Question 315 of 365: What should we sing and what must we speak?

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Reconstruction Site
Image via Wikipedia

One of the few non-AP courses I took my senior year of high school was Drama. It was, quite simply, the perfect course for someone interested in the arts but with little time to do much about it. There was no homework. There were no projects to speak of. Occasionally, I had to memorize some lines, but for the most part I just had to show up every day and accomplish the acting task set forth. Our teacher knew what the course was and she didn’t pretend that it was a rigorous romp through Shakespeare. She gave everyone credit for showing up, and we were all thankful for her.

She did give us one project that has stuck with me for all of these years. She asked us to memorize the lyrics to a song and then say them out loud without the music. She made us turn those songs into poems and she made us turn ourselves into spoken word artists. She didn’t put any caveats on song choice, but she did ask that they have some meaning to us. This is the one that I chose:

We emerged from youth all wide-eyed like the rest.
Shedding skin faster than skin can grow, and armed with hammers,
feathers, blunt knives:
words, to meet and to define and to…
but you must know the same games that we played in dirt,
in dusty school yards has found a higher pitch and broader scale than we feared possible,
and someone must be picked last,
and one must bruise and one must fail.
And that still twitching bird was so deceived by a window,
so we eulogized fondly,
we dug deep and threw its elegant plumage and frantic black eyes in a hole,
and rushed out to kill something new,
so we could bury that too.
The first chapters of lives almost made us give up altogether.
Pushed towards tired forms of self immolation that seemed so original.
I must, we must never stop watching the sky with our hands in our pockets,
stop peering in windows when we know doors are shut.
Stop yelling small stories and bad jokes and sorrows,
and my voice will scratch to yell many more,
but before I spill the things I mean to hide away,
or gouge my eyes with platitudes of sentiment,
I’ll drown the urge for permanence and certainty;
crouch down and scrawl my name with yours in wet cement.

That last line didn’t need to be sung. It needed to be spoken. By me. I needed it in high school, just as I need it today. As much as I want everything to be permanent and certain. Just as I would like to sing and be free to know what beat comes next. I can’t. I must speak those words and feel their weight on my tongue.

I’ll drown the urge for permanence and certainty; crouch down and scrawl my name with yours in wet cement.

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Question 314 of 365: What should we learn from updating our apps?

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apps
Image by FabioHofnik via Flickr

For years I have put off doing software updates on my computer. I have found them painful and time consuming. I have found the thought of having to restart just to get a few extra features that I really won’t notice to be about as appealing as taking out the trash. That little bouncing recycled earth sign (probably a Mac only phenomenon) seems brings out the worst in my anti-progress attitude. No, I don’t want the latest and greatest version. My current version is already running and I don’t want to shut down just to upgrade. Everytime I know that there is an update among all of them that really is essential, I curse the process for subjecting me to waiting around while something installs.

And yet, I update my iPad apps nearly every day. I get excited about new releases. I read the changes in the app store and I look for specific things that will make my life better. And most often, I click update all. Even if I don’t see a benefit for some of the updates, I know that I am getting the most recent version of something that I chose and the next version will probably build on this one. I watch as all of the apps update themselves and I wait with anticipation as the little blue bar goes across. I try and guess which app will update next. I open some of them up just to see if I can spot the changes for myself. I am, I have realized, an app junkie. I want to know about apps before others do and I want to be the one that recommends them. I want to know about a feature update and tweet about it. I want to promote the use of an app in interesting ways and talk about the iPad as a creative device instead of just one for consumption. I love the update cycle. It seems to keep everything fresh.

Here is the difference between what I feel in an app on my mobile device versus an Application on my computer: Scope, scale and ownership.

The scope of a mobile app is so much smaller than that of a full blown application. I have railed against too narrow of a scope as not creating the kind of change that is neccesary, but I have mellowed on the need for starting off with a grand scope. The rapid release of features on a mobile device means that you can really conquer one idea before progressing on to the next. It also means that with each release, you don’t have to try and update everything. You can continually expand an idea until it branches off into four other ones. You have the time to listen to those who are actually using what it is that you want to produce.

Scale is different than scope. The scale of storage needed for any given mobile application is smaller because it has to be. Computer applications can be as big as they want to be, but mobile apps have to be elegant and small or no one would download them. They also have to be self contained. On a computer, Applications must integrate with nearly everything in the system. We praise them for it, but it has become overblown. More conservative use of the OS features would really be appreciated because it would cut down on the things that we have to upgrade for every update. When I update Netflix on the iPad, I don’t have to update the video player or the notification system. The scale matters. I can update all of my apps within minutes, whereas large scale Application updates can take hours.

Ownership is a little bit harder to quantify, but for some reason when I buy something in an app store and I receive constant updates I feel as though they are listening to me. When I can make a comment directly to the developer and see an update in the next few days or weeks that specifically addresses my issue, I know that I own a little bit more of the app. I also think that it helps when I get to touch and interact with the application itself while it is updating. I want an experience in the update and not just in the program. I don’t want to set the update window up and leave it, I want to see the things all around my iPad updating. I want to anticipate what is going to happen next. The update process on a computer is boring. There is nothing to do but watch the bar go across the screen.

Perhaps I am simply jumping the gun. Now that everyone is creating app stores we will see more of this. But, I think that we can go further.

  1. I want things to update on their own.
  2. I want things to show me what has changed.
  3. I want to be able to comment on individual features.
  4. I want to talk to the developers on the day of release in a public forum.
  5. I want to be able to go back through revision histories of apps and see just how far it has come.

We should learn from the mobile platform, but we need to merge it with the computer and not simply make the computer like the iPad. They are capable of doing different things, it just so happens that in this case, the iPad does it better.

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Question 313 of 365: What is true accumulation?

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I am heading into my 10th winter of living in Colorado. While this is not an accomplishment to many of the natives that live here, it is something that I cherish more than almost anything else. It means that I will have seen the best snow that exists for an entire decade. While I neither snowboard or ski, the snow is the single most convincing reason I came to Colorado in the first place.

Before moving, I lived in a suburb of Cleveland. I knew snow. I saw it coming off of lake Erie every year (for most of the year). I saw it dump into the snow belt and stick around for weeks. I saw it become muddy and black with cinders. I saw the snow turn into ice and cause enormous wrecks on the roads. I saw the individual snowflakes fall seemingly forever with only an inch to show for it in the morning.

Denver snow is different. It comes in beautiful and fluffy pieces. They fill your mouth as you walk toward them. They stick to your hair and they are heavy. They feel like a blanket is coming down all around you and all you have to do is stand still long enough for it to tuck you in. And Denver snow accumulates. In minutes. From the time your run into the gas station and come back, you have a single coat of fresh powder. From the time you go into work, you have a well earned workout of clearing it off and seeing the piles all around your feet. This snow is perfect. It is good for playing games about how much there will be. In these games you will always be wrong. You will always guess too little or at the wrong time. Colorado snow has a personality all its own. It doesn’t stop for any event and it doesn’t care what the temperature was yesterday. It was 75 yesterday. It is snowing gorgeous and downy today.

And when I look out my windows and see what is the start of the accumulation season, I know that I am in for a treat. I don’t have to hope for it or wish it to come. It comes without fail. I can see the layers of snow interweave and stack on top of one another, making inches and feet with abandon.

And I wonder about my own accumulation. I wonder if others can see the things I am doing and I wonder if they notice what I have added. It is coming slowly and it surely isn’t as beautiful as this, but I think that the clumps that I put down are sticking to the ground nicely. Someday, I will be at inches and someday after that, I will have feet of my contributions that others will simply have to work through. They won’t have a choice. It will cover them and those that choose to will only be able to shovel me out of the way. Others, though, will pick up those things and play with them. They will make sculptures and they will throw them around. They will make mountains out of it and see all around them. They will pack it tightly and throw it at those who don’t know how to enjoy it.

True accumulation is continuing to contribute because you know that no matter how small each snowflake is, you are making a difference and your work will be noticed.

Question 312 of 365: What is the science of leaving?

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Does calling you a “lucky bastard” mean that you are doing something right or something wrong?

Does it mean that you have made a good decision for your career and are moving on to a place that others would like to be? Or are you being blamed for everything that is wrong with your current workplace and the fact that you are leaving is simply proof that you weren’t worth the position you are leaving?

I am, in fact, a lucky bastard.

I am so thankful for everything that I have learned and all of the opportunities that I have been given. I found people to support me and nurture my projects through their shaky early stages. I don’t know of anything that I should have done faster or more or better. I am the learner and collaborator I am because of my work of the last 7 years.

I have had a single employer since my college graduation. One check per month, nearly 84 times. I married my wife in this job. I bought my first house. Had my first and second child. I saw both of my brothers get married. I wrote 1000 blog posts. It is so much to have done and seen and been.

The science of leaving is the hypothesis that your future will be greater than your past. At this exact moment, it is hard to see how. I know I am leaving to test out this hypothesis.

I know that I am a lucky bastard, both because of my past and my future.

Question 310 of 365: What is the right increment?

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I used to think that incremental change would not suffice. Nothing
would infuriate me more than baby steps forward. And yet, the kinds of
revolutions I see around me are terrifying. Large scale pendulum
swings and quick fixes that get massive amounts of press seem are
wreaking havoc on everything I hold dear.

From education to politics, the radical change that is being advocated
cuts deep. It is painful to hear and to see in practice. It’s divisive
nature is not the kind of revolution I saw coming.

I believe in disruptive innovation, but only if it is beared out by
reflective practice. I believe in revolutionary rhetoric, but only if
it is working to ask questions and not just try and provide answers. I
believe in change, but only the kind that I can be a part of.

Any change that excludes those that are interested in the conversation
and willing to take part isn’t change at all. It is a mandate just
like any other.

And that is why I favor a wiki.

I want my change to be visible and based upon a revision history. I
want to make tiny edits and see those changes play out before I
undertake a massive overhaul. And I want the ability to revert to
previous versions when things don’t look too good.

Right now, the revolutionary kinds of change being exchanged are put
out on PDF. They are uneditable “truth.” They aren’t collaborative and
they certainly can’t be annotated or hyperlinked. They can’t take new
information into account. They aren’t based on a network of people,
but rather they exist from one or two authors. They come from an
expert rather than a practitioner. In short, they are dead.

I want living change. Those are the kinds of increments that I need.

Posted via email from The Throughput

Question 309 of 365: What is our Kleenex Acceptable Use Policy?

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I was a nose picker. When I felt as though there was an obstruction, I went after it with gusto. I was not proud of this habit, but I didn’t know what else to do. I thought for a while that I might have an overly active snot producer. It got so bad once that I had a scab under my nose for about a month in 3rd grade. The teacher would stop class occasionally to comment on it when my finger was hovering close. It was bad.

The problem, I realized later, was that no one had really taught me how to use a kleenex. Or more accurately, they didn’t tell me that there was more than one way to use one. I was under the impression that the only thing to be done with a tissue was to hold it up to your nose and blow. While this takes care of things when you have a cold, there are a great many reasons why a tissue is manipulable into other configurations.

It wasn’t until I was older that I realized a kleenex could be tightly wrapped and shoved up your nose to stop a nose bleed. I didn’t know that you could cover your fingers with it and then work at what had to be removed. I had no idea that closing off one nostril and blowing increased the efficiency of each blow. I didn’t know because I was under the impression that the cartoon version of blowing your nose was all that could exist.

I talk about unconventional uses and hacking everyday objects to bring new things to light, but what I am referring to here is just a simple lack of understanding for appropriate and acceptable use. I made assumptions about the acceptable uses of a kleenex and was then bound by those assumptions. I was ridiculed for merely guessing at the boundaries and failing miserably.

I feel as though the acceptable use policies for technology can be the same way. The faults are two fold. By not reading what is possible and truly understanding it, we are missing out on a great deal of what we can do. By not having good acceptable use policies we are doing an even greater disservice. If we only prescribe a single use for a technology, we are denying all other uses. By saying that collaborative documents are for notes we are denying all of the other uses of those documents. By writing out best practice, we may be denying all other practice.

Acceptable use should be expansive and open ended. It should look at static tools and see them as emblematic of the needs of users. A kleenex is for cleaning away nearly anything. Prescribing a single use for it is ludicrous. So is it with a phone or a blog or an email. Our acceptable uses should hint at possible future iterations. They should pay attention to power users and write uses that are not for everyone. Things should not be left to those who “figure them out.” They should be available to anyone with the interest.

If someone would have shown me how to use a kleenex in all of the different ways that it is possible, I wouldn’t have been a nose picker. While I would have missed out on this particularly strong character building exercise, I would have been eternally grateful for that AUP.

Question 308 of 365: What does a new choice give us?

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For the first time in about 5 years, I get to pick out a new cell phone. I was bound by a 2 year contract that transitioned directly into a district-approved phone. I haven’t had choice of provider, phone or plan for all of that time. Now that I must give up my well-worn but not well-loved Blackberry, I find that I am struggling to figure out what it is that I really care about. It is all well and good to critique the new protocols and gimmicks offered on each device, but now that I am faced with the decision for myself, I am balking at the choice.

Here is my current thought process:

I can’t imagine continuing on with a phone that can’t do voice and data at the same time. Too often I have had to hang up on someone in order to search through my email for important details, just to call that person back with them still up on my screen. This means that all CDMA carriers are out, including Verizon and Sprint.

I can’t imagine going with any OS other than Android or iOS. There are just too many apps that do too many great like control my computer remotely or edit video on the fly. Both have respectable communities of developers and both are competing hard with one another for the most innovation, and I am in favor of that continuing for a long time. This does mean, however, that Blackberry, Symbian, Palm and any other proprietary OS phones are out completely.

I can’t imagine buying a phone without both HD video and a forward facing camera. The idea of chronicling my life and the live of my children on a daily basis with a High Definition camera with me at all times is nothing short of revolutionary. The ability to do a video conference on the go as well is icing on top for sure, but it will shortly become the norm. This means that pretty much anything not made by either Apple or HTC (and possibly Motorola if I wait a bit).

I can’t imagine working with a tool that doesn’t talk to my other tools. It had better sync up with my computer, my iPad and all of my other cloud-based devices that make my learning environment rich. This does not mean that I need flash or that I have to have it be as screemingly fast as everything else. When I want to tether, I should be able to. When I want to present from my phone, I should be able to. When I want to sync all of my contacts and calendar and tasks, I should be able to. I just need something that works, all of the time. Right now, the only things that seem to fit that bill are the iPhone 4 on ATT and the Mytouch 4g on T-Mobile.

I realize that this decision is incredibly trivial. I realize that there are so many more important things that I have decided to do in the last week. However, having not had choice in this area of my life for 5 years means that I want to consider everything before I commit. And as I go over these ideas in my head, repeating the same logic until I figure out what makes the most sense, I know that I am getting that much closer to understanding the true choice of our times.

Once we have decided to take a leap into open competition, the only thing that limits us our choice what we “can’t imagine.” All of the things that I listed above that I can’t imagine doing is a means of limiting what is possible. It is the way we must make choices in a world of abundance, but it is also the way in which we will lose out on some of the most unique and interesting opportunities of our time.

I will probably choose and iPhone 4. I will probably be happy with that choice. But, that won’t change the fact that the things I can’t imagine doing would simplify my life and make me less dependent upon my device. If I can’t do data and voice at the same time, I would do that much less talking or that much less surfing. If I can’t imagine going with a different OS, I will probably miss out on the radical departures in that space. If I can’t imagine a phone without HD video, I will no longer have the pleasure of taking my video camera and just worrying about that without wondering where I will post it and how much bandwidth it is going to eat up. If I can’t imagine a tool that doesn’t sync, I will lose out on a singularly useful experience. I will be weighed down by all of the other things that I subscribe to instead of moving forward with the device I can work with now.

And yet, I will still choose the iPhone 4. And my imagination will just have to work on other things.

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Question 307 of 365: Why should we sand?

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Rubber sanding blocks
Image via Wikipedia

When my wife and I moved into our first house, we decided we would change a few things. We moved the refrigerator out of the hallway and into the kitchen. We covered over some hideous wood paneling with drywall. We even made consistent archways out of every entryway. Well, we didn’t. A really good contractor did all of those things. He and his band of builders rewired fuseboxes and resurfaced wood floors. He did everything, including install a new kitchen sink. Still, we weren’t satisfied.

The house wasn’t fully ours yet even if all of the most glaring errors had been taken care of. The cabinets were still a dozen shades too dark with awful hardware to match. We decided that this was how we were going to make it a home. We would tackle it ourselves. Or, more accurately, I would tackle it because my wife was newly pregnant and she was getting sick every day.

The project seemed easy. It seemed like in a couple weekends and we would be back to a fully working kitchen. So, one Saturday I took down all of the cabinet doors. I sprayed goop on them in the hopes that some of the veneer would come off. It didn’t. Next I tried sanding with my hands. I got nowhere. Every time I was starting to peal of a layer, I would find that the sand paper was out of grit. These cabinets had multiple coats of stain on them and there was only so much elbow grease and chemicals could do. So, I borrowed some hand sanders. I borrowed a Dremel (a very small handheld sander for fine sanding in corners and the grooves of cabinets). I set aside every evening in the shed for sanding away every bit of dark finish on those cabinets. It took a month.

At the end of that month, I was staring at some very uneven pieces of wood. From far enough away you couldn’t tell that anything bad had happened to them, but the closer you got you could see the little grooves that were made by frustration. You could see the dark lines when the Dremel’s sandpaper had heated up too high and made it into a wood burning kit. You could see everything that was wrong with those cabinets.

But they were ours.

There are no cabinets like those, and I would do it all again if I could. I would stand in the cold shed again with the music blaring out of an old boombox. I would yell at the sandpaper for breaking apart in my hands. I would try and match up the right cabinets with the right spots on the wall without really knowing which screw holes were right, having to unscrew and try again moments later. I would resand sand the drawers that we took out completely only a few months later when we decided that a dishwasher was more essential with kids. I would do it all again because the sanding made it special.

I pealed back the style and lack of creativity of someone else and I instituted my own statement about kitchens. They are to look at if you must, but to use and be happy in all of the time. I sanded those cabinets so that we could call them something other than what we were given.

And that is why I sand at other things too. I sand at the work that is given to me because I don’t know it well enough. After I have sanded down everything that is inessential, I will know each inch of the work and be able to talk about the journey of figuring it out. I sand at my life because those are the ways to the best stories. Only by taking off the first layer of veneer will I actually understand why I have made the choices I have. Only by sanding away at the experience can I really see myself in it.

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Question 306 of 365: What happens when you no longer have to explain?

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I realize that I have spent a great part of my professional life explaining things. I explain how tools work or how to write a persuasive paper. I may take others through an experience to help them understand and figure things out for themselves, but in the end I am still responsible for explaining and outlining that experience. When I teach, explanations go a long way into creating the ripe environment for action. If I don’t explain how Google Docs works (even a little bit), no one will use it. If I don’t explain my use of Twitter, then no one will engage in that space that hasn’t already made it their home. When I am working in conjunction with others, I tend to explain the workflows that make sense to me and then I watch as either they are systematically rejected or accepted into the project as the way everyone should work. Sometimes, no amount of explaining will change behavior, but still I keep on trying to explain the virtue of not printing out a wiki page because it keeps changing. This is my reality. I am an explainer.

The last few days, however, I haven’t found the need to explain. I haven’t had to tell people how to collaborate or take then through how to set up a skype account in order to communicate with the team. Over the last few days, I have been added to collaborative experiences already in motion. I was added to perpetual skype chats for different departments within Edmodo. I was added to a documentation Google Site which has future plans and previous history of the product. I was added to events as they were happening and I was consulted each step of the way.

As the Android app launched, everyone in the organization knew within 15 seconds. We all brainstormed for five minutes on how to get the word out and then we went on with our business. It was a standup meeting in the hallway that actually took the five minutes that standup meetings are supposed to take. I wasn’t the one who was explaining the strategy. It was all of us, coming up with it from our own perspectives. The developers were proud of having launched the product, the social media folks were thinking about how to start a conversation and the teachers in all of us wanted to take a moment and reflect about how students were going to use it to learn. One of the first comments was whether or not we should contact the schools that are already using the platform as a part of their mobile pilots to make sure that they were feeling supported. I didn’t explain any of it. It just happened.

When you no longer have to explain how to work together, then you can simply collaborate. When you no longer have to explain how to document your work, then you can all simply benefit from the accumulated knowledge. When you no longer have to explain how to communicate, then you can all just stay on the same page and make the work that much better.

When I’m not explaining, I’m learning.

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