the alternative will make it the best in the world in its niche.
Ken Liu gets his due: The Paper Menagerie snags a Nebula!
Congratulations to my friend Ken Liu, phosphorescent fiction shaper whose story “The Paper Menagerie” won a Nebula Award for Best Short Story last night! Next stop: the Hugos (chosen by the Chicon 7 attendees ).
G8 Crisis Snapshot
Can you tell what these vaunted leaders were watching?
(Hint: You should be able to guess down to the second).
Tracking local news: a case study
I passed a burning Bolt Bus this morning. I wanted to learn more about it, so I trolled some local news sites.
Then some hyperlocal news sites.
Then The Internetz, via various search engines.
Twitter? Came through after a fashion: people passing it, like me, on the NJ Turnpike. Some had cameras to match their rubber necks. (HT to LilianeHaub)
Someone also tweeted from another Bolt Bus that whose driver commented on the fire to them.
But no word from people on the bus, or involved with the event; and no actual coverage.
It’s locally newsworthy;
Are there any alternatives to find out more?
Alternatives that focus on certain subgenres?
If you really can’t find any information online, writing down your own interest and what information you’ve gathered is a poor second option. That at least gives others interested in the same topic a place to talk about it.
Calmly facing death: Sendak v. Colbert, Act 3 – a sweet post-mortem
R.I.P. Maurice Sendak, brilliant children’s author and dry wit (1928–2012). He died yesterday of a stroke.
In a crossing of the stars, that May 8 was also the publication date of the satirical children’s book Stephen Colbert dreamed up for his interview with Sendak back in January.
In last night’s show, Colbert included more of the interview, to honor Sendak’s memory.
Act 3 (15 min. in)
Colbert: Today is the release date of my beloved children's
classic, I am a Pole (And So Can You!)
It's the heartwarming coming-of-age story
of a pole searching for its place in the world.
It's the perfect gift for mother's day, father's day,
graduation day... and all other days.
And you know it's a good book because of this blurb:
"THE SAD THING IS, I LIKE IT" - Maurice Sendak.
Well, the real sad thing is Mr. Sendak died this morning,
at age 83. I had the pleasure of interviewing him
earlier this year, and tonight we'd like to show you
just a few more things that Maurice had to say.
Colbert: Mr Sendak, thanks for sitting down with me today.
This is a, this is a real honor.
Sendak: No shit!
Colbert: No, I'm not shitting you. I mean it.
Now what's your favorite of your own books?
I really wished you'd ask that question.
Well I'm glad I did then.
I think the best is two books I've done.
I can have two favorites.
One is called 'outside over there'
It is my attempt to do a Mozartian book,
to take elements --
It's terrifying! these goblins that make
ice babies... and replace a child with it!
Yes... what can I say. those were all --
I was really deeply in love with romantic art
of the beginning of the 18th century,
middle of the 18th century.
Mozart was dead, and this beautiful /thing/
came out of his generation
and Mozart of course being the best quality,
the best artist, the best everything that ever --
Mozart is the highest quality.
He's like the Donald Trump of classical music.
Only the finest...
I'm gonna have to... I'm gonna have to kill you.
I'm gonna have to kill you!
Donald is quality. You've seen,
Everything he does is gold plated. That's quality.
Yes, yes, he's just like Donald Trump.
Everything is primo. Primo.
You got it, you nailed him.
The other... is called 'Higgelty Piggelty Pop!'
It's probably the best thing I've done.
Tell me the story.
It's about a sealyham terrier.
My sealyham terrier. The dog i had.
Her name was Jennie,
and she appeared in all my books,
up until the time she died.
And higgelty piggelty pop! was the big book
I wrote about her
because I knew she was going to die, soon.
She was getting old.
What happens in it?
What happens is
the little dog goes out into the world
and leaves her master
to find out, "is there more to life?"
and the series of adventures that she has
where she proves her total inadequacy
to almost everything that happens to her.
And - but she accepts that.
and that is the truth of her life
that she must accept her inadequacy
and her failure to live up to expectations
that others may have of her,
that she surely has of her.
And she just ends up a sweet, jerky dog
which she is, noone ever really wanted
anything more from her, so...
Does she return to him?
No. She dies. She dies.
And she leaves him a letter, saying
"If you ever come this way, look me up.
But I can't tell you how to get here."
The book has had a very difficult life. All of it.
Considered like, "why is this a children's book?"
Why not! What is a children's book?
I don't have a clue!
I'm famous for them, I write them,
I illustrate them, but I don't know what they are
I don't know why they're for children.
I like that your work does not sugargcoat childhood.
You bring the pain. You keep it real.
But some people think that is not
appropriate for children -
To suffer pain, read about it, think about it,
feel about it. Yet that's all they do.
Every moment of childhood is a sense of uncertainty
Yes. I think childhood is a period of great torment.
We learn all these things about what is, what isn't
what you can do, what you cannot do.
It's hard. It is very hard.
What's the best thig a parent can do for a child?
Love him, her.
But what's that mean?
Take them for what they are.
Saying thank you with pancakes:
Meteor: The future of web-apps?
Congrats to deberg and others for pulling off an inspiring soft-launch.
On running a startup.
Have your own feelings? Share them!
Context for the day: sunshine, clarity, reflection
A friend yesterday reminded me how valuable and important it is to take time to step back and reflect on one’s direction and focus. And how we should all do this more often. The meta-context was the value of sabbaticals, and the possibility for organizations to do the same thing. (For instance, from recent threads here: the chance for olpc pilots to reflect on their shared vision and principles, while considering how to pool resources; for wikimedia organs to reconsider their purpose; for OER visionaries to review what they want to help society accomplish.)
Today is an excellent day for this reflection – warm sun, tesselated waves, clear skies. I mean to see what I can sort and extrapolate from the wealth of raw individual ideas and motivations that I have seen over the last two weeks.
This context makes me want a more orderly family of terms to describe the form of analytical thought that includes strategy (military, corporate planning), systems thinking (systematics, synergetics), lateral thinking (thinking hats, parallel analysis), and pattern analysis (I Ching, oblique strategies, mesh decomposition). Now… where to file feature requests like this for one’s own language?
Free access to Wikipedia on mobile devices.
That is Wikipedia Zero in a nutshell. With a current focus on making this possible through mobile partnerships in the developing world. It’s a bold and lovely project, a focus of Wikimedia outreach this year, and deserves wider visibility.
How will YOU use 12M bibliographic records?
Harvard Libraries recently released bibliodata from their collections – 12 million works in all – under a CC-0 license, which lets other sites and researchers reuse that data in any way possible.
This is the biggest release of bibliographic data of its kind — four times the size of a similar release by the British Library in late 2010. (Without an explicit release under a free license, such collections of metadata are covered by ‘database rights‘).
How would you reuse these records in your own work and dreams? Some quick ideas:
- WP or Wikisource could create 12 million stubs with those records
- Open Library will improve and update its own metadata collection, which was built from scraped subsets of such data
- We can write scripts that autogenerate “lists of works” for authors and authors or categories for works
- We can automatically find mismatches between our person-data and title-data and those in MARC
- We can publicly clean up mistakes in the MARC catalog and suggest updates
Hacking Open Education, Take 2
Hewlett Hack Day last Friday was an energetic stone soup affair. Erhardt Graeff, Andrew Magliozzi and I planned it with Amar and Nathaniel from Berkman, and Josh Gay. Erhardt emcee’d the event, and Meredith Beaton, Una Lee, Becca Nesson, and Matthew Battles all helped make it happen. Some 40 people attended over the course of the day.
The past two days had seen the development of two dozen project ideas, many of them hackable, by the Hewlett grantees. We spent the first hour condensing those and some new proposed hacks down to 10 that seemed compelling and doable. People self-selected into groups to tackle these (in hindsight: we should have set a max team size of ~6). 7 projects were attempted, and 6 produced a hack – a pitch or minimum product that could inspire others to move it forward. At the end of the day, everyone gave 2-minute pitches to a panel of judges (a schoolteacher, a highschool student, and two berkman staff) who reviewed the results for hackability and near-term usefulness for OER.
Result: two new github repositories, a ‘Learning metacognition via Poker‘ course up on P2PU, a mobile app for ‘Free Pencils’, a hackable version of FreeRice for standardized test problems, a plan for a high-profile annual OER Awards, a wireframe for a cleaner student portfolio platform, a new OER WikiProject on Wikipedia, and a draft design for Octocat a variation on github for OER materials. The PokOER concept drew the most attention – almost ten team members and three different ideas merged – and many hackers agreed they would love to take a P2P course on the topic. And a hack to make it easy to generate your own Mozilla-friendly badges made partial progress, including testing and filing helpful bugs against the badges API.
The Free Pencils and OER Awards projects won judges’ awards’. They were specific and partly implemented (Becca garnered the admiration of all for producing a working prototype in 4 hours), and addressing particular needs raised in the brainstorming the day before. Their hackers have free passes to the Open Ed conference in Vancouver, thanks to sponsorship by hackday participant David Wiley.
Hacking Education with Hewlett’s OER Grantees
A few months ago, Colin Maclay got me thinking about how to make this year’s Hewlett Foundation OER grantees meeting different in good ways. Last week I spend three days at the event, and was honored to meet the many remarkable people and projects there. I have been to one of the past grantee meetings, and it is a warm family of practice — I knew many of the groups and people in the room through my own work in open education. Two newcomers worth special note:
The organization I was happiest to meet was the Saylor Foundation — I have been a fan of theirs since discovering them last year; their work addresses the heart of a core problem in the world of educational resources: a free comprehensive collection of texts drawn from all manner of sources — whatever is useful and to hand. Aside from the typical modern-charity peccadillo of feeling organizational ownership of what is a universal mission, and articulating a vision in which they accomplish it through sweat and brand, I find their approach humble and excellent.
My favorite invitee was CoolCatTeacher Vicki Davis, who shared some pointed advice and wit, contributed in most of the sessions I attended, and shared my penchant for live transcription. (We commiserated about how funny it was to be at an event highlighting collaborative creation, where most attendees had computers but were shy of using etherpads or shared docs.) She was not a grantee; Berkman, in their take on this rotating annual event, invited about a quarter of the total guests from a variety of backgrounds, for pursuing in their own way more universal access to education. Her prolific writing and multitasking online, has inspired me to spend much more time writing. But more on that in a future post.
I also met the pedagogy lead for Intel’s global education program – a teacher full of good ideas and strong support for making OER the norm in primary school – and part of the Metalab team working on narrative tools.
I spoke to the grantees about the needs of content Builders, along with Hal Abelson and Ahrash Bissell, and took part in a variety of brainstorming sessions. My favorite moment was a debate about whether free knowledge and educational resources are (as I maintain) civic infrastructure, worth investment by cities and locales the way roads and libraries and wiring are. An unresolved question there: how a local government would identify what part of that global problem is theirs to locally provide or fund.
On Friday I helped plan and run a Hack Day after the traditional meeting ended, something new for this sort of gathering. It was great fun, and refreshing after a few days of simply talking to move one or two ideas closer to realization. I wish most of every conference were like this, since we still managed to get in our share of discussion, presentation, show & tell, and otherwise sharing inspiration. Thanks to the Berkman team for their creativity in the organization, and to the organizers for inviting me to take part. Open education is an idea ready for global adoption, and one we should pursue mindfully, in norm and nuance, as a society.
Work expands to fill the space provided
I had a very difficult meeting this past Friday. The first few hours were quite effective; the last six were not, and could have been accomplished in two, but expanded to fill ten minuets more than the maximum amount of time it was alloted. In the end, the related discussion was cut five minutes short (out of a ten-hour day) and felt rushed, and was even a bit incomplete, despite suffering from what was in essence too much time.
I bought a universal Belkin power adapter today, and it came with a compact body, ten adapter tips, and *two* tiny, 110-page 2″x2″ manuals. As there is nothing about the adapter that isn’t intuitive for me, I wondered what cuold possibly be in a manual beyond the contact information for getting repairs and spares, and a quick tech diagram.
It turned out that they were a User Manual and a Quick Start Guide, 9 or 16 pages long, with half of those pages only half full, and printed in multiple languages. Both contained roughly the same information… the quick start guide was longer and slower than the user manual. I cannot do it beter justice than to recap the table of contents.
[User Manual: 13 langs]
1. Cover page
2. Important: Safety Information (full pg, 9 points)
3. Using the Laptop Power Adapter (quarter pg)
4. Technical Specifications (half pg, 12 items)
5. Getting Connected (1/8 pg, 5 steps)
6. Troubleshooting (1/4 pg, 5 steps)
7. Information (1/3 pg, 3 notes)
8. Information (full pg, tech support #s for 24 countries)
9. End matter.
[Quick Start Guide: 6 langs]
1. Cover page
2. Introduction, registration, safety information (full)
3. Important Safety Information (half, 8 pts)
4. Product safety (full, 12 pts)
5. Product safety (2/3, pts 13-17)
6. Using the Laptop Power Adapter (1/4 pg)
7. Technical Specifications (half pg, 12 items)
8. Getting Connected (1/8 pg, 5 steps)
9. Troubleshooting (1/3 pg, 5 steps)
10. Information (full, 3 sections)
11. Information (1/4, 2 bullets)
12. Information (1/2 pg, 3 sections)
13. Information (full, 1 of 3 sections)
14. Information (full, 2-3 of 3 sections)
15. Information (full, 24 country support #s)
16. End matter.
English was the only language shared by the two polyglot manuals. The other 17 languages had no overlap.
I’m not sure what these have in common beyond the subject, but surely tehre is something.
Primary sources matter. How do we convince journalists to cite them?
Some legal and political bloggers have written recently about an Arizona bill which reportedly “legalizes firing employees because they use contraceptives”. That’s the sort of claim which I always read with an invisible “citation needed” tag floating in the air next to it. But it took a frustrating few minutes to track the bill down; no posts linked to it, and few bothered to mention it by name.
Even the page about the bill on VoteSmart (a lovely site which focuses on tracking the progress of a bill and its changes/votes over time) has only a tiny, obfuscated link to the actual bill text. (I know that the raw bill isn’t the primary focus of that site, but I still expect it to be clearly linked from the top of the page about it.)
At any rate, here is the text-with-diffs of Arizona House bill 2625, “an act amending sections 20-826, 20-1057.08, 20-1402, 20-1404 and 20-2329, Arizona revised statutes; relating to health insurance.” The changes start at page 8.
It does not in fact legalize “firing employees” or other discrimination; but it does redact a special clause expressly prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of using contraceptives, which former lawmakers saw fit to include next to every description of how religious institutions should be allowed to opt out of providing coverage for them. I am certain that the history of the inclusion of that clause would be interesting; I also find it unlikely that every state has such a similarly explicit reminder embedded in their healthcare laws.
So: deep linking to primary sources is important; not just to better inform readers, but also to find out if what you are writing is true. When most modern journalists were cutting their teeth in their first newsroom, deeplinks to source material within an article were impossible. Now they are a matter of a few minutes’ research. How do we reemphasize the value of this work?
Britannica goes digital: the 2010 Edition will be the last
Quoth Editor-in-Chief Dale Hoiberg:
In 1994 we launched the first encyclopedia on the Internet. Today, with the end of the Britannica print set, we complete the transition from print to digital. Although we continue to produce some high-quality print products, Britannica is proudly in the digital camp.
They highlight some of their digital milestones, though they don’t point out the amazing plans around 1994 (not implemented) for a futuristic visualization of knowledge and automatic citation hyperlinks to complement Britannica Online and make it a central part of the fledgling Web.
Those links are drawn from Bob McHenry’s lovely “The Building of Britannica Online“… rereading it I note I need to update my essay on disambiguation, as he uses it here in 2003 not two years after it was first used casually on Wikipedia; so I assume that it was in already in regular use in encyclopedic and authority-file contexts in 2001.
Naming and familiarizing the unknown
Phoebe wrote a lovely essay recently about the unknown on her phlog. She reflected on the many uncertainties in recent complex discussions in the Wikimedia universe.
It reminded me that gaining familiarity with the unknown, and an ability to grapple with unknowns without losing all direction or perspective, is a most valuable skill.
We would ideally be able to highlight large areas that are unknown, to label them, to include them as variables in even larger equations and balanced. Indeed, we should be able to derive some of their properties befor they are understood in fine detail.
Moving from working only with known quantities to working with unknowns was an essential stepping stone towards developing most of modern mathematics, and much scientific reasoning. This may apply no less to areas of social and civic growth.
Celebrity Deathmatch: Sendak v. Colbert, Part 2
See also Part 1 and Part 3.
Colbert: What do you think of the current state
of children's lit?
Colbert: There's so much of it though!
Sendak: That's what makes it abysmal.
Let's talk about some of your competition.
Give me your reviews.
Green Eggs and Ham?
Good. Green Eggs And Ham, "Good".
Everything by Seuss is good.
Give A Mouse A Cookie.
I'm with you on that one. Cause,
you shouldn't give a mouse a cookie,
Mouse should *earn* the cookie.
You should open the door and say
'get the hell out of my house!'
The mouse should be exterminated.
I'm with you on that one.
Curious George, ok.
I don't believe in monkeys in the house either.
You don't like it?
No, no. they throw their feces.
They do, they do throw--
Monkeys bite your jaw off, they will bite your face off
He wouldn't have done that.
No, no, but he could have at any moment.
So have I changed your mind on Curious George?
So you're in favor of children
getting their faces bitten off.
I'm in favor of --
ok, you- you've made it clear.
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? you know that one?
Isn't that an adult novel?
That's kind of prejudiced of you, to say that a book
has to be adult, or a book has to be child.
Someone who's been so ghettoized in their work, would say
that a child couldn't read a book about murder
You trapped me! you trapped me!
Checkmate, sir. Check...
You're wrong, but you trapped me.
Am i? Am i?
Oh, so other people can be pigeon-holed, but
you can't do that to Maurice Sendak. That's a crime.
How about that!
Don't I deserve that?
Double-standard much, Mo?
Let's shift gears. Every celebrity is out there
cashing in on children's books.
And I want in.
What does it take for a celebrity to make
a successful book? What do I gotta do?
Well, you've started already by being... an idiot.
That is already the very first demand.
First is idiot.
How do you spell that?
After that, you know the formula.
You just need, like an animal, and...
something they've lost.
Well yes, I mean most books for children are very bad.
The Squirrel Lost Its Mittens.
There you go.
The Buffalo... Lost Its Gun.
You've just written two children's books!
I've got a story. can I read it to you!
(winces in pain)
Do you *really* have to?
It's called "I am a Pole, and So Can You!"
Ok, yes! I can't wait to hear it.
== [Colbert reads] ==
I AM A POLE AND SO CAN YOU
I am a pole, that much is clear to me.
But just what type of pole could I possibly be?
I tried to be a pole for vaulting,
but I couldn't seem to bend.
I would love to be a ski pole,
but for that I'd need a friend.
I wished I was the North Pole,
and marked the home of Santa,
Or even just a Gallup Poll calling voters in Atlanta.
I considered fireman's and fishing,
Was a totem for some time.
And even tried to be a stripper pole,
but I couldn't stand the grime.
But then one day, in my depths of despair,
Some scouts brought me Old Glory as something to wear.
And while she danced and she waved,
It became clear to me,
I am the best kind of pole you can possibly be.
I am an American Flag pole.
Now pledge allegiance, or else.
What do you think?
The sad thing is, I like it!
Can I get that as a blurb?
"The sad thing is I like it..."
The sad thing is I like it.
"... --Maurice Sendak."
That's a good blurb!
And all you need to do is get a popular illustrator
who has a horrible sene of design, no taste for type
nothing about the aesthetics for
what a picture book could look like,
and you will probably make a lot of money.
Will you teach me how to draw?
Well that is a lovely offer, I accept.
== Cut to Sendak's studio ==
So this is where you do all your work?
Yeah, I'm afraid so.
Well I'm trying to figure out how to draw a pole.
I'm not very good at drawing.
Let me draw a pole here...
You ever uh, sniff your marker?
No... is that good? a good thing?
It's a cheap high. be careful...
It does, it does!
Go ahead, go ahead.
I assume you were huffing these things
when you drew Where The Wild Things Are
"I remember Pearl Harbor...
ta da da da da da da... ya da da da, ya da da da,
Ya Da DA DA DA DA DA!"
See how great these markers are? no really.
That pulled the song right out of me,
right out of my nose!
I got a mountain, got some
and half a sun...
You drew a Polish woman with a pole!
Holding a pole
Pole with a pole. She could be a Polish stripper.
Any advice, any advice here?
No... just, I would leave it alone, because it has
a kind of delicacy, and irrationality, and, and...
terrible quality of -- ordinariness.
"Terribly ordinary!" - Maurice Sendak
That's another great blurb!
Well, Moishe... I think with my fantastic book idea,
my words, my drawings and your blurb,
I think we've got a hit here.
I've- I know we do.
Thank you, sir.
== Colbert recaps ==
Folks, once I get a publisher,
I AM A POLE (AND SO CAN YOU!)
will be available in bookstores everywhere!
In hardcover, paperback, maybe even in ebook.
what do you say about that, Maurice?
[Flashback to earlier interview]
Fuck them is what I say!
I hate those ebooks.
They *cannot* be the future.
They may well be, I will be dead, I won't give a shit!