30 December 2006

The Two Marks Federman

Today is my daughter's birthday (Happy Birthday, sweetie!) and we decided to make a quick trip to New York City last week as a pre-birthday present. She wanted the opportunity to explore Chinatown, SoHo and other parts of lower Manhattan (and in particular, the bargains!) so we thought that some shopping and a show over a couple of days would make for a nice getaway. While we were there, we took her through the Lower East Side, once the centre of Jewish immigrants to New York, and pretty much the only place to find a bargain. Thirty years ago, we made the pilgrimage to the Lower East Side for linens, kitchen appliances (models that were then only available to the trade could be had on Grand Street), electronics and photography equipment - not to mention fashions, leather goods, hats, shoes... you name it! Alas, the Lower East Side of yesteryear is no longer. Chinatown has expanded northward and eastward from Canal Street up to Delancey, and only remnants of Jewish landmarks and artefacts remain - what was once most likely Epstein's Deli is now Epstein's Bar on Allen Street.

Russ and Daughters AppetizersThe other reason we wanted to take the walk from our hotel in Chinatown up to East Houston between Allen and Orchard was to visit a particular deli that specializes in various types of smoked fishes, herrings and the like, and is renowned for its caviars. I'm speaking of Russ and Daughters Appetizers, the proprietor of which is a fellow named Mark Federman. That's right. Whenever I do a Google search on my own name I have inevitably shared the first page of hits with "the other" Mark Federman who is the third generation of the Russ family (Russ on his mother's side) who has run what has become an institution on the Lower East Side since 1914.

The two Marks FedermanWe entered the store and first met Mark's daughter Niki who, with her cousin Joshua, is now taking over the day-to-day business. Apparently, my namesake now keeps "banker's hours." When we finally met her father later in the day, he greeted me with, "so YOU'RE the strategic thinker!" It seems that Google-searching one's name works both ways. Is there a physical likeness? Neither of us knows whether we are actually related. One thing for sure, though - his bord is alterer than mine!
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20 December 2006

Voting Reform in Ontario

The following email from Fair Vote Canada is reprinted in its entirety:
An Open Letter to Fellow Ontarians:

Is the idea of fundamental democratic reform so frightening that Ontario’s major media are afraid to cover the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform? Your guess is as good as ours, but the headline above summarizes their apparent attitude. The unfortunate result is that most Ontarians remain unaware of an unprecedented and historic opportunity to dramatically reform Ontario’s political system.

What’s the Big Deal With the Citizens’ Assembly?
The Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, composed of 103 randomly chosen voters, has been empowered by the Government of Ontario to study and recommend a new provincial voting system. Their recommendation will be put to Ontarians in a referendum to be held next fall.

What’s At Stake?
Political power. The future direction of our province. Legislation on issues like health care, education, the environment. The voting system matters. It matters a lot, because the voting system allocates political power, creates parliaments and determines who forms governments. That in turn determines who calls the shots on issues that affect our families, our communities, our society and the environment.

How Bad is the Current System?
It’s intolerable. Ontarians (and all Canadians) suffer the effects of using the world’s worst electoral system – first-past-the post. Typically, a party gets about 40 percent of the votes, wins 60 percent or more of the seats and then wields 100 percent of the power, as though it had a majority mandate. Meanwhile opposition voices are diminished and other minority voice are completely shut out of the political process. In each election, millions of Ontarians cast wasted votes that elect no one. Results are so distorted the last time we elected a legitimate majority government – one actually put in place by a majority of votes cast – was in 1937.

Are There Better Ways to Vote?

Yes. Almost all major Western democracies scrapped first-past-the-post voting last century, and adopted voting systems designed to treat all voters equally and give fair and proportional election results. More than 80 democracies now use these fair voting systems. Each has developed a version to fit its own distinctive political culture and geography. Ontario can do likewise.

What Are the Key Dates for Our Democracy Revolution?
The Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform will issue its final report by May 15. If the Assembly recommends a new voting system, Ontario will have a referendum on that recommendation on October 4 in conjunction with the next provincial election. The Citizens’ Assembly members have invited Ontarians to tell them what electoral values and principles matter most to you and/or what type of voting system you would like to have. Between now and January 31, citizens can make their views known through online submissions or by attending and speaking at one of the Assembly’s public consultation meetings.

What Can You Do To Make It Happen?
Fair Vote Canada, through our Fair Vote Ontario campaign, is leading the fight to encourage the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly to recommend a fair voting system based on proportional representation. When the Assembly does, we will then lead the Yes campaign for the October 4, 2007 referendum.

Here is what you can do between now and January 31:
  • Most important: forward this email to friends and other email lists!
  • Check the Ontario Citizens' Assembly website. Review their public consultation guide.
  • If the Assembly is holding a public meeting in your community, plan to attend, take your friends, and speak up.
  • If you cannot attend a meeting, submit your comments on the Assembly’s web site, encouraging Assembly members to scrap first-past-the-post and recommend a new, fair voting system.
  • Visit the Fair Vote Canada and Fair Vote Ontario websites. Learn more about the issues and our campaign.
  • Volunteer to help the Fair Vote Ontario campaign and help win the October 4 referendum.

Democratic reform is a do-it-yourself project for citizens. We cannot depend on the media or those in positions of power to lead the democracy revolution. It’s up to us! Let’s do it!

Yours for a strong democracy,
Larry Gordon
Executive Director
Fair Vote Canada
26 Maryland Blvd.
Toronto, ON M4C 5C9
Voice: 416-410-4034
Fax: 416-686-4929

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19 December 2006

After Security Theatre...

... comes the AccuTerror Forecast, courtesy of Bill Maher. [Technorati tags: | | ]

Pervasive News Proximity

McLuhan called it the global village; I refer to our times as being characterized by UCaPP - Ubiquitous Connectivity and Pervasive Proximity. In contrast to Gertrude Stein's famous "there is no there there," the UCaPP concept suggests that there is no there at all, since everywhere is here, that is, what happens there affects me in a real, complex - albeit indirect - way here. In my work, I speak of a Theory of Effects that necessitates stepping out of an ego-centric standpoint to (begin to) understand the totality of effects that we each enable and bring about around us. Think of it as a digiSelf out-of-body experience, during which we step out of ourselves into a cognitive anti-environment that allows us to observe all of - or at least more or - what we contribute to our complex world.

The same thought processes and principles should apply to the newsmedia, as well. Although most of us are surrounded by more news and information than we can possibly assimilate in a conscious fashion (think of all the newspaper boxes with their screaming headlines, public space news screens, news tickers, not to mention news and political blogs that invade our consciousnesses each day), much of it is essentially linear. Each story follows the previous one, usually ordered by some editor or producer somewhere, that silently suggests causal connection (the latter being an artefact of literate linearity - the way we with Western cultural conditioning have learned to construct narrative). Newspapers (in their day) were a prime exception to this rule; McLuhan observed, "People don’t actually read newspapers. They step into them every morning like a hot bath."

Today, what is needed might be a gestalt of the news - something that scans the various news sources and presents the news of the moment in a way that can be instantly grokked - not necessarily the content, mind you, but the relationships and effects. Two that have been around for a while - one of which just recently came to my attention - are Newsmap and 10x10.
Newsmap is an application that visually reflects the constantly changing landscape of the Google News news aggregator. A treemap visualization algorithm helps display the enormous amount of information gathered by the aggregator. Treemaps are traditionally space-constrained visualizations of information. Newsmap's objective takes that goal a step further and provides a tool to divide information into quickly recognizable bands which, when presented together, reveal underlying patterns in news reporting across cultures and within news segments in constant change around the globe.
Newsmap does not pretend to replace the googlenews aggregator. Its objective is to simply demonstrate visually the relationships between data and the unseen patterns in news media. It is not thought to display an unbiased view of the news; on the contrary, it is thought to ironically accentuate the bias of it.

Every hour, 10x10 scans the RSS feeds of several leading international news sources, and performs an elaborate process of weighted linguistic analysis on the text contained in their top news stories. After this process, conclusions are automatically drawn about the hour's most important words. The top 100 words are chosen, along with 100 corresponding images, culled from the source news stories. At the end of each day, month, and year, 10x10 looks back through its archives to conclude the top 100 words for the given time period. In this way, a constantly evolving record of our world is formed, based on prominent world events, without any human input.
But, of course, prominent world events - and their complex, interlocking relationships - are all about human input.

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14 December 2006

A Path to Middle East Peace

Last evening, I had the opportunity to view a remarkable video called Knowledge is the Beginning. It tells the story of a youth orchestra organized by Maestro Daniel Barenboim, an Israeli, and Edward Said, a Palestinian intellectual, philosopher, author and professor. The two men brought youth from throughout the Middle East together to make music, yes, but more important, to create a venue in which each can understand the other, and thereby, eliminate "the other" - that is, the ignorance, fear, myths and ideologies that create "otherness," fear, and hatred.

Both men are lauded by some for the incredible courage it takes to defy their respective establishments, and decried by others. In one shameful scene in which Barenboim is accepting the prestigious Wolf Prize for the Arts in Israel's Knesset, he is criticized by the Minister of Education for "attacking Israel" merely by reminding the assembled audience of the principles enshrined in Israel's own declaration of independence; a member of the audience holds up a crude, hand-drawn sign saying, "Music Macht Frei," a reference to the gates of the Auschwitz extermination camp. And that scene - with the reciprocal attitudes among many Palestinians and leaders of other Arab countries, sums up the attitudes that create the never-ending impediments to peace.

But Barenboim says (in this clip from the movie) that the orchestra is not an orchestra for peace, but rather for understanding. And that, I think, is the key: individuals from all sides must first understand one another and appreciate the circumstances that has created "the other." Through understanding comes an appreciation, from appreciation comes valuing the relationship, from relationship comes engagement, and finally, from active engagement in a valued relationship comes peace.

I believe that peace will never come from the current generation of leaders - especially those that are directly or indirectly responsible for indoctrinating fear and hatred. The seeds of knowledge will be sewn by individuals like Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said who do what they can in their relatively small spheres of influence, to create conditions in the next and subsequent generations of leaders that may ultimately lead to sustained peace and prosperity for all. Halavai!

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12 December 2006

The Why of My Research

My friend, Leigh, blithers (her word, not mine) about business morality in a networked world. She ponders,
It seems to me that ‘networked morality’, like many things on the Web, occurs at a much more dramatic pace than we have been traditionally used to. The network effect with word of mouth and now user created content, can create a new social norm within months, weeks or even days. Something that might have been ok in the past, gets rejected in no uncertain terms as the network discloses, discusses, debates and determines what the new norm will be.

How will business change to adapt to this or even can they?
Her pondering struck a resonant chord for me and prompted me to post this response:
Nothing new here, Leigh. Marshall McLuhan was writing about these effects in 1964. The rest of us have woken up at varying times between then and now - now, of course, the effects of a UCaPP society are obvious and all around us.

For me, the question is not how will they adapt, or can they adapt. I think the issue is far more profound than adapting, since adaptation suggests keeping fundamental assumptions about the (prior) world while being assimilated by the new. For me the key question is, when will businesses (meaning managers and professors of business) truly realize that the changes of the past 50 (and I would argue, 162) years represent such a profound change to an industrial age mentality that the foundational assumptions, vocabulary, and premises of business must be carefully reconsidered, reframed, and reoriented? For me, it is only incidentally a question of morality if you're into value judgements.

We experience far more than we can understand; our reach (influence) always far exceeds our grasp (understanding). It is long past time that we collectively start to think of the totality of effects as the primary focus of business, rather than results.
That is (one of the reasons) why I'm doing what I'm doing. In my view, we - business-folk, politicians, many activists, and capitalists, socialists and anarchists alike - collectively have been far too "results oriented," with results being defined in a very narrow context. The world has always been interconnected and complex, with the events in one place effecting changes elsewhere. For most of human history, the speed with which those effects traverse the face of the planet and the realm of humankind has been almost undetectably slow. We are now living at a time in which the complex interactions of this finite, closed system that we jointly inhabit are observable, often in real time, and most certainly well within an individual lifetime. As McLuhan spoke about a global village in which what happens there affects me here, because there is no longer a there, everywhere is here - it is long past time that we collectively question the fundamental assumptions of the prior era, the mechanical, industrial era. It is time for our grasp to at least approach our reach.

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Non-talking Head

This video of the fabulous magician/mime Jerome Murat is making the viral video rounds. A masterful performance, delightful humour, and a surprise ending!

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10 December 2006

Wikis, Usenet, and Conversations

This morning, my son made an offhand comment that wikis have replaced Usenet (and similarly structured threaded forums) for fandom. Ten years ago, fans of a particular television series would head to a Usenet forum right after the broadcast to talk about the plot, the characters, the romances and the intrigues. I used to follow X Files myself, and happily joined in the rehashing of the episodes.

Today, the threaded forum has been surpassed by the wiki, with free, open source wiki software available for download and installation, and free hosted sites providing the technical underpinnings. If you're a fan of Battlestar Galactica, the Stargate series (I happen to like Atlantis), Lost, or the now-defunct but fabulous Firefly, there's a wiki and a community for you.

My son's comment struck me not so much for its connection with fandom, but for its connection with pedagogy. By far and away, the overwhelming majority of cyber-education around the world is delivered via threaded forum software, such as Blackboard, WebCT (now owned by Blackboard), WebKF (a home-spun favourite at OISE), and similar programs. Even if a particular "learning management system" has the capability to offer a wiki environment, it is usually set aside in favour of the more familiar threaded forum.

Why have the fans taken to wikis? Perhaps it's because wikis are more effective at enabling group conversations, discovery and emergence of knowledge than are threaded forums. Coincidentally, I've just finished a paper that examines the effects of threaded-forum pedagogy, and its problematics for adult learners. In the paper, I observe:
Rather than participating in anything that resembles true discussion and collaborative knowledge creation, students effectively state their own opinion for the benefit of the instructor (not to mention the benefit of their marks that are assigned by the instructor), without drawing from the collective knowledge and views of their cyber-classmates, as would happen in face-to-face engagement in a physical classroom. Thomas (2002) sums up these observations by stating:
There was little on-going development and exchange of ideas in any of the discussion themes. Rather, the disjointed and fragmented individual contributions were abstracted in space and time from other students’ contributions. … This incoherent structure of the discussion threads is not compatible with a truly conversational mode of learning. From this analysis it is evident that the virtual learning space of the online discussion forum does not promote the interactive dialogue of conversation, but rather leads students towards poorly interrelated monologues. (Thomas, 2002, p. 360-361; emphasis added)

As Klemm observes, this is a situation circumscribed by the technology itself:
Threaded-topic design typically requires the cumbersome process of opening and closing many messages. There is no way for students to create in-context links from within a given message or to insert text or multimedia into any jointly prepared document, because there are no jointly prepared documents. … Indeed, "discussion" is probably the wrong word to use for this activity, because posted messages are more like monologues. (Klemm, 2002)
Instead, I advocate for a move away from the dominance of a threaded-forum style cyber-education to a form that would be an instantiation of pedagogical praxis that might inform the selection of technology and specific implementation design for a cyber-education environment that is consistent with adult education principles. Thomas observes:
The challenge is for interface design which promotes a more coherent structure and true many-to–many interaction in the virtual learning space. … The online discussion forum has become a ubiquitous element of Internet-supported flexible delivery of education, it is apparent that it might not be the best technology to support the interactive and collaborative processes essential to a conversational model of learning. These new developments must involve the redesign of both the technological support tools and curriculum structures to support collaborative learning processes. Accordingly, such innovation would emphasise the implementation of learning tasks that promote collaborative engagement towards knowledge development and problem solving. It is perhaps this route that may prove to be the most productive means of realising truly conversational modes of learning, given the inherent problems involved in traditional online discussion. (Thomas, 2002, p. 364)
Over the next semester, I'll be analyzing the postings for the cyber-education course we ran in the fall on the History and Theory of Organization Development. The course was architected in a wiki environment and necessitated a very different mindset for the participants - some of whom were able to adapt, and some, apparently, were not. In addition, I'll have the opportunity to help out in configuring the technological environment for another cyber-education course (an action learning practium course) involving both wikis and blogs during the winter semester. Watch for the full paper late in the spring.


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The Best (and Worst) of Ideas, 2006

Each year, the New York Times Magazine selects the "peaks and valleys of ingenuity — the human cognitive faculty deployed with intentions good and bad, purposes serious and silly, consequences momentous and morbid." The result ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, but almost unanimously fascinating. From proposals for renewed, not to mention redecorated, democracy, to new ways to travel, from changes to our basic assumptions about the economy, to tracking money (and its implication for tracking pandemics), even in virtual economies and online auctions; there's the new pitcher, and the new catcher. A little something for everyone.

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01 December 2006

More Good from Zune

The other day I thanked Microsoft for the Zune (okay, so it was a bit of a backhanded compliment). Well, today I was visiting the Best Ads on TV site (which is a great resource if you are doing media theory or media literacy, or simply love the better TV ads for their story-telling), and came across this weird entry, called "Eyes." My sardonic thought was, "and he'll only be able to see for three days." But the judge for the week's best ad pointed to a delightful site called Zune Arts. Apparently, the agency handling the Zune launch, 72andSunny, "enlisted artists to create experimental short films inspired by Zune. The campaign gives the digital media player a much more interesting personality than iPod." I particularly like "Bitter:Sweet." It's the one with the big Transformers-style robot made out of scrap junk standing beside the little girl wearing the Viking helmet.

72andsunny also handled the Xbox launch, including the absolutely brilliant "Standoff" ad.

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