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

Kickstarter’s Great Nonprofit Innovation

They just launched something special. Here’s to hoping it continues!

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Yesterday I was excited to see the announcement of a joint initiative between Kickstarter and The White House: a special Kickstarter campaign intended to raise funds to aid refugees. One day in and they’ve raised over $1.1 million, and still going strong.

This is the first time Kickstarter has done something like this. Right now it’s a one-off campaign, prominently highlighted and heavily promoted, but not currently integrated into the core of the platform.

First, I want to applaud everyone who made this happen, from Josh Miller and the White House to Yancey Strickler and the Kickstarter team! Thanks also to other companies like Twitter, Instacart, and Airbnb for working with the White House to leverage their platforms for good. I’m focusing on Kickstarter because I know it best, but many are helping in these efforts.

Second, I want to urge Kickstarter to run with this idea, and make it something bigger. Because as laudable as this is as a one-off campaign, it’s also a seed with tremendous potential to change the future of philanthropy. Read More

A Personal Niche, An Internet Cathedral, A Networked Empire

By | Creativity, Life, Media, Technology | No Comments

Some people — and no, not the .gif virtuosi that walk among us — really are winning the Internet, sitting several cuts above the rest with really outstanding, intriguing, thought-provoking online presences. Oh, how I aspire to their ranks! It isn’t just that they blog well, or post great links on social media, though both are often the case. Beyond keeping a clean house and communicating with wit and aplomb, they manage to create a place that feels like an online home, a well-curated, carefully built space that shows the heart of their thoughts and creative work, reflects who they are and what they live for. Bret Victor. Derek Sivers. Frank Chimero. Diana Kimball. Lance Weiler. Jane McGonigal. Seth Godin. Robin Sloan. All — to name just a few of my favorites — sharing their musings and explorations and the traces of what they add to the world, built over time, with love and care and generosity and effort shining through.

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Spirit Fingers: Gestural Art in Action with the Leap Motion

By | Creativity, Media, Technology | No Comments

I received the Leap Motion a couple weeks back, and have had fun using it sporadically and testing out as wide a variety of apps as I can without breaking the bank. There’s an impressive lineup already available, from educational to music, games to random art/physics interactive visualization simulators—and more being released each week—so it’s exciting to see what people are doing with this new technology and have the change to engage with it myself.

It must be said: for the vast majority of computing tasks as we currently conceive of them, the current incarnation of Leap doesn’t add much to practical human-computer interaction. It’s not 100% reliable; in fact it’s probably not even 98% or 95% reliable, at least for many of the early, first generation of applications designed for it. But the Leap is a fascinating and fantastic device for many other reasons.

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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


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Kickstarting the Creative Funding Future

By | Business, Creativity, Technology | No Comments

In this essay, I examine the creative funding landscape, using Kickstarter as a lens through which to explore questions of value, community, and the link between arts and commerce. 

Some of the topics I cover include: what the best source of funding might be for creative projects; how we can (and can’t) measure or approximate the types of value and incentives that lead people to back such projects; the special hybrid of gift and market economies, and the nascent web of networks and communities, that Kickstarter engenders; and the applicability of potential models of “equity” to the space between Kickstarter and the venture capital-driven world of startups.

My starting premise is that Kickstarter is the most successful model we currently have for supporting creative projects; the purpose of this essay is to interrogate that assumption, to consider the reasons behind the company’s success and continued growth, and think about what solutions the future might bring as various funding platforms continue to evolve.


I’d like to talk about the present and future state of funding for creative endeavors. I speak with a fair amount of both first and secondhand knowledge, but am constantly learning more about the full implications of the myriad platforms, systems, opportunities, and pitfalls that are evolving daily. If this topic interests you as well, I’d love for you to join me in the conversation.

The big question that I take as a starting point is: on whom does the arts-funding onus lie? Who do we want to fund creative projects, who is realistically capable of it, and who do we expect will do it? I suspect there may be many answers to each question. But the core question seems to be: should market forces dominate, or are creativity and art “greater goods” that society as a whole (read: government) must be obligated to support? 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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Architecture of Language and Sound

By | Media, Storytelling, Technology | No Comments

There are many ways we can talk about media, many lenses through which we can analyze the way the information and signals around us, both physical and digital, impact our lives.

I’ve long had an interest in different conceptual (and real!) dimensions of space: from the narrative worlds that can be constructed around and inferred from photographs, to the nested layers and networks of links and code that define and expand our digital spaces, to the social philosophy-play Situationist exploration and cartography of urban landscapes, the idea of “space”—mathematical, physical; imaginative, abstract—can be a very interesting framework and fertile jumping-off-point-of-reference for exploring many of my other interests, from narrative to design to technology.

I’d like to focus here on a few related strands of spatial thinking, centered on the idea that first language, and even more so, sound, can construct physical space in different, often more direct ways than other media. I’m still thinking through many of these things, meandering from point to point as I go, so forgive me if this comes across as more a meditation on possibility than thesis-bound statement of fact. (That seems to be one of the great benefits of writing in this format, and an approach I plan to continue taking; I’m more excited to learn from your responses than I am to simply publish a post and forget about it!)

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

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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.

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