Seventeenth Century Impaction

Blake's & Paolozzi's Newton

Blake’s & Paolozzi’s Newton

Judging by the twitter traffic and the expression of fan-boy glee on Dr. C’s face during the interview with Dr. Alan Kay last night, a great many sparks of thought were flying during the three hour google hangout last night. Technical issues with the stream and the advancing late hour in the evening forced me to check out the 90 minute mark. When I awoke this morning, my head was spinning in trying to recall and reflect upon a great many possible stories suggested in the conversation. Putting pen to paper – after a breakfast of ex-champions consisting of a bear claw and a cup of coffee – I wound up with six bullet points on a piece of foolscap which will be transcribed below.

But first, I’d like to try to sketch out a connection that emerged for me while considering a troublesome point Kay raised about the nature of K-12 education in the USA. I say troublesome because if as Kay suggests ‘education in America is stuck in the seventeenth century,’ there exists a huge problem to be solved. In a very real sense it implies that just about everything is wrong.

Before attempting to fix what is wrong or to solve the huge problem, two question come to mind. First, is Kay’s analysis accurate. And second, what does being stuck in the seventeenth century mean. Seems to me that the first question can’t be approached until one feels oneself on firm ground in answering the second. At this moment, that second question both excites me and it frightens. It frightens me because I feel incapable of getting a purchase on solid ground on my own.

The question excites me because as I heard Dr. Kay refer to the dilemma of being stuck in the seventeenth century it brought to mind a line of thought I’d encountered just the day before while loitering in the Old Texts section of the Internet Archive.  In 1929, a Jesuit palaeontologist from France named Pierre Teilhard de Chardin raised a remarkably similar critique of the Catholic church in an essay entitled “The Sense of Man” from a collection with a title that is apropos for our course: Toward the Future. For Teilhard, the formulation of the geologic time scale marked the point that humanity’s relationship with time, the universe and existence shifted irrevocably. An entirely new conception of progress becomes possible when the timeline to the present is stretched from 10,000 years to several thousand millions ago.

I think Teilhard de Chardin and Kay are both referring to Age of Enlightenment in their critiques. My understanding and awareness of this topic limited. I don’t have many facts or figures to bring to bear yet. One of the few factoids I retain from my studies long ago is that Isaac Newton is considered by some to be poster boy for the Enlightenment. That’s why I made the animated GIF above of Blake’s illuminated engraving and Paolozzi’s sculpture based on Blake’s Newton. And I guess I’ve got one more recently discovered nugget that might be worth throwing into the mix. It’s a quote from the de Chardin essay:

We are beginning to understand, and we shall never forget, that in the future the only religion possible for man is the religion which will teach him, in the first place, to recognize, love, and serve with passion the universe of which he forms a part.

Below are a few points from the Kay interview that might also merit further investigation.

  • Cargo cults in Melanesia: an idea from anthropology about the changes among some island communities  after contact with colonizing groups in which the islanders come to worship the colonizers and the commodities of civilazation they’d brought after they have departed. Kay suggested that ‘an iPad for every student in schools today is a version of the Cargo Cult concept.
  • Reading and writing are culturally innate skills (I think he said genetic). As such, they must be taught to level of mastery before math and science (human inventions) can be taught or understood successfully.
  • The System has no interest in having a citizenry capable of reasoned thought.
  • Sixties idealism led many tech thinkers and engineers to envision a liberating potential for society through computers
  •  The USA has failed in creating a republican that matches the idealized vision of of the founding fathers and codified in the constitution

A bit of housekeeping

Summer vacation begins soon for me. I’ll be travelling back to the states later this week so my online access will be hit or miss for a while. If any of the above strikes a cord with someone interested in collaborative research please get in touch through comments or on the twitter.

Better, Stronger & Faster

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The conscious mind is like a pond into which many people are throwing stones. Our thoughts are accidents, and if we blunder upon just the idea we need, it is indeed a blunder.

Oh how I wish I’d have come up with some sentences like those above for my How I Feel When I Think post. Finding those lines and Paul Ellsworth’s 1915 self-help book Health and Power through Creation from whence they come was a bit of blunder itself. Perhaps the search engine at the internet archive and I don’t have such a symbiotic relationship.

I went to the archive because I needed a break from the Licklider essay. I wanted to see if I could find more information about the Trie memory he seemed so enthuiastic about in the form of old articles or books. The first several results, written for engineers it seems, were for even drier and denser articles than Lick’s. Last on the list was the promising title Health and Power through creation so I clicked the link. The reason this book showed up in the search is because the author’s actual surname is Triem.

Fortunately there were no students at the teaching factory today. Classes ended yesterday and testing doesn’t begin until Sunday. Therefor, I took advantage of my empty and well air-conditioned classroom to dive into the 99 year old book. Several hours later I have six pages of notes in a yellow legal pad and am considering whether or not I should give Triem’s ‘scientific’ program to find and benefit from the Divine Light within a try. Probably best to defer such major life choice until after this course finishes unless I were to do it for the inquiry project in the form of action research.

Recently I’ve blundered my way across several interesting digitally archived old texts as I’ve followed the associative trails during this course. Below are a few that I think would probably be more suitable for an inquiry project:

  1. Edmund Farrell’s 1967 manuscript for the National Council of Teachers of English entitled English, Education and the Electronic Revolution provides an early days’ survey of how the popular media, textbook publishers and academics were trying to quickly make sense of the changing technological landscape.
  2. Don’t Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate: A Cultural History of the Punch Card by Steven Lubar is the article I talked about in the latter half of the podcast. This provides a good narrative of the impact Hollerith’s punch cards and tabulator machines had through most of the 20th century.
  3. I was able to track down a digital copy of of Donald Michael’s 1962 Cybernation: The Silent Nation but sadly it is currently checked out from the Open Library. At least I was able to put a hold on it

All of this might suggest that I’m taking a contrarian view regarding how loudly we should sing the praises of visionaries like Bush and Lick. This is the topic under consideration in the 28 minute audio recording that accompanies this post. Listen at your own peril.

What Am I Doing Here?

LadyBird-CoverThis course hits home on a deeply personal level. I’ve been grappling with many of the issues that are on offer here for a long time.

This morning, as I was slurping down a bowl of Grape Nut Flakes while rushing to get ready to head to the teaching factory after having had overslept by an hour, a tweet from Bill led to a post from one of the section leaders that brought memories to mind that felt like a karate chop to the psychic solar plexus of forgotten failures.

Hours later, while spending some idle moments between performing for the students, enthralled with Dr. C’s conceptacular experience, I had to consult the wikipedia to catch the allusion that he’d used to segue out of another of his autobiographical digressions.

And of course this caused a momentary fugue for me while I pondered what literary character could best signify the trail of unfulfilled dreams that bob in my wake. Willie Loman, most likely.

Later still, I was deeply touched by a post from an annoyed VCU student who prefers that this course be in BlackBoard instead of the seemingly chaotic state that some seem to find it. That took me back to memories of uncomfortable and angry students who pushed back hard when I tried to drop some ds106 on them several years ago. Again, a nerve was touched.

Is this what learning is supposed to look and feel like? Do I really have to turn to ELO and Carly to help me cope with what this whirlpool of a MOOC is stirring up in my personal concept space? What am I doing here?

And here’s the curious part. All of hyperbolic self-pity above is just my own nutty way of saying how enthralled I am with and grateful for the opportunity to participate together in this journey. This class is stretching and pulling in ways that are at time uncomfortable. But each and every day the mind has been churning in trying to process and makes sense what is happening.

In effort not to leave one of Chekov’s guns on the mantle, I suppose I should try to explain the aforementioned karate chop. Bill’s tweet mentioned experimental writing which piqued my curiosity so I clicked the link to Ryan’s post. There, Ryan linked to consolatio post that I previously read when it was published in 2010. At that time, I was preparing to teach my first university English composition class in Tokyo when I discovered Donald Murray through the circumstance of his passing. In the shared office for adjunct instructors there just so happened to be a very early edition of Murray’s A Writer Teaches Writing. As with most other things, I couldn’t quite cut the mustard as teacher of English Composition.

But I did walk away from the experience with one valuable memory – a famous quote from Murray’s guide. And the fact that that quote was brought back to mind is the sweet that counteracts the bitter. Murray said: Never a day without a line.

Maybe that’s what I’m doing here.

A Different Class With Vectors

Hewlett Packard Promotional Film

Hewlett Packard Promotional Film

I got bogged down this weekend looking for videos of Hollerith’s game changing punch cards and tabulating machines at the Internet Archive. Seems that the method and technology he developed to aid census taking in the United States in the late 1900s had a lasting impact through most of the twentieth century.

The animated GIF from yesterday’s post was from film footage about mail delivery to U.S. soldiers in Italy during World War II. I love how the clerk used the information contained on the punch card to hand write with a fountain pen the soldier’s Army Post Office (APO) mailing address. The organizational and logistical effort required to get mail and parcels to hundreds of thousands of fighting men across a vast theater of operations was no small task.

The picture at the top of this post is from a promotional film for a Hewlett Packard Math and Science Computer Calculator. The Internet Archive says the film is from the early 70’s. I’m guessing middle to late 60’s by the width of the physics teacher’s necktie but I could be wrong.

Speaking of the physics teacher, I’d like to encourage those with a bit of free time to check out his lesson on computing acceleration and distance travelled for a falling object aided by the HP machine (with programs entered on punch cards). I can’t really think of any reason how this relates to our ongoing online course other than the teacher’s occasional use of the word vector. I found myself captivated by the level of engagement of the students and the enthusiasm of the instructor. I’d be curious to hear how modern day students and teachers find his lesson (it occurs about nine minutes in to the video).

A Nugget Teaser


One of the things I like about Vannever Bush’s As We May Think article is the survey it provides of late 19th and early 20th century information technology. Case in point is the nugget I wish to put forward for consideration:

All this complication is needed because of the clumsy way in which we have learned to write figures. If we recorded them positionally, simply by the configuration of a set of dots on a card, the automatic reading mechanism would become comparatively simple. In fact if the dots are holes, we have the punched-card machine long ago produced by Hollorith for the purposes of the census, and now used throughout business. Some types of complex businesses could hardly operate without these machines.

Taking a look at Herman Hollerith’s story and the contribution he made to the task of tabulating vast amounts of data sent me down a number of associative trails when I first closely read Bush’s article several years ago. Rereading the article this week and further research re-sparked some of those old trails and brought brand new ones into a blurry sort of soft focus.

So now I’m all set for the morning drive to work tomorrow. Again, I’ll attempt pull these loose thoughts together in the form of a spoken word audio recording. With luck, that audio will be posted here tomorrow.




Signal Indicators

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As promised in yesterday’s “teaser” post, an audio draft of my answer to the question ‘How do I feel when I think?’ is offered in the player above. For devices without Flash, the download audio link should work. And for those subscribed to the feed in iTunes, the recording should have by now appeared as a podcast.

This process has served to confirm what I’ve known all along. When it comes to turning thought into words, I experience a much more comfortable feeling when talking into a microphone than I do when typing at a keyboard. And after listening back to the recording a couple of times since making it on the drive to work this morning, I feel some form and clarity emerging in response to the question.

At this point, I feel the need to cobble the loose ends together in written form. There’s even a bit of excitement mixed in with that need. And my greatest hope of all in this endeavor is to get over the habit of whinging about how scary and discomforting it is to write. I think overcoming that tired-old habit would feel just swell.


Image: Signal by Phil Crisologo (CC License)


Feel Like I’m in a Judy GIF

JudyDance2The organizers of the online Thought Vectors course have asked participants to answer the question “How does it feel when I think?” in the form of an autobiographical blog post for a first week assignment. The initial thought upon reading and pondering the prompt was amazement at never having considered it before. Seems all the energy, for me at least, has gone into thinking the darn thoughts with no consideration of the process or feelings that ensue. And as I thought the question through some more, I realized that it’s not an easy one to answer – probably because it is such a foreign notion.

I understand that the organizers of the course expect we participants to write a bushel and a peck and maybe even some more in gourd. But as I am way out practice with writing and am feeling a bit sketchy about tackling the question at hand, I’m going to let the thoughts percolate a bit more before posting the actual assignment.

Wouldn’t it be better to save this as a draft instead of publishing as a post?

Well, yeah. But then it wouldn’t have been possible to share the Judy Garland GIF that this assignment inspired me to make. And it also wouldn’t have been possible to mention that I’m going to try to draft this post in the form of an audio recording while driving to work tomorrow.

So if all goes as planned, I’ll be able to post some audio tomorrow that addresses the organizers’ question, explains the significance of the Judy GIF and presents a nugget from As We May Think.

BluePhase Episode 011

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This podcast was recorded in two parts. First was a drive to work this morning in which I tried to provide an update on the ongoing reclamation project. It turns out that there are nearly 200 recordings I’ve made over the past decade now available on this blog. During the drive, while trying make sense of what I’ve been doing I mentioned an old note I discovered last night that pointed to an old Jean Shepherd radio program that I listened to at some point in the past through Max Schmid’s Mass Backwards podcast. And because the topic of that 1968 radio show pertained to some of what I’ve been experiencing lately, I decided to listen to again last night.

In that episode, Shepherd spoke about Krapp’s Last Tape and Vic and Sade. By the time I arrived at the teaching factory where I work, I realized I was becoming confused about when I heard the Shepherd recording and how it might have influenced my listening habits and thoughts about recorded audio in the intervening time. So I played an excerpt from Shepherd talking about Krapp.

The second part of the podcast is a monolog I did later this evening after doing a bit of research into the various points that came up during the morning drive. The result of that brief research is that I find myself in way over my head. And then I remembered what it was that I’d originally intended to talk about before getting distracted by Shep’s show from ’68 this morning. And that topic was the experience of relistening to an old Tokyo Calling episode which I also listened to last night.

Ultimately the thing ended with a whole bunch of loose ends that hopefully can be tied up this Friday at 19:30 AST live BluePhase transmission on ds106radio.

At some point toward the end, I think I recommended a fun sight for listening to old time radio. On that site is also a link to a pretty nifty app for listening to the same archive.

BluePhase – Episode 010

The previous post referred to Bill‘s amazing work in building a prototype version of Dr. Nakamatsu’s TDM/7300 multiplex radio tuner. It’s hard to imagine that he will likely have a fully functioning version ready before year’s end. What a treat it was to be able to play his initial recording of his first temporal bandwidth live on ds106radio. And that’s not all there is to look forward to on the BluePhase.

As mentioned in the final segment, Lisa and Tim have agreed to appear on future episodes to talk about voicing primary documents and reclaiming online content respectively. I can’t wait for the chance to visit with these two awesome innovators. Subscribing to podcast will ensure that you don’t any of the awesomeness to come.

A request was also made for interested listeners to produce reviews of favorite podcasts to be played on upcoming installments. David is onboard to talk about one of his favorite podcasts: Welcome to Night Vale. And I hope to soon be able to review a podcast episode Bryan Alexander recently recommended.

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Creative Commons licensed music from the Free Music Archive by Bottlesmoker.