Category Archives: on the web

How to draw dragons

I drew a dragon yesterday evening and you can see her here:

 

#dragon #coloredpencils #dailysketch #carandache #pablopencils #craftpaper.

A photo posted by Me (@wnbpaints) on

It has shown me two things 1) I have gotten better at drawing in the last 2 years or so, and 2) I’ve a bit to learn about coloured pencils. Either way, I am not here to talk about how to draw dragons directly, but more…metaphorically.

Most days when I am talking to people, we talk about stuff with a small s and Stuff with a big S. Rarely, however, do I get a 10 minute speech from any friend along the lines of “You have to listen to this for 10 minutes because It Will Change Your Life”. But lots of my friends post such screeds to me. Yesterday, I had some time tossing up between doing housework and drawing dragons. I find drawing challenging. I wasn’t really taught how to do it properly as a child and we tend to assume the ability to draw is innate rather than a teachable skill. I can only hope this is changing. Anyway, the net result is that I’m often wanting to draw something but too terrified to start. Every time I lift a pencil or pen, it takes an enormous amount of motivation. I liken it to the motivation required to starting to get exercise.

Since I started doing this, and since I started summoning up the courage required to try and, probably fail at something, I have seriously started to question the reasons why certain things go viral, why many of the advice pieces on making your living blogging and related items seem to focus not on creating something, or even teaching someone to create, but on telling someone how to live their lives, and to explain to them, they’re really not happy.

I’m really not happy about a lot of things but a ten minute video exhorting me to think about someone else isn’t the solution. This morning’s one – before I bailed on it (it helpfully had subtitles so I did not have to listen to it) went on about being caught by your dreams and risking all for it. Like many of these things, it ignores circumstance and has an unspoken message of if you’re unhappy, it’s your fault.

In a way, it’s part of the trend we have of over simplifying life. This guy was prancing around some nice landscapy place and the overwhelming message I was getting was that we were sheeple who hadn’t seen truth the way he had, and frankly, we should all be living our dreams. It is the sort of message that I look at and think, you know, this guy has no idea how privileged he is. I used to use the word “lucky” there but I’m not sure how much luck has to do with it in the end.

The thing is, the dragon turned out (in my opinion) quite a lot better than I expected. It’s not getting loads of social media love but I’m coming to the conclusion that’s not why I do this anyway. The key point is that while it is far from perfect, it is far less of a failure than it might have been 12 or 18 months ago. I’m not in favour of the try/fail paradigm of making progress particularly as it frequently doesn’t include the bit that goes try/fail/learn. In the tech work, the whole try/failure thing is often presented as a success in itself. It becomes party of the myth and narrative of successful founders.

I find that just a little bit toxic. The whole try/fail thing really doesn’t work unless it’s try/fail/learn and I suspect any founder who eventually makes it would probably agree.

Anyway, back with the dragon. I spend a lot of time looking at other people’s art, and especially, decomposing what they do into lines because I can draw lines and the whole problem for me is drawing lines together successfully. Sometimes, I wonder, if we do take enough time to decompose what other people are doing, when they are doing something we want to do. The whole

  1. idea
  2. ??
  3. profit thing

really does not work with drawing dragons. But I will say this. It’s a metric tonne easier if you have a battery operated eraser for dealing with those little slip ups.

I suppose the lesson I’m hoping to give away for free here is “use the best tools you can get, and use them properly”.

For my next trick, there will be more lighthouses.

 

Blindly fighting on

I had an interesting one during the week when someone made an assertion about the place I came from and I pointed out – politely – that they were wrong. I added I was from there.

My normal reaction when I’m the person making an assertion about Italy, and an Italian says “well actually…” is to assume I might be wrong. What seems to be increasingly evident is that most people assume they have nothing left to learn. The response I got was “this is a joke right, because based on other information I have which is entirely irrelevant and inadequate to the debate this is completely wrong, include major league misunderstanding of language”.

The social media scene in Ireland was upended by an argument on Twitter, primarily, about comments which Rosanna Davison may or may not have made regarding gluten and a number of illnesses. In one respect, it was, in an era of celebrity trumping all, gratifying to see a significant number of people pointing out that she was wrong.

But…it doesn’t really end there. At least one commentator took the view “so what if she said something stupid

Reaction is kind of ridiculous though. Who cares what she says about it, really

and at least one commentator suggested that this was pretty much bullying.

Remember a real person reads all those tweets

So it’s bullying to point out someone who is not a qualified doctor, who talks about her “qualification in nutritional therapy” is making assertions, in the field of health, which are wrong. And Harbison worries about Rosanna. What about all the people who a) are coeliac and know a whole pile more about it that she appears to and b) all the people with rheumatoid arthritis who really don’t need this misinformation becoming widespread. If nothing else, people start having to constantly field well meaning ignorance of the lines “you should…” and “why don’t you try this I read it in the Sindo once, you know Rosanna Davison, she has some kind of qualification in nutrition, so she knows what she is talking about….”

This is a sad state of affairs. Much of the commentary – from people who were deeply angry with her – was still unfailingly clear and polite. It is not bullying to point out someone is wrong. Davison’s response was to block commentary on twitter from experts in the field. This is the classic action of someone who doesn’t want to learn they are wrong.

And it is extremely important to point out when someone says something wrong, and potentially damaging in the field of health because it goes to the heart of keeping people healthy.

So an argument around a piece of history in one small town might be unimportant but there are subjects where it is not so unimportant.

At no point in their lives does anybody know everything about everything. It is entirely possible that one of the most useful skills we could pass on to people is learning to recognise when a) they are wrong and b) have something to learn from others.

In the meantime, XKCD will continue to provide one of the most accurate reflections of interactive discussions online today.

Duty Calls by the inimitable Randall Munro

In the meantime it’s worth nothing that Davison has made a statement suggesting the comments disputed are not in her book, she doesn’t really believe them and she has been misquoted.

On a wider note, I wonder how much the need our media has to sell newspapers has allowed themselves to abdicate their responsibility in terms of information gatekeeping. Put simply while it’s hard to prevent misinformation getting to the web courtesy of the democratisation of access to broadcast, one of the selling points of the newspapers was, in theory, that they were supposed to be better than that. But that is a debate for another day.

How can you ruin music?

According to the Guardian, Krystian Zimerman decried Youtube as destroying music. He was reacting to someone recording one of his concerts on a mobile phone – here’s the report.

I’ve mixed feelings about this. Mainly I have reservations about this because Youtube is full of absolutely exceptional music, and not all of it, or even much of it, is recorded on a mobile phone. I take the view that recording something on a mobile phone and sticking it up on Youtube is of questionable manners. But that’s a specific problem. The truth is Youtube acts almost like a world radio station on demand. I’ve bought a lot of music thanks to Youtube, and some of it is classical. A lot of the really good classical stuff on Youtube comes from television broadcasts. I don’t think you’d argue that Youtube is killing music if we are talking about well recorded television broadcasts. The Berliner Philharmonik has a fairly decent channel on Youtube, for example, and you can find some rather interesting, and previously difficult to find things there, like, for example, Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts.

But you don’t ruin music by putting it up on a website. I don’t know if you can ruin music because to some extent, it is a living breathing thing. You can maybe change the paradigms of the music business – massively – but this is not unique to Youtube. At the heart of it, we’re not really talking about music there, but the ability to raise money from music.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the measure of successful music was large sales of sheet music. No one much cared about recording. The business moved and adapted to recording as that disrupted the existing music industry. Even now, the digital piano market is hugely disrupting the analogue (for want of a better description) market and putting piano tuners out of business right left and centre. The business winds up evolving and changing. Music itself, however, goes on. We still play Schumann, we still play Chopin, some of us on CD, some of us on pianos, some of us streamed from Last.FM or some other radio station.

Arguably, it’s not so much killing music to record something on a mobile phone. It is, however, deeply impolite.

I’d prefer that people were reminded of that, rather than being lectured about how they are killing music. Music has been around for a very long time, a bit like life itself, it survives and adapts. Manners, on the other hand….

 

We the people and open data

When I told my mother that the Oireachtas website had stopped serving XML the other day, she wasn’t very pleased on two counts. She wasn’t pleased that this was not reported on her main news service and she wasn’t pleased that it happens.

I might never go to Kildarestreet.com but I absolutely value the concept of open data and believe that our ability to crowd source and mash data is massively important and it is a coming skill, not just in government matters but in most matters relating to the collection of data on which decisions rest. We the tax payers pay for this data and I don’t think it’s unrealistic to make it easy for us the tax payers to gain access to it. Saying “It’s on the Oireachtas website” is not really adequate if the Oireachtas website is not all that perfect from an accessibility or search point of view which in fact, it was prone not to be.

In a country where there is massive attachment to smart economies, computer science, and we have business people talking about datascience being the coming thing, and we have an official policy on open data, the decision to stop releasing XML was a retrograde step. I know that there is some effort being made to rectify this and hopefully next week Kildarestreet.com will be back functional. But it does suggest that there is occasionally a tendency to make short decisions without looking at the wider ramifications and what it is we talk about wanting to achieve and what we are doing to achieve this.

I will be writing to my local TD today – whom I viscerated on my doorstep last week for various reasons relating to pensions and poor job creation plans – and I will include this as evidence of the lack of consistency between words and actions on the part of our government at this time. It may be a small thing – it’s not like Kildarestreet.com or god knows the Oireachtas’s own website – get anything like the same amount of traffic as Facebook for example – but it is evidence of an ethos, a desire on how to do things, which matters for the future.

How to avoid a 386 situation.

  1. Identify the site in question
  2. install a plug in such as Leechblock or StayFocused.
  3. Allow yourself 20 minutes on that site a day.
  4. You get thrown out.

Plus points of this are:

  1. Your mind gets focussed on what’s really important about your interaction on that site.
  2. You have more time to play Bejewelled
  3. You realise there is more to life than online fora.
  4. Your stress levels and blood pressure tend to be a bit healthier.

Worth doing. 386ing yourself is not good. People being wrong in bars gets limited by barmen asking if you have no homes to be going to. You need an equivalent for the internet.

Interesting stuff to listen to: More or Less

Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist at the Financial Times does a radio series on BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service called More or Less which takes a look at how statistics are reported. It is produced in cooperation with the Open University which is an extraordinary resource that I have the fortune to benefit from at the moment.

We don’t really have something like this in Ireland which is a pity. New Zealand has a lovely blog site that does something similar except on a blog rather than on the radio. I’m inclined to perhaps looking at this model and doing a post a week on the subject but this would mean I’d have to find time to read the Irish papers, even the ones I can’t stand, to find some poor statistical reporting and then write about it.

 

I’m tempted, however.

Science – it’s a girl thing

Let’s assume you want to get more women into science, and more women to stay there once they are in.

And then you release this video clip. Daily Telegraph link by the way.

I feel sorry for the European Commission in certain respects. They have to deal with all sorts of cross cultural misunderstandigs and miscommunications. They’re everybody’s favourite target – particularly amongst politicians – for a punchbag. And then sometimes, they just get things wrong.

There are issues getting girls into science. I’m not absolutely sure why although when the time was I chose languages over chemistry because I wanted to live in France (yes, I know this is a superficial reason) and the chem/lang course I’d love to have done did not exist at the time. I am back studying mathematics and statistics however with some vague interest in geology and oceanography so….

But women don’t stay in science because they don’t think it’s cool and trendy. There are practical issues for a lot of jobs which make them very unfriendly for women who take time off to have children. There is a lot of instability in the academic/science world in terms of funding at the moment. Science is still not really all that well remunerated compared to – for example – the financial industry. And, though it grieves me to say it, whether many are willing to admit it or not, women are not always welcomed by men in the workplace, regardless of what work it is.

This video sucked. It has been pulled from the campaign site now. But in terms of getting girls into science, I have to say I think this comic strip is one of the best ever:

XKCD nails it again.

There are a couple of great, great messages in this.

Ravelympics and the Streisand effect

I’ve been a way for a few days during the week so am just catching up now with this. Transpires the US Olympic Committee took a bit of exception to the existence of something called the Ravelympics.

If you read my other site, thingsthatstrikeme, you might know that I occasionally wield a crochet hook or a pair of knitting needles and linked to that, of course I am a member of Ravelry. I’ve never gotten involved in the Ravelympics though because of course, I haven’t really had time (look, the last major work I finished took three years; we have a top that’s running on a year at the moment so…). But I’ve known about it. Basically the deal is you sign up to do something a bit harder than you’re used to, and start it with the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games and finish it with the closing ceremony. That’s the deal. What people do tends to be up to them, they may decide to clear a bunch of works in progress, they may decide to do their very first sweater, lace shawl, you name it. The options are fairly limitless. And typically, they do all this while watching the Olympics and supporting the athletes from their country. Ravelry has a 2 million strong user base, and the site itself, while based in the US, has a worldwide reach. It is an extraordinary example of the use of social media to promote a particular interest and beats off competition from any other specialist site I know including all the photography ones in terms of its reach and success in its target community. It is funded by advertising and the advertising is fully targeted towards its user base which is a bad thing for me, actually because look at all that lovely yarn they have in the Yarn Room. I digress.

Anyway, the USOC sent a cease and desist to Ravelry over the Ravelympics because they own Olympics in the US and it’s fair to say, the C&D wasn’t all that well received. Not so much about the accusations of trademark infringement but the attitude towards the knitting and crochet community. Money quote is this one:

“We believe using the name ‘Ravelympics’ for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games,” the USOC wrote in the letter. “It is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work.”

From here.

All told, I’m not sure I agree with the USOC on this, frankly. I’m also not sure that their understanding of the true nature of the Olympic Games matches mine.

Ravelry seem to be looking into a rename of the Olympic driven knit-along. I don’t blame them. They’re a small site and they don’t have limitless funds. However, it’s clear to me that the USOC aren’t all that clear on the hard work that goes into creating handmade items on a large scale. LIke I said, I’ve this intricate lace skirt that took three years. Three years for one item.

From the same article:

The USOC, for its part, has released two written apologies on its website, but it has not backtracked on its requests. “That [cease-and-desist] letter was sent from our law department and was written by a summer law clerk,” explains Sandusky. “The ‘denigration’ statement was made in error. The letter was probably a bit strongly worded and we regret that and apologize to the community. But we don’t apologize for trying to protect our right to the term ‘Olympics.’”

I just have an issue with the idea that C&Ds are sent out by summer law clerks. Additionally, I do question knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing when it comes to the right to the term “Olympics”.

I suspect their issue relates to slippery slopes. I feel sorry for them.