I happened upon a YouTube video last week that got me thinking a lot about humility contests. Uploaded by O'Reilly Media, this video is a 5-minute Ignite Great Lakes presentation by a talented Detroit violinist named Dixon. I won't spoil the fun by telling you what you'll encounter in the video. Go watch it and return here when you're done.
What you might notice in this video is a person with great confidence, but also great humility. Those two human qualities don't often occur within one person. Confidence is vital, because nothing can move forward without a belief in one's own powers. Humility is vital because it is the steering wheel to wisdom.
Speaking of which, do you know who else combines confidence with humility? Tim O'Reilly, co-founder of O'Reilly Media. I've never met the guy, but I admire the heck out of him. He asks such interesting and important questions in his tweet stream and in the public talks he gives. He is both daring and doubtful at the same time. You give that a try sometime if you think it's easy. Larry Lessig - the Harvard law professor who is also the founder of the Creative Commons - is another in the category of strong thinkers who subsumes self to public good. If you've never seen or heard one of his presentations, a good place to start is here.
Twitter is a powerful communications tool, but figuring out the best way to use it can be somewhat of a mystery. Twitter mastery can be especially daunting for nonprofits and other cause-based organizations, whose staffs have heard that Twitter can be a tool for changing the world. If that's true, then how does one go about doing so?
This guidebook, Twitter For Good, by Claire Diaz-Ortiz, the manager of social innovation and philanthropy at Twitter, seeks to provide answers. By and large it hits the mark. The book cites many case studies of successful Twitter campaigns and explains why those campaigns were successful. The book also explains the kinds of mistakes nonprofits make on Twitter, helping readers steer clear of those mistakes.
These are some of the takeaways I had from this book: Consider the benefits of using a Twitter client (such as Hootsuite) rather than using the Web interface to Twitter. Twitter clients can make following hashtags much easier. Consider the benefits of adding rich media to your tweets. You can engage your followers more deeply in this way. Develop skill at composing the right hashtag for your tweet. Be very careful to use just one or two hashtags per tweet.
Coworking is a modern work innovation where people in various creative professions share a common work space, synergizing their talents and making best use of fixed-cost resources. Here is a portrait of how coworking might develop in public library spaces as public libraries transform themselves in coming years. Architects, take notice.
Do you work as a computer programmer, writer, editor, animator, or graphic designer? Would you like a free desk to do work at your public library? What's the catch? The catch is that you need to contribute 10 or 20 percent of your time to serving the public in some way. You can either set aside time to answering the public's questions or teach classes or work on public-oriented digital projects of various kinds. You might also mentor a youth or an adult. You might want to cowork at the public library just three days per week, in which case you need to contribute just 10 percent of your coworking time. If you cowork at the public library five days a week, you would need to contribute 20 percent of your time.
Coworking at your public library would bring several additional benefits to the coworkers. They would have discounted access to the digital production services of the library. Digital production would include not only video production, but also animation, photography, graphic design, editing, and computer programming services.
About 165 years ago, a young man in Massachusetts decided to simplify his life as much as possible by living in a shack in the woods, confronting only the essentials of life to determine firsthand what people need and don't need. The outcome of this experiment, documented in his book Walden, demonstrated Socrates' wise saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Thoreau invites each of us to reflect more deeply about our role on the planet, what it means to be true to oneself and how to avoid mindlessly following the herd. In his separate essay, “Civil Disobedience,” he explains why jail is the most logical place for a person to be who is subject to unjust laws.
Across the world a person named Mahatma Gandhi read Thoreau's writings, took them to heart, and showed how dignity could vanquish brutality. Back here in the United States, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. further developed Gandhi's methods of passive resistance to continue the long work of dismantling slavery.
What does all this have to do with technology, you might ask? Plenty, as it happens. When Thoreau invited me to engage in a lifetime of reflection, I took him up on the offer. In my interactions with the world, when I see things that unsettle me, I speak softly but firmly about such matters. And after doing so, I sometimes choose to take actions in support of my convictions. And then I tell others about such actions and invite them to consider whether they might choose such a path for themselves.
The future of the world will be shaped by today's middle and high school students, so I always get a kick when a student comes up to me at my public library job and asks, “Do you want to hear about the app I designed?”
I've always got time to hear about a student's programming efforts.
Recently, Jonah Chazan, a sophomore high school student in Takoma Park, Maryland, asked me that very question. He has been programming computers since he was in second grade. In his elementary years he participated in some computer programming projects for youth at the nearby University of Maryland. He developed a fondness for the Processing programming language.In middle school he studied three years of True Basic.
CNN recently reported that Neanderthals were as smart as Homo Sapiens. (See the last sentence of this CNN article.) Sure, they were as smart, but they routinely shipped their products two years after Homo Sapiens did, with a minimum of usability testing. And Neanderthals depended on income from previous products, such as bowls, when fire first came out. Neanderthals' VP of Marketing freely admitted as much: “We didn't see fire coming. We were so focused on our new model of bowls, we missed fire completely.”
Meanwhile, Homo Sapiens packaged fire so elegantly – just two sticks in a box. That's it. Just two sticks in a sleek white cardboard box. Fire didn't even come with a user manual. People just intuitively started using it. When Neanderthals came out with fire, two years later, it came with five stone tablets of instructions. Honestly, who wants five stone tablets of instructions? The street reacted brutally to Neanderthals. Brutally.
And by the time Neanderthals released fire, Homo Sapiens was already sewing up the market for sewing. What Homo Sapiens didn't see was that people weren't interested in buying closed fire forever. They wanted an open fire, which they could use and adapt to their own purposes. They didn't want to be locked into a particular kind of fire. What Homo Sapiens did to Neanderthals, Homo Sapiens Open would do to Homo Sapiens. And Homo Sapiens Open's fire caught on so quickly, it spread like – well, you know what it spread like – leaving Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens holding the bowl. Their days became numbered right about the time they sought patent enforcement.
Google Hangouts, the group videoconferencing part of Google+, has attracted some of the most creative minds on the Web – and these folks are putting their ingenuity to good use. One of the first out of the gate is Bruce K. Garber and his friends from the Southern New England Media Makers. They captured this video of their group videoconference by using Camtasia Studio and uploaded this video to Youtube. The sound quality is surprisingly clear considering that they were using the condenser mics built into their webcams. I'm wondering how clear their audio would sound if they each used a USB microphone, such as a USB Logitech headset or a Snowball microphone. Here are the other participants in this video chat.