May 24, 2006

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More thoughts about what I want to do with my life

Here’s a sketch of what I want to do:

I want to help people connect with people through social software.

That’s a very broad goal. What does it mean?

What do I want to do?

I want to help people make sense of technology. I want to help them
figure out which tools they should try out and how those tools fit
into their ways of working. I want to help them bring the tools into
their culture and adapt the tools to their needs. I want to help
people look at the big picture and see how everything fits together. I
want to help people look at the leaves on the trees and figure out how
to make the most of each piece.

I’m particularly interested in technology that helps people relate
with people. I’m interested in ways for people to discover other
people and other resources, share their insights with others, and
organize things for themselves.

Why is that a good fit for me?

I’m good at keeping track of technology news, which makes it easy for
me to recommend something that fits a situation. I also like
collecting and sharing productivity tips.

I enjoy speaking, writing, teaching, evangelizing, and all these other
ways to help people learn.

Most of all, I love listening and drawing people out. I love learning
people’s vocabularies and telling them stories about other people’s
successes and failures, helping them imagine their own success. I love
stepping into someone’s shoes and figuring out which tools might be
useful. I love coming up with ways for people to slowly make new tools
part of their lives.

What do I need to learn next?

  • I know about the tools. I need to learn about
    organizational behavior, organizational change, information
    technology diffusion, and technology adoption.
  • I know how to spread enthusiasm. I need to also learn how to
    communicate solid business benefits.
  • I know how to set a few things up. I need to become more familiar
    with the different technologies so that I can prototype them
    quickly and show how everything fits together.
  • I know a few people in different areas. I need to develop a rich,
    wide directory of consultants and companies who can implement
    particular solutions.
What’s my next step?

  • Continue with my research at IBM, which is exactly in line with this anyway.
  • Make another speech at Toastmasters, then another and another.
  • Meet other people who are working in the same or similar area. Talk
    to them, ask them for help figuring out this passion of mine, and
    see if I can do anything to help.

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Random Japanese sentence: 秘密を漏らす。 Let the cat out of the bag.

Hooray for people who know how to cook!

How to not burn pancakes, from Mom:

use a teflon pan. heat pan. put very very little oil on the pan. pour batter. turn down heat so pancake (first bottomside) will brown evenly. When pancake (topside) starts to bubble, watch and flip pancake as soon as bubbles have burst and batter looks dry. pancake is cooked when it rises (thickens) You can check if the second face is done. If not, you may turn the heat up just a little bit. Remove pancake from pan. Turn up heat again for the next pancake. Use the thickest, flattest pan that you have so your pancakes will brown evenly. Hope this helps. =)

Egg-free pancakes, from Paul Lussier:

Pancakes don’t require any egg at all:

  • 1 cup flour (I prefer whole wheat flour, better flavor, heathier)
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • Cinnamon/Nutmeg season to taste
  • 1.5-2 cups soy milk
  • Add any variety of fruit: blueberries, strawberries, apples, bananas, etc.

I love writing about my cooking misadventures because they make my friends laugh and I get plenty of tips, too. =)

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E-Mail from Paul Lussier

Random Japanese sentence: 台所からその猫を追い出してくれ。 Chase the cat from the kitchen.

Team of Filipino Students Win MIT Entrepreneurship

From: “Santamaria, Samuel” SSantamaria AT

Here’s another victory we can be proud of. Tell your friends about it.
A team of Filipino MIT students headed by Illac Diaz won the Grand Prize for
the US$ 100K MIT Entrepreneurship Competition’s development track for their
business, CentroMigrante, Inc. Read on.

Their project, focused on a business model for social entrepreneurship in the
Philippines, beat out several other amazing ideas. Impoverished people in
developing countries leave their rural hometowns and flock to urban areas to
seek employment but are usually unable to afford decent lodging while
searching and waiting for jobs. In the Philippines, as many as 1 million
Filipinos a year spend up to 3 months away from their home provinces and in
Manila’s port areas looking for jobs as seafarers, most of them living in
shanties under depressed and undignified living conditions. CentroMigrante
Inc. combines developmental architecture with a self-help business model to
offer a sustainable solution that provides clean, safe and affordable urban
housing for such indigent, transient job seekers.

The MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition is designed to encourage students
and researchers in the MIT community to act on their talent, ideas and energy
to produce tomorrow’s leading firms. Now in its 16th year, the Competition
has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and business startup
services to outstanding teams of student entrepreneurs who submitted business
plans for new ventures showing significant business potential. The refinement
process of the Competition, its network of mentors, investors and potential
partners, and the cash prizes awarded have helped many of these teams to act
on their dreams and build their own companies and fortunes.

The MIT Entrepreneurship Competition provides teams who enter with valuable
resources in the following areas crucial to successful entrepreneurship:

  • Networks of world-class entrepreneurs, investors, and potential partners
  • Mentorship by successful and seasoned professionals
  • Content rich feedback on their business model from world class entrepreneurs, investors, and professional service providers on our Judging [panel?]
  • Teambuilding opportunities to create a winning team of founders
  • Broad media exposure and PR buzz

See attached photo or at:

Way cool!

E-Mail from Harvey V. Chua

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Random Japanese sentence: 休暇中、近所の人がうちの猫の世話をしてくれた。 While we were on holiday, a neighbor took care of our cat.

Blogly angst

Hands, a sketch by Dominique Cimafranca

Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way we think it should, but then
that could be because it has greater things in store for us than we
could imagine.

Random Japanese sentence: 1匹の猫を別とすれば家は空っぽだった。 The house was empty except for a cat.

Microsoft Word in schools

Didith Rodrigo, the chair of my alma mater’s computer science department, seems to be getting a bit frustrated with people who’ve asked her to consider teaching students something other than Microsoft Word for word processing. She reasons: “I think that teaching tools is need-based. If there is some reason that the tool is more appropriate for the need, then fine. If not, then don’t fix what isn’t broken.”

I’m going to go on a bit of a rant because I feel that it’s important
to expose students to choices that they might not otherwise encounter
on their own. I agree with Didith’s main point at the end – that it’s
not about the tools – but my particular bone here is that university’s
also where students should learn to abstract general principles.

This is how I understand the educational system’s _supposed_ to work:
people who want to learn about specific things go to vocational
schools and workshops, and people who want to learn about abstractions
and things they’d never encounter on their own go to university.

We shouldn’t teach Microsoft Word. We should teach writing (note: not
even word processing). We shouldn’t teach Microsoft Powerpoint. We
should teach presentation. We shouldn’t teach Microsoft Excel. We
should teach data analysis.

The problems these students face go _way_ beyond the tools. You can
inflict death by bullet point in Impress just as
easily as you can in Microsoft Powerpoint. So why not spend valuable
class time talking about the principles of the thing instead of the
tools? (Oh, if I had a dime for every word someone’s read off the

Here’s a quote that captures what I think:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Fill them with the longing to write wonderful articles and make
effective presentations! Inspire them through your examples! Help them
reach out through their words! As long as students write only for
their teachers and their classmates, you’ll see bad prose and hear
people read off slides. Show them examples, point out common mistakes
and show them how they can improve, and put them in front of audiences
that care about what they’re interested in… If you can set them on
fire, they’ll _learn_ about all the nifty tricks hidden in whatever
software they use – and it will be about the result, not the tool!

Note to self: I need to learn how to write really, really well. I also
need to learn how to present really, really well. Then I need to
figure out how to teach this while inspiring by example. I _so_ want
to run a class on “Communication for Geeks”, or something like that. ;)

But wait! Wasn’t this supposed to be a rant about open source in education
and how students should be exposed to open source alternatives?

I’ve written a fair bit about this in the past, but let’s look at the
Atenean case more closely. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that
there _aren’t_ financial reasons to choose open source. The stereotype
of the Atenean student is a middle-class or rich student who can well
afford to buy legitimate versions of Microsoft Office. Truth is, quite
a few people are on scholarships. Besides, most people quite happily
pirate software or use whatever their computer dealer “bundled” with
their computer because they just don’t care about software rights or
they don’t think Microsoft deserves even _more_ money.

So let’s ditch the financial and ethical incentives, and talk about
the pedagogical one instead.

I taught for a short while, and even that short a while was enough to
make me feel the pressure to cover everything in the curriculum. If a
teacher’s already having a hard enough time covering all the little
features of one thing or another, how on earth is that teacher going
to find time to explore and discuss alternatives? Won’t that confuse
the students and make them lose confidence?

I feel quite strongly that we should drag people out of their comfort
zones every so often, particularly in university when they can mess up
without losing money. I suspect that one of the best ways to check
whether students can abstract the notion of, say, emphasizing text is
to throw them at an unfamiliar but usable word processor like and see if they can figure out what to do. (Open
source geeks can substitute “Microsoft Word” or “Emacs” as

I _want_ to make students feel a little bit uncomfortable. That
discomfort is what drives learning in the future, where it’s most
important. I don’t want students to stick only to what they know how
to do. They should keep learning!

This belief is probably not going to make me very popular with
students, most of whom would like to get through school with as little
effort as possible – but we need to help them develop critical
thinking and abstraction, and we need to help them figure out how to
figure things out.

I think that to know one thing is to know that one thing, but to know
two things is to know two things, their similarities and differences –
_and_ to know that I can learn more.

It doesn’t even have to be open vs closed source. It could be two
closed source ways of doing things, two open ways of doing things,
whatever. But it has to be sufficiently different to force the
students to think about their abstractions and to expose bugs in their
understandings… =)

Hey, would _you_ test a program with only one test case? ;)

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Random Japanese sentence: 「いいえ、ぼくです!、ぼくです!、ぼくです!」
こも自分が一番美しいとおもっていたのです。 No, I am! I am! I am! Cried
hundreds and thousands and millions and billions and trillions of
voices, for each cat thought itself the prettiest. [M]

More thoughts about social computing

Come to think of it, the hardest and most interesting part won’t be figuring out how the technology works. That takes time and experimentation, but it’s quite doable. What’s really tough and fun is figuring out how people work, how communities work, and how to support that while changing their behavior…

It’s not about blogs, wikis, etc. It’s about communication and community…

Random Japanese sentence: 猫は捕らえたネズミを引き裂き始めた。 The cat began to tear at the mouse it caught.

Web 2.0 and entrepreneurship

From the Kagay-anon Linux Users’ Group mailing list:

sa mga hilig ug web/2
one page lang na guide; gamit kaayo..

sa mga hackers ug novell fans

The first link is a quick guide to typical Web 2.0 interface stuff. is an even shorter list. ;)
(Heh. Also read )

I read KLUG every so often even though I can’t understand Bisaya… =)
It’s fun, and I’ve found a number of interesting people that way. For
example, Botp Peña (who posted these links) conducts free Ruby on
Rails training, and it looks like Botp Peña is also interested in

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E-Mail from Botp Peña

Random Japanese sentence: ボップ・ボップ・キャット・ボップ。 Bop, bop cat bop.


Thanks to a conversation earlier about web development and careers, I
think I’ve figured out a little more about what I want to do. =)

I want to support people and communities through social tools.

I want to help people make the most of blogs, wikis, podcasts,
vidcasts, social bookmarking, social networking, community content
management systems, whatever. I want to help them figure out how to
use version control systems and request trackers and mailing lists. I
want to make it easier to use phone and e-mail and little stickies on
the fridge…

What should I learn more about? I need to figure out how to set up a
blog farm, a wiki farm, a social bookmarking site, Drupal, etc. Bryght
does hosted community sites with Drupal, so they’d be good mentors and
models. I’m also interested in the social aspects of it. My research
into innovation diffusion and technology adoption _totally_ makes
sense in that context.

Mmkay. That sounds like a plan. I’m going to need some help figuring
out how to make it happen, but that resonates with me.

I don’t mind working on mind-numbing web stuff if I’m working with fun
people. I don’t mind explaining for the nth time what a blog is and
how people can use blogs for fun and profit, because I learn something
new every time I talk about that. And of course there are so many things
that aren’t even on most people’s radars…

Right. That sounds like what I want to do. Now, how do I go about doing it?

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Random Japanese sentence: 私は犬の方が猫より好きだが、それは前者が後者より忠実だからだ。 I like a dog better than a cat, for the former is more faithful than the latter.

Renaissance dance performance

Toronto Coranto – the renaissance dance group that I got drafted into
– performed for a class on Love and the Renaissance. It was tons of
fun, particularly the workshop part where we got all these students to
try out the branle pinagay. I wish I’d learned the dance of the
flowers. It looked very pretty, all courtly symmetry and

Calum came downtown just to shoot the event. He left after the show,
and I didn’t get to talk to him much about what’s going on in his
life. Should check on him sometime. He has two camera bodies now, and
he’s gotten completely spoiled by not only the ability to switch from
long to short really quickly but also the external flash. Heh.

Jed dropped by, too, even joining the workshop. He joined us for our
celebration at the pub. I had a burger, some Aussie cheese fries, a
plate(!) of whipped cream (I have no idea what possessed Mike to ask
for that!), and a little bit of a brownie.

We had hot chocolate afterwards (oy, sugar overload!), and we chatted
a bit about development, billiards, drumming… Come to think of it, I
don’t think he managed to finish his tea. I really should just prepare
tea next time. Engineers Without Borders gave me a box of tea for
showing up at lunch the other week, and I really should track down the
wonderful tea David served at the Linux Caffe some time back.

Must learn how to listen for rhythms and to tap them out. It’s not
entirely logical for me to keep telling people that they can get the
hang of computer science and that I’m not a special, unique snowflake,
while excusing myself from not being able to get the hang of audio or
visual stuff. ;)

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Random Japanese sentence: 鳥たちはその猫を見るとビックリして飛び去った。 The birds flew away in alarm when they saw the cat.


When Steve called me up on my cellphone at around 8:00 and said only
“Help!”, I panicked and nearly fell off my bed. I slipped into my
kimono and went to the second floor only to find that he had conned me
out of bed in order to surprise me with pancakes for breakfast. How

When I learned that he was actually still okay and in one piece, my
non-morning-ness reasserted itself. He was so cheerful, though, that I
couldn’t help but wake up – and the honey-lemon tea certainly helped
restore my voice. He wanted help cooking the rest of the pancakes so
that they didn’t turn out like crepes, though, so I added more mix to
the batter and poured out neat little silver-dollar pancakes. I’m
getting better at them – I burned only two this time!

Hooray for instant pancake mix. Yes, I know, pancakes are so easy to
make from scratch, yada yada, but the recipe requires a whole egg, and
that’s hard to divide. =)

It was very nice of Steve to surprise me with breakfast. I usually try
to wake him up and cook breakfast. He doesn’t have an alarm clock
right now and he doesn’t wake up to his cellphone, so a human without
a snooze button can be pretty effective. Besides, it’s a good way to
force myself out of bed. <grin>

Ay, friends… what would life be without them?

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Random Japanese sentence: ここの家何匹猫がいる? How many cats are there in this house?