The Takeaways: Week 5 of 2017

A round-up of some of the intriguing, insightful, and/or thought-provoking things I read over the last week.

Sheila Weller. How Author Timothy Tyson Found the Woman at the Center of the Emmett Till Case.

On a steamy hot September day in 1955, in a racially segregated courtroom in Sumner, Mississippi, two white men, J.W. Milam and his half-brother Roy Bryant—a country-store owner—were acquitted of the murder of a 14-year-old black Chicago boy. His name was Emmett Till.

Tyson is a friend, and I'm not surprised he's the one who got this.

Fernando Pérez, Brian Granger. The State of Jupyter.

On the “computational narrative”:

With the rise of interactive computing as a practice and the capture of this process into computational narratives—what we refer to as Literate Computing—we now have a new population who uses programming languages and development tools with a different purpose. They explore data, models, and algorithms, often with very high specificity, perhaps even spending vast effort on a single data set, but ask complex questions and extract insights that can then be shared, published, and extended. Since data is pervasive across disciplines, this represents a dramatic expansion of the audience for programming languages and tools, but this audience’s needs and interests are different from those of “traditional” software engineers.

We can now start optimizing for our most important resource: human time.

Neil Saunders. Taking steps (in XML).

You discover that your data is available, tucked away under some "share" button or "settings" link, and so you download it. But when you get the file, what do you do next? Here's one example: iPhone health data, XML downloads, and 24 lines of R code.

Jason Fried. Case study: How complexity creeps in.

Removing operational complexity involves eliminating manual busy work, bottlenecks, dependencies, promises to placate, and a whole host of other things.

Excising these kinds of things from the organization is tough. You're choosing the future over the present: removing complexity means that your work will have been more productive, not that you will have produced more.

Frederick Douglass. WEST INDIA EMANCIPATION, speech delivered at Canandaigua, New York, August 3, 1857. Two speeches by Frederick Douglass; one on West India emancipation, delivered at Canandaigua, Aug. 4th, and the other on the Dred Scott decision, delivered in New York, on the occasion of the anniversary of the American Abolition Society, May, 1857, Rochester, 1857.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North, and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.

danah boyd. inBloom’s collapse undermined personalized learning and data standards efforts.

Personalized learning is all the rage. Tech magnates keep pointing to it as the “solution” to all sorts of educational challenges. Gates. Zuckerberg. Of course, when you drill down into what they’re talking about (PDF), it quickly becomes clear that there’s nothing at all clear about what “personalized learning” is or should be. But even if we stabilize our definition to focus on how data might inform educational processes, there’s a huge elephant in the room: where’s the data going to come from?

Consider, at a minimum, how you will approach data governance, how you will achieve and sustain community buy-in. I've seen in my own experience that these kinds of topics — thought through well in advance of, say, asking for money — are make or break for organizations wanting to do good (and well) in a community.

See also Philip Hickman, Ken Eastwood, and Eliot Levinson: The State of Personalized Learning, who offer a three-band spectrum of of personalized learning, varying from:

-- small group instruction based on performance levels to
-- longitudinal history of all assessments students ever took to provide them with knowledge of what to assign to
-- artificial intelligence based products that assess the cognitive level and learning style of a student and provide a variety of resources based on the student’s learning style, current performance, and understanding of a subject.

As Stephen Downes points out, "these days people almost universally mean the third. Almost universally. The first two versions are essentially terms applied to in-person learning applied without the use of technology" Database Incident

Yesterday we had a serious incident with one of our databases. We lost 6 hours of database data (issues, merge requests, users, comments, snippets, etc.) for Git/wiki repositories and self hosted installations were not affected.

A breakdown of how a prominent online Git repo service was OBE (overtaken by events). Nod your head if you've been there, too!

Scott Alexander. Book Review: Eichmann In Jerusalem.

For scope of interests and honesty in pursuing them, Scott Alexander is hard to beat. He decided to read Hannah Arendt for Holocaust Remembrance Day. Of the many passages that he quotes, here's the one that stayed with me:

[Arendt writes that Denmark] is the only case we know of in which the Nazis met with open native resistance, and the result seems to have been that those exposed to it changed their minds. They themselves apparently no longer looked upon the extermination of a whole people as a matter of course. They had met resistance based on principle, and their “toughness” had melted like butter in the sun, they had even been able to show a few timid beginnings of genuine courage.

Or, as Alexander puts it in his summary section:

… at least during World War II conscience was a collective phenomenon.

Anne Kruk. A Lasting Peace.

Maria Montessori's most enduring legacy today is child-led education, but in her own time she was also widely heralded for another guiding principle: her commitment to peace.

...Montessori looked at the people who had embroiled the world in war and realized that the seeds of peace would need to be sown much earlier in life.  "All politicians can do is keep us out of war," she observed, "establishing a lasting peace is the work of education."