Monday, August 14, 2017

Sometimes Storytelling Is Just Resource Management

Chuck Wendig has some of the best advice about writing this side of Steven Pressfield. This post is just an amazing slice of practical pie that is so inspiring. No, the metaphor should be that this is 'inside baseball' without the stats and all the coolity. Read and learn. It IS all about resource management.

Once upon a time I had a vision in my head of what being an author was like.

I imagined that I would wake up at the crack of noon, and I would roll out of bed and then ruminate on the complexities of the past, the present, the future. I would Think Very Hard about Big Ideas, and then I would go to the fertile garden of my word processor and gaze upon the word-seeds I had left the day before, and there, they would bloom, carrying forth the fruit of my Big Ideas — fruit that whose skin would rupture and it would leak the sweet juices of my Pure Nourishing Genius across the page.

Then I wrote a story longer than 2,000 words and became immediately divested of this bullshit notion. To clarify, I don’t mean that writing is not about big ideas, or that storytelling is not a conveyance and mechanism for those ideas, but rather, that in the day-to-day, this isn’t what writing or storytelling is about.

No, it’s about resource management.

Like, we’ve all had jobs. Regular, normal-ass jobs. (Or normal ass-jobs? Hm.) Jobs where you juggle tasks and complete them on time. Jobs where you have to keep track of random shit and make sure some kind of process or production stays orderly. Maybe you put things into a spreadsheet or you arrange widgets and dongles or you make sandwiches as a sandwich artisan.

All good. All normal. No shame in dongle-sandwich management.

Life, too, is this way — my adult life is constantly about managing things. Am I wearing pants? Am I where I’m supposed to be? Have I put food in my body? Where are my pants again? Having a child only increased this, because suddenly I’m worry about a tinier, less-responsible version of me. Is he eating food? Is he eating the right kind of food? Am I committing to his physical, emotional and intellectual nourishment? Where is he? Right now, seriously, where is he? Is he under the couch? He might be under the couch. He might be in the ducts, like John McClane. Did he poop today? This is legitimately a thing you have to think about with kids. Their poop. Did they do it? Did it look okay? Are you feeding them the right amount of poop fuel and is it resulting in proper poopification? You just don’t know. But you always have to check.

Job, life, it’s all resource management. Hell, even video games are like this. Wandering around Mass Effect is a constant act of, “Well, I found another pair of space pants, what do I do with these? I found seven Krogan whatchamafuckits, will I use them to upgrade my sniper rifle or will I spend them for research points in order to build space toilets on this disreputable planet I found, or maybe I’ll just sell them for space drugs.”

Storytelling, I had hoped was different.

Spoiler warning: it ain’t that different.

Writing a story is often just an act of resource management.

What I mean is this:

I am often forced to be focused on basic logistics for a story. My questions are ceaselessly dull. Where are the characters? Can they have gotten there in that time frame? Wait, have they slept? What are they holding? Could they have that? Wait, does that character know enough about that thing to accurately speak about it? What’s today’s date? When is it? Where am I? Where are the characters’ pants? Are they space pants? Do they need seven whatchamafuckits to defeat the seller of space drugs? Did the characters poop today?

Worse, the writing itself is subject to resource management: did I use that word too many times? Should this chapter follow that chapter? Is there a jump in time that will help? Am I establishing a good rhythm, with differently-sized sentences and paragraphs nestled up against one another? Am I breaking this chapter up, or leaving it long, or what? Do I need more space drugs? ARE MY WORDS TOTAL POOP TODAY?

Storytelling has its own abstract resources, too. You want tension, but you don’t want too much of it — overuse it, and it becomes overwrought, listless, expected. Conflict can’t just be one thing, it needs to come in a rainbow of fucking flavors. You never want just one plot, you need multiple plots, driven by stories, circumstances, conflicts creating conflicts, scenes creating scenes. It all has to flow together. It has to have a narrative rhythm just as your words need a rhythm of language. More resources, more management, and more poop, probably, I dunno.

I note this for a few reasons.

First, because it was on my mind and what’s on my mind often gets frothily reduced, like a fine sauce, on this here blog.

Second, because I think it’s important to hold minimal illusions about what the day-to-day job entails, and sometimes this job entails not merely herding cats but rather, WRESTLING MANY HERDS OF THE AFOREMENTIONED CATS, meaning, it requires juggling lots of internal narrative data. We often see writing and story spoken of in this high-minded and occasionally impractical way, but that’s rarely what really goes into the nitty-gritty of it.

Third, because I think maybe a lot of big Hollywood films have actively lost sight of this kind of important resource management, and they treat the narrative resources cheaply to score a lazy impact — so sad when I watch big movies and find a hundred different plotholes or worse, aren’t sure how a thing is actually happening, all because I think the storytellers forgot to track the narrative data. They become so consumed with spectacle that they fail to remember how things need to actually make sense at the most basic level. Storytelling can be about pomp and circumstance, but the moment we stop believing in the basic reality of it is the moment all the pomp and circumstance deflate like a sad erection.

Fourth and finally because you do still need to transcend this — you’re managing resources but at the end of the day, a story isn’t a spreadsheet, it isn’t logistics, it’s something grander, greater, squirmier, stranger. You must get the data and details right, you must force it to make sense, and then you go beyond it. Only when your ducks are in their proverbial row do you transcend those details and find a way to arrange everything for maximum emotional or thematic impact.

But it’s okay that in the trenches, it’s about crude logic and basic arrangement.

Let that be okay.

Don’t sweat it.

Get it right, then go bigger.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find my pants and go buy more space drugs.

* * *

Coming soon:

DAMN FINE STORY: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative

by Chuck Wendig, from Writer’s Digest, October 17th

A new writing/storytelling book by yours truly! All about the fiddly bits of storytelling — creating great characters, growing narrative organically, identifying and creating theme. Hope you dig it.

Pre-order now:

Indiebound

Amazon

B&N

(Come see me launch the book on October 17th at Borderlands in San Francisco with Kevin Hearne launching the amazing Plague of Giants and Fran Wilde supporting her sublime Bone Universe books! 6pm!)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Syllabus: Public Writing in de Tocqueville’s America

What are our duties as public intellectuals? And how can we measure our progress?

We’re in an interesting political era, to put it mildly. I don’t just mean “Trump’s America,” or the specific partisan aspects of our contemporary situation. I mean also that we’ve been publicly grappling with broader issues of how individual people can feel empowered and engaged in the work of deliberative democracy, when so many of our digital tools have made us seem further away from those we disagree with than ever before. We’ve been grappling with this broad idea called “populism,” a curious debate given the basic definitions of democracy; we’ve argued over the proper role of experts and expertise; we’ve worried over bubbles, fake news, and the death of the commons.

We’ve also asked for decades how the liberal arts can be made relevant and important again. These seem to me to be two questions that answer the other. It is precisely the humanities that has long concerned itself with these questions, and it is the humanities that is best suited to answer them. We should look beyond our narrowly vocational interests in education, and recognize that STEM-mania and the obsession with technical skills have something to do with our unhealthy public discourse. A healthy deliberative democracy requires work. It requires people to go out of their way to foster discursive spaces where we can have a truly democratic conversation. Dismantling the humanities, despite what you’d read in the average magazine article, has consequences, and we’re living with them.

A college class, obviously, is a little thing, and doesn’t have much impact on the national conversation. But I am naive enough to believe that teaching and learning still matter, and so I’m laying out a vision for a class I thought up that is designed to address precisely the crisis of conversation we’re seeing today. The liberal arts are constantly based for their supposed impracticality, but it’s hard for me to imagine a task more practical than that of teaching young people how to be engaged, involved citizens.

Seminar in Public Writing: de Tocqueville’s America

The class I’m proposing here I envision as a 400-level seminar in English or Writing programs, entitled “Seminar in Public Writing: de Tocqueville’s America.” The class will be a seminar revolving around Alexis de Tocqueville’s seminal text Democracy in America, and using the text as a lens to consider public writing, public formation, and deliberative democracy.

Public writing is a field concerned both with writing objects designed for public consumption and with the theoretical and practical structures within public writing. It foregrounds the role writing plays in various types of political power structures, with an emphasis on its generative potential within a deliberative democracy. Public writing is ideally designed to produce effects within the world. Those effects may be as passive as mutual understanding or as active as generating concrete expression within the political process. In every case, public writing looks out from the individual or small group concerns of the creator of the writing onto a larger public to which it is addressed.

Dr. Linda Shamoon, Professor Emeritus at the University of Rhode Island, once described the process of public writing creating social change as such:

In our democratic society we ordinary citizens (as well as professional writers and those in leadership positions) who encounter a problem we consider to be public in nature may use many kinds of writing to arouse the concern of others in our community. Some in our society say we are obligated to speak out—or write—about such problems or issues. Initially,  we may get little or no response to our demands for a remedy to the problem, but those of us who track an issue and seek or develop forums for our voices to be heard may find ourselves involved in many different kinds of public writing in support of our cause and working with others for solutions we had just begun to understand when we started.

Public writing assumes various stages of success. Generally, we see public writing succeeding in four stages:

Recognition— the work of public writing is read/heard; the argument is recognized as having been made.
Inclusion— the person or persons who produced the writing are recognized as valid members of the public, permitted to make public statements.
Discussion— the piece of public writing is legitimately and openly debated in good faith.
Action— the public writing produces those effects it was designed to produce.

Note that any piece of public writing need not be successful at any of these stages for it to be considered worthwhile by the person or persons writing it. Political dissidents and other out-group members often participate in public writing with no expectation that their writing will be recognized, included, discussed, or will generate the action they desire. We should still see the effort involved in public writing as beneficial and worthwhile even if it satisfies none of these stages. Democracy involves failure as well as success.

The tendency for public writing to be created but to be denied entry into the space of public discourse concerns the second stage of success, inclusion. Public writing is deeply concerned with the question of who has the right to speak— that is, who is allowed entry into a particular public sphere. Publics formation is one of the key theoretical areas of public writing, and it is here that we intersect with Alexis de Tocqueville and Democracy in America.

De Tocqueville’s text is one of the seminal works of early political science and a definitive statement on early American democracy. De Tocqueville, a traveling French nobleman, was deeply intrigued by the still-young American republic of the 1830s. Commissioned to examine the American prison system, de Tocqueville and his traveling companion sojourned across the United States and into parts of Canada, documenting many aspects of early American life that were in contrast to the practical and political norms of continental Europe. De Tocqueville’s text is a useful historical account, but it is must valued today as one of the most important evolutions in the history of political science.

A pressing question animates de Tocqueville’s text: why had republican representative democracy succeeded in America when it had seemingly failed in many other parts of the world? As an intrigued and sympathetic observer, de Tocqueville catalogs the unique elements of American democracy and civic participation. Concerned particularly with the intersection of religion, citizenship, and democratic duty, Democracy in America attempts to understand the particular American equation for successful repesentative democracy.

Of course, the success of 1830s America was success predicated on a system of brutal and oppressive inequities in power and quality of life, which de Tocqueville does not ignore. (It is relevant to point out that de Tocqueville’s view on American democracy grew much darker in his later years.) Indeed, the question of slavery haunts the book. De Tocqueville does not ignore the fact that slaves, women, and native peoples were written out of the very democratic processes he praised, and neither should we. Rather, who is included and who is excluded from democracy is of central importance to the theories of public writing. De Tocqueville’s text remains relevant to a 21st century audience in part because it is so insightful about how democracies have always excluded as well as included, with the backdrop of 19th-century America providing a host of examples of how a public is formed and how marginalized people are excluded from it.

The following syllabus describes the course, its readings, and its goals. Students will learn basic theories of publics through philosophers like Habermas, discuss what it means to write for a public, consider the impact of the internet on publics formation, and read through Democracy in America, using the text to give the course shape and structure. They will participate in creating a journal of their own writing, to be hosted online as well as bound, printed, and distributed on campus – because it’s still a thrill to see your words in real print, especially for young students.

public writing and DIA syllabus (editable Word document)

public writing and DIA syllabus

Down the Drain: The 19 Best Shower Beers

Glorious. Foolhearty. IPA's for the a.m. crowd. In the shower.

Sierra-Nevada-Torpedo-shower-beer-e15018

Drinking in the morning is no longer a sign that you have a problem with alcohol; it’s mandatory for getting through the day without committing a series of grisly homicides, then going on the run. The single problem with getting a little liquor in your system to face the daily grind is finding the time […]

The post Down the Drain: The 19 Best Shower Beers appeared first on TheCoolist.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Path to Quality

Yeah, this is a big question and I love how she wanders through it, a personal feldgang that keeps approaching the issue from lots of angles, mostly asymptotically--my favorite oblique stance.
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I’m undergoing a fundamental change in thinking about a lot of things right now, and one of those is how I manage my personal knowledge. I am a very good researcher and acquirer of information, but over the past two years I’ve stressed over finding a good way to curate all the content I amass. This is a weak point in my skills. As I’ve tried to find a way of capturing, creating/co-creating, saving, internalizing, reflecting all this information, it has occurred to me that I need to stop and think about where all of this is taking me, and where I really want to go. I suspect that ultimately these two destinations are not the same. It’s one thing to allow circumstances to sweep me up into a new way of thinking and/or behaving, but quite another to carefully craft a path for my mind, career, and even feet, to follow.
"SOMEBODY has to manage all this mess I’m creating"
My biggest sticking point is the sheer volume of information I find interesting. I do a lot of rabbit-holing and squirrel-chasing down paths that take me away from the original intent of my research and reading because I’m interested in SO MANY THINGS. I have always envied people who are more single-minded than myself, while simultaneously speculating on how flat their existence might be. I’m sure they look at me and wonder how I ever get anything done and cringe at the thought of how chaotic my brain must be (my favorite quote from the first Avengers movie always comes to mind: “That guy’s brain is a bag of cats. You can SMELL crazy on him.”). This broad range of interest has been known to turn me into a feckless wanderer, the thought of which initially brings me great joy when I think about all the freedom that gives me, and then crashes me back to the reality that SOMEBODY has to manage all this mess I’m creating.
During a Twitter chat a few weeks back I started thinking about how to start dealing with my tendency toward a cluttered mind. This is the aftermath of a major house move that involves a downsize of gargantuan proportions (from 2300 square feet to 700—don’t panic! we have an attic, a basement and plenty of garage space). As I’m examining basically everything I own to decide if I should keep things to use, keep things for the future, keep things to cherish, or get rid of things entirely, I find myself thinking in terms of a lot more than just my physical surroundings. What about my virtual house? It’s pretty much a hoarder’s den. This brings me to the idea of quality vs. quantity.
Just start from today
When it comes to personal knowlege management, I tend to want ‘all the things’ instead of carefully selecting what best applies to me and my current situation; probably because I very naively think I will eventually get around to reading/using/needing whatever all that extra stuff is. In reality, it’s saved somewhere, mostly unindexed and of no use to me whatsoever in its current form. The thought of actually taking the time to sort, clean up, and categorize all those articles and notes is daunting. If they were physical copies I could better keep them in check, but mostly they’re virtual—articles I’ve saved, examples of forms, snippets of blogs (or whole blogs), .jpgs and .gifs, lists of even more websites that contain even more stuff of interest to my ‘bag of cats’—which makes them far too easy to hoard. I’d need to take all my vacation time to curate it all. I’ve told myself many times to start from today--just start from today—and not to worry about all the virtual piles in the corners of my house. Maybe if I just started from today I would develop some discipline and become a guru of PKM.
Now that you’ve had a good laugh, get off the floor and sit back down in your chair (I’m sure your cat will come out from under the couch again soon) and stick with me for just a few more moments.
What I've begun to realize is that what I really need to do isn’t to organize what I have (yet), but to first choose my path. Where do I want to go? Who do I want to be? And what will get me from here—which isn’t all that terrible except for those piles of virtual junk in the corners—to where I want to be tomorrow? Next week? Next month? This time next year? Five years hence? Ultimately, the answers to all of these questions will take me toward a more focused approach to my PKM, and ultimately my career. Once I’ve figured out the goal (the real goal, not the pie-in-the-sky goal, or the dead boring practical goal, but the REAL GOAL) then I will more naturally select quality over quantity. If I downsize my expectations, my hopes and my dreams, I can distill them into an attainable and satisfying draught that will sustain me on the path toward my future. Just like I don’t need seven living room chairs in my 125 square foot living room, I don’t need to try to follow all of my interests to their conclusions. We all need a bit of a distraction now and then…
SQUIRREL!!
…but if I want to continue to grow in my profession I need to find real focus on a pathway that will lead me to my destination.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Dr. Amanda Visconti retweeted: What if we stopped trying to save so much digital shit? Big data is not just a huge fossil fuel suck, it's increasingly taking up land

A provocative, systems question. What if we stopped sending out so much signal? What if we rationed bandwidth? What if the carbon footprint of storage got so large that it became a national crisis? Any amount of added carbon now adds to the crisis, so this is not as crazy as it sounds.
8-RmjHoi_normal.jpg Flyover Easy
@eiratansey
What if we stopped trying to save so much digital shit? Big data is not just a huge fossil fuel suck, it's increasingly taking up land

Friday, June 30, 2017

Alex Smith’s Radio Ecoshock: A Complete Coverage Of My Work With Audio

Another podcast to consider. Carolyn Baker is a one-woman whirlwind of communication. She’s up-to-date on the news of the world, as she publishes her Daily News Digest. Carolyn is author or co-author of 11 books, has provided life-coaching for many, and leads workshops. Her motto is “Speaking Truth to Power”. From Boulder Colorado, it’s a treat to welcome Carolyn Baker back to Radio Ecoshock. Alex Smith devotes an entire page to covering my work

Friday, May 19, 2017

Flash Fiction Challenge: X Versus Z, Redux

Some fun?

Another classic challenge, of which I am a fan.

Way this works is, below you will find two tables — X and Y! — and you will pick (or randomly draw) from those tables. That will leave you with a set of X versus Y — and from there, you will write a piece of flash fiction based on that parameter set. You can even use the match up (SKELETONS VS. SCIENTISTS!) as the title to the work, or come up with a new title.

Length: ~2000 words

Due by: 5/26, Friday, noon EST

Post at your online space, link back here so all can read.

X

  1. Robots
  2. Vampires
  3. Monkeys
  4. Demons
  5. Pirates
  6. Kaiju
  7. Goblins
  8. Dragons
  9. Ghosts
  10. Gods
  11. Time Travelers
  12. Cops
  13. Librarians
  14. Bards
  15. Skeletons
  16. Interdimensional Floating Jellyfish Creatures
  17. Aliens
  18. Cats
  19. Werewolves
  20. Musicians

Y

  1. Zombies
  2. Monks
  3. Spiders
  4. Heroes
  5. Fairies
  6. Robots
  7. Assassins
  8. Mutants
  9. Cannibals
  10. Mermaids
  11. Scientists
  12. Evil
  13. Serial Killers
  14. Cultists
  15. George Washington
  16. Superheroes
  17. Artificial Intelligence
  18. Swamp Monsters
  19. Cheerleaders
  20. Elves

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Wemogee – Chat App Based Purely on Emojis

Classic example of 'what's good for the goose is good for the gander" thinking. Or in this case how 'emoji thinking' helps those with aphasia. Wemogee might just expand everyone's capacity for image thinking.

Yet another chat app has been made available for download, but unlike most regular chat apps, this particular one puts emojis to the forefront.

14 Google Hangouts Hidden Animated Emojis

14 Google Hangouts Hidden Animated Emojis

Google Hangouts is one of the best ways to continuously stay connected on smartphone and desktop either via…Read more

Developed by the Italian arm of Samsung, Wemogee is a chat app that is made to help people with aphasia communicate. What is aphasia you ask? Aphasia is a complex neurological disorder that is triggered by injury to the Broca and Wernicke areas of the brain.

Those affected by aphasia often suffer from difficulties relating to the production, comprehension and expression of speech.

expression of speech

The way Wemogee works is pretty straightforward: users will be able to chat with each other by selecting one of the more than 140 phrases that can be currently found in the app.

These phrases are depicted as emojis in Aphasic Mode, as well as standard text in Non-Aphasic Mode. To make finding for a particular phrase easier, all of the phrases have been sorted into six different categories.

non aphasic mode

On its own, Wemogee proves to be a rather easy to use chat app. The selection of phrases are large enough to carry out a simple conversation between two people. However, at the time of writing, Wemogee suffers from a weird bug that prevents the user from receiving an authorization SMS.

Seeing as an authorization SMS is needed to start using Wemogee, and so, not being able to receive said SMS means that you won’t be able to use it at all.

receive sms

Wemogee is now available for download on the Android Play Store. The app will also make its way to the Apple App Store sometime soon.

10 Chat Tools for Better Communication in Team Projects

10 Chat Tools for Better Communication in Team Projects

When building ideas together in a team environment you need a reliable means of communication. The people you…Read more

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Microsoft’s Academic 2.0 is Now Available in Preview Form

This is good news for those of us who want at least some competition with Google Scholar. If they stick with it, this might just do it. And by "they" I mean Microsoft. They have been even more fickle than Google about abandoning viable platforms. Check it. Use it. Let me know how well it works for you.

Some of you may remember Microsoft’s Academic Search, a research project and academic search engine that was discontinued in 2012. However, in March 2016, Microsoft brought back an updated version of the Academic Search system as a Bing-powered service.

Fast forward to April 2017, it appears that Microsoft has big plans for this academia-centric search engine as the company has launched Microsoft Academic 2.0 in preview form, allowing everyone to have a taste of what the system may offer when the full version is made available.

100+ Alternative Search Engines You Should Know

100+ Alternative Search Engines You Should Know

If someone asks you, off the top of your head, what search engines you use or know off,…Read more

At the core of Microsoft Academic 2.0 sits the updated version of the Academic Search system. As the name implies, this system is a search engine that is tailored to look for academia-related content. The content that can be found via this search engine includes academic journals, thesis and conferences.

While the search engine itself will assist you in pulling up publications that are related to your field of interest, the Academic Search system can accommodate a wide variety of parameters.

For example, you could use the search engine to search for authors or even educational institutions. Also, depending on the topic that you’ve searched for, the results that return could include works that were first published in the 18th century or older.

search options

So what else does Microsoft Academic 2.0 apart from the Academic Search system? For starters, Microsoft Academic 2.0 functions more like a full-fledged educational ecosystem. Unlike Academic Search, which is purely a search engine, Microsoft Academic 2.0 has some features that appear to be inspired from social networking services.

For starters, Microsoft has implemented a Follow button on all of the topics that can be found on the search engine. This feature will prove to be useful for those who wish to be updated on a specific topic, author or organization on a regular basis, allowing them to gain access to the latest materials without needing to search for it.

The updated contents will be made available on the user’s dashboard for easy access.

latest materials

As for those who have published journals or theses online, Microsoft has also provided tools that would allow a user or organization to claim a paper, journal, conference or even an author as their own.

user profile

In its current form, Microsoft Academic 2.0 is still very much a work in progress. While the search engine part of the Academic 2.0 runs pretty smoothly, the user experience part of the system is still very much barebones and may not function properly at times.

While it is way too early to tell if Academic 2.0 will manage to be the research hub that Microsoft envisions it to be, there is no denying that Academic 2.0 could potentially be useful for those who are involved in academia.

Libraries.io – Open Source Search Engine For Developers

Libraries.io – Open Source Search Engine For Developers

There are millions of open source projects online with new ones being launched every day. Developers from all…Read more

Cognitive Benefits of Healthy Buildings

This is good news for those of us who want at least some competition with Google Scholar. If they stick with it, this might just do it. And by "they" I mean Microsoft. They have been even more fickle than Google about abandoning viable platforms. Check it. Use it. Let me know how well it works for you.

Oset Babur in Harvard Magazine:

MJ17_art_Page_017_Image_0002Imagine a business that creates a perfectly energy-efficient environment by adjusting ventilation rates in its workplace. On paper, the outcome would seem overwhelmingly positive: fewer greenhouse-gas emissions to the environment and lowered costs to the business. It’s an idyllic scenario, except for what Joseph Allen and his team at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) describe as the potentially serious human cost: workers with chronic migraines, nausea, fatigue, and difficulty focusing. Fortunately, these side effects are avoidable.

“The truth is, we absolutely can have buildings that are both energy-efficient and healthy,” says Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science. In 2015, his team published a two-part study that quantified the cognitive benefits of improved environmental conditions for workers. The first phase took place in the Syracuse University Center for Excellence, where knowledge workers, such as architects and engineers, went about their regular workdays as Allen and his team manipulated environmental factors. “We weren’t looking to test an unattainable, dream-state workplace. We wanted to test scenarios and conditions that would be possible to replicate,” he explains. They adjusted ventilation rates, carbon dioxide levels, and the quantity of airborne VOCs (volatile organic chemical compounds that are emitted by common objects such as desk chairs and white boards). At the end of each day, the team asked workers to complete cognitive-function assessments in nine key areas, including crisis response, decisionmaking, and strategy. “We saw pretty dramatic effects,” he reports: workers in optimized environments scored 131 percent better in crisis-response questions, 299 percent better on information usage, and 288 percent higher in strategy.

More here.

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

5 Stages of Workplace Learning (Revisited in 2017)

Love this graphic.

5stages1.jpg

New article in the Modern Workplace Learning Magazine “In this article I take a look at how workplace learning has changed over the last 10+ years and its necessary future direction. In May 2010 I posted a diagram I had created that showed what I considered to be the 5 stages of …

Running the PISA race

I agree with much that is in here, but when I get to the end and read the wrapup, I despair: "The global education race presents an important challenge to policy makers and educators alike: to develop informed communities willing and able to engage in discussion of how educational measurement, including system-level measurement tools, can be judiciously used to inform policy and practice. The kind of shift they suggest is a challenge. It will require ministers, media and educators to take a non-divisive, sense-making and collaborative approach of seeking to understand, and of deep, thoughtful engagement with data and with one another." This level of abstraction just makes me want to care less and less and less. I remember feeling like this when I was in grad school, alone and unhopeful with big existential 'why' spraypainted on my forehead as I looked in the mirror.

The education culture of performativity is wrapped up in notions of measurement. How do we measure student success, teacher performance, effective school leadership, and successful education policy? How do we know which school systems are successful and why they are successful? How can we tease out and understand causes of performance, such as the influence of social and economic factors, the system, the school, and the teacher? These are perennial education questions, and ones which continue to become more and more important in a globalised world in which countries, schools, and teachers can be compared, and in which there is an ever-increasing weight of accountability.

Standardised testing is a central issue in this neoliberal education context. Individual schools have their own approaches to measurement, such as the one I describe in this blog post. In Australia we have NAPLAN and WACE. There is currently talk of a national Phonics Check in the early years, such as that used in the UK. Internationally we have TIMSS, PIRLS and PISA.

Steven Lewis and Anna Hogan have shown how oversimplified reports of international testing measures can contribute to oversimplified ‘fast policy’. As Marten Koomen points out, systems should respond to international testing measures but these systems are complex. Stewart Riddle and Bob Lingard wrote that looking at a single country’s PISA ranking is useless; rather we need to carefully disaggregate the data and consider social and economic factors, and differences between states, schools and groups.

This week I received in the mail a copy of new book The global education race: Taking the measure of PISA and international testing, by Sam Sellar, Greg Thompson and David Rutkowski. (Full disclosure: I got a complimentary copy.) It is a pocket rocket at about A5 size and 99 pages. In the Foreword, David Berliner and Pasi Sahlberg question the value often ascribed to PISA, noting that PISA tests are linked to the social conditions as well as school systems and that “when the race to the top gets tougher … curriculum narrows and children suffer” (p.ix).

The book demystifies the workings of PISA, using the extended metaphor of the ‘race’ as a way to make sense of what PISA is, how it works, how it might be used, and how it shouldn’t be used. The authors make their explanations accessible without ignoring the complexities of standardised international testing on a large scale. The book is at once matter of fact and told with a wry sense of humour (as a reader I’m a sucker for references to Monty Python and 1980s arcade games). The book rails against the commodification of simple solutions to solve complex problems. As I explored satirically in this He-Man inspired post (speaking of 80s references) there are plenty of edu salespeople hoping to profit from the pressures of accountability pressing in on schools and teachers. This book, however, is about helping those on the ground to understand the complexities, inner workings and possibilities of PISA.

What sets Sellar, Thompson and Rutkowski’s book apart from other literature is its ability to engage with complexity in an accessible way; to explain clearly without simplifying; and to avoid binaries and polarising divides while acknowledging differing perspectives. They note, for instance, that PISA has been innovative, carefully developed, and judiciously administered, but that such a big project will undoubtably suffer from technical issues and limitations.  They note that PISA is an assessment of select content areas of one sample on one day, but also argue that transparent standardised tests like PISA can be a useful tool for understanding social systems. They explain validity in understandable ways and show how countries can use PISA data responsibly.

The international examples help the book to be relevant to people in OECD countries around the world. For Australian readers like myself there are some gems, such as that PISA performance has become an end in itself, evidenced by the national target of improving Australia’s PISA ranking by 2025 (articulated in the 2013 Education Act). The authors call this move “astounding”. Their tongues are firmly in their cheeks when they state on page 76 that: “The aim of reversing the trend of declining PISA scores seems to be to improve PISA scores through intensifying those policies that have not worked so far. A bold move.” A bold move, indeed, and one that Simon Birmingham might want to reconsider.

The authors also recognise the desire of policy makers, educators and the media to understand PISA and to glean the most important messages it can tell us. They warn, however, about over-attribution of causality, when correlations become causal claims, pointing to the way the media and policy makers often use PISA to point to particular factors as being the cause of high or declining PISA performance. I’ve written about the dangers of policy moves like performance pay for teachers, and the authors have warnings to offer their readers about the negative effects of pairing standardised testing with punitive accountability regimes, and of governments desperately scrambling to ‘win’ against other countries. Run your own race, they argue.

The global education race presents an important challenge to policy makers and educators alike: to develop informed communities willing and able to engage in discussion of how educational measurement, including system-level measurement tools, can be judiciously used to inform policy and practice. The kind of shift they suggest is a challenge. It will require ministers, media and educators to take a non-divisive, sense-making and collaborative approach of seeking to understand, and of deep, thoughtful engagement with data and with one another.

Less Common Villains

Too true. Do we all have villain schema in our heads, gears that automatically turn when the programs are executed? I sure hope not. Here's another great one from Tom Gauld: Common and Less Common Villains.

villains.jpg

Common Villains: nefarious lawyer, evil banker, loathsome industrialist, wicked scientist, depraved aristocrat, immoral journalist

Less Common Villains: monstrous fishmonger, malignant barista, fiendish librarian, diabolical ceramicist, treacherous auctioneer, deceitful zookeeper

Friday, April 28, 2017

Barry Hingley retweeted: It's always about Trump & the wealthy

Well, well, well...the crony capital has come home to roost,
GVgbdSGb_normal.jpg Marcy
@mms5048
Barry Hingley retweeted:
It's always about Trump & the wealthy

C-iPKnpUAAANR1Y.jpg:large

The National Blues

Let us tell the story simple and true.

Clusterfuck Nation
Now appearing Mondays and Fridays

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While the news waves groan with stories about “America’s Opioid Epidemic” you may discern that there is little effort to actually understand what’s behind it, namely, the fact that life in the United States has become unspeakably depressing, empty, and purposeless for a large class of citizens. I mean unspeakably literally. If you want evidence of our inability to construct a coherent story about what’s happening in this country, there it is.

I live in a corner of Flyover Red America where you can easily read these conditions on the landscape — the vacant Main Streets, especially after dark, the houses uncared for and decrepitating year by year, the derelict farms with barns falling down, harvesters rusting in the rain, and pastures overgrown with sumacs, the parasitical national chain stories like tumors at the edge of every town.

You can read it in the bodies of the people in the new town square, i.e. the supermarket: people prematurely old, fattened and sickened by bad food made to look and taste irresistible to con those sunk in despair, a deadly consolation for lives otherwise filled by empty hours, trash television, addictive computer games, and their own family melodramas concocted to give some narrative meaning to lives otherwise bereft of event or effort.

These are people who have suffered their economic and social roles in life to be stolen from them. They do not work at things that matter. They have no prospects for a better life — and, anyway, the sheer notion of that has been reduced to absurd fantasies of Kardashian luxury, i.e. maximum comfort with no purpose other than to enable self-dramatization. And nothing dramatizes a desperate life like a drug habit. It concentrates the mind, as Samuel Johnson once remarked, like waiting to be hanged.

On display in the news reports about the mystery of the opioid epidemic is America’s neurotic reliance on supposedly scientific “studies.” Never before in history has a society studied so much and learned so little — which is what happens when you resort to scientizing things that are essentially matters of conduct. It rests on the fallacy that if you compile enough statistics about something, you can control it.

Opioid addiction is just another racket, a personal one, in a culture of racketeering that is edging toward truly epochal failure, for the simple reason that rackets are dishonest, and pervasive dishonesty is at odds with reality, and reality always has the final say.

The eerie thing about reading the landscape of despair is that you can see the ghosts of purpose and meaning in it. Before 1970, there were at least five factories in my little town, all designed originally to run on the water power (or hydro-electric) of the Battenkill River, a tributary of the nearby Hudson. The ruins of these enterprises are still there, the red brick walls with the roofs caved in, the twisted chain-link fence that no longer has anything to protect, the broken masonry mill-races.

The ghosts of commerce are also plainly visible in the bones of Main Street. These were businesses owned by people who lived in town, who employed other people who lived in town, who often bought and sold things grown or made in and around town. Every level of this activity occupied people and gave purpose and meaning to their lives, even if the work associated with it was sometimes hard. Altogether, it formed a rich network of inter-dependence, of networked human lives and family histories.

What galls me is how casually the country accepts the forces that it has enabled to wreck these relationships. None of the news reports or “studies” done about opioid addiction will challenge or even mention the deadly logic of Wal Mart and operations like it that systematically destroyed local retail economies (and the lives entailed in them.) The news media would have you believe that we still value “bargain shopping” above all other social dynamics. In the end, we don’t know what we’re talking about.

I’ve maintained for many years that it will probably require the collapse of the current arrangements for the nation to reacquire a reality-based sense of purpose and meaning. I’m kind of glad to see national chain retail failing, one less major bad thing in American life. Trump was just a crude symptom of the sore-beset public’s longing for a new disposition of things. He’ll be swept away in the collapse of the rackets, including the real estate racket that he built his career on. Once the collapse gets underway in earnest, starting with the most toxic racket of all, contemporary finance, there will be a lot to do. The day may dawn in America when people are too busy to resort to opioids, and actually derive some satisfaction from the busy-ness that occupies them.


Who is Pooh Bollinger? And what’s got her so worked up?
Find out soon in this space….


Books by JHK

The World Made By Hand Series:
Book 1:
World Made by Hand
Book 2:
The Witch of Hebron
Buy World Made By Hand Signed and local from Battenkill BooksBuy World Made By Hand on AmazonBuy World Made By Hand at Northshire Books Buy The Witch of Hebron signed and local from Battenkill BooksBuy The Witch of Hebron on AmazonBuy The Witch of Hebron at Northshire Books
Book 3:
A History of the Future
Book 4:
Harrows of Spring
Signed and local from Battenkill BooksAvailable on AmazonAvailable at Northshire Books Signed and local from Battenkill BooksAvailable on AmazonAvailable at Northshire Books
Geography of Nowhere The Long Emergency
Available on Kindle Buy The Long Emergency signed and local from Battenkill BooksBuy The Long Emergency on Amazon Buy The Long Emergency at Northshire Books

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