Apollo

I had the pleasure of watching Apollo 13 with our kids last night. It’s amazing how little they know about the Apollo program. My son is reading up on it online right now.

Last summer I thought about doing an after-school activity with students to study the Apollo program (my wife had done something similar with fifth graders in the past). Even though I was just over 8 years old when the last lunar mission was completed (December 1972), it was a big deal during my childhood. It was science and technology on a major innovation curve– more so than “what’s the next iPod going to be like?”

Sources suggest that the Apollo program, clocking in at 20-25 billion 1969 dollars (around 145 billion 2008 dollars), was the start of several long-term technology advances, including integrated circuits (for the on-board computers), fuel cells, and computer-controlled machining (CNC). I wouldn’t mind exploring these beliefs with students to see if the connections are true.

I don’t believe that science and technology need to be at the center of our lives, and I was a bit amused when my son noted that he has no interest in being blasted off on the planet on a rocket the size of a major skyscraper. (I felt ready to go at his age– and maybe the dumb sailboats I sail are a reflection of that.)

However, we have some challenges coming up in the next few decades (take your pick) of which several could benefit from some pure science and technology innovation. Better still, long-term innovation.

A Home for the Holidays

It’s interesting that home ownership plays a role in two of the most popular Christmas movies: Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life.

In 34th Street, Santa literally dons a real estate agent’s hat to ensure that the young girl secures the ranch house of her dreams at the end of the film. (Sorry, should I have marked this as a spoiler?)

Wonderful Life is pretty much an advertisement for home ownership, noting that that have and have nots can be divided between owners and renters (from Mr. Potter, no less).

At the core of Wonderful Life, James Stewart and Donna Reed pretty much break into an abandoned house (with around five bedrooms for their future family) and fix it up over the years. There’s a house exactly like it in our neighborhood here in Hampstead– five bedrooms, three sitting rooms, pretty much boarded up. In fact, we saw squatters forcibly removed from it about a year ago, and fresh boards put over windows and doors.

In fact, it is the quintessential Wonderful Life house– corner lot, literally faces the open grass of Hamptead Heath, a turret, a garage. It went on the market about four months ago, and workers moved it to strip the interior. Their signs are all gone now, but the for sale sign is still in the window.

In our Christmas mood, and being have-not renters, we looked up the listing today, simply knowing we could move in like Stewart and Reed and fix the place up over several years. I could just image the school parties I could host in such a home, and models of bridges and skyscrapers in the main parlor.

Here’s the listing:

House for Sale

http://www.vebra.com/home/search/vdetails.asp?src=agent&fd=550&bd=1&db=1&cl=1177&pid=19323379

In sum, they want 3.25 million pounds for the shell. Yeah, we know a lot of families with kids who could sign off on that mortgage. Mr. Potter strikes again! :)

Educon 2.2 Conversation: Many to Many

I plan to go to Educon 2.2 (http://educon22.wikispaces.com/) where I have a “conversation” I’m leading. Let me know if you will also be at the conference.

Many to Many– How Entire School Communities Can Collaborate

Presenter: Jim Heynderickx
Presenter Affiliation: Director of Technology, American School in London

Conversational Focus/Audience: All School Levels

Conversation Description: Clay Shirky has published and presented on several interesting concepts about how the Internet can enable “many to many” communications and support. He has also noted that technology tools become socially interesting when they become technologically boring. The main idea of this conversation is to discover if his ideas are becoming apparent in our schools, and specific ways that we could foster their growth. In this context, we will also review the problems with type of change, and how some long-term beliefs and structures may need to be reviewed.

Conversational Practice: I’d like this section to have an opening 20-30 minute presentation of the core “many to many” concepts that apply to schools and learning. This presentation should identify two to four core types of change, and offer some examples of tools or processes that facilitate their evolution. The second half of the session should be a conversation, in that all members of the group should share their own examples, concerns and experiences in these areas. The presentation and a summary of the discussion can be published online afterwards.

Website: I will share the conversation materials at http://www.k12converge.com

Time for the Holidays

Well, we didn’t make it to Paris, but we are ready for the holidays. We have a free-range turkey in the fridge and we just picked up Christmas Stolen at Borough Market. The shopping is done, and the kids are excited about the gifts under the tree.

End of the year achievements include some significant boat work:

SR on hard

We had Endeavor Quay lift our boat, pressure wash the hull, replace the anodes, and give all under the waterline a good looking over. She checked out fine. Next, XW Rigging will rebuild the winches and roller furler, check the standing rigging, and verify all is safe for another season.

In other sailing news, we have a charter reservation down for a week in July on a Tartan 35:

Our plans are to sail north in the British Columbia’s Gulf Islands.

Overall, that’s what I like about quiet holidays– we get the chance to plan future adventures, even if the weather outside is too rough for current adventures. However, we will sail SR to the Isle of Wight this week if things calm down and warm a bit. We would love to have a simple dinner at the Folly Inn.

Meanwhile, I need to return to a superb bread pudding. Happy holidays, all.

The Structure of Chaos

Well, our trip to Paris yesterday didn’t happen. Our 9:22 Eurostar train never left the station, due to the chaos of Friday night. Last night, a sixth train was down, and even the rescue train had problems reaching it to rescue passengers.

All services are canceled again today, and I don’t have faith that tomorrow will be “all better” for the 30,000 travelers affected, so we’re working on canceling our apartment rental and staying in London for the holidays. The kids aren’t too sad that we’re going out for a tree today.

Now that I’m seeing videos of how Friday night Eurostar passengers were moved from dark and hot stranded trains to car-carrying Eurostar units, I’m thinking of parallels. Basically five trains went down, 2500 people were stranded, and they were moved through the tunnel in the open, box-car like car carriers. Images and videos show large groups standing, sitting, and laying in the dirty boxes late at night.

Of course, just a few nights ago, I was watching a Titantic special with James Cameron, and it was hard not to think of the life rafts when seeing the car carriers of passengers and their luggage. Eurostar is normally considered a real step up from typical English trains, with nicer seats and tables and wine, but not Friday night.

On the Titantic, there were “villains” who boarded life boats when they weren’t supposed to, or launched lifeboats that were only one third full. This morning, the press is talking about how model Claudia Schiffer was taken away from her First Class seat by a private car after the breakdown, while the other 2500 passengers were left to wait.

Eurostar has taken a long, deep scrape below the waterline. No, it’s not going to sink, but at the moment their service appears neither safe nor reliable. The Times is already reporting this could have been avoided, since something similar happened to two Eurostar trains back in February, and right now it appears the company is at a loss about how to recover in these not-that-terrible weather conditions.

Biggest complaint from the passengers– bad communication. Even using Twitter updates would have been better than nothing, it appears. Meanwhile, we reset our minds for a London Christmas, and I have a mean streak in mind developing around the idea of a very non-traditional Christmas Day dinner (which in general is the high point, given that even the London Underground closes on Christmas Day).

On Seeing Avatar

I was able to take seven staff members out to see Avatar in 3D on opening night. It was a cold night, but we went to Ed’s Diner beforehand for burgers and fries to warm us up.

The Odeon theater for the opening was huge, and it was packed. We were seated further back than I expected, waiting for quite a while with our 3D glasses for the film to begin.

What is interesting about Avatar is that it is technically engrossing. The new equipment for doing the 3D enables even the veins in leaves to have a gentle 3D effect, and when expanded to the broad palette of the entire screen, the effect is really unique. In fact, it also feels like the future.

Leaving the theater, all eight of us were in a slight sense of awe. We hadn’t had an experience like that in a theater for awhile. I could imagine audiences in 1940 leaving Fantasia and feeling something similar. Or those experiencing the first sound pictures. Or my own parents leaving Lawrence of Arabia, and its huge panoramic vistas.

So, not a perfect film or story, but a significantly new way of making a film. Best of all, the designers of this film obviously had a field day, right down to the smallest flora and fauna of an imagined world. All in all, it makes one feel good again about the imagination that we have and the creativity we can display. It also suggests that our children may have wholly new skill sets to learn and develop careers around, if they are confident and motivated enough.

I like new ball games.

Update: I will confess that I saw Avatar 3D a second time today with the family, and everyone loved it. I would recommend seeing this in 3D on the big screen at least once– it’s a rare chance to experience real wonder in the cinema. It’s a chance that happens every 10-20 years.

I also feel that the creativity in this film gives me some sense that humanity has greater potential than we give it credit. It’s not terribly unlike the Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars fantasies that I read as a child– but who is to say that such fantasies aren’t an interesting (and challenging) representation of the imagination. If you only like chamber music from the 14th century, then this film probably isn’t for you. But as far the future of cinema is concerned…

A Hand-written Blog Entry

Yeah, I am writing this
post with a pen An livescribe
pen (www.livescribe.com). In fact,
I’m ever recording the sounds of this
Starbucks as I write (for no good
reason).

We bought two of these pens of
the request of an elementary teacher
She said that keeping a lot of notes
about the children results in lots of
piles of paper. She heard of smart
pens and wondered if they might
work to digitize the notes.

I was skeptical, but the reviews
on Amazon UK were not bad Also,
I have long wanted a tablet computer
that I could handwrite notes into,
but it has never come along. The
Full-the audio recording options on
this pen are also interesting.

The dotted paper allows the
internal camera of the pen to
work just like our ENO boards–
all the technology is in the pen
It would be bad if the Pen only
worked on expensive dotted paper,
but you can print out dotted
paper on a laser printer

Light is low in here, so I will be curious
to know how this
comes out when sync’ed to
the computer via the USB
cradle.

Meanwhile, it’s time to head
For dinner. Sushi at Hi
sushi on Hampstead High
street

C i ao •

Afternote: I did have to clean up the text a fair amount after the OCR process, since my hand writing isn’t splendid at the moment. Here is what the pen looks like:

Livescribe

Critical, Positive Thought

In the past few months, I seem to detect a pattern. It seems as if critical thought is being confused with negative thinking. “If I can find something wrong, that means I’m a critical thinker.” If you stand before a crowd and say “I’ve found five things wrong with society and schools and technology today,” they will be impressed and listen to your insights.

There’s two immediate benefits to this. First, it’s a lot easier to agree on fears and disappointments than on positive or optimistic thoughts. Second, you can win over an audience without having to discuss any solutions or improvements. Basically, blamining someone else is good enough for applause and agreement. Yep, things are worse than we thought– thanks for painting a “more realistic” picture.

It takes a lot of courage to employ critical, positive thought. In the same way you can find 20 percent inaccuracy in a system, you can also argue for the achievement of the majority of most systems, and speculate how the percentage of success could grow and be greater appreciated. Eradicating error isn’t going to happen, but growing on strengths can occur.

In the end, you can define things by what they don’t do, or by what they do or can do. As much as I didn’t really appreciate (or like) Jim Collin’s presentations about “Good to Great,” at least his core messages were positive. Growth in an organization doesn’t occur by making a longer and longer list of deficiencies and trying to fix them all. Instead, making a list of things to “stop doing,” and investing more in the positive achievements of the group to create growth is a more positive plan.

It does take a bit of courage to be positive, however. Short term gains and agreement may also be more sparse. In the long run, however, a group can move forward in authentic ways.

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