Wizardschool: Self Building University

I was reading this article over at MIT Technology Review, the Cleverest Business Model in Online Education and I had an old aspect of the notion I’m spinning out come to the fore, so I thought I’d write about it here.


It is, in essence, a self-building university.  It could start as a sort of online university that teaches programming and natural languages.  It does so through tutorials that progressively build a self-generative system, including more advanced tutorials.  This would be a sort of Content Management System.  The content, however, would not be websites or even knowledge bases.  The content that this system helps to manage is educational will.

Opensource Incorporations, Inc.

I’d go even further, and just as I think a government could get to the point where it pays its citizens based on investments (of all sorts) of tax money, so too do I think a university could get to the point of financially rewarding students (by outsourcing the thought work of students).  In fact, students could also be “employees”.  After a time, perhaps, not all tutorial takers would be working on the university codebase, but rather, getting paid by a business to fulfill some programming task based on a requirements document.

This is all easy to get wrong and difficult to get right.

The key to a system such as this would be a self-sustaining start.  IOW, things can’t be too complicated to begin with, no matter the ultimate vision.  So, rather than speak about the ramifications of a distributed behavior network on this scale (a via regia to AI), I will discuss what the early surface area of the project will look like (superfluous apophasis):

Some tutorials about programming that are all angled towards the idea of creating a tutorial application that encompasses both tutorial generation as well as tutorial consumption.  IOW, a tool that tries to optimize both application of knowledge and acquisition of knowledge.  A tightly wound coil of application and acquisition.

So, basically, you would load an HTML document with a bunch of words and maybe diagrams/pictures.  It would tell you to open a javascript console (ctrl-shift-j in chrome, F12 in ie and firefox).  Immediately you would start interacting with a programming API exposed by the tutorial to parse the tutorial text.  You would use the API to abstract things like databases into “storage”.  Later on, databases could be discussed and worked with directly.  To pass a tutorial is for your work to pass a series of test-suites.

The tutorials would proceed in small discrete steps.  A kernel API would be developed that the individual student could extend.

Ultimately, to be in the university is to create an interface into the collection of interfaces that comprise the university.  Classes involve discussions between students as much as anything.

We get to the important point that an online university could absolutely explode in popularity if it did the next step in social.  Facebook grew around university students.  The next step is to grow into a university.  Target audience is certainly the most dynamic age group available.  Facebook could probably do it, but they are already ossified.  It won’t happen there ‘less Zuck himself rewrests the reins.

It would utterly depend on a browser based javascript application.  An interface into education.  A great UI on mobile and desktop.  Plenty of things to study, plenty of problems to solve.

Another important aspect of the school would be its governance.  It would be self-governed.  An important “major” within the university is “governance”.  In the “classes” of this “major” are debates and sessions in which the rules of the university are drafted.  To have an influence over the university is to take part in these classes in which the very structure of the classes themselves are determined.  These determinations are evolutionary, as past classes serve as tests and data to be organized and labeled and accommodated and transcended.

Another early tutorial would be the creation of a schedule/calendar/project application.  This is important for the student to manage their time and classes and whatnot.

During the development of these activities, ideally, the base tutorials are gaining audience and traction.  Similiarly, the tools generated through the tutorials are directed toward always augmenting the public offering.

The idea is to first develop language tutorials, which are always going to be popular.  Between learning programming languages and learning human languages, there will already be the foundations of a steady stream of students.  Not all students will take a deeply active role in the university, but I believe many will take a quite active role in their corner through the life-management-tools offered by the other arms of the university.

It’s like Sanman said in a comment to the article “Cleverest…” article referenced earlier:

We need to coin a new phrase: “Social Learning”. This could go beyond the Wisdom of Crowds in marking test scores, but even get into communal self-help learning. As online education becomes ubiquitous and universally accessible, education will become a lifelong companion.The more of your time is spent on learning, the more it will come to define even your social circles. One day, you’ll rush home from work to meet your study pals to engage in some cooperative learning with them, in order to keep improving your skills. Social Learning could help to supplement a lack of traditional student-instructor interaction, and in some cases maybe even supplant it.


Let me spell it out more clearly.  There may be, for instance, and “intermediate programming” tutorial.  Intermediate programming would involve exercises.  Those exercises would have been generated in a “object oriented analysis and design” or “problem modeling” tutorial that itself was focused on the output of a “UI refinements” tutorial that was itself the product of a “UI architecture” tutorial, itself part of the “software architecture” tutorial.

The tutorial application itself would be the continuing example context.  Probably some tweaking needs to be done to the idea, but if we could capture some of that energy that people put into online gaming and some of that energy people put into learning and some of that energy people put into social and some of that energy people put into politics and some of that energy people put into making money–why that all spells out a successful startup.

An opensource startup.  I suggest starting with the idea of a self-organizing collection of people each in it for their own reasons but brought into concert by an underlying unity of tools generated by that self-organizing collection of people each in it for their own reasons.

For instance, there will be a “major” named something like “business”.  One of the important roles of business will be to monetize the activity.  This will involve understanding what the available resources are (students doing work as side-effects of the behaviors surrounding learning skills and information) and playing an important role in motivating the vision and purpose that drives changes to the university’s organization.  It will also probably involve an early-on recognition that there are activities that are “monetizable” and activities that aren’t.  In other words, some content is private.

I suggest a good first approximation of the ultimate purpose of the university be to collectively create the most perfect human institution.  An institution as a dynamic thing as much as a static identity.  Consider that to persist is to change and adapt to conditions as they change and adapt to conditions… persistents.

How does one start doing that?  Well, one has to choose a direction to start heading.  It should be a well-informed direction.  I’ll get into the details later, but the direction I have chosen is “Programming”.  This is based on the definition of an institution:

An institution is any structure or mechanism of social order and cooperation governing the behavior of a set of individuals within a given community

and my intuitions about the nature of programming:

We are about to study the idea of a computational process.  Computational processes are abstract beings that inhabit computers.  As they evolve, processes manipulate other abstract things called data.  The evolution of a process is directed by a pattern of rules called a program.  People create programs to direct processes.  In effect, we conjure the spirits of the computer with our spells.

A computational process is indeed much like a sorcerer’s idea of a spirit.  It cannot be seen or touched.  It is not composed of matter at all.  However, it is very real.  It can perform intellectual work.  It can answer questions.  It can affect the world by disbursing money at a bank or by controlling a robot arm in a factory.  The programs we use to conjure processes are like a sorcerer’s spells.  They are carefully composed from symbolic expressions in arcane and esoteric programming languages that prescribe the tasks we want our processes to perform. (pg 1) [from Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs]

and workflows:

workflow consists of a sequence of concatenated (connected) steps.

and evolutionary algorithms:

In artificial intelligence, an evolutionary algorithm (EA) is a subset of evolutionary computation, a generic population-based metaheuristic optimization algorithm. An EA uses mechanisms inspired by biological evolution, such as reproductionmutationrecombination, and selectionCandidate solutions to the optimization problem play the role of individuals in a population, and the fitness functiondetermines the environment within which the solutions “live” (see also cost function). Evolution of the population then takes place after the repeated application of the above operators. Artificial evolution (AE) describes a process involving individual evolutionary algorithms; EAs are individual components that participate in an AE.

and anatomy and physiology:

Anatomy (from the Ancient Greek ἀνατέμνειν, anatemneinana, “separate, apart from”, and temnein, “to cut up, cut open”) is a branch of biology and medicine that considers the structure of living things.

Physiology is the scientific study of function in living systems.

and superorganisms:

superorganism is an organism consisting of many organisms. This is usually meant to be a social unit of eusocial animals, where division of labour is highly specialised and where individuals are not able to survive by themselves for extended periods of time.

and education:

Education in its general sense is a form of learning in which knowledgeskills, and habits of a group of people are transferred from one generation to the next through teaching, training, research, or simply through autodidacticism.

and corporations:

An incorporated entity is a separate legal entity that has been incorporated through a legislative or registration process established through legislation. Incorporated entities have legal rights andliabilities that are distinct from its shareholders,[1] and may conduct business for either profit-seeking business or not for profit purposes.

and being:

The “come-into-contact-with-itself”-ability of matter/energy.

and wizardry:

The casting of intention (will, self, representations) into systems of matter/energy.

and mind:

Complexifying distinction amplification.

and metaphor:

We have made a distinction between conceptual metaphors and metaphorical linguistic expressions.  In conceptual metaphors, one domain of experience is used to understand another domain of experience.  The metaphorical linguistic expressions make manifest particular conceptual metaphors.  The conceptual domain that we try to understand is called the target domain and the conceptual domain that we use for this purpose is the source domain.  [Zoltan Kovesces, Metaphor: A Practical Introduction, pg 12]

and the uroboros:

The Ouroboros or Uroborus[1] is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragoneating its own tail.

The Ouroboros often represents self-reflexivity or cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return, and other things perceived as cycles that begin anew as soon as they end (compare with phoenix). It can also represent the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting from the beginning with such force or qualities it cannot be extinguished.

and tangled hierarchies (strange loops):

strange loop, technically called tangled hierarchy consciousness, arises when, by moving only upwards or downwards through a hierarchical system, one finds oneself back where one started.

tangled hierarchy is a hierarchical consciousness system in which a strange loop appears.

Brings me to my final statistically improbable phrase for the day: open source strange loops.

Rainforest Diversity

We are destroying a very large number of animals, both as individuals and as species, each year as we chop down the rainforests.  This is clearly reducing diversity as we lose species.  However, it is also a sort of increasing the conditions which lead to certain kinds of diversity.

That all makes me think of what an interesting visual we could make if we could view how individuals in modern rainforest species have been changing in relation to one another in the past millions of years.  It would be interesting to see the forms and colors morph through time.  If a simplified (statistical) 4D “animation” could be made that showed not only the forms and colors morph, but also the behaviors… why, I’d think we’d have an Oscar winner.  However, like One Thousand and One Nights (Amazon Nights), its nested narratives will stretch average attention rather too thin.

I don’t think rainforests leave a lot of fossils (wasted biomaterial) so we’d probably have to have a pretty advanced understanding of genetics, and then could it ever be anything but a guess?  We’d have to cross-reference weather patterns and geological dispersion of material to infer landscapes.  It would be terribly complex.  But hidden in there may be a personality.  The personality of Gaia herself?  Or just Amazon’s?  What about the stern abstractions of General Father, conditioning all the ecologies (complex adaptive systems) throughout spacetime.

Looking at the Amazon Rainforest on Google Earth is quite interesting.  It gives a sense of the scale of things.  It is also (perhaps) possible to discern policy changes as well as human psychology in the deforestation patterns.

We’re creating pockets of rainforest.  These pockets, as repositories for the essence of evolutionary algorithms (IOW, dense network of inter-adapting “sources”), become sources of novelty.  Or perhaps, buried in some fungus DNA is a pattern long-employed by The Rainforest to trigger cascades of all sorts of adaptive expressions.  Isolated tracts of rainforest must be an old problem… witness the Sonoran Desert.  I imagine rainforest moving north, weather patterns drying, ripples in the ground, a desert forming into conifers towards the north and deciduous forest to the east.  In the pulse of time.

Hidden Order

After more than a century of intensive effort, we still cannot model many basic capabilities of the CNS [Central Nervous System].  We cannot model its ability parse complex unfamiliar scenes into familiar elements, let alone its ability to construct experience-based internal models.

-John H. Holland, Hidden Order: How Adaption Builds Complexity

I like this slightly changed version:

After more than a century of intensive effort, we still cannot model many basic capabilities of the CNS [Central Nervous System].  We cannot parse its ability parse complex unfamiliar scenes into familiar elements, let alone its ability to construct experience-based internal models.

Just that one word, that comparison, that bringing into juxtaposition, that distinction, that experience which is this third, that is how matter comes into being.  Again and again.


I’ve got a lot of things going on, both in this blog and in rl.  It can be difficult to manage them all.  I’ll limit my considerations to this blog, as far as this post goes.  I recognize that I have going on:

That’s a lot of threads.  Then of course there’s that old rl.  This little post is both a reminder to you (not that I think there is a “you” at the moment, 11/17/12 [I mean that I highly doubt that there exists a single reader of this blog in the sense of someone who is interested in everything that I am writing and comes back to read it]), and to me, that these are the things that are going on.  Maybe there’ll be a “you” someday.  And this will be just another piece of the puzzle.

I am also acknowledging that I need to write more.  It’s been difficult with work and other commitments.  Plus, I read a lot.


Returning Things

I’m composing a longer review of Windows/Windows 8.  However, I wanted to write a shorter piece on the state of technology in general.  I’m having a lot of problems, lately.  I’ve commented a few times about the difficulty of interacting with the mass of information using the sort of input devices we have and this is an expansion on that theme.  I have pretty severe RSI (that’s repetitive stress injury, known by many as “Carpal Tunnel” [which is just one example of a spectrum of injuries {tennis elbow is another}]).  It is plain and simply from writing 100’s of 1000’s of lines of code in the span of a few years.  But writing code isn’t just that, it’s as much, using mice.  I’ve calculated that I have probably tapped a keyboard upwards of 5 million times and moved my mouse 30+ miles and clicked something like 1 million times.  That’s a lotta short bursts of muscles.  It hurts.

Anyway, done whining.  Point is, I don’t just pity myself.  I try my best to avoid it.  I use trackballs, mice, keyboard shortcuts.  In fact, I’ll publish a little presentation I did for a job a while back on User Interface use.  It’s interesting.

Point of this article, however, is that with the emergence of Windows 8 I figured I would get on the “touch” bandwagon (since it’s finally moving to the line of products with which content creation is done).  On Nov. 1st I bought an Acer T232HL Touchscreen monitor as well as a Logitech T650 Wireless Rechargeable Touchpad and also, of course, Windows 8 pro.  I also bought a Microsoft Natural Ergo Keyboard 4000 (I bought this against my best judgement because I knew about the RIDICULOUS stiff spacebar that has been around for years and which Microsoft never fixes [the solution is simple, move to a split space bar!!!!! JERKS {ticks me off because there are no good options anymore for an Ergonomic keyboard and everything about this keyboard is great <standard placement of keys |for the most part|>}]).

I returned the touchscreen the next day.  There is a noticeable lag (fraction of a second, but still… it’s not present on other touchscreens and it is annoying and finally not something I expect from a $449 product) between touching the screen and the system registering the touch.  This is no good for selecting text or many of the other things that a programmer does day to day.

I tried to accept the keyboard.  I tried to accept the stiff spacebar that took me from typing 90 words a minute down to 45.  I tried.  I kept it a full week.  But finally, I returned it, too.

The last holdout was the Logitech touchpad.  Now, I’ve had lotsa problems with Logitech.  I’m on my 5th Marble Trackball.  All their mice have the same problem these days.  The mechanism that registers the clicks degrades over time (probably 50,000 clicks?) until finally you can’t click without double clicking.  This is annoying in many situations, but also makes dragging and dropping impossible.  So I just call and have them send out a new one.  It’s a well oiled process, by now.  I have a second Marble that I keep to use while I wait for the replacement they send me.  I don’t have to return the old one.  They know about the problem and just send it out.  Usually arrives in 3-5 days.  Frickin’ absurd.

Anyway, the touchpad.  I held out.  I’ve tried to make it work.  Sad thing is, it works most of the time.  But then randomly, it refuses to register.  It accepts gestures, like the two fingered swipe to left or right or up or down for vertical and horizontal scrolling.  But occasionally it doesn’t register.  I’ve tried moving the laptop to which it is connected closer to my area so as to rule out a wireless signal issue.  That has no effect.  It is literally 2 feet away in clear line of sight.  I modified it to a two-fingered tap for right clicking.  This only works sometimes.  But the most annoying thing is that it seems about 12-25% of the time, when I move to use it it doesn’t register that I’m touching it at all.  I understand that it goes into a sort of sleep mode to preserve battery.  Nevertheless, sometimes it takes literally 5-8 tries to wake the thing up.  Doesn’t matter if I leave it plugged in.

So, I’m returning that today too.

That leaves Windows 8.  OhhhGrrrr!!! I have problems with that too.  But Windows is another beast altogether and so I’m saving my griping for an entirely different post.  It will be more carefully written than this one, which is sort of a one-off gripe because, after having spent over $700 bucks, I ended up returning $600 worth, and if I could return Windows 8, I sure would.  But of course, that is open software, so I’m stuck with it.

It’s a sad state of affairs when multinational billion dollar companies cannot produce refined products.

All these things probably work okay for the “average” user.  The sort of person that doesn’t move their mouse 2 miles a year and tap out a million keystrokes.  But what about us content creators?  Aren’t we the ones this whole PC (non-Apple) market is all about?  Am I unique?  I don’t think so, not entirely.  Of course, I do consider myself to be somewhat of a UI-ninja (master), but still, why can’t these companies produce a product and refine it over time and STICK WITH IT???  Why is every year a new product, forgotten and consigned to the dust of next years product?

Apple is no panacea either.  Especially for someone who writes in .NET.  Anyway, Apple has nothing in the way Ergonomics.  Nothing I’ve seen, anyway.  But at least their Trackpad’s work well.  Apple is Industry standard in what they do, they just don’t do what I need.  Too bad.  I would invest heavily in products by a company that was committed to helping me do what I want to do.

“Self” is a Linguistic Repository

“Self” is a linguistic repository for the precipitates of the process referred to by the word “Self”: Self.  That sentence eats its own tail–yet this process of digesting structure is exactly what is being referred to.  A process which digests structure shits out a transformed structure.  The transformed structure being shit out is all the linguistic statements concerning “Self”, these included, while the assumed background process doing the chewing and digesting and defecating is the referred-to, actually-existing process itself, outside of and beyond words.  Understanding these words amounts to an experiencing of the archetype of Self–or at least a side of it–but yet that is it.  Uroboros.