Tech for Creativity

Some of you may be aware that I have spent a good part of the last week in the air, about 27,000 miles as near as I can calculate, from Raleigh to Calgary, to New York, to Brisbane, to Christchurch, to Melbourn, to Los Angles, to…

Much of it is a dramamine induced blur, but for many enjoyable hours, I illustrated a point made by Kevin Kelly in a recent podcast that I watched. The Author of What Technology Wants, Kelly, like myself, has followed much of the emergence and evolution of personal information and communication technologies — and has had a hand in guiding its use for many people. Among his many contributions was Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World, which was required reading for the principal actors of the film, The Matrix.

I haven’t read What Technology Wants (yet), but it appears to be a cautionary tale. Kelly doesn’t tweet or participate in many of the techs de jour. However, one thing that he said that really stuck with me was that ICT’s power is in it’s providing new avenues for expressing ourselves creatively. As near as I can paraphrase, “We would never have had a Jimi Hendrix without the invention of the electric guitar.”

Rebirth by Propellerhead
Rebirth by Propellerhead
Back to my time in the sky — just before leaving I purchased a new music app for my iPad. I have pages of music apps, most of them mocks of musical instruments, and none of them have captured much of my attention. I’m not a very good musician. The exception was Propellerhead’s Rebirth (see right), which resembes no instrument I’ve ever actually played. ..and so, even that was not all that much fun. I did complete one project (Shangri La) and upload it to my Sound Cloud.

My new toy is MusicStudio, “..the only complete music production environment for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad” to quote the developers, and they’re not off the mark. It gives me access to a number of instruments (with more purchasable sounds), a virtual piano keyboard to perform and record from, audio effects devices, and a piano-roll style track system (see left) for fine tuning. This is where I spent my time, copying and pasting, dragging, and editing those little dots and dashes that represent individual musical notes.

Continuing the music work with Logic Express 8 on my office computer

I often demonstrate this process in some of my talks as an example of working numbers to accomplish goals — working the numbers embedded in digital sound. But doing music like this has always required me to break out some fairly sophisticated software, sit at a desk, with mouse, and sometimes an attached musical keyboard. Now, I can do it from a flat surface (iPad) that I can carry in a shoulder bag, sitting at the park or in an airline seat. (demo here)

Here are the results of my 50+ hours in the air! Because Brenda likes it, I am now refining the work using Logic, a more professional music editing tool. But this is the version done exclusively on the iPad.
Brenda’s Song by dwarlick

Sorry for the self-indulgence, but, you know, I’m getting old enough to not have to apologize for it.

Engagement v. Empowerment — continued thoughts (part 2)

If you haven’t already, it is best if you read part 1, first.

I think that what has haunted me about Chris Lehmann’s recent blog post on engagement and empowerment is that the two terms seem related to each other in some logical and almost mathematically way.  But it was like completing a puzzle that is bigger than the only two pieces we have sitting in front of us.  So, as is often the case, I wake up early, on the morning I’m to take off for somewhere (Fort Collins, CO [-14f]) with visions of stuff yet to be done.  And then, my attention shifts to meandering thoughts about Chris’ post.

So I thought I would take this opportunity, early hours of the morning, to map this out and explain it to myself, as a way of processing the parts of the puzzle.  Without belaboring the point, here’s what I came up with, at 3:30 AM:

Now that I look at it, written out, it seems a bit ridiculous.  But let’s play this out.  I can always decide not to post this.

What got me going was that when I think of the way that we seem to talk about engagement and even empowerment, It seems to be something that we want to apply to our students or infect them with.  A more worthy conversation might be to clarify that, which is our over-riding goal — at the heart of every talk I’ve ever had with Chris Lehmann

I express it as E(V), just because I couldn’t think of a better way. The E is for enrichment — another frequent term used in teaching (enriching the curriculum). But in trying to go beyond mere learning, as the goal, it seemed more useful (at 3:30 in the morning) to want our students to be and to feel enriched by that learning. The relationships between the elements of V still seem a bit fuzzy to me, but essentially, it’s New Knowledge and/or (with/without) New Skills equals Value. To feel enriched, the learner needs to feel more valuable in some way to himself, to others, to his environment, than he did before.

Now for the more complicated part.  The elements are:

  • for reference

    IS — started out being just I, for information.  But what’s necessary is an information system, such as a textbook or other packaged instructional materials.  Of course, what is far more relevant today is a socially moderated hypertext environment, such as the World Wide Web or some subset.

  • S — stands for skills: reading skills, reasoning skills, mathematical skills, technological skills, etc.
  • R1 — I ended up with two Rs so I needed an R1 and an R2.  R1 is one of several effects of teacher facilitation.  It’s resourcefulness.  When we do not provide all of the information or even all of the skills necessary for the experience, then we expect the learners to be resourceful in their work.
  • SM — is another creativity-stimulating effect of teacher facilitation.  It’s simple.  Teacher says to the learner, “Surprise Me.”  We shouldn’t want the same thing from every learner.  We should not standardize our expectations.  It is a disservice to them and their future.  We should expect to be surprised.
  • R2 — notches everything up exponentially.  It’s Responsibility.  Feeling responsible to the teacher — well that’s like two to the power of one, and what’s the real point of that?  When the learner feels responsible to himself, that ramps the action up a bit.  But if the learner feels responsible to classmates, or teammates (carrying Chris’ empowering coach metaphor a little further), or some other audience, customer, or community, then we’re starting to multiply the action of learning, times itself — again and again.

So, I’m saying that learner enrichment (newly gained value from newly gained knowledge and/or skills), and its artifacts, result from working accessible information with attained or attainable skills, applying resourcefulness and a whimsical desire to surprise, all to affect somebody in some value-adding way.

If this still makes sense at 9:30, at the airport, then I’ll post it.

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Engagement v. Empowerment — continuing thoughts (part 1)

Go Ahead, by Xavier Donat ((Donat, Xavier. “Go Ahead.” Flickr. 10 May 2009. Web. 8 Jan 2010. <>.))

I’m with Chris Lehmann concerning his sense of discomfort over our recent near obsession with “engagement.”  He says, in a December 27 blog post (Engagement v. Empowerment…) that

“..first and perhaps most disconcerting, is that engagement too often got translated to ‘fun.'”

I agree with Chris that we’re going to lose that battle — and it’s the wrong battle.  We have invaded childhood enough already, and venerating their hyper-connected, hyper-transparent culture as something we need to replicate in our classrooms results in a creepy tree house effect — which just makes us look foolish.

We want our children to learn and we tend to believe that if we see more engagement in them, then we will see more effective and perhaps more relevant learning.  This is possibly true, though I can’t help but feel that the formula that ignites these results is far more complex.  I pulled up the little dictionary app from my dock and read through the definitions of engage in its various forms, and nothing magical jumped out at me.  In fact, most of the definitions seemed to treat the word from the observers’ point of view — we see another person occupied, unavailable, attracted, involved, employed, or having agreed to marry.

Engagement is the learner acting to learning.

Empowerment feels better to Chris, as it does to me.  I see us contributing more to the actions of learning when we empower learners than when we engage them.  It seems easier to facilitate as well.  Lehmann says,

..that in the end, (empowerment) is the word — the idea — that sets us up for a more student-centered classroom because it is about what the students get from the experience once the class is done, not what happens during the class.

What my mind’s eye sees, when I think of empowered learners is that “ is about what the students are able to do to get (some gain) from the experience once the class is done.”  If students are empowered, as learners, to accomplish learning goals, instead of its being done to them, then fun simply stops being a factor.  Chris writes about the empowering coach who is going to put the team through un-fun and sometimes grueling drills so that they will play their best basketball.  The drill for skills and endurance is work and it feels like work — and, “It’s o.k.” says Lehmann.

..we have to understand that school is work… but that it can be meaningful, powerful, empowering (and even engaging) work.

But my notice that the definitions of engage seemed to be from the observer’s perspective applies here.  The learning experience needs to be meaningful, powerful, and empowering to the learner.  It is not something we should try to see or do, but something the learner should feel.  It’s what fuels the work that enriches the learner in some self-realizing way.

I’m incredibly engaged by my work.  I’m incredibly lucky, that way (see “U.S. Job Satisfaction at Lowest Level in Two Decades“).  And much of my work is fun, though that’s not important.  Fun can’t really be measured or handed out. What engages me is success, and what enables that success is empowerment (appropriate resources & tools), and what is fun is when my imagination is empowered to make success more certain and more interesting.  ..but that’s me.

I just did a Twitter search for “fun” and before I’d read the first two tweets, that little yellow refresh notifier popped up, telling me that there were 63 more tweets with “fun,” then 132, then 349.  Maybe we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of fun.

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All Those Moments

Future Search from Petitinvention

From a July 2008 blog post on petitinvention about visual information search in the future.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the darkness at Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die. ((Fancher, Hampton, and David Webb Peoples, Script. Blade Runner. Dir. Ridley Scott.” Perf. Hauer, Rutger. 1982, Film.))

Blade Runner, 1982


Some times I feel like Roy, the dying replicant (robot), lamenting the loss of one soul’s experiences — what sites he’s seen. We’ve been witness to some pretty amazing sites in just the last few years, and they have been both tumultuous and exhilarating.

We have been a part of a dizzying array of advances — and yet, change has been just slow enough that we do not see it nor do we think that much about it — amongst our every day endeavors. Of course, this paradox shouldn’t surprise us considering that as my country works hard to overhaul its healthcare system, and the world grapples in Copenhagen, to rein in global warming, what holds our attention is the infidelities of a professional golfer.

That said, I feel it is important that we, during this holiday season, be reminded that in the year 2000

  • You were probably still running Windows 98 on your PC, or OS 8 or 9 on your Mac — on which you were still using Hypercard.
  • If you used a laptop, you had to plug it into the Internet — and often through a telephone.
  • E-mail was still THE killer app because there was no MySpace.
  • To twitter was “to make high-pitched sounds, as of birds.”
  • There was no Firefox, no Flickr, and no Facebook.
  • The hottest thing going was Napster and the hottest MP3 player was the RIO, from Diamond Multimedia, with 32Mb of audio storage to brag about.  (that’s 1/2000 that of today’s iPod Touch)
  • Some of what’s happened since 2000 has not been that noticeable, such as genetically engineered corn and applications of nanotechnology.
  • Some of it, we should have noticed more, such as our exploration of the Saturnian system, and skid marks left on the surface of Mars — and most of our textbooks still call Pluto a planet.
  • The software that you used came in a box with a paper manual — and you most likely paid for it.
  • PDAs had a stylus.
  • No one had a Blackberry or iPhone, and
  • If you owned a mobile phone — it was just a phone.
  • You weren’t blogging and if you maintained a web page, it was with Dreamweaver or Microsoft Frontpage.
  • ISTE was NECC and NECC was in Atlanta, and we don’t know what was hot, because we weren’t blogging it.
  • We were not worried about China and India, and we’d just gotten through Y2K with hardly a hitch — thanks to people from China and India.
  • Yahoo! looked like this

    Yahoo in 2000

  • looked like this in 2000

  • My web site looked like this

    Landmarks for Schools in 2000

  • ..and Google pretty much looked the same that it does now.
  • Wireless Internet, iPhones, and traffic-displaying GPS would, to many, have seemed “indistinguishable from magic.”

    What, that we would call astounding (magical) today, may we take for granted ten years from now — and how prepared will the students attending our classrooms today be for that future?

  • If you were teaching in 2000, then you remember a sense of professional pride, which has been stripped away for political gain.

    In 2000, society’s most critical endeavor, education, had not yet been usurped by amateurs in Washington, and driven decades in the wrong direction by people who saw no further than the industry-modeled classrooms they’d attended decades ago.

What will 2010 bring? In the next few days, I’ll tell you…

About My New Header

Personas sifts through references and through a natural language process, characterizes netizens with your name.

I pulled it out of a Twitter message that linked to Personas, a project of the MIT Media Lab.

Personas is a component of the Metropath(ologies) exhibit, currently on display at the MIT Museum by the Sociable Media Group from the MIT Media Lab. It uses sophisticated natural language processing and the Internet to create a data portrait of one’s aggregated online identity. In short, Personas shows you how the Internet sees you.

The header is, in a sense, the DNA of my network foot print.  It’s not foolproof, by any means.  When I type in “David Warlick,” it sniffs out all reachable references to any David Warlick.  So I had to take a little time to digitally delete all indications of outstanding felony warrants and references to that black sheep branch of the family who were loyalists during that unpleasantness between the colony of North Carolina and Great Britain.

As Personas reports…

In a world where fortunes are sought through data-mining vast information repositories, the computer is our indispensable but far from infallible assistant. Personas demonstrates the computer’s uncanny insights and its inadvertent errors, such as the mischaracterizations caused by the inability to separate data from multiple owners of the same name. It is meant for the viewer to reflect on our current and future world, where digital histories are as important if not more important than oral histories, and computational methods of condensing our digital traces are opaque and socially ignorant.

Added on April 8, 2010

I recomputed my persona today, copied it as an image, replaced “david warlick” with “david warlick” in a font I could replicated, added in “2¢ Worth” in the same font, and then installed it as the new header of my blog, with absolutely no other refinements or deletions.  This is my digital networked foot print combined with everyone else out there who used “david warlick” as their name.  The networked world is messy, because we are messy — because we like it that way…

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An Interesting Picture

Trains are so unpredictable in the South.  My understanding is that the freight lines own the tracks.  So if a freight train comes through, it has the right-of-way, and the passenger trains must move to a side rail and wait.  We were six minutes late leaving Raleigh and nearly two-and-a-half hours late arriving in Washington.  No complaints, though.  Flying could have been worse, and I was much MUCH more comfortable.  Business class — sixty-two bucks.

Serendiptously capture Fawn
Click the Image to Enlarge

I mostly worked and took pictures out the window, and here’s an interesting one.  In northern Virginia, the tracks were bordered by marshes, topped with fresh green lily pads.  I took lots of shots, trying to get a good one, and if you look at the bottom and slightly right of center on this one, you’ll see that I captured a fawn.  Not all that unusual.  We see them in our back yard at home near the middle of the city.  But it was one of those iPhoto surprises.

Another surprise was the fairly intense rain (and hail) storm that decided to erupt as I got (walking) a half-mile from the hotel.  Fortunately, I got under an awning with my luggage.  Unfortunately, it was with about six panhandlers.  But after I ran out of quarters, we settled back and enjoyed the occasion.

But I’m here now — and EduBloggerCon starts in just a couple of hours.

Also, I’m trying a web-based blog editor called WriteToMyBlog.  You can see if it works…

“information Architecture and Classical Music”

Zoö Keating is my new hero.  I just can’t leave this music alone.  I’ve been listening to this for hours and am intrigued by the multiple talents of this woman.  And Yes!  She’s another Canadian…

Zoö Keating makes entrancing, hauntingly beautiful music using a traditional French cello, a MacBook, and an arsenal of audio-crunching software and scripts.

She’s one of a growing group of musicians who use computers to record snippets of music as they play. The computer records these snippets and then plays them back in loops, allowing Keating to create complex, layered compositions. ((Tweney, Dylan F.. “Avant-garde Cellist Zoe Keating.” [Weblog Gadget Lab] 4 May 2009. Web.5 May 2009. <>. ))


“My music is the fusion of information architecture and classical music,” Keating says in this video. “The way that you problem-solve in the world of technology … really lends itself to problem-solving with the kind of music that I do.”

Added Later, Keating at the San Francisco Airport
Zoe Keating at the San Francisco Airport

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So Little Time

You can tell when your hotel is in the shadier part of town when the safe is sitting right out in your room.

So many blog articles in the hopper, and so little time. 

I’m sitting in a hotel near the Philadelphia Airport, from where I’ll fly to Toronto later today.  But I’m hold up here working on an article that I’d thought was finished.  It’s always the case, you agree to write an article.  It seems like a no-brainer, you write it up, send it in, and it comes back to haunt you.

“Would you expand on this?” “More detail here?” “We’d love it if you could add this idea?”   I’m not really complaining, because it always — ALWAYS — makes it a better article. 

But time is precious!

..and deadlines are loom like a — well I’m currently reading a book about the French Revolution, so you can imagine my imagery!

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This is a What?

Click Photo to Enlarge

I was just downloading a few weeks worth of photos from my pocket and DSLR cameras (here), and I ran across this photo I has someone take of my holding an LCD projector.  It is made by Dell, if memory serves me, and will almost fit in my back pocket.  They were giving them away for door prizes at the conference I was working.

This sort of thing would likely not serve me well with larger audiences, because it only issues 400 screen lumens.  It seems to be intended more for boardrooms, or for watching movies on the wall of my darkened hotel rooms.

I want one!

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Eco-games for Kids

I leave today for an eight-day tour that has me in Richmond, Lynchburg, suburban Boston, New York, and those are the ones I remember. What’s remarkable is that I do not get on a plane until the last day.  Cars, trains, cabs, subways — I love it.

I wanted to add this one thing to my blog before I get back to the one remaining writing deadline I’m struggling with and starting to plan the brand new keynote I’ve promised for the 1:1 conference in Pennsylvania week after next. 

I was scanning through USAToday on my phone and found this article, Eco-games help kids to do good.

The first of three described is “The Greens.”  Created by WGBH and partly funded by National Geographic Educational Foundation, the site offers 11 episodes (webisodes), “..short video stories -that cover a wide variety of issues about living ‘green.’

Featuring cousins Izz and Dex, the site presents real-life eco issues through the eyes of these hip teens. In the most recent episode called That’s a Wrap, Dex unwraps a large present with numerous smaller boxes inside to discover that the sender has given him a small notecard stating that a tree has been planted in his honor. Wryly, Dex notes: “But you have probably used a whole tree with all these boxes and wrapping paper.”

Time to get back to work, but look at the article and check out the other two games, “Elf Island,” a virtual world where the player is an elf and “Emerald Island,” another virtual world entered as animals.