Babble Voice Privacy System

Kirsten Jones recently pointed me to Herman Miller‘s Babble Voice Privacy System. Babble is a small device (about the size of a tape player) that takes sound within a certain radius and rebroadcasts it as nonsense. In other words, it allows you to have private conversations in open spaces.    (MQP)

Babble is being marketed as a privacy device, but it’s actually an important productivity device. People are good at ignoring white noise. When our brains hear sounds they don’t recognize, they ignore them. People are bad at ignoring recognizable sounds. Every ambient conversation we overhear is a concentration breaker.    (MQQ)

The list price for a Babble is $695, which is steep for most mortals. However, there’s a simple trick you can use for similar effect: music. People do this all the time on their own: When they need to concentrate, they put on their headphones. However, you can do this for an entire space as well.    (MQR)

The added benefit of using music in this way for Open Space-style events is that you can use this as a transitional device. Raise the volume when you want people to move, and lower the volume when you’ve achieved your goal. MGTaylor does this all the time, but they’re not the only ones. Open Space facilitators often use Tibetan prayer bells to signal transition. Allen Gunn (Gunner) will often start singing when he wants people to transition.    (MQS)

Nonprofit Geek Trivia Winner

I spent two days this past week at Aspiration‘s Nonprofit Software Development Summit. I’ve organized several events with Allen Gunn (Gunner), so it was fun to take off the organizer hat and just be a participant. I had no agenda going into the conference, which was also quite pleasant. I attended because I love the people in this community and because Gunner asked me to facilitate a session on usability. The summit did not disappoint. I caught up with old friends, made several new ones, gave the ol’ noggin a vigorous workout, and had a ton of fun overall.    (LUH)

I ended up participating more actively than I had originally planned. It started with my usability session, which caused many to mistakenly assume that usability was my specialty. I decided to rectify this the following day by offering an ad-hoc skill-sharing session on throwing kick-ass collaborative events. We had a great group of high-energy people in that crowd, and the wisdom sharing was decidedly bi-directional.    (LUI)

At the last minute, Gunner asked me if I would do a Speed Geeking session on HyperScope. I was hesitant at first, because it had been months since I last spoke about HyperScope and because I had never quite gotten my presentation down to five minutes. The best I had done previously was half an hour. Plus, people were already confused enough as to what I did for a living. Nevertheless, the hesitation quickly dissipated. I live for challenges like this.    (LUJ)

It turned out to be even more difficult, because there were 14 presentations. For those of you counting at home, that meant giving the same five minute presentation 14 times in a row, with no breaks in-between. My first and last two presentations were mediocre — it took me a few rounds to get my pitch down, and I was exhausted by the end — but I had a nice little streak in the middle.    (LUK)

Here’s some cute historical trivia: I presented at the very first Speed Geeking session (at the first AdvocacyDev three years ago). In my commentary then, I expressed doubts as to whether Speed Geeking was a great format. Since then, I’ve seen it performed several other times, and I’ve watched it become popular in other venues, although I hadn’t participated in another one until this past week. I’m now a full-fledged convert. My original criticisms still stand. What’s swayed my opinion is that, when done right, Speed Geeking is all about movement and positive group energy. (Gunner, of course, always facilitates them beautifully.) When executed poorly, it’s an energy suck that degrades into hallway conversations.    (LUL)

Speaking of trivia, I couldn’t bow out of the conference without participating in the Nonprofit Geek Trivia Contest. Evan Henshaw-Plath, Michal Mach, Lena Zuniga, and I formed The Flying Luas and dueled several other teams over questions such as:    (LUM)

  • To the nearest power of two, how many kilobytes was the ROM BIOS on the original Macintosh?    (LUN)
  • Name the now-defunct U.S. branch of the Association for Progressive Communications.    (LUO)
  • And my personal favorite: What is a “link condom”?    (LUP)

Clearly, only the deeply disturbed had any chance of winning this competition. Guess who won?    (LUQ)

https://i1.wp.com/farm1.static.flickr.com/141/399585464_384c7e0280_m.jpg?w=700    (LUR)

I’m on a bit of a roll with these things. My secret? I’m the John Salley of the conference contest circuit.    (LUS)

The last question of the night was a five-point bonus question: Write a haiku about data loss. I took a short video of the results. In our collective defense, we consumed much alcohol that evening.    (LUT)

February 2007 Update

A month has passed, and the blog has been silent, but the brain has not. Time to start dumping again. But before I begin, a quick synopsis:    (LR8)

  • The month started off inauspiciously, with a catastrophic system failure that occurred over the holidays. Quite the story. I hope to tell it someday.    (LR9)
  • Last year, I joined the board of the Leadership Learning Community (LLC). It was an unusual move on my part, since I was also in the process of clearing commitments off my list in order to focus more on my higher-level goals. In the midst of saying no to many, many people, I found myself saying yes to LLC. We had our first 2007 board meeting earlier this month, and I participated in their subsequent learning circles. Let’s just say I have no regrets. A week with these folks generated enough thoughts to fill a thousand blog posts.    (LRA)
  • This past week, I co-facilitated a three day Lunar Dust Workshop for NASA, using Dialogue Mapping and Compendium. It was an unbelievable experience, also worth a thousand blog posts. For now, check out some pictures.    (LRB)
  • For the past few months, I’ve been actively involved with a project called Grantsfire. The project’s goal is modest: Make foundations and nonprofits more transparent and collaborative. How? For starters, by getting foundations to publish their grants as microformats. I’ve hinted about the project before, and I’ll have much more to say soon.    (LRC)
  • For the past year, I’ve been helping reinvent Identity Commons. Again, I haven’t blogged much about it, but I’ve certainly talked a lot about it. Not only are we playing an important role in the increasingly hot Internet identity space, we’re also embodying a lot of important ideas about facilitating networks and catalyzing collaboration.    (LRD)

In addition to a flood of blog posts, other things to look forward to this month include:    (LRE)

Standards of Education

Last November, Sunlight Foundation organized a meeting in San Francisco centered around Open Data / Open Government (dubbed “ODOG”). As what might be expected at a gathering of excellent people facilitated by Allen Gunn, it was a terrific event. While we covered tons of interesting ground, the thing that stood out for me the most was something that Salim Ismail said.    (LMP)

Salim suggested that the two prerequisites for an effective democracy were access to information and educated citizens. He then noted that he had lived a third of his life in the U.S., a third in India, and a third in Europe, and of all three locations, the U.S. had the least educated citizenry.    (LMQ)

I found myself citing Salim a week later in a spirited conversation about the state of the world with a friend, who challenged me to define exactly what I meant by an educated citizenry. I thought for a moment, then responded, “I will consider our citizenry educated when over 90 percent of Americans can identify the U.S. on a world map.”    (LMR)

I don’t know what the exact metric should be, but the essence of the metric should be clear. Last year, the National Geographic Society sponsored a study of geographic literacy in this country. The results?    (LMS)

  • 63 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 could not identify Iraq on a map of the Middle East.    (LMT)
  • 50 percent could not identify New York on a map of the United States.    (LMU)

A few years ago, I learned of another horrifying stat. 52 percent of Japanese primary and secondary students have never seen a sunset or a sunrise. That’s up from an equally horrifying 41 percent in 1991.    (LMV)

Folks in my business like to draw distinctions between information and knowledge, or knowledge and wisdom. Whatever you call the ends of the spectrum, the pattern is the same. As you move towards knowledge and wisdom, the secret sauce is context, meaning, and actionability.    (LMW)

Context is a funny creature. I can use all sorts of data and rhetoric to justify or oppose war, but the fact that my grandfather was kidnapped and killed by North Koreans during the Korean War certainly colors my judgement. I don’t claim any moral superiority in my opinions, but I certainly have context that not everyone has, and the essence of that context is very human.    (LMX)

I’d like people to have at least some human context before making judgements of import. At minimum, I think people should be able to identify a country on a map before expressing opposition or support for attacking it. At maximum, I think people should know others from that country, or even better, have spent time there themselves. I think people should experience at least one sunset or sunrise before expressing judgement about environment policy.    (LMY)

Notable December Events

There are several notable events this month. Next week is Internet Identity Workshop (IIW) 2006B at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. I’ll be speaking on Monday afternoon about Identity Commons. There will also be an Untalent show on Tuesday night, which promises to be spectacular.    (LKV)

Starting Wednesday, December 6, Lisa Heft will be leading a three day Open Space Technology Workshop. Those of you interested in learning more about Open Space should really attend. Lisa’s a long-time practitioner and thinker, and she is very well-respected in the community.    (LKW)

Allen Gunn and company are throwing a San Francisco Nonprofit Technology Center Holiday Party on December 13 at their new space on 1370 Mission. Anyone who’s ever been to one of Gunner’s parties know that this is not to be missed.    (LKX)

Finally, Todd Davies and CPSR are sponsoring Technopolitics Camp in San Francisco on December 17.    (LKY)

Happy December!    (LKZ)