More on Mindset

As I work further through Mindset, by Carol Dweck, I can understand her points and illustrations to a greater extent. Basically, she’s rolling out all the main education and sports figures (in the first half of the book) to make the point that the best earned their success instead of simply being born or gifted with it. Even Babe Ruth went above and beyond, in her description, to use practice and trail-error to develop his skills as a batter.

I remember how fun it was to visit the documents room at the University of Oregon many years ago to see some of the working manuscripts of Ken Kesey. I saw a working draft of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and I was amazed by how every word and sentence was being struggled with and broken down and rebuilt with layer after layer after layer of revisions. That was what the U of O writing instructors were trying to teach—no one sits under a tree, listens to a muse, and effortlessly rolls out perfect prose or poems or lyrics.

In some ways, that’s why I like this blog—the pieces hover between first and second drafts, but at least they are down. It serves as a form of externalized memory for me, and I search it on occasion for past examples and ideas. A different kind of writer’s notebook.

One aspect that still bothers me—why does Dweck we still need to use popular figures to make her points. In each case, the more famous a person is, the more likely the re-told story is liable to be warped. What sports star would like to have others think he or she was born with greatness—who wouldn’t give interviewers the “hard work” line. It seems doubtful that she interviewed the “big names” whose stories she tells– instead, it seems her anecdotes are based on their biographies or others’ interviews.

It’s also true that the successful sports stars and writers often have an obsessive focus. Money, relationships, family, society-itself could burn around them, but it wouldn’t matter if their focus was becoming realized. In most of the cases she notes, “balance” wasn’t high on the priorities list. Her argument that success is based on “character,” for example, is muddied by the single-mindedness of some of the success stories she uses.

For some reason, I keep thinking of George Orwell’s Animal Farm as I read Mindset. Basically, the horse Boxer in Animal Farm has a single response to the collapse of the social structure surrounding him—“I will work harder.” As he becomes more of a twisted, bleeding wreck, he takes the injustices blindly and works and works and works. In some ways, he is the negative side of Dweck’s advice that all obstacles and failures and even injustices can become opportunities for growth through hard work.

I’m not a fan of single-cause explanations. (Howard Gardner uses the term “unicausal.”) In most of her cases, the successes and problems she offers have a single explanation– the growth mindset or lack of it. Thus, an individual creates or ruins a sports team or corporation. An individual makes or wrecks a classroom. I’m not certaint that we can always discount environment or peer pressure or the cost of mindless collaboration. The explanations seem to embrace a lack of critical thought.

Funny. I’m flying to Denver enroute to London right now, and on the silent LCD screens up and down the aisle there’s a Tibetan martial arts master training a young boy in a red sweat suit. Do exactly this. Raise that arm. Work, work, work. Perfect the moves. Somewhere in there, I also wonder if “don’t think” or “don’t question” or “don’t improvise” isn’t part of the training. Dweck might say that the hard workers are self-actualizers and critically aware as well, but it’s questionable if all of the examples she’s sharing are or were. In most cases, it seems that she is presenting clear authority roles that succeed or fail, and how we succeed or fail is based on how completely we respond to authority roles.

Turbulence. Prep for descent. Time to put the laptop away.

Last Morning in Rockaway Beach

This is my last coffee and Internet in Rockaway’s Morning Glory Cafe for a year. We drive back to the valley this afternoon.

It was a fun weekend– brother and sister-in-law arrived on Saturday, and we went to Oswald West park to see the surfers and hike to Falcon Point. Then we returned to the beach house for dinner and then a beach fire Saturday night.

On Sunday, we took out the shellback dinghy. We couldn’t sail the lakes because the mast was left in the valley, but I did row for Doug and my brother as they trolled Lake Lytle. Doug reeled in a nice Rainbow Trout on a barbless fly, and my brother lost a big bite. After that, we ran a chainsaw for a couple hours and cut a hunk off the stump in the middle of the deck. Messy work.

Doug can take the dinghy out on the lake on his own now. He’s growing up. Steph and I took the convertible for a run last night for fun before sunset, visiting Wheeler and Nehalem.

It’s beautiful here, but also a bit surreal. To live here full time would be a challenge in a lot of ways. To have actual work here is really difficult. Most of the houses are vacation homes or rentals. The weather is just about perfect now, but in the winter it’s cold and rains horizontally. As in Maine, the center of town culture is this cafe, and others like it, as the locals come in during the morning and talk and carp and plan the day and week.

London is a bit different than this. I think I like both… :)


Bricolage– I’ve always liked the word. To do it yourself. To create from what is available. To tinker, fiddle, and make do.

An old friend asked me if I was suffering any culture shock coming back to Oregon. I had to think about that question. The big difference between Oregon and England is that one is relatively rought and rugged and somewhat untamed, while the other is throughly developed and cultured and developed. Our feelings in England is that we’re still figuring out the game, and how to enjoy all the villages and history and culture and connections and authorities moving through. In Oregon, our main impression is that of potential, and the ability to build and grow and expand and have and enjoy the environment.

The funny thing is that England is challenging to us, but so is Oregon. I just got done spending two days weed-whacking the beach lot we own in Rockaway Beach, Oregon. It was hard work, and I felt very sore afterwards, and I began to think that I need a vacation from this vacation. At the same time, I spent two days thinking about the lot and what we might build there. Nothing makes sense for it in the present, but in the future we might have a house there, or yurts, or boats, or many things. In a sense, bricolage.

The challenge of Oregon is that these opportunities abound. No sales tax, relatively inexpensive new and used goods (boats, cars, etc.). It’s easy to get caught up in going seven directions at once, and feeling exhausted trying to keep up. That was part of the reason we liquidated so much before going to the UK, except for the beach lot.

In England, our lives are more focused (small flat, no car, work, bicycling to work, 34 foot sailboat), but we don’t have a yard, or land, or many things to care for. That gives us more time for the big thing, the sailboat, and working on mastering our sailing skills. That alone is a healthy, focusing, life-long challenge, and maybe why I like the focus of living in London.

So, that’s the culture shock– so many opportunities, but how to choose. We’ll be back here in the future, and the lot will have something on it that is fun and rewarding to us. Maybe a retirement place, or maybe just to be sold to finance something else.

Sailing the Columbia River

two boats

In the picture above, guess which boat belongs to my brother and I…

Last weekend we had three great days of crusing on the Columbia River. On Friday, we mostly motored to Government Island, and then the wind picked up so we sailed all the way back to our marina and got in about 10 p.m. We were planning to stay at the dock, but the night was too nice for sailing.

On Saturday, we sailed almost all the way (21.5 miles) down river to St. Helens, Oregon. We had steady winds, on the nose, and tacked all the way there. Beautiful sail, followed by dinner out and the new Batman movie at the restored theatre in downtown St. Helens (old town). For $5.50, it was a great evening out.

On Sunday morning, we had breakfast at the famous St. Helens Cafe, now in its new location. (Better than before, in my opinion.) After that, we did some heavy weather sailing down river from St. Helens, and then motored up the Multnomah Channel all the way to the Willamette River. Most of the pictures with this post are from that trip.


At the Willamette, we tacked downriver back to the Columbia, and then did a run up river, beneath two bridges, back to our home marina. The winds became increasingly strong, and the downwind gybes became fun, but it certainly beat motoring.

By the end of the trip, we had racked up 58 nautical miles, and we were ready for a break. A very fun trip.


We have a complete photo gallery here:

Sailing the Columbia River

20 Years Later

Beach house deck

It’s funny to be sitting here on the deck of the Rockaway Beach House. 20 years ago I was here finishing a novel for my MA at Temple University. Back then, I had my PCjr hooked up in the loft of the beach house, and it ran Writing Assistant from a floppy disk. I’d write in the morning, canoe after lunch, and then lay in the sun on the beach in the afternoon. Completely decadent. I recommend it to everyone.

It’s late afternoon here, but the afternoon is calm and partly cloudy. The kids are inside watching an old movie: “Topper Returns.” There’s a collection of DVDs at the beach house, because there is no TV reception, and we enjoy watching an old B&W collection of comedies, including a silent Buster Keaton movie called “One Week.” I think that introducing kids to film appreciation (as in the classics) at an early age is important. Classic books are important as well, but that is my wife’s responsibility… :)

As might be noticed, I’m almost writing a year of blog entries in one month. We laughed at Memphis, when we discussed blogging as a form of relief from loneliness. This begs the question, of course, of the blogs that are written and never read. I don’t think that matters—in the same sense that backyard sailboats that take 20 years to build but end up never being sailed serve a purpose. It’s the concept that’s important.

A neighbour just asked if I had Internet here—no, but down at the coffee shop. It’s a long standing rule at the beach house that there is no phone, and most mobile phones don’t work. Again, a good concept, but I’m looking forward to hopping back on the grid tomorrow morning with a $3 cappuccino at the Morning Glory Café.

It’s hard to say why we moved away from all this open space, natural beauty and low population density. London, or even the country named England, seems like almost the opposite. Maybe that’s why we moved—London is exciting because of it’s contrasts with Oregon. Oregon is fantastically refreshing after a year in London. Having only one of the two is almost too much of one thing.

Anyway, back to practicalities. I need to buy a four-stroke weed whacker to knock down the growth on my beach lot over here (in downtown Rockaway). It’s a paid-up lot that has roughly doubled in value—an investment in the future and a connection to our home state.

Beach house

Advent Netbook / MSI Wind Update

As noted in the earlier posts, I’m using an Advent Netbook / MSI Wind during my summer travels. It was my main machine for finishing and presenting the Memphis presentation at Lausanne, and more than a few people checked out the machine there.

Before it seems like this is a perfect machine, some reality checks. For me, while travelling, the form factor is just about perfect. I like the size and weight, and the processing speed seems fine even when I process a 100 new digital pictures in Picasa. I like the screen, but I look forward to the 6 cell battery and 5 to 5.5 hours of battery run time. Right now on the 3 cell, I’m getting about 2.5 hours.

There are downsides, however. The general fit and feel of the laptop is good, but I’m not certain that I would recommend a fleet of them for students to use yet. There appears to be a reliability flaw in the unit I’m using. When on battery power (but not on AC) the video tweaks once in a while on the screen. It’s like the signal skews for a instant and then returns. Worse, the video has failed entirely several times (again, on battery giving me either a blue screen or a dark screen. The OS is running behind it—I just can’t get it to recover until I reboot.

I’m hoping that this video problem on battery is just a driver/firmware problem that will be fixed by an update. Otherwise, my unit may need to go in for repairs. Such is the life of an early adopter, but it does raise questions about buying many of these Rev A000 laptops. Safer bet—let them settle in and be tweaked a bit.

The Star Fraction

As is typical during the summer, I like to relax by reading some new Sci-Fi. This year’s book (or books) is Ken Macleod’s The Star Fraction. This book is a mix of politics, struggles, technology, and near future conflicts. One small part of it is the emergence of the first independent AI, which many are fearful of and want to destroy. It, of course, is a distributed entity similar to the distributed computing model of the SETI screensaver, etc.

One of the Memphis keynotes indicated that Google is now the number two advertising agency in the world. If I’m not mistaken, they pull revenue from companies based on pennies or fractions of pennies from each link selected from Google to the company web sites. They have other income, of course, but this is part of it. It also explains the “sponsored links” at the top of searches in Google.

If you think of computers as cognitive tools, and Google searches as cognitive processes (I’m thinking of this, I’m thinking of that, I just linked this to that from a third idea), then basically Google is making money from our disparate thought processes. One may think that the load or cost to us is negligible (we’re talking pennies, fractions of pennies, clearly marked sponsored searches or hierarchy changes), but there is no free lunch. In fact, one could say that there are knobs that could be turned left or right by these semi-invisible tools, leading to effects directly linked to our thought processes.

An interesting question—to what extent should we be aware of these distributed processes or profit centers? Is Media Awareness becoming a larger topic than we think—if “media” becomes inter-related with thought and judgement sequences. Maybe newspapers and magazines always were, but I’m not certain that we ever spent as many hours with them in the past as we do with Google today.

Favourite Quotes from Memphis

“It was the worst book in the last 100 years. He was the last person with the right to talk about creativity.”

“Maybe learning acceleration wasn’t the right term. Maybe learning differentiation.”

“Since we’re all so close to 1:1 already, basically your schools are buying a few years of advance experience.”

“They carry the eggs around. They need to place it near a charging station at night. If it cracks, they have to go to the IT office and fill out an insurance claim form. Some leave their egg in a classroom, and return and retrieve it before they can start class in another classroom.”

“Want to tell you three things.”

“Two or three in each classroom will shut off their radios to disable Dyknow.”

“One fell from grace. Installed a keylogger interceptor on an admin machine. Long USB cable routed through a wall.”

“I’m the Saran Wrapper!”

“The departments are paternal? Do you think!!!”

“I still have Clarisworks installed, because…”

After a Year Away

The Lausanne Laptop Institute is over, and I’m waiting in the Memphis airport for my flight to Denver, and then on to Portland, Oregon.

The tone and texture of the Institute this year was different than other years. There was less information about classroom integration. There was less big picture discussion and ideas. There was straightforward information about how programs are being done. I hope the design is a bit different next year—more for teachers, and more big picture discussions for the experienced.

I really enjoyed listening to and talking with Gary Stager. We need more critical voices. No question.

Tablet programs also seemed popular this year, but I will admit that I didn’t hear convincing discussions about how they are worth the extra cost and fragility. Yes, kids can take notes on them as if paper, but isn’t that automation instead of innovation? Also, some kids, even with $3,000 worth of tablet, still prefer paper. (Fair disclosure: I do as well.) One sage suggested that tablets were more successful for programs with reticent teachers, because they are a closer approximation to the traditional ways of teaching and classroom practice. The price tag still doesn’t make sense to me, except in certain math courses and for certain kids who love them and can really get the value out of them.

The keynotes were meant to be thought-provoking, and one in particular provoked my thoughts. In fact, I did a complete post about it, and then removed it, my first time doing that on this blog. In other words, I had a strong negative reaction, and I’m not certain yet how to phrase the reaction, but I know it’s a good idea to ponder it for awhile yet. In sum, there are plausible visions of education in the near future that I’m not terribly supportive of.

Finally, I’ve actually been watching US news and reading US newspapers for the first time in a year. Overall, the financial reports are relatively startling. Also, after being away for a year, the gas and food prices are surprising here. Ditto for the bank closures and mortgage issues.

My one takeaway from that news is that maybe our technology programs also need to be careful in terms of their short and long-range financial basis. If some of the current financial woes are based on growth funded on credit, perhaps we need to review or tech programs and determine what is based on solid returns and what is based on credit (or hoped for returns). The next 1-3 years could be interesting and challenging.

Okay, time to think about boarding.

One Week Sail to Normandy

Crossing the Channel

A quick report on my one week cruise to Normandy with British Offshore a few weeks ago. There’s a full photo gallery of the trip at

One Week Sail to Normandy

On Monday morning we crossed the English Channel to Cherbourg. It was a 15 hour passage, with five of us on a Westerly Fulmar 32 II, but we sailed for only the first two hours. It was almost entirely calm for the rest of the long motor.

On Tuesday, we took the day off and explored Cherbourg. I used my ancient college French on various adventures.

On Wednesday, we had wind and sailed to Saint-Vaast la Hougue. There were two semaphore towers there to explore.

On Thursday, we sailed past the D-Day invasion beaches to Ouistreham. I walked through the town and visited a captured German bunker that was converted to a museum.

On Friday, we sailed to Honfleur, which was the most picaresque town we visited. We walked the town, bought wine and gifts, and enjoyed Saturday market.

On Saturday, we left Honfleur at noon to do an overnight passage across the English Channel. There was 18-20 knots of wind, so we sailed all night, but the sea conditions were rough with 8-10 swells and waves. The boat was bashed a bit, and we hobby-horsed from 6 knots to 2.5 more than once. In your bunk, you would go weightless every 10-15 minutes as the boat fell off waves and swells.

On Sunday morning, after a 18 hour passage, we were back in the Solent and returned to the Hamble River.

It was a great trip, and I learned a lot. It was my first time doing longer passages, and visiting France, so it was a great learning experience. The channel wasn’t difficult to navigate, and it was fairly easy to avoid the shipping traffic. Next time we go, it will be on our own boat.


Institute Update

This just in: I have nothing to say about the first keynote.

Later conversations were very good. Lots of discussion of student information systems, Moodle, web portals, and the inter-relationship between online systems and laptop programs.

Some quotes from the conversations: “Being better than it used to be does not equal being the best it can be.”

“A blog is self publication. A threaded discussion isn’t.”

“I read in a newspaper somewhere in an article I think that 3 out of 4 computers were used for something.”

My presentation draft is now available as a PDF download. See the post below, or download directly from

When One Size Doesn’t Fit All PDF

BTW, my luggage did show up, I did shave, I was half-way presentable during the first night of the event. For some reason, I’m now up at 5 a.m. doing tech exchanges. Ugh!

Becoming Scruffy, and Carol Dweck

Scruffy JimWell, my missing luggage should be delivered this afternoon between noon and six p.m. Meanwhile, I’m still making do with my single set of clothes from the very long travel day yesterday. I have a start on a beard. My hair has looked better. Yep, I’m ready for the Lausanne Laptop Institute!

I was up at 6:30 this morning responding to a great question from Richard about the “One Size” presentation draft posted below. I answered some other email, and then marched off to iHop for breakfast and about an hour of reading Mindset by Carol Dweck. It’s an assigned reading book for admins this summer, and she’s launching through a theory about Fixed Mindset people (fixed lifelong abilities and limits) and Flexible Mindset people (lifelong learners who use failure as a chance to grow and change their abilities).

I’m trying to be good as I read this book. It reminds me of Peter McWilliams’ You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought book, which always struck me as a clever way to feel even worse about yourself. “Good grief, I just thought of myself as a loser. Only losers do that. Oh no!”

Dweck seems to be running through quite a few pop culture references (the always reliable John McEnroe, companies like Scott Paper that just “gave up,” and supermen types like Chuck Yeager). In some of her examples, the Fixed Mindset people simply off themselves. Hmmm. I guess I know what type I wanna be! You can’t afford to have a fixed mindset about anything!

Thus, I’m being flexible about my missing luggage. I don’t need those shirts and ties and clean socks to do a good presentation tomorrow morning, do I? If Indiana Jones can pull off a four-day beard for his entire career, so can I. (And he’s pretty close hero-wise to Chuck Yeager, even if he is a fiction.)

A Nexus

As far as I understand it, a Nexus is a central connector or hub of something.

We’ve signed a contract with Finalsite and are now moving through the first stages of planning a migration of our school website to the new Finalsite infrastructure. Overall, it’s a great opportunity to rethink a lot of information services for the school community.

For example, one of the first needs of the revised website are improved directories—of faculty and staff, of parents, and of alumni. In total, that’s about 20,000 individuals. The design of Finalsite is to have a single user list with different or multiple roles. Thus, we need to work out an integrated database that combines all of these groups, assigned unique IDs, and is capable of being updated from multiple databases on campus without overlap. The next challenge was to determine how all these users would authenticate to the new web site, of which 80% of the content will be behind a password.

For the data unification, we had long discussions about how to create a Human ID for every individual, as well as a sensible household or family interrelationship ID (so that parents could be linked to students, students to siblings and alumni, etc.). Our solution at this point is to create a new “Nexus” database on campus using FileMaker Pro that will pull core demographic data about all 20,000 individuals from various databases on campus, assign a unique Human ID that is permanent but interconnected with other IDs on campus (in Raisers’ Edge, in Personnel, in the Student Information System). This Nexus database pre-combines information from multiple sources and is the sole source of data for updates to Finalsite.

As for authentication, it’s a combination of options. Currently faculty and staff will authenticate by unique username and LDAP, because that is a core password for multiple services. For current parents, the authentication will be by unique username through the Finalsite database itself for a year, and then change over to an integrated Student Information System paired with Finalsite. Alumni will authenticate by a last name look up interface, paired with a unique password, through the Finalsite database They will have unique usernames, but will never see them, because the conventions used will be too complicated. (Also, this means that the 14,000 alumni don’t need to have usernames that complete with current student/faculty/parent usernames).

In the end, the real Nexus database may be Finalsite itself. Not just the single user list and directories, but the way we enable authentication into the portal to hand off role-based and unique sources of information. The concept of documents, news stories, calendar events, and other information being shared out by roles (student, parent, faculty, staff, alumni, board member, Tech Team, etc.) is something we’re just getting our minds around. Beyond that is single login authentication, to hand off direct access into the Student Information System for students, parents and faculty, or even VPN access to their network file shares (personal and course shares) via the portal.

Two More Presentations in Development

For fun, I like to develop 2-3 presentation ideas each year, even if I don’t submit them to any conferences. Here are two concepts under development. The second presentation would be particularly fun to develop, because we could look back at academic technology from five to ten years ago, and determine how inaccurate we really were.

Managing Change in a Digital Age

Transition is the “normal state” for technology leaders in schools. This session will consider a range of interconnected change processes that are occurring as school become digital. Examples include interactive web sites, online student information systems, 1:1 laptops for faculty and students, interconnected databases, text messaging to parents, and online student collaboration.

The goal of this interrelated look at academic and administration technology systems is to find patterns of successful change management. As new services are offered, what is taken away? How can community members become involved in the processes of change, and what types of leadership are needed to move forward? This session will provide insights from a range of schools actively in transition to innovative new models of communication and community involvement.

Celebrate the Unexpected

There are “patterns of change” in the air surrounding educational technology that suggest significant change in the next five years. Information systems, personal technology, communication innovations and increased collaboration are combining to shape a much different future environment than expected. Most importantly, there appears to be much more “shared resources, responsibility and innovation” than most schools have documented in their technology plans.

This session will review the most interesting trends in school technology and include student opinions of what the future holds. In many ways, the next generations of student will have remarkable opportunities for creating change, but difficult decisions to make as well.

When One Size Doesn’t Fit All Presentation

The following is a draft of my presentation for the Lausanne Laptop Institute:

When One Size Doesn’t Fit All PowerPoint

Here’s a snapshot from one of the slides:

Tech Pyramid

The pyramid image represents a progressive structuring of academic technology opportunities for students K-12.

I’m looking forward to presenting about this topic—now that I’ve worked on the issue twice and hear of it with increasing frequency at other schools.

Update: Demetri wisely advised to install Cute PDF to convert the presentation, so here is a PDF version of the presentation draft:

When One Size Doesn’t Fit All PDF

(Thanks, Demetri.)

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