Friday, 3 April 2015

Cuttings March 2015

Is The Dress blue and black or white and gold? The answer lies in vision psychology - post by Marie Rogers in "Head quarters" blog in The Guardian. "Would you like to have an argument with your colleagues this fine Friday? Just ask them what colour the dress above is. Some people say white and gold, whereas others claim it’s clearly blue and black.... It appears to be because of different interpretations of how the scene is illuminated. The brain automatically 'processes' visual input before we consciously perceive it. Differences in this processing between people may underlie The Great Dress Debate. In our everyday lives, there are many changes in the colour of the light illuminating our surroundings.... For example, the yellow glow of an incandescent light bulb versus the blue-ish hue of a fluorescent light. The light that an object reflects to the eye is a combination of both the colour of the object itself and the spectrum of the light source, which may vary. The brain is able to disentangle these two things and decide what colour the object is. Simply put, objects appear the same colour even if the light illuminating them changes – a concept known as colour constancy.... This is possibly something you’ve never thought about or been aware of before - you may well underestimate just how much the lighting in our world changes, because your brain compensates for it so well. This happens automatically without any conscious awareness. But, colour constancy is not perfect. In The Dress photo, there aren’t many cues or reference points to tell us the properties of the light source. This leads to ambiguity and the possibility of different interpretations."

The word-hoard: Robert Macfarlane on rewilding our language of landscape - article by Robert Macfarlane in The Guardian, based on his book Landmarks. "The same summer I was on Lewis [and was given the 'Peat Glossary' of Gaelic terms for moorland], a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary was published. A sharp-eyed reader noticed that there had been a culling of words concerning nature. Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail. As I had been entranced by the language preserved in the prose‑poem of the 'Peat Glossary', so I was dismayed by the language that had fallen (been pushed) from the dictionary. For blackberry, read Blackberry."

Some New Nature Words - Cartoon by Tom Gauld in The Guardian, 7 March 2015, Review p 14. Following the article by Robert Macfarlane the previous week (see above), noting how the Oxford Junior Dictionary had dropped many nature words and replaced them with words like blog and broadband. "Pipey-furrock: the marks left after broadband cable is laid. Smootle: a patch of snow in the shadow of a recycling bin. Brauft: a bird's nest built on a CCTV camera. Crobie-Tinkler: sunlight glinting off a mobile phone mast."

MySpace – what went wrong: ‘The site was a massive spaghetti-ball mess’ - report by Stuart Dredge of talk by Sean Percival (former VP Online Marketing at MySpace) at By:Larm conference. "[Quoting Percival:] 'News Corp [which bought MySpace in 2005 is a monster organisation, just mammoth proportions: many many billions of dollars, many many users. At the time I remember they said: ‘Hey! We’re not going to disrupt anything. We’re going to let it run: you’re special!’ And just preserve that and not do anything.... The reality was that as time went on, the corporate policies creeped in. The lawyers came in, the accountants. Everything came in. As opposed to being this nimble, fast-moving sports car, they started to become slow.... As opposed to preserving and letting it run as it is, it just got really, really corporate. Politics, greed, all the horrible things that come with big corporations, slowly sort-of crept in.' "  "Percival said that one of MySpace’s main failings at this point was bloat, with verticals covering celebrity, fashion, sport and even books.'I can tell you: literature nerds were not going to MySpace to debate the latest John Grisham book! They [MySpace] just went everywhere, and that was a big, big mistake,' he said.'Facebook has done a really good job of not doing that … Lesson learned: do one thing great, not do many things good. Or in our case, we were doing many things kinda crappy.'”

The revolution that could change the way your child is taught - article by Ian Leslie in The Guardian. "[Doug Lemov] started with a spreadsheet. Cross-referencing test scores and demographics, he identified which schools were achieving the most exceptional results with poor students. Then he visited the classrooms of the best teachers in those schools with a videographer. He watched and rewatched the lessons he recorded, like a football coach studying the tape of a game, analysing in minute detail what these outstanding teachers were doing. He gave names to the techniques he saw them use. Then he circulated his notes to the teachers he worked with. Those teachers passed them on to teachers they knew, who passed them on in turn, until the document, known at that time only as 'the taxonomy', took on a samizdat life of its own. Lemov realised how far word of it had spread when a teacher from California got in touch to request a copy. In 2010, he was persuaded to turn his notes into a book, which became a surprise best-seller in education circles. In its latest edition, Teach Like a Champion lists '62 techniques that put students on the path to college'. Lemov says that some of the advice in the book is probably wrong, and he does not pretend it is comprehensive. But it has become the key text of an incipient transformation of teaching that has little to do with government edict or official policy."

Attachment and digital communication - Article by Linda Cundy in Therapy Today (vol 26, issue 1, February 2015, pp 18-23). "I have found it enormously helpful to ask about use of mobile phones, computer games, social network sites, apps and the internet as part of a [psychotherapeutic] assessment. Clients are often ashamed of some aspect of their use of computers or phones and find it a relief to be asked about it in a matter-of-fact way in the early stages of counselling or therapy. These dyamics may not be the presenting issue but they can enable deeper therapeutic work to begin.... Preoccupied attachment develops from experiencing inconsisent caregiving, perhaps due to a parent coping with depression, physical illness or multiple stressors, or to conflict between parents.... Preoccupied people are likely to rely heavily on communication technology to reach out to others. Long phone calls, frequent messages and hours spent on social network sites are a defence against the reality of separateness.... Dismissing attachment has its origins in early relationships where precocious self-reliance is encouraged and reliance on parental figures is discouraged and even ridiculed.... I suggest that dismissing individuals will use technology in oder to keep others at a comfortable distance. The instinct to attach persists but its expression is inhibited and distorted."

[Douglas Adams on eBooks] Douglas Adams made me a writer: Neil Gaiman salutes his friend and inspiration - news item in The Guardian. "Giving the annual Douglas Adams lecture last night, Gaiman spoke at length about his memories of his friend and fellow author, revealing the details of a conversation 'almost 30 years ago now', when the two were discussing the idea of ebooks. 'We were talking about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was something which resembled an iPad, long before it appeared. And I said when something like that happens, it’s going to be the death of the book. Douglas said no. Books are sharks,' Gaiman told a packed audience at the Royal Geographical Society in London. 'I must have looked baffled because he he looked very pleased with himself. And he carried on with his metaphor. Books are sharks … because sharks have been around for a very long time. There were sharks before there were dinosaurs, and the reason sharks are still in the ocean is that nothing is better at being a shark than a shark.' Adams told Gaiman: ‘"Look at a book. A book is the right size to be a book. They’re solar-powered. If you drop them, they keep on being a book. You can find your place in microseconds. Books are really good at being books and no matter what happens books will survive." And he was right,' said Gaiman."

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed review: Jon Ronson on rants and tweets - review by Steven Poole in The Guardian. "Near the end of last year, the Labour MP Emily Thornberry was sacked from the shadow cabinet after tweeting a picture of a house draped in English flags with the words 'Image from #Rochester'.... This happened too late to be included in Jon Ronson’s superb and terrifying new book, but the social media mob fury that greeted Thornberry’s tweet is a perfect example of his subject. We are living through what he calls 'a great renaissance of public shaming'."

Loads? Or many? It depends whether you’re an academic snob - column by Jonathan Wolff in The Guardian. "Every time I mark student work ... some turns of phrase impress and some jar, even when they communicate exactly the same thought. Single words make a difference. 'There are many theories of political obligation' is fine; 'There are lots of theories of political obligation' a bit worrying; and 'There are loads of theories of political obligation' sounds like the candidate is begging for a low mark. But what’s the difference? Many universities are analysing exam and essay results in great detail, looking especially at different attainment levels for students of different ethnic, racial or socio-economic backgrounds. The achievement gap is most notable and worrying in different drop-out rates, but it also appears at the level of module marks, if only by a few percentage points. Could it be that expectations about what counts as an 'academic turn of phrase' explain part of the difference? As far as I know, that research is still to be carried out. Exam scripts and coursework essays are treated as confidential, and research to date has typically been a matter of crunching and analysing grades, rather than investigating why the grades were given. But we need to dig deeper."

Tears in rain? Why Blade Runner is timeless - article by Michael Newton in The Guardian. "It is a starkly empty film, preoccupied as it is with the thought that people themselves might be hollow. The plot depends on the notion that the replicants must be allowed to live no longer than four years, because as time passes they begin to develop raw emotions. Why emotion should be a capital offence is never sufficiently explained; but it is of a piece with the film’s investigation of a flight from feeling – what psychologist Ian D Suttie once named the “taboo on tenderness”. Intimacy here is frightful (everyone appears to live alone), especially that closeness that suggests that the replicants might be indistinguishable from us."

Alice in Wonderland: the never-ending adventures - article by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst in The Guardian, based on his book The Story of Alice. "Carroll’s decision to send Alice below the earth’s surface ensured his story was fully up to date. By 1862, few literary environments were as crowded as the underground.... When Carroll completed the first manuscript version of his story, which he presented to Alice Liddell in 1864, he gave it the title Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. Simultaneously he was expanding it into the more familiar version he published in 1865, in which he altered 'Under' to 'Wonder' and 'Ground' to 'land'. Carroll’s title has since become so well known that it slips off the tongue without any thought, but at the time it was an unusual choice. Alice often 'wonders', but never names the place she enters in her dream, and nor do any of the creatures who live there. It is only her older sister, on the final page of the story, who thinks of it as Wonderland. Perhaps the book she is reading on the riverbank is supposed to be one of the earlier attempts to locate this enchanted country. If so, she would have had a small library of examples to choose from. It was an idea firmly rooted in Romanticism. For German writers such as Friedrich Schiller or Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff, whose poems 'In fernem Wunderland' ('In a Distant Wonderland') and 'Ein Wunderland' ('A Wonderland') were often translated and anthologised in the period, Wunderland referred to a place where anything could happen because it existed only in the imagination. The same idea also attracted English and American authors."

David Graeber: ‘So many people spend their working lives doing jobs they think are unnecessary’ - interview by Stuart Jeffries in The Guardian. " 'Having spent much of my life leading a fairly bohemian existence, comparatively insulated from this sort of thing, I found myself asking: is this what ordinary life, for most people, is really like?' writes the 53-year-old professor of anthropology in his new book The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy. 'Running around feeling like an idiot all day? Being somehow put in a position where one actually does end up acting like an idiot?' "

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