Wednesday, 31 March 2010

A slow mind may nurture more creative ideas

I just came across this post 'A slow mind may nurture more creative ideas' from the new scientist and thought they've got something I couldn't just tweet. I needed a more permanent record. It's about new research investigating mental proceses and creativity. What's striking is the level of detail that can now be achieved with modern techniques. They can actually view individual neurons in some ones brain, measure its thickness and link to traits. This is much more convincing than studies of old that had to infer all these aspect.

Monday, 29 March 2010

In a world of abundance it's our time that's scarce

I've been reading so much recently about how new business models are being created around the idea of previously scarce things such as tv and music becoming abundant. So where once it was easy to charge for access to scarce content it's impossible to charge for content that's abundant. The market won't support it.

It makes every one wonder what the new business model will be. For me I feel that it comes down to the one thing that's truly scarce. Time. Each human has a limited time on this planet. What we each get to do with that time has limits for each generation. i see that each new generation expects to be able to do more with their alloted time than the previous generation. So the things you can really charge for are essentially around increasing the amount of time someone is on the earth. The health and fitness industries make billions selling this possibility.

Or you can help people get more out of the time they have. Get people where they want to go faster. Make their experiences more enjoyable or make it easier for people to get what they want.

So in a world where everyone everyone can learn. Tailoring learning to the person. figuring out how to give them what they want while also giving them what they need and making the experience more fun than others is an experience people are likely to pay for.

The other way of considering though is to think of how google did things. They connected peiple searching for things with those trying to get other peoples attention. They matched people as best they could and created organisation in the mess of search results. We trust google because their focus is on giving us the exact results we want given what they know about us. Advertisers love google because google shows their message only to relevant people and charge according to this.

For education I'd consider matching students with employers. start collecting a lot more information about people and use it only to help them. To find their perfect employer and vice versa. The money comes from the companies advertising for people and side products which users decide to buy such as extra storage or advice.

Learning: What would Facebook do?

Just  listening to Free: the future of a radical price by Chris anderson of the long tail. Making me consider how paid for education fits in with a market based on giving away most things for free.

I assume I'm not the first to consider this. Just thougth I'd log a few of the models that come to mind.

1) Provide and use free content. Charge for assessment and for tutoring time to enhance your understanding of the content and chances in the exam.

2)Provide basic free examinations including certificates with basic grading. Charge for more detailed feedback highlighting strengths and weaknesses and support in how to improve.

3) Make exams and content free, make it easy to share results and support. The way facebook enables entertainment and social life. Learning could be made easy, free and intuitive with one site where all learners and tutors can easily get together, have fun and learn at the same time.

Where would the money come? I've noticed how farmville in facebook  has grown to 80 million users because your game is built by obtaining objects. You either generate money in the game or recieve these objects from friends. Many of the most interesting and fun items can only be bought with cash. Often as little as £2-£3, the price of a pint or burger. Payment is just a couple of clicks and you'll get your item instantly.

The cost of delivering the game is so cheap and number of users so high it doesn't take much to turn a profit.

What if students were either on a learning version of facebook or in an app on facebook itself. They're learning and, answering questions discovering concepts. For everything they do they receive game money and experience points. and objects to use. Like access to virtual microscopes. Simple apps for their mobile phone. A free ebook. In a digital world there is no end of things that interest people that can be used as incentive.

I can see that I'm going into this example but I think it has potential. What if students earnt big points for taking on responsibility. they became the teacher for 10 minutes, an hour or a day. They earn the responsibility by gaining experience points and showing knowledge in a particular area. Maybe others suggest they become the teacher.

So as teacher they lead a group and teach them something. The group rates their teaching. The group gets a little reward as discussed above just for taking part and also rates the teacher. The higher the teachers rating the better bonus the teacher gets.

A key point I've just realised is that this is a way to get the students to also be the teachers. You no longer have to pay directly for lecturers. You can still have lecturers but they have earn the earn respect of the group and deliver what others actually want to pay for and follow. It's just the result of throwing the ideas of the new economy into the learning arena.

It's got potential because it massively reduces costs. Most of what you receive is cost nothing or very little. things such as bandwidth and servers are going down every year. What you're doing is bringing the models that have made Google,  Amazon and ebay so strong in so little time. Removing the middle man. Connecting learners to teachers and providing transparency in quality.

What you need to work on is ensuring quality learning gets recognised. Build tools that help you identify this.

In farmville you can build your farm as you want but start the same as evryone else. What if you started a course the same as everyone else. course items were available as you progress through the game and gain xp. Yet you can purchase them at different times and store and use them how you want.

From new economy rules such as those in What would Google do by Jeff Jarvis this approach does many things

  • Gives control to the people, learners and teachers
  • Makes education providers a partner of learners and teachers 
  • Makes distribution easy. things can easily 'go viral'
  • PUts focus on intelligent organisation. Just make it easy for learners and teachers to get in there and share
  • Develops a gift economy: 
  • Replaces scarcity with abundance
  • Gets barriers out of the way. removes middlemen. Brings learners and teachers together
  • Less control more trust
  • New ethics: Make mistakes well: No teacher is perfect. Experts have generally learnt by learning from their mistakes. Learning to anaylse and learn from mistakes as a great skill. Rather than avoiding mistakes. Use it as a chance to learn. See the truth in the mess.
  • Answers are instantaneous
  • Simplify, Simplify: Just get peopel communicating. Remove all the barriers. If some one has problems talking help them. Find out ways to help them communicate. If they have trouble listening, help them too. An envrionment that's focused on communication and collaboration is a wonderful learning and teaching environment. The rest is just content. 
  • Encourage enable and protect innovation. good art is innovative, it's new. The best engineering is innovative. encourage people to take chances with their learning. there are generally so many version of a correct answer but being able to find all those different answers is a skill in itself.

Tech Is Too Cheap to Meter: It's Time to Manage for Abundance, Not Scarcity

Just came across this excellent post by Chris Anderson of long tail fame. I particularly like the references to nature and evolution. I can't help but see that us humans are playing out evolution through what we produce. Scarcity leading to abundance seems a part of that.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Gamers expect intuitive introductions, not manuals

I prefer the idea that new software and applications should teach you themselves how to do basic tasks. I'm used to this because I grew up playing computer games. Games are designed for children. Children can't or won't read big manuals. They just want to play the game. Normally the first few levels of any game are designed to teach you the skills to reach the next level. So learning and teaching are built in. You're not expected to ask any one else for help.

I also see it another way. It's just fantastic customer service. The experience is designed entirely around the user.

So I've been wondering how far this has come across in the web. I'm pleased to find that, atleast ini web games, this is still true. I've gotten into Farmville and Social city recently for this exact reason. I'm enjoying the idea that by seeing how games are now brought to the web I can remember what a great user experience these created,. it then gives me basis for what I want to bring to the applications I build.

I just got reminded about this because I just tried a new game out Super City that went through a whole bunch of events and guided me the whole way. They highlight each icon they want you to touch, exactly where you should place an item and basically explain everything.

Just wanted to record that the amazing and intuitive introductions I was used to as a child gamer are now becoming common, atleast for gamers, of any age on the web. So let's see how long it takes for this to permeate all software.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

An idea for modelling nutrition

I have revised this article as 'Faster, better, cheaper through reusable learning objects'.

My background is in human performance. I studied biology, psychology, sociology and a lot of sports science and pe. So I'm fascinated with finding out what our bodies are capable of. It's amazing how much is known and has been documented. What I see as lacking is a model that ties all this knowledge into virtual systems. 

I feel software and our abilities with it, have advanced sufficiently to make online simulations and models in which you can test ideas and investigate complex processes within the body. 

Problem is I can't find any open source work that's already done even the basics. People just don't seem to think about it or believe it's possible.  I want to find out which processes have been replicated such as whether vitamins and minerals and their process of decay has been modelled, metabolism, things like that. I've heard lots of useful things that have been modelled that I'd like to use. I want to look at how life is existing at the moment. Human life at first. 

The project I'm focusing on at first is focussed on something very simple, easy to deliver, that makes the point that this stuff can be modelled and should be made interactive. I did a course at the ou that had tables showing how quickly vitamins and minerals degrade at certain temperatures and other conditions. From this you can work out how quickly these vitamins degrade in the food you buy and thus figure out the best ways to store and cook them to get the most benefit. 

That's great but none of it's digital data that I can query. So it requires a whole lot of work just to figure out what would happen for one item of food. Yet all this stuff is known and pretty standardised. So I want to model this for just one fruit, probably an apple, at first using web technologies. 

Phase 1:
Create a simple reusable learning object where you see the apple at the point it's picked to the point it's eaten. At the same time you see the nutrient values at that point in time. So you'll see the nutrient values change over time and get an idea of the best time to eat your fruit. You'll be able to pick any point in the time line to see the values at that point. 

Phase 2:
This is where it gets more interactive. Nutrients are affected differently by temperature. I'd add the option to 
select various temperatures at points along the timeline to show the effect on the nutrients of storing the apple at different temperatures and also cooking it.

I've got many ideas of how to take this forward but I'm just focusing on these two phases for now. I believe it's now possible to achieve using just html and javascript which means it can then run on all browsers that can understand these technologies. I also just slowly want to tackle basic problems such as these so that over time I've built up enough libraries to begin refactoring into a more cohesive set of code to describe processes for the human body. 

The key aspects for me are that this should be an open source project so that any contribution made to it is open to others. e.g if alife contributes to it alife gets the reference. I want it open source to encourage collabroration. I don't think I can do it all myself. I just want to spearhead this and spark interest in others. Much like alife is doing. 

I've talked a lot more about my general ideas on my blog. It's a real first draft article at present.  Something I'm building over time.

I believe this would be an innovative way of involving people in the lessons they're learning. I grew up interacting with everything. Particularly in computer games. I learn so much more that way. Current methods of learning are mainly about lecturing. Not engaging and collaborating. So I see it as a way of bringing experimentation and personal discovery back into learning so that we can use our full human potential in the virtual classroom. Look at things from different angles and ask questions directly rather than through a teacher. The teacher becomes much more of a facilitator. Some one who can ask us questions that stimulate us to look at the example in different ways and discover new things.

I think if we did that then we'd find out that our bodies aren't so difficult to understand. That by understanding and applying just a few concepts we'd actually eradicate the majority of major diseases  such as heart disease and osteoporosis. 

There we have it. I've put this idea out there. I'm very excited by it. I've had it in my head for quite a while now. glad to have it down in print.

I've also created a simple stockwatcher example of what's currently possible. I documented how the development process to show how quickly this was achieved.

edit 20100327
It just occurred to me another reason why this approach excites me so much. It enables education to make the next leep in shared educational resources, a market or app store. Yes I know it's the term du jour but the point is not the name it's what it brings. That is all resources in one place under common terms of use. Instead of each teacher or course team having to scour the web for resources and content and having to find terms of use that suit them. Then can instead search one place. Knowing that each app is designed to common standards, I don't mean it all uses the same technology, I mean that each is deliverable over the web and can be either reached directly or embedded as part of a course or suite of tools, in effect it can be white labelled.

To be listed in the app store an app must meet minimum terms such as privacy controls, accessibility standards, browser support, cost. Meeting each standard such as cost or the highest accessibility standards isn't required but each app will be rated according to these standards to enable easy search and classification. Making it easier for those looking for apps to find whaty they need according to their criteria. 

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Video lessons to promote and teach

I've wanted to open my own restaurant for a while. I'll probably not get the chance. Something to do with not be an amazing chef and the hours being too long for a lazy guy like me.

Any who I do wonder about what i'd do to help with the ferocious competition in the restaurant business.
One idea I would love to try is combining my love of teaching with that of cooking and building a restaurant. The details would need working out but essentially I would teach people through the internet how to cook the dishes I'm currently serving in the restaurant.

I'd need a separate room some where off the kitchen for this to keep the kitchen private. The advantage for the restaurant is that this will promote the brand and get people interested in the food we're creating. I wouldn't reveal every trick we use because the meal at our restaurant is created by professionals so there will be extra detail, flavour etc. I feel people who follow the lessons will want to come to the restaurant to see how it's really done. They'll be excited by the menu because they have grown to know it. They've seen it made. Presented and eaten before and now it's their turn.

So I feel it's a way of promoting your concept and creating a new set of customers reusing skills of your everyday life as a cook.

I can see it being profitable if you price the lessons correctly and keep recording and distribution costs minimal. Video cameras are very cheap these days. Do most filming without a cameraman by using a tripod and working in a asmall area. Video editing software is very cheap. Prepare specific scripts in advance. You'll be presenting recipes you currently cook so you're an expert in it already. Distribute via youtube or other free site. Let them do the hard work of promotion for you.

Over time you'll build an array of lessons that can constantly promote you. Once they're created you put no more effort in yet they're promoting you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with little to no further effort on your part.
The best thing you get is a chance for each potential customer to meet the head chef of your restaurant and learn about the attention to detail that goes into every dish on your menu.

This insider knowledge helps your restaurant customers appreciate more about what you do and enjoy their experience further.

To make extra revenue and get to know my customers more i'd then consider doing a live stream of a cooking lesson every so often and also hosting local cooking classes. The cost would increase for each option. Live stream class with perhaps a chance for audience to interact costs more than a youtube video lesson. Class tuition costs even more but you get a chance to meet the chef and team. Personal tuition costs even more but you get more input into the lesson.

Hopefully you'll start to have waiting lists which only serves to promote you further.
Anyway, that's what i'd consider doing if I where running a restaurant now that it's so cheap to do these things. If any one is already doing this I'd love to check it out.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

All In The Mind - 6 March 2010 - Stressed out! The powerful biology of stress

Just.heard this podcast and had to share. it gave me so many insights.  High standing psychologists explained their research.  They showed kinks between stress and tooth decay.  That parts of our brain adjust to cortisol and become more sensitive to stress.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Pranav Mistry: The thrilling potential of SixthSense technology

Just saw a presentation by Pranav Mistry about his amazing invention called sixth sense. Had to record it for reference. He said he'll open source the code and it should cost $350 when released. I just want to know when and where. If it's as good as he says thtem I'm on board.

My expectation though is that it won't reach consumer grade for several years.