Archive for July, 2013

July 2013 Fargo Archive Pages

July 31, 2013 Leave a comment

July 31

  • Linkblog via scripts
    • I see that if I run a section of outline outside the calendar area of Fargo and combine it with a script I cobbled together out of pieces from other people’s recently published scripts, I can set up a linkblog that runs from my named outline.
      • Here is the script:
      • Linkblog
        • dialog.ask(“Paste the URL of your link below”,””,”here!”,function (name) {
          • op.attributes.setOne(“type”, “link”);
          • op.attributes.setOne(“url”, name);
            • });
    • And if I direct this section of outline to its own template, I can strip away anything that is not needed for the linkblog–a matter of taste, really.
    • And if I use as-is or adapt Jeffrey Kishner’s new tweet script, I can send anything from the linkblog immediately to Twitter, if I wish.
      • [The only reason I might adapt it is that Twitter also counts the characters so I’m not sure the script needs to count them first.]
    • Thanks to all the script-writing folks who are showing the way–it’s been fun to try scripting for the first time.
    • PS.
  • RSS and the Google Merchant Center
    • Probably old news but I thought it was surprising and even oddly encouraging: Google uses the 2003 RSS instructions from the Harvard Law Berkman Center site to help teach companies to submit product specifications via RSS to its Merchant Center for online sales. Ever confident, Google uses a single “g” to set up its namespaces, even though I believe the spirit of namespace form is to use full words that are clear to human readers without the help of context.
    • PS. The image shows “RSS” being communicated to us in semaphore.
    • PPS. In the comments below a seriously well-informed person told me, very politely, that I was mistaken to complain about Google failing to use whole words in namespaces.

July 30

  • Fuzzy-headed
    • During a session of mediocre writing this question crossed my mind:
    • Are 1) thinking clearly enough to write briefly and 2) writing briefly enough to think clearly actually the same thing? This is probably a chicken & egg sort of truth, I concluded for now. PS. And if they are the same thing, do the two of them actually have a third, more accurate, more useful name? Is it a name we know or a name we still need to create?

July 29

  • Experts writing in a democracy, part 1
    • Yesterday I mused about a standard for the communication skills of an expert writing for generalists in a democracy. I proposed this standard: If you can’t talk usefully to generalists about your expertise, you are not a proper expert. For me, this implies a service ethic that should not be pushed aside by either the love of money or the love of research. At least part of the time, experts in a democracy should serve people besides themselves.
    • I can think of two quick ways to unpack that idea–by looking at kinds of audiences they write for and the kinds of documents they write for those audiences.
    • First, the matter of audience. When experts write for other experts, the air will probably always fill with shop talk. This is often efficient, though Edward Tufte has made a thought-provoking habit of questioning the clarity of expert-to-expert communication. But I’m talking about experts writing for other audiences: for managers and politicians who must decide about policies without being technical experts in the matters under review, and for citizens who need to cast ballots thoughtfully on issues with technical and scientific layers outside of their training and experience. In a democracy, experts shouldn’t expect these audiences to dig their toes in the ground and say, “Aw, shucks, you experts go ahead and decide everything for us.”
    • The ethical dilemma is clear: these two audiences need experts to serve them rather than manipulate them. They need public writing by experts who intend, at least part of the time, to instruct and inform rather than merely to win the day for their side. They need experts who value truth, inquiry, and democracy at least as much as they value victory. In a democracy, experts need to serve other people’s purposes part of the time.
    • In the next posting, a consideration of the kinds of documents experts write for these audience. From there, some conclusions about the kinds of training in writing and public speaking that experts should have in order to be good citizens in a democracy.

July 28

  • Conversing with a scientist
    • I had a chance to talk with an engineer today, a geologist with lots of experience in hydrology. One thing I noticed was that he could say quite a bit about the science of heavy metal pollution of lakes and streams that a non-scientist could readily understand. I walked away from our conversation with a renewed respect for this particular person, plus this: a belief that experts should assume that their work can be explained to interested citizens, and that they have an ethical obligation in a democracy to build the communication skills to do so.
    • We might establish a new standard that goes something like this: If you can’t talk usefully to generalists about your expertise, you are not a proper expert. Experts who don’t bother to build the skills should be shamed.

July 27

  • Knowledge now and for the duration
    • The heavy metals in the muddy river bottom may poison the fish for a century. Every century or two a tidal wave will wash away houses that stand on the hillside below the marker stones placed there by forgotten ancestors who learned the hard way where those stones should be placed. Inside these deep caves are the barrels from the nuclear plant. It’s too simple to say that the web is only for thinking and talking now, but I don’t know how well we’ve done so far in linking the live action here to the old knowledge and the knowledge that needs to be remembered that resides in the old media. It’s something to keep thinking about.

July 26

  • Spirit of the web
    • Our motives may never become pure, but like river on stone our selfishness is worn down by the generosity of the web. You’re good at something and you give away your expertise at length online, and you see people improve themselves and grow happy as a result. In an atmosphere of generosity, bonds grow strong over time, and in a crisis someone stands by you and makes all the difference. Approached in the right way, the web becomes a spiritual exercise of a very upbeat kind. When it comes to giving, what goes around comes around.

July 25

  • On daily writing
    • So first there is the habit of daily writing, which leads to fluency. Ideas tumble out and thinking and writing grow into more easy partners. A person who likes sentences will begin improving them through revision and stretching the style of expression, and more of the range of the language will belong to the writer over time. Language, the great tool, the inheritance of centuries of traditition and creativity, will be more fully present. Daily writing serves the writer as meditation, as extended inquiry, as conversational opener. Readers happen by and find a kindred person or a helpful project or just something that refreshes their thoughts or their spirits. The writer’s habit of daily writing may attract a community of daily readers. Some of the readers will be writers too, and their streams of meditation, inquiry and conversation will converge in unpredictable ways. Already these people have made two things in the world: the writing and the provisional community of readers. But they may realize that they want to make something else. They may begin to collaborate on a virtual project of some kind or something out in the more tangible part of the world. The things they create along the way will owe a debt to the particular benefits of reflection and inquiry and conversation that can grow out of the habit of daily writing.

July 24

  • Disappointed
    • I don’t like to miss a day of writing here–dig the discipline of returning each day and working–but when there is nothing and no time, what can a person do but surrender, this once. In a while.

July 23

  • Individual rebels: an incendiary component
    • Like Vaclav Havel in “The Power of the Powerless,” Adrienne Rich understood that there was great institutional fear of the spontaneity of individuals and small groups in society. Both writers honored the self-shaping individual, choosing her own path day by day, as a counterforce to broad social patterns and even, in time, to tyranny. Activism grounded in the honesty of one’s own life–that’s one way to connect the two writers. Neither said democracy could be created or deepened just by living a private life, but both saw an essential integrity flaring up there.
    • Here to the end is Adrienne Rich:
    • What is political activism, anyway? I’ve been asking myself.
    • It’s something both prepared for and spontaneous–like making poetry.
    • When we do and think and feel certain things privately and in secret, even when thousands of people are doing, thinking, whispering these things privately and in secret, there is still no general, collective understanding from which to move. Each takes her or his risks in isolation. We may think of ourselves as individual rebels, and individual rebels can easily be shot down. The relationship among so many feelings remains unclear. But these thoughts and feelings, suppressed and stored-up and whispered, have an incendiary component. You cannot tell where or how they will connect, spreading underground from rootlet to rootlet till every grass blade is afire from every other. This is that “spontaneity” which party “leaders,” secret governments, and closed systems dread. Poetry, in its own way, is a carrier of the sparks, because it too comes out of silence, seeking connection with unseen others. [from ‘What is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Peace,’ Adrienne Rich]

July 22

  • Getting the news from poems
    • In a new posting, Theron Kelso considers whether works of fiction can usefully counter the habitual optimism of business and leadership books. He links to an interview on the subject with Joseph Badaracco, author of Questions of Character, a leadership study based on several works of literature. Theron’s comments brought to my mind the work of Robert Coles.
    • Coles has a book, The Call of Stories, about training doctors using works of literature to help them explore the social and psychological elements of human experience, aging, and illness. For example, William Carlos Williams, himself a doctor and primarily a poet, has a short story called “The Use of Force” in which a doctor visits a child who must have a vaccination in order to survive an illness. Among the insights one can consider from this very small story is the anger that the doctor struggles with in himself when the poor family doesn’t know how to best make use of the services of modern medicine and won’t force the screaming, feverish child to comply. The idea that a person in authority in medicine, or business for that matter, might have to master his or her own anger is interesting to consider. I imagine this is true of other professions as well. I know that teachers sometimes get burned out and speak disdainfully of their students, which is deeply problematic for all concerned. So literature takes us to those kinds of places, I agree. It is not to counter a rote habit of optimism that I turn to literature but to see parts of human experience sharply and usefully illustrated.
    • Williams rooted for literature most notably in these lines: “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” (“Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”)
    • The short story writer Anton Chekhov felt that his job was formulating, not solving. He wrote in a letter to Alexei Suvorin: “You are right in demanding that an artist approach his work consciously, but you are confusing two concepts: the solution of a problem and the correct formulation of a problem. Only the second is required of the artist.”
    • And in The Call of Stories Coles wrote: “Novels and stories are renderings of life; they can not only keep us company, but admonish us, point us in new directions, or give us the courage to stay a given course. They can offer us kinsmen, kinswomen, comrades, advisors — offer us other eyes through which we might see … Every…student…will all too quickly be beyond schooling, will be out there making a living and, too, just plain living — that is, trying to find and offer to others the affection and love that give purpose to our time spent here….[Characters] can be cautionary figures…who give us pause and help us in the private moments when we try to find our own bearings.â€

July 21

  • For fans of the essay
    • It’s a good day for fans of the essay, that thoughtful, exploratory kind of writing that draws insights from experience rather than announcing the doctrines of one profession or academic discipline or another. In today’s paper, see how strangers who happen to be nearby in a crisis suddenly find themselves committed to their common humanity. See how two groups of holiday voyagers get themselves in trouble and only one group manages to think its way out. In both cases, the writers foreground experience and the insights of the individual observing its meanings…the independent mind freely at work in the world. That’s the essay, not the school paper, not the journalistic report, not the news story, not the academic article, and it’s one of the great lesser strands of literature, alive in the Sunday paper. [True, bloggers are often kindred spirits to essayists, as you might have been thinking just now.]

July 20

  • A decade of nature blogging
    • For ten years, I believe, Stuart Dunlop has been taking his keen eye, his good camera, and his great curiosity about nature into the wild spaces of Donegal, recording the flora and fauna with scientific precision and a graceful writer’s descriptive touches. I have admired his Donegal Wildlife blog for a long time, not least of all for the care he lavishes on photographing tiny plants and insects that often turn out to be astonishing to see up close.

July 19

  • Two kinds of feedback for developers
    • Following along as Dave and Kyle unfold the already powerful Fargo outliner toolkit, I find myself wondering what kinds of feedback would be useful to them. Here is my guess:
    • The speed with which a writer can click the big + sign, compose a draft, save, and see it posted online convinces me that speed and ease are key to their vision. So I am guessing that any clues users can give about where the software is lightning-fast and intuitive, even for newbies, and where it is not, might help the team continue with their vision.
    • The range of tools already in place here convince me that they also want this to be a powerful, flexible toolkit that will amuse and and empower and gratify more experienced users. Here I am guessing that users can be valuable to the design team by diving in and starting to make cool things, sharing how they’ve done it, describing where they seemed to run into limits of the toolkit, dreaming big, and documenting their work in public as they go. This might take place on at least three levels:
      • Making sites that are technically cool and interesting.
      • Digging and exploring the collaborative powers of the toolkit.
      • Testing the powers of outlining as a web-linked solo writing tool.
    • Knowing Fargo even for these few weeks, we see that the team is thinking big, and we can honor that with the occasional thank you note but even more so by taking the tools as seriously as possible. And because this is a web-smart operation, documenting as we go.

July 18

  • Sharing information with students via Fargo outlines–a sketch
    • A teacher can share a static or dynamic version of an outline
      • Static versions [information that will not benefit from updating any time soon]
        • Share an outline in the Reader
        • Share a pdf copy with students
        • Print a copy for students
      • Static versions that students can then manipulate in their own outlines
        • Share an opml copy with students
        • Ask students to copy from an outline in the Reader
      • Dynamic versions [information that grows stronger through revision]
        • Share a regularly updated outline in the Reader
        • Pipe in–“include”–outline segments from other outlines updated from time to time by students or teacher

July 17

  • The creatures in the wild
    • I found this old idea for an assignment meant to get students to formulate ideas about what makes good blogging practices:
    • For Monday, find an article that interests you from the last four weeks of the NY Times. Use Google to find a dozen blogs that have followed up on the article or the events that inspired it. Post links to the article and the blog entries and discuss the types of responses, their range, their strengths and weaknesses, and their value to readers. Then for Wednesday post a list of your suggestions for quality blogging, based on your findings. Read and respond to several of your classmates as they offer their suggestions, and in the days following refine your list as you consider their ideas and experiences. For the following Wednesday, post your revised guidelines for quality blogging. Come to class ready to discuss your final version in light of these exchanges of ideas.
    • In other words, define blogging by observing the creatures right out there in the wild.

July 16

  • A little fable of America
    • I called a stranger at a great public university on the east coast to ask for a favor. I left a message on her machine. Then I called a stranger at a great private university a few miles down the road from the first one, to ask for a similar favor. I left a message there too. The next morning only one of the two calls was returned.

July 15

  • Bartering with good writers
    • Every day a decent small-city newspaper barters with writers for free content. You know how it works: the paper publishes a few letters from people in the region. Some of these letters chant miserable slogans from the writer’s favorite political party, while others are thoughtful, informative, well-researched. The barter works this way: the paper trades access to its readers for content written by these members of the community. It’s a deal everybody accepts, but I say that most newspapers don’t see how far-reaching this system of barter could be and maybe should be.
    • Here is a thought experiment: imagine that one letter each week is especially thoughtful and well-written. The writer has already indicated by sending in the letter that she is willing to barter with the paper, trading very good writing for access to a wide audience. But it never seems to occur to the folks at the paper that this is an amazingly good deal. A very good writer has offered strong work for free. Ordinarily, the paper says, “Thanks, don’t send another letter any time soon; we have rules about that sort of thing.”
    • [The paper probably should say something like that to the letter-writers who do little more than chant slogans, if the editors don’t have the nerve to toss those letters away in the first place.]
    • But for those thoughtful, careful writers with real insights gathered from personal and professional experience, carefully shaped into strong prose, a reply of “Thanks, don’t come knocking any time soon” is crazy. These good writers are willing to barter their substantial skills for a shot at the paper’s wide audience on an issue they know and care about. Do not send these writers away.
    • Instead, see how much more good free work you can get out of them. Immediately. Continuing the thought experiment: invite one strong letter-writer a week to a three-month guest column spot, either in print or on the website. Ask for one column a month exploring other aspects of the issue that sparked the writer’s original letter. Make a big deal of it–“we invite you to be one of a small group of community guest columnists,” and speak highly of these writers in your advertising. Think of the best of these pieces as small gems and never put them behind the paywall. Add one writer to the group every week so that a dozen are in place at all times, contributing pieces as substantial as their original letters. Announce in the paper that sending in good letters might get you an invitation. In a breezy instructional piece on the website, talk about what good letters and columns do. Along the way, see if you can’t raise the quality of letter submissions by having this reward in place.
    • And, every week, accept the offer that the best writers make when they send you their strong pieces, and immediately ask for more. If they offer to barter one strong piece, ask for three more in exchange for the wide audience that you have and that really matters in civic life.
    • Maybe these writers will need some mentoring as they polish their columns and deepen their research. One editor could have an office hour in a nice coffee shop once a week to meet with them. Maybe these writers would engage readers in the comment area of the website. Maybe there are two strong letter-writers a week. Maybe a few of these folks could do some news pieces, with guidance. Maybe a handful of these writers should write on their issue for a year. This could be the beginning of a wider cooperative venture, based on bartering your audience for their interest, their civic engagement, and their good writing.
    • The increasingly slender small-city paper must try some new things in these difficult times. Bartering with these good writers for more would be a worthwhile experiment.

July 14

  • Installing search
    • Eric and Jeffrey have pioneered installing Google search into their Fargo outlines–thanks to both of them. Tinkering with the models they offer, I get the impression that Google isn’t checking out our outline-based sites more than every few days. [Words plainly visible in the most recent few posts don’t bring any search results.] And I think, I’m not sure, that Google is returning all the posts on a given day if one of the posts has the word being searched. This might indicate one reason to decide for or against setting up the calendar outline with “one note per day” checked in the settings menu.

July 13

  • Make it mine & make it ours
    • Wandering the older blog’s archive, I find an 11/17/04 entry about active reading that ends this way:
    • The next sentence should rightfully appear twice, I believe, as both a singular and a plural.
    • So is blogging a technology and a social space and a body of practices that support the essential act of making what I read mine?
    • So is blogging a technology and a social space and a body of practices that support the essential act of making what we read ours?
    • If there is something to that posting, we could press a little further and formulate a standard for educational practices: they should simultaneously help a student make something her own and help a community of learners make something their own, together. I imagine most of our rubrics of program assessment are all about the first — the accomplishments of the individual. But they don’t call it social software for nothing. If it works (whatever it is), it works for each of us as individuals at the same time that it’s working for a group of us, as a group.
    • The meaning we each make for ourselves is related to, but not the same as, the meaning we make together. We need both kinds of skills, together; they probably aren’t either of them their full self unless the other thrives too.

July 12

  • The redirect attribute
    • I just noticed the type=redirect attribute on Fargo. This may help with the problem I was musing about recently–trying to find a way to keep all the advantages of a blog’s chronological organization while picking up on an outliner’s advantage in organizing content around the shape of ideas.
    • So you blog every day about your work as it unfolds, and maybe you build an audience and some comments and collaboration–all to the good. But some of those entries make sense together outside of the timeline, in an idea-based organization like many a nonfiction book chapter. So revise a few of those posts and repost them outside the timeline, in an idea-based order.
    • And then maybe change the attributes on the original posts–click on the Fargo suitcase and add type=redirect as an attribute, add the URL, and send any visitor to the posting’s new location. Now the content which was born in the timeline resides in the idea zone.
    • Is that practical? I don’t know. Ideally, would I like the timeline to remain in place on my blog? Yes, probably. But somewhere in the intersection of outliner design and workflow habits I suspect there is a pretty good way organize through both chronology and ideas.
  • Deciding not to click on that link
    • Every once in a while a social media message annoys me, and because I’m interested in what works and doesn’t work on the web, I might stop and ask myself why. This recent tweet, for example, bugged me:
    • You probably don’t know this about Karl Marx:
    • Why was I bugged? The tweet has a bit of suspense, but I can’t tell what part of Marx’s life or work we are talking about here. “I know but I’m not telling you” is the writer’s position. The tweet appeals to general curiosity but a reader who acted upon general curiosity at a social media site would have to click on nearly everything. Who has the time? Maybe if you are curious about Marx you’d click, but even then the promised payoff is so vague.
    • Would it help to know that the link leads to a review of a major publisher’s new biography? Or to mention the particular surprising episode in Marx’s life that is promised by this tweet? Why hold back so much? Maybe something like this would be better:
    • In 1861, journalist Karl Marx saw through the rhetoric of the American civil war, writing for the New York Tribune.
    • That leaves 24 characters for a link. I might click on that link.
    • Is there a principle here? Maybe this:
    • When it comes to moving a reader to click, there is a real difference between writing “There is something cool (or surprising or moving or horrifying or whatever) over there” and telling a reader what the link actually offers. It takes a moment to write that better, more specific tweet, but taking that time raises up the quality of the curating.
    • And maybe a second principle:
    • If you can change a word or two and reuse the message in a completely different context (“You probably don’t know this about Barack Obama.”), then the message is generic, not specific. Generic appeals require next to no new or specific thought on the part of the writer, and so they deliver next to no new or specific content to a reader. They are lazy or vague or disrespectful of a reader’s time. A writer misses an opportunity to give something specific and useful to a reader. That’s one of the most astounding opportunities of the web, which is to give away good content in order to build a relationship with others and share ideas in order to improve some corner of the world.
    • Unless we’re just bored, to respect ourselves as readers we should probably stop clicking on social media messages that say, essentially, “Here’s something. (Link)”
    • (Michael Robbins, “The specter of Karl Marx,” Chicago Tribune, 7/5/13)

July 11

  • Aristotle on blogging
    • There at the bottom of my colleague’s email was this passage from the Greek philosopher:
    • We are what we repeatedly do.
    • Excellence, then, is not an action, but a habit.
    • So the virtue of writing every day, if we can be serious about it, if we can make it part of a cluster of habits and virtues: listening to others, thinking about what exactly they are saying and what exactly supports their perspective, testing our own ideas and experiences against those of others and without prejudice, and so forth.
    • And so the vice of writing every day, trying to win arguments no matter the cost, ranting at others, stacking the evidence, calling names, forgetting what you don’t want to acknowledge, ridiculing differences, testing everything against your own superior beliefs, and so forth.
    • If that’s right, both ways, then blogging is a medium and a practice that gets quite a bit of its virtue or lack of virtue from what it associates with. That means that we don’t really get anywhere at all urging people to blog — we’d need to urge them to take up a whole package of practices and attitudes that wrap around blogging and make it special. It’s not blogging (or tweets or whatever the newest cool tool might be) alone. It’s a whole package deal of virtue.
    • But blogging has going for it the repetition that Aristotle called for. That’s one of the necessary ingredients of character.

July 10

  • Beyond chronology
    • The idea of creating arbitrary (or idea-based) structures online really interests me in this posting by Dave Winer. The chronology of a blog or linkblog stream is a real virtue, but it doesn’t organize content by ideas the way a nonfiction book chapter often does. If the outlining community could figure out how to keep the advantages of chronology for recording work in progress and engaging with others on the blog while at the same time finding a tech and workflow solution to reorganizing that content into larger things with idea-structures, like chapters, that would be a real breakthrough. This is very interesting to muse over for a solo writer’s own projects as well as for collaborations that might take place between groups of writers and even groups of sites. Also useful to think about here is the input/output or creation/publishing distinction in a blog post by Chris Wolverton.
  • Blog search pipe dream
    • I sometimes imagine a single-blog search engine based on the model of a concordance, the special kind of index found in the back of some Bibles, which gives you every use of a key term such as “Moses” or “Mark Twain” set up in a list form like this:
      • the character’s first appearance in Mark Twain‘s novel, Tom Sawyer, published in
      • choosing his distinctive pen name, Mark Twain, from a colorful phrases used on steamboats
      • when the crew member called out, “Mark twain,” the pilot knew the water’s depth beneath
      • he came down from the mountain, Moses saw that he was going to have some explaining to do
      • that the water had now parted, then Moses turned and said, “Let’s do this thing!” and the journey
      • and so for a good number of years Moses had serious credibility as right-hand man and advisor to
    • With that kind of context, you know instantly which one of those you want to click on. A concordance structure could speed the use of older blog content by readers and even the reuse by the original writer who might want to reorganize the content into focused, well-developed chapters. That’s my theory, anyway.

July 9

  • The pedagogical wisdom of the martial arts movie
    • In martial arts movies, the student must submit fully to the master and to the structure of the particular discipline the master teaches. Once the young person does so, the wisdom and power and even freedom of that structure gets into the student’s head and heart and body. In due time, the young person is certified, step by step, into the levels of mastery. The weight of hundreds of years of tradition, the insight of hundreds of teachers, are codified into the instruction, and further into the being of the student.
    • What does the student contribute? Submission, desire, growing strength of character, persistance, bravery, eventually creativity and insight. Anything from her own experience? Yes, whatever allows her to commit to the progression of lessons and workouts, but no, nothing that influences the structure of the form itself, as far as we can tell. The tradition is a river that runs through each practitioner, bigger than each one and not much changed by having this cork bobbing along.
    • The final scenes of the films are always moving — violent, but inspiring, with all the persuasive audio and visual tools of cinema turned toward a focus of uplifting emotion. A young person has submitted to something greater than herself and has grown in the process. [Finally, she is able to kick the bad guy in the face, or someting just as good!] The sound track tells us how to interpret the final kick — it is a triumph of the human spirit.
    • And maybe it is. Yet in writing this account I find myself resisting the erasure of the student’s knowledge and experience, as far as the martial art form is concerned. It is here that the pedagogical model of these films seems most dangerous, most satisfied with the authority of the tradition, at a time when we need people who can involve themselves in the inevitable reshaping of modern life. So that final uplifting emotion, linked to submission and violent triumph, doesn’t satisfy, no matter how much it excites the audience.
    • We who are teachers should be careful about turning to Hollywood for lessons in pedagogy.

July 8

  • Education and training
    • At a meeting of retired and retiring faculty today, one person recalled a conversation with a corporate officer from the region on the subject of hiring our graduates. The corporate person drew a distinction between two approaches to schooling young people:
    • “We can train your graduates if you have already educated them,” he said, “but we can’t educate them if you only trained them.”
    • Most educators would instinctively accept the difference, I think, even though its real meaning goes unstated in the anecdote. On one side, perhaps the ability to follow procedures, to attend to decorum, to accomplish goals set by others, and on the other side, the ability to deal with uncertainty, to think critically, to bring revelevant information to solving a problem? The corporate officer was implying a model of adulthood and career that included both sets of values, a model in which education is the necessary foundation for training — again, at the risk of using his undefined terms.
    • Training, when it takes place in schools, looks kind of like education; maybe we’re fooled sometime into thinking we’re doing the one when we’ve slid over into the other’s territory. Teachers need time to reflect and to talk with each other about issues like this one; otherwise you find teachers working more or less in isolation from their peers doing odder and odder things and making mistakes they shouldn’t be making. Their morale goes down and their get burned out, too. On a bad day, their style of teaching becomes cramped and suspicious, which won’t work when your job is about inspiration and motivation and helping people become better versions of themselves.
    • PS. My father the retired accountant quickly complicated the discussion later by asking how I’d like engineers to be prepared for the workplace, a useful line of thought.

July 7

  • Poverty in time-lapse
    • The Atlantic Cities site has introduced database-driven maps of poverty rates for many dozens of American cities. Each city can be viewed in 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010, so change over time is easy to judge. Here is my town, South Bend, Indiana, in 1980. Each colored dot represents twenty people living below the poverty line.
    • A picture named Tube.gif
    • You see the concentration of yellow dots on the west side, the mark of racial segregation and poverty due in part to a concentration of factory work once located there but by 1980 largely gone. By the time of the demise of Studebaker, in the 1960s, stable neighborhoods, including some rather fancy ones, began to decay. The city’s long history of real estate red-lining was a factor, too, that helps explain the concentration of black residents indicated by the many yellow dots. Racial segregation, red-lining, economic decay, concentrated poverty, clearly marked in 1980.
    • Not as obvious is the large number of blue dots spread throughout the area, to my eye even more than the yellow dots. As many people living below the poverty line, I would guess, or more, but not concentrated by segregation. On the east side of the map, just below the center, but not marked, the city of Mishawaka, long said to be hostile to blacks moving in and in 1980 containing almost entirely blue dots.
    • Now the 2010 map:
    • A picture named Tube.gif
    • You see much more poverty, quite a bit less segregation but the history still visible in parts of the map. By now it has been 45 years since the loss of Studebaker, and the major employers include hospitals, colleges, and universities, but no clear replacement of the kinds of jobs that were lost in the automotive industry. How does a small city recover from the death of a major industrial sector? And how long does the recovery take?
    • Those questions are important for the region, but these two maps give only a partial view of the strengths and weaknesses of the area. They are just the start of an investigation, really.

July 6

  • What students like
    • Every once in a while something happens and I remember how keenly this is true: students like challenges, they like to dig deep once they get a taste for it. They like feeling alive, feeling that their brains are alive, that what they do matters, that they have something serious to think about, that they can play seriously with ideas, that they can be respected, that there are other people exploring the world around them. Remember that feeling? If not, why not?

July 5

  • Print-friendly, continued
    • When you’re reading a stack of postings rendered by the bloghome template, each post title is automatically a live link that carries the particular single posting over into the blogpost template, which is cool.
    • That leads me to believe that the same kind of code, applied to a “print” mark of some kind, could send the particular posting over to a print-friendly template. I don’t have the skills to know if I’m dreaming here of a plugin or query or something, nor do I know if the thing could be written by a member of the Fargo community or whether the already very busy Kyle and Dave would have to do it. In either case, I know it might not be any time soon, which is fine–Fargo is making quite a number of us happy day by day as it is.
    • But I bet that if the code existed, then members of the community would write one or two nice print template setups to share for printing on 8.5 x 11 paper.
    • And while I stared for some time at the code for a few Fargo webpages in order to reach my conclusions here, I’m prepared to be wrong. It’s not my field.

July 4

  • Slow learner
    • I realize that people reading from the Fargo river might appreciate more fully formed posts in the outline here, rather than rough notes or brainstorming. The public-private layers of Fargo start to matter more with the river.

July 3

  • Semaphore moments on Twitter
    • I happened to turn to Twitter a few minutes before the head of the Egyptian army announced that it was removing the president because he had failed to take any steps to acknowledge the many hundreds of thousands of citizens who had protested his government over the last few days.
    • I was already following two writers who decided at that moment to translate the general’s speech as it played out. [One writer was Egyptian, and the other was American.] So over the course of just a few minutes, I read two quickly-made translations of a historic text almost as fast as the text itself was uttered. The two versions had different styles but confirmed each other in spirit and detail.
    • SemaphoreWalkers.jpgIt reminded me of semaphore, the system of flag letters that allowed messages to be passed across the breadth of an entire country in less than an hour. Social media have a more informal structure than a chain of semaphore stations, no doubt, but there is some resemblance in the result. It sets me to thinking, though: would there be any new virtue in setting up a semaphore-like chain on the web, something more formally structured in service to some purpose? [Rather than simply letting a portion of the semaphore effect happen as it will through subscriptions and following on social media…] I don’t know, but it seems suggestive.

July 2

  • My Grandfather’s Waltz
    • What if the family gathered to remember a loved one who died some years before, and the impossible happened? A poem read by the author, Ken Smith. (audio)
  • New & near adults — a podcast
    • What’s it like when the house, long filled with children, is suddenly filled with new and near adults? A radio essay by Ken Smith. (audio)
  • Podcast progress report
    • 7:50 pm.: One other thing: I got an enclosureError true line in the attributes for some reason, and on a hunch I erased it, since all the other boxes matched the model from Dave, and it worked. Dunno what to say about that.
    • Update at 7:00 pm.: I tried a new podcast, to polish my skills. I’m not certain, but things seemed to go very smoothly with an audio served up from Dropbox once I removed the spaces in the filename: these presented as % signs, but I took them out and the enclosure loaded into the RSS feed very nicely. I’m not certain that it was necessary but it seemed to be. I’m keeping the audio in the Public folder there in Dropbox. One other thing: I got an enclosureError true line in the attributes for some reason, and on a hunch I erased it, since all the other boxes matched the model from Dave, and it worked. Dunno what to say about that.
    • Update at 2:40 pm EST: Success. I am able to attach an enclosure of an audio that I already knew for a fact to work properly on the web. It appears as an enclosure in the RSS feed, so I know it is there. I can’t see it yet on my blog page, though–the text is there but I don’t see any clue to the presence of the audio except when I read the RSS. Does this mean that a podcast site ordinarily codes the audio link in by hand as well? I’m not sure.
    • Previously:
    • The new Fargo podcast tool looks like a great design, very nice. The automation is spectacular. Here is a progress report of my contact with it as of 2:00 pm EST.
    • I can easily read Dave’s how-to post in the new river and can easily download the audio there in the river and easily play it.
    • I can view Dave’s how-to post on the blog but as much as I look around the blog page I don’t see an audio link there. I don’t know if I am supposed to or not but I guessed that a link would be there.
    • Andy’s posting a podcast trial now, I see from the river. I can easily read his post from the river. I can’t find audio on his blog posting by itself and I can’t find audio to download attached to his link in the river. So in that sense it differs from Dave’s entry.
    • That’s what I have so far.
    • Also, musing on this question: Can I post podcasts in their own node area outside the calendar or do they have to be in the calendar structure of the named outline? I’d love to be able to give them their own stream of entries, I think, not sure.

July 1

  • Pretty Fargo sites
    • I posted a Facebook link to WalkNotes, currently one of the most fun and shiny Fargo sites, and got an instant compliment for the site. This makes me think that sometime soon we should find a way to assemble a collection of at least a few of the most polished Fargo sites to show around and enthuse about to our friends.
  • Fargo threads and radio listeners
    • A friend of mine hosts a Celtic music show that broadcasts in the South Bend region and online. He’s looking for a fast and simple way to invite online feedback during the show, and I’m thinking a Fargo thread is the answer. I’ll show him the feature today. Happily, he already knows Fargo.