Knowledge in whose brains?

Just recently I ran into a text stating (yet again) that knowledge can only be found inside (human) brains.
While experts in the field of artificial intelligence are working hard in hopes of disproving that statement, I have trouble accepting it at all.

Brains contain more than ‘just’ knowledge. Or not?

Which part of the stuff we store in our brains constitutes knowledge? Our senses receive loads of data to store in our brains. A lot of these data are frankly ‘noise’, things we see but which our brain more or less successfully tunes out for being irrelevant. It’s like a huge spam filter in our heads. By the way, this filter may help to explain things like:

  •  Why do some people in cities seem indifferent or oblivious to most of what’s going on around them?
  •  Why do people who visit a busy city for the first time look dazed and move (too) slowly? Hmm. How do you decide what is noise that can be safely tuned out?
  •  Why do people not notice friends in the street? If you get a lot of remarks from your friends “didn’t you see me across the street, I waved and yelled” then you’re probably better than average at tuning out other people as though they’re so many trees. Or you were checking your phone of course.

Absorbing information and turning it into knowledge?

At school, this natural spam filter means any new information needs to prove its relevance before it’s admitted to your permanent storage.

  • For new languages, it means that if you need to learn a list of new words, checking them twice just before a test may mean you pass the test. A week or so later most of us will have forgotten those words. A tip on Quora was to repeat learning them every day for a week. The seventh time round (well, more or less) something happens. Your brain decides – apparently on the basis of that repetition – that this information is part of your daily routine so it must be stored efficiently. When next your temporary storage space is emptied, the information is still somewhere else in your brain.
  • For quite a few subjects, it means that you need to find out where and how the new information fits in with things you are familiar with already. That may mean you need to repeat the 200 or so words you learned previously just to allow your brain to make new connections between them and arranging them neatly.

So you end up with a ‘body of knowledge’. Or do you?

At this point, all you’ve done is storing information. Which is an important skill. But also a rather basic one. Under the right circumstances, even ducklings will store vital information after a couple of repetitions. Allow me to explain.

A duck’s life

We live near a small lake (or a big pond) with quite a lot of ducks. Nearly every early summer, a blue heron will go from eating fish to eating every fuzzy duckling that swims unwittingly into his reach and even stalking duck mothers with their little ones.

A few years ago, two ducklings survived out of a nest of ten. Their mother had forsaken them when there were about four ducklings left. By that time we’d already saved one of them by scaring the heron into dropping the duckling he’d just grabbed.

Having your siblings snatched out of the water just two (human) feet away from you will, at some point, even impress a fuzzy little duckling. The two ducklings that lived long enough to outgrow the danger of turning into a heron’s lunch were very wary of anything that came too near or hovered over them! They’d swim out of reach then turn and eye any passer-by keenly (in case you’d brought anything edible).

Out of those two, one turned into a young duck mum who managed to keep at least four of her ducklings alive the first year. Whenever she spotted anything suspicious she’d send her little ones deep into the reed beds to hide.

So ducks can store information in their brains…
Or is this knowledge?
And how can you tell the difference?

(We didn’t actually tag the duckling in order to recognize her later on. She just developed a rather annoying way of quacking. A loud, non-stop, monotonous series which doesn’t indicate whether the merciful end to the racket is getting near yet. Her mum would have taught her differently I suppose.)

Knowledge transfer among ducks?

A lack of words and the skill to talk about things that are not actually present probably means this vital knowledge doesn’t get passed down to the next generation unless there is indeed a heron lying in wait every year. Plus, it’s quite possible that as the years go by without personal danger to our now more experienced duck mother, the importance of being careful may fade. Does the novelty of having 10 ducklings wear off after a couple of years?

The transfer of (seemingly irrelevant) knowledge is tricky even if you’re not human.
So a final word of advice to my duckling readership:

Don’t go near the heron.

What’s a heron? Oh, here we go…

Communication or information?

In my two years as a content manager, my earlier suspicions have only been confirmed: even though I like content, and I know a bit about marketing, the two put together don’t make a content marketer. For that I’m just too much of a ‘content’ person. If I hadn’t been, I might have called this blog ‘marketingrambler’ and found myself rambling about the connection between marketing and gardening. Hmm. That doesn’t really work for me at all. Content gardening, however, has made it into my blog several time.

On to another topic: that of the connection between communication and information. Or really content, communication, and information.

  • Communication without information is … well, answers tend to range from impossible to politics to smalltalk I suppose.
  • Information without communication is just stuff sitting on a shelf.

Information is basically what people communicate. They might steer away from sharing one bit of information and convey another bit, but not communicating anything is… erm, the result of true dedication?

So basically, we communicate in order to transfer information from A to B. I think I saw something like that in a book about communication once.

And that means a communications professional views both communication and information from a very different angle than an information professional. (which is my preferred angle, whenever I get to it).

Communications teams may view communication as part of a project. However information professionals look at the transfer of information as part of a process within the organisation. When faced with tasks resembling those of communication professionals, they’ll probably view the project at hand as a process, wonder where information should enter the process, and where the process results in new information. And although information professionals are able to ‘do communication’, their hands will probably itch to improve and streamline the process, define all the information gaps, get some governance on the whole thing, …

In short, they’ll want to make structural changes whereas communication professionals will probably focus on the stuff that needs doing for that particular project.

Just my thoughts on a Friday (evening…). I’m getting seriously distracted by Gardeners’ World now, so more next time. Meanwhile, any thoughts on communication, content, or information? If so, just let me know in the comments section (or possibly Twitter).

Flowers under the hedge

It’s about time for an update on my bulbs under the hedge! Since we’ve got a beech hedge which looks rather brown and drab in winter, I decided to try to bring a splash of color by planting flower bulbs underneath and in between the plants.

And then winter hit. Or rather, it splashed. It was so bad I’m still wondering how the neighbors’ grape vine didn’t drown. The big question was whether the bulbs were in any way affected – and which ones, if any, were going to give a sign of life in spring.

The bad bit? I haven’t seen many anemones under the hedge. Perhaps those small bulbs just got soaked and rotted away, I can’t tell. The good news? The tulips did very well. Mind you, these were tulips from a package that said they grew 20 centimetres tall. They didn’t. Not here, anyway. The first tulip started to blossom almost as soon as it was out of the ground.

Tulip under the hedge: early on

But then it kept growing nearly 35 centimetres – without the flower. Here it is from two different angles.

Tulip under the hedge - grown quite a bit!

Any regrets? Well, yes. I regret the flowers are gone now. And I especially regret I didn’t put in more tulips! They have done so well and on rationed sunlight, too. I put them in sparingly in shady areas and the one side-effect I’ve noticed is that the flowers didn’t get bleached by the sun. They stayed the same firy red hue. Whereas the tulips in full sunlight looked great (with anemones and crocuses) but they didn’t quite keep the same richness of color.

Have you got flowers in odd corners of your garden? Or plants you thought would be lucky to survive in the spot you gave them?

Early spring gardening musings

So… what have I been doing this winter? The garden was soaked but snow wouldn’t stay for more than a day or so. Any kind of nice-ish weather meant going outside for a walk, hunting-gathering much-needed Vitamin D as we went. What else to do? Well reading about gardening is a great way to get through winter.

Apart from reading fantasy novels of course, I read up about all kinds of berries and also about wine-making (meanwhile our neighbours’ vine all but drowned in yet another January downpour).

I read Sepp Holzer’s book on his kind of permaculture. It was a book from the library and someone else wanted it (again?) so I read it twice in three weeks. Still wondering how much digging I could reconcile with permaculture. Main takeaways:

  • don’t believe what others tell you about what can or cannot be grown in region X, at altitude X, or anything else;
  • build terraces and create microclimates to maximize your usable space (the agricultural/digging bit) and the variety of creatures in the area;
  • observation, experimentation and independent thinking beats government regulations and subsidized projects hands down;
  • old varieties of plants are more adaptable as well as richer in nutrients than the new good-soil-maximum-yield varieties;
  • work with what you have, if it’s a wet meadow, don’t try to turn it into a dry peace of land, make a pond and grow wetland flowers.

Meanwhile I’ve been enjoying the birdsong and sunshine way too much to remember to take picture… I’ll add some to my next post! Gardeners’ World in five minutes. It’s springtime. Finally!

The contented gardener

When I first started blogging, I decided not to blog about me. For more than a year, that worked really well. But then something happened. And it changed everything.

Winter garden

Photos from the garden yesterday afternoon. Call this winter? At ankel’s height there’s still lots to see. Bulbs reaching up. A cold snap with a drizzle of snow caused stubborn flowers to droop.

Over a year ago I got a new job. In content management. A great opportunity to turn all my talk about content, social media, and the like, into my daily job.

But somehow, spending hours at work fiddling with texts doesn’t motivate one to sit down at night and do the same thing all over again. Writing about content wasn’t the only problem. It was the editing, finding the right picture, and so on.

And even ‘writing about content’ was turning into a problem. Because it was ‘work’. I don’t mind work, I just don’t need to do one thing anywhere near 24/7. I craved variety. I’ve always loved doing a lot of different things at (nearly) the same time. (I know it’s getting out of hand whenever there are three different books by my bedside and another (two or three) in the living room.)

Content to garden

Then a new topic to blog about crossed my path. My garden. Actually it wasn’t that much of a garden: it was what was left after the houses had been built. After removing most of that one plant species I later learned is called lady’s thumb, because it grew nearly two feet tall all over the place, I let the other stuff grow to find out what kind of weed it was:

  • nice (like the flowery ones)
  • educational (stinging nettles – our son never had accidents with them at home)
  • slightly annoying (dandelions, but making up for it by looking great)
  • a real pain – unless you find a use for it (horsetail)

I’d added some plants but never sat down to decide which bigger plants might really add structure to our garden. It almost felt impossible to put big plants into a small garden. Partially because it would mean ripping out weeds that had grown on me. Sort of. Some of them. Partially because, well, it’s a small garden. Big plants were never going to fit, right?

Garden changes

But here I am after trying stuff in my garden for a whole growing season. I put in bigger plants and I keep seeing patches where more plants would fit quite snugly. I also started blogging about my garden.

Looking back at some pictures I took a few years ago I noticed one thing. A lot of small plants have disappeared. Having bigger plants shade the soil and soaking up nutrients and water has probably meant that the smaller ‘pioneer’ plants have left – after depositing their seeds in case a big shrub or a treelet is uprooted by a storm.

I’ve been able to retain a red clover, so hopefully it will attract bees and the like next spring. The gaps left by the pioneer plants are now begging for inhabitants -they are an open invitation for our neighbors’ cat to crap right in that spot (they don’t have a garden. Just a place to sit outside. And a cat with toilet issues). That’s one thing about some of the herbs: they die back when it gets cold and then the cats move in. Plants with woody stems are better.

Looking forward to spring. Happy New Year!

Content: relevance before cats

Christmas or end-of-the year musings… In the past year I’ve spent a lot of my time managing content for a website and making sure sufficient amounts of content get published. Over the year, I developed my own approach to that content. What happened?Christmas (warm filter)

As I got more familiar with the visitors of ‘my’ website I started to get a feel for the kind of content they consider worth their time. As it happens, the website aims to serve small and medium-sized businesses. A quick scan showed me that we were also serving a number of professionals in our own line of business (and that’s fine).

I’ve heard several times over the past five or so years the statement that content needs to be (more) attractive or even ‘sexy’. However the few times anyone got the chance to publish content considered attractive, that content somehow failed to live up to expectations. Newsletters were opened by far fewer readers.

Why wasn’t the attractive content working for us?

The persons sharing content published content they thought was interesting. However, they were not entrepreneurs. As a result, they were showing cute kittens to, in some cases, people with a cat allergy.

It’s not that entrepreneurs have no fun. It’s not that they don’t like cats. It’s just that they don’t need them in their business mailbox (unless they’re in the feline business).

Now, personally I dislike talking about buyer personas because I’ve come across way too many articles about the topic. People talking about buyer personas seem to indicate that you’re supposed to have descriptions of your different types of customers hanging on every wall. Unfortunately I studied art history a long time ago and my association (if any) is with ancient Christian icons. I do not intend to kneel before the image of my prospects. I’m hoping the ‘buyer persona’ buzz will blow over.

However you do need to take into consideration what an entrepreneur’s life and even a single day might look like. If business is good, they’re working for their customers. If business is not so good, they’re visiting potential customers. Either that or they’ll soon be out of business altogether.

So exactly how much time are entrepreneurs going to spend reading content unless it promises a return on the investment of their time?

That is why the title of this post is: relevance before cats. Because publishing horrible but relevant pieces of content (editing them when possible for greater readability) has proved itself over and over again. Making relevant content more attractive to your intended audience… now there’s an approach that is more likely to succeed.

This video from Mark Schaefer offers some useful insights into the measurement of your (PR/social media) activities. When small change starts to count in a business, you need to show results – either to your customer or your manager!

One last thing: I added a warm filter to the image above. These are the Photoshop settings:Christmas (warm filter settings)

Below is the original photo. We’ve been saving a lot of electricity in our house using LED and the like. The human eye gets used the difference after a while. But the difference does show itself in photos. Which version do you like best?

Merry Christmas!Christmas 2014

Gardening projects… and horsetail

The bulbs have been planted… or most of them have. Unfortunately it looks as if it will be too cold this weekend to go digging and planting the last of my bulbs. Still, not to worry – a couple of warmer days next week are enough.

Meanwhile I got a couple of gardening projects going. Continue reading