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Simply Speaking

On learning, business, and beyond.

Updated: 2017-10-22T16:58:27.633+05:30


About Time


At last count, there were seven P’s of marketing. It started with four; the fifth that was added was Pace. A Google search on rapid e-learning threw up almost six million results; a similar one for micro learning returned close to 32 million. A recent topic of interest in the learning discipline again is agile learning, where one of the objectives, predictably enough, is “faster design solutions.” The logically sound but difficult (nearly impossible) to measure Baker’s basic ergonomic equation goes: Likelihood of success = Motivation / (Physical Effort + Cognitive Effort + Linguistic Effort + Time Needed), the last being the only reasonably measurable dimension. There was a media story yesterday on how the Medical Council of India is planning to introduce a medical degree for rural students – a degree that can be obtained in 3.5 years, as opposed to the minimum of 5 years that a normal medical degree would take. Do we really have no time to stand and stare? And then comes this consoling counterpoint from the world of fiction, from Henning Mankell, the author of the Kurt Wallander series. One of Wallander’s first lessons comes from Detective Inspector Hemberg. “Take your time,” Hemberg said. “If only you are to make a good detective you have to learn to think methodically, and it is often the same thing as thinking slowly.” [...]

My Learning 2009


The inevitable year-end question from the Learning Circuits Blog comes up: What did you learn about learning in 2009? Compared to the gloom of 2008, 2009 certainly seemed to be a better blogging year for me – at least I posted more often. Here’s a chronological list of the posts that were based on learning experiences or were significant learning experiences themselves. In Learning Formats 2020, I tried crowd-sourcing for the first time. The process was fascinating, and the results, more than satisfactory. Reflecting on running the training function was interesting as an exercise. The discussions I had with some friends that led to the post on changing behavior was a tremendous learning experience and proved to me the power of conversations. Trying to argue for social media was thought-provoking. The TED interviews were hugely insightful, humbling, and goose-bumpy. Diverse people, diverse businesses, common themes: confidence and societal contribution. I enjoyed writing my response to LCB’s November question on communicating the value of social media as a learning tool. And the SoMe experiment that Inkscrawl has initiated looks quite promising. So there you are, seven learning pieces. Compared to four last year, not bad, eh? [...]

A SoMe Convergence Experiment


Mandar Talvekar, he of Inkscrawl fame, seems to be trying an interesting experiment, Tweet Trove. Every week, he publishes a selective digest of the links posted on Twitter in the last week. Effectively what he does is re-look at his impulsive links of the week, and filter through them to find the most meaningful pieces and aggregate them. This approach also adds a bit of permanence to the links he considers key; else they tend to get lost in the never-ending stream. Another advantage of this process is that it ensures you go through the links you put up in the week – reinforcement, in a sense. It is not unusual for bloggers to tweet their latest posts so it reaches out to their followers on Twitter. But this inversion of compiling selected tweets into a weekly digest strikes me as equally meaningful. That Mandar has categorized the links (a feature you don't get on Twitter) in his posts adds to the value of the compilation. You can read Mandar’s first two Tweet Troves here and here. If you want to follow him on Twitter, head over to @inkscrawl. [...]

The Value of Social Media for Learning


The Learning Circuits Board asks the question: How do you communicate the value of social media as a learning tool in an organization? Some random musings on an idle Friday afternoon, more to stir the pot than to answer the question. I don’t think we have reached the stage where we can communicate the value. We haven’t even seen the value yet, haven’t even generated the value yet. Heck, we don’t even know if it really has value. Come to think of it, are we, the learning design fraternity, really the people to talk about it? Are we experts in the medium or in the message? Are we instructional experts selling instructional forms or technical experts selling technology applications? Is it a bit like CNN and NDTV selling television sets, set-top boxes and band-width, as opposed to focusing on programming content? Quite often, web 2.0 (the super-set for SoMe) is referred to as “small pieces, loosely joined.” So should SoMe be sold surreptitiously, in small packets? Organically ingrained in the learning solution and gradually increasing its presence? Much like how color advertising found its way into the daily newspaper in India, first in the supplements, then on the front and back pages, and then throughout? By its very nature, SoMe is characterized by waste and excess. (I just discovered about 75 sites that offer polling and survey applications after barely a 30-min search.) So the purists won’t be unfair in viewing it with a fair degree of skepticism. Evidence is the only thing that will convince them to even get started. Start a couple of small engagements, with people who believe; slowly, as the engagement assumes some shape, include the odd skeptic; and gradually expose the project to the larger majority of naysayers. Don’t over-love SoMe. May be some or most of it is useless after all. Give it time, give it a fair run, but prepare to bury it if it does not gain currency. If it’s a good thing, it will survive. Look at the human race. [...]

The Ted (India) Talkers


Responding to a call from Kiruba Shankar, a bunch of us got together and embarked on a project of interviewing all the TED India fellows. Working by ourselves, we researched the fellows, prepared our questions for them, hunted out their coordinates, chased them with calls, hounded them with reminders, poked them on Facebook, and then used some more tricks from our armories. The way we went after them, they might well be referring to us as the TED Stalkers. No, we did not manage to get all TED India fellows to respond, heck, we didn’t even get close. But the ones who responded really gave us something to savor. Here’s the list of interviews, in alphabetical order of last names. Take a few hours off to read what drives these people, and why they will be in Mysore November 4-7, 2009. Prayas Abhinav describes himself rather humbly as ‘artist and writer’ but a closer examination reveals the potential his Cityspinning project could have on the nation. Tahir Amin’s endeavor appears straight out of a John Grisham or a Robin Cook novel as he takes on the pharmaceutical industry through his organization I-MAK, to ensure medical breakthroughs benefit the patient as much as they do the drug firms. Zubaida Bai runs a social venture called AYZH that helps women identify the tools they need to improve their standard of living, and then helps them acquire those tools and technologies. Kavita Baliga was diagnosed with cancer when she was 22, and spent six months undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy. And while at it, she learned to play the guitar, started composing music and learned sound engineering. Five years on, she is a faculty member at A R Rahman’s KM Conservatory in Chennai. Sanjukta Basu is a lawyer and activist and part of the non-profit organization, Breakthrough. She has reached where she has because she has believed and been led by the old dictum about change being the only constant. Svati Bhogle won the Green Oscar (the Ashden award) in 2008 and today runs TIDE, an organization that attempts to connect manufacturers of technology products with the actual end-users of that technology, especially in small towns and in rural areas. Sean Blagsvedt is the founder-CEO of, a classic organization that links the haves and the have-nots – that informal sector worker needs a job and the comfortably-placed executive wants that service. Satyabrata Dam has climbed the highest peaks in every continent in the world, including Mount Everest. And when he was taking a break from those, he managed to find time to reach the North Pole and the South Pole. Deepti Doshi’s career for the large part has been in volunteering and non-profits. Now she represents Escuela Nueva, an organization that could well have the most significant impact in the primary education scene in India. Pulkit Gaur is the founder-CEO of Gridbots, a company that builds robots for industrial and military purposes, an interest he has pursued from his college days. Meet the human being behind the bots in this interview. Neha Gupta has spawned something that could well define how Social Media benefits society, with a Facebook application, eachoneteachone, to facilitate volunteer tutoring and learning. Sarath Guttikunda is the founder of UrbanEmissions.Info, a one-stop resource on air pollution, particularly in developing countries. Once he compiles all this info, expect Sarath to become a full-time movie critic. Lisa Heydlauff is likely to be every child’s favorite. She is the founder-director of going to school, a non-profit trust that attracts children to school with the promise, ‘school can be fun.’ Srinivas Kiran Jaggu, an innovation fellow with Stanford India Bio-design, is currently working on IntraOz, an innovative technology product for patients who need vascular access. Anab Jain is the founder of Superflux, a interaction design company. She has als[...]

TED India Interview: Deepti Doshi


It was Gaurav Mishra first, then Prayas Abhinav. Now it’s the turn of TED India fellow Deepti Doshi of Escuela Nueva to answer a few questions as part of the TED India Fellows project. One statement she made in a media interview earlier this month sums up Deepti: I get inspired by the optimism of the poor. Share her optimism - read on. Tell us a bit about the Escuela Nueva model. What makes it unique? Think “Montessori” for the poor. Escuela Nueva is a child-centered methodology for primary school that has been developed in Colombia over the last 40 years. It is the longest lasting bottom-up education intervention in the world that at one time was in every one of 20,000 rural government schools in Colombia and now has affected over 5 million children all over the world. While the curriculum (what you teach) is adapted to meet the national norms, it is how we teach that makes the model unique. We use workbooks instead of textbooks so the child is active; children sit in groups (on tables or even on the floor) so they can work together; up to three grades can be in a classroom so that children can move at their own pace and learn from each other. Teachers are trained with the same activity based methodologies that we use to teach children and are equipped to be facilitators to support each child’s learning. Lessons are adjusted to the local environments, parents are highly engaged, often attending student government elections and each family is represented in the school in a community map. When Escuela Nueva was in every rural government school in Colombia, it was the first time, rural scores surpassed urban scores and the children in the urban schools with Escuela Nueva also scored higher than the regular urban schools. And beyond academic performance, what is really exciting to see is increased democratic behaviors in these children – taking turns, community participation, etc.! You mention that the curriculum is adapted to meet national norms. On the other hand, one of the four components of your model is an innovative curriculum. So is Escuela Nueva a parallel movement or does it work with the existing school system? Our goal is to increase the quality of education that poor children around the world receive. Usually, these children have access to education but unfortunately, the quality of these schools is low and learning is not happening. Imagine in India, less than 30% of children graduating fifth grade can do simple calculation and read basic stories. Our goal is to work with those schools – whether they be government schools or affordable private schools – to ensure learning is happening. What’s your charter for Escuela Nueva in India? To date, for the majority, Escuela Nueva has been able to achieve its scale through partnerships with the government; however, increasingly, we are looking to partner with private foundations who are working with government or low cost schools. India is one the first countries where we have entered deliberately because of the amazing gap in quality education and have not waited for the government to commission our work. It is also the first country where we are excited about working with the low cost private schools that are serving a large portion of poor school going children. We will likely start a pilot with these schools and at the same time are working with the government to bring in the model at scale. What are the key challenges for the model in India? What were some of the modifications you needed to make for the Indian market? Education is highly regulated in India and that makes working with the government schools tough; only recently has the government begun to outsource the management of its schools and so we are excited to be entering at the beginning of that movement. We also have a bureaucratic climate that can often slow things down but we are exerting tons of patience to [...]

Does long-term thinking need a scientific temper?


It’s a blog musing of an academic, it is but supported with anecdotal evidence, but it certainly is an intriguing thought. Computer Science Professor David A. Patterson from the University of California, Berkeley wonders whether organizations will get better long-term focus if they get scientists and engineers on board. No prizes for guessing the blogger’s educational background, and while this does tend to dilute the power of the argument quite significantly, the premise does sounds like a good topic for some serious research and analysis. Any scientist or engineer will demand that, won’t they? [...]

TED India Interview: Prayas Abhinav


As part of the TED India Fellows project, I interviewed TED India fellow Gaurav Mishra last time round. Now it’s the turn of Prayas Abhinav. The home page of his web site describes him simply as Artist and writer living in Bangalore, India. Dig deeper and you realize the man’s interests, from the revolutionary Cityspinning (a series of interventions that look at enhancing the use of public spaces), to writing fiction and poetry, to championing the Creative Commons movement in the country, and a bit more. Clichéd as it may sound, the term multi-faceted personality sits quite comfortably on Prayas. In this interview, Prayas opens up – on open spaces, open source content, and much more. From psychology, which delves inside the mind, to exploring open spaces… what prompted the move? I guess there hasn't been any move. It has meant looking at other areas and trying to draw an understanding and connections. My media of work was more writing and video before I stepped out working with neighborhoods, open urban spaces and the kind of conversations and social interactions which happen there. Maybe it engages more with the psychology of the city, the outdoors and how they shape our imagination. Why open spaces? I have viewed cities I have lived and grown up in as spaces of alienation, disconnection and boundaries. The culture and infrastructure of the worlds we live and transact in has led to this, there is no person or entity responsible for this in a way. One way I see of affecting this is to demonstrate and enact situations which have some other character and value. And CitySpinning tries to do that through its projects. “re-vitalizing and re-imagining urban spaces.” How would you measure what you achieve as a “re-sult”? There is no way of measuring the result (I like your word play). In a way what gets done with the kinds of proposals and demonstrations that CitySpinning does is a seeding of imagination and memory of the city. So, people who have encountered and experienced some of my projects may share some memories of urban spaces around them that allow them to imagine some new possibilities for them. So, a direct result could be trying to observe spillovers, reactions and stories that emerge and stay in the neighborhoods long after CitySpinning's project there have moved on. You helped launch the Creative Commons India licenses in 2007. What is your belief around open content? I feel open content is able to really balance the interests of the creative professionals and the project of replenishing and keeping alive the knowledge commons we all draw from. It does this by distinguishing commercial and non-commercial rights on content and defines channels for sharing the two in different ways. For the times we live in, the open content world has led to a lot of innovation in terms of forming business models which are non-coercive in nature and which work for individuals and gatekeepers in a similar way. As an extension, do you think the print media as we know it is dead? How do you see it evolving or transforming? The value of print as being a world to lose ourselves in, free of distractions and regardless of where we are is unique. This core value is still only partially served by other media. There are going to be technologies which offer an experience which is closer to actually reading a book but I think eventually all of these will have to co-exist with print in some ways. Print will of course have to evolve in terms of resolving its upstream and maybe making it more sustainable. Print might also need to adapt to use smarter tools for reading easier, annotation, etc. Your writings seem to betray the psychologist in you. Is that your outlet? My writing is an outlet as well as a process for me to understand my experiences with more clarity. Often my future courses for[...]

TED India Interview: Gaurav Mishra


As part of Kiruba Shankar’s TED India Fellows project, I am part of a team of 15 bloggers who interview five TED India fellows each to get to know them better. First up is Gaurav Mishra. From selling cars, which, according to George Monbiot, has ‘contributed to an increase in individualism and fewer social interactions between members of different socioeconomic classes’, to becoming CEO of 2020 Social, a company that focuses on social business strategies, Gaurav has probably been the full circle. Teaching Social Media at Georgetown as a Yahoo! fellow and co-founding Vote Report India complete his wheel of activities. Here’s Gaurav in the driver’s seat. From selling cars to devising social business strategies… what explains the move? Both as a marketer and a consumer, I saw that the campaign-oriented push-driven one-way model of marketing was in trouble, and felt that there must be a more human way to connect with consumers. A marketing approach that is permission-based, pull-driven, and rooted in the values of communities, conversations and collaboration appealed to my instincts and started the journey that has led to 2020 Social. What were some of the key experiences from your Tata experience that are still relevant for you at 2020 Social? My experience in the Tata Group gave me a very strong grounding in how business and marketing works, at senior levels, quite early in my career. I also worked with both McKinsey and BCG on big business transformation initiatives, from the client side. That client-side experience is immensely useful now that I am running a business consulting firm and helping CXOs leverage emerging technologies to transform their businesses. Tell us a little bit about Vote Report India. How did the idea originate? The idea of Vote Report India originated during the Mumbai terrorist attack when the good folks at Ushahidi noticed how half a dozen of us were curating the #mumbai twitter feed during the Mumbai terror attack. That conversation resulted in our doing a pilot of Ushahidi Swift during the Indian elections. We were able to put together a great team of volunteers and a great service in a very short time and played an interesting role in the ecosystem of civic initiatives that emerged during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections in India. Define gauravonomics in one paragraph. At Gauravonomics, I write about the intersection of social technologies, business and society. It’s a potent combination because businesses, civil society organizations and governments can learn a lot from each other when it comes to understanding and using social technologies. You have contributed to two books. When are you writing your own? What will it be about? I think I’ll be writing a bunch of book chapters before I write a full book. I have three chapters overdue on digital activism, citizen journalism and government 2.0 and have just signed up to write another one on branded communities. My book, when I write one, will be about a new way of doing business, which is both social and sustainable. If you were to write fiction, which genre will you choose? I think I have already lived three or four lives and I haven’t even turned thirty. If I were to write a novel, it will be a thinly veiled autobiographical narrative in first person. Do you have an interest or hobby that you escape to when you want to get away from what you are doing for a bit? My life is very WYSIWYG. I am doing what I am doing because I don’t feel the need to get away from it. Who would you deem your inspiration(s)? Why? I am inspired by naïve activist-types who believe that they can change the world. Most of them fail, but some succeed. That’s all we need. If you were to start life afresh and choose a different area to focus on, what would tha[...]

Nonsense Learning


Earlier this year, Inkscrawl and I discovered how doodling helped learning and then, in the time-honored andragogical tradition of application, we put that theory into practice and thus came up with this piece titled Learning by Doodling. Hardly had the dust settled down on that than I discover, through another good friend, that nonsense sharpens the intellect. Yes, you read that right. I suppose sense does a lot of things, but nonsense, it appears, is not total nonsense. So there we go, another brilliant opportunity for e-learning practitioners, another new age instructional approach that can differentiate you from the others who still grapple with scenarios, stories, simulations, games and other time-tested but time-worn approaches. So how do you use this breakthrough technique in your solutions? The simplest way to use this is to just mix up your screens. Randomly change the order of the screens and you’ll get a nice simple piece of nonsense e-learning running. Imagine a learner going through an enterprise learning program and starting with transaction 7, and weaving his way systematically through steps 12, 3, 5, 9, and so on? Just unraveling it in his mind should ensure he learns better than through the mind-numbing sequence of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… A simple extension of the mixing up technique is to program the pop-up boxes randomly. So when you are reading about the fire drill process in your office (as part of that whodunit of an Induction program), the pop-up boxes will explain the salary and benefits policy of the organization. As for the location of the fire exits, oh well, that should be somewhere there, may be nestled inside the module on the redundancy policy. The beauty of this technique is that it does not just lend itself to instructional innovation; you can do wonders to processes and thus enhance your internal efficiencies as well. For starters, you can eliminate the review process and thus save valuable time for the reviewers and subject matter experts. Any mistakes in the content will not be called mistakes; they will be called nonsense crumbs. Figuring those out and maneuvering one’s way through the content will be a key benefit learners derive from the program. As an extension to this, you can also save money by hiring greenhorn content developers who have no idea what they are writing. The learners will figure out the nonsense anyway. And oh yes, how can we forget a 2.0 application of this approach? You create blank slate lorem ipsum programs, and let learners populate it with whatever they want to write. Assembling such disparate pieces together will provide an absolutely award-winning piece of nonsense for the next group of learners. Create a good nonsense portfolio, and your proposition writes itself, as the article suggests: Nonsense learning: because disorientation begets creative thinking. [...]

The subject of Twitter


It may certainly sound like pushing a fad a tad too far, but the introduction of twitter-ability as a skill being built through a compulsory subject at an Australian university sounds like an interesting experiment.

Ignore the Twitter reference for a minute, effectively what this means is training people to send a message within defined restrictions, in this case, 140 characters. Not unlike writing a headline or reporting a piece of news for television in say one minute. So long as they don’t teach a new language of unwieldy abbreviations, inelegant misspellings and abstruse neologisms…

The danger of a simple story


She doesn't move from where she stands for the entire duration of her talk. She doesn't use any fancy props to engage the audience. She doesn't deviate so much as a second from her theme. Yet she holds you riveted for almost twenty minutes with a simple, alluring, persuasive, beautiful speech on the risks of stereotyping people, races, nations, communities... Don't miss the humor that makes its appearance sparklingly, unassumingly, and with total relevance to the context. And oh yes, she has a voice straight from heaven. Stop whatever you are doing and give Chimamanda Adichie a listen. It will be time well spent.

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The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs


Buy the book if you have $14.93. Or view details on the author’s promo web page. Or take a look at a slide show on Businessweek (just a tad tedious to click 16 times methinks). Too lazy for all that? Here a quick listing of Steve's Sixteen.
  1. Plan in Analog
  2. Focus on Benefits
  3. Sell Dreams, Not Products
  4. Create Twitter-Friendly Headlines
  5. Introduce the Antagonist
  6. Draw a Road Map
  7. Create Visual Slides
  8. Obey the 10-Minute Rule
  9. Make Numbers Meaningful
  10. Use Zippy Words
  11. Share the Stage
  12. Use Props
  13. Plan a Water Cooler Moment
  14. Practice. A Lot.
  15. Dress Appropriately
One More Thing… Have Fun!
Mostly a re-statement of the obvious, but some interesting perspectives. And some obvious ones that might be worth a re-visit and a re-think.

Market Research 3.0


Is your Facebook update you? Is what you search for online what you want in real life? Does your online behavior reflect your personality? Yes, if Kevin Randall at Fast Company is to be believed, as he ushers in Market Research 3.0 (surely they could have come up with a more original term?), which includes, among others, a chilling, post-modern sounding concept, Sentiment Analysis. I suppose the human mind is going to remain the perennial Holy Grail, but does “listening to conversations” and chatter on the Web provide a better insight than focus groups and surveys? Do we really speak our minds on social networking channels or do we say what we think we want others to see ourselves as? Do our Google searches reflect our complete personality? Is our online behavior reflective of our real character? On the other hand does it matter really? Is our real self the consumer or is our social self? Isn’t a majority of what we buy dictated by the image we want to project of ourselves, our social image? I reckon the jury will always be out on this. Begin forming your opinions by reading Market Research 3.0 Is Here: Attitudes Meet Algorithms in Sentiment Analysis. [...]

The Walk


Not that I am an atheist, but the concept of exerting oneself physically as a means of prayer has held little attraction for me. Not so for my sister’s husband, D, who had prayed that he would go round the shrine 108 (a hugely significant number in the Hindu religion) times. I promised to drive him to the temple, considering it was a holiday yesterday.

As we reached the temple at Chilkur, just off Hyderabad, I also decided to join him in the (approximately) 10 km walk – it could be a good workout for the body if not for the soul. So off we went.

It was rather crowded, being a holiday and an auspicious day, and not surprisingly, loud, what with devotees chanting shlokas and the name of the God as they went about their pradakshinas (going around the shrine). So I figured all I needed to do was to keep walking, and the mind would take care of itself.

For the first dozen rounds or so, I kept count. Then, realizing D was anyway keeping count, I pondered alternatives. Like focusing on something I want and repeating it to myself. But I found the frequent chanting and jostling distracting. I persisted with the thinking, and it perhaps worked, off and on, but only for a little while. May be the pradakshina concept was created for just that purpose? Forget about yourself, forget about what you want, just focus on an abstract divinity and let things take their shape.

Then, as the chanting continued to wax and wane, I started considering other things to keep the mind occupied, like noting the profile of the crowd. Not surprisingly, it was a diverse crowd, all ages and all segments of the socio-economic strata, and while the dominance was people from Andhra Pradesh, there were a fair number of people from the other states as well.

The demographic profiling was beginning to become monotonous after some time, so I got back to focusing on the earlier thought – it persisted for a bit. All this while, I resisted checking the count with D – I wasn’t sure whether my energy levels would sag if my guess on the number was much higher than the reality as tracked by D. Finally, I thought we were almost done so I asked him and he answered, deadpan: 86. As you can imagine, the last 22 rounds were the toughest of them all.

The temple itself was quite interesting. A small shrine, it is apparently very popular and the deity, known to be quite powerful, is also known as Visa Balaji, as aspirants for an American education do the 108 pradakshina routine before going for their interviews at the U.S. consulate. Obviously, it was not the season for that when we went, as the profile of our fellow-spinners was quite different and varied. Another interesting feature of the temple (and one I have not encountered so far) is that they have no entry tickets and no hundis (boxes for collecting donations in cash and / or kind). The temple runs on bulk donations from benefactors and through the sale of their religious magazine VAK, which, the web site claims, circulates 25,000 copies per month.

The 2 Moves Up: Web Squared


Any ‘new’ concept around the Web tends to evoke some degree of suspicion. Is it an old concept packaged as the next big thing? Is it somebody thinking that any new idea born in a garage can change the world? It is perhaps with the same sense of justified skepticism that people would react to the suggested transformation of Web 2.0 into Web Squared. Except that one of the people proposing it is Tim O’Reilly – he who coined the term Web 2.0. Along with John Battelle, O’Reilly has produced this report – Web Squared: Web 2.0 Five Years On (caution: opens a pdf file). For the zillions who adopted it for its own sake (and the gadzillions who did unconsciously), web 2.0 changed life. Will Web Squared do likewise? I suppose each one of us is a jury member, but O’Reilly’s and Battelle’s musing on the concept is interesting. Imagine the Web (broadly defined as the network of all connected devices and applications, not just PC-based applications formerly known as the World Wide Web) as a newborn baby. She sees, but at first she can’t focus. She can feel, but she has no idea of size till she puts something in her mouth. She hears the words of her smiling parents, but she can’t understand them. She is awash in sensations, few of which she understands. She has little or no control over her environment. Gradually, the world begins to make sense. The baby coordinates the input from multiple senses, filters signal from noise, learns new skills, and once-difficult tasks become automatic. The question before us is this: Is the Web getting smarter as it grows up? Sounds pretty much like what all Web 2.0 evangelists have been saying but O’Reilly and Battelle do seem to be going beyond that, into how the Web discovers implied metadata, captures it, and builds an eco-system around it. Another insight that fascinated me is that the key competency for Web Squared will be the mapping of unstructured data to structured data sets. And the example they give here perhaps sums up the beauty of the Web, 2.0 or Squared. Radar blogger Nat Torkington tells the story of a taxi driver he met in Wellington, NZ, who kept logs of six weeks of pickups (GPS, weather, passenger, and three other variables), fed them into his computer, and did some analysis to figure out where he should be at any given point in the day to maximize his take. As a result, he’s making a very nice living with much less work than other taxi drivers. Instrumenting the world pays off. It has to be inspired by human ingenuity, after all. Read the full report here: Web Squared: Web 2.0 Five Years On (caution again: opens a pdf file). [...]

From Maslow to Morozov


Towards the end of his TED talk on how the web aids dictatorships, Evgeny Morozov briefly touched upon the hierarchy of cyber-needs.

Here is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.


Note the similarities. Maslow’s base need includes sex; Morozov suggests pornography. Are e-mail and IM safety needs for today’s netizens? Hmm... perhaps. At the middle of the pyramid, Maslow argues for relationships and workgroups; Morozov converts them into Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Maslow’s esteem needs are translated by Morozov as learning needs – a bit of a stretch perhaps but not totally off the mark. Right on top, Maslow talks of self-actualization; Morozov suggests achieving that through participation in causes.

What is the web about? Two perspectives


On the one hand, Jonathan Zittrain argues that the web is composed of disinterested acts of kindness, curiosity and trust. On the other, Evgeny Morozov suggests that the net helps oppressive regimes stifle dissent. Six of one, half a dozen of the other, perhaps? [...]

A good heart attack


A heart attack is always bad. Or is it? When can a heart attack be good, giving you some much-needed rest and lots of time to catch up on your reading?

  • When you are young enough and surgery can fix it quite effectively. And old enough so the surgery doesn’t reduce your lifetime by much.
  • When your work is on steady state, so you don’t miss out on interesting projects. And mundane work doesn’t wait for you to get back.
  • When you are two years into your current position at your workplace, so there are no promotion chances jeopardized by a bit of leave.
  • When your medical insurance covers all the costs.
  • When your family is organized enough to take care of themselves; and busy enough to leave you to yourself.

The TED Commandments


What makes TED Talks TED Talks perhaps.

E-learning Development as a Wicked Problem


In the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, Katrin Becker argues for Wicked ID: Conceptual Framework for Considering Instructional Design as a Wicked Problem. It seems fair to extend this argument to custom e-learning development as well. There is no definitive formulation for a Wicked Problem. Just pick any random brief from a client and you will understand the wisdom of this, the first premise of Wicked Problems. Make people aware, impress upon people, ensure compliance, change behavior and other such expressions abound in world of requirement definition, but ask for a consistent definitive formulation and out you go as a development partner. And oh yes, when the program fails, be prepared to be told that you as an expert did not understand the problem and address it effectively. Wicked Problems have no stopping rule. In other words, there is no point at which you can stop and say done. (Of course you can’t in any form of learning; it’s an on-going activity.) The only stopping rule is what the client defines for deadlines and budgets. Solutions are not True/False but Good/Bad. More refined, solutions are the-ID-approach-of-this-and-the-UI-of-that-with-the-visual-treatment-of-the-third-at-the-lowest-price than any-one-option. There is no ultimate test of a solution for a Wicked Problem. There is, but it is always changing. First, the learning manager tampers with the solution; then the sponsor redefines it; finally the learner rejects it. And the developer is wrong at all stages. Each solution is a one-shot operation. Of course, every client needs a unique solution at every turn. Learners need to have as much variety in treatment as possible so they can learn additional skills with every learning program – like how to navigate through the program. Wicked Problems do not have enumerable (exhaustively describable) solutions. They certainly cannot; how else can clients keep asking for options at all stages of development? Each problem is unique. Truly so. Each client does believe that theirs is the most unusual challenge, their organization is unique, and learning is more important for them than for any other organization. Except that the budgets don’t live up to that. Each problem is a symptom of another problem. That’s the reason we can always argue that measuring the effectiveness of our learning interventions is not possible because there are so many factors at work. A number of stakeholders are interested in how it is solved. More like, a number of stakeholders volunteer to explain why any solution is ineffective. The planner has no right to be wrong. Yeah right! [...]

Twitter in Plain English


"Because life happens between blog posts and e-mails."Courtesy: Commoncraft[...]

The New Buzzword


David Pierce out at The 2.0 World asserts that it is the best online word processor he has ever seen so I signed up for Adobe Buzzword. I write this post using this new online word processor - making observations as I notice them.The interface is very different from good old Microsoft Word or its online lookalike, Google Docs. I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, but it certainly will take some getting used to. A first impression is that it gives you the feeling that you are working on a software (Flash it is - it's from Adobe, after all), which one doesn't get with MS Word, probably on account of constant exposure. The alt-text when you place your mouse over the tool bar icons is very distracting as well - may be one can turn it off, may be one should be able to. And having page numbers on the scroll bar is another thing one needs to get used to.The dictionary seems to be slightly dated - if it gives me Squiggles for Microsoft and Google, I can attribute a competitive killer instinct, but am veered to think that is not quite the reason.With MS Word, a right-click on a Squiggle is the way to go. Not so with Buzzword. For each Squiggle, you need to hover over it and click to elicit a dropdown from which you can choose. There are no right-click activities on this software - a big re-learning that.The spelling suggestions you get here are not as many (and therefore not as amusing) as in MS Word - I suppose this will build itself over time and use. The interesting part is the text it uses for the MS equivalents of Add to Dictionary and Ignore All - " is ok always" and " is "ok in this document". Quaint and unnecessarily verbose, methinks.One of the cooler and useful little features of MS Word is the auto-capitalization it does for sentence starters and the perpendicular pronoun - not on Buzzword. One more handy feature in MS Word (and not in Buzzword) is that it converts hyphens into en-dashes automatically (except for some fonts). Another missing feature - word counts for selected blocks of text.The font library is also very limited - just seven fonts. This also means restrictions in the basket of special characters. Font size options also get limited because you cannot type the font size directly - Flash, remember?Inserting tables and images was a breeze and they wrapped around pretty well. If there is an easy way to add titles to images / tables and some way of auto-numbering them, that could be a great help. The ease with which you can add columns or rows to tables is particularly noteworthy. The checklist feature (in lists) is another nifty aspect - small but very useful.Versioning seems to be perhaps the best feature of this - the Version History feature saves the document automatically at different intervals and you can access any version with just one click. May be this explains the absence of a track-change feature. The comment feature is perennially available on screen, and is quite neat as well. Being an online tool, collaboration is an automatic feature. I wish I could have published this directly on to my blog from here.Overall, on first use, it does not appear to be too bad a tool, though the functionalities seem far more limited and usability is a bit of an issue. Considering that it is Flash and it is online, it takes some time to save as well. I am not moving away from MS Word in a hurry. If the current recession means slipping over to a free tool, I reckon I'll consider it, but can I ignore Google [...]

Sixth Sense



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Twittering for Sadness


In his relentless pursuit of sadness, Inkscrawl unearthed the Blogger’s Guide to Unhappiness. To have fun at my expense, he then suggested that I do a similar one for Twittering. Initially, I refused to fall for it. Then I reckoned, what the @, it’s the weekend after all. So here’s my list of nine (the Blogger’s Guide had eight, I had to be one up), 140 characters at a time. Twitter at least once every three minutes, if possible every minute. If you can't clog the feeds of your followers, then why twitter at all?Twitter about every single detail about everyone in your family. If everyone is idle, twitter that. The Twitterati waits with bated breath.If you are really starved of twitterable material, twitter about how Twitter is such a useless application. Some self-flagellation is good.If you find a link that might be very useful for your followers, don’t twitter it. Instead, do a short post on your blog, and twitter that.Attack the tweets of the people you follow viscerally. One of your main tasks is to provide an anti-view for everything in the Tweetosphere.If you can't attack a tweet because it is really good, tweet it yourself without acknowledging the original. Sincerest form of flattery, ya?Take potshots at people who twitter relentlessly. Ask them why they don't have a life, or if you don't know them, why they don't have a job.Take potshots at people who do not twitter relentlessly. Tick them off for showing off their busy work life or their happening social life.Finally, don't forget to RT this post. If you can't spread a little unhappiness around the Tweetosphere, then why twitter at all, I ask you. [...]