Our tapestry

I heard a quote on the way into work today.

“Sometimes you work too close to the canvas to see the beautiful tapestry you are creating”

No, it’s not some famous quote you can google, it was by a speaker in during an inspire spot on k-love radio. (As I’ve detailed before, I throw everyone off as I cycle between Tool and Christian radio quotes, yeah, I know).

It immediately made me think of another quote by a friend and colleague as we were joking around at the bar one night over a beer. It had been a stressful, but productive week. I was detailing something that was rather ridiculously complicated about how network transactions work in elms:ln and how the spider web of snake calls allows for (theoretically) infinite scale without infinite load. I was boring myself as I was talking about it (wow is it ever a “why is the grass green dad?” and then responding with how photosynthesis works in detail style answer).

“What did you ever do before I came around?”

To which I said I was lonely… cripplingly lonely…

Having a vision of the future and no one to share it with (that would understand what you are talking about at a technical level) is an incredibly lonely feeling. I’ve always had a strong family network and my wife is wonderful, but my excitement over architectural design and how it will influence education isn’t the easiest thing to keep up with beyond “Bryan thinks he can change the world” or “How’s taking over the world going?”. It’s why I sway so violently between sheer joy (like someone over the moon about collecting xAPI statements from their students) and utter despair (like someone being excited about the color of a button while not comprehending where spoken interfaces will take us).

I don’t “just show up” to work, I live it, I take it very seriously (even if I don’t ever take anything seriously seemingly). I don’t just “live to work” though, I live for my children and the world that I think I can help bring about as a result of this social movement.

…Social movement?

If xAPI coverage on youtube / video assets is my canvas I’m too close to, and elms:ln at the college I work is a portion of that tapestry, the project as a whole is the rest of the tapestry; but at the end of the day, it is all just a carpet in a large warehouse. By the end, I want to use my voice to stand up and manage the thing that manages the warehouses. So much automation, so much ease of use, so much free and open source software will continue to put pressure on the social fabric that for centuries has dictated that human capability be measured in dollars per hour, where you went to school, etc.

What if systems were free? What if the tools to build them were free? What if the automation setting them up was free? What if they were self-healing, never needing human intervention for maintenance?

More important then “wow that’d be neat”, what would that do to society? What does that do to the cost of education when all the systems powering it are free?

You socialist

Far from it (actually techno-libertarian but I’ll write about that another time) but the network effects of elms:ln are already out there in the global economy. I want the world (and so many others do) to be better, write more, build faster, deploy more accurately, deploy at higher scale with less human and physical overhead then they did yesterday (and the day after, and the day after). This is a continual building up the infrastructure society has available (for free) to build on. Over enough time (decades here), businesses are effectively forced to offer more for less because people can click a button and get billions of dollars of work for free (and if it needs no maintaining / humans… well.. there need be no businesses in that space).

Code produced for this project (not people using the project itself) has been downloaded over a million times and has 15,000+ reported installs (typically thought to be 10% actual real world usage). This is the real impact of the project, the ability to improve the social fabric of the internet at scale through contribution. There are over 120 listed projects on drupal.org credited to me, which doesn’t count github, elms:ln itself, or the other projects that have benefited from the act of contribution thanks to this project.

But this isn’t just me anymore, it’s multiple full time developers (starting next month 3 full time senior developers, right now 2 senior and 1 junior full time). So project. Project all our open contributions. I’ve been at this for 9 years (elms as a named idea is 9 years old, open contributions around 8 years). We can already produce (today) through a copy and paste, what previously took 5 years to create; minutes to give (for free) what should cost millions of dollars to assemble from scratch.

So focus on those lines on the canvas team. The picture we are painting is unlike anything the world has seen and we’re only growing. Never give up. A more free world is in reach.

Fix education, fix everything.


We can no longer turn our nose to an industry

I sat quietly, removed from the rest. I didn’t fit in. I didn’t know if I had any ability to fit in; I don’t speak the same language. The language of a rhetorical academic (even that I’m sure is used incorrectly). And so, out of my element (by choice) I sat and listened to an amazing speaker discuss his journey from insider to… outsider. This is the issue of a cross-sectional as well as those who both need and can generate new technologies; living on the bridge between universes (but that’s a good thing).

I sat, listening to the keynote address the crowd as if they were family. He was one of them. He came from them, he had been where they had been and been in their community for some time. He had ascended the ivory tower, to which I’m sure some showed scorn (after all, pure research is why we get into this gig). He then related this fact (that they probably hate him for doing so) to friendly chuckles.

He then started to talk about how he built a product that some of them used and that while this was an idea that he had been working on within an institutional organization, that the structure itself would never allow it to overtake the corporate stronghold of a single player in the industry. He then said that they considered making what they were doing open source, but that it could never been open source and be successful because no open source solution has ever started in academia and been successful (a point that I reject but still).

Feeling the mood shift in the room when he talked about having to incorporate, he stopped and said what was pure gold for me (not exactly quoting):

I see how you responded when I said we had to build a company. It’s antithetical to how we academics want to operate. But I’m actually trying to do something. We can all complain about how much we hate _________ and turn our noses up and feel good about ourselves. We can skip using that product and encourage our peers to do so as well, but guess what; All your universities and college are still paying them. So they’ll still suck, and they’ll exist forever. So this is me taking a stand, because we need more options.

Some of this is that it was several months ago at Computers & Writing 2016 that I heard this talk ( I believe) so the quote is off; but much of the context remains. If no one stands up. If everyone simply scoffs at what has become the status quo and doesn’t provide a challenge to it; it will remain the status quo. And we’ll feel great, wow will we feel great. We hate “the man” and we rail against the system of control that our lesser colleagues just can’t see through. But we do nothing to provide them with a different solution.

In technology, much like in politics, you don’t catch flys with vinegar. You don’t win people to your system, your way of thinking or your way that you know leads them to freedom by being an ass and simply thumbing your nose at the establishment.

Don’t do what simply feels good. Do as Alinsky said

Do one of three things. One,go find a wailing wall and feel sorry for yourselves.Two,go psycho and start bombing-but this will only swing people to the right. Three,learn a lesson. Go home,organize, build power and at the next convention, you be the delegates.

Real change doesn’t come through violence, hate, anger, or self-loathing. Real change comes through building community, organizing, and doing whatever it takes to become the thing that the next generation will grow to hate: the establishment.

The only way to usurp the establishment is to become that which you hate. If you desire change more then you desire winning, you know what to do. Polish, refine, always accepting feedback, always improving, always accepting any minor victory and not focusing on the lost battles, always accepting the new, always accepting.

Quit writing about how badly edtech needs change or how bad players in the industry are. Quit talking about what a cash cow this market is (looking at you TechCrunch), all the while decrying that the educational industrial complex as too expensive and too often missing the mark. These wailing walls do us no good but sure feel nice to relate to.

Go home, organize, build power. I have for some time now… and while it takes me from my family and friends, while it shifts my focus to commits instead of conversations, while it is devastatingly lonely at times to feel as I feel and work as I work towards unachievable goals… we are building something. Because while I used to be just I or the royal we… there is we now. And soon, we will be that much stronger; together.

Join us. The future wants your help. It needs your help.