The day when I maybe inadvertently helped the science community to discover the Higgs boson


(Photo by samuelrichards.com.au)

The moment when physicists are rejoicing the first glimpse of a Higgs boson is probably an appropriate time to share an anecdote from my days in CERN. I worked there as a trainee in 1997, when they had started to build the ATLAS detector (I wrote some pieces of realtime 3D software for the ATLAS project document management system).

Before I arrived in CERN, there had been a big crisis. The particles had stopped appearing in the detectors. After a few days the cause for this was found: a Carlsberg can that had been placed (or forgotten?) inside the detector tunnel. Every time the accelerator has to be closed for maintenance, the amount of people in the CERN cafeterias triples. Most of the people don’t look very tanned.

My workplace was the brand new ATLAS building that had a cylinder shape and the corridors inside were circular. The walls were gray, there were no posters on the wall or any other visible details that would help one to figure out one’s location. Walking around the corridors felt like being inside a never ending loop.

After the Swiss National Day celebrations, I placed a colourful, ball-shaped paper lamp to hang above my desk. A week later people were using the ball as location marker – ‘is your office left or right from the ball?’.

My plan was that on my last day in CERN, I would make a small prank and change the location of the ball. On that day I was just too busy and did not manage to do this, and this tiny failure kept bothering me for years. But today I can finally let go of this! Since maybe, if I would have done my prank, maybe some renowned physicist would not have found his/her office that day and maybe, just maybe, a piece of important research would have failed, and maybe, just maybe, we would not be celebrating the discovery of Higgs boson today!

‘We need courses that last a 100 years’ + ‘In order to learn, students need to break the law’

(A selection of radical thoughts about learning and education from Mobilityshifts event – Part 4)

WE NEED COURSES THAT LAST FOR A HUNDRED YEARS

Benjamin Bratton’s presentation was (quite appropriately) titled ‘Ambivalent Remarks on Computation, Political Geography, Pedagogy’. He referred to an interview of philosopher Bernard Stiegler and his concepts of short and long circuits in education.

“The problem of long circuits turning into short circuits is a fundamental condition which we have to grasp – that is – the time of digital technologies is too short – what we need in very very long classes, not very very short classes.”

“The condition of education… is to train the attention of next generation, to train them to have attention, to pay attention, to comprehend their own attentiveness – it is to train them to have a memory, to train them to have a conception of time that is appropriate.”

Benjamin proposes that we need courses that can be located within long arcs of time:

“I think 500 years is a reasonable span for a course to try to locate for the students, so that they can locate themselves in this arc. Courses that don’t have a 500 year arc, that aren’t teaching what it is that they are teaching in terms of a 500 year context are probably too shallow. And I think this can be just as true for very practical courses – you know, is there a way to teach a ‘how to hack a website’ workshop, or how to build an android app, with a 500 year arc of understanding what that means. How did we arrive at the possibility of asking this question and even proposing this skill.”

We also need very long courses:

“Instead of a course that goes on for 10 weeks, or even for one year, prefer courses that go on for 10 years, or perhaps a 100 years, a faculty handing off one to another, like architects of medieval churches.”

IN ORDER TO LEARN, STUDENTS NEED TO BREAK THE LAW

On the flight to the conference Benjamin happened to sit next to a Israeli cryptographer who had two arguments about education that Benjamin wanted to pass on to the conference audience:

“Students have to understand that we are currently building a legacy codebase at a planetary level which will exist and endure for generations.”

“In order to be successful in the design of this legacy codebase for the generations to come we have to be willing to assign students things that are as of today illegal – with the presumption that it is the things that exits outside the legal structures will form the base of the constitutional structures to come”

 

ABCD system is too rigid for grading the quality of meat – why is it still used in education?

(A selection of radical thoughts about learning and education from Mobilityshifts event – Part 3)

“What happens if we don’t believe the only way of giving credit is the way we have inherited?”

Cathy Davidson’s presentation was related to her book ’Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn’. The presentation included two amazing historical anecdotes:

ABCD GRADING NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR MEAT:

Mount Holyoke College was the first university in America to give ABCD grades, in year 1897. The second institution to start using this system was the American Meatpackers Association – for grading the quality of meat. Soon afterwards the association gave up the system, since they found it too inflexible to grade the quality of meat.

THE INVENTOR OF MULTIPLE CHOICE TEST:

Frederick J. Kelly was the person who proposed using multiple choice tests for large scale assessment in education. This happened in 1914, during wartime when hundreds of thousands of immigrants were arriving in the country. A new law was passed that required 2 years of secondary education for everyone and this created a crisis: the existing education system could not cope with this. Mr. Kelly proposed multiple choice tests to deal with this emergency, but he thought that this would only be a temporary solution. After the war he was hired as the director of University of Idaho where he established an education programme which emphasised general, critical thinking (“College is a place to learn how to educate oneself rather than a place in which to be educated”). He was fired from the job after only two years – the university faculty protested against his reforms, they had not expected such from the guy who invented the multiple choice test. (A longer article about this can be found here)

Cathy (as well as many others at Mobilityshifts) mentioned Mozilla Open Badges as a promising initiative to change the way learning is evaluated (more information here: http://openbadges.org/en-US/faq.html).

 

‘We need to refuse anonymous peer review’

(A selection of radical thoughts about learning and education from Mobilityshifts event – Part 2)

‘We need to refuse anonymous peer review’

Geert Lovink gave a presentation about the different publication methods that Institute of Network Cultures has been using so far (Studies in Network Culture, INC Readers, Network Notebooks and Theory on Demand. He also made some general remarks about ‘Do-It-Together Publishing’. I especially appreciate the idea that one of the aims of the publishing process is to further radicalize both the content and style.

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INC Principles of Do-It-Together Publishing

  • Collective decision making over the choice of format, length and deadline
  • Promotion of the concept/essay style
  • Regular support, both content-based and emotional assistance in writing process
  • Intense copy editing, in particular in the case of non-native English writers, with the aim to further radicalize both the content and style
  • Dealing together with the digital delivery

Larger Agenda of D.i.T Publishing

  • Refuse peer review and disassociate from IP-driven publishers (common exodus)
  • Conversion to a system of mutual aid
  • Critical engagement with open access standards (incl. software and typography)
  • Engagement in dialogue, discussion, comment cultures (social reading)
  • Networks to share experiences how best to distribute titles through multiple platforms

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Video recording of Geert’s presentation can be found online: http://vimeo.com/32725309

Here are a couple of quotes (at approx 25:00 in the presentation):

‘The peer review system as it exists in the academic world is  is corrupt to its core’ -

‘In particular of course anonymous peer reviewing, which is so largely used to bring down the self-esteem of many many people, it’s a very humiliating form of discussion’ – ‘it’s the most nasty form of contemporary debate we have’

Related links:

How to Make Your Own Volcanoes? (Timelab Springcamp 2012)

Twelve artists spent a week in Timelab / Ghent, Belgium to work on new artworks (or prototypes of new works) related to theme ‘In times of crisis, artists take a stand’.

Here is a glimpse to some of my favourites:

Gosie Vervloessem (BE) has created ‘recipes for disasters’ – instructions of how one can create miniature versions of natural disasters in one’s own kitchen. These experiments are related to Gosie’s longer term interest in ‘subliminal’ – whether we can achieve a sense of wonder or fear when a phenomenon is scaled to a miniature scale.

Here are a couple of making-of-a-volcano photos:


And here are some of Gosie’s recipes (she encouraged me to spread these as widely as possible): More

‘We can teach what we don’t know’

(A selection of radical thoughts about learning and education from Mobilityshifts event – Part 1)

WE CAN TEACH WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (a book by Jacques Rancière) tells the story of Joseph Jacotot, a French teacher and educational philosopher (born in 1770).

A key experience for Jacotot was the occasion when he had to teach French language to students who only understood Dutch, a language he could not speak himself. He gave the students a book with the same text in two languages (French and Dutch) and asked them to compare the texts in order to learn. To his surprise, the students learned French in a similar pace as the students that he was able to teach in a conventional way. He had to admit that his ability to teach was not based on knowledge, but on something else.

The key elements of Jacotot’s teaching manifesto are:

1. All men have equal intelligence;
2. Every man has received from God the faculty of being able to instruct himself;
3. We can teach what we don’t know;
4. Everything is in everything.

(Related to ‘Rancière: Ignorance Will Have Learned’ presentation by Jairo Moreno, University of Pennsylvania, Department of Music: http://soundcloud.com/thenewschoolnyc/ranci-re-ignorance-will-have)

Creating counter-narratives: Alastair Fuad-Luke on design activism


I met up with Alastair Fuad-Luke early on a Sunday morning to talk about design activism.

Alastair is currently based in Helsinki as Professor of Practice in Emerging Design Practices at Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture (that’s a long title!). Alastair will stay in Finland until December 2014 (at least) and is dividing his time between Aalto University in Helsinki and City of Lahti / Lahti University of Applied Sciences.

Alastair – could you introduce yourself briefly?

I was trained as an inter-disciplinarian and graduated as an environmental scientist in late 70s. I then started my doctoral research in applied biology in Cambridge, but this research was never completed since I set up a consultancy on ecological design – to repair industrial environments. I specialised in ecology and systems thinking and was working with planners, geologists, computer scientists, municipalities, etc. The consultancy soon evolved into an ecological landscape design and build company which is still functioning today, although I have not personally been involved since 1990.

I started to teach design in late 90s, I gave my first lecture on ‘eco-design’ in 1998.

Your most recent book is titled ‘Design activism’. How would you define design activism?

The preliminary definition can be found from the page 27 (this was written in 2009):

Design activism is ‘design thinking, imagination and practice applied knowingly or unknowingly to create a counter-narrative aimed at generating and balancing positive social, institutional, environmental and/or economic change’.
More

Lovely, blossoming Helsinki!

Carpe diem! Fishermen on Baltic sea, 29 Feb 2012

A snapshot of the grassroot arts, culture and democracy action in Helsinki – if I could clone myself, I could participate in all these events today, on 29 February 2012:

# 9:30 am – workshop & code-camp day of Avoin ministeriö
Avoin ministeriö (‘open ministry’) is a grassroot project that aims to offer help for Finnish citizens to make proposals for changes in Finnish legislation (starting on 1 March 2012, any proposal that can gather 50 000 supporters will be taken into consideration)
http://www.facebook.com/events/363561413673265/
http://www.avoinministerio.fi

# 2 pm – Launch of a new independent think-tank & online media Laitos
http://www.facebook.com/events/304400132951110/
http://www.laitos.fi

# 4 pm – Opening event of ‘Sosiaalinen Hub’
A temporary, open, collective workspace in central Helsinki for grassroot actors – an experiment that will last for a couple of weeks:
http://www.facebook.com/events/189735227799714/

# 6 pm – Mushrooming studio network
Brainstorming ideas for how independent artist / designer / cultural worker studios could collaborate:
http://adc2012.org/events/brainstorming-the-activities-of-mushrooming-network-of-small-studios-in-hki/

# 6 pm -Brainstorming neighbourhood democracy
http://www.facebook.com/events/179733068796308/

# 5:30 pm (-until late) – The afterparty of Avoin ministeriö + celebration of the new citizen initiative law
https://www.facebook.com/events/110861292370871/

# 6 pm – Utopian realities
Performing arts collective Todellisuuden tutkimuskeskus (‘Reality research center’) will kick off ‘Utopian realities’, their main project for next two years:
http://www.facebook.com/events/366834780002157/
http://www.todellisuus.fi/

# 7 pm – Maailmanpoliittiset Diplo-iltamat
Celebrating the latest issue of the translated Finnish version of Le Monde Diplomatique, thinktank Laitos, the day of social rights, etc.:
http://www.facebook.com/events/305049742891900/

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…and these are just the events that I happen to be aware of, there are probably many other related events going on as well.

It’s great to be here and participate in all this flourishing energy! ;)