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A New Kind of Game

Dave Pollard writes about the pleasure we find in watching other people's misfortune. He ends with the following plea.

Someone, please, stop telling me how many died, and instead tell me why?

A great question. Just listening to the news this morning, there has been a flood in California, the tidal wave disaster continues in the Indian Ocean, and there was something else which I have forgotten now. Through it all, the main theme was about how nature was doing these dreadful things, forcing people to move, destroying people's homes, etc... While I can not even fathom the suffering that must be going on in Asia, and at the risk of sounding like an uncaring bastish, I began to wonder the old question about why we stopped building our society in a way that fits with the system that makes life possible, rather than trying to oppose, beat, and defeat it, feeling devastated when we realize that we can not. The people in California will rebuild, and this time they will undoubtedly rebuild in a way that they hope will defeat nature's evil plot in the future, so that when the next flood or earthquake comes, their house will triumph. But... what prevents us from building a lifestyle that can benefit from a flood, instead of one that trys to withstand it?

As for our fascination with other people's suffering, I have to admit that the moment I walked in the door and the first thing someone excitedly told me was that there was a huge tidal wave in Thailand, I ran to the TV to see the footage. In this case it may be because my greatest irrational fear is actually waves and the ocean (after being swept out to sea while swimming a few years ago). I have been watching the news the last few days waiting to see video footage of a three story killer wave. No other disasters or bad news stories have taken as much of my time as this one has. Of course, I think a big part of the reason may also be that at my own home I do not have a TV, but I have been staying at my family's house for the holidays where the TV is on all the time.

It is also interesting that dave brings up the point about winning being fun because there is a loser. I have been thinking a lot these past few weeks about how an enjoyable game could be made where the goal is collaboration, where winning means that everyone wins. Mostly, this is because while I would enjoy playing games for fun, other peoples competitiveness ruins it sometimes. If I am on a team with people who really want to win, I destroy their fun with my "it doesn't matter as long as it is fun" attitude. If the people who really want to win are on the other team they are upset because I am "not trying hard enough to win".

I brought up my idea for a collaboration based game this weekend as we were playing my sister-in-law's new trivial pursuit game (which I am totally ashamed to say that I did quite well at --how can I have so much useless information in my head?). Although I was not suggesting we play anything collaboration based at that moment, it met with some resistance. The idea that it would not meet the needs of people who like to compete was mentioned. This is true, but I am not suggesting that ALL games be changed to collaboration based games, just wondering why none exist, and what it would look like if it did. Perhaps the most interesting reaction was one player who kept helping the other team to answer the questions in order to (jokingly) show how collaboration would not work. While I didn't see how helping the other team hurt the game we were playing, it also seemed to illustrate how inconceivable such an idea is in our society. I never suggested that all games should be collaboration based, nor that collaboration would work well in games that were explicitly designed to have winners and losers. I was simply wondering what a game would look like that was explicitly designed to have only winners. Unfortunately, this seems too foreign of an idea... the very word "game" implies winners and losers, to think of it any other way may be too hard for some people.

So what would a game based on collaboration look like? How can it be fun, based on achievement and challenge, but not on competition and a goal to make someone else loose? What if instead of a high-school debate club, we had high-school agreement clubs, where the goal was to reach an equitable agreement with the other team. Maybe a game where the goal is to empathize as much as possible with the other view point... Of course, being a product of the society I live in, it is hard for me to picture just how such a game would work, but it must be possible. Any ideas?

Pennsylvania @ 70mph

These are all photos taken from the passenger window as we drove through Pennsylvania on our way to Michigan for Christmas. I really want to get back there with a bike and a week to spare so I can take a little more time with each shot.On this trip we never really stopped, so I had only seconds to get each shot flying by at 70 MPH. No matter how much time I have though, I doubt that I would be able to capture anything near as perfectly as what can be seen over at durhamtownship.com.

Gross Personal Happiness

I had a bit of a brain vomit on the plane ride here, too bad the flight from Stockholm to New York is so short (compared to Tokyo-New York). Even so, it was long enough for me to sit down and think about a couple different things without being interrupted by my inbox. I wrote down most of what I was thinking about in the hopes of coming back to it and developing some of the overflow of thoughts.

One thing I was thinking about was how people seem to be trapped in various states of not-knowing. Not knowing what is happening to the world, not knowing how we can help, or not even knowing what we value.

It is the last one, not knowing what we value, that interests me the most right now. Most of us tend to go through our every day activity as though what we do is pre-determined and we have little or no choice. We all have some social conscience, and we want to do good, but somehow, we get stuck into a lifestyle that does not allow for it, or worse, is actively doing harm. We justify this by saying "I need to make a living for myself before I can think about other people", which I don't disagree with, but I also think that we are using that as an excuse to be lazy. We give our time, health, well-being, mind, and soul over to our employer, job, or whatever seems to be the most important, without spending the time to take a close look at just how important that is compared to other aspects of our life.

This led me to think about indicators and measures of progress. We all know (or should know) that the GNP isn't worth a pile of crap as far as meaningful indicators go, yet, how many of us use our salary as the main indicator of our own personal development and progress. Isn't it the same thing? So what are some indicators that are more useful? Or, more to the point of what I was thinking, what indicators (existing or not) would I want to use to measure my own success as an individual?

While we were in Stockholm a few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to participate in a workshop with Allan Atkisson. Part of the workshop involved a little role playing. We imagined that we were policy makers for a small village someplace in India. We were to use the Atkisson compass to identify some indicators.

The AtKisson Compass brings together four critical aspects of sustainability:
  • N -- Nature Ecosystem Health, Environmental Quality and Resource Issues
  • E -- Economy Business, Infrastructure, Production, Consumption, Value Creation
  • S -- Society Social Cohesion, Social Development, Social and Cultural Institutions
  • W -- Well-Being Individual Health, Development, Satisfaction and Fulfillment

Stakeholders are brought together representing every Compass Point. They are introduced to sustainability concepts and principles, develop a set of Assets and Concerns, and then develop the Indicators that will reflect critical long-term trends in every important area of common life. They also explore the Linkages between indicators, and prepare the ground for creating cooperative action programs.

How does this apply to my own life, or the life of other individuals? What would you want to measure in order to access your success in each of the compass points? I don't think they even need to be possible to measure, at least not now, simply figuring out what I would want to measure if I could gives me a good idea of what is most important to me. I have some quickly brainstormed ideas for myself below. At some point, I would want to go through this list and decide on a few of the most important, and how they fit together. Depending on how far I wanted to take the exercise, and how much time I have to dedicate, I could even develop some methodologies to measure each of them, and most importantly, personal policies that would help me to improve my situation.

Having just finished this, I realize that perhaps most of these are less of an "indicator" (what I measure) of an overall condition, and more of a method of evaluating (how I measure), such as "amount of toxins inhaled" or "Number of neighbors whose names I actually know". Perhaps I would have to ask myself what it tells me, what it 'indicates' if I know all my neighbors names, or if I know non of their names? Gross Personal Relateability? Today though, my goal was just to get started thinking about this. The refining and further development of this idea will come later.

So, anything I forget?

I'll Fly Away

I'm getting ready to fly away now.

The presentation is over, and people seem interesting in getting something learningful going online over the next semester. Aside from a few confused faces, and a misconseption that blogs and Furl lead to information overload (actually they are a tool to help manage information overload) everyone seemed to understand the benefits.

Starting in January, we will no longer be meeting for weekly classes, and we are all a little afraid that we loose touch of what outside-of-school projects we are all working on and thinking about. Hopefully getting a little bit going with blogs will not only keep us a little more in touch, but also build the foundation for a strong, learning community once we have all returned to our respective countries.

Obviously, I will be promoting the use of blogs to keep up with each other's thoughts, Furl to share and integrate knowledge and information, and wiki to collaborate with each other on our projects to some extent. I wonder what else there is out there that I don't even know about yet.

Next time I post will be from Connecticut.

My Imaginary Dog

On NPR's The Connection this week Dick Gordon speaks with Marjorie Taylor about children's imaginary friends. I don't remember having any when I was a kid, although I'm sure I must have. They talked about how an imaginary friend is a good thing. Among other benefits, it also helps children to exercise their imaginations. I started thinking that I need an imaginary friend now... as with most people, my imagination seems to have shrunk over the years. But there has to be a way to exercise it, pump it up a bit... Although I think it might be a little too freaky to start with an imaginary person friend, so maybe I will start with an imaginary dog and work my way up (or down, depending on how you look at it)

Don't be surprised if you hear me talking to myself more than usual from now on.

* * *

Tomorrow I give a little presentation to the class, then try to find a ride to Stockholm so I can catch a 10:30 flight to New York City. Tomoe is in Connecticut so I will spend a while there, then off to Michigan to my brother's for Christmas, and then back to Connecticut.

With Nature's Permission


One thing the Sami (indigenous people of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia) man we spoke with while we were up north really stuck with me, that whatever they do, they do "only with nature's permission".

We have been talking a lot about the scientific principles that define a sustainable ecosystem. This made sense to me, I liked that it is concrete... irrefutable. Maybe part of the the reason I like it is that it makes it seem as though it is somehow "new" information, a new discovery of rules that govern the livelihood of our earth. It's humbling however, to realize that it is not new information. It is something that the Sami have always known, something that the Native American's have always known, something that tribes in the Amazon have always known. It is nothing new... except to my culture. The scientific principles are simply our (much too late) realization that we can act "only with nature's permission".

I'm thinking about how this relates to my upcoming thesis project, which will be about sustainability, and strategic thinking for individuals. What does sustainability mean to real people? How can they "know" what to do without relying on "ten things to do to be nice to the environment" lists.

What makes sense to people? Is it the scientific view, or the "natures permission" view. I'm specifically thinking about the fellow Christians that I know. I wonder how it comes across to say "with nature's permission". I get the sense that too many would be opposed to this idea, somehow interpreting it as "worshiping" nature, going against the ideas that we were taught since we were kids that we are to "rule" over nature. That we are somehow above and exempt from the laws of nature, and we do not need permission from nature.

Of course, if we look at this from a scientific view, it is obvious that we do have to live by the laws of nature, and we do not "rule" over it, rather, we are a part of it. I don't know if I simply misunderstood what I was taught, or if I was taught that way on purpose, but it makes me afraid to think that too many of us may be ignoring nature's will because we believe we can.

I love the idea of "only with nature's permission". It makes everything make sense. For the most part, we know instinctivly what nature would approve of. We know what we have permission to do. The power in this is simple idea is that we are no longer subject to the uncertainty that grips us when scientists argue about something that we have been told we can't possibly understand without their help. Next time you do whatever you do, ask yourself, "What would nature do?" or "Would nature approve?". The answer is so much clearer than wondering what scientists would say.

Sister's Wedding

It was a nice wedding, held in the oldest church in Sweden. After dinner nearby, the bride and groom took the city bus to the reception held in their dormitory kitchen. The one in the dress is obviously my sister, the guy is Jin, her husband. That is my brother in the second to bottom photo (he flew in from Michigan) and myself in the third to last photo.

Weddings

I'll be in Lund for the next few days attending my sister's wedding. Another chace to practice my wedding photography.

Is This a "Learning" Blog?

So because of this little presentation I will be giving about blogs and learning, I have been spending a lot of time surfing through a lot of the knowledge management blogs, and reading up on other issues related to learning and dialogue etc.... Suddenly I am becoming much more aware of my own blog habits, wondering if I am actually learning as much as I can through my blogging habits.

One thing that I notice is that currently I tend to comment on other people's sites more than I write anything substantive on my own. I think it is because it feels a bit more private. When I comment on another blog I feel as though I am talking to the author, someone I know. When I write on my own blog though, I am talking to a couple hundred people, and I have no idea who most of them are. That's a little scary. I realize, of course, that there may be hundreds of people reading my comments on the other blogs as well, but I even so I feel a little safer in the assumption that the click-through rate to a comment author's blog is pretty low, meaning that despite my name appearing after my comment, I am for the most part anonymous.

As part of the presentation, I have begun thinking about what are some general tips for blogging if the main goal is learning and personal development, as opposed to simply broadcasting photos (such as I do) or editorial writing meant to "convince" or educate others, or tripling your daily hit count. ( I'm not saying that any of these are bad, but I wonder if it is the most efficient way to learn. ) Some of these are pretty obvious I guess, some may be wrong. They are just observations, based on what I see other people doing, about what I feel I should be doing, and what I feel I am doing wrong.

(That's a photo of me being very introspective)

Getting Started:

Keeping it learningful.

These are all characteristics I imagine would make a good learning blog, but these are also areas I am planning to work on, with the goal of making my blog a learning blog. If you catch me copping out with more "Gee I'm busy lately" or "Look at these photos. Bye." type posts, give me a slap in the head.

Classmates
Chaordic Learning Communities
chaordic_blogosphere.jpg

Visa founder Dee Hock coined the term "chaord" (chaos+order):

Chaord [kay'-ord], n., fr E. chaos and order. 1. any self-organizing, self-governing, adaptive, nonlinear, complex organism, organization, community or system, whether physical, biological or social, the behavior of which harmoniously blends characteristics of both chaos and order. 2. an entity whose behavior exhibits observable patterns and probabilities not governed or explained by the rules that govern or explain its constituent parts.
Chaordic [kay'-ordic], adj., fr E. chaos and order. 1. the behavior of any self-governing organism, organization or system which harmoniously blends characteristics of order and chaos. 2. patterned in a way dominated by neither chaos or order. 3. characteristic of the fundamental organizing principles of evolution and nature.
"In the chaordic age success will depend less on rote and more on reason; less on authority of the few and more on the judgement of many; less on compulsion and more on motivation; less on external control of people and more on internal discipline." - The Art of Chaordic Leadership

I was discussing e-learning over lunch today with Laura, one of my project partners. We realized that what we were talking about was e-learning, yes, but more than that, it may be how blogs and other software tools help to foster chaordic learning communities.

We talked about how the online learning spectrum goes from e-training, a very structured, top-down, no dialogue, instructor centered method (basically just presenting training material online) to the blogosphere, a learning community which harmoniously blends both the chaos of the the web, and order.

The web is chaos, a jumble of non-contextual information. The blogosphere is a collection of loosely defined learning communities from which chaordic learning often erupts spontaneously by giving context to that information. In most cases, it is simply when a group of two or more bloggers engage in a short conversation about a certain topic of shared interest. It may consist of only one or two posts on the topic per blog, connected by comments or trackbacks. Each blogger learns something from the other, and the conversation ends.

Sometimes, the chaordic learning takes the form of a group of bloggers who share a common interest in a certain topic, consistently writing about it, learning from each other, but still dependent on the short conversations with others outside of their own learning community to bring new information and insights into the larger conversation.

This raises the question, how can organizations use web-log tools to promote (or remove barriers to) the eruption and sustenance of such learning communities for specific purposes, without imposing too much structure, allowing them to maintain their chaordic properties?

What are properties of a chaordic learning community you ask? Good question, and one that would be interesting to study, but for now I am going to use L.A. Fitzgerald's five properties of a chaortic organization as a template to see if blogging fits.

  1. Consciousness. The essential ground state of an enterprise is mind, more then matter. In CST (Chaordic Systems Thinking) ideas are primary. In terms of the blogosphere as a learning community, ideas are what drives it, from the most popular meme, to simple ideas that prompt a reader to comment or write about it on her own blog, and track-back.
  2. Connectivity. CST verifies that the enterprise is both whole and part. No part can exist independently of the whole, nor can any whole be sustained separately from its parts. Each part is by itself a whole and this whole is part of a bigger whole. In the blogosphere, each learning community depends on the blogosphere as a whole to generate and propagate the ideas, regardless if it is a firm network of topical bloggers, or one individual commenting on another's blog,
  3. Indeterminacy. CST points out that in the dynamical complexity of an enterprise, every event is both cause and effect. Because of this complexity, the future is principally unknowable in advance. There is only now in which the past presents itself by memory, and the future exists as vision. There is no single entity planning or controlling what is learned in the blogosphere. No one is able to predict what will come next, wether it is an unexpected meme, or the latest great technology born out of web-log learning communities.
  4. Dissipation. Chaordic enterprises are dissipative systems engaging in a cycle of both destruction and creation. They continuously fall apart and then grow back together again, each time in a novel new form, ungoverned by the past. In the blogosphere, learning communities based on temporary memes are constantly being formed and dissolved. In the simplest case, every time I learn from someone's blog, and comment in return, a "learning community" is formed and dissolved as the conversation ends. In a broader sense, we may be a part of learning communities made up of bloggers creating dialogue around a certain topic.
  5. Emergence. Chaordic enterprises strive toward ascending levels of coherence and complexity, made possible by capacities for self-organization, self-reference, and self-transcendence. The blogosphere and the communities that make it up are constantly growing more complex, but at the same time it is not descending into chaos. On the contrary, coherent networks and relationships are being born. This is not through any master plan, but it is aided by the tools and the very social aspects that make web-logs web-logs. What I mean is, it is self-organizing.

Of course, part of our hidden agenda in presenting web-logs to the class is to give them a compelling glimpse of how we can, with web-logs, continue our learning as we leave this program. The question there is where on the chaordic spectrum is most desirable? On the one hand, we could all just "have" blogs, with no intentional learning community, in which case some chaordic learning conversations would emerge every now and then. Or, can we attempt to create an intentional learning community, centered on shared themes, with the hopes that this would enhance our learning and the strength of our network. In other words, how much order can we intentionally inject without loosing the self-organizing aspect? What are the properties necessary to keep such a conversation going for a prolonged period without breaking it?

Learning online

One of the presentations I am working on these last few weeks is about using blogs as learning tools.

When I first got here I had some ambitious goals to get my new classmates online, sharing their thoughts and personal learning process with the world, in the hopes that others out there might either be interested or influenced, or better yet, experts that can influence us. Perhaps I was a little too ambitious. The class blog has yet to get off the ground due to some seriously slow progress with the school server technicians. I have been evangelizing to individual classmates, prompting them to set up their own personal blogs, offering them all the tech support they need, as well as server space. Although it has not gone as well as I had dreamed, a few have started blogs, and are still in the process of finding their voice. Considering their previous exposure, the period of settling in, and the classwork, I'd say it is a success in progress.

I am excited about this upcoming presentation because I think that the time may be ripe now to re-introduce this. People have settled, our term is coming to a close, and when we get back, everyone will be starting on their thesis. What better time to start with learning online? Some of the class has already started with blogs, and some others are showing interest. Some (including me) have even been experimenting with using blogs and wiki as an aid in preparing our group projects. Then, after a few months, we will all be heading off back to our own corners of the globe, and I those of us who have blogs will have much stronger ties over time. If nothing else, the networking aspect alone should get 75% of them online by summer.

I have actually thought long and hard about making my thesis topic related to online learning through social software (such as blogs). I see a big need as some of the sustainability centered organizations we have been in touch with have their own "e-learning" systems, but these are more or less multimedia presentation of textbook information, followed by an interactive quiz. While this can be viewed as one form of e-learning, and I assume it gets the job done. I tend to agree with Lilia from Mathemagenic when she laments that "e-learning means e-training. Sad." It just doesn't excite me.

A representative from an NGO in Brazil was here a while back talking about how they wanted to educate key employees at several client companies, but they only have one person on staff to handle it. He was asking for help, but did not seem to keen on the online learning approach when I suggested it (of course I was thinking blogs). Regardless of wether or not it would work for them, I can't help but be excited about an online learning community focusing on sustainable development, sharing ideas and expertise, learning from each other, collaborating with each other, without having to come all the way to Sweden to do it. I definitely want such a community after I have left here, so I guess I have to work on it... at least get it started, so that when the others come around, it will be there waiting, and there will be a success story to show the Brazilian office, and maybe they will rethink their approach.

Although that is not what the main topic of my thesis project will be about, I intend to make learning through blogs and blog communities a part of it. I will also be asking for volunteers to take part, so if you want to help save the world, stay tuned.

Reindeer

For all those who love that fat promoter of unbridled consumerism and gluttony, Santa, and his reindeer slaves as much as I do, you will be sorry to hear that we saw a few dead on the side of the road. Those in the photo are very much alive however, and it looks like there are still enough to pull a sleigh.

We spent some time speaking with a Sammi (indigenous people of northern Scandinavia) reindeer herder who gave us a presentation on his efforts to move his community and profession toward a sustainable model. He told us of the difficulties they are having now because the reindeer have lost their herd mentality. In the old days, they would move with the herd toward the coast, and the herd stayed pretty much together. Now, however, due to bad logging practices along the way, the deer have to spread further out to find food. This makes it impossible to herd them, so the Sammi had to turn to trucking the deer toward the coast. Once this happened, families were broken up as mothers and fawns were split, and the herd lost the community mentality. In the past, when the herder wanted to gather all the deer together, they had to simply scare them and they would gather together for protection. Now that they are becoming loners, when they are scared they scatter. The Sammi have then begun using motorcycles to keep the herd together, and reindeer herding has become an extremely dangerous job, not to mention the damage that motorcycles do to the environment.

They have other problems too... they send their women off to school where the women marry and don't come back. And then there is the Russian Mafia, and the guy who has a big freezer warehouse importing deer from russia driving down the price and making it impossible to make a living off of the reindeer.

It was a long ways away, but when Tomoe comes in February, I'm thinking it will be great to go back up there with a little more time to explore, and after having done some research on the whole Sammi situation.

As for the damage caused by cars hitting reindeer, I asked him if it cuts into their profits. He says no, but what it does do is create a feast for the crows. The crows popluation grows too large which causes problems because they eat the eggs of other more endangered birds.

Backed-up

No time. No time. No time. Work is backed-up, study is backed-up, going to the gym is backed-up, everything but the toilet is backed-up, and that's only because I am backed up. I have my sister's wedding to go to next weekend, and a presentation to give the following week. Two end-of term projects we are working on now, and several for-pay projects that are taking longer than anticipated. I have four overdue books from the library to finish, and a couple hundred photos to sort through. I haven't purchased fresh veggies since before we went up north, so I have to go to the grocery store.... blah blah...

Anyway, I also have to step outside to see if it is too windy to kayak today. There have been some nice, calm days lately, but I have not had a moment of free time. Today, I kayak.

These photos above don't even come close to capturing the beauty of the little rapids our bus-driver stopped at.

First Snow

It was fun to be with people who had never seen snow in person, let alone experience sub-zero temperatures. Those of us who grew up with snow took it as an opportunity to slip back into childish mode. A few of us spent the night (under a brilliant full moon) making snow angles, racing, and sumo wrestling on the frozen lake. Of course it was all for the benefit of our Malaysian classmate, who never had the childhood opportunities that we did.

Bus Window

While we did get to go a loooong way (we were only a few kilometers from the arctic circle) much of the trip was seen through bus windows. Not the best conditions for photography, but then again it does present some opportunities.

Farm & Ski

Monday we got back from a great trip to the north of Sweden, where the sun only rises and sets. It was literally dawn for two hours, and then dusk for two.

Other than great 24 hour bus rides, we also got to meet some interesting people doing a lot of interesting work to save the world. I suppose some day I should write all about it, but for now, I am over my head with other work to get done.

Please enjoy, however, these lovely photos of my classmate and her Ski (the hostel where we stayed only had two pairs, so we only got one ski each). The hostel, where we spent two nights, was on a great little farm in a cozy little village. The nights were -25 Celsius, but that just made it all the more fun to roll around in the snow naked between dips in the sauna.

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