Twenty-Three Things: Activity 21: [GoodReads]

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I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach. There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr
  5. Find some Flickr Toys and Tools
  6. Blog about the role of tech in your classroom
  7. Initial experiment with RSS Readers
  8. RSS Readers continued
  9. Cloud Computing
  10. Web 2.0 Activty
  11. YouTube & Video
  12. Podcasts
  13. eBooks
  14. Wikis (a disaster story)
  15. Wiki Sandbox
  16. Tagging Links: Delicious
  17. Tagging Links: Technorati
  18. Twitter
  19. Twitter in Education
  20. Image Generators

Activity 21: Shelfari and GoodReads

So… I’m supposed to be doing this activity in this project with Shelfari.  I’m sure Shelfari is quite nice. Really I am. But I already have an account on GoodReads, and Shelfari belongs to Amazon.com.  Actually, as of this writing, I think GoodReads belongs to Amazon, as well.  See what I mean about how radically changed the world wide web has become in six years?  It seems like an unimaginably vast amount of time where an entire website can go up, run for several months, and then vanish again in the space of a year.

Anyway, GoodReads.  On GoodReads, I can rate books, share recommendations for other books with other people, and post my book recommendations to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites so that other people can follow my book recommendations, and maybe read the things that I read, and perhaps join a conversation about them with me.

Wow… we used to call that blogging.

So… why should I write reviews on GoodReads, or send my students to write reviews on GoodReads, or post my reviews from GoodReads to Facebook?  Is there any good reason for doing this at all?

It feels like feeding my students to the maw of corporate interest: here, while you’re still kids, generate creative and critical content for free for the corporate interest of the largest online bookseller in the world; write reviews of everything you read, which is mostly mass-market Young Adult literature, and avoid reading anything serious (because who would review a century-old book?)

Not that I read century-old books, mostly.  I’m suddenly realizing that I read a lot of how-to art books, technical books, and books about magic and mythology, and darned little else.  Fiction has largely ceased to interest me as a reader; I still read a lot of history books, mostly biographies and mise en place surveys of eras, like David McCullough’s books about the American REvolution, or similar works.  I used to read lots of current-events analysis, but by and large I don’t believe those analyses any more.  I don’t find them compelling, now that I don’t live in that world.

I’m slowly becoming a non-reader, the kind of person I dreaded encountering as a kid.

It’s not true, of course.  I’m glancing up at my bookshelves, and I can see seven or eight books that I’ve read in the last six months, like 1493 by Charles Mann, and The Traditional Healer’s Handbook, by Hakim G.M. Chishti, and Sacred Geometry  by Skinner, and The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp, and GameStorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo.  But none of these are suggestive of a rich attention to fiction or to the common stories of our time.

Maybe that’s why I didn’t like image generators.

Twenty-three things: Activity 16&17: Delicious.

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I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach. There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr
  5. Find some Flickr Toys and Tools
  6. Blog about the role of tech in your classroom
  7. Initial experiment with RSS Readers
  8. RSS Readers continued
  9. Cloud Computing
  10. Web 2.0 Activty
  11. YouTube & Video
  12. Podcasts
  13. eBooks
  14. Wikis (a disaster story)
  15. Wiki Sandbox

Activity 16: Tags and Delicious

Delicious is a website that allows one to track, sort, manage, and keyword by tags and categories all of your bookmarks for the Internet, and share them with others via social networking.

It used to be called del.icio.us — it had a .US domain name rather than the more common .com, — and I decided I didn’t want to use it the last time I went through the 23Things list. For one thing, it’s cumbersome. I have to save my bookmarks to someone else’s website, and it becomes another website I have to check in on regularly — like Feedly or other sites ive learned to use as part of this project. I have to tag and categorize them and manage them, rather than having that work done for me. I can do that work just as easily in my web browser program, thanks to the interpenetration of Web 2.0 concepts and tools into desktop programs, and vice versa.

For another, it’s social. Increasingly, as a teacher, I’m asked to work within a walled garden —a paradise, curiously enough, from a Persian word — where kids will have access to the digital tools and materials I provide, And expect them to use, but not be subject to the demands or needs or imposition of other adult users who may not have the students’ best interests at heart. also, as I use the same computer increasingly for both school and private work, I’m reluctant to “cross the streams” in public. Facebook and other social media tools have made the hazards of crossing the streams both increasingly likely, and increasingly likely to result from a privacy setting accident.

Third, and this is a big one for me, is that the business of tagging and categorizing links is clearly part of someone’s business strategy to make a fortune. I don’t know whose fortune will be made, if anyone’s, from link-tagging and categorizing… but sombody’s always spinning, somewhere. For me to spend my time and energy categorizinging and organizing my links requires that I me to take time from projects I should be doing, like reading student papers or planning classes, or writing reports. It’s also time I could be spending on kayaking or mountain climbing or other such activities. And if I do it for Delicious, I’m clearly not using my time being creative in ways that may eventually feed me as an artist, financially.

Which annoys me.

But this is future shock. This list of 23 Things was created in 2003 or 2004. And it’s now out of date. A brief ask-around of folks I know indicates that relatively few use or ever used Delicious, and most of us have switched over to using programs like Evernote or Dropbox or simillar Cloud-based apps to track their bookmarks and keep them synced from one device to another.

But OK, that’s not the purpose of this activity.  I’m ranting, not following directions for the activity.  For this Activity, I’m supposed to a) set up a Delicious account [don't have to, my old one is still there], and b) try out a few common search terms and see what I find that’s useful and relevant, and c) write a blog post about what I find.

So, on to Part B — try a few search terms.

  • search term: 3D-printing
    • Ooops, most recent link is 5 months old
    • Try 3d printing
      • most recent link is 2 years old
  • search term: common core curriculum
    • Most recently available link is 10 months old
    • next most recently available link is 2 years old.
  • search term: hermeticism
    • most recently added link 3 years ago.
  • search term: Latin
    • most recent link added 2 years ago.
    • Pearson’s website for Ecce Romani added 3 years ago.
  • Search term: Connecticut
    • most recently added link, 6 months ago.
  • search term: Boston bombing
    • most recently added link, a month ago.
    • next most recently added link, 4 months ago
  • search term: Egyptian revolution
    • most recently available link, 2 years ago.
  • search term: Michelle Rhee
    • most recent link: 4 months ago
    • Michelle Obama?
    • most recently available link: four months ago.
    • her husband? search term “obama” — first link presented to me as relevant, dated TWO YEARS AGO.

Ok… so this is all feeling way out of date and not very useful.  I mean, if people were keeping up with it, great… but if the site isn’t keeping up its own link system to handle important stuff about relatively recent events, there’s no way to make use of it today.  More importantly, I had a network of nearly 80 people there… and none of them has added a link in over five years.

That looks and feels like a dead social network.  Maybe people are still adding to it, but not about subjects I care about.  And no one I cared about online as relevant to my work, three years ago, has decided to stick with it.

What about Technorati?

Activity 17: Technorati.

Yeah… I don’t want to do this.  Just looking at the front page  of Technorati tells me that this is primarily a technology-oriented site, that probably comes up with a bunch of stuff that I might care about…  but really?  It looks like I have to wade through a bunch of crud that I don’t want.  And the people I know who are involved in Technorati usually post the interesting stuff they find to their Facebook accounts — where, eventually, I might see them, and read them if they’re of interest to me.

All the same, let’s try a few search terms before signing up for an account. The same ones as at Delicious.com

OK, all of this is goodish, I guess.  But I have other sources of news for most of this, and I have access to other materials that don’t require me to join this website.  I didn’t find anything that made me shout for joy and jump up and down in excitement here… no amazing new resource for teaching Latin, for example, or any wild new source of information about my state, or amazing new how-to’s for my school’s 3D printer.

So, I’m going with my initial gut reaction, and not joining Technorati at this time.

Twenty-three things: Blog about Technology

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I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach.  There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr
  5. Find some Flickr Toys and Tools

This week, I’m supposed to blog about technology (Activity 6 of the 23 Things).  If I’d been teaching for less than 10 years, I’m supposed to blog about how I think technology will change my teaching over the course of my career; if I’ve been teaching for more than ten years, I’m supposed to blog about how I’ve used technology to change how I teach in the classroom.

I’ve been a teacher for 17 years, and I have to admit that how technology has changed my teaching — Not Much.

That’s an awkward admission to make.

Some background.  In 1996, while I was a student in seminary, I learned about this weird thing called the World Wide Web. You had to use dialup service and a web browser to reach it, but using FTP and a bunch of code in a new programming language called HTML, you could write pages for the World Wide Web (we really called it the World Wide Web then, not just “the internet”).  So I put my brand-spanking-new Master’s Thesis online.  And after months and months, someone else linked to it!  I couldn’t analyze traffic or count hits, but it was exciting to know that someone online could find my page without knowing the address ahead of time.

Fast forward eighteen years.  I’ve done a lot online — kept up this blog, joined Flickr, learned to write budget spreadsheets for trips to Washington DC with my school, learned some digitally-based accounting, wrote two novels, published a lot of poetry online, and to show for it — seventy-six thousand views, all time, on this blog.  Eighteen years of activity online.

Eighteen years.

In my last year at my old school, I thought, “I’ve been at this long enough.  It’s time to create a different way of teaching.” I asked IT services at my school to turn on the software on our server to use wikis and teach wikis in my ancient history class.  That was thirteen years into my teaching career — and I feel that it was an abject failure.  I had few girls in my classes. The boys made social pages rather than academic pages; they defaced one another’s pages (and it didn’t really matter to them that I could see who had vandalized one another’s pages through my administrator functions — because they’d steal one another’s usernames and logins, and deface under someone else’s name; the “innocent” victim of this prank would sputter and protest that they hadn’t defaced “Kevin’s” page, while knowing full well that they’d done it to somebody else’s page.  Loads of kids from several classes, all studying the same subject, building a wiki together — but not being good writers, nor good readers, nor good historical thinkers… asking them to build an ancient history wiki?  Disaster.  A complicated disaster, with a lot of complicated lessons for teachers:  kids as pranksters and tricksters at heart. Kids as social animals.  Digital learning as a risky strategy for learning.  THe problem of “Walled Gardens” in education — creating safe environments for kids to learn in online at school, while they’re used to much more wild-and-crazy environments like Instagram and Facebook (which are themselves walled gardens of a sort, but in service to other masters than schools, and much larger, and thus much more apparently open. And full of people — seventeen kids is not enough to populate a wiki).

So, a retreat from digital learning at my new school.  Some experimentation, yes, but mostly the old standards of traditional education: typing, spreadsheets, a little bit of page layout. Not much.

Last night, coming home from the inaugural Mo’Mondays in New Haven, I was talking with my friend Hollie.  We were talking about the work of alchemy as a metaphorical tool for understanding creativity.  She mentioned the daughter of a friend of hers, though. “Andrew,” she said, “this kid doesn’t ever seem to be curious about anything.  She doesn’t follow sports. She doesn’t care about school.  She talks to her friends on the phone, texts them, but it’s like, about nothing.  So I think curiosity is something we’ve taken out of kids today. And I don’t know what to do about that for her. But it scares me.”

It scares me too.  I feel like I see a lot of kids like this friend of Hollie’s — kids who don’t seem interested or want to engage in many ways.  And I don’t think that putting them in front of a computer screen is necessarily the answer, unless we’re also empowering them to make, do, dream, create, and invent.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this, and that I’ll be given a chance to later on.  But it seems to me that in eighteen years, I ought to have done more with computer technology in my classroom, and with internet services, than teach kids to use a word processor.

Twenty-Three Things: Flickr Fun

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I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach.  There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr

The goal for today is to use some of the “fun Flickr apps” to do something with a photo or group of photos from Flickr.  And here, I’m at a loss. The links to the tools suggested, like Mappr and Moisaikr don’t actually work any more. One hasn’t worked since 2007; the other works, sorta, but the code seems to make it impossible to use your own photos as the basis for the work.

However, I did find a way to make one of those motivational posters using the Al-Baldah image I created using Chris Warnock’s book on the Mansions of the Moon.

motivatorc34a5098f591919a221d2cb509327b68a284bba8 I have no real interest in buying such a thing, unfortunately. I could make them again in the future, though, or use CreativeCommons images from American history or elsewhere to make Palace of Memory posters for my teaching or my workshops.

I also learned that I could have photo business cards made from my images, and greeting cards, by Moo.com. Should I? My success with selling my Geomancy poster or my pagan chant mandala t-shirt on Zazzle.com has been a big zilch.

My usual search skills are not proving very helpful; I did find this memory game tool, which allows you to pick a tag and then use that tag as a way to train the memory.  I’ve not thought how to use this in the classroom yet, but one possibility would be to use it as a way to teach kids to learn about a subject of study before doing a deeper bit of research.

One of the few tools I’ve found is this one, though, which is kind of disappointing even as it’s accurate.   It compares the frequency of a photo’s views with the length of time that it’s been available (how long since it was uploaded).  And what’s disappointing about it is not that it’s inaccurate — but that my photos are not broadly received. Alas.  Not really on anyone’s radar but mine. None of my photos in the last two or three years have seen much use or collected much interest.    And here’s another list of tools for Flickr.

Oh well. It does give me the ability to keep track of all my art projects, and that’s been useful.

Beyond this, though, in doing explorations of Flickr toys, I’ve found that a lot of the tools require me to hand over user names and passwords, and this is a security issue for me.  If it’s not a tool that I can use without providing the keys to my artistic history, I’m not sure I want to use it.

Twenty-Three Things: Flickr and Images

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I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach.  There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog

This week’s discussion is supposed to be about learning to work with images online, primarily using Flickr.  Flickr is a photosharing site run by Yahoo! I don’t know the site’s history, but it’s reasonably family-friendly, and it’s pretty easy to be a generic user of the site; I’ve been a pro member for years, and I’ve had an account since February 2007. My user name there is Anselm23.

This is my most recent photograph stored there:
First knitting efforts:

And this is my first:

Thai Food: Galloping Horses I think it’s funny that I’ve used my site to take pictures of architecture and art and my current artistic projects for nearly all of the six years I’ve been using Flickr.  And that I’ve been posting pictures here as a way of linking between this blog and that photo-stream nearly that long.  It’s part of the way I’ve helped establish an identity for myself on the web — being heavily involved in two websites has, in a way, made it easier to find me (So has Twitter, for that matter, although Facebook has reliably provided me with more traffic even though Facebook is most unreliable about sharing my links to Flickr and to this blog than either of the other two sites. Argh!)

But one of my tasks for this week is to find a photo on Flickr that I want to blog about which isn’t mine.  This is somewhat harder, but fortunately I know some search-fu, and I have a sense of what I want to talk about, and that’s the way that we as teachers can help students understand their world by providing them with strong access to metaphor and imagery through the actual use of images that support metaphor.

Some of you are going, “Huh??”

That’s OK.

Black Swan Portrait

Black Swan Portrait by Flickr user birdsaspoetry, David Jenkins

Here’s the image I’m blogging about: It’s a black swan. The economics writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote a book called The Black Swan, about the effect of the highly improbable upon economics.

Hundreds of years ago, it was impossible to imagine black swans in Europe. Swans were white; it was part of the definition of the bird, almost.  Then (I think) European explorers in Australia found black swans, real black swans. Their discovery was a minor sensation in Europe as lots of theories about biology needed revision.

But the thing that Taleb pointed out, is that the black swans were always there. They’d been living and breeding and so on in Australia for centuries before Europeans encountered them.  They caused a sensation in Europe because knowledge had to be revised — but to anyone who really knew how the world worked, it was possible to imagine black swans, and to exploit that knowledge to advantage.

And this, I think, is one of the things that so upsets many teachers. For decades now, teachers have either ignored the internet, or used it in limited ways.  It was always there, but it was difficult to use for knowledge-gathering, complicated, required a knowledge of programming, etc.  There were obstacles to using it in school, and challenges to authority that it could cause.  But it was still there, still growing, still active, still empowering people outside of schools.  The development of this technology was moving on, regardless of what we in schools did about it, or used it for.

And the development of the Web has been primarily social — Facebook for social networks, LinkedIn for professional networks, Flickr for sharing photographs, DeviantArt for sharing illustrations and imagery, SoundCloud and Napster for music (albeit with enormous copyright challenges), and so on.  Meanwhile, schools have become increasingly anti-social:  No cellphones in school, no Facebook in school, limited access to the web through filtering technology, and so on.  The more integrated the Web becomes, the less integrated schools become.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t places where the networks shouldn’t end.  But there have to be compelling reasons for keeping the networks out of our schools, and currently I’m not sure that there are. “We need to keep kids focused on the content!” can be a rallying cry, but when photographs of Lexington Green and the Colosseum and Latin inscriptions and geometry problems and algebra solutions and mathematical art and chemical models of DNA are available online as images, I think it’s unforgivable that we as teachers don’t often know how to perform these searches — or that we’re so focused on correcting homework and developing grades that we don’t have the time to learn how to find and use these resources.

network

Network, by Flickr user sjcockell, Simon Cockell

The other side of it is that this data stream is overwhelming. Black Swans undid a lot of biological theory in the 1700s; and this fire-hose of data about the world is capable of overwhelming the school system we have.  As never before, kids can look at more photographs than the textbook or school library provides, and the built-in brain software we carry around in our heads is 70,000 years older at least than the software for reading and writing.  When we teach kids to use this technology effectively — to search, to find, to analyze and to understand — we make them a hundred times more effective learners, because we’re teaching them to use the networks that effectively surround them every day to pull information to them, rather than passively receive it.  And that’s awesome.

Twenty-Three Things: Setting Up a Blog

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I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach.  There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous two entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery

This week’s task is to “Set up a Blog”. And the list recommends using http://www.blogger.com

Forgive me.  I just can’t do it.  I have a blog here, on WordPress.  And given that I’ve used this site for years, I’m not going to go to some other website and start blogging there just because it has “blogger” in the title of the site. Besides which, although I know that from time to time it may be a good idea to start fresh, I’m not sure this is the right time.

That said, here’s where I’ve blogged over the years

  • LiveJournal
  • Gravity’s Grace, back when I did my own webhosting.
  • diaryland.com — I was at anselm23.diaryland.com, but it looks like they’ve finally taken that down
  • There’s a couple of other places I had things that weren’t exactly blogs, but more or less “writing on the web”, where I had student papers from my days in seminary. That would be around 1995, 1996.  I’ve been on the web a LONG time, and experimented with a lot of possibilities.

All of this is to say, I like where I am now.  And I’m likely to remain here.

The one thing I could do is register a domain name, and redirect you all to “Wanderinginthelabyrinth.org” or something like that… or to “andrewbwatt.com”.

Would you bother coming back, though?

Know the Power of Image

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How to make Google your allied spirit....

How to make Google your allied spirit….

Chances are pretty good that somewhere on your hard drive is an image whose provenance you don’t know. Maybe it’s a picture of a Greek ostraka with a name that looks suspiciously like “Pericles” but you don’t remember where you downloaded the picture.  Or maybe, there’s an unattributed statue picture in one of your slideshows for class.  Or maybe one of your students doesn’t know the bibliographic data for a picture in her slideshow.

You should know how to find that information.  Here’s how.

First, go to Google’s homepage, Google.com.  Then find the button that takes you to Google Image.  Go there.  In the search bar, notice the little icon of the camera.  Click on that.  Upload the image with the missing provenance data, and search for the photo.  My friend Craig was looking for the identification of this goddess — surrounded by crooked Sunwheels, and dogs, and gees, and bullheads. Who was she?

Potnia Theon — mistress of animals. SOrry about the crooked crosses: does it help that they date to 680 BC? probably not.

Potnia Theon — mistress of animals. SOrry about the crooked crosses: does it help that they date to 680 BC? probably not.

My almost-thirty-year old memory of such things is that this was Geometric ware from ancient Greece, but older than the Parthenon, although younger than the Trojan War. That gave me a window, of call it 900 BC to 700 BC. Turns out that this is from Boeotia, near the ancient city of Thebes (of the seven gates, and the Sphinx riddling to Oedipus on the road). It dates from 680 BC, and she’s a Potnia Theron a Mistress of Animals, akin to Artemis.  The original is in the Archaeological Museum in Athens.

We wouldn’t have known any of this without Google Reverse Image search, a Flickr user named Julianna (thank you!) , and my curious friend Craig.

But now we do.

Reflecting on this, I realized that if I’d wanted to answer Craig’s question fifteen years ago, I’d have had to find an art history library, and slog through books of Mycenaean and early Greek pottery for several hours. Instead, I had an answer in fifteen minutes… and that answer was not dependent AT ALL on what I’d previously known.  In college (actually, in grad school) I spent several hundred dollars on books, and probably a few thousand dollars on tuition, in order to learn the basic framework of Hellenic pottery patterns… and in the clutch, twenty years on, I was wrong.

Google was right, and able to construct the knowledge path from the visual image alone, to the etherial data of the photographer, to the more etherial data of the physical location of the object photographed, and to the even more etherial data of where and when the original potter had worked.  That’s a bizarre and alien sort of efficiency.

And yet, it’s the core efficiency of the Palace of Memory technique, for example.  Your brain is much better at remembering pictures than words, and better at remembering places than abstract information.  And it turns out that Google Images is capable of helping you construct those lines of connection between place and image quite rapidly.

And suddenly, the power of images becomes quite clear.

Pretty girl, all made of geometric patterns with inappropriate crooked crosses, geese, a bull’s head and a shaggy dog or two?  Boeotian, 680 BC ± 10 years?  Potnia Theron, or Mistress of Animals. Sure, I know her. She’s in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens… Why do you ask?

Well, sure I know that.  You have to know these things if you’re a magician…

Only, you don’t need to know that.  You need to be able to construct the path to that knowledge, but not necessarily what the knowledge is.  There may come a time when there will be no Google to call upon.  In the meantime, use it. Trace your imagery back to its sources. Learn what the external brain has to say about the images you treasured enough to keep, but not enough to keep the bibliographic data solidified.

You might surprise yourself.

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