Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Reimagining Learning

I'm developing ideas for a proposal to the dmlcompetition on 21st century learning labs. is very much in progress, but I thought I'd share ...

We propose to create learning environment which integrates the strengths of the Internet - limitless information, and strategic access to experts, with the strengths of a local teaching staff - personal interaction, encouragement, social pressure, ...

small staff of facilitators (not subject matter experts).
online subject matter experts focus on digital technologies which can be done online and where there is a clear path to online income opportunities to individuals who demonstrate mastery.
leverage internet video, wikis, message boards, search, etc.
agile development (work in pairs)
online portfolio development
contribute to the internet
public awards for people who achieve milestones / accomplishments

Target Students:
English speaking with some computer exposure.

Desired Outcome for Students:
responsible citizens of the Internet cognizant of the 'netiquette' surrounding online human interactions
respectable online profile of accomplishments
demonstrated ability to earn money online
significant real world friendships with peers and mentors

projects at increasing levels of complexity which contribute to the internet.
merit badge system for achievement at different levels
local award ceremony to recognize attainment of new badges
online subject matter expert mentors work with teams to develop milestones and answer technical questions
local facilitators push students to keep to the milestones and help with personal issues.
students primarily work in small teams.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Social Entrepreneurship

I originally wrote this article for Since its not available online tho, I am reposting it here.

Thru a combination of hard work, good fortune and a curious predisposition towards a very low cost standard of living I have been blessed with a significant amount of freedom relatively early in my life.

Extreme freedom is more complex than most people realize and begs the question. “What do I really want”. After traveling and some soul searching I came to the high level conclusion, that I’d like a happy, healthy, sustainable lifestyle, and would like to use my skills, time, energy and money to make happy, healthy, sustainable lifestyles more readily available.

Looking inward at the gifts I carry, perhaps the most important is an almost religious personal identification with the internet. I believe education, security thru government recourse, money and meaningful membership in the international community are widely available via the internet to those with the access and understanding of how to engage it properly.

My particular mission is to make that statement more real and less rhetorical.

When I dream about a realistic perfect future it looks like some combination of the Solitude farm at Auroville, the dreams of Paolo Soleri and his experiments at Arcosanti, the Silicon Valley and Dharavi.

Put another way, I would like to see us move :

  • away from large scale commercial agriculture towards more local consumption of organically grown food.
  • away from the mega-cities towards a much larger number of smaller, higher density urban centers
  • away from a ‘teacher as information repository’ model of education with memorization as the primary metric of student understanding towards a model where information is freely available on the internet, teachers are guides and coaches, and success is measured by a portfolio of meaningful projects.
  • Towards an internet representative of the global population with thoughtful online public discourse between all the worlds peoples.

I’ll quickly describe the work of a number of projects & organizations I have been involved with with these goals in mind: – Empowering Communities Through Wireless Networks

Based in Himachal Pradesh, Air Jaldi develops, deploys and demonstrates technology based on affordable equipment and open-source software tools suitable to the needs and conditions of rural areas. They have deployed a large mesh network connecting over 80 villages, and have set up a network academy for training people in the art of low cost wireless networking.

The Digital Study Hall (DSH)

DSH seeks to improve education for the poor children in India. They digitally record live classes by the best grassroots teachers and distribute them on DVDs to rural and slum schools. Education experts and teachers use the system to explore pedagogical approaches involving local teachers actively "mediating" the video lessons.

Curriki is an online environment created to support the development and free distribution of world-class educational materials to anyone who needs them. The name is a play on the combination of 'curriculum' and 'wiki' which is the technology they're using to make education universally accessible.

VideoVolunteer’s vision is to create a global social media network of by and for marginalized and poor communities around the world. They work with local NGOs to donate filmmaking equipment and train local teams in video production about issues of local interest. These videos are then shown via projector to the local communities and are followed up by a discussion about the issues raised and in many cases a call to action.

This is a technology startup incubation program I am running in conjunction with CIIE at IIM Ahmedabad. While we hope to earn money by taking a small equity stake in the companies we work with, we have a higher objective of stimulating the local (Indian) economy by establishing profitable high-tech businesses.

I heartily advocate this strategy of taking the time to come up with a clear picture of what to do and why, and then engaging with people doing interesting projects in these areas while looking for where to devote one’s full energies. Understanding and aligning with deeply personal goals has helped keep me focused and energized in my work, and exploring these different organizations has introduced to me to a wide range of great people, new environments, and ideas.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The New Shul

I'm a fan of Fred Wilson's blog AVC. His latest post mentions a synagogue he and his family are a part of in New York The New Shul.

"Our style of religious observance is eclectic and defies easy categorization. In some ways, our services (Kabbalat Shabbat, for example) are more on the traditional wing of the liberal spectrum -- lots of Hebrew, lots of singing. In other ways, some of our ritual events (such as our Sukkot Rain Dance) are more experimental, utilizing new approaches and modes. In terms of our liturgical language, we are egalitarian. We are also creative, intellectual, and independent. One of our defining characteristics is our "come as you are" attitude. Everyone is welcome, irrespective of their background or beliefs."

I dig it.

Atheists generally refute the claim that morality is in someway connected to a belief in 'God'.

The modern refrain on such topics tends to be, "I'm spiritual, but not religious". Which is exactly the opposite of what Fred Wilson says, "I'm not much for religion to be honest. It's something I participate in but not something I believe in."

On the New Shul blog there's a post by a girl coming up on her Bat Mitsvah.
"Part of the tradition at The New Shul, when becoming a Bat/Bar Mitzvah, is to give back to the community by doing a community service project." She goes onto describe a book donation project she wants to do for hers.

Its not clear to me whether this is a tradition they made up, or whether this is an ancient Jewish tradition, or a modern interpretation of something very old.

Honestly, I don't believe much in the impact of planetary gravitational fields on our day to day lives. At burningman someone told me that Saturn had about the same gravitational affect on me as he (this other person) did. I do like the notion of clocks with longer rotations than minutes, seconds or hours. And I like the idea of associating certain events (traditions, festivals, etc) that should be practiced regularly, but maybe not every day, with the motion of these larger bodies.

So, there's a time for focusing on creativity, a time for generosity, a time for respecting the old, and caring for the new...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pick Teams, Place Bets

I posted this first on

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry via Marc Hedlund

That has been a favorite quote of mine since I read it on Marc’s blog a couple of years ago. I’ve known Marc since his days with Popular Power. When he and my college friend Jason Knight founded WeSabe I came in as a small angel investor.

Marc has also been a guest speaker at the YCombinator weekly meetings, and as I’m preparing for the teams coming in to the iAccelerator, I called him this morning to ask for some advice on how he has dealt with startups, and his recommendations for me.

Some VC running a venture training program at Stanford said that most of what he does is pick teams and place bets. They add value by making connections, and getting involved a bit. But, they’re very explicitly not trying to run the companies. Marc told me this when I asked how to train teams to run board meetings. Marc’s main point was that the information founders share with investors at a board meeting should be the same information they already collect just to run their company. “What do we really need to know about our business to know if we’re succeeding or failing”

Much of Marc’s advice felt like this. When I asked whether he recommended having teams give tech talks he said that he had tried it a couple of times at different startups with varying results. The first time an engineer suggested it and the culture embraced it. Another time he mandated it, and the team rejected it. Asked whether I should train people in a specific development methodology such as Agile, he recommended that instead I bring people in to talk about their experience with different development practices and help teams evolve one that fits them. On whether there were standard tools all teams should use he mentioned that at WeSabe they use CampFire extensively for company collaboration, but they’ve tried BaseCamp a few times and hadn’t really got traction with it until recently.

Ultimately, Marc’s advice comes down to ‘listen’ understand whats actually happening, collect and present information. Advocate rather than mandate the changes you want to see.

Sometimes I describe my vision for the iAccelerator as a ‘Startup Factory’ where all the companies coming thru abide by ’standard’ processes and use common tools. I imagine multi-colored story cards marching accross Kanban boards behind each of our teams. And that we’re all using Salesforce, Basecamp, Trac, Git / SVN, etc. which allows teams to track their own progress, and us as external stakeholders to quickly and uniformly monitor the different companies we’re engaged with. The combination of all these things gives us a consistent brand of what it means to be an iAccelerator team.

And honestly, I feel there maybe times when this is appropriate. But, Marc and the VC seem to argue heavily in the direction of picking really great people and then giving them the latitude to express their brilliance in the ways which are comfortable for them.

From this quote on the YCombinator ‘about‘ page, it seems Paul Graham takes this position too.

We try to interfere as little as possible in the startups we fund. We don’t want board seats, rights to participate in future rounds, vetoes over strategic decisions, or any of the other powers investors sometimes require. We offer lots of advice, but we can’t force anyone to take it. We realize that independence is one of the reasons people want to start startups in the first place. And frankly, it’s also one of the reasons startups succeed. Investors who try to control the companies they fund often end up destroying them.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

LA Community Space Redux

I'm collaborating with Archana down in Bangalore about the idea of creating a large temporary structure as community exhibition space for the artists there. She asked me to write about my experiences with community spaces in Los Angeles.

In 2003 I became interested in helping the independent film community in Los Angeles take advantage of internet distribution to introduce their work to the world at Large. At Burningman I had seen a large school bus with 'The Los Angeles Filmmakers Coop' spray painted across its side in full Graffiti style. Tao Ruspoli, the owner of the bus, had been operating a mobile film studio and training center out of the bus in Venice Beach, but was eager to move into a larger fixed space.

After some search we rented a beautiful old powerhouse in Venice beach which was just one large 1500 sq ft. space with 20 ft ceilings. We needed a way to separate the space into studios where people could work on their projects, while leaving the space open for exhibitions, parties, performances, trainings, etc. Since we had a short term lease on the space we could not make fixed changes to the space. The solution we found was to build a second story out of warehouse shelving called pallet racks. This way we installed 6 elevated studio areas and one chill-out section while leaving the ground floor open for more public gatherings.

We operated the space for 6 months and a vital community of artists, performers and filmmakers came to spend alot of time there. While individuals had personal areas to work from there was no visual or sound barriers separating the different sections of the space. So, everyone got sucked into any drama happening anywhere. Looking back on it, we all felt like it was a wonderful space for socializing and connecting with people, but not particularly conducive to work.

Determined to fix the shortcomings of the Lafco space in 2004 I rented a large loft in The Brewery, a large colony of artist lofts in downtown Los Angeles. Here I built a large 3 story structure out of pallet racks which provided 20 private areas with internet and power which people could work from. I deemphasized the role of events in this space, and restricted the units to people actively working on projects. Unfortunately, it seemed that people who were functional enough to meet my criteria, had no interest in moving their work onto a large jungle gym.

After some time I recognized that the experiment wasn't working, so rather than waste the opportunity, I opened it up to the more fringe artist community and allowed people to live there as well. The remaining months were fun, but predictably chaotic, and in the fall of 2004 I shut the place down and moved to India.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Conversations with Scott Beibin

I've got like 20 tabs open after hanging out with Scott for a couple hours. He's running Evil Twin Booking Agency for a bunch of super interesting people in the modern progressive radical activist scene.

I was telling him about my idea for Radical Change 2012. He pointed me to the reality sandwich website and told me to watch for evolver

He told me a bit about each of the artists he represents. Mitchell Joachim designed these awesome stackable cars and has a bunch of cool designs for green buildings

We talked about a bunch of festivals that got me excited about that scene again.
Gadget Off is a hacker festival with some connection to the 2600 zine community.

Creative Capital finances a variety of art projects and performances.

The Last Hope another hacker conference.

Rothbury Festival in Michigan.

Bonaroo in Tenessee.

Lightning in a bottle festival in Santa Barbara. This came up in a bunch of conversations. These people appear to be awesome -Do Lab. I saw them rehearsing for a dance performance this weekend. It looked amazing and fun.

Solar Saucer solar powered dj boothe.

On a completely different note, Scott does marketing for a variety of 'green' companies and was talking about how great these Icel battery guys were.

Saturday, February 07, 2009


Its 7am and I'm early for events today. Every morning so far there have been a variety of unpublished breakfasts on a wide variety of topics that you were supposed to RSVP for.

Lunch operates the same way. There's one 'community lunch' and then a number of sponsored public lunches, and other unpublished ones. It gives me the sense that within TED there remain layers of exclusivity.

I'm cool with it, and happy to be invited to the party at all.

The vertical lunches and breakfasts serve a nice purpose getting people interested in specific areas together for extended social interaction.

I love the diversity of the presentations at TED. Having a mix of live music, dance performances, technology demonstrations and permaculture presentations brings together a wide range of people and encourages cross disciplinary thinking. The breakfast and lunches provide a more focused counter point to that.

The organizers put effort into facilitating connections between participants. Before the confernce they send a bunch of emails encouraging people to fill out their profiles. They suggest people you might want to interact with at the event, and provide a book with pictures of all the attendees and their profiles as part of the bag of schwag they hand out during registration. As much as connecting me with specific people, reading thru the profiles helped convince me of the power of the community and to take the interactions seriously.

Its definitely been a great conference, and there's alot to learn from it in how to conduct events.

I'm looking forward to TED India Nov 5-7 in Mysore.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

DIY Church

I just spent a day with my mom up in Paso Robles. My mom has been a dedicated Christian for 30+ years. On a very practical level she spends at least an hour a day in prayer and often much more. Sometimes she'll get the guitar out and sing praise and worship songs by herself.

My personal belief is that God is neither Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim. But that each tradition has something to offer. I grew up going to church with my mom, so I learned to sing and pray with the Christians. All else being the same I might even call myself a Christian. But most of my conversations with Christians get disagreeable when we start talking about Jesus as the only way to know God, the nature of sin, and hell, and a bunch of other stuff. In the end I figure the Christian moniker doesn't win me friends with Christians or non-Christians, so I don't use it.

Hanging out with my mom is always good though, because I have so much respect for her spiritual path that I can't just write off the entire Christian community.

In Goa talking to a fellow who had been traveling the better part of the last decade. He described his experience interacting with Missionaries in different communities around the world. He said that they try to fit in, but then they start talking about the devil and stuff whenever they can, and everyone gets weirded out and wonders why they can't just be normal.

I remember this aspect of children's church when I was a kid. The youth pastor used to tell us how if we didn't tell our friends about Jesus they would go to hell, and when they were burning in hell they would know that we could have saved them if we had had the courage to tell them about Jesus in school. It's like using fear and guilt to train people to be unnatural, to not pay attention to the situation but to plow through and give a pitch even if ones whole body was screaming not to.

My mom used to run a church with her second husband. He was a preacher and she pretty much did everything else. My whole life she has been totally dedicated to ministry. And while it hasn't all been fun, I've definitely seen miracles play out in her life that make me believe in some magic that goes beyond physics and statistics.

I love the praise and worship part of church. If we could just sing for an hour or two I would give gladly, hug everyone warmly, come with anticipation and leave feeling high. Occasionally I still go to church, get elevated during worship and then become depressed when the pastor starts talking about how Mary had to have a virgin birth because if she had had sex then Jesus would have been born in sin like the rest of us.

My mom gets antsy in church too. Sometimes she finds these super out-there movements within the church that feel totally tapped into the spirit. I went to a couple of services with her where there was no sermon just people spontaneously singing, and praying in tounges. I think there's a whole 'spirit' movement for people like this. But, its hard to scale a 'spirit' movement if being in the spirit means having a very personal direct experience of god.

My mom is excited about home churches right now. I sense its something of a movement, possibly a reaction away from the mega churches that grew up in the last decade. From my point of view much of the evil perpetrated on the world during the Bush administration drew power by communicating very effectively with the established Christian leadership network.

Talking with progressive friends with no particular spiritual views other than a uniform dismay at much of the rhetoric that comes from the Christian Right, we bemoan the fact that we don't have any similar community gathering. Wherever you go across this whole country, the expectation is that you can show up as a total stranger at the local church and people will shake your hand, smile and welcome you into their community. How precious is that ? Its almost worth nodding along with the pastor while he talks about whatever, just to feel the human warmth of sitting next to other people.

Home churches seem like a DIY way of getting this. Without the ambition that comes from striving for more members or a larger building there is the simple joy of hanging out with other people searching for God's presence. It requires a personal faith in ones direct connection though. Regular church has an expert who can channel Gods word. It's easier to hear a man speak than to put in the time in prayer, worship and studying that genuine direct connection requires. But with the home church, maybe there's no man, there's just a group of people who like to hang out together while they pray, worship, study and seek god.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Its pretty much official. Together with people at the IIM Ahmedabad incubation center (CIIE) I'll be running this years iAccelerator program. I'm stoked ! Last year we all had a great time and learned alot. This year we're going to blow it out :) To make it even better my friend Satish Dharmaraj is helping me out with the program as both an advisor and co-investor.

Program is May thru to September. Check out the website for more info.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

goa restaurant suggestions

I had some amazing food in Goa while I was there.
Thought I'd write down some of my favorites.

jam connection
This is just next to the Anjuna side of the Anjuna Baga shortcut. At first I thought it was a dance studio, but was stoked to find it a very relaxed very good restaurant.

German Bakery - I spent Christmas eve at a party here. Its a super large place that makes me appreciate the spaciousness of goa. You can get a table with maybe 200 sq. ft.

KU - Someone from my yoga class recommended this restaurnt. Its a pretty amazing place up in Asvem with giant sorta japanese zen architecture and nice views of the area.

Bean Me Up - In Vagator, this place has nice ambient music, good juices, and healthy food.

Tahasa - I had a wonderful evening here before leaving. Its on the cliffs in lower Vagator just south of 9 bar. We had wonderful food and enjoyed the general atmosphere.