Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Taking a Leap

In Stephen Downes' article about what you really need to learn, he covers predicting consequences of actions first. He uses the example of wanting to jump across a rock chasm. The culture of "The Secret" recommends visualizing success. That can be very helpful, however, you also need to visualize the consequences of failure and predict its probability. 

If I don't succeed in jumping the chasm, I will fall to my death. Given the consequences, it would be a good idea to get more info on the probability of failure. 

Can you jump the same distance on flat ground? You can use the Visor Trick ( to measure the same distance on the flat ground to the side of you. Jump the distance a sufficient number of times. Now decide whether it's worth trying.

The opposite situation can also be examined. You want to go into the ocean in the Florida Keys but you are afraid of sharks. You imagine yourself in the water and the lifeguard signals that there is a shark and you see yourself simply getting out of the water. 

Just to be sure you look at the probability of shark attacks in the Florida Keys compared to traffic fatalities: 18 non-fatal attacks in over 100 years. 19 car fatalities in Monroe County (Florida Keys) in 2011.

Think of a time when you had a failure that you could have avoided if you had thought it through. Think of a time when you didn't do something you wanted to do because you assumed that it was likely to fail when it probably wasn't.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Tack

When you are sailing against the wind, you pick a spot on the landscape to head for. That is not your final destination but you still focus on getting there. Then just when you are almost there and you know you can take advantage of the new angle of the wind, you change direction and head for a new point on the shore.

Solving a problem can work the same way. A good technique is to picture a solution and focus on achieving it. However you can't always know how that solution is going to work out. It is OK to change the picture when you get to a better vantage point. The technique still works even if you don't stick with one image. The solution evolves but the focus remains the same. In this way you can navigate to where you want to be.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Year One

It has been a year since Heretic's Toolbox began. It is a mysterious evolving and unpredictable thing. Thanks for being a part of it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Problem Solving Time Traveller

We humans use our temporal lobe to time travel. We use our imagination to work backward through our memories or forward through our predictions. This is valuable for problem solving. The more we understand our memories, the better predictions we make. The more we understand our desired future outcomes the better decisions we make in the present.

Think about a problem you have. Tell yourself the story of how it came about and see if you see underlying patterns. Your memory may not always be accurate, but your storytelling speaks to your present needs. Imagine a future where the problem is solved. What does it look like? Now step back from that future state to the present and think about the steps you will need to take to get there.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Supported by Faulty Assumptions

When dealing with a wicked problem, look for the faulty assumptions that support the continuation of the problem. It is in that same place that you will find a solution.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Formulate Your Ideas

Formulate your ideas by playing with them in quiet empty places.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sampling of Tweets

I'd rather speak up and be corrected than be quiet and remain mistaken

You can navigate a sailboat but you cannot control the wind.

We must constantly recreate our picture of reality in order to survive.

People invested in stasis fear disruptors and so they attempt to marginalize them

In an infinite universe it is impossible to define anything exclusively.

I still think reality is done with smoke and mirrors

You can accomplish anything you want but not everything you want.

Procrastination is just an alert that you have a scaling problem with your task at hand.

Bad rules always create the situation they were designed to avoid

If you need to beg for a seat at the table maybe you need to think more about what you bring to the table.

Control is an illusion, even if it appears in a policy manual.

You can't learn without failure and you can't be successful without learning

Learning has to be playing. How else does it work?

Use fewer words, own fewer things, set fewer expectations, do fewer tasks, use fewer apps, answer fewer emails. Live more life.

From @weisblatt

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Google Refine

Humans are really good at interpreting data but they aren't fast. They can see the context in disjointed information and find the patterns to make it into a structured and usable whole but if they have to do repeated corrections it can be very labor intensive,

With the recent attention to Big Data, incredibly large datasets produced as a byproduct of worldwide online activity, there is a concern that messy data will be impossible to resolve at that volume.

I've recently seen Google Refine which puts the power of human meaning making into large datasets. It provides the user the ability to find patterns and apply global changes to them to easily create more robust data. 

When I was a computer consultant I was often asked to help clean up dirty data. I knew all sorts of tricks in Microsoft office but they pale in comparison to what I see in Google Refine. I'm going to experiment with it and see where it can be an advantage to Heretics who are looking for Big data as a powerful new tool.

NOTE: Google Refine has been changed to an open source project named Open Refine. You can view the documentation here:

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Erosion of Meaning

My father has always been a big proponent of “common” sense and practicality. He is a very concrete thinker and so as a son/employee and as an abstract thinker, he and I were often at odds with one another. In my frustration as a young artist working in my father’s electrical contracting shop, I latched onto an idea about my father and his business that has stayed with me in various forms since then.

My father was a good and fair businessman and his practicality served him well for the most part. However, there was one place where it broke down. In the shop where he kept his tools and supplies, there was a conflict of my father’s ideas: 1) Don’t throw anything out because it could be valuable at a later date. 2) Keep the men in the field where they produce value instead of in the shop cleaning up.  The result is that the shop was glutted with piles of unorganized tools and materials. What I spotted was that the value that my father was trying to maintain started to quickly erode as the material became inaccessible because of the disorganization. A $5000 coupling used in rare circumstances was on the floor in a pile with $2 coupling used every day. Once the object was placed in storage without regard to its purpose or meaning, it lost its value.

At the time I was studying the Dada movement in art and it resonated with me. The artists at the time were reacting to the horrors of World War I, and how technology had destroyed meaning. They made art out of objects that had specific purposes and then stripped them of that purpose and repurposed them for art. This worked perfectly with my frustration with my father’s monolithic insistence that everything must be of practical use in light of the de-practicalization of his shop. And so I began building abstract sculptures with his materials. The more old and decrepit the object, the better. Sometimes the finished pieces would have some human or animal look to them but that was part of my take on searching for meaning. For the most part, the sculptures purposefully had no meaning.

After time though, I began to run into the same problem that my father had. Since no one saw meaning or value in the sculptures, they began to accumulate in storage and lose their value. Since I couldn’t justify the ongoing resources needed to continue, I threw everything out.

That was 20 years ago. Since then I have had hundreds of notebooks filled with doodles of sculptures. This idea still has a hold on me.

Now I am working on a website that talks about the process of using and questioning tools for the establishment of meaning. I’m feeling the old tug of wanting to contrast the discussion by building things without meaning.

The impracticality of creating large meaningless things has been helped in the last 20 years with the advent of photoshop. We’ll see…

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Saturday morning, go to Home Depot and watch the line at the register for a while. Then go to the dump and watch what is tossed.

Then find a place where you can scoop up a handful of soil. Think about the countless micro-organisms that have been in there for countless eons converting death into life.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Give a group of people PVC pipes of various lengths and instruct them to go to a clearing in a park and to stand off the sidewalk and drop the end of the pipe on a rock. They will serenade any passersby.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Square-D Game

As a young performance artist who was enamored with Surrealist Games, I created an Infinite Game called Square-D (named for a manufacturer of electrical power panels). Here are the basics:
  • Begin with coins placed in what seems to be a specific pattern.
  • Each player takes a turn making a move.
  • A move can be any action from sliding a coin to moving a player's body part.
  • Each move must be more complicated than the previous one.
  • The goal is to not let the game end.
Gamification is a buzz word now but people need to understand that all games are not the same. Infinite Games like Calvinball have a different dynamic and may have more application in the spreading of heretical ideas.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Cool Stuff Store

Here's a fun site to wander around: Inventables

I usually tell people to work on your idea and then find the resources to execute it but sometimes your imagination needs to go play in a cool stuff store.

Monday, July 9, 2012

How to Explain to an 8 year-old Heretic, the Flaw in his Reasoning

Me: "Go get yourself some breakfast"

8 yr-old: "I don't know what I want. "

Me: "OK so you do this every morning and I think I understand what is going wrong. You are a logical person so let me draw a picture of your logic:"
"The rectangle represents all the breakfast food in our house. On the left are the things you know about and to the right of the squiggly line are the things you don't know about. Outside of the box is something that you want that we don't have."

"Now let's put in numbers that represent how much you like these items. Inside the box, there's one at just +1, then there's a minus 8, minus four, and minus infinity. You really hate that one. Lets say the thing you really want is, oh I don't know, how about chocolate chip ice-cream and you like that at +200."

"OK, here's the problem: if you compare the thing you want to what is available, it's no contest. Why settle for +1 when you want +200. But the thing is, that food that you want does not exist in this house, so it doesn't count. When you compare the +1 to the other available options it starts looking a whole lot better."

"Once you stop thinking about the thing you don't have, you might even consider looking around for things you may like that you didn't even know we had?"

There was silence and I figured my kids saw this as further evidence that their father is nuts. Then suddenly they all said:

"Dad, that was the best explanation ever."

The next day, the 8 year old heretic made his own breakfast without a peep. We'll see how that goes.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Just Playing with Prezi

It's important to be able to play...regardless of the outcome. That last part is the most important.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Real Life Heretic: Ben Franklin

(In honor of American Independence day)

Here are the tools that Franklin used:

Reading Books (He didn't have formal education)
Forming Communities of Practice
Controlling the Media (Printer)
Controlling Communications (Postmaster)

This is what he accomplished.

Image: Benjamin Franklin by Joseph-Siffred Duplessis via Wikipedia

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Buy a magazine and find the ad for the newest technology and the ad with the most beautiful person. Rip them out and without using any other tool besides your fingers, fold, rip and combine the two images in interesting ways. Take a picture of your creation with your smart phone and upload it to Picassa under the tag: #hereticstoolbox

Think about how those ads came to be. What reaction in your brain were they looking for. What message are they sending.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Opposite Game

I was struggling with my posting schedule for this site and was considering reducing the posts from weekly to bi-weekly. The problem was that I had some more ambitious ideas that I didn’t have time to work on in the tight schedule. Instead I did the opposite of what I planned and what would seem logical. I increased my posting schedule to 5 days per week with a more structured content schedule, and I’ve put off any plan to do large projects. Remarkably this made me more relaxed and confident that I would be able to keep up and get to my ideas. The large projects were the hang up and they were unnecessary. I often play this Opposite Game in order to break through any mental block that I may have. Try it out on something you are stuck on. What is the opposite action to the one you are leaning towards? What would it look like if you tried that approach?

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Sometimes the simplest tools are the most powerful and can open your imagination to more possibilities.

Above is a demo of the "If" function in Google Docs' spreadsheet program. It was created in a very easy screen capture tool called Screenr.

Think of information you wrestle with and how you can use the "If" function to adapt the patterns in the data to suit your needs.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Real Life Heretic: Salmon Khan

Salmon Khan, a former hedge fund manager wowed the world with his TED conference presentation about how he founded Khan Academy, the site for free educational videos originally intended for his little cousins.

While the rest of the education world was looking at the latest slick multimedia tools. Sal started recording his scribblings on a simple paint program. He makes no attempt to make his presentations slick in anyway. He records them in airport lounges or on his couch. What he does bring to these short videos is simply a phenomenal way of describing difficult concepts in a clear and accessible way.

The simplicity of the production is why he can produce so many of these valuable learning tools and still be able to give them away for free.

The other innovation that Khan Academy is introducing is goal based curriculum. Do you want to learn how to do calculus. Here are all the things you have to learn to get there. You progress as you understand each concept. This is a lot different than classes where you pass or fail or move one but never get to work through the material that you didn't get.

Sal is not the only heretic in this story. Teachers have used his videos to do something now known as "Flipping the Classroom" Instead of presenting the knowledge to a class and then expecting them to  practice by themselves through homework, the teachers can now assign the content for homework using Khan Academy videos  and in class they are able to help the students do what was once homework but is now classwork.

Sal started this with Skype, Paint and Youtube. He may have money, but the tools were free and accessible to anyone.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012



Next time
You go to throw a plastic wrapper
in the garbage

make a kazoo out of it instead.

Serenade the next person who goes to throw something away.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Our standard process should resolve the current situation as soon as we make the necessary changes in human nature, the laws of physics, and the basic tenets of economics.

To change things you have to understand them. One of the best tools for a Heretic is a clear articulation of the environment. Here are two excellent explanations: Seb Paquet’s article on the life cycle of institutions and Jay Rosen's description of wicked problems.

Monday, June 25, 2012


While walking along a stream, I spotted a river otter, a rare sight in Fairfield County, Connecticut. I was reminded of the line from Richard Bach: "We humans are the otters of the universe." It's true: we are designed to play. It is how we learn the patterns of our world, and therefore it is how we survive. We play to try and fail so that we can find the solutions that work for us. But our society devalues play. Everything has to be perfect. Failure is not an option. 

In this picture, I collected my sketches of a cartoon otter character. I didn't know how to draw it, so I needed to draw it badly again and again until it evolved into what I was looking for. We need to re-learn to play like this in all aspects of our lives.

As a heretic introducing something new into the world, you need to let go of getting it perfect. It isn't possible to make something that never existed before perfectly. You need to play with your idea until it evolves into what is needed.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Heretic Describes his Ideas

The Heretic was explaining his latest ideas to Analyn. The way that his mind works is that he has to process the abstract structure of ideas before he can even look at the concrete details. Analyn’s mind works exactly opposite of that and so when he finished she said “I’m sorry, Sweetheart, but I don’t really understand what you are saying.”

The next day, the Heretic took out a large piece of paper and drew out his ideas for Analyn. Each component was represented by an icon and all the connections between the components was drawn out in perspective. Analyn said “Well this does help me to understand what you are saying but I still don’t really get why this is so important.”

The next day, the Heretic cleared off a table and setup found objects and folded paper sculptures and used them to describe his ideas with passion. “Analyn said “OK, so now I get why this is important but I need to see how it plays out in real life.”

The next day, the Heretic made a video on his smart phone where he told the story of how he came up with the idea and what his vision was of how the idea could be used in real life. When Analyn saw the video, she kissed him and said “That was great! Why didn’t you just do that in the first place?” The Heretic explained that he needed to go through that process in order to make sense of his idea.

The next day, he created an online presentation of his idea organized by the abstract structure, illustrated by scans of his drawings and photos of his sculptures with the videos embedded in the pages.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Stereoscope Anomoly

Because of the limitations of our ability to perceive our surroundings we have built up a system of coded patters to get through daily life. If those codes are disrupted, we go into instant problem solving adrenalin mode in order to find new patterns of meaning to latch onto. Therefore, creating these disruptions is a good tool for creativity. The easiest disruptions are ones that take advantage of our limited visual perception, similar to the tricks of a magician. A Stereoscope takes advantage of errors in our binocular vision to make duplicated photos look 3d. We can take the same device to disrupt our binocular vision patterns, and thereby sparking our imaginations.

Above: My design for stereoscopic fisheye glasses.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Real Simple

RSS or Really Simple Syndication is an important tool. Though it is simple, ubiquitous and older than dirt (in internet time), I’ll bet there are a lot of people who don’t get it (It took me a while). I’d like to describe how to use RSS as a heretic. If you already know the deal, I’ll catch you next week.

If you want to act on your heretical ideas, you will need the help of a community of people who champion your cause. You can begin to build that community online by sharing other people’s ideas. Other people’s ideas are spelled out in blogs. If you find the handful of bloggers who really speak to your vision, are you going to scour their sites for updates every day? Imagine if you could meet your favorite bloggers for coffee every morning. That is what RSS is for. It provides you with updates from websites and blogs as they are posted.

Here’s how it works. Blogs have a functionality called subscribe. Here subscriptions refers to the ability for a reader to get updates via a feed. The feed is a file with the latest version of the blog. The updates are sent to you  via an RSS Reader application. I recommend Google Reader. You read the updates just like your email. You can even get a smart phone app that connects to your reader. I use Byline. This process is called Syndication.

Here are your steps to get started:
  • Create an account on Google Reader
  • Download and setup an RSS App for your smart phone or tablet that supports Google Reader.
  • Go to your social media tool of choice (this will probably work best with Twitter)
  • Read the posts of the top 5 people you admire and follow their links to blog posts.
  • Find the top 5 blogs that you like and find the subscribe option  (If you can’t find it may be in your browser’s toolbar).
  • Follow the directions to subscribe to the feed for that blog using Google Reader.
  • Set aside time to read Google Reader. Don’t try to read everything. Remove the feeds you lose interest in or that haven’t had recent updates.
  • Share articles of interest to you with your community on your social media tool of choice.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Wash Away

When you get frustrated as all Heretics inevitably do, find a body of water like a stream or the ocean and stand by it and imagine that the water is rising up into your body and when it flows out, it washes away all of your turmoil and angst, leaving you clean and open.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Out of the Box

The Heretic invited a group of people to an Experientity that he had planned for a small open space downtown. The group gathered at the appropriate time and the Heretic showed up with a large box. From the box he pulled out several small boxes and gave one to each of the participants. On the outside of the box was a QR code. You couldn’t tell but each one was unique.

“Oh,” said Kathy, “I think I have a QR reader app on my iPhone!” She pulled out her phone, opened the app and focused it on the QR code. This brought up a web page with instructions. The rest of the participants followed suit. James had to ask for help to download the app.

Following the first instructions, they removed the contents of the box. Each box contained a small object and an accessory to wear like a hat or a scarf. The participants were to play characters in a story. The next instruction was for each participant to seek out another participant with a particular object. They then needed to interact with that object in a particular way: Jane read Tim’s map; John used Mary’s wrench to fold a piece of paper; and so on. Through this interaction, the participants begin to understand the beginning of a story.

The last instruction is to go and meet in another open space where the heretic will have a new box and the process will start all over again, and the participants will get the conclusion of the story. James, who has been involved extensively in storytelling said “I’ve never seen anyone tell a story like this. It really involves you.”

A Fluxus Boxes
QR Code Generator
QR Code Ideas

Monday, May 14, 2012

Learn About Technology from Low-tech Magazine

Thanks to one of my favorite sites, Cool Tools for the link to this site, Low-tech Magazine, dedicated to finding low tech answers to todays problems by examining the history of tools and the illogic of our current use of technology. Counter-intuitively, from this examination you can get a lot of ideas on how to use technology in new and more powerful ways.

Above is my idea for a battery/wind/human powered vehicle, inspired by reading the articles. (Full disclosure: the image of the man riding the bicycle is from clip art. The rest is mine.)

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Dance?

Bring a pole held puppet dragon to a plaza and randomly ask passersby to hold the poles. Then walk away.

On each pole is a note:

“You don’t have to do anything. You could just stand there or you could leave the pole on the ground. But you could also dance. What would happen if you did? Would the others join you? Would you have fun? Would you be embarrassed? I’ll be embarrassed if everyone just lays their poles down. You don’t have to be like that. You could take a chance. You’re not alone. You have nothing to lose.”

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Real Life Heretic: Chase Randell

In the process of working out how to teach young people how to live in society, Chase Randell began to question society's assumptions. He decided to take them on starting with the assumption that only qualified professionals can build things of value. He committed himself to building an underground house on a patch of woods in upstate New York. He then looked for people to help him learn how to do it. The result was not only an underground house but a beautiful underground house with a wall of bluestone, intricate stone walls, high timber ceilings as well as doors and stain glass windows found in junkyards. If he had gone to the "qualified professionals" with his idea the costs would have been enormous. His heretical idea is to teach other people how to do this so they can be more self sufficient.

Find something that you want to do but won't because you are not "qualified"
Commit yourself to doing it anyway.
Once you've committed to it, find a way to make it happen. Ask for help. Change the parameters.
Think about all the times you assessed whether something was possible before you committed to doing it.


Chase's ideas on education are influenced by reading John Dewey
Chase's rejection of consumerism is similar to these eloquent essayists
Chase assertion that people can make there own stuff is mirrored in the Maker movement.
Advantages of underground houses.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


While researching tools for my course on Cloud Computing for Entrepreneurs, I came across this nice collaborative diagramming tool called Cacoo. One of my points in the course was that Cloud services that included the ability to collaborate were the most valuable. Recently my friend Phil was asking about a diagramming tool and I figured it would be fun to try it out. Here is the diagram we worked on. Try it yourself. Sign in to Cacoo (it's free) and invite someone you've always wanted to work with to brainstorm with you on new ideas.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Problem Solving aka Doodling


Analyn invited the Heretic to one of her social action group meetings. Throughout the meeting he drew in his sketchbook and she noticed that he was doodling. She was furious until towards the end of the meeting he looked up and asked a question that cut right to the core issue that the committee was trying to resolve. He then gave a simple but perfect suggestion and went back to his doodling.

Drawing is always about problem solving. Therefore drawings by their nature are problematic. If you’ve created the perfect rendering then it is not a drawing. Even a doodle is addressing a problem: How to get the goop out of your subconscious and into a tangible state that can be used to find meaning. The answer? Draw something meaningless and evolve it into something unexpected.

Sunni Brown’s Doodle Revolution Toolkit and TED talk


Turn a doodle into a treasured object at Shapeways
or turn it into a commodity at Cafepress

Monday, April 9, 2012

Real Life Heretics: The Hexayurt Project

Vinay Gupta and his friends at the Hexayurt Project wanted to attack the problem of providing cheap easy to access shelter for crisis locations. They asked "Why not use locally accessible materials? How would we reduce waste to make it a viable solution?"  They took the lowly plywood sheet and flipped it to create the Hexayurt, named after the Mongolian round tent. They tried it at Burning Man, and then brought them to Haiti and other places around the world. Most importantly, they used the Open Design concept to make sure that the idea was accessible to anyone anywhere.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012



Rip some paper and put it in a small plastic container. Label the container “Ripped Paper.” Put the container in a larger container along with a bent paper clip and label that container “Miscellaneous.” Put the container in a larger container and label that container “Small Objects.”

By using the Miscellaneous category you have devalued the contents of the two smaller containers and you have degraded the relationship between the “Small Objects” category and the “Ripped Paper” category. Most of all, you have demonstrated the inherent problem of Hierarchical Categorization. To be fair, you can’t blame Miscellaneous. That’s just a stop-gap of last resort on a flawed system. You will find Miscellaneous categories everywhere.

Hierarchy is extremely valuable for understanding frameworks but it is really only a particular kind of relationship. Connecting things with relationships is much more effective than dividing things with categories. This is especially true with people.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Showing Up

If you want to learn to use a tool as a leader you need to use it as a participant. Go to and find an event to attend. Show up early and help the organizer set up. Ask them what passion drove them to start this project. How did the meetup tool help make their vision come to life.

Alternatives to meet up are Eventbrite and Plancast.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Cool Tools

For a while I’ve been telling people: “Don’t focus on the tools; focus on the problem they are used to solve” and yet, I’ve created a site dedicated to tools and I’m giving you links like this one that randomly lists tools by virtue of their wow factor. (to be fair, the author is wowed by things that are actually useful): Cool Tools

Is it OK to look at tools without a problem in mind?


When you are working on a problem wouldn’t it be good to have a database in your head of effective tools and the kinds of problems they can solve? (Having a list in Evernote would be even better.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Fling Itself

As a Performance artist, I used the tools from my father’s shop for absurd purposes to rail against the rigidity of business. When I was in business,  I told people to stop looking at tools and look at outcomes instead. Now that I’ve created a “performance-art-like” exploration of tools, I’m trying to expand my perspective.

In this clip from my favorite TV show of the eighties, Northern Exposure, Chris, the resident philosopher is using a trebuchet to fling a piano, and he explains that it is not the piano that is important but the flinging itself. So is he focused on the tool and not the outcome? When you see the reactions of the other characters, you realize that this absurd act actually had an effect on people. That is the outcome.

That was TV though. Let’s try it in real life on a smaller scale. Stack up some empty soda cans (don’t forget to recycle when you’re done) and find an adjustable wrench. There’s something familiar and gratifying about the weird center of gravity of an adjustable wrench. Think of the monkeys in 2001 Space Odyssey. Now fling the wrench at the soda cans.

Your brain released chemicals twice during that experiment: once when you felt the centrifugal force of the wrench leaving your hand, and once when you heard the uncomfortable racket of the crashing cans. Did those feeling have value? Do you think you could make use of that effect some day?

Note: this episode was my first exposure to a Trebuchet and inspired this post

Monday, March 5, 2012

Real Life Heretic: George Siemens

George Siemens, a major proponent of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), brought together 3 heretical ideas to begin changing education:

  • Courses can be provided by academic institutions  to anyone in the world, free of charge.
  • Courses can be offered to an unlimited number of people.
  • The content of courses can be created by the learners themselves.
He uses whatever tools work and participants are encouraged to expand their use of tools to spread the reach of the course content. Here are some examples:
Here is a review that I wrote of one of his courses that I attended.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Chasing Euclid

The Heretic had a friend with astigmatism who was afraid of hallways because he felt like they were closing in on him. To cure himself he decided to measure the walls of a hallway and prove that they were parallel. He knew the Heretic was good with the latest tools so he asked him to set up a mobile laser-based measuring device with mirrors and other optics and a system processor capable of producing the desired result. The Heretic got a piece of string and some chalk and proceeded to do the proof the way the ancient Greeks did it.

  • Cut string #1 to width of hall
  • Fold string #1 in half twice and mark the folds to establish 4 quarters of the length
  • Cut string #2 to the length of string #1 + ¼
  • Tie pencils or chalk to each end of sting #2
  • Fold string #2 in half and mark the midpoint
  • Layout string #2 at a diagonal from one wall to another
  • Tape down or tack the midpoint on string #2
  • Use each pencil to draw an arc on the wall
  • For each arc, cut string #3 to length of the arc at the endpoints on the floor
  • Tape down or tack one end of string #3
  • Fold string # in half and tape down or tack the midpoint
  • Rotate the free end of string across the arc. If the end of the string matches the line, the arc is a perfect semicircle, therefore the walls are parallel

  • By creating the arcs with string #2, you are creating double napped cones cut in half by the plane of the floor.
  • A plane is perpendicular to the axis of the cones will intersect the cone to create a circle (as demonstrated by string #3).
  • Two planes that are perpendicular to the same line (the axis of the cones) are parallel to each other.

The Greek mathematicians didn't need precise measuring tools. They had precise ideas.

Monday, February 20, 2012


If you have a big idea, at some point you are going to want to make stuff, some sort of swag or actual product. (Hopefully you will only be selling something non-material like a ticket or a download.) Regardless of what you make or whether you want to make a profit, you need to know your breakeven point. How many units do you need to sell to offset the costs of each unit (variable costs) and that unit’s share of the overall costs (fixed costs). 

Here’s a tool to make the calculation…

Here is an explanation of the formulas involved if you want to do it yourself:

You can avoid the break-even problem by eradicating the fixed costs. You do this through on-demand ordering. The product is only created when it is ordered. You only pay for the vendors costs (variable) when you make a sale. The downside is the increased cost for your customers and narrow margins for you. Here’s a service that you can use:

Here is a link to my cafe press store:

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Butter Knife

`Two days wrong!' sighed the Hatter. `I told you butter wouldn't suit the works!' 
`It was the best butter,' the March Hare meekly replied.
`Yes, but some crumbs must have got in as well,' the Hatter grumbled: `you shouldn't have put it in with the butter-knife.'

Go to the kitchen and get a butter knife…a clean one. Make sure you are living with someone who won’t be freaked out about you walking around the house with a butter knife. Go to the book shelf and reach for the second shelf from the top and place the pinky of your right hand on the right edge of the case. Then stretch out your hand and touch a book with your thumb. Pull that book out half way. Stick the butter knife into the pages about half way through. Pull out the book and go to the page with the knife. Scan the text. Somewhere there is a sentence that holds the key to a problem you have been working on this week. Maybe it won’t be apparent at first but if you close your eyes and take a deep breath, it will come to you.

The magic that makes that trick work can be put to use for your idea if you can work its hidden truth.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


a paper toy named QRU?

Download the template to print and make your own.

Or download a free blank template to create your own paper toy.

QR Code Reader: I-nigma