SXSW 2010: Universities in the “Free” Era

Saturday, March 13 11:00am
Glenn Platt, Miami University Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies, Professor
Peg Faimon, Miami University Design Collaborative, Professor

Session Description

MIT, Yale, Stanford, and others put lectures online. Chris Anderson argues all university lectures should be free. From Academic Earth to TED, it’s free. So what is the value-add of a university education? What models of higher education will survive? How will universities leverage the social web to reinvent themselves?


The purpose or role of a University

  • Convey knowledge: it’s original founding
  • Create knowledge: new products created in universities
  • Develop the person: co-curricular activities, mind, body, spirit
  • Contribute to society
  • Signal ability: smart people go into education, smart people go out of education
  • Seed innovation

But the system is breaking down

  • The cost is too high: inflation rate of tuition is higher than typical inflation
  • You have to go to mountain: the ability to have the residential experience
  • The “experts” are local: you can only interact with those people on your campus
  • Universities change the funeral at a time: because of tenure faculty just stop wanting change because they don’t have to
  • Faculty hire people just like themselves
  • Tenure is broken: lack of conversation at universities talking about this

What’s driving this breakdown? “tectonic change”

  • Change in learning styles: people learn differently especially with technology coming into play. learning styles are also now being categorized better than they used to be, allowing professors to change their teaching techniques.
  • Collapse of disciplinary structure
  • Acceleration of K-12: a lot of things which used to be taught in college are now being learned in K-12
  • Flatten of knowledge
  • Students [+parents] as consumers
  • The Internet

Educational Entrepreneurs have stepped in to fill the gap

So, how does the traditional university evolve? “The new professor”

  • Experience designer: what’s the best way to get the student engaged and reach their goal of an end point
  • Project manager: how do you plan, move forward, and make sure tasks are completed in a global sense.
  • Angel investor: student’s success at the end of the day
  • Curator
  • Resource allocator: who’re the people the professor knows to help the students get to where they need to be.
  • Life coach: “Yes you can” motivation. Getting the students to be active in their learning.
  • Validator: how do students learn to communicate and add value to the conversation

Where to begin

  • Experiential learning: resume builders which teach students ambiguity
  • Multi-institutional collaborations: you need to know how to communicate with other people in or out of your field.
  • Train PhDs to think more contextually: when you get your PhD no one teaches you how to teach.
  • Strategic industry and non-profit partnerships: thinking about the university beyond its own boundaries
  • Re-examine tenure: we really just need to get rid of it
  • Student-driven inquiry: having students actually doing research and knowing how to ask questions.
  • Facilitate collaboration
  • De-privilege institutional content
  • Reward failure: as of now you don’t have time to fail and go beyond the easy route
  • Get rid of departments and focus on questions: they silo the institution
  • Think like social entrepreneurs
  • Give more than you get: contribute to online sources and open source software/databases
  • Hire people who think this way: forward
More InformationLinks

SXSW 2010: Is The Brain The Ultimate Computer Interface?

Saturday, March 13 9:30am
Christie Nicholson, Scientific American

Session Description

Will we be able to jack into the brain and upload helicopter instructions, like in The Matrix? We already have the technology to control a prosthetic arm or Twitter with thoughts alone. Dishes of neurons can control a robot. And scientists have created a working artificial memory chip in rats.


VIDEO: Andrew Schwartz Lab, University of Pittsburgh

They were able to infuse channels into a monkey’s brain to have it move a robotic arm/hand. At first the monkey would stumble trying to discover how to move the arm. But as they slowly got it to work they would just concentrate a little bit harder to finish the movement desired.

VIDEO: Matt Nagle, Beain Gate pioneer user

Matt was paralyzed from the neck down, and with a 1″ x 1″ computer chip located right behind the skull he was able to control computer games such as pong with his brain, dots on the screen, and the ability to open and close a synthetic hand.

Non Invasive, EEG: electroencephalography

This method is less accurate but it is just transistors you wear and no surgery is needed.

Partially Invasive, ECoG: Electrocorticography

This method sits on the brain, but does not go into it.

Invasive, Intracortical Electrode

This method goes 1mm into the brain matter, and as it sits there the brain matter actually grows around it, implanting more neurons, and making it more effective.

Rat Brain, Artifical Hippocampus

With rats they have been able to completely turn off their brains and use only a computer chip to control their movements to have them press a lever.


They’re requesting (and probably getting) funding for telepathic shoulders who will be able to communicate using EEG to other shoulders on the field.

VIDEO: Charlie rose & Miguel Nicolelis, Duke University, founder of DARPA

VIDEO: Optogenetics, controlling the brain with light, Karl Deisseroth’s Lab at Stanford University

Discovered from pond scum. The genes in it can be injected into rats and blue/yellow lights then interact with these rats.

Blue Brain, reverse engineering a map of the brain.
Henry Markham, Lausanne Switzerland

SXSW 2010: Cooking for Geeks: Science, Hacks, & Good Food

Friday, March 12, 2010 5:00pm
Jeff Potter, Cooking for Geeks

Session Description

Cooking for Geeks covers a new way of looking at how to cook for the hacker, maker, and creative person. By bringing science and experimentation into the kitchen, this panel will show how to create better food and new experiences at the dinner table.

Jeff Potter has been cooking with geeks, makers, and hackers since college and is the author of the forthcoming O’Reilly book, Cooking for Geeks. He has written code in cubicle land, survived the startup experience, and done the entrepreneurial thing, and through it all maintained his sanity by cooking for friends. He lives in Cambridge, MA.


Tasting & Cooking

The types of taste buds are sour, salty, sweet, and bitter.

The four stages of cooking: Inputs -> Cooking -> Sensations -> Perceptions

Type of cooks:

  • Giving: friendly, enthusiastic, love baking
  • Healthy: optimistic, nature-loving, fish and veggies (Inputs -> Cooking)
  • Methodical: talented, recipe-driven
  • Innovative: creative, experiemental
  • Competitive: intense perfectionsts, “Iron Chef”

Types of tastes (Phenylthiocarbarnide, PTC):

  • Unbearably bitter “Super Tasters” (25%), more probably of cancer
  • Bitter (50%)
  • Nada (25%)

People who are “Super Tasters” are least likely to smoke as it tastes worse. They usually put sugar and creme into coffee since it’s bitter. It also happens that sugar is 2x sweeter, and hot peppers taste stronger. Someone who is a super taster is least likely to use salt as they can pull out all of the other flavors of the foods they eat.

The ability to taste is Generic, and over time your ability to taste will degrade over time at a rate most people do not notice it. Stress can cause a loss for taste as well. There is data that suggests Chefs who are not Super Tasters are more likely to become the Manager of restaurants than be the Chef.

Five Key Temperatures

  • 122 degrees F Myosin: this is the temperatures at which meat and proteins change shape causing texture and flavor differences. Meat, for instance, tastes better when it has lost its native structure.
  • 131 degrees F Bacteria: Highest reported food born illness spreading. They can live at temps higher than this, but they will not reproduce and multiply.
  • 150 degrees F Actin: this gives meats their tough and dry texture. Ideally you want to cook meat to around 145.
  • 310 degrees F Maillard Reaction: reaction between protein and a reducing sugar which occurs when these two compounds bread down and create hundreds of different flavor. It gives this type of “nutty” flavor. When you grill food the grill marks are essentially this.
  • 356 degrees F Carmaelization: 320-340 degrees F it actually starts, but at 356 degrees it becomes visually present.

SXSW 2010: Jacks of All Trades or Masters of One?

Friday, March 12, 2010 3:30pm
Brian Talbot, Viget Labs, Senior UX Designer
M. Jackson Wilkinson, Linkedin, Senior Product Designer

Session Description

The web originated with generalists – webmasters designing, building, and developing. Today, a web team can have a dozen different specialist roles, each highly-focused. With that in mind, what are the strengths of specialists and generalists, and when are each put to their best use on a project or in an organization?


There are basically three types of people who work on the web: technology, design, business. There are two bounds to each of these groups: specialist, generalists. A web designer generalists, for example, knows design but they really become the glue between design and backend development. A web designer specialist, for example, is trained in the graphic design discipline and is really good at taking designs or marketing and transforming them into a design.

The great debate: Specialist vs. Generalists

“Honestly, I’m shocked that in 2010 I’m still coming across ‘web designers’ who can’t code their own designs.” Elliot Stocks

One of the bigger questions is how do you develop a team and how many should be specialists, and how many should be generalists?

Some people refer to “T-shaped” people who have a broad skill base with a reasonable amount of depth, but in particular niches they excel the most.

Managers value a specialist because their influence is not manipulated by external constraints. They have the ability to develop something amazing where as a generalist can see the big picture of the project but not the specific milestone.

“High degrees of specialization may be rendering us unable to see the connections between the things we design and their consequences that ripple out into the biosphere and technosphere in ways we aren’t trained to see or may never fully understand” Terry Irwin

Specialists can take advantage of specific market opportunities. If a 24 hour lock-smith is the only one in your town, then he’s going to get all the requests and jobs when someone locks themselves out of their house at 4am.

Should I be a Specialist or a Generalist?

  • Do you feel the need to be the absolute best at something? (Yes: Specialist, No: Generalist)
  • Do you like handling things from start to finish? (Yes: Generalist, No: Specialist)
  • Do you like working alone on projects? (Yes: Generalist, No: Specialist)
  • Can you lean and understand foreign concepts quickly? (Yes: Generalist, No: Specialist)
  • Are you competitive and a perfectionist? (Yes: Specialist, No: Generalist)
  • Do you want to work on the new, hip, sexy projects? (Yes: Generalist, No: Specialist)
  • Do you need much variety in your career? (Yes: Generalist, No: Specialist)
  • Are you good at knowing when you’re in over your head? (Yes: Generalist, No: Specialist)
  • Is job security a priority for you? (Yes: Generalist, No: Specialist)
Should I hire a Specialist or a Generalist?
  • Are you a small organization? (Yes: Generalist, No: Specialist)
  • Do you have a decent process in place? (Yes: Specialist, No: Generalist)
  • Is that process more agile than waterfall? (Yes: Generalist, No: Specialist)
  • Is amazing execution your top priority? (Yes: Specialist, No: Generalist)
  • Can you keep a specialist busy for the length of the job? (Yes: Specialist, No: Generalist)
  • Do you need someone who can pitch in in various ways? (Yes: Generalist, No: Specialist)
  • Are you hiring a manager, executive, or very senior role? (Yes: Generalist, No: Specialist)
Questions and Answers
  • How do you stay trained as a Generalist or know what to study next when you’re trying to juggle so many different balls at the same time?
    One of the essential skills of a Generalist is having the ability to know where the industry is going, and act upon learning those things. It can be active as something you take on actively during your day job, or outside.
  • If you’re looking for someone senior in your team, does that mean if you’re a specialist you’re limiting your career?
    There have been articles that recommend this is the case because Generalists seem to get hired more often. With a specialist your goal is to become the “Super Senior Role” for job security.
  • Being that I’m a Generalist, I had to at one point become a Specialist at my work but later shifted back to a Generalist and am not taken as serious. What tips do you have to get around that?
    It’s good to surround yourself with peers who have your same interest. You always benefited from being a Generalist, even if they were old skills. So because of this at least you still had the previous experience.
  • If someone asks, “What do you do?” then what should I say aside from listing off current and past projects?
    Use broad statements such as, “I work on websites” and if someone wants to persue that further then give off some broad examples. This would all depend on who you’re talking to as well: potential client, or your mother. It’s sometimes easier to explain what the purpose of your work is, and not what your work actually is.
  • I have always been a Specialist, and I’m having a hard time letting go of everything being perfect, what recommendations do you have for me in letting go?
    It’s all about how you measure your own success. If you’re measuring it by the exact quality of your output in a quantitative state you’ll have problems. But if you measure it on milestones or success then you start to concentrate on how this will teach us in the future for the next project.
  • As an organization grows and moves from less Generalists and more Specialists what would you recommend to the Generalists that are getting cased aside in their company?
    The Generalist hopes to find themselves in a role where they’re keeping them engaged; rather that be a promotion or the ground level knowledge to do things. Other things it is important to have some Specialists and some Generalists because if you’re part of a meeting where you have the overview it makes the glue.
  • How do you identify if someone is a legit enough Specialist in your company although they’re referring to themselves as a Generalist?
    Experimentation would be the best bet as you can assign then a project to see how deep they can go into it, and how successful the outcome is. Of course this is all reliant on your organization itself.
  • Do you have any experience with large clients who have lots of Generalists when trying to convince them to bring in more people who’re Specialists?
    You as the consultant should take on that as part of their mission to convince them they need these Specialists.
  • Sometimes I see job descriptions that seem to need extremely specific things. However, HR doesn’t care if you want a well-rounded Generalist?
    It’s more of a political battle and if you have the ability to tweak the job description. Perhaps you list the Major (required) needs, but then also have some Minor (optional) ones.

More Information


SXSW 2010: In Code We Trust: Open Government Awesomeness

Friday, March 12, 2010 2:00pm
Alissa Black, City & County of San Francisco
Dmitry Kachaev, OCTO Labs/DC Government
Noel Hidalgo, New York State Senate

Session Description

“In Code We Trust” is the new motto for Government in the 21st century. Across the country, geeks inside and outside of government are developing a new model for a participatory and transparent Federal, State and Municipal governments. Built upon open-source tools, open standards, and best practices, this panel will highlight practical examples of initiatives from private, public and government sectors.


Why this rocks? Makes democracy participatory and saves money.

Digital technology erases the distance between the electorate and those who are sent to serve them. This type of technology allows for contacting senate from multiple technological means. Typically these means are via Social Media.

Since all of life is collaborative, government should be the same way. This causes questionable circumstances where they may diverge and play online games instead of using their access to technology is a productive manner. Most data is public knowledge and thus it is all posted online via multiple means: video, audio, written, and even analytics for website usage. This happens both in person and online where people are fully engaged and watching these questions while having access to these senators in real-time. This is great for desolate areas, such as Albany, where traveling to these meetings becomes difficult.

“Open Legislation” is one of the online applications that was built which has all of the bills in legislation created. This data has an API where you can see at any one point where the bill stands (in process, post process, etc) and who’s voting on them.

How can open government be sustainable?

OpenSF is San Fransisco’s open source software that contains “Data sets” and allows raw data to be public. At California Data Camps multiple Applications were developed to have a friendly public front end to interpret these Data sets. Since you cannot get people to enter new data into the system, they got the Mayor involved. Basically they put into effect a policy where if a Data set is requested, they must comply. This makes Open Government more sustainable.

RecoverySF, iHeartSanFransicoWater, PolicySF, ImproveSF, and DataSF were also released which do various online Open Government data sharing. Citypedia is used by the Department of Technology but San Fransisco find it useful as a Wiki to store data.

The moment public participation becomes a way of doing business in Government it makes it really hard to then take this type of technology away from people. Basically once the ball gets rolling it’s in tact forever.

An Open Source Software Policy was put into effect which basically says, “if your department is considering purchasing a piece of software over $100,000 then you must research alternative Open Source options.” This is good because although they may not use the Open Source option, it will still force them to do better research and overlook everything.

Washington DC have put into place Open API feeds which help Developers to allow developers to have independent systems which use different data mash-ups in different ways. One of the issues around Open Data is sometimes it’s hard to understand: business processes, government terms, meta data, etc. If you’re going to wait for 100% clean data and then use it to build a system, it’ll never happen. It doesn’t matter if you have 60% or 70% of accurate data, because as the public starts using this data it will eventually have a need to be cleaned up.

Questions and Answers

  • What about not having a representative from a red state?
    In New York they had two elected officials switch their political views to cause better effective government.
  • How do citizens go about getting better information online?
    Having an online community, excellent applications, and other services is key. Governments are really bad at getting accessible apps, or even advertising they exist. Washington DC released an “App Store” which was a database of search-able e-apps so they were better accessible. It really boils down to just opening up more channels of communication and data flow.
  • Can you talk more about using the Wiki and getting it approved to using this, while also keeping sustainability and the challenges involved?
    The Wiki Alissa (San Fransisco) uses had no criteria defined as how to use it. Originally it was used quite a bit and accepted pretty well, but after everything was put in it hasn’t been used as much. It becomes a good resource to reference people to for multiple things. It just becomes one good spot where all questions can be answered. Finding powerful allies within the city government is highly suggested.
  • Open Government Directive speaks to transparency and collaboration is great, but what else have you done to get groups to collaborate? How do you take these tools to build these widgets to interface the data?
    One goal was to collaborate between multiple cities. Holding a DevCamp was great, because it gave ideas when starting up Open311. There are always teams somewhere who will help you start up these projects.

More Information

Code is law, Lessig
Transparency Camp
GovLoop – Online Community
OpenMuni – OpenGov Wiki