Hope is optimism with a broken heart. Nick Cave ‘Faith, Hope and Carnage’

I stumbled upon Faith, Hope and Carnage via an interview Nick Cave did with Richard Fidler. There was a part of me that thought I knew Nick Cave. Maybe this was from following his blog, The Red Hand Files, or just the nature of him as an artist. However, there was something about the conversation with Fidler that really caught me. That lead to reading the book.

Faith, Hope and Carnage is a meandering on and off conversation between Nick Cave and journalist, Seán O’Hagan, captured on the page through fourteen chapters. Beginning at the start of the 2020 and carrying on through to the end of 2021, Cave walks through the process of creativity as it happens, as well as reflecting upon the death of his son, grieving, life and music. It is very much a pandemic project brought about by the strange times.

It really did feel like the end times had arrived, and the world had been caught sleeping. It felt as though, whatever we assumed was the story of our lives, this invisible hand had reached down and torn a great big hole in it.

Cave goes into how he wrote Ghosteen, the writing of Carnage, the creation of his ceramic figures and The Red Hand Files. He reflects upon the change to a more disruptive narrative after his son died, “narratives pushed through the meat grinder.” Cave also talks about the various inspirations, such as Stevie Smith, Elvis, Flannery O’Connor, and Rodin.

Built around conversation, the book seemingly goes where it goes. I imagine in another world, it might have been scrubbed of its contradictions, repetition and edges, but I feel that it is this disjointed nature is what makes it special. It provides an extension to Nick Cave the musician, extending the usual approach to his music to the actual text. Just as he explains that the wider “creative process is life and all it brings”, in some ways this all or nothing approach applies to the act of creativity.

Strangely, Faith, Hope and Carnage is a book that would not have worked any other way. The conversational nature allows the book to go to places and explore topics that might have otherwise be cut by the editor. It really feels like sitting in on a personal conversation. I think this is epitomised by the conversations about his mother or Anita Lane who both died midway through the project.

O’Hagan tries to structure the conversation. For example, there are times when he brings up old quotes which demonstrate this. However, as each chapter unfurls the topics stretch beyond any sense of expectation. Capturing this generosity, Richard Fidler describes the book as an ‘act of kindness’ for the reader.

Throughout, there are many themes explored:

Grief

Although grief involves ‘some kind of devastation’, Cave explains that grief often defines who we are and how we see the world. Working through this is usually about getting on top of the small things. On the flipside, grief provides a gift and opportunities, a ‘reckless’ and ‘mutinous’ energy, a sense of ‘acute vulnerability’, defined by the fact that the worst has already happened. In the end, we may not have a choice over life’s circumstances, however we do have a choice as to how we grieve.

A choice, a kind of earned and considered arrangement with the world, to be happy. No one has control over the things that happen to them, but we do have a choice as to how we respond. Page 103

Life

Like the gift of grief, for Cave, ageing is about growing into the ‘fullness of your humanity’, continuing to be engaged and respecting the ‘vast repositories of experience’. One experience that leaves its mark on us are those who die, leaving us like ‘haunted houses’.

I think these absences do something to those of us who remain behind. We are like haunted houses, in a way, and our absences can even transform us so that we feel a quiet but urgent love for those who remain, a tenderness to all of humanity, as well as an earned understanding that our time is finite. Page 148

Alongside the respect for experience, Cave suggests we need to celebrate regret as a sign of self-awareness or embracing uncertainty and the world of possibilities. We also need to be able to make mistakes and with that forgive.

We need to be able to exist beyond disagreement. Friendships have to exist beyond that. We need to be able to talk, to make mistakes, to forgive and be forgiven. As far as I can see, forgiveness is an essential component of any good, vibrant friendship – that we extend to each other the great privilege of being allowed to be wrong. One of the clear benefits of conversation is that your position on things can become more nimble and pliant. For me, conversation is also an antidote to dualistic thinking, simply because we are knocking up against another person’s points of view. Something more essential happens between people when they converse. Ultimately, we discover that disagreements frequently aren’t life- threatening, they are just differing perspectives, or, more often than that, colliding virtues. Page 246

However, the greatest challenge is to keep turning up again and again.

if I look back at my past work from the certainty and conviction of the present, it appears as if it was a series of collapsing ideas that brought me to my current position. And what’s more, the actual point I’m looking back from is no more stable than any of the previous ones – in fact, it’s being shed even as we speak. There’s a slightly sickening, vertiginous feeling in all of this. The sense that the ground is constantly moving beneath your feet? Yes, exactly. So how do you deal with that? Well, I have learned over time that the creation itself, the thing, the what, is not the essential component, really, for the artist. The what almost always seems on some level insufficient. When I look back at the work itself it mostly feels wanting, you know; it could have been better. This is not false humility but fact, and common to most artists, I suspect. Indeed, it is probably how it should be. What matters most is not so much the ‘what’ as the ‘how’ of it all, and I am heartened by the knowledge that, at the very least, I turned up for the job, no matter what was going on at the time. Even if I didn’t really understand what the job was. Page 247

This reminds me of Austin Kleon’s book Keep Going.

Religion

For Cave, religion is ‘spirituality with rigour’. With this, faith and God are the search itself, where God is both the ‘impetus and the destination’, and the question is itself the answer. He suggests that religion often serves a utility beyond sense.

Why would I deny myself something that is clearly beneficial because it doesn’t make sense? That in itself would be illogical. Page 78

For example, It provides a language of forgiveness often missing in secularism.

Challenged on his belief, Cave argues that scepticism and doubt are actually a means of strengthening belief. Interestingly, Cave talks about prayer as a form of listening.

Prayer is not so much talking to God, but rather listening for the whispers of His presence – not from outside ourselves, but within. It’s kind of the same with the questions that come in to The Red Hand Files. I think they are singularly and collectively trying to tell me something, which may just be ‘I am here’. I think they reflect my own needs. There is an exchange of a sort of essentialness, wherein we attend to each other through a sharing of our collective need to be listened to. Page 190

Music

For Cave, music is about transcendence, spiritual yearning and the sacred essence. It fills our ‘God-shaped hole’, our desire to ‘feel awed by something.’ It has the ability to ‘improve the condition of the listener’ by uniting people and ‘putting some beauty back into the work.’

Music is one of the last great spiritual gifts we have that can bring solace to the world.Page 204

Reflecting upon his current process of writing music, Cave discusses the way in which he makes music from the disparate parts found through improvising.

The nature of improvisation is the coming together of two people, with love – and a certain dissonance. Page 57

Associated with this, Cave talks about the ‘ruthless relationship’ he has with his initial ideas and his willingness to discard words.

the lyrics lose their concrete value and become things to play with, dismember and reorganise. I’m actually very happy to have arrived at a place where I now have an utterly ruthless relationship to my words. Page 15

He actually suggests that he has a physical relationship with his words and knowing what is right. This all reminds me Jon Hopkins’ process of building something to destroy it.

Surprisingly, writing music for Cave is not continual, but a deliberate time-based process. Something that reminds me of Mark Ronson who I vaguely remember suggesting that it was time to write a new album regarding Uptown Special. With this, the challenge with a new project is getting beyond the easy residual ‘deceiving ideas’, to “write away from the known and familiar”.

I tend to find that when I first sit down to write new songs there is a kind of initial flurry of words that appears quite effortlessly. They seem to be right there, at hand, so there is a cosiness about them, a comfortableness. And because they aren’t too bad, really, you immediately start thinking, this is all going to be easy. But these are the deceiving ideas, the residual ideas, the unused remnants of the last record that are still lurking about. They’re like the muck in the pipes, and they have to be flushed out to make room for the new idea, the astonishing idea. I think a lot of musicians deal in residual ideas, because they’re seduced by the comfortable and the familiar. For me, that’s a big mistake, although I can understand the temptation to create something reassuringly familiar. And, in a way, the whole industry is set up to cater to that – to the well-known or second-hand idea. Page 144

All in all though, Cave explains that songs change when played live, it is when the fullness presents itself. A record is only ever one part of that journey.

Creativity

Cave talks about the way different mediums, such as The Red Hand Files or The Devil – A Life series of ceramic figures, allow him to step outside of his expectations.

My best ideas are accidents within a controlled context. You could call them informed accidents. Page 23

He explains that it is important to have an element of risk, such as taking on new and challenging projects or just being naïve, to produce creative terror that helps drive things forward.

I think to be truly vulnerable is to exist adjacent to collapse or obliteration. Page 45

The problem is that ideas often slowly rise and hold hands, with the gap between boredom and epiphany being very close. Astonishing ideas usually require faith and and patience. Sometimes ideas just need air in order to prove their validity. This is why conversation is so important. In the end though, although writing music may start with a ‘date in the diary’, Cave explains that the wider creative process is life and all it brings.

I really don’t think we can not talk about it if we are talking about the creative process. It’s simply part of the whole thing. The creative process is not a part of one’s life but life itself and all that it throws at you. For me, it was like the creative process, if we want to call it that, found its real purpose. Page 104

This reminded me of Damon Albarn’s description of ‘creativity as a condition.’


What I liked about the book is that in itself it felt like a form of conversation with the reader. With Cave seemingly changing stride mid-sentance, the reader is invited in almost as an equal. This had me thinking myself about grief and the importance of being vulnerable.

Additionally, I appreciated seeing a different side to Cave, not a real side, but a different presentation of ideas and thought. I think that this is also captured by the Cave and O’Hagan in the epilogue:

O’Hagan: I thought I kne you

Cave: I didn’t know that either until I opened my mouth.

I had a similar experience with Damian Cowell’s Only the Shit You Love podcast and Jarvis Cocker’s Good Pop, Bad Pop.

Written during lockdown, it also provides a reflection on life lockdown during lockdown as it happened, not as some retrospective. The initial positive potential to be able to do nothing, to put aside our issues, but then the growing frustration of such strange times.

We blew it. We squandered it. Early on, many of us felt that a chance was presented to us, as a civilisation, to put aside our vanities, grievances and divisions, our hubris, our callous disregard for each other, and come together around a common enemy. Our shared predicament was a gift that could potentially have transformed the world into something extraordinary. To our shame this didn’t happen. The Right got scarier, the Left got crazier, and our already fractured civilisation atomised into something that resembled a collective lunacy. For many, this has been followed by a weariness, an ebbing away of our strength and resolve and a dwindling belief in the common good. Many people’s mental health has suffered as a consequence. Page 154

I cannot remember the last time I read a book where I wanted to begin again as soon as I had finished it. I wonder if this says as much about me as it does about the book and Nick Cave.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

The Web is binding not just pages but us human beings in new ways. We are the true "small pieces" of the Web, and we are loosely joining ourselves in ways that we're still inventing. David Weinberger Small Pieces, Loosely Joined

Each year in my work, we ask the question as to how might we improve efficiencies associated with the end of year process. In the past I have created a database of school contacts, a process for generating timetables and a template for reviewing data. Two particular requests that were raised this year were the desire to reduce emails associated with updates and personalise correspondences sent to schools.

A Dashboard of One’s Own

In the past we used to have a dashboard with a dropdown as to who completed each task for each school. The problem with this was two fold. One, schools had no visibility to where the end of year process is at as this was only visible to support staff. Two, there was a lot of dependency on emails to know where things are at.

Associated with this, we shared a template with each school which included form allocations. My solution was to create a tab in the school template with a checklist that provided schools with clarity where the process was at and then pull this information into a shared spreadsheet so that the support team had an understanding where things were at. The challenge with this was to create and collect the templates in an efficient manner.

The process for generating the templates in the past was to manually create a copy using the /copy method and then sharing this with schools. This always felt cumbersome. I wondered if there was a more efficient method for creating the templates. I also wanted a more efficient method for collecting all the links. I remember Alice Keeler created a Google Sheets Add-on for making a copy of rubrics, so I knew that it was technically possible. Googling the problem, I found a video (and template) from Carl Arrowsmith that walked through using Google Apps Script to make multiple copies of same file.

What I like about finding such resources is getting into the code and unpacking how it all works, and then making my own changes, especially when the person sharing leaves various notes within the code to guide you. I have always wanted to dig further into Apps Script, but never really found the time to start from scratch. A couple of changes I made was including the school name and school number in both the template and title of the document. You can find a copy of my updates here.

Once I had made the changes, I generated a template for each school. This not only created all the copies, but also provided a copy of each URL in the spreadsheet. I then brought this list back into a dashboard and imported the checklist using the following formula:

=TRANSPOSE(IMPORTRANGE("school spreadsheet","Sheet1!B3:B")

In addition to adding conditional formatting to highlight whether the task was complete or waiting, I added a status cell to provide an update at a glance:

=IF($S2=FALSE,"Waiting on Support",IF($T2=FALSE,"Waiting on School",IF($U2=FALSE,"Waiting on Support",IF($V2=FALSE,"Waiting on Support",IF($W2=FALSE,"Waiting on School",IF($X2=FALSE,"Waiting on Support",IF($Y2=FALSE,"Waiting on Support",IF($Z2=FALSE,"Waiting on Support",IF($AA2=FALSE,"Waiting on School",IF($AB2=FALSE,"Waiting on Support",IF($AC2=FALSE,"Waiting on Support",IF($AD2=FALSE,"Waiting on Support","All Complete"))))))))))))

Although this summary did not provide details about who completed each task, it did however provide more visibility. I guess you can’t have everything?

Personalising Emails

The other improvement related to sending out an email to 300+ schools. In the past we would just use an Outlook template. However, as each of the emails contained a unique link, this no longer worked. As I had a list of these links in a spreadsheet, I worked out that I could just create a unique email for each school, with the link being a variable:

="Dear to whom it may concern,</code></p>
Below you will find a link to the Google Sheet.</p>
"&Sheet1!R4&"
Instructions for filling in this information can be found in the End of Year guide.</p>
School Support"

It then occurred to me that as I had a list of the staff associated with each school that maybe I could replace the cold ‘Dear to whom it may concern’ with ‘Dear NAME’. The problem I was faced with though is that I had all the names in one cell, with each on a new line:

Mahatma Gandhi

Virginia Woolf

Fiona Hardy

My first step then was to SUBSTITUTE the new line (CHAR(10)) with a comma:

=SUBSTITUTE(C4,CHAR(10),", ")

However, I was then left with the following:

Mahatma Gandhi, Virginia Woolf, Fiona Hardy

My next task was to somehow replace the last comma in the string with an ‘and’. Unsure how to go about it, I went online and found a REGEXREPLACE on the Infoinspired website that achieved the desired outcome:

=regexreplace(A1, "(.*),", "$1 and")

This then provided me with the following:

Mahatma Gandhi, Virginia Woolf and Fiona Hardy

I then wondered if I could somehow remove the surname and leave only the first name in the list. After scratching my head for a while, I wondered if I could QUERY the list and select only the names that were not followed by a comma. I found the following REGEX formula:

"^[^,]+$"

I subsequently, SPLIT and TRANSPOSED my list of names and used a QUERY with a match containing the REGEX formula.

=regexreplace(SUBSTITUTE(JOIN(", ",QUERY(TRANSPOSE(SPLIT(SUBSTITUTE(C4,CHAR(10),", ")&","," ")),"SELECT * WHERE Col1 MATCHES '^[^,]+$'")),CHAR(10),", "), "(.*),", "$1 and")

Returning to my email template, I then replaced the ‘to whom it may concern’ with the formula. This meant I could quickly and easily create an email that addressed the actual users and included their spreadsheet.

="Dear "&regexreplace(SUBSTITUTE(JOIN(", ",QUERY(TRANSPOSE(SPLIT(SUBSTITUTE(C2,CHAR(10),", ")&amp;","," ")),"SELECT * WHERE Col1 MATCHES '^[^,]+$'")),CHAR(10),", "), "(.*),", "$1 and")&",
Below you will find a link to the Google Sheet.
"&Sheet1!R2&"
Instructions for filling in this information can be found in the End of Year guide.
School Support 

Providing the following outcome:

Dear Mahatma, Virginia and Thomas,

Below you will find a link to the Google Sheet.

UNIQUE LINK

Instructions for filling in this information can be found in the End of Year guide.

School Support

I am sure there are more efficient ways to achieve the same outcome using different applications that I do not necessarily have at my disposal. For example, it would be even better to automatically send the the email from the Google Sheet, rather than copy and pasting the text into Outlook. I also must be honest, even though I completed Ben Collins’ REGEX course, I still have not got my head around it all yet, but I feel that the first point of learning is not always knowing how to do something, but actually knowing that it is possible.

As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

I snickered at QR codes because I couldn’t see any real use for them. It took a pandemic to reveal their serious utility. And while I generally avoid predicting the future, I suspect QR codes might be with us for a while, because they’re turning out to be extremely useful even outside of the realm of pandemic-adaptation. Restaurants are enjoying not having to print and reprint menus; contactless payments are super convenient even in situations where you’re not worrying about fomites. Clive Thompson ‘4 Lessons From the Improbable Rise of QR Codes’

One of the things that I often struggle with is with the purpose my online meanderings. Although I agree about ‘collecting the dots‘, it can sometimes be hard to justify in amongst the everyday hustle and bustle. However, again and again I find myself diving into something I read long after the fact.

Today I was testing barcodes with an electronic sign-in system. I had a Crystal Report which produces student cards that included a barcode associated with the ID. However, I found that although I could get them to work with the scanner, it was very fiddly and was far from optimal.

Knowing that any adjustments to the Crystal Report would take some time as it involved a number of teams and processes, I wondered if I could produce my own cards using a spreadsheet. I noticed that the third-party application used a QR Code when enrolling a new device which has really quick, so I wondered if I could also use a QR Code for the student cards. After doing an initial test with one student ID to confirm that QR Codes would work, I searched up a post from Ben Collins regarding the generation of QR Codes using Google Sheets. After exporting a test copy of the student data and importing this into the Google Sheet in Sheet1, I created a template where a QR Code was generated for the each student ID:

=ARRAYFORMULA(IMAGE("https://chart.googleapis.com/chart?chs=250x250&cht=qr&chl="&ENCODEURL(QUERY(Sheet1!A2:A,"SELECT A WHERE A IS NOT NULL")) ))

Then in the next column I entered the student details, including first name (Column L), last name (Column K), class/form (Column I), year (Column F) and ID (Column A). I also used Char(10) to separate this information onto different lines.

=ARRAYFORMULA(QUERY(Sheet1!L2:L,"SELECT L WHERE L IS NOT NULL")&" "&QUERY(Sheet1!K2:K,"SELECT K WHERE K IS NOT NULL")&""&Char(10)&"Class "&QUERY(Sheet1!I2:I,"SELECT I WHERE I IS NOT NULL")&" / Year "&QUERY(Sheet1!F2:F,"SELECT F WHERE F IS NOT NULL")&""&Char(10)&"ID "&QUERY(Sheet1!A2:A,"SELECT A WHERE A IS NOT NULL"))

I was then left with a list of cards, the problem is that I wanted to print two columns to a page. To achieve this I created two dynamic named ranges, one for column one:

"Sheet2!A1:C"&(ROUNDUP(COUNTUNIQUE(Sheet2!B1:B)/2))

And column two:

="Sheet2!A"&(ROUNDUP(COUNTUNIQUE(Sheet2!B1:B)/2))+1&":C"&(ROUNDUP(COUNTUNIQUE(Sheet2!B1:B)))

Then in a new tab I used the INDIRECT formula to bring in the two columns.

The last step was to adjust the printer settings. This included extending the margins and changing the scale to 55%.

Knowing that this would be used by different people, I made a copy of the template and deleted Sheet1 that could be used as a master. I then put together the following instructions for how it could be used from scratch.

  1. 1. Create a copy of the QR Code Google Sheet (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1lzfHDR9229g5xWTb16JPRjKDTBHlix1NmOTJE9fp-ck/copy)
  2. Import the student spreadsheet previously saved and Insert a New Sheet
  3. Click on Sheet2
  4. Click on Cell A1 and press Enter
  5. Click on Cell B1 and press Enter
  6. In Cell E2 add ‘=’ at the start of the formula
  7. In Cell F2 add ‘=’ at the start of the formula
  8. Click on StudentCards tab
  9. Click on FIle > Print

Not sure if anyone else has used Google Sheets for similar purposes. Comments appreciated.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Clay Shirkey on the need to continually rethinking our workflows

I have really been enjoying following Chris Aldrich’s exploration of note-taking, commonplace books and Zettelkasten. Whenever I read about the various ideas, I feel like I do not necessarily belong. Thinking about my practice, I never quite feel that it is deliberate enough. For example, I do not sort my book notes by colour or anything, I do not collate information using index cards to organise my thoughts and ideas, and I do not methodically reorganise my pieces. Yet, as I read about the different methods, I feel like I can see myself in there somewhere. What I wonder is whether note-taking is a constant practice or something that should evolve over time?

When I read about the various historical cases, one of the things that intrigues me are the origin stories that seem to be washed over. Did people find their particular flavour and stick to it for life? Or is it just history that provides that perspective? Aldrich himself reflects on his early experience of note-taking with index cards:

My own anecdotal experience of research and note taking with index cards dates to 1985 when, in sixth grade, I was admonished to take my notes on index cards so that I could later string them together in outline form to create a narrative.

Unlike these static stories of method, Aldrich’s personal journey seems like a case of trial and error. For me, his reflections documented in his blog tells a tale of what Angus Hervey describes as ‘holding on tightly and letting go lightly‘.

Don’t say “I’m right, and you’re obviously wrong.” Say “at this point, given all the evidence I’ve considered and having made a genuine effort to try and see if from the other side (point to some examples), the balance of the argument seems to rest on this side for these reasons, so for now that’s what I am going with. If new evidence, or a better argument comes along I am totally willing to change my mind about this, and I’ll also be pleased because it will mean I’ve gained a deeper understanding about the world.”

Aldrich always seems to be tinkering with a new process or application to work differently. As technology ebbs and evolves, he seems to work out what works and what does not. The process of coming up with the right workflow seems just as important as the workflow itself. In some ways this reminds me of Clay Shirky’s tendency towards ‘awkward new habits’.

I actually don’t want a “dream setup.” I know people who get everything in their work environment just so, but current optimization is long-term anachronism. I’m in the business of weak signal detection, so at the end of every year, I junk a lot of perfectly good habits in favor of awkward new ones.

This reflection makes me think about my own journey. Personally speaking, I have written before about my journey to being a ‘connected educator‘. However, I have always felt that focusing on people overlooks connecting through the page. With this in mind, I am taken back to a time when I used to collect clippings of reviews and readings inside books. This is a habit I inherited from my grandfather. For a time, this led to scanning documents to keep them digitally. I also kept a book of quotes. This was not really organised, more of a collection of random dots. Each of these acts could be seen as being a part of the journey to now.

In the end, just as defining digital literacies is as important as engaging with digital literacies themselves, I wonder if discussing and defining what we actually mean by concepts such as ‘commonplace book’ is just as important as the commonplace book itself?


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Privacy is like closing the curtains or blinds on a window in your house. Security is like locking the doors and windows on your house. Ian O’Byrne ‘Understanding the differences between privacy and security’

Below are my responses associated with the Cyber Security & Awareness – Primary Years (2021) MOOC. As is my way with MOOCs, I have dipped in and out of the course when time allowed.

Unit 2 – Computer Science Fundamentals

Explain what you think are some of the key differences between cyber security, cyber awareness and cyber safety. To what extent are you teaching these in the classroom or to what extend do you think they should be taught and why?

For me, Cyber Security is about the solutions and services that keep us protected. This might involve people and programs. It can be understood as being a part of what Ursula Franklin described as technology as a system:

Technology is not the sum of the artefacts, of the wheels and gears, of the rails and electronic transmitters. Technology is a system. It entails far more than its individual material components. Technology involves organization, procedures, symbols, new words, equations, and, most of all, a mindset.

Cyber Awareness on the other hand is having some knowledge and understanding of this system and how it fits together, while Cyber Safety is the action of this knowledge and understanding.

One way of appreciating this divide is to divide the topic between mindset and skillset. This is something that Doug Belshaw touches upon in his exploration of digital literacies.

For example, consider an application like Hapara. From the perspective of mindset and understanding:

  • Cognitively and confidence involves appreciating new ways of working. Although it may be more efficient, if you have been using GSuite, these are still habits to unlearn and relearn.
  • From a critical and civic point of view, it is important to consider why there is a need to manage learning at all and the consequences associated with such actions.

Whereas from the perspective of skillset and actions:

  • From a cultural perspective, Hapara posits that teachers are largely responsible for creating the conditions for learning.
  • Constructively, there is a blur between empowering students with the power to participate in actions and the dangers in excessively moderating their learning.
  • From a communicative point of view, GSuite allows a number of ways to engage, Hapara provides the means to manage and moderate this within different cultural norms.
  • Connecting with GSuite through the use of APIs, Hapara has the ability to both hinder and help the creative process depending on how it is deployed.

I have elaborated this more here.

Share with the community a way you would like to introduce networks into the classroom to make it tangible or visible for primary students. It could be using a resource you have found or your own idea or thoughts.

Two activities that I have used in regards to helping student appreciate networks are paper blogs and mapping the internet.

PAPER BLOGS

Students use the a template to create a paper blog post. They then post it on the World Wide Whiteboard.

Paper Blog Template inspired by Bianca Hewes

Students then walk around the room and read the posts leaving various data traces, such as:

  • Tick to mark they had read the post.
  • Star if they liked the post.
  • Sticky Note with a comment

This was adapted from the work of Bianca Hewes.

MAPPING THE INTERNET

In response to Marc Prensky published two articles in 2001 in which he coined the terms digital native and digital immigrantDavid White and Alison Le Cornu offer a more fluid typology with their notion of digital visitor and resident.

When in Visitor mode, individuals decide on the task they wish to undertake. For example, discovering a particular piece of information online, completing the task and then going offline or moving on to another task.

Where as:

When in Resident mode the individual is going online to connect to, or to be with, other people. This mode is about social presence.

Students are given a copy of the the map of the internet and are asked to plot the various spaces they exist in online and where they sit along the continuum.

This is activity is useful for thinking about the networks they are a part of and the way in which their data is spread across the web.

Thinking about this activity now, it is interesting to consider this in regards to cyber awareness and what data we share even when we are just ‘visiting’.

Share an activity idea or classroom resource that you have found online or created yourself that involves primary students exploring private and public information sharing. It could be a video, lesson plan, storybook, song or anything else!

One resource that I have found really useful in exploring the divide between public and private sharing has been blogs using Global2/EdublogsStudents created blogs focusing on a passion. The sites were viewable by other students in the class, but not anybody outside of that. These were all connected by a classroom blog, which was made public. This served as a resource as well as a example. For me, the interconnected nature of these sites allowed students to interact through the Dashboard Reader, helping create something akin to a social media space. Blogs served as a tool to learn with in that students were able to share their ideas and learnings, as well as learn about sharing information, both private and public, and how we interact with this information.

Unit 3 – Information Safety and Security

We have shared a few examples of how information can be extracted from data (such as in your images). What are other ways humans can leave traces of information with the use of technologies? Share an example or examples with the community.

Some other examples of where information can be extracted from data include:

What other interesting examples of codes from history or the modern-day (digital or non-digital) can you find to inspire or support a lesson about encoding and decoding messages?

For those wanting to go to the next level in regards to encryption could look at the Enigma Machine from World War II.

This coding machine used by the Germans in World War II involved a two step process. Firstly, the machine itself had a keyboard which once pressed ran a signal through a number of variables, including rotors and plugs, which helped to scramble the code. This all depended on a second documented which stipulated how the rotors and plugs were to be set. So in order to break the code you would need both the machine and the current configuration. In some ways this has similarities with private and public encryption, where somebody maybe able to get access to the ‘public’ machine, but unable to make any sense of this without cracking the ‘private’ configuration.

Paul Scruton has visualised how the Enigma Machine worked in this Guardian infographic:

Workflow for how the Enigma Machine worked

While Tom MacWright has created a virtual model of the machine which allows the user to not only configure the machine and enter a message to be encrypted, but also follow the signal as it passes through the various stages.

Find and share a resource to support teaching students in primary years about information sharing or safe communication. Include a brief description.

COMMENTING ON BLOGS

When introducing blogging in the classroom, I used to follow up my focus on paper blogs with a focus on commenting and communication. This began with a ‘turn and talk’ about why we communicate online? I would then watch Linda Yollis’ video on quality comments.

After watching this, students worked together to complete a Found Out, Made Me Think.

Once the class had thought about comments, we created a set of guidelines which were then used in the creation of a rubric that students could be used as a reference. To support this students refereed to the Rubric for Rubrics to help them.

BIE Rubric for Rubrics

What mattered most for me was creating a space where students could learning through the experience of commenting, especially as some of my older boys were already engaging in 4Chan, meme and trolling culture. Therefore, this rubric was something that we returned to regularly as particular situations arose.

Thinking about this now in regards to the challenges of moderation on social media (see posts about YouTube and Facebook), I wonder about extending this by discussing what changes they would make if they were moderating comments for every class in the school (or even whole world) and what a digital solution for this might look like?

Unit 4 – Internet Security

What are some primary-friendly “scam scenarios” that you could use in the classroom for encouraging students to critically think about messages they receive? Create your own “fake scam” to share with the community so they can try and spot the tell-tale signs!

Rather than Nigerian prince or stranger danger, I think that the best scam that children need to learn to be aware of are the surreptitious scams they learn to live with every day. These are what Harry Brignull coined as ‘dark patterns‘.

Dark Patterns are intentional user interfaces to trick you into doing something. As Brignull explains:

Normally we think of bad design as consisting of laziness, mistakes, or school-boy errors. We refer to these sorts of design patterns as Antipatterns. However, there’s another kind of bad design pattern, one that’s been crafted with great attention to detail, and a solid understanding of human psychology, to trick users into do things they wouldn’t otherwise have done. This is the dark side of design, and since these kind of design patterns don’t have a name, I’m proposing we start calling them Dark Patterns.

In an interview with Brignull, Per Axbom and James Royal-Lawson provide their own definition of dark patterns as,

A gap between perception of what you are doing and the reality of what you have done. – 30 mins

While in Mike Monteiro’s book Ruined by Design, he argues that:

Dark patterns are the canaries in the coal mine of unethical design. A company who’s willing to keep a customer hostage is willing to do worse.

Arvind Narayanan, Arunesh Mathur, Marshini Chetty, and Mihir Kshirsagar suggest that such patterns have developed over over over time:

Although they have recently burst into mainstream awareness, dark patterns are the result of three decades- long trends: one from the world of retail (deceptive practices), one from research and public policy (nudging), and the third from the design community (growth hacking).

Harry Brignull has created a site dedicated to all things dark patterns, including a list of examples:

  • Trick questions while filling in a form
  • Sneak into the purchase basket
  • Roach motel
  • Privacy sharing
  • Price comparison prevention
  • Misdirection and distraction
  • Hidden costs
  • Bait and switch
  • Guilting users into opting into something
  • Disguised ads
  • Forced continuity
  • Friend spam

Colin Gray summarises these in a presentation on the dark side of UX design:

Alternatively, the research team at UXP2 have broken Brignull’s list down into five particular strategies:

  • Nagging
  • Obstruction
  • Sneaking
  • Interface Interference
  • Forced Action

In the end, Daniel Fitton suggests that what is most important is a critical understanding.

Dark design is used to influence our decisions about our time, our money, our personal data and our consent. But a critical understanding of how dark patterns work, and what they’re hoping to achieve, can help us detect and overcome their trickery.

The question is what this all means for young children. When you scroll through the abundance of examples shared in the subreddit community and in Brignull’s hall of shame, they seem beyond the world of a twelve year old, let alone a five year old. However, it could be argued that so many habits actually stem from what actually happens during the early years and how technology is approached. Thinking about this from the perspective of digital literacies, so much time is spent on skillsets, such as being creative and communicative, but mindsets, such as critical and cognitive thinking, are just as important.

Therefore, thinking about patterns in general, the focus at at F to 2 could be to explore the shapes and colours used in applications. Investigate the ways we represent information about applications using software and digital systems. Use software to create a positive and a negative representation of data. Investigate in-app purchases and the ways users are enticed to sign-up or purchase add-ons for additional features, like stickers and bonuses.

In 3 to 4, students might explore the different types of data engaged with in online spaces. This could include something like paper blogs and leaving physical dots to represent engagement. As well as continue to explore the representation of different types of data and information, including the application of ethical and social protocols.

In 5 to 6, students could form a definition of dark patterns and how they impact users. This could include the developing solutions which demonstrate such patterns. Associated with this, they might develop protocols for how to respond to such patterns.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Create or find a classroom resource that teaches students about creating strong passwords, passcodes or passphrases.

There is so much written about passwords, what makes a strong ones, how to go about maintaining them. For example, the Twinkl team recommends six rules:

  • include numbers, letters and symbols
  • use at least one capital letter
  • make it something you will remember but others won’t think of
  • make sure it has eight characters or more
  • never use obvious names or dates
  • never write down or share your password

While Charlotte Empey’s provides the following tips:

  • Stay away from the obvious
  • Make it long
  • Use a mix of characters
  • Avoid common substitutions
  • Don’t use memorable keyboard paths
  • Avoid using single words

Associated with these tips, she puts forward some particular strategies:

  • Revised passphrase method where you compose a phrase using bizarre and uncommon words a phrase that gives you a mental image.
  • The sentence method combines a random sentence with a rule that makes it gobbledegook.
  • Muscle memory method where a random group of characters is memorised as a pattern.

Micah Lee elaborates on the discussion of passphrases, discussing the Diceware method:

First, grab a copy of the Diceware word list, which contains 7,776 English words — 37 pages for those of you printing at home. You’ll notice that next to each word is a five-digit number, with each digit between 1 and 6. Here’s a small excerpt from the word list:

24456 eo
24461 ep
24462 epa
24463 epic
24464 epoch

Now grab some six-sided dice (yes, actual real physical dice) and roll them several times, writing down the numbers that you get. You’ll need a total of five dice rolls to come up with the first word in your passphrase. What you’re doing here is generating entropy, extracting true randomness from nature and turning it into numbers.

If you roll the number two, then four, then four again, then six, then three, and then look up in the Diceware word list 24463, you’ll see the word “epic.” That will be the first word in your passphrase. Now repeat. You want to come up with a seven-word passphrase if you’re worried about the NSA or Chinese spies someday trying to guess it (more on the logic behind this number below).

Using Diceware, you end up with passphrases that look like “cap liz donna demon self,” “bang vivo thread duct knob train,” and “brig alert rope welsh foss rang orb.” If you want a stronger passphrase you can use more words; if a weaker passphrase is OK for your purpose you can use less words.

In Richard Barnes’ guide to safer logins, he suggests

  • Use random passwords, and use a different password for every site
  • Use a password manager to make creating and remembering passwords easier
  • Make your answers to security questions just as strong as your passwords
  • Use “two-factor authentication” wherever you can
  • Pay attention to the browser’s security signals, and be suspicious

Elaborating on two factor authentication,  Chris Betcher explains it as ‘something you have and something you know‘:

The something you know is the password, and yes it’s still a good idea to have a strong password, something with enough length and complexity that is hard to guess but easy to remember.  But it’s not enough. It’s just one factor.

The second factor is something you have, or something you physically carry with you, such as a phone or touch key. Unless the hacker or foreign power actually has your phone, they can’t access your data, even if they know your password.  Just like the two keys for the front door, they need both your password AND your phone at the same time. If they have both those things, you may just have bigger problems to deal with.

All this advice is helpful, but not necessarily practical for young learners. Although a passphrase made using the Diceware method used in association with two-factor authentication may be considered an ideal outcome, the question remains how young learners are supported with building up their confidence and constructive capacity to manage such workflows?

In regards to learning activities, there are various resources available, however too often they come across as one-off lessons, a passing of the knowledge akin to the Matrix, rather than a gradual release over time.

The risk with this approach is that if a student was not there for this one-off experience, then they can miss the transer of knowledge.

One person to approach the problem differently is Audrey Nay, she has put together a continuum of learning starting at Prep and going to Year 6. The journey starts with a basic passwords letters and ending with a 6 character mnenomic with a mixture of numbers, upper and lower cases, and punctuation. Although I like how she has broken down the sequence of steps across the years, I wonder about the outcome of a 6 character mnenomic, as opposed to a passphrase. As Micah Lee explains:

Not too bad for a passphrase like “bolt vat frisky fob land hazy rigid,” which is entirely possible for most people to memorize. Compare that to “d07;oj7MgLz’%v,” a random password that contains slightly less entropy than the seven-word Diceware passphrase but is significantly more difficult to memorize.

In regards to passphrases, Ian Addison talks about getting younger students to combine two unrelated words that they can spell, while the eSafety team suggest providing multiple columns, where students choose one option from each. I wonder if a useful approach is to start with one word chosen from a simple list and progressively build up to something like four words taken from a more complicated list of words.

Supporting the process of reflection, passwords resource developed in conjunction with Code.org and Common Sense Media flips the various requirements into a series of statements. An approach could be used where each stage is defined by a different set of questions built up across time.

One of the other challenges to passwords being a ‘once-off’ activity is that such activities are often done to students, rather than with students. This often stems from the ramifications of poor passwords. For example, sometimes platforms have built-in feedback mechanisms that force users to enter a number, character and symbol. Also, based on logistics passwords are often managed for students using generators like Dinopass or Google Sheet tempaltes.  Digital Technologies Hub’s answer to this is to go beyond a mere list of rules, suggesting that students create an artefact (i.e. a poster) explaining their understanding. Alternatively, sites like How Secure is My Password can be useful to support students for testing processes.

This all has me thinking about alternatives for logging in, such as the use of biometric informationpatterns and images. I wonder what ‘passwords’ might look like for students in ten years time?

Share your thoughts on what you imagine to be the future of cyber attacks. Consider the types of information we store and share online today. What information will hackers try to get in the future? What approaches do you think they will use?

I think the future of hacking and cyber attacks is the linking of different datasets that we openly share online through data brokers to provide an insight and awareness of individuals that will open up new possibilities.

These companies often acquire the information through purchase, licensing, or other sharing agreements with third parties. Oracle, for example, “owns and works with” over 80 data brokers, according to a 2019 Financial Times report, aggregating information on everything from consumer shopping to internet behavior. However, many companies also scrape data that is publicly viewable on the internet and then aggregate it for sale or sharing. “People search” websites often fall into this latter category—compiling public records (property filings, court documents, voting registrations, etc.) on individuals and then letting anyone on the internet search for their information.

This impact is only amplified by the influx of connected devices and online accounts.

Unit 5 – Cyber Ethics

Find a resource (a website, video or storybook) for teaching a topic related to cyber ethics and share this with the community. Provide a brief explanation.

A useful post I have found in regards to cyber citizenship (and ethics) is Kathleen Morris’s Teaching Digital Citizenship: 10 Internet Safety Tips For Students (With Posters). Morris outlines her four layered approach to teaching digital citizenship. This focuses on integrating the various skills within the curriculum, providing real world stories to reflect upon, building up student toolkits and developing lines of communication. Associated with this, she also provides ten tips for students.Poste


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Everything works somewhere nothing works everywhere - Dylan Wiliam

What is the classroom of the future? We so often talk about change, let’s say 20% at a time. The challenge with this is that we often have in mind a particular model or space, however such ideals are not always ideal. I think one of the biggest challenges is having a consistent why as a starting point for further conversations.

I respect that it can be difficult to work collaboratively with each new staff or student to explicitly incorporate their particular thoughts and experiences, but it is important to provide a clear and compelling narrative that sits at the heart. This is often captured in the form of values that everyone comes back to. The challenge with such an exercise though is to come back to and refer to these regularly, to incorporate these into everyday thinking.

The issue is that too often decisions based on what is deemed to provide the highest impact or who is paying. These compromises can also come in regards to choice of tools or learning spaces. The challenge with all of this is being more informed about the intent behind such decisions and where they fit within the overall values. A useful thinking tool to help with this is the Modern Learning Canvas. Based on Business Model Canvas, the Modern Learning Canvas is broken into eight parts and helps capture a wider view of a context and situation.

Template can be found here.

The canvas allows users to drill down and focus on particular parts of the canvas, at the same time, considering the wider implications.

As an example of such fluidity, consider inquiry and its many flavours, whether it be problem-based, project-based or challenge-based. The question I feel is not which one is right, but rather what is the particular intent and who does this marry with the wider context. This challenge is addressed neatly in Peter Skillen and Brenda Sherry’s image which instead places all the ingredients on a scale.

Image via Peter Skillen

Curriculum standards are a best guess for the future. The question is how to own this future. Take the digital technologies curriculum. Often people jump to particular outcomes or ideas, whether it be robotics, coding or ICT. However, it has the prospect of being far more open than this. In addition to just focusing on digital technologies, it can also be integrated with other areas. Anthony Speranza captures this possibility through the use of hexagonal planning as a narrative device.

The danger with all of this is pushing hard against the dominant narrative. Although lean methodologies prescribe testing new ideas, going wholesale can be like taking snow to the tropics, nothing more than an exhausting gimmick. Although it may offer a sense of alternative, this is simply undone when students return to the dominant model in the next class.

In the end, I am happy to imagine a day made of glass or coalescent spaces, but my hope for the classrooms of the future is one where there is more awareness and understanding about what occurs and the decisions that may have informed them.

As always, thoughts and comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

The actions that define culture are rarely deliberate. Culture is, in many ways, an accumulation of accidents, small gestures and stumbles that somehow end up sticking together like a giant snowball rolling down a hill. Every successful band has the moment when they almost gave up just before their breakthrough; every artistic movement has its rejections, arguments, and fistfights; every book has a graveyard of characters and scenes that were killed to make way for the story. The end result may look neat — libraries of books ordered alphabetically, artworks organized into linear chronologies — but the process of making culture is anything but. - Matt Locke ‘The Hot List: The Rise and Fall of the Singles Chart’

I was recently inspired to read Clinton Walker’s Stranded – The Secret History Of Australian Independent Music by the deaths of Ken West and Chris Bailey. Over the years I have watched various music documentaries exploring Australian music over the years, including Autoluminescent, Something In the Water), Midnight Oil 1984 and The Go-Betweens: Right Here, as well as listened to Damian Cowell’s Only The Shit You Love podcast and Double J’s series on the Big Day Out. However, it occurred to me that although I might have heard many of the names, my understanding of the history of Australian independent music is rather patchy.

My introduction in the 90’s to artists like Tex Perkins, Dave Graney and TISM primarily came via Triple J, Rage and the annual ARIA awards. Although there were programs like The J Files which would provide some of the back stories to artists and their music, for whatever reason, I do not remember these retrospectives addressing the history. For example, it would seem that Perkins giving the bird to Scott Morrison was pretty timid to some of the things he did in the past.

Walker’s book provides something of a ‘thick description‘ of the Australian music scene between 1972 – 1992, the bedrock of much of the music I grew up with.

It took time before my analysis of grunge came together, before I could see what had been under my nose all along—that its roots were Australian as much as anything! That’s perhaps why it never did much for me, because I’d sort of heard it all already. Grunge, the defining Sub Pop/Seattle Sound of Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Nirvana, was basically the sound of Australia’s ’80s underground—the Scientists, the Cosmic Psychos, even the Birthday Party, and bands like Feedtime, Grong Grong, Lubricated Goat and Bloodloss—mixed up with classic early metal, classic early punk and, I’d now add, AC/DC and Neil Young’s Crazy Horse.

Not only was Walker there for much of it, but he was a part of it as well.

Stranded is, for better or worse, simply my version of a history.

It goes beyond the world of Countdown, Farnsey and Barnsey, Michael Gudinski and the pub rock scene. Instead, it captures the rise of bands such as The Birthday Party, The Saints, The Triffids, The Hard Ons, The Beasts of Bourbon and The Go-Betweens. As well as the many other bands and artists who seemingly came and went.

Some of things that stood out to me were:

  1. How fluid, volatile and connected tge scene seemed to be. Often one band would demise only to have members pop-up in another band, if they were not already in more than one band.
  2. Hearing some of this music was incredibly hard. Whereas these days we might go online to listen or purchase new music, finding some of these pressings would have involved going to a handful of niche record stores.
  3. Place of covers. With so many bands forming on a whim, covers seem to play an important role in filling out a set or helping to define a bands sound. I feel that Walker’s latest book, Suburban Songbook, might have more to say on this.
  4. How many moving parts there were and are. It can be easy to think that success is all just about the music, but there are so many other parts at play. Whether it be the labels, the record stores, the local radio stations, the magazines, the venues, the promoters, the managers, the producers. Each play their own particular part in the rise and fall.

What amazes me about this book is that Walker was able to remember what he did. As he posits:

They say that if you remember the ’60s you can’t have been there. So much about the ’80s I can’t remember either. My journalism brings a lot back; I can’t help wondering if the rest isn’t best forgotten.

I guess the task of remembering is often ruefully aided with snipets from the artists in question that help provide further perspective and fill out some of the gaps.

There is so much more that I would love to know. This was the feeling I had after listening to Damian Cowell too. However, as Walker suggests, maybe sometimes it is best left forgotten.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

"Nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return." Milan Kundera - Ignorance

Although a little late, here is the music that soundtracked 2021 for me and how it kept me surprised.

Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land – Marina

I always love serendipitous discoveries. Bored one day, I created a set of arbitrary rules on Spotify to decide what I would listen to. It was something like clicking on the fifth artist in the ‘Fans Also Liked’ three times. Doing this, I came upon Muna’s remix of Marina’s track Man’s World and I went from there.

I feel like this album has a bit of everything. There are aspects of slick pop production, balanced with a mix of punk, all done with a touch of melodrama. Overall, it is shouty without actually shouting. As Damian Morris explains:

Anti-misogyny manifesto pop could easily become clumsy and overwrought, but the joy Marina invests into her mannered, quasi-operatic delivery makes sedition sound seductive.

Sixty Summers – Julia Stone

It is interesting how there are some artists that you overlook because you presume you already know what they are about only to discover a whole other side that you were unaware of. In 2020 it was Sufjan Stevens, while in 2021 it was Julia Stone.

It is easy to imagine another version of Sixty Summers at the hand of somebody like Stuart Price. Although it always threatens, it is always held back. Whether it be the tempo or the particular mix. Overall, I really liked the delicate and sparse nature of this album. In part this is a product of Stone’s voice, but I also feel it is result of Thomas Bartlett and Annie Clark production.

Deep States – TFS

There is a quote from Peter Goldsworthy that I come back to again and again, “cartoon descriptions, how else to describe a cartoon world.” I think that there is something to be said about TFS being the soundtrack for the current crisis. As Gareth Liddiard suggests, maybe the world has just caught up with a perspective they have been plying for years.

“With TFS, I think the world just caught up to our thing. We’ve been plying our trade for years and I think the world has finally become as anxious and neurotic as we’ve always sounded,” says Liddiard.

I must admit, there are times when I listen to TFS and I just feel kind of stupid for not following all the references littered within the music. Maybe that it how it is meant to be, not sure. Overall though there is something compelling about it that just keeps me there. There are moments where the clouds clear and clarity shines through, such as in GAFF.

I’ll take the wages of sin over the minimum wage I’d blow myself up too, man, it’s been one of them days But I’m not a kamikaze, I don’t wanna die a martyr I’m just looking for a latte and a fucking phone charger

Divine Intervention – Client Liaison

I remember seeing Client Liaison perform for the first time for ABC’s New Years Eve This Night is Yours concert. One cannot help be transfixed. Are they for real? I guess artifice comes in many shapes and sizes.

Divine Intervention is an album in search of higher power. There is something about their slick sound that leaves me both full and yet wanting more. In some ways, just as Roger and Brian Eno’s album felt like the perfect album for the start of the pandemic and the world wide lockdown, Divine Intervention seems the right album to shake out the blues and get out on the dancefloor again and the new normal, even if that dancefloor still may be alone in a kitchen with headphones.

Only the Shit You Love – Damian Cowell’s Disco Machine

Damian Cowell has a knack of taking a morsel of an idea to its nth degree. In the age where bands release a series of singles prior to the album launch, Cowell took this a step further releasing his who album on a weekly basis as a YouTube series, until finally release the album as a whole.

Only the Shit You Love is a snapshot of the modern world.

The modern world, product placement, continuous improvement, the culture of engagement, the diminution of language, the moronisation of television, imposter syndrome, subjectivity, my career demise, the heard instinct, popularism, the death of reason, nostalgia, love, lose, tolerance and friendship.

As always, it contains Cowell’s usual witty observations on the world. However, one of the changes to the first two Disco Machine albums was exploration of different dynamics and tempos. The usual upbeat tracks are still present, but they are contrasted by a number of slower numbers. Overall, coupled with a weekly podcast, this album was the perfect ailment for what felt like a perpetual lock-down.


One of the things that music offered me in 2021 was a sense of surprise. With so much of life in lockdown somewhat mundane, these albums each in their own was offered something new, unexpected and seemingly novel.

So what about you? What albums soundtracked your 2021? Were there any themes that tied things together? As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

We've got the facts, but everybody's guessing We're being schooled, I think this pandemic is trying to teach us all a lesson Who knows, it could be a mixed blessing Ladies and gents, stop your engines Here's Cheers to the End of the World - Twinkle Digitz

Inspired by Kath Murdoch, I have long had an approach of selecting one word as a focus for the year. Last year, my word was ‘ideas‘. I think I had the idea that I would dig into different ideas. I started off reading Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy. Although this started many threads, life got in the way to tying any of them together. The year subsequently became a collection of beginnings:

Once you start grasping how deeply we are products of our time, you can almost invert the idea of genius. Maybe the genius isn’t so much in the inventor as in the age. When an idea’s time is ripe, maybe that idea is just gonna happen: The voltage is so strong it’ll course through several different people at once.
It’s great starting a project when you’re limited to these instruments and limited to this scale, and you’re working out what can you do with it rather than just, you know, everything being possible. I like to know what I can’t do and then work inside that.

In Graeber’s classroom, such questions of status had little weight. Even the big-name theorists he discussed — in Graeber’s telling, “they were just dudes,” said Durba Chattaraj. One of his Ph.D. students at Yale, she remembers lectures speckled with the personal foibles of the greats. Apart from the entertainment value, there was a message: These thinkers “were smart, but they were doing something that anybody can do if they read enough and think hard enough, which is creating theories about the world around you.”

The vaccine against monoculture is tolerance.
Many think of punk as a style or a category or a thing, but it’s much more interesting if you think of it as a process, a way of doing things, a disposition, a spirit.
CP: What always saves me is that someone will tell me a story, and I’ll spin this other story as a way of escaping that pain. No drug has ever got me as high as a good idea. You get that idea and, oh my gosh, you’ve got nothing else. You don’t need oxygen. That idea is meth. You don’t need sleep and you don’t need food. Because that idea is going to run you for a year. That little idea is your armor and it’s your savior. BLVR: I get that. The little idea is better than drugs because it has an engine.
Art, by definition, is artifice. It’s fake. It’s not “real” in the sense that a sunset is real, or a trout or a pomegranate. Art is a work crafted with calculation, forethought, and skill to create either the simulacrum of something real (a painting of a sunset, say) or to express an insight into, or attempt to bring order out of, nature or the experience of life.
There are endless arguments to be had when new ideas arrive. The challenge is in being clear that we’re about to take a side, and to do it on the effects, not on our emotional connection to the change that’s involved.
Whenever you are out of ideas, there’s someone, somewhere, with bad ideas that need to be corrected. But you don’t necessarily have to talk about the bad ideas, or take them on directly, you can just articulate the good ideas that cancel them out.
Feedback is oxygen for your ideas. It will help them grow and get stronger, starved of it, and your ideas weaken.
Those of us back here in reality must work together to enact a Gentle Awakening for our friends and loved ones who have gotten addicted to this video game. There is no man behind the curtain, no secret cabal controlling our destinies, no marvelous or nefarious plan driving Covid, vote counting, or global affairs. They need to awaken to something way way more frightening than politicians eating children: shit just happens, no one is in charge, and chaos reigns. There really is no scapegoat — never was. The only way through is to find ways of coming together, instead. One step, and one day at a time.
This sets pragmatic genealogies apart from evolutionary psychology’s conjectural depictions of hominin life in the Pleistocene. Pragmatic genealogies prove themselves not through the detailed accuracy with which they depict the actual historical development of our concepts, but through the way in which they help us grasp connections between our practical needs and our concepts. Imagine having to explain to an alien why your car has the shape it does. Instead of painstakingly walking the alien through the stages of the assembly line on which the car was actually constructed, you could explain how its shape answers to a combination of practical needs: the need to move from A to B, the need to stay warm and dry, the need to steer and brake, the need to have a good view of your surroundings, the need to see and be seen in the dark, etc. The best way to show how the car’s shape is responsive to our needs isn’t to work through the distractingly intricate causal process through which the car was actually constructed, but to reconstruct the car’s shape as a response to a series of needs – perhaps through a narrative or an animation showing how, if we start from some primitive shape and successively warp it to meet a series of needs, we end up with something recognisably car-like. The State of Nature does the same to help us understand the shape of our concepts and their relation to our needs. It offers us an idealised, uncluttered model that we can tailor to our interests and tinker with in our imagination.
Ideas only travel as far as the minds ready and willing to take them in.
One way to define our identity is to fall in love with an idea (often one that was handed to us by a chosen authority). Another is to refuse to believe our identity is embodied in an idea, and instead embrace a method for continually finding and improving our ideas.
Here is an idea I love that may or may not be true: Some books have a centripetal force— they suck you in from other books. Some books have a centrifugal forcethey spin you out to other books.

In the end, I actually ended up committing myself to a return to reading (or listening to books). In part for ideas, but really for solace.

Therefore, having felt like 2021 was something of a right-off in regards to achieving my own desired outcomes, I was not sure about 2022.  Like Austin Kleon, I feel dormant. I therefore thought having a focus was not a priority. I thought then that instead of having a word with particular outcomes perceived, I would instead return to a meditation on a theme or topic.

One of the strange things about the current malaise is that I feel like I both have too much time to think and too little time to do anything. Listening to Damian Cowell’s podcast associated with his album involving diving into his early years, I was led down my own rabbit hole. Associated with this, I started reading Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. This only furthered my reflections on the past. I therefore decided that my word for 2022 would be memories.

Whether it be reading more memoirs, such as Tony Martin’s Lolly Scramble, writing reflections of my own, such as my post on Changing Tracks, or simply diving into the idea of memories in general. I am going to dedicate this year to letting go of setting stringent expectations on myself and commit myself to letting my mind just wonder. Start often, finish rarely?

So what about you? Have you got a word or any thoughts on memory. As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

I’m not a programmer so I have to find ways to get things done until I learn more. Tom Woodward ‘Text Acrobatics in Google Spreadsheets’

I have been spending quite a bit of time lately thinking about how to improve my processes. Here is another example.

I was recently asked to review the setup of a number of schools that I am a part of supporting. At the moment there are nearly three hundred schools. Once upon a time when there were only fifty or so schools. Back then, such a task was tedious, but not that time consuming. However, as the numbers increase, such reviews start to become a cumbersome affair.

The focus of my analysis was understanding the rollover rules for each semester. This started with the creation of a unique list of all the schools in the data set using the UNIQUE formula. With this list, I also created an additional number column in which I numbered each school. I then used a VLOOKUP to add this information to the data so that I could visually break-up the data using conditional formatting with the custom formula.

= ISEVEN($B2)

For the next step, I created a data validation to help categorise what sort of setup a school had. In addition to this, I created a data validation for the issues column produced from the column itself. To do this I created a separate UNIQUE column, summarising all the issues. I then referenced the UNIQUE column and simply chose ‘show warning’ for an invalid responses. This way, if there was an issue I had previously entered, I simply selected them from the dropdown list.

Once complete, I created a series of queries MATCHED with the various issues and then used a JOIN to summarise all the schools associated with each issue in one cell:

=ARRAYFORMULA(JOIN(", ",TRANSPOSE(QUERY(A3:J202,"SELECT A WHERE J matches '.*Description of the issue.*'"))))

On reflection, I wondered how I could cut down on this manual process. My intent was to create a template in which I could load the raw data and then have it broken down for me using formulas.

After spending a lot of time trying to reverse engineer the output I wanted using various IF, FILTER and UNIQUE formulas, I realised that rather than trying to embed everything in one formula, I maybe better suited in creating an additional table to help further organise the data.

The first step was to pull the data into this helper table using a QUERY. This means that once loading external data into sheet1 (the default first sheet), I just needed to refresh the query for everything to work.

In addition to this, I created a unique reference for each line by joining together the different pieces of information associated with each line to make a unique reference.

=TEXT(JOIN("",C2:F2),"")

In a new tab, I put together an analysis of the schools. I started this by generating a UNIQUE list of all the schools.

=UNIQUE(DATA!A2:A)

Using this data as a reference, I then created a query for each school, joining the different rollover rules together.

=(JOIN("|",QUERY(DATA!A$2:I,"SELECT I WHERE A = '"&A2&"'")))

I then used this data to produce a summary of the data. This began with a UNIQUE list of combined rollover rules.

=UNIQUE(QUERY(SCHOOLS!A2:C,"SELECT B,C WHERE A IS NOT NULL"))

Using this as a reference, I queried all the schools with the same rule and joined this data together.

="E"&JOIN(",E",QUERY(SCHOOLS!A2:B,"SELECT A WHERE B ='"&C2&"'"))

I also created another columns in which I used a SWITCH formula to describe each of the sets of rules in a more meaningful manner beginning with a category: “standard”, “two semesters” and “needs to be fixed”. Associated with this, I created a column which pulled this category and then used this information to create a series of conditional formulas in order to visually differentiate the different setups.

For anyone interested, a copy of the template can be found here.


After completing this exercise, I have found that I can easily adjust this template for any other data I wish to analysis quickly. It is also testament to the power of making your own tools. I am left wondering if I could use macros or scripts to improve the process, but for now my formulas all duct taped together is working for me. As Tom Woodward sums up:

I’m not a programmer so I have to find ways to get things done until I learn more.

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.