December 27, 2010

Blog All Dog-eared Pages: The Craftsman

Reading Richard Sennett's The Craftsman has been rather a slog. After breezing through most of the books I got last Christmas in a matter of days, it's taken almost a year to finish this one. It's not that it's a boring book either - there is plenty of interesting information about tools and how we use them, and how work was organised in the past. For the first half of the book though, it was really slow going.

I got through the second half much more quickly, but there were still plenty of occasions where I'd find my reading interrupted; however, that was mostly because a certain passage had triggered a bout of thinking and contemplation. I wasn't expecting to find treatises on city planning or IQ levels for example, but was happy that I did.

I'm not sure they make a lot of sense and, particularly with the earlier parts of the book, it's too long since I made the notes to remember exactly why each quote was worth marking. But here are the dog-eared selections that I made...

Page 2:
Oppenheimer reassured himself by asserting, "When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb."

Page 6:
The good teacher imparts a satisfying explanation; the great teacher [...] unsettles, bequeaths disquiet, invites argument.

Page 11:
The Enlightenment believed that everyone possesses the ability to do good work of some kind, that there is an intelligent craftsman in most of us

Page 73:
This is why we should not give up on the workshop as a social space. Workshops present and past have glued people together through work rituals, whether these be a shared cup of tea or the urban parade; through mentoring, whether the formal surrogate parenting of medieval times or informal advising on the worksite; through face-to-face sharing of information.

Page 108:
Failure [by the craftsmen to develop and create machines themselves] has magnified the symbolic threat of the machine. Skilled operatives live with and through machines but rarely create them in modern industry. Technological advance comes in this was to seem inseparable from domination by others.

Page 199:
Put simple, it is by fixing things that we often get to understand how they work.

Page 202:
In response to [the Great Fire of London in 1666] Wren sought to apply the principle of dynamic repair [i.e. understanding something by dismantling it and reassembly] he had learned scientifically to the healing of a wounded city.

Page 226:
The natural world appeared to these faulty disciples of Charles Darwin as a place of strife only; society, they argued, was ruled by self-interest, absent any altruistic cooperation. To [philosopher John] Dewey this seemed a macho fantasy that missed the real issue: working with resistance is the key to survival.

Page 229:
A city needs constantly to absorb new elements. In healthy cities, economic energy pushes outward from the centre to the periphery. The problem is that we are better at building boundaries than borders, and this for a deep reason.

From its origins, the centre of the European city has been more important than its periphery; courts, political assemblies, markets, and the most important religious shrines have been located in the city centre. That geographical stress translated into a social value: the centre as a place where people are most likely to share. In modern planning this has meant that efforts to strengthen community life seek to intensify life at the centre. But is the centre, as a space and as a social value, a good place in which to mix the cocktail of cultural diversity?

Page 232:
In the years immediately after the Second World War, the architect Aldo van Eyck began filling up Amsterdam's empty spaces with playgrounds - in trash-filled backyards, at traffic circles, on forlorn corners and the edges of streets. Van Eyck cleaned out the trash and graded the ground; his team sometimes painted the walls of adjoining buildings; the architect himself designed playground equipment, sandpits, and wading pools. Unlike school playgrounds, these street pocket-parks invited adults in as well. Many had comfortable benches or were located next to cafes and bars, allowing adult child-minders to nip inside for a quick drink to steady their nerves. [...]

The designer's aim for these small parks was to teach children how to anticipate and manage ambiguous transitions in urban space. Infants taken to the Hendrikplantsoen playground, in its 1948 form, could for instance wallow in sandpits that had no neat separation from grassy areas. [...] The lack of clear physical definition again provided a challenge; there were edges, but not sharp separations; probing that condition was meant to stimulate inquiry.

Page 249:
[...] transparency can counter [the danger of organisations being infiltrated by corrupt staff], but transparency of a certain sort: the standards of good work must be clear to people who are not themselves experts.

[...] Standards comprehensible to nonexperts raise quality in the organisation as a whole.

Page 285:
If no one could deny that abilities vary at the extremes, the shape of the IQ bell curve raises a question about the middle. Why the blind spot to its potential? The person with an IQ score of 100 is not much different in ability than the person with a score of 115, but the 115 is much more likely to attract notice. There's a devil's answer to this question: inflating small differences in degree into large differences in kind legitimates the system of privilege. Correspondingly, equating the median with the mediocre legitimates neglect - one reason why Britain directs proportionately more resources into elite education than into technical colleges


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links for 2010-12-27

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December 24, 2010

links for 2010-12-24

  • A lovely idea - an informal liability waiver form for people to use if they're doing something (e.g. clearing snow/ice, clearing waste ground) where the person who owns the ground is concerned that the volunteer might sue them if things go wrong. Basically saying that the volunteer is happy to engage in the work, and takes responsibility for their own actions.
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December 22, 2010

The Liverpool URL Shortener

One of the things that's risen in popularity with the rise of Twitter is the URL shortener - those services that take the long and unwieldy (if informative) web addresses and chop them down into something that still lets you include a few words of explanation as to why you're posting links to your followers.

I've long been a fan of, but at the weekend I came across one with a lovely Liverpool twist. will let you post links prefixed with the excellent prefix.

However, one thing they don't have is a bookmarklet to let me do one-click URL shortening. With I have a button on my browser toolbar, and when I want to shorten a URL I just click that button. It launches a new tab which contains the shortened URL for the site I was on when I clicked the button. Then it's simple for me to copy and paste that into Twitter to send my message.

So, a quick look at the source code for later, I present the Shorten with bookmarklet.

On Firefox, Chrome and Safari (I don't think it works on Internet Explorer, but I could be wrong) just drag the Shorten with link to your toolbar. Then next time you want to shorten a URL, just click it.


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December 21, 2010


Although this song has been out for a year now, I was reminded of how lovely it was recently, and it struck me that it would be the sort of track that Karen would've loved. Indie was her preferred genre, but there was always space for the lightly-constructed acoustic ballad and she had discovered Kate Rusby just before she died.

It's a delightful track, and quite appropriate at the moment. The snow does make everything look beautiful - just take care if you're travelling around in it.

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December 19, 2010

links for 2010-12-19

  • Excellent project to boost engagement in local issues. Wonder if we could run something like this in Liverpool and even provide some low-tech feedback (in addition to the high-tech website side of things) with regularly printed and updated posters - pick places to advertise the questions, but then have a network of volunteers to print out updates and paste them over the adverts on a daily or every-few-days basis
  • A good overview of the Open Space method of conference/meeting organisation. I like the "chairs are all set out in a circle" format - dressing the venue will be an important part of working out how the long-conference proceeds.
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December 17, 2010

links for 2010-12-17

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December 11, 2010

links for 2010-12-11

  • Circuit showing how to use a capacitor to store energy from a solar panel until there's enough to power something.
  • Boulderdash, built with just an AVR microcontroller chip, crystal and a few capacitors and resistors. It's not one of the AVRs that the Arduino uses, but that might make it a good "playing with other AVRs" project for a hackspace evening...
    (tags: avr game)
  • "We have a crisis of leadership in America because our overwhelming power and wealth, earned under earlier generations of leaders, made us complacent, and for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. Who can answer questions, but don’t know how to ask them. Who can fulfill goals, but don’t know how to set them. Who think about how to get things done, but not whether they’re worth doing in the first place. What we have now are the greatest technocrats the world has ever seen, people who have been trained to be incredibly good at one specific thing, but who have no interest in anything beyond their area of exper­tise. What we don’t have are leaders."
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December 07, 2010

links for 2010-12-07

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