WorldWideFuture Weblog

the future of education, politics, science and art

Socially yours…

Been a while since I posted…October 09 to be precise, and not much before that. Truth is, been getting into social networking, Facebook and Twitter. As an observer of the trends into the future, I have been most intrigued about how useful FB and Twitter has become. I noticed a while back that companies were telling customers to visit their Facebook page rather than web sites. This is huge shift in the way of doing things.

On the occasion of my 55th birthday, and the start of my vacation, I hope to reinvigorate my blogging, perhaps cross posting from Twitter. If it still seems quiet here, come visit me on Twitter at ThePhotowagon.

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June 28, 2010 Posted by | Communication, education, future, politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains | Magazine

Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains: Wired Magazine.

By keeping lots of brain cells buzzing, Google seemed to be making people smarter. But as Small was careful to point out, more brain activity is not necessarily better brain activity. The real revelation was how quickly and extensively Internet use reroutes people’s neural pathways. “The current explosion of digital technology not only is changing the way we live and communicate,” Small concluded, “but is rapidly and profoundly altering our brains.”

Everyone knows that attention span has been dwindling, but this article really strikes home and shows what we are dealing with. A must read for all teachers and those who want to impart knowledge and skills to the world wide future generation.

June 28, 2010 Posted by | Communication, education, future | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Small step forward, giant leap….?

Here on the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon, it is heartbreaking to watch the scenes of the Apollo astronauts bouncing or riding across the lunar landscape, to know that we came and went and went no further.

Aldrin on the Moon 1969

Aldrin on the Moon 1969

To think human kind was able to motivate hundreds of thousands of people to take those dramatic steps, to reach the pinnacle of human achievement, to develop such amazing technology in such a short span of time, only to stop dead in our tracks and walk away. It is a shame, and to the generations of young people who did not have the benefits of continuing inspiration to dream and to accomplish dramatic things…it is something that needs to be addressed.

Consider first principals: that to solve the issues of environment and food production and housing and health, young people need to be encouraged to pursue scientific and technological and engineering careers. There is only a few motivational paths that can spark the intense interest to “dream the incredible, do the impossible”:

1. War. Great technological leaps, but certainly not useful in the long run.

2.   Altruism (solving cancer, feeding the world, solving the environmental crises). Certainly laudable, but the problems are multi-generational, quite intractable and while it attracts individuals who can chip away at the problems, it is difficult to focus the masses to create the technological spark.

3. Go where no one has gone before. The hard focus that can lead to so many unexpected paths, products and services. By setting  the impossible goal, by creating the WOW project, people will be motivated to be innovative and creative and risk taking. Going to the moon was not about the science, it was about the engineering and problem solving. Read the Chariots for Apollo or the story of the 1986 Voyager aircraft round-the-world tip to get a sense of what that means.

It is images like this that inspired generations

It is images like this that inspired generations

I don’t intend to wax nostalgic about the “good ol’ days”, nor do I intend to belittle the incredible disruptive technological advancements of the past 40 years, but I think the young people of today need a WOW project that will give them the incentive to “reach for the stars”. ‘Be all that you can be’ should be astronaut, not soldier.

Mars is a laudable goal for sure, but may be too far away in time. The moon beckons, and it will eventually lead to the inevitable evolution of humankind…Mars and beyond. A colony on the moon may be the answer to developing a wide raft of valuable technology in the medical, food production, energy production, communications and materials engineering fields, as well as more we can’t yet imagine.

The best and the brightest need an attractor to focus on solving the world’s problems, and that is accomplished through grand adventure. The world wide future need a WOW! project.

Consider this: what powered the 1960’s Apollo spacecraft? Hydrogen fuel cells.

July 21, 2009 Posted by | education, Environment, future, sustainable future | , , , , , | Leave a comment

A wave of the future

Well, it has been a while since I last posted. The spring always brings a ramp up of work related activity, bumps most other tasks aside.  Tine for spring cleaning, including my brain!

Anyway, I’m taking another direction, returning to teaching after 10 years at a consultant at the school board level. A whole new kind of stress, but as a teacher of communications technology, I will be back in the action of keeping up to date with the latest technologies, and helping the next gen to understand their opportunities in the new age we live in.

Brings me to an awesome development I just saw from the people at Google, the empire that never seems to sleep! Google Wave will replace everything we have been doing to now…email, blogging, twittering, IM, photo  albums, you name it.

Long video, (1 hour -20min) but I have seen the future and it is exhilarating. Remember the time we were all hearing about modeless software? Maybe this is it, eh?

May 30, 2009 Posted by | Communication, education, future | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A year for educating green

The CBC, Canada’s national broadcaster, with sponsorship from Cisco has developed an interesting project called One Million Acts of Green. The idea is that people can register their act of environmental kindness or sustainability on the website to reach the goal of one million acts. The contributions in terms of greenhouse gases saved are calculated and noted. (The site currently states that 666,527 acts have saved an estimated 36,043,512 kg of green house gas to January 09 2009).

Now, while I consider things like changing to CFC bulbs or turning off the lights to be of marginal impact on a huge global problem, and pales in comparison to what countries like Germany are doing as a nation. But perhaps this challenge is an interesting take on the idea. I fear that people will soon suffer from over-saturation about talk of the environment and will soon tune out on the message (much like in the 1980s). The current economic picture may compound this effect, where considerations about the environment and economic sustainability will take a back seat to “jobs”. (Never mind that gas prices here are half of what they were earlier this year). Perhaps challenges like One Million Acts of Green will keep the fires burning so to speak, but then again, I hope it does not trivialize the problems or challenges. When it comes to educating the public, and our youth, about the necessity of the smaller footprint, we need to go big or go home.

Hopefully each citizen will consider that the best way they can make change for a sustainable future is by political action. A great example is Hermann Scheer, a German parliamentarian who has been a major force in helping Germany become a shining green economic powerhouse. The same CBC mentioned above had an eye-opening show (“The Gospel of Green” on our national investigative documentary program called the fifth estate), about Germany’s resolve to create jobs and a sustainable future by dramatically switching to renewable energy systems. A full 35% of jobs in Germany is expected to be in the renewal energy field by 2025.

When it comes to keeping people, industry and government moving forward to solutions to complex problems in energy, transportation, food production, communications and biotechnology, (the “Big Five” economic giants) I like to keep in mind Doug Hall’s three laws of marketing physics as outlined in his book: Jump Start Your Business Brain. Hall states people will stay the usual course unless something moves them off that course, (think Newton’s Laws of Motion). The Hall Three Laws are:

1. Overt benefit (must clearly state: What’s in it for me to change)
2. Real reason to believe (must clearly state why someone should believe you have a better answer)
3. Dramatic Difference (your solution must be dramatically different from previous efforts)

Simple in theory, perhaps not always implemented in practice, but it would behoove those that want to change the way our society operates is to ensure they are obeying Hall’s laws. To educate people and transform their way of life we need to make the project big, dramatic and rich in purpose. We need to clearly show that sustainable energy and food and transportation means jobs, and a future of possibilities. Most importantly, we need to show politicians and corporate decision makers a million reasons why this change is important to all of us in the worldwide future.

One Million Acts of Green
CBC fifth estate on Hermann Scheer

January 5, 2009 Posted by | economy, education, Environment, future, sustainable future, transportation | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Education Gone Wrong?

The students of Carleton University here in Ottawa, like most universities in Canada, run a fundraiser campaign for Cystic Fibrosis research, called Shinerama, during orientation week (Shinerama has been run annually since 1964, includes 35,000 students in 60 university and college campuses). This week, the Carleton University Student’s Association controversially voted to pull out of the fundraiser because they said the disease “has been recently revealed to only affect white people, and primarily men”. The rationale was that they decided their efforts should be more “inclusive” and be directed to a more “diverse population” (CBC report).

Of course, their information about the disease is untrue. They found their information “on the internet”.

This example of a lack of academic integrity highlights some problems with our education system which does not bode well for the world wide future. First, how can a group of university students, (arguably brighter ones probably heading for a future in politics, public administration or business leadership), base their decisions on erroneous information from the internet, without any further research or even contacting the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Association, StatsCan, or local medical establishments? Isn’t the declared reason for universities supposed to be to provide academic scholarship in training future citizens? Secondly, how far can “political correctness” go in affecting rationale decision making? (The lone student voting against the measure called it “political correctness gone horribly wrong”). Aren’t universities supposed to teach their students to critically consider information sources, to carry out research and debate ideas based on facts?

Maybe this is all making mountains out of molehills, but it is a story on the national stage, and I believe, just another example of an education system gone wrong. After all, this is a group of students making a deliberate decision that did not happen overnight. We may be seeing many examples of an education system wrongly rooted in the past: from business leaders or governments that seem to have never learned basic accounting (think Enron et al or the recent global economic calamity), to engineering mistakes that cause bridges to collapse from basic design flaws to very bad decisions concerning the environmental crises (think ethanol from food sources).

The question of the day is: how can we expect the right decisions to be made by politicos and business leaders when we can’t depend on tomorrow’s leaders having the right stuff to critically consider complex issues in an accelerated future? How do we know that decision makers will have the necessary scientific and technological literacy to make the right choices for the world wide future?

November 28, 2008 Posted by | education, future | , , , , , | Leave a comment

A call to arms for change in education

We live in a scientific and technological world…one affected daily by innovations in manufacturing, transportation, medicine, communications…every facet of our lives. In order to survive and thrive in today and tomorrow’s economy one must be scientifically and technologically literate. Scientific and technological literacy is about understanding how technology affects our society and our lives, and is about learning the skills to utilize technology effectively. It is about being better-informed consumers and producers; it is about finding one’s role in the infrastructure that makes our society run; it is about ensuring our economic future.

The consequences of a scientific and technological illiterate population are profound. Governments and corporations can “pull the wool over your eyes”, can obfuscate facts and get away with lies and misrepresentations. Look into any political campaign, and you will find loose facts and catering to the uninformed masses. The media can either be fooled, or can fool us, as to the workings of society, government and the planet. A looming environmental catastrophe can be glossed over a la whispering Jedi knight style: “There is nothing to be seen here, move on”. Statistics can be used and abused in endless ways; the daily news is full of so-called facts that the untrained eye or ear might not pick up. Look into the recent political campaigns in the US and Canada, once the ill managed banks and brokerages broke down everyone scrambled to play messiah…we will bring jobs! It is all about jobs! We will fix the [name your crises here]. Hard not to be cynical.

Without scientifically and technologically knowledgeable citizens, industry and businesses cannot find skilled employees. Without skilled and knowledgeable managers and administrators, companies lose direction or are misdirected. Money is wasted or lost, jobs are lost, and the economy suffers. Innovation goes elsewhere, and the best and the brightest goes where innovation lives. The right talent is not connected with the right career. Opportunities for the young in all destinations disappear; society lacks the means to maintain and grow.

Society has a role to play in preparing young people to be successful scientific and technologically literate citizens. (And yes, it is society, not just education that needs to play the role. If industry and business needs strong workers, then get involved and help teach, provide opportunities for experiential learning.

Through a strong and sustainable technological and scientific education, we can strengthen and build the human infrastructure of our society, and ensure a strong economic future. The old Industrial Age model of education, the well-oiled cookie-cutter stamping machine called public education has to finally go and be replaced by a future-thinking, adaptable, multi-pathway and experiential approach where learning the tools of inquiring science and technology is not optional.


Great grandmother and grandfather

My great grandfather, school headmaster Robert McAlister of Balleyclaire, Northern Ireland. Would he understand the needs of today's student?

We must take the necessary steps to ensure that all students have the opportunity to participate in a robust, consistent and sustainable technological and scientific education. A bright future for tomorrow’s leaders will be the result of concerted effort to provide a 21st century education that teaches today’s student to be adaptable, to be discerning, to be inquisitive. (Just ask the tigers and dragons of the east what that entails).

At least in America they have a “change they can believe in”, (we here in Canada have another 2-4 years of the same old story). Hopefully soon we will have a President Obama making the Dramatic Difference. Will it happen? Will the west return to historic engineering and heroic science? Will we go to the moon or remain stuck in the sands of the desert?

November 14, 2008 Posted by | education, future | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Electrifying the Road

It’s not that I am a firm believer or a devout champion of the cause..I still need to be convinced…but I find the history and the growing future of electric vehicles fascinating. I posted previously about the Canadian built Zenn and electric car proponent Shia Agassi, but there is interesting developments right here in my own backyard (Ottawa Ontario). I have worked with the folks of the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa (EVCO) for the past couple of years with our National Capital Electrathon electric car race. (Pictures soon at photowagon.ca). This is an annual event (except for last year) where high school students design and build an electrically powered non-recharged car in a race for the number of laps in a given time period (one hour). (You run a single 12V car battery until it dies…it is a design exercise of engineering efficiency).

Collage from EVCO

Collage from EVCO

Anyway, the EVCO folks were featured on a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp) news item. The EVCO guys and gals take beat up cars, strip out the gasoline engines and replace it with an electric motor. A true hacking experience, you have to admire these back garage pioneering entrepreneurs. Perhaps these Mad Max creations won’t go very far on a charge, and won’t be featured on a NASCAR track any day soon, but you gotta admire the perseverance and the ideology. Their creations might not be the direct answer to the problem of transportation in the world wide future, but then again, one never knows where the next Henry Ford will come from.

Check out the EVCO folks at evco.ca/, and see about the CBC coverage at evco.ca/site/CBC-24jun2008

October 26, 2008 Posted by | education, Environment, future, transportation | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Of cardboard boats, flugtags and the competitive spirit

Watching the Beijing Olympics one can’t but be but drawn in by the spectacle, the drama and the enthusiasm of participants, observers and even nations. It seems the whole world stops to watch their fellow citizens perform in high-tension excitement.

Consider the amount of money and effort that went into hosting the Olympics. Consider the amount of money and effort and time that was invested in training the athletes. Consider the enormous amount of money and effort and personnel that went into broadcasting and reporting on each nation’s attempts at the coveted medals. Obviously, there is something to sports competitions; and perhaps to the spirit of competition itself.

St Peter High School entry in the annual National Capital Elecathon electric car race

St Peter High School entry in the annual National Capital Elecathon electric car race

Competition plays a big part in art and engineering as well, and has an important place in education too. Witness the soapbox derby races, the technical skills competitions, even fun events like the Red Bull Flugtag, each event creating opportunities to showcase and compete on one’s technical skills and abilities. Having played a part in several types of educational competitions, I can attest to the usefulness of the concept of competition to learning, and to the world wide future.

Fun at athe annual Skills Canada-Ontario Cardboard Sled Race in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Fun at the annual Skills Canada-Ontario Cardboard Sled Race in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

What skill competitions give to a person or an organization is the opportunity to yes, showcase their technical prowess, but more importantly, it gives one the impetus to work harder, work smarter and move skill sets forward. The competition event gives one a goal and a target to strive for, a mastery learning opportunity, and a benchmark in which to gauge one’s needs for improvement for excellence. There is a lesson somewhere when Olympic and world records are broken on a continuing basis. (Can we imagine where records no longer are broken? Are we already where Olympians are freaks of nature?)

Annual Orleans Soapbox Derby in Orleans, Ontario Canada

Annual Orleans Soapbox Derby in Orleans, Ontario Canada

I remember when I first entered the teaching biz (1992) there was a call for banning of school competitions (other than sports of course) because it supposedly hurt the egos and self esteem of those that don’t excel. Perhaps we witnessed this in the Beijing Olympics…for a while it looked like Canada was going to be medal-less, and we had to watch our athletes apologize profusely to the camera for not getting a medal (never mind they were Olympic caliber athletes and missing medals by 100s of a second!) Competitions need to be framed properly. Competitions need to be designed as fun activities with the understanding that it is a growth activity, not an end-of-the-road, make it or go home event. Students need to understand that it is activity to help them achieve a goal for themselves, and that it is all about learning to do one’s best.

Who would have guessed...a race of cardboard in water during the annual regional Skills Canada-Ontario Cardboard Boat Race in Nepean, Ontario

Who would have guessed...a race of cardboard in water during the annual regional Skills Canada-Ontario Cardboard Boat Race in Nepean, Ontario

Here in Ontario, we have Skills Canada events such as cardboard boat races (and in Ottawa we have the cardboard sled race) that are the best examples of the spirit of skill competitions. They are fun if not downright hilarious, and it has been amazing to see the level of ingenuity and engineering skill it has engendered each year. The annual regional, provincial, national and international skill competitions are perhaps more serious, but the skill levels demonstrated are unique goals that any student can strive for.

Cooks do their best at the annual Skills Canada-Ontario provincial skill competitions held in Waterloo Ontario

Cooks do their best at the annual Skills Canada-Ontario provincial skill competitions held in Waterloo Ontario

Soapbox derbies, electric car races and other similar events have their serious competitive side, but there is the fun element that allows anyone to be part of the excitement and more importantly, the learning. I think the Red Bull Flugtag is a prime example of the necessary spirit of competition…no one seriously enters to be a winner, just to be there and have fun. Can you imagine if we had three legged potato sack races, hot dog eating, and apple bobbing competitions at the summer Olympics? Yeah, bring it on!!

Doh! The Grat Beavertail Cookoff entry from Ottawa does it's flying thing at the Ottawa-Gaineau Red Bull Flugtag In Ottawa Ontario, August 3rd, 2008
Doh! The Great Beavertail Cookoff entry from Ottawa does it’s flying thing at the Ottawa, Ontario, Canada Red Bull Flugtag on August 3rd 2008

Note: All photographs © Michael A. Scott photowagon.ca 2008. All rights reserved.

August 30, 2008 Posted by | education | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dreaming along Michigan’s Woodward Avenue

I just returned from the 14th annual Woodward Dream Cruise 2008 in Detroit Michigan. This is the largest celebration of car culture in the world, with two weeks of events leading to the 16 mile Saturday cruise down Woodward Ave. from Detroit to Pontiac Michigan. Over 1.4 million people lined the street to watch an estimated 30,000 cars go by and to take part in a wide variety of car culture events. This year we brought our 1991 Nissan Figaro, a Japanese import, into the heart of the American Motor City. I was looking forward to doing the cruise for quite a while. While every city has its “Woodward Avenue” (for me, from Windsor Ontario, the Canadian Motor City, it was Tecumseh Road), this one is special since it occurs where American automobile history began and was made.

Car fans lining Woodward Ave. Detroit Michigan August 16 2008

Car fans lining Woodward Ave. Detroit to Pontiac Michigan August 16 2008

I guess I was taking a chance bringing a Japanese import into the heart of a struggling Mecca of American iron. Only one person called me a traitor (!), but many, so many more were genuinely interested in this highly unusual car among unusual cars (unusual at least for us here in the middle of North America). People everywhere wanted to know…what is that? It was a great pleasure answering questions and posing for pictures. The reactions from people when they suddenly noticed it was right hand drive made the trip from Ottawa worthwhile.

My Nissan Figaro on Woodward

My Nissan Figaro on Woodward

My ride is a 1991 Nissan Figaro, one of only 20,000 made for the domestic Japanese market, and only made that one year. It is powered by a 75 bhp, 998cc 4 cylinder turbocharged engine, and gets about 38mpg or about 4-5L/100km. It is a one-of-a-kind design by the Pike Factory, a special design team at Nissan in the late 1980s – early 1990s. It is a retro styled car, based on 1950-1960s Italian and British sports cars. It was announced at the 1989 Tokyo Auto Show as “Back to the Future”, and you had to win a lottery to by one; 250,000 applied. To me it represents a very unique and radical exercise in small footprint automotive design, and it is a hit wherever it appears. I have taken it to many local auto shows, as well as MicroCarNorth in Orillia, Ontario; Boston for Gould’s Annual MicroCar Classic; and now the Detroit Woodward Dream Cruise.

Cruisin' the Dream Cruise 2008

Cruisin' the Dream Cruise 2008

While I was always interested in cars, I got interested in small footprint micro and mini cars after seeing some of them at our Ministry of Transportation’s fuel economy test facility in Ottawa. The facility had examples of Smart Cars (including a four seater!), various diesel and ethanol cars, and more importantly, a Honda Beat and some Japanese micro-trucks. There is so much more going on in the Orient and Europe in regards to high mileage and economic vehicles. I think that small footprint cars represent the future, and there is something to be said for doing more with less when it comes to engineering and innovation.

One of 30,000 cars along Woodward

One of 30,000 cars along Woodward

What does the Dream Cruise represent to the world wide future? In order to understand the future, we all know one must study the past, and the present. It was fascinating to see 100 years of history represented by the cars burbling along Woodward, both lovingly restored or customized. It was also fascinating to see the interest the automobile has on us here in North America, and it was most interesting to see the workmanship and pride of ownership of engineered machines represented along Woodward. It might be big business and big engineering that produce the vehicles, but the automobile truly comes alive when an individual customizes, restores or resurrects the machine. The automobile, though a mass market machine, represents the individual and individual freedom when put in the hands of the automobile enthusiast. Despite the rational arguments from mass transportation supporters, the automobile will never lose its appeal, and with some real innovation and futurethink, has an important place in the future.

SpongeBob surfin' Woodward

SpongeBob surfin' Woodward

What will become of the automobile in the future? For one thing, I don’t think the love of machines and of history will ever leave us. I don’t think that the lessons in innovation and engineering represented by the automobile will ever disappear. There is a direct link from Henry Ford’s 1908 assembly line to every device we now use, and will use in the future. Perhaps some of the future engineers who will design the 21st century were sitting there along the curb of Woodward Avenue, holding on to their Hot Wheels or dolls, waving to the men and women in their machines, dreaming of the day they too will have the opportunity to drive their passion down that long stretch of road.

More Dream Cruise Info:

Official Site for Woodward Dream Cruise

Detroit Free Press coverage

AutoBlog pictures

Keegy Canada coverage

My images at the photowagon

Fotos by Design Images of the cruise (with my Figaro in the lineup)

August 21, 2008 Posted by | education, future, transportation | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment