Open Thinkering


Month: January 2010

Things I learned this week – #5

Image CC BY-NC mikeabney

Top 3

  1. I thought that I kept myself fairly anonymous online to all but the people I want to interact with. Turns out I was wrong. Check out Panopticlick to start being worried about ‘browser fingerprinting’.
  2. Vooks look either cool or completely pointless, depending on your point-of-view and mood. (via @betchaboy)
  3. Dunbar’s Number is the theoretical maximum number of stable relationships an individual can sustain. It turns out that it’s about 150, which makes some people’s Twitter and Facebook profiles look ridiculous!



  • Apparently the iPad is ‘iBad’ for freedom according to the Free Software Foundation. They’ve got a point. But I’ll still be getting one. 😉
  • Stephen Fry weighed in, along with seemingly the rest of the world, with his views on what the iPad means for mankind.
  • Thankfully, the iPad supports the ePub format for ebooks. You can find lots of these at (via @chrispenny)
  • The Polarize iPhone app allows you to create photos that look that they’ve been taken with a Polaroid camera. Cool! (example here)
  • Screensplitr for the (jailbroken) iPhone allows you to output any app to another screen (via @wesfryer)
  • I found this 360-degree video of Haiti unbelievable. It uses the same YellowBird camera that Google uses for ‘Street View’ (via OLDaily) I was going to embed it here, but it auto-plays, which is annoying…
  • You can now upload email into a Google Apps email account using an (official) OSX app. This might be a good time for me to switch to an email address… 🙂
  • That button in Tweetie that I’ve never pressed (see below – looks like a business card)? Turns out it adds contact details from someone’s contact details from Twitter to your iPhone address book. Sweet!

Productivity & Inspiration

Education & Academic

  • I was shocked to discover that some UK Local Authorities are going to pay £10,000 on a filter to remove comments from being displayed when students visit YouTube. Kerry Turner (@4goggas) who gave the heads-up also pointed out which I hadn’t used before. Handy!
  • JISC published their final report into ebooks as (appropriately) a rather nice issuu document. Worth looking at the Executive Summary if nothing else!
  • Not having actually used one doesn’t stop some people ruminating on how the iPad will change education. Inevitable.:  (via @baldy7)
  • Futurelab has a really well put-together video about the future of education using the research from Beyond Current Horizons (from Beyond Current Horizons research) Apparently, half the population of Europe will be 50 by 2030 and will expect to live another 40 years (I’ll be 50 in December 2030 – scary!)

Data, Design & Infographics

  • Dan Meyer threatened us all with driving round to our houses to force us to watch this excellent video called Vanishing Point. No need – it’s great!
  • I bought Autograph for $6 this week (OSX only). It allows you to draw, in a simple way, using your Macbook trackpad – ace!
  • Turns out the type of font you use determines how hard you perceive something to be. There’s a reason I use Georgia in everything I do – I read years ago (when I was at uni) that it has a positive effect, psychologically-speaking… 😀
  • This chart shows the number of mobile subscribers, per 100 people, worldwide.
  • I saw this first time around but didn’t blog it. Some designers showed how much ink different fonts use by colouring in words with biros. If you’re concerned about the amount of ink you use, try Ecofont!
  • I’m rather pleased with the sparkline (mini-graph) I added to the footer of this blog. There’s a kind-of howto here, but I’ll be screencasting how to do this next week. In the course of doing this I was reminded about the Google Charts API. Lots of services provide a front-end for Google Charts, but this tool in particular makes it very quick and easy to make stunning charts!
  • There’s a guy who records everything he does. He creates wonderful and interesting visualizations in his annual report. Check it out! (try Daytum or if you’re crazy enough to do likewise!)



Misfortune shows those who are not really friends. (Aristotle)

If change doesn’t cost you anything then it isn’t real change. (John C. Maxwell)

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. (Winston Churchill)

Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important. (Natalie Goldberg)

The quality of our thoughts is bordered on all sides by our facility with language. (J. Michael Straczynski)

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A subtle redesign.

As I’ve mentioned several times before, pretty much everything I do is perpetual beta. What that means in practice is that I’m always looking to make things better – including this blog!

The three subtle changes I’ve made are:

  • Menu text replaced with icons (it was a bit text-heavy)
  • Slide-down posts replaced with links to permalinks (to speed-up page loading and encourage commenting)
  • Addition of WordPress icon and sparkline (mini-graph) to footer* (looks cool!)

You can see a quick before and after below.

Before: minimalist v1

After: minimalist v2

The icons, in case you’re wondering, can be found here. They may be used ‘without attribution’ for personal and commercial projects.

Update: I’ve added ‘tooltips’ (using this) at the request of some who found the icons needed explaining. Thanks for the feedback! 😀

*I’ll explain how I did this next week. It’s easy but took some researching…

Daniel Pink on motivation.

I was very fortunate on Tuesday to get a last-minute invite (thanks to Ewan McIntosh) to a sold-out event at The Sage in Gateshead. The organisers of the event managed to get hold of Daniel Pink (Twitter), author of A Whole New Mind, as he came to the UK to promote his new book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. I’d seen Dan’s TED Talk last year (see below) and found it extremely interesting. I was slightly concerned however, that he would just rehash that talk. He didn’t. 😀

The warm-up guy for Dan was Caspar Berry (Twitter), former actor, professional poker player, screenwriter, television presenter, poker advisor on the James Bond film Casino Royale, and now consultant to large multinational companies. Caspar spoke about risk and the fear of failure. His main message was that in order to be successful you have to fail many times. If we redefine failure as long-term failure then this, as in poker, empowers us to take short-term set-backs, losses and ‘failures’. I appreciated his message, but felt that his constant references to how he was fitting a 45-minute presentation into 25 minutes a bit much to take. How hard is it to alter a slidedeck and tailor your talk for a particular audience? We teachers do it all the time… 😉

I made quite a few notes on Dan Pink’s talk. I love the way he signposted, as all good teachers and presenters do, not only what he was going to talk about but also how he was going to deliver it. A good presentation, he believes, consists of:

  1. Brevity
  2. Levity
  3. Repetition

It also helped that his slides weren’t used to drive his talk but used almost exclusively for quotations from academic and business journals. I have to say that I was impressed that one came from this month’s Harvard Business Review! In addition, he had obviously tailored his slides (spellings, colloquialisms) for a UK audience. It would be easy not to do that on a worldwide book tour. 🙂

Using props and audience interaction, Dan started by explaining that we all have a biological drive that motivates us to do things – hunger, third, sex, and so on. No-one doubts that. We also have a ‘secondary drive’ that includes things like money, reward and punishment. Most efforts to motivate people centre around these two drives: we throw money at people to be more productive and more innovative: we appeal to people’s hunger and desires. A surprising study, however, by the Federal Reserve Bank in 2005 showed that, whilst financial incentives worked in a linear way for purely mechanical tasks (more reward = more productivity), if even ‘rudimentary cognitive skill’ was required, performance was inversely proportional (more reward = less problem-solving). The study, initially carried out in the USA was replicated with even more profound results in India.

Dan gave lots of examples of companies changing the way they do business in order to increase creativity, innovation and profitability. These went beyond Google’s famous 20% time, thankfully. I’ll not list them here – you should buy his book! The (false) assumption that most businesses have is that human beings are fundamentally inert, that they need external motivation to do things. Instead, Dan says, we should assume that people are active and engaged. Look at toddlers, for example: they’re always engaged! It’s actually our default setting. The third drive, then, is ‘interest’ which Dan divided down into:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

Autonomy is tapping into people’s desire to be in control of their own lives. Using the example of call centres, Dan talked of how they treat people like lightbulbs: one burns out so we get another from the shelf and screw ’em!, a company recently bought by Amazon for close to $1bn, do things differently. They offer people $2000 to leave the company after the two-week training period, figuring that anyone tempted by such an offer would cost them more in the long-term. Once they’ve completed their training and refused the $2000 they are set to work with one message: “solve the customer’s problem”. No timers, no scripts. Revolutionary autonomy. 🙂

Mastery is our powerful impulse to get better at stuff. In fact, a longitudinal study by Harvard Business Review of many companies found that the biggest motivator for employees across a whole range of industries was “making progress”. Dan talked about performance reviews, about how they’re not often enough. Imagine, he said, if Serena Williams received only annual feedback on her tennis. How would she improve? He encouraged us to take control of our own performance reviews and goal-setting, “calling yourself into the office” at the end of the month after having planned and set targets at the beginning of it.

Purpose is being part of a project bigger than yourself. Or, in the words of a McDonald’s executive, about having ‘a purpose bigger than your product’. For businesses it’s important to sell a dream or vision other than increasing profits by X% to motivate your staff. For individuals it’s important to motivate you for the smaller tasks and activities you need to complete.

Dan said he could sum up his message by saying “human beings are not horses”. Here’s how he puts it in a recent interview with Seth Godin (who also has a new book out called Linchpin):

Stop treating people like horses and start treating them like human beings. Instead of trying to bribe folks with sweeter carrots or threaten them with sharpen sticks, how about giving them greater freedom at work, allowing them to get better at something they love, and infusing the workplace with a sense of purpose? If we tap that third drive more fully, we can rejuvenate or businesses and remake our world.

Amen to that! I’ll definitely be incorporating some of these ideas into #uppingyourgame: an educator’s guide to productivity. 😀