Posted: February 11th, 2013 | Author: aarondietz | Filed under: Long, Other People, Serious, With Pictures | 3 Comments »
I’m super happy to announce that Charlie Potter has officially joined the 12 in 12 project as Art Director. This means that he’ll be responsible for producing the covers for 11 of the 12 titles (one of the titles will be put out by Uno Kudo, the non-profit organization headed by designer Erin McParland), as well as oversee the development of any guest art included in the project. For one or two of the titles, he’ll do some interior illustrations also.
Charlie Potter is the brilliant book designer for Super, a book that required an intense amount of design in simulating physical documents as well as emulating the look of a corporate superhero environment (letterheads, etc.). As part of promoting Super, Charlie also developed posters, desktop backgrounds, stickers, props for the trailers, and more!
He produces great work on deadline and is an all-around wonderful team member to work with. The 12 in 12 project is lucky to have him aboard!
Charlie has already designed the cover of the first title we will release, Adventures of Dogboy (coming soon–like in a week!).
Beyond Charlie Potter signing on as Art Director, I have some other good news for the 12 in 12 project as well: an excellent publisher will be picking up a pair of the 12 in 12 titles, and I’m talking to yet another publisher about possibly picking up one of the other titles.
It’s comforting to know there are publishers out there who are embracing the immediacy of publishing and adapting to this fast paced world. They are adopting Crash thinking and rolling with it!
All in all, it looks like so far 4 of the 12 titles could have publishers backing them (the three I mentioned before and the iPad version of Super, to be published by Emergency Press). It’s only February. And we’re about to release the first of the 12. We’re a little behind pace right now, but we’re just getting started.
Posted: January 29th, 2013 | Author: aarondietz | Filed under: Long, Serious | 12 Comments »
Crash thinking is a huge influence in my life right now, and partly the reason why I’m attempting the 12 in 12 project (producing 12 books in 12 months).
Crash thinking means using the knowledge that sometimes you can do something better by using an approach that defies all logic as well as your best instincts.
Example: Pretend you’re in charge of safety at the Space Needle. You know that it’s technically possible for people on the observation deck to climb over the railing, through the ropes and stand out on the spokes that circle the top of the tower (view an image of the Space Needle and its spokes here). How do you make it safer?
Answer: By making it more dangerous.
Explanation: Folks at the Space Needle made it more dangerous to stand out on the spokes by installing rollers on the spokes, thus ensuring that anyone attempting to stand on them will roll right off the Space Needle. Therefore, no one will try to stand on them because it’s clearly too difficult to stand on them–it’s too dangerous! (You can kind of see one of these rollers here.)
I’ve been paying attention to non-instinctive problem solving for a while now, ever since I started working on short films organized by Crash Film Productions and Crash Cinema (a SIFF program), and what I’ve picked up from these experiences has become a whole new way of thinking. I call it Crash thinking, named after the film production company that thrives on this type of thinking.
I first got involved with Crash films by helping out with a 24-hour film production. The results were a 3 minute film that was not super successful. It was okay, but not great, and not nearly the product we had imagined at the beginning of the 24-hour time period.
I had a similar experience helping out on a 48-hour film project. The film was again not exemplary.
After having participated in those two projects, if someone were to have asked me, “What would you do to make these projects better?” I probably would have said, “Take more time.”
But instead, the counter-intuitive answer has appeared to be correct. I’ve since participated in two 8-hour film projects through Crash Cinema, and I was blown away by the results. The final products felt complete, had solid production value, and were ultimately way more satisfying than the 24- and 48-hour projects. Yet, they were made in less than 8 hours. There was something about the immediacy that steered our creative processes toward a better product. Amazing.
Amazing–just like my wife. When we were headed home from Taiwan, one of our suitcases was a good 8 or 10 pounds over the weight limit, but the task of redistributing the weight was clearly going to be akin to the most challenging Tetris puzzle ever. Instead of attempting to shift items between bags, my wife grabbed two books from my carry-on, and added them to the suitcase that was overweight.
(You see what she did there? She added weight to solve the problem of there being too much weight. Completely non-instinctive!)
I was quite confident that wouldn’t work. It made absolutely no sense! How was adding more weight going to help us?! (Plus, I wanted those books in my carry-on–I wanted to read them on the plane!)
We got to the airport. They weighed our heavy suitcase and told us it was overweight. My wife quickly set it on the ground, opened it up, took the two books out for me to put in my carry-on, and then proceeded to act as if she were contemplating what else to remove.
A fraction of a second into her contemplation, they told us, “That’s okay. That’s enough. You’re fine.” They accepted the bag, overweight and all.
I was baffled, but very impressed with the results. Clearly, I’ve been placing far too many limits on my life by listening and trusting logic and my instincts. Then again, all of the solutions above make sense, once you give them a chance. They are just not what your logic and intuition will tell you without some mental conditioning that allows you to be open to the possibilities.
The 8-hour film projects were successful because we had no time to strive for the ideal, no time to discuss subtleties that ultimately didn’t matter too much for the film. We had to focus our energy on what explicitly mattered, and that would NOT have been our focus if we’d have had more time to make the film.
I’ve reflected more than I’d like to admit on the results of my first novel, Super. It was a very nice work of innovative fiction, in my opinion, but it took about 10 years to complete, from the beginning draft to final production. In the age of electronic publishing, this is far too long.
Thus, in 2013, I’m taking the same approach toward my writing and book production this year that Crash Cinema takes toward making a nice short film. People routinely write the first draft of a novel in one month for NaNoWriMo. I’m going to push myself to do even better. I’m making 12 books in 12 months, all the way through final drafts and getting them published. It can be done. And the return on the investment in time is going to be monstrously larger than any other long term literary project I’ve been a part of.
Posted: October 27th, 2012 | Author: aarondietz | Filed under: Long, Serious | 8 Comments »
I work in online high school course development. The field is at an historic moment in history: the moment just before an innovative online education company takes over the field and sets the standard for online high school education.
I’ve taken to calling this theoretical education company “the future Amazon of online education,” a phrase that often raises scoffs among people who will listen to me. Many don’t think a single company can dominate online education in the same way that Amazon dominated the book market. And when they say so, usually I just think silently to myself, That’s probably what people thought about the book market before Amazon.
But dominating the online high school education market wouldn’t be that difficult. It would just depend on an intelligently designed content management system. I’m going to describe that content management system to you now.
Note: Nothing in the following features and capabilities is technologically difficult to execute. Do you want a multi-million dollar idea? Here it is. And if you’re seriously putting this plan into action, sign me up.
The beginning of the content management system (CMS) that you need is simple, and nothing beyond what Udemy or other similar sites are doing. The CMS will need to allow people to build their own chunks of content using various online media. And by “people” I mean the public. You don’t need to create your own content. There are millions of die hard teachers out there that already have. They just want somewhere to put it where it will get used.
The CMS will allow people to chunk content into larger and larger pieces until they have entire courses ready to share with the masses. Some basic tagging should be employed, such as the language and the level of accessibility of the content.
If you’re going to dominate the high school education market, you need to incorporate standards into your content. This means the chunks of content must be able to be tagged with objectives that correspond to state and national objectives.
For example, a content creator using your site would tag a chunk of their content as covering Massachusetts state standard 3.2 “Describe the carbon cycle” from the Earth and Space Science learning standards.
Ideally, someone will eventually create a public database with these standards in it (I’m looking at you, Google), but for now, you could start with the most commonly used standards or develop your standards database through your users.
The important thing is that people using your site will know what state standard or standards each chunk of content covers.
The CMS should allow people to create built-in assessment items. These can be pretty simple at first; start with multiple choice, and add more assessment choices as you go.
These assessment items need to store student results, and the assessment items need to be tagged to objectives, so that content creators (and others evaluating that content) will know how successful the content is at covering that objective.
Ultimately this allows you to start evaluating content somewhat scientifically. I use the term “somewhat” because not all assessment items are created equally.
The CMS should allow people to use other creators’ content in their own instructional content. For example, if I’ve written a science course but my students are not successfully interpreting my presentation of the carbon cycle, I can try using someone else’s carbon cycle content by plugging it into my course.
Ultimately this means that people can come along and create entire courses using the best material out there and without creating anything themselves. High schools across the nation could end up generally agreeing that some teacher’s two page HTML presentation of the carbon cycle is the best one in the nation, and all high school students could learn from that.
This requires, of course, the ability for users to control the visibility of their content (some may want to keep it private) and to label their content with the license of their choosing. Some content you may need to pay for. Other content might be free to use.
Imagine being a science teacher in a small town in Alaska who now has a vastly powerful array of resources to use to teach students, as well as data that backs up the effectiveness of the instruction.
The licenses that allow reuse of content could get tricky, because when you’re putting together a lesson, you don’t want to use content that is going to change unexpectedly before you start class. To defend against this, licenses would be similar to the license for shared Google SketchUp models. For example, you are free to use someone’s shared model in your own SketchUp project, and if the original creator withdraws their model from the shared environment, you can keep using that model in that project for as long as you wish. People who share their models agree to this when they post them in the shared environment.
Essentially, the content would be duplicated when you decide to add it to your content. Your content wouldn’t change when the original content changed. Though you might want to subscribe to alerts on those changes and then decide whether you want to update the content when it does change.
Prerequisite Content Tags
The CMS will need to allow tagging for prerequisite knowledge, such as vocabulary terms or concepts students need to know in order to understand the chunk of content being tagged. This way, you can have small chunks of content that explain advanced concepts, and anyone contemplating using that content will know whether their students will be able to handle it.
Then again, content developers may just go get additional content from someone that covers your prerequisite knowledge. This makes course creation across multiple authors easier because the interdependencies are tagged.
Users will need to select content by evaluating more than the effectiveness of the assessments. And the assessments themselves can be significantly skewed by the author (such as when the instructional content adequately covers the objective but the assessment item is written so poorly that it is not a meaningful assessment).
This means the CMS should have ratings. Users will be able to rate chunks of content for a variety of characteristics, including grammar, how well the content covers the objective, and the quality of the assessment item or items.
This gets tricky when content is modified, because the ratings may only apply to the previous incarnation of the content, but there are a variety of ways to solve that problem, including storing the “archived” data for past content and allowing users to view that or ignore it. A recently edited chunk of content that has no current ratings but many strong positive ratings in past versions is still likely to be good instructional content.
The CMS will need strong search abilities, and not just so that people can find the content they’re looking for (searching by keyword, objective, or state standard are all obvious implementations of the search feature).
The CMS would use its search indexing to suggest content similar to the pages you’re viewing. If you’re looking at one page on the carbon cycle, you’ll see its nearest competitors in links to the right. This makes it easier to choose the best content available for your lesson.
The CMS would also use its search ability to suggest content as you’re writing it. While you’re writing an HTML page on the carbon cycle, links would appear on the right to visible pages of content you may wish to use instead of your own. Those links can be controlled by settings that limit results to your requirements–free to use, non-Flash, a specific level of effectiveness, and written in Mandarin, for example. Think of the time you might save. Whenever someone else has already written something you’re about to write, you’ll know.
Along with simply sharing your content, you may also grant permission for others to modify it, with or without credit, based on the sharing license you choose. Others will be free to improve on the work or update it as knowledge of the subject develops.
Users who view your content may also make suggestions for updates or corrections. Content will improve and develop in step with subject matter and technological changes. This is not a textbook frozen in time. It’s a living body of knowledge. Wikipedia meets standards-based learning meets Google Course Builder.
These features would help you capture the online high school market, but that’s obviously not the limitation of the project. Middle schools and post-secondary education would benefit from a CMS like this. Corporate training is not out of the question either. All told, this is billions of dollars waiting to be funneled to the team who does it right. Now go. You don’t have much time.
Posted: May 14th, 2012 | Author: aarondietz | Filed under: Serious, Short | 2 Comments »
Most superhero origin stories begin with something beyond control happening to someone. A chemical spills on someone. A radioactive spider bites someone. Gamma radiation radiates someone. Someone’s genes mutate. Someone’s parents put their baby in a ship headed for Earth.
If you ever feel like something has been done to you beyond your control, use it. You are a superhero in the making.
Posted: February 9th, 2012 | Author: aarondietz | Filed under: Funny, Long | 4 Comments »
Rarely does a director ask, “What if I took all kinds of characters from other movies and threw them into a historical movie to see what history would be like?!!?! LOL?!”
War Horse tackles this startlingly experimental narrative landscape with aplomb!
First off: the goofy kid who was the main character. It’s Goofy from all those Disney cartoons! He rarely speaks, has a positive attitude, and he likes wearing vests. No other character in the universe could have believably given such a goofy grin while gazing at a newborn foal. Only Goofy could have pulled that off!
Possibly the most dramatically noticeable character is the Obi-Wan Kenobi character (from Star Wars) who leases War Horse from the goofy kid. He uses Jedi mind tricks to get the kid to let the horse go, and then later, when he is shot down in battle, he simply vanishes, just like Obi-Wan would have done if this alternate history were real!
Around the time when War Horse goes to war, the Black Stallion enters the film. This scene-stealing character catches the eye of all horsers throughout the film (move over War Horse–there’s a classic horse character on screen!). You may ask yourself, what is the Black Stallion doing in the middle of World War I? Alternative history kapow!
Oh, and then there’s Defense of the Dark Arts instructor Remus Lupin, from the world of Harry Potter. In this alternative history, he is a very lenient landlord. He could have expelled Goofy’s family for not having the rent, but instead he gave them many months to plant and harvest a crop in order to come up with the late rent–with no interest! That’s pretty cool, especially since he could have easily hexed them (he didn’t even stupefy them for fun–wait a minute, maybe he did, because they sure acted stupid sometimes!).
I’m still trying to figure out what movie the alcoholic apologist character is from. She is played by Emily Watson, whose performance makes a compelling argument for it being okay to drink away your farm, so long as you have seen some stuff that you can’t talk about.
It’s fun to see all these characters interacting with each other on screen, but it’s even more compelling to see how these characters changed history itself! The most striking impact is that the Germans and the French both speak English! Throughout the film, your mind is pleasantly baffled by the sheer awkward potential of so many Europeans sharing a unified language! Why, it boggles the tongue! You might ask, “How can one even tell the difference between the English and German soldiers in this film?” Well you can’t! It’s alternative history!
Another striking impact on history is that the world’s economy becomes even more unstable than in our reality. At the beginning of the film, 30 guinea is a huge price to pay for a thoroughbred, whether or not the horse can plow a field. But it’s just an hour into the film and already 30 guinea isn’t nearly enough to pay for the horse (which is why Obi-Wan just leases War Horse, instead of making a purchase)! Yet, we can assume that since Goofy’s parents didn’t lose the farm after their turnip failure that the 30 guinea windfall from leasing War Horse was suddenly enough to pay the rent. Oh, please, let us continue to live in a reality where Goofy is just a cartoon because I don’t think I could handle such extreme fluctuations!
I think the War Horse character should have gotten more lines, but despite this weakness, I still give this movie 30 stars for its innovative approach to story telling and the beautiful use of the Black Stallion character!
Posted: January 20th, 2012 | Author: aarondietz | Filed under: Serious | 2 Comments »
When I was young, I thought I’d do all kinds of cool things. As things turned out, I didn’t do any of them.
But I did all kinds of cool things I didn’t expect!
Read more in my guest post on Bellesouth.
Posted: January 18th, 2012 | Author: aarondietz | Filed under: Serious | 2 Comments »
Here are directions for taking down my Web site:
1. Make sure SOPA and/or PIPA pass through Congress and are signed into law.
2. Complain to my hosting company by saying that someone posted copyrighted material on aarondietz.us.
3. My hosting company, Dreamhost, will be forced to shut down my Web site or else risk all kinds of nasty things the law can do to them.
This is because of misguided and malicious language in SOPA and PIPA. As my hosting company put it, “We would have to shut down your ENTIRE domain as soon as we received a complaint about it – whether that complaint was valid or not! There would be no pre-shutdown courtesy letter, no friendly ‘please remove this from your site’. Just BOOM! The end. Obliterated. Everything gone.”
Now you know how to shut me down. It will only take an act of Congress and one email. If you want to stop the law from going through, get involved.
Read more about how the movement is working here (SOPA has been delayed or perhaps killed permanently; PIPA is being highly questioned).
See how much time we have here.
Posted: December 8th, 2011 | Author: aarondietz | Filed under: Other People, Serious | 2 Comments »
Let me tell you what happened.
First, we got Obama elected. We woke up the next day and everything felt nice, happy, safer, and even loving.
Then we all forgot about politics for a while. We had worked hard to get him elected. We deserved a break. The President was going to take care of us, so what the heck–we could take it easy now.
That’s what we figured.
And so for a while, we thought, “Yes we can.”
But now we’re like, “What, you meant me?”
Posted: September 13th, 2011 | Author: aarondietz | Filed under: Short | 4 Comments »
In writing, the well-known trick is to write what you know, but many writers get sidetracked by this and confuse what they know with what they think they should know. A writer may indeed know what it feels like to be a Russian spy posing as a Norwegian chef in the U.K. whose vital mission is to decode a message that will save the lives of countless human beings–including their secret lover.
Posted: September 6th, 2011 | Author: aarondietz | Filed under: Documentation, Funny, Other People | No Comments »
It’s 1993 or so. Summer. I’m working in a corn field, with Dave.
Dave says, “I hate getting a farmer’s tan.”
I say, “Then roll up your sleeves.”
He rolls up the sleeves on his t-shirt. “It’s kind of uncomfy,” he says.
“It’s an old t-shirt that you probably don’t care about. Just tear your sleeves off. That’s what I do.”
He grabs a sleeve and pulls. His shirt rips down the middle of his chest. The rest of the morning it hangs on him by one shoulder.
We come in to the shed for lunch. Our boss gives Dave a weird look.
Dave says, “Don’t ask.”