A brief absence

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I’m going to be away from my computer and most electronics for a few days. Don’t worry: I’ve scheduled a few posts to play out in the time that I’ll be away, so you won’t have to be without any discussion of the Kavad progress, and you’ll think that I’m not slacking off. The tai chi posts will have to wait until I get home, but I’ll take some detailed notes so that any insights that come to me during this time will be available on my return. It’s not that I’ve given up the practice, just that I’m going to be doing it in a place where the Intertubes don’t shine.

In preparation for this departure, though, I’ve been hastily using the Internet to compile data about the decans for use while I’m off grid. I plan to take my sketchbook with me, and consult with some of my fellow campers, about the nature of the stories each decan image tells. Accordingly, I spent a fair block of time today recording what the Hindus, ibn Ezra, Picatrix, and Agrippa had to say. My friend Nick also turned me on to another list, used by the order of the Golden Dawn, and included in Israel Regardie’s big black book. I’d forgotten the Decans made an appearance there, but now I’ve got another list to work from. Goody!

Some of my teaching colleagues are probably wondering, “what’s the point?” And I’d like to say again, if it wasn’t obvious, that it always comes back (for me) to having a languages, a model and a value system that makes teaching creativity important. Analyzing this project in those terms, I’m using my skills at research and my own skill at drawing to make something new. It doesn’t have to be perfect, or even great, to teach me something about creativity. It just has to be something I value and am willing to put time and effort into. And then it’s a source of teaching and learning about creativity.

Information technology and revolution


The sketch at right isn’t mine. But I think that the introduction of Design and Design Thinking into American middle schools will be every bit as powerful and (r)evolutionary as this device invented in Germany in the late 1440s.

Everybody assumes that Gutenberg’s press was the thing that kicked off the Reformation. But people forget that Germany was really thinking hard and long about revolt against the Church before Martin Luther came along.
When Gutenberg developed his press in Mainz, the city was in the middle of a decade-year revolt against their sovereign overlord, Archbishop Otto.

When the Archbishop retook the city in 1463, he expelled all the printers, including the penniless Gutenberg, and his now-bankrupted partner Jacob Furst. Without money, neither man could control the technology. Their apprentices claimed to be journeymen printers, and the journeymen claimed to be masters. By 1470, those men and their successors had opened printing shops all over Germany, and trained their successors.

The technology metastasized. And it was anti-clerical from the beginning. These guys had had to start from scratch, under difficult circumstances, against a reactionary and threatening government with more interest in protecting the wealthy than upholding the rights of the common people.

The technology of the internet is undergoing the same kind of revolution now. And the Occupy Wall Street movement is only the tip of the power-shift.

Be cautious what you call up.

(Hat Tip to Dave Gray for making the image available on his Flickr feed. Click through and give him some good vibes; he’s a major design mentor of mine.

Via Flickr:
Information technology and revolution.
This isn’t the first time in history that new information technologies have sparked revolution. It’s a recurring pattern.

Before the printing press, books were hand-written manuscripts available only to the clergy and the wealthy. The mostly-illiterate public relied on those in power to interpret humankind’s body of knowledge. Any communication between ordinary people relied on word of mouth and was mostly limited to short distances. In short, information was distributed in pockets and silos.

The printing press gave people a way to share information in a peer-to-peer way, bypassing the traditional power structures. The rapid information sharing that followed, via books, pamphlets, newspapers and scientific journals, effectively ended the Middle Ages and sparked the Age of Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and ultimately the political revolutions that resulted in the first constitutional democracies.

Today the web is having a similarly profound effect, allowing people to bypass traditional media channels and power structures to communicate with each other directly. Once again, information and ideas which were contained in pockets and silos are spreading far and wide. Once again, innovation is accelerating. Once again, mass peer-to-peer communication is enabling and empowering social, intellectual and political revolutions.

Peer-to-peer information technologies like the printing press and the web unleash powerful revolutionary forces. But revolutions begin in the streets. They often go unnoticed or ridiculed in their early stages. It took 100 years of bible-printing before Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenburg. It was another hundred years before the first scientific journals were printed, and another hundred before the American Revolution broke out in 1775. It took more than ten years for colonial dissent to simmer before the American Revolution broke out into open war.

Greek Ceramics

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Slideshows, otherwise known as “magic lantern shows” in the 1800s, were a great way of communicating what the rest of the world looks like to an audience stuck in one place. Travel is broadening, they say, and even looking at a set of themed slides of images (as opposed to text) is a great way of communicating.

Somehow this slideshow of mine over at Slideshare.net racked up over 2000 views without my noticing it. It’s one of those things that turns out to be useful to a lot of people — far more than any philosophizing I’ve done here. Maybe we should be doing more to create categories, and categorizing images, so that these information sets can be shown in schools, rather than just lecturing at our kids.



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The Poverty Trap

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A lot of the things that happen on my Twitter feed concern me not at all. It’s a broad but not particularly deep stream of information.  I dip my fingers in every so often; I pour some things in every so often.  But then again, every so often I find a piece of information that I know has circled to my mind from the deep Ocean of truth out there somewhere.  And I wonder how to communicate this to my students.

Pieces of information like this nugget: If you make less than $40,000 a year, you’re stuck in a kind of poverty if you live in the United States.

A graph of the Poverty Trap

Here’s the thing… If you and your family of three earn less than $20,000 a year here, you get assistance from the Federal government and from the states, because you are — you know — poor.

But after you earn more than $20,000 a year, those subsidies in the form of food stamps and housing assistance start to go away; and frequently those sorts of businesses have substantial side-costs: transit, perhaps clothes or uniforms.  And the subsidies that made life possible beforehand go away, too:  You lose access to subsidized health care, and child care.  Your rent support vanishes.  And so your expenses jump, to eat most of the extra that you may have earned… up to about $20,000 more above $20,000.  Or $40,000 a year, which works out to $19 or $20 an hour.

I don’t make $20 an hour.  Am I in poverty?  Well, no. But I certainly have subsidized housing, in the form of an apartment in one of the school dormitories.  I eat subsidized food in the school dining hall.  And while I DO pay my own health care costs, the’ve climbed (reliably) in unpredictable ways for years now.

Should we teach this in schools? How? When?  And more importantly, how do we as a nation fix this problem?

NECC ’09: Nystrom Maps

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The silver medal from my ventures into the Vendors Hall at NECC goes to Nystrom, which produces maps.  They’ve taken Google Earth, wedded their proprietary content to the Google Earth globe, and then modularized it.

What does that mean?  It means that they’ve chopped the program up into smaller bits. So if you’re a particularly unusual school that only does Grade 3, and only does Latin America, you can buy the Latin American module for Grade 3.  You only pay for the content that you actually plan to use. More