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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Half formed ideas...

Yesterday I admitted to being pathetic and not blogging because I didn't have anything I felt worth saying.

Today is a new day and I thought I would relish the fact that I am not a politcian. One of the things that frustrates me most about politics is that it tends towards the mean. Unless you can keep the idea hidden or secret, anything that you want to do has to survive the polarising glare of the red top media. As a result many politicians develop the ability to avoid saying anything in case it is held against them.

The reason I celebrate not being a politician is that I am happy to admit that I am wrong. And coming up with half formed ideas and having them knocked down by people who know better is a brilliant way of learning (and this form of informal rapid prototyping should be at the heart of new approaches to learning design). It is better to take lots of small risks than to take a few very big ones.

Last week I had a fascinating conversation in the pub about our current economic gloom. It started off with the obvious and general, "Dear me, isn't it dreadful... Government doesn't seem to have a clue... Bloody bankers..." your everyday superficial and shallow comments.

Until someone said,

"OK, it's alright criticising Gordon Brown for putting our children's future in hock but what would you do?! Would you have let Northern Rock go down? Or HBOS?"

This was followed by a pause in which everyone actually thought about it (good start!). Then we ventured ideas, everyone contributed and things were batted about. And I learned a couple of new things.

My thesis was I would reinvent FDR for the 21st century and spend on major public works that were in the long term benefit of the country, major rail network, renewable energy sources to make the country energy independent, etc. Until it was pointed out to me that most renewable energy sources still cost too much: wave power doesn't work yet (see great article in the Economist), nobody in the country wants wind turbines in their gardens (an example of my favourite new acronym BANANA - Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) and solar power takes 15 years to break even.

This being a conversation in a pub I immediately and shamelessly shifted my investment plan to nuclear power. I'm not one of those who thinks the way to save our planet is a return to pre-industrial society although it was interesting to hear James Lovelock (father of the Gaia hypothesis and exponent of using nuclear power) on the radio yesterday saying that it was all OK, the earth would survive and so would humans provided that about 6 billion of us die...

Interestingly, for the £12.5 the goverment gave away in the VAT reduction before Christmas, one could have built about 8 nuclear power stations.

So what would you do if you were Gordon Brown?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Why blog?

I have not been blogging much recently for a number of reasons but perhaps the biggest reason is that I have not felt like I have anything interesting to say. On reflection this runs against my whole rationale for this experiment as I laid out in my first post, that blogging for me is a way of ensuring reflective practice, which is at the the heart of learning.

So not blogging because I didn't have any completely formed ideas is a bit of a cop out. The point being that this is precisely where I should put my half formed ideas in the hope that by writing them down I may develop them and that people who agree or disagree may comment and thus add to the process. (for more reasons to blog please see Tony Karrer's excellent collection)

Many of the things I have learned in the last 9 months have come from this. Having the courage to put thoughts up in public and risk being laughed at (which doesn't hurt anywhere near as much as you might think) means you come across new ideas or developments faster than you would imagine.

I may have written about this before but finding people who change the way you think on certain subjects is one of the joys of life. Many years ago when I was still at university I went on holiday to America to stay with one of my new friends. Because American universities start earlier than British ones I was able to spend a couple of weeks in Washington DC experiencing life as an American student. My friend lived in a very poor neighbourhood in the north of the city which had a large number of homeless people congregating near the metro exit.

As a middle-class left-wing (ish) student I felt very guilty about just being there on holiday spending money on my credit card whilst these people begged for food. One day I bumped into a friend from home who was just returning from a year in Nicaragua with a Quaker peace mission. He came back with me to the apartment in Mount Pleasant and as we walked from the underground I told him about my guilt and how I always gave some of the change in my pocket to the homeless.

"All apart from this one up here", I said to him as we approached a particularly bedraggled old man, "He just sticks his hand out and grunts aggressively" I explained.

"Oh, so you're not giving him money because he isn't begging correctly?!" said Allan without missing a step.

Eurgh!

It hadn't occurred to me to even consider the effect that having to beg for food might have upon a man's dignity. And in less than 3 yards my opinion on something had been completely changed. I turned round and gave the man all the money I had in my pocket - which admittedly wasn't much.

I still cherish this moment 20 years later. There have been moments like it since but this is the easiest one to tell in a blog.

So I guess the message is this; not putting yourself in a position where people can challenge or disagree with you is only doing a disservice to yourself. As I have said before, what's the worst that can happen?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Making the change easier...

As an unabashed convert to the virtual world of informal and social learning, I have to keep reminding myself that we are still very much in the early adoption stage. The vast majority of people are unaware or uninterested in what networked change can do for them.

I spent about 20 minutes this morning recording some screen casts on Jing for a client (a marvellous tool for rapid deployment of information which is really easy to use) and thought I would share them here to help others get involved.

They deal with how to set up and start using a delicious account and how to set up and start using iGoogle and Google reader, which are all pretty near the top of Jane's list of e-learning tools. I have interspersed them with some short clips from Common Craft explaining each of the applications. All fairly basic stuff but for those of you lurking in the background it might show you just how easy it is.

[Note to any of my staff erading this: these links will be meaningless in thin client as you dont have sound so try them at home]

Social bookmarking in plain English (Common Craft)
Setting up a delicious account
Tagging web pages in delicious
Networking and sharing in delicious
RSS in plain English (Common Craft)
Personalising iGoogle with RSS feeds

If this prompts you to get involved, why dont you look me up on Delicious and add me to you network?