Thursday, January 30, 2014

MG

Met MG Vassanji at Moto last night. Should have reread The Gunnysack before showing up, but it may have been difficult to bring up specific questions anyway.

He had read some of the groups' work and mostly advised on writing logically. For example: No need to describe every detail and context as the story happens because that's not how humans typically live. The story should unfold just as our senses observe life unfolding. Tenses also need to be consistent... but I didn't quite understand that, and asked if all these "rules" around the logic of writing apply to poetry. He said some rules do but not all.

He did also say that if you cannot live without writing, don't write. I'll be thinking about that one for a while. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On volunteering

To volunteer is to step outside the belief that immediate material returns on investment are the only reason to work. It is to believe in something larger than oneself, in a different kind of return to a different kind of investment. Contrary to popular discussion, volunteering is indeed an investment.

(Thanks Femima HIP!)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

To the best Jester

Chris: I will never forget your names, jokes, disses, always-on attitude, choice of music and your bike. Thank you for showing me that the boundaries we create in life are malleable and, most times, irrelevant. Hopefully this isn't the last I'll see of you. Rest well, my friend.

Friday, January 10, 2014

On the economy of academia

Two more Economist articles.

This one suggests that academic journals are likely to lock down their clients' sharing tendencies (including asking their clients' to remove published content from their own websites). One journal, Elsevier, has already started asking people to take stuff that belongs to their journal down. I appreciated this quote from Thomas Hickerson, chief librarian at the University of Calgary:
“Requesting such removals…seems at odds with the nature of an academic enterprise, in which the sharing of research information is an essential element.”
Another article discusses the skew of research itself; that it is mostly based on the US, where there is an abundance of data available. It's a sad situation for the world's poor, who ironically need the implementation of all the cool things that academia finds out:
"The world’s poorest countries are effectively ignored by the profession. From 1985 to 2005 Burundi was the subject of just four papers."
Two problems persist, and I have written about this before: Academia is not free for all, and its content is not about all. But, if academia is supposed to be a product of society and whose products are for society, then how did these problem arise?

Effectively, I would like Elimushare to deal with both these problems. The trick I think will be to make sure its design is akin to Tanzanian students. The web isn't always available to students... but is academia for students only, or does its implication touch the rest of the society as well?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Two thoughts on burning libraries

A library was recently torched in Tripoli. This is not the first time I am reading about the burning of library texts. I have two thoughts I want to share with future kin about this matter.

First, that knowledge is manifested through the actions of mankind should be regarded as fact. That is, knowledge has physical implications. For example, the knowledge of how to build a car is manifested in the building of a car; the car is proof that a systemic plan (which includes its corresponding theories and all the experimentation around those theories to prove them as true) was executed. But knowledge itself is not physical. It exists first in the mind.

Second, whatever mankind's opinion, knowledge ought to be preserved. Even for "bad knowledge", future generations ought to understand the prevailing interests of past times. Otherwise, if knowledge from different points in time or communities is erased, then history is obscured. Using the example of building a car, how would the most efficient car of the time be built without evidence of past trials and errors around car-building attempts before? History is never written with an absolute 0 bias, but history is enriched with more information on the direction in which the bias slants.

By torching libraries, we burn not just ourselves but also the understanding people of the future will have of us.