Tuesday 28 April 2009

HBA's TED Talk: Greening the Ghetto

I may have disliked school, but I've always loved learning. I'm a learner for learning sake and in a recent post, Young opened my eyes and mind to a great resource for learning on the web - the TED Talks. In her (wonderfully eloquant) post Young not only discussed about the democrotisation of education, but also set myself, Enjah & Osprey a task - watch a selected TED Talk and discuss. I'm not much of a discusser, really - talker yes, discusser no - so my views will no doubt be largely positive & supportive. I can't help it - I was never cut out to be a critic :-)

Young asked me to look over this TED Talk: Majora Carter: Greening the ghetto. In RL I work in the regen field, specifically in sustainable community development, so Madam Geoffrion quite rightly suspected this would tickle my fancy. From the engaging speaker to the joyful message she brought, I LOVED it! Majora's personal, emotional style suited me down to the ground. And her message! How a country as rich and powerful as the US can allow such inequity in the basic quality of its people's lives is a source of shame that will astound future generations. But the energy, drive, determination and potential of humans the world over displayed by Marjora is simply amazing. We waste so much. So much and it's so wrong. But stories like these (and I can point to similar ones here too) are beacons in the dark. Thank you Young, Thank you for my beacon :)

You can watch all the TED Talk videos on YouTube here - I've downloaded a lot via RSS from the main TED.com site and I'm going to watch at least one a day.

Friday 24 April 2009

TED Talks Challenge

There is nothing that gives me greater hope for the future than TEDTalksDirector on YouTube.

One of the most profound miracles of the internet age is, I think, the erosion of nearly all barriers to an education. If you were born with an inquiring mind and access to the internet (these are not low barriers, but they are lower than ever before in history) you can obtain for yourself the equivalent of a bachelor of art or science degree, and perhaps a masters. Beginning with Harvard & MIT's Opencourseware materials, English-speaking students and scholars anywhere in the world have access to lecture notes, assignments and readings. Wikipedia and Google Books complement the sudden, massive, participatory democratization of education. I believe these are revolutionary changes, paradigm-shifters from which the entire globe will benefit, on the same scale as the invention of the printing press or the symbolic computing device.

The TED Talks are one symptom of this educational openness. It is a sort of Britain's Best Talent for ideas, where almost every speaker is a Susan Boyd.

Great ideas and great hopes are created by the rich cross-fertilization of symbols, cultures and media that used to require universities (to concentrate global talent) or world travel (to disseminate local attitudes and expectations). TED Talks have bringing some of the best thinking in all fields together every year.

I have listened to some of these talks dozens of times. Neuroanatomist Jill Bolt Taylor's insight into the mind caused by her own stroke has helped me understand religion, the nature of the human mind and reality as we experience it. Bonnie Bassler's secret, social lives of bacteria not only illuminates the physical and chemical reality in which we live, but also the demographic reality that generates these ideas.

But in this post I want to celebrate a more profound mixing, that of science and art, of gender and politics, in a recent lecture by Margaret Wertheim, who crochets coral reefs. Her talk typifies the smart, aware, enlightened approach to knowledge that finds inspiration in every aspect of the world around us, and reveals reality as a blessedly intricate web of ideas and connections, from lowly craft and hobby to higher mathematics.

I believe the fundamental basis for intellectual growth and happiness is participation and creativity. Just to be quite clear that beneath my polite exterior I am an insufferably arrogant individual, I have assigned homework to my readers, at least those who have bothered to make themselves known to me:

Osprey: Emily Levine: A trickster's theory of everything
Enjah: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Creativity, fulfillment and flow
HBA: Majora Carter: Greening the ghetto

I want you to watch these assigned videos and return to me, or post where you will, your views or reviews, reflections, arguments or off-subject comments. I will accept no refusal, but you have no deadline either, and if you find a talk you enjoy better, I will accept that too. Curse me and my strange, jumping bean interests, but I cannot watch smart people talk and not think of you.

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Drottningholm Palace

I paid a visit to this 18th Century roleplaying sim, very nicely conceived and carefully built, with considerable effort put into its construction and gameplay. They are welcoming though expect a high level of historical accuracy in behaviour, which I respect. I met a young lady in front of the palace who adopted me as her junior brother returned from study in Paris, who then demanded I change my appearance (taller, stronger, handsomer, manlier) and became impatient when I did not achieve an immediate transformation to her liking. When she was ultimately satisfied, she became just too interested in my personal life. Perhaps it is my advanced age, but if I am to roleplay, I prefer to do so at my leisure and in privacy. This is a beautiful build and the other players deserve as much thought given to my appearance and character as they have given to theirs. I might return but perhaps not as Young Geoffrion, and not as a pup. I wish the young lady all the best fortune and happiness, and sincerely hope we shall meet again, though she may not recognize me when we do.

Wednesday 1 April 2009


This novel by Kate Mosse was recommended to me by Enjah and HBA, and though I meant to borrow it from the library before my trip, in the end I did not have time (Anil's Ghost will be overdue when I return to Los Angeles on April 18) and packed Laurence Stern's Tristram Shandy and a recent biography of Charlotte Cibber (the actor's daughter who famously dressed as a man on stage and off) in its stead. But Sepulchre was on display at an airport kiosk within sight of my departure gate, in paperback, so I took it as sign. Figuratively speaking of course.
I finished it last night. Set in Paris and the Languedoc with characters and story arcs in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with two related female lead characters guided by a strong tarot motif and supernatural events, the story has obvious similarities to my own memoirs (or the other way around, but I naturally think of it this way). I was delighted to discover there is still a readership for this kind of material, for I suspect that the gothic thriller is an outmoded genre, leaving us with today's flat, action-filled mongrels like the Da Vinci Code. (This story was clearly written for the Dan Brown crowd, and that book's theme is even explained in precis by one character to another.) On the other hand I became alarmed at the number of similarities in the tales: especially when Leonie says to Auric Baillard, "You are not French!" for I said the very words to Madame Boucher! But in the end it is a quite different tale, and told in a different manner.
The author prefers to endlessly inform us what her characters are thinking when one would be happier if she just showed us in dialogue. The reader doesn't need to be bludgeoned with symbolism and portent. Indeed the dialogue moves the story along quite well on its own, but her exposition lacks art. One suspects there is no poetry in the author, no delight taken in setting a scene, dwelling on a detail, exploring a moment. The story gets from point A to point B in a very businesslike fashion. One looks in vain for moments that shimmer, that offer a sudden insight into the character or place. But for all her characters' churning thoughts, fears, doubts, hesitations, guessing and supposing, the book would have been half as long, and better by far. At last I found the story predictable and contrived, the language awkward, and I finished it to better study what I must learn to avoid myself in my writing. It was instructive.