Monday, November 29, 2010

April 6, 1959

In the light of April 12, 1954, being called the most boring day in history, I began to wonder about my own birthday in April just a few years later. Now 1959 was chock-full of great events, but what about that quiet spring Monday in Montreal, that 6th of April, when I uttered the first of what would be many cries of outrage?

Michael Corrente, who apparently is a celebrity (as I am not) was also born.

Linus Pauling wrote enthusiastically to Dan Campbell about proposed experimental work concerning the manufacture of enzymes in both the embryo and the adult.

Time Magazine featured American Motors' George Romney. Now there's an omen! According to the cover story, "George Wilcken Romney, at 51, is a broad-shouldered, Bible-quoting broth of a man who burns brightly with the fire of missionary zeal." 51 - that's the same age I am today! "The American dinosaur, to Romney, is the long, low, chrome-laden U.S. auto, i.e., any car of his Big Three competitors." I guess we could say he was ahead of his time.

Also, "French troops from Niger were flown to Dahomey (ie., Benin) to halt antigovernment riots and demonstrations." (No photo; it's Britannica).

Artist Lenard Kester decided to move his studio of eight years because of the persistent hum of nearby machinery. Kester may be the last artist known to refuse to smear meaningless daubs of paint on a canvas and sell it as art.

Also apparently the last civil war veteran, Walter Williams, was still alive. He would die in December of 1959. One other civil war veteran died on March 19, 1959.

The Academy Awards were held that evening, with Gigi walking away with Best Picture.

Raymond Chandler died. Discovering this one actually hits me hard, because I've been listening to dozens and dozens of episodes of the Adventures of Philip Marlowe over the last few months.

Here's his obit: "Raymond Chandler, 70, mystery novelist (The Big Sleep; Farewell, My Lovely; The Lady in the Lake), screen adapter (with Billy Wilder) of Double Indemnity, creator of glib, tough-talking Private Eye Philip Marlowe; in La Jolla, Calif. Chandler came late (44) to his fiction career, but his imagistic style put brassy, sassy dialogue in the corners of some sizable Hollywood mouths, set a standard few could imitate: 'She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.' The lady had a voice 'that dragged itself out of her throat like a sick man getting out of bed.' Dinner 'tasted like a discarded mailbag.' Since Detective Marlowe was acceptable to brows of every altitude, including snobbish Critic Edmund (Axel's Castle) Wilson, even parboiled eggheads could carry Chandler's thrillers under their arms without resorting to plain wrappers."

The William Tell series episode, The General's Daughter, guest starring Michael Caine, was aired. Interestingly, IMDB doesn't tell me what network it aired on.

David L. "Dave" Krohn was born in Pigeon, Michigan. Dave passed away April 17, 2010, of cancer. "Following his 1977 graduation from Laker High School, Dave earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Delta College. On April 8, 1978, he married the love of his life, Barbara A. Brunni, at the Pigeon First United Methodist Church. Dave worked for Tower Automotive as a tooling engineer. He served as a director of the Pigeon Lions Club, was a member of Scenic Golf & Country Club and attended Salem United Methodist Church in Pigeon. He was an active member of the community and was always ready to lend a hand to anyone in need." My kind of guy.

Gail Shea, currently the Member of Parliament for Egmont, a riding in Prince Edward Island, was born. She was previously a member of the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island from 2000 to 2007, representing the electoral district of Tignish-DeBlois as a member of the Progressive Conservative Party. Egmont, interestingly, is where I went camping last summer.

Pope John XXIII released the Culiacanensis, which says, among other things, "Sedes ut in singulis terrarum orbis dioecesibus, ubi primum fieri possit, Episcopi lectissimam virorum deligant manum, qui divini cultus splendorem data opera augeant, iidemque sacrorum Antistitibus consilio navitateque assint et faveant." It turns out that Google does not have a Latin to English translation.

Randy Gage was born. "Randy Gage is an American self-development expert, specializing in the area of manifesting success and prosperity.... Today Randy is recognized as one of the world’s preeminent experts on manifesting prosperity. He has become a multi-millionaire, and lives his dream life.... Randy has been dubbed 'the Millionaire Messiah' because he believes that you are meant to be rich, and it is a sin to be poor." Sigh. Where were those Raymond Chandler novels again?

Miles Davis might have recorded Flameco Sketches, of Kind of Blue, from of the Miles Ahead sessions on April 6. 

The editors of the proceedings of the American Mathematical Society received this paper, Sums of Stationary Random Variables, first presented a month earlier to the Society. That was back when they would have received it in a brown envelop, when the post only took a day or two to deliver the mail, and when the government funded basic research in mathematics.

John Samuel Kirk, Jr., fell into an irrigation ditch and drowned. "Jack Samuel Kirk entered the military on Jan 23, 1943 at San Francisco, California. He was 18 years old and a senior at Yuba City Union High School. According to his separation papers, he had completed 8 years grammar school and 3 years high school. His major courses were 'Academic' with trade courses in wood work for 3 years and metal shop for 2 years. His job summary stated that he worked as an usher in a theater; automobile service station attendant and in a cannery. Jack's last employer before entering the military was J. Kirby (service station) in Yuba City (Nov 1942).... His last occupation was farm laborer working for Robert Amarel in the farming industry." His wife, Elydia Loretta Lopes, whom he married in 1948, lived up until 2003.

On April 6, 1959, at the meeting in Oxford, England, Prof. Grandjean declared the founding of the International Ergonomics Association.

Life magazine ran a fold-out cover featuring the first installment of a series, 'How The West Was Won', with a Lucky Strike cigarette advertisement on the back cover.

Gordon Gould, who invented the laser in 1957, filed his patent. Yes, the laser. However, as the article notes, "Had Gould gotten good legal advice then, he might have pre-empted the long laser-patent war by applying for a patent before Townes and Schawlow... That filing came months after Schawlow and Townes published their now-famous analysis in the December 1958 Physical Review. What was more critical, however, was that it came long after submission of the Townes and Schawlow-Townes patent applications." Townes would win the 1964 Nobel Prize in physics for developing the laser and maser. Gould would spend the next 30 years fighting for his patent. The applications patent expired in July 1996, with the remaining patents expiring a decade later.

The U.S. Post Office releases a stamp commemorating the 50th anniversary of Robert Peary's trip to the North Pole. Despite his claiming to have arrived at the pole on April 6, 1909, the claim was widely disputed. That said, "The diary Robert E. Peary kept on his 1909 polar expedition, largely ignored by historians because it was unavailable, was finally opened to the public in 1986." Also, national Geographic has never released the photos for independent examination.

On April 6, 1959 — his 16th wedding anniversary — NASA accepted John Glenn into its Project Mercury space program. Arguably, he had a better day that day than I did. Glenn would launch into space February 17, 1962, and become the first American and second person to orbit the Earth. He would later say the following: “If there is one thing I’ve learned in my years on this planet, it’s that the happiest and most fulfilled people I’ve known are those who devoted themselves to something bigger and more profound than merely their own self interest.”  


Why was it important that I do this? I don't know; I just had the feeling that I would discover something by exploring the history of this day.

You know, there's one picture of the world we get every evening on the news or every morning in the daily newspaper. There's the story of politics and war and disaster, of lives great and small, of invention and subversion and art and theatre. But then there's that very different picture of the world we get when we take the time to stop and look at the myriad details that go into the making of even a single day. No day in history is boring, and no day without its connection to fame and fortune, to the future and to our past. No life is boring either, no life too insignificant, no life outside that grand mosaic. Each of us who were alive on that little day in April - either for the very first moment, or the very last, or anywhere in between, were a part of something greater than themselves, and in being that, as great as the greatest of us.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Model of Autonomy

In his presentation during week 10 of PLENK2010, Seb Fiedler challenged us to develop a concept of autonomy more precise than vague ascriptions of capacities of learners to choose their own course materials and subjects. It was a good criticism and led to worthwhile reflection around the topic.

Fiedler provided us with a model meta-structure, as follows:

This was helpful, but made it difficult to grasp where the autonomy came into the picture. It also seemed to centre autonomny on the person, or the individual, which Fiedler and others suggested is a limitation of the conception of autonomy we are employing. Quite so.

That said, a proper model of autonomy will reflect a proper theory of decision-making or theory of action in general. So it should at least reflect the range of factors that go into decision and action. At the very least, even a simple model like this

is more helpful than an unprincipled classification of autonomy into different categories such as found here.

Here is the outline of a much more comprehensive and useful model of autonomy:

A - Factors affecting epistemic states
   - empirical factors 
        - external 
                - past experience and memory
                - current experience
        - internal 
                - emotional state
                - pain and suffering, etc
                - fear
        - psychological
                - traumas
                - phobias
                - philias or needs
   - cognitive factors
        - world view or belief set
               - frames or traces - recognition of ranges of alternatives
               - metaphors or underlying models
               - causation, spirit, or other mechanisms
               - morality, sense of agency, responsibility
        - reasoning mechanism (if any), including:
               - logical capacities (including modal, probabilistic)
               - mathematical capacities
               - degree of certainty attained, required
        - language - languages learned, vocabulary
   - external factors
        - rewards and incentives
                - financial
                - intrinsic or non-financial
        - punishments, sanctions and threats
        - expectations
                - professional standards
                - organizational vision or strategy

B - Capacity to act on epistemic states
      - physical factors
            - mobility and location
            - perceptual (can you see, is there light?)
            - effective (can you project into the environment - do the buttons respond, do the pages turn, etc)
            - physical support - housing, health, nutrition, etc
            - time
      - social factors
            - laws, rules and regulations, including flexibility of these
            - peer pressure, mores, threat of sanctions
            - mode of collaboration - authoritarian, democratic, consensus, deliberative, etc
                     - leadership - capacities, temprement, inclinations, etc
            - responsibility or authority
      - structural factors
            - predictability of the environment
            - complexity of the environment
            - barriers, locks, detours, traps, loops - eg. 
      - resources
            - range and depth of resources available
                  - medium of resources - staff, money, equipment
                  - language and complexity of resources
                  - quantity of resources (eg., finances)
            - mode of presentation of those resources
                  - sequence of presentation
                  - duration of presentation

C - Scope and Range of Autonomous Behaviour
       - expression
            - medium of expression
            - language of expression, word use
       - association and assembly
            - definition of size, scope of social network
            - directionality of communications
       - selection 
            - of associates - can you choose your friends? Family?
            - communication options - do channels exist? Can they be open?
            - of tools, eg., of software, hardware
            - resource allocation - spending, delegating, assigning, etc
       - method
            - operating principle, methodology, pedagogy
       - background - influence over environmental factors generally, including:
            - noise or music
            - colour scheme or visual appearance
            - lighting, air supply, mobility
        - range
            - tolerance - allowed range of results or effects
            - quantity of choices available
            - quality of choices available (cf. Hobson's choice)

D - Effects of Autonomous Behaviour
       - impact (ie., the degree or scope of the effect)
              - audience - range of persons affected by behavior
              - efficacy - amount of change potentially caused by behaviour 
       - improvement (ie., the nature of the effect)
              - internal 
                       - psychological - satisfaction, lessening of pain, lessening of fear, etc
                       - cognitive - beliefs formed, knowledge acquired
              - external 
                       - material condition, employment, etc
                       - capacities, rights, autonomy, etc
              - associative - improvements ascribed to others
              - social - improvements to society generally

Now there are many examples of models of autonomy in the literature that approximate the desciptive power and utility of the model given above.

For example, this is a pretty good model:

Also, this isn't bad, because it at least tries to account for the actual decision-making process:

However I'm not sure how far I'd want to go in incorporating vague (so far as causal efficacy goes) factors as 'gender' or 'learning style'

Here's another pretty good model that again identifies factors in the entire process of decision-making:

The idea of a model like this is that you can now make statements about autonomy. Specifically:

Given factors A and capacity B, decisions of type C have effect D
Provide capacity B, because in case A it is needed for behavior C to have effect D

Ie., the conceptual model that I've provided here would be used to create statements about function, thus generating a functional (or 'flow chart') model. The realization of these functions in physical systems would create the mechanical model. See, for example:

Here's a pretty good functional model that incorporates many of the dimensions of autonomy described above.

Here's another functional model.

But notice how simple (even childish!) it appears, with muddled and unclear depictions of decision and action.

The purpose of a model or a diagram is to make the concept clearer. But creators of models do not have free reign to simply associate elements at random. As we see in the case of modelling autonomy, the model needs to support the set of inferences and processes related to the phenomenon we want to describe. That requires effectively analyzing the phenomenon, and making decisions regarding classifications and categories based on their functional, mechanical and conceptual role, not just convenience and intuition.

Monday, November 22, 2010

If Not Privatization, What?

In response to Tony Bates, who writes:
As part of its austerity program, the British Conservative-Liberal-Democrat coalition govt is making massive cuts across the whole public sector (mainly because the UK government ran up a huge debt bailing out its banks – its ‘real’ economy is in quite good shape, or it was until the government decided to make the massive cuts). The higher education sector has not been spared.
Well the response by some Canadian universities in the face of much less stringent exigencies is to call for them to be able to set (higher) tuitions independent of government policies.

This is essentially a call for a return to the time when universities educated only a small, elite, and well-connected pool of people (probably the pool that would today be represented by McGill, Queens, St.F.X. and maybe Simon Fraser). It conjures an image of a brighter, purer past.

Such a future would be devastating for most academics, who would quickly discover that they have neither the breeding nor contacts to obtain employment in such a system. Those that could would find employment in the (now extended) private career and community college system (non-union, of course) while the rest would find work in the service industry.

It would also be devastating for Canadian society, exaggerating the distance between rich and poor, and setting the stage for a repeal of many of the social reforms we have earned over the decades, including income support and health care. It would reduce Canadian academia to a rump, and spell the end of innovation and science in Canada.
[The question] is whether there is another route to reform that does not require the privatization of the higher education system aka the UK?
This one is harder. The lesson from the previous reply is that the HE sector in Canada is intransigent, which will lead to a nightmare scenario. Can the sector be saved in spite of itself?

I believe that the answer is “yes” but that we have to let go of the current model of education. We want (and need) to retain the role and concept of the academic, but need to be able to organize the sector in line with 21st century realities.

I think that we ought to define a set of distinct types of academics, organize them such that they are employed directly, rather than in universities, and that each provides a unique type of support to the learning community as a whole. Breaking up and breaking apart the traditional concept of ‘discipline’, ‘class’ and even ‘cohort’ will be essential to the well-structured system of the future.

I think that in many Canadian universities we already recognize that not all professors should be all things to people, as we hire graduate students and support staff to fulfill many of the traditional roles, such as technical support, teaching and marking. But the resulting unfair and divisive class system that has resulted in academic institutions has been demoralizing for staff and devastating to the institution as a whole, which can no longer function without a supply of low-paid academic labour (I’m sure Foucault would have much to say about academic servitude).

We ought to organize our academic sector in terms of a series of publicly funded support systems, such that a person availing themselves of an array of services from these support systems can fabricate an education for themselves, which they would then prove to a federally (or provincially) monitored evaluation (not necessarily testing) system.

Such a system would end the distinction between those who can obtain an education in this country and those who cannot. It would allow any Canadian to obtain as much or as little of a higher education as they desired, generally at little or no cost. Though not a privatization of the system, it allows for private sector provisioning or support. And ends government support of the ‘Yale-type social club service’ that has characterized learning for our ruling elite since before confederation.

I’ll have more on this in the future.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Applying Critical Reasoning

 A PLENK participant wrote:

I have found that when I actually apply my critical knowledge skills - questioning the status of procedures, rules and arguments- I pay a price.

It may be that I am ignored or I am excluded. Or judged difficult. But the point is that even when we do enable our students to be users of knowledge - and encourage them to question, the pressure within society - our institutions - effects a price.

The price is usually economic and social exclusion.

Hmmm..What to do then?

I have three major pieces of advice, gleaned from years of hard experience of exactly what you describe here.

1. Pick your battles
2. Find your friends
3. Show results

The first means applying a judicious hand. My experience has been that most discussion in meetings, committees, etc., is unreasonable and illogical. People make decisions based on poor evidence, bad reasoning, bias and prejudice, and worse. It's ongoing and you can't stop it.

And, as you pointed out, these same people will react badly when you attempt to inject a note of reason into the debate. Your considered and fact-based reasoning will be interpreted as a personal attack. No matter what pains you take (and you should!) to depersonalize the matter, to make the subject of debate and not the person the locus of discussion, people will think it reflects badly on them if you disagree with them.

So, pick your battles. Let the small stuff go. A lot of what matters will not have any long term impact. Don't enter into arguments you can't win. Identify what is core for you, what you can't or won't back down on, and raise these issues consistently. You still won't be successful when you raise your points. But your consistently will serve notice to other people that on these points they need to be much more careful before leaping in.

The second applies to picking your friends. It's really hard to be the lone voice of reason at meetings or in committees, and often, you don't have to be. Be observant and watch for people who apply reason and evidence to their considerations. Make it clear to them that by arguing in this way you will respect their position and potentially modify your position accordingly.

These are people you can work with, and people you should gravitate toward. If your current venue of activity contains no candidates, find alternative venues. Some venues (like, say, staff meetings) cannot be avoided, but if they are unproductive, invest your energy and commitment elsewhere - to subcommittees, special interest groups, professional associations - wherever you can find voices of reason.

You can also find friends by being clear about how you reach opinions, and by (in the parlance of fifth-grade mathematics) showing your work. This will identify you as a person who gives thought and consideration to logic and evidence, and hence identifies you to others as someone who can be worked with.

Finally, third, produce. As someone (Dan Rehak? Wayne Hodgins?) once said to me, "quality ships." It is all very well to have opinions, however well-versed, but the best evidence that you know things, can work through evidence, and evaluate priorities, is by "shipping", or actually delivering results.

Do the work. Write the background papers, do the interviews with clients, draft the policies, write the software, design the deliverable - whatever it is that your group or association does. In my work here at NRC the strongest argument I have for my opinions is that I deliver results. Disagreeing with me or blocking my work has a cost to the organization.

But also, by doing the work, you are providing tangible assistance to the people you are currently disagreeing with. You are providing a set of accomplishments they can hang their hats on, through their association with you. There's an old saying for public speakers, "love your audience," which really works, because if you are focused on how much you want to help and support your audience, you lose all your self-consciousness about speaking in public. It works in the office as well.

The person whose voice is most respected in any group is not the person who leads, or is smartest, or is even right. It is the person perceived by the rest to have the least self-interest, the person who is there to help rather than the person who is there to pursue an agenda or toot their own horn. A minute spent helping the other person achieve their ends (which are often not even in conflict with yours) is far more productive than a minute spent arguing with them.

I hope this helps.

Monday, November 15, 2010

What's Wrong With Creative Commons

I think that this is the most significant statement from the discussion paper: “a recently completed research project, the African Copyright and Access to Knowledge (ACA2K) project (, found that access to learning materials in the eight African study countries is chiefly obtained by way of copyright infringement.”

It brings to mind the years I spent sharing an office with a fellow PhD candidate at the University of Alberta. Guangwei was from China – Shanghai, to be specific. He brought with him his textbooks, on thin paper and stapled together, all printed in China, all printed by way of copyright infringement. That was, and may still be, the best and only way to obtain educational texts in that country for the vast majority of students.

This is significant because, ultimately, the effect of Creative Commons licenses is to *preserve* copyright. The idea was that, instead of require that people infringe copyright in order to share, which was the de facto default prior to open licensing, a content owner could make a work available under less than all rights reserved. This allowed the person to preserve ownership, without placing the work in the public domain, and allowed for people to share without violating copyright. The idea is that people like Guangwei could use Creative Commons texts, rather than unauthorized copies.

Yet while it may be the case that Creative Commons or similar licenses would help people like Guangwei or people studying in today’s Africa, in our case the impact would be limited. In philosophy, the major texts are the works of philosophers, and after the first few years of university, texts will almost certainly be of contemporary origin. The works of contemporary greats such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, W.V.O. Quine, Hilary Putnam, and many others, cannot be found under Creative Commons licenses.

The upshot is that, by preserving copyright, open licensing may have actually made it harder to obtain such texts. Since the alternative of Creative Commons exists, there is much less pressure toward shorter copyright terms, and much less pressure for exceptions to copyright, particularly those involving fair dealing.

I think that, under such circumstances, it becomes pretty irrelevant to the user whether the content is copyright under Creative Commons or under all rights reserved. If the texts are required, and if there exists no legal means of obtaining a certain subset of the texts, then there is no point distinguishing whether or not the text is openly licensed. At some point, a license will have to be violated, and once that point is reached, there’s no reason to verify licensing.

The trouble with Creative Commons, and with copyright in general, is that the rights are focused solely on the needs and interests of the copyright owner, and is silent regarding the situation of the user. Even the common conditions for exemption under fair dealing (that the use is non-commercial, that it is educational, that it is transformative, etc.) there is no reference to the situation of the user, beyond the specific terms of use of the material.

As we have seen in the case of prescription medicine, it becomes morally unsustainable to deny treatment on the grounds that the person (or in some cases, entire nations) cannot afford the royalty payments. Yet while the injustice is most evident in the case of medicine, it is no less unjust in the case of education. Why should the people of China, or of Africa, be denied access to writers such as Wittgenstein or Quine merely because they cannot afford royalties?

We tend to depict the case of copyright and Creative Commons as though the bulk of the materials is the common textbook, easily reproduced through collective effort, and perhaps the bulk of it is. But this fact should not distract us from identifying the fundamental injustice created by copyright law in the first place, that of the rich using an artificially created scarcity in order to entrench and extend their wealth, to the detriment of those who are poor.

Update: Gina Bennett adds, on the OER mailing list: "Here’s another quote for those who love this sort of thing: David Reinking, when asked in a forum once about the ethics of breaking copyright, replied: “In fact, I'd rather turn the question around 180 degrees: When is it ethically justifiable to deny people access to and dissemination of potentially useful information?” (More info here:, & he also has a book chapter on the topic: Reinking, D.  (1996).  Reclaiming a scholarly ethic:  Deconstructing "intellectual property" in a post-typographic world.  In D. J. Leu, C. K. Kinzer, & K.A. Hinchman (Eds.), Literacies for the 21st Century: Research and practice (pp. 461-470).  Forty fifth Yearbook of the National Reading Conference.  Chicago, IL:  National Reading Conference.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Secreted Life of Bees

Responding to Thomas Seeley:

By anthropomorphizing bees you are adding your own interpretations to what they do, and then making these interpretations the basis for their decision-making activities. This not only misrepresents bees, it creates a false picture of how bees (and networks in general) make decisions.

> 1. Remind the group's members of their shared interests and foster mutual respect...  There are no clashing curmudgeons in a bee swarm.

I doubt that bees are capable of a higher-order function such as mutual respect. Certainly bees disagree with each other as each bee that finds a potential new home will advocate for that home. Any sense of 'shared interest' is purely implicit - a bee is not capable of comprehending shared interests.

No individual bee has a sense of what is in the hive or swarm's best interests. Each bee manages its own little bit of it, and the hive's interest is represented through the interactions among the bees. It is therefore not necessary to have a sense of shared vision or responsibility for community interests.

> 2. Explore diverse solutions to the problem, to maximize the group's likelihood of uncovering an excellent option. The scout bees search far and wide to discover a broad assortment of possible living quarters.

Each bee explores one solution to the problem. It is only when viewed as a a collective that we see an exploration of diverse solutions to the problem. This is important, because it means that in a hive diversity is represented by the bees themselves being different from each other, and not being the same by embracing the same range of diversity.

> 3. Aggregate the group's knowledge through a frank debate. Use the power of a fair and open competition to distinguish good options from bad ones. The scout bees rely on a turbulent debate among groups supporting different options to identify a winner. Whichever group first attracts sufficient supporters wins the debate.

Bees don't debate. They simply present what they know. A bee will present more or less vigorously depending on the suitability of the home. There is no sense on the part of the bee of being 'in competition' with the other bees. There's no sense of 'winning the debate' - what happens is that the best new home is selected, not that some bees convinced the other bees.

> 4. Minimize the leader's influence on the group's thinking. By functioning as an impartial moderator rather than a proselytizing boss, a leader enables his group to use its combined knowledge and brainpower. The scout bees have no dominating leader and so can take a broad and deep look at their options.

Bees do not have leaders and there is no such thing as 'moderation' in bee debate. There is no sense of 'enabling his group' to use its knowledge and brainpower. Queen bees (not even remotely a 'his') function only as the reproductive element of a hive. Again, the hive as a whole - and not individual scouts - take a look at the different options.

> 5. Balance interdependence (information sharing) and independence (absence of peer pressure) among the group's members. Only if ideas are shared publicly but evaluated privately will the group be good at exploring its options and making good choices. Scout bees share freely the news of their finds, but each one makes her own, independent decision of whether or not to support a site.

There is no such balance in a beehive. There is no peer pressure. Bees are completely independent from the perspective of how to behave, but completely interdependent from the perspective of producing the resources needed to survive.


The reason why these distinctions are important is that the author, by anthropomorphizing the hive behaviour, introduces the idea that the correct decision is the result somehow of appropriate group management on the part of the bees (or the putative 'head bee' who would ensure that all of these pieces of advice are followed) rather than built-in as structural components of the networks.

What is remarkable about bees - and similar sorts of network behaviours - is that they reach the correct conclusion with no cognitive activities at all. They don't need to be mindful of respecting the others group dynamics, or choosing from multiple options. The hive functions best when each bee attends to its own business.

Indeed, it is the element of persuasion, leadership, and group dynamics that introduces the likelihood of error into the mix. If a bee becomes attached to its own choice, and begins to lobby for it, possibly hoping to be selected head bee and to be rewarded with special privileges, the the hive is more likely to be persuaded by the most personable bee, instead of the best choice.

In human society, if there is a lesson to be drawn from this, it is that the leader should play no role in leading the group at all. The only behaviour expected from the leader is to introduce new workers or drones into the mix. The workplace ought to be structured such that there is no extra reward for convincing people, no promotion to be obtained by subverting the group. It's not about competition at all, it's about cooperating - each person playing his or her own role and each benefiting from the success of the group as a whole.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

I Call Fishy

This is odd.

When this post first came out, I posted the first comment (because I follow RSS I can detect almost immediately when a post comes out) - you can see it above. A little bit later Engineer-Poet replied directly to mine. When I last looked at this post, that's all the comments there were.

I come back today, and a comment has magically appeared before mine - interestingly, exactly one minute before.  Another comment has been inserted in between mine and the engineer's.

The narrative has as a consequence been completely changed. When I say "you’d also be the first to complain" I am referring specifically to Joanne Jacobs, who is a chronic complainer and dumper-on of all things public education.

But now it looks as though I am responding directly to the previous comment. The vaguely named 'sunana' talks about bureaucrats, and I'm talking about bureaucrats!

Then bill eccleston makes explicit the point of the post, "the students should adopt a 'shove it' attitude toward the authorities," and then two posts down expands on Engineer-Poet's point: "It is unlikely that five people would ever die in Thoreau’s cabin."

The net result is that, instead of my making a point that directly addressed the core weakness of the Jacob column, I appear to be engaged in trivial disputes with the other commenters.

Now the times of the comments are set by the server, and therefore cannot be blamed on time zone variance. Moreover, I checked the comments myself well after the time had passed in other time zones.

So I conclude that this is fishy. At the very least, it demands an explanation. How are comments that are being posted later appearing at the top of the list?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Reading Globally

Responding to Dean Shareski,

Certainly some thoughts worth consideration.

- I don't buy the 'time zone' argument, even for a minute. There are all kinds of ways to get time-shifted Twitter posts, even if you don't do anything online outside of office hours.

- Geographical distribution isn't everything - there's a bunch of people I follow who depict themselves as "international" but who are basically based in American schools around the world, and talk only to each other. My major criticism of Global Voices is similar - many of the feeds are Americans living overseas or expatriates living in the U.S., neither of which counts as "global"

- I do like Debbie's comment about a map based on professions. I don't follow people on Twitter. But I have an extensive RSS list, which is well-divided between education, media, ideas, news and science. Even within education, I have taken care to have a good balance of K12, corporate, higher ed, and technology.

- BTW I would look at Debbie's blog, if she had one, but she provides no contact information whatsoever - pretty hard to follow without a url

- I also totally agree with her about cold surfing. I rarely typed URLs at random, but I would visit random Geocities pages, blog posts, etc. Today my cold surfing happens mostly when I'm writing an article - blogging for Huffington has really helped me here because it increases my cold surfing. Blogging without looking stuff up and linking is lazy and leads to closed-group thinking.

- I make use of the 'translate into my language' feature in Google reader to extend my range, but even so, language is a challenge. Looking at my follows geographically, I find them heavily weighted toward the English speaking world. I follow some Spanish and French language blogs but that's it. This is a barrier I'd like to cross and should attend to.

- But all of that said, I don't worry overly about it. "Think globally, act locally." There's going to be a regional cluster to my work.