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I hate school (but I love learning)

21 Jan

by Flickr user Mark Brannan

Okay, to be fair, I don’t actually hate school, but I am pretty glad that I’m done with it.

I don’t love learning in a traditional classroom environment because it feels like an arbitrary rule about the way we’re supposed to learn. This makes me feel un-free, and freedom is the feeling I want the most, as I mentioned in a recent post about travel.

As someone who has had a 9-5 job for my entire adult life, any time I’m doing something outside of that routine, whether it’s as mundane as running errands on a Tuesday afternoon, or taking three days off to go to Las Vegas, or even just being outside in the middle of the night, I feel awake. Not just in the literal sense, but in the “Oh, right, I’m a person who moves through this world, and I’m free to do whatever I want” kind of way. For me, it’s so easy to forget that I actually can exercise some control over all of the small moments that make up my day. Once I remember that, I can extrapolate and take some responsibility for the larger direction of my life as well.

What does all this have to do with school and learning? Well, I’ve found that intentionally setting out to learn something outside of a formal school context is incredibly liberating. And it’s a surefire way to create that “awake” feeling. That sense of agency and presence in my own life. It lets me know that I’m here.

Here are some of my favorite resources for getting your learn on:

In Real Life:

  • Ignite is an event that occurs in different cities all over the world where speakers present on a wide range of topics following a defined fast-paced and engaging format. I’ve been to a few Ignite events and they’re always a blast.
  • I’ve mentioned Skillshare before on this blog. It’s a “community marketplace to learn anything from anyone.”  I love Skillshare because it promotes the democratization of education.
  • The Brooklyn Brainery is similar to Skillshare, and offers awesome classes (like the DNA class I took) but it’s specific to New York. Perhaps there’s something similar where you live!

On the Interwebs:

  • Khan Academy is on a mission to make education accessible to everyone. With nearly 3,000 free videos covering academic subjects ranging from physics to art history to economics, it’s like having a university level education at your fingertips (kind of).
  • MIT’s Open Courseware platform allows you to access world class educational resources from one of the best schools on the planet. (Lots of schools offer an open courseware platform, but MIT’s is my favorite.)
  • Codecademy is an easy, fun way to learn how to program websites. It’s highly interactive so you start learning immediately, and it’s social so you can learn right along with your friends (if you find that motivating). Right now you can learn Javascript, and lessons for Ruby and Python are in the works (those are all programming languages).
  • Bonus! Check out this mammoth list of 12 Dozen Places to Educate Yourself Online for Free from Marc and Angel Hack Life.

What are you favorite ways to learn new tricks?

(Post-script on checking my own privilege: There is so much implied privilege in this blog posting, I don’t even know how I could address it all. I just want to acknowledge that I know how fortunate I am to have received a good education, how lucky I am to have a steady job, and how luxurious it is to think about “freedom” in this way. Noted!)

Idea People: Michael Charley, Co-Inventor of the Salsabol

6 Aug
Idea People is a new series featuring interviews with my favorite kind of person – the inventor kind.

Michael and his business partner (not pictured) are on the front lines of the fight against salsa-loss.

For the first edition, I’m happy to feature an interview with Michael Charley, co-inventor of the Salsabol (the cleverly designed salsa receptacle I reviewed earlier this week). Read on to find out the origin of the salsa problem, and how one great bowl-shaped idea can change the world.

Everybody’s Invited!: Do you and your business partner have backgrounds in engineering or manufacturing, or just in salsa?

Michael Charley: Neither. I graduated with a degree in economics. The only experience I can claim in engineering and manufacturing would be from my childhood obsession with Legos. Tom [my co-inventor], on the other hand, graduated with a degree in architecture and therefore was the brains and engineering behind the schematics and models.

EI!: What are your feelings about the scoop chip? Do you consider it a complementary technology, or just a poor substitute for the salsa-saving properties of the Salsabol?

MC: The salsa-spilling problem dates back to the invention of tomatoes in ancient Mesopotamia, and all the technological improvements since then have been on the chip side rather than on the vessel. Scoops, strips, etc, were all invented to tackle the problem of getting salsa either over the rim or on your hands. The Salsabol represents the first innovation on the bowl side of the equation. Therefore, while we do see the scoop chip as a means to the same end, they are not exactly our competition. The problem now is that the chip infrastructure has not kept up with technology improvements. The Salsabol allows for an unprecedented amount of salsa to be scooped onto chips, and as such chip breakage rates are way higher than with a traditional bowl. We hope Tostitos comes out with a more durable chip specially designed for the Salsabol soon.

EI!: What effect do you expect the Salsabol to have on people’s lives? Do you believe the Salsabol can contribute in any way to solving challenging global problems?

MC: Since the company was founded in summer of July 2009, the quality of living index within the United States is up 11%. Additionally, the Dow Jones is up 25% since the Salsabol was introduced. The results are unmistakably tied to the introduction of the Salsabol into people’s lives and the economy. [Editor’s note: this has not been fact checked, but it seems totally reasonable to me.]

EI!: What advice do you have for readers who dream of inventing snack-related products (as an example, please see my prototype for the Cracker Box)?

MC: For anybody who is trying to invent something, just take it one step at a time and don’t get discouraged. It may be upwards of a year from the time when you decide to make it to when you actually hold one in your hands. Also, supportive moms are key.

EI!: Finally, what is your favorite thing that hasn’t been invented yet?

MC: A portable, spot wrinkle remover.

Product Review: The Salsabol

4 Aug

This is very important news for anyone who has ever struggled to load up a chip with salsa, or any other kind of non-adhesive dip for that matter. There is a revolutionary new product out there that will ensure you never again lose any of your precious salsa as you scrape your chip up the side of the bowl.

Prepare to be amazed by the Salsabol:

The subtle genius of the Salsabol lies in the patent-pending lip design that gently pushes what might otherwise become fallen salsa back onto your chip, for a carefree scooping experience. Say goodbye to embarrassing salsa-related party faux pas forever!

I recently had the opportunity to try the Salsabol for myself, in an actual picnic context. I can honestly say that I did not spill any salsa, despite the harsh conditions (uneven ground, chunky pico de gallo-style salsa). I also found the sleek design and bright yellow color pleasing and modern. I think this product would be useful to anyone, especially those with poor fine motor skills. At just under $13, you can’t afford to NOT get one (how many tablecloths have you ruined with your out-of-control dipping sauces and lip-less salsa bowls?)

p.s. Snack happy readers might also be interested in my previously published idea for the Cracker Box.


Best Inventions

7 Jul

So hungry hungry.

“Inventor” is one of those jobs that hardly seems real, or at least sounds obsolete (like “alchemist”). It makes me think of a crazy person in a lab coat wildly putting the finishing touches on a flying machine made out of found objects.

Of course, being an inventor is actually a totally legit job. And some people have it! People invent things all the time, as evidenced by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s online database. For example, when I type in “hovercraft,” I find this landing gear for hovercraft patented in 2006. Sweet! Also, I was pleased to learn that the patent for this baseball helmet dog house was granted on my birthday this year (or perhaps just renewed? Honestly, I find this site confusing. Someone should invent a better database for them.)

I’d like to start featuring interviews with real inventors on my blog, so please let me know if you have invented anything, or know someone who has (please note: the Jellyflake Sandwich does not count).

In the meantime, here’s my list of Top 10 Inventions That Have Been Important In My Life*:

  1. Corrective lenses
  2. Slap bracelet Penicillin
  3. Audio recording equipment
  4. Post-It Notes/Paper Clip (tie)
  5. Hologram
  6. Parachute
  7. Sleep mask
  8. Juiceman JM503 Electric Juicer
  9. Hungry Hungry Hippos game
  10. Wheel

Do you have a favorite invention?

* These are probably not the most important inventions of my life. But these ones came to mind first.

Top Five Party Planning Tools

28 Mar

Not sure how many bottles to get? Evite's drink calculator can help. (Photo by Flickr user dj @ oxherder arts.)

I think I’m happiest when I’m planning an event (or inventing a game). Sometimes I let the stress of it get the better of me, though. When that happens, I’ll make an extra effort to get organized and simplify. These are my favorite go to tools for when I’m in event planning mode:

  1. Google docs. The most basic of tools – a word processor and a spreadsheet – I use these all the time when planning events. They’re useful for coordinating with my co-conspirators, for keeping track of ideas and budgets, and creating To Do lists. (Check out how Google docs can help you plan a wedding.)
  2. Menu planning sites. I love Epicurious because they’ve got a great search engine so you can find exactly what you’re looking for, useful features like “My Recipe Box” and shopping lists, and an enormous collection of menus featuring coordinated dishes. I also love Cookthink because you can search for recipes not only by ingredient or cuisine, but also by mood. Type in “invigorating,” and you’ll find recipes for Zucchini Soup with Ginger and Lime, and Jicama and Orange Salad (both sound so invigorating!).
  3. Pandora. I actually love creating custom playlists (check out my Ask the Expert post on creating a party playlist featuring DJ Jojo), but if I don’t have time (or the right music in my library), I can always create a Pandora station to match the mood.
  4. Evite’s Drink Calculator. This handy tool helps you figure out how much booze to purchase.  It’s so simple, you could even use it while drinking!
  5. Sustainable Dinner Party Kit. Sustainable Table’s Dinner Party Kit includes all sorts of useful downloadable tools to help plan a party that celebrates sustainable, local foods. Holla!

What tools do you use?

Upgrade your scavenger hunt

1 Jul
Cloris Leachman, star of <i>Scavenger Hunt</i>, a fine film

Cloris Leachman, star of the 1979 cinematic achievement, Scavenger Hunt

Are you tired of the same boring, old school scavenger hunts? Fed up with tracking down traffic cones and wigs? Sick of taking photos of twins and policemen?

Well, chillax. Here are five modifications to spice up an uninspired scavenger hunt:

  1. Riddle Me This. I am a firm believer in the intellectually challenging scavenger hunt – players should have to earn their clues by solving puzzles, riddles or word games, answering trivia questions, etc. I know some people hate this stuff, but they are not invited.
  2. Road Trip. It’s fun to get teams of friends together from all parts of the country (mine happens to be the United States, but this would work in other places, too) and have them meet in the middle for the scoring.
  3. Nerd Alert. Adding technology to a scavenger hunt is awesome. Imagine what you can do with cameras, smart phones, GPS, virtual reality machines, robots, lasers and teleportation devices! (Or whichever of those are available to you.)
  4. Make Believe. I like scavenger hunts that establish some sort of fictional premise (someone’s been killed! something’s been stolen!) and that have actors playing characters (and distributing clues) throughout the event. Remember when you used to play pretend? It’s still fun.
  5. Get the Last Laugh. Have your scavenger hunt announced at the reading of your will and make your loved ones compete for the massive fortune you acquired during your lifetime. Also, Cloris Leachman is there.

I’m not going to lie. Pulling off a really good scavenger hunt is hard work. I think there is a direct correlation between the amount of blood, sweat and tears you put into it and the amount of fun people have.

***Bonus*** I also like the creativity that is typically demonstrated in reverse scavenger hunts – where teams collect items first and then have to argue how they match the object list. An example of a particularly nerdy reverse scavenger hunt is on the Avant Game blog.

For Families: Documenting Your Theme Parties

29 Jun
Document with calligraphy for added importance.

Calligraphy makes your documentation seem more distinctive and historically significant.

Here are five methods for documenting theme parties.

  1. The Steven Spielberg. Make a time lapse video. Watching a video of a party in real time is real boring. Who has time for that? Instead, speed it up with a time lapse effect (this is available on many amateur video editing software programs including iMovie HD). Add music that sounds old-timey.
  2. The Julia Child. Make a cookbook. Use Lulu or another self-publishing service to create a culinary remembrance. Ask guests to contribute their favorite recipes from past theme parties. Organize by theme or course, but include an index so readers can cross-reference. You can also make an online recipe book using a website such as Epicurious.
  3. The Jam Master Jay. Make a playlist. Use a song to represent each past theme party for an eclectic mix. Publish with last.fm, iTunes, or any of these.
  4. The Annie Liebovitz. Make a photo album. Ask guests to contribute to a Flickr pool and self-publish a photo album using Lulu or something similar. Makes a great coffee table book, especially for grandparents.
  5. The Tim Berners-Lee. Make a website. Everybody’s doing it. There are lots of ways to make free ones. WordPress. Wetpaint. A bajillion others. A website can include an archive of past theme parties, photos, videos, recipes, and a planner for upcoming parties.

See more entries in the For Families series.