Showing posts from May, 2008

Mindset Changing: Why Slave Ship Captain James Irving Couldn’t See The Irony of Being Enslaved and What We Can Learn from His Experience

One of the basic rules of planning communication goals is to make them achievable. Some things you can change and others you just have to live with. Maybe you can convince someone to buy your product, and maybe you can change their attitude about the environment, but some changes are just too big for one step, or perhaps even for one generation.

A new book has just been published that contains a beautiful example of this. Eighteenth century slave ship captain James Irving wrote many letters to his family which were never intended for publication. He also wrote at a time before the abolitionist movement when no one questioned slavery so his accounts of his experiences are uncensored and, to modern eyes, astonishingly candid. You can read the whole story in the book: Slave Captain: The Career of James Irving in the Liverpool Slave Trade (Liverpool English Texts and Studies) by Suzanne Schwarz

I won’t repeat here what he said about his human cargoes, since practically every word he wrote i…

Wikipedia Makes Me Clever: A Critique of Critical Critiques of the Online Encyclopedia

Hardly a day goes by without some educator protesting about the damage done to learning by Wikipedia. Students cut and paste text directly, they claim, or they repeat one-sided arguments and false stories planted by vandals and spin doctors. Actually I can well believe that students do these things and I am sure that had I grown up in the web 2.0 era I might have done the same, but this is no reflection on the quality of Wikipedia but rather a wasted opportunity to educate students about research techniques.

Pretty much everyone knows that Wikipedia is not perfect, but still it is an immensely useful source for a first quick look and as a source of links to primary sources, but anyone who is using the Wikipedia itself as a primary source badly needs to learn the basics of research. Rather than banning the use of Wikipedia, educators can actually use it as a very convenient, popular and well known resource for learning some key concepts of researching. To begin with you learn never to t…

The Newcastle of the Pope: Why CACC is not a Good Name for a Company and Yes, There Really is a Place Called Pukeberg

Some places have names that are romantic or glamorous: think Hollywood, Saint Tropez or Timbuktu. Others are not so fortunate: Dusseldorf in Germany, Pittsburgh in the USA and Pukeberg, Sweden come to mind. For the English the town of Newcastle is firmly in the second category. Not exactly England’s Beverly Hills, it was long famous as the place coal came from though these days it is perhaps more famous because of a brand of beer called Newcastle Brown Ale.

That’s why to English people “The Newcastle of the Pope” is such an incongruous and faintly absurd expression, yet that is the literal meaning of a wine that’s made just a short way from here in the Avignon area – a wine called Chateauneuf du Pape. To the French guy who coined this name it probably had a very literal meaning in the sense of a castle that is new that was built by the Pope, but through use it acquires a value of its own – a process recognized in trademark law. So, for example, the Sharp brand for consumer electronics…

Future Thinking: Recording Data for Playback Media Yet to Be Invented

Recently researchers discovered what was billed as the earliest sound recording ever – a brief clip of a French folk song recorded by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville in Paris on April 9, 1860. Actually de Martinville never intended to record sound to be played back. He was simply interested in capturing on paper a visual representation of sound for analysis, but with modern technology this paper can now be scanned and converted into sound by means that he could never have anticipated. (See the New York Times for details,

This reminded me that very often there is a means to capture inputs suitable for some future playback mechanism long before this mechanism exists. For example, decades before color photography became a mainstream product some photographers were capturing color separated black and white negatives for display using colored light projectors. Later these negatives could be used to ma…