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.