Thursday, February 28, 2019

On Being Interviewed by Gardner Campbell

As part of week two of the annotation project on Doug Engelbart's 1962 report - manifesto- Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework, I was interviewed by Gardner Campbell, the project leader.

This open project has aimed at going back to the the dream of the pioneers of the Internet, to review the vision they had of where we are today in our fast paced connected existence. Amid the foreshadowing of the then imaginary future, the flashback of trying to imagine how a man could accurately describe the way I can read him and write annotations more than half a century later, annotators from diverse backgrounds have been expanding the scope of our understanding about a distant 1962 mirror showing what interconnectedness could have been. Engelbart's image remains intact, as a young portrait of a visionary artist.

To make this project/expedition go further, a set of 14 featured annotators have been chosen to explore another level of reflection, a meta-annotation context of sorts where people can voice their connections to the work of Engelbart as well as their choices of paragraphs for their annotations. To reflect on how you reach those reflections while recording emerging ideas adds a layer of interestingness I have not experienced online before.

Following the meta-nature of this project, I would like to write a couple of backstage comments around this interview, actually my first video appearance online.

Allow me to express that when Gardner asked me to be part of this, I felt challenged, honoured and intrigued. I went why-me mode for a whole day or two before accepting. My educational background is far from engineering or computer systems. How could my own teaching English as a foreign language intermingle with Engelbart's framework? Yet one thing was certain: Gardner trusted I could make a valuable contribution. Trust does it. It dissolves doubts.

Gardner and I have been reading each other on our blogs for about a decade. As we recall at the start of our conversation, it was probably a brief twitter exchange followed by curiosity and reflection that made us stay on each other's radar.  That was back in 2007. We had never had a synchronous talk until February 2019.

It was such a treat. I hardly felt it was a first conversation. It was the closest thing to collaboratively blogging out loud. It just flowed and I personally lost track of time. Time travelling towards Engelbart's context in writing, Gardner pointed out the links between my ideas and the research framework of 1962; at the same time, I think we also resumed a conversation paused a decade ago, with our blogging spirit unmarred by the present disbelief which pervades in teachers' staffroon around us these days. We have managed to maximize the window where our visions were projected back in 2007. Luckily, that link has not been broken. It is still well worth a bookmark to revisit.

And now I choose to think we have had a much delayed first meeting of old friends. What you will find in that video is two people enjoying the chance of synchronous thinking together, intensely exploring our layered minds with our ideas and accelerating augmentation. It definitely went beyond my expectations.

It has certainly been one of those amazing stories of connectedness, not remembered, but recorded as it developed. It makes me grateful to live at a time when the Internet can unite Virginia and Buenos Aires with a click. Such an everyday thing, you say? But for those of us who started writing with a lonely typewriter, we still recognize Internet is magic.

All I can add to end this post is a deep heartfelt thank you, Gardner. I look forward to more conversations.

Special thanks to my blogger friend Gabriela, who hosted the web meeting in her home and shared thoughts and lunch with me afterwords.

Hope you enjoy the interview.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

As We May Remember

“...the symbolic portrayal of each concept must be such that the human can work with it and remember.”

When you touch a deeply rooted memory in your brain, you unperceptively alter it. Your mind is not the same who had a starring role in the scene, it is a mind quickly shifting to director's mode. Our most treasured memories -for better of worse- suffer structural alterations every time we revisit them. So do our brains. You think you link to a memory. You actually create a new experience, which, in turn, you will evoke, like music, only to edit loops of future memories. And round and round you go carving on the vynil of your brain.

I secretely keep a couple of paper photographs I took of my only brother about 25 years ago. They are not on any portrait in the house. They are hidden. My elder brother left this world in 2003. Since then, I have kept a lonely ritual of looking at those two photos once a year only, on his birthday. Why? Because if I saw them every day on a portrait on my desk, for instance, his image would risk becoming as meaningless as any other mundane object. But, most importantly, because the revival effect of seeing that face again in all its details would wane and I would forever lose the beauty of its effect, the sense of newness in those highly evoking traces of who he was -as well as who I was behind those lens. Those photos are like great poems for me: rereading them surpases my best word by word recall of them. I do not just see them again; I experience them again.

Yet, neuroscience would quicklycontradict me. I cannot keep old photos in the hope of making an instant eternal. Apparently, every time we revisit learnt or memorized events, we alter them by making fresh neural connections. Our autobiographical, episodic memory is not passive at all. It is one of the most creative actions our brains can engage in. The context of retrieval is key. We build new relationships with the memory of the scents, voices and photos of our most cherished times lived. Accepting that it is impossible to go back and relive, all there is left is a hyperlink between past and present, which is by no means less fascinating than the paradise lost we long for.

I think it was Virginia Woolf who said in a book here on my shelves -alas, I cannot google in it, so I will rely on my memory- that she could get a sense of sadness mixed with anxiety every time she realised that a good sentence not written at the first moment she conceived it could get lost in her mind forever. All she could be certain about, all she could distinctly remember, is that the never born sentence was a very good one, probably a great one, but sadly lost.

Writing as annotating is a process of taking snapshots of your ideas here today. Many a note in this blog has been written in an attempt to capture what my own thoughts were before I got in close contact with someone else's mind. Something important, something I did not want to forget. A prompt, a writing plan, a road not taken in my brain. So that after reading what other annotators say you may, after all, go back to your  ownfledgeling - private- thoughts looking for a spark of a lost direction. Like a sepia photo that smiles back to us from a distant time, to foster the illusion of revisiting ideas, yet imperceptively modifying the deepest layers of our thinking around them, creating new paths of thought, as we may remember.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Amid experts and augmented novices

Today marks my 12th Twitter anniversary. Actually, twelve years ago, I simply signed in and remained silent for a while. Then I surfed and read about twitter to collect my thoughts on it, which resulted on a post called This Twittering Life. A post I remember enjoying the process of writing and the aftermath in its comments. The friendly, long lasting connections made with valuable people have stayed alive over a decade now.

So I go back in blogging time tunnel machine and reread my 2007 self in a relaxed, guilty-less procrastination mode. Actually a retrospective FOMO pang tells me I must drain time in there. I stumble upon a quote with the powerful voice of Kathy Sierra. Her blog is up and intact since then -lucky us. I click on a random 2006 entry and I come across a compelling quote which I sense (for lack of a better description of that kind of certainty) might augment my neurons on the Doug Engelbart report I am about to reread and annotate.

Here is Kathy's insight:

"Flow means we need a certain amount of time to load our knowledge and skills into our brain RAM. And the more big or small interruptions we have, the less likely we are to ever get there.
And not only are we stopping ourselves from ever getting in flow, we're stopping ourselves from ever getting really good at something. From becoming experts. The brain scientists now tell us that becoming an expert is not a matter of being a prodigy, it's a matter of being able to focus."

If you guess that in my procrastication mode I deliberately clicked on 'focus', you get me. Yes, I did. Only to find a broken link!! Please someone tell the Scientific American there is a beauty in keeping an original url...

Agrr. It seemed to be THE link on the whole Internet I needed to get out of annotator's block syndrome! Nevermind. It is possible to bring it back through The Wayback machine here.

The Expert Mind by Philip E. Ross, written in 2006 (download) is a fascinating read. Ross gives that instant knowledge type -I could not pin upon-  a name:

"...much of the chess master's advantage over the novice derives from the first few seconds of thought. This rapid, knowledge-guided perception, sometimes called apperception, can be seen in experts in other fields as well."

A quick consultation with Google defines apperception as "the mental process by which a person makes sense of an idea by assimilating it to the body of ideas he or she already possesses." In addition, the Wikipedia apperception article breaks down the use into different fields:

-The term originated with René Descartes and Leibniz "used the word practically in the sense of the modern attention, by which an object is apprehended as "not-self" and yet in relation to the self."

-"In psychology, apperception is "the process by which new experience is assimilated to and transformed by the residuum of past experience of an individual to form a new whole. In short, it is to perceive new experience in relation to past experience."

-"The whole intelligent life of man is, consciously or unconsciously, a process of apperception, in as much as every act of attention involves the appercipient process."

At this point all this attention and apperception process reading resonates with the act of annotating as inspired in the thoughtvectors site by Alan Levine.

Alan says,
"Note a connection with other parts of the document, or with your world, or with the world in general, then or now."

That is the augmented road to follow amid experts and novices.

Alan adds,
"Don't feel you have to know everything before you can say anything. Sometimes novices notice things that are less visible to experts."

...which takes me back to Ross' article:
"experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind box's open all the time, so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standards set by leaders in their fields."

We cannot read it all and yet, our last century learning-studying habits still demand we do so before we bring our minds to conclude something. So this augmented learning approach Ross described is all about the challenge ahead. The past text, amid a community of novices and experts around the globe now looking on Doug Engelbart's findings.

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Friday, February 01, 2019

Larger than a note: an augmented attempt

I have been invited by Gardner Campbell to join him in an annotating project which will bring together students, scholars and scientists to look deeper into Doug Engelbart's research report Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework (1962). I am humbled and honoured to join them. I am also curious and excited about this open-ended learning experience.

As I try to learn more about the project, I thought it would be a good start to drop some notes here about my questions, fledgeling thoughts and links as I embark in a new inspiring online journey. Mind you, I am not planning to be organised. I just attempt to gather enough stepping stones to cross a river into an unknown text for me. In my years as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language and a Translator trainee, I had not heard of Doug Engelbart.

So the questions come along: Who is he? Why is he so important? Why does it matter to go back to a text written in 1962? How does his research relate to languages? How can I relate to this study field and work?

According to Wikipedia, Douglas Engelbart (1925-2013) was an internet pioneer who studied in the field of human computer interaction (HCI). He engineered his way to invent the computer mouse and hypertext. In 1968,  while working for the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), he made a demonstration of visionary impact, which came to be known as The Mother of All Demos.

At this point of hyperlinked, fragmentary reading, I get the feeling Doug was probably a born-teacher.

Prior to exploring links, the first thing I did before accepting the invitation was to plunge directly into Doug's original 1962 text. I had to go down several paragraphs before I sensed the text had something old in it. It was the mention of a typewriter that had a sudden time travelling effect. For the most part, you would not guess it was written over half a century ago.

My first impression was that it is kind of difficult to read. Or perhaps it is the way Doug tries to address an audience and guide them into his matrix. I do not think there were EFL teachers there. They were probably busy getting organised as TESOL in 1966.

I learn from Gardner's conversation with Christina, Doug's daughter, that his father wrote in isolation:

"It’s never easy to sum up a decade’s worth of thought, especially when that thought has seemed dangerous to utter."

Reading on, Gardner reflects on the nature of the text's difficulty:

"But now it’s time for a confession. When folks ask me if I, too, find the essay difficult, I usually mumble some kind of assent out of fellow feeling. Yes, I do find it a challenging piece of writing—but no more so than Milton, or Shakespeare, or Woolf, or Faulkner, or Joyce. In fact, in its complexity and playfulness, “Augmenting Human Intellect” resonates with me very strongly as a work of art, even a work of philosophy. I can’t claim to have gotten to the bottom of it. Perhaps I never will. Art is like that."

Beautifully expressed. It rules out any giving up on reading on.

I know Gardner expects my educator's insights in my annotating contributions. Yet, at this first stage to approach Doug Engelbart's voice, I rely solely on my translation instrumental reading skills. I remember my Scientific Translation teacher now. Many times you must translate a couple of paragraphs from a field you know nothing about and must achieve understanding and accurate expression in another language in a limited time. You needn't be a medical doctor to translate one, but you must interpret and speak at the same level. We complained about difficulty, of course. How could we decipher the original written by an expert not even writing in his mother tongue? She always answered:

"It is just text."

You grab that flag and march on.

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