The Dynamo and the Social

Thought this was an interesting piece at Slate based on Paul David’s paper. There are some obvious parallels with personal or mobile computing and education and the difficulties we have with using it well.

“Electric light bulbs were available by 1879, and there were generating stations in New York and London by 1881. Yet a thoughtful observer in 1900 would have found little evidence that the “electricity revolution” was making business more efficient.

Steam-powered manufacturing had linked an entire production line to a single huge steam engine. As a result, factories were stacked on many floors around the central engine, with drive belts all running at the same speed. The flow of work around the factory was governed by the need to put certain machines close to the steam engine, rather than the logic of moving the product from one machine to the next. When electric dynamos were first introduced, the steam engine would be ripped out and the dynamo would replace it. Productivity barely improved.

Eventually, businesses figured out that factories could be completely redesigned on a single floor. Production lines were arranged to enable the smooth flow of materials around the factory. Most importantly, each worker could have his or her own little electric motor, starting it or stopping it at will. The improvements weren’t just architectural but social: Once the technology allowed workers to make more decisions, they needed more training and different contracts to encourage them to take responsibility.

Last year’s OECD report was one of many to suggest that it might, just might, be a little more complicated than putting more computers in classrooms. I do wonder whether, at some level, the school as an organisation will have to undergo a similar redesign to make the most of our new dynamos.

The most important thing is insight

Another one less than enamoured with talent. William Faulkner in a Press conference, University of Virginia, May 20, 1957. (The audio is here)

“At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that — the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, train himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance. That is, to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing is insight, that is … curiosity to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does. And if you have that, then I don’t think the talent makes much difference, whether you’ve got that or not.”

Rembrandt – created not discovered

This video is almost worth it just to hear the comment about using technology for something more than just improving businesses.



Beware of Artists & Things You Want to be True

Just came across a nice quote via Euan on Facebook. It was attributed to the McCarthy era.

“Beware of artists. They mix with all classes of society and are therefore the most dangerous”

Alongside taking exercise and eating healthily, one of the things I keep trying to do more of, not always successfully, is check the sources of things like this. I instinctively like it, and, probably too often, take it as a given that it is true. Partly thanks to the wise advice of Euan and others, I’m getting better at catching myself before I swallow these sorts of tasty quotes whole.

Thanks to all Julian’s hard work , I found out the full quote was actually from a letter from Leopold 1 of Belgium to his niece, Queen Victoria.

“To hop to escape censure and calumny is next to impossible, but whatever is considered by the enemy as a fit subject for attack is better modified or avoided. The dealings with artists, for instance, require great prudence; they are acquainted with all classes of society, and for that very reason dangerous; they are hardly ever satisfied, and when you have too much to do with them, you are sure to have des ennuis.
…Your devoted Uncle, Leopold R. “

So yes, it’s a similar quote, but I like the add-on of the ennui at the end. I’m somehow happier buying in to the idea of artist as classless dangerous hero with the health-warning of “may become self-congratulatory self-publicist”.

Questions & Answers & Feynman



via The Science Explorer