Canonize: Creating a Personal Canon Template

By | Education, Life, Media | No Comments

I love the idea of the “personal canon”: an encapsulation, in list form, of those things that have most shaped you. A sort of annotated bibliography of influences.

Over the past few years I’ve come across several excellent examples of people using a corner of their personal websites to provide such a snapshot. These range in complexity and number of items included, but all give an intimate sense at the forces that shape a particular mind.

My favorites of these include: Buster Benson’s canon, part of his public Codex Vitae / “Book of Beliefs”. Mandy Brown’s “A Working Library”, a refreshing inhale-exhale of her reading and writing. David Cole’s Personal Canon, the closest model to what I ended up with. And Bret Victor’s “Links 2007” page, an excellent list of books as well as other media items.

Last year I set out to create my own personal canon. I started with a perusal of the disparate lists I’ve kept haphazardly — books I’ve read via Goodreads, favorite articles and websites via Pinboard — and augmented this with some thought and self-research in combing through things in other areas, like music and movies, that have also greatly influenced me. I came up with five categories of material to include: books, media, websites, articles, and ideas. These are somewhat arbitrary, and there’s of course some overlap, but I found most things fell pretty neatly into one of these categories.

I started with a “longlist” of as many items as I could come up with for potential inclusion, which was nearly 250! That’s way too many for one webpage, so I took a pass at whittling it down to a “mediumlist” of more curated favorites, arriving at roughly half the initial number. Finally I played around with organizing / grouping these items, and in the process narrowed my selections down further to a “shortlist” of 80-some items. Ultimately I came up with 10 categories of my interests, each containing 7–9 canon items.

This project was also an excuse for me to actually try using GitHub for a project for the first time. My girlfriend helped with design ideas and creating the icons I used for each of the five item types, and we practiced making commits to a GitHub repo I made. I created an HTML structure for the canon, played around with design until I had a look I was happy with, and then uploaded it to a standalone page on my site. In the back of my mind I thought it could be cool to eventually make this a public template of some sort, but when I launched initially it was really just a project for me.

This year my friend Tom Critchlow asked about the project, mentioning that he was thinking about creating a “/canon” page on his own site. This got me thinking again that it would be fun to write a bit more about the project and flesh out the GitHub repo to make it more useful for someone thinking about making their own canon. I love finding this kind of thing on others’ sites, enjoyed making my own, and think it would be great if more people did something similar — it’s always a great way to both learn about someone on a personal level, and discover a bunch of awesome material for your antilibrary!

Two projects I really like, with similar aims, have helped guide my thinking on this. First is Diana Kimball’s “/mentoring” project, a “distributed mentoring movement” which encouraged people open to being a mentor to post information on their site making explicit how such a relationship might be initiated. The core of it is a simple mission statement articulating its goal, and a template providing structure for how someone could easily fork and adopt it. While Diana is no longer actively working on the project, I’m heartened to see its influence lives on. Second is the “/now” project by Derek Sivers. This started with a blog post encouraging people to post a “now” page on their sites, intended as a more active supplement to the standard website “about” page, to give visitors a concise glimpse into its author’s current focus. This caught on, and Sivers created a directory page that now lists over 1,000 examples of such pages people have made.

I’d love to see something similar with the “/canon” page. The GitHub repository I’ve created for the project, which I’m calling “Canonize”, contains more detail on the process I followed and how to use the files provided. I encourage you to check it out and consider creating your own personal canon and associated webpage. I’m also open to any suggestions for how to make this more useful — feel free to send me an email, or create an issue or pull request on GitHub. And if you create a “/canon” page of your own, please let me know — I’d love to take a look, and perhaps begin to pull together a simple directory list of these, too.

Again, you can check out my personal canon page here!

Surfing the Contrails of the CODEX Hackathon

The true value of a hackathon isn’t the output of a weekend’s work — it’s how the experience changes your perspective.

By | Education, Media, Technology, Writing | No Comments

I recently attended my first ever hackathon — and the effects have lingered in surprising ways.

CODEX, hosted this winter at the MIT Media Lab, has a unique literary bent: it’s billed as a community of folks who want to imagine the future of books and reading.” As someone excited about technology and storytelling, libraries and information, design and education, I found the premise to be right up my alley — a perfect first hackathon if there ever was one.

On my bus ride from NYC to Boston that cold January morning, I thought a bit about what to work on, how to spend my time wisely and make the most of the experience. I didn’t entirely know what to expect.

Looking back on the experience, it wasn’t an unmitigated success according to how I thought hackathons were supposed to work — I didn’t leave with a mind-blowing product built, or an instantly-formed new network. But reflecting further, I did get a lot out of it, in ways I didn’t necessarily expect. Read More

Giving and Taking Shape

Incarnations of a Side Project; Evolution of an Idea

By | Creativity, Education | No Comments

On the incarnations of a side project and evolution of an idea: how I’ve conceived, reconceived and re-reconceived “Antilibraries”.

This is the ongoing story of a project I’m working on, Antilibraries. It’s a look at how such projects can be containers for continued exploration of personal interests that are deeply felt, but also still coming into definition.

It’s a smattering of meditations on how projects slowly change and grow in ways both natural and forced. And it’s my attempt to articulate the unpredictability, the forces of chance, that so often govern the things we make and attempt to nurture.

Note: I just published another post — “Everyone Needs an Antilibrary!” — with more background on this project and why I think antilibraries are important! Read More

Everyone Needs an Antilibrary!

How and Why to Learn from Books Unread

By | Creativity, Education, Reading | One Comment


It’s a strange word; a strange idea.

I first came across it in Black Swan, where Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes Umberto Eco’s massive library of 30,000+ volumes, many of them unread. These unread books, Eco’s antilibrary, embody the potential energy of knowledge, of books and reading and learning. Their value lies not in what they’ve already taught you, but what they’ll lead you to.

I love this idea. It makes me consider all the things I’d like to read and learn more about, and makes tangible how I might get there, slowly converting books from unread to currently-digesting to internalized, always adding more to my shelves as I explore the adjacent possibilities of my interests.

Why You Need an Antilibrary

You probably already have an antilibrary. Whether you have books piling up in corners of your home, or lists of “someday reads”, if you’re anything like me you always have more books in your peripheral vision than you have in front of you or under your belt.

This collection of books you know of, but have not yet read — your antilibrary — is tremendously powerful. It’s a window, a record, a goalpost, a fount of stimulus. It will open doors and take you places, direct and extend your learning.

Here are just a few of the ways thinking about this can be useful: Read More

Field Guide to Phenomenal Creation (Learn Do Share #4)

By | Creativity, Education, Storytelling | No Comments

The following is one of my two contributions to this year’s “Learn Do Share” project—a booksprint designed to document the incredible diy days, using a process of open collaboration, and distill the lessons learned to serve as a resource for anyone interested in applying design thinking, social innovation, storytelling, and collaborative creativity. For more, visit the Learn Do Share and diy days websites, and download Learn Do Share #4 (available as a free PDF). Special thanks to all those who participated, and most of all to Ele Jansen and Jasmine Lyman for directing the booksprint and Lance Weiler for masterminding diy days itself.

Field Guide to Phenomenal Creation

The following is a list of things to keep in mind in creating phenomenal work. Not phenomenal as in “great”—though we, of course, should aspire to that as well—but work guided by the ideals of phenomenology, of creating experiences focused more on audience than object.

Brian Clark talked at length about how, as creators, we must approach our work from the perspective of subjective experience, not simply creating things but creating things for people, to be experienced and processed by conscious individuals. When we direct our creative forces with precision and care, and focus on channeling meaning effectively, we can use “things” and “objects” to guide experience—or eschew objects altogether and create experiences directly.

Read More

Emergent Creators, Emergent Economies (Learn Do Share #4)

By | Creativity, Education, Storytelling | No Comments

The following is one of my two contributions to this year’s “Learn Do Share” project—a booksprint designed to document the incredible diy days, using a process of open collaboration, and distill the lessons learned to serve as a resource for anyone interested in applying design thinking, social innovation, storytelling, and collaborative creativity. For more, visit the Learn Do Share and diy days websites, and download Learn Do Share #4 (available as a free PDF). Special thanks to all those who participated, and most of all to Ele Jansen and Jasmine Lyman for directing the booksprint and Lance Weiler for masterminding diy days itself.

Emergent Creators, Emergent Economies

Emergence is a powerful concept, referring to the capacity of complex systems, composed of individually autonomous entities, to give rise to mass-scale intelligence larger than the sum of its parts. If evolution is the optimization of something over a long period of time, as beneficial characteristics are naturally selected for, emergence is something similar on the systems level, a level of collective intelligences.

Reflecting on the keynotes from this diy days, I gleaned several meta-themes, important threads running through all or many of the big ideas presented. These themes include creative entrepreneurship, innovation, and community-building—but one of the most important I saw was that of emergence. The concept itself is powerful, but its implications—that cooperation, group interaction, and human networks can converge to enable revolutionary systems of creation and transaction—are even more so.

Read More

Twofivesix Conference Notes

By | Creativity, Education, Media, Storytelling, Technology | No Comments

Below are my notes from the Twofivesix conference that took place in Brooklyn a few weeks back. I serendipitously discovered the conference via a tweet the morning of, and luckily was able to watch it via livestream and take notes at home. These notes are fairly comprehensive, though with a couple caveats (I missed the brief introduction at the very beginning so may be missing a bit of the scene-setting and context, and I didn’t identify speakers and attribute each point to a specific person). But this was a fascinating conference, both well-curated and expertly moderated, and I wanted to share what I learned. I hope you find this useful—I know I learned a lot!



May 11, 2013, at the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn


Read More

Learning CS and Entrepreneurship Online: Resources and Tools (Part 3 of 3)

By | Business, Education, Technology | 2 Comments

In the past several months I’ve tried to immerse myself in learning and technology. I’ve thought a lot about various methods and resources for learning, and paid particular attention to the new models constantly being developed and deployed. I’ve tried to take advantage of online resources and information networks wherever I can, and have been constantly amazed by the ubiquity of high-quality content.

I’ve focused in particular on learning some fundamentals of computer science (including basic theoretical precepts and a few of the most common languages like HTML, CSS, and Python) and entrepreneurship (including a grounding in business concepts as well as praxis of starting and running a company). For both, my level of interest and intensity of study have fluctuated, and I realize I’m only beginning to gain a sense of these topics and the various branches and subfields that I continue to find. I find myself hardly grasping the basics of rudimentary CS concepts, but already feel a certain fascination in topics such as data science and web application design; likewise as I read about entrepreneurship I’ve started to develop interests in management, sales and marketing, project management and strategy…the list is ever-expanding.

I feel like I’m still just beginning—while this is post 3/3 in my introductory series on the topic, it seems to me more accurately part three out of hundreds or thousands. But for the time being I have to stop somewhere, and artificially conclude, at least in writing, the “initialization” of my journey.

Read More

Modularity in Education

By | Education, Technology | No Comments

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about knowledge and its organization, distribution, and absorption, particularly in the context of education in the digital age. As I explore the multiverse of online resources for learning, I notice that although each has its own peculiarities, they also more often than not share a number of striking similarities (intentionally or not) in structure, pedagogical framework, and philosophy.


I observe, generally, a certain tension between what we could call “customization/flexibility” and “organization/guidance”, both of which have great uses but neither of which I think fully captures the potential to optimize learning.

On the one hand, sites geared towards “customization/flexibility” are user-reconfigurable and user-explorable to a high degree, allowing for a wide number of individuals with divergent interests and needs to find what they’re looking for. These usually contain a large amount of information, and tout the idea of infinite flexibility—users should be able to find things on demand as needed, with instant accessibility and low switching costs, and not be limited by predetermined constraints. In effect they lean pedagogically agnostic, rarely pretending to know what a user needs but instead preferring to let them forge their own path through the knowledge forest. Examples: Wikipedia, Google.

On the other hand, tools that take “organization/guidance” as their core principles take the beneficent position of structuring content and leading the user on (if all goes according to plan) a best-fit route through a given subject. This can be as specific as a design tutorial or as general as an introductory course on computer science, Spanish, or philosophy. There is a guiding idea of structure and coherence, of things fitting together well, with a clear, preset linear progression for learning and research. The main idea is that of preselecting, screening, filtering and approving content, and carries an implicit authority that requires trust on the part of the user. Examples: The prototypical MOOC or tutorial.

Read More

Learning CS and Entrepreneurship Online: New Educational Paradigms (Part 2 of 3)

By | Business, Education, Technology | No Comments

Part two of a three-part series on how I’m seeking out and testing different (free!) methods of learning about computer science and entrepreneurship online.

On the tech front, after perusing the online course offerings of MIT, Harvard, and Stanford, I settled on MIT’s “Introduction to Computer Science and Programming” as a point of entry into the intimidating world of programming. This course is taught in Python, which I’ve read favorable things about as a gateway-language. I started out leaning toward Ruby due to the huge (and evangelistic) Rails community, and may still try to pick it up at some point, but I (mostly arbitrarily) decided to go with Python for now because the MIT course looked great, I’ve found several other great resources for learning it, and the consensus seems to be that it’s a bit easier then Ruby for beginners to pick up. I’ve done some cursory reading about other languages, from historical overviews of C and Java to Paul Graham’s paeans to LISP, but most languages other than Python and Ruby seemed way too intimidating to start with.

My first main goal is to gain a high-level familiarity and basic proficiency with Python, as well as a broad (if cursory) understanding of computational and systems thinking. I’m convinced learning to think in hacker-mode will have tremendous crossover value in how I approach other problems, and will make learning complex things easier as I continue. I’m interested as well in the history of computer science, and in web design/architecture. Concerning the latter, I’ve read up a bit on HTML/CSS, and now have a pretty good theoretical grasp on how design and technology intersect when it comes to designing for the web, but for now I’d rather practice deepening my fundamental programming skills and rely on the genius of WordPress (and its amazing plugins and themes) to take care of my own website needs.

Read More

Learning CS and Entrepreneurship Online: New Educational Paradigms (Part 1 of 3)

By | Business, Education, Technology | No Comments

I like to think of myself as the curious type, eager to deepen my understanding of how things work, refusing to stop thinking about potentialities and questioning the things I read and see. One one level, I’m certainly too young to be an expert at anything. But, to frame things in a different way, I (and others of my generation) have access to greater resources, both depth and breadth, than anyone before me.

This is obvious, but nonetheless astounding. Amidst the glut of startups caught in the social media-maelstrom (and clinging to its edges) and proliferation of consumers-cum-creators, one current development that strikes me as particularly profound is the evolution—a paradigm shift, really—taking place in education.

What started as a wiki-sensibility and a handful of major universities rolling out online course offerings has snowballed into an information-rich landscape of resources through which people can not only dabble in tutorials and courses, but also teach one another, become part of learning communities, and contribute to a vast growing corpus of knowledge.

Read More