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Archive for May, 2010

Different Time Zones, Different Kids

Posted by Patrick on May 29, 2010

In this RSA talk [1], Professor Philip Zimbardo explains how we think differently because of the different “time zones” we live in.  He starts by identifying three “time zones”, each subdivided into two:

  1. Past: good times  vs  bad times
  2. Present: hedonism  vs  why bother planing
  3. Future: plan for later  vs  act for a better afterlife

Interestingly, different cultures tend to lie at different points on this continuum depending on external factors like seasonal variation in weather: people closer to the equator tend to be more present hedonist, while people living in places with greater seasonal changes tend to be more future oriented.  The fact that external factors can affect our “time perspective” has deep implications to education.  Zimbardo mentions that we all began life as present hedonist, and that depending on the culture we live in, one of the purposes of schooling is to make us more future (or past) oriented.  But one of the problems we have in education now is that “analog” education is not interesting to kids anymore because growing up in the digital world “wired” their brains differently.  I personally don’t like that catch phrase. Kids today don’t think differently because their brains are “wired” differently, they think differently because the culture they grew up in is different.

So, since our kids culture is so different than our own, and since these differences affect their time perspective, how should we teach them?  Should we adapt our teaching methods to yield to their needs for greater control and faster feedback, or should we continue to try to help them become better at delaying gratification and planing for the future?  Talking about math education, Dan Meyer [2] explains that one of the problems students have today is they are very impatient with problems that can’t be resolved quickly.  The solution he proposes, however, is not to go “back to basics”, or simply accept that that’s how kids are today, but to use whatever tools he has to help them shift their time perspective.

In the world of EdTech, I see two dangerous extremes: technology is the source of the problems we see today and kids need less of it so it has no place in schools, and kids are digital natives, and we, the digital immigrants, need to embrace what they do and use “their” technologies to teach them.  The truth is that although they are different because of the world they grew up in, kids are kids and they need our guidance.  Whether we should use technology or not to provide this guidance shouldn’t be the primary focus.  Dan’s use of a real life water tank (instead of a fancy digital animation of some kind) is a good example that our goal is not to use technology for its own sake, but to pick the most suited tool for the task.


  1. RSA Animate, The Secret Powers of Time, <>
  2. Dan Meyer, Math Class Needs a Makeover , <>

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Summer Plan

Posted by Patrick on May 17, 2010

At the end of June, I’ll be making my way from Hsinchu to Pointe-Lebel in the course of about two weeks.  I’ll be stopping in Vancouver to visit friends and check a couple things out, then Calgary, Quebec city, and finally Pointe-Lebel.  I’m looking forward to this well deserved summer vacation in my home land.  Here’s my itinerary.

  • June 30 23:55 TPE  ->  June 30 19:35 YVR (BR10)
  • July 11 18:00 YVR   ->  July 11 21:18 YYC (AC224)
  • July 14 14:00 YYC   ->  July 14 22:20 YQB (AC1154 & AC8926)
  • July 16 YQB -> YBC (Bus)

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OS on a Stick

Posted by Patrick on May 11, 2010

Yesterday, Canonical unveiled a preview of Ubuntu Light, a small OS designed for quick use of simple apps. [1] The idea is that computers would come preloaded with a regular OS (like Windows) and Ubuntu Light on a second partition.  If you simply want to browse the web or quickly use a simple app, you’d boot Ubuntu Light instead of your regular OS and be on your way in a few seconds.

Although I like the idea of a simple OS to do simple things, it would be much more convinient to have it installed on a USB stick instead of on a second partition.  For one, people who want to use it wouldn’t have to go through the potentially complicated process of setting up a dual boot system.  The real advantage, however, is that it would be portable.  A simple USB stick could transform a friend’s (or public) computer into your own.  Recently, I’ve been experimenting with TinyCore Linux [2], a very small GNU/Linux distribution (~10MB) that runs entirely in RAM.  In addition to being really fast, it’s kinda cool to carry it your pocket and boot it on different computers.  Unfortunately, it’s not as user friendly as Ubuntu Light is.

This idea of a portable OS could also have great applications in education.  Sugar on a Stick [3] is an OS specifically designed for education, which “aims to make it easy for children, parents, or local deployers to provide each student with a small device that can starts any computer with the student’s personalized Sugar environment.”  The advantages here are obvious: students don’t need their own computer to work on their own computer environment.  Sugar is a very educationally targeted OS, however, and might be too restrictive for older students.  Ubuntu Light, used in this way, could have potential.

I’m sure someone will figure out a way to hack this together soon enough.  I’ll be looking for it!

  1. Ubuntu, Canonical Unveils new ‘Unity’ Desktop <>
  2. TinyCore Linux, <>
  3. Sugar on a Stick, <>

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Posted by Patrick on May 11, 2010

A few weeks ago [1], I read an article about the importance of decentralizing the social web so that each of us can have control over our online identities.  In his talk, Eben Moglen [2] outlined how easy it would be to create cheap mini-servers (no bigger than cell phones) that could accomplish this task.  According to him, the hardware already exists and all that’s needed is the software making it all work.

Soon after Moglen shared his vision, a brilliant group of university students decided to start the Diaspora Project [3] to create that software.  They managed to raise enough money to devote themselves to this project full time for the entire summer vacation.  Their promise: a first iteration of Diaspora released under the GPL by September 2010.

  1. Patrick Truchon, Re-Decentralizing the Internet, <>
  2. Eben Moglen, Freedom in the Cloud, <>
  3. Diaspora, Kickstarter Pitch, <>

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