The Sandbox

Chip Morningstar and F. Randall Farmer have some great insights into how the design on an online environment should be structured, organized, and managed.

“Detailed central Planning is impossible; don’t even try”

The suggestion is to build a framework and then simply let others operate within those walls.  Screw together the 2×6’s and then truck in the sand and turn the kids loose.  You mission to build the castle may never be realized but thousands of grander and more meaningful adventures will be had without the castle.  I might go so far as to say that the creation of the castle may limit the adventures that will be had afterwards.

Got a few minutes?…..Why not try playing a bit closer to the walls of the sandbox than your used to.  Thanks to Google and Kas Thomas I can share with you this beautiful trick.

Copy and paste the following line in to your address bar right now and hit enter:


If you’re using Firefox right click on the page and select Inspect Element (Q) option and there you have it.  You have uncovered a shovel in the sand.  Have fun digging and let me know what you uncover in the comment bar.

One Buttock Learning

In the widespread discussion of educational reform perhaps something we want to create is “One Buttock Learning” if you don’t know what I’m talking about you should explore Benjamin Zander’s Ted Talk.

Ivan Illich in his work Deschooling Society brings to light some of the issues with the current educational system

“Everywhere this same curriculum instills in the pupil the myth that increased production will provide a better life”

In an attempt to protect this myth perhaps the teachers inadvertently dangle the secret bag in front of their pupils.

“Schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life; that the quality of life depends on knowing that secret; that secrets can be known only in orderly successions; and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets.”

What is great is that Ivan Illich goes further to suggest that there may be a way to unravel the bag earlier such that it is no longer required as a motivator in the schooling system.

“A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.”

A system like this would need to be integrated into all aspects of a life.


The Nature of Discomfort

The majority of Humans trend towards comfort.  This makes sense.  We build houses so we don’t have to sleep outside in a rainstorm.  Many houses are elaborate but at their base level their purpose is to provide shelter, one of Maslow’s basic needs.  A shelter is something that offers protection from the elements, a dry and warm place to sleep at night.   It should be a place to recover from the day’s adventures, a place to relax, a place to be comfortable.  These additional functions of a shelter are dependent on having something to recover from.  A mildly uncomfortable experience of my own is included below in an attempt to visualize the importance of exposing yourself to discomfort on a regular basis.   DSC_0218

It is the view from the top of the mountain that is remembered, not the strenuous climb to reach it.  Yet without the struggle you can never experience the view.  If we forget to leave the comfort of our shelters we will forget the reasons the struggle is worth it.  We will forget what the view from the peak looks like.  We might become content with a picture in a magazine or on a screen.  We might miss out on the chance to uncover a new perspective.  Our homes are comfortable places and they should be, but without something uncomfortable to recover from their function may become irrelevant.

Perhaps our educational systems should be a series of uncomfortable experiences that build on one another in an attempt to uncover new perspectives for the pupil.  Perhaps the system should be something that lets you acclimate at your own pace yet encourages embracing the uncomfortable experiences in an effort to grow the mind and the body.  To build a muscle you must tear some of the fibers on a molecular level.  If the tear was of the right magnitude the fibers heal stronger.  If it was too great it might cause permanent damage.  The trick is finding the right level of stress to expose to the muscle in order to achieve maximum growth.  Do our minds operate in a similar way?

It’s Time to…

…awaken, explore, and question, or perhaps doze, hide, and accept it’s up to your brain and its boundaries.


It is nothing more than a word, concept, or frame within which we as humans can place meaning.  Four simple letters whose meaning morphs depending on your/you/a/the…

“Birth, culture, Perception, norms, Emotion, Engagement, Clocks, The Sun, The Moon, your point of reference, The Galaxy, The Universe, History, Added Time, Rites of passage, The seasons, A sequence, The calendar, year, season, month, week , day, minute, second, dependence, late, timely, punctual, tardy, c, importance, wasted time, burning time, aging, time zones, death”

It is an evolving entity that has been said to speed up with age.  Does that have to do with the amount of time you have experienced and your relative perception of the length of a minute to all of the other minutes you have existed.  The second minute you are alive represents 50% of your life and may seem to last an eternity.  I’m not sure though I can’t remember even close to that far back.  On the other end of the spectrum at an age of 70 a new minute of time represents only 1/36792000th or .00000272% of your collective existence.

We only exist on this earth in this form that we understand for a limited time.  You can control that frame of existence to some extent by diet, exercise, and habits but despite our best efforts everyone must eventually succumb to their genetic count down.  Is it this inevitable ending that mobilizes us as a society to avoid “Wasting Time”.  Could it also be societal expectations that create the self-conscious, cross-examination of our internal effectiveness at producing something “Productive” or “useful” with our time here on earth?  To even begin to define these terms we would need to understand the frame with which an individual approaches the world.  What is important to them and how do they define success.  To some the meaning is attached to money, others focus on experience, friendship, work, drugs, family, the divine, crossing off To-Do Lists, or something else entirely.

Is this thing we call time an “an administrative convenience or a cognitive necessity?”

The impossibility of agreeing on the importance of a particular “Time Frame” leaves it up to society to interpret, teach, and coach individuals how to travel through time within the right “Frame of Mind”

Who’s perception drives the vicious loop depicted here?
xkcd recursive loop

Time as a Dimension

Scott McCloud’s exploration of duration, time, or the fourth dimension and how it can and is represented within comic strips and more generally all types of media brings my mind to string theory and several concepts I am still trying to wrap my head around.

My first realization came when I watched Carl Sagan’s Video on Flatlander’s and began to understand that something that lives in the second dimension can only perceive things in the first dimension.  This, if I am following this theory right, leads me to believe that we humans live in the fourth dimension, time, and perceive things one dimension below us or in the 3rd dimension.  Our memories and perception of the world around consist of nothing more than a series of geometric configurations from which we are able to derive meaning and a type of understanding about the significance of those configurations.  McCloud’s 2-Dimensional Discussion is able to achieve the same thing simply using a series of lines on paper.

When the discussion extends to 10 dimensions things get a bit more complex but if a two dimensional medium is able to represent a fourth dimensional concept.  What is something not limited by the 3 dimensional world able to represent and is it possible for beings living in the 4th dimension to potentially perceive the higher dimensions through the use of this tool.

The Contents of this package are….

…Liable to break or be broken…

Like a twig, your mother’s prized china, or your child’s toothpick art project

…Easily snapped or shattered…

Like a birds wing, a wine glass, or the window when introduced to the baseball.

…weak, perishable, easily destroyed…

Like flesh, tropical fruit, or important documents too close to a bonfire.

…in need of special treatment.

Why label packages this way?  What is it we want to happen with the contents?

I would argue that the labeler is interested in ensuring that the contents of this package reach the intended destination Just as They Are.  No rough handling, nothing should change, extra care should be taken to avoid sudden shocks, unpleasant experiences, or generally harsh conditions.  A great goal if the contents of the package are a glass vase you are sending to your grandmother but what if that you have labeled as “FRAGILE” is a bit less physical.

Why has the graphic of a globe been included in the label?  Could it be possible that we are considering all things on our globe fragile?  I don’t think so but it brings to mind several points that Taleb is making in his book Antifragile.  Dr. Gardner Campbell is responsible for introducing me to the book and while I am at the beginning I am so far struck by the discussion of the special treatment something that is fragile gets and the potential that our behavior around those fragile items, ideas, topics, systems, are inadvertently preventing them from growing.  He is exploring the value or shocks in the system and the fact that systems that respond well to random, unpredictable events are actually “Anti-fragile”.  They are the opposite of fragile in part because of their ability to morph, adapt, change, and let parts perish so that new things can take their place.

I wonder what aspects of daily life on which we have stamped the red label and if some of them could perhaps benefit from unexpected shock, blow, or catastrophe as considered from a particular perspective.   Do you have anything you consider to be Fragile?  Is it imperative that that item reach its final destination completely unchanged? If not then why have we labeled it as such?

Taking a Clear Sight

“A few decades hence it will be easy to describe the revolution in human perception and motivation that resulted from beholding the new mosaic mesh of the TV Image.  Today it is futile to discuss it at all”

The same year that AT&T launched Telstar, “the first satellite to carry TV broadcasts” McLuhan is discussing the impracticality of attempting to understand the current revolution that was happening as a result of the mass adoption of a new medium.  This satellite made possible internationally relayed broadcasts and 1962 was ten years before color TV’s would become the norm in the American household.

Currently I find myself in a society where the mediums available with which you can share a message are transforming continuously.  While the majority are tethered to the internet in some capacity the methods with which they allow you to access that knowledge database are in a constant state of flux on both hardware and software fronts.  Is it worthwhile to discuss the potential and hypothetical changes that may be going on in response to the changing mediums?


McLuhan also shares that “It is necessary to understand the power and thrust of technologies to isolate the senses and thus to hypnotize society”.  I wonder how he might encourage us to reach a state of understanding without discussion about the issues at hand?

A.J. Liebling said that “A man is not free if he cannot see where he is going, even if he has a gun to help him get there”.  What might the gun of the average American be as they are going about their day.  And how do you distinguish between an individual employing agency in order to use that tool for maximum effect and one who is bound to their device a slave to its actions and unable to escape.

Required Coursees vs. Electives

In a conversation with a friend about a class that we are both optionally enrolled in he shared with me an interesting revelation.

“If this class was required, I mean if it was actually a class, I would have dropped it a long time ago.”

This friend of mine is incredibly engaged with the material and I have the pleasure of being a member of his team on the semester long project with which we are both engaged.  Theoretically you would thing that nothing about the class would change if it was required or an elective.  It is simply an administrative formality.  Yet something inherently different happens when students are forced to take a certain subject.  It is as if they shut down.  They refuse to engage.  They subconsciously decide that the body of work that the class is asking them to engagement is worthless.  Yet if they have willingly chosen to participate in this class their attitude changes.  Something is placed on the line when you as a student choose a class.  Are you more engaged because of the material or because you are genuinely interested in participating.

I view this class in which I am enrolled as one of the most important classes I have taken during my time at Virginia Tech yet I agree with my teammate and feel that requiring every student to take the class would ruin everything that I have been able to attach to.


As a veteran of the Virginia Tech Engineering Program I had the chance to battle amongst the trees of the Tech’s Curriculum for Liberal Education (CLE).  Of the seven arenas’ only four were not spelled out in my Enlistment | Contract and I am proud to say that I took full advantage of my 16 credits of freedom.  I chose my optional skirmishes as follows:

COMM 1014 (3cr. Area 3), ECON 2005 (3cr. Area 3), TA 2014 (3cr. Area 2), FA 2004 (1cr. Area 6), NR 3954 (3cr. Area 3 & 3cr. Area 2))

These are simply a set of symbols which contain little to no meaning to you as the reader unless you happened to have taken one of these courses.

The CLE’s are described as “Comprising 25 – 30% of an undergraduate’s credits toward graduation” and if the requirements for each subcategory are summed you will uncover that 36 credits are required to complete the CLE’s.  I wonder if this might be a bit misleading because while 36 credits make up 28% of the Mechanical Engineering’s required 130 credits I only consider that 16 of those credits as pushed me outside of my required course load.

That means that only 12% of my education here at Tech was devoted to this “Vital Component of my undergraduate education”.  What do they mean by Vital? How important is it to develop into a well-rounded professional when trying to get employed or is it more important to do a deep dive in your subject area?  I didn’t know so I’d thought I’d look around.

Here is what I discovered:

Credit Hours




Scientific   Reasoning and Discovery

Area 4


Writing and Discourse

Area 1


Ideas, Cultural Traditions, and Values

Area 2


Society and Human Behavior

Area 3


Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning

Area 6


Critical Issues in a Global Context

Area 7


Creativity and the Aesthetic Experience

Area 6

Certain Areas are weighted more heavily than others.  Why is only 1 cr. committed to creativity and eight times that to Scientific Reasoning?

 I uncovered two sites that masquerade as the homepage for a committee known as the UCCLE and discovered a schedule of meetings and list of minutes indicating that there is a “strong desire for ( A complete change) –to consider where the university might be going in the future and fundamentally restructure the CLE in accordance with that future trajectory.”

In an attempt to uncover what the university intends to do during this change I started to explore some meeting minutes and discovered that the postings for those minutes are not up to date on either site.  The first shows the last entry in 2011 and the later in October of 2012.  I am curious as to what has been going on since their October meeting and why I have had trouble tracking it down.  I guess time will tell what the Controllable Learning Experiment decides the future of Virginia Tech’s Curriculum for Liberal Education looks like.