Tech Ed

A Raspberry Pi 3 and filter boad (shield) from TAPR. From an article by Scotty Cowling WA2DFI in the January 2017 issue of QRP Quarterly.

Technological Education: Before & Beyond Code Club. A second weblog post with a focus on amateur radio.

We live in a world of celebrities, where people with influence attempt to promote activities they know little about. My favourite celebrity, for illustrative purposes, is Paris Hilton (1981 – ), who is world famous, for being famous. Much further down the list is Clare Sutcliffe who, with Linda Sandvik, developed Code Club in 2012. They, and Code Club, are world famous for trying to teach children, aged 9 to 13, to programme or, at least, write code. They know a little about children, and a little about programming. I am not certain how much they know about teaching children.

As noted before in previous weblog posts, in Scandinavian teacher education, Lev Vygotsky (1896 – 1934) is probably the most important theorist. His Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), is the range of tasks that a child is in the process of learning. While some level of proficiency (the ZPD lower limit) is possible with the child working independently, higher skill levels can be reached with teacher assistance. The teacher’s role is to construct a learning scaffold, a support that allows the child to develop confidence and capability. Over time, the scaffolding is gradually removed, until – once again – the child works independently.

In North America, a related concept is that of a teachable moment, that was popularized by Robert Havighurst (1900 – 1991) in Human Development and Education (1952). “A developmental task is a task which is learned at a specific point and which makes achievement of succeeding tasks possible. When the timing is right, the ability to learn a particular task will be possible. This is referred to as a ‘teachable moment.’ It is important to keep in mind that unless the time is right, learning will not occur. Hence, it is important to repeat important points whenever possible so that when a student’s teachable moment occurs, s/he can benefit from the knowledge.”

Swiss developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980) argued that children develop abstract reasoning skills in their last developmental stage, the formal operational stage. He suggested this occurs between the ages of 11 and 16. Many educators make an arbitrary choice, which is the beginning of junior secondary school. Before this age there should be a focus on the concrete, and the physical.

The key to teaching technology is to find a suitable start point for abstract thinking. Programming, like many related tasks, requires abstract thinking. Many in that 9 to 13 age group are just not mature enough, and will find the tasks impossible, potentially putting them off programming forever.

With Code Club there is no focus on either scaffolding or teachable moments or an ability to think abstractly. It appears to be unsystematic in its approach using Scratch, HTML & CSS, Python and a variety of other coding languages. In certain jurisdictions, the initiative also provide free BBC Micro:bits to children above the age of 9, this provides a potentially disingenuous economic incentive.

Code Club states that its purpose is on children having fun, while coding games. My experience is that children are less motivated by fun, than by an opportunity to be of service, and to be respected for their mature behaviour.

Games have other negative aspects. There is a potential for lifelong gaming addictions. On 2021-08-30, China introduced new restrictions to limit the time under-18s can spend online gaming. They may only play on public holidays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 20:00 to 21:00. All online games have to link with a state anti-addiction system. In the west there seem to be no limitations imposed despite the fact that many students are unable to remain awake in their classrooms, because they have spent their entire nights gaming. Games are addictive. Code Club originally wanted to limit its activities to one hour a week. However, not all children (or their parents) are in agreement with this.

Relying on games is also problematic, because they are divorced from reality. They can blur moral boundaries, allowing players to choose between being good or evil or somewhere inbetween. I am in agreement with Chinese authorities that games should not give players this moral choice.

Another challenge relates to the evaluation of game quality. Any discussion can be treated as a subjective opinion. There is seldom any tests of correctness that can be applied. This contrasts with physical computing where the programming is incorporated inside an electromechanical device that has to serve a purpose, and there are metrics that can be used to determine if the goals incorporated into the device have been achieved.

On a more positive note, game-related tools, such as simulations, can be useful in teaching subjects as diverse as social economics, and ecology.

In terms of preparation for learning, there are three key things parents can do. They can ensure that children eat healthily, sleep sufficiently and are physically fit. In elementary school (typically grades 1 to 7) one approach is to focus on outdoor activities that encourage endurance (stamina), strength, mental well being, an understanding of the natural world, and an appreciation of other human beings.

As an example, these concepts will be applied to amateur radio.

Teaching typically relies on a curriculum that shows how various activities mesh together in a comprehensive whole, to provide insights and knowledge to students. This allows any teacher to know the specific educational goals to which s/he is working, so that s/he can choose the most appropriate pathway. In terms of amateur radio, this means knowing which components, ICs, MPUs and programming languages are going to be used, and why.

In amateur radio, the most popular FM communication frequencies are restricted to line of sight. This means that local groups often build repeater stations on high elevation points at remote locations that can facilitate communication over longer distances. These repeater stations are typically not on the grid. They need power from some local source, a battery rechanged with a generator powered by an engine using tanks of propane gas, a miniature windmill or a solar panel. Regardless, these will need to be inspected and serviced at regular (typically annual, intervals). Thus, one activity is to encourage younger children to accompany adults, walking the trails that lead to the repeater stations to check them out, and service them if required. At the same time they might learn something about FM communication, batteries and other equipment through osmosis. Older children might even be able to carry some of the equipment needed, and thus feel even more useful. At some point the child will be in a position to actually undertake the complete servicing.

The fabrication of antennas is another area where children might be able to participate. Under adult supervision, they can be given a diagram of the antenna to be built, with instructions detailing the lengths of wire to be used, and how they are to be attached to black boxes, more generally called baluns and traps in radio circles, which are needed to make antennas function optimally. Here the skills needed will be physical, an ability to measure, mark, cut, fasten and assemble. All of these activities require the use of simple, non-electric hand tools. Fabrication provides an opportunity for children to learn work safely, to be orderly, systematic and accurate, and to have respect for other people and tools. It can also teach the value of cleanliness, in that workshops have to be cleaned regularly.

This list is far from complete, and I would ask that radio amateurs and others who have ideas for activities suitable for children to contact me with their suggestions.

In terms of more abstract activities, I would certainly not begin with programming, but with electronics. Electronics has become a simpler subject since the introduction and wide scale adoption of transistors, integrated circuits (ICs) and microprocessor units (MPUs). That said, it is often easier to program a solution, rather than to develop a circuit. However, one must understand the advantages and limitations of both, starting with electronics.

One understandable electronics textbook is Electronics: A Self-Teaching Guide (1979) by Harry Kybett. This was followed up with a second edition in 1986. The third edition appeared in 2008, that had its title changed to All New Electronics Self-Teaching Guide. It also added Earl Boysen as co-author. The latest edition is Complete Electronics: Self-Teaching Guide with Projects (2012). Here, the order of the authors is reversed, Earl Boysen and Harry Kybett. I used the third edition as my main source of electronic information, for the last years of my teaching. However, when in doubt I do check information with more recent, typically online, sources.

Another book that attempts to impart basic electronic insights is Make: Electronics (2009) by Charles Platt (1945 – ). It is the hands-on experimentation that makes this book valuable. This was followed up with Make: More Electronics: 36 Illustrated Experiments That Explain Logic Chips, Amplifiers, Sensors, and More (2013).

Microprocessors have existed since the Intel 4004 was released in 1971. There have been any number of microprocessors used to teach aspects of computing. There are many other families of microcontrollers that may be used to solve real-world challenges, including the construction of radio circuits. These include BeagleBone, ESP, and Teensy. However, since 2005, three families of microprocessors have attracted attention for educational purposes. These are: Arduino, Raspberry Pi and Micro::bit, in release date order.

Of these, Arduino is the oldest of these, and shows its age and limitations, although it does have some excellent attributes. Despite its limitations, the Arduino can be an appropriate place to start learning, especially if one has an Arduino based starter kit of electronic components. In 2011, Jeremy Blum made a number of video tutorials, introducing people to Arduino. I used these extensively in my teaching. He developed projects where components are fitted onto a breadboard, and then joined to ports on the Arduino including ground (negative) and 5 V power (positive). The Arduino is connected to a power supply connected to household current.

Blum wrote a book Exploring Arduino (2013), second edition (2019). Radio amateurs should note that chapter 15 in the second edition discusses wireless radio frequency (RF) communication, providing a useful introduction to the electromagnetic spectrum, and the use of RF to control assorted devices, such as doorbells, lamps, and relays. The next two chapters discuss Bluetooth communication and WiFi communication, respectively.

One important family of Arduino devices are shields. These are printed circuit boards with various components already installed on them, capable of performing a specific function. They fit onto an Arduino board without any wiring or soldering.

Micro::bit is a political project, organized by the British Broadcasting Corporation. Because they wanted to ingratiate themselves with a large number of corporate sponsors, there is abundant choice. The Norwegian Department of Education has decided to deploy Micro::bit in Norwegian classrooms, not because of its educational merits, but because a Norwegian company had its parts incorporated into it. I am avoiding it because of some major pedagogical weaknesses.

This leaves the Raspberry Pi (RPi) as the most suitable technology for teaching about microprocessors. One of the reasons it has been adopted by teachers and hobbyists, is its General Purpose Input Output Pins (GPIO). These 26-40 pins provide a physical interface between the RPi MCU and the world, because it allows for the connection of a range of sensors/ activators/ other components typically placed on breadboards. When developed into a circuit, the components can interact with software installed on the Pi. These include a number of amateur radio applications.

RPi HATs (Hardware Attached on Top) are specially designed boards that perform specific tasks, that plug directly onto the GPIO pins. These provide the same type of function as the shields do on Arduinos. James Stevens in his MoJCQ’s Hamblog provides ten amateur radio uses involving RPis. More recently, Kedric Hart has written Coolest Raspberry Pi Amateur Radio Projects in 2021. Both of these articles have one weakness. They are reporting on projects developed by other people. Some of the projects are good, others are less good, but left unimproved. Thus, none of the projects can be incorporated into a teaching project without being reworked.

Books related to Raspberry Pis and amateur radio include: Dwight Stanfield’s Hamshack Raspberry Pi for Amateur Radio Activities (2018) and Jeremy Stephens, Hamshack Raspberry Pi: A Beginner’s Guide to The Raspberry Pi for Amateur Radio Activities (2017).

Much of the learning necessary for amateur radio activities happens when the student works on experiments. An experiment should be an investigation that allows for an exploration of a topic in some detail. Microprocessors bring a new dimension to the construction of an electronic devices. They will be made out of electronic components, but also contain code run inside the microprocessor.

Code here should be regarded as a software component. It is inserted and run, producing results that can be documented. Code can also be modified, in much the same way that a component of a different value can be substituted for another, resulting in operational changes that can be measured.

After a student has become proficient in building and modifying devices, including the software, that s/he should be encouraged to programme. There are any number of languages that can be chosen, but often these are related to the microprocessors being used. For example, Arduinos use a variety of Wiring that looks almost like C. Raspberry Pis are often programmed in Python.

Rob Thubron, in an Techspot article dated 2021-09-27, titled Some students don’t understand the concept of computer files and folders, that begins, “To readers of this site, the idea that some students on courses ranging from engineering to physics don’t know what files and folders are might seem strange, but it’s true. According to a new report, the fault lies with popular modern operating systems and devices that include all-encompassing search functions or hide file structures from plain view.”

He ends, quoting physicist/ astronomer/ associate professor Peter Plavchan, addressing fellow educators who look on aghast at students unable to comprehend filing systems, “This is not gonna go away. You’re not gonna go back to the way things were. You have to accept it. The sooner that you accept that things change, the better.”

If terms of radio technology there are going to be generational divides. Boomers (while they still exist) and GenXers will educate Millennials and GenZs in accord with their understanding of the world. Hopefully, the teachers will take to heart the advice of Lev Vygotski, and concentrate on building the scaffolding so helpful for pupils to learn. How the Millennials and GenZs respond is up to them!

Note 1: Code Club was merged into the Raspberry Pi Foundation on 2015-11-03, as a wholly owned subsidiary. On 2018-03-16, Clare Sutcliffe, then executive director at Raspberry Pi, announced she was leaving both Code Club and Raspberry Pi.

Respects Your Freedom

Respects Your Freedom hardware product certification http ...
The Respects Your Freedom certification program is provided by the Free Software Foundation.

The Free Software Foundation’s (FSF) GNU project, started 1983-09-27, has a noble goal, to give computer users control over computers and related devices by developing software that gives everyone the right to run/ copy/ distribute/ study/ modify it, through its licenses, GNU General Public Licenses (GPL).

The Respects Your Freedom (RYF) certification program extends this approach into hardware, by certifying devices, (and vendors at the device level) to ensure that the hardware respects the rights of users to freely use these products. Certification requires vendors go through a review process, where the FSF examines the user experience, from initial purchase through the flashing of modified versions of firmware. Certification criteria ensure that users never encounter nonfree software or documentation.

Certified vendors may use the RYF certification mark on the certified device and associated sales pages. The device is then listed on the RYF site to allow users to find devices. The certification can be revoked at any time, should issues arise.

At the 2021 LibrePlanet conference, online 2021-03-20 to 21, the FSF decided to prioritize e-book readers, in terms of RYF hardware certification. They were considering both adapting existing e-book readers but also contracting the production of new readers.

Most e-book readers run some version of the Linux kernel, and some run Linux operating systems. While e-book readers are a few steps closer to freedom (as the FSF puts it) than other devices, ensuring certification will still require a significant amount of work. Several critical e-reader components will not function without nonfree software, such as the e-ink screen, that powers the display.

In related moves, Denis “GNUToo” Carikli has documented e-book reader components (and other single-board computers). In 2020, David Remmel ported Parabola Linux to the reMarkable tablet, created a free e-book reader.

Challenges come not just with e-book readers, but with e-books themselves. Many books come with DRM = Digital Rights Management = Digital Restrictions Management (in FSF-speak), which prevents people from reading and sharing books that they buy and own. Consenting to the DRM that many e-books are distributed with, means that people lose control of their digital autonomy, no matter what kind of device they have.

DRM has gotten more restrictive. Textbooks commonly require a constant and uninterrupted Internet connection, and restrict the loading of a discrete number of pages at a time. In the global south, where internet connections can be unreliable, this negatively impacts the quality of education.

If the FSF is successful in providing RYF certification to an e-book reader, it will ensure that users will gain the ability to read appropriate digital file formats, of which epub is the most important. It will ensure that all readers will gain the right to read, essentially voiding e-book DRMs.

The Free Software Foundation

The FSF is not the first open-source organization I would want to contribute money to, or even join. Much of this is related to Richard Stallman (1953 – ) who on 2019-09-16 was forced to resigned as president of the FSF after pressure from journalists and members of the open source community in response to him making controversial comments in defence of Marvin Minsky (1927 – 2016) on Jeffrey Epstein’s (1953 – 2019) sex trafficking scandal. Stallman remained head of the GNU Project and in 2021 returned to the FSF board of directors, unfortunately.

There is a need to modernize the foundation’s governance structure and processes. That said, there could be hope ahead. The FSF board has now retained a professional consultant to help them “optimize the impact of the board and the organization”. The purpose of this consultation is to use six months to devise a range of systems and infrastructure that lead to:

– A transparent community-supported process for identifying new board members and evaluating current board members;
– A board member agreement that clearly outlines the responsibilities of all board members;
– A code of ethics that articulates the values of the FSF and conveys a set of principles to guide its decision making and activities, as well as the behaviour of its board members, officers, employees, and volunteers; and,
– More focused and streamlined board processes that encourage consistent attention on FSF’s most pressing needs.

These revisions are to ensure that user freedom cannot be compromised. Efforts are needed to strengthen the organization’s governance, ensuring that it is transparent, accountable, and that current and future board members, associate members, staff and the broader free software movement, act professionally. In particular, there is a need to attract a new generation of activists for software (and hardware) freedom to grow the movement.

Forensics for teachers: A tidbit

In the hydraulic approach to teaching, knowledge is poured into enthusiastic pupils, in much the same way that water is poured over enthusiastic coffee beans, before the dark rich liquid emerges inside a cup. Photo: Ikea

The hydraulic method of teaching consists of cutting open the craniums of pupils, and pouring in knowledge. This approach is fast, simple, effective and most importantly, cheap – because anyone can do it. There is no need to employ expensive teachers.

Information about hydraulics was included in one of my pedagogy textbooks. It struck me that some salient details were missing, such as detailed instructions on how to open a cranium, or pour in knowledge. At what rate should knowledge be poured? What type of knowledge should be used? Even if one advocates the hydraulic method, each and every pupil will require a personalized approach to maximize learning potential.

As strange as it may seem, instead of learning basic brain surgery, it might be more practical for a teacher to learn how to treat each student as an individual, and how to assign appropriate tasks and exercises. This actually eliminates the need for brain surgery, as well as text books – including pedagogy textbooks trying to be cute. Of course, it also assumes that the teacher is competent.

What happens when there is an incompetent teacher? Many situations arise where a teacher is teaching stuff he or she knows absolutely nothing about. Here is an example. Maritime deck officers in training arrived irregularly, at the prison where I worked. Given a choice of making pallets, working in the kitchen or attending school, they invariably opted to focus on learning more about their profession.

They usually express a desire to learn something about ship stability. It is perfectly understandable. Their textbook covering stability, is one of the worst anyone has ever encountered. Yes, even worse than the one about a hydraulic approach to teaching. Each topic is presented superficially, and then there are exercises to complete. No details about the methodology or algorithms used to solve these problems, are provided. At the back of the book, there are answers to some of the questions,  although these questions are never the ones the student needs to submit.

Officially, I had no competence to teach nautical subjects. However, I never let formalities stand in my way. All that was needed to do was to work back from the provided answers and the questions, to deduce the algorithms needed to solve that category of problem. With the algorithms reconstructed, I was then able to make up even more exercises for the student to solve.

Originally written as Textbooks, on 2019.01.12 04:55 / Modified 2019.05.14 10:09 and 2019.11.12 18:12.

Open Educational Resources

There are only 17 576 three letter combinations of the 26 letter English alphabet available. One of these acronyms is OER, which can mean many different things to many different people. In fact the Free Dictionary lists 31 different definitions:

In the context here, OER refers to Open Educational Resources. OERs are educational materials that are in the public domain or provided with an open license or otherwise made freely available. It could include written materials (books), audio materials (podcasts and music), photographs, drawings and other illustrative works, or video materials.

On another level, OERs can also include software such as operating systems (Linux, developed at various locations, including Berkeley CA and Helsinki, Finland) , web browsers (Firefox, developed at Mountain View/ San Francisco CA), application software, such as KiCad (from Grenoble, France) and FreeCad (Ulm, Germany), as well as learning management systems, such as Canvas (Salt Lake City UT), LON-CAPA (East Lansing MI) and Moodle (Perth, Australia).

There is even open hardware, which more often than not consists of technical drawings and descriptions of products that can be made on 3D printers, laser cutters and other forms of automated equipment. While it can be extremely important in certain teaching situations, hardware will not be discussed further in this weblog post.

No matter how much content is stored on a bookshelf, or inside a computer, content only becomes meaningful when it is used. Thus, there has to be some form of Open Educational Practice (OEP) developed to use open content, OER, to support learning.

OpenContent was one of the first manifestations of open materials, which was developed by David Wiley (? – ) in 1998. OpenContent is licensed in a manner that provides users with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities. The 5Rs found on the OpenContent website as a framework for assessing the extent to which content is open:

  1. Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  2. Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  3. Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  4. Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  5. Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend).


Creative Commons (CC) is a global body that provides open-copyright licences, so that authors can give permission to share and reuse creative works, with the conditions the author chooses. CC began life as an American non-profit organization, founded in 2001 by Lawrence Lessig (1961 – ), Hal Abelson (1947 – ) and Eric Eldred (1943 – ). It engulfed Open Content in 2002. As of May 2018 there were an estimated 1.4 billion works licensed under the various Creative Commons licenses, including Wikipedia, along with over 415 million Creative Commons licensed photographs on Flickr, founded in Vancouver in 2004.

Open Content is an invitation to stakeholders, including students, to be part of the teaching process, and the co-creation of knowledge.

Four Stages of Competence

The Welcome Wall at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), Burnaby, British Columbia. BCIT was actually the first institution of higher education where I felt comfortable. It was here that I realized that I could master business studies and computer science, and – in time – could attain levels of unconscious competence. Prior to attending BCIT part time, I had attended other institutions where I performed sometimes poorly, at other times excellently, but none of them suited my personality. Illustration: BCIT

According to Conger & Mullen, it was Martin M. Broadwell who first described the four stages of competence, which he referred to as the four levels of teaching, in February 1969. The four stages are:

  1. Unconscious incompetence. The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage.
  2. Conscious incompetence. Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, they recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit.
  3. Conscious competence. The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration.
  4. Unconscious competence. The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned. However, the teaching of a skill, is a skill in itself, subject to the same four stages being discussed here.

See: D. Stuart Conger & Dana Mullen “Life skills”. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling 4 (4) (December 1981) : pp. 305–319.

Much of my working life has been spent dealing with people at stage one, at least in some fundamental areas of life. Most of the time they would probably be offended to hear this, if they had known about the four stages, and their placement. Fortunately, for them, but unfortunately for society, almost none of them have heard of this conceptual framework, and are impervious to any placement in it.

Take the question, Which is larger – an elephant or the moon? When a person answers, in all sincerity, an elephant, one knows that one is dealing with someone who has unconscious incompetence issues. Note: this incident is from real life, probably a little before 2010. To this day, the person who answered, in all likelihood still believes that an elephant is larger than the moon. Unlike a typical educational situation, I have been unable to deal with this person’s failure to understand fundamental aspects of the universe, which indicates my own conscious/ unconscious incompetence. I will leave it as an exercise, for the reader to decide which.

It is important to make these four stages known, to acknowledge the existence of unconscious incompetence, and its universal reach. There is not a living person who is not unconsciously incompetent about something.

It is also important to encourage everyone to expand their boundaries of their learning. My own favoured approach is to encourage people to learn new and totally different skills, and gain knowledge about different – even unusual – subjects, to try new things outside of their comfort zone, but within the bounds of their ethical standards.

A Pedagogical Sail

Sabot sailing dinghy on a cradle, fully-rigged, in Sydney Australia 2007-12-16. With minor modifications, the same type of boat was also made in North America. (Photo: Peter4Truth)

The purpose of a sail is to propel a boat or ship forward. It can be used figuratively, to describe mechanisms to propel a person through an educational system alive, and capable of making a social and economic contribution to the world after completing the education. For me, industrial arts was such a mechanism, as it allowed me to survive an academic education. Looking forward through time, I see an engineering workshop (and more specifically a mechatronics workshop located in Inderøy) as a mechanism to help the generation with many names (Gen Z/ iGen/ Plurals/ Post-millennials) to cope with the world’s current insanity.

Yes, it would be more professional to keep personal thoughts at a distance, and to look at a mechatronics workshop’s pedagogy from a theoretical point of view, with comments and statements supported by references to well formulated documents based on impeccable research.

Unfortunately, that is not how the real world works. Everything I’ve ever done related to workshop pedagogy, is based on reflections on a single personal experience. As a 13 year old, I decided to build my own boat, an 8 foot (2 400 mm) long Sabot dinghy, similar to a European Optimist dinghy. I made it alone, except for some help from my mother, who made the sail for the boat. Where did I get the self-confidence, which let me start and complete such a comprehensive project, at a relatively young age? The answer is, by taking industrial arts!

A note of thanks. The one person I would like to thank is Vincent Massey Junior High School guidance councilor Allen, who encouraged me, and suggested I build this specific boat. He also told me where I could get the plans (Valley Lumber). I believe they cost me $2 (NOK 12) in 1962. In case one thinks that my boat building skills are inherited, let me assure readers that I have never experienced my father making anything in his life, until he started to make rya rugs as an 80 year old. Yes, he could do some interior house painting, but he rarely repaired anything, and never made anything for the house. Both of my parents prioritized spending their free time out in nature. They were both fishers and hunters, and enjoyed collecting berries and mushrooms, and walking in the wilderness. My mother, who was ten years younger than my father, had a slightly different education, including home economics as a subject. She made a lot of different things, but in the realms of food and textiles.

Unlike my father, I had industrial arts at school, from the 7th to the 9th grade, before I chose electronics as a specialty from the 10th to 12th grade. The school system in British Columbia divided all teaching into seven subjects, all of which got exactly the same number of hours of instruction. Of the five hours that we received over a seven day period for industrial arts, one was once reserved for draughting/ drafting/ technical drawing. The other hours were either electricity and electronics, woodworking or metalworking. One worked with each subject area for about a third of the school year before we pupils were on to the next subject area.

Industrial arts is an educational program that includes the manufacture of wooden or metal objects using a variety of hand or machine tools. In addition, the subject could include other related subject such as electronics, house building, motor repairs and car maintenance. All programs usually had some form of technical drawing as part of the curriculum. Industrial art was reserved for boys. The girls got home economics which included some of the same educational principles, but with a focus on food and sewing. Home economics could be described as second class industrial arts, wrapped for girls!

As a pedagogical term, industrial art came on the scene in 1904 when Charles Russell Richards (1865 – 1936) from the college of teachers, Columbia University, New York suggested replacing manual training. The intention was for all children (or at least all boys in a gender-divided time) in all schools, to gain a wide range of technical skills rather than a single one that gave vocational training.

Most North American males born between 1920 and 1960 understood technical drawings, had used a lathe to make objects in both wood and metal, had wired a house. This is not the case today. Industrial arts ended with most of the gender-divided education in the late 1970s, early 1980s. Girls were finally allowed to fix cars, while the boys were allowed to learn how to cook.

The pedagogy used in Industrial Arts did not begin with Charles Russell Richards, but represents a tradition that can be traced back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Johann Pestalozzi, Friedrich Froebel, Edward Sheldon and John Dewey. These people are not unique to the history of industrial arts. Their names are invoked in many divergent subject areas.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) is appreciated for the application of his educational theories in the classroom. He believed that knowledge was derived from nature, that reality was determined by gathering information through the senses and validating by building relationships, and that people learn gradually and constantly throughout life, and learn to do.

Johann Pestalozzi (1746 – 1827) He has several educational institutions in German and French speaking regions in Switzerland and wrote many works explaining his revolutionary modern education principles. His motto was “Learning the head, hand and heart”. Thanks to Pestalozzi became illiteracy in the 18th century Switzerland almost completely overcome by 1830. Pestalozzi is considered the first of Richard’s pedagogical predecessors, with an educational philosophy focused on the most effective ways of waking students’ ability to understand and process information. With this ability, young people could understand an ever changing world.

Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) is recognized for establishing (in theory) the first kindergarten in 1837, and for taking into account early childhood needs in education: showing is better than telling. He was very concerned with activities or the activity plan that he felt would develop childhood creativity.

Edward Sheldon (1823 – 1897) founded the Oswego School of Education in 1861. Sheldon believed that the basics should be taught through objects, and students should build things that would benefit them in the classroom as they taught lessons. In 1886, Oswego had a form of manual training as a class under the supervision of the school’s janitor. Oswego became the first teaching school in the United States to teach manual training. Today, SUNY Oswego prepares students to become technology teachers.

John Dewey (1859-1952) believed that students should do (his term, but implying action) to trigger thoughts about what they are doing. Then they should think about what they have done, to stimulate learning. Dewey’s focus was on a methodology that began by identifying difficulties or problems and ending up synthesizing and coordinating knowledge and desires, resulting in the control and recreation of the external world. This is mainly the vision of the Industrial Arts movement. Dewey had a concern about the limitations of manual training. He thought that if the students were just doing something to make something and not to solve a problem, their thoughts would stop and boredom would develop. The learning process will stop.

So I’d like to pause and to reflect. The challenge with the American maker movement is political. Yes, even the term maker has been hijacked by a for-profit industry. While many view it as a continuation of the industrial arts movement, others are eager to look at it as new and different. The latter would like to have Ayn Rand (1905 – 1982) as inspiration. Debbie Chachra, in Why I am Not a Maker, warns us about it:
“A quote often attributed to Gloria Steinem says, ‘We have begun raising our daughters more like sons … but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.’ Creator culture, with the goal of giving everyone access to the traditional male culture of making, has focused on the first. But success means devaluing the traditional female domain for care by continuing to enforce the idea that only making things is valuable. Rather, I will see ourselves recognizing the teacher’s work, those who analyze and characterize and criticize, anyone who repairs things, all the others who do valuable work with and for others, above all the caregivers – whose work is not something you can put into a box and sell.”

I suspect it is the Ayn Rand friendly people in the maker movement that promote Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980) as responsible for its educational philosophy. I’m not among these. Piaget’s most famous statement about constructivism, “Understanding is inventing” is really just the title of his 1973 book, To Understand is to Invent, an English translation of Ou va l’education (1971) and Le droit a l’education dans le monde actuel (1948). In short, the teacher’s role in constructivism is to create the conditions for invention rather than providing ready-made knowledge. But this statement had already been expressed by Richards in 1904, almost 70 years earlier.

The reason for Piaget’s favor probably has more with his influence in American computer science and artificial intelligence. One of Piaget’s students, Seymour Papert (1928 – 2016) used Piaget’s work while developing Logo along with Wally Feurzeig (1927 – 2013) and Cynthia Solomon (? -?). Alan Kay (1940 -) used Piaget’s theories as the basis for Dynabook system (and Smalltalk programming language) at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (Xerox PARC). The work resulted in the development of the Alto computer, which is the first computer with graphical user interface (GUI). Apple MacIntosh was constructed on the basis of Kay’s research at Xerox PARC.

In Norway, Piaget has had much less appeal than in the US, and much of his status as educator has been transferred to Lev Vygotsky (1896 – 1934). Vygotsky regarded people as cultural beings. He was concerned with the closest development zone (the proximal development zone) and laid the foundation for a socio-cultural learning perspective. There is a balance between what the child learns and what s/he needs of assistance. Lev Vygotsky is considered a social constructionist, where learning takes place in a social interaction between individuals.

One would almost believe that Industrial Arts has become an educational dinosaur. Since Ronald Reagan (1911 – 2004) became the US president in 1981, inequalities between US residents have only increased. The political prioritization of schools in North America has led schools to gradually lose their ability to teach costly practical subjects. This has led to practical skills being exercised over narrower and narrower fields.

A mechatronic workshop

Some people face more challenges than others. Members of the Afghan all-girls robotics team make adjustments to a team robot in the practice area in Washington D.C. on 2017-07-17. These young Afghan women are renown for their resilience and resolve. Their visas to USA had been rejected twice. Despite this, when they arrived at the last minute, their team came in second place. Later in 2017-11-27, they won first place at the Entrepreneurial Challenge, for the Robotex festival, in Tallinn, Estonia. Their challenge was to showcase a prototype that could solve a real-world problem, and that customers would want to buy. They won with a robot that could use solar energy to support small-scale farmers in their fields. (Photo: Paul J. Richards)

For the past three days I have spent my working hours fighting off a virus while pondering some fundamental concepts related to a community mechatronics workshop, that should be opening soon in Inderøy.

Ideally, this workshop should be all things to all people, or at least, a few different things to a few different groups of people. The challenge is, that one has only NOK 250 000 to equip the workshop, whereas one needs about NOK 1 000 000. The area is 70 square meters, and one room. What one needs is 200 square meters and five different rooms.

Rather than spreading investments over several fields, and ending up with nothing, a decision was taken to focus exclusively on mechatronics. Once this is in place and functioning well, then other areas can be prioritized at some unspecified point in the future.

Then there is the challenge of a name. What might seem like an obvious choice, a seemingly innocent term, such as maker space proves difficult to use in practice. Why? Well, maker is a political term, and is frequently usurped by people with vested interests. John Patrick Leary lists maker as one of his keywords, in his 2018 book, Keywords. Libertarians, in particular, have seized on this title. Other terms, such as hack space, have also been usurped, but by the socialist hoard, political adversaries of libertarians.

Before confronting the socialist hoard hackers, who are theselibertarians and what do they want? A quick, but necessarily incomplete, answer to the question is, followers of Ayn Rand (1905 – 1982). Admittedly there are exceptional libertarians who dislike Rand, but they are in the minority. Rand is known especially for two novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and for a philosophical system she called Objectivism, that has inspired many libertarians. Mother Jones, the San Francisco based investigative magazine, remarked that “Rand’s particular genius has always been her ability to turn upside down traditional hierarchies and recast the wealthy, the talented, and the powerful as the oppressed.” (July-August 2009).

Rand is not noted for anything approaching political correctness. In her biography Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, Jennifer Burns notes how Rand’s position that “Native Americans were savages” and that as a result “European colonists had a right to seize their land because native tribes did not recognize individual rights.” (p. 266) She has offered similar opinions about the Arab populations of the Middle East.

As David Harvey, in A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005), argues, Neoliberalization’s primary accomplishment has been to “redistribute, rather than to generate, wealth and income” (p. 159). In particular, he points to privatization and commodification of previously public assets, which he describes as the “Commodification of Everything” in which all things are turned into things with that can have rents extracted from, including intangible ideas like originality, authenticity, and uniqueness, which “were never actually produced as commodities.” (p. 166) .

Much of the libertarian movement could be described as “me first”. It wants to reward the aggressive. At this point it could be appropriate for readers to take a pause, and read Debbie Chachra’s essay, Why I am Not a Maker:

The point of the above essay is that a community workshop is not just a workshop for the few. There are a large number of social interactions that have to be facilitated. There are youth present who may be learning new skills, teachers who may be providing instruction, disabled people who may be in need of companionship, people of many genders who may want to create a new and for them, a more appropriate identity. While there may be people who may be making, there may be others who are repairing or repurposing or recycling or just reflecting on life.

I am particularly concerned that calling something a maker space, will in itself create an unintended hierarchy of users. In some maker spaces in Canada, it has been found that white, male youth, from privliged backgrounds, attempted to monopolize maker spaces, by defining themselves as its target group, and defining others as outside of that target group.

Such is the power of a name. I have previously argued for the use of a name that is the Norwegian equivalent of Velocity, a vector quantity that combines speed with direction. More importantly, it does not hint at what can or cannot be done in a workshop. There is no prestige to be lost if the organization changes direction. Velocity might be involved in mechatronics this year, then shift to fashion, cos-play and steampunk next year, before ending up as a videography group focused on rock musicals. It doesn’t make any difference, because the name is flexible.

Now it is time to look at more left-leaning hacker spaces. Left-leaning, but not necessarily egalitarian or diverse.

In V. Kostakis, V. Niaros & C. Giotitsas Production and governance in hackerspaces: A manifestation of Commons-based peer production in the physical realm? (2014) International Journal of Cultural Studies, Hacker space practices supposedly contrast with market-based maker space businesses in that they are more focused on for-benefit rather than for-profit projects but that for-profit motivations are not entirely absent. In this study of 23 semi-structured interviews with a sample of hacker spaces around the world found that money remains a peripheral concept only. Particpants are motivated by the social desire for hackers to have a ‘third place’ for social interaction. This refers to American urban sociologist, Ray Oldenburg (1932 – ) and the importance of informal public gathering places for a functioning civil society, democracy and civic engagement. In addition, there is the altruistic motivation of ‘making the world a better place’ through working on commons-oriented projects. However, it was also found that openness only applied in a limited sense. The barrier is not a door; it is social inclusion. In J. Moilanen Emerging hackerspaces–Peer-production generation Open Source Systems: LongTerm Sustainability (2012) pp. 94-111, 90 percent of respondents were male and 64 percent of respondents had a completed a post-secondary degree. Often hacker spaces are closed to non-members, most days of the week.

Collaboration and sharing were found to be important by six out of
seven participants as evidence of collaboration in the spaces. In addition, some hacker spaces were committed to sharing projects with Commons-based licenses and favored people working on collective projects over personal ones. There was also a wide variety of ‘innovative’ hardware and software produced by hacker spaces and showed the underestimated power of meaningful human cooperation. At the same time there was community accountability, communal validation and autonomy. Participants cited trust and accountability as important pillars of hacker space operation.

A workshop needs legal status and governance. Most are non-profit organizations governed by elected boards, This is one of the first things that has to be put into place. An alternative is to nest the workshop within an existing organization, such a municipal public library. It needs membership fees and/ or funding. Often membership fees serve as the primary income source for a space though different membership levels or sliding-scale pricing. Some spaces receive grants or donations, as is the case with the workshop in Inderøy.

Workshops need physical space and equipment. Most start small but can grow into large spaces. One major challenge is finding adequate and affordable space. There is also a need for a workshop to abide by legal safety and ergonomic standards. Workshops may have issues with building codes, including fire protection and ventilation systems. There is also a need for liability insurance and waiver forms for adult participants.

The creation of a workshop involves much more than a group of
individuals coming together to form a do-ocracy.

One major challenge is the inability for workshops to account/ bookkeep volunteer labour. It is far too frequently treated as a free resource without value. This is inappropriate. Personnel and mentor costs are valid costs. When local government is involved, they need to be efficient in allocating limited resources (even those provided by retired persons). Other underestimated costs have to do with externalities. Noise and physical damage are major concerns, given that workshops have noisier and messier activities. To reduce noise impact, workshops may have to be given insulated spaces and flooring, and by separated physically from other quieter activities.

Stakeholder support is another significant issue. It is important that workshop initiators communicate openly with everyone even remotely influenced by the workshop.


A: Use a variety of tools, modes, media, and materials to design texts and artefacts. Re-design texts and artefacts.

B: Understand design principles within a specific social and cultural context, bringing their own experiences to bear on the task.

C: Reflect critically on design principles. Choose modes, media, and materials to use for specific purposes (e.g., to entertain,persuade, etc.) and for particular audiences.

D: Use a variety of tools, modes, media,and materials to produce texts and artefacts. Re-use/ re-purpose/ re-mix texts and artefacts effectively.

E: Draw on own social and cultural experiences in the creation of texts and artefacts. Allow feelings and emotions to shape the production experience.

F: Reflect critically on the process of production,to ask questions such as (i) How do I want topresent myself and others in this text or artefact? (ii) What messages do I want to convey?

G: Access and understand modes/ media/ materials used in the production of a text/ artefact. Comprehend meaning, interpret through analysis,reflection, synthesis. Relate text/artefact to own prior understandingand experience. Move beyond a literal to deductive andinferential reading.

H: Draw on own social and cultural experiences in the analysis and interpretation of texts and artefacts. Participate with others in collective reviewand interpretation. Understand texts and artefacts in relation to the social, historical, and cultural contexts in which they were produced. I: Reflect critically on the text or artefact that is being engaged with, to ask questions such as: (i) Who produced this? (ii) What can be discerned of the producer’s intentions? (iii) How has the producer positioned the reader/ viewer/ user? (iv) How do issues of power work in this context?

J: Able to use a variety of tools, modes, media,and avenues to disseminate texts and artefacts.

K: Understand most effective means of disseminating texts and artefacts within the social and cultural context. Reach out effectively to diverse audiences tocommunicate meanings.

L: Reflect critically on modes of dissemination, to ensure most effective use of them.

Marsh, J.; Kumpulainen, K.; Nisha, B.; Velicu, A.; Blum-Ross, A.; Hyatt, D.; Jónsdóttir, S.R.; Levy, R.; Little, S.;Marusteru, G.; et al. (Eds.) Makerspaces in the Early Years: A Literature Review; MakEY Project; University of Sheffield: Sheffield, UK, 2017; pp. 75–79. Available online:

To conclude. There are a wide range of issues in workshop governance that can emerge, many of which cannot be found in advance.

In Inderøy a mechatronic workshop may suit the needs of many potential participants. In other parts of the world, this would not be the obvious choice. Many women, especially, choose to work with tradtional textiles, while others feel more comfortable working with robots. Lowriders are a cultural phenomenon involving many American males of Latino background. People have many different interests, and develop many different skill sets.

Domotics: Room Controllers

Controllers for buildings have existed since 1883, when Warren Johnson, a Milwaukee school teacher invented the thermostat. Back then, it was not just a round device on a wall. Rather, when room temperature fell, a light in the boiler room was turned on, indicating that janitors should shovel more coal into the furnace.

You’ve come a long way, Virgil!

In the 135 years since this invention, building controls have improved, and are extensively used in offices, commercial buildings and factories. Most owners of these buildings have deep pockets, and are able to afford integrated solutions vendors provide.

The pockets of the average Joanne, or median resident as statisticians want to refer to her, are not quite so deep, and this weblog post focuses on room controllers that can be used by an extremely average person.

Domotics, or if you prefer terms that people actually understand, house/ home automation, refers to systems used to control: lighting, temperature and humidity (indoor climate), audio and video (entertainment), unauthorized access, smoke/ fire detection (security) and related services, in a residence.

There are three main reasons why I am interested in this field. First, it is a field that combines my studies in computer science and operations research. Second, I like to play with technological toys. Third, I interact with people who have allergy and other indoor environment issues, and have a need for indoor climate control with very fine tolerances.

A potential fourth reason, is that I know people who are aging, and may in the future need assistive devices, for dispensing medication or spoon feeding. As mentioned in a previous post, I certainly don’t want to be spoon fed by another human being; give me a robot any day. I would rather have human contact with another person as an equal, not as a patient requiring help.

At Cliff Cottage, there are plans to install one room controller in most of the rooms of the house.

Power over Ethernet (PoE)

Factoid 1. All devices need power. Some get it from batteries, others get it from wall sockets. PoE devices get it from Ethernet data communication cables.

Factoid 2. Most devices need to communicate. Some communicate wirelessly using Bluetooth or WiFi. However, the number of such devices is limited, and the speed can be slow. Thus, it can be appropriate to connect devices using cables, and Ethernet cables are the most common ones used today.

Factoid 3. A switch is a device that allows multiple other devices in a local area network to be inter-connected. Yes, these connect using Ethernet cables. A typical switch may have up to 48 different cables connected to 48 separate devices.

Factoid 4. PoE eliminates the need to have two different cables. Each device can is provided with power from the switch itself. Voltage levels can be up to 48 volts, and the same cable can be used to send data in both directions.

At Cliff Cottage, we have now invested in two PoE switches. A person was trying to sell five switches for NOK 1 000 (USD 120), or one for NOK 300 (USD 36). They were very inexpensive because businesses won’t buy used equipment, and most other people don’t know what they can be used for. Each of the PoE switches will allow us to connect up to 24 devices, and provide power to them. A cable is connected between a switch and a device through the walls of the house. So these cables are being installed, as the house is being remodelled. We have 305 meters of CAT 6A cable to make these connections. CAT 6A was selected because it is the fastest cable type currently available for Ethernet, allowing for PoE. That means it won’t have to be replaced anytime soon. Hopefully, the cables will last 30 years.

Other cables are not so important, as they are not placed in walls and can be changed easily. The same is true of devices, such as a NAS (network attached server) or a room controller.

Room Controllers

Room controllers, and similar devices, are one of the main categories of devices that need PoE connections. Take, for example, a front-door access controller. It will typically have an infra-red camera, proximity sensor and infra-red light connected to it, that will be activated as someone approaches. Video of each event will be sent to an external location, that could be located anywhere in the world. A room controller may have proximity sensors as well as others to register temperature, CO2, humidity levels and more. Data gained from these sensors and others throughout a house, can be used to activate lights, or heating, display time, temperature and other data on a touch screen. It can even listen and answer using a microphone and speaker.

Controllers need to be placed in the following locations: 1) access control at entrance doors; 2) living room control; 3) dining area control; 4) kitchen control; 5) bedroom control; 6) study, studio and workshop control. Some people may want to have controllers in 7) bathrooms and/or laundry rooms, while others may want to avoid this. In addition, there will be 8) PoE access points for WiFi.

A second switch, without PoE, can be used for other devices dependent on higher power levels. These include: 1) a home theatre connections; 2) a printer and/ or scanner; 3) clothes washer and/ or dryer; 4) dishwasher; 5)  refrigerator and/ or freezer; 6) stove top and/ or oven; 7) microwave oven; 8) kettle; 9) hot water tank; 10) heat exchanger; 11) heat pump or solar thermal controller; 12) greenhouse controller.

The preferred solution uses a Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3+. Unlike more conventional Raspberry Pis, the CM is totally flat, but uses the bottom edge for connection. There are five versions of compute modules available with 0 (Lite), 4, 8, 16 or 32 GB of eMMC memory provided. A Compute Module Development Kit is made for developing industrial applications with these and other CM boards. The purpose of a development kit is to provide hardware that allow the use of CM boards in custom systems that avoid unnecessary components.

The Compute Module IO (CMIO) board, is a simple, open-source breakout board into which one can plug a Compute Module. The board hosts 120 GPIO pins, an HDMI port, a USB port, two camera ports, and two display ports.

A Compute Module on a Compute Module Input-Output Board used for development purposes (Photo: Raspberry Pi Foundation)

Not everyone will have the possibility to retrofit their dwellings with Ethernet cable, so one will always have to provide a backstop room controller. In terms of current technology this could be based on a Raspberry Pi Model B 3+, with a Pimoroni Automation HAT for Raspberry Pi. See:

A Pimoroni Automation HAR on top of a Raspberry Pi Model B (Photo: Piomoroni)

Each of the room controllers would have a 7″ touch screen. This is a standard RPi product category, so there is no problem finding these in Norway.

The Invisible

What I can’t show in this weblog post are the plastic fittings, and the printed circuit board populated with electronic components, that I intend to use with this room controller. The reason for this is that they have not yet been designed.

I am waiting to design them until a 3D printer and a PCB printer arrive at the local makerspace. This could be a matter of weeks away. The proposed printer is a Ultimaker 3.

Ultimaker 3 with dual extruders, allowing for 2 materials to be used in the same product (Photo: Utimaker)

While there are many different systems that can be used to make printed circuit boards, the additive process provided in a Voltera V-one has many advantages. Its one drawback is initial cost.

Voltera V-one, a complete tool for the manufacture of printed circuit boards (Photo: Voltera)


V1: 2018-12-31; V2: 2019-03-25

Keywords previously found on this site, including the original text below, have been moved to: There, a new keyword will be posted on Sundays.

The meaning of words changes. This does not present any significant problems if everyone in a culture adapts simultaneously to these changes, and it reflects agreed upon changes in that culture. Unfortunately, this scenario never happens. Rather, elites, usurp particular words, and impose their definitions on others, notably the marginalized, but everyone else as well.

Raymond Williams (1921 – 1988) examined the changing meanings of sixty words used in cultural discussions, beginning with the word culture itself. He intended this to appear as an appendix to Culture and Society (1958). That didn’t happen, but an extended 110 word version, including notes and essays was published as Keywords in 1976. By 1983 a new version added 21 additional words.

Keywords is not an abridged Oxford English Dictionary. It doesn’t include philological or etymological considerations. Instead, its focus is on meanings and contexts.

Culture, published in 1981, continued this work, but focused on this single concept, defined as a realized signifying system” (p. 207). The work is especially concerned with cultural production, and reproduction (p. 206). What is a realized signifying system?

Chris Barker, Making Sense of Cultural Studies (2002), writes: “…a banknote signifies and constructs nationality while at the same time being used for purposes of exchange” (p. 34). Barker has difficulties understanding what an unrealized signifying system could be. Perhaps I can help him. It is best understood using a time machine. Lots of words have the potential to signify something, but do not yet do so. While the Han Dynasty introduced promissory notes in 118 BC, the first attempt to issue banknotes in Europe, occurred in Sweden in 1661. Before these dates, promissory notes and banknotes were unrealized signifying systems. In fact, for most of the world they were only realized much later.

Cultural materialism can best be described as a theoretical movement. Cultural materialists analyze how powerful elites use (historically) important texts to validate or inscribe certain values on the cultural imaginary, that is, that set of values, institutions, laws, and symbols common to a particular social group.

Political Shakespeare, edited by Jonathan Dollimore (1948 – ) and Alan Sinfield (1941 – 2017), is a seminal text of the cultural materialism movement, with four defining characteristics: Historical context, close textual analysis, political commitment and theoretical method. Most of us in the English-speaking world, have been required to read Shakespeare as part of our education and, in doing so, have adopted at least part of Shakespeare’s world view.

Neema Parvini (? – ) writes in Shakespeare and Contemporary Theory (2012) “… culture is irreducibly complex and made up at any given time by numerous cultures which are dynamically linked to each other. At any given time, there is not just one ‘culture’ but lots of different cultures with their own geneses in different epochal moments. Williams gives the examples of ‘feudal culture’, ‘bourgeois culture’ and ‘socialist culture’ which are all part of a cultural process. Culture is not static but processional and its different subcultures are in competition for hegemony. The status of a single subculture is liable to change over time. Williams identifies three different statuses: ‘residual’, ‘emergent’ and ‘dominant’. These are fairly self-explanatory. To use his examples: bourgeois culture is ‘dominant’ because it has hegemony; socialist culture is ‘emergent’, because it is still being created and perhaps may one day become dominant; and feudal culture is ‘residual’ because it is the remnant of a by-gone era, essentially an anachronism, but crucially it is still ‘active in the cultural process . . . as an effective element of the present’.” With reference to Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (1977) pp. 121 -2.

Fintan O’Toole (1958 – ), author and Irish Times journalist, notes, “Best thing that happened to me when I was young was that my father told me that everyone had read the complete works of Shakespeare by the time they were 14. It was life-transforming for me.”

Unfortunately, I have never found Shakespeare life-transforming. Yes, there are days when even I can appreciate Shakespeare, although not usually at the theatre or even in book form. Much of my understanding comes from Coles Notes/ CliffsNotes, and the odd Classic Comic Book. My preferences are for: Scotland, PA, directed and written by William (Billy) Morrissette (1962 – ), a reworked MacBeth dark comedy made in 2001 in Nova Scotia, but set in 1975 at “Duncan’s Cafe”, a fast-food eatery in Scotland, Pennsylvania; and, Julie Taymore’s (1952 – ) 1999 Italian-American-British film interpretation of Titus Andronicus.

Not all commentators of Shakespeare are Marxist. The right-leaning, Foundation for Constitutional Government, Inc. notes his political importance in these terms, “… Shakespeare seems to have understood the concept of the regime (Greek: politeia) as developed by Plato and Aristotle—the idea that different forms of political organization encourage different forms of human development. Not every human possibility is equally available under every regime; it is difficult to be a Christian saint in pagan Rome (and as Hamlet shows, it is equally difficult to be a classical hero in Christian Europe). A monarchy will inevitably discourage certain forms of political activity (particularly those that challenge monarchy), while a republic may cause the very same activities to flourish. Shakespeare is generally praised for the immense variety of human types he portrays in his plays. Perhaps one of the keys to this success is the variety of regimes Shakespeare covers in his plays—from ancient pagan republics to modern Christian monarchies.”

Words continue to be important in political discussions. A Raymond Williams Society was established in 1989 to promote related work. Since 1998 it has published Key Words: A Journal of Cultural Materialism. Tony Bennett, Lawrence Grossberg and Meaghan Morris have edited, New Keywords: A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society. In addition, New York University Press has published several related books.

Keywords forAuthor(s)/ Editor(s)
American Cultural Studies (2014)Bruce Burgett, Glenn Hendlerr
Asian American Studies (2015)Cathy J. Schlund-Vials, Linda Trinh Võ, K. Scott Wong
Disability Studies (2015)Rachael Adams, Benjamin Reiss, David Serlin
Children’s Literature (2015)Philip Nel, Lissa Paul
Environmental Studies (2016)Joni Adamson, William A. Gleason, David N. Pellow
Media Studies (2017)Jonathan Gray, Laurie Ouellette
Latina/o Studies (2017)Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, Nancy Raquel Mirabal, Deborah R. Vargas
African American Studies (2018)Erica R. Edwards, Roderick A. Ferguson, Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar

Most recently, in 2018, John Patrick Leary, in Keywords: The New Language of Capitalism, wrote: A keyword, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (hereafer the OED), is “a word serving as a key to a cipher or the like.” In his 1976 classic Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, the Welsh literary critic Raymond Williams laid out the foundational vocabulary of modern British society in a wide-ranging project of critical historical semantics. He defined keywords as “binding words in certain activities and their interpretation,” elements of a living vocabulary that shape and reflect a society in movement. Keywords show what knowledge ties this society together, and how this common knowledge changes over time. As both Williams and the OED make clear, keywords are therefore “key” in a double sense: they are important, and they unlock something hidden.

Where should we be using keywords?

On Monday 2018-11-26, GM CEO Mary Barra announced cuts, explaining them as: “The actions we are taking today continue our transformation to be highly agile, resilient, and profitable, while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future, …” This transformation involves the discontinuance of six models, closure of five factories, and the lay-off of up to 14 000 workers in North America. This figure includes 3 300 blue-collar workers in USA, and 2 600 in Canada, in addition to 8 000 white-collar workers.

John Patrick Leary responded to this by tweeting, “Language was pronounced dead at the scene.” Resilient and flexible are two of Leary’s 47 keyword topics.

I have just started reading Leary’s Keywords. They are being read as published, in alphabetical order, except where a topic is too tempting to resist. DIY (Do-It-Yourself), is one such seductress. It begins with, “In a 2014 column in the New York Times, architecture critic Jayne Merkel argued that the underfunded New York City Housing Authority could address its vast backlog of unfinished repairs by training residents to make their own repairs.” and ends with “DIY’s present mixture of autonomous self-determination with entrepreneurial self-reliance is what makes propositions like Merkel’s so insidious. Rent-paying tenants of public housing have every right to expect their landlord to “do it” for them; in this case, the enthusiastic voluntarism of “do it yourself” has become more like an indifferent invitation to “do it your damn self.” Is the prospect of student debt preventing you from pursuing higher education? Find a cheaper alternative with “DIY education” in the form of free online classes and Project Gutenberg. Can’t afford a home mortgage? Buy some land and build yourself a tiny house. DIY celebrates individualistic substitutes for state obligations or political solutions, like free public education or affordable housing. In this way, DIY can become, like the more politicized versions of artisanal and maker culture, a practice of consumption masquerading as a practice of citizenship.”

The importance of keywords, by whatever author that attracts a person, is that it encourages everyone to examine how words are being used to manipulate thought processes. We have a duty to ourselves to be critical of everything that we are fed, intellectually, emotionally as well as physically. Some products are nutritious, but increasingly many are simply empty calories.


When I talk with people about my life as a prison teacher, I like to start off with information that makes them doubt that their tax money has been well spent. For example, I usually lie and say that the most important characteristic of a prison teacher is the ability to drink large quantities of coffee. That really isn’t true. Coffee drinking is actually only the second most important ability. It is necessary, because it adds to a relaxed atmosphere, that is conducive to learning. More important is an ability to listen.

I try to keep up this deception, until my audience is totally dismayed. Then I typically end by saying that only about 20% of the inmates at our prison ever end up in prison again (recidivism). This contrasts with 52% in USA. The incarceration rate per 100 000 is 75 in Norway, 707 in USA. Of course, we pay more for each inmate. It Norway it is about USD 90 000 per inmate per year. In USA it is between USD 35 000 and 65 000 (depending on state) per inmate per year.

A typical inmate has experienced an abusive childhood. S/he (for we have all varieties of sexes at our prison) may also be abusive, at least outside of prison. So lots of time is spent on anger management. This costs money, as does education.

The reason I am bringing this up is to mention one specific inmate, and one of the small percent who had numerous stays in prisons. I can’t remember the precise details now, but he had attended something like fourteen different schools in a period of six years, before he somehow managed to escape the oversight of the educational authorities.

He was failed, not only by his parents, but by the entire social welfare system. It was my job to teach him math, science and related practical skills. It was with him that tobors were born. Tobors are very simple machines. They are so simple, that even people without an elementary school education, can make them. Making and operating a tobor involves six different jobs.

However, before one can actually make a tobor, one needs a client – somebody, anybody, who needs a tobor to do something. It was usually very convenient for me to take on that role myself.

To work with tobors, the students (yes, there was usually more than one, most frequently six) and I would leave the prison and head off to a place called a Newton Room, at the local science centre. Here we would work with Mindstorm kits, and lego blocks, for a day.

Job 1: Designer.

The first job of the tobor designer was to find out what the client needed. This can be provocative. Because, one is trying to look beyond what the client wants, or says he wants. This was usually done by having the designer ask questions and sketch solutions. So yes, drawing, was one of the practical skills that had to be learned. In fact, this job was so important, it was usually started a week or more before I even mentioned tobors.

Kurt Hanks and Larry Belliston have written Rapid Viz: A New Method for the Rapid Visualization of Ideas, Third Edition. It would be an exaggeration to say that I actually used the text-book in the classroom. As many people know, books can be daunting, if not frightening. So, while I might leave the book lying around in the off-chance that someone might actually pick it up, I almost always presented its content orally, along with a few strategically photocopied pages.

One characteristic of a tobor, is that it needs to sense its environment. So it usually is equipped with one or more sensors. Then, again, it has to actually do something when something is sensed, so it needs parts that could actually do things, like move. These parts are called actuators. Deciding which parts to include, and where they go, is all part of the designer’s job.

Job 2: Builder

The first tobors were made using lego blocks, and all sorts of other components found in Lego Mindstorm kits. Some of the components were sensors, others were actuators, but most were just mechanical/ structural components.

Usually there was some sort of deviation between what was drawn, and what was made. This is normal. In building a prototype, a drawing is just an approximation to a solution. It needs real world input to transform itself from a concept into a meaningful product. A prototype is just another waypoint, leading to a product that can be manufactured. Even then, that product will be continuously improved.

It is at this point that I try to expand the student’s vocabulary with the term iteration. One dictionary defines it as “a procedure in which repetition of a sequence of operations yields results successively closer to a desired result.” Unfortunately, the numerous big words used in dictionary definitions, quite often get in the way of someone actually understanding something.

Job 3: Electrician

Being a tobor electrician is very simple, especially if one is using a Mindstorm kit. There are a few wires that have to be put in place between a central control unit, and a sensor or actuator. These are idiot proof, in that it is impossible to put them in incorrectly.

Job 4: Programmer

Programming a mindstorm kit is easy. It is almost impossible to do something wrong, because one is following a template. Programming a tobor typically takes a few minutes.

Job 5: Tester

The last job of the day, before the real fun begins, is to test out the tobor, to make sure that it works as designed. Most often this involves making adjustments to the program. Sometimes, mechanical components may need to be assembled differently. The term iteration, is used more and more frequently, and the performance of the tobor becomes progressively better.

Job 6: Operator

This job involved using the tobor to actually do the job it was designed, and made for. Since it was tested before this, it usually works – except when it doesn’t.

With up to six inmates each working on their own tobor, there is a lot of opportunity for people to co-operate. One person might have a good idea, and within a few minutes that idea has diffused to the entire group. I am reminded of the Men’s Shed movement. Men are most comfortable talking not face to face, but shoulder to shoulder. See:

A tobor ready for action.


Abuse dulls, and a childhood filled with abuse dulls so intensely, that it makes living almost meaningless. What I always hope for, in the inmates I am working with, is that they will become passionate about something, anything. It might not be a tobor, or robot, as many people call them, but that is not important.

When someone becomes passionate, they can begin to dream. In a nutshell, that was my job. No, not teaching math or helping them build tobors, but helping people to become passionate dreamers!