Posts Tagged Video

Goodbye Steve

Like so many others yesterday, I heard about Steve Jobs death not from TV or the radio but instead through the glowing pixels of my iPhone and the unobtrusive notification sound I’d chosen to keep me up-to-date on breaking news stories. My wife and I were sitting on the sofa and, on hearing the tone from my phone, I reached over and read the single sentence, “Apple states that Steve Jobs has died.” It was a sad, though not unexpected moment. It was hard not to think of his passing as the end of an era – an era of insanely great technology with a laser focus on usability and changing the world.

I had been an Apple user since the first semester of my junior year in high school. I begged and pleaded all summer for my parents to buy me a personal computer. A friend and I even collaborated on a comic book documenting the value to our education we would receive if our parents got us computers. Of course, what we really wanted was to play games. Our parents though somehow overlooked our obvious insincerity and got us each that Apple II+. Little did either of us know that it was the best investment in not only our education but our future. We both wound up pursuing degrees in technology and parlaying that skill into fulfilling careers.

I feel that I have much to be thankful for as a result of Steve Jobs’ work. Without that first computer, I would have never gone on to pursue my undergraduate degree. Had it not been for the first time I saw the amazing ability of a Macintosh to copy and paste graphics and text, I would have never concentrated on becoming not just a writer, but one with a sense of design. Every 18-24 months I would buy a new Macintosh. When iPods came out, I had to get one of those. Same for an iPhone. And an Apple TV. Not to mention an iPad. My life is surrounded by the works of Apple: the assorted hardware, iTunes, the App Store and I know that these things and others have helped me change the world and help others achieve their dreams. Sure, these things are just tools, but they are wonderful tools. Any craftsman or artist knows that while the tools don’t create the art, having the right tools can sure make the job easier. I feel that these Apple tools have done just that; made the creation of art and industry that much easier and that much better.

I am saddened by the loss of Steve Jobs. Regardless of how some may have characterized his management style, he changed the world and, I believe, left it a better place than when he entered it. This afternoon, someone sent me a link to his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address. I hadn’t watched the entire address and was moved by it, especially near the end where he speaks about being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and learning to live each day as if it were the last. Well lived Mr. Jobs. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

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Who’s Got Time to Read 5 Million Books?

Ever wonder what would happen if you could read 5-million books and then analyze trends that occur across all those books? Well, neither had I, but a group of really smart guys from Harvard or MIT or one of those other New England institutions did just that – with the help of a bunch of silicon and Google’s scanned books. It’s fascinating to hear these guys talk about what they did and how they did it – almost more interesting than the results of their research. Plus, you can have fun searching on your own cultural themes.

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Educational Distractions

Twenty-five years ago, I found it tough enough to pay attention in my undergraduate classes that I felt had nothing to do with my desire to become a computer manual writer. At the time, my distractions were television, my Sony Walkman personal cassette player, books, bicycles, the beach, and vector-based computer games. No cell phones, no email, no web surfing, no streaming Internet video. Perhaps the biggest distraction of all was that the campus student center served beer and pizza for lunch.

Advancing technology and the increased stimuli that constantly bombard us now makes me wonder how our students, or anyone, can expect to pay attention to a single person talking away at the front of an uncomfortable room.  Michael Wesch, a Cultural Anthropologist at Kansas State University, takes at look at how 19th century teaching methods can’t compete with the inputs available to our 21st century students. Take a look his vision of this tension…

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Sir Ken RSA

What happens when you mashup my favorite educational contrarian with RSA Animate? You be the judge…

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Innovate or…

Spend 30-seconds perusing the Management & Leadership section of a bookstore or scanning the articles targeting entrepreneurs, small business owners, and managers of large organizations and you’ll not doubt run across some author thinking he or she is making a ground-breaking observation that we must either innovate or die. It’s almost as if the world had been a static, unchanging place up until 10:47am on Tuesday of last week at which time the author looked around and realized we needed to change to compete, survive, thrive, excel, succeed, etc. Of course, the way to compete, thrive, and so on is to change what we’re doing now and try something newer, shinier, better. Or so we’re lead to believe. With a new leadership theory surfacing every 7.3-seconds, at least we’re not at a loss for new ideas on how to do things. Innovate! Change! Improve!

Ok, so perhaps I’m exercising a bit of hyperbole. It does seem though like we’re sometimes stuck in a repeating pattern of the new, better, best methods for how we should do our work. Some of this may actually be useful and even embraced, initially, but more often than not, the shine wears off the new toy and we revert back to the same-old same-old, doing business like we’ve done it before. Is this a failure of the new idea? Not necessarily. Instead, the idea for change, for innovation, may be perfectly wonderful but just not appropriate for the time or the place where it was introduced. One thing is certain – the world around us continues to change and because of this, it’s critical that we change too if for no other reason than just in order to keep up with the changes.

My time at ACC is brief, so I can’t rely on much personal experience to describe this constant change. Luckily, there exists the ACC Archive Project to accurately document college progress over the years (unlike my fanciful statistics above). Some selected entries from the archive timeline:

  • Fall 1973 – 1,726 students
  • 1975 – Military veterans flock to ACC
  • 1983 ACC purchases the Austin Country Club (which becomes the Riverside campus the following year)
  • 1986 – Texas Legislature mandates general education core curriculum for colleges and universities
  • 1989 – ACC’s Northridge campus opens; ACC launches telephone registration
  • 1992 – ACC hires four part-time sign language interpreters
  • 1996 – ACC receives SACS warning to improve long-term planning process
  • 1997One College reorganization plan for centralization of control
  • 1999Senior Academy opens at HBC focusing on educational needs of senior citizens
  • 2002 – Video classroom opens at Manor High School allowing distance learning by video transmission
  • 2004College Connection launches as pilot program with San Marcos ISD
  • 2005 – Dr. Stephen Kinslow appointed interim President of ACC
  • 2007 – Automotive Collision Repair and Refinishing Program launches
  • 2008 – Round Rock citizens vote to join ACC District
  • 2010 – ACC opens its eighth campus in Round Rock at capacity (>5,000 students); the Northridge campus student population exceeds 10,000
  • Fall 2010 – 44,243 students

In just 37-years, the amount of change and innovation that has taken place at ACC is nothing short of incredible. So, while it may seem like it’s the same-old same-old, the reality is that what we do today is very, very different from what was being done just 10-years ago, let along almost 40-years ago. Yet, and this is where it gets both fun and interesting, we also experience anew that which has gone before. Take for instance the surge of military veterans entering ACC in 1975. The same is happening now with recent changes in the federal GI Bill and the state Hazlewood Act providing millions of veterans and their dependents access to higher education. Round Rock went from annexation vote to campus opening in just two years and now we have four more annexation votes occurring next month. If they all pass, what will it be like opening four new campuses simultaneously just a couple years from now? Each of these milestones (and many others) represent fundamental changes to how and what we do at ACC. Through all of this, we have innovated and adapted how we work to meet the needs of our students and to respond to changes in both the internal and external environments.

It’s important for us to remember what has gone before in order to realize that innovation is not something that we have to start doing now, but rather that it is something we have been doing from the start of the college. Innovation is nothing more than creative thinking in response to the changes that occur around us. ACC has a great track record for innovating to meet the demands of our stakeholders. Often, the best innovations come from the people doing the daily work of the college. Each of you have a unique and valuable perspective on not just how we do things, but also on how we can change to do things better. I encourage you everyday when you come to work to think about your job from the perspective of a student. How does what you do help students progress toward achieving their educational goal? What could you and your colleagues do differently that would help students become more successful or reduce barriers to their success? You have the knowledge, the skills, and the experience to recognize the potential for new ways of doing things that will help our students succeed. Share these ideas with your peers and your supervisor. Talk about them with others. Make your ideas known so we can innovate into the future and put legs under our students’ dreams.

By the way, that last line is cribbed from something Dr. Kinslow said in an ACC Closing the Gaps video last year (see 4:52 in the video below). That one line, voiced by the college’s president, so eloquently states the reason we are all here working as hard as we do for our students.

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Cultures of Innovation

A week ago, I discussed broken things and briefly commented on Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Made to Stick. I’m just about done reading the book and am struck by the value of their ideas, specifically the importance of stories over analytical data as a means of making ideas sticky. I must admit that I’ve long been a fan of presenting the logical argument, laced with supporting statistics, graphs, and charts in order to make my case. This book has me rethinking my approach to presenting new ideas. While I don’t think I’ll be able to ditch the data (so to speak) given the academic universe in which I orbit, including more stories and personalizing the ideas certainly appeals to me.

I had another of those Eureka moments this morning when the confluence of different ideas come together and clarity ensues. Fittingly, it was while watching a video on the confluence of different ideas. TED recently posted a new talk by Steven Johnson on Where Good Ideas Come From, which just happens to be the title of his forthcoming book. While the talk starts a bit slow, my interest really engaged when he described the car-part infant incubator designed for easy maintenance in developing countries. However, the real gem of the talk comes at the end (around the 12:15 point in the timeline) where Johnson tells a story of ideas building upon ideas and the development of something new which profoundly affected how people would interact with each other and their environment many years in the future.

Anyone interested in nurturing a culture of innovation would do well with reading the Heaths’ book and spending a quarter-hour watching the above video. For fans of the RSA Animations, check out the short video where Johnson outlines the themes for his new book.

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Broken Things

As a former technologist trained as a Systems Analyst, I find myself often looking at broken things from a systems perspective. It’s all a process and with a few tweaks and modifications, we can make it better. Of course, the rubber hits the road, as it were, in the implementation of any fixes for broken systems. Lines too long? Add a sign informing people about critical information they need to know so they won’t have to wait in the line. Problem is that all those signs become nothing more than visual smog, ignored by everyone standing in line to ask questions already answered by the signs they don’t even notice. Surely, there must be better ways of fixing broken systems.

Sorry, but I don’t have the answers here for you other than creative thinking and leveraging the brain-power of multiple people. Which, by the way, really is the answer though it doesn’t reduce the amount of work or time necessary to truly get at the optimal solution.

What got me thinking about this was the confluence of some ideas I’ve been experiencing. Among these, are thoughts on implementing change and crafting ideas that stick in people’s minds – both from books by Chip and Dan Heath. However, what sparked today’s post was another video posting on TED. This one from Seth Godin. If you’ve never read Seth’s stuff, you should, especially his musings on customer service and marketing. Seth’s writing is smart and funny and makes you think about things from a different perspective. Check out his video on broken things and see if you don’t start thinking about how you can fix all those stupid things that just don’t make sense in your world.

Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t allow embedding of Vimeo videos (if you know how, let me know) so you’ll need to view this the old-fashioned way by following this link to the Vimeo page.

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Stealing a line from football (not “American” but what the rest of the world considers football), today’s observation focuses on goals. For many of us, the start of a new fiscal year often brings about the much anticipated goal setting season. You know…the time when you’re told what your boss is working on so that you can incorporate the same goals in your work to ensure that your boss is successful. Don’t get me wrong, we all get a chance to flow our goals down to others, even when we don’t have others who actually work for us. In those cases, we get to conscript collaborators to assist in achieving “our” goals. When done well, the organization moves forward and achieves important ends. Done poorly, we all wind up chasing the latest vaporous management slogan. Luckily, I work at a place that falls into the former rather than the latter camp.

This was all sparked by a recent TED posting of Derek Sivers discussing the importance of NOT sharing your goals with others.

What I find intriguing is that as counter-intuitive as it sounds, personal experience has borne out the truth about speaking your goal and loosing momentum in achieving that goal. Having said that, I must further note that this really seems to be a problem with individual goals. We all know the value of working together as a team, unit, group, mob. The old saw that two minds are more powerful than one. There really is truth in that. Think that if the United States did not have a clear, articulated, visible, outrageous goal of reaching the moon by the end of the 1960s decade, would we have ever been successful? Would a bunch of unsharing, silent, toiling individuals have been able to accomplish the near-miraculous achievement of shooting a human being to the moon and subsequently returning said human back to earth? I don’t think so.

So, take Mr. Sivers admonitions with a grain of salt. If your goal is to clean out your garage, then maybe it’s best to just shut-up and do it. If, however, your goal is develop a new way to distill a viable fuel from desiccated sheets of pond algae, go ahead and shout your goal from the rooftop. Attract other like-minded, perhaps nutty, individuals who can lend their brain power to yours and together have your conjoined intellects actually make that BHAG a reality.

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Beautiful Information

You can’t spend more than 20-minutes working in Education (or just about any of the Social Sciences for that matter) without hearing someone expound upon the importance of “data driven decisions.” Academics especially are driven to acquire more data, larger datasets, more finely grained measurement criteria. One would think that the next step would be to carefully analyze and draw insightful, relevant, even profound conclusions from the data. Sometimes, this actually happens and the results wind up in print ready to be cited by others eager to prove that their wild-hair idea is supported by “the data.”

Unfortunately, it seems the more common occurrence is that the bureaucratized, hide-bound, fossilized members of whatever committee has responsibility for approving your proposal uses the excuse “we need more data” as a means of forestalling whatever microscopic glimmer of change they might glimpse in your ideas. You are relegated to some spreadsheet purgatory or exiled to outer SASkatoon in a futile effort to scrub and massage your data into a form acceptable to the naysayers. Eventually, you tire of the tediousness of it all, fold-up your pivot tables, and move on to your next project. In the eyes of the pessimists, their tactic wins, deferring and deflating both you and your ideas until only a flat, formless heap remains, neutered and incapable of threatening the status quo.

Now, if you sense any bitterness in the previous paragraphs, rest assured that I speak only in the metaphorical sense and that the above in no way represents any real person or committee, living or dead. Disclaimer aside, it can seem that you run into roadblocks like this on a regular basis. What does all this have to do with Beautiful Information? Well, nothing really, I just had an itch to get that bit off my chest. What I really wanted to comment on is a new video from TED featuring one of my all-time favorites, David McCandless. I’ve been following David’s work on his blog for a few years now. He has an amazing ability to take huge amounts of data and present it visually in such a way that you truly understand not just the nuances represented by the figures but see true beauty in the representation itself.

Last year, I pre-ordered his book and eagerly awaited its publication and arrival at my door. I remember pouring over the graphics, soaking in each one, unable to view more than a few pages in any one sitting because doing so would cause my brain to hurt. I recall feeling foolish and inadequate staring at some of the images and not having a clue what they represented. It was a few weeks later that I saw a post on David’s website noting that his publisher had screwed up and omitted the text from some of the graphics. He thoughtfully provided PDFs of the correct images, restoring my faith in my analytical abilities (it wasn’t me…the bloody bubbles weren’t labeled).

This week, TED released a David McCandless’ talk, Information is Beautiful. It’s worth a watch, if not for the beauty of the data, then for a few good data-geek laughs.

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Sir Ken on Creativity

Some time ago, I became a big fan of TED. There’s something stimulating about watching and listening to great thinkers that you just don’t get from watching that third rerun of Law and Order. One of the most memorable speakers I stumbled upon is Sir Ken Robinson. He delivers razor-sharp insight on education with such a humorous spin that you almost miss the significance of what he’s saying due to the laughter. The video below was his first TED Talk (that I’m aware of) from back in 2006. A more recent follow-on talk is also available.


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