Sunday, 26 February 2006

How babies build a picture of the world

Experiments on the "internal world view" of 3 month old or there about.

My Question: Is there a difference between "instinct" and learnt "rules"? In other words, is there any pre-existing skeleton on which we start building our internal world view?

BTW, I have been using "internal world view", is there a proper term for this concept? Please let me know if there is any.


This reminds me of an email game "Half Life" designed by Thiagi. This particular blogger limits himself to 99 words post + one word title.

Here is the 99 words titled Eleven:

Nine and eleven dance together. One divided by nine is .111111, repeating forever. One divided by 11 is .090909, also endless. They are yin and yang. Combined, they zip up, never fully resolving even as they are uniting. They are infinitely almost complete, just like us people.

The difference between them is not two, but one. Looking at .111111, you hear it chanting "One too many, one too many," while .090909 whispers "Just one more, just one more." They both yearn to be ten.

While many find themselves at sixes and sevens, I find myself at nines and elevens.

Lots of other gems in 99words

Thursday, 23 February 2006

Teaching and Learning Implications of Connectedness

This is the seventh and last in a series on "Information, language, knowledge and connectedness". The previous posts are part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6.

So far, I have put forward a distinction which I like to emphasis: knowledge and information and defined knowledge narrowly to those concepts and ideas which are in me. Information is the manifestation of someone's knowledge.

Information as a manifestation is encoded using "language" which is created and learnt via a social collaborative process. Within any language, we use extensively "handles" to represent constructs. However, these handles, while in many situations are self evidence, can cause problems in communication because they may not map to the similar internal world views or they may be overloaded and the context of use was not clear in the communication.

While everyone will have constructed different internal world views, there are huge similarity among these individually constructed internal world views because the process of creating them are basically similar because we live in a coherent world. Differences in internal world views are modified (lessened usually ) due to conversations or intellectual exchanges in our daily activities.

Hence, there is some intrinsic connectedness in information due to the nature of the information as well as the way the information is based.

Due to the advent of communication and digital technology, human beings are building another layer of connectedness on the information, via explicit hyperlinks, metadata efforts, through aggregators (search engines are a major ) and recently tagging and tag clouds. I have also examined the use of this additional connectedness through the lens of information management.

I hold a conservative view that there is a gap between connectedness and knowledge. The increasing amount of additional connectedness does not translate automatically to imply our society is a "learning society".

As this series was started by inspiration of the debate between Stephen Downes and George Siemens, I will to conclude by looking at the same problem they were focused on too.

How has my view influenced the way I see how people learn?

"Learning" is an effort. Learners have to exercise a willingness in order to achieve learning. There is accidental learning - but accidental indeed. Most of our learning is the result of organising our experience so that the experience may be applied to different situation later in life.

Manipulation of information is NOT learning. The skill to manipulation information is an important skill. But having manipulated a lot of information on a subject does not automatically make one an expert in that domain. Librarians are librarians and they are not Physicists or Chemist because they have moved books on Physics or Chemistry.

To transfer information across the external world (not me) into our internal world view (me), we need to be able to interpreter the information via the language in which the information is based. Language has huge implicit assumption that the handles in the information are referring to similar internal world views. Without the common similarity of world views of the information author and the reader, the message does not get across. We learn and process information selectively. Those information which have no similar or matching part in our internal world view are not understood (and hence remain unavailable for future use) or simply ignored. This statement does not contradict "suspense of disbelief".

To enter into a new subject domain, it is important to progressively build up the internal world views shared by most of the participants in the subject domain.

Reading is NOT the only way to transform information into one's knowledge. (Reading may not be the most efficient way as well!) Knowledge can be acquired by using information to organise an appropriate experience, "learn by doing". Knowledge is created by an individual's effort to test the reaction of the world (scientific methods). New understanding can result from deep self reflection (philosophers).

The vast connectedness from the current technology bloom has provided us easy access to a huge amount of information previously impossible. The fundamental way human learns does not change because there are more information available suddenly . The way human can make a living may change and hence we may need to learn or develop new skills. We may also develop new skills in order to find, select and assimilate information. "Learning" is still an effort only the learner can exert.

Too little knowledge is definitely bad in terms of future survival, too much information may be a curse.

Wednesday, 22 February 2006

Before and After


These are the drawings by students before and after visiting Fermilab. More in the link. Check them out yourself.

Connectedness - 3

This is the sixth in a series on "Information, language, knowledge and connectedness". The previous posts are part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5.

We manipulate objects (information, concepts, goods etc) via handle. If you are managing a retail shop of fashion wear, you don't move all the clothes daily. You look at your computer records. Each item in your store is represented by a item number in your database. (Yes, occassionally, you do try to match the real thing with your computer record - that's call stock taking, I think.)

When we are managing information, e.g. the paper submitted by a student, we give that paper a code (John's essay). After we marked the paper, it is given a score. This score is linked to John in our record book. At the end of the year, all these scores are collated to give an overall score for John. This is again some sort of handle to represent a much larger collection of information and teacher's opinion on John's performance.

Librarian used to handle a large collection of information (books we used call them). Every book is given a unique identifier. Multiple copies of the same book are also given item identifier too.

The same applies to information when it is digitised. Information is given URI.

End of story? Wrong! It is the beginning actually.

In order for us to find information, we try to collect some of the characteristics of the information. We found that there are some common characteristics which are useful, e.g. the author, the date of publications, the subject domain the information is about. So librarians added "metadata" to the information.

But some may call author writer, others call the same creator. So, we need to create a common handle for similar concepts (similar internal world views of different people). So we have metadata standards which
1. standardise the handle (the name of the characteristics),
2. the meaning to the handle,
3. the way the value to be expressed (firstname first, or firstname last?, how to handle middle name etc.)

Soon we found that there are variations of "similar" concepts. The metadata needed "qualifiers" both to extend the grey area of "similarity" and "overload" the handle.

"Metadata" are data themselves. So we can apply the same principle on metadata which leads to "metametadata". Metametadata are data themselves. So we can apply the same principle on metametadata which leads to "metametametadata".... [see Meta Meta Meta Data Draft 0.2]

Metadata is NOT the only way to find information. Google has demonstrated another way - using inverted index of the words within the information. Tags (folksonomy) is the current trend (see also my view).

Information is instrinsically connected. How can we exploit this to make the search better?

Metadata world would use the citation - explicit connectedness provided by the author of the information (example). Google would use "key word" clustering. Folksonomy uses "tag cloud".

How these techniques compare with the "connectedness" of an expert in the subject domain?

When we refer "connectedness" to connectedness as implemented by the above examples, are we approaching a society that can learn?

9 things we should do everyday

My sister sent me this which I like to share with people like me who sits in front of a computer for too long everyday.

Monday, 20 February 2006

Connectedness - 2

This is the fifth in a series on "Information, language, knowledge and connectedness". The previous posts are part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4.

I have assumed that we live in a coherent world meaning that an action I take will have the same effect on me as it has effect on you. For example, if I throw an apple up, it will fall down again. If you throw an apple up, it will ALSO fall down again, under similar circumstances of course. Remarkable, this will create internal world views very similar between you and me. I would suggest we have a larger portion of our internal world views similar than different.

We communicate, through a shared common language. The meaning of different elements of the language have been slowly and painstakingly negotiated through our years of living. The negotiation may be mediated through tools such as dictionary or directly as I am trying to explain how I use the term "information" and "knowledge" in this series of posts.

We like to leave marks in the world, through rock drawing, graffiti, creating great structures, writing or whatever. I call these "information" as a catch-all term. With today's digital technology, different forms are converging into digital format. Let's just look at the "writing". Typically, writing represented part of the internal world view a person wanted to share with the fellow human being. That may be some special emotion, feelings, experience, ways of doing things or "knowledge". Another interesting observation is that our own internal world view has been affected to other people world view before us, though reading of other's writing.

Collectively, information becomes an archive of human experiences. Information is the manifestation of human knowledge.

Information is intrinsically inter-connected. Information is connected because information are manifestations of different people's internal world views which are all based on a coherent world that we all experience. Information is connected because it is based on language, which is shared and hence also connected. Information is connected because some of the "handles of concept" comes from other information, as in citation or references at the end of an academic paper.

The notion of "handle" has appeared in this serious more often than I first realise. As I wrote these posts, it becomes clear to me that this is of special importance and I should have given more thoughts and use a better term.

Handles are short-hand for a collection of manifestation. A handle for shared portion of our internal world views.

There are two types of disagreement: interesting and uninteresting. The uninteresting disagreements are those disagreement because we have used different handles to represent basically the same internal world views. This is easily resolved by agreeing to a common handle. The interesting disagreement are those situation whereby we have common agreed handles, but yet there are differences in the internal world views which we are trying to compare. Eventually, it would come down to our differences in experience.

Stephen Downes has an interesting example of a problem caused by "overloading" of handles - the same handle is used for different concepts/thing under different situations, search "where is Edmonton?" in his essay An Introduction to Connective Knowledge.

Now that we can "hyperlink" information so that we can "jump" from one article to another, we have yet another level of connectedness.

If we have chosen our hyperlinks carefully, the links will join and form a coherent network. My questions are "network of what?", "Is hyperlink more significant than the intrinsic connectedness of the information?" and "How can we exploit this linkage?"

The quest goes on ....

Sunday, 19 February 2006


This is the fourth in a series on "Information, language, knowledge and connectedness". The previous posts are part 1, part 2 and part 3.

The current best understanding of our brain is that it is made up of many many neurons and connections among these neurons are constantly made. When we are having mental activities, signals pass among the neurons.

Our internal world, somehow, is represented by these yet-to-be-understood patterns of connections. However, we also know that our internal world is created based on our experience and interaction with the external world. We don't know the role of new connections while we do not engage in consciously interaction with the external world. However, let's assume that most of the connections are created during interaction with external world.

This connectedness seems to be very important. In light of the expanding connectivity of our communication ability, new pedagogical views such as connectivism by George Siemens has accepted widespread interest.

We know that an organisation can learn. The operational manual, the way that the organisation interacts with other organisation or customers, changes as new error or mistake are identified to prevent the same to happen again. Shall we call this organisation learning? Obviously, the faster the problem can be identified and passed to decision makers, faster a remedy may be devised and implemented. The big research question is how this "organisational learning" is related to the number of connections as oppose to the improvement in the more efficient method of communications.

Society learns too. The second episode of Race, The Power of an Illusion described the dark history of the Slavery of Black people in colonial America despite the constitutional declaration of equality of mankind. It is quite obvious to me, after watching the show, an internal world view had been successfully created among the "white" that black and white was a biological difference. As economical situation changed, the "whiteness" was politically extended to other skin colour quite arbitrarily and inconsistently.

The behaviour of the society as a whole is driven by a shared common belief (here, I am not questioning how that common belief was/is generated). Again, a better communication system will help to spread the belief. However, a better communication system should also help to quickly identify faults in such belief. How come, in today's global connectivity, the pressing issues facing mankind, e,g, global warming, human are consuming our natural resources in unsustainable manners, extreme poverty, do not get the attention they desire and action being taken?

So far, I have defined learning as a processing of creating a coherent internal world view. Again, my question is whether the increased connectivity represents learning - a better coherent world view for the organisation or for the society?

Tuesday, 14 February 2006

Reverse consumerism

Human are now living an un-sustainable life. We are too much dependent on fossil fuel which we know it will run out. We are emitting too much green-house gas that we know our planet is suffering. We are creating too much waste that land fills are running out. We are spending money we don't have on presents we don't rate to give to someone we don't like.

Somehow, someone, somewhere needs to do something to reverse this trend.

Boingboing has a post about the Compact Group,

About 50 teachers, engineers, executives and other professionals in the Bay Area have made a vow to not buy anything new in 2006 -- except food, health and safety items and underwear.

Can teachers help to spread this message? Will our kids understand the importance of saving our planet? Will they be able to resist the advertising?

Let's start from ourselves first.

"It's the [@*&%], stupid!"

This is the third in a series on "Information, language, knowledge and connectedness". The previous posts are here and here.

As I focus on the distinction with "me" and "not me", I acknowledge the role of "language" as one of the many ways externalised knowledge (information) can enter the private internal world.

Social linguistic educators have emphasis on the role of language and even go as far as postulating that our internal world is encoded in a language. I don't have sufficient expertise in the field to argue for or against the claim. However, as a native speaker in Cantonese and brought up throught the very special "English" education system in Hong Kong, I have my doubt.

I was a science students and for years I have taught Physics as a way of making my living. At the beginning, I taught in the way I learnt. In my early Physics classrooms, I would write everything on the blackboard in English while talk through the concepts in Cantonese referencing the terms in English. It would be very interesting for anyone who is fluent in either English or Cantonese, but not both to observe that. I bet none would not have a clue of what I was trying to teach.

Language or jargons are handles to some parts of the internal world view. My students, through time, have developed a world view similar to mine so that we could communicate using the these strange language combination (jargons).

I admit that was not the best way to learn. I have learnt so much since!

One of the major failure of that approach, apart from the linguistic irregularities, is the failure to understand that helping someone to build a coherent world view which matches with the best accepted view on subject, is not justing passing information. Yes, most students would have done their part, working deligently to assimulate the stimulations (my voices and the writing on the board) into their internal world view. But I have done a poor job as a teacher to actually help them learn in the best and most efficient way.

Another interesting observation is in seeing how the students performing in assessment. In that era, a typical assessment would consist of a battery of written test using "problems". In class, I went through the "theory" and if time permited, might do an example. In most cases, "theory" was the only part that was covered.

Obviously, there is a lot of transfer from "theory" into the ability to "apply" the apply in solving numerical problems. It is NOT just a matter of building more neuron connections in the brain. I would say what is intelligence is still a big mystery yet to be understand.

Another major fault in that old way of teaching was that the process which appeared in my classroom was nothing like any real physicists would work. I was not even close to introducing my students to the community of practice of the Physicists! I would not claim to be one myself, how could I be able to introduce them to a community which I was not part of!

But, was I doing a job? Yes, I hoped I had. I was actually very proud of myself doing such a great job at that time.

The fact is some of my students, being taught in that way, ended up being a real physicist - at least got PhDs in Physics!

How could this happen?

With all that information external to us, somehow, our internal world view manages to build a coherent model. That [@*&%] process is @*&% to me.

We now know that our brain consists of billions or more neurons and they are building connections. The networked society today is also building connections. Our houses are connected by power lines, by water supply. Our computers are connected by communication devices (layer 1 of the ISO network model), and established communication via TCP/IP protocols (the range of sound we can make and hear) and web-service calls (language???).

We can learn - via building more neuron connections. ---(1)

Society can learn - via building more connections (of what?). ---(2)

Say, we have more connections among information. What does it mean? Connecting information, e.g. linking this post to some other post, does not create meaning, right? Linking this post to othe post does not create *new* information.

That's a big gap in the underlying logic to start with statement (1) and conclude at statement (2). I am not comfortable to jump across this gap.

There must be [@*&%] else!

Sunday, 12 February 2006

"Apples are red"

This is the second in a series on " Information, language, knowledge and connectedness". The first post is here.

Let's see what the utterance of "Apples are red" means.

This is a manifestation of an internal world view. It is expressed in English language. It is a communication.

I have assumed that you know what every of these three words: Apples, are and red represent. These words are handles to complex internal representations in my internal world. If you can agree to this sentence, your internal world view would have

  1. an association of the handle "Apples" to some internal representations in your world view. So are the other two words: are and red.
  2. some past experience similar to mine so that you can see the linkage of "apples" in your internal world view to "redness" in your internal world view.

appleNow, look at this picture. I say "These apples are red." What happens?

Such a statement can be found easily in a lot of textbook, manual or handbooks. Here a complex process has occurred without we realising it.

Although I am refering to a photo on this webpage, I am depending on an automatic transparent application of your perception system to map the object in the photo to your internal world view of the handle "apples". You are asked to ignore the fact that it is a photo. You are asked to map a two-dimensional image to an object. Again, as in the first case, I am also assuming that your internal world view of apples, are and red are correctly linked to these handles.

Stephen's article An Introduction to Connective Knowledge discusses in details the intepretation of the colour "red". Here I am asking you also to map the black and white image in this photo to the handle "red" in your world view.

Most people would not have any problem engaging with someone to discuss some phenomena based on photo images. So let's try.

A: Can you agree with me that the apples in the photo are red?

B: No. The apples in the photo are green. They are not red delicious. They are granny smith.

A: Wrong, although they do not have the perks on the bottom, it does not mean that they are granny smith. They are Fuji.


So, the discussion goes on.

Here, a lots of internal world views are invoked. The people engaged in the discussion assume that the other party knows what is "red delicious" and the colour of "red delicious" and "granny smith" and so on. The communication will break down if one of them do not share a common internal world view of any of these handles in the exchanges.

The points I have made here are:

  1. We, through out our lives, have built internal world views. This is a highly automated process which we no longer pay attention to in most situations. However, there are situations that we deliberately want to engage in world view building - during teaching, learning, training, ...

  2. In our daily communication, the mapping of these handles to our internal world view is mostly automatic and transparent.

What is the role language is playing here? In this simple example, not much. See the same dialog above between an English and a Chinese.

A: Can you agree with me that the apples in the photo are red?

B: 不。在相片的蘋果是綠色的。他們不是紅蛇果。他們是granny smith。

A: Wrong, although they do not have the perks on the bottom, it does not mean that they are granny smith. They are Fuji.


The external manifestation, as handles, are easily ignored and we can shift our focus several layers beyond the manifestation. For example, not only that we have ignored the fact that it is a photo, and have gone into the objects in the photo, we have also ignored the black and white shades and depends on our internal world view to discuss the colour (which is not represented in the manifest).

The same applies to many subject domains. Modern physicists in China would share a similar world view (in Physics at least) with western physicists from both USA, England, Germany or France even they do not have the same communicative language.

For those who are curious of what is the actual colour in the photo above, click here. Photo credit: original from by enver uçarer, grey scale by me

Tuesday, 7 February 2006

Information, language, knowledge and connectedness

Inspired by the debate:Connectivism and Connected Knowledge between Stephen Downes and George Siemens, I have been wanting to write this.

A problem we cannot solve
Suppose someone take out my brain, connect all my nerves to a sophisticated computer which will generate all the signals that I am currently receiving. Can I know that I have been connected in this way? No.

So, are we living in a simulator? Are all the perceptions that I have been experiencing produced by the simulator? I have no way to find out.

However, so far, it seems to me that all my previous experience has produced a coherent world. So I am not going to tackle the problem whether I am living within a simulator or not. I would just assume that we are living in a world which has some implicit rules and these rules have been producing a coherent experience for me. I also assume that you, the reader, also exist and you are not an illusion of my perceptions. You are also an entity with quite similar properties as me.

As I have written before here and here, I like to stress the boundary between me and "not me". Knowledge is part of me, accumlated over all my years of existence.

I will use the word "information" to represent everything external to me. Some people may want to call them knowledge as well. But I will reserve "knowledge" to just refer to the experiences that I have accumulated, as defined above.

Information may be the manifestation of other people's knowledge or data collected automatically through devices that we design. As externalised artifact, information has additional properties which knowledge does not have. I said that information is a manifestation of one's knowledge and hence it cannot be complete and accurate. The process of getting our perceptions into our brain and the process of extracting the knowledge into information are lossy and fuzzy. Our perceptions is selective and filtered, hence the input mechanism is lossy. We forget and our recall is not always the same. So the output is lossy too. Every time we describe the same experience to different people at different time, it is different. Hence the information we produce is fuzzy. In a way, information is a record of human history, *some* of the accumulated knowledge.

Once the information is externalised, it can be stored, duplicated and spread. Information can be transferred across time and space.

Language is our vechicle of communication between human. Language is accumulated, compromised and negoitiated. We agree, implicitly or explicitly, that certain sound when under certain condition convey a certain idea. The induction into a certain subject domain means picking up and understanding a set of jargons used by the community.

Different culture, through different circumstances, developed different language. Without a common agreement, people cannot communicate *across* language barrier. This does not mean that they have completely different world views or knowledge base. As I have assumed, the world we live in has been producing coherent stimulations to our sense. It is very likely that these stimulations have built similar, albeit different knowledge in our brains. Without a common language, we can share and compare our knowledge.

Human language is in constant flux and is changing very minute. OK, a core set of language remains fairly stable for a sufficient long time for us to have meaningful communication. But the communication is not prefect because we may have different shades of meaning attached to the same term we use.

Language can also express things that are not "real". Language can be used to construct new idea and new artifact. That's a power of language!

Information is encrypted in *language*, be it language as we normally use the term or pictorial "language".

Is Knowledge objective or subjective?
This is one of the great questions Stephen and George were whistling with. I don't intend to say I have any more clue. Here is my position.

First, we must agree on what is "objective" and what is "subjective". As I said, the manifestation, ie this post, is an approximation of the "world view" I have accumulated, what I refer to as "objective" may not be the same as yours. Since I have made the distinction between "me" and "not me", then I would define those that belongs to "me" as subjective and those that belong to "not me" as objective.

We also need an agreement on what is "knowledge". Again, based on the "me" and "not me" notion, I will look at "information" and "knowledge" as defined above.

Obviously, since information is external, ie belongs to "not me", it is objective.

My way of defining "knowledge" makes it subjective, by definition.

The issue is actually about can we and do we share a common part of "knowledge". Is there any part of your world view same to my world view? My answer would be YES. Since I have ASSUMED that the world we live in gives us a cohorent stimulations and ASSUMED that you are a similar entity to me, you must be recieving similar stimulations via your preceptions and hence it is highly likely that you and I have part of our world view similar enough that we will not disagree.

George raised an interesting example of "unicorn". Why Stephen and George have similar description of an idea which does not exist in the world? Well, that's the common understanding based on the common language both Stephen and George speak. A horse-like 4-legged animal with a horn is what the language defines as "unicorn". So, because Stephen and George share the same language, they can both provide a similar description of an unicorn.

It has become obvious that large amount of information now resides in databases which we can assess easily any time anywhere. When combined together, these information represent huge potential of creation of new ideas, concepts and products.

George quotes an air plane as a good example. (I am recalling from memory. Hence it is leaky, fuzzy and inaccurate AND I am too lazy to dig back to check, the following description may be totally wrong. So the credit is George and the bad parts are mine.) Today, no one engineer will have the complete knowledge of a modern air plane. But obviously Boeing (or other air plane manufacturer) is able to built them. Does this represent "knowledge" of the corporation?

As I have a very narrow definition of "knowledge", the last question does not make sense to me. I would rephrase as "Is it possible that human can process information without importing the information as part of the knowledge of the information worker?" The answer is an obvious yes. So, by processing different piece of information (knowledge in your term, may be), engineers are able to focus to different part of the air plane.

A pilot does not have the knowledge of every piece of equipment on the air plane. However, a pilot does have a functional model of how the whole air plane will work under different circumstances in order to fly the air plane safely. Hence the level of details of a subject matter in our knowledge may be supplemented by information (e.g. manual or database) when we carry out our job.

This capability has been there for a long time. Connectedness is not a pre-condition of our ability to operate on vast amount of information without internalising all that information.

Implication to education, learning, teaching and training
As I like to publish often and update frequently, I will leave the rest for another time.

Race: The Power Of An Illusion

I have watched two of the three parts documentary aired in ABC (Australia). You can see the descriptions here and here.

...isn't it true that race has always been with us, right? Wrong. Ancient peoples stigmatised "others" on the grounds of language, custom, class, and especially religion, but they did not sort people into races. The Story We Tell traces the origins of the racial idea to the European conquest of the Americas and to the American slave system, the first ever where all the slaves shared a physical trait: dark skin.

Politics have always been about reserving the power and the wealth of the influential people. According to what I understand from the documentary, the earlier US government, in protecting the status quos, formulated legistrations which introduce the race inspite of the constitution's declaration of equality for mankind by suggesting biological differences between races.

Today we may question why people with darker skin trends to have lower social status. In the second episode I watched yesterday, a theory was proposed.

But if race doesn't exist biologically, what is it? And should it matter? The final episode, "The House We Live In," is the first film on race to focus not on individual attitudes and behavior but on how our institutions leave different groups differently advantaged. Its subject is the "unmarked" race, white people. The shows makes visible the benefits that quietly and often invisibly accrue to white people, not always because of merit or hard work, but because our laws, courts, customs, and perhaps most pertinently, segregated neighborhoods, racialize opportunity.

Since my work is on role play simulation, I am very interested in making this lesson availble to a boarder community. The question I have is how to create the scenario which will bring out the issues clearly. Any suggestion will be highly appreciated.

Monday, 6 February 2006

The online 'filling station' model of e-learning revisited

Here is an update of Derek Morrison's "filling station" model of e-learning as he cites
iTunes at Stanford ...

Let me just bring your attention to another point of view: It's the [?], stupid!


Your Guide to Practising Independent Learning

They said you are external students and there's not enough space for you in the university and also you're rich enough and don't care enough to attend classes. So, I welcome all of you again to SSK12 and I hope you would enjoy this one time only tutorial speech - if you bother reading and if Desperate Housewives is not showing on TV.

and ...

Yes, the first point you should note is that Independent Learning does not require you to attend those drafty and, occasionally musky, classrooms anymore. Taken to the logical conclusion to the word "independent", you obviously don't need a tutor either. Independent learning requires you to read the 146 pages of Study Guide, 212 pages of Reader, 344 pages of that fabulous Learning Companion, and also another 293 pages of A Guide to Learning Independently.


Now, communication is a funny concept. One in which you should not bother too much with. Remember that the only tools you need in communication are: home PC or laptop, keyboard, mouse, fingers, eyes, and occasionally your ears. I repeat that communication for external students do not require legs as your parents or your partner could wheel you to the computer. Also, you are not required to have any other physical properties of your body to work while on the desktop or laptop. Breathing, however, is a necessity.

OK, I am not going to spoil your reading pleasure anymore. Do read this wonderfully humorous post.

BTW, if you want to know what is refered here (example of what) "Masturbation is one primary example." in relation to learning, read this post from Insouciantfemme. If you can bear title like "University Prostitute" subscribe to the RSS feed. I have.

Sunday, 5 February 2006

500 callers conference with Skype

my Brother-in-law passes me this.

From the website:

Moderator and participants can mute and unmute themselves

Web-based control of the conference for the moderator

Moderator can mute and unmute all participants

Moderator can lock and unlock the conference

Moderator can record the conference

Use Skype to listen to the recorded conference

Currently in beta and is free for Skype users.

Saturday, 4 February 2006

Lawrence Lessig in Second Life

Here is the edited transcript of Lawrence Lessig appearance in Second Life. [by New World Notes]
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4


Children Learn by Monkey See, Monkey Do. Chimps Don't.

by CARL ZIMMER, free registration required to read.

This post gives a very graphic description about the difference between a human 3-year old and chimpanzees.

Previous result
This is how the researcher shows a young chimpanzees how to retrieve food.

The box was painted black and had a door on one side and a bolt running across the top. The food was hidden in a tube behind the door. When they showed the chimpanzees how to retrieve the food, the researchers added some unnecessary steps. Before they opened the door, they pulled back the bolt and tapped the top of the box with a stick. Only after they had pushed the bolt back in place did they finally open the door and fish out the food.

OK, the result:
Two thirds of the chimpanzees follow the steps faithfully. The interesting thing is when the box is transparent. None followed suit. They all went straight for the door. So the chimpanzees are clever.

Now, compare that to 16 children when given a transparent box (the object to retrieve is different, not food!). 80 percent of the children imitated the steps. Are we dumb compared to the chimpanzees?

For an explanation, read the rest of the article. For my view of the story, scroll down.

We, human, can learn without knowing the objective of the action behind it. So we just need to memorise all the steps involve first and figure that out later. This is hardwired in us. Hence, the importance of first person experience and the power of that first person experience compared with the other form of experience. The fine balance between these various experiences are critical for us to become the most successful spices on Earth.

Friday, 3 February 2006

How to make Wikipedia better (and why we should)

via OLDaily

By the very name of the website (Online Journal Review), we can almost guest the initial position of the author. Stephen is right that if Wikipedia has adopted the suggestions

forcing editors to register, demanding references and reasons for changes, clearing copyrights for all materials prior to posting

there is only marginal improvement to the quality and will also kill the project in the first place.

There are several facts which I like to draw your attention before you come to any conclusion.
  1. In terms of rate of error, Wikipedia and Britannica has no statistically significantly difference [Nature Magazine's research released last December]. So the current process of producing articles have roughly the same quality of those by paid "experts" picked by non-domain editors as the "self-nominated" wikipedia contributors.
  2. In terms of speed of correction to reported errors, Wikipedia has a significant advantage compared with Britannica.
  3. In term of scope or coverage, it is generally agreed that Wikipedia, given that it has no size limitation, has a boarder coverage with significantly more content.
  4. In terms of speed of reacting to news (e.g. 2004 Tsunami), Wikipedia was reported to be very good. [I heard Jim Wales talked about this in one of the podcast, but I can't find the reference right now.]
  5. As I have argued earlier, today's information is dynamic and changing quickly. "When there is no SINGLE best manifestation of any knowledge, the next best thing we can have is a dynamic manifestation of that knowledge domain, maintained by the community involved with that knowledge domain and have a short self-correction cycle."

One comment I would like to make on the 6 suggestions is about the last one. "Settle copyright disputes before questionable material is published" First of all, I believe citing material in wikipedia falls within the fair use provision. Secondly, if there is any large scale copyright violation, that can be remedied in short life-cycle, unlike print medium in which withdrawal is lengthy and problematic.

The roleplay continues ... a letter from a teacher

Dear Mr. Doo,

I taught John Doo (year 11) Information Technology and I am also the Information Technology Co-ordinator in the school.

Mr. Doo, let me assure you that John is a very good student. He is smart, diligent and polite. He will be successful in life if he continues with his effort. Please also let me tell you that the school is putting a lot of effort in support Information Technology, that's why there is an Information Technology Co-ordinator post here.

My fellow teachers in the school, as our new Principal Mr. Ip points out are very enthusiastic about helping our kids learn. As a younger member of this great group, I have great respect to the professionalism and I truly learnt a lot from fellow teachers. However, I do recognise that, as is the same in the outer community, there are some people more keen to adopt new technology and there are some who want to wait to see and will only take that on board when clear advantages are demonstrated. This is true both for teachers AND students.

Our school benefits from a wide range of cultural background. Some hard-working family likes yours. Others have enjoyed a little more success earlier. I have noticed that this diverse background has actually offered good opportunity for us. I have spoken with Mr. Ip and have come up with the following plan.

We are going to form an Information Technology Brigade (ITB) comprising myself and a group of student volunteers who are proficient in Information Technology. The aim of ITB is to support our teachers and other students in their individual projects in using Information Technology. I already have a very enthusiastic response and have ITB set in motion.

The first activity, to be held next Monday after school, is to have a group of students teaching our teachers how to use PowerPoint - a software which we can use in our class daily. This is exciting stuff, Mr. Doo. It also demonstrates the professionalism of our teachers. I already have three teachers signed up!

As the teachers get more comfortable with Information Technology, the flow-on effect to our students population is huge.

Mr. Doo, we are working it.

We will not let John down. It has been a pleasure teaching him and I believe he will be able to learn all Information Technology skill here.

Yours sincerely,

Thursday, 2 February 2006

Angry parent hits back to the new principal

Hi sir,

Damn you cunning fox. Me read Mr Warlick say that good marks don't cut it. He say that you school fail me kids even me kids have good scores - me believe him.

Me wife, when young, want to be a typist. She spend money learn to type and have a job for a few years. Now, no one is hiring typist. World changes, man! Even poor guy like me know. You, highly learn man must know that. Don't bull shit to me poor people. Help me kids. Please, me beg you.

Mr. Jakes is rich, rich man! He kids have everything. Me poor. That's why me have me kids in you school. Me dunno computer. Me no computer at home. What me kid will do in future? Me poor, but me donna want me kids poor. Please help them. Please.

Father of John in Grade 11

The Futility of the 'War on Terror' and Bush's Apocalyptic Agenda

from How to Save the World

Dave Pollard asks the question:

If just half of the money that the Bush regime has spent on overseas wars and 'homeland' security since 9/11 had instead been spent on medical research, anti-drunk-driver technology, and improving health, education and infrastructure in the poorest areas of America, how many lives would have been saved, and, compared to that, how many more 'terrorism'-related deaths would have occurred on American soil?

His analysis is brilliant, but the result is saddening.
Such a vision fills me with sadness, and the thought of the bloodshed its realization would require horrifies me. But I understand it. It is the apocalyptic conservative's nirvana, a realization of 'right makes might'. I don't think I could live in such a dreary, controlled world. But maybe, if I was born into one, and if it were the only life I knew, I might think differently.

In the meantime, enjoy America while it is solvent, and your Internet before it is taken away. And get ready for the next volley, the War in Iran -- a neocon explains why, in social conservative thinking, it's imminent and inevitable.

In the piece, Dave said
The real brilliance of the horrific attacks of 9/11 was not their high death toll or visual spectacle, but their ability to provoke a knee-jerk reaction in American conservatives that a recurrence of those attacks must be prevented at any cost. ...
The alternative to Bush's futile extravagant spending and foreign adventures would be to do almost nothing, to admit that the liberals were right all along...

Unlike my business partner, I have no political science knowledge. I don't really know that there are only two choices for the Bush administration when faced with 9/11. I certainly know that there is another way, a much better way to reduce the chances of being attacked again and again. It lies, in Dave's words
to prevent violence is to remove the causes of human misery that lead the unhinged to extreme nothing-left-to-lose actions

Are there concrete highly visible steps to show that the US are doing something to help remove the homeland security risks while winning more votes? Yes, there is. And it is much cheaper and effective too. The following alternate may not win the votes from the military industries, but will win lots more votes from the other sector of the country!

As in Dave's introduction question: put a small portion of that money "on medical research, anti-drunk-driver technology, and improving health, education and infrastructure in the poorest areas of America" saves lives, a lot of American's lives. It is a step in the right direction, but it does not reduce the homeland security risks.

In the next 24 hours, 20,000 people 50,000 people* will die: about 8000 children dead of malaria; 5,000 mothers and fathers of tuberculosis and 7,500 of AIDS. [source: The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs, second paragraph of the introduction]. To stop that, the UN estimated that the world will need about US$15B per year - that's a small fraction of the money spent on "war on terror" which itself is a war of terror!

Stopping Bin Laden to "create a single Islamic fundamentalist state from West Africa to Indonesia" [from Dave's post] cannot be achieved by creating more hate between the rich and the poor. We can stop Bin Laden's ambition by showing the people in the poor countries that there is a different way of life, there is hope and there is opportunity. By helping the poor people to be financially independent, by helping them to build a sustainable community, by education and by accepting diversity as a way of the new global order.

*figure from

Wednesday, 1 February 2006

Some pointers to continue the role playing

The last post Letter to the Parents ... conversation continues continues the role playing started by David Warlick at 2 Cents Worth. I believe it is a worthwhile game to continue and I invite you to join. (This is role playing and there will be no winner nor loser, but I think everyone will enjoy this very much.)

Think in the shoe of the president of the Parent Associations, as an officer in the District, as teachers of the school, how would you respond? What can you suggest? What are the paths available under the current situation to advance your agenda (every one has a public agenda and a private agenda.) Push your agenda and hopefully we can find a way out of this mess.

Please monitor mine, David Warlick's and David Jakes' blogs. If you like to join this role playing, please leave a comment and provide us with a pointer. BTW, David Warlick and David Jakes, would you like to continue the role playing? I hope you will.

Letter to the Parents ... conversation continues

from 2 Cents Worth

Last week, David Warlick, role playing a school principal sent a letter to the parent admitting that the school has failed to provide the necessary education to the children and apologised to the parent. [It was a very honest and sincere letter. Please read.]

A fellow blogger David Jakes replied as a parent demanding the fictitious principal to take some action. [Another good read.]

I was looking forward to another reply from Warlick, unfortunately, the reply was

Mr. Jakes,

I appreciate your note and the concern you have for your son, who is entering the university next year. I wish that I could bring about the changes that we agree are needed. But I'm afraid that I lost my job as principal last week, and will be coordinating the district's bussing program until the end of the school year.

This was the most realistic response Warlick can think of. If that's the case, it is truly a very sad situation.

So, as the incoming principal, I am (role-playing) sending this letter to all parents.

Dear Parents,

Our former principal Mr. Warlick has done a great job leading our school to its current high academic standard. Sadly, he has left for a post in the district and I am taking up his post.

In the last letter to parents, Mr. Warlick pointed out a number of short-coming which we should be dealing with directly. One of our supportive parent Mr. Jakes actually wrote in and demanded that our school and fellow teachers to take up the challenge. I totally agree.

I believe every member of our community will agree that our teachers are the best in the country. They are caring and really interested in the education of our children under our care. Their dedication and professionalism are evidence from the good results your kids have achieved in the past and current years. They are performing beyond what is required from them already. I can assure you that I and my staff shall continue to do our best to ensure that your kids, our students will excel in all the standardised tests as mandated by the federal government. This strategy will mean that your kids will have good scores necessary to enter any chosen fields, be it further studies such as entering universities or entering the work force.

Under the current award system and the resource restriction, we shall continue to work closely with the Parent Association to address your concerns. Please don't hesitate to contact me while you are in school.

Yours Sincerely,