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Python for kids

April 21, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Many of my friends are having kids nowadays and asking me what are good resources for teaching kids Python. I don’t have any kids but I do know of some good resources for learning Python especially for younger children or people completely new to programming. Here they are:

pythonforkidsPython for Kids is a lighthearted introduction to the Python language and to programming in general, complete with illustrations and kid-friendly examples. We begin with the basics of how to install Python and write simple commands. In bite-sized chapters, you’ll discover the essentials of Python, including how to use Python’s extensive standard library, the difference between strings and lists, and using for-loops and while-loops. By the end of the book, readers have built a couple of games and created drawings with Python’s graphics library, Tkinter. Each chapter closes with fun and relevant exercises that challenge the reader to put their newly acquired knowledge to the test.

hello_worldHello World! Computer Programming for Kids and Other Beginners provides a gentle but thorough introduction to the world of computer programming. It’s written in language a 12-year-old can follow, but anyone who wants to learn how to program a computer can use it. Even adults. Written by Warren Sande and his son, Carter, and reviewed by professional educators, this book is kid-tested and parent-approved. Note: there is a newer edition of this book available for pre-order.

cover_inventwithpython_thumbInvent Your Own Computer Games with Python teaches you how to program in the Python programming language. Each chapter ives you the complete source code for a new game, and then teaches the programming concepts from the example. It was written to be understandable by kids as young as 10-12 years old, although it is great for anyone of any age who has never programmed before.

scratchScratch is a programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music and art, and share your creations on the web. The Scratch website has over 3 million project from around the world many submitted by kids. Scratch is developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. Tynker is a startup inspired by Scratch.

Screen Shot 2013-04-21 at 3.38.43 PMAn Introduction to Interactive Programming with Python is a course designed to be a fun introduction to the basics of programming in Python. This course is designed to help students with very little or no computing background learn the basics of building simple interactive applications. The main focus is on building simple interactive games such as Pong, Blackjack and Asteroids.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of resources. If you know of other good ones, please leave a comment below!

Root canals and bike accidents: an unlikely pair

January 21, 2013 at 5:21 pm

IMG_4804.JPG In 2012, I experienced severe pain in my bottom right molar tooth. I went to the dentist and he said that it was infected and I would have to have a root canal operation. I had heard that root canals are one of the most painful operations, so I wanted to get a second opinion to make sure that it was the only option.

Another dentist looked at my tooth with a magnifying glass headset and said there was a hairline crack which explained how the tooth got infected. He said that the crack was likely caused by a severe impact. When I told him of my bike accident in 2010, he said that was almost certainly the reason for the cracked tooth.

Of course, it hadn’t been infected at the time of the accident and because there was no pain, it had gone undetected. Fortunately, the second dentist referred me to a third endodontist who performed a relatively painless root canal. Sadly, the tooth was too rotten to save, so it had to be removed, also pretty painless operation (no strings tied to doors).

I kept the tooth hoping that it would serve as evidence for the insurance company (didn’t want to lose the smoking gun!) but my insurance wouldn’t cover the cost of the root canal and tooth removal because they said it had to be reported within 48 hours of the accident.

So the moral of the story is if you’re in an accident and suspect you may have hit your teeth together, go to the dentist soon after to get them checked out. The same goes for tick inspection if you’ve been walking around in the woods. Take it from me – you don’t want to get lyme disease!

How I got past my hangups and decided to resurrect my blog

January 21, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Nate’s News

It was the year 1995, and I had just moved to Copenhagen, Denmark to finish my senior year of college in a study abroad program. Living abroad I needed some way to share my experiences with my friends and family back home. So I started an email newsletter called “Nate’s News” that I sent out about once a month. This was in an age when blogging hadn’t really taken off, and many still didn’t even have email addresses (gasp!)

What started out as a simple way to bulk communicate, turned into a regular publication with a loyal and vocal readership. The best part about writing Nate’s News was getting feedback from friends. Some wrote to give me tips on places to go when traveling, and others wrote to say that they were living vicariously through my adventures.
It changed how I spent my time abroad knowing that every experience could be crafted into a story in Nate’s News. I didn’t hold back in experiencing new things, knowing that good or bad, it would make for a fun story. I became more observant, taking note of what was happening around me, the conversations I had with the Danes and other expats I met.
In looking back, I’m thankful that I had Nate’s News as an outlet for documenting my experiences, because those moments likely would have been forgotten had I not been writing about them. I have an archive of those newsletters and some day I’ll post them here.

Hungry readers

When I returned to the U.S. to study music at Berklee in 1997, I stopped writing Nate’s News. I don’t think it was a conscious decision – I just got busy with a heavy courseload, practicing 8 hours/day and spending the evenings jamming with other musicians.
I started getting emails from friends asking if they were still on the Nate’s News mailing list because they hadn’t seen one in awhile. That’s when it struck me that I had readers that were hungry for more.
As a consolation for not publishing a regular Nate’s News, I launched a blog, and announced that from now on, my readers could follow my activities there. But like many who start blogs, I was lousy at keeping it up-to-date, and after awhile it was abandoned too.

Hazy memories

I was just back in Minnesota for the holidays and my mom implored me to go through the boxes in her basement and throw away some things. I found a box of stuff from when I was at Berklee, mostly course materials, but also notes from private lessons. This brought back a flood of disparate memories, but it was mostly hazy fragments.
I felt sadness that these two years of my life flew by and I had no record of what I was feeling at the time, or how I was incorporating all that I was learning into my playing.  What insights may I have discovered, had I been writing about my musical experiences and learning process while at Berklee.


It wouldn’t have been so bad if it was only the two years at music school that I didn’t write, but once I stopped writing, I lost the momentum and didn’t write for another 6 years!
After I had been running my consulting business for a few years, I became very active in the Plone community, an open source CMS, and started a blog in 2006 to document my activities around the Plone4Artists project.
Sadly, this too was short-lived, and by 2008, I had stopped writing in my personal blog. I did start writing in the Jazkarta company blog, but the posts were sporadic at best.
My two Jazkarta colleagues at the time, Aaron and Sally really pushed me to blog more. Whenever I came back from a sprint or conference, I would tell them that I was going to write a trip report on the blog. But once I got back to the office, there was always lots to catch up on and the blog post would be deprioritized. Eventually, I had forgotten the highlights from the trip, and it was old news anyways, so I didn’t bother to write about it.
It became a running joke in the company that Aaron would do unheard of things if I would write a blog post. So strong was my aversion to blogging, that he could say he would do anything, knowing full well that he wouldn’t have to do it.

Emotional barriers

On multiple occasions, I had to ask myself, what was behind this aversion to blogging?
Guilt – There are emails to respond to, pitches to prepare for, leads to get back to. If I’m writing blog posts, I’m not attending to these seemingly more urgent activities. The myth is that writing is a luxury. But the reality is that writing enhances all of those other activities:
  • fewer emails to respond to (“go read my blog post on that subject”)
  • easier to craft a pitch (helpful comments from posted draft pitches)
  • prospective customers coming to you (after they read your blog post and think, “I want to hire this person.”)
Fear – putting down one’s thoughts requires conviction especially when doing it in a public arena such as a blog. You have to put yourself out there and make yourself vulnerable. “They won’t know whether my ideas are brilliant or stupid if I just keep them to myself.” I remember Dharmesh Shah saying, “you don’t have to write prize-winning content, you just have to suck less.”
Hard work – crafting a well-written essay is time consuming. It’s so much easier to browse my Twitter, Facebook, Google+ stream to see what interesting things other people have written about, than to sit down and write my own original content. It’s like building a beautiful pot out of clay. Writing requires massaging the words until they feel right – eliminating all the unnecessary words.
An hour spent writing a thoughtful blog post will be read 100s or 1000s of times more than any email you may have spent an hour writing. I wonder how many of my emails could be repurposed as blog posts.

Turning over a new leaf

My girlfriend Anna said that since she started journaling, it has had a profound affect on her. Things that were confusing, began to have clarity. Anxiety fades away once the thoughts are out of the head, and in a place where they can be analyzed objectively.
When I re-read my blog posts from just a few years ago, it seems as though I wrote with wild abandon. Maybe you grow more cautious as you grow older, but I’d like to think that I am wiser, more sure of myself and what I believe in, and that will come out in my writing.
I’m out of the practice of writing and it’s painful. It’s like trying to play the saxophone after not playing it for months. My embouchure is weak and the sound coming out of the horn is atrocious. But like anything, the more you do it, the better you become.
Over the last few years, I’ve been squirreling away nuggets of material to be shaped  into future blogposts. Every time I favorited a Tweet, starred an item in Google Reader, clipped a webpage into Evernote, I thought, “This will make an interesting blog post … some day.”
Well, that some day is today. I’m putting away the guilt, the fears, the laziness that has held me back for so long. I can’t guarantee that all of those nuggets are gold, but hopefully there will be enough fodder to conjure up a few good ones.
I ask for your patience as I put the training wheels back on, and attempt to put my thoughts into writing. I’m abandoning the junk food consumption of Twitter and Facebook and reallocating that time to creative producing activities.
Instead of passively engaging with these networks, I’m building signposts and eventually billboards along the information superhighway to direct you to my little shack on the side of the road. Hopefully you’ll find something interesting during your visit.

2012: A retrospective

December 31, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Today is December 31, 2012 and we’re about to start a new year. It’s a moment for reflection on what has happened over the last year – triumphs, disappointments, changes, new experiences, and what one aspires for in the new year.

After a four year hiatus, I’m relaunching this blog because I want to write more and share more of my life. I suspect that by writing about my experiences, it will not only be easier to remember them, but they will feed into a bigger story. Read my blog post about how I got over my hangups and resurrected this blog.

What has happened in the last four years? This blog post would go on forever if I attempted to summarize everything, so I’ll just give you the highlights. Without further ado, here is my retrospective for 2012.

Serial entrepreneur

Chapter 1

I stepped back from my duties as president at Jazkarta, my web development company, to focus more time on Appsember, my new startup company. Appsembler’s mission is to make it easier to find, try and buy open source software.

Last fall, my co-founder announced that he was leaving the company (which was called DjangoZoom at the time). We parted ways amicably and after much deliberation I decided to continue but in a new direction that eventually became Appsembler.

Chapter 2: TechStars

That same fall I applied to Techstars Cloud, a new startup accelerator program in San Antonio modeled after the existing Techstars programs in Boston, New York and Seattle.

Over Thanksgiving break, I got the call from the Techstars Cloud director, Jason Seats, saying that I got in. So in January I packed my bags and moved to Texas for 3 months. It was probably the hardest I have ever worked in my life (grueling 16 hour days) coupled with intense pressure to deliver a working product. (I probably should have spent less time trying to build a product and more time on customer development, but that’s a discussion for another blog post.)

Techstars Cloud demo day

Techstars Cloud demo day

The program ended with “demo day” (see this article in Gigaom) where I stood up on stage and gave a memorized 5 minute pitch in front of a hundred or so investors. Talk about nerve-wracking!

I feel extremely fortunate to have had this experience. (Supposedly it’s harder to get into Techstars than it is to get into Harvard.) I would do things differently if I had the opportunity to do it again, but I don’t regret anything that I experienced. Sometimes learning lessons the hard way is the best way to ensure that you don’t repeat your mistakes.

Chapter 3: MassChallenge

When I returned to Massachusetts, I applied and got into MassChallenge, another startup accelerator in Boston. It’s the largest accelerator in the world with over 100 companies participating so the experience was quite different than Techstars. Through this program I was connected with a bunch of great mentors who now serve on the company’s advisory board.

I don’t know what Chapter 4 of this entrepreneurial journey will look like, but it’s showing signs of venturing into the burgeoning educational technology (EdTech) space. More on that later!

Happy but not always Healthy

In 2010, I was in a bike accident which landed me in the emergency room. Some of you may recall this gruesome photo that I posted to Facebook. To this day I do not recall taking this photo, or any of the details of how the accident happened. Luckily my injuries were minor, and only suffered a mild concussion. (Thankfully I was wearing a helmet that I had purchased a week before.)

In the fall of 2011, I was suffering from flu-like symptoms and severe joint pain, and my doctor diagnosed me with mono. While visiting my dad in San Francisco and eating a taco, I suddenly experienced paralysis of the left side of my face.

My dad rushed me to the emergency room where the doctor on call diagnosed me with Bell’s Palsy. With this new condition, I went back to my doctor in Boston and after two tests, he diagnosed me with Lyme disease. Two weeks of antibiotics treatment, and all the symptoms (including the paralysis – thank God) went away.

In 2012, I experienced severe pain in my bottom molar tooth. After seeing three dentists, and getting a partial root canal, the tooth had to be removed. Upon inspection of the tooth, it was obvious that the infection was caused by hairline crack – a crack that was most certainly caused by the impact of the bike accident two years earlier!

These three incidents spanning over 3 years was a reminder that health is not guaranteed. Life is a precious gift, and you don’t know how fragile you are until your health is taken away from you.

  • Losing one’s memory and waking up in an emergency room is a scary thing.
  • Losing the ability to smile or eat your breakfast cereal without drooling is a scary thing.
  • Losing the ability to eat solid foods is a scary thing.

I vowed to take better care of myself, eat more healthy foods, always wear a bike helmet, and stay away from ticks!

Footnote: I never found the signature bullseye ring that usually accompanies a tick bite. Had I found it earlier, I could have avoided a lot of pain, anxiety and hospital bills.

Words of advice: if you go hiking, inspect yourself afterwards, or better yet, have someone else inspect your body, because those ticks can hide out in some unusual places!


As many of you know, I love to travel. As the cost of fuel has gone up, and my available time while trying to run two companies has gone down, my travels have not been as frenetic as in past years.

Dorneles sandsurfing

Dorneles sandsurfing

Most of my trips have been domestic, but in summer 2010 I visited Brazil a second time to give a keynote at FISL. This was the last time I saw my dear friend Dorneles Tremea before he was killed in a tragic car accident. See my photo memorial and video that I took of him.

Later that year I visited Bristol, UK for the first time to attend the Plone Conference. I hardly remember the last half of this trip because I was sick in bed – little did I know at the time that it was the beginning of the Lyme disease symptoms.

Both of these trips merit their own blog posts, but for now you’ll have to settle for the Flickr photo sets (Brazil photos, Bristol photos).

Last year I did a month-long trip to Europe where I co-presented at two conferences (DjangoCon in Amsterdam and EuroPython in Florence). By way of speedy European trains, I rode the rails from Holland to Italy, and stopped along the way to visit my long-time friends Nils in Germany and Andrew in Strasbourg.

Love life

P1060347The moment you’ve all been waiting for! It wasn’t only fuel costs that have kept me mostly Stateside the last two years. In early 2011, I started dating Anna who I had already known as a friend for years.

While we were friends, we experienced the Obama inauguration together, played music together (she’s a jazz trumpet player and vocalist) and made short films together. I already knew that she was the woman for me, but she just didn’t know it yet. 😉

Not only do we share a common interest in music making, but like me she’s also a software developer, having previously worked as an iOS developer. In fact, my co-presenter at DjangoCon and EuroPython on the talk “iPhone-Python love affair: Building APIs for mobile” was Anna!

And to top it off, Anna is also an entrepreneur! She is currently running her own startup ZoomTilt whose mission is to help filmmakers get paid for their creative work.

We make a great team and I couldn’t have asked for someone better suited to be my lifelong lover and friend.

Co-op living

After living in my Back Bay bachelor pad since 2005, I made another big change, and this fall moved into the Herbert Simpson Coop in Davis Square, that Anna started a few years ago.

I had been wanting to move to Somerville (and specifically Davis Sq) for a long time, since most of my friends lived in the area. I had even gone so far as to get a pre-mortgage to buy a condo, a place that funnily is two blocks from where I’m living now.

In case you don’t know about co-ops, it’s not unlike a living situation with housemates, except that we share food, cook meals together and organize events together. So far we’ve had several music soirees, storytelling nights (the Froth), many potlucks and most recently the co-op caroling crawl. I’m planning a film night just as soon as my new HD projector arrives!

I had planned on including my goals and aspirations for 2013, but this post has already gotten too long, and there are only a few hours of 2012 remaining. It’s time to go out and celebrate!

I welcome you to comment below to share your thoughts. And please subscribe to the RSS feed or if you prefer email updates to be notified when new posts are published. And if you have any suggestions for blog posts you’d like to see, I’m all ears!

Best wishes for a wonderful and prosperous 2013!


Show your support for video publishing in Plone

February 3, 2008 at 8:38 pm

Thanks to the following generous individuals, we have raised over $1,200 for the development of Plone4ArtistsVideo, an add-on product that improves the publishing of videos in Plone.

Support this project with microPledge


11 pledges ($1220.06)

  • $20.06 from Kurt Bendl
  • $100 from Donna Snow
  • $200 from Zahid Malik
  • $100 from Totsie Marine
  • $50 from Scott Paley
  • $50 from Chris Johnson
  • $25 from Jon Stahl
  • $50 from John Habermann
  • $500 from Alexander Pilz
  • $25 from Jesse Synder
  • $100 from Aleksandr Vladimirskiy

We’re less than $800 towards our goal of $2,000! Please consider pledging your support to help us get Plone4ArtistsVideo 1.1 released which will have support for Plone 3.0.

Thanks in advance for contributing financially to the development of open source software! Any amount helps us get closer to the goal.

Intersecting journey of Free Culture, Creative Commons and Plone

February 3, 2008 at 6:20 pm

Several years ago I discovered the book Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig. It was actually one of the first eBooks that I put on my handheld PDA at the time, a Handspring Visor, a device that now seems quaint compared to my iPhone. I remember watching the Flash presentation of Lessig’s talk at OSCON in 2002, and being motivated to learn more about copyright law. Lessig made the issues tangible, and of incredible importance to anyone who considers themselves a creator.

More importantly, he demonstrated that the copyright laws of yesterday were no longer suitable for the creators of today, and what was needed was a new way to license your creative work. And so he founded the Creative Commons, a non-profit organization that provides free tools for creators to easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry.

During one of my trips out to San Francisco, I met with Mike Linksvayer at the Creative Commons headquarters. At the time I was very interested in adding Creative Commons licensing support to Plone, the open source content management system, so I wanted to talk to him about the best ways to accomplish this.

Well, we didn’t talk much about Plone, but I did get to have lunch with the other CC folks, and afterwards Mike suggested that I talk to Nathan Yergler, the Python programmer who was making so many cool CC tools, that they had to hire him.

Upon closer inspection, I discovered that Nathan was doing some pretty cool stuff with Zope 3, including building desktop applications such as ccPublisher. While I still haven’t met Nathan (now CTO of Creative Commons), I can see from his blog that he recently moved from Indiana to San Francisco, so there’s a much greater chance that our paths will cross now.

Meanwhile Jonah Bossewitch had written up PLIP #136 (Plone improvement proposal) to get content licensing support native in Plone. There was a product called PloneCreativeCommons that was a good start, but Brent Lambert and David Ray from Utah State University, took it a step further during the Big Apple Sprint (also organized by Jonah) and created ContentLicensing a really great add-on product for Plone that we’re now bundling with Plone4Artists.

After moving to Boston, I got to know some of the folks involved with the Harvard Free Culture group, one of many college-based Free Culture groups that promote the public interest in intellectual property and information & communications technology policy.

Last week I was hanging out with the Free Culture kids at a dinner at the Cambridge Brewing Company hosted by Dean Jansen and Will Guaraldi, both of the Participatory Culture Foundation, best known for the Miro video player. For the Plone4ArtistsVideo add-on product for Plone, we’re exploring using some of the Python code in Miro for scraping popular video sharing sites such as Youtube.

Recently I stumbled across this TEDTalk video presentation by Lawrence Lessig, and invite you to watch as he takes you through a fascinating journey about culture and gets a standing ovation at the end.

Scientific Tools and Documentation Plone Sprint – Day 1

February 3, 2008 at 6:09 pm

KSS introductionWhat do you get when you bring developers from around the world to the same place for four days of intense coding? In the Plone community, we call this a sprint. I like to think of sprints as jam sessions for coders, an opportunity to work and play side-by-side other talented programmers and try out new ideas among peers.

To get a better sense for what a sprint is like, I invite you to read Jon Stahl’s reflections on the Seattle Sprint, an article Ready, Steady…Sprint! Creating Open-Source ECM, that appeared in CIO magazine about the Boston Plone4Artists sprint, and journalist Esther Schindler’s blog posts about the DocComm sprint at the Googleplex.

At the Plone Science sprint hosted by UCDavis this week we are sprinting on improving the scientific tools and documentation of Plone. It’s a self-organizing activity and we have been planning our work collaboratively in the planning wiki.

As an example, look at the tasks identified for CMFBibliographyAT, a tool that makes it easy to list publications in your Plone site. CMFBibliographyAT is an incredibly useful tool for academics at colleges and universities who want to make a comprehensive list of their published articles. It has some great time-saving features such as importing lists of publications via BibTex and Endnote. Stay tuned for a screencast with the author Raphael Ritz!

In order to better track the issues, prioritize and assign them to owners, we created tasks in the tracker from these issues. Ideally, we would have done this prior to the sprint to save on time, but sometimes it’s necessary to discuss the issues in order to create well-written tasks.

One thing that cannot be underestimated is the knowledge transfer that takes place when programmers meet in the same room and pair program. This is the biggest reason to attend a sprint. You will learn new things, probably a lot more than you would if you paid for lecture style training.

The reason this way is better is because you work very closely but informally with other developers. Working hands-on, there are ample opportunities for asking questions and tap into the brainpower of others in the room. Then in the evening you go out and have a beer with the same people. Sprints are not only great learning experiences, they’re a lot of fun too!

Most of the time, open source software development takes place between highly distributed teams of individuals, who are not working in the same physical space. Linux, the most popular open source operating systems, was created this way. How do they collaborate when they’re spread out all over the world? The communication takes place real-time on IRC or asynchronously on mailing lists.

A sprint gives people the opportunity to meet each other in person. But for those who cannot be present, we invite them to participate as remote sprinters. To give them eyes and ears into what’s happening at the sprint location, we’ve set up a live video stream. That way, they can hear what we’re talking about and still participate even though the conversations aren’t happening on IRC.

One of the overarching tenets of open source is transparency, and broadcasting what we are doing real-time is just one way to share the trials and triumphs of the sprint team. Another way is to post the IRC logs for those who want to see what has been discussed.

Inspired by Jonathan Lewis’ daily podcast reports from the Plone Archipelago sprint in Norway, I decided to make a video each day with highlights from that day. The first video from day 1 is posted and can be found on plone.tv. There wasn’t much coding on the first day, but we had a great time exploring the eateries in Davis and hanging out at Steve’s house in the evening. Thanks Steve!

I’d also like to thank the UCD Center for Mind and Brain who made it possible for me to participate in the sprint. Thanks to the other sponsors we are fortunate to have Raphael Ritz (from Germany/Sweden) and Balazs Ree (from Hungary) participating in the sprint.

Drinking straws and social capitalism

January 12, 2008 at 7:53 pm

While reading Matthew Davidson’s blog, I came across this interview with Benjamin Barber on the Bill Moyer program on PBS. He says that American capitalism “… is no longer manufacturing goods to meet real needs and human wants.
Capitalism is manufacturing needs to sell us all the goods it needs to produce, in order to stay in business.

As someone who has lived in another country and seen America from afar, I definitely get the sense that we as Americans identify first and foremost as consumers, and secondly as citizens. It is a mandate from mass media to consume, consume and consume. You can never have enough stuff. Shop until you drop. The boys with the most toys wins. We are not told to vote, we are told to shop, and Barber argues that we are being treated as infants.

What do we do with all this stuff that we buy? Well, most of it gets used for a short period of time, until the next great thing comes along, and then we dump the “old” (but still perfectly capable) thing for the new model. Annie Leonard tells us in the Story of Stuff, what happens to all this trash, and where it really ends up.

Moyer argues that capitalism is good because it gives us consumers lots of choices. Barbers excellent example is that when you fly to L.A., you have hundreds of cars that you can choose from to rent, but then you sit for five hours in traffic on the highway, because the one choice you don’t have is to take reliable, cheap, efficient public transportation. That is a social choice he says, which I would argue does not usually come into play when privatization is heralded as the answer to all of our problems.

I observed this when I was living in Denmark, a country which has public healthcare and education. When you go to the doctor’s office, you don’t have to show an insurance card or credit card. You just show them your national ID card, and everything is covered. As a resident of Denmark, you have a right to free healthcare. Of course, it’s not free because you pay for it through your taxes, but it’s available to everyone, no matter if you are unemployed or how much money you make. The Danes as a society decided that they valued healthcare and education, and were willing to pay for it through their taxes to ensure that everyone has access to them.

Now what is happening as a result of reign of the conservative political party in Denmark, is a trend towards adopting the U.S. model of privitization. Many private hospitals are opening up in Denmark, and the best doctors are going to work at those hospitals because they can get paid more. This of course results in a decline of good public healthcare. Some might say that privatization is good for society because it brings more choices, but as Barber says, what are those choices and for things that all citizens need, are those choices equally available to all citizens?

Americans have decided that we would rather pay less in taxes and instead pay for healthcare through our employers or out-of-pocket, which of course means that 54.5 million Americans don’t have health insurance because they are unemployed or can’t afford it. Sure, we might have more choices when it comes to which doctor/hospital we can go to, but that doesn’t make much difference if it’s so cost prohibitive to visit a doctor that we just don’t bother to go at all.

According to the Institute of Medicine, “lack of health insurance causes roughly 18,000 unnecessary deaths every year in the United States. Although America leads the world in spending on health care, it is the only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not ensure that all citizens have coverage.Insuring America’s Health: Principles and Recommendations, Institute of Medicine, January 2004.

At the end of this interview, Bill Moyers begs Benjamin Barber to not leave us in the dumps. Give us some hope for how we can do things better he says. Barber gives an example of LifeStraw, a company from Denmark which makes a $2 device to purify any water, no mater how foul it is. The world’s greatest killer is diarrhoeal diseases from bacteria like typhoid, cholera, E. coli, salmonella etc.

The problem that LifeStraw is solving is getting clean water to people in developing countries. And Barber points out that Lifestream is a very profitable company. They have produced a product which solves a real problem, and it’s saving lives.

Companies in Denmark are making a profit by creating tools to save lives, while American health insurance companies are making huge profits by destroying lives. What does this say about our American society?

I strongly recommend watching part 1 and part 2 of the interview with Benjamin Barber.

Boston Media Makers podcast

January 7, 2008 at 5:36 pm

While I’ve been listening to podcasts for several years, and attended both Podcamps in Boston, I haven’t really produced my own podcast yet. So one of my New Years resolutions is to record and publish interviews, music shows and other things that I find interesting on a regular basis. I have over 40 DV tapes of raw video material from various conferences and sprints that I’ve attended, so that alone should keep me pretty busy just sifting through the good stuff from the unusable stuff.

Yesterday I attended another inspiring Boston Media Makers meetup at the Sweet Finnish bakery in Jamaica Plain. The format is we go around the room and everyone introduces themselves and can optionally show-n-tell about something. My show-n-tell was the Apogee Duet, a firewire digital audio interface for the Mac, that I just purchased last week on Dave Fisher’s recommendation. I stayed up way past my bedtime on friday playing with it, and will write more about my impressions after I’ve done more serious recording with it. So far I’ve been really pleased with the sound quality and ease-of-use. Steve snapped a few photos of the Duet at the meeting.


One thing that I still need to purchase is a decent microphone, since the only one I have is a cheapo Radio Shack mic that I bought when I was in high school to record a band demo. I asked the Boston Media Makers group what they would recommend, and Adam Weiss (who was sitting next to me) pulled out an Audio Technica ATM 10A which is what he uses for podcasting. I asked him if I could use it to record the meeting into Garageband, and he was kind enough to oblige. So thanks to Adam, here’s a partial recording from the meeting. Gotta love these portable recording studios!

Video thumbnail. Click to play
Click To Play

Also present at the meeting was filmmaker and video expert David Tamés who shared some microphone recommendations as well. He posted an excellent summary of the meeting to his blog where he discusses various microphones (incl photos!), so if you’re interested, I invite you to check out his site, which is a goldmine of other very interesting articles about video editing / equipment / new media.This was only the second time I attended the Boston Media Makers, but I felt strangely familiar and already connected with the other participants. Maybe it’s because many of us befriended each other on Twitter so in the month between each meeting, we are still following what each other is doing.Or maybe it’s because we all share a common passion to create and share what we know with others. It’s truly a fascinating mix of individuals – artists, filmmakers, musicians, actors, developers, entrepreneurs, PR people, etc. I think this cross-pollination that occurs when you bring creative people into the same room is electrifying. As David says, the meetings are i3 (interesting, inspiring, and informative). Kudos to Steve Garfield for putting this together! I look forward to the next meeting with anticipation.

Easy video publishing with Plone4ArtistsVideo

January 6, 2008 at 1:49 am

Plone4ArtistsVideo screenshotAs evidenced by the proliferation of Plone add-ons such as ATGoogleVideo, ATFlashMovie and the recent release of SevenVideo, there is obviously a demand for tools that make it easier to publish videos to a Plone site.

While each of these products is useful in that they make it easy to add a video hosted on Google Video (ATGoogleVideo), a Flash SWF file (ATFlashMovie) or a Youtube/Metacafe (SevenVideo), there are several disadvantages to these products.

Not extensible

With the exception of SevenVideo, each product only supports a single video site/format. What if you start out wanting to add Google Videos to your Plone site, and then later decide you want to add support for YouTube videos? Well, you probably aren’t going to want to extend ATGoogleVideo, because it wasn’t designed for that. So you’ll have to install SevenVideo. Then later you want to add support for another video sharing site. Well, you’ll have to then install another product. And so on…

Update: Matthew Latterell left a comment to inform me that ATGoogleVideo does in fact support Youtube as well. My apologies for not getting my facts straight.

Burden of maintaining multiple products

For each new product that you install in your Plone site, that’s another product that you have to maintain and upgrade when new versions are released. So if you want to support all of those video types, you have to install all those video products, right? Wrong! Read on to learn about a product that has support for all these video sites and file formats out-of-the-box and is also extensible so you can add other sites/formats.

Content type pollution

You can never have enough content types available for users to add to the Plone site, right? Wrong! For each new product that you install in your Plone site, you introduce new content types. Each new product introduces additional items which appear in the Add new item menu.

From a usability standpoint, this is a disadvantage because your users now have to think before they are going to add a video. “Now which type of video am I adding? Is it a Flash, Google, Youtube or Metacafe video?” and scratch their heads as they look through the list of items to find the appropriate content type.

Wouldn’t it be easier if they could just add a normal Link if they want to add a video hosted elsewhere, and a File if they want to upload a video file? This makes logical sense if you are just a normal non-technical user of the CMS.

Now wouldn’t it be even more convenient if when you added that Link or File, Plone was smart enough to detect where the link was from, or what kind of file you are uploading, and automagically extract the relevant metadata and choose an appropriate video player?

A video publishing tool for the rest of us

This is what the Plone4ArtistsVideo product provides, an intuitive interface for adding videos to your Plone site whether they are hosted on one of a dozen popular video sharing sites, or a Quicktime, Windows Media or Flash video file on your computer. And it introduces no new content types!

As part of the development of Plone.tv, we added the ability to extract the metadata from videos hosted on Google Video, Youtube, Blip.tv and Revver.com. This means that when you paste in a video link from one of these sites into your Plone site, Plone4ArtistsVideo will grab the title, description, thumbnail, tags and author, so you don’t have to type all that data in again.

We’ve also added the capability of rating and tagging in addition to commenting on the videos. Note: you must have the contentrating and tagging products installed in order for these features to be enabled.

Try it out!

You can download the latest version of Plone4ArtistsVideo 1.0 which is compatible with Plone 2.5, and we are working on Plone4ArtistsVideo 1.1 which will bring Plone 3.0 compatibility. Help us to get the 1.1 release out faster by pledging a financial contribution. We are developing this open source software on a volunteer basis, so we appreciate any amount of money that you can contribute. Thanks!

Jonathan Lewis is also making a screencast about Plone4ArtistsVideo which will complement the two that he has already done about Plone4ArtistsAudio and Plone4ArtistsCalendar.

In the meantime, you can take Plone4ArtistsVideo for a test drive on the demo site. Please try it out and give us feedback on what you like and what you don’t like!