Thirty years ago I was a math student in the classroom of Mr. Roger Cappucci at Scarsdale High School, in Scarsdale, New York. I adored Mr. Cappucci's teaching style. He's a teacher with a sparkle in his eyes. He's friendly, funny, smart, and exuberant, and he holds his students to high standards. He's been teaching high school math since 1957, and he's back teaching again this year – his 52nd year of teaching.
One of the things I remember best about Mr. Cappucci is that he takes a personal interest in every student. Right in the middle of math class he would turn to me and ask, “Phil, there's a cross country meet this afternoon. How do you think our school's team is going to do?” I loved running cross country and it meant the world to me that my math teacher knew that. He could tell you which students in the class were artists, which were football players, which were gymnasts. He cared about us as people, not just as students: The hallmark of an outstanding teacher.
Five years ago I decided I needed to track him down to thank him. I've earned a living as a teacher for most of my adult life. I was thrilled to discover that he was still teaching. A considerate teacher at the school passed along his e-mail address to me.
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When new Web companies start up, the most attractive business model is to offer the service for free so the public can gain a quick understanding of the company's value proposition. A free Web service can grow quickly if it provides value. Along with that rapid growth, though, come the headaches of spammers and spambots--computer programs used to send annoying spam.
In the case of Twitter, the service has proved its worth many times over to countless users. And now is the right time for Twitter to start charging a fee--a modest annual fee of $10, say--for every account. People would be given two months to register their existing Twitter account with a credit card or debit card. All Twitter accounts that remain unregistered after two months would be deleted. If you don't think Twitter provides you $10 per year of value, you probably should not be using the service.
Two very important results would happen if Twitter went to a modest-annual-fee model. A lot of the information pollution on Twitter would be cleaned up, and Twitter would have another steady source of income. Running a company as globally important as Twitter with some 60 employees does not make sense. No way can 60 employees respond to all the genuine needs of Twitter users and the Twitter ecosystem of hardware, software, and people. The extra income from the $10 annual fee would allow Twitter to hire the employees it needs to run the company in a responsible fashion.
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In 2006, shortly after I started working as the public geek at the Takoma Park Maryland Library, Google released a free version of its 3D drawing program, SketchUp. SketchUp was originally designed for architects, but is so easy to use that first-grade students can play with it. Whoever designed SketchUp understands how the human mind works because within a few minutes of my using SketchUp I started giggling with delight. I don't have much talent at drawing, but one of the first things I designed in SketchUp was a simple 3D art museum.
Here is how I came to design that museum. At my public library job, I help youth and adults who use the 28 Linux stations we have available seven days a week. Into the computer center walks a community resident, Kwadjo Dixon, from Ghana. The town I work in, Takoma Park, has residents from 92 countries. That makes for an interesting workday for me.
Kwadjo had a gentle smile on his face and was carrying what looked to be an art portfolio. I asked him, “Are you carrying some of your drawings?” He said, “Yes.” I asked him, “Can I see your drawings?” He said, “Yes.” His drawings immediately captivated me, so I asked, “Do you have a Web site for your drawings?” When he said, “No,” I asked him if he'd like me to make one on the spot for him. We created a quick Web site for his drawings that day. A week or two after that, I downloaded the free version of Google SketchUp and decided that I wanted to build a 3D art museum. Right on my Macintosh laptop were Kwadjo's scanned drawings. I suddenly realized I could create a 3D art museum for Kwadjo – while teaching myself how to use Google SketchUp.
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Since 1981 the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago has chosen 20 to 40 people each year to receive a $500,000 unrestricted grant. This grant is given to people who "show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work." On its face the MacArthur Awards appear to be a good idea. For example, these awards shone an early spotlight on Richard Stallman, who has made major contributions to the field of computer science--doing so in a very selfless way.
Yet the honor of these awards goes far further than the distributed money. What would happen if the MacArthur Foundation chose 100 people rather than 20 to 40 people each year? The monetary award would be reduced to $250,000 per person--but the overall social good would increase. And what if those extra 60 people per year were crowdsource-chosen? It sure would be interesting to read all the nominations that might come in, especially if all nominations were listed on the MacArthur Foundation Web site, searchable by city and field of work.
In the spirit of the above thought experiment, here are 12 people I would nominate for the MacArthur Award. Anyone who knows these folks would concur that these are MacArthur-quality people. After listing their names, I'll explain why I would choose them for a MacArthur Award.
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The Gates Foundation has done a commendable job for the past ten years installing Windows computers in public libraries around the country. These computers have been used by literally millions of people to find jobs, learn new skills, explore the Internet, and improve their computer skills. While the purpose of these donated computers was not to maintain and expand Windows market share, the net effect of this philanthropy has been to do just that.
When it comes time to buy a computer for your home, doesn't it make a lot of sense to buy the same kind of computer you're used to using at the public library? Why buy a computer whose screen layout and operations you're not familiar with? You would be a fool to do otherwise, right?
Which is why the Gates Foundation ought to consider supporting the use of Linux and Apple computers in public libraries for the next ten years. Give the public a fair chance to see what other computer platforms are out there. Let them compare, side by side, their experiences using Windows computers with using Linux and Apple computers. Let public libraries offer free trainings to the public on Linux and Apple computers. Literally thousands of volunteers would love to teach their neighbors how to use Linux--or Apple computers--in a public library setting. These volunteers remain an untapped resource today.
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Russell Gong is a ukulele player who lives in San Francisco. Mary-Anne McTrowe is a ukulele player in Alberta, Canada. They have never met in person, yet they keep producing better and better music videos for YouTube. Earlier this year they produced their first collaborative video, If I Had a Million Dollars, a song by Barenaked Ladies. Spurred on by the success of that project, they decided to compose an original ukulele song. Here is their hilarious new music video, People Suck. I could not stop laughing while watching this.
Russell came up with the chords/melody and wrote the first verse and chorus. Mary-Anne then wrote the second verse and made some edits to the chorus lyrics. The third verse was written together. Russell explains that it was “surprisingly easy to write a song together via email.”
Russell edited the video using Sony Vegas 8 software. He says it took him about 10 hours to produce the video as he is still learning video editing. He credits Internet tutorials in getting him up to speed.
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Tim Jongo Skehan met his friend Andy Gertler while in line at a bagel shop about 25 years ago. By the time they reached the cashier they were lifelong friends. Recently Tim and Andy created a music video for YouTube that overflows with whimsy, fun, musicality, and melody. This song, "Just Enough Time," was composed by Tim for the strumstick, a simplified 3-string instrument. In this video, Andy plays percussion on dining- room chairs. Yes, you read that correctly. He plays percussion on dining-room chairs.
Go watch the song and come back to learn more about its story. Tim found out about the strumstick because he was a big fan of the Martin Backpacker Guitar, a portable guitar invented by Bob McNally. After inventing the very successful Backpacker Guitar, McNally didn't stop there. His creative urge led him to design the strumstick, a very light, easy- to-play 3-string instrument. When Tim saw photos of the strumstick on Bob McNally's Web site, he knew he had to have one.
Andy Gertler also loves musical instruments--all kinds of musical instruments. Tim says that if you show Andy a musical instrument he hasn't seen before, he'll be playing it within an hour and composing songs on it before the end of the day. Shortly after Tim bought his strumstick, he composed the song "Just Enough Time." When he showed it to Andy, Andy immediately came up with the idea of adding percussion to the song--using dining-room chairs, of all things.
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