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Question about strategy

Walter Blackstock wrote:

I realise that John is doing the "heavy lifting" at the moment. One of the issues that remains unclear to me is the overarching goal of Azimuth. Political or scientific lobbying? Fact-repository? What is the unique capability of Azimuth that sets it apart from its peers? Would a set of priorities in the introduction be useful? Should we focus? For example, I think the "power density" approach is both important and unifying, and could anchor some disparate threads. Please take my personal confusion as just that - I respect the efforts of everyone to get Azimuth of the ground.

The real goals of the Azimuth Project are only gradually becoming clear. We're making it up as we go along. Everyone here should help figure out what we should be doing. But so far I'm doing most of the work, so it's mainly poor old me who wakes up at night and can't fall back asleep because I'm struggling to figure out what to do. So, I'll try to answer your questions. But I hope it's obvious that I want everyone to join in and help decide these issues!

For starters, here's what it says in the Azimuth Project self-description. (Or at least, it will when the wiki comes back online!)

The projects listed above are just a few of the many that are already underway. How will the Azimuth Project help? We'll catalyze these efforts by making it easy for scientists and engineers to tackle environmental problems. We want it to be easy for them to:

• see the overall structure of the environmental problems we face

• access detailed information on all these problems

• learn about open questions

• find good projects to work on

• find the people who are working on them

• find relevant technical information

• discuss new ideas

• compare the merits of different strategies.

Our goal is not to replace or compete with existing sources of information, but provide a synoptic view — a bird's-eye view — of the information that exists. Specialists already know the facts in their own speciality — but we want to make it easy for any scientist or engineer to understand the whole problem and understand specialist literature in many subjects. After all, saving the planet is perhaps the ultimate interdisciplinary problem.

I agree with you: focusing on general unifying concepts like Power density, Energy return on energy invested, etcetera will help us give our readers a synoptic view of the challenges we face. What are some more of these key concepts? Different specialties have their own — we need to bring them together.

I would also like to see charts, tables, graphs, and so on that show the overall flow of energy, carbon, water, phosphorus, etcetera throughout the planet. And so on!

While I speak of "a synoptic view", we in fact need multiple synoptic views from different perspectives. They should be easy to find and easy to understand, linked to more detailed literature.

But what do the rest of you think? Only by doing things cleverly will we have a major impact. It's crucial that we don't waste time doing something that's already being done better somewhere else.

Comments

  • 1.

    A very minor matter: most home pages have a tag-line that tells people what the page is all about, like amazon had: "books & more", right below the logo at the upper left corner, unless they are so prominent that everybody knows what it is all about, like amazon now.

    The blog and/or the forum could have one, too. Of course the strategy of the project needs to be defined, first :-)

    Ok then, here are some of my opinions:

    Political or scientific lobbying?

    No: Azimuth should be about science, not because politics is unimportant, but because you cannot have a scientific and political discussion at once, and you cannot focus on both at once (well, I can't). Maybe some day Azimuth will have a sister page that is about actually doing something, like 350.

    Fact-repository?

    Partially, but with a clear focus on topics - not like an encyclopedia - and with a focus on interdisciplinary. Actually, I like what Steward Brand came up with: "Whole Earth Discipline".

    Walter said:

    What is the unique capability of Azimuth that sets it apart from its peers?

    What are those peers?

    JB said:

    It's crucial that we don't waste time doing something that's already being done better somewhere else.

    I'd say that one crucial aspect of Azimuth is to find out what is done elsewhere and to document it on the Azimuth project, so that we don't waste time doing the same :-)

    Comment Source:A very minor matter: most home pages have a tag-line that tells people what the page is all about, like amazon had: "books & more", right below the logo at the upper left corner, unless they are so prominent that everybody knows what it is all about, like amazon now. The blog and/or the forum could have one, too. Of course the strategy of the project needs to be defined, first :-) Ok then, here are some of my opinions: <blockquote> <p> Political or scientific lobbying? </p> </blockquote> No: Azimuth should be about <i>science</i>, not because politics is unimportant, but because you cannot have a <i>scientific and political</i> discussion at once, and you cannot focus on both at once (well, I can't). Maybe some day Azimuth will have a sister page that is about actually doing something, like [[350]]. <blockquote> <p> Fact-repository? </p> </blockquote> Partially, but with a clear focus on topics - not like an encyclopedia - and with a focus on interdisciplinary. Actually, I like what Steward Brand came up with: "Whole Earth Discipline". Walter said: <blockquote> <p> What is the unique capability of Azimuth that sets it apart from its peers? </p> </blockquote> What are those peers? JB said: <blockquote> <p> It's crucial that we don't waste time doing something that's already being done better somewhere else. </p> </blockquote> I'd say that one crucial aspect of Azimuth is to find out what is done elsewhere and to document it on the Azimuth project, so that we don't waste time doing the same :-)
  • 2.
    edited October 2010

    I agree with everything Tim said. If someone knows how to create a "tagline" on the Azimuth Project homepage, I hope they either go ahead and do it, or tell me how.

    It's possible that I should be taking a more top-down, organized approach to creating the Azimuth Project. It might help people see more easily how to contribute.

    It's easier for me personally to start by following my instincts, and organize the results more clearly when there's more to organize. The more stuff is on the wiki, the easier it becomes for me to imagine grand conceptual structures and grand goals. But perhaps some people find the chaos off-putting instead of exciting? Maybe I should start acting a bit more like a "manager", or "organizer"?

    Walter: you said you could write a little blog entry asking some questions about biochar. That would be a great place to start.

    Indeed, you're all invited to contribute blog entries!

    Comment Source:I agree with everything Tim said. If someone knows how to create a "tagline" on the Azimuth Project homepage, I hope they either go ahead and do it, or tell me how. It's possible that I should be taking a more top-down, organized approach to creating the Azimuth Project. It might help people see more easily how to contribute. It's easier for me personally to start by following my instincts, and organize the results more clearly when there's more to organize. The more stuff is on the wiki, the easier it becomes for me to imagine grand conceptual structures and grand goals. But perhaps some people find the chaos off-putting instead of exciting? Maybe I should start acting a bit more like a "manager", or "organizer"? Walter: you said you could write a little blog entry asking some questions about [[biochar]]. That would be a great place to start. Indeed, you're <i>all</i> invited to contribute blog entries!
  • 3.

    I am happy with what John and Tim said. This is an attempt to take things a bit further.

    I think the Azimuth Project is trying to be textbook. Of course I'm talking about the type of content, not electronic vs paper. I think Wikipedia is a wonderful thing and I use it all the time, but it has made me appreciate the value of a good textbook. So what is it I like about textbooks? I think it is things like:

    1. You can read the whole thing. It's not too big. You don't typically read every word, but you can get an idea of everything that is in it, and how the bits you have read carefully fit into the whole subject, and you become aware of how much you don't know about the other bits.

    2. Even coverage. Important topics get more space than unimportant ones. This means editorial decisions about what to leave out (or what to remove links to).

    3. Consistent terminology, notation, and units. This is especially important for a multi-disciplinary subject and an international audience. And it applies to captions to graphs etc - readers often look at pictures first.

    4. Consistent tone.

    5. The content is up to date, but not the latest news about some controversy. Textbooks wait for the dust to settle.

    I know that 1 and 2 could seem very premature, given the small number of pages on the wiki at the moment. On the other hand, you could say that there is plenty of content out there, on Wikipedia alone, and the problem is to decide what to exclude.

    A discussion of what tone we are aiming at would be good. How formal? Should I write "The radiation that hits the earth" or "The radiation that is intercepted by the earth"?

    Comment Source:I am happy with what John and Tim said. This is an attempt to take things a bit further. I think the Azimuth Project is trying to be textbook. Of course I'm talking about the type of content, not electronic vs paper. I think Wikipedia is a wonderful thing and I use it all the time, but it has made me appreciate the value of a good textbook. So what is it I like about textbooks? I think it is things like: 1. You can read the whole thing. It's not too big. You don't typically read every word, but you can get an idea of everything that is in it, and how the bits you have read carefully fit into the whole subject, and you become aware of how much you don't know about the other bits. 2. Even coverage. Important topics get more space than unimportant ones. This means editorial decisions about what to leave out (or what to remove links to). 3. Consistent terminology, notation, and units. This is especially important for a multi-disciplinary subject and an international audience. And it applies to captions to graphs etc - readers often look at pictures first. 4. Consistent tone. 5. The content is up to date, but not the latest news about some controversy. Textbooks wait for the dust to settle. I know that 1 and 2 could seem very premature, given the small number of pages on the wiki at the moment. On the other hand, you could say that there is plenty of content out there, on Wikipedia alone, and the problem is to decide what to exclude. A discussion of what tone we are aiming at would be good. How formal? Should I write "The radiation that hits the earth" or "The radiation that is intercepted by the earth"?
  • 4.

    Graham wrote:

    I think the Azimuth Project is trying to be textbook.

    Since I love to explain things, everything I write tends to get that sort of tone. But I would not want to force it on others. I can imagine lots of things that Azimuth could become. For example, I would love it to list open research problems and groups working on the problems, making it easy for students to find good things to work on.

    But right now I'm just trying to get up to speed on a lot of issues, so I'm trying to explain them to myself and gradually work them into a clear big picture. So yes, I may be writing a kind of online, infinitely extendible, ever-incomplete sort of textbook. And of course I would be very happy for people to join in on that aspect of Azimuth.

    I like all the features you mention of textbooks! But perhaps item 5 could use a little modification. We can't wait for the dust to settle completely, since we're in an urgent situation where (I believe) some scientific issues can't be completely settled in time. So I think it's okay for us to talk about controversial issues — of a scientific rather than political nature, like, say, how safe is nuclear power, or how much the Earth's temperature will rise, or how good or bad are biofuels — and present various scientists' views on these issues, and sometimes leave it to the reader to make up their own mind.

    A discussion of what tone we are aiming at would be good. How formal? Should I write "The radiation that hits the earth" or "The radiation that is intercepted by the earth"?

    That's a good question! Personally, if the radiation is indeed hitting the earth, I like saying "it hit the earth" instead of "the earth intercepted it". Using the Latinate word and the passive construction here does not make the prose more accurate; it just makes it take longer to reach certain parts of my brain! So, I don't like formality for formality's sake. But I like accuracy — and sometimes that requires technical terms.

    Comment Source:Graham wrote: >I think the Azimuth Project is trying to be textbook. Since I love to explain things, everything I write tends to get that sort of tone. But I would not want to force it on others. I can imagine lots of things that Azimuth could become. For example, I would love it to list open research problems and groups working on the problems, making it easy for students to find good things to work on. But right now I'm just trying to get up to speed on a lot of issues, so I'm trying to explain them to myself and gradually work them into a clear big picture. So yes, I may be writing a kind of online, infinitely extendible, ever-incomplete sort of textbook. And of course I would be very happy for people to join in on that aspect of Azimuth. I like all the features you mention of textbooks! But perhaps item 5 could use a little modification. We can't wait for the dust to settle completely, since we're in an urgent situation where (I believe) some scientific issues can't be _completely_ settled in time. So I think it's okay for us to talk about controversial issues &mdash; of a scientific rather than political nature, like, say, how safe is nuclear power, or how much the Earth's temperature will rise, or how good or bad are biofuels &mdash; and present various scientists' views on these issues, and sometimes leave it to the reader to make up their own mind. >A discussion of what tone we are aiming at would be good. How formal? Should I write "The radiation that hits the earth" or "The radiation that is intercepted by the earth"? That's a good question! Personally, if the radiation is indeed hitting the earth, I like saying "it hit the earth" instead of "the earth intercepted it". Using the Latinate word and the passive construction here does not make the prose more accurate; it just makes it take longer to reach certain parts of my brain! So, I don't like formality for formality's sake. But I like accuracy &mdash; and sometimes that requires technical terms.
  • 5.

    So, I don't like formality for formality's sake. But I like accuracy — and sometimes that requires technical terms.

    Seconded :-)

    Mathematicians use and are used to a highly formalized language ("Welcome everybody! Let M be a projective left R-module... ") But in a conversation a casual tone is usually appreciated, and only if there is some danger of misunderstanding people use the more technical language as a fallback. Many people - including me - very much like JB's expository style, as you can see from the popularity of This Weeks Finds. The trick is a combination of useful handwaving for motivation, a casual explanation and a precise explanation using technical terms after that, if needed.

    Comment Source:<blockquote> <p> So, I don't like formality for formality's sake. But I like accuracy — and sometimes that requires technical terms. </p> </blockquote> Seconded :-) Mathematicians use and are used to a highly formalized language ("Welcome everybody! Let M be a projective left R-module... ") But in a conversation a casual tone is usually appreciated, and only if there is some danger of misunderstanding people use the more technical language as a fallback. Many people - including me - <i>very much</i> like JB's expository style, as you can see from the popularity of This Weeks Finds. The trick is a combination of useful handwaving for motivation, a casual explanation and a precise explanation using technical terms after that, if needed.
  • 6.

    I can imagine lots of things that Azimuth could become. For example, I would love it to list open research problems...

    I can imagine Azimuth becoming much more than a textbook too, though that might well mean that Azimuth becomes much more than the Azimuth Project. I agree with what you said about point 5.

    I like your writing style as well as Tim. (I don't like 'expository' ;-)). However I am (or was) another mathematician, and it seems a mixture of very formal and informal works well for maths and mathematicians. My impression is that this style does not please some biologists, who (I think) want to be told precisely in words what an equation means.

    Tim, you forgot examples in your combination, which biologists like too!

    Comment Source:> I can imagine lots of things that Azimuth could become. For example, I would love it to list open research problems... I can imagine Azimuth becoming much more than a textbook too, though that might well mean that Azimuth becomes much more than the Azimuth Project. I agree with what you said about point 5. I like your writing style as well as Tim. (I don't like 'expository' ;-)). However I am (or was) another mathematician, and it seems a mixture of very formal and informal works well for maths and mathematicians. My impression is that this style does not please some biologists, who (I think) want to be told precisely in words what an equation means. Tim, you forgot examples in your combination, which biologists like too!
  • 7.

    I don't like 'expository' ;-)

    I'm not a natural speaker and glad if I succeed in expressing roughly in words what I intend to say. I'm completely unaware of fine connotations or the special "ring" certain words have for natural speakers :-)

    Tim, you forgot examples in your combination, which biologists like too!

    What does "combination" refer to?

    Comment Source:<blockquote> <p> I don't like 'expository' ;-) </p> </blockquote> I'm not a natural speaker and glad if I succeed in expressing roughly in words what I intend to say. I'm completely unaware of fine connotations or the special "ring" certain words have for natural speakers :-) <blockquote> <p> Tim, you forgot examples in your combination, which biologists like too! </p> </blockquote> What does "combination" refer to?
  • 8.
    edited October 2010

    'expository' just sounds a bit long and complicated to my ears, nothing wrong with it. My other comment referred to your

    The trick is a combination of useful handwaving for motivation, a casual explanation and a precise explanation using technical terms after that, if needed

    Comment Source:'expository' just sounds a bit long and complicated to my ears, nothing wrong with it. My other comment referred to your > The trick is a *combination* of useful handwaving for motivation, a casual explanation and a precise explanation using technical terms after that, if needed
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