19: Remix Open Sesame!

Open courseware: surely you’ve heard of it? Coursera, MIT, Stanford… No? Doesn’t ring any bells? Well, open courseware is a new revolution in how people of all ages and in all parts of the world can learn whatever they want, whenever they want. And most of it’s free! So far, you can’t actually obtain a free online degree, but educators are working on it, and it’s definitely coming. “Open” is the new standard for 21st century learning, and that’s why much of this semester we’re going to be talking about all sorts of “open” things in Honors English II.

We started off talking about open things with three TED talks (woot!) and a couple of other very interesting videos. TED talks by UN Admiral James Stavridis, Rice University professor Richard Baraniuk, and Kirby Ferguson (all available on YouTube or ted.com [although ted.com can be temperamental]), as well as Kirby Ferguson’s four-part series “Everything Is A Remix” on Vimeo.com. Adm. Stavridis spoke about open security for protecting people in, say, Afghanistan and Iran, Rich Baraniuk talked about his open textbooks that he and several other students and teachers from around the world had created, and Kirby Ferguson related stories about how creative people have always borrowed and stolen ideas from creative people who came before them.

As you can probably guess from the title, Kirby Ferguson believes that everything is a remix of everything else. This goes for education and learning too: papers about books, poems, scientific studies, or really anything that’s not an original idea is basically a remix of whatever it is that you’re writing a paper about. For instance, this blog post is a remixing of all seven videos that we watched the last two class days in English, and the last blog post I wrote is very much a remix of the Wikipedia article I used as a source. Even the massive project which you may remember I did last fall was a remix of all the historical things I knew or learned about Montgomery (and a couple of my favorite places to visit, even though they weren’t or aren’t necessarily historical; i.e. California Yogurt Kraze – not exactly a memorial). I sort of knew that people borrow from other people for all sorts of inventions and things, but until I watched these videos I had no idea how much they borrow. For instance, did you know that the Macintosh borrowed its Graphical User Interface from Xerox’s early PC? Or that Led Zeppelin stole (or borrowed without citation) many of their lyrics and melodies from old blues songs?

Putting things like books or music into the sphere of open works is something I’m fairly familiar with. I downloaded books from Gutenberg Press when I was about nine, and when I was 12 I read maybe a third of Fahrenheit 451 on Google Books. My brother, who obsessively plays Microsoft Train Simulator, talks almost incessantly about “free-ware” add-ons for that game. One of my friends releases all of his electronic music for free downloads online. I pretty much only download free apps to my iPod (because I’m too cheap to buy any XD). When I was about eight, I took an online writing course. But I’d never really thought of textbooks and actual college classes as being open. I’m really curious and excited to see how we’re going to incorporate our class into the world of open learning.

I really highly recommend all these videos, especially Kirby Ferguson, to anyone interested in how the world works nowadays for learning, security, and creativity. I’m personally very excited to see how my life will be changed because of the new world of openness, and the constant remixing that takes place in the lives of all human beings who actually absorb new material. I hope you’ll join me in my explorations!

Remix on!

11: The Digital Machine

We watched some very interesting videos the other day in class. They were informative, thought-provoking, well done, and funny (at least in part). Here are some links to them so that if you decide to read on in this post, you’ll know what I’m talking about (XD): The Bendito Machine III, a TED talk on Filter Bubbles, and The Machine is Us/ing Us. (Also, I don’t know how you feel about spoilers, so if you don’t want me to give you any spoilers about these videos, watch the videos first. :))

“Bendito Machine III” was, in my mind, a brilliant social commentary about how we view and use machines, primarily TVs, in our everyday lives. In this video, a ‘primitive’ group of humans discovers a TV, which they set up on a altar, replacing the previous statue that stood there. Soon, the TV becomes a part of their daily lives, and everything they do centers around it. The women watch exercise programs, and obey all the instructions the TV is telling them to do, because, as we all know (this is sarcasm, by the way), women are very vain about their figures and will do anything to be thin. The little children follow the TV like the Pied Piper when it plays a children’s program. They cross a bridge after it, over a dangerous ravine (probably a river), which I’m sure their parents would never have allowed before the TV entered their lives. When the TV turns maniacal and begins killing people and displaying a terrifying face, they run away and attempt to appease it, instead of turning it off or throwing it away, which seems like it would be the sensible thing to do. When it finally is displaced by the next new technology, the people throw it in the dump without a second thought. How many people do that nowadays with their ‘outdated’ cell phones and computers? What a waste!

The next two videos, the TED Talk and “The Machine is Us/ing Us”, were strikingly similar in the message they conveyed. “The Machine is Us/ing Us” is a video created by a cultural anthropology professor at Kansas State University to show the history and modern uses of what is known as “Web 2.0”. He explains quickly but clearly the beginnings of the different languages and formats used on and created for the Internet. Near the end of the video, he goes in to how we are teaching parts of the Internet such as Yahoo, YouTube, and now Facebook, what our preferences are, what we want to see, and even who we are, without knowing. Eli Pariser’s TED talk elaborates on that idea. He gives an example of two of his friends that he asked to Google the word “Egypt” on their computers and then send him a screenshot. The results were dramatically different. Both his friends were the same age, they were both Caucasian, and they both lived in the same city, but one of them saw articles on the wars, strife, and dissent in Egypt on his front page, and the other saw articles and ads on travelling to Egypt and the wonderful tourist attractions there.

Many people think of these machines learning as a terrible idea, and withdraw themselves completely from the Internet, and are terrified that somehow someone will be able to find them and will exploit them or hurt them in some way. I think those fears are unfounded. I do think there’s such a thing as too much information about yourself on the Internet, but I don’t think that the remote possibility of someone finding you from your search results is something to be completely paranoid about. I would like to know, though, sometimes, what search results am I missing because Google thinks I want to see one thing in particular?

Learn on…

6: Information is Beautiful and Complex

This is partially a continuation of the post entitled “Complex, or Complicated?”, in that I’ll be talking about the same two TED videos I mentioned in that post, but it is also a completely separate post in that my purpose is different. That post had to do with words, this post has to do with questions and ideas.

How do the two videos – Eric Berlow’s and David McCandless’ TED talks – relate to me as a student?

Eric Berlow’s talk on complexity and complication is actually rather apparent, at least to me. When you’re faced with a problem or homework, especially science and/or math work, it looks incredibly complicated and frustrating. What are you supposed to do with all those numbers? Yikes!! But even though it looks complicated, that’s not necessarily so. It is definitely and always, however, quite complex. My mom has been trying for years to get me to look at a math problem and find the simple elements and not be scared, and Eric Berlow’s talk restated that idea. If you look for simple connections between simple objects, the most complex concept becomes easy to understand.

With David McCandless’ presentation on the beauty of data and data visualization, it’s a bit harder to make a connection. The beauty aspect is easier: beauty is everywhere, and personally I’ve found it’s quite easy and enjoyable to find beauty in everything. (Except the tops of really disgusting outdoor trashcans. And mold. Those, not so beautiful.) But data and data visualization is, at least for me, a bit harder to relate to. If you’re an information systems major, it would be rather obvious, as you would be dealing with data all the time. If you’re an art major, especially if you’re going into graphic design, it’s also quite apparent, as his job is all about creating graphics and art. But what if you’re going into military history, or neurobiology, or music like I am? Well there’s the obvious point of “you can make a graphic about data about all of those topics”, but there are also deeper connections. (Being a musician, it’s easiest for me to make references to music, so pardon as I make a bunch of music metaphors.) Albums need cover art, and that’s beauty. Lyrics to songs, titles of pieces, the little information booklet you find in CDs, those are all data, and lyrics and titles especially should contain some form of beauty. But I think what David McCandless focussed a lot on was the interconnectedness of the data in his visualizations, and music is about nothing if not connections. And broadening my interpretation to college students in general, classes often ask you to make connections to things you’ve learned before, both in that class and in other classes you’ve taken. English classes especially (or at least mine) want you to relate all your current assignments to assignments you’ve done in the past, things you’ve talked about in the past (tapestries!), and ideas you’ve had in the past. Life is all about connections and finding them, and I think that is mainly what David McCandless brings to light.

I’m sure there are many other connections one could find between being a student and these two TED talks, and this is merely the surface. I could probably and would love to go into more depth about the connections and complexities of being a student and being a human on Earth in the 21st century, but I’m afraid that these are all the bubbles that have been programmed into my graphic. I do hope that this provoked thoughts in your minds, though, and I would very highly recommend visiting ted.com and searching for these videos. They may well be the most interesting 21 minutes of your month (I hesitate to say year or life, but it could well be). And as always, read on.

Complex, or Complicated?

Eric Berlow: Simplifying Complexity.

TED talks!

What words do we find cool?

Baguette!! (I love baguettes)

A picture of a lake! Water’s pretty. ^_^

Nature can be tied in to anything.

Prediction and black boxes…

Embrace complexity.

Node… (always sounds better in a funny voice.)

Simplicity lies on the other side of complexity.

David McCandless: Data Visualization

Patterns and beauty.

Design information to tell a story.

Data visualization can look cool!!

Beauty out of frustration. XD

Colors represent motivation.

Doosh. Best sound effect ever.

Data visualization creates a landscape.

Landscape of the world’s fears.

Find hidden patterns.

Retrospects.

Data is the new oil?

Data is the new soil. (then proceeds to a brilliant metaphor of information as soil. <3)

Trawled through Facebook statuses for the phrases “break up” and “broken up”… (Depressing work, much?)

Sensitive to ideas.

Experience instills a dormant design literacy.

The language of the eye and the language of the mind.

Gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble. XDXD

We need figures connected to other data.

Let the data set change your mind set.

Balloon race!![diagram]

Efficacy. <3

The data is alive…

Society&Culture and Beliefs.

Recognizing things in yourself is really really uncomfortable.

You’re capable of holding conflicting beliefs joyously.

Provide elegant solutions.

Information is too interesting.

And that is beautiful. <3