Sunday, February 26, 2012

Aldrovandi's Bags

Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605), an Italian Naturalist, wrote his observations first on small slips of papers, which he later cut up and glued into a catalogue, very much like Conrad Gessner.[1] Before doing this, he kept them in bags, one for each letter of the alphabet. Whether these bags were hung on hooks, as the previous post shows, I do not know. It is not unlikely, however.

On the other hand, he kept his specimens in pigeon holes (4500 in 66 armoires).

1. For Gessner, see here.

Storing Papers in the Sixteenth Century

Putting papers in bags hung on hooks would not strike many of us as an effective storage system. Still, this is at least one of the ways in which it was done in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564–1638): The Village Lawyer

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Philosophy in Brazilian Schools

The Boston Review recently published an article on philosophy at Brazilian high schools. I do not know whether the claims in the article are correct. But, if they are, I think there is hope. The practice should be emulated in other countries. And I say this not just because I teach philosophy at a university in Boston.

On Incompetent "Wikipedia Cops"

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an interesting article on some of the things that are wrong with Wikipedia's policy of gate-keepers and the "undue weight policy." To demand that all "articles should not give minority views as much or as detailed a description as more popular views" is stupid. Judgment is required, because sometimes (actually not infrequently) the majority is just wrong. That should be obvious![1]

1. See also this post. Idiots still rule!

Does Brainstorming Work?

Here is an article in the New Yorker that argues Brainstorming does not work. But don't expect any new insights from the article.

After a short history of brainstorming the author concludes: "Keith Sawyer, a psychologist at Washington University, has summarized the science: “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas." He also mentions a 1958 study at Yale.[1]

Jonah Lehrer, the author of the piece, might be right. But I found the whole thing very disappointing—and not because of its negative conclusion, but because it does not contain one original thought!

The alternative to "brainstorming for Lehrer is "building 20" at MIT, in which people of different backgrounds were forced to interact.

Therefore: "The fatal misconception behind brainstorming is that there is a particular script we should all follow in group interactions. The lesson of Building 20 is that when the composition of the group is right—enough people with different perspectives running into one another in unpredictable ways—the group dynamic will take care of itself. All these errant discussions add up. In fact, they may even be the most essential part of the creative process."

Indeed, they may. What else is new? And the claim that brainstorming presupposes the idea "that there is a particular script we should all follow in group interaction" strikes me as simply false.

1. Lifehacker, quite predictably, takes the opposite view (without any supporting argument). It just offers the tired claim that bad ideas are necessary for having good ones. It also talks about individual brainstorming more than brainstorming in a group.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A "Writing Office" I would Die for

This is a dream, an impossible dream.

Be sure to look at this as well.

No further comment!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

On "Rewording" and Plagiarism

See this post for a good take on this problem. Rephrasing a passage does not mean that a reference to what is being rephrase is unnecessary! No further comment! yy

Reading and Writing

E. H. Carr, What is History? (Harmondsworth: Pelican Books, 1961), p. 28 argues against the assumption that there are two distinct phases in a historian's work, i.e. first taking notes or "filling notebooks with facts," and then writing on the basis of these notebooks. For him the "itch" to write "becomes too strong" as soon as he begins to read that begins to write — "not necessarily at the beginning but somewhere, anywhere. Thereafter, reading and writing go on simultaneously. The writing is added to, subtracted from, re-placed, canceled, as I go on reading. The reading is guided and directed and made fruitful by the writing: the more I write, the more I know what I am looking for, the better I understand the significance and relevance of what I find." He envies people who seem to be able to do that in their heads without paper and typewriter, but he is convinced that every historian worth his salt will do both things at the same time. Input and output go on simultaneously for any critical historian.

I could not agree more. I am also more skeptical than he seems to be that this process is possible without externalization. Writing things down is just as essential for reviewing, connecting and critically examining the information obtained by reading. And this is where software applications are superior to paper and typewriter. And those applications that allow you to carry on "input" and "output" simultaneously and without great effort seem to me the best. and this is where free links—among other things—come in.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Is This What We Want from Kindle?

Here is a post on what "developers, designers, and readers need from the Kindle platform (or any ebook platform." It's interesting.

Here is what readers should want, according to the author:
People should be able to have all of their book notes and quotes synced to their note-taking apps, like Evernote, Simplenote, or even as a directory of text files for the Dropbox-based note apps. Developers of writing and note-taking apps should be able to add kindle notes syncing with no more effort or paperwork (as in no paperwork to speak of) than it would take them to add Simplenote syncing, for example.
I tend to agree.