Optimistic Blogging

Techie and long time writer Tim Bray wants you to know he’s still blogging in 2017. Publishing in his own space in this age of massive media platforms.

Not alone and not un­read, but the ground un­der­foot ain’t steady. An in­stance of Ho­mo eco­nomi­cus wouldn’t be do­ing this ?— ?no pay­day loom­ing. So I guess I’m not one of those. But hey, when­ev­er I can steal an hour I can send the world what­ev­er words and pic­tures oc­cu­py my mind and lap­top. Which, all these years lat­er, still feels like im­mense priv­i­lege.

Not sure I would use the word privilege, but I can’t think of anything better, so let’s go with that. I certainly feel grateful that anyone besides me reads this stuff.

Cartoon: Shakespeare at a computer thinking to blog or not to blog, that is the question.

So, where is this blogging stuff going (and maybe we need a new term for that as well)?

I won­der what the Web will be like when we’re a cou­ple more gen­er­a­tions in? I’m pret­ty sure that as long as it re­mains easy to fill a lit­tle bit of the great names­pace with your words and pic­tures, peo­ple will.

I hope so. It’s fun being able to add my ideas to the great mix. And I enjoy reading the wide variety of thought bits contributed by others who still write in their own spaces.

I’m also “still op­ti­mistic about what­ev­er this thing is I’m do­ing here”.

Day Old News

I have a confession to make.

I haven’t watched TV news since sometime back in September. Not the 24-hour talking heads channels, not the broadcast network’s evening summaries, not even 60 Minutes.

Pogo

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping up with current events, in all their crappyness.

Instead of suffering through all the faux debates and BREAKING NEWS!!, I returned to only consuming day-old news.

Some of it comes from the old fashioned paper delivered to the door every morning. Some on websites that write about events from several days or even weeks ago. Maybe a video or two when appropriate.

Information sources like the Washington Post, The Atlantic, and The Guardian (UK) whose writers and editors go beyond just relating what happened but also why it matters.

Of course, that doesn’t mean those day-old sources are 100% accurate. Even with the extra time to develop some context for events, they sometimes make mistakes. Occasionally they create misleading, even stupid, headlines. Even so, day-old is a whole lot more accurate than up-to-the-minute.

I’m not sure I’m a better informed person for this change. And the extra effort required may not be for everyone.

But I feel better.1

Applying a Little Magic Sauce

Speaking of artificial intelligence, how well can an algorithm really understand someone today?

Companies like Facebook and Google have hundreds of coders working hard in the back room to build bots that can analyze the online behavior of their members. Their goal: to better understand them in the “real” world.

Ok, the actual goal is to understand how to sell them more stuff and increase profits in the next quarter.

Anyway, a recent series on the Note To Self podcast looks at the Privacy Paradox and what the online user can do to retain as much of it as possible when confronted with all those upcoming social media bots.

During one segment, they mentioned the Magic Sauce project from the University of Cambridge, which is defined on their main page as “[a] personalisation engine that accurately predicts psychological traits from digital footprints of human behaviour”.

So, how accurate is their British magic?

I skipped the choice of having it dig through and analyze the pages I like on Facebook, but not because I’m afraid of what it might reveal. I have an account but never “like” anything2 and only rarely comment on the posts of others. The bot wouldn’t have enough stuff to work with.

The other choice is to paste a sample of writing from a blog or other source, and I have 14 years worth of that crap. So I selected a more-than-200-word post from this space, one without any quotations which would mix in someone else’s personality.

And this is what I got.

screenshot of magic sauce results

Big miss on the age, but thank you, bot. The rest, I have to admit, leans towards the accurate side, even if I don’t consider myself artistic or organized.

Of course, that was based on just one small sample of my life. The Cambridge Psychometrics Centre has a whole battery of tests to peel back your psychological profiles, including some “Fun” tests (ten minutes to discover your personality disorders?).

But that’s more than enough AI bot training for now.

EduCon 2017

Last weekend was one of my favorite times of the year.

I spent a couple of days in a nondescript office building in center city Philadelphia masquerading as a school. This was a small but powerful conference knowns as EduCon, held each year in the depth of the mid-Atlantic winter at the Science Leadership Academy.

When I tell people about my trip, one of their first questions is why? Why do you continue to go to conferences like this? Aren’t you supposed to be retired?

The simple answer is, I’m still an educator and this event is a large part of my learning community.

Discussion

This was the tenth edition of this conference, which is very different from most. Here it’s all about conversations around the idea of changing education, attracting some of the smartest most creative people I know. I’ve been there from the beginning, leading or co-leading discussions in about half of them, and I always leave with a long list of books to read, ideas to investigate, and new people to follow.

The theme this year was sustainability and, considering all the local and national crap going on around us, I was half expecting the mood to be rather pessimistic. There certainly was an undercurrent of apprehension (how could there not be?) but, overall most everyone was positive and determined to help fix the broken.

Robot Controllers

One great part of EduCon is that the faculty of SLA, many of the students, and even some parents are active participants in the discussions. Many of the sessions are also lead by staff and students, talking about their work and the inquiry driven process at the school. It’s even more remarkable when you remember that this is a public school, working with the same limited budget as other high schools, with a representative cross section of the city’s population.

I have a couple of posts in the works based on some discussions from the conference, but to close this one I’ll just recommend that you plan now to be in Philly next January 26-28. Dress warm, wear your walking shoes, and I’ll see you there.

Sunday Panel

Find more images from this year’s conference in the EduCon 2.9 Group on Flickr.

This I Believe

On this day when the United States inaugurates a new president, one elected by a minority of eligible voters, using a constitutional loophole, through a campaign based on hate, ignorance, and fear, I thought it might be a good time to take a personal assessment. It has been a while since I wrote something like this, and I’m not a very philosophical person to start with, so take that into consideration as you read.
 
This I believe.
 
I believe in the power of learning. Open-ended, open-minded, uncensored, take-it-where-you-will learning. When that ends, so does life.
 
I believe in public education. Because every child, not just those with money, influence, or luck, deserves a solid foundation for the rest of their life. That’s power that comes from a strong system of public schools, which is also the cornerstone of a functioning democracy.
 
I believe in science. Not because scientists have all the answers, but because the scientific process is committed to always looking, always asking questions.
 
Related to that, I believe in curiosity and the art of asking questions. Because anyone who claims to have all the answers is wrong. And possibly an impediment to human progress.
 
I believe that any real change in this world comes from progressive, positive, committed optimism. Working to recreate the past, one that likely only existed in the mind, is a waste of time and energy. That attitude probably comes from being an educator for most of my entire adult life. I still don’t understand how anyone can teach children and not be optimistic about the future.
 
I believe in travel, both physical and virtual. Especially to places that are very different from wherever I am right now. The best way to understand other people, and foster peace in the world, is to visit them where they live, listen to what they have to say, and talk with them honestly.
 
I believe in humor. Not the kind that tears down, belittles, and diminishes people, but humor that exposes the flaws of life and makes me think as well as laugh. Plus the just plain silly stuff, of which the members of Monty Python were masters.
 
Finally, I believe there is much good in the people of this country. But also that our greatest problem remains the indifference shown by most of them when it comes to the larger society and our very fragile participatory democracy. I have an expanded post on this topic, should you care to read it.
 
Well, that’s it. Or at least all I can think of at this moment. As with most of my opinions, I reserve the right to change my warped little mind when new evidence is presented. Except for Monty Python, of course.