December 31, 2007

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have a similar thorn in their sides.

For Mr. Obama, adversaries and the media -- even those who really ought to be his philosophical and political supporters -- have tried to tell his story, in third-person narration, with him in either the role of the black African-American candidate, or the under-experienced candidate.

But Mr. Obama has done well time and again taking back the telling of his story, narrating in the first person and casting himself as he really is: a candidate competing in the Democratic presidential primary with equivalent experience as the current front runner, Hilary Clinton.

He's a loyal American who loves his country, reveres the Constitution. Mr. Obama is leading an exemplary life of preparation, professional achievement, faith, selfless service and fidelity to his family.

I like that. Both his attribute set and his will to tell his story on his terms.

And isn't Mr. Romney doing the same thing? The media and his adversaries narrate his story casting with him in the part of the Mormon candidate or the candidate who has flip-flopped on some opinions.

Mr. Romney narrates his story as he really is: a candidate seeking the Republican presidential nomination who has changed his opinion and several topics -- changed his opinion with no more frequency or no greater significance than any other national candidate that I am aware of.

Like Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney also has fealty to America and the principles of governance upon which our polity is founded. Mr. Romney has an admirable life of preparation, professional excellence, faith, service and devotion to his family.

At this point for Mr. Obama, the finger pointing for being under-experience has eclipsed being identified by race. Mr. Romney is still pushed and shoved by those who incessantly call him the Mormon candidate who has changed his mind.

I admire and respect Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney for having the will to tell their respective stories in the first person and on their terms, and the composure to skirt questions that would allow others to stick an inaccurate label on them.

(In as much as effective marketing is defined as truthful, genuine story telling, Seth Godin nominated Ron Paul and Barack Obama as the marketers of the year for their ability to tell their stories sincerely and persuasively using the New Media. Each has emerged from obscurity to capture a large fraction of the national attention share. I agree with Seth Godin, at least in the political segment. There have been other compelling marketing stories in 2007, however, and Mr. Godin himself ranks in the top 10.)

December 30, 2007

Good Design, Wrong Agenda

Continuing the discussion on "The Third School," Dr. P shared some thoughts about the places children learn.

"My sister is an architect, and we have had an ongoing discussion for the last six or seven years about learning spaces. Our central thesis is that most learning spaces are not necessarily poorly designed, they seem to be designed in order to promote or advocate an industrial form of teaching. So, in fact, they are designed well -- they are just supporting the wrong agenda.

"Point One

"Classrooms from K thru College are designed to support the role of the teacher as the disseminator of knowledge and information. Everything, including the chairs, is designed to focus student attention in a linear fashion, like a laser beam to the place in the room where the authority operates.

"Some teachers (especially kindergarten teachers) instinctually try to subvert this, but it's hard because our tools (chalk board, white board, multi media cart) all demand linear focus and attention. This creates spaces of resistance in a classroom and spaces of orthodoxy (i.e. the front row and the back row). The desirability (or
detestability) of these spaces reinforces certain kinds of behavior.

"The circle or organic arrangement of the classroom isn't promoted in architecture or furniture design.

"Point Two

"Desk and chair design doesn't promote working in pairs or teams. This is more true of the upper grades and higher education. I'll focus on higher education, because that's what I am most familiar with. The standard desk in a college has room for little more than a letter sized spiral bound note book. It is nearly impossible to have both a
book and and a note pad open and available for use.

"Point Three

"Sitting in a chair is the default position. Innumerable studies have shown that chair sitting is really hard on the body and doesn't promote engaged thinking.

"In any case, it's interesting how the space is a teacher, and it often times works against the students. 'Hey teacher, leave those kids alone.'"

December 29, 2007

"The Third Teacher"

Whenever I have taught or presented, I have wanted to understand my environment and control it, where possible, or at least adjust it to make it more conducive to learning and communication. I'm not talking about whether there's an internet connection or if the video driver in my laptop is compatible with the projector -- though those surely are important in some cases.

I'm referring to the physical attributes of the space we are in, the seats, the walls, the height of the ceiling, windows or no, ingress and egress in relation to the students / listeners and in relation to me, acoustics, ambient temperature, lighting, flooring, odors, and so on.

No, really.

I believe, and have for many years, that the physical environment is huge. I was at a meeting in Tokyo where about 800 church members met in the only space they could find large enough for their numbers. The space was a city auditorium with a capacity of 3,000 or so (my guess). The man who presided over and conducted the meeting repeatedly urged his fellow congregates to not allow the size of the hall to "defeat them." "Makanaide shinasai." "Kono kaikan no okii-sa ni makanaide onegai shimasu." "Makanaide kudasai."

The physical environment was a problem.

Around 1989, I went to UC Santa Barbara's basketball arena to listen to Bishop Desmond Tutu speak. He was passionately opposed to the Reagan administration's international policies toward South Africa. The space was packed. The energy was measured in megawatts. The anticipated impact was high amperage. The Bishop's accented speech echoed harshly against the hard surfaces of polished wood, painted steel, concrete walls, and hard plastic seats. It was simply overwhelmingly difficult to hear Tutu's words.

Great space. Great crowd. Great anticipation. Poor acoustics.

The songs, facts, experiments and methodologies I learned in sixth grade at science camp have remained with me some 35 years removed. Well, sure, counselor Sunshine was beautiful and her counterpart, Moonbeam was way cool, so they had my attention. But I have thought there was more. The five days of night hikes, day expeditions and classroom learning in the outdoors of the Los Padres National Forest above Santa Barbara were a welcomed break from the sixth grade room in the faux-adobe school I attended. The physical environment of science camp brought the curriculum to life.

The physical environment, in a building or outdoors, is "The Third Teacher."

Dr. Petersen and Professor Nickerson hosted a group of 24 honors students, mostly from the east coast, for a couple of weeks in May of this year. Through an alliance with the National Parks, they used Bryce National Park as their classroom. At least one of the students had never been outside of a large city (he was from Brooklyn, I believe). They camped and they learned. I guess it was a week at Bryce Canyon and a week at Southern Utah University. I''m vague on the facts. I am clear, however, on the passion of the professors when they told me about it. And their passion was in part a reflection of the passion and excitement for learning their visiting honor students demonstrated.

"The Third Teacher" is a book project by Bruce Mau Design, OWP/P Architects, and VS International. From their fact sheet:

Working title » The Third Teacher
Subject hook » A child’s ability to learn is influenced by the physical elements of the learning environment.
Author’s authority on subject » VS has been designing and manufacturing furniture for schools for 100 years; OWP/P has been designing and renovating school buildings for 50 years; BMD has been designing books and change for 20 years.

Dr. P and Professor Nickerson ought to contribute to the project. Here's how (again, from the fact sheet):

Want to Contribute?
If you have a spark – a story, a study, a statistic, a project, or an insight about environment and learning – to contribute to our book, or if you would like to support our undertaking in some other way, we would like to hear from you. Please contact one of the book collaborators listed below.

Elizabeth Han
111 West Washington
Suite 2100
Chicago, IL 60602
T: 312.960.8161
ehan at owpp dot com

Christine DeBrot
VS America
7368 Hyde Park Road
Whitehall, MI 49461
T: 231.893.3977
c.debrot at vs-furniture dot com

Bruce Mau Design, Inc.

Elva Rubio
36 S. Wabash Ave
Rm. 1226
Chicago, IL 60603
rubio at brucemaudesign dot com

Social Objects

I've received comments and queries about the concept of social objects referenced in my post "Teen Creating Online Content." I attributed the phrase to High MacLeod. A more accurate attribution is that Hugh is a proponent of the concept and master practitioner of using social gestures to create social objects in marketing his clients' products or services. See this and this, where Hugh discusses social objects.

Hugh got the phrase from Jaiku's Jyri Engestrom.

The idea of social object scales from a weekly gathering of a few neighbors tying quilts at the local church, encompasses Web 2.0 marketing and capturing attention share, and applies to education and pedagogy, as Dr. P has said.

Be careful.

The approach to the creation of a sustainable social object ought to be oblique, patient, natural, unforced, without compulsion. Yes, you could use the word viral, but let's not. The gestures made within or toward a particular society (e.g., the quilting bee, the nursing home in Iowa, the set containing patrons of Trader Joe's, teens who are home-schooled or in independent study programs, drinkers of uniquely labeled wine that has an interesting story, or university honors students) must be genuine, honest, sincere.

The idea of social objects respects the intelligence and independence of a society's constituents.

A marketer or teacher or leader or peer makes social gestures; the society accepts or rejects or is ambivalent. Emergence of a social object is subject therefore to lassie-faire dynamics.

December 28, 2007

Teens Creating Online Content

Last week the Pew "Internet & American Life Project" published a report on teens and social media. The summary alone is worth reading. Here's an excerpt:

Content creation by teenagers continues to grow, with 64% of online teenagers ages 12 to 17 engaging in at least one type of content creation, up from 57% of online teens in 2004.

Girls continue to dominate most elements of content creation. Some 35% of all teen girls blog, compared with 20% of online boys, and 54% of wired girls post photos online compared with 40% of online boys. Boys, however, do dominate one area - posting of video content online. Online teen boys are nearly twice as likely as online girls (19% vs. 10%) to have posted a video online somewhere where someone else could see it.

Pew / Interet also finds that teen-created online content spark "conversations." In other words, to use Hugh MacLeod's term, an online artifact becomes a "social object" around which sociality grows. [Clarification on the origins of the phrase "social object."]

Teens uploading creative work to YouTube is a large subset of the content creation reported by Pew / Internet.

Here's an example. Last night, my daughter's boyfriend (she an education major, he a masters of accountancy student) showed us videos his high schooler brother and friends are producing. They call themselves Order 66 Productions. This one is 10 minutes long. I liked it.

December 26, 2007

Reaching an Audience

Thanks to Todd for pointing me to this Wired article about music distribution.

From the article:

What is called the music business today, however, is not the business of producing music. At some point it became the business of selling CDs in plastic cases, and that business will soon be over. But that's not bad news for music, and it's certainly not bad news for musicians. Indeed, with all the ways to reach an audience, there have never been more opportunities for artists. [Emphasis is mine.]

Concerning "reaching an audience," refer to my post about attention share. Artists and marketers seek an audience. So do educators.

December 23, 2007

December 22, 2007

19 20 21

In AD 1000, the largest city in the world was Cordova, Spain, pop. 450,000; No. 2 was Kaifeng, China: 400,000. This according to

More from 192021:
AD 1500 - No. 1: Beijing, China, pop. 672,000; No. 2: Vijayanagar, India, pop. 500,000.
AD 1800 - No. 1: Beijing, pop 1.1MM; No. 2: London, UK, pop. 861,000.
AD 1900 - No. 1: London, pop. 6.48MM (what an increase!); No. 2: New York City, NY, pop. 4.24MM.
AD 1950 - No. 1: New York City, pop. 12.46MM; London, 8.86MM.
AD 2005 - No. 1: Tokyo, Japan, pop. 35.19MM; No. 2: Mexico City, Mexico, pop. 19.40MM.

Doesn't California have 35MM people? And Tokyo has the same population? I lived in Tokyo in the early 1980s. I was born and raised in California. Didn't realize I was one caput or capitulum in roughly the same population, just different density per square mile.

The premise of is that currently half of the world population lives in cities -- big cities. Thus, increasing the world is increasingly seen, not as a group of countries/nations, but rather as a network of major cities. The claim is that by 2050, it is expected that 66% of world population will live in cities. The flight from rural to urban that began in the United States during the industrial revolution, has gained momentum across other continents.

According to Wikipedia, the 20th largest cities are... Mind boggling.

And here I am writing this in a rural county in a city of about 28,000 people, that is part of a state which is united by a federal government.

Will the day come when the economic and social intercourse between mega-cities trump my value or import as a citizen of a sovereign nation? Interaction and interdependency already slant the policies and actions of presidents and prime ministers. Being practical, expedient, strategic.

In the U.S., a contender for the presidency runs solely on the basis of two facts: (1) he was mayor of one of the world's mega-cities and (2) he was mayor of the same city on 9/11.

December 21, 2007

"Attention Share"

In the days when three national TV networks presided over the nation's attention with their broadcasts, audiences were huge. Mass Market. Multiple millions. Now, of course, cable and satellite services have captured the attention of enough people to be profitable, at least in the aggregate.

The same mass market business model controlled the distribution of music: artists were at the mercy of record labels and radio stations.

Content providers on the internet have gained -- and are gaining -- significant "attention share," and this emergence is analogous to the emergence of cable services.

At first, Web 1.0 adopted the old mass market paradigm. Survivors of that era are Amazon, Yahoo!, Google, eBay, and other web sites that measure their "attention share" in the multiple millions.

And in web 2.0, Myspace, Facebook and YouTube can claim attention share in the millions.

The egalitarianism of the internet has diminished the need of a mass market.

A pre-internet example of operating nationally but well under mass market scale, are industry-specific magazines and trade journals. Publishers can have circulation of 20,000 to 40,000 and be profitable from advertising revenue and subscription fees.

In the world of blogs and retail web sites, mass market "attention share," Amazon-level flows and eBay-esque reach are not needed. A subscriber base of 40,000 and traffic measured in the hundreds of thousands are sufficient.

That's part of the good Web 2.0 has wrought. Yes, yes. Large scale has flourished under the Web 2.0 social network revolution -- or fad. After all, some social networks are becoming spam havens.

The great discovery for me is that a blog or a web site does not need huge numbers compared to the giants; and yet, compared to BW2 (Before Web 2.0), enjoys the reality and further possibility of broader reach than could ever be imagined.

Example: I read that Ze Frank had some 47,000 subscribers to his daily "blog-cast" The Show. Ze Frank controls his world, his content, his art. He's beholden to no one. I consider his attention share of 47,000 to be awesome.

Another example: BW2, a university literary journal would print, say, two editions a year and circulate 1,000 copies and feel self-satisfied. This year, a university student wrote a piece of short fiction, recorded a podcast of it, and in a couple of days, her reading had over 20,000 downloads. Wow! Which is better, having her piece published in a printed literary journal with an attention share of 1,000, or reaching an attention share of 20,000?

Just asking.

There is merit in editorial discretion, sifting through submissions, publishing works of fiction under a banner of well-deserved and broadly recognized good reputation.

Then again, their is merit in an artist creating art and getting it in front of many people.

I'm in awe of the sheer abundance of "stuff" and the Grecian democratic forces (not market forces, but the forces of the polity) that push and pull art and artifact. The attention of 10,000 people on my work? I'd take that.

How about 1,200? Or 57,000? It could swell to 1MM or more in an internet flash. But who needs an attention share of 1MM, when I can have an attention share of 5,000, which is 100 fold greater than I could have hoped BW2?

Over the course of the long tail, their can be an accumulation of large numbers of "attention units" and "moments of interest" and "ergs of momentum."

At the end of the day, "Hey, listen to this!" "You got to read this?" "I want you to see this!" are the shout outs an artists or a marketer wants to hear. In the era of Web 2.0, I believe attention share is easier to gain than ever before.

(cf. "Reaching an Audience."

December 20, 2007

PAM Conference

On November 15, SUU honor students held a PAM -- Passion Academics Media -- Conference as the culmination of the fall 2007 honors 4020 class, which used TED Talks as the "text." You really need to see the background on PAM Talks. Thank you TED.

Todd Petersen and Matt Nickerson created this trailer of the Conference talks. What an awesome final exam: each student gave a seven minute PAM talk.

December 19, 2007

Baby Names

The year of my birth in California, Dennis was the 32nd most popular name for baby boys. Hey, I made the top 100. Check out where your name ranked the year you were born.

From 1907 through 1961, the most popular baby girl name was Mary. Check out Top 5 Names for Births in 1907-2006.

(Samples taken from social security card applications, which were fairly rare before the FDR years.)

Top 10 Baby Names in 2006

1 Emily
2 Emma
3 Madison
4 Isabella
5 Ava
6 Abigail
7 Olivia
8 Hannah
9 Sophia
10 Samantha

1 Jacob
2 Michael
3 Joshua
4 Ethan
5 Matthew
6 Daniel
7 Christopher
8 Andrew
9 Anthony
10 William

Future of Home Tech

This clip of a 1960s industrial documentary is getting around. Predicting home life in 1999...

December 18, 2007

25th Anniversary Today

Kim and I married December 18, 1982, in the Los Angeles temple. Our reception was in our home town, Santa Maria, California.

Honeymoon: First night, Cambria, which is just north on Morro Bay on Highway 1; Second & third nights, a cabin in Carmel - we cooked our dinners in the fireplace; Fourth night, camping at Big Sur. We spent just under $300 cash for the entire honeymoon and had about $150 in our pockets when we returned home.

Andrew was born September 24, 1983. Hmmm. Yes, folks were counting months to see when he was conceived. The other children are: Ashlee, 1984; Matthew, 1985; Kayla, 1987; Amber, 1988; Whitney, 1991; and Alison, 1993.

Here's a long and eloquent Irish toast to Kim!

December 17, 2007

Continuous Partial Attention

At supper, at dinner, at breakfast, in the car... whenever and wherever I'm prompted, I talk with my family about the fallacy of multitasking. Prompts are frequent: every moment our time together is interrupted by IMs or text messages, etc.

I've watched a lot of employees get four hours of work done in an 8-hour day.

I've been preaching that multitasking works only for trivial or "muscle memory" activities. Chewing gum, listening to the radio and driving, for example. Or talking on the phone, cooking dinner and keeping an eye on the kids.

But multitasking is an erroneous concept for higher functions. Changing tasks shuts down one process and boots up another process. Returning to the first process requires a reboot, or at the very least a warm reboot.

Linda Stone is the mother of the wonderfully descriptive term "continuous partial attention." Check here and here for others' perspectives on this concept.

Walter Kirn's "The Autumn of the Multitaskers" was published in the November 2007 The Atlantic Monthly. Kirn gives evidence that

"Neuroscience is confirming what we all suspect: Multitasking is dumbing us down and driving us crazy."
Matt Nickerson and Todd Petersen live this stuff daily with their students. So, Parents, check out their list. The links are must reading. And students, you check out this site. The links are must reading.

Someone in Iraq

I suppose we all have friends with a son -- or someone -- in Iraq.

Here's a toast to Jay and Dee Baumgardner, their son, Grant, and Grant's wife, Soquel:

Dee sent me this photo and note:

"This is a picture of our son, Grant, who is in Iraq in the town of Kirkuk. He is the second from the left. It is about 50 miles north of Bagdad. They are making a purchase from the man in the white shirt. They buy a lot of stuff from the local people there. He said they have to wear full armor whenever they go near the gate. He also said it was only 97 degrees on the day this was taken. It was supposed to start cooling off pretty soon. Dee"

Scale of the Internet

I am writing a story based on the photo at the head of this page. The photograph is titled "Smells Like Rain." An idea sprung from the photo and its title. I naturally decided that the novel would be titled "Smells Like Rain." Next decision: make the title of my blog "Smells Like Rain."

Then the problem. There are other blogs using the same title, or variations of it.

With an estimated 60 million blogs the chances of name repetition are fairly high. Even my name, Dennis Freire, while always unique in every place I've lived, is repeated many times in the world. Before the Google, my naive conceit had been that I was the only person with that name.

The scale of the internet is vast. So many content consumers. So many content providers. But the beauty of web 2.0 is that the internet is no bigger than your usage. If a blogger has 200 subscribers or 50,000 subscribers -- both numbers fractions of fractions of the "internet" -- that would be a nice readership.

December 15, 2007

Manga Mania

When I lived in Japan the power of manga hit me when a best selling manga among adults was about "Reagan-nomics." NPR's On The Media aptly described manga as "a kind of comic book equivalent that illustrates everything from tax preparation to hard-core fantasy."

Bianca Bosker wrote about "manga mania" in the Wall Street Journal.

Check it out. Now Audi has a manga display ad.

December 14, 2007

Baroque Busking

The BBC has a primer on busking. Makes it seem so mainstream. The buskers I've watched and listened to have been more maverick... living "off the grid" so to speak... "Stiff Arming Society"

Matt shot this photo of a busker in Germany.

Is she a buskee?

Avala and Place Names

Andrew and Candace are expecting Avala's birth in March 2008.

In 2005, they honeymooned along the central coast of California, where I was born and where Kim and I grew up (Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties), visiting Avila Beach, Morro Bay, Pismo Beach, and Shell Beach. Thus, they named their lab "Pismo" and their developing daughter "Avala" after the Avila Beach. I like it -- it's pretty.

(The altered spelling is intended, I'm told. They may want to Google "Avala" just to be prepared.)

Place names are fascinating.

I like the simple descriptive utility of place names. In the Cedar City, Utah, area, for example, Ashdown Gorge (after the surname of homesteaders), Right Hand Canyon, Coal Creek, Potato Hollow, Duck Creek, Three Peaks, Black Mountain, Long Valley, and so on.

And then I'm curious about the origins and history of other place names: Kanarra Mountain, New Harmony, Scipio, Toquerville, Walter's Wiggles, and the like.

You can delve into place names in the British Isles here.

December 13, 2007


Cool guitar and base amps at


Photos of southern Utah taken in 2006 during Matt's visit home from Germany:


Some photos Matt [freire photography] took in Regensberg, Munich, Prague, Vienna in 2006 and 2007:

December 12, 2007

PAM: Passion. Academics. Media. & Hans Rosling

Matt Nickerson and Todd Petersen created the concept of PAM - Passion. Academics. Media. - as an ideal for their students' final presentations.

They have a "change the world or go home" ethos, similar to Hugh MacLeod, who says, "The idea doesn't have to be big. It just has to change the world."

Dr. Hans Rosling correlates statistics of per capita income, health and reproductive rights in his native Sweden. His presentation GapCast#1: Health, Money & Sexual Rights in Sweden is a fantastic example of a PAM talk.

He's a master teacher.

He uses huge data depositories and his Gapminder software, Flash player and "weatherman green screen" techniques to compare the same stats from other countries over time.

To understand Gapminder, see his 2006 TED talk "Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you've ever seen." (20 minute video)

"New insights on poverty and life around the world" (19 minutes) is his 2007 encore.


Matt Freire created these images:

"Innocence Murdered"

"Imperialism I"

"Imperialism II"

Tyrannical Piety

In his January 7, 2005, review of the movie "Virgin," Roger Ebert wrote:

"Movies can't seem to deal with faith as a positive element in an admirable life, and the only religions taken seriously by Hollywood are the kinds promoted in stores that also sell incense and tarot decks."

Perhaps what Ebert describes is a result of political pendulum swinging of the current day. Each of the three major world belief systems -- Islam, Judaism, and Christianity -- have become backdrops against which brutish men and greedy governments have justified their insidious acts. Rulers have long used religion to sway and control the polity. The historic menace of self-righteousness persists today, in governments and in majorities, in families and in individuals. So, as artistic counterpoint to tyrannical piety, film makers may tend to push the pendulum arm away from neutral depictions of religiosity.

Anyway, to the extent I weary of "Hollywood" storytelling, though, I take solace in fiction. Literature can do what many modern movies indeed have not -- literature can show faith as an important underpinning of a life well lived.

The bishop of Digne and Jean Val Jean of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables are two characters whose actions were shaped positively by faith. Hugo's Javert is a character whose self-righteouness led to his own demise. Javert's zeal distorted his sense of justice and mercy. In his moral rigidity he could not dare imagine continuing his life under the shadow of Jean Val Jean's mercy.

Caution, then, to us all.

Creating Takes Time

Writer William Gibson wrote of himself:

"I did avoid the Internet, but only until the advent of the Web turned it into such a magnificent opportunity to waste time that I could no longer resist. Today I probably spend as much time there as I do anywhere, although the really peculiar thing about me, demographically, is that I probably watch less than twelve hours of television in a given year, and have watched that little since age fifteen. (An individual who watches no television is still a scarcer beast than one who doesn't have an email address.) I have no idea how that happened. It wasn't a decision....

"I suspect I have spent just about exactly as much time actually writing as the average person my age has spent watching television, and that, as much as anything, may be the real secret here."