Designed for learning

learning – teaching – research – design – technology

Hackit & Bankwell: learn Linux from comix

hackit and bankwellYay! I never have to tell anyone how to install Ubuntu again. I can just send them this comic book (CC PDF).

Issue #1: Switching to Ubuntu – Print Version Available Now

This Issue is especially useful to power users who want to switch to Linux with Ubuntu!
Synopsis: Woody Hackett learns from his business partner, Jerome Bankwell, that they are the new owners of a documentary production studio that still uses Mastersoft, and that he will need to visit their facilities in the desert in order to teach them Ubuntu Linux. At “Interplanetary Pictures,” Woody shows their crew how to get started using the Ubuntu GUI following an installation. Guiding them through some basic software installation, Woody demonstrates to Kaori Soto and her associate Calvin Green basic ideas of GUI operation, so that they can use what they’ve learned to install other programs they might need down the road.

Well, to be honest, I never did have to tell anyone how to install Ubuntu. Just burn a CD and say “stick this in your drive and do what it says”. Still, nice art & it does run you through the history as well as basic ops in a cute way.

February 26, 2009 Posted by | open source, technology | , , , , | Leave a comment

brainbook roundup

I supose this was expected. The Susan Greenfield story is going through the usual dance moves, with the old media and new media playing their typecast roles (Radio 4, so I’ve heard, balanced and sensible. well, surprise).

So, some of the good coverage I’ve seen so far:

Aleks Krotoski has seen it all before, but can’t avoid four poignant comments and a few good links.

Ben Goldacre gives the story the solid bad science treatment it deserves, and pointing us to

Vaughan‘s review of the  relevant literature at mindhacks.

I have to quote:

He points out the Dr Sigman quoted a 1998 paper called “The Internet Paradox”. This paper did indeed find a (weak) relationship between internet use and depression, loneliness, etc. This was 1998, at the very dawn of widespread use of the web, but more importantly, the very same authors went back and looked at the very same families, and found that the effect had disappeared. That seems relevant to me, especially if you’re going to quote the 1998 results, Dr Sigman?

You can read the paper in full online as a pdf. It says “This sample generally experienced positive effects of using the Internet on communication, social involvement, and well-being.”

There is no excuse for not knowing about this finding. Type the internet paradox into Google. Go on, do it:

Flessisgrass shares some notes from a recent talk Susan Greenfeld gave at the Jewish book week, giving us a glimpse at what she might have actually said at the Lords’ (as opposed to what the DM reported).

Those notes, as do some of the commentators, bring up the TV vs. Internet argument. Worth mentioning Clay Shirky‘s talk and Nick Carr‘s response.

Finally (ht @paternosterlift) here’s some new data on how we twit. Sorta related, and my way of saying, right, nuf, move on.

February 25, 2009 Posted by | neuroscience, Social Software | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Carl Malamud want to be the Public Printer of the United States

Carl Malamud is asking for you to nominate him to the office of Public Printer of the United States.

Malamud tells the story of Gus Giegengack. Giegengack was a printer. When FDR was elected, he was inspired to take the role of public printer. So, he walked the land, gave talks, and asked people to send him letters of endorsement. When he had about 200, he sent them to the president and got the job. Malamud is doing the same, but using the web as his stage, and as his postbox.

As he says:


So here’s my vote: the man’s actions speak. If this is how he runs his campaign, I believe him when he says he’ll reboot .gov, and the sooner the better.

February 25, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

facebook will eat your brain

update: I don’t mean to suggest that this is what Susan Greenfield actually said. I have no knowledge of that. This only refers to the media recounting of her message.

or your children’s. so saith neuroscientist Susan Greenfield, according to the Daily Mail (ht @josiefraser).

Typical neuro-media: “Games make children violent” is not news. We’ve seen that one before, and probably by now most people are over it. But hey – we’re not talking about behaviour. We’re talking about your kids’ Brain. Let me spell it out: washing the dishes changes your brain. Dumping the rubish changes your brain. Its called memory, learning, experience. Anything you do that leaves the tiniest imprint, well, changes your brain, duh.

Ok, so we’re back to “social networks / video games make you Autistic, narcisistic, hyperactive, ADD, violent” (Lady Greenfield pretty much says it all) but hey, someone did some fMRi to prove that? wow. this is interesting! er, not exactly:

‘I often wonder whether real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitised and easier screen dialogues’

Lady Greenfield told the Lords a teacher of 30 years had told her she had noticed a sharp decline in the ability of her pupils to understand others.

She pointed out that autistic people, who usually find it hard to communicate, were particularly comfortable using computers.

Hard-core science. My favourite is the bit about Autism. I mean, are you suggesting that it is an acquired deficiency, or that FaceBook is affecting our genes? Or maybe this is a matter of natural selection? Survival of the fittest for facebook? Never mind evidence. What exactly is the argument here?

One more thing, can’t help noticing the imagery.

Exhibit A: Mark Zuckerberg. Young, American CEO. Grinning in a corporate frame. He will steal your kids souls and sell them to shareholders wholesale.

Exhibit B: robot child, faceless. lonely. surrounded by electronics. mechanical pose. Looks like we’ve lost this one.

Exhibit C: the concerned Lady Greenberg. Closeup, kind eyes, gentle smile. Lots of books in the background – hardcovers, of course. Our saintly mother, she will save us.

And they say bloggers rejoice in low standards. (ht @kevglobal) (and ta @clarionjulie for reminding me to add the link)

February 25, 2009 Posted by | games, neuroscience, Social Software | 2 Comments

cows in love?

I’ve been playing around with, trying different words. Of all the things I tried, the one word where the UK dominated was –


Now, what is going down in Nigeria?


And the one word with the most uniform global spread?

February 24, 2009 Posted by | technology | Leave a comment

two new publications: cases to patterns, formative e-assessment

Scoping a vision for formative e-assessment: a project report for JISC

Norbert Pachler and Harvey Mellar and Caroline Daly and Yishay Mor and Dylan Wiliam and Diana Laurillard Institute of Education, WLE, (2009)

Assessment is an integral part of teaching and learning. If the relationship between teaching and learning were causal, i. e. if students always mastered the intended learning outcomes of a particular sequence of instruction, assessment would be superfluous. Experience and research suggest this is not the case: what is learnt can often be quite different from what is taught. Formative assessment is motivated by a concern with the elicitation of relevant information about student understanding and / or achievement, its interpretation and an exploration of how it can lead to actions that result in better learning. In the context of a policy drive towards technology-enhanced approaches to teaching and learning, the question of the role of digital technologies is key and it is the latter on which this project particularly focuses. The project and its deliverables have been informed by recent and relevant literature, in particular recent work by Black and In this work, they put forward a framework which suggests that assessment for learning their term for formative assessment can be conceptualised as consisting of a number of aspects and five key strategies. The key aspects revolve around the where the learner is going, where the learner is right now and how she can get there and examines the role played by the teacher, peers and the learner.

Dealing with abstraction: Case study generalisation as a method for eliciting design patterns

Niall Winters and Yishay Mor Computers in Human Behavior(2009) Available online 14 February 2009 .
Developing a pattern language is a non-trivial problem. A critical requirement is a method to support pattern writers with abstraction, so as they can produce generalised patterns. In this paper, we address this issue by developing a structured process of generalisation. It is important that this process is initiated through engaging participants in identifying initial patterns, i.e. directly dealing with the ‘cold-start’ problem. We have found that short case study descriptions provide a productive ‘way into’ the process for participants. We reflect on a 1-year interdisciplinary pan-European research project involving the development of almost 30 cases and over 150 patterns. We provide example cases, detailing the process by which their associated patterns emerged. This was based on a foundation for generalisation from cases with common attributes. We discuss the merits of this approach and its implications for pattern development.

February 23, 2009 Posted by | London Knowlege Lab | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tom Stienberg wants £1,000,000

Tom Steinberg wants £1,000,000. And I hope he gets it. have been leading a quite revolution. Not only have they set up some of the most effective sites of civic empowerment, but they have also inspired other worldhackers across the world. Now they want to scale up. As Tom says, quoting David Lloyd-George: “You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps”. (I love that quote. I think I’m going to adopt it as a motto).

What’s the chasm? Surprisingly familiar. Tom knows how to make a system that “holds people’s hands through the process of lobbying for more serious changes at a local or national level” but those systems have two components: a bit of code, and a huge chunk of his time. Code is cheep, and there’s a lot of people who can do it good. Tom is unique. Its the same problem we’re facing at the Pattern Language Network. If you want your project to exceed the limits of your personal capacity, you need to take yourself out of the equation. Create systems that do not require your presence to work. And that, my friends, is expensive.

February 20, 2009 Posted by | technology | Leave a comment


@JonathanPoole and I met at the Duke of York last night to talk about social media, collaboration, investment banking, and things we’d like to do together. Jonathan reflected on the sensation of joining twitter, and similar systems (like Yammer) and compared it to Hypomania.

I found that very powerful. First, I could definitely relate to that analogy. Consider some of the symptoms:

  • pressured speech; rapid talking
  • inflated self-esteem or grandiosity;
  • decreased need for sleep;
  • flight of ideas or the subjective experience that thoughts are racing;
  • easy distractibility and attention-deficit

Sounds familiar? Well, here’s the good news:

People with hypomania are generally perceived as being energetic, euphoric, visionary, overflowing with new ideas, and sometimes over-confident and very charismatic. […] A person in the state of hypomania might be immune to fear and doubt and have little social inhibition. People experiencing hypomania are the typical “life of the party”. They may talk to strangers easily, offer solutions to problems, and find pleasure in small activities.

Not bad. And yes, it does resonate with a lot of the behaviour I’ve seen on Twitter. But there’s a dark side as well.

  • increase in psychomotor agitation; and
  • steep involvement in pleasurable activities that may have a high potential for negative psycho-social or physical consequences (e.g., the person engages in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments).
  • (sometimes) emotional flattening or blunted affect.

Is this a mere analogy or is there a correlation between involvement in certain social media and a psychological condition? Could this explain why some people jump in with glee and others simply can’t be bothered? Or maybe twitter induces a sort of momentary pseudo-hypomenia? If so, will prolonged exposure lead to personality change? Either way, I see this as an important warning:

People in hypomanic episodes do not have delusions or hallucinations. They do not lose touch with reality in the sense that they know who they are and what is real. What can be a problem, however, is that they tend to overestimate their capabilities and fail to see the obvious risks involved in their ventures. For example, if they are in business, they may suddenly decide to expand in a way that is not really practical or set up schemes for which they are ill prepared.

Recently I’ve found that for me, the right way to use twitter is to uninstall any client, and instead open the twitter site for a limited time when I choose to. That allows me to modulate both the time drain and the emotional / cognitive impact. It might be that such a tactic allows me to experience the joy of “twitter-induced pseudo-hypomania” without suffering the consecuences. I simply bail out before I do something stupid. Granted, I’m probably less of a party star this way. Perhaps there’s a pattern here.

February 19, 2009 Posted by | technology | , , , , | 4 Comments see how its done

My post on has generated some interesting comments. I guess that’s what an RT from @Tim O’Reilly does.

So how do world-hackers self-orgenise? Ning? FaceBook? Elgg? BaseCamp? PBWiki? yeah, maybe. later. but if you want to get something going quick, cheap and fast – nothing beats the good old mailing list. When it comes to social action, email is still the killer app (I’m getting dangerously close to looking like a Clay Shirky fan site).

One thing I like about that mailing list is that its completly open. All the backstage chatter is out in the open. Radical tranparency. But then, anything less would not be true to form..

February 16, 2009 Posted by | technology | , , , , | 2 Comments

Clay Shirky: No, *you* shut up!

(title nods at Clay’s 2006 talk)

Charlie Beckett hosted Clay Shirky at the LSE a couple of weeks ago, and the Podcast is now available for download.

I couldn’t make it to Clay’s talk, but luckily, due to the snow (remember the #uksnow?) some of his interviews were canceled and he generously found some time to have coffee with Niall Winters and me.

Not surprisingly, the conversation turned to design patterns. Clay reminded us of the work he did a few years ago on moderation patterns. Sadly, the original moderation patterns wiki is down. But yay for the waybackmachine, here’s an archived copy.

There’s more than 40 patterns there, dealing with issues of digital identity and managing social dynamics for collaboration / conversation platforms. You would think that at the rate of current technology development, most of these would be obsolete. At the time they where written, nobody had heard of opensocial or OpenId. Yet they are surprisingly relevant. The reason is, that they deal with the social aspects of technology, not with the code. And as fast as technology may change – human nature is reletively stable.

Example? login with email. Have you noticed how more and more sites let you use either a username or login? The rationale for this has nothing to do with technology. Asking us to remember a user name and password for more than seven sites, give or take one, is ignoring the structure of human memory. That may be changed by technology, but marginally.

Social dynamics are much more complex than we tend to realise, which is why most social software is autistic. Its not a fault of the programmers that facebook’s friends featrue looks like this. Anyone (well, any 20 year old male) who would be asked to model the concept of friendship would come up with something similar. What we need is a serious and prolonged attempt at capturing the design patterns for social / participatory media.

But the death of the moderation patterns wiki holds a warning. Sustaining such an effort is not easy. It required institutional, personal and collaborative commitment. That, in turn, relies on the ability to show a constant stream of valuable outputs. I don’t have an answer to that, but its definitely something we’re thinking of as the pattern language network project nears the end of its life.

As for the moderation patterns themeselves, we’re looking into the options for giving them a new home. By the way, my personal favorite is use email.

February 14, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment