Tag Archives: News

Give yourself a break from multi-tasking

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Just try it. Give this podcast from Headspace about the healthy use of technology 15 minutes of your time. Pause to reflect on the way you use technology, and the extent to which switching between one window and another, between email and document, text message and Facebook, music and video, might be knocking up toxic cerebral froth.

You’ll know from my anti-multi-tasking rants that I don’t have a lot of time for the idea that ‘multi-tasking’ is a good thing. Although this podcast doesn’t use the term ‘multi-tasking’, it does refer to the documented negative effects of overstimulating your brain by constant task-switching on digital technology. It’s an important message, because it’s not just kids that try to do ten things at once with technology, it’s all of us who have the means. We need, I believe, to stop buying into the idea that we have endless processing power. I might just sign up to Headspace and give myself a break.

A darker shade of chocolate: Green and Black’s and Ben Goldacre

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If like me you’re a bit overwhelmed by the ubiquity of Green & Black’s chocolate, you might be interested to see this broadside from its founder Craig Sams against Bad Science good-guy Ben Goldacre. Read about it on Ben’s website here. Green and Black’s was one of the first things to disappear from my shopping basket once I stopped shopping at the big supermarkets (see earlier post). I’m even more pleased about that now I’ve read Mr Sams’  rant.

All hail the Anti-PowerPoint Party

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Friends & readers of this blog will know how much I detest PowerPoint, or rather the mis-use of it. I can’t say that I thought it was only a matter of time before a political party with a mission to ban PowerPoint would be formed, but via Metafilter, I’ve learned that it has, in the form of the Anti PowerPoint Party of Switzerland.

They claim – rightly in my view – that the use of  PowerPoint costs the economy billions.  If you could calculate human misery, you could add even more figures to that sum. I only have to see the screen and the laptop and I lose the will to live. I can tell just by the way someone holds their computer how bad their presentation will be.

This time, Slovenia: A geography lesson for Telegraph readers

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‘Working class pupils ‘perform better in Slovenia than in UK‘ is the headline of  an astonishingly crass article in today’s Telegraph.  I can’t be bothered to regurgitate all the reasons it’s stupid, since I already had to do this last year when the Daily Mail’s headline news was that Slovenian live longer than women in the UK (see my rant A geography lesson for Mail-readers).  If Telegraph readers knew what a great country Slovenia was, they’d probably be sending their kids to school there.

Another group hit by library closures: the U3A

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Education: The Age of Uncertainty is an impassioned but factual article in today’s Independent about the effect that library closures are having on the elderly, and in particular on members of the University of the Third Age (U3A).

Ian Searle writes:

The mass closure of public libraries is hitting older people and retired people who want to learn and keep their minds active. The sort of learning that goes on in the University of the Third Age (U3A) – the learning that retired people do because they want to do it, not because they need it for their careers – will be worst hit.

It’s a convincing argument, and I hope that the 250,000 members of U3A lobby government to make it strongly, but the specificity of the statement above  bothers me: it blurs the effect that the closures will have on everyone else. As I pointed out in a recent entry, my local library at least was full of young people.  Learning and the opportunity to gain access to what libraries have to offer – including a quiet and warm place to think – are important at any age, whether you ‘need it for your career’ or not.  The concept of a career in itself is fast becoming an anachronism, as people have to adapt to a very unpredictable and insecure job market.

Argos? What about the library?

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I’d no sooner pressed send on the previous post about the wonder of libraries, than I happened to see a ‘heartwarming’ story in  today’s Evening Standard about a 7-year old  girl who came home to find £500 worth of brand new books from Argos waiting for her.

I put ‘heartwarming’ in quotes, because while it’s very nice for anyone to get £500 worth of something out of the blue, this  story rather sickens me. Where is there any mention of libraries?  How does such an act benefit the wider community over the long term? That’s what they’re there for: books are expensive, and to spend £500 on them when you’re a child is overkill. You’re not going to like all of them, you might only read most of them once, and if they’re popular books, there’s no reason to buy them new. Giving one child a mass of books looks good on paper, but it’s not half as fantastic as the library services that are already there. And thanks to the way that libraries serve their communities, the chances are Aurelia’s mum could have taken out a load of books in Polish as well – she certainly could in Tooting.

This single benevolent act by Argos benefits one child for a very short time, and in a very limited way (though the benefit to Argos is probably much greater and longer lasting). The Evening Standard story completely disguises the wonderful services that local libraries provide their communities and have done for years. Why would they do that? Why would they continue to propagate a fiction that if you don’t have books at home, then there’s nothing for it except to wait for your local chain store to air-lift a box of them into your living room, when there are magnificent libraries everywhere, at least for the moment?

In praise of the book…and the pencil

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I think I could become a fan of Google’s new Think Quarterly. My favourite bit so far is from Guy Laurence,  CEO of Vodafone UK, telling a  cautionary joke about the value of simplicity:

I like simplicity in life. I heard this urban myth a long time ago and it 
stayed with me. When NASA first 
started sending astronauts into space, they quickly discovered that ballpoint pens wouldn’t work in zero gravity. To combat the problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 billion developing a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on any surface and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to 300°C. The Russians used a pencil. [read full article here]

Make money from music? Go on tour.

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Interesting article from ArsTechnica Did file-sharing cause recording industry collapse? Economists say no.  Researchers from LSE have looked at some of the claims about the negative effects of file sharing and the digital economy on the music industry, and found some of them just don’t wash.

One of the most interesting conclusions is that many of the figures conventionally given to show the demise of the industry don’t factor in musicians’ income from live work, which recently is for the first time greater than from sales of recordings.

So what is emerging is an increasingly “ephemeral” global music culture based not upon the purchasing of discrete physical packages of music, but on the discovery and subsequent promotion of musicians through file sharing. The big winner in this model is not the digital music file seller, but the touring band, whose music is easily discoverable on the ‘Net. As with so much of the rest of the emerging world economy, the shift is away from buying things and towards purchasing services—in this case tickets to concerts and related activities.

 

Cyclists: beware multitaskers

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The driver who caused the death of one cyclist and injured another while she was distracted for – listen carefully – two seconds while throwing a spider out of a car window has been sentenced (full story from BBC here).  I keep banging on about multi-tasking, but here’s proof that you can’t do two things at once, and that there are occasions when mutli-tasking ceases to be a cute think-piece for a magazine article and becomes an insidious lie.

Insects in cars are an unpredictable hazard, but mobile phones, music, make-up and iPods aren’t, and the decision to use them while you’re driving is predicated on belief in ‘multi-tasking’ for which there is seemingly no evidence.  “Continuous partial attention,” the term coined by Linda Stone for what computer users do, might be a better way of looking at it.

And is music really distracting?   Yes, according to a BBC news item from 2004 reports (link via Music and Mind in Everyday Life, by Eric Clarke, Nicola Dibben & Stephanie Pitts).

Ballet troubles & music

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Picture of view from the Royal Ballet Studios, Covent Garden

The view from here

Music in Motion is an article on new scores for NYCB from The New Yorker by Alex Ross, author of The Rest is Noise. (Via theballetbag via Twitter)

I enjoyed reading The Rest is Noise more than any other book I’ve read on music, which is saying something, because I usually can’t even bring myself to even walk past the  ‘music’ section in bookshops.  By ‘music’, I mean that very specialised thing that people do in concert halls, or in the privacy of their own home hifi, the contemplation of works. And so by ‘books on music’ I mean things like biographies of composers, and the whole fawning and promotional literary culture that surrounds the classical music industry.  Since the moment I had the experience of seeing people dance while I played the piano, I found it difficult to find music without movement interesting or enjoyable any more, and it is the premise of so much writing about music that nothing, but nothing, should come between ‘the music’ and ‘the audience’ – especially not dance.

So I was rather sorry to see an author I admire so much be so dismissive of ballet. As a friend of mine pointed out recently, no-one would think it was OK to be ignorant of a work of literature or a canonical work of music, but when it comes to dance, there’s almost a certain hipness about saying you’ve never seen any, or don’t understand it, or don’t know anything about it. Ross quotes the pianist Susan Tomes as someone who also writes about her ‘ballet troubles’ in her book, Out of Silence. “I feel a sense of frustration that the dancers’ steps are not actually to the music, but merely run in parallel with it. I’m all too aware of the way they have rehearsed their movements in the studio using spoken rhythms (‘And one-and-two-and-point-and-turn,’ etc.).”

I don’t mind that she feels frustration – heaven knows, some of the worst nights I’ve ever had in a theatre have been watching ballet – but what does this mean,  ‘the dancer’s steps are not actually to the music’? Which dancers? All ballets? All music? All steps? And what determines the right of anyone to say what the music is, and that others have somehow got it wrong?  What’s so terrible about spoken rhythms, or rehearsing?  Watching pianists rehearse is no picnic  either.

So much of Western art music has dance at its very heart (see the section on ‘mind and body’ from Philip Tagg’s great article on High and Low, Cool and Uncool: aesthetic and historical falsifications about music in Europe), and there’s a whiff of high-mindedness about both Ross & Tomes on this subject – it’s only the body, it’s only dancing, how could it matter, compared to the great rational minds that create music?