Archive for March, 2009
Love this five-year remembrance of the birth of Gmail — still my favorite thing to use on the web, ever.
Lifehacker’s Top 10 Tools For A Free Online Education reminds me a little of the experience I had a year or so ago browsing The Pirate Bay’s top-seeded e-books; a lot of computer programming and software manuals, a handful of natural language lessons, and weird DIY hacks stuff, like instructions on how to build your own solar panels or break out of handcuffs.
Anyways, it strikes me that whether officially or unofficially, plenty of people are trying to learn things using the web, and plenty of other people are working, compiling, and disseminating information to try to help people learn. Some of this is raw information, but a surprising amount is explicitly pedagogical: tips, tutorials, how-tos, complete guides. Whether it’s how to beat a Zelda boss or how to get a web server working, people want to teach other, anonymous people how to do it.
I call this practice and this instinct digital humanism, and it is a big part of what the new liberal arts are all about.
I wonder: what do you try to learn online? Or more to the point, what DON’T you try to learn online? either because you don’t find what you’re looking for there, or because you don’t look? Have you ever taught someone how to do something? Prepared a guide, manual, or walkthrough? Do you have trusted sources, portals, and networks, or do you go straight to Google? What’s the value that you get from it? What, if anything, is missing?
Auugghh. Gavin at Wordwright links to more bittersweet news about my (and Robin’s) hometown:
Maybe once a year, a city has a news day as heavy as the one that just hit Detroit: The White House forced out the chairman of General Motors, word leaked that the administration wanted Chrysler to hitch its fortunes to Fiat, and Michigan State University
When Brooklyn and New York
There are a lot of things to recommend Amazon’s list of the 100 best indie rock albums ever, but the absence of any albums by The Smiths, Dinosaur Jr., or The Flaming Lips is not one of them.
Love this photo. I keep looking at it and thinking it’s a fish. Then I convince myself it’s not. But then I glance again and think, “Wait, is that a fish?”
Tim Harford at the Financial Times finds le mot juste — not grade inflation, but grade distortion:
Grade distortion is a serious affair. Students and their teachers are forced to switch to grey market transactions denominated in alternative currencies: the letter of recommendation, for example. Like most alternative currencies, these are a hassle.
Grade distortions, like price distortions, destroy information and oblige people to look in strange places for some signal amid the noise. Students are judged not on their strongest subjects
Pretty obsessed with both this title sequence — apparently it’s just a sliver of the whole thing, so I’m definitely going to track down the movie — and the accompanying Plaid track (near the end of the post).
I was back in East Lansing last week, first talking to journalism students and then giving a speech to the kids who won the same scholarship I had back in the day.
Lots to say about the experience, but my brain hasn’t quite recovered enough to articulate it yet.
But check this out: MSU student Megan Gebhart wrote a blog post about part of one presentation. You’re going to click the link and laugh at the post title. Yes, it’s in the water out here.
Josh Marshall on the paradox of electronic reading — even people who complain about the available technologies (like Josh Marshall) find themselves unconsciously drawn to them.
I’ve always been an inveterate collector of books. Not in the sense of collectibles, but in the sense that once I buy a book, I never let it go. As I made my way through adulthood it was while dragging a tail of several hundred books along with me.
Finally, only a few months ago, I purged a decent chunk of my collection. And most are now in storage. But in our living room we have two big inset shelves where I keep all the books I feel like I need or want ready at hand. And last night, sitting in front of them, I had this dark epiphany. How much longer are these things going to be around? Not my books, though maybe them too. But just books. Physical, paper books. The few hundred or so I was looking at suddenly seemed like they were taking up an awful lot of space, like the whole business could dealt with a lot more cleanly and efficiently, if at some moral loss.
Don’t get me wrong. Book books still have some clear advantages. Kindle is a disaster with pictures and maps. But I didn’t realize the book might move so rapidly into the realm of endangered modes of distributing the written word. I was thinking maybe decades more. The book is so tactile and personal and much less ephemeral than the sort of stuff we read online.
I hope it’s clear that I’m not of the attitude that this is a good thing or something I welcome. When I had the realization I described above it felt like a sock in the gut, if perhaps a fillip on the interior decorating front. All the business model and joblessnes stuff aside, that’s how I feel about physical newspapers too. There’s a lot I miss about print newspapers, particularly the serendipitous magic of finding stories adjacent to the one you’re reading, articles you’re deeply interested in but never would have known you were if it weren’t plopped down in front of you to pull you in through your peripheral vision. Yet at this point I probably read a print newspaper only a handful of times a year.
When I think about it I kind of miss it. In a way I regret not reading them. But I just don’t. I vote with my eyes. And I wonder whether I’ll soon say something similar about books.
It’s been a long, long time since a really OLD information technology went away. We’re used to a continual junkheap of stuff that used to be new. CDs and cassettes had about twenty years each, gramophone records and celluloid film about a century. Newspapers, at least as we’d recognize them now, aren’t too much older than that.
The book hasn’t stood apart from technological change; an industrially-produced paperback book has about the same relation to a Gutenberg Bible as a new SLR camera has to a daguerrotype. But books, even printed books, are still OLD; phenomenally old compared to most dead technologies.