Rationality and Faith

I got an invitation to write on Medium a couple weeks ago. I have been pondering some more philosophical posts lately, so I thought I’d try posting there. My first post, “Misguided Delusion,” tries to pull apart the the false dichotomy between faith and rationality. Yeah, really. That kind of thinking is a throwback to a previous career path, but one that has, of course, always stuck with me. And I am very happy with how the post turned out.

It remains to be seen whether or not I write more stuff like that. It’s rewarding, but time-consuming.

An open letter to the printed press

Last weekend, I was talking to a friend who works for a moderately-sized regional newspaper. We were talking about distribution. The guys upstairs, he told me, feel very comfortable, complacent even, with their position. They’re not worried about their future because, as they say, “Hey, we’re not the New York Times, we’re not going to have those kind of distribution problems, because we cover regional news, and there’s still a need for good regional coverage.” I guess they think that people in their region don’t read local news on the internet or their mobile devices?

This is so incredibly wrong-headed it boggles the mind. This complacency will kill a perfectly good regional news source, all because the folks in charge are so blinkered that they cannot see that distribution is about to undergo a disruption not seen since…hell, I don’t know when.

I am a great believer in quality. There will always be a place for good writing, good editing, and solid reportage. We need organizations to employ journalists to investigate goings-on and report on them. There needs to be fact-checking, copy editing, compelling photography and illustration, and most of all, people who are willing to dig, to dig up the truth and tell stories that inform us, challenge us, and yes, entertain us.

Now, tell me, where in this characterization do you see any mention of forests of paper, barrels of inks, and warehouses of printing presses?

The printed press has struggled with the change to internet distribution over the last 15 years with very good reason: It’s difficult to make money. It didn’t help that so many of them gave away their content. But that change is nothing compared to the revolution that is the tablet computer, and especially the new iPad. This is a device you can take anywhere, and unlike your phone, is a pleasure to read. It’s as easy to take with you as a newspaper or magazine, but offers so much more. It’s here to stay. And it’s going to kill the printing press.1

Some disagree. An iPad does not offer the same pleasures as a newspaper: the texture of the pages, the scanability of the front page, the smell of the ink and the smudges it leaves on your fingers. No, there is nothing like a Sunday Times, a bagel, and a cup of coffee to laze away the morning. And when you’re done with the paper, the way it’s strewn about, the poorly refolded pages and crumpled edges of the most interesting sections offer satisfying remains of the experience. And then you recycle it.

Try that with your iPad. Don’t want to get cream cheese on it, or spill your coffee. Its scent does not bring back the memory of lazy Sundays, it doesn’t smudge your fingers, it doesn’t get crumpled or leave behind any of the detritus indicating a satisfying read. Just a smudged up screen, which won’t be nostalgic to anyone.

At the same time, you can’t perform a full text search of your newspaper. You can’t go back and read the article from last week because the recycling has been picked up. You can’t zoom in to a newspaper photo to look at things in greater detail. You can’t make text larger to relieve your aging eyes, or dig deeper to find out the story behind the photograph on the front page.

Look here, periodicals companies. This is important. It’s time realized that you are not in the printing business. You are in either the content business or the advertising business. You either sell your content to consumers in ways that are easy or enjoyable for them to access, or get your ads in front of as many eyeballs as possible (or both). The way to do that is not to run printing presses. Nor is it to squeeze the disadvantages of the printed page on devices. The way to do it is to provide the best experience possible. Decide what methods of distribution you want to use—print, web, tablet—and take advantage of the strengths and weaknesses of each to make things people want.

So yeah, keep printing, for now, to satisfy the aging population that needs it. Make the experience the best you can within the constraints of the printed page. But don’t force those same constraints into another distribution channel. You don’t try to make the printed page look and feel like a scrolling screen, do you? Nor should you make the iPad experience feel like the printed page. No, I can’t smell the ink in your iPad app, but if you took proper advantage of the device, tried to work within the confines of its limitations while exploiting is unique strengths, you could provide a compelling, unique experience.

Because if you don’t, someone else will. The iPad in particular represents a gaping opportunity for disruption of your business, mainly because you fail to recognize that you are in the content business, not the distribution business. And upstart companies will start delivering well researched, edited, and fact-checked stories in a compelling format, with new approaches to interaction and engagement, in a way that people want. And they will be extremely successful. And profitable.

  1. Okay, not kill it, exactly, but turn printing into a niche business, suitable for coffee table books, wedding invitations and book arts. ↩

An Incurious Biographer

After posting my thoughts on the Isaacson Steve Jobs biography a couple weeks ago, I finally let myself check out some of the deeper pieces on the topic by folks I respect. John Siracusa’s take was particularly enlightening, as his familiarity with the existing sources empowers a deeply authoritative critique of the biography. But it’s John Gruber’s “Getting Steve Jobs Wrong” that validates my general feeling of dissatisfaction with Isaacson’s biography. This bit nails it:

Jobs understood technology but was not an engineer. He had profoundly exquisite taste but was not a designer. What it was that Jobs actually did is much of the mystery of his life and his work, and Isaacson, frustratingly, had seemingly little interest in that, or any recognition that there even was any sort of mystery as to just what Jobs’s gifts really were.

Yes, exactly! Isaacson does not seem interested in what made Jobs tick; that’s a real shame for those of us who are. I was ready to cut Isaacson a bit of slack, as writing a biography is very difficult, and writing a definitive one damn near impossible. But since Gruber hits the same point I tried make, and Siracusa has pretty thoroughly decimated Isaacson’s authority, I’m now far less willing to do so. Isaacson just seems incurious about his subject, whereas the best biographers are obsessed. A lack of curiosity ought to disqualify one for the job.

As Siracusa says, Steve Jobs picked the wrong guy.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

Until a few weeks ago, the biography I read most recently was Dutch, Edmund Morris’s authorized portrait of Ronald Reagan. I read it not because I was interested in Reagan, but because Morris did something unique: he inserted himself into Reagan’s story as a (mostly) fictional character. Why would he do that? Morris grew up in Kenya, far from Reagan’s childhood in Illinois, not to mention years later. And yet there he was, a peripheral character throughout the story of Reagan’s life. What was the point?

Reading the book, the most striking thing about Reagan was how impenetrable he was. No one ever got through to him, to really know him. Perhaps it’s because there was no there there, or maybe there was an interesting person under the bland exterior he used to keep everyone out. It was impossible to know.

Such a personality must frustrate biographers. I want a deep understanding of the subject of a biography, to know what makes her tick, what her motivations and drives are. I want to get inside her head. But Morris couldn’t do that with Reagan. No one could.

I hypothesize that Morris stuck himself in the story, calling it a “Memoir of Ronald Reagan,” to contrast his subject with someone who’s head he could get into. And through that contrast, he drew out a little bit of something to demonstrate what made Reagan tick. Not a lot mind you, but it was an interesting attempt.

I thought about this as I read Steve Jobs, an authorized biography by Walter Isaacson. I’ve been a fan of Apple’s products and vision for many years, but never delved deeply into the wealth of literature on Jobs himself or personal stories such as the birth of the Mac. My main exposure to Steve has been through his keynote presentations and various interviews and appearances over the years. I watch Apple relatively closely, but not Steve. In reading the biography, I wanted to get to know him, to get a feel for the man, and, above all, to find out what makes him tick.

Steve Jobs did give me a feel for the man. Many of the stories about his personality appear to be true. Steve Jobs was clearly a tyrant, but a tyrant with taste. I was struck by the constant theme that Jobs somehow believed that the usual rules don’t apply to him. At one point, pulled over for driving over 100 MPH, Jobs impatiently waits for the ticket, even demanding that the Chippy hurry up. Ticket at last in hand, he drives right up over 100 MPH again, despite a warning that he could lose his license.

Jobs’s famed reality distortion field let him pretend that rules didn’t apply to him, that the world was exactly what he imagined it to be. This ability had advantages (cajolling the CEO of Corning to complete the “impossible” task to start producing huge volumes of Gorilla Glass virtually over night) and disadvantages (trying to cure his cancer with extreme diets).

It was that supreme confidence, combined with his taste, that shaped Jobs’s career and the success of Apple. When it comes to taste, Steve was continually, obsessively product-focused. The quality of the products had to be top notch. You get a feeling for this not so much in the successes of the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, which are well-known, but on the things that shouldn’t matter. Deathly ill following his liver transplant, Jobs was still Jobs:

At one point the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was deeply sedated. Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked. The doctors looked at Powell, puzzled. She was finally able to distract him so they could put on the mask. He also hated the oxygen monitor they put on his finger. He told them it was ugly and too complex. He suggested ways it could be designed more simply. “He was very attuned to every nuance of the environment and objects around him, and that drained him,” Powell recalled.

This is perhaps the most striking of many examples of Jobs’s obsession with quality and taste, and deftly captures the essence of it. I imagine Jobs thought about how to improve things in his life every second of his life. In his dreams, he might be improving the design of his pajamas or bedroom dresser.

The product obsession drives the book’s narrative, right down to its organization. A few chapters necessarily cover personal events, such as early years, love and marriage, and illness. More are organized around products. Relevant chapter titles:

  • 4: Atari and India: Zen and the Art of Game Design
  • 5: The Apple I: Turn On, Boot Up, Jack In…
  • 6: The Apple II: Dawn of a New Age
  • 8: Xerox and Lisa: Graphical User Interfaces
  • 10: The Mac is Born: You Say You Want a Revolution
  • 12: Design: Real Artists Simplify
  • 13: Building the Mac: The Journey is the Reward
  • 15: The Launch: A Dent in the Universe
  • 18: NeXT: Prometheus Unbound
  • 19: Pixar: Technology Meets Art
  • 22: Toy Story: Buzz and Woody to the Rescue
  • 27: The iMac: Hello (Again)
  • 29: Apple Stores; Genius Bars and Sienna Sandstone
  • 30: The Digital Hub: From iTunes to the iPod
  • 31: The iTunes Store: I’m the Pied Piper
  • 34: Twenty-first-century Macs: Setting Apple Apart
  • 36: The iPhone: Three Revolutionary Products in One
  • 38: The iPad: Into the Post-PC Era
  • 40: To Infinity: The Cloud, the Spaceship, and Beyond

That’s nearly half of them, and all but a few of the others also include extensive discussion of products and design. Clearly Jobs was a man obsessed, that obsession shaped every facet of his life, and it therefore shaped the narrative of his biography.

But where does this come from? From whence derives the absolute faith in even the most most questionable ideas, the unwavering belief in his own infallibility, the near complete obsession with the design of everyday things? I see the ticks, but what makes him tick?

The truth is we don’t know. Isaacson doesn’t know. Sure, there are a few hypotheses about his adoption, about his parents insisting he was special. But I don’t know. Explaining Steve Jobs by his adoption seems like a cop-out. There are millions of adopted people, many with no doubt similar histories (educated biological parents, doting middle-class adoptive parents). But there’s only one Steve Jobs. Jobs himself didn’t buy it, saying he hardly thought about his adoption.

There is also discussion of his study of Zen Buddhism, and his love for simple, beautiful places like Kyoto and Kona Village. I’ve studied a bit of Zen Buddhism and visited Kyoto and Kona Village too, and have a deep appreciation for the beauty of all three. But I’m no Steve Jobs. Perhaps Steve dove very deeply into Zen Buddhism, so that through years of study and practice he became who he was (though, let’s face it, his personality couldn’t be much less Zen). But if so, I think it gets short shrift in Isaacson’s telling.

Perhaps it’s unfair to demand so much of a biographer. I want to go into the head of his subject, on a quest for a deeper understanding of the essence of the person, and come away with a greater knowledge his humanity. Such was impossible for Morris to do with Reagan, and it’s not fair to expect more of Isaacson with Steve Jobs. Not only was Jobs a deeply complex man with an impenetrable presence (one wonders how well Laurene Powell really got to know him; I’d like to read her book), but, hey, how much can one understand anyone else? People have been trying for centuries to understand Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin (including Isaacson!), with, let’s face it, limited success. It’s rare that a biography becomes so completely deep and authoritative — so true, the definitive telling — that no more biographies follow. More often new folks come along, taking different tacks to understand the ticks. Perhaps the best sense we get of an elephant is through the descriptions of all the blind people feeling different parts of the elephant.

I think my favorite tidbit from the book is Jobs playing a rare bootleg CD with a dozen taped sessions of the Beatles “Strawberry Fields Forever,” a gift from Andy Hertzfeld. Listening to the CD with Isaacson, Jobs talks about how the Beatles kept iterating, kept improving the song, working on every aspect over a period of time, getting it “closer to perfect.” Then he says:

The way we build stuff at Apple is often this way. Even the number of models we’d make of a new notebook or iPod. We would start off with a version and then begin refining and refining, doing detailed models of the design, or the buttons, or how a function operates. It’s a lot of work, but in the end it just gets better, and soon its like, “Wow, how did they do that?!? Where are the screws?”

So maybe it’s fair that the narrative is largely product-driven. Jobs talked often over the years about how important good products are to him, much more important than profit, and the book reinforces that. He lived and breathed taste and products, to the exclusion of all else, including, at times, his family and his health.

Perhaps, then, what made Jobs tick was the iPhone and the iPad, and the exultation of being a part of creating a truly inspiring product.

Thank You Steve

Steve Jobs

A sad day. You will be missed. I feel like a part of the whole world offering my heartfelt condolences to his family, his friends, and his coworkers.

TV Providers Hate Their Customers

I’ve been using Comcast for Internet for several years, but we haven’t had any TV service at all since we cancelled DirecTV about 18 months ago. And thanks to iTunes, Netflix, thedailyshow.com, and colbertnation.com, and BitTorrent, we haven’t missed it one bit.

It has been our preference to download officially sanctioned TV shows and movies. But there are a number of really great shows shows for which the current season’s episodes aren’t readily available through sanctioned online channels. There are only three ways to get them, that I know of:

  • From a cable or satellite provider
  • BitTorrent
  • Wait for DVD/Netflix/iTunes releases

Yeah, that’s it. And it’s even worse if you don’t happen to live in the US. I’m grateful for thedailyshow.com and colbertnation.com, and shows that appear pretty quickly in iTunes, like Breaking Bad. But many quality shows do not. Of course there are services like HBO Go, but they’re only available to cable and satellite providers.

I don’t want to download such shows from BitTorrent; I want to make sure that the people who created them are well rewarded for quality programming. So if I want to see them now, that leaves me only one choice: subscribe to a cable service.

Into the Lair

A few weeks ago we did that. We added phone and TV (including HBO) to our Comcast service. The Internet service was the same as ever (pretty good), while the phone service is pretty transparent (and cheaper than Qwest). And that makes sense: These are just services for pushing bits around, not at all complicated.

The TV service was something else entirely.

Holy mother of hell is it terrible. We opted not to get a DVR; the pre-DVR technology is worse than you remember. But it’s not the technology that’s so awful, since we could always opt for a DVR or subscribe to TiVO. The real issues are:

  • The remote is impenetrably complicated; I don’t have any faith a DVR remote would be much better
  • The on-screen menus are miserable to navigate and read
  • I couldn’t find shit about what “package” we had on the web site
  • Comcast.com thought we didn’t have HBO and so wouldn’t let us access HBO Go
  • There are 1000s of channels of shit
  • I called support, and before I gave up, at some point an ad for pay-per-view programming streamed into my auditory canal
  • Did I mention that there are 1000s of channels of shit programming?

Truly, the user experience is just terrible. Now, I know it can be better, because we had the old DirecTV TiVO, which worked pretty well. But even DirecTV doesn’t use TiVO anymore, and from what I understand, all other DVRs have a terrible interface.

And don’t get me started on the programming. Remind me again why I should pay for the privilege of getting horrible programming and atrocious ads pushed into my TV? Shouldn’t they pay me for that privilege?

I can only conclude that cable and satellite providers hate their customers. They get them to sign up for a plan to auto-pay $80 or $90 or $125 a month, and then they don’t have to care about what kind of service they provide. Interfaces don’t matter. Design doesn’t matter. Simplicity doesn’t matter. Complication matters.

I don’t want this. Why do I have to pay such a heavy price in terms of usability and quality just so I can pay for the shows I actually want to watch? I don’t want to give Comcast my money. I don’t want to give “Real Housewives of Miami” my money. I want to give Blown Deadline and HBO my money.

A Plea

Dear Distributors and Production Companies:

Please don’t make me pay the cable or satellite provider tax! Don’t make me pay for a bunch of crap I don’t like, and for a terrible user experience, just so you can get a small slice of it. Please, please, please let me pay you for your shows. Release them on iTunes. I’ll pay. Release them on Netflix. I’ll pay. Make them available outside the US, people will pay to be caught up on the great stuff everyone else is talking about on Facebook! Just let us find your shows easily and pay to download or stream high-quality videos to play on our computers and Apple TVs. (Bonus if I don’t have to deal with flash!).

If you make it easy for people to pay for great shows, we’ll pay. Netflix now streams more content than BitTorrent because it’s easier to use: and people pay for that.

Back to Reality

After 2 weeks, we called Comcast and cancelled the TV service. We’re back to our original plan, minus BitTorrent. Here’s what we’ll do:

  • If a show is available from Netflix, we’ll get it there.
  • If a show is available for free on the web, like thedailyshow.com, we’ll get it there
  • If a show is available from iTunes, we’ll get it there
  • If a show is available on DVD, we’ll order it from Netflix

And for shows that are not immediately available for the current season by any of these means, well, I guess we’ll wait. I think most shows come out on iTunes or DVD after a year or so. We’ll just deal with the lag. I wish it wasn’t there, but it is, and I’m no longer willing to dirty myself using a TV service.

Good at Doing Things

Tonight, I atteneded a talk, Good at doing things: Montessori education and higher-order cognitive functions, about the Montessori method of childhood education and its effects on neurological development. If I wasn’t a convert to the Montessori method before, I am now. Julie and I went to back to school night at Anna’s new school, Childpeace Montessori the other night, and we were both jealous. How we wish we could have had this kind of education! This talk really sealed it in my mind. I can’t imagine that I'd want Anna to have any other education.

Anyway, I might write a bit more on this later, but for now, here are my notes from the talk. Enjoy.

Steve Hughes, PhD, LP, ABPdN
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Neurology
University of Minnesota Medical School
Good at Doing Things

Director of Education and Research
The TOVA Company

A Montessori parent. Interest fueled as a father, child development specialist, and pediatric neuropsychologist.

What is a neuropsychologist?

  • Clinical psychology
  • Postdoctoral training in child brain development
  • Assessment of brain functioning
  • Children with development problems impacting brain development, learning, cognitive functioning, behavior
  • Consult to parents, educators, physicians
  • Research: attention, poverty, lead, genetic disorders
  • Train future neuropsychologists

Brain Development

  • Brain that is myelinated is functional
  • Injured brains don’t develop well
  • Rats with non-stimulating environment have smaller brains with fewer connections and lower IQ.
  • Rats raised in stimulating environment are heavier and more complex
  • Emotional support, stimulation good for brain development

“Experimental interactions with the environment.” Provided in unparalleled way by Montessori education.

What should school be for?

In, US, it’s about preparing students for multiple choice tests.

If ask students, they want:

  • Leave school confident, willing and able to take the initiative introducing change
  • Become independent
  • Develop character and personality
  • Have speakers about careers and ed topics
  • Know how to apply facts and techniques to new problems
  • Want to speak well
  • Have discussion lessons where can put forward own view
  • Learn about different sorts of jobs and careers
  • Encourage me to have opinions of my own
  • Help me understand implications and responsibilities of marriage

List of things from teachers is similar. “I think that’s pretty neat!” Reinforced by multiple studies around the world.

How Steve Discovered Montessori Education

BWCA Wildlife and nature preserve. Beautiful place. There is a YMCA camp, Camp Widjiwagan. Woman, Debra Sussex, Wilderness photographer and tour leader. She got her start at Widjiwagan. A leadership development camp for young people. People come from all over the state to attend. She saw kids from every corner of the state.

Hughes was post-doc. Asked her, “Where do the good kids come from?” She thought for a minute. They come from a Montessori school in Minneapolis. How'd she come up with that? What is it about them? She said:

You have to understand young people have heard instinct, and these young people are preoccupied. And everyone at Widji is supposed to help out. Most of the time, those adolescents have to be asked to do something, then remind, then hassle, then hold them accountable. But the kids from the Montessori school, ask them to do something, they'd d it, do it well, then embellish it."

These kinds have ability to look around, figure out what needs to be done, and do it. They're good at doing things.

For so many adolescents, you're not good at doing anything unless you go to Montessori. You have to:

  • Ask them to do something
  • Hassle them
  • Remind them
  • Hold them accountable

Then they do bare minimum. Montessori kids, however:

  • Ask them to do something
  • They do it
  • They do it well
  • Then they embellish it

Ultimately, what they do is:

  • Look around…
  • figure out what needs to be done…
  • …and do it

Key sentence: “They're good at doing things.”

A Montessori Parent

Hughes daugher, Isabel was born. [His daughter, gets choked up.] Isabel went to Montessori, has been there since beginning. Almost 11. Couldn’t be happier with her progress and experience of seeing a child discover herself.

So the Hughes family fell in love Montessori. 75% of children of his Neuropsychology colleagues in department had kids in Montessori at one time or another.

Montessori education is the embodiment of all I learned while studying for a Ph.D. in Child Development.

—Fiona A., Ph.D.

That’s where my kid is going to school!

—Terry H., Ph.D.

It’s like education designed by a gifted pediatric neuropsychologist.

—Steve Hughes, Ph.D., pediatric neuropsychologist

It’s like education designed by a gifted developmental neuropsychologist.

—Fiona A., Ph.D., developmental neuropsychologist

What is it about Montessori that pediatric neuropsychologists like? gets them worked up?

Brain-based learning

Spent most of career figuring out what happens in the brain of children. Montessori is the original Brain-based learning. Maria understood this before anyone coined that phrase.

About Brains

Some areas are responsible for certain functions. Motor and sensory areas are bands that go over the brain. Mapping of functional areas finds that they're not the same size as parts of the body for which they control function. From brain’s point of view, body is huge hands, large face, not much of anything else.

Way of Thinking About Things Brains Do

Functions are in neurological “nuggets.” Communicate with other areas through neural networks. Brains need functioning nuggets and networks to work properly.

What happens when you read:

  • Apprehend text
  • Decode text
  • Identify words
  • Apply vocabulary, reasoning, concept formation, general intelligence
  • Determine meaning

These are nuggets that must communicate in order to read properly.

Children with reading disorder have brains that don’t activate as much. Such children’s functions can be improved. Have to do lots of calisthenics of brain to develop those nuggets. It’s hard, and takes someone who knows what they're doing.


  • Letter/word recognition
  • Phonological processing
  • Language comprehension

Maria Montessori knew about these before the study. Stuff in Montessori classroom covers all of these thing. For children with dyslexia, pediatric neuropsychologists do exactly these things to help, e.g., sandpaper letters.

Doing cylinder work, child learned perfect pencil grasp. Was easy to learn to hold the pencil when started to write, because had already had practice with cylinder’s.

Child without grasp can still have phonological processing going on, doing writing with movable alphabet, phonetically. They can write before they can form letter shapes or hold a pencil.

Word matching words to photos organized into categories, for language comprehension. They learn not just objects and their words, but category-ness. Brain is learning how to bring order to the world, create systems, and organize them.

If you take nothing else home tonight, take this:

Healthy networks develop through experimental interactions with the environment.

Children need ability to test the environment, make mistakes, test hypotheses, see how things go together.

When brain runs into something new, it focuses all available neurons to figure it out. Those with better networks are better at figuring things out. Better networks lead to better, more accurate problem-solving. Need lots of opportunities for exploration to develop these networks. Generalized activation — every available nerve is called upon to solve a new problem. Once you understand problem, very little brain is required to solve it. (Tetris example.) This is what learning is like.

What should schools be for?

About building better brains by developing nuggets and networks!

This is what Montessori education is about. Teacher makes sure what child is doing is just on the edge of what they've done before. Great to give to child something, a task, that’s developmentally appropriate to them, so they are challenged by it. There is no environment like a Montessori classroom to really emphasize this. If there is something you're doing that’s developmentally appropriate for you, every neuron is focused on the task.

What would it be like if we spent every day like this?

How else can we make brains better? Hands-on activity. Learning that things have a beginning part, a middle part, and end end part. All meaningful learning takes place through error and analysis. Don’t solve problems for the child; let them figure it out.

How else can we make better brains? Multisensory work. Self-guided learning. People learn better by doing the things they're interested in. Montessori teacher knows there are things to discover, and helps the child to get the tools to figure it out.

Other places to have experimental interactions with the environment? Sim City! Get to analyze the problems of city planning. Inventor of Sim City was Montessori educated, through 6th grade, later realized it was the high point of his education. Started making games, which he thinks of more as toys. Maria Montessori designed toys to allow children to discover things on their own, rather than just be taught them.

The games that I do I reall think of as modern Montessori toys, and I really want them to be presented to kids in a way where kids can explore and discover their own principals.

Will Wright at TED in 2007, where he talks about his Montessori influence.

Most Important Part of Talk Starts Now

Executive Functions

Hughes believes that the Montessori education provides environment that is unique in providing extraordinary role of developing executive functions.

(From Q&A: Executive functions abilities are mostly genetic and possibly early development environments. “Possibly” because these things are hard to measure in children. If you check off the things you need, they're all in the Montessori classroom, and Hughes believes that such an environment does promote exectutive functions, he just hasn’t yet done the study to show such conclusively.)

Prefrontal cortex modify remote events (through time and space) through intentional behavior. Through its development, links the present to the future. Once this developed in humans, Humans had won evolutionary contest.

Chimps can solve problems. But they can’t plan for the future. Can stack boxes to get banana on ceiling, but can’t stock up boxes for when bananas reappear next week.

  • Judgment
  • Planning
  • Imagining
  • Foresight
  • Organizing
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-correction
  • Picking strategies
  • Monitoring progress
  • Sustain intention
  • Inhibit impulses

These are executive functions. This is what our prefrontal cortex does. When this is developed, you are an effective human being.

Unlike with learning problems, there is little to do to develop executive functions in later age. For the development in children, there is nothing like Montessori classroom to develop executive functions. Those who don’t develop them are simply not that good at doing things.

Normalization represents some aspect of executive functions. Working memory is essential to executive planning. And in Montessori classrooms, they plan learning games. These develop this. It’s deliberate. Need limitation of materials so children have to learn to limit inappropriate behavior. So if there is only one pink tower, child has to plan, inhibit impulses, etc., to use it.

Only way to develop executive function skills is through experimentation with environment.


Aspects that Maria wrote about:

  • Love of order
  • Love of work
  • Love of silence and being alone
  • Profound concentration—The core function behind effective behavior
  • Obedience
  • Independence and Initiative
  • Spontaneous self-discipline
  • Attachment to reality
  • Joy—Promote self-esteem not through promoting narcissism, but through doing things!

What School for Most Children is About

Remember the lists of what children and teachers consider important? Doing well on standardized tests is not in the top 10. It’s #23, according to teachers.

Those that receive the most attention int he classroom? #1; Helping students do well on standardized tests!

And what are the successfully met goals? Helping students do well on standardized tests is #1. Understand what is happening i the world is #10!

If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s future.

—Maria Montessori

Competent Vice Presidents tend to:

  • Show initiative
  • Set goals
  • Coach
  • Influence people and organizations
  • Build teams
  • Listen and demonstrate empathy
  • Control impulses
  • Help others analyze problems and develop strategies
  • Reward and recognize contributions

None of which is taught in business schools!

Find the same things for, e.g., competent machine operators:

  • Dependable
  • Accurate in reporting
  • Respond to the needs of the situation without needing instructions
  • Get along with others
  • Take responsibility

None of this stuff taught in vocational school.

The best teachers;

  • Recognize unique talents in each student
  • Create individualized education processes that foster each student’s unique abilities
  • Work with other teachers to understand of how growth is promoted
  • Help parents create developmental environments for their students at home
  • Analyze and harness sociological forces that control what happens in schools
  • Work toe change society for the benefit of children

These are the things that teachers who are nominated as extraordinary teachers possess. None are taught in teachers colleges. These are learned only by engaging and experimenting with the real world.

What about the academic stuff?

Craig Public Montessori School in Milwaukee, covered in the journal Science. by Dr. Angeline Lillard. At end of kindergarten, Montessori children had superior:

  • Executive control
  • Decoding and early math
  • Understand the mind
  • Appeals to social justice
  • Social awareness

At end of grade six:

  • Social skills
  • Sense of community
  • Creativity in story creation
  • Complexity of sentence formulation

East Dallas Community School

Montessori-based, serves children from birth to 3rd grade in one of most under-served communities in Dallas.

  • In 2002, 78% of third graders applied to gifted and talented program and all were excepted.
  • Since 1978, 97% of third-graders go on to graduate high school or get a GED. Of those, 88% go on to college.
  • In comparison, only 50% of students from same community but different scheools graduate from high school.

And How is Conventional Education Doing?

Hasn’t changed much in last 100 years.

Schools struggle to meet state marks. It’s in the news all the time. Saddest part about it is that it’s no longer surprising.

It’s time to do something different! We've tried the existing approach, it doesn’t work, it’s not good for children. No reason schools have to be the way they are. There is a better way. That’s what Montessori teachers provide.

Three components of Classical Montessori Education

Culture (of respect for child) Method Curriculum and Materials

Everyone falls in love with materials, but the culture is most important. It’s an exposure for children that’s transforming.

The social environment of a child influences the child, but also helps them recover from trauma or disease. Humans are shaped by their social experiences. We learn how to be humans from other humans. Children take what is given to them by adults and their world and the convey them. Montessori provides culture that’s supportive of what we identify as civilization. Civilization is optional.

Whoever touches the life of a child touches the most sensitive point of a whole which has roots inthe most distant pat and climbes toward the infinite future.

—Maria Montessori

In infancy, we believe parents can solve all our problems

As children, it’s that teachers can

As adults, it’s that governments.

It as never been more important to raise generations who:

Look around, figure out what needs to be done, and do it.

[Standing Ovation]


Slides on goodatdoingthings.com. Will see about getting a video posted, as well.

What Works and What Doesn't in Online Wine Applications

Alder Yarrow posted an entry in his Vinography about why the wine tasting sites, such as Cork'd, LogABottle, Winelog.Net, TastyDrop, and OpenBottles, will ultimately fail. To summarize, his reasons boil down to these:

  1. There aren't enough wines in the databases
  2. Users don't know how to write
  3. There is no incentive to visit regularly
  4. There aren't enough wine lovers to reach critical mass

Now, I've given this topic some thought, in part because, for a while, I was planning to write a Webapp to track wine cellar contents and write reviews, myself. But I recently backburnered it, because of the launch of Cork'd. And I think that, ultimately, Cork'd will be a winner, though not necessarily in the way that Alder thinks.

Alder assumes that all of these wine sites are trying to build a critical mass of users and wine reviews to counter the influence of the Park-tator. This is a laudable goal, but I agree likely to fail for all the reasons he mentions. However, I don't think that this is Cork'd's intent. And the reason Alder misses this point is because—to borrow terms from Clay Shirky—he's still thinking in terms of Web School practices. Cork'd, on the other hand, is Situated Software.

What do I mean by that? The intent of Cork'd is not to amass a huge collection of wines or reviews, though that may end up being a significant side-effect. Its intent is to allow users to make recommendations to their friends. Cork'd lets you identify your drinking buddies as your own small community within the larger Cork'd community, and then you can make recommendations to your drinking buddies. The cool thing about this is that you can ignore the crappy reviews from the people you don't know or trust, and just collect recommendations from the people you do know and trust.

So users will visit Cork'd because they want to know the preferences of the people they trust, and will want to share their own recommendations with their buddies. Creating personal relationships is a much more compelling reason to return to the application than the old idea of building status among the entire community. And with their emphasis on sharing with your friends, I don't think that building a large corpus of content was even something that crossed the designers' minds when they created Cork'd. They just wanted to have a way to remember wines that they had recommended to each other, and to let other people do the same.

So, in a sense, I think that Cork'd does address Alder's points, if only by taking a completely different approach to the Online wine app. Because it's not a site that's about reviewing wines, it's about sharing with your friends. And as sites like Flickr and LiveJournal have shown, this is where the action really is.

As a side note, I do think that Vinography's comments about CellarTracker are spot on. It is a potentially powerful resource, but its UI must be the single worst I've ever seen. That was why I was thinking of writing my own Online Wine app, to be able to keep track of my own cellar and to let others do the same, but to make it a more enjoyable experience than one can currently get with CellarTracker. I only wish that I'd thought of so many of the ideas in Cork'd a year ago and made it happen, so that I could get the benefits of Cork'd and track my own wines like I could with CellarTracker. But for now, I'm just sending feature requests to Cork'd and watching to see how things develop.

Stephen Colbert at the White House Corrspondents Dinner

Good Ole' Pat Robertson

[Sharon] was dividing God's land, and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU, the United Nations or United States of America.

Pat Robertson

Jon Stewart and the Future of Television

The Teenage Brain


Steven: Did you see that article in the Sunday Times about the teenage brain?

Julie: What, you mean they found one?

See OutFoxed


I'm going to have to order the Outfoxed DVD and give it a look. It got a great writeup in the New York Times.