Lesson: Track What You Learn

January 9, 2016 – 8:27 pm
When I was recruiting the fabulous Chris McDowall for a job, he asked me "why do YOU work here?"  I replied that I was learning lots.  He then said the most important thing anyone has said to me this decade: "what are you learning?" I goldfished for a few seconds and then had to say, "I can't remember right now, but it's all GOOD STUFF."  See, I was learning but I wasn't paying the right amount of attention what I was learning, so it wasn't sticking.  This matches good educational practice too: after you do something, take time to reflect on what worked well and what didn't so you can be more deliberate in improving the next time you tackle it. That day, I started to record what I was learning.  I use EverNote, and keep a single note.  Each day I might learn several lessons, so there are several entries.  The lessons range ...

Kiwi Startups in Silicon Valley

January 4, 2016 – 11:57 am
I was asked for comment by Bill Bennet from the NZ Herald, for a piece on Kiwi startups moving to Silicon Valley.  He built a nice little article, in which "Torkington says" features heavily.  My policy is that if I email journalists, I'll blog my side of the conversation for transparency's sake. I had two more comments responding to ideas he'd thrown in email, but I'll wait to see if they make it to print before blogging them (don't want to steal his thunder--I know there are millions poised on my every word and I'd hate to deny him traffic *wink*). My take ... Growing startups need capital, connections, customers, and a clever crew. Most startups find all those in America.  In particular, Silicon Valley is full of other companies doing the same thing.  This means there are great people to hire (but they're expensive); there are incredible advisors and people who have done it ...

Some Things Don’t Change

October 20, 2015 – 8:32 am
In this internal 1972 DEC memo (PDF) about the PDP-16 re-release, modern tech companies should find plenty of familiar territory: While the PDP-16 has been marginally successful to date, some problems have been noted. 1. Since the product, in its present form, is relatively complex, it is difficult to train salesmen. 2. Since the product is currently offered as a set of options uniquely configured for each situation, the salesman does not have the feeling of security of a predefined box that he can see and feel. 3. Although the PDP-16 has been well received by computernicks, it is still somewhat of a mystery to neophytes. All of these hang-ups can be traced to a single source, namely, inadequate product identification. There's also a chart that goes up and to the right, hand-drawn grids that would eventually be spreadsheets, and an org-chart.  Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

“Work” continued

July 10, 2015 – 10:45 pm
I moderated a panel today at Gather on the topic of "Work".  We had representatives from different types of work: self-employed, salaried employee, startup, and investor. As moderator, my role wasn't to share my opinions. Fortunately, on the Internet I'm also blogger, and my role as a blogger is to share my opinions. So: opinion follows. The whole concept of "work" is fraught. We treated it as "how you make your money", but that's a concept that comes with a pile of baggage. If I make money from a lot of things (one panelist had her IT business, her music, and her writing all contributing) then which, all, or none of those are my "work"?  Our language opposes "work" with "play", but what if I like what I do? If I volunteer, is that work? If my partner earns money and I contribute my labour to upkeep of the family and house, ...


August 2, 2014 – 12:26 pm
"Digital citizenship" is a phrase I encounter often in my educational travels. Rather than merely teach how to use software and hardware, we should realize that students are citizens in an online world and teach them how to live in such a place. It sounds good on the surface, but there's a whole contested idea of what "citizenship" is that I hadn't begun to think about until I read the paper What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy by Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahne. Here are my notes on that paper. Nat’s Summary Everyone assumes democracy is a good thing and should be “taught in schools”, but there are some quite different mental models for what democracy is, which change what happens in school, and which then change the mindsets of the children that come out of the school. The authors identify three conceptions of citizenship: personally responsible (emphasizing the ...

Lighting a Spark Under Telecom

February 21, 2014 – 9:13 pm
Telecom New Zealand is changing its name to Spark. Most commentators regard it as a backward move, most recently Lance Wiggs who diagnoses marketing capture, distraction from executive and board, and the death of a valuable brand. I'd like to respectfully disagree. I might be a contrarian, but I think it's a good idea. First, let me quickly disregard that idea that Telecom New Zealand is a good brand. It's a fucking terrible brand for what they want to do with the company. They do NOT want to be a dumb pipe, a commodity provider of connectivity—particularly now they don't have Chorus. They've announced Internet TV and there'll be more to come, I'm sure. The branding lets them get as far away as possible from the idea that they're a telco. (Note that I don't like this. The incentives are all there for them to link their content-provision and connectivity businesses, raising ...

I’m Going on an Adventure

August 16, 2013 – 6:23 pm
I caught up with Jesse Robbins at Foo Camp, and he gave me a great line that I remember as being something like: "I'm going on an adventure. The outcome is uncertain, there will be setbacks along the way, so I'll surround myself with good travelling companions." I'm going on a new adventure. This week saw me join the fast-growing Kiwi education startup, Hapara as something like "Head of Partnerships". I say "something like", because when Jan recruited me, he said "we're growing so fast that each fortnight there's a fresh challenge we haven't seen before, and there's always more work than there are people to do it." In my first week I've arranged for us to go to NZ Pycon, met the head of education at Google for Asia-Pacific, and chewed on the coffee at Point England school (Russell makes it strong). This job is the perfect alignment ...

Andreas Schleicher to NZ Members of Parliament

July 11, 2013 – 8:29 am
Andreas Schleicher runs the PISA programme for the UN. PISA is the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, a test given to 15-year-old students from most of the world. Data about the students, countries, and education systems are analysed to see not just who is high-performing and who is improving, but why. He came to New Zealand in July, and his talk to Members of Parliament was recorded. My transcription is below. If you can fix some of the parts which are unintelligible, for a limited time you can edit the Google Doc which also has screencaps of some of his slides (please feel free to add more slides). If you'd like to engage with what this means, I'm @gnat on Twitter and we can use the hashtag #ednz to join up disparate conversations. Andreas is @SchleicherEdu, though he doesn't appear to do more than tweet out his press coverage. ...

What is PaCT and Why Did It Cost $6M?

June 16, 2013 – 5:44 pm
(this post is about the New Zealand education system. I wanted to say more than Twitter made easy) NZ has an amazing education system. We went through the "Tomorrow's Schools" revolution in the 1990s, which devolved governance of schools to the communities in which those schools sit. A Remuera school will teach and value different things than an Otara school, despite being only a few km away from each other, and that's okay. But in a world of devolution, how does the state ensure that schools don't suck? They set out expectations then monitor and enforce them. The expectations for "what gets taught" is the New Zealand Curriculum (NZC). It talks about subjects ("learning areas"), competencies and values for the NZ educational system. It's deliberately vague, though, and schools must spend time unpacking the NZC for their local context. The NZC lays out achievement objectives which are levels. ...

Dear Boosted: Surprise Me and Succeed

March 20, 2013 – 3:49 pm
The NZ Arts Foundation has launched Boosted, a way to crowdfund arts projects. Now, if you're like me, you're probably wondering "don't we already have several ways of doing that? I mean, Kiwi artists have already used Kickstarter and PledgeMe to fund projects." Boosted's key point of difference is that, being operated by a charitable non-profit, your donations are eligible for 33% tax rebate. So everyday punters like us can enjoy the tax advantages of philanthropic donation, the same way that the millionaires do. To get that tax rebate, however, you can't receive anything for that donation: no tickets, no hip flask, no signed postcard, no posters, no "flown to Austin for lunch at a fancy hotel with me and my artist friends", and all the other rewards that Kickstarter and Pledgeme and other crowdfunding sites are built around. Your only reward, so far as I can ...