19th-Century Mathematical Illustrations of Consciousness

19th-Century Mathematical Illustrations of Consciousness

Simply cannot think of a more intriguing headline. I could quite easily reblog all these Brain Pickings articles, but this one in particular caught my eye. Imagine, being able to actually see–let alone draw–consciousness. Benjamin Betts thought he could.

Why we write

We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.

Maria Popova – Joan Didion on Keeping a Notebook.

Why do I keep a notebook at all? It is easy to deceive oneself on all those scores. The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. I suppose that it begins or does not begin in the cradle. Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my daughter ever will, for she is a singularly blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.

An anxious malcontent. Hmm.

Owner occupier

I increasingly feel like this is the only place on the internet I really own. The place I’m sure of. Twitter, Instagram etc feel like places that could be snatched away at somebody’s whim. Which would, sort of, be fine but, sort of, be not. I’m backing them up like I’m backing this up. But the files without the social context would be a little thin.

A post from Russell Davies carrying on that Personal Cloud line of thought.

Antique typewriters converted to keyboards

Love this, being a big fan of antique typewriters. You can either buy an antique typewriter already converted or just the kit to convert your own. The Underwood was my favourite. They’re heavy buggers, them. I think I’ve still got my old Remington though. Might give this a go.

Antique typewriters converted to keyboards enpundit.com

Getting back in touch with text files

I was very intrigued by this post from Gabe Weatherhead about how he “organizes everything with plain-text notes“. I think I’ve been looking for a reason to give Dropbox another go, and his method of twinning it with TextDrop (and a bunch of other stuff) looked like something to try out. But it was only when I remembered I’d got an IFTTT account did things start to knit together. (Here’s something I wrote about IFTTT earlier this year.)

TextDrop allows me to publish a MultiMarkdown document into a public Dropbox folder, so here’s one I prepared earlier: a list of my current IFTTT recipes.

Unreliable services?

Whose content is it, anyway?
Services like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Pinterest – all of them – don’t owe you anything and you shouldn’t trust them to always be there or to always do the right thing with your content.

But I pay for Flickr, so perhaps I can expect higher standards from them?

Work shy?

In defence of idleness
Our instictive aversion to freeloaders was an evolutionary response to pre-industrial times. But it is a maladaption in our present environment, an atavistic anachronism. There is now – and there is likely to remain – a shortage of jobs. In this world, the fact that some (few?) people don’t want to work should be welcomed, as it increases the chances of getting work for those who want it.

Short and sweet, and very old

short-and-sweet

Roundhay Garden Scene, Leeds (1888)
Roundhay Garden Scene is an 1888 short film directed by inventor Louis Le Prince, considered to be the world’s first film ever made using a motion picture camera. According to Le Prince’s son, Adolphe, it was filmed at Oakwood Grange, the home of Joseph and Sarah Whitley, in Roundhay, Leeds, West Riding of Yorkshire, United Kingdom on October 14, 1888.

Wind drawings

Winds.Process.2005.01
Inspiration for these drawings came from a leaf. While cross-country skiing, I came across an oak leaf with its stem stuck in the snow. As the wind blew, the leaf spun and its edges made marks in the snow. Back home, I cut some plastic bottles into different shapes and tied each one to a stick in the snow. Left all day to blow in the wind, the plastic cut into the snow making a record of the day’s wind conditions. Wanting a more permanent record, I constructed an apparatus to suspend a pen outfitted with sails over paper. Each drawing here is a record of one day’s wind conditions.

Murmuration of malware

Murmuration of malware – an endless sea of compromised drones
One of the miracles of the modern Internet and a demonstration of how robust the thing is, is that it works at all. The Internet you experience on your home computer and rely on for day to day communication, socializing, entertainment, and business is a thoroughly sanitized and signal boosted edition of the real Internet. The real Internet is a toxic sea of aggressive malware, massive botnets, and countless spam messages.

Peter Callesen’s A4 papercuts

Peter Callesen’s A4 papercuts

papercuts“The paper cut sculptures explore the probable and magical transformation of the flat sheet of paper into figures that expand into the space surrounding them. The negative and absent 2 dimensional space left by the cut, points out the contrast to the 3 dimensional reality it creates, even though the figures still stick to their origin without the possibility of escaping. In that sense there is also an aspect of something tragic in many of the cuts.”

If the suit fits…

At last, the rules.

How to tell your suit fits
1. Shoulder pads end with your shoulders.

2. Your flat hand should slip easily into your suit under the lapels when the top (or middle) button is fastened. If you put a fist in, the suit should pull at the button.
3. The top button of a two-button suit — or the middle button of a three-button suit — should not fall below your navel.
4. With your arms at your sides, your knuckles should be even with the bottom of your jacket.
5. Jacket sleeves should fall where the base of your thumb meets your wrist.
6. Between a quarter and a half inch of shirt cuff should be visible.
7. One inch of break.

Turning regrets around

Coping with Career Regret
The should haves are hard to turn off. “I should have gotten that promotion.” “I should have never chosen Public Relations.” “I should have left my job long ago.” These should haves eat at you, particularly if you are comparing your career to the careers of others.

[…]

The right approach is to replace the “should haves” with “what ifs.”

HE no longer seen as a public good?

Public opinion could yet be our undoing
As HE qualifications are increasingly seen as a private investment in a future career, we may lose altogether the idea of higher level learning as something that is also of wider benefit to society. Research and development will, by and large, continue to be able to demonstrate their worth, but the benefits arising from a more highly educated and critical thinking society could easily be lost both in public discourse and in policy making.

It pays to be pragmatic sometimes

“Do what you love” is not great advice
Not all passions match up with the realities of the job market. If you’re passionate about poetry or painting, you’re going to find very limited job opportunities for those things. Other people’s passions are their friends or their family, or home-making, or dogs, and again, there’s not much of a job market built around those things. But those are lovely passions to have. And in those cases, it makes sense to find work that you can do reasonably happily, while pursuing your passions when you’re not at work. And that’s completely okay.

About time

I just bought a watch and I’m going to wear it (and here’s why)
My iPhone is probably the greatest source of distraction in my life. Twitter coupled with infinite scroll is my personal Kryptonite. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that infinite scroll is evil; an endless time sink; the new crack… you get the idea.

Book making

Book making

That’s not a proper book
There’s only one copy of it, unlike a proper print run. Technically all I’ve done is printed one copy of the web page for personal use. But it feels odd. Books are usually mass produced. With a few clicks I could print off as many copies as I want with no additional work. Scaling atoms like you scale software. And it baffles the author when you ask them to sign it.

He’s made a book. Or just printed out an article from the web. Can’t tell which, but would love to give this a go myself.

Watching music

Or: Why listening to music makes me think of art gallery gift shop postcards and running down steep hills

Mr @robertbrook has an e-mail newsletter and he recently shared with us a Michael Nyman Band youtube video, Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds.

I think Michael Nyman’s stuff for Peter Greenaway’s just brilliant, so resonant and immediate. The first thing I heard of his was the soundtrack to the first Greenaway film I saw, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (the whole thing’s on youtube!), with Memorial making a big impression. Apparently, “edits of Memorial appear throughout the film, with the entire twelve minute movement accompanying the final scene and end credits”. And then there’s the music from The Belly of an Architect, but that’s Wim Mertens. But anyway, here’s another one of his, Time Lapse, from A Zed & Two Noughts.

Those clips are just wonderful, but they got me thinking. About how I think about listening to classical music without seeing it, without having the benefit of seeing the musicians create this stuff, these sounds, out of thin air. It reminds me of art gallery gift shops and seeing all those fabulous, majestic paintings reduced to little postcard-sized rectangles of card. Actual postcards, really.

If you see a postcard of a Pollock or a Hockney or something, it’s pretty obvious that you’re not getting the full “picture”. You might be looking at a faithful, full colour reproduction, and it may well serve as a great reminder of the picture you’ve been staring at for about 20 minutes, but a ton of stuff has been lost. Not just in the scale, but in not being aware of the physicality of the painting anymore. You can’t see the brush strokes, you lose that direct link with the artist. (I love looking at brush strokes and pen marks, seeing that the artist was just there, his hand must have been just actually there, the same place, just a different time. Sometimes I even put my hand in the same place, the actual same place in space, relative to the canvas, obviously. I think I may have well have shouted out a little “Ah ha! Gotcha!” when staring at that Pollock and seeing where he had gone back over those strokes to touch them up and improve them. Random, my arse.) Anyway, you don’t get the impact of the original’s presence, or force, with a tiny little postcard.

And I think it’s the same with listening to classical music, especially orchestral. (Well, not just orchestras, it’s exactly the same with things like string quartets. I loved watching the Tippet Quartet thrash out that Piazolla piece, not Libertango but something else. Can’t find it now, but it was that evening they were playing music inspired by Hitchcock and Herrman, including some of these. It was fantastic watching the music bounce from one player to the next, whirling round and back again, quicker than your eyes could follow.) If you’re only listening to it, you’re not fully experiencing it, you’re missing out on all this. If you can’t see all the performers really going for it, busting a gut to get all their notes in, exactly in tune, exactly in time with the conductor and the other players (do you remember as a kid running down steep hills, going so fast you were sure you were going to fall arse over heels, but you couldn’t stop, all you could do was keep going, all of your energy and determination going into just trying to keep up with your legs, taking all of your strength to maintain control whilst your legs independently propel you forward faster than you thought possible, the crash only ever moments away, but you manage to keep in control, keep it together till you get to the end? Speaking as a complete non-musician, I imagine playing Bizet’s L’Arlesienne might feel a little like that. I certainly feel like roaring “Come on, come on, you can do it!” towards the end at them, and jumping up “Yeeaah!” when they finally get to the end, like some desperate football fan at someone who’s just been sprinting up the wing, full pelt, to bang it in the net), if you can’t see all that rush and energy, you’re missing out on loads of stuff. You’re only seeing half the picture.

Only connect

Very much enjoying playing with ifttt.com and all its tasks and channels. Here’s their guide on their service. Only connect, and all that.

Their “recipe” page (‘tasks’, ‘channels’, ‘recipes‘? bit of a mix of ideas there?) lists the tools that users have made and want to share. As well as the more obvious stuff, there’s things like “When a new book is added to Kindle Top 100 Free eBooks, send me an e-mail” and “A reminder e-mail every month to go to http://mypermissions.org and check what permissions you gave to what applications“. I’m sure there are better recipes out there, a little difficult to find the really interesting ones.

I like the laziness of this; do something once and have it also do lots of other things without you having to do anything. Reminds me of our data quality mantra, “enter once, use lots”.

And it was through this site, and the web 2.0 (do we still use that phrase?) compulsion to sign up for lots of sites so that I could, in turn, activate lots of channels, that I remembered that I’ve got a dropbox account and an evernote one too. Very much under-used. Perhaps some ifttt recipes out there (http://ifttt.com/recipes?channel=dropbox&sort=hot and http://ifttt.com/recipes?channel=evernote&sort=hot for ideas, ranked by ‘heat’ – to tie in with the ‘recipe’ thing again?) might give me a reason to reinvigorate those accounts.

Anyway, the recipes I’ve made so far:

I’m using a few others too. As well as boring ones that send favourited YouTube and Vimeo videos to Facebook and Twitter (via Buffer), I’ve got these boring ones:

  • New bookmark on Pinboard gets sent to Diigo
  • New bookmark on Pinboard gets sent to Buffer (and then on to Twitter)
  • If tomorrow’s forecast calls for snow, send me a text message
  • Archive my Foursquare check-ins to Google Calendar
  • When a new book is added to Kindle Top 100 Free eBooks, send me an e-mail.

Still at the joining-them-up-because-I-can stage, rather than the joining-them-up-because-they’re-useful one at the moment.

And I’m very much aware of the danger of spamming everyone on Twitter with all these tasks:

  • My tweets (still hate that stupid word. Surely we can move to a more grown-up one now?) get sent to everyone who follows me, obviously, so let’s ignore them
  • I can retweet the tweets I like, either the new (boring) way or the old (interesting) way, and they obviously get sent to everyone who follows me, but you may have seen the tweet yourself anyway (one potential repetition)
  • But say they tweet a link that I like; if I bookmark that link on pinboard, that will get sent to Twitter, via ifttt and Buffer (another potential repetition)
  • I also might choose to favourite that tweet, and I have another ifttt thing that shoves that to Twitter and Buffer (a third potential repetition)
  • And if the tweet included a YouTube or Vimeo video, there’s another ifttt thing that separately shoves those across to Twitter too (a fourth potential repetition).

That can’t be good, can it? I like the idea of bookmarking everything that catches my eye, but I don’t want people to think I’m just repeating myself all the time, for lack of anything else better to do.

Anyway.

They should introduce random tasks, I think. We link up all our channels – instagram, e-mail, facebook, rss, craigslist, sms, our mobile number, our linkedin account – and it randomly selects a trigger for a random channel that fires off a random action. That should liven things up a little. And have them tagged #russianroulette.

Russell Group universities use social media, but don't we all now?

A post from Brian Kelly on the extent to which Russell Group universities are linking to social media sites, in attempts to ‘connect’ with their potential students, I guess.

Links to Social Media Sites on Russell Group University Home Pages
In a recent post in which I gave my predictions for 2012 I predicted that “Social networking services will continue to grow in importance across the higher education sector“. But how will we be able to assess the accuracy of that prediction? One approach is to see if there are significant changes in the number of links to social media services from institutional home pages. The following survey provides a summary of links to social media services which are hosted on the institutional entry point for the 20 Russell Group universities.

The 20 universities are listed with their links to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc. I’m surprised that Oxford doesn’t have anything listed, given the success of its Mobile Oxford project.

As Brian says, it will be interesting to see how this develops over the year, whether more join in or whether the way these institutions use these media channels change. The university I work for has links to the main three on their homepage, but there’s no indication of how we’re using these services. Feels to me that universities are expected to be on Facebook and the rest; that’s the norm, the lowest baseline. Saying we’re on Facebook, and making a big deal out of it, feels a little like us shouting out, “Hey kids! Check us out – our library has computers in it!” It’s not what we have but what we do with it that might make a difference, perhaps?

Maybe that’s why Oxford doesn’t have anything on its homepage. It doesn’t need to.

Daily Mail calmly assesses the state of higher education for us

Paul Greatrix finds a great piece from the Daily Mail about the current state of higher education.

Firsts and fees, plagiarism and pay hikes (and the rest)
Daily Mail online has a terrific piece which manages to conflate a host of different higher education issues within a single kick ass column. On the back of recent HESA data which shows an increase in the number of students achieving first and upper second class degrees the article moves on to plagiarism, league table corruption, commercialisation (not clear if good or bad), the optionality of HEAR (bad?), an ‘expert’ view of classifications, coercion of external examiners, VC pay increases and fee rises in the context of declining HE funding. Unbelievable? … A veritable smorgasbord of entertaining higher education observations. All in one short piece. Truly the Mail is spoiling us.

Read the rest of his post or go to the Daily Mail article itself, ‘Dumbed-down’ degrees: University standards under fire as 50% more students awarded a first.

Viewing the html source for this page reveals its more hysterical, original title, which I prefer I think:

So we’re not dumbing down? Number of students graduating with first class degrees soars by 45% in just FIVE YEARS | Mail Online

OMG!

Being shaped by our tools?

An article from the Observer ponders the impact of Microsoft Word on the way we write.

Has Microsoft Word affected the way we work?
But we were – and remain – remarkably incurious about how our beloved new tool would shape the way we write. Consider first the name that the computer industry assigned to it: word processor. The obvious analogy is with the food processor, a motorised culinary device that reduces everything to undifferentiated mush. That may indeed have been the impact of Word et al on business communications, which have increasingly become assemblies of boilerplate cliches. But that’s not been the main impact of word processing on creative writing, which seems to me to be just as vibrant as it was in the age of the typewriter or the fountain pen.

Writing as sculpture? Why not…

My hunch is that using a word processor makes writing more like sculpting in clay. Because it’s so easy to revise, one begins by hacking out a rough draft which is then iteratively reshaped – cutting bits out here, adding bits there, gradually licking the thing into some kind of shape.

Project management, psychoanalysis, and hell

A very timely little piece from contentedmanagement.net (great name) on the dangers that lurk within our projects

Project hell is others
L’enfer, Jean-Paul Sartre tells us, c’est les autres. This is so commonly and simplistically mistranslated as “hell is other people” that it’s become something of a fallacy. Hell for Sartre is not other people; it’s others. It’s about our faulty relationship with others and most particularly our psychological other, our id: the basic, instinctual drives that motivate us to seek out pleasure or avoid pain. Those instinctual drives are very much at the heart of every project.

Read the rest of this post to understand how a more psychoanalytical approach to our projects, combined with project management frameworks, can stop us making an infernal mess of things.

It's January! That must mean blog posts about motivation!

A couple of things I’ve found about everyone’s favourite topic this time of year, motivation. (Ok, everyone except Charlie Brooker.)

Common sense advice dressed up as another ‘hack’ on how keeping a daily log of your achievements can help you stay focussed on your goals.

Keep a diary of your achievements to stay on course in 2012
Once you’ve started, it’s important to ensure that you remain on course and the actions you take on a day-to-day basis are steering you towards to the ‘Promised Land’ known as Success. Writing down your achievements at the end of the day, rather than just crossing them off a to-do list as you go along, has more benefits than you might think.

Read the rest of the article and see for yourself. Sounds like just another thing to add to the list, to me.

Compare that with this, from the real world. A fascinating insight into the meh mind of Dave Seah, as he attempts to write himself out of the doldrums through a better understanding of what motivates him, and how.

Plotting for motivation
I’d hoped to do a lot of work done this weekend, but I came down with a bad case of the blahs. Instead of going to sleep at a responsible time, I stayed up late and consumed a lot of television and Internet in an attempt to drown out a growing sense of malaise. And instead of getting up early, I slept-in and then berated myself ineffectually. Apathy ruled the day. Zonked out in bed very late Sunday morning, I started to trace through the likely causes of my unproductive bout of ill humor, establishing a preliminary framework of understanding to help realign my attitude.

Read the rest, and see if the framework he comes up with rings any bells with you. Very interesting.

Just a minute

Infographics from socialnomics.net on what we all get up to in 60 seconds.

Infographic: Every 60 Seconds on the Web
Every 60 seconds there are 100 new LinkedIn Users, 370,000 Skype Calls, 70 new Websites….

It’s enough to make your head spin; all that in a minute, and then again in another, and then again, a tsunami of crap…

Should I be here?

Presenteeism
Presenteeism or working while sick can cause productivity loss, poor health, exhaustion and workplace epidemics. While the contrasting subject of absenteeism has historically received extensive attention in the management sciences, presenteeism has only recently been studied.

Certain occupations such as welfare and teaching are more prone to presenteeism. Doctors may attend work while sick due to feelings of being irreplaceable. Jobs with large workloads are associated with presenteeism. People whose self-esteem is based on performance, as well as workaholics, typically have high levels of presenteeism.

Can't help but think this is a round-pegs-square-holes thing

KnowU & MyEdu: Two Approaches to Social Media in Higher Ed
This is not to say that higher education won’t find ways to use social media for instructional purposes. Innovative educators are experimenting with new approaches and some of these strategies will stick, be shared, and ultimately picked up by other educators in time. But at this relatively early stage in its development, the low-hanging fruit of social media for higher education will likely be found in the areas of marketing, building communities and student support.

Read the rest of this article and try to relate this to your own institutions.

You're really not much better off with e-textbooks?

E-Textbooks saved many students only $1
Despite the promise that digital textbooks can lead to huge cost savings for students, a new study at Daytona State College has found that many who tried e-textbooks saved only one dollar, compared with their counterparts who purchased traditional printed material.

Read the rest of the article and wonder what the position would be for UK students (and their increasing fees).

'Audit Culture'? Sure about that?

This Times Higher Education article annoyed me this morning:

No plaudits for ‘audit culture’
Academics in the UK have to devote themselves to “gaming the system and distorting their output” because of the “elaborate audit culture” that has developed around higher education.

That is one of the opinions put forward in A Manifesto for the Public University, a new collection of essays by campaigning academics in opposition to the coalition’s university reforms.

Writing in the book, published next month, Michael Burawoy, a British professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, argues that the sector has been the victim of bureaucratic attempts to simulate market competition.

This regulation is now being deployed to teaching as well as research, he argues. Together with “commodification”, universities are facing twin pressures that are “destroying the very basis of (their) own precarious autonomy”.

Professor Burawoy’s essay is one of seven in the book, edited by John Holmwood, one of the academics behind the Campaign for the Public University, which has launched an alternative to the higher education White Paper.

And so on and so forth 

What annoyed me about it was the lazy way it was using terms like audit and bureaucratic when describing the position we’re in. The usual baddies. Strikes me we’re only where we are because of politics, not bureaucracy. It’s not too much audit that started messing with our funding positions and set us off down this track to the market. If anything, we’ve either not got enough audit or have too much of the wrong kind.

There’s lots wrong with where we are now, but if we just go back over the whole ‘academic v administrative’ themes, as THE is wont to do, then heaven help us.

Worrying statistics?

Worrying statistics

Documenting the curious increase in claimed family deaths — especially of grandmothers — during tests season at college
This gem is from “The Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome and the Potential Downfall Of American Society” by Mike Adams (The Connecticut Review, 1990). Adams’ hilarious explanation for this phenomenon:

“Only one conclusion can be drawn from these data. Family members literally worry themselves to death over the outcome of their relatives’ performance on each exam. Naturally, the worse the student’s record is, and the more important the exam, the more the family worries; and it is the ensuing tension that presumably causes premature death.” — www.easternct.edu/~adams/Resources/Grannies.pdf