The One World Futbol for Christmas

Looking for a last minute Christmas gift? Maybe something that others might enjoy, too. Check out the One World Futbol (or soccer ball, for those of us in the US) project. (via Ken Belson at the New York Times.)

Tim Jahnigen has always followed his heart, whether as a carpenter, a chef, a lyricist or now as an entrepreneur. So in 2006, when he saw a documentary about children in Darfur who found solace playing soccer with balls made out of garbage and string, he was inspired to do something about it.

The children, he learned, used trash because the balls donated by relief agencies and sporting goods companies quickly ripped or deflated on the rocky dirt that doubled as soccer fields. Kicking a ball around provided such joy in otherwise stressful and trying conditions that the children would play with practically anything that approximated a ball.

Something that I never would have thought of. So Jahnigen figured out how to make a soccer ball that plays well but doesn’t deflate. Super cool. Now I won’t have to find one of those needles somewhere in the utility drawer, or was it the garage, in the spring when the ball will be flat.

But more importantly, kids who don’t have much but a soccer ball can keep on playing.

They have a “buy one, give one” program where they “give a second ball to a community in need through organizations working in disadvantaged communities such as refugee camps, war zones, disaster areas and inner cities.” Or you can just give one if you’d like. Check out One World Futbol Project .

Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving, Love Actually Edition

Many things to give thanks for this year. Among them, the fact that no one at dinner even came close to answering the phone or checking messages. That alone made it feel like a sacred time.

Favorite piece of technology today? Instant read thermometer. I should probably know what temperatures feel like on a pork shoulder or turkey, but I’ve never been good at that.

Favorite technology of the season? Pretty much anything having to do with travel. Phones and videoconferencing are great. But nothing like being there face to face.

There is probably something to be said for the fact that cars have played a major factor in the atomization of American society, enabling us to leave birthplaces and families behind to strike out into the world alone. (Actually, Putnam has said some insightful stuff there.) Same for cell phones. But given where we are–both figuratively and literally–it is great to be able to maintain the ties, some sense of community, over the distances.

I’m not a big fan of romantic comedies, but the opening and closing scenes of Love Actually gets me every time. Joy and gratefulness among those greeting each other at the arrival terminal at Heathrow airport.

Blessings to you and yours this Thanksgiving. Give them a squeeze to be sure the connection is solid.

Tech Press Flubs the Ed-tech Story (Again): Minnesota and Coursera Edition

This past week saw some fireworks over changes in the language of the Coursera license agreement. Seems that they were contacted by the state of Minnesota about registration of degree-granting institutions and decided to change their terms of service. Ok.

Here’s my paraphrase of the story that the tech press told: Minnesota won’t let its citizens take online classes. Obviously, Minnesota is a fascist state that wants to control every aspect of people’s lives, including how and when they think. How dare a state stifle innovation!? This sort of stuff was the core of quite a few stories that felt, to me, reactionary, off the cuff, melodramatic, and snarky. Ars Technica seems to have been the first organization to research the situation. The title of their story says it all: No, Minnesota did not kick Coursera out of the state. (Check out the transcript of the letter to Coursera from George R. Roedler, Jr., Manager of Institutional Registration & Licensing in the churnalisticly titled story “Is Minnesota cracking down on MOOCs?” )

So, what gives?

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Fighting Poverty by Removing the Extortionist (I Mean Legitimate Businessman)

From David Talbot at Technology Review, a brief story about how something that seems so simple can make such a big difference.  In India, hundreds of millions of people have essentially no access to basic banking and credit.

‘People who have no access to credit at all—like really small farmers—pay sometimes up to 10 percent per day. They literally take 100 rupees’ worth of goods from a vendor and have to give back 110 rupees in the evening. If they have even a tiny shock one day—a tiny accident—and can’t pay back the vendor, it is devastating.’ Around the world, she explained, ‘A lot of poverty comes from having not even the tiniest amount of financial slack.’

To address this need, folks from Xerox Research Center India have been developing banking kiosks that will be able to transcribe and translate written transaction slips, and then communicate with banks through low-bandwith satellite connections. Such a system could enable banks to establish presences in remote locations that are not served now, providing opportunities for people in the most tenuous situations a better chance at subsisting.  As Talbot put it:

If it works out, it means more farmers and would-be entrepreneurs can say “no thanks” to the local mafia charging ten percent a day.

This might mean that a lot of those lender/vendors may see their profits fall, but I’m ok with that. I like it when —metaphorically speaking—the hens get a bit more leverage against the wolf at the door.

Sounds and Selfhood

It is perhaps an understatement to say that music is important to a lot of people. Some of the best times of my life were spent playing, and some of the best conversations I have with students are about bands that they love. Like other art forms, music provides a way for artists to express themselves and listeners to experience another world, the world of the artist.  But it has an immediacy and power that can make even the most formal music feel intimate—and make a live rock show into a raw emotional experience for performer and audience alike.  It’s no wonder that some of the longest running battles in the digital world are about downloading music.

Even outside the live experience, music shapes our emotional lives. In their 1981 book The Meaning of Things, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton talked about the way in which recorded music is used modulate our emotions.  Sometimes, we do it to ourselves, as when we put on upbeat music before we go out in the evening.  Other times, other people try to get us in the mood, for instance in restaurants and shopping malls. But, for the most part, I think of these as innocuous—if at times tacky—uses.

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Electronic Bibles for the Analog Wayfarer

From Oliver Smith at The Telegraph,

From today, all 148 rooms at the Hotel Indigo [in Newcastle, England] will contain a Kindle e-reader pre-loaded with a copy of the Bible. The hotel is claiming to be the first in Britain to offer such a service.

Guests are also permitted to download a copy of any other religious text – to the value of £5 or less – during their stay. Regular fiction books can also be purchased, with the costs added to guests’ bills.

Meet the people where they’re at, no matter where they’re at.

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