Blogger’s still here?

TechCrunch has news of an update to Blogger. Nothing newsworthy about the update, really. What’s catching our eye is that Blogger still exists at all.

Blogger gets a spring cleaning
It’s surprising that Blogger is still around. I can’t remember the last time I saw a Blogger site in my searches, and it sure doesn’t have a lot of mindshare. Google also has let the platform linger and hasn’t integrated it with any of its newer services. The same thing could be said for Google+, too, of course. Google cuts some services because they have no users and no traction. That could surely be said for Blogger and Google+, but here they are, still getting periodic updates.

I used to have a blog on Blogger, and prompted by this article I’ve just had a very strange stroll down memory lane to visit it, via the Internet Archive’s marvellous Wayback Machine.

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I really liked the look of that old blog. Very mid-2000s. Are there no blogs that look like this anymore?

Relaxed data

Data is such a funny word. It’s a plural, strictly. Part of me wants to use it that way, and show off, but a larger part of me always feels too self-conscious to do that. Thankfully, as Nathan Yau from FlowingData has discovered, the ‘rules’ around its use have been ‘officially’ relaxed.

Data is, sometimes
If you read data as singular then write it as such. For example, we already allow singular for ‘big data’. And we should for personal data too. An easy rule would be that if it can be used as a synonym for information then it should probably be singular — and if we are using it as economic data and mean figures, then we should stick to plural.

New alphabets, new words

I can’t imagine how difficult this must be to organise. Kazakhstan is changing its official alphabet — every written thing across all areas of life, work, education, commerce — from the Russian-based Cyrillic one to the Latin-based one of the West.

The cost of changing an entire country’s alphabet
That the Kazakh language is currently written in Cyrillic – and the persistent use of Russian in elite circles – is a legacy of the Soviet Union’s rule, one that some of its neighbouring countries sought to shed right after the union’s collapse in 1991. Azerbaijan, for example, started introducing textbooks in Latin script the next year, while Turkmenistan followed suit in 1993. Kazakhstan is making the transition almost three decades on, in a different economic environment that makes the costs hard to predict.

[…]

So far, state media has reported that the government’s total budget for the seven-year transition – which has been divided into three stages – will amount to roughly 218 billion tenge ($664m). About 90% of that amount is going to education programmes the publication of textbooks for education programmes in the new Latin script, including for literature classes.

The government aims to complete the move by 2025. I’d love to revisit this story then, to see if they meet their deadline and budget.

I wonder if Kazakhstan’s new alphabet will be put to use with some of the new words this report discusses. A University of Birmingham researcher has analysed 900 million tweets from October 2013 to November 2014 from users in the USA, looking for terms that started off rare but became more popular.

Feeling litt? The five hotspots driving English forward
The result was a list of 54 terms, which covered everything from sex and relationships (such as “baeless” – a synonym for single), people’s appearance (“gainz” to describe the increased muscle mass from bulking up at the gym), and technology (“celfie” – an alternative spelling of selfie). Others reflected the infiltration of Japanese culture (such as “senpai”, which means teacher or master). They also described general feelings, like “litt” (or “litty” – which means impressive or good – or affirmations such as “yaaaas” (as an alternative to yes.) Interestingly, some of these terms such as “candids” (a noun describing photos taken without the other person’s knowledge) have been around for years, but were extremely rare until seeing a sudden rise in popularity.

Because the messages were timestamped and geocoded, he could track five geographic hubs that were driving these changes and additions to the language; West Coast, Deep South, North East, Mid-Atlantic and the Gulf Coast.

Gulf Coast  The third (and final) southern region to feature in Grieve’s analysis, this hub centred around New Orleans, extending across Louisiana and into eastern and coastal Texas and along the Mississippi to Memphis. One of the region’s most noteworthy contributions – idgt (I don’t get tired) – became a catchphrase of the rapper Kevin Gates, who grew up in Baton Rouge, the state capital of Louisiana, and released a single of the same name in 2014.

Notable terms: bruuh (bro’): idgt (I don’t get tired); lordt (Oh Lord!)

Degree level parking skills

A slightly tongue-in-cheek look at university parking facilities from Paul Greatrix at WonkHE.

Between the lines: the first UK HE car parking ranking
There is much to get excited about in here, not just about which university has the most spaces and which is best able to meet the needs of staff and students (for car parking, not the other things Clark Kerr suggested) and how early do staff at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and Guildhall School of Music and Drama have to get up to secure one of their two (2!) car parking spaces. There is much, much more to chew on.

I’m continually surprised how different HE institutions are across the land. The University of Manchester is not that much larger than the University of Leeds, yet has nearly twice as many car park spaces. Oxford has half as many as Cambridge, but a lower demand means it’s a lot easier to find a space. And I liked this comment from Mike Ratcliffe:

Of those who have both car and bike spaces, special mention needs to go to Guildhall who might only have 2 car parking spaces, but as they have 147 bike spaces their 1:73 ratio is the clear sector winner. Sadly, Bolton get to be last with 1:0.4 (526 car parking spaces, 24 bike spaces)

Looking forward in anger

Zoe Williams at the Guardian tries to understand where all the anger is coming from these days. Does anger always have an economic basis? Is social media to blame? Can it be a force for good? There’s certainly a lot of it about.

Why are we living in an age of anger – is it because of the 50-year rage cycle?
There was the mean note left on the car of a disabled woman (“I witnessed you and your young able-bodied daughter … walk towards the precinct with no sign of disability”); the crazed dyspepsia of the woman whose driveway was blocked briefly by paramedics while they tried to save someone’s life. Last week, Highways England felt moved to launch a campaign against road rage, spurred by 3,446 recorded instances in a year of motorists driving straight through roadworks. Violent crime has not gone up – well, it has, but this is thought mainly to reflect better reporting practices – but violent fantasies are ablaze. Political discourse is drenched in rage. The things people want to do to Diane Abbott and Luciana Berger make my eyes pop out of my head.

I’m not really convinced by the theories that suggest these things are cyclical. The dates of these suggested 40 to 60 year ‘Kondratiev waves’ of high and low economic growth, that tie in to periods of stagnation, unrest and anger, feel a little forced. I’m going to continue to blame Trump. And social media.

Social media has given us a way to transmute that anger from the workplace – which often we do not have the power to change – to every other area of life. You can go on Mumsnet to get angry with other people’s lazy husbands and interfering mother-in-laws; Twitter to find comradeship in fury about politics and punctuation; Facebook for rage-offs about people who shouted at a baby on a train or left their dog in a hot car. These social forums “enable hysterical contagion”, says Balick, but that does not mean it is always unproductive. The example he uses of a groundswell of infectious anger that became a movement is the Arab spring, but you could point to petitions websites such as 38 Degrees and Avaaz or crowdfunded justice projects. Most broad, collaborative calls for change begin with a story that enrages people.

Yes, ok, fair enough.

How to engineer comedy

Khoi Vinh uses this wonderful Rube Goldberg video from Joseph Herscher to discuss important points about the value of aesthetics and narrative in good design and engineering.

Valuable lessons from pointless machines
Though the Cake Server relies on precision execution and basic physics and engineering principles, it’s clear from watching the behind-the-scenes video below that there is a real artistry at work, too. In comments that will sound familiar to any designer, Herscher talks about the importance of the viewer’s experience and how certain components of a Rube Goldberg help create a sense of expectation and narrative for the audience.

These machines are ingenious but, as Khoi points out, and as reiterated by Joseph in his behind-the-scenes video, a lot of the joy and humour comes from our own expectations and reactions. Like that off-screen sound at 1:15!

The Cake Server – Joseph’s Most Complex Machine Ever
I hate waiting for dessert, so here’s a Rube Goldberg machine to streamline dinnertime. It lets me keep eating, with no break before cake. It’s my most complex yet and took 3 months to make so I hope you enjoy it!

Remarkable, beautiful and completely meaningless

Another great find on Brain Pickings.

Reality, representation, and the search for meaning: Argentine artist Mirtha Dermisache’s invented graphic languages
A century after Nietzsche, the Argentine artist Mirtha Dermisache (February 21, 1940–January 5, 2012) set out to probe the limits and possibilities of language by filling countless notebooks, letters, and postcards with text. None of it was legible.

In the 1970s, Dermisache invented an array of graphic languages, each with a distinct syntactic texture and a visual rhythm that inclines toward meaning, or the longing for meaning. The lines she composed in them — so purposeful, so fluid, evocative of a script in a foreign tongue or a cardiograph or birdsong notation — become a Rorschach test, beckoning the mind to wrest from them a message, a meaning, a representation of some private reality of thought and feeling.

And from the Mirtha Dermisache: Selected Writings Amazon page:

Her work, which she created while living under the junta in Argentina, is lasting and subversive even though she barely penned a legible word…In our current environment, it is difficult to look at her work and not think about the impossibility of discourse, the primacy of self-expression, and the fallacy of a shared objective language, not to think of this art as both radically political and necessary today.–Will Fenstermaker “The Paris Review “

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Very poetic. A little spooky? Teeline? What would the graphologists make of them, I wonder.

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A book 20 years in the writing

A great piece by Craig Mod about kottke.org, a website I’ve been following for many years now.

If kottke.org were a book
There are so few websites that have been around for twenty years. Certainly so few that are not explicitly commercial in intent, built on a singular voice and point of view. Because of that, sites like kottke.org have a special emotional resonance not often found online. For those of us who have not just used the web but built on the web for decades, a place like kottke.org becomes almost physical in its emotional resonance.

The web’s been slowly turning to crap over recent years, with all the fun melting away like dropped ice cream, but kottke.org has been one of the few fixed points. Long may it continue.

 

Photocopiers have long memories

They say elephants never forget, and it seems neither do photocopiers.

In light of all the attention currently on GDPR and data protection generally, here’s an interesting article from 2010 about the dangers hiding within our photocopiers. For some time now, our digital copiers contain hard drives that store an image of everything it copies, scans or e-mails. That’s potentially a lot of valuable personal data that can stay on the machine long after you’ve thrown it away.

Digital photocopiers loaded with secrets
It took Juntunen just 30 minutes to pull the hard drives out of the copiers. Then, using a forensic software program available for free on the Internet, he ran a scan – downloading tens of thousands of documents in less than 12 hours.

The results were stunning: from the sex crimes unit there were detailed domestic violence complaints and a list of wanted sex offenders. On a second machine from the Buffalo Police Narcotics Unit we found a list of targets in a major drug raid.

The third machine, from a New York construction company, spit out design plans for a building near Ground Zero in Manhattan; 95 pages of pay stubs with names, addresses and social security numbers; and $40,000 in copied checks.

But it wasn’t until hitting “print” on the fourth machine – from Affinity Health Plan, a New York insurance company, that we obtained the most disturbing documents: 300 pages of individual medical records. They included everything from drug prescriptions, to blood test results, to a cancer diagnosis. A potentially serious breach of federal privacy law.

Something to add to our risk registers, perhaps?

Artists (and everyone else) against Ebacc

Surely everyone can agree the success of the UK’s Creative Industries is something we can all be proud of. The government themselves published figures in 2016 that show they are worth £84.1 billion per year to the UK economy. And yet the foundation of that success is being put at risk.

This open letter in the Guardian from a wide range of artists — including Antony Gormley, Rachel Whiteread, Mona Hatoum and Anish Kapoor — is just the latest in a long line of complaints people have about the narrowness of the Ebacc curriculum.

British artists: Ebacc will damage creativity and self-expression
We are writing to express our grave concern about the exclusion of arts and creative subjects from the new English baccalaureate, or Ebacc, for secondary school children, which we believe will seriously damage the future of many young people in this country. There is compelling evidence that the study of creative subjects is in decline in state schools and that entries to arts and creative subjects have fallen to their lowest level in a decade. Young people are being deprived of opportunities for personal development in the fields of self-expression, sociability, imagination and creativity.

The introduction of these performance measures and targets that concentrate on core subjects is having an undeniable effect on the range of subjects across our schools.

The disappearing subjects
The change for non-EBacc subjects is clear, depressing and substantial. Whilst some ministers have been in denial about the impact of the EBacc the old, gnarled ex-Deputy Heads with responsibility for the curriculum, options or timetables, of which I am one, knew this data was coming.

Here, the presumptions around some subjects being easier than others are challenged.

EBac: ‘With what authority is it being argued that art, social sciences, D&T, and the rest, are not “stretching”?’
The idea of core academic subjects is an example of lazy thinking. It seems unconnected to the conversations being had in other educationally high-performing countries about what it is to be educated today. In England, we need high-quality options that are broad, rich and deep for all children, not the five restricting pillars that we are being offered.

There are concerns at primary school level, too. In another Guardian open letter, past winners of the BBC Young Musician competition are seeking improvements in music education.

Letters: restore music to our children’s lives
However, despite some brilliant schemes, we are all deeply concerned that instrumental music learning is being left to decay in many British schools to the point that it could seriously damage the future of music here and jeopardise British music’s hard won worldwide reputation.

Today, we are launching a campaign for every primary school child to be taught to play an instrument, at no cost to them or their families. It is crucial to restore music’s rightful place in children’s lives, not only with all the clear social and educational benefits, but showing them the joy of making and sharing music. We are especially concerned that this should be a universal right. This is an opportunity to show the world that we care about music’s future and its beneficial impact on our children.

And here’s a call for a focus on creativity at university level.

The UK’s #1 skill should be creativity
If the review is serious about the skills the country needs then a focus on creativity is essential. Skills developed in art, design, the performing arts, and humanities courses should be given the same value as those found in other disciplines – with creativity the boundary spanning concept for all subjects and disciplines.

Serious unintended consequences may result in the failure to recognise the value of the arts and humanities, and their promotion of creativity as the core skill the country needs. This goes beyond just purely monetary returns, as this number one skill will also lead to a more engaged, joyful and sustainable society.

This debate around the Ebacc’s effects on the subjects schools should be offering has been going on for years. Here is the former Conservative Education Secretary Kenneth Baker, from 2016.

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Kenneth Baker: ‘We need design, art, music and drama in the heart of a new baccalaureate. The current EBacc doesn’t work’
Secondly, the current EBacc is almost word for word a curriculum that was announced by Robert Morant, secretary to the Board of Education, in 1904. Even Morant saw fit to add one technical subject – drawing! It is clear the EBacc is a classic example of old-fashioned thinking. It hasn’t worked very well for the last 112 years, so in its place we should be looking for a 21st-century approach that equips young people for the age of the digital revolution.

Former Tory education secretary Lord Baker attacks government’s EBacc target
“With hindsight, I now wish I had ended the national curriculum at 14,” Lord Baker said. “This narrow-minded view persists that ‘technical’ and ‘vocational’ forms of education are for those who fail to achieve academically; in reality, the countries with the lowest youth unemployment and the most highly skilled workforce are those where technical subjects are studied side-by-side with academic subjects.”