Category Archives: Travel

Back to ground zero thinking

Twenty days into vacation and my obsession with work has finally disappeared. I have a fresh slate to work with. I’m open to new priorities and adventures.

Çesma, Turkey

Çesma, Turkey

Çesma, Turkey

One thing that is less than idyllic and puts me in fighting mode is the god-awful wifi aboard ship. For $250, you get unreliable, low-bandwidth wifi that sometimes crashes once a minute. To add insult to injury, my cruise line censors content. Details at What are they thinking?

Çesma, Turkey

Most of the towns and islands on our itinerary have ancient roots. Çesme reached its zenith in the middle ages under rule of the Genoese. In 1566, the Ottomans took over. In the twentieth century, watermelon replaced wine as the main crop, and Çesme became a windsurfing destination and home port for countless yachts. How do towns like this retain their identities?


Consider Ephesus, which was founded by the Achaeans in the Bronze Age. Four centuries later, in the 10th century BC, Ionians and Attic Greeks built Ephesus atop the older city. The Temple of Artemis, the largest building in the ancient world, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and home to the “many breasted Lady of Ephesus” was burned down by a loony in the third century BC. Ephesus was variously conquered by the Lydians, Persians, retaken by Ionians, Alexander the Great stopped by, the Egyptians under Ptolemy III ruled for a while, joined the Roman Empire, became second only to Rome as a trading center.


It was raided by the Goths but rebuilt by Constantine. In 614, Ephesus was partly destroyed by an earthquake. St. John probably wrote his gospel here. Rumor has it that this is where the Virgin Mary retired to after the Crucifixion. The Byzantines ruled for three hundred years. The Crusaders passed through. The city was abandoned in the 15th century. To-date, archeologists have excavated only 15% of the ancient city.

How does a place like this retain its identity?

Cruising the Danube with Viking River Cruises


Uta and I took a Viking River Cruise down the Danube from October 31 to November 7. Everyone from my doctor to our airport driver had seen Viking ads on Public Television and wanted to hear how it went. Here goes.

Would we do it again? Absolutely — if the locations were desirable. Our cruise started in Nürnberg, and stopped in Regensberg, Passau, Melk, and Vienna before ending in Budapest. (Itinerary.) We’d been to Nürnberg, Regensberg, and Passau before, but that was more than 40 years ago. We’d spent a week in Vienna last year. Budapest was a new one for us. All of these are beautiful, intriguing places to wander around. (Our photos start here.)

Here’s the drill. At each stop, Viking provides a half-day tour and lets you explore on your own for the remainder of the day. There’s often an optional, extra-cost tour available. For example, most passengers went to a concert in Vienna. All meals are provided on the ship although we generally chose to lunch in town.


The great thing is that you visit half a dozen cities without having to check in and out of hotels. Your stateroom floats to your next destination during the evening.

Our stateroom had a “French balcony.” That’s a shelf perhaps two feet wide with a couple of chairs. It makes the otherwise tiny room feel larger. The bathroom is minuscule but serviceable.

Food on the ship was excellent, as was service in the restaurant and bar. Smiling, friendly staff. An enthusiastic maitre’d insured that the kitchen provided vegetarian meals for Uta. Bartenders remembered our preferences. Overall, we felt pampered.

Beer and wine flow freely at mealtimes, but we bought the optional Silver Service package which prepays for unlimited cocktails and premium wines. At $210, our consumption of house brand champagne, among other libations, put us ahead on the deal.

Our fellow passengers were primarily American retirees. Those PBS ads apparently work. By and large, the passengers were cordial, outgoing, nice people. A few were loud, look-at-me boors. Particularly memorable was the asshole who wore his black Stetson even when visiting a cathedral.

Every day featured a PowerPoint presentation in the lounge on a topic such as the EU, how canal locks work, and the life of Mozart. Viking is really missing the boat here. The presentations should provide the foundation for the tours on shore. Now, they are banal, poorly organized time-wasters.

I’m going to get on the soapbox for a moment, for this is the realm of my expertise as a learning professional. First off, the presentations need a purpose, e.g. conveying the history of the Holy Roman Empire, the Habsburgs, the Romans, or the Reformation. This would lay the foundation for the guided tours. Second, the presentations should be designed in a compelling fashion (see Presentation Zen, Nancy Duarte, Cliff Atkinson). Third, the on-shore tours should draw on the presentations.

The on-shore tours were led by well-meaning locals who seemed to think we were interested in dates and names (that no one would remember five minutes later) instead of stories and the big picture. The guides made up their own content; a well-crafted outline would guide the guides to become better at what they do.

We didn’t want to fly to Europe to spend a mere six days, so we flew to Nürnberg a week early and later spent a few extras days in Budapest before coming home. Pre-cruise, we visited the medieval walled city of Rothenberg, spent three days pigging out in Alsace, and wandered around Bamberg for a couple of days.

Post-cruise we spent two extra days in Budapest on an extension offered through Viking. Were we to do this again, we’d save money by making our own arrangements in Budapest. In fact, we’d have opted to book our own flights and just buy the cruise package.

As it happened, Viking arranged our flights. We flew out on United cattle class. I detest United. No individualized entertainment, bad attitude, and they always seem to have their hand in your pocket. (Although the Japanese hostess who checked us in at SFO was the friendliest agent I’ve ever encountered). We flew back Lufthansa, middle seats in one of the last rows on the plane. 

Our total tab for Viking, including airfare, drinks, tips, and the two days at the Budapest Marriott came to $8,447, about $1000 day. This is an expensive way to travel.

We’ve been to Europe thirty or forty times, generally renting a car and following our own itinerary. I wasn’t confident we would enjoy the regimentation of a managed tour, too reminiscent of If it’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, but we encountered enough variety that this was not a problem.

Overall, I’ll give our Viking experience four stars out of five. Please leave comments on my Flickr site or Google Groups. starz

Now is the Time for India to Democratize Learning

A synopsis of my remarks to Emerging Directions in Global Education 2011, Delhi, India

For the first 60 seconds, we listened to Yoyo Ma playing Bach’s Cello Suite #1 in G as the flowers unfolded.


As time speeds up, we perceive that what once appeared rigid is actually fluid.

Progress is unfolding at an unprecedented rate. More happens in one of your minutes than in one of your grandfather’s hours. More information has been created in the three days I have been in Delhi than in the sweep of human history from the dawn of civilization until 2004. Futurists tell us the 21st century will not contain a mere one hundred 20th century style years but tens of thousands of them.

As the years speed by, we can appreciate that educational systems that once appeared rigid are actually fluid. We can nurture them to grow this way or that. We can “flip” them, that is, reconfigure the pieces. I’ll suggest that we can, and should, rearrange the components of schooling to democratize learning.

By democratize, I don’t mean giving students the vote. Rather, democratizing learning means giving students the knowledge and permission to realize their full potential. Democratization gives students a voice in their own learning.

Be forewarned: I am an alien in your midst. I am an American, a Californian, with scant knowledge of India. My specialty is corporate learning, not higher education. And I tend to live in 2016, not the present.

Nonetheless, I’d like to share a few stories with you. Perhaps they can serve as catalysts as you consider how to reshape India’s educational systems and policies to meet the demands of the future.


Hewlett Packard Engineers

Let me tell you a story that predates the internet. In 1974, a group of Hewlett Packard engineers who had been watching lectures on electrical engineering on the Stanford Instructional Television Network were reassigned to an HP facility in Santa Rosa, California, two hours to the north and out of television broadcasting range.  An instructor, Jim Gibbons, sent videotapes of the lectures to Santa Rosa. It didn’t work; the engineers weren’t learning. Accompanying the tapes with a graduate assistant didn’t work either.

Next the engineers tried something that did work. Whenever anyone did not understand a concept in a lecture, he would raise his hand. This stopped the tape. Most of the time, someone else in the group had the answer. They proceeded this way, learning without a teacher, until the end of the semester. Then Jim Gibbons carted the engineers to the Stanford campus to take the final exam.

Mind you, these engineers lacked the test scores to become Stanford students, yet they scored significantly higher grades   on the exam than the resident students. Why? I think it’s because they took charge of their own learning. They learned from one another, in the course of conversation. Furthermore, they were learning in order to become better engineers, not to earn a credential.

The HP engineers had flipped the educational process. They did away with face-to-face lectures. They set their own pace and answered their own questions. They took charge of the way they learned. In other words, they democratized their learning.



Western corporations are broken. Workers hate their jobs; customers complain of lousy service; investors receive meager returns. There has to be a better way.

In January 2012, two dozen authors, managers, and agile software developers met on a mountain top in Stoos, Switzerland, to try to reverse the situation. How could the practice of management be updated to work in a complex, unpredictable world?

The organization-as-machine, the model that served us from the dawn of the industrial age until the beginning of the 21st century, leads to a quest for efficiency. That works in stable, unchanging times, but it’s a formula for disaster amid incessant, disruptive change. The living network is a better model for today. Organizations need to conceptualize themselves as networks of individuals and teams who perpetually strive to create more value for customers.

This flips the corporation into an organization that respects people for their contributions rather than seeing them as cogs in the machine. The new order democratizes the workplace.


Corporate Learning

In America and Europe, the corporate learning function is dead or dying. A 2011 study by the Corporate Leadership Council reported that 76% of managers are dissatisfied with their corporate training function; 85% deem training ineffective; and a mere 14% would recommend training to their fellow managers. Workers and managers learn their work though conversation, collaboration, and on-the-job experience. My colleague Jane Hart calls this “learning without training.”

Enlightened corporations trust their people to pull in the resources they need. They’ve flipped corporate learning by putting the learners in charge of defining the curriculum. These corporations concentrate on building self-sustaining learning ecosystems, what I’ve called workscapes, instead of individual programs.


Education in India

India needs to train 500 million people in the next ten years. Some have proposed building thousands of new schools and challenges. Yet if the building program began in earnest tomorrow, there still wouldn’t be enough time to build the required  classrooms — some six times what India has today.

What would those schools teach? The half-life of a professional skill is down to five years and is shrinking fast. It makes no sense to train people on skills that will become obsolete in short order. I’ll suggest that people need to learn meta-skills, such things as:

  • learning how to learn
  • critical thinking and conceptualization
  • pattern recognition
  • design thinking
  • working with one another
  • navigating complex environments
  • software literacy

India has neither time nor resources to prepare teachers to transfer these skills to hundreds of millions of people. The answer? Flip Indian education. Delegate the delivery of content to electronic means, and focus teachers on coaching, leading discussions, helping people over hurdles, and relating lessons to real life. Also, teach students and workers to help teach themselves.

The time is ripe for India to democratize education, to help students to think for themselves and realize their potential.



A couple of days after my talk, nine of us piled into a van to visit the Taj Mahal.

Hour after hour, we honked and careened our way through chaotic traffic. We passed numerous private schools and academies. Mostly, we saw tens of thousands of abjectly poor people passing the time of day in hole in the wall kitchens and shops, wandering around in rubble, or defecating in fields. I wondered what comes first, educating the millions or giving them toilets.

By 2030, India’s population will outnumber China’s. The people we talked with at EDGE are entrepreneurial and optimistic. They are accustomed to thinking things over on an enormous scale. Never before in human history has a democracy of 1.3 billion people tried to reform education. Such transformation is mind-boggling.

Where is this headed, I wondered. By this time, our discussions about educational systems were over. I tossed about in bed in anticipation of an early morning flight home and reflecting on India.

What change does India want to see? Do we expect education to flatten a highly stratified society? Will the boys and girls playing in the dirt lead more productive, fulfilling lives because they can read and write? Will they have the patience to put up with the conservatism and cronyism of the Government of India? How will India create the jobs to challenge their young minds? Might not educating the masses be akin to showing the people of the former Soviet Union the riches of the west on television?

The more I learn about India, the less I understand India. I wish my new friends and their country well. They face the largest challenge I have ever seen.

On the road again


Last month, immigration officials began hassling me because every square inch of my passport was filled up with stamps and visas. I mailed it to Washington to have extra visa pages inserted. Now I’m sweating bullets because I’m supposed to fly to London on Sunday and my passport is in transit and may not make it on time.

Public speaking, like writing, forces me to sharpen my thinking, and that, in turn, improves my coaching and workshop sessions with corporate clients. In London, I’ll be talking about how to evaluate informal social learning and learning infrastructure, things that are tougher to get your arms around than individual courses. In my keynote address in Faro, I plan to discuss post-industrial learning and new approaches to instructional design. The next week in Madrid, my workshop will focus on informal learning: what it is, how to take advantage of it, and who’s been doing a good job thus far.

People invariably ask for slides and recordings, so from now on I will be posting follow-up information on my primary website,

If you’re in London, Faro, Seville, or Madrid, ping me if you’d like to get together.


Evaluating formal and informal learning
London. June 9, 2009


IADIS International Conference  e-Learning 2009
International Association for Development of the Information Society
Faro, Portugal. June 17, 2009


Informal Learning en la Práctica: Cómo diseñar su Proyecto de Aprendizaje Informal
Madrid. June 23, 2009

Bose noise-cancelling headphones

Before my last flight from Berkeley to London, I bought a pair of the latest Bose noise-canceling headphones. They set me back just shy of $350. Had I to make the decision to get them again, would I? In a heartbeat.

On the flight from Berkeley to London, the phones enabled me to retreat into my private cocoon, removed from the din of the jet engines. The headphones don’t knock out 100% of the cacophony, but they can cut the volume down to a very dull roar.

The Bose units come with an adapter that lets you plug into the soundtrack emanating from your armrest. I was quite satisfied with the sound as I watched Nixon/Frost and The Days of Harvey Milk on the way home. When I tired of movies, I’d pull the plug and retreat into my private isolation booth. Sometimes I’d listen to songs from my iPhone; other times I’d just nod off.

I’m listening to Leonard Cohen on the Bose phones as I write this post. The neighbor could get out his chainsaw and it wouldn’t register on my consciousness. I spend an increasing amount of time taking part in online events. You will, too, if you don’t already: it’s an inevitable outcome of living green and connecting to the larger world. Guess what? No more cheapo ear-buds for me: I’ll be wearing the Bose phones.

Some of you are undoubtedly thinking it’s absurd to lay down $350 for a headset. That’s the wrong way to look at it. An experience is only as good as the weakest link in the chain that gets it to you. I’ll spend sixty hours on planes in the next couple of months, and I’m happy to pay an incremental $5/hour for comfort. Actually hearing the movie without having to fiddle with free but dorky airline headsets is a bonus, as is the greater fidelity when listening to music and events on the web. Before long, my average cost will drop below $1/hour.

I got the Bose® QuietComfort® 3 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® Headphones. They go for $314 on Amazon.

Great day for a walk

Spring is here. Weather was glorious today in Berkeley, so I took a walk up Buena Vista Way. Architect Bernard Maybeck worked his magic along this steep street after the Great Berkeley Fire of 1923 wiped out 600 buildings, including most of his domestic masterpieces.

Walk in Berkeley
Maybeck build this one for his kids.

Walk in Berkeley
The lovely fireproof chimney in the house Maybeck built for his mom.

Walk in Berkeley
Breathtaking views abound. That’s the Golden Gate on the horizon.

Walk in Berkeley
Comfortable living in the Berkeley hills.

Walk in Berkeley
The broken roof pediment is a Maybeck hallmark.

Walk in Berkeley
A recital hall attached to a house. Note the concrete “woodwork” on the balcony to the right. Fear of flames once again.

Walk in Berkeley

Cooking with Jay

Since my vegetarian wife is in Alaska visiting our vegetarian son, I can get away with smelling up the kitchen at home frying flesh. And tonight I was in the mood for a fritura to rekindle memories of eating in Spain.

Smelt on the left, anchovies to the right. You get about this many for a dollar at Ranch 99 Market. I pigged out, downing nearly two dollars’ worth.

The recipe I was following called for seasoned breadcrumbs. Since I’ve sworn off white bread until I drop another ten pounds, I had to improvise. I pitched a few Triscuits and two fancy crackers into the blender. Bingo! Savory breadcrumbs. I shook the crumbs and the thawed fish in a plastic bag (so I could see what was going on)

Then I dropped them into a 1/4″ layer of olive oil in a heavy skillet. I let them sizzle for two and a half minutes.


I poured myself a fino and squirted a few drops of fresh lemon juice on the fish. I popped one in my mouth. And another. And another. Soon my taste memory transported me back to a balcony overlooking the Med in Marbella circa 1972. It was mid-afternoon. I was hungry. I ordered a fritura malagueña. It tasted just like this. ¡Qué estupendo!

Reflection makes life worth living.