COOL TOOLS UNTRIED

Cool Tools Untried look cool, but — buyer beware — may seem cooler than they actually are. Neither I nor any of our reviewers have actually used the items below, so we can’t endorse them or speak from experience. If you have used any of these and can report (positively or negatively) — or if you have a similar item you love — please let us know. Until then, here’s some intriguing stuff.

– Steven Leckart

Optx 20/20 Soft Reading Lenses
Reusable stick-on bi-focals

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Available from Optx 20/20 and Amazon

(thanks Dean!)

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Digital Nutrition Scale
Precision dieting

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Available from EatSmart and Amazon

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Glo Glov
Safety reflective gloves

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Available from Glo Glov

(via Bike Hugger)

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Dexpan
Controlled, non-explosive demolition agent

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Available from Archer Company and Amazon

(thanks David!)

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The Solar Food Dryer
DIY sun-powered grub dehydration

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Available from Amazon

(via Mother Earth News)

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Cost Controller Power Strip
Digitally displays power consumption in kilowatt hours

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Available from Computer Gear

(via EcoGeek)

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Knot Tying Cards
Key-ring size knot instructions

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Available from Brigade Quartermasters

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World Pro Instant Air
Portable pneumatic system

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Available from World Tools and Amazon

See here for a video demo

(thanks Drew!)

Related items previously reviewed on Cool Tools:

COOL TOOLS UNTRIED – 2003

COOL TOOLS UNTRIED – 2004

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FuBar Demolition Tool

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Smart Power Strip

 



Mistake-Proofing

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Mistakes are NOT inevitable, but the logical consequences of remediable design. As such, it’s so much easier to avoid them than to correct them, especially if each one becomes a link in a chain of events that go off the rails as a result. If I’d continued in academia, perhaps eventually chairing a department, I’d buy as many copies of this book as there were members of my department — faculty, residents, nurse anesthetists, medical students. It’s slim (72 pages) and easy to understand — no formal process(es) to follow. Instead, the book provides several seemingly simplistic but very useful rules of thumb anyone can adopt. As Chase & Stewart write: “You don’t need a Ph.D. in statistics to apply it. In reality, mistake-proofing is more like a structured form of common sense.” For example: “The key to creating mistake-proofing devices and procedures is not to do too much at once. Instead, concentrate on clever, inexpensive methods to check for only one mistake at a time. If you have two possible mistakes, develop two separate devices or procedures to catch them.” Right on!

– Joseph Stirt

Mistake-Proofing: Designing Errors Out
Richard B. Chase & Douglas M. Stewart
2008, 72 pages
$16 – print
Available from Amazon

$10 – download
Available from Lulu

Sample Excerpts

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The best way to ensure the detection of a mistake is to make sure that something in the environment makes it very obvious that one has been made. A good example of an environmental cue is the inevitable “extra” parts that remain after a do-it-yourself repair project. These parts make it very clear that you have not reassembled the item correctly.

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Machine mistakes, being generally mechanical in nature, are better understand than human mistakes. They are, therefore, more predictable and easier to control. If we look closely at the different types of machine mistakes, we see that they fall into two categories: those mistakes we can see coming and those that catch us unaware.

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Employees experience a continuous stream of encounters – one defect is a low failure rate. Customers experience a single defect as a 100% failure rate.

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Toyota, which is very experienced at mistake-proofing, averages about twelve devices for each machine.

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Go/No-Go gauges are not limited to the shop floor. Customers often use such gauges to detect and prevent mistakes. Some amusement park rides require riders to be above a certain height (so they do not slip through the safety restraints) or below a certain height (to keep larger people off of rides meant only for small children). Parks do not want customers to discover they are too small or large after waiting in a potentially very long line. By placing a gauge at he front of the line, customers can tell if they are tall enough (or short enough) to go on the ride without waiting in line.

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Mistakes are random events and therefore we must continuously watch for them. Sampling is not good enough. It looks at only a small proportion of the outputs in a process.

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Most importantly, mistake-proofing is the only method we know that includes customers’ actions in the quality control system. The importance of this is emphasized by one study that estimates that customers of services are responsible for one-third of the problems they complain about.

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Remember that the goal is to develop clever, simple and inexpensive devices. Don’t immediately opt for the high-tech solution.

Related items previously reviewed on Cool Tools:

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Serious Play

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Peopleware

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Slack

 



How To Make Whips

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I got really into making whips back in 1998. Although this book arrived later in my whip hobby, in a short period of time, it really allowed my skills to skyrocket. It leaves no detail, big or small to the imagination. Mr. Edwards is a gifted craftsman, and his illustrations are only displaced when you see the real deal. He breaks down the various kinds of leather and their advantages and disadvantages for whipmaking, which saved me money and helped me choose the correct leather, sizes, and use up the best parts for the different pieces which make a whip. I even remember going as an 18 year-old to the tannery, and old men would be amazed at the way I chose the leather and knew what I wanted! The book teaches you pretty much every single term on whipmaking, which, in a way, also initiates you into the secrets of whipmaking.

It begins small (easy), and ends up big (complex). In this way, you grow little by little and a step at a time, growing in experience, knowledge and quality. There’s some insight into the lives of a few well known whipmakers, which makes you feel at home and part of the trade. The book’s versatile, too in that it not only focuses on a certain type of whip, but goes into many of the most popular. The book was clearly conceived in order to make you independent: you learn how to make your own tools, how to prepare your workplace, etc. This gives you a sense of responsibility, respect and control in this craft. And even once you’ve learned the craft of whips, this book can still serve as a great reference guide for future projects, since it contains a good amount of plaiting patterns and designs. I no longer make whips, which is truly a pity, but I’m now trying to get back into many of the crafts I did when I was younger, because they really fulfill me.

The only other books I’d recommend would be David Morgan’s Whips & Whipmaking. It teaches you about whips and history. Though there is a section on making a whip, at the time I went deep into the hobby, the edition available had a lack of images which made the book a bit difficult to use for practical purposes. A few years ago, a new edition came out with much more material, but I have not seen it yet. I should add that Mr. Morgan was always kind to lend me his advice and feedback every time I asked by email. Also, I believe it was actually Mr. Morgan who brought Bushcraft 9 to the U.S. after I told him I was working with it (mine was flown straight from Australia). From my own experience, I learned whipmaking takes perseverance… lots of it.

– Aldo Zamudio

How To Make Whips
Ron Edwards
1999, 166 pages
$17
Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Choosing the Leather

When choosing a side, it is best to avoid thick leather — try and get it around 2.5 to 3mm thick, and also make sure that it is not soft and spongy. Leather that is cut from the belly part of the hide is often very weak and will break easily when cut into strands.

On the other hand, thick leather is hard to plait well, and needs to be skived down. so, the aim is to go for leather that can be plaited nicely and that remains strong even in the thinnest sections.

Cut a narrow strip from the leather you are thinking about using, taper it down to a thin point, and then see how easily it breaks. If the break has a loose, hairy look about it, then the leather at that part of the hide is not good enough for whipmaking.

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The section nearest the backbone is the best part of the hide, but sometimes this is a bit thick and may be better used for reins and similar jobs. The tanner divides the hide along the backbone before tanning, and the result is called a side. Leather is bought by the side.

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Styles of Whip

There is no such thing as one correct length, width, or shape for a 4-strand whip. Some people want long thick whips, others want shorter, lighter whips. Both styles are equally correct and neither is better than the other; it is just a question of the intended use for the whip.

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Related items previously reviewed in Cool Tools:

Leather Therapy

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The Art of the Stonemason

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The Complete Metalsmith

 



StudyPerfect

StudyPerfect is a flashcard program that’s easy to use and easy on the eyes. It will do all the normal tasks flashcard programs do (let you create and print cards, name the cards, study on the computer, etc.). But the program also lets you record images and sound on one card. If you are an auditory learner or learning a foreign language (I am and I recently brushed up on Spanish), then having the pronunciation with the text is extremely helpful. You can also place images and text on the same card, and it has a drag-and-drop numbering system, which is really helpful for labeling.

Because you can print, you get all the positives of doing it by hand (i.e. portability), but of course you also get all the positives of going digital: you can create cards very quickly (typing speed); you can hide cards, shuffle cards, combine and separate decks with the click of a button; you won’t ever lose the cards; you can add sound and symbols to the cards (again, great for languages); you don’t need glue to add images, diagrams or tables; you can quickly flip between cards (again, the click of a button); and you can share a deck of cards with your friends and still keep your own.

I tried a lot of card programs, including MemorizeIt, Flash Reader, Virtual FlashCards, and a few others. I’ve been using StudyPerfect almost a year now and this is the one I’m sticking with. I am in law school, so I try to create a few cards every weekend, but I’ll use the program for hours every day during a “dead week.” Compared to the other programs, the interface is simple, pretty and obviously professionally done. The buttons are large, and the images can even be zoomed so that you can have really big cards to study. And unlike MemoryLifter, which was actually ok in some respects, StudyPerfect isn’t too complex for my daughter’s attention span. She has been using it for most of her 8th grade classes (history, science, math, and English) — she probably uses the program about twice a month, but prints the cards and uses them every week.

When I emailed them to praise the product, I received a very prompt reply thanking me for my interest and asking if there were other features I would be interested in seeing in the future. I suggested an export to MP3 so I can put cards on my iPod and listen to them while I work out, and the support guy said it was already on their list. I also found out there are several schools that buy StudyPerfect for all their students. The only downside is that currently it’s only available for PCs.

– Brandon Beam

StudyPerfect
$25
Available from LuminareSoft

Or download a free trial

Related items previously reviewed in Cool Tools:

Rosetta Stone Language Learning

Where There’s a Will There’s an A

French In Action

 



 

KK Lifestream

This is not a cool tool. This is an advertisement for my blog. I call it my Lifestream because it channels into one super-blog all the streams of my writing and clicking that appear elsewhere.

In addition to Cool Tools, which is now almost 5 years old, I also review great documentaries at True Films, and user-modified technology at Street Use, and post notes from my research on what technology wants at The Technium. In recent weeks I’ve added a few more venues, one about trends and current topics (CT2), and another on self-knowledge (The Quantified Self). I also post regularly on GeekDad (nerdy things to do with kids), and on Long Now’s blog monitoring long term perspectives.

That’s a lot for me to keep track of, let alone anyone else. So I have gathered all those bloggy bits into one channel which you can find at KK*. Rather than hop around from blog to blog, you can read (and I can write) everything from one source. Everything I write, including personal stuff, will slip out this new portal. Like a lot of tool makers, I made this to ease my own work, but you may find it worthwhile too. One technical note: While KK Lifestream offers its own RSS feed, it doesn’t have an archive. The permalink for each item rests in the particular blog each item belongs to.

If you are happy just reading Cool Tools as it is, either at the site or in RSS, then you can continue to get the unadulterated version. If you sign up, or visit, the KK Lifestream, you get everything that I write, but not everything that appears on my blogs. For instance, the only Cool Tools reviews that will appear in the KK Lifestream will be those that I personally write. Since I don’t write that many (next week will be an exception), reading both Lifestream and Cool Tools won’t produce much overlap.

I’m still trying to figure out how to keep this ecology of blogs robust and kill any bugs in this new unfinished system , so let me know (kk at kk dot org) how it is, or is not, working.

– KK

 



WorldCat

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WorldCat is a publicly accessible online interface to the holdings of all types of libraries throughout the world: currently 57,000 libraries in 112 countries. Tell it what book you’re looking for and your zip code or city, and it will pinpoint the nearest library that has the book. Same goes for magazines and journals, video and audio formats. The ability to locate an obscure book is invaluable; but it’s also tremendously useful for anyone living in a region with more than one nearby library. California’s Bay Area is blessed with an abundance of excellent public and academic library systems and a majority of them are represented in WorldCat, so in my case, it’s a real time saver (I do a lot of sleuthing). The database was originally accessible only by taking a trip to the library, but in 2004, the nonprofit Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) built this interface. Beyond the core location service, WorldCat provides many other helpful services and resources, like citation exporting, list making, and text samples. I haven’t explored these options much, but you can use it to build your own private or public indexes of titles and to search public lists created by other users. You can even read and write reviews of materials – yes, you can actually write in the library catalog! And if you decide you’d actually prefer to purchase the item, there are Amazon and WorldCat purchase links (a portion of every WorldCat sale goes toward supporting a local library of your choosing or to the OCLC). You’ll need to create a WorldCat account to take advantage of these features, but account creation goes really quickly and it’s free.

You can obtain WorldCat results in your preferred search engine by appending the term “WorldCat” to your search. Preceding your query with the phrase “find in a library” also works very well in Google and Yahoo. In my own experience, I’ve found these methods to work best in conjunction with titles or author names. WorldCat also offers a number of browser toolbar extensions and plug-ins to help facilitate searches. Alternatively, you can simply go directly to the WorldCat web site and use it like you would any individual library’s catalog. Search on title/author/keyword/etc., browse by topic or other citation linkages. Item pages consist of basic bibliographic data formatted out like a of virtual catalog card, and below that you’ll find a set of tabs with the holding libraries information, more detailed bibliographic data, subject links, editions and reviews. Finding the exact edition of a book can be a bit tricky, and so can finding an alternative edition that may be even closer to you, so the “Editions” tab is critical. Overall, OCLC does a pretty good job of rolling duplicate catalog entries together, but you do need to watch out for alternate spellings of titles.

The library links from the item page will take you to into the holding library’s OPAC (online public access catalog). You might land on the item page for that work or you might find yourself at the main catalog page for that library. Responsibility for providing accurate “deep links” to item pages falls to the participating library. I have occasionally found that after following a link for a holding library, I end up at a catalog page that says something along the lines of “Your item would be here.” At this point, I go ahead and re-enter my title in the library’s search box on that page and more often than not the item does appear in the catalog. I’m not sure why this happens, but I suspect it may have something to do with links changing or out of date record numbers being used. This is, admittedly, very frustrating, but because the item usually does end up being in the catalog I continue to be a fan of WorldCat. It’s really an excellent resource for all users of various types of libraries with broadly ranging information needs. And its main purpose of connecting patrons with materials housed in libraries near them is further supplemented by new and growing user-specific and community-based features. I couldn’t get along without it. I also look forward to watching the project continue to evolve.

– Camille Cloutier

WorldCat
Available at WorldCat.org

Provided by Online Computer Library Center [OCLC]

Related items previously reviewed in Cool Tools:

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Digital Library Cards

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Sony Portable Reader

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How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle

I’m not a full on puzzlehead (yet). This little book has been a confidence booster with my burgeoning Sunday obsession. There are plenty of helpful vocabulary and practice puzzle books out there, but what this concise guide provides is insight: common Thursday gimmicks (ex; backwards spelling), the 300 most-used words broken down by category (ex; misc. 3-letter words: EER? …e’er = a contraction of “ever”); the basics of puzzle construction (fyi, the answers generally come first); and top solver Reynaldo’s step-by-step instructions on efficiently tackling over 60 puzzles of varying difficulty (ex; what to do in the event of a dead end; when to resort to educated guesses); plus, if you’re still stuck, there are additional clues so you never feel hopeless. If you watched Wordplay, became intrigued with NYT editor Will Shortz and vowed to become a stopwatch-wielding diehard, but still haven’t, the quick take-aways contained within this book will get you going.

– Steven Leckart

How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle
$10
Amy Reynaldo
2007, 208 pages
Available from Amazon

[Incidentally, if you can report positively or negatively on the Nintendo DS game NY Times Crosswords, please let us know -sl]

Sample Excerpts:

Some nouns that end with the ER can be interpreted another way, as a noun made by adding ER to a verb. For example [French flower] maybe the SEINE River, or something that flows in France, a flow-er. [River tower] might be TUG, as in something that tows larger vessels in a river.

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Thursday is called “Gimmick Day” by some NYT crossword aficionados, because this is the day many of the trickiest, twistiest puzzles are published… One popular gimmick is the rebus puzzle, in which the solver must enter multiple letters in a single square, draw little pictures, or write a numeral or symbol in each rebus square…A 2005 Thursday puzzle included the abbreviations for the days of the week as rebuses: MON, TUE, WED, etc. Another Thursday crossword published in 2001 used the @ symbol to replace the letter pair AT throughout the grid. Many rebus puzzles dispense with the requirement for symmetrical placement of theme entries (it is often too difficult to construct a rebus puzzle with strict thematic symmetry).

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Unusual sequences of letters can make the solver think, “That can’t be right.” If the crossings for [Stylish, square-jawed male model] gave you a *QTY** letter pattern, you might doubt that those letters were correct because that letter sequence isn’t found in any English words. But the entry is actually two words: GQ TYPE, as in GQ magazine, formerly Gentleman’s Quarterly.

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Grid-making software streamlines the construction process. Perhaps the best-known program is Crossword Compiler, available for Windows at www.crossword-compiler.com. Crossdown, also for Windows, is available at www.crossdown.com. For Macintosh computers without Windows capability, the shareware program Cruciverbalist can be downloaded at members.aol.com/westpolesf/cruciv.html.

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Crosswords are a meaning-rich game of language, but sometimes a clue strips away a word’s meaning and focuses on its individual letters and sounds. [Fan sound] may be the SHORT A in the word fan rather than the roar of a crowd or the whirring of an appliance. [Castle feature?] can be SILENT T, and [Fiddle duet?] could be DEES (the letter D, doubled). This category of crossword entry is relatively new, and may include SOFT and HARD letters, SHORT or LONG vowels, SILENT letters, CAPITAL letters or the spelled-out names of letters.


Related items previously reviewed in Cool Tools:

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Derwent 3B Graphic Pencil

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Finite and Infinite Games

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Swatch Original

 



 

COOL TOOLS UNTRIED

Cool Tools Untried look cool, but — buyer beware — may seem cooler than they actually are. Neither I nor any of our reviewers have actually used the items below, so we can’t endorse them or speak from experience. If you have used any of them and can report (positively or negatively) — or if you have a similar item you love — please let us know. Until then, here’s some intriguing stuff — Steven Leckart

Sports Climbers
Available from Sport Climbers
Rugged-looking ankle spikes for climbing trees.

(thanks Roger!)

Note:

Tree climbing spikes injure and damage the tree. They make the tree more susceptible to disease as well. Spikes are only used during a tree removal ( i.e. cutting the tree down piece by piece). Obviously these are intended for sportsmen, who usually have great respect for the animals they hunt and the habitat in which those animals live. I would hate for someone to think this is an acceptable practice of gaining entry into a living tree. For more information on non-invasive tree climbing techniques and equipment, visit Tree Climbers International and New Tribe. For context, I used to work as a forestry technician, and I continue to be a recreational tree climber with an interest in arborculture.

– Sam Johnson

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Custom Dodge Sprinters
Available from Sportsmobile
Luxurious camper vans pimped out per your design.

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(thanks Paul!)

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Painter’s Pyramid
Available from K&M of Virginia

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These little stabilizers supposedly allow you to paint top, sides, and edges in one round.

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Optical Finger Mouse
Available from Logisys
A mouse that straps to your finger for cramped, less-than-flat mousing.

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Garlic Press/Pitter
Available from eBay UK
Preps garlic and olives/cherries. I’ve seen a few on eBay and other online stores in the UK, but have yet to find one superior brand that’s widely available.

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(thanks Aryeh!)

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BackSaver Grip
Available from Lee Valley
A shovel/broom/rake handle intended to reduce back strain.

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Mobile-Shop
Available from Mobile-Shop
A portable cart-load of tools for on-the-go fixin’.

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Related items previously reviewed in Cool Tools:

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Some Turtles Have Nice Shells

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Rosle Garlic Press

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MS Wireless Notebook Optical Mouse

 



 

Work-in-progress Notice

I am in the middle of upgrading the Movable Type software beneath this blog, as well as re-designing aspects of Cool Tools and my other blogs. If you notice little holes and bugs, it’s us not you. Please be patient, although I’d appreciate a note if you detect something out of kilter.

 



Everything is Miscellaneous

This is a book about authority, order, information and knowledge — the evolution of the latter and the limitations imposed by the former. This hyper-intelligent journey through the history of classification (ex; library card catalogues) and the current climate (ex; tagging) makes an engaging case for the virtues of seemingly counterintuitive “messiness.” The anecdotes are lively, and the range of subjects is satisfying and entertaining: Dewey’s Decimals, our silverware drawers, Hamlet, the Federal Highway Administration, Wikipedia, intertwingularity, our family photo albums, and Darwin. Reading this reminded me how wonderful it is to be witnessing the development of new ways of collaborating and why we should all stay tuned in to see where all of this is headed. Whether you’re a skeptic or a steadfast believer in the great promise and possibility of the digital, these are ideas worth visiting. The “Social Knowing” chapter alone should be mandatory reading for all teachers.

– Steven Leckart

Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder
David Weinberger
2007, 288 pages
$17
Available from Amazon

Sample excerpts:

Imagine two people editing and reediting a Wikipedia article, articulating their differences on the article’s discussion page. They edge toward an article acceptable to both of them through a public negotiation of knowledge and come to a resolution. Yet the page they’ve negotiated may not represent either person’s point of view precisely. The knowing happened not in either one’s brain but in their conversation. The knowledge exists between the contributors. It is knowledge that has no knower. Social knowing changes who does the knowing and how, more than it changes the what of knowledge…As people communicate online, that conversation becomes part of a lively, significant, public digital knowledge – rather than chatting for one moment with a small group of friends and colleagues, every person potentially has access to a global audience. Taken together, that conversation also creates a mode of knowing we’ve never had before. Like subjectivity, it is rooted in individual standpoints and passions, which endows the bits with authenticity. But at the same time, these diverse viewpoints help us get past the biases of individuals, just as Wikipedia’s negotiations move articles toward NPOV [neutral point of view]. There has always been a plentitude of personal points of view in our world. Now, though, those POVs are talking with one another, and we can not only listen, we can participate. For 2,500 years, we’ve been told that knowing is our species’ destiny and its calling. Now we can see for ourselves that knowledge isn’t in our heads: It is between us. It emerges from public and social thought and it stays there, because social knowing, like the global conversations that give rise to it, is never finished.

The Greeks assumed that the cosmos is perfectly ordered and arranged; the word cosmos itself means both “all that is” and “beauty.” Pythagoras therefore figured that the distance between the planets must reflect the order and harmony of the universe. But harmony is based on mathematics: Divide a string into the ratios 2:1, 3:2, 4:3, or 5:4, pluck it, and you hear something beautiful. So, Pythagoras reasoned, the heavenly spheres must fall into those ratios. Since they move, they must also make sound as they whir, a sound that must therefore be harmonious and beautiful. We’re not aware of the second because we’ve been hearing it since birth. It’s become background “noise.” Thus did the Greeks deduce that we must all live within an unheard beauty.

Now that everything in the connected world can serve as metadata, knowledge is empowered beyond fathoming. We not only find what we need based on whatever slight traces we have in our hand, we can see connections that would have escaped notice in the first two orders. The power of the miscellaneous comes directly from the fact that in the third order, everything is connected and therefore everything is metadata. (more…)