Boing Boing 

Today at Boing Boing Gadgets

Today at Boing Boing Gadgets, we ran the ultimate Top List, The Top 10 "Top 10 iPhone Flaws" lists; gazed upon true horror; and gaped at Rubik's Mirror. The big news of the day was, of course, the T-Mobile G1 cell phone, decked out with Google's Android operating system, which totally stole OpenMoko's thunder. Our liveblog coverage has the bullet points, but Joel's hands-on review is where it's at. Will that 1GB monthly data allowance be enough? Rob demanded a Sony netbook after slobbering over its small-but-pricey Vaio TT; saw that HD movie cam-maker Red is starting the Scarlet over from scratch; tapped his feet on a Webble; and stacked Atom-touting miniature motherboards. John sat on Hercules' face; wondered if any publicity is good publicity for Vista; grabbed µTorrent for Mac; and spotted earbuds for ladies. Check out his review of Acer's Aspire X3200 mini-desktop PC. Prost!

Why I love Wilco, part umptybillion

Fleet Foxes and Wilco covered Bob Dylan's "I Shall be Released" at a recent live show, and they're giving it away online if you promise to vote. Wilcoworld (via James Home on Twitter; photo of guitar rack on-stage at Wilco's set during Outside Lands via Crowdfire; image by John Battelle).

Pinhole skull-camera

Today on Boing Boing Gadgets, our John has word of artist artist Wayne Martin Belger's sculpture, "Third Eye," a pinhole camera in a human skull:

Wayne Martin Belger makes pinhole cameras using a variety of materials including precious stones, metals, human organs, and bone. This piece, entitled Third Eye, features many of these materials, all constructed around the 150 year-old skull of a 13 year-old girl. The film is exposed to light through titular ocular cavity making a Polaroid momento mori. The photos taken with this camera (one of which is after the jump) stay with the theme, their blurriness and patina making them look as if they were snatched from the memories of the dead.

Pinhole Camera Fashioned From 150 Year-Old Skull Discuss this on Boing Boing Gadgets)

Games are recession-proof earners?

Convincing work from consumer research groups suggests that video games are recession-proof earners:
Gaming fans shopping recently at a Best Buy in San Francisco echoed Riley's words; Malou Taylor says she's more likely to play a game than go to a movie.

"I might as well use the money on a game that I can have for a longer time," she says...

Though video games initially earned a bad rap for being something of a loner activity, gaming has become an increasingly sociable event. Some couples, like Benjamin Gerald and Char Williams, say they stay home together and play.

"Last night, we spent, like, six hours," Gerald says. "Char was playing the game, and I'm sitting on the couch next to her ... I'm totally involved, even though I'm not even playing the thing."

Um, yah -- and then there's this little thing called "massively multiplayer games" you guys mighta heard of? In Tough Economic Times, Video Games Console (via Guardian Games)

Open Source Everything

I'm getting deluged with email from people who are involved in projects resonant with some of the "open source" posts I've done so far. Some of them are really cool.

Open Source Democracy: Check out this book, Rebooting America, put together by the folks who did the Personal Democracy Forum this summer. It's a collection of essays offering ideas of how to energize democracy in the age of the Internet. My contribution is atypical and maybe less useful than the others, because I argue that the behavior we learn on the Internet is best a metaphor for participatory democracy than its ultimate realizations. But there are entirely more practical and immediate strategies offered by politics and net luminaries from Craig Newmark (Craigslist), Howard Rheingold (Smart Mobs) and Scott Heifferman ( to Newt Gingrich and Clay Shirky (Here Comes Everybody). Best yet, the entire book is available online here.

Open Source Groceries. At least that's what Open Produce looks like to me. A new grocery store in Chicago that promises sustainable practices, community involvement, and total transparency. "We focus on sustainable food production, whether that be organic growing methods, local production, or efficient transportation. Our company also strives to set new standards of transparency and accountability to the community; everything about our operation, from our financial data to where our produce was grown, will be available on this website or in our store."

Open Source Money There's a lot of books emerging on the use of complementary and local currencies. I got a ton of email on this subject already, from people concerned that I'm referring to scrip or the kinds of currencies used in the US prior to the 1930's. If the brilliant and free Bernard Latier text I recommended was too involved, there's a book I've just been made aware of that looks at some of the more practical implications of creating a community money supply called Money: Understanding and Creating Alternatives to Legal Tender, by Thomas H. Greco. If you don't have five bucks for the paperback, there's an abridged PDF here.

Creepy fingers in Sports Illustrated photo


Sports Illustrated is running this photo of the amazingly talented gymnast Shawn Johnson. She's standing on a balance beam in a corn field. The creepy fingers coming out of the corn in the lower left make the photo seem like an ad for a scary movie. Creepy fingers in Sports Illustrated photo (via Photoshop Disasters)

Photos from Austin Dorkbot


Looks like the last Dorkbot-Austin meeting was bloody fantastic. Here's a nice photo gallery of the attendees, shot by David Weaver. (It's not real blood -- it's just a gore cannon.) The A-List: Dorkbot at Cafe Mundi

Hugh Hefner toy by eBoy

Ev 7337 Jackhammer Jill's intelligent designers eBoy teamed up with KidRobot to create this wonderful Hugh Hefner PEECOL. The Hef PEECOL is 3 inches tall and will sell for $9.95.
Hugh Hefner PEECOL (KidRobot)

Previously on BB:
New eBoy PEECOL figures
Laptop skins from eBoy and other artists

George Dyson on the mortgage meltdown: are we on the surface of a balloon or in the saddle of a dynamic equilibrium?

In MAKE Vol. 15, George Dyson, who writes the Retrospect column, looked at the mortgage meltdown.
200809231435.jpg The roots of the current financial meltdown can be found in John von Neumann’s model of general economic equilibrium, first developed in 1932. Von Neumann elucidated the behavior of an expanding, autocatalytic economy where “goods are produced not only from ‘natural factors of production,’ but ... from each other,” and he proved the coexistence of equilibrium and expansion using the saddle-point topology of convex sets. Some of his assumptions – such as that “the natural factors of production, including labour, can be expanded in unlimited quantities” and that “all income in excess of necessities of life will be reinvested” – appeared unrealistic to others at the time, less so now that Moore’s Law and the zero-cost replication of information are driving the economy of today. Other assumptions, such as an invariant financial clock cycle, are conservative under the conditions now in play.

Von Neumann, who made seminal contributions to digital computing, left a number of distinct monuments to his abbreviated career, among them his Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (with Oskar Morgenstern) and his Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata (with Arthur Burks). Synthesis between these two regimes is now advancing so quickly that no unified theory of the economics of self-reproducing systems has been able to keep up. Periodic instability should come as no surprise. We may be on the surface of a balloon. Or in the saddle of a dynamic equilibrium – we hope.

Can you have your house and spend it too?

U.S. Army releases doctored photographs

_2008soldier1.jpg _2008soldier2.jpg

The US Army released photos of two soldiers who were killed by another soldier at a base in Iraq. Apart from the heads of the soldiers, the photos are identical.

Bob Owen, chief photographer of the San Antonio Express-News, noticed that the photos were almost identical. All details were the same except for the soldiers' face, name, and rank. It appeared that Dawson's head had been pasted onto Durbin's body, though it was also possible that the heads of both men had been pasted onto someone else's body.
U.S. Army releases doctored photographs

Fart Party Interview

I did a really fun interview with (my favorite indie comic) Fart Party creator Julia Wertz this week, and she posted it on her blog simultaneously with its publication in Vice Magazine. I'm linking to it because the interview ends up addressing a whole lot of the issues brought up in the comments sections here over the past couple of days.

Wertz: Last year, Bush said the following about America's economy: "A future of hope and opportunity begins with a growing economy – and that is what we have. … This economy is on the move, and our job is to keep it that way, not with more government, but with more enterprise.." – President George W. Bush, State Of The Union Address, 1/23/07

A quick glance of the White House's official economic overview creates a vision of America with a strong economy. It purports that "American workers are finding more jobs and taking home more pay" and that the unemployment rate was dropping. However, we all know that's bullshit. Since Bush took office, our national debt has soared to over 3 trillion, unemployment rates are up, and college tuition, energy, healthcare, rent, fuel costs, etc are raping our wallets on a daily basis. I can barely afford bagels and coffee these days. What the fuck?

Rushkoff: Well, there's two big fallacies on which the pro-market faction is operating, here. The first is that the metrics we use to measure economic growth have something to do with how well people are doing. Economic growth is measured with what they call the GNP, or Gross National Product. This stands for all the economic activity. So if I shoot you and you (or your insurance company) have to pay someone to put your brains back in, that's economic activity and makes the GNP go up.

If a factory comes to a town, puts three small local firms out of business, hires most of the town, pollutes the groundwater making the land unusable for agriculture and then goes out of business putting the entire town out of work, it can still be measured as a positive for GNP. The money spent on mental health, environmental cleanup, and shipping in frozen food all goes into the metrics for growth.

Death is growth.

(Douglas Rushkoff is a guestblogger)

New media formats revealed by the Internet

My new Internet Evolution column is up: "Don't Judge New Media by Old Rules" considers the amazing hidden media formats that have been revealed by the Internet's loosening of formal strictures:
Isn't it amazing that there's always exactly 60 minutes' worth of news everyday, and that, when transcribed, it fills exactly one newspaper?

Have you ever stopped to think how utterly fortuitous it is that every televisual story worth telling can be neatly broken into segments of exactly 22 minutes (plus commercials) or 48 minutes (ditto)? That every story that makes a good subject for a film takes somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours to tell? That all albums fit conveniently on one or sometimes two CDs, except for best-of compilations? That all books are exactly long enough to bind within a single set of covers and not so short as to allow those covers to touch in the middle?

These are all technological norms that represent technological hangovers: We now assume that certain distributors will carry a particular sort of carton, and its contents will go onto a certain kind of shelf; 10-foot-tall photography books don't fit in those cartons, and the trucks are already fitted for those cartons, and the shelves have been screwed into the walls of the bookstores.

Don't Judge New Media by Old Rules

DHS invests in mind-reading anti-terrorist technology -- and staff phrenologists to interpret the results

Hurrah -- the DHS is buying mind-reading machines that can tell you're a terrorist by examining the terrorist-thought-center of your brain. People with failing brains will be sent for corrective surgery.

MALINTENT, the brainchild of the cutting-edge Human Factors division in Homeland Security's directorate for Science and Technology, searches your body for non-verbal cues that predict whether you mean harm to your fellow passengers.

It has a series of sensors and imagers that read your body temperature, heart rate and respiration for unconscious tells invisible to the naked eye – signals terrorists and criminals may display in advance of an attack.

Homeland Security Detects Terrorist Threats by Reading Your Mind

BBtv: Andy Gould, rock band manager, dances on the labels' graves.

Today on Boing Boing tv, our UK-based music correspondent Russell Porter sits down with legendary rock band manager Andy Gould for a chat about crazy, historic rocknroll hijinks he's witnessed in his decades in the biz. We caught up with Gould at the Outside Lands Music and Arts festival, near the Crowdfire tent.

Gould is presently the manager for Primus, Morrissey, and other acts; present and past clients include Linkin Park, Lionel Ritchie, Rob Zombie, Pantera, Kool and the Gang, Damien Marley. Together with Irving Azoff, he manages Guns and Roses. He explains that he was there during the early days of "fur coat and cricket bat," band managers, tough guys who "walked around with suitcases full of hundreds of thousands of dollars when the band walked offstage."

"What's really really great now is that the record companies have gone out of business," he says -- why would a music manager be dancing on the labels' graves? And how is a pilfered pre-release MP3 like a box of Chicken McNuggets? Watch and learn, grasshoppers.

Link to Boing Boing tv blog post with discussion and downloadable video, and instructions on how to subscribe to the BBtv daily video podcast.

If you dig this, check out our previous BBtv episodes from Outside Lands. And there's tons of fan-made footage and photos of Primus on (they're a BBtv sponsor).

(special thanks to Jason McHugh; to Virgin America for air travel, and to Wayneco for the magic bus)

Related Boing Boing tv episodes from Outside Lands:
* Primus: Xeni interviews Les and Ler (music)
* Kaki King, guitar hero: performance, interview with Xeni (music)
* BB Gadgets' Joel at Outside Lands: Crowdfire deconstructed
* Carney at Outside Lands - a "Boing Boing tv Bus Session." (music)
* Steel Pulse founder David Hinds at Outside Lands (music)
* Boing Boing tv backstage at Outside Lands: (Xeni + Russell Porter)

Photos of a very messy house


Houston-Imports says: "We had a resident who had an outstanding balance for over a month and no one could get ahold of her. The bookkeeper went inside after so many tries to leave a note and this is what we found."

Link (via Weekly Teinou Woman)

New issue of Faesthetic: UFOs!

 Images  Images  Images  Images Outside Cover Blog Dustin "UPSO" Hostetler has just published the latest edition of Faesthetic, his mindbending art magazine. You don't pore over Faesthetic as much as pour yourself into it. Featuring more than 25 artists' work, Faesthetic #9 has a special place in my heart because the theme is UFOs. The opening spread is an essay titled "Liminal Vehicles And Trickster Technologies: On The UFO" written by Strange Attractor Journal's Mark Pilkington and designed by Jemma "Prate" Hostetler, who was behind BB's redesign last year. UPSO kindly shared a few pages from Faesthetic #9 with us. Spreads by Adam White (top) and ARBITO. At left, cover art by MARS-1. Click images to see them larger. Available from, FAESTHETIC #9 is $10 and contains no ads.
Faesthetic (, Buy Faesthetic #9 (Threadless)

More "fake Beatles" from WFMU

I've been enjoying WFMU's continuing series of blog posts about bands that intentionally imitate the Beatle's sound. Today, they look at The Poppees, who do a darn good job of capturing the Fab Four's vibe, circa 1964.
200809231034.jpg The Poppees cropped up in the early '70s, begun by rhythm guitarist Bob (Bobby Dee) Waxman and bass player Pat Lorenzo. The Fab Four of the Bowery were rounded out by lead guitarist Arthur Alexander (not the singer/songwriter who recorded the originals of Beatles standards "Anna," "Soldier of Love" and "A Shot of Rhythm and Blues") and, later, drummer Jett Harris (not the original bassist for pre-Beatles British rock combo the Shadows). In 1975, Greg Shaw's Bomp label released the first of two Poppees singles. The A-side was a version of the Lennon-McCartney retread "Love of the Loved," which Scouse warbler Cilla Black brought to the U.K. hit parade in a brassy, adult version in 1963 and which the Poppees dragged back to its beat-group roots a dozen years later. However, the fake is more fully realized on the B-side, "If She Cries," a Waxman-Lorenzo original fittingly produced by label head Shaw in appropriate retrophonic sound. Lyrically, the song is a "swallow your pride or you'll lose that girl" advice song to a third party a la "She Loves You." Vocally, it nimbly employs all the Beatles' tricks from their harmony kit bag.
Fake Beatles No. 18: The Poppees – Beat Boys in the Punk Age

Tracking orbital trash

In the visualization above, each of the white dots is a piece of orbital garbage in Low Earth Orbit (1,240 miles above the planet) that NASA is currently tracking. ScienceNews posted an article about "the largest junkyard in the solar system," explaining how the trash is monitored and why it can be incredibly dangerous. The feature is in their "For Kids" section but I found it quite informative myself. From ScienceNews:
There are some unusual things up there, like a camera that floated away from astronaut Sunita “Suni” Williams in December 2006. Other astronauts have lost tools like wrenches and screwdrivers. In 1965 astronaut Ed White even lost a spare glove. Most of the junk, however, comes from large satellites and rockets that fell apart after they stopped working.

Together, all the space junk would weigh about 11 million pounds on Earth, or more than 3,000 cars. The largest piece is a part of a rocket about the size of a minivan. The smallest piece would fit on your pinkie fingernail with room to spare...

Space junk races around the Earth at breakneck speeds. Most pieces fly through space at more than 20 times the speed that sound travels on Earth. Going that fast, even the smallest pieces mean big trouble for spacecraft. For example, a tiny marble in orbit around the Earth can have as much energy as a bowling ball going 500 miles per hour, or a car going 30 miles per hour.
"The Solar System's Biggest Junkyard" (ScienceNews)

Radio announcer undisturbed by studio fire

When a fire breaks out in a radio station in Greece, the announcer can't be bothered to put it out. (via Arbroath)

Cookie Monster Slayer

 3192 2822774896 460445Db63 B This killer Cookie Monster Slayer was spotted at the Dragon*Con 08 fantasy/SF convention earlier this month. Nancy Dorsner of Dabbled brought back the photographic evidence.
Cookie Monster Slayer (Flickr via Laughing Squid)

Portraits from MySpace and Facebook

 Images Uploaded Large 17520-Paul+Campbell
Artists Paul Campbell and Dominic Paul Moore paint portraits based on images from social networking sites. Above, one of Campbell's Facebook portraits. At left, Moore's "Mandii" (graphite on yupo), sourced from My(death)Space, an archival obituary site of MySpace users. Their work can currently be scene in a joint show titled "Profile Me" at Saint Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana. From the exhibition description:
 Images Mandii-1 Paul Campbell and Dominic Paul Moore introduce contemporary portraiture through sources from increasingly popular internet social environments and bring transitory self-absorbed profiles into the white static walls of Hammes Gallery. In the two-person ehibition entitled "Profile Me" curated by Sara Ebers, Campbell and Moore offer different perspectives and objectives to this current trend.

Campbell and Moore make tangible the intangible and raise issues of identification and social interactions as these virtual profiles are removed from screen to canvas and from your monitor to gallery walls.
Show preview (, "My(death)Space" (,

Print Your Own Money

Everyone seems to want to know about the economy these days, so we may as well go there. It's as great an example as any of a program that not only got out of control, but became so prevalent - so accepted - that we came to take it for granted. We think of the economy and its rules as given circumstances, when they are actually constructions.

In brief, the money we use is just one kind of money. Invented in the Renaissance, and protected with laws banning other kinds of money, it has very particular biases that lead to almost inevitable outcomes.

I just finished a book (more on that later in the week), where I make the case that our highly corporatized society was really forged during the Renaissance. Aristocrats were losing power just as a new merchant class was gaining it. So they made a series of deals through which merchants' companies were granted monopoly charters from the monarchs in return for a sweet cut of the proceeds. Merchants got to lock in their status as newly rich, while monarchs stopped their own descent. Merchants supported the monarchs whose charters granted them exclusive access to new territories or industries, and monarchs got to do colonial expansion once-removed.

The invention of centralized, national currency was meant to support all this. Where localities had previously been free to mint their own currency based on the crops they had grown, now they were forced to borrow money from a central bank. This allowed the issuer of currency - the crown - to extract value from every transaction. Anyone who wanted to buy anything from anyone else had to run it through the central authority - coin of the realm - one way or the other.

This engendered competition for money, which was now a scarce currency issued at interest, instead of a local currency as abundant as the year's crop. Moreover, any business wanting to borrow money for equipment or development had to pay back several times what they had borrowed. This meant bankruptcy was built into the currency system. If a business borrows $100,000, for example, they'll have to pay back $300,000 by the time the loan is due. Where does that money come from? Someone else who borrowed.

Meanwhile, local currencies had the opposite bias of centralized currency. Local currencies lost value over time. They were really just receipts on the amount of grain that farmer had brought to the grain store. Since some of that grain was lost to rats or water, and since the grain store had to be paid, money devalued each year. This meant the money was biased towards being spent. That's why reinvestment in infrastructure as a percent of total revenue was so high in the late Middle Ages. It's why they built those cathedrals. They were local efforts, by people looking to invest their abundant wealth into real assets for their communities' future. (Cathedrals were built to attract pilgrims and tourism.)

Unlike local currencies, centralized currencies were biased towards retaining their value over time. Capitalism (in addition to being a lot of other things) is the way people get rich simply for being rich. Capital becomes the most important component in the capital/labor/resources equation. Since the purpose of the Renaissance innovations was to keep the currently wealthy wealthy, the currency was biased to favor those who had it - and could mete it out at high interest rates to those who needed it for their transactions.

What we witnessed over the past decades has been the necessary endgame of the scenario.

Today, in essence, the central bank lends money to a federal bank, which loans it to a regional bank, and so on, each bank paying interest to the bank above, and charging more to the one below. By the time the person or business who needs the money gets it, they're paying an awful lot of interest - so much, that it amounts to a drag on their ability to do business. The speculative economy, rather than fueling the real economy, drags it down.

The only way for banks - who run such an economy - to make more money is to lend more out. So they looked for more borrowers, as well as more places to park their cash. As a result, the things you and I depend on in the real world became investment vehicles. Homes, oil, name it. So the costs of all these things went up not because of any real laws of supply and demand, but because they had become new classes of investment.

As for finding new borrowers, well, that's why Bush kept talking about "home ownership" as the right of every American, why lending standards were lowered and, of course, why bankruptcy for individuals was made so much harder. They wanted to lend more money, but didn't have any more qualified borrowers. By changing bankruptcy laws, they meant to make it impossible for borrowers to cry uncle. (This was a 150-million-dollar lobbying effort by the credit industry, over the course of an entire decade.)

Eventually, the tension between the speculative economy and the real economy simply had to become too great. Lending money, in itself, doesn't actually produce anything. On the contrary, it strains those few who are still attempting to produce things. It's what turned so many companies into balance-sheet-driven outsourcing operations. Only so many bankers and investors can be supported by industry and homeownership.

We're not really watching an entire economy fail. We're watching a particular program fail. Only because it's not sandboxed like a bad plug-in in Google's Chrome browser, the resource leak sucks money from everywhere.

If we can adopt what we Boingers might call the "Happy Mutant Approach" to this crisis, however, this is not an entirely hopeless situation. Yes, corporations may lose the ability to keep us employed as the banking investment they depend on to operate dries up. But this corporate activity was always extractive in nature, getting (or, historically, forcing) people to buy mass-produced, and nationally distributed food and other goods that were once produced locally.

The collapse of centrally controlled commerce and currency simply creates an opportunity for local commerce and currency to revive. For people to learn to work and live together on a human, local scale - as the original free market advocate, Adam Smith, actually suggested. Admittedly, this would be a painful transition for many - but it's better than maintaining dependence on a fiscal system designed from the start to turn people and communities into extractable corporate assets. (Think about that the next time you're called up to "human resources.")

Whether or not we've had time to fully embrace the Craft/Maker/cyberpunk/Boing ethos, our ability to provide for ourselves and one another directly, locally, even socially instead of entirely through centralized commerce, will determine how well we can navigate the near future.

For starters, check out the LETS system and other complementary currencies for how to make your own currency, Bernard Latier's book The Future of Money free online, and Local Harvest for Community Sponsored Agriculture opportunities near you.

Money can be just as open source as any other operating system. It used to be.

(Douglas Rushkoff is a guestblogger)

Voice-controlled robot wheelchair

MIT researchers are designing a wheelchair that responds to verbal commands and remembers how to get various places. Outside, it uses GPS for wayfinding. Inside though, GPS doesn't work so well so the researchers are investigating positioning schemes using WiFi, cameras, and laser rangefinders. They're currently testing a prototype in a Boston nursing home. From MIT News Office:
 Newsoffice 2008 Wheelchair-4-EnlargedJust by saying "take me to the cafeteria" or "go to my room," the wheelchair user would be able to avoid the need for controlling every twist and turn of the route and could simply sit back and relax as the chair moves from one place to another based on a map stored in its memory.

"It's a system that can learn and adapt to the user," says Nicholas Roy, assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics and co-developer of the wheelchair. "People have different preferences and different ways of referring" to places and objects, he says, and the aim is to have each wheelchair personalized for its user and the user's environment.

Unlike other attempts to program wheelchairs or other mobile devices, which rely on an intensive process of manually capturing a detailed map of a building, the MIT system can learn about its environment in much the same way as a person would: By being taken around once on a guided tour, with important places identified along the way. For example, as the wheelchair is pushed around a nursing home for the first time, the patient or a caregiver would say: "this is my room" or "here we are in the foyer" or "nurse's station."
Robot wheelchair (MIT)

Burning Bookmark

 Images D Bookmark Book Just in time for Banned Books Week (9/27-10/4), the good folks at Gama-Go are taking orders for this new "Burning Bookmark." It's $6.
Burning Bookmark (GAMA-GO)

How Children Learn: classic of human, kid-centered learning

Earlier this year, a reader sent me copies of John Holt's classic books on children's education, How Children Learn and How Children Fail and tonight, I finished the first of them (and will be reading the other next). It was one of the most profoundly moving books I've ever read, the truest account of how I remember my best learning experiences as a child and an adult.

Holt was a dedicated teacher and a very, very keen observer of children from babyhood up. Most of How Children Learn takes the form of notes from his diaries, his later reflections on his failures and successes, and letters and feedback from other parents and educators.

Holt's basic thesis is that kids want to learn, are natural learners, and will learn more if we recognize that and let them explore their worlds, acting as respectful co-learners instead of bosses. Practically speaking, that means letting them play and playing with them, but resisting the temptation to quiz them on their knowledge or to patronize them. Most resonant for me was his description of kids' learning unfolding from the natural passionate obsessions that overtake them -- it made me remember my best learning moments, like the time when I was 7 and my teacher Bev Pannikar found me reading Alice in Wonderland to myself in a corner of her classroom, and she just let me be, as I branched out from there to book after book, hiding out and falling in lifelong love with reading. Or the time that Brian Kerr found me afire with a passion for math and just let me go at it, working through workbook after workbook to the detriment of my other studies -- I think I was ten. There were other incidents like this, reflecting that passionate, engaged process that unfolds when kids are allowed to work at their own pace (I was lucky to go to a publicly funded alternative elementary school where kids of all ages shared a class and were given a lot of freedom to learn in their own way, with an emphasis on mentoring).

As I worked my way through the book, I found myself scowling, nodding, smiling, even laughing aloud at the wonderful inventiveness of the kids in Holt's life, including supposedly incorrigible or dumb kids -- kids who learned so much on their own, taking the grownups along for the ride, but firmly steering the course of their learning from the earliest ages. I was struck by three passages in particular (reproduced below). I think I'll stick them on the fridge to remind me of how to be a great dad and a great partner in adventure.

The only good reason for playing games with babies is because we love them, and delight in playing these games with them and sharing in their delight with them -- not because we want someday to get them into college. It is our delight in the baby and the games that makes the game fun, and worthwhile and useful for the baby. Take away the delight, and put in its place some cold-hearted calculation about future IQ and SAT scores and we kill the game, for ourselves and the baby. If we go on for long in this spirit the babies will soon refuse to play -- or if they do, play only in the spirit of school, i.e., because they think we'll be disappointed or angry if they don't...

The child is curious. He wants to make sense out of things, find out how things work, gain competence and control over himself and his environment, do what he can see other people doing. He is open, receptive and perceptive. He does not shut himself off from the strange, confused, complicated world around him. He observes it closely and sharply, tries to take it all in. He doesn not merely observe the world around him, but tastes it, touches it, hefts it, bends it, breaks it. To find out how reality works, he works on it. He is bold. He is not afraid of making mistakes. And he is patient. He can tolerate an extraordinary amount of uncertainty, confusion, ignorance, and suspense. He does not have to have instant meaning in any new situation. He is willing and able for meaning to come to him -- even if it comes very slowly, which it usually does...

This did not change, as I hoped it might, the way that schools deal with children. I said, trust them to learn. The schools would not trust them, and even if they had wanted to, the great majority of the public would not have let them. Their reasons boil down to these: 1) Children are no good; they won't learn unless we make them. 2) The world is no good; children must be broken to it. 3) I had to put up with it, why shouldn't they? To people who think this way, I don't know what to say. Telling them about the real learning of real children only makes them cling to their theories about the badness and stupidity of children more stubbornly and angrily than ever. Why do they do this? Because it gives them a license to act like tyrants and feel like saints. "Do what I tell you!" roars the tyrant. "It's for your own good, and someday you'll be grateful," says the saint. Few people, feeling themselves powerless in a world turned upside down, can or even wish to resist the temptation to play this benevolent despot.

How Children Learn


I played with Android yesterday. I don't gush over products. At least not in years. But this one makes me feel a bit like I did when I got my Kaypro. It's a solid device that hints at the beginning of a "golden age" of solid and reliable smart phone technology.

For those of you as uninformed as I've been lately, Android is Google's new cell phone operating system, coming to you any day now on a phone made by HTC - the folks who have been making the Treo (but without their own name on the case).

I've played with a lot of phones, but this is the first true "smart phone" that is as easy to use as an iPhone, Sidekick, or Helio Ocean. Unlike the iPhone, it has a real keyboard that slips out from the bottom (and a bit more effortlessly than the one on my Ocean). Real keys, too, that feel good and click.

Oh, did I forget to mention it? Copy and paste.

The touchscreen interface does everything I could think of, as easily or moreso than the screen on the iPhone. Less of that weird delay-jitter. Extreme clarity. Everything in its place. It's not like trying to operate a laptop through a two-inch screen.

What I like best about Google's approach (as compared to some other companies who shall remain nameless) is that they're creating a site where people can just upload the apps that they've written for the phone. No licensing, filtering, or requirements - other than they not be malicious. Further - by writing the code in the "sandbox" fashion of the Chrome browser, applications that screw up are isolated from the rest of the operating system. Programs are separated if they don't play nicely with others.

My fear (what would a post about Google be without a little fear) is that the openness of the Google world really means openness to Google's advertisers. The World Bank, for example, forces nations borrowing its money to "open" their markets to foreign investment. This means they have to let multi-national corporations build plants, destroy the environment, compromise local agriculture; whatever low standards the WTO has agreed upon become the standards by which the country has to operate. Is "openness" really an ethos for Google, or just a means to a very particular end? Is what's good for Google good for the entire communications infrastructure? I'm not so sure.

While I doubt Google will suddenly push ads on the unsuspecting T-Mobile subscriber, I could foresee a Google future in which people get cheaper phone plans for giving Google's advertisers access to their screens. This could subject those without sufficient funds to buy their way out of marketing to an entirely different communications experience than everyone else.

Still, for the time being, this device, this OS, and the relatively open source model Google is pursuing feels less restrictive, more stable, and just a bit more virtuous than what I'm seeing elsewhere. (Douglas Rushkoff is a guestblogger)