Don’t Be Silent on Sunday, Sing the Hell Out of Your Song

I have some serious authority issues. I don’t like experts. Pure academics make me want to go YAK. And,nothing against folks who want to go #silentsunday, but the iconoclast and contrarian veins in me just throb in opposition to that. Art is never about being silent. Even John Cage’s 4’33” is not really about silence. And a photograph is never about silence. It’s a steam whistle saying ‘lookatmelookatmelookatme’. If you are a writer or a teacher of writers, then it seems to me that it is borderline disingenuous to even broach the idea of silence.

Instead, let’s do what Chris Brogan suggests: Let’s Sing the Hell Out of Our Song.

Brogan’s advice in my voice:

  • Imagine the larger context of your song. For me, that means that I can be your iconoclast, your skeptic, your dark friend who shouts out “the king’s got no clothes” at what may appear to be the most inopportune moment.
  • Make sure you make it their song by God. From me. I intend the best for you with my voice as loud as I can for as long as I can. I am your song sung out like hell even if it only comes out tinny and weak and tone deaf and pitiful. My song for you.
  • Solve a problem. Here’s your problem. Everything you know might be wrong. Me, too. I am startled by, amazed by and I’m just not afraid to call us out on it. You can tag along and come up with your own versions or a brand new version of some contrarian bullshit. We will both know that in the end everything we know is wrong most of the time. Sometimes I will be weak, but that will be when I appear the most strong and sometimes I will seem strong and that will be when I am weakest.
  • Keep it brief, Brogan says. Yeah, but only if that keeps it right.
  • Give your voice handles. In my case my voice might be a bit of a hot skillet at times that you might need a potholder, too. My handle in this post is this: I respect the idea of silence, but the internet is not a vehicle for silence or silencing. Be unsilent and go wailing into the vortex. My handle might also have some rough edges. All the better to grip.

So don’t STFU, just sing the bloody hell out of your song like these guys who are singing and wringing the hell of their song through their instruments for me, for you, for us.  Let me hear you sing and I will do my best to sing for you, too.


Kevin and Co sing. And make sure you go hear him sing here today.

Moshi sings:


And Sarah:



Amy’s song:

Taxonomy&Folksonomy&Epistemology&Pedagogy: Thanks Popova and Caulfield!


I have been spinning up a big binary in my own thinking. And it involves Maria Popova and Mike Caulfield. I cannot guarantee that this makes sense but just that I am trying to think out loud and make some sense out loud.

I have been exploring what I have vaguely referred to as “course in a blog post”.  Maria Popova’s weekly newsletter for her polymathic website, Brainpickings, is one such course. It is layered full of more hyperlinked goodness than you can possibly work your way through in a week.

Right now I am doing just that, working my way through one of her newsletters.  I use the Chrome extension, LinkGrabber, to strip off all the links on a page. (I am sure there are better tools out there, but I just stopped looking when I found one that did the job for 90% of the links on a page.) Then I store them in a collaborative space like Hackpad or Etherpad in order to curate them, to generate signal to share.

Popova’s newsletter this week started out with 71 or so links.  After eliminating some of them (navigation, social media, repetitions) I am left with 54. Unfortunately, those 54  lead to hyperlink rich environments of their own. I have outlined this difficulty in previous posts and noted the problem of negotiating a useful signal and a need to devise ways to curate that signal.

What we are given by Popova is a taxonomy, a hierarchical direction from the top down. In other words our author has curated a scaffold and lots of content to be followed in a particular order.  You might ask, “Isn’t that what rhetoric and composition is? Purpose and organization for an audience?” Exactly.  It is colonialism.  The writer is trying to colonize your mind.  It is a power grab, an epistemological attempted coup.

I overstate the case for writing as a top down Trojan Horse, but by how much?  We don’t have to open the doors for the damned wooden thing, do we?  No.  That’s why I call it a negotiated signal that gets curated by the receiver.  The problem with these massively ‘palimpsested’ posts that are full of hyperlink wormholes is that they make sense because of the surface tension of meaning imposed upon them by the author.  In other words they have a rhetorical structure to them, but the problem is that because there are so many links they also have a rhetorical substructure as well.  Why include the links if they are not meant to be a part of the whole.  Aye, there’s the rub.  What is the meaning to be gleaned and how are we to curate that sub-signal and how does that relate to the surface signal?


I can show you how I am trying to renegotiate this signal using Popova’s newsletter links via LinkGrabber and Hackpad as an expanding ‘accordion’ space.

View Brainfall on Hackpad.

I started in the middle with the section “The Color of the Wind”. I have lots of responses there in the form of more wormholes. The “feldgang” links in the Hackpad are my interactions with Popova’s links. Part of my renegotiation is coming to terms with all of this new information by adding some of my own, elaborating and understanding what and why Popova has included it. Part of the renegotiation is pure play as in transforming Helen Keller’s letter to the New York Philharmonic into a poem. Part of my renegotiation is in transmedia translation of “Ode to Joy” with a “Pinball Wizard” with Helen Keller as the bridge. What is my alternative? Just following each link down and noting what is in there, rocketing down the infinite bobsled track until you just must hit the brakes? I cannot accept that.

6%2F18%2F16 - 1

If you open the gates for the Trojan Horse, then you have to honor it all the way down in ways that you might never have considered: play, creation, mashup culture, collaboration, and more.  In other words for a certain type of writer and a certain type of writing like Popova’s we need to honor the work, follow their thinking, and celebrate it with play and creation of our own.

This not SOP. This is not even ‘close reading’ standard operating procedure. This is not like the autodidact’s independent study.  This is renegotiated, translated, recreated, amplified and dampened learning. Messy. Very messy. And uncertain.  And honorable.

That brings me to the part two of this binary–Mike Caulfield.  I think of his post, “New Directions in Open Education,” as the opposite of Popova’s. His is the folksonomy.  It has the feel of an idea that has grown out of the commons, rising up from the loam.  The post is long, peripatetic, and reminiscent of the random farm walks I take several times a week on my little bit of ground.

It is interesting that his post relies very little on the substructure of links. It is more of a standalone piece, one that gives you all you need right inside of it’s narrative. I gotta say I was sorry to see it end. It was so worth reading.

What has me spinning is not only the post itself, but the kind of bottom-up learning culture it advocates.

Here are some of Caulfield’s principles as I understand them

  1. One size never fit all.  The fact that any of us ever thought it could is a testimony to the blindspots inherent in pedagogy.
  2. Content without consideration of ‘belonging’ is inert content.
  3. Write to relevance.  (I use this principle in my freshman composition research inquiry.  I beg them to ask a question that is personally meaningful. It is the greatest sadness of my teaching life that I fail to convince many of my students that I mean what I say. They respond, “Just tell me how to get an “A”.)
  4. We are diverse so bring diverse.  The tools we use and the learning ecosystems we share have to acknowledge and encourage this. Otherwise go back to number one above and rethink.

I love the discussion of ‘classroom exhaust’ because it fits with what I am writing about Maria Popova’s newsletter (or anybody’s newsletter).  When we think of learning as a noun we get the cruft of the course- a syllabus, a shell course on an LMS.  The leftovers of actions done–the exhaust. Unless…you create belonging, value folks differences and similarities, allow users to customize, and empower passion and practice.

And where does that lead us?  Choral explanation and, inevitably, smallest federated wikis or, as Caulfield has developed, Wikity.  I consider this post a long and needed preamble toward justifying a completely new pedagogy but more importantly a new paradigm for learning. Not Popova and the top-down tango alone, but Caulfield and the folksonomic bugaloo, too.


And to answer Caulfield’s question, “Are you my audience?” Well, yes, but that is like asking the question of air and water, “Are you my water?” True, but limited.  Our audiences, like our air and water, are everywhere, we just don’t realize how ubiquitously distributed they can be.  That is the road we make as we walk. It is why federated wikis and Caulfield’s Wikity are the ecosystems we need to tap into in order to create open, communal, diverse, and relevant audiences.

Suji 100%
Suji 100%

We don’t have to give up renegotiating with Popova, but we damned sure better adopt Caulfield, too. Now.


To Bruce, For Muz



I heard a murmur, a whisper, a susurration. Our friend, Bruce Bardin, has died. His friend and love and gardening companion, Carol Friedman (Muz), carries on.



Here is a pdf of an article done about them in the early 80’s that speaks of him in our community of homesteaders.  He was our folk. He is our folk.

Page One

Page Two


Certainly I’m Wrong


Just finished reading Venkatesh Rao’s newsletter “Breaking Smart”.

It is a breath of honest air even if it sometimes stinks of the fishmonger, hangovers, and last night’s tuna surprise. I know that doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation, but I can count on my hands the sources of honest,fearless ‘un-niceness’ and this is one of them. Buyer be aware, reader beware.

When I read Rao I always come away with new wrenches to cast into the works (or I pull out ones that Rao has tossed into mine).  For example, I have been thrashing around on my posts all week to come to terms in some effective way with the idea of TMI and filtering information.  Along comes Rao, molotov in hand, and he argues that filtering is an illusion depending upon which consensus is being manufactured. And,what’s even more problematic, with the “never-forgetting” character of the internet, nothing is ever thrown away.  It is just paid attention to differently.

Here are several of his other monkey wrenches:

Cupcake fascism
Manufactured normalcy

So, my way of curating Rao is to ask you to read his newsletter in its entirety, perhaps explore previous newsletters, consider the quote image below, and hyperlink out of here for a sidetrip of trippy and scary ideas. Nor narrowing the signal, am I. Thanks, Obama.


Cur8ion in Real/Four Time

I am experimenting in other ways with the frenetic standstill that many blog posts represent.  In this case I am indebted to Alton Hynes’s #CLMOOC . is a bot.  It asks for inputs (twitter, twitter lists, and more customized links) that it turns into a Newsletter/Newspaper.  You have to play about with it until it makes nice the way you want it to, then you turn it loose onto the sociosphere.

And below is my screencast where I show how a curation grew in sort of real-time. I say “sort of” because the timeline only captures activity. When I stopped, so did it. Here is the workflow if anyone is interested:

1. Went to Aldon Hynes’ page,
2. Used LinkGrabber Chrome Extension to scrape all the links from the page,
3. Dropped the relevant links into the TitanPad etherpad,
4. Deleted links that were not content (i.e. navigational, social networking, etc.),
5. Annotated remaining links on TitanPad,
6. Accessed the TitanPad timeline and replayed the curation,
7. Opened Screencast-o-Matic and recorded the timeline from start to finish,
8. Uploaded the screencast to Screencast-o-Matic’s website,
9. Ripped audio from “How to Be Alone” YouTube video using Peggo,
10.Converted the mp3 file into a wav file using Zamzar so that I could import it into Screencast-o-Matic’s editor,
11.Added wav file to screencast and uploaded to YouTube,
12.Pulled embed from YouTube,
13.Voila, the vid below.

This work is a labor of idiocy. I stole time from two jobs to make time for this. I have farm chores and school chores that I ignored to do this. Was it worth it? I hope so.

  1. I found out how much ‘hidden curation’ goes on. There are choices made all along the route toward a finished curation that are all basically parsing what stays and what goes.  For example, I got rid of all the navigational and social media links. Why? They weren’t specific content.  Once I decided on what to include I had to curate down to the level of the links I had on my list.  In other words I had choices I had made and now I needed to justify why I made them. I had to find something of value that the original bot had found using the parameters set by Aldon Hynes. The next level we need a different filter. What could that be?  Similarities? Differences? Connections?  It seems like these filters are of two kinds: removers and leavers.  Remover filters  would be curation based upon some broad criteria like connected learning or relevance to #CLMOOC participants.  Anything that did not fit that filter would be removed.  Or perhaps it would be that anything that fit would be included.  Something tells met that is a spurious distinction, but another part me says there is a difference there somewhere, a distinction between positive and negative. Two kinds of curation: negative and positive.
  2.  I found out that I had only done half the job. I need to curate my curations. And I need to do that using some kind of filter that is way less porous than the one I was using. And I need to record that using the same timeline. And I need the filters above.
  3. I found out that if I only went out two degrees of separation I began to feel physically anxious. There was no ‘crossing of the hyperlink beams’ as I was spidering two links down so I am not sure how many degrees of separation would get me to a space where the links begin to repeat themselves.  Wouldn’t it be cool to have an app that would look at all the links on a page and then spider out with them until a message popped up on the screen, “Echo Chamber Degrees of Separation Reached”.  That might show you what your natural network was.
  4. I found out that in order to even begin to reflect I had to use a lot repertoire.
  5. I found out that this useful repertoire was all learned in the serious play I have engaged in over the last three summers in #CLMOOC
  6. I found that I will need to do a play-by-play instead of a poem next time as my background to the screencast. While I don’t think anyone will look over this, if someone does they need a little bit more of an audio map for the screencast, an audio feldgang to accompany the video map.

A Cur8ion in Real Four Time

Uploaded by TERRY ELLIOTT on 2016-10-04.

The screencast above is final product (or as final and unpolished as I wanted it to be). What follows below is a the original curation that I screencast of Aldon Hynes’ using Hackpad. I moved that curation to Hackpad because I could not embed the original etherpad.

Some initial reflection:


Beautiful Curatorial Noise? IDK.


In my last post I wrote about how much noise was generated in my email from just five newsletters. I have always thought that curation by others would help create a signal, but it appears to me that just a few degrees of separation creates a botheration of beautiful, curatorial noise. Of course, I could always choose to create quiet. That seems a cop out, an abdication of what I consider part of my duty as a “concierge” for my readers and my learners. Take two more examples in my Sunday email.

Audrey Watters’ Hack Education Weekly Newsletter (HEWN)

I am not critiquing this newsletter. I am trying to look more reflectively at how I ‘consume’ its hyperlinkage and how I curate those links for others. And I have to say that I do it mostly willy nilly. If it interests me, I bring it into my network share spaces and if I don’t it disappears in the Google of my email. I do have some filters. I might find something that I know an online buddy might be interested in. I might find a link that I know I am interested in and it heads to other choice database black holes (Diigo/Zotero/Pinterest/ al). Those give me the semblance of control as I promise to return to them later for reconsideration. I think of this as filtering after the fact. I mean, really, I found this shiny object and can’t possibly give it up.

My best filtering comes ‘before the fact’. What I mean by that is that I create a guiding question that is as specific as I can make it. For example, I am working with my students right now with a research question on how, as a farmer, I can take a two week vacation. The question provides keyword filters that get me going in various search spaces online and off. It is a guiding filter that changes as I curate what the keywords bring to me. I use a template to gather the information in one spot and then I make sense of it.

That kind of curation is from the inside out rather than vice versa. But I still have a whole curatorial life that is trying to come to terms with the FOMO that drives me to bring ever more info into my curatorial spaces, from the outside in.  Information like Katexic provides:

What does this mean?  As someone who hopes to teach students how to gather, make sense of, and share with others, it is very important to be clear about this thing that is a hyperlink.  Is it some stupid thing that does something when you click it, like a light switch? Or is a hyperlink much more than a thing, with meaning in and of itself, social and psychological and spiritual?

Because I live in nature on a farm in the hills and hollars, I am always comparing the work of my discipline with Nature.  Is my relationship with the hyperlink an organic one much like the relationship that a tree has with fungi?  Or is it just a wannabe organic relationship? Is a hyperlink a symbiote?  IDK.  The rising complexity of the hyperlink intertwingled with my own life along with the idea that no hyperlink is more than a few degrees of separation from any other makes me think that a complex system is arising from the simple initial condition of the hyperlink. Like flocking behavior in birds or schooling behavior in fish.

If it is organic and symbiotic, then what is that relationship doing to us and our brains.  Is the hyperlink jumping the brain’s blood barrier and infecting our neural systems in ways that have a deep epigenetic effect right now? IDK.

I do know that I have grown uncomfortable with the massive collections of hyperlinks that accrue to me from newsletters.  I feel obliged to curate them.  I feel that by doing so I am only adding to other folks’ duty to view and curate further.  Noise on top of noise, the ultimate digital Babel.   What to do?  IDK.


Five Not So Easy Pieces

Friday afternoon I was looking through my Inbox.  The usual suspects included five newsletters.  I am pretty choosy in the newsletters I subscribe to and these five are an unusually rich trove most Fridays. This was no exception.

As I was working my way through the links, tweeting and Google Plussing and emailing and sharing, I got this feeling…of…overwhelm-ment.  So many links and so many forks from those links and so many folks and…well, you can see it in the embed below.

(By the way, I had a lot of trouble with the Google Doc embed below. I hadn’t done one in awhile and Google had ‘revised’ their look again so it took me a little while to figure out.  And I discovered that if you click any link, it will open in the embed.  So you don’t have to leave that space.  I was a bit gobsmacked at how well and how seamlessly it worked. Meanwhile back to story.)

Almost seventy links, all high quality with links radiating from there as well like the one below:

And then more links forking from there:

All this reminds me of six degrees of separation and makes me ask, “How far is any link from any other link?” More importantly, what is the significance of this proximity, of this adjacent possibility? Help me out.





Frenetic Standstill

Has tech ruined our relationship with time?

Death by time?  That is one of the consequences envisioned by Simon Garfield as he introduces us to the idea of a “frenetic standstill” and the ultimate showdown of the masters of speed vs. the masters of time (slow readers/slow eaters/slow thinkers).

Prof Rosa has envisaged a worst-case scenario he calls “the unbridled onward rush into the abyss” – death by time. It will be caused by our inability to balance the conflict of movement and inertia, and “the abyss will be embodied in either the collapse of the ecosystem or in the ultimate breakdown of the modern social order”. Happy days.

Those who can control their time, those who are their own time lords, they will survive the abyss of the frenetic standstill.

I have been considering how few folk are willing to give others ‘the time of day’.  What I refer to, especially online, is how we avoid what in tractor work is called ‘creeper gear’.  That gear is the slowest one in the transmission and while not used often, it is absolutely essential when one is trying to get maximum traction.  Usually one locks both rear wheels at the same time while in creeper mode.  You can get serious pulling power in this mode for even a small tractor just so long as the rear wheels have some weight on them and good tread.

And this is what we often fail to do, what we fail to give–our time, time that is removed from the frenetic stillness that usually surrounds us. Slow time.  Time that digs down and grips with power and friction in order to do real work.

I have been doing this kind of work of late as I work through Dave Gray’s latest book Liminal Thinking.  I have done work like this in MOOCs before. It is deep work especially when undertaken with other ‘horses’ in harness. It is profound work. Slow, feet stepping carefully.  I think that is why my students hate the discipline of it so very much.  The frenetic stillness feels so much more satisfying to us because we are so used to it.

I admit to this being some very unfinished thinking.  I just had to put something down about the potent metaphor of frenetic stillness.  Had to.  Like walking zazen, a long haul of making the road by walking the road.  Slow, engaged, disciplined practice informed by awareness and unhurried by time.



Go even slower with a poem by Wendell Berry, “Horses”, know again the


 When I was a boy here,
traveling the fields for pleasure,
the farms were worked with teams.
As late as then a teamster
was thought an accomplished man,
his art an essential discipline.
A boy learned it by delight
as he learned to use
his body, following the example
of men. The reins of a team
were put into my hands
when I thought the work was play.
And in the corrective gaze
of men now dead I learned
to flesh my will in power
great enough to kill me
should I let it turn.I learned the other tongue
by which men spoke to beasts
—all its terms and tones.
And by the time I learned,
new ways had changed the time.
The tractors came. The horses
stood in the fields, keepsakes,
grew old, and died. Or were sold
as dogmeat. Our minds received
the revolution of engines, our will
stretched toward the numb endurance
of metal. And that old speech
by which we magnified
our flesh in other flesh
fell dead in our mouths.
The songs of the world died
in our ears as we went within
the uproar of the long syllable
of the motors. Our intent entered
the world as combustion.
Like our travels, our workdays
burned upon the world,
lifting its inwards up
in fire. Veiled in that power
our minds gave up the endless
cycle of growth and decay
and took the unreturning way,
the breathless distance of iron.

But that work, empowered by burning
the world’s body, showed us
finally the world’s limits
and our own. We had then
the life of a candle, no longer
the ever-returning song
among the grassblades and the leaves.

Did I never forget?
Or did I, after years,
remember? To hear that song
again, though brokenly
in the distances of memory,
is coming home. I came to
a farm, some of it unreachable
by machines, as some of the world
will always be. And so
I came to a team, a pair
of mares—sorrels, with white
tails and manes, beautiful!—
to keep my sloping fields.
Going behind them, the reins
tight over their backs as they stepped
their long strides, revived
again on my tongue the cries
of dead men in the living
fields. Now every move
answers what is still.
This work of love rhymes
living and dead. A dance
is what this plodding is.
A song, whatever is said.



Liminality on the Head of a Turntable Needle


I have just begun my very close reading of Dave Gray’s Liminal Thinking. I will be doing annotation in the margins, a physical reading of a paper copy of the book, as well as Kindle highlight/annotations.  Already I am struck favorably by the metaphors Gray uses.  For example, he compares our attention spans to the needle on a record player.  His point is that attention is way more narrow than we think.


He cites Manfred Zimmerman‘s work in the mid-eighties with measuring maximum human sensory capacity. Our senses could theoretically take in 11,000,000 bits per second (bps).  Of course, they don’t.  Maximum throughput may work when you are talking about a USB cable, but doesn’t make much sense with optic nerves. Why? Because the capacity, the wetware, isn’t constrained in the same way a machine or a part is .

This same researcher indicated that our actual capacity is only 40 bps. That is about .0004% of max.  Hence Gray’s record needle.  We bump along in our own record grooves taking in what seems an infinitesimal amount of info.  Our experience of the world is based upon this impossibly thin slice of baloney.  Great.


There are problems with Zimmerman’s research. I advise you to look at the earlier link, but Gray’s metaphor holds, I believe.  I am working my way through each of his exercises and have found that all of them help me come up with new insights.