“Without the time machine, all choices have the possibility of being wrong.”

I recently read Scott Berkun’s book, The Year Without Pants.” It is an informativeBook Cover The Year Without Pants and entertaining book about his more-than-a-year working for WordPress.com, reporting on what it is like to work in a remote-only environment. He offers insights into the daily life of managing a team across the globe, and compares them to his own insights on leadership and management.

The quote from the book that serves as title of this post is taken from a chapter that focuses on decisions. When given a choice, should one wait to fix issues as they come up (responsive), or make updates/changes to improve and lessen the potential for issues (proactive)? Eloquently, Berkun argues that there is no way to truly know which choice to make. Managers have to take the available information, and pick what they believe is the best path. Unless you have a time machine of course.

This is one example of the variety of informative commentary found throughout the book. I have a particular predisposition to enjoy the book since it is about working for WordPress.com (the parent company is called Automattic, founded by Matt Mullenwig). I have been an avid WordPress user for a number of years. I fall in the self-hosted category of WordPress because I purchased my domain and host this WordPress blog through Dreamhost. I go so far to have attended a few WordCamps, and even had the fortune to hear Matt speak at a WordCamp in Toronto a few years back – very cool it was.

I want to highlight a couple of other “jump-outs” to me from the book. I could spend a long time on these, but will keep it reasonably short. As with any reading, the items I notice are in tune with what I work on every day.

“…companies confused supporting roles, like legal, human resources, and information technology, with product creation roles like design and development. Product creators are the true talent of any [organization], especially one claiming to bet on innovation. The other roles don’t create products and should be there to serve those who do.”

This quote is in reference to what the leaders at Automattic noticed about other companies that struggle to succeed. In K-12 education, the creatives are the teachers and the students. What they create and do together is most important and everything should serve that. It sounds basic on the surface, but when implemented it seems like we tend to put processes, procedures, and rules in place that get in the way.

“You see a similar downward spiral at schools that try to measure teacher performance. They create new tests for evaluating teachers that reduce time teachers have to teach real lessons, which lowers their scores, which, sad surprise, leads to more testing.”

I burst out laughing when I read the above quote. This book was published in September of 2013, around the time teacher evaluation was getting to a frenzied place across the country. Berkun’s point in this quote was regarding using metrics to measure employee performance. As soon as there is some system in place to measure performance, he notes “Everyone eventually realizes that the metric, which was good for a time, is now being gamed. Employees go so far out of their way to score well on the metric that it has negative effect on the real quality of what the company makes, something people recognize intuitively.”

The power of success at Automattic is that the only real performance indicator is when an item is released to the public on WordPress.com. Since there is no workplace, and everyone does their work when and where they want to, the focus is totally on what gets done. This concept is the complete opposite of what goes on in K-12 public schools since by nature everyone shows up in the same place at the same time to work/learn. We are a massive mountain of organized minute-managing. The new world of remote work is on the other side of the spectrum. Online learning is beginning to change education, but when it will take hold, and parents stop putting their kids on the bus, remains to be seen.

“He wanted a data-influenced culture, not a data-driven one.”

This is a reference to Mullenwig’s style of engaging in decision making. Data is important to the process, but he only lets the data influence decisions, not drive them. There is a part of decision making that is left to intuition, or gut, when the numbers don’t tell the whole story. This is true about every child in a school. Assessments certainly shed light on what students know, but people have hunches that go far beyond any report available.

  • Self-motivated people thrive when granted independence.
  • Managers who want better performance must provide what their staff needs.

The above is obvious, but still hits home as a necessary ongoing reminder. Successful teachers are by nature self-motivated. It is the job of those who support teachers to figure out what they need (asking is an easy way), and make it happen for them.

Looking back on what I chose to highlight from the book, it is interesting very little is about the remote-worker concept that it purports to be about. Remote work is the reality now for many, and for many more in the near future. Regardless of where the work happens, there continue to be challenges to success in companies that will always be present. How one deals with the challenges remains the constant.

Obviously a big hat tip to @berkun for some thought-provoking reading!

Or, It WON’T Happen Just Yet!

So after my post last week about the announced shutdown of IQTell, here is what came through this week:

Full Steam Ahead

The feedback about the shutdown fueled a renewed drive for the company to secure funding, and was successful. This is awesome news for the IQTell community. I participated in a thread on the Evernote forums about the demise of IQTell and options for GTD. There are big fans of what IQTELL provides.

I may consider revisiting IQTell at some point in the future, but the lesson remains the same. Services WILL go away; do you have a copy of your data somewhere, and what are the ramifications of not having the service?

Click here to read how to download Google data.

Click here to read how to download Facebook data.

Click here to read how to download Twitter data.

Click here to read how to download LinkedIn data.

Click here to read how to back up Evernote data.

It WILL Happen!

In my inbox the other day I received the following email, from a service I had used for a while:

Screenshot 2015-08-20 at 9.36.21 PM

IQTell is (was) a productivity system designed to implement the GTD (Getting Things Done) system by David Allen. It was not affiliated with the GTD company, but had a very good handle on what GTD is all about. I have been an avid GTD follower for a number of years. My tool of choice for a long time was OmniFocus, a Mac OS/iOS-only GTD tool. It worked very well for me until I determined a cross-platform solution was what was needed.

There are a plethora of GTD tools available, and after searching/reading, I discovered and switched my system to IQTell (note that depending on when you read this, that link may no longer work). It tightly integrated email, calendar, actions, projects, Evernote, and more, across the board. It did so in a fashion far more than any other tool that I could tell. The learning curve was a bit high, but the benefits seemed worth it. As I continued to use IQTell, what began to concern me was how integrated the systems were. For example, as I created actions in my IQTell account, corresponding items in my Evernote account would appear. This was by design and I understood so after a little while. It got me to thinking, “what else is integrated that I am not aware of?” Another example I struggle with is email – IQTell would import email from all my accounts – Gmail, Exhchange, etc. Since it did this, I believe it would have a copy of the emails from those services on the IQTell servers as well, and that was a step beyond my comfort level (probably unfounded, but it did concern me). In the long run, I decided to move away from IQTell for reasons like this. I was a fan of what it was trying to do, enough to pay for the service when they rolled out a pricing structure, but in the end decided to move on.

This brings me to the point – I lucked out on this one in that I had already moved on to another service for my GTD System (Evernote, using techniques from The Secret Weapon). But the fact is some technology services we rely on will just stop working one day for reasons beyond our control. They may even stop without warning, right when you try to login to get to your stuff (whatever that stuff is). Is the data stored on the service backed up somewhere so it is accessible? What are the implications if it is not accessible? What is the backup plan?

Just like everyone WILL experience a computer crash where all data is lost, we are at a point where everyone WILL experience a end-of-service notice for something they have relied on.

What if Evernote sent out a notice like this?

What if Goolge sent out a notice like this for gmail?

What service is going to sbut down next?

Cloudy Video

I successfully created a video using all cloud tools. Recently we held the Williamsville District Art Show at the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village, and I took numerous pictures and videos of the event with my  phone. I am used to downloading photos and editing in either iMovie or MovieMaker, both of which do a nice job. With the new Chromebook, I wondered if it were possible to move, manage and create video without having to be tied to a particular device. The answer was indeed yes.

Here were the steps:

Uploading: Using the Google Drive app on my iPhone, I uploaded all of the original media to Drive.

Editing: WeVideo is a Chrome app available for free, and uses a freemium pricing structure. The free version allows for 5 videos, 5 minutes of video export per month, and a short post-roll branding at the end of exported videos. Paid versions provide additional files, export time, and non-branding. You can grant WeVideo access to Drive, and once connected, media files can be imported directly for editing.

Exporting/posting: WeVideo exports in .mp4 format to Drive (and other web locations). On a Chromebook, when choosing to upload files, the file browser treats Drive as the local directory! This was the aha moment for me. Typically when uploading media to a server, the upload feature triggers a file browser for the local device. In the case of a Chromebook, the “local device” is Drive, so I could directly transfer the completed video file from Drive to the web server. Very slick!

I was very impressed with WeVideo on my first outing. The editing tools were comparable to typical movie editing software. I was able to create transitions, titles, etc. with relative ease, though it always takes a little while to learn how these tools are implemented. As a movie editing software user already, I chose the timeline mode to work in. For those not familiar with editing, there is a storyboard mode for beginners.

As I mentioned previously, the main thing for me was actually how the Chromebook treats browsing the local directory on a device – the local directory is the cloud, and not the device (though you can still browse to the download directory which resides on the Chromebook). This has implications across workflow, not just for video. The very nice thing regarding video, though, is that there is significantly less copying/managing when all the media lives in the cloud.

This was just a first pass, but so far, I’m really enjoying cloudy video!

PS If you would like to see the final product of this experiment, click below. If the file is not playing, click here to go to the page the video is posted on.

Tech Fix

I needed a tech fix today. Some people have particular vices they turn to when the time comes – thankfully for me it is some techie thing, which is not so bad in the big picture (compared to other vices…). What satisfied my need is a nifty Acer C720P Touch Chromeook. I’ve been contemplating a Chromebook for a while now, and decided to pull the trigger. The nice thing is that for most Chromebooks, the trigger is not too big to pull (financially, that is).

Acer C720P

On first startup, I have been impressed. You have to login to a Google account to get started, and it is easy to do. As soon as I logged in, all my “stuff” was right there.

The feel of the keyboard is a bit mushy for my preference in typing, but we’ll see how that plays out in the longer term. I usually like the feel of firm, responsive keys.

I purposely paid a little extra for a touch screen – this concept fascinates me. This model does not fold flat and inverted with the keyboard underneath as if it is a flat tablet, but the touch screen is a nice extra. I wonder how much I will actually use this feature – more to come on this.

The Chromebook is extremely light, and still firm to hold. The touchpad seems very responsive, and there are 2 USB ports and an HDMI port for external video. All seem like nice-to-haves. Again, only time will tell.

I am looking forward to pushing the Chromebook to its limits!

My Answers

Taking the questions from the previous post, Questions for Thought, I am going to turn the tables and take a turn as if the questions were posed to me. The framework for my answers sometimes relates to how technology supports learning, since that is the focus on this site. Here we go…

1. What do I need to know about you? An analogy I like to use is marathon runner – steady dedication to the task at hand is what gets results. Careful, long-term training and practice will reap rewards in the end. Being keenly aware of your surroundings, and seizing opportunities when they arise, are the benefits of keeping skills honed. I did run one marathon, and was successful – not fast, but successful. The regimen I put in place paid off, and I enjoyed the process. I hope to run another marathon someday to prove it was not a fluke – I enjoy running in general.

2. What do you need from me more than anything else? From anyone I work with, communication is what I need most. Simply ask for what you need, and if you are unsure of how to do something technologically, just say so. Don’t be worried about what anyone thinks – say what you need and we can get it done.

3. What does success in the classroom mean to you? Students who produce original, meaningful works that they are proud of. Watching the expression on a face when a student shows off their video is an example.

4. What do you know about how people learn? I know that when it is something they WANT to learn about , almost anyone will do whatever it takes. For example, a student wanting to learn some Minecraft tips will figure it out quickly using a Google search (just ask my son). A student trying to make a robot turn to challenge his Lego Mindstorms partner will figure out which switches need to be put in place to make it happen. A student trying to figure out the changes to Coltrane’s Giant Steps needs to make it just between him/her and the music, but this video doesn’t hurt (unless the video is used totally in place of the ear!):

5. What’s the most creative thing you’ve ever done? I’ve done some tribute videos for colleagues that I am really proud of. The storytelling that goes on when you build video is really fun. You have to go on a hunch, gather whatever resources you can, and go for it. Click here for one example on this site.

6. How can technology be used for learning? At this point, in 2015, the question is really how can technology NOT be used for learning? There are, and always will be, times when technology is not directly involved in learning (reading a good old-fashioned book, for example) but it is right there to support learning (tweeting out favorite quotes from said old-fashioned book, for example).

7. What does it mean to understand something? When you can verbalize what you know and don’t know about a topic, and are comfortable attending to what you need to figure out in order to better understand it.

8. When was the last time you’ve solved a problem? Last night with some pesky screw holes that were rounded out. I needed to fix the hinge so the cabinet door would work again…

9. How do you respond to expectations? I do everything in my power to meet them. Professionally, I place great emphasis on meeting the needs of those I support, and work as well as I can to get the job done.

10. What is your proudest moment? Watching students succeed in their endeavors. For example, three students I worked with were recognized two different times in the CSPAN StudentCam Competition. They worked hard, and the results were great. StudentCam is an excellent competition as it provides a venue for students to pursue and share their voice on important issues.

11. What do you want to learn about? The Great American Songbook, hands down. I’ve only scratched the surface of what transpired in the first half of the century regarding the development of music. The GAS is an incredibly deep and rich treasure that is worthy of ongoing enjoyment and study.

12. Are you a picky reader? What are your strengths as a reader? I am not a picky reader – rather I am a willing participant in a story and am happy to let the author take me where he/she wishes. I am not sure if I can verbalize strengths – I enjoy reading, and wish I devoted more time to it.

13. What is your personal philosophy? Pick something, and go for it. Life is to short to worry if it is the right choice – if what you decide to do is not the way to go, that truth will uncover itself before too long.

14. When do you write best? When I have mental room – as in a few hours where it is just me and the keyboard. Having time to digest and create (and find links, appropriate media, etc.) takes time.

15. What’s worth understanding deeply? See #11 – The Great American Songbook. Speaking of which, here is a sample of a tune I studied for a while – The (Boy) From Ipanema. A great twist on a classic, performed by Diana Krall and Rosemary Clooney, with John Pizzarelli on guitar! Note this is an unofficial YouTube upload – it may disappear at any time…

16. What are your best habits as a thinker? Repetitive thinking – I like to revisit big ideas over time to see how they last. Good ideas stand up over time, and pass the “fresh look” impression. In other words, if an idea or product is good, it gives that “good feeling” vibe the next time it is looked at, after a bit of a break. One does not always get the luxury of taking a break to reflect on an idea, but it never hurts. In the world of de Bono’s six thinking hats I think this is red hat thinking – feelings, intuition, and hunches. But, they are delayed intuition, not immediate, so maybe it is more blue hat, or process, thinking.

17. What’s most important to you in life? Supporting others, and bringing people together.

18. What is the relationship between learning and #17? Supporting others in their pursuit of learning is fundamental. Bringing people together to learn really rocks.

19. Where does your inner drive come from? I think fundamentally from my mother. She was always working on something, doing something, or LEARNING something. She never made a big deal out of it – she just did it.

20. Who are your heroes or role models? Don Quixote comes to mind – he is selfless and single minded in making the world a better place. The acting delivered by Peter O’Toole certainly contributes to the effect of the storyline in the movie version, too. Speaking of movie characterizations, Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka is another great one. His delivery of O’Shaughnessy’s famous line is memorable – “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”

21. Why study (insert your content area here)? Because (insert content area here) is worth knowing about! In my position as an Instructional Specialist for curricular areas outside of my personal expertise, I have gained valuable insight into those ares. For example, I have a far greater understanding of the value of and need for Family & Consumer Science instruction. Michelle Obama said it very well in the article linked here.

22. What are you good at that nobody knows? Riding rollercoasters with really big drops. I don’t think this is a skill, but I consider it a talent to enjoy being launched at 120mph and head 400 feet into the air.

23. What do teachers sometimes misunderstand about you as a learner? I am a quiet student, and my tendency to not always verbalize sometimes leads to others thinking either I’m not interested or do not have an opinion.

24. What does it mean to study? Revisit, gain clarity, understand more deeply.

25. How do you respond to complex texts or digital media? It depends – if the text is complex because it is dense with difficult content and terminology, it takes time to digest. I find it hard to keep concentration when this is the case – Edwin Gordon’s seminal book in music education, Learning Sequences in Musiccomes to mind. I needed a nap after every paragraph to process it!

26. If I get out of your way this year, what will you be able to do? Be out in classrooms, supporting learning!

Questions for Thought

I recently was introduced to a great post written by Terry Heick last year around this time, 26 Questions Every Student Should Be Able to Answer. The questions are terrific, and get to the essence of what the teacher/student relationship should be about. Moreover, they are the same exact questions to be used in an administrator/teacher relationship. Or any learning relationship. The questions are basic enough, but powerful enough, that they provide the fuel for excellent classrooms. Great teachers and students already implicitly search for/provide this information, but the list is extensive and thinking about them in an ongoing fashion is a very good idea.

I do not have too many “wall-hangars” (items which I feel are important enough to print out and tape to the wall above my desk). As soon as I read this one, I clicked print immediately.

These questions feel like they are stuff for future posts, focusing on my personal thoughts for specific questions. For now, here is the list. My top question as a supervisor going into a new school year? Number 26, for sure.

1. What do I need to know about you?

2. What do you need from me more than anything else?

3. What does success in the classroom mean to you?

4. What do you know about how people learn?

5. What’s the most creative thing you’ve ever done?

6. How can technology be used for learning?

7. What does it mean to understand something?

8. When was the last time you’ve solved a problem?

9. How do you respond to expectations?

10. What is your proudest moment?

11. What do you want to learn about?

12. Are you a picky reader? What are your strengths as a reader?

13. What is your personal philosophy?

14. When do you write best?

15. What’s worth understanding deeply?

16. What are your best habits as a thinker?

17. What’s most important to you in life?

18. What is the relationship between learning and #17?

19. Where does your inner drive come from?

20. Who are your heroes or role models?

21. Why study (insert your content area here)?

22. What are you good at that nobody knows?

23. What do teachers sometimes misunderstand about you as a learner?

24. What does it mean to study?

25. How do you respond to complex texts or digital media?

26. If I get out of your way this year, what will you be able to do?

Tink, Tink, Tink

That is the sound of me tinkering with my blog. I’ve missed the writing and thinking it makes me do. You’ll notice the new look (Twenty Twelve by WordPress) – it is supposed to be more mobile-friendly. There are lots of things to learn about how WordPress behaves on devices that have arrived in the last couple of years, so bear with me as I tinker around here.

Pardon the dust as this shop hopefully reopens…


Welcome to Point A to Point B, a place I am proud of. It represents my thoughts and ideas over a span of seven years (2004-2011) while I was a technology integration specialist. I have moved into a different position, and am concentrating my efforts in different ways.

The hiatus is over (see post below). I am closing this shop, but not taking it down. I think this site has, and may continue to, provide value. At the very least, it is a chronicle of progress for me. Since I am reframing my own point a and point b, there may be a future iteration of the site if and when the time seems right.

If you find yourself here, welcome. I’m glad you stopped by.