“When I’m designing, I believe in ghosts.”

A former research assistant of mine just pointed me to FJP: a weird and wonderful blog about interaction design that gets updated each week and has no archives or social media extensions, which makes it pretty ace in my books above and beyond its content.

And apologies to the author, but this post is just too good to let slip away. It’s what I always try to explain to my students, but better put:

Opening Your Mind So Wide the Ghosts Slip In

When I’m designing, I believe in ghosts. Let me explain.

I’m an analytical person. I believe in science and logic. I don’t actually believe in ghosts in any serious way.

But part of great design is taking lateral leaps of logic, of challenging assumptions, letting the world change your mind, staying receptive to new experiences and ways of thinking, channeling the energy and ideas around you, knowing anything is possible, letting your intuition drive your thinking, not saying no, not shutting things down, re-evaluating your point of view, treating everyone as if they have something to teach you, staying mentally agile, sharp, light, nimble, and quick.

And when I’m in that mode, when I’m truly in touch with my creativity, when my mind is necessarily wide open, the ghosts slip in. Of course ghosts might exist, just like of course this design problem has a solution just out of my reach, one I can discover as long as I keep working at it.

In that moment of creative inspiration, everything has to be possible. When I’m designing, I believe in ghosts. I have to.

Nice.

Reflections on teaching and learning

Hi, my name is Anne and I am a researcher an educator.

Of course, I’m both. But the reason I work at a university instead of doing research somewhere else is because I love teaching. Not every moment of it, for sure, but my best moments with students have been amongst the best moments of my life.

And now, just in time for the start of term in the northern hemisphere (and not too late for those of us in the south) my friend and colleague Matt Ward has offered some excellent reflections on what it means to be a facilitator of learning. The whole post is worth reading, but here are some of my favourite bits:

1. Teaching is really difficult
It’s a fine art. I started my career feeling that my job was to create ‘great designers’. I would crit work and deliver lectures to promote a certain way of designing, a certain way of thinking – hopefully engaging students enough to inspire them to do ‘good design’. However, as I progress in my career I realized that this isn’t actually my job. It’s merely a convenient side effect. My main job is [to] promote learning, the fine distinction is that students can produce unsophisticated design work but still have an excellent learning experience.

4. Sparking imagination
The most important reason for us to be here is to spark our students’ imaginations. It’s important to stand back from the content, the detail, to understand the impact and relevance to our subjects to our students’ lives. The good part, is that we live in fascinating world, your job is to show them how wonderful it is. This means that it’s important to remain enthusiastic. The daily, yearly grind of an academic can be tough, but the best way to make your job brilliant is to show your love and excitement for your discipline. Enthusiasm is contagious… be proud to be a cheerleader.

6. Debunking complexity
One of the most important roles we have as educators is to unravel the messy complexities of our subjects. It’s very difficult to remember what starting to study a subject at university is like, our students sometimes miss the ‘most basic’ of skills, language and knowledge. Therefore, breaking down complex language and difficult concepts is essential.

8. Humor / Humility
Don’t be superior, people learn best from people they connect with and admire. Academics have the tendency to act superior – they waft in, deliver their words of wisdom, waft out. Most people in the position to lecture are smart, but being clever isn’t enough, be nice.

On the first day of my doctoral studies, Charles Gordon told me that we were all brilliant so the best way to distinguish myself was to be kind. I don’t always succeed, but as time goes on I can think of no more important academic aspiration. Reading Matt’s post this morning reminded me why I teach, and reminded me to never get complacent about it. I do a lot of the things he suggests, but I also learned a few things that I can’t wait to put into practice. Thanks Matt!

The Industries of Animals

Frédéric Houssay’s 1893 The Industries of Animals is a classic example of 19th century categorisation practices, and the table of contents is a rather lovely list to read. Imagine how different animals would be if we understood them in these ways:

INTRODUCTION. The naturalists of yesterday and the naturalists of to-day–Natural history and the natural sciences–The theory of Evolution–The chief industries of Man–The chief industries of Animals–Intelligence and instinct–Instinctive actions originate in reflective actions–The plan of study of the various industries.

HUNTING–FISHING–WARS AND EXPEDITIONS. The Carnivora more skilful hunters than the Herbivora–Different methods of hunting–Hunting in ambush–The baited ambush–Hunting in the dwelling or in the burrow–Coursing–Struggles that terminate the hunt–Hunting with projectiles–Particular circumstances put to profit–Methods for utilising the captured game–War and brigandage–Expeditions to acquire slaves–Wars of the ants.

METHODS OF DEFENCE. Flight–Feint–Resistance in common by social animals–Sentinels.

PROVISIONS AND DOMESTIC ANIMALS. Provisions laid up for a short period–Provisions laid up for a long period–Animals who construct barns–Physiological reserves–Stages between physiological reserves and provisions–Animals who submit food to special treatment in order to facilitate transport–Care bestowed on harvested provisions–Agricultural ants–Gardening ants–Domestic animals of ants–Degrees of civilisation in the same species of ants–Aphis-pens and paddocks–Slavery among ants.

PROVISION FOR REARING THE YOUNG. The preservation of the individual and the preservation of the species–Foods manufactured by the parents for their young–Species which obtain for their larvæ foods manufactured by others–Carcasses of animals stored up–Provision of paralysed living animals–The cause of the paralysis–The sureness of instinct–Similar cases in which the specific instinct is less powerful and individual initiative greater–Genera less skilful in the art of paralysing victims.

DWELLINGS. Animals naturally provided with dwellings–Animals who increase their natural protection by the addition of foreign bodies–Animals who establish their home in the natural or artificial dwellings of others–Classification of artificial shelters–Hollowed dwellings–Rudimentary burrows–Carefully-disposed burrows–Burrows with barns adjoined–Dwellings hollowed out in wood–Woven dwellings–Rudiments of this industry–Dwellings formed of coarsely-entangled materials–Dwellings woven of flexible substances–Dwellings woven with greater art–The art of sewing among birds–Modifications of dwellings according to season and climate–Built dwellings–Paper nests–Gelatine nests–Constructions built of
earth–Solitary masons–Masons working in association–Individual skill and reflection–Dwellings built of hard materials united by mortar–The dams of beavers.

THE DEFENCE AND SANITATION OF DWELLINGS. General precautions against possible danger–Separation of females while brooding–Hygienic measures of Bees–Prudence of Bees–Fortifications of Bees–Precautions against inquisitiveness–Lighting up the nests.

CONCLUSION. Degree of perfection in industry independent of zoological superiority–Mental faculties of the lower animals of like nature to Man’s.

 

On our bookshelf: human-animal relations

Mostly social and cultural perspectives, with a little geography, media, art, biology and philosophy thrown in.

Alger and Alger, Cat Culture: The Social World of a Cat Shelter
Arluke, Just a Dog: Understanding Animal Cruelty and Ourselves
Arluke and Sanders, Regarding Animals
Bekoff, The Emotional Lives of Animals
Bekoff and Pierce, Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals
Broglio, Surface Encounters: Thinking with Animals and Art
Brower, Developing Animals: Wildlife and Early American Photography
Chris, Watching Wildlife
Daston and Mitman (eds.), Thinking with Animals: New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism
DeMello (ed.), Teaching the Animal: Human-Animal Studies across the Disciplines (plus bibliography)
DeMello, Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies
Flynn (ed.), Social Creatures: A Human and Animal Studies Reader
Goode, Playing with My Dog Katie: An Ethno-Methodological Study of Canine/Human Interaction
Gross and Vallely (eds.), Animals and the Human Imagination: A Companion to Animal Studies
Haraway, When Species Meet
Haraway, The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness
Kalof and Fitzgerald (eds.), The Animals Reader: The Essential Classic and Contemporary Writings
Manning and Serpell (eds.), Animals and Human Society: Changing Perspectives
McHugh, Animal Stories: Narrating across Species Lines
Mol, Moser and Pols (eds.), Care in Practice: On Tinkering in Clinics, Homes and Farms
Philo and Wilbert (eds.), Animal Spaces, Beastly Places
Rothfels (ed.), Representing Animals
Rudy, Loving Animals: Toward a New Animal Advocacy
Serpell, In the Company of Animals: A Study of Human-Animal Relationships
Shukin, Animal Capital: Rendering Life in Biopolitical Times
Urbanik, Placing Animals: An Introduction to the Geography of Human-Animal Relations
Vint, Animal Alterity: Science Fiction and the Question of the Animal
Weil, Thinking Animals: Why Animal Studies Now?
Wilkie, Livestock/Deadstock: Working with Farm Animals from Birth to Slaughter
Wilkie and Inglis (eds.), Animals and Society: Critical Concepts in the Social Sciences
Wolfe, Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory

Sheep signs

The scan above is from Sarah Franklin’s excellent 2007 book, Dolly Mixtures: The Remaking of Genealogy.

I don’t know if her interpretation of the ASL sign for “sheep” makes sense to people who speak ASL (I have to assume she checked!) but I’m completely fascinated by the idea that it performs a hybrid: simultaneously human (the shearer), animal (the sheep) and technological (the shears).

So I decided to check if all English sign languages are the same and, as with all interesting research, found that I now have more questions than answers.

For example, the sign for “sheep” is the same in British Sign Language, Auslan and NZ Sign Language – it involves using the fingers to indicate curly horns on the sides of the head, like a ram – and is used to refer to both a wool-producing animal (sheep) and its meat (lamb/mutton).

First, I find it interesting that the sign performs the appearance of a ram and not a ewe, although they certainly are more visually distinctive. Are all animal signs based on appearance rather than behaviour, use, etc.?

Second, I have no idea why it is completely different from ASL for “sheep” — giving no indication of how people interact with the animal — but since all three sign languages also have separate signs for shearing/shearer, one possibility that comes to mind is that sheep in the UK, Australia and NZ are more “multi-purpose” animals and shearing is considered a culturally distinct activity and identity.

Third, Auslan has two additional signs for sheep, one regionally-specific, and NZSL has another two for lamb as well, although it is unclear if they’re referring to the animal or the meat. In any case, does this more extensive vocabulary indicate greater cultural significance?

Fourth, I was enjoying the (rather wishful) thought that one of the NZSL signs for lamb might be performing their notoriously cute “sproinging” action, but then I found out it’s very similar to the Auslan sign for “woolen” and wondered why would a lamb be more closely associated with wool than with meat?

Okay, okay. It’s clearly time to stop speculating and speak with the experts! I’ll update this with what I learn.

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