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We’re not going back to the moon

This is kind of depressing, but I don't know why - but NASA administrator Bolden says that NASA has no plans to lead another mission to the moon within our lifetime:

"However, he made it clear NASA has no plans to lead its own human return to the Moon under his watch. “NASA will not take the lead on a human lunar mission,” he said. “NASA is not going to the Moon with a human as a primary project probably in my lifetime. And the reason is, we can only do so many things.” Instead, he said the focus would remain on human missions to asteroids and to Mars. “We intend to do that, and we think it can be done.” (from and several other places.)

Yes I am old enough that I can remember the Apollo program, and vaguely the Gemini and Mercury projects. Certainly during my teen age years I followed all developments at NASA in great detail. I can remember the launch of Apollo 11 (9:32am in July 16 1969) and building models of each of the spacecraft, the rockets, the landers and so on. I love that stuff. So, bummer.

Control the Sun, really

Control The Sun!

As you know, I am teaching a course at Olin College this spring - alas we are coming to the end. Anyway an important component has been a Lean Startup project, where students take invent a product and take it through a complete Lean Startup validation. Among many things that students do is to 'go outside the building' to validate their businesses.

Do me a great favor and help a team of students validate their idea, "Sunrise Blinds", and answer this super easy questionnaire!

Give more to receive more

Here's a really interesting article: "Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead"? from the New York Times. It's about a Wharton Professor that sounds just too good to be true:

"For Grant, helping is not the enemy of productivity, a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity. In some sense, he has built a career in professional motivation by trying to unpack the puzzle of his own success. He has always helped; he has always been productive. How, he has wondered for most of his professional life, does the interplay of those two factors work for everyone else? (from "Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead"?)

Now I happen to believe in "what goes around comes around." And I try hard to help people without wondering whether I will be helped in return. I can't say I was born that way, but it's just been my experience over the years that I seem to always get more in return than I put out.

Ok. But if you read this article, no matter how helpful you think you are, you're not going to feel helpful enough. I guess there's always room for improvement!

Friedman, mentioning Olin College: again about inventing your own job

Tom Friedman, quoting Tony Wagner, describes what he thinks should be taught today (that isn't really being taught:)

"“Today,” he said via e-mail, “because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge. As one executive told me, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think — to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.’ ” (fromNYT - Need A Job? Invent It!)

You know, what's amazing, this is exactly what the philosophy at Olin College of Engineering is! I've been teaching there for the last several months, a course in entrepreneurship, and as I've gotten to know the students and the other faculty, I've begun to understand their unique approach there.

Another quote:

"We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need, and facts that they can Google and will forget as soon as the test is over,” said Wagner. “Because of this, the longer kids are in school, the less motivated they become. Gallup’s recent survey showed student engagement going from 80 percent in fifth grade to 40 percent in high school. More than a century ago, we ‘reinvented’ the one-room schoolhouse and created factory schools for the industrial economy. Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.” (fromNYT - Need A Job? Invent It!)

If this interests you, you should read the whole article. And don't miss the end:

"In the U.S., 500 K-12 schools affiliated with Hewlett Foundation’s Deeper Learning Initiative and a consortium of 100 school districts called EdLeader21 are developing new approaches to teaching 21st-century skills. There are also a growing number of ‘reinvented’ colleges like the Olin College of Engineering, the M.I.T. Media Lab and the ‘D-school’ at Stanford where students learn to innovate.” (fromNYT - Need A Job? Invent It!)

Olin College of Engineering

I don't know if I mentioned that I'm teaching Engineering Entrepreneurship at Olin. What a cool school! While the two course have existed at Olin, I was asked to re-invent them so to a great extent they are new.

Here's a blurb that appeared in the Boston Globe today that illustrates how different Olin is from many other colleges. It describes a course called "Engineering for Humanity":

"Created by Olin professors Caitrin Lynch, who teaches anthropology, and Lynn Andrea Stein, who specializes in computer and cognitive science, the course is in its third year with funding from a Healthy Aging grant from the MetroWest Health Foundation in Framingham. While Olin previously partnered with the Needham and Wellesley councils on aging, this year’s class involves seniors affiliated with the Natick Council on Aging." (from Boston Globe)

Practice makes perfect?

I am (after 10 years) a beginner pianist who wants to improve. I practice, but not diligently enough. On average I think I practice 5 days a week, for about 1/2 hour, so that's less than 3 hours a week. Clearly I could do better. But I am proud of the effort I put in and I definitely have made a lot of progress. But I am at best still an advanced beginner.

From an article, "If you're busy, you're doing something wrong",

"We can start by disproving the assumption that the elite players dedicate more hours to music. The time diaries revealed that both groups spent, on average, the same number of hours on music per week (around 50).

The difference was in how they spent this time. The elite players were spending almost three times more hours than the average players on deliberate practice — the uncomfortable, methodical work of stretching your ability. (from: "If you're busy, you're doing something wrong")

Who sets the price for Über rides?

I've used the now-famous internetty car service Über a couple of times. The prices for the two rides I took were about 20-25% more expensive than taxis. Which made me wonder about how the prices are set for Über rides. Are they set in Silicon Valley by some all-knowing limousine wizard? Does it allow for competition, that is, can an enterprising Über-enabled driver choose to offer a lower price?

I worry because if Über actually becomes dominant they could through monopoly drive up the prices of black cars (which we used to call limousines, but that sounds too fancy I guess.) Could they in turn drive up the prices of regular taxi cabs?

Sage on the e-stage?

There are fascinating shifts going on in higher education today, from MOOCs to the 'flipped classroom'. A lot of action. I think we are looking at another text-book "Innovator's Dilemma" scenario playing out:

The established players (traditional universities), aware of a new way of delivering their offer, but seeing that it doesn't meet the needs of their customer's as well as the old way. And the upstarts (udemy and others), the disruptors, applying and refining the use of the technology in niche markets, eventually perfecting it to the point that they can blow by the laggards, and leave them in the dust. Textbook!

Check out today's New York Times:

"Institutions of higher learning must move, as the historian Walter Russell Mead puts it, from a model of “time served” to a model of “stuff learned.” Because increasingly the world does not care what you know. Everything is on Google. The world only cares, and will only pay for, what you can do with what you know." (fromNew York Times: The Professor's Big Stage)

It’s very hard to know what’s true about government spending

I saw this in the Boston Globe this morning and I jotted it down because yet again a bit of totally counterintuitive and confusing info:

“It is not like we have Soviet tank divisions at the German border poised to launch a sneak ­attack,” said John Pike, director of, an independent research group in Alexandria, Va. “It is not a question of readiness. It is a question of readiness to do what? The ­defense budget is twice what it was before Sept. 11th and we have half as many enemies. A lot of this is theater. Let them sequester and they will see that nothing happens.” (from The Boston Globe)

"The ­defense budget is twice what it was before Sept. 11th…" : Really? Twice what it was 10 years ago? I can't tell whether that's true but I suppose it's a number that technically could be objectively determined to be true or false. The second phrase though: "…and we have half as many enemies." is quite odd: I suspect there's a lot of subjectivity in that statement making it impossible to judge true or false.

No wonder I am confuted