Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The difference between consonents and vowels

Both my children are in mixed classes at school. The youngest in group 3/4, the eldest in group 4/5. At times the youngest overhears what is being taught to the other group. So she heard that they learned about consonents and vowels (in her class, they just start reading!). So at home she wanted to know what the difference is between consonents and vowels. Try to explain!

Though I could mention them (B = consonent, O= vowel), I found it hard to explain why a consonent is a consonent and why a vowel is a vowel. For my eldest daughter, this was easy. Since she had learned it in school a year ago, it was very easy for her to explain.

This shows that at times it is easier to learn from a person who has recently gone through the same process. The experienced person may have internalized the use and may not be able to explain how he/she makes certain distinctions or decisions.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

My blog in Arabic

Somebody in Egypt is reading my blogposts in Arabic! I found an Egyptian interested in my Carnaval and Aquasan blogposts; by following a referral link to my blog. It looks really great. So if you ever end up in an Egyptian carnaval you know where they picked up the idea.

We often encounter the question of working across different languages. It depends on the importance of the exchange whether you invest heavily in translations or not - by employing a certified translator.

An alternative could be to offer quick and dirty online translation services like:

Wouter tipped me about two resources explaining how to add translation services to your blog:

Britt Bravo showed me her blogpost explaining the Worldwide Lexicon project. Using open source, this project stimulates readers of website or blogs who are bilangual to translate parts of the website in other languages. It is somewhere in the middle of the machine translations mentioned above (weakness: mechanical translations) and professional translations (weakness: costly).

What's the best tool at the moment?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Find Sinterklaas on his boat

Last Sunday we went to the 'intocht' = arrival of Sinterklaas. Almost every town in the Netherlands has its own 'intocht', the official arrival of Sinterklaas, preferably by boat. Old readers of my blog know I'm a big fan of Sinterklaas.. Every year I write about Sinterklaas and never get any comment, so it must be really boring for you. Nevertheless, this year, a short movie of the Sinterklaas intocht of Den Bosch. Try and find Sinterklaas amongst all the Pieten... It is weird because the one in Den Bosch is the only 'intocht' that I know of that has a kind of carnaval atmosphere. A mixture of the Sinterklaas tradition and the carnaval traditions of Den Bosch.

The 'intocht' van Sinterklaas in Den Bosch, 18 november 2007

This year, the intocht made me think about our own traditions around the Sinterklaas tradition. With some friends, we gather at around 11 in the morning at the same spot in Den Bosch and wait for Sinterklaas to pass by in his boat (see video clip). Then we go to the market square, to the pub, to wait till he arrives by horse, where he is welcomed by the mayor of the town. The program there is the same every year. The mothers have to sing songs, the fathers have to sing a song and the children have to judge whether the fathers sung better than the mothers (but they never do). Even though,the number of friends joining our group varies (as children grow up) we always stick to the same routine. You could think of a millions other ways, but somehow, it is easy to do the same old things. What could be reasons to change these routines?

Friday, November 16, 2007

The new shape of online community

Sometimes (or rather frequently!) you read an article and you think.. uhm, well I already knew that. In that case, it still comes in handy to have something written by others that support your views (let alone the fact that it's nice to see your views confirmed too :)). Nancy Baym wrote an article called the new shape of online community: the example of Swedish independent music fandom. I know Abba, but didn't know Sweden is so important as a music hub...She uses a participant-observation analysis of Swedish music fan's interactions on the internet to show that sites are interlinked at multiple levels. Online communities have taken new forms between the site-based online group and the egocentric network.

She illustrates her point with the examples of the REM fan base, which started with a mailing list in the late 80s. Today, there are many other fan-created websites that co-exist. Plus there has been a rise in fan-authored MP3 blogs too. "Many of the bloggers link to one another through blog rolls, creating a multi-sited community of like-minded bloggers who interact through their posts and comments." With new incarnation of online fandom, the previous forms have not disappeared.

Mapping the boundaries becomes a challenge though. The Swedish indie fan community, for instance, is distributed throughout many places on the internet and off. Over time, active fans will bump into each other, and a sense of community may be formed, which has a lot of similarity with physical places. Few people visit every place in town, but in regular places, the same people may bump into eachother (school, sport clubs, restaurants, etc).

Apparently, it has been the norm for scientists to study an online space (as one URL) and study it. But that's a limited approach, given the interconnectedness of the various sites.
For developers it has consequences too; the challenge is to make sure site can serve as location of activity, and im- and export from other sites.

Ning is a good, positive example, I was able to feed my blog into my personal page on the forum, and to set up an delicious feed within 2 minutes.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Don't laugh!

Via the Dutch blog of Wouter Rijneveld I found this short video which is part of the HIVOS campaign Stop de derde wereld. The video shows two journalists who try to get a laughing boy to look like a boy you would donate for: 'please take off your shirt and don't laugh'... I had to blog it because of the resonation with my experiences with journalists. When my husband worked in Somalia and a journalist team came and did not have enough malnourished children, they intersected pictures of malnourished children in other areas of the world.

Can blogging contribute to overcoming this bias/attitude? Probably only if a critical mass of different thinkers would write and blog and get read/heard. But it might be that a majority of bloggers have a similar bias.

For instance, it also resonates with the spirit of a lot of self-help projects that are springing up. Though I try to see the positive side of it, some of the projects are helping the 'pathetic' or 'zielige' mensen, and is really pure charity rather than development. Yet, it is mistaken as development work. For me, the basis of development work is that you respect the situation people are in, and their own aspirations. There needs to be some equality in the relationship.

By the way, Wouter is a very nice example of a person whom I met just once. We don't have time to work or get together. But through our blogs, we can lightly stay in touch and I'm my thinking is often sharpened by his critical thinking about development issues. Maybe what's more important, even if we would meet, we would probably not get to exchange some of the ideas that we exchange on the blogs!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Tools versus attitude

The change management blog wrote about tools versus attitude. I kept it as new in my bloglines because it relates to something I have been thinking about: the attachment within the development sector to develop toolkits. I have to admit that most of the time, I keep blogposts as new, but never look at them again. So let's try and change that...

The toolkits fondness, I believe, probably derives from the desire to have something tangible, and to have a 'product'. Toolkits are not bad in themselves, but as Holger Nauheimer from the change management toolbook points out, the attitude of the advisor is so much more important. It's like the screwdriver without the carpenter. So a balance between focus on toolkits and attitudes is needed.

Once I read a remark by Etienne Wenger stating that a good toolbook (he probably said reification) fits the practice like a glove. So a good toolbook that suits the practice of a group of practitioners can really be helpful. On the other hand, a toolbook without the practitioners who work with it the way it was intended can become meaningless. An example is the Participatory Rapid Appraisal methodology, that became meaningless when used by people who did not apply to the basic principles behind the methodology.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Integrating a blog into your website

Probably most organisations would ask the question whether to integrate a blog into their website or whether to host a blog in a separate space. There are some good considerations written down on Mark White's business blog.

In my case, I have a blog and I want to build a website to make my advisory services clearer. I have already decided I would like to integrate my blog and the website, as I think a blog is a very powerful means, and I would like the site and blog to work together. Get clients now lists some reasons (in Dutch) why a blog can be more powerful than a website. I can summarize some for the non-Dutchies, adding my own experiences:
  • With every blogpost, you can show some of your thoughts, qualities, knowledge
  • You make it easy for people to point to some of your specific blogposts
  • You end up quite high in google with the words that you use in your blog

With regards to the last one; Mark Fonseca talked about podcasting to the e-collaboration group and shared an anecdote about someone who scored quite high numbers of visitors with his blog (or podcast). He achieved this by using tags like Britney Spears... Personally I found out through today through a visitor to my blog that googling on 'first person to invent lasagna' puts my blog as number 1.... I feel quite sorry for that person that I chose such an irrelevant name for my blog.

Mark White also has more technical considerations on where and how to integrate your blog into the site. I'm still finding out how to work it out technically speaking, and whether to integrate the full page, or use a feed. I think I will try the first one. Any advice welcome!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Free online fora for hire!

We've set up a Ning forum for online exchange between a group of people who are in the process of starting their own businesses. We chose Ning because it is super-easy to design and there is a Dutch version. When setting up the forum, you can choose a template, and you can drag and drop the elements you want in your online forum, for instance a blog function, a video upload function etc. You can also choose to make it as easy as possible and to add these elements later (by dragging these elements into your design). I used the video upload function and it didn't work, so I had to find a work around via youtube. I sent an email to report it, and within one hour, I got a reply and it was fixed! I thought this was an amazing service too.

I still can't believe how easy it is to set up these kind of forums as compared to software packages whereby you need a specially skilled webdesigner, webbuilder and webhost to design and build an online forum. On top of the length of the design and build process, there are often the translation problems. It is hard to explain all the features you want, and for the builder it is hard to explain the details of what exactly he is building.

I really wonder what the future of online forum design will look like. Some disadvantages of a free forum for use within an organisation:

1. There are advertisements in the free version (though if you pay something, it will be removed).
2. You may want the look of your forum to match your housestyle.
3. You are stuck with some design features and can not build it entirely according to your own design.
4. ??

Especially in this phase of experimentation with online discussions, I think it can be a great solution to start with a free and easy-to-set up forum, so that you and the other users have time to find out what features they like/need/desire.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The new knowledge worker

I participated in a teleconference by CPsquare where Jeroen van Bree presented his Phd research about What we can learn from Virtual Gaming Worlds. You can find another dutch set of slides here.

He spoke about the new knowledge worker who does not find enough space to be creative and to apply his/her skills in organisations, and especially not the way they are structured now. His idea is that we can learn from virtual gaming worlds where people are highly motivated and stimulated to develop their skills. What can we learn from this to change the structures and processes within organisations?

Though I'm not into virtual gaming, this is a question that I think is very important, and I experienced it throughout my own career in organisations. It's really hard to find an organisation where you get the space to innovate and develop yourself without managers getting in the way. Personally, I see a potential for communities of practice to provide that space. Jack Vinson had a nice presentation about the knowledge worker 2.0