Process knowledge and STEM education

I recently subscribed to The Prepared, a weekly newsletter that collects interesting articles about engineering, manufacturing, industrial processes, and supply chain. (I can’t exactly remember how I found it, most likely through this other newsletter. So thank you to Robin Sloan for introducing me to it.)

I’m loving the newsletter. Teenage choices led me into the sciences, but I think if the coin-toss had landed differently, I could just as easily have headed towards engineering instead. I guess I’ve always been fascinated by engineering, a world that is almost mystical in its strange-but-familiar quality. My fascination with this mystique manifests in weird places, primarily in my world-building for fantasy worlds, where I write a disproportionate number of world-building encyclopaedia articles exploring technomagical engineering and materials and industry.

So this newsletter gives me a window into real-world thing… and boy, have I fallen through this window, down the rabbit hole of long-form articles, into engineering Wonderland.  This is amazing, fascinating new stuff to me. I have no doubt that ideas gleaned from this newsletter are going to appear in my world-building and novels.

So it was through this newsletter that I read this fantastic long-form article which articulates many thoughts I’ve developed, in one way or another, mostly through my job. And it’s the thought that process knowledge, or tacit knowledge, is the most important skillset out there, that every person has to learn in their vocation, but is completely neglected in formative education. Mass education is rife with acquiring theoretical knowledge and learning how to apply them to scenarios, but the successful transaction between theory and application is a process – and learning process only comes from repeated hands-on exposure.

I never cease to be grateful that my vocational choices have led me to work that isn’t entirely desk-bound, where I have to execute theory into application in the physical, tangible world.  It’s also given me first-hand experience at how anaemic, how attenuated is the current education system at cultivating process knowledge. While I think that process is impossible to teach, it can be (and indeed, has to be) learnt, and the learning is best measured by producing physical, tangible outcomes.  Tracking and quantifying process, however, is elusive and too subtle for the brute-force theory-to-application methods in mass education, so it doesn’t get tracked, if it gets noticed at all.

That article focuses primarily on technological innovation and doesn’t address education, but I think the loss of manufacturing and industry in Western nations has direct repercussions on STEM outcomes in education. There’s been a lot of hand-wringing in this government about how the nation lags in STEM outcomes compared to world-wide standards. But STEM achievement is primarily bound up in process knowledge, as the article states.  How can you effectively learn STEM processes if manufacturing is shutting down all over the country and has moved offshore?

Because science, engineering and technology is about manipulating the physical world, which is embodied through manufacturing and industrial processes. Moving bits and bytes in a disembodied, abstracted space can’t hold a candle to manipulating the physical world, with my body and equipment, into products and outcomes that can be evaluated by the five senses and spatial analysis.  In the physical world comes tangible, embodied risk, and therefore, the greatest opportunity for embodied, embedded learning.

Over the years of working in secondary education and tertiary academia, I’ve concluded that process knowledge, not theory nor applications, is the most important thing to be teaching people both young and old. If I had to stay in the education sector for the rest of my life, I want to end up in the trade and vocational schools. Because, in this nation where manufacturing is but a shadow of what it once was, trade school is a place where process knowledge still stands a chance of being valued and taught in any meaningful way.  At the end of the day, humans live in a physical world, human civilization is built on physical processes.  Even in a post-human world where human consciousnesses have been uploaded into computers, someone still has to keep the power on.

Apropos of an avian gossip session outside the house

Do crows know that their voices sound horrible? Do they simply not care? Or are they oblivious, and sing out because that’s just what they do?

I like to think they know they’ll never win a birdsong competition, but they sing out anyway, because they are joyful.

Similar post here.

Piranesi and Clarke

Kicks Condor alerted me to the imminent release of Susanna Clarke’s new book, titled Piranesi. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is long overdue for a re-read. I definitely was too young and obnoxious to appreciate it back when it was published.  (I sure hope I’ve gotten humbler and wiser by now; or at least, be able to enjoy Clarke’s apparently-genius writing more.)

But enough about Clarke. Piranesi is the name that grabbed my attention far more than hers. Le Carceri remains a profound influence upon my subconscious mind and imagination, far more than any other fantasy world-building. I wrote an essay about my visceral experience, but words can’t really describe how grand and otherworldly the Prisons are. My folio-sized artbook of full-sized art plates, laboriously hunted down after months via Abebooks, remains a prized possession in my library.

I suppose Clarke is the only author out there who’d conceivably write a whole novel about Piranesi and his Prisons. I look forward to reading it!

Thick darkness covered the earth

Last night, I sat at my computer tinkering in a spreadsheet, music tinkling in my headphones, with the lights turned on in the room and in the corridor, the comfortable sound of whirring machinery all around — when a brilliant light flashed outside the window, followed by loud a ‘whoomf’ sound, and between one breath and the next all the machines went dead silent and all the lights went out, plunging me into darkness–

thick darkness

for five seconds
(two breaths, enough for me to exclaim, “What the heck?”)

–then a ‘bump’ sound came from outdoors, the lights came back on, the machines spun up again. The world righted itself and all was back to normal.

It was between those two breaths that I thought, This is it. The apocalypse has arrived, and I am utterly helpless without my life-support machines and intravenous drip of electricity. What do I do now?

Sleep; Arise.

We buried a friend today.  He was a few years younger than me. Left behind a pregnant wife and a very young son, and many many loved family and friends.

He was too young to die.

I didn’t know him as well as others did, but we were fellow workers in the kingdom for a while, and had talked about what it meant to be a shepherd and fisher of people. I didn’t see him around a lot, but the evidence of his impact was all around me: in people, in words. Now I remember glimpses of him over the years: amongst friends, with his longtime sweetheart who became his wife, then holding a baby, then with his boy in tow.  Always amongst friends.

I hadn’t known about the illness until our senior pastor stood on stage one Sunday a few weeks ago and asked for the entire church to pray for him, because only a miracle could save him now.  In retrospect, I already had a premonition of trouble through my brief glimpses, though I didn’t understand what it meant.  I think he knew he was going to die.

But as we prayed that Sunday, I had a distinct vision of a lifeline thrown into a bottomless ocean, and many, many people climbing into the water down that cable — to save not him, but his family.  And the hands pulling up that cable from the surface weren’t human hands, but divine ones.

Indeed, many people, far more than I could imagine, rallied with support.  The friends told stories of his last few months alive, and said that his faith never wavered.  Indeed, burned even fiercer, encouraging and strengthening everyone around him, spending itself without holding back, until the very end.

It was an honour to be at the memorial service.

The Lord stands at the threshold of eternity, the keys of life and death in his hands.  And when he calls a man’s name, he can’t help but come.  To death.  To resurrection.

But he was just too young to die.  Was the work really done, when things were just beginning?  Is it time to lay down the tools, when one is just entering the height of his powers?  Is it really time to rest now, when there is so much more to do?

The man rests now.  –Rests, and rejoices before Christ our Lord.  But for us left behind, it’s time to rise and take up those tools put down, and remain faithful.  This is the way to defy the unfairness of it all.

Let’s start again.

Botched my webdomain migration and lost the original velivolans blog that resided at  The database exists but is inaccessible short of digging into cPanel and phpMyAdmin, and I haven’t the energy nor motivation to extract it at this stage.  It may come back someday.

I want to try something new for this blog, combining a few different projects.  Let us see what comes of it.

UPDATE (5th Dec): Canto refuses to be melded with a workaday blog, so there it is, happy in its own subdomain.

UPDATE (14th Dec): With a bit of MySQL jiujitsu and a website backup (thank goodness for backups), all my posts at velivolans have been migrated and images restored. Everything should be as before. Success! Hooray!

Further adventures in webdesign.

In a paroxysm of inspiration and productivity, I spent the last weekend building my new domain-level website**, including making a fansite (a “shrine” in fandom jargon). text editor on one monitor, web browser on the other monitor, with CSS Reference and W3Schools for reference, and a bunch of personal websites and domains for inspiration. The fansite took up most of the weekend: Took an old layout I created years ago, updated, streamlined and enhanced the markup; in between that, I did a ton of research and “content creation”.

**Have to deal with a few things on the backend over the next few weeks (including, er, migrating to a new domain that I recently bought), but soon, there will be NEW STUFF on my domain! Hooray!

Partway through, it dawned on me that I was enjoying the webdesign process. Earlier I’d ranted about my woes of manually converting my Tumblr into a static site built with Hugo. Quite a vast difference between these two experiences!

Continue reading “Further adventures in webdesign.”


Universalism, and the theology of Hell — with a fellow Christian, in our Bible study WhatsApp group.

Better working conditions for video game developers, complexities of crunch time and entertainment industry, and how fans and consumers should respond (without falling into impotent idealism or callous fatalism) — with some fellow gamers, in a Discord server.

Sundry aspects of Internet culture and digital life — with various Micro.bloggers on

It’s been a good week for online debating and discussion. More remarkably, all were in semi-public spaces, all were low-salt and stayed that way, and ended with us shaking hands, regardless of whether we agreed or not.

I’m so pleased! Such diverse, civil debates!