All posts by linoleumjet

Climbing and learning

Last evening’s jaunt to the Mission Cliffs climbing gym was successful in that I completed more bouldering routes than the number of mild injuries I sustained. I pushed myself to the limits of what I was able to do, just as all of the other climbers were pushing themselves to their limits, as well. In the midst of all the climbing and falling, I thought about how extraordinary it was that all of us within the bouldering area were able to work at the edge of our capacities although we were at such different skill levels.

How the climbing gym works is that the walls are covered in holds of various shapes and sizes. The holds are each marked with a colored piece of tape corresponding to a different level of route. You can do a V0 course, the easiest level, by climbing up the wall using only the holds marked with the color indicator for that course. On the same wall, there might be a V4, a much more challenging course, by following that course’s color of labeled holds. A course is more challenging when the holds are smaller and further spaced apart. In effect, the levels are all mixed in together on the same walls. Beginner boulderers can watch how the more experienced boulderers take risks and solve problems, and the more advanced can offer guidance to the newbies since we’re all climbing in the same place at the same time.

As the gym hours were winding down and more reasonable people had gone home for the night, Tantek and I observed a group of steadfast climbers continuing to huddle by one of the walls. They were creating their own climbing routes.

We talked about why they were doing this — about how there are many beginner-level routes, but as boulderers advance, there are fewer people at each skill level and correspondingly fewer courses. Advanced boulderers, then, have many fewer options, and thus are likely to want to create their own courses using the existing holds.

We brainstormed on how the newly-defined “hybrid” courses could be marked so that other people could follow them, as well. Some ideas were to have fiber optics in the holds that could be toggled on to highlight the correct holds. Another idea was to have all of the holds be translucent and only the applicable ones be lit from behind.

The climbing walls as they exist are an excellent example of how to cultivate an environment in which most learners can operate within their zone of proximal development. Allowing configuration of the climbs in a web 2.0-esque user generated fashion would allow the most advanced members of the community to operate within their ideal learning zone, as well (though our ideas are impractical, at best).

by freekorps, found on flickr

on #themeword

One of the highlights of LifeCamp was the discussion about theme words and what our theme word for 2008 would be. (Mine was “create.”) Chris Messina posted his to twitter, and thus a meme was born. See Chris’s recounting: Kicking off 2008 with a themeword

I wondered if there were any interesting patterns in the #themewords, so did a quick tweetscan search for themeword hashtags, scraped the data, and dumped it into Excel (with some nominal de-duping). I noticed that there were only a few words that were used by multiple people, but that the overall tone was amazingly positive.

I thought this would look interesting as a tag cloud (an overused visualization technique, yes, but still sometimes useful) so looked for and found a nice way to create an on-the-fly tag cloud at The tagcrowd CSS got mangled by the WordPress template CSS, so I did a screen capture and posted the image to flickr.

#themeword tag cloud

Beautiful, eh? Here’s to a happy 2008!

LifeCamp 2007

The inaugural LifeCamp was held in San Francisco Dec. 30 and 31. Tantek ?áelik and I concocted and organized this new flavor of BarCamp to provide a venue for thinking thoughtfully, strategically, and collaboratively about life planning and decision-making.

LifeCamp was a two-day event, with the first day focused on reflection (what did you accomplish and learn this year?) and the second on projection (what are your goals for 2008?).

The two days were pretty incredible — intense, hilarious, and cathartic. The group decided to meet quarterly in 2008 for one-day check-ins, with another two day event planned for the end of 2008.

Many thanks to all of the LifeCamp 2007 participants: Silona Bonewald, Eddie Codel, Leah Culver, Erica Douglass, Tara Hunt, Chris Messina, Matt Mullenweg, Noelle Murata, and Mark Trammell (with special thanks to Mark for organizing the New Year’s Eve party and to Silona for traveling from Austin for the event).

One of the primary goals of the first LifeCamp was to document resources and planning processes on the LifeCamp wiki so that others can plan LifeCamps of their own.

Day 1
LifeCamp SF

LifeCamp SF

Day 2
LifeCamp day 2

Additional photos at