stage
1. Make the conference room feel like a living room: use natural materials and colors, and plants
2. Put a bookshelf behind the speakers, not a screen
3. Put the screens on the sides of the stage
4. Make the first row sofas instead of chairs
5. Pick a room that’s a lot wider than it is deep; that way more people get to sit in the front rows
6. Use curtains and carpets to muffle sound
7. Pick a room with windows and let in natural light

I built Set with Ulf to use with my own family. We’re opening up in limited beta today so you can try it too!

It’s email photo sharing. Perfect for grandparents who don’t use Facebook, or if you don’t want to spam all your friends with your kid photos.

Use the code JYRI to get 6 months free. Tell me what you think!

Set-Zengestrom

Ted Lin, my skate instructor from the 1980s, posted this photo on Instagram today. It was taken right before my first dropin attempt on the UCSD halfpipe, circa 1988.

Dropping in on a 9-ft vert was scary!

The ever-patient Steve Villarreal, founder of the UCSD skate club, is giving last-minute tips.
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The next summer Steve and Ted came to Finland to teach skateboarding. The Ministry of Education gave them a bus, and we toured around halfpipes and parks on the outskirts of Helsinki. There was a crowd of excited kids waiting everywhere the bus went.

There’s a new generation skateboarding now, and us old fogies are re-learning our old tricks.

Altruists appear to have bigger brains that are better tuned to reading others’ emotions.

Psychologist Abigail Marsh, who ran a study on ultra-altruistic kidney donors, was quoted in the LA Times saying:

“Because we are mammals that give birth to these very helpless young, we’re predisposed to respond to anything that reminds us of a vulnerable, helpless infant.”

This reminded me of a particularly apt turn of the plot in J. M. Ledgard’s excellent novel Submergence. In it, an Arabic-speaking British spy captured by a homicidal Jihadist band in Somalia is forced by the group’s leader to translate Disney’s Bambi to the younger fighters as they watch the DVD.

Ledgard is a political and war correspondent for the Economist in Africa. The Bambi incident is absurd yet weirdly logical. You’re left wondering if it really happened.

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We spent two-and-a-half months in Finland this summer. The kids love it there because they can roam freely. After breakfast they told us where they’re going — to their grandmother’s, who lives next door; to their friends’ house, two houses down; to the park, a block and a half away.

They would play in the woods. They rode their bikes. They showed up at mealtimes or when they needed a parent to get something done. They occasionally needed band-aids.

They were calmer and acted – not older, but more mature. One of their grandparents joked that there’s no Finnish translation for “melt-down”.

Returning to the U.S., I was reminded of an article in the UK Daily Mail entitled How children lost the right to roam in four generations.

The article describes how the grandfather of an eight-year-old boy in Sheffield, a couple of hours north of London, was allowed to walk six miles to go fishing at a lake in 1926 when he was a boy of eight.

Today, his eight-year-old grandson enjoys none of that freedom, being entirely confined to their fenced-in back yard. And sadly, the article says, “Even if he wanted to play outdoors, none of his friends strays from their home or garden unsupervised.”

Here in the U.S. our children are dependent on us parents or their nanny to take them places and connect them with their friends. Their day is pre-programmed, and for many of their friends, a lot of it is spent doing homework.

The author of the U.K. study believes without access to nature, “children’s long-term mental health is at risk”. Our children love Finland because they can come up with meaningful things to do on their own there. They feel in charge.

Nowadays, the only world many American kids can roam freely in is a virtual one, such as Minecraft (which is popular in Finland, too).

It’s hardly a replacement for the real thing, though.

I originally posted this on our learning log.

Do you use Google Chrome? More than half of the entire population on the internet now does. I work with software engineers, but remarkably few of them know all its secret shortcuts. So no wonder if the rest of us have missed some. Here are my favorite less-well-known-ones for the Mac:

  • Press ⌘ and click a link. Opens the link in a new tab in the background.
  • Press ⌘-Shift and click a link. Opens the link in a new tab and switches to the newly opened tab.
  • ⌘-Shift-T Reopens the last tab you’ve closed.
  • Press ⌘-Option and the right arrow together. Switches to the next tab.
  • Press ⌘-Option and the left arrow together. Switches to the previous tab.
  • Press Shift while clicking the + button in the top left corner of the window. Maximizes the window.
  • ⌘-Option-H Hides all other windows.
  • Type a URL, then press ⌘-Enter. Opens the URL in a new background tab.
  • ⌘-L Highlights the URL.
  • Select an entry in the address bar drop-down menu with your keyboard arrows, then press Shift-Fn-Delete. Deletes the entry from your browsing history, if possible.
  • ⌘-Shift-D Saves all open tabs as bookmarks in a new folder.
  • ⌘-Option-F Searches the web.
  • ⌘-Option-C Copies the URL of the page you’re viewing to the clipboard.
  • ⌘-Shift-Option-V Pastes content without source formatting (handy when writing a document in Google Docs or other WYSIWYG editor)

Here are the complete lists of Chrome keyboard shortcuts for Mac and Windows.

kesakumpu
Finland consistently scores at or near the top in worldwide education surveys. The implications for the US have been discussed widely in US media, including prominent articles in The Atlantic, the New York Times, and The Washington Post.

I’m quite interested in this. Born in Finland, I am a US resident and went to public school in both countries. My father is Professor of Education at the University of Helsinki, my own graduate studies were in sociology and I am currently homeschooling my children here in the US.

Although homeschooling is legal it is still rare in Finland. Most Finns are happy with public education and don’t see the need to homeschool. Moreover, private education is virtually nonexistent.

I’ve just finished reading Pasi Sahlberg’s 2011 book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland and it occurred to me that the reason for Finland’s success in public education might be that it strikingly resembles homeschooling.

Here are my notes from the book.

  1. Finland is small – but as a unit of educational reform 5.3 million is comparable to many states and provinces in other countries (including US states, which have a lot of say in designing their education systems)
  2. In international educational surveys, Finland went from being an average performer to a top performer in just a few decades. At the same time inequality between students, which started out being considerable, was reduced to a minimum.
  3. Finland is homogenous in terms of language and culture – but it is the most rapidly diversifying European country, and has managed to improve even as it has diversified

Enablers

  • Not only small classes but also small schools
  • Motivated teachers who get a great education and a lot of autonomy
  • Absence of testing and audits keeps school stress-free
  • Shorter days and less homework mean there’s more energy left to be creative
  • Children learn to read early regardless of school; their literacy provides a basis for other learning
  • Normalcy of special ed: roughly half receive it at some point
  • Other people really value teachers
  • Well designed spaces and nutritious warm meals
  • High social cohesion and trust. On average, a Finn belongs to three clubs or associations

Challenges

  • Children are spending more and more time on their devices; they use them to learn different things at different speeds
  • Children find themselves in bigger schools; small schools are disappearing
  • Devices are also changing how children spend time together face to face
  • Boys are no longer reading as much for pleasure (no data on girls?)
  • Older children increasingly feel the lessons at school are irrelevant

Sahlberg’s reader will conclude that a great school is small, led by highly educated teachers who are free to do things their way, has short days and issues little homework. It relies on parents and other people who help the children learn to read early. When a child has difficulty learning something – which happens to many at some point – they get help from a specialized teacher without being stigmatized. Plus, everybody there benefits from well-designed spaces and good food.

To Sahlberg the key challenge now is personal media. Because children spend so much time on their screens, teachers find they are harder to reach. They read fewer books on their own and their learning is out of synch with their peers. Hence, more effort is required from teachers to engage each individual student. But schools are getting larger and as the kids get older, they become even less engaged and more dissatisfied. They no longer see any reason to be in class. They use their devices to access information and to communicate.

Sahlberg’s answer, which he calls the Big Dream, is school as a safe community where children are free to pursue their interests, learn more diverse things, and discover their unique talents. In the future he paints, classroom-based teaching gives way to customized, activity-based learning:

Rather than continue thinking of future schooling in terms of subjects and time allocations to them, the time is right now to make a bold move and rethink the organization of time in schools. This would mean having less time allocated to conventional subjects, such as mother tongue, mathematics, and science, and more time for integrated themes, projects, and activities.

He continues:

This would also mean a shift from common curriculum-baed teaching to individual learning-plan-based education. This would lead to extended time for all students to spend engaged in personally meaningful workshops, projects, and the arts.

Sounds a lot like homeschooling.

Over New Year’s weekend a bunch of heavy app users I was with sat down to list apps they found interesting / useful this past year. Here’s my list:

  1. f.lux – will save your eyes and help you sleep better. My top app of the year
  2. Moves – slick new step counter that tracks how much you move
  3. Lockitron – iPhone-controlled doorlock
  4. Areaware alarm clock – app+stand that turns your iPhone into an alarm clock that isn’t too bright at night
  5. AR Drone 2.0 – app+drone, fly a programmable quadcopter from your phone (so fun I co-organized a quadcopter programming contest)
  6. Carat – monitors your iPhone battery usage & resource consumption
  7. Findery – stories like nowhere else about familiar & strange places
  8. GmailMeter – analytics on your Gmail use
  9. Postmates – get anything delivered to you in San Francisco in under 1h
  10. 1Password – manage all your passwords securely in one place
  11. Fing – scans all IP addresses on your network
  12. Dropcam – app+camera, simple home security camera
  13. Me Today – private photo sharing for families & close friends (built by our team, email me for a beta invite)

According to a study by the city of San Francisco, one large chain store selling food in a central location would kill 321 small grocers & up to 1,284 jobs.

That made me wonder how the huge same day delivery centers Amazon is building around big metros in the US (including one the Bay Area) will impact the small merchants in those cities.

“Same-day delivery could be a big blow to our retailers down the street,” agrees an interviewee in SF Gate.

Small pieces loosely joined makes cities, the Internet, any social platform more unpredictable, creative, and simply more fun.

What makes a great team? Here’s a checklist based on six famously successful groups (Xerox PARC, the 1992 Clinton campaign, Disney animation studios…) in the book Organizing Genius.

Interestingly, “all of these 21 elements feature in all of the great groups,” notes the reviewer who put the list together. “It would seem that you don’t get a great group unless all of these conditions are met, somehow.”

1. A clear, tangible outcome. The best outcomes are widely recognized as important or fantastic.
2. An outrageous vision for the outcome.
3. A leader who can get people to get personally committed to the vision and the outcome.
4. Exceptionally capable people on the team – the best talent available.
5. A leader that the team respects.
6. A leader who gives the team members the information, recognition and latitude they need to deliver the outcome.
7. A leader who keeps the team focused without micro managing it.
8. A shabby workplace with access to all the equipment, materials, tools and training the team needs to deliver the outcome.
9. Team is protected from bureaucracy of the sponsor/sponsor organization.
10. The workplace enables collaboration.
11. Team is insulated from distractions.
12. There is one focus for the team – the outcome.
13. Team members have responsibilities that are aligned to their expertise, interests, and capabilities.
14. Team members are willing to work on what needs to be worked on when it needs to be worked on.
15. People don’t always get along but everyone wants to achieve the outcome so this common desire transcends individual conflicts.
16. Team members know that each team member has been personally selected for the team because he or she is most able to get the job done.
17. Failure is accepted; incompetence and disloyalty is not.
18. The team has a common enemy.
19. The team believes they are on a mission from God.
20. The team doesn’t realize their mission is impossible and impractical.
21. The team is physically separated from those not on the team but retains a linkage with the ultimate sponsors of the mission generally via the team leader(s).