Monday, February 16, 2004

Mind Maps

Some years ago, my boss told me that the mind map I had created wasn't really a proper mind map, a la Buzan. I was a bit puzzled by that statement, since I had used mind maps (effectively and usefully) since 13 - it was almost the first lesson we were taught in Sec 1 for English

(Which just shows you how enlightened my teachers were. Lessons were not just about transferring ideas from teacher to student, but about training thinking. My Maths teacher's first lesson to us in Sec 1 was long division - in bases 3, 8 and 12. I puked in the school bus on the way home trying to solve the problems, which may have something to do with the aversion I felt towards Maths in subsequent years, but it really made me think)

Well, having just borrowed and read a book on mind maps, I discover that he was right - I have been using non-regulation, non-official mind maps all along.

Which puzzles me. Possibly the most useful thing about the mind mapping technique is the basic recognition that a non-linear, non-verbal approach is better at reflecting the unique structures of each mind/thought process. Once that basic understanding is there, and you've broken out of the straitjacket of thinking that all ideas have to be written/word-based/linear, it's a bit pointless (and counter to the spirit of mind mapping) to prescribe a fixed method - such as writing the words along the lines, or always using the paper in landscape mode, or always orienting all words in the same way. Granted, there are good reasons given for each of these, but we're all different, with slightly different minds and thinking processes.

Creativity must be one of the toughest things to write an instructional book on - after all, the very prescriptiveness of an instruction book goes counter to the individuality suggetsed in creativity, and if the book doesn't prescribe, but suggests possibilities, people may not want to pay money to hear vague suggestions.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Dork Tower, the Blog

John Kovalic, of Dork Tower fame, has started to blog. Here's a nice comic from him describing a situation most bloggers should be familiar with.

mythology, synergy, serendipity, library

When I was a kid, I used my mom's, my dad's and my own library card to borrow 12 books at a time from the local library, and spent a whole week reading them. I borrowed frantically from the University library when I was there (ah, the joys of the Short Loan section ... = ). Buying books used to be a big thing for me as a child, and books were the only possessions I truly had.

Since I've started earning my own income though, I've borrowed less, and bought more. I now have a wall full of books in my study, double stacked, much to my wife's chagrin (who feels I have too many books = ). Most of them date from my university days, and many of them are half-read, the way most students read just enough of a book to be able to write an essay on it.

Yesterday I went to the library for the first time in years, and found this little gem: Black Ships Before Troy, by Rosemary Sutcliff, illustrated by Alan Lee. A hybrid between a children's book (the story of the Iliad and the Trojan Horse, retold with illustrations) and a coffee table book (the illustrations are very good), this book managed to hit all my interests in one go - it's the Iliad (the book I read when I was 16 and was stuck at home with chickenpox for 3 weeks - somehow, Nestor's interminable speeches took my mind off the otherwise unbearable itching), it's illustrated by Alan Lee (who did much good work with the Lord of the Rings, and whose work was a major influence on the recent films), and the illustrations look pretty historically accurate (which appeals to the wargamer in me - the first thing I did when I got home last night was to search up Foundry's Trojan Wars line of figs). As usual with me, one thing leads to another, and I find myself simultaneously wanting to re-read the Iliad (I've got a Fitzgerald translation that I haven't read in a while), buy and paint up a 28mm Trojan army (probably a bad idea - Foundry's figs are nice, but the price is dear) and look up more of Alan Lee's work (an excuse to go to vist the Borders/Kino shrine. perhaps? = )

Another serendipitous find was a book called The Hero's Journey: How Educators can Transform Schools and Improve Learning, which brings together two more of my interests - firstly, it's about education (ok, that's not so much of a interest as a job, but I like my job) and secondly, it uses Joseph Campbell's ideas about mythology, which I am a big fan of (the foundation gives a pretty good introduction).

Aside: searching Amazon for "The Hero's Journey" gives you an idea of how many books there are out there that have carried the torch on from Campbell's initial work, from the hero's journey in tarot, to the hero's journey and cancer. My favourite is Star Wars: The Magic of Myth (yet another synergy of two favourites!) which does the best job of explaining Campbell by referencing a familiar story.

Now, to find the time to read these books ...

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Cat Update

A quick update for those of you following the continuing saga of Iffy and Patch.

Iffy has claimed her latest victim - my copy of John Julius Norwich's "A Short History of Byzantium" has had one corner completely obliterated, chewed beyond recognition. Iffy got a stern talking to - said book was waved in her face, accompanied by strenous renditions of "No Iffy! NO!!". I hope this doesn't become a habit ... Patch only did this once, to my copy of "To Say Nothing of the Dog" (which K and I figured was logical - I mean, dogs, cats ... you know ... makes sense ... sorta).

Patch still has that problem with her eyes. In all other respects she's fine, save for a general lethargy, but her nicitating membrane keeps showing. Feeding her antibiotics has become a nightly ritual, which K and I have reduced to an art - she grabs the cat and swaddles her in towels, exposing only the head - I get the various syringes (the antibiotics come as a paste in a little syringe that you use to feed the cat) and eyedrops ready, and if we're lucky, we get it over and done with in 5 minutes. I wish I could take a photograph of Patch when we try and give her her medicine, because she invariably does this really cute thing - she'll duck her head into the towels and meow complainingly, as if to say "But I don't want the medicine!". = )

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

"Let there be Blog ... and there was Blog ..."

... 3 Blogs in fact! T (who is terse) (and at large) has started his own blog ... D has started a blog ... and S has started her blog as well!
(reads like an 19th Century novel - d___d good read it is too, by Jove! To add to the whole drawing room Austeny sense of it all, you may wish to note that T is married to Y, and D to S, and I, WJ, am matrimonially en-blissed with K. hah)
I wonder if this could signal a new phase in interpersonal communications - a point where we communicate more by public broadcast via blog than by talking. Or sms-ing. Or that ancient, antiquated, archaic mode of emailing.

Right - it's off to read my friends' blogs - something to add to my daily required reading list

- although to be honest, I haven't the time recently. I normally scan through wired.com, slashdot, and reason.com the first thing I get to work, but the past few weeks the first thing I get to work ... I work. = ) No time to do my daily intellectual intake, and my collection of articles culled from the internet, started in the days when I was still coaching debates, languishes in a filing cabinet, un-updated for months.

I got into the habit of saving and printing articles off news and commentary sites as a means of keeping myself up to date - always thought they'd come in useful, and they recently paid back all the time I spent on them when I had to put together a piece of work, writing a sample test question, and a difficult task was made significantly tedious by being spared the need to trawl for source material - a quick search in my folder turned up two articles that did the trick nicely, and a saturday morning's work later, two questions based on them were drafted. The really tricky part was writing the d___d answer schemes. Good answer schemes are ten times more difficult to write than good questions, and good questions are very difficult to write indeed ...