The Steve Jobs school – a cunning marketing strategy.

In Amsterdam on 26th of march a group of entrepreneurs and educators lead by the Maurice de Hond, a long-time entrepreneur and owner of  a Dutch opinion poll company by the same name, held a press conference on the future of primary education. This is remarkable for two reasons 1) a  press conferences on primary education is  rare. 2) if there is a press conference on primary education chances are slim that it would get mainstream media attention.

What could have prompted this unusual responds? The media connections of  Maurice de Hond?, The schools manifesto  (English), which focusses on the ability of the child and less on the state obligated learning objectives? Or the fact that they called it ‘the Steve Jobs school’ or as some in the media  have dubbed it  ‘the Ipad school’?

I will come back to this question later on, but first some more details: the first school will open its doors beginning of August 2013 (!!) and the city council of Amsterdam has already agreed to provide the location(s). Other cities are being actively approached and in the meantime young parents as well as educators who are interested can sign up on the website, http://www.o4nt.nl , which in English translates to ‘education for a new era’. Non-parents and non-educators can participate as well.

Now most of the buzz has been centred around the question if it is wise to focus our educational system on a single device and brand, the Apple evangelists are mildly sceptical but for the most part think its a good move (they are called evangelists for a reason, I guess).  While most progressive  educators are seriously wondering how a bunch of Apps are going to be translated into a full educational curriculum (which seems like a fair point to raise). While the majority of the educators greeted the initiative with down-right cynicism (the irony here is that secretly this group yearns to see change the most).

I find the question of the progressive educators the most important so lets start there. 1) Let me be blunt by saying ‘Ipad’s in schools are not a good  idea’, by locking our educational IT environment into proprietary systems that are market driven you loose control, moreover you will  also create an unhealthy dependency (=legacy issues) on a corporate company which will always succumb to corporate greed, if they haven’t done so already, no offence to Apple its simply the nature of the Beast.

2) There has been a product on the market which has existed much longer than the Ipad and has been specifically designed with primary education in mind. A product that has proven itself in the harshest educational conditions in third world countries , the name of this product is the XO and its produced by OLPC.  This is a non-profit company so that limits the greed factor inherent to capitalism and it is an open-source platform,LINUX. I am not saying the XO is perfect but it’s a whole lot better suited for the task than the Ipad, since the XO is designed from the bottom-up to suit the anatomy of youngster.

The second gen XO laptop

Plus the new XO (see bellow) is much cheaper (+- 150 dollars but you have to buy in bulk) so the elitism of the Ipad is removed and it is the first ever table that OLPC has designed and like all XO’s the battery can be charged by a whole array of renewable sources solar, pedal as well as regular charging by USB and it can be maintained and fixed by the educators themselves with the proper training (so less service maintenance drama’s). I could go on to state the case why XO is better than the Ipad but I think you get the picture and sooner or later so will the masses.

Knowing all this, one question kept bugging me ever since the unveiling of this initiative: ‘why would an intelligent, savvy ,even shrewd, entrepreneur like Maurice de Hond make such a fuzz about an Ipad school when there clearly are better alternatives available?’

This question links back to the first question on why this initiative prompted so much response in the first place.

I belief that this is a brilliant marketing move from Maurice de Hond, I don’t belief this initiative is really focussed on the Ipad at all. Its focussed on reaching a better educational standard in Holland. In the process Maurice de Hond is using the Ipad and ‘the Steve Jobs school’  as a marketing tool. Everybody knows Steve Jobs and everybody has seen an Ipad. So instead of having to explain to people what needs to change in our educational system, which is technical and frankly rather boring. Maurice de Hond uses peoples (un)conscience idea’s about the Ipad and the Apple’s famous lifestyle marketing campaigns to propel a new educational concept into the collective conscience of the Dutch masses, its basically an inception but more crude and on a collective scale. As a result you now have soccer mom’s and yuppie dad’s talking about how they would like their children to go to a ‘the Steve jobs school’  because it will prepare them better for the technology of tomorrow.

My hypothesis  is reinforced by the following: 1) Maurice de Hond owns a survey poll company so he knows with a fair amount of detail “why” we are unhappy about our educational system, moreover the recently announced budget cuts by the government are only making this unhappiness more prevalent in the collective (un)conscience. 2) He knows how politicians think, Lodewijk Asscher is in charge of education for the city of  Amsterdam and he can use this initiative in order to further his political career on state, national or European level. 3) The official name of the initiative is  ‘education for a new era’  no official reference is made to Apple or Steve Jobs not on this level. So the whole initiative is not locked into the Apple mechanism and if it seems that the cooperation with Apple isn’t working out they can simple drop the name, their main objective of mass inception has already been achieved by then.

I suspect that eventually the progressive educators will step into the limelight and will start discussing in forums and communities  how they see the new school taking shape and probable start understating the Apple aspect.  But for now the buzz of  ‘the Steve Jobs school’ is necessary and at the same time a very cunning  marketing strategy.

Local funding in real life.

The gap between theory and reality can be pretty wide and deep. Especially if it is your faith, like mine,  to live on that razors edge of dreams and economics.

A while back I proposed  the idea, that a combination of crowd sourcing/design thinking/crowd funding could help to develop projects that benefit the locals and are funded by the locals.

Here is a real life example of a local architect and a local entrepreneur who wanted to build an underground park, yes you read it correctly an underground park…..but that’s not where the story ends, the local community believes so much in this project  that they decided to fund it themselves.  I will leave the technical details for you to explore in the link bellow, but as a reference they still have 8 days on the clock and are already 50+ % above target.

You may wonder why I am such a strong supporter for social funding, let me explain it without the abstractions and the jargon:

Imagine that you are walking through this park with a local person as your tour-guide, sooner or later you will hear this phrase pass his lips: “Our community made this park happen… for us…..and for the generations to come” , and as you notice the twinkling in his eyes you realize that it wasn’t due to the sunlight from above but the pride from within. That reaction of empowerment is social funding to me.

Now back to reality, yes that persistent and all-encompassing reality which you  can’t avoid……..but you are able to hack it! Therefore the most obvious question is: “how do you get natural sunlight into an underground park?”  The hack has elegance, but I will let you find it out for yourself, its cooler that way LowLine.

3d printed panoramic ball camera

Hi,

Simple solutions to hard problems always fascinate me, elegance rules. Panoramic camera’s have been around for a while but the quality has been a little lacking and honestly it never was 360 degrees, the top and bottom were often missing.That is why Jonas Pfeil solution is so interesting. Now the title of Jonas Pfeil final university thesis  is ‘Throw able Camera Array for Capturing Spherical Panoramas’, ‘throw able camera’ seems like a strange string of words,  like ‘ throw able glass’  or ‘dispensable babies’ , but anyway out of this, the panoramic ball camera was born.

The ball consists of 36 camera of 2 megapixel mobile phone camera’s, they are fixed by a 3D printed skeleton, which is so intrinsically made that it seems to be the best manufacturing method for the job. see here for further information.

The throw ball is an elegant solutions for 3 reasons  1) the pictures are taken at the high point of the throw where it is the most still, now by taking the picture at that moment the ghosting or blurring of people/cars/animals that occurs due to movement, is radically reduced 2)  the ball is not mounted on a ‘tripod’ or other device, that means that this camera can make pictures of the ground as well as the sky, making its pictures true 360 degree panoramic.3) you throw a ball into the air…it really doesn’t get much simpler than that.

This isn’t a tool that you use to get pristine pictures of undisturbed landscapes or for the interior of houses that are up for sale, more for city trips or outdoors activities, since you’ll always see the person who threw the ball. But all in all its an elegant  and fun solution for a complex problem.

You cannot buy this product yet, Jonas Pfeil has patent(s) on the camera so chances are that it will be available in the near future.

“everything is a remix” a unique vision on social evolution.

Hi,

Somehow articulated unique perspectives on a subject speak more to me than most text books. My theory: the more unique and personal an idea, the more I can emotionally connect to it, rationality is just the vehicle to transport the emotion.

This is the fourth and final part of a Kickstarter project on, you guessed it, remixing. the full name is ‘everything is a remix’ and its made  by Kirby Ferguson, backed by his Kickstarter investors.  He explores what “remix” means  and where it came from to finally end at the current ‘intellectual property gridlock’, the west is facing today, in which realizing ideas is much harder to achieve. Sounds odd at first but it makes sense in the end. Go check out the first three on his website here.

enjoy!

Social funding made local

The standard response of government and municipals on a crisis is to tighten expenditure, whereby the projects to which funds are allocated are often done so in an unclear and in-transparent manner, which can undermine the effectiveness and the credibility of the people in office. Trying to change this within the system proves difficult and at times impossible.

I want to propose a different system, a method that gives more transparency and participation for the actual beneficiaries, meaning you and me.

Now what I am describing here is not new, there have been a variety of different names on all the concepts bellow, too many if you ask me and frequently incongruent with one another. What is new is the proposal of a synthesis of these concepts into one coherent designed system or more appropriately website.

These are the concepts, I will explain the terms bellow:

Crowd Sourcing

Design Thinking

Crowd funding

“Crowdsourcing starts with decentralization, by sourcing tasks traditionally performed by specific individuals to a group of people or community (crowd) through an open call. In this way it is different from sites such as Stack Overflow, Twitter or Facebook, which do not have open call for contributions.

Jeff Howe established that the concept of crowd sourcing depends essentially on the fact that because it is an open call to a group of people, it gathers those who are most fit to perform tasks, solve complex problems and contribute with the most relevant and fresh ideas.”

-wikipedia

Crowd sourcing is distinct in that it asks the crowd’s opinion on specific matters, these can be related to technical issues but it can also be used to generate ideas/ problems/complains in specific local communities. A start question could be ”are you happy with the playground facilities in you community?” but also “would you like a community vegetable garden?” or “would you like to invest in alternative energy for your building block?”. The scope and the kind of project can vary but the fundamental methodology does not change, the crowds are the beneficiaries.

“Design Thinking refers to the methods and processes for investigating ill-defined problems, acquiring information, analyzing knowledge, and positing solutions in the design and planning fields. As a style of thinking, it is generally considered the ability to combine empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and fit solutions to the context. While design thinking has become part of the popular lexicon in contemporary design and engineering practice, as well as business and management, its broader use in describing a particular style of creative thinking-in-action is having an increasing influence on twenty-first century education across disciplines. In this respect, it is similar to systems thinking in naming a particular approach to understanding and solving problems.”

-Wikipedia

The strength of design thinking or contextual design, lies in it’s tunneling effect. It uses common sense with a dash of creativity to drill down to the core of  numerous ideas/ problems/complains , aggregating when possible and starts  ‘designing’  solutions based on these 7 specific steps, which will produce a different result in different settings: Define; Research; Ideation; Prototype; Objectives; Implement; Learn. always using the responds of the crowd as primary.

Depending on the level of complexity of the project expertise on certain area’s need to consulted, this too will be crowd sourced based and it is the responsibility of the website to make this understandable and transparent via its methodology.

Crowd funding (sometimes called crowd financing) describes the collective cooperation, attention and trust by people who network and pool their money and other resources together, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations.

-wikipedia.

Most will know crowd funding of  Kickstarter.com or Rockethub.com , The principal behind these websites is simple. Pitch your project and state how much you need to finish it and what people get back for investing a certain amount of  money in your project.

The supreme effectiveness of crowd funding lies in its democratic ability to allocate funds to the projects that the crowd really wants. In effect it democratizes supply.

What it does in this proposal is make the beneficiary aware of the cost of the project and what can be achieved with that money or human energy. The crowd funding stage acts like the lion’s den and asked the simple question:” is the investment of labor/money/time worth it?” If yes, the project will go ahead. If no, the project will be shelved.

The social funding method:

Combining these three concepts will give you a system which, for argument sake I will call ‘The social funding method’, the name really isn’t that important.

Now the alternative proposal is this: instead of governments and municipals allocating funds to local or state projects with little to no clear transparency on how they will be spend and even how the funds got to that specific project to begin with.

‘the social funding method’ sets up a platform (website) which integrates the concepts discussed above, making the steps transparent and sets up the budget and timeline and all other structurally important considerations. And let’s inhabitants, participate in the solution of their own problem or ideas and complete it themselves if small or ask for collaborative funding on private level, state level or via local commerce or specific charities or funds.

By providing the possibility to point out, design and help fund specific local social problems or ideas, it can help to get communities to rise out of the  complacency ‘funk’ which seems prevalent and at the same time receive satisfaction from doing something for yourself and your community.

Now what I want from you is input, do you agree / disagree / vehemently hate it or love it. Where do you see its strengths? Where do you see its weakness? What would you like to see added? Etc.

Take you time, write several comments if you’re the kind of person inspiration hits in stages. Or give it to me raw as one structured critique.

The pirate irony

The 3D printing world has recently had piracy on the mind, and for good reason.

In Brad Howarth’s  January article, 3D printing: saviour or piracy tool? , sets out the argument that 3D printing technology jeopardizes the intellectual property rights of high and low end brands and discusses what can or should be done about that.

But first let’s take a step back, since the discussion partly got started by a post of the pirate bay stating their intentions to become a 3D printing repository after Thingiverse paved the way.

From the pirate bay blog:

“We believe that the next step in copying will be made from digital form into physical form. It will be physical objects. Or as we decided to call them: Physibles. Data objects that are able (and feasible) to become physical. We believe that things like three dimensional printers, scanners and such are just the first step. We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare sparts for your vehicles. You will download your sneakers within 20 years.”

“The benefit to society is huge. No more shipping huge amount of products around the world. No more shipping the broken products back. No more child labour. We’ll be able to print food for hungry people. We’ll be able to share not only a recipe, but the full meal. We’ll be able to actually copy that floppy, if we needed one.”

Depending on your creed, this idea will seem ultra cool (albeit slightly inaccurate concerning food printing) or you will clinch in outright horror and contempt by the very notion of pirates in 3D printing world. Most multinational companies will fall into the latter part of this spectrum and with good reason. The current and most widespread company paradigm is centered on the cash cow principal. This means that a company makes a product, refines it and then unabashedly milks it until all creativity and originality has been sucked out of it, after that the company either has developed a new cash cow to start the process anew or realizes the shift of consumer taste too late and hastily struggles to change course.

Leaving ethics aside, this company model works well if the cost of entry to the market is high and/or if intellectual property rights are enforced. 3D printing has severely reduced the relevance of the first, off course not in all sectors of the market but then 3D printing shows no signs of stopping either. The latter has been maintain quite well until the pirates openly started mucking about. In a time where record and movie companies are still sour of the torrent phenomenon, and their grossly inadequate responds to it. Now product manufacturing companies feel the warm liquorish breath of the pirates, what to do? What to do?

In the later part Howard’s article shows us a way out of the 3D printing piracy problem, but not everybody is going to like it.

According to Bruce Arnold, a lecturer in the School of Law at the University of Canberra, the potential for object piracy is currently limited by the need for a skilled designer to copy the original object into a 3D model. While 3D scanning technology is in development, it will only enable a printer to create the appearance of an object, not its contents.

“For some purposes, appearance is everything; for other purposes functionality is really important,” Arnold said.

Just as with existing counterfeiting options, Arnold said that many consumers would still prefer to buy the original item. But for some designers, he said protection may be better achieved through instant prototyping and continuous product change rather than intellectual property law.

In other words, build your brand on continuous authentic creativity instead of copy right law suits based on cash cows. As I said, not everybody, especially multinationals are going to like this “option” and a litany of intellectual property law suits will undoubtedly rain from the skyscrapers but lets be real, has that stopped music and movie piracy, at all?

Innovation in big companies is a pain especially when it is thrust upon you, but it’s not like there are many other options available.

And the irony of it all is, that this push to become ‘authentic and continuously creativity’ did not come from a company executive nor from pleas from their customer base, but from those liquor smelling pirates.