30 September 02003

#1 My Neil Young Archives

Over fifteen years ago, I spent some evenings and weekends writing a couple of articles about Neil Young. I was particularly interested in demonstrating the links between some of his 'genre' songs and particular approaches to film-making, which seemed to influence some of his work.

These articles were published in the Broken Arrow Neil Young fanzine and its 'best of' compendium, and were subsequently cited in a Neil Young biography (I was chuffed to find my name in the index between Jefferson Airplane and Jennings, Waylon!).

I spent part of last weekend producing a revised version of the first of these articles, aiming to correct some errors of emphasis in the original. If you have any interest in Neil Young, please have a read of the article and post a comment about it here. The companion article will follow onto this site in a few weeks.

29 September 02003

Seb Schmoller's Online News Service

It's probably past time that I gave a plug to Seb Schmoller's fortnightly mailings, but better late than never, and the current issue is an especially good — and quite representative — mix of general learning and specialist e-learning features, plus news of an interesting conference, and comment on the prospects for improvement in the World Wide Web and other technology applications. From either of these pages, you can sign up to receive a email reminder when a new mailing is posted, with the headlines of the topics covered.

You may say that my recommendation of Seb's site is based on croneyism — we frequently collaborate — but I maintain that I choose my croneys carefully, and Seb is one of the best.

25 September 02003

Text and Index: supporting the reading of culture

In 1987 when I made my second, eventually successful, attempt to read Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, I started keeping notes. These notes comprised a brief précis of the developments in each passage and the cast of characters (new and reappearing) involved. I have a good memory but I needed this charting to keep track of the multiple enfoldings and criss-crossing of the narrative.

My recent web searching shows that I was in good company, and there are a very rich set of online and offline resources devoted to helping readers get more out of this book.

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22 September 02003

Learning through social relations

While looking for something else, I came across the book Learning Relations by Alexander M. Sidorkin. As a Russian emigré living in the US, the book applies the social emphasis of theorists such as Vygotsky and Bakhtin to the current educational establishment in the west (and particularly America).

I've only read the first chapter, available for free on the web, which reviews the way education is organised in society. In a counterpoint to my earlier posting based on Charles Handy's article, Sidorkin sees formal education as an example of the division of labour in society. 'Learning activity' he defines, apparently obtusely as 'the production of useless things' — but part of what he means is that doing things wrong is part of the necessary learning required to do things right. Educational institutions serve the purpose of splitting off this 'useless' production from mainstream production in the rest of society.

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19 September 02003

#1 Reasons to live in England

I love Chumbawamba. The first thing that impressed me was their snappy way with a title, releasing first album Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records after Live Aid, and following it with Never Mind the Ballots... Here's the Rest of Your Life to coincide with the 1987 General Election (you can now get both of these albums on a single CD for less than a tenner).

What's impressed me ever since is the mix of joy and seriousness that they bring to their music as well as their politics. It's not an obvious journey that they've taken from punk-pop in the 1980s to the a cappella folk performance they gave tonight at the Barbican (notwithstanding a glorious version of the Clash's Bank Robber), but it's an English journey, and in the process they're renewing the country's culture, making it a better place to live.

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16 September 02003

Kafka Lite

sample page from Peter Kuper's book, copyright 2003 The Crown Publishing Group Peter Kuper's 're-imagining' of Kafka's Metamorphosis as a graphic novel (you know: comic for grown-ups) has in turn been excerpted as an entertaining animated multimedia sequence (requires Flash). Worth a look if you have three minutes to spare.

With acknowledgement to Booksurfer where I found this.

15 September 02003

Apprenticeship, and what is e-learning really good for?

Charles Handy, in his article in the August 2003 RSA Journal, argues for more emphasis on learning-in-the-world and less on learning-in-an-institution. The latter is often given more weight for the simple reason that it is easier to measure. Though often, as Handy says, the measurement relates to how well the learner is prepared to progress into more institutionalised learning, rather than progression in the world.

The article never mentions e-learning explicitly yet it is easy to read much of it as an argument against the tide of recent fads in just-in-time learning and knowledge management:

I have never had much faith in "warehoused knowledge" — the idea that we can learn something, store it away and pull it out when we need it.

Handy's gist is also in keeping with Hubert Dreyfus' critique of online distance learning. This critique is expressed at length in Dreyfus' book On the Internet (see a review of this book).

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12 September 02003

Pensions Solutions in the Creative Sector?

When I was 12 and Kate Bush was enjoying her fourth or fifth week at Number 1 with Wuthering Heights, my dad told me that the smart move was not to have a Number 1 single, because all your earnings would be concentrated into a short period and you'd lose them all in tax (the top tax rate at the time was 83%). It would be much better, he said, to write something like a school text book that would sell in steady amounts year-in, year-out, creating a regular income under the radar of the Inland Revenue.

I remembered this when I read that Paul Morley earns a farthing every time Charlie's Angels — Full Throttle is shown or trailed. The film uses a song, which samples another song, which Morley co-wrote twenty years ago. An unexpected little earner to help him feed the electricity meter.

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8 September 02003

In Dreams, I Walk With Metadata

Last night I had one of those out-of-the-body dreams, waking up with the feeling that I'd been contacted by some alternative form of intelligence.

Looking back in the cold light of day, I realised that this form of intelligence was in fact a parable for standardised metadata, a viral meme with a whiff of the occult about it.

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6 September 02003

Robert Wilson at Sadlers Wells

Robert Wilson makes theatre like none other I have seen. I can't think of anything I've seen on a theatre stage that's captivated me more than his Saints and Singing show in 1998. So I'm very much looking forward to seeing The Temptation of St Anthony next Thursday.

Digital Film Distribution: mitigated success

BBC News tells the story of the first official launch of a feature film on the internet which apparently was a victim of its own success — or more precisely the success of its promotion — on its opening yesterday evening. "Overwhelming demand from the public to see the movie caused the site's streaming facility to crash."

The film is This is Not a Love Song, but whether or not it is working again now, I can't tell you because the site tells me "This is not Windows". Damn right. You have to have an operating system and application software from Microsoft, so the multiplex mentality is still present in essence if not in the practical details.

Mind Your Head festival, South Bank

This festival of six concerts has the more revealing strap-line of Exploring New Meanings in Sacred Music.

Most interesting to me are the shows by Carter Tutti and Current 93 on 9th October, and by Acid Mothers Gong and Damo Suzuki on 21 October.

Carter and Tutti were members of the soon-to-reform Throbbing Gristle, while Damo Suzuki was the much-feted singer in Can during their 1970s krautrock heyday.

5 September 02003

Multimedia Soundtoys 1996/2003

Writing my review of the multimedia elements of the Tate E-learning portal reminded me of another review I wrote seven years ago. Back then CD-ROMs were still seen as new and a bit experimental. I thought there was a rich vein to be mined at the point where new multimedia 'toy' and game interfaces were used to make/manipulate/re-mix music. I thought the Header CD-ROM from Tui Interactive Media was the best example I'd seen of this at the time.

I hoped to stir up some of my comrades in the Usability/Human-Computer Interaction professions by championing something quite different from the interactive 'systems' we were used to working on. I failed in that and my other objective, but before I go into the details, and how things have changed in this field since 1996, here's the historical article, originally published in the British HCI Group's Interfaces magazine.

Review of Header #1 CD-ROM, September 1996

This CD-ROM challenges much of the received wisdom about usability and multimedia. From the opening screen — where the menu choices swirl in orbit and depth of focus, challenging you and the cursor to 'catch' one of them — it confounds conventions of user control and user feedback. This can be a risky tactic, and many recent multimedia titles have sacrificed even basic usability in the name of innovation. But with Header the risks mostly pay off. In the process, it presents its musical content in a range of settings which subtly reframe our ideas of what recorded music is, and what interaction with music can be.

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2 September 02003

David Kelly and the Baha'i Faith

Interesting to see the attention given to the Baha'i Faith since it has emerged from the Hutton Enquiry that David Kelly joined the religion in 1999.

I nearly became a Baha'i in 1995, intrigued to learn more after attending a Baha'i wedding, and again in 1999. In crude terms, the Faith is non-sexist, pacifist and internationalist, actively encourages co-operation with all other religions, and its organisation is — in management-speak — flat and fairly non-hierarchical. It's also committed to avoiding what might be called evangelical recruitment methods to grow its numbers: no emotional arm-twisting or moral blackmail.

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Tate E-learning — a quick critique

After other dot.com models have been (sometime over-hastily) discarded, e-learning still has that sense of being a 'public good' that, coupled with vestigial fashionability, makes it irresistible to many public/subsidised organisations.

The Tate now has an 'e-learning portal'. But learning about art collections isn't the same about learning how to make MS Office software do what you want, or, say, GCSE English.

I'm not aware of any major arts/culture organisations partnering with with educational institutions to offer full accredited courses by e-learning (if you are, please add a comment to this post). Mostly they dip their toes in the water by taking bits of their archives or collections and putting a thin wrapping around those bits to turn them into in 'digestible packets'. The design is driven by the content available rather than a coherent programme of learning objectives.

With those prejudices of mine in mind, the rest of this post is made up of reviews of a few elements of the Tate's e-learning resources.

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