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Ian O'Byrne

Some days are diamonds Some days are rocks Some doors are open Some roads are blocked - Tom Petty In this week's issue of TL;DR. Find out more at #persistence

Ian O'Byrne

How to debate

1 min read

We've all been in that situation where a informal conversation quickly becomes a discussion and then we find ourselves in a debate.

A debate is a wonderful opportunity to flex your intellectual muscles and can lead to a deeper level of understanding for all individuals involved.

A proper debate requires intellectual nimbleness, rigor, and attention. There is a need to remain open-minded and cognitively flexible to account for variations in the truth, situation, or the debate itself.

Debate also requires an understanding of the facts. It also requires an understanding of what you don't know.


There are several keys to engaging in a debate:

  • Know your facts. Know what you don't know.
  • Put yourself in your opponent's shoes and understand their views.
  • Don't recite & regurgitate their views. Give it your spin.
  • Find a common ground.
  • Consider and concede when you're wrong.
  • Stay calm and civil.


Keep in mind that it is important for these keys to be followed by both parties in a debate.


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Ian O'Byrne

Examining your impressions

2 min read

On the third day of Stoic Week 2016, we were asked to develop a stoic approach by self-monitoring and focusing on mindfulness throughout the day. The handbook and daily prompts are available here.

The reflection of the day is from Epictetus, Handbook, 1.5:

Practise, then, from the very beginning to say to every rough impression, ‘You’re an impression and not at all what you appear to be.’ Then examine it and test it by the standards that you have, and first and foremost by this one, whether the impression relates to those things which are within our power or those which aren’t up to us; and if it relates to those things which aren’t within our power, be ready to reply, ‘That’s nothing to me’.

In this Epictetus is suggesting that we train ourselves to avoid being carried away in our own thoughts and feelings. Once again, we see this sentiment that something is "nothing to me."

To achieve this balance and avoid errors in our judgement, it is suggested that we "examine our imporessions." That is to say that we should examine and problematize our impressions, or thoughts, feelings, and sensations. In short, routinely problematize your perceptions about the world and your place in it.

To make this happen, it may help to employ some aspect of "cognitive distancing." In this psychological strategy you need to step back from your own reality, and examine your life and world from a distance.

We see this at times from great athletes or military figures that indicate that they can mentally step back from the field and see all of the pawns on the board and how they intersect. I believe this mental strategy may come with time, experience, and self-efficacy.

In this we have an opportunity to challenge negative patterns of thinking and the socially constructed narratives that we set for ourselves. By examining our impressions, we can regularly interrogate our own thinking and perspectives to ensure that we're experiencing reality.


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Ian O'Byrne

Marcus Aurelius on what we can control in our own lives

2 min read

On the second day of Stoic Week 2016, we were asked to identify what is in our control. The handbook and daily prompts is available here

In my previous post, I discussed guidance from Epictetus on what we can effectively "control" in our own lives and actions.

I find it relatively easy, and a bit simplistic, to follow the gudiance from Epictetus in our daily actions. It's a good reminder that we can only control your own controllables throughout the day. 

The challenge in this is sometimes life gets in the way, and we hope to extend this locus of control. For these situations, Marcus Aurelius provides a bit of guidance, that I believe acts as a corollary to the guidance from Epictetus. 

In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius presents the following:

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

In this, Marcus is indicating that in every action and situation, there is an opporunity to practice a virtue. When we have a problem, we know exactly what to work on. When we are stuck and have no idea where to start, we begin working on the obstacle in our path. 

Paired with the earlier gudiance from Epictetus, this indicates an opportunity to focus on elements that are solely within your control.

Specifically, you might ask yourself these two questions when you encounter problems, choices, or obstacles:

  • Is this solely up to me?
  • Does this keep me from being virtuous?

If the answer is no, then this is outside of your locus of control. It is nothing to you.


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Ian O'Byrne

Seneca on practicing what you preach

2 min read

This morning's read caught my eye as I read a letter titled "On practicing what you preach" from Seneca.

The letter is advice provided from Seneca to Lucilius about becoming your own master and not losing sight of your goals or values.

Specifically, this section was valuable for me:

It is the mark, however, of a noble spirit not to precipitate oneself into such things on the ground that they are better, but to practice for them on the ground that they are thus easy to endure. And they are easy to endure, Lucilius; when, however, you come to them after long rehearsal, they are even pleasant; for they contain a sense of freedom from care,— and without this nothing is pleasant. I hold it essential, therefore, to do as I have told you in a letter that great men have often done: to reserve a few days in which we may prepare ourselves for real poverty by means of fancied poverty. There is all the more reason for doing this, because we have been steeped in luxury and regard all duties as hard and onerous. Rather let the soul be roused from its sleep and be prodded, and let it be reminded that nature has prescribed very little for us. No man is born rich. Every man, when he first sees light, is commanded to be content with milk and rags. Such is our beginning, and yet kingdoms are all too small for us! Farewell.

The quoted section above is guidance on practicing what you preach. Filling your days by living what you believe. There is the theme of poverty that is found in many of Seneca's letters. 

In that section, the line that resonates with me the most is the one that states "Rather let the soul be roused from its sleep and be prodded, and let it be reminded that nature has prescribed very little for us." I'm intrigued by this guidance that in living close to what our values might determine for us, there is an opportunity to temper our expectations for what we think we need...and instead listen for what the heart and soul holds for us.


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Ian O'Byrne

The Organized Mind: How to better structure our time in the age of social media and constant distraction

The debate about attention and the pelthora of online and digital media ranges on as these Internet technologies become even more ubiquitous in our lives. 

With this there is a concern that this level of attention is making our thinking process function at a more superficial level. This argument takes many forms...from the "Google is making us dumber" discussion, to the "all kids will have/get ADHD when they're adults" framing.

I think there is a possible balance in these perspectives, and an opportunity to think about the natural state of the mind. Furthermore, I don't believe that there is anything substantially new or different from the texts and tools and the adoption we've had in the past.

In examining this argument, the bookmarked site came across my newsfeed. Several quotes jumped out to me.

We can’t truly think about or attend to all these things at once, so our brains flit from one to the other, each time with a neurobiological cost. Once on a task, our brains function best if we stick to it. To pay attention to one thing means that we don’t pay attention to something else. Attention is a limited-capacity resource.

This sense of attention provides opportunities to think, debrief, and focus on one element at a time. Attention is a valuable commodity in pedagogy. Whether the classroom is online or face-to-face, there is a need to focus on the learner, motivation, and garnered attention.

This daydreaming mode constitutes a distinctive and special brain state of great creativity. It exerts a pull on consciousness; it eagerly shifts the brain into mind-wandering when you’re not engaged in a task, and it hijacks your consciousness if the task you’re doing gets boring.

As I get busier, and busier, I've lost the time needed for just daydreaming, or goofing off. I found the pleasure for this recently as I was drawing illustrations for a block post on blockchain. These opportunities to let the brain rest, and regain creativity may come in these new opportunities to rest, and let the brain regain stasis. The brain needs to wander.

Daydreaming or mind-wandering, we now know, is a natural state of the brain. This accounts for why we feel so refreshed after it, and why vacations and naps can be so restorative. The tendency for this system to take over is so powerful that its called the default mode. This mode is a resting brain state, when your brain is not engaged in a purposeful task, when you’re sitting on a sandy beach or relaxing in your easy chair with a single malt Scotch (Glenfarclas, neat, please), and your mind wanders fluidly from topic to topic. It’s not just that you can’t hold on to any one thought from the rolling stream, it’s that no single thought is demanding a response.

As I stated earlier, there is a need to focus on attention as a commodity, and allow the brain to wander. In this we're possibly identifying opportunities to bring the brain back to stasis. There are opportunities in surfing the web, listening to music. Build and creating in digital spaces. I'm recently finding opportunities for this in daily meditation. 

Ian O'Byrne

Thinking about Bots and Frictionless Interactions

3 min read

In an earlier post I wrote a bit about bots and the potential future for education. This past week I listened to Ben Thompson push back a bit about the opportunities for bots, AI, and the user experience.

In light of this, I think there are ways that we should frame this look at "bots" and extend it a bit as we think about the possible future for education.

The name "bots" might be confusing to use as there are mulitple instances of "bots" already present online. An example of this include the fleet of bots that comprise most of the traffic on Twitter. 

Bots (in this instance) also may include varying levels of artificial intelligence (AI).

What is powerful about the thinking about bots in this instance include the following.

First, there is a tremendous amount of contextual information that exists with the bot. You'll need to sign up for, or agree to permissions with the bot. So, with these permissions, it has the potential to collect a ton of contextual information. It'll know who you are, payment info, location, peers, etc. 

Second, the structure provides opportunities for lightweight interactions with very little friction.

With this new environment, think of it as a platform built on top of another platform. Think about it as the inclusion of a web browser on top of Windows, Mac OS, LInux, or your operating system. As Ben mentions in the podcast, the perfect example is found in WeChat in other markets.

If you connect these elements together, an example is shown in the opportunity to purchase flowers.

If you want to order flowers, you need to go to the webpage, create an account, enter your credit card information, select where you're sending it, enter billing and shipping addresses, etc. 

If you do this in the bot, you'd indicate that you want to order flowers. The bot for that service would take over like that digital concierge idea I posited earlier. The bot would already have a bunch of this contextual information. It would have billing, your current location, friends, etc. It can tell you to go to a nearby shop and look at, or order the flowers. It can handle everything for you and send flowers to your mother. Since it has your information, and may have her address through your address book, it can handle this without you doing anything.


Ian O'Byrne

Thinking more about bots in education

2 min read

My line from this post:

Ultimately, this bot, and ones in the future could serve as an automatic teaching assistant that is always present and available.

Response from Katie Paciga:

So alt school uses the idea of customized playlists to help children engage in areas of interest for project based learning. To what extent do you think bots might automate some of that?

Interested to hear your thoughts.

My response:

Great question. :)

IMHO, I think that there is/should be a set of algorithms that are guiding the learner, and setting up content and curriculum that they might be interested in. Or, at least with “big data”, what students just like you might be interested in.

Of course this concerns me as you’re already limiting the scope of what the child might learn. I’d like to see a certain amount of randomness, or serendipity in the learning materials for the students. I’d also like to see opportunities where students can identify and develop their own (prescriptive or descriptive) learning pathways.

In terms of your original question, I think a bot might be able to fill specific needs. Hopefully a parent, teacher, or peer would be able to have dialogue with the child about the content and learning. In lieu of this interaction, perhaps a bot could carry on dialogue with the child.

Yes, this sounds super sci-fi and a bit impersonal, but it’s already happening. An example is with the Quartz news app. The news app acts like a messenger, or assistant with some slick AI embedded. The app/bot will share news or info that you might be interested in. It shares it in a conversational style or tone. As you carry on dialogue it will question you…and allow you to question the app.

I’d see this as a powerful opportunity to build up some smart AI in the form of a bot to support student inquiry. The app would start by asking the student what they want to learn that day. If she or he is stuck with a direction to head, the bot would suggest research they previously would be working on, or identify new fields to focus on.

Perhaps. ;)

Ian O'Byrne

Motivation becomes easier when we transform a chore into a choice. Doing so gives us a sense of control - General Charles Krulak

2 min read

This quote comes from the book Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg.

As we try to make sense of our own lives, and make room for the dreams/goals that we hope to achieve, the first step is to identify the roadblocks and impediments that thwart motivation and our ambitions.

These roadblocks come in the form of emails, meetings, and busy work that suck up our time. In most careers throughtout our past, we were taught that it was good to work long hard days. Punching in at 7 and punching the clock out at 5 every day was a good thing. What you accomplished during those hours didn't matter. The fact that you were there was the only thing of value. 

The fourty hour workweek, and the hours spent "working" were the only metric of value.

My hourly wage, and multiplying that by the number of hours I worked, gave me an estimate of my value and worth during that time period.

As I move to a position where my time is worth whatever value I place on it changes everything. I can work whenever, whereever I'd like. I can focus on anything that I choose and head in whatever direction seems best.

There are certain things I have to show up for. Meetings, classtimes, meals. In the remaining times, I can work in whatever function or fashion I choose.

Changing chores into choices empowers me. It provides me with an opportunity to decide how I'll function in these responsibilities. 

Ian O'Byrne

March 23, 2016

2 min read

Use your own experiences and pain points to identify an opportunity. Be arrogant thinking you can do it better than others. - Chris Hughes

Yesterday I brought the latest from the BadgeChain group to the Open Badges in Higher Ed call. The questions and feedback were fantastic. Many of the questions focused on issues of ethics and philosophy. Still others focused on very specific questions about the existing system and how this would fit into that infrastructure. 

The questions not associated with the philosophical side focused on specific "pain points" that people were having. They wanted to see if this tool, product, or platform could fill a need or want they had. Because we didnt' really have anything to share, or than thoughts at this point, they seemed a bit unnerved and thinking..."let me see it" or "let me kick the tires." 

I learned that there is a need to identify, assume, expect individual pain points on the part of the individual. Identify those, figure out how you'll "solve" those pain points. Explain/express this to the learner and get their buy-in from the beginning.

This is helpful as I work on the "one side project" and also work on BadgeChain intiiaitves.