Thursday, December 27, 2012

What Will Tomorrow Bring: The Future of Music

A 14-year-old french kid posted a youtube video a few years ago. Some folks noticed that he had effectively redefined the way music is made using free software and an 8x8 button pad, total cost under $500. By placing clips of "39 songs I like" at his fingertips, ready to be triggered on his command, he created   music from music. Goodbye to medieval mixing and scratching. Hello to the mashup renaissance. Trigger groundswell, millions of views, sensation, fame, and of course a record contract.

What he did was just an evolution on widely-used electronic music methods, but it kicked the art to a higher playing field. Perhaps less acknowledged than the "holy shit he looks 14" aspect or the "woah, his buttons light up like Star Trek" reaction is the fact that he showed the world how this Novation Launchpad could be used to drastically lower barriers to entry in music creation. Yes, you still need artists and instruments. Yes, you still need talent and creativity. Just like remixers needed a song to ... well ... remix, music mashuppers (mashers-up?) start with existing music. The difference is that they deconstruct it more thoroughly into tinier components, extract the most amazing and juicy bits, blend them with other ingredients (including original compositions), and make the old music into something fundamentally different. The entire corpus of human music has become raw material for a slow and quiet teenage-bedroom democratization of music creation. When this spills out onto the popular music scene, things will never be the same.

Lone bards used to travel and sing a capella. Something big started when one picked up an instrument to create harmony and melody to augment his voice. One thing led to another and ... Beethoven's Symphony Number 9.

Phon:  Greek root meaning "sound"
Sym: Greek root meaning "together"

Mashups and symphonies are both the musical equivalent of molecular gastronomy. This is not looking at a goose and thinking "I'll fatten that up and roast it." This is looking at a goose and thinking "foie gras and boysenberry mousse on dehydrated Rogue River blue cheese chips with a garnish of chateauneuf-du-pape pearls." This is meta-meta-meta cooking. It takes a set of skills to run a dairy farm. It takes a different set of skills to create amazing blue cheese. It takes yet another skillset to make blue cheese chips. To achieve the foie dish above, a chef must abstract from all that and take finished products (cheese chips, fois gras, wine, etc) as raw ingredients which he transforms into something new and even more sophisticated. In doing, he breathes new life into old flavors.

Beethoven needed a mind-boggling array of talents and skills to formulate his symphony, but he didn't need to be able to play every instrument perfectly. He was a genius mashup artist, just like Madeon.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

All I want for Christmas is ...

Shamelessly borrowed from Monica Trasandes ... but I couldn't have said it better myself.

The ability to unitask | by Monica Trasandes
"Recently I found myself walking toward the kitchen with a load of laundry in my arms, two empty coffee cups dangling from my fingers, and car keys tucked between my chin and the clothes.
Oh, and I stopped to clean up a spill, using a fallen sock, which I then kicked into the kitchen. Forty minutes later, as I pulled my fresh-smelling, shiny keys from the wash, I realized I had reached unhealthy levels of multitasking.
This problem has dogged me for years. For example, I never just make pasta for dinner: I put on the spaghetti sauce while cleaning the bathroom, opening and shredding mail and watering the plants. This means I end up with a very clean apartment that smells like scorched tomatoes. I never seem to just drive, either: I simultaneously peel and eat a banana and listen to the news while returning calls for my media-director job (on my hands-free phone, of course).
A man I admire has called multitasking "the enemy of intimacy"—and for me that's certainly true. Often I do dishes or clear my desk while chatting on the phone with friends. I can't seem to help myself.
The problem: I've always felt guilty about doing one thing at a time. On those occasions when I have, say, carried laundry and dirty dishes on separate trips, my evil inner critic has sneered at me: "Hmm, taking it slow today, aren't we, unitasker? I guess some of us don't want to succeed." To which I should reply: "I want to succeed, evil inner critic! I just don't want to have to achieve all my goals at the same time." But I rarely succeed. Usually I give in, reluctantly, to that bullying voice.
So, for Christmas this year, I want to make a change. At long last, I would like to embrace a slower way of life: I'll read and only read. Drive and only drive. I'll be fully present when talking to my friends. Because with all the multitasking, I know that I'm missing so much."

Sunday, November 04, 2012

What Will Tomorrow Bring: Retro Fashion in Organizations

The organization, whether group, tribe, team, corporation, or government represents the ugly, bloody edge of our evolution as social animals. It's complicated ... and we're not NEARLY done yet. Perhaps a few millennia down the pike we will get it right.

At the moment, I feel safe in saying that we are all collectively burnt and battered into pessimism about our ability to get it right. Look left. Look right. Share your booze with your neighbor. Their loosened lips will start to tell you how anti-government, anti-bank, anti-corporate, or anti-politics they are. 

I can't purport to foresee the best master plan. But I am an organization-man. Based on daily frustrations, I can highlight a few very very VERY simple things which will ever-so-slightly evolve us. These things were once fashionable in organizations, but have gone out of style. It's time to go retro.
  • Meeting agendas and minutes
  • Documentation of decision taken and justification thereof
  • Reading materials prior to meetings
  • Discussing and understanding issues prior to meetings
  • Taking time to give the context of a discussion beforehand
  • Following up on your OWN To Dos
  • Speaking in simple sentences which directly respond to the question at hand
  • Making decisions based on informed analysis and then EXPLAINING your decision-drivers to anyone who will listen. Rinse and repeat until you have consensus.
  • Saying you were wrong. And knowing why.
  • Building objective business cases for investments
  • Viewing man/hours as a valuable asset you are investing
  • Overtly recognizing and funding innovation time at all levels (except at Google, of course)
  • Having a secretary to keep the high-priced execs from spending hours formatting documents and finding conference rooms for meetings. (talk about inefficient division of labor)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Greasy Thinking

I love to hate Krugman's one-size-fits-all big-government answers to every problem but today through clenched teeth I have to agree with his op-ed yesterday (partially). Europe and the Euro need to put their big boy pants on and learn some bladder control. Fast. Diapers just aren't appropriate anymore. As he said in the NY Times today:
For the past two-and-a-half years, European leaders have responded to crisis with half-measures that buy time, yet they have made no use of that time.
Not sure how that jives with this first sentence, but anyway I agree with him: The Greece problem is not new. The Economist summarizes well this week:
Greece really has suffered: between 2007 and 2012 its economy is expected to have shrunk by almost a fifth. The economy is being strangled by a severe credit and liquidity crunch, with more budget cuts and tax rises to come. Even if all goes well, Greece’s debt will be 161% of GDP next year.
The Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Irisih problems are not new either.

The facts about Europe (and especially these retarded countries) which have created the current situation are not new. The EC, the EU, the EMU, the European Parliament, the European Presidency - all impotent, except for farm policy (huh?). National governments, all ineffective, focused on pandering, philandering, scandal (either chasing or running away from). Citizens feel emasculated (at best), despondent and dependent (especially those just out of school), and generally pessimistic. Employers are hamstrung on everything from employment/firing to compensation to innovation to outsourcing. Consequently, employees are lazy (not dumb) and inefficient. The governments have pissed away more than enough livelihoods. They need to get busy.

As Reagan put it,
There are no easy answers but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.
The answer to Europe's issues is simple. It may seem odd to use the phrase "morally right" in this case, but it IS a moral issue for Europeans. It should be if they care about their children, their nation, their place in the world. 

Krugman's focus yesterday was on inflation, but the price level is not the core problem, nor is inflating your way out of debt a silver bullet. Happily, it will make European products less expensive. Here's to more Bordeaux and aged Gouda and European vacations! This, however, just corrects an existing price misalignment. A croissant and coffee shouldn't cost the equivalent of $20. That's just nuts. The reason Krugman is wrong is simple:  prices go up, but productivity per worker doesn't change. Every European becomes poorer. Fewer car/house/consumer loans/credit cards are available. House prices go down. Companies can't as easily justify borrowing to invest or launch new products. Which means less innovation and growth.

And that's exactly what Europe needs, particularly in the south: GROWTH. Even Krugman will agree with that usually. 

The only ways to get there are through INNOVATION, PRODUCTIVITY, and/or DEBT.

The last one is Europe's current favorite: beg, borrow, and steal. From the rich. From the companies. From each other. From the future. Money flows from northern countries through the EU/ECB to southern countries without compensation or realistic ability to earn enough to pay it back. Money flows out of companies' profits and employees' income through high taxes but is not set aside for their own social welfare. Instead, it is used to buy votes from those without jobs and/or those with political power. Quoting Krugman again:
Europe’s central bank is, in effect, financing this bank run by lending Greece the necessary euros; if and (probably) when the central bank decides it can lend no more, Greece will be forced to abandon the euro and issue its own currency again ... This demonstration that the euro is, in fact, reversible would lead, in turn, to runs on Spanish and Italian banks

It's just not sustainable. History is littered with examples of failed currencies and governments who thought they could just borrow their way to success. 

Instead, the core issues of low productivity, low innovation, and perverse incentives need to be addressed. Europe needs to start acting like a single community rather than a bunch of clans of grumpy neighbors. Europe needs to recognize the limits of socialism in the face of globalization. Europe needs to acknowledge global realpolitik. Protectionism and nationalism are luxuries they can no longer afford. The Euro cannot be a fiat currency - it needs backing based on the power of taxation and reserves.

On Productivity and Innovations:
  • Ya just gotta free up the labor market, folks, or productivity is never going to get better. People/roles/trades/companies/industries/countries (including those abroad) which are more productive than others should be allowed to crowd out the less-productive. Languages can be a barrier, but to the extent that, for example, a smart and/or ambitious Pole can speak enough Italian or German to work abroad, this should be enabled, not discouraged. Even in "protected" industries. Spanish companies should be able to put callcenters and operations in, for example, Guatemala.
  • Extending that point, you also need to accept that people/trades/industries/countries which are less productive are going to be less wealthy. Socialism hates inequality, but if a Finn can produce 4 cars a day while an Italian can only produce 3, the Finn should make more than the Italian. Similarly, if a Greek or Bulgarian (gasp!) is willing to earn EUR10 an hour to grow grapes while an Austrian insists on EUR25, the Greek and Bulgarian grapes should be trucked to Austria, crowding the Austrian farmers out of the business or forcing them to take a pay cut. 
  • Extending the above: Learn from the US (both what to do and what NOT to do) about immigration and foreign workers. Let 'em in! Create a controlled and net-positive process (as explained in my prior blog post) and then open the gates. For one thing, allowing younger immigrants into the workforce is the only way you will be able to pay for your pensions and healthcare systems going forward. There should be no prohibitive barriers against Uruguayans moving to and working in Spain, for example. Just make sure you charge them for it.
  • Aside from the ability to hire/fire the people they want and the ability to pay a market-clearing wage, companies need the ability to offer both contract and full-time work. They also need to be able to offer various tiers of benefits for interns, new-to-the-workforce, tradespeople, professionals, executives, etc. It can't be just the one-size-fits-all government-dictated (tarnishing) gold-plated package. A hundred years ago, Hayek correctly described where that road leads.
  • Moreover, you can't have your cake (of national champion companies in every industry) and eat it too (expecting them to be globally competitive and profitable without being able to scale). Accept that you are a common market and allow Euro-wide champions to arise in whatever Euro country they may. No longer can the Portuguese government spend money it doesn't have to promote and protect their own national paper, airline, or cell phone companies. It's ridiculous for richly-paid Italians, French, and Germans to produce nearly 10% of the world's steel ... at a loss when all governmental supports are factored in. Buy Turkish or even Indian steel!
On Perverse Incentives:
  • Government borrowing needs a revamp. Existing sovereign bond markets need to be priced based on country risk, not currency risk. Separately, the ECB should introduce Eurobonds which are guaranteed by all countries in the monetary union. Individual countries would buy SDR-like rights by either depositing collateral at the ECB or by legislating pledges of future tax receipts. They would then be allowed to request that the ECB issue bonds on their behalf, most of the proceeds going to the national government, but with an adequate reserve withheld by the ECB as collateral against future payment. Overall Eurobond issuance would be capped by the ECB based on market conditions and European Parliament votes.
  • More radically, impose, by irrevocable treaty, a 5% Eurozone value-added tax. Simultaneously reduce national VATs by the same amount such that there is no impact to consumers or businesses. These funds go to the ECB and are distributed according to agreed rules. In other words, taxes collected in Spain are sent to the ECB but might get sent right back to Spain if all's well. However, if one country is circling the fiscal drain, this provides a cash buffer to protect the ECB and the other Eurozone countries from getting sucked into the vortex. Most importantly, this creates a "lever" of power by the ECB over individual countries. If you don't live up to your commitments, you don't get your 5% back. The bank NEEDS this power to protect and defend the currency. It also needs it to enforce compliance with treaties and commitments.
  • Enforcement of the monetary union's and European Parliament's targets (ex. Growth and Stability) must be strict. Greece has NEVER met the very friendly targets they negotiated. Never intended to, I'm sure. They should be fined. They should not get their 5% back. Their voting rights in the European Parliament should be suspended. ECB transfers should be suspended. International remittances and account balances should be frozen.
  • While you're at it - fix the banking system's capital adequacy rules. Sovereign debt is NOT risk free.  
All graphics from

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Follow Up: Far Better Approach for Huddled Masses

Back in ought-nine (naught-nine? nevermind.), I wrote a blog praising the prez for putting immigration on the agenda. Specifically:
  • "Remove incentives to enter illegally" (by cracking down on employers who hire illegals)
  • "Bring people out of the shadows" (with his "get to the back of the line" amnesty program)
  • "Create secure borders"
  • "Improve our immigration system"
  • and "Work with Mexico"
Not sure what happened next, but I suspect the dog ate his agenda. True, illegal immigration flows have changed due to the US Economic issues and (I suspect) border-patrolling cyberdrones. However, regarding legal immigration, he has scant little to brag about in the upcoming election. Apparently, he has calculated that the one gay vote in the hand is worth two Latin votes in the bush.

Go ahead - visualize it. 

Anyway, immigration SHOULD be on the agenda. Its an embarrassment. Still.

As I wrote at the time:
Step 1 is to provide people with a functional, efficient legal path to enter the country. If we want to avoid the "upside down" demographic nightmare of Japan and Europe, we need a steady supply of new, hungry labor ... Sadly, today's legal path is a joke ... our nation's most embarrassing interaction with the rest of the world is the nightmarish gauntlet we put our future fellow citizens through. The Visa process. An ideal process would filter for enterprising, aggressive, ambitious, smart, yet moral people. Instead, that ilk are slowly beaten into bureaucratic submission.

If Obama really wants to improve the economy in an effective and sustainable way, he should consider privatizing (um, I mean public-private-partnering) the process. The government doesn't design the cars they drive (unless they drive Volts). They don't design the planes they fly. They don't operate the phone network, power grid, or farm-to-table chain. They don't own (most of) the banks which process public and private payments (yet?).

Similarly, the government would take a bit of farce out of the immigration process by 
  • focusing their efforts on establishing sensible  rules for immigration (more on that below)
  • allowing private firms to competitively move applicants through. As I said before - think TurboTax or Google Maps or whatever silicon firm you like
  • regulating those private firms (just as banks, meatpackers, and airlines are)
Immigrant visas should be selective (no terrorists, no criminals, no derelicts, etc.) but not xenophobic or political.  The price should be steep. People and companies will sort out ways to pay (grants, loans, sponsors, etc.) Arbitrary quotas and impossibly bureaucratic processes with glacial progress just push people away or underground and have no place here. 

Applicants should choose between asylum/hardship, spouse/family unification,temporary work visa, temporary student visa, or all-you-can-eat citizenship. 

I won't spend much time on the first two categories in this blog - we already have criteria for those, albeit flawed. View them as a form of foreign aid. The remaining categories need to be structured to ensure a net benefit to the country for every new immigrant. The more the merrier!

Those choosing Temporary Work Visas:
  • must qualify. No criminals. No deadbeats. No terrorists. Model this screening on the Treasury's OFAC process (which is federally-regulated and monitored, but conducted privately by companies and banks)
  • must pay a significant deposit, refundable upon exit. Say, half the current US average annual income for the applicant's declared profession category. I know that's a lot. That's the point. Let them finance it if they're really serious about coming here
  • must pay a market-priced application fee. Instead of the current quota system, a sliding fee scale governs immigrant volumes based on our capacity to absorb, but ensures an efficient path for those who are highly motivated and highly confident in their ability to be successful here
  • must pay a US "Use Fee" each year to offset their use of public (or public-provided and free) goods such as roads, workplace safety, and clean air
  • must be able to provide proof of medical insurance, pre-paid through the term of the visa
  • do not need to have a job or a company "sponsoring" them. The deposit and fees above should be significant enough to make people self-assess their ability to get a job in the US and self-select. People are not required to find a company to "sponsor" them via "invitation" as the US and many other countries currently do. The current system allows for, among other things, nasty political games and power-broking, especially between unions and congressmen. People would be wise to find jobs before coming in order to get the companies to help offset the visa deposit and fees. But they don't have to.
  • must pay income tax (and other taxes) just like anyone else who works and spends time here
  • are not eligible for any government assistance or public services. If you are not interested in being a US citizen, that's fine but you can't have it both ways. Your country of citizenship is responsible for you, your behavior, and your needs. You screw up, you go home, and we keep your deposit.
  • convey their own citizenship on their children born here. The kids are not automatically US citizens. 
  • can apply to stay for any time period they choose and can apply for renewal as many times as they want. However, the "Use Fee" fee increases progressively the longer one stays (or the more times one renews). Thus, a farmer who crosses from Tijuana to Oxnard to pick strawberries for a month a year pays a little, although it increases over time. The doctor who comes from Pakistan and sets up a permanent practice (but chooses not to become a citizen) pays much more. The US should be a net beneficiary of the spoils of immigration.
  • Must voluntarily leave when their visas expire. Deposits are refunded only on confirmed exit. Those coming in an trying to disappear are criminals and thus immediately and permanently ineligible to be here. We already have means of validating right-to-work. That same process could be used any time public services are requested (driver's license, enrollment in public school, any federal assistance, social security, medicare/medicaid) or travel is booked (similar to the no-fly list).

Those choosing Temporary Student Visas:
  • must qualify (see above)
  • must voluntarily either leave when their visas expire (see above) or get a Temporary Work Visa
  • must be able to provide proof of medical insurance, pre-paid through the term of the visa (see above)
  • must pay a significant deposit, refundable upon exit (or transferable to a Temporary Work Visa deposit). This should be rolled into the whole student financial aid process so highly-desirable candidates can cover the deposit using grants/endowments, public funds, and student loans
  • must pay a market-priced application fee (see above)
  • must have been already accepted into an accredited school and eligible program (debatable whether associates degrees, trade/professional programs, etc. should be eligible)
  • must apply for a visa which covers the entirety of their planned degree program
  • must maintain enrollment with passing grades or the visa is immediately revoked
  • are free to work here, but must pay income tax (and other taxes) just like anyone else who works and spends time here
  • are not eligible for any government assistance or public services. Your country of citizenship, your family, and/or your school (however you negotiate it) are responsible for all your needs
  • (note: spouses/kids must apply for visas separately, either as students, workers, or via family unification)
  • (note: no "use fee" is charged for students. This is the US investment in incentivizing smart kids to come here)
Those choosing Citizenship:

  • must have lived and worked in the US legally under the Temporary Work or Temporary Student Visa process for a contiguous period of 3 (?) years, meeting all criteria above
  • must pre-fund their own social safety net (social security and medicare) commensurate with the average cumulative contribution of US citizens their age. They may choose to do this over time (during their Temporary Work Visa years) or as a lump-sum payment upon applying for citizenship. For younger applicants such as students, this would be low. For someone who has made an entire career abroad and wants to retire to the US, it will be significant.
  • must apply as a family if they expect to bring in any family members. Citizenship is not inherited or conveyed.
  •  must pay a significant one-time fee (per-head). It's worth something to be a US citizen. We shouldn't give it away. 
  • must pay a one-time immediate (10%?) tax on funds/assets/income brought into the US at any point during their citizenship. Or not. This one is debatable.
  • must understand that citizenship will be stripped and they will be exited if they are ever convicted of a serious crime
You may think "woah, that's expensive - only elite and wealthy will be able to come in." I would disagree by half. It is selective, but in a fair way. People coming here will cause the country some expense. This must be offset. Those who find it worthwhile to come here presumably think they can improve their life and/or financial situation. If they can credibly defend that belief, they should be willing and able to either put their own assets on the line, or get support via family, employers, grants, or banks. If none of these parties can be convinced of the immigrant's ability to succeed, maybe they're on to something.

On the other hand, if millions upon millions can meet the criteria for entry - bring 'em on! The cliche is true - this country was build by and for ambitious immigrants!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Yeah! What HE Said: Fareed Z on the 9-9-9 Plan

You have to understand: complexity equals corruption. Americas corruption is institutionalized and legal. The US tax system is not just corrupt. It is corrupt in a deceptive manner that has degraded the entire system of American government. Congress is able to funnel vast sums of money in perpetuity to its favored founders through the tax code without anyone realizing it. The simplest way to get the corruption out of Washington is to remove the prize that members of Congress give away. A flatter tax code with almost no exemptions does that The simplest fix to our tax code would be to lower the income tax dramatically, lower the corporate tax, and instead tie revenues through a national sales tax or value added tax. The US is the only rich country in the world without a national sales tax What is the appeal of a consumption tax? First, it's efficient. Lower fraud. More stable. Reduces consumption and borrowing at the household level.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Goldman needs Privacy

At one point this week, the headline was:

Roiled by op-ed, Goldman loses $2.15 bn m-cap

Goldman didn't get where it was by being a public company. It was a partnership for the first 130 years before going public only 13 years ago. Those have been a pretty awful 13 years for the firm.

The latest round of headline-generators and talking head fodder would have never happened if Goldman were still private. The dude wouldn't have even had the motivation to publish the op-ed. The Times wouldn't have cared to print it. Nobody outside the firm would care to read it.

Instead, over the course of a few hours of stock trading, value was "destroyed" to the tune of ... well, more money than 99.999% of the world's population will see in their lifetimes. Actually, add a few more 9's after the decimal. Billions. With a "B." As in Buffett-sized.

Or was it? If a whiny Dear John to a former employer full of news (which, as Forbes pointed out, everybody already knew) can destroy billions of bucks, then maybe that value didn't really exist to begin with. Stepping back from the greater fool theory, perhaps GS should be valued based on the discounted cash flows it can generate. Novel concept, eh? Maybe I should write a book and teach at Wharton.

Then again, maybe my book should take a different approach. Perhaps Goldman should never have become GS in the first place. Perhaps a financial firm with ridiculous leverage ratios, a wacky capital structure, a penchant for mercenary dealings (AIG collateral call ring a bell?)  needs a small, concentrated, captive based of owners rather than a whole "street" of busybodies to answer to.

The only way Goldman's stock has impressed is in its volatility. It hasn't even doubled over the past 10 years. Hardly a good investment. The management has never been able to find an acceptable balance between staff incentives and shareholder value. Perhaps no such balance can exist for more than a few microseconds. Perhaps GS is an unstable element with a short halflife. Maybe they're in a constant state of containing the meltdown, hoping it wont Fukushima on them tomorrow ... or the next day. Perhaps this is distracting them from their "day jobs" of making deals with and on behalf of clients.

Nice adventure, guys, but it's time to take your marbles and go home. Cash in the chips and go private.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Woah, China!

Forget The Vest ... fear THIS:
On Monday, China's premier Wen Jiabao lowered the economy's growth target to 7.5 percent from 8 percent, where it has stood for years.  - AP
Early, of course, to sing a dirge but China's "golden era" of ridiculous growth at all costs seems to be getting a bit more expensive these days. Expect to SLOWLY see:
  • Reduction in expenditures for extravagant infrastructure projects
  • Asset management shift from their current stance (overweight US Treasuries) to something more akin to Singapore's Temasek
  • A review of the commercial tax and licensing structure (hopefully not a Chinese Raj)
  • A harder line on international trade, both in terms of limitations and in terms of tariffs
  • An attempt to diversify labor-intensive businesses across labor pools (inner-China manufacturing zones, African investment zones) 
  • Industrialization deeper into inner-China
  • All of which will help pay for increased, but highly-targeted social support funding including medical care and pensions, as well as their continued military build-up
  • Targeted efforts to increase enforcement, probably with a focus on IP law, financial regulation, governance (as the Economist said a few weeks back, the Chinese government is the only group that has actually read the entire Dodd-Frank act)
  • Maybe even some efforts to address environmental sustainability issues

Thursday, February 23, 2012

2020 Sports Car Concept

I am a massive admirer of Jason Castriota and his design work. He is the future of automotive design. Inspired by his vision, I offer this, my own design for the sports car of 2020.

Alternate soundtrack version here for the unblocked.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Getting the Most out of Education

Last week, on TED Conversations, (look it up and thank me later) the question was posed:

Should public schools in the United States eliminate the traditional A to F grading scale? And if so, what assessment do we replace it with?

YES YES YES it should be replaced.

We should instill some standards of quality in the culture of our too-often-lackadaisical education system. There should only be one acceptable grade: "A"

If a student does not perform up to an "A" grade, they should have to repeat, repeat, repeat the test/paper/project/class until they can DEMONSTRATE competency.

No more pushing kids along just because the class schedule dictates. One of the most common curriculum structures is to progressively introduce new concepts which are built on previously-introduced concepts. A student who demonstrates an inadequate command of a concept gains little by getting a "D" or "F" and then continuing on with the class to the next concept. This is REALLY how we leave children behind.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Getting the Most out of Youth

This week, on TED Conversations, (look it up and thank me later) the question was posed:

Roughly 52% of the world's population is under 30. What is best way to harness the energy and ideas of youth?

 To me, step one would be to make sure that energy and creativity are informed. Some background:

I certainly recall formulating incredibly strong opinions in my teens and 20's which later, based on a broader understanding, were dead wrong. I suspect I'm not the only one.

Furthermore, nothing helps me really "gel" or solidify my opinion on something like trying to explain it to someone. Kinda like posting here on Ted Conversations!

Many curricula, especially in the US, rely too heavily on reading- and lecture-based pedagogy. Similarly, our adulthood self-education relies far too heavily on reading- and talking-head-debate based TV and print media. We sit and stare quietly, deciding to agree or disagree with the point being made. Later, over dinner when we try to explain it to our kids, we are disturbed to discover all the holes in our understanding or logic.

Innovation, dynamism, and human caprice are forcing many of us to continually reinvent ourselves professionally. Yet we still instill in our youth in a concept of "profession" tied to a specific set of skills. ("What do you want to be when you grow up?). As TED speaker Sarah Kay challenged: "How many lives can you live?" In prior centuries, the answer was one, but today's youth will be REQUIRED to reinvent themselves over and over again.

Therefore, I would advocate a two-pronged approach:

1/ further a culture of continual education. Make it socially desirable to question your opinions, to seek to further your understanding. Continued lifelong education is the best way to optimize our chances of continually contributing to (or maybe even disruptively improving) our world and thus achieving our life goals.

2/ make that education participatory and practical. University is great, but it so often misses the important applied education. We thus force our young and educated to take a leap of faith into the market across a chasm of lack of experience in applying their knowledge.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Fear Rick's Vest

No, really. Be afraid!