Kudos to Khan Academy and on-demand learning

I recently discovered Khan’s treasure trove of lessons while searching for a good tutor plan for my family… Great stuff, and an inspired and selfless commitment to teaching. On-demand learning that breaks down the traditional walls of education is key to the future, and it’s great to see Khan getting some recognition. More, please.

money.cnn.com – The homemade tutorials of the one-man Khan Academy are sparking a revolution – and Bill Gates and John Doerr are paying close attention.

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Remembering Green Bar Bill

Today is William Hillcourt’s date of birth… he is featured on the home page of Wikipedia, and he is prominent in my mind. As 100,000 Scouts celebrate at the National Jamboree, I’m thinking back to the amazing time I had with my friend nearly two decades ago, and the first time we met at AP Hill.

In 1991, I was 19 years old and William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt was 91. He used to get a kick out of the symmetry of those numbers, and the fact that we spent nearly every day of that year together as unlikely friends.

I had come to know Bill Hillcourt not unlike thousands of others he met each year… I waited in line at the 1989 National Jamboree to have a couple of books signed for my Scoutmaster back home. I really didn’t know or think much about who Bill was, I just knew the recipients of those books would appreciate that I had gotten his signature on one of more than 30 books Bill had written on Scouting and the outdoors.

We had a brief conversation that hot summer day of the Jamboree, but it resonated. The following year in organizing for the 75th anniversary NOAC, I reached out to Bill and asked him to write a memoir of his friend Urner Goodman for the event publicity material. The friendship took hold, as we swapped drafts and edits over several months.

Soon Bill invited me along to travel with him as he toured the country visiting Scouting events each weekend, speaking to thousands who were enchanted by his passion and zeal for the Movement of Scouting. We spent the summer of 1991 in Seoul as honored guests of the World Jamboree. It was there, when we stepped off the plane and were greeted by Korean Scouts who clamored for Bill’s attention that I first began to appreciate the worldwide impact Hillcourt had on Scouting.

Later that year, I left my home and moved across the country to live with Bill in New York, helping him publish new editions of his Baden-Powell biography. As a young man Bill had a special relationship with Baden-Powell, who was in the twilight of his life. He admired and learned much from his friend.

Bill and I conducted interviews for hours each day, talking about the history of Scouting and the history of the world, all from a firsthand perspective. In retrospect, I missed so much of an opportunity to learn more from him, and I was so unprepared of the opportunity or responsibility, but it was an amazing gift nonetheless.

We spent most of 1992 traveling and writing and talking. Late that summer, Bill left for an around the world trip for Scouting (I stayed behind to coordinate a book release that was coming off the press, and was to meet up with him in his native Denmark in a few weeks). His trip began in Japan, where a new translation of one of his Scouting books was being released, and on to Moscow. This was just after the fall of the Soviet Union, and Bill had been asked to come to Russia and help draft Scoutmaster training materials for an emerging program that had been hidden for decades in the shadows.

He went on to Sweden, where he spent some time with his friends at the Silva Compass Company… Bill and his friend Bjorn Kjellstrom had collaborated many decades before to make orienteering and the liquid filled compass a sport. He was to leave Sweden, and meet up with me in Denmark, where we planned to spend a few weeks, away from the crowds and the busy travel schedule, focused on Bill’s own autobiography.

On November 9, 1992, Bill Hillcourt shockingly, surprisingly passed away. It’s a good thing, I think, to die at 92 years old and have it be a surprise to everyone you knew. He was as mentally awake and physically strong as could be, all the way to his final day. I was a kid, chasing him around the globe, and often I couldn’t keep up.

Bill Hillcourt was my friend. That’s a funny thing about him… when he died, I wrote to notify a few thousand people listed in his address book. Many of these people were just contacts that had coordinated some weekend Scouting event that he might have attended, probably only meeting Bill once or twice. But the boxes of reply cards and letters I received told a much different story… for years I encountered thousands of people who would tell of what a special relationship they had with Bill.

It didn’t matter if you were a young Scout waiting in line for a signature, or if you were some Scouter coordinating an event somewhere for Bill to visit. It didn’t matter if he had stayed in your home one night, or you had swapped letters to discuss Scouting. Bill had an amazing gift for making people he encountered feel special, for letting people know how important the relationship was to him.

Bill didn’t always agree with the direction BSA followed, and throughout a nearly 75 year career, he was brought in several times to “right the ship” of Scouting when others drove it off course. I’m sure he’d find plenty about today’s organization that could and should be better. But I also know that the Movement of Scouting, which Bill believed thrived in the spirit of the Patrol, the challenge of the outdoors, and the mentoring of leadership, would continue to make him proud.

I learned so much from Bill Hillcourt… there’s so much more I could have learned, and our time together was fleeting. He had incredible confidence in me, but even higher expectations. Bill showed me, through his trust, that expectations are what raise a child. I will spend my life, often falling short, but always reaching for the expectations and example he set.

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Wikipedia celebrates the birth of William Hillcourt

Today is the birthday of a great friend and hero, William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt… he’s the featured article on the Wikipedia home page at the moment.


Few men can hope to impact the world as William Hillcourt. An immigrant to the United States from Denmark in 1926, Bill became a major factor in the growth and development of the Boy Scouts of America. His handbooks and BOYS LIFE articles defined the Scout movement for millions of boys spanning decades. His Boy Scout Handbooks have been published in copies by the millions and translated into dozens of languages throughout the world; it has been estimated that those Scout Handbooks were only out numbered by Dr. Spock’s Baby Book and the Bible in total circulation. He worked with every Chief Scout Executive since James West, was the first Deputy Camp Chief for American Wood Badge, introduced the patrol method to the B.S.A., authored the definitive biography of his close friend Baden-Powell and more than thirty other books on Scouting and the outdoors. Bill Hillcourt loved and lived Scouting through the very end of his life; a life that, even at 92 years, ended surprisingly and too soon while on a worldwide tour in the name of Scouting.

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Google caves to evil… consumers and citizens lose

Net Neutrality is an enormously important matter for competitiveness and freedom in this country, and Google is about to reverse course after years of heavy lobbying against a change in policy.  It’s a stupid and frustrating move, and one that is driven purely by profit opportunity for Google, without regard for the “little guy”.

The FCC cleared the way (through a lousy decision that they lacked any authority) for Verizon, Comcast, ATT and other carriers to restrict access to certain parts of the Internet… if, for example, Comcast wants to prevent you from accessing Google sites, or severely limit the speed in which you can access iTunes downloads, they are free to do that.

So the Google-Verizon deal can be summed up as this: “FCC, you have no authority over us and you’re not going to do anything about it. Congress, we own you, and we’ll get whatever legislation we want. And American people, you can’t stop us.  – Josh Silver in “Google-Verizon Deal: End of the Internet as We Know It

They can force web sites like Google or iTunes (or millions of small publishers) to “pay a toll” for users to be able to access those sites.  The telecom companies could create entire sections of the Internet that are restricted, and effectively control the relationship between user and site.

Much of this could happen regardless of what ISP (or onramp) to the Internet the user chooses, and regardless of what bandwidth providers connect into the data centers of your favorite websites… telecom companies control the transit and IP routes along the way, and could impose these restrictions and tolls throughout.

The lobbying campaign by proponents (mostly a handful of large telecom companies with lousy business models) has been sneaky and duplicitous. Here in Illinois, I’ve watched “grassroots” organizations crop up out of nowhere  to purposely confuse the issue… it was all fake grassroots, or “astroturf”, arguing how AT&T stood for the little guy, and changes to telecom law would spur innovation.

Google has been one of strongest opponents, using their muscle to stand up for millions of small businesses and publishers on the Internet that could be effected.  And now Google is cutting a deal, leaving the little guys dangling, and shifting dramatically what the future Internet could be.  It’s bad policy, and it’s bad business for a company that claims their first priority is to “not be evil”.

The arguments in favor of the telecom companies are not without some merit… the telecom companies built much of the backbone that the Internet runs on, and some web sites clog up those pipes significantly more than others. You can see why the telecom companies might argue for the ability to restrict their user’s access to certain sites, but doing so fundamentally transforms the free, equal and open Internet that has changed the world over the last two decades. This should NOT be a decision made by some cabal between giant corporations, without some government regulation or oversight.

The impact of a tiered Internet, where consumers have little control, and a small number of big telecom companies control everything being delivered over the Internet pipe (TV, phone, the flow of information, etc) is deeply anti-competitive and anti-freedom.

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Converge Magazine covers CAAT

A nice article by Tanya Roscorla in Converge Magazine about the CAAT:

At an inner-city high school in Chicago, 130 freshmen show up for class every day. They come from different parts of the city, different education levels and different financial situations.

Some spend two minutes walking to school. Others spend seven hours commuting back and forth.

Some read at a fourth-grade level. Others read at a ninth-grade level.

Some come from wealthy families. The majority come from poor families.

But they all go to the same school.


They want to learn from technology leaders. They want to learn from teachers who care about them. They want to learn about stuff that really matters.

CAAT had over 97% attendance during our freshman year, far higher than the average Chicago Public School attendance. This despite the fact that most kids commute an average of 3 or 4 hours a day to get to school. These kids are motivated.

“We’re trying to help them think and develop an aptitude that is entrepreneurial, that embraces risk, that embraces the out-of-the box thinking, that is rich in analytical thinking, that is rich in communications,” Howerton said. “These are skills that are necessary to be successful technology entrepreneurs, to be people who can literally change the industry, not skills or aptitudes that are necessary to just go be workers in some industry.”


During a visit from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on June 10, student Christopher Hayes gives a multimedia presentation about the projects he’s done at the Chicago Academy for Advanced Technology this year.
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Raising kids to be entrepreneurs

When I was in the second grade, I found that it took our school a week or more to replenish the pencil vending machine by the principal’s office. You could buy pencils, two for $0.25, that had baseball or football teams, or your favorite TV show, as decoration along the outside of the pencil. But when you dropped in your quarter, it was completely random what pencils the machine would vend.

So I scraped together all the quarters I could find, and bought out the vending machine, cornering the market on pencils in our elementary school. The pencils that I bought, two for $0.25, could easily be resold for $0.25 each, doubling my money. And I could charge a premium on the pencils with the popular sports teams or TV shows, creating market demand. For weeks I carried a huge bundle of pencils in a rubber band, and became the street dealer for lead.

The school principal could have easily challenged my little business just by restocking the vending machine more quickly, but the value-add of being able to buy specific pencils would have remained. Thirty years later, I can still remember the principal calling my Mom into the office and complaining about my little enterprise… I’m grateful to this day that my Mom celebrated my entrepreneurial zeal as a seven year old.

I can relate to nearly every part of Cameron Herold’s TedX speech… I’ve spent my entire life unemployable, and probably diagnosable with most of the same disorders (ADHD, a little bipolar, etc) as most other would-be-entrepreneurs who are being dosed with Ritalin today.

Entrepreneurship isn’t just about making money, it’s about creating the solutions to solve problems and meet a need, and being unafraid of risk and failure.

The greatness of America is its entrepreneurial spirit, which has been a unique part of this country’s history since before it was founded. Taking risks, striking out on a rarely traveled path, creating value to change the the world, pursuit of a better life… these are the things to celebrate and nurture in kids, no matter how small those ambitions may seem at the time.

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Ballmer visits with kids of CAAT to show Microsoft’s support of the school

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer visits the students of CAAT as they celebrate the completion of our first freshman class. This is an inner city high school we started to educate and inspire kids to futures of innovation, and mentorship from tech community leaders around Chicago is a key facet of the school. Having Steve visit as one of those mentors was great!

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Ballmer to visit CAAT today

Now I can share: we’re hosting Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at our new high school today, visiting the students of Chicago Academy of Advanced Technology, talking about their futures and technology, and announcing Microsoft donations and support of the school.

Even more than an education gap, these kids had an inspiration gap.

It’s great to have the support of Microsoft, CompTIA and so many other local companies and organizations… when we started this inner city school I was most struck by how the kids responded to new stakeholders taking an interest in their lives, to inspire them to greater challenge, to learn to wield technology and people skills in a way that transforms their lives and their world.

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