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OpenLearn Live: 13th January 2016

Updated Wednesday, 13th January 2016

The godfather of emoji, pictograms and data visualisation; All of JS Bach; Bowie's lyric app; IM privacy and then more free learning through the day.

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OpenLearn Live makes the connections between free learning and the worlds you live in. This page will be updated during the day.

Yesterday, we visited the Library of Alexandria, discovered the importance of smell to a shark and found out why the Himalayas get higher every day

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Today's posts

Who can read your IMs?


A European Court ruling has just agreed that, if you're sending instant messages on work time, your boss has the right to see them. They were ruling on a case where a Romanian engineer had been canned for things he'd written on Yahoo Messenger. (If u ever needed evidence for how slowly legal judgements work their way through the system, this is a court case about Yahoo Messenger.) Written on work time, say the court, your employer should be able to take a peek:
The judges said: "The employer acted within its disciplinary powers since, as the domestic courts found, it had accessed the Yahoo Messenger account on the assumption that the information in question had been related to professional activities and that such access had therefore been legitimate. The court sees no reason to question these findings."

Read at BBC News: Private messages at work can be read by employers, says court

Try our free course Privacy rights and the law

David Bowie: Sci fi, hi-tech

We're continuing to mourn the loss of David Bowie here at OpenLearn. We wrote a lot about his influence on Monday and the OU's Tony Keen has added a short piece about Bowie's fascination with science fiction:

Sf imagery is found throughout Bowie’s early work, in song titles such as ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ and ‘Life On Mars?’ He is a key figure in the relationship between science fiction and pop music, most obviously for two pieces of work. First is his 1969 single ‘Space Oddity’, a response both to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the US Apollo programme, which reached its climax in July 1969 with the Apollo 11 landings on the Moon. The other is his 1972 LP The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, explained by Bowie as a concept album about an alien who becomes a rock star.

Read the full article David Bowie and science fiction

Elsewhere, Vice's always lively tech section, Motherboard, has unearthed video of Bowie showing off what we now call an app, but at the time would have been a program, which let him write lyrics on his Apple Mac, the Verbasizer


Demonstrating the program, he continues. “It’ll take the sentence, and I’ll divide it up between the columns, and then when I’ve got say, three or four or five—sometimes I’ll go as much as 20, 25 different sentences going across here, and then I’ll set it to randomize. And it’ll take those 20 sentences and cut in between them all the time, picking out, choosing different words from different columns, and from different rows of sentences.”

“So what you end up with is a real kaleidoscope of meanings and topic and nouns and verbs all sort of slamming into each other.”

The video shows him writing Hello Spaceboy, so technology isn't always the best friend of creativity

Read at Vice: The Verbasizer was David Bowie’s 1995 Lyric-Writing Mac App

Bringing back Bach

A small cultural milestone was passed last week, as the project All Of Bach, which is planning to put versions of all the work of Bach online for everyone to enjoy, added its 100th piece of music. (The team behind the project still have over 900 pieces to record).

Here's the Netherlands Bach Society's version of St Matthews Passion:

You can read more about the project - and listen to the other pieces - at the All of Bach website

What is the role of scared music in a secular world?

Public domain: Otto Neurath

This week, we're starting off each day with a brief introduction to some people whose work passed into the public domain in Europe at the start of the month. Yesterday, we met Paul Valery. Today, we're taking Otto Neurath as our subject.

Otto Neurath Copyright free  image Icon Copyright free: The National Library of Israel collections

It's not too much of a stretch to see Neurath as the godfather of emoji, data visualistion and pictograms, although the young Neurath might have been surprised to discover that would be his legacy.

Born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 1880s, like many of his generation his life was shaped by the turmoils of 20th Century Europe. As his biography at AIGA observes, his career was no more solid:

Neurath's biography can be read as a persistence of high ideals over constant frustration—and a sequence of lowered sights. He was born in 1888 and played many roles: economic planner, housing bureaucrat, professor, museum director. He worked with such figures as Adolf Loos, Josef Frank, Le Corbusier and László Moholy-Nagy. In 1919, facing the wreckage of World War I, he began hoping to direct an economy, for the short-lived “Soviet republic” in Bavaria. When that regime collapsed, he moved to Vienna and directed housing policy in the city, aiming to create garden-based housing developments for the displaced through the Settlement and Allotment Garden Association. The city government decided to emphasize high-rise structures instead, so he departed.

(If you're a regular reader of OpenLearn Live, you might recall the Soviet Republic of Bavaria as being one of our pop-up states back in September.)

After these setbacks, Neurath turned to information. He invented a "new type of museum", which would illustrate complex ideas in simple ways - in effect, data visualisation. The ideas would coalesce as The Vienna School, with a mantra that still informs data visualisation:

To remember simplified pictures is better than to forget accurate figures

Working with the designers Marie Reidemeister and Gerd Arntz, the Vienna School developed a visual approach which would come to be known as Isotype - the International System of TYpographic Picture Education. Marie Reidemeister described her role as a "transformer" - turning facts into visuals - and effectively invented the job of graphic designer. Marie and Otto would eventually marry.

The couple fled twice - once from Austria after the 1934 civil war; then to Oxford at the start of the Second World War. Here, they established the Isotype Institute, and worked with the British Ministry of War to employ clear information in the pursuit of the war effort.

You'll have guessed that Otto died in 1945. Marie continued their work; publishing his writing and creating children's books using Isotype.

The influence of Isotype is everywhere today - from the crossed knife-and-fork on a roadsign pointing to a pub, through to Tweets which attempt to explain complex emotions via emojis.

None of this explores Neurath's broader contribution to the world of philosophy - you can hear the OU's Carolyn Price and Tim Chappell discussing Neurath's ship in our free course on Plato.

Florence Nightingale's contribution to the history of data visualisation





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