Hatching Free Range Ideas

Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

I smell, therefore I am. . .

In How we learn and think, Visual Thinking on April 29, 2011 at 3:08 pm

I was talking Wednesday night to a good but infrequently seen friend. He’s a computational neurobiologist. It’s even fun to write that. I love saying it. I think of him like the physicist of brain science. Anyway, I asked about the connection between thought and imagery, ’cause I wanted a scientist’s perspective. He said, “Oh. That all works on the olfactory algorithm.” Well, duh!

But wait, I asked. Doesn’t that mean smell?

It seems that our brain developed through smell’s guidance (or something like that) and that vision then had to follow smell’s lead. So we categorize visual imagery based on the same kind of process that we use to define smell.

Aha! A connection. Remember those times when smells send you right back to a clear, distinct but forgotten memory? They (who?) say that smell is the greatest, cleanest, brain opener there is. I get it now!!!

I’m going to learn more because this is great provocation, but I still need to get to the brain/visual stuff. I’ll keep you posted.


Lessons on eating Ethiopian

In Africa stories, Let's eat, Make something on April 27, 2011 at 3:12 pm

You would think that I would have some photos for this, but no, I get so caught up in food that by the time I think to photograph it, it’s gone.

I cooked Ethiopian last night. It built over the course of three days, well, really more like 7 if you want to start with ordering the teff to make the injera (flat bread used as a scooping utensil).

Injera is like a pancake but it’s made out of a millet type flour called teff. It has to ferment and be fed for three days, which people say stinks like old gym socks but maybe that’s cause they don’t have a home brewer and aren’t used to the smell of yeast and fermentation. I thought it smelled good.

The batter is teff flour, a teeny bit of yeast to start the fermentation, salt to taste and water. FYI- teff is gluten free (well, it’s got gluten but it’s a different gluten), high protein and has a nice nutty flavor reminiscent of good whole wheat.

A learning tangent. .  . Injera is a learned art. I learned last night that I had the batter too tight and that the griddle should be REALLY hot or it will stick. And that all the light portions of the “pancake” should disappear before you remove it as done. I’m used to pancakes burning. This seemed not to burn. Again, that might be a factor of flours’ flash point.

To go with the Injera, I made Shiro Wat, Doro Wat and sauteed spicy cabbage (’cause I had some in the fridge that could become something new and different).

Shiro Wat is a chickpea stew. It’s chickpea flour stirred into sauteed onions, garlic and lots of oil with the addition of beriberi — which I made too. Where can I find fenugreek? How about paprika in large amounts since the beriberi called for 2 cups? I made a 1/2 recipe and put the leftovers in the fridge. But that’s a another tangent. The Shiro was fabulous!! Thick and creamy, like cream gravy only good for you.

The Doro Wat is a chicken stew, made with more beriberi and more paprika, and lots of onions and garlic. During the last 15 minutes, you add hard boiled eggs, one per customer, that are pierced all over 1/4 inch and rolled into the sauce.

All of this gets placed on the injera, in separate piles. Then you use the injera to pick up bites.

It was yummy!!! And wheatless. Although I didn’t miss the  wheat/bread, which is amazing.

Next time, the batter will be looser, I might add some chickpea flour to the Doro Wat to stiffen it a bit, I’ll make the Injera in a frying pan and not a griddle and I’ll move the pan like you do for crepe making. And I’ll invite you over ’cause now, I think I know what I’m doing.


In drawings, How we learn and think, Visual Thinking on April 25, 2011 at 8:44 pm

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was considering building a course on Sketch-noting, the process of drawing notes.

Thought you might be interested to see it in development. Here is the first set of notes on Sketch-noting principles. What am I missing?

If wishes were horses . . .

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Pigs could fly.

Not much more to say about that.

Big Citizens

In anything, Uncategorized on April 20, 2011 at 3:11 pm

An ideological right columnist said, “The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.”  I heard it quoted by someone else who paraphrased it this way, “If you want small government, you have to be a big citizen.”

Programs are being cut right and left as we try to dig our way out of a HUGE debt burden that began during the last administration. Let’s not forget that government spending also crosses the aisles. During his eight years in office, President Bush increased the federal budget by 104 percent.

While the original quote was intended to make the case that larger government causes us to be small, I hear it differently, not as a finger pointing at the BAD government but as a call to Citizenry. Yes, Washington doesn’t work these days. What will we do about it? Who do we choose to care for beyond our own personal borders? What does it mean to be a Citizen?

And, will the decrease in government create Big Citizens quickly enough to bridge the gap? I’m a public radio supporter for all the reasons that people do that. It seems to run pretty much under donations. What other essential organizations deserve our open hearts and wallets?

Be your own hero

In Uncategorized on April 14, 2011 at 1:43 pm

My friend, Beth had an interesting comment about keeping her young daughter independent and self-sufficient in an increasingly princess-centered world. I assume this is a Disney phenomenon these days. However, the princess theme was strong in my upbringing, with Grimm’s Fairy Tales around every corner, by my choice.

That made me wonder what might be different between Beth’s daughter’s environment and mine. I’m not sure but maybe. . .

Although I consumed fairy tales for years, in every shape and form from every culture and every country, when those same stories became fodder for  make believe, I was usually the hero. I did the rescuing. I did the escaping.

I had two women’s libber parents, even though they themselves wouldn’t have termed it the same way. Mom was an adventuress, who when it was time to be married, made the announcement to my Dad and flew on her own to South America to take care of the process. Dad had several women Geology students who were also their own heroes and took care of themselves. One whom I recall was about 6 feet tall and decked a male student who didn’t treat her with respect.

So my short, quick thoughts on the subject are, let the fairy tales be, they’re entertainment. A constant dose of strong women, or men, for that matter who make their own way, who are their own heroes, goes a long way. And I know you, Beth. You’re already there. . . constantly. She will never look at her Mom and say, “Someone saved Mom. So I have to find someone to save me.”

What do you think? Is that enough? Where else might you point?

The impact of audience

In Uncategorized on April 11, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Dorothy Parker addressed her “posts” to Constant Reader. Yes, I realize I’m no Dorothy Parker but I’ve been thinking lately about the direct impact of audience on what I write. See, this blog didn’t start out that way entirely. Yes, I thought of you, out there on the other side of the monitor. But the way I thought of you was not in the subject category, what you might want to think about today. I thought of you because whatever I wrote that I was interested in, I wanted it to be well-crafted because of you.

Directly After Africa [AA, like BC], I thought of the messages, the stories I wanted to share. At the time, what I was thinking about and what I wanted to share were the same thing. And there were new readers, invited by existing readers. And they liked the Africa stories. I did too. They were exotic, new, unknown. We explored a new world together while many of you were new.

Time has passed. I haven’t forgotten but I’m distanced now both in time and space. And so are you. Which brings me back to my point. Were you wondering?

Audience is important to all messaging that has an intention, a desire for action. This blog is not about action itself unless thinking is an action. Let’s hope that’s not the case; unless breath and heartbeat are actions as well.

So here are some things I’m thinking about these days, which will shift the direction my writing takes:

  • The Garden is up. Things are growing! The seeds are sprouting. I’m already planning what will be different next year. What does that mean?
  • I’m thinking about what a Visual Note-taking course might look like, compressed into 4-6 hours. Maybe as little as 3. What do you want?
  • If conservative political thought is about teaching a man to fish and liberal political though it about giving a man a fish so that he can focus his attention on  learning to fish, how is it we’re so far apart? Does this division serve the interest of the political machine and not the country?
  • How does writing with an old fashioned ink pen change writing?

So, I should ask you on the other side of the monitor, what are you thinking about these days?


Honoring memory, telling our stories, rebuilding Rwanda

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2011 at 1:29 pm

This morning I received this gift from my friend, Grace, in Rwanda. She is allowing me to post the piece she wrote as a reflection for the 17th annual commemoration of the genocide. How much we can all learn from Rwanda’s recent memories and reconciliation!

Grace’s article starts here:

Every year in April Rwandans together take a reflective journey in memory of the innocent men, women and children who lost their lives in the 1994 Genocide of Tutsis. It is a past we have to live with each day, one which has affected some of us more than others, yet no one remained untouched. Bear with me if I have to take you back to some painful facts, but we have learnt that we should forgive and move on but never forget lest we let it happen again.

In a span of 100 days over 1,000,000 people lived through the horror of tortures and watched their loved being tortured to death. Why? Because they were Tutsi or Hutu who refused to take part in the atrocities. Why would human beings be filled with so much hatred that they didn’t care any more? It was just killing, it was torturing people to death, letting them die the worst death. When you think of it, it is beyond what the human mind can understand or justify.

However it didn’t happen over night, it started many years before, almost a century before; it started when the Rwandan people accepted divisionism in their once united culture. Children at very young age were taught to despise and hate the other “ethnic groups”.

I wonder how parents and teachers got around answering children’s innocent questions – “I like him/her, why are you telling me to hate them?”

One young man recalled how one day, when he was small boy, he came home anxious. His teacher had said that him and other kids were different, they were Tutsis! When he met his father back home he asked: “Dad, I was told I am Tutsi. Is it true? Did I do something bad? Why did the teacher treat us differently?”

Eventually one thing led to the other. Social injustice and hatred grew until the day it all unfolded and evil was unleashed. People didn’t fear day light. They didn’t care for the cries of plea. The innocent looking faces of children who didn’t know what had befell them. The husband and father who begged that his family would be spared. The women whose faces expressed desperate helplessness  …

Let us not forget how the world closed up on them, left them alone to face fierce and hateful neighbors. In memory and respect to them, let us not forget. Let us not stand by for any form of injustice. Every human being has the right to life; everyone has the right to equal access to health care, education and economic opportunities. Don’t stand aside for any injustice, lest it grows and we see history repeat it self.

Today, Rwanda unites in voice to say “Never Again” to Genocide. Never again to social injustice! Never again to divisionism! …Never again because Rwanda is one people!

Each year as we remember our loved ones, we also stand beside all the broken families – orphans and widows. For them the reality of what happened has been stonger than for others. Please take part. Don’t go home and close your door but support all the activities.  Visit these families. Join other Rwandans around the fireplaces each evening and listen to the stories of those who lived through it, let us not forget. We learnt our lesson the hard way, let it never repeat it self.

Every evening during the Genocide Commemoration week (April 7 – 14), communities will gather around a fireplace, light candles each and revisit the history that led to the genocide, listen to the testimonies of those strong enough to tell. Through out the week and over the next 100 days, people will bury in honour their loved ones (over the years people have been discovering sites where bodies were amassed and  buried during the genocide); many institutions, corporations and individuals will visit orphan and widows to share a meal and support them morally and financially.

One of my favorite authors, Rick Warren, wrote :”Life is a gift…Life is a test… Life is temporary assignment….” Life is indeed a test of the will. Is the nation willing to move forward? To hope again, to rebuild and promise a better future for its children? Yes! We the Rwandan people are willing to live. We have chosen to overcome our differences, our past, and our failures and have hope.

Yesterday I was talking to Mr Riener Schonken, a visiting executive from South Africa, he is in Rwanda to mentor local entrepreneurs through the Rwanda Business Development Centre program. It’s his first time to Rwanda. I asked him what he thought of our country. He said: “I want to go back and invite other South Africans, I will tell them to come and see what hope looks like! That is what I see in Rwanda!…”

I think of our own house divided, in so many ways. Our thinking of those who are different from us as “other”, “them.” Rwanda is a shining light that we ought to be able to see around the world. What will it take?

8000 miles X 3

In Uncategorized on April 5, 2011 at 3:22 pm

In case you don’t know, I have two brothers. When I was in Rwanda, one brother Tim was in Waco, Texas and one Chris was in the Northern Marianas Islands, on Saipan. I was already looking at the map of Africa, trying to figure out where I would be in relation to what I know (no pun intended).

As I was talking with my brother in Waco, we looked at the map together. . . well. . . online together trying to figure out if Chris and I would be covering common ground. Here’s what we found.

Tim was the centerpoint. From Waco, Chris would fly one direction around the globe and I would fly the other. We would travel an equal distance to get to where we were going. Once we arrived, we would each be about 8000 miles from each other.

The earth is approximately 25000 miles around. That meant we were equally spread around the world. For us, that’s as rare as planets in conjunction.

If we had been younger, and different people, we might have considered starting a master race, well, with our own definition of master, of course.

This reminds me a bit of those word problems. If two trains leave the station at 8:00, one going west and one going east, at what point will they be equidistant from Chicago, or in our case, Waco?


In Africa stories, Make something on April 4, 2011 at 2:02 pm

This is a post about trusting the process, more than about story itself. But, we’ll, you’ll see. For the past year or so I’ve been thinking about how powerful story is. Yes, I know that others have gone before me in this thinking, and much more deeply, but you know how it is, that until you hav the thought yourself, it’s all hearsay?

I’m also thinking about stories with vague points, rather than those that have an obvious lesson. When stories are both vague and interesting, we can find a personal point of connection to them. Vague becomes universal, right?

So, anyway. That’s not the story I want to tell; that’s merely the preamble. Here’s the story. No matter how new you are to story telling, stories work. And stories have a shape, a bell curve like shape. If you can keep that in mind your story will move better. My stories have a long initial entry, where I establish a lot of background. Then they have a punch line with a quick end, a very short tail. So when I look at the plot diagram, like this one

it might have a different shape for me. And I wonder what that means to my listeners.

So, what was my Rwandan experience with story? The program that I’m working with teaches community members to become self-sufficient, to build small/micro businesses based on their passions and strengths. We just did a pretty big rework of the train the trainer content. During the rework, we incorporated a lot of story. Story for instruction; story for demonstration of proficiency; storytelling techniques for advocacy. And we ask the trainers to tell their own stories of their future — to imagine it and then to craft it into a series of stories.

Story is as old as Africa itself. It might be because it is part of ancient fabric, it’s invisible. It seemed rare that people told stories, although Henry had some great ones. I hope he shares a few of them here. We’ll see. Or it might be because many of the people whom I met in Rwanda were young and stories are something that you grow in to. I don’t know. All I know is that when I hear a story, there’s a stop in me. Stories call me to attention.

I’m interested in the stories that leaders tell; I’m interested in improvisational stories. My father told wonderful, imaginary stories when we were growing up. I’ve tried my hand at it, but from what I can tell, mine have seemed shallow stories. Now I’m not so sure.

This is a very long lead in, see?

So, I was talking through the story telling exercise and someone asked me to demonstrate how the plot diagram worked. Hmmm. I needed a story to do it. And I didn’t pick a story that I knew, which might have been easier. I started from, “Once upon a time, there was a boy who walked 10 steps. . . ” It wasn’t a particularly good story, but from the first words, “once upon a time. . . .”  The room became quiet; still. In the silence you could hear the centuries roll back, time suspended.

When I stopped in the middle, my demonstration complete, people asked, “Then what happened?”

Try it. The sense of stillness and silence, of anticipation, of total attention is entirely captivating. And frightening. You hold the fate of your characters in your hands before an audience that already cares about them. It’s a rarefied thing, to have a group ready and willing to listen to you, to whatever you are able to create. Don’t test their patience.

The next time someone says, “Tell me a story,” do it. How many chances like these do you get?