A ‘gifted’ child

Our ongoing saga to enroll Catriona into local school continued Saturday with a parent information meeting held at Beimen elementary in Hsinchu. It was a long and well presented session on how to prepare, and what to expect from the upcoming ‘early’ entrance tests process.
In Taiwan a child must have a birthdate by September 1st in order to attend elementary school in that calendar year. Any child born after that date, no matter how close the date, cannot attend without first being tested. There are no exceptions to this rule. The testing process itself is incredibly laborious and secretive with the result being not whether or not your child is ready for elementary school but whether she/he is ‘gifted’.
Here is how the process could work. You have two children, one born on August 31st, and the other on September 3rd. The child born on August 31st is off to elementary school, the child born on the 3rd of September must be tested in order to prove herself to be a ‘gifted’ child. Gifted is defined as being showing great promise in a particular area, like music, language, math, or dance. In addition the child must pass a group IQ (socio-emotional) and an intellectual test. To pass these tests they must receive a score of 97 or higher. Correspondingly, only 3 out of 100 students who take the test will pass. Furthermore, it was stated that the other children, in this example the child born on the 31st, might score 85 or less.
The child born a few weeks later than the others may well overall be better prepared for elementary school but because of a slight happenstance of birth must prove herself to show ‘genius’. Something is amiss in this whole process but we have little choice but to go along with it.
It would be interesting to look at the differences in August and September birth rates. I’m told there are a rise in c sections and premature deliveries during this period.

Music from Sand

Diego Stocco turned sandbags from his backyard into a wonderful sound design experiment.

The entire track is created only out of tuned sand tones. No additional sounds or waveforms.
I emphasized the inner notes of the sand grains and mapped them on a sampler as a series of instruments. The grooves are all played live with various techniques, including taping two piezo films to my fingers.

Innovation through observation

With an eye for brushing up on pertinent literature, I am trying to reread some key books from my small library. Some like George Lakoff’s books are very valuable but so academic I wonder if I will ever get through them. Others from Donald Norman and Tom Kelly are full of ready to use practical tidbits that allow me to at least start talking about them in my practice. I’m going to try to share some of these tidbits (writing aids in memory and I need all the help I can get).
I have Tom Kelley’s latest book, The Ten Faces of Innovation, on order but his book that I do have, The Art of Innovation, is full all kinds of great ideas which have proven relevant to me in the past and now.
I do like to watch people. If I had a wish it would be to be able to be involved in more projects that allowed me to observe the way people live, work, and play. So interesting and so many insights to be found.

It’s a general principle of humankind. Scientists, industrialists, anthropologists, artists, and writers have understood this for centuries, and many entrepreneurs understand it intuitively.
Once you start observing carefully, all kinds of insights and opportunities can open up.
Sometimes-if you are lucky-you can find inspiration for innovation by observing yourself. In many parts of your life, you go through steps so mechanically. so unconsciously, that this is not possible. When you are off the beaten path, however, you are open to discovery: when you travel, especially overseas; when you rent an unfamiliar car; when you try a new sport or experience a new activity. AT those times, you are more open to ask the childlike “Why?” and “Why not?” questions that lead to innovation. … take notes about your impressions, reactions, and questions, Especially the problems, the things that bug you.
New ideas come from being seeing, smelling, hearing-bing there.
Focused observation can be a powerful source of innovation. As you observe people in their natural settings, you should not only look for the nuances of human behavior but also strive to infer motivation and emotion. Good, insightful observation combines careful watching with occasional well-chosen “why?” questions to get at the underlying psychology of a persons interactions with products and services.

Some of my most inspiring moments came when our daughter Catriona started to explore the environment around her. In our house at the time most of the storage was via wire storage shelving with all the heavy pots and pans sitting at the bottom. Instead of discouraging her from touching or playing with them, we used to sit every night on the kitchen floor with pots and pans and other kitchen tools in an effort to make music. Sitting with her I was able to see the limitations placed upon her by her physical development , how she compensated, and was still participated.
In short these nightly playtimes/observations led to a continuing interest in tangible interfaces, a masters thesis, and a number of projects since.
Basic observational research can lead to all kinds of insights and inspiration.
From Chapter 3, The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm
Tim Brown’s Blog on Design Thinking
Overview: Ethnography, Observational Research, and Narrative Inquiry
Observational Field Research
Research Methods Knowledge Base
Let the walls do the talking
Human Centered Design ToolKit

Wrong on traffic and economy

It looks like my post last week proclaiming that the traffic slowdown was proof of Taiwan’s economic slowdown was a bit premature. The drive to work today was rife with the usual idiocy of morning traffic in Hsinchu. The three lane abreast slow moving trucks (blocking the highway exits), left lane to right lane to highway exit changers, and the general huge volume of traffic were all present. If there is a decrease in traffic it wasn’t noticeable today.
There goes the only positive of having a recession.
Perhaps the traffic purge last week had as much to do with winter vacation as the forced holiday for local employees.

Prince Edward Island Stories and Films

These videos are quite interesting for a look back in time at what my hometown looked like before I was born. Some things change, others stay the same. It seems like an attractive age to grow up there. Amazing.
While the videos are great what I am most enthused about is the fact that there is someone making an effort to give us a glimpse as to what life was in the past. Pex Mackay is sharing video, audio, and short stories to share his life growing up on the Island, surely this is a great application of social media and online story telling. I’m learning the background behind all kinds of accepted cultural euphemisms.
If we could only get more people to do so.

Proof of slowdown – no traffic

If there is any evidence that work has slowed in Hsinchu it must be the complete lack of traffic around the Science Park last Friday morning and a noticeable let up in traffic this morning on a Monday. Last Friday the areas I drove seemed like a veritable ghost town.
Today it was busy but it felt more like the roads were at capacity versus the clogged conditions I usually experience.
With no products shipping everyone is staying home.

Collaboration is amplification

Learning and Working in the Collaborative Age: A New Model for the Workplace. Pixar University’s Randy Nelson explains what schools must do to prepare students for jobs in new media.
I don’t think the talk needs to be pidgeon holed to careers in new media but serves as a commentary for businesses, educators, and people in general. It’s an inspiring talk. Here are some somewhat key passages:

Make your partner look good … (which might be along the same train of thought as killing the devils advocate). Take a piece of work and don’t judge it … take the work and say, here is where I am starting, what can I do with this?
The core skill of innovators is error recovery, not failure avoidance.
Proof of Portfolio vs. promise of a resume.
Collaboration is amplification. The amplification you get by connecting a bunch of human beings .. who are listening to each other, interested in each other, bring separate depths to the problem, bring breadth that gives them interest in the entire solution, allows them to communicate on multiple different levels (in writing, in acting, in pictures/imagery) … in all those ways you get a high fidelity notion across a broad range of people.
Be interested, not interesting

The original video is located here.