Wolf Hall notes

A faithful historic rendition of the years Thomas Cromwell rises to power first under Cardinal Wolsey, then King Henry VIII. This account is the first of a trilogy, now finished, with the first two winning the Booker Prize. An acclaimed BBC mini-series brings the book even more to life. A story for all ages, reviewed in the Guardian and NYTimes, here a couple of takes on issues at the edge of the story: the printing of books and paper notes.

You get a really good picture of life in 1530s England under Henry VIII and his court with this book. Court politics aside, money and banking aside (both ample topics), we get a glimpse of how the printing press, tied to Luther and Protestantism, is infiltrating and changing England and Europe.

Cardinal Wolsey sees this early on and gains power and wealth by decommissioning monasteries, mostly full of corrupt monks, and using the proceeds to establish colleges at Oxford. You can see the power move from church to university.

When Tyndale translates the Bible into vernacular English, it becomes a target of the King, trying to maintain credit and credibility among the Catholic kings of Europe, to which he is indebted. With his annulment to Katherine, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabelle, things get confusing. But the disruptive nature of books in the hands of regular people is well noted by Cromwell, who tries to manage his fortune around that fact.

The other notable part of this book (for me) is Cromwell’s fascination with the Memory Palace, which he learned in Italy, and commissioned a sort of memory machine by the Italian (Name begins with C), now moved to Paris. He goes on about a box, or chest, with drawers, and drawers within drawers, each with a book in it, and each with more drawers inside, linked from the text to another book. There is an eerie resemblance to Vannevar Bush and his concept of linked texts in As We May Think. Evidently, though, this is an adaptation of a system to remember things, Method of Loci, where lists are remembered by assigning them places, so it is also called a Memory Palace.

I plan to take a short break and start book 2 of the trilogy in about a week, on my daily walks up the hill to the park, then winding down through the cemetery. The audiobook version read by Ben Miles is excellent. Also looking to find a place to watch the BBC mini-series (It’s on Amazon, 4 Episodes, each about 90 minutes).

Weakly Post #2

Note: Here is a quick collection of recent links that have tittled my interest. Go to my blog. Read. Comment (I have to approve your first comment, but then you can whenever.) And yes, I know tittled is not a word and I didn't spell Weekly right. It makes searching easier.

Kitties: My wife’s kitty (Noah) has been keeping me company while she is helping her mother in Nagoya. Did you know that their whiskers are just wide enough to tell them they can get through a hole?


We can see the underbelly of the immigration crisis, with the capitalists making out like bandits with help from the Banana Republicans. For-profit jails (like for-profit universities) are raking in government money and paying slave wages. Literally. Slave wages. (DailyBeast)

Fortunately, we have people taking a bit longer look at the year ahead, and how similar it is to a century ago. (NYTimes) Politics, literature, and culture were changing at a tremendous rate then and now. For a broader look at post-WW1 and how it really wasn’t so peaceful, read futurist Bryan Alaxander.


Speaking of Alexander, I have just finished (late) reading Twitter and Teargas as part of his online book club. Zeynep Tufecki has covered demonstrations all over the world in research and has long been studying the beneficial (initially) and detrimental (ongoing) effects on political movements. Confession here, reading the book, I imagined Tufecki as a man and just saw her picture, making the book even more amazing considering all the places (Mexico and Guatemala, Egypt, Turkey and others) in her studies of often contentious and violent demonstrations. The excellent research goes without saying.

Rachel Maddow is killing it with her incisive journalism, marshalling details often overlooked, connecting the past to today, making her more and more popular. (WashingtonPost). With her BA from Stanford, and PhD from Oxford (PoliSci), she regularly pummels Trump colluder Sean Hannity (did not graduate) on information available. One of the best things I did on my walks this last month was to listen to Bag Man, a podcast about Spiro Agnew, a corrupt local Maryland politician elevated to Vice President under Nixon for his rhetoric against politics and the media. The Justice Department investigation into his ongoing bribery in the white house as it was coming down around the ears of Nixon and him was faithfully rendered by Maddow in 7 episodes of about 30 minutes each. The reflection on today is both alarming and exhilarating. There is precedent.

Connectivism mathified #el30

I am in this online course, an extension of a MOOC, called E-Learning 3.0, hosted by Stephen Downes. Over 10 weeks (12 if you count the warm-up) we look at the technical and social sides of where learning online (edtech?) is going, or at least where it is right now. 

MOOCS have been closely associated with Connected Learning over the last 10 years, especially for Stephen and a group of thinkers “connected” to him. I, for example have been “connected” since the first MOOC in 2008, and since then in a couple of other online events. Building a personal learning envirionment (PLE) or similar is expanding your connections to other resources and people, thus the name “Connected Learning”. But others have taken that idea and refined it so that it could be considered an alternative to Constructivist (think Piaget), Constructionist (think Papert) (disambiguation) or Behaviorist (think Skinner).  

Connectivism came about as a result of the environment. The web was maturing, and the web is based on nodes with anchors, links and targets to other nodes. Brain science (OK, neuroscience) was going great gangbusters with a new tool called FMRI, discovering all these links between neurons. I was reading Linked by Albert-Lazlo Barabasi. It was only natural that we try to apply these advances to learning (and by extension, to teaching, and finally to education). 

Back to the present. In our 3rd week of #el30 we are looking at some highly technical roots of connectionism, mostly mathematical concepts that underlie how tech works, how we work with tech, and how we work with each other.  Last week we talked about tree structures, which look like the sentence diagrams we wrote at kids when Chomsky was applied to everything. It also looks like the sports league championship diagrams. 

But this week we move from trees to graphs. All trees are graphs (a subset), but graphs can be more like networks, with multiple connections in all directions, without–and this is crucial–a center. From there the thinking widens to neural networks and machine learning. Note again that these can be applied to networks of machines or of people. It is a way to look at the world, a way to see that the connections are just as important as the nodes of content. I can see how this can even get philosophical. 

I don’t understand much of this. When I studied this stuff in the ’90s, about Speech Recognition, there was the Markov Model and not much else. It has blossomed as I have ignored it. My silly prediction that SR would be viable was premature by at least a decade. But now we have SR, many of us use it every day, and it is based on these ideas of graph theory. This is my corner of the connected part of this course. You can jump in any time. 

Media Literacy Debate

My brain hurts. Dana Boyd gave the keynote speech (1 hour) at SXSWedu (an annual media conference with an educational add-on). I first caught wind of the controversy through Stephen Downes’ blog. I read Dana Boyd’s original post, and a response by Benjamin Doxtdator.

Before reading Dana Boyd’s follow-up on Medium, I decided to watch the video, the whole hour. This is where I am now. She has raised issues that I had not considered and am still working on integrating into my framework. A challenge. The reason this is so important is that I teach English in Tokyo and use a lot of tech doing so.

Slide from Dana Boyd’S SXSWedu Keynote of web page by Elita Saulle at teachingrocks.ca

Moreso, this year, I am concentrating on providing a wide range of online opportunities in most of my classes this year.  I have added a series of activities (self-evaluation, introspection on motivation, communication, and learning, along with goal setting and planning) to give students both more freedom and more autonomy, and make sure they have the tools to handle it. Then I let them loose (well, with a semi-curated set of content) to explore and work with the results of those first few activities.

I am not so sure I can do that, now. I really need to rethink how I approach my use of online materials. I have moved away from teaching English directly as a subject, and promote self-learning of English by using it as a thinking tool. I can get away with this because most of my students are solid intermediate level and above. But the concerns she raises mean I have to look at how a non-native speaker should treat the media landscape (ie the web). In some ways, my students and the culture in Japan can (and have) teach me about how to hold two conflicting ideas at the same time and not go crazy. The problem is that this ability is not usually applied to content and interaction on the web.

Discounting everything is the road to nihilism. Blind belief is the road to becoming a patsy. But foisting your opinion, even with scientific evidence, is also not an answer. Recognizing that individuals and institutions such as shock vloggers and Cambridge Analytica play the media regularly to their own ends, and more important work to devalue the media and all other forms of authority is becoming an indispensable skill. This is Howard Rheingold’s crap detection on steroids and taken to another orbit.

One of the keys is being able to recognize toxic information and walking away. Ignoring things is something I have been taught is completely wrong. But now, with manufactured content designed to create a visceral gut reaction and a response, realizing the Buddhist idea of impermanence may help. Lots more thinking to do first, though. And learn how to discuss with people who disagree with me while avoid being gaslighted.

Interactive Fiction and Time Travel

I have been delving into Interactive Fiction lately, becoming more consumed by both reading (watching, playing) branching fiction stories (Choose Your Own Adventure, or CYOA) and the like. Zork is probably the first digital instance of branching fiction. There is an annual competition of IF stories (record 72 submissions) you can try out if you like.

I also read a lot of science fiction, the latest being D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson (my favorite author) and Nicole Galland, collaborator with Neal and 4 others on The Mongoliad Trilogy (another kind of interactiveness). D.O.D.O. is a story about magic, and its recursive recovery and application in modern times through time travel. A very complicated treatment of time travel, with varios threads of the story intertwining like the infinite branches in the universe.

I teach a course that uses Twine for students to create their own interactive fiction. I find it the easiest of the different story engines (word processors for branching fiction) out there.

So when I saw this video, it made me happy to see a physicist treat the plots of time travel movies in such a logical way. This is important to both Interactive Fiction (IF) and storytelling.