2014 StartupBus NYC Conductor • Author Website Adventure Comic Book • Teacher @GA @SVA_News • Mission statement
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Comics Are Good for Learning Complex Things

I’ve spent the past ten years of my professional career in various aspects of adult, technology education. About midway between the start of my journey to now, came: Build Your Own Website. A comic book I collaborated on with my friend, the talented artist and designer Kim Gee. In retrospect, I wasn’t even sure exactly why I wanted to do a comic. I knew that I liked Kim’s comic work and I knew that I wanted to organize my process for how I taught myself web development and WordPress but it was only after I connected the dots looking back that I realize how important that decision was.

“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner

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Protected: Design Thinking for the Brain

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Cuidad Mexico

Seeing The Future of Tech in Mexico City

I came down to Mexico because I care about education. My friend Eme, trusted me to come to New York when I was hosting an event last November. He bought his ticket and jumped in and while here, he gave a wonderful and moving talk about Dev.f a school that he set up with his partners Elias and Enrique to teach young Mexicans how to code. Having witnessed first hand the explosion of tech education in New York and San Francisco, I was surprised to learn that there wasn’t an equivalent in Mexico.

Jorge and Diego from Bridgefy

Diego and Jorge from Bridgefy a Mexico City based Startup incubated in San Francisco

While New York is saturated with coworking spaces and incubators, things down here in Mexico are at that exciting stage where, there’s a feeling of almost infinite potential.

As a teacher at General Assembly for several years, I’ve seen small developer bootcamps grow into multi-million dollar companies. There’s been an explosion of demand for developers in the states and a growing niche industry built around training junior developers. Being in Mexico City and seeing the tech startup scene here, reminds me of being in New York tech 4 years ago. While New York is saturated with coworking spaces and incubators, things down here in Mexico are at that exciting stage where there’s a feeling of almost infinite potential. Surprisingly for me most of these companies and individuals are working under the radar of U.S. companies.

Dev.f students

Students from Dev.f the first “Hacker school” in Mexico

Dev.f has a key partnership with Google’s Latin American arm and is being approached by some major U.S. tech companies for partnerships. I spoke with my friends at tech startup Bridgefy who were incubated in San Francisco and frequently travel to the U.S. to speak with their investors. Admittedly I had a small sample size for my data, working mostly through the connections I have directly from StartupBus Americas. But seeing the reactions of my compatriots in the U.S. to the perceptions of Mexico just doesn’t square with the reality. In our global economy, Mexico seems poised to become a real player and there’s an excitement you feel here like discovering a gold-mine of energy, talent and hope.

I will admit, I didn’t see much outside a small section of Mexico City, and what I’ve been told by others who live there, the hipstery tech scene is quite a bubble of wealth in an otherwise impoverished country. But the American perception of Mexico as essentially a scary, desert could not be further from the reality. Walking the streets of Roma/Condesa or seeing the opulence of Polanco, it’s easy to imagine you’re in European capital or New York City at times – and for someone like me who loves Mexican food, in many ways it’s far superior to both. Seeing the state of tech here and the growing potential and places like Dev.f and companies like Bridgefy make me very excited. I can’t wait to return.

seeing the reactions of my compatriots in the U.S. to the perceptions of Mexico just doesn’t square with the reality.

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Brazil, Get Ready to Build your Website

My awesome publisher No Starch press sent me a couple copies of the Portuguese translation of Build Your Own Website last night. So neat to see this.

Siskel and Ebert. Photo by Kevin Horan.

Roger Ebert’s Life The American Dream Itself

Photo Credit:  Kevin Horan

I am a midwestern son. There’s a sequence in the documentary ‘Life Itself’ that suggests that Roger Ebert styled himself as a Chicago journalist in an archetype of public figures like Studs Turkel. He was, for a time, hard drinking and hard living. Enjoying life in it’s ups and downs in a way that is both uniquely human and uniquely American. Seeing this film as I have now, in a time in life where for unrelated reasons, I’ve recently had to explain and often defend being both a New Yorker and American, it has given me pause to reflect on my midwestern-ness. It’s a claim I don’t often make about aspects of my personality and to say they are at best unsettled would perhaps be an understatement.

I grew up in California and having spent nearly a decade now in New York I’m often accused of being alternatively laid back (the West Coast side) or shall we say ambitious (the East Coast side). Sharing that I was born in Illinois and have fond childhood memories of returning to the Land of Lincoln and the land of my parents isn’t something that I’m oft to do unless you are close to me. I spent the formative years of my life learning how the world works from the perspective of diverse and conflicted California. By the time I had made it to Santa Cruz, a stereotype of California cool and a sign that you had made it by West Coast standards, I was constantly being accused of seeming East Coast. I lived blocks from the beach. I could hear the ocean crashing from my bed and on occasion sea lions barking – surprisingly – from miles away.

Eventually New York’s pull couldn’t evade me and I’ve made a happy home here and been able to watch Brooklyn change from my window and in some ways feel the gilded walls closing in in similar ways to Santa Cruz. Here people are compelled to say “Why would you ever leave?” In reference to California’s famous sun and weather and I say “Why not?” I couldn’t see getting to where I am now without moving. I’m a published author and have a successful independent business that has paid the bills for four years now. When I travel back to California and meet people from the tech industry out there I can’t help but feel that there’s not a snowballs chance in hell that I would have met them if I wasn’t where I am professionally in New York.

I’ve had a series of friends new and old visit from Europe and the continent and now that I’m an erudite New Yorker, I find myself having to explain my fellow countrymen in ways that don’t always feel natural. Perhaps that’s why the Ebert documentary hit me like a ton of bricks. When I think of celebrities, of artists, of people I admire and what I want out of life, there’s a certain midwestern quality that I find I am drawn to in somewhat inexplicable ways. It’s explained in ‘Life Itself’ that after Roger Ebert won the Pulitzer prize while writing for the scrappy Sun-Times – a commuter rag I can recall my Chicago suburban relatives explain to me – Ebert was courted by major publications like the NY Times and Washington Post. Roger was quoted as saying “I don’t want to have to learn new streets.”

When I think of celebrities, of artists, of people I admire and what I want out of life, there’s a certain midwestern quality that I find I am drawn to in somewhat inexplicable ways.

While on the one hand I’ve never lived in Chicago and on the other I feel deeply connected to the Bay Area and have a homey understanding of New York, there’s something about this sentiment that rings true for me. A loyalty to home, a sense of pride in the scrappiness of the paper. There’s something there that is American, heartland and Chicago. While in California, the dream is to be discovered and move up in the world and in New York, you wouldn’t leave because you feel well and true that this place is the best place on earth, the sense in Chicago that you stay despite being able to leave is both heartbreaking and wonderful. Something that I inherently feel and understand and fear perhaps that I’m overstating (as someone who isn’t from there) but I look at people like Studs and Ebert and Jean Sheperd and I feel like “yes” these are people who embody that spirit. They are people I aspire to be.

Ben Margot, AP Bill Murray Nate Cooper

“There’s something in the spirit of Northern Illinois that is simultaneously understated and resounding – a midwestern cool.” Photo by: Ben Margot, AP

It’s why I felt so deeply hurt at news of Robin Williams passing. I can remember as a child seeing bits of my grandpa in him and feeling he was part of the family. It’s also why I think of Bill Murray as the archetype of the celebrity. There’s something in the spirit of Northern Illinois that is simultaneously understated and resounding – a midwestern cool. Look at Oprah! In ‘Life Itself’ we’re told time and again stories of unknown directors that Roger Ebert (along with Gene Siskel) pulled up from obscurity because they thought they deserved a voice. There’s a sense of Roger as an American success story both in his talent but also in his desire to give back. His humble beginnings were a tutorial for him on both the promise of the American dream but also the sense of duty to it. That’s perhaps what’s missing sometimes I feel as culture moves to the coasts. I’ve benefited greatly from being pulled up by others here in New York. It wasn’t always out of a sense of duty, but instead a sense kinship or reciprocity. In California I was brought in by the warmth of people’s generosity but it can often feel cold and individual there despite the sun. In neither place do I feel quite the same sense of humble duty. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist in either place, but rather it doesn’t exist in quite the same way.

There’s a wonderful reflection of death as a part of life in the documentary. The film doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of declining health as Roger Ebert went through many medical procedures towards the end of his life. It also confronts what death means in the context of life, cinema and America. I find intellectual communion in statements from Roger like: “Look at a movie a lot of people love and you’ll find something profound, no matter how silly the film may seem…” Through passages of the film Ebert is painted as both a sophisticated and stubborn egotist and at the same time a populist. At one point at a conference he’s asked why his opinion on a film matters more than anyone else’s and he says “because I have a Pulitzer.” It’s both harsh and true. Later though he’s lauded for his insistence that anyone can get a movie. Time and again we’re shown filmmakers like Errol Morris, Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese who basically credit Siskel and Ebert with making their films more palatable to audiences. Morris says “I don’t think I would have had a career if it weren’t for those guys.”

Yet when Siskel and Ebert at the Movies was growing in popularity there was a staunch refusal in the LA and New York markets to pick up the show. There was a sense that New York and Los Angeles film criticism was superior. Look at this article Ebert wrote on unfair criticism of Michael Moore’s Roger and Me where he staunchly rebukes Pauline Kael of the New Yorker, a woman he admired and credits for opening up the path of film criticism for a new generation. From the article:

Does Moore “demean” the subjects in his film, the “little people,” by holding them up to ridicule? I don’t think so. I think he is looking at the infinite goofiness of human nature — at the things people will say — with the same deadpan astonishment that I sometimes have when I watch the TV news.

Though respectful and accomplished, Roger Ebert seemed resolute in his dedication to the everyman ideal found throughout American storytelling. He believed in the American dream in both it’s promise and it’s faults and in doing so he embodied an archetype of the American journalist/writer we see manifest from time to time in literature and popular culture. Throughout the film ‘Life Itself’ A thread of a quote from The Great Gatsby is played and repeated. It is noted as one of Roger Ebert’s favorite quotes and one that embodies the American dream.

“Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning ——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Watch Bill Nack, a friend of Roger Ebert recite this passage from the Great Gatsby at Ebertfest

The Great Gatsby is a testament to American idealism, failure and reinvention. Famously read on stage, presumably ironically by Charlie Kaufman and retyped in its entirety by Hunter S Thompson, another iconic writer on the American dream from a previous generation, in order to gain insight on it’s rhythm. The story of Gatsby itself is an examination of the American dream through the lens of a midwesterner, Nick Halloway who is transported to the opulence of the East Coast to find the self-made Gatsby at once incredibly successful but as is described in the quote above, chasing an unattainable past. America allows for one to build their own path and for even the humble son of a electrician as in Ebert’s case to rise to the pinnacle of American journalism. But only to a point.

For all the optimism of the American dream, we can’t stop the inevitable passage of time. “He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him…” But what makes us American is our unwillingness to let that stop us from trying to reinvent the past by focusing on the future. What is sometimes seen by non-Americans as American ignorance of the past and the foolish, resolute pursuit of forward movement, is in fact laced with knowing fatalism and sadness, regret but optimism. Optimism in the belief that the failures of the past cannot be reconciled by dwelling on them. “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning ——”  And this is Fitzgerald writing nearly a century ago. What codifies the American spirit, and perhaps terrifies other non-Americans is the fact that we know the journey is unknown, we know the clock is impossible to turn back, but the only natural course of action we know is forward into the future. Even if it’s to chase an impossible past. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

What is sometimes seen by non-Americans as American ignorance of the past and the foolish, resolute pursuit of forward movement, is in fact laced with knowing fatalism and sadness, regret but optimism. Optimism in the belief that the failures of the past cannot be reconciled by dwelling on them.

What I’m reminded of watching ‘Life Itself’ as a Californian turned New Yorker is that while that indomitable spirit of constant progress may be born on the coasts, it’s the midwesterners who celebrate it, give it life and frame it in such a way as to make it sustainable. Roger Ebert’s gift to us wasn’t only the work he did himself, rewarding and important as that is. Like Gatsby, Ebert is as aware of the past though refuses to acknowledge it. Unlike Gatsby he’s aware of his shortcomings. Ebert’s giving life to the next generation is a way of addressing the inevitability of death while reminding us it isn’t an obstacle to progress but a motivator. For all his success he recognized our world isn’t perfect and sought to make the best world out of what he was given.  He “beat on, boat against the current” and was able to give new life to others through the stories he chose to give light to and the stories he created in his own life. Ultimately he was adding to the story of what it means to be American and what make up American ideals by backing up his writing with action and determined spirit. His midwestern values informing his perspective. What could be more American than that?

 

Build Your Own Website Comic Book

Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS and WordPress

I’m so excited to finally see the finished version of my comic project that I’ve been working on with Kim Gee for the past two years. It’s been quite a job but the finished work is fantastic. I hope that people find this new approach to web tech concepts as fun and entertaining as it is educational.

Amazon has it on sale right now if you preorder

Here are some pages from the finished product.

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Portland

Four Things I Hope to Gain at WDS 2014

Perspective

Last year I attended Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit for the first time. I was ushered to Portland by my colleague and friend, Jim Hopkinson who simply said, “you have to go!” To be honest I didn’t quite know what to expect. Jim and I had co founded a conference Reboot Workshop the year before encouraging others to live outside the 9 to 5 and I suspected that WDS might attract the same kind of aspiring entrepreneur. Employees working full time jobs they hate and can’t wait to leave to start their own companies. That group attended WDS for sure, but was just one small group amongst many successful artists, world-travelers, adventure seekers and a wide spectrum of people doing the most imaginative things. WDS isn’t just for entrepreneurs, current or aspiring, but for any creative thinker looking to squeeze just a bit more out of life.

Surprisingly, being around a lot of non-traditional creative types gave me quite a bit of perspective on my career. It wasn’t just an industry conference like SXSW. It was a life conference. Now in my 3rd year of running my own business, I’m one year ahead of where I was at the last WDS and so I’m curious to see how the people I meet and the experiences I have will shade where I go in the next year.

Change

Like any endeavor without a definite end goal, it’s easy to get mired in the day-to-day. Last year I was still fleshing out my role as a teacher. I had some classes under my belt and some semblance of financial security but now I’m 100% on my month to month finances. Teaching has become my sort of “part-time job” that lays in a solid foundation that keeps my finances from fluctuating the way they did when I relied only on freelance work. Still this has come at the expense of taking on new projects. The time spent for preparing for class and working with students sometimes takes away from hustling for new business or launching new projects. When I conducted the New York City StartupBus in March I woke up to the fact that I really love being an entrepreneur and I want to build my business more. But I want to do it in the right ways.

Often failure to take the next step isn’t for lack of options but for lack of the right option. I hope that with WDS this year I can find new inspirations and ways of looking at projects that excite me and change the way I’ve been thinking about what I’m capable of.

Business

As some of WDS friends know, I’ve been working on a new beta project that I’m excited to debut at the World Domination Summit. It’s called Lemur and it’s the embodiment of a lot of the best things that I’ve done in my business over the last three years. It’s a product and a coaching service and it’s specifically designed for helping creative professionals, my favorite audience. While WDS isn’t specifically about business, I think it’s the perfect place to test out reactions to Lemur. That’s because Lemur, for me, isn’t just about making a high-scale for-profit businesses. It’s about helping others and empowering creativity. I look forward to hearing what others think about the project and ideas they have for getting it out to the right audience.

Contacts

Last year I met not one, not two, not three but 10 or so colleagues from around the world that I regularly check in with about business, life and everything else. I didn’t go to WDS to increase my global contacts but that ended up happening. I found friends in Europe, England, The Netherlands, Scotland, Portland, Texas, and Canada that I have either done business with or that I regularly bounce ideas off of. It’s been great to share my experiences with them and to see how we help each other with expanding possibilities of our own businesses. I also enjoyed the random encounters with strangers who, though we weren’t going to do business together, inspired me to think differently about how my business could be run. I met artists and life coaches. At one point I met an apothecary. People are really the reason to attend a conference. It’s not just the people on the stage but the audience that can grow your outlook and ideas. WDS presents one of the most mind-expanding audiences that I’ve had the pleasure to know and I’m looking forward to seeing who turns up this year.

Image from Flickr user R0Ng Creative Commons license.

Nate Cooper 4 Songs about San Francisco

Songs About San Francisco

San Francisco is an eclectic city. Proof of this concept is the breadth of differnt songs written about it. How can writing about the same thing spur such diverse output? In no particular order here are four songs about San Francisco.

Lights – Journey

From Wikipedia:
The song is a ballad about Journey’s city of origin, San Francisco, although it was actually written in and originally intended to be about Los Angeles. It was one of Steve Perry’s first Journey songs, and was recorded soon after his joining the band. In an interview, Perry said, “I had the song written in Los Angeles almost completely except for the bridge and it was written about Los Angeles. It was ‘when the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on LA.’ I didn’t like the way it sounded at the time. And so I just had it sitting back in the corner. Then life changed my plans once again, and I was now facing joining Journey. I love San Francisco, the bay and the whole thing. ‘The bay’ fit so nice, ‘When the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on the bay.’ It was one of those early morning going across the bridge things when the sun was coming up and the lights were going down. It was perfect.”

Sitting on the Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding

From Wikipedia:
In August 1967, while sitting on a rented houseboat in Sausalito, Redding started writing the lyrics to the song. He completed the writing with the help of Stax producer Steve Cropper, who was also guitarist in Booker T and the M.G.’s. The song incorporates mimicked seagull whistles and sounds of the waves crashing on the shore. Tragically, just three days after Redding and band mates finished the final refinements of the song, Redding, five band mates (James Alexander, Carl Cunningham, Jimmy Lee King, Phalon Jones, Ronnie Caldwell, and Matthew Kelly) and pilot Richard “Dick” Fraser died in a plane crash that landed in Lake Monona, Wisconsin. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” became the first posthumous album to reach number one on the Billboard Music Charts.

We Built This City – Jefferson Starship

From Wikipedia:
The lyrics describe a city built on rock n’ roll music. The lyrics explicitly mention the Golden Gate Bridge and refer to “the City by the Bay”, a common moniker for Starship’s hometown of San Francisco, California. However, the lyrics also refer to “the City That Never Sleeps”, a reference to New York City, and “The City That Rocks”, a reference to Cleveland, Ohio. Capitalizing on the ambiguity, several radio stations added descriptions of their own local areas when they broadcast the song, or even simply added their own ident in its place.

San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)

From Wikipedia:
The Bee Gees wrote their song “Massachusetts” as a reaction to this song. The Bee Gees’ song is about someone who has been to San Francisco but is now homesick for Massachusetts.

Photo Credit: Stirling Noyes

Interview with Beander from StartupBus North America

Photo Credit: Stirling Noyes

I wrote a blog post for the 1Million Cups blog on startup Beander. They were founded on the StartupBus out of Seattle for the 2014 North America StartupBus competition. Here’s an excerpt from the story:

Tell us the story of Beander. 

Having been in the coffee industry for 10 years, I interact with lots of coffee roasters. I found that so many of them were complaining about the same problem: That it was hard for them to buy green coffee beans because they were too small to be on importers’ radar, and because the coffee listings online were in a confusing spreadsheet. An ecommerce site could solve this perfectly.

Read more on the 1Million Cups blog

Nate Cooper The Shining Dreams

The Shining and the Function of Dreams

I recently watched the documentary Room 237 which explores different interpretations of the 1980 movie the Shining. As you might suspect from a movie as cryptically coded as Kubrick’s, there are a lot of interpretations some more credible than others. What’s clear from most of the different readings of the film is that there’s an inherent commentary on mass violence and the lack of awareness of the past. One such commentator compares movie watching to a dream and summarizes dreams’ function as taking a series of memories from ones past and mashing them up with today’s memories to try to make sense of patterns that we can act upon in waking life.

I like this way of thinking of dreams. If we are to understand memory as a function of language, learned patterns even memes in the Dawkinsian sense, then dreams can be understood to serve a certain purpose. They are our unconscious’ way of processing experience in order to make meaning.

Photo Credit: Eric Lumsden

Ace Hotel Portland World Domination Summit Nate Cooper

A Space For Dominating Your Fear of Missing Out

I can recall in my youth in Northern California a constant frustration called FOMO or fear of missing out. It is the anxiety felt that there’s someplace better you should be. You worry that you’re never where the cool stuff is happening. When I moved to the east coast and New York City seven years ago I felt that the big city had cured me of this ill. I was overwhelmed by all the choices, I simply had to deal with the fact that I would never be able to do everything. I learned that life is about making decisions. By making a choice you are inevitably missing out on the thing that wasn’t chosen. What moving to New York taught me was that wherever I was at the moment, was the right place for me to be. I brought the party.

During WDS we were in a space where what we said and did mattered as individuals

I’ve been back West many times to visit friends and family in the Bay Area and I brought with me my adopted New York attitude of nonchalance in the face of uncertainty or doubt. I brought the confident swagger that I had assumed New York had given me. I recently returned from Portland after attending The World Domination Summit (WDS), a two day conference built on the pillars of community, adventure and service. Attending WDS and finally seeing Portland, I realized something. It’s not about the space where you are but how the you change yourself in reaction to the space you’re in. In other words New York didn’t make me more confident. It was the permission I gave myself to see the confidence in me. At the conference much was made of the reactions of Portlanders to WDS attendees. I met some former Californians working in a food truck who claimed we were the nicest group they’ve ever met. Conference attendees heard this echoed everywhere, we were the kindest, most interesting and fun group they’d ever seen.

Portland World Domination SummitHow did it happen? What was the magic that made WDS so worthwhile and impossible to describe to others? What caused this collective joy and positive outlook? As a teacher I’m often struck by the way the structure of a classroom affects the ways in which students interact. If I’m sitting at a table with my students, the questions I get and reactions to the material are much different than if students are in rows facing me at the front of a classroom. Reflecting on WDS I see this same sort of shift in how the space works to reflect back the attitudes of organizers, attendees and locals.

Two things, in my opinion, make WDS successful. One is that every attendee has a story. Not only were the speakers obviously very talented and amazing. It was equally engaging to hear the stories from attendees both on and off stage. Even the afterparty was interrupted briefly so an attendee could propose to his girlfriend. Why? Because it makes for a compelling story. The story of that wedding proposal was told in front of us because of the possibility we made for it to happen. During WDS we were in a space where what we said and did mattered as individuals and because of that we as a group made impossible things possible.

WDS is a collective wish to be positive about where we are in the present moment

The second reason for the success of WDS is Chris Guillebeau. He draws a stark contrast from others he’s sometimes compared to like Eric Reis or Tim Ferris. Chris’ character is what sets him apart. It’s defined almost entirely by his humbleness and kindness. At one point in the conference Chris gave what he called a “soft sell” which, for anyone who’s seen him speak before, is just what comes to him naturally. He can’t hard sell you or pressure you. You get the sense that Chris wants more people to be happy and comfortable like him. He invites you to enjoy life the way he does and you want to do it because he gave you a place to do it.

Mothers Portland World Domination Summit

Portland itself is a magical place, filled with nonconforming and thoughtful people. The fact that so many of the attendees aspire to overlapping positive ideals and are brought to a place that encourages it is really what makes WDS great. It’s not about what we are doing for money or the bad patches you may see in front of you. It’s not about what you’re missing out on or the fear of it. WDS is a collective wish to be positive about where we are in the present moment and what we aspire to change in the future.

Nevins_Library_First_Librarians

For Curated Learning

In the past month I’ve experimented more with different kinds of teaching formats and curriculum. I also attended the 140 conference on Education where K-12 learning styles were discussed in the context of social media. I’m increasingly convinced that there’s a disconnect between theories of learning and the realities of modern media consumption beyond a K-12 level.

We in the US are living in a time of unprecedented access to information and at the same time that information is changing rapidly. Skills to prepare one for this new techno-savvy future were not entirely evident in the later part of the 20th century. In the 1990s much was theorized about our new media future and projected upon. So much of what I’ve been taught about how adults learn center around hands on training activities.

I quite enjoy doing classes in this format when I have the opportunity and I’m presented with an engaged audience. Far too often, however, I find that it’s more of a challenge to get adults to follow along with what you’re doing and get them to do the work in a hands on fashion. I can’t say that I blame them. I tuned out from hands on learning activities when I left grade school. What always captivated me in classes in college was a gripping lecture punctuated with solid examples.

I know lectures aren’t for everyone and I’ve slept through my fair share, but how can we look at the success of TED or talks from the Royal Society and honestly say that lectures are outmoded or don’t work? With the explosion of online content providers like Big Think serving up content in short video chunks, in addition to bite-sized articles and essays delivered to our phones and Kindles, it seems to me that far more of us are not learning by hands on but instead by collecting bits and pieces of information and deep-diving on the topics later.

This has always been my approach to the classes I offer. I cringed for months when my web concepts classes Website Bootcamp and Website in a Box were (and often still are) labelled ‘HTML’ classes. Anyone who’s serious about learning HTML knows that you don’t need to pay money for a 3 hour class to learn it. That information is freely available online. What I offer in my classes is a base level of HTML and CSS that are core to what I’ve had to use repeatedly in my past work experience. It’s just as important to me what I’m not teaching as to what I am teaching. I also bring in concepts like SEO that students are inevitably curious about, but that often don’t get touched in HTML basics classes. We’ve segmented the topics to such an extent that to realize their connection takes years of working experience.

Right now there’s an explosion of online training and extracurricular learning especially in the tech world. Yet we’re still using terms like “hands on” and “hard skills” rather than thinking of the student, our audience and customers. A good physical trainer knows that being healthy is a lifestyle. Even though we have specialists in the nutritionist, the family doctor, the personal trainer at the gym, etc each plays an important role for the individual looking to loose weight or adapt to a healthy life. Likewise our mental health relies on understanding that how students learn is different. Not everyone will respond to an online video. Neither will everyone seek out a book on a subject to learn the topic. But many still will in both cases as well. There’s not a right way and a wrong way to learning except in what’s measured by how the student perceives his or her knowledge on the subject. Let them room and they’ll learn in their own way.