Saturday, January 31, 2009

Wikipedia : The Debate Continues...

I presented the following chart - which I constructed from David Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous - in a discussion about the institutional respectability (or lack of) for Wikipedia. It compares the online (copy-left) encyclopedia with Britannica, symbol of academic kosher-ness.
For those of us unwilling to include citations or references from Wikipedia or grant it 'academic' status, we should at least ask ourselves:
  • What's wrong with Wikipedia being authored by anonymous folks? Why can't we let the knowledge stand on its own?

  • Why don't we give more credit to Wikipedia for at least being forthright about possible non-neutrality of articles? How many citable books do NOT include this (yet expect us to take 'their side' of the debate?)

  • Why don't we credit Wikipedia for providing a discussion area where the issues can be thrashed out? And isn't the on-going, non-definitive (emergent?) nature of the articles a plus? Aren't these (again) yet another improvement over the standard 'acceptable' texts which are (wrongly) 'definitive' and can only point to more references (if at all) for the historical discussion?

  • Why don't we commend the collaborative nature of the articles in Wikipedia? Why are we more impressed with articles which were written by just ONE person?

Finally, on a practical note, when mistakes are made, they are almost instantaneously corrected in Wikipedia - can't say the same for the rest.

So, what's "academically inappropriate" about Wikipedia again? Thoughts welcomed.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

8 Ways to Better Media Exposure for Business

Pamela Slim shares some tips:

1. Have a focus, and an opinion. I have to agree with Seth that the quickest way to get any idea to spread is to be remarkable. Sometimes I feel like I bore you to tears with my urging to choose a niche, but in the case of press coverage, it is essential. I would much rather be known as "the Escape from Cubicle Nation Lady" (someone actually addressed an email to me like that) rather than "Pamela Slim, general career coach who can help with any sort of work-related topic." Blech, boring, and bland as oatmeal, don't you agree?

2. Be a resource to reporters. Too often, entrepreneurs become obsessed with getting their company name in print. Instead, your focus should be to act as an exceptionally helpful resource to journalists. I have worked behind the scenes for years with some reporters before getting in print myself. If you are constantly trying to get yourself in the press, you will be viewed as a self-indulgent bore, to put it kindly. :)

3. React to press inquiries with lightening speed, and with relevant information. Journalists are always on deadline, so the quicker you get back to them, the more likely you will be A) viewed as a resource and B) potentially featured in a story. The relevant information is hugely important, as they will be tremendously annoyed if you either send too little or too much information, or (shudder) pitch them totally off-topic when they ask for specific information.

4. Be a resource to your circle of clients and partners. One of the best moves I have made is to join Help a Reporter Out (HARO), a three-times-a-day listing of press queries run by the indefatigable Peter Shankman. I scour it religiously each time it hits my email box, respond to queries that relate to my expertise right away, and forward on those that fit friends and colleagues as well. Some of my friends and clients have gotten press as a result which is a totally fantastic thing. A rising tide floats all boats, and this definitely applies to your network. Joan Stewart of The Publicity Hound also has good tips.

5. Blog about your press, where relevant to your readers. I remember the first time I was contacted by the PR person for the Wall Street Journal, wanting me to blog on a topic in the publication. I chuckled aloud at the flip in traditional media -- how the publications we have all dreamed of appearing in, like the WSJ, now like to get attention from scrappy bloggers like me. I really do think we all need each other -- I don't see social media totally overtaking mainstream media any day soon, nor do I think it should. I would love it if we could take best practices from both sides and help each other. And there is nothing like mainstream press to make it easy for your relatives to understand what you do. I will never forget the day that Seth said something exceptionally kind about me in his blog. But have you tried lately to explain to a grandparent who Seth Godin is? "Um, Grandma, he is this total marketing genius, thought-leader, viral idea-spreader guy who is also a great human being ... " It is much easier to say "Grandma, you know all that time I spend in front of my computer? BusinessWeek noticed -- here , read the article!"

6. Set up a system to make it easy to respond to press queries. I have an email template that includes a brief bio, a link to my press page, and contact information. That way when I see a specific query, I don't have to type in all that new information each time. In the lucky case that you are asked to provide a photo, have a good one handy on your desktop to send to reporters (I recommend both a high resolution image for print and a low resolution image for online).

7. Always respond to queries exactly as asked. If you see a general query which asks you to include a specific email header, do that. If not, it will probably mean that your response will not be seen, since the journalist may have email filters to sort queries. Peter Shankman has very specific guidelines for HARO, and will publicly "out" someone who flagrantly violates them. This would be the equivalent of being a teenager and being paraded in front of your entire high school in your underwear. A professional nightmare come true. So don't do it -- pitch well, pitch focused, and use good judgment.

8. Blog. All of this press coverage has come without the help of a public relations person, and 95% of it has come to me because I blog. If you have something to say, start to say it. It can't hurt!

Read the whole post here.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco Vow to Change Global Assessments

eSchool news reports:

"Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco--three technology giants that last year vowed to increase their efforts aimed at global education reform--have banded together to develop the next generation of assessments: tests that measure 21st-century skills and provide a global framework for excellence.

At the Learning and Technology Forum in London earlier this month, the three companies unveiled plans to underwrite a multi-sector research project to develop new approaches, methods, and technologies for measuring the success of 21st-century teaching and learning efforts in classrooms around the world."

Read the full report.

Tips for Technophobic Teachers

Edutopia tells the story of Jim Wilson, a senior teacher in a Pittsburg high-school who has gone from grumbling about his school's technology-integration initiative to embracing it. Here is Wilson's advice for teachers struggling to keep up to speed with the new technologies being infused into schools: 

Ask for Help
Wilson has the benefit of an on-site tech-integration coach, provided jointly by the school district and a state grant. However, even teachers without this resource can walk down the hall and find help from a more tech-savvy colleague. Or they can simply look around their own classroom, as explained in Wilson's next tip.

Learn from Students
Some of Wilson's most dependable tech tutors have been his students. Students can also coach one another -- every class has a computer whiz or two. "I have a tough time answering the simplest of questions, but I've learned a whole lot from them," Wilson says. "Learning from the students is a neat thing. They're proud of themselves because they know something that the teacher didn't know."

Take Baby Steps
Wilson started by learning to use email, then moved up to Yahoo searches, Microsoft PowerPoint, and ultimately streaming media. He says, "If I could learn as much as I learned this year every year, I think in a few years I'll be of some use to the students instead of the students being of some use to me."

Be Precise About Your Expectations
When asking students to use tech tools and the wide world of Internet resources, you need to be specific. Says Wilson, "There are so many places you can go and really stray and still be in the same ballpark." After a couple of projects gone awry, he learned to make his assignments exceedingly clear.

Expect Snags
"Pitfalls are going to happen every day," Wilson notes. Then he adds with a laugh, "This is public education." Yet, from those pitfalls come lessons about how to do things better the next time. Already, Wilson has learned some computer-troubleshooting techniques, and he has tweaked lesson plans to obtain better results. In the meantime, he says, "you hope the pit is not too deep."

Allow Students to Take the Reins
Back in the 1970s, Wilson recalls, the mentality that a teacher on his feet is worth two in his seat kept him looking over students' shoulders and walking them through many tasks. Now, with the resources and tools computers and the Internet provide, he feels more comfortable standing back and letting students explore a project on their own -- acting more like a coach than a drill sergeant. That's not to say computer-using kids don't require supervision. Wilson says, "You still have those day when you have to be the bad guy."

Beware of Plagiarism
Wilson may be an old dog, but he quickly learned that with the wealth of material available online, students, he says, will "paste and copy any paper they can." It's something to watch for, he adds. But on the flip side, Wilson notes, the exposure to different ideas and information can expand their perspectives and help students formulate their own opinions.

Keep an Open Mind
"If you have an open mind, you'll see that using technology is just like anything else," he says. "There's good and there's bad, and you just have to wade through and figure out how you can best fit into the situation."

6 Ways to Get People to Say 'Yes'

Simple but essential tips from CopyBlogger:

— There is an overwhelming urge to repay debts, to do something in return when something is done for us. This deep-seated urge is so strong, noted paleontologist Richard Leaky has said that it is the very essence of what it means to be human. Sociologist Alvin Gouldner points out that no society on Earth escapes the reciprocity principle.

Application: Give people something for free. Whoever is on the receiving end of your gift is then in your debt. What can you give? Anything: a free book, planning kit, sample, subscription, catalog, special report, or virtually anything else that’s related to your product or service, as long as it’s free. The urge to “repay” can then lead people to make a purchase.

Commitment and Consistency — We are driven to remain consistent in our attitudes, words, and actions. So, when we are led to make a commitment of some kind, to go on record or take a stand or make a decision, there is an urge to remain consistent with that original commitment later on. The key is to get the initial commitment, which can appear small, reasonable, and innocent. This commitment can not only lead to compliance via the principle of consistency, but also to further compliance for larger requests.

Application: Ask for a little “yes” first, then build on that. Sales people sometimes call this the “foot-in-the-door” technique. Begin by asking your prospect to agree to a simple request, such as making a small transaction or completing a simple questionnaire. By getting people to make a decision, take a stand, or perform an action, you establish a new psychological “commitment.” Once you have that commitment, no matter how small, you can build on this small commitment and make ever increasing requests.

Social Proof — Most of us are imitators in most of what we do. We look to others for guidance, especially when we are uncertain about something. We ask, “What do others think about this? What do others feel? What do others do?” Then we act accordingly, all thanks to the power of social proof.

Application: Show others using your services or buying your products. List testimonials of satisfied customers or clients. Feature stories of those who have been “converted” from another service. Show pictures of people using your product. Provide case histories of some of your best customers. When people see that what you offer is okay with other people, they are more likely to give it a try themselves.

Liking — No matter how reasonable we may think ourselves to be, we are always more likely to say “yes” to those we know and like. We readily comply with requests from those who are similar to us and for whom we have good feelings. It’s what makes refusing to buy Tupperware from a friend or relative next to impossible.

Application: Be personal and likable. This is one element of selling that most people know instinctively, but often fail to put into action. Getting people to like you in person is one thing. But how do you do it in print when people usually have no chance to meet you? Reveal yourself. Show your feelings. Tell a story that prospects can relate to. Use flattery and praise. Present your sales message in such a way that you are not just selling something but working with others as an ally with common problems, concerns, and goals.

Authority — In this age of specialization, we are more prone to respond to authority than ever before. Regardless of an independent spirit, we look to experts or those we perceive to be experts to give us the answers and show us the way. Even the mere symbols of authority, such as titles and specialized clothing, are enough to trigger a response. Example: Note how seeing someone with a white smock and stethoscope instantly suggests “doctor” and makes anything that person says about medicine seem more authoritative.

Application: Provide signs and symbols of expertise. Establish your expertise by providing solid information. Show your credentials. Create trustworthiness by admitting flaws or shortcomings and demonstrating lack of bias. Show similarities between you and your prospect or customer. Cite awards, reviews, speaking engagements, and books you’ve authored. You can also “borrow” authority by associating yourself with those who have authority. Example: Show a photograph of yourself with someone your prospects will consider an authority.

Scarcity — In general, the fear of loss is more powerful than the hope of gain. By properly engaging the instinctive tendency to avoid losing something — or avoid losing the chance to possess something desirable — you can trigger a “yes” response with scarcity.

Application: Create time limits and limited availability. A “reply by” date is one of the most powerful ways to create scarcity. You can do this with a specific deadline or expiration date. If you can’t be specific about the date, use a general deadline, such as “reply within the next 10 days.” Use limited availability by mentioning how fast your supply is selling or citing the actual number of items that remain. You can also put constraints on supply, such as limiting memberships to the first 500 or creating a limited edition with X number being produced. The video division of Disney creates scarcity by putting their videos “back in the vault” so if you want a copy, you must order immediately or miss your chance.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Greg Mortenson Lecture

Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, speaks about the Taliban, Jihad, education, etc.

Schools For Our Enemies (A Review of "Three Cups of Tea")

“As the U.S. confronts Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, Greg Mortenson, 45, is quietly waging his own campaign against Islamic fundamentalists…Mortenson’s approach hinges on a simple idea: that by building secular schools and helping to promote education – particularly for girls – in the world’s most volatile war zone, support for the Taliban and other extremist sects will dry up.”

(Parade Cover Story, April 6, 2003)

This quote, included in chapter 22 of Three Cups of Tea, provides a useful summary of the life and work of Greg Mortenson, upon which the book is based. In an age where suspicion and hatred continue to reign around the world, even as bombs and rockets rain down on people, we desperately need heroes like Mortenson, a one-man Peace Corps for the twenty-first century. His Central Asia Institute as of 2005 has built 53 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, each with the help of local communities and with a curriculum approved by the government.

Award-winning journalist David Oliver Relin tells the awesome story of this driven young man who has worked humanitarian wonders in a region of the world where Americans are despised for their bombing campaigns and apparent indifference to the plight of civilians. The title of the book is based on the proverb that says it takes three cups of tea over many months to cement a lasting relationship. During the first cup, you are strangers; with the second cup, you become friends; and by the third cup, you are regarded as family.

Mortenson is family to thousands of Muslims in small villages and refugee camps.

How did this young man get involved in a crusade of love and kindness? He was injured in an unsuccessful attempt to climb to the summit of K2 in 1993. While he was being nursed back to health in Korphe, a remote region of Pakistan, he was stunned to see the village children squatting outside in a makeshift school with no materials or instructor. After recovering, he promised a Balti tribesman that he would return and build a school.

Needing to raise $12,000, Mortenson worked as an ER nurse in California and with great zeal wrote letters to 580 celebrities, businessmen, and others asking for contributions. That didn't work and so the son of Lutheran missionaries sold everything he owned and lived out of his car while continuing this fund-raising effort. It was children who finally turned the tide. The kids in River Falls, Wisconsin, donated $623 in pennies to help build schools in Pakistan; this "Pennies for Peace" program continues today.

One of the most dramatic aspects of this crusade is the emphasis on schools for girls in areas where the Taliban banned education for them. Mortenson believes that literate girls become mothers who have a greater awareness of hygiene, sanitation, and community development. While men and boys often leave villages, the women stay behind and pass on what they have learned to the next generation. Mortenson’s schools reflected new opportunities and liberties for the women of Afghanistan, potentially transforming the entire population.

But the dream did not come easy. Relin reports on Mortenson's kidnapping, fatwas issued by angry mullahs, and the death threats he has received in the United States after 9/11. That he resisted, survived and prevailed is sure testimony to the power of the human spirit to overcome insurmountable obstacles to achieve a worthy goal.

People of extraordinary character have always appeared during the fiercest cycles of hatred, violence, and aggression are most fierce. Martin Luther King, Jr. called such people "creatively maladjusted," for they are unwilling to accept war and hostility as part of the status quo. They carry on the tradition of spiritual masters from all the world's religions who teach that the greatest form of heroism is to turn an enemy into a friend and, Mortenson would surely add, what better way to do so by helping one’s enemy build schools? Thus did the gentle infidel called ‘Dr Greg’ become a spiritual hero for a segment of humanity in the worst of conditions.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Book Review Contest: Shadow of the Wind (Reviewed by Ash)

The year is 1945, and the war-torn city of Barcelona is momentarily in the midst of recovery from its war wounds, while a grieving boy, Daniel, whom by coincidence, seeks and finds peace in an unknown book, The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, where he is drawn into a world of dark discovery towards the author’s past and other somewhat ‘abandoned’ works.
As Daniel dwells into perusing the author’s other works, he gradually discovers a seemingly interesting past about the author. Daniel begins to questions himself, who is this mysterious author, and is puzzled why the books are displayed or let alone, hidden in a deserted place of lost books – The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The long barrage of questions leads Daniel to find out more about the author’s life. As Daniel journeys on a stringent discovery, he is shocked and awkwardly troubled by the author’s disturbing tales of the past – a mysterious individual is trying to destroy the author’s works. For all Daniel knows, he may have the last copy of Carax’s book and is undeniably a target for trouble.
Daniel is somehow curious, yet he is also mislead by the introduction towards the people who have a mysterious interconnection with Carax’s life. Where is this author, Julian Carax, now? . Who was he ? . Why is his name a topic which many of Daniel’s approaches does not intend or uncomfortable and ashamed to discuss about.? Is Carax a cold-blooded murderer of the past ? Did he plagiarise his written stories ? Or is he just a man of an ugly nature that simply deserved despises, mockery, and sheer disdain from others?
The situation ties Daniel in a state of lost, yet longing for a clue to find about this mysterious and ‘unsuccessful’ author, Julian Carax, of whom his works became an affection and solace towards Daniel. Daniel soon makes a fierce attempt to explore, with Fermin Romero De Torres, a ragged beggar who eventually becomes his co- worker at his father’s bookshop of second-hand books. Daniel unknowingly falls in love with Carla Barcelo, a blind yet irresistibly gorgeous daughter of his father’s friend, Don Gustavo Barcelo. Indeed, Carla possesses a surprising interest and knowledge toward’s Julian Carax’s books and informed Daniel about what she knew about this strange novelist whose books were left forsaken.
Daniel’s explicit discovery of unlocking the keys to Carax’s livelihood as a novelist provokes him to meet with more and more uncertain identities of people he never expected and who ‘self-proclaim’ that there once new who Julian Carax was. With different tales told by different beings about Julian Carax, Daniel is thrown into excessive perplexity as he seems to be brainwashed by differently told biographies about the author, Carax. The content involved Julian Carax’s family, a deep connection of Carax with the Aldaya family, one of Barcelona’s riches and well known families to have ever live. The mystery slowly unravels itself as Daniel finds a dark and erotic past of Carax, a repeatedly claimed love affair involving one of the members of the Aldaya family, known as Penelope Aldaya, and unclear chain reactions that contributed to Carax’s fall.
In discovering so, Daniel is brought to, Nuria Monfort, a beautiful book translator which somehow has a strong connection with Carax’s history and appears to be hiding much secrets, which was perceived so untrue that in someway, displayed a rather elusive truth. Daniel is occupied with bizarre situations where it leads him to suspected identifications of people who could just be one of the ‘murderer’ of Carax’s books. For all Daniel knows, the stories he has received or is about to receive could be tall tales, or may indeed not be lies after all.
While his constant exploiting of information regarding the hidden mysteries concerning the author, Carax, Daniel equally faces the growing and bountiful pains of love, friendship and family. He finds new love, in Beatrice Aguilar, the sister of his childhood friend Tomas Aguilar. As much as Daniel is enveloped by the blistering miseries accompanied by occasional blissfulness of falling in love and overcoming the aches of the lost of his mother, and bearing the burden of his father’s silent emotional sufferings, its combination and the quest to search for the missing pieces and sordid yet forgotten truths behind the mysterious vanishing of Carax’s books and his identity, or whether or not Carax was murdered or that one of the identities associated with the life of Carax could have been responsible for Carax’s sudden missing, puts Daniel in a place of constant curiosity, immense confusion, anxiety, and somewhat a vague assurance that he lies in the realms of peril, as he could be the only threat to strange and horrific demolisher of Carax’s works.
The writings of Zafon are an explicit masterpiece. Zafon intends to manifest the feelings of the characters with phrases and sentences told in a beautifully descriptive manner in attempts to draw readers into an utterly deep connection towards the story and the many emotions the characters portrays. Zafon creates a haunting suspense that leaves the readers with no choice but to remain glued on each page.
Graves has produced genuinely perfect translations from the original Spanish version making it an exotic narrative with unforgettable phrases that outshine the character’s indescribable feelings, unspoken emotions, and thoughts following a uniquely refined nerve-jangling plot, injecting the reader with more questions, suspicions, and urge to reach the story’s attention-frozen climax.
Zafon defines the city of Barcelona very well indeed, inflicting its gothic-like layout and memory-locking scenery while its described atmosphere provokes readers to be unavoidably smitten. Zafon arranges his plot of the story that shoots readers to a state of continuous suspicious and sheer hunger for the unanswered questions and twists towards the story. The Shadow of The Wind will naturally make readers be drawn to the provocative plot on every page, shocked and excited at every unexpected clue that leads them fainting for the story’s unpredictable climax.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Book Review Contest: Shakespeare & the Tempest (Reviewed by Hema Madhavan)

True theatre and scholarly study of literature is rediscovered in Francis Neilson’s Shakespeare and The Tempest as it is one of the greatest exemplar of an interpretation and practical application in performance of a play. Neilson not only presents a comprehensive, coherent and cohesive study about all of William Shakespeare’s experience of life, philosophy and his art but also the thought and work of Shakespeare, which are culminated in these words spoken by Prospero: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is recorded with a sleep.” From this pastoral romance, “summing up the distressing conflicts and turbulence that racked Shakespeare’s mind and spirit” (17) Neilson tells us, burgeons “the hope of a new age – such, perhaps, as the golden age – such, perhaps, as the golden one of which they had memory in his father’s time (176).

Interwoven in Neilson’s study, Shakespeare and The Tempest and in the Elizabethan tapestry are the influences of the age that moulded the mind of Shakespeare and dictated the content of the works ascribed to him, the circumstances of his careers that tend to confirm his authorship, and the ways and means employed in presenting his masterpiece in the theatre of his time. Neilson has at his fingertips the diagnostic and social history of England as the English-speaking theatre, especially at its apex in Shakespeare. Thus, with Neilson’s knowledge on performing arts and scholarly research about Shakespeare, his reason for Shakespeare and The Tempest is two-fold as stated in the first chapter of his book: (i) a review of the social and constitutional changes that took place under the Tudors and how it shaped the mind of the man who wrote The Tempest; and (ii) an analysis of the play itself by taking into account the technical problems of staging the play in the theatre.

The first reason for the study reviews the revulsion against the hardships imposed upon the English people began with the misrule of the Tudors and endured through the long line of monarchs from chapter two to chapter seven of the book. Neilson takes on the role of a historian with an investigator’s eyes of the events and a literary scholar when he combines both history and works of Shakespeare to illustrate how the plays of Shakespeare reveal a knowledge of men and their iniquities like “war, religious strife, depopulation, the severities of the acts against vagabondage, harlotry, the gossip of the inns, the troubles of carters” (28) that goes much farther back than the reign of Elizabeth, in which Shakespeare must have knew the life of them all, inside and out. The author’s attempt to discover the ingenuity of Shakespeare’s mind is a journey that Neilson brings his readers on from grave periods of the Tudors to the
rule of the monarchs which Neilson sums up drawing on Thomas More’s Utopia (1904, 4th Ed.) which is “life at that time was nothing but a conspiracy of the rich against the poor.” (19)

Readers unfamiliar with Shakespeare will find Neilson an informed guide to the dramatist’s life and the full range of his writing, and will indeed see more facets of the poet rarely offered in one book. This is because Neilson provides a virtual map of Shakespeare’s life during the rule of 4 monarchs: Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth, is described and substantiated in detailed using documents found in the Acts of Parliaments, petitions to London from provincial towns, ballads and pamphlets, essays and printed materials of literary critics and historians, and contents from plays that Shakespeare and his fellow playwrights of his time wrote. Neilson uses Dr. Margaret Murray’s chronicle of The Divine King in England (1954), to capture the grave distress of the common people and how they revolted against monarchs who violated their sense of what was right, which is reflected in the Shakespeare’s play, Henry VI. Neilson is particularly fascinated with a story by Alan Keen and Roger Lubbork in The Annotator (1954) about the discovery of the Chonicles of Halle and Holinshed, thickly annotated in the margin by a hand of Shakespeare’s time, because it suggests what might have happened during the “lost years” of Shakespeare in two identified periods: (i) From year 1578 to 1589; and (ii) From year 1582 to 1592. Although Neilson is speculative in the chapter of the “lost years,” his assumptions are plausible and sound as he draws upon events occurred and the places Shakespeare might have visited based on his knowledge of the law, customs, nature and culture of different groups of people (as in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Henry V); the road system and the social and constitutional state in those years. Thus, Neilson not only provides valuable insight into the political (the execution of wrongly accused queens – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard (of Henry VIII) and economic happenings (in sheep farming) in England but it also reveals how Shakespeare’s insatiable appetite for knowledge might have been fostered during his childhood from listening his father’s stories to his “lost years” of apprenticeship.

In Neilson’s view, there is an extremity in the shift of genre from Shakespeare’s earlier plays of the tragedies to The Tempest, came amelioration with the vision of a happier day. This transition, unfold the “recorded-and deduced lifetime” background of the dramatist, revealed his mind of his contemplation about mankind and his creation of characters as far apart as Hamlet and Prospero. The plan for Neilson’s first half of his study, which looked into the moulding of Shakespeare’s mind by explaining the period that he lived in, is acceptable because history impacts and forms one’s mind, soul, intent and function, consummated in The Tempest, explored in the second part of Neilson’s study. Therefore, the exploration of the history of England was the beginning of what lay behind the creation of such a figure as Prospero.

When the reader begins to read chapter 8 to chapter 15 about The Tempest, one has to remember that Neilson’s intention for the analysis is for the of staging the play and conveying the message of the play. The author begins with an introduction of some philosophical concepts of The Tempest are expounded on by making close connections to Montaigne’s Essays – “Of the Canniballes” and Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. The key concepts are: (i) Vengeance, considered the “dominant one”; and (ii) Proprietorship in which Neilson analyses the varied portrayals of Caliban, especially Robert Speaight’s description of Caliban as having a “natural” status of slavery in Nature of Shakespearian Tragedy (which Neilson refutes the notion of slavery being “natural” position). Then, the reader arrives at the climax of the study the theme of foul play evident in the history of England that Neilson had provided. Earlier on, Neilson questioned “What is the basic theme running through all the histories? Foul play! What is the theme of The Tempest? Foul Play!” The foul play of usurpation, of regicide, of sedition, seems to be imprinted in Shakespeare’s especially in his tragedies, which Neilson crisply shows in Macbeth and Hamlet. Shakespeare’s disgust of the social declination, poverty, wars and power play are translated into performance through his plays.

The discussion of the relationship between “Art and Nature” is argued mildly against Frank Kermode’s idea raised in his introduction of the Arden edition of The Tempest. Neilson attempts to correct Kermode by stating that “art and nature” brings to the fore the problem of explaining the mystery of the creative faculties of the human mind and not much as to make the ideas of the play plausible. Thus, Neilson provides a chapter on the practice of magic, wizardry and witchcraft to supply accounts of the Dianic cult in Dr. Margaret Murray’s The Divine King in England (1954) and other forms of “magic” including the occult and divination in Professor Lynn Thorndike’s Cambridge Medieval History. Neilson exposes the different opinions voiced about the play, its author, the significance of the character of Prospero, his power as a magician, and the utility of Ariel, that gives an “all-too-brief” (which is not-too-brief in my opinion) sketch of the man who, never forgave foul play until one of his last plays – The Tempest.

Neilson, then, shifts to a rather ambiguous subject as to whether The Tempest is an autobiography of Shakespeare to look even farther in the mind and life of Shakespeare. The polite manner of first understanding how some Shakespearean essayist or critics the notion will be a clear indication that Neilson wishes to refute this notion. The history of England is explained and Prospero is compared to his maker. Shakespeare’s experience of men and their affairs is different from that of Prospero’s as he lived in the reigns of four monarchs in which they rule powerfully, where as for Prospero who abdicated his dukedom but governed justly and contented as “so dear the love my people bore me” (Act 1, Scene 2). After this chapter, only then, does Neilson leave the literary and philosophical analysis for the more practical matter of staging the play.

The idea of a play in any century is wholly for the purpose for performance and since Neilson has been produced more than 17 plays in his lifetime, his experience in staging plays is undeniable. He discusses the roles and skills required of different members in the play: the director, the stage director and the players or actors. The problems that Neilson identifies in performing The Tempest fall heavily on the actors as it demands the actor’s fullest capability of his art, especially for the character of Prospero as in the last act, the actor has to play two conflicting roles: (i) to assume an anger not outwardly shown; and (ii) to act the part of a parent delighted with the match Miranda has made. There are also intricate scenes in the play that Neilson thinks pose a difficulty in performing which Neilson proves to the readers, he is able to deal with drawing from his repertoire of works that he has accomplished. In the four subsequent chapters, Neilson analyses specific issues in Acts 2 (The Plotters), Act 3 (Idyllic love and courtship), Act 4 (The masque) and Act 5 (Reconciliation) in order to further understand the play and how each act should be conveyed in performance. It also provides an in-depth study of the characters in those acts, which actors and directors of the play will benefit from. Having examined the play and the staging of the play, Neilson concludes Shakespeare and The Tempest with a summary about the message of the play in a cryptic manner of Shakespeare’s intention in writing the play. It is a play of redemption and hope in the midst of turmoil with a something new and fresh in idea and artistry – Prospero, the magician, “to turn our minds to higher values that the states know not of, to forsake the beaten path of man’s inhumanity to man, and to seek the essentials of life” (181) through the mind, life and works of Shakespeare.

Despite the author’s efforts to broaden the contexts of the The Tempest, the fluidity of the study may cause the some reader to be frustrated at times because the study consists of “repetitions and digression” (3) that Neilson warned his readers in the very first chapter of his study. For readers new literary criticisms, essays or studies, reading this book will be challenging because the endnotes provided are very minimal without much useful information and a bibliography as well as glossary of literary terms are not provided. However, this study may prove to be sufficiently detailed for certain group of readers like teachers, performers and directors as it provides a formidable range of materials or information that contextualise the play in Shakespeare’s history, in addition to the problems of performing the play and conveying the message of the play, which Neilson is an authoritative figure in the field of the performing arts.

In conclusion, Francis Neilson’s purpose of the study to show the spiritual effect upon Shakespeare of the great changes in the law and custom of the land, which had taken place in the lives of his grandfather, his father and himself, is organised chronologically from the reign of the Tudors to Elizabeth. The illustration of how these were indelibly imprinted upon his mind when he was a pupil grammar school in Stratford and when he became an apprentice in his “lost years” are substantiated with evidence from texts written before Shakespeare was born to text produced in the 20th century. The contextualisation of the The Tempest in this book not only provides the reader with an understanding of the history of England but with a practical matter of how to stage the play based on Neilson’s years of experience as a playwright, a director and producer.

Book Review Contest: The Great Gatsby (Reviewed by Chew Phye Ken)

The Great Gatsby was a book I had read about many years ago, and of all places, I chanced upon it in a comic! At the time, all I knew was that the story was set in the roaring 1920s, a period in American history that had since captured my proverbial imagination: a time littered with speakeasies, Prohibition, the Charleston and men and women dressed in trench coats with fedora-like hats making their way through life in a ‘black and white’ world; the elements that become the modern day films noir.

The author is F. Scott Fitzgerald who most is known for his novels and short stories from the bygone ‘Jazz Age’. The book itself, the subject of my review, was and still is considered to be the finest work to spring from Fitzgerald’s fertile imagination and when published, was applauded with glittering reviews. That was way back then in 1925. Before I started poring through it, images of mysteries, detectives and ‘dames’ flooded my mind but what leapt from its pages took me by surprise; a suburban drama of life and long lost love viewed through the eyes of one Nick Carraway. Truth be told, I was a little disappointed at first, expecting a Hollywood-esque mystery but I soon learnt that this was one of those books that slowly grew on you and by the end it will leave you wishing for more.

The book is written mostly in a first person narrative, a journal of sorts, a world view and character study by Nick. The writing style itself is fluid and coherent and the story progresses at a good pace. Most readers of classic literature should not find any trouble with the language used (as compared to, say, Austen’s period pieces) although this reviewer did stumble upon some words that were beyond his ken. One should keep a good dictionary handy.

As I advanced though the pages, unravelling the layers of the story onion-like, every now and then, I felt as if I was walking in Nick’s shoes, interacting with the characters and even Gatsby himself! The grand parties, the lights, the scent of the warm New York summer breeze were at times, more real than the book I held. I could see the vintage cars, the huge billboards and even the colossal manor in which the titular character lived.

Speaking of characters, allow me to introduce some of the main cast: firstly, Nick Carraway, before whose eyes the account unfolds; a 30 year old bachelor, among one of the common working class in New York who just happens to live next door to the ‘The Great Gatsby’ in ‘West Egg’ (which is not as classy as ‘East Egg’, New York, so we are told). As far as adventures and drama in the story go, he does not participate in them so much as he does observe them around him. Honest and predictable, it is his person that lends stability to the hotchpotch of people that make up his world. He lives near two family members, his second cousin and her husband, Daisy and Tom Buchanan, the former a lovely young woman who seems to be the epitome of a stay at home wife of a rich man, naïve and long suffering and the latter, her strapping and adulterous husband, whose extramarital life takes a sudden turn for the worst. Jordan Baker, a friend of Daisy’s and romantic interest of Nick proves to be a good counterbalance to Nick’s predictability, appearing all at once haughty, street wise, intelligent and vulnerable. There are a few more intermittent supporting characters that help to move the story along, including the colourful Myrtle Wilson and her eerily placid husband, George, and Meyer Wolfshiem, a mysterious associate of Gatsby. Finally we have the protagonist himself, Mr Jay Gatsby; the swinging bachelor who is wildly rich and immensely popular, but achingly empty, with the only person capable of filling that void beyond his reaches. There is so much more than meets the eye in Gatsby: his remarkable past and sincere longings, and this makes his character one that some could identify with; his story being one of pathos.

At its very heart, it is a tale of lost and renewed love, friendship, loyalty and perseverance. It teaches us the value of determination and the worth of a good friend but also opens our eyes to the hopelessness of relentlessly pursuing missed and forgone opportunities and forces the reader to question how far they would go to reclaim something that had since been given up.

The Great Gatsby admittedly, is not for everyone. If you are seeking swashbuckling adventure, passionate and torrid romance or even a spine chilling mystery, look elsewhere. What Gatsby does offer however is solid story-telling in a modern drama setting and rich characters, all served up with a sober ending.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Are We Boring?

Seth Godin may sound a little harsh, but his words are worth reflecting on:

If the marketplace isn't talking about you, there's a reason.

If people aren't discussing your products, your services, your cause, your movement or your career, there's a reason.

The reason is that you're boring. (I guess that's what boring means, right?) And you're probably boring on purpose. You have boring pricing because that's safer. You have a boring location because to do otherwise would be nuts. You have boring products because that's what the market wants. That boring staff? They're perfectly well qualified...

You don't get unboring for free. Remarkable costs time and money and effort, but most of all, remarkable costs a willingness to be wrong.

Remarkable is a choice.

Book Review Contest: Haroun & the Sea of Stories (Reviewed by Gan Joo Ee)

Imagine that behind our moon hides another moon called Kahani, invisible to our naked eyes, due to the technological subterfuge of its ingenious inhabitants, the Guppees. Imagine further, that Kahani is the inspirational origin of all the world’s fables, poems and epics; and every writer and story-teller is a subscriber (either knowingly or otherwise) to the ‘Story Water’ that the elves of Kahani deliver to planet earth through a Process Too Complicated To Explain (P2C2E).

Rashid Khalifa was such a subscriber. He was a famous story-teller whose service was well sought after at festivals, weddings and political rallies, because his tales could always draw a huge turn-out. One day, his wife ran away with another man, leaving behind their young son, Haroun. This plunged Rashid Khalifa into depression. Meanwhile Haroun, who recalled that his mother ran away at exactly 11.00 am, developed a psychological inability to focus beyond eleven minutes. No matter what activity he indulged in, he would always stop at precisely eleven minutes, to the bafflement of those around him.

Soon the family began to suffer, because story-telling was Rashid Khalifa’s livelihood. Fundamentally, to tell a good story one must be confident, and his wife’s desertion had destroyed this. As a result, he found himself unable to spin a new tale. The danger was that once a person fails to exercise his gift, the subscription to the Story Water may be terminated. Should this happens, Rashid Khalifa would lose his story-telling ability once and for all! To make things worse, he was forced by a despicable election candidate to appear at a campaign rally and use his stories to sway the voters.

Fortunately Haroun caught the Water Genie who was trying to disconnect the magical pipeline that delivers the Story Water to his father. By stealing the disconnecting tool, he forced the Water Genie to take him to Kahani, where he hoped to plead his father’s case. Thus Haroun’s amazing adventures began, where he found himself caught up in the war between the two camps that occupied a divided Kahani. On the dark side lived the Chupwalas, led by the evil cult master, Khattam-Shud; whereas the Guppees lived in Gup City, which was bathed with luminous light. These Guppees were the guardians of the Sea of Stories, where the Story Water came from.

For a long time now, the engineers at Gup City had stopped their moon from revolving, such that one side was perpetually dark and the other side perennially sunny. This was the cease-fire accord between the Chupwalas who hate speech, and the Guppees who cherish freedom of expression. Their mutual animosity was so great that they preferred the solution of permanent estrangement, marked by the light-and-darkness divide of the moon. Over time, the Chupwalas have become shadowy creatures that shrink from light, as they do from active imaginations and speech. But now Khattam-Shud had launched an offensive against the Guppees with the aim of engulfing the entire Kahani in darkness and silence speech forever. To do so, he planned to pollute the Sea of Stories, thus destroying written culture, and ultimately, civilization itself!

Reflected in the war between the Chupwalas and Guppees is the tension in our world, where freedom of expression is constantly under threat from intolerance, extremism and government reprisals. So often we have found dissenters silenced by fanatic shout-downs and irrational violence. Is there no room for peaceable dialogue? Must proponents of democracy and freedom of expression be annihilated altogether? This is precisely what we see in oppressive regimes worldwide. Like Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Orwell’s Animal Farm, the deeper political issues were so subtly woven into the story that a young person can read it for the beautiful tale that it is, without the bitter aftertaste that political allegory often leaves.

At the critical juncture of the war, Haroun and the Guppees realized that the only way to defeat the Chupwala army was to expose them to sunlight. But to do so, the moon must revolve again – the primordial cycle of day and night must be restored to Kahani! In the chaos of war, not even an Einstein Guppee, using the most advanced P2C2E, could bring this about. Suddenly the Water Genie thought of an idea: he has with him ‘Wish Water’ which enables the drinker to make his dream come true, if he concentrates with complete mental and emotional fortitude. If Haroun would drink it and wish for Kahani to revolve again, then the sunlight would cause the Chupwala to retreat! Unfortunately this was a big ‘IF’ for Haroun, whose attention span lasts no longer than eleven minutes. And I suspect the problem is endemic amongst college students!

In this age of mass-manufactured distractions – ranging from computer games to telecommunication fads of SMSs, MMSs and chats – it is hard to find students with even passable focus. The ability to concentrate is learned, not innate. It is born of patience, self-discipline and hard work – qualities that one must cultivate in order to achieve beyond the ordinary. Have you put your concentration to test recently? Honestly, how do you fare?

So our young protagonist must harvest the powers of his mind and channel them to the sole wish of saving the Sea of Stories from Khattam-Shud. Did he succeed? Well, of course! Unlike Salman Rushdie’s other works, this one has a bright cheery ending. Haroun did summon all his mental strength to work the Wish Water, such that Kahani began to revolve again, thereby preserving the source that nourishes the imaginations of every writer in our world!

I wish I had read this book as a child, when it was possible to savour its wondrous narratives without the cynical insights of an adult. Even so, each time I reread it, Haroun and the Sea of Stories never fails to transpose me to a mystical world full of adventures and possibilities. I love this book, for all its hidden and multi-facet complexities, but also for its remarkably simple message, which no one should forget, namely: Focus, and you can change the world!

Book Review Contest: The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born (Reviewed by Sabah Carrim )

There is a reason why ‘beautyful’ is spelt wrongly in the book. The reader only guesses it when he has a bird’s eye view of the story at the end. At first glance, it could represent the critical eye cast on Ghanaians who are desperately trying to emulate the white man and his values, but there is definitely more to it.

Ayi Kwei Armah born in Ghana, delves into sensitive issues like poverty and corruption, which make up the African social and economic fabric. This novel exposes a panoply of symbols and metaphors much to the delight of thinking minds. In this story, the author describes the hopelessness of the main character, ‘the man’. ‘The man’ is not named. He is not given an identity in order to convey the idea that he is nobody in society. Another interpretation is also that he represents the plight of the average man in Ghana. ‘The man’ has no money and is a mere over-exploited government worker who lives from hand to mouth. His simple life revolves around the principles of truth, honesty, integrity, uprightness. This contrasts with the dazzling life of his former classmate Koomson who is a rich and famous minister deeply admired by yes men and lickspittles like himself. Corruption is an everyday practice in his life. It is even called the ‘national game’ of the country by the author. ‘The man’ feels frustrated at the thought that Koomson is the winner and he the loser in the real world.

‘Koomson was my classmate… He was not very intelligent’. The man was pacing the room again. ‘Shit he was actually stupid.’

But then, the path of righteousness has never been an automatic guarantee for success in this materialistic world.

The man is scorned and disdained by his wife, Oyo. He is an unworthy husband who according to her because of his so-called pride and egocentrism, abstains from participating in the ‘national game’. ‘It is nice. It is clean, the life Estella is getting.’ exclaims Oyo enviously, referring to Koomson’s wife. In this superficial society people with ‘fat pockets’ are worshipped and revered at the expense of those who uphold a strong sense of morality. Here people with empty pockets do not merit any attention. ‘Article of no commercial value!’ is hurled at the man, to denigrate him.

Corruption is even justified as being a means to survival in Ghana, and to make the man understand this, his wife compares him to a ‘Chichidodo’: ‘Ah you know, the Chichidodo is a bird. The Chichidodo hates excrement with all its soul. But the Chichidodo only feeds on maggots, and you know the maggots grow best inside the lavatory. This is the Chichidodo.’ In Oyo’s opinion, the man is a hypocrite who pretends to be noble and integral by refraining from accepting bribes and yet he does not realize that his honestly earned money has its origins really in corruption.

‘My own lord, my master, oh my white man, come. Come and take my bread. It is all yours, my white man, all yours’ calls out the bread seller and the black man to whom the ‘praise’ is addressed, strides out of his car, obviously pleased and flattered by the servility displayed. But the beseeching call can be compared with a prostitute selling herself, like the black man does to the white man. The man, on the other hand, remains the ‘invisible man of the shadows’ whom the bread seller never notices.

‘The poor are rich in patience’. And so the story takes a new turn and the rewards of honesty are paid off: eventually with the change of government, Koomson loses all power and is caught red-handed. Paradoxically he seeks refuge in the man’s house. No matter how demeaning was the former minister’s attitude towards him throughout the story, the man helps him escape and ironically, through a manhole. This event is symbolic of how even the puritanical man ends up indulging in an act of corruption when he facilitates the escape.

It is on the beach, after escaping through the manhole that the man sees Maanan again, a former nun turned into a prostitute. Once more, she is another important character in the novel who evokes that destructive image of robustness turning into deterioration, freshness into decrepitude- the drastic changes one undergoes in a country where corruption is the national game. When the man returns home he sees in huge bold letters the words: ‘The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born’, probably referring to the cycle of past, present and future political leaders who will eternally obstruct the path of potential righteous leaders. Even the man was not sufficiently ‘beautyful’ to fight the corruption that taints his integrity when he helps Koomson escape.

The title of the book also reminds the reader of what is at risk of being lost when ‘(t)he soul of a man (is) waiting to be drawn’…

Another point worthy of admiration about this book is its realistic portrayal of the upright man’s fate as opposed to the corrupted one: either way, life is not pink but involves a judicious exercise of singling out the lesser of two evils. The question is whether you should choose honesty over corruption at the risk of living humbly and simply like ‘the man’ .Or should you opt for lavishness at the greater risk of losing not just that but also your freedom and independence like Koomson?

Book Review Contest: Atonement (Reviewed by Daniel Ling)

I felt compelled to read this novel before its Oscar-nominated film adaptation, directed by Joe Wright and starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, was released early this year. Although I found the film to be a faithful adaptation which drew me in with its deliriously romantic mood and heartbreakingly tragic tone, I was not spellbound by it in the way that the book captivated me with its engaging plot, its fully realized characters, and its probing moral inquiry. My second reading of Atonement this December has heightened my appreciation of Ian McEwan’s lush and vivid prose as well as his exploration of the ethical dilemma which lies at the heart of this brilliant novel.

McEwan’s novel poses this intriguing and unsettling question: If you realized that you have destroyed two people’s lives, how would you atone for this – and would they even forgive you, when all is said and done? This is the question which haunts Briony Tallis throughout her life, from her committing the above-mentioned crime at age 13 in 1935 until she finally achieves a sense of closure as an elderly woman in 1999.

The novel opens on a sweltering summer day in 1935, when Briony Tallis, her elder sister Cecilia, and their mother Emily are preparing for a dinner to celebrate the return of the girls’ brother Leon as well as the arrival of houseguests. These houseguests include Paul Marshall, Leon’s entrepreneur friend, the Tallis children’s cousins Lola and twins Pierrot and Jackson, and last but not least, Robbie Turner, the son of the Tallises’ cleaning lady. To celebrate her brother’s return, young Briony, a budding writer, has written a play, The Trials of Arabella, which unfortunately never gets performed due to rising tensions within the household. Emily is not far from the truth when she says that “hot weather encouraged loose morals among young people” (128). When Briony witnesses the curious scene in which Cecilia, in front of Robbie, dives into the deep fountain in the garden of their country home, Briony’s naïve and overactive imagination sets into motion a chain of events that will change all their lives forever. At the climax of that evening, one of the girls claims she has been assaulted, and Briony’s accusation results in an innocent man being sent to prison. Briony, however, later doubts the truth behind her own testimony, and her guilt leads her to spend the next sixty years trying to repair the damage she has done.

Atonement is divided into several parts. As shown above, the first part takes place at a manor house in England in 1935. The second part of the novel shifts its focus to Robbie, who becomes a soldier involved in the British Army’s retreat from Dunkirk in 1941. Meanwhile, Briony, as part of her atonement for her crime, becomes a nurse in London’s World War II military hospitals, with her exploits detailed in the third part of the novel. For the conclusion of his novel, McEwan fast-forwards the time to 1999, when elderly Briony’s birthday celebration serves also as a reunion of the Tallis clan.

It is in the conclusion of Atonement that we, as readers, come to realize that some of the events and the fate of certain characters described in the third part are not what had actually happened but are merely the creations of Briony’s imagination. Just as Briony questions the veracity of her childhood testimony, McEwan’s clever narrative style makes us question what is ‘real’ and what is ‘imagined’ in the novel.

Besides this theme of truth and lies, McEwan also handles well the theme raised by the novel’s title, the whole issue of atonement and how difficult it can be. We never really know if Robbie and Cecilia actually forgive Briony for destroying their lives and their chance of happiness together. Briony believes that she can use fiction to achieve absolution and to heal, since she had used fiction to commit her crime and to injure in the first place. Still, despite Briony’s noble intentions, I found myself asking, is it enough? To Briony, it is: “I like to think that it isn’t weakness or evasion, but a final act of kindness, a stand against oblivion and despair” (371 – 72). I believe the novel proves that we need to consider the consequences of our own actions, how what we say or do can sometimes cause irreparable damage towards others.

All in all, Atonement is a superbly crafted novel which I highly recommend. It is one of the most reflective, compassionate, and satisfying novels I have read. Safe to say, I have nothing to atone for in recommending this book!

Book Review Contest: Animal Farm (Reviewed by Ngonidzashe Hove)

George Orwell’s real name was Eric Blair the latter used to protect his name at a time of writing in the Russian revolution, born on 25 June 1903 Motihari, he started writing comics at an early age, it was only after he left Paris that the real venture grew first editions of animal farm was published in 1941 after many struggles and soon became a bestseller. Orwell died in 1950 in London exhausted by his work and disease.

Animal farm is about a group of animals that bring out a revolution on a farm owned by a local farmer Mr. Jones, because of the harsh working conditions and unfair treatment they soon stir an uprising, soon they take charge of the farm with the pigs taking over as leaders Napoleon being the Pig boss. As their sources of food supplies run out and living conditions stifles, they begin to learn the hands on and reality of living. Orwell takes through a twist showing the consequences of power and the road at the top, the twists and the untold rules to be learnt in the game of wonder.

Animal Farm is undoubtedly a package in one from a comic that can be read by school children to a book that fitted for older man and women. Its bringing life into reality, Orwell contrasts and seems to be picking up on reality of the obsession of power comparing the Russian revolution’s rulers like Stalin.
Animal farm tells about a revolution one may think Orwell is likely compelling the consequences of obsession of power to the suffering of those at the lower end of the food chain. Power makes men greedy and showing that some men in power will do anything it takes to get and stay at the top like Napoleon .

The food chain of ruling those at the bottom work the hardest and get little rewards while the rich get rich and keep getting richer, if you are at the bottom once your services are no-longer required an able ruthless replacement is sought for. Animal farm showcases that power may be gained and rules may be changed to suite the ruling power like the rules changed from “all animals are equal to some animals are more equal than others”.

Definitely a book on dictatorship Orwell masses and beautifully potrays the Russian revolution with those of animal’s with “two headed horns like the devil” Orwell brings out this in a satire and comical way image comparing animals to the form of humans giving the pigs to superiority over all the animals. If you don’t find humor in this then certainly the kids may suited almost to be acted as a children’s comic it’s a good fable to the little children a villain’s plot to the mature mind.

Orwell keeps you turning pages his writing style is a humble style surprisingly addictive tone but gaining momentum by every paragraph, fitted that one may expect to know what may happen but it’s always a surprise when you finally read it.
What may be most catching is the pigs are so able to take the human form easily that it keeps the reader debating whether the pigs will be outdone or outdo the human power.

The tone of the book is a happy one more like a fairy tale fable before animals existed, a lullaby that puts young ones to sleep but that haunts the older and torments the dead.

9 Thinks About Under-Achievers

Elona Hartjes shares:

1. Many underachieving students do not having learning disabilities, although some do.

2. Many students who have learning disabilities or are gifted learners and get support they need work to their potential, but many continue to underachieve.

3. Some students will underachieve if they aren’t being challenged.

4. Experts believe that underachieving is a learned behaviour and that some kids actually come to school having learned that behaviour.

5. Kids have been taught either to be dominant underachievers or dependent underachievers by the way parents or caregivers interact with them when resolving issues like illness, parents’ marital problems, absent parents, sibling rivalry, unusual ability left unchallenged.

6. Dominant underachievers have been given either too much power by their parents or care givers and feel they should always call the shots.

7. Dependent underachievers haven’t been given the opportunity to try to resolve issues for themselves and too often have been rescued by their over-involved parents or care givers and now are totally dependent on others.

8. Dependent underachievers need to be weened from their attention addiction.

9. Dominant underachievers need to be weaned from their need to be in control of all situations.

Monday, January 12, 2009

16 Habits of Mind

Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick's 16 qualities of high-performance individuals - I love no.8!
  1. Persisting
  2. Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision
  3. Managing impulsivity
  4. Gathering data through all senses
  5. Listening with understanding and empathy
  6. Creating, imagining, innovating
  7. Thinking flexibly
  8. Responding with wonderment and awe
  9. Thinking about thinking (metacognition)
  10. Taking responsible risks
  11. Striving for accuracy
  12. Finding humor
  13. Questioning and posing problems
  14. Thinking interdependently
  15. Applying past knowledge to new situations
  16. Remaining open to continuous learning


Friday, January 9, 2009

HinchCliffe's 10 Aspects of Web 2.0 Strategy

Dion Hinchcliffe shares his views:

1. It's not about technology, it's about the changes it enables.
While technology is a close second (and ultimately makes 2.0 business models possible), the real discussion is about the disruptive new opportunities it creates. Instead the discussion should be focused more around strategies such as harnessing millions of customers over the network to co-create products through peer production, engaging in mass customer self-service, customer communities, and open supply chains to thousands of ad hoc partners with open APIs. These are just some of the examples of using the network to create far richer and more profound results than could be created in the 1.0 era. Don't get caught up in the technology of 2.0 at first other than to understand the business possibilities it affords. Avoid technology-first discussions like the plague. Premature monetization discussions around 2.0 are also to be avoided, they tend to have a negative impact on process if done too early.

2. The implications of 2.0 stands many traditional views on their head and so change takes more time than usual. In the 2.0 world customers and partners have a much closer, more sustained relationship because of social interaction and tightly integrated online supply chains, to name just two reasons. The shift of control from institutions to communities of users takes a lot of getting used to. Just understanding how and why intellectual property is better covered by Creative Commons instead of copyright will take the legal department years (if not decades). Each part of the organization will have its miniature 2.0 revolution. These take time to happen and sort themselves out. This means getting these new ideas into people's heads is one of the first steps...

3. Get the ideas, concepts, and vocabulary out into the organization and circulating. If you're trying to affect 2.0 change in an organization, there's no better solution that exposing people to it. Demographics can be a problem in this situation depending on the industry. Younger workers tend to live and breath 2.0 while older workers may be aware of it but don't think it applies to them. I use point education where change needs to happen either first or quickly and then internal communities that bring the discussion of change, innovation, and transformation to the entire organization. Either way, learning and education around 2.0 are a vital trigger to begin change and should be started early and non-disruptively.

4. Existing management methods and conventional wisdom are a hard barrier to 2.0 strategy and transformation. You don't have to get far into discussions about the Perpetual Beta or Product Development 2.0 before existing management methods seem outdated, inflexible, and ineffective. This is one of the more difficult aspects of adopting 2.0 models and the implications is that we'll have to do a lot of rethinking how we manage businesses driven by 2.0 models, where the boundaries of organizations are less clear, the ownership is much more community-based, and the outcomes are far more diverse and spread out, making them less trackable, controllable, and directed. Overhauling management practices and techniques will be a core activity in a 2.0 transformation and will be hard to achieve quickly enough due to the Innovator's Dilemma.

5. Avoiding external disruption is hard but managing self-imposed risk caused by 2.0 is easier. The great fear than many businesses have is facing a fast-growth competitor that takes these ideas and either wrests away market share rapidly and aggressively or cuts them off at the pass with entirely new products. YouTube did this to the broadcast and cable industry, which responded with Hulu. Apple did this with iTunes to the recording industry and the blogosphere did the same to the newspaper industry. Other industries are next likely including the financial services industry, real estate, and others. Internally, however, risk management is still a challenge but is much more manageable. The big implication for this is that starting internally first with things like Enterprise 2.0 initiatives and prediction markets to learn the ropes on how to deal with unexpected outcomes and results can help organizations climb the maturity curve.

6. Incubators and pilots projects can help create initial environments for success with 2.0 efforts. Too much contact with the traditional support environment of an existing, primarily 1.0 organization makes it hard for 2.0 efforts to succeed; everything gets done in the traditional way instead of the new ways that are required. The traditional tools, processes, and skills just aren't there or are just too slow and burdened with unnecessary overhead. Creating dedicated incubators that are designed to use the strengths of the organization while being isolated from its weaknesses can help. Incubators are at risk of becoming too isolated however, and won't inform or change the greater organization unless care is taken to roll the lessons and capability back in.

7. Irreversible decisions around 2.0 around topics such as brand, reputation, and corporate strategy can be delayed quite a while, and sometime forever. Most organizations get paralysis around change and transformation because of concerns around decisions that can't be reversed. Concern over damaging the company's brand is one of the top issues I run into and it's a valid concern. The good news is that many organizations are discovering they can safely leverage the advantages of their organization (such as their extensive customer base to drive initial growth of 2.0 engagement and adoption of new products and services) without dragging their brand into it whatsoever. New 2.0 products from major companies are now often released under new brands entirely. This enables serious experimentation with 2.0 while taking little risk to the organization.

8. The technology competence organizations have today are inadequate for moving to 2.0. This is key if you're a CTO or CIO today; your organization is almost certainly not ready to handle the development, management, scalability, identity, governance, and openness issues around 2.0. If you're not sure, just ask your IT staff. Examples include cloud computing, open APIs, mashups, rich user experiences, Web-Oriented-Architecture, community platforms, Enterprise 2.0, 2.0-era computing stacks like Rails and Django, are all disciplines that are considerable in their own right, of rapidly growing importance to organizations in the 2.0 era. These are all likely to be things your staff needs to come up the learning curve on in significant ways and with the rate of change on the network what it is presently, falling behind is too easy to do. Note: The existing technology landscape of most organizations will have to change as well which is where Web-Oriented Architecture (WOA) is getting quite a bit of attention today. And the Web products themselves have moved far beyond the model of the Web page and most enterprises are very far behind.

9. The business side requires 2.0 competence as well. This includes how to design, build, launch, market, support, and maintain 2.0 products and services as well as the ways that workers should use the tools and concepts to work together. I recently suggested that learning how to be effective in working within and directing communities of workers/users/partners to accomplish large-scale outcomes will be a vital skill in the very near future. All of this requires both a new perspective as well as a hard-headed effort at skill building and a re-orientation of existing work habits and processes.

10. Start small, think big. We have discovered that the leverage the network can give us is almost unlimited. It's ability to scale ideas, products, and communities of users as fast as they are able to is one of the aspects that makes it so attractive to business. 2.0 products tends to be very simple at heart, and though there is certainly challenges and complications growing, small ideas can become big very, very quickly. Getting to the right solutions, not-overinvesting (which leads to complication and heavyweight management and processes) and letting customers and partners take the seeds of great ideas and run with them is what makes sudden success turn into a large-scale success. On the Web, starting small, and thinking big can take you a long, long way. Read more about network effects driven by architectures of participation .

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Practical Tips for Doing Your Ph.D

Not exactly profound, but the link may help:

1. Begin with the end in mind

2. You have no obligation to write an important or even useful thesis

3. Write!

4. Exercise regularly

5. Enjoy your “play time”

6. Talk to others about your problems

7. Record your progress

8. Don’t find excuses - don’t do too many other important things.

9. Choose a dissertation topic you are passionate about

10. Work on your strengths, not on your weaknesses

11. Take charge - it’s your life not your supervisor’s

12. Do what is right for you - including the choice of discontinuing your Ph.D.

See what else they have to say.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Learning Links

There are many online but here are a few good ones:

1. 7 Steps to More Effective Studying (from Rio Salado College Online)

2. Effective Study Skills (from AdPrima)

3. How To Study (from the Chemekata Community)

4. Skills for Study (from Palgrave)

Any tips which've helped you especially well? Care to share them?