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Conversational education

I find myself, from time to time, in discussion regarding topics on which I have a lack of depth, of experience; economics, business, law and the like; this is one of the most effective ways to learn that I've found. Recently, though, I've started noticing that some communities don't accept this as a valid method of learning.

One of my social communities refuses to hold discussion on some topics with me, until I've formally educated myself via other means; we clash over and over again on the core issue of "terminology". There's a rigid set of terminology definitions that I'm expected to know, without which discussion is refused. It's very strange; where normally I'd learn out of the discussions the context and usage of the terminology, the chance never appears. Without access to ongoing discussions, I haven't been able to internalize the terminology required to "gain access", as it were, to the discussions.

Another community reacts to my lack of knowledge by derailing active topic discussions just long enough to, as far as I can tell, prove how utterly incompetent my statements are. I don't mind this, even though it's usually done in a derogatory (if humorous) fashion. Generally, though, the content of my comments is left unaddressed; discarded or ignored, perhaps due to my lack of skill. After this occurs several times, I'll leave a discussion, upset at having my words trivialized (or worse, ignored).

One of my friends suggested that I might find communities more open to this kind of learning at universities, and I appreciate the suggestion; it's not one that occurred to me, and it makes sense. I have an uneducated question, though: what's different about a university setting? What thing is present at a university that isn't present in some of my peer communities?

I think that what's missing from these communities is a desire to teach, a willingness to answer questions asked solely to assist learning. It didn't occur to me until recently that, sometimes, people don't want to teach; I was introduced to this when one of the communities asked me to stop expecting them to teach. I guess that makes sense, but I haven't figured out how to adapt to it yet.

For the duration of my childhood, my social community didn't include my student peers. I was familiar with most of the teachers, and my extended family (which includes at least four teachers). It never occurred to me that I couldn't ask questions, and so I always did. In that manner I made my way to the end of high school, learning a wide variety of things.

I think I can attribute a great deal of my success with computers to my family finding books that could answer the questions I asked, and to my teachers for allowing me to muck about with their computers as I learned. By the end of middle school, I'd been acting as an off-and-on assistant to the school's "IT guy", partially managing several computers throughout the building for them.

Another side effect of this learning seems to be a sort of "wisdom" or "maturity" or "common sense" or "intuition", something that's apparently not present in everyone; it's rather hard to describe. I guess it's best labeled as having a knack for seeing the truth behind something, for choosing the right decision in unusual circumstances, for perceiving things that I ought to be entirely unaware of. My sister evidences this same quality, as does my entire extended family -- at least, those I've had the opportunity to meet.

I'm part of two communities that enjoy teaching, that seem willing to do so far more often than do the members of two other communities. I'm much more a fan of the kind that enjoy teaching, and I stress out occasionally interacting with those that don't. I can stop asking them to teach, but then I'll miss the opportunities when they're willing -- and they have so much knowledge that I can't stand not to ask.

I'm moving back to the West coast in a couple of months, to be near my family; there's still many things left for me to learn (and I miss them anyways). I'd like to find more people, though, that don't mind this conversational style of education; I'm just not sure how to ask that question, I guess.

Lazyweb: Tracking comments with dc:contributor

I just noticed that I've been listed as a <dc:contributor> in the HTML source of this blog article.

I've been using GoogleRT for a week or so now to look for posts from myself, as Google finds them. It's useful for finding responses I make on various blogs.

I don't know what current HTML RSS RDF thingy that these tags are a part of, but they're a real easy way for me to locate posts I make using Google -- and they're cached, too, so I don't have to use your bandwidth to read them.

It sounds like a central index of the articles, something that'd be useful to add to the recent discussions on finding comments.. It does have one side effect; if I'm listed as a <dc:contributor> because I provided comment for the article, I'll see those articles too.

Lazyweb, I invoke thee: Is there a way to have my blog software scan my post for <cite> tags, and generate the proper <dc:contributor> elements in the header (and RSS feeds) of my blog? NNW could scan my RSS feeds for this stuff, and highlight articles I'm a contributor to.

Business, Politics, Empathy

I find myself in situations at work where my boss has political reasons for me to not do the otherwise appropriate thing. It's become apparent, over time, that I'm oblivious to these politics, and we've been working out a protocol I can follow, to stop interfering.

During the conversation, they observed that I "give away" far more "information" than I think I do. Initially, I agreed; I do broadcast a lot of what goes through my mind to those around me. Something haunted me, though: why am I oblivious to their politics, yet, clearly aware of my broadcasts?

I can see a lot of what I send out, and I'm accustomed to reading it in others; it's best described as empathy. Tuned for emotion, and not guaranteed to work, I excel with some, and flail with others. That doesn't really bother me, though; it's the kind of communication with others I enjoy. Why, then, does this interfering with business politics?

I can neatly summarize all the politics I've seen in business as "competition"; for money, for influence, for recognition. In competitive events, one team often loses to an opponent who exploits a weakness in their team. Many teams will try, preemptively, to hide or resolve weaknesses. Am I exposing a weakness of some sort?

In many situations, I'll "poll" the opinions of my friends, simply because I'm curious what they think. Generally, you'd see this in a group of friends walking into a party, or between two women when a guy approaches; it's that turn of the head, the comment to a friend, a quiet reply. I do this with my friends, in many situations; I also do this in business.

In many situations, when there's a problem at hand, I'm quick -- too quick, sometimes -- to offer my thoughts, ideas, disagreements. If they're not needed, no harm done; if they help, so much the better. I do this to a small extent around friends, and more so in business; I was hired to be a problem-solver, after all. Recently, though, I've become aware that my willingness to share my differences interferes with business politics.

In business, there's a need to have your team appear, to the competition, as a unit; no one should be breaking ranks, and the entire team works together towards a single decision. Expressing disagreement (doubt) in a manner visible to the competition is viewed as a weakness; a team must operate

Business teams try to appear as a group operating in unison, in agreement on decisions that are to be made. Disagreement expressed during a competition is viewed as a sign of weakness by all; thus, when I share my doubts, I'm making us look weak in the eyes of others. However, I view this inability to accommodate differing viewpoints as, itself, a weakness.

Train a team to work together efficiently while airing opinions that may differ, in a quick and competent manner; to reach consensus and take action in a matter of seconds, when little time is available. Those people would likely move faster, solve things quicker, adapt better to new situations, than any other team out there, using efficient, subconscious, nonverbal communications; an empathic team, if you will.

The discussions would, initially, be mostly verbal; an unpracticed team would, initially, be crushed in competition. A good solid month of training, however, and many people would form tight-knit, cohesive teams. A good empathic team could, after training, take advantage of the "weakness" inherent in a business team.

When placed into situations requiring fast decisions and ambiguous information, I think that an empathic team would be able to respond quicker and more effectively than most business teams. The ability to air differing opinions and reach consensus quickly would provide for a flexibility that might go unmatched by other teams; it also provides for a level of satisfaction that goes missed in business.

I'd like to be a part of an empathic team, someday; there's a level of feedback and trust, present in all of my friendships, that I'd love to see incorporated into business. Perhaps I'll find what I seek in business, or perhaps not; but I suspect it'll be a lot of fun looking.

LazyWeb: RSS to MovableType converter, TrackBack pings as posts

I'd like to see the LazyWeb site become a for-real blog, with support for comments and trackback pings, while retaining the current TrackBack-driven posting interface. I offer two solutions to this problem in the form of a dual post to the Lazyweb; the first is a quick solution, the second is a far-reaching solution. Have fun :)

Write an RSS to MovableType converter, that occasionally sucks the contents of a feed into MovableType's comment database (paying attention to uniqueness, updates, etc). The goal is to leave the current interaction structure intact (as the lazyweb appears today, while providing for all the features of a full-blown blog: comments, trackback, archives, searching, etc.

Alternately, modify TrackBack pings to be individual comments in the MovableType database, assigned to category "TrackBack". Then you could trackback ping *individual* trackback pings, or the item being pinged (as a side effect, automated ping-surfing tools would go into infinite loops). This would be a bit more intensive, but would benefit MovableType: now I can describe why exactly I chose to list a given URL in the trackback pings of a given article.

Update: Here's an RSS to MovableType implementation; thanks, Phillip!

Update: Apparently Lazyweb.org is now a blog, with comments and TrackBack. Yay!

LazyWeb: Email to MT gateway

I've got a mailbox called "RSS" that gets all of the announcements, product releases, occasional mailings from sweetcode or ditherati, etc. It's fed by about 50 rules.

I'd like to have those rules bounce the incoming messages to a MovableType blog, instead. The Subject: header gets parsed as the post's subject, and the content can go into the post itself. Then I can get this content into NNW where I'd rather have it, instead of in my email.

I think that's it, pretty much. Just a basic email to MT gateway.

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