Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ecuadorian Adventurer

I have done a terrible job writing about my travels so far on the blog, but Brett has been documenting a lot. Check it out!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Thompson River, BC on Oct 10 and 11th at 14,000 cfs

Wow, it is not every day that you get walking pneumonia, nor is it every day that you get to run the Thompson. I had been feeling bad like I was fighting a cold off as I sat across from Joyce listening to her tall tales of 20 foot waves on the Thompson.

"OMG!!!! It is the best river ever. My favorite. It is not a matter of IF you will flip, just when. And it may take you four or more attempts to roll, but swimming is not an option on that river. It is H U G E. When you roll... no worries, just sit there and feel the boat hit the crest of the wave, then hip snap. It will take you awhile to get it, but keep trying. AND Do not eddy out, the whirlpools will eat you. It is a formidable river, but you'll be fine." - Joyce Stuart, kayakista extraordinaire.

So I call Shanna... "What Ugh?@. you have never done this river before? Why? I am sh$#in my pants. Joyce is talking about 20 foot waves with laterals slappin you silly. Idamay can't even claim she has run it because she swam all the big rapids out of the shoot. She flipped at Frog, the very first rapid! And I am getting sick. Man, I want to be top of my game for this thing. Should we go? Are we ready for this? Seriously"

Needless to say, I did nothing to calm Shanna's nerves. Now both of us were freaking out.

Next thing I know, I am packed and crossing the border listening to Dale's story of shipping an entire semi and it's contents bolt by bolt to his work in the MidWest after trying to cross from Canada back into the US years ago. They were detained for seven days because someone forgot a piece of paper. They had to fly home after the detainment. Meanwhile parts from the semi and cargo were being rejected by shop staff because they were being sent by the customs house COD and they did not realize it what it was.

Six hours later, my cold is already rearing its nasty head and I am worrying that I won't be able to run the river the next day.

We slept in a little town called Hope that looked like it hadn't progressed in fifty years. Sweet people, cheap eats and a freezing cold motel room that later turned into a sauna. The drive to the river from Hope is amazing and I would recommend driving it in the light to experience it.

The morning greeted me with a full blown cold. The day before I was hoping that the cold was just an excuse so I wouldn't have to face my fear about this river. It could have been my out. But when faced with reality, I pouted and went to try and sleep it off instead of risking getting sicker.

Shanna, Dale, and Don ran the river that day. They were invited by the Ontario Kayak Club to a Canadian Thanksgiving. But they declined and came back and ate Tomato soup and toasted cheese sandwiches with me.

Shanna came back to the cabin with a big, wild eyes. "Oh no becky, Who cares about Frog, who cares about the cutting board, it was that other rapid after the Frog that was crazy. No one even knows it's name. That wave picked me up and threw me."

At that point, I could tell that Shanna was secretly hoping I was not going to feel good the next day so that she didn't have to run it again. But, I shattered that hope and rallied the next day. I felt horrible, but I went anyhow. I just promised myself that I would not try to surf the Frog so that I would keep all of my energy to run the river. As soon as you know you are going on a river like this, fear sets in. It becomes your job to control it, keep it hidden, and stay focused on what you know how to do.

Needless to say, my cold later turned into walking pneumonia. But it was worth it. I learned two lessons...
1) Stay out of the water when you are sick
2) Bring potentially two boats to the Thompson next time. The play boat for the Frog and a river runner for everything else. 14,000 cfs of water on a little Jackson Kayak is a lot of fun, but holy cow, it throws you around, it stops you when you are full speed, and good luck catching waves baby, ain't gonna happen. I was missing my Dagger Animas from the Hells Canyon. That thing sliced through waves and I could catch the green waves.

One time I was following Don on a rapid and were cruising pretty fast towards the end of a big wave train, the next thing I know, it was like he hit the e-brake or something and did a complete 180 and was moving up river... not on purpose mind you. He was not trying to Eddy out. I flew past him laughing, like oh wow.

Granite on the Hells Canyon @24000 cfs was still the biggest wave I have ever been on. It felt like 25 feet, something that could throw my 12 foot boat on end without a problem. But the waves on Thompson were big and they didn't stop. They were huge. And, it is my understanding that the water level was quite low for this river.

Check out the video I made. The boyz are surfing the frog, appropriately named for how it throws the boat up and down in a frog like movement.

This rapid is one of the easiest rapids on the river. The line is generally on the right and it has some pretty big waves down that entire line.

I am eager to go back and surf the Frog. Next time, I want to make sure that I have a few hours just for that.

Note: I have a typo in Dale's last name, it is Bonson.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Who cares about one laptop per child?

Who cares about one laptop per child (OLPC) when you have the iPhone? This was the question that came to mind as Apple begins to role out v2 of the iPhone at much lower prices.

While I primarily use my iPhone to manage my life... my contacts, my email, my videos, my pictures, where to go, how to get there, what rivers to run and stay away from, etc; I see it as a full blown computer and why not leverage it for education at such a low price point? 8-16GB of storage and it's processing power and applications are more than enough.

The keyboard ain't that great, but the screen sure is better than the XO. And the iPhone has all the applications on it to manage one's life. Sure you require a cellular subscription in order to use it as an actual phone and to make the majority of the apps come alive. But why not make the phone wireless and get WiMax in place in rural or impoverished areas? Then you would have universal information access without the subscription fees. And regardless, how many kids do you know that don't have a cell phone and an iPod regardless of their current economic status in the US?

Also, rugged... yeah it can be. I have dropped my iPhone far too many times and it is still working. It has no hard drive so it is less fragile than the average computer. And well, the hard plastic cases are pretty cheap.

But does the iPhone have the Logo programming language I ask myself? I am sure if you wanted it to be there, it would be easy enough for a Lisp nerd to get it up and running. And, heck, you already have ruby or python on the iPhone. Just install the terminal app. Ruby and Python are real languages with actual purpose and while logo just makes me feel nostalgic. But logo definitely has it merits when teaching programming to a child. I just wonder how many students today actually use it. And if they do, when does the light bulb goes off to encourage a child to evolve from logo into a real programming language.

The iPhone aside, while many doubt the intentions of the OLPC, I do see a lot of Pros and Cons for OLPC as it is today:


  • Lowers the barrier to entry to having a computer as a child
  • Introduces all children (potentially impoverished) to Computers
  • Teachers need a menu of tools to pull from to train students with, OLPC can be seen as a powerful tool provided they have the skills to leverage it
  • Not all teachers have had sufficient professional development to introduce a device like this into the class
  • Now teachers have to manage, chat, internet access, iPods and cell phones in the classroom.
  • The Teacher should still be the boss. The students should be learning structure in much the same way that there will be when they have a career. If the computer has all of the attention, the teacher will have less relevance. This will translate into other social challenges over time.
  • Who is going to maintain the equipment?
I loved the story from Ray Fisman's article, the $100 distraction. He highlights without proper guidance and educator influence from a child's guardians, the likelihood of the OLPC being of any value in that child's education is quite low.

It just seems, if the students are already going to already have an phone, an MP3 player, and well now a computer. Why not consolidate into one device?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Semantic Web in Education

SynapticMash begins to turn up the volume on our product offerings. In preparation for my talk at the Linked Data Planet on the 16th in NY City, Jennifer Zaino did a great job of summarizing our conversation about some of the key technology challenges in schools and how SynapticMash is here to save the day. At the Linked Data planet I will go into more details on how Web 2.0 can be leveraged to solve big challenges in education.

Bringing the Semantic Web to Education
May 30, 2008
By Jennifer Zaino

Friday, April 11, 2008

Talk in NY with Tim Berner's Lee @ Linked DataPlanet

Linked Data Planet June 17-18, NY City
Wed Jun 18, 2008 -- 3:00pm - 3:50pm
Track: Terrace Ballroom
W11: The Social Internet, Promise or Plague in Education?

I really must update my abstract... but this is the current draft.

The Social Internet has spawned numerous networks silos with data that is isolated from traditional search mechanisms. How will all of this new data being generated in these silos be accessed? When, if ever, is it appropriate to connect with the data and profiles in these silos? Education is a great arena to explore when thinking about bridging privacy needs with the benefits of data connectivity and collaboration provided by social networking. Can social networking keep students profiles protected, enhance student performance and facilitate professional development with social networking? This talk will cover the benefits of and technology best practices for collaborative educational environments and data connectivity in education.

SPEAKER: Rebecca Dias, VP of Software Development, SynapticMash

Thursday, April 10, 2008

UI Developer Needed

Are you a CSS guru? How are your Javascript and Ajax skills? Can you code reusable components? Do you know enough ruby to be dangerous? How about Information Architecture Skills and the ability to work with designers? Are you an open source fiend?

We need you if you fit the bill.
ruby - jobs @ synapticmash .com

Surfing the Cispus

I wanted to have Michael Deckert's grace....

This guys was soooo smooth on the river. He didn't actually need a paddle. He rigged up a cool little pully system for us so that we could keep getting on the wave. Great core strength exercise... let me tell you.

Surfing the lower gorge on the green

This was the most amazing day. Check it out!!!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Marketing as a Second Language (MSL)

David Marsee is my lead designer. We were both laughing (and crying) this last week as we designed this.

During this experience we both about fell over laughing when we invented a new special services declaration within the bounds of our office, Marketing as second language or MSL.

While Dave has a great mind for marketing, the majority of the world does not. Ed Guadet, if you are out there, hands off!! He would get bored with your business model anyhow ;)/

Back on topic... when people can not understand marketing, it is painful to even try to explain certain concepts. And when you are sent whitepapers to create what should be a simple message, you can declare that these people need to be put into the MSL program. For the majority of the world that is MSL, I thought I would laugh with you and give you a few lessons on how less is more....

here are my tips... what are yours?
  • the most difficult task is consolidating a page into one sentence that has necessary emotional and intellectual impact. It takes four months and potentially 60K worh to marketing spend to come up with:
build's excellence in student achievement (copyright, 2008)
  • 800 x 600 is all the information a mind can handle anyhow, so keep the nav unless you are communicating with statisticians
  • 11pt font or larger
  • 508 enabled cause everyone deserves the right to learn and teach
  • the mind pulls to the right of the screen unless something is in the middle to draw the eyes
  • people want simplicity, that is why blogger survives when I have 5 profiles on different social networks.. this is my blog, the other ones s#$% cause they aren't this simple
Anyhow... kudos to Dave

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Come join us at the NCCE Conference in Seattle

I have been too busy to blog about it, but tomorrow I will give my first talk on the work SynapticMash is doing. It will also be our first live demo of our product offerings.

Here are the talk details...

Friday, February 29, 2008, 8:30 am - 9:30 am, Room 620

Social Learning Networks: Moving Beyond ePortfolios
Rebecca Dias, VP for Software Development

The SynapticMash platform provides a new type of social learning network. Fusing the social collaboration of MySpace with the rich media experience of YouTube, SynapticMash makes it easy to create electronic portfolios and online classes with streaming audio, video, and flash learning applications.

Audience: Grades 3-16, Admin, IT, Library Media
Expertise: All Levels
Strand: Online Learning

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ruby Coders and UI Designers Needed

We are looking for more talent. Check it out!! We need a Guru Ruby Developer and a Lead Graphic UI and RIA designer. We are also looking for extremely talented mid-tier folks that can crunch data and get real world applications of AI...

Check out careers at SynapticMash.

You wont believe me but...

I have actually been working for the past two weeks, but it is always good to reminisce about vacation. :)

Monday, February 04, 2008

Sad news...

It is not often I run into female entrepreneurs that really gets it... very sad. Janette Symos, the founder of Imbee and Zhone passed away yesterday.

Three Amigos

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Kayaking the Cubatão do Sul in Santa Catarina, Brazil (III+)

I had planned a vacation to Brzail for my 5 year anniversary at Microsoft... Then I was offered a new job at SynapticMash which resulted in me resigning.

... But I still went on my vacation ...

I am in Curitiba presently and I just made the following video kayaking the Cubatão do Sul in the state of Santa Catarina in the South of Brazil. It is a III+ river. It is the most challenging kayaking experience I have had yet!!!

I didn't know the river well; I wasn't with my normal kayaking peeps; I rented a boat that was slightly too small for me from an awesome guy; It was my first time in a creek boat in some time; and I had never run a III+ river before. Wow!!! And while it is not on video, I really did run the waterfall in the movie. I videoed Bruno and scouted the run. Then I went by myself... check it out.

Maurice rented me his boat and is the rock star with the killer tatoo. He is also the guy that I rafted with the day prior and showed me all of the lines. Bruno was my guide the day of. We ended up running the river just the two of us.

The experience was amazing and I hope to go back there next week.
I will post another video of our rafting experiences the day before. If you plan to go to Brazil or if you have been looking for an amazing trip, come to Brazil and hang with the gang at TDA.

Thank you to everyone at TDA for being so awesome.