Learning for the future: fundamentals

Your stick

Here’s a first try on the importance of fundamentals in learning.

Imagine you are holding a long stick – better yet, a sword or lightsaber – representing your ability to make a difference in the world.

The far end of the stick is the part that you’ll make the greatest impact with. It moves fastest, reaches furthest, hits hardest.

But it’s useless if you don’t know who or what you’re fighting for (and/or against).

And everything the end of the sword does depends on what happens at the handle. You need a good grip, and the part closest to the handle needs to be – I think – the strongest part of the sword (armourers?).

A small change in the person holding the sword, a small movement of the hilt, makes a huge difference to what happens at the pointy end.

The rest of the sword is just an amplifier.

121 minutes to your first podcast episode

This is a different type of post – more of a howto or a ‘what I tried’, in the spirit of moving fast and getting something done. So here goes.

Start the clock.

Write the title: XX minutes to your first podcast (we’ll fill a time in the title when we put the full-stop at the end).

The Rules

Make a really short podcast, edit it, and distribute it to a global audience (hosted on this website, hopefully registered on itunes, stitcher and wherever it needs to be in order for me to listen to it on Podcast Republic) in as short a time as possible – ideally less than an hour.

Inventory

Fair’s fair – time for full disclosure. I’ve done a bit of recording audio on my phone before and been thinking about this for a while. My equipment consists of:

  • My Android phone – Motorola G4plus
  • A Boya BY-M1 mic
  • Voice recorder by Splend Apps – I’ve tried a few and found this to be the best functionality (records straight to .mp3, is easy to use, gives you what you need without requiring payment).

Steps

  1. Write the script
  2. Record the podcast
  3. Edit the thing
  4. Find out how to distribute it

Write the script

Intro music:

I love the first few bars of Everlong by Foo Fighters. As with my wonderful header image, I will consider myself an enormous success if the copyright holders ever ask me to change it, which I will gladly do.

Intro script:

Welcome to Driverless Crocodile, a podcast about making change happen, and building the future.  I’m Stu Patience, and this is episode 0.

Episode 0 script:

I’m making this inaugural Driverless Crocodile podcast to celebrate 100 blog posts about building the future. I’m hoping to run an occasional podcast series as part of the blog featuring conversations with non-profit leaders and others working to make change happen and build a better future. My particular focus is on community development and education in Indonesia, but I’ll interview anyone interesting, so please get in touch if you have a suggestion.

I’m interested in sharing the most useful knowledge and tools for building effective organisations and making things happen. By tools I mean ideas, values, practices, skills and qualities, processes and digital technologies – all things that we add to ourselves to extend our ability to change the world around us.

Paused the clock at 21 minutes 20s to grab a snack.

This is episode 0, so it’s just an introduction, and I’m on a bit of a tight deadline – read the companion post at driverlesscrocodile.com – which may or may not be linked to in the shownotes – to find out more.

And that’s the end of Episode 0 – thanks for listening and see you next time.

Driverless Crocodile – out.

Record the Podcast

Right. I’m upstairs in my office, and it’s 32 degrees centigrade and a bit sweaty. I’m going to turn my phone onto aeroplane mode (to avoid interruptions and beeps while recording), shut the door and turn my fan off now before I record the introduction and episode 0, hopefully in one take each – because it’s going to get hot with the door closed, but also because my phone’s battery is down to 11%.

Done! I was wondering all the way through how silly I’m going to sound, but I’ll worry about improving things next time.

The fan is back on, the door is open, and I’m up to 36 minutes and 49 seconds.

Edit the thing

Find free editing software online

Quick search… audacity looks best. I’ve used it before I think, but it don’t have it on this computer.

And.. Audacity is installed. While it was installed I listened to my recording. It’s okay… I sound a little more American than I probably should (sorry parents!) – I blame the Americans on the podcasts I listen to.

And I’ve shared the files I recorded to myself on googledrive.

So with audacity open in a parallel window, I’m ready to start…

Lost a minute waiting for files to sync…

Editing Episode 0 with Audacity

Hmm, trying to import the files and there’s a problem with the libraries for .mp3 files.

I followed the instructions in audacity, went to the download page, downloaded LAME for audacity, ran a quick virus check and installed them. And it’s worked. Intro is imported.

… but audacity doesn’t like the file.

This is taking too long. Switching to editing program number two on the list – Ocenaudio. Thanks TechRadar!

Trying again with Ocenaudio

It’s taking a while to download so I’m looking at making an RSS feed from wordpress while I wait. Looks a bit technical. Ah, found something that looks a bit easier here.

Editing with Ocenaudio

Here we go again…

The files worked straight away, but the editor wasn’t working for me – I was hoping to see both audio tracks and be able to drag and drop as on my old version of Sony Vegas, and couldn’t quickly work out how to do it.

Back to Audacity

I looked a little more carefully realised that I had only downloaded the export library, and downloaded FFmpeg libray by going to edit -> preferences, then clicking the download button for FFmpeg, downloading a zipfile, extracting it, then using the locate button to find the library in the folder I extracted the files to. It worked!

More problems

My intro works, but Audacity doesn’t like my episode, despite it playing as an .mp3 in my normal music player.

Okay, it looks like there’s a problem with the file – not sure what.

Going to try and get this thing done with the theme music and introduction.

Impatient Patience

Wow, neither of those were working. I’ve switched over to my old video editing software, Sony Vegas 10.1.

It might be because I’ve used it before but it just… works.

I now have an edited podcast episode in .mp3 format. A bit rough, but… ready.

Getting it online

Back to that wordpress howto… which wasn’t that helpful.

Found Powerpress by Blubrry and installed the plugin

Activated and started filling in the information… There’s more to do here than I expected.

And stopped for the night, at 2 hours, 1 minute.

The episode is recorded, and I could post it here – but I want to get the RSS distribution up and running tomorrow, so will sit on it for now.

Footnote

Phew. 2 hours. My timing was way over ambitious. There are tweaks to make to the episode, but overall I’m pretty happy with how it sounds, considering it’s a one-take wonder!

What it takes: a body of work

What does it take to develop as a writer, artist, filmmaker, activist, programmer, blogger, teacher, chef, athlete, landscape gardener, leader and manager, academic?

Whatever else you do, you’re going to need a body of work.

My two favourite children (those would be mine – simultaneously the best and most annoying children I know) love to draw. And they’re getting better at it.

This is how:

body of work childrens drawings

They draw pretty often, and they draw a lot. Then they draw again.

They’re far from artistic geniuses, but they have this at least in common with Da Vinci (7,000+ pages of notebooks) and Picasso (something like 50,000 artworks, of which we remember a few).

Do it now.

Be prolific.

How to find out how roughly how many books there are in a category on Amazon

Just a bit of procedural knowledge from my post on deep literacy earlier that might be helpful to someone.

  1. Go to your relevant Amazon website (usually .co.uk for me)
  2. Search a with a dash followed by a random strong of characters, like this: -nfjdkslanfdjskalnfjdsklanfjsdkal (mine always seem to have lots of Ns and Ds
  3. You’ll get a result saying something like “1-16 of over 80,000,000 results.” Yes – 80 million results.
  4. You can refine your search by clicking the drop-down menu by the search bar and searching in say, books (“1-16 of more than 90,000”)
  5. When you’re in a category an option appears for ‘advanced search’ – click there to get to this:
amazon.co.uk advanced search books

6. Then you can search to your heart’s content by age category, subject etc and the nonsense string from earlier (-fbdjskabfjhajkfdsa) and see what the “more than 40,000 books…” bit says.

This doesn’t seem entirely accurate – I’m sure that there are far more than 90,000 books, for example. But it seemed to work pretty well once you get into subcategories:

  • 40,000 books in baby/pre-school
  • 80,000 books for kids 4-8
  • 70,000 books for kids 9-12
  • 60,000 Young Adult books

It’s the best I’ve been able to do for now, at any rate – if you know how to get better data on this please drop me a comment because I’d love to know.

Deep literacy: what it takes

Put aside AI and machine learning for a minute, and ask instead:

“What does it take to equip a human to be self-teaching?”

As a starting point – how many lines of code does it take to make a child who can read with fluency and ease and with critical understanding, and who loves reading, and is motivated to read and learn more?

We just tidied my kids’ bookcase, and I took a moment – okay, more than a moment – to count the books.

bookcase with 519 books
A bookcase on life’s front-line (before we tidied)

519

There are 519 books on this book case (including those on the floor and nearby that should be on it).

There are picture books, stories, touch-and-feel books, comics, small novels, catalogues, phonics books, kids bibles, magazines, science books, poetry, stories and non-fiction books about other cultures, lots of books about cars, even a couple of hand-written and coloured books by his great aunt, and a couple of notebooks with short and often unfinished stories that he’s written himself.

He’s had them read and re-read to him by a range of people, had pictures pointed out, words explained, sounds and meanings spelled out, questions asked.

He’s listened, looked, laughed, frowned, cried on occasion, got fed up, desperately begged to have them read to him, been indifferent.

And he’s read them repeatedly by himself: browsed their pages, poured over the pictures, flicked through them, gone back to favourite bits again and again, skipped the endings or skipped to the endings, tried out the words, phrases and attitudes, in the real world come to us with questions, absorbed our answers, disagreed with our interpretations, shared with us bits that he’s loved, come to us with things that have scared him, made up stories just like them, and new stories of his own.

250

Did I mention the 250 leveled reading books – the books specifically designed to help kids learn to read – that live upstairs?

shelf of books

Or the books we’ve borrowed from friends or read at their houses, the books read at or borrowed from libraries?

Or the ebooks?

He’s probably read about a thousand books.*

190,000 and the less-than-one-percent

But it’s not just about numbers – which books he’s read is as important as how many.  Most of these books are a custom selection, just for him, made by someone with his current tastes and future growth in mind (my wife is something of a book-picking phenomenon) from the roughly 190,000 books aimed at children under 12 that are available to him in our culture.**

So the selection on these shelves represents the tip of a huge pyramid – roughly the best, most engaging and most appropriate 0.5% of books written for people like him.

Don’t forget the wrapper

That – the books themselves and the wrapper of love, support, enthusiasm, the culture of curiosity and valuing education, the relative affluence, and living in an economy that makes books like these cheaper than ever before if you bide your time and look out for deals – is what it takes to produce a solid reader at age seven or eight.

*I’ll try to estimate how many words this represents another time
**My point of reference for this was the number of books available on Amazon.co.uk – see this post for more information

Cycle speed

This was going to be a post about cadence – how fast you pedal. How choosing a low gear – exerting yourself against small tasks with low resistance – is the most efficient way to pedal and the best way to go fast. It turns out its not that simple. Sometimes the bigger, slower pushes work well. But often – and especially when you’ve got a hill to climb – choosing a low gear is the easiest and fastest way to go. And at other times, even it it only feels easier… well, it’s easier to do things that feel easy. Low gear. High Cadence. Go. Go. GO.

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 8 (part 2)

This is the eighth-and-a-half post in a series applying Seth Godin’s rules of bootstrapping (see also here) to building a non-profit organisation.

Rule 8: Create Boundaries for Yourself

Many of the boundaries that we face are immovable, like limits to the time available to us, or being able to be in one place at a time, or the limited nature of our knowledge, no matter how much we know.

There are other boundaries that we can shift: the resources we have at our disposal, the number of people we partner with or serve, who we partner with, our skills, and the skills of our teams.

In service of the right vision, many of these boundaries are worth shifting.

But where to start? Concentration of force counts: pushing in all directions weakens the force we’re able to apply, and results in slow, frustrating change – if any. Pushing in all directions at once is usually exhausting.

So we decide – even within the immovable boundaries, we make our own, choosing where to apply our effort. This is a helpful way to think about boundaries – not as restrictions that hold you back, but as tools to help you focus.

Frontlog

A frontlog is way better than a backlog.

It’s when you get things done and dusted ahead of time – either finished well and entirely off your plate, or loaded and ready to go to the right people at the right time.

A backlog slows you down, puts you in a pinch, makes you rush, gives you tunnel vision, means that you have no time to connect with others, to take a bit longer with things – and most importantly, with people – that need your full attention.

A frontlog puts you in front of the curve, brings its own momentum, gives you space to breathe, to look around, to take care of others, to spot what’s interesting, to take a detour, to do the job right, to notice the things that make it worth doing.

A frontlog makes it hugely more likely that you’ll enjoy it, and that the people you’re taking with you – customers, clients, colleagues – will enjoy it too.

Remember: when you’re building a frontlog you’re showing up for the people you serve and giving a gift to your future self by making things easier tomorrow.

Remember – the work that you do to build up a frontlog 

Business Model Canvas

This is one of the most useful tools I’ve come across for understanding how your business works (or might works).

It designed for lean-startup style customer discovery and validation, but I found it a fantastic lens for actually seeing different parts of our organisation for the first time, as well as how they fit together to make a whole.

I’ll do a series on this before long. For now, here’s a set of links to a video series from Strategyzer to give you the main ideas (youtube playlist here):

Check at Alex Osterwalder‘s excellent book Business Model Generation for a lot more detail.